Monday, July 9, 2012
I recently flew with a low-cost airline. On the back of all the seats they had an ad that started with "the sky is NOT the limit !" Looking at recent events in Le Tour de France I'd say that Sky is the new limit in aham aham sporting ... training principles.
It all started on Saturday, with a better than US Postal slashing of the peloton and an outsprinting of Cadel Evans, winner of classics and such (the stage had the profile of a classic). It was a bit quiet on Sunday but today ... OMG ! Both Froomie and Wiggins trashed Fabian Cancellara in an ITT. Fabian - multiple ITT winner, world champion and olympic champion and so on.
Best in the mountains, best in the ITT. And it's a Sky duo, poised for a stunning 1-2 in Paris. To quote the Romanian Eurosport commentators: "Sky are really shameless !!!" Well I guess the new aproach to training is amazing, their new trainer coming from a swimming background is awesome and it's all legit.
If I were Cadel Evans I would fight hard for 3rd place. In a few years it might mean an yellow jersey.
Friday, June 22, 2012
Man what a run up thus far to the 2012 Tour de France. So many interesting wrinkles to consider ahead of the world's biggest bike race. Let's get right into it.
The GC battle increasingly seems to be a two horse race between Brad Wiggins and Cadel Evans. That said though, as usual there are other names that could factor as protagonists despite the many time trialing kilometers at this years Tour.
Speaking of those other names, there are more than a few that could threaten for victory under the right circumstances. Janez Brajkovic of the Astana team could be a dark horse for victory depending on his form. he is largely unproven in grand tours, but he has improved each year and looked strong in 2011 until a crash knocked him out of the race.
Levi Leipheimer had to sacrifice his early season due to injury, but he may be in a prime position to threaten for the Tour podium as he comes into the race with fresh legs and a fresh mind. When on optimal form he can time trial as well as Evans too, so providing he is mentally prepared he could be in with a very strong chance at victory.
Vincenzo Nibali, still young and still hungry, could add to his grand tour tally (2010 Vuelta champion) come July. He has staked his entire season on a good Tour ride, and he brings a very strong and experienced Liquigas team to France for an assault on the GC. Nibali has always been a very strong all-around GC rider, but he'll need an elevated time trial discipline to contend in this year's Tour.
Robert Gesink too will be looking for a top result at the Tour as he tries to build on the success he experienced at this year's Tour of California. Gesink probably is not prepared to battle in the time trials though, so he is an outsider at best.
And then there is Ryder Hesjedal, Garmin's golden boy who won this year's Giro. Ahead of the Italian grand tour few were mentioning Hesjedal as a possible winner, but now that he has proven he can stand up to the rigors of a three week race he heads to France as Garmin's sole leader. The last Giro/Tour winner in the same year was a hopelessly doped Marco Pantani. Surely Hesjedal has no chance, right? Right??
Further down the list of favorites are the Lotto tandem of Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Jelle Vanendert, both capable climbers who with perfect conditioning could be in with a chance. Sammy Sanchez, always within the top 10 at grand tours is looking for a good result. Finally, an ever-aging Denis Menchov heads to France to try to complete the grand tour trifecta with a win at the Tour to go along with his wins at the Vuelta (twice) and giro (once).
As usually there are a slew of names that are entered as pre-race favorites for the overall title at the Tour de France. But once we head into the final week of the Tour, it will likely be two or three riders that still have a legit chance to win. Whop that will be is anyone's guess, but the smart money is on Wiggins and Evans, in that order.
Posted by Briggs at 3:21 PM
Thursday, May 31, 2012
Each June, the Dauphine Libere stage race in France provides a glimpse into who some of the top challengers will be in July's Tour de France. The always challenging race course often features some of the same terrain that will be tackled at the Tour, and so GC hopefuls come to the Dauphine to gauge their progress ahead of the Grand Boucle.
This year's edition will be of particular importance to the below riders, as they must put in a strong overall showing if they are to assume full leadership at the Tour next month. A look into five riders that must be feeling the pressure to succeed at this year's Dauphine.
Janez Brajkovic spent his early career learning how to race from Lance Armstrong and Alberto contador. A climber at heart, Brajkovic arrives at this year's Dauphine in need of a strong performance to reassure his Astana managers that he is up to the task of leadership in July. Brajkovic has yet to truly break through into elite status as a grand tour threat, and a top result at the Dauphine would vault him toward the top of pre-race favorites for this year's Tour. That said, he'll face tough competition and won't be able to hide when racing begins. Too, he needs a strong ride to remain relevant on a team that is making a huge push to sign Vincenzo Nibali for 2013. Now is the time for Brajkovic if he wants to entrench himself as a protected rider for stage races.
Sammy Sanchez, as he is every year, is an enigma. He started strong for 2012 but lately has been out of the limelight. He'll be the leader for Euskaltel, that much is sure, but for his own good he needs to do a good Dauphine. Sanchez has been riding as a leader long enough to know how to stay toward the front of a race, but as of yet he seems to lack a killer instinct on the bike. His time at the top is running short (he's 34) and now more than ever he needs to go hard if he is to be a force in July.
Denis Menchov is probably done as an elite cyclist. He too is 34, but he seems an old 34. He is far removed from his glorious Giro d'Italia triumph of 2010, and thus far in 2012 he has done nothing. Menchov is a hard rider to read and can sometimes pull good form out of nowhere, but for his own sake he needs a strong ride at the Dauphine to show his team that he is ready for July's challenge.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck's 2011 season was derailed after a terrible crash at the Tour de France. His teammate Jelle Vanendert took over, winning the mountains classification and establishing himself as a sudden star of Belgian cycling. 2012 has been kinder overall to Van Den browck, but he still has yet to show the form that put him into last year's Tour as sole leader. If he fails to impress at the Dauphine, Van Den Broeck could find himself playing to role of super domestique for Vanendert. In fact, even with a great Dauphine ride, he still likely will head to the Tour as co-captain with Vanendert.
Andy Schleck has had an anonymous 2012 season. He has failed to play a significant role in any race thus far in 2012, and seems completely at odds with Johan Bruyneel. If Schleck can't get it going and at least follow wheels at the Dauphine, he could find himself facing the unreal possibility of being left off the Tour team. Worse still, if he continues to falter in the coming days he could also face the possibility of playing a support role to his brother Frank or the veteran Chris Horner.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
At the mid-way point of the professional cycling season, the Radioshack-Nissan team of Johan Bruyneel seems as disjointed as the first day of training camp. Both Schleck brothers seem frustrated, to say the least, at Bruyneel's tactics, while many of the other riders seem unmotivated in the races they have contested thus far in 2012.
Johan Bruyneel, going back to his days as director sportif for Lance Armstrong's seven Tour de France wins, has always been a bit stand-offish regarding his approach toward motivating his riders. Old school and gruff at times, Bruyneel seemed to always have the correct approach to wring top results out of riders as year in and year out he assembled top team to assault the Tour de France. Recently though, Bruyneel's methods have taken a back seat to more progressive leaders like Neil Stephens, Jonathan Vaughters and Dave Brailsford.
Thus far in 2012 the Radioshack team has been an absolute mess. Few wins have come outside of Fabian Cancellara's scintillating early season form, and as we head into the summer things seem fractured almost beyond repair within the team. Bruyneel, stubborn till the end, refuses to back off of his riders, and his methods increasingly seem to be falling on deaf ears.
As we approach the transfer season, it would be absolutely astounding if the Schleck brothers decide to re-sign with Bruyneel's squad. Ditto for Jakob Fuglsang, who looks like a defector back to Bjarne Riis and Saxo Bank for 2013. Cancellara is quiet as he usually is, but it would be hard to envision him staying for another year under Bruyneel's iron fist.
Other riders on the Radioshack team just don't seem motivated to chase results. Daniele Bennati abandoned his home tour in Italy after posting a runner-up finish to Mark Cavendish. Andreas Kloden has been completely absent from the front of any bike races, while the once promising Tiago Machado seems to be languishing in obscurity under Bruyneel's tutelage.
In a worst case scenario, would it be at all surprising if the entire Radioshack team folded after 2012? Sure they still have riders under contract, but so what? If the three pillars on the team (both Schlecks and Cancellara) decide to sign elsewhere for 2013, who would be left to carry the torch? Chris Horner is, unfortunately, older by the day and less of a leader and more of a support rider. Levi Leipheimer has already left for Quick Step, and the rest of the riders on the team are domestiques at best, throw aways at worst. Bottom line is that things could get real ugly real fast if things go bad at the Tour de France, which it currently looks like it could.
For those who have count themselves as true fans of the sport, Bruyneel's plight should come with little surprise. He has been alienating fans for years and now it looks as though his stone-like demeanor is affecting his relationships with his riders as well. Perhaps the book he released about his success with Armstrong and Alberto Contador best encapsulates the perception of Bruyneel: an egomaniacal blowhard who rode the coat tails of others to find his success.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Ryder freaking Hesjedal. Coming into the Giro, Hesjedal truly was a darkhorse contender. Very few people, if any, thought he had any chance of taking top honors at the end of three weeks of racing. Sure, there was the top ten at the Tour de France on his palmares, but did anyone really think he would win? Well win he did, and in impressive fashion, taking on all comers and riding cool all the way to the finish in Milan. Hesjedal has arrived in abig way, and he should enjoy additional opportunties to lead in future grand tours. One thing is certain, he's no darkhorse any more.
Shame on you Italians. From Ivan Basso to Michele Scarponi to Dominico Pozzovivo, all Italians were laid to waste in the 2012 Gir d'Italia. In fact, it was the first time in 15+ years that at least one Italian did not feature on the final podium. Basso, although brave, is looking older and older. He seems set to be a super domestique in the coming years. Scarponi too looks weary, and seems as close as Basso to being passed by forever by younger talent.
Joaquin Rodriguez came oh-so-close to the overall win, but was unable to dislodge Hesjedal in the high mountains. The Spaniard however is having a stellar year, and should be commended for at least trying to drop Hesjedal.
Mark Cavendish misses out on the red points jersey on the final day. So what. He was without a doubt the best sprinter in the race and should be commended for riding to the finish, unlike almost all of the other sprinters.
Is Thomas De Gendt for real? he sure looked like it in the final week at the Giro. Now let's see how well he fares as a pre-race rider to watch.
Damiano Cunego finishes 6th overall, at just about four and a half minutes behind Hesjedal. It would seem he is still hanging around in the grand tour GC scene. With some luck in future editions, could he possible add to his grand tour overall tally?
Rigoberto Uran has a very bright stage racing future.
Romaine Kreuziger reminds me of a new version of Christophe Moreau. Moreau rode for years as a pre-race favorite for grand tours, but was never able to hang with the top riders. Kreuziger seems destined for a similar fate.
John Gadret rode an excellent 2011 Giro. 2012, not so much. He looked overmatched in all areas.
Posted by Briggs at 3:37 PM