Category: 2015 world tour

Lee’s Lowdown on Strade Bianche: Valverde and Van Avermaet stain the white roads

Yeah, who to cheer for when one guy is an unrepentant doper, one is under investigation for connections to a dodgy doctor, when one rode on whilst under threat of suspension and the other is copying him?

If you love the sport, recognise the UCI (under current rules) is unable to temporarily stop you racing, know that race organisers are cowards and your team management are without ethics and any understanding why this has to stop, please stop taking advantage of all this weakness and stop crapping on the fans.

Take a stand and sit it out til all is resolved.

We’ve suffered Contador, Valverde and others, now Van Avermaet, who’s even missing a hearing date with the Belgian authorities to ride Tirreno-Adriatico.

Van Avermaet's Facebook profile pic

Van Avermaet’s Facebook profile pic

Click on the image below to head to PEZ – and kudos for them for publishing this, I know many other mainstream sites that definitely would not.

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Lee’s Lowdown on Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne

Watching Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on my ‘new’ telly (borrowed off one of my girlfriend’s relatives ‘for a while’ (I love indefinites)), one of those huge high-definition monsters that I used to say were unnecessary (until I finally got one, I might add), I was all misty eyed and dizzy for the first half an hour, what with the picture quality, the almost nauseating vibrancy of the colors, Boonen and that ultra-solid position of his in full romp and just the fact that the Classics are back!

It got me all emotional it did.

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I thought the TV was broken though when Ian Stannard appeared on the front of the break, since he displayed such an aversion to being there the day before at the old Omloop – except for in the last 15 meters. Rumor has it that Lefevre has banned all his riders from flogging on to PornHub.com this week as the Sky’s man win has been uploaded in the Bike Porn Money Shot Belgians section, and there’s little doubt that a) he did have the EQS boys all from behind and b) they could barely walk afterwards.

If that wasn’t bad enough they got another solid spanking on the team bus afterwards.

Speaking of the aforementioned arse-whupping, Lefevre said “YOU F*&%ING IDIOTS HOW THE F*CK DID YOU LOSE THAT?”

Oh wait no, he didn’t, not publicly anyway, what he actually said was: “It hurts, that’s true. I can’t blame the team for anything. I’m proud we added color to the race. We’re ready but it’s very hard to win. With Stannard on the wheels for thirty kilometres everybody was getting nervous. Maybe they made a couple of mistakes but we decided the race. We excelled as a team.”

How do you not blame the team and actually blame Stannard for that epic cock up? It’s obvious that B should not have gone first, but that it should have been T then V if T was unsuccessful then T again if V was not able to get away and then perhaps B if not V again, but B for the final sprint, though for sure the B of old – and I mean last year – would surely have had the gumption to win even if there were no attacks beforehand.

And We decided the race? Talk about selective memory, unless the finish line in Lefevre’s World was 10 meter earlier than in the race I saw…

Back to KBK, which was all far more straightforward. In fact it was so predictable that we can take a moment out to look at the bike fashion going on at this year’s edition of KBK, of KuBuKu, as the French call it.

Love the old school tires coming back in. Good.
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Dig the Canyon Katusha bike even though Katusha should be racing as a Continental team, sort that one out Brian.
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Thoughts on Cav and Boonen getting their own color bikes? Not quite one for all and all for one is it? I was on a team once where the leader got some model paint and painted yellow stripes on his helmet one night at a stage race. When asked why he’d done it the ever so comradely reply of ‘Well I don’t want to look like the rest of you losers do I?’ came.
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Which was nice. Nicer still was that in the middle of the stage people started taking the piss out of him because several insects had become stuck on his still-tacky paint job. Now that was a classic…
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Anyway, the bikes look pretty cool (even if they are Specializeds which, even though yes they do make good bikes they should stop supporting doping teams and riders, there, said it).
Boonen's Blue Bomber

Boonen’s Blue Bomber

Cav's Sparkly Speedster (without handlebar streamers in this pic, though they will be attached for San Remo)

Cav’s Sparkly Speedster (without handlebar streamers in this pic, though they will be attached for San Remo)

Worst bike/kit combo of 2015 awarded to Lotto-Jumbo and their TdF yellow kit (which is not terrible) that clashes with their celeste Bianchis. I’ve never been a fan of the Bianchi blue (or is it green?) but this match up just doesn’t work for me at all.

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No.
One bike you don’t see many amateurs riding is the Argon 18. I can’t remember which team was on them at KuBuKu but I’ve test-ridden a couple of their top models, very solid machines.

Back to the racing. It was good to see the echelon rearing its ugly head again, been a while since we had really nasty winds in the classics. I used to think headwinds were the worst and they are bad, suffering sometimes for up to an hour if there’s a strong team on the front just praying for a turn, but if you’ve ever been in a race with teams that really know how to ride a hard echelon, then you understand suffering on the flat.

Everyone wants to be in that first string but it’s so hard to get in as all the strong guys will be smashing it to the turn before the crosswind, then they form quickly to keep everyone else out. The guys behind have two choices – either to form a second echelon and risk losing contact with the lead line, or to just string out behind the last guy in the head echelon and ride solo and unprotected in the gutter and hope and pray they find a gap to join the front.

Being in that echelon means you have to work in the wind but critically it affords you some respite. It’s better to be barely fit and to be in it and to hang on than to be quite strong and be behind it, cos eventually the wind will shred you.

Once the break came back it was more or less a procession to the end apart from Gilbert’s attempt, though that was more a training effort than a really hopeful attack. He should be coming better for the Ardennes Classics, though he looks a bit heavy –  was it just me or did anyone else think the Belgian looked more muscular than in previous years?

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Before the race came into the city, Sky gave a beautiful example of how to do a completely pointless lead-out (basically start 4km too soon and then disintegrate with 3km to go), but wasn’t it mesmerising to see the peloton strung out through the street of Kuurne from the helicopter camera? Absolutely gorgeous shots. That’s the kind of city traffic I’d like to see more of.

The race wasn’t finished quite yet and we were treated to an enthralling sprint that saw Kristoff of Katusha come second to a flying Cavendish, who saved the weekend for EQS.

Decent race, all in all.

Cookson, Astana, and the Death of Hope

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And the first rule of Twitter is that you should never tweet something you will live to regret. Not many people follow that rule but it is quite a good one, one that Brian Cookson OBE (Oh! Benevolent Entity?) was never taught, quite obviously.

The decision to award Astana a World Tour license for 2015 has elicited widespread anger from the cycling world and is a decision that even the most hardened doping apologists will have trouble defending.

After the Astana organization had five riders return positive tests for banned substances, the majority of cycling commentators believed it would be curtains for the Kazakh team, one that has had several other run-ins with the anti-doping authorities over the years.

Surely, went the thinking, there’s no way that a UCI run by Brian Cookson – the man who knocked Pat MacQuaid off his perch as president of the world governing body, the man who had promised to get tough on cheats – surely there’d be no way he’d allow Astana to keep its license?

Well… yes, actually. There was a way. He just said yes.

BRIAN_COOKSON

It involved ignoring the anger and general fed-upness of cycling fans and the few outspokenly clean riders out there, it meant that he’d have to face the opprobrium of the social media for a few days, and it would essentially cause anyone who gave a fig about doping to come to the conclusion that the UCI is not to be trusted as the overseer of this beautiful sport, but apparently that’s all in a day’s work for Brian Cookson OBE.

As you know I am no fan of the UCI and I lost faith in them many years ago. I don’t believe that the UCI has the best interests of the fans nor the vast majority of its members at heart. Yet even I was amazed by the news that Astana would not lose its license.

I’m not alone. Amazingly, ProTour riders are speaking out – well one, at least.

Peter Kennaugh of Sky tweeted:

“Riders who were only ‘trained’ by Ferrari I mean come are you really that stupid ? And do you think everyone else is to? What a joke this sport can be! The clean riders of the peloton need to get together and push these cheats out enough is enough.”

Kennaugh’s tweet avoided calling out the UCI and Cookson which may be smart with regards to his job, but there’s no hiding the fact that the decision is what prompted his tweet in the first place.

Cookson for his part has said that Astana will be under probation, which must have Vinokourov quaking in his boots.

Now, it could be that the UCI is fearful of banning Astana after the debacle of last season when they had their decision not to give a WorldTour license to Katusha overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

If that’s the case they could at least have made the symbolic gesture. What this move has done is to strip, mangle and burn the last bare shreds of the UCI’s credibility in the eyes of right-thinking fans.

Early rumors that stated that Vinokourov was seen entering the UCI HQ with a carrier bag full of Kazakh bank notes have been quashed, but other rumors that the basement car park has been rigged with high explosives have yet to be either confirmed or denied.

Allegedly.

It could be a combination of things, the Katusha factor, the power and wealth of Astana (they are backed by a national government), and it could be, one online commentator suggested, to do with Vinokourov’s contacts.

In The Telegraph’s online version, one reader wondered if the MPCC (Movement for Credible Cycling).

Thehamst wrote:

I suspect the head of the MPCC has had a major say so in this. Astana management and Roger Legeay go back a long way; all the way back to doping at Credit Agricole in 2008 actually. The same Roger Legeay banned for doping himself now in charge f the Movement For Credible Cycling – you really couldn’t make it up.

What is intriguing with regards to Astana not being denied a World Tour license is that another team, Europcar, was just denied one for 2015 (despite a fantastic Tour de France) on financial grounds.

“Regarding Team Europcar,” said Cookson, “it is of course regrettable that the team has not been able to secure sufficient financial guarantees to remain in the UCI WorldTour, but I very much hope that they can continue as a Professional Continental Team.”

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So, why not find some ‘financial irreguralities’ with Astana? If you can’t kick them out for bringing the already tarnished image of the sport further into the gutter, then make something up.

Also interesting to note was an interview with Cookson just two days ago in which he stated that cycling was not the only sport with doping trouble, and trotted out the old line about how cycling was doing way more than those ‘other sports’.

“I have always held the view that doping was not a practice solely restricted to the sport of cycling.

“In my view there are two groups of sports: There are those that have a doping problem and are actively trying to do something about it, and I would like to say that we are in a leading position on that.

“And there are those sports that have a doping problem and are still pretty much in denial about it. And sooner or later they are going to have their problems.”

Yawn.

To be honest Brian yes, we know other sports might have doping on a similar systematic scale as we have in cycling, but that argument doesn’t wash. You’re in charge of cycling, not table tennis.

However it is interesting to wonder what FIFA would do if say Barcelona suddenly got busted for a string of massive doping positives.

They’d probably say it was an isolated case, that it didn’t involve the management, was not systematic, that the players were very sorry, and that generally the sport was clean.

Sound familiar?

The truth of the matter, for me, is that the sport these guys at the top do is not the same sport I do. It is also not the same sport that 99.99% of cyclists around the world do.

We don’t cheat. We don’t think about doping ourselves. We don’t accidentally fall on srynges of EPO or drink our own blood by the baggie-full.

What we do do however, is love this thing called cycling.

Against our own better sense, we still tune in for the Tour, the Giro, Roubaix and the World’s. We still love the sight of the peloton coming through the clouds to summit on Ventoux, riders strewn about hither and tither, love seeing the fans – people like us – by the roadside, cheering them on.

We are the guardians of the history of this sport. We are the keepers, the rememberers, the people who make it live and breathe.

We buy the kits, we buy the books and the DVDs. We go to the races. We get up late at night when the family is all sleeping and pay our subscription to get 120 channels even though there’s only one we want to watch.

And yet we are nothing. We are disrespected and barely acknowledged, unless it’s to wring money from our pockets and to thrash the faith from our weary hearts.

This decision and the statements that have followed it from Cookson show that, again, and all too clearly.

Welcome to the world of the UCwedon’tknowf*ckingWhy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

another positive test: time for Astana to go

Victor Okishev, a 20-year-oldAstana rider, has tested positive for steroids from a test taken in May.

that is now 4 Kazakhstani Astana riders in the past few months.

Iglinsky, apparently not smiling now..

Iglinsky, apparently not smiling now..

when i rode the UCI Asia Tour there was a feeling amongst the peloton that the Kazakh riders generally were not all they appeared to be. it was a hunch, going off performances we had seen. at the very least the nation seems to have something of a problem, as does its national team, with the abuse of banned substances.

and mullets.

it must have nothing to do with their general manager and national hero (destined to be president too by the looks of things) being an unrepentant doper himself.

no, not at all.

Nibali, what have you got to say now? time to get out, some might argue. but where to? Tinkoff? Vaughters and Garmin? any of the other teams staffed by former dopers?

yet again, the UCWhy reaps what they have sowed, and we get to choke on it…

the Frenchies fix Le Tour! vive les Frenchies!

Chris Froome has folded. He took one look at the turn of the cards from the house and he figured he just couldn’t beat the odds. He’s out, off to Italy instead to take his chances there.

Are the French bothered?

Non.

Froome might well be disappointed. He was interviewed just last month and very cheerily said how much he loved time trials and how he’d need a few time trial kilometres to be able to balance Alberto Contador’s advantage in the mountains.

“You’ve always got to come up against tough rivals – Contador is a tough guy to beat when he’s climbing the way he climbs,” mewed Froome as he sharpened his claws on his cat post.

“One aspect of the race which I feel are my strengths is in the time trials. I’m quite eager to see the 2015 Tour route and whether in the time trials I can get an advantage on him.”

Just four weeks later a Tour route was revealed that was exactly what Froome did not want. Had the French been listening in?

Only 14km of ITT, a weirdly placed TTT (Stage 9), more of his favourite cobbles and a buffet of Classics climbs, and lots and lots of hills.

Boom! Take that, man sans les biceps!

all he wanted for Xmas was a pair o' guns

all he wanted for Xmas was a pair o’ guns

Well, not quite boom, because it was the Team Sky leader who in the end put the bomb under the route presentation.

Soon after he put this on his website.

“There’s no two ways about it, next year’s Tour is going to be about the mountains. There’s very little emphasis on time trialling which means the race will be decided up in the high mountains. With six mountaintop finishes it is going to be an aggressive and massively demanding race.”

Then the message that he might not bother to attend altogether:

“The team and I will have to give it some careful consideration before we make any commitments to which of the Grand Tours I will compete in. I see myself as quite a balanced GC rider and the Giro with it’s inclusion of a longtime trial of 60km and tough uphill finishes will make it a well balanced race which suits me well. If I did the Giro I may also be able to get myself back to top shape for the Vuelta and go there with a realistic chance of aiming for the win.

“In the past I’ve only targeted one Grand Tour each season but it could be a good opportunity for me to focus seriously on two. It’s still early days though and we’ll have to sit down and put our heads together as a team to work out what 2015 is going to look like for us.”

And so, even though the team did not even attend the presentation, they still stole the headlines.

Is Froome being prissy? No, not at all. Why bother going to a race that does not suit you? You use races like that to get fit, you don’t base your whole season around them. He’s a Tour fanatic in a sense, basing his whole season around it. Indeed he had looked, for a good solid year, like the man who would dominate July for year to come.

Thing is though, Froome could still win a race like this. He is still one of the best climbers in the world, but he’d need for a range of variables to kick in if he were to win the 2015 edition.

Contador would have to not take the cobbles seriously once again and then to be slightly off in the hills, for one.

Quintana would have to not improve in both his focus and concentration, because if he does he can beat anyone (now that the TTs are missing).

Nibali would have to have some bad luck in the first week and to meet a completely in-form Froome in the hills.

It would be a hard, hard win, even if he were to enter.

The race wasn’t designed though to be anti-Froome however, nor even anti-English, come to that. Team Sky may not be popular in Europe but Froome’s star has faded somewhat since his disastrous 2014 Tour, and also thanks to the way Contador dominated him in the Vuelta a Espana.

Nor was it designed specifically for the Spaniard. Though the parcours suits him generally, he is also a very decent Grand Tour time trialist and would have liked to see some individual kilometres in there for sure.

For Quintana? He will not like that first week, undoubtedly. It could be disastrous for the Colombian.

And Nibali? Sure, the first week suits him and he can climb, and on top of that he has the confidence after winning this year. However, three of the top guys were missing this year and Nibali had a blisteringly perfect ride. It might not go so well this time around.

Not everyone, after all, is as consistent as Lance Armstrong was.

There’s no doubt that the Tour de France organisers have gone for something a little different, with just 13.7 kilometres of individual time trials included in the race, all of which come on the first day in the prologue.

Another oddity is a team time trial in the second week. Traditionally this would come in the first, partly because all the riders are fresher then and because each team is just about guaranteed to have all its riders still in the race. The TTT comes on Stage 9 and is 28-kilometres long.

No other solo action against the clock will feature, but the famous Alpe d’Huez will be included on the penultimate day. However, at just over 100 kilometres, it is unlikely to force any major unraveling of the top three, whose dominance will have been established long before on this mountainous Tour.

So, this Tour has not been designed for the usual favourites per se, nor was it specifically anti-Froome. Rather, it has been created with the hope that a Frenchman may have a crack at the vaunted Maillot Jaune that hasn’t been won by one of their own since 1985.

Jean-Christophe Peraud claimed second last year and he can climb. He is though getting a little long in the tooth at 37. I am a fan of Peraud, as far as I can be of any rider these days, but it it with the man who came third this year, Thibaut Pinot, with whom France’s desperate hopes truly rest.

Pinot is some rider, make no doubt about that. In 2012 he made his debut at the Tour and was the youngest in the race. That didn’t stop him making his mark though, as he won Stage 9 in the mountains and took 10th overall.

This year he was third, won the Best Young Rider classification and had wizened and wearied old French cycling fans sparking up fistfuls of Gauloise, knocking back the Pernod, tossing their boules, chucking on Edith Pfiaffffft records and dancing in the streets as he took to the podium in Paris.

(yes, i was going for the record of French stereotypes in one sentence there…)

Can he win on 2015? It would take some godly maneuvering of several orbiting planets, a bit of voodoo on the others and a lot of hard work but yes, why not?

Nibali stunned us all this year, why not Pinot next?

Possible. But not likely. For one, he still needs to improve his descending skills.

Romain Bardet is another sweetheart of the French following his remarkable sixth place this year (15th in 2013). One year younger than Pinot, he can climb too and is pretty handy on those Classics routes – he was 10th at Liege-Bastogne-Liege this year.

Not all the French love the cobbles and the northern hills, and some, like Pinot, are handy in TTs. But yes, this is a route specifically for them.

Others may still be better over such routes, like Nibali who proved that this year, and Contador, who can, if on form, take back lots of time in the hills.

Crucially, it represents the best possible route for three Frenchmen that are showing real potential.

And why not? The French keep churning out these hopefuls and keep missing out on the prize the nation is salivating for, much like the British at Wimbledon. So many Henmans – where is their Murray? Step forqard lad, you’ll never buy a bottle of vin yourself again.

More power to them, I say.

Vive le Tour.

Vive le French!

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