Thursday, 27 May 2010

Wildcard invitations extended for Critérium du Dauphine Libéré

With just 10 days to go until the Critérium du Dauphine Libéré, the organisers have released details of their wildcard invitations to this years race. 4 continental teams have been invited to join the 18 ProTour teams that are set to take part. Bbox Bouyges Telecom, Cervélo Test Team, Cofidis and Sayr-Sojasum have been offered a chance to line up in contention for the stage race, hailed as a major preparation event for the Tour de France.

Tour defending champion Contodor (Astana) will join 2009 Dauphine Libéré winner Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) as well as Ranobank strong man Menchov will battle it out in the Evian-les-Bains, climbing L'Alpe d'Huez for the summit finish in stage 6.

Schleck brothers Andy and Fränk will join their Saxobank collegue Fuglsang, Gesink of Rabobank and Radioshack's Armstong to finalise their TDF preparation in the Tour de Suisse. World TT champion, BMC's Evans, will miss Dauphine du Libéré, along with big names Wiggins and Sastre due to their Giro commitments.

Halfords Tour Series gets underway as Gibb sprints home to victory

The Halfords Tour Series is a round city-centre cycling race series, bringing road racing to city centres across the UK. 10 teams of 5 cyclists are visiting 10 city centres from the 25 May 2010 to battle to become the champion of The Tour Series.ome the overall champions of The Tour Series.
Each night the teams race to place their top 3 riders in the highest positions at the end of 1 hour of intense riding.

Stage One saw the teams battle it out under the sprawling metropolis of Canary Wharf in the heart of the Capital’s business centre. The traditional mountain peaks of a Tour were traded for the peaks of 1 Canada Square and its neighbouring colossal skyscrapers. As the action got underway, a bustle for a breakaway began, with Yanto Barker enjoying a brief solo escape, before the peloton brought him back into the fold once more.

In the closing laps, the peloton fractured to leave a group of riders from Endura Racing, Motorpoint – Marshalls Pasta and Rapha – Condor – Sharp clear, the hope of the leading advantage paying off at the finish. Once again the peloton hungry for victory on the opening stage brought them back as they entered the final five.
Holohan, Briggs, Gibb and Australian duo Dean Windsor and Casey Munro grabbed the intermediate sprint points but it was Gibb who edged passed Motorpoint – Marshalls Pasta’s Malcolm Elliott in the scramble for the sprint-finish to take the first victory. Behind Elliott, Dean Downing brought home teammates Dean Windsor (fifth) and Graham Briggs (sixth), sealing a win for the Rapha – Condor – Sharp team, while Liam Holohan of the Raleigh team became the first rider to lead the Boardman Bikes Sprints Competition.

Tomorrows stage comes from the Northern University City of Durham.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

A relaxed day in the mountains as Monier takes his first professional victory.

Glorious sunshine poured down on the peloton as they made their way along another mountainous stage. Despite the category 1 climb of Passa delle Parade around the 80km mark, today's stage was far less challenging than yesterday's tough mountain time trial.

Against a stunning scenic backdrop, 19 riders: Wyss (BMC), Ochoa (AND), Kireyev (AST), Arashiro (BTL), Amado (GCE), Stortoni (CSF)Hondo/Marzano (LAM), Moreno (OLO), Kruijswijk (RAB), Cummings (SKY), Reynes (THR), Ignatiev (KAT), Fothen (MRM) and N. Sörensen (SAX)achieved a breakaway of as much as 11 minutes at the start of the cat.1 climb.

The 12.6km run up to the summit of Passe delle Parade has an average slope of 6.8% which after yesterday's 24% max must have seemed rather gentle. By 10km into the climb, the main bunch had pulled back 2 minutes from the leading group who remained away at 9 minutes ahead. At the summit, Moreno (OLO) lead the group over, followed by Stortoni (CSF) and Marzano (LAM) who each grabbed points in the mountains competition. In contrast Reda (QST) and Canuti (CSF) were forced to abandon, bringing the total number of abandoners to 47.

Back in the chasing group, Caisse d'Epargne lead the chase down as the time came down towards 8 minutes in the last 50km, taking over the role from Liquigas who have worked hard at the front of the group on earlier stages. Down to only 4 team mates, Evans will be looking to the only two teams with no loses, Cervelo and Liguigas to help him in the remaining stages.

As the breakaway came into the last 35km the time gap was growing and at a little under 30km to go, Katusha's Ignatiev kicked away. He took the max points in the intermediate sprint, followed by Arashiro (BTL) and Sörensen (SAX). Ignatiev's solo lead was shortlived however as he was soon brougt back by the other leading men.

Little attacks came to nothing until the 15km arch when Hondo, Monier and Kruijswijk kicked away from the leading group. Moreno tried to follow but was unable to bridge the gap to the leading three. It wasn't long before Cummings and Arashiro tried to do the same but their attempt failed too. As they started to climb the Peio Terme, Lampre came to the front of the bunch, the time gap increased to almost 12 minutes. In the toughest final 3km the leading group had a minute on the remaining group from the original breakaway. With sections of 12% and an average of 9%, an attack seemed a certainty, and it was Monier of Cofidis who moved away first.

With just under 2km to go, Monier powerfully pumped pure power, Rabobanks Kruijswijk left Hondo, doing well to try to catch him. With the line in sight, Kruijswijk was hot on his wheels. But his hard work to wasn't enough to catch him, as Monier crossed the line in first place; a Frenchman breaking the Italian's string of consecutive victories, the 22 year old's first victory of his career. Hondo was quick to overtake Kruijswijk in the final 500m to come second, pushing the Ranobank ride into third. Moreno came home fourth with Sky's Cummings came fifth.

Today's stage had no effect on the GC standings. Tomorrow the peloton will travel a somewhat easier 151km from levico Terme to Brescia for a hilly Stage 18, before they tackle another series of hard mountain paases in the 195km journey from Bresica to Aprica for Stage 19 on Friday, and the toughest of them all on Saturday's penultimate stage: 138km from Bormio to Passo del Tonale. The Giro concludes Sunday with a final time trial of 15.3km across Verona.

The Time Trial that was no ordinary Time Trial

Stage 16 of this year's Giro was a challenging 12.9km individual time trial climb up Plan de Corones. At an altitude of as much as 1086m and with an average slope of 8.5%, and a max of 24% near the summit making the last 1500m the hardest, the climb was set to ruffle some feathers amongst the GC. The riders set out in three groups, a minute appart and in reverse GC order, with Frapporti (CSF) heading out first.

As the last group of 52 riders started, the leaderboard stood with liquigas rider Szmyd holding the fastest time, followed by Moncoutié (COF), Monier (COF) Simoni (LAM) and Marzano (LAM), and the current race jerseys held by Lloyd (OLO) in green, Evans (BMC) in red and Porte (SAX) in the White best riders jersey, having lost the Maglia Rosa to Arroyo last week.

Patches of snow on the top of the Kronplatz reminded everyone that it was no ordinary Time Trial as the riders, some in TT national champion jerseys, made their way to the summit. With a narrow route that turned to nothing more than a dirt track near the peak, the climb was only possible on bikes, forcing mechanics to sit on motorcades, uncomfortably with the necessary acutriments. With team cars unable to ascend, riders were forced to travel back down following their ride by chairlift. The last time a time trial was here was in 2008 and Pellizoti took the victory with a time of 40.26 mins.

At the time check a little over 7km into the climb, Garmin's Martin was up 1 second on leader Szmyd. As Martin arrived at the summit, Belarus TT champion Samoilau was setting a new fast time at the check. Of the final 15 riders, Quickstep rider Cataldo was first to start, as the columbian Uran (GCE) overtook Samoilau's intermediate time by 12 seconds, as Martin finished in the second fastest time of 44 minutes.

Having shown his abilities as a climber in last years Tour De France, Sky's man Wiggins was 2 minutes down on the time check, as Pozzato finished 3 mins down on Szmyd at the summit, shortly followed by birthday boy Samoilau who overtook Horach on the finish line to set a new fastest time. His time stood until Uran (GCE) came in a little over 43 mins. Meanwhile Garzelli looked comfortable pedelling a light gear in the last km to set a time of 41.28 that looked likely to stand. Down at the check however, Scarponi was 8 seconds up, looking good to set a fast time at the summit as Arroyo got ready to start.

With the top 5 finishers now at Garzelli (ASA), Gadret (ALM), Uran (GCE), Cataldo and Petrov, as Scarponi overtook Gerdemann who had started 3 minutes before. In a small gear, and with a high cadence, his ride looked strong enough to place high at the finish. At the check, World Champion TT Evans was 4 seconds up on the leading check time, while by contrast the Italian TT champion was 3 mins down on the race leader, as Scarponi finished 1.07 mins down.

Last minute Liqigas team inclusion, Nibali, finished in the 3rd position at 42.29 mins with Astana rider Vinokurov, BMC's Evans, Sastre, Basso, Porte and Maglia Rosa Arroyo still on the course. With Vinokurov finishing at 43.05 just outside the top 5 finishers, and the young Tazmanian Richie Porte a liitle behind him at 43.45 to take 16th place, Arroyo's time of 43.44 saw him remain safely in Pink as Garzelli took Italy's fifth consecutive win on their home Tour.

The final top five at the end were Garzelli, Evans, Gadret, Nibali and Scarponi. The results shook up the GC placings to stand with Arroyo remaining in first place as Basso moved up ahead of Porte, who was shortly followed by Evans in fourth and Sastre in fifth. British rider Wiggins of Sky ended the day in 67th, now out of contension in the race he suggested was a dress rehersal for July's Tour de France. Carpelli (FOT) was the only rider to not make the cut off time, finishing over 11 minutes down on Garzelli.

Stage 17 sees the peloton travel 173 km of more mountains from Brunico to Peio Terme. With one major climb at around 92 km from the finish, the Passa delle Palade which rises to 1523m, the riders will have another day of hard work before the mountain top finish in Peio Terme, before the slighly easier hilly stage 18.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Victory for HTC-Columbia once again, as Rogers takes the overal title

The Sunshine State lived up to its name on the final day of the Tour of California, as the peloton made its way from Greenwhich Village, through West Oak Village and into the Augora Hills. The route wrapped round on a 4 lap circuit of the stunning area. Early on several breakaways attempted to keep a lead over the main bunch, but it was the final group of 7 men including National Champion, George Hincapie and current KOM leader Rabou who were able to make it stick.

The race was sure to be a high paced and exciting, as none of the usual race ettiquet seen on races like the Tour de France applied, with Zabriski and Leipheimer sure to attack the current race leader, Mick Rogers. To snatch the jersey something special would have to come from any GC contender wishing to have a go, as with time bonuses, they would have to keep Rogers well and truely off the podium. Garmin would need to work hard if they wanted to secure a victory for Zabriski, as with Danielson pulling out of the Tour before the start of the race, they were now a man down. But the same was true of Team Radioshack, having lost Armstrong earlier on in the Tour, who would need to work together keeping the others at bay if they wanted to secure a fourth win for their man Leipheimer. The KOM jersey was the only jersey not to be up for grabs, and as the leaders came over the only KOM points marker, Rabou proved he deserved the red jersey. Meanwhile elsewhere in the peloton, Cancellara was forced to join the list of tour-abandoners.

With 50km to go, on the penaltimate climb of the Mull Holman Highway, the race leaders had 3 minutes over the man field. Leipheimer was sure to not leave the Tour without a fight for the jersey that he felt he owned, but HTC-Columbia, only one man down having lost Cavendish on the climb up Big Bear Lake, and having dominated the Tour thus far, were on equal footing with Team Radioshack to keep their man in yellow.

The tension running high, as the leaders descended on the tricky and technical section into the final lap, and with a little under 3 minutes over the main bunch, Popvich (RSH), Hincapie (BMC) and Puejol (CTT) attacked, pulling away from the others in the original breakaway. It wasnt long before the fractured group came back together, the attack a taste perhaps of what was yet to come in the final lap.

Back in the main field, Rogers kept a careful eye on Zabriski, who was mere seconds from taking the jersey from his back. HTC-Columbia relaxed their grip on the front as Garmin and Fly V Australia came forward to lead the peloton into the final 30km. The main GC contenders were all with Rogers as the time gap came down to around 2.30 minutes, the race leaders all still within reaching distance.

In contrast to earlier days where cyclist had been accused of drafting in the slipstream of the team cars, Rogers was seen visably waving at the motocade to move away from the front of the main bunch as they headed into the last 25km, not wanting the Garmin boys at the front to attain any advantage from its slipstream. The time advantage down to around 2 minutes, a catch was arguably a dead certaintly, but as the last climb started, Leipheimer, one man who certainly would want to make sure the leaders were caught, had a puncture and was in danger of being caught out drafting in the slip stream of the team car as he fought his way back up to the field with team-mate Horner pacing him.

Elsewhere, the youngest and least experienced rider, Vennell (BPC) was having trouble at the back of the break, as Barredo, Pojul and Hincapie kicked away. Back in the main field, Radioshack were ready to put in their own attack, as Leipheimer put the hammer down. Rogers was quick to react, hot on his wheel, shortly joined by Zabriski, Horner and Hesjedal as they pushed off from the front of the peloton, setting the stage for the fireworks that were surely set to explode.

With a little over 14km to go, Rabou was caught by the chasing group lead by Leipheimer, the others less than a minute up ahead. With 3 Radioshack men in the group, and in contrast Rogers alone with no team mate, the jersey seemed to be slipping from his grasp. Zabriski made a brave push as they came up the slope, but he was quickly marked by Hesjedal. Rogers careful in his tactics, stayed close to Leipheimer, conserving his energy for the final showdown. It wasnt long before Zabriski was attacking again but at 10km to go, Leipheimer was off, gritting his teeth as he moved away from the others. Rogers rode well to keep Leipheimer and Zabriski in his sights as they headed into the flat, catching Langeveld of Rabobank, as they came within 30 seconds of the race leaders.

Down into the last 8km descent, Hincapie pulled the 3 leaders forward to increase the gap to almost a minute on the yellow jersey as Horner and Hesjedal bridged the gap. As they came into the final meters, Hesjedal gave it the final kick in the sprint to snatch the victory ahead of Hincapie who finished 2nd in front of Barredo. Behind the leading three the race continued for the overal lead as Zabriski, Leipheimer and Rogers battled for the line. But the gap could not be broken down as Rogers sucessfully defended his jersey to take the overal title.

Eight days of fantastic riding, stunning scenery and a dash of controversy now over, the stars of this years tour are without a doubt HTC-Columbia, whose riders gave it their all to dominate the riding, securing a win on the first stage, courtesy of Cavendish and finally with Rogers' and Martin's terrific rides in yesterdays time trial that put Rogers firmly in the yellow. A disapointed Leipheimer of Radioshack, unable to defend his title, can only console himself in the knowledge of a race well ridden.

Monte Zoncolan: No for the faint hearted

Huge crowds lined the 200km plus route up to the finish at Monte Zoncolan today. For the third time in the history of the Giro, the 20% gradient, 10km category 1 climb, was chosen to be part of a stage route. Having been climbed in 2003 and 2007 from less challenging approaches, the route chosen on the west side posed more of an adventurous ride that was definitely not for the faint hearted. Early on Chenula and Blot were amongst those who found the route all too much after yesterday's challenges, and after 4 hours on the bike, the pace pushed to the max by Liquigas once more, this time helped by Caisse d'Epargne, Voss was forced to abandon, shortly joined by Goss of HTC-Columbia.

Early on a six man breakaway clocked up a lead of over 10 minutes, that the chasing peloton worked hard to get down to around 8 minutes as they headed into the final 50km that contained the 2 category 2 climbs before the legendary climb that Monte Zoncolan was sure to be. At the intermediate sprint, 44km from the finish 1st to grab points was Pineau (QST), followed by Reda (QST) and Turpin (ALM).

The massed ranks of Liquigas began to catch the back of the leading group as they headed into the final challenging 40km, the first of the strongest leaders a little over 6 minutes up on the Maglia Rosa, which was now on the back of Arroyo, having been lost by the young Tazmanian, Richie Porte, yesterday.

In the distance the 500m climb loomed, as Szmyd (LIQ) took the peloton up the Passo Duron, the time gap down to a little under 5 minutes with the bunch shrinking to around 15 riders, including Basso, Porte, Sastre, Vinokourov, Arroyo, Nibali, Evans and Sacrponi. On the descent the peloton regrouped as the pace slowed to around 8,5 km/h as they headed into the last 30km.

Liquigas looked strong as they dominated the riding, their team working hard to control the breakaway, not wanting to repeat the mistakes made earlier on in the Giro that saw a breakaway of 56 riders clock up a huge time gap. In contrast, BMC seemed to suffer with their team now depleted to just four riders.

With 5 men left in the breakaway and 25km to go, everyone waited with baited breath to see what would happen on the final two climbs, as the riders took on their last few bottles and food, knowing team cars wouldn't be allowed on the Monte Zoncolan. As the peloton headed into Sella Valcalda (2nd cat) at 958m with an average slope of 6.2% and a maximum of 12%, the hard work of Liquigas was seeing the time gap come down to around 4 minutes.

The tension was high as the leaders came into the final 20km, half of which would be the climb up Monte Zoncolan. At the summit, Turpin (ALM) grabbed the max points with Pineau (QST) and Sijmens (COF) coming over in 2nd and 3rd place, as Turpin moved up to 9 points behind green jersey Lloyd, the time gap now down to well under the 4 minute mark.

With 3 monstrous sections, switchbacks and a 22% maximum gradient, the Monte Zoncolan awaited the peloton as it made its way into the last 10km, Farrar and McEwan pulling out of the Giro without attempting it. Meanwhile, back at the Quickstep base, the news of the day was Weylandt being taken to hospital to treat dehydration, having earlier pulled out with gastroenteritis.

On the slopes of the Zoncolan, Le Floch (BTL) was caught by the bunch, headed by Szmyd doing an incredible job today for Liquigas, with Basso, Vinokourov , Scarponi and Evans are close together behind him. Back at the far end of the bunch though, Sastre was in trouble as the main field started their climb, the pace ever controlled by Liquigas. On the steepest ramp of the climb Pinotti started to struggle, as Scarponi lead Evans and Basso up the slope, the peloton only a minute and a half behind, lead by the solo Sijmens, as Le Fouch's agonising ride put him almost at a standstill.

On the steep and narrow climb Scarponi put in the first dig, but it was short lived as Pineau found himself caught by the field. A brave Evans and Basso battled out the final brutal 5km of climbing, as the fractured peloton did well to drag the time gap down to a little over a minute from Basso and Evans back to the Maglia Rosa, Arroyo. Evans gritted his teeth as he dropped back, the regained ground, then dropped back again, only to come back up to Basso's wheel once more. Basso, peddling lightly, seemed more in control than Evans who was out of the saddle, trying to push on, as Basso moved away.

The agonising hunched position of Evans showed the effort it was taking to keep up with Basso, who by contrast had a steady rhythm, as the Maglia Rosa of Arroyo slipped back to 2 minutes down from Basso. Scarponi, who had earlier slipped back, came closer to Evans, as he found himself 30 seconds down in the final 3km to the summit finish, where a phenomenal crowd was waiting. As Basso came into the final kilometer, Evans had dropped to a minute behind. Having started the day over 7 minutes down on the Maglia Rosa, Basso came home ahead of the world champion Cadel Evans, who finished 1.19 minutes down. Scarponi, a little way behind, finished 3rd at 1.32 mins, closely followed by Vinokurov at 2.26. But it was Sastre who came back from the last of the bunch to fifth place at 2.26 minutes off stage winner Basso. He was followed by Pinoti, Nibali, and Martin. Gadret finished 8 seconds ahead of Arroyo, who kept his leader jersey, finishing at 3.50 down from Evans. Richie Porte remained in second place in the GC as Basso moved up into 3rd place, only 3.33 down from Arroyo.

Tomorrow the peloton will enjoy a much deserved rest day before stage 16, an individual 13km mountain time trial from San Vigilio di Marebbe to Plan de Corones. Sections of 20 and 24 per cent will see riders slow to a walking pace before the finish on the hard packed dirt road, after what is sure to be an extraordinary ride.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Tony Martin takes the day, but Rogers seems set to win the Tour that HTC-Columbia have dominated with finesse

Yesterday's colossal climb at Big Bear Lake saw 11 riders fail to come home within the time limit, many of whom where the sprinters such as HTC-Columbia's Mark Cavendish, and a further 17 abandon the Tour. Today's penultimatestage was a 2 circuit time-trial of Los Angeles. The route itself, while taking in some of L.A's landmarks, seemed clumsy with many switchbacks and tight corners and riders sent out in reverse GC order, with time gaps that seemingly failed to take into account riders capabilities. Many riders found themselves being caught by other riders who were on their second lap as they themselves were on their first.

With the final four starters on the course, defending Tour champion, Levi Leipheimer rode fantastically, with a high cadence that saw him tear up the course, picking off his 1 minute man very early on. Garmin-transitions ride, Dave Zabriski, caught Jens Voight of Saxo-bank, who was on his second lap, as HTC-Columbia rider, Tony Martin, came home 1.06 mins up on those who'd already come home. Back on the road, however, Leipheimer battled on with current race leader Mick Rogers hot on his wheels.

The high haze meant for a humid day once again, sure to affect some riders. As Leipheimer hit the intermediate time check, Martins was holding his time, 12 seconds quicker. A little way down the road, Zabriski was only 5 seconds down on Martins, ahead of Leipheimer. But Mick Rogers stormed down to have 4 seconds off Martins split time at the checkpoint. Despite Leipheimer's work, he came in 33 seconds down on Martins, as Zabriski came home 27seconds behind Martins time, forcing Leipheimer into 4th place as Rogers Came in 22 seconds down on his team mate to secure his lead in the overal classification.

With one stage remaining, it seems unlikely that Leipheimer will win his fourth title, as Team HTC-Columbia dominated the Tour, despite failing to secure the green points jersey Cavendish so greatly coverts. Tomorrows final stage sees the peloton move from Thousand Oaks, through Westlake Village and into the Agoura Hills for the final stage.

How the Maglia Rosa was lost in the mountains

As the sun shone down once more on the 14th stage of the Giro d'Italia, the peloton made it's way along the 202km route from Ferrara to Asolo. The route took them up a gruelling climb of Monte Grape at around the 140km mark. The 18.9km climb included 28 hairpin bends and rose to an altitude of 1675m. As the peloton reached the start of the climb Bisolti (CSF) pulled away from a break of 6 as Liquigas forced the peloton to work hard to keep him on a tight reign. The pounding pace saw several riders drop off the back as Cummings (Sky) tried to bridge the gap. For a brief while he had Bisolti but at 56km to go to the finish, he paid the price for his work as he was pulled back into the fold. As the peloton shrank to a small group of riders who could keep up with the pace forced by Liquigas, it was Wiggins who launched the next brave attempt to reach Besolti who remained alone out front.

With the high pace demanded by Liquigas, the current Maglia Rosa, Richie Porte seemed to struggle, putting Arroyo virtually in the lead for the overal race. With less than 10km to go to the summit of the climb, Wiggins was caught and it wasn't long before the chasing group caught a now struggling Bisolti. As the group approached the summit Nibali, Basso, Evans and Scarponi attacked. With 45km to go Vinokourov and Sastre kicked off the front to bridge the gap to the leaders out front. With the weather turned, and the summit approached Scarponi lead the group up to summit, pulling back some time in the GC. Evans however seemed to be stuggling at the back, and as they wound their way up to the top, Evans list connact with the leading group.

The change in the weather and wet roads lead to a tricky descent as Evans aimed to reach the group lead by Basso. Back at the summit Vinokurov and Sastre were just over a minute down on Nibali who had pulled away from Basso on the descent, as Porte stuggled over 4minutes down. Vinokurov worked hard to move away from Sastre who was caught on the final few kilometres of the descent. As they came into the urban streets of Asolo and with 5km to go, the gap ever increasing, it looked unlikely that Nibali would be caught.

With the chasers less tha a minute behind, Nibali took the stage, a third victory for an Italian rider. Vinokurov finished fifth, 1.33 down on Nibali, behind Basso, Scarponi and Evans, who came 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Porte lost the Maglia Rosa to Arroyo, having crossed the line well over 4 minutes down on Nibali, amd 39 seconds down overal.

Tomorrow the peloton will travel 218 km from Mestre to Monte Zoncolan for a mountain top finish in stage 15 of the Giro d'italia. The climbers will look to pick up more points in the tough stage that is sure to have further reprecussions on the GC.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Sagan achieves 2nd win, can he make it a hat trick tomorrow?

After some fantastic efforts in yesterday's action, and with a time trial coming up tomorrow that is sure to sort the men from the boys, the pelaton made its way 217.7km from Palmdale to Big Bear Lake. Day was in the "Most Courageous Rider"'s jersey following yesterday's heroic riding. Early on a breakaway containing McCartney (RSH), Fuglsang and Schleck of Saxobank, Wilson (GRM), Rabou (TT1), Clement (RAB) and Hincapie clocked up a lead of 6.25 mins, effectively moving Hincapie into the yellow jersey. With 7 KOM climbs and 2 sprint opportunities, it was clear early on that this stage was going to be just as eventful as the others that had preceded it.

With less that 75km to the finish, the main bunch had split into two groups, with the futherest riders 14 minutes down on the leaders of the breakaway, and once again it was Garmin and HTC Columbia who charged the peloton on, determined to whittle the time gap down, leaving it up to the other teams to stay in contact. It wasn't long before their hard work paid off, with Clement of Rabobank being brought back into the fold. Meanwhile up ahead, Rabou (TT1) took the max points in the KOM competition to keep him securely in the lead. As the breakaway approached the only Cat 3 climb, they slowed to a crawl, but with Fulsang (SAX) and Hincapie (BMC) in the breakaway, the pressure was on for the pelaton to bring the time gap down.

As the breakaway approached the sprint point and with 60 Km to go, Andy Schleck was out of his saddle, but Hincapie attacked, pushing away from the others in the escaping group. His valiant solo effort was short lived however with the others catching up to him as the peloton worked hard to bring the time gap down in the last 50km.

With a little under 45km to go, Schleck began to suffer a little, and dropped off the back of the breakaway group. Shortly after Brajkovic (RSH) put a dig in to kick away from the peloton, as it worked to bring the time down to a little over two minutes, but he was soon realed back in, as the bunch brought Schleck back into the fold. Horner (RSH) was next to give it a go as the rest of the field kicked up the pace having been inspired by catching Schleck. Meanwhile up ahead, McCartney attacked to kick away from Fuglsang with just 40km to the finish. This left just 3 riders, Hincapie, McCartney and Wilson to maintain a lead of a little over a minute. Back in the chasing group Leipheimer was next to attack but again any effort to bridge the gap was quickly shut down as Garmin and HTC worked hard to maintain control. Further back in the grupetto of riders, mainly sprinters, who struggled to keep up with the main bunch were as much as 17 minutes down on the race leaders.

As the leaders approached the 30km to go mark, the time gap, having come down to around a minute had increased to almost 2 minutes, as Brajkovic attacked again, this time taking Danielson (GRM), Martin (THR)and TeJay VanGarderen (HTC)with him. The four managed to acummulate a few seconds advantage over the rest of the chasing field, but again it was a short lived attempt. But with a little under 27km left to the finish, the breakaway were a mere 40 seconds up the road. Breathing down the necks of the breakaway, at 25km to go the peloton roared up the road just 20 seconds down, with the yellow, green and white jerseys all 40 seconds back from the leaders.

With the bunch catching the breakaway at 24.60km, United Healthcare's De Maar kicked away to gain a solo lead over the rest of the peloton. His gap building as he approached the 21km mark, the peloton responded as they woke up to the possibility that he could take a stage win. Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Transitions was first to respond, shortly joined by Brajkovi, Pujol (CTT) and Zajicek (VAU). Again the attempt to attack was short lived, and as De Maar approached the last 18km and the descent into the area of Big Bear Lake, the pressure was on for the peloton to catch him.

Wilson of Garmin-Transitions was the only rider to bridge the gap between De Maar and the chasing field on the descending section of the final uncategorised climb, and with 16km to go to the finish, their lead began to increase. With less than 8km to go to the finish, HTC-Columbia came to the fore to reel in the leaders, as Rogers worked hard to make sure he was in the leaders jersey by the end of the day.

With just 2km to the finish, the breakaway pair were finally caught by the field as they stormed into the view of the last km marker. Columbia were in front with their all now familiar train as Garmin brought their man Zabriski up to contention, but it was Sagan who kicked off with the last few meters in sight. Brought back as the field stormed to sprint for the line they could only watch as Sagan pulled away again just in time to claim the victory, his 2nd in a row.

Sutherland of UHC came in 2nd, with Mick Rogers of HTC-Columbia finishing third, along with Leipheimer, Hesjedal and Zajicek, who finished 4th, 5th and 6th respectively, all with the same time. Rogers ensured he took the yellow leaders jersey, while Sagan remained in the green jersey.

Tomorrow's time trial of Los Angeles will be a short 33.6 km of nail-biting action as Sagan aims to make it a hat trick.

The day the bunch gave up the chase

Following yesterdays comments by Landis, many people including Radioshack, BMC, and Lance Armstrong himself, have hit out in response to the unsubstantiated remarks, Armstrong was forced to abandon his Tour of California after sustaining injuries to his elbow and cheek. Meanwhile back in Italy, several riders including Garmin-Transitions Millar pulled out of the Giro as they themselves faced their own trials in their battle to perform in the epic race that the Giro was turning into.

With breakaways of 56 riders, failed chase-downs and near punch ups, the Giro has been proving to be dramatically challenging earlier statements that the Tour of California was second only to the Tour de France in the race calender. Evans saw himself fined for "unseemly behaviour" while his team was criticised for its lack of strength overall.

Today's stage from Porto Recanti to Cesenatico (223km)contained two climbs of the second category: Perticara (665m) and Barbotto (514m). With 17 riders including Wyss (BMC), Bertogliati (AND), Grivko (AST)Kriit (COF), Belletti (AND), Mayoz (EUS), Meyer (GRM), Marzano (LAM), Lang (OLO), Facci (QST), Stamsnijder (RAB), Henderson (SKY)Lewis (THR), Horrach (KAT), Klimov (KAT) and Voss (MRM)in a breakaway with a lead that grew to as much as 9.38 minutes, the pelaton was forced to work hard to chase down escapees once again.

By 80km, Liquigas had lead the pelaton well to bring the time gap down to a little over 8 minutes as they approached the first climb, and the sense of an imminent attack from inside the breakaway was almost palatable. The attack was expected to come from within the 17 man breakaway, but it was Vladimir Karpets from Katusha who attacked, pushing away from the main bunch in a solo bid to catch the group up ahead as it made its way up the first long climb. Liquigas worked hard to bring the pelaton forward, reducing the time gap to 5.36 mins by 20km to go to the finish, but left Karpets to work alone somewhere between the chasers and the escapees.

With 10km to go, Caisse d'Epargne came to the front of the bunch to take over from Liquigas, but the leading group managed to clock up a few extra minutes over the pelaton. With a gap of 7 minutes, the pelaton gave up their effort to regroup with the leading escapes, leaving Karpets a lone rider in between. Soon he was joined by Meyer (GRM) and with 6km to go the original 17 were scattered, with Meyer moving up to join the 4 leaders of the breakaway. With 3km to go Meyer attacked to bring Bellite and Henderson, who had jumped with Lewis and Facci in the final KM back. But as the line came into sight, Bellite, born and raised in this region of Italy, jumped again over Lewis to take the stage, in an emotional win for the Italian, the 2nd Italian victory in as many days. Henderson (SKY) finished 2nd with Mayoz (FOT) Voss (MRM)and Lang (OLO) coming 3rd, 4th, and 5th respectively. No changes occurred in the top of GC; Karpets having made his solo attempt to win back some time clocked 2,25 minutes over the GC contenders, finishing 5.01 minutes down on the stage winner, with the pelaton crossing the line 7.26 down.

Tomorrow's stage from Ferrara to Asolo will prove a difficult race for the riders with a big climb up Monte Grappe, which is sure to break up the bunch, if not separate any of the GC contenders, as the descent into Asolo is sure to see the bunch regroup with the leaders. Colnago-CSF Inox team leader Domenico Pozzovivo is sure to make a bid for glory, but if the last few days are anything to go by, nothing is certain in this race.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

A bad day for Armstrong

Once again the cycling world has been subject to much controversy. Landis' revelations about his use of PED, despite denying the allegations following the 2006 Tour, would have been enough of a knock in itself, but his allegations regarding former team mate Lance Armstrong made for a dark ominous cloud over stage 5 of the Tour of California. It therefore didnt come as much of a surprise that Armstrong crashed out early on. Despite a brave attempt to carry on after crashing, it was apparent that x-rays were needed to establish the extent of the damage. He wasnt the only one to suffer though, as Stuart O'Grady crashed with a suspected collar bone injury on the dangerous Calaveras Road, Haussler (CTT) abandoning his race having been caught up in the same crash that ended Armstrong's Tour.

Meanwhile, a breakaway of 6 riders notched up over 6 minutes time gap from the rest of the pelaton, which was for the most part split into two chasing groups. Hunter, Rogers and Cavendish grabbed the first set of points in the race for the Green Jersey, while Menzies (UHC), Powers (JCB) and Martens (RAB) grabbed the second set. In the first KOM Mach (BPC) took the top points, with Nierman (RAB) and Hovelynk (QST) taking 2nd and 3rd respectively. For now Anderson remains in the lead in the KOM competition.

With 53km to the finish, the breakaway had 4.30 mins on the front of the pelaton, which, still fractured into two groups, had Cavendish and Boonen back in the 2nd group, a massive 12.30mins down. By 32km to go however, the time gap from the breakaway, lead over the summit of the second climb, China Grade, by Day (VAU), Renshaw (THR) and Mach (BPC), was down to 2.35 to the front of the pelaton. Strung out in single file down the descent into Bakersfield, the main field slowed to give the breakaway group over 3 minutes, as they worked together to maintain their advantage. However, by 19km the advantage had diminished to a little over 2minutes, as the pelaton worked hard to bring them back into the fold as they headed into the circuits in Bakersfield.

At 18.80km, Mark Renshaw pushed away from the other 5, however it was a shortlived attempt as by 17.50 they were back together. Meanwhile the roar of the pelaton was never far behind as the time deficit came down to 1.50 minutes. At 16km Day (VAU), Renshaw (THR), Niermann (RAB) and Hovelynck (QST) pushed away again, leaving the other two guys behind. Once more they regrouped at 12.60km from the finish while behind Garmin, Radioshack and HTC Columbia came to the fore to lead the pelaton ever closer to catching them.

As they came across the line for the premier passage, the time gap was down to a little over a minute, as the self-styled Argyle Armada lead the pelaton as it thundered down for the start of the last 10km. Dickenson and Day, sensing the beast behind them gave a kick to see if they could do something special, but once more the valiant attempt was quashed by the other four who stuck like glue to their wheels. At a little over 8km, Dickenson was caught by the bunch, as Day and Renshaw pushed to maintain their 25 second lead. Jens Voigt of Saxobank kicked off from the main bunch to chase down Day and Renshaw, and followed by the pelaton, by 5km Day was the only rider remaining to be caught of the original breakaway of 6.

With Day in his sights, Voigt gave it his all, but a little under 4km Garmin and Liquigas had brought him back. Day however was still out in front, hoping to make his mark on the Tour. His spirited attempt was put to paide though, as he was caught with a little more than 3km to go. Zabriski and his compatriates in the Armada came to the fore with HTC Columbia to fight it out for the line, but it was the White Jersey of the Young Leader, Sagan who stole the show, snatching the victory from Rogers and Zabriski who finished 2nd and 3rd respectively, making it a disapointing end once again for HTC-Columbia, whose sprinter Cavendish failed to secure the victory he so hoped for yesterday.

Once again we are reminded that anything can happen in cycling, and nothing is certain. Levi Leipheimer, winner of the last three Tours, and also named in the allegations made by Landis, finished seventh behind Horner (RSH), Martens (RAB) and Martin (THR). Voigt, having made the biggest effort to catch Day, finished 9th behind Hesjedal (GRM) while United Healthcare's Sutherland finished tenth.

Over 9 minutes down, the 2nd half of the pelaton, including Cavendish, finally came home. Rogers' day out in front was rewarded with the Golden Jersey taken from Zabriski, with Leipheimer moving up into third place in the GC.

News courtesy of CF Live as this blog went live was that Armstrong needed stitches in his elbow and under his eye. With Armstrong now out of the Tour and once again being questioned about allegations of doping, it must be hard now for Lance especially with his 2nd Tour de France since his come-back a little over a month away. Unfortunately it seems it is impossible for a Tour de France to go on without a cloud of controversy or scandal hovering over. But some solace must be found in the comments on Twitter and the signs spoted in the crowds as they lined the way to the stage 5 finish. Little credit is being given by many of the fans to Landis' statements, and Radioshack and Johan Bruyneel publically supporting Lance, distancing themselves from Landis who Bruyneel suggests needs "help". For many their is nothing new in these allegations, all of which to date have no proof and despite it being a distraction from the Tour it does nothing to deminish the support of the fans for Armstrong.

Stage 6 poses to be the hardest of the tour as the pelaton makes the journey from Pasadena to Big Bear Lake, as the climbers look to make their mark on the Tour.

From epic breakaways to disorganised chases

Following yesterdays epic stage that saw a staggering 56 riders accumulate a lead of 17 minutes over the main field, and many riders fined points for late arrival, today's stage was a little overshadowed by Floyd Landis' comments in the Wall Street Journal. The sun shone down on the pelaton almost in defiance of the dark cloud of controversy that was likely to cause ripples across the other side of the Atlantic as the riders in the Tour of California woke up to the revelations state-side.

Three riders broke away from the main pack and with 100km to go had accumulated a lead of 5.12 minutes. Rabobank's Flens took today's only sprint points at Monte San Guisto. Garmin lead the pelaton to chase down the breakaway as it approached the first climb of the day, a category 3 climb at Macerata, with Ferrar looking for a stage win. By 67km they had been joined by Liquigas and Katusha.

Kaisen came over the summit at Maserata in 1st place as Garmin lead the chase, bringing the time deficit down to just 3.17 minutes, with Richie Porte in the Maglia Rosa never far from Garmins leaders out front. As the pelaton came in to the beautiful town of Montelupone the gap had come down to 2.55 minutes with just 48km to go to the finish. The open countryside of the area allowed crosswinds to dare to disrupt the chasing field as they stormed to bring the gap down further on the way up to the 2nd and final climb of the day at Potenza Picena just 11.8 km from the finish.

At 12.8km Vockeler kicked away from the main bunch, quickly joined by 9 others as Krivtsov and Kaisen were caught, accumulating a 10 second lead at 10 km to go, Scarponi coming over the summit on the final climb in 1st place. Garmin were quick to react with Britain's David Millar leading the chasing group fighting to regain the 10 second gap to the split group. However by 5km the gap had doubled to 20 seconds. Favourite Evans was left in the main bunch, and looked likely to come to blows with riders around him as the field failed to organise themselves effectively to bring the escaping group back in. Garmin having spent most of the day out front seemed to struggle as Team Sky came to the fore to help out.

With less than 2km to go the pelaton slowed again and it seemed unlikelyvthat Farrar would get the win he was looking for. Scarponi lead the escaping group into the last km as Vino in Astana's colours having lost the Maglia Rosa in yesterdays action, and Liquigas' Nibali kicked away to fight it out for the line but Katusha's Pozzato came through to take Italy's first victory in the Giro.

Cadel Evans seemed to really feel the pressure without his team around him today. Tomorrow the action moves from Porto Recanti to Cesenatico for Stage 13. Tonight however, Porte remains in pink as the Italians celebrate Pozzato's win.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A day for the sprinters

Stage 4 of the Tour of California began in San Jose and snaked it's way along the torturous Mines Road, before heading downhill into Patterson and finishing with two circuits of Modesta, which was sure to see the sprinters shine. Early speculation had this stage earmarked as one for Cavendish to take. With 40 switchbacks along the way, this was definately a technical stage, making for spectacular riding.

Earlier in the day across the pond in Italy, a breakaway of 56 riders with a 17 minute lead proved that anything can happen in cycling and while Cavendish himself had already stated that he wanted this stage for himself, there must have been quiet voices reminding the teams that anything can happen.

A four man breakaway was kept on a tight leash of 5.30 minutes as the pelaton headed into the last 90 km. At 68 km Garmin and HTC Columbia worked together to close in on the breakaway well before the descent. Cavendish looked comfortable at 65km sharing a joke with a team mate as they worked to bring the time gap down to 4.10 to ensure the much-awaited sprint in Modesta. With less than 50 km to go the time gap came down to 2.55 as the scenary changed from dry wasteland to a more urban setting and the crowds started to gather on the sides of roads to watch the pelaton thunder by. With 42.50km left, the roads opened up and the crosswinds were evident. As the field came into the area of Patterson the roads were jammed with spectators as the scenery changed once again to a real All-American sub-urban highway with big wide roads that really gave HTC-Columbia and Garmin a chance to dig back into the time gap that had slowed to 3.15 minutes as they prepared for the possibilty of headwinds and crosswinds in the open countryside. At 37km a major crash took out many of the Radioshack team but most got away unscathed. By 33.80km most had managed to pace themselves back into the main fold as the panic subdued and the pack prepared for an almost inevitable bunch sprint. At 31km the pelaton was fractured by the winds but mist of the main contenders, having avoided the earlier crash, were right up front working hard to reduce the time deficit to 1.40 by 30km.

Stuart O'Grady and the ever-present Lance Armstrong joined the foremost group headed by Cavendish and 4 of his HTC-Columbia leadout men and the Garmin boys and by 28km the gap was down to 50 seconds. With 40 seconds to the breakaway and 27km to the finish the pelaton were whole once more, a beautifully-colourful swarm ever gaining on the 4 brave riders who had spent so long out in front.

A little game of cat and mouse amongst the breakaway boys gave a little light relief and comedy before the unevitable drama that would unfold in around 25km time but also stretched the time gap back out to a minute. At 17km Lance Boon kicked away from the breakaway in a possible brave bid for glory. But with the main field closing in it seemed unlikely he could maintain the pace needed to ensure victory. At 14.90km the main field caught the first of the breakaway boys just before the right hand turn into Modesto. At 13.70 Van de Walle and Britton caught up with Boon and at 11.80 the gap was knocked right down to 30 seconds. At the 10 km marker the gap was down to 25 seconds and Boon was off again in a desperate bid for glory as the swarming pelaton brought the time down to 15 seconds. At 8km they caught Britton and Van de Walle, leaving the lone Boon with just 10 seconds until he was finally caught at 6.60 and HTC Columbia took controll once more, along with Cervelo team and T, Bosse. With 1.90 to go HTC Columbia hit it out to bring back Martens who made a late dash fir glory. At the last km the drama started and HTC Columbia did what they do best but it wasn't quiet enough as from out of nowhere Francesco Chicci snatched victory from Cavendish who finished third.

Once again the sprinters had their day with many well known names fighting it out in a bid to outwit HTC Columbia but a job well done for Liquigas. Zabriski stays in gold with no change to the GC.

Mayhem on the Giro...

The longest stage of the Giro turned out to be the most significant today. The pelaton were splintered to pieces as the result of a massive breakaway of 56 riders who clocked up a lead of 17 minutes. In the freezing rain, the GC riders were seperated as Wiggins, Barry, Possoni, Goss, Cummings and Petrov, to name but a few, got away from Vino, Evans and other likely contenders.

Unsure of what happened to cause the split, there was speculation that riders collecting rain gear on the first climb as the breakaway got clear were simply left behind. But whatever the reason, the consequences were clear: these were not unknown riders who could do relatively little damage but strong men capable of really tearing into the GC and stealing the Maglia Rosa from Vino's back.

The chasing down was left to Astana and BMC though with men in the breakaway little effort was made to get the time gap down and at 30km to go the lead gad only diminished to a little under 13 minutes. Wiggins started the day off over 10 minutes down but climbed back up in the breakaway to be amongst the top ten. At just under 8km to go Pineau pulled way from the front of the race, shortly followed by Voeckler but they were soon pulled back into the fold by Sastre. Almost immediately Cataldo took the advantage and was way with 5km to go on some very wet roads. At 1.8 the hairpin bend wreaked havoc with Bakelandts down as Cataldo pulled further away. Despite his efforts though he was caught and Petrov took the stage for Katusha, shortly followed by Cataldo, Sastre and Wiggins. The rest of the field pushed on giving it their all to keep the time down as much as possible. Hairpin safetly negotiated, the made dash for time started with the line in sight. The bunch came home at over 12 minutes down with Porte taking the Maglia Rosa from Vino and Sastre moving back up into the top 8, a little over 7 minutes down on Porte.

The shockwaves rippled througout the press, the teams and over to California where riders of the Tour of California were waking up to the shocking drama of today's stage of the Giro. Armstrong ever active on Twitter commented that the stage action was "incredible". As for the Tour of California, early speculation centered around Cavendish making it his second victory of his Tour. Whatever the outcome, everyone will be talking about today's breakaway at the Giro for a few days yet.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The calm after the storm....

After a stormy day wreaked havoc for the helicopters who should have been relaying pictures during yesterdays stage, beautiful sunshine poured down as the pelaton made it's way along the Coastal highway from San Fransisco to Santa Cruz on day three of the Tour of California. A 5 man breakaway of riders from small teams spent time out ahead as teams Radioshack and Cerevelo did most of the work at the head of the main bunch. Working to keep Leipheimer in contension for his fourth Tour win the pace was high but relaxed. Meanwhile our Man from the Isle of Man clocked up points to keep the sprinters jersey.

With 46km to go Routley kicked off from the breakaway as the pelaton edged ever closer to catching the remaining four of the original breakaway. The breakaway responded by picking up the pace a little, almost as if to warm up for the real climb up ahead. At 42 km the remaining 3 riders of the breakaway were caught by the main field. At 37.10 km Garmin came to the front having let Team Radioshack do most of the work chasing down the main breakaway group. At 36km the last man was caught as the road turned inland on a catergory 2 climb.

Leipheimer kicked off at 32.60 just to see who had the legs to follow and was joined by Zabriskie and Rogers and shortly followed by Chris Hoorne and his team mate Armstrong. Behind them the pelaton was blown to pieces with Andy Schleck surprisingly trailing behind. At 29km the crowds came out and familiar sights of the usual suspects of the wierd and wonderful lined the course.

Morabito kicked off at 28km but the group lead by Leipheimer pulled away a minutes lead on the main field. Strategically Garmin, HTC-Columbia and Radioshack were happy to let them go and by 27km the lead group had notched up another 10 seconds. By the decent the gap was 1.30 as Rhyder Hesjedal took off to chase down the group.

With 16km to go, the lead down to 55 seconds, Team Radioshake said it was a mad dash to see who would be wearing yellow at the end. In the end it was Zabriskie who came home 1st. Mick Rogers was 2nd and moves to second overalً behind zabriskie who now leads the race for the yellow jersey.

Giro d'italia vs Tour of California

Ten days into the Giro, 3 days into the Tour of California, and just over a month until the start of Le Tour de France, we in the U.K have been lucky to have fantastic coverage from British Eurosport. With the rise in prominance of road cycling Cavendish and Wiggins have become household names and we finally have a team to get behind: the force to be reckoned with that is Team Sky. In their debut at the Giro we have witnessed their riding finesse and keen strategy; a team that knows what it wants and how to make it happen.

Across the pond in California we have Team HTC-Columbia, with the best lead out men and the fastest sprinter in the world; a man who likes to get the job done. Fearless and confident, once they've set their focus and have the goal in sight there is little that can stop them from achieving what they have set out to do.

Couple this with Armstrong's comments in L'equip about the Tour of California being the 2nd greatest tour after the Tour de France, and we have a wonderful mix of beautiful cycling, deep seated rivalry and competitiveness with a touch of controversy that makes for fantastic watching and has everyone gripped ready for next months Grande Boucle. With Armstrong stating himself that he is not at the top of his game just yet, Wiggins strategically pacing himself and warming up in the dress rehersal and Cavendish making his ambitions for this year clear in the glasses he wears, it is clear that this years Tour will be as exciting as ever.