Tag Archives: Fabian Cancellara

Cancellara wins Olympic time-trial; British take over on the track

Chris Froome couldn’t repeat what Bradley Wiggins done four years ago in London by following up a Tour de France victory with an Olympic gold in the individual time-trial. Froome had to settle for third behind Fabian Cancellara, who brings the curtain down on his glittering career in style, with Tom Dumoulin, the pre-race favourite, settling for silver. In the woman’s race there was a turn up for the books as American, Kristin Armstrong (no relation!), who has done little racing this year, showed up and beat the controversial Russian, Olga Zabelinskaya to silver, and Anna Van Der Breggen to bronze. The Dutchgirl picked up her second medal of these games on the road after her gold last week in the woman’s road race.

Fabian Cancellara will have been a popular winner here in Rio. He’s been on one big final season farewell Tour, or so it has seemed though things haven’t often gone as planned. His crown of classic king was taken by Peter Sagan when the Slovak beat him at the Tour of Flanders, he was well beaten by younger men like Dumoulin in many of the individual time-trials and perhaps he was beginning to think he’d left it a year too long to say goodbye. Or maybe not. Maybe deep down he knew he had this in him and it was everyone else who had written him off. Despite his pedigree for the race of truth, many didn’t feel Cancellara was up to winning a medal, never mind the gold. But he was a force throughout the cross, measuring his effort to perfection and finishing a mighty 47sec ahead of Dumoulin and 1min 2sec ahead of Froome across the rolling 54.6km course.

Armstrong’s win was closer on the 29.9km course, finishing just 6sec ahead of Zabelinskaya and 11sec ahead of Van Der Breggen. Canadian Tara Witten was 7th at 35sec.

With the road asepct of cycling at these games complete, we moved indoor for the track program. Six days of racing sure to thrill with high expectations on the British contingent. At the time of writing on Monday, August 15, we’re into the fifth day and thus far Great Britain are not letting themselves down. So far they have won gold in both the men’s and woman’s team pursuits, with world records to boot; gold in the men’s individual sprint via Jason Kenny; and gold in the men’s team sprint, including Kenny again. There have been silvers in both the Men’s and woman’s individual sprints for Callum Skinner (who also got a gold in that team sprint) and Becky James, with Katy Marchant of Team GB in bronze.

In on-going events, Mark Cavendish is well on his way to a medal in the men’s Omnium, and likewise Laura Trott is expected to medal in the woman’s Omnium. That will leave the Keiren and both Jason Kenny and Becky James will race respectively. Kenny with two goals to his name so far will look to add a third in these games and if he does he would level Chris Hoy for the most gold medals by a British athlete. At 28 years of age, Kenny would have two more Olympics in him before he even raced the age of Hoy at his last gold, so the potential is there, if the ambition continues to burn, to double his current haul.

Another highly decorated British athlete is, of course, Wiggins. He was one of just four in the team pursuit, but when it was required he made some mammoth pulls to either push the team to a new World record in the semi-finals, or to overhaul a flying Australian team in the final and push the record out further. Also in that team was Ed Clancy, who himself won his third goal (all in successive Olympics in this event), Steven Burke, with his second gold, and Owain Doull, with his first.

So far then, of the six medal events completed, the Great Britain team have won six of them with only Kristina Vogel of Germany (woman’s individual sprint) and China (woman’s team sprint) breaking their domination.

Thoughts then next time on how the track program finished up, as well as how things went in the mountain biking next weekend.

Rider of the week:

I know that we shouldn’t completely single out one rider from a pursuit team, but when it’s Bradley Wiggins who four years ago was winning the Tour de France and the time-trial won this year by Cancellara, and has since transformed himself back to a track rider and who put forth an epic pull in the later stages to ensure the GB team overcame the Australians to take what would be his fifth Olympic gold, as well as the World Record, I can’t not give it to him.

Advertisements

Strade Bianche was a race made for Cancellara to win

The Strade Bianche is a beautiful race. Long camera shots of rolling Italian hillsides show a peloton meandering its way through the Tuscan countryside with dust kicking up from the narrow gravel roads they traverse at a furious pace. It’s a single day classic, but not in the conventional sense with cobbles or Belgian bergs or Muurs, or history — it only began in 2007 — and it doesn’t have monumental status, though you can’t help but think with an extra 50km onto its distance and 50 years to breathe, it would be all but worthy. But it’s a race that is popular among the viewers and the riders who will hope to contest and win those conventional single day cobbled classics in the weeks ahead.

It comes with a magical finish up into the town of Siena, a punishing steep little climb that stretches the exhausting leg to breaking point after a day of little climbs. And today was no different. It’s the kind of race made for a man like Fabian Cancellara; powering along those dusty dirt roads and grinding up over those tight Tuscan hills. No wonder then that he has won it twice before in 2008 and 2012, and no wonder then that he won it again on Saturday. One on the short list that he would badly have wanted as part of his retirement tour of 2016. A shortlist that contains names like the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, another stage at the Tour de France, and even the World Championships.

Yes, it’s almost as though the events founders sat down in 2007 and decided to build a race for a young Fabian, something absolutely fitting to his talents that he could win a bunch of times. There must have been shock 9 years ago when Alexandr Kolobnev, and not Cancellara, won the first edition. Then again, back then Fabian had only one monument win to his name, his career as a single day great still to be carved out. Now, with retirement on the horizon and one last kick at the Monuments can lying in wait, he’s got a 33% win record at Strade Bianche. Indeed, the race organisors announced pre-race that should he win a third time they would name a dirt sector after him. His three fingered salute as he crossed the line only served as a reminder to them of their promise.

But this only tells the story of the result. Cancellara may have won in an epic final climb duel with reigning champion Zdenek Štybar, but it was a gripping race to even get to that point. An early break that had contained the Italian, Gianluca Brambilla, had been reeled in when Peter Sagan began to make noise on one of the later climbs of the day, yet Brambilla had been able to stay with that surge and soon the race had been broken into three clear groups.

At the front, the contenders: Sagan, Cancellara, Brambilla and his Etixx team-mate, Stybar; Behind, the pretenders: 10-12 men desperate to bring back a move that with every pedal stroke, was looking more and more like the winning one that they had missed; and finally, the rest: Everyone else who had been washed away, unable to hack the Sagan surge.

It seemed finely poised for Etixx, though we thought that at last years Omloop too when Ian Stannard looked dead in the water against three Etixx classic specialists. This time however they played their tactics right: Brambilla, the more exhausted of the two, went on the attack in the hope that one of Sagan or Cancellara would bring him back leaving the door open for a rested Stybar to make the winning move. The only problem was that Cancellara played his tactics right also. He recognised that Brambilla would tire quickly and so there wasn’t the need to pull Stybar across to him. He took his turn at the front but he kept it composed and he let Brambilla dangle. It was a supreme effort by the Italian, but it always seemed it would be in vain come the vicious final ramp up into Siena.

Brambilla lasted a fair while, into the final few hundred metres in fact, but when Cancellara and Stybar both kicked, his lead collapsed as Sagan too went out the back. The dueling pair of Cancellara and Stybar blew past the broken Italian and through the final corners shoulder to shoulder, all but touching. Cancellara got the right line as a man of his experience is apt to do and he got in front when it mattered, and on those narrow streets of Siena, Stybar stood no chance of getting past again as they swept down the final 50 metres to the line.

It was perfectly played by Cancellara in response to the Etixx tactic, perfectly timed to reel in Brambilla, and perfectly positioned to overpower Stybar and get position to win. A fitting win for a man headed out. Who knows what sector they will eventually decide to name after him though making it that final climb into Siena or even the final corner at the top of the climb, might be an idea instead!

Strade Bianche result:

1. Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory)

2. Zdenek Stybar (Etixx – Quick Step)

3. Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx – Quick Step)

4. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)

5. Petr Vakoc (Etixx – Quick Step)

6. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)

in 4h 39′ 35″

s.t.

@ 4″

@ 13″

@ 34″

@ 37″

Huge crash stops the race…Yellow jersey crashes, continues,thenabandons…Froome takes control

Stage 3: Anvers > Huy, 159.5km

As we’ve come to expect from this Tour route and its first week, it was another day of manic action and accidents in which time was won and lost on the iconic Mur de Huy, while further down the road a massive crash – so big that they stopped the race – resulted in two of the top three on GC, including the Yellow jersey of Fabian Cancellara, abandoning the Tour.

The stage was won by Joaquim Rodriguez, winner on this very climb at the 2012 Flèche Wallone, while it was Chris Froome, the only man able to come close to matching the surge of speed by Rodriguez and a man supposed to be spending this first week limiting his loses, who moved into the race lead.

Froome took the second place time bonus and finished far enough ahead of Tony Martin to take the Maillot Jaune by a single second. You might think it too early for Froome to want Yellow, especially with the cobbles coming tomorrow but it puts the Sky team car in first place behind the race on tomorrow’s crucial stage when mechanical luck can play a huge factor.

Froome put 18 seconds into Contador on this short-sharp climb to move 36 seconds ahead of the Spaniard and now has a buffer of 1’38” on Nibali and 1’56” on Quintana. Mechanicals or unlucky accidents aside, tomorrow should suit Nibali but he’ll need a huge day just to get back on terms with Froome and, as we’ve seen so far in the stages we thought Froome might find tough, there’s no reason to assume he will be bad on cobbles, especially if it stays dry. Quintana on the other hand can scarcely afford to lose anymore time in what’s turning into a tough first week for the Colombian.

Still, for all the couple of minutes of drama the Mur served up and the twist it added to the daily unraveling of the GC contenders — something it was designed to do when the organisors put it in, and did well — it was those huge crashes further down the road that stole the headlines.

They came back-to-back about 60km from the finish and used up every single member of the Tours medical staff, forcing race officials to stop those still standing in their tracks while clean up and treatment went on. There was a lot of confusion to begin with but in the end it was the right call to make and a brave one at that, but can you imagine the race continuing up the road to another accident and no medical personnel on hand?

The accident brought about the end of the Tour for Simon Gerrans (who must have been thinking of the stage win today), Tom Dumoulin (who must have been dreaming of snatching Yellow at the finish), along with Dmitrii Kozonchuk and William Bonnet on the road and, later in the day, Cancellara who was forced out with two broken vertebrae – a testament to character and toughness of cyclists that he rode those final 60km to the finish with that injury.

Watching Cancellara suffer his way to the finish and up that final climb in Huy not only reminded us how tough he is to ride those final 60km with that horrific injury but merely highlighted how quickly fortunes can change in cycling. One day he was making all the right moves and sprinting into Yellow; the next he was broken and out of the Tour without being able to properly defend his jersey.

But before we leave it behind and look towards more certain carnage tomorrow, spare a thought for Tony Martin, the most unlucky man not to have crashed. After missing out on Yellow by 3 seconds yesterday when Cancellara stole in to take the third place bonus seconds ahead of his team mate Mark Cavendish, he finished today 40 seconds behind Froome, but thanks once more to the spectre of bonus seconds Martin missed out on Yellow again, this time by a single second. Tomorrow will present him with another chance to gain his career first Yellow jersey and the cobbles could well suit a man with his power, but the likes of Van Avermaet (at 28 seconds) and Sagan (at 31 seconds) will have ideas of their own, if indeed the later is allowed off the chaperoning of Contador leash!

Result: Classement:
1. Rodriguez (KAT) in 3h26’54”

2. Froome (SKY) +s.t.

3. Vuillermoz (ALM) +4″

4. D. Martin (TCG) +5″

5. Gallopin (LTS) +8″

6. Van Garderen (BMC) +11″


7. Nibali (AST) +11″
9. Quintana (MOV) +s.t.
12. Contador (TCS) +18″
52. Pinot (FDJ) +1’33”

1. Froome (SKY) in 7h11’37”

2. T. Martin (OQS) +1″

3. Van Garderen (BMC) +13″

4. Gallopin (LTS) +26″

5. Van Avermaet (BMC) +28″

6. Sagan (TCS) +31″


8. Contador (TCS) +36″
13. Nibali (AST) +1’38”
17. Quintana (MOV) +1’56”
27. Pinot (FDJ) +2’58”

King of Spring: 23 March – 27 April

It lasts little more than a month, but the spring classics are a race of two halves. The first half is the cobbled classics that suit the power riders like Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan and Tom Boonen, as well as the Milan-San Remo to begin spring. The later half is the more hillier Ardennes classics that bring into play men like Alejandro Vanverde, Simon Gerrans and Michael Kwiatkowski. While Cancellara scored top ten finishes in four of the first five spring classics this season, Valverde took until the sixth race to get on the board. Meanwhile Cancellara failed to feature after Paris-Roubaix. Different horses for different courses.

But who was the best, or at least the most consistent over the spring classics? Out of interests sake I went about listing the eight classics and using the Formula One points system of 25 points for first down to 1 point for 10th to find a top ten overall. The eight classics scored were Milan-San Remo, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège and it was equal points for each race.

So below is the top ten best scorers over the eight spring classic races with their highlights in brackets and as you will see many of the names are predictable:

1. Niki Terpstra – 86 (1st Roubaix; 1st Dwars Door; 2nd E3)
2. Sep Vanmarcke – 76 (6x top 5s inc. 3rd Flanders; 4th Roubaix)
3. Alejandro Valverde – 70 (1st Flèche Wallonne; 2nd Liège; 3rd Strade)
4. Fabian Cancellara – 68 (1st Flanders; 2nd San Remo; 3rd Roubaix)
5. Peter Sagan – 67 (1st E3 Harelbeke; 2nd Strade; 3rd Gent-Wevelgem)
6. Michael Kwiatkowski – 65 (1st Strade; 3rd Flèche Wallonne; 3rd Liège)
7. Philippe Gilbert – 55 (1st Brabantse Pijl; 1st Amstel Gold)
8. John Dagenklob – 43 (1st Gent-Wevelgem; 2nd Roubaix)
9. Tom Boonen – 42 (1st Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne)
T10. Simon Gerrans – 40 (1st Liège–Bastogne–Liège; 3rd Amstel Gold)
T10. Tyler Farrar – 40 (2nd Dwars Door; 2nd Scheldeprijs)

Niki Terpstra it is then with his wins at Dwars Door Vlaanderen and Paris Rouabix, and his second place at E3 helping him along. He never raced in the hillier classics showing that his form in the cobbled classics was enough to keep him on top throughout despite a mighty showing in the Ardennes from Alejandro Valverde that took him up to third.

Only coming in 4th was Fabian Cancellara, though he would have finished higher if I had awarded more points for Monuments or kept it to World Tour classics only. What is staggering about Cancellara’s classic form, isn’t his consistency over the past two years but the fact that in the the last fourteen combined Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix since 2010, he has finished on the podium a staggering 12 times.

And just for interests sake, the last man to win a cobbled classic and an Ardenne classic in the same year, showing a wide range of ability, was Moreno Argentin in 1990 when he won the Tour of Flanders and La Fleche Wallonne in the one season. That alone shows just how defined the two halves of the spring classics season really are. And for what it’s worth, in 1995 Lauren Jalabert won the Milan-San Remo and Fleche Wallonne and later in 2000 Erik Zabel took Milan-San Remo and the Amstel Gold, but nobody since.

You have to go all the way back to 1984 to find the last man to win one of the monument cobble classics and the Ardennes’ Liège-Bastogne-Liège monument, and that was Irishman Sean Kelly when he took the Paris-Rouabix to go with Liège. Before him it was Merckx who done that three times (Flanders-Liège in ’69 and ’75 and Roubaix-Liège in ’73).

And while we’re on the subjct of Merckx; just to highlight his genius, consider this about that Cobbles classic/Ardennes classic double in the same year not last achieved since 1990: Merckx done it on five different occasions. (He also won a Grand Tour and Monument classic in the same year six times, and often multiples of each in the same year).

So is there anyone in the peloton today capable of winning a Cobble and Ardennes classic in the same year anytime soon? It’s hard to say. Perhaps Peter Sagan or Michael Kwiatkowski. Or Bradley Wiggins who having won the Tour in 2012 finished 10th in the first group behind the winner of the Paris-Roubaix and who looks set to once again focus on Paris-Roubaix next year.

An interesting little league table then and now spring is done and focus will turn towards the Grand Tour season and the sunshine of summer. I do love the diversity of the cycling season

In the race of ‘Vans’ over the ‘Bergs’ it was the ‘Can’ who spoiled the Belgians party, again

It was a Tour of Flanders for the ages. Action packed with cobbled climbs, attacks, suffering and an historic win for Fabian Cancellara who not only won the race on back-to-back years but tied the record for three wins in Belgium’s version of the World Cup final.

Second to Cancellara was BMC rider and Belgian, Greg Van Avermaet, and it was he who truly set the race alight in the closing stages over the toughest climbs. Van Avermaet went clear with 37 kilometres and several cobbled hills left and when he made his move he dragged Omega Pharma Quick Step domestique and outside bet, Stijn Vandenbergh with him.

Now, because Vandenbergh’s team leader Tom Boonen, along with team-mates Zednek Stybar and Niki Terpstra were in the every-shrinking-by-the-berg group behind, Vandenbergh was ordered not to assist Van Avermaet. The thinking was that he would burn himself out working, they would be reeled in and one of the other three would go on the attack.

But it looked to me as though it had the making of a winning move had Vandenbergh been allowed to work. Other moves had been made before from several riders hoping for it to be the decisive one, but this one looked to be sticking. Bringing them back into the fold only opened the door once more for the likes of Peter Sagan and Cancellara. Indeed, OPQS’s thinking was to let Sagan tire himself out chasing — one part of the tactic that appeared to work — but as the result would later show with Vandenbergh finishing forth and the best of his OPQS team, he should have been allowed to work with Van Avermaet.

That’s why for me Van Avermaet was the man of the day, despite Cancellara’s brilliantly timed ride to victory. He powered on the front with Vandenbergh glued to his wheel while the others tried to claw them back. Only once the small group behind were caught by the slightly larger group behind that — finally giving an isolated Sagan some team support — did the gap come drastically down.

Then, on the third and final run up the Oude Kwaremont, Cancellara put the hammer down in a style all his own and he blew the race apart. He dragged Sep Vanmarcke with him, just as he had done at last years Paris-Roubaix and they linked up with Vandenbergh who by this stage had been dropped by the impressive Van Avermaet.

I don’t know about anyone else but I was all but yelling at my dodgy online stream for Van Avermaet to hang on as the three behind chipped away at his lead. He deserved to after the move he made and the way in which he’d ridden it. It wasn’t to be though and soon the lead had become a group of four: The three ‘Van’s’ of Belgium and the Suisse ‘Can’. Behind Sagan was reeling. Dropped on that final climb his legs were showing the exhaustion of doing so much of the chasing and the race was slipping away up the road. A small group formed and tried to close the gap but by now it was too late.

They did get close and it allowed names like my pre-race pick to win, Niki Terpstra, and Milan-San Remo winner, Alexander Kristoff, to spring off the front, but not close enough. Indeed, the time gaps at the finish were only as close as they were because in the final 500 metres the quartet at the front almost came to a stand still as the game of cat and mouse began to see who would lead out the sprint. With little more than 200 metres left Cancellara kicked and Van Avermaet reacted.

On most days Van Avermaet would beat Cancellara in a sprint but after 259 kilometres and after all his previous efforts the Belgian couldn’t draw alongside the reigning champion, two time winner, set to become champion again and three time winner. Cancellara threw the arms up and took a glorious victory in what was a brilliant race.

Result:

1. Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory) in 6h 15’18

2. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)

3. Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin)

4. Stijn Vandenbergh (OPQS) all at s.t.

5. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) + 8″

6. Niki Terpstra (OPQS) + 18″

7. Tom Boonen (OPQS) + 35″

16. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) + 1’25”

Eight things to look forward to in 2014 as well as a few predictions

There is so much to look forward to in the upcoming 2014 professional cycling road season, as there is every year and if I asked a dozen people for things that they’re looking out for the most I’d no doubt get a dozen different answers, so take of this what you will. These are eight things that jump out at me as things worth watching for as the Grand Tours make their starts in the UK, as British cycling tries to continue its dominance, and as the World Hour record comes back to prominence. I’ll also lay down a few predictions; though don’t be running to your bookie with them. Predicting cycling results on the day of a race is hard enough never mind months in advance. One thing I can guarantee however is that the season will be full of good action, beautiful scenery, and a few records here or there.

Giro in Belfast; Tour in Yorkshire

It’s a rare treat for any Grand Tour to start in the UK, indeed only the Tour de France has done that before, but for two to do it in the one year is almost as rare as the idea that back-to-back British winners of the Tour de France might have seemed a few years ago. The last time a Grand Tour visited the island of Ireland was in 1998 when that years ill fated Tour de France arrived in Dublin. Remembered for the ‘Festina Affair’ that year the Giro organisors will be hoping for none of the same when their big event arrives on that island with the start in Belfast. It’s a huge occasion for a city like Belfast and it should look fantastic. Likewise with the Tour starting in Yorkshire. Mark Cavendish seen last year’s mass start on Corsica as a big chance to pull on the Yellow jersey by winning that first stage sprint, but it didn’t go to plan. And maybe for the best because what better way to pull on his first Yellow jersey than on home turf?

Back to Back for Froome?

Chris Froome will be the favorite for the 2014 Tour. He won it in style last year and so long as his preparation matches what he did twelve months before and he can avoid any injuries there’s nobody I can see beating him. It could be tougher this time however with Vincenzo Nibali returning to the race and the most likely opponent to cause the Kenyan born, South African educated, British license holding Froome some trouble. There’s no such thing as a foregone conclusion in the Tour, but Froome retaining his title is about as close as it comes to one.

Boonen back

In 2012 Tom Boonen was the King of the classics. He won Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem, but injuries derailed his defense of those in 2013 and he watched from the sidelines as Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan took up the dominance of the spring races. Fighting fit again Boonen will be out to recapture his crown and that only serves us well. Seeing him, Cancellara and Sagan, among others, go head to head this spring will make for fantastic viewing. My money is on each of them winning at least one of the spring classics.

The continued rise of Rui Costa

At 27 years of age, Rui Costa is coming into his prime years as a cyclist and there’s enough there to suggest that it could be prime years full of big race wins. Back in 2011 he showed his ability as a big time racer by winning a stage of that year’s Tour de France and in 2012 he took the overall at the Tour of Switzerland. He repeated there last year and added to that result with two stage wins in Le Tour on the difficult stages of 16 and 19 before winning the World Road Race Championships in conditions even worse than those that faced him in one of his two Tour stages. Some think he even has Grand Tour potential in him and after moving to Lampre this winter to become a team-leader in his own right we’ll truly see how far his talents can go. At the very least this will remain a man who should feature highly in the spring classics and again for stages in the Tour de France as he looks to retain that rainbow jersey at the end of the 2014 season.

Classic expectations for Sagan

No doubt about it, Peter Sagan had a superb season in 2013. Victories at the Gent-Wevelgem and the Cycliste de Montréal to go with multiple stage wins at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Tour of Alberta, Tour of California, Tour of Oman, Tour de Suisse and Tirreno-Adriatico, not to mention his Green jersey victory at the Tour de France, highlighted that. But to some there was too many second places at the classics and therefore too many missed opportunities. He was second at Milan-San Remo when those around him out foxed him and then he was beaten into second by his new spring-rival, Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders. It’s hard to imagine pressure being on Sagan to do even better than in 2013 and remember he’s still only 23 (24 later this month), but then, that age is a reason why we could well see better from him in 2014 and if he’s to truely prove to the world that he is going to be one of the greats then he might well need a win or two in one of the Monument classics this year.

The breakout of Michal Kwiatkowski

Michal Kwiatkowski broke through into the big time last season and he’ll be looking to show the world that Sagan isn’t the only young talent capable of big wins and 2014 will be a year for him to prove it. And unlike Sagan, Kwiatkoswki appears to have the ability to climb in the higher mountains and compete at the sharp end of Grand Tours as well as time-trial and sprint. He didn’t have any big victories to his name last year but he was in the mix at a number of races and finished 11th overall at the Tour de France holding the White jersey for best young rider between stages 2-7 and 11-14 before falling short of phenom climbing sensation Nairo Quintana. And it was in the Tour that his talents truly began to shine. He was right near the front on several early race sprint stages, he was 5th and 7th in the respective individual time trials and never far off the pace in the high mountains fading only towards the final days of the Tour. He’ll be one to watch in 2014.

What will Wiggins do?

Sir Bradley Wiggins had the world at his feet as the 2012 season came to an end. He had won the Tour becoming the first British cyclist to do so and then he won a Gold Medal in the individual time-trial at the London Olympics. It was a supreme season and many wondered how he could top it. Well … he couldn’t. An off season rift with Chris Froome over the leadership of the team boiled over into the early season with both of them racing apart. Wiggins went to the Giro d’Italia for his Tour prep, but as we all know in this day and age if you try to win the Giro you probably aren’t going to then win the Tour and Wiggins was out to try and win the Giro. But he couldn’t do that either. A sudden fear of descending struck him followed soon after by an illness and before the racing had even got serious, he was gone. An injury followed and Wiggins was ruled out of even competing in the Tour leaving his season in tatters. He won the Tour of Britain but aside from that and the Worlds, in which he also failed to finish, little has been seen of him. Has he finally succumbed to working for Froome at the 2014 Tour as some have suggested, or is he out for one last throw of the dice? A penultimate stage time-trial at the Tour might allow for it, but chances are Wiggins will help where he can in the Tour before turning his attention back towards the track. I’d love to see him take a run at a spring classic, but who knows. And therein lays one of the great mysteries of the upcoming season: What will Wiggins do?

Cancellara world hour

This one has me the most excited of all. The World Hour is a special record in cycling history, though the way so few have tried to break it of late you would be forgiven for thinking the cyclists themselves didn’t think so. Then again, that is a tribute to its difficulty that so few have felt able to go for it. But that looks set to change this year as big Fabian Cancellara gets set to take a run at the record. Currently held by the relatively unknown, Ondrej Sosenka (49.7 km), if anyone can beat it, it’s probably Fabian. Prior to Sosenka taking it in 2005 it was held by Chris Boardman who had taken it under conventional methods (standard bike as used by Eddy Merckx when he set a record in 1972 (49.431 km) that stood for 28 years) in 2000. Before that Boardman had got into a head-to-head with Graeme Obree on superman like bikes that seen the top names of the era — Miguel Indurain and Tony Rominger — all come out to have a crack at it. Cancellara taking on the record might well perk up the interests of another time-trial specialist, Tony Martin and don’t forever rule out someone like Wiggins having a try. And with that the World Hour rivalry might yet be born again.

Predictions

Milan-San Remo (23 March): Peter Sagan
Tour of Flanders (6 April): Tom Boonen
Paris-Roubaix (13 April): Peter Sagan
Liège–Bastogne–Liège (27 April): Rui Costa
Giro d’Italia (9 May – 1 June): Nairo Quintana
Tour de France (5-27 July): Chris Froome
Vuelta a Espana (23 August – 14 September): Alberto Contador
Giro di Lombardia (5 October): Philippe Gilbert
World Road Championships, Ponferrada, Spain (28 September): Peter Sagan

2013 season in review: The year of first times and speculating wattages

2013 was the year that Nelson Mandella and Margaret Thatcher died, a Royal baby was born, a Pope resigned, Typhoon Haiyan devistated the Philappines, the Syrian chemical attack and the Boston marathon bombings. But it was also the year that Fabian Cancellara did the Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double, that Daryl Impey became the first African born rider to wear the Yellow jersey and Chris Froome the first African born rider to win the Tour de France, that Vincenzo Nibali rode through the snow at Tre Cime di Lavaredo to cement his first Giro d’Italia victory, that Chris Horner became the first cyclist over 40 to win a Grand Tour, that Portugal got its first World Road Race Champion in the guise of Rui Costa, and that Peter Sagan became the first rider to win virtually every other race on the calender … or so its sometimes seemed.

The year in review

The year began not at a race, but on the sofa of Oprah Winfrey’s television show. Lance Armstrong sat before us and confessed to what we had known for some time, that yes, he had taken drugs throughout his career and that yes, he was sorry he got caught. All of that madness fueled old media and social media alike for weeks on end as bad press of cycling’s days of yore were heaped upon the sport once again and fans were left crying out for the start of some actual racing and the chance to put the over-abused subject of doping in the sport on the back burner for a while.

Some couldn’t let it go, of course, but for the rest of us that welcomed the sight of a race, one arrived later in January with the Tour Down Under in Australia in which the little known Tom-Jelte Slagter prevailed. At Paris-Nice and Tirreno–Adriatico, Richie Porte and Vincenzo Nibali triumphed respectively before the Spring Classics finally reached us. Cycling was back.

Billed as the battle between Cancellara and Sagan, it was the Swissman who won by taking two Monument victories at Flanders and Roubaix to Sagan’s none. Sagan was consistent however, finishing second at Milan-San Remo behind Gerald Ciolek, second to Cancellara at Flanders, and winning the non-Monument classic, Gent-Wevelgem. The other Monument classic won in the Spring was that of the Liège–Bastogne–Liège by Ireland’s Dan Martin. He became the first Irish winner of a Monument since Sean Kelly at the Milan-San Remo in 1992.

As spring progressed and summer began to roll in, the attention turned to the Grand Tours … though try telling the competitors at this years Giro that they rode in conditions comparable to spring or summer when one stage was snowed out and several others seen horrendous conditions. Chris Froome stayed away, preparing for the Tour de France by winning Romandie and the Dauphiné, leaving it to Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali to win on home turf ahead of Rigoberto Urán and Cadel Evans. This Giro win was the high point in what was a superb year for Nibali who on top of winning his home Tour, took a second place at the Vuelta and came forth at the World Championships despite crashing late on in the race. Nibali left many of us wondering what might have been had he targeted the Tour and gone head-to-head with Froome. It’s something we might get to see in 2014.

As a result July belonged to Froome. He came in as a joint favourite for the Tour de France with Alberto Contador but left everyone in his wake the moment the race went uphill. The Tour, celebrating it’s 100th edition, visited the island of Corsica for the first time for the opening three stages and the first week belonged to the Australian Orica GreenEdge team. They got their bus stuck under the finish line of stage 1, seen Simon Gerrans win stage 3 and pull on the yellow jersey, collectively won the team-time-trial in Nice on stage 4, then had Gerrans pass the jersey over to team-mate Darryl Impey on stage 6 as he, not the favored Chris Froome, became the first African born rider to pull on the maillot jaune, beating Froome to the achievement by two days.

Once Froome did pull it on he didn’t take it off, dominating the mountains and winning the first time-trial for three stage wins in total to take his first Tour de France victory. Peter Sagan’s all-round ability seen him win the green jersey at a canter, while new climbing sensation and potential future Tour winner, Nairo Quintana took the king of the mountains. Another surprise in this years tour was the sprinter of the tour: Marcel Kittel. The German knocked Cavendish off his perch by winning four stages to Cav’s two.

The next Grand Tour was the Vuelta and if the Tour de France had some historic moments, then we hadn’t seen anything yet. Prior to this race the oldest man to win a Grand Tour was Fermin Lambot at age 36 some 91 years ago. Cadel Evans had won the Tour de France in 2011 aged 34, but his recent drop off in form had been put down to his age, something that tends to bite all professional cyclists in their mid-30’s. Not so Chris Horner who at one month shy of his 42nd birthday turned up in Spain and won the Vuelta, beating Nibali into second. Now it could be argued that Nibali was tired after his Giro win, but what Horner did was remarkable. In any other sport this effort would be universally celebrated and lauded, but cycling fans often tend to be a cynical lot and it left many suspicious over the achievement. Still, in winning a Grand Tour aged almost 42, Chris Horner showed me that just as I thought my best days had gone before me, I suddenly still had a good ten years left yet.

With the Grand Tours won and done the professionals attention turned either to their winter break or to the World Championships to be held in Florence, Italy towards the end of September. In preparation for what was billed as a tough course, a number of contenders showed up in Québec and Montréal to prepare. Montréal especially had a resemblance to the course in Florence, with a short but tough climb on the short circuit. I siezed the opportunity of such a high ranking professional race coming so close to home and took the train from Toronto up to Montréal to watch. Robert Gesink had won in Québec on the Friday, leaving it to Sagan to put on a show of strength on the Sunday. The Slovakian attacked with 5 kilometres to go from a group of big-name riders to win solo in Montréal setting himself up as a favorite for the World Championships.

A week later the faces of the sport arrived in Florence for those World Championships. The Omega Pharma Quickstep lads won the World team-time-trial title and, as expected, Tony Martin won the individual time-trial, beating Bradley Wiggins and Cancellara into second and third respectively. In the men’s road race, Sagan didn’t feature after all. The climb on the course proved a bit too much and in atrocious conditions it was Portuguese talent, Rui Costa who emerged from a final select group of himself, Nibali, Alejandro Valverde and Joaqium Rodriguez to take his countries first World road title.

The final major race of the year and the final Monument of the year was the Giro di Lombardia and it was Joaqium Rodriguez who fittingly took the win. Rodriguez, feeling let down by his countryman Valverde, had come second in the Worlds a few weeks before but exacted revenge by beating Valverde into second at Lombardia. The result confirmed him as the World number one ranked cyclist for 2013.

On a more grim side, 2013 was also the year of speculating wattages.

It started early and it started fast and it continued relentlessly throughout the 2013 season. What watts is so-and-so — usually Chris Froome — putting out on such-and-such a climb? Is it worse than Lance Armstrong in his pomp? Is it within the threshold of normal? Normal being what a professional could put out without the need for drugs, but still beyond the normal for you and I. Nobody really knew for sure but a fair few began to speculate and so a wave of wattage began to grow and grow, sucking more and more onto it until it swept over the 2013 cycling season, threatening to take away the enjoyment many are supposed to be experiencing when watching a bicycle race.

Now don’t get me wrong. Wattage has its place in cycling … it helped Sir Bradley of Wiggins win his first and only Tour de France. It is the power output of a cyclist through their pedals at any given time … divided by the riders weight in kilograms, you are left with a figure that determines a riders watts-per-kilogram. The one with the highest number over a stretch of road — often fantasised about on climbs — is the one who goes the fastest. It’s a new(ish) technology, an expensive technology, and one that is in widespread use on the computers of cyclists throughout the professional peloton. If you know your maximum wattage at your present weight you know when you’re at your limit and how best to judge a ride. It goes against the purists dream of riding by feel, but technology is a fact of life in the 21st century.

What we found in the year that was 2013 however was that the guessing game of these figures has went beyond what is fact on the riders computer into what is fiction among speculating fans.

Without access to the UCI’s biological passport, without access to the data on a riders computer, and without access to the results of anti-doping samples, some fans found that this might be their best window into the likelihood of drug use still in the peloton and a few ‘experts’ were happy to feed their need to know.

The whole thing kicked into high gear at this years Tour de France when Chris Froome raced away from his rivals to win in spectacular fashion. Keyboards were mashed from basements across the globe and figures produced and often figures that led some so believe Froome was not winning clean. someone would start their stop watch at an arbitrary point on a climb and stop it at the top then use that time along with the distance and the weight of the rider to formulate a watts per kilogram number. These varied wildly at times and normally came to the fore on the days in which Froome did well or his number was high. His time up the climb was then compared against the likes of Lance Armstrong on the same climb years before by watching video for Armstrong to pass the same reference points.

It sounded good in hindsight, but it doesn’t really work. The timing charts were interesting as a rough guide, but were shown to have a decent degree of inaccuracy by others who felt it impossible to measure the exact starting point the same for every rider what with cameras often cutting away at different times.

The home-made calculations of wattage as any kind of reference was even more inaccurate:

Simply taking a riders speed up a climb and factoring that against his weight was ridiculous. Elements such as the following were not factored in: Wind direction, wind speed, humidity, temperature, road conditions, bike equipment, was the stage early in the tour or later in the tour, did it follow several hard days or several easy days or a rest day, did the climb in question come after a bunch of other climbs or a relatively flat climb, was the pace leading onto that climb high due to attacks or steady due to everyone waiting for that climb, was the GC battle tight putting more pressure on the Yellow jersey to push it on that climb, was a rival up the road forcing the race from the lower slopes, or did the attacks come later making the lower slopes that more steady?

All those elements would have to be factored in and until they were (impossible unless the data came straight off the riders computer), then common sense would suggest you take these numbers with a silo-sized grain of salt.

When such arguments were put forth, the attention turned to pressuring the teams, namely Sky, to release the power data of their riders, namely Froome. The issue with this is that releasing it to the public would also release it to the rest of the peloton. If a rival of Froomes new definitively what his watts per kilo output was he would know what the standard required was to drop Froome. He would know when Froome was riding beyond himself at a pace he could not sustain and adjust his own effort accordingly. You would never see a Formula One team release their telemetry data to the public, and thus their rival teams, so why on earth would we expect Froome and Sky to do the same? To appease the doubters simply isn’t reason enough.

Common sense could not prevail in the war against wattage speculation however and it continued throughout the year. Thankfully it didn’t overshadow and nor will it be what the season is remembered for. But it was still there, lurking in the corner of the season, desperate to receive credence among the every day fan. And it will be back again next year with a vengeance. We may be shifting into a cleaner era of cycling but with it comes a natural doubt. People desperate for the new era to be real, others desperate for the drug scandals to continue. The likes of Froome can thank their predecessors for that in part but a point has to come when you let the cyclists do the entertaining, let the testers do the catching, and let yourself do the enjoying.

For some that point has yet to arrive and so don’t expect the watt calculators to go away anytime soon.

Awards & Gongs

The Cycle Seen’s cyclist of the year: VINCENZO NIBALI

Many would jump for Chris Froome on this given the manor of his Tour de France victory but for me, over the course of the season, it was Nibali. He was brilliant at the Giro in, at times, terrible conditions where he won on home soil for the first time to take his second career Grand Tour. He understandably skipped the Tour, but showed up at the Vuelta where he wore the red jersey on three occasions before running out of steam late in the third week, finishing 2nd overall. At the World Championships in Florence he overcame a late crash in awful conditions to fight back and finish 4th in a race that no British or Irish riders managed to finish. His targets for 2014 are unknown as of yet but on his game he looks the only one capable of really challenging Chris Froome in France. Here’s hoping we get such a showdown.

Runners up: Chris Froome, Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellara, Rui Costa.

Past winners 2011: Philippe Gilbert; 2012: Sir Bradley Wiggins.

Other prizes

Sprinter: MARCEL KITTEL (Dethroned Cav at Le Tour)
Climber: CHRIS FROOME (Untouched when it mattered)
Time-trialist TONY MARTIN (Untouched at any time)
Classics rider: FABIAN CANCELLARA (Flanders/Roubaix double; enough said!)
Team: ORICA GREEN EDGE (For that first week of the Tour alone!)
Young rider: NAIRO QUINTANA (2nd at the Tour and won the KOM)
Hard man: GERAINT THOMAS (Rode the Tour with a broken Pelvis)
Domistique: ADAM HANSEN (Completed all 3 Grand Tours; won stage of the Giro)
Book: ‘DOMESTIQUE’ BY CHARLY WEGELIUS (A good, non-drugs, cycling story)
Best cyclist on Twitter: JENS VOIGT (Insight on and off the bike)
Best non-cyclist on Twitter: UK CYCLING EXPERT (Serious humour)

Moment of the year

VINCENZO NIBALI WINNING ON TRE CIME DI LAVAREDO

The conditions were awful, it was the penultimate stage, the Queen stage, set to finish on top of one of the most iconic climbs in the sport, the day before had been cancelled due to the weather, it was snowing … loads, Nibali was already in pink and looked good to win the Giro, yet he had something still to prove having won his only stage of the Giro against the clock two days before. In the falling snow and thick clouds on Tre Cime Di Lavaredo, Nibali turned on the style. He attacked hard on the hardest part of the climb and nobody could react. He rode away from his rivals and as he approached the finish the camera caught a glimmer of pink followed by the appearance of a man on the bike. The full image only came into full focus as he hit the line, arm in the air, Giro champion, in the pink leaders jersey, an Italian winner, alone, on this epic mountain.