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 in what 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, certainly 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 really 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 among many others, but it was that pair of illuminated the racing in Quebec and took a share of the spoils.

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

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.