Le Grand Depart 2020!

How exciting! Le Grand Départ of the 2020 Tour de France is going to be in Nice. Rumours have abounded for a while but the fantastic news was confirmed today at a presentation given by Christian Estrosi, Mayor of Nice and Chairman of Nice-Côte d’Azur,  alongside Christian Prudhomme, Director of the Tour de France.

On Saturday 27 June, proceedings in the Tour de France will kick off in Nice for only the second time, after the one in 1981. The city’s roads and surrounding countryside on which I regularly cycle will provide the organisers with plentiful opportunities to draw up a variety of scenarios for the first few days of the 107th edition. Needless to say #IAMEXCITE.

The Tour’s last visit was in 2013, its 100th edition, after its start on the island of Corsica. Though, of course, it has visited many times (36) since the victory of René Pottier in 1906 up until the 1981 Grand Départ, when Bernard Hinault started the race in the world champion’s jersey only to immediately take possession of the maillot jaune on the stages in and around Nice.

At today’s presentation, Christian Estrosi confirmed:

It is a source of immense pride to welcome the Grand Départ of the Tour de France 2020 to Nice for a second time following 1981. Le Tour is the third biggest international sporting event and consequently ensures considerable economic benefits for our entire area. Seven years after welcoming the 100th edition in 2013 which attracted almost 100,000 spectators, this is a further step which strengthens my desire to make Nice an essential city for hosting major sporting events.

As a result, we will have our heart set on offering optimal conditions to the organisers and teams. Nice boasts an exceptional playground for cyclists, from the Promenade des Anglais up to the high passes of the Mercantour national park. This rich relief will make it possible to launch the 107th edition of the Tour de France in the finest way possible.

I await further details with great interest, it’s going to be so much fun.

Art of Cycling: The 100th Giro d’Italia

American cycling artist Greig Leach and I are working together again. Greig’s planning on producing a hardback book of his vibrant postcard sized pen and water colour paintings of each of the stages of this year’s 100th Giro d’Italia, complete with his narrative – which I’ll be editing –  stage profiles, stage winners and jersey wearers.

Now’s your chance to pre-order this magnificent memento of what’s already shaping up to be an epic edition of the Giro as it wends its way from Sardinia to Sicily, and the length and breadth of mainland Italy. The first ten days or so has been super exciting and it’s only going to build to a crescendo in the final week. You can “try before you buy” as the work and accompanying (unedited) narrative appear daily on his blog, plus he regularly posts his work on   Facebook and Twitter.


This is a Kickstarter project, so if you would like to support Greig, check out the campaign page. Contributions start very small at just US$1, but you have to commit at least US$40 for an artist signed copy of the book (with worldwide delivery) plus assorted goodies. Splash the cash and pledge a whopping US$ 500 and your book will also be signed by the winner of this year’s 100th Giro d’Italia. No prizes for guessing who’ll be collecting that all important signature once the book is published.

Of course, you can also buy Greig’s original postcard sized drawings of this year’s races (and indeed from many other races), but you’ll need to be quick. It’s a case of first come, first served! These, and indeed the book, would make wonderful presents for the cycling enthusiast(s) in your life. Or why not treat yourself to a reminder of what’s sure to be a very memorable grand tour?

Official Richmond UCI Road World Championship 2015 artist Greig Leach.

If you want to know more about Greig, please  check out my interview with him!

New term

Things are starting to wind down as holidays come to an end and the kids go back to school next week. The Domaine resembles less and less a single-storey car park though I have to applaud the inventiveness of some car owners as to how and where they abandon their cars. The weather has also turned and dropped a few degrees which makes cycling far more pleasurable. It’s amazing what a difference a small temperature change makes, plus it’s much less sultry.

A lot of families have a second homes in the Domaine but they head back to their roots in July and August while their extended families make use of their apartments. This is where the French indulge in one of their national pastimes “How many people can we cram into a three-roomed apartment with only one bathroom?” You do not want to know the answer to that question other than to understand it severely breaches my rule of one bathroom per couple.

It’s also start of the “new term” at the club as affiliation to our principal cycling association runs from 1 September to 31 August. The other associations, and indeed the club, run on a calendar year. This year the principal association has delivered us something of a dilemma, a doubling of its fees caused, we’re advised, by the rising risk profile of cycling and hence increased third-party insurance costs. We were obliged to raise membership fees by Euros 5 last year, after maintaining them at the same level for over six years, and there was almost a mutiny. Goodness knows what’ll be the fallout this year. I should add, we’ve always been one of the less expensive clubs to join thanks to our high level of local and corporate sponsorship. But many of our members are retired and on fixed incomes, so any increase is keenly felt.

It’s prompted many to say that they’ll just join one of the other associations as they’re both substantially cheaper. This is not going to go down well with the rank and file. You see it’s the principal association which organises the Sunday pointages and if, but only if, you have one of their licences you can amass up to 5 points for your club. Any other licence has a maximum of 1 point. This will have a direct result on our trophy haul most of which we recycle at other events. Those members who collect the most points through attendance at pointages are rewarded at the AGM. There’s stiff competition to top the leaderboard as the “Most Regular” with trophies and club kit handed to the top five. I’ve won the female category for the last five years largely through lack of competition.

Any shift in membership from the principal association will be somewhat embarrassing for the new incoming President who holds a high office in said association. Indeed, he did mention that he was only prepared to countenance membership of the principal association so this might well be our last chance. Of course, anyone who races tends to either have two licences or opts for the association with the most organised events. If this licence is no longer available, the few racers we have left will depart. As a consequence we won’t generate anywhere near our usual level of publicity for our corporate sponsors. This could have a knock-on effect when our three-year sponsorship deal’s up for renewal in 2015.

I’ve been giving the issue some thought and, given that my term of office ends this year, I’ll have no compunction in going for the cheaper option for both of us. You might be wondering why we’re even bothering to get  licences. Well it saves paying for a medical certificate for all the sportifs we enter, and which charge a supplement if you don’t have a licence. Yes, it’s still the cheapest option.

I have created a monster. My friend’s teenager whom I wore out by making him ride on the road while staying with me in July has been truly bitten with the bug. He’s determined to follow in his Dad’s footsteps and become a professional racer. He’s now trying to take part in as many races as possible. I’m not sure that’s necessarily the best strategy but if he’s enjoying himself…….. He was going to do one this Saturday but it’s been cancelled so he wants to take part in this Sunday’s race up Col de Vence. Yes, it’s the same one I wanted to take part in, so I’ve signed him up for it. It starts early in the morning but as he’ll need to warm up we’ll ride over to it. No need for rollers and noseplugs. It’ll also probably be better if he stays with us overnight on Saturday.

Now, you might be wondering why his parents aren’t taking him to the race. It’s simples, as the meerkats would say, his Dad’s leaving to ride in Italy on Sunday morning and his Mum doesn’t drive! I suggested picking him up Saturday evening but he’s going to ride over to me in the afternoon, so I’ll have company for my afternoon viewing of the Vuelta.

Maybe next year

Today’s the start of London-Paris 2011 and there’s a tiny part of me that wishes I were doing it again this year. A bit like childbirth (or so I’ve been assured), the pain’s long forgotten and just the great memories remain. I have promised myself that I will do it again, probably with my beloved, although I’ll let him cycle in a faster group. Having taken part last year, I’m still on the newsletter distribution list so I get to live it again, albeit vicariously. There’s a couple of  innovations this year, one of which I would have welcomed last year. Haribo are one of this year’s sponsors and they’re going to be handing out sweeties en route. What I wouldn’t have done for a few gummi bears last year!

The other innovations include live tracking of the individual groups. This is somewhat embarrassing for those of us in the slower groups. I’m not sure I would want anyone knowing I’m travelling twice as slowly as the fast group. However, there’s worse to come. Hot Chillee send you a slickly edited video compilation of the ride well after the event is finished. It’s a really nice memento. This year the compilation is going to be shown on Eurosport. Remembering that a camera adds 10lbs, I would need to be well below my ideal weight before making my debut appearance on television. Of course one can hardly claim to have been tearing through the French countryside when Eurosport has the evidence of you rolling sedately along in what appears to be slow motion.

Places for London-Paris sell out incredibly quickly and while there’s a number of organised events of this type, IMHO, the one organised by Hot Chillee is in a class of its own. Everything is taken care of  so that you can just concentrate on  riding your bike. It all started in 2004, with just 13 participants. Today, it is recognised as one of the world’s most exciting Cyclosportives and is the closest the amateur rider can get to the Tour de France experience. It has rolling road closures, outriders and professional logistical back up along the entire route, from Hampton Court to The Eiffel Tower. It’s one of only two events that finishes in the centre of Paris with rolling road closures, the other’s the Tour de France. The peloton with its 45 motorbike outriders, rolls along the famous Parisian streets to an emotional finish. The 365 riders in five speed groups are supported by HotChillee’s 100-strong crew, which includes mechanics, sports therapists and 14 Ride Captains.

The Daily Telegraph listed The London-Paris as one of the world’s top 25 mass participation events, along side  the New York and London marathons. I’ve done two of those, does this mean I’m going to have to do the NY marathon?  The event has an impressive list of sponsors including London 2012 sponsor adidas, Mavic, DHL and (our club sponsor) Skoda, 20 corporate teams and a variety of high profile individuals from sport and business who greatly add to the ambience of the ride, along with the Ride Captains. Have fun this year!

Divine intervention

I was saddened this week to learn of the untimely death of Aldo Sassi, one of the most reputable cycling trainers, based at the Mapei Centre in Varese. It was he who had worked with Cadel Evans to lift the rainbow jersey in 2009 and had assisted Ivan Basso in his quest for an untainted maglia rosa.

I had recently read an interesting article on his training methods which are markedly similar to those of my own trainer.  Sassi worked initially from the VO2 max and power output at the rider’s anaerobic threshold. From this he built a training programme based on a 3-day algorithm:

  • Day 1 – strength and resistance training on hills
  • Day 2 – anaerobic threshold work
  • Day 3 – long rides with climbs

Additionally, Sassi believed in a rider’s clear commitment to goals which needed to be shared with and understood by his team. Lastly, he believed that mental and inner strength were the all-important factors.

He likened a cyclist to  Formula 1 saying that while a rider has certain physiological attributes, “if you only have the driver and no car you cannot win. You have to have the driver as well as the car. Some might try to show that if you have a good driver you could still win with a bad car. This is not true in cycling. You have to be able to produce 6 watts per kilogram on the climbs or you will eventually lose.”

Sassi was recently criticized for working with Riccardo Ricco. Frankly, I thought, given Sassi’s sterling reputation, it was a stroke of genius on Ricco’s part to commit to working with him. Sassi said ” I think I made a good choice in selecting Riccardo Ricco. I am sure of it. He has the motor, the car, but the driver is not completely there. I am going to help him build his mental strength and self-belief.” Sassi is to be lauded, Ricco has paid the price and, like everyone, deserves a second chance.

If  it was left to Pat McQuaid, UCI President, he wouldn’t, however, be getting a second chance. McQuaid was quoted in L’Equipe this week as saying if he were a team manager, he wouldn’t hire Ricco. I suspect that Vacansoleil have hired Ricco because he will garner them plenty of points in the all-new UCI ranking system and help them stay in the sport’s first division. Remember, Mr McQuaid “what gets measured is what gets done”.

I’ve already blogged on this very topic but frankly it’s hard to support a system that seems to drive away rather than attract sponsors. It’s even hard to get sponsors to commit if you can’t guarantee inclusion at the world’s best races. Pegasus Cycling recently lost a sponsor but have fortunately been saved at the nth moment by another. Rumours abounded that Geox, both a new sponsor and a global brand, might pull out after being excluded from the first division, despite ranking ahead of teams that have been included.

This problem has been best articulated (IMHO) by Jonathan Vaughters in his blog on the cyclingnews.com website entitled “The Geox Paradox” where he highlights the current issues in sponsorship. This man knows what he’s talking about, you cannot say that of everyone involved in the sport.

My deepest sympathy goes to Aldo Sassi’s family, friends, clients  and colleagues: the world of cycling has suffered a grave loss.

Jilted

Yesterday’s big news in the cycling world was the much heralded signing of Contador for two years to the Sungard-Saxo Bank team by Bjarne Riis. Rumours had circulated well before the Tour that the brothers Schleck were leaving to set up their own Luxembourg based team.  Riis must have felt this was a hammer blow to his attempts to find a replacement sponsor as Saxo Bank had previously indicated that they would cease their sponsorship at the end of this season. It’s much easier to secure sponsorship when you’ve proven race winners on your squad, thank heavens that Fabulous Fabian’s contract doesn’t expire for another year.

With Riis in a quandry, Specialized to the rescue. The US bike manufacturer has made no secret of its ambition to have the world’s, two, best bike riders, namely Contador and Cancellara, astride their frames. As their recent adverts testify: “Two Teams, One Bike”. Here was an opportunity for “One Team, One Bike”.  It may also have helped Saxo Bank to reverse their decision and continue their sponsorship for a further season.

Obviously, some of the money saved by Specialized’s sponsorship of only one team will end up in Contador’s pockets. You can’t blame him for going to the highest bidder. A rider’s career is relatively short-lived and he has  to make the most of it.

There are two other issues which will have factored into his decision making. Firstly, there’s a team time-trial relatively early on in next year’s Tour. Who wouldn’t want Cancellara on their team? Remember how last’s year’s TTT ended the Tour aspirations of a number of big names? Secondly, Andy’s performance this year signaled an improvement on last year’s. He matched Contador in the mountains. If Contador is to beat him again next year, who better to ride for than the man who knows him best?

Astana seem pretty sanguine about losing Contador. He has after all won them the Giro, the Vuelta and two Tours – not a bad haul. He’s remained on good terms with Vino, even riding a criterium yesterday in France at his suggestion. There are a number of good riders still seeking a home for next year and I’m sure they won’t be short of suitors. They’ve already secured the signature of Robert Kiserlovski (Liquigas) who was 10th in this year’s Giro. Watch this space for further announcements……………………………

Piling on the pressure

Left behind.............

Patrick Lefevre, boss of the Quick Step Team, is clearly not a happy bunny. How do we know this? Well, he’s been lambasting the team in the press for their lack of results. Yes, thus far in the cobbled classics and semi-classics, Quick Step have pulled an Omega Pharma Lotto – no wins. To be fair, Lefevre has not mentioned names, thereby giving the press plenty of scope to speculate as to which riders his ire is directed.

Frankly, I’m not sure of the wisdom of this strategy. In my view if you’re annoyed with someone. Talk to them one-on-one and try to get to the bottom of the issue. Be firm, fair and supportive. Cycling’s a team sport and everyone needs to understand what’s expected of them and what they need to do to achieve success for themselves, and the team. Never forget, riders are individuals and need to be treated as such. What motivates one, may have the opposite effect on another. Good managers can indeed turn what we think are sows’ ears into silk purses. But generally, they’re only sows’ ears because former managers haven’t determined how to get the best out of them.

Recognise that management has both responsibility and accountability for the team’s results. Take a holistic approach. Try and identify what isn’t working and why. Keep trying to find those areas where you can make marginal gains, or limit marginal losses. At the same time, don’t forget to reassure both sponsors and supporters that you’re doing everything you can. At the end of the day, all you can ask is that someone gives of their best. If they’ve done that, but still haven’t won, you can’t criticise them, especially not in the press.

Furthermore, when talking to the press put a positive spin on things. Say the team’s focus has shifted to performing throughout the season, not just for a couple of weeks of the year. I appreciate that winning is what counts but draw comfort from the overall results. Boonen’s riding well but he’s been up against a rider on fire at the moment, Fabian Cancellara. Maybe that fire’s been extinguished by his win in Flanders. Even if it has, there are plenty of others vying for a win this Sunday.

Tom’s going to be up against it and heaping further pressure on him may not help you, him or the team. But it might just help his opponents. As Tom himself said, he is the most consistent rider at the moment; with three 2nd places in as many weeks. Well, if things do go in “three’s”, let’s hope he makes it three in a row this Sunday.

And the winning tickets are………………

Ten days later than previously promised, Christian Prudhomme has opined. The 22 teams for the 2010 Tour de France are as expected: the sixteen teams covered by the September 2008 agreement, the four new Pro-Tour Teams (Katusha, Sky, Garmin, Radioshack), and the two most promising Continental Pro-Tour teams (Cervelo and BMC). So there’s no room at the Tour for Saur-Sojasun, Vacansoleil or Skil Shimano although they are on the substitutes bench.

One can only imagine the long faces over at Vacansoleil HQ. The Tour starts in their home town, they’re guaranteed to animate any race, they sponsored Paris-Nice and they bought the brothers Feillu. They’ve also been shut out of the Giro and a number of other ASO races.

Pat McQuaid had been openly critical of  the length of time ASO was taking to make a decision. However, three months before the start of the Tour is not unreasonable, nor is taking two months to assess the strengths of the contenders’ teams. It’s not been an easy decision. Teams are bound to be disappointed and sponsors may well question the benefits of sponsorship if they don’t get the global exposure afforded by the Tour.

However, those teams who were disappointed this year need to be patient. There is no agreement in place as to who is guaranteed a spot next year. There are a number of sponsors withdrawing from the sport (Milram, Saxo Bank, Caisse d’Epargne) and some considering withdrawing (Bbox Bouygues Telecom). Teams, like last year, may be relegated from or promoted to the Pro-Tour ranks. And, assuredly,  there will be new sponsors. This changing landscape is what makes the sport so interesting for the fans but a wee bit nerve-racking for the riders.

Postscript: Prudhomme today defended his decision in L’Equipe. However, he might as well have said that it was a no-brainer.  The two Continental Pro Tour teams selected have a former Tour Winner (Sastre) and a former green jersey wearer (Hushovd) and the current World Champion, who’s twice been second (Evans). These outweigh any French riders on Dutch teams or, indeed, French riders on French teams.

Early balance sheet

Which team has won more races than any other? No, this is not a trick question, though you might be surprised by the answer – Cofidis. Yes, the boys in red and white have 11 victories to their name. HTC-Columbia are in 2nd place with 10 and Androni-Diquigiovanni in 3rd with 7.

Clearly, still smarting from last season’s relegation to the ranks of Continental-Pro, the boys of Cofidis feel that they have a point to prove. While their place in the Grand Tours is assured, for this season, invitations to some events: most notably, Tour of the Basque Country, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of Flanders have gone missing in the post.

Cofidis have been sponsoring a cycling team since 1996 and are reflecting on whether they’ll continue. An answer is anticipated at the end of the month. The boys have done their best. In any event, if Cofidis bow out, they’ll all be looking for new posts and will not have done their case any harm.

To be fair, Cofidis also had a reasonably successful start to the 2009 season, so this is nothing new, but maybe it better reflects the depth and spirit in the squad since Leornardo Duque, Amael Moinard, the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin, Jens Keukeleire and Julien el Fares have all recently graced the podium. It would be a great shame to see this new self-belief crushed. I for one will be keeping my fingers crossed for them.

Postscript: Strictly speaking HTC-Columbia are now on level pegging with Cofidis, as Cavendish today recorded his maiden vistory of the season.

Post-postscript: Cofidis have renewed their sponsorship for a further two years – hurrah!

Cool kit

I have read various reports that Cervelo Test Team’s kit was the best-selling and most popular of the season. It’s hard for me to comment. Round here most wear their club kit, all the time. There’s very good reasons for this. Generally, one wears club kit when riding with one’s club. Also it’s the cheapest kit you can buy. It’s either sold at cost or at a subsidised price if, like us, you’re lucky to have plenty of sponsorship. For example, we pay only Euros 27,50 for a short sleeved cycling top with a full-length zip. Probably, the next most popular brand is Bwin, very reasonably priced kit made by Decathlon. Sightings of premium brands such as Assos or Rapha are rare.

While you do see people sporting pro kit it’s either because they are pros, they live next door to a pro (and it’s a freebie) or they won the kit in one of the many club tombolas. No local sportif or randonée would be complete without either a goody bag or tombola. As a consequence, hands down, the most oft-sighted kit here is that of Astana. I suspect that this is what may have led Lance to conclude he was now more popular with the French when he was staying in Beaulieu-sur-Mer earlier this year.

Aesthetically, the Cervelo kit benefits from its paucity of sponsors and simple colour palette. My Swiss friend is a big fan of their kit. He has both versions, here he is in the black one. He’s not a member of a cycling club, rather he rides with a group of like-minded friends who also acquired both versions of the Cervelo kit. Coincidentally, he lives in the town where Assos is based but possesses not a single item of their range. This is a man with a seriously extensive cycling wardrobe.  I should know, I have seen it.