Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Race radio

Teams may not like the idea of racing without radios, but I do. Radio contact with a DS is essentially taking the guess work and risk taking out of cycle racing and that's the beginning and end of the story – no really, it is. The safety argument is a red herring, it's the fact that many of the riders are loose cannons without them, that's why the team managers want them and the control of the team hinges around using them. The managers are freaked out by the possibility of a rider messing up publicly. But why?

Before race radios, big days sometimes became big wins (Eros Poli was able to win the stage over Ventoux, or when Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle made that really long break) this sort of escapade would never happen now with radios. On the other hand neither would the deal making that goes on between teams be as easy to control and neither would Mark Cavendish's lead out train. Although I think the Columbia boys would manage OK. 

Riders from the sixties, seventies and eighties had far more to gain by taking risks, but the racing was far more open. Without radios the racing was far more unpredictable and exciting, but it also threw up surprises and encouraged attacking rides. There are very few riders these days willing to risk it all (even the wrath of their DS) and have a big dig if their legs are feeling good. Managing a team is the role of the DS and the team captain, that could be the compromise; just one rider with a radio? Not sure that would be much good either.

Some reckon that the racing would appear more 'amateur'. Well with the wired-up automatons in the peloton marking each other and watching their power/wattage/HRM and asking the DS if they can pee... it's not really a 'sport' anymore, more a methodology and a controlled experiment. And let's not mention the WWF style 'set up' finales – I think amateur and exciting may be a great improvement.

The argument seems to be setting up a big fall-out with the riders, but the Tour have realised that if the race is to remain 'interesting' they have to take some drastic steps. OK so the drama is there this year, and the fact that there are a fewin there who could still win, but how much of this is media hype and how much is actual racing incident? 

What has actually happened yet?

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Manx Mario's new bike

Cavendish's latest Scott bike paint-job has been designed by Justin Greenleaf, who works with us, from time to time (among many others). I quite like the idea of a sprinter being like a flying ace, just as long as he doesn't win too many stages as his top tube ain't that long...

BTW I have several thousand pictures from the Tour and will be working through them all in the next day or so (rest day probably). Just need to work out how to do a slide show or something on Blogspot... stay tuned.

Le Modfather

“A lot of guys are going to be thinking. 'What's Wiggins been doing?” That's unfortunate but I'm not Schumacher, I'm not Bernhard Kohl. I've worked hard for this.” 

Bradley Wiggins is on fire. His finish in Arcalis was really, really good, perhaps the best bit of riding from a british rider in a long while, certainly in the mountains at a Grand Tour. The Stage to Andorra threw up only a slight shift in the overall and wasn't as tough as I'd hoped. The Astana train is taking on this Tour head-on and perhaps, in the process, taking itself on too. Contador was definitely 'off-message' as you could see by LA's face as he crossed the line, he was not happy.

My call was Sastre to win, but he seems to have lost his spark. The chances of seeing attacks coming now will be limited to the Alps and The Geant of Provence. That should be even more exciting as this race builds the tension.

I walked the last five kilometres of the course and it was pretty quiet, no big groups of Spanish or Basques, just some over exuberant Norwegians in fancy dress and my first sighting of the devil. 

Pretty run of the mill crowds for such a fabulous finish. Like Monaco, this tax haven hardly needs (or wants) the attention.

But for me the story is all about Wiggo, forget the Astana soap opera, I reckon that if Bradley can keep this up (which is a big, big ask) he may even see the top five in Paris, the best performance at the Tour for a british rider since Robert Millar in 1984, how cool would that be?

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Les Baroudeurs

The Tour rolls on and the race continues to throw up surprises. One was Tommy Voeckler's win into Perpignan. It was a text book finish from a rider who has never really realised that there is a text book on bike racing. It was, believe it or not, his first Tour stage win. Now I know he has his critics, but to be brutally honest where would French cycling be without the panache of this man?

Attacking from the gun may be a good idea in a crit or a track scratch race, but this guy always 'throws one in' with around 200 kilometers to go. He reminds me of Claudio Chiappucci, another rider who never won much, but always had a dig. Thanks to them race radios and team tactics get forgotten for a day and you can see a rider relying on brute strength and ignorance.

Stage six was another seat-of-the pants ride from David Millar who was showing some good form on the roads around his home town of Girona. It was exciting stuff and the 'will he, won't he' was only foiled by a long boulevard and some interesting chasing from Astana – I'm beginning to despair of the turquoise terrors. I was hoping for a last minute charge from Wiggo, but alas not, he must be saving himself for Andorra.

A new yellow jersey will be on the podium this time tomorrow.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Mini bikes everywhere

Just a quick update as time is definitely not on-side this morning...

The team time trial was an exciting sideshow to what had happened in stage 3. Obviously Astana have taken the race on with a blistering TTT performance and the win was unexpected for me. I really thought that Garmin would do it today, but once again LA and co showed that experience beats firepower and Garmin's determined squad of testers. Garmin should (and could) have won, they just didn't have the necessary strength in depth for the finale. 

There was a lot of posturing from the teams beforehand, so it's even more interesting now, with Astana taking the initiative. Although I thought they would be in disarray after the spats on stage 3, it seemed that they took a very professional approach and hats off to them for that.

Still Garmin have two British riders in the top ten and that has to be a reason for them to be content with their Tour so far. The race will change again and with it traveling towards Girona, expect some attacking riding from the boys in blue as it's their home town. Off to Perpignan now and hopefully another exciting day...

I've been spotting a fair few mini bikes out here at the Tour and they are certainly popular with the fans and the teams. BTW (blatant plug coming up) The mini cyclists are available at our webstore:

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Caught-out, in the bubble again

Stage two seemed like it was a relief to get this show on the road. Each morning, the usual discussion ensues about where to see the race and when you drive a car in a bike race you get pretty much one chance to see the race, so that means looking out for the best spot. The Tour's organisers, ASO, still won't give us a moto every day, so it's driving for us and that means one shot on the long flat days, two if you are very lucky. It ain't easy.

Yesterday (stage 3) Gerard Brown texted me after the finish, asking what the race felt like after Armstrong's cheeky echapée. Truth is I was trying to find the hotel on a SatNav that refuses to acknowledge the fact that France exists, and seems determined not to help us see the Tour at all. So his question confused me, Cav won, right? sounded like a straightforward stage to me. The Green Jersey team rolled on from Marseille to La Grande Motte, nice course, lovely day, business as usual then? Apparently not. I was here, at the side of the road, but had no idea what was going on.

Everyone says to me that following the Tour and the Giro must be a dream job, and it has it's moments, but you barely get to see the 'race' – but the truth is you play the waiting game, just like the spectators. Occasionally you make it to the finish and watch the finale unfold, but when you don't you have little clue, until you get to the Hotel and switch on the TV.

Stage 3 went through the beautiful countryside of Provence and through the Rhone valley, which is where we stopped, in Arles on the banks of the huge river, in the Town that Vincent Van Gogh called home for a while. We found a cafe that had a TV, and the best part of the day was sipping a beer, watching the race unwind it's way towards us. It all still seemed pretty straightforward to me.

"But what about the finale?" Gerard asked. "No idea, what about it?" I replied.

"Wow!" he replied. I was none the wiser.

When I did eventually get to see the finale on TV last night, I choked on my beer. All I can say is that Lance Armstrong is clearly here to win the Tour. Alberto Contador must be hopping mad, or stupid, to see Lance Armstrong disappear off the front of the peloton (and not even attempt to win the stage?!) clearly a cynical and undermining attempt to take the jersey for himself. It had something reminiscent of Bernard Hinault about it – the arrogant and pig headed part. 

I can't understand why on earth he rode with that break and he was certainly pulling it along with the High Road steam train, what was Bruyneel thinking? And what the hell happened to Bradley Wiggins and the Garmin team? That was a chance for them to win the Yellow jersey today at the TTT... I'm lost for an explanation. So as for today, I think Saxo Bank may struggle to protect Cancellara's lead, Astana could do it, but only if LA and AC can bare to be in the same pace line.

So off to the Team Time Trial today, this could be very interesting, this Tour is already shaping up to being a classic, just hope I get to see a bit more of it today.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Time for the trial to begin

Wiggo has to be pleased with that. Not that he will be, after all he is a winner, but it's a far cry from the Levens time trial course he rode a few weeks ago, and was then promptly DQ-ed for riding with a non-regulation front wheel. Needless to say there were many non-reg wheels used in Monaco and the speed they were traveling at, well it would be enough to make the District Committee wince. 

For the riders, time trials are a pretty boring start to a Tour. They had been in Monaco for four ludicrously hot days, just waiting. Playstation and internet connections seem to be the topic of conversation over breakfast. The course has to be ridden twice, thrice or even seventeen times a day. Pro cyclists have a great job in some respects, but the waiting must be very dull and the distracting bit is dealing with presentations, dinners and photo calls, then there's mixing with the sponsors, public and, needless to say, journalists. No surprise that all they want to do is go for a ride.

Walking around bits of the circuit you could see that the crowd and the parcours were perfect for the start of this year's Tour – it was challenging and technical and certainly (as David Millar discovered) a chance to try out the brakes. Of the result? Well Cancellara was nailed-on favourite and Bradley Wiggins showed his form is improving (I'm still way more impressed with his 25th at Paris–Roubaix though).

Monaco didn't really seem to be that bothered about the Tour, it was business as usual for the hotels and shops, shame really. It's a very big occasion for most of  France and many towns would give everything to stage the Depart, Monaco seems to hardly need the attention. The racing pedigree of this rather bizarre place is evident on every corner, Armco and tarmac etched with the rubber and skid marks of a slightly faster breed of racers with their own strange mix of regulations. More later on the first stage, and stage two, in France proper. Cavendish won't threaten for Yellow this year, but Manx Mario is off to a flyer.

Friday, 3 July 2009

The Tour starts

Helicopters are the best way to get to Monaco. We drove. It's really hot. Really, really hot. So, A dirty job and all that, but the traffic is terrible and the sun is stifling. I thought that Venice was a mad place to start a race (it wasn't) but the traffic and crowds in Monte Carlo are ridiculous, helicopters make a lot of sense. Very exciting to be here though, the prologue could be pretty engaging stuff...

Tour prediction time then.

It could be a very interesting Tour this year. It's anyone's race really - so it's hard to choose a out and out favourite. I was impressed with Carlos Sastre at the Giro, he broke away in the traditional old-skool climber's way on Vesuvius and showed that he isn't scared to attack. Cadel Evans is certainly going well, but he lacks the panache and the ability to mix a race up. Alberto Contador has a good chance, as for his American team mates, Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer, well I think that Astana may well suffer from an embarrassment of talents and that they won't have enough 'sacrifice' in the team in order to take control. On the other hand Sastre's Cervelo team is strong, but more importantly, they are all there for him and him alone.

Mark Cavendish is the exciting ticket for British fans and I can see him managing to make it to Paris this year especially as he's shown this year that he can hang on, I do worry that he's still too impatient though. Then on the other hand that seems to be what fuels his talents. I expect Bradley Wiggins could do well in the prologue and David Millar may surprise a few as it's a good distance for him. The Team Time Trial next Tuesday may well see Garmin and High Road fighting it out head to head for the win, as they did in the Giro, and I can't wait for that one.

The penultimate stage up Ventoux could be the upset that the Tour needs to keep the race exciting. If you crack on the Ventoux you can loose half an hour in a few kilometers, so expect fireworks and I wouldn't be too surprised if the race is decided there. I hope so, the Tour needs some unpredictability and I'm glad that the organisers made it late in the race, it shows a spirit of imagination and daring.

So who will be on the podium in Paris? I'm not really sure, but my predictions for a top three would have to be:

1. Carlos Sastre
2. Alberto Contador
3. Cadel Evans

But I am usually wrong. Lance will probably win. I'm off to watch helicopters.