How did we do with our Worlds Elite Men Time Trial pre-race predictions? Well, to start with, we weren’t sure if the slim Aussie Rohan Dennis could come back from his pre-Tour time trial abandon – but it’s amazing what a couple of months with a sport psychologist can do and the tattooed chrono specialist was in a class of his own...
As a wise man once said; “all good things must come to an end,” and the salida of Stage Four was our last couple of hours on the 2019 Vuelta. We’d planned a certain ‘shape’ of piece, which finished with a fantastic win for Angel Madrazo, but events of that stage and Thursday’s Stage Six rather over took our plans as abandons dominated the news.
Stage Three heads back into the hills; Ibi to Alicante over 188 kilometres, not as tough as Stage Two but with two third cat. climbs, the Puertos de Biar and Tibo – due to the geography of the stage we chose the latter.
Today’s stage started in Benidorm, not beside the sea but on the north side of town, away from the football strip clad, burnt red, stag and hen madness and the karaoke bars. We caught the action at three spots before Nairo Quintana stormed into Calpe for a tremendous win.
VeloVeritas is back at a Grand Tour, La Vuelta 2019. This year it kicks off with a super-fast team test around the salt lagoons of Torrevieja before heading straight into the mountains on stage two - no 'easing in' to this race. Martin and Ed have taken advantage of the hospitality of VV amigo and local resident, Al Hamilton - formerly of the Dear Green Place that is Glasgow - to catch the primero quatro tappas.
Hard to believe but it's 10 years ago that we popped over to Italy to cover Milan - Sanremo. The day before the race we visited Ciclismo Masi in his workshop under the famous Vorelli Velodrome banking, we spoke to Lance Armstrong at his press conference, ate amazing pizza. Then on race day-morning we watched with interest as Dave Brailsford met Ernesto Colnago for a coffee and a chat about supplying equipment to his fledgling new team, Sky Pro Cycling and chatted to riders including eventual winner Mark Cavendish at the buses...
Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne UCI 1.1 HC is the bridesmaid to Het Nieuwsblad’s UCI WT bride but it’s a race with a long history dating back to 1946 and has some interesting winners including Roger De Vlaeminck, Patrick Sercu, Johan Museeuw, George Hincapie, Cav – and a certain Patrick Lefevere in 1978.
It is pretty cool to watch the team wagons roll in for the start of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2019, very military - but the diesel fumes aren’t so much fun. The teams do their best to keep saddos like us away from the bikes with those tapes they use outside night clubs – no creds for us for this race, we’re just fans – so you have to make do with the ‘B’ bikes on the team car roofs for...
It's the start of the season proper with UCI World Tour Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday and UCI 1.1 HC Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on Sunday. It was a tad savage when the alarm blasted at 03:10 on Friday but on the other side of the scales we were on Belgian soil bright and early.
Just about everyone – except us – was late to the track on Sunday afternoon for the Copenhagen Six Day 2019; no surprise after a late Friday, early Saturday then late Saturday. There was a definite lethargic vibe in the cabins not helped by us losing Achim to a bad throat – he came in to see the doctor and organiser but looked terrible and Kris took him back to the hotel.
The cannon fires, the smoke clears, then the drums, those damn drums! But it’s OK, it’s just the intro to Paul Delicato’s 1976 Euro Disco smash, ‘Cara Mia.’ Yes, we’re at the final Six Day of the season; the Copenhagen Six Day 2019.
It was lucky 13 for Roger Kluge & Theo Reinhardt; that was the number of laps remaining in the final chase in the Berlin Six Day 2019 on Tuesday night when big Lotto Home Boy, Kluge launched the attack which produced the winning lap gain to take the Deutsche Duo clear of Double Danskas Jesper Mørkøv & Marc Hester with their superior scandic points tally.
The Bremen Six Day 2019 is done and dusted. If truth be told, it wasn't the worst final I've ever seen but I have seen better. As expected, Iljo & Jasper took the victory with the best points total AND a lap.
It’s always cold at the Bremen Six Day, the Baltic is just up the road so you get cold or cold and wet; today it’s the latter but the cabin has a window so we can at least see the sky – not like the usual breeze block with no windows.
Kris heads straight for breakfast from the camper but I’m not man enough for that, I need the shower to bring me to life before I can face Rotterdam Six Day 2019, Day Four...
Dutch 15 times former motor paced world champion Bruno Walrave is the man with the plan - and the keys; but he's, 'in a meeting... Bruno is pushing 80 years-of-age but let’s just say that; “age hasn’t mellowed him.” Eventually the door opens and we're in business – handshakes, the key, creds and unload the mobile home.
Mondays in the Flatlands of Belgium aren’t the best; most shops are shut but the flight back to Auld Scotia isn’t ‘til late so use has to be made of the time available. Looking out of the window on Monday morning, the man across the road has his priorities right – ‘keep that Jupiler cold!’
Roadside at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and KBK 2018. The first classic weekend of the year has been and gone and safely back in a rather snowy Scotland I've got time to reflect on the Classic season opener. The glorious Belgian sunshine all weekend could not lift the thermometer and the riders endured bitterly cold conditions for both Het Nieuwsblad or Kuurne Brussels Kuurne.
Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto-Jumbo & The Netherlands) goes from way out, Arnaud Demare (FDJ & France) scrambles for his wheel but is lengths back at the line with Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain & Italy) doing well for a man whose speciality is late season races in balmy Italy, taking third. We agree it was a great sprint from the Dutchman but it wasn't a vintage Kuurne Brussels Kuurne.
"Ooooohhhhhhh!" The moan echoes around the bar; these boys are aficionados, they all know that solid Astana Dane, Michael Valgren Andersen isn't coming back - he timed his jump to perfection, there was that fatal second or two of hesitation among the frozen men behind him and he was gone, en route to win Het Nieuwsblad 2018.
In a classic Six Day finale points shoot-out with the result not confirmed until the finish line, classy Home Boy Michael Mørkøv paired with the current Capo of the Six Day boards, Belgium's Kenny De Ketele to land his seventh Copenhagen Six Day at midnight on Tuesday on the wide boards of the 250 metre Ballerup track.
Daniel Holloway does the countdown in his Californian-Swedish, ten down to six; the crowd takes over from five down to one, the cannon report just about bursts everyone’s ear drums, then there’s the smoke. For a split second nothing happens, everyone is too stunned by the noise and reek of gunpowder. But there’s the bongos – and Paul Delicato’s velvet voice; 'Cara Mia mine, must we say goodbye...' It can only be the Copenhagen Six Day 2018 !
'Beauty and the Beast' is the first entry in our Berlin Six Day 2018 scrapbook - handsome devil Denmark's Marc Hester warms up on his rollers as the German sprinters' mechanic waits for the next gear change job. Marc rode with Jesper Mørkøv ‘til kidney stones forced the younger Mørkøv bruv out. Meanwhile our boy Nico plays shy but Achim gives us a smile. Nico is the son of sprint legend, Lutz Hesslich - Berlin was his second last race - he calls 'time' after Copenhagen.
"All is forgiven," Mr. Kenny De Ketele. After the two and four lap finale debacles of Gent and Rotterdam the Belgian former World Champion finally served us up a proper, entertaining final chase in the Bremen Six Day 2018; five teams were all in with realistic podium chances going into the closing 60 minute chase and the winning move only came late in the day.
At the Rotterdam Six Day Gent winners Moreno De Pauw and Kenny De Ketele carried on where they left off – but instead of winning by two laps, they made it four... dominant for sure but no spectacle. We drove north for a couple of hours then parked up in a truck stop for what passes as sleep on the Six Day carousel... Bremen is the next stop, an industrial city of more than two millions souls in Northern Germany.
Forgive me if all I do these days is moan about Six Day finales. But ... As Chelsea Dagger by the Fratellis booms out of the PA the scoreboard tells me Kenny De Ketele and Moreno De Pauw are FOUR laps clear in the last chase at the Rotterdam Six Day 2018. It's a real cliff hanger ...
Sunday, Stage 15 and VeloVeritas’s last shift on Tour - so we headed for the biggest hill we could find to remind ourselves how special and beautiful France and this race really are. Today we’re in the heartland, perhaps not deepest agricultural ‘France Profonde;’ the rural, simple, beautiful heart of the nation, not with the gorges and cols - but it’s quiet, lovely and some of the simple, striking images surprise as you drive the parcours.
Yes, there are days when we’ve criticised the racing – those endless ‘sprinter stages’ where only the last five minutes saves the day. But we were puzzled by the comments we saw about yesterday’s stage to Rodez on social media; the "Bore de France" and the break "allowed for purely commercial reasons"?
VeloVeritas soothsayer, Viktor and I have long been critics of Warren Barguil (Sunweb & France) as a ‘one hit wonder,’ with his two stage wins in the Vuelta in 2013 then very little else; but in this Tour he’s certainly been reborn. He was so close to Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale & Colombia) last Sunday after being the hero of the day and today, on Bastille Day he scored the biggest and most beautiful win of his career with a historic stage victory.
It wasn’t until inside the last kilometre at Peyragudes that the drama really unfolded; Bardet confirms, as does Aru, Froome cracks a little, Quintana cracks A LOT and much as it pains me; ‘one season too many, Bert!’ And Bennett and Martin impress, especially the latter who’s carrying injuries from that horrible crash with Porte on Sunday.
‘Sprinter stages,’ why are they so dull? Albeit ‘Bison’ Bodnar (Bora hansgrohe & Poland) did a job of enlivening the last wee bittie of yesterday’s procession. Maciej Bodnar ended the day on top. Firstly, the GC teams won’t go in the break, they’re there to look after their team leader; mountain stages are different where they’ll put men up the road so as the team leader can bridge up to them.
VeloVeritas’ first Tour stage start of the year; Stage 10, Périgueux to Bergerac through the lovely Dordogne Valley countryside. But not before all them words were written and pictures edited, placed and posted from the VeloVeritas bedoffice. Périgueux wasn’t the busiest stage start we’ve ever witnessed but we’re not complaining; we were in among the buses and riders in jig time...
The deal is that they have four static bikes on rollers hooked up to a magnetic ‘cycle track’ – Scalextrix style - with little ‘Lego figures’ on tiny bikes on the track. The harder you pedal, the faster your little figure goes. Scottish honour was upheld by VeloVeritas with Martin posting fastest heat against Berteld Van de Velde, "the Moules Guy" at time of leaving...
Ghent, or rather ‘Gent’ we love it; the bars, the people and the fact you can walk into a filling station and there are six quality cycling magazines on the shelf to chose from, and you have to love a city where they have taps to discharge the rainwater. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the first real races of the year – Down Under, the Desert races, Langkawi? Come on!
The wee small hours of Wednesday morning, heading north out of Berlin, en route Rostock, the ferry across the Baltic and Denmark for the Copenhagen Six Day. I wish I could say that Berlin had an epic finale - but I can't, it was dire. Processional, flat, uninspired with no tension, no theatre, no drama.
You’ve got to get here first, right? Even by Ryanair punishment flight standards, it was a sore one. The lady in front of me, I’m sure was taking her kids to audition for; ‘Devil Spawn of Berlin, The Revenge’ – they’ll get the parts, no problem.
I braved the tourists and human statues up on Edinburgh’s High Street to see if I could get Monday’s L’Equipe in the International Newsagents – it’s the one for all the good Tour stats. But alas, no dice – I had to settle for Sunday’s Observer and Monday’s Guardian where it’s wall to wall Christopher and Sky.
We'd hoped for a big GC dog fight on the Joux Plane but what we got was a dour struggle to the line whilst those crazy baroudeurs battled for the stage win. It was a nice morning to start with but as we parked up on the Joux Plane the clouds scudded in, thunder roared down the valley and the lightning flashed brighter than a million photog's flash guns.
We chose the wrong mountain - but little did we know there'd be a big rain storm on the last climb to give the race the jolt it's been requiring for three weeks. A great day for Bardet and AG2R. A good day for Quintana, Mentjies and Martin. A bad day for Mollema, Yates, Dumoulin, Rolland and Navarro - the latter three all crash victims. And Froome and Porte have had better days. . .
If anyone harboured any doubts about the fact that Froome was going to win this Tour it took him just 30 minutes to straighten things out. He destroyed everyone in including the man who's probably the world's number one 'chronoman' - Tom Dumoulin. Whilst the mountains may be beautiful, a time trial up one is a daunting prospect.
How are the mighty fallen? We had to double check the number – but ‘yes’ it was Tejay, way off the back and just ‘riding in’ on the Col de la Forclaz – well, we got that one right, we said he do nothing in this race. But we did also say that Nairo Quintana would win it – but that was more out of hope than anything else but it would be tall, skinny Russian Ilnur Zakarin who would take the day, eventually.
'Rest day' - it's a misnomer if you're a fanatic; but you could do one interview then hang out, I guess? But if you're like us, confirmed saddos, then it's a great opportunity to get a lot of talking and snapping done. Albeit on rest days you can linger a bit longer over breakfast - which is nice in a week of always having to be somewhere/do something right now or in five minutes. We asked our Trek contact if we could get an interview with Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne winner, Jasper Stuyven.
Peter Sagan, again! There’s little left to say about the man but as soon as we walked the last couple of kilometres we knew it was one for him – a sharp cobbled climb up from the river, across a cobbled bridge, past the bear pit then another nippy climb before the 1,000 metre, straight as a dye, pan flat finish straight.
While Jarlinson Pantana was winning the stage today for IAM Cycling and Columbia (that's his contract sorted for 2017 - IAM folds at the end of the season) Ed and Callum were race-bound, flying in to Geneva to get the car and get organised with race accreditation.
Kruijswijk's crash, would you have waited? Wee Esteban says: "I’m very sorry for the crash of Steven (Kruijswijk), unfortunately it’s a part of bike racing and he was unlucky today." Either way, it was a horrible crash - the Dutchman seemed paralysed with fear, it didn't look like he even tried to steer round that bend. Ed rounds up the last three stages roadside.
It looked like Pippo was going to send Italia into raptures on Wednesday's Stage 17 - but big, bad Six Day man and omnium specialist, Roger Kluge (IAM & Germany) spoiled the dream, jumping early from an uncontrolled peloton to take a beautiful stage win. IAM are folding at the end of this year but Rodge will have no bother finding a contract. With so many of the big sprinters gone - Kittel, Greipel, Demare, Ewan, Mezgec and Viviani - there was no one capable or willing to control the last kilometre except Lampre for Modolo and/or Trek for Nizzolo.
It wasn't a good day for Chaves on Tuesday's Stage 16, he lost time to Kruijswijk and Valverde. With three minutes in hand over the Colombian, the Dutchman is going to take a bit of shifting; and there's a danger that Valverde might leapfrog Chaves, too - he's now just 23 seconds in arrears. Nibali lost time, too.
The Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne adventure began when I met Craig Grieve, Spokes bike shop owner and U23 race team backer, early Friday morning, to get a picture of the newly-logoed team car. For Craig, the journey to Kuurne is a long haul; catching a ferry from Hull, arriving Saturday in time for the riders to recce part of the course. We caught up with them on Saturday night in Kortrijk for a pizza and to hear how their preparation has gone and to plan for the race.
Saturday dawns crisp, cold and sunny for the Omloop Gent Gent. We have a copy of Het Nieusblaad which has all the information we need about the route so its time to head for the start. It's moved this year to the S.M.A.K complex, site of the Gent Six Day. As the car park fills with the now de rigueur coaches, ushered in by whistle blowing attendants we grab a quick pic of world champ Peter Sagan's Specialized before being asked to move on by an unfriendly team staffer...
Hardware at the Six Days: it’s not nearly as exciting as it used to be when you mooch around the pits, with Dolans and Cervélo’s in abundance and Fuji creeping up; but it’s always nice to look at and talk about racing bikes – one of life’s simple pleasures. When Michael Mørkøv hooked up with Dolan, it was the start of the Merseyside builder becoming one of the main names on the winter boards.