Domenico Pozzovivo leads the Tour de Suisse after winning Stage 6. This was Ag2r La Mondiale’s first win in the World Tour. Much had been made of Cannondale-Drapac not winning in the World Tour for two years until Andrew Talansky’s win in the Tour of California. This passed the longest “losing streak” onto Astana but they ended this in the Dauphiné with Jacob Fuglsang which in turn saw Ag2r La Mondiale inherit this label… ironically on a day when the stage finish was just minutes up the road from their service course HQ.
Most probably see Pozzovivo and think “short climber” and his nickname – which he doesn’t appreciate – is the Pulce di Policoro, the Flea of Policoro and you can see why it’s not cherished. Even preserving the alliteration we could have the Pianista di Policoro. As ever there’s a lot more to every rider but many Italians and their personalities don’t export well. Pozzovivo’s a keen piano player with a business degree and often carryies books on complex subjects around races, meteorology for example, an autodidact.
Pozzovivo’s studied sports science too and has mentioned a move into becoming a coach on retirement. He’ll be leafing the altitude pages today for the finish in Sölden with the Ötztal Glacier Road finish, this time they pass the Rettenbachferner glacier finish used last year, climb even higher to tunnel which reaches 2,830 metres above sea level before a brief descent to the Tiefenbachferner glacier.
Meanwhile the Route du Sud keeps growing in stature, attracting more World Tour teams. A recent deal with Eurosport to put the race on TV has helped but it’s also perfectly timed ahead of the Tour de France as a short test in the Pyrenees. The race has its supporters including Tour de France director Christian Pruhomme, a regular at the race. It might not be an ASO race but Prudhomme and his colleagues seem to appreciate how the race explores “new” corners of the Pyrenees. Now this part of France can feel remote and unspoilt but it’s not as if there are unexplored roads. However it is a test of logistics. This year’s exploratory ride is to the Cirque de Gavarnie. Unknown in cycling but celebrated as a natural wonder as well as a great climb in its own right.
ASO aren’t just looking for new venues in remote parts. The Tour’s Stage 20 is the time trial around Marseille and it finishes in the Stade Vélodrome, a large football stadium despite its name and rebranded to the Orange Vélodrome in a naming rights deal. It’s a small novelty too, or rather a return to the old days when Tour stages often finished in a stadium, in part to ensure a captive audience and sell tickets. This time entry is free, as long as people apply for tickets. It’s interesting because it’s an urban race, so often the Tour is a celebration of rural France but the race will tour France’s second largest city before a finish inside the stadium with hopefully 67,000 waiting spectators inside.
Talking of sitting spectators Eurosport have confirmed they’ll follow France Télévisions in offering live coverage of every Tour de France stage from start to finish. Great… but as suggested here the increased supply won’t meet much greater demand and so the risk is the “product”, ie the Tour as a TV experience, gets devalued especially because the parts that will be filmed that were not previously shown will disproportionately include those dull moments when a breakaway of wildcard invitees goes clear on what is a nailed-on sprint stage. But it’ll mean everything that happens gets filmed and if you plan on tuning in for a sprint finish you can still pull out your phone or open a browser tab to keep an eye on the action rather than reading a ticker.
A day without TV?
TV is only a part of the Tour and one thought for July is to follow the race for a day or two without TV. Television gives us the illusion of seeing what happens but even at the Tour which has more cameras pointing at the race than any other we can only see a fraction of what happens. With all the long stages radio is an excellent medium.
Transfer season is underway and things are simmering rather than hotting up. UCI rules prohibit riders from signing contracts with a new team until 1 August each year but this just encourages riders, agents and team managers to sidestep the rules by agreeing terms and even signing pre-contracts ahead of this date. It has to happen no matter what the UCI rules say, a team may have up to 30 riders but it’s possible to have teams where three riders earn more than the rest combined. In other words a huge proportion of the team budget goes on signing headline or marquee riders and this needs to be settled soon. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle where some pieces are huge and others small, you have to start with the big pieces. Right now there’s talk Marcel Kittel could move to Katusha-Alpecin but he could stay at Quick Step too, and if Kittel moves will Kristoff stay? These big pieces of the jigsaw have to move first before others can be fitted in place.
Other factors are calming the transfer market. There are 18 World Tour teams bidding for 18 spots so no dash for points, nor is there a new team entering the market and needing to build a roster in a rush. One thing to watch is the Pro Continental teams because this tier is very uneven, a few teams get regular wildcard invitations to the grand tours while others look very wholly unsuited to competiting against World Tour teams for three weeks at a time. But just one or two attractive signings can tip the balance for these wildcards, to make a “maybe” team into a “must have”. So while the likes of UAE-Emirates and Bahrein-Merida build and spend, watch to see if more modest teams can transform their fortunes with one or two crafty signings.