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!

TdF 2016 – Stage 21

They think it’s all over….it is now. The Tour de France for 2016 is done and dusted. Chris Froome won his third Tour and surely a Knighthood awaits. Team Sky have now won four Tours in five years, which is a phenomenal achievement. I’m not sure what they give Sir Dave Brailsford now – a Damehood to complete the set?! Adam (yeah) Yates won the white jersey for the best young rider and has grown into a confident GC contender over the last three weeks. Peter Sagan inevitably won the green points jersey yet again. If he keeps this up ASO will have to rename it the Peter Sagan jersey. Rafal Majka won the  Polka-dot jersey after the departure of Contador gave him the chance to contest the King of the Mountains competition.

So, shall we do some hugging and learning now?

1. Kellan Froome is ADORABLE, even when teething and grumpy. Michelle – I have been there and I feel your pain. It gets easier. In about three years’ time.

2. Never, EVER write off Mark Cavendish. He’s a phenomenon and I’m so glad he’s ‘ours’.

3. I’m sad that we won’t get to see Lovely Tom Dumoulin in Rio. His duel with Chris Froome in the time trial would have been great to watch. Lovely Tom might just win a Grand Tour one day

4. As might Adam Yates

5. As might Super Wout Poels. Did I mention that he’s my favourite? I’ve been very quiet about it. Almost stealth. *whispers* he’s awesome.

6. I will never, ever forget the sight of Chris Froome running up Mont Ventoux. Accompanied by Ned Boulting’s now iconic commentary. “The yellow jersey is RUNNING up MONT VENTOUX!” It was utterly surreal.

7. Despite finishing on the podium, Nairo Quintana never really looked like a contender.

8. It would be interesting to see what Romain Bardet could do in a different team. Somewhere like Orica, perhaps.

9. Chris Froome. What else can be said? He’s a unique human being. One day, if we’re very lucky, we’ll look back and fully appreciate what he’s done.

10. Dan Martin managed to be nice about Sky. I nearly fell over. Perhaps he’s drunk?

11. The Tour is The Tour.

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Fin. Almost.

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Fin.

 

TdF 2016 – Stage 19

OH GOD. The rain! The slippery, sketchy roads. The potential for ‘Doing a Gove’ was extremely strong.

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It was inevitable that Chris Froome would Gove today. Like dominoes, once one rider went down, he was a dead cert to have his own oopsy-daisy moment. Fortunately  for him, Sky had a plan for such an eventuality (of course they bloody did) and Geraint Thomas handed over his bike to his team leader. However, the Sky team car couldn’t make it up to Froome to swap the borrowed bike for one of his own. Fear not! Super Wout came to the rescue (YET AGAIN) and he did everything he could apart from give Froome a backie to the line. I don’t know how much Sky are paying Wout Poels, but it’s quite clearly not enough. Oh Sky, please build a team around Wout and let him loose in the Giro or Vuelta next year.

Oh and their little arms around each other at the end was totes adorbz. So adorbz, in fact, that I’m busting this little gif out:

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It wasn’t a great day for the other Dutch cyclists though. Bauke Mollema lost a lot of time and tumbled down the GC and out of contention. Lovely Tom Dumoulin fractured his wrist doing a Gove and is now a doubt for the Olympics. *sadface* Here’s Gloria again:

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So, there’s one more Alpine stage for Super Wout to nurse Froome through and then he can have a nice day out in Paris on Sunday.

Oh! Geraint Thomas has been doing daily Gifs to express his feelings on the day’s stage. I see you G&T. I. See. You.

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TdF Stages 6-11

Everything is currently BATSHIT in the UK. It’s been so crazy that I haven’t even wanted to ruminate whimsically on the TdF via the medium of Gifs. I’ve been watching it religiously of course but the urge to find a gif of a topless Marcel Kittel has gone. Things really are bad here.

As things stand, unless he falls off his bike, goes mad or A Very Bad Thing happens, Chris Froome is (probably) going to win this year’s edition. I keep waiting for Nairo Quintana to do…..something….but there he sits, day after day, with the same expression on his face. I’m worried he’s dead and Movistar just prop him up on his bike every day, Weekend at Bernies-style.

My fantasy team is doing ok, thanks to stage wins from Steve Cummings, Lovely Tom Dumoulin, Marcel the Magnificent and of course the irrepressible Peter Sagan. My pick of Richie Porte is going to come back to haunt me and I’m regretting picking Mikel Nieve over Sergio Henao. I have NO regrets about picking Wout Poels. I’m confident he will come into his own later in the race.

Tomorrow is MONT VENTOUX DAAAAAAAAYYYYY! Except. Due to the high winds (we can only apologise for Boris Johnson – just be grateful he’s not on a zip wire) the stage will finish 6kms from the top. This makes me sad again. I’m going to have to cheer myself up with my current favourite gif.

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COWS!

 

 

TdF 2016 – Stage 1

I’m taking part in the Velogames fantasy Tour de France. So is Mr (Dr) FtW. He’s hoping that his ‘Mostly Team Sky plus Kittel plus a random’ team will trounce my ‘Carefully chosen but with more heart than head deployed’ team.

Neither the Indecent Minority (my team) or the Chatteris Climbers (his) contain Mark Cavendish. I’m convinced that I’m going to somehow jinx my riders simply by favouring them (sorry Tom, Marcel, Peter, Richie, Wout, Adam, Steve, Mikel and Tony.) Therefore, to give Cav the best chance of winning gold in the Omnium in Rio and not ending up in a heap on a roadside near Utah Beach, I simply couldn’t include him.

There’s a great interview with Peta Cavendish (Mark’s wife) in the book ‘101 Damnations’ by Ned Boulting, in which she says that her husband “holds [The Tour] up on a pedestal, in an ivory castle, with unicorns surrounding it”. Until today he had never worn the yellow jersey at the TdF. This was his third opportunity and he grabbed it from Kittel, Sagan and the rest. Cav is famous for crying at some point during every TdF he has taken part in. The tears were those of the joyous variety as he took his 27th TdF stage win and donned the yellow jersey for the first time. One suspects that this jersey will have a very special place in his home, mounted in an ivory frame, housed in a turret, probably guarded by unicorns with yellow horns.

As a cycling Johnny-come-lately I’m not familiar with the pre-marriage and  children Mark Cavendish. I’ve read stuff of course – the tantrums, the petulance, the colander, the generousness, the former Miss Italy – but the 2016 Cav comes across as a man that knows he is basically winning at life. The plain speaking, fury and sweariness is still there, but they’re part of what makes him…him and not a platitude-spouting robot.

When Cav finally decides to retire from cycling  (not just yet, eh?) I would really, really, REALLY like him to be a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing. He used to be a ballroom dancing champion of course (of course!) but that’s no more of an issue than any number of celebs who have been to stage school. He would be brilliant entertainment, his pro dancer would adore his work ethic and he’d probably win the entire show.

Anyway, I’m getting distracted. This is really about my fantasy team (and Cav.) In other news there were a couple of big crashes, the first of which involved Alberto Contador. Nope, nothing to say about that at all. Geraint Thomas was caught up in the second crash, which is the least surprising news since we learned that moths really, really like flames. Luckily he’s fine and astonishingly bouncy for a grown-up.

The TdF may be the largest annual sporting event in the world but it still retains an air of the village fete at times. This was apparent at the start of the race this morning when the peloton went to Mont-Saint-Michel and was directed to double back on itself for no obvious reason other than to frame the island commune as a pleasing backdrop to Chris Froome, Vinceno Nibali and the rest looking slightly confused for a few minutes while the various important cars and motorbikes performed elaborate three point turns. A ribbon was eventually cut. SIR Gary Verity appeared on screen, apparently summoned by a yellow-trousered genie in a lamp imported from Ilkley (without a hat.)

Tomorrow’s stage goes as near to Jersey as it’s possible for the TdF to get without becoming part of a Guy Martin world record attempt. I’m hoping for a sighting of Jim Bergerac and/or Charlie Hungerford. It’s flat(ish) with a cat. 3 climb near the end. In the interests of the Indecent Minority I’d like Sagan to win, produce a pair of scissors and chop his mane off whilst shouting I AM NOT SAMPSON! I AM SAGAN!

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Giro d’Italia 2016 – week three

The Giro is over for another year and I’m feeling quite sad about it. I really, desperately wanted Esteban Chaves to win. He was one of my ‘Ones to watch’ at the start and unlike Tom Dumoulin (remember him?) and Ryder Hesjedal (nope) he was still in there at the end. I had brief hopes that he would win the Maglia Rosa, but it was not to be. Vincenzo Nibali had a very bad day on Thursday and it looked like all was lost, but he rose again over the last couple of days and entered today’s processional final stage as the winner. Nibali won the Giro for the head, but Chaves has emerged as the winner for those who love heart. The images of Chaves’ parents congratulating Nibali after yesterday’s stage spoke volumes about their family ethos and explained so much about their son. When Rigoberto Uran, riding for Cannondale, crashed today, Chaves was there to help his compatriot up. Chaves always thanks his Orica team-mates for their help. They in turn look genuinely happy to be working for him.

I’m an unashamed fan of Geraint Thomas. When the rumours started swirling that a British rider had failed a doping test last month, before it was confirmed that Simon Yates, a number of people on social media were concerned that it might be Thomas and seemed to be genuinely upset at the thought that he might be one of the bad ones.  I felt extremely unsettled. I believe that Thomas is clean and he’d be one of the very few that I would feel personally let down by if it emerged that he was anything else. I feel the same way about Esteban Chaves. I think he’s terrific and would love to see him win a Grand Tour one day. His day will surely come.

Of my other ones to watch, Adam Hansen finished his fourteenth Grand Tour in a row and will surely have his sights on the Tour. Joe Dombrowski came of age, appearing in many of the right moves in the last week and coming very close to a stage win. His fury at being called back by Cannondale to help Uran indicated that he believed he was capable of so much more. We believe it, too. Ian Boswell did stirlimg domestique work for Team Sky, helping Mikel Nieve to win the overall King of the Mountains classification. Sky will regard this as a good return, bearing in mind that they lost their team leader to illness very early on.

Every year the Giro intensifies my love affair with Italy and refuels my desire to go back there one day. I very much hope that at some point in the future I’ll be standing on the Dolomites roaring Geraint Thomas or Esteban Chaves on their way to overall victory. The Tour might be The Tour, but after this Giro it has an awful lot to live up to.

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Giro d’Italia 2016 – Stage 11

Put Careless Whisper on the turntable. Play Back for Good on repeat. Lovely Tom Dumoulin has left the Giro, taking his saddle sores with him. What a difference a week makes. Last Wednesday Dumoulin and Kittel were still in the race and I was all joy and Top Gun Gifs. Now I feel like Dawson (from the Creek, obvs.)

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As we’re now half-way through the Giro, let’s see what’s happened to the riders I said I would watch out for at the start of the race:

  1. Adam Hansen – there’s been a serious lack of visible Hansen in this Giro. I’m hoping that changes in the next few days.
  2. Esteban Chaves – currently 8th overall, nearly 3 minutes behind Bob Jungels. Looking forward to seeing how he goes in the mountains
  3. Ian Boswell – doing well in domestique hell
  4. Joe Dombrowski – doing well in domestique hell
  5. Ryder Hesjedal – currently 13th, nearly 4 minutes down. Hoping he goes hunting for stage wins in the last week of the Giro. Looked feisty today which bodes well.
  6. Tom Dumoulin – retired, injured *wails*

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Giro d’Italia 2016 – Stage 10

Lovely Tom Dumoulin has got a sore botty. He certainly looked very uncomfortable on the bike during today’s stage. It’s been a few years since I last treated nappy rash but I recommend some Sudocrem on the less sore bits and Metanium on the really red parts (I was going to write this as a joke and it turns out that nappy rash creams are actually recommended as a way of helping to treat the early onset of saddle sores.) They’re certainly more wholesome remedies than the testosterone cream that He Who Shall Not Be Named was getting retroactive prescriptions for in The Bad Old Days.

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Team Sky’s poor run at the Giro continues. They must have done a deal with the TdF god (Prudhomme) at some stage, in which they clearly agreed that they would sacrifice their chances in May for glory in July. I don’t think that Landa ever looked like he could challenge Nibali, <grits teeth> Valverde <ungrits teeth>, Amador and the rest. Giulio (not related to Madonna) Ciccone won today’s stage and Bob Jungels from Etixx has moved into the Maglia Rosa. I’m going to predict that Nibali will win the Giro this year, but will never live down the embarrassment of having snippets of his autobiography read out each evening on The Cycling Podcast.

Other news away from the Giro: in the least surprising transfer news since Mark Cavendish joined Dimension Data, Owain Doull has signed for Sky and is due to join them after the Olympics. It’s too early for transfer speculation but my first thought after hearing this news was BUT WHAT ABOUT TAO? Tao Geoghegan Hart was a stagiere for Sky towards the end of 2015 and is riding for Axeon this year. I wonder if long-term a team like Cannondale might be a better fit for him ethos and personality-wise but Sky are difficult to turn down if they come after you.

Jess Varnish is contesting the decision to remove her from the British Cycling setup and has vowed to fight for her place in the Rio track team. BC can’t have ever thought that she would go quietly and now it’s a big old mess of a situation. I’m torn on this. Her performance record is good, and difficult to argue against. However, as a big fan of Becky James I wouldn’t want her place in the team to be in jeopardy.

Luckily I don’t have to decide on any of this stuff – I can just comment from my sofa.

Back to the Giro. Tomorrow’s stage is a flat-line for the first 200-ish km and then a bit uppy-downy-wavy at the end. It looks like it could be a fight between the puncheurs and the sprinters. As there are literally two sprinters left in the race, goodness only knows what’s going to happen.

Giro d’Italia 2016 – Stage 9

I think today proves, if proof were needed, that when it comes to cycling predictions I need to go home and rethink my life. Yesterday/this morning post-Eurovision I suggested that Dumoulin was saving himself for the ITT today by way of explanation for the wheels falling off his Giro yesterday. Of course, I did not factor in the weather effect. It rained cats, dogs and locusts on most of the riders, which had a huge impact on the times posted.

Bad news. Lovely Tom Dumoulin tiptoed around today’s course like a giraffe on ice, in complete contrast to his efforts last weekend. Marcel Kittel didn’t even start today’s stage, stayed dry (one can only imagine the horrors that ensue when his hair is exposed to precipitation) and took his magnificent barnet home to Germany to recover and re-bouff before the TdF, presumably. This means that I’ll have 94% less reason to post Top Gun Gifs *sobs*. He seemed so sad in his post-race interview. I just wanted to go and give him a hug.

Unrelated side note: Jakob Fuglsang looks like the love child of Brian O’Driscoll and Mark Durden-Smith. That’s unexpected.

My reflex action when I see Alejandro Valverde is to do a full-on sucky lemon cats bum face, usually followed by an audible tut. I just…..I just can’t. As soon as I hear that someone has what I shall politely refer to as ‘A Past’, I simply cannot bring myself to be warm to them (yet I like Ryder Hesjedal which I suppose makes me a massive hypocrite), particularly if they are unrepentant, or unwilling to admit that they did anything wrong.

Poor Ilnur Zakarin. He had what can only be politely be described as ‘A total mare’ including multiple bike changes, at least two falls and a very holey skinsuit by the time he got to the end. He was a one man Wacky Races.

Primoz Roglic won the stage and teeny tiny Gianluca Brambilla retained the Maglia Rosa and takes it into the rest day. The race resumes on Tuesday and mountains are promised.

Now for the (Amgen) Tour of California. SAGAN!

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Giro d’Italia 2016 -Stage 8

Distractions. Everything stops for Eurovision. I saw the last 50km of yesterday’s stage live (well, on my iPad, in the kitchen, helping the children to make cake pops) so I know that Gianluca Brambilla from Etixx won and took the Maglia Rosa from Tom Dumoulin.

There was A LOT of bellowing on the commentary about Dumoulin blowing up, losing it, fading. I wonder if, when it became apparent that he couldn’t keep the pink jersey without expending considerable effort, he decided to save himself for today’s individual time trial. We’ll find out later this afternoon.

More distractions. Tonight (in the UK), the Tour of California starts. When I looked at the Giro start list I struggled to find a handful of riders to take an interest in. I have no such problems with the ToC: Phinney, Wiggins, Geoghegan Hart, Cavendish, Brammeier, Eisel, Coquard, Boonen, Degenkolb, Kennaugh, Peters, Tennant, Dibben, Doull, Blythe, Sagan. Sagan! He’s a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, but he’s always entertaining. The ToC stages can be a bit variable – watching a bunch of cyclists trundle along a massive freeway for several hours at a time gets a bit dull – but the mountain stages and time trial more than make up for it.

Back to the Giro, I’m looking forward to the ITT although I won’t be able to watch it live. I’ll catch up this evening.

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