All black? Why are the kiwis kicking our Aussie butts in the NRS?

As I write this Pat ‘Paddy’ Bevin has just won back-to-back events in the 2014 Subaru National Road Series, claiming superb victories in the National Capital Tour and, two weeks later, the prestigious Tour of Tasmania. A fine rider surely destined for bigger things, Bevin, 23, now sits fifth in the overall NRS rider standings for 2014 despite missing much of the season, while ahead of him in first place sits Joe Cooper.

Both of these guys are excellent cyclists, no question. But like more and more riders in the NRS they’re also kiwis – as is the rapidly rising South African-born U19 from Charter Mason Giant, Keagan Girdlestone who’s already recorded podiums and multiple top 10s in his first NRS season. It’s a situation only likely to swell even further with Australia’s number one ranked UCI Continental squad, Avanti Racing Team, recently announcing their intentions to register as a New Zealand squad from the start of the 2015 UCI season.

Joe Cooper and Pat Bevin, two kiwis well ahead of the Aussies in 2014.

Joe Cooper, left, and Pat Bevin, two kiwis well ahead of the Aussies in 2014 (PHOTO: Jarrod Partridge).

Now before you unleash the All Black front row on me with a chain whip let me say I have no issue with New Zealanders whatsoever. Living in Sydney I see and work with kiwis pretty much every day of my life and count several amongst my closest friends. But what I do wonder is why are they kicking our backsides right now? Avanti, Budget Forklifts and health.com.au-Search2Retain boast plenty of Australian riders on their rosters, some of whom have enjoyed fleeting moments of success in 2014. But with their roles seemingly confined largely to that of domestique, it’s the men from across the Tasman who are proving to be the consistent GC high achievers, especially in the tougher tours.

Sure, it may just be coincidence. But perhaps there’s more to it than simply a couple of kiwis having a bloody good season?

I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps the global reputation of Australian cycling has now grown to such an extent that it’s somehow bringing the domestic scene to its knees? With so many of Australia’s top riders plying their trade overseas from ever-younger ages – be it the USA or Europe – could it be there’s simply not a whole lot left locally to challenge the kiwis, or anyone else for that matter, at senior level?

In many ways you could argue it’s a mirror of what’s been going on for decades with European soccer clubs. Whereas once only the absolute cream of Aussie footballers could ever hope to land pro contracts overseas, now hundreds do every season – and it can’t help but have a knock-on impact on the sport at domestic level.

From the top of my carbon seat post, it seems football’s recent history in Australia may now be repeating itself in cycling. Trouble is, with significantly lower participation numbers to call upon than the round ball game, the effects are greatly magnified. We just don’t have the cattle.

This season alone there are more than 30 Australians riding for UCI WorldTour teams, and countless more abroad on the levels just below that, Pro-Continental and Continental. Given the spectacular successes of riders like Robbie McEwan, Cadel Evans, Simon Gerrans and, this year, Michael Matthews, together with the invaluable support provided by others such as Richie Porte, Mick Rogers, Mark Renshaw and Adam Hansen, Aussie riders are now understandably highly sought-after, one of the hottest tickets on overseas squads, known for being fine cyclists, hard workers and good blokes. Personally, I know of three NRS-level riders who each gave up guaranteed domestic starts in 2014 to ride for peanuts on third-tier teams in Europe this season. I’m sure there are plenty of others just like them too.

With more and more teams snapping up more and more of our riders, often based on little more than potential and the coat of arms on their passport, it means the cupboard is getting a little bare. Instead of being home to a healthy pool of rising U23s and that bulging second tier of great-but-not-quite-world-level-yet-if-ever riders, the local talent pool has been pillaged – a situation that’s perhaps given the kiwis their chance to belt us.

Aussie riders are in demand pretty much everywhere.

Aussie riders are in demand pretty much everywhere.

Think about it. Save for a handful of late bloomers, the vast bulk of our finest young riders like Damien Howson (22), Caleb Ewan (20), Jack Haig (21) and Campbell Flakemore (22) now enjoy, at best, abbreviated tenures at domestic senior level before being swept away to compete in far away lands. While some like Port Macquarie’s Lachlan Morton (22) virtually skip the Australian system altogether.

Of course, it’s not their fault this happens. Our best riders will always be the target of Pro Tour squads. The real trouble appears to come from the significant number of riders on the next rung down, who not so long ago couldn’t have dreamt of plying their trade professionally abroad – but now can do exactly that. Sure, they may never scale the very heights of world cycling. But nor do they need to. They can travel the world and carve out solid careers as role players; loyal little fish in a very big pond. Beats the hell out of sitting at a desk 9-5.

What this leaves back home, inevitably, is a void; a void which is magnified even further when one of the top teams in recent years, Drapac Pro Cycling, is absent as it’s been for much of the NRS this season, understandably chasing the bigger races and prizes available through its evolution to Pro Conti status in 2014.

This isn’t written in any way to diminish the efforts of the kiwis who come to our shores and beat us at our own game; good on them I say. Rather it’s an observation of the seeming need for the NRS to be bolstered for the sake of its own future, so it becomes viable for a far greater contingent of Australian riders in that second tier to stick around. Easier said than done, I know. But surely without at least attempting to address things you have to wonder what is the NRS actually trying to achieve? Because potential sponsors will certainly be asking this question before signing up.

It’s taken local soccer administrators a long, long time to adapt to the Aussie talent drain, and recalibrate the sport’s relevance in this country – a struggle they finally seem to be winning after decades in the wilderness and several false dawns.

Hopefully cycling can do the same. Just faster. After all, the kiwis continue to thrash us at rugby every year. Surely we can get our own back when it comes to two wheels?

Until then, thank heavens for Tim Roe ;-)

The end of the hibernation

Yep. Change is in the air. And not before time. After hanging on like a doomed-to-be-dropped sprinter on a hors catégorie climb for the past month, this most peculiar of winters (certainly in Sydney) is slowly but surely fading into history as the Spring sun finally begins to gain the upper hand, weaving its magic and warming the fingers, toes and minds of antipodean cyclists everywhere.

Homeward bound

In perfect synergy with the improving temperatures, bunch numbers are beginning to swell with each new morning, much to the joy of café owners and, equally, the sarcastic tones of those battle-hardened souls who rode through the miserable teeth of a truly shitty winter and reckon everyone else is soft. The magpies love it too, of course, as the warmer weather brings with it an ever-increasing number of unwitting cyclists for them to dive bomb for entertainment, as I learned myself recently.

Sure, we’ve all done it many times before. But to me it’s still the most liberating of feelings rolling out for that first ride each Spring sans the full-fingered gloves and leg warmers. Psychologically it marks the start of summer, even if the calendar says it’s still months away. It means packing away those base layers so darn well it takes you two weeks to find them again next year. It means riding in daylight and being warm, even when it’s bucketing down. It means twilight crits and track racing. It means tan lines and vitamin D. It means deforesting the legs. It means significantly less post-ride laundry, although what we do have will likely be caked in enough sweat to fill a salt shaker. And before too long it also means one of the highlights of the riding year – for me and many others in my club, at least – the annual pilgrimage to Adelaide for the Tour Down Under.

Spring, I raise my Gatorade-filled bidon to you.

Wide sweep

What in the worlds?

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This coming Sunday marks the start of the 2014 UCI World Road Championships in Ponferrada, Spain. To get you in the mood here are seven relatively useless pieces of World Championships trivia.

1) The first ever road world championships were held in 1920 in Copenhagen where racing was strictly for amateurs only.

2) In 1927 the pros were finally allowed to have their own race, with that year’s championships staged at Germany’s Nürburgring. Italy’s Alfredo Binda won the pro race; it was the first of his three world titles. Binda would also go on to win five Giro d’Italias and coach both Coppi and Bartali during their own stellar careers. The amateur race in 1927 was won by a Belgian, Jean Aerts, who went on to also claim the professional world crown in 1935.

Italy’s Alfredo Binda, triple world champion.

Italy’s Alfredo Binda, triple world champion.

3) Until just twenty years ago separate races were still held for the professionals and amateurs. In 1996 the amateur category was replaced with the Under-23 race which has proven a strong guide to future stars of the pro tour. The U23 honour role includes Ivan Basso (1998), Gerald Ciolek (2006) and Arnaud Demare (2011), while perhaps the most star-studded alumni in the event’s history was seen in 2010 with Michael Matthews taking the gold ahead of John Degenkolb (silver) and Taylor Phinney (who tied for the bronze).

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Not a bad podium, huh? U23. 2010.

4) Time trials are a relatively recent addition to the UCI World Championships format. A national team time trial was held between 1962-1994, however the individual time trial was only introduced in 1994 when won by Britain’s Chris Boardman. Fabian Cancellara currently holds the record for most ITT titles with four, however Tony Martin can equal Spartacus’ record should he win this year in Ponferrada, Spain. Martin has won the past three elite men’s TT titles and, even more remarkably, hasn’t missed the podium in five years having also claimed bronze in both 2009 and 2010. Australian Michael Rogers sits in third all-time with his three consecutive ITT titles from 2003-2005 (Rogers was retrospectively awarded the 2003 crown after David Millar confessed to doping).

It's easy to forget Mick Rogers had three rainbow jerseys by the end of 2005.

It’s easy to forget Mick Rogers had three rainbow jerseys by the end of 2005.

5) It took until 1974 for the world championships to finally venture away from Europe when they were held in Montreal, Canada. The men’s pro race was won by none other than Eddy Merckx, the last of his three rainbow jerseys.

6) Whilst they went close in both 1977 (Venezuela) and 1995 (Columbia) the world championships have only once been held in the Southern Hemisphere; when Melbourne and Geelong hosted the 2010 event, with the elite men’s road race won by Norway’s Thor Hushovd.

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7) Belgium riders have won more rainbow jerseys in the Elite Men’s race than any other nation with 26 titles, ahead of Italy on 19 and France with 8.

POLL: Worst kit ever?

We’ve posted about terrible cycling kits on Carbon Addiction before. But after stumbling across the truly dreadful design (immediately below) from a Columbian women’s team recently, it made us think perhaps it’s time to put things to a vote. Here you’ll find what we feel are five of the all-time worst cycling kit designs plus Mario Cipollini. Let us know which you think is the worst. And of course if you have one you think tops them all, please post a photo of it in the comments.

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(A) Columbian ladies

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(B) Brown bombers

jellybelly

(C) Jelly Belly

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(D) Aussie Olympians

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(E) White’s not right

cippo

(F) Anything worn by Mario Cipollini

 

The day I was dropped by a bunch of 12-year olds

a17 copy

This weekend my club has been hosting its biggest junior road event of the year, the Telstra Junior Tour of Sydney. While none of my own kids were riding, I put my hand up to help out and promptly found myself ride chaperoning about twenty 12-year olds around the Eastern Creek race track in Sydney’s west on Saturday morning. It was a lot of fun, albeit almost a little embarrassing at one stage.

One of the faster and more strategic kids – the eventual winner as things turned out – kept using a long steady climb into the finishing turn of each lap to really test the rest of the bunch. Every lap he’d attack in the same spot, drawing away and forcing the others to bust a gut to chase back on by the end of the finishing straight. This meant the bunch were well and truly knackered as each new lap began and the pace invariably slowed (it occurred that this would have been the perfect time for one of the other kids to attack, of course, but that’s for another post – and on-road coaching is strictly forbidden!).

On one of the five laps, however, something else happened – and I still don’t really know why. I was just spinning along at the back, taking in the morning in a decidedly leisurely way when suddenly one of the kids called out “attack!” Then as if in some kind of pre-meditated move to drop me, the entire bunch rose out of their saddles as one and smashed out the 12-year old power in perfect unison. Cirque du Soleil would have been proud.

It was actually pretty funny at first watching all these little Greipels, Cavendishes and Kittels bouncing up and down on the pedals like they were on crazed pogo sticks – until I realised I was in the wrong gear and before i knew it they’d put 50m on me. Shit.

It took about 500m to catch up again and while I wasn’t wearing my HRM I’m pretty sure my heart went well into overdrive there for a couple of minutes. Fortunately, whilst they’re certainly quicker than you might think when they put their minds to it, the one thing 12-years old don’t have a whole lot of is stamina – and before long they all pretty much stopped for a collective breather as I tacked back on pretending as if I’d been there all along.

Phew, I remember thinking at that time, lucky it didn’t happen in front of all those parents on the home straight.

After this flurry of activity, things calmed right back down for the remainder of the race which ended with a nice clean sprint. And me thankfully not too far behind.

15

Magpie 6, cyclist nil

So, I thought I’d try exploring a private road I’d never ridden before this morning alongside some local heritage parklands in the Sydney suburb of Concord. Turns out it was a dead end and, worse, it was also home to a rather feisty magpie. He attacked me out of the blue the first time. But I knew I had to ride back again to get home so being the opportunist all bloggers are, I figured I may as well film the return journey. No blood was shed. But as you’ll see, a few colourful words were uttered. Sorry mum.

Could this be the best cycling kit you’ve never heard of?

Every day another brand of cycling kit seems to come along. It’s not so surprising I guess when you consider how much our sport continues to grow. A bit like buying a new car, the explosion of choice in the past five years or so mean there’s something out there for virtually any type of cyclist, from cheap and cheerful to uber expensive luxury and, yes, everything in between. Not sure about you but my wardrobe currently boasts seven different brands of jerseys; and they’re all pretty good.

CCN CRT

One brand I became aware of this year through my involvement with the Cellarbrations Racing Team in the NRS is CCN. Hand on heart, this time last year I’d never heard of them. But I have to say I’ve been pretty impressed, especially given their pricing represents seriously good value. In fact, it’s such good value, at first I assumed the quality would be dreadful. I was wrong; the bib shorts in particular are probably the most comfortable ones I own. Whilst it’s not the top of the line for quality, it’s certainly not bad – and I can personally vouch it’s a long, long way from the bottom. The way I see things, this means it’s well worth considering for any club, charity ride or even just a bunch of mates who want to create their own kit without breaking the bank.

Who are they?
The CCN brand has been around for about 13 years and is currently worn by several UCI registered teams. But it’s only more recently that it’s arrived in Australia. They do all the usual items of kit in pretty much any colour and style you like, with remarkably fast turnaround times. Something else that really caught my attention is their minimum order quantities. They don’t have any. You can order one item. Or one thousand. Having looked at quite a few different options for ‘Carbon Addiction’ kit in the last 18 months I can’t recall any other supplier offering this in Australia right now. It’s pretty darn appealing.

If you want to find out more, you can get in touch with Mark Neiwand through the CCN Sportswear Australia page on Facebook or email ccnaustralia@gmail.com

CCN’s latest addition is a range of reflective jerseys and bibs which are likely to be popular with commuters and anyone else who finds themselves riding at the start and/or the end of the day.

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Disclosure: Like everything on Carbon Addiction, this post is unpaid. However as stated above I do have a loose connection with CCN through the Cellarbrations NRS team which is how I first came to own CCN riding kit this year, and why I feel qualified to comment on it.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Sports Gene

the-sports-gene

Okay, so right up front I need to confess this isn’t specifically a cycling book. But, as the name suggests, it is about sport and it does have plenty of references to cycling including none other than Eddy Merckx and his hour record of 1972. Plus chess, there’s quite a lot of chess.

The author, David Epstein, is an American journalist who spent many years with Sports Illustrated. In some ways a lot of the content in this book isn’t exactly new – but the way Epstein has been able to aggregate such a vast amount of science, case studies and anecdotes into one intriguing book is nothing short of remarkable.

Some of the names and stories you may recognise. Many you possibly won’t, like the Olympic softball pitcher who had the MLB’s top sluggers totally bamboozled in 2004 with her underarm rockets. Regardless, virtually every page in every chapter is thought-provoking, with stories and examples to challenge the pre-conceived ideas we walk around with every day in regards to what the human body is and isn’t capable of doing. And why.

At the heart of much of Epstein’s book is the ‘hardware versus software’ argument. But here it isn’t really an argument anyway, rather an exploration of sporting performance from the perspective of history, chromosomes and socialisation. It looks at the impacts of factors such as sex, age, training volumes and experience. It asks if modern athletic performances are really that much better than 100 years ago. Plus a whole lot of other pretty fascinating stuff from the past, present and future of human sporting endeavour.

As you’d expect there are quite a few references to doping – “Seventy-five of the top eighty women’s shut throws of all time…came between the mid-1970s and 1990, predominantly from Eastern Bloc countries” – but it also covers things like why sex-testing is flawed (“why do men have nipples?”), how a high jumping novice can become a world champion and even Genghis Khan’s influence over the Asian gene pool.

There’s loads of science to back all this up if you like that sort of thing. But rest assured it’s written so as not to be mind-bendingly complex. Anyone with an interest in sport will be able to stick with it. I really enjoyed this one.

4 stars

 

This is worth a look too. It’s the author doing a TED talk back in March.

What happens when the ride is over?

HistoryBookHistory

It’s been reasonably well documented that, almost regardless of the sport, a significant number of modern athletes experience major struggles in trying to cope with the transition to ‘normal life’ when their professional careers come to an end.

Whether it be ex-fast bowlers with brittle spines, ex-motorcyclists with forever-bent femurs, ex-footballers with mushed up brains, ex-swimmers who never had a proper childhood, or simply ex-superstars with ‘god complexes’ who’ve spent their entire lives wrapped in a cocoon where they could do no wrong, it can lead to all kinds of physical, social and psychological problems – things which often plague them for the rest of their lives.

This got me thinking. Given so many people are actually drawn to cycling in the first place because of its ease of participation (even at older ages) and known mental health benefits, could it be possible that depression and anxiety rates are lower for ex-cyclists than perhaps those from other professional sports?

Clearly there are many cases of elite cyclists who do suffer from such conditions, the highest profile of which is no doubt Marco Pantani. But I wonder, is the rate any different compared to, say, footballers, boxers and baseballers for whom retirement almost certainly spells the end of their direct physical participation in their chosen sport? If anyone knows of studies into this type of thing, please share. Be fascinating to delve into further as I’m sure there’s plenty of uncover and explore.

retirement-ages

In the mean time, here are a couple of indirectly connected stories well worth a read. The first is about the challenges faced by retired athletes in general, while the second looks into cycling and depression.

http://www.thesportinmind.com/articles/life-after-sport-depression-in-retired-athletes/

http://cyclismespandelles.com/2011/05/24/cycling-and-depression-finding-a-balance/

 

School photo day

There’s funny. Then there’s cycling team photos.

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Of course things are a little different nowadays.

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