Once every year during the road cycling season trade team contracts are tossed aside (in most cases) to be replaced by national loyalties. This presents opportunities for some, barriers for others. The stripey jumper which awaits the winner of this world’s road race championships will make or break a riders season, or maybe even their career. No other one day race can hold this title.
The course has been muted as the most open in years and really no one can predict how the race could finish. With no beginning ‘neutral zone’ and the race immediately starting on the 18.2km circuit it will undoubtedly be a hard race, a war of attrition. The first climb is relatively easy, and effort where team support can be crucial, the second is much tougher with sections at around 10%. The descent after, could also be vital, as a solo attack over the top of the climb could be successful as there is only short run into the finish after the descent as finished. So a solo victor as occurred in today’s men’s U23 race or a sprint from a small group? Who knows let’s have a look at the main contenders.
- Simon Gerrans – the bookies favourite but as the race is so wide open does he really deserve the tag? Should he hold his form that brought him a Canadian double then certainly he should be there or there abouts. The Australian team is very strong but Gerrans is a rider who goes well under the radar and perhaps that could be his downfall.
- Fabian Cancellara – Skipping the time trial, Cancellara has pushed all his chips onto the table for this race. He hasn’t raced a road race since 3rd on stage 17 of the Vuelta. He has the sprint from a small group and the strength to drop a larger one. Certainly a big chance!
- Alejandro Valverde – Best placed of the home contenders could Valverde finally add the rainbow jersey to his palmares. Two things work against him. The course probably isn’t hard enough for him and secondly can the Spanish finally ride as team after last years debacle.
- Peter Sagan – The Sagan conundrum! Where to start? It really hasn’t been his year and he looked woefully undercooked at the Vuelta. Pretty much any course can suit him but does he have the tactical nouse to suceed? For sure he will have to do this alone as Slovakia will be overrun by the large nations.
- Greg Van Avermaet – The Belgian has flown down the betting odds in recent days after two wins in his last two races. He nearly succeeded in Flanders this year and he seems to be shedding his eternal second tag.
The Worlds is so wide open and there can always be a left field winner. Here are few other names to throw in the mix. John Degenkolb was a favourite until he was lain low by a leg infection after a crash in the Vuelta. If the race ends up in a small sprint there is no reason why he should not prevail. Same for Alex Kristoff, Ben Swift and Sonny Colbrelli. Both were podiums at Milan San-Remo whose course the Ponferrada circuit has most been likened too. Tony Gallopin has probably lost his surprise after a successful Tour de France and the course has been muted as a step too far for Nacer Bouhanni. Dan Martin is a good one day racer and is coming off the back of some solid Vuelta form whilst Tom Jelte Slagter leads a versatile Dutch team and how about Alex Howes?
For whats it’s worth here is my 1-2-3.
1. Alexander Kristoff
2. Greg Van Avermaet
3. Fabian Cancellara.
Whose your winner. Get in contact on Twitter at @CyclingShortsUK or @BywaterLawrence
Winning and losing in sport is often portrayed sensationally as a matter of life and death. In the case of Italian cyclist Marco Pantani he lost, and sport arguably took his life. Casting aside the rumours, the conjecture, the very Italian polemic surrounding the passing of one the country’s great sons, his death remains a great lost to the sport of cycling. James Erskine’s Accidental Death of a Cyclist provides a more generalist view of Pantani’s story and is worse for it. Pantani and Italy, so intertwined so passionate and yet the film understates this symbiotic relationship.
Based on Matt Rendell’s widely acclaimed book The Death of Marco Pantani, the film is bolstered by fantastically chosen archive footage and interviews with key players in his story but unfortunately weakened by laughable reconstructions. Covering all the major bases, the film provides a good overview of Pantani’s rise through the ranks, his early successes before a career threatening crash, the high point of his Giro-Tour double of 1998 and his subsequent decline with all the entrails between.
The grainy films of a nervous, young Marco are real insight into the man behind the ‘Il Pirata’ mask. A man whose eyes Greg Lemond looked into and saw, ‘those of a kid.’ One particular clip that springs to mind is Pantani getting back on his bike after his career threatening crash at Milan-Torino. A childish grin spreads across his face as he nurses his bike around a garage in a full Carrera team tracksuit. “Well, I can still ride a bike,” he quips. In another a younger Pantani, arms folded is effectively asked if he is a good climber. “Yes, I am not bad on the climbs,” he shrugs with huge understatement.
The re-enactments meanwhile add little to the story. Pantani played by an actor is often pictured climbing on the hoods of his bike rather than the drops which was his trademark – an elementary mistake. These clips add little to the otherwise expert insight from Matt Rendell himself, journalist Richard Williams, Tonina Pantani and Greg LeMond amongst others.
Pantani provided all of his adoring Tifosi the chance to escape with him and that is just why they loved him so. Roving escapes at the bottom of mountain climbs, breaking the shackles of the metronomic Armstrong or Indurain, you can see how easy it must have been to be caught up the whirlwind that surrounded him. Reverberating Italian commentary accompanies some of Pantani’s best in race moments and these are the real pièce de résistance of the film, immediately making your hairs stand on end. Just how much he resonated with the Italian public is clear to see in the aftermath of his death with seas of people, stunned, weeping; bandana’s tied round their arms in remembrance. “Cycling has lost its number one,” is one comment.
What’s strange in this new epoch of cycling is how past riders are remembered. Somehow, Pantani despite the allegations and his positive test is still revered. Idolised as ‘the best climber the sport has ever seen’ or a ‘rider whose like has never been since’, yet somehow he escapes the criticism levelled at most riders of his generation. Arguably it was his sad death that elevated him above the riders who cheated but never paid the ultimate price, riders like Lance Armstrong who is painted as the chief villain of the EPO era and is widely criticised and chastised as a result.
Given the recent news that the police are to reopen the case into his death in light of recent evidence provided by his mother Tonina; the Marco Pantani story is set to run on and on. Certainly this says as much about Italians love for conspiracy and conjecture as it does about their idolisation of Pantani. Here’s hoping recent Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali can capture the heart and minds of the ever passionate Tifosi once again.
I, like many of you I am sure, were brought into the sport of cycling due to the seductive story of Lance Armstrong. A man returning from his deathbed to win the hardest endurance event in the world – WOW what a story. Arguably there is little that can be added to the monster of a story that it was and still is.
The discourse has been mounting higher and higher through the early years of Armstrong’s dominance, the rumours and his subsequent decline. However, this Mount Ventoux of a narrative has recently been capped by the release of The Armstrong Lie. This documentary without doubt slaps more layers of intrigue, controversy and questions to the ever expanding bounty of media available. One thing is clear though, the documentary shows how Armstrong tricked millions into entering his web of deceit. Road cycling literature is becoming more and more prevalent in the English/American market, but beyond A Sunday in Hell film and documentary’s are conspicuous by their absence. Step forward Alex Gibney. The project began after Armstrong controversially announced his intention to come out of retirement to promote awareness of his Cancer charity Livestrong. Gibney agreed with Armstrong to make the documentary allowing the film maker unbridled access. However, as Armstrong began his fall from grace so the documentary changed, taking a radically different tact. It begins with an overview of the early years, the Americanisation of the European pro-peloton by ‘Le Texan’ and his merry band of US Postal brothers. In tune with this, the cinematography of is undeniably from across the pond. Talking heads, Reed Albergotti, Jonathan Vaughters, George Hincapie, Daniel Coyle and Frankie Andreu amongst others, although sometimes full of cheesy soundbites do provide interesting comment. Meanwhile, there is some fantastic archive footage, Armstrong continually maintaining his innocence one on one with Gibney, suggesting he has never tested positive, a bespectacled Michele Ferrari, team briefs on the Astana bus during the 2009 Tour de France and quite sensationally Armstrong entertaining both the UCI and USADA doping testers at his home. During the documentary Armstrong insinuates that his admission on the Oprah show was “too much for the general public and not enough for cycling fans.” This is true of the documentary as a whole. I was crying out for more details, more tidbits, more admissions, yet all that emerged was the usual stories. The administration of drugs on the floor of the team bus during the tour, the hospital room ‘admission’ same old, same old. But, one aspect the documentary does explore, one which is well discussed in the written media is the character of Armstrong. Bullying, harassing, controlling the narrative. It is fascinating to see this on film. He stills performs ‘the look’ into the camera denying Betsey Andreu’s accusation that he admitted taking performance enhancing drugs in that hospital room as he lay riddled with cancer. He also still denies taking drugs or blood transfusions during his 2009/2010 comeback. For me this clearly suggested that despite his admission, Armstrong himself has not changed one iota. However, one thing has changed for sure – I doubt there are many people that still believe him. Gibney suggests in his narrative that he was no ‘fanboy’ of Armstrong’s, however the unbridled access he got during that Tour meant his peers felt he was becoming one. The documentary does have whiffs of positivity for Armstrong but in the end does portray him in the negative light he deserves. The sport of procycling has come a long way since the first and second retirements of Armstrong in 2005 and 2010. It may be too early to say but here Gibney has closed the chapter and what was tumultuous period in the sport. Maybe now is the time to leave the ghosts of the past behind and promote today’s new generation of riders. Cycling Shorts rating: 76%
2014 Women’s Tour Winner Marianne Vos press conference.
Final Women’s Tour Press Conference – Lucy Garner, Sharon Laws & Rosella Ratto
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!
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
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.
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:-
- Nairo Quintana
- Cadel Evans
- Rafal Majka
- Nicholas Roche
- Daniel Martin
Stage Win – Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol)