Peter Sagan, again! There’s little left to say about the man but as soon as we walked the last couple of kilometres we knew it was one for him – a sharp cobbled climb up from the river, across a cobbled bridge, past the bear pit then another nippy climb before the 1,000 metre, straight as a dye, pan flat finish straight.
While Jarlinson Pantana was winning the stage today for IAM Cycling and Columbia (that's his contract sorted for 2017 - IAM folds at the end of the season) Ed and Callum were race-bound, flying in to Geneva to get the car and get organised with race accreditation.
Another criminally boring stage saved by a beautiful finale with Cav making it 30 stage wins – there are few superlatives left for the Manxman. Good to see Kristoff in second spot; the remarkable Sagan was right there in third spot and very nice to see John Degenkolb up there in fourth spot. Kittel got it wrong today and Greipel was again off the pace. And, erm that’s about it...
The new crowned King of the Chrono is Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Giant). He put a minute into maillot jaune Froome in today’s technical and tough time test and set himself as the number one favourite for the Rio Olympic Time Trial. And that’s after a brilliant mountain stage win last weekend in Andorra.
First of all, a fantastic win by Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), let’s say that first and foremost. The Belgian was away all day then won the sprint from another two survivors of the big break of the day. As a bonus, he takes the polka dot jersey, too. De Gendt He's tamed the Stelvio and (most of) the Ventoux - he just needs to win on the Angleru now...
From Carcassonne it COULD have been a ‘snooze-fest.’ It SHOULD have been a sprinters stage. Enter, stage left one superb Slovakian in green, Mr. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff). He attacks from the front in the cross winds inside 12 K to go with Polish TT champ team mate Bodnar aka ‘The Bison’ and spreads pure panic among the world’s best riders – but that skinny Sky man Froome is sharp again, as is team mate Thomas.
The sprinters are denied - but it's a sprinter who wins. It was big smiled Aussie, Michael Matthews (Orica) kicking to glory from Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) with Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) in third spot – a podium of real quality from the big day-long breakaway. And whilst Sagan may not have taken the stage bouquet he took the stage by the scruff of the neck and thrust himself back into green – possible all the way to Paris, now.
Tom Dumoulin tests to solo glory in Andorra; Pinot goes poids; Froome consolidates jaune; Porte confuses; Martin rises to another level; Yates confirms; Aru and Tejay slide whilst Quintana waits – but it’s over for Alberto. But all that said - no real changes from yesterday and the Bigs only race the last few kilometres...
As with last year when he was jousting with the pave specialists in the first week, Chris Froome again confounded his critics, descending like a man possessed, leaving the demon descenders glued to the macadam, taking all the risks - but more importantly taking the stage and maillot jaune. A terrific ride, no question, no caveats. But the dreams end for GVA, Bert and Pinot; no jaune for Yates but he consolidates blanc - whilst our friend Michael Mørkøv climbs into the team car.
That man Steve Cummings (Dimension Data & GB); as with his team mate Mark Cavendish, we’re running out of superlatives – the rider from the Wirral followed his usual formula; infiltrate the break of the day on a tough day, attack them hard and solo to victory. Simples... Against the finest riders on the planet.
Mark Cavendish? There’s little left to say about the man, his third win of the 2016 Tour de France and his 29th career stage win to take him one ahead of Bernard Hinault in the record books with just the legend that is Eddy Merckx ahead of him on 34 stage wins. Dimension Data and Deloitte will be ecstatic. Cav beat Etixx Stage Four winner, Marcel Kittel into second place – the downhill charge should have suited the German - and in third spot a terrific result for Fortuneo’s Dan McLay not so far away from ‘The Missile.’ Kristoff, Coquard, Theuns, Sagan, Groenewegen all behind the Englishman – a real quality effort.
Man of the Flatlands, the multi talented Greg Van Avermaet (BMC & Belgium) pulls off a splendid ‘double’ on the first day of climbing; solo in the grand manner he wins the stage and takes the yellow jersey – and by the considerable margin of 05:11 on Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx & France) who remains second and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar & Spain) who’s in third spot.
"Ja!" Screams Marcel Kittel (Etixx) as he leaps back to his feet and cuddles his soigneur after sitting on the tarmac with his head buried in his elbows to await the verdict from the photo finish technicians - he has every right to be chuffed, he’s just won Stage Four of the 2016 Tour de France. In theory it should have been one for the smaller sprinters - 600 metres @ 4% to the finish line - not a beast like Kittel but he was the man producing most watts.
After a gruesomely boring stage where one man – albeit latterly assisted by Tommy V – held off the pack for 200 K it was another day of joy for Dimension Data’s Mark Cavendish; just too quick for Greipel, Coquard and Sagan on a slightly uphill finish into Angers. Kittel looked to be well placed at the red kite but got it wrong on the final right hander to finish well out of it. Greipel reckoned maybe he was one cog too high in the finish on 54 x 11 – Cav’s choice of gear was just fine though.
Peter Sagan is a breath of fresh air, the accent, the sense of humour, the hair, the bike handling, the speed, the versatility – third behind Cav and Kittel then beating Alaphilippe and Valverde. There’s no one more deserving of the maillot jaune – with all mention of the ‘curse of the rainbow jersey’ forgotten.
The Friday evening prior to the Grand Depart at Mont-Saint-Michel, we're in the Amritsar Indian restaurant in Kirkcaldy – Callum, Dave and I agree that Cav has won his last Tour de France stage, Kittel and Greipel will be the men, and that the 32 stage wins record of Merckx is safe – as is Hinault’s second spot on 28 stage wins. Mark will have to be happy with his 26 bouquets. Not for the first or last time, the little chap from the middle of the Irish Sea made us eat our words; "Cav can never win Milan-Sanremo..."
Adam Blythe produced the big result and relegating Mark Cavendish to second step of the podium for the second year in succession. With the Tinkoff team folding at the end of the year this result will make his chances of a quality contract for 2017 all the more likely.
Kruijswijk's crash, would you have waited? Wee Esteban says: "I’m very sorry for the crash of Steven (Kruijswijk), unfortunately it’s a part of bike racing and he was unlucky today." Either way, it was a horrible crash - the Dutchman seemed paralysed with fear, it didn't look like he even tried to steer round that bend. Ed rounds up the last three stages roadside.
It looked like Pippo was going to send Italia into raptures on Wednesday's Stage 17 - but big, bad Six Day man and omnium specialist, Roger Kluge (IAM & Germany) spoiled the dream, jumping early from an uncontrolled peloton to take a beautiful stage win. IAM are folding at the end of this year but Rodge will have no bother finding a contract. With so many of the big sprinters gone - Kittel, Greipel, Demare, Ewan, Mezgec and Viviani - there was no one capable or willing to control the last kilometre except Lampre for Modolo and/or Trek for Nizzolo.
It wasn't a good day for Chaves on Tuesday's Stage 16, he lost time to Kruijswijk and Valverde. With three minutes in hand over the Colombian, the Dutchman is going to take a bit of shifting; and there's a danger that Valverde might leapfrog Chaves, too - he's now just 23 seconds in arrears. Nibali lost time, too.
A clean sprint and Evan Oliphant bags win number seven in the Scottish Road Race Championship. I suspect it wasn’t coincidence that he was assigned number 7 as his race number today, a nice touch. The result had a familiar ring to it though, if you were to look at the past ten years of championship results. Don't however, be deceived into thinking this was anything other than a very well organised race on a very demanding circuit and what was lacking in glamour was more than made up for in grit shown by the riders on a day of mixed weather on bleak moorland roads.
The thing with riders like JLT Condor's Graham Briggs is that they are very good at what they do, training specifically for these one hour efforts and riding bikes adapted to crit racing with high brackets – it’s hard for English road pros to beat them never mind Scottish riders used to slogging across the moors in wind and rain. But for a crit to be spectacular it needs to be gutter to gutter, handlebar to handlebar – the circuit used for this year's Edinburgh Tour Series event does not produce that kind of race. And like Willard says to the GI in the movie ‘Apocalypse Now !’ – ‘do you know who’s in charge here, soldier?’
Chris Smart (GTR) put on another exemplary performance in the Tour of the Meldons hilly time trial in the Scottish Borders to retain his national title for the 'Olympic Time Trial' for the third time in a row, his 56:08 being 75 seconds faster than his time for the same course last year and 67 seconds faster than silver medallist Kyle Gordon (Sandy Wallace Cycles). Third was Jon Entwistle (Team JMC) a further 10 seconds back.
It’s been branded a ‘tame’ version of the Classicissima but we’re all still talking about it days later. Bouhanni didn’t sleep for two nights after dropping his chain in the finale and losing what for many looked like the win, Gaviria crossed the line in tears, a moment’s inattention wasting seven hours of being in the right place at the right time. And the ‘Démare Affair’ has split the pundits down the middle; some want him DQ-ed and others say there’s not enough evidence – and even if it did happen, the commissaires didn’t see it so it didn’t happen.
The Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne adventure began when I met Craig Grieve, Spokes bike shop owner and U23 race team backer, early Friday morning, to get a picture of the newly-logoed team car. For Craig, the journey to Kuurne is a long haul; catching a ferry from Hull, arriving Saturday in time for the riders to recce part of the course. We caught up with them on Saturday night in Kortrijk for a pizza and to hear how their preparation has gone and to plan for the race.
Saturday dawns crisp, cold and sunny for the Omloop Gent Gent. We have a copy of Het Nieusblaad which has all the information we need about the route so its time to head for the start. It's moved this year to the S.M.A.K complex, site of the Gent Six Day. As the car park fills with the now de rigueur coaches, ushered in by whistle blowing attendants we grab a quick pic of world champ Peter Sagan's Specialized before being asked to move on by an unfriendly team staffer...
Coming to Gent to watch the Six Day, as I have for 20 years, is like meeting up with an old friend, a friend you see just once a year but when you meet you are familiar and easy in each others company. Most familiar is the velodrome, Het Kuipke that hosts the Six Days which has, barring a few upgrades in the bar areas, changed very little during the time I’ve been coming.
On a cool but dry and benign morning around the beautiful lochs and hills above Aberfoyle and Callander it was Paisley Velo Race Team's Scottish ‘Olympic’ Time Trial Champion Chris Smart who defended his title as 'King of the Trossachs' despite being 21 seconds down to former Tour de Trossachs Tartar, Arthur Doyle (www.Dooleys-Cycles.co.uk) at the top of the Dukes Pass.
Ben Hetherington of Achieve attacked into the final drag maintaining a slender lead all the way to the line to take a strong victory with Jack Rees also of Achieve winning the bunch sprint.
You forget how gruesome the climbs are here in Italy; I'd never been over the Mortirolo before but it was an eye opener - 11.9 kilometres (that's more than seven miles) with an AVERAGE gradient of just under 12% and a maximum of 18%. Lance reckoned it was the toughest climb he ever raced and 'Bert' was on 34 x 30; 'nuff said !' On most of the big climbs there are sections where it eases a little; not on this swine, it's unrelenting and unforgiving - ask Fabio Aru ...
On a dour, grey morning by the banks of a brooding River Clyde Iain Grant (Fullarton Wheelers) reminded us why he's Scotland's short distance king with a stunning 19:38 in the Scottish National 10 Mile Mile Time Trial Championship on a sodden, cold Westferry course. Second in 20:13 was 'new kid on the block' Harry Bulstrode (VC Edinburgh) with Sandy Wallace Cycles ever consistent Alan Thomson third in 20:32; just one tick of the second hand ahead of Billy Bilsland's Ben Peacock in 20:33.
Chris Smart (Paisley Velo) explained to us that he’d no choice but to successfully defend his Scottish Olympic Time Trial Championship over the Meldons course in the Scottish Borders, recently. If he hadn’t, he’d only have been the champion for half a year; with the Trossachs being the championship race in October 2014 and the Meldons coming in April of this year.
Paisley Velo's Chris Smart joined the likes of Ian Steel, Billy Bilsland, Graeme Obree and Jason MacIntyre on the Tour de Trossachs roll of honour with a fine 1:08:10 winning ride on a cool, grey morning which favoured the strong men. Last year's winner, Silas Goldsworthy (Sandy Wallace Cycles) was second with 1:09:29 and fast pedalling David Griffiths (Glasgow Wheelers) third in 1:09:47. VeloVeritas drove the whole course and snapped about every rider...
Spanish sports paper, Mundo Deportivo says; 'El Tigre, en la Lieja-Ponferrada-Lieja' comparing the race to an Ardennes Classic. 'A complete cyclist with a brilliant future,' they say of the 24 year-old Pole Michal Kwiatkowski. Despite a tiny box on the front cover, the race gets two-and-a-half pages with nice colour pictures.
I hate to keep moaning about these Worlds, but ... There's no way you can get from the two K to go sign at the foot of the final descent and up onto the climb. Barriers, tapes, police, volantarios (volunteer janitors) - grim! A man who can't walk the course ends up in too many bars.
Well, if there's a pizza place in Ponferrada, we can't find it. It's rude to criticise your host's abode but we're mystified by how the Worlds came to be here. The communications are terrible, it's four-and-a-half hours by road or rail out of Madrid or get transfer flights up to the North West and more driving.
Movistar top and tail la Vuelta as Italian Time Trial Champion, Adriano Malori has the weather gods on his side and rides in the dry whilst the GC boys look like they’re pedalling on ice around the technical circuit in beautiful and historic Santiago de Compostella. The last time I stayed in Santiago weeds were sprouting from the cathedral’s lovely facade, so that scaffold was no surprise – a face lift was long overdue.
Samuel Sanchez summed it up best in the BMC press release for Stage 20 to Ancares; "To understand how was hard it was, you only have to look at the riders' faces." That was certainly true of Chris Froome, his face ashen, skin tight on his skull, eyes popping, gasping for air like a dying fish.
VeloVeritas cycling sage, Vik hates those narrow bars Adam Hansen uses - they're to make him more aero and save those precious watts - but they certainly didn't do him any harm, today in Cangas de Morrazo. Not just a win; he's saved Lotto's Vuelta - it goes from 'Ligthart and Hansen enlivening the breakaways' to 'stage winning' and that's about a million miles. By good fortune we had a chat with the man just before this Vuelta kicked off...
‘Alberto defends lead in spite of heavy bombardment at Monte Castrove en Meis,’ says the Saxo-Tinkoff press release – with Chris Froome the man in charge of the howitzers. Christopher may not be stylish but the man is a bike racer – and that has to be respected. The tactic is simple, when the road goes up and the pace eases back a notch – attack! It nearly netted him the win today but Aru is young, hungry, skinny and pretty quick for a mountain man. But Froome did climb to second on the ‘virtual’ podium and claw back some time on Contador.
There was the chance that the break would stick; but with John Degenkolb’s Giant boys working themselves into the tar for him – and having done their homework by riding the stage finale on the rest day – and the likes of Ferrari and Matthews fancying their chances now that Bouhanni is back in France, not to mention Sky piling it on to keep Froome out of trouble, it was odds on to be a sprint finish.
My son reckons he’s on something and will, ‘get caught; there’s no way he could break his leg in the Tour and then be as strong as he is... Let’s hope (and pray) not; but my perspective is different – I think Alberto Contador is one of the greatest stage racers the world has ever seen and as such you can’t compare him to lesser mortals. People forget that Contador has been as close to death as a man can get and still survive.
Przemyslaw Niemiec wins today, but it’s just morbid curiosity which compels me to watch Chris Froome (Sky & Monaco/England/South Africa/Kenya) these days – he climbs like a stick insect with Saint Vitus Dance. It upsets me; but distressing or not, it gets him up them hills, albeit in his own mystifying style – off the back, off the front...
A good day for big Ryder Hesjedal – it looked for all the world like Zaugg was going to double his career wins with only one, the Tour of Lombardy.
Stage 13 took things back up a level but on a parcours which didn’t make for ‘The Bigs’ to do anything but mark each other. Unlike the Tour de France where there have been years where the honour of France has been saved by a single stage win by the likes of Sandy Casar, the Vuelta has always inspired it’s children with Spaniards well to the fore. When it comes to stage wins the ‘Home Boys’ always reach deep into their top hats to find a rabbit with Daniel Navarro at last giving Cofidis something to smile about.
We had a feeling that Quintana would find it very hard to continue in this Vuelta – whilst the man is hugely talented he’s not at the level he was in the Giro and to make up three minutes on Messrs. Contador, Rodriguez and Valverde was never going to be easy. His morale was in his boots anyway but then fate intervened, down he went on the stage from Pamplona and the Media can stop asking daft questions about imaginary feuds in the Movistar camp.
Alberto Contador Velasco (Tinkoff & Spain) pulled on the red jersey, raised his bouquet to his adoring fans in Borja then offered his clenched right fist up to his chest. The man has a big heart in there, for sure – all that was missing was Kiss pumping on the PA, ‘Back in the New York Groove,’ the line which goes; ‘this place was meant for me!’
Stage Nine to Valdelinares; a horrible day after the baking heat of Andalucía - but joy at last for Lampre with Anacona after the Ulissi and Horner debacles. But where the hell is Pippo? Perfect tactics from Movistar; "we’ve got a man in the break, why would we chase?..." And they keep the jersey – and despite the best efforts of the Media to rustle up a feud, Quintana and Valverde seem to us to be working a perfect ‘one – two.’
On Stage Eight to Albacete, once the break got caught with around 20 miles to go it looked like standard sprinter stage fare – Giant, Lampre, F de J and GreenEDGE would control it for their sprinters, with Nacer Bouhanni prominent.
As Dario Cioni once told us; ‘sometimes it’s nice for the big teams to get it wrong and the break to stay away.’ Big Italian Alessandro De Marchi was originally a team pursuit rider and paid his dues for three years in the low budget but big achieving Androni squad before stepping up to the World Tour with Cannondale, last year.
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?
Despite his flyweight 56 kilos Eddie Dunbar has already established himself as one of the worlds' best U23 riders with top ten finishes in the European and World U23 Time Trial Championships - and riding for the Irish team rather than his usual US Axeon Hagens Berman team he took Ronde victory in that bike riders’ Mecca, historic Oudenaarde.
‘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...
‘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.
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.