Ca va, ca va! Friday, en route the Stage 19 start and it's been hectic. We arrived on Sunday afternoon but by the time we got to Valance, the Press Centre was closed - so it was 'Plan B,' go to the finish at Gap the next day and uplift them. Vital bits of plastic duly collected on Monday morning we headed off up the Col de Manse which is just behind Gap for Stage 16.
Well, as our amigo Dave is won't to say at this stage; "our creds are no good to us now." Just a curiosity on the windscreen; the Giro is won and lost, Contador confirmed as one of the all time great stage racers - he's won all three Grand Tours - one of only six men in history to do so, along with Nibali, Gimondi, Anquetil, Hinault and Merckx, and now stands fourth in the all time Grand Tour winners list. The route from Torino to Milano today was as bland as you could get but Radio Nostalgia was cool and our coffee stop was a cracker. The Milano circuit was similarly bland and it's one aspect where the Giro doesn't quite get it right but Iljo Keisse and Luke Durbridge delivered an exciting finale as you get.
It was a privilege to be there and great to be part of it all on Stage 20; a marvelous spectacle on the 'sterrato' without doubt - but is it sport or simply a circus? The cameras love it and it's great copy - maybe I'm being too harsh? Paris-Roubaix throws back to the old days so why not have stages like this, many would say?
It was nice to wake up in the shadow of the Matterhorn this morning; imposing, snow capped and stunning against a picture post card blue sky. Yesterday? There's a clue in what Contador, Aru and Landa call themselves; "professional" cyclists. It's a job, a commercial enterprise, a way to make money for riders, sponsors and organisers. The way we read yesterday is that Alberto is due a big favour from Astana whilst Landa is due one from management and Aru.
Monte Ologno, high above Lago Maggiore, Thursday 15:00 hours; we had to get up here early to beat the road closures; we got a slapped wrist from Vancouver for 'missing the cut' on the Mortirolo so no slip ups, today. The stage describes a big curve from Melide near Lugano to Verbania on Lago Maggiore; but there's a late surprise - which we're sitting at the top of. It's a nasty one; 10.4 K @ 9.0% average with a max of 13% makes it Category 1 and very tough. Where we are - 450 metres to go - it's scenic with wonderful vistas across the lago but lower down it's not unlike the Mortirolo in that much of it is a tunnel through the trees.
If you're working the race it's really hard to see a stage finish - the best spots get grabbed hours before. The answer is to find a good bar with a big tele, order a beer and enjoy the racing. That's what we did today, we were at the start then on the big climb and that was about all we could cram in. The traffic around Milan/Como/Lugano is absolutely horrible and to get from points A to B takes forever. There was no way we could make the finish, so a bar it was - on lovely Lake Como side, Bellana with cool beer and a nice TV...
You forget how gruesome the climbs are here in Italy; I'd never been over the Mortirolo before but it was an eye opener - 11.9 kilometres (that's more than seven miles) with an AVERAGE gradient of just under 12% and a maximum of 18%. Lance reckoned it was the toughest climb he ever raced and 'Bert' was on 34 x 30; 'nuff said !' On most of the big climbs there are sections where it eases a little; not on this swine, it's unrelenting and unforgiving - ask Fabio Aru ...
The Monday after Kuurne can be a bit of a downer, most of the bike shops are shut and you know that reality is just one sleep away but not this one; first up we had an interview with Rudy Pevenage – strangely, there were no scales, horns or tail on view and rather than being the devil incarnate we met a man who – like so many others – ‘did what he had to do’ in era where the UCI as much as invited you to kit up.
I remember once, after the last chase in a Six Day I asked Dirk, our Belgian mechanic; ‘was that finale ‘straight’ Dirk?' He fixed me with a patient stare, much as a good parent would do after their child has said something silly, ‘have you ever seen a ‘straight’ Six Day, Ed?’ I took his point, they’re all pretty much choreographed – but like I keep saying, you have to be able to take laps out of a string riding at 52-53 kph to win. But I reckon that on Sunday evening I did see a straight finale.
We're at the Gent Six Day, and of course, the pils still gets the better of a few of the ‘don’t get out much brigade.’ Friday night didn’t see the best madison chase ever, and on a unanimous decision we headed for frites – and beer. We love the Vivaldi, the landlady, the crazy clientele, the 70’s Disco and the fact that no matter how late we stay, we’ve never seen closing time... And the Saturday of the Gent Six Day means just one thing – the big ‘cross at Koksijde.
Kris maybe summed it up best; 'it felt like a Monday night at any another Six Day.' There was none of the tension or expectation which usually precedes the final chase in a Six. Granted, we weren't looking after riders who were in the mix for the win but it was indeed, 'just another chase.' Maybe it was because it was clear from the start that Terpstra was the strongest man on the track and there was only going to be one winner.
It’s my first time at the Amsterdam Six Day – Kris (the soigneur I'm working with) said I needed to attend so I can say I’ve been at every one of the current winter races - and initial impressions aren’t bad; it’s a nice wee track in a good location, the old village of Sloten, a suburb of Amsterdam.
Spanish sports paper, Mundo Deportivo says; 'El Tigre, en la Lieja-Ponferrada-Lieja' comparing the race to an Ardennes Classic. 'A complete cyclist with a brilliant future,' they say of the 24 year-old Pole Michal Kwiatkowski. Despite a tiny box on the front cover, the race gets two-and-a-half pages with nice colour pictures.
I hate to keep moaning about these Worlds, but ... There's no way you can get from the two K to go sign at the foot of the final descent and up onto the climb. Barriers, tapes, police, volantarios (volunteer janitors) - grim! A man who can't walk the course ends up in too many bars.
Well, if there's a pizza place in Ponferrada, we can't find it. It's rude to criticise your host's abode but we're mystified by how the Worlds came to be here. The communications are terrible, it's four-and-a-half hours by road or rail out of Madrid or get transfer flights up to the North West and more driving.
If you rode the Tour in the colours of Lampre you've got €9,830 coming your way - but don't get too excited, that's to be split between nine coureurs and the staff. And if you then remember that's for one month's work - the shine comes of things a wee bit. However, if you were one of Vincenzo's hard working storm troops then you'd be splitting €539,330 with the Capo not taking his share. That's better !
There's always drama when you work le Tour. We've followed Tour time trials for years; roll up at the start, tell the dude which rider you're following, they give you a windscreen sticker, marshall you into position at the appointed time and off you go. This year, however we were notified that we had to attend a meeting on Friday evening at the Permanence after the stage if we wished to follow a rider. Fair enough - but then they changed the venue a few hours before the meet was due.
Another great stage yesterday - Peraud takes a giant step, Rafal Majka confirms, Nibali consolidates, Konig stumbles... After breakfast we had a wander round Lourdes; it's one weird place - but I said that yesterday. We decided against the finish col to Saint-Lary Pla d'Adet - dead end climbs are nitemares to get off after the stage and we figured that the action might just start on the Col de Val Louron-Azet. We got up there in plenty time, claimed our spot and waited 'til it was time to grab our caravan swag.
We've left Carcassonne and heading for Bagnères-de-Luchon. But first, our favourite picture of the Tour so far ? L'Équipe's shot of F des J manager Marc Madiot kissing Arnold Jeannesson after Stage 16 for all the good work he did for Pinot during his six-and-a-quarter hour 16 shift. Some folks poke fun at Madiot; we like his style - committed, passionate and outspoken. As a rider he was brilliant; a French Pro champion, two wins in Paris-Roubaix and top tens in Flanders - he's got the T-shirt, in our book.
Jack Bauer; tall, dark, slim, handsome, polite, grounded, friendly - it would have been so nice to add 'Tour de France stage winner' to that description. Dave and I were holed up in a nice old bar/restaurant attached to a genteel hotel in Carcassonne watching the finale of Stage 15 and willing the big man from the land of the long white cloud to cross that line first.
Welcome to VeloVeritas' coverage of the Tour de France 2014. Stage one looked like a "truce" to VV - except for that finale, of course. We give our views on Cav and a few other aspects of the 2014 "Grand Boucle" (with a bittie to Yorkshire tacked on, that is.) You'd have to be devoid of a soul not to feel sorry for the man - even more so when he puts his hand up and says; "my fault!". Last year he wasn't at his best in le Tour, despite the stage wins. He'd finished a very hard Giro - aren't they all ? - and then rode the Tour.
There can only be one winner and that was Enrico Battaglin; but there were other men who were outstanding on the day. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R & Italy) is looking more dangerous by the day, his team is committed and strong and he looks the least stressed of the ‘Bigs’ - and that mountain time trial must have a big red ring around it on his programme.
Het Hieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne are the first opportunities for northern European fans to check out the new hardware. Our trawl always starts on the Friday evening at the Holiday Inn, Ghent where F des J, Cofidis and Rabobank (now Belkin) set up shop for the first ‘real’ races of the year.
The Copenhagen Six Day follows straight after Berlin; the trip isn’t fun – load the camper after the midnight finish in Berlin, drive through the night to the ferry at Rostock, sleep in the camper for an hour or two at temperatures well below zero, hop the ferry across the Baltic, then drive up through Denmark to Copenhagen through the snow and wind.
Watched by 75,000 spectators over the course of the event in the velodrome Landsberger Allee, Andreas Müller and Kenny de Ketele won the 103rd edition of the Berlin Six Day. On the last day and the last race they overtook the long-time leaders Leif Lampater and Jasper de Buyst with a race winning attack - exciting stuff. Third place went to Robert Bartko, which was his last time in Berlin at the Six with his young partner Theo Reinhardt.
A pictorial summary of the Gent Six Day and our trip to the Koksijde Cyclocross race in the beach dunes of Flanders. At the track, it took me back to the days when I stood on the apron, bottles at the ready for Kris to hand up – but not too much in them so they don’t splash when the rider grabs them - just taking in the speed, noise, music, heat, people and that Gent buzz - high as a kite on the Gent Six Days.
Elite Road Race World Championship 2013; Just about everyone named Rodriguez, Valverde, Nibali, Sagan, Gilbert and Cancellara as favourites – but I didn’t see one mention of Portugal’s Rui Costa’s name before the race. But he was there with the best at the death and played his hand as coolly as Paul Newman in ‘The Sting.’
I forgot to turn off the message alert on my BlackBerry and it started beeping away just before 04:00 am – it didn’t matter, I was awake anyway. The aphids had breached my defences and the irritation of the bites had wakened me. The French, Danish and Netherlands teams all showed themselves in the Junior Road Race World Championships 2013 - as Androni manager Gianni Savio always says; ‘you must honour the race!’ - with Franck Bonnamour away with Colombian Martinez in the closing stages.
The much debated percorso has me in two minds – there’s a part of me which says that it’s not as tough as I’d thought it would be – but the other part says; ‘but what about after ten times!’ I walked down the Salviati today and it’s a stinker, no question, but not that long. I also walked down around 60% of the Fiesole, all of which is just a drag; albeit I think it kicks up steeper beyond where I descended from. The descent off the Fiesole leads straight into the Salviati but it’s fast all the way off there to the line with just one ‘bump.’ But maybe it’s too fast for an organised chase?
Marcel Kittel won today, but yesterday, Saturday night, was sore - 4.5 hours on the road after the race then straight into the best of two falls or a submission with the motel wi-fi. However a chance meet with the night porter and we were 'in' on the staff password - words and pics all safely on their way.
Whilst we did muse over the possibility as we supped our McDonald's coffee this morning, I was unprepared for it actually happening. What I'm talking about is the setting of Alberto Contador's sun - both Quintana and Rodriguez distanced him on the very last climb of the 2013 Tour de France to Semnoz to elbow him off the podium.
First we had Siberian snow at the Giro – and now, Rangoon rain at Le Tour. It’s never boring with VeloVeritas on the Grand Tours, and we saw Rui Costa take the win today.
I could never be a ski bum, 60 Euros per night for the room here at the top of Alpe-d’Huez - but you have to pay extra for sheets - and towels - there's no toilet paper - then you have to clean the place at the end of it. A bit like borstal really, with off-hand, condescending staff.
Chorges...this must be the place; Andrei Greipel’s pedalling back to his hotel, the road’s blocked with cars, buses and civilians. Yes, it’s the finish of the 32 kilometre mountain time trial – trouble is that we want to be at the start and the satnav is routing us through the finish area.
We left Vaison-la-Romaine this morning on Stage 16, and we got to thinking; if you’re in love with the sport, sometimes it breaks your heart. I can remember sitting in my living room watching Bjarne Riis and Luc Leblanc squabble by the roadside about whether the race should continue during the ‘Festina Tour’ – a race ultimately won by Marco Pantani.
It's the rest day today, and we're in Vaucluse, reading L’Équipe; ‘Naturellement’ says the headline. It’s ambiguous, to say the least. Does it mean that the Ventoux was always to be the place where Froome was going to place his stamp on things? – after all I wasn’t the only one who tipped him or Voeckler for the stage win. Or does it mean they think he’s ‘clean’ – natural?
It was a long day for VeloVeritas, yesterday. But it was a cracker – positioned 800 metres from the line on Mont Ventoux, we were there from when Froome spun past like a madman on rollers until Jonathan Hivert ground past us, oh so painfully, some 50 minutes later.
Winner today: Trentin, Quote of the day: this comes from a gentleman of Ivan’s acquaintance; ‘It's not fair what Contador did to Froome, using his team like that in the wind.’ Damned Johnny Foreigner – no wonder they don’t play cricket.
Cav and Contador, how can you not respect them? We missed the mad action today and the anticipated Saxo Bank Ambush; we were driving from the stage start to the digs and thought we had nothing better to do than find a bar to watch proceedings.
We left Fougères this morning and Martin summed it up best; ‘normally you’d have expected Cav to be all but unbeatable in those circumstances.’ I felt the same, especially with Tony Martin winning the chrono, QuickStep morale being sky high and Cav being desperate to make amends after his brush with Veelers the other day.
It's one to bore the grandchildren with - the day you were right there when Nibali joined the Greats on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. 'Epic' doesn't do it justice; there was a full fledged blizzard raging for the finale - it was as if the Giro organisers had tee-ed it up. But it wasn't just Vincenzo who deserves the plaudits, every finisher down to last man home, Sacha Modolo deserves huge respect. We drove race route and the raging melt waters on the way up the valleys gave a clue as to what was coming.
Saturday morning, 07:30 and the sunshine streams into our room in Merano. Yesterday we looked out on teeming rain; and a little later, as we drove towards the start the email arrived to inform us that the stage was cancelled. It wasn’t a big surprise, up on the valley walls the trees were coated with snow and the spikey peaks were pure ‘winter wonderland.’ It was park up and think of ‘Plan B’ time.
The original plan for the stage 18 mountain time trial was to do a 'tech' piece on the bikes the top ten would be riding for the 'chronoscalata.'But with the number of Tifosi around the buses and the fact that the 'Bigs' kept themselves out of the way 'til the last gasp, we shelved that one. So we decided to do a piece on the aspects you need to make a time trial - percorso, hardware, fans . . .
In the 'small world' file, there we are near the top of the final climb on the way to Caravaggio - which would be Cav's undoing - when this lady hear our Scottish accents and asks us if we know La Favorita Pizzeria in Edinburgh? Well! Are they no' just about to open a branch in Portobello, just round the corner from me? It transpires that it's her brother, Davide's business. Cue smiles all round and photo op with Sarah and hubby in 'see you Jimmy' wig.
Wednesday morning, 09:55 the 'Milano by-pass' average speed around 10 mph. You only think you've seen traffic jams 'til you come to Northern Italy. And it's not helped by the fact that everyone thinks that it's their private fiefdom; the standard of driving is dire. We arrived late on the Monday rest day and after much messing around at the airport deciphered that our hire car was through an agency, so we had to tour the car hire offices 'til we got the right one.
VeloVeritas and chums were over at the Belgian season opening Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne Brussels Kuurne semi-classics. Unfortunately the latter was cancelled but we still snapped away – here’s a selection of our favourite images from the weekend.
'Are you ready, boys?' asks ex-pro and new Copenhagen Six Day 2013 race organiser, Michael Sandstød. Then he adds with a grin; 'Enjoy your last hour in Copenhagen!' I'm holding Michael Mørkøv on the start line for the final chase.
There’s new management in Copenhagen, long term organiser Henrik Elmgreen and his wife Helle have stepped down and the reins are now held by ex-pros, Michael Sandstød and Jimmi Madsen. The changes aren’t huge but they are there – the boxing, the brisk seven man devils, food in the stadium instead of the restaurant up the road and a change of hotel.
It’s a lunchtime start today at the Copenhagen Six Day 2013, it's a Sunday, Junior Senior’s ‘Everybody’ is a cool tune to organise the clothing to – but the bad news is that someone has pinched some of Sebastian Lander’s new BMC kit. I did think there were some dodgy looking youths among the ViPs last night.
Saturday Afternoon at the Copenhagen Six Day 2013... Boxing at a bike race. No, it’s not a misprint, it worked pretty well, short and sharp with the pugilists really going at it.