Tag Archives: Rafal Majka

Climbing off the fence: Tour predictions

Alright, it is time to slide right off the fence now and begin some hard and bold predictions. Below are my picks for the top five on GC as well as the respective jersey winners.

Disclaimer: Do not bet on this, not if you value your money. Take it with a shaker full of salt.

TOP 5 IN PARIS (assuming they all make it to Paris, which of course some won’t, but I don’t have it in me to select who might crash out or fall ill!):

1. Chris Froome.  Froome often arrives at Tours in great form, gains his time early and then survives to the end. This year though he’s been short on high form but might instead arrive fresh, looking to ride into form. Stage five aside, this Tour seems to suit that approach and might explain why Froome hasn’t looked his usual self. Froome has three Tour wins to his name and that will matter. Last year showed he can be unpredictable by attacking in cross-winds and descents. And if things don’t go as planned, he has an ability to stay calm, regroup, measure his efforts and find a way to get back into a stage or the race. There is nobody more prepared than Chris Froome. He’ll know what he has to do to win and when it comes down to it, he will do enough.

2. Nairo Quintana.  More than ever Quintana will be a challenge for Froome. Yes the Colombian rode the Giro, but I’m not sure he did at “full gas”, as riders like to say so often these days. The problem for Nairo is the lack of hard summit finishes. He needs to limit his loses in the prologue and then do something on stage five. He’ll also need to use his team to try and ambush Froome on one of the rolling stages much like they done at last years Vuelta. Someone like Alejandro Valverde will be crucial for this, though how big are his own ambitions? The final time-trial will count against him too, even with the little climb in the middle, but only with regards to Froome. When it boils down to it, Quintana will still be the second best man in this race.

3. Romain Bardet. Results of 15th, 6th, 9th and 2nd would suggest that Bardet’s career is trending upward. At 26 now he is coming into his best years and is no longer a prospect for the future. I still think Froome and Quintana remain a level above, though I would love to wrong about that. It has been so long since a French win at the Tour that everyone would now love to see it happen. Thibaut Pinot is another who could break the drought but he rode hard at the Giro and won’t have the legs of his compatriot. Bardet is an opportunist who rides on instinct. That should help him steal time somewhere, including a stage win and be enough to vault him back onto the podium, albit a step down on last year. Fitting though given he took a slight step back the year after he finished 6th. What he will hope though is that this will force him on to win it in 2018.

4. Alberto Contador. The old dog ain’t what he used to be. In recent years Contador has turned to alternative tactics to try and win Grand Tours. Ambushing his rivals with attacks when they least expect it, often a long way from the finish. This route looks tailor made for that kind of racing and so Contador at the very least will ignite the race. The likes of Sky and Movistar look too strong to let him get away with it though. He’ll also be hoping and watching for cross-winds in the early stage with which to grab time to try and maintain in the mountains. He’s still very much capable but it is worth remembering his last Grand Tour win was the 2015 Giro. It has been eight years (seven if you asked him) since he last won the Tour.

5. Richie Porte. The Australian has had a very sold season thus far, but we’re only able to measure him by his results in one week races. The three week Grand Tours are a different animals and throughout his career he has always come up quite short. Sometimes through bad luck, at other times through a bad day, but often because he was riding for Froome. Free at last in 2016 he lost time early due to a mechanical and could never get back on terms. He rode well and finished fifth and I expect much the same this year. I’m not sure whether it will be a mechanical or legs, but one stage at least will catch him out.

Rest of the top 10: Fabio Aru, Jakob Fuglsang, Bauke Mollema, Simon Yates, Alejandro Valverde.

GREEN JERSEY: Peter Sagan. This doesn’t need any explanation. There are about 11 stages that suit him to win this year, though it is more likely he comes in around 3-4 stage wins. That won’t matter though, it’s his ability to pick up points at various points on rolling or mountain stages that will make the difference. The other sprinters cannot do this. The only other rider who might push him close is Michael Matthews. The Australian is a similar style of rider to Sagan, but in my view still a level below.

MOUNTAIN JERSEY: Rafal Majka. He has won it twice in the last three years. A team-mate of Peter Sagan, his Bora team will no doubt let him loose to chase stages and grab climbing points. It would be a fine Tour for them should both Majka and Sagan bring home the green and polka-dot jerseys. His biggest threat might come from a pair of Frenchmen in Thibaut Pinot and Pierre Rolland. Neither have designs or desires on the GC and both will be looking for stage wins. If that leads them to being in the mix for the mountains classification, both may give it a run. I always felt someone like Rolland could go the Richard Virenque route when it came to targeting this jersey, much as Sagan does the green. He’s never won up to now though, but now seems like a good time to start. Still, as a previous winner, I expect Majka to want it that little bit more from the beginning.

WHITE JERSEY: Simon Yates. His biggest challenger here will be Louis Meintjes. The young South African cracked the top 10 last year and will be desperate to do so again. He didn’t win white though, instead losing it to Adam Yates. This time it will be the other Yates twin who gets in his way. A top ten finish on GC might be enough to secure this jersey this time out. Last year Adam Yates finished 4th overall, and while Simon would love to match this, he may have to settle for taking the polka-dot jersey.

TEAM CLASSIFICATION: Movistar. Top to bottom Team Sky are stronger that Movistar. The difference is that with so much emphasis on helping Froome, others will sacrifice any GC ambitions and thus hurt their standing here. You could say the same about Movistar riders aiding Quintana, but Valverde is still a sure bet for a top ten finish.

SUPER-COMBAVITITY AWARD: Thomas De Gendt. This one is a bit of a shot in the dark. It will all come down to who feels good to get in a lot of breaks and show aggression. There’s one of about 150 this could be. Peter Sagan won it last year and will be a huge favourite again this time. He’ll get in plenty of breaks, he should win a hanful of stages and he’ll ignite the race. But then there is De Gendt. He often spends more time in breaks than anyone else, many felt he deserved to win it last year. Disappointed that he didn’t, he will be out to make amends in this Tour, I reckon.


Two Olympic road races blighted by crashes but thrillers nonetheless in Rio

If the two road races in Rio were not a good advertisement for road cycling to the world, then I don’t know what is. Especially the men’s race which many are calling the race of the season; a race expected to be contested by the climbers but which was won by a man of the cobbles in Greg Van Avermaet. The woman’s race ended in dramatic fashion itself when American Mara Abbott was caught within metres of the line by a group of three from which Anna Van Der Breggen of the Netherlands took the gold medal.

It was a brutal course that incorporated its own sectors of cobbles but also some savage hills but because of what was at stake as well as the reduced team sizes and a ban on race radios, the action came thick and fast and it was hard for the climbing type to control it. UCI, World Tour, Tour de France etc., take note! They didn’t know when to react and when to let a move go and come the finish I was left wondering whether Peter Sagan might have regretted his decision to skip it?

But Sagan or not, perhaps nobody was beating Van Avermaet on a day like this. He could soak up the cobble sections, conserve on some of the earlier climbs and then get in moves that other climbers might not have been given the freedom for.

That said there was a little bit of luck too, but you make your own luck and you have to be in a position to capatilise when the opportunity arises. For a short time near the end it looked as though Vincenzo Nibali might win out in a race he had been targeting since the Giro, but on a tricky descent near the finish as he tried to split up his lead group, he crashed along with fellow escapee Sergio Henao, leaving Rafal Majka on his own to try and hold off a chasing pack. It looked like the perfect opportunity for Poland to seel a superb days racing that had seen Michal Kwiatkowski go up the road for the majority of the day, giving Majka the chance to rest while the rest led the chase. Majka couldn’t hang on however and was swept up on the road back into Rio by Van Avermaet and Jakob Fuglsang of Denmark leaving Van Avermaet as the strongest in a sprint along the Copa Cabana. Fuglsang settled for silver while Majka still took bronze.

The woman’s race had a similar finish, yet even more dramatic. The pair of Abbott and Annemiek Van Vleuten crested the final climb together and when Van Vleuten accelerated on that tricky descent, made more so by falling rain, it looked like the move to win. That was until a horrific crash seen her flip over her bars and onto a curb, knocking herself unconscious. She would be rushed to hospital with three small fractures to her spine, but would ultimately be ok. The upshot to the race itself was that Abbott was now on her own with a chasing group of three behind, so someone would miss a medal. For a while it looked like the American might hold them off, right into the final 500m in fact, when she finally blew and got swept up with 200m left. Chasing her down had been Elisa Longo Borghini of Italy, who must have realised she was the weakest of the three in the sprint and so by not pushing after Abbott would have missed a medal entirely. As it was her chase got her onto the podium for bronze as Van Der Breggen took the gold medal for the Netherlands ahead of Emma Johannsson of Sweden.

Missing from all this is, of course, Lizzie Armistead. She finished 5th, but her head was clearly not in the race. It’s been a turbulent few weeks for the reigning world champion when it emerged she had missed three random doping tests that would normally result in a ban, but had one of them struck off in an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) because the tester had not been able to reach her in her hotel room when the hotel refused to give the tester her room number. It seemed fair enough but the fact that she had even gotten to two missed tests was a worry.

Naturally it put her under a lot of heat, within the press, on social media and even amongst some of her fellow competitors. Armistead later released a letter explaining her position on the matter and it did seem to clear things up a little but there is no doubt going forward she will need to be far more cautious and certainly better with his administration. There is also no doubt that it had an affect on her mental state. She denied this after the race and said that once on the bike it wasn’t in her head, and while this is true there is no doubt the whole saga had an affect on her preparation…so much so that in itself it might have been the 20sec difference that she found herself away from a gold medal come the finish.

Next up will come the individual time-trials were certain riders like Chris Froome who must have fancied his chances in this race only to miss one of the decisive moves, will look to redeem himself and repeat what Bradley Wiggins achieved in 2012 when he added the Olympic time-trial to his Tour de France victory. Speaking of Wiggins, a little later in the week the track cycling begins and Wiggins will look to bookend his fabulous career with another gold in the velodrome.

Rider of the week:

Danny Van Poppel won two stages of the Vuelta a Burgos while Alberto Contador took the overall win, and Lachlan Morton won two stages and the overall classification of the Tour of Utah, but how can you not go for Greg Van Avermaet for completely upsetting the odds and spoiling a course supposed to be built for climbers by winning Olympic gold for Belgium?

Le Tour review: Overall standings…alternative standings…predictions review…team of the Tour

Here is a look across all the various final standings of the 2016 Tour de France with a little word on each. From the overall classification to the best French riders and from a review of my questionable pre-Tour predictions to my overall team of the Tour of which there can be no debate! First up though, the yellow jersey…

Continue reading Le Tour review: Overall standings…alternative standings…predictions review…team of the Tour

Majka to the Tinkoff-Saxo rescue once again

Stage 11: Pau > Cauterets, 188km

I wonder what was going through the head of Dan Martin as he realised that the most recent move to go off the front of the peloton was looking like the winning one. He had clearly targed this stage when he coasted in 11’34” behind the Yellow jersey of Chris Froome the day before, but now it looked like he’d missed the move.

Many a rider would have accepted such defeat and waited for another day, but not Martin. He ju,ped out of the peloton and charged up the Col d’Aspin after them. He had more than two minutes to make up but 3 kilometres from the summit, he had caught them. A fantastic chase and he was back in with a shout for the stage he wanted along with six other protagonists.

They stayed together on the descent but it was always the out of category rated Col du Tourmalet that would break the group apart and leaving a smaller selection to decide the race the final climb to Cauterets, a third category climb.

Martin was celarly tired from his chase however, and hadn’t fully recovered on the descent of the Aspin and the most noted climber in the group, Rafal Majka – two time stage winner in 2014 and winner of the King of the Mountains competition – senced his opportunity to help with his second annual rescue bid of the Tinkoff-Saxo Tour now that it seemed Contador’s bid to win it was fading. With 7km to go to the top he forced the issue and nobody could react. They could only hope he had gone too soon.

It was Majka then who crossed the highest peak of the Pyrenees to win the Jacques Goddet prize and €5000 thank you very much. And it was clearly starting to look like the winning move for he had put 1’45” into the chasing Serge Pauwels with Dan Martin struggling at 2’05”.

Behind things were gradually heating up in the peloton with Astana forcing the issue and the bunch quickly reduced to just 15 men. It was clear however that anyone willing to put Froome into any kind of trouble would need to go on the Tourmalet rather than the Cote de Cauterets, but none seemed willing or able and they went over together 5’40” behind Majka and led by the Yellow jersey of Froome.

With the peloton looking like a non-factor on the stage, Majka charged down the Tourmalet and though he lost some time to the men behind he still carried a minutes lead over Pauwels onto the final run up to the finish.

By now though, Martin was starting to come around. Recoving from his earlier effort to get across to the now fractured group, he looked the freshest of the lot. He caught and passed Pauwels with 5km to go and went after Majka, but the Pole was far from slowing and distance to the line was running out. Majka stayed away and took his third career Tour de France win. This time last year he lost a lot of time in the early part of the Tour allowing him to make such moves and was given the freedom to do so once Contador crashed out. Contador is still in the race, but clearly his team realise that stage wins are now more likely than GC glory and so Majka is once again off the leash. Once more he’s lost enough time in the early stages to allow him such freedom from the contenders and once more the rest don’t seem able to beat him.

Whether this now triggers his bid for the King of the Mountains competition remains to be seen, but you have to think that like last year, he now fancies his chances and you also wouldn’t put it past him to win another stage.

Dan Martin had to settle for second in the end coming in a minute behind Majka. The Yellow jersey sprinted in 9th with his main rivals behind him bar Alejandro Valverde who had snatched two seconds on the line.

Result: Classement:
1. Majka (TCS) in 5h 2′ 01″

2. D. Martin (TCG) +1′ 00″

3. Buchmann (BOA) + 1’23”

8. Valverde (MOV) +5′ 19″
9. Froome (SKY) +5′ 21″
10. Contador (TCS)
11. Quintana (MOV)
13, Van Garderen (BMC) all s.t.
23. Nibali (AST) +6′ 11″

1. Froome (SKY) in 41h 3′ 31″

2. Van Garderen (BMC) +2′ 52″

3. Quintana (MOV) +3′ 09″

4. Valverde (MOV) +3’59”

5. Thomas (SKY) +4′ 03″

6. Contador (TSC) +4′ 04″

Polka-Dot jersey wins in the high mountains

Stage 17: Saint-Gaudens to Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d’Adet 124.5km. High Mountains.

A Tour de France is always that little bit better when the Polka-Dot jersey wins a stage in the high mountains. I’ve memories of seeing Claudio Chiappucci and Richard Virenque doing it years ago and in recent years, Thomas Voeckler, so it was nice today to see Rafal Majka get clear of what was left over from the days early break to make it happen again. And how he needed his second stage win of this years Tour because for a while it looked as though Joaquim Rodriguez might take the jersey off his shoulders having took enough points to lead the competition on the road going onto the final climb.

The days break…or should I say, second break after the one that went before the climbing started was caught on the first climb thanks to a ferocious pace being set by the bunch right from the gun on a stage that only measured 124.5km in length but which had three category one and one Hors Category climb in which to crest.

It was virtually impossible to keep track of everything going on as they continued over each climb. Different riders would attack, some would then be caught, others would attack and the large group that once contained 22 riders including Pierre Rolland, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Frank Schleck, Jakob Fuglsang, Bauke Mollema, Nicolas Roche, Joaquim Rodriguez, Rafal Majka and Vasil Kiryienka, was soon scattered all across the Pyrenees.

It was the later, Kiryienka who made his bid for glory, like yesterday, attempting to be the man to salvage something from this nightmare Tour for Team Sky, but the attempt came to nothing when he was later picked up by a charging Rodriguez and Majka, desperate for King of the Mountains points. Attacks continued but all eyes were by now on the men behind as Bardet made an attempt to get rid of Pinot on the final descent of the day. He gained about 30 seconds on the yellow jersey group but was swept up onto the final climb to the Pla d’Adet.

It was on this climb that Rafal Majka made his move. One of the remnants of the days break, he had managed to reel in efforts by Nicolas Roche and Giovanni Visconti and was soon riding solo to the finish once again. With a second place on stage 13 and a win on stage 14 already in the bag, Majka was sealing the Polka-Dot jersey and handing Tinkoff-Saxo their third individual stage victory of the Tour and second in as many days after Michael Rogers had won yesterday. Majka was only a last minute call-up to the team to replace Roman Kreuziger, and had been reluctant to go having had a big Giro back in May. It was evident early he wasn’t there to contend as he lost a lot of time on the early stages but it was that time loss that perhaps secured him the freedom to go up the road as often as he has in the high mountains.

Behind the yellow jersey group was shrinking, but the main five protagonists as it has now become…or four if you discard Nibali from them as the shoe in winner come Paris. Valverde, Pinot, Peraud and Bardet, each watching the other with half an eye on Nibali. And it was Nibali who struck first. Only Peraud could follow and the rest once again went into loss limiting mode. Their biggest worry was Peraud who in recent days has looked the strongest of the three Frenchmen to perhaps grab a podium place behind Nibali and Valverde.

And that is assuming Valverde retains his second place. The Spaniard lost contact to Bardet and Pinot at one point though did come back strong in the final kilometre to pass them both and gain five seconds. But five seconds gained to them was 49 seconds lost to Peraud who finished on the wheel of the yellow jersey.

There was no change to the positioning of the top five overall, but Peraud pulled within 8 seconds of Pinot for that final podium placing and is now just 42 seconds from Valverde.

Valverde will have to do something on tomorrow’s final mountain stage to Hautacam because Peraud is a strong time-trialist and could gain serious time. The Spaniard will have to attack tomorrow and hope that those behind him in the GC have a bad day. It’ll make for an intriguing race and it should set up that time-trial nicely. Baring absolute disaster however Nibali is secure in first, though all those behind him have had their troubles through the mountains and he has not, yet!

The man of the day however was Majka. He timed his moves perfectly and he didn’t panic when Rodriguez seemed to be taking control of the King of the Mountains contest out on the road; he took the big points where it mattered, he crossed the line in the high mountains with the mountains jersey on his back, and he only has one more big day to survive in order to win a jersey from a race he didn’t think he’d even be riding a month ago.

1. Majka (TCS) in 3h35’23”
2. Visconti (MOV) +29″
3. Nibali (AST) +46″
4. Peraud (ALM) s.t.
5. De Marchi (CAN) +49″
6. Rolland (EUC) +52″
10. Valverde (MOV) +1’35”
11. Pinot (FDJ) +1’40”
12. Bardet (ALM) s.t.
13. Van Garderen (BMC) s.t.

1. Nibali (AST) in 76h41’28”
2. Valverde (MOV) +5’26”
3. Pinot (FDJ) +6′
4. Peraud (ALM) +6’08”
5. Bardet (ALM) +7’34”
6. Van Garderen (BMC) +10’19”

Majka makes it stick this time; Nibali takes more time

Stage 14: Grenoble to Risoul, 177km. High Mountains.

I first really noticed Rafal Majka at this years Giro when the young 24 year old Polish rider burst onto the scene and finished in sixth overall with some big displays in the mountains, though in hindsight, his seventh place the year before should have been better remembered. And when I seen that, unlike any of those that finished around him in this years Giro with the exception of Pierre Rolland, that he would be lining up for the Tour de France, I sensed he was selected exclusively to help Contador where he could in the mountains. That was proven to be the case when he lost a heap of time over the first week of the race, saving what energy he could, but when his team leader crashed out on stage 10 and Saxo-Tinkoff went into Tour salvage mode, his objectives changed to winning them a stage.

Yesterday he made that bid for glory only for Vincenzo Nibali to swallow himself and fellow escapee, Leopold Konig, up in the closing kilometres to the summit at Chamrousse. Today he tried again. It could have been easy to wait until the Pyaranees, but he must have felt good. He got in the days early break and made his move on the final summit finish.

When news crackled over his radio that Nibali had once again dropped his rivals — all except Péraud, that is — and was on the chase, Majka must have feared the worst. But Nibali’s sudden surge aside, the time didn’t fall quickly enough and Majka was able to hold on to win solo — his first Tour de France stage win — in superb style at Risoul.

Not only has Majka shown himself to be a star of the future, one who if sent to target the Tour could well finish in the top five one day, or better, but he has gotten a little pride back for his team after the loss of Contador.

Further down the road a similar scene to the day before was playing out: Nibali up the road and the two young Frenchmen, Bardet and Pinot chasing, desperate to become the first Frenchman since Richard Virenque in 1997 to finish on the podium of their home race. Unlike yesterday however, they were together coming up to the line and the sprint to finish a mere fourth on the stage showed all the signs of trying to gain the psycological edge. Pinot took it but remains 16 seconds behind Bardet for third place overall.

Nibali may be wrapping up the victory in this Tour but the scramble for the podium is going to be fascinating in the coming week. Alejandro Valverde showed his first signs of serious weakness on the stage when he cracked and lost 34 seconds to the two young Frenchmen and one minute to Nibali, though he did just enough to keep his second place over Bardet by 13 seconds. Still, he’ll need to recover quickly or the two Frenchmen won’t have to worry about one of them being the first Frenchman onto the podium for 17 years.

So 29 seconds separates second, third and fourth with Tejay Van Garderen a further 43 seconds back in fifth and looking stronger by the day. Don’t count the American out. He’s been steady throughout these stages and he has kept himself in the mix. Given the bad day we seen from Richie Porte and then, less dramatically so, Valverde today, it’s clear that anyone could have a bad one in the high mountains and it could well be about who limits their losses rather than who gains what on the rest that truly dictates who follows Nibali onto the podium in Paris.

And all that is, of course, assuming Nibali himself doesn’t have a bad day. Stranger things have happened in this sport and it is why the rest must not ignore him while they look at one another entirely. It is also why Nibali is making his hay now while the proverbial sun of good form shines upon him.

1. Majka (TIN) in 5h 8’27”
2. Nibali (AST) +24″
3. Péraud (ALM) +26″
4. Pinot (FDJ) +50″
5. Bardet (ALM) s.t.
6. Van Garderen (BMC) +54″
10. Valverde (MOV) +1’24”
27. Porte (SKY) +5’16”

1. Nibali (AST) in 61h 52’54”
2. Valverde (MOV) +4’37”
3. Bardet (ALM) +4’50”
4. Pinot (FDJ) +5’06”
5. Van Garderen (BMC) +5’49”
6. Péraud (ALM) +6’08”