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.
We began Norman's story in Part One last week, where he spoke about his time racing in the Six Days. In Part Two today Norman describes his time as Manager at the Vancouver Velodrome, what's been keeping him busy since then, and some interesting ideas for spicing up the World Tour and winter Sixes.
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.
With just about everything on ‘hold’ awaiting le Tour kicking off in Yorkshire, we thought we’d slip back through the decades to a different era. One where the ‘big motors’ were still the thing; Six Days packed them in and pave didn’t just come in two kilometer packages. You may not have heard of Englishman, Norman Hill – but he has the T-shirt, video and DVD as a ‘stayer,’ Six Day man and kermis rider on the hard roads of Flanders and The Netherlands.
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.
Boring this Giro is not - Pieter Weening won ORICA-GreenEDGE's third stage of the race in a two-up sprint against Davide Malacarne (Team Europcar) both having survived from the break of the day. It took an hour of savage racing before a big break of 14 was finally allowed to go - once the correct recipe passed the test of the ‘Bigs’ dipping their finger in the mixing bowl. But there were just two left come the mountain top tactical finish where Weening was too strong for Malacarne – I did enjoy the high altitude track stand...
Diego Ulissi (Lampre & Italy); if the broader world of cycling didn’t really know who he was before this Giro – they do now. His first win on Stage Five wasn’t a surprise if you were aware of his terrific end to last season - Milano-Torino, the Coppa Sabatini and the Giro dell’Emilia. Three Italian semi-classics - all very desirable and hard fought – ‘tough and hilly’ is right up his street. But Saturday was different, the real deal, first and second cat. montagnes; and just look at who he beat – Evans, Uran, Quintana, Pozzovivo... As Kris said, it restores your faith in bike racing.
'Desperate' is defined as; ‘having a great need or desire for something.’ It was Vik who used the word when describing Bouhanni’s win in Bari in that ‘semi-neutralised’ slippery Stage Four. Bouhanni had to change a wheel with 13 K to go and rain slick roads or not, the Frenchman and his domestiques rode like madmen to get him where he had to be. The man was desperate to win. He was the same today; F des J put the most savagery into the chasing down of the five escapees – for a long time I thought they’d stay clear. But F des J more than any other team wanted them back – and Bouhanni didn’t disappoint.
Already the ‘Forum Sitters’ are telling us that it was ‘unsporting’ of Evans and Matthews to take advantage of the mayhem which again reigned on the slopes of Cassino as two simultaneous crashes brought down droves of riders when they braked into a roundabout and left a group of eight clear at the front at the very foot of the ascent to the Abbey. Evans and Matthews both had two team mates with them who rode themselves into the ground to build an advantage.
It took six days but we got there in the end – the Giro has finally started; no gimmick locations, horrible transfers or rider protests. Simply hard racing in the beautiful Italian countryside and sunshine at the finish – that’s more like it. But before we look at Stage Five we have last words on the Stage Four debacle from our resident sage and prophet, Vik. He couldn’t be contacted after the stage, retreating to his cave high in the Pentland Hills to ponder the ‘semi-neutralisation’ of the Stage Four due to rain.
A few years ago in that much missed part of Scottish cycling history which was the Girvan Three Day - old timers like me still want to say; ‘Grants of Girvan,’ the race originally sponsored by that purveyor of the water of life – a stage was curtailed because of snow. The journos did the rounds of riders such as Nacer Bouhanni, management and officials who all said broadly the same thing, that given the conditions it was a wise decision.
On a typical four seasons in one day Scottish spring morning on the fast dual carriageways of the Irvine by-pass, Dooleys' Iain Grant reminded us all why he's Scotland's short distance king with a stunning 19 minutes and 40 seconds ride to relegate his team mate and former '10' champion, Arthur Doyle into the silver medal position, 15 seconds back and reigning champion Ben Peacock (Paisley Velo) into bronze with 19:59.
Today’s stage Stage Three was a re-run of Saturday’s with Marcel Kittel proving again that he’s not just quick but very, very strong. Again he was out of position but with the strength of a bull he came over everyone from well back to win. The press always want to attach labels; ‘fastest man in the world’ to sprinters – and whilst it’s never as simple as that, the big German is certainly impressive. His manner is good too with a smile never far away.
Cannondale, F des J, Giant, Greenedge, Sky, Trek - they all tried to take control in the finale in Belfast in Stage Two on Saturday. But none could. It's not until you see a situation like we did in Belfast that you realise just how good Mario Cipollini's Acqua Sapone and Cav's HTC trains really were. In the event, it was irrelevant; Kittel was in a different league. He was way back and would usually have been out of it but turned left, found clear road, turned on the boosters and left the others scrabbling for the placings.
The Giro in Belfast. ‘Joy and Pain, Sunshine and Rain,’ went the song by Frankie Beverley and Maze back in 1980. Joy and sunshine – well, at least no rain - for big Svein Tuft and the GreenEdge loco; but for Dan Martin and Garmin it was all rain and pain. Tuft is one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet, the original Gentle Giant – a beast of a man on a bike, off it he’s polite, friendly, gentle and laid back. In my book, one of the ‘Good Guys’ - happy birthday, sir!
Raleigh professional Evan Oliphant handled the age old dilemma of the pro racing against amateurs – if they don’t win they’re criticised, but if they do then it’s ‘expected’ – by taking the best option and winning the Gala CC’s Gordon Arms Hilly Time Trial over 20.5 cold and cloudy Borders miles in 50:06; some ways short of Mark Atkinson’s (Velo Ecosse) 1999 course record of 48:47 but enough to give him the result by 41 seconds over Carl Donaldson (GS Metro).
This year the winner of the Gifford Road Race 'A' event this year was also clearly the strongest rider on the day; Tom Bustard (Velosure - Giordana RT) was the first to make a serious attack on the first lap, pulling a break of several riders clear which cemented itself as more riders made it across over the next couple of laps.
Back in 1972 when Edinburgh's Meadowbank Velodrome was still a thing of beauty and not kindling-in-waiting, the British Madison Championships were held there. The men who won that day were the young Australian rider, Murray Hall – then riding for Croydon Premier - and his compatriot, Tom Moloney. We caught up with Murray recently during our researches about the Six Day races of old - he has a good tale to tell.
Watched by 75,000 spectators over the course of the event in the velodrome Landsberger Allee, Andreas Müller and Kenny de Ketele won the 103rd edition of the Berlin Six Day. On the last day and the last race they overtook the long-time leaders Leif Lampater and Jasper de Buyst with a race winning attack - exciting stuff. Third place went to Robert Bartko, which was his last time in Berlin at the Six with his young partner Theo Reinhardt.
Bremen used to be the 'Party Six’ and whilst it’s still a fun gig with beer halls, restaurants, discos and live music, the crowds ain’t quite like they used to be. Our man in the middle of those steep 167 metres of boards at the Bremen Six Day 2014 was the perennial Kris; here’s what he had to say to VeloVeritas on his return from the Fatherland...
Within only 23 minutes of the Dig In at the Dock Cyclocross race going live on the internet, it sold out of it's first 100 places. The organisers were tasked with looking through the list of around 60 riders on the waiting list to select 30 who they felt could add even more sparkle and fun to the now increasingly popular season ending one for all bike race.
This Six Day season marks the end of an era. Depending upon which source you consult, Franco Marvulli of Switzerland has ridden somewhere between 112 and 117 Six Days, this makes him the most prolific rider on the circuit by a considerable margin – Robert Bartko for example has ridden 75, Iljo Keisse has 72 starts. Marvulli has won 32; not to mention four world titles – two in the scratch and two in the madison and Olympic silver in the same discipline. So how come his ‘goodbye’ isn’t a bigger deal?
A pictorial summary of the Gent Six Day and our trip to the Koksijde Cyclocross race in the beach dunes of Flanders. At the track, it took me back to the days when I stood on the apron, bottles at the ready for Kris to hand up – but not too much in them so they don’t splash when the rider grabs them - just taking in the speed, noise, music, heat, people and that Gent buzz - high as a kite on the Gent Six Days.
For the first time in many a year VeloVeritas didn’t make it down to Grenoble for the Four Days on the battle scarred boards of the winter track where Post, Merckx, Sercu, Clark, Moser and Thevent have all lifted the laurels. How I miss Bar Clemenceau, Pizza Natalie and the wee bakers where the baker always give me extra croissants ‘for luck.’ ‘New Wave’ French strong men and World Madison Champions Morgan Kneisky and Vivien Brisse took the honours from tough Spaniards Muntaner & Torres with Iljo Keisse limbering up for Gent in third spot with countryman De Buyst.
As the storm clouds grew over the Wallace Monument the anticipation increased ahead of "Up the Kirk 2013" which had the honour of incorporating the Scottish Hill Climb Championships. The volunteers of the host club, Stirling Bike Club, got the course set up as a few nervous riders did some last minute reccies and stressed about gear ratios and tyre pressures.
We thought that you might like to hear what it was like to be a Six Day runner back in a time when the Sixes meant more than they do now. The big road stars were in action and it was full houses all across Europe – particularly in Germany. John Purser is the man’s name and here’s his tale.
Silas Goldsworthy (Sandy Wallace Cycles) added his name to the list of Scottish cycling greats – Steel, Bilsland, Millar, Obree and MacIntyre - who have won the Classic chrono, with a 1:07:29 ride on a ‘four seasons in one day,’ Sunday over the glorious countryside around Aberfoyle and Callander to take the win at the Tour de Trossachs 2013.
Elite Road Race World Championship 2013; Just about everyone named Rodriguez, Valverde, Nibali, Sagan, Gilbert and Cancellara as favourites – but I didn’t see one mention of Portugal’s Rui Costa’s name before the race. But he was there with the best at the death and played his hand as coolly as Paul Newman in ‘The Sting.’
I forgot to turn off the message alert on my BlackBerry and it started beeping away just before 04:00 am – it didn’t matter, I was awake anyway. The aphids had breached my defences and the irritation of the bites had wakened me. The French, Danish and Netherlands teams all showed themselves in the Junior Road Race World Championships 2013 - as Androni manager Gianni Savio always says; ‘you must honour the race!’ - with Franck Bonnamour away with Colombian Martinez in the closing stages.
The much debated percorso has me in two minds – there’s a part of me which says that it’s not as tough as I’d thought it would be – but the other part says; ‘but what about after ten times!’ I walked down the Salviati today and it’s a stinker, no question, but not that long. I also walked down around 60% of the Fiesole, all of which is just a drag; albeit I think it kicks up steeper beyond where I descended from. The descent off the Fiesole leads straight into the Salviati but it’s fast all the way off there to the line with just one ‘bump.’ But maybe it’s too fast for an organised chase?
Marcel Kittel won today, but yesterday, Saturday night, was sore - 4.5 hours on the road after the race then straight into the best of two falls or a submission with the motel wi-fi. However a chance meet with the night porter and we were 'in' on the staff password - words and pics all safely on their way.
Whilst we did muse over the possibility as we supped our McDonald's coffee this morning, I was unprepared for it actually happening. What I'm talking about is the setting of Alberto Contador's sun - both Quintana and Rodriguez distanced him on the very last climb of the 2013 Tour de France to Semnoz to elbow him off the podium.
First we had Siberian snow at the Giro – and now, Rangoon rain at Le Tour. It’s never boring with VeloVeritas on the Grand Tours, and we saw Rui Costa take the win today.
I could never be a ski bum, 60 Euros per night for the room here at the top of Alpe-d’Huez - but you have to pay extra for sheets - and towels - there's no toilet paper - then you have to clean the place at the end of it. A bit like borstal really, with off-hand, condescending staff.
Chorges...this must be the place; Andrei Greipel’s pedalling back to his hotel, the road’s blocked with cars, buses and civilians. Yes, it’s the finish of the 32 kilometre mountain time trial – trouble is that we want to be at the start and the satnav is routing us through the finish area.
We left Vaison-la-Romaine this morning on Stage 16, and we got to thinking; if you’re in love with the sport, sometimes it breaks your heart. I can remember sitting in my living room watching Bjarne Riis and Luc Leblanc squabble by the roadside about whether the race should continue during the ‘Festina Tour’ – a race ultimately won by Marco Pantani.
Patti Smith is telling me at pain threshold levels; ‘because the night belongs to lovers.’ No girl! It belongs to that bed in the camper van which I’m using my last dregs of energy to reach. The racing may be over for the night at the Bremen Six Day 2020 but the party is 100% ON, Bremen isn’t called the ‘Party Six’ for nothing.
Our old friend and former Six Day man, ‘Brit,’ Norman Hill suggested to us that we should ‘have a word’ with the man who was his Six Day ‘runner’ on the winter boards circuit back when there were up to 17 Six Day races every winter, Marvin Smart, who was also an innovator in the field of advertising on the actual track surface – such an important factor in a Six Day organiser’s budget plans.
The new Bahrain McLaren team colour scheme for the team’s jerseys and bikes is hard to miss; but it was the little ‘le col’ logo that interested us. ‘Le Col’ is the clothing company founded and run by British ex-pro, Yanto Barker. We found out more about outfitting a World Tour team and the man behind the brand.
If you check the palmares websites, Neah Evans' name first pops up in 2015 – just four years later and she’s performing at world level in ladies track cycling as part of the GB ladies team pursuit squad; with her most recent successes coming in the European Team Pursuit Championships and Glasgow World Cup where her squad took gold on both occasions.
Adding his name to the u23 Gent Six Day roll of honour is Scotland’s Alfie George; the young Scot ran out winner just a few weeks after his fine seventh place in the Junior Worlds Road race in Harrogate and a season which saw him fifth in the junior Paris-Roubaix.
Englishman Dan Bigham is the man behind the highly successful HUUB-Wattbike track team; HUUB manufacture specialist clothing for cycling and triathlons whilst Wattbike manufacture ‘smart’ bikes and indoor trainers. We caught up with Dan just after the HUUB team’s 2020 season launch.