Archive for the ‘Cycling’ Category

Rest Day, 2

July 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome

[Bryn Lennon/Getty Images, from The Guardian]

I haven’t written a Tour report in a week, since the first rest day, though my Tour commentary hasn’t been missed. I did intend to write last Thursday, after the second of the Tour’s two big days in the Alps. It was every bit as dramatic as expected, and in all likelihood served to decide the overall standings, which haven’t changed among the leaders since. But two more huge mountain days await, tomorrow and Thursday in the Pyrenees, and Saturday brings the second time trial, providing opportunity aplenty for form and standings to change. It just doesn’t seem likely.

Let’s go back a day, to last Wednesday’s Alpine stage, won in thrilling fashion by Frenchman Thomas Voeckler, but one that led to no changes at the top of the GC (the general classification, or overall standings). Bradley Wiggins still led, with last year’s winner Cadel Evans 1′ 53″ back in second, Wiggins’ teammate Chris Froome in third another 14 seconds back, and Vincenzo Nibali in fourth 16 seconds further behind. Plus, Nibali finished Wednesday’s stage upset at Wiggins for what he took to be a sign of disrespect at the finish. Thursday would present the best opportunity for Nibali, and Evans, to move up.

Nibali attacked with about 10km remaining in Thursday’s stage, gaining as much as 20 seconds, but Froome did the hard work of chasing him down, Wiggins in tow. There was a victim: Evans couldn’t keep up. In what may be the decisive moment of the Tour, teammate Tejay Van Garderen had to pull back from the lead group to pace Evans up the mountain, both losing time to the other three. In a moment of great surprise, Froome took off ahead of the others, only to be told (or so it appeared) over his earphone to drop back and stay with Wiggins and Nibali.

The end result: Wiggins stayed in the lead, Froome and Nibali took over second and third overall, Evans dropped to fourth, and the others who did well on the climb, and Jurgen Van Den Broeck moved into fifth, with Haimar Zubeldia in sixth and Van Garderen, even though he lost time on the leaders, moving up to seventh. Nothing changed in the four subsequent stages. The time gaps: Froome 2’05” behind Wiggins, Nibali 2’23” behind, Evans 3’19” behind, Van Den Broeck 4’48” behind, Zubeldia 6’15” behind, Van Garderen 6’57” behind.

As long as Froome works for Wiggins, as he surely will, it’s difficult to see how they won’t keep their top two positions in the Pyrenees. And since they appear to be the top two time trialists in the race, they will only increase their lead over the field on Saturday. The only remaining question would seem to be whether Evans can keep from losing more time in the mountains, at least with respect to Nibali, and snare the last podium spot with a strong time trial effort. Alternatively, if he cracks again, will Tejay be released to go out on his own and see what he can do?

Which brings us to the most fascinating question of the Tour? Is Wiggins really the top rider, or is Froome? Not that it matters. Froome will ride for the team, supporting Wiggins rather than trying to beat him. And the time gap at this point is probably too large. We can only speculate on what might have been if Froome were the designated team leader from the beginning. Of course, there’s a history here, Froome finishing 13 seconds back of Juan José Cobo in last year’s Vuelta a España after riding in support of Wiggins, who ended up third.

But riders must wait their turn. Greg LeMond famously finished second in support of Bernard Hinault in 1985 before winning the next year (with Hinault less interested in supporting LeMond than he had promised the year before). And when Bjarne Riis won in 1996, his rookie teammate Jan Ullrich sure looked the stronger rider, making good on his promise by winning the next year.

But I’m getting ahead of myself in this entire discussion. Let’s see how the next few days play out. Then we can dream about Froome’s potential.

I was just looking back at The Guardian’s coverage and see that I missed an article last Saturday by William Fotheringham on the Wiggins-Froome situation. He covers some of the same ground I do, but much better. I’ll finish with an excerpt. Well, I don’t see a lot to cut. Here’s most of the piece, with a paragraph snipped in the middle and one at the end:

Some of cycling’s most enduring and hotly debated plotlines have emerged when two equally talented and ambitious cyclists on the same team find themselves racing for the same prize. The dilemma Team Sky faced as the Tour de France entered its final week, with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome lying first and second overall respectively, was one that cycling teams had encountered in the past – and history indicated that the team’s management would be tested as never before.

The problem stems from the fact that cycling is an individual sport run on a team basis. Talented cyclists are expected to subjugate their ambitions to those of the collective, in feudal style. Hence the sight, on this Tour, of Michael Rogers, Richie Porte and Froome – all capable of leading a team in their own right – working selflessly for Wiggins. The system only breaks down when a designated worker becomes aware of his ability and his ambition, and becomes frustrated, which is what appeared to be happening with Froome on Thursday, at the toughest mountain-top finish at La Toussuire in the French Alps.

Wiggins had already had to restrain the Kenyan-born climber from setting too high a pace at the first summit finish, La Planche des Belles Filles, last Saturday, when the Londoner took the yellow jersey. Froome had to be drawn back again this week when, having sat on the back of the lead group to recover for a short while, he attacked, briefly leaving Wiggins behind.

The problem, clearly, was that the race leader might lose time to two of his key rivals, Vincenzo Nibali and Jurgen Van Den Broeck. Froome had started the stage almost two minutes behind Wiggins, having lost more than a minute on the first stage with a puncture and a further 35 seconds in Monday’s time trial, and the risk was obvious: if he gained time on his leader, so too might those rivals, potentially putting the entire race at risk.

The twist in the Wiggins-Froome tale is that the pair had been in this situation before. At last year’s Tour of Spain, they surprised themselves by being in the mix at the sharp end of the race. Wiggins was coming back from a broken collarbone, Froome from the illness bilharzia. Froome was expected to work for his leader when Wiggins took the leader’s jersey, but beat him in a key time trial, then rode for him at a crucial summit finish when he was probably capable of contesting the overall win.

Froome finished second to the Spaniard Juan José Cobo by just 13 seconds; the race looked to have been lost largely because Sky were in unknown territory, with a leader who was not in his best form and a second-in-command who had never performed at that level before. The situation now is different, because Wiggins has a two-minute advantage on Froome and the rest, and unleashing the little climber could risk others eating into that as well.


The Froome-Wiggins situation has an uncannily close parallel in one Tour in particular, that of 1985, when Bernard Hinault of France started the race as the uncontested leader of the La Vie Claire team, tilting for his fifth win, with the American, Greg LeMond, as his designated domestique. As the race progressed, Hinault took the yellow jersey, but weakened in the final week after a crash. LeMond got stronger and sensed he might be able to win himself. On one key stage in the Pyrenees, LeMond got in an escape with other contenders, leaving Hinault behind. He was ordered not to collaborate, in exactly the same way that Froome was reined in at La Toussuire. LeMond remained convinced that had he ridden for himself, he would have won the Tour.

The Hinault-LeMond plot thickened the following year because, in 1985, the formal agreement was that the Frenchman would assist the American. LeMond eventually won that Tour, but only after being pushed to the limit by Hinault, who insisted that any attacks he made were to soften up the opposition, toughen up the American and make the race entertaining. A quarter of a century later, LeMond remained convinced that Hinault had tried to win for himself, while Hinault maintained he was capable of winning but had enabled his team-mate to do so.

Categories: Cycling

Rest Day

July 10, 2012 1 comment

Bradley Wiggins resting

[Bryn Lennon/Getty Images, from The Guardian]

In my Tour post two nights ago, following the first two mountain stages, I wrote about the inevitable shakeout that had taken place, with the true contenders revealed. Tour co-favorites Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans emerged in first and second place overall, separated by no more than the ten-second gap Wiggins established on day one in the short time trial. But Wiggins had the advantage of a stronger team, with several riders leading him up the climbs, Evans staying close without benefit of his own teammates.

Of special note, as I mentioned in the earlier post, is Chris Froome, who appears to be not just Wiggins’ main ally in the mountains but a contender himself. On Saturday, in the final 2 km of steep ascent to the stage finish, he led Wiggins most of the way, with Evans tucked into third. Then, when he let Wiggins take over for the final bit, Evans made his move, only for Froome to counter and win the stage himself. He would finish Sunday in sixth place overall.

Which brings us to yesterday’s 41.5 km time trial into Besançon and a stunning day for Wiggins, Froome, and Team Sky. As always, the riders start in reverse order of the standings, the leaders riding last, which means that the great time trialist Fabian Cancellara went well before they did. He set the pace with a time of 52′ 21″. The young US rider Tejay Van Garderen made a surprising run at him, finishing just 9 seconds back, by which point the big news was Chris Froome’s early times. He was running ahead of Cancellara at the checkpoints, eventually crossing the line in a stunning 51′ 59″, 22 seconds ahead. No mere climber, for sure.

Attention shifted to Evans, whose checkpoint times were behind those of Cancellara, Van Garderen, and Froome. Wiggins left the starting ramp last, 3 minutes after Evans, and his checkpoint times were similar to those of Froome and Cancellara. He appeared to be putting some significant time between himself and Evans. The big question was, would Froome jump from sixth overall all the way to second, ahead of Evans, or would Evans keep second position?

Evans crossed in 53′ 07″, over a minute behind Froome, but close enough to stay 14 seconds ahead overall. Only Wiggins remained on the course, but not for long, finishing in 51′ 24″. Final result: Wiggins won the stage, Froome second, Cancellara third, Van Garderen fourth, Chavanel fifth, Evans sixth. Not all that bad for Evans, really, compared to most of the field. Maybe not his best day, but he is a fine time trialist. The problem is, Wiggins is a brilliant one, and Froome has demonstrated that he’s not far off.

And with that, the riders entered today’s rest day with the nature of the competition much clarified. Wiggins has a potentially insurmountable lead of 1′ 53″ over Evans, 2′ 07″ over Froome, 2′ 23″ over Nibali, and 3 or more minutes over everyone else. If he doesn’t crack in the Alps or Pyrenees, he will win, all the more because he can be expected to add to his lead in the last competitive stage, the time trial a week from Saturday. Evans’ only hope is to attack hard on the mountain stages and hope to break away from him at least once, which will be hard to do without a strong team. The Sky riders are more likely to be formidable attackers, trying to lose Evans and lock up the top two places for Wiggins and Froome.

I just headed over to The Guardian and came up with the photo up top. I also found an article from their famed sportswriter Richard Williams . I may have been insufficiently emphatic about Wiggins’ strong position. Here are excerpts from Williams piece:

After Team Sky’s impressive show of strength on Sunday and Monday, when he and his wingman Chris Froome pulverised the opposition in the mountain stage to Porrentruy and on the time trial to Besançon, Wiggins now enjoys a lead of 1min 53sec over Cadel Evans, the defending champion, with Froome in third place, 14 seconds further back, and Vincenzo Nibali of Italy in fourth, 2min 23sec behind the yellow jersey.

No one else is within three minutes, and some observers have been declaring the race as good as over. According to the correspondent of Libération, the French daily, anyone who kills the Tour stone dead before it even reaches the Alps should henceforth be said to have “done a Wiggins”.

The man himself demurs. “It’s a dream situation to be in,” he said at Tuesday’s press conference, “but I don’t expect anyone at this stage of the race to say: ‘Yes, Sky have won it, let’s just ride to Paris and have a big party.’ We expect this to be a shit-fight for the next couple of weeks. That’s how we’ve prepared for it and that’s what cycling’s about.”


But he knows that Evans, who became the first Australian winner last year, gives away nothing without a struggle. “I don’t for one minute underestimate Cadel and what he’s capable of doing. I’ve got huge respect for him and I expect him to fight every inch of the way to Paris.

A shit-fight for sure. I’m looking forward to it.

Categories: Cycling

Time Trial Eve

July 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Bradley Wiggins, in yellow

[Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images, from The Guardian]

It’s been an exciting two days in the Tour de France. No surprise, that. The first days in the mountains always are, as we separate the contenders from the pretenders.

Yesterday’s concluding climb of La Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges brought the first major shakeout. The climb is not long — 6km — but unrelentingly steep. Tour co-favorite Bradley Wiggins was led out by three Sky teammates: Chris Froome, Richie Porte, and Michael Rogers. Defending champion and fellow co-favorite Cadel Evans, on his own, attached himself to them. First Rogers dragged them up the hill, then he dropped off and Porte took over. With 2km to go, it was Froome’s turn, Wiggins glued to his wheel and Evans to Wiggins’ wheel. Joining this elite group were Vincenzo Nibali, Rein Taaramae, Denis Menchov, and Haimar Zubeldia. Zubeldia and Menchov would fade in the upper reaches, leaving the others to fight it out.

Overall leader Fabian Cancellara was minutes behind, so the yellow jersey would go to Wiggins, if they stayed together, or Evans, if he could ride 10 seconds clear of Wiggins. Froome dropped back part way into the final kilometer, as expected, allowing Wiggins to move into position, but then Evans accelerated, looking for both the stage win and yellow. Would Wiggins go after him? Suddenly, Froome did, racing up to and blasting right past Evans in the final 200 meters to win the stage by 2 seconds, with Evans second and Wiggins on his wheel for third in the same time.

A great day for Team Sky. Wiggins in yellow, stage win for Froome, and the polka dot jersey of best climber for Froome as well.

The day ended with a new general classification that may bear some resemblance to the final standings: Wiggins in first, followed by Evans, Nibali, Taaramae, Menchov, and Zubeldia.

Only minor changes took place today, as the Tour passed into Switzerland via a series of climbs through the Jura mountains, ending in a downhill-flat finish. The big thrill was Thibaut Pinot’s stage win. The overall leaders caught the other members of a breakaway group, but he raced ahead of the breakaway on the final climb and survived on the descent, as the leaders closed to within 26 seconds. Evans sprinted for second place, with Wiggins, Nibali, Menchov, and Zubeldia finishing in the same time. The lone victim of the day, two minutes behind them, was Rein Taaramae, dropping back to tenth place overall as Froome moved into sixth.

The new top six: Wiggins, Evans, Nibali, Menchov, Zubeldia, Froome.

And don’t sell Froome short. He’s more than a simple support rider for Wiggins. Last year, at the Vuelta a España (the Tour of Spain, the last of the three major annual tours), he was charged with leading Wiggins to victory, only for Wiggins to fall short and Froome to prove the stronger rider, Froome finishing second to Wiggins’ third. (Juan José Cobo won, by 13 seconds, the slimmest of margins.)

Tomorrow will bring an altogether different sorting, with the Tour’s first time trial, a ride of 41.5 km into Besançon. Only then will we have a fuller reading of the top riders’ fitness.

I’ll close with this enjoyable tidbit, brought to us by The Guardian’s William Fotheringham:

A journalist asked Wiggins for his opinion on comparisons being made on the internet between Wiggins’s Sky team and Lance Armstrong’s US Postal Service team, which has been linked to a current investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency.

The journalist was given short shrift. “I say they’re just fucking wankers. I cannot be doing with people like that,” said Wiggins. “It justifies their own bone-idleness because they can’t ever imagine applying themselves to doing anything in their lives.

“It’s easy for them to sit under a pseudonym on Twitter and write that sort of shit rather than get off their arses in their own lives and apply themselves and work hard at something and achieve something. And that’s ultimately it. ”

I hope he’s not talking about me.

Categories: Cycling

Brute Force Cavendish

July 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Mark Cavendish edging André Greipel in Tournai (Matt Goss third)

Two days ago, in my first report on this year’s Tour, I wrote that today was likely to be the first day for the sprinters to show their stuff. It was a flat stage, in Belgium once again, as they rode 207 km from Visé to Tournai.

Would my hero, Mark Cavendish, rise to the occasion? Or, as he has suggested, was he a little off form this year because he is looking to peak for the Olympics in London? Keep in mind as well that Cavendish is riding for a new team this year, without the support of his great leadout partner Mark Renshaw.

And the change in team showed. The peloton reeled in a breakaway group with over 10km left, came into Tournai, and the racing became furious. German sprinter André Greipel was in good position, with teammates leading the way. Cavendish was visible in his world champion jersey, not far off the lead but without team support. As other riders fell away in the final kilometer, Greipel moved up, with Cavendish on his wheel. Greipel made his move. Cavendish stayed close. But the gap was closing slowly. Very slowly. With maybe 100 meters to go, Cavendish was still a half wheel behind. There couldn’t have been much more than 15 meters to go when he finally drew even, grinding out a victory by less than half a meter.

Not the sprint we’ve seen so many times before, where he is led out by a teammate, then rockets ahead, with open space to the next rider. But he’s fearless, and tough, and knows how to harness his energy. An extraordinary win, good for his 21st career stage victory at the Tour. Which puts him one behind Frenchman André Darrigade, the only sprinter with more. And one behind Lance Armstrong. (André Leducq has 25, Bernard Hinault 28, Eddy Merckx 34. Speaking of Merckx, it was great to see him on the podium yesterday, greeting the leaders in the various classifications. The King of Belgium today, the King of Cycling yesterday.)

Or, as William Fotheringham put it in the Guardian:

Questions had been asked of Mark Cavendish before this week but as so often he had an emphatic answer: in this case the 21st Tour de France stage win of his career in the grand manner. Forced to function without the “train” of dedicated domestiques who helped him win most of the first 20 stages of his career, the Manxman won solo: he glued himself to the wheel of the German André Greipel in the final kilometre then clawed his way past his former team-mate to take the win by less than half a wheel.

If Cavendish has indeed sacrificed a little finishing speed in his quest to become Olympic road race champion in London, as he says he has, he clearly remains more than rapid enough. This was a chaotic sprint, which got going only with 3km remaining after a lengthy east-west run through Wallonia which took longer than scheduled into a moderate south-westerly breeze. Greipel’s Lotto-Belisol team made the running, with the former Sky sprinter Greg Henderson setting the pace until the final metres. Finally Cavendish emerged for the head-to-head with Greipel, the German on the left, the Manxman on the right, with the next man, Matt Goss, several lengths behind. It was not as seamless as in the past, when Mark Renshaw set the pace for Cavendish, but in its way it was just as spectacular.

Categories: Cycling


June 30, 2012 Leave a comment


[From the Tour website Prologue page]

The Tour has begun. Which means you know what I’ll be doing on waking up for the next three weeks. There’s life without the Tour, and there’s Tour Life. I like both, but Tour Life is better. For one thing, I get to be reunited with my Tour buddies, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. They’re such good company.

Watching the Tour is mesmerizing, as Phil and Paul chat non-stop about the goings-on while the race cameras move this way and that: race leaders, breakaways, the peloton, cities, villages, countryside, odd displays made of hay or tractors. Not to be missed, as well, are the concluding race festivities. The honoring of the stage winner. Podium girls. Cycling great Bernard Hinault directing the ceremony. (Check Bernard’s facial expression as he greets the winner. What does he really think of the guy?) Helicopter shots of the finishing town. The river. Back to the podium. Awarding the appropriate-colored shirt to the leader overall or points leader or climbing leader or youth leader. Podium girls. Bernard again. A rotating view of the town’s main cathedral. Another jersey recipient. Podium girls. Bernard. A cliffside fortress above the river. An overview of tomorrow’s stage, in plan and elevation views. Closing credits played across highlights of the day’s stage.


The long wait for another day.

The Tour typically opens with a short stage called the Prologue, often held in a neighboring country rather than France. Today the Tour visited the Belgian city of Liège for a short time trial, a mere 6.4 km long. In a time trial, the riders are sent off one at a time, competing against the clock rather than each other. The start order for later time trials is determined by the overall classification, with the best riders going at the end in reverse order of their standings. For an opening time trial, the defending champion gets pride of place. So it was that Aussie Cadel Evans went off last. The penultimate starter was the great Swiss time trialist Fabian Cancellara, winner of four previous Tour prologues. He didn’t disappoint, winning today’s by 7 seconds over overall race co-favorite Bradley Wiggins and Sylvain Chavanel, with race co-favorite Evans another 10 seconds back in 13th. Small time differences in terms of the overall picture.

Tomorrow we stay in Belgium for a long ride, heading out from Liège into the Ardennes on a route featuring several small climbs, then back to Seraing, just outside Liège for a closing uphill finish. It’s not an ideal day for the sprinters. Perhaps a breakaway can succeed. Monday may be the first day for the sprinters to show their form.

Speaking of sprinters, I am, of course, a huge fan of Manxman Mark Cavendish. And then there’s our local (Washington State) star, Tyler Farrar, perhaps Cavendish’s strongest rival. Alas, many riders this year are looking past the Tour to the Olympics, so we may not see them at their best. Cavendish has said as much. Nonetheless, I’ll be watching.

Categories: Cycling


May 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Mark Cavendish winning stage 13 of the Giro d’Italia


You probably know that the third and final week of the Giro d’Italia began today (a rest day). And you’re probably wondering why I’m not writing my usual paeans to Mark Cavendish, like I do during Tours de France. After all, he’s won three stages already — 2, 4, and 13 — and might have won a couple more if not for crashes. Plus, he’s comfortably ahead in the points classification, on his way to a likely red jersey.

And all this while riding for a new team, without the support of leadout rider extraordinaire and buddy Mark Renshaw. With HTC-Highroad bowing out of cycling, Cavendish signed with Team Sky while Renshaw joined Rabobank. The end of a great partnership. For the Giro, Cavendish has had the support of new teammate Geraint Thomas in the sprint finishes.

I’ve had trouble following the Giro though. I can’t seem to find it on Comcast. It’s broadcast in the US by Universal Sports, which used to be 115 in my cable package, but when I go to 115, I get something altogether different, and when I systematically search through all channels, I don’t find it. Thus, I’m reduced to following on the web.

Of course, I do have a job. Not starting each morning watching the Giro isn’t the worst thing in the world. And seeing the Italian video highlights has its charms. Like last Friday’s finish. Team Sky wasn’t properly organized at first, but just in time, they put Cavendish in position. He made his characteristic burst, crossing the line to the announcer’s shriek, “Cav-en-dish-a! Cav-en-dish-a! Cav-en-dish-a!”

For more on Cavendish’s stage win Friday, here is The Guardian’s James Callow reporting:

Mark Cavendish continued his dominance of a sport usually ruled by the finest of victory margins with his third stage win of the 2012 Giro d’Italia.

The Team Sky rider defeated Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff to take stage 13 by a bike length, with Mark Renshaw of Rabobank in third, but that hardly tells the story.

As the race’s fastest men strained for the finishing line over the final few hundred metres into the Piedmontese town of Cervere, Cavendish ceased pedalling, dropped behind the leading group and then easily outstripped them from a more open position.

It was the Manxman’s 10th career stage victory in the Giro and 33rd victory in all grand tours, taking him to within two wins of Freddy Maertens, who lies ninth in the all-time rankings. At 26 years old he may eye Eddy Merckx’s record of 64 stage wins with fascination, even if he knows he will struggle to beat it.

“I’m really, really happy and it’s nice to finally get another win,” Cavendish said. “The guys just rode their hearts out again today and I’m so, so proud. After they did that I had to win, I had to find some gap to get through.

“It was just a question of waiting for that moment and then taking my chance. It was a headwind finish which probably played into my hands a little bit after leaving it late.”


If Cavendish’s finish bore the mark of a rider at his improvisational best, his Sky team-mates had delivered him into a position where a rider of his talent would have been unfortunate not to win.

And memories of the pain from his high-speed crash in the third stage, when he was brought down by Roberto Ferrari, are finally receding. “It’s taken me a week to recover from the crash that I had but every day I’m feeling better and better,” said Cavendish.

Categories: Cycling

TdF 2012 Route

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

The route for the 2012 Tour de France was announced on October 18. I’ve been asleep at the handlebars. Sorry about that. When I read this morning of yesterday’s announcement that the opening stages of TdF 2013 will be in Corsica, I realized I must have missed something. That led me to the TdF website and this coming year’s route.

I was pleased to see the return of two individual time trials. A Tour with only one, as happened last summer, doesn’t feel right. The first time trial will be a 38k ride into Besançon just before the midpoint of the tour. The second, a 52k ride into Chartres, will be held on the Tour’s penultimate day, the norm of late. As you can see on the map, the Tour will start in Belgium, finish one of its Alpine days in Switzerland, and load up the last week with some tough days in the Pyrenees before a flat day and the Chartres time trial. I don’t have much to say, having just begun a study of the route.

As for Corsica, you can see it in the lower right corner of the map above, looking a bit forlorn. But what a contrast 2013 will be, with Corsica taking center stage. In the announcement, Tour director Christian Prudhomme explained that “to launch the hundredth edition of the Tour in a memorable, exceptional and spectacular way, Corsica will host the race start, a first in its history.” Perhaps a trip will be in order.

Categories: Cycling