Archive for the 'bike racing' Category

World Championship bar height

September 27, 2011

Earlier this year I spoke about bike set-up, and how handlebars are being placed lower and lower these past half century. Of course evolution doesn’t go that fast, riders today are no more flexible than Merckx was. Rather than “regular” riders trying to get as low as some of today’s pros, it would be better for pros to go higher (like Merckx, not exactly a chopper in his hayday, was he)?

Of course this topic always leads to all sorts of macho nonsense like “slam that stem” and other (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) efforts to look “pro” when you’re not and remove any pleasure from riding a bike. This is not to say that a low position doesn’t work for some, only that people should look for their correct position, not their lowest position, and that in many cases – pro and “regular” – that correct position is higher than people often try to squeeze themselves into.

Recently, somebody commented that apparently I know Cancellara’s position is wrong and somebody should tell him. But it’s not a matter of his position being right or wrong, it’s about the bars being so low you lose the benefit of the drops. If a rider puts his hoods where his lowest comfortable and aero position is, then why not have flat bars?

Don’t take my word for it, just look at the photo and tell me if you see anything odd:

Fairly unorthodox sprint for Cancellara

World Championships men’s race

September 23, 2011

Yesterday we looked at the women’s race, now let’s look on the other side of the gender-fence.

First of all, what type of race will this be? Yes, the course is flat, and the level in men’s racing is very even, at least among the top 15 countries. Sounds like a recipe for a mass sprint, doesn’t it? I’m not so sure.

The problem is, if the whole groups stays together, Mark Cavendish wins the sprint. Maybe not every time, but at least 11 times out of 10. That logically means there is one team that should want a mass sprint, and the rest of the world doesn’t. And one team, even if it has Wiggins, Millar and Thomas, cannot keep a bunch together for 266km.

Of course, there’s one mechanism that can help Cavendish. You see, one of the attributes you must possess to become a pro cyclist is a huge belief in yourself, so even those with no chance whatsoever in a mass sprint will think they have a chance in a mass sprint. Even team managers con themselves into such thoughts – witness the 10 teams waiting for the final sprint on the Champs Elysees after being royally beaten by Cav on four previous stages.

Lets assume that sanity will prevail, and that all teams but one will work to break up the group. Which riders have a nose for the right group and can win a sprint when a few of the top sprinters are missing? Hushovd and Gilbert.

Much has been made of Hushovd’s non-selection for the Vuelta. The comments that followed were quite unfair I think (if you want I can write about that some other time), but the point for this race is that IT DOES NOT MATTER. As I saw in 2009 and 2010 at the Cervelo TestTeam, if Thor puts an X on his calendar, he is ready on that date. He can prepare in the Vuelta, the Tour of Britain, at home or in your local spinning class, it does not matter. Thor will be ready, and a ready and focused Thor can win anything. If Edvald Boasson Hagen is on form too, the Norwegians will have a formidable 1-2 punch that will be tough to control if the field is thinned out sufficiently.

In a way, Gilbert is a lot like Hushovd. Both have a great focus and a great sprint especially on slightly rising roads, although Gilbert seems to have a longer jump in him and get stronger as the road gets steeper. It’s tough to say how Copenhagen would work out, the finish is definitely uphill but not quite tailor-made for Gilbert (I should say that it is made for Gilbert but it’s at an incline that other sprinters on-form can also master, if it was 3% steeper Gilbert would be in a class of his own with no competition).

In a sense this race has a few levels. When the group is complete, only Great Britain and maybe the US (for Farrar) will try to keep it together. If it breaks up in smaller bits and Gilbert and Hushovd are in front, more countries will fancy their chances in a sprint against those two, especially if the Aussies have the right people up-front. That means there is a better chance of such a group making it to the finish. If the group on the front becomes too small, too many behind have their own agenda and it will come back together.

Logically that means a first escape of non-contenders will go early, followed by a contendor group bridging up in the later stages. If that contender group has to work hard to stay ahead of for example Cavendish, Gilbert and others who fancy a sprint will need to use up their domestiques, opening up the possibilities for a small group to jump clear in the last few laps. And who knows, out of that may even come a last-lap solo effort, the tactics at Worlds usually become so complicated that riders turn into on-course spectators who forget to pedal.

That’s what makes the World Championships the best race of the season. National teams, trade team ties and the ultimate skill of “finishing everybody else’s plate before starting your own” means that even with a boring course, the race can prove anything but. Especially when the weather turns foul.

 

World Championships Women’s race

September 22, 2011

In cycling as in investing, successes from the past are no guarantee for the future. But they aren’t completely meaningless either. So what do the performances of the past few weeks tell us for this weekend? Since few media ever bother to preview the women’s race, I thought I’d do that first. So today the women’s race, tomorrow the men’s.

First off, since many of the top women road racers also do the time trial (much more so than on the men’s side), Tuesday’s TT tells us quite a bit. Arndt was superstrong, and likely will be able to translate that to the road race. That could see her in a small break and if everything is still together, the Germans have a super-impressive lead-out for Ina Yoko Teutenberg (they also have for example Charlotte Becker for that). Since Teutenberg, Becker and Arndt have ridden together the entire season at HTC, not just in the national team, this is a difficult nut to crack.

One country that could possibly break the German dominance is Great Britain. Emma Pooley’s third place finish at the TT has not gotten the credit it deserves, as given the circumstances (dead flat, strong winds) it was the stand-out performance of the day. Many may view the defending champion finishing third as a disappointment, but when Marianne Vos complains that she was too light to perform on that course in that wind and Emma, who was the smallest contender in the TT by a country mile, finishes third, that’s a good indication she’s on form. Add to that her win in the Tour de l’Ardeche and it’s clear she’s ready.

Expect Emma to place one of her trademark solo attacks. And while the other teams work to bring her back, fast finishers Nicole Cooke and Lizzie Armistead can relax. The Germans may have trouble controlling the race if Nicole Cooke is on form and tries something in the closing kilometers, especially if the field is thinned out considerably by then. But how well Cooke’s form is is anybody’s guess.

The Americans disappointed on the TT, which after the bickering about who should be allowed to race was hardly a surprise. It’s hard to see how they can do better in the road race, as team work will be extremely important on this course. Their continent-counterparts from Canada performed extremely well in the TT, but both Whitten and Hughes are true TT specialists (not surprising given their backgrounds of track cycling and speed skating).

But don’t forget that Clara Hughes was a very successful cyclist BEFORE she was a very successful speed skater. She already medalled at the Atlanta Olympics. The only person Clara can outsprint is probably Andy Schleck, so she’ll need to think of something special. On this course, that may be a long shot.

On the other end of the fast-twitch-fiber-spectrum we have Italy. With Bronzini as their top sprinter and young Elena Cecchini quickly climbing the ranks, they could spell trouble for Teutenberg and Armistead. Whether they will ride as a team is the perennial question. Emilia Fahlin is also among the faster finishers, plus she has good endurance and TT skills. She could launch an attach with 50, 5 or 0.5k to go, or rely on her sprint. She’s won stages in the Tour de l’Ardeche recently, so she’s definitely on form.

The great thing about women’s cycling is its unpredictability. Above we have a dozen or so contenders, and we haven’t even discussed the woman who has won everything this year: Marianne Vos (everything except that TT on Tuesday of course). Vos has finished second in the World Championship Road Race for the past four years. Imagine that, Silver four years in a row.

She definitely doesn’t want to win another Silver, and somehow I doubt taking the Bronze is the solution she came up with. So expect a very motivated Vos. Maybe the season is too long, maybe the TT indicated she’s not on top form, but only a fool would write her off. Like Fahlin, she can win any which way she wants, but unlike Fahlin, she’s done so many, many times at the absolute highest level of the sport.

While everybody may be watching Vos’ orange jersey, it’s the orange of VanVleuten that should not be ignored. She’s really broken through this year and proven she is a force to be reckoned with in the one-day races. Fahlin also has a countrywoman to be reckoned with in Emma Johansson (thanks to @Campy007 for pointing out my failure to mention her).

Even if you don’t normally follow cycling, pick your favorite and watch it. This course in Copenhagen may very well make for a better women’s than men’s race. And with most countries having two contenders with very different skills, the tactics are bound to become a difficult puzzle to solve.

Trait 8 of champions

September 9, 2011

I’m merged out for the moment. And although there are plenty of other cycling dignitaries making outrageous comments which deserve some scrutiny this week, I decided instead to end the week on a high-note. So here we go, trait 8 of champions from my good friend Toby Stanton (@Hottubes):

Consistency: Champions seem to demonstrate a great deal of consistency, both in temperament and performance.

HighRoad lessons learned

August 5, 2011

I wanted to write a blog about the demise of HighRoad, but it’s too depressing. Whatever you may think of Bob Stapleton (and certainly I have some positive and some negative thoughts), I’ll remind you of two things:

  1. He was and is a huge supporter of women’s cycling. Even now that the team will fold, he’ll find a way to keep the women’s program going. I’m sure of it.
  2. He took a team that had become a mess in the public eye and turned it into an exciting team with lots of antics on the road and very few off it.
Maybe next week I’ll muster the energy to go into the lessons learned. For now, I hope you all enjoy a good ride on the weekend.

Trait 7 of champions

August 3, 2011

Self-direction: This does not mean the champion is self-coached or self-centered, but rather that the champion knows where he or she is going and will use the best available means at their disposal to achieve that end.

Trait 6 of champions

August 1, 2011

Patience: Part of being a champion is the realization that patience is an integral part of success. Patience is not just a trait, it is a tool that a champion uses to a definite advantage.

Trait 5 of champions

July 28, 2011

Not afraid to fail: To a degree, we are all afraid to fail. The champion seems to be willing to risk it in spite of the possibility of catastrophe.

The glue

July 25, 2011

As you can deduct from my post about handlebar width, the real question should not be about bar width, but rather about the position of your arms. The two best pieces of advice I can give come courtesy of two great riders, both rather underestimated. In my story remembering Xavier Tondo, I talked about some riders being stars and some riders being the glue. These two guys are also the glue.

Aside from being great people to have “in the locker room”, I believe there is also something else about these types of athletes. They are observers. As students of human relations, they understand how to bring out the best of people. Oftentimes they keep the mood light when the pressure is on, sometimes they provide a much-needed kick in the butt, but always they have the betterment of the team in mind.

As observers, their study doesn’t stop with the human relations. Xavier and these two guys are also scolars of cycling technology, tactics and/or technique. You may have heard how Xavier worked in a bike shop for many years while he was a pro rider, because he loved the equipment (and he liked to help out a friend who owned the store).

As a result, these are the guys we can learn from. Never trust the advice of a supremely gifted athlete, for he has never had to study the game. Go to the one who always had to work his butt off, for you can be sure he has looked everywhere for the tiniest little edge to raise the game. You see the same in many other sports, the best football coaches were often mediocre players (Mourinho, Hiddink, etc) whereas the superstar players usually fail on the bench (Maradona, the entire Dutch national team of 1988 except for Frank de Boer).

Sorry, I got sidetracked. I’ll leave the two pointers for tomorrow.

Evans great in good Tour

July 24, 2011

Yesterday I tweeted that I thought the Tour had many great moments but it wasn’t a great Tour. Almost every individual stage was exciting, but they didn’t string together into a 3 week battle for yellow. That was reserved just for the last week.

Reactions came in thick and fast. Many thought it was the best Tour in ages, others commented that Evans didn’t win it in an exciting way. Counter to what you may expect based on my tweet, I actually expect with the first and disagree with the second.

It WAS the most exciting Tour in years. We’ve had too many Tours in the last 20 years that were decided after one week, so it’s exciting when it goes down to the wire. Last years did too, but Andy Schleck and Contador were so far beyond the rest that spectators were left wanting. 2008, 2006 and 2003 also had close finishes. So to me it was definitely not a bad Tour, I thought it was very good, but memories of the late 80′s where the yellow went back and forth between contenders keeps me from calling 2011 great.

However, I do think Evans won it in a great way. He gets criticized for not attacking enough, but I think that’s unfair. First off, he does attack. It’s true he doesn’t do 20 short bursts like some others, but when you think about it, you only need to do that if your first 19 attacks don’t stick. When Evans goes, he makes sure it matters.

Comments that he didn’t go on long attacks in the mountains, that he didn’t win the way Contador or Schleck would win it, sound silly to me. Beautiful sports is when somebody maximizes his potential, which means Evans winning it the way Evans should win it.

He may not have had a very attacking Tour, but he’s had a very active Tour. When one opponent exposed Contador’s weakness, he exploited it. When another exposed Andy Schleck’s weakness, he exploited that. Those he couldn’t distance in the mountains, he disposed of in what everybody saw coming, the final TT.

Evans made the most of his own abilities, some of his opponents did not. That’s not good riding, that’s great riding.

My one disappointment is that I would have loved to see what Wiggins could have done, a rider with his style could have made GC extra interesting.

What do you think of this Tour?

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