TdF Week 2 : Report Card

Second rest day is done. It’s time for the Alps and the final push for Paris. Here’s how we see things as of right now. Agree? Disagree?

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Sky
A++
Yellow jersey by a comfortable margin, putting all the heat on their rivals. Forget marginal gains. Only a major catastrophe in the Alps will stop Froome from winning his second TdF. The intense and often hysterical media scrutiny seems only to be galvanising the team further. Thomas has been a revelation. One final challenge to withstand this week.

Van Arvermet

BMC 
B+
Another stage win and Van Garderen is still in the top three on GC. The American is riding a strong race, but to us he just looks to be missing that final 5% to really take it to Froome and Quintana – and not just this year.

Tinkoff-Saxo
B
We agree with Tinkov, Sagan is the strongest individual rider in the race this year. Green is virtually sewn up and he’s done it pretty much on his own. But with Contador far from his peak to date, it’s looming as another Tour more of opportunities missed than ones taken.

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Movistar
A
Quintana has been strong and Valverde has been arguably even stronger with repeated feisty attacks. But in all likelihood yellow looks to be just out of reach. With two in the top 5, best young rider and leading the overall team classification, it’s still been a good Tour so far for the Spaniards. Could they make it a great one in the Alps? You know they’ll keep attacking.

Ettix-Quickstep
B-
The smiles of week one seem a distant memory now. Cav got a stage win, true. But it’s all aboard the autobus now. A stage win in Paris would lift spirits immeasurably. Kwiatkowski has been fiesty. Uran has been virtually invisible.

Astana
C+
A slight improvement on week one, but the horse has long since bolted. Nibali has shown some character and so far is the only of Froome’s main pre-race rivals to take back any time. Vino has provided plenty of comedy, whether he realises it or not.

Orica-GreenEDGE
D
Nothing much to report, except that they still have riders…riding. The busted up Michael Matthews has been herculean and even scored a top 10 the other night. Can the Yates boys salvage something in the Alps?

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Riders of the week:
Steven Cummings – first stage win for MTN-Qhubekah, ever
Geraint Thomas – a fine rider and a hard man who just keeps busting his gut for Froome
Jean-Christophe Peraud – skinned alive but kept on riding
Peter Sagan – more seconds than the Ghandi movie
Laurent Jalabert – he knows who he is, doesn’t he Chris?

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Geraint, we salute you

The further this Tour goes the more we’re loving Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas. Not because he’s 6th on GC. Or because he was sent flying off a high-speed descent by an out-of-control Warren Barguil, kissed a light post with his head, crashed into a ditch only to remount his Pinarello and still almost catch up with the GC leaders by the finishing kite. No, we loved his comments to the media straight after the stage.

Thomas: “Barguil just wiped me out.”
Journo: “And what happened after you fell?”
Thomas: “I got back up, and started chasing.”
Journo: “Any immediate injury?”
Thomas: “Nah, I head-butted the wooden pole thing, got tangled up in the bushes and the wire thing. Some guy pulled me up.”
Journo: “A spectator pulled you out?”
Thomas (dry as you like): “Yeah, some French people like us.”

Priceless.

Welcome to Salem, France

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Is this 2015 France, or 1693 Salem? The current hysteria surrounding the holder, and most likely winner, of the maillot jaune and his team really has me wondering. Fuelled by a perfect storm of the sport’s dubious legacy and a lazy media repeatedly defaulting to sensationalism for the easy story (and the absence of a Frenchman remotely near the summit of a general classification blown apart on the Stage 10 slopes to La Pierre-Saint-Martin) this witch-hunt really is getting crazy. Every post stage press conference is the same. Seriously? If someone fails a test or gets caught red handed, fair enough. But until then is this all we have to talk about during the pinnacle of the sport, over and over again?

There are endless stories coming out of the Tour as there are every year – epic bravery, tactical genius, historic wins, dire miscalculations, new technology etc. Why such intense obsession on one that may not even be true at all? You’ve asked your questions, we know your suspicions. Now can’t we move on, please?

People say Australians have a tall poppy syndrome, well surely the French put us in the shade? I’m not there, but I have sat in plenty of press rooms in my time and it would appear many of the scribes currently in France are spending the hours of each stage not paying the scantest of attention to the race itself, but scouring Google on their laptops for even the slightest hint of a misdeed from Froome, Brailsford and Co – any time in last three decades will do. Mechanical doping? That must be it! An employee who once worked with US Postal? Guilty as sin! Leaked power data files? Ha! Did you hear Froome once took a cough lolly for a sore throat when he was eleven. Cheat!!!

Who cares if it only has the faintest skerrick of truth to it; pump it out there ASAP, harvest the clicks and page views and let social media do its thing. Inevitably a rogue minority of fans are now picking up on the whole hysterical narrative, taking things into their own hands out on the road. Hurling insults is one thing. But, be these people guilty or not, to hear of punches and urine being thrown at riders makes us fear for the future of the sport, it not the human race.

Yes, people are dancing with the devil over at the Tour de France, alright. But the way we see things they’re not necessarily cyclists.

TdF Week 1 : Report Card

The top 10 at the first rest day. The obvious name missing is Nibali.

The top 10 at the first rest day. The obvious name missing is Nibali.

Sky
A+
Yellow jersey, solid time gains on all major GC rivals, no major incidents, what a difference a year makes. Looked steely in the team time trial. Looks like they have their 2012/13 mojo back.

BMC

BMC
A+
Two stage wins, a short stint in yellow for Rohan Dennis and their team leader is nestled into second on GC. Andy Riis’ men couldn’t have gone much better so far. Can they keep it up when the roads begin to rise?

Tinkoff-Saxo
A
Strong stuff to date and generally uneventful in a hugely eventful race, which is just what Contador would have wanted. He’s lost a minute to Froome, but he’s still close enough if his legs hold out. Sagan has been his usual consistent self. Barring catastrophe the green jersey looks as good as his once again with the mountains looming – even if he’s yet to win a stage.

Movistar
B
Solid enough form so far from Quintana and Valverde, but with the Columbian two minutes down on Froome will he live to regret the stage 2 time losses in the Netherlands? You get the sense they’re about to try and blow this race apart. But they can’t afford any more slip ups.

Ettix-Quickstep
B
Yellow jersey, multiple stage wins from three different riders. By most teams’ standards it’s an outstanding Tour already. But these guys will want more, much more. Cav in particular will not be enjoying being beaten by Greipel and Sagan. Tony Martin’s first week encapsulates the yin and yang of pro cycling.

AG2R
B-
A stage win to Vuillermoz. But after a poor start, team leaders Bardet and Peraud have continued to look off the pace and find themselves with serious time losses to recoup in the mountains. The only upside is with their GC hopes virtually extinguished they may be free to chase stage wins.

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FDJ
C
Oh, no. Pinot. Lost time on multiple stages in the first week and, realistically, saw any chance of a repeat podium in 2015 ride away on the cobbles. He’s had some bad luck, sure. But his lack of composure was a little alarming. Maybe a stage win will ease the pain?

Astana
C-
Terrible first week. Nibali is going to have to ride out of his skin to even get close to challenging by Paris. With the team’s second and third best GC riders resting after the Giro, he’ll have to do much of it alone too. Losing 10 seconds on the stage 8 finish up the Mur de Bratagne was ominous.

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Orica-GreenEDGE
D-
The Aussies are marked down not for a lack of effort, but for some truly wretched luck. More crashes than the NASDAQ. Hopefully the Yates brothers can lift spirits in the mountains. Michael Matthews has shown some serious ticker to still be in the race. Shaping as a year of what might have been at the Tour.

Performances of Week 1:

Andre Greipel. Consistently bettering Cav for the first time in a long time.
Adam Hansen. Dislocated shoulder won’t stop him from reaching Paris.
Daniel Teklehaimanot. Rode himself into the history books. The hardest name to pronounce quickly in world cycling?
Lycra manufacturers. So many jerseys and skinsuits has been destroyed on the tarmac, they’ve been working around the clock.

 

 

The Secret Journo: Report 1

You’ve heard of the Secret Pro, right? Well, we’re excited to announce that throughout the course of this year’s Tour de France we’ve secured exclusive rights to the Secret Journo who, free from the ever-demanding and politically-correct shackles of the UCI, ASO and his own editorial staff, will tell us how it really is on the ground over there. Will he tell the truth? Is he even real? Who knows, but at least it will be different to the usual media fare… here’s the first report, just in from Utrecht.

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Our American friends have New York New York. This year’s Tour has Utrecht Utrecht. Which if you ask me is two Utrechts too many. Right up front, I hate Utrecht. It’s a big Dutch uni town and that brings brings back bad memories for this scribe. Throw into the mix the annual scrum of cyclo-groupies, corporate back slappers and overpaid media hangers-on and the next few days are likely to be rather unpleasant, brown cafes or not.

I’ve done a few now, and the Grand Depart is always the same; like one big high school reunion for the media where everyone acts as if they’re best mates at first, until quickly remembering just what tools they really are, albeit 12 months older and with even less hair than last time. Last year the locales for this annual tradition were the pubs of Leeds and other dry stone-fenced nooks of Yorkshire. This year everyone is cruising the Oudegracht and other canals in this uber flat city, microdosing on the local coffee, bakkie. I’m over it already. Thank god the race starts tomorrow and by Tuesday afternoon we’ll be in France.

As for the reason we’re all here, most folks are saying 2015 will be a race in four. I’m not so sure. Questionable steak burgers or not, if Contador can get up again after the Giro I will dip my cap to him, I really will. But I just can’t see it happening. Everyone here is worried about Quintana and rightly so. Fresh and fit, he really seems the stand out, yet unquestionably brings an enigmatic element into the race given we haven’t seen that much of him this season as yet. After the little Columbian I’m also fascinated by the prospects of Bardet. Lots of pressure on his scrawny French shoulders after finishing top ten in 2014. But what’s new in the land of baguettes and smelly fromage? We’ll also be watching Porte very closely, not so much for the overall win but for signals as to whom he might be riding for next year. The peloton’s jungle drums are already banging more than the team mechanics and podium girls.

Stage 1 is pancake flat, but at a smidgen under 14km may not be long enough for Tony Martin to exert his full time trial might. Might be a little biased here but someone like Rohan Dennis might pop up in yellow on Saturday or even the Dutchman, Domoulin or Movistar’s Dowsett.

Until next time…

The rise of the early adopter

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I was reading an interview with Vicenzo Nibali the other day. Among a raft of interesting comments about everything from his childhood in Sicily to the ongoing pressures and suspicions surrounding his team at Astana in the lead up to the 2015 Tour de France, he was quite candid about his indifference for nightclubs and late nights. This made me smile. For while I fully appreciate I’m never going to win much more than a tyre of two from cycling, I can certainly relate to the Shark of Messina on this particular issue.

Sure, I stayed up late and caused havoc to my brain cells (and bank balance) with the best of them in my late teens and early twenties. I still do on occasion even now. But I’m certainly not ashamed to say I’m no night owl. I’m a card-carrying morning person and looking back now I’ve always been one to choose an early night and early start over going late/late.

My love for the pre-dawn hours has existed ever since I used to rise with the ‘thud’ of The Courier Mail as it slammed into our Brisbane carport. If dad, another early riser, beat me to the paper I’d settle for listening to my Walkman or perhaps sneaking out to watch The Ed Allen Show or Aerobics Oz Style. Tragic, but true. I have even fonder memories of rising with the sparrows during school holidays to go fishing for whiting, bream and flathead with my pop on the Gold Coast Broadwater back in the 1970s and 80s. They were great mornings. We never ran out of things to talk about from the moment we left the Paradise Point cottage he shared with my nan to the moment we returned, more often than not with a hefty feed of fresh fish. He was a good fisherman.

These days my pop is gone, but the early starts he inspired in me still very much continue; just with bikes instead of fishing rods. Ultegra instead of Alvey. Bike pumps instead of yabbie pumps.

Given my love of mornings, it was perhaps just a matter of time before I eventually found cycling. Along with fishing, rowing and perhaps dog walking, it really is the ideal pastime for an early riser. I’ve never lived in the country, but suspect rolling along in that final hour before sunrise – especially during winter – is about as close as you’ll get to it without leaving the city limits. It’s a chance to explore your city as if you’re the only one in it. To be free from the usual craziness of traffic and noise. To watch the sun peek its head over the horizon under a blanket of stars instead of, well, just a blanket. And escape the worries of the world – at least momentarily – except, perhaps, for garbage trucks and misplaced wheelie bins.

Yeah, I’m a morning person alright … and that’s why dad often goes to bed before you do these days, kids. Get over it  ;-)

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USER REVIEW : ZWIFT

Not sure about you. But from this rider’s experience, structured high-intensity turbo training can work a treat, especially when used in a block as preparation for a burst of hard racing. Just a shame it’s so damn boring, right?

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Until a week ago I only really considered using the trainer when the weather was diabolical outside – and whenever I did it would be strictly whilst listening to a playlist of up-tempo ‘bangers’ on my iPhone. But last week a truly shithouse patch of cold and damp weather descended on my home town, Sydney and it was clear I’d be on the trainer five days in a row. Oh, joy.

Out of some curiosity and a lot of boredom-induced desperation I decided to watch a couple of Sufferfest videos, just the free ones on Strava, in an attempt to break up the monotony. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the added motivation provided by little more than the sporadic sound of revving engines, cheeky subtitles and archival footage of Thomas Voeckler’s contorted face. My post-ride data confirmed I’d been able to maintain higher wattage and intensity for longer than I’d previously managed listening to the Presets, amongst others. Who’d of thought?

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Yesterday, as the drizzle returned to Sydney once more, so did my curiosity. I’d been hearing things about something called Zwift for a while, both from industry colleagues and also a few club-mates who’d been using it. I knew Jens Voigt was a Zwift ambassador and that it was some kind of virtually reality training thing, but that was about it. I started to snoop online and realised that right now the beta operating software, both for my laptop and smartphone, is free. In fact, all you need to use it is an ANT+ adapter for your mac or PC (about $50) and a trainer with the usual ANT+ sensors such as speed/cadence and heart rate. Power meter is optional.

I quickly set up a user profile, again free, and much to my kids’ displeasure I pinched the old laptop they use to play Minecraft and fashioned a temporary structure in front of the trainer. It was time to ride around the fictitious Zwift island known as “Watopia” – a 9km(ish) loop with a bit of everything: a long steady climb, fast downhill sections, a sprint and plenty of undulations.

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It’s pretty neat and makes training a hell of a lot more interesting than staring at a wall or fan. Whizzing past 3D scenery, your customisable avatar responds directly to your riding effort on the trainer. You can wheelsuck other riders from all over the globe, you can hammer for the sprint or the KOM, you can ride tempo or go all-out for a PB. Perhaps most intriguingly you can also choose to ride alone, or as part of a real bunch. No longer will wet weather – or being interstate or even overseas – need to spell the end to your regular bunch ride. Just get everyone on the trainer at home to log in at the same time and away you all go!

It’s still early days and the obvious weakness in the Zwift (beta) offering right now is a lack of variety. Basically you can ride the island clockwise or anti-clockwise and that’s it. But this will be changing soon with the Zwift tech bods already well advanced on building new courses, including ones that recreate some of the world’s most famous racing parcours. Imagine riding the Tour of Flanders or climbing Alpe d’Huez. One particularly cool addition will surround this year’s UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, USA where Zwift users will be able to ride the world championship course itself.

When trying to think how best to describe Zwift I’d say it’s like the graphics and user experience of Second Life (remember that one?) meeting the training intensity and motivation of Sufferfest meeting the addictive sociability of Strava.

The founders of Zwift say their mission is to make indoor cycling as fun, entertaining and engaging as outdoor cycling. I say they’re well on the way to achieving exactly that. Once it’s rolled out fully – since 15 May 2015 it’s been in an Open Beta phase – talk is the cost will be around the US$10 per month. I reckon that’s a bargain and it certainly doesn’t take much imagination to see Zwift is likely to be huge in the very near future. Wonder if you can still buy shares in the company?

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Touring Tasmania

Originally posted on Carbon Addiction Cycling Photography:

Back in March I was fortunate enough to spend several days riding through Tasmania – my first ever visit to the Apple Isle – as the guest of a boutique ride tour operator called Tas Pro Cycling Tours.You can read a day-by-day review of the 500km trip in the upcoming issue of Bicycling Australia magazine. But here’s a photographic taste of the trip. If you’ve never been down there with your bike, you really should. Grab a few mates and get in touch with Richard, Kristy and Todd. You’ll have a ball.
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Heading up the 99 Bends near Queenstown.
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GEELONG FANS, QUEENSTOWN.
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Always nice to have a mechanic on hand, thanks Dale.
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Todd, Dean and Richard, all smiles on Hobart’s Constitution Dock.
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Looking dowwwwnnn to the Tarraleah spillway.
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Ed had never ridden more than 100km in a single ride. He did it 4 times in 4 days on this tour.
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much…

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On-bike cameras? Hardly a revolution.

Sorry, but we’re struggling to understand the hype surrounding on-bike cameras. The way people in some quarters are talking about them you’d think strapping a GoPro to your stem or seat post is some kind of technological and financial holy grail, an exciting new income stream set to rescue the sport from the ongoing financial volatility that has plagued it since, well, forever.

Seriously?

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Look, we understand the footage is now (or in the very near future) able to be broadcast live which, technically speaking at least, is a big deal as the logistical obstacles posed by point-to-point racing have been quite significant. And true, if you’ve watched some of the race footage released to date it can be impressive stuff, providing an intriguing insight into the goings on from the very heart of the pro peloton.

Earlier in the year the 2015 World Track Championships were a real eye opener, featuring live cutaways to on-board cameras as the riders orbited the track at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. That was pretty neat, albeit a very different environment to road racing.

But all the same, much of the hyperbole currently being sprouted seems way over the top. Unlike many sports where fans are a considerable distance from the action in the stands, cameras at bike races – be they in fixed locations or zipping back and forth on motos – are already able to get us incredibly close to the action.

On-bike cameras are just another camera angle and unless something dramatic is actually happening at that moment in the race – such as bunch sprints or perhaps riding through a frenzied crowd on the slopes of an epic climb – chances are the novelty will soon wear off. By way of example, much of footage from the recent Dauphine (released post stage, not live) actually seemed rather pedestrian. Seen one video grab, seen ’em all.

And that’s the thing. On-bike cameras aren’t content in themselves, but a way to deliver content. Their use is no different to the occasional helicopter shot as the peloton passes another French chateaux at the Tour de France. A quick shot from stump cam at the cricket. Or a sweeping drone or spidercam flight over a packing scrum at the footy. It’s just another option at the host broadcaster’s disposal; a novel new way to break up the coverage and provide another dimension for viewers, sure. But it’s certainly not the fundamental game changer many seem to be toting.

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Having spent far too many hours cheering in front of the idiot box over the years, a host of other sports – including, but certainly not limited to, motor sports and cricket – have been innovating with this kind of fly-on-the-wall footage for years if not decades. To us it seems more a matter of cycling finally catching up, rather than blazing amazing new trails.

A welcome development? Sure. A revolution? Nah.

Sorry Brian.

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