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?
Bonjour, from the Balladins Motel, ville de Tours, from Martin and Ed! Yes, VeloVeritas has joined le Tour – well, almost, we spent the day in Tours, tomorrow’s stage finish town - doing a wee travelogue piece for ‘a well known North American Website’ and skeking the Mont-Saint-Michel TT on TV. Tony Martin was impressive, so was Chris Froome – Cadel Evans, Pierre Rolland, Nairo Quintana, Tejay van Garderen and a whole host of others, weren’t.
It's not often he gets it wrong, but he did today. Cav let Steegmans go and decided to go 'in the wheels' with Greipel and Kittel, tangled with Veelers - taking the Dutchman down - and ended up third. As my host for the stage, Viktor said; 'well, that'll be the crash hat getting kicked around the QuickStep bus, then!'
We were worried yesterday that the Tour may be heading towards a 2012 ‘boring procession’ behind Squadra Murdoch – so big thanks to Garmin, Saxo and Movistar for making sure it was anything but. This season, Dan Martin has dispelled any doubts about whether he was ‘doing a Danielson’ and being a ‘coming man’ for year after year – Catalunya, la Doyenne and now a Tour stage mean that we can file British Cycling’s biggest ‘one that got away’ firmly under ‘Big.’
Yesterday we alluded to the fact that a ‘break might stick’ and ‘Froome in yellow?’ We got the first one wrong but even we didn’t realise how spectacularly right we’d be on the second one. ‘Boom! Froome blows the race to pieces!’ was how ASO saw it.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale & Slovakia) is a breath of fresh air; he has the patter, the power, the speed, the will to win - and Cannondale have the airbrush work to back him up. And perhaps the scariest thing about him is that he’s still only 23 years-old. If he can avoid the fast cars, clubs, models, tax problems and injury then he could well join the ‘Greats’ with another ten years possible.
Daryl Impey (GreenEDGE & Republic of South Africa) was in danger of always being remembered as the rider who suffered a horrific crash in the final metres of the Presidential Tour of Turkey in 2009 with the yellow jersey on his back – the podium substituted for an ambulance, that day. Not now. Now, he’ll be remembered as the Dark Continent’s first maillot jaune.
When I heard it was going to be a bunch sprint at the end of Stage Five, I knew there would only be one winner. The anger would have been boiling inside Cavendish since yesterday; losing that TTT by less than a second would have killed him. The chance for him to be on the podium with his boys - gone. No one was going to get the better of him after that disappointment.
'GreenEDGE will be on a high' we said of their chances in the TTT – and they exploited it in the best way possible. There’s a lot of luck involved in professional cycling and it was Sky and QuickStep’s turn for that particular lady to desert them, this time around. Tony Martin is a beast of a man and the Belgian team’s power house – and no matter how tough the world champion is there’s no way he could have been at 100% in Nice after the mauling he took on Stage One. The same applies to big strong boys Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard for Sky – both came down very hard on Saturday. If truth be told, there’s no way Thomas should still be in the race, not with a fracture to his pelvis.
Aird Mohr ferry terminal, Isle of Barra, Outer Hebrides, 17:00 Monday. There's only one bit of road on the entire island where you can get a mobile signal. And as for the 'net, I've sworn, raged and cried at trying to get solid internet connections in Europe, over the years. I've even had it go down in the T-Mobile Worlds press centre in Salzburg, never mind Barra. But here we are, five hours out of Oban across the Minch, on the edge of the Atlantic; Marlene opens the iPad, presses two buttons and in the time it take to write this, www.cyclingnews.com pops up. I'm amazed, she's nonplussed; 'it's always like that,' she sniffs.
If you nominated Jan Bakelants as the rider who would prevail in Ajaccio, take a bow. The 27-year-old from RadioShack-Leopard has been a pro since 2009 but has not won a race in that time. Now he's the leader of the Tour de France. He held off the peloton after an attack that came on the long, flat run to the finish. On the weekend that another Tour de France - the sailing equivalent - began in Dunkirk, there's a Belgian leader of the original Tour de France.
Iain Grant (Dooleys Cycles) dominated the Scottish 50 Mile Time Trial Championship on a windy and overcast morning, taking yet another national title with his 1.46.53 a superb two and a half minutes clear over silver medallist Silas Goldsworthy (Sandy Wallace Cycles), and the Royal Navy's Sean Childs a further minute and a half back in third place. Seven women completed the event, with Anda-Jay Burgess (Sandy Wallace Cycles) the fastest in 2.04 51, silver going to Christine McLean (Shetland Wheelers) 30 seconds down, these two well clear - over seven minutes - of bronze medal winner, local rider Toni McIntosh (Ayr Roads).
My son asked me today what the chances of Cav taking the win and the yellow jersey were; "95%" said I, confidently. But it’s that other 5% which makes it a bike race. The bulk of the stage was a ‘paint drying’ job with the early break – which went in remarkably fuss free fashion - of Jerome Cousin (Europcar), Juan José Lobato (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Lars Boom (Belkin), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Cyril Lemoine (Sojasun) sitting up in the huff because they couldn’t get the gap; then the peloton doing the same to give the escapees some space and incentive to get back on the case.
Many of you will have been there and will have your own race report inside your head but just to remind you: “Stannard and Fenn go clear on lap one; Millar, Kennaugh, Swift and Cavendish chase and eventually bridge up; those six are the race; Swift and Fenn run out of gas and slide off; Kennaugh gets dropped on the last lap; Cav leaves Stannard and Millar in his jet wash over the last 350 metres in Glasgow Green to be crowned British Champion.” Here’s the VeloVeritas take on our Sunday in the City by the Clyde, or as it goes in The Gaelic, 'The Dear Green Place.'
Some folks say that last is the worst place to finish in a bike race, others say second place is the heart breaker. For me it would be fourth place - so near to a medal but so far. And fourth spot was where our boy Douglas Dewey finished in the British Time Trial Championships at Stewarton on Thursday night.
On one of those grey Scottish mornings where it looks like the sun might just break through - but it never does - Dooley's Iain Grant successfully defended his Scottish 25 Mile Time Trial Championship title on the rolling A90 dual carriageway east of Laurencekirk on Sunday morning with a sparkling 50:46 course record. Second was '10' champion, Ben Peacock (Paisley Velo Race Team) in 51:12; with a tie for bronze - Peter Murdoch (Paisley Velo) and Sean Childs (Royal Navy) both on 52:37.
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.
On a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon in North East Scotland, Herbalife-Leisure Lakes Bikes' Gary Hand finally took the Scottish Road Race Championship after a blistering attack on the main climb of the day took him clear of 2012 champion, James McCallum (Rapha Condor JLT) and Davie Lines (MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling) over the top of the hill.
I didn't get much opportunity to see stage 15, it was a long day for VeloVeritas - Alford and back, and then all the editing and formatting that it takes to put a piece together. But it was another tough day in a tough Giro - albeit the 'Bigs' declared a cease-fire. You'll hear no complaints about that from Giovanni Visconti, Movistar's former three time Italian champion who grabbed the Spanish team's second win of the race in fine style.
Sky did well to pull Wiggins out of the race when they did, starting Stage 14 today could have seen him contract pleurisy if he’d ridden. There’s still a long way to go but Nibali looks like it’s his race to lose. However, the ‘Forum Dwellers’ are at it already; when I was looking on CN for the full stage result I stumbled upon the forum bittie at the bottom.
GreenEdge and Cannondale learned again that those who live by the sword die by the sword, Having slyly left Patrick Lefevre’s men to do the lion’s share in bringing back the break of this longest day of the race, they formed their trains late in the tappa; hoping to exploit a Cavendish whose team was all used up.
Mark Cavendish, there's little left to say, really. He's the best roadman sprinter in the world - and his partnership with Steegmans is developing into something special. It's not as if anyone is going to lean on Big Gert...
Ryder Hesjedal is one of the nicest professional athletes you’ll ever meet, polite, grounded, sincere, soft spoken and likeable. To see him languishing in the gruppetto with Cav, yesterday was really quite sad. He was strong at Liège, paving the way for the win which took Dan Martin from ‘up and coming,’ to firmly, ‘arrived!’
The Giro isn’t over for Bradley Wiggins, but every day he has like today makes it harder to envisage that he’ll make the podium in Brescia. He lost time again today as team mate Uran launched an attack with five miles to go and no one could get him back; the plan looked to be that all Brad had to do was sit on the other GC riders as they chased Rigoberto Uran.
The Giro d'Italia – if it ended right now it would have been great, aggressive race, but the fact is that there are still two full weeks to go. I did a race preview for, ‘a well known North American website’ so thought I’d take a rest day wander back and see how my tips for the top are doing...
He has a beard (but he’s not Fabio Baldato), he’s not a fan of disc wheels and would eventually like to cycle around the world; he also took victory in the Scottish 10 Mile Time Trial Championship – meet Whitley Bay and Paisley Velo’s Ben Peacock.
Known as one of the strongmen of the peloton, today Adam Hansen shook off the company of his five breakaway companions one by one and battled hard in the pouring rain and on glacial road surfaces to take a fantastic solo win on the Giro d’Italia’s seventh stage, finishing over a minute clear of the small group led in by Italy’s Enrico Battaglin and Danilo Di Luca.
There are aspects of the sprinting phenomenon which is ‘Cav’ that don’t rest easy with me. The baby and Paul Smith on the podium, mouthing off about his team, the swearing... But when I see him sprint, I could forgive him just about anything. He has the coolness under fire, the spacial awareness, the grinta and the raw speed – but most of all he wants to win so badly.
There’s a great Spanish movie from 2001 starring Max von Sydow called ‘Intacto.’ The premise of the film is that for some people luck isn’t a matter of sheer chance; it’s a commodity which they possess and which they can trade – or steal. Argos fast man John Degenkolb may be one of them. Granted it wasn’t luck that he was actually in the group of 95 which contested the finish – which is more than can be said for Cav, Gavazzi, Goss and Modolo.
Just when I was about to write that there are few fairy tales in Grand Tours, as ‘re-born’ late escapee and former Baby Giro and Giro winner, Danilo Di Luca succumbed to a group of men desperate to put an end to their pain in the closing metres of the tough 246 kilometres from Policastro to Serra San Bruno, Stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia, up popped 23 year-old Enrico Battaglin.
I was the one who said that the Giro d’Italia doesn’t have a great field – but the fact is, ‘so what?’ It’s only stage three but already the ‘Bigs’ are at it, knocking lumps out of each other. I was thinking of an ABC of ‘key words’ for each of today’s protagonists – for big Ryder Hesjedal it was ‘aggressive’ but maybe it should be ‘anxious?’
Sky’s Salvatore Pucccio pulled on the pink jersey at the end of the second stage TTT as specialists Garmin never got to grips with the tricky parcours and Sir Brad got his Giro campaign off to a great start. Pucci is 23 and doesn’t have much of a pro palmares – but he’s a worker for Sky, not a winner.
Goss had a perfect lead out on Stage 1 of the Giro d'Italia; Viviani can beat his ‘bars all he wants - but Cav is King. The QuickStep boys did their job early but it all went mass critical on that last lap. Steegmans was with Cavendish coming into the final, then seemed to have a mechanical - it was all down to Mark.
On a typical Scottish spring afternoon of ‘Four Seasons in One Day’ Herbalife/Leisure Lakes’ talented 18 year-old English rider, Harry Tanfield fully justified the ‘Elite’ stamp on his license to win Kennoway Road Club’s David Campbell Memorial Race over 80 tough Fife miles around the Cults Hills. With 2013 results which include, 10th Heist Op Den Berg; 2nd Evergem Belzele and 8th Tourinne-Saint-Lambert Kermises in Belgium, Tanfield’s win would have come as no surprise if we’d done our homework.
Scottish Time Trial Championships in April? But like Dylan said; ‘The Times They are a Changin’ . . . . Sunday was horrible, wind, rain, cold – just what my bad throat and chest didn’t need. Step forward our Editor, Martin who, despite having been riding in the storm all morning to help with filming John Anderson's Tour o' the Borders sportive, braved the ghosts from the biggest Iron Age in Scotland, which sits up on the 1400’ White Meldon to brandish the Nikon into the gale force storm. Winner through the murk and driving rain was Sandy Wallace Cycles’ Alan Thomson, holding off teammate Silas Goldsworthy by eight seconds in the Tour of the Meldons - incorporating the Scottish Olympic Time Trial Championship.
When do the boys at VeloVeritas stop thinking about the Six Days? When we’re sleeping; but sometimes we dream about them . . . A man who we've had the pleasure to work with and who impressed us with his speed and spirit is America's Guy East – and he’s crazier than us about the Sixes. We thought we’d give him a shout and see how he’s coping with a world of sunshine, no Euro pop, real food and proper toilets.
As the Pros battle it out across Flanders, the young men who aspire to do the same in the future are locking horns in another famous name from the history of warfare – Normandy. Le Tour de Normandie is one of the premier events on the calendar for men on the way up – Viatcheslav Ekimov, Thor Hushovd and Samuel Dumoulin are among the riders who have won the race. This year’s winner was a man who’s already proved his worth on the track; 22 year-old Swiss rider Silvan Dillier of the BMC Development Team took the GC by a scant three seconds from 2011 winner, Alex Blain (France & Raleigh). VeloVeritas spoke to Dillier the day after his Normandie triumph.
East Lothian in springtime should be an idyllic setting for a bike race; but today she showed her spiteful side for the traditional east coast season-opening Musselburgh 3-up, with a freezing, grey day which granted no favours to the weak. John Anderson’s Bicycleworks 'tester trio' of Sharkey, Dale and Caesar proving strongest on the day. But one must remember that Scotland’s notorious cannibal, Sawney Bean was born in East Lothian – perhaps on a day like this . . .
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.
Sportsmen in general, and cyclists are no different in this respect, are a superstitious lot. So it goes without saying that good omens are often looked for when we set out to the first race of the new Scottish season. Sunday morning dawned bright, clear and sunny as sixty teams of two warmed up for the Ice Breaker 2-Up Time Trial on the outskirts of Irvine, and the unseasonably favourable weather was the omen that most had looked for.
Cyclists are a hardy bunch, perhaps Cyclo-Cross Cyclists are the hardiest of them all. On a miserable and bitterly cold February afternoon at Strathclyde Country Park they faced the sleet-fall and muddy terrain with good humour and sturdy resolve. I didn't hear one complaint all day, maybe because everyone was just happy to finally be having a Scottish Championship after it's postponement from last November due to the ice-rutted dangerous course? Demonstrating that the Scottish 'Cross scene is in burgeoning good shape, there were lots of riders in each category, with the Senior riders going off last and enjoying the nicely churned course in drying but ever-colder conditions.
'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.
The last time we spoke to Dan Bigham (Brother NRG Wattshop) there was just a chance that he’d have to line up for the hill climb championship to net a record breaking EIGHTH British title of the year - to go with the kilometre, pursuit, team pursuit, team time trial, CTT 25 mile title, CTT 50 mile title and CTT circuit time trial title. But on the tough Cockermouth 10 mile time trial course, the day was saved when the CTT ‘10’ championship went his way too – so that’s title number eight!
If there’s a rider more closely associated with a city than Iljo Keisse is with Gent then I can’t think of it. Born and bred in the capital of East Flanders, raised on the boards of the Blaarmeersen velodrome, the Gentenaars love him and he loves them. Iljo's dad, Ronie Keisse owns the legendary Café de Karper, a favourite student haunt in Gent, just a five minute walk from the Kuipke and the only place to be on a November Sunday evening when the Six Day finishes, so we sat down with Ronie on the Monday morning after the Six to discuss the life and times of his boy, one of the very last real ‘vedettes’ – star Six Day men.
John Pierce is one of the world’s great sports photographers, he’s a friend of VeloVeritas and in our site’s best tradition, the man can RANT about the sport he’s been a part of for 50 years. We had a good long chat with John about his racing and photography careers - here in Part One, John tells us about his early successes and how he became interested in photography, his first equipment, his travels and adventures.
The Gold Coast Commonwealth Games next year is an interesting proposition for Scotland, with Katie Archibald and Callum Skinner now Olympic champions, Mark Stewart a double under 23 European Champion and Neah Evans on the top step of a World Cup podium - and don't forget 'left fielder' Jonny Wale, reigning British team pursuit champion and 1:01 kilometre man. VeloVeritas spoke to all of them about their 2017 seasons and prospects in Australia come the spring, and we start with Callum Skinner...
Steve Cummings? He’s the real deal; a world champion on the track in the team pursuit; he paid his dues with Landbouwkrediet and Barloworld; rode for the ‘mega’ teams, Discovery, Sky, BMC; was part of that famous team which carried Cav to a rainbow jersey in Copenhagen but now he’s found his true niche – with South African squad Dimension Data. Last year the team raced as MTN-Qhubeka with Cummings netting a brilliant stage win in le Tour; this year the squad, with new sponsors has taken Cav on board and moved up to the World Tour.
As VeloVeritas pundit and critic, Viktor said after the Bergen World Championships; ‘where would we be without him?’ Peter Sagan. Cipo had it, Boonen had it, Peter has it – but Vik and I are both worried about who can pick up the ‘cycling’s showman and charismatic star’ baton when he finally hands his in.