Monday, October 17, 2016

Sagan retains title as the desert winds blow

Never underestimate the ability of great cyclists to put on a great race on any circuit in any conditions in any country in the world. Sunday's elite-men's World Championship road-race proved that. A deserted circuit in the desert, the conditions were baking hot and the country was Qatar. And yet, the race was brilliant.

I was still in bed when the Qatari winds blew and the big-name opportunists split the race to bits. Echelons were the name of the game. The UCI must have been praying for those winds such was the negativity around these championships. Too hot, too remote, nobody watching. Barriers erected to keep stray camels off the course rather than for fans to lean against, or so it felt. A pan flat circuit that seemed made for a bunch sprint.

By the time I tuned in, there was a group of about 30 ahead with a chasing pack behind. The race was on and there was so far still to go. Some big names had made the split while other big names were reeling. This would be one thing in normal racing conditions, but across the desert? For over 250km? It would prove to be relentless. It would leave some broken. Only 53 of the 197 who took the start, finished.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hemingway and cycling in France

The cycling calendar has gone quite quiet. There was only four major races in Europe this past week. A few of them, I'd never even heard of. I had heard of the four different winners however. John Degenklob won the Sparkassen Münsterland Giro in Germany, Adnaud Demare won the Binche-Chimay-Binche in Belgium, Sam Bennett won the Paris-Bourges in France, and Fernando Gaviria won the Paris-Tours.

I didn't see any of them and haven't got a lot to say about them. My enthusiasm draining a little; in tune with the falling temperatures outside. I'm cycling less too and so are they. The worlds are ahead and there will be plenty to write about in the days ahead. My enthusiasm isn't helped by the ongoing drama encircling Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins. I've more to say about it, but I have no desire to do so just now.

In place of cycling I've been reading more again and just this past month I've taken to Ernest Hemingway. I can't quite believe it took so many years. The first story I went to was actually an audio book. A memoir called A Moveable Feast, published after his death about his early years in Paris. It's no secret that Hemingway was a big fan of cycling and wrote about it in several of his books. That said, I wasn't aware the subject would come up in A Moveable Feast, but I wasn't surprised either. It's only a couple of paragraphs but in it he describes his memories of watching the sport in Paris, on the track. It's a fascinating yet all too brief look at cycling in those times. His descriptions are wonderful. In no time he makes you feel as though you are there and gives you a longing to go immediately to a big track event yourself.

Monday, October 3, 2016

A Colombian monument win

I didn't get to see a lot of Il Lombardia as it is now known, or the Tour of Lombardy as I know it. To tell the truth I forgot it was even on. I was watching the Liverpool match on my television that morning and when it ended I was thinking what to do with the day when I remembered.

The race, I thought. How long is left? Have they crossed the crucial climbs? I couldn't find it on TV and so I was scrambling for a feed on the iPad. The kids were nearby and any use of the iPad was liable to have them circling for a turn themselves. 'Can I watch some princess songs?' I was bracing for that, so I stayed subtle and got the race up, always ready to switch to the phone if required.

There was still 40km left. I was okay. The first main selection had been made but the best action was still ahead. Over the next half hour or so I dipped in and out. I refreshed the feed a couple of times. I made a cup of tea. I even fed the children some breakfast. By the time it was nitty-gritty time, I had settled back in and was ready for the climax.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A word on the Wiggins/Sky TUE 'scandal'

I wanted to ignore it, but I've felt obliged to put something on record. It's not that it isn't important, that it doesn't matter. It does. It's just mind numbing. It's the racing I'd prefer to talk about. Yet I must say something. I will of course skip the who, what, when, where and why's. If you're still reading this come the end of the second paragraph, you'll already know that.

Yes, I am referring to the 'Fancy Bears' hack of athletes private medical data. And in this case the cyclists caught up in it. Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, and their Therapeutic Use Exceptions (TUEs).

Wiggins was the biggest one. If anything Froome came out looking good...two uses of a TUE, both of which we knew about anyway. He's had none since 2013 and has done the best of his winning since then. At the 2015 Tour, Froome fell ill and should have had a TUE, but refused. He even put out a statement condemning the abuse of the medical exceptions.

Wiggins though...he's in the hot water.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Van Avermaet's revenge in Montreal

It was a 986km round trip to watch 205km of bike racing, but it was worth every metre, as always. This was my fourth year going to the GP Cycliste de Montreal. It has become a bit of a annual tradition (one that I hope to soon include the Quebec race into!) and call me biased, but this race must be one of the finest one-day races on the calendar outside of the five monuments.

It's just a shame in many ways that it clashes with the final day of the Vuelta, as well as the Tour of Britain. It should be a stand alone event to further boost its prestige and give it more viability to those who maybe haven't see it, as the great race it is. Not that the field has suffered as a result of the other races, such is the depth of the talent in world cycling. We had the World champion in Peter Sagan and the Olympic champion in Greg Van Avermaet present. And it was that pair who illuminated the racing in Quebec and here.

If Friday was all about Sagan out sprinting Van Avermaet, then Sunday was the Belgians revenge. Both leave Canada deadlocked with a win and second place each and the fans leave entertained.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Quintana finds a way to shake Froome in the most dramatic of stages

What an incredible week at the Vuelta, accumulating in an extraordinary weekend in which the balance of the race ebbed and flowed before dropping right into the lap of Nairo Quintana, as Chris Froome was finally isolated when Alberto Contador threw all his cards onto the table as he is always apt to do when struggling to make up time by conventional methods.

For several days it seemed though Froome was going to survive what Quintana had been throwing at him and would limit the Colombians lead to around a minute before the stage 19 time-trial in which the Sky rider would then surely overhaul that deficit and set up the first Tour-Vuelta double of the decade.

On Saturday Froome had stayed on the wheel of Quintana in the kind of way the Movistar rider had done to the Sky man the entire Tour de France last month, but managed to lose no time on a grueling finish, one that seen Alejandro Valverde crack and make this Vuelta a two-horse race.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Quintana takes control of Vuelta after a week of jersey swapping

Up to and including today, the Vuelta a España has seen its red leaders jersey change hands seven times between six men. From Peter Kennaugh back on day one to Nairo Quintana today after the Colombian won the first high mountain stage to retake a lead he had coughed up a day go and put time into his closest rivals heading into the first rest day.

Until today this Vuelta had been one of multiple hills, with a handful of short-sharp summit finishes. The kind of steep climbs that suit you one day and punish you the next. The kind that some climbers love and some hate. It seen opportunities for breaks to survive (hence the race leadership changes) and for small chunks of time to be exchanged among the leaders while those left in contention are whittled down daily.

So much so that after this first week and a bit of racing, only a handful were left in contention. Even Alberto Contador found himself minutes adrift to the likes of Chris Froome, Alejandro Valverde and the Colombian pair of Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves. Froome looked good one day gaining a few seconds, Valverde would lead the group in a sprint another day, and then Quintana set off and took time on both of them over the weekend. And this was after Quintana himself had looked frail on one of the short hard climbs earlier in the week.