Tag Archives: le tour

Who’s in your Grand Tour Dream Team for 2014?

The Grand Tours have finished for 2014 and we’re on the downhill run to the season’s finish.

This week, as I soft-pedalled my way through the ennui that accompanied this depressing realisation, a thought struck me: ‘if you could pick a dream team of nine riders based on their performances in Grand Tours this year, who would you pick?’

Image credit: Ian Wakefield (https://www.flickr.com/photos/iandwakefield/14421245888/)
Image credit: Ian Wakefield (https://www.flickr.com/photos/iandwakefield/14421245888/)

It would have to be a balanced squad, not just a team of GC whippets. You’d need some sprinters and some blokes to do the grunt work. You’d have an unlimited budget (hey, spreadsheets are for proper jobs).

Any performances from non-Grand Tour races don’t count. Winning classics doesn’t help here, sorry Gerro.

I’ve chosen three GC riders, three sprinters and three wildcards.

Some selections were easy. Yes, predictably the three GC winners are present, but each of them won their respective titles in relatively straightforward fashion, were clearly the best riders in the races. I couldn’t convince myself that Jean-Christophe Peraud’s battling second at the Tour was better than Contador’s win at the Vuelta.

Marcel Kittel is another obvious choice. He almost can’t be beaten.

The others are less clear cut, and I’m sure there’s a few of you who’ll have other suggestions. It’s hard picking just nine guys. Anyway, here’s my Grand Tour Dream Team.

  1. Vincenzo Nibali
    It’s hard to think of a more perfect performance than Vincenzo Nibali produced at the Tour de France. For me, it was easily the best ride of the year, and one of the best individual Grand Tour performances I have seen. Right from his surprise victory in stage 2 in Sheffield, it was clear that Nibali had come to France in peak form. Go hard or go home was the theme, and by stage 5 on the cobbles he already had the Tour by the throat and his rivals faltering. Nibali won four stages, led the race for 19 out of 21 days, and won by 7’37” having barely dropped a second to any rival. He’s first picked.
  2. Nairo Quintana
    Many fans were bitterly disappointed when Movistar chose Alejandro Valverde as leader for the Tour de France, leaving their Colombian prodigy at home. It seemed crazy after Quintana’s storming 2013 performance. Quintana himself was disappointed, but management insisted that riding the Giro as leader would be better for his development. As it turned out, Quintana put in a scintillating performance in Italy, and clearly demonstrated that he isn’t fazed by the responsibility of leadership. His crash at the Vuelta was a massive shame, but his superbly aggressive performance in Italy still guarantees him a place in my dream team.
  3. Alberto Contador
    A season built around the Tour could have ended in disaster when the Spaniard lost concentration and crashed on Stage 11. His surprise return for the Vuelta provided some redemption, but his winning performance despite recovering from a broken leg really only increases speculation about what might have been if he’d been able to finish the Tour. That said, his Vuelta performance was full of grit and determination, despite coming in underdone. It’s a grudging selection for me, but I think it ranks him as one of the top 3 GC riders in this year’s Grand Tours, ahead of the podium-getters from the Tour.
  4. Marcel Kittel
    This year, Kittel has clearly been the best sprinter in Grand Tours. He looked unstoppable in the first days of the Giro, winning two stages before getting sick and withdrawing from the race before stage 4. He returned in the Tour, winning four stages including the two that all the fast men wanted, stages 1 and 21. On the flat, Kittel is virtually invincible. Between him and Nibali for the easiest selection.
  5. John Degenkolb
    Kittel’s Giant-Shimano teammate has disproved the conventional wisdom that having two gun sprinters in the same team is a recipe for ego clashes and conflict. The two are different enough that they don’t really compete for the same stage wins, and their rapport seems strong. Four stage wins and the points jersey in the Vuelta shows how good Degenkolb is when given the opportunity, and he can get over modest hills to win sprints that Kittel can’t.
  6. Michael Matthews
    The flashy Aussie sprinter came of age this year. He won two stages at the Giro (including the TTT) and wore the pink jersey for six days. He sat out of the Tour de France, but returned to the Vuelta in style, winning stage 3 and wearing the leader’s jersey for three days. Matthews is a highly versatile sprinter who can win on stages with moderate hills. I’ve picked him ahead of Nacer Bouhanni because of his all-around ability to win and then hang on to leader’s jerseys where other sprinters would struggle – that’s hugely valuable to his team.
  7. Rafal Majka
    Despite coming into the Tinkoff-Saxo Tour squad at the last minute and seemingly against his will, Majka’s role as a support for Alberto Contador changed when the Spaniard crashed out. Switching to freelance mode, Majka took his chance and won two stages of the Tour, and the KoM jersey. This followed an impressive Giro d’Italia where he finished 6th overall. I think Majka is the best super-domestique in the world at the moment.
  8. Tony Martin
    Always the unbackable favourite to win the time trial stage(s) in any Grand Tour he rides, but he also managed to take stage 9 of the Tour de France with a solo breakaway that ripped the peloton to shreds. He’s also a great team rider, regularly seen drilling it on the front to shut down breakaways for his Omega Pharma-Quickstep team, and is a huge contributor to that team’s regular high finishes in team time trials.
  9. Geraint Thomas
    I’m picking G. Thomas because he’s become one of the most valuable riders in his team, even without the wins and profile of some others. He is relentless, tough as nails, and completely selfless. He only rode the Tour de France this year, but some of the rides he put in for Chris Froome and Richie Porte were incredible. He still finished 22nd overall – not bad for a guy who was working for others and is better known as a classics man. Picked for his grunt work and attitude.

Unlucky to miss out:

Peter Sagan
His Tour de France green jersey showed his consistency and versatility, but he didn’t win a stage. He also failed to win a stage at the Vuelta. If he can overcome being a marked man, and rectify some tactical naivety, Sagan clearly has enough buckets of ability to fill an Olympic swimming pool. This year, he’s been better outside Grand Tours than in them.

Michael Rogers
Has had a great year after the worst possible start, under a doping cloud. Since being cleared, he’s ridden with a freedom that has rarely been seen during his long career, and it’s netted him two Giro stage wins, and one at the Tour. That’s a great return for a guy who doesn’t get many personal opportunities. Also a great team man.

Alejandro Valverde
Probably the most versatile rider in the world. How many others can win during the spring classics (he won Roma Maxima and Fleche Wallonne, and was second at Liege-Bastogne-Liege), miss a Tour de France podium by a handful of seconds, and then back it up with a Vuelta that netted him 3rd overall, 2nd in the points jersey, 3rd in the mountains jersey, and two stages (one individual, and a team time trial)? He’s got lethal finishing speed for a guy who can climb with the elite, and he’s also amazingly consistent through the season. He might not win a Grand Tour again, but he’s usually not far off the podium and he really loves a stage win.

Fabio Aru
Astana’s ‘mini-Nibs’ emerged from obscurity this season to finish on the podium in the Giro and 5th at the Vuelta. He also won a stage at each, showing that at just 24 years old, he’s Italy’s next likely Grand Tour challenger after Nibali himself.

Nacer Bouhanni
Despite being the second-favourite sprinter on the FDJ.com team, Bouhanni cleaned up five Grand Tour stages this season: three in the Giro and two in the Vuelta. Bouhanni only misses out because Kittel dominates him head-to-head, and he’s still not versatile enough when the road gets lumpy.
He’s had a combative year with his team management preferring Arnaud Démare for the Tour, and his race programme has been cut short by criticism of FDJ management after he signed for rivals Cofidis for next year. Despite all this, he won more Grand Tour stages in 2014 than Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel combined.

Adam Hansen
Because how can you have a Grand Tour team without Adam Hansen? He’s now finished ten in a row, and even claimed a stage win at the Vuelta this year. Hansen is the ultimate team rider, and everyone knows it. He’s also grown in confidence over the last two years and is now often making the race. Very dangerous in a break.

Advertisements

Flawless Nibali has got this Tour on a silver platter

After a first week that tore up every script and binned some of the best-laid plans, followed by a second week that tipped the rubbish bin full of torn-up scripts and plans upside down and set them on fire, the Tour’s third week has settled to a steady pile of glowing embers.

Sure, it’s theoretically possible that it could re-ignite and burn the house down, but it’s starting to look relatively safe and predictable for Vincenzo Nibali. Break out the marshmallows.

It has to be said, the Italian has ridden a flawless Tour de France so far. He’s taken only the best calculated risks, made no mistakes, never looked in peril, and seized every opportunity to put time into his rivals.

He’s beaten all of his GC rivals comfortably on every important climb. Here’s the breakdown of where he took time from his closest challenger, Alejandro Valverde:

Stage 2: 2 seconds

Stage 5: 2:09

Stage 8: 16 seconds

Stage 10: 20 seconds

Stage 13: 50 seconds

Stage 14: 1:00

Stage 17: 48 seconds.

It’s a leaky bucket that just can’t be patched. Every time it gets picked up a bit more liquid sloshes out and disappears into the dust.

The Nibali method in the mountains is not dissimilar to that of Team Sky: use his Astana teammates to set a tempo hard enough to soften everyone up, before Nibali attacks with around 2km remaining, depending on the gradient and race situation.

A short acceleration and maintaining a strong tempo to the finish is enough to open time gaps without needing him to dig so deep he risks being flat the following day.

It works, indeed it looks easy, because he is riding against two men past their best years (Valverde and Peraud) and a number who are acknowledged up and comers, but still a few years away from their peaks (Pinot, Bardet, van Garderen).

Nibali on the other hand is a worthy champion in every sense. He’s experienced, calm, and at the perfect age to win grand tours. He’s the best climber in the race, the best descender, and the most consistent. His focus is intense. He’s polite and humble in interviews. He has used his team with skill.

Anything less than victory would be an injustice, after the race he’s had.

Would it be different if Froome and Contador were still in the race? Undoubtedly, yes. But beating the course itself has always been half the battle in any Grand Tour, and both of the absent leaders failed to do so. There’s no point crying over that.

What I’m getting at is it’s nigh-on impossible to see Nibali losing from here without crashing. We all know it. Nibali knows it. Valverde knows it. Pinot knows it. Even Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen know it.

As leaders have fallen, the challenge to his Astana team’s control has evaporated.

Team Sky has collapsed, BMC has wilted. The GC hopes of Belkin and Lotto-Belisol have gone about as well as expected, with riders in the top ten but out of podium contention. NetApp-Endura will be overjoyed with Leopold Konig’s Tour, but the team simply doesn’t have the depth to challenge the big boys.

Tinkoff-Saxo has made a very effective pivot to a stage-win strategy, snagging three victories to salvage some pride from a Tour that could have been a disaster, but couldn’t give a fig about going head-to-head with Astana. Majka, Rogers and Roche made sure to lose enough time that they’d be given the freedom to go up the road.

Europcar is still playing for TV time.

AG2R has surprised with its strength: Bardet, Peraud and Blel Kadri have all been excellent.

Movistar has also managed an effective resistance, but when it has come to the crunch their leader hasn’t had the legs to follow Nibali, and in stage 17 the sight of Giovanni Visconti going for a stage win while his leader lost time showed that faith was wavering.

No wonder Astana director Alexandre Vinokourov hasn’t been seen without a grin for the past fortnight. Everything has gone to plan. His team has been the strongest. His leader has never faltered. The competition has collapsed. Perfect outcome!

With one mountain stage remaining, and a time trial, the GC battle for this Tour de France is practically over. I’m a huge fan of Vincenzo Nibali’s and he has ridden a magnificent race, but I still can’t help but feel disappointed with how early the fight for yellow became a procession.

This was no accident. Nibali is just a class above.


This article first appeared on The Roar.

Tour de France Stage 11 preview

LIVE BLOG AT THE ROAR

The Tour de France begins its second phase tonight, after a rest day that gave everyone a chance to process the tumultuous events of the first ten days of the race.

For a week where the script had to be torn up again and again, stage 10 produced a cliffhanger episode worthy of HBO. Favourite characters (or villains, depending on your feelings regarding Mr Contador) were written out of the plot, new storylines emerged, and fevered speculation over a broken bike added a touch of intrigue.

Meanwhile, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) tightened his grip on the maillot jaune with a decisive attack on the final climb to La Planche des Belles Filles. He now leads the race by 2’23” to Australia’s Richie Porte (Sky), with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) at 2’47”.

If the past week has taught us anything, it’s that everything can change in an instant, but so far Nibali has ridden a perfect race.

Stage 11 is a challenging 187km route from Besançon to Oyonnax.

Stage 11: it's gonna be lumpy.
Stage 11: it’s gonna be lumpy.

A classic transitional stage between the Vosges and the Alps, it features three Category 3 climbs and a single Category 4, but there is barely a flat moment and riders with dull legs after the rest day will suffer.

The finish in Oyonnax comes after a 15km descent from the Côte d’Échallon – the first time the Tour has finished in this city.

It’s not really a day where the GC leaders would expect to duke it out, but a breakaway stands a good chance – perhaps an opportunity for the freshly decapitated Tinkoff-Saxo squad to regain some purpose?

Also watch out for Orica-GreenEdge to have a dig. The Australian team lost its road captain Matt Hayman during the rest day, but still has plenty of riders who could do well on a stage like this. The Roar’s Luke Durbridge seems positive.

Fabian Cancellara also withdrew on the rest day. He will return home for some R&R before beginning his build up to the World Championships.

I’ll be live-blogging the stage on The Roar from 10pm AEST.

 

The Tour de France is nearly here: sleep while you still can!

The Tour de France is nearly upon us, and July is going to be a magnificent bleary-eyed sporting hell.

The usual toothpick-scaffolding required to keep your eyes open in meetings by mid-July will need extra reinforcement this year, as the world’s biggest annual sporting event coincides with the world’s biggest sporting event full stop.

It’s a king tide of sleep deprivation: the Tour de France will finish each night just in time for kick-off in Brazil, with barely a pause for a disco nap before switching from polka dots and camembert to a Brazil shirt and a cheeky glass of cachaça.

It’d be an insomniac sports fan’s wet dream, if that wasn’t a contradiction in terms.

I don’t know about all of you, but I’m already basking in the hazy embrace of jet-free jetlag. I’m not a football expert by any stretch, but I’ve been more than willing to treat the World Cup as the pro peloton treats a last-minute block of altitude training: after all, nothing beats acclimatisation, and this World Cup is pretty excellent.

A few 2am starts a week are the perfect preparation for three tense weeks of gruelling chess on wheels.

As a result, my form for watching this Tour de France is better than it has ever been. My coffee machine is churning out double espressos faster than a Tinkoff-Saxo mechanic can change a wheel, and I’ve had the glassy-eyed stare into space working a treat in every meeting for the last fortnight.

My preferred survival techniques for the next month include grabbing a couple of hours’ sleep between dinner time and the TV coverage (starting 10pm AEST most stages); coffee; sleeping on public transport; more coffee; sleeping in a meeting room at the office (perhaps set up a PowerPoint slide show full of boring graphs on loop to warn off anyone glancing through the windows); yet another coffee; and a big bowl of Harden The F*** Up.

This is an endurance sport, spectating, and it requires preparation and dedication. You need to maintain your energy levels. Under no circumstances let your fridge or pantry run out of late-night snacks. You’ll definitely need to send a domestique (in my case, I am the domestique) back to the fridge for refreshments during the stages.

Timing is everything. Nobody wants to suffer a hunger flat on one of the key climbs of the race, and the shame of missing Contador attacking Froome on the Col du Tourmalet because you forgot to get the brie out of the fridge before the sprint point at Trébons would be almost unbearable.

Understand that road racing means performing in conditions that vary immensely from region to region. Don’t go in with the attitude that the same approach will work in all conditions.

A pint of bitter and a packet of pork scratchings is a perfectly appropriate accompaniment to Stages 1-3 (Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire and London), but will be frowned upon when the race reaches France.

Similarly, it’s Flemish beers in your bidon for Stage 5 (which starts in Ypres); save the Beaujolais for Stage 12, which finishes in St. Etienne; and the wines of Aude, Jurançon and Madiran for the Pyrenean Stages 16, 17 and 18.

Italian or Spanish wine are perfectly acceptable if you’re supporting Vincenzo Nibali or Alberto Contador, but I would probably avoid Kenyan or British plonk even if you want to give Chris Froome a morale boost.

Of course there are also plenty of riders from countries with excellent beer, so perhaps responsibly sipping something from the homeland of the previous day’s stage winner would be an appropriate mark of respect?

Of course Australia’s brewers and winemakers are just as talented and successful as Australia’s cyclists, so here’s hoping that the victories keep on rolling for Orica-GreenEdge and the Aussies riding for other teams.

Obviously it’s not just about the flash food and fancy booze. This is a bike race.

Non-OGE Aussies include Richie Porte (Sky), Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo), Heinrich Haussler (IAM), Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) and Zak Dempster (NetApp-Endura). At the time of writing, Garmin-Sharp has yet to announce its squad, so there might be more if Rohan Dennis earns a place.

Speaking of Dempster, it’s his first Tour de France (and the first for his team) so keep an eye out for him. He earned his spot with a couple of very good results at the Tour of California, even beating German ace John Degenkolb in a sprint in Stage 7.

Someone spotted a camera.

Sadly, there is no Cadel Evans this year. The great man has passed on the BMC Tour de France leadership to his younger American teammate Tejay van Garderen, and judging from his Twitter feed will be spending July rolling around Lake Como and drinking coffee.

On the one hand, I’m sad to be missing Cadel. On the other, it’ll be refreshing to watch a Tour without the stress of high expectations for an Aussie overall win.

Australians will be crucial in the GC battle, though – Richie Porte and Michael Rogers are the top lieutenants for the two hottest overall favourites, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador respectively.

If the recent Criterium du Dauphine is any guide, there is barely anything between the two in terms of form. Team support will be crucial. Tinkoff-Saxo has been rocked by the suspension of Roman Kreuziger for a possible biological passport infraction from 2011-2012, which makes Rogers’ role even more important.

I expect this Tour to be much more open than the previous two years, with Contador back in form and a team capable of hurting Team Sky.

Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde also showed they’re peaking at the right time with victories in their respective national time trial championships over the weekend (and a 2nd in the Spanish road race to Valverde, who let his teammate Ion Izaguirre take the win).

In lead-up races Nibali’s Astana and Valverde’s Movistar have shown a willingness to put Sky to the sword at every opportunity, so don’t expect everyone to sit back and let the British team have it all on their own terms this year.

Froome has looked extremely impressive at times, but his season has been far from perfect, and the same goes for Richie Porte, who has question marks over his form.

My smokies are Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Romain Bardet (AG2R) and Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura).

There’s the sprint battles between Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb, Arnaud Demare, Elia Viviani and Michael Matthews, which will be huge.

Then there’s the cobbles of Arenberg (stage 5), where pavé-masters Fabian Cancellara, Sep Vanmarcke and Greg Van Avermaet can reprise their Paris-Roubaix/Tour of Flanders rivalry while a bunch of skinny climbers rattle around like cartoon skeletons on a haunted train.

And then there’s Simon Gerrans, who sounds dangerously confident of snatching another stage win.

There’ll be something to look forward to in every stage, so suck it up, get your coffee addiction cranked up to 11, and prepare to stumble dazed through July like the best sleep-deprived-zombie-muttering-in-French that you can be.

Until then, SLEEP WHILE YOU STILL CAN.

 

This article first appeared on The Roar.

Tour de France 2014 team lists

All teams have now been announced. Australian riders highlighted in red.

Designated GC leader listed first, where team has GC as primary objective.

Riders with a strikethrough have  withdrawn from the race.

AG2R La Mondiale

Romain Bardet, Jean-Christophe Peraud, Christophe Riblon, Mikael Cherel, Ben Gastauer, Sébastien Minard, Samuel Dumoulin, Blel Kadri, Matteo Montaguti.

Astana

Vincenzo Nibali, Tanel Kangert, Jakob Fuglsang, Michele Scarponi, Andriy Grivko, Alessandro Vanotti, Dmitriy Gruzdev, Lieuwe Westra, Maxim Iglinskiy.

Belkin

Bauke Mollema, Lars Boom, Stef Clement, Laurens ten Dam, Steven Kruijswijk, Tom Leezer, Bram Tankink, Sep Vanmarcke and Maarten Wynants.

BMC

Tejay van Garderen, Darwin Atapuma, Marcus Burghardt, Amaël Moinard, Daniel Oss, Michael Schär, Peter Stetina, Greg Van Avermaet, Peter Velits.

Bretagne-Seche

Brice Feillu, Jean-Marc Bideau, Armindo Fonseca, Florian Vachon, Anthony Delaplace, Arnaud Gérard, Romain Feillu, Florian Guillou, Benedict Jarrier.

Cannondale

Peter Sagan, Elia Viviani, Maciej Bodnar, Kristijan Koren, Ted King, Fabio Sabatini, Jean-Marc Marino, Marco Marcato, Alessandro De Marchi.

Cofidis

Julien Simon, Daniel Navarro, Luis Angel Mate, Egoitz Garcia,  Cyril Lemoine, Adrien Petit, Nicolas Edet, Rein Taaramae, Rudy Molard.

Europcar

Thomas Voeckler, Pierre Rolland, Yukio Arashiro, Bryan Coquard, Cyril Gautier, Yohann Gène, Alexandre Pichot, Perrig Quemeneur, Kevin Reza.

FDJ.fr

Thibaut Pinot, Arnaud Démare, William Bonnet, Mickael Delage, Arnold Jeannesson, Matthieu Ladagnous, Jérémy Roy and Arthur Vichot.

Garmin-Sharp

Andrew Talansky, Ben King, Alex Howes, Janier Acevedo, Jack Bauer, Sebastian Langeveld, Ramunas Navardauskas, Tom Slagter, Johan Vansummeren.

Giant-Shimano

Marcel Kittel, John Degenkolb, Koen De Kort, Dries Devenyns, Tom Dumoulin, Cheng Ji,  Albert Timmer, Tom Veelers, Roy Curvers.

IAM Cycling

Sylvain Chavanel, Martin Elmiger, Heinrich Haussler, Sébastien Reichenbach, Mathias Frank, Reto Hollenstein, Roger Kluge, Jerome Pineau, and Marcel Wyss.

Katusha

Joaquim Rodriguez, Alexander Kristoff, Vladimir Isaychev, Luca Paolini, Aleksandr Porsev, Egor Silin, Gatis Smukulis, Simon Špilak, Yury Trofimov.

Lampre-Merida

Rui Costa, Chris Horner, Davide Cimolai, Kristijan Durasek, Sacha Modolo, Nelson Oliveira, Ariel Richeze, Josè Serpa, Rafael Valls.

Lotto-Belisol

Jurgen Van den Broeck, André Greipel, Adam HansenGreg Henderson, Jürgen Roelandts, Marcel Sieberg, Tony Gallopin,  Lars Bak, Bart De Clercq.

Movistar

Alejandro Valverde, Imanol Erviti, John Gadret, Jesús Herrada, Beñat Intxausti, Ion Izagirre, Rubén Plaza, José Joaquín Rojas , Giovanni Visconti.

NetApp-Endura

Leopold König, Jan Barta, David de la Cruz, Zak Dempster, Bartosz Huzarski, Tiago Machado, José Mendes, Andreas Schillinger, and Paul Voss.

Omega Pharma-Quickstep

Michal Kwiatkowski, Jan Bakelants, Mark Cavendish, Michal Golas, Tony Martin, Alessandro Petacchi, Mark Renshaw, Niki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin.

Orica-GreenEdge

Simon Gerrans, Jens Keukeleire, Luke Durbridge, Mathew Hayman, Michael Albasini,  Simon Clarke, Simon Yates, Svein Tuft, Christian Meier.

Sky

Chris Froome, Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas, Mikel Nieve, Bernard Eisel, Vasil Kiryienka, David Lopez, Danny Pate, Xabier Zandio.

Tinkoff-Saxo

Alberto Contador, Michael Rogers, Nicolas Roche, Rafal Majka, Sergio Paulinho, Jesus Hernandez, Michael Morkov, Daniele Benatti, Matteo Tossato

Kreuziger is out (suspended due to bio passport issues).

Trek Factory Racing

Fabian Cancellara, Fränk Schleck, Andy Schleck, Haimar Zubeldia, Jens Voigt, Matthew Busche, Markel Irizar, Gregory Rast, and Danny van Poppel.