Wednesday Shorts

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Marcel Kittel wins the Scheldeprijs. Three is the magic number today because he wins the race for the third year in a row and because it’s the team’s third win today with Jonas Ahlstrand winning Stage 2 of the Circuit de la Sarthe and Kirsten Wild taking the win in the Energiewacht Tour.

For the men’s team the victory count rises to 17. The team is loaded with sprinters with Ahlstrand, Nikias Arndt, John Degenkolb, Kittel, Luka Mezgec, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg and Ramon Sinkeldam all capable of winning a sprint. I’ve probably forgotten some others. It’s a contrast to FDJ where the team is having to be careful with Arnaud Démare and Nacer Bouhanni. Giant-Shimano’s strategy works for especially well for a bike sponsor because you and me follow these wins all year rather than just tuning in once a year for, say, the Tour de France. In other words not many people will notice the Circuit de la Sarthe but cycling fans will register the win.

Giro Dilemma, Part I
Team Sky’s mood can’t be as good as Giant-Shimano. Richie Porte won’t be riding the Giro after his season start hasn’t worked out. It seems illness meant his training for the Giro hasn’t gone to plan at all. But he didn’t any of the customary Sky programme of leadership prior to a grand tour, where he wears the leader’s jersey in a race and learns to deal with the media, a system deployed for Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome prior to their Tour de France wins. It leaves Dario Cataldo as their top man. Aged 29 he’s a very complete rider but has been one of Sky’s luxury helpers. Sergio Henao’s absence is being felt.

Giro Dilemma, Part II
A late entry to the Italian stage race is Pierre Rolland. He’s still aiming to ride the Tour de France and team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau told L’Equipe Rolland’s got the stamina, “the harder the race, the more it suits him”. That maybe so but there are limits and he risks being tired for the Tour de France.

Crash prevention
Several websites are running with a report from Belgian cycling federation president Tom Van Damme calling for dangerous riders to get yellow and red cards, like they use in soccer. Those noted for risky riding could be suspended from the next race. It all sounds familiar, in fact ex-pro and now cycling journalist Thijs Zonneveld wrote exactly the same thing on Monday. Zonneveld’s suggestions are wide-ranging and thought-provoking.

Acquarone speaks out
A crash of a different kind. Former Giro race director Michele Acquarone speaks out in an interview with Sports Pro Media. Worth reading if you want more on the case. What happened to the missing money is starting to look clearer, at least based on what Acquarone is saying. Put aside the fraud investigation for a moment and RCS have lost a visionary who was taking great steps to improve some of Italy’s best racing. He alone wasn’t responsible for this – predecessor Angelo Zomegan started a lot of the work – but it’s crucial the good work is kept up.

Sporza Salute
A chapeau to Flemish TV channel Sporza who deliver some of the best coverage going. Take last Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, where the live footage was great but topped and tailed with a good introduction from the start in Brugge and then live footage of the start. The main race broadcast was followed by excellent post-race analysis from Karl Vannieuwkerke. By contrast French TV won’t be showing the start of Paris-Roubaix and will be going off air almost as soon as the race is finished at 5.10p. Last year they cut the coverage before the podium ceremony and there was no post-race analysis.

Radio Silence
Sporza’s excellent coverage doesn’t get everywhere. The OPQS team car had double trouble in the Tour of Flanders when the in-car TV stopped working and their radios stopped too. Trek and Cannondale also reported problems with their race radios.

Car Cams
If the in-car TV displays didn’t work, the cameras did. The Sporza footage inside the team cars brought a little extra to the TV production. There’s nothing unique but scenes from the Cannondale car with orders to hit the front pre-empted images of the lime green team leading the chase to the Oude Kwaremont for the last time. It just offers extra coverage to space out the images of riders pedalling.

Bike cams?
We have in-car cams so when are on-bike cameras coming? Soon could be the answer with widespread coverage today after a speech by Brian Cookson. But it’s not a new policy announcement, this has been under review for longer along with other technological ideas for improved TV production.

I’m not sold on bike cams. Helmet cams are out because they’re dangerous in a crash, helmets are not designed for an impact while a camera’s attached. On bike cams are fine but they wobble and often deliver low-fi footage. But it’s all about production values and how often they’re used. But if it gets people talking and exploring new ideas, it’s about time.

“How is it possible that at Milan-Sanremo, after the Poggio, the viewers received no information about the composition of the leading group? Nowadays even touring cyclists can be followed all over the world thanks to a small chip. Why not use this to know the order in which the riders topped a climb. The technicians tell us this is very easy to achieve. During the road World Championships, the riders’ names appear on the screen each time they pass through the line. Why don’t they do that also at the top of the Poggio, the Paterberg, the Wallers cobblestones sector and the Keutenberg for example?”
Raymond Kerckhoffs, president AIJC

Dutch journalist Kerckhoffs makes an obvious point and more. Too much of cycling’s coverage is reduced to filming men pedal and simple tech can improve things for everyone.

No magic spanners?
Sometimes the TV cameras do film hidden things. Gianni Meersman’s Paris-Nice motorpacing is just one example where live TV films something the race would rather keep private. I’ve covered the subject of sticky bottles and magic spanners on here before but can now reveal the UCI is examining a rule change to expressly forbid a rider from receiving any mechanical assistance from a moving team car with disqualification for those who break it. You heard it here first.

Calendar Reminder
The links at the top of the page don’t get used much and there are more and more new readers. So a nudge to those who want to download the iCal or subscribe to a calendar of every major men’s and women’s pro race : inrng.com/calendar

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{ 43 comments }

Ian April 9, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Not the best move by Rolland, I think. Either he should go for the Giro (and go for it 100%, like Quintana), or he should just keep to the Tour. We’ll see how it works out for him.

Paris – Roubaix is practically a Belgian race. Too bad Sporza isn’t reporting on it, though.

Dave April 9, 2014 at 7:33 pm

The Sporza coverage I saw of the Ronde on Saturday was ok, but showing the women’s finish would have been nice…

blinkyblueeyed April 9, 2014 at 10:08 pm

I thought that would’ve been nice too, in fact it began to irritate me that I had to check twitter to get updates on the womens’ race, when at a minimum Sporza could have at least given quick updates along the way.

That said… at least they showed highlights of the womens’ race later on and I thought their post-race interview with Ellen (van Dijk) in the studio afterwards (as they did with the mens podium) was really great.

One more advantage of extended coverage instead of just switching off as soon as the race finishes :-)

The Inner Ring April 9, 2014 at 10:27 pm

Especially as the women finished just when the men’s race was asleep, a neutral point that would have been ideal to cut to some action.

blinkyblueeyed April 9, 2014 at 10:33 pm

Exactly – a win win :-)

Kyle V. April 9, 2014 at 11:01 pm

I think the only way to cut between the two is to do a delayed viewing of the event where they can edit it. What if there had been a strategically important move while they cut back and forth.

blinkyblueeyed April 9, 2014 at 11:55 pm

To an extent I think that’s a good point, but it’s not necessarily the only way I’d suggest.

The above example was perhaps coincidental (the finish of the womens race at the same time as a neutral point in the mens race) so a live switch admittedly fits in this case but I think the overriding point here is the opportunity, helped by technology, is there to embrace both races – whether the technology is live switching, delayed/edited viewing, embedded viewing, a combination of all of the above or something else entirely different.

It just seems a shame (and for me personally -> frustrating) to exclude a race that’s running parallel and indeed, not _utilise_ the fact a race is running parallel, in order to make the coverage more interesting and ultimately more inclusive too.

Dave April 10, 2014 at 2:29 pm

What made it doubly annoying was that I was watching the coverage on a big screen at Oude Kwaremont and having seen the womens race come past, we were all left to wonder what on earth had happened.

KB April 10, 2014 at 9:27 pm

Sporza’s coverage is extensive and superb. As Mart Smeets (NOS) once remarked: “if you put three bikes next to each other, in Belgium they call that a race and put it on live TV.” He may have even said that as a guest on Sporza’s pre-race coverage of the Ronde a few years ago: he’s a bit of a sycophant like that.

The best thing about learning ‘Nederlands’ as an expat is not having to listen to the Anglophone commentators that are so loathed by most here. And ‘Vlaams’ is even nicer to listen to, plus it saves resorting to the lesser NOS coverage (though they handle the TV production for Amstel Gold Race in a few weeks, so we’ll see how they do).

Tovarishch April 9, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Is Cataldo definitely the team leader on the Giro for Sky or could they give Thomas a well deserved chance a year early?

The Inner Ring April 9, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Cataldo’s not certain to lead, it could be someone else. But Thomas might find it hard to switch from cobbled classics to the Giro, there’s not much time to rest, recover and refocus.

Leif April 9, 2014 at 8:17 pm

It has also been announced today that EBH is (most likely) riding the Giro to go stage-hunting.

Tovarishch April 10, 2014 at 6:23 am

Paris-Roubaix, Amstel Gold and then a nice 2 weeks in the mountains. I’d risk 10 roubles on that bet.

Sam April 10, 2014 at 10:17 am

I’ll put a good sum of money down on the table that its Cataldo. Importantly the Giro has been in his race programme from the very start (unlike with Thomas), he’s an experienced GT rider, A GT stage winner, a very good climber and TTer – and he’s Italian, which will play well with Sky Italia and the Italian media and fans.

Thomas is being saved for the Tour, where fingers crossed he’ll have a lot more luck that last year. He’ll be a critical part of the subset of the team looking after Froome across Northern France – and those cobbles on st 5….

ShortsNL April 9, 2014 at 8:05 pm

The in-car video feed reminds me a bit of what they have had in Formula One since the early 2000′s: radio communications between driver and pit crew were sometimes often and broadcasted on TV during the race. It’s a nice touch because you get a sense of what’s going on behind the scenes, instead of just seeing drivers do their laps / cyclists do their km’s.

However, while the bike-mounted cameras sound nice, the call for it is way too vague in my opinion. Let’s take a look at how it was described in Frank Kwanten’s CPA article from last week:

“Make extra income and more attractive coverage possible: cameras and radios should be allowed on bikes so teams, riders and organisers can sell their images to the rest of the world for extra income and a more attractive sport.”

Okay, so they are asking it to be ‘made possible’ but also for it to ‘be allowed’. Being allowed is the most obvious: that one is for the UCI. But ‘made possible’ is very vague as it suggests an underlying financial reason as well: who do they want to pay for the cameras? Apparently they want both the teams and the race organisers (who also control the TV broadcasting) to be able to use them. Are they expecting the UCI or the organisers to pay for the cameras, while the teams can then use them for free? Or if they want the teams to pay, how are they going to arrange those cameras to be used by organisers during live broadcasting?

At the moment the camera thing just seems to much of a vague concept that is thrown forward with the (good) intention of introducing more elements of modern times.

channel_zero April 9, 2014 at 9:18 pm

Kerckhoffs doesn’t understand that “yes, it is possible.” is not the same as “Yes, it can be done quickly and for a very low cost with good quality.” Technically this is a completely different problem than the strategically placed fixed cameras used on point-to-point routes.

For circuit races, it’s possible to build a timing arch and deliver the signal some distances to the production equipment. We see it at the World Championships. For point-to-point races, this gets very expensive and technology cannot solve some of the signal delivery over very long distances problems cheaply. That’s imagining there is a reliable source of electricity at these key places in a point-to-point race.

Cookson doesn’t know he can’t put cameras on bikes. It’s not possible to deliver a good-enough image over an undetermined wireless protocol in a very tiny package…. yet. And I doubt ASO will spend the considerable sums needed to integrate it into their production equipment.

I’m looking forward to the possible end of the magic spanner. Simplify that rule and enforce it.

channel_zero April 9, 2014 at 9:23 pm

Also, the reason Cookson is pushing for improved video production technology in cycling is because the new head of the IOC is very keen on finally setting up their own sports television network.

Also, Tom van Damme’s ideas won’t work. Lower-ranked teams are always blamed for crashes caused by riders from higher-ranked, bigger-budget teams fighting for position near the back.

The Inner Ring April 9, 2014 at 10:26 pm

Interesting for the TV point. Also the crash blame game is a classic, there’s a hierarchy of guilt with second tier teams, younger riders and foreigners often getting the blame ahead of the home pro on a big team.

Vanilla Thrilla (@Vanilla_Thrilla) April 10, 2014 at 2:02 am

Surely there’s room for adjusting the timing protocol at the end of flat stages in stage races to alleviate the need for GC riders to be up the front mixing it with sprint teams. The current situation is just ludicrous.

Instead of getting different times for a 1 second split in the bunch perhaps they could allow a 3 seconds or more before a split within the peloton leads to different times. After all, I believe the reason they changed to giving everyone in the peloton the same time in the first place was to prevent carnage at the finish.

Dan April 9, 2014 at 9:48 pm

I would think using cameras on a line, like most MTB films use, would be a great addition. Especially in the classics where the same climb is used repeatedly, and where the attacks are sure to come. And at the finish, would capture a sprint much better.

blinkyblueeyed April 9, 2014 at 10:29 pm

I certainly think it would be nice if cycling coverage evolved itself and used technology to captivate a greater audience.

As discussed here before, post race analysis as happens in football or rugby etc. would be fantastic – I often find myself wanting to see more of a sprint finish for example and see/understand in more detail what actually happened in the build up and then in the actual finish.

In that sense I concur with Brian Cookson’s thoughts in the link above “One of the biggest challenges is the need to evolve while staying true to the essence of your sport,”

In a quick reference to ShortsNL’s post and the example of F1, that is it used to suffer from the same phenomena but has evolved its in-car/pit footage hugely over the last view years. In fact, the in-car footage and on-board cameras this season are amazing imo, whereas when they first appeared, most people rubbished the idea.

Another interesting example is what happened with sailing last year in the America’s Cup – not typically an exciting spectator sport but with some imagination (overlaid course graphics, on-boat sound and video footage + studio commentary on what their tactics therefore may be, and finally… on-boat post-race skipper interviews (brilliant I thought)) it suddenly became exciting, interesting and most of all, understandable for viewers.

With all that in mind, I definitely think cycling also has huge potential to innovate in this regard, which may, in the end, become critical to our sports survival and growth.

Tovarishch April 10, 2014 at 6:20 am

Huge opportunities if someone (Sky?) would pick up the baton. With interactive and transponders you should be able to select your own favourite(s) and track them through the race. F1 has managed to screen information so that only certain details are generally available whilst others are restricted to the team or teams. Perhaps we could have a ‘Froome is faster than you’ moment!

Patrick April 9, 2014 at 10:49 pm

surely GPS trackers are the way to go. the technology is already in most people’s pockets – simply take the GPS receiver and data transmitter tech that is mass produced for cellphones and put it on the bikes. aside from areas without network coverage its incredibly simple.

it doesn’t give 100% accurate detailed locations to say who was first over a climb but we see that on camera anyway, what we want is immediate details of who is in each group on the road and the time gaps. i understand this is what they have on the motorbikes anyway but that is a step removed from the real time gaps and doesn’t identify who is where.

Garmin should sponsor it – the publicity for their tech should pay for it, then just needs the UCI and event organisers/broadcasters to get their acts together to make it happen.

AK April 10, 2014 at 12:04 am

Put it on the riders, not the bikes. The bikes get swapped if there are mechanical problems.

Elle April 10, 2014 at 1:36 am

Yes, why not just have the racers wear a garmin watch each (or equivalent)? If domestic users can now allow others to track their rides/runs in real time then why not the pros too? No need to worry about phone signal coverage either: it’s all satellite tech if I understand correctly.

Larrick April 10, 2014 at 3:40 am

I remember the long distance swimming & the triathlon at the London Olympics. If ever its difficult to know who’s in a lead group it’s when you’ve got a hundred swimmers thrashing about in the water and all wearing the same caps (albeit with different numbers), yet the helicopter camera zoomed in and worked its way back through the field so we knew who was who. Coupled with that was the checkpoints with timing devices to get an exact list yet watching the Pais de Vasco this week has been awful in comparison. Lingering heli shots from a distance and the few times they’ve gone in for a close up, the director cut away to a cam shot.

If there’s anything more frustrating than being a fan and watching 90 mins of a 60 man group heading towards the finish and you, and the commentators, can only pick out about twenty riders in that time because it’s shots of the front of the group or the rear and long heli shots then please let me know because I’m at a loss

Rant over :)

Anonymous April 10, 2014 at 8:52 am

Bike cams are not the answer to getting more people watching the sport, their just a gimmick that has been tried some years ago and the result of which did not mean captivated viewers, I seem to remember Seper Mario being the chosen rider. I personally love the scene from a still camera point where the viewer gets the real sense of speed/sound of a bunch, but its rarely used.

noel April 10, 2014 at 9:06 am

one of the bits of the recent Armstrong film I really enjoyed was the footage from within the peleton. I guess this was filmed and edited later rather than streamed (it was 10-15yrs ago after all) but it really gave a good sense of what it was like within the group, and I’d love it if they could develop something.
Seeing how obsessed bike manufacturers are with aerodynamics, I assume every bike would have to carry a housing, with camera’s in a select few…

Tovarishch April 10, 2014 at 9:35 am

Instead of red and yellow cards they should instigate a similar system to F1 with stop and go penalties (possibly for all offences). The offender should be forced to stop at the side of the road for a time proportional to the offence without any refuelling or tyre changing. This would also, to a limited extent, penalise their team thus encouraging them to impose discipline on their riders.

Anonymous April 10, 2014 at 9:43 am

I agree that some sort of tech to identify individual riders is a good thing so that the viewer can identify who is where etc. as the commentator often has little clue either or is babbling on about something else entirely. incidentally, I think the Belgian Champ had on hell of a sticky bottle of Sunday but the camera (Director) chose to switch cameras. Funny that, being a Belgian race.

Sam April 10, 2014 at 10:20 am

That the UCI are looking at banning stick bottle and magic spanner opportunities is verrrrry interesting – nice tip off, INRNG!

Samuel G April 10, 2014 at 10:26 am

Acquarone speaks of 100,000 euros per week dissappearing from shady offshoot RCS group accounts, and the Giro being bled dry to try and fill the gaps on the balance sheet. Sounds like a good way to keep a criminal organisation of your back, sadly this kind of corruption is still all too endemic in Italy.

Sam April 10, 2014 at 10:29 am

And why its unlikely that this is ever going to be resolved to Aquarone’s satisfaction….

Larry T. April 10, 2014 at 5:29 pm

And quite a lot of OTHER places too I might add? Remember the scandal that got Felix Levitan axed from LeTour? Plenty of dodgy accounting there – in FRANCE.

GeorgeY April 10, 2014 at 10:30 am

Speaking of motorpacing the latest Secret Pro has a story about a 200 km assistance offered in exchange for a souvenir.

Steve L April 10, 2014 at 10:51 am

Although mobile cams of various sorts (on bikes, in team cars etc) are an interesting idea, there are some more basic things which TV coverage ought to be doing; mainly telemetry. How fast is a rider going, what’s the gradient of the hill they are going up, how much power are they putting out? One of the unexpected by-products of cameras on motorbikes is that it is difficult for the viewer to judge speed and gradient. The Vuelta coverage sometimes gives this information but its the only race I’ve ever seen doing it – surely it should be on all the time? Compare it with other sports – in rugby you get detailed information about share of play, numbers of tackles made, football is similar, tennis have Hawkeye for line calls, cricket you get graphics explaining the trajectory of the ball.

Why can’t cycling do something better- surely they must realise that most cycling fans are stats geeks? Also, for the uninitiated, details about speed and gradient give the viewer a real idea of just how hard the sport is.

Anonymous April 10, 2014 at 11:53 am

It would be interesting if the format allowed for the “stats” to be on or off. Personally I am happy just watching the action and not being inundated with figures etc.

Martijn April 10, 2014 at 11:57 am

If all riders have a GPS and they can be followed publicly, this could have a huge impact on racing. I am afraid it will lead to even more “if we just keep up this average wattage on the front of the peloton, the lead group will be caught two km for the finish” robot racing.

Steppings April 10, 2014 at 12:23 pm

No mechanical help from a moving car, no magic spanners, the riders are going to love that. they need to speak to their Union rep.

Dan April 10, 2014 at 2:08 pm

GPS just tells the device (watch, etc.) it’s position. Broadcasting that position has nothing to do with satellites. Unless your watch has a nuclear reactor for a battery it cannot send a signal into space. Phones, watches etc gain their position information, x,y,z, by triangulating (at least) between satellites (or cells) and then use software to calculate speed etc. without explaining further it is all based on time and known position. yes, you would need some kind of terrestrial wireless network to gather rider positions and then broadcast the data. It’s certainly doable, and is a challenging proposition!

Larry T. April 10, 2014 at 5:40 pm

I thought the red/yellow card thing was an April Fool’s joke that showed up late. Gimmee a break, do we really want the sport to end up like the BS they spew in F1? The “overtaking under review by the stewards” claptrap? I believe the peloton is capable of dealing with “dangerous” riders if there is such a thing. They’re the guys who find themselves suddenly in the ditch.
I wouldn’t put Acquarone and Zomegnan in the same category – the latter was a passionate leader like Torriani while the former was little more than a social-media marketing maven.
Banning any sort of mechanical services from a moving car is a good idea, if for nothing else as a safety issue. This shouldn’t be too hard to enforce – once a few guys are DQ’d they’ll stop doing it. The rules have already required the mechanics to fool around with the “lawyer lips” just to change a front wheel, how long before all they do is hand the guy another bike in case of ANY mechanical issue? If they allow disc brakes to be used, it will be pretty much force the issue unless the bike is totally redesigned to allow quick wheel changes with disc brakes. How? Think F1 vs MOTOGP.

The Inner Ring April 10, 2014 at 5:53 pm

The red/yellow card thing probably needs more explaining. It can have its merits and I’ll explain why soon on here, maybe next week.

Tan April 11, 2014 at 10:42 am

I think it’s absolutely shocking how little real-time information is given during races. Even during Tour de France, there is usually no way to know how somebody not in the leading group is doing on the last climb.

In cross country skiing, you can get split times for all skiers after every couple of kilometers. OK, it’s easier there, as skiing is usually done on smaller laps, but it wouldn’t be rocket science for cycling, especially grand tours and more important one day races.

People who are new to following cycling are often surprised by the lack of real-time information, and cannot understand how there is no way to learn how your favorite is doing other than to study the results once they are available.

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