#VUELTA2016: Rubén FERNÁNDEZ (MOV) | Alexandre GINIEZ (FDJ) | Alexandre GINIEZ (FDJ) | Rubén FERNÁNDEZ (MOV)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sagan's MTB saga; and the opening weekend of the Vuelta

I'm not sure what the expectation was for Peter Sagan when he entered the Olympic mountain bike race down in Rio, but a medal was always going to be a big ask. Mountain biking is a niche sport that requires a certain type of rider and for the average road rider, road riding isn't overly beneficial towards it except on the stamina side. Of course, Sagan is no ordinary rider and comes from a mountain bike background and it appears has often gone back to it in his off-seasons, but while the Slovak turned to the mountain bike after finishing the Tour de France, it was still a short time to try and master the event like those doing it year round...those that eventually took the medals.

That said, in the end Sagan didn't lose out on a medal because he wasn't capable, but because of a string of mechanical issues including two punctures. And before he had the first of those flats, Sagan had been in the lead group of four and riding well. He had moved up from last place at the start (gridded according points acquired in the World Cup over the course of the season) to a top three position within thirty seconds. A blistering start and suddenly the possibilities were there.

But even then you could see how smooth the likes of Nino Schurter was through the technical sections by comparison and how Sagan would lose half a wheel on the steepest little ramps. He himself admitted afterwards that he didn't think he could hold on to win a medal, but the fact he was racing in that company before his punctures only highlighted the talent he has. And it would have been nice to have seen him go through the race mechanical issues free to see just how he finished up. I'd like to hope that this isn't the last we'll see of Sagan at top level mountain biking...that perhaps he'll do the World Championships sometime or even a few world cup races if his schedule allows. His team, his sponsors and money might have other ideas of course, but no doubt with a little additional effort towards the sport he could well challenge the best.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Olympic track wraps up as Britain dominate the medals table and "questions" arise

So back to Rio for a moment and a look at how the track finished up. Last time I wrote on Monday we had about a day and a half two go and four gold medals still up for grabs in the men and woman's Kieren and Omnium. Both gripping events.

In the Omnium, Mark Cavendish finally got his Olympic medal, though he had to settle for silver behind Italian (and Team Sky rider on the road) Elia Viviani. Laura Trott took the woman's Omnium gold with an absolute dominant performance in which he finished 1st in the individual pursuit, elimination race and flying lap, 2nd in the scratch race and time-trial, and 7th in the points race.

It was also Trott's fourth Olympic gold. No other British female has won more than two Olympic gold medals. Added to her boyfriend Jason Kenny's haul, after he won gold in a thrilling Keirin, the pair now have ten gold medals in their home between them. Just a few shy of that in the Michael Phelps household!

And speaking of the Keirin: The woman's was won by Elis Ligtlee of the Netherlands but it was the men's final that contained all the drama.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

I almost forgot...the Vuelta starts on Saturday

You know something, I was going to wait until Monday before I wrote again and in doing so review everything we've seen at the Olympics so far, but then I remembered the Vuelta a Espana starts this weekend. Yes...and who knew? So a few words on that seem crucial.

It has completely flown under the radar, or perhaps it is I who has simply moved in under a rock with the Olympics being on. It's the only thing that has been on my television each night and it's about the only thing I'm doing any serious reading on during the day. With the track cycling thrilling us and the BMX now underway and the mountain biking still to come this weekend, I completely forgot about the Vuelta.

I think in the back of my mind I knew it was coming up and I think this past weekend I seen something about it starting next weekend, but I kind of left it slip back out of my mind until just now when I was flicking through Twitter and seen that the team presentations were underway. Yes, another Grand Tour is upon us and it gets underway in two days time.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Cancellara wins Olympic time-trial; British take over on the track

Chris Froome couldn't repeat what Bradley Wiggins done four years ago in London by following up a Tour de France victory with an Olympic gold in the individual time-trial. Froome had to settle for third behind Fabian Cancellara, who brings the curtain down on his glittering career in style, with Tom Dumoulin, the pre-race favourite, settling for silver. In the woman's race there was a turn up for the books as American, Kristin Armstrong (no relation!), who has done little racing this year, showed up and beat the controversial Russian, Olga Zabelinskaya to silver, and Anna Van Der Breggen to bronze. The Dutchgirl picked up her second medal of these games on the road after her gold last week in the woman's road race.

Fabian Cancellara will have been a popular winner here in Rio. He's been on one big final season farewell Tour, or so it has seemed though things haven't often gone as planned. His crown of classic king was taken by Peter Sagan when the Slovak beat him at the Tour of Flanders, he was well beaten by younger men like Dumoulin in many of the individual time-trials and perhaps he was beginning to think he'd left it a year too long to say goodbye. Or maybe not. Maybe deep down he knew he had this in him and it was everyone else who had written him off. Despite his pedigree for the race of truth, many didn't feel Cancellara was up to winning a medal, never mind the gold. But he was a force throughout the cross, measuring his effort to perfection and finishing a mighty 47sec ahead of Dumoulin and 1min 2sec ahead of Froome across the rolling 54.6km course.

Armstrong's win was closer on the 29.9km course, finishing just 6sec ahead of Zabelinskaya and 11sec ahead of Van Der Breggen. Canadian Tara Witten was 7th at 35sec.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Two Olympic road races blighted by crashes but thrillers nonetheless in Rio

If the two road races in Rio were not a good advertisement for road cycling to the world, then I don't know what is. Especially the men's race which many are calling the race of the season; a race expected to be contested by the climbers but which was won by a man of the cobbles in Greg Van Avermaet. The woman's race ended in dramatic fashion itself when American Mara Abbott was caught within metres of the line by a group of three from which Anna Van Der Breggen of the Netherlands took the gold medal.

It was a brutal course that incorporated its own sectors of cobbles but also some savage hills but because of what was at stake as well as the reduced team sizes and a ban on race radios, the action came thick and fast and it was hard for the climbing type to control it. UCI, World Tour, Tour de France etc., take note! They didn't know when to react and when to let a move go and come the finish I was left wondering whether Peter Sagan might have regretted his decision to skip it?

But Sagan or not, perhaps nobody was beating Van Avermaet on a day like this. He could soak up the cobble sections, conserve on some of the earlier climbs and then get in moves that other climbers might not have been given the freedom for.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Mollema redeems himself with win at San Sebastian

Bauke Mollema had to be feeling down after the Tour. He came out of the second rest day in second place overall, 1min 47sec behind Chris Froome, and looking strong for a podium position. But a disaster in the Alps seen him drop right out of the top 10 to 11th by Paris, 13min 13sec behind the Sky winner. You wouldn't blame him if his confidence was shot and he fancied a little break from racing.

But that would have been the easy approach. Within six days of Paris, Mollema along with a host of other Tour riders, were back on their bikes in Spain for the Classica San Sebastian, and rather than plod his way around the race or worry about risking a move only to blow up again, Mollema was aggressive and put in the decisive move on the final climb to rid himself of Tony Gallopin, Alejandro Valverde and Joaqium Rodriguez to win solo by 17sec over that group, in that order.

The only other major race of the week came the following day at the Ride London classic were a late solo move from a breakaway group by Geraint Thomas was reeled in by the main bunch in time for Tom Boonen to win the gallop ahead of Mark Renshaw and Michael Matthews.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Le Tour review: Overall standings...alternative standings...predictions review...team of the Tour

Here is a look across all the various final standings of the 2016 Tour de France with a little word on each. From the overall classification to the best French riders and from a review of my questionable pre-Tour predictions to my overall team of the Tour of which there can be no debate! First up though, the yellow jersey...

The Final General Classification:

1. Chris Froome (GBR/Sky) in 89h04'48"
They took out the early summit finish to try and test him more, so what did he do? He took the race by the scruff of the neck by attacking on the descents and in the cross winds, by out gunning his rivals in the time-trials and by running up Mont Ventoux. There's no doubt Froome was the best rider here but unexpectedly, he was also the most entertaining.

2. Romain Bardet (FRA/AGR2 La Mondiale) @ 4'05"
I'd picked him for the top five but didn't think he could soar this high. No pressure goign forward for the young Frenchman, but he showed a lot of maturity in this race, got stronger as it went on and took an excellent stage victory to Saint-Gervais-les-Bains to move onto the podium.

3. Nairo Quintana (COL/Movistar) @ 4'21"
Failed to flatter and rarely left the rear wheel of Froome. By the time he attakced on Mont Ventoux he was already trying to make up time and by the time he went again it was on the final 4th cat. climb just outside Paris and the Tour was long over. Allergies or too long training back in Colombia? Whatever the reason this wasn't the Quintana we expected...and yet, he still made the podium.