2010 Highlights

We’ve reached the time of year when it’s difficult to fill newspaper and cycling magazine columns without taking a retrospective look at the season. This seemed like a suitable discussion topic for my English class on Wednesday evening. We were surprisingly of similar minds:-

Rider of the Year

One day races:- There were only two candidates: Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert. Both were competitive throughout the season and both wore Grand Tour leader’s jerseys but, after much debate, we settled on Spartacus: the 4th ITT rainbow jersey tipping the balance in his favour.

Stage races:- As winner of the Tour de France, the most difficult Grand Tour to win, Alberto should have been a shoe in but, sensitive to post-Tour issues such as that itsy, bitsy trace of Clenbuterol, our gong went to Vicenzo Nibali: 3rd in the Giro and winner of the Vuelta.

Memorable Performance of the Year

Actually, there were so many this year that it was hard to whittle it down to just one. Among others, we considered: Fabian’s wins in Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, PhilGil’s wins at Amstel and Lombardy, Cadel Evans at Fleche Wallonne, Bobbie Traskel at K-B-K, Thor at the World Championships, Vino at L-B-L. Finally, we settled on Thor’s performance at the World Championship’s in Geelong. Given that the Norwegian team numbered only three riders, his win demonstrated perfectly his ability to be in the right place at exactly the right time to power to the line.

Best One-day Race of the Year

Here too we had plenty of contenders, but we finally plumped for PhilGil’s win in the Tour of Lombardy, his second consecutive win in the race. It was not just the manner of his win but that he gave no quarter despite the appalling weather conditions.

Best Stage Race of the Year

While we all agreed that the Tour is the most difficult Grand Tour to win, largely because of the depth of competition and the psychological pressures, it can be predictable. Both the Giro and Vuelta raised their games this year to produce thrilling and, at times, unpredictable racing. Finally, we agreed on the Giro d’Italia.

Team of the Year

Hands down, no contest. Liquigas were the best stage racing team and HTC-Columbia the team that racked up the most wins.

Best Kit

No argument: Cervelo Test Team.

Worst Kit

Unanimously awarded to Footon-Servetto

Unsung Hero of the Year

Again, we found it difficult to whittle down the contenders as so many team mates sacrifice their own chances of glory for their leaders. In addition, the work of many riders is done and dusted before the television cameras hove into view. In the end, we decided that the unsung heroes were the hard working domestiques in every team without whom no leader would ever win races.

Best French Rider

Loyal, and ever-smiling, Tommy Voeckler of Bbox without whom his team manager might not have reeled in replacement sponsor Europcar.

Breakout Rider of the Year

Votes were split between the loquacious Peter Sagan of Liquigas and the cherubic faced Richie Porte of Saxobank.

Worst Pro-Tour Race of the Year

There aren’t any, we all love cycle racing wherever and whenever.

Story/Issue of the Year

Sadly, we all agreed these had to be the doping issues. Namely,

  • Pellizotti  being banned from racing due to (unfounded?) passport irregularities
  • Floyd Landis’s accusations against Lance, plus his own confessions
  • Contador and Clenbuterol

Disappointment of the Year

UCI’s unilateral changes to the way teams are evaluated which demonstrated a distinct lack of understanding of the evolution of the sport.

Postcards from Melbourne IV

Before the start of the Men’s Time Trial this afternoon, we took the opportunity to ride the entire 15.9km Geelong Road Race circuit. I still suspect that while the peloton will be nervous on the fast, flat, potentially windy, 85km ride from Melbourne, the real racing won’t start until the riders reach Geelong.

Previously, I hadn’t fully appreciated the narrowness of the roads around the parks, along the river and through the suburbs. The remainder are relatively broad but the two testing climbs are on the narrower roads, so it will be imperative to remain well placed at the head of the peloton each time it approaches those climbs.

The first climb is Challambra Crescent at around 5.6km, with the second at 9.2km. The former is the steeper. While it’s only 1km in length, it averages 8% at the start, before seemingly cruelly dipping down before rearing up to 22% at the summit (13% av.). The crescent is a residential road which should be thronged with locals on race day.

Steep descents tend to follow steep ascents and this is no exception. Taylor Phinney managed 85km/hr. on this 2.5km descent yesterday. At the foot of the descent there’s a sharp S-bend leading to a narrow temporary, pontoon bridge. This is followed by the 700m ascent of Queens Park Road: shorter than the first, but equally punishing. There’s then just 6km along wide roads to the finish line, into a very strong headwind, not forgetting, of course, the last 150m cruel, kick-up before the line. Needless to say, anyone (solo or small group) hoping to escape will probably need to attack on the first hill. 

Reconnaissance over, we resumed our posts to watch the Men’s Time Trial. Few can forget Fabulous Fabian’s majestic and imperious victory last year and today he was hoping to become the first rider to win a fourth title in this discipline. Only the brave or foolhardy would have bet against him. Fortune sometimes favours the brave, but not today: it followed the form book. Nonetheless, it was a totally absorbing race with impressive times being posted by riders in the earlier groups, notably Mick Rogers who was also hoping to be the first man  to win 4 World titles in this discipline. He was sitting in the hot seat as the first riders from the last group rolled down the starting ramp.

While the ladies basked in sunshine yesterday afternoon, today the sun was hidden by thick clouds and rain looked a real possibility. The earlier stiff breeze disappeared favouring those in the final group.  Naturally, Fabulous Fabian was last out of the starting blocks preceded by one of Australia’s new heroes, Ritchie Porte, who went after last year’s silver medalist, Tony Martin.

Tony Martin

David Millar was posting the fastest split times forcing Fab to really push it on the descents where he reached speeds of over 100km/hr. almost coming to grief on the S-bend as he brushed up against the barrier. Remember what I said about luck? Tony Martin had a puncture and, thanks to his quick witted support team, was on his replacement bike within 10secs. (Remembering Dowsett yesterday, can they please give a few tips to the British squad.) Given that he still managed to finish in 3rd place, he’ll no doubt be buying them drinks this evening.

Silver for Millar

Millar was smoking, but not as much as Spartacus, who finished atop the podium, more than a minute ahead of Millar. Porte and Rogers were respectively 4th and 5th. This margin allowed Fab to waggle 4 fingers as he crossed the finishing line. I consider I’ve been fortunate to see all four wins in person.

The Terminator

(All photographs courtesy of my beloved)

Postcards from Melbourne II

Today my beloved had a business meeting in Geelong (fortuitous or what!) which gave me an opportunity to check out the course. The ride from Melbourne to Geelong was open and very windy although the forecast for later in the week is for less wind. The circuit around Geelong is on wide, well-maintained roads and the drag up to the finish could well mitigate against a true sprinter, like Cavendish. The two climbs are short and steep but riders like Gilbert and Cancellara will just power up them. Short steep ascents also mean fast ascents which could play into the hands of someone like Fabulous Fabian, enabling him to solo away. On the circuit, the wind may play a part either as a strong head or tailwind. The latter will make it difficult for someone to take a flyer, the latter will assist.

So who are the favourites in the Men’s road race? You cannot discount anyone from those  teams fielding 9 riders. I think Bettini, wily fox that he is, has done his planning and preparation well and chosen a strong squad to support Pozzato who’s obviously in form after the Vuelta and his win in Sunday’s Sun Herald Classic in Ballarat.

I had a chance meeting with the Spanish squad today, who are throwing their weight behind Oscarito, and he certainly fancies that uphill 150m drag to the finish. The boys were wrapped up against the biting cold wind and delayed the start of their practice ride until the squally rain showers had passed. The boys were obviously concerned about the weather and spent sometime checking out the weather forecast for the coming days. Luckily for them (and me) the mercury is set to rise at the week end.

I would categorize it as an Ardennes Classic type of course, although the climbing is concentrated in the latter 2/3rds of the race, so should suit my tip for the top, Gilbert, as well as others who have fared well in these types of races, such as Frank Schleck. That’s why I think it’s a shame that my favourite Kazakh has passed on this race. It would have suited his attacking style and one can always rely on him to enliven any race he enters.

One cannot discount Kolobnev who has performed well in the past (Stuttgart and Mendrisio). Nor can one ignore the home team, the Aussies, who will be keen to not only defend the rainbow jersey but also win on their turf. They should know the course better than anyone.

So am I saying it’s all to play for? No, even assuming that the weather is not a major factor, the stronger, larger teams will seek to put the pure sprinters under pressure and whittle down the peloton to ensure they are not duking it out in the final stretch. It’ll be a fast race and my pick is as follows: Gilbert (1), Pozzatto (2), Oscarito (3).

It’s hard to look beyond Cancellara and Tony Martin for the time trial. This tends to be a much more predictable race. I favour Fabulous Fabian over Tony and I’m going for Lars Boom to place 3rd rather than Edvald Boassen Hagen or Ritchie Porte.

Both women’s races look to be very open with no clear favourites. Though again, I expect riders from the larger teams to hold sway likewise, in the U23 races. In these races I shall be cheering for the French and, in particular, Jeanni Longo who’s old enough to have a grandson riding in the U23 race. That woman is my inspiration.

Une Edition Record

La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev

The day of the event was warm and sunny: just what we’d ordered. For once there were no professional riders at the start , as the event clashed with their professional commitments.  No matter, a good time was still had by all thanks to the hard work of our vast team (60) of volunteers which did not go unnoticed or unappreciated by the participants.

Andrei’s widow kindly assisted with the presentation of the prizes and her son  performed a splendid job selecting the winning numbers for the tombola. Yes, not only did the participants get a goodie bag with a T-shirt commemorating the event, a bidon, a discount voucher from one of the local sports shops but they stood to win cycling related prizes, including 2 sets of wheels and a Look bike frame, in the tombola.

The event  was graced, as usual, by the Mayor and other local and regional officials responsible for sporting and cultural events as well as a representative from the Kazakh Embassy in France and a reporter and cameraman from Kazakh TV. Our event will be featured in a short segment which will be regularly repeated in the coming weeks on the main TV channel in Kazakhstan. In the spirit of cementing Franco-Kazakh relations, I decided to wear the dreaded white trousers from Le Grand Depart 2009, teaming them with a turquoise t-shirt and yellow sweater, swung over the shoulders: voila, the colours of team Astana and the Kazakh flag.  

We’ll be holding a post-mortem meeting this week to review what went well and, more importantly, how and where we can make improvements for next year’s edition. Ideally, we would like to turn it into a cyclosportif. Easier said than done.

All this hyperactivity meant that I missed watching 3 stages of the Giro, although I did see the final TT. Liquigas must have been delighted: three men in the top ten with Basso taking the maglia rosa , Nibali 3rd  and  Kiserlovski 10th. Equally, Caisse d’Epargne must be pleased with Arroyo’s 2nd place while honourable mentions for Scarponi (4th), Evans (5th) and Vino (6th). The Australians made a clean sweep of the remaining jerseys: points (Evans), mountains (Lloyd) and best young rider (Porte). The organisers are to be congratulated for organising a thrilling Giro.

Lazy Sunday afternoons

My beloved returned yesterday evening from a hectic week in the UK. I let him sleep in this morning as there was no pointage, just a club ride to Aspremont. Instead, we decided to ride over to Menton and tackle the Col de la Madone. However, my beloved was feeling really fatigued so rather than ride over to La Turbie, we descended to Menton and retraced our steps.

Thanks to the gloriously warm summer-like conditions, the roads were busy with holiday traffic (Monday’s a Bank holiday here). We spotted 2 Rolls Royces, 6 Ferraris, 1 Lambourghini, I Bentley and only 1 Aston Martin. Yes, we take note of the number of high value cars we see when we ride over in the direction on Monaco. We do not include Porsches, Mercedes or BMWs, far too common, though we do include Audi R8 Spyders.

With lunchtime almost over, we stopped at a small Italian roadside restaurant in Eze, where we could leave the bikes in the courtyard garden, and enjoyed a magnificent spaghetti with clams, followed by that Italian classic “Tiramisu”, which was deliciously light. Seriously fortified, we pedalled home strongly to catch the action on the Monte Zoncolan.

As anticipated the man who saved his legs yesterday, Ivan Basso, distanced everyone on that 11.9% average climb to the finish. He was followed in by (in order) Evans, Scarponi, Cunego, Vino, Sastre and Nibali. David Arroyo is still sitting pretty in pink, ahead of Ritchie Porte in white, followed by Basso, Sastre, Evans, Vino ( looking good in the red point’s jersey), Nibali and Scarponi.  I’m sure they’re all looking forward to tomorrow’s rest day, I know I am.

Normal service resumed

Today, I set off down the Var valley towards Castagniers for my Power Tap test. I was looking forward to seeing what, if any, progress I’d made since my first test. My coach promises a 5% improvement. Now, if I were an elite athlete, 5% improvement would sound like a good deal. However, since I’m not, I’m looking for around 20% improvement over 6 months.

I’m pleased to report that I’m on target with a 10% improvement over the last 3 months. I rode for 20 minutes along the D2202, easily one of my least favourite roads, on account of the very fast moving traffic and the amount of gravel and glass along its verges. The test was supposed to have taken place at the velodrome in La Bocca but it’s closed on account of this being a holiday week end. My trainer told me to stay at an average of 200 watts for the first 10 minutes and then give it my all. However, I barely managed to exceed 170 for the first 10 minutes. I did, fortunately, fare very much better on the way back. Though, I think it’s fair to say, Spartacus won’t be quaking in his Sidis any time soon.

I popped in to my LBS on the way back to say hello to the owner as, most unusually,  I’ve not been in for a couple of weeks. Then it was back home, shower, change into the fleecy tracksuit, lunch and onto the sofa for today’s stage of the Giro.

What did I say about buses? Yet another Italian win: third in a row. This time Vicenzo Nibali, largely thanks to some kamikaze descending off the Monte Grappa en route to Asolo. Today, it was the turn of the dethroned favourites to put the hurt on the rest of the peloton. Liquigas laid down a punishing pace on the ascent of the Monte Grappa, scattering GC contenders all over its steep slopes.

Finishing behind Nibali were (in order) Basso, Scarponi and Evans, with a gap to Vino, who now leads the points classification. David Arroyo is now in pink, 39 seconds ahead of former maglia rosa wearer, Ritchie Porte, with Tondo in 3rd place. Nibali is now 8th on GC, while Vino is 9th. I think we can expect further fireworks on tomorrow’s stage which includes the Monte Zoncolan: 10.1km with an average gradient of 11.9%. That’s going to hurt.

Bouleversement

I got caught in the rain this morning as I went out for a quick training ride ahead of tomorrow’s marathon: 175km and 2,713m of climbing.  I then rushed around, like the mad woman that I am, fulfilling my long list of must do chores for today. I arrived back home in time to watch today’s stage of the Giro, a fairy innocuous (or so I thought), long (262km) stage to L’Aquila.

I switched on the tv to discover one-third of the peloton (56 riders) were having a Perreiro moment. They’d gone away in the 20th kilometer and had built up an advantage of 17 minutes in the pouring rain. Yes, after yesterday’s sunshine, the weather gods are once more displeased.

Most of those occupying the top 15 spots on GC, including the maglia rosa, were in Group 2. Those who we were all (wrongly) figuring might be out of contention, were in Group 1. How they were allowed to build up such an advantage remains a mystery but, is bound to be a talking point at the dinner table this evening. By the time the favourites started taking their turn on the front of Group 2, having exhausted their troops, it was definitely a case of far too little, too late.

The stage was won by Evgeni Petrov (Katusha) ahead of Dario Cataldo (Quick Step) and Carlos Sastre (Cervelo); so, still no Italian stage win.  Ritchie Porte (Saxo Bank) now has both the pink and white jerseys.  David Arroyo (Casse d’Epargne) is in 2nd place while Robert Kiserlovski (Liquigas) is 3rd.

Group 2 containing Vinokourov, Basso, Nibali, Evans, Garzelli, Scarponi, Pozzato, Karpets, Cunego and Pinotti (among others) came in over 12 minutes and 46 seconds down and they are now way back on GC. This is turning into one hell of a Giro, I can hardly wait for tomorrow’s stage. What better incentive to finish tomorrow’s ride in a reasonable time so that I can watch the highlights. What, you thought I’d be back in time to watch it live?  Sadly, no way, but I’m hoping to break 10 hours.

Oops-a-daisy

Sunny again on the coast this morning while the hills behind were once more shrouded in cloud. It didn’t rain, and I managed to fit in my 4 hour training ride. I’m back in my bib shorts but am still wearing my long-sleeved cycling shirt and gilet. While I was out, my beloved was whisked to the airport on a motorbike for his trip to Poland. I’m expecting him back sometime Wednesday evening, or maybe Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, I have received a desperate cry for hospitality from my Swiss cycling friend who, keen to swop the rain swept mountains of Switzerland, may be paying us a visit this week end. That’ll be three of us for the Vencoise. If so, I’ll let the boys ride together on the longer parcours.

Cycling and chores over I settled down to watch Stage 3 of the Giro, from Amsterdam to Middleburg, by way of the sandy, windy, Dutch coastline.  The wind split the peloton and crashes dashed the chances of a few of the favourites. Wily campaigners like Vino, Basso, Scarponi, and Garzelli managed to stay out of trouble as did some of the newer boys on the block, such as Porte and Nibali. Evans relinquished the pink jersey having been detained by the multiple Sky pile up and, lacking the support of any team mates, he led the chase over the line to minimize his time loss. Most commentators expected Greipel to win both the stage and the pink jersey but he lost the wheel of his lead out man and, fittingly, it was Belgian Wouter Weylandt, who hefted his arms aloft on the line. Who’s in pink? That man Vino. Pink suits him and it puts his team in last place for the TTT, always an advantage.

Please note, these two stages should be compulsory viewing for all those riding this year’s Tour de France along with all their Directeur Sportifs. There’ll be no excuses come July, you’ve been warned.