Tag Archives: cycling

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.

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!

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 9

I slept through this one, but I’ll tell you what it all means.

5. Orica-GreenEdge phoned it in

This is the team that has a fearsome reputation in TTTs, often using them as a springboard to dominate the first week of a grand tour. This is also the team that has three of its strongest riders at home nursing broken bones, and another (Michael Matthews) still riding on with broken ribs.

OGE hobbled across the course, trying to stay together, and the blank looks in their eyes as they rolled across the finish line told the story.

The postscript to the story is that they finished last, two and a half minutes behind second-last placed Cofidis and a shade under five minutes slower than BMC, who they frequently beat. This was an exercise in survival until the rest day for the OGE bus. This Tour business is pretty tough sometimes.

Here’s a bit of music to lighten the team’s spirits, anyway.

4. Nobody has ruined their Tour

I said it yesterday and I’ll stand by it: nobody important had their Tour ruined by the TTT.

Joaquim Rodriguez lost 1’53” and might disagree, but like I said, nobody important. Purito has won a stage already, and he might even be a better chance for another one if he drops a few more minutes on GC and is allowed a bit more freedom while the Big Boys mark each other.

Meanwhile, the Big Four (perhaps we should add BMC and Tejay to the ‘Big’ list)…

The Big Five were all within 35 seconds of each other.

KPI box ticked.

A few of the second-tier contenders have drifted backwards, it is true. The cream is rising to the top.

3. Movistar solid, but was it enough for Nairo?

Movistar would have had high expectations for this TTT, having brought former Hour record holder Alex Dowsett, and the big engines of TT specialists Adriano Malori and Jonathan Castroviejo along for the ride.

The aim would have been to do some damage to Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, and set Nairo Quintana up for the mountains.

It didn’t really work out, but only because Sky in particular rode a blinder. As a result, Quintana will start the second week 1’59” behind the maillot jaune. This is certainly not ideal, but Nairo is known for getting better in the final week of Grand Tours (see Tour 2013, Giro 2014).

We’ll see.

2. Sky on fire

Yes, Sky has always been strong in this discipline. Yes, they would have been highly motivated. Yes, they’ve had a couple of relatively easy days letting the sprinters’ teams control the race.

But still, getting within a second of the World Champion BMC squad was a massive effort, considering Sky arguably didn’t bring its A team of time triallists (they opted for more climbers).

It keeps Froome in yellow over the rest day, and perhaps more importantly it edged him a little further ahead of Quintana, Contador and Nibali.

So far everything is going to plan for Team Death Star, and Froome’s key mountain lieutenants have barely had to turn a crank in anger.

1. “Cos I’m BMC, I’m dynamite…”

With apologies to Acadaca, I’ll be earworming this one all day. Another big ride from the Swissmerican squad gives them two vans on the provisional podium (Tejay van Garderen and Greg van Bridesmaid) and a second stage win for this Tour.

This one will do wonders for their confidence. With a leader who looks in the form of his life and a team obviously in good nick, they’ll be starting to truly believe.

Not just in a “Yeah we’re all in for Tejay go team” sense, but in a visceral “Fuck, we can actually win this, I’m going to to turn myself inside out for this bloke for the next two weeks…” sense. That is powerful.

Big Boys’ GC

1. Froome

2. Tejay van 12″

3. Contador 1’03”

4. Uran 1’18”

5. Valverde 1’50”

6. Quintana 1’59”

7. Kreuiziger 2’18”

8. Nibali 2’22”

9. Barguil 2’43”

10. Rodriguez 3’52”

11. Talansky 4’17”

12. Bardet 4’38”

Can red-hot Richie Porte win the Giro?

Richie Porte’s form is hotter than it’s ever been, but can he maintain such a high level until the end of the Giro?

It’s been an incredible early season for Porte: he’s already won the GC at Paris-Nice, the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and this week’s Giro del Trentino. Add in a close 2nd at the Tour Down Under (where he would have won if not for time bonuses) and 4th at the Volta ao Algarve (where he won the mountains classification and a stage).

That’s right, his worst finish on GC for the year so far, out of five stage races, is 4th.

Porte is absolutely flying. A tough 2014 season has been well and truly shaken off. He looks lean, hungry, and powerful. He’s winning time trials (including the national championship) and mountain stages.

He won the Giro del Trentino with a vicious solo attack to win stage 2 (skip to the 42 minute mark of the YouTube clip below)

His attack came after one of those Team Sky power-climbing exhibitions that spectators love so much. When Porte launched, it was scintillating stuff – out of the saddle in the big ring, with Astana’s Mikel Landa floundering in his wake.

He’s leading the UCI points rankings, making him arguably the best rider in the world at the moment. While the focus of the cycling world has been on the bombastic spring classics, Porte has been playing assassin with ruthless efficiency across the roads of Portugal, Spain, France and now Italy.

It’s reminiscent of Wiggins in 2012, scorching his way through the season taking all before him.

Porte is clearly in better form than any other Giro contender.

His old leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) has been steady, gaining a handful of top-five results, but with his sights set on a Giro-Tour double, he needs to keep his form rising until late in the Giro d’Italia, lest he blow his Tour campaign.

His former teammate Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quickstep) is at home in Colombia training at altitude. Uran finished 5th in Catalunya and 3rd at Tirreno-Adriatico, so he is also looking steady rather than spectacular.

Uran has finished 2nd in the last two editions of the Giro d’Italia, and will be motivated after losing the maglia rosa last year in controversial fashion when his compatriot Nairo Quintana attacked descending the Stelvio in the snow, in confusion about whether the race was neutralised.

Last year’s podium revelation Fabio Aru (Astana) is suffering from a stomach ailment and extraordinary speculation after Lotto-Soudal’s Greg Henderson accused him (on Twitter) of using the illness as a cover for a bio passport violation. No doubt there’ll be intense scrutiny on Aru, but his preparation has been so badly interrupted there’s even been talk of switching Vincenzo Nibali in to lead the embattled Astana squad at the Giro (http://www.theroar.com.au/2015/04/24/richie-porte-could-face-vincenzo-nibali-in-giro-ditalia/) before defending his Tour de France crown.

My view is that Astana would be far better served by having Nibali in blazing form at the Tour, than having him half-cooked at the Giro and over-cooked in France.

Aru was 6th in Catalunya at the end of March, but hasn’t raced in April, and I would be stunned if he can improve on his 2014 result with such an interrupted preparation.

Other quality GC contenders are scarce in this Giro. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R), Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) the best of them.

I feel the Giro field is one of the weakest in recent years. It’s a golden chance for Porte to step onto his first grand tour podium, perhaps even (whisper it) a win.

I’ve just listed quite a lot of reasons to think that Porte is a shoe-in for the Giro podium, if not the victory.

So why should we have any doubts? He’s in the best shape of his career, he’s been routinely belting the snot out of his rivals at every important stage race so far this season, and his rivals (Uran excused) are either focused elsewhere, ill, or simply not in Porte’s class.

Why? Because form is bloody difficult to maintain for longer than a few weeks at a time, and Porte’s legs have been blazing hot since January.

Because despite his obvious talents, since his surprise 7th overall at the 2010 Giro (as a neo-pro) Porte has never been able to sustain a high level of performance for the full three weeks of a grand tour.

Because his best grand tour result since that Giro was 19th, at the 2013 Tour de France.

Because riders who can win week-long stage races aren’t necessarily the ones who can win grand tours, and vice versa.

Because the weight of grand tour leadership at a team with Sky’s exposure and ambition is immense, and he hasn’t coped well when asked to carry it previously.

And finally, this year’s Giro features four high mountain finishes in its final week, when Porte will be at his most vulnerable.

I would dearly love to see Richie Porte converting his potential into a big result. Becoming only the second Australian grand tour winner would be immense. Every interview and story about him mentions that he’s found a new focus, discipline, maturity. His year so far has been nearly perfect.

Perhaps it is Richie Porte’s time. We’ll see at the end of May.