What do professional cyclists do when they’re ex-professionals?

“I vacuum all the time” – Fabian Cancellara adjusts to retirement! This was the header on an email from Rouleur which rather set me thinking. I’ve interviewed a lot of cyclists, many of whom are now retired, though some are still very much connected to the world of cycling, and none of them have come clean about their domestic prowess. So I was shocked/bemused/surprised to discover that Fabian Cancellara has assumed responsibility for some domestic duties at his place. Perhaps Mrs Cancellara had gotten fed up of picking up the slack while he was off winning Monuments and maillots jaunes?

Clearly, he doesn’t need to work, I believe he acts as an ambassador for a number of high-end brands, but obviously neither does he now earn enough to afford a cleaner. I’m not sure of the going rate for one in Switzerland, but it’s probably more than I’d pay on the Cote d’Azur where, coincidentally, the costs are tax deductible. Maybe that’s not the case in Switzerland.

I’ve checked in with the other halves of a number of ex-professional cyclists and it appears that Spartacus is the exception, rather than the rule. In which case Mrs Fabs is to be congratulated and I’m wondering whether she’d like to train my beloved in the art of domesticity? He’s resisted any attempt on my part to domesticate him and we’ve settled on this uneasy truce whereby he tries not to make too much mess. You’ll note that I’ve not insisted on “no mess”. Objectives should be achievable.

Over the years I have found that my beloved is much more likely to help with a chore if I buy him a gadget to do it. Perhaps Fabs is the same and his missus bought him the Ferrari of vacuum cleaners as a retirement present and he daily swoops around Casa Cancellara putting it to the test. I wonder if he does the vacuuming in his Gore kit and records it on Strava? Just a thought.

 

 

 

(Finally) Postcard from Siena and Strade Bianche

We drove along the Autostrade dei Fiori enjoying the sunshine and glorious sea views until we turned off at Genoa and headed for Tuscany and Siena. It’s a six-hour drive from home and we stopped just the once to refuel the car and my beloved. We made good time and only had a small but heavy rain shower en route and not much wind. The Smart doesn’t like wind, a bit like me on the bike, unless it’s a tailwind.

We’d much enjoyed watching the racing in Strade Bianche last year and it’s now a fixture on our sporting calendar. I particular like that there’s a women’s and men’s race – both providing a cracking spectacle. We dropped the car and luggage at the hotel, on the edge of the old town and close by the race start, and walked to pick up our accreditations before reacquainting ourselves with the town. Specifically, I was looking for a restaurant for dinner. Once I’d found a couple of likely candidates I treated my beloved to a coffee and crostata (delicious Italian jam tart). While I had fruit tea with a local biscuit,  a cavaillucci, made without eggs or fat, studded with fennel seeds, walnuts and citrus peel. The town was buzzing in anticipation of tomorrow’s race, the local population significantly swelled by the thousands of amateur riders taking part in Sunday’s Gran Fondo. We even spotted a few of the pros drinking coffee after a leisurely reconnaissance.

My choice of restaurant was spot on. A family-run affair for several generations with the almost obligatory white linen tablecloths and napkins. We were the first couple to be seated but the restaurant subsequently filled up rapidly. We were greeted with a glass of Prosecco and a small serving of soup, one of the house specialities. I love a good home-made soup, just what you need to keep the cold and damp at bay. I ordered a vegetable soup to start and could happily have eaten the whole tureen but then I’d have had no room for my lobster spaghetti. Sated we happily strolled around the old town taking in the sites, marveling at the splendid architecture and trying to burn-off the calories consumed at dinner.

The forecast for Saturday was rain and riders in both races left warmly dressed with their rain jackets in their pockets. They knew the conditions were going to be difficult for them. It was going to be epic! While my beloved took photos, I popped to the buses to drop of some of my race-winning brownies for two lucky teams to enjoy post-race and chatted with a few acquaintances.

After the men’s race had departed, I headed to the food shops to stock up on some Italian goodies. Laden down with artisan cold meats, cheeses, tomatoes, artichokes, olive oil, pici (local pasta, a sort of thicker and rougher spaghetti) cavaillucci (see above), and ricciarelli (soft almond biscuits) we staggered back to the hotel and left it in the chilly car.

By now it was time for an early lunch in a small bar overlooking the main Piazza, more soup, this time ribollita, before heading to the finish line to cheer on the ladies. Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) won with an audacious attack to cross the finish line arms aloft. The girls all looked exhausted and were covered from head to foot in wet mud. They looked more like they’d taken part in a cyclo-cross rather than road race. Sadly, my photographer had left his camera in the hotel. Honestly, I sometimes wonder why I take him to races!

We then retired to a bar near the final climb to watch the television coverage of the men’s race before taking our positions to see the finish.The light was such it was hard to see the riders as they emerged from the gloom on that final climb. It was evident that Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski had victory in the bag from the sizeable time gap between himself and his pursuers, Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Lotto-Soudal’s Tim Wellens.

The riders streamed up the hill in ones and twos to raucous applause and cries of encouragement, they were grimed with dirt though not quite as much as on that famous 2010 Giro d’Italia stage. They all looked chilled to the bone and in need of some hot chocolate and my brownies. It’s the first time my race-winning brownies have occupied the top two spots on the podium even before being consumed. Obviously, they’re powerful incentives.

Both races had provided spectacle and, despite the conditions, it was clear from the riders’ comments, it’s a race they enjoy. In the post race press conference, you could sense Kwiatkowski’s pleasure at once more ascending to the top step of the podium. The Sky boys assured me they’d saved him a large brownie, surely a fitting reward for his efforts.

All this race watching is pretty exhausting and our minds soon turned to dinner. We opted for lighter fare – tagliolini with truffles and a mixed salad  – in one of our favourite restaurants before heading back to the hotel for an early night. We woke the next day to heavy skies and much more rain.

We watched the brave 5,000 amateurs stream out of Siena on the heels of some notable former pros including Fabian Cancellara, Ivan Basso and Paolo Bettini. Rather them than us, many were already cold and wet through from waiting in line for the depart. It was going to be a very long day in the saddle.

As we drove home, the sky brightened and the sun shone, particularly once we were back on the coast. It’s lovely to travel but sometimes even nicer to return home.

Spoilt

Another day, another post! I don’t expect this will last long. I’m feeling fatigued from yesterday’s ride with my coach. We’re playing catch up after he was “hors combat” with his broken collar-bone. I set off early to have coffee with some Australians with whom I had been in correspondence for over a year and who’re holidaying here briefly as part of a longer trip around Europe. This meant I had to channel my inner-Spartacus to make my appointed time with my coach. This particular ride usually takes over an hour but I had barely 40 minutes to spare. I made it, but paid for it the rest of the morning.

I’d worked up a good sweat in my stylish new G4 kit but, as we rode down the shaded Vesubie valley, I  became totally chilled. When I’m cold, my body seizes up. I was struggling. My coach rode ahead of me so that I could benefit from his slipstream. As ever, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that as he’s half my width, there’s little or no benefit to be had.  For the first time ever on our rides together, I had to stop for an injection of Coke, it’s the only thing that bucks me up. I was sorely in need of fortification.

By the time I got back home, I’d been in the saddle for six hours. I wasn’t hungry but I did feel dehydrated. After a liquid lunch (soup) I could barely keep my eyes open and dozed off on the sofa, rousing only for the last few kilometres of the fifth stage of the Tour de Suisse. My legs were feeling decidedly lead-like again.

My beloved is thankfully away until this evening so I’ve been able to press on with the housework as we’ve a guest arriving this week-end. It’s one of my English pupils and the younger son of some dear friends. While many might not fancy the prospect of a teenager for two weeks, I’m relishing the occasion. His mother was concerned I might find him too tiring. I’ve reassured her that’s not going to happen! In fact, I have an action packed programme for the two of us and I, for one, can’t wait.

I was up early this morning, finished a short piece for VeloVoices. While a lot of the writing is programmed, I do like to respond to news items or do things on the spur of the moment. Lucky then that I have understanding editor(s). With the Tour just around the corner, we’re going to be busy, busy, busy so I need to “bank” a few pieces to relieve the pressure.

My friend who’s cycling from southern to northern France, in aid of charity, kindly sent me a text to let me know she was okay. The first three days were going to be the most tiring but she’s survived those and it now sounds as if she’s beginning to enjoy the adventure. I shall look forward to hearing all about it on her return.

The Nice Ironman organisation have been dealt a bitter blow. Their star turn, Lance Armstrong has been banned pending a USADA investigation into an alleged doping conspiracy while he was a top level cyclist. Of course, there’ll be plenty of other top athletes taking part and I’m looking forward to meeting with some of those I was fortunate to meet last year while working on the G4Dimension stand. This year, they’ve secured a plum spot in the village, right next to the LiveStrong stand. While I’m working, I’ll be leaving my young guest in my beloved’s capable hands.

Our three-year tenure at the helm of the cycling club ends this year and I, for one, have been making plans for next year. I never intended to take on quite so much work but as others have fallen by the wayside, I’ve assumed more and more responsibility. I’ve done it partly on the basis that “it won’t be for long”. I did set out my ideas for re-organising things so as to share out the workload and sent it to M Le President last year but it was clear he’d never even bothered to look at it let alone discuss it with me. After, the success of this year’s La Kivilev, he’s decided he will stay on as President if we can find a few more willing souls to lend us a hand.

Now I thought about this long and hard but I have no intention of extending my term of office. My fellow members have embarked in recent months on a charm offensive but I’ve worked in investment banking, and hence, with some of the best bull-shitters in the business, so remain unmoved by their blandishments. There’s a meeting of like minded souls this evening at the club to see if there’s enough people willing to take up the reins. As I’ve discovered to my cost, people love important sounding titles but, in reality, don’t want any responsibility. I therefore have no desire to remain part of the management team and get dumped on again. Meanwhile I have everything in apple-pie order ready to effect a handover at the end of the year, something I never benefited from. Actually, I’ve set up most things so that they can just be copied, pasted and blindly followed.

Creamed but never crackered

There are two things I absolutely love doing: anything to do with cycling and ditto cooking. Ahead of today’s Gentlemen, I’ve been whipping up a few cakes to satisfy the hoards.  In theory, it’s only around 150 cyclists and 20 or so volunteers. In practise it’s more as a lot of clubs will just happen to pass by the feedzone as part of their Sunday club ride. They’ll claim it’s to check on how their clubmates are faring. But no one’s fooled. It’s to sample my cakes.

Cyclists here don’t have the same “coffee and cake” culture as in countries such as UK, US and Australia. They don’t need to stop and buy anything as it’s freely provided as part of the Sunday club ride. To be fair most clubs buy the cheapest cakes from the supermarket, typically madeira, ginger or fruit and serve them with a selection of biscuits, dried fruit and chocolate. My club’s USP is my home-made cakes. Because they’re so much nicer than supermarket ones, people, not unnaturally eat more. Some have been known to try a piece of each!

Yesterday’s treat was a day out, on my own, in Sanremo to watch the thrilling finale of Milano-Sanremo. I like to drive over early, find a convenient and non-paying parking spot – see, I’m becoming very French – buy La Gazzetta dello Sport and settle down with a coffee to read what the pink pages have to say about the race. One of the things I love about cycling is its unpredictability. The Italian bookies had Cavendish as their favourite while Gazzetta mused that everyone would be riding to prevent him winning.

I then had a pleasurable stroll around the shops and indulged in a spot of window shopping before taking up my position. It was windy so I was keen to find a place which afforded me shelter while still letting me enjoy the sunshine. I opted for the large screen after the finish and right next to the podium which was also opposite Rai’s studio – a grandstand seat.

The pictures rolled and on the ascent of La Manie, Mark Cavendish (Sky) was almost immediately in difficulties. Word reached the front of the peloton who upped the tempo and distanced Cav. Faithful lieutenant Bernie “The Bolt” Eisel was sent back to keep him company while Team Sky deployed Plan B: Edvald Boassen Hagen. Queue the sound of money jingling in the bookies’ tills.

We all had a bit of a heart stopping moment when the cameras alighted on a bunch of paramedics tending to an unseen fallen rider, on the descent of La Manie, who was later identified as the Columbian Carlos Quintero riding for Columbia-Coldeportes. Luckily he suffered only concussion and a broken collarbone but it had worryingly looked much more serious on the screen with active imaginations working overtime.

The early breakaway group of nine riders, including the first Chinese rider to compete in this event Cheng Ji (Project 1t4i), which at one time had an advantage of around 13 minutes, were taken back on the Capo Berta with about 60km remaining.

The hopes of a number of favourites were dashed by falls. The King of Belgium, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) was taken out of contention on the Cipressa while his predecessor to both the Belgian championship and crown, Tom Boonen (OPQS) was hindered on the descent of the Poggio. A couple of moves did go according to plan. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) launched two unsuccessful attacks, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack) bridged across to what proved to be the winning attack of Aussi-champ Simon Gerrans  (GreenEDGE) and Tirreno-Adriatico winner Vicenzo Nibali (Liquigas) just before the summit of the Poggio.

Now, if you’re going to follow anyone downhill, it might as well be either Fabian or Nibali. Gerrans was in great company. Cancellara opened a bit of a gap by the time the reached the bottom of the descent and was starting to motor away. But Gerrans, knew what to do. He gave chase. This is where the script changes. Instead of Fabian leaving the two original attackers trailing in his wake, Gerrans worked hard to get back onto his wheel.

Simon Gerrans winner of Milano Sanremo 2012 (image courtesy of official race website)
Simon Gerrans winner of Milano Sanremo 2012 (image courtesy of official race website)

To give Fabian his due, he continued to motor towards the finish when lesser riders might have quailed at the prospect of allowing the other two to ride his coat tails. Had he not done so, the trio would have been swamped by the peloton and the win would have been fought out by Peter Sagan and John Degenkolb. Instead, the three in-form riders headed to the finish line and Simon Gerrans had the smarts to ambush Fabian and take the win, making it successive wins for Australia.

I was then courtesy of my position, treated to a grandstand view of the podium. I would have taken a photo had the battery not already run flat in my phone. It seems to last no more than six hours tops. There’s nothing else for it, I’m going to take a trip to Orange hell to sort it. I skipped away and back to the car, handily placed to get back onto the motorway ahead of all the peloton’s cavalcade of motorised transport and most of the other spectators. It had been a great day out.

Still pedalling furiously

The professional peloton might be racing again but I’m still training, and I should add that I’m maintaining my fine form. My first event is going to be a sportif  at the end of February on a parcours not too dissimilar from one of the stages in the forthcoming Tour de Haut-Var, and indeed it’s organised by the same team. However, whether I do the long or the short course will depend very much on the weather. I’m familiar with the terrain, and more importantly the climbs. It’s an area I enjoy riding in and  it’s a lovely part of the world. The course route weaves around a number of the old walled villages from whence you get breathtaking views.

Next up will be my coach’s WTS Classic which has moved (thankfully) from the end of January to the end of March. It covers a not too dissimilar terrain to the first event,  and this year it’ll include a timed time-trial. Helpful advice from Messrs Martin and Cancellara would be most welcome. Twitter would be fine and in English, German or Fabianese – I don’t mind.

Thereafter, I’ll be taking part in the same events as in previous years always aiming, of course, to produce a better time. These events tail off in mid-June, taking account of the increased tourist traffic. After a three-month break, there’s a final flurry of events looming large towards the end of September, all of which involve climbs: Mont Chauve, Col d’Eze and Col du Vence. I’m going to be training hard during the summer months for these last three events with regular ascensions of all three, plus Col de la Madone. This’ll be supplemented with some climbing in the Basque country during the first week of the Vuelta.

My cycling coach has suggested I look to acquire a power meter. I’ve been toying with the idea for some time. It’s expensive but it’s not the price I find offputting, more it’s inflexibility. I have three racing bikes: two BMCs both fitted with Compagnolo and one Orbea with Shimano Ultegra. I think the Garmin Vector, available this March and compatible with my Garmin 500 would be a better bet. It’ll be much more easily transferable between the bikes, I’ll just have to change the pedals, even I can do that! It’ll also provide separate analyses of my left and right legs. I’m pretty sure I know what it’s going to to say but it’ll be interesting nonetheless.

Heart’s Desire

I should warn you that I’m no longer going to be blogging here much about professional cycling. You will however be able to find your heart’s desire over on VeloVoices where I’m one of the contributors.

Review of 2011 season

Spending more time than I might wish on my home trainer the past week has given me ample opportunity to reflect on the 2011 road racing season. As you know, I often find it difficult to restrict myself to just one favourite moment, rider, team, race or indeed anything. Indecisive or greedy – you decide.  Given my preference for live sport, my recollections tend to be coloured by the races I’ve watched in person. So here goes.

Rider of the Year

It’s hard to argue against the collective wisdom of the Velo d’Or jury, so I won’t. With his 18 wins, it just has to be Phil Gil. Though it just wasn’t the quantity, it was also the quality of those wins, his majestic presence and aggressive, attacking style of riding which thrilled us all.

Although in my mind, Phil Gil was head and shoulders above all the other contenders, making it onto the podium in second place is Britain’s own Manx missile: Mark Cavendish. The Grand Tour wins, the green jersey (finally) and that magnificent win in the World Championships. Says it all really.

I was in a quandary about third place, should it be Thor Hushovd who so magnificently honoured the rainbow jersey, particularly during the Tour de France or should it be Tony Martin for his emphatic dethronement of Fabian Cancellara, a man who last year looked unbeatable. It’s a tricky one isn’t it? So, I’m going to squash them both on the podium in joint third place.  Honourable mentions should go to Edvald Boassen Hagen and France’s chouchou, Tommy Voeckler, both largely for their Tour de France performances.

Best One-Day Race of the Year

I was there, so it has to be Paris-Roubaix. The race had everything. Fine weather, fantastic atmosphere, favourites desperate to win beaten by an unfancied rider who, to add to the drama, proposed to his long-term girlfriend on the podium. I just love it when a non-contender, albeit hardworking and long-deserving, takes a really big win in one of the Monuments. Congratulations to Mr (and Mrs) Johan Vansummeren and commiserations to the mighty Thor.

In second place, it’s the Men’s Road Race at the World Championships in Copenhagen. While the course was made for Cavendish, the planning and preparation to get him there allied to GB’s phenomenal display of teamwork on the day, controlling the race from start to finish, was truly impressive and hugely exciting.

Had I been there, I suspect that Milan San Remo might well have been my third choice on account of Matt Goss’s uber-intelligent ride. For similar reasons, I could also have plumped for Nick Nuyen’s win in the Tour of Flanders, but I haven’t. No, I’m going for Clasica San Sebastian, a delightfully fun race with a terrific party atmosphere thanks to the Basques enduring love of cycling. This race demonstrated Phil Gil’s dominance over the peloton in hilly Classics. You could almost see the collective drooping of shoulders and the “Well that’s it then” attitude as he raced to victory after some token Basque resistance.

Best Stage Race of the Year

When the touch paper was lit in the third week in the Alps I was there to see the old-style heroics, epic defence of the yellow jersey, stages full of suspense, a French stage winner and, most importantly, some great racing culminating in a worthy winner. The Tour had it all in spades. While, we might have deplored the loss to injury in the first week of a number of favourites, that’s bike racing.

In second place, the Vuelta, the wonderful Tour of Spain which this year I was fortunate to attend albeit only for a couple of days. Unlike the Tour the atmosphere is much more relaxed, for all concerned, and the race much more accessible. The result was also wildly unpredictable and was all the better for it. It also provided my “Best Moment” of the year when Basque rider Igor Anton won the first Vuelta stage to finish in the Basque country for 33 years. The fever pitch excitement and wall of sound as he approached the finish line had to be heard and seen to be believed.

In third place, the Criterium du Dauphine, won by one Bradley Wiggins, which left us all wondering what might have been when Brad crashed out of the Tour. While it probably wasn’t his avowed intention to win the race, once in the leader’s jersey, he and team Sky rode intelligently. Opinion seems to be divided on which race provides the best preparation for the Tour. But, if you wanted to win this year’s Tour, then this race won easily as it allowed you to ride the decisive Grenoble time-trial. To be honest it’s a bit of a no brainer. Which organisation owns both the Dauphine and the Tour de France? Exactly, nuff said.

What about the Giro, I hear you ask. Well, it was over almost before it started thanks to a master coup by Bert and Riis on Nibali’s home turf. In short, it was too hard and too predictable. Also way down the list for consideration, in fact in absolute bottom place, The Tour of Beijing. No need to explain why.

Team of the Year

Who won the most races (again)? Exactly, it was HTC-High Road who have promoted young talent (including both current road race and time-trial World Champions) and bestrode the peloton like a colossus for the past few years racking up around 500 wins. Their reward – disbandment due to lack of sponsorship. Hard to believe and very worrying for the sport.

Tactical Coup of the Year

It just has to be Bjarne Riis and Nick Nuyens in the Tour of Flanders. The latter didn’t figure as one of the favourites despite his credentials and recent win in Dwars Door Vlaanderen. He was invisible until the final break. Having lost touch with the favourites on the Kwaremount, he regained contact, kept out of trouble and popped up in the right place at the right time. First over the finish line to hand Riis back-to-back wins. Who’s LeOghing now?

Surprise of the Year

There’s a couple of contenders here. Should it be Thomas Voeckler’s fourth place in the Tour, team mate Pierre Roland’s win atop iconic L’Alpe d’Huez or Vuelta runner-up Chris Froome? To everyone’s total surprise, Kenyan borne adopted Brit Chris Froome finished the Vuelta ahead of Sky’s team leader Bradley Wiggins in third and might have won were it not for Cobo’s bonus seconds. Wisely he’d postponed contract negotiations with Sky until after the Vuelta so maybe it wasn’t an unexpected result for Chris who seized his opportunity with both hands while still playing the role of loyal team mate. He won’t be flying under the radar next year.

Disappointment(s) of the Year

Where shall I start? Here’s my list, in no particular order:-

  • UCI’s lack of comprehension about the importance of segregation of duties
  • Continued postponement of Alberto Contador’s CAS hearing
  • HTC-Highroad being unable to find a sponsor
  • Geox pulling out at the last moment
  • Crowd booing Bert at Tour de France team presentation
  • Paris-Nice not being a race to the sun this year
  • Andy Schleck happy to be second again and again
  • Leopard Trek, style over substance
  • Budget polarisation of the Pro-tour teams
  • More and more Pro-tour  teams sponsored by “Sugar Daddies”
  • UCI’s system of attribution of points to races and riders

It would be wholly inappropriate to call this event a disappointment. Instead it was for me the real low point of the cycling year. I am, of course, talking about Wouter Weylandt’s death from a high speed fall during the Giro. It reminded us in the strongest possible terms that cycling is a very dangerous sport. If I close my eyes I can still see that short cameo shot of the medics trying to revive his lifeless body.

The point was further underlined with Juan Mauricio Soler’s fall in the Tour of Switzerland for which he is still undergoing rehabilitation. Many more of us watched with horror during this year’s Tour de France as 1) a motorbike deprived  Nicki Sorenson of his bike, depositing him at a roadside picnic and 2) an official car from France TV, driven with scant regard for rider safety, sent Messrs Flecha and Hoogerland flying, the latter into barbed wire.

Unsung Hero(s) of the Year

These are legion in the peloton and the UCI pays them little regard. Many have that Eurovision chilling score of “nul points” and therefore little negotiable value in the transfer market. There’s not enough space (or time) to list them all but let’s have a round of applause for all the teams’ hard working, selfless domestiques. Also, hats off to those team leaders who always recognise the invaluable contribution of their team mates.

My Best Bits of the Year

Again, these are in no particular order:-

  • Watching Astana get their best stage result at this year’s Vuelta fuelled by my home made cake
  • Getting Mark Cavendish’s autograph for a friend as promised
  • Seeing Sammy win atop Luz Ardiden to record (unbelievably) his maiden Tour win. How good was that?
  • Riding around Antibes with Phil Gil
  • Cadel Evans finally winning Tour de France
  • Amael Moinard, Geoffroy Lequatre, Alex Vinokourov, Max Iglinsky, Andrey Grivko (and everyone else)  for turning out to support La Kivilev
  • Lots of young, exciting, emerging talent such as Marcel Kittel, Michael Matthews, John Degenkolb,  Elia Viviani, Tony Gallopin, Andrea Guardini, Thibaud Pinot, Jesse Sergent and Steven Kruiswijk to name but a few
  • Golden oldies such as Jens Voigt and Robbie McEwan for proving there’s no such thing as “too old”

You see, too much thinking time results in my longest blog ever!

How much?

A recent article in L’Equipe looked into how much it costs to run a Pro-Tour team and how much it costs to organise a race. To illustrate the latter they used the recent Tour de L’Ain, a 2.1 UCI race whose budget of Euros 552,000 is financed as follows:-

  • 60% from the local communes, departments and regions
  • 40% from 60 private sponsors, for which the principal sponsors paid around Euros 35,000

So how was all this money spent?

  • Security: Euros 45,000 was spent on motor outriders, ambulances and police escorts. In addition, 200 police officers were provided free of charge by the region.
  • Transport for the 16 teams taking part: Euros 25,000 is the amount determined by the UCI’s sliding scale which depends on the teams’ status.
  • Accommodation for the 16 teams: Euros 75,000 for 5 day’s of half-board, in 3 starred hotels, for 12 people in each team which equates to 960 nights in total.
  • TV transmission on France 3 regional costs Euros 85,000
  • Administration costs for UCI, Anti-doping etc totals Euros 25,000
  • Prizes for the riders Euros 57,000
  • Organisational costs total Euros 120,000 split between accommodation for the organising committee, mounting and demounting the installations at the start and arrival towns.
  • Sundry costs of Euros 120,000 for the announcers, tour radio, public announce system, petrol for the cars, neutral assistance vehicles, marketing and communication etc etc

Of course, none of this would ever take place if it were not for a large and willing band of volunteers, usually from the local cycling clubs who are more than happy to lend a hand, probably in return for a couple of t-shirts. According to the organisers, they’ve managed to break even in each of the last 10 years. I know how much it costs to stage a local cyclosportive so, to my mind, these figures check out. If for any reason the organisers didn’t balance their books, then in all likelihood the principal sponsors would bail them out.

Show me the money

To illustrate how much it costs to run a team, L’Equipe had access to information from France’s only Pro-Tour team, Ag2R La Mondiale whose budget for 2011 was Euros 8.5 million, consistent with it’s ranking of around 14-15th out of the 18 teams.  This sum is provided by its principal sponsor AG2R, Kuoto who provides the bikes plus some financing, a further 12 sponsors who all provide some level of sponsoring and the team makes a further Euros 160,000 at the end of each year from the sale of bikes.

By far the biggest expense, as is the case for most sports’ teams, is salaries and associated costs which accounted for 68% of AG2R’s budget (Euros 5.78 milllion). This percentage is lower at AG2R than at other teams because they don’t have a roster of really big names, their principal riders being Nico Roche, John Gadret, Jean Christophe Peraud and Christophe Riblon. Two-thirds of this (Euros 3.853million) goes to the 27 riders and the remainder is spent on the 23 support staff. The range of gross monthly salaries varies from Euros 3,000 to Euros 35,000 per month making their highest paid rider (before image rights and bonuses) on Euros 420,000 pa. The salary of the 5th highest paid rider (ie it excludes those named above)  is Euros 180,000 pa. One should not forget that being a French team, with largely French riders, carries a heavy price tag in terms of social costs. Hence a lot of multi-national teams are based in countries such as Switzerland and Luxembourg where, unless the riders are based there, they’re generally paid gross and are responsible for making their own contributions.

After salary related costs, the next biggest expense relates to taking part in competitions. Costs here amount to some Euros 1.275 million, (15% of the budget) of which Euros 750,000 cover transport, around Euros 550,000 of which are covered by the race organisers, leaving the team to pick up Euros 200,000. The remainder is spent largely on training camps and food during the races.

General costs of some Euros 850,00 of which Euros 270,000 covers membership of UCI, French Federation, licences, AIGCP, participation in the bio-passport. The rest is spent on consultancy fees for physiotherapists amongst others, costs of running the office, rent. It costs Euros 450,000 to lease and run the vehicles and the remaining 1.7% covers sundry costs such as telephone bills.

Again, having spent some time looking at the costs of running a Continental pro-team, this summation rings very true. So, when you see figures of Euros 20 million being bandied around for the cost of BMC bear in mind that most of the difference between their budget and that of AG2R’s is salary related. Messrs Evans, Gilbert and Hushovd don’t come cheap.

In fact, the article in L’Equipe goes on to focus on salaries in cycling and how they compare to other sports. The average annual salaries of French riders are as follows:-

  • Pro-tour team Euros 122, 512
  • Continental pro team Euros 87,838
  • Continental team  Euros 22,243

Please note this refers only to French riders on French teams, so would exclude Sylvain Chavanel riding for Quickstep or Amael Moinard at BMC. The average salary for a French rider compares favourably with average salaries for rugby and basketball players, and is considerably higher than for those playing handball and volleyball in France. Wisely, the article excludes any comparison with the average salary of a football player in France who, if memory serves me correctly, earns in a week what a cyclist will earn in a month.

Finally, L’Equipe turns its attention to the 30 highest paid riders in the sport in 2011. It groups them in bands rather than giving exact figures and I would say that it’s a not unreasonable assessment. However, I think there may be a couple of errors in their figures and two notable omissions. Unsurprisingly, the man on the highest salary, which is estimated as between Euros 4-5 million pa, is Alberto “November can’t come quick enough” Contador. On around Euros 3 million pa are PhilGil and Cadel Evans. On just under Euros 2 million are Messrs Schleck Jr, Cancellara and Boonen. The first Frenchmen appear in the category “above Euros 500,000 but below Euros 1 million” and they are, unsurprisingly Messrs Chavanel, Voeckler and Fedrigo. However, with a large number of names in this list having had a stellar season and who are moving teams at the end of this season, it’ll be out of date all too soon.

Cards from Copenhagen III

Eshewing the race start in downtown Copenhagen, I went directly to the finish at Rudersdal to claim my spot on the 50m to go marker. The Danes were expecting crowds of 400,000 tall Scandinavians. I needed to be in the front row, against the barriers. I could watch the start on the nearby screen. The Championship’s website claims that the nearest train station is 10 minutes from the finish line. That would be 10 minutes as driven by Sebastian Vettell. On foot, it’s a good 20 minutes and we’ve already established I’m a quick walker. Today I took my own supplies as the choice on offer is somewhat spartan: Carlsberg or Carlsberg. Although I did buy some coffee the other day from some enterprising youngsters, pretty much the cheapest and best coffee I’ve found in pricy Copenhagen.

I arrived in Rudersdal to discover that the locals had laid out their towels the night before and my spot on the 50m marker had been colonised by some very large Danes who, at 09:30 in the morning, were already swigging Calsberg. I am however, if nothing adroit, and by the second circumnavigation of the circuit by the peloton I had claimed my rightful place. The race had been pretty lively from the start and a breakaway of 7 riders had gone clear which included Anthony “it isn’t a break if I’m not in it” Roux and three riders from Team Astana, albeit all different nationalities. The race unfolded much as expected, with the British , whom the American announcer kept calling “the English” –   I bet David Millar and Geraint Thomas loved that – controlling the peloton with assistance from firstly the Germans, and secondly the Americans.

PhilGil sent his lieutenants up the road to form a second break away group which, with 5 laps to go, joined up with the first. But the British remained tranquillo. Not so the back of the peloton, where Team New Zealand, Tony Martin and defending champ Thor Hushovd, among others, were caught up in a crash and never regained the main peloton. Meanwhile, riders were pinging off the front of the bunch, particularly the Danes, to the delight of the local crowd, only to be recaptured by the GB steam roller. Two of the escapees were, as anticipated, French favourite Tommy  Voeckler and Johnny “Scarred Legs” Hoogerland, making their trademark attacks.  But nothing and no one stood in the way of the GB train. A train PhilGil had missed.

The final escapees were brought back on the last lap, where the Brits fought for control with a number of other teams trying to set up their sprint trains, until finally mayhem ensued. Cavendish, shorn of support, picked his way through the pack on the right-hand barrier to burst free of the bunch with 150m (where else) to go, beating team mate Matt Goss by half a wheel. Ex- team mate Andre Greipel was a bike length back in 3rd ,separated from Fabulous Fabian by just a fag paper. The British had won their second gold medal in this event: the first going to the late Tommy Simpson in 1965. Bradley Wiggins was right when he said Cavendish would be unlikely to have a better chance to win gold. The course was made for his style of riding. Even so the Brits had apparently been planning this for the past 3 years. See, proves my point, planning and preparation deliver results every time.

Top 15 Results
1.   Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) Time 5:40:27
2.   Matthew Harley Goss (Australia)
3.   André Greipel (Germany)
4.   Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland)
5.   Jurgen Roelandts (Belgium)
6.   Romain Feillu (France)
7.   Borut Bozic (Slovenia)
8.   Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway)
9.   Oscar Freire Gomez (Spain)
10. Tyler Farrar (USA)
11.  Denis Galimzyanov (Russia)
12. Peter Sagan (Slovakia)
13. Anthony Ravard (France)
14. Daniele Bennati (Italy)
15. Rui Costa (Portugal)

Here’s the medal table which clearly shows Sheree 6 – 5 Ute.

Medal table by country

Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
Great Britain 2 2 2 6
Australia 2 1 2 5
France 2 1 0 3
Germany 2 0 3 5
Denmark 1 1 1 3
Italy 1 0 0 1
New Zealand 0 2 0 2
Belgium 0 2 0 2
Netherlands 0 1 1 2
Switzerland 0 0 1 1

Cards from Copenhagen II

For the last two years I’ve been able to ride the World Championship circuit. Not this year, this year I walked it during this morning’s Junior Boys race. It’s only 13.5kms and I’m a very brisk walker. It’s not quite as good as cycling it, but it did give me a better perspective of the course, the profile of which is shown below. The important scale here is the vertical one. Hardly any real elevation at all. It’s undulating, but the inclines are really neither long nor steep enough to trouble anyone in the professional peloton. There’s all too few places to launch a successful attack. It’s not technical, despite a number of the younger riders coming to grief on some of the corners. There’s a lot of road furniture but it’s very visible, well padded and the riders will all know where it is from their reconnaissance rides. In yesterday’s U23 race, the feed-zone proved pivotal in launching some of the breakaways but this was made easier by the less than aggressive pace set by the bunch.

This morning’s race demonstrated that it is possible to win from a breakaway but it was won by the team with the greatest number of riders who had been omnipresent throughout the race. The racing was aggressive from the start and dominated by a flurry of attacks with the successful break getting free only in the final laps of the race and managing to maintain it’s slender margin despite the advancing peloton. The winner, 18-year old Pierre Henri Lecuisinier, who raced clear in the final 150m, completed the 126km race at an average speed of 44km/hr and finished ahead of two of his breakaway companions, Belgium’s Martijn Degreve and Holland’s Steven Lammertink. France’s Florian Senechal, winner of this year’s junior Paris-Roubaix, finished 4th and 5th was Germany’s Rick Zabel, son of the great Erik Zabel who was supporting enthusiastically, along with Frau Zabel, from the sidelines.

The sunny but chilly weather persisted for the 140km ladies Elite race where I resumed my place on the 50m line. Again, the winner came from the largest team. Clearly, size matters. ln women’s races there tends to be far fewer escapees instead it’s just pretty hectic racing. Like the race this morning, there was a bit of a pile up on the final lap ,where the peloton took back lone escapee Canada’s Clara Hughes (or Huge as she was called by the Danish commentator) on the run in to the line. The Dutch took charge, hoping to lead out Marianne Vos. But Italy’s Georgia Bronzini, the defending champion, powered her way past Vos in the final (yes, you’ve guessed it) 150m to win by a tyre width. It’s Groundhog Day. Cue lots of squealing Italians and glum faces for the Dutch as Vos recorded her 5th consecutive silver medal, after gold in 2006.  Germany’s Ina Teutenberg was 3rd. Today’s score, all square Ute 1 – 1 Sheree.

This led us to contemplate tomorrow’s race. Would Thor repeat his feat of last year or would his younger compatriot Edvald Boassen Hagen prevail? PhilGil has tried to play down his chances on this course, but can his team, and the other teams without sprinters, make it a hard enough race to dispose of the out and out sprinters? Not forgetting that PhilGil has a number of sprinters on his team.  Of course, there are plenty of teams whose sprinters could be in contention tomorrow, most notably:-

  • Spain’s Oscar Freire and Jose Joaquin Rojas
  • Italy’s Daniele Bennati, Daniel Oss and Sacha Modolo
  • Australia’s Matt Goss and Heinrich Haussler
  • Germany’s trio of John Degenkolb, Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel
  • USA’s Tyler Farrar
  • France’s Romain Feillu and the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin
  • Columbia’s Leonardo Duque
  • Slovenia’s Grega Bole
  • Russia’s Denis Galimzyanov
  • Slovakia’s powerhouse, Peter Sagan

However, in a bunch sprint finish, it’s hard to look beyond Mark Cavandish who has a dream support crew. If, against the odds, it’s not a sprint finish then Phil Gil might find himself being challenged by Fabulous Fabian who has to be smarting after Wednesday’s loss. Yes, I know he won a bronze but, get real, it’s gold that counts!

The King is dead, long live the King

This afternoon HTC’s Tony Martin capped a stellar season by winning the rainbow jersey in the individual time-trial event. Twice runner-up to 4-time winner Fabian Cancellara, Tony was gunning for Spartacus’s crown and, indeed, was many people’s favourite to de-throne him. This was based largely on the success he’s enjoyed this year in a number of stage races. As well as winning the overall in Paris-Nice and Volto ao Algave, he’s won the time trails in those two races as well as those in the Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana, Vuelta a Pais Vasco and the Criterium du Dauphine.

I prefer to watch time-trials live as you get to see each individual rider. Of course, in stage races, with the exception of those gunning for GC or a win, most riders endeavour to get around the course in the permitted time. At the World Championships, whatever your ability, you get an opportunity to record a time. This isn’t the case in the road race as those who are lapped are obliged to drop out. In addition, those taking part in the time-trial are generally specialists and often their countries champion in the discipline. Even so, there were some interesting gear choices today. The two tail-end Charlies from Albania were pushing huge gears in what looked like slow motion. On the other hand, former champ Bert “too big to” Grabsch was pedalling a ginormous gear with admirable speed and fluidity.

Luckily, the weather co-operated and, despite a few scattered raindrops, all 65 riders negotiated the 46.4km, 2-lap race in dry conditions. Astana and Kazakh’s Alexandr Dyachenko, fresh from his bottle carrying duties in the Vuelta, was in the hot seat for some considerable time until the more fancied raiders knocked him off his perch. He finished a very creditable 9th overall. A number of the younger riders such as Taylor Phinney (15th), Jonathan Castelviejo (11th), Jesse Sergent (18th) and Jack Bobridge (5th) turned in fine performances. The future of the sport is assured.

Germany’s Tony Martin radiated confidence and purpose as he steam rollered down the ramp and very quickly overtook Scotland’s David Millar. He was smoking and recording the fastest times at all of the checkpoints. To be fair Fabulous Fabian didn’t just roll over. He gave it everything, and probably lost the silver medal when he overcooked a right hand turn coming off the cobbles on the second lap. Britain’s Bradley Wiggins,  another man in fine post-Vuelta form, pedaled with grace and suppleness to take the silver medal some 65 seconds behind Martin. The 26 year-old German recorded an average speed of 51.8km/hr. I cannot begin to explain how difficult it is to maintain this speed on a flat course. I feel inordinately pleased with myself if I can keep close to 40km/hr,  for more than 5km, aided by a strong tailwind.

Fellow Germans, and HTC team mates, have won gold in both elite TT disciplines. My friend Ute, who’s working as a volunteer on the UCI Welcome Desk, will be delighted with the German dominance and will, no doubt, have already secured their respective autographs. So, there were 2 Brits in the top 10, 2 Germans and 2 Australians. The locals had Jakob Fuglsang, who finished 10th, to support. Tomorrow’s a rest day, enabling the teams to check out the road race course which heads out from the town centre to this circuit around Rudersdal.