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.

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?

Malboro Gains

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With the marginal gains philosophy entrenched across the majority of the top teams these days, I find it surprising that most use a bulky radio system in time trials to communicate to their team car. It looks like they’ve stuffed a packet of fags up their skin-suits, surely there’s a better way than this?

Radio Technology

When all of us carry a mobile phone, pro cycling teams are using a much larger & bulkier unit than an i-phone to relay information to & from their riders. I’m was very confused about this, it blatantly gets in the way of the airflow over the rider, a device like a mobile phone would have a much smaller profile & save a few more watts.

After my ranting on twitter about this, I think I’ve overlooked a few things, these radios are not designed for bike racing, and mobile phones only work if they’re in range of a transmitter. When we see bike races, we admire the amazing scenery, but as anybody who’s been to the mountains of Europe (or the general rule in Scotland, if you’ve got a nice view, you’ve got no phone signal), they probably don’t work for the majority of European race routes, traversing 200km of wilderness.

So lets imagine somebody who’s in charge of in-race communication at Team Sky, we’ve discounted the light & compact mobile phone option as unusable during any normal race, so we go back to radios. As anybody who’s experimented with anything other than ‘CBs’ in domestic race organising, as soon as you use the light & low power radios, once the event gets split up, or there’s a hill bigger than a railway bridge, you can probably forget communication. So we generally revert to ‘CBs’, but even these get out of range pretty easily & voices become crackled. Now what units are available? Not many that meet our requirements unfortunately, it has to be slim, aero, without a giant antenna. It may be the case that Sky & others are using the least worst option here, finding communication more important than the lost watts they incur by having a ‘packet of fags’ under their jersey. There are other very short distance radios that are much smaller, so I’m assuming that riders are not just communication with the following car, but also getting info in time trials from other sources who also have radios.

Aero Profiles

The placement of the radio on the back may seem like the worst place to put it, but perhaps this is simply to get the best signal at all times. We saw Fabio Aru with a pocket sewn into the outside of his skinsuit to carry his, which must be an even worse option than the under-the-suit position. The radios we see also have very sharp corners and as anybody who’s done even basic studying of aerodynamics, this is far from ideal, smoothing out corners to even slightly rounded can have a significant effect (I can’t find an actual photo of the Sky radio unit anywhere, can anybody help?).

There are likely some other places to put these units, but maybe these have been tried & discounted. Such as under the tail of the helmet (may raise tail & disrupt flow), inside the helmet (probably against UCI rules), fitted aero on the bike (again UCI rules) or behind the saddle as the track team do with their SRM units. The latter idea may be blown out of the water by the final item on this blog, carrying a six pack of beer, where there’s less drag with the beer in a rucksack on your back, than on the rack behind the rider. Beer used in aero performance tactics, you heard it here first!

But looking into the aero effects a bit more, I found some surprising sensible information from the Specialized wind tunnel, which showed that carrying a bottle in the back pocket was more aero than carrying it on the bike, although not a radio, it should give some idea of what’s going on. But bear in mind this was with a cross rider, so not in an aero position, we can assume an exposed item on somebody’s back would have a greater impact. Here’s the video.

Conclusion

It looks like wind tunnel tests may have shown the teams that the position on the back, under the skinsuit, although slower than no radio, is the best option currently available. It may also be that they’re looking for a product that doesn’t yet exist on the market. This may be one of the next innovations that we see in the peloton over the next couple of years, a communication company teaming up with a professional cycling team to develop a lightweight, waterproof, low-profile radio with excellent range that can be used in other sports. Maybe sports car racing where drivers can wear the radio, so cuts down time on having to plug in to the car radio, marathon runners if it’s featherweight, there are likely many sports applications and even more leisure ones. The problem is with a product like this, it’s currently only allowed to be used in the top level races in cycling, under the rules would have to be commercially available, so they can’t sell very many until other markets are identified, it would probably be incredibly expensive. Looking back, I was probably wrong to give the teams a good slagging, it seems they may have some valid reasons, but it’s not pretty & there are improvements to be made in the near future. I’ve no doubt that teams such as Sky have already identified this & are working on it, who knows, they may be saving up their innovations for the Tour.

Further viewing for the everyday cyclist

If you’re still interested in the more practical uses, and judging by the interactions I have with readers on this blog on twitter, the following data on the most aero way to carry a six pack of beer may be an everyday benefit to most riders, over saving a few seconds in a time trial.

Event Strategy

I’ve pondered various ideas in the past, on how the event structure in Scotland can benefit riders development & the sport in general. It seems that very little has been done on forming an event structure in sufficient time before the season begins, and while I applaud the introduction of a women’s road series, there are some clashes with the British women’s road race series, which was released months before the Scottish series was announced. I can accept that in Scotland, clubs often don’t register events in plenty of time, so let’s be clear that I’m not solely apportioning blame to Scottish Cycling. If things as basic as looking up the British Cycling website are happening, we obviously need some changes, here’s some of my thoughts.

Event Registration

One problem we have is that events are registered intermittently, some clubs are very quick, others not so.  Events seem to pop up throughout the year, whether this is an issue with finding an organiser, or that folks don’t understand the need to get events registered quickly, I’m not sure, but this needs fixed in order to allow proper event planning. What I’d propose (although I expect we’ll have a few people get all angry about it) is to have a tiered event registration fee. If we set a date for registering road events, say 31st January (what’s anybody else doing in January anyway), then very publicly state that any events registered after that will incur an additional £50 event registration fee, I’m very sure that the majority would be registered with Scottish Cycling by that date. Obviously, the method for doing this would have to be stated quite clearly, plus this isn’t necessarily a club being tied down to a certain date at this point, just stating that they will be running an event & then the calendar can be formed in a much better manner. We had a few milder winters where road events started creeping into the dates as early as the end of February, lets knock this on the head, road races before mid March are going to be horrible affairs, it’s freezing now & it’s May! I’m excluding time trials from this additional registration fee, the national championships are generally on set dates & the others really don’t interfere with the road calendar too much. The £50 additional fee is for making the calendar construction better for everybody, it’s not a stealth tax, in an ideal world no clubs would have to pay it. So all it takes is a club meeting in January 2016, decide your organiser & your race (which you probably already know), register it & you’re not going to incur any more charges. If you can’t even organise a visit to the pub in January with your mates, you’re probably not going to run a decent event anyway.

Specific Annual Dates

We need a coherent list of specific dates for road events in Scotland. Resources are limited, so in order to plan things correctly, we first have to know what is possible, it’s incredibly tricky to have photo finish & moto marshalls at two local national events at one time. So lets spread them out, this also lets riders know very early what they’re training for, even before events get registered, which in the age where many more riders have coaches or training plans, this is crucial for cycling to follow the modernisation of sport & training. We can have slots allocated for all the national road series, track championships etc, we can issue that list in November 2015, training plans can be set accordingly, venues provisionally booked before anything else takes precedent. It’s up to Scottish Cycling to encourage organisers to fill those slots, then build the other events around those major events. We could have some attention paid to the following points  (some of which have been done in the past):

  • Mens & Womens series could be run on the same day, on the same course, sharing manpower, in some circumstances, but not all. Or we could even have 2 different local clubs running each event, sharing marshalls across the events, but depends on the organisers, it shouldn’t be forced onto anybody. (get together & talk with others clubs if you have some ideas)
  • If photo finish & NEG are required, make sure events are not on same day of weekend.
  • When setting these dates, avoid school holidays (across Scotland, not just central belt holidays), big red areas in the SC spreadsheet to help them sort out officials & clubs sort out helpers easier. If folks want to organise in the red areas, that’s up to them.
  • Once we have a coherent structure (which may take a couple of years in reality, as ideas develop) these dates should be relatively continuous from year-to-year. That provides an inbuilt structure & we’re not re-inventing the wheel every February, it should make things much simpler in the future if there’s an annual structure in place.
  • Run the Scottish road race championships on the same day as the British regional championships, as was done for a few years. Currently the Scottish championships clash with a round of the British womens road race series. To avoid any conflicts & get the best & most prestigious field, it’s best to avoid any team loyalty & avoid all potential clashes with major UK events, the only weekend to ensure that is the weekend the regional championships are run. It’s bad enough filling a womens road race field in Scotland, but scheduling it on the same day as a round of a major UK series is going to cause problems for the organiser & potentially the riders. The same goes for all events, the British Cycling major event calendar comes out very early, it’s easy to check.

The Regional Plan

This is where things get tricky, this bit requires cooperation & a fair bit of planning, which is usually where things fall apart in cycling, but it can be done.

I’ve mooted the idea of progressive regional & national leagues in the past, some of which exist in some manner & are quite successful. The ideas are correct, but there need to be some tweaks applied, in order to balance the events against a category system which looks like it’s here to stay, but which doesn’t really work very well in Scotland.

  • Regional Club Series: There are many more 4th category riders in Scotland than there are any others, so there need to be events provided for these riders. I think the biggest mistake that has been made with these events in the past is that the series is based on individual standings, this simply does not work. The riders who win each event, gain a 3rd category licence, but they have a high individual series standing, so have been allowed to ride all the series events. This has the effect of having riders of a higher category than the event is meant for taking all the points. The current 4th cats looking to move up are locked out of upgrading their category, the points are not awarded to the riders who have been upgraded. The lower category series placings should only ever be listed as team only. It can’t work productively any other way. This allows the winning & high-placed riders to move onto other events & race against higher category riders, developing their talent. While the club losing these riders to the higher category events will feel the need to replace them with other riders, opening up a feeding system, riders getting encouraged to enter actual races, currently there’s little incentive, if we want riders to pin a number on their back, we need something like this. Teams from each region would be allocated a certain number of riders in each event & if we’re producing too many 3rd cat riders, then later events could be open to 3rd & 4th category riders, but definitely not the early season ones, there’s an idea in the national series (below) to counter that.
  • National Series: We don’t currently have enough riders in each region to fill E/1/2/3 events, so these events would have to form a national series. although they don’t provide licence points, I’d like to see this series being mixed up with a small number of early season APR’s, with groups being set solely on race category. Then add in some of the major road races, you’ll have a series with a bit of a chance for a talented 3rd cat to be fighting for the overall early in the season. That’s the kind of thing that can spur a rider onto greater things, even if they’re out of the running later on in the season. There’s been little or no innovation in the structure of the national race series recently, it’s been more of an afterthought if we’re all honest about it. Some people are not even aware there is one, such is the low-key nature of it, maybe we need a bit of controversy to get people talking about it again?

The above series ideas would provide each region with a grass-roots champion cycling club every season, this would be based on their ability to develop riders new to racing & feed them into a race structure. We’d also have a platform for our higher category riders to develop. I’d almost be tempted to plan national series to deliberately clash with some of the premier calendar type events down south, to stop negative racing (riders waiting for the big name to attack) & making the playing field a little more level to encourage riders to enter & know they’ll not be destroyed by a pro in the first 20km. It disadvantages a few riders, but may work better for the sport in general.

In Summary

  • Check needed regarding the British Cycling major events calendar for clashes.
  • Run any lower category race series as club ranking ONLY. Otherwise you’re compromising the structure of the series & removing many riders from getting licence points, counter productive to what everybody is trying to achieve.
  •  Charge clubs extra for registering events after 31st January, that should allow the calendar to be compiled.
  • Plan calendar around major events, try to establish an annual slot for these, then build the rest of the calendar around them. Not the other way around.

British Champs Predictions

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

The Women

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

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

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

The Men

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

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

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

 The Gist Of It

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

Scottish Commonwealth Games Cycling Medals

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The Medals

1970 – Brian Temple – Silver – 10 Miles Scratch Race

1986 – Eddie Alexander – Bronze – Sprint

2002 – Chris Hoy – Gold – Kilo

2002 – Chris Hoy, Craig MacLean, Marco Librizzi, Ross Edgar – Bronze – Team Sprint

2006 – Chris Hoy, Craig MacLean, Ross Edgar – Gold – Team Sprint

2006 – Ross Edgar – Silver – Sprint

2006 – Kate Cullen – Bronze – Points Race

2006 – Ross Edgar – Bronze – Keirin

2006 – Chris Hoy – Bronze – Kilo

2006 – James McCallum – Bronze – Scratch Race

2010 – David Millar – Gold – Time Trial

2010 – David Millar – Bronze – Road Race

2010 – Jenny Davis, Charline Joiner – Silver – Team Sprint

The Games

Here’s a brief resume of cycling events at the Commonwealths throughout the years, since they’ve been called the Commonwealth Games starting at Hamilton in 1930.

Hamilton, 1930:

No Cycling

London, England 1934:

Three track events were included, the time trial won by Australian Dunc Gray who now has a velodrome named after him, plus the 1000 yard sprint and a 10 mile scratch race. These were held at Fallowfield stadium in Manchester. No Scottish cycling medals.

Sydney, Australia 1938:

We had road & track events in this Games, with a road time trial won by Hennie Binneman of South Africa. The track events were dominated by Australia, winning gold & silver in both the time trial & 100 yard sprint, England took gold & silver in the 10 mile scratch. No Scottish cycling medals.

Auckland, New Zealand 1950:

The 4000m individual pursuit was included this time, along with the time trial, 1000m sprint, 10 mile scratch race & road race. Australia again dominating, with a possible 15 medals up for grabs, they won nine of them, with gold in four of the five events. No Scottish cycling medals.

Vancouver, Canada 1954:

Time trial, Sprint, Individual Pursuit & 10 mile Scratch race on the track, then the road road were contested at these Games. Equal first in the track time trial was awarded to Dick Ploog & Alfred Swift, both clocking 1:12. No Scottish cycling medals.

Cardiff, Wales 1958:

The format of track time trial, sprint, individual pursuit & scratch race continues, along with the road race. Notable in these games is silver in the individual pursuit to Tom Simpson of England. No Scottish cycling medals.

Perth, Australia 1962:

On the track, the time trial, sprint, individual pursuit & scratch race were contested, along with a road race. No Scottish cycling medals.

Kingston, Jamaica 1966:

Roger Gibbon of Trinidad & Tobago won both the track time trial & sprint, cycling commentator Hugh Porter (England) won the individual pursuit with teammate Ian Alsop winning the 10 mile scratch. The Isle of Man’s Peter Buckley won the road race, you may know his name from the British junior road race series trophy. No Scottish cycling medals.

Edinburgh, Scotland 1970:

With Scotland’s first Commonwealth medal, Brian Temple wins silver in the 10 Mile Scratch Race. Also included in these Games was the Tandem Sprint, along with track time trial, sprint, individual pursuit & road race. (The first Meadowbank Track League was also run in 1970 on this new 250m wooden track, it was organised by Alan Nisbet who also won it!). We’ve also got some notable names in here, it’s a star-studded line up, with medalists including Ian Hallam & Danny Clark.

Christchurch, New Zealand 1974:

A team pursuit is added to the format, with an expanding number of cycling events including track time trial, sprint, individual pursuit, 10 miles scratch, tandem sprint & road race. England’s Phil Griffiths, now a prolific team manager took silver in the road race, Geoff Cooke was in the tandem gold winning team, he;s still regularly seen coaching and riding masters events. No Scottish cycling medals.

Edmonton, Canada 1978:

This year really starts to throw some names I’ve seen in ‘The Comic’ in my youth, the same format introduced in 1974 is used in Edmonton. Medalists include Tony Doyle, Gordon Singleton, Gary & Shane Sutton, Phil Anderson. No Scottish cycling medals.

Brisbane, Australia 1982:

Into the modern era now, included is a 100km team time trial & no tandem sprinting, but we get more complete results on the internet from here on, so Scottish performances can be better monitored. Successful future continental pro’s Malcolm Elliot & Steve Bauer took gold & silver in the road race, but Australia are still dominating overall. Scotland’s Davy Whitehall has sneaked into the results, with and 8th place in the 4000m individual pursuit. No Scottish cycling medals.

Edinburgh, Scotland 1986:

Eddie Alexander stepped up and took a Bronze for Scotland at Meadowbank in the sprint. There’s an excellent article on him in Veloveritas HERE. Sprint legend Gary Neiwand took gold in the event. England’s Paul Curran won the road race and a youthful Chris Boardman was part of a bronze team pursuit squad.

Auckland, New Zealand 1990:

Australia & New Zealand battled out most of the gold medals in these Games, with Welsh lady Louise Jones winning the sprint with the introduction of female sprint & pursuit events. No Scottish cycling medals.

Victoria, Canada 1994:

Womens events expanded a little, with the points race added to the sprint & pursuit. Brad McGee & Stuart O’Grady of Australia had a very good Games, with McGee winning the pursuit, O’Grady the Scratch & both were part of the gold medal winning team pursuit squad, which recorded a reasonably ‘modern’ time of 4:10, another era is dawning, the battle between well-funded national track teams. No Scottish cycling medals.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 1998:

A womens road race & time trial added to the format for these Games. Notable names are Bradley Wiggins & Colin Sturgess taking silver in the team pursuit, Jason Queally silver in the kilo & Michael Rogers winning the scratch race. No Scottish cycling medals.

Manchester, England 2002:

Chris Hoy triumphantly appears on the Commonwealth stage with a gold medal in the kilo, then teaming up with Craig MacLean Marco Librizzi & Ross Edgar for bronze in the team sprint (3 riders in each ride, but 4 can be used in different heats). A successful Games for cycling in Scotland, considering the serious lack of medals in the past.

We have a full Scottish team list available for the cycling events as follows. Caroline Alexander, Sally Ashbridge, Jo Cavill, Caroline Cook, Katrina Hair, Russell Anderson, Richard Chapman, Ross Edgar, Chris Hoy,Alistair Kay, Marco Librizzi, Craig MacLean, James McCallum, Jason MacIntyre, David Millar, Ross Muir, Michael Pooley, Alexander Ross & Duncan Urquhart. Although I think David Millar opted to snub the Games and rode a 2-up TT somewhere in France instead.

Melbourne, Australia 2006:

More Scottish success, with gold in the team sprint with Chris Hoy, Craig MacLean & Ross Edgar. Ross Edgar also took silver in the sprint, then a cluster of bronzes, with Kate Cullen in the points race, Ross Edgar in the Keirin, Chris Hoy in the kilo & James McCallum in the scratch race. A hugely successful Games for Scottish cycling, the best ever.

Squad list:

  • Alex Coutts – Road Race
  • Ross Edgar – Track Sprint Events
  • Chris Hoy – Track Sprint Events
  • Marco Librizzi – Track Sprint Events
  • Craig MacLean – Track Sprint Events
  • Gareth Montgomerie – Mountain Bike Cross Country
  • Evan Oliphant – Road Race
  • James Ouchterlony – Mountain Bike Cross Country
  • Duncan Urquhart – Road Race
  • Robert Wardell – Mountain Bike Cross Country

Women’s

  • Kate Cullen – Track Points Race and Road Race
  • Ruth McGavigan – Mountain Bike Cross Country
  • Katrina Hair

Delhi, India 2010:

Professional rider David Millar won the time trial for Scotland & took bronze in the road race, while Jenny Davis & Charline Joiner took silver in the team sprint, another very good Games, with medals in events Scotland hadn’t performed in before at Commonwealth Games.

Scotland were represented on the track by Ross Edgar, Andrew Fenn, James McCallum, Evan Oliphant, John Paul, Chris Pritchard, Callum Skinner, Kevin Stewart, Kate Cullen, Jenny Davis, Charline Joiner & Eileen Roe.

Here are the Scottish riders & results from 2010 in the road events.

Men
Event Cyclist(s) Time Rank
40 km Time Trial David Millar 1
Evan Oliphant 11
Andrew Fenn 14
167 km Road Race Ross Crebar DNF
Andrew Fenn 13
David Lines DNF
James McCallum DNF
David Millar 3
Evan Oliphant 21
Women
Event Cyclist(s) Time Rank
29 km Time Trial Pippa Handley 16
100 km Road Race Jane Barr 35
Kate Cullen 17
Anne Ewing 37
Pippa Handley 31
Eileen Roe 20
Claire Thomas 24

Glasgow, Scotland 2014

Riders selected by discipline as follows (some may be listed more than once if in multiple disciplines):

Mountain Bike (Women):

  • Kerry MacPhee
  • Lee Craigie
  • Jessica Roberts

Mountain Bike (Men):

  • Grant Ferguson
  • Kenta Gallagher
  • Gareth Montgomerie

Para Cycling (Women):

  • Laura Cluxton
  • Fiona Duncan (pilot)
  • Aileen McGlynn
  • Louise Haston (pilot)

Para Cycling (Men):

  • Neil Fachie
  • Craig McLean (pilot)

Track Sprint (Women)

  • Jenny Davis
  • Eleanor Richardson

Track Sprint (Men):

  • Jonathon Biggin
  • Bruce Croall
  • John Paul
  • Christopher Pritchard
  • Callum Skinner

Track Endurance (Women):

  • Katie Archibald
  • Charline Joiner
  • Eileen Roe
  • Anna Turvey

Track Endurance (Men):

  • James McCallum
  • Evan Oliphant
  • Alistair Rutherford
  • Mark Stewart

Road Race (Women):

  • Gemma Neill
  • Katie Archibald
  • Anne Ewing
  • Charline Joiner
  • Eileen Roe
  • Claire Thomas

Road Race (Men):

  • Jack Pullar
  • Andy Fenn
  • Grant Ferguson
  • James McCallum
  • David Millar
  • Evan Oliphant

Time Trial (Women):

  • Katie Archibald
  • Lucy Coldwell
  • Anna Turvey

Time Trial (Men):

  • Andy Fenn
  • David Millar

199 Laps (pt4)

Before we move on, you should read the UCI’s press release from the 15th May 2014 below.

From now on, the Hour record can be beaten using any bicycle that complies with the rules governing bikes used in endurance competitions on the track. The new rules are less restrictive than those that, since 1st October 2000, have governed the technical specifications of bikes authorised to tackle the Hour record.

In parallel, the distinction between “Hour record” and “Best hour performance” has been abolished. This distinction was introduced on 1st October 2000 after the UCI had adopted (on 1st January 2000) a new Equipment Regulation defining the technical characteristics of bikes that could be used in competition, excluding the use of prototypes and introducing an approval procedure for any new technology. Backdating the new regulation, the UCI considered at the time that the last Hour record established with a bicycle in compliance (with the regulation it had just introduced) dated back to 1972 for men, when Eddy Merckx rode 49 km 431, and 1978 for women (Cornelia Van Oosten-Hage, 43 km 083). Consequently, all records established since then, up until and including the records of Chris Boardman (56 km 375) and Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli (48 km 159) in 1996, received the new name “Best hour performance.”

According to the regulation in force from today, all successful attempts on the hour that respected the rules applicable at the time the record in question was achieved are considered “Hour records.” In the light of the current regulation, the records to be beaten today are those established by Ondrej Sosenka (49 km 700) for men and Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel (46 km 065) for women, as these two athletes beat the Hour record using equipment which is still within the regulations currently applicable to track endurance events.

UCI President Brian Cookson commented: “This new rule is part of the modernisation of the UCI Equipment Regulation. Today there is a general consensus that equipment used in competition must be allowed to benefit from technological evolution where pertinent. This kind of evolution is positive for cycling generally and for the Hour record in particular. This record will regain its attraction for both the athletes and cycling fans.”

In order to be validated, any attempt at the record must be organised with the agreement of the UCI, which will appoint a Commissaire and other officials who must be present at the chosen velodrome.

UCI Communications Services

Previous Hour Record Blogs for reference

The Protagonists

I’m going to choose 4 riders, all of whom can ‘relatively’ easily break the 49.7km record on a bike built to meet UCI track pursuit rules. Recent smasher of the ’10’ record, Alex Dowsett, suddenly interested Bradley Wiggins, grumpy drop bar lover Fabian Cancellara & the man who looks like he destroys equipment, Tony Martin.

Dowsett

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If any rider is a clear example of what’s possible after making a decision to leave Sky, including a glimpse at the talent they may be using for less than ideal domestique uses, it’s Alex Dowsett. He has flourished since joining Movistar & is now looking to be a little quicker than Brad in domestic TT’s, which in itself means nothing, but does hint at what he’s capable of in the future. Wiggins has tested his form in ’10s’ in the past, prior to riding the Tour, but Alex has smashed his competition records & I’m expecting him to perform very well in the penultimate Tour stage, a 54km TT, that should take about an hour? If he outperforms everybody there, it wouldn’t be too tough a step to expect him to set an Hour record soon afterwards, he has plenty of track pedigree.

Wiggins

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We know that Wiggins was training on the track at Manchester on June 4th, see this blog from @familytandem for info. From the photo, Wiggins is on a GB track bike, with tri-bars, this leads me to a couple of ideas. Brad has no intention of riding the Tour, that’s a media frenzy that he’s not interested in this year, he’s preparing for the Commonwealth Games track events in the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, the presence of Shane Sutton confirms this to me. I’m also looking with quite a bit of hope, that he’ll be using this opportunity to test things out for an hour record. Can we safely assume that he’s doing a 6 to 8 week track phase, forgetting about preparing for France in July. Would provide plenty of status & media attention for the Games, along with them being included in the UCI calendar, could points be available for Brad to ride the next Worlds. Is he genuinely becoming a track rider again?

Cancellara

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After recently going in a bit of a huff after the UCI announced the rules he knew were changing (well if we knew..), he reckons he’s not interested anymore & wants to break Merckx’s record on a a Merckx style bike. I’d say nobody is stopping you Fabs, do it on a drop bar track bike if you like, that’s UCI compliant too, but get it done before the others turn up on their pursuit bikes. I think we’ll only see him attempt it after it’s been broken a couple of times & he’s sure he can get it. I get the impression he’d either want to smash it & put it on the shelf for a while, or not at all.

Martin

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The unknown, he’s not suggested he’s interested, but he could certainly set an incredible marker to any current riders. The only thing that would worry me about Mr Martin is his style. The big gear crunching full body effort he uses so well isn’t going to work quite as well on the track, he can monster the Hour, but he’ll be using more energy keeping that bike on the black line than the others.

The Gist Of It

The rules are open now, anybody can go for it whenever they like. Let’s hope we get another set of battles on the velodromes & re-configure The Hour as a major prize in world cycling.

 

Beyond Categories

During my ‘Scottish Olympic Cycling Team‘ blog I touched on a possible solution to the issue of licences & race categorisation, without the stranglehold of the British Cycling system. If Scottish Cycling operated its own category system, to work better so riders don’t have to travel large distances to race against a full field of similar abilities, we may end up with something resembling the following ideas. It’s unlikely to be acceptable as long as we’re considered a region of British Cycling (by BC we are anyway), but if things change, the structure of road cycling in Scotland could be drastically overhauled, even introducing some very modern aspects tuned to the digital age.

The Current System

In Scotland, we use the British Cycling race categories for road & track, these are Elite, 1st Category, 2nd Category, 3rd Category & 4th Category. The requirements to gain a licence at each end of the scale are very different, a vast sum of points are required to gain an Elite licence, while any new rider will be awarded a 4th category licence, if they’ve not held a higher licence in the past. (Although this only applies to riders who were previously registered on BC’s electronic system it appears. So anybody who was for example, a 1st category rider in the old paper hand-marked system, can exist as a ringer on their return & race with the beginners, even if they rode the Olympics.)

Races are also categorised, I’ll not go into that in detail, but you can only enter certain races depending on what licence category you hold. Each category of event holds a different amount of points, with a different amount of placings being awarded points. You get the idea, it’s probably over complicated for what we need to develop cycle sport correctly & inclusively in Scotland.

Everybody In It Together

A radical alternative to the kind of system that we currently employ, could be removing the category system as we currently recognise it, while running the majority of events as handicapped races. You’ll probably recognise these as being called APR’s (Australian Pursuit Races) in our current race calendar. In these events riders are set off in perceived ability groups (often ranging from 8 to 15 riders in each group), with the first group given a few minutes on the ‘scratch’ group at the back. The ‘scratch’ contains all the fastest riders, whose aim is to create a situation where they are able to win the race, swallowing up all the groups ahead of them before they run out of tarmac.

If most races were run as APR’s, we’d achieve a number of positive effects on our race calendar…..

  • Inclusiveness: No matter what your ability, you can have a group of riders of similar ability to race with (until those a bit faster catch you obviously). Unlike today’s racing, if you’re not capable of holding a bunch with potential ‘ringers’ in it, you’re not going to develop much further.
  • Race Skills: Handicapped racing allows riders to experience working in a group, straight away. Rather than hanging onto the tail of a bunch, they immediately start developing race skills, ‘wheeling about’ with their peers in the attempt to stay away from the hounds behind.
  • Smaller Bunches: The issues that are often discussed, of riders suddenly being cast in an 80 rider field, with little experience of riding in a group & the resulting carnage, could be avoided to some extent. In their first race, the rookie rider will learn some ‘race-craft’ within a small group of no more than 15 riders, steepening the learning curve. It’s much easier to discover how races work in this kind of environment, than it is while being thrown in at the deep-end & attempting to manoeuvre yourself around a large bunch. We can help develop actual race skills at a faster rate in this environment, it’s less intimidating & it gets you involved in a race from the outset. They may end up in an 80 rider field at some point during the event, but at least they’ll have some experience by that point in a race.
  • Fell Like You’re Racing: I’d prefer to develop racers, than develop hangers-on. By encouraging riders to start their first event in what seems like a competitive situation, with several minutes on the likely race winners, can only encourage a competitive mindset. Even the first group in an APR can feel like a breakaway in a race, you are forced to cooperate with your peers, learning how to work together, a skill which some never learn, lets teach it straight away, even if it under a little duress.
  • Full Fields In Any Region: If everybody can race in a handicapped event, even the most sparsely populated areas can surely muster up a decent sized field, without the restrictions applied by the BC category system to who can enter.
  • Less Travelling/More Racing: Currently our fastest riders have to travel huge distances to find a race that their elevated licence category will allow them to race in. We can develop not just our beginner & ‘club’ riders with a predominantly handicapped race season, but we can also provide events that our top riders can take part in, without the ‘label’ of spoiling events for ordinary working folk. Riders of all abilities need events, if there’s a solution to allow everybody to race together, perhaps we should take it.

Championships

I’m not suggesting we do away with the current format of races altogether, there’s still very much a place for these events. National, regional championships & an ‘Elite’ series of events could be run as mass start, which is where your riders would gain their recognition to race elsewhere, they would have a national ranking from these events. My suggestion is that all other events would be handicapped.

Structure

As with all current APR’s, the seeding of groups relies heavily on a riders honesty & their enthusiasm to provide the race organiser with their full palmarès. Sometimes somebody will get into an early group they perhaps take the win with a little devious-ness. With an increase in APR style events, it would be plainly obvious who’s not playing the game correctly. So it may be wise to introduce a system where there are a set number of groups in every event. If every event had 5 groups plus what would be considered ‘Elite’ riders (and volunteer Elite’s), and if that format was carried across all races, then it would be reasonable to assume that an organiser could recognise which group a rider should be in, if their previous start groups & finish positions were required on their entry form.

The time between each group will initially be a bit ‘hit & miss’ I presume. But offering ‘primes’ early on in the events will encourage those riders in the front groups to get involved, even if the organiser decides he’d/she’d prefer a high-profile winner, by manipulating the groups as such. Races within races can sort these kinds of issues, a season long calendar of APR events could open up a few new ideas, even of the ‘scratch’ riders win the full distance event. We could even go as far as introducing the fastest Strava segments during the event, helping everybody get something out of the race is important & worthwhile.

The Gist Of It

The current race category system doesn’t work in Scotland, we need to start thinking about an alternative. Unfortunately it’s unlikely to happen under the current structure, if we were able to drop the BC category system, or be forced to drop it due to becoming independent, it may result in the rapid progress of riders & events. I’d expect a handicapped race calendar would stimulate local events, encourage beginners, provide hard training for the top riders looking to perform in big events, and also raise the status of the championship & series events which would be the only ‘exotic’ mass start races.

There’s plenty of ways our race calendar could be stimulated, this is just one that we can start discussing, I’ve already highlighted a few idea using the current system, but I think this is better. The discussion has to be started, the current system doesn’t operate as it should to develop the sport, not in Scotland or anywhere else in the UK. Maybe we should provide a situation where all riders can get involved in one event, providing a focal point in each region for all riders to get together, beginners, elites, juniors, this way we can promote our sport in an inclusive & positive manner. Perhaps even encouraging riders off the dual carriageways & into proper racing, where we provide a group & level that any rider can feel competitive in, would save them a lot of money in disc wheels & funny handlebars. Let’s develop some racers.

Youth Tour of Scotland

Last years star performers, courtesy of Mark Young.
A previous years star performers, courtesy of Mark Young.

With big fields & fast close up racing, one of the UK’s premier youth events takes place in Perth from Sunday, the Scottish Power Youth Tour of Scotland. It comprises four stages, all held in & around Perth from Sunday to Tuesday. This involves the cream of youth road talent from across the UK, if you want to say you saw the future stars racing before they were famous, this is your chance, plus Perth is reasonably accessable from plenty of places. The Sunday circuit races in Perth city centre would seem like the ideal option for any budding spectators or club rides.

The Scottish cycling community are making a big effort with this event, with help coming especially from many of the youth clubs that have been nurtured by hard working volunteers for the past few years. There’s plenty of great work going on all over the country, they deserve your support.

If you’re going to watch, the events timings are listed on the British Cycling website (maps on the link). Here’s a brief summary:

Sunday 6th April:

  • Stage 1: Criterium Races – Perth City Centre (10:30am to 1pm, 1km circuit, 50mins for boys, 40 mins for girls)
  • Stage 2: Individual Time Trial – Strathallan School (3pm to 5pm, 1.5km)

Monday 7th April:

  • Stage 3: Road Races – Forteviot (10:30am to 2:30pm, 9 laps for boys, 5 laps for girls, 6.6km circuit)

Tuesday 8th April:

  • Stage 4: Kermesse – Strathallan School/Forgandenny (9am to midday, 16 laps for boys, 10 laps for girls, approx 2.5km circuit)

Start List

Plenty of Scots in there for you to cheer on.

1 Sophie Enever BC North East A Girls North east
2 Helen Kotch BC North East A Girls North east
3 Alexandra Rimmer BC North East A Girls North east
4 Fiona Turnbull BC North East A Girls North east
5 Heather Coull Composite Girls Team1 A Girls Mid scotland
6 Amber King Composite Girls Team1 A Girls Dundee & district
7 Gemma Penman Composite Girls Team1 A Girls
8 Georgia Ashworth Cycle Sport Pendle A Girls North west
9 Rhiannon Gornall Cycle Sport Pendle A Girls North west
10 Lucy Horrocks Cycle Sport Pendle A Girls North west
11 Charlotte Waddington Cycle Sport Pendle A Girls North west
12 Emma Borthwick East Mid Scotland Girls 1 A Girls East of scotland
13 Rhona Callander East Mid Scotland Girls 1 A Girls Mid scotland
14 Jenny Holl East Mid Scotland Girls 1 A Girls Mid scotland
15 Eleanor Strathdee East Mid Scotland Girls 1 A Girls East of scotland
16 Roisin Carter FBD Ireland Talent Team A Girls Ireland
17 Ciara Doogan FBD Ireland Talent Team A Girls Ireland
18 Shauna McFadden FBD Ireland Talent Team A Girls Ireland
19 Shenna McKiverigan FBD Ireland Talent Team A Girls Ireland
20 Anna Armstrong Fred Whitton Race Team A Girls North west
21 Lulu Bartlett Fred Whitton Race Team A Girls
22 Anna Docherty Fred Whitton Race Team A Girls Yorkshire
23 Rosa Martin Fred Whitton Race Team A Girls North west
24 Nicole Clarke Liverpool Valley North End A Girls North west
25 Anna Hulme Liverpool Valley North End A Girls North west
26 Lucy Lee Liverpool Valley North End A Girls Wales
27 Eve Martin Liverpool Valley North End A Girls North west
28 Kirsty Boak Marton Race Team A Girls North east
29 Samantha Verrill Marton Race Team A Girls North east
30 Jessica Watts Marton Race Team A Girls North east
31 Eva Barnet Mid East Scotland Girls 2 A Girls East of scotland
32 Emily Field Mid East Scotland Girls 2 A Girls Mid scotland
33 Anna McGorum Mid East Scotland Girls 2 A Girls East of scotland
34 Louisa Watt Mid East Scotland Girls 2 A Girls East of scotland
35 Kim Baptista Team MSW Composite A Girls North west
36 Madeleine Gammons Team MSW Composite A Girls East midlands
37 Ellie Russell Team MSW Composite A Girls West midlands
38 Corinne Side Team MSW Composite A Girls North west
39 Sarah Bradford WoSCA Girls A Girls West of scotland
40 Jess Millar WoSCA Girls A Girls West of scotland
41 Ellie Park WoSCA Girls A Girls West of scotland
42 Lusia Steele WoSCA Girls A Girls West of scotland
101 Michael Bibby Aberdeen District Racing Team A Boys Dundee & district
102 Lewis Goodlad Aberdeen District Racing Team A Boys Aberdeen & district
103 Danny Hedley Aberdeen District Racing Team A Boys Aberdeen & district
104 Ross McMurtrie Aberdeen District Racing Team A Boys Aberdeen & district
105 Ryan Abbs BC North East A Boys North east
106 Jake Dobson BC North East A Boys North east
107 Benjamin Moody BC North East A Boys North east
108 Aaron Preston BC North East A Boys North east
109 Douglas Carchrie Composite Boys Team 1 A Boys Dundee & district
110 Greg Henderson Composite Boys Team 1 A Boys Ayrshire & dumfries
111 Morgan Hughes Composite Boys Team 1 A Boys Wales
112 Harry French Cycle Sport Pendle A Boys North west
113 Louis Halleron-Place Cycle Sport Pendle A Boys North west
114 Timothy Jones Cycle Sport Pendle A Boys North west
115 Bailey Payne Cycle Sport Pendle A Boys North west
116 Joseph Agnew East Mid Scotland Boys 2 A Boys East of scotland
117 Lewis Gray East Mid Scotland Boys 2 A Boys East of scotland
118 Stuart Paterson East Mid Scotland Boys 2 A Boys West of scotland
119 Jake Gray FBD Ireland Talent Team A Boys Ireland
120 Dion McCarthy FBD Ireland Talent Team A Boys Ireland
121 Adam Stenson FBD Ireland Talent Team A Boys Ireland
122 Ronan Tuomey FBD Ireland Talent Team A Boys Ireland
123 Joseph Armstrong Fred Whitton Race Team A Boys North west
124 Theo Hartley Fred Whitton Race Team A Boys North west
125 Tyla Loftus Fred Whitton Race Team A Boys North west
126 Joseph Peatfield Fred Whitton Race Team A Boys North west
127 Ryan Glasgow Glasgow Riderz A Boys West of scotland
128 Calum Johnston Glasgow Riderz A Boys West of scotland
129 Innes Johnston Glasgow Riderz A Boys West of scotland
130 Alexander MacRae Glasgow Riderz A Boys West of scotland
131 Richie Allen Marton Race Team A Boys North east
132 Will Blenkinsop Marton Race Team A Boys
133 Joe Howard Marton Race Team A Boys North east
134 Hugo Storey Marton Race Team A Boys North east
135 Matthias Barnet Mid East Scots A Boys East of scotland
136 Jack Crombie Mid East scots A Boys Fife
137 Grant Martin Mid East Scots A Boys Dundee & district
138 Joseph Nally Mid East Scots A Boys Fife
139 Adam Aitken Mid Shropshire Wheelers A Boys West midlands
140 Ewan Grivell-Mellor Mid Shropshire Wheelers A Boys West midlands
141 Devon Round Mid Shropshire Wheelers A Boys West midlands
142 Alex Taylor Mid Shropshire Wheelers A Boys West midlands
143 Finn Crockett NoSCA A Boys North of scotland
144 Sam Lawton NoSCA A Boys North of scotland
145 Lewis MacFarlane NoSCA A Boys North of scotland
146 Alec Marwick NoSCA A Boys North of scotland
147 Patrick Boak Nottingham Clarion Race Team A Boys East midlands
148 Ozzie Chmiel Nottingham Clarion Race Team A Boys East midlands
149 Calum Fernie Nottingham Clarion Race Team A Boys East midlands
150 Kieran Howarth Nottingham Clarion Race Team A Boys East midlands
151 David Barnes Sports Traider Race Team A Boys South east
152 Marcus Burnett Sports Traider Race Team A Boys Central
153 Sebastian Dickens Sports Traider Race Team A Boys South west
154 Peter Kibble Sports Traider Race Team A Boys Wales
155 Harry Hardcastle TEAM HT3 A Boys Yorkshire
156 Thomas Humphrey TEAM HT3 A Boys Yorkshire
157 Tomos Owens TEAM HT3 A Boys Wales
158 Thomas Pidcock TEAM HT3 A Boys Yorkshire
159 Stephen Dent The Scottish Mash Up A Boys Dundee & district
160 Logan Dow The Scottish Mash Up A Boys Mid scotland
161 Sean Flynn The Scottish Mash Up A Boys East of scotland
162 John MacLeod The Scottish Mash Up A Boys East of scotland
163 Thomas Clarke Velocity 3-in-1 A Boys North west
164 Lewis Hartley Velocity 3-in-1 A Boys North west
165 Patrick Merriman Velocity 3-in-1 A Boys North west
166 Jordan Stanworth Velocity 3-in-1 A Boys North west
167 Tom Chandler Velocity WD-40 A Boys East midlands
168 Brad Dransfield Velocity WD-40 A Boys Yorkshire
169 Chris Fallon Velocity WD-40 A Boys North west
170 Adam Hartley Velocity WD-40 A Boys North west
171 Ewan Mathieson WoSCA Boys A Boys West of scotland
172 Danny Mulholland WoSCA Boys A Boys West of scotland
173 Lewis Stewart WoSCA Boys A Boys West of scotland
174 Andrew Vettraino WoSCA Boys A Boys West of scotland

 

 

 

 

 

On The Attack

Many riders appear to settle for finishing road races in the bunch, most are probably capable of more, but various issues stop them taking the initiative. Maybe they should try to attack, what’s the worst that could happen?

For the weekend warrior, racing isn’t a matter of life & death, if you win a prize or win absolutely nothing, it’s going to make little difference to whether or not you have food on the table. So you do have the opportunity to take a chance in a race, the downside isn’t actually that bad. New racers can spend a year or two just getting to the point where they can finish a race in the bunch. This is generally a turning point in most riders racing ambition, the point that decides what happens after they have acquired the necessary skills & training knowledge to reach that point in the following season.

I’d also suggest that you could probably reach that point on even the most basic of race machines, only afterwards would it be wise to upgrade for performance reasons. Often we can get distracted by the ‘bling’, then buy a race bike online at ‘a bargain price’, but mistakenly buy one which doesn’t fit you. You may be better off with a second-hand steel bike that you feel comfortable on, than a brand new carbon frame with the wrong geometry, you’d probably be faster on the old bike that fits, regardless of the wind-tested aero-ness of the frame or the closeness to UCI minimum bike weight. So if you’re in a hurry to progress & have a good position on your current bike, maybe stick with that & spend your time training rather than working those extra hours to pay for your pro-level bike. There’s plenty of time for that later, plus you’ll have a much better idea of what you need, with the confidence to chat technically with the staff in your local bike shop about your needs, always a sign of a clued-up racer (shop staff can spot the ‘Cycling Weekly’ educated cyclists straight away).

All too often, our weekend warrior can be quite content to sit & wallow (or stagnate) in their new-found ability, sitting safely in the bunch, far from the pointy-end of proceedings. That pointy-end feels a little different to the comfortable windless habitat you’ve now realised exists, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll get a result doing it this way. The nature of our domestic events often involves a hill or two, splits in the field, riders cracking in front of you, you’re probably going to have to stick your nose in the wind at some point, you don’t have eight other guys to look after you like Cav, you’re not Cav. You’ll never learn how & when it’s best for you to attack, if you don’t attack. Everybody has different strengths & weaknesses, so it’s up to you find out what they are, there’s no better place than a race, so forget the result for a while & get stuck in so you can get that good result in a future event. Don’t be like the sheep, who sit on the ‘star’ rider in the event & wait for him/her to attack, take the initiative.

The Gist Of It

Why not decide to choose when that windy-nose-time is going to happen, rather than have somebody else choose it for you? Going on the offensive, if even for a short period of time will at least give you an idea of what’s required for your step up the rankings, it’s part of the next level of progression.

What would give you the most satisfaction & experience for future glories?

  • Attacking the bunch or getting in a break, riding ahead of the field for a short or long period of time, with you being the spectators, lead car & moto’s primary concern. Ending up cracking & finishing around 40th.
  • Sitting safely in the bunch, never putting your nose in the wind, race splitting in front of you. End up finishing around 40th.

Make 2014 the year where everybody has a go, trust me, you’ll enjoy it much more if you get involved in the race, rather than just ride round. ATTACK!

 

 

Manx Missile Miss-firing?

British Champs 2013: Glasgow.
British Champs 2013: Glasgow.

We’ve seen Cavendish getting nowhere in the sprints at the 2014 Dubai Tour, but does this actually tell us anything about his form for later in the year. His stated goal is the Tour de France, is there anything to worry about for the Manxman with his results in February?

Early Season

The change in focus this year may have some effect on early form this year, gone are any aspirations to be competitive for Milan-San Remo. We have to remember that his victory was in 2009, when nobody really suspected he could stay in contention over the Cipressa & Poggio, they never allowed that to happen again, so regardless of the route change, there’s always going to be somebody wanting to make it too hard for the pure sprinters. He’s also written off any attempt to peak for Gent-Wevelgem, which he says would have require him to devote a substantial amount of time to prepare for. So we have a Cav who is motivated to take the yellow jersey on stage 1 of the Tour, his whole season is based around that peak, it’s no surprise he’s not on form right now, he doesn’t need to be.

Past It?

There’s often cries of Cav losing his speed, but we forget he’s only 28, hardly an old man in the peloton these days. There is a higher calibre of sprinter now, with Kittel leading the challengers, along with some experienced teams willing to make it incredibly hard for the Manxman’s lead out train. These rivals are all set up to beat Cav, such has been his dominance in recent years, they’ve hired the necessary riders to take on his team. This involves a very strong lead out team to place their rider correctly in the final 300m, this is where Cav has been suffering while with Sky & OPQS. Rather than being past it, Cav hasn’t had the dedicated teams with the perfect lead out riders he’s had in the past, while other teams have dramatically improved in this aspect. We’ve seen hints of the speed from the past, he’s not lost it, it still exists, but as we’ve seen the other sprint teams are specifically targeting him. If he’s alone they swing off near him, all part of the game, but unsettling if the team isn’t supporting you in the final km’s.

2014

We’ll see Pettachi & Renshaw as Omega Pharma Quick Step’s final lead out men, the return of Renshaw could be the difference. ‘Prince Harry’ has shown early form by finishing 2nd to Kittle on one stage of Dubai, he has the speed & the craft in a finale, ideal as Cav’s derny. The unpredictable Steegmans, once a promising sprinter in his own right, will drift from the lead out, potentially not racing with Cav very much in 2014. While other OPQS riders like Scotsman Andy Fenn are progressing their careers, he finished 3rd behind Greipel & Renshaw on stage 6 of the Tour Down Under this year, which raises the eyebrows of what he may be capable of in the future, he’s only 23!

The only doubt we may have regarding Cav’s support at the Tour is the presence of Rigoberto Uran, the Colombian climber & 2nd place finisher in the 2013 Giro. A rider of that quality deserves some support in the mountains at a grand tour, which will undermine Cav’s sprint train desires. We also have Michal Kwiatkowski who had a very impressive 2013 Tour, fighting for the white jersey for some time & eventually finishing 11th on GC. Luckily for Cav, riders like the Pole are not just climbers, riders with that kind of talent can help out in early lead out trains too.

The Gist Of It

Cav isn’t over the hill yet, he can barely get over a small one, at 28 he still has plenty of years left in him at the top. Having witnessed his form last year in Glasgow, it’s hard to see him suddenly becoming an ordinary rider in 2014, I think he’ll be more than challenging Kittel & other at the Tour, where it matters for him, February isn’t important to his goals anymore, he has enough UCI points. He’s getting back to basics, not trying to transform himself into a classics rider, but concentrating on what he excels at, bunch sprints in grand tours.

If as I suspect, his team get themselves in order, marshalled by Renshaw, then things could be very different this year. They have lacked discipline, perhaps focussed too much on multiple goals, but a dedicated sprint train will exist in July. I suspect Uran will suffer, with only Kwiatkowski & perhaps Thomas de Gendt allocated to help him in the mountains. If Uran loses a chunk of time on one stage, we can expect the Manxman will demand resources going his way, especially if there’s been a yellow jersey in Yorkshire. I suspect that this will be a good Tour for Cavendish, we’ve not seen the last of him, it looks like a measured start to the season, rather than a downfall.

Sky Plus

Much has been made of teams like Movistar adopting or imitating Sky’s detailed approach to tackling stage racing which has proved so successful to them recently. With riders like Alex Dowsett now successfuly migrated & fully absorbed in Movistar, disclosing many of the Sky methods, can we also presume that they’ll not take the Sky format as an absolutely precise model, especially if they are missing one or two elements. Perhaps they’ve thought up their own improvements to the Sky template for success, perhaps they’ve got Sky plus?

Quintana

While I agree with the thoughts on the latest Velocast podcast regarding the sensible approach to rider development & looking after young riders, there’s also another possibility with the on/off nature of Quintana’s race programme. The addition that Movistar could introduce to the Sky model, could be an element of tactical deception.

Sky are famous for stating a race plan, then carrying out that plan with no intention of masking exactly what they’re up to. This has been a bit hit & miss, especially in the classics, where holding your cards close to your chest is much more vital than the out & out power to weight/aerodynamic calculations necessary to win grand tours in the mountains & time trials. But these entirely unhidden team driven tactics do get the results required, if not the fans approval or the spectacle of mano-mano battles we have seen in the past. Could teams like Movistar, while adopting the Sky approach to training & equipment, improve on the formula by introducing some additional psychological tactics which Sky have not yet included, both on & off the bike.

Quintana renewed his contract for an additional two years after the Tour of Britain, taking him up to the end of 2015, where he would be free to move to another team. The latest reports suggest that he will contest the Vuelta this year, most likely skipping the Giro & definitely not starting the Tour de France. This would leave him only one guaranteed attempt at the Tour with Movistar. I find it hard to believe that in these corporate times, that a team would be happy to let a genuine Tour contender not start, to allow him to develop properly in less high-profile races, potentially having more success for another team.

I wouldn’t rule out the reported information from Movistar regarding his programme for 2014, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Nairo didn’t start the Giro, but arrived as a ‘last minute decision’ in storming form for a Tour de France assault. Leaving everything for the Vuelta is also a gamble, banking everything on staying healthy & injury free until the end of the season.

I think we’ll see something else. I think we’ll see Froome training to deal with less capable Movistar potential captains, Sky selecting a team for that purpose & seeing Quintana deal a psychological blow to them in the days before the Tour starts. I’ve been very wrong before, but corporate sponsors demand a return on their investment, allowing a rider to mature & reap the rewards under another corporations sponsorship isn’t going to go down too well at the board table or sponsorship renewal meeting. We’ll probably not know until Yorkshire, Nairo liked the UK climbs, he may be back for some more.

More Spin in 2014

It’s that time of year, the Turkey is stripped of all edible meat, you’re full of mince pies, bloated on wine, lacking exercise & feeling a little guilty perhaps? Well fear not, the rookies & the insane will be road racing in Scotland by February, but you’ve got plenty of time to get yourself ready for a new season, if you start right NOW!

Other Riders Performances

Our new breed of winter racers, not the antisocials & the old-school club ride racers, or the new-age Strava group-ride destructors, but the socially acceptable & quite positive ‘cross riders & indoor winter trackies are going to be going well early in 2013, but perhaps too early for the actual road season. So if you’re intending racing in 2014, it’s time to take a reality check, don’t compare yourself on New Years Day against a race ready ‘cross rider who’s just completed his season of racing. It’s time to get realistic.

Another thing not to be put off by the glut of information you find on social media, with all these riders doing a pile of miles in the off-season, then posting their accomplishes up on Strava, Twitter & Facebook, along with their impressive power data & KOM accomplishments in mid-winter. Looking at these accomplishments & the attached comments is quite interesting, well, to me anyway. Especially the lack of understanding of things like the numbers they’re posting & the heart rate data. Some riders seem to brag about their heart rate going over 160 for example, but showing their complete lack of understanding of the intricacies of heart rate measurement, that it’s a very personal thing & somebody the same age could have a wildly different max heart rate, that 160bpm could be close to somebody elses recovery level. If anybody is still using 220bpm minus their age to guess their maximum heart rate, you’re going to be beating them pretty soon with a decent bit of proper scientific training. In fact, whoever is still using maximum heart rate to set their zones is living in the 90’s, they are most likely training in the completely wrong zones. These days it’s much more accurate to set your zones from the functional threshold, I’ll not go into that here, but if training with heart rate, then Joe Friel’s ‘The Cyclists Training Bible‘ is for you, if using power then you’ll need Hunter Allen & Andrew Coggan’s ‘Training & Racing With a Power Meter‘. Both books explain things in a methodical manner & allow you to set your zones yourself, by either heart rate or power.

So if you’re looking at others data, decide yourself whether or not it’s relevant to you. Will you be racing against these riders? Can they hold that form until the road season starts? Why are they training at such a high intensity at this time of year? Do they really know what they’re doing or are they just bragging, or worse, Strava doping? If anybody’s beating Strava KOM segments at this time of year, you’d have to take a judgement view on whether or not that’s a good idea, if the rider doesn’t race then that’s fine, but if that’s part of their mid-winter race preparation they obviously don’t have a plan for the season, or are being encouraged by those without a plan to step outside of their base training. Doing high intensity efforts in the worst weather outdoors, probably isn’t going to do you any good in the long run, a weekly blast on the track could be the answer to keep things ticking over, but mostly you’ll be wanting to do reasonably low-level training outdoors at this time of year, don’t get sucked into pseudo uncontrolled races or any bunches where people talk about getting a result, it doesn’t matter if you’ve not got a number on your back.

March Hares

If you want to have a good racing season, collect lots of points & improve your category, then peaking for a race at the beginning of March isn’t going to help matters. Normally a peak will include some pretty good form prior to that target weekend, including several weeks of improving form. If you peak too early, then you’ll not have any events to ride while you have that improving form. The early peak mistake also means you’ll risk it all on one weekend, which could dent your confidence if there’s ice, a crash, mechanical, or some other obstruction to getting a result, you may not even get a start in an oversubscribed target event. You would look back on all that hard work to see it going down in flames, not exactly motivational for the rest of the season. The early season attracts new racers too, keen as mustard, but while looking very strong & fit, new riders obviously lack actual race experience. This used to be ok, as riders were educated on the etiquette of bike racing by their clubs, but increasingly fast riders are dodging the whole club membership situation until a very late stage. The reason for this is good for the sport, more people wanting to take part, but somewhere along the way the club structure hasn’t been promoted, with governing bodies more interested in numbers of British Cycling members than helping direct those riders to join clubs. This needs to change, but identifying ‘good clubs’ is a whole other blog, on which I’ve touched on before.

Don’t place too much importance on these early races, target something later on & use these for building your race skills, take a few risks, try an attack, make the race & use the experience for later successes in important events. As road races have moved to dates more winter-like, even into February, the unpredictability of our weather has also played a part, the last couple of years have seen many events cancelled due to ice & snow. The ‘March Hare’ rider isn’t making the best choices to be flying for these events if they want a great season, but then again, some people like that kind of thing.

Science?

You can have all the gizmo’s you like, power meters, GPS devices, heart rate monitors, virtual reality turbo trainers, it’s all out there & marketed at you, but do you really need it? As more riders move towards scientific training, the short answer would be that in order to remain competitive against riders of similar talent to yourself, then scientific training is going to make the difference. But in reality, as I’ve mentioned before, only a small percentage of these riders are actually using the devices properly, most who have the devices probably use them as a toy. Basing training programmes on heart rate & power data (especially) isn’t simple, it requires constant re-evaluation & small changes to the training programme, it’s not an A4 sheet that you stick to for a whole winter. So unless the gizmo’d cyclist has a good coach or has read the correct books, and understood them, then that expensive power meter may just be a fancy looking toy they can impress their cycling buddies with. Having the gizmo doesn’t make you fast, using the gizmo correctly does.

With the above in mind, if you refuse to get involved in technology, then there are other ways. I’ve seen a few ex-pro’s & some other former international riders commenting on the use of fixed gear bikes by some current racers & the good results they’re getting from this. The best use of scientific training is to get the best out of yourself with the minimum time required, a fixed gear is a slightly older version of the same thing. Consider your club ride, if you went out on fixed, while others were geared, you’d be working very hard downhill, while those freewheeled riders were cruising, doing nothing. Imagine you looked at the heart rate profiles of those riders, the fixed gear rider wouldn’t drop much on the descents at all, they get more from every ride if you consider it a training session, sometimes twice as much aerobic work. So if you don’t like technology & don’t like fixing your bike, a fixed gear may be the ideal winter steed for you. It may take you a few weeks to stay in contact on the downhill, but a fixed gear for this type of training actually works better on terrain you’d imagine wasn’t suitable for fixed, i.e. lots of hills. But please put two brakes on it, don’t go riding with others on freewheels if you’ve not, otherwise you may cause some problems.

Get Out More

Clubs can help you ride your bike, just knowing there’s a ride on locally & that somebody will be there is a good piece of motivation to get yourself out of your bed. It would be nice if clubs could arrange things so that if there’s a fast & slower group, they could start out together, head to a cafe & either the fast boys keep going or all stop together. I don’t think we allocate enough time to the social side of cycling these days, which is probably one of the issues with people withdrawing from the club system. Emphasising the social side of cycling, not just the performance side is something that seems to be in retreat, I think we all need to have a think about how we can make that happen. Cycling is after all about getting out & riding our bikes, performance & racing are an afterthought, if you don’t manage to get out at all, then it’s hard to consider how you can get fast enough to race. January’s priority should really be about getting out there, no matter how bad you consider the weather, surely you’ve got some new Christmas kit that will allow you to ride in all weathers, or at least buy some mudguards to make it luxurious for yourself, and pleasant for your comrades.

The Gist Of It

Lets get the miles in during January, whatever your discipline or ability level. Use your gizmo’s if you have them, if not, just enjoy riding your bike. Once you’re out there it’s much better than it looks from indoors, but the big push is just getting out there in the first place. Set out your clothes the night before a ride, buy a good set of lights or charge them up (now) if you’re intending doing any evening rides after work. Please don’t get put off by others digital accomplishments on their bikes, it’s not relevant to you. Renew your club membership & go out on a club ride with them, the time to start is now, not February when you’re a bit fitter (and likely still not been out), the camaraderie of a cycling club should renew your passion & help remove that Christmas gut you’ve been cultivating recently.

Most of all, I wish you all more spin in 2014, it’s going to be some year & like most others, I got no tickets for the velodrome at Glasgow 2014, so the free events will be my stomping ground, the road race, mountain biking & time trial (yes, I might even watch at time trial!). Get yourselves out for a short ride on New Years Day, once you sober up, it’ll make you feel a lot better, whatever the weather.

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Bio Hazard

biohazardTodays big doping news is that the UCI has opened disciplinary proceedings against Jonathan Tiernan-Locke. I’ve written some positive things about him in the past, hopeful things, wishing that his performances in 2012 were plausible, that he hadn’t betrayed Brian Smith, that he may be clean. As proceedings have progressed from a period where Tiernan-Locke could explain the changes in his blood values, onto the disciplinary phase, the probability of him being clean diminishes. The proceedings simply getting to this point means the bio-passport irregularities can’t be explained away with a simple reason, where any probable explanation can carry an element of doubt, even if he’s cleared. We’re heading into the grey area.

The Bio Passport

If you’re not aware of exactly what this is, here’s a brief description in lay mans terms, as I’m no blood expert myself I had to look into it to find out what some of the terms mean. Basically blood is taken at various periods throughout the year, the purpose of this is to determine a baseline of biological markers for each rider. This is then cross checked against pre-determined permissible levels (which I believe are quite generous, so to fail these is pretty disastrous). The markers look at blood cells, specifically at the age & percentage of them in the test sample. So in very simple terms, you biological markers should stay relatively the same, as shown by decades of medical research on the general public. A change in these can show you’ve been a very naughty boy, for example, if your sample shows older blood cells suddenly increase in percentage, then you may have transfused a bag of blood you’ve kept in the mother fridge for the last month “It’s pigs blood for my black pudding mum”. Or if you have a large concentration of very new blood cells, you may have injected the substance that stimulates red blood cell growth, EPO.

So the blood passport is an indicator of manipulation, but several things can change the percentages of the measured biological markers, such as dehydration, illness etc. For example, riders don’t have a bio passport blood samples taken from them directly after a race, to allow their bodies to regain semi-normal levels, otherwise any rider would have vast differences after a stage. We know that to try & balance levels, riders have been known to micro-dose EPO along with taking a transfusion, to attempt to balance their marker levels, even using their own testing machines, so it all gets a bit silly sometimes. If somebody wanted to maintain a boosted level all the time & set their baseline at this, it would be incredibly hard to maintain that for several years while in the testing pool, as your body would constantly be trying to return to its natural level, so it’s hard to imagine this is possible, but you never know.

Just Cycling?

You may ask why this just affects cycling, why not other sports. The answer to that is that most of them don’t do it yet. Yet again, cycling has implemented additional testing to its competitors in order to stamp out doping, or to be seen to be stamping out doping as may have been the case with the old UCI regime. WADA will be attempting to roll it out to other sports very soon, cross-country skiing is apparently already taking samples & tennis started taking samples this year, notably at Wimbledon a large amount of seeded players decided they were suddenly injured after bio blood tests were announced, while others underperformed dramatically. Introducing bio passports across other sports could have a huge effect of the top players & competitors, as testing has generally been lower than in cycling, plus in many of these sports the earning power is much greater & adds to the incentive to cheat. A commonly held belief in sport is that the higher the reward, the greater the risk that is taken & this includes the added chance of doping to exist in these sports. If it’s in cycling, it’s in just about every sport.

I’m all for tennis & football to introduce the bio passport, but whether they will or not is another matter. Cycling is predominantly an aerobic sport, so blood manipulation had a huge effect on results, it made a mockery of them for about 15 years in pro cycling. Skill based sports also benefit hugely from EPO use, blood transfusions & other types of manipulation.

Lets take an example of two hypothetical twins who both play football. As modern footballers now require a high level of fitness, they require a pile of endurance training to achieve this. Lets suggest that one of our twins decides not to do this, he takes a shortcut & inject his fitness with an EPO programme, the other twin trains aerobically for 2 to 3 hours per day, on top of his skills training. The short-cut twin is able to spend that training time on skills, set pieces etc & becomes a much more skillful player as a result. The clean twin is fatigued from the endurance training & has less time to train his skills. Which player results in being the best one, if there is no sufficient testing, bearing in mind they have both achived the same fitness level but one has 2 to 3 hours per day more skills training?

Virtually any sports person, who competes in a sport that requires any underlying fitness level can benefit fraudulently from doping, the bio passport needs implemented across the board for us to have any belief that what we see is clean, or at the very least, has minimal manipulation.

The Gist Of It

JTL is now tarnished whether or not he’s clean, we don’t really know yet, but the forthcoming ‘verdict’ will be debated, I expect there will be no dominant opinion on this, a bio-passport verdict is a polarizing subject. The bio-passport is a good thing in sporting terms, the allowances are very large, so if something is detected we can assume that there is a very valid reason for it being brought to a disciplinary proceeding.

The bio-passport can stop riders doping as much as they used to, perhaps a fraction of what they may have done before. In cycling, we have had the 50% haematocrit ceiling in the past, which other sports didn’t have, so when it’s rolled out across other sports we’ll see a much more dramatic change in the top performers, much greater than a previous multi grand-tour winner not quite firing on all cylinders as we’ve seen. If anybody watching from the experienced seat of a cycling fan, sees young footballers having heart attacks on the pitch, it reminds us of early 90’s reports of Belgian cyclists dying in their sleep, with their hearts finding it impossible to pump their EPO boosted treacle-like blood around their bodies.

The bio passport needs introduced in all sports, not just for sporting ethics reasons, but for public health reasons, we need to make sure our athletes, players & competitors in any sport don’t have to risk their health to be on the same playing field as everybody else. Would you want your son or daughter competing in a sport where they refused to implement a biological passport system?

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Scottish Classics

teacakeThe Scottish Road Racing scene changes significantly every year, races come & go, others seem to have been with us forever. But very few of the multitude of past & present road races are universally accepted as having the ‘Scottish Classic’ label attached to them. It’s probably about time to take a fresh look at some possible reasons why we’re losing these races & what we can do to create races for the modern era, with a sustainable format & room for growth, a true ‘Future Classic’.

Past Classics

I asked a question on Twitter & Facebook, “Which races do you consider to be the Scottish Road Classics, now, and in the past?”

The responses were particularly interesting, most riders viewed the races which influenced them in their ‘form-years’, not necessarily the ones that stood the test of time. A few events were brought up time & again, but if we asked a group of riders of varying ages to name the top 5 Scottish Classic road races, we’d probably end up with a very heated debate, potentially a fight. It appears that we personally determine a ‘Classic’, its predominantly an opinion formed from a generational perspective.

With the small amount of spectators at domestic events, you probably have to be there to experience them, it follows that if you’re there, you’re probably a rider in that particular era, so you’re going to inevitably choose races you actually rode in. Event officials have experienced many events over decades, so in theory may have a better perspective of the answer to the question, but our ‘Classic’ definition isn’t formed from an onlookers point of view, it’s from the battle within the race & how that felt, win or lose. We need think about how we define what we mean by describing a road race as a ‘Scottish Classic’.

Races that cropped up a few times, were the now defunct Glasgow-Dunoon, The Girvan, Tour of the Kingdom, Inverness-Elgin, Tour of Clydeside, while The Drummond Trophy, Davie Bell & Sam Robinson are classics that still exist. This is by no means the full list, just a handful that were mentioned, so don’t go sending me any letters.

Classic Definitions

One particular repeated characteristic of a ‘Scottish Classic’ is distance, with the 100 mile barrier being mentioned a few times as helping a race become a classic, but distance alone is no measure of monumental status. Over the years the distance of most races has reduced, racing is faster, but potentially less of the endurance test it was for the previous generation of racers. I’m not convinced that distance can define a true future Scottish classic.

Another is ‘point-to-point’, with these events being another example of a classic format. These used to make up a significant part of the calendar, but are now absent. Constraints of crossing regional borders, police permissions, marshalling & the logistics of getting riders back to the start likely stop these taking place. I have suggested a Tour of Scotland in a previous blog, this may be the only viable option for point-to-point racing these days, included within a stage race.

Sporting importance is another key characteristic of a ‘Scottish Classic’, the Girvan & Tour of the Kingdom attracted some of the UK’s finest riders, allowing our home-grown talent to compete on our roads against the best riders we could find in the British Isles. The ability of races to attract a top quality field is important for definition, at the very minimum they have to be open to Elite category riders.

Essentially, a ‘Scottish Classic’ is a completely different beastie to a classic defined in Europe. Continental Classics are seen as culturally significant, part of a country’s sporting mindset, so comparing those with ours isn’t where I’m looking. We need to redefine what we are actually expecting from these events in Scotland.

Sad Loss

There’s many reasons our events disappear, we can probably condense these down to a few simple points.

Manpower is required to run big events, if you consider how clubs have changed over the years, you can imagine that there are a lot fewer individuals likely to give up as much as their time as in previous years. Many club members don’t just cycle, they’re involved in all sorts of sport & non-sport clubs, they have added time committed to their offspring’s growing leisure & social commitments too. Standing at the side of the road all day probably isn’t seen as a good use of time, by them or their families. Race design has to be set against that backdrop, you have to make the time commitment appropriate to the modern way of life. A very long race which demands more manpower (our 100-mile-plus old-time ‘Classic’) would gather a handful of willing helpers, while a morning only event would allow most club people to help out, it doesn’t infringe on their child collection time or Sunday roast dinner. Obviously, unless you can pay your helpers something for their time.

The rise of veteran racing over the years has probably had a detrimental effect on the availability of individuals who would previously have taken over the reigns of club  ‘race organiser’. Rather than being clubmen, there are huge amounts of riders now racing into their 60’s, or later. Don’t get me wrong, the old boys staying at a level of fitness that embarrasses riders half their age is a good thing, I’m just pointing out that this cultural change has also contributed to the lack of experienced riders willing to design races which could meet the ‘Classic’ tag. These riders have the knowhow, potentially the organisation skills from the workplace, and the vision to construct a race of a very high standard, it’s just they they’re all still racing & giving the young men a pasting!

Complications & bureaucracy like risk assessments, insurance, permissions, booking equipment & HQ’s, race convoys & the task which carries most hearsay & negativity, the marshalling, all help to put people off running an event, or increasing the status of their current event. This is all very understandable, it can seem like a daunting task for the newcomer, but often the perception is worse than the reality if the club is supportive, if the club treats the organiser like a leper as soon as they take the job on, well, that’s a different kettle of fish……

Tradition can be a killer for an event, but can also be its saviour, especially in the case of memorial events. If we look at some of our remaining ‘Classics’, they have potentially endured due to a name being attached to them. This can create a commitment from people who may have known the individual on the trophy, by helping to find an organiser or taking an active role themselves. Either way, it creates an emotional attachment to a race, it allows it to endure. In one way a memorial race will struggle to develop beyond a certain point, the title may prevent this by removing the possibility of naming it after that big name sponsor you’ve finally found, or associating its name with a region or council who are willing to fund a major event. So it’s a double-edged sword, a memorial event probably allows endurance, but can impede development. A tricky situation which has to be handled well.

Money. The bigger the event, the bigger the pot of cash that’s required. A Premier Calendar event requires a significant prize fund & has to carry a Temporary Traffic Regulation order as a minimum. The minimum prize fund is currently £2000, which has dropped from a higher sum very recently, you can’t get this from entry fees alone, so to run these types of events you need some cash from sponsorship. Finding this money year after year is a big issue, the Girvan had to move from its traditional location, to Dumfries & become the Tour DoonHame in order to secure regional support. Events can grow to a certain size, attain our coveted & emotional ‘Scottish Classic’ status, then disappear due to funding. For the organisers who’ve made their event reach a certain level, then lose some funding, it’s often not in their nature to drop their event a level & to feel like they’ve taken a step back, so the events disappear. Big events require funding, but more importantly they require a driven team of people, if the funding is reduced through no fault of these people, then it’s understandable that their drive may diminish.

Modern Classics

So we’re looking at our future classic races having some features which help to cement their position on the calendar & hold a place in the racers heart, as a battle worth winning at the top of the domestic race scene. We need these events to have some of the following characteristics.

Prestige: The ability to attract all the top riders from Scotland, or even better, from the whole of the UK. This in turn attracts the much-needed publicity that attracts sponsorship & website or press coverage beyond the live audience.

Sustainability: A model in place which can secure an event for a number of years, whether this is from regional or local council support, a long-term sponsor, or a committed group of individuals who are determined to run the event for a number of years.

Innovation: The organisers of the event need to plan ahead. If you want to create a classic, you need to either have a very good idea, incredible organisational abilities, local support, or all these! Remember that most events on our calendar never attain the ‘Scottish Classic’ status, it requires a plan or incredibly good luck, only one of these can be chosen.

I’d define the 2013 British Road Race as the ultimate Scottish Classic, it will transform into the Commonwealth Games Road Race in 2014, imagine if it continued beyond that? We’d have a pro-level race on a set course, those who witnessed it will discount the various shouts of “it didn’t go over the Crow Road” & such other nonsense. This event was compelling to watch from the side of the road & captured the imagination of the public in vast numbers, it will be even more popular in 2014. As close as we can get to a true continental classic race.

The Jist Of It

We only need a few sustainable & resilient ‘Scottish Classics’, not every event can be a Tunnocks Teacake or Wafer, we also need Rich Tea & Hob Nobs, there’s a place for all events. By experimenting with race formats & moving away from standard events, we can hopefully find our resilient events with the capacity for growth, capable of moving road racing forward by providing headline events which attract the top riders.

What we really need is a well thought out & carefully planned calendar, with a wide cross-section of events, which will allow space for the top-level events to flourish. I attempted to provide a structure to that in a new Road Race League system under the Race Development topic. This in turn would provide the platform for new organisers with fresh ideas to step up & perhaps provide the Classics we all desire at the top rung of the domestic road race scene, along with encouraging our current organisers to continue with their sterling work.

An enduring Scottish Classic for the 21st Century is going to be quite different to the races we enjoyed in the last century. We need to take a step back in Obree-style & redesign them from the ground up, forgetting what we understood them to be in last century. It’s an excellent opportunity to spend some time having a good think about over the winter, who knows what you’ll come up with.

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Better Living Through Chemistry

For some reason, after a series of revelations from the USADA investigation into Lance Armstrong, the admission of Ryder Hesjedal has had a significant effect on people’s attitudes to ‘reformed dopers’. Michael Rasmussen’s recent excerpts from his book, mention how he ‘taught’ Hesjedal to dope while they were both mountain bikers, this was claimed to be in 2003. The big question we all ask is, why stop there, as Hesjedal claims, why not carry on as the EPO testing was ineffective at the time?

Ill Gotten Gains

Myself, among others, are becoming increasingly annoyed by the so-called clean riders, who are now performing exceptionally well in the ‘new clean cycling’ we see now. But as a BBC article showed last week, the effects of performance enhancing drugs like steroids & testosterone can have an effect for up to ten years. Is it any coincidence that the riders who are performing now, have a rich history of doping, but if caught, they all seem to claim they stopped in 2006 (conveniently just outside the time limit they could be charged with a doping offence on the 7 years statute of limitations rules) or “tried it just the once”. These riders are now making good livings & possibly beating riders through previous chemistry, a fact they may be completely unaware of, better living through chemistry.

It is easy to assume, that the gains accrued due to years of performance enhancing drug use, as proven in research, now allow the former users to have an advantage over riders who have never partaken in illegal methods. It makes the case for lifetime bans being considered under WADA rules for athletes caught using substances that can have a significant effect on performance outside the normal timeframes that are considered.

We can also assume that dubious coaches may take advantage of the new findings. Talented juniors could be identified, taken out of competition for 3 or 4 years, filled with performance enhancing drugs with no control, then launched into the U23 race scene, while riding clean they would be benefitting from the effects that the PED’s gave them over the extended period of doping & training under the guidance of the dubious doctor. We could be moving into a new age of doping, the age of historical doping.

Sanctions

There have been calls for the WADA list of banned substances to be upgraded & split into types. This would make sense for this ‘historical doping’ possibility. Any substance which research has proven to give gains beyond the time the substance is used, should carry a ban which extends to the maximum timeframe over which the effects may act, if it changes muscle structure, that could mean life. Alongside that, the gains from blood vector doping products like EPO should also carry a much longer sentence.

Currently, if you’re a bit daft & take an incorrect cold remedy that contains a banned substance, you get the same ban as you would do had you sourced EPO, then injected it into your arms. This isn’t a fair system.

WADA can’t police everything, athletes are going to dope no matter what, if they think they can get away with it. But the sanctions are currently not enough, having 2 years which is often reduced to one year or less is really not dealing with the issue. The gains for winning big events are so huge, that the risks are often seen as worth taking, with the chances of getting caught being so minimal. The list of banned substances needs to be categorised, with things we know are accidents being given much smaller sentences, while things like EPO being given career ending 4 or 5 year sentences (or anything that involves a needle), while research proven substances like testosterone or steroids, that show a long term benefit of up to 10 years being given that kind of ban.

The Jist Of It

If we don’t do something soon to change the entire strategy on doping in sport,  we’re setting up some of our talented younger generation for long-term manipulation from the dubious doctors we know already operate within our sport. These people will find a way to make money, if their old methods can now be detected, they may now resort to the newly researched ‘historical doping’. Research isn’t just for the catchers, it also helps the evaders, and they are looking for any opportunity to profit from the system.

So far the doctors shown themselves to be several steps ahead. High level dopers seem to be caught by testimony, not testing, the consequences are not high enough, we need to add career ending bans to riders who attempt to dope with career changing drugs.

As a consequence of the new research, I’ll no longer be pleased if proven former dopers like Hesjedal or a great number of his Garmin team-mates win races. Surely, for the good of the sport, these guys should retire & make way for riders who didn’t partake, but then again, how do we know who didn’t get involved, whatever their age?

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199 Laps (pt2)

I was blogging previously about Wiggins goal being the Hour record, rather than the Worlds TT, I think I’m more sure now.

Previous blog here: 199 Laps (pt1)

Behaviour

From what I’m seeing in the Tour of Britain, Wiggins doesn’t look like somebody who’s making the types of efforts we’d expect from somebody peaking & tapering for a World Championship. Wiggins is riding incredibly well, but all his efforts appear to be at or near threshold, apart from a bit of grimacing following Dan Martin & Quintana in the rain early on. It appears much earlier in the training programme than a just over a week before a major event. We’ve seen Wiggins disappear to training camps before major objectives in order to follow Sky’s strict training plans without the influence of other riders during races. So we’ve seen total control before, this time we see him riding a stage race in the period we’d expect to see him doing some specific training.

Yesterday, Wiggins took control on the lower slopes of Haytor leading up to the finale of the stage taken in impressive style by Simon Yates, who’s reportedly joining Orica Greenedge with his brother Adam. Rather than sitting on the hoods, Wiggins was riding on the drops, I immediately thought ‘muscular adaptation’. If I’m correct in this, we’ll see Wiggins adopt the drop bar position on more climbs, this is how you train your muscles to operate under load in an extreme position, like the Hour record. Wiggins looked very aero, would be interesting if any photo detail spotters can see any change in his position recently, bar width, position etc, as if he’s adapting to an Hour position, there would likely be some recent differences.

What to make of this?

There’s not much evidence, but a season goal of the TT Worlds doesn’t look like the actual goal to me, this weeks focus doesn’t appear to suggest that. It may be more likely that the Tour of Britain was a goal along the way to the Hour, with a medal in the TT Worlds as a bonus. The Hour is very controllable, he can do it whenever he likes, he can hide away & train specifically for it, then highlight the opening of the London velodrome with a record. If we look at it in ‘Sky’ way, it’s what they’re used to doing. The Hour is a simpler goal than racing against other riders, the target is set, nobody is going to go for it before him, if he can produce the power he can break the record. To get his confidence back, this is a goal that can be planned, if he gets ill he can put it back a week & keep it quiet from the press until the date is nearly upon us, could it be before Christmas?

Why wouldn’t he go for it?

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Tour of Britain, Tour of Scotland?

It’s the Scottish stage of the Tour of Britain today, looking outside, the weather looks stereotypically ‘Scottish’. After a glorious summer, cycling audiences worldwide now see Scotland in the middle of a storm, with max temperatures of about 12 degrees, 100kmh wind gusts & rain all day. If Cancellara were here he’d be telling the press his life was in danger & he would have face the indignity of wear an extra layer of clothing, so much so that you wouldn’t be able to see his bib shorts through his Leopard jersey, a travesty in his eyes. Everybody’s going to be dressed in rain capes or ‘Gabba’ jerseys, it’s not going to be quite the TV friendly marketing video we all know Scotland can produce on a nice, or even an ordinary day. Unfortunately it look likes we’re in store for a low visibility stage, with the windy potential for a lack of helicopters & live TV coverage.

TV Audiences

The Tour of Britain has grown considerably in recent years, with the successes of UK cyclists the home audience has multiplied. This year things have changed again, with the race being broadcast on live on both ITV4 & globally on Eurosport. This allows organisers Sweetspot to increase the impressive figures from 2012, of showing the race in 124 countries to over 288 million homes (excluding the unofficial pirate stream audience). The Scottish stage won’t be shown live in ITV4, only Eurosport, due to contractual commitments with the British Touring Car Championships.

Details HERE for TV coverage.

Live coverage starts today at 2pm (to 4pm) on Eurosport, with highlights on ITV4 at 9pm.

Marketing

The weather has a profound effect on the returns to local economies from hosting televised events like the Tour of Britain, not just in the amount of people who will turn up. The value of worldwide coverage on a sunny day, compared to when it’s blowing a hooly (trademarked by http://velocast.cc/), for an area that has a high interest in tourism, is very different. The current stage in Scotland suits the Tour of Britain, it limits the potentially bothersome long transfers, it’s close to the centre of population in Scotland. People will turn up to watch & it can be easily linked to the stages south of the border, through the denser populated areas, full of people willing to watch the event, which is what it’s all about, selling products.

So we have different marketing strategies at play in different races across the world, the master of it, the Tour de France, is able to gather large fees from towns & regions it visits, with finish locations being the most lucrative. Along with the stunning backdrop of France, helicopter cameramen taking just as many shots of château’s & mountains as they do riders, it also attracts big name sponsors, sports fans, non-sports fans & the French housewife/househusband daytime scenery viewing market, an excellent alternative to the kind of ‘This Morning’ & ‘Jeremy Kyle’ shows that can be found at these times.

Why not our own Tour?

So this brings me to bring up the question of the viability of a modern Tour of Scotland. Unsubstantiated rumours of a future Scottish Tour have been floating about for years, with not one confirmed interested party I might add, so don’t get your hopes up. There is nowhere more dramatic on a sunny day, but our sunny days are normally few & far between, apart from the glorious summer of 2013. Scotland has the potential to woo international audiences & perhaps attract them here for a holiday, a potential Scottish Tour would likely be based around that, with stages into sparsely populated, but incredible looking areas on TV. It would therefore be a very different model from the current Tour of Britain, which can visit the densely populated areas & gather an impressive amount of roadside fans, which looks great on TV. I can’t imagine that we’d see anything like that in Scotland, as we would imagine it would be based around funding from a tourism budget, otherwise we’d just have races in & around our city centres. This works great for one-off events like the British RR Champs or the Commonwealth Games, but a true Tour of Scotland can have these, plus the things Scotland is famous for, mountains, lochs & incredible scenery.

A race such as this can start small, and grow into something like the Ras in Ireland, it would have to do this before it got to the point where it received TV audiences abroad, unless a committed company saw an opportunity & started big. This is maybe where reality hits hard, we don’t have a history of being able to produce an event of this type, mainly because we’ve never tried. The Girvan/Tour DoonHame was an excellent event, very well organised, but suffered from funding issues.

A home Tour could give aspiring amateur riders something to focus their season on, if it eventually attracted some international amateur teams & the domestic semi-pro squads. In Ireland, the Ras provides a huge opportunity for riders to gain selection for county teams, the same could be done for the Scottish regions, selecting their best riders to race together in one event per year. If it attracted some media coverage, then surely sponsors could cover at least clothing & hotel costs.

How could we start the ball rolling?

Next years Commonwealth Games is going to generate a huge interest in cycling, so it could be an ideal opportunity to start something, not necessarily a week-long tour, but something we could use to test the practicality of it. How about a four-day event, utilising a bank holiday Monday. Three events could be run by volunteers, clubs who have the ability to run an event well, there’s plenty of them out there. These could be point to point events, where the next day, another club takes over to host the next stage. The Friday event could be run by Scottish Cycling, meaning we don;t have to expect the volunteers to take a day off their work, which isn’t going to work really. We’d need to use host towns that have the capability for a couple of hundred extra people, but in tourist areas, this shouldn’t be a problem, in fact the local area may welcome it.

These are just some thoughts, but I’ll be expanding on them in future, to see if it really is a pipe dream, or if a Tour of Scotland in a few years time could become a reality, with the involvement of Visit Scotland & the Scottish Government.

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