Thursday, 2 August 2012

Reflection from the Editor...

Dear Readers

You may be wondering where I have disappeared to this season. It may seem odd that a British Fan Blog is so silent just when British Cylists are dominating the sport.... I have therefore decided to write this little reflection to let you know.

These last 12 months have been quite challenging for me personally. Some of you follow me on facebook and you may be more aware of whats been going on than the rest who follow via twitter or get directed here by google than the like. To elaborate my personal life came crashing down almost as despairingly as Wiggo's crash out of the 2011 Tour de France. My collar bone is fine but my heart was broken. The relationship that had blossomed with a friend from my teens over the spring ended abruptly and unfortunately on the day I completed my first race (running not cycling!) since having my second child in 2008. What should have been a euphoric day ended in the despair that is felt reading a text that ends ones relationship while driving down the A3. Why he chose there and then to do that I still dont know. Our friendship struggled through the summer to maintain its course during the storms that broke out after that day and at Christmas it came to an all too literal crashing end.

Such heartache often leads to reflection, especially as one sees a life milestone cropping up on the horizon: this is not how I wanted to be entering my 30s. Determined to steer my life back on course by the time I hit 30 I knew I had to reassess more than my relationships. In January I more or less quietly stopped writing and tutoring and began training to be a Sports Therapist. Over the course of the Spring I found that I had discovered my true calling in life. It was not where I thought it would be-in the classroom. It was on the side of a pitch. I cannot pin point the exact moment when I realised -which seems odd because my life is full of "moments" where I know where I was and what I was doing when I had an epiphany of sorts. Having discovered ironically that sport-something that I had avoided participation in at all costs all through secondary school- was where I felt happiest I took up Hockey and started volunteering as a physio for the only football team I knew would take me on with no experience in order to gain that experience: the team I had become practically a season ticket holder fan of. They have become my friends and my colleagues and with them I feel at home. This new life has left me with little time to pursue my love: writing about cycling. Its been a sacrifice but it has been worth it. Even though I wasnt finding the time to tweet or write and entertain you all, I was finding the time to watch as much as I could over the season. As my heros headed into France however I was finding even less time to watch. I did my best to write something but didnt feel I was giving it justice.

I watched on the edge of my seat as Mark Cavendish took his 4th back to back Champs Elysees win, his 23rd Tour de France stage victory and Bradley Wiggins "draw the raffle numbers" crying my eyes out elated for the British Men I have always regarded so highly. 6 days later I was at the foot of Old London Road just outside the ticket area for Box Hill, screaming Cavendish's name until my throat was sore. Again I was on the A3 when my heart broke, hearing Vino take the Gold that I wanted to see my idol wear. On the Sunday I watched on the TV as Lizzie Arminstead brought home a silver and dared to dream that Wiggo would do it. On Wednesday I watched as he realised that dream. The last few weeks have been sensational for me as a British fan. I was surprisingly unprepared for the experience on Saturday. Previously I had only been an armchair fan. I became a true tifosi at the foot of that hill, and as they headed up the hill to start the 2nd of 9 laps of the zig zag I realised I was shaking. There is nothing comparable to that experience. I had heard it said that no noise, no smell, no feeling is alike. The roar of the peloton is a sound that is unique. Though we cheered every passerby motorbike or car somehow we knew when "this was it". The thunderous noise will stay with me forever.

Next season I hope to be back. I would like very much for this deeply personal account to not be the last I commit to this page. If you read this, please dont comment. I would prefer to think of these words just out there in the ether somewhere rather than receive feedback.

I leave you with this thought. Team GB are not done. Their story is not over. This may be the pinnacle for one man's career but its not the pinnacle of British Cycling. British Cycling still has so much to give. And so do I.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Slovakian champion Sagen storms to second win

Slovakian champion and green jersey holder Peter Sagen took his second victory with a win in stage 3 to Boulogne-sur-Mer. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) held on for second over Peter Velits of Omega Pharma-QuickStep. A fourth place finish was sufficient to see RadioShack-Nissan's Fabian Cancellara hold on to his overall lead.

The final climb saw a large group going up for the win in a difficult situation. Oscar Freire of Katusha was squeezed as they made the dash for the line by a Vacansoleil rider, sparking a crash. Mostly contained on one side of the road it caused the hold up a number of riders already out of contention for the stage, but all were given the same time as the main bunch. Held up was Denis Menchov (Katusha), Bradley Wiggins and his Sky Procycling teammate Chris Froome who toppled the barriers but remained unhurt.

In a day marred by crashes, Garmin-Sharp suffered the worst luck of the peloton, although Ryder Hesjedal overcame a late-race puncture to regain the front group and ultimately finish the stage in 12th, while the rest of the team's climbers - Dan Martin, Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson, in addition to sprinter Tyler Farrar, were held up by a large crash in the final 20km and never regained the front of the race.

Team Sky lost one important helper in Kanstantsin Siutsou, who abandoned after a crash, as did Movistar's sprinter JJ Rojas.

Stage 4 sees the peloton travel 214.5km from Abbeville to Rouen. One of the longest stages in the Tour, this stage will pay tribute to Jacques Anquetil. The route emphasises the touristic aspect of the Tour by making its way down the Alabaster coast for a long time and enjoying its breathtaking landscapes and light effects.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Stage 2 (Vise - Tournai)

Thanks to guest writer James Clark-Grimshaw for providing today's stage report

The last Belgian stage of the 2012 tour, between Vise and Tournai, was always going to be a bunch sprint finish. It wasn't until 22 Kilometres into the days racing that the break was formed. The escape bid came from Roux (FDJ) who was then followed by Kern (EUC), who's child was born 2 hours prior to the team presentation in Liege, as well as the polka dot jersey Morkov, who further extended his points tally in the KOM classification by picking up the one and only point of the day.

In the intermediate sprint there was some big points for the sprinters to contend, with Matt Goss yet again taking the maximum for the riders in the peloton.

With around 30km left in the stage, the peloton had caught the bulk of the breakaway, only Anthony Roux staying out in front giving an impressive solo performance (Securing him the combative rider award for the day). With just 14km to go, the peloton reeled in the Frances Des Jeux rider winding up for a bunch sprint.

Each team had riders on the front, including BMC riding for Cadel Evans, trying to keep him out of harms way. Then Lotto Belisol came to the front of the peloton with Andre Greipel in tow. Once Greipel peeled off his leadout man, Greg Henderson, all was to play for. But with the world champion on his wheel it wasn't long before Cavendish had pulled past his former team mate to take the victory.

At the end of the day Cancellara finished safely in the bunch, keeping the yellow jersey. Also, Peter Sagan's 6th place gave him enough points to secure his first green jersey.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Spartacus takes prologue stage

The 99th Tour de France got off to a great start with a dominating win in the opening prologue by Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara. Rolling out of the start house second-to-last, the Swiss man affectionately known as Sparticus posted the best time by one-second at the mid-course check point and continued to ramp up his performance to claim the victory by seven-seconds. With the win comes the first Mailot Jaune, mirroring his win in 2004, also in Liège, Belgium, when he made his debut in the Tour de France with a prologue win and yellow jersey as a 23-year old.


Wiggins (Team Sky), looking to become the first Briton to win the Tour in three weeks' time, demonstrated his supreme form by pushing Cancellara close and taking an advantage of more than nine seconds over Evans, who finished 13th.  The 32-year-old Londoner, born in Ghent, Belgium, was denied the chance to become the fifth Briton to don the Mailot Jaune.  At the intermediate time check after 3.2km Wiggins, who was the 188th starter in a field of 198 riders, trailed by six seconds in 10th place.
 
Chavanel placed third, with Evans' team-mate TJ van Garderen fourth to take the best young rider's white jersey.  Wiggins' team mate, Chris Froome (Team Sky) finished in 7:29 to place 11th, while Commonwealth Games time-trial champion David Millar (Garmin-Sharp), who had been a doubt for his 11th Tour due to illness earlier this week, clocked 7:31 to place 16th.  Steve Cummings (BMC Racing) was a place behind in 17th. World time-trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) had to change bikes due to a mechanical problem and finished in 7:36 to place 45th.

Tomorrow's stage of 198.0km from Liège to Seraing is no leg breaker, but it still is bumpy enough to dampen the hopes of pure sprinters and may see Cavendish dropped before reaching Seraing. The course is less demanding than in 1995, when Bruyneel and Indurain blew the race apart on the road to Liège, but it comes very close to the Ardennes and, at 198 km, the stage distance is nothing to sneeze at.  This stage is designed to preserve the peloton's energy while setting the tone for the rest of the race. 

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

UCI World Championships 2011 get underway

For the first time since 1956 the UCI World Championships are being hosted by Denmark in the city of Copenhagen. Consisting of five time trial events and two road races, the World Championships are considered to be the most prestigious event in the UCI race calendar. With juniors competing with elite riders in the road races for the first time since 2004 the course route favours a bunch sprint finish for the coveted Rainbow Jersey.

The 266km course laps around the city with each lap ending in a slight uphill kick. The fairly flat course will favour a bunch sprint finish but the little kicks could lead to splintering of the pack so with everyone on guard it will take a brave effort to destabilise the pack as the toughest of the sprinters battle home to contest the victory.

Having scouted the course during the Tour of Denmark, Oscar Freire is the big Spanish hope for the men’s road race on Sunday , amongst a team of sprinters that has seen Olympic Champion Samuel Sanchez left at home. Meanwhile Britain’s Mark Cavendish is looking to become only the second British rider to wear the Rainbow Jersey. Fellow HTC-Columbia team mate and key lead out man for the Grand Tours Mark Renshaw has been left off the Australian start-list in a move that has perplexed many. Having notched up 18 wins this season Phillipe Gilbert will be a big name to watch along with Thor Hushovd who showed fine form in the Tour de France.

After some fine performances in Europe, Australia’s Shara Gillow, 23, will be on the look out to take the Rainbow Jersey in the women’s road race. Topping the medal table in the last two World Championships, the Australian contingent are confident of strong another strong performance this year. Meanwhile Britain’s Nicole Cooke, who is no stranger to the World Championship podium having taken gold in 2008, and Emma Pooley, who will be defending her Time Trial jersey, are joined by 22 year old Lizzie Armisted who has sucessfully transferred from the track to road racing.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Vuelta 2011 race preview

Saturday 20th marks the start of the 66th Vuelta e Espana. Starting in Benidorm with a 13.5km evening Team Time Trial and ending on September 11th in Madrid, the route of 3300km is a mix of 9 flat and 10 mountain stages. Six of the stages will end with summit finishes including the Angliru climb which returns after a 3 year absence. This year’s Vuelta promises to be hard and is sure to be dominated by the true climbers. However with many of the ‘plain’ stages providing opportunities for bunch finishes, there is sure to be a hot points competition as the sprinters fine tune their form ahead of the World Championships in Denmark in October. The first week will see them battle it out particularly on stage 3. Starting in the province of Alicante and finishing in Murcia, this stage is one of the shortest with just two cat 3 climbs.
While the Pyrenees does not feature in this year’s route, there is a return to the Basque region after a three decade absence. Following protests in 1978 that saw the course blocked the race has not returned before this edition. But with the Basque’s being lead by a non nationalist they have lobbied for this return and the final week will showcase this as the peloton travels from Bodegas Faustino (the start of stage 17) through to Vitoria-Gasteiz for the final showdown on stage 20.

With two mountain stages before the time trial and a second week that includes some of the toughest climbs as Folgueriiras of Aigas is climbed ahead of the Puerto de Ancares (stage 13) the day before the riders return to the region of Asturias after a two year absence to climb the La Farrapona right before the Alto de Angliru (stage 15) there are sure to be fireworks in the race for the Red Jersey. But there is no certainty that a leader will emerge in this second week that will safely carry the Jersey into Madrid at the end of the third week. The winding route of stage 17 could lead to a dangerous breakaway into the complicated Sía and Alisa mountain passes and this could shake up the GC. If times are close then the Puerto de Urquiola could prove to be the deciding factor on the penultimate stage.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The agony and the ecstasy: 3 weeks of triumph over adversity

198 riders set out 3 weeks ago to tackle all that France (an a touch of Italy) could possibly throw at them as they headed the long way to Paris via the Pyrenees and the Alps. Few could have predicted then who would emerge from that colourful sea of Lycra to be remembered as a hero of the 2011 Tour de France.

Starting in the Vendee, the battle commenced with new rules for the King of the Mountains and the Points competitions. The first week being one for the sprinters, the first of the Tour heroes to emerge was Belgian rider, Phillippe Gilbert, who reigned supreme in all the competitions at the end of the first stage.

His reign in the Golden Fleece lasted just one day as the next hero, Thor Hushovd stepped out of the sprinters territory and into the veritable arena of the strong men. Taking the Maillot Jaune, he was the first of two riders to hold on to it longer than anyone could predict.

Fellow Norwegian, Evald Boasson Hagen showed the peloton that Hushovd wasnt the only Viking to watch out for as he took the first of two wins in the Pyrenees. Their triumphs were to become poignant over the course of the Tour as tragedy struck in their homeland in a way that touched the hearts of many across the world.


As Mark Cavendish returned to the town where he took his first victory, he celebrated the first of five wins for his fourth Tour that would culminate in winning the Maillot Vert; a competition for which the rules were changed as the organisers could not understand how a talented sprinter like the Manx Missile had not won it so far.

On cloud nine at the finish, Cavendish came crashing down at the news that friend, compatriot and former track mate Bradley Wiggins had suffered a crash that had resulted in a fractured clavicle and a premature exit via ambulance. The British GC hopeful had been in tears, unable to stand, never mind get back on his bike, the knowledge that his GC dream was over undoubtedly just as painful as his injury.

Having held the Best Young Riders Maillot Blanc since the start in Vendee, Geraint Thomas was forced to concede his jersey having waited to pace the unfortunate Wiggins back to the main field. The only consolation for Team Sky was to secure it for the team with Uran holding it briefly in the final week.

Hoogerland became a household name with a t-shirt courtesy of stomachofanger.com following an accident on stage 9 that saw Hoogerland and Flecha struck by a French TV2 car and resulted in a short trip to hospital for Hoogerland who received 33 stitches after landing in a barbed wire fence. His courage and graciousness would become defining points for the Tour and won him a whole stack of fans overnight. Completing the Tour simply because of his fans in spite of the pain personifies what the Tour is about. Triumph over adversity, man over mountain, whatever that mountain may be. Of all the riders, the bloodied pair of Hoogerland and Flecha couldn't have been more relieved that the next day was a repos. The perilous Pyrenees saw several riders suffer over the course of their journey that day. The worst to fair was perhaps Alexander Vinocurov who crashed landing in trees below the road, fracturing his leg and pelvis and forcing him to accept now was the time to retire.

With Voeckler taking the Maillot Jaune from Thor Hushovd, the newly crowned God of Mountains having defended it through the Pyrenees, the French found themselves a new national hero. Battling through the Alps to defend the most coveted Jersey in cycling, exhausting himself past the point where any sane person surely would have given up, he did his duty, sacrificing all he had in order to keep it for as long as possible. Holding the Golden Fleece for 9 days, 1 short of the 10 days he held it for in 2004, he conceded it to Andy Schleck gratefully and perhaps a little willingly in the end, on the Alpe d'Huez where pre-Tour favourite Contador was forced to accept this would not be his year.

Having battled long and hard to take his 3rd Tour victory, the Spaniard suffered set back after set back, never giving up, always giving everything he could. Conceding that Evans and the Brothers Schleck simply had the better legs this year, he may have felt a little of the pressure ease as his rivals showed their strength in the mountains.

As the race headed into the final days, another Frenchman came into the spotlight. Rolland, compatriot and team mate of former Maillot Jaune wearer Voecker, took the Golden Fleece for just 24 hours until Andy Schleck was ready to claim it on stage 19.

By the end of the Alpine stages and with just a Time Trial before the final run into Paris, there were just 57 seconds between Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans. Reminiscent of the famous Le Mond-Fignon head-to-head in 1989, it was to be an epic show down to end an epic Tour.

Finally it came to the rider who had craved it since he had switched from Mountain Biking to Road Racing. Aged 34 the Australian Cadel Evans became the oldest post-war winner of the Tour on an emotional day that saw many entries into the history books. With both Andy and Frank Schleck on the podium, and British sprinter Mark Cavendish taking the Maillot Vert, it was a day of firsts. Ever an emotional finale, there were hugs all round on both the HTC-Highroad and BMC teams.

Ever the ultimate test of will, strength, determination, passion, instinct and survival, the Tour saw 167 riders arrive in Paris on the final day. Fabio Sabatini was this years Latern Rouge, finishing the epic journey from the Vendee to Paris in 90 hours 10 minutes and 5 seconds. From Evans to Sabatini, they are 167 men who gave everything they had, everything they could. Blood, sweat and tears, every last breath, every waking thought. They all had good days, and they all had their bad. Suffering and triumphing, through the agony and the ecstasy they made this Tour what it was. Epic.