Monday, 28 May 2012

The giro did the job - what's next for cycling?

No words needed

Downloaded here.
That's it, the 2012 giro is over. It all happened way too fast, the days of hurrying back from work to catch the last 50 k's live on the TV are definitely over. Following the race was excellent due to social media, allowing fans to follow the race at the same as doing the household tasks.

The changes
The RCS, organisers of the giro, promised some changes from last year's debated course, and they kept their promise. Many shorter stages, cut down on transfer length between stages, are some of the actions the organisers chose. And the result? I haven't seen a more open and exciting giro in years. Of course, this is not something the RCS have the sole resposibility for, as you all know, they create arenas for the teams and riders. What happens in a stage or in the race is solely up to the riders and the repective teams.

Earlier we've seen endless, boring stage races where one team towed their leader to the beginning of the mountain and it all exploded last 10 k. I think we're seeing a new beginning on the horizon. Shorter stages opens up a race on a totally different level, many more riders can actually be a star. Braveness should be rewarded, and it was, at least twice. I will forever remember the bold push by Rabottini who clung on to Rodriguez and won the stage after spending the whole day in the break was spectacular. I was hoarse after that stage, tell you that. And De Gendt, who was the only one who dared to take the mighty mountains of Moltirolo and Stelvio by force, in which he was rewarded with a brilliant giro podium. Racing a stage race has changed from getting that huge attack and gain 5 minutes, to the accumalation of the seconds on every stage, every day. Yes it is three weeks of racing and you've got like 3500 km to do it, but it comes down to that guy who gets the small seconds every time.

The brave should be rewarded. If I could decide, that would be the mantra for the future of racing.

Being a facilitator is not easy though, as many will have an opinion on the race, the logistics and for certain the course it self. Social media have flattened the playing field as riders and others can reach the organisers quickly and broadcast their meaning. Judging by the response from the riders they seem pretty content with the RCS.

Fighting spirit can take you here...

Downloaded here.

Many riders deserve a mention, I will just come up with some. Taylor Phinney, who was the first giro leader, was a fine ambassador and fought with his heart. All heart was also the reigning WC Mark Cavendish. I have to admit that I pictured him leave the race after ten days or so, bringing some PR to Sky Italia, the giro and of course to Sky, but he didn't crack. He stayed all race, giving all he had. Can't blame him for not trying win the red jersey. How long he will be in the tour is another chapter.

The fact that sprinters can win without a train is something i like to see. Guardini and Ferrari took care of that, the latter did not get the prize as the giro's most popular rider week one.

Last but not least; the Maglia Rosa himself Ryder Hesjedal. I had him as a possible podium contender if he was in shape, and he delievered the merchandise. He really wanted that win, that was easy to see. The attack on stage 14, he did the same on the queen-stage on Stelvio and he really did his part of pulling during the race. A consistent approach to the giro paid off after three weeks of battle in Italy. The days of the big time-gain is probably over, from now on it is all in the details every day. It is supposed to be a fight for the seconds.

Three weeks and 3500 km done, a brilliant giro is over. We've seen some outstanding racing and the excitement stayed until the last day. A recipe for good entertainment. Provided by the RCS, given to us by the riders. I hope racing continues to develop, I hope organisers of stage races shorten most of their stages like the RCS did, and above all I hope to see riders stepping up and claiming their place in the history books.

A nice way to summon the 2012 giro is Cavendish' words to Velonews: “The Giro is the hardest grand tour in the world. The Tour is different; it’s the racing that makes it hard. Here the mountains are diabolical. It kills you.”

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Glava of Norway

Today the Glava Tour of Norway begins, a five stage tour around the Eastern part of Norway. The race builds on Ringerike GP, a UCI race several big stars have entered over the years, usually in the beginning of their pro career.

Glava - the main sponsor
Many of you are probably familiar woth much of the work being layed down to organise such an event. Many sponsors contribute in different ways, local corporate organisations use the event to marketing themselves both locally and perhaps trying to be recognised internationally as well. So what kind of company is Glava?

Glava is a Norwegian industrial company who "developes and produce market insulation materials and other products."  Using the slogan "Good insulation is envirmonmental protection”, GLAVA ® have a broad range of products for building insulation. The main product is glasswool which is widely recognised as the leading insulation in the world. Almost every house in Norway has these materials, yellow matts are roled out in the walls and on ceilings.The company also have other materials and experiments with differents foams.

GLAVA ® insulation for houses
Glava is one of the companies that supports cross country skiing and cycling the recent years, something marketing manager Øystein Kvam highlighted recently. The race director of Glava tour of Norway is Birger Hungerholdt. Ring a bell? Hungerholdt is Edvald Boasson Hagen's manager and he has been a key player in making the Glava tour what is is. As Edvald Boasson Hagen said to the local newspaper in Lillehammer today, "I'm not sure if stage 4 is buildt spesificly to me, but I guess Birger had me in his thoughts". But as Edvald discovered during his recon of the climbs, they are tougher than he expected. Although the race pass by Edvald's childhood home, not once but twice.

Read more about Glava on their website here.

The Glava tour is a huge race for Norway and is a leap in the right direction for cycling in Norway. The sport has been through a remarkable development with pros like Arvesen, Hushovd and now Boasson Hagen and Kristoff too are leading the way.
Hopefully you know what kind of company Glava is, tune in to watch the game, nothing is written in stone and I expect a fight all the way for the overall win.

Glava Tour of Norway's official website is here

Birger Hungerholdt - race director and EBH's manager.


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Why change a winning coach?

Science - the solution to all problems?

Downloaded here.

Yesterday we learned that Edvald Boasson Hagen (EBH) ends his professional relationship with his personal coach over many years, Fredrik Mohn.

Earlier today, a gentleman named Peter, asked me on twitter if I could comment on the importance of coaching, something I can try to do now.

Fredrik Mohn and EBH have been working together for a long time, the last seven years, Mohn has been working closely with Edvald.
Back in the day EBH was recognised as a talent quite early. Like many other talented riders, he was good while being young, something that can easily tip both ways as the years go by.
At the age of 17 he was a part of the junior national team, trained by Gino Oudenhove, now team manager of Joker-Merida. He was still improving, but suddenly the results didn't came as easily as before and EBH felt sick. Several riders rode him straight off their back wheel; something was not right. Gino Oudenhove had a good impression of Mohn already back then. Mohn wasn't carrying a degree in physiology, he didn't even had a career as a top athlete he relied on, but still brought out the best in many young riders from different clubs. Mohn is actually educated as a goldsmith, something people have joked respectfully with over the years, as Mohn indeed has turned some riders into gold.

Oudenhove felt EBH needed new impulses and gave Mohn the job of bringing young EBH back into shape. Mohn, who is known to be thorough and very methodological in his work, changed some of Boasson Hagen's program and EBH began to respond to training once again. "It got a lot to do with communication. I tell the riders to write detailed training diaries I, in return I read everything and give them feedback", Mohn says in this article in the newspaper Nettavisen. In addition to this, Mohn surrounds himself with the right people with background from physiology, nutrition, and medicine.

Later EBH joined Oudenhove at Joker-Bianchi (now Joker-Merida), the season before T-mobile bought him was special, as he really made himself a name by winning many races internationally.

This stage he timed the sprint perfectly...

Downloaded here.

Change is (almost) always good
In addition to be a slogan for paid-by-the-hour consultants, this has also been the foundation for all physical training the recent years. Always shock/surprise your body, always vary your intensity etc, you know the drill.

On top of this it is no surprise a team like Sky, or any other team for that matter, want more control over the training. After all, the team have paid millions of € and want to have ROI. Will it work? That is the million dollar question and one that only time will tell. EBH is surrounded by some of the best coaches in the business, Sky is known for combining science and training. Their focus on detail, which perhaps was too much their first year, seems to be more relaxed these days yet still very high on a positive note.

According to, EBH will be working with Tim Kerrison, who is known for his outstanding job with Wiggo the last couple of years. Also in the coaching team is Kurt Asle Arvesen, fellow Norwegian, who bring experience and perhaps some mental coaching to the table.

Will it be another success story? It all depends on if the rider himself believes in the concept and if the communication is present. It worked for Wiggo, Julich works fine with Froome and Nordhaug, but chemistry is mighty important in sports. Either have a very good chemistry with your coach, or an extremely good sense of professionalism, coping with bad chemistry but still believing in the concept. Oudenhove says it right, if a rider need new stimuli, it is the right time for a change.

Team Sky want more control over their assets and their ROI, but changing a coach can go both ways. It all depends on whether the rider believes in the concept. To have the upper hand a rider need to continue develop him or herself, making sure the opponents are left behind. Maybe a change of coach from time to time is good? Either within the existing team, or on a brand new one.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Sprinting - the wild bunch

Downloaded here.

Today's crash and the rulings
Giro stage 3 gave us a bunch sprint as predicted today, but many riders hit the deck due to a dangerous manoeuvre by  Androni Giacattoli rider Roberto Ferrari. Among them reigning WC Mark Cavendish and Maglia Rosa Taylor Phinney.

The rules are quite clear: 

2.3.036 Sprints
Riders shall be strictly forbidden to deviate from the lane they selected when launching the sprint and, in so doing, endangering others. 

Not very concise if you study the text, but it is what it is and that's pretty much all there is of rules regarding sprinting. 

There is little doubt that Ferrari endangered others, a glance at Cav and Phinney tell you that, but when did Ferrari opened up his sprint? If we rewind to yesterday's sprint Cav kept his cool and looked left-right before he changed his lane as he opened his sprint, so it is possible to do so without endangering others. 

In addition to this, the rulings are there and there are officials who can react upon themselves and to any reaction from teams. Clearly Ferrari made a huge mistake, something the peloton will not forget. The riders form a tight community and riders being labelled as dangerous or hot-heads, will be treated according to group rules. Cav has also been criticised for changing lanes, remember Tour of Switzerland and the sprint where he and Haussler went down?

Sprinting has developed much during the years, or perhaps the dynamic of the peloton has. Firstly, many more riders are trying to keep themselves out of trouble staying near the front. Much to the disturbance of the sprintertrains. Secondly, many teams, including pro conti teams have young riders trying to make themselves a name and/or putting the team on the map. Sometimes the team make it on the map but not necessarily the way they hoped, as today. Competitive cycling is tough these days and not many believes it will be better any time soon. Experienced riders complaining about lack of respect for jerseys and "rank". Perhaps the peloton need more governance for riders safety, either by UCI or the riders themselves?

Today a huge crash happened just 200 meters from the finish line, causing Cav, Phinney and a few more hit the deck. Rulings are limited on the subject, but are clear to when riders are exposing others for risk. I love seeing a battle for the finish line but at the same time I want this to be as safe as possible. The sprints have developed and need a joint effort to control the outcome. Broad roads last 2 k's, few hairpins etc can the organisers do but the riders need to take responsibility for their own safety.

Here the last 5 kilometres of today's stage:

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The giro - the core and the beauty

There is something about the giro. For many years, my focus was solely on the tour and the classics.  The standard way of approaching the sport as a fan, I suppose. But as in-depth knowledge and interest increases, so does the horizon, right? The sport is constantly evolving, races started as a mean to sell newspapers now evolved into multi-million dollar arenas for business, brands and R&D. All rather neatly tied together in an eternal battle, organisers vs organisers, town vs. town and country vs. country. To the enjoyment for thousands of fans all over the world.
Many have written their reviews of the giro 2012, and probably way better than me so I felt a need to do something a little different, I wanted to explain why the giro has become dear to me.

Development on all sides
For many, being the little brother is a constant struggle, always struggling to gain the upper hand. For others, being that kind of brother is all good, being the "attacker". After all, choosing to set a new course is a lot easier with a small organisation than a big one. I don't know if or how the organizers behind the Giro, the RCS, felt during the years. Plus the fact that the RCS really are not a small organisation as a whole. Just take a look at some of the interests they have on this "wheel of fortune".
Wheel of fortune 

downloaded here

The giro organisers have set a new course. Those of you who know this blog have probably seen the interview I did with giro boss and twitter nice guy Michele Acquarone before he became giro general, as well as the one with marketing and communication manager for the giro, Marco Pansana. In these interviews we get to know more about the individuals working there and the ideas that formed into strategy for the RCS.

True to the core
For what is worth the giro hasn't changed much. From the outside that is. Still considered the second largest of the GTs, still taking place in Italy (mostly), and it features many of the climbs the race has given us epic memories from. So far so good. In business, this is called "true to the core". The giro has found its place so to speak. It is not the pinnacle of the sport, that is obviously the tour, but why pick a fight when there is plenty for both? 

As Acquarone tweeted earlier; "the giro is the toughest stage race in the world." How is that for a vision? I'm sure it will have an appeal to riders, not only the ones originating from Italy. It can tip both ways, as the RCS learned during and after  the 2011 edition of the race, which ended in Zomegnan's exit. The RCS claims to have found the balance this year, but still say the giro is "the toughest race in the world's most beautiful place."
As a sidenote I remember a conversation I had with the eminent photographer Jered Gruber during RVV. Knowing that Jered is deeply connected to G'bergen I asked what he thought about the route change this year. His response was something like this: "It's not that I disagree with the changes, it should change from time to time, but there are so many other beautiful places in Belgium!" This is one of the many challenges an organiser face, how let people (the TV viewers) see different parts of the country, while being true to its core?

Much have been said about the RCS' social media strategy, and I see no point in repeating my post from before. The basics is that they have made themselves available, both to me who has interviewed some of them, and to everyone else. Not only clever and by no doubt a strategic choice, both interviews and everything else they do related to media, but at least they are open about it.
Being able to navigate in the technological landscape of today will benefit the RCS, reaching out to fans and communicate with them will strengthen both the brand, build loyalty and keep the interests from fans without much hassle than a mobile phone. At least I have kept my interests in the giro and even wanting to learn more.

Seeing is believing
Another reason I like the giro because of the country. Being one of cycling's holy grails, Italy has been a home to not only champions but bike manufactures for decades. Some of the finest riders the world has seen origin from Italy, Coppi, Bartali, Binda and Moser to mention a few. Historical climbs and roads frame a race from a spectator point of view, bringing the Dolomites, Alps and Apennines to the TV. Breathtaking scenarios, spectacular descends. However, I truly believe the RCS can learn a lot from Jean-Maurice Ooghs, the gentleman responsible for the TV images from the tour. With 260 cameramen, 2 control rooms (one international), 4 helicopters, 5 motorbikes 1 aeroplane and 27 TV cameras the possibilities to get more out of the lenses then previous years should be there.

With the news today that RCS may be sharing tv rights money with teams, this economical aspect should have high focus. As the eminent INRNG once wrote, the majority of the viewers don't tune for the cycling but for the scenery.

The Dolomites

Photo by Rüdinger Kratz, downloaded here.

With as much as 2085 (2011 numbers) media representatives present, divided as 1021 accredited journalists, 433 photographers, 371 operators and 260 TV-radio operators, a big chunk of the effort needs to be to take care of those. The last thing an organiser wants to deal with angry and fed-up journos.

Culture, food art and fashion
These are some of the things I associate with Italy. These are matters I hope the giro is able to provide during the three weeks of racing. Because the giro, to me at least, is far more than just racing. Small clips from Italy's hidden treasures, with famous food, small mountain villages and white roads will without doubt boost my interest and enthusiasm to Italy as a place for my future vacation. With a slogan saying the world's most beautiful place, it sort of commits, doesn't it? Development in business says that those who are able to combine two or more specialities and use the synergy effects, will make it big. So that's next then, combining fashion, TV image rights, food, art and culture.

I have much respect for the organisers of the giro, not only because they have been available for me and every other cycling fan, but because of a mix of different things. They have managed to find their place which they seem to be standing comfortable in, being true to their core but still keeping a modern touch. A balanced giro with time bonuses in the beginning of the race will amp up the sprinters, giving a extra touch to the race. I'm hoping to be able to get to the opening, after all it takes place in Denmark. The giro might find it useful to really take advantage of the possibility to showcase the whole country. Displaying culture, art, geography, food and fashion needs to be taken seriously too.