Was The Sant’ Elpidio Climb Too Hard?

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Nibali Rodriguez Tirreno Sant Elpidio

The Tirreno-Adriatico race concludes today with a time trial and there will be some sore legs from the previous day’s racing. Stage 6 included a climb that with a modest average that hid some sections at 27%. This had riders stalling with many having to walk up and some got a push. A sizeable number of riders quit and after a 130km solo effort BMC Racing’s Taylor Phinney crossed the line but was eliminated after missing the time cut.

It created a post-stage polemic with many riders taking to the airwaves, Twitter or their blogs to say the stage was too much. Race director Michele Acquarone was moved to say sorry. Was the climb too much?

First let’s look at the climb itself. In fact there were two routes up to the hilltop village of Sant’Elpidio al Mare, first approaching from the west and then a finishing circuit that climbed up for the east. But both sides had slopes of 27% according to the race manual whilst the road had a warning sign with 30% on it. Riders knew it was coming and came equipped with special low gearing.

The Shark’s compact teeth

But the gradient alone wasn’t the problem:

  • the road was very narrow and with an uneven surface. This means if one rider stalls, whether because of their legs or a crunched gear change, then others nearby can’t escape and have to stop
  • a big factor was the rain, the started dry but the clouds rolled in. Riders trying to stand on the pedals found their wheels slipping. More and more teams are running 25mm tires this year and even with lower pressure there was plenty of slippage
Michelin Ramp Clermont

Michelin’s factory testing facility in Clermont-Ferrand

Is there a maximum gradient?
Visit the HQ of Michelin in central France and you’ll see strange ramps that slope up into the sky. They’re redundant today but remain a landmark. In the past testers would drive up and find at what point a vehicle slid backwards, a test of grip.

With cycling such a test can’t be replicated. There’s no set gradient when a cyclist will slide back down the hill. Plus each rider is unique with a different weight, position on the bike and more. Instead, especially when cadence slows, grip is disrupted by the uneven torque as a rider leg presses their way up. Momentum matters too because the longer the climb, the more the gradient takes its toll.

So whilst we have rules on sock length or the maximum distance of a race, the sport can’t rule out a road because its gradient. The difficulty of a road is function of the slope, surface, length, width and more and its use is the choice of the race director.

Precedent
Tirreno-Adriatico has long exploited these climbs. No more so that visits to Montelupone and the backroad ascent with its 20% slopes where Joaquim Rodriguez made a name for himself. In fact this week alone we’ve seen the infamous Chieti stage finish with its 19% ramp into the town. Now 27% is a different story but fits a pattern, see the return of the Muro di Sormano in Il Lombardia.

The Zomegnan Factor
Angelo Zomegnan is an journalist who rose up through La Gazzetta Dello Sport to become the Giro’s race director. In reductive terms Zomegnan’s reign as race boss is remembered for wild stages that probed the frontier between sport and Wacky Races as the race sought out the most fiendish roads possible and when the roads ran out, Zom found dust tracks. The Olympic games have a motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius but Zomegnan had the derivative creed of Lentius, Altius, Furiosius.

Zomegnan

OMG Zom

To his credit the 2010 Giro d’Italia has to be one of the finest grand tours in recent times and if the riders make the race, the route included the infamous strade bianche stage and Alpine mayhem. But the flipside was that some riders complained and more riders avoided the race, fearing it was simply too tough. This left the race an Italo-Italian affair with domestic teams and riders keen but many others skipping it. The point is that too many difficulties scare riders away and you create an infernal spiral where the public soon takes ordinary climbs for granted and expects more and more each year.

Competition and Rivalry
Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Froome aren’t the only rivals this week. Tirren0-Adriatico coincides with Paris-Nice and the Italian race got most of the best riders. Not to knock Richie Porte and Andrew Talansky but they’ll readily admit they don’t have the star factor of Alberto Contador or Mark Cavendish.

So we need to see Michele Acquarone’s in the context of this rivalry and Zomegnan’s past. RCS pulled off a coup but they’ll be concerned about bad memories and riders opting for Paris-Nice in 2014.

Hard Day’s Work
Think twice before labelling the riders as soft for complaining. A 200km stage in the rain is hard enough and it comes after a week of racing. The slopes of Porto Sant’ Elpidio took riders out of their comfort zone and it’s normal some wanted to complain. After a hard day at work, it’s normal to say so and these Twitter lets riders express themselves when in the past complaints might have stayed on the bus or in the hotel. Ride a mile in their shoes before you have a go.

TV Show
For all the technical analysis, complaints and apologies so far, it was fantastic television that had many viewers on the rivet of their sofa. Chris Froome said the slope wasn’t ruinous, the cold got to him. But one rider said yesterday that the race put the “credibility of the sport in question.

On the contrary, it made it human again. These days pro cyclists are Voodoo children who chop down mountains with their legs. Riders spin up The Stelvio at 90rpm, still 80 minutes of threshold pain but the riders often look at ease. Yesterday saw the riders reduced to pushing their bike. Everyone could relate to it.

In the last week Team Sky had been suffocating their rivals but the squad fell apart yesterday. The squad’s high tempo tactics don’t just strangle rivals but suspense too. Whilst hardcore fans admire pacing strategy, many casual viewers flick channels. So when Froome was isolated and then dropped I wonder if Tour de France chef Christian Prudhomme is scrambling to find some wild slopes for his race? Probably not, after all the Mur de Péguère in last year’s Tour will be remembered for the punctures rather than its gradient. But if a race owner is worried about mountain trains dulling a race then these slopes can sometimes derail team plans.

Summary
There’s a final line between sport and spectacle and yesterday a good proportion of the pro peloton felt the race went too far. Fabian Cancellara labelled it as sado-masochistic and many others complained. But for all the concerns, a moment like this is memorable. Giant mountain passes thin the bunch but TV viewers end up watching a gradual power to weight contest whereas yesterday brought genuine unpredictability.

The irregular and slippery nature of yesterday’s climb guarantees that Porto Sant’ Elpidio remains part of the sport’s legend and it stands out because the sight of riders pushing their bikes uphill is such a rarity.

Was it too much? There’s no right and wrong here. The race would have been different if the roads had been dry.

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{ 99 comments }

Tovarishch March 12, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Worse than the stage was that at the weekend coverage was delayed until the evening (for me) but yesterday was live so I arrived home just as they crossed the finishing line. I don’t remember it being like this last year. Is biathlon bigger than cycle racing, because Eurosport seem to think so?

Simma March 12, 2013 at 8:25 pm

in some countries it is, but i think the fact that the biathlon was at sochi which is a new venue purpose built for the winter olympics and it has a crazy course with the hardest climb on the current biathlon circuit and people were falling off the course on one of the downhills (a couple of people actually went into tree’s..) made it more exciting than usual at the weekend.

i watch both, and what actually happens is they both get replaced by tennis and snooker, repeatedly, and have been for as long as i have watched eurosport.

having said all that, yesterday was monday and the biathlon ended on sunday and this fantastic stage was broadcast live for something like over 2 hours…

Simma March 12, 2013 at 8:29 pm

oh also i forgot to mention that the weekend biathlon events was the penultimate round of their world cup and both the mens and womens titles were decided because nobody can catch them on points now. and that’s sort of like the biathlon tour de france winner being decided, or when football teams win their divisions early and a lot tune in for that last match that decided it.

wardy66 March 12, 2013 at 1:24 pm

I still think that Sky were fortunate last year in the TDF in that many key challengers were taken out of the race early on; an event which altered the way the tour played out. This year we may see that they are not able to exert so much control in the major tours as they have to date. I hope that I am right, otherwise it will be a bore.

Steve March 12, 2013 at 1:35 pm

It was pretty comic- at times it was as slow as a track race preamble. Yet the fact that teams could not control it made for unpredictable racing. Of course, sometimes races are predictable because certain riders and teams are better- that is the nature of sport, and ultimately, the very point of a stage race. This is more of an oddity though, a small Spring event- as we know, the Giro flirts with stages that cannot be safely, er, staged, and the Tour simply cannot get the might caravan through (a pity, as I’d love to see racing in Alpes-Maritimes)
Sagan is gonna win some classics this spring though, isn’t he.

Ablindeye March 12, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Perhaps the amount of repetition could have been cut down somewhat but I can’t deny I thoroughly enjoyed it. Also it gave me some great tips on how to better ride the 25% gradient stretch near my home, the bike pushing techniques were especially relevant…

Uli Fluhme March 12, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Riders complain a lot but most of them are too young and too focused to understand who pays their salary. Then there are those who take Tirreno as a training race. Nothing wrong with that but would we be missing them, really? For any riding bitching that things are too hard, there are thousands queueing up behind them to take on the challenge.

I’m sure you followed the Giro closely the last two decades and remember the time when it lost the second spot to La Vuelta (which benefits vastly from being pre worlds). Zomegnan was the one getting the Giro back where it belongs and made it the most interesting Grand Tour. His successors reap the benefits and ironically now also the praise. I remain skeptical.

Larry T. March 12, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Boo-freaking-hoo! The ONLY thing tough these guys do these days is pedal the damn bike! Delivered to the race start from their (quite often) very nice hotel in the team bus, complete with espresso maker, shower and washing machine for their clothing, not to mention someone to wash the clothes, hand them the food, wash and tune their bicycles and maybe even wipe their a__, they whine when it’s too steep, whether going up like yesterday, or going down in the case of guys like Schleck. For all these guys who want to ride their bikes in controlled conditions where it’s never too hot, too cold, too wet or too steep, there’s a VELODROME. Yesterday’s TV reduced the greats of the sport to mere mortals, no matter how doped they may have been. THAT’s entertainment for the fans…remember them? Zomegnan had the right idea of racing as spectacle, it was a sad day for me when he was replaced. Tirreno-Adriatico too tough? Enjoy Paris-Nice fellow!

Sam March 12, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Everyone complains about their job. But you’re right, it’s easy to ride 200k in the rain for days and days on end, as fast as you possibly can. You should try it sometime.

Sam March 12, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Everyone complains about their job. But you’re right, it’s easy to ride 200k in the rain for days and days on end, as fast as possible. You should try it sometime.

Larry T. March 12, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Excuse me Sam, but WHERE did I say that riding 200 kms in the rain was easy? My point was that it’s the ONLY hard part left in the sport. Compare today’s riders and racers to the days when roads were dusty, rocky paths, the riders had to be self-sufficient mechanically and often had to find their own lodgings, food and massages after the stage. No deluxe hotels, no fancy bus, no 15 lb bike replaced on a whim and looked after by a team of mechanics. As recently as 1988 I can remember seeing rider’s jerseys hanging out the window of the hotel after they washed ‘em in the sink. I truly doubt today’s racing is really harder than back-in-the-day, while everything pre and post race seems much, much easier….even since I began seeing big-time pro events live starting in 1986.

Doubter March 12, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Wait………so these guys are paid money to ride their bikes, but some hills are too steep for them?
Cry me a river.

Who cares how hard it is? They can go back home to work in the lumber yard….there are dozens of riders willing to take their place in the peleton.

Marty J March 12, 2013 at 7:45 pm

+1 Larry T.

The Inner Ring March 12, 2013 at 8:23 pm

I hear you but riders still deserve some standard working conditions. Yes to entertaining racing but we need to be careful to avoid “wacky races” scenarios with even more crazy descents. The sport is already one of the most tiring and dangerous in the world, it’s about finding ways to do this with entertainment and safety.

Larry T. March 12, 2013 at 9:41 pm

“The sport is already one of the most tiring and dangerous in the world” Really? It should be tiring but I’ll argue the danger angle unless you count risking your health with doping. How many pros are killed or permanently injured each season? The speeds are pretty low overall, “Il Falco”, the fastest guy out there said his top speed was only 111 kph. Part of the appeal of this sport is (or should be, are you reading this A. Schleck?) is watching these people do things that require great skill, as in descending…otherwise we can just mount up the stationary bikes and give the prize to the guy who cranks out the most watts. I don’t know if Vincenzo Nibali is clean or not, but I’d say he won T-A with skill and tactics rather than anything that could be affected by doping. I’d like to see more of this type of racing vs the calculated VO2 max contests like the 2012 Tour.

The Inner Ring March 12, 2013 at 10:14 pm

That’s it Larry, 100kmh with the thinnest clothing and a styrofoam helmet.

david March 13, 2013 at 10:54 am

Most riders were over geared as Froomy said he was, Nibali, Sagan and Rodriguez weren’t – so they won, just experience and doing your homework I would say, the rest need to man up and stop being such a bunch of pussies.

Stephen March 14, 2013 at 8:49 pm

If they had to do it over again, I would knock off 30-40k…I would not take out the climbs.

Fabian Cancellara of all people needs to shut it. A guy that will contest (not ride, contest) MSR this weekend (at 298k) and likely will contest Paris-Roubaix and Flanders really needs to complain less about a stage’s toughness. Yes, there is a difference between the two scenarios of a single classics rage and stage 6 of a mini tour.

Maybe, just maybe, his english was out of context, and I’m sure in his day Merckx, de Vlaminck (sp?) and their contemporaries would have declared a stage or race as hard or difficult. But they wouldn’t have gone and b*tched about it. Let’s not forget that the reason these races are faster and therefor descents more dangerous is because these guys as a whole chose to dope themselves and make themselves faster.

Netserk March 12, 2013 at 2:02 pm

When Taylor Phinney can complete the stage despite being alone the last 130km, and both Hushovd and Roelandts can top-10, then the route isn’t too much. The stage was great and provided real action.

PS: I miss Zomegnan :-)

Netserk March 12, 2013 at 2:03 pm

PPS: And I want to see them race Crostis! _O_

Uli Fluhme March 12, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Yes to both!

Larry T. March 12, 2013 at 6:02 pm

+1!

Ulty March 12, 2013 at 6:43 pm

+2

Mike March 13, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Excellent comments that I fully agree with from Netserk & Larry T (as always). Racing is supposed to be about riders failing spectacularly, as well as winning by taking risks and extending themselves. If the courses don’t exploit weaknesses or no-one has a ‘jour sans’, then what a very dull sport this would be. But, if you’re OK with a wattage-controlled team pursuit in the mountains where turbodiesel robots can stay in the saddle and rev at 110 rpm and the only ‘oohh-aahh’ excitement in three weeks is (for example) Froome dropping team-mate Bradley a bit and then having to wait, then we’ll never agree on what the sport is fundamentally about. Love him or loathe him, at least Voekler gives it a dig, takes risks and actually has the facial expressions that communicate to the public how hard this sport is. And should be. No guts, no glory.

jwrt73 March 12, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Clearly the conditions played as much part in the out come as the gradient, the descent also played in to hands of the expert descenders as well. It proved to be a test of individual skill and courage that determined the stage winner and challenged the GC contenders and their teams.

Dave March 12, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Inrng: While I enjoyed all aspects of this article, the thing that I really learnt is what the slope in Clermont-Ferrand was. I was up the Puy De Dome last summer and while staying in the town no-one could tell what the ramp was.

The Inner Ring March 12, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Glad to hear it. They really stand up more than the photo shows and have a strange look to them.

Soab March 12, 2013 at 2:22 pm

That climb wasn’t egregious. Doing it three times with all the other climbs over 200km probably is. We have climbs like that near me and if I can get up them in a 25t (albeit w/o 200kms or racing) then they can be raced by pros. The organizers just need to not go crazy with the distance and 10k feet of climbing.

Dan March 12, 2013 at 2:26 pm

The Sport can’t complain about lack of TV revenues on one hand and then knock a race for creating carnage on the other. This was the sort of spectacle that made compulsive viewing. Much as many new British fans get to glow over the Sky train, it’s not exactly entertaining, merely an admirable mash-up of bio-mechanics, hard work and statistical analysis. But yesterday’s stage? That’s what glues viewers to the telly irrespective of their fan loyalties.

natalie March 12, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Not having the ability to do it myself, I can’t judge whether the riders were right or wrong to complain or not. Some often complain more than others (and because of twitter we get to see it – hurrah!) and it’s interesting to view the polarising opinions of, say, Taylor Phinney versus Fabian Cancellara.
It’s interesting to me though that Thor Hushovd, Jurgen Roelandts and Simon Geschke all placed in the top ten right there nestled in amongst more natural climbers. On a sunnier day I’m not sure we’d have seen those names up there but bodes well for them. I might also quietly suggest that Fabian wouldn’t have looked out of place in that company… but not to his face ;)

As a tv viewer, it was one of those stages that is exciting to watch because it just shakes everything up beyond predictability. Was it Catalunya or Pais Vaisco that in recent history has had short cobbly climbs into towns that can end up with riders walking if someone loses momentum? Far from the level of yesterday’s stage but yes, moments like that are thrilling to watch. Of course they are.
The photos from the stage are compelling but I didn’t feel as much pain watching yesterday’s stage as I did watching the peloton struggle up the Cuitu Negro in the Vuelta. People, fans I mean, complained about that too but if it appears again (and it will) everyone will sit down and watch. It’s a tough call to make if you’re in charge of a race. As Acquarone says it’s about balance.

BeckyD March 12, 2013 at 2:55 pm

I agree with you entirely that it would have been different in the dry, it looked horrific and I don’t blame the riders for moaning like anyone else after a miserable day at work. I don’t agree with Acquarone that they lost the right balance though. It was a tough stage, but the organisers have resisted any Zomegan-esque urges to have dirt-road summit finishes every day of the race. The star names all knew this stage was there and still chose Tirreno over Paris-Nice. For me the excitment didn’t come from watching riders stuggle up the climb, it was how Nibali exploited it to seize control of the race, and if we are to see some exciting stage racing this year rather than Sky constantly tapping out a steady rhythm at the front, we’ll need an occasional spanner like this in the works .

Touriste-Routier March 12, 2013 at 7:09 pm

It was out of balance because they lost 50 riders on the penultimate day. Between the climbs and there only being a 9.2 k time trial remaining, there wasn’t enough incentive for many of the riders to carry on. You can’t judge the stage in isolation, you need to look at the entire race. Losing 50 riders is more than just a sporting matter; it effects sponsor ROI for not only the race, but the teams as well.

You have to remember that Zomegnan was a journalist, who thrived on the sensationalism, whereas Acquarone is more of a CEO type, who is trying to please as many constituents as possible, while moving the sport forward. His approach is much more open and responsive. It may not always be as thrilling, but it is more sustainable. And you have to admire someone who will accept responsibility.

Larry T. March 12, 2013 at 9:32 pm

How does “less thrilling” end up being “more sustainable”? I really don’t like the RCS angle these days, post-Zomegnan. With this “design by Facebook/Tweet” concept the whole thing risks ending up as a “horse designed by a committee” as they say. Of all the video of this race, would you not agree that the most viewed pieces will be this stage? Would the Mortirolo, Zoncolan or even Passo Gavia or Stelvio ever have been included in La Corsa Rosa if he whiners had their way?

Touriste-Routier March 13, 2013 at 2:34 am

I didn’t say “less thrilling”; I said “not always as thrilling”, that doesn’t equate to boring. We need to keep in mind that the casual fan/spectator is more important to the sport than the enthusiasts (their numbers are bigger), and that not everything can be the greatest thing ever.

Acquarone’s approach is more sustainable, because it isn’t a constant arms race of one-up-man-ship against every other race. He knows his product, knows his consumer, and is trying to deliver them right show, while being mindful of what his competition (the other races) is doing, so he can attract a good mix of champions and those looking to make names for themselves. In his words, “balance”.

He is looking after all constituents, and having 50 riders abandon (28% of the original start list) with one day to go, doesn’t serve anybody. I don’t know what the live TV schedule was, but if the coverage was cut short for the TT due to a smaller field, then advertisers, sponsors, and broadcasters got the short end of the deal, and this is what really pays for the sport.

Larry T. March 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm

We certainly disagree, no harm there. I fear chasing the casual fan idea. These fickle types may pay attention for awhile, but soon enough they’re off to the newest-latest fad, leaving cycling to the real fans. So why mess things up catering to them? These marketing mavens don’t care much for tradition, passion or sport, it’s all just about getting eyeballs to look at the advertising – if cycling works for that, great..if not they’ll soon be on to something else, leaving cycling where?

BeckyD March 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm

We’ll never know, but on such a wet day near the end of the race they could easily have lost 50 riders anyway regardless of the climb – more than 50 people dropped out of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad the other week. In general I like the direction Acquarone is taking RCS in, I just don’t think he had anything to apologise for on this occasion.

Al-Bo March 12, 2013 at 2:57 pm

I think there’s much to be said for shorter, steeper climbs in terms of making the racing less predictable. Unpredictability is the lifeblood of sport.

It’s impossible for riders to just go off their power meters on these sorts of hills. They have to be alert to breaks and make efforts which take more out of them. The long Alpine ascents are simply too controlled. Like you say, they become a slow revelation of power-to-weight ratios, as much as anything.

I would say this kind of gradient is okay, but maybe not in the rain.

furor March 12, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Grande Grande Nibali!
Or in other words:
it was a very good day for cycling!
SkyStyle may be sucessful but it kind
of suffocates pure cycling.
So thanks for the rain, must habe been
difficult to read the SRM numbers correctly…
Maybe they should have Trainer for this.

Bento March 12, 2013 at 3:27 pm

…”So thanks for the rain, must habe been difficult to read the SRM numbers correctly”…
You say it all :D
That must be the best stage in last 2-3 year,those stages make people be interessed into cycling,
after all that was great “tv show”

Kyle March 12, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Here is your climb. 0.20 miles and 270 ft elevation gain = avg 26%.
http://www.winthefight.org/cuegle/elev_profiles/aovlhww.jpg

Drive it in Street View here:
http://tinyurl.com/aovlhww

Razor March 12, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Amazing race…
If it was off-balance, it wasn’t for much.
First time in a long time we have an exciting race. I was almost trying to adjust my standards to the new strong steady tempo+ few attacks and usually how attacks loses ground as Sky will catch them eventually.
Worth mention that I am not sure Sky did the best strategy, they were leading the chase for a major part of the race and they got tired in the end. Not sure if they shouldn’t allow the brake to go (any GC on the brake?).
I think before were the big mountains and the finish on top that made races more fun, now that Sky learned how to play in this setting seams that the combination of small climbs+narrow roads+longer runs can actually recreate a setting for fun races to watch…
I sincerely hope race organizers get inspired by Tirreno-Adriatico.

Ablindeye March 12, 2013 at 5:23 pm

They kept it around 3 minutes because Nocentini was at 3.05 on GC. The minute he slipped back they stopped chasing and Cannondale too it up for Sagan. Certainly it meant they were on the front for a long time but in the end team mates are only useful up to a point when climbing a 27% incline anyway.

Marty J March 12, 2013 at 7:49 pm

+1 Razor. It was a fantastic race – the best of the year by far. I was disappointed to see the Acquarone tweet. Why apologize for something so entertaining. Isn’t racing for the fans? If it is just for the riders, why not skip the mountains and make all races 100km long and flat with no wind? Like Zomegnan said, if you don’t like it, get your ballet shoes.

The Inner Ring March 12, 2013 at 8:25 pm

It has to be compared to Paris-Nice. Acquarone knows his race is head to head with the French race and he can’t afford to lose the best riders to that race, a simple tweet helps them know he’s on their side.

Larry T. March 12, 2013 at 9:27 pm

+2

Vincenzo March 12, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Ifa deya bana bika computa Skya no moa choka da racea. Whata youa thinka?

mot March 13, 2013 at 1:15 am

Bana bika computa…
Bana race Radios…

For cycling to carry on in these financial times there must be:
A setting of a riders salary cap.
A creating of a cyclist’s association (with balls)
A banning all dopers for life.
A setting of a maximum value for equipment, hotels, and non racing staff(other expenses).
I’ve noticed that many riders are exhibiting the look-at-me style that lets me know that an economic “contraction” is understood in the peloton.

Champs March 12, 2013 at 5:41 pm

The gradient an individual can ride and the gradient a peloton can ride are two different things. There’s at least one climb like this in my area, and there’s no way I can get over it while holding anything like a line.

Sadism is for classics. As Acquarone said himself, if you lose half the peloton in a stage, you’ve failed. One pass ought to be enough for a selection, the rest whittles down the field to no good end.

The Inner Ring March 12, 2013 at 8:35 pm

True, the narrow road made a big difference, a domino effect when one rider stalled made the others stop.

Remember last year when many riders left the race before the end? This time most tried to stay but a good number were out.

RocksRootsRoad March 12, 2013 at 6:07 pm

I am not convinced that the really, really steep stuff enhances a bike race. No one can attack from a 27% gradient so it just becomes a slow grind and is more about survival than anything else. We saw it on last years Vuelta too. It was like watching in slow motion – not pretty.

The Inner Ring March 12, 2013 at 8:36 pm

It’s survival and so only needs to be used sparingly. It’s unlikely to be back for 2014.

Bud March 12, 2013 at 6:26 pm

I’m of mixed emotions on the gradient, but if we could just get rid of race radios we’d have some real racing out there.

Ian March 12, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Really interesting article and comments below the line. I was uncomfortable watching this, yes it was a great spectacle but it was also voyeristic and I’m not sure that watching people having to walk up a hill (like I would have to do) enhances a bike race. I don’t know enough to offer solutions only that I was hooked and appalled almost in equal measure. The fact that for me personally I was left feeling uncomfortable watching it means that for me on balance I would prefer not to have this sort of climb under these conditions as part of a race.

Dr. Ko March 12, 2013 at 6:40 pm

For a one day race 27% is hard but Lombardia and Ronde are not that far off. (Yes, I walked up Kemmelberg). For a week long competition I think it is too hard. Narrow road making things even worse.

The Inner Ring March 12, 2013 at 8:37 pm

That’s an important distinction: once with fresh legs vs doing at the end of the week.

bbolger March 12, 2013 at 7:26 pm

I heard the phrase “Skyborgs” mentioned today, love it! The stage was class & great to see it won with some smart riding and on the descent.

Dachs March 12, 2013 at 8:09 pm

“pro cyclists are Voodoo children who chop down mountains with their legs”
Love the Hendrix reference!

The Inner Ring March 12, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Glad someone got it. Better than Zabriskie’s “Purple Haze” rendition.

furor March 12, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Hm, as often is the case:
some say too hard, some say too soft!
I would say: exactly the right One to separate the boys from the men…
(“Aah Tyler, you are too fat”)
So what about this: Take it out of Tirreno, add another 30k loop and transform it into some real fine OneDayClassic!?!
Support from the fans guaranteed I guess.
Well…just a thought

dennis March 13, 2013 at 12:22 am

+1 on making this a classic! Perhaps Acquarone, who seems to be quite media savvy, could use the controversy to get people interested in seeing this stage again next year, as a race in its own right.

furor March 12, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Hm, as often is the case:
some say too hard, some say too soft!
I would say: exactly the right One to separate the boys from the men…

So what about this: Take it out of Tirreno, add another 30k loop and transform it into some real fine OneDayClassic!?!
Support from the fans guaranteed I guess.
Well…just a thought

furor March 12, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Hm, as often is the case:
some say too hard, some say too soft!
I would say: exactly the right One ( to separate the boys from the men…)
So what about this: Take it out of Tirreno, add another 30k loop and transform it into some real fine OneDayClassic!?!
Support from the fans guaranteed I guess.
Well…just a thought

maximflyer March 12, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Yesterdays stage was one of the most exciting I’ve seen in the last 5 years. Surely comparable to the 2010 giro’s sterrati stage. I enjoyed very much mostly because the stage became uncontrollable. I understand that Acquarone needs to find a balance btw pleasing viewers and riders and doesn’t wants to scare the riders away. Still from the viewers perspective, I have to say that the upcoming stage races has to find some extra because it seems that this year the best stage race – apart from the grand tours – will surely be Tirreno-Adriatico.

Chrisman March 12, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Since when did cycling care about credibility? Make them ride across fields, pampered children – they all earn millions of pounds a year and they have long and easy careers with lots of guaranteed money, so why shouldn’t we watch them toil and suffer in awful conditions? It’s funny!

ak March 12, 2013 at 10:02 pm

How many of those who walked and/or complained would have been ok if they had swallowed their pride and mounted a triple? I’ve done 25% + gradient with a laptop and lunch in my backpack, on a 13 kg bike, without zigzagging or walking. All it takes is a gear that allows you to keep a high cadence. They knew the gradient, they knew the weather forecast, they’re supposed to be professionals, no?

Jan March 13, 2013 at 5:41 pm

A technical question: can you interchange a triple on the same bike as a double? (This isn’t some smart ass, trying to catch anyone out question, but more a: if I got a fancy carbon bike that comes with a double, could I actually put a triple on there?)

The Inner Ring March 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm

No, not normally as you need to adjust for chain length and probably change the rear derailleur too. Riders used compact chainsets in this race instead of the normal gearing.

ak March 13, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Shouldnt that be: yes, but you also need a different rear derailer, unless you are very careful to only use the small ring combined with larbge sprockets. The bike doesn’t matter. Chain length is set by the large-large combo. The ‘wifli’ combos already use a mid cage, btw, so they should have that in stock. I did a quick calculation, a 65 kg rider pushing 350 watt up that climb should have a sub 1:1 gear ratio to maintain a cadence of 60. If I can know that, they could have known, so if they didn’t do anything about it they were just poorly prepared and should stop whining and start preparing for the course before they pack the truck.

Dontcoast March 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm

True, but probably the mechanics, sponsors and budget are as much to blame.
I would guess most teams probably don’t have enough compact srm cranks, 11-32/34 cassettes or longer cage derraileurs to set every rider up with appropriate gearing, since few races require them.

david March 13, 2013 at 6:18 pm

All you need are a couple of extra large sprokets on the rear cassette, it’s not rocket science!

Darren March 12, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Rode the Dwars Door Vlaanderen route on saturday in constant drizzle. Wet and muddy cobbles. Back wheel spun a few times up the Eikenberg, but for the rest ok. Rode the Paterberg completely out of the saddle. Have no problem with steep rides on the route of Liege-Bastogne-Liege in pouring rain either. Ok, not 27%, but I’m also no pampered pro athlete! Go Thor!

Cameron March 13, 2013 at 1:12 pm

There’s a difference with a one day classic & the route of the 6th stage in a week long race. Going up that climb not once but 3 times was probably a bit excessive for a stage race. Once would have been fine.

Dave March 12, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I enjoyed it but watching pros zig zag on a climb something even I’ve never had to do on the few 25% slopes near me seemed a bit much.

Great stage to watch but yeah that was probably a little ott

Kyle March 12, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Triathletes do a 31% grade on worse pavement and don’t complain about it. In fact, they sign up in droves just because of the opportunity to try it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcqIgCJNjto

hoh March 13, 2013 at 8:44 pm

That’s a dry & warm day. Besides, Triathletes do not ride in packed group. One guy drops down does not mean all behind dropping down.

RooBay March 12, 2013 at 11:51 pm

If Sagan could get himself over all of those climbs and win the stage from a couple of climbers then I do struggle to see what all the complaining was about (leaving aside the fact that Sagan is clearly a freak of nature). Phinney clearly had some other issues if he was on his own for 130kms – that can hardly be put down to the severity of the route, although the decision on his elimination may have been a bit harsh. Personally, I would have paid the man for that huge effort and let him start the TT (his time was only 11% slower than Sagan’s).

On balance, the Sant’Elpidio climb was not the issue. The rain appears to have been the real culprit for the chaos on that climb. Even if it was the only climb on the route, the rain would probably still seen riders walking up. The real issue was the length of the stage and the amount of climbing overall. The Tour dishes up stages harder than this (and in the midst of a three week race) and you don’t hear much complaining about that (it is The Tour after all!). I think there is a huge gap in form within the peloton at the moment so this stage was OK for those coming into form but v hard for those with goals later in the year, the latter being the complainers. Riders aren’t robots and it must have been a very hard day but come on – there are far harder days on the menu later in the season. I can’t imagine that this stage was harder than a wet and windy Roubaix or Flanders.

candyman March 13, 2013 at 12:40 am

Phinney was riding in the groupetto but all the other riders decided to abandon, kudos to him for pushing on alone for 130kms even if in the end it was to no avail.

Pete March 12, 2013 at 11:52 pm

museeuw would’ve done it all in the big ring

Al March 13, 2013 at 12:22 am

Interestingly enough, I’ve never heard anyone complain about the Koppenberg, which has seen plenty of pros pushing bikes. http://www.pezcyclingnews.com/photos/features/kopp/2010.jpg

Mary Topping March 13, 2013 at 2:37 am

Stage 6 of Tirreno and your analysis tell us what it takes to break up the Sky train: lots of hard, punchy hills in succession — hopefully narrow and with turns so riders up the road get lost from view, challenging road surfaces, and challenging weather. I hope Prudhomme is thinking about that. Oh, and, wait a minute: is that list a definition of the one-day Classics? Hmmm. Thank you for the good reading.

Nordicdave March 13, 2013 at 6:03 am

Perhaps cyclists, like most idiotic social media users, should censor themselves and think out their Tweets, posts, and comments before they open their pie holes to make fools of themselves. Yeah, it was steep and narrow, but that was the point. To creat a selection. Take out this stage and the time differences would come down to fractions of a second rather than seconds.

Yes, the rain and narrow roads had a negative impact. I am a ski instructor and ice, rain, and wind, have negative impacts on our sport. But, I still show up, work my arse off and give it my best effort. I may complain about weather or snow conditions, but it does not deter me at age 53 from doing my job.

These modern day mamby-pamby tecno era softies need to grow up and grow a pair. !

Cameron March 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm

So you’d rather cyclists be more controlled & less open? That seems an odd position for a fan to take

Nordicdave March 13, 2013 at 6:07 am

I forgot to add that races decided by 9k ITT’s are rather dull and lackluster. I want to see a race decided on the road by competition with the elements, parcourse and riders. Not by a lame 9k ITT. Boring.

This is why the Giro and Vuelta are much more compelling than the TdF. Tdf is all about Time trials. Only thing more boring than an ITT is watching paint dry.

jason March 13, 2013 at 7:59 am

As a climb the gradient was a lot but not something that should worry a pro-cyclist. I tackle 30% climbs on my MTB all the time and I am a recreational cyclist.. I think the problem was the climb, the repetition, the rain, the fact that there was no sprint stage the next day.. and the fact that MSR is important for many sprinters…

Bundle March 13, 2013 at 9:05 am

This discussion can’t be serious. Sant Elpidio was the best race in the last year or two, and will always be remembered. Period. Cyclist races are about stunts, it’s always been like that. I don’t think anyone can’t complain in good faith about this course.

The Inner Ring March 13, 2013 at 9:10 am

It’s different in a stage race but we can see the differences between the peloton’s view and fans.

For me these spectacular moments have be used sparingly. Too many “walls” and we soon take them for granted and ordinary races look dull. It’s like using Paris-Roubaix cobbles in the Tour or Strade Bianche in the Giro, you can’t do it every year.

Ocatzzz March 13, 2013 at 10:26 am

I think this is less stunt-like than having pave sections in the Tour or a finish at Plan de Corones. This was a road race, and the climb went up a road. It was a crazy road, but it was nevertheless undoubtedly a road. I can’t see there’s much to complain about; apart possibly from riders having been unprepared, which is understandable if their focus wasn’t this race.

But I do agree that too many stunts would change road racing radically from what we’re used to. Whether it would make it better or worse is perhaps up for debate.

Larry T. March 13, 2013 at 11:56 am

Really? Why not? Would you say back-in-the-day the asphalt road sections should have been used sparingly? I kind of thought stage races were designed to test all-round ability and skill rather than simply VO2 max and ability to recover day-after-day.

Jason March 13, 2013 at 2:33 pm

the same thing applies with stages finishing in PAU every year.. or going up the Turmalet..

vimes March 13, 2013 at 10:06 am

That was fantastic racing. We should see that much more often, but we don’t because the race design usually sucks. This parcours was great hence great racing. Unfortunately cycling is run these days by people who don’t know how to build a proper parcours. Prudhomme and Pescheux are the worst of that kind. Acquarone’s tweet proves again that he isn’t much better. I’m very afraid about what he will do to Tirreno next year. He already managed to make a dull Giro this year. I want Zomegnan back as well.

Larry T. March 13, 2013 at 11:53 am

Let’s hope the Giro turns out not to be BETTER than the course design. At least they’re going up Tre Cime, which for a lot of the younger riders could be the first time they’ll have climbed it. I’m sure there were plenty of folks whining about it when it was first added to La Corsa Rosa, just as they whined about Zoncolan, Mortirolo, Crostis, etc.

Larry T. March 13, 2013 at 11:54 am

Ooops. take out NOT..I hope it IS better than the so-so course design.

Matt March 13, 2013 at 11:32 am

This isn’t really fleshed out. It’s just a thought. I am sure that there are plenty of counterexamples, but I will throw it out there anyway.

I am regular reader of CyclingInquisition and just purchased _King of the Mountains_. Inrng’s article above makes me think about the Vuelta a Colombia, which is sometimes a ridiculously hard race. I am of two minds regarding these difficult races because they seem to have a place, but I wonder if it is in the highest professional level of cycling. Or, at the very least, it is a potential choice for a variety of teams, but it represents a very different type of race for a different type of competitor. There are folks who are well-suited for this type of difficulty, and others who are not, so perhaps we have another “category” (not a hard and fast distinction) of rider: spring classic hardman, one day Ardennes rider, sprinter, GC contender, [T-A/VaC/Tour of Langkawi/whatever category]. Of the ProTour teams, Nibali appears to be the best GC/New Category type.

Kris March 13, 2013 at 11:54 am

I also feel there is nothing wrong with such a climb in a WorldTour race, after all this is supposed to be the highest level of cycling, but to have it in T-A or any other race early March does seem like a little over the top. Have it in the Giro in May instead, and without rain, and few people will still complain. In the Giro most riders will also be better prepared physically and mentally for such a monster. I am sure some of the riders who complain just did not get the proper gearing on their bikes, or did not really know what was awaiting them when they started the stage in the morning. Sagan can hit a climb, we knew that, but this one was not that short neither and he did follow Nibali and Rodriguez, Grand Tour contenders, and left Contador, Froome and Evans behind. Look at the top 10 and we see Thor Hushovd and Jurgen Roelandts, two muscular sprint-type fellows who somehow always get in the mix when the going gets tough or unusual. For me it is no coincidence these two were so strong.

Also note that Froome, to his credit we should say, did not complain too much and even admitted he over-geared. And didn’t a few riders like Daniel Martin tweet that he loved the stage?

LM March 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Much ado about not much

It was a hard race in lousy (cold rain) conditions, but that’s it.
Riders complain, mostly after the tough races in tough conditions, which is fair, it’s a tough sport. But, not many people complain about Paris-Roubaix being too tough even in the lousiest conditions.

Acquarone’s just doing damage control PR, mostly because of Zom (who I think got thrown under the bus from the Giro).

The real reason the attrition rate was so high was a combination of the finishing circuit, on the second to last day, with the last day being an ITT. The groupetto, all but one (Phinney) having done their job for the week, are riding a difficult race in cold, sh*ty conditions. They’re not in contention for the overall or the ITT, they’re tired from the week, they’re tired from the day, and they’re cold. Then, one of the smart guys remembers that, because of the circuit, they’re approaching the team buses, each equipped with a hot shower and clean, warm, dry clothes. He says something and before you know it, the whole grupetto, now a cold angery mob, is thinking and talking of a hot shower. The buses appeared and they hopped off. Phinney, unfortunately was riding for the next day. He couldn’t hop off.

Ron March 13, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Very nice analysis & commentary!

I watched it & loved it. I understand the idea behind not using such a climb (twice!) every year, but I’m blown away by just about everything PROs do on a bike. Slow-motion? Still much faster than me!

I definitely haven’t ridden a KM in their shoes but have played competitive sports my entire life. Having some riders complain as Nibali & Pietro Sagan make it happen just reminds me of something coaches would say, along the lines of, “Quit bitching, the other team in playing in the same conditions!”

Not calling some of the riders weak but everyone had to ride the same route, right? That said, I’ve ridden only a 22% gradient and that was NOT fun.

Nice analysis & article! Thanks.

PT March 14, 2013 at 2:06 am

I had to walk part of the way up a climb last weekend. I can sympathise.

Dr_Stav March 14, 2013 at 1:55 pm

I’ll like to suggest an alternative that may be still more exciting for the viewer, although feasibility wise very difficult, but without risking cyclists injury or abandonment. This may have been done already, but not that I’m aware of.

How about an alternative route that rejoins with the racing line maybe 500-1000m before the finish? Theoretically there will be very little in time difference, but difference in gradient and distance – short and sharp v’s longer and gentler. As the route approaches the climb, the riders and team will have to work out which tactic they are going to use and which teams will be doing the same. I can think of a way you may be able to safely split the pack without everyone trying to sprint across the road causing crashes.

Would you opt for releasing your climber to assault the steep climb for the stage win but the team leader the gentle slope to go for the overall?

Would you opt for all the team going for the gentle slope in the hope of tapping out a higher pace and lower chance of being stuck behind stalled riders but risk being on a different road then the main rivals and not knowing what or if they have an advantage?

Would you split the team to cover both roads to take advantage?

Would you mark certain riders, pull bluffs or decoys prior to the split to mask your intentions?

It would only work in certain areas where roads and gradients would allow, could be very hazardous with swapping lines before the split, but seeing who has dealt with each route the best, and ultimately who has executed the right tactic on the right route for their style would be edge of the seat stuff.

A style trial – Contador style quick punch v’s Wiggins/Froome long tempo grinde

Scott Reynolds April 5, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Taylor Phinney had it right and the rest should take notes; Jens Voigt wouldn’t have complained about somehting like this; just worked as hard as he could and if he got dropped it is what it is. It’s nice to see a team (like Sky) come together and control a stage every once and a while, I can appreciate that; but it’s the struggle that makes sport worth watching.

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