Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mountain scenes to calm the nervous rider

Nothing quite like a mountain stage in a Grand Tour to calm a rider's nerves... if they are sitting at home watching it all on TV of course... these images are from some Le Tour 2006 pics taken by Brett Lyons. It's Col de la Croix de Fer.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Great work, CSC - maybe

And nice work Simon Gerrans: Schleck had trailed Evans by just one second going into the 15th stage, and ended the day with a seven-second lead over Bernhard Kohl, who headed home the chasing pack behind the breakaway group. The rest day has come at the right time for Evans, so don't write him off yet. Kohl was fifth over the line, and now has a one-second advantage over Evans, who has dropped to third in the overall standings. Gerrans produced a perfectly timed late surge to secure his stage win..

A great stage? Maybe. Actually I don't particularly like to see days like this. It smells like bad sportsmanship, a bit like the old US Postal 'launch' move, but not as obvious. Here we see 3 CSC guys basically gang up (it's called 'teamwork', ha ha) on one isolated guy in yellow - a typical bully-boy gang thing to do. It's great that CSC has a strong team, and that they play to win. I'm sure they are all great guys, too. There's also no law against being good, or great, or working as a team. Indeed at this level of the sport collusion like this is accepted and indeed encouraged. I just don't like to see it.

Thankfully CSC individually are weaker in ITTs - which will even things out. And sure, it's all part of the game and gripping to watch - but I personally like to see a select group of individuals fight it out, man to man (or woman to woman or whatever you prefer). It's just a bit pathetic - akin to bullying - to see 3 guys - in this case Sastre and the Schleck brothers - take turns in attacking Evans (or whoever it may be tomorrow).

OTOH it was a joy to watch Menchov attack - and what a move it was! What a shame he took that slippery bend too quick - and too tightly - and ended on the deck. To my mind it's Menchov vs Evans in this race and only the unexpected or CSC can break it up. Rest day, then back to it.

Just my opinion.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Le Tour: efforts unrewarded - yet?

I had mixed feelings about a stiff and sore Evans hanging tough in what proved a punishing but not decisive stage 10. What were Riis and CSC on about? Yes, it was impressive teamwork. Yes, they have some amazing riders and at least 2 GC contenders, but what were they expecting? To drop everyone on the flat? Or was the plan simply to dislodge Cunego and Valverde on the first climb and then keep them behind? Was that the plan? To thin the field?

Or were they hoping to hurt an injured Evans? Or all of the above? It seemed that CSC were scheming and hammering to little effect, other than exhausting Voigt and Cancellara. Sure, they got close to launching someone, but it didn't really happen. We all knew that Sastre wasn't going to get away, surely? So was the real plan to boost Schleck up the leaderboard? At least they achieved that, if little else. A puzzled Menchov saw both sides: On the climb to Hautacam CSC went on the attack with Carlos Sastre and eventually got Fränk Schleck away. "It's a little bit strange [what CSC did]," Menchov said. "Well, it's not really strange since CSC had to try. In the end it worked out well for them."

Although the rest day will help them - and everyone - recover, in essence it was a big tactical and power display for small reward - with most of the racing still ahead. They have indeed removed some threats, but will the Sastre-Schleck 1-2 punch be enough when Ricco is sitting on, waiting to pounce?

Ahhhh, crystal ball time. One Pyrennean stage to go. Ricco grabs another win. Ricco edges closer on GC. Evans lets the golden fleece go, hoping to get it back in week 3. Schleck and Menchov battle it out in the Alps. Sastre tries to get away, but is marked. Ricco gets away, grabs more time. Indeed, bring on the Alps. And that delicious, long time trial..

Monday, July 14, 2008

Le Tour turns on a crash?

I've had some "memory" pain in my right shoulder this Aussie Winter from a fall I had last year - which was on top of a much worse fall I had on the same shoulder in 1988... when I clipped the wheel of another rider who decided in an instant that the right side of the bunch was somehow better than the left. Of course I shouldn't have overlapped his wheel, but when you have momentum after coming off the slight rise and swooping right turn into Heffron Park's main straight you sometimes close up a bit as the lead riders hit the wind. So I was in the wrong place when that sudden move happened. I gather Cadel Evans faced a similar situation in yesterday's stage, unless the plastic bag in the front wheel story is actually true. Whatever caused it, Cadel will be stiff and sore in the next stage. It doesn't matter how tough you are, you still feel pain and lose some agility for a few days.

Valverde had his bad luck last week and has had time to recover. Evans may not be so lucky as he faces the Pyrennees and almost certain attacks. I won't blame him for cracking just a bit and losing time. It may be better than pushing too far and losing far more. He can afford to lose a minute or 2, but no more.

Meanwhile Ricco has lived up to expectations: Italy's Riccardo Riccò opened up the throttle to distance his rivals on the Tour de France's Col d'Aspin in a move similar to the late Marco Pantani to gain a solo win in Bagnères de Bigorre. The chase including classification favourites finished over a minute behind Riccò and included race leader Kim Kirchen (Team Columbia) and a bruised Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), who crashed on the decent of the Col de Peyresourde.

Oh how I wish he - or a clean Pantani - had been around when Lance was racing.

Friday, July 04, 2008

It's that time again

Everyone knows it's July, and July means Le Tour. And everyone who cares knows that Cadel Evans came 2nd last year, and as the winner isn't in the game this year that leaves Evans as the 'favourite'. However anyone who has ridden a bike for 3 consecutive weeks, no matter how far or how fast, knows that you can have one or 2 bad days at just the wrong time. You can catch a cold, or fall, or just get dropped and not get back. Although Armstrong made it look ridiculously easy to get 7 in a row, he did have bad days. He also had a great team and a great deal of luck, especially considering almost everyone he beat was doping. But it's not so simple any more. There are no dopes, hopefully, and no stand-outs either.

So after this 3-week-long lottery on wheels it could be Evans, or Valverde, or Menchov. Or we may get another Pereiro from out of the blue. Let's just hope we don't get a Landis, a Vinokourov or a Rasmussen.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Heart-rate monitors and servicing

Polar TX date_0682b
Originally uploaded by gtveloce
On a more light-hearted note, kinda, my Polar M22 is getting on a bit. It's been great - just 3 batteries in 8 years, and one new strap. Thinking of which, pictured here is the transmitter strap in question.

It's younger than the M22 itself by about 5 years, nevertheless Polar want me to read the tiny date markings anyway. I'm pretty sure the M22 battery has carked it - it "rebooted" itself once and then simply went blank a week or so later. I have no problem with Polar's agent in Australia wanting this detail, it's more the pain I am going through in getting the info to them that annoys me.

They want me to print out a form that doesn't format in Firefox. Oh joy. I have to use Internet Explorer instead, but they didn't say that until I'd filled out the form already! How about a warning at the top of the form, rather than the bottom? What about online submission of the form? Anyone at Polar Australia (called Pursuit Performance, btw) heard of the 21st Century?

Worse still, the M22 is a "best effort" repair as it is no longer supported with new parts (as against batteries and parts still in stock). Great. I'm thinking there may be some alternative options in the cycling-specific heart rate monitor business after this little annoyance. Only problem is that the Polar agent does do a good job overall. Do I stick with the devil I know?