Thursday, 28 July 2011

Hushovd's descending skills - what to learn?


Photo by Lionel Bonaventure, Scanpix/AP 

Friday's stage from Pau to Lourdes was to me a gigantic one, bringing the very best of racing to the table. It brought back memories from the past, a glance of retro-racing, mano-o-mano, where the strongest wins. Of course, it helps that it was my fellow Norwegian Hushovd who pulled the longest straw in the end. Also the fact that he did it on a stage very few had anticipated while wearing the rainbow jersey, made it all almost romantic. What also is interesting is that this was one of the first times during this year's Tour, that the break went in. As Edward Pickering so brilliantly describes in his stage 13 analysis, today's break was always destined to succeed.

Descending is an art, just like climbing is. In 2009, the French newspaper L'Equipe, owned by the ASO, carried a poll where the riders in the peloton was asked who the best descender amongst them was. The winner turned out to be Thor Hushovd.

On the top of the majestic Col d'Aubisque, Hushovd had close to two minutes up to the the hard working Frenchman Roy, and a mere forty seconds to Moncoutie. Hushovd quickly rode in Moncoutie and when they got the bottom of the mountain, Roy had about fortifive seconds advantage, the rest is history.

Hushovd said to, a Norwegian newspaper, that he didn't take any chances. During the descend, his thoughts wandered to his daughter and he decided it wasn't worth it if he somehow gambled with his health. Instead he claimed he "didn't take any too large risks". Still, the numbers speak for themselves with Hushovd reaching 112 km/h (68 mph) as his top speed. Needless to say, when riding on a mere inch wide tires, that is special. The French cameraman who followed the descend on a moto filming the descend, said to French TV later that day that he'd never in his career witnessed a descend like that. Lionel Marie, DS in Garmin-Cervelo, said he was nervous in every bend, simply describing the performance as "fantastic".

Moncoutie hangs on to Hushovd's back wheel

Well, what is it we can learn from Hushovd's descending? Hushovd's childhood is full of stories that might shed some light to his performance. First of all, he did a lot of cross-country skiing. This helps kids learn coordination, balance and is a very playful sport in the first place. Going down hills and mountains, earning sense of achievement, is vital for future development. He also learned to use a bike early, trying to copy his older brother. He played a lot on his bike, something which helped giving him balance on his bike. Hushovd's personal coach, Atle Kvålsvoll, said to that Hushovd played with high speed already in his youth. He has always liked speed and he even did motocross as a teenager, Kvålsvoll said, adding that Hushovd's technique is absolutely amazing. Hushovd himself emphasize the fact that his eyes are focusing a long distance down the road, not only on the meters just in font of the bike. This is vital for maintaining a line down the road that can support the highest speed possible. Although he reached 112 km/h, it is not the top speed that decides how fast you'll reach the finish, the average speed however, is what matters. By holding a line close to perfection, Hushovd was able to maintain a high speed everywhere on the road, which in the end gives a high average speed.

He also sports a large frame. Being about 82 kilograms, Hushovd is heavy compared to the majority of riders in the peloton. It helps during descends, if you're able to have a aerodynamic position on the bike while descending, something Hushovd don't seem to have any problems doing. He has a very aggressive style on the bike while descending.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Tour - the nervous first week

This post can also be read on Cyclismas.

The first week of le Tour has given us some of the most exciting racing I've seen in ages, as well as the worst blows to several GC contenders and other riders. The number of accidents so far is high, but so are the numbers every first week of the Tour. The Tour is the biggest and most important race of the whole season, and everybody is nervous. There are many teams and many riders too, making it difficult closing in on narrow roads. Marco Pinotti, the Italian HTC-rider, tweeted about this last night, saying that there are too many riders present in the Tour.
What makes this Tour special is the of course the fact that many GC contenders are out of the race or far behind already, with Wiggin's crash yesterday fresh in mind.
Wiggo realises his tour is over for now

Photo by AP/Christophe Ena, downloaded here.

Safety - whose responsibility 
Also hard to watch was Radioshack's Chris Horner, obviously suffering from a concussion after a fall, being very disoriented coming across the finish line in Châteauroux. Horner fell in the same crash as Wiggins, which means he rode 38km in that state. The RS member who greated Horner when he crossed the finish line, said to Horner he crashed 25km from the finish, but other reports says otherwise. Of course, riders safety is the number one priority and riders in the state Horner was in yesterday is a danger both to himself and other riders. Many have argued on twitter that the UCI is more concerned with seat tilt angles than rider safety. 
Determining whether a rider has a concussion can be hard from a distance through a radio. Perhaps is it necessary to apply a rule that says that if riders hit the deck, a DS and a race doc should physically check up on the rider, making sure he is ok. What some believe is strange is that Horner receive treatment by the race doc after the crash, reports say the doctor wrote that Horner had a concussion and still left him on the bike. In addition to this, Johan Bruyneel had his team doctor driving next to Horner the last 38km. Bruyneel sais he won’t be criticized over his decision to let Horner finish the stage.
Horner finishing stage 7 with a concussion

Photo by Sirotti, downloaded here.
After all, the number of UCI commissaires is not that high to be everywhere, but this is a matter that should be number one priority. Geraint Thomas, one of Team Sky's young stars, wrote yesterday that riders safety must be the riders' responsibility. My position in this matter is that that the rider safety is divided between the rider and the team leader. When the rider is not able to take that call, then it is the rider’s leader who needs to step forward and take the responsibility.
Tactically manoeuvring
A rider and a team riding for GC that really have impressed me the first week is Cadel Evans and BMC. The team is always to be seen near the front when the terrain is difficult, or in the last important part of the race. Very tactically ridden and a nice way to keep him out of potentially dangerous episodes. Now, one could argue that this is one of the reasons crashes happens in the first place, the constant hunt for positions.

Next stage, be sure to watch out for Cadel Evans and BMC, I guarantee you, they are at the front at the right time.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Brothers in le Tour

This post can also be found on Cyclismas.

The two of us against him....

Downloaded here.

This post is about brothers in the Tour of France. Throughout the years, several brothers have been riding bikes professionally, and surprisingly many have been on the same team.
These days Andy Schleck is riding the Tour de France side by side with his elder brother, Fränk. The two are close, having shared almost their entire professional lives on the bike; they probably know each other inside out. They are a team, and it seems impossible to hire just the one of them.
Bjarne Riis took Andy Schleck under his wing in 2004 by recommendation of Fränk. In 2010, when Fränk broke his collarbone at stage three, Andy feared his Tour was lost. They seem to rely on each other, not only physically but psychologically as well. Nothing wrong with the brothers' genes either, the Schleck's father, Johnny Schleck, rode the Tour several times, nailing top 20 GC in 1967 and 1970. 
It's hard to see where one is without looking over his shoulder for his brother. Rumours say that when Fränk got married and being a father, it didn't take long for Andy to get a girl either. He has even presented her to the public. The two are so close that even teammates says they are more concerned with the other one's success than their own. I have heard people saying that the Schlecks are not entirely this way when it comes to fishing, but that has yet to be confirmed.
Didn't we agree on wearing the same outfit?

Downloaded here.
The Schleck brothers are not the only brothers who have participated in the Tour. If they all were so merry as the Schlecks, can be discussed. Johan Kaggestad, a Norwegian cycling commentator with a taste for details, has inspired me to find out more about Tour-brothers.
  • Roger and Erik de Vlaeminck. The Belgian brothers who rode the tour between 1968 and 1971. Erik chose cyclo-cross and was very successful, being WC astonishing seven times. He was known to live a "hard" life, with spectacular partys after races, however, he never failed a drug test. When Erik returned to racing after a break, the Belgian cycling federation actually permitted him with one-day licences only, to see if his life improved. Roger chose road racing and was a dominant Classics rider of his era and is one of only three rider to win the "five monuments". Roger might be the best known of the two outside of Belgium, both are highly admired by Belgians.
  • Marc and Yvon Madiot. They rode the tour together between 1984and 1992, on the same team. Yvon did win the French national title in 1986, while his brother Marc, won the Paris-Roubaix twice, and a few stages in the tour, winning cycling fans' hearts and minds all over the world. Marc Madiot is now team manager of the French team FDJ while brother Yvon is DS. Marc has been one of the team managers in the World Tour who has been most friendly towards the ruling made by the UCI on banning radios, probably causing some irritation by others, as the team managers need to look as unanimous as possible.
  • Stephen and Laurance Roche. The Irish brothers rode together in the Tour de France of 1993 on the same team. Laurance never managed to perform at the same level his brother did, so his palmarès is somewhat different. Stephen did win the WC , the Tour and the Giro in 1987, but a knee injury stopped him from repeating that feat. The Irish journalist and former pro rider Kimmage and others have accused Stephen Roche of using PEDs, something Roche has denied. Stephen is currently living a quiet life in Antibes, where he owns a small hotel. Nicolas Roche, Stephen's son, is currently riding for AG2R while Stephen's nephew, Dan Martin, won the Irish RR in 2008. It's all in the genes I guess.
  • Miguel and Prudencio Indurain. The two brothers shared the spotlight in. Evil tongues said that the only thing the two brothers had in common was their manners off the bike. Prudencio was literally bullied by the press since he seemed to lack the genes his brother had. He was constantly asked by the press if he only was on the team because of his brother. Imagine that! Prudencio has always managed to control his temper, saying that he does not need to defend "unfounded" allegations like that. The two rode together for three tours, Prudencio always a step behind his brother, or in cyclingterms, in front of his brother. I guess Miguel doesn't need a further presentation. Prudencio is now trying to make a living as a local politician in Navarro, Spain.
  • Laurent and Nicolas Jalabert. Rode the tour together nine times. Nicolas, the younger one, struggled to keep up with his more talented elder brother. Laurent won both the point jersey as well as the KOM jersey twice in the tour. This combined with his stage wins, including a stage win on the Batille Day, ensured him a special place in hearts of the French cycling fans. Imagine being the younger brother, less talentet, your big brother a superstar, you bring water bottles, shields him from wind and may be prepared to give your bike to him! Not an ideal position to be in, is it? Probably not the best environment for family dinners on Sunday. Nowadays, you might recognize Laurent Jalabert's voice if you happens to tune into French Eurosport where he is paired with Thierry Adams.
  • Sylvain and Sebastien Chavanel. Both riders are still active in today's edition of the Tour, Sylvain is Quickstep's hope, while Sebastien is riding for Europcar. The latter is the youngest brother, but not more than two years separate them. Sebastien is more of a sprinter and has proved himself in the classics, while Sylvain is constantly being seen break away from the peloton. He did this last year in the tour, this ability has made him wear the yellow jersey two stages. You will not have any trouble spotting Sylvain "Mimo" Chavanel in his French national championship jersey.
  • Romain and Brice Feillu. One is rather bulky and named by Cav to "always causing havoc in sprints", one is famous for not zipping his jersey while winning stage seven of the 2009 edition of the Tour. Leaving many in awe I might add. The team sponsor of Agritubel wasn't probably thrilled either. The win was a surprise to most, but followers o French cycling will know he has long been a promising rider, but then again, the peloton is not exactly full of those. Not a small achievement by Brice, he had just turned pro with this team, nail a stage win and even wore the KOM-jersey for a while. Romain even had the yellow jersey, and the happy siblings made France feel proud. Brice has been known to joke about himself not being related to Romain at all, due to his height, 1,88cm versus Romain's 1,74cm. I don't know if this ever has occurred in his father's head, but I guess he sleeps tight.
  • JJ Rojas and Mariano Rojas. The current bearer of the maillot vert, JJ Rojas, had a brother who also participated in the Tour. The brother Mariano was very talented, he wore the white jersey as he participated in the tour only 21 years old in 1995. Mariano was a rode for ONCE, and was trained by Manolo Saiz. Sadly, Mariano died in a car accident in 1996, only a year after his great performance in the Tour. JJ enjoy training in Spain and has been in teams like Liberty-Würth (amateur), Caisse d'Epargne and now Movistar. This years parcourse suits the talentet Spaniard and he could very well be a contender for the green jersey.

This is a short-list of the most famous Tour-brothers in the long history of the tour, but there are certainly others.
This year we will see if the Schlecks can benefit from being brothers, if they both stay out of trouble that is.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Pedaling the road - now also on Cyclismas

It's been quiet for some days from my side on the blog. That might be strange to some, while the world's biggest cycling race is on. Let me assure you that I have been busy watching and writing, and you will soon find out more.

I have been asked by some people to be a member of a "merry band of misfits" - Some of you will recognise the words from twitter the last week. That is right, I'm talking about..

I will still post the same posts I write on cyclismas here on this blog so don't worry, you will get yours.

So, later today you will find a post here, but not after the brand new site for cycling, snark, commentary and analysis is launched.

Who else is on cyclismas? Check out the site later today, it really is a band of misfits.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

That was what I call racing

A superb finish - as usual

Photo: AFP, downloaded here.

What a stage, it had everything. Temperature, nerve and racing. That last 1 km was just great. A much anticipated win for Gilbert, Evans was someone few had called their bookies about, but it in the holy name of retrospect it's easy to say he should be a favourite.

Sadly for Contador, he lost precious time to his fiercest rivals; A. Schleck, Evans, Basso and Wiggo. Varies people have commented this, in favour of and against Contador. If Contador didn't participate in the Giro, 1:20 isn't that much, but with some uncertainty connected with his form, it's hard to say. It's fair to say that the previous mentioned favourites will not let Contador get his seconds back easy, that's for sure.

It is easy to say that the 3km rule is foolish when your favourite rider is caught at the wrong end, just as it easy to say it has a function when your rider is at the right end. The rule has a function in flat sprints, as history shows people taking odd and dangerous manoeuvres to gain a better position. At a uphill sprint like today, it isn't that important. The rules are clear and there are stages that we know the 3km rule not will be applied.

The jerseys are sorted out, the most funny result is that Hushovd will be in the KOM-jersey. Geraint Thomas from Sky did a superb job and nailed the white. He continues to improve every year, what a rider. Evans in green and Gilbert of course, switching his Belgian tricolour for yellow.

This Tour is already getting unpredictable, and today we saw some of the finest racing I've seen in years. What a start, may it continue to filled of great racing.

Tomorrow, we'll see a change in the GC. My tip is either Hushovd or Thomas in yellow, as their respective teams are better in TTT.    

Friday, 1 July 2011

More on Cervelo's superbike S5

On Sunday 26th of June I wrote a post on the new Cervelo bike, a post that turned out to be very popular. This was, at least to my knowledge, the first time the Cervelo S5 FM70 was used in a race.
Big head tube - notice the adjustment barrel for gears- mounted by the bike shop

Today I went into a bikeshop, to check on a bike I have in for maintenance. Suddenly I found myself gazing at the S5 himself, right there. I met a nice guy who works at the shop and we shared some stories about the bike and Cervelo in general. It turns out that the bike is one of only 4-5 bikes in Norway and it didn't even had a price tag. I asked what the cost was but all I got was an estimate. The shop is not allowed to sell the bike until August, allegedly due to some marketing "advice" from Cervelo.

When I first wrote about the bike I said it was a beauty. I was wrong, very wrong. It is not a beauty, it is a beast. Of all the road bikes I've seen, I can say without hesitation that this is the one built solely with the purpose of being fast. I know it is a cliché, and that every bike in the world is built for that purpose, but that is my general impression after seeing it up close and personal. Every detail screams it loud. I don't know if I would buy it, simply because it seems very uncomfortable to ride, a very aggressive bike indeed. Now I might be wrong because I didn't ride it.
That is some sized bottom bracket

The detail in this bike is thoroughly thought through (3 times in a row there..), and it is the detail I took pictures of. As you can see on the picture below, the downtube has been shaped to help the air flow around the water bottles.
Aero focus to the detail - waterbottles

My favorite part is that the seatstays seems to swallow the rear brake, letting the air flow around them as the bike is moving. Very clever.
The seatstays force the airflow around the rear brake

Aero seat tube

Large chainstays - the wheels could been better - not Gerard Vroomen's & co's fail though.