Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 highlights

Yes, it is that time of the year and I'm a bit late. But, what better way to end 2012 but to take a look at the very best moments, at least from my point of view.

Readers of this blog will recognize as I say that this is difficult to do as cycling, as any sport, is so connected to emotions. But, where is the fun if one cannot have an opinion, right?

I've divided the year into certain categories, to be a bit systematic in my approach:

Best attack
Tom Boonen's attack during Paris-Roubaix - With some 60 kilometers to go, Tommeke takes off and doesn't look back. I remember his DS saying in a video "Amazing, he's still going over 50 km/h!" Now this number could be all talk but anyway Boonen walked the walk and made the Belgians sing and dance his techno song once more.

Boonen breaks away

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Honourable mention: De Gendt's long-distance haul on the penultimate stage of the giro, he almost pipped Hesjedal for pink.

Most emotional win
Matteo Rabattini's stage 15 of the giro - arguably the most heroic stage win of the year. What cycling is all about really, an attack just 18 km into the 169 km stage and held off, even as Rodriguez joined him just 400 meters to go.



Best teammate
Edvald Boasson Hagen - Yes, I'm biased but I know I'm not alone as Velonews also awarded him the price. To selflessly put his own ambitions aside and work for Wiggo and Sky like he did during the tour was amazing. Of course, many members of the Sky-train did the same, and deserve a mention as Sky brought some stars to France. EBH dropped Basso and other top notch climbers from his back wheel, not once, not twice but several times in the mountains. Still his palmares in July had of a couple of podium spots. That's what true champions do; when they are not allowed to win, they set themselves new goals and deliver the goods.

Best team

Team Sky and Omega-Pharma Quickstep. Not only referring to the rankings as pictured, but also to other criteria. As mentioned Sky's domination at the tour, and the fact that many different riders did win on OPQS are some of the key elements in my opinion.

Also worth a mention is the total destruction of Radioshack during the tour, which mysteriously gave them the best team award. Anyone watching the last couple of days witnessed teammates not cooperating. Of course you can always blame the UCI point system as always but still.

Best race
The Olympic Road Race for women produced some of the best racing I've seen all year. Hopefully they get the recognition they deserve in 2013.

Best cycling media outlet
1. Velonews - This was a tight race. I have to say it's just the last couple of years I've followed Velonews closely, mostly due to the fact that they traditionally have been more oriented towards the American audience. However, Velonews has taken huge steps the last year, clearly the crew is doing something right.

2. Velonation - this crew has a slightly different approach than Velonews, as Velonation has a more in-depth style, going further and deeper than any other outlet. Perhaps not first with the last but very well connected in the different aspects of the pro cycling world and I do enjoy the interviews.

3. Bikeradar - tech style. I'm not that into tech myself, I want my equipment to function. That said I do care about detail, style and quality. So, James Huang et al - here is to you guys.

Best blogger
Inner Ring - not much to say really. Balancing news, in-depth analysis of everything from races, climbs and teams to the financial elements and UCI rule book, he's on it with an objective point of view.  Funny or sad, depending on your preferences, is that he is seldom mention in #FFs. Probably because everybody is following him anyway. If you don't already, get your head out of the sand.

Worst team
Astana, Katusha - Ethics, finances. Hiring old school dopers, firing old-school dopers whilst being catched for doping yourself, the list goes on. Dodgy as few, they should attend Branding 101. Radioshack's top manager Johan Bruyneel deserves a mention too, dragging a team down. There is a "t" in team, and there are some 70-90 people involved in a team so the responsibility is huge. Sadly, the riders and other staffers suffer, that's how the cycling environment of today. Nuf said.

Best marketing
The RCS and OPQS - Open, friendly, fan-oriented, available and innovative.

Worst downfall
Lance Armstrong - you all know the story and my point of view. I unfollowed Big Tex recently, he's not worth it.

Nice guys
NYvelocity and Cyclismas for setting up the Paul Kimmage fund.

Most embarrassing moment
Phillip Hindes' deliberate crash and the British journalists who defended him - one of the top Olympic controversies during the London Olympics, the place where good sportsmanship should reign took a beating. BC sprint coach Jan van Eijden said, rather blunt and/or arrogantly, that "something must have been lost in translation as Hindes just recently moved to England." Really, on national TV Mr. Eijden, please reconsider before you tell everybody watching that they are fools. To take advantage of the existing rulebook like that was not good, nor was the "national Olympic googles" some of the British journalists had during the Games. Hopefully it will be long until we see this happen again (at least four years).


Hindes on the downside

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Man of the year
Travis Tygart - without a doubt. He went where very few had dared to go, he did it with integrity, objectivity and with no intention to back down for the immense pressure he and his crew were exposed to. He changed cycling for life, as of now, we are just learning what will happen. This case will tear through cycling for years to come on every level.


Bring on 2013!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Mauro Vegni - on organizing the Giro d'Italia

As the road season is back on tarmac (or snow for those living in northern Europe), I turn to look more behind the scenes of organizing events, the Giro in particular. I was able to get in touch with Mauro Vegni, operations director and RCS executive, to get to know more about him and learn how the RCS approach the organization of the giro.

Vegni interrupted while enjoying a gelato

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Mauro Vegni - coincidents shape lives
At a very young age he got involved in cycling as he moved to Rome from the small city of Cetona in Siena district. As one of the rare moments when coincidence happens to set direction to a life, his closest  neighbor turned out to be Franco Mealli, long time organizer of cycling events and owner of the Velo Club Forze Sportive Romane. From his early teen years Vegni followed Mealli around, watching and learning.
"Master" Franco Mealli put me up front quite soon and I became actively involved in the Tirreno-Adriatico, Giro del Lazio, Giro dell'Umbria, Giro di Puglia Ruato d'Oro, Trofeo Pantalica, Trofeo dell'Etna, Settimana Ciclista Internazionale - just to mention professional races."

Before turning 25 years old Vegni becomes managing director and often takes over the reins of the sporting event, managing on his own, upon appointment by the patron. Having learned from Mealli through the years, Vegni quickly pays attention to the different details necessary to organize events. Vegni becomes more and more involved due to the health situation of Franco Mealli. In 1994, Vegni is heading the decentralized management structure in four different race fields. A very demanding job which required the utmost dedication and commitment to succeed. On the following year, the transfer og the cycling races belonging to Velo Cluc Forze Romane to RCS Sport becomes effective, making Vegni move to Milan under the watchful eye of Carmine Castellano.
In 2003 he is charge of the entire cycling department and in 2005, when Castellano concludes his career in the RCS Sport, Mauro Vegni is the one to jump into the Giro d'Italia and the other classical races of the RCS flagship car, calling the shots.

A lifetime in cycling has also granted Vegni different federal appointments, like member of the Professional Council, a body of the Italian Cycling Federation.

Creating a Grand Tour
Having years of experience Vegni still enjoys making the giro as good as possible.
"The good result of a great giro is related to a number of fundamental key factors:
The technical and sport side: a stage race, important like the Giro is, cannot leave out of considerations such elements as effort, tradition, routes, thus without omitting innovation and respect vis-à-vis the athletes. In short, a hard but well balanced route (is what I look for).
The choreographic aspects: a huge event as such cannot disregard collateral and choreographic activities which shall turn it into an important communication opportunity: samples of the foregoing are the Olympic Games opening ceremonies"

"Phase one is what I call the "Construction of the Giro project", starting from the city which will host the Giro d’Italia “Big Departure” it shall be necessary to begin designing a route presenting a technical soundness. (As the thumb rule there are) Two/three time trial stages, six/seven sprinters’ stages, five/six summit finishes, five/six average mountain stages, providing that the most significant stages are planned during week-ends.
Once the plan is ready then starts the period in which to liaise with local institutions so as to identify the approximately 40 locations able to host one ore more stages of the Giro d'Italia."

"Phase two is the "Technical on-site inspections", which are the time when the Giro project effectively takes its shape, when the RCS Sport and Host broadcaster’s teams visit the stage locations, defining in detail all the areas which will be interested by the race: the finish area, the, race headquarters, the departure area, the last kilometers and the distance of transfer to kilometer zero, etc."

All set - in the flagship car

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Inspections - details are everything
During spring and summer several RCS officials are on "site inspections" at cities hosting the arrival or departure of the (next year's) giro. 

"A typical on-site investigation day can be summarized as follows: 
- MorningRCS Sports team, together with the technical finish representatives and the TV crew take part to a first presentation meeting together with the members of the local organization committee (or stage committee). On this occasion all organization requirements and the support requested to the stage committee are expounded to the last detail.
Following the meeting, and after examination of the local committee possible requests, the teams proceed to the identification of the various areas, finish, open village (the sponsors’ village open to the public), race headquarters (the headquarters of the organization which host the press room, the conference room and the other organization-related offices).
During this phase all necessary steps are taken and the finish feasibility is assessed, also based on the kind of stage (sprint finishes require wider roads, etc).
Starting from such areas, then parking facilities, deviations for flagship cars, helicopter landing pads and so on, are due to be identified.

- Afternoon: RCS Sports team, together with the technical finish representatives and the TV crew move in the departure location. After a first presentation meeting with the local committee all the areas interested by the departure are identified. That is to say: the signature podium area and the departure village, the parking facilities for teams’ buses, the transfer route to kilometer zero, etc. Also in this case all remarks that will then be necessary for drafting the technical notes and the location maps are duly addressed.

- Evening: Once arrived in the hotel the work of the organization goes on with the drafting of the technical remarks and preparing the drawings and the location maps which will then be sent to the local organization committees in order to have all interventions required to realize the stage duly taken care of."


One could wonder how much personnel Vegni would need to make the Giro happen, but in fact it is not as heavily manned as I expected it to be, at least in the planning phase. 
"Only considering the technical-sport aspects, the planning phase activity, which allows to start from an idea and to then reach the final design of the Giro d'Italia, ties down 5 persons.

The on-site inspection phase requires two teams:
1 RCS Sport team composed by approximately 20 persons including people in charge, technicians and designers holding specific skills as regards departure, arrival, race headquarters and last kilometers 
1 Host broadcaster team composed by approximately 10 persons, in order to  control, under a TV broadcasting standpoint, the production requirements of each stage 

Always considering the sole technical-sport aspects (without counting all the forces operating in the logistics, marketing, press fields, etc.), the operative personnel dedicated to the event amounts to approximately 160 persons."


Glory days - Vegni with Acquarone and Scarponi in Denmark 2012

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As Vegni look into the crystal ball he glazes backwards to, comparing the old days to the present. 

"The Giro d'Italia has changed a lot in respect to the past, especially for what concerns the approach and the philosophy grounding the event: a real demand for innovation linked to an increasing attention to internationality, trying to avoid habits and repetitiveness. This becomes a concrete reality through taking some more risks, looking for new and original spots: Zoncolan, Galibier and Assisi, by way of example, derive from this approach.

But there is more, the stage’s planning and feasibility technical assessment phase has taken a  highly professional aspect, leaving nothing to chance or to last minute management."

Teamwork, spirit is one more important factor, which for sure represents a great added value, he adds. 







Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Kjærgaard speaks out - sort of

Just as I started to feel Armstrong fatigue after following the recent developments, as probably you all did, the snowball from the Armstrong/USPS-affair came to Norway.

Norway hasn't had that many doping cases, a couple of weightlifters for steroids, a race walker was busted for EPO last year, and a couple of the odd "it was in my supplements"-excuses are pretty much it. Even a horse is listed as one of Norway's doping scandals. Says perhaps much about Norwegians too, what do I know. 

Kjærgaard during today's press conference

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It isn't that Kjærgaard doped that surprises me, followers on twitter would know my position, although I put my pride in not openly judge riders without proof. It's not a fair fight. I remember when I started following pro cycling seriously, I almost laughed at the idea of an omertà in cycling, that it was something the conspiracy thinkers out there had cooked together. However, it didn't take long to get an understanding that something was lurking in the dark. Today, as Kjærgaard admitted doping, his fear of the omertà was obvious.


Two stories
Among the journos at the press conference today sat Mads Kaggestad, former Credit Agricole now cycling commentator on Norwegian TV2. He rode at the same time as Kjærgaard (2003), on different teams obviously. Today he confronted Kjærgaard harshly, on several subjects such as who was involved behind the scenes, Johan Bruyneels touch in the matters at USPS, how he refused to believe that Kjærgaard and the other riders at Chicken and USPS didn't talk about doping "at all", as Kjærgaard said. 
On one hand you have Kjærgaard, a talented rider, one of the few Norwegians who went pro, did scoop up a couple of good palmares on his way, arguably being one of Norway's top three cyclists. He rode together with Lance Armstrong on his team, one of, if not the greatest rider on the planet. On the other hand you have Kaggestad, a very talented rider who also turned pro, but instead of going to a dodgy team he went to Credit Agricole under the watchful eye of Roger Legeay. He never got the same palmares as Kjærgaard, struggled in the increasingly faster peloton in the beginning of the millennium. But he never gave in
Today I saw an angry Kaggestad confronting Kjærgaard and the two careers puzzled me. To see and feel the emotions Kaggestad had, not only because he "knew" something wasn't right back then, but also due the fact that Kjærgaard has lied to Kaggestad's and everyone's face the last 10-15 years. As who has my respect today, it's quite clear. I had much respect for Mads Kaggestad before, both because of what he accomplished as a rider and because of his commentator skills, but today he earned even more. To compete in a peloton that goes faster every week, year after year, and still maintaining his stance is remarkable. He almost ran his body in the ditch as the dopers increased the tempo. Kaggestad says to Procycling.no that he feels doping to a certain degree ruined his career. 

Kjærgaard on Chicky

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Kaggestad questioning Kjærgaard

Photo credit Erlend Aas, Scanpix

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Many, many riders didn't dope, I hear you say. True, then they all deserve an extra clap on the shoulders. It is difficult when dreams meet reality. When real life obligations meet demands. I think I have my priorities clear and my suitcase of courage, but that's me. Kaggestad can face others with pride, while the one who doped quietly wiped tears today in a press conference. In the end, Kaggestad won.

The basics
To me this is about the fundamental element of sports; a level playing field. The payment of hard work, dedication, brilliant tactics and teamwork is the key reason I follow sports. Maybe over the edge romantic, but that's how it is. The idea of someone playing by a different set of rules makes sport pointless, meaningless.

Reading Tyler Hamilton's book "The Secret Race" was interesting, not so much because of the doping itself, mostly old news except the scale of it, but more due to the insight on Hamilton's personal level. What is it like to live a lie for so many years? Earning your job, perhaps some of your friends, your network, your house and car on something fake? Like it or not, it does something to you. Read the book, Kjærgaard did and said on the press conference that he was hoping to learn and feel what Hamilton did as he came forward with the news. 
Doping isn't (just) cheating, cheating is what you can do in card games. No, doping is fraud. You earn money, that means someone else loses. You win and get famous, that means someone else will not get the sponsors you do. There are many more than just the riders involved too, take a look at Rabo, that's some 80-100 people who have secured income just one more year. They have families etc etc, you follow my lead here, no doubt about that.

Omerta is still here
During the press conference I was waiting to see Kjærgaard namedrop some of the people behind the organized doping. Actually, it was Kaggestad who first asked about the people standing in the shadows. Suddenly Kjærgaard's body-language froze (even more). In the beginning he couldn't recall one person in any teams he had doped in.  As he received heat he mentioned Del Moral's name once, but the words "closed communication between me and the doctors", "closed network", He even said that he didn't know if Kim Andersen knew he (Kjærgaard) doped when he was on Andersen's team, even though the team doctor did the injections. To me this was a great disappointment, I had hoped he would provide info on the main characters in the shadows. Perhaps it wasn't the time nor place to call out everyone who was involved. Kjærgaard rather pathetic said he "didn't recall anyone directly involved in doping on any of the teams he rode for." He came clear on his own, but it became clear to me that the omertà still is alive and kicking.

Kjærgaards predecessor as national sports director, Svein Gaute Hølestøl, knew Kjærgaard doped back in 1999. He was a fellow Norwegian pro cyclist in Belgium at the same time as Kjærgaard. Hølestøl was sports director for Kjærgaard on the national team later, knowing Kjærgaard had doped. 

Kjærgaard will be interviewed by Antidoping Norway on his experiences, and that might clear some matters up, at least I hope he take advantage of that possibility. 

Conclusion
Today Steffen Kjærgaard, former USPS and former national sports director Norwegian Cycling, admitted doping in his career. He sat there crying, admitting that he had planned to take this secret with him right until the end. He was pushed to confess, by the recent events in cycling. His honor is gone, as he has kept a lie for 15 years. One of the things annoying me the most is him being a leader. Having responsibility for the development of others is disturbing. 

Today I also saw the omertà alive and kicking, and what it does to people. It need to stop.

I sincerly hope Kjærgaard finds some inner peace in coming forward, but I see that is a small comfort to all the people he robbed and deceived. Living a lie is never easy.


More on the case:

TV2
VG
Procycling.no






Friday, 28 September 2012

Rapha and Team Sky - a challenge for rapha branding?


The news that Rapha is teaming up with Team Sky became a well known fact to everyone on the 30th of August. Exciting news in many ways, as Team Sky is well-known for its high demands when it comes to quality and "marginal gains", while Rapha has managed to picture itself somewhere between the high-end manufacture line and lux. The downfall, at least for Rapha's part is considerable, as any supplier to one of Britain's top performance brands. At the same time, remember Rapha is not new to the racing stage, they have supported Rapha Condor Sharp (RCS) a pro-continental team for several years benefiting from experiences in tech drawn from there.

Branding
Much can be said and written about branding. Worldwide consultants paid by the hour compete telling us as consumers and corporations how necessary it is to be visibly out there. So what is branding? Branding is linked to many aspects; sales, marketing, strategy, storytelling, identity etc. The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as


name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.   
Therefore, it is logical to link psychology to branding, to get consumers to believe that a product/brand is the only one that can meet the standards or solve my "problem."

Upwards, downwards or sideways
It didn't take long before both Team Sky boss Brailsford and Rapha CEO Simon Mottram released the usual carefully written statements surely approved at multiple levels in both organisations. Usually I'm not that interested in them, as many tend to be "attributed quotes" as the eminent Inner Ring has written about earlier.

How will the deal between Sky and Rapha affect consumers?

Yesterday I tweeted exactly that, mentioning that I look forward seeing what will happen to the brand. I must admit I like the brand. The way they have build their brand along the years, particularly the stories and pictures. I also have some clothing, very happy with some of it, not so with every piece of clothing.

When a manufacture sponsor a team, there surely (as well as hopefully) there will be an increase in sales. That's the point in the first place, right? Rapha has managed to link itself somewhere near the lux-scale in clothing today, upscale pricing isn't, of course, in itself a sign of quality, but Rapha has managed to brand itself to that too. Based on activity on twitter when Rapha is being mentioned, it seems people either like it or hate it, not so much in between. Much of the criticism have been regarding pricing. Today, a number of Rapha products are being made in China by KTC, albeit designed in the UK. As volume increases, will we see lower prices? Claims have been made that some manufacturers have operated with one clothing-line for pros and one for the others. Of course, pros might have made to measure jerseys, as they tend to have slightly less arms than most, but if the fabrics are two very different, some people might react. My opinion is that you get what you pay for and perhaps is this the way it will and needs to be. Alex Murray called this "diffusion line" earlier today, "slightly cheaper materials/manufacture, but same look."  

What I surely think Mottram didn't expect when he co-founded the brand in 2004 is the possibility to find a replica jersey in a mobile trailer sales-out at the foot of Alpes d'Huez. Another way of viewing this is that you actually succeeded in building a great brand since people are copying your products.

Summary
What will come out of the Sky-Rapha deal will be exciting. The people behind Rapha have been very consistent and thoughtful in their branding up to now, so there is nothing indicating this will not go the way they have planned. If they are able to meet the formidable focus Sky have on R&D, details and "marginal gains". A chance like this for a manufacture is a once in a lifetime shot so why not grab it with both hands?

To us consumers? Hopefully a lower price on their products, as the volume most likely will increase. If Rapha want to differentiate between the highest end of products and the products for recreational riders, please do so. After all, as Alex Murray wrote, one can still earn lots of money on cheap(er) things:



Saturday, 1 September 2012

Reinstate the jerseys


(click picture to enlarge)

Take a good look at the picture from the Vuelta homepage. By the looks of things, it might be the battle for KOM but it is not. It could be the fight for GC, but Degenkolb doesn't quite add to the equation, does he?

Yes, of course it is the point classification, or "sprinters' jersey."

Make the competition a competition
Traditionally, everyone got a feeling for the jerseys, they are brilliant in themselves, not only a thing to aspire to for the riders, but an easy way for beginners of the sport to get an understanding of what is going on. Say "yellow jersey" and most people on the planet will relate that to the leader of the Tour de France. What a  fantastic brand.
Jerseys in cycling are sort of iconic and need to mean something to everyone, its bounderies and framework clear cut to avoid confusion. If riders, sponsors and fans miss out the sense-making, where would that lead us?

At the same time it is easy to forget that the green jersey is not a sprinter's jersey, it is the points classification. Two different things. Does the GC winner need an extra one or is it possible to turn it into a sprinter's jersey? Perhaps will the result be that several more sprinters would show up for the entire vuelta, instead of leaving early as we have witnessed before.

Edward Pickering from Cyclingsport magazine wrote an excellent comment on the competition for the polka dot jersey a compelling one, I'd expect the ASO to learn from this. The fight for jerseys should be special to all the different categories of riders, hence the increasing specialization in cycling today. Mark Cavendish fought very well for the red point jersey in the giro, only to loose for Rodriguez by one small point at the very last possible stage (yes, there are points in the last TT too, but not likely Cav or Rodriguez would grab one). Battles like these are amazing to witness, for everyone. For the organisers, fans and motivational for the riders to be a part of themselves.

Summary
So ASO, please do us all a favour and reinstate the jerseys. Bring them back into the spotlight and make the competition for each a good one.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Lance Armstrong - crimes, lies and why it still is important


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Photocredit Lukas Jackson/Reuters

Henrik Ibsen, said to be the most frequently performed dramatist after Shakespeare said this famous quote in the play "The wild duck" (1884):
If you take the life lie from an average man, you take away his happiness as well.

Not that Lance Armstrong is an average man, by all means he's not, but I'm sure you get where I'm heading.

Before writing this post I had a couple of days of thinking. Not on the facts and how they play along. Work got in the way and frankly I also wanted to get a post like this heading somewhere. After all, despite what fanboys and girls on his side claim, this is big. Despite what the lack of spine among some riders, managers and industry people tell, this is the biggest fraud in the history of sports. That's why it matters. Not that some of the evidence is fourteen years old and that Armstrong is a retired athlete, this goes into the core of what sports is and how it should be. That is why it is important to me.

I won't play the "I'm-so-disappointed-card" because I'm not.

The organisations
Some have expressed that this is bad for cycling, among them are Tom Boonen and Lars Bak whom I watched yesterday stateed this in addition to several others on twitter. I disagree. The case has made it quite clear what the problem is, and it is not the riders. The way the UCI has exposed themselves, their governing capabilities and intentions during this case have been both tragic and somewhat entertaining. Why? Because the rest of the world is paying attention. I have been wondering if the best thing for cycling would be if the IOC threw cycling out of the Olympics. That way, the different national federations would "wake up and smell the coffee". On the other hand, such a move would mean organisations like USADA wouldn't have jurisdiction, which isn't a good idea. Anti-doping work need to be impartial, period
Speaking of USADA, I am a bit confused and anxious reading that so many from the US seem to want the organisation to disappear. To me, the cornerstone of a sports organisation is excactly the impartial work an organisation like USADA does. If there was a SPOTY in the US, my vote (if I had one) would go to Travis Tygart and his crew.
When US Attorney Andre Birotte closed the fed investigation of Armstrong, I was upset. Why on earth would he do that? No matter whose side you're on, a thorough investigation would, in my opinion, be an end to this case once and for all. But no. So when I heard that the USADA picked up the glove and got hold of the overwhelming evidence, I looked upon this with great interest.

US Cycling sided with the UCI, not surprisingly. Take a look at the flow chart at Cyclismas to get an understanding of the links.

As the UCI continues to make an utter bad impression regarding their top management capability to govern, I'm eager to find out what ASO is up to and their thoughts on the matter.

Business as usual?
Lance Armstrong is, besides being an outstanding gifted athlete, also a very good businessman. I got nothing against a guy making a lot of money on his own. Basing it on fake results is an entirely different case. Today a leading newspaper in Norway, www.vg.no claimed Armstrong has made more than $100 million over the years, in addition to owning/leasing a private jet and valuable property. Add a very solid network of powerful people from business to politics. Some are trying to dissociate themselves from him as much they can, whilst others seem to be sticking with their fallen hero. News says that Livestrong donations went from $3k per day to $78k following the controversy from last week. Just as Armstrong has been trying to do, duck and divert the news about his doping into a public cancer-awareness campaign, as he has done repeatedly with luck the recent years, this however, is not a fight about who does what to/against cancer. It's about the biggest fraud in the history of sports. The fact that Armstrong spent some of his earned money to set up a foundation to help awareness is a good thing. Several thousand people voluntarily work for Livestrong giving help to people who need it is great, no matter how cynical its boss is. Just as cycling is bigger than Armstrong, the "fight" against cancer most definitely is too. Despite his attempt of trying to make people believe otherwise getting people emotionally attached to him and his story. His story is great, I was inspired by him once. But this is not about cancer, this is about something else.

Bull or bear?
Armstrong's way of getting his way is well known to people familiar with cycling. What I find the worst in his statement as he "turn the page", is this: "At every turn, USADA has played the role of a bully, threatening everyone in its way and challenging the good faith of anyone who questions its methods and motives (...)". I almost don't know where to start. Armstrong himself is considered a bully himself and one of his methods for getting at his critics, it is excactly acting like one. Ask Betty and Frankie Andreu, who allegdely witnessed Armstrong confess to doctors on the 29th of Oct 1996 using PEDs how they felt during the years. Ask Simeoni and Bassons who were literally bullied out of the peloton (ask their wifes and families too while you're at it, who lost one of the households income). Ask Tyler Hamilton about the episode at CacheCache and ask Greg Lemond what happened to his bikecompany after he called out to Armstrong. Ask Emma O'Reilly who once was Armstrong's masseuse. Ask David Walsh and Paul Kimmage. The list goes on and on.

I wonder if Armstrong, like several other sports icons, thinks that regular laws don't apply to him.

Armstrong claiming that there are no physical evidence of him doping might be true. But as many statements from Armstrong during the years, it's just halfway true. What is a physical evidence? A test? We know Barry Bonds didn't fail one, Marion Jones didn't fail 160 (!) tests until she confessed lying to federal investigators and fans in tears. So it couldn't have been difficult dodging tests then?
The AFLD even claims Armstrong was tipped off before tests, more among the excellent work by Shane Stokes over at Velonation, here.
Testemonies from those surrounding him who witnessed the crimes year after year should be sufficiant.

The fundament of sports
Whether you have a romantic view on sports, like I do, or are a full time cynic, I don't know. To me sports is about equal terms. No matter your background, race, political standpoint and gender, you meet and compete against others. Now there will always be development and athletes searching for the upper hand. That is usually fine as society needs to evolve to move forward. The marginal gain-philosophy is also fine with some limitations. That's why we have rules and organisations are put in place to govern. I don't want some teams with unlimited budgets being able to sport 5,6 kg bikes while other can't afford bikes weighing less than 7,9 kg. To me ethics and framework within sports are chrystal clear and vital for a sport to function. It is as simple as that. Chemistry in sports can and must never ever set the premise for who will win.

The effects of someone cheating runs deep, and I can only imagine the amount of people effected negatively by it. People close to the doper, family, teammates and their family, staff and so forth. Not to mention the competitors who were deprived a possibility which in return affected their family again.

Despite what Armstrong says in his statement "the same courses, the same rules", it doesn't make it right if everybody is doing it. Just as one cannot face the mirror and say that it was okay to bully a classmate just because everyone else did. It doesn't make it right, ever. I understand times were different then compared to now, but that was then, this is now. As USADA have overwhelming evidence including more than 10 witnesses, some of the teammates and Armstrong's friends, claiming they saw Armstrong dope, a physical evidence doesn't matter. The same goes for other cases tried before the court, not related to sports. Some of the alleged witnesses have even admitting to doping themselves, stepped forward and taking responsibility.

Summary
Cycling is bigger than Lance Armstrong, much bigger. Yes, the cases are old but he and others surrounding him are taking advantage of his cheating yet today, making millions of dollars. The message is clear, no matter how big star you are, what you did was wrong and letting that go by unnoticed just because some of the incidents happened 15 years ago is not right. Remember, according to USADA, some of the incidents are just a few years old. Many say Armstrong quitting was an admission to guilt. I tend to degree as this is the closest thing to admit guilt we'll see from Armstrong. I just hope that this case now can be closed and cycling can move on. The evicence will come out as the cases of Bruyneel and others still are ongoing. We will see what steps Armstrong takes if this happens, but there is no doubt that his all American hero-status has taken a blow. Far to big for him to recover from and the number of powerful people seems to decrease by the hour. Is this bad for cycling? No, not in my opinion. Discussing doping and getting facts in the open is good for cycling. It proves cycling has taken a position. WIll people continue to dope? Yes, but I believe the number of riders go down. As Vaughters said: "let's not give them the option." Lets level the playing field.

Will Lance Armstrong's life lie come out? I think so. He could have taken the initiative several times, he could have emerged with a different legacy than he will now. I hope this will be a lesson for everyone.

As I write this post the words of Brian Nygaard came back to my attention:
Integrity is what you do when nobody is watching.
Something for each and everyone to remember.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The voice in ear - helpful?

Becoming king - or should I at least say Sir?

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When you're out on the road, how do you encourage yourself during the most intensive workouts? Do you picture yourself in a break two kilometres from the finish line as Peter Sagan is closing in on you? Or perhaps you are picturing Lefevere or Madiot behind you in the team car yelling "Allez! Allez!"?

From time to time anybody enjoys a bit of help on the way, right? A tiny motivational voice somewhere far back, whispering words of encouragement along the way. For a recreational cyclist, this voice, if you have heard one, is probably your own swearing or your annoyingly fitter friend you (at the time) would like to go somewhere the sun does not shine. For a professional cyclist it can be just the same (probably not with the fitter friend but who knows). Suffering is equally hard and not depending on fitness level, there is a saying that climbing hills don't get any easier the more fit you are, you're just going faster.

No interference
Some riders, like Dave Zabriskie, doesn't want any feedback at all during his TTs. Zabriskie's suffering takes place internally, according to Allen Lim, who used to be Garmin's team physiologist, said that "When he's in a time trial, he thinks of himself as a superhero".

Not exactly Marc Madiot-style that's for sure. Whether young Thibault Pinot enjoys this kind of encouragement is unknown. As is if he had any choice I might add.

Remember this one?

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Wiggins' approach
Bradley Wiggins has a totally different approach than Dave Zabriskie. Constant feedback on time gaps relative to major competitors, distance to climbs, any obstacles and so forth. In the interview below where Wiggo speaks about the Olympics TT, (video tweeted by Rich Land earlier today), Wiggins says that Sean Yates, "who's been in the car all year (...) came down for the day." Never change a winning team, it's all about marginal gains, eh?



Next time you're out there on your favourite climb, try saying some calculated words to yourself. Before you take that ride, take a couple of minutes to visualize yourself going up that hill. Imagine what you see, what you smell and hear and above all - how good you feel.
When climbing, grab a second here and there. 30 seconds after you are on the top of the climb, the pain is gone. How do you want to feel like when you are done?

If this doesn't work you can always download Madiot's monologue, it will probably do the trick too.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Arctic Race of Norway - the new stage race on the calender



"We wish to make the Arctic Race of Norway a strong contributor on the international race calendar. Based on the extremely beautiful nature and concept, this race will be unique in international cycling." - Yann Le Moenner, ASO managing director.

The words of Yann Le Moenner is from a trip to the northern part of Norway just two days after the 2011 Tour de France, where three ASO executives, among them Baptiste Kern, ASO Development Director for new concepts, paid the organisers of the Arctic Tour of Norway a visit. The ASO directors did a trip on a RIB to Trollfjorden where they witnessed the famous spectacular turn by the coastal express. They also visit the city of Svolvær and went out fishing in the lovely Lofoten area.

The five-stage race is supposed to begin on the 25th of July 2013.

The magnifiscent Lofoten

Photo from Brittannica

Ambition
The long term goal is to host a World Tour event in Norway, but the application to UCI aims for 2.1 classification, something the ASO presence as an organiser seem to be a guarantor for. In Norway, the Glava Tour of Norway is the only race with a 2.1 status, something the organisers of that event had to work hard over several years to get.
The 2.1 classification means that minimum 50% of the riders will be from World Tour teams.

The early days
The organiser in Norway has its roots back to the Andørja Sportsklubb, who started organising a cyclo sportive called Tour de Andørja back in 2000. The race has developed during the years and consists today of a road race, MTB race, free ride on skis, in addition to an event for kids and some running events - all under the umbrella of Tour de Andørja Triple Challenge.

The organisers set themselves big goals already from the beginning. In 2003 they set an ambition to host the national road championship, which was granted in 2004. The national championship in 2006 was helt at Andørja (small island in the northern part of Norway). The plans of organising a big international event began in 2008, with the organisers going to Ringerike GP (now Glava Tour of Norway) to learn form their experience and in 2009 they went to Denmark for the 2.0 race held there.

Two of the individuals responsible for the Arctic Race of Norway, Ole Skardal and Knut-Eirik Dybdal, used their contacts within media, namely sports director at the TV2, Bjørn Taalelsen, and above all Trond Ahlsen (also TV2), and a meeting was arranged in Paris 27th of April 2011. The Norwegians came well prepared with video of the landscape and a powerpoint brief in French. The meeting was scheduled to take 20 minutes, but lasted for over three hours.

ASO and ARN officials in Trollfjorden

Photo by ARN
Game plan
The race is relying on a package so to speak, with exotic and new ways of organising a race combined with nature at its best. The race offer spectacular landscape of the northern part of Norway, breathtaking nature with the sea, mountains and wildlife like whales. I spoke to Knut-Eirik Dybdal about how to attract be best riders to the race, as it will take place just after the tour when several big names will ride different high-income crits around Europe and with the Eneco Tour coming just after. The reponse was "partly the whole spectacular package, partly high prize money for the stages." The fact that ASO are among the organisers guarantee a certain technical and logistical frame to the race
"Another important matter is the exotism of the race, taking place as far North as it is with the special light and nature. The fact that the teams and riders will stay on cruiseships for the entire race is new to cycling. This means they can bring their families as well, a nice gesture as the travel days during a season is somewhat full as it is. The teams, riders and media will each stay in the same hotel for the duration av the race, something which is unique in stage races", Dybdal says.

One important aspect is the midnight sun. Not only because it is spectacular in itself, but because of the business opportunities it provides. If you're confused think broadcasting across continents. The possibility to have one or more stages late in the evening european time gives possibilities to broadcast live to the US prime time. So much for the watching races live at odd times on a language you don't understand.  

1st row: Ståle, Yann Le Moenner, Knut-Eirik Dybdal, Trond Ahlsen, Baptiste Kern, Petter Ytterstad and Bjørn Taalesen.
2nd row: Asbjørn Andersen, Jorodd Asphjell, Anita Olset and Laurent Boqouillet.

Photo by Ole Skardal.

Organising
The organisers and ASO will, as soon as the Govermental financial guarantee is given, establish a company reponsible for organising the event. ASO will own 60% while Arctic race of Norway 40%. Note, this is not the normality of ASO ownership, which tends to be 100%. The Vuelta is an exemption where ASO own 60% as they bought a share in the race back in 2008.
The budget for the first year is about 27,3 MNOK equivalent of €3,7 million. To be approved ny the UCI as a stage race, the organiser have to prove 100% financial support.

The race follows one the ASO models, with establishing a rather small race organisation and rely on short-term rentals/augmentees of the spesific competence needed.
ASO are a technical as well as a financial guarantor to the UCI in addition to the prospect of hosting a stage race with high UCI-classification.

ASO will at the highest have as much as 30 people involved woth the race, a symbol of how much they want this race to succeed. The majority is mostly technical personell as ASO has a special role as technical organiser of the race.

According to Knut-Eirik Dybdal, Thor Hushovd has already spread the word among the riders in the pro peloton, making sure they are informed about the race.

Behind the company Arctic Race of Norway AS is a company called Nordic. Nordic is a company that has several interests in the region in terms of property development, hotel management and restaurants.

Ole Skardal and Knut-Eirik Dybdal at this year's Tour de France - talking to ASO-personnel.

Photo by Mads Bang Pedersen, downloaded here

Numbers
In order to bring such an event to Norway, or anywhere else for that matter, numbers are of highest importance. Privat corporations as well as politicians depend on numbers, hopefully not the red ones. So here are some of the estimated effects:

  • 2013: 117 MNOK / €15,7 M in returns to the area, 88 MNOK of these related to tourism
  • 2013: 263 new jobs in the region if the race takes place

  • 2016: 333 MNOK / €44,7 M in returns to the area, 298 MNOK of this related to tourism
  • 2016: 719 new jobs in the region if the race takes place 

  • Marketing value associated with TV-exposure estimated to be 15,5 million USD (same as Tour of Oman)
  • In addition to the existing hotel stays the race organisers estimates 36880 nights additional in 2013.
The ASO have estimated that a stage race of this caliber need three years as a minimum to be able to generate stabil income through sponsors etc. As of now the organisers are in dialog with several potential sponsors, but as this early stage, revealing these could jeopardize sponsorship. However, the organisers want the sponsors to be active in the area/region and with the intent to help cycling, in addtion to the business perspective of wanting to boost their own sales.

The race will generate sideeffects as a result so entrepreneurs - unite!

The route
As of now the route is a well kept secret. But, what is known is that starts and finish need to be in towns for several reasons, to ensure this is the big fiesta it can be and of logistical reasons. The race will take place in all the three northern countys in Norway, a crossing of the polar circle, a finish in the city of Svolvær in Lofoten and Tromsø can not be ruled out. Another important matter is capacity for harbouring cruiseboats.

Summary
The race have so many possibilities for a unique atmoshere with the special nature of the northern part o f Norway with the special wildlife. The possibility to have a stage race on a latitude far North is exotic and the ASO directors loved it when they paid the area a visit.

The race is depending a govermental financial support, in order to be fully approved by the UCI. The organisers and ASO have put a deadline on themselves to have this in place no later than 1st of September 2012. The UCI seem to have faith in the project, as they already have scheduled the race on the race calender from the 25th of Augsut 2013.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Thoughts on teamwork and the tour

Almost there

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Let me start by apologize for the few posts I've written during the tour. Blame work, and partly that I have enjoyed watching cycling all day and evening. Instead, I have tweeted more, microblogging so to say.

Today we witnessed Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky winning the 2012 Tour de France. I feel a bit uncomfortable saying it out loud, because the race continues for two more days, three if you count the parade in to Paris. Freak accidents and mechanical breakdowns could happen. We've seen Michael Rasmussen loose a podium some years ago during the last TT, crashing twice and throwing the bike into the woods wearing the climbers jersey. But by the looks of things, Team Sky have this one under control, the same control they have had of the tour.

Some have critisized the tour of being boring and predictable, and that Team Sky "ruined" the excitement by being so strong. I think the reason is not just one, but several.

  • First of all the route sort of favors the TT specialists, that we've known since the route was unveiled last October, everybody understood that.
  • Secondly, the crash at stage 6 injured many riders and some even left the race. Crashes the first week is nothing new but difficult to avoid as nervousness and inattention haven't let go yet.
  • Our expectations to the tour. Fans want to see dancing pedals and furious attacks around every corner as well remembering this tour as the best ever. Preservation of team's goals once its in within reach as well as UCI point system and physical limitations, are some of the reasons our expectations weren't met.
  • Total domination by Sky is another reason as they are just too strong to combat.

Oiled maschinery in action - "We've trained for this."

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Ambitions aside
I have previous written about this issue and all of you who follow professional cycling are aware of this. Sometimes it be painful to watch, as riders setting their personal ambitions, dreams and aspirations aside for the team's decision. Sky have done that this year to the fullest. The tour is one of the very few races, if not the only one in cycling, where 2nd and 3rd are not the first losers.

Today we all witnessed the climbing skills of Chris Froome, he is, in my eyes anyway, the best climber of all the riders in this year's tour. It is hard to watch Froome not getting another stage as "payment" as almost all had wanted that to happen. It's easy to have this perspective, at least when we are not certain of the communication between the two riders in question and the team car. Wiggins said after the stage that he had given Froome the "go" to get the stage win but Froome chose to stay with him. I have yet to see any comments by the DS.
People have speculated if Froome can win a tour himself in the future, and I have no doubt he will, if he's got the same support as Wiggins. It's also important to remember that Froome knew what he signed up for, he's newly renewned his contract, and is paid to help Bradley win. This is the objective perspective of course. Froome will be a giant in the years to come, he's been struggling with sickness the last couple of years but is back now. Imagine where he will be in two years of solid training by Kerrison in Sky?

I have written about Wiggins and Froome earier this tour, you can read that here.

Edvald Boasson Hagen who was free to go during two stages early in the tour, after that he has set his own ambitions aside selflessly. Towing an insanely amount of kilometres at the front, today he even pulled the main group to the bottom of the last climb, loosing several climbers in the making. What could he have done if he was not destined to work for Wiggins? Froome said in an interview today that he though EBH could win the yellow jersey one day and that he was totally blown away by EBH's capacity.

Same goes with Mark Cavendish, the reigning WC, the best sprinter of them all, reduced to a mere shadow of himself (or his capacity). Seeing carrying water bottles and being supportive of Wiggins is fine and he's got one stage so far.
It is easy to say that "yes, this is what they all should do." That is correct, but these guys are not just anybody. It takes a certain mindset to be a professional cyclist, and it takes a certain mindset to be as good as these guys are.

It is a bit ironic that Radioshack-Nissan lead the team competition. Today we saw Klöden riding past Zubeldia without helping him, Zubeldia being #5 GC prior to today's stage but dropping quicker than the US interest rate. So much for that, team competition is obviously more important. So Radioshack-Nissan is on track to win the best team competition for being a bunch of individuals. Lovely.

Danish dynamite
Who else but Chris Anker Sørensen? Trying hard for almost the entire tour to succeed in a brake, today he tried to fetch a newspaper out of his spokes in-flight, cutting three spokes in the process. The result was visible for all. Florence Pommerie, one of the tour docs, changed his dressings three times, claiming CAS "didn't have any pain, it just bled much." As of now, it's uncertain whether CAS will begin tomorrows stage as he undergoes surgery as we speak. Riis was quoted saying that CAS didn't have much flesh on two of his fingers left.

Danish dynamite

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Swede Kessiakoff deserves a mention too, fighting for the KOM jersey for two weeks, only to be bypassed by the clever Voeckler the last two days. Today's KOM battle was almost more interesting than the GC.

Summary
One could say the 2012 tour de France is over, but we've got a couple of stages left. The design of the very tour, incidents and injuries during the tour, the fans' expectations and the Team Sky domination are some of reasons this year's tour have been quite predictable.

Always nice but at the same time frustrating to see good riders giving up their own ambitions to meet a "higher" goal set by the team. Payback will come and hopefully everyone will be happy. After all, this is teamsport.

The tour de France is soon over. But fear not, the Olympics are soon here as well as Il Lombardia and the Worlds.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

2012 Tour de France - Will Froome attack Wiggins?

Not this time.

Today we were once again reminded how wonderful cycling is. A stage packed with all the drama you could possible imagine. Celebration, sorrow and pain. Emotions in sports meeting the cynism of professional sport. I have no doubt that this stage will be remembered and debated for a long time. To me, it was one of the best stages in years.

Now, which hat to wear, the objective one who refers to professional sport and the business point of view or from a fan perspective?

Froome tows the GC contenders - doing a mighty good job too

Photocredit Joel Saget (Afp/Scanpix) downloaded at Procycling.no, here


The frame
Race director Jean-Francois Pescheux had set up a stage which energised "attack". Being only 148 kilometers long it is rather short but the climbs makes it a monster and a giant. It seems ASO have looked to RCS when deciding the parcourse of this year's tour. The stage today was great, and provided a frame for fireworks, and as promised it was. Race favourites Nibali and Evans trying to attack, only to be reeled in by Sky. The battle at the front of the break was equally interesting and entertaining.

The battles
There have been so many domestic battles in cycling, probably more than most of us know to. That is one side of cycling I truly enjoy, the personal sacrifice riders make. Giving up own chances for others is special in today's society, call me a romantic but that's how I feel. Every now and then leadership within teams gets questioned or challenged if you like. Bear in mind that being a successfull cyclist is demanding, being a professional rider is an indication that you probably pocess more of certain abilities than most don't. Being a star or a star in the making isn't making things easier. It can even split a nation, like it did back in 1940 when Fausto Coppi was brought on the Legnano team by Eberardo Pavesi to ride for Gino Bartali. Bartali representing the traditional and rather conservative south part of Italy versus young Coppi from the modern and industrialized north.

Cycling will ever forget the 1986 Tour de France where Hinault had publicly stated he would support LeMond but that didn't turn out the way anybody expected, least LeMond. Hinault broke free and got a five-minute lead on his teammate. LeMond got the lead back eventually but Hinault never stopped attacking. On stage 19 Hinault was brought back by his teammates Hampsten and Bauer with LeMond as the race leader. That said, the two shared leadership in the La Vie Claire team but the lack of leadership/guidance from the team manager the tone, quickly became umistakenable.

More recently we've have the 1997 battle between Ullrich and Riis, where Riis was leader and Ullrich was supposed to work for him. It didn't take long before Ullrich realised that Riis was in trouble as he couldn't take the tempo set by Pantani and Virenque. On stage 10 Riis was dropped again and Ullrich dropped back to the team car asking for permission to attack and leave Riis behind. Ullrich got the permission and went ahead to win the tour.

Possible today?
When is it allowed to attack the team captain and the yellow jersey? Today we saw Christopher Froome blowing the tour up with his superpowers. It was just amazing to see him and his performance. He made many proud today, including himself although it might take time to realise. However, it was clear he was stronger than Bradley Wiggins, tour leader and team leader, today anyway. I tweeted earlier that this is a part of professional sport, not just today but that's how things have always been. Team Sky was created to put a Briton on the top of the podium in Paris, they even presented a timeframe when they established the team, within five years. Yes, Froome is Briton too so that can apply for him as well, but the team is build around Wiggins.

Will Froome get his chance in the tour as the lead character? No doubt, and it can even happen next year while he's on Sky. This year's course fits Wiggins better than anyone (besides Froome..) and next year we will have Contador back from his doping ban, making the competition better. Wiggins have five riders designet to help him win the tour. After that, anything can happen. One should also remember that this was just one stage so it's impossible to rule out that Wiggins had a "bad day", if you can call it that. That said, I believe Froome is the best climber in this year's tour without a doubt, but what can you do? It is not abnormal to see people more clever or doing a better job than their boss, but this is totally different or at least totally different rules. This is sports and we link so much emotions to it. At the same time it feels so wrong to see a rider who has been sacrificing so much through the years, having trained, slept, ate and dreamed about achivements and when his finest moment is within reach, he's not allowed.

After the stage Froome took the wrong way down from the mountain, when he finally realised, Norwegian TV2 was there and got some interesting words from him, here.

"Sean Yates said stop, wait for Bradley." "So it is important to follow team orders?" "Yes, if everybody did their own thing it might as well be an invidual sport." "So no mutiny?" "No mutiny, not now." "But you will get your chances?" "I'm certain I will get the chance some day, I see the big picture and know my work will get noticed."

Conclusion
The objective part in me says that this is something Froome probably had foreseen. At least if I was his mental coach I would prepare him for this. He may not like it, but he's there with one purpose, to support Wiggins. That he's doing so well is great, also for Sky because they have one more card to play if their leader for some reason falls through. If there is any comfort, Froome won many fans' heart today. He has just performed the best job application possible, both internally in Sky and for other team owners.

Can Froome do what others have in the past, attack their team mate to possible win the tour? I doubt that, because he could find himself on a flight back to Monaco the next day. Froome is a professional athlete and would never come to the tour with another purpose. He is #2 in line and he is very much aware of this.
But, if he continues this way, arguably he can finish the tour knowing himself as well as proving to others that he is the moral winner of the 2012 Tour de France. Remember, Paris is still far away.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

French Cycling - the hope is located in Besançon

Today we witnessed one of French cycling's hopes, Thibaut Pinot, claim the stage win on a very entertaining stage. Pinot happens to be the youngest rider in the tour this year only 22 years old. The stage brought fireworks as the broadcast started as the riders crossed the km 0, so the insane tempo and break away-attempts got caught on tape.

Besançon is one of my favourite cycling cities. It could be because its very French name fascinates me, but also due to the fact that I, since I started following the tour, have heard the name mentioned frequently enough to link the name to the tour. Tomorrow the tour will arrive in Besançon and the French media will guaranteed talk about French Cycling's hope.


However, French Cycling's hope is not a rider, it is located in Besançon.

The home of French Cycling's hope

Science meet sports - Australian Cycling and British Cycling lead the way
Down Under, the Australian Cycling had a new and interesting approach to sports performance. Sports in Australia was gathered under the umbrella of Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and later the Australian Sports Comission (ASC). Linking track performance to road, gathering the most promising riders and staff, basing the education and training on research, proved to be a recipe for good results. In addition to being a fun place to work, the emphasis was constantly on development of performance. The man who started this model related to cycling was Gary Sutton, head of AIS cycling. Together with Neil and Gary Stephens and Shayne Bannan, all lifelong friends and associates, the pace and direction for Australian Cycling was set. Shane Bannan became head of cycling at a later stage. 
All the buzz words now familiar with BC was used here, like "rider-centric", "technology based" and so forth.


The first initiative - the original

British Cycling is based on the Australian model. Back in the day, Shane Sutton, after his days as a rider, was Welsh cycling coach. He looked to his brother in the AIS for inspiration, used the same template and got a job at British Cycling (BC). Peter Keen, currently special advisor for performance at UK Sports, had developed sports science techniques in the UK and took them with him to BC. It's fair to say the adaption of the AIS plans and template proved valuable, as the two countries have been the leading nations on track ever since as well as bringing very good talent to the table in both track and road.


Essential in both AC and BC is government sport funding. No medals=less funding. With the medals come money, easy calculation.  


The second initiative - rider centric and based on research principles 


French Cycling is on the move 
As certain as the Spring sun will melt snow away, the French sports media will bring out the hopes of French Cycling. Over the years many have been called, but few have past the test consistently. Arguably, French Cycling has been carried on the shoulders of single riders and staffers, giants in cycling whose romantic stories from back in the day gets increasingly better every time they are told. Ideas on training, nutrition and physiology was poor and in many cases, missing. Norwegian pros have told stories from French teams as late as after the millennium where French riders only ate the inside of a baguette in fear of gaining weight. The coaches weighing the riders on a frequent basis and the only issue at hand is body weight and body fat. Not exactly scientific based and systematic approach, is it?

So while the Aussies and Brits had enjoyed the fruits of a scientific, systematic approach to training for years, the French still had focus on length and riders' weight. But, after many years of under development in both the coaching part as well as rider development, a welcomed change came.

The Université de Besançon has a faculty called UFR Staps de Besançon/L'Upfr Sports, regarded as one of the best coaching education there is. Science, nutrition and multidisciplinary activities all incorporated to give the coaches the best preparations possible. The Faculty claim to use "technology in order to be effective both in work and academics in the analysis, interpretation and understanding of sporting events." Names like Jean-Baptiste Quiclet (Saur-Sojasun), Frédéric Grappe (FDJ) and Anthony Perrin, are all recognized in the cycling community as excellent coaches.

In addition to this, Besançon also has a cycling "high school", where the country's most promising riders study and receives feedback from some of the finest coaches in France. Arguably the best amateur team in France, Club Cycliste Étupes, a team which also happens to be the recruiting base for Ag2r, originate from Besançon. Well known riders like Bodrogi, Calzati, Dessel and not surprisingly, today's winner Thibaut Pinot, all come from this team.

Summary
Despite suffering from being late to the party, the French coaching education in Besançon is scientific based and has a systematic approach to the important details necessary to put their riders on top of the resultlist.


Today's win by Pinot is another indication that the future for French Cycling is brighter than ever.

Pinot crossing the line happy and with hearing problems after Madiot's screaming

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The post is inspired by the book "Røff guide til Tour de France 2012" by Johan Kaggestad, own knowlegde and some very useful guidance by a friend.




Monday, 2 July 2012

Stage 3 - cobble sightings and Amstel Gold Race

This year's classic stage.

Stage three of this year's tour deserves a mention. Not only because it will involve the possibility to get a sighting of cobbles, but in addition to this, the finish can arguably be described as similar to the Amstel Gold Race. Two classics in one, that must be worth a mention, don't you think?

The race returns to France and departs the city of Orchies, a city well known to the riders competing in Paris-Roubaix. The fact that this edition of the tour contains a few kilometres of cobbles frighten some while others see this a blessing and a possibility. Remember the havoc back in 2010? Personally I welcome cobbles, I believe any tour is more than cols and climbing, the tour winner should be able to perform over any surface. Perhaps a bit old-fashioned and romantic, I know, but that's how I feel.

Handling cobbles could be crucial not only to win stages but also to not loose the tour. The team leaders whip their team mates hard to stay near the front, and we all know the difficulties that can present. However, the surface of today's stage will be rather smooth, as Prudhomme for some reason has exluded the bigger cobbles this year. Next year then.

Climbs too
As mentioned, some think of the finish in Amstel when they see the finish in Boulogne-sur-Mer. The finish is what makes this stage similar to a classic. The tour returns to Boulogne-sur-Mer for a forth time, last in 2001. There are six pretty tough climbs, whereas four of them in the last 16 kilometres of the stage. Be aware of the wind as the tour sweeps by the English Channel. Cross winds can easily split the peloton.



  • Km 181.0 - Côte de Herquelingue (125 MASL) 1.7 kilometre-long climb at 5.8% - category 4
  • Km 185.0 - Côte de Quéhen (109 MASL) 1.4 kilometre-long climb at 5.9% - category 4
  • Km 190.5 - Côte du Mont Lambert (150 MASL)1.3 kilometre-long climb at 8.4% - category 3
  • Km 197.0 - Boulogne-sur-Mer 0.7 kilometre-long climb at 7.4% - category 4


Last kilometres

Potential winners
No one should exclude Sagan, as he showed great form so far in the tour, he climbs well and has a finish anyone envy. Edvald Boasson Hagen is the man Sky will ride for tomorrow, based on the show the last days, perhaps it's more fair to say "that guy who's not riding for Brad-day". Good news is that not many teams will have that many riders strong enough to cope with the climbs so not much support will be there for anyone. Chavanel won the French championship on similar grounds a mere year ago, while Cancellara has shown his strength before, while Goss is getting closer by the days. A punchy rider like Gilbert or Valverde could also bring the stage home. 


Bring on the classic stage. 







Sources: Letour.fr and "Røff guide til Tour de France 2012" - book by Johan Kaggestad, famous Norwegian commentator and coach.