Archive for the 'bike racing' Category

Sprint penalties & disqualifications

July 15, 2010

Lots of debate on the Renshaw DQ. But a lot of it is missing the point. I made some comments about it on Twitter that I won’t all repeat in this blog so check them out here. But 140 characters is too few to tell the whole story. Here is how I see it:

  1. Headbutting doesn’t belong in sports, never.
  2. The explanation on the second part (closing the door on Farrar) is insulting to the fans. Everybody sees him look back and in the next instance close the door, to say he didn’t see Farrar is difficult to believe.
  3. How did Dean escape any scrutiny? I don’t know. Of course an elbow move is not quite as obvious as a headbutt. I’d like to look at this again but can’t find the footage right now.
  4.  I have nothing against Cavendish, I think those who follow me onTwitter know that I was quite positive about him when he was down earlier in this Tour and everybody was kicking him.

We have a new style of sprinting here. We have riders like Martin and Renshaw tangling up not just with the other lead-out trains but also with the designated sprinters of other teams. And the result is that we have rules that don’t work anymore. Standard penalty for a sprinting violation is relegation. But a relegation is no penalty for the leadout guys,, they don’t care if they come 20th or are relegated to 180th. So taken to the extreme, we would have lead-out guys doing everything the cycling Gods have forbidden, hindering the other team’s designated sprinters and happily taking the relegation while their lead sprinter goes on to win races uncontested. That would be the extreme case, the sprinter goes for the win, his teammates crash all the opponents and get relegated while their sprinter keeps the win. Is that fair?

That cannot be the intent of the rules. And so I think that’s why the jury took Renshaw out of the race, because the standard penalty would be no penalty at all. I am sure that if Cav had done himself what Renshaw did today, he would just have been relegated – because that WOULD have been a real penalty for him. Some find this unfair, and maybe it is, but a lesser penalty is also unfair. What we need is penalties that fit the crime, or even better (though more utopian), more awareness among riders to do the correct and respectful thing (Maarten Ducrot is starting to affect me).

So is the punishment too harsh for Renshaw, or is it correct and is it wrong that if he had been a lead sprinter he would have gotten a more lenient penalty? Or is a headbutt simply worse than the other infractions a sprinter can be guilty of? Personally, I don’t mind the tough calls, we shouldn’t wait for a really bad accident before we act. That means I am OK with the Renshaw call, but I also think there have been several other instances in this Tour where penalty would have been in order. And of course that shouldn’t make Renshaw a pariah either. Next race, we start from zero.

That leaves us with the other incidents in this Tour; obviously that clown hitting his colleague on the head with a wheel should have been sent home too. But I presume they’ve kept him in the race purely for entertainment value.

World Cup out, Tour in

July 13, 2010

Cycling couldn’t have hoped for a better set-up then a boring Worldcup final leading into the most exciting Tour de France for years. Maybe it’s not quite the Giro-level craziness yet, but certainly the course and the riders have delivered a spectacle so far. Now let’s hope cycling can take these Worldcup fans with time on their hands and show them why cycling is the best sport in the world.

On the other hand, let’s hope sports reporters around the world don’t make the mistake the Dutch are making. Maybe out of compensation for the lost Worldcup final, they are now proclaiming a podium finish for Robert Gesink (most of the world now goes: “Who?” while some will wonder if this is the guy who won heavyweight judo gold at the 1964 Olympics (he isn’t, certainly not in the heavyweight category)). He may or may not finish on the podium, but that’s not the point. The point is that he is just a young kid, who should be allowed to race his best Tour without the weight of a frustrated nation on his shoulder. For crying out loud, he’s not even Rabobank’s team leader, Menchov is. He also isn’t the team’s best placed rider, again Menchov is.

But he’s ridden well in one mountain stage and now he’s the big Dutch hope. Never mind that there are 15 guys still vying for the podium, that the third week will be insanely tough, that if he has learned anything from Menchov he will surely fade in that last week, that it is really only his second Grand Tour where he is in this position (and the other one was last year’s Giro, where 12 out of those 15 didn’t even start).

Of course the Dutch are not alone in that, US TV must be scrambling to find a way to still push a “Lance comes back” storyline or find another reason to keep Lance as the “Ride of the Day” and Radioshack as the “Team of the week” for the remainder of this Tour. Or will they find it in their infinite wisdom to cover another hero (unlikely)? Maybe they’ll stop the broadcast altogether, they’ve already proven in Lance’s first retirement that life’s hardly worth living without Lance.

In Germany, TV coverage has been increased, but people seem unsure why. The broadcasters’ mantra of supporting a “Don’t test, don’t tell” policy by cutting coverage when cycling had positive tests and coming back now that they don’t has really killed the momentum for the sport there, and it is about to lose its only remaining ProTour team.

The only exception seems to be Spain. They can lean back and enjoy their Tennis and Soccer success and hope that Contador completes the triple (for him and his country). Only cloud in the sky is Caisse d’Epargne, where they fear they won’t have a sponsor for next year. I tweeted about this already, but it is worth repeating as it may go down as the funniest thing to happen in cycling this year. They blame the damaged reputation of cycling due to doping for their inability to find a new sponsor. Coming from the home of Valvpiti and after four years of dragging out his case, that’s precious.

The Tour Start

July 3, 2010

This Friday before the Tour start was definitely not my favorite. As you will have read elsewhere, Florencio won’t start the race for us. An easy and difficult decision at the same time. Easy in that it was a clear violation of our internal policies, difficult because it was heartbreaking to have to tell him that the team would withdraw him from the race.

I do have to say, I am proud of how the whole team – riders, staff and Florencio himself – responded. They all understood immediately that this was the only correct decision. And so it is that we start the Tour with 8 riders instead of 9. But I am certain that those 8 will make themselves be noticed.

3 Biggest Grand Tour stage upsets of all time

May 20, 2010

Reposted from but without the comments section (which had some great suggestions for other stages)

Stage 11 of this Giro may go down as one of the biggest game-changers ever, but we won’t really know until the Giro is over. Here are the 3 biggest leader’s jersey changes in Grand Tours that I could think of off the top of my head. If you know of others, let me know via the comments section.

#3: The recent one – 2006 Tour de France, Stage 13
This stage from Béziers to Montélimar was won by Jens Voigt (Cervelo note, it was the first victory for the Soloist Carbon, the aero road bike that is the predecessor of the S2). But at the end of the Tour (well, three days after the end), it turned out that the big news of that day was the second place finisher, Oscar Pereiro. He was nowhere near the best climbers in the Alpine stages and was close to 30min behind the yellow jersey before the stage. 230 kilometers later, he was in yellow as the whole peloton had taken the day off and nobody was too concerned about him with the Pyrenees still ahead. But in the most unbelievable performance improvement of the race (even more so than the Landis recovery that got most of the attention that year), Pereiro was a completely different rider in the Pyrenees than he was in the Alps. He hardly lost any time, dropped to second in the final time trial and moved back to first after all the lawsuits and appeals were wrapped up in the Landis doping case.

#2: The favorite goes down – 1951 Tour de France, Stage 16
This stage went from Carcassonne to Montpellier, and was fairly flat. My all-time hero Fausto Coppi was in yellow, and seemed in control. I believe the beginning of the end was caused by the Algerian Zaaf (more famous from the 1950 Tour when he escaped the peloton in intolerable heat, drank a bottle of wine to stay hydrated, fell asleep under a tree to cool down and woke up to keep going and before long saw the peloton coming towards him – he had gone back where he came from!). His jump on the way to Montpellier was followed by by a big group of riders including Coppi’s rival Hugo Koblet, and Coppi missed the break. He organized a chase, got to within a few meters but never closed the gap. Eventually, he bonked and lost the yellow jersey to beautiful Hugo, who had time enough to take his trademark comb from his back pocket and arrange not only his own, but the entire peloton’s hair at the finish before Coppi arrived half an hour later.

#1: The favorite rises up – 1956 Giro d’Italia, Stage 18
This stage probably displayed the worst weather ever in a bike race. Hampsten’s Gavia epic and this year’s Giro’s rain and mud avalanches are – with all due respect – a walk in the park compared to the rain, snow and minus 10 degree temperatures of this stage. Even Angelo Zomegnan would not have allowed a stage like this to be held. In fact, conditions were so slippery that many riders descended the climbs on FOOT. Pink jersey wearer Pasquale Fornara went deaf from his teeth chatter and abandoned, several riders succumbed to hallucinations and the Eagle of Toledo – Frederico Bahamontes – was lost for hours and hours before the organization finally located him. The only rider who seemingly enjoyed the conditions was Luxembourg’s Charly Gaul. He was 24th at the start of the stage, rode most of the stage in short sleeves but after more than 200k through this mess and with the 16km final climb still to go, his director sportif noticed that even Charly was starting to show worse for wear and no longer completely “with it”. So he went ahead and ordered a local establishment to run a hot bath. He put Charly in the bath for 5min, put some dry clothes on him and Charly went on to win the stage and the overall. You can read great accounts of this stage in Paolo Facchinetti’s “l’Apocalisse sul Bondone” and in the best cycling book ever, Tim Krabbé’s “The Rider”.

3 Reasons the Giro rules

May 17, 2010

Once again the Giro is delivering a true spectacle. Here’s why:

1) Angelo Zomegnan is crazy, in a good way
Where others ask “Why”, Angelo asks “Why not”. Starting in Venice or Washington, DC, riding over the Gavia in the snow or the dirt roads to Montalcino or the Kronplatz through rain and mud, he always manages to create a spectacular route for the Giro. Forget the whiners who say this isn’t serious racing, that snow and mud have nothing to do with cycling. This sport is all about epic, memorable moments and about keeping that connection with history, with the years of Magni, Binda and of course Coppi.

Going 20kmh over dirt roads poses no safety risk, other than maybe the occasional flash of insanity. The conditions are beyond bad, yes, but they are equally bad for everybody. In choosing routes where the riders can’t hide, Angelo makes sure that the Giro is an incredibly entertaining race to watch for cycling fans. I pity the fans who ignore the Giro in favor of the Tour. For sure, the Tour is required viewing, but a fan who doesn’t watch the Giro is depriving himself of so much pleasure.

2) It’s a 3 week race that is really raced for 3 weeks
Oftentimes a Grand Tour follows one of two patterns. Either it is decided after one week, and the rest is just a procession to the finish. Or nothing happens in the first two weeks and then the last week has all the fireworks. If you look at the Giros of the past years, they have always had plenty of excitement throughout the three weeks, with the ultimate winner often unclear until the final weekend (or, unfortunately, 1-2 years after if one of the various dope-boys claim initial victory). The Vuelta and the Tour also have their share of exciting editions (remember when Carlos won the 2008 Tour against Evans on the last Saturday), but no Grand Tour has delivered 3 weeks of top-notch racing consistently like the Giro has.

3) Weather
No other race has the weather swings the Giro has. Sure, it the Tour and Vuelta can have a really, really bad day as well (Last year’s Tour stage that Heinrich won comes to mind) but the Giro can go from snow to rain to 35 degrees Celsius in mere days. And when we think back about epic rides, be it from watching the pros or from riding ourselves, isn’t it more often than not the weather that at least played a role in making it epic? So let’s move the Vuelta to December, or back again to April, or something to break away from its monotonous sun-filled stages. A race that reminds you of sipping sangria during the siesta will never beat one that has hot chocolate and a triple layer of rain jackets written all over it.

Classics Time

February 26, 2010
Cold, rain, mud, cobbles – not the sort of environment most cyclists look forward to. But this is my favorite part of the cycling calendar, both to ride outside myself and to watch as a fan. And since we started the TestTeam, it is also the busiest period for testing, because what better place to test products than in bad weather on bad roads. The past four days we had around a dozen partners join the team at our Belgian base to test new prototypes with the riders. I’ve never seen so many new products in one spot, and “luckily” the weather cooperated by swinging from beautiful to nasty and back with regularity.

Of course we also had the next version of the superlight frame there, with some lay-up changes based in part on Thor’s feedback from last months tests, and so we continue to improve that frame and learn for the future. We also did some good work on new tires and tire pressure optimization, the key to a good ride in Flanders and Roubaix.But it all starts with the Omloop Het Volk (or Nieuwsblad) this Saturday. Last year Thor won it, the first ever cobblestones win on an aero bike. For years we were told the aero bikes couldn’t be ridden on the cobbles, we knew this was mostly a mental issue but those are often the most difficult to overcome. New team, new riders, no preconceived notions, and in the end almost all riders rode the S2 on all cobblestone races except Paris-Roubaix. There they rode the RS for more tire clearance. This year will be similar, except that they will mostly ride the S3, with some opting for the R3sl and then the R3 for Roubaix.

What to expect on the racing side? The win in the team classification at Qatar – which despite its high temperatures and exotic locations is a good barometer for these Belgian races – showed the TestTeam is strong again, but for most riders the goals lie a little further into the future than this weekend. Most pundits seem to list Quickstep and Cervelo as the teams to watch here, but I think one should not overlook Sky and Saxobank. They will be very strong in the Spring Classics (well, throughout the year really). Sky will have a blazing start just like we had last year, it’s amazing what happens when you put talented riders in a new, fresh environment. It just brings them to life. And of course Saxobank has an extremely talented line-up of riders, with Cancellara, O’Grady and Breschel to name but three, so they will be a force to be reckoned with. Toss in Lotto and it should make for some exciting racing. Now let’s just hope for some real Flemish weather and let the racing begin.

In the meantime, I’ll go for a few training rides myself this weekend to get ready for the first TestTeamTravel events. Just like last year, I promise people I will ride the Classics with them as an incentive for myself to start training. Last year this didn’t really work, and I ended up doing the Flanders cyclosportive and the Roubaix course with next-to-no training. They were both amazing trips, but I still remember how I felt afterwards, so this year I am a little more committed to the training part. So far …


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