We’ve got action on many fronts with races in Oman, Algarve and Andalucia today. This can be confusing: Which race do we follow? Why aren’t the best riders together in the same race?
Those questions are valid but the answers aren’t so simple. It’s arguably superior to have the peloton spread around the world because it means the best riders only clash from time to time. A bike race is an exercise in hierarchy and if the same riders kept meeting then the results would likely be the same, a result on a summit finish one week would likely be similar the next. It also means a total of 488 riders are working in competition today, not to mention the accompanying management and support staff.
Both Andalucia and the Algarve are on Eurosport this week if you want to watch on TV with plenty of big names in action and also the European debut of Team Manzana, the newly-promoted Colombian team that has joined the Pro Conti ranks. The Tour of Oman isn’t on TV and a blog post from a couple of years ago explains why. If you want to save a click it’s because Oman doesn’t pay for a live broadcast, something many other races do and a reminder that only the biggest events on the calendar can sell the broadcast rights for meaningful sums.
The Aqua Blue team may not be on TV because they’re racing around Oman but they seem to be everywhere: they’re new, Irish and seemingly in every breakaway going. It’s not brought a win yet but there’s a deliberate strategy here. As a UCI Pro Continental team they’re not guaranteed a start in any race at all so they need to convince organisers they’re worth bringing to the start and one way to prove it is to supply more animation than Pixar by going in the breakaways. It’s not brought a win but it’s got them on the podium with a mountains jersey, a best young jersey there and they’re making a name for themselves. They need to because Aqua Blue is a new e-commerce venture with the goal of generating enough business to fund the team, an ambitious aim.
From Ireland to England and one race that’s becoming more valuable every year is The Women’s Tour which has just announced a new London finish. The race name alone is of interest linguistically given its definitive nature, not just a “tour of somewhere” but The Women’s Tour. Boastful? Maybe but also deserved as the race will ride around the British capital in June for its final stage, a symbolic moment and it comes after some selective climbing stages along the way, something that was missing in the early editions. The race now has everything to become the premium women’s stage race on the calendar and you feel the likes of ASO and RCS are missing a trick here, they might run women’s versions of some events like the new upcoming Liège-Bastogne-Liège for women, the Strade Bianche in Italy and this summer’s La Course over the Izoard is promising but the women’s sport is moving ahead faster than these two traditional race promoters want to invest. Dreaming aloud ASO would invest in a women’s Tour of California for May and then turn La Course into a multi-day stage race in July while RCS get behind the Giro Rosa.
Talking of linguistics and businesses getting ahead of the men’s World Tour peloton, once upon a time the phrase “team issue” would imply the highest standard of a product, for example a team issue bike was the flagship model for a range. It still is in many cases, for example Pinarello’s Dogma F10 as used by Team Sky. But this doesn’t hold now for other brands and recently online direct retailer Canyon, sponsor of Movistar and Katusha, launched two bikes with the new Ultimate CF Evo frame that sit above the “team issue” product. The UCI rules on weight and design are behind this and there’s still plenty of marketing value in a team issue model that makes it through the Arenberg Forest or over the Stelvio but it does pose an existential question for the sport if it can’t act as the shop window for the best products.
Now to something nobody is talking about: the provisional suspension of Giampaolo Caruso. The Italian was provisionally suspended following a retest of a stored sample and this led to the discovery of EPO in the A-sample. This has to be some kind of record as he’s now been provisionally suspended for 547 days and counting, meaning no hearing has reached its conclusion. It’s now nearing a few months short of a two year ban in case the B-sample is ever tested or the case is heard. Caruso’s career is over and aside from the anecdotal curiosity of such a delay it suggests a failure of justice because a case like this should not remain provisional for so long. Caruso was suspended following a re-test of a sample from 2012 so this delay could also impact the UCI’s policy of testing stored samples. A similar story for Jure Kocjan who has also been provisionally suspended for over a year now with a similar retest for EPO on a stored sample.
— Quick-Step Cycling (@quickstepteam) February 15, 2017
From slow to fast and good to see Quick Step celebrating the Ruban Jaune, the “yellow ribbon” prize for the fastest average speed in a one day race, an almost forgotten award. Created in 1936 by Tour de France promoter Henri Desgrange, the prize mirrored the blue ribbon or ruban bleu prize for sailing across the Atlantic in record time. Desgrange of course used yellow to match the paper of his newspaper L’Auto and the yellow jersey of the Tour de France. A one day race has to be at least 200km long to qualify.
The Amstel Gold Race qualifies but good luck beating 49.641km/h record because the course is too hilly. In fact it’s so twisty you’d have a hard time reaching it driving the route. New for 2017 is a significant change to the finish and the traditional sprint up the climb of the Cauberg is out. The finish will now avoid the descent into Valkenberg and the climb back out and now it will cut across the flat plateau past the apple orchards to Vilt before joining the traditional finishing straight. It makes the course more sprint friendly but paradoxically should force the climbers and explosive riders to reveal their game earlier rather than sit tight for the Cauberg.
A reminder you can support this blog by purchasing a cap, jersey or socks from friendly British-based online retailer Prendas. As well as some kit you help keep the wheels turning here.