Thursday, July 11, 2013

Views of Le Tour from afar

With Le Tour at the halfway mark I felt it was time to put a few of my observations into a blog. It goes without saying that I watch every single stage with interest, well almost! The only stage I did not witness one bit of action was the TTT. This is bizarre as I was actually in nice with the cannondale camp for the entirety of the stage! I met a great friend of mine Sam Waley whom I had attended high school with and also later rowed in the national team at junior, u23 and elite level. As such we have enjoyed a mutual love for sport and particularly cycling so it was a great opportunity for me to introduce him to the team and give a guided tour of the team bus. Upon arriving at the bus and once I had introduced Sam to the team and given him a tour everyone was keen for a chat. Sponsors, team management, team staff, and off course the countless number of supporters camped around the bus. Before I knew it I was doing a commercial and impromptu photo shoot for Rudy Project and then never one to shy away from a chat got caught up with person after person and before I knew the riders were back at the bus and I had missed the entire race. I then caught up with all my team mates, were quite a battered and bruised lot at that point so I think they were happy to see an understanding face from outside the pressure cooker that is Le Tour and tell me about the difficulties they had all faced in the first few days in Corsica. By the time this was done all the remaining teams were now finished so I had completely missed the entire stage not only as they reced along the streets 50m away but also on the tele. Anyways was great to catch up with all the cannondale clan and show Sam around so if I really need I can buy the DVD of this years race and relive the one stage I will miss from the 2013 tour!

So with that out of the way onto my observations and interpretations of what I have actually seen of this years race. The beauty of cycling is how quickly things can change and that couldn't be evident than this years tour. A this point in the race last year Marcel Kittel had already been at home for a week pondering what might have been but also no doubt fueling the fire for 2013. Sure enough fast forward 12 months and he already has 3 stage wins in the bank, a day in the yellow, green, and white jersey's and is being heralded as the savior for German cycling along with the seemingly peerless TT powerhouse Tony Martin. 

Another team that's enjoyed a change in fortunes this year is Australia's very own Orica Greenedge. 12 months ago and remember matt white being asked if not having won a stage half way through was failure. Matt was quick to point out Matty goss has numerous placings and for a new team to Le Tour it was a good start, indeed it was from a cycling perspective, most teams and riders would take greenedge's results at the 2012 tour anyway of the week. Bring on 2013 and in the first 6days there was real only one team in the race! Orica Greenedge. From day one when they decided to help out the tour organizers by attempting to raise the finish banner a few feet with there team bus to Simon Gerrans taking the teams first ever tour de france stage win, they were always in the headlines. Following that up the following day with a victory so narrow in the TTT that I am sure the edges of 1000's of Australians sofas are completely worn off. Gerro's narrow win was exciting, not for my cannondale pro cycling team as Sagan ended up 2nd! But the TTT was great to see as you know it will have an unquantifiable impact on the atmosphere within the team and also the huge boost in excitement about the sport in Australia. Green Edge have certainly played the aussie underdog tag since entering the peleton and seemingly thrived on this so was great to see an absolutely peerless team effort getting them over the line for the win. Again 12 months has made a world of difference for Orica Greenedge.

The Cannondale Pro Cycling Team made it very clear that defending Peter Sagans Green Jersey was it's number one priority. After 12 stages Peter has a seemingly insurmountable 96 point lead so you could be safe to say everything is going to plan right?? Well no not according to the media that always seem to want to find a negative for what's been a calculated consistent first half of Le Tour by the young Slovak. Sure 12 months ago Peter already had 3 stage wins in the bank so had set a pretty impressive precedent for his first crack at the great French race. With this success comes a big target on your back so of course it's going to be a little more difficult for him this time. Through in a little bad luck with crashes and misshaps that didn't happen last year and pretty easy to all of a sudden have a bag of podiums and a little less throwing the arms in the air. After stage 5 I could see Peter was getting a little fed up with questions about his lack of a stage win even though by this point he had been glowing in green for a few days already. Like the true champion he is he went to his team and asked for a big commitment from his men on stage 7 and they duly delivered. If green edge had stolen the headlines in the first days b the end of stage 7 all the talk was about one team, The Cannondale Pro Cycling Team. To say they took the bull by the horns would be a massive understatement riding a fearsome tempo on the small climbs distancing all the sprinters in the process and after 130km of total sacrifice for the team captain caped in green the stage victory in albi was never in doubt. In fact watching the race on the tele it seemed over 100km from the finish such was the display by the boys in green. Peter and Cannondale had the stage win and the critics finally shut there gobs!

The performance from cannondale seemed to set the tone perfectly for the following stage with Team Sky happy to follow the lead in there favored terrain, the mountains. The methodical performance by Team Sk we have all witnessed countless times over the passed couple of seasons took apart the peleton once again and by days end the race for the yellow jersey was seemingly over. Not only was froomie in yellow, a jersey that has seemed destined to be on his shoulders for the past 12  months but also ritchie porte his own team mates seemed to be the only man capable of mounting any type of challenge to his race lead, therefore effectively they had alliterated there opposition. Like 24hrs before when cannondale had destroyed all of Sagans green jersey challenges on the road to albi, sky dished out the same dose to all of chris froome's challenges for yellow. From my perspective the best part about the performance by both team sky and cannondale was that everybody knew exactly what was happening and nobody could do a thing about it. That is a qualities only the best of the best teams and riders poses as it is a simple display of superior strength and or team work and these are the performances I love to witness, the best showing why they are the best! 

Like with peter, now the climbers are being subject to the press and whoever else with an opinion wanting to find a way to detract from brilliant performance's in mountains. Every expert thinks they know more about a riders performance than the rider himself and his team. I love how they compare times and performances from riders in years passed and of course all in aid of trying to raise some suspicion and intrigue but come on enough is enough,list time to move on. I crunched some numbers myself and read some opinion and figure it's only right the other side of the coin should be observed. Has anyone bothered to consider the technology involved in cycling these days?? Teams these days are all looking for marginal gains wherever possible and it's not just on the training track. Today bikes used in the peleton are like formula 1's, through in added detail on the clothing, food,  and tactics, and across the board these add to great gains for the riders. In my opinion other things to consider include when was this climb performed? At what point in Le Tour? The distance of the climb? What happened in the days preceding the stage? What happened in the stage preceding the particular climbing performance in question? How many strong riders contributed to the speed up the climb and for how long did each hit the wind and give it full gas??? Simply put there are so many variables involved that you are not even close to comparing apples with apples that it's like comparing an apple with a grapefruit! These circumstances that all change on a daily basis in a bike race could not be more diverse. And as far as trying to predict TT power output?? C'mon, these bikes are like missiles now a days. The position of riders on the bike thanks to wind tunnels and tools to analysis the trade off between aerodynamic positioning and power is employed by all professional teams. So that all leads to the fact that simple physics means the faster you go the greater the aerodynamic advantage you gain. So guess what! That also means you can produce relatively less power nowa days at any given weight to produce the same speed or as we are currently seeing greater speeds. I know everybody seems to want to dwell on the doping past of cycling but really, can't we also look to the future and just maby realize like in every other sport in the world athletes continue to improve!! I am sorry but cycling is just another sport and as time goes on and training methodolgy and technology improves riders will get faster and at some point I hope these so called self proclaimed "experts" stop to think about what they are saying about todays current crop of stars and before they go pointing the finger make sure the have exhausted every possible avenue in there research to actually compare apples with apples and only then give an opinion. Accusing somebody of doing something suspicious is the easiest thing for the arm chair expert to do and most difficult thing for an athlete to dis prove. Sure the past has meant we find ourselves in this space at the moment where cycling is an easy whipping boy but please for sake of giving fans a chance to believe again in there cycling hero's refrain from the mud slinging!! instead if you enjoy watching the cycling with so much interest which is obviously the case "experts" you could look at it though some positive eyes and help continue the sport on the path it is working so hard on taking.

That was just a bit of a rant from me but observing the critics in this years tour has really got under my skin. First seeing them try and take the focus away from peter's brilliant performance to gain the jersey everybody knew he was chasing and nobody has been able to do a thing about him mounting such a commanding lead. Half the race is still to come and you would be a brave man to bet against the tourmanator taking more wins in this year tour on the way to Paris. And as for the comments following the first days in the mountains by the self proclaimed "experts", if your not going to compare apples with apples, stop and think about the consequences of the mud your slinging and try an give the sport a chance to move on. 

For me the work toward my goals for the second half of the season began yesterday with a training camp at San Pelligrino. The Cannondale Pro Cyling team sure no how to pick great training locations and this place is no different. We have so many of the famous dolomite climbs right on or doorstep and the hospitality at the Flora Alpina is so good that you never ever wan to leave. Infact every time I have been here I have always extended my stay! I said to Basso today that I love this place before the training is perfect and the food is beyond perfect!! The two things aside from sleeping I basically fill my entire day in with. So for me this place is perfect. Also being a 1900m means it's great altitude for sleeping so nothing is compromised up here. It will be home for the next 10 days so I am pretty excited about that.

CJW