Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The dopes who dope and why they do it

I do understand why they do it, I really do. It's simply human nature to cheat. We cheat ourselves, our families, our friends, usually to gain some advantage or to simply prove ourselves. Sometimes with real consequences, sometimes not. If you know as an athlete that you can achieve great things, know it in your heart, yet fail to deliver on the day(s) in question - be it because of poor judgement, tactics, illness or injury - you are left with a lot of 'what-ifs'. If you are open to temptation, if the EPO or other enhancing substance is available, you have a choice. And choice is what it is all about, and where we become much more black and white, good or evil about these things. Iban Mayo appears to have chosen EPO to gain, or perhaps regain, what he displayed in the Tour. He looked reborn as a rider, best he'd been in years. And now we may know why.

Vinokourov faced the same pressure, but worse; that of a favourite in possibly his last shot at the title. What if he couldn't deliver? What if he injured? What happens then?

And Rasmussen? Well he didn't test positive, he just don't look or sound honest. Or perhaps we don't know the full story? We do know he chose to train away from the spotlight and to appear to prevaricate over his location. This is not illegal, and is our perception only. He wasn't proven to have cheated, and he continues to deny it.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 21 - Bennati wins in Paris

Daniele Bennati took his 2nd Tour win just days after his first, and in the best place, too: Paris. Lampre deserved the win today after attacking and chasing so hard for Ballan, so it was somehow fitting that Quickstep, having done little to motivate the stage should accidentally lead Bennati out to the win. Boonen didn't seem to have the legs today, or was playing safe with the green jersey, just doing enough to keep it on his shoulders. Either way he didn't get to grips with his lead-out man and slipped away to 5th. Unless of course it was a cunning plan to allow Bennati the win, robbing his closer rivals of the opportunity to take maximum points...

Overall no-one threatened Contador for the win, and he took that an the best young rider. Cadel Evans took 2nd, as expected, and Leipheimer was content to stand on the podium in 3rd. It could all have been so very different had there not been several key casualties, both via accident and doping scandal. Still, this is a long race at high speed in difficult circumstances, and it wouldn't be special if winning it was straightforward, would it?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 20 - Oh for 23 secs

It went pretty much as we all expected, although Levi got closer to Cadel than was comfy, and Alberto held on slightly better than expected - oh for those extra seconds! Still, after surviving a tour like this one it's fitting thatthe top 3 are so close, and that they have such a margin on Sastre in 4th.

Traditionally we just see a parade followed by an all-out sprint in the last stage, but we also recall Vinokourov's non-sprinter's move in 2005... so will Evans be tempted to go for a flyer? It looks like Levi has called a truce and accepted 3rd, so maybe not. If Discovery do move for a 1-2 finish then all bets are off, but surely they'll be happy with 1st and 3rd on GC? I guess that slight element of doubt will plague us all for another day...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Oh no, not again - more rumours

I'm seeing spots. Rumours are flying about a Barloworld police raid and a rider testing positive after stage 14. Now usually this means the winner of a stage or a jersey holder, who all get tested. So is it Soler, Contador or Boonen? Or just a big beat up? If it's a jersey holder it'll come out real fast, you'd think, although hushing it up until due process is followed would not be impossible to imagine, too. Especially since we've been jumping to so many conclusions so fast lately. I can't imagine hushing up the potential winner, but another jersey could be hung out to dry later, I guess.

This story was discounted, denied, a day or so later : from CN - The speculation was further fuelled by reports of police cars at the Barloworld hotel on Friday night. "Some journalist saw an Ag2r Prévoyance team car and thought it was a police car," confirmed Prudhomme. "There was not any police at the hotel."

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 18 - Casar at last

Another stage passes and Sandy Casar finally manages to make the break, stay with the break, and win the sprint. Phew. I'm relieved, imagine how he feels.

It wasn't easy. Yes, the bunch wasn't too concerned about the break gaining time, but we also had another dog episode that took out Casar for a moment and cost Willems a spot in the break. We also had an entertaining roundabout where Casar did what I would call 'an Anderson' and went the wrong way, deliberately, and initiated the final, decisive move. Merkcx almost mowed him down but Casar's kick held him off until the line. Phew again.

Evans also showed that he could stay with the big bad sprinters when they rolled into town, something that Contador either couldn't or didn't want to do, costing both Alberto and Levi 3 seconds to Cadel. That's 3 secs in the pocket for tomorrow's (or today's, if you prefer) TT. Cadel looks fresher but both Contador and Leipheimer will be going for the 1-2 finish, so
freshest legs and best luck rule from here. No rain, and no falls please. No punctures either, thanks.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Gerrans changes sides

CyclingNews reports that Simon Gerrans is leaving one French ProTour team for another. The AG2r Prévoyance rider, who is currently contesting the Tour de France with the squad, has signed a one-year contract with Roger Legeay's Crédit Agricole... ... at least he's used to the language. CA was also Stuey O'Grady's old stomping ground.

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 17 - Bennati wins in a break

Daniele Bennati won easily, as you'd expect from a fast-twitch guy in a break laden with more your enduro-power guys. Voigt did his usual instigation and control act, forcing the pace when it needed forcing, leaving gaps that slackers had to fill and attacking when the odds needed improving. The only thing he couldn't do was get away from Benna, who knew what was on Voigt's seemingly transparent mind at every step. Voigt needed to gap Bennati enough that he couldn't close, but the sprinter of course knew this as well and fast-twitched his way back onto the wheel every time. It didn't help that the final selection included guys who were pretty similar in style and power to Voigt himself, making the match a bit too even. Even picking the weakest link and attacking up that hill at 4km didn't work... although it was close and a few cramps in the right legs would have sealed the escape. Alas, these guys don't cramp, or hide it well.

Which means one down, one to go. Before the all-resolving TT, I mean. Can Cadel make up 1m 53secs on Contador? I doubt it. The course is flat, which doesn't suit either of them, although Evans may have a little more gas left than Alberto. Leaping Levi could do better than both at this course and will be fired up to close the 53sec gap on Cadel. It's looking like a close thing all round. Perhaps Contador loses a minute to Cadel and Levi gains 30 secs, or more. Or variations on that theme, anyway. They'll end up soooo close together it'll come down to freshest legs and most luck on the day.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Good news - take 2

Now it's Karl Menzies taking the lead at the scandal-free Tour de Toona.

And Emma Rickards leads the Thuringen-Rundfahrt for women.

Did I mention that the Tour de France is still on? In a manner of speaking, anyway. A race of phantoms, it seems.

YES! Rasmussen is OUT!

I said I was uneasy.. but I feel a bit better now. Not 100% but at least 95% confident that the playing field is levelling... it's like pulling teeth, without anaesthetic.

I'm not saying Rasmussen is guilty, or Vinokourov, or even Landis for that matter. I'm not saying that at all.

What I am saying is that I'm pleased to see tough, consistent action taken - finally - when things are not as they should be. The waters are murky. It doesn't look right when riders perform 'out of their skin', especially so when past performances don't stack up against current heroics. Let alone when they are surrounded by the rumours and innuendo that attach to these people. Anyone can see it, feel it, smell it. It's one thing to be a champion, another to be deceitful or just unhelpful. When lack of cooperation or openness clouds an issue we naturally smell a rat, and in this case we finally have rat catchers who mean business. This sort of open, clear and decisive action - at any immediate cost to the team, the race or to the sport itself - should happen in all sports, or not at all. Either legalise and control the doping or cut it out. At this level of importance, where people are influenced to do things that may compromise their health or longevity, where people are deceitful and manipulative and their objectives unspoken, everyone suffers. The cheater and the cheated. And the manipulators and profiteers who lurk unseen behind the cheats should suffer the consequences, too.

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 16 - Chicken flies coop

I don't know how I feel about this. Uneasy? Disturbed? Queasy? I can accept that riders improve, their fitness and abilities change over time and their knowledge and execution of tactics increase. But Michael Rasmussen made it look just too easy. I'm sure it was tough. Evans looked cooked. Sastre obviously had a red hot go; and Contador was clearly motivated. Yet Rasmussen seemed effortless at times. He's obviously biologically superior on these long steep inclines. Even the lamented Pantani looked as they he was making an effort when he made his presumably EPO-fueled ascents. Yet I know that whatever grade of racing you do there is always someone who has saved a bit more at the end; someone who has trained a bit smarter, or harder; someone who just wants it more. Rasmussen is just one of those guys.

So good on him, great win. Yet somehow I feel better about Evans clinging to third place. He looked as if he was trying and he clearly was outnumbered. What could he do when Rabo had a great team behind the Chicken and Contador had super-domestique Leipheimer? Attack them both and somehow match their counter-attacks? I know that doesn't work, or work for long.

So there you have it. 2 road stages left to play with, one of which offers a chance of some breakaways but little hope of a big escape. It will be locked down tight as a drum by Rabo and Disco. And Lotto will hang tough. And then the TT, where some change will occur. Evans has a shot at winning the stage but so do several others. Will Evans gain or lose time to Leipheimer? Will someone do something extra-ordinary? Or maybe extra-terrestrial?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The good news

Now for some good news?
  • Allan Davis (as expected) won the final stage of the Qinghai tour. Plenty of Aussies finished this hard, high-altitude race, too, as this pic attests. Rhys Pollck was best placed Aussie overall
  • Aussie-laden HealthNet-Maxxis won the Tour de Toona TTT (helps to have Nathan O'Neill on the team, let alone Karl Menzies and Rory Sutherland...).

Le Tour de Disaster 2007

What can one say? Vinokourov has been painted black by an A-test and he and his team are sent home. So, like Landis et al it's not "proven" that he homologously transfused (is that real or did I make it up?) but it looks so much like he did that "we" really can't risk it. (One thought - did he have a transfusion in hospital after that fall? Surely if he did that'd be too obvious to overlook.) Plenty of people have expressed surprise that a rider of such class should bother to cheat but...
  1. We are dealing with an entrenched culture of drug-enhanced racing going back at least 30 years, probably 50 - I think we all understand that, don't we? I'm sure it's the same in other sports, if not in most people's everyday culture of alcohol and caffeine-driven lives!
  2. Like Landis and his worn-out hip last year (not that I'm saying Landis is guilty as charged, as it's still not proven) this is probably his last shot at winning Le Tour - so there's a lot at stake personally
  3. Vino was a contender apparently knocked out of contention by injury - and it's always tempting to use anything to overcome the unfairness of such luckless injury
  4. He's human and can succumb to temptation just like anyone else.
Yesterday when writing about Vinokourov's amazing comeback I said "go figure". Well I guess we just figured it out. I also expressed puzzlement over Rasmussen's amazing TT performance as well as Valverde's inability to reproduce his past form. Now I fully understand that riders can train and enhance aspects of their riding by sheer effort and practice, and Rasmussen is no exception to that rule - so it's unfair to suggest that he has done anything untoward, despite the latest allegations. It's still a puzzle to me that he did so well - and can't wait to see what he does in the next TT. As for Valverde I know equally as well how hard it is to maintain form and peak at the right time whilst avoiding illness and injury, but it is always notable when highly talented riders appear to lose form at the wrong time. I just hope my puzzlement over such reverses in fortune are based on natural causes alone.

iBike update (again)

You remember I bought an iBike? How could you forget?

You can search this blog and find the whole story but in short it's a one-wire, one-external-sensor black box (it's actually white) that uses variables like velocity, acceleration and altitude change coupled with your own choice of constants (weight, friction and aerodynamic co-efficients) to calculate power. It dumps all of that data into a reader and you can play with the .CSV file in any spreadsheet.
  • The pros are that it's the cheapest option for constant (ie not just hills) power measurement and it's as easy to mount as a speedo (making it easy to swap bikes, too).
  • The cons are that the constants aren't really constant. Your weight changes as you sweat and eat (but not by much, unless you are riding 200km/day and not refueling); your aerodynamics change as you sit up or crouch down (but you can adjust your aerodynamic constant to be a 'best fit' for your needs), or just sit in a draft (and yes, it does give some strange results when drafting big bunches or trucks). And your friction changes according to tyre pressure and road surface (but again, not by much).
So it simply can't compete for spot-on, every-day accuracy with SRM or PowerTap, but beats both on price. And if you are prepared to accept and work around the cons then it's still a remarkably useful device for training. After trying all of the 'tweaking' options I've settled on a 'best practices' guide that works for me. I'll share that soon, but here are some tips:
  • Batteries... buy a few CR2032's for spares... they can last a 2 months or 2 weeks, depending upon sample rate and time on each ride
  • Some batteries drop below the recommended 2.75V on ride 2 - but bounce back on ride 3! So don't chuck it away too smartly
  • But be careful, too, as you risk losing all ride data and probably getting spurious results with a low battery, but...
  • I've had no obvious problem starting a 1-2 hour ride with voltages as low as 2.66V.. and it even ended the ride back at 2.72V

More later!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 15 - Vino tries again

What can I say? It's exhausting enough (as an Antipodean) staying up so late to see the finish to then contemplate what actually happened. Vino, who was a contender until he had a bad fall, but who recovered from those injuries to look as though he was fighting back, took a massive win in the TT - and it looked like race on. But then it was race off as he lost so much time in the first big Pyrenean test. But then he bounces back to take the Queen stage! Go figure!

Rasmussen is equally puzzling. Obviously a mountain goat, he was expected to get at least the spotted jersey and yellow was not that surprising. But to limit his losses in the TT - and catch Valverde - was, well, hard to take after last years disaster!

And Valverde? Well he obviously isn't up to the stratospheric heights we thought he was at... and Contador clearly is. Now we knew Alberto had fantastic acceleration on the climbs but - really - that was an amazing display of 'catch me if you can'. How Rasmussen managed to fight back and get on terms again was impressive. So the race is between Rasmussen and Contador. Will Chicken crack? Will Contador take control on the last mountain stage but lose out in the TT? Who will have any legs left for the TT anyway?

Before I go I have to say bravo Evans. To fight it out in these mountains with no teammates left at critical times is impressive indeed. Surely someone will want to lure him away from Lotto? Imagine if he had a team dedicated to supporting him and bridging gaps in the high country, giving him the chance to play the old one-two, too. Imagine. Well, he still could pull out a big TT and Chicken could return to TT non-form. Anything could still happen, and probably will.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 14 - Contador climbs to win

In summary, Contador had a lot to gain and set about doing it, with the help of Leipheimer and co. Yellow jersey holder Rasmussen tacked on the back and stayed there, and Cadel Evans did likewise until just before the finale. Valverde stumbled badly and Vino was shattered, both of them losing a lot of time. For Vinokourov it's the end of this year's GC challenge. So Contador won over Rasmussen, but the Chicken had proven himself equal to the challenge and he didn't fret any feathers over missing the win. Evans was just off the final, brutal pace and ended up back with Kloden. For Evans it's time lost, for Contador a significant step forward and for Rasmussen, respect.

The top nine are now Michael Rasmussen first on GC and looking good for Paris. He just has to keep consolidating in the climbs, build on that lead and survive the next TT. It's do-able but he'd expect to lose at least 1-2 minutes in that TT, so he needs that buffer desperately.

Alberto Contador is next and stands a great chance to take the overall, if he can keep this level of attacking climbing up and not lose too much time in the TT. Realistically he's young but strong - if he fades it won't be a surprise - but if doesn't win this year watch out for the future.

After Contador comes Cadel Evans who faded and lost a minute and a place today. He needs to dig deep now and not lose any more time. He proved his TT prowess is the equal or better of all of these top 5 riders, so a motivated final TT could still see him grab the overall prize. After one slightly disappointing Pyrenean stage it's too early to write him off but it was a test and he fell slightly short. Having teammates to help him would have made a difference, but he will face the same problem in stage 15.. and it's a big stage. He could lose more time, or Rasmussen and Contador could crack first.

Leaping Levi Leipheimer has lept up to 4th and is gunning for Cadel's spot. It's a tough ask but with team mate Contador to play with it's game on. Kloden and Sastre follow Leipheimer and pose a threat to both Evans and Leipheimer. Either could pull one out of the bag in the mountains and Kloden especially could take back some time in the TT. It's probably too late for Valverde who has slipped to 9th place, almost 10 minutes back.

So, will it be fireworks in Stage 15? Will Rasmussen and Contador go hammer and tongs again or will they suffer from some pretty big efforts in the last few days? Will someone out of overall contention take a long break and get well clear, leaving the GC battlers to fight it out decisively on one big climb? Or will they batten down the hatches and play it cool?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 13 - Chicken off the menu

For now, anyway. The Albi TT showed that Michael 'Chicken' Rasmussen has wings - and flew to an impressive extent. Not enough to win, mind - Vino proved he was the fastest as well as the toughest today - but enough to stave off Evans and Kloden. Chicken thus retains yellow and has to defend it in the Pyrenees.

So what happens now? Vino's and Kloden's Astana team is well placed to attack Rasmussen, as is Contador's and Leipheimer's Disco crew. Sandwiched in between is Cadel Evans, who has little option but to follow the moves. He could attack - but there's no second chances.. whereas both Disco and Astana do have 2nd options to play.

But there's also another TT after the mountains - and whilst Rasmussen has demonstrated improved TT performance he also showed that it's not enough - he'll still lose time, and he only has a minute up on Evans, who was 2nd in today's TT. So he must attack and put time on everyone within striking distance, especially Kloden and Evans but also Contador.

Which will be interesting. Who will attack first? Who will roll the dice and try their luck. An interesting week of racing awaits us...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 12 - Boonen bags another win

Well it had to happen - the long break got chased down in the last kilometre and the Quickstep train fired up perfectly. When the Steegmans express left the station he had Big Tom on board and this time it went perfectly to plan... Boonen obviously thinks he looks good in green, up he was very lucky that no-one lit up the stage on the cat 2 climb. He won't be so lucky in the Pyreenees.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 11 - Robbie Hunter hunts down a win

Well he had to win eventually, especially with that other Robbie out of the frame and Boonen down in a fall. Nice to see Cancellara continuing to 'have a go', too. The lesson of the day is 'don't give up'. The other lesson is 'go hard'. The breaks happened when the pace was continually forced - the winner's time meaning a very fast 48km/h average over the 180-plus kilometres. Given the pace, the crashes and the crosswinds it was inevitable the elastic would break, and it did. With the splits in the peleton tactics became confused and gaps grew.

Those who lost out were some of the sprinters, like Hushovd and Zabel, and overall contender Moreau, who lost time after a crash and broken cleat. Of course it was bad timing - especially so as Astana chose that moment to attack - and some were upset about it, not least of all being Moreau. But that's racing. It's a funny thing, these team radios - you'd think they'd communicate something like 'Moreau in crash, do the respectful thing and wait for him to bridge back' but instead it seems they fall back on 'but we didn't even know he was dropped'. Now if we didn't have these rider radios that'd be true, but we do.. so it was 'that's racing', wasn't it?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Other races, other places...

Nice win for Karl Menzies at Superweek, where Karl leads and Jonathan Clarke is in 2nd overall.

And Allan Davis has pulled off another sprint win in the Qinghai tour. That's 3 so far...

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 10 - 10 out of 10

Cedric Vasseur won in a break that ended in a 5 man sprint. It toook a lot of time and courage to get that far, and both luck and good judgement to come from way back and anticipate the sprint perfectly. In fact it was a 10. 10 centimetres separated Vasseur from unlucky 2nd place Casar. 10 years since his last Tour win. And his 10th Tour.

Otherwise it's all as normal. The Dane leads overall but gained no time, so he will likely lose the yellow fleece in the next TT - unless he springs an immortal surprise. Those guaranteed time losses for Chicken will be a win of course for Valverde and Evans, both of whom will pick up the time that Rasmussen loses. Or someone further back will blitz the TT (perhaps Kloden?), and both Evans and Valverde will crack, or worse, crash. Kloden and Leipheimer will both gain time, as will Menchov. The post-TT landscape may look like Valverde 1st, Evans 2nd, Rasmussen 3rd, then Kloden, Leipheimer and maybe Menchov. Or maybe not. Perhaps Sastre will slip in between, or Moreau. Mayo will drop back.

We'll have to wait. Mark Stage 13 in your diaries and watch it. It will be compelling. And then onto the Pyrenees, where it all changes again.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 9 - Vino vanishes, Soler wins

Well, not quite vanishes, but drops back a long way. In taking this stage Soler has certainly stolen a big win for Barloworld. The stage itself was made for an attack like this one. Indeed it's a hard way to start a day's racing - straight up - and it puts a breaking strain on immediately. In a small way it reminds me of stage 3 of the 1987 Canberra 2 day Tour (how's that for a comparison?): 100m of flat followed by a kilometre of 10% climb. Doesn't sound like much until you realise you aren't as warmed up as you should be and those legs of yours (or mine, actually) just aren't doing the job today. You end up chasing all day and never getting on terms.

At least it simplifies team tactics. If Astana don't have to protect Vinokourov then they can devote more attention to getting Kloden close to the lead on GC, where he stands a good chance of taking the overall. He's only 3 minutes 50 seconds back, after all. Yeah, OK, I'm dreaming. They should have stopped protecting Vino 2 days earlier...

So who really has a chance from here?

Well Rasmussen is well placed, obviously (as would Michael Rogers have been if he hadn't tumbled out). He isn't a strong TT rider like Rogers and he's taken the lead a long way out, so he'll want now to capitalise and bank another minute or 2 on the others as a buffer; and he now has the added pressure of countering every serious move . He may wait for Valverde or Evans to move first and just keep on terms until the Pyrenees - although that long TT will test his mettle, so gaining time in the climbs remains critical.

Alejandro Valverde has demonstrated so far both patience and attacking flair. But again we are a long way from Paris. He won't want to see his 2m 35secs gap to the Dane grow, so he'll stay in touch, and probably attack he sees a clear opportunity. He won't want Evans to come along for the ride, either. And he won't want to exhaust his reserves before the TT, so patience will be a necessary virtue.

Iban Mayo is another 4secs back on Alejandro, but poses no TT threat to anyone here. But everyone knows this and will expect to see him attack in the high stuff. So they'll tag along but be prepared to let him gain some time, too.

Not so with Cadel Evans, just a couple of seconds behind Mayo. He can climb and do a decent TT - and has won shorter tours by playing exactly this waiting game. He's one rider who Valverde will fear in the TT and will want to drop in the mountains. Staying with Valverde's attacks will be a prime goal for Cadel, but he needs to be looking to limit Rasmussen's gains too.

In the mix is Alberto Contador. If he's let off the leash by Disco then he's a real overall contender. Christophe Moreau is next and is the great French hope. He's certainly looking good for top 5-10 at this stage. Carlos Sastre and Andreas Kloden are 3mins 50 secs back from the lead Chicken and whilst either - and especially Kloden - could pull off a blindingly fast TT this is a big ask. They must not lose more time and need to gain time in order to have a shot at the yellow in Paris.

I'd say Levi Leipheimer is too far back, but again he can climb and can TT, he just doesn't seem to want to demonstrate it yet. He could be waiting for the right moment, but there are a lot of riders to pass on the way to Paris. Disco could play a counter-punching game with Levi and Alberto, so gaining big time in a brazen attack is certainly possible.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Kirchen, Astarloza, Kashechkin and Schleck making some moves over the next week, too. They have nothing to lose but plenty to gain. And Oscar Pereiro will be helping his own cause as well as teammate Valverde's with the old one-two act in the remaining mountains. And they are big mountains too with minutes to be gained.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Le Tour de France - Stage 8 - Oh the pain

OK, Rasmussen won the stage and claimed the overall, but it should have been Mick Rogers' day for yellow, really. He could see it, taste it.. then it disappeared around a sharp left bend. He apparently had to brake hard on a fast downhill and either locked a wheel or rolled a tyre. Take your pick of why - either way, he came down and went out. Just to add to the drama to the day O'Grady managed to fall hard - very hard - as well, and injury-ridden McEwen rolled to the end of the stage and handed in his number. On the other hand it was good to see Mayo perform well and indeed to see Rasmussen win and shake the race GC up again, leaving Aussie Evans to gain a few places as well. Moreau was also impressive. It was Bastille Day after all. Let's rest for a day and start afresh.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 7 - Linus who?

Gerdemann, Linus. You must have heard of him. Won the first Alpine stage of Le Tour, 2007. Oh, that T-Mobile guy, the young one with the refreshing anti-doping stance. Oh yeah, and he won on Bastille Day - a German! Sacre Bleu! At least Sylvain Chavenal retained the spotted jersey... didn't he?

It was a shake-up, and a new name on the winner's list, but the GC contenders didn't engage. They remain poised, ready to strike though...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 6 - Green for Big Tom

Big Tom Boonen blasted back into the green jersey, with Freire, Zabel and Seb Chavenal close by... so I guess it was his turn. Oscar must be next, surely? Except it won't be on the next stage - July 14th - as that's reserved for French climbers/breakaway specialists only, or so the French would hope.

Cavendish took out Big Tom's rear derailleur with his front wheel, which locked Tom into his 11, whether he wanted it or not! Meanwhile Cavendish went backwards rapidly, another lesson hopefully learned (don't cross wheels with Tom). McEwen looked to drop off Van Summeren's wheel when the sprint got going, and once again lacked the kick and finish that he displayed on stage 1. He looks like he is simply opting out - perhaps with those injuries he sustained on stage 1 in mind - but only he really knows what's happening. Hushovd is somewhat injured with a painful neck and not quite getting on top of the pedals like he did. And Boonen is now green (again).

Sylvain Chavenal remains on top of the spotted jersey comp and will be one of the likely attackers on Bastille Day, along with the overall GC contenders. 4 categorised climbs - including cat 1 Columbiere must mean - surely - that Cancellara will be allowed to drop from the front and finally give up the golden fleece... which will free up a tired CSC squad to support Sastre and his ambitions instead. I bet they are really pleased about that - perhaps resting up a day or 2 ago would've been better? Whatever, I'm sure they know how they feel. For T-Mobile Rogers is well placed and Evans may have a go - he's been quiet but consistent; Leipheimer and Valverde are also waiting in the wings - and Astana will be looking to reverse recent fortunes, too. Indeed Kloden may well be the main man now with Vino clearly suffering from his fall. Disco may also have a trick up its sleeve. No matter what, it should be a real shake-up on GC.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 5 - Pippo predicts and wins

Well I believed him. I would have believed Oscar Freire, or even Zabel, too, if they'd been bold enough to say it. But Filippo Pozzato did say it, quite plainly, and then delivered. That, surely, is pretty special.

It was a tougher parcours that was made for the lighter-built sprinters, and indeed they hung in there grimly up and over those 8 categorised climbs. Whilst not exactly the Alps, it was tough enough to see off the more specialised sprinters like McEwen and Boonen, and especially Hushovd. With them out of the way the remaining fast men went for it, leaving Pippo to thread his way through the pack to a glorious win. Perhaps surprisingly after such a long, tiring defence of the lead Cancellara hung in there too, and as none of his closest rivals (especially Hushovd) made the effort to dig so deep he was rewarded once again with the golden fleece. And with most of the other top sprinters shelled on the last climb Zabel made off with the green. Not a bad script so far, eh?

You can add in Vinokourov's chain problem and subsequent fall with about 23km to go. He didn't look pretty afterwards. Despite losing some skin he remounted and did a TTT back, falling short of catching the leaders by just over a minute. Now this is definitely a problem for him, but not insuperable. He will have to attack in the mountains now, whereas he was only expected to attack before. It adds urgency to the event when you are suddenly 2 minutes off the overall. More seriously perhaps is that teammate and fellow contender for the overall Andreas Kloden clipped a wheel and fell as well, breaking a vertebra. Whilst definitely painful, it may not stop him from riding... however it's certainly a painful distraction, doubly so that Astana now has both of its contenders shopshoiled at the same time.

We'll have to see how Vino recovers. In the meantime there's another opportunity for the sprinters coming up, before we hit the higher stuff and the main game begins.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Good luck for Lotto in Austria

Bjorn Leukemans has given the Predictor-Lotto team a big win in the Tour of Austria. This was the queen stage - ie the one all of the climbers wanted to bag - so it's really quite special. (Makes me wonder why he's not supporting Cadel Evans at Le Tour, but I'm sure Horner will do the job even better - we hope.) Matt Lloyd clearly gave great support to Leukemans (or so I assume from the placings!) and on GC is both highest-placed Aussie and best of the Lotto riders. Should be inspirational for the team slogging away in France right now.

Drapac Porsche appears to have found - not unsurprisingly in this company - the going a bit tough, with 3 of them now lining up for the Lanterne Rouge.

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 4 - Thor rules over chaos

OK, it was exciting, I admit. Yet it was again the old script - a break goes, they are left to ride on, dreaming; then the yellow jersey is threatened and his team has to work to keep the time gap down; and then the organised chaos of the serious chase begins, with the sprinters' teams aiming to catch the break a few kays out of town... you know this script, it's almost the same on every flat stage. But I said it was exciting, too, didn't I?

And it was compelling viewing. Although TV commentator and ex-racer Paul Sherwen gets confused at times with his archers, his arrows and his arrow-makers, let alone his kapelles and his kerkes, it's strangely watchable. The scenery flashes by, the riders eat and take their 'comfort stops'; they crash; they get on with the chase. There are intermediate sprints, time bonuses and speculation about who is working and who isn't; and that marvellous mobile medico, who seemed to give Thor excellent service if this stage is any indication. Perhaps Thor gets strategic rather than medical advice from the doc? They'll all be queuing up for his service on the next stage!

Which brings us to the sharp end of the race. It was a wide road with a few obstacles but nothing like the twists and turns and pave of yesterday. In the "old days" it would have been Cipo's team taking control to keep the speed up for the last 7-10 kays. But with Cipo a glorious fading memory and his successor, Alessandro, sidelined, it seemed more like chaos than control. It looked like Quickstep tried to take control, moving up on the right, but they couldn't; it looked also like Milram would do the same, and they did - exactly the same, moving up then f-f-fading away... at one stage Predictor Lotto's one-man-train took over and drove the pace, but it's obvious that McEwen's men don't have the firepower to take control, even if they wanted to; or even to lead Robbie into position, it seems. You could see McEwen being guided through the pack, sandwiched left and right, squeezing past fading lead-out men; but he couldn't launch, there was always someone blocking and inevitably he was too far back and pushed aside. It wasn't his day for that magical opening and his trademark opportunistic kick.

Perhaps they are injured, or simply tired? Predictor-Lotto may indeed be resting on their first-up stage win laurels, waiting now to support Cadel in the approaching Alps. But Quickstep don't have that excuse.
Nor do Milram, although again Zabel was mixing it. Instead it was Credit Agricole who took up the final lead-out duties with Julian Dean a powerhouse in the Steegman's style, launching Thor's thunderbolt into an open road. Hunter did great work to almost grab the prize but he left it just a bit too late. What with all of the switching, lurching and bumping going on it certainly looked exciting; although that long camera lens does compress the perspective somewhat dramatically, it was hairy. And Thor took his first win of this tour.

Now for question time. Firstly, was it in the Quickstep script that Steegmans beat Boonen over the line, or is Boonen somewhat off-colour? I say the latter, but only Tom can really say.

Secondly, will Thor grab an intermediate or 2, win the next stage and take yellow off Cancellara's shoulders? What do I think? Looking at the next stage with its 8 categorised (but admittedly not severe) climbs I see some pigs flying past...

I'd be looking to CSC to block Thor, but I suspect the rolling-road opportunists will be salivating at the thought of a few hills and already plotting their escape. Which of course means taking time off Cancellara as well as big Thor. Either CSC will dig deep and defend grimly or we'll see someone, probably not an overall contender, bolt from the pack and seize the day - and the yellow jersey.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Race of attrition in Austria

That other Tour - the Austrian one that gives the ProTour riders who didn't make the main game in France something challenging to do is still proving to be worth a look. For the Aussies it's a race of attrition, and a tough ask indeed in this wild, cold weather and mountainous terrain. It's meant to be summer, isn't it?

Drapac Porsche are doing well but clearly using up their resources to keep in the game. But everyone is suffering. Phil Thuaux continues to bring up the rear on GC but he's obviously playing the team game here, as is Robert McLachlan, just 10mins ahead of him overall. Matt Lloyd is best Aussie for Predictor-Lotto, 5 minutes off the lead. Frankly I'd rather be at home watching Le Tour on TV, and I bet a few of these guys are thinking the same...

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 3 - an old style attack

Fabian Cancellera, we salute you! In a real blast from a now distant past yellow jersey Cancellara attacked the sprinters inside a kilometre to go, caught the break and held everyone off to the line. It was opportunistic, smart, brave... and very, very risky. It was a racer's move. These are the qualities that have been missing since Indurain began his systematic 5-tour assault on Le Tour, and missing in action during those 7 long, dark and clinically dull Armstrong years. If only this guy could climb!!

How did he do it? The day was long and slow, and he rested up front as the sprinters' teams pulled the break back. As they closed on their quarry they hit some pave and chose to slow rather than risk another pile-up. In that moment of hesitation the 2006 Paris-Roubaix champion realised his opportunity. A slowing pack, a break to chase, fresh legs and a chance to take a flyer, win the stage and grab some time bonuses. An opportunity, sure, but should the yellow jersey really dare to attack the peleton, especially when the sprinters are hungry for the win? Not for decades have we seen a champion like this, someone who dares to risk his yellow jersey with a brazen attack against the entire field. This was not an Indurain, carving away minutes in a TT and defending it grimly in the mountains; or a similarly dry and expressionless Big Tex taking on the mountain goats at the end of a hard stage. No, this was a Merckx or an Hinault, daring to take on all comers! As I said, if only he could grow wings and fly up the climbs as well!

In other news, Zabel managed to get 2nd with a trademark throw, and McEwen managed to get shut out by a wayward Robbie Hunter. It was a miserable day for the sprinters but a great day for cycling.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cycling.tv coverage

Some good free tour videos available from Cycling.tv; if you want to check out this link you'll get a Stage 1 wrap-up.

Aussies elsewhere

Best we note that Aussies Sam Hill and Tracey Hannah have each had a win in their respective World Cup MTB Downhill events.. and remarkably that Drapac-Porsche development squad rider Stuart Shaw (10th) was best placed Aussie in a wet and wild Stage 2 of the Tour of Austria. Bravo! Plenty of good riders dropped on this stage, and local Point Clare rider and CCCC member Phil Thuaux is either suffering from supporting Stuart during the stage, the bad weather, illness, or perhaps the sheer effort of the stage itself, coming in 17 minutes behind the leader. Did he make the time limit? He's Lantern Rouge at the moment.

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 2 - And they all fell down

I forgot to mention that Aussie Brett Lancaster fell on stage 1 as well... and now just about everyone managed to fall or be blocked by the pile-up at the finish in Gent. No real surprise that home-town-boy Steegmans won, he looked like a future winner last year with his awesome, rocketing leadouts for McEwen and here he was arriving centre stage in front of his home crowd. It was just a matter of timing - let him go late enough and no-one's going to get past - not even Tom Boonen.

McEwen looked sore after his Stage 1 prang, and that uphill finish can't have been good for the wrist or the knee. What he didn't need was to lose his lead out man, Fast Freddy, who appeared to get tangled up in the big smash. McEwen himself was hit by a flying bike and only just escaped - at first I thought he went down when Zabel pulled his foot and caused the following rider to veer hard right. But it was the green Liquigas jersey of Quinziato instead. In comparison Quickstep seemed to escape damage, clearly a help to Steegmans and Boonen in in the end. That's bike racing.

We'll have to see who wakes up fresh and who wakes up sore to judge the full impact. Cancellara looked OK but he may have lost some domestiques - but then again, which team hasn't? Some will be battered and bruised but will hang in there at less than 100%, which will open up possibilities for the riders who are unscathed and can ride without (additional) pain. It's a long, long 236km stage so having a rest could be on some riders' minds. So expect breakaway action and another chase - but how complete and motivated to chase will the sprinters' teams be? Hey, it's their job - of course they'll chase.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 1 - Rockin' Robbie

The Aussies keep bouncing back. First O'Grady falls in the prologue, now it's McEwen's turn. At least Robbie had the team support to get him back to the front, and the extra endorphins from the wrist and knee injury to supercharge him... yet it was still amazing to see him rocket past the other sprinters and take the win. With that one under his belt he notches up 12 stage wins, equalling the mighty Zabel.

McEwen's noted for pushing on with injuries, even broken bones, so I suspect he'll lay low for a few days, keep out of trouble and look for another win when the nervousness of the peloton has settled down a bit. Which leaves some room for Boonen and Hushovd to make amends. Or he may wake up stiff and sore, perhaps get an x-ray and just call it quits. I hope not, but it's hard to ride around France with a badly swollen wrist...

Tomorrow must be Boonen's day in Belgium, but Hushovd will be looking to change that. Breaks may happen but will get closed down by the sprinters' teams, unless an almighty crash splinters the field. It's happened before, and we can only hope it doesn't happen tomorrow (or today, really, given time differences).

So we now have... Fabian Cancellara holding onto yellow with Kloden 13 secs behind. By breaking away and chasing intermediate points David Millar has moved up to 3rd overall. Which moves George Hincapie down to 4th. Then Wiggins, Gusev, Karpets and the first of the sprinters,Thor Hushovd. Hushovd needs a win to get him within shot of the yellow jersey, so expect some fire tomorrow.

Next is Vinokourov, still well-placed to fight it out overall with Kloden over weeks 2 and 3, with Thomas Dekker an interesting wild card at 31secs off the lead. He could give it a go in the Alps. Of the other contenders we have Cadel Evans at 36secs, and Michael Rogers and Oscar Pereiro at 37secs. Levi Leipheimer, Denis Menchov and Alejandro Valverde remain comfortably under the minute but will be looking to gain time in week 2.

If everything remained as it is, no-one crashed or got sick, no-one rode out of their skin and amazed us (like Millar or Hincapie, or Dekker), and if no-one took a flyer and got away then we'd have Kloden winning the tour overall, followed by Vino 2nd, Evans 3rd and Rogers 4th. Pereiro would be 5th, then Leipheimer and Valverde. It actually sounds believable... but will Pereiro team up with Valverde and one-two the rest in the mountains? Will Vino settle for 2nd or will Kloden hand the lead to his captain? Will T-Mobile finally get it together and use their strength to boost Rogers up the order, and does Evans have what it takes to match the mountain goats and take a big lead out of the Pyrenees? Ahh, so much to watch during this beautiful race...

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Tour de France - Prologue - Interview

Cancellara talks French for us, in glorious yellow...

Le Tour de France 2007 - the prologue

OK, it's finally on. Le Tour 2007. I'm sure there are some jokers in the pack that will remain hidden until weeks 2 and 3 but for now who's looking good on day one, the prologue?

The winner was prologue and TT specialist and current World TT champ Fabian Cancellara with a 13 second gap on overall contender Andreas Kloden. It's hard to imagine Kloden making that time up when the first week is pretty much dominated by the sprinters. He may nibble away at the lead with time bonuses, however. George Hincapie was next and will have the same problem as Kloden. Converted trackie Bradley Wiggins has some hope of chasing yellow but is also largely out of it now - just too far back. After Wiggins we have Gusev, Karpets and, back 30 seconds, Kloden's team-mate and contender Alexandre Vinokourov.

Vino is well placed to grab yellow in the Alps during week 2, if he wants it, but may sit back and wait for the Pyrenees. He will rise up the GC as the TT specialists fall back during weeks 1 and 2, so there's no panic. Dekker, Quinziato and first Frenchman Benoît Vaugrenard may have some hope if an escape takes them away in week 2. Vaugrenard may have July 14th in mind...

Zabriskie disappointed, and will have to hang on grimly from here. Then comes Gutierrez, a similarly disappointing David Millar (to be fair the prologue doesn't suit him as much as a longer TT), a surprising Mikel Astarloza - well positioned to climb up the GC in weeks 2 and 3 - and Alberto Contador. Similarly, Contador has a good platform for a GC assault when we get to the pointy bits. Then comes Velasco, Kashechkin and finally first Aussie and noted climber and longer-TT specialist Cadel Evans, back just 36 seconds. Evans is also well poised to climb up the GC in week 2 and perhaps make a play for the lead in the Pyrenees. He likes the HC climbs - the tougher the better - and may well give the likes of Vino and Kloden some hurry-up in week 3.

Also within a minute of the lead are Bonnet and Chavanel, so expect some July 14th fireworks from those two Frenchmen. Next is multiple World TT Champ and 2nd Aussie, Michael Rogers, followed by last year's 2nd place getter, maybe even 1st if Landis loses his title, Oscar Pereiro. Oscar won't be given the gift he got last year but it's good to see him so high up and ahead of several contenders. He has a point to prove. Both he and Rogers will rise up GC in week 2.

Notably we have climber and rapid descender Paolo Savoldelli at 39 secs, and contender Levi Leipheimer uncomfortably well behind the likes of Kloden and Vino, and with a smaller gap to Evans, Rogers and Pereiro. He'd like to be closer, I'm sure, but it's a long race and anything can happen. He looks top 10 at this stage.

Denis Menchov will be looking to improve as well at 40 secs back. After whom comes the first sprinter and former Green-jersey winner, Thor Hushovd at 41 secs. Too far back to take yellow, surely? If he wins every sprint in Week 1 he'll do it, but that's a big ask. He'll stand a great chance fo taking green again if he's consistent. Pozzato is close behind and interestingly placed, then Markus Fothen and contender Alejandro Valverde. Surely Valverde will need wings to make it past Kloden, Evans et al? He is supported by Pereiro, of course, or is he supporting Oscar?

Sprinter Daniele Bennati will have the same issues as Hushovd but is better placed than the electrifying Tom Boonen. Tom has something to prove, though, and will be looking to seize the day - or days - in the coming week. He'll be fired up. Petacchi's lead-out man and next Aussie Brett Lancaster was slightly disappointing in 42nd place - but presumably will be leading Zabel out in Petacchi's absence.

There are climbers and escape artists galore within a minute of the lead, of which any of them could mount a raid in weeks 2 or 3 and take yellow. Schleck, Popovych, Mayo and Zubeldia stand out but Merckx and Vasseur will have a go for sure. Chris Horner had a good ride too and can be expected to support Cadel Evans strongly in the mountains.

McEwen is just over the minute mark and really couldn't expect to grab yellow, but will look to get wins and be consistently placed in the green jersey comp. Freire is slightly ahead of him on GC and will be chasing the same goal, as will Hushovd and Boonen.

So a few surprises, but no suprise in Cancellara taking out the day's prize. He will be looking to keep yellow during week 1 by staying on the sprinters' collective wheel... before Kloden, Vino, Evans, Rogers, Leipheimer and Valverde take it up on the climbs.. with Pereiro looking to prove himself a worthy "winner" too it should be an interesting and wide-open race with some intriguing tactics developing in week 2.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Tour of ... Austria?

Previously won by the likes of Tom Danielson (2006) and Cadel Evans (2004) this race is definitely one to watch - the Tour of Austria starts on the 8th and has a stellar cast of riders lining up, including Matt White, Scott Davis, Adam Hansen (returning after injury) and this bunch:

Drapac Porsche Development Program

101 Mitchell Docker (Aus)
102 Darren Lapthorne (Aus)
103 Robert McLachlan (Aus)
104 Stuart Shaw (Aus)
105 Casey Munro (Aus)
106 Phillip Thuaux (Aus)
107 Robbie Williams (Aus)
108 Dean Windsor (Aus)

Worth a look, eh? Even with that 'other' race on at the same time...

Monday, July 02, 2007

It's a wrap, or a rap?

OK, a wrap-up then. A pre-Tour wrap. Or a drug-bust-rap?

Anyway, Jorg Jaksche appears to have given in and put his hand up as an offender, too. It's becoming a long list, although there are plenty of big names missing, surely? Jorg goes on in detail with allegations about - well, everyone, really. And he promises more. It must be the week before Le Tour, mustn't it?

In the god news department CyclingResults reports that Rogers is in good form for Le Tour and shows photos of him climbing mountains and having a massage. Is that what it takes to reach good form? I must try that myself.