Lost In Thin Air

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I’ve never seen a Tour de France with this many kilometres above two thousand metres, nobody has & nobody really knows what to expect in the final week. Which is why I predict we’re going to see another thing nobody has ever seen before, a Colombian winner in Paris. Let me explain myself, with some actual evidence (not common these days).

Last 5 years of Colombian top 20 GC riders

2018:

10th: Nairo Quintana @14’18” (won Stage 17 finishing at 2215m, was up to 5th @3’30”, but crashed on Stage 18)

15th: Egan Bernal @27’52” (working for Sky leader all Tour)

2017:

2nd: Rigoberto Urán @54″ (Urán won Stage 9, where he lying at 55 seconds to Froome, he gained more time & was 29 seconds behind Froome by Stage 12, he moved within 27 seconds by Stage 17, dropped 2 seconds on stage 18, then lost only 25 seconds to Froome on the Stage 20, 22.5km TT.)

12th: Nairo Quintana @15’28” (A very poor Tour for Quintana)

18th: Carlos Betancur @37’47”

2016:

3rd: Nairo Quintana @4’21”

12th: Sergio Henao @18’51”

19th: Jarlinson Pantano @38’59” (Winner Stage 15)

2015:

2nd: Nairo Quintana @1’12 (Note Quintana was 1’59” down after the Stage 9 TTT)

19th: Jarlinson Pantano @1hr 09’08”

2014:

What happened to the Colombians?

2013:

2nd: Nairo Quintana @4’20” (winner of Stage 20)

 

Quintana – Short Mountain Stage Specialist?

Lets go back a few years & look at every ‘short’ mountain stage since 2013. Contrary to popular belief, Quintana isn’t so much the diesel, he excels at the short stages, maybe his attention span is sufficient for these stages?

2013: Stage 20 – 125km Mountain Stage: Took 29s on Froome, overall winner on GC.

2015: Stage 19 – 138km Mountain Stage: Took 30seconds on Froome, overall winner on GC.

2015: Stage 20 – 110km Mountain Stage: Took 1min 20seconds on Froome, overall winner on GC.

2017: Stage 13 – 101km Mountain Stage: Took 1min 48seconds on Froome, overall winner on GC.

2018: Stage 11 – 108km Mountain Stage: Lost 59seconds to Thomas, overall winner on GC.

2018: Stage 17 – 65km Mountain Stage: Took 47seconds on Thomas, overall winner on GC.

So on all but one short mountain stage, Quintana has gained time on the final winner in Paris. If we take an average, including the loss, he gains approximately 39seconds on a short mountain stage.

The 2019 Strategic Moments

Time gaps may not appear on stages 18 & 19, but serious damage will be inflicted on those not as naturally predisposition to riding at altitude. If the Iseran is ridden full gas by Movistar or EF Education, even though it’s mid-stage, we’ll know if the Colombian onslaught is going to happen, they’ll need to cause as much damage as possible to limit the normally aspirated riders recovery.

Stage 18 (208km): 9km above 2000m to summit of Col du Galibier (2642m), followed by a 19km descent to the finish.

Stage 19 (126km): 10km above 2000m to summit of Col du l’Iseran (2770m).

Stage 20 (130km): Finish at Val Thorens 2365m.

The Gist Of It

I think a Colombian is going to win this Tour, the last few days appear too hard & too high for anybody else to recover sufficiently to not lose time at altitude, or suffer from extended time racing at altitude & crack on the final mountain day.

Of all the Colombians, the sensible money is on Bernal, he has the best team, they know how to win the Tour, but does he have the experience?

Urán looks undercooked, and is also innatentive, losing time in the crosswinds on Stage 10, which may have put him out of contention.

We often forget, since Quintana has been around for so long, he’s still only 29, coming into his prime as a Grand Tour contender.

Whoever wins this Tour will deserve it. My money is on Quintana, everything is set up for him to win, the final three back-to-back high altitude mountain stages, with the last two being short mountain stages, which we can see are a speciality for Nairo, when all the normally aspirated contenders are desperately trying to recover from getting blown to pieces in thin air.

A Geraint Thomas in last years Tour winning form would need at least 3 minutes lead after the TT on Stage to survive the last few brutal days in yellow, he can’t just kick at the end & win these, there’s not enough oxygen. The main issue with Quintana is his attention span, he often loses time form innatention, but this year looks a little better & was scrapping in the Dauphine to ensure he didn’t lose time, maybe he’s got some focus, or maybe it’ll all go up in flames as usual.

This is Quintana’s chance, he should take it.

 

 

 

(p.s. I expect pelters for this, so bring it on)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colombians & Manzana Postobon team at la Vuelta

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As always, I follow the Colombians in Grand Tours with sheer fascination, the 2017 Vuelta has the added interest away from the established Colombian stars taking part such listed below, along with a Colombian team with a historical sponsor from the 80’s era when Colombians previously appeared in the euro peloton, Postobon, which is basically Colombia’s answer to Irn-Bru.

Non Manzano Postobon Colombians taking part:

  • Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo)
  • Esteban Chaves (ORICA-Scott)
  • Carlos Betancur (Movistar Team)
  • Darwin Atapuma (UAE Team Emirates)
  • Miguel Ángel López (Astana)

Manzano Postobon Colombians taking part (7 of 9 from the team):

  • Aldemar Reyes
    • Team leader, most impressive performance this year is 6th place in the 7th Stage of the Volta Cyclist a Catalunya, a select group of 16 world climbing stars in same time as winner Valverde, sandwiched between Dan Martin in 5th & Romain Bardet in 7th. Should try & pull a surprise result.
  • Hernan Aguirre
    • 17th on GC in 2017 Vuelta a Burgos, won by Landa.
  • Hernando Bohórquez
    • Finished 7th in World U23 Road Race on two occasions, in 2012 & 2014.
  • Fernando Orjuela
    • 10th place on GC in Tour de Langkawi 2017
  • Juan Felipe Osorio
    • King of Mountains in 2017 Volta ao Algarve em Bicicleta, Dan Martin was 2nd in this classification.
  • Juan Sebastian Molano
    • In 2015 Tour of Turkey, he finished 4th in a bunch sprint, Cav won.
  • Bernardo Suaza

As you can see, this is a solid team & when given the chance to perform against the World Tour teams, they get results. Add the fact that this is their biggest chance to show their skills to the DS’s of the big teams. They’ll be in breaks in the mountain stages, don’t be surprised to see their considerable climbing talent & bright pink kit in obvious view when the road tilts upwards for the next three weeks. When is the last time there were this many Colombians in a Grand Tour?

 

Format, rider, or both?

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This years Tour is incredibly close after 2 weeks, the top four are within 29 seconds of each other, with the next 4 within another 2 minutes from 4th place. This is unheard of at this stage in a Tour, after 60 hours in the saddle the time gaps are minuscule, without Porte’s crash involving Dan Martin & the time he lost there, he would be up in 2nd place @ 11s. This is a tight race, but why?

There’s several reasons, which have conspired together to reach this point, it’s not solely course design, other factors had to come into play in order to make the standings this close. A huge factor is who is not there, team leaders such as potentially the strongest rider in the race, Porte, but also protagonists Izagirre & Gesink. The non-mountain stages were also shaped by a missing Sagan, who’s presence would have changed tactics, even yesterday, would Sunweb & BMC have worked so hard if Sagan was there, meaning Aru may not have lost time?

Of great interest is the impact of missing ‘super-domestiques’, Thomas would have strengthened Sky, allowing them to more easily revert to their tried & tested (but fan-boring) mountain-train strategy, Fuglsang, fresh from Dauphine victory would have provided back up for Arg in the mountains. More interesting & potentially a huge impact is Valverde, he crashed due to his commitment, meaning that he thought he wasn’t just here for back-up, he meant business, and probably quite righly so after Quintana diluted his performance by racing the Giro to win. His team leader Quintana is hovering around the bottom of the top ten, Valverde was as good as ever, likely would have become team leader by performance.

Finally, we have the course. Fewer mountain top finishes to focus all GC contenders attacking on one type of effort, favouring riders like Froome. Less time trialling early on, again favouring strong time triallists like Froome who then command a seemingly unassailable lead early in the race. The short mountain stages also provide the springboard for opportunist attacks, which probably wouldn’t happen with an extra 90 to 100km in the legs.

All these features have conspired to produce a close race, which in turn produces attacks. If the gaps are small riders think they have a chance to take the jersey. If the gaps on GC are 2 or 3 minutes, the riders go into damage limitation mode, being realistic that they are unlikely to gain more than a few seconds. If the gaps are a few seconds, anybody who’s still within those margins can realistically take the jersey.

What we can see from this, is that by designing a similar course next year, we probably won’t see a similar Tour. As usual, it’s the riders that make the race, injuries, dropouts, crashes & in some cases performance reducing naturally with age (Bert). I’m looking forward to the next week, I don’t believe we’ll see as close a finish as 8 seconds in 1989, but I do suspect we’ll see do-or-die attacks from the likes of Bardet & Uran. If the Colombian can pull something off, he can time trial very well, having won a TT over 40km in the 2014 Giro, with Froome not looking quite as strong as usual, he may not have to pull back as large a buffer as most imagine in the final TT. An interesting week ahead.

 

Blood & Skills

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I continue to hear pundits & those involved in ‘skill based’ sports defend themselves against EPO use & blood manipulation as if it wouldn’t benefit them. I beg to differ. The following should at least show that there’s little chance of getting caught in other sports & there’s huge benefits to most sports people in the use of banned substances like EPO (Erythropoietin). Next time you hear that they don’t test because “they don’t have a problem”, maybe consider that they don’t test for another very obvious reason, opening the doors to what’s actually going on.

Fitness V Skills

In ideal circumstances, where there is a level playing field, any elite athlete or sportsperson would have to dedicate a large amount of time to developing their aerobic fitness. This could give them a competitive advantage in their sport, allowing them to outperform their rivals, keep playing at the same level throughout a game & potentially recover better from injuries. More time devoted to fitness training, then less time devoted to skills training obviously results in a less skilled player than one who has devoted all that time to skills.

Imagine if there was a shortcut which sports competitors could use that would reduce the huge amount of time required to gain the very high levels of aerobic fitness required in most sports these days, allowing them to spend most of that time on improving their skills. Do you think they would take that shortcut, especially if there was virtually no testing for it, as the sport’s hierarchy had decided that nobody needed it as EPO & blood boosting are not a problem in their sport?

With almost zero chance of getting caught for its use, a pharmaceutical product sourced in a jiffy-bag relatively cheaply from China (I googled it, it’s quite shocking how easy it is to acquire), it’s almost a no-brainer for any manager under pressure from sponsors & sponsor company directors to make a dodgy decision. You have to ask, why wouldn’t they? The vast sums of money available if players move up to the next level are a huge motivator, they appear to be willing to do it in cycling to secure a deal on the UCI minimum wage, if millions were on offer, morality doesn’t get a look-in.

Minimal Testing

There’s been a myth generated within these ‘skill based’ sports that EPO & other drug use is not widespread, they devote much less funding towards testing for it, as “they don’t have a problem”. We know that doping has existed for some time in football, in 2013 the German government released a report which revealed that the team who won the 1954 World Cup had been injected with the amphetamine Pervatin, which had been developed by the Nazi’s to make their troops fight longer & harder.

Take football & tennis as examples, there’s an estimated over 65,000 professional footballers in the world & all are eligible for testing. In tennis the ATP Tour have 1,814 players & the ATP Tour 1,106, so 2,920 in total. In road cycling, there’s around 1200 WorldTour & ProContinental riders + around 2300 competing in Continental Tour events, circa 3500 professional riders.

Summary: Football 65,000 professionals, Tennis 2,920 professionals, Road Cycling 3500 professionals.

If we take 2015 as an example, the WADA report reveals the following:

Football

  • Total in-competition urine tests: 24,654 (37.9% chance of being tested)
  • Total out-of-competition urine tests: 5,618 (8.6% chance of being tested)
  • Total in-competition blood tests: 697 (1.1% chance of being tested)
  • Total out-of-competition blood tests: 617 (0.9% chance of being tested)

Tennis

  • Total in-competition urine tests: 2,523 (86.4% chance of being tested)
  • Total out-of-competition urine tests: 929 (31.8% chance of being tested)
  • Total in-competition blood tests: 166 (5.6% chance of being tested)
  • Total out-of-competition blood tests: 829 (28.4% chance of being tested)

Road Cycling

  • Total in-competition urine tests: 6,460 (184.6% chance of being tested, i.e. more than once)
  • Total out-of-competition urine tests: 4,123 (117.8% chance of being tested, i.e. more than once)
  • Total in-competition blood tests: 407 (11.6% chance of being tested)
  • Total out-of-competition blood tests: 569 (16.2% chance of being tested)

I’ve made some assumptions in the testing probability, that the vast majority of testing is on the professional athletes in each sport & that tests are carried out across the entire available players/riders (we know there will be target testing, so I’m just keeping it simple). In cycling there are also figures for track, bmx, mountain biking, cross etc, but these are not included in these figures, we’re looking solely at the most tested area of cycling, which is road cycling.

The Gist Of It

When I googled EPO from China, sources appeared on the first page of results, selling it for the use of athletes, with full instructions. If you’re keen on using it, you’ll have already done this, so I’m not exactly revealing anything here for those who can use google & are idiots willing to inject stuff with no traceability that’s sent in a jiffy bag. It seems reasonable to assume that any sports team could ‘prepare’ their team members for about £500 each, use their existing doctors to safely administer it & result in a team with new-found superskills looking like it had “run rings around” their rivals (remind anybody of anything?). Whenever I hear that phrase in sports reports, I do always wonder, because as we know, in sports like football there are virtually no tests for EPO, especially at domestic level.

As this 2008 paper reveals, EPO also provides some considerable injury recovery properties. So I ask again, why wouldn’t highly paid footballers be taking this, it’s cheap, easily accessable & there’s only a 1% chance of being tested, which would have to be in the short ‘glow time’, while a cyclist has over 16% chance of being tested. I’m sure proper testing would reveal some very disturbing truths.

2017 & Mens Pro Cycling

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Men’s pro cycling, the main focus of the cycling media, has been causing me some motivational problems as a cycling fan the last few months.  Living in the UK, the story of the jiffy bag & the tiresome Bradley Wiggins attitude has been dominating proceedings, with it getting murkier & murkier as time progresses, it really looks like the beginning of the end for  Brailsford, although he’s likely to slip into a highly paid role in another sport, these people usually emerge somewhere else. There’s obviously been a cover up, but covering up what nobody really knows, it looks unlikely the full facts will ever become available in the public domain due to the amount of mistruths that have already been told.

In general, it looks like there’s been a large turnover in riders in the peloton this year, with plenty of retirements, so there is potential for a bit of a renewal, hopefully without the same level of scandals, but I’ll not hold my breath.

Predictions

  • Team Sky to have an obvious split into two factions, those loyal to Brailsford & those loyal to Froome, who’s obviously unhappy. It could go the other way than expected as far as results outside the Tour go, it may mean that the highly talented riders that get burnt up as bunch engines benefit from the lack of unity & get their own chances, especially as they may be thinking about contracts in other teams for 2018
  • Spring Classics – Nothing particularly surprising here, showdowns between Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet & a revived & healthy John Degenkolb, with Boonen to win Roubaix & retire.
  • Giro – Esteban Chaves.
  • Tour – Bauke Mollema.
  • Vuelta – Tom Dumoulin.
  • UCI President to be a Frenchman by the end of the year, Cookson to be ousted in a big bun fight after British Cycling becomes more embroiled in the jiffy bag situation, with no realistic answers, tarnishing the organisation & Cookson himself.
  • Worlds – Peter Sagan (again).

 

A Hypothetical Nation At The ‘Worlds’

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In the midst of a political no-mans-land, with huge uncertainties over Brexit, membership of the EU & another potential Scottish independence referendum. What would that mean for a sport’s governing body, flung into a new phase of sudden responsibility, having to deal with licences, governance, memberships, insurance, online entry & websites, among many other things? If things really kick off politically, Scotland could be placing a team in the World Championships even as early as 2018, so for a bit of controversial fun, the following is a rundown of how many riders a new nation joining the UCI would be allocated, and the allocation a potentially lowly ranked country such as Scotland would be able to field in the UCI World Road Race Championships.

UCI rider allocation at the Worlds

Road Race – Women Elite (Likely rider allocation – 3)

  • Top 5 UCI ranked nations – 7 Riders
  • 6th to 15th UCI ranked nations – 6 Riders
  • 16th to 20th UCI ranked nations – 5 Riders
  • All other ranked & non-ranked nations – 3 Riders

Road Race – Women Junior (Likely rider allocation – 4 Riders)

  • Top 5 ranked Junior Nation’s Cup nations – 5 Riders
  • All other ranked & non-ranked nations – 4 Riders

Road Race – Men Elite (Likely rider allocation – 1 Rider)

*Max team allocation is 9, through any means. See LINK for more details.

  • Top 10 UCI World Ranked Nations – 9 Riders (see other caveats on link, which may reduce this number through individual riders not ranked in top 300, or allow them to get it back up to 9 though the continental rankings)
  • Top ranked nation in UCI Africa Tour – 6 Riders
  • 2nd & 3rd ranked nations in UCI Africa Tour – 3 Riders
  • 1st & 2nd ranked nations in UCI America Tour – 6 Riders
  • 3rd, 4th & 5th ranked nations in UCI America Tour – 3 Riders
  • Top ranked nation in UCI Asia Tour – 6 Riders
  • 2nd, 3rd & 4th ranked nation in UCI Asia Tour – 3 Riders
  • Top 6 ranked nations in UCI Europe Tour – 6 Riders
  • 7th to 14th ranked nations in UCI Europe Tour – 3 Riders
  • Top nation in UCI Oceania Tour – 3 riders

If not otherwise qualified through above, a nation can enter riders through the following UCI individual rankings:

A nation whose top ranked rider in the top 100 – 3 Riders

A nation whose top ranked rider is between 101st & 300th – 2 Riders

A nation whose top ranked rider is between 301st & 600th – 1 Rider (Andy Fenn, currently scraping in there at 593rd!)

If not otherwise qualified through above, a nation can enter riders through the following UCI Continental individual rankings:

  • A rider in top 10 of UCI Africa Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 25 of UCI America Tour -1 Rider
  • A rider in top 10 of UCI Asia Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 250 of UCI Europe Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 5 of UCI Oceania Tour – 1 Rider

Road Race – Men Under 23 (Likely allocation – 1 Rider)

  • Top nation UCI U23 classification in Africa Tour – 5 Riders
  • 2nd nation UCI U23 classification in Africa Tour – 4 Riders
  • 3rd to 5th nations UCI U23 classification in Africa Tour – 3 riders
  • 1st to 3rd nations UCI U23 classification in America Tour – 5 Riders
  • 4th to 6th nations UCI U23 classification in America Tour – 4 Riders
  • 7th to 10th nations UCI U23 classification in America Tour – 3 Riders
  • 1st & 2nd nations UCI U23 classification in Asia Tour – 5 Riders
  • 3rd & 4th nations UCI U23 classification in Asia Tour – 4 Riders
  • 5th to 7th nations UCI U23 classification in Asia Tour – 3 Riders
  • 1st to 15th nations UCI U23 classification in Europe Tour – 5 Riders
  • 16th to 20th nations UCI U23 classification in Europe Tour – 4 Riders
  • 21st to 27th nations UCI U23 classification in Europe Tour – 3 Riders
  • 1st nation UCI U23 classification in Oceania Tour – 5 Riders
  • 2nd nation UCI U23 classification in Oceania Tour – 3 Riders

If not otherwise qualified through above, a nation can enter riders through the following UCI Continental individual Elite (not U23) rankings:

  • A rider in top 60 of UCI Africa Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 200 of UCI America Tour -1 Rider
  • A rider in top 150 of UCI Asia Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 400 of UCI Europe Tour – 1 Rider
  • A rider in top 20 of UCI Oceania Tour – 1 Rider
  • If a nation is included in final classification of the UCI Nations’ Cup U23, but that nation is not yet qualified – 3 Riders

Road Race – Men Junior (Likely rider allocation – 3 Riders)

  • Top 10 ranked Junior Nation’s Cup nations – 6 Riders
  • 11th to 15th ranked Junior Nation’s Cup nations – 5 riders
  • 16th to 20th ranked Junior Nation’s Cup nations – 4 riders
  • All other ranked & non-ranked nations – 3 Riders

The Gist Of It

A new UCI recognised cycling nation, such as Scotland, suddenly appearing at the UCI World Championships, in a hypothetical 2016 (as that’s all we’ve got requirements for), could field the following….

  • Elite Womens Road Race – 3 Riders
  • Elite Mens Road Race – 1 Rider
  • Under 23 Womens Road Race – 4 Riders
  • Under 23 Mens Road Race – 1 Rider
  • Junior Womens Road Race – 4 Riders
  • Junior Mens Road Race – 3 Riders

What you can see from that, is that other than men’s elite racing, Scotland could get some very good representation & some incredible opportunities for riders such as Eileen Roe & Katy Archibald to take part in the Worlds Road Race, supported by high quality riders such as Charline Joiner. We have a number of talented juniors competing under the Spokes RT banner, could that be morphed into a national junior development squad? On the men’s side, there could be riders with Scottish ‘heritage’, attempting to gain worlds representation, such as Max Sciandri did with the UK team. If one of them was in the top 300, it would increase that allocation too.

Of course, it’s all hypothetical, but gives a very interesting look into the workings of the UCI rider allocation system, and the status & value that they, wrongly or rightly apply to the different continents. The carrot of competition at the worlds could boost many riders aspirations, perhaps grow some dreams, you really never know.

Rest Day Predictions

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When somebody who looks perfectly capable of attacking & doesn’t attack, it either means they’re not interested, or they have a serious plan. I’m putting my thoughts for a thrilling final week of the Tour out there. As far as predictions go, I’ve got past history of being very wrong, so don’t place any bets based on this.

WeeQ

I’m more convinced than ever that Nairo Quintana is going to win this Tour now. He’s had ample opportunity to have a go, but has refrained. We’ll not see anything happen on GC until Thursday, when the big gaps start to appear among the top 20. Even on Ventoux, I’m still convinced Quintana won’t have an all out attack, he’ll maybe try a probing attack to see how Froome is feeling. After last year, he knows that rather than wasting energy when Froome is still fresh in the first 2 weeks, he can instead take possibly minutes in the finalé of a 3 week Tour.

The day after Ventoux, we have an undulating 37.5km time trial, if things are going to Movistar’s plans, Nairo will lose no more than 30 seconds here, likely less, his time trialling has improved alongside his other abilities.

The Final Week

We get more mountains on Sunday preceding the final week, which could be animated, not by Movistar, but by Sky, if the time gap in the TT is less than expected (which I think is likely), we’ll see panic mode. This plays into the Colombians hands, wearing out his rival team & isolating his main challenger for the final climb of Lacets du Grand Colombier.

WedsStageProfile

Looking at the profiles, Wednesday looks to be the springboard for a Quintana time grab. The final 30km include the Col da la Forclaz (no, not that one, we’re in Switzerland) & a summit finish at Finhaut-Emosson (note final kilo at 12.3%, at over 1900m). The Movistar pace on the penultimate climb could reduce Froome’s domestiques to 1 or 2, then we encounter an ever steepening 10km climb to the Emosson Dam. If there ever was an uncontrollable summit finish, this is it, with two climbs in succession to split teams & leave is with a battle of the leaders. Looking at Quintana’s confidence, it looks like he’d relish the chance of a man to man battle with Froome, to me it would seem they might not be alone, Dan Martin might quite like this stage finish too. I suspect after this stage the overall time gap between 1st & 2nd overall will be very close.

Thursdays mountain TT is made for Quintana, expect the jersey to change hands here.

Friday & Saturday are more of the same, big mountain stages, with Quintana taking control of the GC. He left it until the final mountain stage last year, this year I predict he’ll choose the 3 final mountain stages & the time trial. Not the gamble everybody seems to be suggesting he’s taking by leaving it until the end, there are plenty of opportunities.

The Rest Of Them

Unless one of them have a really bad day, I expect Froome & Quintana to have a 4 or 5 minute gap to the fight for the last place on the podium. It looks likely that the most risk averse of the other likely podium contenders will be Porte. He’s more likely to hang on, not attempt to win a stage & result in a high overall place from being dropped last by Froome & Quintana. On the other hand, Dan Martin may lose loads of time trying to win, but I suspect he can make the top 5 this year. The other top 5 in Bardet, who could make the podium if he did a ‘Porte’, but is also likely to try & win a stage himself. Adam Yates is riding superbly, but probably still a bit early in his career for him not to suffer from a bad day, he’ll have other chances for a podium in this race. I’m putting Kreuzeger in 6th, which will be some achievement, after all his team have gone home & Oleg hires a Megabus for the final stages. Funnily enough, Oleg is exactly the kind of person you expect to meet on a Megabus. Place your bets, or don’t, it’s up to you.

My top 10:

  1. Quintana
  2. Froome
  3. Porte
  4. Bardet
  5. D.Martin
  6. Kreuziger
  7. Yates
  8. Van Garderen
  9. Mollema
  10. Meintjes

A Complete Cav?

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Earlier in the year, I wrote about Cav being the wrong person to take the GB place in the Mens Omnium at the Rio Olympics, how wrong was I?

In the meantime, we’ve had an injury in the other likely contender, and more importantly, a resurgent Mark Cavendish, who is looking to have worked harder than ever to meet his goals for the season.

Job Done

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So far (during stage 4), Cav has won two stages & held the yellow jersey in the Tour for the first time, he’s taken his tally of stage wins up to the level of Hinault. Cillian Kelly (@irishpeloton on twitter & regular on the Velocast podcast) has run the numbers, only Merckx has more stage wins (34), with Cav & Hinault level pegging on 28. But as Cillian points out, if you remove time trial stage wins, Cavendish is far ahead in the number of ‘hands in the air’ victories, 28, compared to Merckx’s 17 & Hinault’s 7. It’s an incredibly impressive achievement for the Manxman.

This set of statistics can likely relieve some pressure from Cav in the run-up to the Olympics, suffering on to Paris may not be the ideal preparation for a series of short track events in Rio, so he probably won’t finish this Tour. He can realistically pick & choose what he wants to do now, 2 stage wins & a yellow jersey is enough for most teams to be happy with at any Tour, he can decide his ideal route to Rio now, having surpassed what his employer (his pro team) realistically expected from the sprinter.

I think what we’ll see is Cavendish making it through the Pyrenees, possibly with another stage win at Montpellier on Stage 12 where he’ll retire from the event, notably, the day before Ventoux. Nobody can really fault him for that.

Track Training

From what we’ve seen so far, his stage 1 victory was in a howling tailwind, ideal circumstances for a high RPM track rider to take advantage of the situation. He’s probably been doing plenty of jumps past dernys (or more likely a motorbike) on the track, so his late surge should be no surprise, this has probably been his bread & butter the last few weeks.

Stage 3 played into his hands too, assuming he’s been doing much more high intensity training & much less endurance, if the stage of over 200km had been ridden hard, it could have blunted his sprint. The peloton decided to cruise along at a very leisurely pace, which must have had him smiling like a Manx cat. We also saw a perfectly timed lunge, with Greipel lunging a little too early, again, we can assume this is part of his track training. Lunges for the ‘Devil’ (elimination race if you’re a UCI commissaire) would surely be practiced again-and-again, probably again coming off a derny or moto on the track. You can lose a lot of points in the Omnium by getting pulled out of the ‘Devil’ early by a well-timed lunge from one of your opponents, his timing was absolutely perfect on Stage 3.

Another factor may be focus. Up to now we’ve been used to Cav taking a few stages to get himself into the zone & actually win one, this year he did it on Stage 1. Don’t discount the mindgames that may be going on here, in the Omnium a moments hesitation can lead to a large loss of points, and the loss of a medal. You need to be focussed for every event, from the very beginning, there’s no allowance for any dithering. I’m assuming that he’s brought this mindset to his road riding now, which could be just as big a factor as his current physical condition.

The Gist Of It

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It’s highly likely that Cav will have achieved well beyond his greatest expectation at the beginning of his career by the end of the 2016. With 28 (+) Tour Stage wins, winning the green jersey, becoming world champion, wearing the yellow jersey, all that’s left is that Olympic medal. Seeing the focus & ability of Cav in the first few days of this Tour, I’d now be surprised if he doesn’t win a medal in Rio, my expected podium of Gaviria & Viviani, now includes Mark Cavendish, I think gold is just as likely for him now as any other rider. Maybe Shane was right, maybe Cav was the correct choice after all, the doubters like me were perhaps all very very wrong, the boys got his sparkle back.

 

Aero-Aware

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Bike racers have been aware of the advantages aerodynamics gave them for decades, perhaps from the very beginning of competitive cycling itself. Up until the 1989 Tour de France, nothing had made the differences more stark, than a colourful mix of imagery, marketing & race winning choices, to propel Greg LeMond to an 8 second advantage, turning around a 50 second deficit & winning the Tour de France on the final Paris time trial stage. Things have never been the same since, it set the scene for the public’s awareness of the importance of aerodynamics in cycling, which is still influencing professional racers, club riders, sportive riders & marketing departments to this day.

80’s to 90’s

Up until the 80’s, it was perhaps the UK time trialing scene that you could have looked to for some extreme examples of bicycle aerodynamics, Rouleur recently ran a story on Alf Engers & his realisation that drilling holes in everything actually made him slower (Rouleur issue 62: Drillium). Aerodynamics had been progressing right through the 1980’s, silk jerseys for time trials were replaced with full lycra skinsuits, we had carbon disc wheels, and we had Francesco Moser, pushing the limits with radical bike designs & wind tunnel testing (amongst some other stuff). Moser2These changes could all be considered ‘marginal’, the position was still relatively the same, just finer tuned with the help of technology. Once we got to the end of the 80’s, LeMond started working with Boone Lennon from Scott USA in developing a position using an innovation from triathlon (there’s also an argument it was first used in 1984 in the RAAM). The advantage this new arm, shoulder & body position, allowed by the use of tri-bars provided a ‘step-change’ in aerodynamics, almost overnight in cycling terms, this wasn’t a ‘marginal gain’, it was a Tour winning gain. The advantage of containing the arms within the frontal area of the body was so large that within a few months almost everybody was using the new position in the pro peloton, even Sean Kelly, still riding toe straps until the bitter end, took it up relatively quickly.

Wind Tunnels

The factor which multiplied the gains from the 80’s onwards was wind tunnel testing. Although the emerging aeronautical industry had been using these since the late 1800’s, their commercial availability & cost were out of reach for sports people, especially cycling, which had traditionally been poorly funded & relied on internal sponsors (i.e. bike manufacturers) to fund most of the top teams until a few decades ago.

As we now know, small changes can make all the difference, with the advent of wind tunnels cars completely changed shape & pro riders could now quantify every single change in equipment, components, position & clothing material, if they had sufficient funding. This introduced a new aspect to pro cycling, but wind tunnel time was expensive, so teams with bigger budgets could now use their cash to outperform their rivals, with very significant gains being made in this early period, compared to the current marginal gains we hear about in todays peloton. This was a game changer, 1989 shook the teams who hadn’t embraced the change, or hadn’t realised what could be achieved. We still saw riders with their jerseys flapping in the wind, you won’t see that now in your local race such is the level of knowledge available now.

Greg LeMond V Past & Present

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A rider at the top of his game (for the 2nd time) during this transition period of aerodynamics was Greg LeMond, he was also the most prominent rider embracing it in the pro peloton, but he wasn’t the only one. If we look at how his position & the technology he used developed we can see the innovations that appeared in greater detail. The photo above is from 1986, differing from todays TT setup, note the shallow front rim profile, drop handlebars on standard road frame, no shoe covers, non protective aero shell helmet & more importantly, the lack of tri-bars. On the other hand, the skin suit looks as fitted as todays, but lacking the longer legs & sleeves we see in todays peloton.

Fignon-FrontLemond-Front

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The contrast displayed in the 1989 photos above, of LeMond’s tucked position, his arms in line with his legs & an aero helmet (which we now know is much faster than a bare head), to Laurent Fignon’s more classic time trial style marks a turning point in position, a stark contrast between the old & the new. It also marks the beginning of pro riders not just looking for small advantages in equipment & clothing, it marks the realisation that technology could provide huge gains over your rivals, not just refinements. Also note that LeMond’s skin suit has grown longer sleeves ahead of its time, which is standard now, as we know lycra is more resistant to drag than skin. Fignon’s position looks very similar to Lemond in 1986, but he’s perhaps gone for a front disc in desperation rather than common sense, while it may work in a windless velodrome, it may have cost him energy outdoors fighting any crosswinds, as we saw him “bouncing of the barriers” in the final 200m.

For comparison, just look at the image below of Tom Dumoulin in his aero position on a modern time trial bike. His position is further refined, rotating his body around the bottom bracket while maintianing hip-torso angle & therefore power development. Dumoulin’s helmet seems profiled to be in line with his back, LeMond’s was a last-minute UCI approved shortened (hacksaw presumably) version of a Giro triathlon helmet. Unlike LeMond in ’89, Dumoulin has a deep section front wheel with carbon spokes & an aerodynamic frame (and forks) with every tube profiled to the limit of the UCI rules (LeMond’s was more or less round tubing, apart from some added fillets). We also have minimal brake levers & various other details that all shave off watts, the big similarity remains the use of tri-bars.

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The Gist Of It

Stage 21 of the 1989 Tour was by no means the first time aerodynamics was considered of prime importance, but it was the event that caught the imagination & made ‘aero’ position & equipment just as important as training.

Just consider if the 1989 final stage had been a sprint into Paris rather than a time trial, if this event had not taken place in the spotlight of the world, how different would pro cycling look today? Would the UCI have rapidly banned ‘tri-bars’ without the drama & revenue generated from a thrilling end to the Tour to preserve the look of the machine to the Merckx era, as with their Hour Record rule changes. In UK cycling, would ‘that Lotus bike’ have existed, would Obree & Boardman have been able to use their innovations & skills on the world stage? Would the various people & technology that combined to create the advances that allowed British Cycling to rapidly ride to international track winners, and the subsequent influx of riders being provided a living while rising to the higher echelons or world road cycling, like Wiggins & Armitstead?

This defining event in 1989 opened all sorts of opportunities in cycling, ‘aero’ had been done many times before, but not displayed previously in such an establishment shocking manner. Development in cycling aerodynamics had been a slow boil most likely due to tradition, significant gains had been made, this blatant new position could not be ignored, it was the catalyst for others to look further & see what could be achieved. The results are now evident in your local bike shop.

(Note: All non-Getty images were identified as having a ‘Creative Commons’ licence on Google image search & Flickr.)

Testing Relationships

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A very interesting post has appeared on the Scottish Cycling website regarding time trialling & the emergence of CTT in Scotland HERE. I had expressed my opinion in ‘Calendar Conundrum‘ that CTT in Scotland may be a blessing in disguise for Scottish Cycling, that would allow them to focus more on road & track, but they now appear to be defending & reinforcing their future position as the host of time trials in Scotland. A bit of healthy competition & new ideas into the sport, with a minor scrap between promoting bodies can only be good for time triallists in Scotland, it’ll result in better (or more) events & a bit more focus on what they want, whichever way it ends up going.

CTT/SC Relationship

Perhaps the initially most interesting part of the Scottish Cycling update is about their relationship with CTT, in particular, the removal of it with no correspondence. But when you look into it, it’s perhaps not interesting at all.

“We had hoped for dialogue and some sort of collaboration with CTT, however, despite numerous attempts it has not been forthcoming. We will continue to seek clarity but what we know is that CTT have exercised their right to terminate the long-standing agreement between themselves and Scottish Cycling but have given no background or detail as to what they believe the implications now are for Scottish riders wanting to ride events in England and Wales or riders from South of the border entering events in Scotland.”
Read more at https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/scotland/article/20160226-scottish-cycling-news-Scottish-Cycling-and-Time-Trialling-in-Scotland-0#g1LmxHmOswCYCYUB.99

The two points made are probably pretty irrelevant to most competitors, one being no access to CTT BAR tables for SC time trials & the other being that Gold & Silver BC members will have to pay a surcharge to ride events in England.

Not many people are really all that interested in BAR competitions these days, so it affects a tiny number of riders who compete in time trials. With a quick glance, I find zero men or women riding for Scottish clubs listed on the 2015 BBAR tables, see for yourself HERE, so it’s unlikely anybody really cares about that point.

As for riding events down south, for CTT events it’s the club being registered that matters, not individual membership. So we can reasonably assume that any clubs who sign up to CTT Scotland will be the ones with most riders being interested in time trials, who are more likely to travel down south. Even if your club isn’t registered, you can simply join another one that is 2nd claim & ride events down south that way. Again, it’s all pretty irrelevant.

All in all, the lack of an agreement between Scottish Cycling & Cycling Time Trials holds almost zero consequence to anybody, I’m not really sure SC should be bothering too much.

Levies

I’ve been banging on about levies for a while, so this was quite refreshing to see that Scottish Cycling are at least paying a little attention to it, although I’d still like an answer on why we pay more than people in the rest of the UK (see my 2103 post ‘Would You Like To Go Large?‘ for more on this, although numbers are slightly different now).

As a reference, CTT levies are £2 per rider as far as I can see, while SC levies are £3.95 per rider, unless it’ a mid-week TT series, where it’s £2.60 per rider. I’ve not actually seen the breakdown from SC on this before, but only £1.50 goes towards BC insurance, the rest is apportioned to whichever of the 5 regions the event was registered with (bizarrely, it could be held in a different region, which many events are, such as the Tour of the Trossachs, held in ‘East & Central Region’, by a ‘West Region’ club), or to ‘development of cycling’, such as equipment, commissaires etc. Scotland CTT is a volunteer organisation, while SC has paid members of staff, so a difference in price is expected, but we also expect a bit more in the terms of service if we pay more. As CTT Scotland is only just beginning, it’s impossible to determine if that’s the case, we’ll have to look again at the end of the year.

Other Issues

Scottish Cycling list some other issues that they see as relevant, I’ll briefly go through these.

Annual Calendar Compilation: SC point out that they provide a coordinated calendar. Had it been the previous few years, where the event calendar has been abysmal, with it being published once the season had started, they wouldn’t have had a point. With the active work being done by SC’s Regional Development Officers in the last half on 2015, this has been rectified in 2016. So now it’s valid, as I can see only 5 CTT Scotland events on the CTT website as 26/2/16, four 10 mile TT’s up to June & the Boomerang 2-up in August, so I assume plenty are missing? I also see that there’s not much info, apart from some Facebook posts on CTT Scotland. Again, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on this, as they’re completely new & are organised via committee, always an area of stalling & delays in any organisation. A simple (and free) WordPress blog could list events & information, to make it more visible, I’m sure that’ll come.

National TT Championships: The point SC in making here is that they arrange the calendar to accommodate championship events throughout the season, working with race organisers. It’s pretty well-known that it’s relatively easy to find an organiser for the ’10’, the rest get increasingly harder as the distance increases & the interest reduces. The hill climb, is perhaps one that has had more interest than it used to. My opinion on the number of historical & poorly supported time trial championships is well documented, so I’ll leave this up to you to decide if it’s important, I assume it’s a very personal thing for most people.

Course Risk Assessments: This has changed in 2016, there is a greater involvement in helping to complete these, with organisers being assisted by the SC RDO’s. I can’t really comment on it, as I’ve not been involved in it this year, but in the past risk assessments are a genuine pain in the race organisers posterior. So this may be a real benefit, not just for convenience, but perhaps to make sure the race organiser doesn’t get themselves in bother by omitting a danger, spreading the blame perhaps.

Officials Appointments & Training: There are more trained officials required for an SC event, I’m really unaware of what’s currently required for CTT, so I’ll not comment, for now.

TT Course Recording: As far as I’m aware, the CTT events are going to be using the same courses as SC ones, so essentially CTT is piggy-backing off historical SCU courses. It could also be argued that it was volunteers who measured these courses anyway, so possibly another non-issue.

Legislation Compliance: This one has some significant implications. In CTT events elsewhere in UK helmets that comply with a safety standard are not required (except for some younger age groups), so this could be an important point if CTT Scotland are wanting to be seen as a modern race organisation. Not requiring helmet use would set them apart form all other sports in Scotland that use bikes, would also make the TT side of the sport look backward is relation to other sports & could cause some insurance issues & a potential conflict with Police Scotland who don’t see this issue arising in any other sports that use bikes, in racing or participation. I’m completely unaware if this issue has been addressed, I hope it has before any events take place.

Event Management System: The British Cycling system does appear to work reasonably well, but CTT Scotland events could use resources such as EntryCentral for an online entry system, so it’s not really a big issue.

National BAR Table: As I’ve said in previous blogs, nobodies really particularly bothered about this, presumably apart from the person who wins the average of average competition.

The Gist Of It

I’m all for a bit of healthy competition, something did need done in order to push Scottish Cycling into some decisions on this. I think we’ll maybe see SC reduce levies a little to be more competitive from 2017 onwards, but not by very much. As far as I can see CTT Scotland are currently mainly interested in running events on the ‘fast’ but busy Westferry course, whether that expands to other courses & distances during the year remains to be seen, hopefully it will. The big ‘but’ is that I can’t really see CTTS moving away from ‘fast’ imperial distance courses (you know I don’t like these if you’ve been reading my blog for a while), so it does open up an opportunity for SC to perhaps look at diversifying their side of time trialling to other demographics (as I’ve also discussed at length previously).

Perhaps we can have two distinctly different sets of TT’s running alongside each other for a while. The old-fashioned standard distance events which are getting squeezed due to traffic, then the more ‘road’ orientated events on quite more interesting courses, which would encourage a crossover of riders from sportive & perhaps wouldn’t put parents off allowing their kids to race on a semi-motorway. Either way both organisations are going to have to look at their current ‘model’ & taking a good hard look at a sustainable future for time trialling, whoever does this well will be the long-term winner in controlling TT’s in Scotland.

 

St David

 

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Since I heard the news that David Millar would be mentoring British Cycling Academy riders in Italy, I was initially conflicted. On one hand, he’s an individual with a vast amount of experience within professional cycling, who could provide valuable advice to young riders, on the other he made a decision at one point to inject EPO into his veins in order to cheat & temporarily win a World Championships, hardly just a little mistake.

I have no doubt that David Millar’s heart is in the right place, that he would do his utmost to ensure that none of our young riders committed the same sporting frauds that he took part in, but is this really the message we want to send to the rest of the world? That British Cycling is willing to employ riders who have doped at the highest level, while a step up the ladder, the extension of British Cycling, Team Sky, is excluding anybody who has any unsanctioned association to doping. Some of these riders may end up in that team, but will have started out in an organisation where they’ve been forcibly associated to a doper. When I say ‘forcibly’, I’m under no illusions that if Shane Sutton said you were to be mentored by David Millar, and you refused, I assume you’re on the next plane home & destined never to return, potentially damaging your future cycling career.

I put these things into a personal perspective, if your child had worked all those years to get to the point of being selected for the Academy, with all he sacrifices from themselves & family. They progress through the British Cycling system with ethical coaches, given all the advice they require regarding anti-doping, supplements etc. Then they reach the Olympic Academy, are taken to another country & you find out an ex-doper is mentoring them, how would you feel about that? Lets put it in perspective, if it was 2002 World TT Champion Santiago Botero, would you think he was a good mentor for young riders?

David Millar may speak very well, he may be committed to anti-doping & working with WADA towards catching cheaters. But if you want to be taken seriously by the rest of sport, in the current climate, he’s the last person you’d choose to mentor our young riders. They could progress to a fiercely anti doping association team like Sky having already been forced to associate with a former doper.

I have no doubt Millar would do a good job, and that he would in no way glorify doping, but that’s not the point. It’s a tragic message that we have nobody better than an individual who damaged the sport in the UK so badly in the past. In every interview we’re going to hear his introduced as ex-doper & British Cycling mentor David Millar. Can they not just get him in to do a couple of presentations on avoiding doping, does he really have to be with them every day?

 

 

 

Australian Pursuit Sportive?

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Most riders who take part in road races will know what an APR is, it stands for Australian Pursuit Race & is a handicapped road race. The riders are set off in small groups, where the *theoretically slower riders getting a head start on the faster riders (*theoretical, as in there’s always a ‘ringer’ or two). The last group leaves at the back of the field, it’s called ‘The Scratch’ & aims to mop up the time deficit it’s given away to all the other riders ahead, which often happens if the handicapping is done by somebody wanting to see a thrilling race. Could there be a more inclusive, cost-effective & easier way to combine a racer’s training event & a cycle sportive, hybrid event, for the benefit of everybody?

Why Change?

Currently, an APR is considered an official ‘race’, but are they really considered a serious race by most? They’re often at the beginning of the season & used to test form, as a training tool or just to get used to a bunch again after a winter on the turbo trainer. We could probably fulfil all these requirements with a simpler & easier option for clubs to organise. The best riders won’t be boasting too much by the time the Drummond Trophy comes along that they won an APR. There are no licence points available for these events (although I know some have ‘slipped through the net’), so what do racers get out of having these as official races than just, say, a specifically structured sportive? Arguably possibly nothing.

Could we also use a APS (Australian Pursuit Sportive) as a stepping stone to riders actually sticking a number on their back in an official road race, by making these events accessible & attractive to more types of cyclists? Currently, the two sides of the sport don’t converge very much, apart from club riders taking part in some sportives, the old APR format could be remodelled to become the transition event that bridges the gap between participation & competition. Riders new to racing could hone some group skills, by riding mostly with 10 to 15 riders at first, rather than hanging around the back of a bunch & being afraid to attempt to move up.

There’s a huge semi-competitive market out there, as we see from riders ‘winning’ sportives & the Strava phenomenon claiming the hearts & minds of cyclists the world over, people like feeling competitive. So far the ‘race scene’ has done very little to tap into that, if it wants to survive long-term domestically with ever-increasing traffic volumes & police costs starting to be charged, the old model has to be updated, or at least reviewed based on how riders now choose to ride. Providing a semi-competitive event with a taste of what’s involved in the next competitive level up could be an eye opener for some, when the scratch group comes blasting past, looking organised & faster than they’ve seen a group move before, other than on the telly. Surely riders could be seduced to look a little deeper into the world of cycling. Alternatively, some riders who persevere at road racing but don’t have the time for specific race training, may see sportives as a better option for them, it could go either way.

Safety could obviously be an issue, I don’t ignore the point that I’m sure commissaires would make. But if we chose to run these events on suitable courses, with the road racers being made very aware that the rules of the road have to be obeyed in these events, then we shouldn’t have a problem. The sportive riders are already very familiar with this, so it’s actually the racing cyclists that need to take note, the ones who are used to a protected race environment. We should also ensure that very large bunches never come together, so things would have to be a little different, I’ll go into that later, read on & I’ll explain myself.

This APS format becoming popular could also open up a funding stream for clubs, so often we hear that it’s frowned upon to dare to attempt to make a profit from a road race. If you’re catering for a different mixed market, why not make one or two £’s from each rider, with a larger field than a road race would allow & boost your club funds for equipment or supporting youth riders?

Other plus points are that new riders are not immediately thrown into a 60 (or 80) strong bunch in their first race, which is where the understandable safety issues have been highlighted in recent years. In an APS, they would be introduced to a bunch in smaller groups, hopefully a place which makes it easier to learn the basic skills such as ‘wheeling about’ properly. We have to accept that the big clubs that teach these skills are becoming less normal now, access to the sport is becoming a much more solo affair, due to the vast online cycling community. While this introduces a huge amount of riders to cycling, it’s very different reading about skills than actually being taught them in a club structure. Road racing still assumes that these skills have been taught before an entry is completed, but this isn’t the case anymore & the sport has to adapt, we need a bridging event where skills can be acquired at a semi competitive level in much smaller groups than 60 riders.

Costs

If we look at basic costs, it’s just over £20 to register a Regional C event, like an APR, then the riders pay £3.95 out of their entrance fee as a levie to Scottish Cycling. A sportive has an initial registration fee of £50, then individual levies of £1.20 per rider. Below are some examples of the fees to the governing body you’d pay.

60 Riders

  • Race: £22 registration + (60 x £3.95) = £259
  • Sportive: £50 registration + (60 x £1.20) = £122

80 Riders

  • Race: £22 registration + (80 x £3.95) = £338
  • Sportive: £50 registration + (80 x £1.20) = £146

200 Riders

  • Sportive: £50 registration + (200 x £1.20) = £290

You’d get to 240 riders for a sportive before you reach the amount you’d pay to the governing body to run an 80 rider APR.

You’d likely have no different a cost for the race HQ for both, lets call it £100, same with first aid, lets call that £100 too. But for a sportive, you’ll not need NEG motos, nor the same requirement of marshals (although you may want them), no lead cars & commissaire vehicles, race radios, prize money, all those other bits & pieces that are not really required for what is essentially an organised training event.

If we add all that up, for a 200 rider field, we have £290 fees to Scottish Cycling (Note: more than they’d get for a 60 rider standard road race field), £100 HQ, £100 First Aid, so for the basic costs we’re at £2.45 per rider. This would allow chip timing probably working out to under £3 per rider from somebody like Mark Young’s MyLaps system (prices vary depending on riders, there’s a standing charge plus price per chip, so worth asking because my costings may be out of date, he’s on twitter @myeventtiming).

When we add it all up & you’re getting your event insurance, facilities & chip timing for about £6 per rider. If you want to do the sportive thing & provide a club sponsors printed event t-shirt & a medal for every rider, plus some spot prizes, you can get all that for under £15 entry per rider. All you’re doing is defining a training event as precisely that, not kidding on it’s a proper race, a more honest & potentially more useful APR. Another possibility could be upgrading a reliability ride to the slightly more formal format of an APS.

How Would It Work?

Early season only: Now I’m not suggesting these new APS events have to continue all through the season, I’m only talking about the first 6 weeks (or so) of a season. After that serious riders will either have a full schedule of big events planned out, whether they are road races (with licence points) or sportives, could be decided by their experiences in these early season multi-discipline events.

200 riders max: Lets say that this style of event would have a cap of 200 riders, purely for safety reasons & to keep it simple for organising clubs & to fit the event in their local facility. 200 riders would provide the critical mass to dissolve the chip timing costs amongst the riders to keep the costs of the event to a minimum for clubs & riders.

Modified Handicapping: This is probably the big change over an APR. With chip timing, we don’t actually need to have everybody cross the line at once in a big bunch sprint, everybody would get their own time. I’d envisage that we could spread the event over a longer period of time, to avoid large groups assembling together.

How I’d lay the field out would be as follows, but I’m sure other people have plenty of other ideas.

  • The riders towards the rear of the event would be laid out in a similar fashion to a traditional APR, with the riders being positioned in groups according to race results (i.e. these would be race licence holders). I’d make the second scratch quite hard to catch from the scratch group, which would make sure everybody has to work like hell together to make inroads into the other riders, this is a semi-competitive training event for the experienced riders after all. Other accomplished sportive riders, with high sportive placings, can elect to join one of these ‘racers’  groups, apart from the last two groups, which would consist of experienced racers (just to be safe). The time gaps between groups would be larger than a traditional APR, to avoid large groups assembling.
  • The first riders out on the road would be the slower sportive riders, again with significant time gaps between groups of 10 to 15 riders. It would be expected that these groups would fragment, as the assumption is that the opportunity for group skills amongst these groups had not been available.
  • The ‘sportive’ groups would steadily get faster until the ‘racers’ groups left the start. You could slip in a group of super-vets somewhere too, amongst the ‘sportive groups.
  • The fastest sportive groups are likely to be a fair bit quicker than the slowest ‘racers’ groups, so there is a possibility that there could be some intermingling of the ‘sportive’ & ‘racers’ groups here, it would require a test event to find out.

Clear Routing: This isn’t a race, so the riders are to obey the rules of the road & any marshals & signs are for routing purposes only. A carefully planned course can alleviate these issues to maybe only one or two junctions where the riders do not have priority, where this isn’t the case, turning onto a relatively quiet road may be possible. As I said previously, this is the major education issue if these events are to be considered, that if you are required to stop at a junction, you’ll have to, this may need to be enforced in some way. Any dangerous corners must have highly visible marshalling & signs, obviously.

The Gist Of It

There’s really nothing new in this at all, all I’m proposing is an early season calendar of these type of event, allowing all categories of riders to take part in one event While also opening the doors to sportive riders to let them get a glimpse of the ‘racing’ side of cycle sport which they are also welcome to dip their toe into, the other way round too.

If you think your event carries a high risk & you can’t find a more suitable course, keeping the event under the safety & control of a race day organisation will ensure that things are as safe as possible. But if your event could be considered more of an early season training event, that nobody is going to risk their life to ‘win’, then changing its status could be an option next year.

Our sport evolved before the mass appeal of cycling hit the general public, to not adapt & to ignore sportives & mass cycling is a mistake. We should be embracing it & providing events that both racers & sportive riders can take part in, with the hope that some may be enticed into official racing. Otherwise we’re living in the past & ignoring those who are now the majority of cyclists, there’s likely some very strong talent out there to be discovered.

I’m going to throw this idea out there for discussion, I’m sure I’ll get some concerns. It could get more riders entering semi-competitive events, a bigger crossover to racing & open a funding stream for clubs, with no less money going to the governing body, all with less effort than organising a ‘proper’ road race. “Why not” I ask, I’m sure you’ll tell me, because I’m absolutely certain some will absolutely hate this idea, but it’s just an idea? Some may see it as an opportunity, but maybe with some tweaks it could prove a welcome success & a boost for the sport.

Centre of Gravity

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I read with interest the Shane Stokes article on Greg LeMond’s ideas about how we can detect a motor HERE. These are all valid, but for initial identification I’ve a much simpler idea that any commissaire could use, it’s so simple it’ll no doubt be discounted as you’ll not need any special jigs or expense, other than a bit of training. After using this simple method, you can then use Greg LeMond’s ideas about expensive scanners & equipment in his point 4.

The Simple Initial Method

  • Lie bike on non-drive side, on a large mat (or 2 yoga mats)
  • Commissaire picks up bike, still keeping it on its side
  • Commissaire uses training to identify if bike seems “a bit heavy in the wrong place”
  • If it seems odd, consider it for further testing, if not, check next bike

Does this seem too simple? As the current rules, most bikes are somewhere around the 6.8kg mark, so if too much weight was focussed on the seat tube, or the rear hub, it would be really easy to detect. This would take 30 seconds tops, if you had 6 yoga mats & 3 commissaires, then you could check every bike in a 180 rider field in half an hour, at sign on. You could also randomly check a 60 rider field in any domestic road race in the same time with the one commissaire who usually does junior gear checks, just to put people off using the motors.

The Gist Of It

Obviously, if there’s anything that looks very dodgy, it’s going to require further analysis, but if you get a ‘suspect’ tick at a domestic race, all eyes are going to be on you & it might put some people off as these motors become cheaper & easier to fit. A motor is going to upset the normal centre of gravity of a race bicycle by some way, especially now that the crank based power meters are so light, it should be very easy to raise a red flag with a little bit of training.

Too easy?

Tomorrows World

As the year draws to an end, we’re going to have a look into the future, to see what may happen with technological developments in the bike industry & in the sport itself in 2016 & beyond.

ASO V UCI

All ASO events to be allocated to European calendar in 2017, allowing ASO greater freedom to select whichever teams they like to ride their events after the World Tour reforms are in place. ASO are organisers of many of the biggest races in the world, including the Tour, while our governing body, the UCI, have little punch in this fight & will undoubtably lose. In the meantime we’ll have a war or words from both sides, perhaps a few threats, but it’s hard to imagine what the UCI can actually do to counter ASO, the most likely answer is that they can’t. It’ll be getting plenty of press in 2016.

2016: Year of the lightweight

With the UCI likely to remove the 6.8kg rule completely (see this previous blog to see why it’s a nonsense), we’ll see a push from ‘everything aero’ to seeing more marketing aimed at light weight bikes & components.

The last few years have been dominated by aerodynamic improvements, partly due to the 6.8kg limit imposed by the UCI. Once it was easy to get a bike down to that weight, other things had to be done to increase sales. The marketers sold us ‘aero’, even if you were 30kg overweight, you were sold a bike with aerodynamic features. If you’d eaten less cake, you’d not only have saved money on your groceries bill, but your new sleek shape would cut through the wind much more efficiently than moving your rear brake under the bottom bracket, the worst place for brake block dirt collection. But that’s not what it was about, riders like to ride the same bike as the pro’s, so everybody needed aerodynamic components (a proper bike fit would likely gain much more for almost everybody).

So in 2016 we’re going to see some superlight bikes appear in the pro peloton, but they’ll have to pass the UCI tests first. Which consist of the manufacturer sending some samples to Switzerland & the UCI ‘testing’ them, as far as I can see for frames, it’s just measuring them. They then also have to pay several thousand Swiss Francs for each size, where these frames end up is anybody’s guess, but I doubt UCI friends & family are short of any of next years models. Having witnessed what destructive testing on frames involves, the UCI measuring-tape method doesn’t guarantee safety in any way, unless I’m missing something, have a read for yourself HERE.

By 2017, the manufacturers will have developed their new lightweight bikes, claiming there’s more gains from losing 100g than having an aerofoil shaped down tube, and so it will go on. Very pleased with an opportunity to buy a new bike, the manboobed Rapha kitted-out men will absolutely lap this stuff up. At least a bike weight saving allows them an excuse for another slab of chocolate cake, which I expect will be the biggest effect on a normal cyclist to the lightweight bikes we’ll see at the end of 2016, simply more guilt-free cake for everyone.

Disc Road Bikes

See above for the reason, I’m not sure this will become quite as popular as anticipated, which I’m happy with. The removal of the 6.8kg weight limit will undoubtably affect disc brake development in road bikes. With the beefed up forks & heavier brakes required, the rule change may scupper the development to some extent, it’s hard to imagine pro riders choosing a disc equipped bike if it’s a fair bit heavier (with no lower limit for bike weight being introduced). Maybe we’ll see them in the worst conditions, very wet stages, Paris Roubaix in the mud, but otherwise I’m predicting they’ll not be the weapon of choice, simply due to the 6.8kg rule disappearing. That rule would have allowed plenty of scope for the added weight of disc brakes to be incorporated, but not anymore.

Power Meters & Gadgets

We’re going to see more pedal based power measuring systems, they’re much more practical for riders with several bikes, plus may may see some shoe based systems coming out of their development phases (cue the £1000 ‘power-shoe’ by 2017). The 6.8kg rule will also affect power meters, currently the pro riders can fit a power meter & still hit 6.8kg, but with that limit removed, we’re going to see the push for development in even lighter power meters than the ‘Stages’ single-crank ones currently in use.

As weight & cost reduces for power meters over the next few years, it opens up some other practical uses for them other than simply athletic performance. I’ve noticed that Scottish motorbike chain lubing specialists ‘Scottoiler‘ are about to release an automatic oiler unit for bicycles. Rather than lube at set periods, as power meters shrink & become more affordable, a system like this could develop further & lube itself when needed (read the link, they’re claiming up to 12Watt savings with their system). With the use of two power meters, one at the pedals & one at the rear hub, if the differential in the readings between the two units reaches a certain value, then the system could automatically lube the chain until the efficiency returns to the desired level. Bingo, a system based on actual measured chain efficiency. Things like this could also shed light on gear choice, with efficiency reducing as the chain crosses at an angle, it could alter chainring & cog sizes that are normally available (we know Moser did some work on this & claimed that large cogs & chainrings were much more efficient). Power meters shrinking, reducing in cost & being easier to incorporate onto bikes can only be a good thing.

Power meter head units are currently quite large, compared to the bike computers of old, so expect to see them start shrinking too, in line with the rule change. At the extreme end of development for this, would be to remove it from the handlebars altogether. A heads-up-display in the riders glasses would be the ultimate weight saver, and the new ‘must have’ gadget for the techno hungry cyclists out there. You can be sure somebody has a prototype Ant+ compatible pair of glasses getting tested right now (cue the £1000 ‘power-shades’ by 2017). [Edit: I’ve been made aware Ant+ glasses already exist, see HERE]

Rio

The Rio Olympics is in some serious danger of getting overshadowed by the continuing deeper doping hole that Athletics is finding itself falling into. It appears as if systematic doping has been widespread for years & almost completely ignored by the authorities. Rio may be more about who’s not there, than who actually wins a medal. This could tarnish past icons, pundits commentating on the event, current athletes, national governing bodies, it’s hard to see who may not be involved if things look as bad as they seem. If this transpires as I suspect, there will be a clamber for good news stories among the madness, so there’s a potential for Cycling to take some glory from Athletics self manufactured & endemic problems. But we know a thing or two about those, Athletics looks much worse than cycling was around the time of the Festina affair, and we thought we had problems!

 

100% Time Trialling

Embed from Getty Images

I’ve blogged about time trialling before, about the reduction in availability of what are deemed ‘suitable’ courses & the sustainability of sticking to the outdated model of standard distance, relatively flat courses. There are other ways of looking at measuring performance & progress in time trialling, than just looking at times at set distances, we could use a new method to modernise this side of the sport & open it up to appeal to a larger demographic than just some old guys with money for expensive funny bikes. Here’s one idea.

The % Method

Is there a way of measuring your performance & improvement across a season, on any length of course, on any terrain, against the best rider in the event?

I’m going to suggest that there really is, all it requires is an additional column in the event results. If a chump like me can easily create this extra column in Excel (I’ve just tried), it’s likely that it can easily become a standard template that organisers can record the times on, if so desired.

If riders times were displayed as a percentage of the winners time, there’s a multitude of uses we could put this information to, here’s just a few….

  • At the top of the table, the leading riders can get an idea of how form is improving or otherwise as they get closer to championship dates. If their % gap on their rivals in increasing, the training is going well, but if it’s closing, it’s time to look at improving. This can be measured not in seconds over the same distance, but in all distances in %, which allows direct comparison without taking into consideration the changes made by weather, courses & distance.
  • Any rider, in any position, can see how they’re improving relative to their closest rivals, club mates, or random benchmarks, irrespective of the course or weather.
  • If you change an aero setup or your training, a sudden increase or decrease in % against your rivals may indicate how good (or bad) the new setup or training is, regardless of the distance of the event.
  • Rapidly improving riders can be easily & quickly identified across a season or just a few weeks, a shortening of % and how it relates to not just winners, but various riders in the event will be very easy to spot, no matter where in the results the rider currently lies.

The Effect

If the riders target moves away from aiming for specific times over specific distances, then having results recorded as a percentage of winners time can help us move away from set distance courses.

We could use the type of roads cyclists generally choose to ride on, more suitable roads for cycling, we could remove the necessity to measure the courses to be exactly 10 or 25 miles, we could pick a course anywhere & retain a comparative measurement to performance against any other course. The focus could switch to reducing your % loss to the winner, or a comparison % loss to your ‘rivals’, be they club mates, enemies, chain gang buddies etc.

So if this was adopted to be included in the results, you can compare performances across various events, on different terrain, different weather, all year-long. You can see much easier which courses suit you better, or where you need to improve. Chasing specific times on different days, even on the same course can be a losing strategy sometimes. If conditions are bad & all times are slower, you may be upset with your recorded time, but in reality, your % loss to the winner may be less, you may actually have performed better in relative terms than the ‘float day’.

Technicalities

If we’re going to do this, it may require a little thought on how to go about it, plus exactly what you need to stick into your Excel sheet. We also don’t want to get tied up too many decimal points, 2 will suffice as I’ll show in my example below.

To keep things simple, if somebody won a ’25’ in exactly 50 minutes, that’s 3000 seconds. The minimum gap we see on results is 1 second, that’s approx 0.03% of the winners time, so 2 decimal places will be fine for every time trial up to around 3 times the winners time. So unless you’re riding one of the incredibly few 100 mile TT’s in Scotland, and your gap to somebody else is less than a second, this will work for every other TT, than that one.

As an example, here’s my revised finish sheet for the first five riders in my theoretical ’25’.

TT_percentages

Max Tester won the event, he gets 0% allocated to him, as all winners of events do. Two minutes down was Chanty McMuffin, his % difference was 4% down on the winner (2 minutes, i.e. 120 seconds, divided by winners 3000 seconds, all multiplied by 100 to give a percentage). As we can see, Marjorie Gains was only one second down, her % loss was 4.03%, so each second is accounted for with just the two decimal places being included in the results. As we go down the results, 5 minutes equates to a 10% loss on the 50 minutes of the winner. Then we have the hour specialist, doing as he does best & riding for exactly one hour, but losing 10 minutes, which is 20%.

The formula you’d enter into the Excel file starting at cell B2 if it was laid out the same would be as follows. Then you just copy it down the page, the $ sign means those cells remain tagged to the winners time, while all others will change. Remember to format the cells as a percentage & restrict it to 2 decimal places.

=(((E2*3600)+(F2*60)+G2)-(($E$2*3600)+($F$2*60)+$G$2))/(($E$2*3600)+($F$2*60)+$G$2)

Conclusion

In every event, we’ll have varying times, one second will have a different % value depending on the winners times. This allows a comparison, not against time, but against performance relative to the winner, which gives a very different perspective. This also allows every single competitor to compare themselves across different events, different weather conditions on the same course etc. A whole new way of thinking about things.

There must surely be multiple ways in which time trialling can be modernised, this is just one. It may remove the perceived need for standard distance courses, it may initially just allow riders to compare performances against other riders on the same course, but in different conditions. It could allow riders to see how their form is coming on as a season progresses, but if things remain the same, courses will continue to disappear & time trialling will become a forgotten discipline.

Scottish Cycling Events Strategy 2016-2020

Any organisation which relies on the goodwill of unpaid volunteers is always going to have a big problem planning for the future. This is why sports organisations who don’t have a big enough income to supply multiple events across a season (like Scottish Cycling & most other Olympic discipline bodies) require a ‘buy-in’ from their membership in order to even attempt at planning for the next five years. It’s a tricky job, but as a starter they’ve published a draft ‘Event Strategy‘ for public consumption & feedback.

A New Thought Process

From what I’ve seen from Scottish Cycling recently on the ‘road’ side of things, I’m actually quite liking it! I know for some that’ll be hard to believe, they’ve quite rightly been ridiculed in the past for some blunders & exactly what we’re seeing them now trying to remedy, i.e. not having a coherent plan for all to see. The Scottish Cycling RDO’s (Regional Development Officers) seem like a very capable bunch, they are engaging with the clubs & seeking advice & guidance by meeting up in face-to-face sessions with club people.

This may be the key to all this, having good quality people in the ‘customer facing’ jobs, communicating information & getting their regions in order. It looks like the new structure, while not being ideal geographically, may have broken up a couple of the arse-facing old-guy networks of the ‘Centres’ & forced them into staying at home & watching ‘Take the High Road’ boxsets on their BetaMax video recorders. Hopefully this has opened the door to some more progressive types to get involved, or at least feel they’re not going to be asked to run the ‘Centre 50 Championships’ on a semi-motorway if they turn up.

It also pleased me to see that the recent Scottish Cycling event meeting was on a live stream, a relatively simple thing to do, but takes a little know-how & is a huge step forward. As I’ve said previously, if regional meetings could be carried out this way, with Skype type phone-ins from interested parties, then the people from the geographical extremes (or even just those not willing to drive an hour each way after work) can get involved. With a change in staff & attitude, we may actually get an event calendar out in time for the racing season for a change!

It’s starting to look like progress, comment doesn’t only come when things look poor, it also should arrive when things look good too, and these changes look positive for the future.

The 5 Year Plan

So this leads to the published draft document. As I see it, the document is currently too brief for what needs to be done, each area needs some more expansion & detail (I know, it’s a draft). There’s a lot of “Clear & Robust Calendar…”, but no detail on how that will be achieved.

Some initiatives helping Cycle-Cross & Time Trialling to progress would be good, these are areas where Scottish Cycling has lost out recently due to inaction or bad handling. Something as simple as a revised levy system could be looked at. We’re currently paying a premium (I’ve still not had an answer to this previous post on why it’s more expensive in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK to run events) for British Cycling insurance, which is based on mass start road races. Surely a lower fee could be arranged with an insurance provider for time trials & off-road events, where there isn’t the same perceived risk for an insurer. These two disciplines are starting to look very likely to leave the Scottish Cycling/British Cycling umbrella altogether unless Scottish Cycling decide to act.

I keep thinking that the sportive market can be targeted to get people to ride sporting time trials on ‘normal’ road bikes, rather than the TT bike dragstrip time chasers which could co-exist as the slightly odd uncle of time trialling. We could have some absolutely spectacular time trial courses in Scotland if we veer away from the flat imperial distance ones, opening up competitive sport to a whole new type of rider, who may then get involved in clubs & other disciplines that were previously hidden from them. To Scottish Cycling that means more members, which is their carrot to look into that idea with a revised levy system.

The focus on helping race organisers really has to come from current race organisers (not pre internet ones), rather than Scottish Cycling staff, so hopefully some willing people have been identified for that part of the plan.

From a ‘road & track’ side of things, I’d like to see something about access to facilities & a plan for some complimentary road series that would allow progression for riders, and allow coaches to see riders in action, rather than having the talent spread across various races. We need a focal point for road racing, but more importantly, we need somewhere for the crop of youth racers to race after they join the junior ranks. If we don’t set that up NOW, then we could lose some key riders who didn’t quite make the GB Academy. I think if anything needs addressed urgently in the Event Strategy, its junior racing, the youth riders are appearing & getting coaching, but where do they go from there?

All-in-all, putting a draft document out there for comment is a good healthy thing to do, make your comments to Scottish Cycling too please.

Sagan – The Combine Harvester

SaganCombine

The 1989 Tour was memorable for the incredible victory of Greg LeMond over Laurent Fignon in the final metres of tarmac in Paris. But something died that year, something that had a special charm to it, a jersey that the Tour de France could really benefit from re-introducing, sitting quietly on the shoulders of Steven Rooks, it would never reappear. It’s been won by giants of the peloton like Merckx, Zoetemelk, Hinault & LeMond. It was distinctive, yet a patchwork of the other jerseys, some didn’t like it, but there was something very special about it. There’s one man in the current group of riders who would really embrace the flamboyance & daring of taking this jersey from the hands of the Tour leader, I bring you the perfect partnership, Peter Sagan & ‘The Combine Jersey’.

The combine jersey been introduced & reintroduced several times since 1968. In its initial guise the combine jersey was pure white, it finally emerged as the patchwork styled jersey in 1985, but built quite a following in the small number of Tours it was present in. It represents the rider who’s doing best in all three classifications, with points awarded for general classification, mountains & points competitions. So to win this, you’d have to be reasonably well placed in all classifications, you’d have to be a strongman. There’s currently no rider who could be described better than a ‘strongman’ as Tinkoff-Saxo’s one man army Peter Sagan, he has more impact on the race than some entire teams, and he does it relatively all by himself while also helping out his team leader.

I’ve been hugely impressed by him during this Tour, it’s almost a blessing for the cycle fan that he’s not won a stage so far, his exploits off the front may be blunted if he stops hunting that win. If a jersey like this was up for grabs, we could have riders like Sagan sprinting for cat 3 & 4 mountain points, desperate to get into breakaways & then hanging on for as long as they can to the GC men as the altitude gets higher.

This is our 26th Tour without a Combine Jersey, maybe it’s about time that ASO thought about bringing it back. I’m sure Sagan’s a bit bored with the Green Jersey now, he needs a new goal. It may also allow them to focus the Green Jersey even more on sprint stages. I can see plenty of other riders with very different skills who could really challenge for this, among them Kwiatkowski, Teklehaimanot, Rolland, Gallopin etc. It’s an opportunity for the Tour to re-invigorate itself, to give the good all rounders something to fight for, or a consolation prize for former GC hopefuls.

The young rider jersey is won by a rider who can stay with the front group in the mountains, the same for the mountains jersey, so all we have left is the green jersey. The combine can be a goal for teams who’s best rider is a classics star, other than occasional stage wins, this gives focus on a day-to-day basis for these teams, adding another dynamic to the race. Lets get this one back, it looks great on Sagan’s shoulders.

(Thank you very much to my excellent photoshopper, I’m in no way talented enough to make Sagan look any good in the jersey, great work)

2015 Tour, stages 1&2

Embed from Getty ImagesI’m only going to comment on any stages I get a chance to watch, so it may be few & far between, here’s my initial observations.

Stage 1

The time trial didn’t really tell us much, just that none of the favourites has bad form. There’s been much made of Pinot’s placing (41seconds down on Dennis) ahead of the other favourites, but ahead of him we have some riders who could be potentially high on GC, given a bit of luck. Robert Gesink has some decent form, he’s fresh from a 9th place in the Tour de Suisse, plus a 5th on GC in the Tour of California, both hinting that he’s still got something left in the tank. Neither of these imply a top finish in the Tour, but they do suggest that he could still be up there until the final week, when things get ‘a bit stickier’. On the same time as Pinot was Rigoberto Uran, we know he can perform in a grand tour & he’s now the top placed GC rider. If Rigo’s time trialling well, he’s probably got some decent form, so if anybody gives him some space to get some time, they’d be making a big mistake.

Stage 2

A crosswind devastated stage that could end up reasonably decisive if the favourites are as closely matched as it looks. The winners were Contador, Froome, Van Garderen & Uran (and my young rider tip Barguil) who were in the front group of 24 riders. Froome gained an additional 4second advantage over the others from a small split on the finish line. Big losers were everybody else, including Quintana, Pinot & last years champ Nibali who suffered additional “unluck” (©Sagan) with a late puncture, which required some team car surfing to get back to the group which lost 1min 28s on the leaders. Even further back at 5min 4s were riders like Rolland, Kruijswijk (7th at Giro), Ten Dam (9th in Tour last year), Hesjedal & the Yates bros, effectively writing off any team support for a high overall place, although they may creep up later. Notable time loser was Voeckler, who allowed himself to lose over 11 minutes, we all know what that means in the next few days. It was obvious that BMC, Sky & Tinkoff-Saxo had domestiques with their leader, which could make a huge difference in the next few days, Movistar were riding hard but losing time to the front group, so may not be as strong as we imagine.

Looking Forward

As I’ve said, none of the top riders look to have a huge advantage over the others.These stages show us who’s serious about winning the Tour, they can also create ‘mountain-like’ time gaps, which create big problems for some riders in a couple of weeks, it means they’ll have to drop their rivals to have any chance of getting the time back.

If the riders are on a similar level this year, each stage, or specific mountains may play into the hands of a different protagonist each day, with their different skill-sets, as a fan, you’d certainly hope so. In the past we’ve seen the final winner make mincemeat of their rivals on the opening time trial or prologue, this didn’t happen in 2015, there doesn’t look to be anyone head & shoulders above the others. If this is the case, we get to see more changes in the yellow jersey, pure climbers who can change pace excelling on climbs like Alpe d’Huez (especially from the lower slopes), while the diesels struggle to hang on, the same goes for the steady climbs where the diesels excel. It looks like a great Tour ahead.

Track Cycling’s Strange Quirk

Embed from Getty ImagesAs you watch this Sundays Hour Record attempt by Bradley Wiggins, bear in mind that no part of him, or any static part of his bike has actually travelled the Hour Record distance he sets. It’s a quirk of riding on a velodrome compared to riding on the road, science gets involved & messes things up, during a quiet period of any hour attempt you can bore your family with this info, perfect cycling nerd territory. A long-legged rider has an inbuilt benefit from this, here’s why….

The Banking Effect

Let’s take a hypothetical vertical wall of death you may have seen motorbikes using as an example. This wall of death has Brad Wiggins cycling round it, but it’s quite a small diameter wall of death, so his head is sitting exactly at the centre of rotation. Even though he’s having to ride at 55kmh to keep going on this vertical wall, his head isn’t really going anywhere, he barely feels any wind there at all, it’s just rotating on the spot, causing little or no aerodynamic drag. The only point travelling at 55kmh is the point his tyre touches the wall of death. So Brad’s body or bike frame isn’t actually travelling at 55kmh, the fastest static point of his bike is his bottom bracket, which is travelling less distance than his bike computer would tell him.

A track rider, banked over on a velodrome experiences a similar, but not quite so dramatic effect. The riders body travels at a slower speed on the bankings than a computer measuring wheel rotations would indicate. Consequently, if an accurate GPS unit was affixed to the handlebars it would also read less distance & a slower speed in the bankings than the timekeepers would tell you, there’s nowhere on a bike you could fit a GPS unit that would record the exact track distance covered.

There’s aerodynamic consequences from the banking effect, Brad’s body will be causing more aerodynamic drag on the straight than it does on the bankings. His body’s air speed is slower in the bankings than on the straights, even though his track speed is the same. So as a rider gets taller, their effective body speed reduces on the bankings. It also makes wheel choice & even bottom bracket shape are more important than it originally seemed, as that as close to the point of consistently maximum speed as you can get, that point travels fastest for longest in the Hour Record.

‘Analytic Cycling’ Study

The excellent ‘Analytic Cycling‘ website, contains a wealth of information for cycling geeks, they’ve done a study using the geometry of the Dunc Gray Velodrome in Australia. The test is based on a flying 200m time trial effort, so our distance are not based on a full lap, but include a full banking & one partial banking, so our reduction in distance the centre of gravity travels per lap is more than shown here.

The model they generate shows that even though the track distance is 200m (199.99m), the distance the centre of gravity travels is about 3m less (196.7m) at a pace equivalent to a 14.166 second over 200m. This also shows that there’s a 0.3 second advantage gained on their baseline model, caused by the leaning affect & the riders centre of gravity not travelling as far as the track distance. In the next test the speed is increased & we find that the distance the centre of gravity travels reduces again, as the rider leans in more, essentially cutting the corner yet again. The final test shows that a rider sitting 200mm higher on the bike, with longer legs, also reduces the time for the 200m based on the same power & reduces the distance travelled even further.

So in summary, a taller rider (or one with longer legs to be precise) travels less distance each lap than a shorter rider, they benefit from the leaning effect of the banking, it reduces their time for the same power output. If the additional wind resistance from the longer legs can be minimised, a taller rider (such as Wiggins) has a distinct advantage. It also means that the faster you go, the more benefit you get from this reduced travel effect, which may slightly counter the huge increases in wind resistance you get from increased velocity, anything is a bonus.

The Gist Of It

This is a bit of fun for cycling nerds, but it does show a measurable improvement in speed. Those with the analytic tools to make these estimations correctly have perhaps identified an ideal body type for a pursuit/hour-record rider. But not just on the aero characteristics they display on the road, but from how their body type translates to track cycling. It may be the case that similar to rowing, a certain size of athlete is particularly gifted at these very specific disciplines in cycling. I’m pretty sure British Cycling have got this sorted already, those team pursuit riders look very similar indeed. It looks like Brad’s centre of gravity travels approx 5m less per lap than his track speed, which would mean in a 55 km Brad only travels 53.9km, while if he rode 55km in a straight line on the road, his body would also travel 55km. I was always told “you’ll go quicker on the track than anywhere else”, this may have been true, due to the reduced distance & work required caused by the banking. All this does is explain a strange quirk of track cycling, which the cycling geek may like, others, well, they stopped reading a long time ago.

 

Hour Record – Pre-Wiggins attempt

Embed from Getty ImagesAlex Dowsett was the fourth rider to break the mens record after the recent rule change, he followed Jens Voigt (51.115km), Matthias Brändle (51.852km) & Rohan Dennis (52.491km). Dowsett seemed to be the least physically stressed by his record-breaking ride, nearly punching through the 53km barrier with 52.937km covered in the hour on the Manchester Velodrome. On Sunday we are being treated to the most anticipated attempt, that of Bradley Wiggins, who most expect to blow the record apart with talk of going above 55km, I’m not so sure.

Things are trickier for Brad, he wants to put the record out of sight for a while, having stated that he’s only going to attempt it once, this is in stark contrast to the manner in which Dowsett attacked the record, pegging the previous one & accelerating at the end. It’s a very different thing to ride within yourself for an hour, only needing to beat the current record by a few metres in order to succeed, than to ride the entire hour on the limits of your physical ability. The Wiggins attempt is more along the lines of the Jack Bobridge one, where he went out incredibly hard when he should have just been pegging the current record & seeing what he had left at the end. We can safely assume that Brad, the seasoned & vastly experienced campaigner that he is, can pace himself better than anybody, plus his support team should be at least on par with Dowsett’s, who looked superb & controlled things perfectly. So it’s unlikely that we’ll see any similar  ‘blowing up’ on Sunday, but here lies Brad’s problem.

Wiggins Problems

If Wiggins rides on his absolute limit, he runs the risk of imploding, if he runs slightly below his absolute limit, he may leave the door open for somebody else to have a go in the near future. I suspect he want’s to knock this record out of the park, which is where the danger lies as Dowsett looked like he had plenty left in the tank. I suspect he’ll play it slightly safe & ride his tried & tested negative split style, gradually increasing pace as the hour progresses. Different to Dowsett’s highly succesful tactic, ride at record pace for the majority then accelerate. Brad can’t do this if he wants to smash the record by a significant margin. Wiggins is riding to beat future attempts, not past ones.

There’s another potential spanner in the works, as one of the most knowledgable authorities on hour records, Michael Hutchinson (@doctor_hutch) said on twitter today. He reckons atmospheric conditions are not favourable for Wiggins, plus the track is slower than Manchester, which in combination he reckons will cost Wiggins a whole kilometre! That’s incredible, but I have to take Doctor Hutch’s word on this, he knows his stuff & I’m pretty sure he’s basing this on genuine data he’s collected. High pressure is forecast, Dowsett set his record in low pressure. This means that the primary inhibitor to forward motion for a cyclist, aerodynamic drag, is higher, it makes a significant difference. It could also cause issues for pacing, if he’s not had the opportunity to test at Sundays pressure, it could force him to ride well within his limits, even gearing down for the harder conditions & slightly slower speed, he may encounter some unknowns.

The Gist Of It

So if we take the above into account, and if we assume that Wiggins was now aiming for something around 55km, then we’ve dropped to 54km for the same power output & the record isn’t looking too far out of reach if Dowsett attacked it again in the next year. It could even open the door for what might be considered an unsporting attempt at altitude by another rider.

I had initially assumed that the Wiggins attempt would kill off the Hour for a few years. But I now think that if Wiggins doesn’t break the 54km barrier, as I suspect, that we may see a new flurry from some more young talented riders in the next couple of years. Things could get interesting.

The record can be seen on the various ways on THIS linked Sky webpage (including youtube), The Cycling Podcast will be covering it live from the Velodrome too, so you’ll not be short of information hopefully. It’s Sunday (7th June) evening between 6:30 & 7:30pm.