Daily guff | Monday 3 March 2014 by Richard Blayney
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.
Daily guff | Friday 17 January 2014 by Richard Blayney
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.
Book reviews | Thursday 16 January 2014 by Richard Blayney
‘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.
Daily guff | Monday 13 January 2014 by Richard Blayney
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?
Daily guff | Monday 23 December 2013 by Richard Blayney
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.
Daily guff | Monday 23 December 2013 by Richard Blayney
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.
The Autobus | Tuesday 10 December 2013 by Richard Blayney
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.
Daily guff | Thursday 5 December 2013 by Richard Blayney
It’s December: The Christmas tree is up, the countdown to the arrival of Santa is on, cheesy festive tunes are pumping out of the radio, the early winter snow fall is already melting due to a brief warm spell but hopes are high it will return before the big day because the worst spell of winter is still to come. And yet, professional cyclists across the globe are already back training with their attentions fully tuned on 2014. No rest for the wicked, especially those wanting to build on their successes of 2013.
With that in mind, and ahead of a review of the year article I hope to find time for between bouts of Christmas shopping, I’ve drawn up a shortlist of the best ten riders of 2013. There are some who (if they actually read this) might feel aggrieved at being left out, but I couldn’t find a better ten and, after much deliberation and hair pulling, I will pick a winner come that year end review. So here we go (in alphabetical order!)…
Notes from the Winter training bunker 2014 | Friday 29 November 2013 by Richard Blayney
The first snowfall serves as a nasty reminder. Not that winter is here, that I need to get the snow tires on the car, or that the winter coat will take pride of place in the closet for the foreseeable future, but that winter training is now, finally, upon me.
I’ve spent the past three months being pathetically lazy, falling into that trap, or should I say catching that bug known as bone-idleness. Following my final mountain bike race of the year which marked possibly the fittest I had been in some years after a solid couple of months worth of riding, I went out just once in September after moving to our new house. Various things got in the way and the time moved fast as it always does now, but mostly it was just that bone-idle bug.
Daily guff | Wednesday 13 November 2013 by Richard Blayney
Last week two cyclists -– one a former drug cheat, the other a current day pro believed to be as clean as they come -– were speaking out for and against the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation (T&R) process for the sport of cycling. To think about it immediately you would imagine the drug cheat would be the one against it with the clean cut modern day pro desperate for the cheats that came before him to announce themselves so his generation could move on with their careers. But it isn’t so simple. Lance Armstrong is the retired/banned cheat; Mark Cavendish is the current pro.
To Cavendish it is the egos of the cheats that will ensure they don’t come clean and it’ll only open the door further on cycling’s skeletons, something that he and his fellow professionals will be left to deal with. He no doubt fears that sponsors and TV networks could walk away if more and more scandals are unveiled and further bad press heaped upon the sport. In Armstrong’s view the sport needs a T&R to move forward. He believes that to throw the door open on the said skeletons would be to clear it out once and for all and save the problems coming out in drips and drabs for the next decade, something that would be worse for cycling and its sponsors and TV networks.
I suppose it is safe to say that both have a point and the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, as ever.
Daily guff | Wednesday 6 November 2013 by Richard Blayney
It’s been over a week now since the Ryder Hesjedal used performance enhancing drugs bombshell dropped on the cycling community and upon the Canadian sports landscape. At the time I remember being surprised, but hardly shocked. Surprised that it could be this good Canadian boy who we know has rode for the Garmin team this past five years, but not shocked because this is a rider who did, after all, ride in ‘the era’.
The revelations that Hesjedal may have used Performance Enhancing Drugs came by way of the latest disgraced former cyclist turned tell-all-athor, Machael Rasmussen, who claimed that he showed Hesjedal how to use EPO. He confirmed that he never saw Hesjedal use the drug and so it left the door open for Hesjedal to use that famous cyclist-caught-in the-headlights tactic and to deny, deny, deny. But full credit to the Canadian. He didn’t try hide from it, he didn’t threaten legal action against Rasmussen, but instead came out later the same day and held his hands up. He admitted that in 2003 he used EPO but has not used it since … certainly not during his run at winning the 2012 Giro d’Italia.
Tour de France 2014 | Thursday 24 October 2013 by Richard Blayney
The day of the unveiling of the next years Tour de France route is a double edged sword for me. It’s always exciting to see what the new route is going to be, to see what parts of France they’ll visit, what mountains they’ll climb and from it all decipher what kind of contender it suits best. On the other hand it’s like a kid getting to see his Christmas present in March before it’s put away again for the next nine months.
Yesterday the route for the 2014 Tour de France was released, but there’s little point me banging on about how great it looks and how excited I am for next July. I say that virtually every year because there’s no such thing as a bad Tour de France. That is unless the organisors decided to skip the mountains altogether and give us twenty-one stages of bunch sprints. Mark Cavendish might beg to differ, however.
The 101st edition of the race will begin on Saturday, July 5th from England as we already knew — the first three stages in Britain had already been announced some months before — and will cover 21 stages for a total distance of 3,656 kilometres. There’s nine flat stages in all, five hilly stages, six mountain stages, one 54-kilometre time-trial, two rest days, and nine new stage cities.
Daily guff | Monday 30 September 2013 by Richard Blayney
Rui Costa became the first Portuguese rider to win the World Road Championships in a traitorous day in Florence. Costa rode his ride to perfection, hanging tough with the more pure climbers on the final lap and then attacking at the perfect time to claim glory. Costa had two Spaniards fighting against him in the final kilometres, but in one of them — Alejandro Valverde — he had his trade-team mate and as such played them off against one another perfectly with his attack that also took advantage of an exhausted Vincenzo Nibali. Costa outsprinted an impressive Rodriguez with Valverde settling for his fifth World Championship medal … none of which are Gold. And all this without a single British rider in sight.
It was a shocking day for the British riders. A day in which they lost the race the moment they climbed out of their warm beds in some plush hotel in Florence, drew back the curtains and seen the falling rain. They didn’t fancy it and for all intents and purposes, would have been as well climbing back into their beds and staying there such was their showing in the event.
The event was the Men’s World Road Race Championship this past Sunday. A race staged on a hilly circuit that really should have suited the likes of Chris Froome or even Sir Bradley Wiggins, but which seen both of them last about half the distance before packing. Wiggins went AWOL entirely — put off by the falling rain and the need to go downhill one can only assume — whereas Froome either crashed himself or got held up in a crash and had little in the way of team-mates to help him back to the bunch.
Daily guff | Sunday 22 September 2013 by Richard Blayney
There’s no better way to watch a bike race than when they’re going round and round. Forget these point-to-point races that are the tradition of bike racing — those are well and good to watch on the television — but when you’re on the side of the road, getting to see the riders time and again, especially on a course with a good climb, is hard to beat. It’s why the World Tour race in Montréal this month is one of the best races to go watch at the elite end of the pro calendar.
It’s this kind of circuit racing that reminds you why Kermesse racing is so popular in Belgium. People can stand at the side of the road and be entertained by a race for hour after hour. They’ll watch the race speed by then duck into the cafe’s or pub’s for a drink before stepping back out to the edge of the curb to see them go past again. You don’t have to stand at the side of the road for three or four hours spending more time collecting cheap goods thrown from a publicity caravan than you do watching the actual race go past is the case in point-to-points. They wiz past in a matter of seconds and as if someone’s stolen something from you, you’re left wondering what to do next.
The Tour de France might be a rare exception to this if you happen to be up on one of the mountains. The atmosphere there alone would create a memorable experience not to mention the riders passing at a slower speed, with the look of suffering on their faces in small groups spread out across the mountain. But let’s face it, the Monument spring classics, and the majority of Tour stages that start in one location and finish in another make for brilliant TV, but are not the most spectacular spectator sports.
Daily guff | Wednesday 18 September 2013 by Richard Blayney
After writing plenty about the Giro and then providing blanket coverage on Le Tour, I had plans to do something similar with the Vuelta, but as time is apt to do, it got in the way and I never really got the chance. Thankfully through I still got the chance to watch the majority of it and thank goodness for that, because what a Vuelta it was.
To be fair, I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a bad Grand Tour. Yes I know sometimes an overall battle may be without intrigue and people are quick to label it a dull race, but the reality is that far too much goes on between individual stage races, various jersey competitions and much more for the entire thing to be dull. It’s just maybe that we’ve seen some epic Grand Tours in recent years from the 2011 Tour to the 2012 Giro to this 2013 Vuelta that we’re quick to dismiss any that don’t measure up.
You know you’ve been spoiled when there’s a lead change on the second to last stage and that the swing in time for that lead change is a mere six seconds. Vincenzo Nibali, clearly beginning to look fatigued from the efforts of his Giro win some months before seen his lead whittled down to just three seconds before he lost it to the the 41 year old — yes, forty-one — Chris Horner by three seconds. Horner didn’t look back and cemented his first Grand Tour win a day later to become the oldest man in history to win a Grand Tour. His superb ride on that 20th stage seen him take the overall victory over Nibali by just 37 seconds.