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Sun Tour 2017 – Stage 4

The 2017 Sun Tour (formally the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour but that’s a mouthful) concluded last Sunday with Stage 4, with a circuit race around Kinglake.

Kinglake being one of Melbourne’s best training grounds for local cyclists (the climb from St Andrews is a popular benchmark) and only around an hour’s drive from Melbourne, the stage was well attended.

It was an exciting stage, with Sky’s Ian Stannard just hanging on for the win, after a trademark attack from the breakaway with just over a kilometre to go. He very nearly cocked it up, overestimating his lead and taking his sweet time to amble across the line with a two-arm salute, while Aaron Gate (AquaBlue) charged at the line behind him.

Damien Howson took the overall win comfortably, with his strong Orica-Scott team controlling the race and protecting the lead he’d built on Stage 2 at Falls Creek. Howson really developed into a valuable climbing domestique in 2016 (remember him turning himself inside out for Esteban Chaves on stage 20 of the Vuelta, to help the Colombian grab 3rd place overall?) and it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 24. He’s lightly built, and an excellent time triallist. I think he’ll have a big 2017.

I was a little less mobile on the course than usual, due to bringing my 1-year old daughter and her grandmother along to see the likes of Chris Froome, Chaves, Simon Gerrans and Cameron Meyer in action. Mum doesn’t get to many bike races (although she pointed out that in his youth her father once followed the Sun Tour around and used to ride his bike from Ouyen to Mildura to race, and then – possibly apocryphal – back) but she does follow the French Tour, so it was a thrill for her to see the stars up close. Her anecdote is also a reminder that the Sun Tour is a race with a great history in Victoria, and the list of winners is full of great riders.

And that is really the thing about the Sun Tour – in its current incarnation it’s a perfect mix of the world’s elite, domestic aspirants, and the club cyclists and enthusiasts who rode out to spectate. And all of it is within touching distance.

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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!)

Mega Daily Bone-Up: Stage 17

After the rest day.

5. Tejay van Goner-en
Poor Tejay. It’s not every day someone sitting 3rd on GC abandons. Tejay was shelled early, and got in the car. It was later revealed he’s been suffering with a heavy cold and chills for a few days, and when he got back on the bike for Stage 17 he realised it was game over.

The other big name to abandon was Michal Kwiatkowski, “the man in the white World Champion’s jersey” (#sherliggettisms #drink) after announcing he’s leaving Etixx-Quickstep. Not that the two are related.

4. Pinot and Talansky foiled again
Pinot and Talansky came into this Tour with big expectations and it was no surprise to see them attacking on the Col d’Allos.
Perhaps the surprise was that both were so far down in GC they were allowed to be in a break 11 minutes in front of the yellow jersey.

Sadly, this year seems to have cast Pinot in a comedy role, and his old descending yips returned – after surging up the Col d’Allos in pursuit of Simon Geschke, Poor Old Pinot lost time on the descent, then crashed (locked up his rear wheel) and completely lost his nerve. A handful of riders passed him going downhill and he was left with too much to do on the Pra Loup ascent.

Talansky fared better, but his attempt to catch Geschke simply came too late. Still, second on the stage is better than the ‘Pitbull’ has been travelling.

3. The Porte Parachute

It was almost perfect: Richie Porte got in the break, and started to deliberately drift backwards in time to meet Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas on the way up. Porte parachuted in just as Nibali and Quintana were putting Froome under pressure on the Col d’Allos, and took control.

That’s tactics.

Unfortunately he was caught behind when Contador crashed, and was no further help to Froome (although it appears he helped drag Super G to the finish, so not all bad).

Of course, Movistar used the same tactic but had TWO riders in the break, giving Quintana and Valverde a brief but huge advantage over the lonesome Froome. Didn’t help much, though.

2. Geschke’s beard

It’s always (well, a couple of years) been a genuine contest between Simon Geschke and Luca Paolini for best beard in the pro peloton, but with Paolini serving time in Ibiza it’s pretty clear who’s taking home the maillot barbe.

It was a big ride today from Giant-Alpecin’s hirsute domestique, and the biggest win of his career. Not without some serious panache, too – a long solo attack, a breathless technical descent, and then a tough grind to the line to hold off the chasers.

Chapeau.

1. GC shake

With Tejay van out, and Alberto Contador crashing and losing time, there was space created near the top of the big list, but not even a tiny crack at the top.

Valverde is up to 3rd. Contador now looks cooked as far as podiums go, but he might be able to sting Super G for 4th. Nibali might get past Gesink but that’s about all. Quintana has thrown everything at Froome and still hasn’t cracked him.

Still, plenty of Alps to come.

Study finds 93% of driver-cyclist incidents are caused by driver fault

Monash University has published a research study on interactions between drivers and cyclists in the ACT. They sent cyclists out wearing cameras and GPS trackers for several months and recorded what happened.

If you’ve ever ridden a bike on Australian roads, you won’t be surprised to hear that,

A total of 91 potentially unsafe cyclist-interactions were identified. In the majority of events (93.4%), the behaviour of the driver led to the event. The most common event type was left turn (37.3%) which involved a driver turning left across the path of the cyclist, drivers turning across cyclists’ path from the adjacent direction (32.9%). Unexpectedly opened vehicle doors accounted for 17.6% of cyclist-driver interactions. In the majority of all events, a crash was avoided due to the evasive actions taken by cyclists.

Anecdotally, my experience is that many Australian drivers are a liability around cyclists, whether through malice or sheer blithe incompetence. It’s something that policy makers have failed to address over several decades, and that’s shameful.

When you read through the recommendations and realise exactly how little is currently done to ensure adequate driver training relating to cyclists – for professional and ordinary drivers alike – it’s no wonder accidents and near-misses are so common.

I would like to know why cyclist advocacy groups have had so little success on these issues over the past couple of decades.

You can read the study here.