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.

Champing at the Brits

On June 23rd 2013, they’re only going & shutting down Glasgow City Centre for what will be a fantastic event, the British Cycling Road Race Championships!

The Courses

Fellow Scottish blogger @owenp has put up some information regarding the course HERE. The road race will be held on a 14.2km city centre course, the men will race 13 laps, the women 8 laps. However, the time trial will not be city centre based, but instead held near Stewarton, at first thought this seems a huge contrast in priorities of RR v TT, but read on.

The main purpose of hosting this years British champs as far as Glasgow Life are concerned, is to provide a test run for the main event, the 2014 Commonwealth Games. So with the huge expense of shutting down a major city centre, it’s no surprise that they are doing if for one day only in 2013. They’ll get all the info they need for the Commonwealths from this, there’s no need to use it for the time trial too. Based on this I’d expect the Commonwealth Games time trial to also be city centre based, perhaps not using the short sharp inclines from the road race course, but you never know. I actually think this is a very good plan that’s been set out here, it shows a fair amount of forethought and to hold the British Road Race Championships on a city centre closed circuit is a bold statement of intent, have the champs ever even been run on fully closed roads before on mainland UK, I’m not sure they have since the Isle of Man a good few years ago.

RR Course map click HERE.

TT Course map click HERE.

On the above assumptions, I’m not going to dwell too much on the TT, but concentrate more on the showpiece event, the men’s road race. As you can see from the map, the race start & finish is in Glasgow Green, which has also hosted a stage finish of the Tour of Britain. There’s some use of the pedestrianized shopping areas, like Argyle Street & Buchanan Street, but not the pedestrianized section of Sauchiehall Street, it joins on the road section of that street for obvious reasons, the permanent location of some serious obstacles would take a bit of moving. This takes it right into the heart of the city, the most visited streets, the places everybody can recognise on TV, it will also show Glasgow’s huge shopping areas to all the TV viewers, don’t forget that this is also a huge marketing opportunity that has been taken full advantage of by the hosts. We travel up & over to the West End, with no major climbs, but certainly some strength sapping inclines which are repeated for several hours, this isn’t an easy city centre course, as any rider trying to hit the sequence of lights without them changing red on St Vincent Street will attest, it takes lots of watts, this race will be gunning it.

Through Kelvingrove Park & then up again to Glasgow University, we can expect this will also be showing Glasgow in a very good light, there will be some great shots from here. Through to Byres Road, where we can expect visitors & clubmen enjoying a bit of cafe culture & some nice pubs (get your club ‘day out’ organised, you’ve plenty of options on this course for a bevvy!). We then ride uphill yet again, to Gibson Street, down & up to Park Circus, more rolling roads until we hit Montrose Street, which is a very steep little climb, should become quite painful after a few laps. This is no easy circuit, it’s worthy of a Championship, calls from some quarters of it going up the Crow are misguided, that’s too far from the finish to make much of a difference, the pro’s go up that in the big ring and really wouldn’t impact race to the extent some think, it’s a Tour cat 4 or at best a low-level cat 3.

Riders & Teams

Sky are the obvious favourites, if they field a full complement of British riders, they’ll have Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Gerraint Thomas, Peter Kennaugh, Ian Stannard, Josh Edmonson, Luke Rowe, Ben Swift, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, then they’ll be in an incredibly strong position. But with that strength comes responsibility, it will be deemed to be up to them to remove Mark Cavendish from the running, which isn’t going to be easy on a course like this, Cav can survive very well on short steep climbs. This will likely result in a very aggressive race, with Cav’s only Omega-Pharma Quick-Step team mate being Scotsman Andrew Fenn. Elsewhere in the top ranked UCI Pro Teams, we have BMC with Steve Cummings & my top tip for this race, Adam Blythe, Garmin has only David Millar & Movistar just Alex Dowsett. So a potential threat is going to come from some of the UCI Pro Continental teams, with Team Netapp Endura fielding Russell Downing, Jonny McEvoy, Eric Rowsell & Scott Thwaites. The mostly British based UCI Continental teams like Raleigh, Rapha etc, all have riders capable of pulling off a great result, but it will take a huge bit of luck to outmaneuver the European based riders, it’s highly likely the winner will come from a UCI Pro Team. My hunch on Blythe, is based on the nature of this course & the fact that he is a rider who just needs that one break, it’s going to happen somewhere & it could be in Glasgow, the nature of the course being technical can also suit his bike handling skills, I’m still going for him regardless of his recent bad luck in races. As far as Scottish riders go, old favourites Evan Oliphant & James McCallum will surely be going well and looking for opportunities (Oliphant has just won the first event in the UK road race series, the Premier Calendar), but don’t underestimate Michael Nicholson, this circuit should suit the kind of racing he’s used to in Belgium, I expect he’ll do an impressive ride.

All the teams will let Sky do the donkey work initially, at least that’s what should happen, so expect to see some domestic teams getting riders in a break early on and then seeing Sky rip it to pieces, but perhaps leaving themselves open to a late assault once their numbers are depleted. We can expect their particular skills to be based on riding flat-out for 40mins + on French mountains, so probably not ideally suited to a technical ‘jumpy’ race with plenty of corners and lots of short ascents. Watch all the other favourites sit back and let the super team take control, by the time you’re on your 4th pint, the action should be kicking off and you can stick your head out of the pub to see what’s happening. We’ll probably not see Wiggins & Froome taking to active a roll at the sharp end, fearing a mishap for the Tour de France, so their focus may be more towards their aggressive sprinter types, like Rowe & Swift. I expect to see hard man sprinters getting podium places, so take your pick, Blythe, Rowe, Swift, Downing, Fenn, etc, but I do expect Cav not to be there, I don’t know how they’ll do it, but failing to eject him from the selection is leaving only one possibility, it’ll be a fast race.

Conclusion

If you think this is a non event, miss it at your peril, there’s household names racing on our home streets. Whether or not your one of the ‘glorified criterium’ brigade, or other doubters, you really need to get yourself out on that course & support an event of this stature, it’s going to incredible to watch. I’ll be there, hopefully on a sunny day with a pint in my hand from a suitably good vantage point, if I manage to find one, there’s absolutely no way I’m publishing where it is. Some things we need to keep to ourselves & make sure there’s not too big a queue at the bar. Viva the Champs.