Tag Archives: procycling

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!

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.

Gerrans’ shattered collarbone gives rivals a chance at Road Nats

Simon Gerrans has crashed in training, broken his collarbone and will miss all the races of the Australian summer. It’s a disaster for Gerrans, who won’t be able to defend his National title or his Tour Down Under title; and it’s a major blow for his team.

Simon Gerrans was unstoppable at the 2014 Road Nats
Simon Gerrans was unstoppable at the 2014 Road Nats

The upshot for the rest of us is that Nationals in particular, and to a lesser extent the TDU, have been blown right open. Suddenly what looked like another OGE Buninyong bully session is looking a lot more even.

In Australia over the past few seasons, Gerrans has been the closest thing to a sure bet in cycling. His development into one of the best classics riders in the world, backed by a team that vastly out-numbers and out-guns its rivals, means that Nationals has looked a lot like an Orica-GreenEdge club championships since the team’s inaugural season in 2012.

This time, the OGE spear will be without its point.

Is this finally Cadel Evans’ chance to win a National road race title, as he pedals off into the sunset? Could Australian sports fans even handle such a soppy finish?

Cadel at Aussie Road Nationals, 2014
Cadel at Aussie Road Nationals, 2014

Can Richie Porte do the business and prove that his injury- and illness-blighted 2014 season is behind him? He’s been telling journalists that his pre-season form is well ahead of the same time last year, and he wasn’t far off a win then.

Richie Porte is another top favourite.
Richie Porte is another top favourite.

Who will lead Orica-GreenEdge in Gerrans’ absence?

As one OGE rider told me (not strictly on the record) during the team’s recent promotional Winery Ride the team has Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Plan D. OGE can make the race, while everyone else in the race has one shot only; they are forced to hope that things fall their way.

Now Plan A is out the window, so who steps up? OGE has a few potential winners, and the numerical advantage remains. But without Gerrans, OGE’s options are several guys who ‘could’ win, rather than guys who ‘will’ win.

Simon Clarke is probably the most obvious alternate leader: his ability to climb is important on the hilly Buninyong course, he can survive long days in the saddle, and he’s proven himself winning stages in Grand Tours.

In 2014 Clarke was sent into the day’s break, which almost stayed away until his teammates decided to pull it back in the closing laps. He was excellent in that role, so perhaps it would be tempting to have him play it again. If Clarke has a weakness, it’s his sprint. There must be some doubt that he can beat Evans mano a mano.

Michael Matthews will be kept up the OGE sleeve in case the break fails again – he’s extremely unlikely to be beaten in a bunch sprint by anyone who can survive the last few climbs up Mt Buninyong, but then again could he follow Evans and Porte up the hill if they really went for broke? He couldn’t in 2014.

Cameron Meyer was agonisingly close to winning in 2014, until Richie Porte dragged Evans and Gerrans across to his wheel in the final lap. Meyer certainly looked sharp in the Australian Madison championships last weekend, so he’s another option, perhaps for another late attack.

Cameron Meyer is desperate for an opportunity - he's been close several times
Cameron Meyer is desperate for an opportunity – he’s been close several times

You might even think about Luke Durbridge, who won in 2013, or Caleb Ewan. But the team suddenly looks heavy on time-triallists, and light on for guys with Aussie passports who regularly win road races.

Despite the numerical advantage (and it is a significant one) the Aussies riding for other teams will suddenly be thinking they’re a realistic shot at wearing the green and gold hoops in 2015.

Think Evans, Porte, Adam Hansen, Nathan Haas, Jack Bobridge.

Drapac Cycling will also be important, buoyed by a fresh three-year sponsorship deal with Jaguar and signings of veteran sprinter Graeme Brown, climber Tim Roe, and Swiss rouleur Martin Kohler – all three of whom bring World Tour experience – and young Aussie talent like Sam Spokes and Brenton Jones. It’s a powerful outfit (even without Kohler at Buninyong).

Whatever happens, suddenly it’s all up the air. Tactics, favourites, leadership, jumbled up like Gerrans’ shattered clavicle.

For the absent Gerrans, he’ll reset his sights and peak for the spring classics, no doubt cursing his treacherous mountain bike and the opportunities missed, but knowing that it’s a long season and bigger prizes await in Milan-San Remo and the Ardennes.

Meanwhile, not at the Vuelta…

I love the Vuelta as much as any self-respecting cycling fan with a penchant for hot weather and steep hills, but as we’ve reached the first rest day in the big Spanish race, it’s a perfect time to go ‘around the grounds’, as football commentators used to say.

There’s been a lot happening in cycling outside the Iberian peninsula, here are my picks.


  1. Tour de l’Avenir

We say this a lot, but Australia continues to develop some really outstanding young riders. This year’s Tour de l’Avenir produced some outstanding results for the Australian team (it’s an U23 race and riders represent national teams), particularly Robert Power who finished second overall.

Some recent riders who have made the podium in the race include Tejay van Garderen (2009), Bauke Mollema and Tony Martin (2007), Jan Bakelants and Rui Costa (2008), Tejay van Garderen (2009), Nairo Quintana (2010), Esteban Chavez (2011), Warren Barguil (2012) and Adam Yates (2013).

Generally, to win or podium at this race is a good sign of impending World Tour contracts and big time success. You’ll also notice a lot of Colombians win it, and this year was no different, with Miguel Angel Lopez taking the title. Watch out for him.

Power, who rides for the Jayco-AIS World Tour Academy team, has perhaps been less widely heralded than some of his contemporaries. That will change, now that he’s become the first Australian to reach the podium. It’s a big deal. Especially when you consider he’s only 19.

His teammates also had a big week: Campbell Flakemore won the opening prologue and wore the leader’s jersey; Caleb Ewan won a stage; and Jack Haig finished 12th overall. The production line of Aussie road talent continues.


  1. Goss to leave Orica-GreenEdge

Matt White has confirmed to Cycling News that Matt Goss is leaving the team at the end of this season. It’s sad to see the departure of the team’s original marquee rider, but the last two seasons have been disappointing for Goss.

He simply hasn’t won enough races, and the team has moved on as Michael Matthews has proven to be a more than able replacement in the sprints.

What’s next for Goss? He turns 28 at the end of this year, so he’s still got plenty to offer if he can recapture his spark. The rumours are that MTN-Qhubeka is interested, and that would be an interesting parallel with another former Columbia/HTC-Highroad alumnus Gerald Ciolek, who has successfully rebooted his career with the African Pro Continental team.

Goss could also be a hugely valuable contributor in the World Tour as a lead-out man. He made his name leading out Mark Cavendish, and a return to that role might be a viable way to keep himself in a big team at the big races.

Whatever happens next for Goss, I don’t think anyone could say they were surprised to see him moving on. For whatever reason, things just haven’t been working for him. This might be the kick in the arse he needs to get his career back on course.


  1. Tiffany Cromwell rides into top ten at GP Plouay; stakes claim for World Championships spot

Tiffany Cromwell should be the first Aussie rider picked for the women’s road race team at the World Championships, if recent form is any guide.

After missing a bronze medal by a tyre’s width at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Cromwell bounced back to claim 5th overall at the Tour of Norway, and then an aggressive 10th at the GP Plouay this week (read her race report for Cycling Tips here).

The good results against the best in the world are becoming more and more consistent, and Cromwell has shown she can perform well on tough courses. First picked, I tell you.


  1. Daryl Impey is back

Orica-GreenEdge’s South African sprinter Daryl Impey has beaten his doping rap, and will return to racing this week at the Tour of Alberta. His defense team successfully demonstrated that his positive test for the banned diuretic Probenecid was due to contaminated gel caps sold by his pharmacist, who’d been dispensing the banned substance to a previous customer.

Plenty of people will be sceptical – we’ve hashed this one out again and again, and people’s views don’t tend to shift much – but I feel for Impey. As he said on his website, he’s been put through hell because his pharmacist got sloppy:

“It has been definitely the hardest two months of my life, it has been a huge financial loss and has been tough on my whole family. But I was determined to show that I am clean and that I would never cheat to try get an advantage over my competitors.  I am so relieved that this has now been proven.”

The stress on athletes that occurs because of the extreme rigour of anti-doping protocols is enormous. It’s not just the early-morning door knocks and post-race urine samples, it’s keeping your whereabouts updated every day, reading the labels of everything you ingest. But the most difficult and frustrating thing is that athletes are quite literally trusting their careers to strangers, and feel like they have no control over their fates.

Plenty of people simply won’t believe Impey, or will argue that he got off on a technicality (as with Michael Rogers). I’m starting to wonder if the combination of strict liability, a huge ever-changing list of banned substances, and incredibly sensitive testing methods is actually damaging the athletes it’s supposed to protect.

If your career can be ended by having the bad luck to have a sloppy pharmacist, then the whole anti-doping system starts to look like a big dumb lottery.

Have we reached a point where we’re jailing people for jaywalking because of a recent spate of murders?

This piece first 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


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.


Onto the cobbles


Cobbles. Pavé. Setts. Words that strike chords of trepidation, nostalgia and excitement in the minds of cyclists and fans alike. Romanticised for over a century by some of cycling’s greatest races, the Tour de France visits the revered granite stones of Arenberg for tonight’s fifth stage of the Tour de France.

The stage begins in Ypres, Belgium, scene of five of the most devastating attritional battles of WWI, to mark the centenary of the start of that war.

The route takes us south into France and through Roubaix, home of the most famous of all of cycling’s single-day classics, Paris-Roubaix.

Known as l’enfer du Nord,  the “Hell of the North”, since race organisers surveilling the route after the Armistice of 1918 discovered the utter destruction inflicted on the region, the race and the town itself hold a special place in cycling folklore.

The route continues south, taking us backwards through nine of the most famous cobbled sections of Paris-Roubaix, finishing in the town of Arenberg Porte du Hainaut.

Fortunately for the riders, the Tour doesn’t race through the Arenberg Trench, widely considered the most sadistic piece of road in road cycling.

Photo credit: Luca Pedroni (https://www.flickr.com/photos/sportpixonline/7062390897/)
Photo credit: Luca Pedroni (https://www.flickr.com/photos/sportpixonline/7062390897/)

It does, however, visit the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector, which is also rated 5 stars for difficulty.

Stage 5, at 155km in total, is a good 102km shorter than Paris-Roubaix. Differing team objectives and tactics will change the way the race is approached.

Riding on cobbles is a highly specialised skill, and there are relatively few riders who are expected to be among the favourites for the win today. The cobbles suit bigger, heavier, more powerful riders who can maintain their momentum without being bounced around as much as the lighter climbers.

The hot favourite for the stage win is Trek’s Fabian Cancellara, who has won each of Paris-Roubaix and cycling’s other cobbled Monument, the Tour of Flanders, three times.

This year’s Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra (OPQS), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin), Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Sebastian Langeveld (Garmin-Sharp), Geraint Thomas (Sky) and John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) will also be among the favourites.

Orica-GreenEdge will have high hopes for Matt Hayman and Jens Keukeleire.

For the GC men, it will be a day of survival, staying upright at all costs. There will be no way of hiding in the peloton: the safest place to be will be out in front. Teams will ride hard to get the best position before each cobbled sector.

That old cliche about the Tour being impossible to win today, but easy to lose, is entirely apt. The likes of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador normally wouldn’t go near a cobbled race, not for a million bucks.

As Richie Porte wrote in his column for Fairfax:

“I’ll be front up, but I have no experience racing on cobbles. We did a reconnaissance ride over them in preparation for the Tour. So how do we get on and face the cobbles in race conditions?

From what I understand, positioning in the bunch on the approach to each sector is the key, as is keeping a calm and cool head under pressure.”

Today, riders like Porte have no choice. They have to face up to one of cycling’s sternest tests.

The weather forecast predicts an 80% chance of rain in the region, which would make conditions exponentially more treacherous for the riders. If the Tour organisers wanted to commemorate an attritional bloodbath in Northern France, a stage across wet cobbles is certainly one way of doing it.

For the spectators, it promises to be an intriguing spectacle.

I’ll be live-blogging the stage over at The Roar – Cycling from 10pm.