Can Simon Špilak Win The Tour de France?

Monday, 19 June 2017

No? Probably not? Why not? Apologies for the title which evokes Betteridge’s Law that states “any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no” but it’s a way to explore questions about Simon Špilak, the calendar and more.

After the Critérium du Dauphiné the talk was all what it meant for the Tour de France. One week later and the day after another selective Alpine stage race and all there’s none of this talk.

There are several reasons for this. First let’s start with Špilak and he’s going to the the Tour… of Poland rather than the Tour de France. That’s interesting alone, he’s just won a top mountain stage race but won’t do the Tour de France despite appearing in top shape. One main reason is he’s a specialist at one week stage races rather than grand tours (he’s a specialist in Swiss races because of his 12 career wins, half of them have come from the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de Romandie). His record in grand tours is less illustrious, his best performance is 48th place overall in the 2008 Giro and if he finished the Tour de France in 2009 he was DNF in 2010 and 2014. Grand tours are not for everyone to put it mildly, riders slip into a catabolic state the longer they race as the body begins break down from the relentless grind. Perhaps Špilak knows he can’t last the distance? Either way he avoids them despite enjoying mountainous stage races.

We know he doesn’t like the heat, sometimes he nicknamed “The Iceman” because he seems to thrive in cold conditions and often wears a layer less than others, cutting or rolling up the sleeves of his short sleeve jersey to make them shorter, even on icy days. As it happens he’s won races in broiling heat too. Perhaps another reason he’s not the talk of the town today is because he’s not that talkative, he speaks good Italian but when interviewed about his win yesterday he began by declaring “I’m very happy” in Italian in a deadpan tone with an inscrutable face. That’s not a criticism, merely his style but it might explain why the media aren’t rushing to find out more about the stoic Slovene.

Tell me who you have beaten and I’ll tell you who you are: so wrote Antoine Blondin several times as he chronicled the sport over the years. We can broaden things from the micro about Špilak to the macro. The Slovene was joined on the final podium by Damiano Caruso and Steven Kruijswijk. Caruso is no Tour contender because he’s going to be Richie Porte’s sherpa but this is an important “what does it all mean for the Tour?” aspect given Porte ran out of team mates in the high mountains during the Dauphiné so having Caruso will help Porte twice over, first for confidence and second for the physical support. Kruijswijk made a good recovery after his late Giro abandon but won’t be riding the Tour so no extrapolations can be made there, the same for Domenico Pozzovivo whose stage win and fourth place overall won’t make the headlines but will have Ag2r La Mondiale management purring at the ranking points bonanza.

The Tour de Suisse simply doesn’t attract enough of the big Tour de France contenders any more. It wasn’t always this way but we have to go back to 2001 to find someone doing the Suisse-Tour double and that was Lance Armstrong, since stripped of the result and arguably more interesting because he flashed up some suspicious tests but was not target-tested at all but that’s another story. For years Jan Ullrich’s pre-Tour build up included the Tour de Suisse but today few of the Tour’s contenders attend.

Last year Tejay van Garderen won the Queen Stage in the Tour de Suisse to bolster his credentials as a dual-leader chez BMC. Thibaut Pinot has opted for Suisse before to race away from the French media. But it’s an uncommon path. Even the Tour de Suisse’s commercial links to the Velon teams don’t deliver that much as the real stars have gone to the Dauphiné, mainly because of the calendar slot: it’s too close to the Tour de France. Any weaknesses or problems discovered in Switzerland leave little time to be remedied. Allow for some rest following the race, factor in some tapering before the Tour and the window to actually train is very small between today and the start of the Tour.

Calendar slot: The Tour de Suisse knows this and wants to move its slot the calendar, perhaps starting one week earlier to attract more big names. But will the UCI allow this? Already the Tour de Suisse and Dauphiné compete for riders and overlap with Suisse starting Saturday 10 June and the Dauphiné finishing on Sunday 11 June. This is competition for riders, not audience. To go from overlap at both races to an outright clash is something the UCI may have reservations but then again the World Tour calendar is crowded and incoherent already so why not? Above all it’s not easy finding a spare slot given the slots occupied by other World Tour events the newly-promoted Tour of California and the Giro, where race boss Mauro Vegni wants to move his race to a later slot. The UCI will validate the 2018 calendar in the coming days.

Swiss lessons: we can still extrapolate plenty from the past week of racing. Peter Sagan was beaten early in the week but recovered to win two stages and the points jersey so his quest for the green jersey in the Tour de France looks on track. Michael Matthews may challenge but might fancy a shot at the yellow jersey instead if he can place high in the opening time trial and then poach some time bonuses at the intermediate sprints and finish line. Ion Izagirre had a good week too, nothing spectacular but another name to watch in July while if you want to extrapolate beyond July then Movistar’s Mark Soler, still 23, is looking more and more like a replacement for Spain’s ageing generation of grand tour riders.

Busy weekend: talking of the future yesterday we saw Wout van Aert beat Mathieu Van Der Poel to win Ride Bruges, formerly known as the Elfstedenronde and, yes, a road race rather than a cyclo-cross and maybe it’ll be the same in the 2022 Tour of Flanders? Meanwhile in the Alps Egan Bernal won the Tour de Savoie-Mont Blanc ahead of Bjorg Lambrecht and we’re surely going to hear more of them, Bernal seemingly being Sky’s latest recruit. Plus there was the Tour of Slovenia won by Rafał Majka and a good four days for Bora-Hansgrohe since the Pole took a stage and team mate Sam Bennett took two more. The Route du Sud had the surprising result of Silvan Dillier winning the overall while Pierre Rolland took the stage into the Cirque de Gavarnie. Marcel Kittel and Dylan Groenewegen duelled at the Ster ZLM Tour.

It all goes quiet: so much action over the weekend but now there’s just one international race on the calendar – Halle-Ingooigem in Belgium – during the next two weeks until the Giro Rosa and Tour de France start. The national championships take place and a new UCI rule this year says they have to be held in the last full week of the month of June, with dispensation available for the southern hemisphere, so more countries are holding their championships in this upcoming slot than ever.

Conclusion
We go from one Alpine stage race where riders are observed, interviewed and analyzed for every possible meaning for the Tour de France to another where Tour speculation has vanished and where many participants are coming to the end of a block in their season: all in the space of one week. Simon Špilak was a convincing winner but is 300/1 to win the Tour de France and that’s still expensive given he’s not due to start in Düsseldorf. It shows us the oddities of the calendar and the specialist niches that exist throughout the year.

Now we go into a strange quiet period with only one international race ahead before the Tour de France begins in July but stay tuned for the nationals because they’re often on TV and fascinating because of their tactics given the concentration of some teams.

Top photo credit: Katusha-Alpecin / Tim de Waele

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

matthew June 19, 2017 at 12:44 pm

I think his biggest threat is the hot. Apart from his La Mure victory 3 years ago, he has never been good with high temperatures. Rasmussen was another one who struggled with the hot and almost won a Tour…, so why not?

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Jerome June 19, 2017 at 1:20 pm

Tejay van Garderen needs to read that first paragraph.

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Augie March June 19, 2017 at 3:04 pm

How does that UCI rule apply to the Australian/New Zealand/South African national championships all of which are held towards the start of the year? Also why the last full week of June? Let me guess, tradition…..?

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The Inner Ring June 19, 2017 at 4:47 pm

There’s dispensation as mentioned above. It’s more about getting the US, Japanese and some other countries to hold their championships at the same time and how this endures a slot for all competitors.

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Shawn June 19, 2017 at 6:37 pm

I understand the UCI’s desire to make this the time to hold national championships but, in the US, this means that the start lists will likely lack most WT riders who are unlikely to fly back in the middle of their European campaigns. How is this in the interest of the sport? It’s hard to find a good spot of the calendar but, at least when following a larger N. American race, the start list is more representative.

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VW June 20, 2017 at 4:53 am

It’s not like the US championships were filled with World Tour riders in the past. In 2016, when the races were on the same weekend as the final stages of the Giro, only one rider from a World Tour team finished in the top 10 of the men’s road race, and that was Alex Howes (Cannondale). I doubt if more than a handful of top division riders will ever bother when the race is during the season (late February through early October), with a 5-6 hours time difference from Europe.

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Anonymous June 19, 2017 at 4:54 pm

*How does that UCI rule apply to the Australian/New Zealand/South African national championships?*

It doesn’t. “With dispensation available for the southern hemisphere…” explains our gentle host.

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Duncan June 19, 2017 at 3:44 pm

Cannot get my head around why they don’t just roll the dice with Spilak this year – he’s so far beyond the rider he was a few years ago that surely it’s worth a chance as he’s missed the colder giro anyway? TDSwiss in the bag, so what’s to loose?

Can we get a few BMC Tour De France predictions – will TVG be there? will Sanchez be there?

Is Dennis going to be that much help in the mountains?

If none of the above – do people think they’re mental with the favourite in their ranks and only Caruso for the high mountains?

Will the management be questioned if the team cost Porte the win?

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Augie March June 19, 2017 at 4:03 pm

Sanchez yes, Dennis probably no. Recall that Cadel Evans won the 2011 Tour with next to no mountain support (ditto for Hesjedal in the 2012 Giro) while Richie Porte last year only lost major time on the flat roads with his puncture. Despite what Movistar seem to think you don’t win grand tours by ensuring you have two riders in the early break on every mountain stage, you win it by being the strongest on those final climbs and in the time trials. I’m sure BMC know more than any of us armchair experts about what they need to do to give Porte the support he needs, and then when it comes to those uphill finishes and the final TT where time is won or lost, he either has it or there’s someone better than him.

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The Inner Ring June 19, 2017 at 4:48 pm

One interest for this year’s Tour is the route. It offers a lot less of the set piece ski station summit finishes, instead there’s more room for entrepreneurial tactics with descents, valley roads etc. Room for it all… but whether teams gamble remains to be seen.

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Duncan June 19, 2017 at 5:24 pm

So you’re thinking a less climber heavy team might be rewarded?

Interesting. I just thought with the best climber/TT’er currently in the peloton BMC would be looking to play it safe – maybe not? This might be a forgiving year should Froome not have his best climbing legs then? *(Augie – I kinda disagree, the few you highlight go against the majority where climbing domestiques were crucial… why wouldn’t BMC just do all they could?)

INRNG may have answered that immediately after though. Just out of interest INRNG, would you take TVG?

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The Inner Ring June 19, 2017 at 5:27 pm

Maybe not so much climbers/rouleurs but teams with multiple options for the overall win, to cover moves etc, like we saw with Aru and Fuglsang in the Dauphiné. It may not win the race but it could make it more exciting.

As for TvG, that’s hard to say, it depends what he wants and thinks too. He seemed capable in Suisse but doing the Giro-Suisse-Tour is a big ask.

gabriele June 19, 2017 at 6:24 pm

Hummm, yeah BMC know better than us, no doubt.

Yet, it’s to be seen if they know better than their fellow pro teams, given that they’ve won, what?, one GT over the last 20 or so they’ve taken part in? Plus, one single podium spot. Both with the same guy (which makes you wonder how much was really about the team). With the budget they’ve got. Wow. They picked some secret success formula this year, their guys are cracking it, no doubt, but it’s not like they’ve got a brilliant track record when GT strategy is concerned.
And, well, the recent Dauphiné display wasn’t exactly among the most encouraging in terms of “team strategy”.

Three out of five among the last Giri and the last Vueltas were won with long range actions by a rider who proved himself the best despite *not necessarily* “being the strongest on those final climbs and in the time trials”. I’ll acknowledge that the Tour is more similar to the concept you outline here, but, once more we’ve got a case of “why do they call it GTs if they actually mean TdF?”.

(PS It’s not like that I don’t agree with you about Movistar’s often moot advance parties).

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hoh June 19, 2017 at 5:29 pm

There a quite lively Spilak interview circulating on cyclingnews comment session, can’t verify it’s authenticity. Basically he jokingly said that all trophys for him are oversized salad bows (including the one given out at the end of the Tour). If he can get the same salad bow with one week’s work at TDS, why bother with 3 weeks’ hard work at le’tour?

So if this interview is true, it says two things:
1) He very consciously choose not to do GT (according to the same alleged interview he has been making that choice since 2014);
2) the perception of him being boring is probably a lost in translation.

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ZigaK June 20, 2017 at 10:28 am

link please?

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Duncan June 20, 2017 at 11:10 am

Thank you for the reply INRNG. Interesting, understand what you mean now, double options in a team allowing someone to go and someone to cover could be rewarded this year. Interesting to see if GThomas will be in that form for Sky.

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AK June 19, 2017 at 5:23 pm

“All for some rest following the race” , should that be ‘allow’?
Re: calendar slots: I don’t see why it couldn’t move a week earlier. It is already impossible to compete in both. On the other hand real fans can now watch two races in a row. Two at the same time is harder.

Van der Poel is said by some to have his heart more with MTB than with the road. Let’s see where he ends up. I myself prefer MTB when I ride, and road when I watch so I have peace with either.

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Ecky Thump June 19, 2017 at 5:43 pm

A really interesting piece Inner Ring, thanks. Worth a t shirt 😉
And timely after some discussion with Gabriele after the CdD.

It looks like training blocks are a many wondrous thing with different riders preparing in their own ways.
Most GC’ers have recently gone with the CdD preparation. I wonder to what extent Froome’s personal preference has influenced this ‘trend’?

But TdS still has an influence, albeit for the more ‘punchy’ type riders if you like.

The two races respective comparisons stand up to each other more so than perhaps was intimated in this piece. Well, not for GC but as a whole –
2016 TdS had four riders who went on to take 5 x TdF stages between them, most notably Sagan with 2 x stage wins and the Green Jersey (also wore Yellow early on).

2016 CdD also had four riders taking 5 x TdF stages, including Froome obviously and GVA who also wore yellow early on. Though undoubtedly the GC influence was much more pronounced.

Interesting anyway, if there are such things as trends in modern preparation for Le Tour.

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gabriele June 19, 2017 at 6:41 pm

It’s mainly about having more time to train at home (better said, at altitude – more often than not).

It’s not by pure chance that when stage hunting is concerned, there’s less difference between the two races: many of the stage hunters won’t follow the “high road” 😉 of altitude training.

I’m not sure about Froome’s prep being mimicked: at the end of the day, what was peculiar in his approach was tackling the Dauphiné already sporting some notable form, not just being there.
It’s not like people weren’t doing the Dauphiné before: they just purposedly raced it in a quite much lacking form.
Contador 2014 and Bardet 2016 (plus, D. Martin 2016-2017 – but it’s harder to judge correctly his performaces) are among the few clear examples of someone else trying with a certain success (far from proven in Contador’s case) that curious Froome approach. And Wiggins 2012, sure.

Nibali and Aru are among those who, alas, try to copycat the more general aspect of Froome’s racing approach (a significant difference among peak performances and lacklustre ones), but even so Nibali never raced the Dauphiné in his best shape. Aru might be slightly different and could be included in the above list, *if* he’ll have a decent Tour.

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Ecky Thump June 20, 2017 at 2:05 pm

To underline Inner Ring’s article, 14 of the top 20 2016 TdF GC competed at the Dauphine, whereas there was only 3 top 20 TdF GC from the Tour de Suisse.
Of the three, Inner Ring missed out Thomas and Pantano, who had a good Tour and was strong in its last week.

In the riders preparation for the TdF, how much of the last 7-10 days beforehand is spent in ‘heavy’ training, I’d have thought very little?
Does that extra few days grace from finishing the Dauphine earlier mean *that* much?

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gabriele June 20, 2017 at 2:43 pm

Absolutely so, because that week is precisely what you need to go for more altitude training without hindering tapering and also allowing you to get back that spark which altitude may blunt.

A bit like when the riders left the Vuelta after two weeks to prepare the Worlds (*not* exactly the same thing for several reasons, including altitude itself!, yet there a couple of common points).

The top dogs have all gone high. Two weeks aren’t enough to do it properly and be race ready on July 1.

(Now, we might speak of the whole sense of altitude training vs. achieving the race pace racing… but it would be all very conjectural).

A curiosity: it looks like that this year Sky sent three of the four guys which last year made the TdF top 20 to RdS o TdS (by the way, RdS always’s got soem great mountain stage). Will they start… copying Quintana? ^__^

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Ecky Thump June 20, 2017 at 4:32 pm

Can that extra week be utilised for more altitude training though?
This interesting Cycling Tips article sheds some light on the process –

https://cyclingtips.com/2013/03/explaining-the-science-of-altitude-training/

There doesn’t seem to be any one definite process, rather it depends on the individual athlete.
And it suggests that an athlete may need 10-14 x days re-acclimitisation after altitude.
So, even with the extra week that the Dauphine allows, the time scales look too tight?

It seems to me that the extra week can be used to tinker with condition but if the work hasn’t been done by that point, it may not make much difference. Not as far as altitude training is concerned anyway.

To be honest, the fact that the Criterium du Dauphine is an ASO race could have as much to do with the turnout as anything 🙂

gabriele June 20, 2017 at 5:38 pm

@Ecky, look at what athletes *actually do* instead of imagining it ^__^

If you look around you’ll easily find that Froome just “copied” Aru’s Sestriere, they both were there (at least some 5-7 days ago).
Contador typically used to go to Livigno in the second half of June, whether he had done or not Dauphiné (videos available for 2014 and 2015): I don’t know where he is this season, I’m not following his steps as much, but for sure it was something he used to do in the past.
Sierra Nevada is another classic destination.
Around June 20, you’d find Nibali training (relatively) high on S. Pellegrino, in 2014 (after the Dauhpiné) as in 2016 (no Dauphiné).
I reported some sources and examples the other day, they even might go for as short a period as 5 days (real example taken from N. Roche’s case).

However, let me quote the article you linked: “[you’d better] wait for 10-14 days after finishing altitude training before undertaking your race.” So, if you want to do altitude *and* the TdS, you’ll have serious issue during the first week of the TdF, which might be a problem since the Tour has luckily followed the Giro’s path offering a more entertaining (that is, more challenging for the riders) 1st week.

Anyway, as the article states, it’s up to every coach to find what works better with every athlete. Sometimes something become trendy and everybody suddenly wants to give it a try. Discovering whether it works or not, it’s up to the staff and the athlete.
Contador had tried going hard at the Dauphiné in 2014, then it looks like he’s gone back to the traditional style, just as Froome looks like he changed his usual Dauphiné peak this season.

PS Sure, I’d agree about what you say about Dauphiné being ASO. Yet, Pa-Ni being ASO didn’t prevent Tirreno from besting it for several years in the recent past. Most athletes won’t do something it’s not fit for them unless they’re really forced to.

gabriele June 20, 2017 at 11:38 pm

And, Ecky, the TdS organisers will ask again the UCI to forward the race one week… they already tried and were said ‘no’ last year (and maybe more times, but I just know about this last couple of them).
I’d say they consider it a meaningful factor.

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Ecky Thump June 22, 2017 at 1:34 pm

I managed to find some interesting information, and a blog (Joe Friel) that looks the biz, about riders’ preparation for TdF.
Timescales are not to the dot defined – the week difference between CdD and TdS could be played around but, well, Froome does it, so it must be the way…?
Worth a look though –

http://theconversation.com/whats-in-a-plan-training-for-the-tour-de-france-14857

gabriele June 22, 2017 at 2:00 pm

@Ecky, the other article you posted was better, in technical terms. This is very fine for its purposes but it’s… how could I say that? Well, “educational”: which means that it’s quite general and the impression of flexibility partly depends on its unspecific nature.

However, let me agree about every athlete being different and about the importance of a singular approach rather than trying to copy others (if I understood correctly some vague irony in your question-marked Froome sentence). Sometimes everybody is doing the same before any proof of all that being effective is really available. Maybe it’s a bit of covering oneself up as in: “well, I’ll do what the best do, if it doesn’t work— it doesn’t work for the rest, either!”.

All the same, believe me, it’s very hard to manage a race and any further prep if the TdF is just two weeks away. As I already said, it also depends on the TdF’s course style having been changed quite much in recent years.

Ecky Thump June 22, 2017 at 2:10 pm

I have an understanding of some sports training programmes but much less so for cycling tbh.
So, as ever with Inner Ring’s articles, it’s great to dig a little deeper and gain some knowledge.
The information on ‘tapering’ is especially revealing – it suggests a fine honing but it really is more a precise form of torture 🙂

Dan B June 20, 2017 at 12:03 am

I appreciate the “clickbait” here because Simon Spilak is probably the most enigmatic multi-time stage race winner in recent memory. Absent all year in Grand Tours, and then pops up to win the Tour de Suisse and Romandie multiple times…

I’m trying to think of any other riders as selective as this – but also so successful, without ever even threatening a Grand Tour. Henao comes to mind, but he only managed Paris Nice for the first time this year (and finished 10th at the Giro once).

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SG June 20, 2017 at 12:53 pm

Rui Costa’a results between 2012 and 2014 were remarkable in their symmetry:

Suisse; Romandie; Quebec; Montreal; Algarve; Beijing
2012 1st 3rd 3rd 8th 5th 9th
2013 1st 3rd 5th 6th 5th 4th
2014 1st 3rd NR 2nd 3rd 4th

With virtually no other GC results worth a mention, it was a remarkable run of consistancy.
And without so much as even a Grand Tour stage win.

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Augie March June 20, 2017 at 5:03 pm

Rui Costa won two stages at the 2013 Tour de France. He was also world road race champion later that same year.

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StevhanTI June 20, 2017 at 12:57 pm

Tim Wellens has won the Eneco tour twice and the Tour of Poland last year, but never even remotely figured in a final GT GC. On the conrarty he’s definitely not as enigmatic as Spilak, at least here in Belgium, he’s got quite a public profile.

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TourdeUtah June 20, 2017 at 5:13 pm

Tour de Suisse will certainly attract more Tour contenders, but will sacrifice tv audiences and start/finish area crowds, which race sponsors covet.

It has proven to be a unique and highly interesting race in its’ own right. Great duels in the mountains by punchy and attacking riders, plus some interesting and hilly circuit stages make for some exciting racing.

But, in the endless lust for cash, more bad decisions get made trying to chase the star/status illusion.

But, then again UCI has so overloaded the calendar with faux WT events that smaller budget WT squads get stretched exceptionally thin.

All one has to do is look at the the calender for the 1st three weeks in August. Throw in the Tour of Utah for BMC/CDT/Trek and ASOs’ Artic event that many Pro Conti squads feel compelled to ride to stay in good standing with ASO, and the further drain of manpower for the WT teams.

Yeah, it’s all about the cash and power within cycling.

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Anonymous June 21, 2017 at 8:44 am

Can somebody interesting win the Tour De France? I’m sure somebody actually riding it will though.

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PedalRon June 21, 2017 at 8:37 pm

LOVE that lead photo. Spilak looks like a stone-cold killer. I like the FDJ and AG2R kits, but darn, those Katusha kits and Canyons look baaaaaaaaad. Something about the red on red looks great.

The one problem with watching pro cycling: no matter how race-fit you are, you’ll never be as skinny as a pro and looking in a mirror will always be disappointing.

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gabriele June 23, 2017 at 10:55 pm

@Ecky Thump
I can now confirm that Contador is doing a short stay in Tenerife 😉

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Ecky Thump June 24, 2017 at 12:10 am

Live high / train low 🙂

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