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Monday, 27 August 2012

Britain race to cycling supremacy

Since the last post many many things have happened in the cycling world with cycling’s new golden boy, Wiggins, taking the lion’s share of the spoils for himself.

The world’s greatest race sped around France with its usual dramatic presence. Stunning vistas were on display on the box, and I assume for those attending the race as well, although the race was a little less stunning from a general classification (GC) point of view as Team Sky controlled the general classification competition from start to finish making the charge to Paris almost a closed race. The Sky machine rumbled through apparently monotonous countryside to put Bradley Wiggins on top of the podium in front of the Arc de Triomphe leaving the more traditional romantics more interested in the scenery than the race. Wiggin’s victory was nothing short of governing as he imposed Britain on this illustrious race’s history. It was also nothing more than a bit dull. His ability to time trial is fascinating and there is no doubt he was the rightful winner but his ability to climb is far more mysterious and uncertain. He was hidden behind several Team Sky Rider masks in the mountains, particularly the ever faithful Chris Froome, who shepherded him over pretty much any inch of road with a positive gradient. This made some people begin to ask questions: Is Froome holding back? Could Froome beat Wiggins? Could Wiggins finish the race before Christmas if Sky decided to go away? All of these are still unanswered as Froome and Sky remained in front of Wiggins and his face hair throughout every climb; with ‘Froomedog’ chasing down anything threatening on the road ahead. The performance of Sky was brilliant and seemingly invulnerable but I think most cycling fans will be hoping Mr Froome will divorce Mr Wiggins and Sky next year and commit himself to a relationship where there is both give and take as he certainly has potential to win grand tours. A change like this would also make the race a bit more exciting as Froome would have opportunities to hurt Wiggins in the hills and with the re-introduction of this era’s greatest cyclist (Alberto Contador) the whole month of July will be back to its usual awe-inspiring spectacle and the beauty of France should also still be there to see. 

Now, there was a small, little known sports competition this summer. It’s called the Olympics and it happens every now and then, this year many people lined up for this extended sports day in London, and at the very beginning of this event there was a cycling race which Mark Cavendish really wanted to win. Now Cavendish is a curious, hilarious and enlightening character and I was heartbroken to see that, through no fault of his own, he had not won the race. I was almost as frustrated by some of the media coverage that called ‘Cav’ and Team GB a ‘flop’ and claimed that an ‘unknown’ was the gold medal winner. (There is about to be a little rant).

 Team GB had five of the most talented riders in the world assembled for this race, all of them there to win gold for the Manx Missile, but their talent was no match for a huge group of also very good cyclists pulling ahead. Trying to chase that group without the help of some other nations, most notably Germany and Australia, was impossible.  Although the defiant Britons did have a very good go at it and came very close to success. This left Cavendish nowhere near the bunch sprint finish, the discipline at which he is the greatest ever rider to compete, so he could not contend. Britain were very much a victim of their own outstanding performances in this race and five riders really cannot fight the whole peloton.

The other injustice that I spotted was the non-cycling world’s attack on the day’s victor: Alexander Vinokourov. He was previously convicted of using performance enhancing drugs and has since served his ban and returned to the sport. He is, put simply, extremely good at riding a bike and has never been an anonymous figure in cycling’s elite. Yet his reception as winner of the Olympic road race was one of bitter acceptance, a reception that our own talented but previously convicted David Millar would have not endured had he won. 

The Olympics then moved on and a few days later Chris Boardman reappeared to tell us about a different race that was going to happen and Britain had entered our only ever two Tour de France podium riders (Wiggins and Froome). These skinny chaps were up against (reigning champion and all round cycling genius) Cancellara from Switzerland and Martin (reigning world champion) from Germany and some other men on bikes. However, it was really a four horse race and this time Bradley Wiggins was in complete control underlining his skill against the clock and Froome also made a strong account for himself taking bronze.

Britain has taken road racing hostage this summer and seems to be locking its prisoner in a vault for now. Their dominance is impressive if not a tad mind numbing but all respect is due to them they have done what they need to do to win very important races and I hope there is more to come. Although I am praying they find a more interesting way to go about their success.

Monday, 9 July 2012

So far a Tour de Force from Sky

We have reached the first rest day of le Tour de France and from a British yellow jersey perspective it could not be going better. Wiggins has been manoeuvred into the iconic maillot jaune by his dedicated team and he strengthened his position today with a wonderful individual time trial. One essential detail of Wiggin’s position in the Tour is the importance of Chris Froome.

I have been a long term admirer of Froome since his performances in last year’s Vuelta a EspaƱa where he finished second with Bradley Wiggins in third. He is a powerful time trial rider and the only pure climber that races under the Union Jack. The rider was born in Kenya but was eligible to race for Britain and due to licensing issues he chose to ply his trade for Sky and team GB. That in my mind is a blessing for us as he is a great ambassador for our country and an asset to any team. He unfortunately punctured in the flat stages of the race but his work in stage seven as well as the emphatic sprint victory was incredibly impressive. He then put in a stint that made every cycling enthusiast sit up and listen in the time trial today coming in second behind his teammate Wiggins. If Wiggins does retain his lead and become the first Briton to arrive in Paris donning yellow then he will owe much of his victory to Froome who will undoubtedly have even more of a part to play in the coming stages. I have a strong sense that Froome will win the Tour in future as he has every skill needed to win the world’s greatest race and in a few years he will probably lead sky when Wiggins is too old to be their main leader or he will lead another team and I believe there is potential for a great rivalry between him and Contador.

However, Froome is the supporting actor in this relationship for now. Wiggins is taking the main stage and he looks at home in yellow and Sky reek of a team that is fully confident and determined to protect his precious jersey and very few people could question their ability to do so. Wiggins is impressive in the mountains considering his track background and seems able to match the pace set by almost any in this race. He is far beyond impressive at time trialling. His prologue was an indication and today’s performance was a statement. He took a huge chunk of time of that of his main rival Cadel Evans, the defending champion, who is considered one of the best at the time trial discipline in the world. This is a real show of power and one cannot help but ask if he would have bettered Evans in last year’s tour and it begs the question of how can Evans retain his crown? It would take a huge attack from him or a heartbreaking failure from Wiggins for him to recapture the prised garment. The latter seems improbable as Wiggins seems in imperious form and I do not think Evans can cause too much damage to Wiggins as he looks worse in the time trial and he has never been an emphatic attacker in the hills. Even if the unthinkable happens and Wiggins suffers a crash or technical problem then Evans still has to hold off Froome who looks stronger both in the mountains and in the race against the clock. Evans is 14 seconds ahead of Froome but I doubt that he can retain this.

In short Britain looks in a perfect position to win its first Tour and short of a tragic problem they should hold on to the yellow an Dave Brailsford can be happy with his strategy as it is unfolding to perfection.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

David Millar at the Olympics

In 2003 David Millar announced himself as one of Britain’s greatest ever road cyclists. He won the world Time Trial championship which is an achievement that only two or three Britons have ever hit par with and only Chris Boardman has won the same race. Millar was always a supremely talented and intelligent rider and was particularly able in the discipline of time trialling where the competitors pitch themselves alone against the clock.
Cycling is a sport that has always been plagued by cheats due to the colossal challenge of competing at the highest level. The human body has to be pushed to its outermost limits to win professional races. Millar joined the French team Cofidis in 1997 and a young, valued man was slowly corrupted into a doper. He began to turn ‘possible wins into probable wins’ although it has been discovered that many of his best victories were won clean. In fact the world time trial championship was the only major race he won illegitimately. He had always been an intelligent man on and of the bike and for several years he refused to boost his system but the pressure to lead his Cofidis team at such a young age (22) demanded results and he saw doping as a way to increase this possibility.
Millar was not perfect. He was taking erythropoietin (EPO) to increase his red blood cell count and therefore gain an unfair advantage over his competitors. Millar was caught and banned for 2 years in 2004 and as a Briton he received a lifetime ban from the Olympics.
During his ban from cycling Millar was a broken and lost man, he felt aimless. He received encouraging support from Dave Brailsford (director of British cycling) and eventually came round to the idea of competing again. However, this time was different: Millar had more than just winning aspirations; he wanted to clean up his sport. He built into a new team to combat doping that would protect young riders from experiencing similar pressures that he came under. This team has been running for a while and has shown that riders can achieve great things clean. Last year they won the team competition  in the Tour de France and this year Ryder Hesjedal won the Overall competition at the Giro d’Italia.
Despite his fight against doping and his redemption one burden still weighed heavy on his shoulders: he could not race at the Olympics. Millar would not be racing to win but would be racing to help Mark Cavendish win in London. He is a great tactician and this would give him rights as team GB captain and help secure the gold Cavendish craves.
Britain has been, until this year, a different entity in terms of its Olympic association to any other nation. The British Olympic association (BOA) held its own rule over British athletes convicted of doping offences and that law was that these athletes held a lifetime ban from the Olympic games; the pinnacle of most athletes’ careers.
This law means that after a British athlete has been convicted of cheating he must fulfil all the other sanctions forced on them that all nationalities enforce but also, unlike other nations’ athletes who can return to Olympic competition after their punishments are seen out, they could never compete at the Olympics again.
However, this year the BOA’s bylaw was taken to the court of arbitration for sport (CAS) who found that the law did not comply with the world anti-doping agency’s (WADA) guideline so the rule was abolished as it was deemed unlawful. This means that now British athletes who previously could not compete at the Olympics can again and are available for selection.
 Now he can race. But should he? He has been selected but it took him time to come round to the idea of racing for GB. He will now race and many think he deserves to and he has earned the right. Cavendish (current world champion and Green jersey winner at the Tour) has publically backed Millar throughout the saga while Sir Chris Hoy has said he should not compete and that there is no place for him.
Personally I think he should compete. If he were from any other country he would have ridden in Beijing also and he is now the antithesis of the man that earned him the ban. He can only have a positive effect on the team and as he can ride legitimately he should receive full support.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


Recently there has been a lot to talk about in terms of the pro cycling scene. Three of the five monuments have been contested with some impressive performances and some riders have notably underperformed. This is the season of the classics where the really tough men come to the fore and the strongest or wiliest take glory in some of cycling's most prestigious events. For this post I will focus solely on the three monuments that have already been raced, the first being Milan-San Remo then last week's Tour of Flanders and Sunday's Queen of classics: Paris-Roubaix.

Milan-San Remo looked intriguing as Cavendish was dropped due to sustained high speed forced by BMC, Omega Pharma- Quick Step and Liquigas-Cannondale and with his threat nullified the race was more open as a sprint would not by a forgone conclusion. However a bunch sprint was not on agenda as powerhouses Cancellara, Gerrans and Nibili broke from the pack over the Poggio. Their advantage was secure as they stormed the descent. Both Cancellara and Nibili being renowned as two of the best descenders in the world they tantalizingly close for the Sagan led peloton at the finish. This left the three man break away to duel it out between them for the first monument crown of 2012. Gerrans was the one to time his attack perfectly narrowly beating Cancellara he became the second Australian in as many years to win this historic race.

The Peloton then moved north to Flanders for the arrival of the new lion of Flanders; Tom Boonen. The cobbled hills were tackled by the decisive break away of Boonen, Ballan and Pozzato. The three snapped of the front of the pack and created an insurmountable time difference to leave a three way battle towards the finish. Ballan, knowing he could not win a sprint against the other two riders, tried repeatedly to sprint from trio. However, Boonen was not in the mood for letting Ballan slip away from him, he ferociously grabbed Ballan's rear wheel on every attempt. Then the man of the day had to watch Pozzato and like a track sprinter he barely took his gaze from the resurgent Italian. When the moment came he was powerful and passionate to take a sixth monument title and his third in this event equaling the all time record for wins in this tough classic.

However, Boonen overshadowed his own achievement a week later in the grandest of monuments. His win in Paris-Roubaix was one of the most impressive cycling performances in a long while and definitely this year. With around 55km to go he and his Omerga Pharma-Quick Step teammate Terpstra broke from the front of the pack with a group containing Flecha and Ballan chasing after Pozzato took a nasty fall which will hurt him a lot considering he was already riding with a broken collarbone against the doctor's advice. Terpstra quickly fell from Boonen's wheel and fled back to the chasing group leaving Boonen alone with over 50km to go. However Boonen flew over the bone-shaking cobblestones and never looked uncertain about his ambitious attack averaging thirty over the rough terrain and with the lion of Flanders banner in the crowd so often he made his advantage stick to win his fourth Paris-Roubaix.

Boonen is currently top of the world rankings and he has dominated the spring classics and recently become only the 26th rider ever to reach a career total of 100 pro wins. He may be looking at the Olympics as his next target and if he can replicate this form he will definitely irritate Cavendish and Great Britain. In the other Monument Gerrans has helped further Australian success and they seem a dominant force in that particular spring classic.

Friday, 9 March 2012


The new season has started and things are well underway with some riders already racking up wins to get their seasons of on the right foot while others are, with their respective teams, limbering up to the major races of the year that will commence later this month. Notable races such as Milan-San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem will be underway in a few weeks and Paris-Nice is being contested this week. We are now only a few months from the first grand tour and the classics are beginning to sparkle with their usual excitement. On the more controversial side doping cases are as usual being heavily discussed and criticized. I will be uploading detailed reports of this weeks action in the next few days as well as reviewing doping cases and previewing major teams and riders for this year.

Friday, 2 March 2012

The objective!

So this is my first post on this new blog and I would like to explain the idea of the update. I intend to give a concise review of the top stories in the sport of professional road cycling. This should hopefully give fans a quick and easy way to catch up on our great sport that is so often overlooked. I will aim to update this blog at least once a week as well as another that will contain advice on training and technique for cyclists of all shapes and sizes.