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.

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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:

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

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