Drapac at the Volta

drapac-peloton-volta portugal

It was late afternoon in the northeast Portuguese town of Macedo de Cavaleiros. Thick crowds, enjoying the summer holidays, lined the roads awaiting the arrival of A Grande, the Big One, the Volta a Portugal. No doubt they were all were clamouring for a home win.

Would it be a rider from one of the teams sponsored by the big soccer clubs in the blue stripes of W52-Porto, or the green stripes of Sporting Clube-Tavira? Maybe a victor from Efapel, in their yellow fluo kit?

The expectant crowds would be disappointed though, as two men – an Australian and Italian – in red rode into town first – Drapac’s Will Clarke and Androni Giocattoli’s Marco Frapporti. The peloton, some five minutes further back, was out of the picture. The duo’s fellow breakmates were long gone too, having been left behind some 70km into the 159km stage.

Frapporti was the only obstacle that stood between the Clarke and a stage victory – on only the third Volta stage his Drapac team had ever raced. The Italian had been keeping Clarke company ever since the duo launched their attack at an intermediate sprint two hours earlier.

“Up to that point it was full gas, and I think some in the bunch were happy for the respite,” says Clarke. “The bunch was in pieces. I knew Marco from some races before, and I know he races hard so he was a perfect breakaway companion.”

Their gap to the remains of the break, which in W52’s Rui Vinhas included the man who would be riding to a surprise overall victory, quickly ballooned out to two minutes. It didn’t start falling until the cat-and-mouse games began.

“In the last 10km I think we knew we’d stay clear, and I was expecting Marco to attack me on the final climb before the finish,” Clarke recalls. “That didn’t happen though, and Tom [Southam, Drapac DS] had me keep an eye on him. I started feeling really good on that climb and then when we got over I was confident for the sprint.”

Clarke’s gameplan was put into action in the final 2km as he took up prime position on the Italian’s wheel. They waited, waited, waited… Until the 500m sign. The race through the final bends was reminiscent of a track sprint, and then with 250m to go Clarke dived up the inside of the final corner. It was over.

It was the Clarke’s fifth win of the season, though his explosive effort wasn’t a surprise given prologue victories at the Herald Sun Tour and on the arduous Kitzbüheler Horn prologue at July’s Tour of Austria. The result also meant that the Volta was already a success for the men in red.

“Coming in, we aimed for at least one stage win,” said teammate Lachlan Norris. “Wilbur’s strength early on really made us lift the bar, and we contested every day.”

Southam agreed. “None of these guys knew what to expect here, but they’ve come through with a well-executed win and a handful of really strong rides on other stages [Drapac racked up four other top ten finishes at the race].”

But why the Volta? The eleven-day race is held at the height of the Portuguese summer – when temperatures regularly touch 40 °c (100F) – and is raced at a furious pace by the domestic teams for whom it is the focus of their entire season.

Two-time Giro d’Italia winner Gilberto Simoni said “never again” after racing to an anonymous 108th place in 2005, while just this year Androni Giocattoli’s Franco Pellizotti admitted he was wrong to laugh at the level of competition.

Back in the mid-2000s, the likes of Lampre, Saunier Duval, Fassa Bortolo and Southam’s old team Barloworld raced there, but nowadays only a handful of ProContinental teams turn up at the start. It’s perhaps understandable given the length, heat and position on the calendar, so what did Drapac see in the Volta?

“Racing here was a very considered, deliberate choice,” says Southam. “I wanted the team to come here as I believe it’s one of the hardest races we could go to this year.”

“One of my – and the team’s – objectives was to push the guys to develop through quality, hard racing, and the Volta is perfect for that.”

Southam has experience racing in Portugal, describing the experience as “telling myself I would ride one more kilometre before I’d get off, and then repeating that 160 times a day.”

adam phelan break stg7 volta portugal
Adam Phelan in the break on stage 7

And after hearing what his riders have to say it doesn’t seem like racing there has gotten any easier.

“There’s only one way to describe it and that’s hard. From start to finish,” says Clarke. “They really push it more on the downhills than I have experienced in any other race and quite a few selections were made even before the key climbs.”

“The courses are mega,” says Norris. “But it’s also how they race – they race up, they race down and they don’t stop! It was hot as well, which was another challenge.”

“Yeah it was very hot every day and it took a few days to get used to it,” Clarke agrees. “In the first days, it was hard to breathe deeply because it irritated my lungs and made me cough.”

“Overall I really enjoyed it though,” he continues. “It was well organised and had a nice atmosphere, with huge crowds [the race is held during Portugal’s summer holidays] which was really cool. The race was really big over there.”

Even climber Brendan Canty found the race tough going. The 24-year-old Victorian, who has been linked with a move to Cannondale-Drapac as part of their upcoming merger, harboured GC ambitions before the race. His form was good, having won a summit finish the Tour of Austria, while earlier in the season he took the white young rider’s jersey at the Tour of Oman.

Through the prologue and first three stages he was going well, lying in 31st overall – just 15 seconds behind reigning champion Gustavo César Veloso, one of the many Spanish exiles to have raced across the border in recent years. But come the race’s first summit finish on stage four – the famous ascent of Senhora de Graça – hopes of a high overall placing unravelled.

“Initially we had a couple of riders with GC ambitions, but as the race progressed our focus turned towards stage results,” says Canty. “Unfortunately I didn’t make the bottom of Senhora de Graça with the front of the race after the peloton had split up during the stage.”

“Personally, I was a bit disappointed with my own performance, particularly after a strong result at the Tour of Austria,” he continued. “The crowds were really impressive though. It was one of the best atmospheres I’ve experienced in a race.”

will clarke stg3 volta portugal

Despite the GC disappointment, it was a successful race for the team, their first Volta but sadly also their last. Just before the Tour de France, lead sponsor Drapac confirmed a five-year deal with the WorldTour Cannondale team.

The upshot of the deal is that the ProContinental team will be dissolved, with the staff and riders either going to the WorldTour, the Continental development squad Drapac-Pat’s Veg, or elsewhere.

With many team members facing uncertainty over their future, the deal must have affected how they raced in Portugal?

“There’s extra pressure to perform, and no doubt the current scenario could cause some problems amongst a team,” says Canty. “However, it also takes an entire team working together for someone to achieve results. Given next year’s situation, it’s really impressive to see the team come together and ride the way we did.”

“This time of year there’s always a lot going on!” says Norris. “At this stage, I haven’t signed with a team but I’m hoping what I’ve done over the past two seasons will show my worth to a team for 2017.”

So despite the unease about the future for some of the Drapac boys, there was no hint of a falling-out or intra-squad rivalry. Well, at least not on the road anyway…

“We did have an internal moustache competition during the race,” says Canty. “As judged by the podium girls… I ran a surprising third place!”

Tour de Yorkshire: Scarborough

scarborough postcard

As was the case with last year’s race, the 2016 stage to the coastal town of Doncaster saw the GC race decided. After finishing second here at the first edition of the race (and third overall), Thomas Voeckler (Direct Énergie) triumphed on Sunday.

“Because I lost last year I knew the final kilometres would be hard, and I knew how to manage the sprint,” said Voeckler. “It was not only my legs that won today, it was with my head. It was difficult for me to follow the attacks sometimes but I stayed patient and managed to always make my way back.”

“To win the stage and overall makes me really happy. I have experienced many things, but still to have such emotions after 16 years feels good.”

Like last year, it was another action-packed stage, the hilliest of the race. Persistent rain and more strong winds served to make the stage harder, but didn’t repel the breakaway, which went early and included names such as Marco Haller (Katusha), Nick van der Lijke (Roompot Oranje Peloton), Loïc Chetout (Cofidis) and Nathan Haas (Dimension Data).

Haas was the main man of the break, taking maximum mountain points over the first two climbs of the day, with those seven points enough to give him the jersey. The break didn’t last very long out front though, being caught by the peloton on the approach to the tough Côte de Grosmont, some 65km from the finish.

Team Sky were in control of the peloton, working hard to ensure a repeat of last year’s overall victory as Pete Kennaugh, Luke Rowe and young Italian Gianni Moscon made big efforts to fracture the main group. The team’s efforts paid off in the crosswinds of the Yorkshire Moors, with only around twenty men remaining after the Côte de Robin Hood’s Bay.

Voeckler Yorkshire stage 3 2016 TDY

Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) was the main threat, a fast sprinter who lay third overall. An Sky attack-counter attack on the Côte de Harwood Dale saw him dispatched though, and left a lead trio made up of Nicolas Roche (Team Sky), Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) while Voeckler and Anthony Turgis (Cofidis) chased.

The French duo bridged the gap not long after, setting the stage for a mighty battle over the final climb of the race, the Côte de Oliver’s Mount, which lay just 6km from the finish. Roche was the strongest, and the Irishman got a gap on the descent but soon enough Voeckler had joined him.

Riding around the coastal loop into Scarborough, the two were working together well, and it was clear that one of them would end up the race winner. Ten seconds behind Turgis was doing his best to get across – the second-year pro would take the overall victory with a second-place finish.

However it wasn’t to be for Turgis – the gap was insurmountable. Voeckler was well-placed on Roche’s wheel going into the final kilometre and he wouldn’t be beaten to the line by a Sky rider for the second year in a row. Three hundred metres from the finish he went for it, taking advantage of a lapse in concentration by Roche, and winning the second edition of the Tour de Yorkshire.

Peloton Yorkshire stage 3 2016 TDY

Stage Result
1. Thomas Voeckler (Direct Énergie) 4h51:57
2. Nicolas Roche (Team Sky)
3. Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) +00:09
4. Anthony Turgis (Cofidis)
5. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)
6. Lars-Petter Nordhaug (Team Sky) +00:41
7. Gianni Moscon (Team Sky)
8. Chris Juul-Jensen (Orica-GreenEdge) +01:09
9. Ben Hermans (BMC)
10. Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin)

General Classification
1. Thomas Voeckler (Direct Énergie) 13h05:16
2. Nicolas Roche (Team Sky) +00:06
3. Anthony Turgis (Cofidis) +00:16
4. Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) +00:17
5. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) +00:21
6. Lars-Petter Nordhaug (Team Sky) +00:52
7. Gianni Moscon (Team Sky) +00:53
8. Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) +01:13
9. Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data) +01:20
10. Dion Smith (One Pro Cycling) +01:21

Climber’s Classification
1. Nathan Haas (Dimension Data) 7pts
2. Richard Handley (One Pro Cycling) 7pts
3. Nicolas Roche (Team Sky) 7pts

Points Classification
1. Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) 27pts
2. Danny Van Poppel (Team Sky) 21pts
3. Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) 19pts

Tour de Yorkshire: Doncaster

doncaster postcard

It was a case of another day, another Dutch victory at the Tour de Yorkshire on Saturday. Well two more, considering that Kirsten Wild’s (Hitec Products) win at the women’s race was followed later in the day by Danny Van Poppel’s (Team Sky) in the men’s race.

Aside from that similarity, there was much else in common between the two races. One major story of the day was the lack of television pictures as the television transmitter plane was struck by technical difficulties. This meant that the women’s race, due to be televised in its entirety, was not shown at all, while the men’s race also saw large chunks go unseen.

That the two races ended with bunch sprints was more expected. Wild eased to victory by a bikelength from Lucy Garner (Wiggle-High5) to take £15,000 in prize money – the largest on offer in women’s cycling until August’s RideLondon Classique.

Kirsten Wild Yorkshire 2016 COR VOS

Earlier in the day home favourite Lizzie Armitstead (Great Britain) had been on the attack, along with Leah Kirchmann (Liv-Plantur) and Doris Schweizer (Cylance). Schweizer, the original lone breakaway rider, was joined by Armitstead and Kirchmann on the steep climb to Conisborough Castle some 40km out.

The trio had an advantage of over a minute with 15km left to race, but the Yorkshire crowds were ultimately left disappointed as the peloton made the catch just two kilometres from the finish. Come the finish, Wild just had to hop out of Marta Bastianelli’s (Alé-Cipollini) wheel to launch her sprint with 200 metres to go, taking a well-deserved victory.

Race result
1. Kirsten Wild (Hitec Products) 3h22:26
2. Lucy Garner (Wiggle-High5)
3. Floortje Mackaij (Liv-Plantur)
4. Alice Barnes (Great Britain)
5. Marta Bastianelli (Alé-Cipollini)
6. Anna Trevisi (Alé-Cipollini)
7. Jennifer George (Drops Cycling)
8. Nicola Juniper (Great Britain)
9. Nicole Moerig (Podium Ambition)
10. Evie Richards (Great Britain)


Over in the men’s race it was a rather similar affair – break, catch, sprint. Orica-GreenEdge had done much of the work during the run-in to the finish, work that was in vain, much like Team Sky on Friday. Their great sprint hope Caleb Ewan was nowhere in the final sprint though, finishing 30th while race leader Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Van Poppel did battle at the head of the peloton.

Van Poppel came out on top, edging out his countryman in a photo finish. It was Van Poppel’s first victory for the team since moving from Trek Factory Racing during the winter, and it means he also takes over the leader’s jersey.

Van Poppel Yorkshire stage 2 2016 COR VOS

The early action of the day, not that we saw much of it, was provided by Gruff Lewis (Madison Genesis), Richard Handley (One Pro Cycling), Edmund Bradbury and Josh Edmondson (NFTO), Michael Mørkøv (Katusha) and Stijn Steels (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise). This group made up the break of the day, and were later joined by Nicolas Edet (Cofidis).

Handley led over each of the day’s three climbs, taking the lead in the climber’s classification by one point from his teammate Pete Williams. Ten kilometres from the finish the break’s challenge failed, setting up the Dutch showdown on the finishing straight.

Stage Result
1. Danny Van Poppel (Team Sky) 3h04:20
2. Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo)
3. Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin)
4. Chris Opie (One Pro Cycling)
5. Loïc Chetout (Cofidis)
6. Albert Torres (Raleigh GAC)
7. Rick Zabel (BMC)
8. Christopher Lawless (JLT Condor)
9. Russ Downing (JLT Condor)
10. Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica-GreenEdge)

General Classification
1. Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) 8h13:15
2. Danny Van Poppel (Team Sky) +00:06
3. Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) +00:08
4. Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) +00:10
5. Stijn Steels (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) +00:10

Climber’s Classification
1. Richard Handley (One Pro Cycling) 6pts
2. Pete Williams (One Pro Cycling) 5pts
3. Jens Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) 3pts

Points Classification
1. Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) 27pts
2. Danny Van Poppel (Team Sky) 21pts
3. Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) 18pts

Tour de Yorkshire: Settle

settle postcard

A year ago, Dutch team LottoNL-Jumbo were celebrating their first win of the season at the Tour de Yorkshire, courtesy of sprinter Moreno Hofland. This time around they already have a win in the bag, just the one though.

On Friday their 2016 tally was doubled as Dylan Groenewegen sprinted to victory in Settle. It was the 22-year-old’s second win of the season too, his first at the squad since transferring from Roompot-Oranje Peloton during the winter.

After his yellow-clad teammates had chased down a late move from the master of the discipline Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data), Groenewegen manoeuvred perfectly in the final metres to go round Giant-Alpecin’s Nikias Arndt to take a comfortable victory. Stage favourite, Orica-GreenEdge’s Caleb Ewan, was boxed in by Arndt, leaving him no room to fully contest the finish.

Groenewegen Yorkshire stage 1 2016 COR VOS

“When I started to sprint I knew that I was going to win,” said Groenewegen after the finish. “My teammates fulfilled their tasks perfectly and I didn’t have to fight for my position for one single moment.”

Groenewegen was firm about his chances at overall victory, saying that there is no chance the bonus seconds earned today would see him go for the win. “I’ll go for it tomorrow and then it’s for [team leaders] Steven Kruijswijk and Primož Roglič.”

Far from the mild and sunny weather that graced the first edition of the race last year, Friday’s weather was grim – with a strong headwind and driving rain battering the peloton for much of the stage.

The early breakaway was made up of six riders, with UK-based pros Pete Williams (One Pro Cycling), Sebastian Mora (Raleigh GAC), Graham Briggs (JLT Condor) and Matt Cronshaw (Madison Genesis) joined by one of the revelations of the spring classics, Nils Politt (Katusha) and Jens Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise).

Peloton Yorkshire stage 1 2016 TDY

Sky kept the group on a tight leash, doing much of the day’s work, though it would eventually amount to very little with Danny Van Poppel’s sixth place all they had to show for their efforts. Meanwhile, up front Williams was battling his way into the climber’s jersey, taking maximum points on the day’s only climb, the Côte de Greenhow Hill.

The break was finally brought back with 30km left to race, while Thomas Voeckler (Direct Énergie) and Anthony Turgis (Cofidis) seemed to signal their GC intentions as they fought over the bonus seconds available at the final intermediate sprint in the final action of the day before the sprint finish.

Stage result
1. Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) 5h09:11
2. Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge)
3. Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin)
4. Thomas Boudat (Direct Énergie)
5. Danny van Poppel (Team Sky)
6. Floris Gerts (BMC)
7. Christopher Lawless(JLT Condor)
8. Dion Smith (One Pro Cycling)
9. Karol Domagalski (One Pro Cycling)
10. Bert Van Lerberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise)

General Classification
1. Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) 5h09:01
2. Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) +00:04
3. Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) +00:06
4. Anthony Turgis (Cofidis) +00:07
5. Thomas Voeckler (Direct Énergie) +00:08

Climber’s Classification
1. Pete Williams (One Pro Cycling) 5pts
2. Jens Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) 3pts
3. Nils Politt (Katusha) 2pts

Points Classification
1. Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) 15pts
2. Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) 12pts
3. Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) 9pts

Tour de Yorkshire, day three

Tour de Yorkshire stage three (ASO/Gautier Demouveaux)
Tour de Yorkshire stage three (ASO/Gautier Demouveaux)

Another five or so hours of precious sleep and I woke up to pouring rain. My phone told me it would be like this all day. Stupid phone.

The start, in Wakefield, was an hour later than the two previous days, which was useful. And the rain mostly stopped as we drove there, also useful. It was the most organised we had been all weekend, plenty of time to get a coffee, walk around the buses, see the sign-on and the start before shooting off.

The morning

WP_20150503_013

Of course getting away from the town was a living hell. Every road heading out to where we wanted to go was closed, even though the race was taking a different route. For ten minutes we negotiated with a group of marshals, who had cordoned off a 50m piece of road for whatever reason.

Eventually they relented, and we realised that the situation could’ve been solved by just asking straight up for the cones to be moved. Anyway, off we sped, re-joining the route before the first climb of the day at Holmfirth.

There were more marshals there, mostly helpful, some not so much. Raoul got an ice cream, on scoop, vanilla. It wasn’t very good apparently. Some lady shouted “idiots” as we drove off after failing to park on the Côte de Holmfirth. Off to the Côte de Scapegoat Hill then.

At the top there were lots of dogs (see below), and the climb was packed. That’s about all I remember about Scapegoat Hill. It was cloudy too, and a couple of Europcar soigneurs waited at the top. They didn’t manage to hand over any bottles.

Dogs of the Tour de Yorkshire

Escaping from Scapegoat – Raoul directed traffic, Daniel banged the car door, I tried to charge my phone – this thing isn’t great in a moving vehicle. The radio played this awful song. Everyone hated the radio.

The ride to the Côte de Goose Eye was another fast one, on the single-lane roads and through the small villages that we had become used to seeing. “This is some James Bond shit!” exclaimed Daniel as we crested a hill, airborne again. It’s probably as close to a WRC ride-along as you could find, with Raoul dictating directions like a co-driver, a Timo Rautiainen to Daniel’s Marcus Grönholm.

Question of the day, from Daniel

“Where are Wallace and Gromit from? Here?”
I was unsure myself, but apparently they live in Wigan (in Lancashire), some sixty miles from Wakefield.

Once again we made a mess of getting to the climb. The shortcut to the route saw a marshal open the road in the wrong direction. Thankfully a police outrider arrived soon after, pointing out the mistake. Spectators watched on as we executed another three-point turn on a tiny village street.

A couple of unclassified climbs later (“If this isn’t a côte then maybe it’s a vest”) and we arrived at Goose Eye.

It was steep at the bottom and the village was full of people. A million people came out to see the race apparently, so that’s cool. The top of the climb was less steep and there were far fewer people. We parked midway up the 2.2km climb – another awkward reversing manoeuvre into a crowd of people unwilling to budge. I walked up, Daniel headed back down.

ON GOOSE EYE

The sun came out, and it was properly warm for the first time all weekend. This random hill in the middle of nowhere also let my phone pick up 3G for the first time, which was nice.

Turns out Nicolas Edet and Lawson Craddock were the Cofidis and Giant-Alpecin men leading the remnants of the breakaway, while the Sky-led peloton was in pieces behind.

I faced a kilometre run downhill to the car but thankfully our way out was to follow the race rather than push through the crowds in the other direction. Running down the grass verge, just about avoiding the cars passing in the other direction, I spotted our grey Corsa and jumped in. Destination, Leeds.

Parking Spots of the Tour de yorkshire

As the race continued north and then east to Leeds, we headed to Bradford ring road and the interminable red traffic lights on the way to the finish. Again, with no real idea of when the riders would actually get to the finish (somewhere between 16:30 and 17:00 according to the roadbook), it looked a real possibility that we’d miss out.

Luckily for us, suburban Bradford seemed to melt into suburban Leeds. We seemed to have made it without really knowing how close we were at any point. Despite our worry, we got onto the course with five kilometres to go, with the convoy nowhere in sight.

After parking there was another marshal confrontation as we were shouted at to get off the road to the car park as if we had no idea the race was coming.

AT THE FINISH

A rush to the finish in Roundhay Park and BMC’s Ben Hermans was the solo winner. There was disappointment for those who had hoped for more GC action on the toughest stage of the race, with the main favourites rolling in together.

After the finish, riders milled about, providing more photo opportunities. And then that was it. The end of the first Tour de Yorkshire. It was pretty fun.

Leeds postcard (leodis.net)
Leeds postcard (leodis.net)

 

Tour de Yorkshire, day two

Tour de Yorkshire, stage two (ASO / GAUTIER DEMOUVEAUX)
Tour de Yorkshire, stage two (ASO / GAUTIER DEMOUVEAUX)

“We’re winning the race. Nobody’s catching this breakaway.” We had missed the press diversion and were now on our second lap of the closing circuit. Daniel was anxious and we had yet to realise that the riders were to complete three laps, not two.

It wasn’t the first mistake of the day. We missed the start altogether after the closed roads somehow caught us by surprise. Well, we didn’t miss it – we got to the press car park, but didn’t come close to where the action was.

Before that I got a jacket. I forgot to take a photo. Here it is. It’s startlingly adequate.

So yeah, we left Selby early, getting on the route way ahead of the race. Stop for coffee, stop for fish and chips, go to the Côte de North Newbald… Hey, where did the race signs stop? Where are all the fans? I guess we drove past the climb? Yep.

Waiting for the race
Waiting for the race

We got there in the end but needed to park. People everywhere, obviously, and nowhere to stop. So we should head back down the climb to that spot Raoul suggested then? Yeah let’s try that.

As with any race, the convoy – support vehicles, police and so on – is long. The police outriders come through some twenty minutes before the riders, to close side roads and keep regular traffic at bay. They arrived just as we started to head back down – cue reverse gear, high speed, back to where we just were. A parking spot will have to be improvised.

People are oblivious to the car. It’s a ton of metal on wheels manoeuvring onto a grass verge inches away from them and still they refuse to budge. This was a recurring theme.

Puccio!
Hey Puccio

Raoul stays in the car as the race passes, Daniel runs further up the hill, shooting the riders, the fans, god knows. I lie in the grass, taking totally pro low-angle shots with my phone. As ever, once the voiture balai (broom wagon) has passed there’s the mad rush to the car, beat the crowds away from the hill, beat the race to the Côte de Fimber, the only other climb of the day.

More thin ribbons of road, hills, troughs, pheasants to dodge, cars to pass. The car was definitely airborne at one point. We get back on the route at Wetwang, arriving at the hill with plenty of time to walk up. The climbs are more straightforward than yesterday’s – lesser gradients, wider roads, not massively interesting.

This guy
This guy
This guy too
This guy too

With a six minute advantage, the break had doubled their lead since North Newbald. Of course we had no idea who was in it, our three phones combined couldn’t muster a wi-fi connection between them, and we had no race radio.

The drive to the finish was less pressing, a straight road to York, meaning we’d be waiting for the race at the finish with enough time to see them pass three times. We should have realised that the press diversion would be at the press centre in York Racecourse (a kilometre out), but we drove past, not realising our mistake until after we had the finish line.

So we did another lap, another tour of York. There was much discussion in the car, arguments even, as we sped through the biggest crowds of the race. Daniel jumped out with two kilometres to go. We’d meet again at the finish, if he could fight through the masses.

Some things that happened at the finish
Some things that happened at the finish

He made it, just. He saw the riders twice, but I missed them pass on the penultimate lap – a coffee run in the press room. At the finish there were no interview either – the team hotels were close, so there were no buses to hang around.

Instead we watched the podium, a chance to drink in the ceremony, or rather just leave early because it’s not that interesting. David Millar hung out of the commentary box for a chat about his dinner with Daniel and his upcoming clothing line. Then we hitched a ride to the press room in the broom wagon.

Later we took some time to do some non-race stuff – eating Italian food (spaghetti vongole for me), looking at York cathedral, general mirth, before an evening photoshoot with MTN-Qhubeka back at the hotel. Oh, and I showed Daniel my Milwaukee Bucks t-shirt. He knows they’re real now.

York Postcard (bbc.co.uk)
York was actually a bit like this. Less flowers though (bbc.co.uk)

Tour de Yorkshire, day one

I went to the first edition of the Tour de Yorkshire with Manual For Speed. Stuff happened.

“What really went on there? We only have this excerpt”

Tour de Yorkshire stage one (ASO / Gautier Demouveaux)
Tour de Yorkshire stage one (ASO / Gautier Demouveaux)

Hey, I lost my jacket. It’s April in the north of England and I lost my jacket. It’s April in the north of England and I lost my jacket and I’m at a bike race. Bike races are outside. This is going to be… not good.

Friday morning was ok though. Of course I ate a Full English Breakfast at 8am. That’s the only option at the bed and breakfast. That and coffee, the first of many.

It’s the first edition of the race, the ASO’s Tour de France legacy. I’m hanging out with Manual For Speed. One of them anyway, this guy who wears a shemagh scarf and a Baltimore Orioles cap – “repping my home city.”

His name is Daniel too, and we ‘met’ via email. IRL we meet on Thursday at the seemingly still-under-construction York Racecourse – the press centre. It’s cold, and Bernard Hinault walks past. I stare at him. Later on, I forget to buy a jacket.

Country roads, sans spectators
Country road, sans spectators

Back to Friday, post-breakfast, and an hour’s drive to the coast with this near-complete stranger. We pass Stamford Bridge, a place called Wetwang, while some American woman tells us about roundabouts and left-turns via app.

I got five hours sleep after watching the Milwaukee Bucks crash out the NBA Playoffs with a 54-point loss to the Chicago Bulls. “Milwaukee have a team?” Daniel asks, laughing.

Bridlington is easy, we roll up around half an hour before the start and park the rented Vauxhall Corsa in the place where the press park. It’s eleven in the morning, and cold. There are kids everywhere, a lifeboat on the street, seagulls. Yeah, it’s the coast.

A delusion I know, but there’s always some excitement to wave our passes around and walk where the public can’t. The riders rolling through to sign on, public getting in the way, Merhawi Kudus arriving from Amsterdam twenty minutes before the race is due to start. Standard stuff.

Visa Problems held up the MTN-Qhubeka man, while a delayed flight made things worse. Bad luck for him but better for MFS’s Raoul. He spotted a guy in Castelli-branded uniform at Schipol airport – a soigneur or mechanic or something? No, it was our man Kudus. Cue a long-lasting friendship, despite the minor complication of having no shared language. Cue also, a lift to the race for Raoul.

Daniel & Raoul's portraits on http://manualforspeed.com/ I can attest to their accuracy
Daniel & Raoul’s portraits on manualforspeed.com. I can attest to their accuracy

Once I learned that interviewing Kudus would be something of a challenge, I set off for Europcar’s bus and Namibian champion Dan Craven.

So… are these guys mechanics? Soigneurs? Where is Europcar’s press officer? Who is Europcar’s press officer? It doesn’t matter – I have a plan. I’ll just combine the words ‘press’, ‘Dan Craven’ and ‘interview’ until something happens.

The beard descends from the bus to save me (Can that be his nickname? Maybe it already is.) A quick chat while his embrocation is applied, and the interview is set up – tomorrow evening at the Mercor/Mercury/Mircure (hmm) Hotel.

Back to the car, it’s time to get ahead of the race. The peloton departs, and riders presumably squabble over the breakaway, but we don’t see any of it. Thanks to the incompatibility of the British countryside and wireless internet, it’ll be another hour before we have any idea about what’s actually happening in the race we’re covering.

Did I mention the crowds? They’re big, perhaps unsurprising given the turnout at the Tour de France last summer. Still, everybody waves. Everybody waves at the police too. It’s kinda weird.

Lots of fluo / Lots of pain
Lots of fluo / Lots of pain

The first coffee stop comes after nine kilometres, at the Richard Burton Art Gallery (not that Richard Burton.) We’re going too fast to really think about drinking it though, trading places with the police outriders as the opening climb of the Côte de Dalby Forest looms.

After a few false alarms, a handful of steep hills that don’t show up on the profile, we’re there. Daniel does his thing, photos of the people, a guy stood in a tree and so forth. I talk to Raoul about Diesel jeans and the bomb at the Rund um den Finanzplatz Eschborn-Frankfurt.

Then come the riders. The breakaway. NFTO’s Eddie Dunbar is there – on the attack again in the first race after my interview with him. Two minutes later, maybe five minutes later (who knows when you forget to pay attention?) and the peloton arrives. Marcel Kittel, out with a virus for three months, is already dropping back.

north york moors
The North York Moors (solitary ice cream truck parked miles from anywhere not pictured)

Dodging the team cars and fluorescent-clad fans, there was another uphill sprint to the car. The Côte de Grosmont – four-hundred metres at seventeen percent – is next on the menu, but not before a trip across the North York Moors. We knew they were there, but we didn’t expect them to look like this, so we stopped to take photos. And pee on them.

A Daniel Pasley clutch-punishing parking manoeuvreTM puts us in place for the hill, where we soon find another coffee source – a mobile joint near the top. Thankfully, the speed of our arrival allowed us ample time to stand on the hill. In the cold.

NFTO boss John Wood tells us more about the breakaway. Only there was no breakaway group left on the climb – there was a crash apparently? And they were caught at some point. Dunbar went to hospital in any case. Breton Perrig Quemeneur leads the way up the hill.

Another lung-busting sprint to the car and now it’s the tough part. Can we beat the peloton to Scarborough? Beating car-sickness is a cause closer to my heart – the food, the coffee, the map reading and the roller-coaster driving look to be conspiring against me.

Yeah I saw all the Europcars
Yeah I saw all the Europcars

As for reaching the finish first? That was close too – there was much discussion about taking this ambitious route beforehand. Thankfully, the lack of countryside speed cameras only help our cause.

In any case, we made it – but the riders were still some twenty kilometres out as we parked. I was fine too.

Before the finish, the press room beckons – it’d probably help to actually find out what happened today. Oh look, there’s a new breakaway group. Oh look, there are fifty bottles of free beer on the table. I guess I’ll have to come back later.

There’s more running before that though, this time to the finish on the seafront. Nordhaug wins! Kudus is thirteenth! Dunbar is… Where’s Dunbar? Oh.

Finishes are always half-fun, half-stress, but if you have no specific plan of action (today I don’t) then they’re fine. Time to chat to a few people before grabbing a few beers and then heading back to York, soundtracked by some terrible radio (the highlight being a phone-in competition that sees everybody fail to recognise Foo Fighters lyrics). I hope Gap is still open.

Scarborough postcard (atticpostcards.com)
Scarborough was exactly like this (atticpostcards.com)

Racing in the Gulf States

A camel watches on at the 2015 Dubai Tour (RCS)
A camel watches on at the 2015 Dubai Tour (RCS)

With the Dubai Tour having just finished and the Tour of Qatar in full flow, what better time to take a look at the races in the UAE, Qatar and Oman. While cycling through the desert to a sprint finish may not be everyone’s idea of an exciting bike race, these races in oil and gas-rich Eastern Arabia are increasing in profile and importance every year.

Another race is on its way too – the Abu Dhabi Tour will be run for the first time in mid-October. It will join the Dubai Tour in Giro d’Italia organiser RCS’s portfolio, while the ASO run the Tours of Qatar and Oman. So what are these races giving to the cycling world, and what do the countries gain from staging them?

Money & the European alternatives

Obviously this is the first thing that comes to mind. The vast oil and gas reserves that give Qatar the highest GDP per capita in the world and the UAE the second-largest economy in the Arab world mean that there’s more than enough to stage a top class bike race.

These races are polar opposites to the independently-run and locally-sponsored races that we have seen fold thanks to economic hardship in Italy and Spain. While some European races struggle with basic costs such as policing there are no such problems on the Arabian peninsula.

The peloton passes Dubai (RCS)
The peloton passes Dubai (RCS)

Large appearance fees can be paid, while five-star hotels for teams and media are a stark contrast to European chain motels. Likewise, wide newly-built roads offer a comparatively pleasant and safer experience for riders more used to dodging potholes and street furniture.

For example, a team like Cofidis can try out it’s new sprint train in competition without having to worry about late corners or fighting over narrow roads. The desert crosswinds also offer a handy training opportunity for the Spring Classics.

Another reason to head east is the weather. Sure, Andalucia and the Algarve are better destinations than northern Europe at this time of the year, but Qatar and the UAE are a totally different story. These races give the peloton a last chance of racing in sunny climes before the damp, cold European spring.

That’s not to say that these races have everything going for them though, as a week of flat stages isn’t for everyone. Alberto Contador, Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana have stayed in Europe, with the trio facing off for the first time at the hilly Vuelta a Andalucia.

The peloton at the 2014 Tour of Oman (ASO)
The peloton at the 2014 Tour of Oman (ASO)

On the other hand, Vincenzo Nibali, Thibaut Pinot and Alejandro Valverde will be at the Tour of Oman, with its decisive Green Mountain stage finish. Nibali and Valverde have already raced the Dubai Tour, with Italian organiser RCS likely to have persuaded the Tour de France champion.

An additional note – races in far flung destinations such as these give sponsors additional exposure. The expansion of the sport in the region also brings the possibility of new sponsors joining the sport, something which is badly needed.

The racing

The lack of hills is something that a lot of fans voice displeasure about. The Dubai Tour and the Tour of Qatar are almost exclusively flat, with only stage three of the Dubai Tour containing hills of any description. Neither race provides any particularly exciting racing before the final kilometres, with the GC usually decided by bonus seconds and, in the case of the Tour of Qatar, the time trial.

Oman is more blessed geographically. The summit finish of Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain) has been a fixture of the race since 2011 and usually decides the winner, while other stages also include lumps. The hilly finishing circuit on the stage to the Ministry of Housing is another fixture in the race.

A lack of fans at the roadside is another well-worn complaint, with scarcely a soul by the road in Qatar and Dubai. Once again, the Tour of Oman is better off in this regard, but of course doesn’t compare to equivalent races in Europe and the Americas.

Fans at the roadside during the 2015 Dubai Tour (RCS)
Fans at the roadside in Dubai (RCS)

Why do they want cycling?

Put simply, the races are a chance to show off their countries to the world. Qatar also wants to prove itself to the IOC – the head of the Qatari Cycling Federation Sheikh Khalid Bin Ali Al Thani has said ”We must test every discipline to show it can performed with success in Qatar.”

The Gulf states have also made their presence felt in other sports – football being a prime example with the fortunes of Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City having been transformed under the ownership of the Qatari state and the Abu Dhabi Royal Family respectively.

Qatar will host the World Cup, after FIFA awarded the event to country under some rather shady circumstances. Another sport majorly involved with the region is Formula 1, which runs races in Bahrain and the UAE and is likely to add a race in Qatar soon.

Such moves have seen some level charges of reputation laundering against these Gulf States, with the organisation Human Rights Watch criticising the UAE’s human rights record. The organisation claimed that the purchase of Man City enabled the state to ”construct a public relations image of a progressive, dynamic Gulf state, which deflects attention from what is really going on in the country.”

Sharia law is administered in Qatar and the UAE with Oman the only country that doesn’t punish lawbreakers with amputations, stoning and flogging. However, all three have been criticised for their human rights records, including the use of forced labour.

Dubai Tour 2015
A fan watches the riders pass in Dubai (RCS)

Issues like these have rarely been brought up in the cycling world. Indeed, the main objections to the upcoming 2016 World Championships in Qatar seem to be about the course and how few spectators will turn up. Compare and contrast to the football world’s reaction to the awarding of the World Cup to the country. In any case, with three races established on the calendar and one more coming it seems the time for protest is long gone.

The future

This October will see the first running of the Abu Dhabi Tour. It’ll last for four days and comes at the very end of the season, with the final day coinciding with Paris-Tours. The quality of field we will see is still unknown but going by the other races it is likely that we will see some big names ending their season in the sun.

Whether RCS can persuade riders to forgo the Sprinter’s Classic, a race which has already lost some of the prestige it once had, and race in the UAE is another matter.

Joining the WorldTour is an aim that the organisers of the Dubai Tour are working towards. The chairman of the organising committee, Saeed Hareb, said a few days ago that 2017 is the aim, and also that they would like to expand to up to ten or twelve stages.

A ten-day stage race without any hills doesn’t sound particularly enticing, but moving the 2.HC-rated race up to the WorldTour would be welcome, as that would ensure a filling of the month-long gap between the Tour Down Under and Paris-Nice.

Tour of Qatar co-owner and course designer Eddy Merckx at the 2016 World Championships route unveiling
Tour of Qatar co-owner Eddy Merckx at the 2016 World Championships route unveiling

The big event to look forward to is the 2016 World Championships, which will be held in Qatar. It will be held later than usual (9-16th October), when the weather is somewhat cooler.

The Eddy Merckx-designed route was unveiled last week – it’s flat and will consist of an 80km loop through the desert before ending with circuits in Doha city centre. A kilometre of cobbles feature along the way, before the race ends on a 2km long straight.

Conclusion

Sport is globalising and cycling is no exception. While the Chinese experiment might have been a failure, racing in the Gulf states looks like it’s here to stay. There will always be debate about how interesting the action is, and much-loved European races will inevitably fall by the wayside while races with better organisation and more money prosper.

The addition of new races to the calendar is hard to complain about though, and we can only hope that they attract more attention to the sport and in turn more sponsorship.

Good Tour, Bad Tour

Yesterday saw the end of a great edition of the Tour of Britain. There were six different leaders in eight days as the six-man teams struggled to control the peloton on the rugged terrain that defined almost every single stage.

The race was also notable for the success of young riders. Dylan Van Baarle, Michał Kwiatkowski, Matthias Brändle, Edoardo Zardini, Sebastian Lander and Dylan Teuns were all prominent during the week. The one thing they have in common? They’re all under 25.

The move up to 2.HC status meant more WorldTour teams and bigger names on the startlist, which made it a difficult week for the British Continental teams. Visibility in breakaways was just about the limit of their achievements, though Madison-Genesis managed a second place finish on one stage.

Scroll to the bottom for quick team ratings.

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anpost

An Post-ChainReaction

Mark McNally was one of the men of the Tour for the Belgo-Irish squad. He was in the break for the first three days of the race, racking up the mountain points that would see him take the mountain classification. Otherwise the team had a quiet race, with Shane Archbold taking second place from the breakaway in Exeter.

★★★★

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bardiani

Bardiani-CSF

The Italians brought a talented group of riders to these shores, and an attacking display was expected from them. After Edoardo Zardini found himself in yellow on The Tumble the squad were more conservative as they raced to conserve his place rather than going for additional wins. In the end he had a strong time trial, but it wasn’t enough to stop him slipping off the podium to fourth place overall.

Edoardo Zardini wins the Queen stage on The Tumble (SweetSpot)
Edoardo Zardini wins the Queen stage on The Tumble (SweetSpot)

Neo-pro Nicola Ruffoni was a bright spot. The 23 year-old Bresciani showed his talent in the sprints, taking second place on the opening day and running Kittel and Cavendish close in London.

★★★★

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belkin

Belkin

The Dutch squad were low on star power after Lars Boom pulled out before the race started. They were by far the least successful of the WorldTour teams, with their only memorable moment being Maarten Wynants time in the breakaway on stage 5.

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bmc

BMC

Stagiaire Dylan Teuns’ second race with the team was even more successful than the Tour of Utah where he won the youth classification. The Belgian was right up there with the leaders on some of the toughest stages and he was in contention for the podium until 50th place in the time trial ended his hopes. Still, tenth is a good result for the 22 year-old.

Dane Sebastian Lander took home the sprint jersey after featuring in the break on the road to Bristol, while 20 year-old Rick Zabel mixed it up in the sprints, grabbing five top-ten finishes.

★★★

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garmin

Garmin-Sharp

Another neo-pro who enjoyed his time in Britain was Dylan Van Baarle. He leapt from 14th to first after getting in the break on stage 7 to Brighton. Many wrote him off as likely to lose his lead in the London time trial but he held on to keep the yellow jersey.

Dylan Van Baarle was the surprise winner (SweetSpot)
Dylan Van Baarle was the surprise winner (SweetSpot)

The win was a surprise to everyone, including the man himself, who said “I was expecting the top ten and now we are here eh?” Tactically a perfect race from Wegelius & co.

★★★★★

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giant

Giant-Shimano

As if often the case with the Dutch team, they did what they came to do. Marcel Kittel wins bookended the race, with his leadout train delivering him at just the right time on each occasion. One dark spot came in Bristol, where dithering in the break cost Albert Timmer the win as Michał Kwiatkowski sprinter past in the dying metres.

★★★★

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giordana

Giordana

They were more noticeable than some but still came away empty handed. Marcin Białobłocki and Rob Partridge featured in breaks for the Continental squad.

★★

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britain

Great Britain

The British selection was again full of young talents, the brightest of which being Tao Geoghegan Hart of the Bissell Development Team. His most notable moment may have been his violent crash in Brighton, but the 19 year-old finished 15th overall, which is a great result in such a tough race. The two Chrises – Lawless and Latham – got away in a couple of breaks too.

★★★

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iam

IAM

Matthias Brändle was one of the stars of the race, picking up two stages in a row from the break. Week-long stage races are on his radar for the future, saying that “I think that the one week races are good for me. If I rode for the general I could’ve got top 10.”

One of the men of the Tour, Matthias Brändle (SweetSpot)
One of the men of the Tour, Matthias Brändle (SweetSpot)

Otherwise, Sylvain Chavanel ended up in seventh place but wasn’t particularly visible during the course of the race. He had a strong finish with a second place in the final time trial though.

★★★★

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madison

Madison-Genesis

Roger Hammond’s men had a pretty good race as Ian Bibby, Liam Holohan and Tom Stewart all showed themselves in breakaways. Stewart’s third place in Hemel Hempstead was the highlight but the gap between the WorldTour and Continental levels showed in the final sprint. Hammond himself was prominent on the day, helping breakmate Alex Dowsett in the final kilometres.

★★★

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movistar

Movistar

They came with a stacked team and most would’ve expected a better showing from their climbers. Alex Dowsett was their star, taking the yellow jersey from the break and valiantly defending it the next day. He won the overall combativity prize and finished in eighth place while Ion Izagirre was sixth.

★★★

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mtn

MTN-Qhubeka

The African squad were newcomers to the race but left without making much of an impression. Andreas Stauff was out in the break on stages 5 and 8b though.

★★

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netapp

NetApp-Endura

With team leader Leopold König finishing seventh place in the Tour de France, it looked like a challenge for the overall win was on the cards. An illness lingering from the US Pro Cycling Challenge hindered his progress though, and he finished 34th overall. Teammate and countryman Jan Bárta had a good ride to end up ninth overall.

★★

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nfto

NFTO

Stage 1 was the high point for NFTO, as GreenEdge-bound Adam Blythe had a late attack while Jon Mould featured in the break earlier in the day.

★★

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novo

Novo Nordisk

The American team ride to promote diabetes awareness and they brought their message to new shores with their first trip to Britain. They were aggressive on several stages but couldn’t get away.

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opqs

Omega Pharma-QuickStep

Not quite a perfect race, but almost. Michał Kwiatkowski was the pre-race favourite and was ten seconds away from overhauling Dylan Van Baarle on the final day. With six-man teams at the race it proved too tough for the team to control breakaways and the Pole ended up in second place.

Kwiatowski won in Bristol (SweetSpot)
Kwiatowski won in Bristol (SweetSpot)

Kwiatkowski came away with the points jersey and a stage win, while Mark Renshaw was victorious in Llandudno and Julian Vermote won from the break in Brighton. Mark Cavendish was inches away from beating Marcel Kittel in London.

★★★★★

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raleigh

Raleigh

Another Continental team with not much to show for their efforts. I can’t remember any of their riders making a breakaway.

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rapha

Rapha Condor JLT

More or less the same story here too. Richard Handley was out front in Liverpool and Richard Handley attacked in Bristol.

★★

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sky

Sky

Bradley Wiggins led the big-budget British squad in front of fevered home crowds. He was in trouble on The Tumble, having to be paced back by teammate David Lopez and he lacked the explosiveness to attack on some of the hilly finishes.

Brad Wiggins en route to victory (SweetSpot)
Brad Wiggins en route to victory in the TT (SweetSpot)

A brilliant showing in the time trial got him the win and moved him up onto the podium, rendering Sky’s Tour a success. Tactically they could’ve done more on the hilly stages.

★★★

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tinkoff

Tinkoff-Saxo

Irishman Nicolas Roche was the quieter of Tinkoff-Saxo’s three lieutenants at the Tour this year but got the chance to lead here. He went for glory on The Tumble but was overpowered by Edoardo Zardini.More attacks followed later in the race but non stuck and he slipped to fifth overall in the time trial.

★★★

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★★★★★
Garmin-Sharp, Omega Pharma-QuickStep

★★★★
Giant-Shimano, IAM, Bardiani-CSF, Sky

★★★
Movistar, BMC, Tinkoff-Saxo, Great Britain

★★
NetApp-Endura,  MTN-Qhubeka, NFTO, Rapha Condor, Giordana


Belkin, Novo Nordisk, Raleigh

London: a look back

Stage 8a: London ITT (8.8km)

Dylan Van Baarle set off in the morning time trial (inthedrops)
Dylan Van Baarle set off in the morning time trial (inthedrops)

Brad Wiggins blew everyone away in the morning’s short time trial to take a hometown win by 8 seconds from IAM’s Sylvain Chavanel.

The early pace was set by Irishman Ryan Mullen of An Post – ChainReaction with a time of 10:10, but BMC’s strongman Steve Cummings flew around to set a time 11 seconds faster. It was a good ride, but it would be tough to hold onto the lead once the GC men got out on course.

Sylvain Chavanel was the first man to beat Cummings’ time, by just over a second. It didn’t take long before that time was smashed, as Wiggins took the top spot with ease – perhaps surprisingly so considering the explosive nature of the course.

Lasse Norman Hansen heads for the bus (inthedrops)
Lasse Norman Hansen heads for the bus (inthedrops)

The battle for the overall was still on though. Edoardo Zardini put in a respectable time but dropped off the podium thanks to Wiggins. Michal Kwiatkowski’s ride of 10:06 wasn’t enough to overhaul Garmin’s Dylan Van Baarle for the top spot – the neo-pro did a great ride to limit his losses to only nine seconds.

The ten second gap between the two was on the mind of Garmin-Sharp DS Charles Wegelius before Stage 8b. He said that the team’s only goal was to keep the lead rather than work for sprinter Tyler Farrar, “We need to focus on trying to win the race now. We’ll encourage a break to go.”

Brad Wiggins en route to victory (SweetSpot)
Brad Wiggins en route to victory (SweetSpot)
Stage 8a result
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky 0:09:51
2 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling 0:00:08
3 Stephen Cummings (GBr) BMC Racing Team 0:00:09
4 Jan Barta (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura 0:00:14
5 Matthias Brandle (Aut) IAM Cycling 0:00:15
6 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 0:00:16
7 Ryan Mullen (Irl) An Post-Chainreaction 0:00:20
8 Alex Dowsett (GBr) Movistar Team
9 Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:00:24
10 Martin Kohler (Sui) BMC Racing Team 0:00:25

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Stage 8b: London (88.8km)

A bunch sprint was expected, and it duly materialised as Marcel Kittel won the final stage of the Tour of Britain in London by inches ahead of home favourite Mark Cavendish, while Nicola Ruffoni of Bardiani-CSF was third.

Multiple breakaway attempts littered the opening kilometres of the stage but a breakaway didn’t stick until lap 4. Garmin-Sharp enforced a rolling roadblock at the head of the peloton as King of the Mountains Mark McNally (An Post), Steve Cummings (BMC), Jan Barta (NetApp), Chris Latham (Great Britain) and Liam Holohan (Madison) got away.

Marcel Kittel wins the final stage (SweetSpot)
Marcel Kittel wins the final stage (SweetSpot)

The group quickly got a gap to the peloton but McNally was unfortunate to touch wheels and crash on lap 5. The remainder of the break soldiered on to take the only sprint of the day, confirming Sebastian Lander as the winner of the sprint classification.

The gap never got larger than 40 seconds as Giant-Shimano, Garmin-Sharp and IAM led the peloton. Andreas Stauff (MTN) made it across the gap with 25km to go, but the break was quickly blown apart as Holohan and Latham attacked immediately. Stauff joined them but before long the trio were a duo as Holohan dropped back. Stauff and Latham were brought back on the last lap.

The jersey winners (SweetSpot)
The jersey winners (SweetSpot)

Garmin-Sharp led the way around the final lap, as they looked to protect Van Baarle’s lead. OPQS joined them in the final kilometres while Giant-Shimano came to the fore with 2km remaining. Their timing was perfect as they delivered Kittel to the front, though Cavendish ran him mightily close on the line.

Stage 8b result
1 Marcel Kittel (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano 1:50:33
2 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
3 Nicola Ruffoni (Ita) Bardiani CSF
4 Enrique Sanz Unzue (Esp) Movistar Team
5 Rick Zabel (Ger) BMC Racing Team
6 Ian Wilkinson (GBr) Team Raleigh
7 Daniel McLay (GBr) Great Britain
8 Nikolay Trusov (Rus) Tinkoff-Saxo
9 Adam Blythe (GBr) NFTO
10 Shane Archbold (NZl) An Post-Chainreaction
The final podium (SweetSpot)
The final podium (SweetSpot)
General classification
   
1 Dylan Van Baarle (Ned) Garmin-Sharp 32:22:50  
2 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 0:00:10  
3 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky 0:00:22  
4 Edoardo Zardini (Ita) Bardiani CSF 0:00:37  
5 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:00:42  
6 Jon Izagirre Insausti (Esp) Movistar Team 0:00:46  
7 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling 0:00:50  
8 Alex Dowsett (GBr) Movistar Team 0:00:54  
9 Jan Barta (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura 0:01:09  
10 Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:01:10
Mountains classification
   
1 Mark McNally (GBr) An Post-Chainreaction 51  pts
2 Matthias Brandle (Aut) IAM Cycling 30  
3 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 25
Points classification
   
1 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 70  pts
2 Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky 55  
3 Rick Zabel (Ger) BMC Racing Team 49
Sprint classification
   
1 Sebastian Lander (Den) BMC Racing Team 16  pts
IAM won the team prize (SweetSpot)
IAM won the team prize (SweetSpot)
Teams classification
1 IAM Cycling 97:09:47
Most combative rider
     
1 Alex Dowsett (Gbr) Movistar Team

For full results and standings look here.

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Rider Reaction

Dylan Van Baarle, race winner (Garmin-Sharp)

I didn’t win it today, I won it yesterday. Saturday was our last chance and we took it. It was pretty hard to defend my jersey in the TT against Kwiatowski and Wiggins but yeah i did it. I was inspired by Dowsett’s escape a little bit, yeah.

No I didn’t believe I could win at the start – I saw the startlist and when you see Wiggins and Kwiatkowski on the list then you know its gonna be hard. I was expecting the top ten and now we are here eh?

Michal Kwiatkowski, runner-up (Omega Pharma-QuickStep)

First place was close but we can’t be disappointed. I won a stage and my team won three. We took the points jersey too and that’s amazing.

Every day it was tough racing and I think every single stage was like the classics – up and down and racing full gas until the end. I’m happy it was such beautiful weather and I think the long stages were the best preparation for the Worlds.

Nicola Ruffoni (Bardiani-CSF)

As a first year pro it was a good experience – I got a good result in Liverpool and I raced against top pro riders like Cav and Kittel.

Camberley – Brighton: a look back

Julien Vermote wins OPQS's third stage of the Tour (SweetSpot)
Julien Vermote wins OPQS’s third stage of the Tour (SweetSpot)

Julian Vermote won on the seafront in Brighton after being out in the break almost all day on the longest stage of the race. Fellow escapee Dylan Van Baarle (Garmin-Sharp) becomes the second man in two days to take the race lead from the breakaway.

Ignatas Konovalovas (MTN-Qhubeka), Kevyn Ista (IAM) and Marcin Białobłocki (Velosure-Giordana) were also in the break but were dropped as the decisive moves were made. Like yesterday, the maximum gap was ten minutes as Omega Pharma-QuickStep struggled to contain the breakaway. After ceasing his work after 140km Vermote attacked on Ditchling Beacon and never looked back, finishing 23 seconds ahead of Konovalovas and Van Baarle.

Julien Vermote won in Brighton (SweetSpot)
Julien Vermote won in Brighton (SweetSpot)

The peloton came in 1:20 down after a frantic chase over the first category climbs in the closing kilometres. What was left of the peloton was shattered on Ditchling Beacon, with yellow jersey Alex Dowsett on the wrong end of the split. Brad Wiggins, Edoardo Zardini, Nicolas Roche and Michał Kwiatkowski were safe in the front group as the gap back to Dowsett grew. The man from Essex lost over a minute to the other GC men and falls to tenth overall.

Young Tao Geoghehan Hart did a great job to stay with the GC men but flew into the barriers as he tried to lead the group around the final hairpin bend. It looked horrific but he will continue. Meanwhile Kwiatkowski led the group across the line and now lies 19 seconds behind Van Baarle ahead of tomorrow’s race-deciding time trial.

Dylan Van Baarle is another surprise leader (SweetSpot)
Dylan Van Baarle is another surprise leader (SweetSpot)

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Rider reaction

Dylan Van Baarle, race leader (Garmin-Sharp)

Really tired. It was a pretty hard day, we went almost from start to finish full gas and when I crossed the line I was completely dead.

Yeah, I like this time trial distance the most. I’m not a Wiggins that needs 50km or whatever. I’m more a prologue specialist. I don’t know how the legs will feel tomorrow for the other guys and it will be hard tomorrow.

I wanted to show my name a little bit, show myself, but I didn’t expect to be wearing the yellow jersey. Before the race I was thinking about top 10, top 15 and now I’m thinking about the podium or maybe winning.

Julien Vermote, stage winner (OPQS)

I’m a bit surprised because only one day I didn’t ride at the front of the peloton. Actually, every day I felt I recovered quite well. I went into the break and I felt immediately I had a good chance because yesterday the break was 10 minutes in front and I know how hard it is to chase it down, particularly yesterday.

I know my place in the team because with all the good riders I like to help them. But yknow its also nice if you can finally win a stage. Also, I’m really happy that finally I finally got the red number of Rouleur. I really wanted that this week – I saw it every day.

Matthias Brändle, double stage winner (IAM)

Again it was a tough day. Its a hard race, harder than expected. I don’t know about the finish because the last 20km were easy for me – I think I’ve had enough pain for this week. For me it was a really successful week – it was great this week.

I think that the one week races are good for me. If I rode for the general I could’ve got top 10. More important for me and the team was 2 stages. Lets see what the future brings but I think I have a good engine and could also win one week stage races.

The Worlds TT is a real goal for me. I have trained for that. Tomorrow I’ll have to see. The last two days were really hard and I suffered a lot. I don’t know how explosive I am but tomorrow we will see who managed to recover best.

Jan Bárta, 13th overall (NetApp-Endura)

I’d like to try my best in the time trial. It won’t be as hard in the afternoon. Today was a very hard stage with a lot of hills and we rode the last kilometres au bloc.

I’ll go to the Worlds for sure because I’m National Champion. I hope I can do the best result like last year because last year I was 11th. I hope I can be in the top ten. If I have good legs maybe better.

Manuel Bongiorno, 15th overall (Bardiani-CSF)

I tried to attack the last climb but the climb is too short to make a difference. The legs were good but there was a breakaway. We tried, but yeah, its good.

We had Zardini in very good condition. Tomorrow we can do a good time trial with him. The sprint is for Ruffoni. We can try in the afternoon with him.

t.

Good day for
OPQS – A stage win and in prime position to take the GC tomorrow

Bad day for
Alex Dowsett – Tried to hold on but it was just too much for him today

Stage result
1 Julien Vermote (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 5:12:34
2 Ignatas Konovalovas (Ltu) MTN-Qhubeka 0:00:23
3 Dylan Van Baarle (Ned) Garmin-Sharp
4 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 0:01:20
5 Lars-Petter Nordhaug (Nor) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
6 Kevin Ista (Bel) IAM Cycling
7 Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC Racing Team
8 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling
9 Francesco Manuel Bongiorno (Ita) Bardiani CSF
10 Edoardo Zardini (Ita) Bardiani CSF
12 Jon Izagirre Insausti (Esp) Movistar Team
14 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky
17 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Tinkoff-Saxo
General classification
1 Dylan Van Baarle (Ned) Garmin-Sharp 30:22:02
2 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 0:00:19
3 Edoardo Zardini (Ita) Bardiani CSF 0:00:25
4 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:00:35
5 Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:00:36
6 Jon Izagirre Insausti (Esp) Movistar Team 0:00:45
7 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky 0:00:47
8 David Lopez Garcia (Esp) Team Sky 0:00:49
9 Sébastien Reichenbach (Sui) IAM Cycling 0:00:51
10 Alex Dowsett (GBr) Movistar Team 0:00:59

For full results and standings look here.

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Stage 8a – London ITT

tob s8a prof

 

The deciding stage of the Tour of Britain is an 8.8km time trial from Whitehall to Tower Hill and back. The big question is whether neo-pro Dylan Van Baarle can hold on to his 19 second lead over pre-race favourite Michał Kwiatkowski. Its a totally flat course, and not technical at all, as the majority of the stage is a straight run along the Thames.

The obvious favourite is Michał Kwiatkowski. He can do a bit of everything and this short TT is perfectly suited to him. In-form Matthias Brändle took it easy today and he told me he will go for it tomorrow. The short distance isn’t ideal for Brad Wiggins but he is the best pure time trialist here. Alex Dowsett is in good form but has been going all out for a couple of days now.

Jan Bárta was third in the Tour’s final TT and said he will test himself here as he builds for the Worlds. Sylvain Chavanel hasn’t been too noticeable in the race but he’s strong against the clock too, while Steve Cummings is another good time trialist. Nicolas Roche will be looking to move onto the podium, though he’s hardly noted for his skills in this discipline. Race leader Dylan Van Baarle will be motivated and has said he liked the course so it could be a close one.

*****
**** Michał Kwiatkowski
*** Matthias Brändle, Brad Wiggins, Alex Dowsett
** Jan Barta, Sylvain Chavanel, Steve Cummings
* Nicolas Roche, Dylan Van Baarle

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Stage 8b – London

tob s8b prof

 

The roads used in the TT get another pounding as the 2014 Tour of Britain finishes with a ten lap criterium around London. There are three sprints along the way and if the GC time gaps are still close after the morning stage then we could see a battle for the win. Otherwise, it should be a standard sprint stage as we saw in Liverpool.

Marcel Kittel is the strongest sprinter in the world and we might finally get to see him go head to head with Mark Cavendish. Ben Swift has been consistent and just lost out to Mark Renshaw in Llandudno – the Australian should take over if Cavendish gets into trouble. Nicola Ruffoni is the fastman from Bardiani-CSF and was runner-up on stage one. Heinrich Haussler and Tyler Farrar are both good riders who have never managed to recapture their best form.

***** Marcel Kittel
**** Mark Cavendish
*** Ben Swift, Nicola Ruffoni
** Heinrich Haussler, Mark Renshaw
* Tyler Farrar

tob s8b map