The Climb, The Weather And The Underdog 05/27/2010


The Climb
It would be tempting to say that tomorrows 12.8km of the Passo del Mortirolo will decide the fate of what has been one of the best ever Grand Tours. But with the following day going over the Gavia, weather permitting, and a time trial into Verona there are still plenty of places to gain and loose time. If you think it is between Basso and Evans, then 42 seconds is nothing. There are time bonuses on the finishes and if Evans hangs with Basso until the last KM of the climbs I expect to see him attacking. In the time trail he should pull between 20 and 30 seconds out of Basso. But if Basso has the Pink jersey on his back, and Evans crumbles at the end of what has been a brutal three weeks and the pressure of his first GT win, he might want be a little closer than the power meter numbers from their coach Sassi says. So that puts it back on the Mortirolo and maybe more importantly the descent of the Trivigno.

The Weather
Then there is the weather, if it hits tomorrow then the odds and players change somewhat. We have already seen Basso back off on the wet, while riders like Evans and Vino pile it on. So the descent of the Trivigno may well be the ideal place to gain time and maybe by the the time we hit the Mortirolo it will all be about minimizing loses. Andy Hampsten must be laughing at them all as the potential for snow at the summit of the Gavia the next day may redirect the stage, but with that type of weather threatening you could even see abandonments! I say let them go up, providing it is ridable of coarse.

The Underdog
And what of David Arroyo Duran? Who thought he would have turned in the time he did on the slopes of Plan de Corones? This will be his first time up the Mortirolo, not really the circumstances you want to be tackling one of the most famous climbs in the world. But a Spaniard winning the Giro, now what more carrot do you need? Plus he will have seven teammates all determined to control the race at least until the Motirolo. If he rides to limit his loses and still looses 1.30 min, that still gives him nearly a minute going into the final two days.

This is going to be good. Very good.

Categories: Classic / Races / Riders

This Up And Down Sport 05/21/2010


The last ten days have been amazing to be a cycling fan, for both good good and bad reasons.

1. Stage 7 of the Giro from Carrara to Montalcino
Spectacular to watch, tough to ride. Some of the most iconic images of our sport in recent times have come out of that day. Some of the stars embraced it and made headway on the GC, whilst others completely imploded in the conditions. Watching Evans bridge the gap to the leaders, ride through and off  the front in the finale, had the hairs on my neck standing in end.

2. Stage 5: the split.
Whilst two of the three teams left in contention for the GC played a game of chicken (Astana and Liquigas), and the third team who had mostly abandoned (BMC) were helpless, literally half of the race rode off the front including such luminaries as Wiggins and Sastre to gain  over 10mins. Boom! The GC top 10 just got wiped out. Race reset.

3. First year pro Nick Porte leading the Giro
Great quote “I don’t now how it happened, but I’ll take it!“. At the end of Stage 5 he found himself in the pink jersey with over 1.45 min to second place, and over 1o mins to some of the GC favorites. This is going to make an interesting game of carrot over the mountains this weekend. The word from Saxo Bank is “The kid can climb”, so is going to take it on themselves and make the race hard.

4. Landis Gate
As it has become known around these parts. Who knows what to believe. It all seems so incredible. The governing body receiving bungs to keep quiet. Some of the biggest stars still racing implicated in doping. Lance exposed… but who do you trust. The Landis book I can forgive, most of them are nonsense anyway, so if you choose to buy it, that is on you. But taking money from fans to fund your “I am innocent appeal” is a hard one to take. One thing for sure, if there is an ounce of evidence to back any of this up, American cycling and the UCI will be in tatters. We are going to sit back and watch this one play out a bit.

5. Lance Down and Out
Maybe his head was still at the Landis press conference, but this is a guy who doesn’t fall off much, and the timing of this one could not have been worse. With 50 days to the Tour and a spotty early season in his legs, Lance really needed the race time a TOC to get ready.

Photos by Graham Watson

Categories: Races / Riders / The Other Stuff

The Tour Of Battenkill 04/19/2010


The full photo essay can be viewed here.

Standing in Cambridge, New York, for the first time at 9.30am, I had no idea about what type of day would unravel. Looking at the skies, the rain was definitely going to play its part and make the dirt sections pretty spectacular. Things were shaping up for a true “Spring” classic. Seeing Kristen House lining up at the start, resplendent in his red, blue, but mostly white British champion’s jersey, one thing was for sure: this might be the best advert ever for Tide (although, according to Dean Downing, four rinses gets the Battenkill dirt out).

The pre-race prep gave a lot away. The Fly V Australia and the Holowesko Partners (Garmin) teams have got things dialed in, money talks. Rapha Condor, despite living out of suitcases, still looked like the coolest team on the block (separate post coming on the Leggeros – a beautiful ride), well at least before the race; after, the mud made everyone pretty much look the same. Next were the teams that had to bring in hire cars and vans, but still managed to make things look good with about $25k worth of bikes propped up against them. Then there was the regional riders, getting ready out of the trunks of cars and pick-ups, and looking a little apprehensive about lining up on a day like this.

I got out to Mountain Road for the first lap. By the time the race got to me, they were already strung out the full length of the dirt section into the distance, small groups of 10 and 15 riders leading a lot of lone riders over the rolling mud slides. Riders were already suffering not even at the halfway point. For the second lap I got myself over to Swamp Road. On the way across lots of riders had pulled the chute and were heading back into town. Swamp Road and Stage Road is where the race happened. Landis and Fairley were already off the front and having a conversation on the way up, with Floyd saying, “I don’t know man….”, the question, I have no idea. Maybe Caleb was asking “How on earth do I get all this mud out Floyd?” In between them and what was left of the field, a few riders were burying themselves to try and get back to them.

This is a great race, on the way up. I can only think it is going to get more and more popular. It has a unique character unlike any other race in the US, and in fact, like any other race I have ever been to both here and in Europe. Spare a thought for the Rapha team who are now stranded due to volcano dust (no matter how many times you say that, it still sounds bizarre), and potentially could miss the start of their European campaign in Brittany next week. That is definitely not kosher…

Categories: Races

Cobbles, Corners, Crashes: The Red Hook Criterium 03/21/2010


All I could think of was that thank god this didn’t happen last weekend during the NYC Tsunami. The Redhook Criterium has become quite the spectacle, and an area of Brooklyn that would normally not see much life at this time on a Saturday night was packed with cycling die-hards, and a few perplexed locals. They turned up in all shapes and sizes, from the Cat racers, to the bike messengers, from the team-sponsored to the thrift store-sponsored, from the custom carbon track frames to the “fell off the back of a truck” Fujis. One race, men and women, all in.  A note about the course: insane. From the newly paved carpet up by the new Ikea to the Beard Street cobbles, plus manholes raised, oh, a good inch above the surface, on a low light course so even if you could avoid the holes, spotting them was going to be a whole other thing. And off they went on a rolling neutral lap to get a little accustomed to the coarse. One lap in saw the field sort itself out, with a lead group separating themselves pretty quickly and setting an insanely fast time around the one mile lap. 20 laps later an Adler rider appeared out of the darkness of Beard street with his hands in the air like he just didn’t care, and we had a winner. We bailed at this point but I can only imagine the atmosphere in Sonny’s around the corner was good well into the wee hours.

Categories: Races

02/05/2010


Sitting in a client meeting today with an Italian we got to talking about cycling, and debating about the best grand tour for excitement value. He had a somewhat biased opinion of course. So afterward I started to write down some thoughts on the editions of the Tours that I enjoyed most from the last decade. The highs, Armstrong’s comeback, Andy Schleck’s second at the Giro in his first grand Tour, Savoldelli’s descent to keep the pink jersey, and of course the lows. The Landis positive, the Ricco positive, Rasmussen getting the boot. Well, I did it subjectively, not taking note of the points as I went along, and guess what, Claudia was right – the Giro edged it by a point. Who knew…

Click here for the full size exciterometer graph

Categories: Design / Races

This Was Epic 05/24/2010


This was epic. This Giro keeps giving us some of the most exciting riding I have ever seen, and the Zoncolan stage was a great set-up for a very exciting final week. No amount of team support was helping anyone here, this was down to your own personal ability to suffer. Once on the slopes of the last 10km it was you, your bike and a very steep hill. The Tifosi really did themselves proud. The noise as they saw Basso coming through the Zoncolan bends was incredible. And what a return for Basso. It has been a long way back for him and what a way to announce that you have found your legs again. He visibly looked more fluid than any of the other riders, keeping a metronome pace all the way up, riding everyone off his wheel. Then watching Evans fight back in the upper slopes as he realized his chance to take a Grand Tour was slipping away up the road in front of him. Epic.

Photo: Pentasport/RCS Sport

Categories: Classic / Races / Routes

Things Pros Say: “The Traffic Furniture Spoiled It” 05/11/2010


The Giro d’Italia starts tomorrow, after most of the Grand Tour contenders attended a 3-day Criterium series in Holland as preparation. Unfortunately turning the Giro into a brand that can be marketed and sold anywhere in the world backfired when “the traffic furniture spoiled it”. It is called the Tour of Italy for a reason, it should be held in Italy on roads wider than a bike lane.

Traffic furniture was not a term I was familiar with when I was growing up in Europe. It only became something I understood when riders started trying to ride through it, rather than around it. Watching the first two days of the Giro made me think, had anyone actually looked at the routes in Holland? Even on Google Maps satellite view? How can anyone have thought that they were suitable for this kind of race? A few questions may have to been raised about the ability to squeeze a Gran Tour peleton into the equivalent of the West Side Highway bike path. I know as a Pro you are just supposed to “Get on with it” when the rest of us would shout “This is insane“, but riding a 5-hour slalom coarse, with skittish riders all with good legs, coupled with random pieces of plastic “furniture” dropped in places you can’t see, doesn’t seem like a winning formula. Watching the last two days of the Giro made me understand what happened in Milan last year, when the riders neutralized the stage because the coarse was “unsafe“. Sometimes you just have to say….eh…no. Look at the outcome of those two stages. VDV out with a broken collar bone, and now his preparation for the Tour scuppered. Wiggins out of contention after stage 3! And my own personal disappointment, Dan Martin at over 9 minutes after three stages. I think Cadel Evans’ quote points out the irony nicely: “Obviously the traffic islands are very cycling friendly for commuters”, the key word being commuters, not a Grand Tour.

Photo: Roberto Bettini

Categories: Races

“Anyone seen Russell?” 03/29/2010


That was quite the week of racing in Europe, but how are you supposed to choose between this lot,

90th Volta Ciclista a Catalunya (Spa, PT) March 22-28 – Spain
Settimana Ciclista Internazionale (Ita, 2.1) March 23-27 – Italy
65th Dwars door Vlaanderen (Bel, 1.1) March 24 – Belgium
79th Critérium International (Fra, 2.HC) March 27-29 – Corsica, France
53rd E3 Prijs Vlaanderen (Bel, 1.HC) March 27 – Harelbeke, Belgium
72nd Ghent-Wevelgem (Bel, PT) March 28 – Ghent, Belgium

With the politics that go on around race ownership, what races you show up at, who you bring to said race, and if you will be competitive when you start (using Tirreno-Adriatico as a training ride seems somewhat extravagant), and all of this determining if you get a spot on the big $$$ tours, which all of your sponsors want you at, which determines if you even have a sponsor or team next year (wouldn’t like to be Bjarne Riis right now)…the job of Director Sportif does not sound very appealing. I started having visions of Russell Downing showing up at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen by himself as Team Sky. But lucky for him someone at Sky figured it out. Get him into Critérium International for the second day, as it pretty much resembles a British style race, and boom he takes a brilliant sprint. Great to see him take his chance. A long way from a very wet St Patrick’s hill in Cork last “summer”. Nice one Russ.

Categories: Races / Riders

Richard Delaume, Photographer and Cyclist 03/12/2010


I met Richard Delaume through our shared admiration of Jacques Anquetil and the old Mirror Sprint cycling magazines. He is an amazing photographer. Some of you will know his work already if you read the pages of Procycling magazine. We got to talking, and he shared with me this great cyclo-cross photo essay that he shot in France. So we decided to do two things. First an interview that gives you a sense of Richard, and his love of our sport and photography, and second we made a feature of the essay so you could see all of his great images and dirt in their true splendor.

When did you first pick up a camera?
I started slowly in 2003, when I bought a compact digital camera using money borrowed from my father. I found it strange taking pictures at first. Back then I was a sports teacher and cyclist. Then in 2005 I bought an SLR, and it changed everything.

Can you remember what your first shot was?
My first shot was in a Mall in Nantes with my girlfriend at the time. I photographed the escalators from the side, a classical composition, but effective. I entered it for a “Young artist” contest, and it got selected for an exhibition.

What do you enjoy shooting now?
I still love to shoot cycling,  and I am still a correspondent for Procycling in France. But since 2009 I started to also shoot social reportage as well. Travel also interests me. I have been to Burkina Faso and in April I’m going to Palestine. I have also begun work on a project based on autism.

How did you get into shooting cycling?
In 2005 I began to do editorial for magazines, then in early 2006 I saw the potential in shooting cycling. I know a lot of things about that world, seen from the inside as a rider.

A lot of the shots you took in the cyclo-cross essay are pre or post race – what were you trying to capture?
For this essay I wanted to capture the essence of this cycling discipline, and not just the race. Capturing something of the mental side of the sport, the attitude. But also the audience and the passion they have for it in Brittany and Belgium.

What rider have you enjoyed photographing most?
Erwan Mentheour in 2007 for Procycling, when they asked me shoot for the theme “10 years on”. Erwan retired after the Festina affair. He was one of the first riders convicted of EPO use in the 1997 Paris-Nice when he was riding for Francaise des Jeux. I spent a day with him in Paris and Beaubourg. We talked a lot, had a lot of laughs and drank a lot!

There are so many iconic images of our sport – do you have a favorite?
Anquetil and Poulidor climbing the Puy de Dome during the 1964 Tour. That image catches the climax of their rivalry and the drama of the sport. We rarely see that now.

If you had your choice to shoot a grand tour or one of the classics, what would it be?
No hesitation, the Tour. But I also loved going to the Tour of Flanders and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Continue reading

Categories: Races / Riders

Oh it is going to be a good season 01/23/2010


Quite the stage today down under. If this is how they are going in January, I can’t wait until April. Great to see Evans in the mix yesterday and today driving a potentially Tour winning break, very exciting to watch. Might have helped if there had been a proper climb. Now that really would have thrown a curve ball.

Categories: Races