In the race of ‘Vans’ over the ‘Bergs’ it was the ‘Can’ who spoiled the Belgians party, again

Daily guff | Monday 7 April 2014 by

It was a Tour of Flanders for the ages. Action packed with cobbled climbs, attacks, suffering and an historic win for Fabian Cancellara who not only won the race on back-to-back years but tied the record for three wins in Belgium’s version of the World Cup final.

Second to Cancellara was BMC rider and Belgian, Greg Van Avermaet, and it was he who truly set the race alight in the closing stages over the toughest climbs. Van Avermaet went clear with 37 kilometres and several cobbled hills left and when he made his move he dragged Omega Pharma Quick Step domestique and outside bet, Stijn Vandenbergh with him.

Now, because Vandenbergh’s team leader Tom Boonen, along with team-mates Zednek Stybar and Niki Terpstra were in the every-shrinking-by-the-berg group behind, Vandenbergh was ordered not to assist Van Avermaet. The thinking was that he would burn himself out working, they would be reeled in and one of the other three would go on the attack.

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Bergs, Cobbles, Rain, mud, blood and hard men – all this Sunday in Flanders, come one, come all

Daily guff | Friday 4 April 2014 by

The Tour of Flanders, or the Ronde van Vlaanderen as the locals know it, is to the Belgians what the Super Bowl is to Americans and the Grand National to the British. A one day festival in which at the centre of the party is a sporting event. The main difference however is that the arena in which the Tour of Flanders takes place is hundreds of kilometres in length and for the real fans wanting to attend, you can, and it’s free.

It is one of those races that every cycling fan should attend before they die, and one I have yet to tick off my long and generally unfulfilled cycling events bucket list. One day though, one day. An April spent travelling to and from the various classics across Belgium sounds like quite the trip.

The locals and those who do travel from abroad will line the route, drink a lot, have a lot of fun, and cheer loud as the race sweeps through the Flandrian countryside. The race starts in Brugge, heads west to the North Sea coast, travels south and then turns inland across the southern part of west Flanders, into east Flanders and the Flemish-Ardennes were the sharp little cobbled bergs will sort the men from the boys and find us a winner.

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UCI announce F1 KERS-like turbo boosters on bikes

The Autobus | Tuesday 1 April 2014 by

The UCI have announced this morning that they are to bring in an F1 KERS-like system on bikes next year. Riders, via energy recovered from pedaling, are to get one 250m / 100 km/h boost to use per race except in the final kilometre. Mark Cavendish and Jens Voigt have already expressed their anger at the novel approach on twitter, but the UCI contest that it is in place to fight the early on set of mechanical speed doping.

More to follow shortly, including reaction from UCI press conference at noon (ET) time…

Sprinters foiled in a cold and wet bunch sprint by Kristoff

Daily guff | Sunday 23 March 2014 by

They build them tough in Norway, and tough you had to be to come out on top of this one. Indeed, even to survive to the final group of 25 took some doing on a day in which the Milan-San Remo course was battered with rain, wind and cold, and for almost 300 kilometres. The effort it took on the bodies of these athletes was never more evident that in the final sprint itself, for how many times do you see a bunch sprint containing names such as Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel and Peter Sagan, and have a one-two-three finish of Alexanter Kristoff, Fabian Cancellara, and Ben Swift.

To look at the top three finishers alone without seeing the race itself would have left you thinking they had been part of a small group that had attacked before the finish and made the move stick, rather than a bunch sprint that contained some of the fastest men in the world. But in these conditions and with that many miles in pairs of legs further sapped by short-sharp climbs along the Ligurian coast road, it was the strongest, rather than the pure fastest, that had the best chance of winning.

And I wonder did Kristoff, the Norweigen hard man, know that? Did he know that in these conditions, at this pace and with this many hours in the saddle — four minutes, four seconds shy of seven hours, to be exact — that it would be the strongest who would win and that it wasn’t necessary to try and lose the pure sprinters on the final climb up the Poggio?

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Contador rolls back the years and shows his new found form

Daily guff | Tuesday 18 March 2014 by

It was vintage Contador and I couldn’t help but watch and wonder just what Chris Froome was thinking from wherever it was he was rehabbing from his injury. This was the Contador of old, albeit it is still only March and it is only the Tirreno-Adriatico, but perhaps it’s a sign of what’s to come this season now that he’s had a full winters training, with no distractions, to put into his legs.

Just the day before, race leader Michal Kwiatkowski had battled to the point of exhaustion to keep his race lead over Contador as the Spaniard attacked on the final climb to the finish at Cittareale and left everyone else struggling to keep pace. Good old El Pistolero won that day after his team-mate Roman Kreuziger had blown the race open with a ferocious attack, riding the majority of the climb in the big-ring before finally burning out. Contador took over and grinding up behind him, 10 seconds later was Kwiatkowski, doing just enough to retain his overall lead over the two time Tour de France winner by 16 seconds.

It was all to play for on the final climbing stage before a flat stage and a short time-trial to finish the race. This was a stage that finished up a wall of a climb to Muro di Guardiagrele. Short, but so steep that it hit 30 percent at times and which one climber described as now knowing what it’s like to ride up the banking of a velodrome.

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Notes from the Winter training bunker: It’s snow going away, you know

Notes from the Winter training bunker 2014 | Thursday 13 March 2014 by

At the start of January I made a winter training plan on my computer. Something to try and carry out down in the basement of my house — the winter training bunker — on the turbo. The plan probably looked a little over ambitious, but the idea was that if I could at least do the lions share of it, it would still be a good winters training and something to carry onto the road once the winter moved on.

Now, it is safe to say that I didn’t stick with the plan entirely. When you’re a rank amateur, in it for the fun of it, the real world often throws up things that keep you from going on the turbo 5-6 days per week, and so the plan often had to chop and change so that I still got the best of the workouts in, if not as often as I had planned.

Still, I came out of January with 284km in the legs and out of February (only 28 days, remember!!) with another 197km to add to it. I felt good even if I wasn’t losing the weight I had hoped to lose quite as fast. That takes more discipline on the dieting side of things, but it’s something that will come in time. As far as I was concerned I was feeling fitter in my legs and that’s what I wanted. I didn’t want to go out on the road come spring and struggled to cover 15k because I’d say on my backside doing nothing but eat a little less over the winter.

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Cycling’s elite converges on Italy

Daily guff | Tuesday 11 March 2014 by

When it comes to week long stage races in the spring time, the Paris-Nice may hold the most historical prestige, but it’s the Tirreno-Adriatico in 2014 were all the big names have shown up proving that this race may be beginning to overshadow the grand old ‘Race to the Sun’. Such is the entry list this year, that you’d be forgiven for looking upon it as an early season battle of cycling’s best, out to lay down the physiological marker over the others.

Of names that you would consider favorites to win or at least finish high up the order and be competitive come the Grand Tours, you have, in alphabetical order: Ivan Basso (Cannondale), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Cadel Evans (BMC), Robert Gesink (Belkin), Chris Horner (Lampre), Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo), Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp), Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), Richie Porte (Team Sky), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Michele Scarponi (Astana), Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Sir Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky).

The obvious names of Chris Froome (who was meant to ride but pulled out injured) and Vincenzo Nibali (at Paris-nice) aside, it’s a who’s who of stage race cycling in 2014. Not every one of them will be going for the win here of course … some will be looking for form, but there will be others out to prove a point and looking for an early stage race victory to give them the confidence to carry into the season.

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Two of cycling’s biggest young stars duel at Strade Bianche

Daily guff | Monday 10 March 2014 by

Ask almost any cycling fan who the biggest young talent is in the sport today and you’re likely to hear the name Peter Sagan. The young Slovak and his charasmatic style has entertained and thrilled us all over the last couple of years and big things are expected of him in 2013. But for all his talent there may be someone else of the same age who could go even further. He’s Polish national champion, Michal Kwiatkowski.

Each year it seems a young cyclist bursts onto the scene winning several years, showing a huge talent for success and as a result is designated the title of being the next Eddy Merckx. The pressure is put on and despite many going on to forge brilliant careers, nobody has lived up to such a moniker.

In 2013 at the age of just 23, Sagan won his second green jersey at the Tour de France to go with 21 victories on the year including wins at Gent–Wevelgem and Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal. His second place results at Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders only hinted at his bright future. Some even felt that on top of winning the big classics, he could one day win a Grand Tour. The pressure was heaped on. Now, that isn’t to say it has gotten to Sagan … quite the opposite for the he has done nothing but perform well in the majority of races he has been expect to shine in. It’s just that now it might be Kwiatkowski’s turn to come under that microscope of expectation. And on the weekend we got to see them both go head to head at the Strade Bianche.

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Spring is in the air

Daily guff | Monday 3 March 2014 by

Outside my window the grass is still covered in two feet of snow, a solid layer of ice, and then perhaps another foot of snow under that. It’s the work of a vicious winter that blew in sometime in late November dropping temperatures well below zero, forcing me to burn as many calories shoveling snow as on the turbo, and it hasn’t let up since. But despite the lack of green, despite the continued cold temperatures, and despite the threats that we could yet get more snow in the next week, there is that feeling that spring isn’t too far away. That it’s closer for some than others, and that eventually it’ll find its way up here also.

Down in Florida the 15 American League teams of Major League Baseball have reported for Spring training, and pre-season games are underway. When you tune in to watch you cannot help but notice the pristine green grass, the blue skies, the sunshine, the fans sitting on the grass banking that rings the outfield of many of the teams’s spring training stadiums, sipping cold beer and wearing shorts. It almost looks like summer, yet you know it’s spring and you hope that little bit of spring will come back north again with the players for the start of the new season in April.

Then there is Belgium and an altogether different sign that spring is nearing with altogether different weather.

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New season set to begin in searing heat Down Under

Daily guff | Friday 17 January 2014 by

It’s hard to believe that here we are on the verge of another season on the road for cycling’s finest. While I’m down in my basement punching out 30 to 45 minute sessions on my turbo in the hopes of generating some kind of base fitness, the best in the World are ready and set to go racing, starting with the Tour Down Under this weekend.

It hardly seems like anytime since the last season ended and yet here we are, about to go again. That’s the way of it in the modern day of sport however. With money to be made there is no time to sit around wasting months of an off season when you can run out the old season on late and drag them back for a new season early. Look at Football, it barely stops — certainly not in a World Cup year. Likewise the Formula One season now finishes in late November and starts up again with winter testing in February.

Australia are in the thick of their summer right now and so it’s understandable that they’d have this race now. Currently the country is enjoying one of its hottest summers on record, highlighted by the conditions at the Australian Open tennis tournament taking place at the moment. Temperatures have soared so high that water bottles have melted, some players have collapsed, and the rest left to complain about it.

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The man who stood against Armstrong, stands with Sky and tells us why we should believe in them too

Book reviews | Thursday 16 January 2014 by

insideteamsky‘Inside Team Sky’ by David Walsh

In the post-Lance era in which cycling is currently living, no team is scrutinised quite like Team Sky. They’re the team that have won the Tour de France on back to back years and they’re the team that some believe are the second coming of US Postal despite all claims to the contrary. But how do you prove a negative? How do you convince the skeptics that they are worthy of your belief and that the criticism they faced on the road of this year’s Tour was unfair? Enter David Walsh … slayer (in part) of the dragon that was Lance Armstrong himself.

Walsh spent years going after Lance, building what he believed to be a case against him through dogged investigative journalism. It was exhaustive work and it was covered in full when he released his book ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ right about the time Armstrong himself was finally beginning to fall. With Lance defeated, Walsh wanted to believe in cycling again and so who better to look at the latest team dominating the World’s biggest bike race?

Walsh was offered the chance to embed himself within Team Sky for the 2013 season. To look for himself and to judge for himself what was going on. Given his history with Lance there was nobody better qualified … no bigger skeptic to go in and see how this machine operated. If anyone would find objection to what Sky were doing, they said, it would be him.

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Eight things to look forward to in 2014 as well as a few predictions

Daily guff | Monday 13 January 2014 by

There is so much to look forward to in the upcoming 2014 professional cycling road season, as there is every year and if I asked a dozen people for things that they’re looking out for the most I’d no doubt get a dozen different answers, so take of this what you will. These are eight things that jump out at me as things worth watching for as the Grand Tours make their starts in the UK, as British cycling tries to continue its dominance, and as the World Hour record comes back to prominence. I’ll also lay down a few predictions; though don’t be running to your bookie with them. Predicting cycling results on the day of a race is hard enough never mind months in advance. One thing I can guarantee however is that the season will be full of good action, beautiful scenery, and a few records here or there.

Giro in Belfast; Tour in Yorkshire

It’s a rare treat for any Grand Tour to start in the UK, indeed only the Tour de France has done that before, but for two to do it in the one year is almost as rare as the idea that back-to-back British winners of the Tour de France might have seemed a few years ago. The last time a Grand Tour visited the island of Ireland was in 1998 when that years ill fated Tour de France arrived in Dublin. Remembered for the ‘Festina Affair’ that year the Giro organisors will be hoping for none of the same when their big event arrives on that island with the start in Belfast. It’s a huge occasion for a city like Belfast and it should look fantastic. Likewise with the Tour starting in Yorkshire. Mark Cavendish seen last year’s mass start on Corsica as a big chance to pull on the Yellow jersey by winning that first stage sprint, but it didn’t go to plan. And maybe for the best because what better way to pull on his first Yellow jersey than on home turf?

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2013 season in review: The year of first times; plus Awards & Gongs

Daily guff | Monday 23 December 2013 by

2013 was the year that Nelson Mandella and Margaret Thatcher died, a Royal baby was born, a Pope resigned, Typhoon Haiyan devistated the Philappines, the Syrian chemical attack and the Boston marathon bombings. But it was also the year that Fabian Cancellara did the Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double, that Daryl Impey became the first African born rider to wear the Yellow jersey and Chris Froome the first African born rider to win the Tour de France, that Vincenzo Nibali rode through the snow at Tre Cime di Lavaredo to cement his first Giro d’Italia victory, that Chris Horner became the first cyclist over 40 to win a Grand Tour, that Portugal got its first World Road Race Champion in the guise of Rui Costa, and that Peter Sagan became the first rider to win virtually every other race on the calender … or so its sometimes seemed.

The year in review

The year began not at a race, but on the sofa of Oprah Winfrey’s television show. Lance Armstrong sat before us and confessed to what we had known for some time, that yes, he had taken drugs throughout his career and that yes, he was sorry he got caught. All of that madness fueled old media and social media alike for weeks on end as bad press of cycling’s days of yore were heaped upon the sport once again and fans were left crying out for the start of some actual racing and the chance to put the over-abused subject of doping in the sport on the back burner for a while.

Some couldn’t let it go, of course, but for the rest of us that welcomed the sight of a race, one arrived later in January with the Tour Down Under in Australia in which the little known Tom-Jelte Slagter prevailed. At Paris-Nice and Tirreno–Adriatico, Richie Porte and Vincenzo Nibali triumphed respectively before the Spring Classics finally reached us. Cycling was back.

Billed as the battle between Cancellara and Sagan, it was the Swissman who won by taking two Monument victories at Flanders and Roubaix to Sagan’s none. Sagan was consistent however, finishing second at Milan-San Remo behind Gerald Ciolek, second to Cancellara at Flanders, and winning the non-Monument classic, Gent-Wevelgem. The other Monument classic won in the Spring was that of the Liège–Bastogne–Liège by Ireland’s Dan Martin. He became the first Irish winner of a Monument since Sean Kelly at the Milan-San Remo in 1992.

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2013 season in review: The year of speculating wattage

Daily guff | Monday 23 December 2013 by

It started early and it started fast and it continued relentlessly throughout the 2013 season. What watts is so-and-so — usually Chris Froome — putting out on such-and-such a climb? Is it worse than Lance Armstrong in his pomp? Is it within the threshold of normal? Normal being what a professional could put out without the need for drugs, but still beyond the normal for you and I. Nobody really knew for sure but a fair few began to speculate and so a wave of wattage began to grow and grow, sucking more and more onto it until it swept over the 2013 cycling season, threatening to take away the enjoyment many are supposed to be experiencing when watching a bicycle race.

Now don’t get me wrong. Wattage has its place in cycling … it helped Sir Bradley of Wiggins win his first and only Tour de France. It is the power output of a cyclist through their pedals at any given time … divided by the riders weight in kilograms, you are left with a figure that determines a riders watts-per-kilogram. The one with the highest number over a stretch of road — often fantasised about on climbs — is the one who goes the fastest. It’s a new(ish) technology, an expensive technology, and one that is in widespread use on the computers of cyclists throughout the professional peloton. If you know your maximum wattage at your present weight you know when you’re at your limit and how best to judge a ride. It goes against the purists dream of riding by feel, but technology is a fact of life in the 21st century.

What we found in the year that was 2013 however was that the guessing game of these figures has went beyond what is fact on the riders computer into what is fiction among speculating fans.

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The Paris to Specialized spring classic coming to you in 2014

The Autobus | Tuesday 10 December 2013 by

Fear is rife among the 96,984 good citizens of Roubaix in Northern France that despite originating sometime in the 15th century, before the United States became a nation, that they may be forced by bicycle company Specialized of Morgan Hill, California, USA, to change the name of their town because the bicycle manufacturing behemoth actually owns the trademark on it.

That fear is spilling over from recent revelations that Specialized, formed approximately 500 years after the town of Roubaix, give or take, are threatening a small bicycle shop called Cafe Roubaix in the Canadian wilderness for daring to use the name Roubaix which they believe is owned by them for use on a line of their bicycles only. They have threatened the shop with legal action if the name is not changed and Roubaix, France (along with perhaps, Roubaix, North Dakota) is on high alert that they could be next.

What the ramifications of this could later mean for the town is one thing with some wondering if the Gare de Roubaix railway station that offers connections from the town of Roubaix to Lille, Tourcoing, Antwerp, Ostend and Paris must cease operations at once due to its name, but for cycling fans there is the question as to what it means for the famous bicycle race, the Paris-Roubaix formed some 78 years before Specialized in 1896? Will the name change and if not will it be forced to finish elsewhere or use another name? And what of the Pave sections that make this race famous, will they have to go given their association with the name Roubaix in order to appease Specialized?

Roubaix may have survived two World Wars passing through its neighbourhood, but it won’t survive the wrath of this American bicycle company.

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