Archive | January, 2010

A Dash of Cyclocross News

29 Jan

Kentucky! I know—it sounds like an April Fool’s story but three months too early and infinitely less believable. But it’s true—and likely a whole lot more pleasant for the racers than the Czech Republic is right now.

Or maybe not. Despite apparent Euro sentiment that the course is too challenging to even pre-ride, Jon Page is ten (10) exclamation points worth of excited about it—and in a character-limited Twitter post no less. Might also be worth noting that Jon Page finished well in the World Cup finale, although the thought of an American potentially winning the world Elite CX would almost certainly push the UCI toward plowing and sanding the course—despite their own ban on artificial sand.

Moving away from thoughts of Baseball-bat trophies and bourbon tents, but sticking with Cyclocross, Riccardo Ricco’s life partner Vania Rossi has tested positive for CERA. Fortunately, science has now proven that drug positives can be caused by kissing so lord only knows what could happen when two people are making babies. Obviously Ricco is the source of the drugs because look—here’s Rossi holding up a shirt that says “Fair Play”.*

A Periodic Table of Professional Cycling

25 Jan

With the UCI ProTour now extending from January through October, it’s getting a little hard to keep track of the where and when surrounding various professional events.

Well, struggle no more: proudly presents our Periodic Table of Professional Cycling—and thanks to Operation Monetize, you can buy it (and any of our other graphics) as a poster. It’s inspired some t-shirts as well.

[clickthrough for big sizes]

Races are ordered from top-to-bottom in rough order of importance, with vertical series representing geographic location of events. Stage races tend toward the left side of the table, one-days toward the right, and colors correspond with UCI ranking of individual events.

Races that haven’t been run yet, or couldn’t be shoehorned in elsewhere ended up in the Lanthaniods, while recently-defunct events filled the Actinoids. Each event tile contains the name of the event, the year in which it was first run, a rough measure of its distance in stages or kilometers, and a symbolic abbreviation.

Event abbreviations are mostly three characters because it’s easier to parse (and you won’t need to write equations with them). They’re designed to make intuitive sense, but occasionally reflect an older, alternative, or native-language name of a given event.

Obviously, there were a few concessions made to fit the design (World Championships in the Netherlands, Tour de Suisse above the Tour of Romandie), and I promoted the Tour of California to ProTour status, both for aesthetics and as a matter of opinion. Here are my sources, and if you disagree, here’s the public domain source file so you can make your own.

2010 Is Going Poorly Already

24 Jan

Not going poorly for cycling, of course. I mean poorly for me.

I’ve made one pick this far this season—that Greipel wouldn’t be able to hold his GC lead at the TDU—and the Gorilla made me look foolish. If this is how good he’s going in January, he’s either peaking way too early, or on track for a groundbreaking 2010.

The TDU—all three recaps I saw of it, anyway—seemed like a great early-season event. Footon managed to get some press—looking down on Valverde and the rainbow jersey makes a good podium shot—and as an added bonus, Manuel Cardoso’s Portugese National Champ kit doesn’t look half as ugly their normal uniform.

Johan Bruyneel went away empty-handed but wasn’t sad about it. Despite an Armstrong flier and some close calls from Gert Steegmans—back in action after a seven-month-long layoff for refusing to sign an anti-doping clause—I don’t think RadioShack were really banking on some results at the TDU.

Given Bruyneel’s miserable record at the classics (two wins—’01 Weveglem, ’05 Het Volk—in ten years), his concession speech may just be practice for later in the year. Certainly, Quick.Step doesn’t look they’ll be cutting the rest of the peloton any slack this spring.

And finally, Team Sky takes their first ProTour win. Bonus style points for rocking the skinsuit—the stage may have only been 90k long, but ProTour sprint victories without the jersey hem are extra sweet. It’s always good for a squad to get wins, but I still think Sky’s got a ways to go before the fill the Man U boots Brad Wiggins stitched up for them.

Wait—There's A ProTour Race? In January?

21 Jan

So it’s mid January. I had been, throughout my previous half-decade of running this blog, under the impression that this time of year was the “off season”. But apparently this opinion is not shared by a cabal of very old, very white men in Aigle, Switzerland.

Yes, while all reasonable cyclists are just digging out the trainer/building base Jens Factor-style, a few select sprinters—actually, just Andre Gripel so far—are profiting immensely from the UCI ProTour’s attempt to outflank the owners of the biggest bike races on Earth.

I’ve seen 1:45 of Versus’ highlights (they don’t have Stage 2 posted yet), and all I can really say is that final run into the line seemed to have a bit of a hill on it. Andre Griepel, for being a giant sack of hamburger, seemed to shoot up it pretty quickly. Willunga Hill might be too much for him, but if he figures out how to ride cobblestones (he can’t yet, can he?) this could be an exciting spring.

Observations beyond that: Footon-Servetto kits don’t look so awful when the riders are actually moving on the bike; it’s going to be a very red peloton this year and (thanks, Chris!) Lance Armstrong seems to have misplaced his rainbow stripes.

In Case You Missed It

15 Jan

Robbie McEwen (@mcewenrobbie) opened the 2010 season with a devestating win over Chris Horner (@hornerakg):

Why Roubaix is Roubaix

13 Jan

Podium Cafe has been getting some great interviews this off-season. Last week, they published a long conversation with Dutch phenom Martijn Maaskant, and today George Hincapie stepped up to the mic.

While the whole interview is a fun read, what really struck me was this bit about Hincapie’s early departure from the ’09 Roubaix:

Last year for instance, when I flatted, I just went to move up in a corner, and I just took a little bit of a risk and got off the crown of the cobbles and went to the side of the road, and sure enough I flatted right there.

So looking back on that moment that was a big mistake because I really didn’t have to move up. We were going really slow and I was in the top ten, top fifteen position, which is totally fine. But in Roubaix there’s always that fine line in being too far back.

Sometimes you’ll miss that split of five guys, and I’m always very conscious of being up there, and I’m usually there when the split goes. But this time I tried to move up at the wrong time in the wrong place and that was the end of my race.

Yeah. I can’t decide which is more telling—that 15th wheel with 80k to go, at a not-crazy pace, wasn’t quite a good enough place to chill out for a moment, or that something as innocuous as riding in a not-perfect spot for a split second at that distance out effectively ended his race.

Man, I can’t wait for April.

A Matter of Seconds

12 Jan

Second day of the week, second week of the year. Today, we are all about seconds.

A second ProTour sponsor has announced it’s leaving the sport before year’s end. Bjarne Riis isn’t giving it too much of a second thought, and Joe Lindsey seconds his lack of concern.

Team Radio Shack: bumped up to world’s second ugliest kit. Joe Parkin takes a second look at the 2010 kits thus far and helps explain how such things might happen.

Competitive Cyclist suggests second-guessing designers is, in general, a poor idea. I’d like to take a second to ask his web designer if he holds to that.

Jose Rujano: by his count, is he now the world’s second best climber?

Is the second comeback year the charm? ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap dedicated a few seconds to analyzing the premise last July.

Cyclocross and beer have had a second lovers’ spat (first was a few years ago, when courses stopped running through the beer tents). Sven Nys defends the charm of beer-addled spectators—though an injured Albert would bump Nys to second on last year’s Worlds podium.

The Death of the Pure Climber

11 Jan

Cycling isn’t a sport that lends itself to idle boasting. The most flamboyant and outspoken rider in recent memory was Mario Cipollini, who managed to put together a small collection of Giro stages—among other prizes—to back up his chatter.

So it seems highly out of place when a guy like Jose Rujano says “I’m the third best climber in the world”. Even when Rujano was a notable—half a decade ago—I still don’t think he was the third best climber in the world. The tactical complexity of the ’05 Giro makes a definitive statement difficult, but had the Smurfish Venezuelan showed his cards sooner, and had Ivan Basso not been laid low by the runs, I think the heads of state would have kept Rujano on a far shorter leash.

Rujano wasn’t satisfied with simply tooting his own horn, and followed up his previous statement by kicking at one of cycling’s most contentious ants’ nests—the notion of a “true” climber. You may remember that Gilberto Simoni, a bit flush from the success of his win at the ’03 Giro, ran his mouth about how the Tour de France didn’t have any real climbers; needless to say, the Tour hit the Alps, the Italian went backward, and dessert was served.

Rujano appears to have done the same thing last week—just without winning a Giro first. While admitting that Andy Schleck and Lance Armstrong are “good in the mountains”, he added that “they don’t have the capacity of a pure climber”. While I understand the attraction to the romanticized image of a climber tearing away from the pack in the hills at some ridiculous distance from the finish line, daring the others to come chase him down, I really question the impact a “true” climber can have in the modern sport.

It’s no leap of the imagination to believe that a rider like Rujano could best a rider like Armstrong in a simple battle from the bottom of a col to the top*. But—with very few exceptions—that’s not how cycling works. Mountainous stages in Grand Tours come after days of battling on the flats, staying out of trouble, and practicing the Zen art of struggling to save energy.

While a rider like Schleck or Armstrong can put out the raw wattage needed to hold a wheel in the sweet spot of a peloton screaming into the line at 60kph, it’s a much bigger ask for a rider like Rujano, whose climbing prowess is built as much on low body mass as power. Multiply that effort by six or seven days, then factor in the increased risk of mishap, and seconds spent in the wind each time you’re bumped out of line, and it’s a very different story than simply watts/kilos by the time the race hits it first climb.

And even then, the climbers aren’t out of the woods. Stronger teams have made an art form in recent years of cranking the pace up to and into the first pitches of big climbs (Chris Anker Sorenson, at right). As the pack strings out, vast handfuls of time materialize, and any grimpeur not alert or rugged enough to hold in the top 10 will have their work cut out for them.

So is it any wonder that, year after year, these “good in the mountains” riders have kept pace with—and even beaten—the “pure” climbers in their native habitats?* Or that the most recent “pure” climber to win a Grand Tour—Carlos Sastre—did so with the support of the strongest team in the field and tactical pressure from two highly placed teammates?

Cynical as it sounds, the modern sport may have converted the storied “pure” climber to a GC contender who’s deficient in the TT.

*I would be remiss if I did not mention the theory that the proliferation of improved blood doping and oxygen vector drugs like EPO have made climbers non-competitive by giving heavier riders superhuman aerobic capacity. Certainly, the results of the most notable uphill TT—a true, bottom-to-contest—in recent TdF memory don’t refute this notion.

1987 Tour de Suisse

9 Jan

While I could do without the music, and the grainy VHS-to-flash video quality, this Team 7-Eleven classic is definitely worth watch. It’s not often a 10-day stage race comes down to an intermediate sprint…

(via velogogo)

You’ve got to wonder at the behind-the-scenes machinations preceding this final stage. It strains credulity that Panasonic, after 10 days of racing, and shattering the field up the final climb the day before, could have controlled the entire peloton with their legs alone, before putting an all-rounder like Winnen in prime position to win the sprint.

7-Eleven, on the other hand, even after two years in the European peloton, probably didn’t have a lot in the way of leverage. Certainly, the team meeting gives an impression of isolation, with no mention of strategy beyond “stay close to Andy and don’t take any guff”.

Hampsten was indeed well-defended; you can see his yellow jersey about 15 riders back in the final bend before the sprint. But Ron Kiefel—who likes his victories improbable—was 7-Eleven’s point man on the day, trying to take the 10-second bonus from the Dutchman “If I’m in position”.

If I ever meet Kiefel, I’ll ask about the battle it took to find Winnen’s wheel coming into the line.

From The Archives: Moreau '07

8 Jan

I realize that 2007 was indeed a very open Tour, but I think Cyclingnews may have been enjoying a joke at our expense when they wrote up this preview:

In fairness, Moreau had indeed been putting down some of his best post-Festina riding in 2007, winning the Dauphine and even hanging with the leaders as they made some uncharacteristically soft attacks in the early TdF climbs.

But Moreau has a long history of needing excuses. When the GC race got tight, the Frenchmen found himself caught out by a field-splitting move from a Vino’-led Astana squad, and it was all downhill from there.

Moreau can probably glean some redemption form the fact that two convicted dopers contributed greatly to his implosion, but finally finishing in 37th, over 90 minutes down, it’s hard to cast the Frenchman as a hard-luck story of “what if…”