Olympic cycling preview – the road races

Well, I say preview. This is more of a random collection of thoughts and vaguely relevant Gifs that I’ve chucked together. Are you sitting comfortably? The let me begin. 

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The Olympics. Massively corrupt? Yes. Run by a bunch of people that love money and power but hate sport? Oh yes. But. BUT! The sheer scale and spectacle of the thing. Lots and lots of sporty people coming together (mostly metaphorically, some literally) to showcase their life’s work. The hope! The achievement! The agony! The ecstasy! All human life, etc etc. I adore the Olympics like a constantly straying yet seriously hot boyfriend. I know he’s probably going to cheat again (and again) but when he’s with me…its just the best thing in the entire world and he even looks beautiful in those sunglasses that he always wears indoors.

What’s better than the Olympics? CYCLING AT THE OLYMPICS *breathes into a paper bag* Best of all, there’s track cycling AND road cycling. Show me a sporting event that can do both…

Road Race – Men

On Saturday the cycling begins with the men’s road race. My loyalties are a little bit divided. I should be supporting the GB team as it is full of incredibly strong riders. Geraint! Froome! Cummings! (A) Yates! Stannard! However, my heart has been a little bit stolen by the Netherlands team which looks incredibly strong. I’m a little biased because it features two of my favourite cyclists: Wout Poels and Tom Dumoulin, plus Steven Kruijswijk and Bauke Mollema.

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Behold this incredibly terrible composite, not at all photoshopped picture of the Dutch  cycling team for Rio!  

However the Olympic road race always seems to be a bit of a lottery and in the absence of Peter Sagan (going for glory in the mountain biking event) the following candidates seem to be as good a bet as any: Alejandro Valverde (sigh), Dan Martin (if only he was 94% less grumpy than he always is), Vincenzo Nibali (he cruised around this year’s Tour as he’s specifically targeting the Olympics), Wout Poels (he’s been racing and winning this year like he’s really, really trying to impress someone and has managed to impress everyone in the process), Chris Froome (not a one day rider, but never rule him out), Julian Alaphilippe/Romain Bardet (maybe), and finally Richie Porte (the dream podium: Poels, Porte, one of Froome/Cummings/Thomas in any order you like.)

Road Race – Women

Until Tuesday of this week I was willing to bet quite a large quantity of chocolate that Lizzie Armitstead would win the women’s road race. She still might but the three missed tests…she’s never been a rider that has worried my doping antennae but to miss one test is fairly common…two can happen but three missed tests without a sanction is incredibly rare. I suspect there’s more to the story than we have been told and I’m not convinced that she deliberately missed the tests to avoid providing a positive sample. She’s very much an alpha female but when the family proverbial hits the fan, Type A personalities can find it hard to deal with life (I speak from experience.) However, cycling has such a chequered history of lies and liars that for many people, anything Armitstead achieves in Rio will have an invisible asterisk next to it. Christine Ohuruogh missed three tests, served a suspension (one rule for one…) won an Olympic gold medal in the 400 metres and some people still have suspicions about her.

Again, the Netherlands team featuring Marianne Vos and Anna Van Der Breggen looks incredibly strong (I might just wear an orange top and have done with it), as does the US line-up that includes Kristin Armstrong. It depends on Armitstead’s state of mind. She’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t so she may as well try and win and seek to be as honest as she possibly can be about her testing hit rate (the number of tests she’s missed versus the number she’s actually had), biological passport and other factors that may enhance or impair her performance. I’m sure she wishes more than anyone that she could change the situation she’s found herself in.

Coming up next week: the time trials and *fanfare* the track cycling. Hurrah!

The beginning (Part 1)

My love affair with cycling…no. My love affair with road cycling (I’ve had a relationship with track cycling for a while now) began during the 2013 Tour Down Under.

No. Wait. Start again. I started watching road cycling during the 2013 Tour Down Under but I actually fell in love with it during the Giro d’Italia.

That explains the when but it doesn’t explain the why.

Olympics

For the why, we have to go back to the Olympics. London 2012. The Saturday morning after the Opening Ceremony the night before. The BBC were telling everyone that all Mark Cavendish had to do was turn up, pedal a bit, win the road race and TEAM GB’s FIRST GOLD MEDAL IN LONDON in the process. Or so it felt. There were words of caution from the ex-professional cyclists turned pundits and commentators but they were swept away by a tidal wave of patriotic confidence. Of course Cav was going to win! Mark World Road Race Champion and BBC Sports Personality of the Year Cavendish! That afternoon I took the children to a party absolutely certain that Cav would win because Sue Barker said so. There was a ripple of surprise among the parents at the party when someone looked on their phone and announced that Cav had finished 29th. This meant that the BBC and Sue Barker were wrong and that’s akin to the ravens leaving the tower or a plague of locusts. Heads would surely have to roll.

I, naively, took to Twitter to ask what happened. I got a couple of replies from proper cycling fans. Their subtext was that I was a moron. What they actually said was that it was impossible to control a race with 5-man teams. I still didn’t understand. Why did *that* matter? I left it and got on with the terribly important business of being completely and utterly consumed by the Olympics. Lizzie Armitstead won the silver medal in the women’s road race the following day and apologised on national television for coming second. I wondered if the apology was an attempt to prevent a crazed member of the BBC presenting team hitting her over the head with a Wenlock statue. I now understand it slightly differently.

The rest is so well known it is barely worth repeating. Bradley Wiggins won the time trial a week after winning the Tour which was a surprise to this particular idiot because I thought he was predominantly a track cyclist. A sort-of British person called Chris Froome took the silver medal in the same event. Then the track cycling events started and I essentially forgot all about the road variation as everyone in a Team GB skinsuit essentially won everything.

*Leaves swirls across the screen, marking the passing of time*

January

There are two things that are important to know about me:

  1. I HATE January
  2. I HATE not knowing things

To borrow a phrase from David Millar’s book The Racer, I f*****g hate January. Flicking around for something to watch in January 2013, I noticed that Sky Sports were showing something called the Tour Down Under. Inconveniently, it was being shown during the middle of the night (because that’s how the earth works) but we set the TiVo and decided to watch the previous days’ stage the following evening.

I decided that I wanted to understand road cycling and I didn’t like the fact that this sport was alien to me. My first image of cycling was of a peloton of approximately 150 men in tight, brightly-coloured clothing cycling really very fast along a very long, very straight road in front of a background of bright blue sky and yellowish-brown land. Apparently there was a ‘breakaway up the road’. This phrase meant nothing to me. They had ‘a sizeable gap’. No, nothing there either.

Breakaway

I read somewhere that one of the first questions that people ask when they first watch cycling is: Why doesn’t the breakaway stay away? I quickly learnt that it doesn’t. Well, unless Tony Martin is in it. Everyone fears Tony. I subsequently found out that the breakaway is controlled by the peloton and is normally reeled back in when it suits the purposes of the larger group. This sort of thing isn’t explained to the casual idiot who happens to put the cycling on. It’s just assumed that you know this stuff. It’s like sitting in the pub with a gang of people who are significantly cleverer than you and hoping that by keeping quiet and absorbing everything they say they won’t notice your presence and laugh at you for being infinitely more stupid than they are.

Growing up, I had no frame of reference for cycling. We were a family of avid sport watchers – football, cricket, rugby, athletics, anything on Grandstand on a Saturday afternoon, any major multi-sport event – but cycling didn’t cross our radar. Moreover I only learnt to ride a bike in 2012 based on the rationale that if a bloke with one arm and one leg could do it and compete in the Paralympics, I could too. So, powered by the twin drivers of loathing the month of January and not wanting to be an idiot I shut up and started the process of understanding a new sport.

To be continued in Part 2….