This Time Next Year
Today was the second stage of the first Abu Dhabi Tour- a stage won by Elia Viviani (Team Sky) and run off in much cooler conditions than yesterday. By this time in any year there is a definite end of term feeling amongst the road riders - and it is sometimes a struggle to assemble a high quality field for mid-October races. For many the season has already finished - especially now that serious racing starts again as soon as January.
But why the comments here? Well it is exactly one year today that the UCI World Road Race Championships will be held in near-by Doha, Qatar. A deal that was agreed before the new management took over at the UCI. And yesterday highlighted what could happen in 2016. The temperature in the shade was 38C when the riders started out but the on-bike computers were soon showing temperatures of over 50C - with Peter Sagan reporting 54C (that is 129F!). Everybody from Abu Dhabi said that these temperatures were not normal for the time of year - obviously. But the prospect of anything close to this at the Worlds would most likely force the longer races to be re-scheduled. A daunting prospect; but one that could be mandated by the new weather condition rules that are due to start in January. This could put the UCI in a difficult position if their premier event is canceled or misses its media slots due to the extreme weather in the Gulf.
Next In The Calendar
Last weekend saw the final stages of both the Vuelta and the Tour of Britain- with wins for Fabio Aru and Edvard Boasson Hagen respectively - and after a busy week of one day races we now have the team trials marking the start of the World Championships in Richmond, Virginia. And while it is great for the fans to have so much racing available the current calendar is creating some problems.
The biggest cause may simply be too many races but that seems too easy. Take, for example, the current Vuelta dates. These were set for August-September in order to extend the spread of grand tours through out the year. But the Spanish tour was and will remain the third ranked in the grand tour hierarchy. When created it was raced in spring before the Giro. A much better time for racing in southern Spain than in the heat of August. It also meant that the sequence of grand tour rankings in the calendar was 3, 2 then 1. That is why riders could contemplate riding the Vuelta as prepartion for the Tour. A few riders could even win both. The spring Vuelta also gave riders the chance to recover in August and an option for the Worlds to be held a week or two earlier.
Now the Vuelta falls between the most important tour and the most important one day race - the World Championship. As a result there is an extra workload on the teams and, more critically, on the top riders. So this week will see a World Championships with many gaps in the start lists. For Team GB that means no Froome, Cavendish or Thomas in any of the events. A situation that must be hard to understand for the average sports fan - or even sports reporter. A race that lacks many big names cannot be accepted as a true reflection of who is the best in the world. Moving the Vuelta back to its natural position would not fix everything - but it would help. Then we might see the Tour de France winner going for the rainbow jersey again.
But this is just trying to make things better. And despite the obvious gaps the championships will still include such top ranked competitors as - Peter Sagan, Tom Boonen, Phillipe Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet, Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez, John Degenkolb, Michael Matthews, Alexander Kristoff and Nacer Bouhanni. Just don’t be surprised if someone with a quieter 2015 season takes the title next Sunday.
This afternoon will see the first of three results that will determine if Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) can become the first Dutch national to win a Grand Tour for decades. His slender lead coupled with three mountainous stages and time bonuses are going to make for tense battles between the remain GC contenders. A win by the Netherlands is very long overdue - but then there is little room for sentiment when the prize is this big.
The riders that are going to be trying the hardest to take victory away from Dumoulin are -
Fabio Aru (Astana) at 0:03
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) at 1:15
Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) at 2:22
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) at 2:53
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) at 3:15
Esteban Chaves (Orica GreenEdge) at 3:30
Daniel Moreno (Katusha) at 3:46
So will national support for the leading Spanish riders make sure that they win out? Or will Aru re-take the red jersey and win in Madrid? Will an improving Quintana jump past everyone and take victory for Colombia? All will be revealed soon - but not soon enough for the riders concerned.
Luck and Good Timing - 2
One day in the Pyrenees and it’s all change at the top. Even though there are still many mountains to climb, quite literally, today’s constant succession of climbs and descents put most of the peloton 30 minutes behind the leaders by the top of the sixth and final climb. At least five riders retired - even though Sergio Paulinho’s painful exit was caused by a TVE motorbike. As a result Tinkoff-Saxo are considered withdrawing their remaining riders. As for Team Sky they had riders with most of the key moves leading to a great third place for Ian Boswell. But it was still a bad luck day as a seemingly minor crash for Chris Froome right at the start did eventually take its toll leaving Chris over eight minutes adrift at the finish. And Nicholas Roche lost even more time; taking him from 3rd down to 22nd on GC.
Now the riders within two minutes of the GC leader Fabio Aru (Astana) are -
2 Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) at 0:27
3 Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) at 0:30
4 Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) at 1:28
5 Esteban Chaves (Orica GreenEdge) at 1:29
6 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) at 1:52
7 Daniel Moreno (Katusha) at 1:54
8 Mikel Nieve (Sky) at 1:58
Luck and Good Timing
One week done and luck has already played a very big part in the race. With crashes playing an excessively important part in the results. One of the first of the favourites to suffer was Nibali - not through injuries in his crash but through taking a tow on the team car to get back to the bunch. Yesterday’s tricky, narrow climb and even worse descent (twice) negated the efforts of some - but it was the crashes on the flat, wide roads before and after where the worst injuries occurred. In the biggest one a rider hit a pothole while taking a drink. This set his bike flying into the middle of the fast moving bunch. Some of the big names taken out in the resulting chaos were Tejay Van Garderen, Dan Martin and Nacer Bouhanni but it was Kris Boeckmans that suffered the most serious injuries. Injuries that could have been fatal but for the prompt action of the medical staff. Yet the final insult to fair competition came when a support motor bike took out Peter Sagan in the final kilometers so robbing him a real chance of victory. Sagan finished the stage some five minutes later but then retired. Jasper Stuyven won the stage instead but then also had to abandon once his crash injuries had been assessed.
So week two starts with Esteban Chaves, Tom Dumoulin and Nicholas Roche as the top three. A combination that few would have bet on at the start. However with Valverde, Rodriguez, Quintana and Aru just seconds behind the final placings are far from obvious.
Third Time Lucky?
Today sees the first genuine stage of the 2015 Vuelta a Espana - the third of the Grand Tours. After yesterday’s ceremonial team time trial it will be the first day for some real racing - and the first of the mountain climbs.
The pre-race pundits put the favorites as - Nairo Quintana, Christopher Froome, Fabio Aru, Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez, Rafal Majka and Tejay Van Garderen. Most of which have already figured in Grand Tours this year. But only Froome has won so the rest will be hoping that this third and final major tour will be their chance to shine.
For Team Sky their hope is that they can add the Vuelta to their list of victories. But despite Froome being second favourite it seems to me that a Tour-Vuelta double is a bridge too far since three week races are won not just of fitness and team support but on the need to win. And after winning the Tour that need will be much reduced. But then perhaps another one of Sky’s talented team will spring a surprise. Let’s see how this afternoon’s stage works out ...
Three In Four Years For Sky
Today Chris Froome put himself in position for a victory ride into Paris tomorrow. Baring exceptional bad luck Froome will take his second Tour de France and his team their third overall win on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday at around 7pm. But it was a far from an easy ride for any of the top competitors. In fact it will go down as one of the most hotly contested Tours of recent years featuring as it did all the best grand tour riders of the current generation.
The final GC is likely to be little changed from this one -
1 Christopher Froome
2 Nairo Quintana Movistar at 1:12
3 Alejandro Valverde Movistar at 5:25
4 Vincenzo Nibali Astana at 8:36
5 Alberto Contador Tinkoff-Saxo at 9:48
So for British fans there will be disappointment that Geraint Thomas (15th) lost time in the final stages but otherwise happiness at a great result overall. With Adam Yates (53rd), Stephen Cummings (98th), Simon Yates (105th), Ian Stannard (127th), Luke Rowe (136th) and Mark Cavendish (140th) the UK had more finishers than in many previous Tours. Stage victories by Cummings and Cavendish were memorable as was the quality of the British riders performances in some very tough stages. And if Cavendish can come back against the odds to win the final stage then that would be the icing on the cake.
Now or Never at the Tour
Just two more days remain for the GC riders to make their play. But every one of the contenders except Quintana is further behind Froome than they were on Tuesday. Team Sky have still not got victory in the bag but time is running out for either their opponents or lady luck to change the likely result.
There are, of course, three days for those with stage victories in mind. And the sprinters face two days of suffering in the Alps before they get their chance to shine in the sport’s biggest finish on the Champs-Elysees. A finish that has been a jewel in Mark Cavendish’s exceptional Tour de France career. However today’s abandon by Etixx-Quickstep lead-out man Mark Renshaw will make the potential sprint against Sagan, Greipel and Degenkolb that much more risky.
Tour Rests Before Final Phase
Chris Froome in the 2013 Tour de France
The Tour did indeed have some shake-ups and dramas between the two rest days - all covered by live TV and the Internet. Just look at the top of the general classification as it stands today -
1 Christopher Froome Team Sky
2 Nairo Quintana Movistar at 3:10
3 Tejay Van Garderen BMC Racing at 3:32
4 Alejandro Valverde Movistar at 4:02
5 Alberto Contador Tinkoff-Saxo at 4:23
6 Geraint Thomas Team Sky at 5:32
7 Robert Gesink LottoNL-Jumbo at 6:23
8 Vincenzo Nibali Astana at 7:49
9 Bauke Mollema Trek Factory Racing at 8:53
10 Warren Barguil Giant-Alpecin at 11:03
First the obvious facts that Froome is still in yellow - and all of his opponents are further behind now than they were nine days ago. So even though Quintana seems to have moved up from joint 9th to 2nd he is actually over a minute further behind on GC than before. And though most of the key challengers are unchanged they all face a bigger task to overtake Froome by the end of Saturday.
Who is most likely to stop Froome taking a second Tour win? Quintana is the best climber in this year’s race. Van Garderen claims to have been waiting for these Alpine stages to attack - but has yet to show that he can deliver. Valverde has often seemed to be going better than compatriot Contador; who seems unlikely to get much further up the standings. The most likely final podium could well be Froome, Quintana and Valverde. But the Tour is a difficult - and often cruel - race with bad luck waiting in every kilometre as the race moves to its Alpine finale. A third Team Sky victory is still achievable but far from certain ...
End of Phase 1 at the Tour
The end of today’s team time trial in Brittany marks the point where the riders make the transition from the roads of the north to the much different terrain of the south. A rest day in Pau will give riders chance to adjust but then it’s two weeks of hard riding through the Pyrenees, Massif Central and Alps before the parade into Paris.
And after today’s stage there are ten riders within two minutes of the top in the general classification -
1 Christopher Froome Team Sky
2 Tejay Van Garderen BMC Racing at 0:12
3 Greg Van Avermaet BMC Racing at 0:27
4 Peter Sagan Tinkoff-Saxo at 0:38
5 Alberto Contador Tinkoff-Saxo at 1:03
6 Rigoberto Uran Etixx-Quick-Step at 1:18
7 Alejandro Valverde Movistar at 1:50
8 Geraint Thomas Team Sky at 1:52
9 Nairo Quintana Movistar
& Zdenek Stybar Etixx-Quick-Step at 1:59
But this order is unlikely to survive intact much beyond the first day of next week as the mountains take their toll.
Cycling’s Big Event Starts Its 102nd Edition
Today La Grande Boucle starts with a time trial in the Netherlands and so opens another chapter in this iconic athletic challenge. As usual there has been much speculation about who will be the eventual winner. And this year it looks like there are at least four in with a good chance - Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali. Just behind in the predictions is Thibaut Pinot; who this year carries the hopes of the home nation. A role that has been left unfulfilled since the heady days of Laurent Fignon and Bernard Hinault in 1984 and 1985 respectively.
So later today the 14 kilometres of an urban course around Utrecht will determine the first wearer of the 2015 Yellow Jersey. But such a short test so early in the race is unlikely to provide any real guide to the ultimate winner in Paris on 26th July. Rather it will be the mountains that will create the difference - with the route planners aiming for the final showdown on Alpe d’Huez come the final Saturday.
But the previous 101 editions have shown that predictions and plans can easily be overtaken by events. In fact it is just this unpredictability that makes Le Tour so interesting to watch. The punishing climbs, the crazy descents, the extremes of weather and some wonderful scenery retain their widespread public appeal even though the actual riders come and go over time.
So who do we predict will win this year? With three previous winners starting as favourites predictions are difficult - but Contador has the talent and motivation to become the first rider to achieve the Giro-Tour double since the late Marco Pantani in 1998
Contador Beats The Odds
Today was a victory parade for Alberto Contador who overcame the combined power of the Astana team through his own personal effort and class. As we all saw Tinkoff-Saxo put in a lot of hours on the front in the first week and by the third week Contador was reaching the final phase of a stage with little or no team support left. In contrast Astana often had three or more riders in the final selection - with both Aru and Landa attempting to take the pink jersey.
In fact the final mountain stage to Sestriere was a close-run thing as Aru and Landa both dropped Contador who was himself being shadowed by two other Astana riders - Kangert and Rosa. That day Alberto’s closest team mates in the finale were Basso and Rogers but they were 27 minutes off the pace by the end. The expected support by Kreuziger never seemed to live up to expectations.
Meanwhile at Team Sky, Leopold Konig finished with a very creditable sixth place on GC at 10m50 to Contador while Viviani finished third in the Points. But despite being an excellent climber Konig was not a challenger in the Mountains competition.
So the first Grand Tour for 2015 is over - and if the remaining two are as good then this is going to be a vintage year!
Grey Skies at the Race of Truth
The individual time trial was always billed as being the stage in a Grand Tour where the best riders showed their true form. And today Alberto Contador put enough time into his rivals to not just re-take the pink jersey but to have a cushion of 2m28s over his nearest rival - Fabio Aru.
However the weather did not help anyone with yet another day of rain - making for some cautious cornering on the time trial bikes. And it’s going to be cold - possibly snowing - at the 1,700 metre high finish line tomorrow if the current weather patterns do not improve.
Again Team Sky made the podium - this time through a great ride by Vasil Kiryienka to win this high profile stage. But that was again tempered for Sky by Richie Porte loosing more minutes to his GC rivals. In fact Porte was beaten on the day by his own team mates - with Leopold Konig, Kanstantsin Siutsou, Mikel Nieve and sprinter Elia Viviani all finishing faster. Just to make matters worse Australian TT champion Porte finished behind compatriots Luke Durbridge and Michael Hepburn (but finished ahead of Brett Lancaster by some 3 sec).
Tomorrow Leopold Konig will start as Team Sky’s best GC prospect in tenth place at 5m35s being Contador. Given Porte’s situation (almost 9 mins down) many riders would simply abandon. But there is no sign of that from Ritchie just yet. However another bad day tomorrow could weaken his resolve. And Viviani has already floated the idea that the team might be best working to keep him in the red points jersey ...
Update 8am 24-May-2015: Richie is reported as considering abandoning. Update 7pm 24-May-2015: After loosing another 27 mins today is it sensible for Richie to carry on? Update 25-May-2015: On rest day Team Sky announce that Porte will not start tomorrow.
Not Going To Plan
Today was predicted to be a straight forward bunch sprint after a short, pan-flat stage heading towards the coast. But not so.
A crash just before the 3km cut-off point left much of the field scrambling to limit their GC leaders’ time losses at the finish line. And again it was Richie Porte who came off badly. The official results have yet to appear but it seemed like another 2 minute were lost - surely turning Sky’s thoughts of overall victory into dreams. Contador lost time too - but much less than Porte. Just enough to hand the pink jersey over to Aru by 19 seconds.
Team Sky did get a consolation podium place through their sprinter Elia Viviani; who was nearer to the front when the crash happened. Just a pity that the rest of the Sky team were not leading him out at the time. Two minutes lost by the team leader is hardly worth a third place in the sprint.
After another wet day in the saddle the whole field must be hoping for better weather at Saturday’s time trial. And unless the weather greatly improves next week those mountain stages are going to be the stuff of nightmares ...
After the rest day the mainly flat Giro stage to Forli should have been routine - one of a series of less-challenging stages leading up to the time trial on Saturday. But a mechanical within the last 8 kms meant that Sky’s Richie Porte lost more GC seconds today than in all the previous stages combined - and lost his 3rd place to Mikel Landa of Astana. Update: the situation then got much worse for Richie as he was penalised 2 minutes for getting his replacement wheel from Simon Clarke of Orica-GreenEdge.
However the Giro was not the only important race being run over the last ten days. At the Bayern Rundfahrt Alex Dowsett of Movistar won the time trial stage and so the overall GC despite both Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) and John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) winning two stages each in the five stage race. Meanwhile in sunny California Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) won no less than four of the eight stages but still could not stop Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) taking the overall victory by just 3 seconds from his Etixx team mate Julian Alaphilippe.
Finally back in the low-profile British time trialling scene Sir Bradley Wiggins failed to break Alex Dowsett’s British 10 mile record by some 38 seconds on the roads of East Yorkshire last Saturday. His attempt, next month, at breaking Dowsett’s world hour record on the Lee Valley VeloPark track is looking that little bit harder ... if it was not hard enough already.
After Eight Stages Favourites Still Close
Today’s stage started out with little separating the surviving favourites. In fact there was just 60 seconds separating the top six on GC this morning. The six were - Alberto Contador; Fabio Aru at 4 sec; Richie Porte at 22; Dario Cataldo at 30; Mikel Landa at 42 and Roman Kreuziger at 60. So far all the GC leaders (note that 3 are from Astana and 2 from Tinkoff-Saxo) have been backed by strong teams. But Tinkoff-Saxo do seem to have put in a lot of hours on the front so far. Efforts that may weaken team support and make life more difficult for Contador and / or Kreuziger in the final week.
Today’s lumpy 215 kms stage seems unlikely to upset the GC standings with the biggest climbs coming in the middle section. However the second category Passo Serra is within 20 kms of the finish and so could present an opportunity for one of them to take GC time or a stage win - especially with a rest day tomorrow. With RAI and Eurosport both covering the action we will all be able to see how it pans out live.
Giro Starts Back Home
Most serious fans will, by now, have been watching the season’s minor tours and one day classics for almost four months. Yet it is only today that sees the start of the first of the Grand Tours - and a three week marathon of live TV coverage. The Giro lacks the massive coverage of the Tour de France - but for the serious fan that is no bad thing; especially if making the effort to watch in person. The whole race seems to be a more human scale with fewer barriers between the fans and the riders.
Yet for 2015 the Giro lacks something for the British fans - competitors! Despite all the progress made by cycling in Britain and a nominally British team in the top division there are no British names on the start list. This year Team Sky are backing Richie Porte as their best hope for overall victory. And he will be one of eleven Australians in the field. But no space as even a gregario for any of the Brits. At least that means that British cycling supporters won’t have the disappointment of seeing their favourites being beaten.
So three weeks of great racing set against some stunning backdrops - but still another two months before any Brits can appear in a Grand Tour.
Sky Keep Trying
With the ICS satellite reception working again it was rewarding to see Ben Swift’s victory today in the second stage of Italy’s Coppi e Bartali - a terrible day where 43 riders retired. His solo win puts him 41 seconds ahead of Matija Kvasina on GC. However a trawl through the many satellite channels failed to find any live coverage of the GP E3 Harelbeke - so missing coverage of the second Team Sky solo victory of the day with Geraint Thomas become the first ever British winner there by some 25 seconds from Zdenek Stybar. And surprisingly it was dry in Belgium!
Spring Classics Start Well
Team Sky’s long-standing ambition to do better in the big one day races got off to a good start again this year as Ian Stannard repeated his two up sprint finish to win the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. It was almost a re-run of 2014 with many of the same riders playing a role in the final kilometres. But this year Stannard’s performance was exceptional. Not only was he a marked man - as last year’s winner - but his three companions in the final break, Vandenbergh, Boonen and Terpstra, were all from the same Etixx-QuickStep team. It’s not often that one can beat three in a top-class race but Stannard achieved the near-impossible to remain the only ever British winner of the Omloop. This follows Team Sky victories by Froome in the Ruta del Sol and Thomas in the Volta ao Algarve. A good start to 2015.
This weekend’s second race - Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne - is currently in progress and it will be a big ask for Tom Boonen to repeat his 2014 win after the hard day yesterday. It would be nice if Bradley Wiggins was to try out his form and show well today. It is, after all, only six weeks to Paris-Roubaix ... [Update: according to steephill.tv Lars Petter Nordhaug has dossard #11 rather than Wiggins - and certainly Nordhaug is riding]
3:41pm - Mark Cavendish repeats his feat of 2012 by winning Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and so provides a second British victory in the opening classics weekend.
Tour Down Under - Live
A chance to see the 2015 TDU in person was too good to miss - and a great time was had enjoying some Adelaide hospitality. But it was not just the locals that were there in their thousands. As well as all the competitors and their support teams there were spectators and riders from all around Australia - as well as a few from Europe and US. The Rapha panel van was even spotted parked by the tour village in the city centre.
See flickr for some pictures ...
Another Good Year for British Fans
Not quite up there with 2014 - but then will that year ever be equalled? At least 2015 sees another ASO event in the UK - the inaugural Tour De Yorkshire. So no grand tours or world championships for the UK this time but still some good road events - despite the ever increasing pressures that are restricting road racing below the level of international elite.
The UK men’s events on the UCI Europe Tour are the Rutland Melton International CiCLE Classic (26 April), Tour de Yorkshire (1-3 May), Velothon Wales (14 June), Beaumont Trophy (21 June), RideLondon Classic (2 August) and Tour of Britain (6 to 13 September) - two more than 2014.
And for those prepared to travel to mainland Europe then the 2015 calendar looks just as full as ever. In fact at World Tour level (below) the calendar is a clone of 2014 - except for the final event in China of course.
08.03.2015 15.03.2015 Paris - Nice
11.03.2015 17.03.2015 Tirreno-Adriatico
23.03.2015 29.03.2015 Volta Ciclista a Catalunya
27.03.2015 E3 Harelbeke
29.03.2015 Gent - Wevelgem
05.04.2015 Ronde van Vlaanderen / Tour des Flandres
06.04.2015 11.04.2015 Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco
12.04.2015 Paris - Roubaix
19.04.2015 Amstel Gold Race
22.04.2015 La Flèche Wallonne
26.04.2015 Liège - Bastogne - Liège
28.04.2015 03.05.2015 Tour de Romandie
09.05.2015 31.05.2015 Giro d'Italia
07.06.2015 14.06.2015 Critérium du Dauphiné
13.06.2015 21.06.2015 Tour de Suisse
04.07.2015 26.07.2015 Tour de France
01.08.2015 Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian
02.08.2015 08.08.2015 Tour de Pologne
10.08.2015 16.08.2015 Eneco Tour
22.08.2015 13.09.2015 Vuelta a España
23.08.2015 Vattenfall Cyclassics
30.08.2015 GP Ouest France - Plouay
11.09.2015 Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec
13.09.2015 Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal
04.10.2015 Giro di Lombardia