Last weekend, Chris Froome was preparing to take part in his 7th Critérium du Dauphiné with a view to being ready to challenge for a record-equalling 5th Tour de France title. Now, he finds himself recovering in hospital, after a high speed crash on a practice run left him with a fractured right femur, broken hip, fractured neck, fractured elbow and fractured ribs.
Such a serious set of injuries will not be a quick recovery and estimates of the time he will be out are starting at 6 months. So the question becomes: What next?
I start with Ineos as they are the ones who have more immediate thoughts, with the Tour kicking off on July 6th, they knew immediately that there was no way their team leader would be taking any part following his crash. Luckily, if any team can lose their team leader less than a month out from a Grand Tour and still expect to emerge with the winner, it’s Ineos. Last year’s race showed just how strong they were, with Geraint Thomas winning the race and young Colombian Egan Bernal starring in the mountains. Bernal was in fact meant to be the team leader at this year’s Giro, only to miss his opportunity due to injury. While Froome may have been option A, Ineos’ option B and option C would be option As in pretty much any other team.
Slightly longer term, Bernal’s injury also gave a chance for young riders Tao Geoghegan Hart and Pavel Sivakov to experience leading a team. While they may not quite be at the same level as some of the other team leaders around them, they also went with a relatively young team to the Giro, and a more experienced line-up (including other top domestiques like Vasil Kiriyenka, Michal Kwiatkowski, Luke Rowe and Wout Poels) could give them every chance of competing. Sky have plenty of strength and while Froome is a loss, they can overcome this and may even look back at this as a great opportunity to give some of the next generation of stars more experience.
As for Froome, recovery is the only thing that’s important right now. I’m no medical expert, but if he is back riding in 6 months then I’ll be shocked. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if, given his previous accomplishments (he has 6 Grand Tour Victories to his name, potentially soon to be 7 after Juan José Cobo was stripped of his 2011 Vuelta a España title after being found guilty of doping), he made the decision to retire from racing, which would be a shame for him to go out in such a disappointing way.
If he does come back, will he be able to get back to his best? He will be 35 by the time next season’s Grand Tours come around, an age above which not many riders have won a Grand Tour, especially the Tour de France. If he does return to competing, then I think it far more likely that he is frequently used as a super-domestique for another team leaders and an option B or C in the Grand Tours. He rode as a domestique in the recent Tour de Yorkshire and marshalling the team to help Chris Lawless take the team’s first race victory under the new sponsors. With a number of Ineos’ top domestiques aging, this may be the perfect role for Froome to fill and help the next generation for a couple more years.
Whatever happens in Froome’s future though will likely depend on the success and speed of his recovery. Fingers crossed he has a successful recovery and we get to see him riding for another Tour de France title again in the future.
The Tour de France is over for another year and for the 6th time in 7 years, Team Sky are emerging victorious in the General Classification – though maybe not with the rider everyone was expecting. The final standings in the various classifications were as follows:
Though many likely expected a Team Sky rider to be standing on the top of the podium, I think most would admit that they would have been expecting to see Chris Froome there winning his 5th Tour de France title and 4th consecutive Grand Tour. Instead, it was his teammate and former super-domestique now co-leader Geraint Thomas who made history by becoming the first Welshman to win the Tour. With Froome having competed in the Giro d’Italia, it was unclear how fresh he would be for this race – and at one point it was unclear if he would be allowed to race while the investigation into his adverse test result from last year’s Vuelta continued – so Thomas was given the lead of the team in the 2018 Critérium du Dauphiné, which he won, and was given protected status as co-leader for this race.
As is always the way in the Grand Tours, Team Sky brought a dominant roster to the race which certainly gave both Thomas and Froome every chance to compete, but whereas previously Thomas had struggled from poor days or poor fortune, this time he was able to keep himself where he needed every day and was able to avoid any bad luck, while many of his competitors in the General Classification lost time early on. Chris Froome lost 50 seconds on Stage 1 when he came off the road, while Richie Porte (who later retired injured on Stage 9) and Adam Yates also lost the same amount of time courtesy of another incident. Tom Dumoulin lost time after contact with Romain Bardet left him in need of a wheel change within 6km of the finish line and lost 53 seconds on the road with a further 20 seconds being added as a penalty for spending too much time drafting behind his team car to get back on. Romain Bardet had almost half a dozen bike/wheel changes on the cobbles of Stage 9 and expended so much energy to only finish 7 seconds down on the day, but struggled with a number of domestiques abandoning early, while Vincenzo Nibali crashed out on Stage 12 and Movistar could not decide which rider out of Mike Landa, Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde to support.
Despite all these issues for his competitors though, “G” was fully deserving of the victory as he was able to deal with all of his rivals attacks and was often stuck on Dumoulin’s wheel when he attacked almost as if the Dutchman was another super-domestique, before attacking himself in the final kilometres to win Stage 11 (where he took yellow) and Stage 12 – where he became the first yellow jersey to win on Alpe d’Huez. I’ve noted previously that to win on GC, you have to be strong all-round. Thomas can climb with the best of them and also has a good sprint at the end of mountain stages, while also being an above-average time trialist – good enough to limit Dumoulin and Froome’s gains on the final day to less than 20 seconds. Watching G in interviews, he is just so likeable and after seeing his reaction to winning on Alpe d’Huez and seeing him break down after the time trial, not to mention his off the cuff speech on the podium in front of the Arc de Triomphe where he tried to thank everyone and promptly forgot the names of his teammates and only remembered his wife at the last minute, it was impossible not to be rooting for him.
Speaking of Froome, do not expect this to be the end of an era. Very few team leaders would ride 4 consecutive Grand Tours and it seems that this was just 1 race too far for him. He was still competitive throughout but in the last couple of days just did not have the legs to hold on against Thomas and Dumoulin, but responded well and became a willing domestique for Thomas in the final days. It will be interesting to see how Team Sky structure their rosters moving forward with both of these riders on their books. Will they use them in separate races to each get the benefit of a full team? Or will they work as co-leaders until the leader is clear and the other becomes a domestique? Do not rule out either option and a continued run of Team Sky dominance in the Grand Tours.
A new star
That dominance in the GC may not even have to come from Froome or Thomas, though, as young Colombian Egan Bernal announced himself on the Grand Tour scene with a wonderful race! The youngest rider in the race did not seem phased and was often one of the last remaining domestiques on the mountain stages and – much like Froome in 2012 – I occasionally got the feeling that he was holding back to protect his leaders. So many times we saw the big names in the GC try to attack on the final climbs only to be drawn back in by a group led by Bernal and his impact on the race only seemed to grow as the race went on, when he could have easily faded due to inexperience and extra workload due to Gianni Moscon being removed from the race. It may not happen this year or next year, but it surely won’t be long until we see Bernal leading a team at a Grand Tour and to be honest, when he gets that chance I’d expect him to be pushing for at least a podium position.
Survival of the fittest
The Points Classification started so well with a couple of early stage victories for Fernando Gaviria, however the excitement soon came to a premature end. Last year’s green jersey winner Michael Matthews was out early following a crash. Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and Mark Renshaw all missed the cut-off time on Stage 11, while Gaviria, André Greipel and Dylan Groenewegen all abandoned on Stage 12. With Arnaud Démare having had issues on the early sprint stages, the Points Classification was over as a competition Alexander Kristoff failing to win the intermediate sprint on Stage 16 meant that Peter Sagan was mathematically assured of the victory provided he made it to the end. The only excitement came after he fell the next day, though he was able to continue racing without having to worry about competing at the sprints.
Granted, crashes and injuries are difficult to predict, but too often in the Tour de France, the race for the green jersey is more about who can make it over the mountains in decent shape, something that currently too few specialist sprinters are able to do.
Froome and Team Sky’s dominance over the years – and Froome’s adverse drug test – have made them very unpopular in France but where most people will g as far as booing, too many people decide to take it further. Team Sky riders, especially Froome, were repeatedly spat at and had liquids thrown at them throughout the race, while one spectator tried to push Froome off his bike on Stage 12 and was actually able to make contact with him (thankfully not enough to make him fall) and another tried to grab Thomas towards the end of one of the recent stages. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Froome actually found himself pushed off of his bike on the way down to the team bus from the finish line of Stage 17 after not recognising him. Not a great look.
It wasn’t just Team Sky who came into problems during the race as a combination of a flare from the crowd, a motorbike too close to the riders and a crowd too enclosed resulted in Vincenzo Nibali crashing on Stage 12 and abandoning the race with a fractured vertebra. Not only that but a protest by farmers on Stage 16 saw them try to block the road with hay bales, while the response of the policy to pepper spray the protesters caused the race to be stopped for 11 minutes after the pepper spray blew back into the eyes of the peloton.
If a professional event like the World Cup or the Super Bowl had even half these issues, there would be hell to pay! The tournament organisers have a lot of work to do to ensure the safety of the riders and the safety of the race result.
The 2018 Giro d’Italia came to an end last weekend. 3 weeks of some of the best cyclists in the world making their way around Italy (mostly) in the first of this year’s Grand Tours.
Defending Champion Tom Dumoulin started as he finished in 2017 by winning the short time trial on Stage 1, however he handed over the pink jersey to BMC’s Rohan Dennis after he picked up some bonus seconds during an intermediate sprint on Stage 2 and never manged to get the jersey back, with Simon Yates and eventually Chris Froome the only other riders to wear the jersey during the race. The final standings in the main classifications were:
Chris Froome (Team Sky)
Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb)
Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana)
Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors)
Chris Froome (Team Sky)
Young Rider Classification:
Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana)
This was far from the usual Grand Tour victory that we have come to know from Chris Froome. His preparation for the Giro could not have gone much worse as he has been forced to protest his innocence following an adverse test result during last year’s Vuelta that found his with twice the legal level of Salbutamol in his blood. Things got even worse for him after he came off his bike on his recon ahead of Stage 1, injuring his leg.
Dave Brailsford said in interviews that due to the Giro being so early in the season, Froome was coming into the race a little below where he would usually be starting a Tour, with the idea of growing into the race, but that his injury meant that he spent the early days recovering before he could begin to grow into the race. He struggled for the first half of the race, being dropped from the leaders’ pack on a number of occasions and not looking at all comfortable on his bike following a slip about 5km from the end on Stage 8. Team Sky stuck with their man though and if anything probably benefited from not having to control the race for the majority of the stages and Froome gave a hint that he was building into the race with his climb up the Monte Zoncolan to win Stage 14. A poor day on Stage 15 suggested that maybe Froome had pushed himself too hard the day before, but after the second rest day he really came into his own. A top 5 placing on Stage 16’s time trial left him less than 40 seconds off the podium and it was his attack on Stage 18 that finally suggested Simon Yates could be beaten. The very next day, Froome attacked from about 80km out to be the first to crest Cima Coppi – the race’s highest point, in this case the Colle delle Fenestre – and take first place in the GC, which he held through the final mountain stage despite a number of late attacks from Dumoulin to become the first Brit to win the Giro d’Italia.
Not only is he the first Brit to win the race, he becomes only the seventh man to win all 3 Grand Tours and the third to hold all 3 Grand Tour titles at the same time, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault being the other 2. Now Froome needs to find away to prove his innocence in the case of his adverse test result, otherwise all his hard work will have been for nothing.
So near yet so far
While Chris Froome may have struggled in the first 2 weeks, another Brit excelled: Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates. The elder of the team’s Yates twins, Simon Yates has shown in previous Grand Tours that he can run with the best GC riders. He din not take long to make a mark on this year’s race, finishing in the top 10 of the short time trial. Much as he has done on previous Grand Tours, he stuck with the favourites whenever they attacked from the lead groups, but this time he was also able to pick his moments to attack and take time on his rivals, taking the pink jersey on Stage 6. He continued this tactic throughout the race and was the only person to even stick close to Froome on Monte Zoncolan, finishing just 6 seconds behind him. He continued to build on his lead the next day, attacking about 17km out to win Stage 15 – his third stage win of the race – before putting in another strong time trial to hold a 56 second lead over Dumoulin going into the final rest day.
And then on Stage 18, everything began to go wrong for the man who looked destined for the top step of the podium. After covering an attack by Tom Dumoulin, Yates was unable to find the strength to stick with the leaders when Chris Froome came back onto the group and passed them for an attack of his own, eventually finding his lead over Dumoulin halved, before being completely dropped on the Colle della Fenestre the next day and finishing almost 39 minutes behind Chris Froome to relinquish the pink jersey. Yates was broken and he eventually finished the race just outside the top 20, 75 minutes and 11 seconds behind Froome and just under 17 minutes behind teammate Mikel Nieve, who won the final mountain stage.
While Yates will undoubtedly be disappointed in the way the race finished, he has a lot to be proud of and will surely be back competing at the top of the GC in future Grand Tours. Perhaps he needs to take a look at Froome’s style of leading, where he rides more defensively once leading a race. Granted, Froome is a better in the time trials so can afford to make up time there rather than on the mountains, but he is not generally one to expend energy attacking when he is already ahead and instead paes himself to make it through even the hardest climbs.
Despite being called the Giro d’Italia, it was not until Stage 4 that the race took place actually in Italy, with the first 3 stages taking place in Israel. This is not the first time a Grand Tour has started in another country, but I just don’t understand the need for it, especially when the country is not even geographically close! It was made even worse when you consider the controversy relating to the conflict with Palestine and human rights issues. I understand the importance of funding, and this is not just a dig at this race as many sports are starting to do similar, but it is starting to feel like money is more important than morals for many at the top in pro sports.
The final stage of this year’s Giro, 10 laps of a route around Rome, was always intended as a procession for the GC riders and just a fight for the sprinters, however the importance of the final stage dropped soon after the riders complained of the road conditions (many sections including cobbles) until the race was neutralised for the General Classification, leaving the riders only needing to complete the race in order to keep their GC position. I don’t understand how the race organisers could not envisage a problem with the route, especially if there had been adverse weather. I have said before that the race organisers need to do more to improve the safety for the riders, before someone has a big accident.
Chris Froome: 4-time Tour de France winner, 2017 Vuelta a España winner, 2-time Olympic Time Trial bronze medallist, Sports Journalists’ Association Sportsman of the Year 2017… drugs cheat?
This been another bad week for cycling as news has come out that Froome returned an adverse drug test following Stage 18 of this year’s Vuelta, as his urine was found to contain anti-asthma drug salbutamol in concentrations of 2000 nanograms per millilitre – twice the amount the UCI allow without a therapeutic use exemption (TUE).
Cycling has a bad history of doping with big names like Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong having been stripped of Grand Tour victories following doping offences, and the sport has been working hard to improve its image to the general public. Froome’s dominance has caused many people to accuse him of cheating in the past – a view not helped considering the investigations into Team Sky and the ‘mysterious package’ that Bradley Wiggins received during the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine – and though I personally don’t think he has deliberately or knowingly done wrong, it does not look good.
Has the drug helped him? Froome regularly takes salbutamol as he suffers from asthma, like many athletes. Studies have found minimal performance benefits to using salbutamol, other than combatting the effects of asthma, and as it is a drug that clearly shows on tests – and being the race leader, Froome knows that he will be tested – it would seem a poor attempt at illegally doping.
Has he done something wrong? Studies have suggested that dehydration can dramatically affect the concentration of salbutamol in urine, so this could always be having an impact on the result. However from what I have read it is only Stage 18 where the readings have seemed off as opposed to throughout the Vuelta, the studies also don’t usually result in the concentration doubling through dehydration. It is now up to Chris Froome and Team Sky to prove there is a legitimate reason for the adverse reading. That won’t be easy to do!
If Froome is found guilty, chances are he will be stripped of his Vuelta victory and he will also face a ban. Regardless of the result, this is yet more ammunition for those who want to look down on cycling in general and Chris Froome specifically. The timing could not have been much worse as it has recently been announced that Froome will be racing at the 2018 Giro d’Italia with a view to becoming only the third rider to hold all 3 Grand Tour titles at the same time, while he is also nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award on Sunday. In my opinion, his efforts this year should have been enough for him to win the award but he was already likely to miss out due to the negative perception of cycling and his perceived lack of Britishness. This revelation will likely stop him even making the top 3!
I for one will continue to hope that a legitimate reason for this result can be found as I do not believe Froome to be a doper. I sincerely hope that I’m not proved wrong.
Chris Froome continued his rise to greatness with victory on the 2017 edition of the Vuelta a España. The Team Sky rider took the general classification red jersey at the end of Stage 3 and refused to relinquish it for the rest of the 3 week race, while also going on to win the green jersey for the points classification and the white combination jersey all on the way to making history.
The entire race was a great spectacle, with a number of attacks – often from the retiring Alberto Contador – keeping many of the fights for the GC podium going down to the wire. The final standings for the race were:
There was plenty to talk about from this race, but I’ll leave the full breakdown to the cycling experts and instead focus on a couple of big talking points:
The history maker
This win has made Chris Froome only the 3rd rider to win the Tour de France and Vuelta a España in the same year. What makes this even more impressive is that he is the first to win it since the Vuelta was moved after the Tour. He may not have looked at his best for much of the Tour, but it looks like he timed his season perfectly to peak just in time for the Vuelta’s climb-heavy race. He was one of the few racers able to consistently stick with Contador’s breaks in the opening weeks (more on those later) which quickly helped him get a lead on GC and consistently place well enough to keep the battle for the green jersey going right to the final sprint. Once again he had a lot of help from a strong Sky team, with Wout Poels, Mikel Nieve and Gianni Moscon keeping him in the right position and pulling him through the stages where he struggled. It’s no real surprise to see Nieve and Poels make the top 20 on GC considering the work they did for Froome and the dominance of Team Sky throughout the race.
Over the last 3 weeks, Froome has once again showed that he is a strong climber but, more importantly a terrific time trialist, having won the Stage 16 Time Trial by 29 seconds to Wilco Kelderman and just under a minute to his closest GC competitors. He has done something unprecedented this year and will surely be targeting a record-equalling 5th Tour de France next year. He may not always be the most popular of sportsmen, but considering what he has done this year, he must surely be in the running for Sports Personality of the Year.
Farewell to a legend
Alberto Contador may not have got the fairy-tale podium finish that he would have liked to end his career with, but this race was a perfect example of what makes him such a great rider. The 7-time Grand Tour winner (not counting the 2 wins that were voided) struggled on the first couple of stages but as a result was allowed the chance to attack on pretty much every stage after. His attacks opened up the race to a point that the GC race was completely shaken up. There was something right about Contador’s last ever mountain stage being a victory on the Angliru and it was wonderful to see the peloton allow him to lead the way into Madrid on the final stage. It was a shame that he couldn’t finish on the podium for GC, but it was great to see him win the combativity award and I don’t think anyone can argue with that call.
Given his history I understand that he will not be universally loved, but he will certainly be missed moving forwards.
The importance of a good time trial
In a race that is over 3,000km long, the impact that a 40.2km stage can have on the general classification cannot be understated. Time trials do exactly that. They are the only stages on a race where a rider is racing purely on their own ability with nobody there to pull them along if they are struggling, and it clearly shows on the race results. All 3 Grand Tours this year have been won by riders with a strong time trial pedigree (Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome). On the Vuelta, Froome added almost a minute to his GC lead, which allowed him make up the time he lost with his 2 crashes on Stage 12 and take it easy on the more dangerous descents.
Esteban Chaves did lose time on the later stages, but his big loss was a poor time trial that dropped him from a possible podium to only just inside the top 10. It may only represent a small fraction of the total race distance, but a better than average time trial is now a must for someone who wants a realistic chance of winning a Grand Tour.
Teams to watch in 2018
Team Sky may be losing a number of riders at the end of this season, including Mikel Landa and Mikel Nieve to Movistar and Orica-Scott resepectively, but they have recruited well and bringing in quality riders like Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) and David de la Cruz (Quick-Step Floors) so I am sure they continue to lead the way in 2018.
Quick-Step will be interesting to watch next year as they are losing their 2 most recent GC riders (de la Cruz and Dan Martin) along with sprinters Marcel Kittel and Matteo Trentin. However they still have Fernando Gaviria, who won 4 stages on the way to winning the points classification at this year’s Giro d’Italia, so I still expect them to be pushing for the Grand Tour points classifications.
I am very much looking forward to watching Orica and Sunweb next year. They may have faded in the last week of the Vuelta, but I expect Esteban Chaves and the Yates brothers to be even better next year, especially with a domestique like Nieve joining the team. On top of this I expect them to work a bit harder on the sprints next year with both Matteo Trentin and Caleb Ewan on the books next season. Sunweb may be losing Tour de France King of the Mountains Warren Barguil but they have 2 impressive GC options in Giro winner Tom Dumoulin and Wilco Kelderman, who are both strong climbers and time trialists. Bringing in Edward Theuns from Trek-Segafredo will be a big help to them and they will also have Michael Matthews there looking to back up his green jersey from the Tour whilst backing up his team leader on climbing stages.
Astana will be interesting to watch but not necessarily for the right reasons. Fabio Aru is clearly a talented rider, but there were questions about his actions on the Tour as his teammates appearing to turn against him – Michael Valgren’s response to hearing his team leader had lost the yellow jersey on Stage 14 was to smile and say “Good” – and this apparent lack of teamwork continued into the Vuelta with the Italian riding off on his own rather than to the benefit of Miguel Angel Lopez. Sunweb kicked Barguil off the Vuelta for not supporting Wilco Kelderman, will Astana have the balls to do the same to Aru if he continues to be selfish next season?
The 2017 edition of the Vuelta a España gets underway on Saturday and the provisional starting list has been announced. It’s time to begin the hype! With the Giro and the Tour out of the way this year, this is the final chance for teams and riders to prove their worth in a Grand Tour in 2017. This will also be the last time we see some of these riders in their current team colours as some will be retiring or moving to different teams after the season.
With this in mind, here are a few things to watch out for over the 3 weeks of racing:
Only 2 riders have ever won the Tour de France and the Vuelta in the same year: Jacques Anquetil in 1963 and Bernard Hinault in 1978. Chris Froome will be hoping to add his name to the list. Sky’s 4-time Tour de France winner has never yet won the Vuelta, finishing second three times, including last year when Nairo Quintana denied him the double by just 83 seconds. There is no Quintana this time, so despite a strong set of competitors including Vicenzo Nibali, Alberto Contador (more on him soon), Tour rivals Romain Bardet and Fabio Aru and the 2017 Tour’s King of the Mountains Warren Barguil.
Froome may not have often looked at his best in the Tour, having not raced much before the event, so you wonder if he has timed everything to give him the best chance of winning both races as opposed to just the one.
He may not have his star lieutenants from the Tour – Geraint Thomas, Michal Kwiatkowski road captain Luke Rowe and the departing Mikel Landa – however he still has a strong team around him including Wout Poels, who was a big part of his 2016 Tour de France victory.
Getting the double isn’t going to be easy, but I think this could be the year that Froome finishes in the coveted Red Jersey.
End of an era
This will be the last Grand Tour that Trek-Segafredo’s Alberto Contador races before retiring. The Spaniard is bringing an end to a 14-year professional career that has included controversy due to doping allegations (he had victories in the 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d’Italia voided) but despite this still has victories in 2 Tours (2007 & 2009), 2 Giros (2008 & 2015) and 3 Vueltas (2008, 2012 & 2014) to his name. His recent results (he hasn’t made a Grand Tour podium since his 2015 Vuelta triumph) hint that finishing on the ultimate high of a final victory will be beyond him, but expect to see him pushing for a couple of stage victories and having a big impact on the race.
The depth of quality that Orica-Scott have for General Classification is scary! For the 2017 Vuelta, Orica have decided to name Esteban Chaves and Adam Yates as co-leaders, while also giving Simon Yates the freedom to attack in the mountains. Chaves has not had the best of seasons as he recovers from injury but has done well in the last 2 Vueltas, finishing in the top 5 both times. The Yates twins are both very impressive young riders (Adam won the white jersey on the 2016 Tour, Simon did the same this year) and Simon also looked very good on a number of breakaways during last year’s Vuelta. I look forward to seeing the dynamics of the team as the race goes on and would not be surprised to see the twins go on an attack together on at least one stage. I don’t know how well Chaves will do this year, but I would not be surprised to see a least one Yates pushing for the podium.
Predicting the podium
I’m very much going out on a limb here but I think that with my increasing understanding of the Grand Tours it’s about time to start throwing out some predictions. This is a very difficult race to judge until we see how racers are performing (Quintana certainly didn’t live up to expectations on the Tour this year), but as of now my predicted podium is: