I resisted the bars of Valkenburg and was in bed not long after 10:00 on Saturday night. The body clock woke me for 06:15 and I was on the Cauberg before 07:00. I decided to do my Cauberg piece early on Sunday because the junior time trial starts early on Monday and the police won't let you walk on the parcours, so best to get a bit of peace and quiet whilst I could.
Degenkolb made it five; it was no surprise - we all knew the break was doomed. But it was good for the estimated 100,000 spectators around the course - and for the TV. It's never a chore to watch the best riders in the world hammer round the streets of a beautiful city. There were photo ops aplenty on the finish circuit; beautiful buildings, street cafes, fountains - not just 'boys on bikes.' And we won a watch with the finale; ambling onto a grandstand with 100 metres to go as the last lap desperation reached fever pitch.
The rain stings past the entrance to the ski lift at 45 degrees and tries its damnedest to puncture the metal sheets on the roof; thunder roars in and echoes around the concrete walls, lightning sparks across the dark sky, the air temperature has dropped from a pleasant Spanish summer's afternoon to January on Porty Prom. Welcome to the Bola del Mundo; they say it's the toughest climb in European cycling - we believe it. We've been up to Covadonga a time or two and the Angliru, plus most of the Giro and Tour 'biggies', but this is evil.
Hola ! It's a bit like being in a Vuelta sprinters' stage, this morning. Dry tundra, deserted low rise blocks to the left and right and all under a cloudless high plains sky. It just needs us to catch sight of David Moncoutie sitting at the back of the peloton. Yes, VeloVeritas is in Spain, headed for the Bola del Mundo.
Daniele Bennati saved his season and Radio Shack’s Vuelta with a perfectly timed sprint into Valladolid on Thursday afternoon. The perma-tanned fast man with the religious bent was just too quick for Sky’s Ben Swift who looked under-geared in the charge for the line. Sky got Swift’s lead out just right but ‘Benna’ was the smartest, freewheeling a few times in the finale to keep the heart rate down and then timing his bike through perfectly to pip Swift on the line.
There were no ‘pistolero’ gestures – it wasn’t a moment for playing to the photo opportunity. Just sheer joy of a man being back where he belongs – if you’ve taken the knocks and clawed back, then you’ll know that feeling. Alberto Contador Velasco has taken the knocks; he was close to death in 2004 when he suffered a cerebral cavernoma during the Vuelta a Asturias; in 2009 he had to fight not only the other 21 teams in the race but also half of his own Astana team as Lance made his ill-starred return; and he had to watch as his name was crossed off last year’s Giro result as a result of a controversial ‘positive.’ A slight, wiry man, simpatico and approachable, he’s not a seeker of the limelight off the bike – but on that Specialized he’s a ruthless, killer.
Dario Cataldo (QuickStep & Italy) took the biggest win of his life; Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM & Belgium) had his heart broken; Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha & Spain) took a huge step towards winning his first Grand Tour; Chris Froome (Sky & GB) realised you really can’t race the Tour and Vuelta to win in the same season and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff & Spain) reminded us how champions race. Many are saying an ‘epic’ day – I’m not so sure; perhaps I’ve spent too much time with Viktor but the rush to find ever more dizzy climbs leaves me a little cold.
We’ve all had them, those days when the pedals just turn and the sensations are good – Antonio Piedra (Caja Rural & Spain) had one, today. The 26 year-old from Seville was part of a break which went away early; originally 19 strong it split on a climb, with 10 making it all the way to the 13 kilometre slopes which lead 1135 metres up to the glacial lakes of Covadonga.
It's been a while in the Vuelta since anybody won (at least) three stages whilst in the leader's jersey - in fact we reckon the last time was in 1995 when Team ONCE rider Laurent Jalabert won a total of five stages, four of them whilst in the race lead, on his way to dominating the event by winning overall, leading his squad to the Team Competition, as well as taking the Mountains and Points Classifications too. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) may well be intent on replicating that feat this year, as today he took his third stage, taking the race to the others and exploiting his amazing uphill sprinting abilities by out-kicking Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) at Puerto de Ancares, the first of three consecutive stage summit finishes.
‘It’s awfully early,’ I thought to myself when I saw Degenkolb’s Argos boys commit with 50 K to go. And so it proved, there was a lot of fire power in the seven man break; Italian fast man Elia Viviani (Liquigas), hard working Linus Gerdemann (Shack), harder than nails Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), Giro podium finisher Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), GreenEDGE flyers Cameron Meyer and Simon Clarke – the latter already a stage winner in this race. And a certain Mr Steve Cummings from the BMC Racing team.
A four minute lead for a breakaway with 20 K to go would normally be a pretty safe bet – but not when Katusha and Movistar go on the rampage. Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), Cameron Meyer (GreenEdge), Amael Moinard (BMC) and Kevin De Weert (QuickStep) weren’t pottering along, they were spelling hard and all of them were committed to the move.
How could we overlook Fred? He won the TT in the Tour of Switzerland - beating Cancellara in the process - then pushed TV hard for the polka dot jersey in le Tour. He says he's no 'pure tester,' but if there's a big climb and a technical descent then Fred's your man.
Degenkolb! He thrust four fingers into the air and that was that. Bouhanni was closer than he has been before, Bennati and The Shack didn’t do much wrong, but the Argos man has the head and the legs. And on this stage up in the far north west of Spain billed as, ‘the easiest of the race’ there wasn’t much doubt about who was going to win once it became apparent that it was going to finish in a bunch sprint.
Joaquim Rodriguez is building on the foundation of respect he laid at the Giro. The little Catalan isn’t sitting around waiting on Froome bludgeoning him in the ‘contra reloj’ on Wednesday; he’s riding like a champion, ‘la course en tete’ – at the head of the race. The TV camera doesn’t do the Montjuich climb justice, it’s seriously savage.
Chris Froome lost more time to race leader Joaquim Rodriguez today, all in the final 500 metres, as Alejandro Valverde and JR jumped clear of him and chased after Alberto Contador, who had got a gap of 100 metres over the three, with just a kilometre to go. Valverde and JR caught Contador in the last few metres, crossing the line in that order, but Contador in third place only wanted to know where Froome was, waited and looked back to see the Sky rider arrive 15 seconds later - not good for the Brit but he's still in second place, so no disaster either.
Not for the first time, Vik took the words right out of my mouth; "You can’t have a bike race finishing on a motor racing circuit, it just doesn’t work!" And he’s right; too wide, too bleak, no atmosphere and almost no spectators. Degenkold was mightily impressive, again. For all the talk of watts and tactics, sprinting is a mental game – if a sprinter’s head is right, then everything else drops into place. It’s why Cav is so hard to beat – his self belief is total.
You have to be impressed by Sky’s riding. There was no show boating or ‘riding into the climb’ – they only went to the front when it really counted. Henao is strong, as I said in the PEZ Vuelta preview; ‘Ninth in the Giro, third in Poland and second in Burgos; those are solid results.
Argos’s John Degenkolb was ‘speechless’ about his second stage win; but did manage to say that the last K was crazy fast and his team did a great job for him – that sounds about right. I think his last lead out man was Koen De Kort - who delivered his German team mate perfectly.
Echelons formed, Froome turned killer, Valverde was ambushed, the podium shook itself into shape early and a nice guy won. If that sounds exciting – it was. The Vuelta may only be four stages old, but it’s shaping up to be one cracker of a race. A break of five cleared off early and whilst it slowly decomposed on the last climb, world time trial champion Tony Martin (QuickStep) and Simon Clarke (GreenEDGE) held on doggedly to contest the finish.
Sprinters? As my old work buddy, Sam Johnston used to reply, when asked what had become of his ‘hot tip’ for the 3:45 at Kempton Park; ‘they’re still out looking for it – with lanterns!’ Stage three was no day for the sprinters; what VeloVeritas had failed to appreciate was that ‘Arrate’ was as in ‘Subida a Arrate’ mountain race – as won by Luis Ocana, Marino Lejarreta, Francisco Galdos, Johan de Muunck and Raymond Poulidor. No big, bulging thighs among those names.
We’re so lucky with televised cycling in 2012. I returned from my 500 metre run back from the Dalriada Bar on Joppa sea front on the ‘fixie’ – having easily distanced Marlene on her Giant shopper – and there was the Vuelta TTT repeat on Eurosport. Perfect; I didn’t catch it live on Saturday night – that’s ‘pictures night,’ TTT or not. In case you’re wondering, we saw Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Notorious’ with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman at the Filmhouse.
The Rabobank boys sat on their "hotseats' for over 30 minutes, as team after team came close to their time of 19 minutes and 1 second for the opening stage of the 2012 Vuelta, but failed to surpass it. When Team Sky arrived and just missed the target time by a couple of seconds and then Bert's Saxo-Tinkoff boys were four seconds too slow, the relief on the faces of Dutchmen Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam was there for all to see.
Tony Gibb had been a classy track rider since the mid-90’s, winning medals at the British Championships since 1998 in the Scratch Race and the Points Race, but he hit the headlines in 2002 when he won the bronze medal in the Manchester Commonwealth Games Scratch Race and then went on to win silver in the same discipline at the World Championships in Ballerup that year. The Middlesex man holds the record of four victories in the prestigious early season Eddie Soens Memorial road race in the UK and he has won nine British Championships in his career - so far, he’s not finished yet.
Monday July 23rd, 21.55 in a Ryanair Boeing, somewhere over Northern England. They sell papers on the plane, these days - at inflated prices of course. The whole outside 'wrap' of The Times is a Bradley Wiggins picture, yellow clad and taking the turn at the top of the Champs Elysees, l'Arc de Triomphe providing the background. And the 'The Thunderer' isn't too proud to pinch L'Équipe's headline from two days ago; 'Promenade des Anglais.'
It’s Sunday morning and I’ve just about come out of the mild shock I was suffering from last evening, after watching Bradley Wiggins’ stunning time trial into Chartres.When he crossed the line, it finally sank in that an English rider was going to win le Tour. Up until that moment, it had all seemed like a dream, but as Bradley punched the air, I looked around the wee bar we were in and realised; ‘he’s done it, he’s actually done it!’
It’s a new hotel chain today, Premiere Classe – we had a bit of a battle to get in. To keep the costs down, they only man these places in the morning and early evening – during the day you have to punch codes in to gain access. We started with credit card information, then the reservation number – no dice. Eventually we stuck Martin’s name in – et voila!
I wasn't sure about the 'blip' at La Toussuire when Froome distanced Wiggins in the finale - I thought it was 'mountain out of molehill' stuff. Although we did hear that Wiggins was 'raging', that night in his room. But today, there seemed little doubt that a message was being sent; 'I can drop you any time I want.' The body language and facial expressions around the team aren't relaxed, happy or positive. But there's little doubt now that Brad will win - barring Acts of God.
As a colleague from another life used to say; ‘you should never drink on an empty head.’ A sentiment I can endorse as we sit in our hotel in Vielha, Spain. Having left Pau, there were no digs to be had in France near the stage finish – the Tour is a black hole which sucks up every hotel room within an hour’s drive and we had to cross the border after the finish at Bagnères-de-Luchon to get to our digs. QuickStep, Saxo, Movistar and Euskaltel all did the same thing and are here in Vielha, too.
I hate to start with our Formule 1, again - but to emphasis the true glamour of being on le Tour, we're sharing lodgings with the race's cherry picker truck. I had to get up early to do a phone interview with Cameron Wurf, this morning. He's from Tassie; like the Sulzbergers and Richie Porte - did I ever tell you I had a Tasmanian Devil for a fiancée? No, some other time, then? Le Tour de France 2012 - Second Rest Day.
The World Ports Classic is making its debut on the international cycling calendar on August 31, when it begins its two-day trek from Rotterdam to Antwerp and back. Several great riders who thrive in windy conditions and sprints have already included it in their programmes, including a three-time stage winner in the first two weeks of this Tour de France, André Greipel, and the hero of this year’s spring classics, Tom Boonen.
There’s a touch of the Twilight Zone to Formule 1 hotels – you check out of one, drive for hours, check into the next one and the room is identical – to the last detail. Scary! We’ve taken to putting a pencil mark under the one plastic stacking chair in the room and checking to make sure it’s not there when we get to the next town. Samatan.
I was speaking to Vik, the other day.I shan’t use the word which he did to describe Brad’s opponents, but it wasn’t complimentary. Limoux - After yesterday’s display, it’s hard to disagree; whilst there was drama at the end with Kišerlovski crash – more of which later – when we drove the course it seemed to us a perfect opportunity for Nibali and his descending skills.
Le Cap d’Agde and we're puzzled. We've steadfastly avoided getting involved in speculation over the ‘d-word’ – if you regard yourself as a serious journo, you have to be able to distinguish between factual information from a good source and wild speculation on twitter from individuals who may well have never seen the race, let alone spoken to anyone on it. Maybe it's because we've been on le Tour during the Ulrich, Basso, Mancebo, Bottero, Landis, Morreni, Rasmussen, Contador - and if we forgotten any, sorry - 'affairs.'
What a day; when we heard Millar was in the break, we knew he was definitely capable of beating three of his companions - Gautier was the only one we didn't know about. But when we saw him, we knew he'd win - it was there in his eyes, if you knew what you were looking at.
We're late! Despite us writing our schedule out for the morning, we're heading to the Albertville depart later than we should. I just smile when people tell me about the high old time we'll have in France. By the time we get from the parcours to the hotel, edit the pictures, insert picture holders in the text and get all that sent off, it's well after 9:00 pm when we grab a pizza and one beer.
Bonjour! Today was our first outing on the Tour parcours, in the mountains it’s sometimes difficult to get on to race route, because just as in the Highlands of Scotland, there aren’t that many roads. We set the satnav for Ambronay, which was 73 kilometres into the stage but within easy reach of the autoroute and guided by Brian Blessed’s foghorn voice slipped along a network of tiny roads into the village, after we’d paid our last toll charge.
Bonjour! VeloVeritas joins le Tour. The hotel is the Formule 1, Viry, with a wonderful view of a pile of tyres – it’s a glamorous life. But we’re not complaining. Easyjet, Edinburgh to Geneva wasn’t too bad, finding the car hire was a bit of a magical mystery tour but we were soon headed for Mâcon, our credentials and the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank hotel.
I guess I have to face up to it: it’s a black and blue – and yellow, world. I best get the hand of this ‘box ticking’ thing, then.
Call me a sentimental old fool, but Thibaut Pinot’s win in stage 8 was what the Tour is all about – the youngest man in the race gallantly holding off the rampaging favourites; Marc Madiot in the FDJ team car overcome with emotion; team mates barging in on the TV interview to hug and kiss Pinot, some in tears. Le Tour de France 2012 - Stage 8.
What a stage! But who’s the man of the day? Froome? Wiggins?Both produced performances that had me pinching myself to see if I was dreaming; but no, the man of the day wasn't part of that infernal train making light of 20% grades. La Planche des Belles Filles...
Martin, the Editor, and I had a meeting last night and agreed there’d be no over-use of superlatives or schoolgirl punctuation on our site. But what can you say about Sagan? - other than he was super, super awesome!!! [Ed!!! What did we totally, like, agree or something??? Editor.] Seriously, what a ride, we can say that Cav wasn’t there and that Greipel was in bits; but Goss was there and so was his train - no matter to Sagan.
Le Tour de France 2012 - Stage 5. Greipel again – as we said yesterday, sprinting is as much a mental game as it is physical one. Greipel and his team had good morale and they exploited it – and of course they had that bit of luck which comes when all the stars align, staying clear of the crash which saw poor Tyler Farrar losing even more skin. And too much can’t be read into Cav’s defeat, he hit the deck at 60 kph the day before and whilst he has grinta aplenty, the human body knows when it’s time not too goo too deep – yesterday was one of those times where’s Cav’s engine management system took precedence over the driver’s wishes.
Maybe it’s our fault? Yesterday we said that ‘barring Acts of God,’ Cav would win. We got it half right; there was an almighty ‘Act of God’ with South African champion Robbie Hunter bouncing around the road like a rubber doll and a whole clutch of riders biting the dust. As the director cut to close up and what was happening at the crash site, there was Cav sitting on the tar, stunned. He’s a tough wee soul – ''stoic is the word, I think. Abbeville.
ASO's copy writer put it this way; 'THE SUPER SAGAN SHOW CONTINUES.' There's not much else to say, save he made the world's best riders look ordinary, again. As Dan Fleeman said: 'Quality rider; not so sure on the funky chicken or running man celebrations!'
Visé"Tomorrow is a sprinters’ stage – Lotto showed real motivation today, GreenEDGE look good too. But love Cav or loathe him, he’s special." . . . was what we said yesterday. Lotto were motivated and GreenEDGE were good – but Cav was better.
On a grey, damp but mild and fast Sunday morning on the roads around Blairdrummond near Stirling, Dooleys' Ian Grant added the '25' title to the '50' with a fine 52:26; besting Sandy Wallace's Silas Goldsworthy - whose fight back over the closing miles hauled back a 17 second deficit on Grant down to six at the line. Last year's '50' champion Alan Thomson, took another medal for Sandy Wallace with bronze in 53:09. The event was not without controversy, however.
As Dave said during the Tour de Suisse; ‘Sagan’s winning just for fun.’ And that’s how it looked today. It’s not just his speed in the sprint and up the inclines; it’s his ability to read the race - he didn’t waste himself by marking Chava but was on Cancellara like a ferret. Add to that the confidence which enable him to ignore Capo Cancellara’s flicked elbows and switches and you have all the ingredients off the most exciting prospect cycling has seen since V de B.
It's here. The endless analysis is finally over, there's rubber on tarmac, folks hanging over barriers and commentators getting their facts wrong, already. David Harmon says you 'never, ever, ever catch anyone in a prologue' - ask Luc Leblanc about that one. Chris Boardman, Lille, 1994 and Monsieur Leblanc was indeed given a view of the Briton's rear wheel as that Lotus flashed past.
Like it or not, the sport of professional cycle racing is largely defined by one race – the Tour de France. To aficionados the Primavera, Ronde, Hell of the North and Classic of the Falling Leaves are eagerly awaited then devoured and endlessly analysed. But mention any of these races to the ‘man in the street’ and you’ll be met with a blank stare. The Giro and Vuelta will elicit a similar response - Paris-Nice? Forget it. But tell a ‘lay person’ you’re going to the Tour de France and in response you’ll get; ‘Lance, Cav, yellow jersey’ – and ‘drugs,’ naturally.
With the bells of beautiful Ampleforth Abbey peeling in celebration, Sky made it a hat trick of British elite road race titles; strong man Ian Stannard following on from Geraint Thomas in 2010 and Bradley Wiggins in 2011. Team mate Alex Dowsett made it a Sky one-two, with Raleigh's Russell Hampton taking a well deserved bronze after matching the two Sky riders blow for blow until the last lap of the technical finishing circuit in beautiful North Yorkshire.
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...
‘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.
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...
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?
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.