The World Tour circus moves on…and quickly

Stage 6 of the 2015 Tour Down Under only finished at 3:30pm local time in Adelaide. But by 5pm it’s fair to say 85% of the team bikes were cleaned, broken down and packed, ready for transporting at the official team village opposite the Adelaide Hilton. By 8pm most will be at the airport, if not already airborne en route to the big next race. For many of the riders, such as a philosophical Michael Rogers who was enjoying a quiet beer as the Tinkoff-Saxo mechanics packed and bubble wrapped around him, are now off to the Middle East. Others, like most of the Team Sky boys, are heading straight back to Europe. A lucky few including Orica-GreenEDGE’s Simon Clarke have far less travelling in store, only having to make the short hop east to Melbourne for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race next weekend. Some will even stay a bit longer for the Sun Tour. Regardless, all this equates to a lot of bike boxes…

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Ethiopian pioneer to debut in Adelaide

Introducing: Tsgabu Grmay

Tsgabu Grmay. The first Ethiopian to ride on the WorldTour.

Tsgabu Grmay. The first Ethiopian to ride on the WorldTour. Ever.

As the first major race of the season, the Tour Down Under typically ushers in a new wave of debutant World Tour riders each year. But in 2015 it’s perhaps a little bit more special than usual. For when the teams roll out from Tanunda on Tuesday morning in the Barossa Valley, Italian squad Lampre-Merida will debut a 23-year old climber by the name of Tsgabu Gebremaryan Grmay – the first ever Ethiopian rider to compete at World Tour level.

This is potentially a very big deal. As is well documented in Tim Lewis’ book “Land of Second Chances”, for decades now athletes from central and eastern Africa nations have excelled in endurance running events which, in theory, require similar physiological qualities to that of an elite endurance cyclist.

Since Abebe Bikila won Ethopia’s first two Olympic gold medals, with successive men’s marathons victories in 1960 and 1964, the nation wedged between Sudan, Kenya, Somalia and Eritrea has collected no less than 21 gold medals in endurance running events. In fact, they’ve never won a medal at any other sport, or anything less than 5,000m for that matter. Never mind, when you can produce World and Olympic champions the caliber of Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba.

Mens 10000m Finals

Gebrselassie is an Ethiopian icon. In years to come will cyclists be held in the same regard?

 

Now Tsgabu Grmay is no mug on a bike. With his potential clear enough, he was drafted into the World Cycling Centre (CMC) in Aigle, Switzerland for two years in 2010-11 and then signed professionally with MTN Qhubeka in 2012 where he rode for the next three seasons. He’s won the Ethopian road championship and the time trial championship twice. He also secured a stage win and second placing overall during the 2013 Tour of Taiwan.

Of course, stepping up to the World Tour is a very different challenge. There’s every chance the 63kg 175cm man from Mekele in the northern highlands, 2400m above sea level and not far from the Eritrean border, will never reach the same lofty heights as his illustrious countrymen and women did on the running track. But he’s a trail blazer for his nation nonetheless, not to mention world cycling – something he seems very aware of based on comments on his 2015 team website.

“For me stepping up to a World Tour team is a very great encouragement,” he says. “It pushes me to work hard for the future in order to reach the biggest dream of my life: to race in the Tour de France. I am very happy and lucky to be with Team Lampre-Merida. I am the first Ethiopian rider to sign with a World Tour team, so I am very proud about that as well and I want to say thanks so much to Lampre-Merida for this great opportunity”.

We’ll be watching him closely in 2015. And wishing him well with every pedal stroke.

 

Interested in the history of African cycling? This book is well worth a read:
http://carbonaddiction.net/2013/10/31/book-review-land-of-second-chances-the-impossible-rise-of-rwandas-cycling-team/

Saddled with a dilemma

Rule #29 clearly states:

No European Posterior Man-Satchels: Saddle bags have no place on a road bike, and are only acceptable on mountain bikes in extreme cases.

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I’ve always liked this rule for its ability to preserve the visual integrity of the bicycle. After all who wants to see a saddle bag swinging in the breeze like a bull’s scrotum when you’re on the rivet in an early morning paceline, race or bunch ride? Clearly it’s a pretty easy rule to adhere to if you’re in a pro team with support cars following closely behind at all times. But even if you’re not, for 45-50 weeks of the year it’s usually just fine when you’re riding moderate distances to and from a home base. But what about a trip to something like the Tour Down Under, which starts this week in Adelaide? Most of your riding, certainly if you’re hoping to follow the race routes, is two bottle stuff, especially when you consider the mercury at this time of year frequently nudges 40 degrees Celsius. You’re likely to be out for anything from 4-8 hours, so even if you’re XXXL you can only cram so much in your jersey pockets; where do you put everything else?

The answer of course is often right under your….backside.

So this week, in amongst other far more serious TDU-related tasks and challenges, I shall be endeavouring to capture a photographic ‘derriere dossier’, to document just how cycling fans in Australia deal with this truly international dilemma. If some of the things I encountered last year are anything to go by, it should be an interesting exercise indeed.

 

(In case you’re wondering, yes, I do own a European Posterior Man-Satchel and will almost certainly be using one myself.)

 

Wall Street Bull

Keep calm and starve the trolls of oxygen

troll

I know this post won’t be popular with everyone. The thing is, I just don’t get the intense siege mentality many of us cyclists seem to ride around with every day.

A quick perusal of virtually any news story or social media post with anything to do with cycling reveals it isn’t just a chip on our collective shoulders, it’s a bloody railway sleeper. And it’s weighing us down.

Following the Category 5 shit fight this week surrounding the recent Family Feud episode that dared to have a bit of fun at our expense (it’s even gone global now, getting picked up by Peloton magazine in the USA), seriously, you’d be hard pressed to find a more hyper sensitive and effortlessly click baitable interest group out there than us lot.

I’m not for one moment suggesting Family Feud did the right thing. It was a pretty stupid question, and showed some very questionable taste. But since when were TV game shows beacons for morality anyway? They’ve been castigated before. They’ll be castigated again. And do you know what? They couldn’t care less.

Red button

Just like those string-pulling editors at the News Limited tabloids, the Channel 10 show’s producers must be laughing all the way to their ratings reports with all extra free publicity they’ve had this week. Want to spike your ratings or page views? Just run something – anything will do – about cyclists and stand back. Hey presto, instant ratings surge.

Problem is, hidden amongst our feverish and often knee-jerk outrage to these types of things, not to mention the extraordinarily ignorant comments from knuckle dragging trolls in social media, are almost always some very serious and important messages that really do need to be imparted on the wider community. They’re entirely valid. But they just get lost in the firestorm of digital hate and overuse of caps lock. We arc up at them. They arc up at us. And all hope of progress is lost. At this stage the mainstream media then typically defaults to the usual ‘cars vs bikes’ stereotypes, focusing on the conflict and controversy rather than the actual points the cycling defenders were trying to make, and nothing much is achieved except a whole lot of wasted energy.

Gawd knows it’s hard to restrain yourself. Every time I read something about bike rego, for example, I feel like slamming my fist through the computer screen. And I admit there are some days when, in lieu of kicking the dog after a shitty time at work, I love nothing more than a drawn out Facebook slanging match. But somehow surely we need to try and stay calmer as a group, play the long game, pick our battles (possibly more at a one-on-one level with our misguided friends and colleagues, for example) and starve the grandstanding haters and ratings chasers of oxygen?*

 

* Which of course I haven’t even done myself, having just written an entire post about them. Doh.

 

I liked this comment from a guy called James on the SMH:
“If a tv show makes a stupid comment in the forest, and no one watches, does anyone care? Face it, they got publicity for an awful show and we are rewarding them for appealing to their bogan followers.”

WANTED: green and gold bands

Gerrans won't be there this year. So who will take his place as #1?

Gerrans won’t be there this year. So who will take his place as #1?

The Elite Men’s National Championship Road Race has become something of a numbers game in recent years. And it may well happen again. But you get the feeling things won’t be quite so easy for the OGE juggernaut to dictate things in 2015. Yes, Orica-GreenEDGE has impressive numbers and a stable of globally-accomplished riders. But, just like 2014, Drapac also lines up with real strength in numbers plus an added year of Pro-Conti experience behind them. With the addition of Rohan Dennis and Campbell Flakemore BMC have better numbers than last year when their main man, Cadel Evans, still managed to finish second just behind the now-injured Simon Gerrans. While it’s essentially as you were for Sky with Nathan Earl and the in-form Richie Porte.

Most of the top NRS squads are well represented with quality riders as always but, aside from possibly enjoying some nice TV time in a lengthy breakaway, it’s hard to see any managing to surprise the WorldTour big guns when the whips really begin to crack and the DNFs begin to skyrocket. That said I’m very much looking forward to seeing how emerging guys like Grafton to Inverell winner Sean Lake, Warney winner Oliver Kent-Spark and Avanti’s Ben Dyball fare. Also, you just know Ben Hill is going to have a crack. He always does.

Other interesting riders are Mick Rogers, the Morton brothers Lachlan and Angus who have linked with USA outfit Jelly Belly in 2015, plus lone wolves like Steele Von Hoff, Heinrich Haussler and the guy I’d probably love to see in the green and gold bands more than any other, Lotto-Soudal’s Grand Tour iron man himself, Adam Hansen. The 33-year old has finished second twice and third once in this race, so he’s no stranger to peaking in early January. SportsBet currently has him at $19, which I reckon is well worth a lazy $20. I have no idea how his offseason has been going, but one-time BMC rider Tim Roe, this year backed by the numerical might of Drapac, also isn’t without some appeal at $101 if things go his way. Then again, the same goes for about 25 of the 150+ strong field. It’s all about luck in running.

After the Tasmanian’s fine win in the time trial on Thursday, and his third place here just 12 months ago, Richie Porte is justifiably pre-race favourite ($4) ahead of Cam Meyer ($5.50) and the retiring legend, Cadel Evans ($5.50).

Whoever wins, with so many high quality riders on show it’s sure to be a cracking race. Oh, yeah. And it’s on telly. Live. Whoo-hoo.

Who are you tipping?

The odds as Sportsbet sees things.

The odds as Sportsbet sees things.

Classic Cycling Quotes #118

Waratahs Cycling Club member #1:
“One of the great things about our club is we have a defibrillator for the riders.”

Waratahs Cycling Club member #2:
“Members only…!”

Waratahs Cycling Club member #3:
“Of course by the time you check their licence they might be dead.”

Typical post-ride coffee banter for a veterans’ cycling club ;-)

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Who’s who in the WorldTour zoo?

A new season typically means new sponsors, and 2015 has plenty of them. In case you’ve been wondering who’s financing the world’s top cycling teams in 2015, here’s a quick summary.

Jumbo_Supermarkten

lotto_logogroup-in-circle-6f0a857c364430a63927c5763d7c1448 Soudal alpecin-range-shot1-smaller

Teams with new naming sponsors in 2015:

Garmin Cannondale – Okay, they’re not exactly new naming sponsors, rather two existing ones from different 2014 teams getting together in a new arrangement for Slipstream Sports in 2015. Gone is the blue argyle, replaced by green.

Etixx-Quickstep – Quickstep floors have sponsored Patrick Lefevere’s squad since day one in 2003 and continue to do so. In 2015 their fellow naming sponsor Omega Pharma has opted to use one of its sub-brands, Etixx Sports Nutrition, which clearly they’re hoping to sell bucketloads of to cycling fans.

Lotto-Soudal – For 2015 it’s out with Belisol (custom-made windows and doors in PVC, aluminium and wood) and in with Soudal who are a manufacturer of sealants, PU-Foams and adhesives, pretty much a Euro version of Selleys.

LottoNL-Jumbo – Jumbo is major supermarket chain in the Netherlands. But just to really confuse us all in 2015, the team will also be sponsored by yet another national lottery. Unlike FDJ (the French national lottery) the team formerly known as Belkin, Blanco and Rabobank actually has the word Lotto in their name too, like their Belgian counterparts. God help Phil Liggett.

Team Giant-Alpecin – formerly known as Giant-Shimano, the bike manufacturer shares naming rights in 2015 with, of all things, a brand of Caffeine Shampoo. Marcel Kittel will no doubt be delighted.

 

Teams with existing naming sponsors in 2015:

Team Sky – As if you didn’t know…Sky is a British-based publicly-listed media organisation.

BMC – American-owned team sponsored by a Swiss-based bicycle manufacturer.

Trek Factory Racing – American-based bicycle manufacturer. But you knew that already too.

Ag2r-La Mondiale – Ag2r is a French-based insurance/financial group. La Mondial is a wealth management business.

IAM Cycling – IAM is a Geneva-based asset management business, specialising in pension funds.

Astana – Astana is the capital city of Kazakhstan, the team itself is funded by a coalition of state-owned Kazakh companies known as Samruk-Kazyna.

FDJ.fr – French team sponsored by the French National Lottery.

Movistar – the major Spanish mobile phone operator.

Katusha – In English the Russian word Katusha translates to the pet name form of the name Yekaterina, a Russian equivalent of Catherine. So it roughly equates to English names like Kathy and Katie. What do this have to with pro cycling? I’m not exactly sure, but will dig a bit more when I have time.

Tinkoff-Saxo – Tinkoff Credit Systems Bank was established by Russian team owner, Oleg Tinkov in 2007 when he sold his previous business, a brewery. Saxo Bank is a major Danish investment bank.

Lampre-Merida – Merida is a Taiwanese-based bicycle manufacturing business, selling over 2 million bikes a year. Lampre has sponsored the Italian squad since 1991 and is a manufacturer of prefinished steel sheeting.

Orica-GreenEDGE – Orica is an Australian-based multinational corporation that provides chemicals and explosives primarily for the mining industry.

Loyalty, money and the future of domestic cycling

In light of yesterday’s confirmation from Cycling Australia that Channel 9 and Fox have replaced SBS as the contracted TV broadcasters for Australian domestic cycling for the next two seasons, this article from Cycling Tips is well worth a read, as are the comments. It explains things pretty well, and for what it’s worth, I generally agree with their view. Below are my own thoughts…

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SBS and Cycling Central have done a magnificent job for a long time and, clearly, have an unrivalled depth of knowledge and passion for cycling, something they’ll be continuing to share with us during all the big European classics and tours for the foreseeable future. But as a smaller broadcaster they deliver a niche audience and cycling wants, and in many ways desperately needs, to become more than just a niche sport in this country. For domestic cycling to truly flourish – especially given its well-documented financial troubles – it needs the commercial impetus of mainstream media backing and the elevated audience/sponsor reach that brings. In many ways CA really didn’t have a choice.

“We are now in an unparalleled position to be able to market our sport to many demographics throughout Australia on a regular basis across four major networks within Australia in 2015,” said Cycling Australia CEO Nick Green OAM, announcing the deal with Nine and Fox. “This will put cycling into the living rooms of millions more Australian homes, and we look forward to engaging with these fans to grow cycling from the grass-roots through to the elite level.”

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Wouldn’t it be great if we could blend the passion and knowledge of SBS with the financial muscle and audience potential of Channel 9?

Now, whether or not Channel 9 and Fox actually deliver on the massive untapped potential in domestic cycling remains very much to be seen. So far the signs aren’t very encouraging with viewer-unfriendly programming slots, and you’d like to think this situation will be watched very closely indeed by Messrs Green and Speed at CA. But at least there’s a foot in the door, and cycling is now on the radar of two of the three commercial networks in the land, with Channel 7 also committed to the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. And let’s not forget, SBS has been far from perfect on the domestic front. No question their coverage of the big European races is first-class and has been for many years, but to the despair of many they didn’t show the women’s road race at the nationals live last year either, for example, and their 2015 NRS highlights packages were modest at best, and often delayed by many weeks. The coverage provided on twitter and metarace of these events was infinitely better which simply isn’t good enough to be taken seriously by potential sponsors. The reasons for this situation, as expressed to me directly by an SBS employee, were unsurprisingly money related. Road cycling, by its very nature, is an expensive sport to cover – especially point to point road cycling. For example, last October when I publicly wondered if we might ever see live TV coverage of Australia’s oldest one-day race, the Melbourne to Warrnambool, a figure of around $200k was quoted as being required to do it. That’s a lot of energy gels, and a big risk to any broadcaster, especially with no guarantee of decent audience numbers. I wouldn’t show it either!

Regardless of what channel our TVs are ultimately tuned to, it’s also worth remembering we’ll still be hearing most of the same commentators like Liggett, Sherwen and Keenan, plus a few extras like the excellent Robbie McEwan. I’m sure there are other brilliant commentators just waiting to be discovered in our ex-riding ranks as well, male and female. Hopefully Channel 9 and Fox will now get out there and find them.

People don’t like change. I get that. We like loyalty and familiarity. We’ve grown up watching Tommo and crew on our TV screens and I have to admit I feel more than a little unfaithful towards SBS even writing this. But just like racing in a weekend crit, if you’re not moving forwards you’re invariably moving backwards. If CA plays things right, works hard to foster those media and commercial relationships and leverages more and more opportunities each year, I genuinely feel we might just look back in a decade’s time and think this has actually been a reasonably good thing.

Certainly, the nature of our sport, with so many races each year, means there’s more than enough events to go around anyway, so surely the more networks that get involved the better?

FINAL NOTE:
It isn’t going to help you with the NRS, granted. But given most of us are out there riding bikes worth many thousands of dollars and will spend hundreds , if not thousands, more in acquiring new gear in 2015, it’s well worth worth considering getting Foxtel if you haven’t already. Yes, it’s about $50-$65 a month (still less than you’ll spend on post-ride coffees), but in return you’ll get the chance to watch a never-ending smorgasboard of professional cycling from all over the world courtesy of Eurosport and its insightful and often hilarious stable of commentators such as Carlton Kirby and the deadpan extraordinaire himself, Irishman, well yes, Sean Kelly. If you love your cycling it could be the best investment you make this year.

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Hot racing at Bay Crits, very hot

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How hot is southern Australia right now?

Well, rather than answer that, how about we just compare the percentage of finishers (below) for the first two stages in this year’s Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic crit series versus last year – remembering both stages have been held on exactly the same courses. Obviously this is far from a scientifically robust comparison and there are other variables such as race tactics, athletes entered, luck etc. But all the same it’s surely a pretty compelling indication of what heat can do to the human body. Here’s hoping for milder conditions soon, and not just because there are two more stages to go. Victoria and South Australia are on fire right now. Time to cool off.

Stage 1 – Ritchie Boulevard, Geelong

Elite Men 2014 – 53% of starters finished
Elite Men 2015 – 23% of starters finished

Elite Women 2014 – 56% of starters finished
Elite Women 2015 – 60% of starters finished

Support Men 2014 – 50% of starters finished
Support Men 2015 – 25% of starters finished

 

Stage 2 – Eastern Park, Geelong

Elite Men 2014 – 77% of starters finished
Elite Men 2015 – 25% of starters finished

Elite Women 2014 – 57% of starters finished
Elite Women 2015 – 47% of starters finished

Support Men 2014 – 76% of starters finished
Support Men 2015 – 38% of starters finished

(Stats based on results from Metarace.)

KOM WTF

So, barely three days into 2015 and there’s a global cluster f**k of confusion erupting on every cycling addict’s favourite app, Strava. Sure it may be a colossal first world problem, but I really don’t get why the whole 2015 KOM was necessary in the first place. I know we’re all ‘cup whores’ and derive no end of pleasure from stealing someone’s KOM or setting a new PB on that 25m segment on the way to the shops or work. But seriously, now every ride we go on earns us 100+ trophies. Talk about devaluing all the sweat and pain we’ve invested over previous years.

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Awesome? Nah, not really.

Not sure about you, but I like the fact that unless I completely bust my chops I won’t get a PB. I could ride 100km and not earn a single cup, in fact I often do. Surely that’s a good thing?

I’m off for a leisurely ride with my kids this afternoon, it’s going to be slow, very slow. Yet it’s a pretty safe bet that by the time I get home I’ll still have another 40 trophies or so waiting for me and, on the surface at least, I’ll look like the reincarnation of Fausto Coppi himself.

So far in three rides this year I’ve earned a whopping 150 trophies. Pffffft. Only one of them matters: an overall (i.e. since forever) Top 10 I pinched yesterday in a moment of pure Stravacide madness. The rest aren’t worth a bead of sweat on my little toe. What do you think?

 

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