It’s not quite over just yet, but it’s already been a fascinating summer of cycling in Australia. Plenty of great racing. Huge crowds. Painful crashes. And glorious wins. But arguably the most significant competition has been taking place off the roads as several not-so-familiar media names (in cycling circles, anyway) have thrown their hats and money into the ring alongside the long-standing leader of the broadcast peloton, SBS.
Not everyone is happy about it. But aside from occasional exceptions (highlights shown too late, and women’s cycling still gets a raw deal from all parties) and the ever-present viewer lament for almost any sport event shown by commercial broadcasters – too many and/or poorly timed ads – the coverage in 2015 has been vastly improved on previous seasons.
Of course, Channel 9 has been involved for a few years now. But with Channel 7 picking up the rights to Australia’s newest UCI catergorised race, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, it’s provided an intriguing opportunity to directly compare the two biggest networks in Australia.
Here’s our take on it…
Keenan, Liggett, McEwan. Channel 7 had pretty much all the same voices we heard at the recent Bay Crits, Nationals and TDU, except for Paul Sherwen. No real difference, so we call this one a tie.
How good was it to see real-time KMs to go and gap times at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race? Live crosses to the directeur sportifs in the team cars and live ride stats from some of the Avanti boys like Paddy Bevin were also a great addition to the Channel 7 coverage. Having Robbie McEwan in the bunch on the moto talking to riders , and commentators, was pretty neat. Also, Liggett and Keenan taking twitter questions from viewers during the coverage is a no-brainer that Channel 9 didn’t seem to think of, or perhaps care enough to offer during the recent TDU? A pretty clear win for Channel 7.
We’ve all been pretty spoiled having watched cycling on SBS for so many years with only minimal ads. Channel 9 showed a lot of ads, and got caned for it. But Channel 7 seemed to show even more today. We’re saying it’s maybe a very slight win for Channel 9 here.
We fully appreciate it’s only a one-day race unlike the TDU and Bay Crits, but showing the whole Cadel Evans race live on their main channel was awesome. With multiple pre-recorded features that fit in with the coverage at different stages of the race – and not just tourism ads – Channel 7 showed some real commitment and forward planning here, pretty clearly leveraging a lot of their viewer engagement expertise from the V8s, Horse Racing and Tennis. It’s a resounding win to them on this front. Sorry 9.
All in all, it seems to us Channel 7 wins very comfortably, solo with hands raised in the air, no rivals in sight. But, regardless of who did the better job, the very fact the two largest TV networks in the land have now both broadcast major domestic cycling events in the past month is surely a very good sign for the future, and hopefully gives Cycling Australia something to work with in 2015 and beyond on the domestic front.
What do you think?
The average American knows three things about bike racing: the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong and doping.”
Back in 2007 Geoff Barrett was just an anonymous education consultant who, like the rest of us, enjoyed cycling in his spare time. But over the past seven years this likeable Western Australian has become one of the most recognisable fans in world cycling, perhaps behind only the ubiquitous and seemingly ageless Diablo himself, Didi Senft.
Geoff is no ordinary teacher. He has an alter ego; a stalker of sorts, one that likes to dress up in public. Since witnessing a devastated Cadel Evans on the Champs Elysees in 2007, having fallen just 23 seconds short of claiming the Tour de France, he’s been the guy in the fluffy green crocodile suit following Evans around the World Tour, aka Crikey Cadel.
I bumped into Geoff, quite literally, at the start line of Stage Two at this year’s Tour Down Under in the swanky Adelaide suburb of Unley. After fighting off a bunch of kids chasing selfies with the croc (he has a Facebook page and uses the hashtag #SpotTheCroc if you’re interested) I managed to spend about 15 minutes with him and discovered a man not nearly as crazy as you might imagine, and one about to be faced with quite a dilemma. For when his very reason for existence, Cadel Evans, hangs up his racing cleats for good this Sunday afternoon, Geoff may well be forced to hang up his reptile suit as well.
“I have no idea what I’ll do after that, or who I’ll support to be honest, it’s a good question.”
If Geoff does decide to give it all away, the croc suit surely commands pride of place in a sports exhibit of some kind, or even the National Museum in Canberra? It may not have the longevity of Senft’s horns and pitchfork, but it’s travelled the world, witnessed multiple Tours of France, ridden around the Champs Elysees and even been seen atop Alp d’Huez, Ventoux and, just last year, the mighty Stelvio as part of an impromptu trip to the 2014 Giro d’Italia. “I only went because Cadel was there,” Geoff is quick to add with a smile. “I did that instead of the 2014 Tour.”
Given the croc suit is by no means the coolest outfit to be wearing on a roadside at the height of summer, I suggest it may need a very good clean before being out on display anywhere. “Yeah, it gets pretty hot some days, it’s like a sleeping bag inside,” Geoff admits. “I sweat a fair bit and it pools in my shoes (green Crocs, of course). But funnily enough, it doesn’t smell too bad.”
In the early days it’s fair to say Cadel Evans and the rest of his BMC entourage thought Geoff was certifiably crazy. “The first few times at the 2009 Tour they just looked at me like I was a bit of a nut-job,” he remembers. “At that stage I was only chasing Cadel around France with an inflatable crocodile that I’d picked up from Australian Geographic, not the suit.”
Why a crocodile?
“Since I went to my first Tour in 2002 – that time I had a green sign that said “Go Robbie (McEwan) Aussie Green in Paris” – I noticed there were more and more Australians heading over to watch each year, pretty much all carrying boxing kangaroos. I wanted to do something different and thought, well, Cadel is originally from croc country, so let’s go with that. Then after the 2009 race I thought to myself, ‘next time I’m coming back as crocodile’ and in 2011 I did, that’s when all the planets aligned. I had this suit and a bunch of people around to help support me and I first bumped into the BMC guys on Stage 10 I think it was, it was pouring with rain and I escorted their team bus to the start line. Cadel went on to win that Tour and it just kept going from there.”
Nowadays Evans and his team-mates know Geoff as far more than just a roadside nutter from WA, and he’s met them on many occasions in many different parts of the world. This includes Andy Riis and Georges Lüchinger (BMC Chief Communications Officer) who, clearly, know good publicity when they see it.
“I’ve met Andy Riis twice, once here at the Tour Down Under and another time at an after party in Paris. He was like, “We love the crocodile!”
Will we see Geoff at Cadel’s final professional race this week in Geelong? “Of course, I’ll be there,” he says. “In fact I’ll even be riding in the People’s Ride on the Saturday.” It remains to be seen whether he’ll be in the croc suit or not.
After that, who knows what he’ll do?
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…
Introducing: Tsgabu Grmay
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.
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:
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.
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.)
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.
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.”
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?
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:
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 ;-)
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.
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.