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?
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. We realised a dream yesterday; our very own barbie on a mountainside - it was just 'the biz'. We had a wee bit of a 'stramash' with some Belgian journos who practically parked on our bonnet - but in the interests of EU harmony we bunged them a sausage and a kebab off the barbie and harmony reigned.
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 elbow him off the podium. I thought he’d resist Rodriguez, at least. But no, both of them combined to push Alberto off the podium – his natural habitat for the last decade. The end of an era.
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. But first – a rant! Sodden, tired and in need of victuals the VV crew inched down through the traffic jams off the Col de la Croix Fry towards our inn for the night. Smiling, we present ourselves to our hostess; ‘Twin room?’ – ‘non! double!’ ‘OK, but we can eat here?’ – ‘non!’ ‘Oh well! wi-fi?’ – ‘non!’ And that’s how we first came to be in here McDonald’s ‘til chucking out time, last night.
I could never be a ski bum, 60 Euros per night for the room - 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. If you were there 'with the boys' to watch the race that would be fine but not when you're working. All that said, it was a nice place to be, high in the Alps, the shop was well stocked and you could get L'Equipe with a two minute walk. It's edition 21,551 of L'Équipe today and they carry a big feature on Froome and whether his performances are 'coherent.'
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 from Embrun to Chorges – trouble is that we want to be at the start and the satnav is routing us through the finish area. But the cops and race officials are tame and they guide us through to the ‘off course’ route to Embrun – that’s the one the team cars and motorcycle police use to get back to the start in place to place chronos.
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 road side about whether the race should continue during the ‘Festina Tour’ – a race ultimately won by Marco Pantani. Tears were close; ‘what are they doing to the Tour?’ I remember thinking. Riis, Leblanc and Pantani – God rest his soul – have all since been proved to be cheats on a monumental scale. And it’s my sincere wish that Mr. Riis has taken a trip to Damascus since those horrible days and that his modus operandi are very different from those of 15 years ago.
‘Naturellement’ says the headline in L’Équipe. 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? Or are they being sarcastic, meaning that his performances are anything but natural? It’s hard to tell; but the paper is owned by ASO who run the Tour.
It was a long day for VeloVeritas, yesterday. But it was a cracker – positioned 800 metres from the line 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. We’ll spare you the waxing lyrical about Provence, lavender fields, cicadas and also the stats about the mountain and who’s won there in the past and give you our thoughts on some of the men of the day. Christopher Froome: was first up and with the highest of cadences and the skinniest of arms he’s an unlikely strong man – but he’s been our favourite from the start.
Quote of the day 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. And that blighter Nibali pulled a similar stroke on Christopher in Tirreno-Adriatico, attacking downhill in the rain – I mean one or the other would be bad enough, but downhill and rain . . . Vik rang this morning to say that we should have been sitting watching the stage on TV, yesterday not driving around France. We did try to watch the finale, Vik . . .
Cav and Contador, how can you not respect them? We missed the mad action today; 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. However, we forgot that we’re deep in La France Profonde; rural, quiet, sleepy, hot and totally devoid of spots to catch Le Tour.
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. On Thursday in Tours, I thought The Missile launched just a fraction too early – maybe trying that wee bit too hard? Al Hamilton reckons that it’s Steegman’s fault; he’s not quick enough to be Cav’s last wheel?
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. Our pal Vik always gives us stick for attending Het Nieuwsblad; ‘the race has sold out, it’s all glossy marketing!’ and to an extent he’s right. But when you’re out there in the Flemish Ardennes and the wind is trying to take the skin of your face and there’s ice on the puddles beside the ‘kassein,’ there’s no doubting that this is the real deal.
'Are you ready, boys?' asks ex-pro and new 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 of the 2013 Copenhagen. It's just like old times. Michael doesn't work with us anymore and the memories flood back to his first win here - and to that magical night when he and Alex won in Gent. Great days.
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. The last mentioned is a real pain; we used to billet in the basic but very clean and cosy ‘Zleep’ hotel which is just 500 metres away. However, certain riders and their personnel made such idiots of themselves last year that much bad feeling was created.
It’s a lunchtime start on 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. Most of the guys are ‘flat’ today – with some it’s just battle fatigue, but some will no doubt be recovering from the post-race party which went on ‘til 05:00. But Barth’s not ‘flat,’ he arrives with blaring ‘boogie box’ creating white noise as it battles with the stadium PA; he’s not big on training, likes night clubs, has an all over tan and two ear rings – and has an old Sercu fan like me shaking my head.
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. I’m no boxing aficionado, but I do admire their commitment, the pros divide their day in two, rising early to do their road work – which includes running backwards for long spells – then eating and sleeping in the middle of the day before another training session in the gym in the afternoon/evening before an early bed.
There’s a boxing ring in the track centre, apparently there are matches taking place on Saturday evening – and they present the riders up there. I snapped Big Bob and Marc Hester getting intro-ed; my Danish Crowns would have to be on Bob if he and Marc did go toe to toe.
The cannon blasts, I push Guy off, wriggle my fat backside so as Bremen winner, Marcel Kalz doesn’t run me over and jog off the track. Those ‘Cara Mia’ bongos blast from the PA and make me smile; the lap board says ‘250’ and already the Schwalbes and Contis are roaring as the riders who started off the back straight fence hurtle into the home straight – welcome to the Copenhagen 6 Dages Lob 2013.
Steve Penny has been bringing you the race reports, John Young the action images, so I thought we'd look at the people who make the "Berlin 6 Tage Rennen" such a unique affair. At the start of each evening they have a 'Vorstellung der Parade der Asse' - a parade of champions. This year there was only one bona fide senior rainbow jersey holder - World Madison Champion, Kenny De Ketele. Charlotte Becker was wearing a rainbow jersey, too - initially I couldn't figure out what for.
Everything is irrelevant on the final night at the Berlin Six Day, except the last chase – and it wasn’t a bad one. Going in it was Kalz/Bengsch topping the board – great time trial riders and strong in the chases – but a Six is almost always decided in the avalanche of points sprints in the final laps. Neither rider – for all their power – is a great sprinter. I had been thinking that maybe Roger Kluge wasn’t quite as smooth and fast as he used to be, but in that last chase he was good, very good.
There’s no wi-fi in the stadium at Berlin, you have to go up to the press room; it’s quiet up there, there’s hard wired internet which has your pictures flying in a nanosecond and a fridge full of soft drinks and beer – a runner/journalists Nirvana you might say. Forgive me if I digress, but my mind goes back to the first time I covered the Tour of Flanders – used to cabinets full of lukewarm mineral water at the Grand Tours, imagine my delight when I opened the chiller cabinet in the press room to find it packed with cold tins of beer – that’s one of the reasons it’s the Heartland.
First up on Sunday was the team picture, like one of those shots of the ‘class of 1955’ or whenever that they take at expensive schools. The only photos the guys I went to primary school with had taken were on an individual basis with the each of them holding up a card bearing their name and number. Sunday afternoon sessions are always pretty lackadaisical, it’s as if subconsciously we all know it’s the Lord’s Day and we shouldn’t really be drinking beer and arranging who wins the Derny races.
Saturday and the first Madison was a ‘potato chase' – best expressed as a ‘non-death’ race as the minnows were allowed to pull a lap back here and there. As well as the men who ride behind the big bikes, the crowd’s darlings are the sprinters. The noise when the crowd roars its’ approval of some fancy bit of speed is deafening – Max Levy was the man turning up the volume with a track record.
Sometimes in January there’s a depressing grey half light, the clouds sit low and the dampness eats into you. But today was beautiful, even though the cold nips at the inside of your nose. And it was good to get off the plane. I was in the middle of a ‘stag party’ bound for the bars and clubs of Berlin; they were all merry when they boarded and well on the way to be being wasted by the time they we disembarked. They were loud and sweary; but there was no reprimand from the cabin crew – probably due to their healthy consumption of over-priced baby tins of Stella for the Easyjet coffers.
It's 05:30 CET Monday in the North Sea, somewhere. Our epic through the night time snow of Central Europe after the Zürich Six Day was rewarded by a nice autumn morning in The Netherlands, even if the coffee was extortionate at the services. We were in plenty of time for the 17:00 ferry to Newcastle. I couldn't keep my eyes open after 20:00, so that's why I'm up and about at 05:00 am - and that North Sea air is fresh. But let's talk winter track racing - I can't say 'Six Days' in this case.
Germany, somewhere near the Taunus mountains at 09:22 Sunday. We left the Zürich Six Day at 03:00 and there are still 400 kilometres to go to the ferry at Amsterdam. It began to snow like Hell about an hour into Germany; there were roadworks, we were diverted off the motorway and there were either no diversion signs or they were snowbound. Whichever it was, we ended up hideously lost and dropped a chunk of time.
Snapshots from the Gent Six Day 2012, as we roam around the city and spend time with the winners in the bar. On Sunday it was a steam train – the sound took me back to when I was a boy, and it was nicer than Dave’s snoring. A centre for the Art Nouveaux movement, rich industrialists commissioned the ‘hot’ architects of the day to make sure the world knew that they had taste – and money. If you look up as you walk around the city, your eyes will be rewarded.
Dave and I saw our first Six Day in 1973, the Skol sponsored London Six Day - Sercu, Pijnen, Duyndam, Van Lancker . . . This is Callum's first trip to the Kuipke but Stuart's umpteenth. The Adoma has been our base for years - it's a great jump off for Het Nieuwsblad, Gent-Wevelgem and the Koksijde 'cross.
Watching a dream die is never nice, but if it's done quickly and clinically, then it's humane, at least. Iljo Keisse and Kenny De Ketele were ruthless executioners in the last chase in the small hours of Sunday morning. Bryan Coquard and Morgan Kneisky rode with panache and bravery, in what I believe was a 100% 'straight' finale. Inside the last 50 laps of 180 the Belgians attacked - we were waiting for it. Keisse thunders round the track like he's on a monorail, the ultimate stylist. De Ketele isn't as smooth but the power is there - he has those super fit riders' 'roadmaps' on his inner thighs. They took the lap quickly, cleanly - beautiful to watch.
Vik phoned me this morning; ‘the racing can’t be very good if you’re spending so much taking pictures of boys on the trapeze!’ If I could get him down here it would be different, it’s not just a bike race; if he was here, eating the nice food, drinking champers with friends, with the race whizzing around him and the amazing shows, it’d be different. He particularly hates the magic acts and the girl who does the balloon figures; I asked him if he wanted me to bring back a balloon puppy dog or a monkey – that got him off the line.
The trouble here is that when folks see you with a camera and hear you write for a website, you've had it. I spent a chunk of the afternoon taking pictures of Gunther, one of Iljo Keisse's soigneurs. He's back on the bike as a 'master' and has the track bike down here with him, he trains on the boards in the afternoon and actually looks good on the bike. And five minutes ago I was collared by Laurent Biondi to take pictures of his laddie who's in the 'Cadets' race.