Archive for the 'bike racing' Category

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?

Race tactics in cycling – part 1

July 22, 2011

You’ve seen it all before: One team at the front in a mountain stage, keeping the pace high while the pack behind them is reduced to the 30-40 strongest in the race. Then the team leader places his decisive move on the final climb and wins.

HOWEVER: Which team is the team leader on? Does the work from the team increase the chances of their own leader of his competition? The speed is the same for everybody, does it matter if the pace is set by a guy in a blue or a red jersey? Cycling seems to believe it does, and obviously all the years that the team was Postal/Discovery and the team leader was Lance, it would seem to be the case. But does anybody really believe Lance rode away from his rivals because it was his teammates setting the tempo instead of Ulrich’s teammates?

The Tour de Suisse 2011 saw Leopard setting tempo “Postal-style” perfectly putting Frank Schleck in position with 5km to go. Then all his rivals proceeded to ride away from him. To Plateau de Beille, Leopard once again set the pace, and once again nothing happened on the climb. And why would it? While Andy sits comfortably at the end of his train, Contador sits comfortably behind him.

If you’re having a really lousy day, having your team set a tempo you can deal with, while dissuading another team from setting a higher tempo would be a good idea. But “making the race hard for others” also makes it hard for yourself and is hardly a tactic. This fact remains intact even if one of these stages a team sets tempo and their leader wins. Wasting your team like that doesn’t help, but it doesn’t prevent you from making a winning move either.

Note: I wrote this on Tuesday, so who knows what happened in the Alps. But it doesn’t matter, the facts remain even if somebody by chance “finishes off the beautiful work by his team”.

My top-3 for Paris

July 20, 2011

Note: I wrote this yesterday before Contador lit up the stage to Gap. I see no reason (and have no time as I am traveling to France today) to change it, although my realistic #3 seems less realistic now:

Before the Tour I predicted that Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador would NOT finish 1st and 2nd (in whatever order). I stand by that prediction. So how about a top-3 at this stage of the game? Well, since crashes, etc become a bit less likely now that the peloton is getting tired (strange really, that fatigue makes it safer), I have two top-3s.

My dream Top-3 mixed with some bits of reality would be:

  1. Voeckler
  2. Danielson
  3. Taaramae (always thought he was a cool rider)

But it would take 8 people falling out of the top-10 to make that happen, which may be a stretch. Thinking about what will really happen, it might be closer to this:

  1. Contador
  2. Evans
  3. Andy Schleck

The reason I think Contador will win is that he should get in better shape as he continues to recover from the first week spills (if that is really what has been holding him back), and he can deliver a flawless time trial. At the same time, many of his rivals have a proven ability to fluff the time trial when it really matters. The real dark horse is of course Voeckler, and I do think he actually has a chance to finish on the podium instead of Andy Schleck. It would be good for the sport. As usual, the Zoetemelk clause for predictions applies.

2 answers on 2011 speeds vs cleaner cycling

July 19, 2011

I got asked quite a bit after my blog yesterday whether or not the status-quo on Plateau de Beille indicates a reduction of doping in cycling. My answer would be two-fold.

  1. I think no such conclusions can be drawn from how the stages unfold this year. As I pointed out yesterday, Both Andy Schleck and Contador have had decidedly different lead-ups to the Tour this year compared to 2010, so it would not be surprising to see them ride slower. Of the other 8 riders in the 2010 top-10, seven have crashed out of contention or aren’t here for other reasons. Only Sammy Sanchez is there this year (and he also has had quite a different preparation this year). So how do you really compare the level between the two years.
  2. However, when you look at the data, you can see interesting trends. The sportsscientists.com article I referred to yesterday shows that the climbing has gotten consistently slower in the past few years, and their excellent article on the biological passport shows an encouraging trend. Of course, while this indicates a cleaner sport, one has to be careful with the definition of “cleaner”, as they point out as well.

Either way, it doesn’t really have anything to do with whether or not one rider can gap another. The sample of 5 top riders is simply too small, the outside influences too large and the data doesn’t apply exactly to them. After all,the sportsscientists.com’s data deals with the entire population, while the way the front of the race unfolds depends on individual riders (see point 1 above).

Furthermore, the data shows a big shift between 2007 and 2008, but we’re seeing a change in “gapability” between 2010 and 2011. Maybe once sportsscientists.com has 2011 data we’ll see a difference with 2010, but for now there is no evidence that cleanliness of the top riders has changed between 2010 and 2011. There is only evidence it has changed between 5-10 years ago and today.

The weirdest argument I’ve heard is that cycling must be cleaner today because there is a French contender again. As if the French never dope! France has its fair share of confessed doper Tour de France winners (Fignon, Thevenet, Anquetil). Even as recently as the Tour of 2008 (when the test for CERA was introduced without warning), we had a French rider leave the Tour with some vague injury after proclaiming a grand attack the evening before.
The only difference is that with a French rider, they don’t ask for the jersey back the way they did with Riis. Instead they give them a job as announcer or chauffeur. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some French teams with a great attitude, but it’s not black and white.

Top-3 reasons for Plateau de Beille status quo

July 18, 2011

Few attacks amongst the leaders, no gaps in the end, what’s going on? I think there are three main reasons that led to this result:

  1. Aerodynamics. You should read this piece by Sportsscientists.com. Nice to see some logical analysis backed up by numbers. First important point they make is that the level of performance is still quite high but not as high as 5-6 years ago.Second, if the performance delta between the leaders is small, even on the climbs the benefit of drafting will keep a group together.
  2. Individual setbacks. While it would be nice to conclude that we now have a larger group of similarly performing riders, this may be too optimistic. Last year the Tour, Andy Schleck and Contador were way above the rest. Have the rest caught up or is it, by coincidence, reduced form for both of them? Andy Schleck has had mediocre form (by his standards) and several setbacks this whole season, to the extent that even his own team thought Frank had better chances this Tour. Contador has the Giro in his legs, the clenbuterol case in his head and the pain in his knee, so it is easy to see he won’t be performing at his 2010 Tour level. Maybe most contenders are simply riding as could be expected of them (except Voeckler) and the top-2 are struggling for their individual reasons.
  3. Brotherly love. Many people say that with the Schleck brothers, 1+1=3. I think it’s more 1+1=1.5. It seems neither wants to do anything to further their own chances if it may hurt their brother’s, and you can’t win the Tour that way. Andy did manage to gap most of the other team leaders on a few occasions up Plateau de Beille, but he always looked back where Frank was and then stopped. Maybe he couldn’t do any better, maybe he wanted to keep Frank’s chances alive. It’s unlikely you  can gap all other contenders on the same day, so you will need several breakaways with different “passengers” to create room on GC. On Plateau de Beille Andy may have been able together with Evans to gap Contador, and in the Alps he could try the reverse. That in itself is hard enough, to try and do it without allowing Evans or Contador to gap Frank on occasion is impossible. Their complaint that nobody else tried anything seems odd when they didn’t really commit to their own jumps 100%.
So who is in the driver’s seat now? Subscribe to the blog and you’ll receive my opinion tomorrow.

Trait 4 of champions

July 15, 2011

OK, picking this list back up again from Toby Stanton on the 11 traits to being a champion. Plenty of this in the Tour de France:

Tenacious: Certainly one of the primary traits that all champions show is tenacity. They just keep on coming whether it be a part of their training, a race or another part of their lives. Adversity is only a step in the process rather than an impassable hurdle.

Race vehicle follow-up – team cars

July 13, 2011

Many of you agree that the team car can go, which is quite surprising to me. You like the idea that such a change would likely encourage bike manufacturers to put more emphasis on durability, which has real benefits for regular cyclists. The most concern people seem to have is for the sponsors (thank you), on issues like:

  1. “A sponsor would not be happy if a rider wins on a neutral support wheel or bike”. First of all, this happens already, albeit rarely because the team car is usually there. But the principle won’t be new, just the frequency.Secondly, this is exactly what you would want. If the sponsor is unhappy that the rider used neutral support equipment, you can bet they will focus on durability more. As a result, the neutral support equipment use will shrink, and everybody will be happy again.
  2. “How can you fit a rider on a neutral bike with different pedals, etc.” No doubt, this may be a bit tricky. But then again, it’s just an incentive to make sure your stuff doesn’t break. And you can put pedals on a bike in 30 seconds, that’s a lot better than being out of the race.
  3. “Each team has its own energy drink sponsor, you’ll need tons of neutral support to give each rider their own bottle.” Maybe, maybe not, if it’s just about bottles, then quite a few different ones can fit on a motorcycle. Alternatively, there could be one central energy drink sponsor (like in Ironman races for example) supplemented with team support in feed zones (similar to the special needs bag at Ironman). If you’re afraid feed zones are too dangerous too, toss in a maximum speed (like the F1 pit lane).
  4. “Teams have energy drink sponsors, so revenue will be lost.” This revenue is quite small, so it would be a very small price to pay for safety. In reality, this set-up would allow the race to sign a large energy drink deal, and create a revenue-share with the teams for probably a net-zero or net-positive result.
  5. “Where do all the rain jackets go when the weather changes?” Well, where do you put yours when that happens? Doesn’t seem to be a problem for millions of cyclists to carry their rain jacket. Some cycling jerseys even have pockets in the back! :-)
What do you think? As usual, let me know in the comments section below or on twitter @gerardvroomen.

Race vehicle follow-up – photographers

July 12, 2011

“Too radical, won’t work”, some say about the idea to reduce the number of vehicles in the peloton (though fewer say that today than when I first posted it in May). But the idea isn’t really radical at all. I’ll go into some more detail in the next few posts, based on your feedback and questions:

  1. “But we love the photography”. So do I, and my proposal would not reduce the number of photos you see in the media and hardly the variety.
  2. “You need this many photographers in order not to miss anything.” If the goal is really not to miss anything, then you should spread them out. But instead many want to be in the same place to shoot the same photo, and that’s exactly where the problem occurs. You can’t let 16 photographers into the race for wide coverage, and then have them all in the same spot “because that’s the photo the media want”.
  3. In reality there are two groups of photographers; those who capture the actual racing, and those who capture the special moments, the artistic side. You don’t need too many of the first group, as is proven already today. Right now, only 3 photographers are allowed to work the final portion of each stage, and they then share their photos with the rest. If 3 is enough to cover the most exciting part of the stage, wouldn’t it be enough for the rest of it too?
  4. “Variety will be less”. Given that these photographers are all fighting for the same spot to take the same photo, there is no variety now. In fact, photo quality probably suffers because of the fight needed to take it. Plus there is the other part of the proposal:
  5. Assign 2-3 photographers to take the artistic photos (and no, I don’t mean another sunflower shot), not in the thick of the action but around it, where they won’t affect the race flow.

Bottomline, the sport needs to take decisions for the betterment of the sport. Those decisions shouldn’t unduly penalize photographers or anybody else, but on the other hand we also cannot allow the sport to be hurt for the benefit of these other groups.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or via twitter @gerardvroomen. To ensure you get tomorrow’s follow-up post, you can subscribe here.

Tension at Leopard?

July 12, 2011

I can’t believe this wasn’t picked up by the mainstream cycling media (oh, the journalists :-). On June 30, Fabian Cancellara tweeted:

Dinner table discussion @leopardtrek…. Is the moon landing true….!!?? There are meany opinions about a big hugh lie. Is it true.??

Now, this may look like innocent banter, but in fact it attacks Frank Schleck’s core belief system. After all, his Twitter intro text is:

Don t tell me the sky is the limit, if there are footprints on the moon!

[Whole spiel about Frank Schleck now going to Sky deleted - not funny. Why the rest of this post was allowed to stay is unclear]

And yes, I do know that “Don’t tell me the sky is the limit, if there are footprints on the moon” is an idiotic expression to begin with. For most people, the moon is in the sky (Thanks to The Apprentice UK for spreading the word), and furthermore there are definitely no footprints on the moon, as it is way too cold to walk barefoot up there. Shoe prints maybe. Hm, or perhaps that’s how we finally figure out that the whole thing is fake, when we see footprints in the video? But I digress.

Thank goodness the rest day is over and there are some real things to write about again.

Race vehicles recap

July 11, 2011

You may expect a post today about the ridiculous stage from yesterday, but honestly I’m lost for words.

Most of you already know my opinion on vehicles in the race and I think it would be best to just stand by the words written with a clear mind back in May rather than just jumpng on the latest fad. Here are the links to that series:

Anyway, let me just finish by saying how proud I am of Thor’s accomplishments in the first week. Simply amazing work by him to keep the jersey as long as he did. Too bad he lost it through such a crazy stage but that actually only highlights his character.
On the theme of magnanimity from last week, Thor is the only rider I can think of who has now twice waited for fallen riders and thereby given up a jersey. Remember that last year the waiting on stage 2 cost him 30 very dear points for the green jersey. Respect.
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