Friday, October 24, 2014

USADA consider banning Armstrong from uploading rides to Strava

Following on the heels of news yesterday that Lance Armstrong's life-time ban from cycling included participation in his old lieutenant, George Hincapie's Gran Fondo charity fun-run in South Carolina this weekend, having previously registered, The Cycle Seen has learned from a source that the USADA, in conjunction with the UCI, are now aiming to have Armstrong banned from uploading future rides to Strava.

"Simply prohibiting Mr. Armstrong from participating in any capacity in an event or activity authorised, recognised or organised by the Union Cycliste Internationale doesn't feel like enough, "whispered the source. "It seems only right that Mr. Armstrong be banned from uploading rides to Strava where he is currently eligible for segment records.

Indeed, Armstrong currently holds twenty-two segment records and if the source is correct, the UCI would like to have Armstrong stripped of those records along with those seven Tours de France that no longer happened.

One Strava cyclist commented on how he had a segment records recently taken from him by Armstrong. "I was disappointed in the same was Jan Ullrich must have been disappointed to be beaten by a man I know could have been cheating." The Strava cyclist denied rumours that he himself had taken the segment record by riding a moped and said the idea that his bike was in fact strapped to the roof of his car at the time, was preposterous.

All eyes will be on the Hincapie fun-run this weekend to see whether Armstrong turns up. He may be banned from riding it in an official capacity but there is little to stop him riding on the same roads as the event at the same time. "If that happens," said a mole within USADA, "Lance Armstrong would be handed a second life ban from cycling."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cobbles return plus a trip up L'Alpe d’Huez on penultimate stage

The 2015 Tour de France route was unveiled this week leaving me feeling like a kid who gets to see his Christmas present in March before it’s wrapped up and put away again for nine months. Still, I couldn’t help but take a good hard look before sadly watching it get put away despite my pleading that they start racing it right away.


But some good news: The cobbles return and they’ll climb Alpe d’Huez on the penultimate stage of the Tour. This year the race starts outside France once more; this time in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, with short 15km time-trial…the only individual time trial of the entire race – barely long enough to avoid being classified as a prologue -- making this very much a tour for the climbers.

No coincidence then that the year after a couple of French climbers crack the podium that they should limit time-trialing to the bare minimum and go full bore in the mountains? And Vincenzo Nibali should be delighted. Chris Froome isn’t so happy saying he might skip it, which is strange because despite the time-trial being to his advantage, he’s also a decent climber when he puts his mind to it.

Of course, before they even get to the mountains they’ll have Belgium and northern-France to deal with. Returning this year is time-bonuses: ten, six and four seconds to the first three over the line meaning that a sprinter who puts in a good shift in the time-trial can still, in true Cipollini like style in the 90’s, conceivably snatch the yellow jersey for a few days before the mountains.

That said, the sprinters won’t have it that easy and may only have a single day to get close to yellow, but stage two has the chance for echelons, stage three finishes on the infamous Mur de Huy in the Belgian Ardennes, and on stage four the pave returns once more. This opening week is tailor made for someone like Fabian Cancellara, or even Peter Sagan, to take and hold the yellow jersey for the entire week.

Last year’s stage five across the cobbles was a huge hit with the fans, if not all the riders, and so the race organisors have come to accept that if they do the mountains in the south of France every year, why not do the cobbles in the north. Both are roads in France; both should be considered a challenge to overcome. Once again, Nibali will be delighted, for it was on those cobbles in 2014 that he set up his overall victory.

Beyond that on the northern-half of this Tour, the sprinters will get a few days in the sunshine, before another uphill finish on the Mur de Bretagne on stage eight. Cadel Evans won here in 2011 just ahead of Alberto Contador, on his way to winning his one and only Tour de France. Can we expect to see the 2015 winner taking a stage victory once again here?

The northern half finishes with a 28km team-time-trial. A chance for the strong teams to give their leaders one last time boost ahead of the mountains which will begin following a rest day down in the southern half of the country, and race.

That trip into the Pyrenees will begin on Bastille Day; a day for the French to show their hand…a day for Pinot, Bardet or Peraud to stake their claim? Three days they’ll toil in the Pyrenees before transitioning their way across to the Alps, and if the Tour isn't already won by here, and I suspect it won’t be, then this will be where everyone lays their cards on the table.

Stage 17 to Pra Loup will bring back memories, for the older generation, of the slowing Eddy Merckx’s reign coming to an end at the hands of Bernard Thevenet in 1975. What will it do to the current crop dreaming of GC glory? Will another Frenchman use it as a staging post to glory? Or will Nibali once more put down the hammer?

Stage 19 and 20, the final two days in the Alps will be the most dramatic and are the two shortest road-race stages. 138km one day, but crossing three mountains, and 110km the next finishing a-top L’Alpe d’Huez will make for fascinating viewing. We’ll be able to watch from the very start with no transitional section before the real racing begins. On these two stages it should be all out from the proverbial gun as everyone sniffs a chance to win and the contenders sense their last chance to make their move.

By the time they wind their way to the top of the Alpe and through the throngs of fans awaiting them…expected to be huge given the lack of a stage length with which to spread them over, we’ll know who has won this race. We can only hope the GC battle is still in the balance coming into stage 20, but even if it isn’t, the stage itself should be fantastic to watch.

Then it’s the usual jaunt into Paris, a procession where riders chit-chat up and down the peloton and the winner is captured clinking glasses of champagne with his team-mates before that famous high-speed crit up and down the Champs Elysees.


And so, 3,350km after they took turns rolling down the starting ramp in Utrecht, the tour will be won and lost for another year and all that will remain is for the winner to make his victory speech and spend the following weeks fighting off all sorts of doping allegations.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Cycling's nearly man retires at the sage of 29

It was Andy's brother Frank Schleck, winding his way up that hairpin stacked colossus of Alpe d'Huez at the 2006 Tour de France when I first heard about Andy. 'If you think this guy is good, you should see his brother', said the commentator, or something to that affect. Initially dismissed as something you often hear, it was proven true when he made his Grand Tour debut at the next years Giro and finished second. A rare talent had been unearthed and big things were projected, and yet here we are, just seven years on, and the now 29 year old, injured and washed up younger Schleck, has retired.

Andy Schleck made the announcement yesterday saying that cartilage damage in his right knee, suffered from a crash in England during a stage of this years Tour de France, was irreparable.

"The ligaments were fine, they healed," said Schleck, "but I have almost no cartilage left under my kneecap." His contract with Trek Factory Racing was expiring at the end of the year, unlikely to be renewed, and with this latest injury now hanging over him, his chances of finding a new team growing slimmer by the day.

Back in 2008 though, when he made his Tour de France debut and finished 12th followed by a second place to Alberto Contador the following year, still aged just 23, he was one of the hottest properties in the sport. Like Jan Ullrich before him who burst into the sport with such promise, he soon became the nearly man.

At the 2009 Tour he was beaten into second place by Alberto Contador and again in 2010, or so it seemed. In an incredible three week duel he lost the Tour by a mere 39 seconds, the exact number of seconds he lost to Contador on stage 15 when his chain dropped on the way up the Port de Bales and the Spaniard attacked, but this time, in the long run, fate was with him. Contador, tested positive at the Tours second rest day in what became the beefgate scandal and following a lengthy trial was stripped of his title with Schleck inheriting the win.

“It’s nice to accept this jersey, but for me it doesn't change anything – it’s not like a win," he said at the time. "It’s not the same sensation as climbing on the podium.”

And yet many still felt his chance to do so would come. In 2011 with Contador off form and still waiting to hear the vircit of his trial, Schleck seemed nailed on to win, but once again he would play second fiddle. Leading into the final time-trial of the Tour by 53 seconds over his brother Frank and 57 seconds to Cadel Evans he coughed up 2 minutes 31 seconds to the Australian who pulled on Yellow and wore it into Paris the following day. It was like a slightly less dramatic (but only slightly) version of LeMond and Fignon all over again. Ironic too in that Cyrille Guimard, the man who first signed Schleck as a junior, had compared him to Fignon.

But that 2011 Tour also brought with it the finest ride of Schleck's career and the one for which he will be most remembered. Often criticised for not being aggressive enough; for not attacking at the risk of dropping his brother when he so badly wanted them both on the top two steps of that podium, he finally fired back on stage 18 going on one of the finest solo exploits in recent tour memory to win at the top of the famous Col du Galibier. He attacked early on the Col d'Izoard and rode alone for 60 kilometres leading on the Galibier with, at one stage, a four minute lead. Evans went on pursuit to save his Tour and while the Yellow jersey of Thomas Voeckler, who had been battling viciously though the mountains to retain his lead, kept it by a handful of seconds, the writing was on the wall. Schleck would eventually pull on yellow only to lose it a few days later.

Following that epic stage, and even in spite of eventually losing the Tour to Evans, it was believed that Schleck had truly discovered his full potential and in knowing it's high limits from the start in 2012 he would ensure that the time-trial would not become a factor. Instead however, that memorable win would prove to be his last at the Tour, and he was never the same rider again. He started to get injured more and soon found himself off the pace and rapidly losing confidence, dropping early on the kind of climbs he used to dominate.

The moment was captured at its worst with Schleck crashing out of this years Tour early. Another crash, another injury, another Tour lost. Would he ever recover to come back to the rider he was and we knew he could be? At 29 you felt time was still on his side, though in his old rival Contador and new contenders in Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome, he appeared to have been left behind. One could hope he'd find his way back, but yesterday Schleck confirmed that time was not on his side, that he was done.

A three time winner of the young rider white jersey competition at the Tour de France, it's sad to see him now retiring young, but perhaps in doing so we'll always remember him as being young, wearing that white jersey, soaring high on mountains like the Tourmalet in 2010 and Galibier in 2011; a young man of potential.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Kwiatkowski, cycling's brightest young star, wins World Championship

These kind of courses with so much on the line seem to cater towards the same tactic: Hold off until that short, sharp, final climb near the finish and do the damage there. The early break attempts go clear but get washed up just in time for the decisive move to be made. It reminded me so much of the race in Montreal just a few weeks ago, a race that Simon Gerrans won, and who this time had to settle for second behind Michal Kwiatkowski who made the kind of move Peter Sagan made in Montreal the year before.

What a talent Kwiatkowski is. It's amazing he isn't marked in the same kind of way Sagan is. Nobody helping him when he attacks, everyone covering him and forcing him to chase everything down. Younger than Sagan by several months, the Polish phenom has proven himself capable in single day races as well as Grand Tours and must surely be seen as the finest young talent in the sport right now.

The first 245 kilometres of this 254.8 kilometre race was all about wearing down legs and building fatigue. It didn't make for a great spectacle on television but it ensured the final part of the race was the most dramatic. And with so many feeling they could win it, they hit the final climb with everything up for grabs.

Sprinters seen the climb as short enough that if they battled over they could yet win the dash for the line; classics men in the mould of Fabian Cancellara, Philippe Gilbert or Greg Van Averamet seen it as ideal to put in an almighty dig to distance the rest by enough to stay clear on the descent; and climbers seen it as the kind of climb that they could match those classic men and then distance them before the top. It was a World Championships made for everyone but the upshot was it was a World Championships in which we had to wait six hours for it all to kick off.

My tip to win had been Gerrans, and he came so close. His form in Canada at Quebec City and Montreal, were he won both, suggested he would be in contention and he didn't disappoint. He missed Kwiatkowski getting away and then in the run down to the finish, he won the small group sprint. So near, yet so far for a rider in the form of his life. No wonder he said he felt like crying when he crossed the line.

Third was Alejandro Valverde, a man with superb consistency in the World Championships, but who has yet to win it. Six times he has finished on the podium and you can't help but think of his palmarès had things gone just that little bit differently and he won them! For the Canadian contingent, all three (Ryan Anderson, Christian Meier and Michael Woods) all failed to finish, while of the nine British riders only two finished, with Ben Swift in 12th and Peter Kennaugh in 82nd.

Kwiatkowski may have gotten away at the foot of the climb in part because others, like Gerrans, were waiting for the likes of pre-race favorites, Sagan or Cancellara, to make their moves further up the climb. Nobody expected someone to go so soon or for their effort to be sustained, but given how he stayed clear over the top, down the other side and into the finish to win his first (and I'll say not his last!) World Championship, you can bet Kwiatkowski will be marked tighter in the future...especially now that he'll stand out in rainbow stripes.

That said, he'll line up next week at Il Lombardia for his first race in the rainbow jersey and while many have indeed seen it as a jersey that stifles them given how recognisable you are in the bunch and everyone understanding your capiabilities, you get the sense Kwiatkowski will thrive in it.

Result:
1. Kwiatkowski (Pol) in
2. Gerrans (Aus) +1"
3. Valverde (Esp) s.t.
4. Breschel (Den) s.t.
5. Van Avermaet (Bel) s.t.
6. Gallopin (Fra) s.t.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Wiggins adds another string to his palmarès bow with a win in the time-trial world championships

Sir Bradley Wiggins announced this week that next year he is to tackle the World Hour record and on the form we seen him in yesterday when he romped away with the World time-trial Championship ahead of Tony Martin, of all people, it won't be a matter of if he beats Jens Voigt's new marker (or whoever holds it come that time), but by how much?

Wiggins has now won numerous track-titles (including Olympic Gold's), an Olympic Gold in the time-trial, this World time-trial championship and the Tour de France, as well as several other week long stage races. And on top of a run at the World Hour record, he has said he is targeting the Paris-Roubaix next year, aided by the fact he is beefing himself up over the winter in a bid to return to the track full-time ahead of the Rio Olympics, and should he indeed win himself a Monument classic along with that World Hour record then he can ride off into the sunset of retirement as one of the most complete riders of his generation, if not all-time.

In winning these championships, Wiggins becomes the second man to become World time-trial champion while reigning Olympic time-trial champion. Fabian Cancellara won the championships in 2009 and 2010 having won the 2008 Olympic title (he also won the championships in 2006 and 2007). Also, Miguel Indurain won the 1995 time-trial championships before going on to win the Olympic title in 1996.

Decked out in British clothing with a British flag bike, Wiggins ride yesterday brought back memories of London 2012 when Wiggins rode through his home city to win that Olympic title in one of the most memorable moments of those games.

Yesterday's time-trial was vintage Wiggins. A superb rider against the clock you only have to look at him to know he is on his game and going fast. Aside from the legs and the road below him, he's virtually motionless; you could place a full wine glass on his back and you wouldn't spill a drop.

And the time-checks showed he was on a good ride also. Leading at each, he only continued to build on his margin over Tony Martin, the pre-race favourite looking to win a record fourth time-trial championships in a row. By the line Wiggins had taken 26 seconds out of Martin and 40 out of Tom Dumoulin who took the bronze.

Wiggins was the only man to go over 50km/h for the ride, a stunning average on such a course.

World time-trial championship result:
1. Wiggins (Gbr) in 56:25.52
2. Martin (Ger) + 0:26.23
3. Dumoulin (Ned) +0:40.64
4. Kiryienka (Bel) +0:47.92
5. Dennis (Aus) +0:57.74
6. Malori (Ita) +1:11.62

Friday, September 19, 2014

Voigt smashes official World Hour; sets new benchmark

It's been so long since this last happened that a whole generation of cycling fans have come into the sport and grew to love it but without ever having seen one of cycling's greatest records get broken and so how good it was to see the likable and ever hard suffering Jens Voigt bring down the curtain on a long and illustrious career by setting a new benchmark for the World Hour for a new era of cycling.

Voigt was expected to break the record, though it wasn't certain, not when the previous record was set by Oleg Sosenka, a rider who had previously been under suspicion of EPO use and who would later go on to fail a drugs test, and not when the current effort was being attempted by a rider who had just turned 43 years of age the day before. But Jens smashed it with a distance of 51.115 kilometres, further than many, including himself, had expected.

All throughout his ride he was on pace for the record yet when some wondered whether he was on the verge of tiring and whether it might turn into a battle to achieve the great feat, he upped his speed and only moved clear. Gritting his teeth, no doubt shouting 'shut up legs', Voigt reminded himself that this was one last effort before a life in retirement; one last turn of suffering, and with it his average speed rose up over 50.5km/h and on over 51km/h.

By comparison to Sosenka, Boardman and Merckx, Voigt's first kilometre was standard enough. 1:15, equal to Sosenka, two seconds quicker than Boardman, but a staggering five seconds slower than Merckx. It's well known that Merckx flew out of the gate setting a first kilometre equal to that of someone going for a 4km pursuit rather than World Hour record and that it caught up with him later in the hour.

By five kilomeres Voigt was again equal to Sosenka with a time of 6:00, four seconds up on Boardman; five seconds down on Merckx. By ten kilometres Voigt was two seconds ahead of Boardman, a second behind Sosenka, and eight seconds behind the Cannibal.

It was around here that Merckx began to tire and after the 20km mark he had slipped back to a time equal to that of Boardman but now trailing both Sosenka and Voigt by three seconds.

Voigt then began to open the burners and at the next checkpoint of 30km he was a massive 34 seconds ahead of Sosenka who himself had gone through 12 seconds up on Boardman and 14 seconds up on Merckx.

By the 40km mark Voigt was all but assured of the record baring a complete capitulation. He now led Sosenka by almost a full minute with Boardman's record only a second up on Merckx's but 1 minute 17 seconds down on Voigt's new standard.

When the gun went off to signal the record had broken, Voigt was still able to ride another 1.415 kilometres, pushing the record further and further out of reach with each final turns of his pedals.

His time still fell well short of records set in the 1990s by the likes of Graeme Obree, Chris Boardman, Miguel Indurain and Tony Rominger, on super bikes later deemed illegal by the UCI for their official record. That was the last time that this record truly captured the public's imagination; a long time ago when you think that children unborn then are now entering university.

When the UCI put those 1990 times into a category of 'best human effort' and reverted the official UCI record back to Eddy Merckx from 1972 when he went 49.431km, requiring those attempting the record to do it on a Merckx style bike. Boardman returned in 2000 to take the record by a mere ten metres before Sosenka broke it with a distance of 49.7km in 2005. But the record no longer seemed to hold the public's attention and nor the interest of the riders until earlier this year when the UCI relaxed the rules to allow any bike deemed legal for current track competition, thus opening the door for new attempts. And Voigt was the first to step through.

With modernised regulations for the bikes that can be used and a more scrutinised sport it really feels like this record has been reset with a new benchmark. Sure it would be nice to see the modern cyclist ride the same bike as Merckx but generations and technologies change with the eras and like any sport where we could love to know for sure how the best of today stacked up against the greats of yesteryear, it isn't realistic. Even when Boardman and Sosenka tackled the record on a Merckx like bike they did so with aero-helmets, clipless pedals and bladed spokes, backed with modern training techniques and nutrition.

The sudden interest in Voigt's attempt proved just how special this record truly is for cycling and while Voigt's new benchmark was beyond what many expected and will certainly be tough to beat, it isn't impossible and Voigt's lasting legacy to the record may be that he stokes the competitive juices of others like Wiggins, Tony Martin or Cancellara, to come out and try break it for themselves.

Voigt's time checks against previous records:
DIST.     MERCKX     BOARDMAN     SOSENKA     VOIGT
1km      01:09.97    01:17.89    01:15.01    01:15.00
5km      05:55.60    06:04.01    06:00.42    06:00.94
10km     11:53.20    12:03.88    12:00.59    12:01.34
20km     24:06.80    24:06.07    24.03.05    24:03.57
30km     36:20.20    36:18.40    36:06.73    35:32.76
40km     48:34.43    48:33.40    48:15.32    47:16.67

DIST.    49.431km    49.441km    49.700km    51.115km

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Jens Voigt attempts to rekindle one of cyclings greatest records: The World Hour

Tonight the seemingly ever popular, never aging, Jens Voight will bring down the curtain on his long career in cycling by taking a shot at one of the most prestigious standards in all of the sport: The World Hour record.

It's a record steeped in history but one that in recent years has lay dormant, but thanks to the UCI amending their rules on what equipment is applicable to go for the official UCI record, there's a hope that Voigt's big effort tonight will open the floodgates for further attempts.

The official record at the moment is 49.7 kilometres set by Ondrej Sosenka in July 2005, and although several riders bettered this time significantly in the 1990s, their times were later split away from the official UCI record to the category of 'best human effort' when the UCI deemed the bikes used to be illegal and that any future attempt must be made on a bike similar in style to that used by Eddy Merckx when he broke the record in October of 1972 by going 49.431 kilometres.

With the record re-set, Chris Boardman, the man who had held the best record when the UCI decided to revert back to that of Merckx, became the first to beat it in 2000. It was a fine achievement but one that said as much about the talent of Merckx as it does anything else.

28 years had passed since Merckx laid down the marker in an outdoor velodrome in Mexico wearing one of those old style rubber helmets, riding a bike with normal wheels, flat spokes and toe-clips on his pedals and while Boardman used a similar bike to Merckx in specification he had the advantages of an aero helmet, clipless pedals and bladed spokes. All this made a difference and coupled with modern training and nutrition techniques, Merckx's time was beaten by just ten metres.

Sosenka then took Boardmans record but three years later he failed a drug test and suspicion has lingered over his record ever since. And nobody has attempted to break it again; unwilling to go onto an old fashioned style bike that isn't suited to what they have been accustomed to riding for such efforts. Bike companies likewise have seen little benefit to getting behind a record set on a bike that isn't going to promote their technology.

With this in mind and in the hopes that a new marker could be established to carry the sport into a new era, the UCI finally relented and changed the rules earlier this year to allow a modern track and time-trial style bike to be used. And Voigt, cleverly, was the first to jump at it.

On a standard Merckx like bike, it is unlikely that Voigt could break the record, but on the kind of modern day bike he will be riding, he stands a very good chance. It's a shame we'll lose that direct reference to a time done by Merckx, but with the prior mentioned advantage of training, nutrition, and equipment, it was hardly an level playing field between eras anyway.

And given the lack of attempts at this record in recent years a whole generation of cycling fans have come to the sport since this record last made serious headlines and many will have never seen the record broken before. This serves as an opportunity to set a new standard and re-awaken the great record.

Following Voigt's effort tonight I'd expect to hear announcements by the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Sir Bradley wiggins and even Tony Martin of their intentions to now go for it themselves with much encouragement of their respective bike sponsors.

It's a historic evening for cycling and on the line is the opportunity to rekindle one of the sports greatest milestones.

Good luck to you Jens Voigt.

---

The following is a video of the great Eddy Merckx attempting the record in 1972. The difference in the equipment used and the track he rode on is striking, yet it it is unbelievable that the time he set could only be bettered by a mere ten metres by Chris Boardman 28 years later.

It may look like poetry in motion, but the suffering is unparalleled. Merckx would say afterwards that it was the hardest thing he had ever done on a bike and that he felt paralytic when climbing off and that three days went by before he could walk again.

Merckx went out of the gate like a rocket and barely relented.