3600 Seconds: Part1

That old fella Jens Voigt ended my ‘199 Laps’ series of blogs, simply by doing more than 199 laps, so I’m carrying on with a more permanent title for the Hour Record blogs, ‘3600 seconds’. A new era of record-breaking has arrived, which I don’t expect to continue in large numbers beyond 2015 (for men anyway) where somebody will put it at a level that will take a momentous effort to beat. Whether that’s Wiggins, or somebody who can beat the performance I think Wiggo is capable of, the record will be stratospheric in a years time. My archive of Hour Record blogs is HERE.

Quick Update

Jens Voigt was first to have a go at the Hour Record after it was reset by the UCI, but we’ve covered that before, plenty of times (check out my Hour Record archive for more info). He covered 51.110km on the 18th September 2014 at the 250m Velodrome Suisse in Grenchen, that’s a fine start to rebirth of this record, not quite as fast as the mark set by Francesco Moser of 51.151km in 1984. Followed by what one must assume was a nice retirement party & the obligatory watch was hopefully presented, quite fitting for what he’d just done. Then, on 30th October 2014 we had a rider I had little or no knowledge about, Matthias Brändle. He broke Jens record with 51.852km on the short 200m track at The World Cycling Centre (Aigle, Switzerland).

Since then we’ve had several riders talking about attempts (hopefully outside Switzerland for a change), thankfully including one woman, here’s a run down on what we have confirmed & what we have rumoured in anticipated chronological order. It’s looking like a lovely year for the Hour Record, plenty of attempts, unless of course, somebody knocks it out of the park very early, which is the trouble with a record attempt, you either win or lose, there is no 2nd place.

  • Jack Bobridge: January 25th, Melbourne
  • Rohan Dennis: February 8th 2015, Velodrome Suisse
  • Alex Dowsett: February 27th, London. (updated)
  • Sarah Storey: February 28th, London (confirmed) 46.065km womens record to beat.
  • Thomas Dekker: rumoured spring 2015
  • Bradley Wiggins: June 2015, likely London.
  • Alex Rasmussen: rumoured Autumn 2015, likely Copenhagen
  • Rasmus Quaade: likely Copenhagen
  • Ondrej Sosenka: Date unconfirmed, likely Moscow.

The Women

The 2003 record set by Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel will be first assaulted at the Olympic velodrome in London by a rider with too long a palmarès to list, Sarah Storey. She’ll go at the Revolution meeting on 28th February, the target to reach is 46.065km. For old timers, that’s as fast as riding a ’25’ in 52 minutes, but I think Storey will break it, possibly by no more than a km. Actually I hope it’s not by too much, an incredible performance at the first attempt may put the womens record on the shelf, I’d like to see as much interest as there has been from the men (hold a little back for the rematch Sarah). There could be a multitude of riders capable, tried & tested track riders like Sarah Hammer & wild cards like accomplished time triallist Emma Pooley might promote their tri-bike to another audience with a rapid hour (remember she took silver in the Glasgow 2014 TT only a few months ago).

The Men

Looking at the above list, it’s highly likely we’ll not see an attempt by Rasmussen later in the year, the record will likely be well out of reach by then. We can probably also discount Rasmus Quaade unless he does it very soon. Ondrej Sosenka, who held the ‘Athletes Hour’ & was later caught for doping, also looks unlikely, he needs to wait a while until he has some biological passport data after his break, so he may have ditched plans already. That leaves us with some high quality riders who can all set a very high mark, by March this record will only be taken seriously by the riders at the very top of the sport, in their very top condition. There’s plenty of online chat about Tony Martin, but I don’t believe he’ll ever hold this record. His style won’t work well on the track even if he produces more power than everybody else & could smash them in a straight line, the Hour Record is a different beast, it rewards a mixture of souplesse & power.

The Gist Of It

An incredible year ahead & at last the Hour has come back into the spotlight. The mens may be considered unbeatable by June, but the womens may become more interesting during the second half of the year. If Sarah Storey gets plenty of press it may spur some others into having a go. The womens peloton may be more open to embracing it in future as they attempt to increase their earning power & try to add additional value to sponsors, to a side of the sport given much less TV time & publicity than almost every mens discipline. A great year ahead, but those 3600 seconds will be some very painful & memorable ones for the riders.

Book Review: Climbs & Punishment by Felix Lowe

C&P Final Cover

Cyclists from elsewhere than the central lowlands of Scotland may not understand the ‘gringo’ reference, but it helps me explain the book very quickly. The author starts the book as what would be considered a ‘gringo’ & ends it an experienced cyclist, having suffered a multitude of cycling experiences condensed into a few short weeks on a ridiculous organised-ride from Spain to Rome. It’s a voyage of discovery & it’s the ideal Christmas present (to yourself) or to that hard-to-buy-for cyclist. It’s got something in it for everybody, from the die-hard racer to the complete newcomer, you’ll all recognise personal experiences & the personality types the book deals with, plus your non cycling partner (who pretends they don’t watch the Tour) will also likely enjoy it. This book, although at first glance not my normal cycling read, made me smile, it made me smile quite a bit.

The Author

This book comes with a warning, well, it’s not actually the book that has a warning, it’s the person who wrote it. If you ever go on an organised ride & somebody called Felix Lowe is present, go home or give a false name. When you read this book you’ll understand why, all your quirks & abnormalities may be magnified & published for all to read about.  The Author, Felix Lowe may be known to many of you, he’s the man behind the Eurosport ‘Blazin Saddles’ blog & can be followed on twitter @saddleblaze. He also writes the final article in ‘Cyclist’ magazine every month, so if you read about cycling a fair bit, you’ve undoubtably read some of his stuff.

The Review

I struggle to define ‘Climbs & Punishment’ as a particular genre of cycling book. It’s a mix of a travelogue, history book, gastronomy, cycling adventure & bike racing anecdotes from pro riders (including some fantastic ones he gleaned from chats with Greg LeMond), all written with plenty of humour, innuendo & not-so-veiled accusations. What makes this particularly interesting & different is the perspective it’s written from, the author first gained a deep knowledge of the sport of professional cycling by being involved in cycling journalism, before they ever became a cyclist. So this is his story of his initial voyage of a mans physical cycling discovery, potentially this is his unconscious quest to become a ‘proper’ cyclist. We follow his experiences during a rather bizarre (100km per day) organised ride which follows the route of Hannibal’s army into Rome from Spain, over a period of a few weeks. The full content of the book is probably not conveyed in the cover, but then, what could really.

You’ll also find some things discussed which won’t come up on your polite club-ride, mostly to do with bodily functions, body parts & the peculiarities of the effects of cycling’s motion & kit do to your body. Scrotums seem to be mentioned a fair bit, along with his ‘clock’ position in his shorts & the problem of eliminating that last drip, especially in his poor choice of shorts colour. We also get some descriptions of things he encountered on the way, dogs in a not so romantic embrace & an old man peeing in a car park. Normally the things we leave out of our descriptions of our wonderful cycling holidays we pass back to our families. Lowe experiences from a ‘newbie’ point of view what it’s like to get into cycling, but due to his journalistic experienced, Lowe does this with a knowledge which your normal sportive rider wouldn’t possess.

Competition is part of cycling at all levels, regardless of where we are in the sport. We see the authors competitive trait develop rapidly during the trip, with some full-on mountain battles later in the book when other groups turn up on the ride for a few days. Lowe tells you exactly what he’s thinking during his riding, which is especially revealing when the red mist takes over (although stopping to take a photo while having attacked on a mountain isn’t allowed in cycling etiquette).

His fellow companions get a bit of a pounding too, he didn’t know any of them beforehand, including his room-mate Terry, whose character is well & truly destroyed during this book. We discover far too much about these people (but you’ll find yourself wanting more), even people who helped him along the way get ‘the Felix treatment’, such as “Martin, the manager of the hotel and owner of a nose that could have hosted its own ski-jumping competition”. I won’t ruin some of the revelations you’ll discover, which is why I issued the warning at the beginning, it really is relevant (but it’s entertaining, you’ll laugh & your partner will ask what you’re laughing at, you’d probably would find it hard to explain without going into the finer details, just say “nothing”).

There are plenty of character types you’ll recognise from your cycling club, or at least recognise some aspects of their personalities. Lowe is a people watcher & is able to describe this to you in graphic detail, which is why you shouldn’t go on holiday with him. Under twitter questioning he has assured me that they took it all very well, having joined the Tour in 2014 for a few days where he met some of his 2013 ‘crew’, who shook their first in mock castigation.

Pro riders are mentioned frequently too, like Quintana, “with a birth certificate that makes a mockery of his crinkled-as-an-elephants-knee face”. The best ‘pro’ bits are with Greg LeMond, although some of that includes graphic bodily functions (as we’ve come to expect from this book) & Greg’s story of accidental Giro race food of parmesan, sausages & beer.

Hidden behind all the character assassinations is an incredibly well researched book, which perhaps is easy to forget amidst the humour & witty observations. Each significant area or road we visit has a brief resumé of what happened to Hannibal, with plenty of stories of grand-tour battles on the same terrain. This is where Lowe’s knowledge of the sport shines through & we can relate his struggles compared to those of our hero’s & villains of cycling (there’s plenty of doping innuendo here too). There’s also some analysis of a cyclists psyche hidden away & discovered by Lowe, such as “You only ever ride a climb like Ventoux alone anyway, even when in the presence of others”.

Who’s This Book For?

This is almost as hard to define as the book, it’s really not aimed at anybody in particular but will appeal to cyclist & non-cyclists alike. I’d suggest it’s a ‘must read’ for anybody about to book, or having recently booked a training camp in the new year.  You’ll meet plenty of the characters described in ‘Climbs & Punishment’ during your trip to warmer climes, it might even help prepare you for dealing with a trip. I’d suggest that you should have a little cycling knowledge to get something out of this book, but just occasionally watching the Tour over the last few years would be enough.

I’d also recommend Climbs & Punishment as a ‘catch-all’ Christmas gift for your cycling partner or friend (or a stocking filler suggestion for those asking what to buy you), everybody will get something out of it. I enjoyed it, now I need to catch up on some of his equally character destroying ‘Blazin Saddles’ blogs.

Climbs & Punishment is published by Bantam Press & is available HERE for £11.99 if you use Amazon.

(I only publish reviews of books I really like, I was sent this by the publisher, I have others than won’t appear here. Just because they’re not my cup of tea doesn’t mean I should slag of folks who are better writers than I am. Please don’t send me any more, I’ve no time to read any more!)

Riding In the Rain & Cold – #1 Mudguards

Winter cycling in Scotland is often seen by some as one of the most miserable things you can do on a bike, that’s not strictly true, I’m writing a series of posts on not just surviving it, but enjoying it. In this post we discover that mudguards are fundamental & the number-one necessary evil.

Riding without mudguards during a winter of “getting the miles in” really is a terribly miserable experience, it likely leads to plenty of riders becoming big sellers on ebay & gumtree while taking up snooker, darts or some other indoor pastime. This also allows them to indulge in their new-found alcoholism from having the after effects of repeatedly chilled wet feet & bumhole. It doesn’t have to be this way, fit some bloody mudguards & your winter of misery turns into an experience that a little bit of freezing rain can’t dampen.

The Advantages of Mudguards

  • Protects frame & parts from salt corrosion – If you ride your ‘good bike’ during winter without mudguards, it won’t be any good by March, you’ll be needing a new one, or at least some new parts. The roads are soon to be covered in grit & salt to keep the ice at bay, your bike will suffer hugely from this. Under the accumulated dirt, the components will start to corrode, as the winter progresses & you clean off the surface dirt, underneath the bearings, springs & moving parts in your drivetrain & brakes will deteriorate to the point they’ll need replaced.
  • Protects cycle clothing from degeneration & discolouring – Your expensive state of the art winter kit is going to suffer from getting repeatedly sprayed with road dirt & salt, so is your chamois, it’ll take a beating from repeated attack from salty gritty water. Treated fabrics lose their waterproof coating much quicker & you’ll also have to wash your outer layers on a continual basis to avoid looking like you’re a minger. Forget wearing anything white, it won’t be white for long.
  • Keeps you warm – Summer road spray is much more tolerable, winter road spray is a different beast altogether. Winter spray is generally just a few degrees above freezing, which makes all the difference. In summer on the worst of days a rain jacket will protect you, sometimes you’ll even be too hot. In winter the spray causes a constant chill which your body has to fight, it also costs you energy. Your body uses additional fuel to attempt to keep your body at the correct temperature while it’s extremities & your backside are to a continuous tap of water at chilled-beer temperature.
  • Stops feet from getting soaked (with addition of mudflap) – Mudguards without the addition of a mudflap will lose you one of the best & most useful advantages of mudguards. A correctly sized & positioned mudflap bolted onto the rear end of your front mudguard will protect your feet from all but the worst of soakings. Without the mudflap, the spray from your wheel seems to spray under the back of the mudguard & disperse directly onto your toes. Fit the mudflap & make it yourself from a plastic bottle, just cut it out & bolt it on, it’s easy & will make things much more pleasurable.
  • Makes the cafe stop a pleasant experience – With mudguards, you can sit in relative luxury sipping your coffee at the cafe stop, while your ‘road washed’ comrades are soaked through to their base layers & want to leave as quickly as possible before you’ve stuffed a cake down your gob. The water has been thrown up & drained over-the-top of collars & overshoes, having fully waterproof kit doesn’t make a difference in this situation, the water finds its alternative route in.
  • Chaffing – Grit ingressed & soaking wet chamois & pedalling don’t make happy companions, your bits & pieces won’t be happy for too long & your partner may ask you where you got that nasty rash, answering “the club run” is going to throw up more questions than answers. If anybody left a baby in a wet nappy for the period of time that your club run takes, the social services would be called in, it’s just not going to be good for you, fit some mudguards.
  • Allows you to train with mudguard-users without becoming a social leper – People with mudguards hate riding with people without mudguards in winter. It’s disrespectful, all the above issues become problems for the mudguarded riders due to inconsiderate riders who inflict their freezing cold spray on others. The reasons are often lazyness, vanity (they think it ruins the look of their bike, but don’t care that it covers them & others in dirt). For extra brownie points with other riders, the addition of a rear mudflap doesn’t protect you, but it sends out a message, it means you consider others by preventing any water at all spraying up into your club-mates faces, it’ll make you the most popular wheel to follow.

Fitting Options

If you’ve got mudguard eyes & a bit of clearance, you’re laughing, if not, you still have some options if you want to fit the best option of full mudguards with stays. Personally, I’d only fit the ‘race-blade’ type of mudguards if it was my last option, I’ve tried a few & they’re not nearly as secure & don’t offer the best protection for yourself & your ride-buddies. But ‘race-blades’ may be the only option if you’ve got very little clearance to fit mudguard between your fork crown & tyre on the front, or between your brake bridge & tyre at the rear.

  • Additional Fittings – These come in two options, fitted to either end of your quick-release skewer as seen HERE, or as metal clips with a plastic or rubber coating that clip round your frame HERE. Once you’ve got these fitted, you can fit any of the traditional mudguards that are available in your local bike shop (assuming you’ve got that necessary clearance). These fitting parts are hit-and-miss whether they’re in stock at you local bike shop, but they’ll all stock mudguards. They’ll also be able to tell you if it’s possible to fit mudguards, so if they give you their free advice, buy the mudguards from them regardless of whether they’ll supply you the fittings.
  • Clip-On Plastic Mudguards – If you really have to use a close clearance race type bike in the winter, these are your only options. You’ll often see them waving about in crosswinds & while mostly offering protection to the owner, other will sometimes get a face full of winter road dirt. It’s also less easy to fit effective mudflaps to these as they’re less secure. You’ll get these in your local bike shop & the most popular are branded ‘race-blades’, but plenty of options appearing on the market. A bit of advice I’d give is to forget the rubber fittings that allow you to take them on-and-off easily. You’ll get a much more secure fitting if you use cable ties to fix them on your bike for the whole winter, they tend to move a lot less & provide the protection from the elements you need in the middle of winter. It’ll also remove the need to constantly move them & the incessant rubbing can cause a bit of annoyance to you & others.

The Gist Of It

You’ll see photos & articles about the pro riders riding on training camps on their race bikes, that’s unrealistic for the amateur or club rider. They go somewhere warm, you might too, for just a week in the spring maybe, but the rest of the time you’re on the UK roads, the further north & west you get the worse the weather is. Fitting mudguards won’t make you look Italian, but over time it will save you money & help avoid time off the bike feeling unwell or with the bike requiring spares. It also protects others from your spray, it’s generally the inexperienced or inconsiderate riders who choose not to have mudguards, perhaps some just haven’t thought about it, so let them know, show them this & you may get a much cleaner bike ride next week. Fit some mudguards this winter, you’ll never go back.

 

 

Young Guns

It’s a tough challenge to replace somebody of the stature, charm & medal-count of Chris Hoy, but it looks like Scotland’s young track riders have risen to the challenge & are slowly rising onto the international stage, some with a big bang. For those who follow the sport closely, some may be well-known to you, for those with a passing interest in track cycling, it may be a welcome surprise to see what’s on the horizon.

The Well Knowns

Top of the list is Katie Archibald, whether or not her ever-changing hair colour has elevated her profile, it’s her results which really do the talking. Having been part of the all-conquering GB Team Pursuit squad, she’s now branching out on her own. In a very short space of time the Scottish star has risen from British Junior Individual Pursuit Champion in 2012, to World & European Team Pursuit Champion in 2014 & just last week made a significant step by taking the European Individual Pursuit title. Katie can only get better, she’s just 20 years old & looks able to turn her hand to any endurance events on the track (e.g. Bronze in the Commonwealth Games Points Race at Glasgow 2014). Road events are the obvious next step after mastering the track bunch races, with a 5th place at Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games Time Trial, then fading in the final lap of the road race, a little experience is likely to make these position numbers much smaller in the future. Not even the shackles of the British Cycling system has broken Archibald, her individuality shines through & looking at all the world-class female endurance riders they have, most look to be static at a very high level, not getting much quicker & not getting slower. Archibald on the other hand is noticeably improving & learning every time we see her compete. European, World & likely soon Olympic Champion Katie Archibald is one of the brightest sports stars of either sex that Scotland has produced, the British public or Katie herself haven’t quite come to terms with how far this star is likely rise as a sporting icon & positive role model once we get to Rio.

Callum Skinner has been smouldering under the radar of most cycling fans for a couple of years now, the 22 year old is now looking like he’s up to cooking temperature & the man most likely to inherit the titles that Chris Hoy made his own in the track sprint events. Skinner, who is still on the Olympic Development Programme beat all the riders on the full Team GB on their stealthy Team GB super-bikes, the Scot on his stock ‘Development’ Pinarello track bike. He won three individual events at the British Championships, the Sprint, Keirin, Kilometre Time Trial & took the Team Sprint with two Team GB Olympic riders, the British Championships require a world-class performance to win them. He followed this up by taking the European Kilo title last week, which strangely was held in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. To make things even more unusual for the Europe’s Elite track riders, the 333m track is outdoors & bumpy, very unlike their usual wind-less & indoors 250m tracks. Skinner however recorded a time 1:02.399, I’d be surprised if this isn’t an outdoor Kilo record at sea level (if he’d recorded this time at the British Championships, he’d still have won gold, which shows how fast he’s going in any conditions, on any track). Again, a rising Olympic star looking to Rio 2016.

Both these riders have been chosen to represent UK at the November 8-9th World Cup event in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The Not-So Well Knowns

British Points champion Mark Stewart is another rapid improver, as I said above, to win a British title now requires a world-class ride, Stewart has likely sent shock waves though the established endurance stars with this gold medal. He took part in the Commonwealth Games for Scotland & was a surprise entry for the Individual Pursuit, he’s already 6 seconds quicker than his time from Glasgow 2014! Stewart is newly enrolled on the 2014/2015 intake to British Cycling’s Olympic Academy Programme, rapid improvement is not just expected, it’s required to stay on this programme, he proven himself a winner of a technical event, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a Scot in the GB Team Pursuit team at the 2015/2016 World Cup track season. You can read his interview with Veloveritas HERE.

Others I’m hoping to see step up are riders like Jonathan Mitchell & Jonathan Biggin in the sprint events, then Phil Trodden & Charline Joiner in endurance events. The last two probably are not exactly considered teenagers anymore, but Trodden appears to be rapidly improving, with 5th place in the British Scratch championship & Joiner has a new lease of life after breaking her back & fighting back to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. I also wouldn’t write off Rigmar Racers from producing some surprises in 2015, they seem to be gathering even more experience & developing a talent for producing champions, will be interesting to see what young talent they have coming through.

Special Mentions

I was waiting to hear which Scottish riders had been enrolled on the new British Cycling Olympic Development Apprentice Programme (ODA), which invites the most talented youth riders into the machine. I saw on the GlasgowRiderz site that two riders have been invited, Ellie Park & Lewis Stewart. Both have some impressive palmarés, a youth rider taking silver in the recent Scottish Junior Sprint Championship caught my eye. Lewis Stewart was allowed dispensation to race-up into the junior event, where he was only beaten by British junior silver medal winner Jack Carlin, another rising sprint talent to keep an eye on (Lewis may have been allowed to ‘gear-up’, but regardless, it’s still very impressive). It’s always important to take note of a name for the future, one who performs against high quality opposition of a different age category, duly noted.

Good luck to all our up & coming riders, I know I’ve missed loads, sorry to those, but I’ll keep a close eye on the riders filtering through & performing well.

 

Contaminated Supplements: Beware & Be Aware

Worth watching this quick video on how products can become contaminated, it’s easy to get caught out if you don’t take any steps. It even happened to one of our Scottish Commonwealth team before Glasgow 2014, so everybody needs to watch what they ingest, ultimately you’re responsible for anything that turns up in there, not the manufacturer. You’ll also find UKAD’s supplement advice HERE.

The Horner Effect

A contact close to the UCI has divulged some details to spokeydokeyblog of a new plan due to be introduced for the 2016 season. One previously unaddressed aspect of aerodynamics will be tackled & a level playing field will be attempted. Experts have carried out a series of advanced calculations, using stopwatches & guesswork, to determine that if Chris Horner had possessed a full head of hair at the 2013 Vuelta Espania, he would have lost the title to Nibali by 23 seconds. This advantage has been seen as against the rules of a fair sport by Brian Cookson, well endowed with his full head of hair & ample beard.

The Science Bit

According to our source, the aerodynamic experts have created two versions of Chris Horners head for the wind tunnel, one with hair & one with a Cancellara style mullet. The airflow & turbulence under the helmet produced by the mullet was significant, although actual figures will not be released for data protection reasons. This data was analysed & calculations applied to determine the expected advantage Christopher Horner gained over a crew-cut Vincenzo Nibali. The results were apparently “staggering” & it’s now likely that a middle-aged man will never win a Grand Tour again if the new regulations are applied.

The AigleWig™

In Tennis we know that players such as John McEnroe have employed the use of wigs during competition, we currently don’t know in which form the UCI standard wig will take. What we do know according to our source, is that the wig will be named the Aiglewig™ & will be the only approved turbulence producing device able to be used during UCI events. The source confirms that if a hat is worn, then the AigleWig™ will still be required underneath. It will be identified as valid by the introduction of a UCI sewn badge system.

Bike shops & other retailers will be allowed to stock the AigleWig™ for what the UCI will describe as a “fair & appropriate purchase fee, which will obviously include a distribution of the costs involved in carrying out the research & paying the experts.”

The AigleWig™ will be also required to be attached in a recognised manner. On the track this will be by the use of approved rim cement only, while road & TT use will only require tub tape. It’s expected that the mechanics will not require any additional training.

 The Gist Of It

We are likely to see even more beard growing in the 2016 peloton, as the UCI are reported to be considering removing the requirement for an AigleWig™ if there is sufficient facial hair growth on any folicly challenged individual. This will be measured using a special jig which national federations & race organisers will be required to purchase from UCU headquarters for a “fair & appropriate hire fee”. 2015 may be the last chance for middle-aged gentlemen to attempt to win bike races if the alleged UCI proposals are voted through, Chris Horner may yet have his 2013 Vuelta title revoked if the rules are backdated. I’ll be reporting on any further developments on this story from some more reliable sources.

What a Mug

mugs

Some old cycling kit looks a bit naff, some a bit neon, there’s now a range of retro team mugs & espresso cups on the Cycling Souvenirs website, which have chosen some of the kits from the Lemond/Fignon/Millar era & made them into stylish mugs. I got these as a present, so I’m not supposed to look at the price, but I was so happy with them I thought I’d let everybody else know where to get them, after an internet search. The mugs are good quality, survive the dishwasher & the designs make them stand out from your normal mugs. Now I’ve just got to find a way of slowly replacing all our mugs with cycling themed ones, a mission in progress I think.

Get them at Cycling Souvenirs, retro mugs linked HERE, but there’s plenty of other mugs & things to pass on to your dearest as potential future present ideas for the cyclist who doesn’t quite have everything.

 

Braveheart Ride: Saturday 25th October

BraveheartPoster

Get your entries in for this ride starting in Kilmarnock on Saturday 25th October, it’ll fill up quickly, should be a great ride, for a good cause. Entry links HERE, along with routes & other details.

If you’re around the area, why not make a weekend of it & ride the Irvine Beach cyclo-cross on the Sunday, full details & entry on Scottish Cyclo Cross.

That Referendum Blog

There used to be an underlying distaste in Scotland for most things English, I’d suggest that was a very long time ago, things have changed since then & attitudes have matured significantly. The current debate over Scottish independence is absolutely nothing to do with that outdated viewpoint, we’ve moved on.

Irvine Welsh perhaps portrayed one transitional aspect of the beaten down Scottish attitude perfectly in ‘Trainspotting’, with the outpouring speech of ‘Renton’ on his own personal realities on being colonised by the English. This film, set in the late 80’s, amid the Thatcher years, showed a transition in the Scottish mentality. Into 2014, we’ve now moved much further on, Scotland’s attitude has matured incredibly.  The Scottish Parliament had a landslide victory for the SNP in 2011, a voting structure which was always designed to have multiple parties in power, instead Scotland voted for change. You’d be incorrect in assuming that Scots who voted for that particular party hold the SNP & Salmond in very high regard, they were voted in a tool to instigate change, not because people particularly like them or their policies. No other party offered anything other than Westminster control, we wanted our own say in constitutional matters. The current engagement of 97% of the Scottish voting population is testament to that, unseen in Western democracies before. This 2011 result created a mandate for change, which is what the underlying feeling always was, not ‘separatism’ & the press portrayal of hatred of our southern neighbours, that’s so 1980’s, that’s not 2014 Scotland at all.

Regardless of what you read in the press, during the debate I’ve not seen any hostility in the streets, I’ve seen no shouting or harassment, even the Police say it’s been blown out of all proportion. I’ve worked the last few weeks in the midst of what I would expect to be a flash point, I’ve witnessed conversations, but all have been amicable, I actually expected something different, I was pleasantly surprised. England, or even Britain isn’t the target of bitterness as far as I’ve seen, all I’ve seen is a scrabble for information, well-mannered debate & an acceptance that Scotland should take responsibility for itself.

As far as sport goes, my blogs make it obvious, I’m very much somebody who embraces change, it’s no different in cycling or in governance. All of these islands can benefit from having a progressive & hopefully modern country in close proximity. We can design our structures from the bottom up & ignore the tired old confines of a badly evolved & outdated sporting structure. We can set a template for how things could & should be done, that’s the opportunity we can have once we know the result at 5am on Friday. A chance to design a structure & plan from the ground up, cycling can thrive if it’s planned to fit Scotland & meet the needs of a smaller population.

Scotland now feels like that slightly odd 40-year-old, one who’s still living at home & all the neighbours think it looks a little odd, but they wouldn’t say out loud. If Scotland votes ‘Yes’ tomorrow, all that happens is that we get a girlfriend & feel happy to leave home. We’re perfectly capable of looking after ourselves, it’s just that we’ve not had the opportunity or the motivation before. We’ve contributed hugely to the household, we’ll still come & help out when we’re needed, but the household will just have to manage without us from now on. If you need us, we’re just up there, call in, you’ll be welcome.

199 Laps (pt6)

Unfortunately, for the most interested followers of this series of Hour Record blogs, under the ‘199 Laps’ banner, I’m not even making up the Brad Wiggins attempt date this time round, he’s done it for me this time!

For those just tuning in, completing 199 laps of a 250m track will break the current revised UCI Hour Record, which is just under 50km, hence the title. The big guns in mens time trialling, Tony Martin, Fabian Cancellara & Wiggins can all easily extend this by quite a way if they made an attempt. To add to the UCI’s story, it seems they’re not going to allow anybody who is not participating in the UCI’s bio-passport programme a chance to have a go at the record. UK time trialling ace Matt Bottrill enquired about this, but was told he could attempt a masters record, but not the actual ratified UCI Hour record.

June 2015

William Fotheringham secured the latest information during an interview with the Guardian this week. Wiggins has pencilled in late June, the interview is HERE. The smart money is on Brad going to go for this at London, not only because he’s from there originally (well, some argue we could say he was originally Belgian), but it’s also the correct shape of 250m track for this kind of record. Much more of a bowl than a track like Glasgow, London has shorter straights & shallower bends, allowing a smoother transition for the endurance records.

Wiggins is also targeting Paris-Roubaix again, I suspect this will see him confirming that he’s never riding a grand tour again. We know he’s considering adding some muscle mass, which will benefit him on the track & on the pavé. But this will compromise his climbing ability & any mountain domestique duties that he may have been lined up for, essentially ruling him out of a Tour squad, unless Froome thinks Brad is now too ‘Hulk Hogan’ to try to unseat him as leader. In the world of Wiggins, nothing is really written in stone, everything can & probably will change before June.

Who Else?

Cancellara was quite keen on the Merckx style record, before they introduced the revised rules on aero equipment. We’ve not heard a peep from Tony Martin, but as I’ve said before, it may take a little more track work to his incredibly effective brute-force style to convert that to a smooth track technique.

I’d also be surprised if another lesser known World-Tour rider doesn’t have a go before June. With full aero equipment & maybe a little track pedigree, I’m sure pretty much any rider from one of the top teams could reach 50km in an hour with aerodynamic equipment, until one of the specialists blows it out of the water. This is a huge opportunity for somebody to put their name in the record books, now that Wiggo has set a date, the deadline is drawn to have a go before it becomes an impossible task. I’m thinking especially of the large amount of Aussies & Kiwi’s with vast track experience, but we also have a rider like Phinney, who could potentially devote some time to this project as part of his recuperation & set a very competitive distance. Don’t rule out other experienced track riders on the bio-passport programme (Michael Morkov?) during a winter Six Day, a flagging event could provide their local star with an opportunity to break a prestigious record, while also selling a few more tickets to the locals in the process. I find it highly unlikely that nobody will make an attempt before June, it’s just too lucrative an opportunity to miss for rider, Six Day, or even one of the Revolution meetings to include an Hour Record attempt, even if it only stands for a short period of time. Is there currently any publicly accessible way in which we can see any riders who have signed up & funded their own bio-passport programme, if they’re not in the top-tier of teams?

The Gist Of It

It’s fairly secure Wiggins will go for the Hour Record in 2015, the question is, who will go for it first? I suspect Martin & Cancellara will not consider an attempt before June, they would have to devote far too much time to that one goal. It’s likely they’ll see what Brad can do, then secretly test to see it their own attempt is a possibility. This would upset a resurgence in the Hour Record, I can only hope that Brad leaves a little in the tank. If the record is absolutely shelved in June we may not see another attempt for a decade, but at least we would have a Tour champion holding it. Ideally, I’d like to see some more hour battles in the near future, not a record knocked completely out of the park, Brad, don’t go quite full gas, please.

Doing Things Right

I’ve posted previously on how sports governing bodies can be stuck in a rut, with the need for funding becoming their guiding principle, rather than the actual needs of the sport they are attempting to support. It’s an annoying aspect of the drip-down funding structure, which feeds off the perceptions of some public servant somewhere in the financial hierarchy, with his idea of what a sport needs (it’s always a ‘him’). We can safely assume the closest this fella will have got to sport recently are some free Wimbledon tickets or a nice day out at the cricket. If we ignore that side of things & the resulting fallout to our governing bodies, it’s the clubs that are actually the trailblazers in cycle sport. I’m going to point out a couple of very different ones, but both appear to have chosen their own distinct path & followed through with great gusto & success, the clubs I’ll be mentioning are Stirling Bike Club & the Rigmar Racers (other clubs exist with similar ideals, but to me, these two are currently the most prominent in Scotland right now).

Stirling Bike Club

It would be easy for any club with a high membership to promote run-of-the-mill cycle events on the road, this is exactly what Stirling Bike Club don’t settle for. In the last year they’ve managed to run three closed-road events, a virtually unseen display in Scottish racing circles, a feat which takes an incredible amount of effort to put in place, alongside the well promoted but more ‘traditional’ events like the ‘Corrieri Classic 10′ & the ‘Battle of the Braes’.

Those who’ve been around a while are used to events being hidden away, keeping our sport in the backwater, but Stirling BC have woken up to the fact that cycling is now something that the general public would actually like to watch & local government will engage with. These events include ‘Up the Kirk’ hill-climb, ‘Crit on the Campus‘ & ‘Crit Under the Castle‘. All these events have their own mini web sites (linked), regularly updated twitter feeds & excellent promotion, singling out these events to me as being some of the best Scotland has ever had in promotion terms. The execution is also impressive, if it looks smooth-running from the outside, you can bet it’s highly stressful & very well-managed on the inside, what ‘the punters’ don’t see is what makes these events what they turn out to be.

The backbone of this club is in its membership, they have multiple club training rides for all abilities, chaingangs & club rides. But the jewel in the crown is their kids club, the Wallace Warriors, there’s a big waiting list to get into this club. This club really is a shining example of a multi-tiered cycling club catering for all.

Rigmar Racers

Predominantly a track team, which also has some very successful forays into road racing, Rigmar Racers is quickly making its mark as the go-to club for the aspirational Scottish track racer. The top-tier (or cloud, as they may refer to it as) of riders in this team are impressive, even having helped none other than Katie Archibald on her way, there’s already an obvious pedigree of national champions involved with the club. This domain had been held for decades by one very successful club, but they seem to have gone into a steep decline, possibly due to the reducing relevance of the venue that served track cycling so well since the 70’s, Meadowbank, without either of which we wouldn’t be where we are now.

Rigmar Racers have embraced the indoor velodrome opportunity fully, along with coaching, expert knowledge, equipment & expertise. They’ve grown in what looks like a very manageable fashion & have a host of young talented up-and-coming riders in their roster, plus 2014 Commonwealth games riders Alistair Rutherford & Callum Skinner. The front line coaching team consists of Allister Watson (reputedly the most dangerous rider ever to ride the Meadowbank boards, who’ll have a trick or two up his arm warmers), with Callum Watson & Commonwealth medallist Kate Cullen.

This team looks to be setting the benchmark at the performance end of Scottish cycle sport, which hopefully will spur on other individuals & teams to raise their game. From what we’ve seen so far, Rigmar Racers are adept at identifying & developing young promising riders from other sports & the youth ranks,then furnishing them with the skills & knowledge to allow them to progress the ladder. With some eventually using what they have learned to help them make it to international level competition. We’ll even see them entering a team at the forthcoming season of Revolution track meetings across the country, a very progressive approach. They also have a very good blog.

Rider Development

My opinion is that clubs large successful clubs find it difficult to also run an elite ‘team’ racing at a high level, this can challenge resources & often cause some unwanted disruption & arguments. So if a club like Stirling BC develops riders to a level where they are performing at national events, they should see that as another success, the club should quite rightly be very proud of that. Clubs can easily keep their ties to the top riders, while trying not to get upset if they move on to a team who specialise in supporting them at bigger events. We need that diversification to allow riders to progress, otherwise it’s easy to hold them back. A club can benefit massively from keeping that association, imagine if that rider does ‘make it’, would you rather be mentioned in interviews as a part of that development, or scrubbed from memory as the club that got upset when the rider wanted to race big events as part of a team. It’s not a kick in the teeth when a rider progresses, it shows how good a job you’ve done.

The Gist Of It

Plenty of clubs & teams are doing very good things, like those above, but plenty are unfortunately not. Some still refuse to accept that cycle sport is changing rapidly, refusing to utilise social media & relentlessly telling young talented riders that all they need to do is ‘get the miles in’, these clubs will eventually die. The relatively new clubs are the ones which are able to adopt a modern approach, all too often we see tradition stifle the old clubs, so it’s elsewhere we should be looking for innovation & development in Scottish cycle sport. The clubs I’ve identified do very different things, they both do these things very well. We require more of these, a diverse network of clubs & teams where riders can progress, or just enjoy riding their bikes. Who knows where it could lead, the future looks very bright if Stirling Bike Club & Rigmar Racers are where we’ll see Scottish cycling head in the future. Maybe Scottish Cycling can learn a thing or two from what’s going on in the progressive club scene.

199 Laps (pt5)

Bradley Wiggins was reported earlier today as competing in two track events at Glasgow’s Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. This later changed to just one event, the Team Pursuit with no Individual Pursuit planned for the former Tour champion. What are we to make of this decision, is he shunning his old friend, I doubt it, he has other plans, it’s about time for a bit more wild speculation to add to my previous beardy ideas….

After many reports of seeing Brad training on a GB pursuit bike since his public exclusion from the Sky Tour de France team, I had perhaps incorrectly assumed he was out to prove something with a world standard pursuit ride at Glasgow. I’d have no doubt that if he put his mind to it, Wiggins could certainly still record such a time, but that would involved much shorter & harder training sessions, which would likely have a detrimental effect on his time trial form for the rest of 2014.

I think we’ll see him go on to attempt an Hour Record ride in a short space of time after Glasgow, obviously that period of time will depend on form, I doubt even he knows. The current revised UCI Hour Record ride is within relatively easy reach of a rider such as Wiggins, if you can complete 199 laps within the Hour, or 49.75km, you’ve got it, all on a UCI regulation conforming pursuit bike. Exactly like the one he’s been doing Team Pursuit efforts on, which require high power output & fast recovery, also ideal for muscle adaptation for rattling out a high power output for an hour on the bankings.

It all makes sense now, taking time out for pursuit training would have made a bigger dent in his road season, ditching that one event complements his other goals, such as Worlds TT & the Hour Record. The beauty of the Hour Record, is that he can pick & choose the date when he’s in form & attempt to knock it out of the park for a Cancellara attempt. Whoever goes first will get it, but whoever goes second is under a much greater amount of stress. These guys can’t really fail to ride 50km in an hour, but every km above that gets harder & harder, the advantage is in going first. Time is slowly running out to become that first rider with others expressing interest.

Having looked at the long-range weather forecast, there may be a chance of low temperatures & rain on the date of the time trial in Glasgow. So to add to the speculation which always surrounds Bradley these days, I’d suggest that he may still start, but it’ll depend on the weather. Normally he probably wouldn’t be bothered, but if he’s on a specific plan to a specific goal, then a cold ride like that could set him back, it’s better to train by yourself than to risk illness.

A possible time trial victory in Glasgow, closely followed by an Hour Record ride, set against an underperforming Sky team at the Tour de France is a good marketing opportunity for a UK rider attempting to raise their public profile. Watch this space & we’ll probably only hear a week before he’s booked the London Velodrome for his ride.

Previous Outrageous Hour Record Speculation below:

 

It’s Not Over Yet

Nibali looks very much the superior rider on all terrains in this years Tour, what other absent riders may have done is interesting, but ultimately inconsequential. Nibali has arguably avoided similar downfalls by being consistently well placed & skilled, which is what sets racing apart from riders who attain great watts per kg in a lab, you need to have the full package to be a Grand Tour winner. But can he be caught in the final week, where have his major gains been accrued & could a minor mishap turn this Tour on its head?

Stats

We’ll look at the top 5 riders currently in the General Classification, during stage 15 to Nîmes & where they lost time on Nibali.

Valverde (@4:37): 2:26 lost in mountains (53% of time)

  • Stage 2 (hilly) : 2s loss
  • Stage 5 (cobbles) : 2:09 loss
  • Stage 8: (mountains) : 16s
  • Stage 10 (mountains) : 20s
  • Stage 13 (mountains) :50s
  • Stage 14 (mountains) : 60s loss

Bardet (@4:50): 2:39 lost in mountains (55% of time)

  • Stage 2 (hilly) : 2s loss
  • Stage 5 (cobbles) : 2:09 loss
  • Stage 8 (mountains) : 28s loss
  • Stage 10 (mountains) : 22s loss
  • Stage 13 (mountains) :1:23 loss
  • Stage 14 (mountains) : 26s loss

Pinot (@5:06): 1:42 lost in mountains (33% of time)

  • Stage 2 (hilly) : 16s loss
  • Stage 5 (cobbles) : 2:09 loss
  • Stage 6 (flat) : 59s loss
  • Stage 8 (mountains) : 8s loss
  • Stage 10 (mountains) : 15s loss
  • Stage 13 (mountains) : 53s loss
  • Stage 14 (mountains) : 26s loss

Van Garderen (@5:49): 2:35 lost in mountains (42% of time)

  • Stage 2 (hilly) : 2s loss
  • Stage 5 (cobbles) : 2:09 loss
  • Stage 7  (flat) : 1:03 loss
  • Stage 8 (mountains) : 20s loss
  • Stage 10 (mountains) : 22s loss
  • Stage 13 (mountains) : 1:23 loss
  • Stage 14 (mountains) : 30s loss

As you can see, Pinot is the next best performer in the mountains behind Nibali, had he not lost that 53 seconds on stage 6 he would be in 2nd position overall. That small gap of 16s between himself & Bardet, based on mountain form as shown above is likely to get wiped away in the Pyrenees.

The Gist Of It

We have three mountain stages left in the Pyrenees, followed by a flat stage then a 54km individual time trial, before the procession on the Champs-Élysées. It may look like Nibali is incredibly dominant, but the time gaps in the mountains have been very small for the top five, compared to recent Tours. The bulk of the time was taken on the cobbled stage, where Nibali demonstrated his superior bike handling skills & team support. Into the 3rd week of this Tour & having held the yellow jersey for so long, Astana will now be suffering. Any one of those top five riders could launch an assault, or another team could cause mayhem chasing a stage win, as Garmin showed us last year, putting all sorts of riders & domestiques into difficulty.

There really is still everything to play for, the advantage Nibali has in the mountains isn’t all that large based on the time he’s been able to take from the other, illness, a crash or a bad day could turn everything around. This Tour isn’t nearlyover, we’re used to seeing the yellow jersey crush everybody & take huge time in the mountains, that’s not happened this year. If things turn around we could see a very interesting & exciting final time trial in Périgueux on Saturday.

 

 

 

More Than Marginal

Nobody can deny that Team Sky has had a substantial effect on the pro peloton since it appeared in 2010. After a shaky start, it had a major influence in making the attention to tiny details acceptable in the culture of pro cycling, which may not produce a flamboyant spectacle, but has proved very successful in getting results. Although not many of their innovations are particularly groundbreaking in themselves, the culture of the ‘Accumulation of Marginal Gains’, (multiple small gains leading to one large gain) has now been widely accepted in a sport which did many things along the line of established tradition.

No More Margins?

There were obviously plenty of riders & teams implementing small improvements long before Sky, but having the freedom to develop those innovations was likely met with the “we’ve always done it this way ” mentality. It now seems that any further technical improvements are extremely marginal with current technology & budgets, alongside the fact that everybody else is doing it now, suddenly Sky don’t look so special anymore. So where do the teams go from here to gain a further legal advantage over their rivals? (a Team Sky motorbike is not acceptable)

With four years of marginal gains in the peloton, it looks like we’ve eventually come to a point where those gains are so small, that vast sums could be spent on virtually unmeasurable improvements. This isn’t a smart use of a team budget, when they’ve successfully ‘fixed’ most of the big things & have left themselves with the worthless scraps to attempt to improve upon. The philosophy appears to have been quite simple, produce more watts in the critical situations, or reduce the wattage required in that critical situation in order to win races. Which is why Sky’s 2012 & 2013 Tour victories have appeared more clinical & effective, than overflowing with panache.

It may appear like I’m having a go here, I’m certainly not, Sky’s management noticed a gap in the market, they saw an opportunity to exploit that gap until it closed. The gap in 2014 looks to be on shaky ground, in 2015 they’ll almost certainly not win a grand tour with this philosophy alone. The other teams & riders have taken their opportunities & replicated Sky’s ‘Marginal Gains’ philosophy, it looks like we’re back to pretty close to a level playing field & it’s now up to Sky to decide how to get back on top.

Tactics

Ensuring that your team leader produces more watts/kg than the next guy on mountains  & more watts/drag in the time trials works when you have a significant advantage on the competition. When things are more level, it either takes a bigger margin in watts, weight, or drag to maintain your advantage. I’ve covered the weight issue in Skinnyfixation & Weight a Minute, we know that the bike weight cannot go below 6.8kg (the UCI know about the ice-cube trick, fill the seat tube with ice cubes for weigh-in & let the melted water drain out the bottom bracket hole before the hills).

It looks like it’s perhaps time for a team like Sky to attempt to deal with more with the uncontrollable, up to this point their tactics have been relatively simple, making their riders & equipment better than the others at the critical points in a race. The groundwork had been planned & implemented in the years & months prior to that point in time, but as a result, with riders & staff moving to other teams, those advances are now common knowledge amongst the peloton. Intricate tactics were not really required when your rider could out-climb & out-timetrial the opposition in a stage race. If you could control the race until your main focus, where you knew your team leader had an advantage, then you would win. As we’ve seen a few times recently, when things go slightly wrong, they go dramatically wrong, on two occasions Sky have lost their leader in the Tour de France due to a crash, in 2011 & 2014. It’s still to be seen if their backup rider Richie Porte can fill that gap with Chris Froome missing from the 2014 Tour. As I’ve said before, he may struggle to ride consecutive days with the best, drop Nibali on a climb, or take any deficit back in a time trial, we see that Sky’s effective but simple plan no longer functions if you don’t have the best rider.

I don’t doubt Sky knew their advantage was going to diminish sooner or later , it was inevitably going to happen at some point. The success of Sky meant that the other teams had to adopt Sky’s practices & match or excel them, so things will be very interesting if Sky now deviate to a goal of tactical superiority. I’m hoping that we’re going to see Sky trying a few things, regardless of the consequences, in order to test new tactics while gathering their much valuable data. A combination of continued marginal gain philosophy & advanced tactics are the only way it’s possible for Sky to consider winning the Tour in the future. They’ve never hired what would be considered the best stage racers in the world, but they have created them producing an incredible amount of success. The margins are now smaller, controlling the uncontrollable is now where things have to go.

The Gist Of It

The next couple of years will either be very interesting & experimental, failing that we’ll simply see all the teams catching up. For a team like Sky, allowing this to happen is unlikely, they seem to always be pushing, but it’s possible that the current direction of that push is severely limited. The marginal gains philosophy will continue, but possibly coupled with more tactical ways of beating superior riders from other teams.

Perhaps this is more of a wish than reality, I’d love to see Sky’s support riders go out & race, rather than support their team leaders on most occasions. Riders like Geraint Thomas, who have reputedly signed another deal need to given some scope to leave their leaders side & go for the win. This blog was written at the first rest day of the 2014 Tour, where the next few days are crunch time for Porte in the GC race, so we may still see Thomas, Kiryienka, Nieve, Porte & the others going for stages. Wouldn’t that be nice, to see some panache, maybe make some mistakes, but seeing riders of this quality actually racing rather than supporting is what I look forward to. Lets race.

 

Tour 2014: Yorkshire

An incredible & eventful couple of days in Yorkshire, with both stages featuring plenty of action & literally millions of roadside fans. The Tour’s main contenders have emerged at this early stage, with one of the top sprinters lost & one of the GC favourites losing nearly 15 minutes.

Stage 1: ‘The Jensy’ went on the attack, bluffing his breakaway companions that he was just going for a sprint, he took that & just carried on. The others were never to see him until he was eventually reeled in by a charging peloton led by the sprinters teams. The final incline nearly put a spanner in the works with Cancellara attacking & only getting caught in the last 300m, making the rookie error of sprinting on the hoods, tut tut Fabs. But the main drama was still to come, local hero Cav (by means of his mum) was boxed in while trying to stay on Sagan’s wheel. Rather than backing off, he tried to shift Gerrans, by making contact using his head, Gerrans had nowhere to go & in turn leaned on Coquard, taking both Cav & Gerrans down. It looked like a broken collarbone for Cav, but turned out to be a dislocated shoulder, potentially a longer healing process due to possible ligament damage. We later found out that alongside being unable to continue in the race, Cav may be struggling to race much more this season & has already indicated he wont be in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games. Kittel won the stage, with surprise ‘sprinter’ Froome in 6th, keeping out of trouble we assume.

  • Big Loser: Mark Cavendish
  • Big Winner: Marcel Kittel

Stage 2: A very tough parcour awaited the riders, touted as being similar to Liege Bastogne Liege. The obligatory break of seven formed quickly, as the race progressed & the peloton’s speed increased, the sprinters started exiting the back of the bunch, including yellow jersey Kittel. We saw a tongue lashing attack from Voeckler, then later on Rolland (obviously targetting the polka dot jersey later on), but the main GC favourites then ripped the race apart in the finale, with Chris Froome having a go. Sagan was there too, but didn’t race as well as he’s capable, allowing Nibali to get away & take the stage by two seconds. Unfortunately for Nibali, he’s now got the responsibility of defending the jersey for the next few days, which will take some effort from his team, the Sky & Tinkov-Saxo riders will benefit from this, less fatigue & less pressure. The big loser today is Joaquim Rodriguez, a pre-Tour podium contender, but having lost over 14 minutes, he’ll now be hunting stages.

  • Big Winners: Froome & Contador (with their rival defending the jersey)
  • Big Loser: Joaquim Rodriguez

Spokey Dokey League

This is the important bit, we have 29 teams entered, with some incredibly bizaree names, so should be good for bragging rights. Anybody who’s picked Cav or Rodriguez will be very dissapointed, a big loss to any teams. HERE

After the first two stages BMFW’s ‘I’d Turn For Tom’ team has 673 points, quite far ahead of 2nd place Mike Hewison’s ‘It’s a Piti About Velverde’ team with 512 points. Everybody else is pretty close for now, we’ll have another look in a few days.

Skinnyfixation

A significant number of high-profile riders have been reported ill in 2014, both before & during events. This seems to have been occurring more often in the build-up to the Tour de France, with several riders dropping out of events recently. Could this poor health be a result of the extremely low body fat percentages riders are now attempting to reach before the primary target of the year? Are we on the verge of another big problem in the sport, with the Tour starting tomorrow, may some riders have developed eating disorders as a result of pressure from themselves or others to gain an unhealthy performance advantage?

Percentages

Fat is required to keep us healthy, we all need some reserves, some have lots, some seem able to keep very little, but pro riders often look like they’re running dangerously low these days. We don’t have a recommended average body fat percentage figures for professional riders, although it’s been reported that pro men have been recorded well below 6%. ‘Essential Fat’ is 3% to 5% for men & 8% to 12% for women, so running near this without proper supervision is likely very unwise & particularly unhealthy.

It has to be noted that these riders don’t have to operate in the normal world that most of us inhabit, traveling to work on the bus & train around the general public with their coughs & colds. You & me would find it very hard to function at this kind of fat level, it’s not conducive to normal life & health. I have to admit, that in the distant past I too had developed a bit of interest in my weight, while I was at a point I was racing several times a week & getting obsessive with my training. At the time I’d probably not think/admit that it had got to a problematic level, but I was getting regular fat skin fold measurements & weighing myself daily, while marking it in the training diary. I managed to ‘survive’ for approximately 2 years at a level below around 8%, dropping right down to nearly 5% at one point. during this period I did get some good results, but I suspect my low body fat percentage contributed to a combination of health problems, mostly the ease by which I was able to contract colds & other illnesses, I got very run down & had the Epstein-Barr virus, all too common with underweight cyclists. It wasn’t a healthy or sustainable way to live, but at the time it seemed the ‘normal’ thing to do with those I was spending time with, who were all similar racing obsessives, caught in the same bubble.

Having a low fat percentage makes us look ‘ripped’, it intimidates our rivals & makes us look more ‘pro’. But what we don’t consider is that the professional riders who can stay healthy at very low fat levels are monitored by their teams physicians & coaches. They also don’t have to go to work 9 to 5. Everybody probably has a healthy range where they can fight off coughs, colds & other more serious illnesses, but without experiencing these negative effects, we don’t know where that line is drawn with each individuals physiology. Percentages are irrelevant, the warning signs are always there, but it is incredibly hard to discount them when riding a bike fast is really all you’re bothered about.

Carlos

Lets take Carlos Betancur as an example. The recent information regarding Colombian climber Carlos Betancur’s weight brings back memories of Jan Ullrich’s expansive winter issues. Betancur’s weight gain is in no way similar to Ullrich’s, it’s very mild by comparison, but the Colombian has managed to put on 6kg over the winter, when you consider his race weight is 56kg, that’s quite a large percentage increase (although he has just managed to win a stage Haut Var). At 62kg (about 9stone 10pounds) & 167cm (about 5’6″) tall, Betancur would still be considered quite a little chap in normal society.

If we assume that he was at least 8% fat percentage, then at his 56kg race weight, he was carrying about 4.5kg of fat. So we can deduce that his 62kg weight increase resulted in a fat percentage of about 20%. As a comparison, for this piece I actually reverted to the long forgotten past & checked my own fat percentage using one of those fat-guessing bathroom scales, it said 14%. I’m a Sunday cyclist these days, fit enough for club rides but not for racing, I’d suggest that Carlos has indeed let himself go a bit if he’s fatter than a chopper like me.

This may not be the whole truth here of course, we’ve no idea if this is all fat that he’s gained, some could be muscle, he may have been doing some weights over the winter break. The rider in question has other issues, so the weight gain could be linked to problems back home in Colombia, but is still useful as an example.

Why they do it

If we take things on a simple watts per kg basis, we can see some examples of the performance advantages riders can get running at very low body fat percentages, while gambling with taking weeks of with illness & perhaps missing the their target events.

We can take our Carlos Betancur example again. At 56kg & a perceived 8% body fat, we deduce that he carries 4.5kg of fat. If we take Carlos’ fat percentage down to 5%, his total weight will be 54.2kg. If we then add some W/kg values we see where the gains are made. From the Andrew Coggan chart, an international pro has a functional threshold ranging from 5.69W/kg to 6.4W/kg. So if Carlos (for example) was at the bottom of this range & at 8% body fat, he would be expected to produce 319 Watts at threshold. If he managed to reduce his body fat percentage to 5%, his W/kg would increase from 5.69 to 5.9W/kg. What this means is that the weakest of the international pro’s can gamble with their health to elevate themselves from somebody struggling to maintain a contract, to a rider who is around a mid-level international pro & should be much more employable. The danger is that it’s likely only at the higher end where the pro riders have the medical support which can allow them to make such changes to their bodies, without the expected detrimental effects of their physical condition. Others may be making bad decisions in order to reach the pro level, without any medical support.

The Gist Of It

Losing weight for the hobby cyclist or weekend warrior is most likely always possible, but it’s a very different case for elite level riders, who could already be teetering on the edge of health problems, while being in the form of their lives.

An 85kg club rider who reduces his fat percentage from 20% to a reasonable & healthy 15%, would save the weight of 6.8kg, an important number because it’s the UCI’s minimum bike weight. By eating a bit better, riding your bike more & cutting down on beer & fizzy drinks you could shed the weight of an entire bike! So getting rid of that belly or bum is a big bonus to riding a bike for most people.

For elite riders, losing some weight may result in an increased risk of illness, meaning that all that training could be wasted by losing a big chunk of the season. If you’re racing in the UK, getting to dangerous fat levels is not only unwise, it’s also not going to benefit you as much as it would if you were racing up 15km long Alpine Cols. We have to deal with bad weather, especially in Scotland, leave the dangerous fat levels to the continental pro’s, racing in temperatures above 25°C & monitored by trained medical staff. If you try to race here at ridiculous fat percentages, you’ll probably have to wear extra clothing to just keep warm most of the year, best to keep that safety buffer in natures choice, a healthy layer of fat.

An unhealthy obsession about weight can develop into an eating disorder, this can happen to anyone, not just the to the media’s common target of teenage girls. Athletes can can encounter this problem too for an entirely different reason, performance, not body image. Stay healthy, stay lean, but let your body find its own level by eating a healthy balanced diet while training, if you go overboard on weight reduction, you may get more than you bargained for. Some natural weight reduction advice that anybody can do, as told to me by a former coach, “make sure you have a thorough visit to the toilet before every race”.

 

Spokey Dokey League

If you think you know better than Dave Brailsford, if nobody ever listens to your team selection choices, this is your chance to prove yourself. Sign up (it’s free) at Velogames.com, choose your team & enter the Spokey Dokey Mini League Code 30191854 to join.

How It Works

You have 100 credits to build your team, each rider has a value, going from Chris Froome who’ll cost you 26 credits, right down to Scrabble expert Xabier Zandio on 4 points. You get points for stage placings, each of the jerseys, , team assistance, overall positions after each stage & final GC.

I’ll devise some kind of suitably rubbish prize for the winner, as long as you live in the UK & I don’t have to post it far far away. But you will get regular updates during the Tour on who’s doing well in the league, as my team likely fade & wilter & fight to stay off the bottom rung. Happy picking & get it sorted before the Tour starts on Saturday!

 

 

British Champs Predictions

As usual, don’t place any bets on any of my predictions, but it’s well worth looking ahead to Thursday & Sunday, for the British Road Championships. The event will be held in the Celtic Manner resort, as in 2009. I’m not clued up enough on the under 23’s, so I’ll just go for the Elite champs.

The Women

As a big fan of Katie Archibald & her ever rising ability, I think I’m in with a fair shout of predicting a medal in both events for Scotland’s best chance of Commonwealth gold, I think she’ll win at least one of them, more likely the road race. In several road events she’s been making mincemeat of the competition, backed by a very strong team. Eileen Roe is another potential Scottish winner of the road race, she’s got a demon sprint & is also in fine form right now, but potentially hasn’t got quite as strong a team to put her in the correct position.

Emma Pooley is likely to surprise, she’s an incredible talent & I can see her winning the time trial, but I prefer to see her race like she did in the Olympics, she made that one of the best events I’ve seen on the TV, I hope she’s in that kind of form.

Otherwise the entire Wiggle Honda team are capable of getting medals, there’s so much talent in the womens field that it’s incredibly hard to make any predictions, the start list is littered with World & Olympic champions. Both races should be close & great to watch.

The Men

Unfortunately for all the Brad supporters, I really don’t think we’re going to see anything special from him in the road champs (no doubt he’ll win RR & TT now I’ve stated that). Shane Sutton is currently describing his track sessions as ‘blistering’, we know he’s been spending a fair bit of time at the velodrome, pursuit work isn’t generally going to be the best prep for a road race over 180km. Expect world records at Glasgow 2014, but expect different protagonists on Thursday & Sunday.

Last time this course was used for the Road Race Champs, we had a surprise winner in Kristian House, but I think we’ll see a continental based rider winning this time. I would have gone for Peter Kennaugh had he not retired from the Tour de Suisse, so I’m going for a Yates brother. I can’t tell them apart, so I’m cheating & saying it’ll be either Simon or Adam who’ll take the jersey to Orica-GreenEDGE for the next year. Having brothers at such a level hasn’t been seen since the Schleckers when they were any good, so unlike those two chumps, the Yates won’t be asking each other if they can attack, they’ll just bloody do it, because that’s what they do. Also note that Evan Oliphant was 7th on this course in 2009, just one place behind Mark Cavendish.

In the time trial, I’ve got suspicions that Brad’s very good for 4km, but not over this distance, Dowsett doesn’t seem to have the form he had a few weeks ago. This leaves me with Geraint Thomas, he’s prepared for the Tour, he’s always been pretty handy in a TT, I think G will get it this time.

 The Gist Of It

This is my hastily prepared prediction blog, I’m mostly wrong on these, but one of these days I’ll get something right & you’ll not forget it, here’s hoping it happens this week. I’m obviously hoping for some Scottish medals, which look more likely in the womens events, could this be the race where Eileen Roe’s talents are finally noticed by a wider audience?