Alex Dowsett’s Anger – How Essex’s Finest Export Turned Silver Into Gold

With gaze finally shifting from the velodrome, today saw the men and women take to the Glaswegian roads in order to contest 2014’s Commonwealth Time Trial. The slightly rolling course was expected to favour those with a stronger background in road racing than the thoroughbred time trialists, as the riders were sent out into the surrounding countryside. Thankfully the morning’s rain had subsided somewhat as the women took to the road; by the time the men began later in the afternoon, the Scottish sun(!) had burnt most of it from the race-line.

Pooley Close To The Perfect Farewell:

There was great anticipation as the crowds waited for Emma Pooley to roll onto the course having recently announced her impending retirement from the sport. It did not take long to realise that Pooley and Kiwi Linda Villumsen were to be the main protagonists as it came to contesting the gold medal. Despite having led throughout the intermediate time checks, Emma Pooley could not maintain her blistering pace, succumbing to Villumsen’s perfectly timed late surge to take the Commonwealth title in 42:25.46. Australian Katrin Garfoot completed the podium in third as Scotland’s wonder child Katie Archibald missed out on a medial, despite her early pace, finishing fifth in the end. Elinor Barker of Wales and Joanna Rowsell of England finished 7th and 13th respectively.

Dowsett Rides To Gold:

The men’s race proved hard to predict before starting and even tougher as the main contenders reached the end of their efforts’. With Bradley Wiggins’ bizarre change of season goals before the Commonwealth Games, it was seen to open the podium up slightly to the chance of an unexpected medalist. This year’s Le Tour de France played a role in the conditioning of the riders heading into the day’s time trial, as those who had recently finished the three week campaign were a mixture of burnt out and hardened by the experience.

Luke Durbridge and Svein Tuft certainly appeared to be showing signs of fraying after staying the course with Orica-Greenedge the last few weeks, soon failing to match the pace of their bright starts. Jesse Sergent was the last to falter in pursuit of the medal placings, possessing greater freshness having not ridden the Tour, but fell away as Geraint Thomas, Rohan Dennis and Alex Dowsett pulled away from everybody.

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Geraint Thomas appeared to be riding in the typical Team Sky style of a negative-split, riding smoothly throughout in search of a rapid finish to take a medal. As the graph from VeloUk displays below, Thomas began to gain time after the halfway point as planned, but ran out of steam in the final stretch – no doubt a stressful tour blunting his pace somewhat. Rohan Dennis had recorded the best competition times this season out of the entire field, yet he seemed to be touted below Durbridge as Australia’s threat, but Dennis dismissed this myth with a blistering increase of pace between 17km and 32km. However, this acceleration was not enough to counter a determined Alex Dowsett who dipped out of 1st, even momentarily into 3rd, before finishing the strongest out of all the riders. Managing not only to over-turn the 7 second deficit from Dennis, but also take the title by 10 seconds.

Fluctuations made the podium battle hard to gauge.

Fluctuations made the podium battle hard to gauge.

Dowsett told the BBC post-race “I got a silver in Delhi and with with the disappointment of missing out on the Tour de France, I’ve been angry the last month. When I’m angry I pull something out of the bag so it’s very special.”

Bowing Out:

Meanwhile, David Millar was writing a new chapter in his career as the medals were being passed amongst the top three throughout the time trial. Only the second time competing in a Scotland kit and well into his retirement swan-song, Millar taking a medal at his home games is what the fans craved. However, it took blind faith to really show any confidence in Millar finishing with a medal worthy time given recent time trial performances and it will be no shock to see him making a greater impression upon the road race instead. Even then though, he would have to be more competitive than his showing at the British National Road Race, a performance which subsequently saw him cut from Garmin’s tour rosta.

The Future:

A noteworthy performance also came from James McLaughlin of Guernsey, who backed up his tenth in the National Time Trial with another tenth place in this Commonwealth race. Making him the first non-WorldTour rider home in both events, a great sign for the 23 year old.

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Spanish Steeds For The French?

Since the sad farewell of everybody’s favourite orange clad Basques – Euskaltel-Euskadi, the peloton has been lacking its usual edge of Spanish flair. One of the biggest losers in this departure from WorldTour racing had been the Basque bike manufacturer Orbea, who had no team to display their wares in 2014.

However, this appears to all be changing this week if reports in the Spanish and French cycling press are to be found correct. French ProConti team Cofidis, who currently ride Look frames, seem set to sign a new deal with Orbea to make them the official bike supplier of the continental outfit. With a big budget aimed at securing WorldTour status once again, Orbea will be part of a serious shake up at the team and will contribute added impetus to Cofidis’ presence at the Vuelta too in 2015.

The Sprint Finish – Le Tour Stage 21

So after three weeks of unrelenting pedalling through France, the obligatory Café ride to Paris signals the end of this edition of Le Tour de France 2014. From yellow jersey to lanterne rouge, each rider who has survived another legendary Tour deserves a huge round of applause and a well deserved rest from the saddle.

Same Old Story.

Same Old Story.

Some still maintain that the day’s leisurely attitude undermines any reasoning to have this extra stage after the year’s champion has been crowned in the mountains. Yet it still remains the iconic image when selling the tour, the fastest men in the world hurtling past Parisian landmarks in the name of taking the most prestigious Grand Tour stage win. The fact it ends in the capital has come to be seen as a necessary requirement and would feel truly foreign should the riders end well before the Paris skyline comes into view.

The Contenders:

All eyes are on Marcel Kittel again today, the new sprint king seems destined to dominate this short stretch of cobbles for the rest of his career. Though he looked far from fresh after surviving the mountains, his team are the best when it comes to lead-outs and all being well, he should be delivered to the line in first place.

 

André Greipel certainly has the raw power to win this and appeared to cope with the major climbs better than some of the other fast men. Yet he seems to fall short because of his rivals benefiting from better organised lead-outs, the big German needs to hope for a disorganised bunch kick if he wishes to win today.

The French will be pinning their hopes upon Bryan Coquard and Arnaud Demaré for a national win upon the Champs Élysées. The former has been the ever present fly in the ointment for Peter Sagan during the intermediate sprints and the latter has been almost anonymous in the tour so far. It is very difficult to judge what form Demaré is in exactly, but Coquard will no doubt be amongst the sprinters with his usual wingman Kévin Reza.

Given the apparent tiredness of the pure sprinters, it may well be the day for two dark horses known for their strong man credentials rather than pure pace. Alexander Kristoff has capitalised twice this year on other’s fatigue or disorganisation, it would come as little surprise should he push the German powerhouses to the line. Peter Sagan is another man who may capitalise today as he attempts to avoid sharing in the ignominy of Thor Hushovd’s Green Jersey winning Tour without taking a single stage win.

BONUS:

Keep your eyes peeled for Jens Voigt who will be retiring from professional racing after today’s stage finishe. It would come as no surprise should he be afforded a farewell lap of honour or decides to instigate a breakaway to ensure his kamikaze attacks are never forgotten by the bunch.

Panic For The Podium – Le Tour Stage 20

The solitary time trial at this year’s Tour de France rears its ugly head today for those counting the hours until the finish upon the Champs Élysées. However, not everything is settled ahead of tomorrow’s Café ride into Paris with the second and third podium places likely alter once more.

Bergerac to Périgueux is the day’s 54km race against the clock and it appears to offer some hills along the way for added tribulations. When looking closely though, it becomes apparent that these ‘climbs’ are more like energy sapping false flats which will cause riders pacing issues due to their deceptive nature. La Côte de Coulounieix is the exception to this on course, at 6km left this climb  will comes as a shock with a 6.5% gradient for 1.5km and will leave riders struggling to judge how much they have left in the tank as the finish approaches.

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Contenders:

Tony Martin is everybody’s favourite for today, the man is in imperious form as the reigning World Time Trial Champion and has displayed this with an amazing stage win at this year’s edition of Le Tour. It would not be stupid to suggest such efforts may reduce his impact today, though he does not seem to have faltered because of this in recent Grand Tour time trials.

Vincenzo Nibali has taken every opportunity to extend his lead in the yellow jersey this year and will still be keen to do so once again today. Though the lack of tough enough terrain to really play into his hands, Nibali will no doubt finish in the top 5 or so today.

Tom Dumoulin is only 23yrs old, but has already shown an ability against the clock on several occasions already. Having been reasonably well sheltered by his team up to this point, do not be surprised if it takes a while for a rider to surpass the time set by this young man. Another youngster with a greater reputation in time trials is the Australian Luke Durbridge, who has kept a low profile except for an unfortunate meeting with a soigneur and may be one to place in the top ten by the end of the day.

Tejay Van Garderen has blow the chance to get on the podium today by failing to limit the gains of the mountain men ahead of him before the day’s time trial. This is his remaining chance to save some face, so expect a competitive time from the American regardless of having little to gain.

The Podium Battle:

It would appear that the majority of the pundits have jumped to the conclusion of today’s resulting podium already, but assumptions are definitely apparent in their thinking process. Many envisage Alejandro Valverde as the reigning Spanish time trail champion to claw his away back onto the podium and stand as the second man upon the Champs Élysées. This in turn for most, would be followed by a storming ride by Jean-Christope Péraud, fuelled by national pride as the ex-national champion digs deep to ensure a Frenchman is atop the Parisian podium tomorrow. This leaves Thibaut Pinot relinquishing his second place spot due to the assumption that he is still adverse to time trials as in previous editions; where he has had to watch podium success slip away at each passing second on the road.

All of this could be a great error of judgement by commentators as these three men find themselves in differing conditions compared to that of the form books. Alejandro Valverde seems to have had everything set up today in order to finish this year’s edition atop the podium, but he seems to have bonked heavily in the final Pyrenean mountain days and looks far from the form which secured him national bands just a few weeks ago. 

Jean-Christophe Péraud was a huge surprise winner of the French time trial championship in 2009 and certainly does not appear to have put in anything recently to suggest such form will be blessed upon him today while trying to secure a Frenchman’s placing in the top 3. He knows that his career is tailing off and that today could be his last chance at such success, with that in mind and national pride at stake, he may over-achieve but not by enough. 

Thibaut Pinot is the real dark horse amongst this pack of contenders, people are still viewing him through the lens of time trial failings of the past, despite having finished an incredibly impressive 10th during the Tour de Romandie final time trial. No doubt the young Frenchman has learnt a lot from previous years and has assigned many training hours to riding his time trial bike, as well as sessions in the wind tunnel to perfect his aero tuck. So it will come as no shock to some should he ride himself into second spot today.

Ultimately it appears from the afore mentioned evidence that the final podium riding into Paris tomorrow afternoon will read: Vincenzo Nibali, Thibaut Pinot and Jean-Christope Péraud. Expect much celebrating in France should this come to fruition.

A Roll To Bergerac – Le Tour Stage 19

After the Pyrenean onslaught thrown at the riders over the last three days since Carcassonne, tomorrow’s rolling topography will ease the legs somewhat in comparison. Yet it is still an almost 210km trip tomorrow from Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour to Bergerac, so to consider this an easy day would be foolish given the scarcity of an “easy day” during any edition of Le Tour de France.

With all jerseys now settled, and the three way battle for the two remaining podium spots put on ice until the individual time trial, tomorrow offers itself up to the freshest sprinters instead. 

Simple?

Simple?

Despite the rolling nature throughout, and a Cat 4 climb with just over 10km left, stage 19 is positively flat; yet an obligatory breakaway will do their best to make life difficult for the sprint teams as it comes to chasing them down. Should such a breakaway still be away as they top Côte de Monbazilla, their hopes will remain slim as the consequential descent will lend perfectly to any chasing sprint teams.

The Contenders:

Marcel Kittel and most of the other sprint trains were last over the line on Stage 17 and certainly did not look able to overturn the tiredness in time for today. John Degenkolb could be the wiser bet for the day’s finish when looking at Giant-Shimano, especially as Kittel is likely to already have one eye firmly locked on the Champs Élysées finale. 

Andre Greipel is an unknown quantity in regards to his fitness since completing the last mountain run; though he was 4th on Stage 15 and could benefit again from a more disorganised sprint.

Bryan Coquard and Kévin Reza had a bizarre excursion into the breakaway yesterday which seems a surprising use of their energy given the favourable terrain today. Despite being one of the most consistent sprinters this year (including intermediates) Coquard is still bereft of a stage win and stage 19 is his last chance realistically.

No doubt Alexander Kristoff, Mark Renshaw, Romain Feillu and Samuel Dumoulin will be bobbing around in the top 10 in some order or another, but other than Kirstoff it is difficulty to see any of them springing a surprise upon tomorrow’s favourite.

The day’s winner will come in the form of Peter Sagan. To state that he is maintained a suffocating stranglehold upon the Green Jersey competition would do Sagan a disservice, the man has been ruthless once again this year. However, he still finds himself lacking the crowning glory to this Green Jersey campaign; the elusive stage win. Sagan never fails to maintain a presence in the top 5 finishers it seems and tomorrow would appear to lend itself to him in one of two ways. First of all, the pure sprinters will definitely be more concerned with staying fresh after the Pyrenees for the Champs Élysées on Sunday, hopefully diminishing their dedication to contest today’s stage. The second way in which Sagan may find himself benefited is the Cat 4 climb; we know how aggressive he can be when he sees an opportunity to ‘get one over’ on the peloton and that could be found in attacking on the descent from Côte de Monbazillac with around 10km left, dropping like a stone in the most comically aero position he can muster. Whichever the method, Peter Sagan will be eager to add a broad grin to his guaranteed Green Jersey and will surely throw everything at tomorrow in order to be smiling on more than just the Sprinter’s podium at the end of Stage 19. 

Out With A Bang – Le Tour Stage 18

The last day in the mountains offers the riders quality over quantity in terms of the mountain passes today. After the previous days in the Pyrenees, the early Cat 3 climbs will barely be perceivable by a bunch acclimatised to the unrelating kilometres of sustained climbing followed by taxing descending. Despite the HC summit finish at Hautacam, all eyes are focused upon the legendary Col du Tourmalet where podium contenders may be left short by a pushed tempo from Vincenzo Nibali, though the real battles will come between Alejandro Valverde, Thibaut Pinot and Jean-Christophe Péraud.

Two Big Questions To Be Answered.

Two Big Questions To Be Answered.

The Tourmalet is a deceptive climb, with the road heading skywards before they have barely begun the approach, but these first 5km are not to be trusted as the riders are lured into a comfortable rhythm. It soon becomes apparent after this that Col du Tourmalet is an entirely different beast, by the time they reach the 10km mark its true colours show through with 10% gradients. It will have an impact upon the GC, but it may not become apparent until the peloton turn onto the climb up to the summit finish. Descending will be rapid, offering AG2R another opportunity to expose the supposed weakness of Thibaut Pinot, though he has not appeared to struggle with the downhill so far.

A Legendary Climb.

A Legendary Climb.

Ascending Hautacam is an arduous task of ever-changing gradients and ramps which will leave riders struggling to find the right gear or rhythm the whole way up. Though sections are officially marked as 10% – 11%, the reality of the climb sees parts even in excess of this, meaning the 5% parts will be light relief after double digits. It is a brutal climb which will ask serious questions of those fighting for the win as to when to attack and how hard; whoever wins will require a display of brains as well as brawn.

A Surprise Victor Will Be Crowned.

A Surprise Victor Will Be Crowned.

The Contenders:

In terms of profile, the stage suits a breakaway staying away for the majority of today, before the inevitably diminished group duels for the win atop Hautacam. Col du Tourmalet will have a large impact upon the GC attackers, but given the long descent down into the final climb, its effects will only be felt once the contenders start getting out of the saddle and discover they have been robbed of energy for the last ascent. Other than a Vincenzo Nibali stage win today, it would appear that Rafal Majka has secured the Polka Dots for a team who must have been panicking once Alberto Contador climbed into the team car; he and Joaquim Rodriguez will stay amongst the pack with the ‘dots’ competition over.

Vincenzo Nibali could sit back and watch the fireworks today as Thibaut Pinot, Jéan-Christophe Peraud, Alejandro Valverde and Romain Bardet all test each other’s nerve for the sake of the podium in anticipation of the time-trial. But Nibali seems eager to display his dominance at every opportunity, so it would not come as much of a surprise if he surpasses the in-fighting to sail away towards increasing his time gap even further.

With the Polka Dots finished, Yellow Jersey firmly glued to the little Italian’s shoulders and little chance of movement in the top 20 of GC; it seems like ANYBODY could make the break today. Radioshack, Garmin and Sky could all do with making themselves known in the escapees after below-par and injury ravaged tours. No doubt a French presence will be apparent with Europcar, Cofidis or Bretagne-Séché putting a rider or two up the road in hope of a stage win.

Ultimately, the fireworks amongst the general classification is guaranteed in order to cement podium hopes, but (beyond being clairvoyant) I cannot see anybody managing to pick the day’s victor.

 

 

 

Taken To The ‘sourde – Le Tour Stage 17

Four climbs of category 1 or above will see greater activity from the favourites on Stage 17 than yesterday’s descent fuelled antics. No doubt a breakaway will make dash for it from the drop of the flag, but with the opportunity for riders to gain time upon the summit finish, the peloton will be eager to keep them on a tight leash to allow the GC men to fight it out. The Pyrenees are a relentless rollercoaster of draining climbings and mentally tiring descents with no rest upon the rolling flat. This will be one of the hardest days in the saddle of the 2014 Tour.

A Testing Day.

A Testing Day.

After the day’s brief trip into Spanish territory, the peloton will find themselves approaching the historic Col de Peyresourde with two more testing climbs remaining. 13.2km at 7% will not be very concerning for the riders, the Peyresourde fluctuates only gently beyond its average gradient; though it will be a leg sapping experience nonetheless.

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Today’s finale is going to be explosive as the summit finish to Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet offers the podium rivals launchpads for damaging attacks. 10.2km with an average of 8.3% is hard enough, but the bunch will also encounter ramps in excess of 10% along with winding hairpin bends to add greater anxiety too.

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Expect Fireworks.

The Contenders:

Thibaut Pinot appears to be in awesome form right now and having seen himself distance Vincenzo Nibali briefly the previous day, he will not hesitate to expose his rivals once more. Inevitably, such an attack will lure Alejandro Valverde, Romain Bardet, Jean Christophe-Peraud and the usual subjects to control possible time losses before the time-trial. Leopold Konig is still on the lookout for a stage win and has been riding very well, but I think the ultimate winner of the day will be Vincenzo NibaliJoaquim Rodriguez and Rafal Majka may also find themselves fighting a smaller battle today in the name of the Polka Dot jersey, but a stage win for Nibali could leave that battle a redundant spectacle.