Seven ways to ruin the Olympic road race

It’s one morning into Channel 7’s coverage of #Rio2016 and I’m already bloody furious!

The men’s road race was on last night, undoubtedly one of the races of the year, and apparently an absolute ripper. I missed it.

I saw the first part of the race, which was fine, but at 1am and with 3 hours more racing ahead, I had to give in to sleep, making sure to hit record on the PVR before I went. You see, we have a baby and she doesn’t understand Olympic sport or timezones.

This morning I jumped out of bed, ran to my TV while carefully avoiding looking at my phone (spoilers), then got stuck into it.

It was all going to plan, I was enjoying the coverage and Scott McGrory’s commentary, and looking forward to the business end of the race… those brutal climbs and twisty descents…

Disaster struck! THE SWIMMING STARTED (who could have predicted that?) and Channel 7 decided to punt the cycling from its main channel onto 7 Mate.

“The road race will continue for a short time, for the time being, over on the Olympics from Seven app, and will return on 7 Mate…”

Ai, caralho! It’s 3am and I’m asleep! My PVR doesn’t know it needs to change channels! Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!

The disaster struck with 73km to go, but then the race came back. Then the same message at 63km to go, for a look at the rugby 7’s. Yet again, the race came back! It seemed the producers were literally making and changing decisions on the fly.

Filho da puta!

Then with 54km to go it was off to the pool, and that was basically it. The action was elsewhere.

I saw a tiny bit (a minute or so) more cycling with 20km to go, but the race had blown up by then, and we’d missed everything important. Besides, it was immediately back to the pool. I watched all this in 30X fast-forward, desperately hoping for more bikes, and fearing the worst.

With 500m to go the telecast returned, so I saw Greg Van Avermaet win the sprint. Yay, Greg!

No. I am pissed off that I missed the race.

Yes, it’s the Olympics, there’s a lot on at once, and you can’t please everyone. But switching channels mid-event with no warning is a real dick move.

What should Channel 7 be doing instead?

Be predictable

Make a commitment that if an event starts on a particular channel, it won’t suddenly move to a different one. Publish which channel is hosting which sports in advance. The event schedule has been set for months.

Support expected user behaviour

Understand that the games are happening at the worst possible time of day for Australian audiences, which means people want and need to record things. This should be obvious, and the Seven telecast should support this basic user behaviour.

Give people information

The broadcaster needs to let people know which channel to watch/record! Seven has provided no way of knowing which of its three broadcast channels is showing a particular event. Its app shows what time an event is on, but crucially not which channel. Even if I did stay up to watch an event, Seven’s lack of forewarning means I have no idea if they’ll actually show it, or where.

Don’t make people do stupid things

If I want to be absolutely sure not to miss an event I want to see, I need to record all three broadcast channels, and then fast-forward through all three recordings until I can find the event. Ugh!

Technology is great, but only when it solves a user’s problem

Seven is live-streaming events through an app. Last night I woke up and tried to watch the road race finish using it, but it couldn’t connect to the servers, so that wasn’t an option. It’s also impossible to record a live stream, so the app doesn’t solve the ‘3am problem’. The app is slow, buggy and designed poorly. It feels like a real afterthought or exercise in box-ticking. The website is worse. Telstra seems to be responsible for this.

Have a plan B

As of Sunday morning (when they’re most needed) there are no highlights of the road race available in the app. There seems to be some video available for premium subscribers – I don’t have a problem with monetising Olympic content, which Seven paid a lot for, but frankly the app’s performance and reliability are so poor at this point that I don’t trust it enough to pay for it.

The kicker is: I knew this would happen, and I was really nervous about missing the road race, because Australian broadcasters are consistently terrible (see scheduling, punctuality, the quality of their on-demand services and apps, platform support etc). Cycling is a minority sport, and it isn’t taken seriously by commercial broadcasters, so it gets shoved around.

It was bad enough in 2012, but in 2016 it’s a joke. We’ve been living in an on-demand, user-centric world since at least Beijing 2008 – why can’t our Olympic broadcasters catch up?

On the positive side, Seven’s coverage and commentators are (so far at least) nowhere near as jingoistic and brainless as Nine’s nauseating effort in London. Small mercies.

When my baby smiles at me I go to Rio…

The Rio Olympics (Jogos Olimpicos do Rio) start tomorrow (AU time) with the traditional Opening Ceremony. Brazilians not being known for their subtlety and restraint, it’s likely to be a pretty epic spectacle, riddled with enough clichés to drive a person to drink.

So I made a drinking game.

Yes, it’s an early start for Australia, but as the Brazilians probably wouldn’t say, “É tempo de festa no Rio!”

You could also play it without the drinking and call it Rio Bingo, I guess.

Saúde!

(PS contains Portuguese swear words and at least one dick joke)

(PPS this is obviously aimed at Australians or people watching the Australian TV coverage, but you may be able to substitute Bruce MacAvaney for your own local sports broadcasting doyen/doyenne)

(PPS this being a cycling blog and all, I should point out that the men’s road race is one of the first events of the games, so make sure you’re not too hungover to watch it!)

Nibali slides to opportunity

Tour de France, Stage 5.

Apart from stage winner Greg Van Avermaet’s epic stage win (maybe crashing out of the Tour of Flanders and missing Paris-Roubaix has an upside), people are talking about Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali and his terrible day.

Cycling Central has it here.

I’ve got a CRAAAAAZY theory about Nibali’s slide down the overall rankings, shipping more than EIGHT MINUTES to the GC big boys, on a stage that he really should have had no trouble with. Cue mutterings about his form, his bad legs, and his overall ambitions being dashed. I suppose that’s the official line.

Bullshit, the lot of it. It’s all part of his cunning plan. Consider:

  • Nibali has already won a Grand Tour this season (and he knows what happens if you try to do the Giro/Tour double).
  • Nibali cannot stand his team leader, Fabio Aru. They hate each other’s guts. Nibali is ostensibly riding in support of Aru, but clearly doesn’t want to.
  • Nibali does not give a shit about the general classification.
  • Nibali wants to win the Olympic road race in Rio de Janeiro in a few weeks. This whole Tour is a training ride for him.
  • Nibali knows he is more than good enough to win a stage or two in the mountains, especially if he’s not a GC threat.
  • Nibali is almost certainly out the door at Astana at the end of the season. He probably feels like he owes them absolutely nothing.

That’s why Vincenzo looked like he wasn’t even trying on stage 5, when he plopped off the back as soon as Movistar turned on the power. He wasn’t trying.

He wasn’t breathing hard, his shoulders weren’t rocking, he wasn’t all twisted and hunched like the injured Alberto Contador, and he wasn’t pedalling squares like Peter Sagan. He was cruising along like it was a coffee ride, giving zero fucks. In fact, you could almost see him calculating how much time he needed to lose before he’d be allowed up the road in the Pyrenees this weekend.

Now consider what’s coming up:

  • Stage 7 – a Cat.1 climb to the Col d’Aspin followed by a descent to the finish in Lac de Payolle – looks almost tailor-made for the Shark.
  • Stage 8 – the Col du Tourmalet (HC) followed  by three categorised climbs culminating in the Col de Peyresoude followed by a descent to the finish in Bagneres-de-Luchon – also looks almost tailor-made for the Shark.
  • Stage 9 – five categorised climbs with a HC summit finish in Andorra, looks like a great place for the shark to do what he did on stage 19 of the Giro.

Don’t be surprised if Nibali pulls out the earpiece on any of these stages, launches himself up the road and takes a bit of glory for himself. It’d be a perfect slap in the [rubber] face to Aru, adds to his market value in a new contract year, and reminds everyone why he’s nicknamed after an apex predator.

For that plan to work, it’s a big advantage if he’s not a threat to Team Sky, Movistar, Tinkoff or BMC.

Besides, can you really see Nibali playing loyal domestique to his understudy and arch-rival Aru? With his ego? Haaaahahaha!

Rowdy.

This is the story of my father David, a man with a lifelong passion for cycling that was so strong, it actually led to him missing the birth of his first child.

This was before the times of mobile phones, of course, and he was squeezing in a few days’ cycle touring and camping somewhere along the Murray River. When I decided to make my appearance into the world a month early, it was several days before he could be found and informed that he was now a father, and that he should get back to Melbourne to face my mother, who had driven herself to hospital and spent several days trying to convince the nurses that she did actually have a husband.

I forgave him for missing my birth, but he can’t have been too repentant: I (much) later found out the old bastard missed my first birthday for the same reason. In fact many of my childhood birthdays involved driving to meet my Dad in country Victoria, where he’d be touring around the backroads with a bunch of schoolkids, showing them the beauty of the outdoors on two wheels. As a result, I had Great Victorian Bike Ride souvenir t-shirts for most years in the 1980s. He was a teacher, and along with some of his colleagues and parents he would take groups of kids on cycling expeditions a few times a year. When I was old enough, about 12, I was allowed to come on a few trips, fully loaded with a tent, sleeping bag and clothes in panniers on my heavy steel mountain bike.

David, universally known to his students as ‘Rowdy’, rode his Bob Jackson touring bike to work every day for 25 years, with students’ assignments for marking in his Carradice saddle bag (he’d order a new one every decade or so). This was a time when riding to work was a pretty weird thing to do, and he was regularly shouted at from passing cars, had bottles thrown at him, and even the occasional egg. His disdain for fashion and preference for utility over appearance probably contributed.

His other bike was a Jack Taylor tourer, in Reynolds 531. He didn’t ride it as often, preferring the cheaper Bob Jackson for reasons he never fully explained to me. He’d bought both bikes while living in England in 1976-77 after his parents had passed away. He lived in Cambridge, a paradise for the bicycle tourer, worked in a bike shop, and toured the countryside with the local touring club. At one point he did the John o’Groats to Land’s End (the length of Great Britain) ride.

In 1991 he introduced the family to the Tour de France. It was Indurain’s first Tour victory, and the 30 minute highlights package on SBS every night captivated me and my sister for the next decade. As you can see, I’m still captivated.

Never a racer, in his forties he discovered Audax, starting off with 100km rides and quickly building up to longer rides in pursuit of brevet cards. Audax clearly captured his imagination with its spirit of determination, independence and mental and physical challenge. A wiry man with a strong mind, he was well suited to long distance cycling. As his rides got longer he realised his old touring bikes were holding him back, and he finally treated himself to a new bike.

His Vetta road bike was a beautiful Italian machine made right at the zenith of steel framebuilding, just as carbon fibre was beginning to appear in the pro peloton. It was beautifully hand-painted in the Italian way, with ovalised tubing, plenty of chrome and Campagnolo components. The thing wasn’t just pretty, it was stiff and smooth and comfortable and fast. Once or twice he let me ride it, and I felt a million dollars, the impression of effortless speed and that intangible feeling of a quality steel frame left an impression on me that remains today.

By this time, I was old enough and strong enough to go on some big rides with him. We rode up Falls Creek together, my first big mountain climb. We did the Audax Alpine Classic (I did the 130km, he did the 200km) and I shot off at the start like the teenage idiot I was, virtually collapsed over the finish line in Bright, and saw him fly effortlessly past on his way to Mt Buffalo, looking as fresh as a daisy.

With his kids growing up, and a new bike to enjoy, Rowdy now had the time to really test himself. He finished the Audax Alpine Classic 200km several times (he wasn’t fast but he knew how to pace himself all day) and stepped up to really big rides, including the Fleche Opperman, a 24-hour team time trial where the team designs its own route covering at least 360km. His best attempt netted a 430km route.

IMAG1501
David (in blue) with his Vetta on an Audax ride.

In 2001, he decided to skip the Alpine Classic and stay home for the long weekend. On the Sunday morning, the 28th of January, he went out for a ride with two friends, the regular ride down Beach Rd to Frankston and then back to St Kilda, and home.

He never came home.

At 9:30am he was hit by a car in Brighton, and died instantly.

The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel on her way home from an all-night party, drifted across four lanes of traffic and collided head on with the three cyclists, killing my dad, putting his friend Hugh Lowy (the father of one of my closest friends) into intensive care for a few weeks, and barely touching the other rider.

That was 15 years ago today.

The driver of the car, Lynette Satalich, was charged with culpable driving and spent 18 months in prison. I bear her no ill will, I know she has suffered from her mistake ever since. In court it was clear to us that her life had been broken just as profoundly as ours had, or more. Over the years since she has gone out of her way to campaign for greater care from drivers, giving a number of interviews on TV and in print imploring others to take care on the roads. I respect her for that, it shows great courage.

I barely touched a bike for five years after Dad was killed. I just couldn’t really deal with it, the fun of cycling was gone. It was 2006 before it began to return, an impulsive purchase of a Fuji road bike rekindling my enjoyment. Carbon fibre! Dad would have marvelled!

I moved to London in 2007, following the footsteps of my parents who had both done the same in their 20’s, before they’d met, and the bike became my transport, my sport and my network of friends. Slowly my passion for the bike returned, through repetition as much as anything else.

Today, I am still reminded of David every time I step over a top tube, which is often. My own love for cycling came from him, but I express it in my own way.

I know that he affected others, too. I’ve met many of his former students over the years, who remember him fondly. My surname is not common, and he taught hundreds of people over the years. Several have told me they went on his bike trips. Two of them are fathers of kids at my cycling club. I am never sure if they know he is dead, or how he died.

I am still angry that he is gone, but thankful for what he taught me, and I know that paradoxically his death made me a better person.

I am angry that fifteen years later, cyclists are still killed unnecessarily on the roads, and that virtually nothing has been done about this. I am incensed by the cavalier attitude of too many drivers, who don’t give a moment’s thought to the responsibility they owe to others.

His loss still affects me, my sister and my mother profoundly. My daughter, who will be born any day now, will never know her grandfather. My sister is distraught that Dad will never meet her son, but is determined that her little boy will grow up knowing about his missing grandfather.

Of course his life was about much more than cycling, but I suppose it has become the most salient way I connect with his memory.

Today I hope that David would be proud that his bad luck has not destroyed the love for cycling he spent twenty years diligently building in me. I honour his memory every time I race, every time I push hard up a climb, and I give a silent nod of thanks every time I ride past the place on Beach Road where he fell.

Today, I honoured his memory in a simple way that he would love: I rode to work.

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 21 I can’t believe it’s over edition

Looking forward to some sleep, actually.

5. Van der Breggen wins the best race of the day

Yes, the women’s race La Course by TDF was on as a curtain-raiser for the remains of the men’s peloton, but it was a better race. The weather was ordinary and the cobbles were clearly a death-trap, forcing riders to corner in a manner familiar to Melbourne commuters who have to cross tram lines in the wet.

And yet there were plenty of spirited breakaways, not least from Aussies Gracie Elvin, Lizzie Williams and Amanda Spratt trying to soften the race up for Orica-AIS teammate Emma Johansson.

Apart from all the cheering, there was much waggery on Twitter about this:

Of course the Rabo-Liv hegemony would not be denied, and Anna van der Breggen went off solo with a lap to go, and held on to win in an absolute thriller as the bunch sprint unfolded a few metres behind her.

4. Another top ten for P. Saggy

I am genuinely disappointed that Sagan couldn’t add to his tally of 11 top-five finishes this Tour, but 7th is still pretty handy.

You just know that Sagan will be hungover for days, and I’ll just assume he’s never heard of Bon Scott.

That’s his fourth consecutive green jersey, at the age of just 25, and you could make a fair argument that Sagan was the most involved rider in this Tour, despite not winning a stage.

3. Look, not much happened, can we skip #3?

OK, OK, I’ll mumble something about champagne and Team Sky in special kit with yellow accents that made them look like a team of European wasps.

2. Froome didn’t stack

When I saw the weather and general mayhem of La Course. I thought to myself, “Gee wizz, this men’s race is going to be full of crashes if the conditions don’t improve. That’s not ideal if the yellow jersey has an accident and breaks his collarbone and can’t finish the race” and stroked my beard.

The organisers must’ve thought similar things, in a more Gallic fashion (perhaps stroking their baguettes) and so the GC was neutralised virtually as soon as the race was onto the Champs Elysees (i.e. the racing was just for the stage win, with no risk of late scratchings from the Big List).

That meant there was no panic when Froome ended up out the back behind the cars in the final laps, and it meant he could enjoy the last few corners with his teammates, safe in the knowledge he couldn’t lose even if he stayed out there all night.

1. Greipel

Hey, I like Greipel. He seems like a quality dude. And he’s had a flaming amazing Tour, winning four out of the five stages available to the pure sprinters (and coming 2nd on the one that Cavendish won). He was easily better than Cavendish, Degenkolb, Kristoff, Sagan, Coquard, Matthews, Demare, Bouhanni…

He beat everyone handsomely all Tour. It’s his first win on the Champs Elysees and his 10th Tour stage in total.

Chapeau.

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 20 Alpe d’Huez edition

What happened? What didn’t happen, more like.

5. Chris Froome didn’t lose the Tour de France

It was never the most likely outcome, but as I said yesterday Froome hasn’t been looking all that fresh over the last few days so there was an element of risk.

When everything went a bit psychedelic on the Croix de Fer (Stage 20 remix) and attacks were going up the road like firecrackers, anything seemed possible. When it all came back together in the valley to Bourg d’Oisans, it was clear that Sky had things well in hand.

Froome should buy Wout Poels a very nice Jag as a thank you gift, as without his perfectly executed tempo riding in stages 19 and 20, Froome might’ve been in deep trouble. Today, Froome also had Richie Porte doing a big job of work (#sherliggettisms #drink etc) making sure Quintana didn’t get off the leash until it was too late to change the final outcome.

When Quintana did attack, the team didn’t panic. Instead they reverted to their training and rode at threshold to the finish, knowing that it would be enough to secure victory.

Exciting for the fans? No. Effective? Extremely. Yes, Froome dropped more time and another day in the Alps might have been enough to cause real palpitations. But there isn’t another day in the Alps, so.

4. Nearly Nairo just adds to the expectation

Nairo Quintana is a freak. Not just because of the way he climbs (a lot of guys can climb like him on their day) but more because he always looks far better in the third week of a Grand Tour than in the first.

He’s done it in two Tours and a Giro now. Probably he’s just better at maintaining his levels as everyone else is slowly collapsing, but that’s the trick with Grand Tours.

After what felt like an eternity of waiting for him to attack, it finally came, but too late to change the overall result. The assault on Alpe d’Huez was one to remember though, even if he fell just short of catching Thibaut Pinot for the stage win, and a bit further short of stealing the Tour from Froome.

Fairly or not, this will still be remembered as a Tour of ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ for Quintana.

Woulda won if he hadn’t dropped 1’24” on stage 2. If he hadn’t lost 1’04 on stage 10 to La Pierre-Saint-Martin. If he’d attacked earlier on stage 19.

Whatever. That’s racing. Froome was better over the duration. But the sensation of Nairo’s unstoppable rise shows no sign of abating. He was 4’20 behind Froome in 2013, and only 1’12” in 2015.

The anticipation for next year has already started.

3. Nibali’s puncture hands Valverde his first Tour podium

You may think that a puncture at the base of Alpe d’Huez is karma’s punishment for riding off on Chris Froome yesterday, but Vincenzo Nibali is likely to argue it just goes to show that when the race is on, there are no favours.

Whatever your point of view, there’s no doubt that the flat tyre came at the worst possible moment for the Astana man. It crushed any chance of attacking Alejandro Valverde’s third position on GC.

This meant Valverde will earn his first Tour de France podium – which seems odd after more than a decade of the Spaniard lighting up the race. It was a consistent performance from Movistar’s number two man, demonstrating that dual leadership is not necessarily a problem for the team, if managed well.

Movistar director Eusebio Unzue has been in the game for over 30 years, and has managed seven overall wins at the Tour (including the difficult transition from Pedro Delgado to Miguel Indurain in 1991). He knows what he is doing.

So does Valverde, and he shadowed Froome up Alpe d’Huez like a perfect team player, guarding his own place on GC without doing anything to the detriment of his young leader up the road.

2. Vintage Pinot

Redemption for Thibaut Pinot, whose Tour has been one of misfortune and missed opportunities. After a shocking first two weeks, he recovered some form to claim top-five finishes on stages 14, 17 and 19.

His effort on on Alpe d’Huez, the most prestigious of all summit finishes, was something special. Ducking through rabid crowds wielding costumes, flares, beers and flags like weapons, attacking Ryder Hesjedal repeatedly until he was finally alone, riding on adrenaline and fumes in the knowledge that Nairo Quintana was coming up fast from behind.

It was a victory to savour, and for the third consecutive time a French winner on the famous Alpe.

Start the debate: was Pinot or Romain Bardet the better French rider of the 2015 Tour de France?

1. The Alps

The Alps smashed the Pyrenees for excitement this year. Perhaps it was due to their placement so late in the schedule, with riders exhausted and many climbers knowing their GC chances were finished.

In any case, the winners on stages 17-20 (Geschke, Bardet, Nibali and Pinot) all won with rides of huge daring and strength, while the GC battle finally sparked into life behind them.

In the end, the GC battle was much closer than it looked for the entire Tour. Perhaps one more day in the Alps would have changed the result. We will never know, but for my money the four days in the Alps elevated the Tour above this year’s Giro, the first time I’ve said that since 2011.

BeardysCaravan.com is now live for stage 19 featuring 3 big climbs from yesterday’s stage. #BeardysCaravan #Tdf #tdf2015

A photo posted by Beardy McBeard (@beardmcbeardy) on Jul 25, 2015 at 4:04am PDT

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