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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Watching the best in Montreal

For the whole five and a half hour drive from just east of Toronto up to Montreal I was followed by a dark rain cloud. I'd get ahead of it while driving but when I stopped to grab a snack, or another cup of tea from Tim Horton's, I'd arrive back out to the car to the sight of pouring rain, and with my bike in the back of the van it wasn't a good sign. I was on my way up there to watch the following days Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal but also to ride the course on the Saturday afternoon and get a feel for what it was truly all about. How hard could it really be for these pros?

And now it looked as though I was going to have to do it in the pouring rain, if indeed I could summons the desire having driven for five hours and with the lure of the pub just around the corner, literally, from the youth hostel I had booked to stay in, and the knowledge that the Liverpool match was on.

By the time I arrived that match was already half an hour old, Liverpool were one down and killing any inspiration to rush into a pub to watch them, and then I found out I had arrived much to early to check into the hostel. With the rain beginning to fall and time to kill, I decided to kit up in the back of the van and head on out to sample this course.

The circuit in Montréal is a 12.1km lap climbing 229 metres. No walk in the park by any standards and given the pros would be doing it 17 times for 205.7km and a total elevation climbed of 3,893 metres, it equated to that of an alpine stage at the Tour de France. Of course, I wouldn't be doing 17 laps of it today and as the rain only fell harder and the wind blew colder as I rode towards the circuit my minds plan of three laps quickly became one quick one and back to the car and hopefully a hot shower at the hostel.

I joined the circuit about halfway around its official lap. I had hoped that perhaps the circuit would have been closed for the weekend but no such luck and so I was faced with far too many traffic lights to get a proper feel for the lap. Still, on my way to the start-finish I hit my first, and officially the second climb of the lap, the Côte de la Polytechnique, a short but sharp 800m rise at 6% that by the 17th time would surely be numbing the legs.

It was this climb that Peter Sagan launched his attack on the final lap last year, countering a move made by Canadian Ryder Hesjedal. I was standing down by the start-finish area then and watching on a big-screen and the crowd had gone wild for Hesjedal's attack only to cheer again when the home town favorite was buried by Sagan. Such is the nature of the cycling fan, their desire to see Hesjedal win was over ridden by the appreciation of Sagan's talent, his daring, and his solo ride to the win.

Sagan wasn't here this year and nor was Hesjedal, but I was back and here I was on that hill that ultimately decided the race last year. Two fellow recreational cyclists were just ahead of me and riding at a similarly slow pace. The voice of Phil Liggett burst into my head: "He's fighting hard to keep the wheel of the two in front, Paul." Indeed I felt like I could have pushed deep and gone past them but I didn't want to reach the top only to sit down, try to bring the heart-rate back to a safe range and have them blast right past me again in conversation with one another, so I stayed put. Besides, at the next traffic light they squeezed through as it was changing to red and I stopped.

The start-finish straight on the Avenue du Parc was closed off to cars but a lot of prep work was going on to get it ready for tomorrow. Still, I tootled down anyway, ignored by those working when I half expected to be told to get off the circuit, under the red kite, down to the hairpin and back up the 560 metre, 4% drag to the line. At which shortly thereafter came the meat and bones of this course: Mount Royal's, Côte Camilien-Houde.

In the grand scheme of cycling this isn't much of a hill: 1.6km at 8%. A drag to be sure, but far from the hardest thing those racing it will have experienced this season. But when you do tackle it 17 times that turns into a 27.2km climb at 8% and that can do strange things to the legs.

For me it was about laying down some kind of marker on Strava to remind me of my mortality against these incredible athletes and so I swung onto the climb, sufficiently warmed up, and decided to go as hard as I could. And, of course, I had gone through the entire checklist of good preparation even for one push up this climb: Sleep deprivation, check; technical issue with gearing, check; Five hour drive pre-ride, check; lashing rain, check. The technical issue with gearing was the worst possible one, the inability to get into the lowest gear. The rear derailleur appeared out of whack and would bump against the spokes when I tried to find relief in that cog; an issue from which I carried nothing to fix it at that moment.

The heart rate soared, the good work of having been off the bike for a couple of weeks before kicked in and soon I was grinding. From behind: "Allez. Keep going," two pros out doing a recon of the course, spinning past me as though on a flat road with the wind at their backs. I was hunched over the handlebars and unable to fulfill the earlier held belief that since they were taking it easy I might be able to suffer along on their wheel. I was able to blurt out my amazement that they'd be tackling this thing 17 times. The one on the right in the Orica GreenEdge kit laughed but it was a laugh that sounded as much like a man coming to the realisation of what I had just reminded him of. Or at least I like to think so.

For the rest of the way up groups of those set to race the next day would spin past me, chatting to one another, putting out a high cadence as my legs struggled to turn. "He's turning squares here Phil, really suffering as the Garmin team ride away from him," mused the imaginary Paul Sherwen.

Then I noticed the Garmin on my handlebars wasn't recording. I typically set the auto-pause to about 10km/h to account for unwanted slowdowns on my rides, like traffic lights, but on this climb I had gone below this threshold; an unwanted slowdown to be sure, but one that was my own legs doing. I hesitated between riding on and stopping to adjust it so I could register a time, and then I stopped to adjust it. But it was too late, the time it hadn't been counting meant I wouldn't go onto the standings for this infamous Montréal hill.

In the time I was stopped my heart-rate came down and I felt composed again and set off after another pair of professionals gently riding their way up. Ten metres later I was quickly losing ground once more. Up over the top and with the rain beating down I had no desire to go around again only to try set another time on this hill. I was best served waiting until next year and accepting my place on the side of the road watching. On the way down the hill the pro in front followed the road to the right while I swung left back in towards the city, the waiting hostel and a warm pub.

By 11pm that evening, showered, changed, fed and sipping on a beer I wondered how many of those supreme athletes that burned past me on the hill were still awake now? Tucked up in their warm cribs they would be, dreaming about 17 turns on that hill the next day.

And so there I was the next day on various points of that very climb, watching them grind their way up. The first couple of times up I could hear relaxed conversation in the peloton, content to let the days forlorn hope of four escapees from the first lap, Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ), Louis Vervaeke (Lotto), Jan Polanc (Lampre) and Ryan Roth (Canada), go up the road. I was again stunned at the ability of this peloton to tackle what I struggled on so easily, chatting to one another about anything from the meal the night before to the girl standing just beyond the 500m to the summit sign. Three laps down, fourteen to go.

The next thirteen laps were relatively uneventful. The break pushed out to near twelve minutes at one point and when you watch on television you don't quite fathom how much of a lead twelve minutes actually is, whereas when you're standing still at the side of the road and you watch the front group roll past, twelve full minutes can seem a long time, especially on what is only a twenty minute lap. Stay asleep anymore and the four in the break could lap the field. Now wouldn't that be a pickle! Still there was so long to go and all logic suggested that like almost always they would eventually be caught.

Roth was the first to lose contact with three laps to go, then Jeannesson and finally Vervaeke leaving just Polanc solo with one lap left. By now his lead had shrunk to little more than a minute at the bell and when he hit Camilien-Houde it was he, like me twenty-four hours before, that was turning the squares. Suffering he looked over his shoulder and seen his fate baring down on him. A shrunken peloton, but a large one at that would take on the final half of this climb and the rest of the lap for the win. With Polanc swept away, his Lampre teammate and my pre-race pick to win, Rui Costa attacked. He was chased down but over the top a select group had emerged. That group grew in size down the other side and despite further attempts by others to attack on the Polytechnique, it remained quite large for the charge down towards the finishing straight.

Simon Gerrans, winning at the Quebec City race on Friday, had briefly lost touch on the Polytechnique but two Orica GreenEdge teammates helped bridge him into the lead group and while Costa tried once more to attack, he was brought back as they headed down and under the 1km to go kite, directly across the road from the finishing line.

By now I was tucked up in a Grand Stand 30 metres from the line. A perfect view of them sweeping down the road on one side before emerging up over the rise on the other, through what was in other laps the feed station, and into the sprint for the line.

And all this was free. Yet another magical thing about this sport. Five and a half hours of watching the worlds best within touching distance on the climbs and then on the finishing straight from a grand stand, for zero cost. I can think of few other elite level sports that allow you that kind of access for no charge. Even pre and post race the riders will mingle among the fans; the kind of fan-athlete interaction you find nowhere else and which I hope cycling never loses.

By now it was Gerrans's race to lose; he had three team-mates to lead him out and he was the fastest man left in the group. So no shock to look down into the distance and see him break over the right shoulder of his final leadout man, open a gap of nearly ten bike length and sit up with his arms in the air, right in front of me, with thirty metres still to go, and celebrate the Quebec double; the first man to achieve it. A superb weekend for the Australian.

From Gerrans in first, the World Champion Rui Costa in second, the four men from the days early break, and everyone else who started this savage circuit, I had gained for them a whole new level of admiration. 109 of 152 finished the 17 turns up the 1.6km, 8%, Côte Camilien-Houde, the climb I had found a grind to do just once.

Next year I'll be back again and I'd quite like to make a longer trip of it and take in the Quebec City race on the Friday as well. Whatever I do though, I'll bring the bike along again and hopefully with better weather and a little more fitness I'll get a better and longer ride on the course.

Result:
1. Gerrans (OGE) in 5h24'27"
2. Rui Costa (LAM) s.t.
3. Gallopin (LTB) s.t.
4. Navardauskas (GRS) s.t.
5. Bardet (ALM) s.t.
6. Dumoulin (GIA) s.t.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Contador ensures there's no last minute drama

Because I was in Montreal over the weekend watching the big race up there, I missed the last minute drama at the Vuelta, or the lack thereof. I'm led to believe that Saturday's final mountain stage was still a superb days racing as Chris Froome buried everyone else and sealed his second place finish overall but couldn't get rid of Alberto Contador who then in return buried him and won the stage (and the Vuelta), but it seems Contador was therefore never really troubled and any hopes that Froome might somehow take the outcome of this Vuelta into the final days time-trial never materialised.

A stunning performance by Contador...not just winning this stage, his second stage win of the race, but the fact he returned from a broken leg suffered at the Tour de France little more than six weeks ago to win here.

Chris Froome may not have been in tip-top form when he arrived at this Vuelta, but then again, was Contador? And Froome had surely found his form by the final week and yet still couldn't change the outcome. We never got to see the pair battling it out on the roads of France in July, and so attention turned to this Vuelta once both made it clear they would be riding. And they delivered a superb show.

You can never say whether this was how the Tour would have turned out had both stayed in because, as I said, their form was surely different going into the Tour than it was the Vuelta. And would either of them have beaten a healthy Nairo Quintana at this Vuelta? Or indeed the Vincenzo Nibali we seen at the Tour? Put it this way: Nibali beat Alejandro Valverde at the Tour this year by almost ten minutes and Contador was only able to put a little shy of two minutes into what was surely a more worn down Valverde at this Vuelta.

That of course is all speculative because no two races are the same never mind two Grand Tours held in different countries in different months and on entirely different routes. We'll never know how each race might have went had Contador, Froome, Quintana and Nibali all raced one another in the same Tour, or at least we'll have to wait until next year to find out when I can only hope we get all four of them lining up at one of the three Grand Tours and targeting it as their goal for the season.

What we can say with complete certainty is that the men who won their respective Grand Tours from Quintana at the Giro to Nibali at Le Tour to Contador this weekend at the Vuelta: They all deserved it; nobody wins a Grand Tour and doesn't deserve it, and Contador has shown that there's still plenty of life left in him yet.

Final overall classification:
1. Contador (TCS) in 81h25'05"
2. Froome (SKY) +1'10"
3. Valverde (MOV) +1'50"
4. Rodriguez (KAT) +3'25"
5. Aru (AST) +4'48"
6. Sanchez (BMC) +9'30".

Thursday, September 11, 2014

This Vuelta ain't over yet, not by a long stretch

Chris Froome has looked like a man improving by the day at this Vuelta and so when he came into the second rest day little more than a minute and a half behind Alberto Contador for the race lead, it was clearly to see that this Vuelta was far from a done deal despite how strong Contador had been looking in matching and beating Froome on virtually every climb thus far.

Froome had been getting dropped when the pace went up among the three amigos of Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde, but thanks to their games of cat and mouse the steady riding Froome, who keeps one eye on the power metre on his handlebars and one eye on the road below him, was able to limit any potential losses. Froome should have been out of contention by now, but instead he remains in the mix and with every passing day finds his best form.

Coming into this Vuelta many tipped him to be the man to beat Contador; Froome had left the Tour earlier than Contador and only done so with a broken wrist whereas Contador had badly damaged his leg. He was down for longer, closer to the Vuelta and it was one of the key components on the body of a cyclist that he had damaged. Yet surprisingly Contador was the one soaring when the roads went up and it was Froome struggling. But what was obvious, as far as I could see, was that Froome was getting better whereas Contador was merely maintaining his good form.

And then today, Froome struck. With three mountain stages left (though one has its hills a long way from the finish) including today he went on the attack and stole back 12 seconds on Contador, which coupled with the 8 second time bonus on the line was enough to put him only 1 minute, 19 seconds behind the Spaniard on GC. Safely into second ahead of a Valverde who Froome has now caught and passed for form and who will surely regret not helping Contador put the Sky rider to the sword several days ago.

With only one summit finish left, on Saturday, plus a short 9.7 kilometre individual time-trial on the final day you get the sense that Chris Froome might now be on terms with Contador for form and ready to reduce that lead further. Whether he can take enough time before he runs out of stages will be tough but not impossible and will be fascinating to watch.

Another rider who is gaining in form the longer this race goes on is 24 year old Italian, Fabio Aru who took the win today, riding to the line with and beating Froome. The next Vincenzo Nibali as they like to call him and you can see why. He's similarly built to Nibali, he's also from an Italian island -- Sardinia to Nibali's Sicily -- and anyone who watched the Giro this year and seen him win stage 15, finish 2nd in the mountain time-trial only 17 seconds behind Nairo Quintana and finish 3rd overall will know there is an exceptional young talent within; the future of Italian cycling. Suffice to say when Nibali was the age Aru was when he finished 3rd in this years Giro (age 23) he only managed 11th.

Aru won't win this Vuelta, but sitting 5th overall, 46 seconds behind Rodriguez for 4th and 1 minute, 43 seconds behind Valverde for 3rd you get the sense he is sniffing a move up in the standings and perhaps even at a long shot a podium position. And why not? A Grand Tour victory can only be a matter of year or two away for the young man from San Gavino Monreale.

Result:

1. Aru (AST) in 3h47'17"

2. Froome (SKY) +1"

3. Valverde (MOV) +13"

4. Rodriguez (KAT) s.t.

5. Contador (TCS) s.t.

6. Sanchez (BMC) +17"

Overall:

1. Contador (TCS) in 71h38'37"

2. Froome (SKY) +1'19"

3. Valverde (MOV) +1'32"

4. Rodriguez (KAT) +2'29"

5. Aru (AST) +3'15"

6. Martin (GRS) +6'52"

Monday, September 8, 2014

Fisticuffs and Bike Racing

You go to watch a fight on the side of a Spanish mountain and a Vuelta breaks out in which Contador wins and gain and Froome moves up to third overall. What more could you want?

Living in Canada and being a fan of hockey the first thing I thought of when I heard there was an in-race fight in which the two combatants, Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff Saxo) and Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma Quickstep), were disqualified, was whether they dropped their mitts first and why they weren't both just assessed five minute road side penalties?

Seriously though, when was the last time you seen something like this, in-race and on bikes? Trading blows, albeit backhanded slaps, but enough to shock and enough to get them both thrown out of the race? We don't know what exactly was said but when Rovny put his arm around Brambilla to have a word, the Italian swung his arm at Rovny catching him in the face. Moments later Rovny came back at Brambilla, flinching at what he thought was going to be an elbow by Brambilla before throwing his own punch at the face of the Omega Pharma Quickstep rider. They traded blows, or shoves for another few seconds before gesturing towards the race referee who, after a short time, kicked both of them out of the race.



No doubt it'll be a big talking point tonight but Alberto Contador and Chris Froome done their level best to try and ensure that it was still they that took the headlines with Froome's brutal attack on the final climb of the day in which both Joaqium Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde were distanced, before Contador himself attacked to win the stage and put further time into everyone.

Froome's effort was enough to move him into third overall just 3 seconds behind Valverde and surely tonight the pair of Spaniards that trailed Contador, Froome and De Marchi (the only man remaining from the days break after the rest had been swept up or disqualified for fighting!) home will be regretting not trying to ram home a greater advantage over Froome yesterday.

It was obvious that Froome would not struggle the entire three weeks of this race and that if anyone was going to come better, it was going to be him and so yesterday was a huge chance for Valverde and Rodriguez to work with Contador to open a gap. They didn't; they played cat-and-mouse games and Froome was able to limit his losses and tee up his effort today.

It's hard not to see Froome going on to secure at least second now, but the win isn't entirely out of the question. Sure Contador looks the strongest rider at this Vuelta -- he put a further 14 seconds into Froome today -- and he looks to be in control but the 1 minute, 39 second lead he has on Froome is far from enormous and one bad day or a couple of big days for Froome could easily pull that in.

The sensible money is on Contador now; history and form suggests he will be OK, but later this week they'll hit the mountains again and the suffering will continue.

Result:

1. Contador (TCS) in 4h53'36"

2. Froome (SKY) +14"

3. De Marchi (CAN) +50"

4. Valverde (MOV) +55"

5. Rodriguez (KAT) +59"

6. Aru (AST) +1'06"

Overall:

1. Contador (TCS) in 63h25'00"

2. Valverde (MOV) +1'36"

3. Froome (SKY) +1'39"

4. Rodriguez (KAT) +2'29"

5. Aru (AST) +3'38"

6. Martin (GRS) +6'17"