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.

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, 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."

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.

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

Saganism - get used to it

Next stage please....

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I know I'm very late in commenting on the wonderboy from yesterday but I feel I have to. Was caught in real life yesterday and couldn't post but still, I am very impressed by Sagan. So impressed I can only imagine his potential. Anyway, embrace yourself for Saganism this year's tour.

Yesterday we witnessed a perfect final by "new" phenomenon Sagan, beating Cancellara and Edvald Boasson Hagen for the win. In many ways it was perfect. Not only because the result but because many, including me, have enormous expectations for what Sagan can achieve in the weeks and years to come.

The young man is just amazing, his DS, Stefano Zanatta, compared Sagan to Lance Armstrong and said that "Sagan can be just as big rider as Armstrong was". The comparison is of course said in euphoria since Sagan and Armstrong are two very different riders. The thing is, Sagan is still young and has the most exciting career in the business. If I'm not mistaken, he is the youngest in the whole peloton after Thibaut Pinot and the youngest after mentioned Armstrong to win a stage in the tour after Armstrong did so in 1993.
It was really nice to see two of the most exciting riders in the peloton fight yesterday, when Edvald Boasson Hagen caught up with Cancellara and Sagan. I'm not going all in with the details about Sagan, mostly is probably known to many, but what impress me the most is this mix of talent and race brain. Some got talent, some got the tactically mastermind but having the most promising talent in the business as well as being smart as a rider? Just amazing. Where will he stop?

Strangely, some people criticised Sagan on twitter for sitting on Cancellara's wheel yesterday and not taking any pulls. It is important to remember that this is racing, this is sport. Fairness and gentlemen does not mix last two km's of a race.  Well, one must have blind not to see history repeating itself. This is what Cancellara does every time, if someone is fast enough to get his wheel, you'd know it's a free ride to town. Sagan was aware of this as well as he knew the potential danger coming from behind, Edvald Boasson Hagen. Sagan just sat there and watched as Cancellara (who Sagan can outsprint easily) and Edvald tear themselves to pieces before he launched his sprint. Very impressive by the 22-year old.

So, was this just the beginning or will we witness more? We'll find out tomorrow as the same three riders who were key in yesterday's final will play a huge role on the cobbled roads of northern France.