A Complete Cav?

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

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

Job Done

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

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

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

Track Training

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

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

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

The Gist Of It

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

 

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.

Off Piste on the Alpe

Many question how a track rider can become a good mountain climber & take Alpine stages or do well in general classification, but this isn’t just confined to British riders, there was one notable performance in this years Tour by an ex track rider, I bring you Christophe Riblon.

The ‘Other’ Chris

This years stage to the Alpe d’Huez was a new experiment for the Tour, they chose to climb the famous mountain twice, utilising the questionable surface of Col de Saronne descent on the way. An AG2R rider, Christophe Riblon won on the day, after a long breakaway

In the year prior to the 2008 Olympics, there was a World Cup track meeting on the same velodrome to be used in Beijing, this event was attended by two British Tour de France notables, Mark Cavendish & Bradley Wiggins. They had gone all the way to China to test the track & gain qualification points for the Olympics, there were 3 British teams racing as a national team & two UCI registered teams, they wanted to do well. The T-Mobile riders (Rob Hayles & Geraint Thomas were riding in the British skinsuits) did a great ride, finishing 2nd, on the same lap to French duo Jerome Neuville & our climber, Christophe Riblon. Further down the placings, you can see the quality of the field, not what you’d call a soft race with riders like Loan Llaneras, Iljo Keisse, Alex Rasmussen, Michael Morkov, Greg Henderson & Hayden Roulston.

Riblon wasn’t a newcomer to the track, he’s performed at national & world-class level going back as far as 2002, where he was a silver medallist in the European Team Pursuit championships, silver in the 2003 French Points Race, silver in the 2008 World Points Race, silver in Worlds Madison in 2010, lots of silvers, a quality track rider. Meanwhile he was also doing very well in the mountains, with 2nd in GC at the 2005 Tour de l’Avenir, 2nd place in the mountains classification at the 2007 Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, a 6th place in the 2009 Tour stage to Andorra Arcalis, 13th in that same Tour’s stage to Mont Ventoux, just 3 places behind his old Madison rival Wiggins. He can also time trial, he took 8th place in a 2009 Vuelta a Espana time trial won by Cancellara, losing less than a minute over 30km.

Up to 2010 he was doing well, but we can probably say this was his breakthrough year, another year where he mixed track with road. His palmares show a huge amount of top ten places, culminating with a win on stage 14 of the Tour de France to Ax-les Thermes, beating Menchov, Sanchez & little Schlecker into the 2nd, 3rd & 4th placings. He also secured a top 10 placing overall in the Dauphine, which included a 7th place on the Alpe d’Huez stage, in fine company yet again. I have to admit, before compiling this blog, I had no idea of the quality of Riblon, he’s achieved steady improvement over a number of years & I expect to see him continue this over the next couple of years.

Track to Road

We often hear that nobody can quite understand how UK track riders are able to transfer their abilities to road racing, especially in grand tours. It seems that if you’re good at track, then you can’t be good at stage racing by the ‘experts’, but lets look at this example of Riblon. He has won a couple of World track silver medals, I’d suggest that if France had the same level of support, coaching & resources in their national track squad as the UK did, Riblon would have won a lot more medals, perhaps some gold ones. If you think that’s not the case, then there’s the strange ‘logic’ (among some) that a less talented track rider will be a more talented road racer, so if the Britis riders were finishing 4th or 5th in the Olympic track events, then they can climb better, I’d don’t understand that ‘logic’.

I’d also suggest that Riblon was just as talented a track rider as any endurance rider on the British squad, as far as I know Riblon has no questions asked about him. If we put across a scenario where Riblon was not French, but rode for Britain, would he have the same questions raised about his track abilities transferring to the road?

The Big Question

My real question is, have many nations missed spotting some road talents by chasing track medal success & not giving chances to their successful riders to transfer to road racing, is there a big international talent pool about to surface, particularly in France? Riblon could easily have been missed & stuck to track racing, his Madison partner Jerome Neuville also have been a great road rider on the largest stage, but he remained predominantly on the track. Maybe France needs to take a good look at their under 23 track riders, who knows what’s lurking in there ready to take on the Tour & revive French cycling.

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The Brit Awards & Scots Metallurgy?

Tomorrow British Road Race Championships in Glasgow are gong to be incredibly tough, there’s a large number of world-class riders in both races. Our home-grown riders are going to have to pull off an extraordinary ride, plus have lots of luck on their sides to sneak near a podium. A circuit such as this, with plenty of crunch points, can mean that if there’s a group left at the finish with some of our home-grown riders in it, anything could happen. The men’s race is probably going to be an impossible task to podium for any domestic pro, but our riders can still pull off an incredible ride. The women’s race is likely to be more level, with the top riders not having such an extensive international calendar to ride, so the difference should be less.

The Ladies

Who are the Scots?

  • Jane Barr : Breast Cancer Care Cycling Team
  • Anne Ewing : Breast Cancer Care Cycling Team
  • Eileen Roe : Breast Cancer Care Cycling Team
  • Laura Murray : Breast Cancer Care Cycling Team
  • Katie Archibald : City of Edinburgh RC
  • Claire Martin : Edinburgh RC
  • Jennifer Taylor : Equipe Velo Ecosse/Montpeliers
  • Julie Erskine : Granite City RT
  • Charline Joiner : MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling
  • Gemma Neill : Pedal Power RT
  • Anda-Jay Burgess : Sandy Wallace Cycles
  • Claire Thomas : Unattached

The Scots quartet from the Breast Cancer Care Team are all very strong riders, but as I’ve suggested on Twitter, I think Eileen Roe is going to thrive in the rainy & slippy conditions tomorrow. A strong cyclo-cross rider, skilled in many disciplines & able to handle a bike in slippery conditions, Belgian sprint finishes & icy cross races, she should be able to use less energy during the race to hold position, I’m tipping her for a great ride tomorrow, top Scot on this course, in these conditions. The full podium from the Scottish champs in May will be here, with champ Jennifer Taylor & Julie Erskine riding. I’ll be really interested to see how Katie Archibald gets on, she seems like a robust rider, but potentially lacking some road racing experience, this race should help, but she will be fast & able to handle pace changes, which this course will throw up relentlessly. Charlene Joiner is another to watch, she’s been improving her road racing recently from her track background, her turn of speed in the finish could surprise others, but she has to get there first. The race will be invaluable for next years Commonwealth Games for these riders, not just for the course, but also for experiencing racing in front of large crowds, which domestic based riders will rarely have seen.

The Gents

Who are the Scots?

  • Michael Nicolson : Doltcini Flanders
  • Alex Coutts : Herbalife-Leisure Lakes Bikes.com
  • Gary Hand : Herbalife-Leisure Lakes Bikes.com
  • Robert Hassan : Ibaigane Opel
  • David Lines : MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling
  • Andrew Fenn : Omega-Pharma – Quickstep
  • James McCallum : Rapha Condor JLT
  • Scott McCrossan : Rock to Roll Cycles Ltd
  • Ross Edgar : Team IG – Sigma Sport
  • Evan Oliphant : Team Raleigh
  • Robert Wardell : Trek UK
  • *Update – Craig Adams : GJS Cruise Racing (added from reserve list)
  • *Update – Andrew Whitehall : Equipe Velo Ecosse/Montpeliers (added from reserve list)
  • *Update – Peter Hale : GJS Cruise Racing (added from reserve list)

We also have a few other Scots who you can also adopt, but could ride for other parts of the UK if they choose, so I’ll not label them if they perhaps don’t want labelled. Ali Rutherford (Wheelbase/Altura/MGD) has ridden the Commie Games for Scotland previously & was on the podium at the Scottish road champs last year, his dad Jimmy, may be known to many of you. David Millar (Garmin Sharp), Malta born with a Scottish father, lived as a toddler in Forres, a teenager in Hong Kong and then global jetsetter, will be fiercely named as a true Scotsman if he gets a podium. Our newly adopted Scotsman, but not quite officially yet as he’s not quite lived in Scotland long enough, is Ben Greenwood (Team Hope Factory Racing), the popular rider who recently rode on a Scottish national team at the Ras. Don’t be surprised if he’s quite rightly one of us in the Commonwealth Games next year.

It’s unlikely the Scots will ride as a team, they’re pretty much fragmented across a wide variety of teams of different standings, although you may find a few lone wolves clubbing together to try to get something out of the race. Recent Scottish champ Gary Hand is undoubtably in form, but part of a strong team, so he may be involved in getting a result for one of them, the same with the other Scottish champs podium riders James McCallum & David Lines. McCallum has been racing visibly up front in a large number of televised criterium races recently, so his form is there, but perhaps not had time to gain the endurance for an event of this length after running about the UK for the last few weeks. Uber talent Hassan is an unknown, he’s been racing in the Basque country, the prolonged climbing in those races may not be ideal preparation for this type of event. Oliphant & Nicholson could do great rides too, Oliphant always has form, but again is racing with an ambitious Raleigh Team who will be wanting a big result. Nicholson could be a surprise to many, his diet of racing in Belgium isn’t too dissimilar from the style of course here, he has no team commitments either, so one to watch. Rab Wardell, the mountain biker is a classy road rider too, he’s been riding the world MTB circuit, including World Cup events. So not to be sniffed at & if you look at the amount of top-level road riders who have come from that scene and started performing in Grant Tours & Classics, Wardell should have some form & his social media shows he’s been taking the course preparation quite seriously.

We have two riders from the top-level teams, Millar & Fenn, I’ve got a hunch on Fenn. His teammate Cavendish is riding, so if Cav can force 2 or 3 Sky riders to destroy themselves early on to try & remove Cav, then the race gets onto a more even footing & Sky’s strength is diminished. So don’t be surprised if Fenn is left on his own by half way & the Omega Pharma quick-Step boys will be having a smile. Millar is always good, but I really don’t think it’s the course for him, if there’s a chance he gets to ride the Tour, he’ll also be riding on the more cautious side.

As you know from Champing At The Brits, I’m tipping Yorkshireman Adam Blythe for the win, after suffering through the Giro & having a rider of the quality of Cummings in support.

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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.