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?
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.
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.
Sometimes on the big tours you have to change plans; road closures, janitors, barrier crews, motorway crashes can all influence your 'best laid plans.' At the end of the day you may not have missed deadline - we rarely do - but there'll be that feeling that you could have done better. Then there are days when you have to struggle then struggle some more but eventually it comes together, you get to where you want to be and get those special pictures. This day was such a day; lost, lost again, a massive detour through the mountains - against race route to the top of the Colle Delle Finestre - but we really enjoyed our pizza after this one...
‘The best Commonwealth Games performance ever by the Scottish cycling team’ – that’s for sure. VeloVeritas hopes to speak to all of the athletes concerned and we’re proud to start with individual pursuit silver medallist, John Archibald.
In 2016 in Belgium Ethan Hayter won the tough junior races, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, GP Serge Baguet, De Klijte-Heuvaelland, was in the winning team in junior European team pursuit champs and was British Madison champion with Joe Holt. Last year he won the u23 Berlin Six Day with Matt Walls, took a medal in every British track championship he rode and was part of the winning u23 Europeans team pursuit squad. This season he began training with the senior team in January and was world champion within weeks, at 19 years-of-age.
‘I’m a Believer,’ a great song, the Monkees had the hit back in 1968. I used to be a ‘Believer’ and can remember the sense of relief when we discovered that Lance’s Tour ‘positive’ back in 1999 was all a big mistake; those tricky corticosteroids had been in a cream he used to treat a saddle sore and he had a TUE to cover it. What a relief.
When I was a younger man my 'Mr Motivator' was a certain man from the West; Willie Gibb. I recall battering myself on a training ride alone thinking "Willie Gibb would be going faster" invariably in the races he was and I have no recollection of ever having beaten my one time motivator. I got in touch with Willie to find out more about his story and as it transpired find his palmarès was something else again...
That man John Archibald is back in action again – and with a 48 minutes and 13 seconds ‘BANG !’ down on the Westferry course in the CTT ‘25’ Champs on Sunday past. It gave us a good excuse to catch up with the Commonwealth Games individual pursuit silver medallist and see what he’s been up to since The Gold Coast and what’s next on the agenda for him?