Unlike amateur golf, pro cycling does not use a handicapping system to give riders of unequal talent an equal chance at winning the race. That is why, Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme deployed the “dumb ass spectator” strategy to bring the peloton down, outside the 10k banner, with Alberto Contador caught up in the resulting mess.
Oh sure, it looked like an accident, but could Prudhomme really have hoped for more? From the moment the UCI cleared Contador to ride, he was instantly installed as favorite to win. Having watched Lance Armstrong ride away with the yellow jersey in the ’00s, Prudhomme HAD to do something to take his race back.
And so, on an innocuously straight road where the pack was just ramping up the speed to set up the finish, a spectator leaned out, looking up the road for some reason, rather than back at the swarming velo mass flying by, clipped Maxim Iglinsky of Astana and sent riders tumbling like a gym full of dominoes at the end of a long college weekend. Contador wasn’t injured in the pile up, but he lost 1:20 on the stage, slightly less to the other race favorites, Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans, Andreas Klöden, et. al.
Do not believe anyone who tells you Contador can’t overcome that deficit. He can. But that deficit is going to turn the 2011 Tour de France into a race.
Stage winner Philipe Gilbert perpetrated a half kilometer sprint to take the day. He dropped Fabian Cancellara. He gapped the entire lead group. A late breaking Cadel Evans couldn’t chase him down. It was exactly the sort of win that makes Gilbert the most exciting racer on the road today. On the podium, he pulled the yellow jersey over the Belgian champion’s jersey. That, my friends, is a bad ass maneuver.
Also, a big thumbs up for the new intermediate sprint rules. We were particularly surprised to see Mark Cavendish fall sound asleep in advance of the line, allowing both Tyler Farrar and Andre Greipel to come over top of him. Perhaps it’s true what he’s been telling the press, that he’s really only interested in stage wins.
The new set up for green jersey points turns 21 stages into 42. Sort of.
And on we go to the Stage Two Team Time Trial (TTT). I will be wearing a skin suit while watching from my couch. It’s an attempt to shave some time off the 3hr 30min live coverage that will keep the lawn from getting mowed and my children from getting parented.
Last week we made a raft of preposterous predictions for the upcoming Grand Boucle in France. It was fun. But as the actual race approached we ought to probably settle in and start the very, extremely serious work of predicting and arguing over what will really happen.
To begin with, it seems we are on the verge of watching Alberto Contador complete the Giro/Tour double, a feat last performed by Marco Pantani, likely while riding with blood thicker than Jell-O. Contador has been so dominant this year, and over the last three years, that he, like Armstrong before him, will be the pre-ordained GC favorite.
What we need to do is figure out who really has a shot at beating him. You will recall Chaingate last year, the incident in which Andy Schleck’s mechanical opened the door to 39 seconds of breathing room for the mercurial Spaniard. Though a crappy time trialist, Schleck appears to be the only one able to climb with Contador.
Cadel Evans is another possibility. He of the ever-improving public image has raced very well over the last two seasons, and might well have been in yellow in Paris last year if it hadn’t been for a broken elbow suffered at the end of the first week. Evans can climb (if in a muscular style not at all like his bird-like competition), and he can time trial. Is it possible?
VeloNews (if you’ve read their Tour preview edition) seems to believe that the RadioShack cycling team have more than one GC contender from the group comprised of Leipheimer, Klöden, Brajkovic and Horner. I believe they have none, but who am I?
More credible, in my mind, is Ivan Basso. Like Schleck, the Italian can climb with the very best, but his time trialing is poor. What Basso has going for him is a strong TTT that might help him bank some time against Contador and the rest.
Then, of course, there’s a whole cadre of talented hopefuls: Fränk Schleck, the Leopard-Trek counterpunch who we’ve seen win big races and will certainly get his brother’s support if it comes to that; Robert Gesink, the willowy, Dutch climber; Roman Kreuziger, Astana’s new hope; Christian Vande Velde who has the talent and the team, but will his health hold?; Ryder Hesjedal, last year’s Garmin surprise; Brad Wiggins, who I was ready to write off until he won the Dauphiné; and Juergen van den Broek, the Omega Pharma – Lotto man.
Some one of that group is going to have a great race. Will it be great enough?
What do you think? Who can beat Contador? How will they do it? Why is it their time?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
G’day, mates! In case you’ve not been enduring the latest barrage of pro cyclist tweets from Down Under (Fabian Cancellara said the food at “Swiss Haus” was just like home), the World Championships are nigh. The 45.8km time trial is Thursday on a course departing from Geelong, and the men’s elite road race is Sunday in Melbourne.
In the time trial, Cancellara, aiming for his fourth TT World Championship, is clearly the man to beat. Anyone naming worthy challengers would have elicited a hearty guffaw from this writer prior to the ITT on Stage 17 of the recently completed Vuelta a España. Cancellara finished third that day, a show of mortality we’ve not seen from the Swiss chronometer in a long time. So Michael Rogers now officially has a shot. Richie Porte’s name has been bandied about. Tony Martin can’t be written off, nor, perhaps David Millar.
In the road race, all the big favorites have been very busy this week accusing each other of being the big favorites. Cadel Evans thinks Pippo Pozzato or Phil Gilbert will win it. The pundits and punters all have their eyes on Oscar Freire. Somewhere, off in a corner, Mark Cavendish is trying to summon the confidence (poor lad is always lacking for self belief) to have a tilt at it. Some say it’s a sprinter’s course. Others say the hilly part of the circuit that reaches down into Geelong makes it one for the classics men.
I love the tension that builds before a race like this, every rider playing down his chances, trying to lay low enough to be able to spring a surprise when the right moment comes.
Another distinct possibility is that Cancellara will win the TT and the road race, making everyone else look silly and giving his new Luxembourgish team the opportunity to make a combined World Champion’s jersey before they’ve even turned a pedal in anger.
You know how these Group Rides work though. We want to hear your predictions. Sticker pack to the first one who names both winners first.
It is, perhaps, a mark of the this time of year that Padraig’s post about rim tape should garner more interest and passion than an open debate about the transfer market. It seems our minds have wandered away from the pros and onto the very serious subject of how to best ride the end of the summer (except for you Aussie and South American readers, of course).
Sophrosune brought up an excellent question, a topic for another Group Ride, which is, “What constitutes success for a pro team?”
Looking at recent transfers, it’s hard for me to believe that Riis Racing won’t succeed next year. Master Bjarne has replaced a Tour de France runner up with a winner, and, thus far anyway, retained last year’s Paris-Roubaix/Ronde von Flanderen winner. Does he have the two top riders in the peloton? I would say so.
Ryderider brought up Liquigas, which I failed to mention in my Group Ride intro, though the Italian squad boasts Basso, Nibali, Kreuzier, Kiserlovski and Sagan. One gets the distinct impression that, organized properly around a designated leader, they have the team to take a grand tour. Having lost Francesco Chicchi to Quick Step, they only have Daniele Bennati for the sprints, which will pull some wins off the table. You have to ask though, will winning the Giro be enough for Liquigas in 2011? Or do they need to make a serious assault on the Tour, given they have nothing for the Classics?
Omega Pharma – Lotto is the other team that sticks out for me. Living in QuickStep’s shadow for the last few seasons, things looked bad for Belgium’s other team when Cadel Evans left, but Phillipe Gilbert has kept their profile high with stellar end of season riding, and now they’ve signed Andrei Greipel who will, undoubtedly, add to their win total, and give them a proper presence at any grand tour they run him in.
The Spanish teams, Movistar and Geox,are the big question marks. What will money do for Spanish cycling? If Team Sky is any indication, not much, but their results may vary.
And now…back to rim strips!
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Joop Zoetemelk finished on the second step of the Tour de France podium six times. He won once, in 1980. And like Raymond Poulidor, who is known as the Eternal Second, many believe he could have won more races if he’d attacked more, if he’d been more ruthless, but Zoetemelk wasn’t an aggressive rider. He didn’t choose to win. When the race was on the line, he was as likely to let the moment pass as riders like Hinault and Merckx were to attack.
Today, in Boston, it was as hot as the devil’s undercarriage. I pushed away from the office into the murky swamp of the city and made the crucial mistake of jumping onto the wheel of a fellow apparently in a big rush to get someplace else. We rode fast. I thought, “It’s too hot to be riding this fast,” but then I kept pedaling until I washed up on the shore of the steep hill that leads to my house, mostly spent, soaked in sweat, and unable to pull any more air out of the air.
Sometimes, the indecision that might have cost Zoetemelk greater success is the same indecision that keeps a rider in a race he ought to abandon. Think of Cadel Evans, with a broken elbow, hauling the world champion’s rainbow jersey over cols and up monts at this years Tour, or Tyler Farrar sprinting on a broken wrist. Maybe even remember Tyler Hamilton finishing the 2003 Tour in 4th place after cracking his collarbone on stage one. These guys haven’t decided to finish the race. They’ve just put off deciding to quit until the finish line slides past.
Zoetemelk was a classy rider. In the high mountains he floated, his wispy form disappearing up around the next switchback as lesser men toiled away below. Despite his lack of aggression, he still won Fleche Wallone, Paris-Tours, Paris-Nice, the Dutch national road race championship twice, the world championship at the age of 38, Amstel Gold at 39. He’s a legend. Indecision may have cost him some wins, but he still managed.
I arrived in my driveway completely spent, sweating from every pore, absolutely gasping, but still trying not to look too pathetic in case the neighbors were watching. After dismounting, I sat next to my bike, in the garage, trying to compose myself before entering the house. It took a while. And then when I did go inside, it took another twenty minutes before I was convinced I wasn’t maybe having heat stroke.
They say the only reason Zoetemelk ever won the Tour is that his DS told him he had to. There was no one else. He would never have forced himself on the race. He was under orders.
When Louison Bobet finally hung up his Tour hopes, after a series of miserable stages in 1959, he was asked why he kept riding when he knew he couldn’t win. He said, “I’d never climbed the Col de l’Iseran. It’s the highest road in Europe. I wanted to ride up there.” He quit on the descent of the Iseran, on his terms. What looked like indecision was actually a declaration of intent.
It’s only supposed to get hotter here in Beantown. This was the second day of our heat wave. The humidity will get worse. The mercury will rise. It’s supposed to break on Friday, when Hurricane Earl arrives with torrential rain. When I was finally convinced I wasn’t dying, I thought, “Screw that. I’m done riding for the week. It’s only going to be more misery.” But we’ll see what happens. Sometimes he who hesitates is lost. Sometimes he who hesitates is simply enduring, until better days come.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The garbage needs to go out. The bag from the kitchen is standard issue. The coffee grounds that go there every morning serve to mask the other scents maturing within. The diaper pail upstairs is another issue. Dealing with it requires endurance and fortitude. I never hoist the plastic within, smile with satisfaction at the olfactory feast that bursts forth and dance down the stairs with it, whistling a jaunty tune. It is a task I would gladly pass off on someone else, but then, that’s my life.
Road Racing World Champion Cadel Evans has a broken elbow. His job, whether he likes it or not, sometimes entails being spilled onto pavement at high speed wearing clothing closely approximating a rainbow-colored body sock. This falling on abrasive surfaces while wearing pajamas is unpleasant. A rider almost never hits the deck, pops up smiling and then goes on his merry way. Cadel didn’t enjoy breaking his elbow, I’d wager. It is something he would gladly have passed off on someone else, but then, that’s his life.
My life includes such joys as clearing the dirt and debris from the filter on the sump pump. That pump, with its busted switch, keeps my garage and basement from flooding in a heavy rain. My life requires me to ride a 12% grade to get home from work each evening. There is no soigneur to greet me just over the line. There is no massage awaiting me at the end of my day.
As a cycling fan and a rider, I am constantly measuring myself against the titans of the sport. How much faster would the World Champ climb that steep hill that leads to my house? How much more suffering can he endure than I can? How does his ability to persist inspire and inform my own ability to continue doing the things that I don’t want to do?
We all have our grand tours to ride. Mine doesn’t include the Col de la Madeleine. It doesn’t require riding 230kms with a broken elbow. It does, however, mean battling the demons within the diaper pail and clearing the sump pump of dead spiders and pine needles.
And when I think of the challenge of surmounting Alpen cols, I have to believe that what makes poor, luckless Cadel an occasional champion is his ability to continue to perform the tasks that his life requires of him. What pushes me up life’s GC is my ability to deal with the garbage and the sump pump, to keep my lawn mowed and continue showing up for long, grueling conference calls with unreasonable clients.
I will probably never find a physical equivalency with the riders of the pro peloton, but if I step back a bit and look at their lives, not as operatic dramas, but as simple lives with jobs to do and responsibilities to attend to, then I can see that I’m a lot like Cadel Evans.
Forgetting the fact that no one is going to pay me to race a bicycle, I don’t know that I would trade places with the World Champ. I might prefer the noisome stench of my youngest son’s soiled nappies to the difficulty of riding all day long with a broken bone. Regardless, this is my life. It is challenging. Some days I meet the challenge. Some days I’m off the back. Just like Cadel.
The one thing we have in common is that, every night when I get home, I get a kiss on the cheek from a pretty girl and the opportunity to try to do it all a little better the next day.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
It would have been easy, last week, to give over the Group Ride to a Tour prediction competition. We resisted, but no more.
Now that things are beginning to shake out a little, now that we’ve had a chance to espy the form of the favorites, it’s time to lay down our markers.
We’ve seen Contador and Schleck (the younger) come unscathed across the cobbles. We’ve seen Cavendish lose and win. We’ve watched Thor Hushovd win a stage and snatch the green jersey, and we’ve seen Geraint Thomas pull on the white jersey. And while Jerome Pineau currently sports the polka dots, something tells me he won’t be wearing them at the end of the day tomorrow.
And so, let’s do this the right way. Let’s hear your predictions for each jersey, yellow, green, white and dotted. Whoever gets the most right gets an RKP sticker pack. If multiple people get all four right, we’ll award the adhesives to the best climber as determined by an ITT up the Matterhorn on goat back. Best get your goats tuned up.
The yellow jersey, which currently resides with one Mr. Fabian Cancellara, will likely not end on the Swiss’ back. Among the favorites, Cadel Evans is closest to taking it over, but Evans’ climbing talent is not equal to that of either Andy Schleck or Alberto Contador. Can he find other ways to put time into his rivals, or will the maillot jaune trickle down to the top grimpeur?
In that case, the advantage goes to Schleck, but he’s lost his most capable mountain climbing domestique, brother Fränk. The question then becomes whether or not Contador can gap the young Luxembourger in the coming time trials. History suggests he can, but these are only suggestions. The race is still out on the road.
The green jersey competition is probably less open. Thor Hushovd showed last year a shrewdness and opportunism that saw him in green in Paris despite winning just one stage to Mark Cavendish’s six. Oft misunderstood as the “sprinter’s jersey,’ the maillot vert goes to the most consistent rider who may or may not be a consistent stage winner. Hanging around the top of the standings currently is 36-year-old Alessandro Petacchi, a wily veteran who can’t be discounted, and don’t write off Robbie McEwen either. He appears to be back in form after a long stretch of injury and disappointment.
The two jerseys most difficult to pick will be the polka dotted and white. This 2010 Tour is even climbier (not a real word) than recent editions, so there are opportunities for all the best to take points. The key here is that the best climbers don’t always score the most King of the Mountains (KOM) points, because they find themselves more interested in the general classification. That leaves openings for other freakishly skinny, hugely-lunged members of the peloton. The contenders include Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Matthew Lloyd (Omega Pharma Lotto) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank), assuming the latter doesn’t launch himself at the GC. Still, the King of the Mountains may hold a surprise. It may be that a rider like Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) or Tony Martin (HTC Columbia) makes a run at this prize in lieu of a higher placing in the standings.
British Road Champion Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) currently wears the white jersey, awarded to the best young rider (under 26) on GC. This is a shirt won recently by a veritable “who’s who” of Grand Tour winners, including Andy Schleck (2008, 2009), Alberto Contador (2007), Denis Menchov (2003) and Ivan Basso (2002). This year’s contenders include Gesink, Schleck (again), Tony Martin, Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas – Doimo), and Edvald Boasson-Hagen (Team Sky).
That’s all the help you’re going to get here, though. Riders not named are still eligible for any of the prizes enumerated herein, and I will almost guarantee you they don’t all go to script.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The middle of June. The precipice. The brink. Just a few weeks left to tune up for the Tour de France, which means that all the “just riding this race as training” is almost over. Top Tour contenders will be getting in their last minute collarbone fractures at the Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse. Aerodynamic positions are set. The UCI is getting its crack Reject-a-Bike squad ready for the time trials, and the AFLD and UCI are ratcheting up their those-guys-don’t-know-what-they’re-doing rhetoric in anticipation of some really wearisome l’Equipe headlines.
At this stage we are beginning to draw up our list of favorites, a list that must begin with Alberto Contador and include Andy Schleck, but from that point breaks off and meanders through the peloton with a lot of maybes and possiblys.
From last year’s podium there is Lance Armstrong to consider. The now 38-year-old former champion and globe-trotting cancer fighter has had an early season to forget, one in which he made the biggest news by being accused of serial doping. Again. Between injuries, illnesses and general lack of form, you have to wonder if the Lance v. Alberto narrative we’re bound to have crammed down our collective throats is even worth spinning in the first place.
Then there’s Bradley Wiggins. Team Sky’s million dollar baby has thus far flattered to deceive in the black and blue of his new squad. With a nose for the controversial headline, Mr. Wiggins’ 2010 has been remarkable for an utter lack of remarkableness. He can’t possibly sneak up on the competition this year, but could expectations for the Brit be any lower?
And what of the Italians? Ivan Basso won the Giro going away, but could he possibly be strong enough to do the double? Or will he turn super domestique for Vincenzo Nibali, the young talent who served him so well on their native roads?
World Champion Cadel Evans can’t be discounted entirely, but the Giro might have proven that BMC don’t have the riders to support a Grand Tour winner. Evans has done the rainbow stripes proud, but the last time the World Champ won the Tour was Bernard Hinault in 1981, nearly thirty years ago.
You’ve also got riders like Denis Menchov, last season’s Giro winner, moving his focus to the Tour in an attempt to round out his palmares. In a similar situation to Evans, you have to wonder if Rabobank have the riders to deliver Menchov to the top step. The Russian also has an amusing habit of falling off his bike, which is usually a bad idea in July in France. Ask Joseba Beloki.
This week’s Group Ride looks at the favorites for the maillot jaune and wonders who is in the best form and why? Is it one of the riders mentioned above or is there an outsider you think has the goods? Has Contador done too much with wins in Volta ao Algarve, Paris-Nice and Vuelta a Castilla y León, not to mention his current escapades at the Dauphiné? Will Andy Schleck’s knee be strong enough to let him dual with Contador in the high mountains? Let the pre-race chatter begin.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
I already have Grand Tour hangover, that malaise that settles in when there isn’t a daily race to follow by television/live web feed or text updates. This just-finished Giro d’Italia was simply the best three-week tour in my memory. Constant lead changes, ferocious crashes, valiant and successful breakaways, the GC boys spinning away at the steepest climbs in Europe—these are the things that cycling fans want to see, and this year’s Giro delivered them all in spades.
Ivan Basso, he of the curiously rehabilitated reputation, earned what had to feel like a highly redemptive maglia rosa. Between a wishy-washy half acknowledgment that his previous approach to high-end racing had left something to be desired and signing up with Dr. Aldo Sassi, the hottest trainer in the pro peloton, Basso is back in a big way, not to mention his Liquigas squad, who came in as contenders and rode away as champions, with Basso on the top step and Vincenzo Nibali in third. Basso danced in the pedals when he had to, but his team also did an excellent job of sheltering him from wind and the predations of three weeks in the saddle.
Nibali and Basso showed that having multiple captains can work on the road, and also that the younger rider will, eventually, win a Grand Tour, perhaps with Basso as his super domestique. Stranger things have happened on teams not called Astana.
Pre-race favorite Cadel Evans fared not so well, ending in 5th place in the general classification, though he consoled himself with the points jersey. Evans did the World Champion’s jersey proud by racing strong, attacking when he could and generally behaving as though he belonged on the front of the pack. Unfortunately, his BMC squad was nowhere when Evans needed them most. Evans’ former Lotto team perfected that trick. BMC just picked up where they left off. You have to wonder what might have been for the scrappy Australian had he been paced into the big climbs as Basso was.
Other talents also announced themselves. Young Richie Porte of Saxo Bank and Matthew Lloyd of Omega Pharma-Lotto, both Australians, forced themselves onto the scene with some daring rides and some stiff defenses of colored jerseys. This writer really enjoyed watching them ride and make names for themselves over the withering efforts of older riders like Alexandre Vinokourov and … um … well … I’m just glad Vinokourov didn’t win anything.
Mention must be made, finally, of David Arroyo. The 30-year-old from Caisse d’Epargne emerged from the shadows of his better known teammates to take the biggest prize of his career, a second place in a Grand Tour. The Spaniard was gutsy all through the Giro, and dug deep to defend the maglia rosa when he had it. In the end, Basso was too much for him, but Arroyo has laid down a marker with team management, now that Alejandro Valverde has been consigned to a two-year ban.
As regards the questions floated in the Group Ride, let me just float some opinions on questions not already addressed above. First, Italian podium girls are not hotter than French ones. They are equally hot. If my VO2 Max wasn’t closer to my shoe size than to the population of your favorite restaurant on a Friday night, either one would serve as ample motivation to earn a post-race peck.
The Tour of California, for me, detracted from the Giro, which is deeply unfortunate because the ToC is a great race. Still, what if George Hincapie had been riding for Cadel Evans instead of riding loops around downtown LA? A concurrent ToC forces the big teams to make decisions that hurt cycling fans. Scheduling fail.
Andre Greipel definitely deserves to ride the Tour de France. Just not for HTC-Columbia. For sale, one rather large, scary-looking German dude. Real fast on a bike. Somewhat whiny. All serious offers considered.
I don’t know what happened to Team Sky under the blazing Tuscan sun (and rain). Bradley Wiggins pulled a real Sastre on this one, disappearing almost before he’d even really announced his presence. Perhaps the couch cushions on the super plush Sky bus are just a bit too comfy. Perhaps their espresso maker went on the fritz. Or perhaps they really were just out on a training ride. Doubt it though. I think they just sucked.
That brings me to old Charlie Sastre, who I maligned in the last paragraph. I like Charlie. He just keeps riding and riding, and yeah, that Tour de France win was probably as good as it gets for him, but damn it, you gotta respect a guy who can finish 21 Grand Tours. You just gotta.
And with that, I officially turn the page on the Giro and begin to stare out of windows wondering how in hell Christian Prudhomme can possibly put on a TdF better than what we’ve just seen.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International