The Debrief: 2019 Vuelta a España

The Debrief: 2019 Vuelta a España

The 2019 Grand Tour cycling season came to an end recently with the Vuelta a España. 3290.7 km travelled over 21 stages ended in a new winner. Back in 2011, Primož Roglič switched to road cycling from ski jumping. Signed to LottoNL–Jumbo (now Jumbo–Visma), this was the Slovenian’s 5ᵗʰ Grand Tour, having won stages at the Tour de France (2017 & 2018) and Giro d’Italia (2016 & 2019). He looked good value for victory at the 2019 Giro, but fell away in the last week with limited support from his team, but rode a strong race over the past few weeks to become the latest Grand Tour Champion.


cycling roglic podium

General Classification (GC – Red Jersey):

  1. Primož Roglič (SLO) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 83 hours, 7 minutes, 14 seconds
  2. Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar Team + 2 minute, 33 seconds
  3. Tadej Pogačar (SLO) – UAE Team Emirates + 2 minute, 55 seconds

Points Classification (Green Jersey)

  1. Primož Roglič (SLO) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 155 points
  2. Tadej Pogačar (SLO) – UAE Team Emirates – 136 points
  3. Sam Bennett (IRL) – Bora–Hansgrohe – 134 points

Mountains Classification (KOM – Polka Dot Jersey)

  1. Geoffrey Bouchard (FRA) – AG2R La Mondiale – 76 points
  2. Ángel Madrazo (ESP) – Burgos BH – 44 points
  3. Sergio Samitier (ESP) – Euskadi–Murias – 42 points

Young Rider Classification (White Jersey)

  1. Tadej Pogačar (SLO) – UAE Team Emirates – 83 hours, 10 minutes, 9 seconds
  2. Miguel Ángel López – Astana + 1 minute, 53 seconds
  3. James Knox (GBR) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step + 20 minutes

Team Classification

  1. Movistar Team – 248 hours, 26 minutes, 24 seconds
  2. Astana + 51 minutes, 38 seconds
  3. Team Jumbo–Visma + 2 hours, 3 minutes, 42 seconds

Moments of note

cycling Jumbo Visma waterStage 1: The race started with a Team Time Trial. Favourites for the stage Jumbo–Visma were looking good value for the victory until crossing a patch of wet road caused by an inflatable paddling pool that had burst. Time Trial bikes are built for speed rather than control in poor conditions and the water led to pretty much the entire team going down at the next corner. Astana went on to win the stage, beating Deceuninck–Quick-Step (who had to avoid the remains of the Jumbo–Visma crash) by just 2 seconds. Thankfully, while it impeded the start of Roglič’s race, there were no significant injuries to hamper them in the coming stages. UAE Team Emirates also wiped out due to the water on the road and I feel that the injuries Fernando Gaviria suffered caused him issues in the following stages and led to him struggling to impact the race.

Stage 5: Stage 5 saw 3 men take the breakway to the finish line in the form of Burgos BH’s Ángel Madrazo & Jetse Bol and Cofidis’ José Herrada. Having already been almost knocked off his bike by his own team car earlier in the stage, Madrazo fell away on the final climb but came out of nowhere in the final kilometre to catch up and pass the other 2, winning the stage by 10 seconds, Bol taking second for a Burgos BH 1-2.

Stage 9: Marc Soler was looking good value for the stage win but was called back by the Movistar bosses to help Nairo Quintana go for the win. Pogačar followed Quintana as they went away from the rest of their GC rivals, but pushed on as the pair reached Soler. Quintana was unable to keep pace even with Soler’s help and was forced to settle for 2ⁿᵈ on the stage (though he still took the red jersey) as Pogačar took the win by 23 seconds.

cycling roglic ittStage 10: The Individual Time Trial was always looking like the stage that would give Primož Roglič the red jersey and that proved the case as the Slovenian beat CCC’s Patrick Bevin’s time by 25 seconds. Pogačar was hampered by a bike change partway through but still managed the next best time of the main GC competitors, finishing 1’29” behind his compatriot. Valverde kept himself in the fight by finishing 1’38” behind Roglič, but López and Quintana struggled (as usual in the discipline), finishing 2’00” and 3’06” behind Roglič respectively.

Stage 13: Nairo Quintana tried to earn time back on GC but was pulled back by his rivals 4km out from the end. Pogačar used the moment of catching Quintana to attack the group and Roglič was the only one to go with him. The Slovenians rode away together and Pogačar as allowed to take a 2nd stage victory, the pair finishing 27 seconds ahead of their rivals, while López lost a further 34 seconds, leading to Pogačar rising to 3ʳᵈ on GC.

cycling movistar astana crosswindStage 17: Primož Roglič’s race almost fell apart as crosswinds saw the peloton split in 2 almost immediately, with Nairo Quintana in the lead group with a few teammates and all bar one of the Deceuninck–Quick-Step team, while the rest of his GC rivals were in the second group. Luckily for Roglič, his time at the top was saved as Valverde and his teammates in the 2ⁿᵈ group pushed on (potentially an attack to drop all their rivals’ domestiques), stopping the lead group from opening up an unassailable lead. Astana then pulled the group home in the final kilometres, seeing Quintana’s group cross just over 5 minutes ahead of the pack, keeping Roglič in red. At the front of the race, Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s great Vuelta continued as Zdeněk Štybar attacked 2km out from the end, forcing Bora–Hansgrohe’s Sam Bennett to jump too early and resulting in Philippe Gilbert taking the stage victory.

Stage 19: James Knox’s crash that brought down half the peloton including the entire Jumbo–Visma team and bringing and end to road captain Tony Martin’s race. Whether you believe this was a planned move as Movistar said or not, Movistar picked this moment to attack and up the pace, leading to Roglič having to ride hard on his own to catch up to the Astana train attempting to get López back onto the lead group. The unwritten rule is that you don’t attack the lead jersey when they are stuck in a crash or taking a toilet break, and there were certainly a number of riders unhappy with Movistar pushing on. Eventually though, they sat up and the group came back together. Personally, while I agree that it is harsh to attack while the leader answers the call of nature, a crash is generally a racing incident, so it will be interesting to see if there is any change in protocol in future seasons. Interestingly, commissaires allowed the riders hampered by the crash to draft the team cars to get back onto the lead group, despite this being against the rules. I don’t understand why this was allowed following a racing incident and wonder if it was a reaction by them to Movistar’s attack.

Stage 20: In the last stage of racing for the General Classification, Tadej Pogačar attacks his rivals approximately 39km out. Knowing 2ⁿᵈ place on GC is at risk, Valverde is forced to put in an attack of his own, followed by Roglič and Rafał Majka. Pogačar won the stage by 1’32” (his third stage victory in the race) to propel himself back up to a podium place on GC and win the white jersey, while Valverde’s attack meant that he managed to hold onto 2ⁿᵈ by 22 seconds.

Stage 21: The final stage was a procession for GC ending with a final sprint in Madrid. Along with the classic celebratory drinks and photos during the ride, the major highlight from the first phase of the stage was Burgos-BH’s Jésus Ezquerra proposing to his girlfriend, who was riding in the team car. With the cameras on her braodcasting to the world, thankfully she said yes! In the final dash for the line, Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s Max Richeze barged an opponent out of the way to make room for sprinter Fabio Jakobsen to just hold off Sam Bennett and take the final stage victory. While Richeze was relegated to the back of the field, he was there purely as a domestique for Jakobsen, who was put in a better position to win by his actions. I can’t help but feel that incidents like this require a punishment towards the team rather than the individual as the teams are built to sacrifice themselves for just 1 or 2 members of the team.

Changing Reputations from the 2019 Tour de France

Changing Reputations from the 2019 Tour de France

The Tour de France was over for another year and while the change from Team Sky to Team INEOS did not stop them winning the race, the line of British riders came to an end as Egan Bernal became the first Colombian to win the Tour. In a race where some of the big names of cycling – such as Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish and Tom Dumoulin – were missing, the race was wide open for many.

Before we start looking ahead to the Vuelta a España, I wanted to bring an end to this year’s Tour to look at some riders who enhanced their reputations and also a few who disappointed by not reaching the levels expected.

Reputation Enhanced

cycling Tour De France 2019 Ineos winEgan Bernal: The Colombian rode his first Grand Tour at the 2018 Tour de France as a key super-domestique for Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, finishing 15thin the General Classification. Given the joint-leadership of INEOS alongside Thomas this year, he proved to be one of the strongest in the Alps and took the yellow jersey on Stag 19’s climb of the Col d l’Iseran. With Bernal, Thomas, Froome and (according to rumours) 2019 Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz on INEOS’ books next year they are not short for quality, but as the youngest Tour de France winner since 1909, Bernal looks to be a star of the next 10 years.

Julian Alaphilippe: Bernal may have won the race, but Alaphilippe was the star of this year’s Tour and I’m so glad he was recognised with the Combativity award. Last year’s King of the Mountains was always going to be a danger for stage victories, which would give him a chance of wearing the yellow jersey, but he ended up holding the race lead for 14 stages. Rather than just defending the lead, he continued to attack, bringing life to Stage 10 when he used the crosswinds to attack the peloton. Even when people started to say that he was in the stages where he would start to lose time, he won the Individual Time Trial and then put time into most of his rivals on the Col du Tourmalet.

cycling alaphilippe macron pinot
Alaphilippe and Pinot brought pride back to French cycling

He was already the number 1 rider in the world, but in terms of Grand Tours, this race took him from a dangerous rider to a genuine GC contender.

Thibaut Pinot: Stage 10 aside (where poor positioning in the peloton as Alaphilippe attacked caused him to lose time to his GC rivals), Thibaut Pinot was one of the strongest GC competitors this year and looked so dangerous on the climbs, including his win on the Col du Tourmalet. Alongside Alaphilippe, Pinot put pride back into French cycling and would likely have challenged for the race victory over the final stages if he hadn’t been forced to abandon the race with a torn muscle in his thigh.

Caleb Ewan: Moving from the GC contenders to the sprinters, Caleb Ewan may not have been able to win the green jersey, but he was arguably the star of the sprints, with his 3 stage wins the most of any rider this year, including on the Champs-Élysées. Beyond that, though, it was the manner of his victories as he often found his success with a late surge to the first place, while his first win came after he lost his lead-out man Jasper De Buyst when he came off the road trying to bring Ewan to the front of the peloton. We seem to be seeing a changing of the guard with the sprinters, and Ewan looks like he will be at the forefront of it.

Dylan van Baarle: You have to be a high-quality rider to be representing Team INEOS at a Grand Tour, but van Baarle outdid himself this year. With some of their key mountain domestiques struggling in the final week, van Baarle took on an unfamiliar role in being one of the main men leading Thomas and Bernal up the climbs, while his 46th place on GC was by far his best finish in a Grand Tour. Without van Baarle picking up the slack in the mountains, Sky probably wouldn’t be celebrating filling the first 2 stops on the podium.

Disappointing Race

Adam Yates: winner of the Young rider classification in the 2016 Tour, where he finished 4th overall, so much has become expected of Adam Yates, especially considering how well he and brother Simon have improved their performances in Time Trials. Nominated as the Mitchelton–Scott team leader, Yates found himself dropping away from the leaders far too often and was so far behin in the GC, it allowed his brother Simon to switch priorities from supporting him to hunting stage wins just halfway through the race.

Romain Bardet: Another who found himself dropping away from the leaders far too easy in the stages, Bardet has long been the man the French have been pinning their hopes on but was invisible for much of the race. He was so far off the pace, he was allowed to get away in a couple of late breakaways to win the King of the Mountains classification, the only silver lining for a poor race.

cycling QuintanaNairo Quintana: Is Quintana the most disappointing GC rider of recent years? This year’s race saw the Colombian drop so far out of contention that he was allowed to get away in breaks, but then had one super strong day on Stage 18 where he broke the record for the quickest climb of the Col du Galibier, which put him back in GC contention, eventually finishing 8th.

André Greipel: As I mentioned when praising Caleb Ewan, we are seeing a changing of the guard in the Points classification as the young sprinters are taking over from the older racers. At 37 years old, it looks like Greipel’s time competing for Grand Tour stage victories may be over as he only managed to finish in the top 10 of a stage once – 6th on the Champs-Élysées.

Doug Ryder: Finishing off with team owner rather than a rider. Despite having 30 stage victories to his name, Dimension Data chose to not include Mark Cavendish in their line-up for the Tour. The team were initially planning to include him but were overruled by Ryder despite Cavendish appearing to fit the team’s strategy better. Though he has struggled with illness in recent years, his replacement Giacomo Nizzolo managed one 4th and two 7th-place finishes, while Edvald Boasson Hagen finished 5th on the Champs-Élysées… not really the success they would have been hoping for.

Magic Moments on the Tour de France 2019

Magic Moments on the Tour de France 2019

The Tour de France is the one cycling event that is so famous, its name is known well beyond cycling and sporting circles. The 2nd of the 3 Grand Tours every year, injuries to Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin saw them both replaced ahead of the race, but while this impacted the battle for the General Classification, it did not overly harm what ended up being a great race.

We had Movistar and Team INEOS showing the strength of their squads at the front of the peloton… We had one of the closest fights for both the green and yellow jerseys in recent memory… We so nearly had a French champion again, but instead ended up with the youngest champion in 100 years and the first Colombian Tour de France winner ever in Egan Bernal.


General Classification (GC – Yellow Jersey):

  1. Egan Bernal (COL) – Team Ineos – 82 hours, 57 minutes
  2. Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Ineos + 1 minute, 11 seconds
  3. Steven Kruijswijk (NED) – Team Jumbo–Visma + 1 minute, 31 seconds

Points Classification (Green Jersey)

  1. Peter Sagan (SVK) – Bora–Hansgrohe – 316 points
  2. Caleb Ewan (AUS) – Lotto–Soudal – 248 points
  3. Elia Viviani (ITA) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step – 224 points

Mountains Classification (KOM – Polka Dot Jersey)

  1. Romain Bardet (FRA) – AG2R La Mondiale – 86 points
  2. Egan Bernal (COL) – Team Ineos – 78 points
  3. Tim Wellens (BEL) – Lotto–Soudal – 75 points

Young Rider Classification (White Jersey)

  1. Egan Bernal (COL) – Team Ineos – 82 hours, 57 minutes
  2. David Gaudu (FRA) – Groupama–FDJ + 23 minutes, 58 seconds
  3. Enric Mas (ESP) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step + 58 minutes, 20 seconds

Team Classification

  1. Movistar Team – 248 hours, 58 minutes, 15 seconds
  2. Trek–Segafredo + 47 minutes, 54 seconds
  3. Team Ineos + 57 minutes, 52 seconds

In celebration of the 2019 Tour, I wanted to look back at some of my personal highlights of the race. Let me know what your highlights were.

Alaphilippe in yellow

French success in the Tour’s General Classification has been limited in recent years, with Tony Gallopin the last French rider to wear the Yellow Jersey, back in 2014.

Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphilippe though has been giving his country something to cheer about recently, following up winning the KOM last year with victory at the Tour of Britain on his way to becoming the Number 1 ranked rider. On Stage 3, Alaphilippe took his chance on the final climb, attacking the main group and passing Tim Wellens – who had been the last remaining rider from the breakaway – to cross the line in first, 26 seconds ahead of anyone else. The win and time difference were enough for the popular Frenchman to take the Yellow Jersey from Team Jumbo–Visma’s Mike Teunissen.

Finishing the trifecta

2018 saw Elia Viviani win stages in both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, leaving the Tour as the only one of the Grand Tours where he was still looking for a stage victory. This year’s Giro saw him consistently just missing out to other riders in the bunch sprints and eventually finishing without a win, so coming into the Tour it was obvious that he would want to get a stage victory and complete the trifecta. That came on Stage 4 as a great lead-out from his Deceuninck–Quick-Step teammates saw him cross the line first.

cycling sprint
The Deceuninck–Quick-Step lead-outs throughout the race were a kaleidoscope of colour. Image Source

While that in itself was great, Viviani’s emotional response when he reached his team showed just how much it meant for him, especially as he will be leaving at the end of the season. But what made it even more beautiful was watching the lead-out, as Alaphilippe (Yellow Jersey), Michael Mørkøv (Danish National Champion Jersey) and Max Richeze (Argentine National Champion Jersey) provided a rainbow of colours as they led their man to victory.

Masters of the climbs

Stage 6 and its finish on La Planche des Belles Filles is one that will live in the memory and got my so hyped watching it. It feels so long since Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde has been looked at as a leader and GC contender, but winning the 2018 UCI Road World Championship was a great reminder of his quality. As the race heated up on the penultimate climb, Valverde made his way to the front of the GC group and began to set an incredible pace. Such was the pace he was setting on a tough climb, even the much-vaunted super-domestiques of Team Ineos and other teams found themselves being dropped from a quickly-thinning group. Unfortunately, his Movistar teammates Mikel Landa – who attempted to attack after Valverde was spent and was soon caught – and Nairo Quintana were unable to take advantage and lost time to some of their GC rivals.

Beyond that, in the final kilometre of the final climb, the Yellow Jersey of Julian Alaphilippe suddenly sprung away from the GC group in the dust in an attempt to hold onto the Jersey (he would eventually miss out to Giulio Ciccone, who had been in the break, by 6 seconds). After initially leaving everyone else behind, defending champion Geraint Thomas and France’s best hope for a GC win Thibaut Pinot also pulled away from the group and managed to pass Alaphilippe (on the line in Pinot’s case) to put a couple of seconds into all their rivals. After losing 5 seconds on Stage 3, Thomas showed he was going to be fighting hard to defend his title, while Pinot showed that he is going to put up a challenge this year after a strong performance at the Critérium du Dauphiné.

Gone with the (cross)wind

Stage 10 was meant to be a nice easy day off for the GC riders before the rest day. And then the winds arrived. EF Education First and Team Ineos both tried to throw the peloton into disarray by upping the pace at the front to little effect. Things changed though when Julian Alaphilippe (yes, him again!) decided to take control in the yellow jersey and up the pace with the help of his Deceuninck–Quick-Step teammates, splitting the peloton into multiple groups. EF found themselves outside the lead group, along with Thibaut Pinot and many of the other GC contenders, so Ineos joined in with Deceuninck to take advantage of the situation, resulting in Geraint Thomas rising to 2nd in the GC behind Alaphilippe. Spare a thought as well for George Bennett, who started the stage 4th in the GC (1’ 12” behind the maillot jaune) but due to a questionable team decision found himself at the back of the peloton picking up water bottles for the team as Alaphilippe attacked, resulting in him dropping down to 27th overall, 11’ 01” off the lead.

The first of many

Moving away from Alaphilippe for a moment, Stage 11 is one that will live long in the memory for Lotto–Soudal’s Caleb Ewan. The Australian, riding his first ever Tour de France, took what would go on to be the first of 3 stage victories in this year’s race. While that is obviously great for him, what gets it on this list is that when you watch the stage back, you realise that he lost his lead-out man Jasper De Buyst a few kilometres out from the finish as he came off the road leading Ewan to the front of the peloton. So many people could have given up at that point, but Ewan got himself on the right wheel and timed his sprint perfectly to just get ahead of Dylan Groenewegen before the line.

Trial of the yellow jersey

With Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome not involved in this year’s race and Rohan Dennis pulling out the day before, the Individual Time Trial looked wide open. Wout van Aert was looking good for an amazing time, until he took a turn a little too tight and caught the fence, coming down hard and having to abandon the race through injury. This left things open for Thomas De Gendt to set the fastest time. Geraint Thomas was the penultimate rider off the ramp and when he crossed the finish line 12 seconds ahead of De Gendt, a stage victory looked on the cards.

cycling alaphilippe ITTAnd then came Alaphilippe. As race leader, he was last off the ramp and though the route was favourable for him, the expectation was that he would lose time to some of his GC rivals on this stage. Instead, he passed the checkpoints with better split times than Thomas and as the home crowd cheered him on, he powered up the final climb and through the last couple of hundred metres to finish 14 seconds ahead of Thomas and increase his lead in the maillot jaune.

French revolution

If Stage 13 was where Alaphilippe would likely lose time to his rivals, Stage 14 and its finale on the Col du Tourmalet was where he was bound to break. Alaphilippe, however, had other plans, as he gained more time on Geraint Thomas in the final kilometre when he, Thibaut Pinot, Egan Bernal, Steven Kruijswijk, Emanuel Buchmann and Mikel Landa pulled away from the defending champion.

In a great day for French cycling fans, Pinot attacked in the final 250 metres to win the stage, while Alaphilippe was next across the line to increase his lead over everyone else in the General Classification.

Weather woes

If Stage 14 was a great day for French cycling fans, Stage 19 was the opposite for them. A tearful Thibaut Pinot was forced to abandon early in the stage with a torn thigh muscle, ending what had looked to be a hugely promising race for him.

Things got even worse as Egan Bernal attacked during the climb up the Col de l’Iseran. While Kruijswijk, Buchmann and Thomas could not stick with Bernal, they were still able to drop Alaphilippe enough for Bernal to take the virtual lead before the summit.

Then things went crazy as the weather turned dramatically on the descent, with a hail storm and snow making the descent treacherous and a mudslide blocking a section of the road, leading to the race being neutralised and cancelled, with finish times being taken from the summit of the Iseran, resulting in Bernal taking the yellow jersey and Alaphilippe dropping down to 2nd.

While this was far from ideal, I can’t imagine any better way to have dealt with this freak occurrence, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for some of the riders as Alaphilippe was gaining time back on the descent and Steven Kruijswijk admitted that he had planned to attack on the final climb.

cycling bernal yellow thomasClimbing to history

The weather that prematurely ended Stage 19 had a huge impact on Stage 20 too, as a series of other landslides blocked sections of road and led to the final stage of climbing being cut from 130km to 59.5km, with just the final climb (Val Thorens) remaining.

Vincenzo Nibali won the stage from the break, but the big highlight here was Alaphilippe being dropped again on the climb, which saw him fall to 5th overall in the GC, while Bernal and Thomas crossed the line together to take the 1-2 on GC, Bernal becoming the first Colombian to win the Tour de France.

Man Down: What next for Froome and Ineos?

Man Down: What next for Froome and Ineos?

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?

Team Ineos

cycling geraint thomas no1
Geraint Thomas will now surely be Ineos’ team leader as he goes for back-to-back Tour de France victories

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.

Chris Froome

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.

cycling chris froome yellow climb
Have we seen Chris Froome in the yellow jersey for the last time? – Image by ruby_roubaix

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.

My Sporting Preferences

My Sporting Preferences

Hi guys! Something a little different today as I realised that I’ve been writing on here for almost 3 years now (time flies!) and alluding to some of the teams I support but not actually really talked about the sport I like to watch and who I support in them, so I thought today it would be a great chance to get to know me a bit better.

Rugby Union

Rugby Union is unsurprisingly my favourite sport, both the 15 and 7-a-side variations of the game. I got into rugby when I started going to secondary school and quickly fell in love with the sport. Over the years I’ve played for my school, grassroots club (shout out to Longlevens RFC!) and also started my own social 7s team in my last year of uni, and played a number of positions: all the front row, lock, blindside flanker and one match I will never forget against our local rivals where I played at outside centre!

featrugby gloucester sale 4Being a Gloucester boy born and raised, there was only 1 club I was ever going to be following once I was into the sport and that is the Cherry & Whites – Gloucester Rugby – and by extension, Hartpury RFC and Gloucester-Hartpury Women.

I have started watching a lot more rugby around the world in recent years though and the Scarlets have beat out Munster become my second team, courtesy of one of my best mates being a Scarlets fan and their attacking mentality making me always want to watch their games . I’m also really excited by the growth of rugby in the USA, so I consider the Eagles my second international team (after England) and I have tried to pay attention to the MLR – I put my support behind the Seattle Seawolves last season but with the league still expanding and new teams forming I would not say that I have adopted them as my American team. I’ve also tried to pay more attention to Super Rugby in the last few years but would not say that I have adopted a team, although I found myself firmly behind the Western Force when they were put at risk of being axed.

Football

As with (I’d assume) most English kids, football was my initial sport. Just having a kick-around on lunchtimes of after school and with highlights of the Premier League still available on terrestrial TV, it is something that is relatively easy to follow.

football shirt chicharitoAs for my favourite team, I have to admit that I’m a fan of Manchester United. *Runs for cover* Granted, I’ve never been to Manchester, but my support from United came from a number of my closest friends at school being United fans, so I found that we would talk about them more and I found myself paying more attention to their matches. I do also have a soft spot for Cheltenham Town, my local team in the football leagues. As for internationals, I am an England supporter, but I have found in recent years a bit of an apathy towards internationals and I have rarely watched outside of the Euros and World Cups.

American Football

me12189588_10153126166241332_5035862288422859710_nI’ve got family in America and went to visit them a couple of times as a kid, so vaguely remember watching some NFL games on TV when I was out there, but not really understanding what was going on. Then during secondary school one of my friends let me borrow Madden 04 and in learning to play the game, I fell in love with the sport. This love continued as I went to university and started watching games more often and making friends with a number of the uni’s American football team.

From those times I used to go to America, I remember us rushing home one day to watch the Tennessee Titans play back in the days where the late Steve McNair was at QB, so once I finally got into the sport they were always going to be the team I picked. Ironically, when I next went to see my family in the USA, it turned out that they are Cowboys fans and hate the Titans… oops! Too late!

cyc20180730_193504Road Cycling

I’m not even sure how, but I’ve really started enjoying watching the Grand Tours in recent years and also by extension some of the other televised races like the Tour of Britain and the Critérium du Dauphiné. It is a great example of teamwork seeing the domestiques working on behalf of their leaders and then the combination of tactical nous and sheer determination among the lead riders to race each other up climbs that make me shudder just watching on TV. Team Sky are my team and I really love a number of their riders including 2018’s Grand Tour winners Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, while I also really enjoy the Yates brothers and Mark Cavendish – so 2018 was a pretty good year for me!

Rugby League

I just love rugby in general! While I prefer union, I do also enjoy watching rugby league as it is generally a more fast-paced game than union. I really got into watching the Super League a few years back but I’m so busy these days I struggle to find the time to watch anything beyond the England matches and the odd big club game. For this reason I wouldn’t say I fully support a team, but I would say I have a soft spot for Canadian team Toronto Wolfpack, who were founded around the same time I started paying more attention to the sport.

Formula 1

I used to watch Formula 1 religiously when it was on terrestrial TV and I didn’t have such good access to pay-TV sports channels, but these days with the way the sport has come to rely on tyre degradation and pit strategies in order to win, I’ve largely gone off the sport – though I will still watch on occasion. Back from his early days at Mclaren, I’ve been a big fan of Kimi Räikkönen, while I also cheered for Jenson Button when he was in the sport and have found myself supporting Fernando Alonso for a number of years as he has tried to do his best in cars that are nowhere near the quality he deserves.

Cricket

For years I had no interest in cricket whatsoever, however I have found myself paying a bit more attention to the shorter forms like one-day internationals and Twenty20 matches. I will say thought that I have no real interest in the game beyond England matches and would struggle to watch a Test match live for more than a couple of hours, though I would watch a condensed highlights show.

Tennis

Another sport that I find myself watching less now that I have access to extra sports channels. It’s rare for me to watch much beyond Wimbledon, and even then it has often just been Andy Murray or Laura Robson’s matches in recent years. Back in the day though, I was also a big fan of Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick and also found myself cheering for Maria Sharapova back when there were no highly rated Brits in the women’s events.

Snooker

Much like tennis, the amount of snooker I watch has dropped off drastically as my options have opened up. I think the BBC show “Big Break” went a long way to helping stoke an interest in the sport when I was a kid and I have been lucky enough to watch in the heyday of Ronnie O’Sullivan! If I’m at home writing, I may have it on in the background, but its very rare I find myself watching these days.

Baseball

Not something that I usually watch but I do enjoy going to a couple of matches when I’m in the US. Despite having been bought Yankees, Cardinals and Rangers branded goods over the year, there’s no Major League teams that I would say I pay attention to, however I do try to keep up with how the Memphis Redbirds are doing in the Minor Leagues.

 

and finally…

MTS Rocha v Reilly 3The Movie Trivia Schmoedown

I know what you’re probably saying: “How is movie trivia a sport?!”… But the Schmoedown has done a great job of making it one. Taking a movie trivia quiz and combining it with WWE-style entertainment has created a wonderful product that I have fallen in love with! The show has become such a big part of my life and I even write for their website (links to all my articles can be found here) and if you want to know a bit more about this, you can find a piece I wrote over a year ago here.

Eyes On: Tour de France 2018

Eyes On: Tour de France 2018

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:

  • General Classification:
  1. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) – 83h 17’ 13”
  2. Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) – + 1’ 51”
  3. Chris Froome (Team Sky) – + 2’ 24”
  • Points Classification:
  1. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) – 477
  2. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) – 246
  3. Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) – 203
  • Mountains Classification:
  1. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) – 170
  2. Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic) – 91
  3. Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) – 76
  • Young Rider Classification:
  1. Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale) 83h 39’ 26”
  2. Egan Bernal (Team Sky) – + 5’ 39”
  3. Guillaume Martin (Wanty-Goupe Gobert) – + 22’ 05”
  • Team Classification:
  1. Movistar Team – 250h 24’ 53”
  2. Bahrain-Merida – + 12’ 33”
  3. Team Sky – + 31’ 14”
  • Combativity Award: Dan Martin

History made, but not as expected

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.

20180730_193411.jpgAs 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.

20180730_193623
7 Grand Tours, 4 Olympic medals & 3 Commonwealth Games medals in 1 photo

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.

Not good enough

A crash for Thomas during the 2017 Giro d’Italia prompted me to write a piece about how outside influences can heavily affect the result of the Grand Tours. Well 14 months later and things haven’t really changed judging by this race.

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 Italian Job: Giro 101

The Italian Job: Giro 101

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:froomepink

  • General Classification:
    1. Chris Froome (Team Sky)
    2. Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb)
    3. Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana)
  • Points Classification:
    • Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors)
  • Mountains Classification:
    • Chris Froome (Team Sky)
  • Young Rider Classification:
    • Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana)
  • Team Classification:
    • Team Sky

Hard-fought victory

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.

zoncolanDave 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 faryatesdrop

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.

Odd route

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.

 

Feature image from Mussi Katz on Flickr

A Race to be Remembered

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:

  • General Classification
  1. Chris Froome
  2. Vincenzo Nibali
  3. Ilnur Zakarin
  • Points classification
  1. Chris Froome
  • Mountains classification
  1. Davide Villella
  • Combination classification
  1. Chris Froome
  • Team classification
  1. Astana
  • Combativity award
  1. Alberto Contador

2 out of 3 for my GC podium prediction isn’t bad…

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?

Building Hype for the Vuelta

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:

 

Making history

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.

Three-pronged attack

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:

  1. Chris Froome
  2. Vincenzo Nibali
  3. Adam Yates

Disciplinary Problems? Cavendish v Sagan

So this is something I’ve contemplated writing since Peter Sagan’s disqualification from the Tour de France, but due to my relative inexperience in this sport – it was only during last year’s Tour that I became a regular viewer of the Grand Tours – I was unsure if it was right to do so. However I have decided to write about it as I feel it needs looking into.

 

By now, many people will have seen the dramatic end to Stage 4 of this year’s Tour de France, where Arnaud Démare’s first ever stage victory on a Grand Tour was relegated to being a side-note next to discussions of Mark Cavendish’s crash and Peter Sagan’s disqualification for his part in the incident. Sagan was initially docked 30 seconds and 80 points in the battle for the green jersey, but this punishment was later upgraded to disqualification as he “endangered some of his colleagues seriously.” Cavendish meanwhile, has been forced to leave the tour with a broken shoulder.

My personal opinion is that the initial punishment would have been sufficient. It looked to me that Sagan was simply following the drift of all the racers in the bunch split and attempting to get on Démare’s wheel, unaware that Cavendish – who was behind him – was already in that position. Yes there was a question of his use of an elbow and while some camera angles do make it look bad, others suggest that the elbow was out merely to help him keep his balance. I feel that the punishment has been unduly influenced by the injury to Cavendish.

It is clear that the UCI are trying to improve safety in the bunch sprints – they now allow a 3-second gap between riders on flat stages before they award a slower finishing time, meaning that General Classification riders and teams are not so in the way of the sprinters – and I get the feeling that they will look to reinforce this by being strict on any issues from the bunch sprints. However by that logic, Démare is surely deserving of some punishment as his changes of direction in the same sprint looked far worse and more dangerous than Sagan.

What really surprised and disappointed me, however, was the way that the race commissaires who made the decision to disqualify Sagan did not contain a former racer. In an event like a bike race, there is always an inherent risk, especially in a bunch sprint, so to me a former racer’s perspective should be required to help decide if a crash is simply a racing incident or something more serious.

If we look at another racing sport – Formula 1, they have some very specific rules relating to their officials. From their website I found the following information:

  • At every Grand Prix meeting there are seven key race officials who monitor and control the activities of the stewards and marshals to ensure the smooth and safe running of the event in accordance with FIA regulations.
  • Five of the seven officials are nominated by the FIA. These are the race director (currently Charlie Whiting), a permanent starter and three additional stewards, one of whom is nominated chairman and one of whom is an experienced former driver. The additional stewards must be FIA Super Licence holders.
  • The other two key officials are nominated by the National Sporting Authority (ASN) of the country holding the race. These are the clerk of the course and an additional steward (who must be a national of the host nation). Both must be FIA Super Licence holders.

Notice how of the 7 race officials in F1, at least 5 must be FIA Super Licence holders, a qualification that allows that person to race in F1 Grands Prix. This means that when any incident is looked at during the race, the drivers know that there will be people making a decision who know exactly what is going on at that moment from the point of view of the racers and know exactly what can and can’t be expected from a racer in such a circumstance. It’s not that often that the former racers in the F1 commentary are surprised by the official’s decisions at it also allows them to explain to the armchair fan what will be considered and taken into account about the accident.

I’m not asking the UCI to make as drastic a change as to make the majority of the commissaires former riders, however it is my opinion that they need to have at least one former rider involved in any decisions.

As it is, we have lost 2 great racers for the remaining 2 and a half weeks of the Tour and the green jersey – which has been won by either Cavendish or Sagan each of the last 6 years – is certainly up for grabs. It will be interesting to see where things go from here.

 

What are your thoughts on the incident and the disciplinary procedure? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge