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?

Exploding the b-Omnium

The UCI have overhauled the Omnium rules, the points system has gone topsy-turvy & there is large weighting towards the Points Race, which will now be run as the final event. It’s a relatively new event to major championships, although familiar to domestic riders in most track cycling nations, so we did expect a bit of jiggery pokery, but this is quite radical. Here’s how it’ll affect the event.

The Changes

The UCI have altered the scoring system, points allocation & weighted events, the full list of amendments can be found HERE.

In Omniums up to this point the winner of each event was awarded 1 point, 2nd place got 2 points, 3rd place 3 points & so on. All six events had the same allocation so if you won all the events you got an unbeatable perfect score of 6 points. The winner had the lowest total score when the individual points for the events were added together. Things are quite different from 20th June 2014.

The modified rules are as follows. We still have six events, run in the following revised order. Scratch Race, Individual Pursuit, Elimination (Devil), Time Trial (500m or kilo), Flying Lap, then finally the Points Race. For the first five events, the points allocation is as follows: 1st 40 pts, 2nd 38 pts, 3rd 36 pts, 4th 34 pts, 5th 32 pts, 6th 30 pts etc. From 21st down each rider gets 1 point. So the rider with the highest points total now wins, a major change in the Omnium’s culture.

This is the major event change, the 6th & final event (Points Race) has it’s event points allocation for each rider added to the score from the previous five events. So to give you an idea of how many points could be amassed in the final event, the 2012 Olympic Omnium’s points race had the top three with 79, 59 & 55 points each, the last placed rider had negative 40 points, from losing laps. This means that the riders with a Points Race total above zero will have those points added to their total from the previous five omnium events, any with points below zero will have those deducted from their total. The Points Race has become the key event in the Omnium.

What This Means

The UCI have been slowly removing endurance events from the track programme, the Omnium should have been left as an event for those riders, but sprinters have been able to gather points from the Flying Lap, Time Trial & the Scratch Race (by good positioning & waiting for the sprint). This will redress the balance & re-establish it as an endurance riders event, repeated sprints & taking laps are not the domain of a sprint athlete.

With the result now depending on a very good Points Race, it’s addressed the issue of the reducing opportunity for road/track crossover. The team pursuit has even become an event which favours a sprint orientated rider, such is the pace & duration of the efforts required, it’s also a very specialised event with much time being required to focus on it away from road racing.

Some were worried that the new rules would not favour a rider such as Laura Trott, but Hilary Evans (@OlympicStatman on twitter) calculated the totals from the last Olympics under these rules, Trott still would still have won by 1 point, with 208 points! This format could produce a thrilling finale to the Omnium, with riders fighting for every point in the last event, it’ll certainly be exciting from a spectators point of view.

The Future

I’d like to see this as the beginning of a revamp for the track events at major championships & World Cups. The removal of the 500m, Kilo & Pursuit was a great loss of traditional staple events for track riders, I’d like to see those return & to make an additional change to the Omnium bike rules to make a differentiation. I’d like to see the Omnium raced on one bike, with no tri-bars allowed in the timed events. With the focus now on the final endurance event & riders requiring less time training on a pursuit bike in a velodrome, it could open up the opportunity for more road stars to get involved. We’re really talking about road sprinter types, not the Grand Tour GC contenders, anything that could encourage them to the track could raise the profile & the status of an event like the Omnium.

So I’m suggesting re-introducing the Kilo, this time for both men & women (no 500m TT), plus the Individual Pursuit & then changing the Omnium bike rules to a standard track bike for all events. Would be interesting to hear what everybody thinks of that.

The Gist Of It

Track racing can benefit hugely from having recognisable names from the road scene present, I think the changes to the Omnium format are good for the sport, it creates a very exciting finale to the series & makes the Omnium more attractive to road riders. It could be an opportunity for female road racers to find another means to earn some sponsorship money by riding track too, if there’s not the same specialisation required on a pursuit bike, it could be possible.

The revised rules will also favour racers, rather than wattage slaves, you can’t win a points race by riding to a certain wattage, you require track-craft, tactics & a racing brain. Personally, I look forward to it all coming down to the final sprint on the final lap, it should be thrilling. I still don’t like those bloody handlebar boxed in the Devil, can we not do something about those UCI?

2014 Tour: Beware The Sideshow

The Tour de France should be about racing, that’s why I’m concentrating on the sporting side of things this year, I’m going to try my best to ignore any chat about whether or not Chris Froome got a note from his doctor to dress as a Sumo wrestler, or the usual never-ending doping questions at every press conference. It’s very easy to getting dragged into seeing the incredible performances of riders in the mountains or in time trials & get dragged into the doping debate. This is fuelled by so-called ‘experts’ who ‘calculate’ what power output the think the rider is producing & decide whether or not it’s doped or clean, based on a line in the sand they’ve decided on. I’m having nothing to do with it this year, I’m going to enjoy the racing, here’s why.

Clean Until Proven

That line in the sand (usually described in watts per kg) is set by each ‘expert’, the handy 6W/kg is often used as a handy barometer of human capability. I don’t buy this. I really can’t base the guilt or innocence of a rider based on somebody’s estimated power on a climb. The figures we see are theoretical, based on a pure & constant power output over a 25 to 55 minute climbs over some of the HC & 1 category climbs. Anybody who has used a power meter will know that average power is impossible to maintain, even the training manuals state normalised power as a guide, which is a theoretical average power if you had maintained a constant wattage for the duration of the effort. Any power graph will show spikes & troughs.

The figures we see being banded about appear to compare W/kg on one climb to another on a climb which took a longer to complete. Again, anybody who uses a power meter & has made an attempt to complete a critical power profile will acknowledge that power varies quite a bit over relatively close time ranges. If you took an average critical power over a 30 minute effort, compared to a 50 minute effort, would you expect to be able to record a higher average power for the shorter effort. For example, if you’re a time trialist, can you maintain a higher power output for a ’10’ than you can for a ’25’, of course you can. There is some validity in some of the estimates, but there’s really so much junk out there that I’ve completely switched off to it. Without actual power files you’ll be able to tell nothing, but teams will not give away their best data, even I could analyse it for strengths & weaknesses & I’m just an amateur power enthusiast with some interest & experience in coaching.

In this way, all climbs are incomparable on purely a W/kg basis, as all climbs are a different length & therefore the W/kg number is relative only to that climb. You can’t consider looking at pure number comparison something like the Col du Tourmalet (53mins in 2010) to the Col de Marie-Blanque (28 mins in 2010). This example is just for a time comparison, as they were both in the same stage & the Tourmalet was at the end, so had the Marie-Blanque been ridden at the same intensity, it would have a much shorter time. The data for some riders on this stage is HERE, Contador & Schleck were the riders who climbed the Tourmalet in 53 minutes. As you can see, power fluctuates massively, we are even told that a close encounter with a donkey skewed the figures!

I’m also going to ignore previous misdemeanors for those 3 weeks, I hold riders responsible for what they’ve done in the past, but I’ve no reason to believe they’re still doing it, although I do reserve the right to dislike some individuals, I’ve not totally forgiven everybody. I’m going to be a fan in this Tour, with what some would call a naive approach. I’m going to consider all riders currently clean until I have any information otherwise, this does not include power estimates, this includes hard evidence, like failing a test, getting caught in possession of banned substances (I’ll include a riders wife or parents crossing a border with a car full of EPO or HGH “for their dog” as being evidence to incriminate). I’m not going to get overly bothered if riders are using non-banned products like an inhaler for medical purposes. I want to cleanse my Tour experience & see how it goes, the stories have become far too big already, I really can’t be bothered anymore. So it’s back to basics, enjoy the Tour for sporting values & no speculating about who’s doing what.

I don’t expect anybody else to join me in this, it’s a purely personal thing, I know others love the question marks, but you’ll not see any of this from me during the Tour. It’s an experiment to see if I can get back to the point I started out when watching the Tour, it was magical. I’ll re-evaluate things after the last stage & see if I enjoyed it. If we get a clear winner from early on, I may miss the post stage dramas, it may turn out to be very dull Tour for me, but I really don’t think that’s going to be the case.

So Much More To See

We have an incredible Tour in store, I really can’t see a runaway victory from Sky this year, if Froome does win it looks like it will be with a much reduced winning margin. This opens the door to do-or-die attempts to regain time from other riders, hopefully if the top 5 are close, we should see some fireworks. Contador is back to being a contender, Nibali will hopefully gather some form after what was hopefully a heavy training load he was suffering from in the Dauphine. Just look at the preliminary start list HERE on the procyclingstats website. There’s a pile of opportunists who think they may have an opportunity for a high overall placing in what may be a wide open 2014 Tour.

Adding to the mix on the non-mountain stages, we have two potential teams in a bit of trouble, Belkin & Giant-Shimano. They are both looking for sponsors, which means that their riders are jittery, perhaps not like a cohesive group of riders we expect to see normally, they’ll all be considering their own futures & opportunities to make themselves more attractive in the cutthroat world of pro cycling contract negotiations. Some of the domestiques will be worried about their lack of UCI points & the likelihood that they’ll not even be pro riders in 2015. Situations like this can make the transition stages much more interesting, managers will be encouraging their riders to attack & gain publicity more than ever, while some other riders may go against team orders, trying to avoid the danger of going from the Tour de France one year, to unemployed the next, a real possibility for some dedicated team workers without personal results.

The Gist Of It

I’m looking forward to an experimental Tour viewing experience, going back to an era before we knew what was going on. It’s not a denial of the realities of professional sport, we know people cheat in all sports. Other sports seem to be able to deal with it, in the UK more participants in Rugby get caught than in any other sport, yet there’s little or no discussion of it by the fans. I’m purifying my experience this year, I’ve absolutely no idea what I’m going to take from it, I suspect it won’t be a permanent position, I’m also not denying that doping exists, I just need a break from it. The Tour is about sport, it’s not about the side show which has taken over in the last few years, well, not this year for me anyway.

 

 

Dauphine 2014 Observations#2

Talansky! A fantastic result for Garmin, who took the race by the scruff of the neck  & showed what can be done against riders who currently have superiority in the mountains. With a damaged Froome & an isolated Contador, we’ve seen during the past few days just how easily things can fall apart. It’s also obvious now just how close the top riders really are to each other this year. The Critérium du Dauphiné has blurred my Tour podium viewfinder, I’m now standing much further away from the photo & somebody’s removed the crosshairs, any number of riders could be up there in 3 weeks!

Contador, Froome, Talansky, Van Den Broeck, Nibali, Valverde, Quintana, they should all be there at the Tour, in similar condition, along with the anomaly of Horner, who has a habit of popping up from nowhere in form. But what a win from Talansky, he took a risk & it worked, we generally see that result in a confidence boost. I’d not rule the American out of a good podium place in the Tour. The big question for me, what’s Quintana got left in the tank after the Giro? There will be fireworks on the opening mountain stages as everybody thinks they’ve got a chance now, so if Valverde falls, we then get to see what the Colombian can do against all the big guns, something I’d hoped we’d see him focus on this year, but sadly not.

Froomedog Limps Home

What was I saying in ‘The Madness of Sir Dave‘ about making sure everybody gets an opportunity? Today Nieve took a well deserved win having been cut free from the shackles of leader-leading. Lopez was left to stick Froome in his basket & get him home in as best a state as he could. These gestures will make a difference in July, Froome now knows his rivals are much closer to him this year, having a super loyal Nieve with a Dauphine stage win under his belt is going to solidify support from the rider who looks likes his strongest mountain ally.

Did Froome’s crash really make all the difference here, or was he going to get beaten anyway, that we will never know, but will be able to surmise come the Tour. It seems to me that the display of incessant attacking on the initial mountain stage was maybe too much. Froome will need to ride much more conservatively in future if he hopes to beat more equal rivals. It looks like everybody else has caught up, making attacks count when your opponents are at their weakest is going to the best option, not attacking like crazy on the first mountain stage when everybody is fresh.

The Gist Of It

As usual, the Dauphine sets the scene for the Tour, but this time it’s not given us one hot favourite, it’s opened up the race as a potential joy from a fans perspective. If time gaps are expected to be small, the race may be decided on opportunism. The cols will be important, but so will cross winds & descents, if you think the initial week is often nervous, you’ve probably seen nothing yet, with no single hot favourite to win & riders trying to grab seconds wherever they can. It’s going to be a feast.

 

Dauphine 2014 Observations#1

The Dauphiné has always seemed quite a special race to me, I’m not entirely sure why, perhaps it’s Robert Millar’s fault. It encompasses many of the parts I enjoy most about the Tour de France, notably some familiar mountains, but also it allows the drama to ignite between the Tour contenders. It’s a huge race to win regardless of what happens at the Tour, some riders honing form, some taking psychological blows on rivals, others fighting for team places, the shadow of the Tour de France is all over this race. The Critérium du Dauphiné is where things really start kicking off between the major stars in cycling, but also between the domestiques, this & the Tour de Suisse are battle grounds between GC contenders & the final places on Tour de France rosters, the stakes are high.

The Story So Far

We’re up to stage six & looking forward to the finale of the weekend mountain stages, with Saturday likely to be the most brutal. What have we learned about the form of the Tour contenders present at this race?

The opening 10km prologue was won by Froome, which isn’t really a surprise. Interestingly we saw Contador finish in 2nd place, his time trialling hasn’t really been up to its former incredible level for a while now, but it looks like he’s back to near his best, but hopefully not up to the Cancellara beating performances of 2009*. Contador’s interviews have shown that he’s been doing much more aerobic training than ever before during the winter, so using different methods for base training looks to be paying off for him, showing he was always a talented rider. Bert is a joy to watch on the bike, while Froome is as ungainly as ever, his upper body always seeming unable to deal with the power passing through his legs, but it seems to work for him. The contrasting styles make their battles even more compelling, the third week in July is going to see many casualties if these two remain or improve on the form they currently have.

The accelerations we saw on the Col du Béal from Froome were impressive. Seated accelerations under high load to reach a high cadence are not unfamiliar to anybody from a track background. Although some marvel at them, it looks to me like an attack on a fixed gear in a velodrome, something of which the coaches from the BC system who now work with Sky will have had many years of experience in developing. When people ask what exactly can we transfer from track to mountains, I’d suggest that the seated acceleration Froome is displaying is potentially one of the un-noticed ones. I can’t really remember anybody else making this so effective in the past, even in the ‘bad old’ years. It’s an incredibly efficient way to attack if you can do it, he stays aero & crouched, especially important for him as he has the upper body mass of Gollum, if he got out of the saddle too much he’d snap.

As for the performance being extraordinary, there were no huge time gaps over other contenders, such as Nibali, who although being touted as being out of form, still managed to finish within 30 seconds. Froome’s accelerations were mightily impressive, but his ability to sustain that effort didn’t seem possible, had it been he may have been able to break Bert, but that never happened & they slowed to allow the others to re-group. I found Talansky & Kelderman to be showing signs they can also be challenging for high positions in July. The Garmin rider is looking much more like a top 5 Tour rider now, the teams 2014 protected rider it seems, Kelderman for the white jersey? Van Den Broeck was also riding well, all these riders took their chances & had a go at attacking, we’ll see what happens on Saturday.

Otherwise so far the only significant point for the GC was when Contador attacked on a descent, which I’ll cover later.

* (Before anybody else tells me Lac d’Annecy was a very hilly TT, it wasn’t, there was one wee bump, I’ve ridden the course, he rode 40.5km in 48 & a half minutes, not exactly a mountain TT speed). 

Porte in a Storm

When Sky decided to make a point on stage 2, the Col du Béal being the battle ground. Thomas did a huge turn, but we saw Richie Porte ‘attack out the back’ of the group, when we expect him to one of the last riders at head of the Sky train. Nieve is looking like the last guy who’s going to lead Froome in the latter stages of the Tour mountains, unless Porte can pull something together & sort out his consistency.

I suspect Richie doesn’t recover as well as Froome, but if given a rest for a day or two can be right up there with the best again. Perhaps not indicating he’s a Grand Tour winner (yet), but certainly a super-domestique & week-long stage race winner when the big boys are not in town. This was evident yesterday, Contador attacked on a descent (which I hope he keeps doing) & the gap went out to over a minute, Porte was working on the front, with only himself & Nieve left to help Froome. As the gap went out I thought Porte was unable to close it, but he quickly increased the pace & took 40 seconds from Contador, on a climb over a short distance. This shows he’s still got the ability after all his problems this year, but he needs to be used wisely, insisting on him going for a high overall placing isn’t going to help anybody, he needs used, rested, then used on another stage, he can’t double up. A vanity attempt to get a good result on GC is going to end in tears I suspect, plus a rider falling apart & seeming to fail isn’t going to help Sky’s PR after leaving the bearded one behind.

The Gist Of It

You can’t bluff on Saturday, 161 km through two 2nd cat climbs, a 1st cat & two beyond category, anybody suffering will be found out. I’ve ridden the Forclaz, but not familiar with the Finhaut Emosson, which rides to nearly 2000m for a mountain top finish. I’ll be finding some excuse to be sitting in front of the telly to see what happens there tomorrow, hopefully Froome’s crash today won’t blur anything & we’ll see a true Froome/Contador battle on the final mountain.