Yesterday’s Prudential Ride London Classic was another great bicycle race. The course doesn’t look too much, a few short sharp climbs, Box Hill and then 50km of flat to the finish. On paper it looks a boring sprint stage in the Tour de France. If it was the Tour de France with nine men teams – that is exactly what it would be. But, because there are only 6 man teams, it’s much harder to control so it encourages attacking racing. Usually, the key breakaway goes on last or second to last climb. But, this year Team Sky launched an attack about 80km out. Thomas, Stannard and a Cannondale rider managed to link up with the lead breakaway and it seemed a tactical masterpiece.
Then with 50km to go, Thomas stormed away up Box Hill and looked set for an epic lone victory. But, just when it looked a done deal, the peleton finally got its act together and cruelly started reeling in a tiring Thomas.
It was a great Tour de France. Nearly every stage was interesting, with full on racing the whole way through. I seem to remember years when half the Tour de France was predictable, flat sprint stages, which only came to life in the last 10km. The sprinters union may complain the tour has been ridiculously hilly, with relatively meagre pickings for the likes of Cavendish and Griepel, but for the viewer – classic style one-day races (cobbles, side winds and short sharp climbs) do make for intriguing and interesting racing.
It’s hard to imagine that in the 90s and early 00s, the Tour would put on massive long flat time trials. Amidst the near hysteria of Froome taking 60 secs from his nearest challenger in the Pyranees (60 secs he later lost in the Alps), who can forget the days of Indurain putting in six minutes to his nearest challenger in long time trials? Those years of Indurain and Armstrong domination were pretty much like watching paint dry. This year’s tour was not quite as finely balanced as we might have liked, but another mountain top finish in the Alps and the tour would have been on a knife edge.
I could list another 97 reasons, but what I never appreciated – was how doping creates a toxic legacy for many years after the event.
The legacy of generations of dopers, is that it has made people prone to cynicism, suspicion and disbelief. It is a very toxic legacy for cycling; yet it is not the dopers who face the music – they retire, keep their prize money, write a best selling confessional story into the bargain – or get a job in the media…
The problem is that against a backdrop of recent doping histories, exceptional performances in cycling are frequently compared against former dopers. It’s good to ride up a mountain fast, but if you ride up faster than a former doper, people are ready to jump to conclusions. Whether justified or not, it is painful to see, and diminishes the potential of sport to act as a source of inspiration and enjoyment.
The first nine days of the Tour de France were gripping and exciting stuff. As long as you weren’t one of the riders carted off to hospital with a broken bone, the Tour was fantastic entertainment. The Tour organisers were probably feeling pretty pleased with themselves for creating nine stages of great interest and unpredictability. The Tour looked to be poised on a knife edge, with the Fab Four (expanding to the Fab Five or Six as we really got carried away) eyeing each other up over the tiniest of second margins.
After 2014’s disappointing disappearance of two big contenders (Froome and Contador) this looked a mouth watering tour.
But, in the time taken to climb the last 14km of today, the Fab Four had rapidly disintegrated into the Boom Boom Froome show. To say Sky were going to ride defensively, it was a masterclass in blowing your opposition into the waters. There was little crumb of comfort for any of his opposition. Quintana did his best and limited his losses to fight another day, but he still had to suffer the ignominy of getting nabbed on the line, by a Sky super-domestique (Porte).
It’s always a funny week – the week before the Tour de France. There’s no cycle races on TV, just a week of speculation, talk and bog-standard questions and answers with the riders.
I’m not a betting man, but if I was. I think the Tour Prologue would be a good bet.
I’d put a few quid on:
Tom Dumoulin (7/2) – Dumoulin has tremendous power and one of the best time trial positions I’ve seen. This is the best odds I’ve seen.
Alex Dowsett (33/1) – An outside bet for the prologue. Unfortunately, I don’t think he will make it, though I would still rate his chances at better than 33/1. The prologue is actually a short time trial – close to the 10 mile TT – where Alex holds Comp record at 17.20 – a time even Bradley Wiggins couldn’t beat on a windy day on the V718.
Geraint Thomas (50/1) Again, deep down, I can’t see Thomas at the top of podium come the end of the race. You can guarantee Thomas will be there or there-abouts. The strength of Thomas is that he is an excellent all-rounder – but just not quite the out and out short distance time trial specialist.
With an enforced lay off from cycling, I was looking forward to the 2015 edition of the Tour of Flanders quite a lot. It’s a great classic Belgian cobbled race – made even more interesting by the superb form of Geraint Thomas this year. His victory in the E3 Herelbecke was a really great race to watch. It’s great to see a loyal team-worker come of age in the big races. With confidence high – perhaps it was time for Team Sky to finally claim a ‘monument’.
In the end it didn’t work out – emphasising how tough it is to win a monument. Thomas lacked the last 5% he needed to stay with the late breaks and there was a predictability in the tactics of Team Sky.
The good thing about watching cycling on TV is that it is very easy to become an armchair critic – offering advice without even getting your heart rate over 60bpm.
The 2011 World Championship victory where 9 GB riders dominated the peleton for the entire race to set up Mark Cavendish was completely unprecedented and one of the most remarkable team victories of the modern era. But, that kind of tactics is going to work very rarely – especially in hilly cobbled races.
On the plus side, riding at the front keeps you out of trouble – you are less likely to have an accident (though Wiggins still managed to came a cropper, giving something to talk about in the long build up). But, when the weather is very good like yesterday, there seems to be a lot less accidents than usual. In the main peleton (as long as you were protected from service vehicles at the back) the Tour of Flanders seemed remarkably crash free by recent standards.
Everyone else was very happy for Team Sky to burn up their matches before the really crucial last 40-30km. Alex Rowe did an outstanding ride and managed to hang on up to the last part. But, I would have liked to see Team Sky try something different, like let other teams ride on the front – try to send the odd riders up ahead (if Andre Greipel can attack at the base of a Belgian cobbled Hellingen, I’m sure Team Sky have a rider who could too. One of the crucial things about classics seems to be having riders left at the really critical part of the race. You can guarantee a team like Etiix will have 2-3 in the mix, giving more options. The problem is that by Sky always riding on the front, Thomas became the most marked man – and everyone was looking to Thomas and Sky to close down the gaps. True Thomas is in good form, but he was never an outstanding favourite like a Cancellara.
Friday’s stage of the Tour of Britain was a 200km jaunt from Bath to Hemel Hempstead. A few categorised climbs along the way, but the conventional opinion was that it would be a day for the sprinters. But, although professional cycling is often predictable, today the cards were turned upside down as a small three man breakaway stayed out in front for nearly the whole day, finishing two minutes ahead of the peleton and putting British Movistar rider Alex Dowsett into the leaders jersey. It was really an epic stage and a privilege to watch – both in the flesh and on TV (BTW: The Eurosport commentary at ToB is really top notch)
I’ve never seen a stage in the Tour of Britain, but with the recent experience of watching the Tour de France in Yorkshire I definitely didn’t want to miss the race go up my local hills. Yesterday I was training up Chinnor Hill – five interval efforts. Hard work, but a completely different kettle of fish to a 200k stage race. Still it was nice to see the pros suffer just as much as anyone else.
There was a good crowd on Chinnor Hill with many spectators around the quaisi hairpin bend. I stood nearby and waited for the race to come.
I’ve never been a particular fan of watching live professional cycling, but my experiences this year have made me change my mind. It really is worth the effort of going out to watch the riders go by.
First up was the news that the breakaway was over 8 minutes up on the peleton. This caused a ripple of excitement as 8 minutes is a lot – especially with not that far to go. I was also pleased to hear there were two British riders in the break – Alex Dowsett and Tom Stewart (Madison Genesis). There were riding with the Austrian Matthias Bramble (IAM) who won the previous stage.
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