Rapha Leave JLT-Condor to Fly The Flag

Since Rapha’s recent announcement that they were ceasing to fund Rapha-Condor-JLT next season, it was unsure what would happen to their roster of talented riders. However, it appears Condor and JLT have agreed to stump up the missing funding and have agreed to back the new JLT-Condor team for the foreseeable. Alongside the afore mentioned financial support, the team have also secured Mavic as their garment manufacturer, a serious acquisition which displays the team’s intent for the future.

Condor-JLT

JLT-Condor’s roster of riders is not dramatically altered since Rapha packed their bags, the biggest departure currently being that of sprinter Chris Opie. Joining the team for next season includes the returning Australian Richard Lang, after a year away from the sport, and under-23 hot prospect Dante Carpenter; who joins from Zappi’s after a great year which included a top 20 in the senior’s national road race. Team manager John Herety has yet again displayed his talent for striking an effective blend of youth and experience, one which reaps results while allowing talented youngsters to develop through the ranks successfully. With domestic dominance a familiar sight for Herety’s ‘men in black’ in recent years, he will be looking to cement such a foundation in order to build upon 2014’s European ambitions with his new JLT-Condor team.

Confirmed Squad 2015:
Graham Briggs
Ed Clancy
Mike Cuming
Kristian House
Richard Handley
Richard Lang
Felix English (under 23)
Dante Carpenter (under 23)
David McCarthy (under 23)
Ed Laverack (under 23)
Luke Mellor (under 23)
Joe Moses (under 23)
Tom Moses (under 23)
Harry Tanfield (under 23)

Dan-Craven-Profile-IG

Rider Profiles: No.1 Dan Craven

Launching today is the first in a series intended to move the spotlight to some unexpected and unusual riders from the racing scene; those with fascinating life stories you will not encounter elsewhere. When it came to deciding the standard bearer for this debut profile, it took all of a heartbeat to pick a man who already catches the eye, despite seldom winning. A gentleman with a grin bright enough to shine through his small mammal of a beard, the man in question is Dan Craven. Spokenforks first encountered Dan at a Tour of Britain sign on, when he was riding for the now defunct domestic IG-Sigma Sport. As the black and red clad riders hobbled atop the podium, Dan was pulled to one side for a typically unexpected rider interview in front of the massed crowds. A softly spoken voice floated over the heads of those present; inherently articulate and with a warming tone, the public naturally looked up to see where this peculiar accent was emanating from. Like a man who had recently escaped from Jumanji, Craven did not immediately appear to be your typical professional bike rider. With a beard to make watts obsessives weep and a beaming grin to please the camera; Dan Craven was gaining more fans with each ride he made around the country.

At this point in time, Dan’s career was hard to gauge in regards to its chances of further progression. He had already ridden for the top dogs of the British domestic scene (Rapha-Condor) and now looked to be heading away from the United Kingdom in order to grasp his chance before age became an unattractive factor for suitors. His eventual move came in the form of the Azerbaijani Synergy Baku Cycling Project, a team which had him packing his bag once again in order to race throughout Eastern Europe and Africa. It seemed like the British scene had lost a character everyone enjoyed rallying behind, but upon his return to these shores it was apparent the nation had not forgotten him so swiftly. The Lincoln Grand Prix is Britain’s closest thing to a classic, with the riders hurling themselves up a wall of cobbles repeatedly, such a task earns riders bombardments of whooping and motivational cheering as they crawl skywards. Regardless, Dan Craven was the man given custom shouts beyond the generic grunts of the public, it was clear his presence and efforts had been missed on UK shores immediately. But another subsequent transfer would take him away from the British scene once more, this time signing for the Bike Aid – Ride For Help team. A German licensed outfit with a roster which mirrored this fact, making the sole Namibian standout once more against his fellow riders.

The liaison with Bike Aid – Ride For Help would prove to be a brief one; not long after signing with the team an unexpected deal was brokered, catapulting Dan Craven to WorldTour status in the colours of Team Europcar. This sudden transition was certainly a bolt from the blue for most paying attention to Craven’s career; the mechanics behind the deal proving equally fascinating. Back in Dan’s home nation of Namibia, he had nurtured a partnership with Nedbank as a financial backer for his own ‘Craven Camp’ events for Namibian youngsters. Since its early days, the relationship had now grown to see Nedbank sponsoring the Namibian National Cycling Team, developing youths by ensuring they can compete at top level competitions across the continent. Since Dan’s move to Team Europcar, Nedbank had also moved to the French team, becoming an official sponsor alongside the Namibian’s surprising transfer. It is harsh to say that having a financial backer willing to channel funds into Team Europcar was the sole reason behind the transfer, but for a WorldTour team with one of the smaller budgets, it does make sense to bring such a rider onboard. In reality, the foundations behind Dan Craven’s move to the top table were laid several years ago when he met Jean-Rene Bernaudeau (Team Europcar Manager) at the Tour of Gabon in 2011. Evidently the pair must have got on like a house on fire, as within a year Bernaudeau was attempting to find space within Team Europcar to slot Dan Craven into the roster.

Despite the Frenchman’s efforts, it would not be until the spring of 2014 when he was able to contact ‘the bearded wonder’ with an opportunity to finally join Team Europcar and step up to the WorldTour. Obviously Dan Craven did not hesitate to say yes, but it must have been even more unexpected as to where his acceptance would take him racing by the end of the summer. A childhood spent riding beneath Namibia’s scorching sun, on roads which stretch onwards until they melt into the horizon breeds a resilience to arid conditions. The autonomous intake of fluid, tarmacs changeable character and knowing how hours in the sun lower your ‘red zone’ threshold. All of these skills learnt by a young Dan Craven would prove to be the Swiss Army Knife which not only saw him invited to, but also flourish at the 2014 Vuelta a España.

Yet it was the polar opposite conditions in which we saw Dan Craven display his class and form ahead of his eventual selection by Team Europcar’s Bernaudeau for their Spanish conquest. Despite the World’s fondness for the bicycle, it is still a sport dominated by the major central European nations, with a sprinkling of USA and Australia. So when the Commonwealth Games appear on the year’s calendar, those from smaller countries have an opportunity to compete against some of the sport’s finest and measure their prowess in the process. This year’s Commonwealth Games Road Race was a war of attrition in the Glaswegian deluge; only 12 finished that day, all of which deserved a medal for surviving the herculean trial afforded to them. Dan Craven was one such conqueror of the Scottish roads, but walking away with nothing to show of his efforts; not immediately at least. Fast forward to the start of 2014’s La Vuelta a España in Jerez de la Frontera; a stressful Team Time Trial awaits the riders as their first task at the calendar’s final Grand Tour. Many are speaking of their eagerness to get the event over and done with, a sentiment which also emanates from the familiarly cheerful and bearded face of a certain Namibian.

Dan Craven made the cut for his debut Grand Tour in less than a year of riding for a UCI WorldTour team and those aware of such an achievement were to be keeping a close eye on his efforts. Survival is the word on the lips of riders and pundits alike, a daily routine of doing your job perfectly before being cast out the back and tasked with clinging on until the end – even then the concern of time cuts forces you to push harder still. Over the three weeks Dan’s daily finishing positions were peppered between the 140’s – 160’s on average, a seemingly unimpressive statistic until you inspect closer on these performances. Fulfilling his commitments to Team Europcar and still finishing amongst the likes of David Millar, Peter Sagan, Rohan Dennis and Carlos Betancur; indicating that Dan was conquering each stage as effectively as any Grand Tour veteran or mountain man. Finishing 140th of the original 219 starters back in Jerez de la Frontera is not simply a respectable achievement, but a huge realisation of talent and dedication from a rider who represents a continent’s growing power in the world of professional cycling.

 

Another note of satisfaction must of been apparent once Craven glanced down the list to see those which he had finished above in general classification after three weeks of testing terrain and wearing weather. A supposed dark horse heading into the Vuelta was meant to be Colombia’s Carlos Betancur, a rising talent who had been chasing the podium places at the previous year’s Giro d’Italia. Instead we found a struggling and possibly overweight Bentancur falling to the bottom of the pack, before eventually finishing almost an hour slower than Craven. Now this is not to revel in another rider’s poor performance, but most would agree that this fact was not due any misfortune at the Colombian’s expense, but rather a shining example of how “hard work beats talent, when talent does not work hard.” Having wound down the season at smaller races, the next challenge appearing on the horizon is Europcar’s confirmation that they will cease to sponsor the team at the end of 2015. Next year will be a testing time, Craven will no doubt be keen to maintain his WorldTour exploits, so an impressive year will be required when it comes to negotiating a contract with either new sponsors or perhaps a new team altogether. Until then an off season of relaxation is richly deserved for Dan; with friends and fans happy to welcome him back anywhere from Namibia to France, Bristol to London – Dan Craven is a star for many.

Dan McLay Signs For Bretagne-Séché

Dan-McLay

The French continental outfit Bretagne Séché-Environnement have confirmed the signing of exciting British prospect Daniel McLay. Though born in New Zealand, the 22 year old has progressed well on the continent after backing from The Dave Rayner Fund led to him joining the Lotto-Belisol development squad recently.

This summer saw McLay secure an impressive win at the Tour de l’Avenir, a superb indicator of future quality as a rider develops towards the World Tour. After a solid Tour of Britain in the colours of Team GB, he put in an impressive Top 10 performance in the junior Paris-Tours despite being outnumbered by rival teams.

Spokenforks will be watching the progression of this promising young star closely and wish Daniel all the best with his next step.

Robbed – Andy Schleck Walks Away

Though expected when Andy Schleck announced his scheduled press conference last week; the wire limbed Luxuembourg star’s confirmation of his retirement from professional racing (with immediate effect ) was still a sad affair.

 

Seemingly jinxed in recent years by complex injuries from the most innocuous incidents left the gifted rider having to call time on his career. With boyish looks and an ability to charm the press, it is easy to still view Andy Schleck as the latest hotshot kid on the WorldTour, but in reality it was a 29 year old who sat before us when breaking the news.

An athlete’s prime might be short, but their career is usually able to stretch beyond the age of 30, even despite issues with form and staying upright. It demonstrates how serious and acutely affected Schleck’s knee has been since crashing on Stage 3 of this year’s Tour de France. Despite recovering from the original ligament damage, he has succumbed to retirement’s call after trying hard to soldier on despite a serious absence of cartilage below his kneecap.

When a young Andy Schleck started to make his mark upon the WorldTour, he appeared to be a member of a rare club – The Pure Climber. His fellow countryman Charly Gaul was an immediate comparison, making the steepest slopes seem effortless with a body which looked too lean to even turn the pedals. The sport nowadays demands Grand Tour contenders to be inhumanly efficient in all aspects of the competition, often being the shove in the back which leads a rider down the troublesome road of doping. Andy was never destined to be one of these ‘all round wonders’, ailing in Time Trials (despite two national titles) and often lacking the killer instinct of a puncheur to take One Day races and tour stages. His unexpected strength became obvious as the roads stretched onwards and upwards for mile after mile however, providing the svelte rider an opportunity to display his talent for the most ruthless of terrain.

Andy-Schleck-Retires

Andy Shleck’s breakthrough at the Tour de France proved to be a much needed contrast against the suspicions of Albert Contador and Lance Armstrong in hindsight. Spending his time in the pure white jersey of best young rider, Schleck looked set to be the crusading white knight to usher in a generation of clean riders with no “I once doped, but I don’t anymore” small print. His performances were not just limited to Tourmalet winning shows in Le Tour, as his abilities in the Ardenne’s classics became apparent at a younger age still. However, it was really the 2007 Giro d’Italia which saw Schleck catch the attention of those in the sport; finishing second overall aged 21 with the best young rider’s jersey on his debut. This proved to be no fluke as he continued to progress onwards to three back to back Tour de France podiums – one becoming a victory thanks to Alberto Contador’s retrospective disqualification.

Realistically, this is the end of a career; not the end of a life. Andy Schleck’s injury is not life threatening, nor will it impact upon his daily quality of life. Schleck was informed that any such attempt to race despite, the serious damage, could result in him requiring a knee replacement before the age of 40. As a multiple Grand Tour podium rider and with sustained major sponsorship, he is expected to be comfortably well off with a safety net of six zeros sitting in his back account despite retirement.

Andy-Schleck-Retires

Nobody is quite sure what Andy’s next move will be; he spoke of a life spent in cycling mournfully, wanting an extended presence in the racing scene a possibility through involvement with opportunities such as Luxembourg’s national programme or Trek Factory Racing. Regardless of what his final decision might be, the sport will remain open armed to the ever-youthful Andy Schleck – though sad to have been robbed of his future.

The Last Hurrah – Il Lombardia Preview

With the season drawing to a close, the last major race and final monument of the year is Italy’s ‘Race of The Falling Leaves’ – Il Lombardia. Forming the latter bookend to the year’s classics season, Il Lombardia is the last chance for a rider to add a major victory to his palmarès before the races curtail off into more minor events. A race with a tendency to lend itself to back-to-back winners; Joaquim Rodriguez, Damiano Cunego, Phillipe Gilbert and Paolo Bettini have all one here at least twice, but we may see a new champion after serious alterations to the route. With the World Road Race Championship having slipped through the hands of all of Il Lombardia’s major contenders’ (except for Poland’s wonder kid) many will treat this with equal importance.

Course:

With the organisers keen to avoid the race becoming formulaic in its tactics, changes to the terrain should mean we see a totally different race to last year’s edition and possibly a new winner too. Stretching over 256km, Il Lombardia will be as equally testing as any of the other Monuments, with a more difficult run of climbs in this year’s latter stages. However, despite the day being a more gruelling affair overall, the finish has been simplified to fit the talents of the classic specialists who often benefit from an elite bunch kick.

Il-Lombardia-Race-Preview

Life gets serious as the race reaches its conclusion.

Expected to drain the legs of the riders during the day are the ascents of  Madonna del Ghisallo, Colle Gallo and the day’s major feature of  Passo di Ganda – a 9.2km climb which sees its average gradient of 7.3% reach a maximum of 15% as the riders approach the summit. Despite having the composition of a climb intended to decide a race, with over 60km remaining once ascended by the peloton, it is unlikely anyone will win from this point – though many could find their race being lost. Over the following 60km or so of racing, the pack will be forced to navigate technical descents (possibly in the wet) and roads which narrow drastically at times. Stress will be high, so teams will need to focus on keeping their leaders’ well positioned at the front of affairs as the final 3okm come into view. After a 14km stretch of calmer rolling roads ends with 5km remaining, the favourites well be expected to make their move on the race winning climb of Bergamo. Despite having being proceed by climbs more suited to the mountain men, the day’s deciding feature is more akin to that of a big Ardennes finish at 4.9km with an average gradient of 7.9% (12% max) – after the proceeding 250km of racing you will here the legs blow from home. Bergamo is also a tricky challenge thanks to cobbled sections, narrow roads and even a set of citadel gates to navigate – think GP de Wallonie’s fortified finish. Once over the top, those out front will drop like stones through the descents wider streets and find themselves taking the last left hand turn onto a flat 900m stretch to the line.

Contenders:

With the latest course changes taken into account, the range of possible winners has broadened massively thanks to a finish which allows more tactical permutations than recent editions. Many will look to Il Lombardia to compensate for a poor Worlds or even save their entire season. Immediately making Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez, Alejandro Valverde and Philippe Gilbert the big name favourites in the betting market; which when you consider the course seems somewhat irrational. The first 250km might suit ‘The Three Musketeers‘ but realistically Gilbert is the only one truly suited to the finale. The classics specialist should be seen as the favourite for this, having won this race twice before (though upon contrasting terrain) he will fancy his chances for the win if still present late on.

Possibly the most marked man in the peloton on the day, Michal Kwiatkowski could see the final 5km as the perfect opportunity to take his debut in the rainbow bands of the World Champion. With the short and hard climb of Bergamo leading onto a long descent to the finish, Kwiatkowski could slip off the front and replicate the antics of Ponferrada once again. However, the young Pole is still weak when it comes to difficult and prolonged climbing, meaning we might not even see him in the  race winning group of leaders.

Another similarly talented youngster who appears to be going from strength to strength this season is Tony Gallopin. The young Frenchman is an interesting outsider for the win after impressing at the Worlds, Wallonie and the Canadian Grand Prixs recently. If able to be remain part of a group which makes it to the home stretch, he does have a powerful sprint on him for a climber but is likely to be heavily fatigued after such a testing day.

Dan Martin is a would be favourite in a year with better form and better luck, though it would be foolish to dismiss him totally on his final chance to rescue his season. Seemingly jinxed this year, he was going well in Ponferrada before more bad luck cut his race short once again. He has form at the one-day classics and has come close to winning Il Lombardia already amongst his solid placings at this final monument.

A man who appears to be going well as of late is Frank Schleck, putting in impressive showings at both GP de Wallonie and Milano – Torino has proven he is still a man to be feared on the right terrain. His key weakness is a lack of tactical nous however, often finding himself in racing winning positions, only to throw them away while decision making.

Bauke Mollema seems to have fallen to the wayside as people select their favourites’ for Il Lombardiaincredible considering his amazing consistency amongst the classics. At the end of a season however, such form can often be an altogether different task to achieve when faced with fatigue. The Dutchman should be able to hold on in the mountains, make it to the final climb and put in a decent sprint if required.

Two more who could benefit from a reduced bunch sprint or breakaway making it to the line are Ben Swift and Jelle Vanendert. A more tactical race would allow them to remain in contention for the win amongst a small group, but it remains unlikely that the pair will be at the forefront to contest the win come kilometre 256.

Il-Lombardia-Preview

Outcome:

Even on closer inspection, Il Lombardia appears to be a relatively open affair for the last big race of the year. Not only does the course suit a greater number of riders than usual, but the location of this fixture in the calendar means many will be targeting this more seriously than others would suspect. Ultimately, the day does appear to be tailored made for Philippe Gilbert and his potent finishing abilities. He will face stiff competition from Bauke Mollema, Dan Martin and Michal Kwiatkowski if he manages to stay in contention. Though messrs Valverde, Contador and Rodriguez are all likely to be present at the decisive climb of Burgamo, they do not excel upon such terrain and would be better off with a more challenging conclusion or a summit finish.

1st Gilbert 2nd Martin 3rd Mollema

The Worst Kept Secrets – Team Sky’s Transfers

Team-Sky-Transfers

Team Sky recently announced five major additions to their roster for 2015; with the confirmation of Nicolas Roche’s arrival being the worst kept secret in the peloton. Alongside the highly experienced Grand Tour Irishman, who has been a loyal lieutenant of Alberto Contador’s recently, comes the exciting addition of Leopold König. The Czech rider has been progressing impressively upon each Grand Tour appearance, with a 9th and 7th place at his respective Vuelta and Tour de France debuts. He could function as a great assistant to Chris Froome, but the real ambition of having signed such a great prospect will be to have him lead a Grand Tour team of his own soon.

In an attempt to bolster Team Sky’s profile amongst the One Day Classics are Britain’s Andy Fenn and the returning Lars Petter Nordhaug. Fenn, The former British Cycling development product, has been supporting Mark Cavendish in recent years and has formed a reliable reputation; despite still only being 24 years old. The return of Lars Petter Nordhaug will be well received by all at Team Sky, his original departure being somewhat of a surprise considering his talents as a classics man in a team bereft of such riders. Combining the talents of the Norwegian rider with Ian Stannard, Ben Swift and Andy Fenn will raise hopes of Team Sky finally taking their debut Monument. Finally, Dutchman Wout Poels has also made the move from OPQS alongside Fenn and will be a solid purchase ahead of another year of Grand Tour campaigns.

The purchase of five riders would be costly for any team, but the quality of those who have signed up to Team Sky can only mean one thing – more riders are set to leave. With the recent financial regulations having capped teams at a maximum of 30 riders, Sky will need to shift more riders alongside Edvald Boasson Hagen’s departure to MTN-Qhubeka. Bradley Wiggins is yet to sign another contract and with his eyes set predominately on the track, a lower tier development squad has been suggested as a vessel in order to keep him on the road when required. Such a move would free up space while still being signed to Sky, but only if he drops below Pro-Continental level in order to register this new development team. A favourite to leave the British outfit is the American Joe Dombrowski, who has been strongly linked with the recent merger of Garmin-Slipstream and Cannondale. Out of the door along with the young American is likely to be Dario Cataldo, the Italian Time Trial specialist is linked strongly with being the latest addition to Astana’s support network for Vincenzo Nibali and it only seems a matter of time before this is confirmed.

Further strong rumours amongst the Italian press today regarding Team Sky, are the possible signings of Sonny Colbrelli, Elia Viviani and junior Filippo Ganna. If true, this would really aid Team Sky in becoming a more well rounded competitive outfit across the race calendar; with Colbrelli slotting in alongside the growing Classics team, Viviani providing them with a sprinter to ride for and Ganna being a prospect for the future after impressive performance at the Junior World’s Road Race, Individual Time Trial and Paris-Roubaix.