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!

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 14

If a well-known maker of (shit) lager made grand tour stages….Honestly. It could not have gone better for me today bearing in mind all of my inexplicable biases.

  1. Esteban Chaves won the stage (LOOK AT HIS LITTLE FACE!)
  2. Alejandro Valverde lost a bundle of time on his GC rivals (shaaaaaame)
  3. Vincenzo Nibali moved up to second on GC (meh), so he’s clearly managing to keep his (ahem) libido in check
  4. The Dolomites (tee-hee) looked bloody stunning (on the bucket list)

Darwin Atapuma rode the stage like he was attempting to tame a tiger – completely fearlessly and with great panache. On any other day I would have been willing him to win but I think Chaves is brilliant. During his interview afterwards Chaves thanked everyone at Orica-Greenedge for what they had done – the team must absolutely adore him.

Steven Kruijswijk (he of the insanely wide shoulders) moved into the Maglia Rosa, well-deserved after a week of placing well without reaping the big rewards.

Tomorrow brings another individual time trial (woohoo!), this time completely uphill (yayass). For now though: ESTEBAN!

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Giro d’Italia 2016 – Stage 13

Finally! After two weeks of messing about with sprint stages and time trials, the Giro organisers jacked the road up and sent the riders up some proper mountains. Not the Dolomites. Not yet. The roads definitely went uphill today in quite a serious manner though.

The peloton was BLOWN TO PIECES (Millar!) early on and we were treated to extended footage of spectators in ill-advised costumes chasing cyclists up steep climbs. Joe Dombrowski was given carte blanche by Cannondale to go up the road and fight for the stage win. For a little while we watched his beanpole frame tower over the comparatively diminutive Mikel Nieve. The height disparities between cyclists never fails to childishly amuse me. Nieve is one of Sky’s ‘Embarrassment of riches’ riders. In any other team he’d be given more chances but he’s such a brilliant little mountain goat that he’s become the ultimate domestique (Side note: if I ever become a superstar DJ my name will be Superdomestique. All one word.)

Vincenzo Nibali continues to be there or there abouts, circling like a….you get the idea. I simply cannot take him seriously any more thanks to Daniel Friebe’s nightly readings from Nibali’s autobiography on The Cycling Podcast. The snippets have been chosen to emphasise the worst, most lavicious bits of course, but he comes across as a man who uses his (ahem) libido as a spiritual guide. Nibali that is. Not Friebe. I have no idea about his libido.

I’m really please to see Team Sky giving it a proper go and chasing stage wins. I tend to get a bit frustrated with Sky when their Plan A doesn’t work out, the computer says no, the numbers can’t be crunched and they don’t appear to have an alternative strategy. I have noticed a certain loosening up of their self-imposed constraints this year, which is pleasing. Of course, losing Landa has rather forced their hand but it does Sky no harm to loosen the shackles of their worker bees from time to time. Nieve’s stage win today is evidence of that.

Andrey Amador (Movistar) moved into the Maglia Rosa, the first rider (ever?) from Costa Rica to do so. I hope Valverde is grumbling like Muttley (vasher-smashed-vas her) in a hotel room at the foot of the Dolomites this evening as a result.

Tomorrow the race moves to the Dolomites properly and I finally get to write DOL-O-MI-TEE-HEE. Hurrah!

Wtw has been a gif-free zone for a couple of days (it’s hard to top crying Dawson) but as I’m about to watch the Tour of California, appropos of nothing, here’s Seth Cohen from The OC!

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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 5

Today I want to talk about accents and language. I’m embarrassed that I can only speak a small amount of French – enough to get me by as a tourist in Paris but no more – and learning Italian and Spanish is very much on my bucket list. The main barrier I have is my embarrassment about sounding ridiculously English at all times.

I once went on a school trip to Boulogne and, piling all my courage up inside my ears like Roobarb from ‘and Custard’ fame, ordered a couple of soft drinks in my very bestest, politest French. The man behind the counter replied in *perfect* English and I wanted to die on the spot. In fact, every time I’ve tried a bit of a foreign language in a different country I have failed spectacularly. In Rome I taught myself a few key phrases and didn’t get the chance to deploy them as whenever we were in a restaurant  the waiting staff addressed us in English. Perhaps the pale skin and bad teeth gave us away.

As a result I am always super-impressed by people that can speak not just one foreign language, but several. It’s not just their mastery of the languages, but the effort they put into getting the pronunciation and inflections right. Daniel Friebe is a master of this, as is Matt Rendell. The joy with which they hurl themselves into Italian and Spanish without a hint of embarrassment is infectious and admirable. Friebe speaking Italian into my ears each morning on The Cycling Podcast is really quite something.

90tswjvcyuzfyIt’s like I’ve just discovered Gifs. 

Even more embarrassing to me is the ease with which riders from a variety of countries in which English is not their first language speak ours. There are always certain phrases that jar slightly – ‘for sure’ instead of yes or definitely is one – but then I’m not trying to think of the right words to say in a different language at the end of a stage when I’m knackered. So many of the riders speak brilliant English that I find myself being irrationally grumpy with those that tend to speak their own language. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Vincenzo Nibali utter a word of English in an interview and that’s entirely his prerogative. I’m just grateful that Rob Hatch and Carlton Kirby are on-hand to provide on the spot translations, although they could probably say anything that vaguely sounded like some suitable platitudes and I’d believe them. It’s probably for this reason that I’m under the impression that Nibali speaks solely in meaningless soundbites. I’m sure he goes down a storm in Sicily.

Today Andre Greipel won a stage designed for the more hardy variety of sprinter. He conducted his post-podium interview with Eurosport in English. So did Tom Dumoulin. Yesterday Ashley House and Juan Antonio Flecha interviewed Diego Ulissi in Italian, switching back and forth between to English to translate to the viewer. I remain simultaneously impressed and embarrassed.

I didn’t get much of a look at birthday boy Adam Hansen today *sadface* but here’s a classic Hansen moment:

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Tomorrow we go to the mountains for our first summit finish of the 2016 Giro. Dumoulin wants to keep the Maglia Rosa more than I want to beat my current plank PB (4 minutes, in case you were wondering) but I suspect we’ll see some first shots fired by the GC contenders. Expect to see Marcel Kittel hangin’ in the grupetto like a boss.

 

Giro d’Italia 2016 – Stage 4

Italy! Oh Italy! You were looking terribly sexy today. Certainly much sexier than the very grey, rainy London I was in. I like a foreign Grand Depart as much as the next girl but it’s feels *right* when the race goes back to its country of origin. I’m really not sure about the idea of a grand tour start on an entirely different continent. It effectively creates two distinct races: one consisting of three stages, a (realistically) 2-3 day gap to allow for travel, jet lag, etc., then an 18 stage grand tour. It would be a logistical challenge for the teams, too. The big teams (Sky, BMC and Etixx) could probably afford to have two sets of staff working on the race but it would be more difficult financially for the smaller teams unless it was subsidised by the race organisers.

The race took a 3 hour trip from The Netherlands to southern Italy yesterday by aeroplane. I suppose it would have taken too long for the riders to pile into the Vengabus and do a road trip. The crowds on the roadside were considerably smaller than in Holland but it is the middle of the working week. I suppose that if a massive cycling race comes to your town every 2-3 years you get complacent about it. I wouldn’t. I’d be one of those overexcited people jumping up and down on the roadside wearing a mankini and screaming in the riders’ faces. (I have form with this – TdF 2014 – although thankfully I wasn’t wearing the mankini at the time.)

Today Diego Ulissi won a stage that was designed for the puncheurs. Lovely Tom Dumoulin finished second and took the Maglia Rosa back from Marcel Kittel who, despite finishing a few minutes down still managed to style out an interview with Ashley (I remember him from Fame Academy) House and Juan Antonio (Friendly Bond villain) Flecha on Eurosport wearing a pair of sunglasses that made him look like Val Kilmer in Top Gun. I can’t take any credit for this one. Rob (sounds 95% less northern on telly than he does on The Cycling Podcast) Hatch highlighted the likeness on Eurosport the other day. Mr WtW and I now disagree on who Kittel looks like most. He’s sticking with Justin Bieber.

I’ll just leave this here.

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It’s International Top Gun Day on Friday (really) so this is a theme that I may well revisit. I’m sure Tom Dumoulin would let Marcel Kittel be his wingman anytime.

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As we’re only four stages in it’s hard to see how things will play out in the general classification. Nibali has adopted a watching brief. He’s always where he needs to be but isn’t making a nuisance of himself yet, like a shark. Apt. I suspect that Landa isn’t quite in the form that he needs to be and he’s going to struggle in the upcoming time trials. It’s difficult to discount Valverde (but I always try to) and I’m pleased to see that Esteban Chaves is nicely placed in the top ten.

Stage 5 looks distinctly lumpy so goodness only knows what’s going to happen. I predict a breakaway, a couple of crashes, a sighting of Adam Hansen and possibly a riot. Maybe one for the sprinters.

 

 

The beginning (Part 2)

In Part 1 I learnt that the BBC is sometimes wrong, the breakaway rarely stays away and I had much to learn about cycling.

Extremes

Throughout 2013 I watched, listened and learned. From the TDU I mostly learnt about the wine growing regions of South Australia and how lovely they were to visit, but I also absorbed information about riders, teams and tactics. My next encounter with road cycling was watching Paris-Roubaix on Eurosport with an unwell daughter by my side. It looked utterly brutal. The screen was a dreary palate of grey: sky, road, mud, cobbles. My god, the cobbles. It was like the peloton had travelled back in time. I feared that they would be held up by highwaymen at any moment. Broadly, this was the same sport I had watched back in January but played out in entirely different circumstances. It was then that I began to understand that cycling was both an extreme sport and a sport of extremes

Giro

Then, the Giro. We had honeymooned in Italy (Rome to be precise) during a hot, bright August nine years before. The version of Italy that provided the setting for the first Grand Tour of the season was something else. It was hilly, cold and forbidding. Skinny cyclists wearing tights, thin rain jackets and gloves battled the elements and themselves. Bradley Wiggins came down ‘sketchy’ (now added to my lexicon of cycling) descents like a giraffe on a Brompton, fell off, chucked his bike against a wall, got ill and went home.

The moment that did it for me though, was Alex Dowsett winning the time trial, unexpectedly beating Wiggins in the process. Dowsett’s start time was so early that the Eurosport coverage hadn’t started when he set his benchmark. The TV pictures joined the stage later, when the faster men and GC contenders were due to take each other on. As each rider attempted (and failed) to beat Dowsett’s time, the screen flashed over to a close-up of his face. He looked terribly nervous mixed with ‘What the actual eff have I done?’ accompanied by a dash of ‘I’ve nicked some pick n mix from the shop and I might get found out by the grown-ups’. It was bizarrely brilliant.

So brilliant that I watched it twice. Once live and subsequently in the evening when my husband had gone to work and the children were in bed. A young British rider on a foreign team winning a time trial stage of a grand tour? Definitely worth watching again.

The Giro remains my favourite tour. Naturally, I watched the (Le) THE Tour in 2013, screaming at the telly as Froome rode up Mont Ventoux, admiring the teamwork of Team Sky, marvelling at the sheer feat of a British team with a (mostly) British rider winning for the second year in a row. However, my stupid romantic heart has a special place for the Giro. I don’t recall whether I watched any other races that year. I’m sure I did. I probably watched the Tour of California and may have flitted in and out of the Vuelta. I can’t warm to it as a Grand Tour for reasons that I’m unable to explain.

*Swirling leaves. Time passes. Etc.*

Now

That was three years ago. I’ve watched an awful lot more cycling since then. I went to the London stages of the Tour de France and the Tour of Britain. I was actually in the velodrome when Bradley Wiggins broke the hour record in London last June. I’ve been to so many Revolution meetings that I subscribe to their official playlist on Spotify and actually enjoy it. For our wedding anniversary last year my husband bought me a subscription to Rouleur Magazine. My evolution from cycling moron to someone that knows a bit about cycling and can hold her own in a conversation with an aficionado is ongoing, but progressing well.

Although I was an ignoramus at the start of all of this, at least I didn’t (and I promise I have not made either of these examples up) think the following:

  1. There is a cyclist called Peloton (first name Pierre, possibly.)
  2. Individual cyclists could enter Grand Tours without a team. This was said in relation to Vincenzo Nibali during the 2014 Tour when he was in the yellow jersey.

So, on this blog I’ll be writing about my impressions of cycling. Upcoming topics may or may not include (but are not limited to): Sky, track, Richie, books, crashes, the Hour, the Cycling Podcast, the Classics, the Giro, standing on the roadside, and anything else that comes to mind.