In a Giro d’Italia that has delivered little more than pain and/or disappointment for several of the most fancied pre-race chances including Porte, Uran and Pozzivivo – and confirmed Alberto Contador’s status as a rider who’s as tough as he is talented – one undoubted shining light has been Astana’s 25-year old Spaniard, Mikel Landa.
Currently sitting in 2nd on overall GC, 50 seconds ahead of his team leader Fabio Aru, and with two stage wins already under his belt, the performance of the former Euskaltel-Esuaki man who made his debut with the Orbea Continetal squad in 2009 has been something of a revelation. His name featured in few pre-race podium predictions, but not dissimilar to Chris Froome’s upstaging of Bradley Wiggins in the 2011 Vuelta a España, he’s continued to eclipse his more fancied team-mate, Aru.
Somewhat inevitably given the deep and ongoing suspicions engulfing the team he currently rides for – and may well be leaving at season’s end – there has been the odd eyebrow raised. Guilt by association can be a powerful force. For this we feel a little sorry for the Spaniard.
Whether in turquoise or orange, Landa is clearly no mug on the bike. True, prior to this year’s Giro his best finishes in a Grand Tour were a modest 28th at the 2014 Vuelta as well as 34th in last year’s Giro won by Movistar’s Nairo Quintana. But it’s worth noting as an amateur Landa finished 5th at the 2010 Tour de l’Avenir, also won by Quintana ahead of another rising star of the peloton, American Andrew Talansky. Further digging shows he also won a stage of last year’s Giro del Trentino, not to mention Stage 5 of this year’s Tour of the Basque Country. In other words, he hasn’t come from nowhere. His form and results have been building, slowly but steadily, for several seasons.
As with most riders time will ultimately tell, of course. But with the mighty Spanish Armada of Contador (32), Rodriguez (36), Valverde (35) and Sanchez (37) not getting any younger we’re certainly enjoying the rise of a fresh new face on the GC scene who, should his current trajectory continue, may well find himself standing on the top step of the overall podium in the not-too-distant future.
As Aussie cycling fans we hate to say it. But, as we feared could happen a month or so ago, could the main thing we’ve learned about Richie Porte from this year’s aborted Giro d’Italia campaign be that he’s good – but perhaps not quite good enough, or durable enough, to stand at the very summit of world cycling in his own right?
With echoes of the situation encountered by Mark Renshaw when Cav’s extraordinarily successful lead-out man went to Rabobank/Belkin to chase his own sprinting opportunities in 2012-13, and came up just short, it’s beginning to seem Porte’s finest moments on two wheels are typically reserved for when he’s working in the service of others in his role as a super domestique.
This is not to say the likeable, but reportedly complex to manage on occasion, Tasmanian isn’t a fine rider. He clearly is, and certainly has several plumb results to show for it, most notably dual successes in ‘the race to sun’, Paris-Nice. But as also evidenced on many occasions in the past few seasons, his best efforts seem to come when the spotlight is shining less brightly and/or elsewhere.
For example, he’s been tantalisingly close on overall GC at the past two stagings of the Santos Tour Down Under – especially this year – but not quite close enough. Up against the numerical might of Orica-GreenEDGE he’s also been very close to the top step in two of the past four National Championship road races, but has instead had to settle for a solitary green and gold skinsuit as 2015 ITT Champion – an event where, perhaps not coincidently, others such as Bobridge, Dennis and Durbridge were prominent in pre-race discussions. Before his ill-fated 2015 attempt on the maglia rosa, his much-anticipated tilt at the 2014 Giro was abandoned before it even began. Then two months later when Chris Froome crashed out on Stage 5 of the 2014 Tour de France, presenting a gilt-edged ‘Plan B’ opportunity on the biggest stage of all, Porte was a shadow of the powerhouse he’d been in the previous two instalments when riding first for Brad Wiggins and then Chris Froome. Struggling with illness he laboured to Paris in 22nd, almost an hour behind the overall GC winner, Vincenzo Nibali. His best-ever finish in a Grand Tour, by a clear margin, remains his very first – 7th in the 2010 Giro.
Yes, he’s suffered from illness. Yes, he’s had crashes. And yes, he’s certainly had more than his share of bad luck – seriously, who could have foreseen the wheel change fiasco and subsequent two-minute penalty involving his well-meaning countryman Simon Clarke in week one of the Giro? But whatever the specific instances, something all-too-often does seem to happen to Porte. That he’s fast becoming something of a bad luck magnet must be cause for tremendous frustration for Porte himself and his well-paying masters on the Death Star at Team Sky. Oh Richie, what’s happened this time?
Perhaps we’re wrong, but it’s almost as if the added pressure of team leadership shackles Porte, physically and mentally, rather than set him free. Private motorhomes or not, helping him make that final lofty step into the top echelon of GC contenders is proving a tough nut to crack, and no doubt Brailsford, Ellingworth, Kerrison and Co are working hard to crack it. Now in his thirties Porte’s time isn’t up just yet, but like the finishing gantry in a time trial the clock is certainly ticking. Mind you, a decade ago people were no doubt saying similar things about another guy called Cadel Evans…
If you’re on Strava, or have been at some stage in the last few years, chances are you’ll be well aware of their penchant for staging ever-more-regular challenges to keep us hooked, sorry, I mean motivated. Tens of thousands of cyclists from all over the planet sign up to them every month – yes, including the one writing this piece right now. Sometimes, typically by neglecting my work and/or family life, I manage to complete a challenge and earn the triumphant ‘right’ to purchase a jersey I don’t really need and would certainly never wear. But like the vast majority of participants I rarely do well on the overall leaderboards, in fact I think my best ever result was about 2,500th.
Not sure about you, but from time to time I have this compelling urge to peruse these digital scoreboards, usually in a state of disbelief, as I explore just how far some people are prepared to go for a bit of digital fame. On many an occasion I’ve stared at the mind-boggling stats of the top three or four riders of a hotly-contested distance or climbing challenge trying to comprehend how their two-wheeled feats were even possible. The dreamer in me wants to believe, a bit like Lance Armstrong, pre-Oprah. The skeptic in me, of course, suggests it’s all probably a case of systematic Strava doping.
This brings me to a chap you’ve likely never heard of, a Turkish cyclist by the name of Dincer Unsal. According to his Strava profile Dincer lives in the Turkish capital of Ankara. He rides a Cannondale. And apparently he’s climbed almost 50,000m in the first two weeks of May. Not only does this mighty performance place him first in the current Strava climbing challenge at the time of writing – from nearly 107,000 entrants – it puts him a massive 19,000m ahead of the second-place holder, Elizabeth Larochelle from Montreal, Canada. Holy crap.
But here’s where things get dodgier than a US Postal training camp. You see, closer inspection of Unsal’s ride data suggests all is not quite as it seems. His total climbing for all of 2015 is just 38,000m. In other words, some 12,000m less that he’s supposed to have groveled up in the past fortnight or so. Further examination shows our man Dincer has actually climbed a far more mortal 12,500m this month. Which begs the question: WTF is going on Strava???? Now I’m not saying all Strava challenges are corrupt, bogus and subject to manipulation by tech-savvy lycra geeks. Nor am I suggesting Unsal has intentionally rorted the system. But, well, it’s just another timely reminder that like so many things we’ve learned about our great sport in recent years, if it seems too good to be true – it probably is. Some people will do anything for the right to buy a jersey, I guess.
Sigh. Another spectator has caused another crash on another stage of another bike race. With Alberto Contador’s Giro d’Italia tilt now seemingly hanging by his strained shoulder ligaments and poor Daniele Colli’s arm pointing in the wrong direction, all because some ill-advised clown decided to lean too far over the barriers to get a photo of the sprint, calls are pouring in for more to be done by race officials, such as implement a double barrier system or even somehow ban fans from using zoom lenses. I’m all for reducing obvious risks to protect riders. But seriously? Where do you drawn the line here? It’s not as if there weren’t barriers last night. Proximity to the peloton – even in the sprint – is one of the greatest assets cycling has to offer, it’s a hugely appealing point of differentiation from other sports, and you can’t fence (let alone double fence) off an entire course even at a Grand Tour, let alone smaller UCI races. As Giro Race Director Mauro Vegni told reporters himself: “I don’t feel that we have to put the Giro in a cage away from the public … we can’t punish 20,000 people because of the actions of one person … but unfortunately, nowadays situations with cameras and mobile phones have become so dangerous and the people don’t seem to realise the risks these boys are running.” It doesn’t matter how far you go, or how much money you spend. There will still be corners or roads or traffic islands or climbs where fans get very, and potentially dangerously, close to the bunch as it speeds past. At some point we have no choice but to show some faith that the vast majority of people will do the right thing – and of course also accept there will be occasions when regrettably some people don’t, be it because of alcohol, ignorance, a distraction or just plain stupidity. This happens in every facet of life. Cycling is not Robinson Crusoe here. Thing is, we can never underestimate the ability of people to do stupid stuff in life, including when standing along the course of a bike race. It’s why the Darwin Awards exist. As Michael Turtur explained to me last year when discussing the logistical challenges of organising a ‘safe’ Tour Down Under, even the best-laid plans of Race Directors can only do so much to protect riders from morons (and in the case of the TDU, even rogue kangaroos). Given the very nature of road racing means it’s conducted on open roads, you can never mitigate every eventuality. Idiots will still find new ways to do truly idiotic things – it’s only a matter of time before a drone crashes into the peloton, if it hasn’t already. By all means run campaigns imploring fans to do the right thing and make them more aware of the risks, and certainly hold the perpetrators personally accountable for endangering the lives of riders by slapping them with large fines and/or even jail time if it’s warranted. But, really, sometimes people stuff up. Shit just happens. yes, it sucks. But it’s also life. Just finally, let’s not forget that for every disturbing incident like last night’s at the Giro or Loren Rowney’s horror crash at this year’s Molecaten Drentse 8 in the Netherlands, there are hundreds of bike races and stages held every year where nothing untoward happens. Let’s keep some perspective here.
1. an organism that lives on or in an organism of another species, known as the host, from the body of which it obtains nutriment.
2. a person who receives support, advantage, or the like, from another or others without giving any useful or proper return, as one who lives on the hospitality of others.
Straight up let me just say I am not against drafting (aka ‘wheel sucking’) per se. I’ve written about it before (http://carbonaddiction.net/2014/02/09/whinge-whinge-whinge/) and I know it works. I know it’s part of our sport. And I know it’s a tactically shrewd and highly expedient way to approach your racing, be that on the professional roads of Europe or the potted crit tracks and velodromes of club land. Yes, I even do it myself.
But the longer I’ve been racing the more something has really begun to irritate me: serial club racing wheel suckers, a scourge you could argue is even worse than sandbaggers of this world. I don’t mean people who do it every now and then. Nor do I mean those who pull a turn in the breeze, then take a well-earned rest for a few kms. I don’t even mean those who sit back in the bunch and get pulled along by riders clearly stronger than themselves, content just to hang in there for as long as they can. No, I mean those shameless souls who, whilst being more than capable of pulling a turn or two, choose instead to live a parasitic life, riding close to the front from the very start, week after week, but bluntly refusing to work until the final 1km or so when they magically appear from nowhere as if they’re Mark Cavendish. It’s as if they are blind to the elbow wave. Deaf to the anaerobic requests for assistance. Numb to the verbal barbs from deeply unimpressed rivals. Sure they may win a few races, but zero friends. No one likes a bludger.
Of late I’ve been watching several such riders whose paths cross mine pretty regularly on weekends. With little semblance of integrity they are the masters of finding sneaky ways to extricate themselves just before their noses hit the front – perhaps feigning a mechanical, intentionally drifting out or overshooting a corner or even suffering a faux ‘blow up’, for example – just long enough to send someone else into the hurt locker they should be occupying themselves. Not just once, mind you. But continuously throughout the race, every week. And that’s what really shits me. The serial offenders.
We all know people like this, of course. They are brazen freeloaders masquerading as cyclists. They are prize-money thieves. They are, as one riding mate put so eloquently last weekend, ‘lazy c$#@*s’. In my view they should stick to coffee rides. Rant over.
Not sure if there is a Velominati ‘rule’ covering this, but if there isn’t there should be one something along the lines of:
Thou who chooses to ride towards the front must accept such a position comes with certain responsibilities. By all means sit towards the sharp end of the race. But be prepared to work if you do. Don’t feel like working? That’s fine. Piss off down the back.
UPDATE: Turns out there is a Rule…
Nobody likes a wheel sucker. You might think you’re playing a smart tactical game by letting everyone else do the work while you sit on, but races (even Town Sign Sprints) are won through cooperation and spending time on the rivet, flogging yourself and taking risks. Riding wheels and jumping past at the end is one thing and one thing only: poor sportsmanship.
Late last year, while on assignment in northern NSW for Bicycling Australia magazine, I had the great pleasure of spending a pleasant morning with Moree cycling doyen Sonny Clissold. Some of our chat made it into the magazine. But a lot of great yarns about the country cycling scene didn’t. Rather than be lost forever, figured it was well worth sharing Sonny’s tales of country roads, bush velodromes and con men. Hope you like it.
A horseman who spent his early years on the rodeo circuit, he swears he’s never ridden a bicycle in his life. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a more influential figure in the proud history of regional NSW cycling than the man whose Moree backyard I’m sitting in right now, flanked by the family dog and a triumvirate of garden statues painted to resemble past local champions Gary Sutton, Shane Sutton and ex-national champion, John Clissold, who also happens to be his son.
Truth be told, as something of a late-comer to cycling I’d not heard of Sonny Clissold before venturing to north-western NSW in the lead-up to the 2014 Grafton to Inverell Classic. Whilst photographing the town’s sadly-dilapidated velodrome for a completely different story, I stumbled upon his nephew Jamie whose own kids were there testing new bikes on the BMX track which now occupies the infield. We got talking, as you do in the country, and before I knew it Sonny was on the phone inviting me around for a cup of tea and a chinwag.
The next morning I duly obliged and quickly realised I was in the company of one of Australian cycling’s 20th Century treasures; a 21-year Life Member of the original Moree Cycling Club with a gravely voice, sun-weathered skin and remarkable array of knowledge gleaned from decades involved on both the boards and tarmac. He may be getting on in years, but this man has a memory like a steel trap and could, no doubt, talk under the artesian water for which his town is famous.
Carbon Addiction: Everyone thinks of the Sutton boys when they think of Moree. But your son, John, was also a National Champion, is that right?
Sonny Clissold: That’s right. Johnny was actually the first Moree bloke riding for Moree to win a National Title. He won it down in Adelaide. He also rode in Europe. He lives in Tamworth now, he’s got a business there.
CA: Do you remember Johnny racing against the Suttons in the local velodrome?
SC: I should. I was training them all. The day their youngest boy, Steel, won his first national title in Melbourne was 15 years from the day when Gary won his first one. The Suttons were all good horsemen, you know. Good boxers too. Now, let me show you something…
(Sonny stands and motions for me to follow. Smiling widely he points out three hand-painted statues along the fence in his back garden.)
There’s my young bloke holding the trophy when he won his first national title. There’s Gary with the World Champion’s colours and there’s Shane. Actually he’s coming back at Christmas when he brings the Poms to Perth (Shane Sutton has worked with British Cycling since 2002 and is now Technical Director). He hasn’t been home for two years. Originally he went over there to ride the Milk Race; he won it in 1990. His father died when he was away riding.
CA: I’m curious how someone with pretty much no cycling pedigree could become so deeply entwined in the sport?
SC: (laughs) Well that’s right. I was always a horseman. My wife Fay and I travelled a lot to rodeos. The first cycling carnival I ever went to was in 1960 when I took Gary Sutton up to Gilgai. I remember thinking how bloody stupid are these blokes, they just get on and pedal their guts out, there’s no brains in this. Then for some reason I went to another carnival and another, and now I’ve been all over Australia doing it and I just love it. It’s incredible what a bike rider can do.
You make a run or tackle a bloke playing football and you can walk back and have blow for a while. But you get out on this flat country, or anywhere for that matter, and stop pedalling and see how far you get.
It’s such a tough game. They’re nowhere near as tough now as they were, mind you. It will never be like that again.
CA: You coached some of the country’s finest riders at different stages of their careers. How did you first get involved in that side of things?
SC: Years ago I was speaking with a bloke called John Archman one night from the Institute of Sport in Canberra. He was telling me he had a team of juveniles who were heading to Calga near Sydney for the team time trials. He said there’s not a team that could beat them in Australia. I’d had a few drinks at that stage and said ‘Well, I’ll get a heap of bushies to go down there and beat you’. Fay said to me the next morning, ‘do you know what you said to John?’ I couldn’t remember so she told me. I got on the phone and within three days I had five country kids – from Coffs Harbour, Grafton, Port Macquarie, here – but what we had to do is all be from one club, so we joined Inverell. I stayed a Moree man, mind you. I’m a 21-year Life Member of Moree. Anyway, we went down to Calga and beat John’s team. I took them back the next year and we won again. John used to say ‘how do you do it?’ If you get a rider to believe in you, and believe in themselves, they can do anything. I used to get the Tina Turner records out. ‘Simply the Best’.
CA: Your nephew Jamie was telling me Steel was probably the most talented of the Sutton boys, but he didn’t always have the best attitude. Is that how you saw it?
SC: Yeah, I think so. Steel actually used to live with us here. I remember he rode the Worlds one year, came home and said ‘Unc, I’m finished.’ He didn’t have that same hunger like Gary.
They’d come home at Christmas time and we’d all get together. We’d have a table tennis tournament and a little cup. Gary just had to win. He was unbelievably competitive.
CA: What if he didn’t win?
SC: He was always a great sportsman. Playing marbles, he had to win. He was a winner, full stop. But if he got beaten, he just took it.
CA: What about Shane?
SC: (shifts in his chair and smiles) Shane was the con man. I remember one day when they were still living in Moree, John and Shane went for a ride. I’d just bought a new motorbike and I came come home and asked where they’d been? ‘Been out to Tycannah.’ That’s about 12-mile out of town and I’d said ‘no you didn’t, I’ve been out there’. A bit later I said to my young fellow, ‘Tell dad the truth, where did you go?’ He started crying. ‘We went up to shop, we sat there and had some icy poles and I said to Shane, ‘Dad will go crook’ and Shane said ‘no, just put your head under the tap here and we’ll come home and look like we’ve been training.’
CA: Did they get away with it?
SC: Of course! They always got away with it. Shane was such a con man. The other thing we used to do was get them to put a rock on a particular post out there along the highway, so we’d know if they actually done the work.
CA: Ever do any motor pacing with your motorbike?
SC: All the time. Mainly out to Warialda. I actually had some signs put up on the highway with the local member here, Wal Murray (ex-NSW Deputy Premier), but they’ve pulled them all down nowadays.
CA: Those really were the halcyon days for Moree cycling back in the 1970s. Were you heavily involved with the original club?
SC: My word, especially at Easter time. It was the last carnival on the track circuit each season and everyone used to come here. What we’d do is run all our heats on a Saturday and the final scratch race on the Saturday night. All the other finals were on the Sunday. We’d put 5,000 people in that old velodrome. It was pretty special.
(Sonny opens a photo album brimming with faded old news clippings from the town’s track carnivals over the years; a pictorial time capsule of Moree’s proud sporting past.)
CA: Was there a name for the big races?
SC: There was bloke by the name of Tommy Blackburn, he was an electrician here in Moree. When things really got going we put lights right around the velodrome. I came home one night and my mate said all the lights were broken. I was like ‘what are we going to do? We’ve got no money and we’ve got to have the trophies.’ So I went and saw Tommy and his wife. I said ‘Mrs Blackburn I’ll be quite truthful with you, we’ve got no money.’ I said we could only pay after the carnival. She said, ‘I’ve known you all your life Sonny, you’ve always been honest, this is a donation.’ Tommy took over the scratch race, and when his wife died it became a memorium. There was some great racing on that track, six to the mile. Gary was never beaten on it. Geoff Skaines came from here as well – ‘Ocker’ as we called him – but Gary always had his measure. I’ve known them both since they were kids.
Ocker would go out and ride a better qualifying time than Gary in the pursuit. But every time they’d meet, man-to-man, Gary would smack his bum.
There’s another guy from here too, Noel Mathiske. I only spoke with him last night, he’s got cancer. He’s down in Taree running a bike shop. He’s the only rider apart from Gary Sutton to ever win three straight Australian Schoolboys titles.
CA: There were two Mathiske boys weren’t there?
SC: Yes, Noel and Louie. Louie is up on the Gold Coast. He designs bikes, I think Merckx has taken a couple of them this year. Doesn’t surprise me, anything those kids did was always absolutely perfect. Noel was married twice, we used to call them the Brady Bunch. His two sons are fantastic riders as well.
CA: There’s such a rich cycling history in this town. Having been part the golden age of cycling in Moree do you feel a bit sad seeing what it’s like today, a shadow of its former self?
SC: No, I don’t feel sad. It will never get back to what it was – cycling has changed. But I still go to a lot of bike carnivals. And you’d be surprised the amount of people who still ring me to say hello and have a chat. I’ve got more friends in bikes around the country than I have in my own town.
CA: Who’s the best cyclist to come out of this part of the world?
SC: Oh, Gary. He was easily the toughest. But not the smartest. Shane was smarter. I remember once we had a point score in the town’s velodrome, a memorium for my dad. On the Saturday Gary was three points in front, and it was four points for a win. Well, his sister rang me up and said ‘you better come and get Shane’. I asked what was wrong and she said ‘he’s sick’. I went round and said ‘Shane, you’ve got to ride mate, the whole town’s going to be there tonight to watch you – you could not move in that velodrome, everyone was standing around the outside. So I said, ‘I tell you what I’ll do mate, I’ll set it up for you.’ In the final it was Kevvy Nichols, he was an Olympian, Wayne Nichols, he was an Olympian, Ocker (Geoff Skaines), Shane and Gary. I said, ‘with three to go, Gary is going to go, I want you on his wheel, don’t do a dirty. He said, righto mate.’ So with three to go Shane’s on his wheel alright, he $#@% beat Gary by a whisker and they got off and fought in the middle of the velodrome!
Shane’s always been a con man. I’ve seen him in sprints grab the knickers of another bloke and pull them down under the seat. Such a smart bike rider.
CA: I suppose that’s why he’s doing what he’s doing now with British Cycling.
SC: That’s right. I went to the Track World Championships when the Poms won the team pursuit a few years ago in Melbourne. I saw Shane afterwards and said ‘I suppose the boys will be out on the town tonight?’ He said ‘they’ll be on the plane tomorrow if they do’. It’s a business these days. He’s been invited to Buckingham Palace, you know, for a cup of tea with the Queen. He even has an OBE. Not bad for a kid from the black soil country of Moree.
CA: I guess he must have had a good mentor?
SC: Yeah, maybe he did (laughs).
Australians have always loved Italian. Starting on Saturday night we’ll once again be able to gorge ourselves on the stuff for three tantalising weeks, with SBS showing and streaming every Giro stage live. So for no other reason than we’re excited, here are some fearless predictions of what we might be able to expect…
Antipasto – aka Stage One Team Time Trial
The spectacular Stage One 17.6km dash along the coastline from San Lorenzo al Mare to San Remo looms as a battle in three between Orica-GreenEDGE, Team Sky and BMC, with perhaps a sneaky chance for Etixx-Quickstep. In 2014 the TTT win catapulted Orica-GreenEDGE into pink for the entire first week, so it’s an important stage for pleasing your sponsors.
Primo – aka Stage Wins
After doing some nice work in support of Albasini at the recently-completed Tour de Romandie Simon Gerrans looks like he’s getting some semblance of form back after a string of injuries. If he can stay on the bike we wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see him on the podium at some stage. Or not. The Giro is like that. His beard may not be especially aerodynamic.
But the Italian veteran Luca Paolini is still flying, as his the entire Katusha squad. Follwing a win at Gent-Wevelgem and some fine performances in support of Kristoff, he’ll be super motivated to add another Giro stage win to his palmares after winning Stage 3 in 2013 and wearing pink for four days.
We’d never heard of him before 2015, but 22-year old Frenchman Julien Alaphilippe is arguably the most in-form rider in world cycling right now. Can the former CX champion, second in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, maintain his current form through a 3-week grand tour? It’s pretty unlikely, in fact chances are he won’t even get a start unless someone gets injured in the next few days. But if he does, who knows? French riders are nothing if not enigmatic.
Diego Ulissi is one we’ll be watching closely. After bursting on to the World Tour at the 2014 Tour Down Under and then claiming two of first eight stages at last year’s Giro, he’s since been cooling his heels on the sidelines courtesy of a drug suspension for the asthma-drug, Salbutamol. Ventolin or not, can he step up this year? Plenty of Italians will be hoping he can.
Last May Orica-GreenEDGE’s young Columbian mountain goat Esteban Chavez headed for California instead of Italy – and came away with a superb stage win on the way to finishing 7th overall. This year he’s heading for the big show, and we think he might just be a sneaky chance on some of the mountain finishes. Of which there are six.
The chances of him claiming a stage win are 1,000-1. Maybe even 2,000-1. But that won’t stop us cheering for the first Ethiopian to ever ride in a Grand Tour, Tsgabu Grmay. We were lucky enough to meet him at the 2015 Tour Down Under where he finished an outstanding 11th on overall GC in his World Tour debut, and he’s a wonderfully polite and humble guy. Not to mention a fine rider.
As anyone who follows Carbon Addiction will know, we have a lot of time for the indomitable Adam Hansen. In his 11th consecutive Grand Tour start we’d love nothing more than to see him cross the line with arms raised after yet another sneaky breakaway. He’s done it before. He can do it again. The one complication in 2015 will be the appearance of Andre Greipel, as along with Greg Henderson, Hansen is one of the Gorilla’s key lieutenants at Lotto-Soudal. Here’s hoping he gets let off the leash, at least a few times.
Il Secondo – aka Overall GC
Rigoberto Uran. Always consistent, but rarely a winner. In fact the Columbian has finished second at the last two Giros, not to mention the 2012 Olympic Games. Will the bridesmaid become the bride in 2015? We doubt it. He always seems to find one rider just a bit better. If he was a horse you’d back him for a place.
He may have finished third overall last year. But hindered by an untimely stomach virus there’s little doubt Fabio Aru is underdone and may well come unstuck in the final week, if not sooner. He has a bigger smile than Mick Jagger, but we doubt we’ll be seeing much of it, this year anyway. Mind you, the five kilos he’s reported to have lost due to his illness may help on those epic climbs.
It may be 12 months later than originally planned by Brailsford, Ellingworth, Kerrison, and Co, but this really is Richie Porte’s grand tour moment. After three overall wins in 2015 already, there can be no excuses this time. With several of his main rivals either absent (Nibali, Quintana, Froome) or undercooked, the moons have aligned for the likeable Tasmanian to finally shine over three weeks. It he can’t? Well, questions will be asked about whether, perhaps, we’ve overrated him as a grand tour contender.
After crashing out of the 2014 TdF Alberto Contador will be keen to make a statement in Italy and may well prove to be Porte’s main rival. He hasn’t done a lot of racing in the lead-up to the Giro, thanks to another crash at this year’s Volta a Catalunya, but reports are he’s been training the house down with Mick Rogers and Ivan Basso in the Canary Islands. He also has Jesus on his side, literally, in Spanish team-mate Jesus Hernandez. We’re likely to get a better handle on Contador’s form at the end of the first week. If he’s ‘on’ watch out. If he’s not, watch Oleg Tinkov’s Twitter feed. It’s sure to make for interesting reading.
The jockey-sized Italian Domenico Pozzovivo has showed his face at the pointy end of several big races recently, and seems poised for a red hot crack at his home tour after finishing fifth in 2014. The top echelon of GC riders have generally had his measure at key moments in the past. Could this be his year?
Dolce – aka Sprint jersey
Michael Matthews won stage six in 2014 and wore pink for most of the first week, so anything less than a stage win in 2015 will surely be seen as a major disappointment. He’s had a short freshen up after securing multiple podiums in this year’s Classics so his form seems good once again. With the big two absent – Cav and Kittel – but Andre Greipel, Mezgec, Viviani and Modolo all likely to be present, it should make for some cracking sprint finishes.
Everesting is in. It seems every weekend someone I know is doing it – well, at least trying to do it. But not me.
Despite the occasional fantasy of summiting my local Col de Chiswick 258 times in the one ride, I’m nothing if not a two-wheeled realist. The simple fact is 8,848m is more than I climb in most months. A lot more. So the odds are rather high that long before any triumphant arm-raised ending my legs will cramp, my knees will seize up, my arse will be obliterated by saddle sores and, in all likelihood, my ITB will explode into an oozy mess. Woe is me.
No, at this stage of my vertically-challenged riding life Everesting is not on my radar. However…I’m always up for a challenge, so I got Googling to see what other mountains are more in my figurative price bracket. The first bit of great news, of course, is I’m already a seasoned Kosciuszko-er. At a reasonably benign 2,228m I’ve nailed that one many times over the years including three times in a week just recently. But let’s be frank, its little more than a D-Grade doddle. Not many bragging rights to be had here.
The challenges rise steeply from this point with the next major continental peak checking in at more than double the ascending of Australia’s loftiest spot. If you’re keen to go ‘Blanc-ing’ this weekend you’ll need to find yourself 4,810m of elevation. But my advice would be to keep riding when you do, because by adding another measly 82m you’ll also be able to scoop up an Antarctic-inspired ‘Vinson-ing’ for your invisible trophy cabinet.
Africa’s most epic peak Mt Kilamanjaro is next at 5,895m, still roughly 3,000m lower than Mt Everest but sure to deliver plenty of pain to your pins. At 6,168m the USA’s Mt McKinley is worth considering after your Kilamanjaro, and if you’re really feeling good Argentina’s mighty Acancagua may even be within reach at 6,961m.
For the purists of course, only one peak ever matters, Everest itself. I bet Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was a great lead out man for Sir Edmund Hilary…
The Seven Summits
Mt Everest – 8,848m (Elite)
Acaoncagua – 6,961m (A-Grade)
Mt McKinely – 6,168m (B-Grade)
Mt Kilamanjaro – 5,895m (B-Grade)
Mt Vinson – 4,892m (C-Grade)
Mont Blanc – 4,810m* (C-Grade)
Mt Kosciuszko – 2,228m (D-Grade)
* There is some dispute about Mont Blanc’s place as Europe’s highest peak. Mt Elbrus in the Caucasus is significantly higher (5,642m). But depending on who you ask it’s actually in Asia.
Crazy enough to make an Everesting attempt?
This website may come in handy. http://everesting.io/
So, that’s it then. The big cobbled classics are done for another year and the peloton now rolls on to the Ardennes, starting with Amstel Gold on Sunday. Before we forget about the stones for 2015 how good is this passage from Tim Krabbe’s classic, The Rider:
“On the cobbles a man finds out what it is to be a jackhammer. Your arms grow three times as thick, your jaws clatter like castanets, your chain starts chattering and would like nothing more than to go flying off.”
As a Belgian, winning Flanders for the first time is far more important than wearing the maillot jaune in the Tour.”