How I love Interbike. I could count the ways, and would count the ways, except that RKP is now something approaching popular with some of the bike industry and I’ve been busier than a salt shaker at a diner. Though Interbike is ostensibly about product and sales, what that makes this event so terrific are the many people I have the pleasure to work with and the fact that we’re all in Las Vegas to celebrate just how great a sport cycling is. We’re all preaching to the same choir, but no one is complaining.
Yes, that is the Giro d’Italia trophy above. I picked it up and got my picture taken with it. While nothing about its weight (which is somewhere between 1970s Cadillac and Blue Whale) suggests that it is in any way delicate, one cannot simply grab thing like an old suspension coil and hoist it above your head. As I handled it, I felt as if I was rolling out the Dead Sea Scrolls and there was no way I could be too careful.
The queen stage of the 2013 Giro d’Italia (Giro representatives preferred the term “king” stage) was announced in a press conference yesterday and while they talked for entirely too long to introduce a single 150km-stage, the stage is a doozy and will not only be the Giro’s first visit to the famed Col du Galibier, it will also result in a mountain-top finish on that murderous climb. That stage will break people (I can’t wait).
BMC introduced a new aero road frame, the TMR01. It features integrated brakes, internal cable routing and a number of truly aerodynamic features that make it at least appear to be exceedingly fast. Of course, the promotional video of Philippe Gilbert storming down a descent in the Riviera was amazing to watch, for a few reasons, one being he’s as stylish on the bike as George Clooney is at pretty much every moment of his life, another was the road Gilbert was blistering, and the final was the simple fact that I’ve been made a believer of aero road frames and I’m dying to ride this bike.
You’ve probably heard that Specialized is introducing a new road shoe. If you studied pics of Tom Boonen killing it at Flanders or Roubaix this spring, then you might have spied the new model. On display below samples of the new work was this collection of production shoes and prototypes from over the years. So much of Interbike is spit-polished it was nice to get a glimpse inside the work that goes into a sophisticated piece of footwear meant to fit as many riders as possible. No small feat, ahem.
The big news at Specialized (and here’s a good reason why the complete lack of any presence at all by Cannondale and Trek sucks unicorn blood—I can’t say a thing about them, which makes it seem like I wasn’t interested, which isn’t the least bit true) was the new Roubaix SL4. I’ll chase the full details at a later date, but I’m told that this iteration has evolved a bit to make it a somewhat racier bike. This most noticeable change is a shorter head tube to make the thing feel less like an English 3-speed to veteran roadies.
My piece on carbon clinchers this summer opened some interesting communication channels. Some product managers came down from Specialized and we went for a ride on the terrain in question and a couple of guys from Reynolds came up for a visit and ride as well. The note that the Reynolds team struck was both proud and conciliatory. Proud because with 10 years building carbon clinchers, they’ve been at it longer than anyone else. Conciliatory because they understand that the single biggest issue they face is that some riders are on product that really can’t be compared with their latest work. We went through the new Aero series of wheels, wheels I’m hearing compare favorably with Zipp’s Firecrest and Enve’s SES wheels for stability. I’ll be getting on a pair a little later this fall.
It’s Interbike, which means I’m in the showroom for Santa’s workshop. This Fondriest isn’t going to be a top seller, or on anyone’s best new product list. That’s just fine. I took this shot because those polished lugs are freakin’ gorgeous and if you don’t take time at Interbike to geek out, you kinda missed the point.
Despite suspicions that the apparent turmoil at Team RadioShack-Nissan was just that, apparent, a bit of strategic misdirection from Johann Bruyneel ahead of the Tour, Andy Schleck has now pulled out of the Grand Boucle with a fractured tailbone. Bruyneel has been targeted in a USADA investigation into systematized doping, and team owner Flavio Becca has, allegedly, withheld the riders’ May salaries (via Inner Ring) to express his disappointment with overall performances.
Now the Schlecks, who have publicly fallen out with Bruyneel, are rumored to be looking for a new team, possibly a return to Bjarne Riis’ SaxoBank squad. What?
We have been here before, with the ridiculous game of musical chairs that saw the Luxembourgers leave SaxoBank to start Leopard-Trek, while Alberto Contador joined Riis and won the Tour (later to be DQ’d for doping). Both of those teams lined up against Radio Shack, then under the leadership of Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong, which subsequently merged with Leopard-Trek. All those deals were undergirded by competing sponsorship dollars from Specialized and Trek, each of whom desperately wants a TdF winner on their machines. There just weren’t enough serious Tour contenders around to support three teams after Armstrong finally quit, so that merger made some sense, except that Cadel Evans won the last Tour for Andy Rihs and BMC.
You know what, forget musical chairs. This is a freaking Russian novel with too many characters, too many plot lines and too much melodrama.
Obviously (maybe), the Schlecks can’t go back to Riis, who just re-signed Contador to a three-year deal. The other rumor is that they’ll go to Astana (the former home of Contador and Armstrong), but that will only put Vincenzo Nibali in an awkward spot. He just signed on to be their main GC man.
As with all big name/money transfers, nothing is clear this time of year. It’s our Russian novel, written with a stick, in sand, too near the tide line.
This week’s Group Ride asks a series of crazy questions: Will the Schlecks leave the Shack? If so, does it even make sense for Flavio Becca to own a cycling team with or without RadioShack also involved? And who benefits most from the chaos? Bjarne Riis and the soon-to-return Contador? Team Sky, with Bradley Wiggins coming on song at possibly the right time? Or someone else? BMC? Look into your crystal ball, get out your Russian-English dictionary, take a wild stab. How will it all play out?
Some thoughts from Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege:
1. Maxim Iglinskiy capped a terrific week for Astana, winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege after overtaking a fading Vincenzo Nibali with a little more than one kilometer left to race. While certainly an outsider, Iglinskiy’s win wasn’t a total shock. In fact, in looking over the Kazakh’s resume, he appears to be a poor man’s Philippe Gilbert. Consistent spring contenders, (Iglinskiy is better than you might think) both riders have won the Strade Bianche and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. They also both won stages at the Dauphiné earlier in their careers. Of course, Gilbert’s resume is much longer and contains many more major victories, but considering Iglinsky came millions of Euros cheaper than his Belgian counterpart, Astana is doubtlessly happy with the return on its investment.
2. Iglinskiy’s win underscored a terrific team effort from Astana. Well-represented all day (their jerseys are hard to miss), the team placed two riders in the first group chasing Nibali. Enrico Gasparotto’s third-place finish put an exclamation mark on a successful day for the squad while confirming that his win in last weekend’s Amstel Gold Race was no fluke. The squad has now won two of the last three editions of Liege. (I wonder if Alexandre Vinokourov had some pre-race advice for his teammates.)
3. As for Nibali, his ride yesterday bookended his performance at Milan-San Remo, the season’s first Monument. In both races, the Liquigas rider initiated the final selection, but succumbed to a rider that few had predicted to play a dominant role in the event’s outcome. It’s been a while since we’ve had a grand tour champion prove himself to be a legitimate contender in the spring classics—let’s hope Nibali returns next year ready to contend again. Now the Italian must decide whether or not to compete in his home grand tour. While the Giro is a tempting option, he’s better suited for this year’s Tour de France.
4. Speaking of this year’s Tour de France, RadioShack’s Schleck brothers played little role in Sunday’s race. Perhaps they were tired from their efforts to have Kim Anderson reinstated in the squad’s management team for July’s Tour de France. A win Sunday would have spoken a lot louder if you ask me.
5. Back to the race: Twitter was buzzing Sunday with people complaining of boredom during the race’s final hour. At first, I felt compelled to defend the riders. The weather was horrible and the course was difficult—one must remember that these men are indeed human. But in hindsight, it seems to me that several teams with top contenders could and should have done more to make the race difficult, thereby eliminating “outsiders” like Iglinsky before they had a chance to play a role in the finale.
For example, Gilbert’s BMC squad was clearly focused on controlling the race in preparation for what it hoped would be a decisive attack by Gilbert (or someone else). Unfortunately, this kept too many riders and teams in contention after La Redoute. Without a major selection at this point in the race, there were too many men left to settle things over the remaining 30 kilometers.
7. The same can be said of Katusha. With Joaquim Rodriguez and Daniel Moreno they had a reason and the manpower to make the race more selective sooner—but they chose to sit-on. Some might say that Oscar Freire’s surprising resiliency gave the team an extra card to play should the race have stayed together all the way to Liege. (But that was an unlikely result—Freire’s performance was more a product of controlled racing than anything else.)
BMC can at least say they were racing to protect the chances of the defending chapion—they technically didn’t have to make the race (although that’s a slippery slope). Katusha made a mistake by basing this year’s tactics on last year’s favorite (Gilbert). Sometimes bringing the race to your competition is more effective than waiting for it to come to you.
8. Speaking of Gilbert, this spring was a minor catastrophe for the Belgian Champion. Last week I said that a win yesterday would have appeased his fans and softened his critics. Now it appears only a world championship will do the trick. Gilbert’s performance illustrates the importance of good health and good luck, while also reminding us that winning brings even loftier expectations the next time around. Hopefully Gilbert—who’s only 29, by the way—learned some valuable lessons from his experiences over the past two months. Look for him to be at his best once again next spring.
9. And if Gilbert didn’t already miss Jelle Vanendert, he certainly does now. I still can’t believe he didn’t make more of an effort to bring him along to BMC. That said, Tejay Van Garderen rode one heck of a race yesterday on behalf of Gilbert. The American now heads to Romandie before taking another crack at winning the Tour of California.
10. What a spring for Specialized and SRAM, huh?
That’s it for me—what’s on your mind?
Follow me on Twitter: @whityost
Image: Photoreporter Sirotti
The BMC media event I attended included not one but two bike introductions. Yesterday I had the opportunity to ride the new Teamelite TE01, a hard-tail 29er. Don’t worry, RKP isn’t changing its editorial direction, but we’ve made the decision to start including some off-road content when it seems appropriate. And this bike was so much fun it’s worth mentioning.
That it took the frequently innovative world of mountain biking as long as it did to move to a wheel larger than 26″ is something of a mystery to me. Sure, there are times when in ultra-technical terrain the smaller wheels are the better choice, but the bigger footprint, larger rotational mass and larger air volume does so much to make bikes ride better, riding a 29er for the first time can often make for an epic riding duh.
The TE01 looks a lot like BMC’s road bikes, for good reason. First is the simple matter of the industrial design. While it’s obvious that some RKP readers don’t like the angular lines of the tubes, they are a Swiss brand with decidedly European tastes. Hyundai this is not. The other reason the look is familiar is due to BMC’s incorporation of it’s Tuned Compliance Concept (TCC) design work into the frame. The idea is that the chainstays and seatstays will flex a bit, vertically, while the seat tube will flex fore-to-aft. The seat tube’s fore-aft flex is the reason for the small reinforcement coming off the top tube. One of BMC’s engineers told me that the seat tube moves enough that without that reinforcement the top tube/seat tube junction eventually breaks.
Of course, the big challenge with 29ers is to create a geometry that allows the bike to move nimbly. BMC went with a lower-than-some (most?) bottom bracket, which made the bike easy to lean into turns. In this regard it reminded me of the Specialized Stumpjumper 29er hard tail which was previously the best-handling hard tail I’d ridden.
The weather here on the Monterey Peninsula is almost unconscionably good, so pardon me while I go check out more cool stuff and do a bit more riding.
If you ever doubted that grand touring bikes were destined to become a sub-category of road bikes taken seriously by the industry, it’s time to stop. With the introduction of the Trek Domane and now the new BMC GF01, basically every one of the cool kids has one. Some of the early efforts weren’t particularly successful (no names mentioned) because the designs contained one or more flaws that either compromised the feel or the handling of the bike.
BMC has spent the last 18 months developing the new GF01. The GF stands for gran fondo. This is BMC’s first not to a bike meant to embrace the needs of the more recreational rider. Grand touring bikes such as the Specialized Roubaix (and the women’s Ruby) have had an easy time gaining traction with the disease-ride set, but they have lagged a bit with more serious riders. For the most part, I think the problem has been one of marketing. In defining the bike as one appropriate to the needs of the less avid cyclist, avid cyclists frequently come to the conclusion that the bike won’t meet their high-performance needs.
So how do you overcome that misperception? Easy. Put your sponsored pros on it at Paris-Roubaix. The tactic has worked well for Specialized. It was serving Trek well with Fabian Cancellara this spring with his win at l’Eroica, but his crash at Flanders will make the rest of his spring campaign a what-might-have-been and the Domane won’t get all the attention it could have. What you may not have noticed was that Team BMC rode the new GF01 at Paris-Roubaix. Had Thor Hushovd turned in the kind of performance he was shooting for, you would certainly have heard more about the bike by now.
Last night I attended a technical presentation on the bike, followed by a Q&A before riding the bike this morning. For those who’d like me to cut to the chase, I’ll tell you this: This is a seriously great bike. I’d put the GF01 up against the best bikes in this category.
So how come?
To make a good grand touring bike, a company must deliver three things. Miss any of these and the bike deserves to be an also-ran. The first thing the bike needs to do is accommodate a less aggressive fit. Whether the issue is one of spare tonnage or lack of flexibility, or even just being new to the sport, these bikes should accommodate a higher bar position relative to the saddle. For stack/reach types, that’s more stack and sometimes a bit less reach. The second thing one of these bikes needs to do is offer greater comfort than a similar road bike. Comfort that isn’t tied to fit is managed by reducing vibration and increasing compliance. Finally, these bikes must remain stable when riding on the bar top, but also offer crisp handling in turns and on descents.
The GF01 comes in six sizes, 48, 51, 54, 56, 58 and 61cm. Sizing geometry was based on reach and stack and the corresponding increase in top tube length and head tube length results in a very linear progression through the sizes. My 56cm review bike had a 55.6cm top tube paired with a 17.6cm head tube. I’d have liked a 12cm stem with this combination, but the fit wasn’t bad. Compare that to the 55cm frame in the Race Machine (that’s the most comparable size) and the GF01 features a 4mm shorter top tube and an 8mm longer head tube. Definitely a less aggressive fit. Like previous BMC models, this bike uses the same 73.5-degree seat tube angle found in the Team Machine and the Race Machine. What’s different with the GF01 is that this model is available with three different seatpost setbacks: 3mm, 18mm and 30mm. In the 56cm frame that range gives a fit tech effectively 2.5 degrees of adjustable seat tube angle (that’ll be less in the 61 and more in the 48), and that doesn’t even figure in the fore-aft adjustment of the saddle rails, so if nothing else, the GF01 will be easier to fit more different riders correctly than previous BMC bikes.
In addressing comfort, BMC likes to point to their Tuned Compliance Concept (TCC). The idea is that tube shapes and strategic layup will allow the seat tube and seat and chain stays plus the fork to flex vertically. We’re talking minute distances here, but every little bit can help. Those angles in the chainstays, seatstays and fork are designed to increase flex ever-so slightly. While I didn’t get exact numbers, BMC reports that the GF01 has 40 percent more vertical compliance than the SLR01 Team Machine. I need to be honest and say I was expecting something more like 100 or 150 percent more. How much movement is there, really? A 1000Nm load will move the axle 4mm vertically. What they ultimately settled on was no accident, though. After considerable modeling, four rideable prototypes were produced, and ridden by the BMC Team before settling on a final design. The comfort story doesn’t end there, though. There are, fortunately, two other components that come into play in the bike’s comfort. First is the seatpost. Each of the posts is designed to include some vertical compliance. BMC produced roughly a dozen different rideable prototypes; the first ones that went to the team were, reportedly, too soft. And because of the different offsets, the flex is adjusted accordingly so that they each offer the same flex pattern whether you’re using the 3mm offset or the 30mm offset. Last, but not by any means least, The GF01 has clearance for 28mm tires. After my recent post The Bell Curve, this is a pleasant piece of news.
To make a bike handle predictably, the designers must build in enough stiffness that the bike’s behavior in turns doesn’t change as speed increases. That was a far bigger problem with bikes in the 1990s than was stiffness at the bottom bracket. Those early aluminum and carbon fiber forks flexed sideways more than the average steel fork and often left you feeling like you were sliding around on a mover’s dolly. Whereas bottom bracket flex was a nuisance, fork flex had the ability to turn even the most confident bike handler into a timid kitten. To make sure the GF01 would provide performance up to the standards required for racing by the BMC team, the bike was built around a massive down tube, head tube and chainstays. The idea was build the compliance into the top tube, seat tube and seatstays, while making the spine of the bike—the head tube, down tube and chainstays—stiff enough for pro racing. It seems to work as advertised; on short climbs it responded well to input while I was out of the saddle.
In my size, the bike handled well on the twisting roads around Monterey. But here, I do have a bone to pick with BMC. In six sizes, the bike gets four different head tube angles and only one fork rake—50mm. As a result, the trail is all over the place. Here’s a rundown of each size with its head tube angle and resulting trail:
- 48cm: 71˚, 6.42cm
- 51cm: 71.5˚, 6.1cm
- 54cm: 72˚, 5.79cm
- 56cm: 72˚, 5.79cm
- 58cm: 72.5˚, 5.48cm
- 61cm: 72.5˚, 5.48cm
Four of these sizes are going to handle very well. The 54 through 61cm frames will all handle with great response, though the experience of someone on the 61 will vary some from someone on the 54. Moving on, the 51 is going to be a slightly sluggish handling bike. I have my doubts that its handling will be particularly confidence inspiring. Unfortunately, from what I see on paper, the 48 is a school bus. That thing will have all the inclination to turn that a flying cannon ball does. That’s really my only serious knock against this bike, though.
A note on weight: This is roughly a 1kg frame. The 54 is said to come in at 995g. Most of the bikes in this category come in a bit heavy due to efforts to make them more comfortable. What’s interesting to note from BMC’s numbers is that this frame is 11 percent heavier than the Team Machine, yet it possesses a third more torsional stiffness and almost 20 percent more stiffness at the BB, all while offering a 40 percent increase in vertical compliance.
The bikes we rode were well-spec’d. They used a full Ultegra Ui2 group with an Easton EA70 cockpit and Easton EA90 tubeless-ready wheels. The drivetrain included a 50/34 compact crank with an 11-28 cassette. While this may not be entirely necessary in Florida, newer riders who live near any sort of hills will find this gearing to alleviate the humiliation that comes with many race-spec’d bikes. I was surprised to learn that BMC’s engineers were able to position the brake mounts carefully enough to avoid long-reach calipers while spec’ing that 28mm tire. That’s a neat piece of work.
As built, the bike will retail for $6599. Not cheap, but not crazy expensive, either. I’m told stores will begin receiving demo units following Sea Otter and the bikes will be available in June.
After my experiences riding the Race Machine and (albeit more briefly) the Team Machine, I’m inclined to say that this is, so far, my favorite BMC bike. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to spend some more time on one in the near future.
Many fans couldn’t care less about the first four weeks of the professional cycling season. Part of me can’t blame them. I mean seriously—Argentina? Qatar? Oman? And of these early races, only a few feature terrain that puts the majority of the peloton into the red zone. In most cases, crosswinds and cold weather do more damage than the actual racing does. Even Southern Europe was not immune, as record low temperatures turned most races into leg-warmer contests where the rider able to stay the warmest the longest often found himself on the top step of the podium. You’re forgiven for not caring.
On the other hand, the first weeks of the season offer our first glimpses of new riders and teams, many of whom are eager to impress following seasons that fell short of expectations. These early tests also offer pundits a chance to determine which riders are starting the year in good shape, making them possible contenders for the season’s first major rendezvous in Belgium, France, and Italy.
So whether you weren’t paying attention either by choice or by accident (and before the “real” season begins this Saturday with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad), here’s a quick rundown of what you missed, packaged together in a little game I like to call Win, Lose, or Draw (no Dom DeLuise required).
Omega Pharma-Quick Step (Win) – Belgium’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step has enjoyed a terrific start to the season—one that calls to mind the exploits of HTC-Columbia/High Road. At this point in the season it’s usually one or two riders that have won the bulk of any one team’s race victories; in Omega Pharma’s case, six riders have shared the spoils (Chicchi, Boonen, Fenn, Leipheimer, Ciolek, and Velits), with two more (Martin and Trentin) just missing wins themselves. If the team continues its torrid pace once the “real” racing begins in earnest, they could easily end the season as the year’s top-ranked squad.
Lotto-Belisol (Lose) – Andre Greipel has already won five races for the restructured Belgian squad and Tour-hope Jurgen Van den Broeck looked strong in Qatar; but the team also lost Jurgen Roelandts after a crash in Stage 1 of the Tour Down Under. Roelandts was the team’s best hope for the cobbled classics, an important block of races for any Belgian team—especially one trying to keep up with Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s early season success. Without Roelandts, Greipel might need to ride himself into contention for the flatter classics—Milan-San Remo comes to mind, but Ghent-Wevelgem and the Grote Scheldeprijs might be better bets for the German speedster.
BMC (Draw) – BMC made the biggest splash this past off-season, but they’re winless so far in 2012. That said, with men like Gilbert, Evans, Hushovd, and Van Avermaet on the roster, there’s hardly good reason to worry. This weekend’s Omloop will be our first opportunity to see some of the squad’s biggest names racing au bloc. And with two former winners and several other possible contenders on the roster, don’t count them out.
Tom Boonen (Win) – Omega Pharma’s most successful rider thus far has been Tom Boonen, a welcome sight considering the Belgian’s frustrating past two seasons. Boonen’s sprint speed appears to have returned, but perhaps more importantly, so has his confidence. Here’s a an interesting bit of trivia for those hoping to see Tommeke add another Flanders or Roubaix to his resume: each year that Boonen won the overall title at the Tour of Qatar, he took one of the two cobbled monuments as well.
Southern European Races (Lose) – There was a time when Mallorca, Southern France, and Italy were three of the sport’s most weather-friendly early season locales. But not this year as frigid temperatures and snow forced the abbreviation or cancellation of reventsaces in all three countries. But don’t get your hopes up for an “epic” weekend of racing in Belgium—the forecast calls for dry, sunny conditions. Go figure.
Mark Cavendish (Draw) – Two stage wins in Oman plus a bout of sickness and a crash amount to a draw for the reigning world champ. On the bright side, Cav’s wins indicate that his Team Sky lead-out train is coming along quite nicely.
Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Win) – Easily the season’s biggest surprise has been Endura Racing’s Tiernan-Locke, the winner of both the Tour Mediterranean and the Tour du Haut. The British rider won each event’s “queen” stage and in doing so, the overall titles as well. Thanks to his victories, Tiernan-Locke has apparently attracted the attention of several World Tour squads. Look for him to finish the season in a new uniform.
Greenedge (Lose) – Australia’s Greenedge Cycling team won its first two important goals of the season—the Australian Road Race Championship and the Tour Down Under—but have since fallen flat in their inaugural World Tour season. With so many flat races on the schedule (and shortened ones at that), you have to think that a roster with such an impressive set of speedsters would have produced more results. But let’s be fair: many upstart World Tour squads (especially those created out of thin air) have often struggled to find consistent results during their first seasons (Team Sky and Slipstream come to mind) but have gone on to win several major races.
Alberto Contador (Draw) – For Alberto Contador’s fans, his two-year retroactive suspension counts as a loss. To proponents of a cleaner sport though, it’s a clear win. But at the end of the day, Contador’s suspension and the loss of his titles dating all the way back to the 2010 Tour de France amount to nothing more than a draw. First of all, Contador’s reputation seems to have survived the court of public opinion. Second, he’ll be back and racing in time to win his second Vuelta a Espana—which just about everyone expects him to do easily. Even his sponsor still supports him—a smart move considering he’s still likely to command a tremendous salary in spite of his suspension.
Elia Viviani (Win) – I identified Viviani as one of several young Italian sprinters to watch as part of my Season Preview a few weeks ago. So far, the Liquigas-Cannondale rider has lived-up to my expectations. Viviani’s already won five races, and until the win by his teammate Moreno Moser (yes, he’s Francseco’s nephew) in Sunday’s Trofeo Laigueglia, he was undefeated on home soil. If he manages to take a stage or two in next month’s Tirreno-Adriatico, look for Viviani’s name on the list of contenders for Milan-Sam Remo.
Rabobank (Lose) – Last year, Rabobank had already won nine races by this point in the season. This year, they’ve won nothing. Worse still, Oscar Freire—the man they let go to make room for Mark Renshaw—has already won two races for Katusha. Luckily, Matti Breschel seems to be healed and ready to contend this weekend in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, a race Rabobank won last year as well. Too bad the winner (Sebastian Langeveld) now rides for someone else (GreenEdge).
Alejandro Valverde (Draw) – Similar to Contador, Valverde’s status depends entirely on your perspective. For many, the Spaniard’s return to racing leaves a black eye on the sport and its ability to fairly mete out justice. For others, it simply marks the return of one of the sport’s most talented and exciting riders, someone capable of challenging Philippe Gilbert in the Ardennes. And while he’s already won two races, he’s still a long way from redemption.
French Youth Movement (Win) – It was also good month for young Frenchman as Europcar’s Pierre Rolland, Saur-Sojasun’s Jerome Coppel, and FDJ-Big Mat’s Arnaud Demare and Nacer Bouhanni took wins. While Rolland and Coppel have bright futures as stage racers, Demare (the reigning U23 World Road Race Champion) and Bouhanni give the nation two young sprinters to root for at Paris-Nice.
Saxo Bank (Lose) – We’ll know for sure sometime in March, but if the team’s hearing before the sport’s Licensing Commission on February 27 doesn’t go well, they could find themselves on the outside looking in at the rest of the World Tour. Bjarne Riis has struggled in the past to find sponsors to support his program; a demotion certainly won’t make life any easier.
Share your early season Win, Lose, or Draw contestants below!
Follow me on Twitter: @whityost
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
As teams at the fringes of the ProTour struggle to find and keep sponsors, a few super teams have risen to the top of the sport. BMC, Team Sky and RadioShack-Nissan have thrown their large budgets at cadres of the best riders, and conventional wisdom suggests these are the teams who will be vying for the lion’s share of the podium spots in the year’s biggest races.
But things seldom go to script in top level racing. Despite the financial clout wielded by the super teams, talented racers from other squads will certainly muscle their way into the spotlight.
For example, BMC have Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd for the Spring Classics. Fabian Cancellara rides for RadioShack-Nissan. Those three riders will go on every favorite’s list for each of the big spring flings. But OmegaPharma-Quickstep believe their one-two punch of Tom Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel can pull off big results, surrounded as they are by northern European strong men.
No conclusion is forgone, unless of course the Schlecks are involved in a two-up sprint against my grandmother, in which case grammy is going to need some help shaking up that magnum of champagne.
All kidding aside, there are dark horses that aren’t so dark. Who are they?
It would be ridiculous to call Alberto Contador a dark horse, but, assuming he’s not suspended, he’s the prohibitive favorite to win the Tour de France this summer. BMC’s Cadel Evans, RS-N’s Schleck brothers and Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins will have their work more than cut out for them, and that is pro cycling’s top prize.
If Boonen were to take either Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders, or as last year, Garmin-Baracuda were to pull of the tactical coup they executed at Roubaix last season, that would take another shiny bauble off the table.
Mark Cavendish will be the favorite for Milan-San Remo glory, but does anyone think Matt Goss and Greenedge won’t be there to contest? This week’s Group Ride asks: Who are the riders who will ruin the party for the super teams? Who are the dark horses? And where will they win?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Let’s get the new year off on the right foot. I think fortune telling to be worth only slightly less than the word of someone working on Wall Street. And predicting the future contains all the science found in an episode of Entertainment Tonight.
So I’m going to jump in with a few predictions for this year. They may constitute wishful thinking more than actual predictions, but going into this new year, I’ve spent some time thinking about what the new season will bring.
Change will be the watchword for the year. I suspect the various changes in behavior we will see on the part of various riders, teams and companies will require lots of re-thinking. In some cases that thinking will go as deep as identity, but it could require rethinking less who you are than how you do business.
Change in Strategy: If Fabian Cancellara’s attacks at Milan-San Remo, Ronde van Vlaanderen, and Paris-Roubaix were bold, expect him to be more guarded this year. Don’t be surprised if he waits until later in the race to make his move. That said, for such a strategy to work, his accelerations will have to be more ferocious. A late-race attack needs afterburners to succeed because more of the favorites are willing to burn matches to ensure their own chances. Of course, because Cancellara has one of the biggest engines in the peloton, don’t be surprised if he goes even earlier in a bid to catch competitors off guard.
Change in Goals: Of the many teams that will be invited to compete at the 2012 Tour de France, Thor Hushovd signed with the one guaranteed to prevent him from attempting to notch another stage victory at le Grand Boucle. It could be argued that Saxo Bank would similarly clip the Norwegian’s wings, but with Alberto Contador’s 2012 season a matter of much speculation and at least some doubt, it could be that he could have signed with Bjarne Riis only to arrive with plenty incentive (and direction) to get some result, any result. Hushovd will have a free hand at Roubaix, but can that really be his only goal for the season? And if he doesn’t find success there (how often does a rider achieve his sole goal for a season?), what will become his plan B? Complicating matters for him is the fact that he will share the non-Tour spotlight with Philippe Gilbert, a guy who wins more often. There’s not a team with more promise or more volatility currently licensed. Years from now we could look back on this team as the one that put La Vie Claire and Astana to shame.
Change in Mission: Omega Pharma-QuickStep is a team that will be forced to reinvent itself. Having signed Levi Leipheimer and Tony Martin, the team management will need to figure out how to support a rider at—at the very least—shorter stage races, if not a grand tour. Given the lousy year Tom Boonen had (and only a rider of his stature can win Gent-Wevelgem and still have a lousy year), it would seem unwise to hang the whole of the team’s hopes on him for their big results. To do so would mean wasting the investment on Leipheimer and Martin.
Change in Business: Electronic shifting is going to change the evolution of component groups. The move from 10 to 11 gears and from 11 to 12 will no longer require new control levers. Instead just a software update will be necessary. Riders using Di2 will be able to purchase a Dura-Ace 11-speed cassette and instantly have 11-speed Di2. Neat trick. The upshot here is that one of the traditional drivers/limiters to a new group is a redesigned control lever. If adding another cog is as easy as software code, then you have to ask just what will drive the introduction of a whole new group. The question isn’t as easy as it seems. Is weight enough of a driver? Almost certainly not. How much performance increase is enough? That’s almost impossible to quantify, but there’s a tipping point, most will agree. With this technical hurdle out of the way, we may see Shimano and Campagnolo doing more to update their groups each year and in that there’s the risk of turning off the bike-buying public. Caveat venditor.
Change in Scope: Well, Bicycle Retailer let part of the cat out of the bag, but it wasn’t all of the cat by any means. You’ll see a post regarding the other half of that story soon. A change in scope is what’s happening at RKP. I began this blog as a way to publish work that wasn’t finding a home at mainstream media outlets. Belgium Knee Warmers proved there was an audience for it and RKP gave me a way to follow my heart on subject matter and make some money, so that I could continue to do that work. My one promise to myself was that RKP would be a home to good writing. That promise has taken on a slightly more epic cast (and while the word “epic” gets overused, in my personal circumstance I get to use it this time).
The silly season is upon us, and, with the demise of HTC-Highroad, there are a lot of top riders on the market. The merger of QuickStep with Omega Pharma and the start up of the Australian GreenEdge project will also shuffle the pack. And of course, there is the normal, seasonal activity on top of all that.
One move that is sure to create waves is Thor Hushovd’s switch from Garmin-Cervelo to BMC. Hushovd, who absolutely killed it at the Tour de France this summer, was not happy with how G-C managed his spring classics campaign. He believes he’ll get better support and higher priority at BMC. More money probably helps, too.
As a result of Hushovd’s announcement, Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters promptly excluded the Norwegian from his team’s roster for the Vuelta a España. This makes perfect sense as the Garmin-Cervelos will need all the points they can get for returning riders, in order to maintain their WorldTour placing. Deploying departing riders isn’t very useful to managers in the current pro set up. It’s better for Vaughters to key on Tyler Farrar, who is staying, in grand tour sprints. That Hushovd evinced surprise over losing his Vuelta spot is silly.
One has to wonder the wisdom of Hushovd’s move, though, given that Cadel Evans has already told BMC boss Jim Ochowicz point blank that he doesn’t want Hushovd at the 2012 Tour de France. Freelancers need not apply. If the god of thunder knew that going in, it says something about his commitment to winning Paris-Roubaix, and may indicate BMC’s resolve to support him there.
Another big move is in the offing for Philippe Gilbert, the world’s number one rider. He has been linked with both the new, Belgian super squad and BMC, though where he would fit in with the latter is hard to see, given his large salary and the amount of support he would need to achieve his spring (and fall) targets. Gilbert is running out of things to accomplish. Milan-San Remo and/or one of the cobbled classics must be on his list, but that level of ambition requires ambitious support. With the reported salary of Hushovd being $2.5M euro, it seems likely that BMC—despite its well-deep pockets—was angling for either Hushovd or Gilbert, but not both.
Finally, there is the curious case of Mark Cavendish. In my mind, you can reasonably ask whether the Manxman’s departure from HTC-Highroad preceded or precipitated the end of HTC’s sponsorship of the team. Regardless, now, he’s moving on, and he’s doing it without his lead out man Mark Renshaw, who has already signed with Rabobank in an effort to move from second fiddle to first violin. If Cavendish goes to Sky, as has been rumored, who will comprise his new lead out? There will be more money and a home-based team, but Sky will have the same problem with Cav that BMC might have with both Hushovd. Too many stars, not enough water carriers.
That brings us to our question. Which of these riders will land well, and which will be disappointed in 2012? The motivation to move from one team to another lives somewhere at the nexus of greed, ego and ambition. Getting the balance right is key to success, as long as you measure success by wins. So, who is getting it right? And whose pride goeth before a fall?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
So HTC-Highroad is no more. Technically, that’s not quite accurate; the team will come to an end with the close of this season. But it feels like the team might as well be mothballed now. Any wins that come will carry a certain lame duck pointlessness as they won’t have the ability to attract a sponsor or serve as confirmation that an incoming sponsor made a good choice.
How bad is Bob Stapleton’s inability to find a new title sponsor for his program? It’s the worst thing that will happen to cycling this year, perhaps for years to come. Here’s why: There’s not a single doping revelation that can confirm potential sponsors’ worst fears about the sport the way the dissolution of this team does.
We’ve already had the Tour de France champion test positive twice in the last five years. Stapleton’s failure to secure a sponsor is directly due to that. In a conference call with journalists, Stapleton admitted that doping scandals were a topic of conversation in “every negotiation.”
Compounding matters was Stapleton’s refusal to be confined to irrelevance by racing on a shrunken budget while battling Sky and Katusha—teams that each have an estimated annual budget of $20 million. After all, if part of your raison d’etre is to lead the sport into a new, cleaner era characterized by better management, you can’t do that from the back of the bus.
The end of HTC-Highroad is the corollary to the Leopard-Trek dilemma. It proves (at least for the court of public opinion) that doping is what prevented Brian Nygaard’s formation from landing a real title sponsor (or co-sponsor, for that matter). Worse, the fact that Katusha, Sky and Leopard are funded by ultra-rich businessmen who could use the tax write-off makes the sport that much less relevant. It could be argued that BMC is no better given that few people seem to believe that BMC is selling enough bikes that Andy Rihs could fund the team exclusively out of the operating capital of that one company.
If bicycle teams become the playthings of oligarchs, it will be hard to sell the public on the idea that the sport carries the moral mantle of doping-free athletic achievement. There is a general perception that billionaires play by a different set of rules than the rest of us, and the recent phone-hacking scandal in London that brought down Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World and killed his play to become majority owner of bSkyb is all the proof many people need to come to the conclusion that cycling lacks a moral compass. After all, if Murdoch’s businesses will run roughshod over the most basic elements of privacy, why would anyone think his cycling team is any more ethical?
I’ve met a number of principled people in cycling. I’ve met plenty of truly ethical people in the sport as well. I don’t think I’ve ever met a smarter, more decent person in cycling than Bob Stapleton. I’ve met no one with higher aspirations for helping the sport to function in a cleaner, more transparent manner—in other words, to be its best—than Stapleton. He brought credibility that simply can’t be purchased elsewhere and served as the ever-reasonable counterbalance to the ill-considered pronouncements of the UCI. He was a sort of sanity constant.
As I mentioned before, losing Stapleton and his team isn’t just the worst thing that will happen in cycling this year. It’s the worst thing that will happen in cycling for years to come. If the sport can’t keep a man universally respected and admired, then it will be no better than the cesspool of politics because it may only draw people we’d rather not have dinner with, figures like Bernard “Dr. Mabuse” Sainz.
Sainz’ nickname comes from the Fritz Lang film of the same name. The film was a commentary on post World War I German society, a time of amoral criminality. Dr. Mabuse, “the gambler,” was a megalomaniac who ruled—via hypnosis—an organized crime syndicate of counterfeiters, thieves and murderers. I can’t think of an uglier thing for cycling to be compared.
We’ve lived through that once, or something thereabouts. If the riders don’t get the idea that they need to clean up their acts, there won’t be a sport left to employ them. But we can’t place all the responsibility on the riders. The UCI has an obligation to make sure that testing is performed in a rigorous manner and justice handed out promptly and equally. Until John Q. Public sense we’ve turned that corner, it will be hard to attract leaders like Stapleton and sponsors like HTC.