Briefly, I will apologize for the FGR’s two-week hiatus. Technical difficulties kept us from sending our semi-fortnightly missive, and then a mad man on the loose on my home turf kept our minds otherwise occupied. But let’s leave behind weighty topics for a bit. All, now, seems back to normal, and so we push on with queries new and exciting.
While we were away, Classics season seems to have ended. Sadly. But as the Byrds (via Pete Seeger) sang, “…to everything, turn, turn, turn.” Grand Tour season is upon us. I call myself a Classics man, but Padraig prefers the Grand Tours. This we have hashed out in previous and ancient versions of the FGR.
And so the Giro, a race that has, arguably, been on the rise for the past decade. A confluence of great routes, closely-fought finishes and the dark star, self-destructive gravity of the Tour all coming together to the elevate the Italian affair.
As some indication of the Giro’s rise, last season’s Tour winner, Sir Bradley Wiggins, has opted to race for the Giro win rather than defend his yellow jersey. Team Sky will say that this Giro route suits Wiggins’ strengths better, while teammate Chris Froome will lead the squad in France, but it is hard not to understand the decision in the context of increased prestige for the Italian race.
Wiggins’ prime adversary is alleged to be Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali, a Vuelta winner with a better burst of uphill pace and a demonic ability to descend. Ryder Hesjedal, last year’s maglia rosa, remains a dark horse, which seems a bit cruel given the talent, guile and heart he showed in winning the 2012 race.
This week’s Group Ride opens our 2013 Grand Tour discussion, which also includes our own Charles Pelkey (Live Update Guy) doing live text updates throughout the race. Be sure to check in with Charles, a far keener analyst than I can pretend to be. So…the big question this week is: Who will win and why? Is Sir Bradley the man to beat, or will Sky’s disappointing season continue to disappoint? Who have we missed? Who else can win?
Images: Fotoreporter Sirotti, RCS Sport
It feels strange to even speak of it after so long, but you know what? Professional road racing is about to start happening again. Rising up from the ashes of the Lancepocalypse, spindly legged racers are due to crawl out from under their off-season rocks, emerging into the blinking light of the 2013 season.
What’s gonna happen?
The Classics, perhaps the least dope-tarnished races of the calendar, will once again give us the Boonen v. Cancellara races we all want to see, assuming Fabian Cancellara has killed whatever chicken he needed to to dispel the voodoo curse that ruined his 2012. We should also see the return of Thor Hushovd to the rutted cart paths of Northern Europe and find out just how serious Peter Sagan is about mixing it up with these infernal cobblers.
The first question of this week’s Group Ride is who will be this year’s Classics star? Can Boonen thrive with Cancellara in the mix, or will someone else rise to the challenge?
Stage racing, if we’re honest, is more of a shit show. TdF champ Bradley Wiggins is talking about skipping the July race in favor of the seemingly more favorable Giro, which puts Chris Froome in the captain’s seat for Sky. Alberto Contador is back in full swing. Purito Rodriguez showed his class last season, but will his team even make the races? And what of the Schlecks? The younger is coming back from an injury-blighted 2012, and the older will probably be suspended.
The second question for this week’s Group Ride mirrors the first. Who will be this year’s Grand Tour star? Can Ryder Hesjedal repeat his Giro heroics? Can any of 2012′s bit part players, Thomas de Gendt, Alejandro Valverde or Vincenzo Nibali, take another step up the podium?
It feels odd to me to be talking about these things. It feels as though some great schism occurred at the end of 2012, and that the future can’t be quite like the past. All I know how to do, at this point, is to look at what’s happened and wonder what will be, and hopefully, in the process, it will all be as fascinating as ever, if only that little bit better.
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
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.
Earlier this week we ran an excerpt from Bill and Carol McGann’s latest release, The Story of the Giro d’Italia, Volume II. I don’t think I can do anything here to recommend this book more highly than the incredible narrative the McGanns wove, but this is my chance to comment on it directly.
Yeah, so this is going to be a favorable review. It’s like that.
The Giro is an odd event. It’s not the Tour de France transported and translated to Italy. While that statement is hopelessly broad and not properly rooted in objective, evidential detail, it’s got to be said. It’s just a different beast. The Giro has often been political in a way the Tour can’t approach. Its formula has been tinkered with in a way that would cause the board at Coca-Cola to gasp.
This is the second half of his survey of the race. It begins in 1971 with Gösta Pettersson’s victory and takes us through wins by Merckx, Hinault, Moser, Indurain, Pantani and ends with Alberto Contador’s 2011 performance. It’s quite a ride.
What the McGanns have done is to give you a look at the race in its proper perspective. It’s not just the couch, it’s the couch in your living room. And I should add here that while Bill is the rabid racing fan, Carol is the meticulous editor, and Bill demonstrates his class by crediting Carol as his full partner. To say this account is dispassionate misses the point. There’s plenty of passion in these pages. Bill doesn’t have any trouble telling the reader when someone delivered a ride worthy of a champion. It’s easy to sense the excitement he felt as he scoured old Italian newspapers and books in his quest to illustrate those days that are woven into the history of the Giro. His real talent is to strip the partisan favoritism that comes with nationalities. You end up cheering a bit for everyone—the guy who kicks ass, the guy whose ass got the kicking, the gregario who humbled himself for the team.
And while it may seem like a semantic point, the McGanns haver termed this the “story” of the Giro instead of the “history” of the Giro because it is meant to give the larger human drama that plays out. It helps to paint why non-cyclists could care so much.
McGann Publishing has put out quite a collection of books at this point. There’s plenty of good reading for a rider waiting for the Tour to start. Check them out here.
Ryder Hesjedal takes his career as a professional bike race ultra-seriously. He trains obsessively, he never shirks from working hard for his teammates, and whenever he gets a chance to ride aggressively he grabs it without a second thought. That’s why his magnificent performance in the 95th Giro d’Italia—the first Canadian to finish on the podium of a grand tour, let alone win one—didn’t surprise those who know him well. Even if his victory shocked the European cognoscenti.
So, you may ask, why has the 31-year-old Garmin-Barracuda team man taken so long to reach the top of the cycling world?
The answer to that question is a complex one because Hesjedal has always had the talent to excel at the highest level, though we’ve only seen flashes of his capabilities in a wide range of races over the past decade. But befitting his calm and dignified manner, the British Columbian has shown infinite patience with his career and been quietly confident that one day his time would come. Now it’s here.
The Italians say that men capable of winning grand tours—they call them fuoriclasse—give hints of their great talent at an early age. Hesjedal, whose great-grandparents were farmers who emigrated from Norway in the 19th century, certainly did that. He grew up in the small rural community of Highlands, to the northwest of Victoria on Vancouver Island, where Hesjedal’s father made a meager living selling firewood that he cut in the pine forests. Dad and mom later took jobs with the municipality, while son Ryder showed a penchant for sports, excelling at baseball and lacrosse.
Everyone rode bikes in the Highlands, and young Hesjedal soon developed a love for riding his hard-tail Norco mountain bike on the single-track trails that crisscrossed this hilly region of lakes, woodlands and wilderness. The District of Highlands Web site says that its residents are “both self-reliant and cooperative.” That certainly characterizes Hesjedal, who began competitive cycling in his early teens as part of British Columbia’s booming mountain-bike scene.
Like other cycling journalists, I was first impressed by Hesjedal’s talent when he finished second in the junior men’s cross-country race behind Frenchman Julien Absalon at the 1998 world mountain bike championships at Mont-Ste-Anne in eastern Canada. Three years later, at the mountain bike worlds in Vail, Colorado, we saw the lanky Canadian again place second to Absalon, this time in the under-23 category. That same week, his fellow Victoria resident Roland Green, six years older than Hesjedal, won the pro men’s world cross-country title.
At the time, it seemed a given that Hesjedal would follow in Green’s footsteps, especially when at age 21 he won a 2002 World Cup cross-country at Les Gets in the French Alps, beating a field of champions that included off-road legend Thomas Frischknecht. But, at 6-foot-2 and 159 pounds, Hesjedal was big for a cross-country racer compared with more compact rivals such as Absalon, Cadel Evans and Miguel Martinez.
Like Evans before him, Hesjedal was already integrating road racing into his schedule by signing with Rabobank’s espoirs team in 2002. He quickly showed his talent by winning the French amateur classic Paris-Mantes in April that year, making a long solo break to finish more than three minutes ahead of the field. And in September, shortly after that World Cup victory at les Gets, Hesjedal showed his stage-race strength by winning Spain’s four-day Volta a Cataluña de l’Avenir.
But mountain biking remained first on his agenda, knowing he had a chance of Olympic glory in Athens. He won the prestigious NORBA national series in 2003 (and again in ’04) and placed second in the pro men’s cross-country at the ’03 worlds in Lugano, Switzerland—only beaten by Belgian veteran Filip Meirhaeghe, who would admit to using EPO prior to the ’04 Olympics.
Hesjedal was also preparing his post-Athens career by joining Lance Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team in 2004. So he debuted in European pro road racing that spring. I chatted with him in Bruges before the start of his first classic, the Tour of Flanders, where he told me how pleased he was to play a part in helping new teammate George Hincapie win the previous week’s Three Days of De Panne. Hesjedal didn’t finish Flanders, but a week later, in Spain, he got into the winning, eight-man breakaway at the extremely hilly Klasika Primavera in the Basque Country: He placed fifth behind winner Alejandro Valverde, and ahead of the Italian stars Damiano Cunego and Gilberto Simoni.
That early success was almost forgotten in a year dedicated to winning an Olympic gold medal — a dream that ended when he flatted five minutes into the dusty Athens cross-country. He didn’t finish the race and dropped out of the worlds a couple of weeks later, and never started another mountain bike race.
So, in essence, Hesjedal’s road career didn’t really begin until age 24 as a domestique with Discovery Channel in 2005. He worked for Hincapie in the northern classics and, in stage racing, for Italian Paolo Savoldelli at the Tour de Romandie (placing 32nd, only two minutes behind his team leader) and at his first grand tour, the Giro, which Savoldelli won. Hesjedal valiantly did his team duty at that Giro, even after a bad crash on stage seven in the south of Italy; but he eventually pulled out (with 15 others) on a savage stage 13 over five passes in the Dolomites.
Hesjedal did enough that season to be recruited in 2006 by the ambitious Phonak team, whose leader would be Floyd Landis. I interviewed both of these North Americans at their pre-season training camp in Majorca. Hesjedal said he hadn’t given any interviews since dropping out of mountain biking, and I found him to be quietly ambitious about the year ahead. He was hoping to return to the Giro, a race he said he really liked, but Phonak put him on another program — which included taking fourth overall at May’s Volta a Cataluña (thanks to fourth place on the mountaintop finish in Andorra) and 17th overall at the Dauphiné.
His only grand tour in 2006 was the Vuelta a España, where he was lying a promising 21st before he abandoned the race on the 11th stage, with a view to riding a strong world championships in Salzburg, Austria. Perhaps he should have finished the Vuelta because he placed only 22nd in the worlds’ time trial and didn’t finish the road race, and when the doping-scandalized Phonak team folded at year’s end, Hesjedal was left without a team.
His career in limbo, he spent 2007 with HealthNet-Maxxis on the U.S. domestic scene, with 10th place at the Amgen Tour of California the highlight. The ever-optimistic Canadian didn’t give up his apartment in Girona, Spain, confident that he would be back on the Continent before too long. And that was the case. He was signed by Jonathan Vaughters at Garmin-Chipotle and so his European road career finally received its real beginning in 2008, just four years ago.
Since then, Hesjedal has improved every year, growing in confidence at the grand tours and performing at the highest level in the spring classics. The highlights have been diverse: aiding teammates Christian Vande Velde and Brad Wiggins place fourth overall in the Tours de France of 2008 and 2009 respectively; placing fifth at the 2009 Clasica San Sebastian before winning stage 12 of the Vuelta in a summit finish at Alto de Velefique; and, in 2010, placing second to Philippe Gilbert at the Amstel Gold Race, winning a stage of the Amgen Tour of California, placing sixth at the Tour de France (after team leader Vande Velde crashed out and including brilliant rides on the cobblestones of northern France and the mountaintop finish on the Tourmalet), and third at the GP de Montréal behind Robert Gesink and Peter Sagan.
His 2011 season was something of a transition year, the highlight being Garmin’s victory in the Tour de France team time trial and overall team prize, while Hesjedal rode support for sixth-place Tom Danielson. Perhaps 2012 would have seen similar results, but in the winter team manger Vaughters and new team director Allan Peiper persuaded the British Colombian to be the Garmin team leader at the Giro.
Now, with his astounding victory in Italy, Hesjedal can truly say his career has taken off!
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: Photoreporter Sirotti
Live Coverage of the 21st Stage of the 2012 Giro d’Italia, a down-to-the-wire, 30-kilometer individual time trial in Milan.
If you would like your comments to be seen during the stage by the Live Update Guy, please use the comment box in the Live Update Window. The usual article comment box will not appear in Live.
This weekend’s opening time trial at the Giro is listed as “Stage 1.” To me it looks like a prologue. What makes it a full stage as opposed to a prologue?
A quick question and quick answer for this one. The UCI’s Rule Book defines a prologue as anything less than eight kilometers. Beyond that, it has to characterized as a full stage.
The name is not the only difference, though. If a rider suffers a crash or a mechanical that keeps him from finishing a prologue, he is still able to compete the next day, being credited with the same time as the last finisher.
If the same thing happens in a time trial that exceeds the 8km prologue limit, the rider who doesn’t finish is eliminated from competition.
Aside from the Tour de France, a lot of riders – especially sprinters – seem to drop out of the “other two” grand tours, leaving the Giro to prep’ for the Tour or leaving the Vuelta to get ready for worlds. Isn’t – or shouldn’t there be – a rule that keeps riders from scoring wins and then leaving in search of greener pastures?
Well, there is a rule that keeps riders from leaving a stage race and immediately entering another event, but that’s about it.
UCI Rule 2.6.026 makes certain that if a rider drops out of a stage race like the Giro, he cannot participate in another race until the Giro is over. There is an exception, which allows the UCI to grant special dispensation if the rider and his team director make a request and the director of the race the rider has abandoned agrees.
I know a lot of people who think it should be even tighter than that. There are some who think a rider who doesn’t actually finish the stage race shouldn’t be credited with stage wins he scored on the way up to his abandonment. Certainly, that’s the practice with riders contesting the jersey competitions. Even if a rider were to have an unassailable lead in, say for example, the mountain jersey competition, he would not be given that prize, even if he were to drop out on a flat stage on the final day. To me, that seems a bit harsh, but it is what it is.
As for taking that draconian step with stage winners, I am not so sure. I do understand fans’ frustrations when they see a Mario Cipollini, Alessandro Petacchi or Mark Cavendish leave when the race hits the mountains, I still think forcing them to finish a three-week tour just to be credited with stage wins won two weeks earlier would be an extreme measure. It would certainly change the character not only of that particular race, but of the entire grand tour season.
I guess one rule change might be to extend the ban on racing even beyond the finish of the particular stage race – say an extra two weeks for “rest” – if the rider didn’t have to abandon due to injuries suffered in a crash. That would certainly keep a lot more riders in the Vuelta at season’s end, no?
I actually don’t mind seeing the sprinters dominate the opening week and then take a flyer out of the race. I used to love watching Cipo’ rack up wins and then have him come hang out in the press room or VIP tent as the Giro hit the Dolomites. That said, I really do admire those sprinters who ride through all three weeks and then make a run at winning on the final day in Milan, Paris or Madrid.
I am a long-time reader and big fan of the Explainer and, especially of your Live Updates.
First, I want to ask what your plans are for the Live Update Guy as the grand tours kick off this year. I know since you left (that other cycling publication) you’ve been practicing law. Are you still going to do the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta?
Second, after all of the years you got to cover those races, which of them is your favorite? While I know you don’t always do “Live” from location, you must have been to a few. Which is the best?
At this point, I am planning to do Live Updates from each of the three grand tours this year. I’ll be starting off with the Giro on Saturday and, hopefully, commenting on all three this year. A lot of it depends on my trying to find a successful economic model that allows me to do that. Yes, I do enjoy practicing law, but I have to admit that I love LUGing the grand tours.
Red Kite’s Padraig and I are working with a couple of my former colleagues from the old days at VeloNews on the sales and technical sides. I honestly think that we’ll get this set up so that it’s not a purely volunteer effort.
By the way, I’ve also signed on to do some Live Update work during the Tour of California for CyclingNews.com, which should be fun and interesting, since they were our chief rivals during my time at VeloNews. Those folks have turned out to be terrific and were also quite supportive during my illness last year … as were my friends and colleagues over at VeloNews in Boulder.
Anyway, as for your second question. Yes, I did go to all of them and yes, I enjoyed every minute of it. In the 17 years I worked at VeloNews, I attended at least part of seven Tours de France and did two complete editions of the Giro and once covered the Vuelta in person. Of the three, I would have to say that it was the Vuelta I enjoyed the most, but that may have been due in large part to the fact that I took my then-10-year-old son, Philip, with me to the 2004 Vuelta. To use a hackneyed old cliché, it just doesn’t get any better than that.
As for the Tours, I think my favorite of all time was the 1998 Tour, which gave us the infamous “Festina Scandal.” It was that race that put me on Velo’s “doping beat” from that point forward and probably even led to my decision to go to law school, which has come in pretty handy since I left. I was part of the media scrum assigned to cover the judicial part of that Tour. It was fascinating. I still remember my favorite one-liner from that year, which ranks among my favorite.
While waiting for the start of the seventh stage individual time trial from Meyrignac-l’Église to Corrèze, we heard that the Festina team was planning to compete, despite having been ordered off the race the night before. There was a big flurry as reporters divided their crews into covering the race and sending people to chase after the team, which ultimately had a press conference at a local restaurant. For some reason, that day I got the job of covering the racing, which seemed like the lesser story at the moment.
Standing around in the parking lot used by team busses, a German reporter and I stood under the hot mid-day sun and talked about the scandal and what we were probably missing at the time. At one point, he kicked at the dirt with his boot, smiled and said “Well, at least no one’s talking about how much weight Jan Ullrich has gained in the off-season any more, eh?”
The following year was fascinating, too. Not because it was the first in Lance Armstrong’s unprecedented string of seven Tour wins, but because I spent the entire three weeks driving – and staying at hotels – with Rupert Guinness, John Wilcockson and the man who would eventually become the biggest thorn in Armstrong’s side, David Walsh, of the Sunday Times of London. As you might imagine, there were some interesting conversations over those three weeks.
Anyway, if I were to recommend going to either one of the three … it would be a tough call, but I would have to suggest you pick the Vuelta. All three are spectacular races run through beautiful countries, but the Vuelta seems a little more relaxed. I think fan access if better and it seemed, to me at least, that it was more fun for some of the riders because of that.
Okay, folks, it’s time for me to start Live Coverage of Stage One of the 2012 Giro d’Italia. Have fun and I hope to see you throughout the season.
The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
Follow me on Twitter: @Charles_Pelkey
As I mentioned recently, I’m less interested in completely monetizing RKP to the nth degree than I am in getting stuff produced that I want to wear. It’s a selfish drive, no way around that. I like T-shirts that make cycling cool. Your run-of-the-mill century T-shirt is such a train wreck of sponsors and lousy illustrations I use them for rags. I don’t mean any disrespect to the events; I’ve invariably enjoyed myself, but those Ts are to cycling chic what back hair is to male models.
And though I self-select as an introvert, I do dig it when someone tells me that they like something I’m wearing. I had a woman come up to me and tell me she liked the back panel on the RKP bibs (the end is near). Apparently, she has a sense of humor. And I’ve had all sorts of people come up to me and comment on the Suffer T. I’ve sold a couple to non-cyclists.
Last year I wrote a feature that examined Eddy Merckx’ 1972 season for peloton magazine. I put forward the idea that it was the single greatest year of cycling any rider had ever put together—would ever put together. In winning Milan-San Remo, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Giro d’Italia (four stages along the way), the Tour de France (seven stages and the points jersey), the Tour of Lombardy and the hour record, he put together in one year what would be a fine career for any other cyclist. And if you examine all the minor stuff he won along the way you get the impression that his vocabulary didn’t include the word “peak.” He was badass on a full-time basis.
So I asked myself a simple question: Why not have a killer T-shirt to celebrate that?
I contacted my old friend Bill Cass to do the illustration. For Bicycle Guide readers, his name should be familiar. We used Cass’ work any time we could dream up an opportunity. Later, when I started Asphalt I was able to recruit him to do some fun stuff for us there as well. For those who don’t know him, Bill rose through the junior ranks racing in New England, eventually racing in the senior ranks as a Cat. 2 on the Prince Superoni team. He spent most of his career as a shoe designer at Nike and spent years working personally with Lance Armstrong on Nike designs that Armstrong wore to seven Tour de France wins. These days, he’s on Whidby Island near Seattle and has a studio there doing an fascinating variety of work.
The illustration in question will also find its way into print form, but that’s a ways off. First, we need to get these T-shirts circulating. They will begin shipping the week following Sea Otter, where we’ll be next week. Because of the art involved, these will be a bit more expensive than our previous Ts.
I want this to be flat-out the coolest T-shirt in your wardrobe. I want people to ask you about it. I want you to be able to say with a straight face than the New York Yankees and Manchester United put together couldn’t have a season like this.
I have a similar issue with baseball caps. Even though I love the baseball cap I have from a friend’s winery, I’ve wanted a cap that speaks to what I’m about as a cyclist. So I had these made. I’ve been wearing the sample for a couple of weeks.
And yes, Captain Correction, I’m aware that the phrase is ordinarily “new wares.” I’m punny that way.
So far we’ve covered Men of the Hour and Up-and-Comers as part of our 2012 Season Preview; now it’s time for a list of the riders and teams who find themselves “on the hot seat” heading into the 2012 season.
Andy Schleck—It’s rarely a good thing when you’re being compared to Joop Zoetemelk. But that’s just the awkward place in which Radio Shack-Nissan’s Andy Schleck finds himself heading into the 2012 season. Schleck has now finished as runner-up at the Tour de France four times*. The good news: Contador’s not racing and Schleck will find himself leading a stronger squad with nine-time Tour de France winning DS Johan Bruyneel driving the team car. The bad news: he’s running out of excuses. And with a 2012 Tour route that emphasizes time trialing over climbing, Schleck could soon find himself one race away from equaling Zoetemelk’s record of six second-place finishes. Then again, even Joop won the race once.
(*Andy’s not counting 2010 as a victory, and neither am I.)
Janez Brajkovic—Two seasons ago Slovenia’s Janez Brajkovic won the Criterium du Dauphiné for Team RadioShack with an impressive mix of climbing and time trialing; at the time he looked to be Johan Bruyneel’s next grand tour champion. But cycling’s a cruel sport and a year later Brajkovic found himself lying on the side of the road during Stage 5 of the 2011 Tour de France; his injuries sent him home less than a week into the Tour. The 28-year-old now rides for Astana, a squad that will welcome another GC contender to ride alongside Roman Kreuziger. Assuming Kreuziger targets the 2012 Giro d’Italia (a race in which he finished sixth last year), Brajkovic might find little stands between him and another chance at Tour leadership.
BMC—Earlier I included BMC on my list of Men of the Hour—and they deserve the distinction. But they also find themselves on the Hot Seat—here’s why:
- Philippe Gilbert, Cadel Evans, and Thor Hushovd will draw intense scrutiny after their 2011 exploits. The only feat more impressive than Gilbert’s 2011 season would be repeating the feat in 2012. As for Evans, he’ll soon find that winning a Tour is one thing, while defending the title is an entirely different proposition (just ask Carlos Sastre and history’s other 1-time winners). And Thor? Well, he did a quite bit of talking in 2011 about how unhappy he was at Garmin-Cervelo. Now he gets to show us what he can do while riding for a team where he feels his “leadership” is safe and secure.
- America’s great young hopes—Taylor Phinney and Tejay Van Garderen—need to show some progression in 2012. Phinney needs to turn his lessons from 2011 into results in 2012 while Van Garderen needs to win a week-long stage race—Paris-Nice would be a fantastic start.
- Aging and former stars such as George Hincapie and Alessandro Ballan will fight to stay relevant just within their own squad. I’m still holding out hope that Thor’s arrival will give Hincapie the leash he needs to win Roubaix. As for Ballan, his continued presence on the roster surprises me considering his lack of results and the continued investigation of his role in the Mantova doping case.
- Last, but not least: chemistry. It takes a lot to manage the egos and aspirations of a professional cycling team, let alone a squad with so many high-profile stars. Evans, Gilbert, and Hushovd have all had moments where they appeared unable to play well with others—or at least unable to do so while keeping their mouths shut about it. Jim Ochowicz and the rest of BMC’s management will need to anticipate flare-ups before they happen and work quickly to extinguish problems before they spread.
Mark Cavendish—British rider, British team, World Champion, London Olympics—assuming he makes it through the Tour unscathed, Team Sky’s Mark Cavendish will likely face more Olympic pressure than any rider has ever known. With two stage wins in Qatar, at least he’s off to a good start.
Riders with Names Ending in “-ov”—In particular, I’m thinking of Alexandre Vinokourov, Alexandr Kolobnev, and Denis Menchov. As for Vino, he’s trying to end his career with some measure of respect at Astana, while putting behind him the “allegations” that he bought the 2010 Liege-Bastogne-Liege from Alexandr Kolobnev (who’s been provisionally suspended for testing positive for masking agents at the 2011 Tour de France). Denis Menchov made a major career mistake when he transferred from Rabobank to Geox-TMC after a 2010 season that saw him finish third in the Tour de France. Unfortuantely, the supposed skeletons in the closets of Geox’s management meant there would be no Tour de France for the Spanish squad, so Menchov found himself sitting at home in July; he finished 8th in the Giro and 5tht in the Vuelta, but failed to make a major impact in either race. This year he finds himself riding for Katusha and should get another crack at leading a team the Tour. Believe it or not, the parcours suits him quite well, and another podium shot is certainly well within his reach.
Italy—Italians won 102 races in 2011, but few of any import. Worse still, the country’s grand tour riders came up empty after winning the Giro and the Vuelta in 2010. So it should come as no surprise that changes are in store for 2012. First, Liquigas rider Ivan Basso seems to have given-up on his Tour de France dreams; the 34-year-old has instead set his sights on winning his third Giro d’Italia. As for Vincenzo Nibali, the Tour de France was supposed to be his big goal for 2012; he finished 7tht in 2009 and has learned how to win and lose a grand tour in the two seasons since his breakthrough. That said, Nibali hasn’t ruled-out the Giro d’Italia either, an interesting proposition considering his toughest rival might also be his teammate.
In the classics, another poor season for Filippo Pozzato lost him his World Tour ride; he now leads Farnese-Vini, a team whose prospects—and race invitations—seemed to be improving until the charismatic,but frustrating, Italian “star” broke his collarbone. More weeks of training down the drain. Damiano Cunego still seems years away from his former race-winning self and Alessandro Ballan? Well, your guess is as good as mine.
But of all the Italians feeling pressure to perform in 2012, national team coach Paolo Bettini is likely to be feeling it the most. He’ll have two chances to redeem himself in 2012: the Olympics and Worlds. If he can’t do it, look for a change at the helm of the federation’s national squad.
Thomas Voeckler—Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler will be hard-pressed to re-create his Tour de France heroics from 2011. Let’s hope he doesn’t really take his Tour prospects seriously enough to sacrifice his chances in other races, as he’s one of the sport’s most exciting stars.
Monument Race Organizations—Changing the route or the date of a Monument is never a popular decision, but in 2012 we’ll see significant alterations to two of the sport’s oldest and most prestigious races. First off, the organizers of April’s Tour of Flanders have decided that the traditional Muur/Bosberg finale is too…predictable? Easy? Boring? To be honest, I’m not really sure what they were thinking, but if this year’s “new and improved” set of finishing circuits doesn’t lead to a spectacular win for either Philippe Gilbert or Tom Boonen, there will be hell to pay in Oudenaarde.
As for Italy’s “Race of the Falling Leaves”, il Lombardia (a name I’m still getting used to saying), a move to September means the leaves won’t be falling anymore. The UCI is hoping that an earlier date will see more in-form riders contest the late-season event, even if the scenery proves to be a less spectacular. The switch has a better chance of producing a more exciting race than the changes to Flanders do, but the sport’s purists are still shaking their heads.
Campagnolo—With more and more teams choosing Shimano or SRAM for their components, Campagnolo has to be feeling some pressure to remain relevant. Of the 18 teams in this year’s World Tour, only three (Lotto-Belisol, Lampre-ISD, and Movistar) will be riding the Italian groupsets in 2012 (Team Europcar, one of the sport’s better Professional Continental squads, will be racing Campy as well). The company’s new EPS electronic group was beginning to generate a bit of buzz—and then SRAM introduced its new Red grouppo and stole most of the spotlight. Campy’s still relying on decades of cachet to drive sales, but one has to wonder if they can keep up.
Team NetApp—They won one race last year—the time trial at the 2.2 Tour Gallipoli. They barely made a ripple at last year’s Amgen Tour of California—one of the biggest events on their calendar. Now they’re riding the Giro d’Italia? If the Giro had a Super PAC, Net App would have just made a significant donation.
Bjarne Riis—Even with a suspension and the loss of two grand tour titles, Alberto Contador will be just fine. As for Bjarne Riis and Team Saxo Bank-Sunguard? Well, that’s another issue entirely. It seems that Riis is almost always struggling to find new sponsors to help his team survive from one season to the next; now he faces six months without his Spanish star and the possible loss of his team’s World Team license. There were rumors circulating that Stefano Garzelli might sign with Saxo Bank after his Acqua & Sapone squad was not invited to the Giro d’Italia. Given Garzelli’s track record at the Italian grand tour, that might not be a bad option for the Danish general manager.
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Image: John Pierce, Photosport International