Tag Archives: porte

Tone-deaf UCI fails its fans; Porte and Clarke should hold their heads high

The UCI’s decision to penalise Richie Porte and Simon Clarke two minutes, punishment for Clarke’s sporting decision to give Porte his front wheel after the Sky leader had punctured, is a disgrace.

The penalty has effectively ended Porte’s chances of winning the Giro.

It has probably wrecked this Giro: for the second year in a row the winner will be decided by incompetent officialdom amidst confusion and controversy.

Yet it is no exaggeration to say that acts like Clarke’s are the embodiment of how Australians are raised to understand sportsmanship. It is part of our national sporting folklore that helping a rival who has suffered bad luck is one of the most noble things you can do on a sporting arena.

Events like John Landy’s 1956 decision to stop to help a fallen Ron Clarke in the Australian mile championships are iconic in our sporting culture. It is literally cast in bronze near the site of Melbourne’s former Olympic Park athletics track, a couple of drop punts from the MCG.

Australian sportsmanship can be problematic: witness the reaction to our cricketers and sledging. Yet acts like Landy’s represent us as we would like to be, more than perhaps we truly are. We are taught from a young age to aspire to respect our rivals and mates.

Many Australians will see Simon Clarke’s act of kindness to his friend as fitting squarely within the best of sportsmanship, as we understand it, having been raised to view these kinds of selfless acts as defining marks of character and sporting goodwill.

Many cycling fans will agree. The Giro d’Italia’s official Twitter account posted photos of the event with the admiring caption, in English, “This is cycling. This is the best sport in the world.”

First, the admiration...
First, the admiration…

 

 

https://twitter.com/giroditalia/status/600704412940685312/photo/1

Hours later the same account was announcing the penalties with a terse press release.

Then, the slap in the face.
Then, the slap in the face.

It is yet another baffling decision from professional cycling’s idiot bureaucracy.

Let’s be clear: low-level cheating is endemic in professional cycling. Watch a race for five minutes and you will see riders hanging onto team cars, being dragged along by a ‘sticky bottle’. You’ll see riders drafting off team cars to get back to the peloton; riders drafting camera motorbikes as they attack; teams routinely offer bottles and food to riders from other teams.

The UCI ignores all of this unless riders blatantly (and you have to be more blatant than Rafal Majka winking at the camera as he drafted a moto in last year’s Tour de France) abuse the rules.

At Paris-Roubaix recently, a big group of riders charged under a closing railway barrier, desperate to save a few seconds but putting their lives at risk. The UCI refused to act on its own rules, bleating about not being able to identify all the riders and mumbling that it wouldn’t be fair to punish only the ones it could identify.

It’s quite clear that the UCI frequently excuses and endorses low-level cheating, bending its own rules.

That’s long before we get to the more ‘serious’ cheating: doping, rumours of motorised bikes, race-fixing, which the UCI has a long and shameful history, perhaps now ending, of ignoring and shovelling under the carpet.

And yet it chooses to throw the rule book at two riders who have done something that the entire sporting world, including the race’s own PR team, agrees demonstrates great sportsmanship and admirable character.

A fine, perhaps, if it is determined to actually start enforcing its own rules right now, but a two-minute penalty?

The penalties show that the UCI remains determined in its officious, tone-deaf administration, completely isolated from the values it should be encouraging, from the wishes of its fans, and from the deeper sporting tradition it inhabits.

The decision is a disgrace to the UCI. Long live cycling.

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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.

The new Paris-Nice is like Champagne without bubbles.

Without the fine bubbles, Champagne would still be a quality white wine, made from good quality fruit by expert winemakers, but it’d be lacking something special.

So it is with Paris-Nice, which still boasts a high quality roster of riders and will almost certainly be closely fought and exciting.

Tom Boonen, Rui Costa, Vincenzo Nibali, Taylor Phinney, Simon Gerrans, John Degenkolb, Greg Van Avermaet, Tejay van Garderen (until he retired from stage 1 with an illness), Carlos Betancur, Rafal Majka, Geraint Thomas, Sylvain Chavanel.

All good names.

But the race is different this year: there are less hills, no summit finishes and no time trials.

The missing fizz is that virtually all of the serious Grand Tour general classification riders have bailed out.

Last year’s winner, Richie Porte, isn’t riding. His bosses at Team Sky decided he would be better off replacing an injured Chris Froome (more on that later) on the hills of Tirreno-Adriatico than spending a week rolling in behind bunch sprints in France.

That was absolutely the right call – defending his title would’ve been virtually impossible for Porte, given the changed nature of the race, and Tirreno-Adriatico will provide better preparation for his major objective, the Giro d’Italia.

Porte told Cycling Central’s Al Hinds that the decision to race in Italy simply made more sense:

“Racing in Italy, that’s where my big goal this year is – at the Giro – so it really does make more sense to go there. And it’ll give me a good gauge to see how the other guys targeting the Giro are going.”

Christian Prudhomme, race director of Paris-Nice and the man who also oversees the Tour de France, was a bit miffed by Sky’s late swapsies, telling AFP: “We find it cavalier to have the reigning champion pull out just before the start.”

Well, Christian, with respect, perhaps you should have considered that before you designed a race that would be damn near impossible for the reigning champion to defend.

The late change should not be a reflection on Porte, even though he seemed pretty happy with the changes. The decision rests with team management, and they’ll be the ones locking horns with Prudhomme over it.

To be fair to Prudhomme, he justified the decision to avoid summit finishes by pointing out the the race will probably be close right until the final stage,

“We did this to make the race attractive. The race can be decided on the flat stages and on the hillier stages to Mont Brouilly, [Mur de] Fayence or even on the last day.”

I suspect he’s right, but the flatter parcours was still a mistake.

There’s enough climbing there to make this race too hard for a pure sprinter to win overall, but a strong all-rounder like Costa should be the favourite.

The first three stages suit sprinters; the next three suit classics riders who can power over short climbs; and the final two have some hard category 1 climbs which should decide the race.

The lack of summit finishes means we should see some sprint finishes from small select groups. The time gaps will be small.

So yes, I still think Paris-Nice will be a really good race to watch. But so what? The classics riders have the classics, the sprinters get a go all the time. Stage races with real hills and high quality fields are rare and special, and this year there’s one less of them.

I don’t like it, but I will still watch it.

One bit of good news for Prudhomme is that Nibali is riding Paris-Nice instead of defending his Tirreno-Adriatico title. I’m not sure if he thinks he can win the race, or whether he’s trying to win over the French public before the Tour.

There is support to be gained from the fickle ‘anyone-but-Sky’ elements of the cycling public, and it’s probably fair to say this year’s Paris-Nice suits Nibali about as well as it suits Porte.

At least Nibali is better known for attacking downhill than Porte, so perhaps he fancies his chances of pinching a win on the trip south.

Meanwhile, Team Sky has been keen to stress that Froome’s injury is nothing too serious, more of a precaution than anything else, and definitely not a sign that the wheels are about to fall off Sky’s 2014 season.

Sky’s team doctor, Dr Alan Farrell, said that “Chris has suffered a slight inflammation to the sacroiliac joint in the lower back. As a precaution we have chosen to withdraw him from next week’s Tirreno-Adriatico so he can focus on recovering and preparing for the Volta a Catalunya.”

Hopefully the situation improves rapidly. I couldn’t bear to spend the next three months speculating about Chris Froome’s pelvis.

This post was originally published on The Roar.