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?
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.
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 Brajkovic’s crash – more of which later – when we drove the course it seemed to us a perfect opportunity for Nibali and his descending skills.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!' But we can forgive him that, as Petacchi said of Cav, last year when Supermanx was gubbing about The Jet coming of his line in a sprint; 'he's young.'
"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. Ben Swift expresses it best; "Cav proved in the Giro that he doesn’t necessarily need a train – he can read a bike race like no one else, he sees things that other don’t and he has that jump".
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.
On a typical wet and miserable Fife Sunday morning, Dooleys' 41 year-old former duathlete Iain Grant made up for his one second defeat in the Scottish 10 Mile Championship with a sparkling 1:49:00 over the longer distance at the Scottish 50 Mile TT Championships, putting him 2:24 clear of Sean Childs (RNRMCA) and 2:55 up on defending champion Alan Thomson (Sandy Wallace).
Fast and furious street racing for a summer evening in Peebles. It’s really three events in one – first the families (and anyone with a bike who wants to join in riding round the course for a ‘victory’ lap), then a full-on women’s race, before the headline men’s racing kicks off. The circuit is short and spectacular, with high speeds and tricky corners for the top riders, and big crowds and a party atmosphere to shout them on. It’s run as a Belgian-style Kermesse event, with lots of the community involved.
It’s over, a great race from start to finish. Even the ‘flat boring sprinter stages’ all had terrific finales – and the time trial was a cracker. Rodriguez rode more strongly than anyone expected; this was no lame effort. When he rolled in to the last few bends the time gap was much less on Hesjedal than anyone – including Messrs Harmon and Kelly – thought it would be.
"What’s he playing at, riding like that in the valley? He’ll get eaten up on the climb!" So said our friend Vik. Even Sean Kelly didn’t think it was a good idea. Dave and I weren’t so sure – De Gendt is a hardy pup. Long lone breaks are his thing – he’s won two Paris-Nice stages in epic escapes.
It was an epic stage. A courageous but ultimately doomed breakaway (just don’t tell Vik I said that, Sandy Casar is number three on his hate list behind Moncoutie and Dumoulin); Kreuziger restoring his honour; Hesjedal continuing to amaze – and Basso having to come to terms with the fact that it’s looking very much like he can’t win the Giro.
‘Sprinter stage’ - sometimes Vik’s assessments can be correct – ‘watching paint dry,’ let’s hope not. But you can’t have a stage like yesterday then expect fireworks the next day. Sky dug deep to negate the early breakaway artists and Cav duly grabbed max points at the intermediated sprint to open the gap a little on Rodriguez
I wish I could get tomorrow’s Gazzetta, tomorrow – but it’ll be Saturday, at best. It was the first major shoot out, today. It’s over for Kreuziger and difficult for Tiralongo – a bad day for Astana. Uran continues to impress – perhaps he’ll get let off ‘train’ duties for Cav, tomorrow?
'Mission accomplished' with Ryder: Dave rattled us through dire weather up to the Garmin Hotel, just over 100 miles away. The Liquigas guys were on their turbos when we arrived - lean, cut looking men. Before the start, I wasn't sure Basso could win, but his policy of loss limiting has taken him to third on GC @ 1:22 on Rodriguez and 52 seconds behind Hesjedal.
After years of trying, James McCallum (Rapha Condor Sharp) finally took his win in the Scottish Road Championships in Balfron today, edging out good friend Evan Oliphant (Raleigh) in the uphill sprint after a hard-fought ?? mile race, with Vanilla Bikes' Alistair Rutherford a lone third a handful of seconds behind.
It's the Scottish road race championship, today - damn this Giro and it's climbs in beautiful Lombardy! But Martin was telling me that the sun was out in Balfron and the jackets were off, so Scotland certainly had the last laugh - the weather here in Italy was grim.
We thought it was the end for Cav, yesterday. The gruppetto was way down on the first of the two big climbs of the day - but Cav was even further back. And behind him, in a dreadful state, was Graeme Brown.
Cav, like him or loathe him, what a sprinter. His train is by no means HTC - the GreenEdge boys were much better organised, yesterday - but all that does is to underline his quality. He was isolated and boxed - he was free-wheeling at one stage - the gap opened and he was through it in a blink. His spatial awareness, reactions and acceleration make him a remarkable athlete. The Gazzetta compares him to Cipo - in terms of total wins and at the same age.
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.
It’s not just the boys which the Rayner Fund supports, the young ladies get their opportunities. Here’s what 19 year-old Miss Henrietta Colborne from the north of England had to tell us...
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!
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.
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...
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.