Abu-Dhabi-Tour-Stage-4

Abu Dhabi Tour – Stage 3 Preview

Course:

After two days of sailing through the desert, Stage 3 finally provides a significant uphill challenge to the peloton as the race looks to rearrange the general classification with a testing climb to the finish line. The 150km journey from Al Ain to Jebel Hafeet is another predominantly flat affair, teeing up the climbers for the ascent to the line which is certain to decide this year’s overall winner of the Abu Dhabi Tour. Having stayed safe throughout the day’s flat section, those with an eye on victory shall begin the 10.8km climb which averages 6.6% and possesses a maximum of 11% just before it eases ahead of the finish. With this in mind, any rider with a potent kick who survives the initial selection process upon the lower slopes will become a clear favourite to win the day.

Abu-Dhabi-Tour-Stage-3

Contenders:

Vincenzo Nibali has ridden relatively lightly since this year’s Tour de France and was one of the main protagonists on this same stage last year; his crash at the Olympic Road Race keeping him off the bike until now. The Italian could sign off from his time at Astana with a final victory ahead of his move across to the brand new Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team for 2017. There is certainly no doubt that Nibali will survive the ascent and he has a brilliant chance of winning if he manages to ditch the strong puncheurs before making a move in the final kilometres.

Alberto Contador is another big name rider leaving his team at the end of this year’s Abu Dhabi Tour, leaving the histrionic Oleg Tinkov’s eponymous squad to join a rejuvenated Trek-Segafredo for 2017. Contador had not raced since his fourth place finish at the Vuelta a España, so is somewhat of a mystery in regards to anticipating his form right now. This shorter ascent may not play to his strengths which have seen him dominate grand tours for so long, but there is no reason to think he cannot at least follow the main contenders.

Diego Ulissi could catch the climbers napping here if he manages to stay in contention during the ascent and then strike out with one of his famous uphill sprints. Given that the road does ease ahead of the summit, Ulissi has a strong chance of putting the purer climbers to bed with on well timed attack within view of the finish line as nobody can match him upon his favoured terrain.

Andrey Amador has a rare chance to lead Movistar in the absence of both Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, no doubt looking to make this opportunity count by winning today’s summit finish. He has enjoyed a successful year while riding in support of his team leaders and is sure to view this as a golden chance to add to his sole career win; a statistic difficult to believe.

Nicolas Roche looks to be Sky’s best chance of featuring well today, the Irishman arriving in Abu Dhabi to sign off from his time at the British outfit ahead of his move to BMC next year. He is a strong climber and is actually quite a potent finisher when required to go head to head with a rival for the win.

Other names who could all cause a stir are Davide RebellinTanel KangertThomas De GendtAlexandr KolobnevChristopher Latham and Michal Kwiatkowski.

Outcome:

1st Diego Ulissi 2nd Alberto Contador 3rd Vincenzo Nibali

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CiCLE Classic 2016 – Gallery

Spokenforks has witnessed plenty of misfortune during its time stood at the roadside hassling riders with flashbulbs and camera lenses; punctures, wrong turns, bananas M.I.A all checked off. Rutland’s CiCLE Classic multiplies these dramas for fun, twisting roads and gravel farm tracks feeding disaster, bad luck and failure to bloom within the peloton. Sadly, for us at least, it was bad luck which saw our camera make our trip up to Rutland seem a disaster before we had even seen a pedal turned in anger.

Whether it was a case of using film cameras from the 70’s which should have been hung up many moons ago or the mean race faces on show at NFTO; one picture and the shutter had called it quits on us. No back-up because “these bags are getting heavy” seemed genius at some point along the way, so Spokenforks was now camera-less in the middle of Rutland with the country’s best one day race waiting to roll out.

Sunday morning in Oakham was slim pickings for camera shops…surprisingly…so it looked like it was game over for us at the CiCLE Classic; finito, “that’s all folks”, kaput, The End. But to come all this way and leave empty handed would have been a disaster, so scanning down the high street for a charity shop to plunder was a bolt of inspiration from the blue. A total of £1.99 later we had a “telefoto” point & shoot compact and the lowest of expectations.

CiCLE Classic Rutland Melton 2016

These may not be the most spectacular of shots, but they go some way to convey the hectic nature of the CiCLE Classic; weather you are a brave rider or just a disorganised journalist – 0h, and a menacing looking bull atop a hill.

CiCLE Classic Rutland Melton 2016

CiCLE Classic Rutland Melton 2016

CiCLE Classic Rutland Melton 2016

CiCLE Classic Rutland Melton 2016

CiCLE Classic Rutland Melton 2016

CiCLE Classic Rutland Melton 2016

CiCLE Classic Rutland Melton 2016

CiCLE Classic Rutland Melton 2016

CiCLE Classic Rutland Melton 2016
CiCLE Classic Rutland Melton 2016

CiCLE Classic Rutland Melton 2016

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A Day At The Races – Tour of Britain 2015


Tour of Britain Stage 7 – Fakenham to Ipswich

Terrain: Country lanes & military airbase

Weather: Lazy drizzle & grey skies

Total Distance: 227.1km                Crowds: Waterproof ponchos everywhere

Start: Fakenham Racecourse        Best Game Face: Graham Briggs

Bradley Wiggins Factor: Parting fans like Moses to make sign-on


Lean racing machines stalk Fakenham racecourse as commonplace, so to see a crowd gathered around the parade ring is nothing unusual here. But today’s runners and riders distinctly lack the expected glossy manes of racehorses, even if Rasmus Quaade does sport a powerful moustache, however plenty here still share a fondness for oats with the thoroughbreds who normally excite the grandstand. This toy town sized venue sits nestled amongst the intricate spaghetti work of Norfolk’s roads, testing both bus and driver as much as any Alpine ascent, resulting in a tediously drawn out transfer for all the riders.

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Unsurprisingly, the day’s dank dawn has done little to persuade the teams away from their space age wagons, with only a handful of British domestic teams bold enough to saddle up on the turbos outside. So unattractive is the weather, that for many of the squads here, the sign-on process has turned into a 100m dash from bus to stage and back. When out onstage however, the speakers gurgle with the daily spiel, guaranteeing each rider’s wave earns a cheer from the crowd; now steaming beneath their complimentary rain ponchos.

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Despite the sport’s huge groundswell of interest on British turf thanks to Cavendish, Wiggins, Armitstead Hoy, Pendleton and Froome; cycling remains a strange beast. There are no true limitations for ambling around the riders and their buses, teams relying on the constraints of social norms stopping strangers from inviting themselves onto the bus and generally being weird. The majority of today’s attendance is firmly ensconced within touching distance of the Team WIGGINS van. A sea of limbs grasping smartphones in place of autograph books, contorting their bodies to rattle off selfies with the thread slim Bradley Wiggins stalking the crowded barrier in shot.

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This knight’s fellow men-at-arms form the remaining five sixths of his battalion, three of whom slink away to sign-on and return with little interest from the crowd. Bradley on the other hand cycles the hundred meters to the stage with an amateur town crier ahead of him, negotiating a gangway through those magnetised into orbit by his charisma.

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Wiggins narrows the scope of a race so acutely that appreciation of the breadth and depth of riders here can became momentarily suspended. Regardless of whether Britain is truly enamoured or simply infatuated by cycling, the profile of the sport has struck an exponential phase of development. This 2015 line-up bolsters World Champions, several National Champions, Grand Tour jersey winners, Monument winners and one of Eritrea’s favourite sons. A once backwater race now sits at the top table of cycling with the room to grow in stature yet further still, admittedly how best to do so is uncertain, though Tour of Britain’s take on the eccentric Tour de France advertising cavalcade could be a start.

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Fakenham’s drizzled starting line becomes populated all of a sudden, the weather inspiring riders for a Le Mans style scramble to saddle up and ride out with no hanging around. The previous six days of racing are already etched deep on the brow of many, exaggerated by the tangible heavy sigh pressing down on the peloton from the cinderblock sky above. As they trickle out from the racecourse like a loose thread, it seems that a miserable day is all that lies in store for these riders.

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Finish – Ipswich Town Centre

Weather: Blue skies and obscene levels of sunshine

Crowds: Skilled in parkour to get a good view

Bradley Wiggins Factor: Encouraging the 60+ age group to sprint over walls


Like ants beneath a magnified sun, the riders now skitter across scorched tarmac, sailing through the technical kilometres preceding the Ipswich town centre finish. Britain’s climate has impersonated a more continental vibe for the latter half of the day, spectators swap their hot chocolate for cool lagers, while riders strip down to short sleeves for the heated finale into town. Whereas Fakenham’s departure point felt like a juddering steam engine building up pressure to leave the station, the habitual scanning from ‘jumbotron’ to finishing straight (and back again), is more akin to waiting for a thundering bullet train to blitz its way to the line. So eager are those gathered to witness the anticipated showdown between Elia Viviani and André Greipel, that the rooftops of estate agents, apartments, bars and banks now become sky-high terraces for those able to negotiate their way to the summit.

ToB - Ipswich 009

If the start’s modest crowd of enthusiasts and dedicated Rapha/Wiggins acolytes demonstrated a local interest, Stage 7’s town centre finale confirms a nation’s burgeoning obsession. Barriers are five bodies deep, even beyond the finishing line, with 50km still to race before the peloton begin bearing down on the county capital’s outskirts. Time is said to be relative at best, but waiting for first sight of a rider exiting the final bend exaggerates this further still, spectators hung in suspended animation, as minute by minute nothing changes in Ipswich. ‘Jumbotron’ serves as the only assurance that there is indeed a race worth waiting for here. A breath which never quite suffices or the infinite fall of shepard tones, being a spectator feels punishing on occasion, with the prospect of watching paint dry seeming electric after a while.

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Time at the line is focused on one calculation: the exact moment at which your eyes can scan down from the live TV and register that the riders are now before you with only 100m left. From rider to spectator, road racing’s facets are sunk deep within hours of increasing tension, before venting frenziedly and abruptly for the mad rush across the line. Synapses spark in an attempt to translate the initial smattering of vibrant jerseys into rider names, and in turn, vocalise some sort of motivational howl to nudge your favoured rider over the line. Today that rider is André Greipel, cementing his season’s final victory in a year which has seen him collect at least one win from nine of his ten stage race appearances. Who said sprinting stopped at 33 years old?

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Then it dawns across the crowd – “That’s it.”
The race both comes to life and fades within several pedal revolutions; perhaps no other sports is so tightly bonded to ‘the moment’ in that respect. Rugby, tennis and football drag beyond an hour and have their entirety spectated upon from one location, while much of track and field, or even gymnastics, is the repetition of efforts in pursuit of perfection. Staying at home for armchair race coverage fails to guarantee witnessing everything either, as directors cut from camera to camera in an attempt to please every nation’s fans; missing breaks suddenly forming, riders being dropped or losing everything altogether as weather sabotages live feed.

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Those who prop themselves up against a race barrier exchange hours of staring at dire advertising hoardings, for a fleeting moment which places them alongside their heroes. In that moment comes the satisfaction of sharing it with those who inspire you, a process repeated for fans from kilometre zero to the day’s final podium presentation. Photography mirrors this attribute of cycling well, all of the shots here could be flashes in the memory of any individual who turned out for the day. There is no football style ‘build up play’ to be remembered when standing roadside, this sport hinges on being in the right place at the right time; on either side of the barriers.

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Ultimately it becomes an addiction, wanting another pass by the peloton, spotting your favourite rider or dreaming of seeing the race winning move vanish up the road. Even nowadays with parades of press motorbikes surrounding the bunch and helicopters overhead, certain aspects and stories of the race are only documented through those dedicated followers at the roadside. For those who decided to watch Stage 7 at some point from Fakenham to Ipswich, all now possess a moment which intertwines them with the race. Yet a lucky few will have walked away with a story too and it is in the pursuit of those tales which fuels interest to become obsession.

END.


Tour-De-Yorkshire-Spokenforks-Preview-Stage-2

Tour de Yorkshire – Stage 2 Preview

The first day in Yorkshire proved to be the hectic affair predicted by Spokenforks yesterday; seeing star riders caught out and crash out during the ride to Scarborough. Team Sky acted quickly after the disappointing loss of Ben Swift and benefited from placing two men in the breakaway as Philip Deignan and Lars Petter Nordhaug worked over the likes of Voeckler, Sanchez and Rossetto to deliver Sky the win in the hands of the Norwegian. With major crashes and stressful crosswinds, the opening stage resembled that of an Ardennes Classic than a simple spin around Britain’s biggest county. Stage 2 should offer some relief for the peloton, but the riders will have already learnt that Yorkshire is not a region to underestimate in what it can throw at them.

Course:

As the crow flies, Selby to York is only 12 miles or so, but the organisers have managed to stretch this normally short jaunt across 174km and two moderate climbs. Only 34.5km will have passed by the time the peloton ride themselves on to the first ascent of the day; Cote de North Newbald. It is the longest of the day’s two climbs at 1.2km long and averages out at 5.3% during its entirety. An intermediate sprint at Wetwang is the next notable feature, once contested 4km separates them from the second and final climb of the day. Though 100m shorter than its predecessor, the Cote de Fimber is a steeper affair which sustains its skywards ambitions at a steady 6.2% gradient.

The riders will drop down the other side as they pass through the feed zone at Norton and make the first of two passes across the finish line at York after 133km of riding. Once again the pack will roll over the line with a little over 20km left; by now they will have had two good looks at the finish and know how to position themselves beneficially for the stage winning third crossing. A sprint finish seemed guaranteed here before the chaos of stage 1 was unleashed and with Ben Swift and Marcel Kittel now out of the race, the pressure to chase a breakaway has not fallen clearly upon any one team’s shoulders.

Tour-De-Yorkshire-Spokenforks-Preview-Stage-2

 

Contenders:

Domestic team NFTO will see Stage 2 as a golden opportunity to make their presence here felt as they build towards future WorldTour ambitions. Their sprinter is Steele Von Hoff who comes here on the back of winning the Melton CiCLE classic last Sunday and finished less than 4mins down on today’s winner Lars Petter Nordhaug. Stage 2 should be a much more simple affair for the teams and the Australian should have sufficient support from the likes of Ian Bibby, Rob Partridge and Dale Appleby.

Greg Van Avermaet is clearly still in great condition having ridden consistently during his spring campaign in the classics and Ardennes. No doubt he will feel somewhat frustrated after Stage 1 due to the presence of Samuel Sanchez in the lead group meaning any possible BMC chase was a no go; a lack of race radios leaving his 20km chase back into the second group a waste. He took the sprint for the minor places when finishing 6th and would certainly have been the fastest man present had he made it into the lead group. The finish in York could offer him the chance to address this; the lack of pure sprinters making his chances of a win much more plausible. However, this is only possible if his team decide not to ride for sprinter Rick Zabel instead; the 21 year old finishing almost 15mins behind stage winner Nordhaug. It seems illogical to bring such a fast rider to this race and not utilise him on the stage most likely to be decided by a bunch kick. He has taken several top 10 results in the Tour of Britain previously and this could come as the perfect opportunity to take his maiden professional win.

With local lad Ben Swift now out of the race, perhaps fellow Yorkshireman Russell Downing will be on hand to give the locals something to shout about. He won the sprint from his group which finished a little over 2mins behind the winner in Scarborough and will be all too aware of how rare an opportunity to win a WorldTour race in his home county is. CULT Energy will be happy to ride for Downing and there is little to suggest he cannot place well if the build up to a sprint finish goes off without a hitch.

Once again Owain Doull might be the best bet for Team Wiggins in a sprint finish and appeared to be coping well with the demanding day’s ride to Scarborough. Finishing comfortably within the pack, Doull looks to have judged his efforts well in order to remain fresh for Stage 2’s finish in York.

Chris Sutton is probably now Sky’s designated sprinter and could definitely fill the void left by Swift with relative success. However, he crossed the line in the final group during day one and could well have been snarled up in the crash which left Swift no option but to abandon. The team could be more interested in protecting race leader Nordhaug ahead of a difficult concluding day on Sunday, but if they offer Sutton some support, he should be able to return the favour with a solid effort.

Marcel Kittel soon packed his bags during Stage 1 and is likely to have passed over the sprinting reigns to Dutchman Ramon Sinkeldam. It is not often he is given this freedom to sprint in his own right and during Oman this year proved he can compete with the best when finishing 4th behind Guardini, Boonen and Pelucchi. Giant-Alpecin are well versed in coping with leadouts, but Sinkeldam will only have four men at his disposal all day as Caleb Fairly joined Kittel on the list of abandonments.

Team LottoNL-Jumbo are still lacking a win in their debut season and are likely to look upon Moreno Hofland in order to remedy that in York. He has form for winning from lower tier sprints, these include victories at Tour of Hainan (where he has four stages and one GC victory) and the Tour of Utah. However, his wins at Paris-Nice, Vuelta a Andalucia and Limburg Classic all help to build a noteworthy chance of winning Stage 2.

Matteo Pelucchi did not have a great time during the first day, but could bounce back in order to contest the finish in York on the second day. The course is more suiting to his abilities and with a circuit finish likely to make controlling the bunch easier, IAM Cycling will be confident of get the Italian near the podium.

Rounding out the likely top ten in York are the fast finishers from the British domestic teams: Graham Briggs & Ed Clancy (JLT Condor), Tom Scully & Tobyn Horton (Madison-Genesis), Chris Opie (ONE Pro Cycling) and Morgan Kneisky & Ian Wilkinson (Raleigh GAC).

Outcome:

1st Moreno Hofland 2nd Steele Von Hoff 3rd Ramon Sinkeldam

Team-Sky-News

Who Is Wiggoing?

The European heartland is yet to thaw despite next season approaching with ever increasing momentum; training camps are underway and jerseys are being revealed all in preparation of 2015. But one mystery remains shrouded thus far; details are elusive for Team Wiggo’ ahead of next year, but clues  have been dropped as pressure builds in search of information.

Why?

Bradley Wiggins faces some difficult decisions in the twilight of his career, his form now a finite resource, needs to be used wisely; most of all realistically. An amazing Paris-Roubaix this year was later topped by the incredible achievement of taking the World Time Trial Championship against a seemingly indomitable Tony Martin. He displayed once again his talent of setting goals perceived beyond his abilities; rising to the challenge with immense success thanks to pious dedication and focus. In 2016, the Olympic games shall be hosted by Rio de Janeiro and Bradley Wiggins wants his name on GB’s hotel reservations. A return to the track is calling him, the boards which made him a household name may yet see his effortless riding once more. But unlike the days which saw Wiggins first step onto the track in the name of Team GB, the competition is now more talented and much younger. The Sky man needs to prove his worth once again, meaning a step away from the road should he have any chance of catching the eye of Britain’s selectors.

What?

Bradley Wiggins’ needs cannot be supported by Sky, a new structure needs to be put in place in order to allow him to achieve the intermediate goals which should set him on the path to Rio 2016. This means a new team without a doubt; Team Sky cannot afford to carry a high cost rider who will be inconvenienced by track events throughout the season. Exactly how far Wiggins will be separated from Sky remains unclear currently, though a certain level of both financial and coaching support seems guaranteed. Paris-Roubaix remains a big target for Wiggins’ before he retires from the road, so a logical plan would be for him to ride the spring with the intention of bettering last year’s result at the ‘Hell of The North’, before shifting focus onto the track. Whether this will happen under the guise of Team Sky is unconfirmed; it is still possible for Wiggins to ride for Team GB on the road in order to supplement his track ambitions after all. An application from Team Wiggins to ride Britain’s CiCLE Classic has been the only confirmation thus far of a speculated race schedule. Based around the East Midlands, the race could be used as domestic training for Wiggins’ well documented Paris-Roubaix ambitions.

Who?

Though unofficial, several riders have already dropped clear hints as to their involvement or intentions to join ‘Team Wiggo.’ Andy Tennant and Owain Doull are two such riders which have decided to turn down offers to join road-centric teams in 2015, instead opting for the complimentary track programme on offer at Team Wiggo. The academy riders of GB’s track roster might be ideal candidates to bulk out the squad around Wiggins, versatile youngsters which would seize opportunities to impress on big occasions. Bradley Wiggins’ will not be bereft of experience surrounding him though, track specialists Mark Christian and Steven Burke are strongly touted to have committed themselves to the project already to.

When?

Once the new year is under way, we should see some definitive details emerge as to what embodiment this Wiggins led team shall take. Structure, programme, funding and roster details are all likely to be confirmed while Bradley Wiggins is still officially riding for Team Sky. Once spring is over however, a new livery could well be on the shoulders of Sky’s World Champion.

Check back regularly for the latest on ‘Team Wiggo’ at Spokenforks.