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.

Vuelta wrap

What a fantastic Vuelta which maintained the suspense right up until the final summit on the pen-ultimate day. But the “Shark”, having gotten his teeth into the red jersey (again) wasn’t going to be shaken loose and he managed to claw (not that sharks have claws) his way back onto Mosquera’s wheel. As a consolation, Mosquera won his first Grand Tour stage while Nibali sealed the leader’s and combined jerseys. As predicted (by me and pretty much everyone else), Cavendish won the points and Moncoutie the mountain’s. Consolation for Joaquin Rodriguez as he has now climbed atop the UCI rankings.  

The Vuelta threw up some surprises, not all of them pleasant:

1) Denis Menchov, 2nd in the time-trial, who finished 41st on GC. Clearly, despite nicking 3rd spot in the Tour thanks to his performance in the time-trial from my beloved Samu Sanchez, it took more out of Denis than anyone realised. He woz rubbish!

2) Peter Velits on the podium – no one saw that one coming. HTC-Columbia’s first GT podium. The Velits twins and Peter Sagan: don’t mess with Slovakia.

3) Some consolation for my beloved boys in orange: 3 stage wins and Mikel Nieve’s 12 place on GC. All good omens for 2011.

4) David Moncoutie’s mountains jersey (3rd consecutive) and his re-signing for another (final?) year with Cofidis.

5) He’s on his way back from the wilderness: Andrey Kashechkin’s 18th place on GC in his first real ride in 3 years.

6) Christophe Le Mevel’s 15th place on GC: some consolation late in the season.

7) Nico Roche 7th on GC: clearly a chip off the “old block”.

8) Jan Bakelandts 19th on GC: keep an eye on him.

9) Will he, won’t he? Fabulous Fabian jumps ship, leaving both SaxoBank and the Vuelta in the lurch. He may not even go to the World’s after being beaten by both Velits and Menchov in the Vuelta ITT. The SaxoBank cupboard is starting to look rather bare.

10) Using the Vuelta as a predictor of form for the World Championships, you have to say watch out for Philippe Gilbert in Geelong.

 What more can I say? A brilliant 3 weeks of racing, much appreciated by the viewing public, whether on the roadside or in front on the screen. In fact the lack of some of the bigger names may have made the outcome, and the racing, less predictable. It also helped that the Vuelta finished 2 weeks before the Men’s Road Race at the World Championship’s in Melbourne. Full credit must go to the organisers, Unipublic, for staging what most people feel is the best Vuelta in a long time. Long may it continue.

Vuelta Espana 2010 Final Overall Classification

1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 87hrs 18’ 33”
2 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia + 41”
3 Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC-Columbia + 3’ 02”
4 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha + 4’ 20”
5 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank + 4’ 43”
6 Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo Test Team + 4’ 52”
7 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale + 5’ 03”
8 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervélo Test Team + 6’ 06”
9 Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Transitions + 6’ 09”
10 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne + 7’ 35”

Mountain Classification
1 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis 51pts
2 Serafin Martinez (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 43
3 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 36

Points Classification
1 Mark Cavendish (GB) Team HTC-Columbia 156pts
2 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions 149
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 119

Team Classification
1 Team Katusha 261hrs 48’ 04”
2 Caisse d’Epargne + 35”
3 Xacobeo Galicia + 12′ 33”

It’s fleeting

Pressing matters down at the cycling club have meant I’ve been mostly catching the evening highlights of the Vuelta rather than live coverage. This also means that I’ve made no inroads into the “To do during the Vuelta” list.  Nonetheless, it’s proving to be a gripping contest and I’m hoping for more viewing time next week.

Tuesday’s stage 10, 175.7km from Tarrgona to Vilanovi la Geltu started without Schleck the younger and hard man Stuart O’Grady. The two had been sent home by SaxoBank Team boss Bjarne Riis for breach of team rules. They had allegedly returned to the hotel at 5:00am that morning after a few alcoholic beverages. Probably, bang went any chance that Frank might have (still) entertained of a podium placing. 

The stage was won by one of the day’s breakaways, Imanol Erviti (Caisse d’Epargne) who caught his fellow escapees napping on the descent of the Rat Penat. The red jersey changed hands after Purito, riding into his home region of Catalonia, had hoovered up a couple of bonus seconds earlier in the day.   

On Wednesday, Igor Anton sand-bagged his way to a second stage win (and back into the leader’s jersey)  into Andorra. He had timed his come-back to perfection after he looked to be distanced by the attack of Ezequiel Mosquera, who finished 2nd) and Vicenzo Nibali on the final ascent of the day. Despite going with the initial attack, Purito lost a minute on Anton but the biggest loser was Denis Menchov who finished 56th, over 5 minutes down. Clearly, the Tour took more out of him than we realised: bye-bye podium.

Stage 12 from Andorra la Vella to Lleida was one for the sprinters. The only other time the Vuelta had visited Lleida, the stage was won by Malcolm Elliot, still the only Brit to win a points jersey in a Grand Tour and, more amazingly,  who’s still racing, against men half his age, on the British Premier Circuit. So it was only fitting that the race was won at a canter by the Manx Missile whose team  had done their homework on the run in. His poisson pilote, Matt Goss and he read the final corner beautifully and they came out of it several bike length’s ahead of everyone else. He now joins that short list of 5 men who have won sprint stages in all three Grand Tours and he’s back in the points jersey.

Stage 13 to Burgos was more of the same, another win for Cavendish, who had enough time to bunny hop over the line. Again, he and Goss read the last corner better than the rest and finished well in front of the also rans. As Cav so eloquently put it in his post-race interview: it is indeed better to have a star team than a team of stars. It’s easy to see that Cav has a much lower trajectory on the bike than the other sprinters which makes him more aero-dynamic, not forgetting, of course, his 5th gear. My favourite moment of the day was a bunch of slightly overweight Basques decked out in orange (of course) and time trial helmets trotting in single file alongside the peloton, clearly enjoying their 15 seconds of fame.

Tuesday postscript: Oops forgot to post this last week

Not in the script

I have spent an enjoyable week end with my beloved who’s back from his transatlantic jaunt. Yesterday we rose late, as a consequence of his jet lag, and, after a leisurely breakfast,  set off for a ride. We had just exited the domaine when my beloved punctured. I said I would continue on our trajectory and he could catch me up after he’d returned home and swapped bikes.

I rode for an hour and then waited for ten minutes. Surprisingly, still no sign of my beloved. I continued and indulged in some interval training: low gear/high cadence. I was still bouncing around but probably not as much as before. It’s a surprisingly tiring exercise. I stopped by the fountain  to replenish my bidon and along came my beloved. He’d decided to mend his puncture, hence the additional delay. We continued on enjoying the heat of the day and the quietness of the roads. The tourists have gone home.

I spent the afternoon pottering in the kitchen before settling down, after dinner, to watch the opening team time trial of the Vuelta a Espana. This was won by HTC-Columbia, putting Mark Cavendish in the red leader’s  jersey. Surprisingly diffident performances from SaxoBank, Sky and Garmin-Transitions but, as anticipated, no big time differences between the leading contenders.

This morning we rode together, eschewing the club ride. In truth, we’d overslept again. A strong breeze sprang up before midday which seemed to suck some of the heat out of the day, leaving it altogether fresher. Perfect riding weather. Having collected the Sunday newspapers on the way back, after a cold shower and lunch, I settled down on the sofa to read said newspapers and enjoy today’s 173km lumpy stage from Alcala de Guadaira to Marbella. Despite the climbs, the final descent I felt would ensure a bunch sprint finish.

Everything was going according to plan. HTC-Columbia had worked on the front to pull back the escapees before the run in to the finish. The other sprinters teams then shared the work load, the protagonists were all well positioned as they hit Marbella. Tyler Farrar led the sprint with Cavendish in his wheel, leaving the others flailing in their wake. Cavendish overtook Farrar and was poised to cross the line first, when up popped Yauheni Hutarovich on his left hand side. The Belarussian hadn’t read the script and crossed the line a wheel ahead of Cavendish. If you’re wondering Yauheni who? This is the lanterne rouge from 2009’s Tour de France. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall his palmares. He won a stage in the recent Tour of Poland but this is his maiden win in a Grand Tour.

Bring it on

Hours before the start of the 65th edition (and 75th anniversary) of the Vuelta a Espana, I’m all set and raring to go. Unusually, there’s no pile of laundry to keep me occupied when I’ll be whiling away my afternoons in front of the television. No, I’m going to be sorting out my dressing room, all the drawers and cupboards in the lounge and dining room and rearranging my collection of cookery books. If you’ve visited my apartment you’ll know that these are all mammoth tasks befitting a three-week Tour.

Many more gifted than me have previewed at length the fancied riders and the stages. I’m not going to add to this. Instead, you’ll get, as usual, my take on things: less objective, more subjective. A consensus seems to have built up around perm any three from Nibali/Menchov/Mosquera/the Schlecks/Arroyo/LL Sanchez/Sastre/Rodriguez.

The Vuelta organisers were hoping to tempt Contador to his home Tour and devised a  parcours which would suit him. As he’s shown, it’s possible to do the Giro/Vuelta double, but it’s much more difficult to double up with the Tour de France. It’s not so much the racing itself more the mental demands. In addition, he had concerns over the quality of his support. Valid concerns if you look at the Astana team sheet. My favourite Spanish rider, Samu Sanchez will also be missing, as will last year’s winner, Alejandro Valverde, who’s on an enforced sabbatical. As a consequence, Inigo Cuesta, of the soon to be defunct Cervelo Test Team, riding his 17th consecutive Vuelta, will be honoured with the No 1.

While it’s rare for there to be surprises on the podium of a Grand Tour, I am hoping that maybe either Igor Anton or Benat Intxausti, both from Euskaltel-Euskadi, will shine in their home tour. It’s also an opportunity to look out for talent of the future (Tony Gallopin and Arthur Vichot) and talent that’s shone over the past two seasons, to shine more brightly (Tejay van Garderen and Ben Swift). Of course, there will also be a whole host of riders, without contracts for next season, looking to catch the eye of a Directeur Sportif or two. And, let’s not forget, a whole slew of sprinters, in fact pretty much everyone bar every girl’s favourite bad boy, Tom Boonen, who’ll be battling for supremacy over a possible 8 sprint stages, ahead of the World Championships in Melbourne.

So, stand by your television sets for this evening’s 13km team time trial around Sevilla. Footon-Servetto are off first with teams going at four minute intervals. Local team, Andalucia-CajaSur, will go last. SaxoBank have the advantage of going after other potential winners HTC-Columbia, Garmin-Transitions and (remember the Giro), Liquigas. I do not anticipate any decisive time gaps.

While the first week is uncharacteristically hilly, the key stages are at the back end of the Vuelta: specifically, Stage 15 on 12 September to Lagos de Covadonga, Stage 16 to Cortobello, Stage 17’s 46km pancake flat ITT at Penafiel and, the penultimate test, Stage 20 to Bola del Mundo.

My pick for the podium: 1-Menchov, 2-Nibali, 3-(F) Schleck

Climber’s Jersey: Moncoutie

Point’s Jersey: Cavendish

Combined Jersey: Mosquera