Giro d’Italia 2014 – Preview

Ah the time of year when I dust down the coffee machine, plump the cushions and try to avoid doing absolutely anything between the hours of 13.00 and 16.30. Yes, its Grand Tour silly season in the world of professional road cycling. Whilst the general classification contenders have been preparing on some hors categorie climbs, I have been gorging myself on the Hors d’oeuvre’s of cycling’s seasonal menu. One day classics and short stage races have been a relative amuse bouche ahead of the full 21 course tasting menu of a grand tour.

There is nothing in the world of sport that is longer or warrants such investment than the Giro, Tour or Vuelta. As a result I, like you, I hope, have numerous ‘jours sans’. This usually involves a perfectly concocted TV montage set on repeat. The breakaway going hell for leather, the delightful landscape, an ambling peloton, the faint noise of the helicopter or motorbike engine… riders’ legs going up, and down, up, and down, up, and down….. Suddenly it’s the end of the stage and the top 10 for the day flashes up on the TV – I’ve missed the whole stage!!! Like a Bardiani-CSF rider aiming to get in the breakaway, I shall try again tomorrow!

Route

So we come to the first of grand tour of the year the Giro d’Italia, perhaps confusingly for the uninitiated, starting in Ireland! The spaces and landscapes of the Giro never disappoint and the dash through the Emerald Isle will certainly match the vistas of Italy. It may even be capable of halting my usual mid stage slumber mentioned above! Judging by the stages planned the racing shouldn’t fail to satisfy either. The route starts with a team time trial around Belfast and finishes with a stage to Dublin, after which comes the 1st rest day for travel to Italy.

 

 

Giro d'Italia Route 2014

Giro d’Italia Route 2014

 

Ultimately the route this year is one primed for climbers – yet unlike recent years the profiles tend to build gradually rather than shoot for the hills right away. Stage 8 in the Apennines mountain range should bring the first shake up for the general classification. The Carpegna climb is back loaded towards the end of the stage and final climb at 13% should be a treat. A nasty trio, the Passo Gavio, Stelvio and the Monte Zoncolan are all attempted in the final week and the final mountain time trial will ultimately destroy some riders hopes.

Contenders

Four previous Giro winners line up this year and the smart money suggests none of them will be in contention come Trieste. Ivan Basso and Michele Scarponi are the wrong side of 35, whilst Ryder Hesjedal and Damiano Cunego have not shown anything to date to suggest they can repeat their victories of 2004 and 2012 respectively. Of the old guard perhaps only Cadel Evans has a right to warrant a contender badge after a productive spring cumulating in GC victory at the recent Giro del Trentino.

So, roll up roll up how about a brand new grand tour winner? The bookies favourite, Nairo Quintana, looks a good bet to at least match his podium finish from last year’s tour. He has had a solid preparation in the run up, landing the win at the Tour de San Luis, second at Tirenno and 5th in Catalunya. This combined with his eminent climbing ability, solid time trialling and a world class Movistar line up ensures he certainly warrants favouritism.

Rigoberto Uran, 2nd last year has a good chance too. He has kept his powder dry this season with only a 3rd in GC at the Tour of Oman the only result of note. The Omega-Pharma quickstep team is built around him with no Mark Cavendish. If Thomas De Gent and Wout Poels and can provide suitable domestique support in the mountains he may have a shot. Joaquim Rodriguez, the Raymond Poulidor of our times, could at last win the general classification at a grand tour. This may be his last chance as he enters the last few golden years of his career and he probably missed his best chance in 2012. The time trial on stage 12 does him no favours. Daniel Martin, Domenico Pozzovivo, Rafal Majka, Nicholas Roche and Wilco Kelderman could all make a step up this year after showing glimpses of what might be. All must ride their luck and have the best of legs to usurp Quintana et al.

My Giro d’Italia Top 5:-

  1. Nairo Quintana
  2. Cadel Evans
  3. Rafal Majka
  4. Nicholas Roche
  5. Daniel Martin

Stage Win – Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol)

2013 Season Review

As the 2013 road cycling season ambles its way towards a conclusion and news tidbits start to dry up it feels like a good time to review the season; and what a season it has been both on and off the bike. Whilst the crashing fall of a certain Mr Armstrong has overawed the majority of the season,the racing and politics of the sport continues to provoke excitement and angst in equal measure.

 Two new Grand Tour winners, two new classic winners, some biblical weather and a change in the top tier of the sport all point to that fact that it wasn’t a bad year after all!

 

Grand Tour Deja-Vu?

American bike rider defies all the odds to win one of cycling’s biggest races for the first time. No we haven’t been transported back to the drug riddled late 1990’s; its Christopher Horner (at 41 – the oldest Grand Tour winner ever) triumphing in the Vuelta a Espana. The impossibly gaunt and skinny rider from Oregon scrawled yet another chapter in the sports chaotic relationship with drugs and rumour.

Climbing for impossibly extended moments out of the saddle, the American arguably rode the perfect race to despatch Vincenzo Nibali. Herein lies perhaps the most important motif of that Vuelta – it remains a stiff task to be competitive in more than one grand tour during the year. Ultimately this has to be a positive thing for the sustainability of the sport.

That brings us to a certain Mr Nibbles.  Safely despatching his opponents despite some biblical weather and some shortened stages – he certainly has to be classed as one of the top 3 grand tour riders at present. Admittedly a tentative Wiggins, an ageing Evans, an off colour Hesjedal and an improving Uran didn’t provide much of a challenge.

Again the Tour de France was strangled by a Sky armada, albeit in a less comprehensive fashion than 12 months previously. A precession from stage 8 for Mr Froome wouldn’t have been so enjoyable if it wasn’t for the 100th Tour which included a double ascension of Alpe D’Huez, Mount Ventoux and a dusk finish in Paris. Marcel Kittel also emerged as the top sprinter we all knew he would be, throwing down a challenge to Monseiur Cavendish. He’s certainly come a long way in a very short time since finishing third at the 2010 World Time Trial championship! Oh and who can forget the Australian bus incident!

Dan Martin powers away from an unlikely opponent

Dan Martin powers away from an unlikely opponent

 

An Irish Panda

Let’s hope MTN Quebeka’s win at Milan San Remo inspires a generation (to pinch a well-known phrase) of African cyclists. Yet, history may well remember the ice crusted helmets, blue faces, mid stage bus ride and a tottering Sky rider instead.

Whilst Fabian Cancellara doubled up at Roubaix and Flanders and Rodriguez did the double at Il Lombardia, Dan Martin ensured Irish eyes were smiling again when triumphing at thoroughly enjoyable edition of Liege Bastogne Liege with the current fall guy of cycling Hesjedal teeing his Garmin teammate to perfection.

With Messers Boonen and Cancellara nearing the epoch of their careers and the timely proliferation of a number of new classic stars, 2014 may well see a new paradigm in one day races. Certainly, Zdenk Stybar can count himself extremely unlucky this year.

Cookson comes to the fore

Arguably the most important moment of the year came when the defiant Pat McQuaid was finally wrestled from his position of UCI president by Brian Cookson. Only time will tell whether the much publicised change Cookson has promised comes to fruition. With calendar alterations a foot for 2015, next year this maybe the last season we enjoy procycling in its current format.

Below are my rider and race or stage of the year. Who or what is yours?

 

My rider of the Year – Joaquim Rodriguez

Race of the year – Stage 6 of Tirreno Adriatico

Tour de France 2013 – Preview

When Henri Desgrange and Geo Lefevre created the first Tour de France back in 1903, they surely can’t have thought that it would evolve into what it has become today. Historian, Jim McGurn noted that the Tour back then was “a magnificently imaginative invention, a form of odyssey in which the lonely heroism of unpaced riders was pitted against relentless competition and elemantal nature.” Whilst the heroism and extent of the competition has waned slightly, as any rider, journalist or fan will tell you, the Tour is still the Tour. Faster, harder, higher, hotter than many other races the 100th edition of the Tour de France lives up to this expectation on paper.

 

After an undeniably drab 2012 edition in which Team Sky stifled the race to the benefit of Sir Wiggo the 2013 Tour de France must be one of the most eagerly awaited in years. Now, certainly this is in no small part due to the participants this year but the inventive, historic parcours designed by Mr Christian Prudhomme and his colleagues at ASO definitely add to the anticipation.

 

After a partly successful Giro d’Italia forecast (doping aside) what follows is a quick sprint through the key stages and some more wildly ill informed predictions.

 

The 2013 Tour de France

The 2013 Tour de France

 

The Route

The headline of the 100th edition of the Tour de France was the ascension of both Mount Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez (twice) and a twilight finish on the Champs in Paris. Yet, look beyond those undoubtedly key days and you’ll see that this is an aggressively tricky circuit of France full of more saw-toothed stage profiles than you could throw a bidon at.

 

Aligned more to a rider who can climb and TT rather than the reverse they key stages begin as early as stage 2 as the race climbs from sea level in Bastia, Corsica over the mountains to the West coast and Ajaccio. OK, the last third of the stage is downhill but GC contenders must be on their guard throughout and this stress and toil will accumulate until the race reaches Paris.

 

The team time trial on the 2nd July will only modify the General Classification but will see a good old fashioned battle between the well drilled teams, Sky, Omega-Pharma Quickstep and Orica-Greenedge. As we edge into the second weekend, the climbing begins with a mouth-watering double header in the Pyrenees. The climb to Ax 3 Domaines will shake out the GC and certainly Stage 9 will hopefully see the combination of a GC battle and a breakaway sojourn over five monstrous climbs.  With 30km from the last climb to the finish whoever is over the top first will be difficult to catch. Expect Jens Voigt, Simon Gerrans, Jeremy Roy or Johnny Hoogerland to be involved somewhere along the line.

 

If the weather isn’t dramatic the time trial on stage 11 shouldn’t change much and as the peloton girds its loins for Mount Ventoux on Sunday 14th July the second week will probably past without interest; save a Mark Cavendish win and honouree French heroes going all out for stage victories. After a teasing day in the Alps and technical time trial the hallowed ascension of Alpe D’Huez looms into view. The shear length of the two main mountain days (172.5 and 204.5km) will take its toll on the peloton and you would expect a GC contender to emerge victorious on one if not both stages. The last smash into Annecy-Semnoz on Saturday 20th July could see one final battle for general classification places.

The Stars

For all you can mutter about Alberto Contador (Beef jokes included) his presence at this year’s tour adds value to the event. OK his form hasn’t been fantastic this year and Chris Froome has beaten him on every occasion they have raced together this year, but Contador’s GT experience, coupled with a strong team in support should see a ding dong battle with Froome and Team Sky. Despite Cadel Evans’ recent Giro heroics this has to be Tejay Van Garderen’s year. Proving himself at the Tour of California suggests that he will be riding into a leader’s role finally and with Cadel peaking at the Giro the time is nigh.

 

Daniel Martin has ultimately had is breakthrough year with Garmin Sharp. In a recent interview with Paul Kimmage in the Irish Independent he declared himself a Top 5 or Top 10 favourite. I can certainly see him achieving the later. However, with Andrew Talansky and Ryder Hesjedal  riding perhaps it’s a case of the strongest rider will emerge for Jonathan Vaughters’ outfit. If Dan Martin is weakened by his Time trialing then J C Peraud is the opposite. 4th in the recent mountain TT at the Tour de Suisse his form looks solid if not unremarkable. 9th in the 2011 Tour and without Nicholas Roche to work for, perhaps this will be the last opportunity for the 36 year old to reach the higher echelons of his home race. If his Ag2r team doesn’t mutiny around him with John Gadret and Hubert Dupont in the mix then maybe a top ten is possible.

 

How about Alexandre Geniez for a stage win – he was climbing well in the Dauphine and came second in the young rider classification. He could certainly emulate Thibaut Pinot’s exploits last year if given the freedom.

Predictions

1.       Alberto Contador

2.       Chris Froome

3.       Tejay Van Garderen

4.       Richie Porte

5.       Jurgen Van den Broeck

Top 10 – J C Peraud / Daniel Martin

Stage Win – Alexandre Geniez

 

Here’s to a showpiece 100th Tour de France! Let’ hope we see 100 more!

 

Book Review: Domestique – The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro

 

Domestique

The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro
by Charly Wegelius

Reviewed by Lawrence Bywater

domestique-the-real-life-ups-and-downs-of-a-tour-pro

Pro road cycling is feted for its heroes, its superhuman efforts, its panache filled endeavours and mainly its winners. Yet perhaps what is most captivating about this sport in terms of its individual personalities are the efforts of a band of self-sacrificing, selfless riders who perform the tasks unseen by the uneducated cycling fan. Domestiques. They serve their glorified leaders day in day out; they perform the often thankless tasks of sheltering lead riders from the wind, becoming their waiters with food and bidons and generally being at the beck and call of others. Ultimately they make cycling the team sport that it is so often not credited for. Charles Wegelius was one such domestique who carved out a (successful) career in this role.

His book Domestique: The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro, co-written with his partner in ‘crime’ from the 2005 World Championship in Madrid, Tom Southam, is an eye watering expose into the professional peloton in which he inhabited through the 2000’s. The starkest tones of his story show just how much he was willing to sacrifice in order to make it as first an amateur and then a pro. Arguably it was this mentality that made him such a cherished domestique by teams in Europe.

From the first enquiry to his mother to ask whether she could write a letter to his headmaster to allow him to train during sports afternoons at school, to leaving York to join Vendee U in France as an amateur, Wegelius’ passion and drive for the sport jumps from the text on the page and virtually smacks you in the face. His mentality and feelings are laid bare for all to see and arguably what makes this different from the standard Bradley Wiggins or Mark Cavendish story. Ultimately, no other recent cycling autobiography is more revealing. Perhaps only David Millar’s Racing Through The Dark (read our review here) and Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race come close to revealing what it is really like inside professional road cycling and both of those almost entirely focus on the doping aspect of the support. His constant unhappiness and lack of contentment despite success is a telling thread which runs throughout the book. Indeed, insecurities are never far from the forefront of Wegelius’ mind.

Before British Cycling’s track success was replicated on the road with the BC Academy/Team Sky etc, Wegelius had to do what all other British road riders had had to do over the previous few decades to be successful – make a go of it in Europe. The classic stories emerge of ramshackle houses provided by teams, the culture shock of European life, but also the young Wegelius showing how passionate he was about success. A classic example: He asked his then manager Jean-Rene Bernaudeau to allow him to race (his French racing license was currently in limbo at the time) at an event – he drove to the event in a team camper, set the bike up himself and travelled without a masseur. To his teammates incredulity he duly won the race. Yet again insecurities arise. Wegelius writes that on winning the Under-23 national Road Race and coming second in the European Time Trial Championships as an amateur he felt “victory wasn’t something special that I felt I should sit back and enjoy.” He actually felt that, “a win was simply another box ticked in what was turning out to be an infinite list of boxes I had to tick to be content.”

His meticulous approach to life as an amateur transcended from keeping his bike clean after every ride, washing it with diesel, to competing with another amateur on who could spend the less on everyday essentials. Yet, Wegelius comes to recognise that, “society’s admiration for athletes is based entirely on the achievement of an ideal.” He realises that the sacrifices he has made to become the athlete he so desperately wanted to be, has made him a difficult person to be around.

Throwing all the personal anecdotes aside the book still fantastically illustrates the idiosyncrasies of the pro peloton. Obviously given his career with Italian teams, Mapei, De Nardi and Liquigas the majority of incites have a distinct flavour to them. Old riders tales such as wearing as much clothing whilst training are very enjoyable and occasions such as the 2005 Vuelta, where temperatures were heading into the 40°C Spanish riders were seen warming up on rollers with woollen hats, leggings and arm warmers are a delight to read. The book finishes with a wonderfully poignant tale which is topped by a realisation that Wegelius had found the truth about being inside the professional peloton: “it’s no f***king fairytale.” Overall, a delight from start to finish; perhaps the only thing missing is a further insight into life on the Giro d’Italia in which Wegelius was so well versed.

CyclingShortsRatingDomestique

CyclingShorts Rating: Star Buy! – 90%

Title:

Domestique – The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro

Author:
Charly Wegelius

Hardback Price: RRP £16.99

Paperback Price: £8.99

Kindle Price: £8.99

ISBN 978-0091950934

Giro d’Italia 2013 Preview

Arguably the most spectacular and visually stimulating of the three Grand Tours the 96th edition of the Giro d’Italia has been described as a hybrid route which transcends the boundaries between a wholly climbers race and a TT specialist’s. Last year’s Giro was perhaps the most stimulating of all Grand Tours with a surprise but worthy winner in Ryder Hesjedal and this year’s looks to emulate that with a dramatic race from Naples to Brescia over 3405 kilometres.

The stellar cast of riders including last year’s Maglia Rosa, Tour winner Sir Bradley Wiggins, recent Giro Del Trentino victor Vincenzo Nibali and a host of other contenders for the General Classification including Cadel Evans, Ivan Basso(!), Michele Scarponi, Samuel Sanchez and Robert Gesink certainly whets the appetite for a fine race to Brescia on the 27th of May. This coupled with sprinters Mark Cavendish, Nacer Bouhanni, Matthew Goss, Sacha Modolo and Roberto Ferrari ensures that this will be a delight of a race from start to finish.

The ebb and flow of a stage race is perhaps no more in evidence than at the Giro. This coupled with the fantastic landscape theatre in which it is played out in, ensures that it is a delight to view. The stage profiles suggest the route builds through the first two weeks (as any good Grand Tour should) to the final few outrageous mountain stages over the Passo Gavia, the Stelvio and the Passo Giau. Stages 4, 7 and 9 are the ones to definitely tune in for early on the race with a nice mix of terrain to suit both puncheurs and overall contenders keen to steal an early march on their opponents. Stage 7 to Pescara and its important port and marina is sure to excite typical breakaway specialists but the terrain could promote a sprint at a push and is likely to stir John Degenkolb’s Argos Shimano and Nacer Bouhanni’s FDJ team into action.

 

The route of the 2013 Giro

The route of the 2013 Giro

 

The key aspect of the majority of the mountain stages, back loaded into the second and third weekend, is their relatively short length. Take for example Stage 15, Sunday 19th May where the race heads over the Mont Ceris and then the Telegraphe before the final, tougher ascent to the Col Du Galibier the opposite side to Andy Schleck’s 60km solo escape to win Stage 18 of the 2011 Tour de France; a stage which is only 149km long and will undoubtedly be raced rapidly from the off. By the start of stage 20 we may well already know whether Bradley Wiggins has coped with the steeper Italian ascents in comparison to the long steady climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees, and perhaps more importantly whether Team Sky’s mass on the front riding has worked to the extent that it has done in the past. So, as the road rises to Tre Cime Di Lavaredo a final nail may have been hammered into Wiggins’ coffin by messers Nibali, Betancur, Pozzovivo and Sanchez.

To finish; some (ill-informed and widely speculative) predictions. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mauro Santambrogio going well in the GC, if only for a top 5 or top 10. Moving to Vini Fantini from BMC at the end of 2012 has reaped its rewards for the 28 year old Italian, with 7th at Tirreno Adriatico and 2nd at the Giro Del Trentino . Certainly his team isn’t as strong as the other overall favourites, his Grand Tour form isn’t spectacular, and I’m not convinced by his time trailing capabilities (76th and 54th in his two ITT’s this year), but the Giro more often than not throws up a surprise contender.

The changing of the GC guard is evident in the fact that old powers like Ivan Basso, Cadel Evans and Michele Scarponi aren’t getting any younger and in the early to mid stage of the decent of their careers. The nearly man Robert Gesink could go close if on top form and he avoids crashes and if not him or Santambrogio then certainly Benat Intxausti looks well placed for a Top 10 finish. Finishing 10th last year at the incredibly difficult Vuelta, perhaps marked a breakthrough for the 27th year old. Whether he will ride for JJ Cobo, the Vuelta winner of 2011 remains to be seen but certainly his form has been building nicely since an 8th in the overall at the Tour of the Basque Country and 4th at the Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta. He can time trial too, which could help limit his losses in the mountains.

Meanwhile, Wiggins’ form, although not as spectacular as last season, certainly looks solid with an ill-timed mechanical arguably the only difference between himself and Vincenzo Nibali at the Giro Del Trentino. He also looked comfortable on the steeper climbs that epitomize Trentino and his time trialing will have undoubtedly remained flawless. Ryder Hesjedal looked mean and lean in Liege Bastogne Liege although his prevalence as an overall contender opposed to last year could be his undoing.

As ever there will be Italians who emerge into the spotlight of the wild Tifosi as Matteo Rabottini did last year so spectacularly. Stefano Pirazzi is sure to be one to watch for attacking in the mountains along with the ever excitable Vacansoleil, the wonderfully entitled Vini Fantini and the other Pro Continental outfits of Team Colombia, Androni-Venezuela and Bardini Vavole – CSF Inox, who are sure to animate things from the off.

My Giro d’Italia Top 5:-

  1. Vincenzo Nibali
  2. Bradley Wiggins
  3. Ryder Hesjedal
  4. Robert Gesink
  5. Mauro Santambrogio

Stage Win – Stefano Pirazzi

White Jersey – Wilco Kelderman

Fingers crossed for a passionate, exciting and unpredictable Giro!

 

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