Tag Archives: pro cycling

Is there a better approach to anti-doping?

Cycling’s perennial bugbear – doping – has reared its head again recently, with highly visible EPO positives to the Iglinskiy brothers, the rather limp response from their Astana team, and the evident toothlessness of the MPCC group which claims to safeguard clean cycling.

I know, doping never really went away, for all the talk about ‘different’ racing styles, biological passports and a new generation. I do think progress has been made on reducing dopage, but of course the trickle of positives reminds us that there is still plenty of work to be done.

The trouble, of course, is that catching cheats is extremely difficult, even with the biological passport and targeted testing regimes. It’s not always black and white, either. Often, prosecuting a doping case comes down to interpreting the probability of an athlete’s biological profile being influenced by natural versus artificial factors.

Proving guilt can be bloody difficult. The truth is that much of the fight against doping in cycling is based on automated algorithms and statistical modelling techniques that are designed to reveal physiological outliers. The software makes probabilistic bets, and if abnormalities of the right type are found, the data is examined by human experts who then make assessments of the probability that the data shows doping.

Reasonably, because the cost of false positives is so high (in terms of rider reputation and career damage, legal costs and even the kind of mass sponsor and broadcaster exodus we saw in the post-Armstrong period) the probability of a genuine positive needs to be very high before action is taken.

This leaves an uncomfortably large and murky grey area where unscrupulous riders are able to use the modern sophisticated doper’s bag of tricks (microdosing, masking agents, small transfusions, and other techniques) to dope, while flying under the statistical radar, so to speak.

Think of a recent case like Team Sky’s erstwhile rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, recently banned for two years after UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) ruled that his irregular blood values could not be explained by binge drinking and dehydration. The ruling effectively made a decision that on the balance of probabilities, it was almost certain that Tiernan-Locke was not just ‘on the piss’, but taking it as well. He stuffed up badly and his blood values set off all the alarms. Two-year ban.

Contrast his case with Roman Kreuziger’s ongoing argument with the UCI and WADA over whether his biological passport was criminally abnormal in 2011 and 2012, or just a bit idiosyncratic. It took more than two years (and probably a new algorithm) to reveal the alleged problems with his biological passport. The red flags weren’t raised.

It’s ten years since my last read of an exercise physiology textbook so I’ll reserve my judgment, but Kreuziger (and his experts) have argued that the probability of doping is not conclusive enough to ban him. The Czech federation agreed on September 22, so for now he is free to race. I don’t know for certain if Kreuziger was doping or not, but I do know that his argument rests on exploiting doubt about the probability of a genuine positive. He is well and truly in the grey area.

So, why am I writing about statistics?

Well, there’s an interesting new approach to anti-doping, and it’s being led in Australia. It’s intended to complement existing anti-doping by rewarding athletes who are statistically very likely to be clean, by certifying them as being so.

If WADA and bans are the anti-doping stick, then the Clean Protocol is the carrot.

It shifts the emphasis away from proving doping, where certainty has to be near-absolute, to endorsing a rider for being clean. Because riders who don’t meet the protocol face no punishment, the threshold for repercussions can shift – the protocol doesn’t say that any rider is doping, it just says “we guarantee this rider is clean”.

The bar for proving someone is clean can be placed in a very different area, statistically, than the bar for proving someone is dirty. It can be much tougher.

For the majority of clean riders, the current status quo is frustrating because there is no way of separating them from riders who are in the grey area of ‘doping but getting away with it’.

By signing up for the Clean Protocol (or similar, as long as the methodology is trustworthy) riders would have a way of proving (to a very high degree of certainty) to fans and sponsors that they are not doping.

It creates an incentive to be fastidiously clean, because the commercial implications for sponsors, and teams hiring only certified riders, would potentially be huge.

So, who’s behind this idea? Three people: Australian Teague Czislowki, Briton Andrew Johns (a lawyer and an ex-elite triathlete respectively) and American Dr Mike Puchowicz, a sports medicine doctor from Arizona, perhaps better known to cycling fans as the writer of the Veloclinic blog, where he analyses power data from climbs.

Puchowicz has a great explanation of the reasoning behind the Clean Protocol on his blog.

The basic protocol is that athletes must disclose who they work with; undergo psychometric testing; provide all the biological data gained in the course of normal WADA and other testing; provide information on injuries, supplements and therapeutic use exemptions; undergo a series of psychological deception tests of varying complexity; and encourage the people they work with to sign up for the protocol and undergo the same testing.

It’s undeniably stringent. But it needs to be, if the aim is to certify to such a high degree of confidence that a person is clean.

I think the idea has a lot of merit, provided the modelling techniques used are peer-reviewed and transparent. The scientific rigour must be unimpeachable.

Athletes might argue that the demands of anti-doping are already unreasonably tough – principally the whereabouts requirements and early-morning knocks on the door from testers – but as we’ve seen, the punitive approach has been hitting the limits of its ability to weed out dopers for many years. The Clean Protocol doesn’t replace any of the current testing, it’s additional and complements it.

Groups like the MPCC have failed to increase trust because their commitments have been shown up as hollow, there’s no rigour underpinning their statements about clean sport. A voluntary certification supported by robust science would be a very different proposition.

The Clean Protocol is an idea to keep an eye on.

 

Gritty racing pleases at the Vuelta

It seems like it happens every year. The Vuelta a Espana shows up as the whole cycling world is staggering out of its post-Tour de France comedown, slightly tattered and battered and swearing that next time it won’t get so carried away.

Suddenly the Vuelta arrives like a tour bus full of university students on their summer break, promising cheap thrills and another chance to get lucky. Wearily, we all agree to climb aboard, and before we know it we’re swept away by the heat, the drama and the sheer bloody charisma of the whole thing.

It’s happening again, the last few days of this Spanish adventure have risen several notches in intensity, as the tried and tested Vuelta method for excitement has properly kicked in.

Image: Andy Schumacher (https://www.flickr.com/photos/andyschumacher/14879733437/)
Image: Andy Schumacher (https://www.flickr.com/photos/andyschumacher/14879733437/)

That method is: (relatively) short stages with several short climbs, on very steep gradients, with summit finishes. Add time bonuses. Sit back and watch the GC contenders try to knock each other out at speeds just above walking pace. Repeat.

It’s working a treat. Even Nairo Quintana’s absence (spectacular crash in the time trial, wasn’t it?) hasn’t damaged the race too badly. The Tour de France crashes that removed Alberto Contador and Chris Froome from July’s reckoning have brought the pair back to the field, and less than 90 seconds separates the top 4.

Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez, still two of the punchiest riders in the pro peloton, have gone at it with gusto, and Astana’s Fabio Aru, revelation of the Giro d’Italia, is showing that his effort in Italy was no fluke.

Stages 14 and 15 were magnificent: Froome pinching seconds from Contador and Rodriguez on stage 14, while Valverde suffered and dropped 30 seconds. The favour was returned on stage 15, as Valverde pounced to grab second on the stage, a fistful of seconds, and some bonus time.

Whenever you put Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez in a Vuelta together, you can expect a ripper of a contest, and this year is living up.

Valverde has bounced back from a disappointing Tour, and Rodriguez’ recovery from an injury-marred start to this season is finally picking up pace.

Beyond the top four, the supporting cast has animated the race wonderfully: Aru, Dan Martin, Rigoberto Uran, Warren Barguil are all there and firing.

The nature of the climbs in the Vuelta means they are raced differently than in the Tour. The climbs are shorter, the gradients are much steeper, and the much-derided tactic of sending a train of domestiques to the front to ride at threshold power until everyone pops is nowhere near as powerful.

Put simply, these are climbs that suit proper climbers, not diesel engines with a month of altitude training under their belts.

The upshot is that most days finish with a select group of elite climbers who proceed to attack each other one after the other until the finish. It’s great racing. You can almost see the lactic acid burning holes in everyone’s quads, it’s that intense.

Stage 15 was one of the best days of racing you will see this season. Australian Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge) was in a two-man break with eventual stage winner Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre), with several minutes’ lead being chewed up at a rapid rate by the chasing group of GC favourites.

With a couple of kilometres to the summit, and a last-minute catch looking likely, Niemiec (a wily veteran at 34) attacked, dropped Meyer and floored it.

Behind him Contador, Valverde, Barguil and Rodriguez traded attacks, shelling Froome out the back.

Niemiec’ eventual victory – by just 5 seconds – was a real thriller, as was the painful battle behind him.

It was an encouraging ride from Meyer, who will be hoping it earns him a place in the Australian team for the World Championships. I would take him – he’s a valuable support rider for the more fancied leaders. He got just as close to succeeding as his compatriot Adam Hansen did the previous day.

Froome has been forced to show huge amounts of grit in this Vuelta. He is clearly lacking some top-end fitness, shown by his inability to match the acceleration of his Spanish rivals, but seems to be improving as the Vuelta progresses.

Where the Spaniards stand out of the saddle and attack in bursts, Froome prefers to sit and spin a high cadence and constant power output, staring intently at his stem (OK, at his power meter), gradually dragging himself back to the leaders.

So far it has worked at keeping him in the race, but when he’s at his peak Froome uses the technique to go off the front, not to cling on at the back.

On stage 14 it worked beautifully, and he was able to sprint past to claim a moral victory on the line. On stage 15, he was unable to reel the three amigos back in time.

For his part, Contador has looked just as almost-there. He leads the race after stage 16, which he won handsomely, but has by no means dominated. His attacks are short, and he looks like a man who is giving everything. It’s been a flinty performance, more than anything else.

Stage 16, a monster stage with four Cat.1 climbs and Cat.2, has probably decided the outcome of the race. Contador’s victory shows he is the strongest man in the race, even if he is slightly off his best.

With only one mountainous day remaining, stage 20, it’s hard to see Contador dropping the 1:36 he holds over Valverde.

Still, only 3 seconds separates Valverde from Froome – close enough for the Sky leader to feel confident in the final ‘epilogue’ time trial on Sunday.

Valverde needs to find more time, whether he does it in the mountains on Saturday, or by trying to crack Froome in the winds beforehand.

Whatever the result, we’ve already been treated to another good Vuelta. It’s not as slick as its French cousin, but the racing is gritty and tough, in close and tight. Keep watching.

 A version of this article appeared on The Roar.

 

Is Cadel back in the hunt for the Vuelta?

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but Cadel Evans has ridden himself back into excellent form just in time for the Vuelta a Espana.

That’s the only conclusion you can draw when the Australian bagged two consecutive stage wins in the Tour of Utah.

Yes, the Tour of Utah (UCI 2.1) is hardly a Grand Tour quality field, but it is raced at high altitude over some genuinely tough climbs. Utah’s mountains are no joke.

Evans won the queen stage (stage 6) which peaked at Guardsman Pass, 2960m above sea level, and had a summit finish to Snowbird (2,440m). For reference, the Col du Galibier, one of the highest passes raced in the Tour de France, tops out at 2,645m.

He backed up with victory in stage 7, in an absolutely masterful display of bike racing. Seriously, it was one of those rides where it looked like he was racing against suburban crit riders instead of experienced World Tour pros. It was a killing.

On the final climb, Evans had a group of four riders ahead of him, including GC leader and eventual winner Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp), 2013 Vuelta winner Chris Horner (Lampre) and his teammate Winner Anacona (a Colombian) and Belkin’s highly-rated Wilco Kelderman (7th at the Giro, 4th at the Dauphine this year).

Evans attacked with US continental pro Carter Jones (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) in his wheel, trying to bridge across. The pair hit the summit 15 seconds behind the leaders, and closing fast.

At this stage the US-based commentators were already convinced the stage belonged to Evans. It was ominous. The best was yet to come.

Evans launched himself down the mountain like, well, the TV commentator described it thus:

“Where is the red comet from BMC? He’s falling from the sky and he’s burning up the atmosphere…”

It was thrilling, and effortless. He reached the tail of the lead group with miles to spare, had time to finish his water bottle, shake out his legs, tighten his shoes, and hang around a few metres behind the group, stalking Anacona like cat toying with a mouse.

Then it was time to win.

Evans accelerated into the final bend as his rivals braked, punched it hard out of the apex, and it was all over, red rover. Clinical.

So, what does this mean for a Vuelta with perhaps its best quality field in recent memory?

Well, it means that Evans has bounced back from the Giro with his fitness and his confidence high. You don’t win at high altitude unless you’re in pretty amazing shape, and two stage wins is a big boost to your confidence.

Now, I’m not going to sit here blowing smoke rings and tell you Cadel Evans is going to win the Vuelta.

Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Uran would all have to fall off their bikes (again) for him to win.

What I am saying is that Evans might be an outside chance at a podium result in Spain.

Look at the next rung of GC riders, and it’s hard to say that many have had as good a preparation as Evans.

I’m talking about the likes of Wilco Kelderman, Richie Porte, Fabio Aru, Laurens Ten Dam, Carlos Betancur, Ryder Hesjedal, Dan Martin, Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez, Warren Barguil and Thibaut Pinot.

Half of those riders have the Tour in their legs, and are likely to be tested to exhaustion by three weeks in the Spanish heat. The other half are in the same boat as Evans, returning to Grand Tour racing after riding the Giro.

None of the latter group has yet shown the form that Evans showed in Utah.

Another factor in Evans’ favour is that this Vuelta is not as offensive as previous editions. Although has has a number of summit finishes, it doesn’t hit its really big peaks until stage 15, when it climbs to the Lagos de Covadonga. Stage 20 to Puerto de Ancares has the only other above-category summit finish of the whole race.

Both of these are tasty climbs and they’ll be raced muy picante, but they don’t have the ridiculously steep ramps of the Angliru.

Damage will have to be done with aggressive racing on the various Category 1 summit finishes in stages 6, 9, 11, 14 and 16.

The last week will be the hardest, with summit finishes on stages 14, 15, 16 and 20. It’s by no means easy, but the difficulty seems to be dialled back slightly from previous years.

The 2014 Vuelta also has two individual time trials (one 35km long and mostly downhill; one short and flat) and a team time trial. These should suit Evans.

I don’t expect huge time gaps. It’ll be a scrap for seconds here and there. That suits the veteran Australian.

I’m as surprised as anyone to be sitting here writing this, but I’m really starting to think that Cadel is a chance for another good Grand Tour result. What do you think?

 

This article first appeared on The Roar.

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.

 

Talansky, Contador and the Crack of Froome

What an explosion of colour and movement the Dauphine turned out to be! Andrew Talansky’s smash and grab mission to steal the overall victory sent expectations flying like a watermelon truck in a car chase scene.

Embed from Getty Images
High drama indeed, and one of the best stages of any race in recent memory. But does it signify much for the Tour de France?

I don’t think there are any Earth-shattering revelations to be found: the list of main Tour favourites stays the same (with some shuffling).

However, there are serious tactical implications that emerge from this race. Some chinks emerged in the armour of Team Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo, and that’s great news for a Tour that should be less predictable than the two previous editions.

Talansky has long been tipped by the US cycling press as a future star, and at 25 he has already had some good results in Europe: overall podiums at the Tours of Romandie and Paris-Nice, and top ten’s on GC at the Vuelta a Espana and Tour de France.

But it’s too easy to remember the tactical blunder in stage 5 of the 2013 Paris-Nice, when Talansky, riding in yellow, defended his jersey aggressively, only to crack and hand Richie Porte the stage and overall victory.

Still a promising result, it nevertheless fueled the perception that the Miami native has a vice: over-confidence.

Talansky’s natural aggression paid off at the Dauphine though, producing a final-stage ride that could scarcely have been more audacious if he’d performed it in the nude while whistling the theme to the Great Escape.

Not only did he pinch the overall victory from the two men widely assumed to have the race stitched up, he also knocked off most of the next tier of contenders.

But how the hell was a breakaway that included Talansky, Tejay van Garderen, Jurgen van den Broeck, Vincenzo Nibali, Ryder Hesjedal, J-C Peraud, Thomas Voeckler, Romain Bardet, Adam Yates, Mikel Nieve, Richie Porte and Wilco Kelderman ever allowed to go away in the first place?

That’s not a breakaway, it’s a list of guys most likely to finish top ten in any contemporary Grand Tour. You don’t simply sit back and let them blow up the race, because with that much firepower it was always going to be nearly impossible to bring them back on the day’s final climbs.

Race leader Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo Bank team had the responsibility to control the race, and they failed dismally.

This left Contador completely isolated and forced to chase down the most powerful breakaway since the Kit Kat was invented.

Perhaps this was a cunning plan to force Contador into the most extreme pre-Tour training possible – a 15km solo effort up two Cat 1 climbs trying desperately to defend a slipping yellow jersey.

If that was the plan, it could be euphemistically described as ‘brave’.

More likely, the team just had a shocker, dropped its bundle and left its leader cursing a missed opportunity to pump up his palmares and his confidence before the Big One in a few weeks’ time.

That said, even while the Dauphine slipped away Contador’s ride was super impressive. If he had started the climb to Courchevel level with his rivals, he would’ve won handsomely. His form is ominous. He will have better team support at the Tour.

Embed from Getty Images

Meanwhile at Team Sky, what were we witnessing with The Crack of Froome?

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that Froome rides like a man fighting an octopus. This week, the octopus won.

After a perfect start to the Dauphine, the rest of the week has been a shocker for poor old Froome-dog. An inflated controversy about an asthma inhaler; a crash; cracking on stage 7; cracking even harder on stage 8; and allegations of irregularities with his therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for the corticosteroid prednisolone (bizarrely reported as ‘penisolone’ through some outlets – stop sniggering, up the back) which the UCI is desperately trying to quash.

I don’t think any of that matters. Froome only cracked because he crashed. That’s not a lack of form, it’s just dumb luck.

The rest is a sideshow if he’s got medical clearance from the UCI.

There’s been some comments that Team Sky wasn’t up to the job when it mattered in the Dauphine. I disagree.

In stage 8 the team was still supporting Froome in numbers: eventual stage-winner Mikel Nieve and Richie Porte were both in the important break (Porte ultimately dropped back to support Froome), and David Lopez, Vasil Kiryienka and Geraint Thomas were with him until it was clear that all was lost.

The team was unable to respond to Contador’s counter-attack because Froome himself was suffering and a harder tempo would have cracked him even faster.

It’s true that Team Sky is not invincible: they are vulnerable to coordinated attacks from multiple teams.

It’s especially true when everyone else wants to take Sky down, and that’s the price of two years of domination.

The Dauphine showed that Tinkoff-Saxo, Movistar, Garmin-Sharp, AG2R and Astana are all more than happy to put aside their differences and bury the hatchet, if it means putting it in Team Sky’s back.

So what does this all mean for the boys in black and blue?

I think Team Sky needs to adapt. They don’t have the strength to boss the race on their own terms anymore. A more canny approach is needed. Let other teams control the race. Save energy until it matters. Don’t give them an excuse to gang up on you.

I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom. Froome looked in great nick until his crash, and has plenty of time to recover before the Tour. Porte improved through the week, Kiryienka was typically indefatigable, David Lopez and Geraint Thomas also proved themselves more than useful controlling the race for long periods.

Mikel Nieve provides a huge boost to Sky in the mountains. The former Euskaltel climber has finished in the top ten overall in the Vuelta and the Giro, and has won stages of each. He will take an enormous amount of pressure off Porte.

The ‘Schrödinger’s Wiggins’ theorising will continue, but Dave Brailsford must now be giving some serious thought to bringing his former star back into the fold.

Hell, if there’s trouble on the team bus, I’m sure someone can drive Sir Wiggo around in one of their sponsor’s cars.

UCI to introduce electric motors in 2015

I’ve just received this press release from the UCI. It’s certainly a major innovation, and I can’t wait to see how it changes the tactics used in races!

The UCI hasn’t said so, but I suspect this is partly a response to bike industry pressure: e-bikes are a fast-growing segment of the market, but they’re definitely not sexy, and manufacturers need professionals adopting them to add some bling and take sales to the next level with the cafe racer segment.

Personally, I can’t wait to hit my favourite Strava segments with a UCI-legal 200 Watt motor on board.

UCI Technical Committee meeting: introduction of electric bicycles in 2015
1.04.2014
The UCI Technical Committee (PCC) met in Aigle (Switzerland) on March 31st to confirm the introduction of electric motors to UCI road racing events for the 2015 season. The new regulations require teams to install small electric motors within the frames of racing bicycles, to provide power assistance up to 200 Watts during road races, or 250 Watts in time trials, to be used at the rider’s discretion.The Technical Committee decided that the new regulations, which all UCI World Tour and Pro Continental teams will eventually have to adhere to, shall go through a test phase in 2014 before being adopted permanently. This is an important step in the reform of professional road cycling, and follows the example of Formula 1 motor racing in its commitment to ongoing technical innovation in the sport.

The teams’ terms of reference contain a certain number of rules that aim to change the culture of professional cycling in order to guarantee spectator interest.

The committee indicated that the introduction of electric motors is a response to fan objections that recent racing has “lacked panache” and that the new, cleaner cycling movement has damaged the spectacle of cycling for TV audiences. In particular, it is a question of maintaining the ability of riders to perform at extraordinary levels without pharmacological assistance.

Taking its lead from Formula 1, the new motors will incorporate energy recovery technology (KERS) and riders will be able to deploy a power boost in a short burst or in a sustained release, as required.

During the 2014 season, the teams and manufacturers will be provided with a UCI standardised motor and battery specification to be implemented by the beginning of 2015.

A UCI spokesperson said,

“The UCI views the introduction of electric motors to cycling as the natural evolution of racing, and is excited to bring a new element to the World Tour in 2015. Fans will love seeing riders climbing Hors catégorie mountains at the equivalent of 10W/kg, and can you imagine how good these things will be on the cobbles at Paris-Roubaix?

Everyone loves it when Formula 1 messes around with its engines, and we really love the sound of their new cars, so why not add some of that excitement to bike racing? We’ve been holding back innovation for so long it’s definitely time to do something drastic.”

“Besides, Fabian Cancellara has been using a motor for years, and it’s only made him look like a complete badass.”