Alessandro Valverde was hugely impressive – not the shadow of himself we saw in the last week of the Tour. It’s like Robert Millar said; ‘there comes a day when you have to stop dreaming.’ That day was yesterday for many as we were reminded of the savagery of professional bike racing at the highest levels. There were no interlopers – just the best of the best, all of the pre-race favourites trying their best to waste each other on that horrible grind to the line.
We have to start betting ‘each way’ – yesterday we said; ‘Michael Matthews’ and he was third, today we said; ‘Nacer Bouhanni’ and he was second. And much as we admire the wiry Frenchman, John Degenkolb was 100% correct when he said of Bouhanni’s complaint about the German shutting the door on him; ‘on the right side there was only the barriers.’
We weren’t so far away with our tip for the win in Cordoba, Michael Matthews the GreenEDGE Aussie was third and held on to his race lead; but we should slap out own wrists for not mentioning Germany’s Giant, John Degenkolb – the man to watch when gravity is involved and rains on the ‘pure’ fast men's parade.
We’re feeling a bit smug, this morning, on the eve of Stage Three we said; ‘It could be one for the breakaway but GreenEDGE may control it for Clarke and Michael Matthews – and maybe Yates?’ And they man they call ‘Bling’ due to his penchant for jewellery proved us correct. The 23 year-old from Canberra again proved that in an uphill finish, if his motivation is good – there’s a little question mark over his grinta - then he’s very hard to beat.
Stage Two had been hailed as one where the cross winds could blow things apart from the off but fortunately the Weather Gods remained benign and we were treated to a high speed finale where F des J and Nacer Bouhanni demonstrated again that they know exactly how to handle fast, technical finales. The wiry Frenchman was in a class all of his own after a beautiful lead out by his boys and in particular last man in the train, Geoffrey Soupe who rode a magnificent finale for his Capo.
Movistar win Stage One in Jerez de la Frontera – no surprises, then. Perhaps we could have expected more from reigning World TTT Champions, QuickStep but with Tony Martin just back after a break and a technical parcours where it would have been easy to pile up, the Belgian team took no chances and finished fifth.
We were there, walking the streets and parks of Glasgow - until the Monsoons came and discretion became the better part of valour at which times the words of Doctor Samuel Johnson have never rang more true; 'There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.' Especially if it has an HD tele.
Essex boy Alex Dowsett proved that there is life after Sky with a brilliant time trial win in the Commonwealth Games event to add to his 2013 TT stage in the Giro, beating Aussie race favourite Rohan Denis into second and Wales Sky flyer Geraint Thomas into third on a blustery sunny Thursday afternoon around ‘The Dear Green Place’ that is Glasgow.
Many times present on a major championship podium but never on the top step, New Zealand's Linda Villumsen finally claimed her first gold medal today with a six second margin over former World Champion at the discipline Emma Pooley (England), riding her last time trial as a pro cyclist. The bronze medal went to the German-born professional with Orica-AIS Katrin Garfoot, riding for Australia.
Despite being one of the youngest riders in the field, 19 year old New Zealander Anton Cooper proved to be the strongest and the savviest by surprising the two riders still with him heading towards the finish with a sudden and sharp acceleration off the front of the string to go clear with just a few hundred uphill metres remaining. Teammate Samuel Gaze (himself only 18 years old) reacted quickly to pass Daniel McConnell (Australia) to take second place just three seconds behind Cooper.
Three times the cross country mountain bike event has been in the Commonwealth Games (introduced in 2002, it didn't feature on the programme in Dehli four years ago) and three times Canada have topped the womens' podium. This time it was the turn of Catharine Pendrel, who took control of the race midway round the first of five laps and wasn't challenged again, soloing to a 70 second win over her teammate Emily Batty, with Australian rider Rebecca Henderson third a further 12 seconds back, after a race-long battle with Batty.
If you rode the Tour in the colours of Lampre you've got €9,830 coming your way - but don't get too excited, that's to be split between nine coureurs and the staff. And if you then remember that's for one month's work - the shine comes of things a wee bit. However, if you were one of Vincenzo's hard working storm troops then you'd be splitting €539,330 with the Capo not taking his share. That's better !
First mission in Périgueux was to have a good look at the chrono hardware on display. There's a dazzling amount of tech on display from Canyon, Pinarello and the rest - it's hard to keep up with the manufacturers' claims and to get your mind round what's the best solution. Concealed front brakes, for example are a confusing one - whilst Trek's Speed Concept conceals the mechanisms within the fork blades, which is perhaps the optimal solution, the likes of Giant and Ridley have the brakes behind the fork crown.
Australia had another great day at the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome, collecting another five medals to add to the previous two days haul of ten, putting them top of the cycling table with six more than any other country. For the second day in a row, the Men's Para Tandem provided one of the most memorable moments. This time it was the Sprint competition and again it was the Scottish pair of Neil Fachie and Craig MacLean, winning the final two-matches-to-one and celebrating with their families whilst the crowd joined in singing to them, who brought the proceedings to a halt.
There's always drama when you work le Tour. We've followed Tour time trials for years; roll up at the start, tell the dude which rider you're following, they give you a windscreen sticker, marshall you into position at the appointed time and off you go. This year, however we were notified that we had to attend a meeting on Friday evening at the Permanence after the stage if we wished to follow a rider. Fair enough - but then they changed the venue a few hours before the meet was due.
Highlight of the day at the Commonwealth Games 2014 velodrome was without doubt the gold medal won by Neil Fachie and Craig MacLean in the Para B2 Tandem Kilo Time Trial. Going off last and fastest at every check, the pair were carried along by the enormous, ear-splitting roar from the full-capacity crowd, with lots of Scots but also a fair percentage of other nations too all voicing their support for the effort and spectacle.
Bonjour! Hautacam and the Pyrenees are in the rear view mirror as we head for the start of Stage 19 and the start of the long haul north towards Paris. We were on the Tourmalet, yesterday - a beast of a mountain. But first, Lourdes - go, see it and then leave, quickly. At the bottom of The Tourmalet sits Sainte-Marie-de-Campan where - back in the days when men were men - Eugene Christophe had to fix his own forks but the commissars still nailed him because the blacksmith's apprentice worked the bellows at the forge.
It's the first day of competition in the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the chat in the riders' enclosure before the start of the first track cycling session was that Australia and New Zealand had brought a team at the top of their game - and it didn't take long to become apparent this was true. Australia dominated the first day in a packed Sir Chris Hoy velodrome in Glasgow, taking six medals back to the athletes' village just down the road; two golds, a silver and three bronzes.
Another great stage yesterday - Peraud takes a giant step, Rafal Majka confirms, Nibali consolidates, Konig stumbles... After breakfast we had a wander round Lourdes; it's one weird place - but I said that yesterday. We decided against the finish col to Saint-Lary Pla d'Adet - dead end climbs are nitemares to get off after the stage and we figured that the action might just start on the Col de Val Louron-Azet. We got up there in plenty time, claimed our spot and waited 'til it was time to grab our caravan swag.
We've left Carcassonne and heading for Bagnères-de-Luchon. But first, our favourite picture of the Tour so far ? L'Équipe's shot of F des J manager Marc Madiot kissing Arnold Jeannesson after Stage 16 for all the good work he did for Pinot during his six-and-a-quarter hour 16 shift. Some folks poke fun at Madiot; we like his style - committed, passionate and outspoken. As a rider he was brilliant; a French Pro champion, two wins in Paris-Roubaix and top tens in Flanders - he's got the T-shirt, in our book.
Jack Bauer; tall, dark, slim, handsome, polite, grounded, friendly - it would have been so nice to add 'Tour de France stage winner' to that description. Dave and I were holed up in a nice old bar/restaurant attached to a genteel hotel in Carcassonne watching the finale of Stage 15 and willing the big man from the land of the long white cloud to cross that line first.
Silas Golsdworthy put the disappointment of not being part of the Scottish Commonwealth Games team firmly behind him by taking victory in the country's 50 Mile Time Trial Championship today with a stunning 1:43:48, the second fastest 50 miles ever ridden in Scotland and only 45 seconds off Graeme Obree's 21 year old record.
Alberto Contador's withdrawal was a huge shock to the Tinkoff team and immediately after it Michael Rogers said; “It’s the first stage without Alberto, and the sadness is not just something we can leave at the rest day hotel. But we have a strong team and we’re all in a good condition. So we’ll be setting new goals and ambitions and shift our focus to taking home stage wins. Cue Rafal Majka.”
10 years ago we’d have been knocked out by the riding of Vincenzo Nibali – now we question. It’s not a case of cynicism or love of the ‘D-word’ gossip, it’s just that we were fooled for so long and so comprehensively that if a rider is dominating in the fashion of ‘The Shark’ then one does wonder – it’s impossible not to.
Alex Kristoff wins in the town which used to be the heart of the French bicycle industry – St. Etienne. We also managed to get our paws on L'Équipe, again - for the day of Nibali's second coup, on La Planche des Belles Filles. The front page features a satisfied Nibali, a devastated Contador as well as Bardet and Pinot - at last French guys with realistic GC ambitions. C'est bon!
VeloVeritas owes an apology to the Frenchman who rides for that most Belgian of teams, Lotto’s Tony Gallopin; we thought he’d had his ‘day in the sun,’ wearing le maillot jaune on Bastille Day. And if we may digress for a moment; since World war Two the jersey has been worn on Bastille Day by a French rider on 17 occasions, including Anquetil on five, Hinault three times with Bobet and Tommy Voeckler both achieving this feat twice – as well as Monsieur Gallopin, this year.
La Planche des Belles Filles. Epic. There's no other word. In any Saga there are heroes and villains; but the only one of the latter to manifest herself on this day was Lady Luck. Lashing out spitefully at Alberto Contador and casting a second Grand Favourite from the Tour. I can't recall the last time I saw the Spaniard "chuck" a race so knew it was serious.
Patrick Lefevre said today it was one of the greatest performances he has ever seen; Tony Martin fought for more than an hour to establish a gap of 30 seconds and then go away from the second group of 25 riders with the whole Europcar team trying to get him back. Remember that Lefevre has been one of the most respected managers in the sport for two decades and isn’t prone to throwing praise around.
‘Enfin un Francais!’ – ‘At last a Frenchman!’ said the caption on French EuroSport. And a highly deserving one – Blel Kadri won in the grand manner; in the break for most of the day; dissolving the partnership with his companions when they were no longer of any use to him then holding off the maillot jaune group to win ‘en seule’.
QuickStep, you have to respect them. They lost Cav but they've been contesting the sprints as if he was still here, with Renshaw grabbing places of honour. And today again Kwiatkowski was there in the finale - yesterday he tried a 'long one' for himself, today he set it up beautifully for Matteo Trentin. Patrick Lefevre has seen it all; a good pro himself, he won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in his day, he manages to run a glossy, modern team which at the same time doesn’t forget that the sport belongs to the people.
It was good to see Andre Greipel, ‘Le Gorille’ back and his relief at winning was palpable. The huge disappointment in the Lotto car when the big German crashed out of Gent-Wevelgem was forgotten after a stage win which effectively means Lotto’s Tour is a success, irrespective of what Jurgan Van Den Broeck can pull out of the hat.
When you’re in the Tour village, the sun is shining and the riders’ kit is so clean it almost glows, their tans are the colour of mahogany and the smiles for the pretty girls are a mile wide, who wouldn’t want to be a professional cyclist? But when you see men like Sagan and Cancellara on their knees today, sodden, crash scarred and with the prospect of having to do it all again, tomorrow then you remember that it can also be a long ways from ‘ice cream and fairies’ on le Tour.
I didn’t think Kristoff was as ultimately fast as that; I knew he’s a beast of a boy but didn’t think that a straight sprinters’ stage was tough enough for him - but he nearly proved me wrong in Lille at the end of Stage Four. The wily Paolini and strong-as-a-bear Russian Champion Alex Porsev dragged the Katusha Norwegian through the chaos and gave him a clear run – but Kittel was just too strong, again.
Two riders away all day from kilometre zero, they get caught with six K to go, Giant dominates the finale, Kittel wins. And that was that – but ah, yes, it did rain for the finish. I guess the boys deserve a bit of R & R after yesterday’s mini-Ardennes death race - but a two man break holding the 194 man peloton off until they could almost hear the finish flag flapping? But as they say in the USA; ‘KUDOS’ to Bideau and Barta showing those Pro Tour wheels suckers how it’s done.
Astana’s design team may not have made a good job of that Italian champion’s jersey but it’s wearer, Vincenzo Nibali certainly made a good job of Stage Two of the 2014 Tour de France (aka The Tour in Yorkshire), catching an elite group napping with 1700 metres to go to take stage and GC glory. 'Shark Attack in Sheffield' said the ASO press release - we like that. The nay sayers were writing him off just a week or two ago but the man has won two of the three Grand Tours and has finished on the podium of all three – to underestimate him was folly.
Welcome to VeloVeritas' coverage of the Tour de France 2014. Stage one looked like a "truce" to VV - except for that finale, of course. We give our views on Cav and a few other aspects of the 2014 "Grand Boucle" (with a bittie to Yorkshire tacked on, that is.) You'd have to be devoid of a soul not to feel sorry for the man - even more so when he puts his hand up and says; "my fault!". Last year he wasn't at his best in le Tour, despite the stage wins. He'd finished a very hard Giro - aren't they all ? - and then rode the Tour.
It was 11:20 am on Thursday September 5th 2013 on the A91 road between Gateside and Strathmiglo when we lost Ali Speed. He was just 49 years-old, out on his bike and doing what he loved when he was snatched away. Ali rode his first race at just 12 years-old and was racing just days before he died. VeloVeritas ran an obituary for Ali at the time of his death and it goes without saying that we had to attend the 50 mile time trial his sister Mhairi organised in his honour on behalf of Fife Cycling Association. We thought that rather than straight race reportage – albeit not ignoring Iain Grant’s (Dooleys) dazzling 1:47 to win – we’d drive most of the course and look at the roads and places Ali trained and raced on.
On a blustery, squally day on the dual carriageways of the A78 and A71 around Irvine and Kilmarnock on Sunday morning, Dooley's Iain Grant added the Scottish 25 Mile Time Trial title to the "10" with a stunning 50:46 ride; a massive 1:39 clear of surprise second, Peter Murdoch (Paisley Velo) with Murdoch's team mate Chris Smart a further 25 seconds back in the bronze medal position. VeloVeritas had eventual fourth placed Arthur Doyle in the bronze medal spot, late in the race. But cramp hit Doyle in the closing miles and he had to freewheel across the line, two seconds down on Smart.
Mezgec’s sprint was timed to perfection in what was a real free-for-all of a finish. And isn’t that Giant jersey livery just so effective? – there was no doubt about which kind of bike had just won as Big Luka crossed the line. Nacer Bouhanni (F des J & France) didn’t seem his usual desperate self, he said later he was too concerned about crossing the line upright and preserving his red points jersey.
That final horrible grind up the mountain didn’t affect the GC much at all but Michael Rogers’ (Tinkoff & Australia) ride was wonderful to watch. It looked very much like he had the better of fellow breakaway survivor Francesco Manuel Bongiorno (Bardiani & Italy) anyway, but we were denied their duel going any further by the moron who gave the man in green a push.
Today, the race started at 123 metres above sea level and finished at 1,712 metres above sea level – that’s an elevation of 1,589 metres. The climbing part of the race went on for some 12.5 miles with Quintana’s average speed – but with four/five miles of flat road in there which the 'Bigs' were covering at around 27 mph – an average 16.5 miles per hour. Last finisher was Jeffry Johan Corredor (Colombia & Colombia) @ 18:00 minutes. Enough said, I think?
Is it me or is Quintana just TOO pink; he looks like something from Toy Story gone feral – but when you can climb like he can then you can get away with pretty much anything, I guess? It looks like the Giro is won; even if he has an off day in the mountain test or Zoncolan it’s unlikely the little chap will concede 1:41 to Uran and even less likely he’ll drop 3:29 to Rolland & Co. It’s been a great race and even though it’s now pretty much certain that the small gentleman from Tunja on the Pan American Highway in Colombia will win and Uran will be second, the battle for the third spot on the podium – and just maybe the second one, too – rages on.
The other day we had the score down as 2:0 in the Bardiani v. Sky match – well, it’s now 3:0 as the versatile Stefano Pirazzi demonstrated the desire, desperation and grinta you need to be a Giro stage winner. As well as being a former Tirreno and Giro King of the Mountains, he’s been a medallist in the Italian TT Championships. This is his fifth full pro season – initially with Colnago and remaining with the team as it morphed into Bardiani.
Stage 16 will enter legend – Quintana’s long distance attack to take pink was straight out of the top drawer. There is a big ‘but,’ however; the confusion created by the Giro organisation with their much debated radio announcement to the teams regarding the dangerous descent of the Stelvio Pass.
I first heard of Fabio Aru (Astana & Italy) when he won the 2011 Giro della Val d’Aosta U23 stage race in Italy from US rider Joe Dombrowski – who’s now professional with Sky. Aosta along with the Tour de l’Avenir and the U23 Worlds are the big shop windows for the professional talent scouts. Aru had been fourth in Aosta the year previous and would win it again in 2012.
There can only be one winner and that was Enrico Battaglin; but there were other men who were outstanding on the day. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R & Italy) is looking more dangerous by the day, his team is committed and strong and he looks the least stressed of the ‘Bigs’ - and that mountain time trial must have a big red ring around it on his programme.
There are two ways to look at this stage. If you’re the best and the rest know that then you just have to get on with it – I can remember HTC setting Bert Grabsch to work with 100 K to go in a Tour stage to keep the break in check so as to set up Cav for the sprint some two-and-half hours later.
Time tests, love them or hate them – but this one was a cracker. I had Evans down as winner after it became apparent that Adriano Malori was ‘just getting round’ after his crash the day before. I had it in my mind that Ulissi might do something but thought his stage 11 crash would put a lid on his ambitions. Far from it and Lampre's new star lead for a large part of the afternoon until Rigoberto Uran jarred all of our eyes open – including Ulissi’s as he sat in the ‘hot seat.’
Mick Rogers, a ride-and-a-half – especially given the Giro is only his second race back from the ‘clebuterol carry on.’ He must have looked after himself really well during his hiatus. If you count the 2000 season when he was a stagier with Mapei, this is his 15th pro season, he was with Mapei ’01 and ’03; QuickStep ’03, ‘04 and ’05; T-Mobile ’06 and ’07; the various incarnations of High Road/Columbia/HTC ’08, ’09 and 10; Sky ’11 and ’12 and Saxo/Tinkoff last year and this.
Bouhanni is impressive; he was on the limit to get over the little rise on the run in – where Sky did a lot of damage to a lot of people, unfortunately including their own sprinter, Ben Swift who just scraped in to the top ten – but the wiry French fast man was right where he had to be for the finale.
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.
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?
‘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.
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...