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).

 

Track Cycling’s Strange Quirk

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

The Banking Effect

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

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

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

‘Analytic Cycling’ Study

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

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

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

The Gist Of It

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

 

Hour Record – Pre-Wiggins attempt

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

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

Wiggins Problems

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

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

The Gist Of It

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

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

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

 

 

3600 Seconds: Part1

Embed from Getty ImagesThat old fella Jens Voigt ended my ‘199 Laps’ series of blogs, simply by doing more than 199 laps, so I’m carrying on with a more permanent title for the Hour Record blogs, ‘3600 seconds’. A new era of record-breaking has arrived, which I don’t expect to continue in large numbers beyond 2015 (for men anyway) where somebody will put it at a level that will take a momentous effort to beat. Whether that’s Wiggins, or somebody who can beat the performance I think Wiggo is capable of, the record will be stratospheric in a years time. My archive of Hour Record blogs is HERE.

Quick Update

Jens Voigt was first to have a go at the Hour Record after it was reset by the UCI, but we’ve covered that before, plenty of times (check out my Hour Record archive for more info). He covered 51.110km on the 18th September 2014 at the 250m Velodrome Suisse in Grenchen, that’s a fine start to rebirth of this record, not quite as fast as the mark set by Francesco Moser of 51.151km in 1984. Followed by what one must assume was a nice retirement party & the obligatory watch was hopefully presented, quite fitting for what he’d just done. Then, on 30th October 2014 we had a rider I had little or no knowledge about, Matthias Brändle. He broke Jens record with 51.852km on the short 200m track at The World Cycling Centre (Aigle, Switzerland).

Since then we’ve had several riders talking about attempts (hopefully outside Switzerland for a change), thankfully including one woman, here’s a run down on what we have confirmed & what we have rumoured in anticipated chronological order. It’s looking like a lovely year for the Hour Record, plenty of attempts, unless of course, somebody knocks it out of the park very early, which is the trouble with a record attempt, you either win or lose, there is no 2nd place.

  • Jack Bobridge: January 25th, Melbourne
  • Rohan Dennis: February 8th 2015, Velodrome Suisse
  • Alex Dowsett: February 27th, London. (updated)
  • Sarah Storey: February 28th, London (confirmed) 46.065km womens record to beat.
  • Thomas Dekker: rumoured spring 2015
  • Bradley Wiggins: June 2015, likely London.
  • Alex Rasmussen: rumoured Autumn 2015, likely Copenhagen
  • Rasmus Quaade: likely Copenhagen
  • Ondrej Sosenka: Date unconfirmed, likely Moscow.

The Women

The 2003 record set by Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel will be first assaulted at the Olympic velodrome in London by a rider with too long a palmarès to list, Sarah Storey. She’ll go at the Revolution meeting on 28th February, the target to reach is 46.065km. For old timers, that’s as fast as riding a ’25’ in 52 minutes, but I think Storey will break it, possibly by no more than a km. Actually I hope it’s not by too much, an incredible performance at the first attempt may put the womens record on the shelf, I’d like to see as much interest as there has been from the men (hold a little back for the rematch Sarah). There could be a multitude of riders capable, tried & tested track riders like Sarah Hammer & wild cards like accomplished time triallist Emma Pooley might promote their tri-bike to another audience with a rapid hour (remember she took silver in the Glasgow 2014 TT only a few months ago).

The Men

Looking at the above list, it’s highly likely we’ll not see an attempt by Rasmussen later in the year, the record will likely be well out of reach by then. We can probably also discount Rasmus Quaade unless he does it very soon. Ondrej Sosenka, who held the ‘Athletes Hour’ & was later caught for doping, also looks unlikely, he needs to wait a while until he has some biological passport data after his break, so he may have ditched plans already. That leaves us with some high quality riders who can all set a very high mark, by March this record will only be taken seriously by the riders at the very top of the sport, in their very top condition. There’s plenty of online chat about Tony Martin, but I don’t believe he’ll ever hold this record. His style won’t work well on the track even if he produces more power than everybody else & could smash them in a straight line, the Hour Record is a different beast, it rewards a mixture of souplesse & power.

The Gist Of It

An incredible year ahead & at last the Hour has come back into the spotlight. The mens may be considered unbeatable by June, but the womens may become more interesting during the second half of the year. If Sarah Storey gets plenty of press it may spur some others into having a go. The womens peloton may be more open to embracing it in future as they attempt to increase their earning power & try to add additional value to sponsors, to a side of the sport given much less TV time & publicity than almost every mens discipline. A great year ahead, but those 3600 seconds will be some very painful & memorable ones for the riders.

199 Laps (pt6)

Embed from Getty ImagesUnfortunately, for the most interested followers of this series of Hour Record blogs, under the ‘199 Laps’ banner, I’m not even making up the Brad Wiggins attempt date this time round, he’s done it for me this time!

For those just tuning in, completing 199 laps of a 250m track will break the current revised UCI Hour Record, which is just under 50km, hence the title. The big guns in mens time trialling, Tony Martin, Fabian Cancellara & Wiggins can all easily extend this by quite a way if they made an attempt. To add to the UCI’s story, it seems they’re not going to allow anybody who is not participating in the UCI’s bio-passport programme a chance to have a go at the record. UK time trialling ace Matt Bottrill enquired about this, but was told he could attempt a masters record, but not the actual ratified UCI Hour record.

June 2015

William Fotheringham secured the latest information during an interview with the Guardian this week. Wiggins has pencilled in late June, the interview is HERE. The smart money is on Brad going to go for this at London, not only because he’s from there originally (well, some argue we could say he was originally Belgian), but it’s also the correct shape of 250m track for this kind of record. Much more of a bowl than a track like Glasgow, London has shorter straights & shallower bends, allowing a smoother transition for the endurance records.

Wiggins is also targeting Paris-Roubaix again, I suspect this will see him confirming that he’s never riding a grand tour again. We know he’s considering adding some muscle mass, which will benefit him on the track & on the pavé. But this will compromise his climbing ability & any mountain domestique duties that he may have been lined up for, essentially ruling him out of a Tour squad, unless Froome thinks Brad is now too ‘Hulk Hogan’ to try to unseat him as leader. In the world of Wiggins, nothing is really written in stone, everything can & probably will change before June.

Who Else?

Cancellara was quite keen on the Merckx style record, before they introduced the revised rules on aero equipment. We’ve not heard a peep from Tony Martin, but as I’ve said before, it may take a little more track work to his incredibly effective brute-force style to convert that to a smooth track technique.

I’d also be surprised if another lesser known World-Tour rider doesn’t have a go before June. With full aero equipment & maybe a little track pedigree, I’m sure pretty much any rider from one of the top teams could reach 50km in an hour with aerodynamic equipment, until one of the specialists blows it out of the water. This is a huge opportunity for somebody to put their name in the record books, now that Wiggo has set a date, the deadline is drawn to have a go before it becomes an impossible task. I’m thinking especially of the large amount of Aussies & Kiwi’s with vast track experience, but we also have a rider like Phinney, who could potentially devote some time to this project as part of his recuperation & set a very competitive distance. Don’t rule out other experienced track riders on the bio-passport programme (Michael Morkov?) during a winter Six Day, a flagging event could provide their local star with an opportunity to break a prestigious record, while also selling a few more tickets to the locals in the process. I find it highly unlikely that nobody will make an attempt before June, it’s just too lucrative an opportunity to miss for rider, Six Day, or even one of the Revolution meetings to include an Hour Record attempt, even if it only stands for a short period of time. Is there currently any publicly accessible way in which we can see any riders who have signed up & funded their own bio-passport programme, if they’re not in the top-tier of teams?

The Gist Of It

It’s fairly secure Wiggins will go for the Hour Record in 2015, the question is, who will go for it first? I suspect Martin & Cancellara will not consider an attempt before June, they would have to devote far too much time to that one goal. It’s likely they’ll see what Brad can do, then secretly test to see it their own attempt is a possibility. This would upset a resurgence in the Hour Record, I can only hope that Brad leaves a little in the tank. If the record is absolutely shelved in June we may not see another attempt for a decade, but at least we would have a Tour champion holding it. Ideally, I’d like to see some more hour battles in the near future, not a record knocked completely out of the park, Brad, don’t go quite full gas, please.

199 Laps (pt5)

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Bradley Wiggins was reported earlier today as competing in two track events at Glasgow’s Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. This later changed to just one event, the Team Pursuit with no Individual Pursuit planned for the former Tour champion. What are we to make of this decision, is he shunning his old friend, I doubt it, he has other plans, it’s about time for a bit more wild speculation to add to my previous beardy ideas….

After many reports of seeing Brad training on a GB pursuit bike since his public exclusion from the Sky Tour de France team, I had perhaps incorrectly assumed he was out to prove something with a world standard pursuit ride at Glasgow. I’d have no doubt that if he put his mind to it, Wiggins could certainly still record such a time, but that would involved much shorter & harder training sessions, which would likely have a detrimental effect on his time trial form for the rest of 2014.

I think we’ll see him go on to attempt an Hour Record ride in a short space of time after Glasgow, obviously that period of time will depend on form, I doubt even he knows. The current revised UCI Hour Record ride is within relatively easy reach of a rider such as Wiggins, if you can complete 199 laps within the Hour, or 49.75km, you’ve got it, all on a UCI regulation conforming pursuit bike. Exactly like the one he’s been doing Team Pursuit efforts on, which require high power output & fast recovery, also ideal for muscle adaptation for rattling out a high power output for an hour on the bankings.

It all makes sense now, taking time out for pursuit training would have made a bigger dent in his road season, ditching that one event complements his other goals, such as Worlds TT & the Hour Record. The beauty of the Hour Record, is that he can pick & choose the date when he’s in form & attempt to knock it out of the park for a Cancellara attempt. Whoever goes first will get it, but whoever goes second is under a much greater amount of stress. These guys can’t really fail to ride 50km in an hour, but every km above that gets harder & harder, the advantage is in going first. Time is slowly running out to become that first rider with others expressing interest.

Having looked at the long-range weather forecast, there may be a chance of low temperatures & rain on the date of the time trial in Glasgow. So to add to the speculation which always surrounds Bradley these days, I’d suggest that he may still start, but it’ll depend on the weather. Normally he probably wouldn’t be bothered, but if he’s on a specific plan to a specific goal, then a cold ride like that could set him back, it’s better to train by yourself than to risk illness.

A possible time trial victory in Glasgow, closely followed by an Hour Record ride, set against an underperforming Sky team at the Tour de France is a good marketing opportunity for a UK rider attempting to raise their public profile. Watch this space & we’ll probably only hear a week before he’s booked the London Velodrome for his ride.

Previous Outrageous Hour Record Speculation below:

 

The Madness of Sir Dave

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The fans are unhappy, well lets say ‘irate’ over Wiggins dropping the bombshell to the British public, that one of their fondest sporting icons will not be chosen for the Sky Team for the Tour de France. This is the culmination of a series of problems running right back to the 2011 Vuelta Espania, where the physical abilities of Froome & Wiggins were first seen in direct comparison. This led to power struggle within the team which was never dealt with satisfactorily, the Sky management & initial premise the team was set up on are to blame. The riders are only doing what they can to protect their own positions, after all other avenues have failed, I blame the team, not either rider. Dave Brailsford lost the changing room a long time ago, fluffy management & a failure to imagine the consequences of that are now hugely evident, it looks like madness to not have dealt with conflicts a long time ago.

Blurred Definition

When Team Sky was launched, the public were led to believe that it was very close to Team GB, which was further accentuated by the sharing of resources, specifically the staff & management. Dave Brailsford was taking on a dual role, having had incredible success with the track team & produced multiple gold medals, he was put in charge of both Sky & GB, although only recently he’s assumed only Sky leadership. In hindsight, we can consider that a grave error. Sky was portrayed to the public as an accentuation of Team GB, a very British team, continuing the Olympic success into the trickier, but much more lucrative & competitive world of professional cycling. One week we’d see Brailsford in his Sky kit, the next he’d be doing an interview in the GB kit, the general sports fans would have assumed that Sky & GB were one & the same, it’s unthinkable for a top football team to have the same manager as the national team, surely they’re the same?

Again, in hindsight, we can look back & see that this was never going to be a suitable arrangement in the long-term. A professional team funded by one of the most ruthless media empires on the planet, running alongside a team based on winning medals at the Olympics. One hugely commercial & value determined by media exposure & increasing sales, the other based on a four-year cycle & the value based on the ‘feel good’ factor of a nation. These two contrasting motivations are mostly incompatible, but only occasionally cross over, was it correct to have the same people running them?

The Future

Sky was seen as a place for young British riders to develop their talent, it’s the place to avoid now, as shown by the Yates brothers going to Orica Green Edge instead. They were fully aware that they would be used as lower slope cannon-fodder for Froome or Wiggins, which wasn’t the best option for their career progression. Take Peter Kennaugh as a prime example, huge talent, but not given the chances he deserves & put in positions where he can’t show his talent or learn to become a leader. Other teams would revel in having a rider like him, but Sky’s formulaic approach to stage racing ignores the majority of riders they have in their ranks & their ability to win races, or stages of major events.

In many people’s eyes, Sky WAS Bradley Wiggins, he epitomised it’s Britishness, with his RAF logo & the Olympic throne image, further accentuating the blurring between Sky & GB. With Wiggins now likely leaving, perhaps Brailsford can look on this as a new dawn, he can put to one side his previous pressures from the British public to put national icons, or British riders first. They’ve been hugely successful up to now, with multiple stage race wins & two Tour de France victories. But as things are, things have to change to manage the expectations of all their riders, not just a handful of ‘favourites’. Sky need to keep riders happy, which is where an effective managements team & strategy is required. Sky doesn’t have that, their clinical approach to stage racing is being copied by others, but their man-management certainly is not.

In order for Sky to progress & keep their sponsors happy, they now need to change tack. Taking the incredible hard-line on removing anybody who had any links to doping is now looking like a bad move, while those staff members had their faults, they removed access to the people who would be able to manage the current situation very well. Those who understand the sport, have ridden in teams where there have been huge ego wars & know how to sort problems. Maybe it’s time to rethink that strategy, to soften it a little & stop the same thing happening over again, rather than removing an entire generation of experience from having an input.

Managing Expectations

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When riders have to resort to releasing books to determine harmonious Tour squads, or appearing on rival news programmes to your team sponsor to put their side of the story across, the management have failed. In fact, its complete madness to have allowed things to get into the situation they are currently in. Two huge talents, whose personalities have been dramatically mismanaged since 2011. Both have released books in which they report the strains between each other, hopefully what we are seeing now is the bottom of the pit & things can improve.

There’s a danger that if the expectations of riders are not seen to be managed correctly, then Sky will only attract a certain type of talent. The ambitious young riders may stay clear & seek other teams to learn their craft, left with the mid to late career riders seeking a payout rather than glory, remember that team the Texan was on, with him & a bunch of old guys on good salaries. Nobody wants to see that happen to Sky, but the kind of public ‘bust-ups’ that we’re seeing now are only going to turn the team in one direction.

Sky need to offer opportunities, realistic ones to all their riders. Riders need to share leadership roles during the season, could their classics seasons be an example of how this is something seriously lacking, maybe their riders simply don’t know how to lead a team due to having never had to? Various riders have commented on that, including Ian Stannard in Rouleur last year, they need opportunities & team support, not just in maintaining wattages to burn off the competition, but to win when others are individually stronger than yourselves. We generally call this ‘tactics’, something which are generally absent from the best performing events for GB at the Olympics. Brailsford tends to call this ‘not able to control’, what he means is he doesn’t know how to control it if it’s not based on simply having more watts than the next guy.

The Gist Of It

There’s a danger that Froome is going to hated by the UK public when the Tour arrives in the UK if this continues in the press. This isn’t correct, I think the venom is aimed at the wrong target, the target isn’t necessarily Dave Brailsford, but a team’s ethos, projected image, lack of experience & poor management. They’ve made a series of blunders which have led to the extreme measures both riders have taken to try & protect their positions. I do have faith that Brailsford can pull this back if he’s given the opportunity, I think he’s a man who can learn from mistakes, losing Wiggins may be his saviour, it may also be Wiggins, allowing him to fulfill his potential, which is still huge. Sky are left with a potential multiple grand tour winner & a wealth of talent, if used wisely & nurtured correctly, then it can flourish across events outside just the major stage races. They also need to reconfigure their staff recruitment policies & get some (maybe just the one) big-ego hard liners in to sort out any future conflicts, I wonder how much Bernard Hinault is charging these days for conflict negotiation duties.

Wiggo Comes to Glasgow, again…

Wiggins
Brad in the Team Sky ‘Death Star’ bus.

A source close to Team Sky has provided some startling information regarding the motivation behind newly bearded Bradley Wiggins decision which was announced today, that he is taking part in the Commonwealth Games time trial in Glasgow. It transpires that the choice may have been heavily influenced by some new-found friends he encountered during his ‘winter of discontent’ after his 2012 Tour de France victory.

Brad allegedly fell asleep on a train after a particularly wild night out in Manchester, then woke up in Glasgow Central station several hours later. Not wanting to waste the trip, the Olympic hero decided to explore the local culture as an accidental tourist & happened upon Glasgow Cross, where the patrons of the long-established Tollbooth bar welcomed him in with open arms. There he entertained the locals for two whole days with his tails of conquering France & the finer points of cultivating facial hair, the latter of which was a speciality of many of the regulars. During this time many stories were told of the amazing opportunities that exist for bearded gentlemen that simply did not exist for the sideburned Sir, his mind was made up & a full beard was planned for Glasgow 2014. Not only would this provide some additional warmth for the Scottish summer (marginal gains), but he would also win the hearts & minds of an otherwise potentially hostile public, not partial to a shaven legged Englishman, wearing a St Georges cross skinsuit in Glasgow City Centre, just a few weeks prior to the referendum on Scottish Independence. With the finest ginger beard seen on the face of any professional cyclist the world had ever seen, he could woo the Scottish crowds & this time sit on the Commonwealth throne (rather than the Olympic one) as his rivals recorded their times on the leaderboard. The scene was set for a relatively relaxed 2013 race programme, followed by winter 2013/2014 spent cultivating the secret weapon, the fastest ginger whiskers in history, designed to create adoration from the Scottish public. Then a full assault for the Glasgow 2014 Time Trial title as his primary objective. As it’s transpired, this is exactly what is happening.

A source close to somebody who watches ‘The One Show” has confirmed that Hugh Porter will not be the BBC commentator during the Commonwealth cycling events, but instead they will be using Brad’s close friend & doppelgänger Frankie Boyle, also a big fan of the monarchy. Unknown to most, Frankie is also a keen cyclist & has an in-depth knowledge of the finer points of aero helmets & race pacing, it should provide much better coverage that Hugh’s constant “full of riding” commentary we see in every event. The post race interview with Brad & Frankie is scheduled to be broadcast after 9pm for some undisclosed reason, so Frankie’s wife Susan Boyle will be interviewing riders during the daytime & providing post race soundbites.

In a recent poll of attitudes towards Bradley Wiggins from a wide demographic of Scottish cycling fans, it showed a very large swing towards “Good Guy”, in a stark contrast to a pre-beard poll which showed the majority chose the other option. The strategy appears to have worked well & I urge all spectators to cheer on Bradley when you see him on the course. He’s certainly made a huge effort & deserves our support.

If you’d like to meet Brad after the time trial on 31st July, it’s almost certain you’ll find him in his favourite Glasgow bar, seeking advice on his next career goal.

199 Laps (pt3)

Having failed miserably in my Hour Record predictions in my previous blogs, I’m obviously going to continue & make some more ‘informed’ & potentially inaccurate predictions as to Wiggins behaviour.

Fabs

Fabian Cancellara has been reported today in the Italian press to be aiming for an Hour Record attempt after the Tour this year. We knew last year an attempt would be made by ‘Spartacus’ at some point in 2014, but this is the closest we’ve got to anything definitive. We also have no confirmed venue, hopefully he’ll not go for the Aguascalientes track in Mexico, which was used for a UCI Track World Cup in December 2013, placing the record out of reach of any attempts at sea level. The UCI don’t differentiate anymore between altitude records & sea level records, most of the competition records are now at altitude, which isn’t important for direct competition & medals, but is very important for world record attempts.

Positions & Bikes

The UCI has been reported to have been looking at changing the rules on the Hour record, currently you have to adopt an Eddy Merckx style velocipede & modern developments like aero rims, triathlon handlebars, profiled tubes & power meters are banned. Which makes putting together a competitive Hour record bike actually quite difficult to get the best aero advantage. An off-the-peg frame probably isn’t going to give the best extreme position for an hour locked in a drop bar position as they’re set up for bunch racing, while pursuit bikes are set up for riding with tri-bars. We saw Chris Boardman have one specially built & Graeme Obree’s planned attempt had a bike with a very long top tube. The UCI’s ‘progressive’ idea was to stop technology playing such a big part in the record, but ended in destroying any interest in the former ‘blue riband’ event in cycling records. Former Tour winners & cycling champions would often attempt it at the end of their careers, this tradition has now ended, but there is a resurgence in interest now with time trial specialists like Cancellara, Tony Martin & Bradley Wiggins all interested.

Hopefully we’ll have a relaxation in the rules before Cancellara’s attempt, so a current UCI legal pursuit bike can be used. The record has always progressed aerodynamically, with riders from different era’s not being compared directly by the fans, it was a mistake of the UCI to attempt to lock the medal at the technology of 1972, that was never really going to work. You can see the iconic names on the all time list of Hour Record holders in THIS link.

My Latest Wiggins Prediction

I’ve been reading a lot of interviews with Brad recently, he seems to have his head re-attached after a lacklustre 2013 (for him). Looking at his goals for 2014, an Hour Record will fit in nicely, but I’m going for a much later date now that my previous prediction of a late 2013 or early 2014 attack on the record, which has been well & truly discredited.

I’m looking at his build up to the 2014 World Time Trial Championships, which will be held in spain on the 24th September. The Worlds preparation includes the Vuelta, where he can do plenty of Hour Record specific muscular adaptation work on the drops, possibly without anybody noticing.

The UCI have a Track World Cup scheduled the 7th to 9th November. Would it be too much for Brad to ask if British Cycling would like to include a sneaky wee Hour Record attempt in there. With the Commissaire’s & officials all present, plus a partisan crowd, wouldn’t it be even more exciting for him if that World Cup was held at the London Velodrome? So there’s my latest prediction, 8th November, London, Bradley Wiggins Hour Record attempt. (Disclaimer. I don’t even know if that World Cup is being held in the UK, but let’s get some interest going in the Hour Record again, prove me wrong, but we’re all missing out by not having our top time trialists attempting it)

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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199 Laps

When a rider such as Wiggins decides that a weight penalty of (reportedly) an additional 8kg is for winning the Worlds time trial, when he’s beaten the opposition at his low le Tour weight, we know there’s something else going on, could it be a UCI record attempt?

Recent Patterns

We saw Brad winning the Tour de Pologne TT by some margin, this was over a distance of 37km, it took him approx 47 minutes, in this event he beat Taylor Phinney by a margin of 1min 14seconds. Roll on a couple of weeks & we see him finish 5th but beat Phinney by the much reduced margin of 2 seconds in the Eneco Tour, but in a much shorter & punchier 13km effort. When we wonder why he’s putting on some extra weight right now, the answer could be glaringly obvious, he’s preparing his body to withstand an hour & 400 velodrome bankings at 50kmh, it’s very hard to do that if you’re skin & bones like the 2012 Tour Wiggo. I’ve blogged previously about how reduced weight leads to reduced cross-section of arms, body, legs etc, resulting in reduced aerodynamic drag, we know Wiggins can TT with the best at his Tour winning weight, so putting that weight back on (as muscle) can mean only one thing to me, a dual objective to salvage & make his season exceptional, to bow out on a glittering career as I’ve suggested previously. I think he’s on for a pop at the UCI Hour Record, to write his name into that record book too.

The Worlds TT is 57.2km, he’s doing that in full aero kit, so the comparable time could be just over the hour, the double objective is so close physiologically, that it would be an opportunity to miss. This could explain why he’s not so good against the opposition over the shorter distance like in the Eneco TT, he’s possibly not training for that distance at all, so going into the higher zone over a shorter distance isn’t going to show him at his best, CP16 Versus CP60 for those power nerds (including me).

Why Muscle?

If you’ve ever ridden behind a Derny at 50kmh on a 250m track for a few minutes, you’ll understand what it takes to do that for an hour. The first visit to the track after you’ve been riding road for a few months is usually quite painful, not just in the legs, but arms, hands, neck & back, the G-Forces you encounter are something you just don’t have to deal with on the road, it’s a different sport.

To counter that you’ll find a lot of the to track riders carry a bit extra muscle in order to ensure they can deal with the additional forces the track applies to you, when riders leave the track to ride road again, they try to lose that extra upper body bulk, it’s not doing anything to help you in road races, in fact, quite the opposite. We can assume that his body fat percentage will be as low as possible to reduce drag, he could potentially go even lower as the temperature is carefully controlled in a velodrome record attempt, there’s no risk of getting chilled.

Where & When?

London would be the incredibly likely venue for a Wiggins Hour attempt, it’s due to open for public on March 4th, a precursor to that could be a Brad Wiggins Hour attempt, otherwise it would likely be Manchester. I can’t see him missing the opportunity to perform in front of his ‘home’ crowd at London, if he goes for it I’d expect it to be London.

The Worlds time trial is on 23rd September, I doubt that an attempt would be within 2 weeks of that, there’s probably a fair amount of adaptation to do, to get from tri-bars to drop bars & adapt to riding those for an hour at that speed, it can’t be done overnight. He can use this time to also reduce weight & possibly train exclusively at a currently ‘closed to public’ velodrome after the Worlds?

The Record

The current record is 49.7 km, so he’ll need to do about 199 laps to beat it, the magical 50km & 200 laps in one hour is right there as the big carrot. The UCI somewhat ruined the Hour Record when they introduced their current bizarre rules which negated years of technological developments & put the Hour Record back a few years. They wanted everybody compared to Eddy Merckx, but as we know, historical comparisons are pretty useless as there are so many different factors, sports science, diet, aerodynamics etc. So wouldn’t it be lovely if Wiggins, along with going for the ‘Athletes Hour’, also went for the UCI’s ‘Best Human Effort’ record of 56.375 km (held by Chris Boardman), which allows riders to use what would be a UCI legal pursuit bike & position.

For the ‘Athletes Hour’, Wiggins would have to use a non aero frame, shallow rims, a helmet within an agreed standard & dropped bars. So we could see an additional marketing opportunity for Pinarello to produce a special ultimate steel bike, “As used by Bradley Wiggins”. If this record attempt is actually going ahead & not just a figment of my imagination, the bike probably already exists, in BC’s secret squirrel lab & Brad’s already been in the wind tunnel on it.

What Will Happen Next?

If it’s on, you’ll not hear about it, I think they’ll wait until just after the Worlds and announce something then, possibly in October. I could be very wrong, but I find it hard to work out why else Brad would be putting on extra weight when he can potentially beat the likes of Cancellara at his Tour weight. It’ll all come out in the wash, but it would be a fitting finale to his season, it would turn an entire year of disappointments right around & leave him in the position to move on or stick out another year of classics & other objectives.

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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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FrUnderdog

Much has been said about the meteoric rise of Sky’s stage racing surprise, Chris Froome. We find ourselves asking how can somebody so suddenly rise from pack fodder to taking 2nd place in two grand tours in such a short space of time? Forums & Twitter are full of people ‘who know’ Froome is doping, but they don’t actually know, they’re just putting forward viewpoints, so it’s rarely you see any explanations for him performing as he does, I’m trying to offer the alternative in this blog. If the Forum/Twitter hordes are incorrect, they are slating the thing they want to happen, a clean winner, it may be true it may not, but none of us have hard evidence either way, so opinion is currently our only tool. I half-expect to get proven wrong in an apocalyptic Rasmussen style expose in July, but here’s why I’m going to give a cautious smile if Froome wins in Paris in July.

Rouleur admissions

It’s well worth getting yourself a copy of the latest Rouleur, it carries a very good interview with Froome, Ned Boulting portraying him as an overly polite octopus killer & for the first time I recall, he’s said that he DID attack on La Toussuire in last years Tour. Seemingly he thought his team leader was fine in the group, dropped back to look at everybody, then had a go for himself, unaware he was about to get chastised over the radio. He was trying to make a race of it, after an almost processional Tour, this is what the fans were looking for, the top two riders vying for supremacy, but only one looked supreme that day, he ended up being the loyal domestique & sacrificing his own personal ambitions for ‘The Team’ and allowing the Sky media machine to process their very British champion (although Belgian born & Australian fathered) over the questionable Britishness of a Kenyan expat. Maybe they didn’t quite believe it either. During the interview I also liked the fact that his girlfriend, Michelle Cound liked to slag him over his ungainly bike riding style, Froome seems to just let her get on with her own style of PR, he seems slightly amused by it, he’s not trying to create a media personality, he seems like somebody who’s just likes getting on with it. You’ll probably get some interesting insights by following her on Twitter, you can see them HERE.

Sacrifices

We’ve seen Froome sacrifice himself for the same team leader on two occasions while in a great position to win a Grand Tour. In the 2011 Vuelta, Sky changed the leadership at a very late stage once it was obvious that Wiggins was faltering, even though Froome had actually been wearing the race leaders jersey after the Stage 10 Time Trial. It ended up with Cobo winning, with Team Sky taking 2nd & 3rd on the podium. Most believe that had Froome been team leader earlier in the race, he would have been victorious, he would not have had to work, would have been able to follow the moves & more importantly, he would have been allowed to attack.

We all know the story at the 2012 Tour, where Froome was obviously the strongest rider in the race & team tactics dictated the winner. It’s no surprise that keeping Froome chained any longer is not going to help Team Sky in any way, he needs to be unleashed as he has been during early 2013.

The Doping Issue

Nobody can say that Froome’s performances don’t seem out of this world, they are incredible. I don’t have any hero’s in cycling, to put it bluntly I can’t trust anybody anymore. On that basis, I’ve given up trying to sum up who’s doping & who’s not just by performances, I don’t base it on court evidence either (if there is some, I’d obviously take that as proof), I base it on history, who they associate themselves with & inconsistency relative to others & themselves (currently or previously). Sometimes I even consider them less likely to dope because I like their personality, but nice guys dope too, I’m sure we all do that, I’m sure most of the online rants start because somebody simply doesn’t like a certain rider, it’s easy to get caught up in it.

Let’s take two convicted dopers, Contador & Valverde, since their return to the peloton I am almost at the point of thinking that these guys are now clean, their performances are way down on where they were previously, each rider still attempts to attack as before but cannot sustain it, they also cannot repeatedly attack like they used to & their time trial performances are much worse than before. We’ve seen Contador beat Cancellara on a relatively flat time trial around Lake Annecy (for those who say it’s got a hill in it, I’ve ridden the course, the hill is nothing to bother these guys), he now finishes time trials around the positions of other climbers, in around 50th place, this looks real to me. I’m not saying that these guys are not supremely talented riders, Contador in particular now looks like an incredibly talented climber, but he has suddenly lost the other talents he used to have while maintaining his climbing ability, which is also diminished but still good enough to perform well against a ‘cleaner’ & less corrupt sport, i.e. you probably can’t buy a test result anymore under closer scrutiny, whether that’s governing bodies, labs, or other forces that allowed that to happen, we don’t know yet.

My point is, that it’s easy to compare Froome to Contador and assume the worst, but we’re comparing him to something that has changed dramatically, the Contador of today has no turbo fitted, he’s normally aspirated these days. Likewise with most riders from the previous era, they’ve suddenly lost a lot more than just the dope, they’ve lost years of information & progress while under the tutelage of tarnished individuals. The old-school teams are (and were) run by people of that era, they have no idea how to gain a Tour winning performance clean, they never had to & their riders never had to, they presumably just injected it & one large time-consuming area of training was overlooked for potentially two decades. These teams & riders may have a hugely diminished idea about how to bring their riders to that kind of aerobic level naturally, than teams who have invested heavily in sports science & not just employing one of the blood manipulation centres or doctors.

Meanwhile, during that period, other teams had been developing coaching & training methods, we can assume not the top flight teams (they wouldn’t have been competitive), but perhaps amateur teams, this is where working within the rules has potentially became a bit of an art form (Chris Boardman said himself that the position rules were something to ‘bump up to’, a guide to show how far you can go). So we know that formerly amateur outfits, like the GB track team, were working just inside the guidelines on dimensional rules to gain advantage, can we also assume they were using sports science to replicate what made the EPO era riders go so fast, that’s where the smart money is? Attempting to discover what physiological characteristics the EPO enhanced in riders & how could similar enhancements be replicated without the use of drugs & without compromising rider safety or health?

The New Peloton

My assumption is that the massive changes stated above are happening right now within the peloton, that we’re currently in a very important transition period, that the new methods which evade the positive tests but get similar physiological results are state-of-the-art training, coaching & facilities. In a bizarre manner, these advances may not have been possible without the EPO era, after all where would sports science have gathered their data for turning increasing blood volume & haematocrit translating into exceptional performance, with EPO charged riders they could now measure this & set a target to aim at. This current transition period makes the old-school riders look relatively poor & the new-school riders look superhuman. It won’t last, the old-school teams didn’t have untalented riders, they used different methods, it will take a couple of years to catch up as new-age riders filter out of the coach led teams & into the old-school teams, spreading the knowledge. The managers of these teams must be having a very hard time right now, time-consuming & expensive coaching & facilities require a much larger budget than black market pharmaceuticals, they have to justify their budget increases & they have some hard questions to answer to their sponsors.

So things are changing rapidly, there’s plenty of riders getting popped right now, plenty of biological passport transgressions getting aired & hopefully this is reducing the attraction of taking shortcuts. As I’ve said in previous blogs, we’re moving back into an era of specialists, climbers who can’t time trial, time trialists who can’t climb, Colombians, if you remember 80’s pro racing, it looks a bit like that.

So Why Froome

I’ve stated the scene pro cycling is currently operating within above (as I see it). So how has a mid bunch level climber become a Grand Tour winner, bearing in mind he’s not actually won any yet, but you get the idea.

For all you watts-per-kg nerds out there, lets first of all take a look at that, Froome looks like skin & bone now, but google-image some photos back to 2010 & you’ll see quite a difference, he’s lost a lot of weight. His own website says he currently weighs 69kg, so some websites have reported that he can average 6W/kg for some 30 minute climbs. That would give us an estimate of 414W for his 30 minute critical power (CP30), you’d normally take about 5% off this to give a rough estimate of functional threshold power, so we then get the figure of about 393W for critical threshold power, that equates to about 5.7W/kg.

So if we don’t even consider any training advances since 2010 & assume he’s only lost a conservative 3kg, we’d calculate his old W/kg at threshold as 5.45W/kg. He wouldn’t make the front group on the Tour mountains with that power to weight value. The difference between being an also ran & making one of the front groups in the mountains is marginal. He was previously an also ran, he couldn’t go with the big ‘turbo’ attacks, he was heavier, he didn’t have access to modern coaching & he was from a far away land. The last point is possibly the most crucial, an African racing in the Euro peloton is going to be treated with suspicion, not what they’re used to, perhaps Froome avoided getting involved in EPO due to being an outcast, could he be trusted? This could be why his current performance seems so unnatural, it could be that he performed against a doped peloton in the past, then when the doping gets less he looks better & better. I’m not saying he didn’t want to dope, but he may not have been in the gang, like an English student appearing in 2nd year of a Scottish inner city secondary school, he’s not going to have lots of friends, he’s not in ‘the club’.

I’ve also got this niggle about his improvement after he was awarded the full support of Team Sky, there hasn’t been much, it happened at the very beginning of his step up to the top squads, once he had access to the coaching system. If there was some mystical team wide doping programme going on, I’d assume that they wouldn’t allow their riders of lower stature, or riders they may not have been keeping, to know what was going on. Froome only rose to the top during the 2011 Vuelta, up to that point he was still looking for a team for 2012, surely only the most idiotic DS would introduce him to the top-level doping programme at that point. It just doesn’t add up, if there was a top-level programme for their top riders, surely Froome would have improved dramatically since then, he’s not, he’s just remained extraordinary. So if they have a ‘super programme’, it doesn’t work. I don’t think they do.

Public Opinion

The reason I wrote this piece is because I like Froome, he comes across as a very polite man in TV interviews, there’s no bravado & he seems to value the position he’s in without mocking anybody. The French love him, he does his French interviews first, where some of his English-speaking predecessors were asked questions in French, they responded in English, there is no such thing here. In one l’Equipe headline he has now been given the tag ‘Froome le Patron‘. On the other hand, the impression I get with Wiggins is that he’s uncomfortable in public, the way he deals with it isn’t meant in the manner it comes across, but it comes across badly to the public worldwide. It seems like Wiggins public personality isn’t managed in a positive manner. He won BBC Sports Personality, but outside the UK he’s misunderstood in the extreme, he doesn’t deserve the kind of ridicule he gets, but the French take offence to speeches that liken the podium ceremony of the Tour to a chipper bike race or village fete raffle, perhaps more than Armstrong’s ‘miracle’ speech.

My view is that there are various reasons why we can believe his extraordinary performances are real, but I can also see why there are serious doubts, we’ll just have to wait & see. I just hope the sport has cleaned up as much as the riders are telling us, but in the past it’s been proven you can trust a rider as much as you can an MP, an Apprentice contestant or a TV presenter, I’ll not hold my breath.

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Knee Deep in Motivation

Bradley Wiggins, after an outstanding 2012 is struggling to come to terms with an ordinary 2013, lets take a look at how that might have come about.

2012

Lets not forget just how stellar a year it was for Wiggo in 2012, here’s a list of his main achievements during the year.

  • Winner : Paris Nice
  • Winner : Tour de Romandie
  • Winner : Criterium du Dauphine
  • Winner : Tour de France
  • Gold Medal : Olympic Time Trial

He won Paris Nice & almost everybody wondered why he was peaking so early, then at Romandie we were astounded, he’d kept that peak going. Moving on to the Dauphine & we were sure he had peaked to early on the run up to the Tour, then the Tour came along & he took that too (although we don’t really know how strong Froome was, or if he was stronger would he have been mentally ready to lead the team). Finally the Olympic Gold medal was taken in London in front of huge crowds. An incredibly hard season to follow, most riders would be legends winning these events over an entire career, let along one season.

2013

We really have no idea about what effect maintaining his 2012 form over a long period of time has had on Wiggin’s body, let along his mind, the discipline he ruled on himself must have been incredible. We also have to factor is the stardom effect, after a year like that he’s moved from somebody most people had heard of to a household name in the UK, the media demands are huge for somebody thrown into that kind of fame over a relatively short period of time.

In order for an ‘engine’ like Wiggo to perform against the climbers, he has to run at an incredibly low body weight, which we presume a Sky doctor is constantly monitoring in order to keep him healthy. So we can also presume that a body fat percentage like that is a fine line between staying healthy & performing incredibly well. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that he’s been unable to maintain the kind of form he enjoyed in 2012, maybe it’s impossible for the Sky backup team to factor in all the appearances he had to make in winter 2012/2013 in relation to his relative public demand in the winter of 2011/2012, where he’d really only won the Dauphine & it has very little public perception in the UK.

So far in 2013, he’s finished 5th in both the Giro del Trentino & the Vuelta a Catalunya, with some mechanical problems adding to the disappointment. In the Giro we were having to come to various conclusions as to what was going wrong, be it form, illness, motivation, or a mixture of them all, which resulted in having to withdraw with a chest infection.

What is going on?

There’s no reason to believe that Wiggins didn’t have a chest infection at the Giro, but I’d ponder that a chain of events have led to this being the case. Possibly started by a lack of motivation, after all, what exactly did he have to prove by re-running the 2012 season, which as he stated himself, would have been a failure if he didn’t surpass what he achieved last year. So the Giro was targeted, but can we be sure that the Giro is as motivationally tempting to him as the Tour, regardless of what’s said in press conferences, we’d imagine not. So this leads to my motivation pondering, can a lower level of motivation lead to an athlete becoming ill?

Take the winter of 2011/2012, Wiggins knows he has the ability to win the Tour, the following year is made for him, he decides to give his all to turning up at the Tour is the best shape possible. He knuckles down & lives a life none of us can imagine, carefully controlling absolutely everything in his life, he does this for a full year with one thing in mind.

Now we move on to the winter of 2012/2013, he’s won the Tour, the next year’s is going to be a harder course for him & he also knows that his team-mate will be less inclined to hold back this time, a team-mate who it niggles him in the back of his mind may have had the ability to beat him without team orders. Wiggins has to be better than 2012 in order to win the Tour again, he has to be better to even have team leadership, in all likelihood he’ll be a super-domestique for Froome if he concentrates on the Tour. He doesn’t take quite as much care of himself (still living a life of discipline none of us can really imagine), he has huge demands on his time, his recovery time is affected massively, with travelling, functions, late nights etc.

If you take a step back & look at what Wiggins has had to endure during the winter, demands far above what he’s ever been used to in the past, 2013 was always going to be a disappointment. He knew he also had to improve to do the same again, so he focussed on the Giro instead and reshaped his calendar around that. Essentially he lowered his targets to some extent in order to focus on different goals, it was a plan that may have worked, but a weather stricken Giro, form not at 100% & a stunning Nibali put and end to those hopes rapidly. Brad had to go deep into his reserves, presumably with an incredibly low body fat percentage, slightly lower form & unseasonably bad weather in the Giro, all added to something Sky couldn’t control & the wheels came off the wagon. We don’t know what would have happened had any factors been different, but Wiggin’s team-mate eventually finishing 2nd (at over 4 mins) shows that had things gone to Sky’s plan, Brad would surely have been expected to finish above Uran, i.e much closer or ahead of Nibali. But looking at it, it seems unlikely that the Maglia Rosa would have been on anybody elses shoulders, Nibali looked like he still had an extra gear he had no need to use against the competition that surfaced in the final week, I think he would have won anyway.

Where are we now?

Wiggins is suffering from a bad knee, as reported today, but when things go wrong, the little things seem a lot worse. Take the mechanical issues in Wiggins early 2013 season, you could feel the frustration bubbling over what he would have taken little issue with in the past. The report suggests he’s still able to train, but could this be another poor PR gesture from Sky, who are really between a rock & a hard place on this, when you’ve got twitter participants like Froome’s girlfriend suggesting that there’s no way Wiggins will be riding in the same team, in the same race as Froome (remember ‘Wagwars’ from last year). My guess is that he won’t be on the start line in this years Tour, or any others for that matter.

Conclusion

This isn’t a blog about slagging Bradley Wiggins, it’s more about understanding what he’s been through in order to perform as spectacularly well as he did in 2012, then the fall out from that effort in body & mind. He’s proven what he can do & anything less in any further years would be a let down. I expect him to retire from professional cycling at the end of the year, he should be applauded for what he’s done to the profile of the sport in the UK, he’s taken the brunt of many Team Sky PR blunders & if motivation isn’t going to rise above knee level, it’s maybe time to step away from bike racing while he’s still at the top. Wiggins suffered many years of living on the fringes of nearly making it big time, he doesn’t need to do that anymore, he’s set himself up for life.

Brad, you’ve done us proud, you’ve also earned millions, don’t screw it up now, enjoy the rest of your life without having to worry about pedalling a bike fast, you earned a pittance doing that for too long, it’s time to enjoy the spoils of war, don’t get any more scars, life isn’t bike racing, it’s just one small (but necessary) part of it.

Follow me on Twitter @spokedoke

Crash Bang Wallop

I’ve only managed to catch some snippets of the Giro until this point (the morning of the first individual time trial), it’s already proving to be a very interesting race, plus it’s currently completely unpredictable who will take final victory.

We’ve got hero’s & villains, wet roads, inclement weather, crashes, short steep climbs, we could be in Scotland! His Nibs is on the attack whenever possible, Wiggo has a potential hidden stomach problem as tweeted by his old DS, Jonathan Vaughters (@Vaughters on twitter) “my guess? BW has been suffering w same stomach issues as Cataldo, but they’ve kept quiet about it. Bet my balls on it.

So if that is the case, we can presume that Wiggins may not take the expected victory margin today, but we can still assume he’ll not lose anything, then we’ll get a rare chance to see what he can actually do in full attack mode later on, with his Colombian security guards in close attendance he’ll have to take this race by the scruff of the neck if he hopes to win it. The Giro could just be kicking off, with the stomach illness a catalyst for a spectacular Giro for the fans, but a nightmare for stage race aficionados Team Sky.

The other riders looking good are Nibali, Evans lurking near the front, Gesink’s team with full confidence in him, 2012 victor Hesjedal looking great. There’s plenty of my favourite villains up there too, Suzanne, Dirty Sanchez, Danielson, Scarponi, Pellizotti etc, it a perfect mix & lets face it, we love shouting at the telly when some of our least favourite riders are attacking.

Hopefully we’ll get to see it at a more suitable time on Eurosport soon, it’s the bloody Giro, it should be prime time!

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.

Back to the Future

The sport has yet again been brought into disrepute, this time by a repeat offender, how can we get back to a place where we can believe in our top riders, where what we see are genuine performances. It’s going to be a rocky & troubled road.

The current riders

The only chance we have of retaining any credibility in the sport, as the riders all say, the new generation of riders are in fact clean. But we cant say this is going to be the case, there’s always going to be bad apples, riders who try to do a bit of DIY doping like well-known idiot Riccardo Ricco, who kept his own blood next to the strawberry yoghurts & an old piece of stilton. He probably wouldn’t drink his chocolate milk after the sell by date, but proceeded to re-infuse a load of dead blood cells into his body, stupidity doesn’t even cover this, how he’s managed to survive to this point in his life is anybody’s guess. Ricco is an extreme example, but surely there will be plenty of others willing to take big risks if the majority of the peloton are following most of the rules, could that make a small percentage take extraordinary risks to become stars? Dope controls and testing procedures therefore need to be increased, even if the overall level of doping is reduced, otherwise you’re opening the floodgates for things to get very bad again, very quickly. The UCI & WADA really need to stay on top of this, but if they don’t start working together, it’s not going to happen, the UCI needs to change its structure.

We also have a number of riders proclaiming that it’s not anything to do with their era, this isn’t winning many fans over. Even Bradley Wiggins, who should know better, claimed that he’s never ridden against Armstrong in one interview, a glance over the 2009 top 4 Tour riders would surely raise some eyebrows to that claim. Andy Schleck is also saying it’s not his generation and things have changed, meanwhile his brother Frank is serving a doping ban from the 2012 Tour & previously was found to have paid Dr Fuentes several thousand euro’s for interval training, Dr Fuentes is famous for being a gynecologist & a blood specialist, not a master of interval sessions. The Schlecks Directeur Sportif in 2012 was Armstrong’s manager during all his annulled Tour victories, the DS who brought the Schlecks to prominence was Bjarne Riis, known as Mr 60% who went crazy on EPO to destroy Miguel Indurain. So somehow we don’t believe the Schlecks. Then we have the favourites for the 2013 Tour, Wiggins, Froome (he seems quite smart in all this, he’s keeping his mouth shut), Van Den Broek, Contador, Van Garderen, Evans etc. We all know about Contador and steak-gate, but ex US Postal rider Van Den Broek has admitted he used a doctor who is now under investigation for blood doping, he claimed he needed to see him as he needed information of what was & wasn’t on the WADA prohibited list, he could have just used this link? So a good many of the potential top 10 riders have links to dubious pasts, dubious doctors (the Sky Dr Lienders debacle) & dubious statements, if there is a new generation coming through, it’s intertwined with the old generation, it’s those people who still run the sport. Everybody likes Jens Voigt, but in his vast career he claims he’s never seen or heard anything, having ridden on CSC & Leopard Trek, even if he’s never touched the ‘hot sauce’, he’s complicit to the system by claiming nobody’s said anything to him. That’s the remaining problem, nobody’s seen anything until they themselves are implicated, nobody wants to ruin their career prospects by dishing too much dirt, if they keep their heads down then perhaps nobody will mention them.

The future

Somehow there needs to be an end to blood vector doping from doping products like EPO, these are the things that do actually turn an ordinary pro rider into a Tour winner, along with blood transfusions. Once that happens we can return to the time before 1990, since then riders who were naturally talented were perhaps forced to be absent from even pursuing pro careers, we maybe never saw the best talents on the last 20 years, they could have been hidden in the amateur ranks, unable to get the interest of the big teams. Those teams were busy recruiting ‘good responders’, riders with a naturally low hematocrit levels (HCT, the percentage of oxygen carrying red blood cells in the blood), so they could boost them massively. Consider that Armstrong was reputedly a rider with a historic HCT value of 38%, the rules allowed him to boost that to 50% without anybody asking any questions, while a more physiologically talented rider with a 48% HCT could only boost an extra 2%, that era changed the winners to losers and the losers to winners, just with the use of one drug. Spare a thought for the Colombians and other high altitude dwelling riders, they virtually disappeared over this time period, unable to boost at all with EPO as they had naturally high HCT values over 50%. I’m basing a cleaner peloton on seeing these riders returning to the top ranks of pro teams, we have a number of Colombians now racing at Pro-Tour level, this is a good sign.

If you want to read more on HCT, then there’s a very good interview with Michael Ashenden on this link.

What happens next

Without adequate testing for micro-dosing EPO, or a viable test for blood transfusions, riders will always find ways to cheat the UCI’s bio passport, whether or not they’re given any assistance. So things need to change in cycling, the responsibility lies with teams, sponsors, riders & fans. We can’t expect superhuman performances, we can’t expect 80kg riders to climb with the best Colombians, we can expect to see disastrous bad days in grand tours and riders blowing spectacularly. This is what we saw in the 80’s, that was as real as we can expect, the drugs they used didn’t make anything like the same differences to riders. The testing must increase, blood transfusions eliminated and the bio passport to become more extensive, or our sport will forever be a testing ground for the latest medical product, it can’t go on like this, we can’t have another Armstrong.