Tuesday shorts

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

I’ve been away for the last two weeks and catching up with news from cycling. Here are a few things that have caught my attention so far.

Willunga Hill

Four weeks to go
The 2012 season is now less than four weeks away as the Tour Down Under starts on 15 January 2012. The race has grown on me over the years. Some label it a training race in the sunshine but if was only that it would be great as it marks the end of the winter off-season, we get to see the new kit and bikes abd with internet streams, the racing too.

But the rising importance of UCI Pro Tour points and the haul on offer mean the race is no holiday, there is now too much at stake for riders and teams. The overall winner takes 100 points. That’s the same as winning Paris-Roubaix or the Tour de Suisse and it is substantial enough to alter the team rankings. The top-3 teams in 2011 were separated by fewer than 100 points.

This year’s edition is also an improvement given it features an uphill finish on Willunga Hill. Previously used mid-stage, this is no mountain but at 3km at 7% it should offer more variety to the general classification and break from the common sprint finishes to most stages.

Australia cycling seems to be enjoying the dividends of Cadel Evans’ Tour de France win and I hope the race is enough to satisfy curious TV viewers who tune in to find out what the sport is about. It seems some fans are nervous as the race has been poached away from “home of cycling” broadcaster SBS to rival Channel Nine and the production values and commentary skills are uncertain.

No more Tour Méditerranéen
One race that’s less successful is the Tour Méditerranéen, it won’t happen in 2012. An early season race in February, it often featured the first summit finish of the year on Mont Faron and I’ll miss this race.

Not the biggest race but it’s another French event off the calendar. Luckily there are many more but outside of the prime events run by ASO like the Tour or Paris-Roubaix many pro races are run by semi-amateur organising committees staffed by volunteers and local cycling officials and often happen thanks to the charisma and drive of a particular organiser. Rising organisational costs seem to have hit the Tour Med and I fear more events will meet the same fate.

Kazakhstan
The central Asian nation is known to cyclists for the Astana team and emblematic rider Alexander Vinokourov. Indeed the team exists to promote the country abroad and also serves as a means for ruling President Nazarbayev to sprinkle himself with some celebrity dust. It goes well beyond cycling, The Economist noted:

“Mr Nazarbayev spends fortunes on having Western public-relations firms, lobbyists and a former British prime minister, Tony Blair, burnish his image”

Not that he has to care about popularity, last April President Nazarbayev was re-elected to another five-year term receiving 95.54 percent of the vote. The Economist says “elections are rigged and a vast media and public-relations machine is given over to his personality cult“. The Astana team is part of this machine.

The same weekly newspaper describes the country as “nasty” and “brutish” and now reports say protesters were killed by police in a recent demonstration, the body count seems to vary from 10 to 70 according to different sources. Whilst we want to celebrate the sports team and welcome Kazakh cyclists – partly as a means to escape the bad news of oppression or violence around the world – knowing the squad exists as a PR exercise for the grim rulers of this country means I’m finding it hard to celebrate the team.

Rider agents
Philippe Gilbert has been named sportsman of the year in Belgium, alongside tennis player Kim Clijsters as best sportswoman. Gilbert now joins Clijsters by signing with sports and media agency Golazo. Like Mark Cavendish with Wasserman Group, Gilbert is employing the services of a large organisation to manage his affairs and image, although Golazo isn’t in the top bracket of agencies. They could start with his personal website which needs a remake.

At the other end I was catching up with the interview on Velonation with Dan Lloyd of Garmin-Cervélo. Lloyd tells Ed Hood that “He was finally told that his contract wasn’t being renewed after the Giro di Lombardia, on October 15th” which sounds odd since the normal rules say a team should notify a rider by no later than 30 September if they are not being kept on.

When asked if he had an agent, Lloyd says he had “someone trying to help” but he and any helpers probably shouldn’t have waited until mid-October to find there was no spot on the team. Don’t get this wrong, I’m not blaming here but a consistent thing across the sport is that everyone seems to leave things until the last minute. I still think teams should be required to register for the following season by July, allowing more time for riders – and their agents – to find a spot before the season finishes.

tsj December 20, 2011 at 11:45 am

No disrespect to the TDU but how in the name of Christ the Almighty have UCI figured that this race should give an equal amount of points as TdS?

NB. I know it’s to spread cycling and ensure competitive cycling throughout the calender but still……Next thing we know they will turn the Tour of California into the fourth GT :) (actually come to think of it I hope nobody from the UCI reads this or they may start thinking about it).

Larry T. December 20, 2011 at 11:48 am

Interesting combination of bits here. I’m happy for the folks down under with the success of Evans but have a tough time caring much for the race there except for the chance to see the teams old and new in their 2012 kit. The cycling year is simply too long these days, with too many riders targeting specific events to the point you rarely see all the stars competing together anymore. Something’s wrong when the Tour of the Med loses out to some race around sand dunes just because of petro-dollars! Vino will fit right into the “government” there in K-stan…he already knows the golden rule, “he who has the gold, makes the rules”. Sad to read Tony Blair is involved with these thugs – this was the guy who was going to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem…talk about sinking to a new low! Best Wishes to Gilbert – let your agents handle the details and concentrate on cycling. Here’s a guy who tries to be competitive all year, all too rare these days. I hope he doesn’t get lost in the super-team BMC has assembled..there seem to be, as they say ” a whole lot of chiefs and not enough indians” in that squad.

slim jim December 20, 2011 at 11:48 am

Channel Nine will kill the TDU. They’ve televised a few smaller races and it’s always horrible – unless Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwin go across – then it might be okay.

neil storey December 20, 2011 at 11:58 am

Agree… Phil Gil’s website (as it currently looks / feels) is a shocker… re-make, re-model… and then some. Plus, with the sport as mondiale as it is… the ‘no translation available’ notification is slipshod at best.

Main comment is regards rider agents… and the crop of (probably) unemployed… Quite how the likes of Dan Lloyd and Roger Hammond have been left without a team in the upper tier is beyond me (and, most probably others too)… and IF Lloyd’s comments are correct, being let go (or, rather, being informed of such) that late in the day won’t do JV’s image a great deal of good – especially in the current climate of teams merging and with less space available to quality guys. If, for both, this is career-termination, it seems a lousy way for that to occur.

Callum Dwyer December 20, 2011 at 12:00 pm

TdU winner gets the same points as winning Paris-Roubaix or the Tour de Suisse, WTF!

Nine purchasing the rights of TdU so it will no longer completes with it’s cricket coverage, expect late night on highlights on one of it’s digital channels GO or GEM Australia cycling fans.

runrider December 20, 2011 at 12:44 pm

What a shame that riders like Roger & Dan end up having to finish their careers like this. The so called ‘business’ aspect of cycling is ham fisted and almost like a teenage boy trying to dump a girlfriend, without actually saying it. Leaving people hang out to dry like this is disrespectful and cruel, I expected more from Vaughters. But his behaviour of late is like that of a petulant child & he is one of the better examples! Although how things ended with Trent Lowe, Matt White, the Aussies on Garmin etc. paint him in a different light! How was there not space left for Dan & Roger when the Aussies all left Garmin for Greenedge, Thor to BMC etc.?

Makes you worry for the future of the sport when people like this hold the power. Add in the debacle of Leopard/ RadioShack, Geox, the breakup of Lotto & the general mess that cycling finds its self in & it is all one very sorry mess.
Good Luck for the future Dan & Roger & all the other riders, soigneurs, mechanics & coaches that have been sucker punched this year by cycling.

C Grade Cyclist December 20, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Where is the “riders’ union” in all this?

The riders, as per usual, seem to be an afterthought. Given the amount of money pumping through the sport, the lack of rider protection is just unacceptable…

Larry T. December 20, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Agreed C Grade! But it must be a RIDER’s union run by riders, active or retired. NO team managers, sponsors, agents, etc. There is the AIGCP, but what’s needed is a real union – just for the riders interests, rather than their teams or sponsors. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for one to be formed but after the way some guys have been screwed this year, the time might be ripe! All those calling for a North American pro sports model need to remember there are unions representing those players, the team owners don’t have things completely their way all the time, much to their consternation.

Touriste-Routier December 20, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Yes, while it sucks that Roger and Dan didn’t have their contracts renewed, and weren’t informed until very late in the game, where is the call for their personal responsibility?

They know they are short term hired guns, that their contracts were up, that they hadn’t yet re-signed, and didn’t have firm offers, and they very well knew that there was consolidation at the Top Tier, leaving the number of available spots in Pro Tour teams fewer than in other recent years.

They should have been shopping themselves around, or even better, have a professional agent do it for them. Even if they ultimately wanted to be with Garmin, nothing improves your negotiating stance like alternative offers.

Yes, it is a crappy way to end your career, but such seasoned pros should know better. They both came up slowly from the lower pro ranks; they know how dicey the scene is…

The Inner Ring December 20, 2011 at 3:46 pm

slim jim: seems many are concerned about the broadcasting in Australia.

Touriste-Routier: indeed, and I wonder about this helper who didn’t know the rules. Luckily in 2012 all agents have be registered and pass a UCI exam on the basics of the rulebook so hopefully any rider agent without news of a job offer for their client by 1 October will know the score. But even then this was very late. A lot of recruitment gets done before the transfer season opens on 1 August.

Rider Council December 20, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Gilbert’s website matches his wardrobe.

OJT December 25, 2011 at 1:18 am

The points issue is key. As has been said numerous times on this blog and others, the UCI encourages teams to field strong teams in certain races by giving those races more points than their history or prestige deserves.

I think that’s fine when the aim is to globalise the sport of cycling but fans who ‘join the dots’ suspect that the UCI’s other methods of ‘encouragement’ (Exhibit A: emails sent before the inaugural Tour of Beijing that seemingly bordered on blackmail) would indicate stronger motives. Personal, financial motives. I can’t imagine many people would consider compromising their integrity to globalise the sport but would they do it for money? I guess it depends how much…

ozzielabrat December 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm

This is my first read of this blog and I must say…..it’s truly AWESOME !

I’m from Adelaide where the TDU is run and I’ve been watching it and riding in the general public stage for the last few years.

I agree, 100 points for the TDU compared to Paris-Roubaix and Tour de Suisse is a bit of a joke….unless you equate the points to the temperature during race days where it can reach 35+ (celsius).

It’s certainly not the mountains (500m maximum height) or the cobbles (none) or the switch backs (again none) or the rabid stray Labrador’s that make the race hard.

I’ve been told the TDU injects like AU$15mill into the economy for the week or so it runs for….not bad for a pi$$ant race really….although rumour also has it Big Lance is a Big draw card.

Perhaps my mates at BMC will outshine Lance this year ;-)

It’a also a big shame those duds at Channel 9 have the screening rights ahead of SBS….it’s not cricket of Aussie Rule Football….it’s cycling…..perhaps not in its purist form….but it’s still cycling:

Liggett and Sherwin = Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Channel 9 will probably throw Eddie McGuire and Mark Nicholas into the commentary seats.

I’ll be switching off and watching a DVD of the 2006 or 2010 Paris-Roubaix ;-)

Great blog….

I’m off for a ride in the Hills of Adelaide.

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