Friday, May 30, 2008

Giro 2008: Voigt takes a stage (you just knew he would)

Eventually Jens Voigt gets into a break that goes all the way.. and not being a sprinter of great reknown he chances his arm on a lone break just far enough out to look line-ball. It's a typical Voigt move. It forces the others to work together in order to catch him - which they did for a while... but not long enough. "Voigt said that he was not riding well in the group, but it was a tactic," said Italian Champion Visconti, who led the race's overall for eight days. "We all know Voigt well; when he gets going you can't stop him. He deserves it."

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Giro 2008: the 24% ITT on a gravel road

Ouch. That hurt. Well it touched 24%, and 20%, and all points in between. And it ended with 5 km of wheel-spinning gravel. I have ridden a flat section of gravel a few times in races and training, puncturing only once (touch wood). It's a likely event though, to split a sidewall on sharp stone. That alone would be on your mind, except that with a few 20% + ramps to get over the mind is more focused on rear wheel traction than puncturing. Think of your favourite (if 'favourite' is the right word) steep climb, one where you have to get out of the saddle to keep going. You know the type, a climb that tests your resolve, where turning around is simply impossible and putting your foot down will likely result in toppling over... that's what the Giro just went up.

Around these parts I can think of a few smooth but shady climbs of around 24% where the dew or recent rain turns the surface slick enough to wheelspin. You have traction for a while - then no drive, just a sudden loss of resistance as your pedal sinks too swiftly. You sit down again to put weight on the rear wheel, or lean back just enough to regain traction. Big, sudden efforts are wasted, everything is smooth and gentle. You have trouble now keeping the front wheel on the deck... and look to weave across the camber of the road, searching for the 'flatter' bits. Now try racing on that.

Ricco cracked a little bit, but not enough to lose all hope. Di Luca suffered and lost. Simoni proved the wisdom and strength of a long career with a great ride. Selle nearly pulled off a stunning hat-trick. It was quite a race. But it was Pellizotti who took the climb on and won. Alas Contador was not far behind and retains the lead. He looks strong enough and it will take a mighty attack to dislodge him.

My favourite part remains the gravel: Rujano's finishing time was 41'15, which eventually netted him sixth place. Vasili Kiryienka (Tinkoff Credit Systems) had a technical problem that forced him to walk the last half kilometre, but with gradients of up to 24 percent, this wasn't much slower. No following cars were allowed today and the only technical assistance came from motorbike support.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Giro 2008: a grand stage indeed

You can't complain about a stage like this one - it had a bright beginning, a wonderful middle and an emphatic - and glorious - ending. Who doesn't want to win a stage like this, especially when it's 2 wins from 2?

From CN: "the maglia rosa was now isolated completely and already eight minutes back. Soon, Sella could see the familiar mountain sight of RVs and knew he was doing well. The road became narrower and narrower, as more and more people lined the road and Sella pushed on, increasing his lead to 2'40" over the main chasers, with seven kilometres to go."

Apart from Sella, Ricco was the standout, grabbing lots of time. Simoni showed plenty of mettle and Contador did enough - just - to secure the overall lead. Tomorrow's mountain ITT should surely see Ricco take the lead (if he wants it)... surely he does!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Giro 2008; Sella wins, marries

Not sure I'd stake my future marriage plans on success in the Giro, but then I can barely ride out of sight on a dark night.

From CN: He is serious about his maturity and will get married this June, a promise he made to his girlfriend if he was to win a stage in the Giro d'Italia. "She was very happy, she knows that it was something very important for me," he said of his girlfriend, Laura. "I said, 'If I win in this Giro, I will marry you at the end of this Giro.'" The couple will marry June 8.

Luckily enough, yesterday he won. Simoni was strong in the mountains and got things going, which is all that matters to me really.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Giro 2008: the fastest doesn't always win

Don't you hate that? Even when you are clearly the fastest in the sprint, gaining ground with every pedal stroke and making everyone else look slow, the line comes up too early... and you come anywhere from 2nd backwards. Ouch. How do you fix this, it just isn't fair!

Now it's happened to Cavendish: Coming into the final turn, Bennati had already taken the lead with McEwen right behind, and Cavendish was left chasing for the win. He made a strong comeback and thrust his bike at the line, but was just millimetres shy of the win. "The team worked really well, but Bennati had 10 metres on me out of the corner," stated Cavendish. "A few metres after the line, I had it but that is no use."

And yes, it's no use complaining. Bennati must have gone at exactly the right time, and McEwen must have faded just a tad. And Cavo is left 2nd.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mick's back

Well Michael Rogers (Team High Road) is racing again so the Epstein-Barr virus must not have been too severe... and he's understandably off the pace and taking it a bit easy so far.

Aussies rule in Japan

Well, that's true in a sense.

Exhibit A: South's Zakkari Dempster took his first international victory after taking the first stage of the 12th Tour of Japan. The 20 year old Australian took the bunch sprint ahead of Japan's Taiji Nishitani (Aisan Racing Team) and German Benjamin Stauder (Stegcomputer-CKT-Cogeas). "This is fantastic and I'm very happy!" Dempster said at the press conference following the stage. He also got the green leader jersey and the blue point jersey.

Exhibit B: South's Wesley Sulzberger took stage 2 of the Tour of Japan, ahead of team-mate Cameron Meyer in Nara. The 21 year old Australian jumped away from the breakaway with Meyer and Kazuo Inoue (Nippo-Endeka) in the final lap before leaving the local rider behind to take both first and second in the stage and the overall. Sulzberger took over the overall lead from team-mate Zakkari Dempster, who won stage one in a sprint.

Exhibit C: Simon Clarke ( takes his team's third victory at the Tour of Japan.

There's an ITT to come, which whilst short at 11km will shake things up on GC. And then 2 stages, the first a short road stage, the 2nd a circuit race. The ITT may be decisive.

2 wins in a row thanks to fewer beers

We Australians like to think we are a nation of beer drinkers but in fact almost every nation is a nation of beer drinkers. Some imbibe more wine, some are too busy dealing with flood and famine to care. Yes, it is a popular social lubricant. But does it help you recover post-ride? (Drinking seemed to do wonders for Floyd Landis in between stages.)

But laying off the grog seems to work for Aussie Rory Sutherland: Beer drinking is a major pastime in his homeland, so it is no surprise he would crack open a few after these two weeks. But Sutherland said he thinks his approach to the beer this year might be the secret to his success. "It's funny, I made a rule with myself at the beginning of the week that I don't drink any beers during a stage race, and it's worked every since," said the Australian. "It normally is [a pastime,] but it seems to be working pretty well! So I'm not going to jinx it. Once I leave my home I don't drink until I get home again."

Beer: High caloric value, good for energy recovery: tick. A relaxant, good to get you in a recovery frame of mind: tick. Full of vitamin B, which can't hurt: tick. A dehydrator, to lessen your rate of recovery: tick. Includes a toxic substance damaging to your health: tick. Hmmm.

Rory also supports the 'less is more' theory of recovery: Sutherland also said he is going to spend his week at home more off the bike than on to get ready for the upcoming CSC and Philly week races. "I'm a big advocate of recovery off the bike, it seems to work well for me," he said. "Just clear your head and walk the dog or go for a swim - something different than riding your bike."

That sounds healthy, as long as he lays off the beer.

Giro 2008: Festival of crashes

Wet roads, short steep ascents, fast descents and enough road for everyone to come back together. Some took their chances and lost, others kept their powder dry for tomorrow. Not a day I'd be happy about but good on Bertolini for coming up trumps, and Visconti for hanging tough...

After 16 years as a professional, Alessandro Bertolini has won his first ever stage in the Giro d'Italia. The 36 year-old Italian, whose main job is to defend Serramenti PVC team leader Gilberto Simoni, was part of a five-man escape that dominated a wet and demanding stage to Cesena in Italy's Emilia Romagna region.

Must say I made a point of racing and training in the wet, but was even more careful than usual (if that be possible). Indeed as the years went by and the crashes built up I grew ever more wary about greasy roads, although my most memorable slip was on oil dropped by a truck over a railway bridge in Lewisham, NSW. I survived the slide with grazes but the motorbike rider who went down next was far more infuriated about the whole thing - and rightly so. Beware the unexpected.

To come: 2 flat sprinters' stages. Watch for McEwen, see if he can actually take a win this year. After that the Giro becomes truly brutal. Expect a few non-Italian-team sprinters to fold their tents and pack it in. The mountain men will dominate from that point, although a couple of climbing-sprinters (like Bettini and Zabel) will hang their hopes on a stage or 2 in-between the mountain passes. Soler would have shone on some of these 20% climbs, but he's now sadly out of the race. Look at Simoni and Contador to have a go instead. Di Luca will surely fade but may dig deep. Kloden may surprise.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Giro 2008: Lots of Italians in this race

Not surprisingly it has been a race for the Italians, mostly. A few days pass, the GC is largely unaffected and more Italians fight it out: Daniele Bennati of Liquigas has taken his second stage win in this year's Giro after a close sprint against compatriot Paolo Bettini, who finished second for the second day in a row. Australian Robbie McEwen of Silence-Lotto is on his way back and finished an impressive third. Milram's Erik Zabel got fourth, while High Road, which has led the final kilometres, was not rewarded and its sprinter Cavendish could only get into the top ten.

Thank goodness McEwen is getting closer. But can he beat these darned Italian sprinters? I predict an Italian rider will win the ITT tomorrow (thus ensuring a victory by someone else - lord knows who - someone from Astana perhaps?).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Giro 2008: The break took ELEVEN minutes?

Sure did. 11 minutes. The parcours was tough but you'd have to imagine that the GC teams just don't want to lead right now... and that they figure the final 9 minutes gap can be recovered easily in the tough stages to come. Which looks true enough. It gives Visconti some hope of retaining the pink jersey for a few days. Oh, and Priamo did well to win the stage: Italian national champion Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) came home 40 seconds behind Priamo but, with the main bunch crossing the line 11 minutes and 34 seconds down, he became the new race leader. The day's heartbreak went to Gerolsteiner's Matthias Russ, who spent the better part of the day in the 'virtual' magila rosa, but just missed out on taking over the general classification when Visconti put in enough time to sneak into pink in the final 350 metres.

No broken chains reported this time.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Giro 2008: breaking free and breaking a chain

Cycle racing is a game of looking for opportunities, taking them, and hoping things work out. OK, maybe it's not just hope, since we prepare and do absolutely everything to ensure that nothing goes wrong; but we don't do that to the extent where things can't go wrong. We can't cover everything, but we can do our level best to give ourselves the best chance possible.

And then Millar breaks his chain: Brutt hit the line ahead of four chasers: Johannes Fröhlinger (Gerolsteiner), Luis Felipe Laverde (CSF Group Navigare) and Francisco Pérez (Caisse d'Epargne) were next home, while David Millar (Slipstream Chipotle H30) suffered a broken chain at the precise moment the Russian kicked clear. He was disgusted at the ill luck and threw his bike over a barrier, eventually going on to finish 119th.

Now that's embarrassing. I have never broken a chain - touch wood - but I have broken lots of other things (like seat bolts, stem bolts, saddle rails, wheels, rear derailleurs, a hub ratchet and even a seat post). A friend and training partner broke his chain during a race and I have seen other people do it as well. It can be a gentle or catastrophic loss of power, depending upon what you are doing at the time. Pulling your foot in a sprint is somewhat similar - and I've certainly done that, twice on a track bike. You'd think at a professional level things like this - a broken chain! - would never happen. Surely these are the best chains, microscopically analysed and x-rayed for flaws, meticulously fitted and double-checked. Perhaps triple-checked.

But maybe not.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Giro 2008: nice one for Cavendish

A good team result for High Road: Timing his final move perfectly and easily over-taking Daniele Bennati, Mark Cavendish thundered to his first ever Grand Tour stage victory today in Catanzaro Lungomare.

Not so good for Rabo: Graeme Brown, the Aussie Rabobank sprinter was feeling the effects of yeterday's fall. He finished 149th, 6 minutes and 39 seconds back, but said he hopes to recover. "My knee is pretty sore but I struggled though it," he stated. "I hope it will be okay in a few days. Today was pretty sore, it is pretty sore now."

No luck for the Aussies this year, not so far anyway, although McEwen is edging closer with a 7th today. And Matt Lloyd is still in touch on GC, just 1:19 back from Pellizotti. Unless a big escape takes place things look like staying as-is for now. Di Luca is also looking good, but there are plenty of hopefuls and we haven't seen what Soler can do yet.

Giro 2008: ouch and ouch again

As a cyclist I know that falling is part of the game, but not a good part. I never want to fall and I never want to cause anyone else to fall (yeah, sometimes I have wished the worst on some idiot but not often). I especially hate it when riders are weaving around for no reason other than their own desire to shake people off. OK, fine, that happens, we all want to get a gap and ride alone to glorious victory. But how often does it work? Versus how often it causes a fall? Sometimes - possibly every time - positioning with stealth and cunning beats those stupid pre-sprint desperation weaves.

And then there are just plain accidents. Potholes, punctures, car doors, crossed wheels, too fast into a corner, a nudge here or there and... boom! And in a tight bunch the slightest wrong move in the middle or side can send someone off the road. It happens.

Which brings me to a stage of this year's Giro I'd rather forget. Stage 3: It was a day characterised by breakaways, crashes and high speeds but, as expected, the third stage of the Giro d'Italia came down to a bunch sprint. Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) did precisely what his team-mate and race leader Franco Pellizotti yesterday suggested he would do, winning in Milazzo and thus making it a double success for the acid green squad. That's the good bit. Good on Bennati. Good on Pellizotti.

But this is the worst of it:At the start in Catania, there was concern about the stage's technical finish, but the worst wrecks occurred mid-stage. One massive pile-up took down riders such as stage two winner Riccardo Riccó (Saunier Duval – Scott) and David Millar (Slipstream Chipotle H30) while another put Bradley McGee (CSC) out of the race with a broken collarbone. McGee's team-mate Stuart O'Grady, who was doing his first Grand Tour since he was seriously injured in last year's Tour de France also crashed, and while he finished the stage it was later found that he also broke his collarbone.

Both McGee and O'Grady are coming back, either from obvious or more hidden maladies, and it's a shame to see them go out of the race. There were others hurt, too: Other riders caught up in Stage 3's mass crash included Saunier Duval-Scott's Riccardo Riccò and Eros Capecchi. Both riders have undergone X-rays and been cleared to ride, with Riccò dislocating a finger on his left hand while Capecchi's suspected broken collarbone turned out to be muscle injury.

I'd like to say we can fix this sort of thing, but how? Bike racers draft in packs. It's the sport. Proximity is both a danger and a blessing - the convivial bunch rolling along is a great thing that no other sport shares. Perhaps we need full-body armour (ventilated of course) and/or crash detection and prevention radar.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Giro 2008: Ricco wins, Pellizotti leads

Ouch, that was hard. Nice to see the leader of the Pantani appreciation society, Ricardo Ricco take the win, and Pellizotti is a deserved leader on GC. Bad news for Zabriskie with a nasty fall - will his luck turn back soon? Surely it must! Riccò and Pellizotti were equally satisfied with their day. "This morning I wanted to win the stage," said the former. "Benitez helped me in the last kilometres and then Piepoli. I was feeling well so my team-mates helped me. We made a great sprint and it was good to beat Di Luca because it shows I have great condition.

Tomorrow is a sprint stage, although Mount Etna may erupt and change the face of Calabria. You never know.

2008 Giro - I hate TTTs

OK, they are interesting and all but to start a Grand Tour with a TTT really disadvantages so many GC riders - well, mostly the sprinters in the less-evenly-balanced teams. It's fine if you are a strong TT team with plenty of riders prepared to give it their all, but what if you are a sprinter who wants to conserve a bit for later in the week? Or a climber with similar ambitions? Yes, I know, it doesn't matter how you start, someone will be set-back by the nature of "the thing". It's just to me a TTT is "the thing" I like least! If it came later in the Giro it'd make for an interesting reshuffle (but I'd still hate it).

That gripe aside, it's nice to see Slipstream and Vandevelde win. From CN: Scooping its biggest ever win and simultaneously propelling Christian Vande Velde into the first American maglia rosa since Andy Hampsten 20 years ago, Slipstream Chipotle H30 thundered to team time trial success on day one of the Giro d'Italia.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Olympic cyclist Ben Kersten's fury at road-rage driver | The Daily Telegraph

More on the near-tragedy this morning... you'd think from some of the comments that we should be starting an education campaign for motorists on the road rules and the application of duty of care...
CHAMPION cyclist Ben Kersten says a random hit-and-run road rage attack could have killed several riders - including Olympic Games gold medallists Graeme Brown and Kevin Nichols - in Sydney today.
Olympic cyclist Ben Kersten's fury at road-rage driver | The Daily Telegraph

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Idiot driver takes out cycling pack - apparently with intent

If you've cycled in Sydney you'll know the feeling of being hassled by drivers with little apparent self-control and an inability to separate their emotions from their driving task. In this instance the "Crazy driver" involved has gone one step too far - maybe 2 or 3 steps too far. Doesn't matter that there were Olympians involved, this shouldn't happen to anyone.

read more | digg story

Where's Mick? Sick!

I asked where's Mick Rogers? Well apparently he has Epstein-Barr virus. Now that can take many forms, including 'glandular fever' or mononucleosis and has been linked to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I think Cunego had it just after his break through year and has been slowly regaining the form he used to have... OTOH just about everyone has it at some point in their lives and they get by...

Personally it recurred every time I got back on the bike... it took about a year to get over it and I never got back the form I had prior... but as I say, Cunego is coming back strong and it's a very common virus. But I would guess Mick is out for the season...

Friday, May 02, 2008

A slower than usual start...

But as usual McEwen takes a win: Australia's Robbie McEwen of Silence-Lotto took his first win of the season, capturing a sprint finish in Fribourg ahead of Italy's Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) and Denmark's Matti Breschel (CSC). Swiss Michael Albasini (Liquigas) kept the leader's jersey.. Plenty of changes for Robbie this year - no early wins is unusual, and a Belgian team even more clearly split between 2 Aussies has taken away some of the dedicated support he previously expected. He's blaming other factors, but one has to wonder what happens in July, when Cadel Evans will be numero uno and his GC aspirations the clear focus of the team. (Cadel's not racing in Romandie so there's no conflict - yet.)

Whilst many will say that McEwen can look after himself in a sprint, he has also relied on teammates to get him into position (witness the work Steegmans used to do, launching McEwen to spectacular wins) or to catch sprint-threatening breakaways. If a breakaway doesn't threaten Cadel on GC, would the team help to it close down, for Robbie's sake? Or will it be down to just Robbie and pal Nick Gates to make the best of it?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

And now a win for Hilton Clarke

Brought to you by yet another famous Aussie cycling family (funny how some things run in families, my local butcher is the same)... Clarke claims Beaufort win. Notice that it's a crit, and a big one. Anyone remember Shane Sutton winning the US Crit Champs about - umm - 20 years ago?