Giro d’Italia 2013: A preview

The 2013 edition of the Giro d’Italia gets underway at the weekend. It’s only appropriate to take a look at the upcoming three week race, the first of 2013’s Grand Tours.


Riders enjoy the view in Italy

The Giro has been going since 1909. Here the riders take in the view. Photo:

If you are unsure about the significance of the Giro d’Italia in the Pro cycling circuit, then be assured that it is categorically ‘a big deal’. Trumped only by the Tour de France, the Giro is a less uptight and perhaps even slightly cooler Grand Tour. At the risk of stereotyping an entire nation, it is in that sense, distinctly Italian.

The relaxed atmosphere that permeates the race is encouraged by the sense that the athletes are competing in an event where the fans are interested in pure cycling, and pure cycling only. The Tifosi were short changed a little last year, when the Giro started in Denmark (?), but the fans are getting treated to an Italian job this year. The race starts in Naples and only make one foray into foreign territory with a few days spent traversing the French Alps.

Jersey wise, the Maglia Rosa (that’s the pink jersey if you prefer not to have a crack at those tongue bending continental languages) will be worn by the overall leader. Other than that, it is the red jersey for the points, blue for the King of the Mountains and good old familiar white for the Best Young Rider classification.

The course

Map of the Giro d'Italia 2013

The 2013 Giro d’Italia is an Italian affair. It will briefly cross into France for some mountain stages. Photo:

As said, this year sees the Giro start in Naples. The first week is made up of a couple of flat stages for the sprinters to have a crack at, book-ended by team and individual time trials – Stages 2 and 8 respectively. There are a few hilly stages thrown in as well, but nothing too troubling. There is perhaps a chance that one of the overall contenders might be able to spring a surprise on one of their competitors, but it seems unlikely.

There are a couple of stages that will be key. It is not groundbreaking to suggest that the overall win will be decided by a combined good showing in the time trials and mountain stages. Stage 8’s long 54.8 km Time Trial from Gabicce-Mare to Saltana will be very important in the overall context of the race, with it suiting race favourite Bradley Wiggins down to a tee. He can use it to climb into pink and then mark everyone else in the mountains.

Stage 18 is a much shorter 19.4km Time Trial from Mori to Polsa, but it is uphill all the way. With the business end coming up, its outcome will be crucial.

In terms of mountain stages, all are likely to have an impact. There are a series of back to back hilltop finishes. In particular it is Stage 15 with a summit finish on the Galibier that will have fans licking their lips and sprinters crying into their handlebar tape. Stages 19 and 20 are neatly placed for some serious drama. Stage 20, the penultimate stage, will decide the winner of the race. With both coming directly after the 18’s Time Trial, GC contenders who lost time will be provided with one final opportunity to try and erode the leader’s advantage. Hopefully it will be attacks aplenty from all the big names.

 The contenders

Hesjedal and Wiggins

Canadian Ryder Hesjedal shares a few words with Bradley Wiggins. The 2012 Giro winner will have a job defending against his 2012 TdF counterpart. Photo:

1)      Sir Bradley Wiggins (Sky)

Wiggo’s season has been rather low-key so far, but to say he is anything other than a favourite is very silly indeed. He looked very good in his most recent outing, the Giro del Trentino, a mechanical hindering his chances of victory. It is worth remembering that his team is not as strong as it was in France last year. He will, however, be flanked by the formidable climbing talents of the Colombian pair Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao. Winner of the 2012 Young Rider’s jersey, Uran is no slouch when it comes to hills Henao has had a brilliant season so far. Up until his mechanical at Trentino Wiggo looked as strong as he has ever been at climbing, and when you consider that Stage 8’s Time Trial is perfectly suited to him, he looks very good for the overall win. It should be acknowledged that Wiggins stated in an interview with The Sunday Times at the weekend that he is not discounting himself from a shot at the Tour de France. He sees the Giro both as an amazing race he has been training to win, and as an indicator of form prior to July’s three week French epic.

2)      Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

There is something fantastic about a home rider winning a Grand Tour, and that is what Nibali will be trying to do for the Italian tifosi. Nibali has had a good season so far, getting in a lot of racing. He has looked strong in the mountains, and he will need to rely on his explosive power to shake Wiggins out of the Maglia Rosa. He has some time trialling ability, but won’t be able to match Wiggins when it comes to the race against the clock. His only hope is sticking time into Sir Brad in the mountains which means he will have to be aggressive. He’ll be desperate to win in front of a home crowd. This desire and a need to attack will surely force him to come up with some of his best racing. He is more than capable of getting himself the pink jersey.

3)      Cadel Evans (BMC)

It seems a long time has passed since Cadel Evans stood on the podium at the Champs Elysees and accepted his winner’s yellow jersey. It was 2011 – only two years ago – but the ageing Australian rider has not had a good time of it since. The 36 year-old had a poor TdF in 2012, and Tejay van Garderen is now being mooted as BMC’s real leader this year. To write the yellow jersey winner off is a foolish move however. Evans has been cycling’s Mr. Consistent in the mountains and in time trials, so to see him go head to head with Wiggins and Nibali in both will be interesting. Evans is capable of plugging away and being in the mix come the final few stages. If he does so, he will surely give BMC team bosses a headache.

4)      Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp)

Defending champion Ryder Hesjedal is up against some stronger competition this year, but he is still certainly in with a chance of overall victory. He will want to defend his well deserved 2012 title, and that can bring out some of the best riding from an individual. Not that Hesjedal needs to bring his best riding out. Those who watched this year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege will have seen the sort of form he is in, first putting in a convincing solo break, before taking a monster turn on the front to aid his teammate Dan Martin to victory. That victory showed Garmin-Sharp to be an extremely canny outfit, and perhaps that is where Hesjedal will have to wrestle an advantage from the likes of Wiggins and Nibali. He is a good time triallist, and as last year’s victory shows, an impressive climber. If he plays a tactically astute game, and keeps his himself there or thereabouts, he will definitely be in with chance. Whilst the others are looking at each other, he could just nip off and get himself some seconds in the mountains. His defence is not clear cut, but with current form behind him, he is certainly up there to make it two in a row.

5)      The Others

This is not to take anything away from the other contenders, but a couple of guys are in with a shout of victory or podium places if they ride good races. Ivan Basso (Cannondale) has had a shocker of a season so far, but you can never say never when it comes to the experienced rider. Robert Gesink (Blanco), the new hope for Dutch cycling, will be hoping to put his arm up for Blanco and try and secure them some more sponsorship for next season. He’s a capable climber and time triallist and Blanco are a strong team. A word too for the superb Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel-Euskadi) – the 2008 Olympic Gold medallist is a fabulous all rounder and could feature heavily. Finally, Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) could be a bit of a wildcard for victory. He has had an inconsistent season so far, no doubt not helped by the three month ban he received in the off season for fraternising with the sinister cycling spectre, Dr. Michele Ferrari. He could grab some time in the first week, but his time trial is a little wanting. With these guys thrown into the mix with the hot favourites, there is bound to be some wonderful cycling.

The Giro d’Italia starts on Saturday 4th May.



The Spring Classics: four things of note.

I’ve had something of a break, so I thought I’d ease back in with four brief observations from the Spring Classics. Here goes…

1. Spartacus is still Fab

Fabian Cancellara drops Peter Sagan at the Tour of Flanders

Cancellara drops Sagan on the final cobbled climb at the Tour of Flanders. Photo:

It is really very hard for those who haven’t followed cycling for a long period of time to understand quite how magnificent Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) is. Most female (and indeed male) fans have a ‘crush’ on the Swiss rider, and with good reason. Not only is he the most handsome man in the peloton (man-crush alert), he is, and feel free to quote me if you want, an absolute flipping monster.

After a dreadful end to 2012, punctuated by a terrible crash in the Olympic Road Race, the big man set about reminding everyone that he’s still got it, Thank You Very Much.

Nicknamed Spartacus due to his warrior like attitude, he has won a stage in a Grand Tour every year since 2004 – apart from in 2005. He’s a four time World Champion time triallist as well, winning  in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010.

He is also a wonderfully proficient one day rider, and his amazing solo finishes have become something of a party trick. Here’s the deal: he’s going to Time Trial it to the end, and you’d better hope you can sit on his wheel. It’s not rocket science, but by George it is effective.

This is something young Peter Sagan (Cannondale) learned the hard way at the Tour of Flanders. Sagan and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) found themselves off the front with Cancellara on the final cobbled climb, but there was little either man could do when the Swiss decided it was time to go. He kicked, Sagan couldn’t live with it, and Cancellara time trialled to the finish.

Cancellara completed a fantastic double, clinching Paris-Roubaix a week later in a breathtaking sprint finish. He beat Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco Procycling) by half a bike length, overcoming some extremely heavy marking throughout the race.

Unfortunately, it has been announced that Cancellara will not ride the 2013 edition of the TdF. His schedule has been amended to focus on the World Championships. It is a shame for viewers – the classics have reminded everyone how good he really is. It will also feel very strange – the first week of the Tour will not be the same without Fab in yellow.

2. Sky need a lesson in romance

Sky's Chris Froome looks on

Chris Froome was nowhere to be seen at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Sky won’t be worried come the summer, but it is a tad disappointing from them. Photo:

I should probably say straight up that I am not suggesting that Team Sky riders do not know how to treat women. I’m certainly not suggesting that Peter Sagan should teach them.

No, what I am saying is that Sky has had a, well, rubbish Classics season. Dave Brailsford was talking pre season about how much the Classics meant to Sky, and how hard they were training for them. To finish without a win is pretty dreadful for such a high profile team who were clearly targeting victory.

Understanding why Sky came up short is to understand the nature of the Spring Classics. Sky are insanely good at stage races. They manage results over the long term, day to day, consistently. In a Grand Tour, you’ve got 21 days to think out a strategy, adapt it and put it into practice.

But a Grand Tour is to a Spring Classic, what five course, silver service, ‘no elbows on the table’ fine dining is to a bun fight. If you don’t get stuck in with the rest, you are going to get elbowed in the face whilst someone reaches over you and helps themselves to what should have been yours.

The whole point of a Spring Classic is that any rider who is feeling strong on the day can have a go and probably pull it off. It’s not about science and marginal gains – it’s about romance and having a bloody good go. Team tactics do of course have a little bit to do with it, but they are not the be all and end all. Predictability is the killer – sitting on the front as a team may be brilliant when marking another GC contender, but Spring Classics are all about the stage win and if you are too predictable you aren’t going to get it.

Unfortunately for Sky, they don’t really possess a single rider capable of a brilliantly strong and wonderfully unpredictable ride just yet. Worryingly for everyone else, it probably won’t be long at all until they find or make one.

3. There’s no need to keep waiting for new talent. It is here.

Peter Sagan gropes podium girl

Peter Sagan made the most of coming second at the Tour of Flanders. He showed his class at the Classics. Photo:

There is no longer any doubt that Peter Sagan is the most exciting new rider in the peloton. In a fashion not unlike the Incredible Hulk (one of Sagan’s ever expanding celebration repertoire) the 23 year old Slovakian smashed onto the pro scene last year, winning the points classification at the Tour de France at his first time of trying.

It was not a flash in the pan. His ability to climb makes him a potent contender, and at the Classics he showed again that he has what it takes to be a great. Despite not being able to live with Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders, he finished a well deserved second. He also came second best behind Gerald Ciolek (MTN Qhubeka) at Milan-San Remo, but won Gent-Wevelgem, wheelying over the line.

Some might say he made up for his second place at Flanders by pinching a podium girl on the bottom as she kissed Fabian Cancellara, others would say he needs to grow up. It hasn’t been as widely reported that he later apologised to the podium girl at the Brabantse Pijl race, before giving her a bouquet of flowers.

Dan Martin wins Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2013

Dan Martin showed his form and ability, out-climbing Joaquim Rodriguez. He will be an amazing asset for Garmin this summer. Photo:

If Sagan is the exciting new sprinting talent, then Garmin Sharp’s Dan Martin must be the new climbing one. Martin, nephew of Irish cycling legend Stephen Roche, has kept his head down over the last few seasons, looking up only to win a stage of the Vuelta Espana in 2011. That’s not to say that he has been anything other than consistently good, as though he has always planned to build to something big. This year could be just that.

He showed his class in the last of the Spring Classics at the weekend, Liege-Bastogne-Liege. In a style reminiscent of some of the greats, he climbed his way onto the back wheel of Joaquim Rodriguez (Team Katusha) – no slouch at climbing and 2012 winner of La Fleche Wallone – before taking a moment, and then saying goodbye to the Spaniard in emphatic fashion. ‘Explosive’ is a word that can be overused, but to use anything else in this instance would be underplaying the whole thing.

Martin’s victory can’t be celebrated without a word for Ryder Hesjedal, who left everything on the road for his teammate. Hesjedal looked incredibly strong and is perhaps now favourite to defend his Giro D’Italia title. It seems unlikely that Garmin will split up the partnership of Hesjedal and Martin – if they ride the Grand Tours together, Garmin could well see both a GC winner and a KoM winner in the same races.

4. Don’t worry if your spring training has been ruined by the weather…

One of David Millar's tweets during Milan-San Remo

David Millar provided commentary via Twitter during the half time interval at Milan-San Remo 2013

It’s the same for the pros too. Milan-San Remo was shortened and everyone had to get on buses for a time due to the snow, and Gent-Wevelgem was shortened due to the cold.

I’ve just remembered that they do quite often go to training camps in Mallorca though, so maybe it’s not the same at all.

The week in cycling – 18 February 2013

It’s just some results this week. There are other things going on, but they are Puerto related and I thought we’d let it run its course before trying to tackling that hornet’s nest of a situation.

Anyway, Froome-dog shows his pedigree in Oman, Sagan increases his celebration repertoire and Blanco continue to build in Portugal.

Froome wins Tour of Oman

Sky’s Chris Froome couldn’t have had a better start to 2013, winning a stage and the overall classification in Oman.

It is very encouraging for the Kenyan born British rider, who managed to keep all the other big GC contenders at bay. Nibali (Astana), Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Evans (BMC) were all powerless to compete with Froome whose performance confirmed that he is a serious contender for the Grand Tours.

On route to his Red winner’s jersey, Froome won Stage 5 in gruelling fashion. The stage finished in a sprint between him and Contador, straight into a head wind. Froome managed to hold Contador to take the stage.

Chris Froome beats Contador and Evans in Oman

Chris Froome beat off Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans to win the Tour of Oman

Perhaps more interesting however, was Froome’s performance during Stage 4. The stage was a real treat for fans, with all the top riders going head to head in the run up to a hill-top finish. In the end, after a string of attacks from Evans, Contador and Nibali, Froome’s climbing form came to the fore. Managing to jump away in an attempt to catch Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Froome’s last kilometre effort made all the difference. He was able to distance the other favourites by 18 seconds. Rodriguez took a well deserved stage win.

It was an impressive effort by Froome, who clearly showed he has had a superb winter training session. He was keen to play down any real talk of the Grand Tours – a lot can happen before July – but even so, he looked supreme. Sky were able to give him all the support he needed, with Richie Porte in particular playing an important role. The 2012 TdF runner-up stayed tucked in the pack on Stage 6, which ended in a sprint finish.

Form can change, but what the Tour of Oman does infer is Sky’s plan for 2013. Bradley Wiggins kept his head down, finishing 74th, nearly 23 minutes behind Froome. Tellingly, Wiggins rode for Froome at a number of points during the race, putting in large turns on the front. Hopefully Oman has put to bed some of the speculation that has been rife about who Sky’s Team Leader will be come the summer.

Don’t forget about Peter…

The Tour of Oman was the first chance to see the GC contenders battling it out in early season skirmishes, but the sprinters should not be ignored. So far this season Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) has shown his form at the Tour Down Under and Mark Cavendish has blossomed at Omega Pharma Quickstep.

Peter Sagan wins in emphatic style in Oman

Peter Sagan adds to his celebration collection, wondering where everyone is

Not one to be left out of things, Slovakian sprinting revelation Peter Sagan (Team Cannondale) made sure that everyone knew what sort of form he was in, winning Stages 2 and 3. Sagan, who properly burst onto the pro-scene at his first Tour de France last year (winning the Green Jersey, three stages and a Porsche in a bet with his team boss), showed a masterful match of sprinting power and climbing prowess. His perfect pairing of the two must surely terrify his opponents.

Sagan is also known for his exuberant celebrations, tending to coin a new one every time he wins a stage. The Tour of Oman was no different. After rolling over the line first, he celebrated Stage 2 with an exaggerated ‘thumbs up’. After blasting off his opponents in the sprint finish in Stage 3, Sagan simply asked the question – ‘where is everyone?’

Exuberance aside, Cavendish and Greipel can win sprints – but Sagan can climb as well. Don’t bet against him winning the Green Jersey in 2013.

No surprise from Martin in Portugal

Tony Martin (Omega Pharma Quickstep) smashed the final Individual Time Trial in the four day Tour of the Algarve in Portugal, winning the Overall Classification as a result.

The German time-trial reigning World Champion covered the 38.4km route in 45:09, beating his teammate Michal Kwiatkowski into second place by 1:07. Martin’s dominance in the discipline is still staggering.

Staggering as it may be, it doesn’t say much about the race as a whole however. The Volta Ao Algarve has become a little bit of a training ground for those targeting the Spring Classics. This year the big teams tended to put out their bigger talents in Oman, so it provided a nice opportunity for the other riders on the roster.

The race gave another massive boost to Blanco, who have made an emphatic start to 2013. Paul Martens and Theo Bos won stages 1 and 2 respectively, taking the Dutch team’s stage win tally to five so far this year. With Tom-Jelte Slagter’s Tour Down Under win on top, Blanco are certainly a team to watch.

Sky also had further reassurances that they are on the right track. After Geraint Thomasgood showing in the Tour Down Under, and Froome’s win in Oman, Colombian rider Sergio Henao clambered into the leader’s jersey after winning Stage 3. Although he lost it to Martin in the TT (nothing to be embarrassed about), Henao and Sky can take solace in the fact that the stage victory came from a short sharp climb to another hilltop finish. All the evidence indicates so far that Sky are building a roster of fantastic climbers ahead of the lumpy 2013 TdF route.

The week in cycling – 11 February 2013

Qatar, the Mediterranean, Oman and, er, Glasgow. Throw in Vos re-signing and some high profile bike theft and it’s been an eventful week in cycling.

Tour of Qatar

After the excitement of the Tour Down Under, the Tour of Qatar gave fans a chance to see some of the big names absent in Adelaide stretch their legs after winter training.

In particular, the arrival of Mark Cavendish to the 2013 season provided palpable excitement heightened by his move to Omega Pharma Quickstep. Fans might once again get the chance to see Cav as a team leader with his own purpose built lead out train.

Cavendish dominates the Tour of Qatar

Mark Cavendish was back to winning ways at the Tour of Qatar. Four stage victories in a row ensured the overall Gold Jersey

He did not disappoint. He won the last four stages of the six stage race, dominating the sprints in emphatic style. Whilst he never lost the will to win, what is now clear is that Cav’s high ratio conversion rate is back. Other sprinters should be worried.

What’s more, the four stages were enough to win Cavendish the overall leader’s Gold Jersey. He won Stage 6 after he and GC rival Brent Bookwalter (BMC) were involved in a crash early on. In a true example of cycling sportsmanship, the peloton waited for them and Cavendish later won the sprint finish easily.

Cavendish headed up a strong race for British cycling talent, with three other British riders making it into the top ten. Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas (Sky) came in 9th and 10th respectively. BMC’s young British rider Adam Blythe came in 4th in what was a good race for the American team, who finished with five riders in the top ten.

Tour Méditerranéen Cycliste Professionnel

Overlapping the Tour of Qatar by two days, the Tour Méditerranéen took place last week. A short five stage race, it has become a place that both exciting new talent and old warriors target the overall win.

After a seriously tight GC lead overnight, Maxime Monfort (RadioShack Leopard) lost out on the final stage to Thomas Lövkist (IAM Cycling). Lövkist lay in third place going into the last stage, behind Monfort and the fantastically named Dutchman, Lars Boom (Blanco). Lövkist was able to make a surge on the final climb to leapfrog the two men in front of him and take the overall win. Irish rider Nicholas Roche (Saxo Bank) finished fifth.

A bizarre turn of events rather overshadowed the final two stages however, when Garmin Sharp had to withdraw from the race after having their bikes stolen overnight. David Millar tweeted a photo of the team truck the next morning. The thieves had taken all the bikes other than the specialist ones for time trialling.

Garmin Sharp had bike stolen at Tour Mediterranean

David Millar tweeted this photo the next morning, commenting: “Scumbags clearly don’t like TT’s.”

Revolution series comes to an end

The final round of the Revolution series took place last week, with Ed Clancy putting in a dominating performance for his Rapha JLT team.

Revolution, which is a four round track cycling event, showcases top British and foreign talent. The fourth and final round took place at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow. The series has become somewhat of a training ground for future Team GB hopefuls, with a number of track cycling household names first winning at Revolution.

Ed Clancy wins in Glasgow

Ed Clancy forged the overall win for his Rapha Condor JLT team at Glasgow

Rapha Condor JLT led the competition throughout, at each of the four legs held in October and December of last year, and the first two months of 2013. Rudy Project RT put in a gallant performance to try and close the 16 point gap between them and Rapha Condor JLT, but it was to no avail.

Clancy led the charge for Condor, winning the Flying Lap and the Points Race, and teaming up with Scot James McCullum to win the Madison Time Trial. Clancy’s eventual fourth place in the Scratch Race was enough to secure victory for his team.

Final Championship Standings

1 Rapha Condor JLT 216
2 Rudy Project RT 200
3 Rouleur 166
4 Maxgear 165
5 Team Sky 141
6 WD40 138
7 howies 128
8 FACE 116
9 IG-Sigma Sport 95
10 NetApp-Endura 88
11 Sportscover 71
12 Raleigh-GAC 36

Vos signs on again with Rabobank Liv/Giant

Last week saw Marianne Vos sign on again with Rabobank Liv/Giant for 2013.

Fresh off the back of yet another Cyclo-cross World Championship won, the unstoppable Vos signed to ride as team leader again. The women’s team has managed to maintain the sponsorship of Dutch bank Rabobank, which withdrew its funding from its men’s team in a high profile incident last year.

Marianne Vos signs again for Rabobank

A mud-splattered Vos crosses the line at the 2013 Cyclocross World Championships. She has signed again for Rabobank this year.

Rabobank cited financial reasons for withdrawing from sponsoring the men’s team which had become a common sight for cycling fans throughout the 2000s. The maintenance of sponsorship for the women’s team is certainly a coup for the sport – the Rabobank brand is very strong within international cycling.

The team will again race on Giant TCR bikes which will be custom made for each of the riders.

Tour of Oman

Straight off the back of the Tour of Qatar, the Tour of Oman began today.

German rider Marcel Kittel (Argos Shimano) won the first stage from Al Musannah to Sultan Qaboos University.

Wiggins and Froome start

The Tour of Oman sees all the big contenders for 2013 starting – including Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome

The Tour should be a relatively relaxed affair, but it is the first sight of many of the big name Tour contenders. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Cadel Evans (BMC), Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome (Sky) joined a number of their team mates who had ridden in Qatar.

REVIEW – ‘How I Won The Yellow Jumper: Dispatches from the Tour De France’ by Ned Boulting

When you are a fan of cycling, ‘either/or’ questions confront you at every turn. Armstrong or Ullrich? Shimano or Campag? Ban for life or reconciliation?

Making a decision between two things is the life of the cycling fan, but there is one which dominates the landscape of cycling fandom like no other. The million dollar big daddy.

ITV or Eurosport?

Those who choose ITV will be familiar with Ned Boulting. Boulting provides the roving-reporter-in-the-field role, running around in the post race frenzy of cyclists, managers and soigneurs trying to grab the riders and put microphones in their faces.

Boulting’s book is a collection of his experiences reporting at the Tour de France, a job he started in 2003. Perhaps the most refreshing thing about it is Boulting’s self admission that prior to 2003 he knew nothing about cycling whatsoever. Football was his game, and he was rather bemused to find himself in France following around a load of shaven legged nutters on bikes.

Boulting in action

Ned Boulting in action interviewing Rapha Condor’s Zak Dempster at the 2011 Tour Series

Boulting’s inexperience with cycling was clear. In one excruciating passage, he describes how he was sent to get an interview from David Millar after the 2003 Prologue Time Trial. Millar was in the lead at the second check point, before his chain came off, destroying his chances of victory. In a cringing few paragraphs Boulting manages to relay the pressure involved with being an on-the-spot journalist, and the absolute need for prior research.

As Millar crossed the line, he continued straight to his team bus. Boulting’s cries of ‘Dave!’ were lost in the crowd. He had nothing, and Gary Imlach was coming to him in 20 seconds time. He can’t remember exactly what he said, and has never watched the tapes back, but knows he finished with the line – ‘…kissing goodbye to his chance of winning the Yellow Jumper .’

This statement, which makes up the title, provides a great starting point. It perfectly frames what is so good about the book. First and foremost, it is funny, extremely well written and largely self-deprecating. Boulting possesses a turn of phrase that is laughably good. He writes about subjects, rather than chronologically, but we get an overall sense as readers that he is growing into understanding and enjoying the sport.

The book is at its best when Boulting gives true insights into the behind the scenes goings on at ITV. His descriptions of the people he works with are very funny indeed. The three other guys that he works with in close proximity every day make up the bulk of the anecdotes, getting up to adventures with hire cars driving up Alp d’Huez, or staking out team hotels of a morning. One of these three is the cycling author Matt Rendell, who Boulting acknowledges as being crucial to both his own understanding of the sport and the quality of the coverage that ITV put out. Rendell can speak numerous languages and knows a number of the cyclists, making it far easier for Boulting to get interviews.

Mark Cavendish interview

Mark Cavendish has found himself on the end of an ITV microphone numerous times. Boulting never really knows what he is going to get.

What is funnier however is Boulting’s description of the guys who front ITV’s coverage. Whilst bordering on caricature,it is really very funny indeed. Gary Imlach, who anchors the programme is painted as a true professional, dedicated and hard working, and comically disinterested in anything Ned has to say. Phil Liggett, who commentates  on all the races, is described as a silvery,wise old fox, who cannot ever remember Ned’s name. However, it is Boulting’s descriptions of Chris Boardman that steal the show. Moments where the two are put together are fantastic. Boardman is described as obsessed with ‘marginal gains’ (a phrase he coined for British Cycling’s desire to make everything they do better), applying them to everything he does. This could be from sweeping up, to beating Boulting in every run they ever go out on together, to pitching a tent for Boulting to sleep in on the side of an Alpine mountain.

How I Won The Yellow Jumper does provide another more serious purpose than being a collection of amusing anecdotes about the hijinks of the ITV team. It gives readers a really great idea of what the cyclists themselves are actually like when the cameras aren’t running. Boulting gives a useful introduction to the main stars of the book at the beginning, and describes a number of encounters with them. In particular, Boulting describes his many interviews with Mark Cavendish, their Tour de France experiences running parallel to each other.

As an English reporter, Boulting was entrusted with doing the post race interviews with Cavendish for the worldwide footage. After Cavendish won a plethora of stage wins, he has interviewed him a great number of times. His description of what the Manxman is really like is very interesting. Boulting describes him as a really prickly character, and a very difficult man to read – it all depends on the man you get on the day. Sometimes Cav is great fun, and others, he is as difficult as possible.

And from this insight into Cavendish, we are able to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a sports reporter. Boulting makes no excuses for annoying the riders with his constant presence and his desire to get a soundbite – they are not his friends, and he has a job to do. In the wake of recent revelations surrounding doping, it is refreshing to hear a journalist state that fact. It must be incredibly hard for sports journalists not to fawn over the men and women they report on, who do remarkable things every day, and Boulting highlights this useful consideration.

How I Won The Yellow Jumper is a great read for those who love the Tour de France and that special feeling you get when the summer comes around and it is back on TV. It is an informative and in places reflective read, providing the view from the other side of the camera. What’s more, it’s just really good fun.

If you watch Eurosport, read it and you’ll watch ITV next time around.

The week in cycling – 1 February 2013

After a week that has gifted cycling fans some great racing, shoulder-shrugging doping news and exciting team launches, there was no better time to launch this new blog feature.

Tour Down Under

Results wise, it’s been an exciting week. The Santos Tour Down Under came to a conclusion last Sunday and it used 2013 to its advantage, kicking down the door of the new cycling year and cementing itself solidly as the best way for the Pro-Tour season to start.

It’s been no secret that the Tour Down Under has been going from strength to strength since its inception in 1999, but the Australian stage race in and around Adelaide certainly showed its hand this year.

Usually a loosener for cyclists after arduous winter training programmes, the race saw a number of the big sprinters stretch out their legs for the first time this year. Pre-race favourite and previous winner Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) showed his form winning Stages 1, 4 and 6 of the race, as well as the prelude, the People’s Choice Classic. Australian Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge) picked up Stage 5 after illness scuppered his chances of overall victory.

Tom-Jelte Slagte wins the Tour Down Under 2013

Relative unknown Tom-Jelte Slagte wins the Tour Down Under 2013, giving hope to his Blanco team and fans alike

It was a good race for the Brits, as Geraint Thomas threw his helmet into the ring to provide Sky with yet another team leader option. Fans of British track cycling exploits will be familiar with the majestically laidback Welshman who, after winning Stage 2, spent three days in the overall leader’s Ochre Jersey. At one point he led the King of the Mountains classification and the Points classification as well.

Thomas was unable to keep the lead however, losing it to the eventual overall winner Tom-Jelte Slagter (Blanco) on the predictably decisive Stage 5 from McLaren Vale to Old Willunga Hill.  Thomas fought back on the final stage with the help of Team Sky to climb onto the third step of the podium, bagging the Points classification in the process.

Slagter, provided a glimmer of hope to cycling fans keen to see the Dutch do well off the back of Rabobank’s withdrawal of sponsorship last year. The young Dutchman was a relative unknown before this TDU win, and provides a neat and symbolic starting point for 2013 as a fresh start.

For Blanco, it provides the confidence boost needed to push on in 2013 as well as the reaffirmation that Dutch cycling pedigree is never in question.

Doping revelations from Rasmussen and a one year ban for Schleck

Whilst cycling fans are still coming to terms with Lance Armstrong’s admission of doping in all of his 7 Tour de France victories, another more low key admission was made this week.

Danish cyclist Michael Rasmussen admitted to doping throughout his career, from 1998 to 2010. The admission doesn’t come as a shock to anyone, after Rasmussen was withdrawn from the 2007 Tour de France, dropped from the Rabobank team and given a two-year ban which he has already served, for evading doping controls.

Rasmussen’s admission seems to be riding on the doping-tainted yellow jersey tails of Armstrong’s high profile admission in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. There are those who will no doubt argue that Rasmussen’s admission serves little purpose at all, just a confirmation of what everyone already knew. However, it does have worth – instead of wallowing in the past, international cycling should see the Dane’s admission as a chance to continue the fight against dopers going forward.

Michael Rasmussen admits to using banned substances throughout his career

Rasmussen confirmed that he used banned substances throughout his career, but his admission should be seen as an opportunity by cycling authorities

Rasmussen should be plied for information, as everything he holds in his head is surely the most fantastic resource for anti-doping agencies. Rather than going on a witch-hunt, Rasmussen should be allowed to explain fully the mechanics of his doping practices, and the culture which existed within the sport at the time. In allowing him to do so, cycling can better recognise how to prevent both the practices and culture from flourishing again.

This admission from Rasmussen came a day after it was announced that Luxembourg rider Frank Schleck is to miss the 2013 Tour de France. Schleck tested positive for Xipamide, a diuretic, during the 2012 Tour. He denies knowingly taking any banned substances and suggested that nutritional supplements may be to blame for his positive test.

Schleck, whose younger brother Andy also rides for Radioshack Nissan, has been handed a backdated one year ban from the Luxembourgian Anti-Doping Agency. The ban started from the date of his positive test on 14 July 2012, meaning he will be unable to start the 2013 Tour de France, scheduled to begin on 29 June.

He is free to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency are able to do the same should they feel a longer ban is merited.

A good week for women’s cycling

This week saw the launch of the eagerly anticipated Wiggle Honda women’s pro-cycling team. The team includes a wealth of British track cycling talent. Team Pursuit trio Dani King, Joanna Rowsell and Laura Trott have all been signed up in what has been identified as a great step on the road to increasing the profile of the women’s sport.

The team, which has secured funding from Bradley Wiggins’ Wiggo Foundation, is a great vehicle for some of the popular British track cycling heroines to make the transition across to the road.

Wiggle Honda team launch

Rowsell, Trott and King are all included in the new Wiggle Honda team roster. Gender inequalities in cycling still exist, but the new team is a step in the right direction.

It is important to bear in mind that at this point the team is providing nothing more than good publicity, and obviously results are what it should be judged upon. However, with the women’s pro scene crying out for the attention it deserves, now is no time to be cynical. The popular faces of Trott, King and Rowsell may bring new media attention to the sport – something which should be acknowledged as only a good thing.

Meanwhile, the Ladies Tour of Qatar is reaching its conclusion, with the fourth and final stage taking place today. Dutchwoman Kirsten Wild (ArgosShimano) currently leads the overall classification, squeezing into the leader’s Golden Jersey just three seconds ahead of Australian Chloe Hosking (Hitec Products UCK) who punctured on Stage 3.

With the overall classification so close, the final stage from the Sealine Beach Resort to Doha Corniche is bound to be an exciting one.

Tour Down Under 2013 preview

If you think that cycling could do with looking forward and getting on with 2013, rather than wallowing in the past, then don’t fret.

Next week sees the 2013 WorldTour season get underway with the Tour Down Under.

The 6 stage race takes place in the sweltering summer heat of South Australia, in and around the city of Adelaide. Its short format means that it is not a race that is targeted by Grand Tour GC contenders, with sprinters and aggressive breakaway riders making up the favourites for the Ochre jersey which denotes the overall win.

Simon Gerrans wins the Ochre Jersey

Simon Gerrans won the TDU for the second time in 2012. No rider has ever successfully defended the Ochre Jersey

Its stages are, by and large, flat, but there is a King of the Mountains jersey and Stage 5’s 151.5km from McLaren Vale to Old Willunga Hill boasts a nasty hilltop finish. The climb was much enjoyed last year, hence its inclusion again in 2013.

The most noticeable favourites are probably previous winners – Simon Gerrans of Orica GreenEdge, Andre Greipel of Lotto Belisol and Stuart O’Grady, also of Orica GreenEdge. All three riders have won the race twice. Gerrans is the defending champion, but no rider has ever successfully defended the Ochre Jersey.

Other riders to make a note of are Sky’s up and coming Norwegian phenomenon, Edvald Boasson-Hagen, and BMC’s Martin Kohler who wore the Ochre Jersey twice last year.

Four British riders take to the road: Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas for Sky and Andy Fenn for Omega Pharma-Quickstep.

The race has grown in popularity in the last few years and serves as a great opportunity for riders to build on winter training and catapult themselves into great form – it’s certain to be a great race.

Teams at Tour Down Under 2013
Ag2r La Mondiale
BMC Racing
Lotto Belisol
Omega Pharma-QuickStep
UniSA-Australia (wildcard)

The Jerseys
Ochre jersey: Overall race leader
White jersey: King of the mountains leader
Blue jersey: Sprint classification leader
Black jersey: Best young rider
Red jersey: Most aggressive rider

A handy Stage map can be seen here.