Sunday Shorts

John Degenkob Paris Tours 2013

John Degenkolb won Paris-Tours today. The German won the bunch sprint ahead of Michael Mørkøv and Arnaud Démare but only after he, Mørkøv and Démare had been on the attack with 10km to go in a break with the likes of Sylvain Chavanel, Sep Vanmarcke and Jetse Bol.

In way the attack confirmed the form and freshness of these three riders and the effort involved to go with the attacks was not much bigger that made by fourth placed Tyler Farrar as he had to climb, corner and brake like the rest of them. Indeed Démare and Degenkolb knew they should sit tight and let the others do the work. But it shows what it takes to win the race, this is not an event where a sprinter can be ferried to the finish in the vacuum-version of a Sedan chair.

Degenkolb Loses His Charm
It’s the end of Degenkolb’s season and a four race winning streak that started after he lost his lucky charm necklace during Stage 1 of the Tour de l’Eurométropole earlier this month. Superstition can be a big issue for some riders, perhaps Degenkolb’s jewellery was more sentimental than lucky?

One Team, Two Sprinters
Démare lost out but team mate Nacer Bouhanni has now taken two stages of the Tour of Beijing. Both FDJ and Argos-Shimano have two sprinters capable of winning big and their cohabitation is always going to be of interest. Of course other teams have back-up sprinters but here we have two reasonably equal leaders. Teams have looked at split schedules, awarding leadership according to the course type (Degenkolb and Bouhanni don’t mind a few hills) and other ways to differentiate. It’s a sensible strategy having two sprint options, it makes the team less reliant on just one rider.

Paris-Tours Espoirs
The U-23 race was won by Flavien Dassonville. Over the years some winners have gone on to greater things, think Tom Boonen, Thor Hushovd or Jurgen Roelandts but for every star there’s a Mathieu Halleguen or Fabien Patanchon too.

Dumoulin wins Coupe de France
Another Paris-Tours Espoirs winner was Samuel Dumoulin in 2001. He turned pro the following year with the Jean Delatour team but had trouble starting his career when race officials blocked him. He’s 1.59m tall (5 feet and 2 inches) and was blocked from signing on in a race when he was taken for a child in replica kit. He is still racing of course, he has won the season-long Coupe de France trophy which is based on a series of French races. He will ride on in 2014 with Ag2r. He’s married to team manager Vincent Lavanu’s daughter.

Paris-Tours Alley Cat
It’s sad to see Paris-Tours lose its status, both in terms of popular recognition and UCI level. But the finish of the race is wild and if it was a World Tour race sending all the big teams into such small races would inevitably bring accidents as there would be more riders fighting for space rather than being dropped in the run-in. In other words, as exciting as the finish of this race is, perhaps it only works because the race is 1.HC.

Gilbert’s Open Letter
Philippe Gilbert wrote an open letter denouncing the working conditions faced by riders. Long distances, circus acts, he laments the way the sport is made into a spectacle with an inflation rate applied to climbs and cobbles as each race seeks to outbid others for the label of the most extreme event. He has a point but the sport is changing, look at the grand tours which might have big climbs but the days of 200km or more mountain stages in the final week of a grand tour are ending as races grasp that seven hours just makes the riders so tired they won’t attack.

UCI Athlete Commission

Gilbert’s method was odd. You might not know it but he’s on the UCI’s Athlete Commission, a panel which is supposed to represent riders’ interests to the UCI. Clearly his open letter suggests that he’s had to bypass this outfit. Note the presence of Dario Cioni who stopped racing at the end of 2011 and know works for Team Sky as a PR handler, it’s odd to see him on there. Still, he had a long career as a rider and with some notable results for example in 2004 he was fifth in the Tour de Romandie, fourth in the Giro and third in the Tour of Switzerland.

Obituary Notices
Cioni is still in the sport but many are leaving. Often people look forward to retirement, especially after a successful career. But end of season news about rider retirements often seems to read like an obituary. Victories and other achievements belong to the past, there’s talk of the rider being missed and a sense of loss seems to be conveyed. Still, you can see why things are written this way but remember that even the lowliest rider out of contract right now probably won a stack of elite U-23 races to turn pro in the first place. Also for all the hardship endured on the road, in airports and cheap motels from Philippe Gilbert and others, the UCI minimum wage is about 50% greater than the average household income for the likes of Belgium, France or Italy.

39 thoughts on “Sunday Shorts”

  1. I agree that Paris-Tours normally provides an exciting finish. No race radios is just one reason, but an important reason.

    Imagine if the race were upgraded, and DSs were instructing their riders to ‘move up’ on the narrow twisting roads. Just another example why race radios do not assist in safety or race suspense !

    • Yes, but they can always work after they retire from cycling! Everyone knows they aren’t paid like footballers but they aren’t exactly wage slaves either.

  2. Having watched numerous races where big crashes occur on wide, flat roads in ideal weather, I wonder if the biggest threat to a rider’s safety is not the course or weather, but the fellow on the next bike. Who was the FDJ rider who ran into a median because he was looking backward, not at the road ahead?

    Gilbert is right that pro riders should not be made into spectacles, like having one race a postman on TV for a few extra Euros.

    There is a sanitized endurance sport that is perfect for PhilGil. He can join Lance in competing in triathlons. Or Duathlons if he finds swimming not to his liking.

  3. I liked your obituary bit especially. Far too many of the punters have NO clue as to what it takes to even get a pro license. Back-in-the-day when I worked for someone else we used to get the “I coulda won the Giro if I’d only had the time” types who (if they raced at all) were at best Category 2 racers in the USA. For a lot of these types it was like saying “I can run, so I could be Carl Lewis” except they KNEW that wasn’t true…why is it with cycling so many of these weekend hackers have so little respect for the journeyman pro cyclist? The last-placed man in any of these races could easily tear the legs off pretty much anyone who posts on this site..but how many will truly admit this?

      • Oh, I will proudly admit it! I only own one bike, it’s not carbon and I ride about 500miles in a good year. I know everyone can drop me. I am never going to understand why in the US cycling fans are usually these meathead turds who care more about the weight of their bikes than who worked their ass off to help a team mate win Brabantse Pijl, for example. Imagine an American football fan caring more about his pads and helmet than the name of a wide receiver who basically won the game for their team on Sunday! I am proud to be a FAN first, cyclist a distant second. I admire cyclists not because “I know how hard it is, because I ride, too, ” but because the sport is demanding and they make me look forward to watching a shitty feed of a 1.1 race on a Wednesday morning. I also know that getting to F1 is nearly impossible and I admire the skill it takes, yet I’ve never owned even a sports car.

        • Well, at least the “meathead turds” are getting SOME exercise.

          For every US cycling fan, seems there are >100 fans of the “ball & stick” sports. The latter are often 50+ lbs overweight, and their main exercise seems to be lifting deep-fried pork rinds and multiple, 32 oz mugs of crappy Budweiser beer into their mouth.

          • It’s a mystery why there’s so much venom directed towards cyclists, instead of those fat bigots who follow “ball & stick” sports.

          • It’s not an issue of ‘who’s getting more exercise,’ tho. It’s just an issue of attitude. I’d rather hang out with a “50+ lbs overweight” “ball & stick ” fan and watch the game than rife with an asshole who will judge me for the length of my socks, what brand my gloves are or the fact that I can’t keep up with his 23mph/avg Alpha male mid-life crisis “look how awesome my Italian shoes are.” Good for you, bud, I can still name every member of the Fagor team in ’87.

            Of course, I exaggerate to make a point. Most guys out there are pretty cool and whatnot, but my “beef” is more with the attitude and the idea that somehow to be a cycling fan you have to be a cyclist. That’s just dumb.

    • it’s a phenomena in other sports too. In Nick Hornby’s celebrated book about supporting Arsenal FC, Fever Pitch, he has one section about a player, generally derided as a figure of fun and tagged as a donkey. He points out that, to even make the squad, the player (Gus Ceasar) was probably the best ever player his School, club, county etc ever produced, out of thousands and thousands of kids, who all consider themselves useful players…

    • Summed up by the fact that the quickest Etape du Tour rider this year achieved a slower time than the last rider on the equivalent Tour stage, who himself was carrying crash injuries and almost 3 weeks of racing (if my memory serves me correctly)

      • Yes, I rode L’Etape and watched Quintana smash the course 10 days laters. These guys are aliens – the strongest dude in my club finished in maybe 4:50hs, Quintana in 3:37hs. Cycling is a constant exercise of humbleness for me, I’m dropped by younger guys and girls, older guys and girls all the time. It might hurt the ego for a second, but we’re out here because we love the road and the fun. A L’Etape rider is as close to Quintana as the best bloke in the amateur football league is to Messi.

  4. re: obits, especially the retirement of Juan Antonio Flecha seems a bit forced by the termination of his Vacansoleil team. He has always been a combative presence in the Classics, and probably missed out on the top step of the podium because he was racing against doped-up (later self-admitted) winners, i.e., Hincapie, O’Grady. Even in 2013, Flecha could be seen in the breakaways though he’s probably lost some of the physical strength of years gone by. He will be missed indeed.

    • So saint Flecha was denied his rightful classics victories by drug cheats??? Turn it up Joe. O’Grady tested positive in the 98 Tour therefore must have been doped for his 2007 Roubaix win- well possibly but we don’t know. Meanwhile Flecha has been linked to Fuentes by the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant, which suggests that he has taken blood transfusions. The truth is somewhat grey and murky. I really like Flecha but I won’t hold him up as a patron of virtue in a dirty era.

      • Hmmm. Well, I certainly wouldnt want to put any sum of money on Flecha not having juiced at some point. However it’s worth pointing out that Flecha and Vacansoleil took the paper to court for that article – and won.

  5. Maybe Gilbert wrote the open letter because he wanted public support as well as support inside the UCI HQ? After all, it’s the race organizers he’s targeting most.
    Regarding the content of his letter: I agree the working conditions for pro cyclists are harsh. Too harsh? Maybe yes, but that’s a choice you make when you turn pro. It’s not worse now than it used to be. The first TDF had 4 stages over 400k. Hills are getting steeper, but all that means is you need to bring the right gearing.

  6. To Phil’s laments: Two years ago Vuelta started with temperatures round 40C and some riders had to abandon,
    others at least lost chances in GC. This of course did not influence the “southern” types, incl. home Spaniards, who are used to such conditions. Analogously ToC 2013.
    This year’s San Remo on the other hand suited the “northern” types, as well as Giro (though a Sicilian won:).
    I think the question is: Should UCI put some limits of the type “below zero” or above 40C the race is stopped (or strongly shortened)? In stage races this would not mean so much, but in one-day races…

  7. Cher Monsieur Gilbert;
    Now that you are a millionaire senior rider, I see fit to remind you at this point of the chorus of song written by a compatriot of yours, at a time when racing bicycles were twice as heavy as today and the Tour de France was 4.500 km long: “les bourgeois, c’est comme les cochons, plus ça devient vieux, et plus ça devient bête!”. (Jacques Brel). Do you know how many amateurs actually paid to ride 324km on Flemish cobbles this year? We do not want specially “active” or “fast” races… what we really want is to feel dwarfed by your endurance and your determination to overcome, without even a grimace, what us normal people could never cope with. Get it, Monsieur Gilbert?
    And please remember to avoid making any linkages between doping and hardship. You know fully well there is no such linkage, and that you are only trying to benefit from past scandals in order to get less tired.

    • Actually I think most people really do want active races … just sayin’. Hence the fan debate about race radios. Phil’s point is that racing can be adversely impacted, become boring, if the riders simply go into survival mode. Spectacular, in the sense of one off interest maybe, but really it’s the combination of skill AND tactics that make a sport worth watching.

      I do agree the link between doping and distance is BS as well.

      • A race like the last Worlds caused most everyone to go into “survival mode”… Everyone? No! A chosen few were still able to place accelerations… That’s where spectacularity began, when even the strongest riders were close to the limit of not being able to accelerate anymore, when speed was so low that even at 6% gradient there was virtually no advantage in drafting. And when mental strength, the capacity of suffering and enduring (and the capacity to remain lucid at that point) was another crucial skill (mental strength should be THE crucial skill).

      • But still… it shouldn’t be just an entertaining show instead of an epic feat. It should be an impressive show because it is an epic feat.

      • Agree. During the Giro, which were the stages that provided most animated racing, by and large? The medium mountains. Because in the tougher high mountain stages, the GC contenders tend to save it all up for the final few kms.

    • I was taken aback on Phil’s comments regarding the long distances, since he said earlier – i think in last spring – that he prefers the classics that are aroud 250 kms long to the 200kms ones because that extra 50 kms eliminates those racers who lack the stamina therefore he has better chances.

          • The “median” wage, if it were available, is often a better indicator than “average”.

            Imagine a room of 9 people each earning $1000. The average wage = $1000.
            Suppose Bill Gates now walks into the room, and imagine his wage is $1,000,000,000.

            Now the average wage of the 10 people = c. 100,000,900.
            But the median wage is still only 1,000.

        • Not that I know of. The UCI minimum only applies to World Tour and Pro Continental men’s teams. Continental teams and women’s teams share the same rules and this includes no minimum wage. Some riders, men and women, do it for free with a bike and expenses.

  8. At the end of the day, when retired Boonen and all the poor pro-racer retires can get on their bikes they will still dust us on any club ride as many posters previously have eloquently enumerated.

    Although perhaps off point, I will offer a bit of perspective on some pro athletes. In a past life of mine I participated in a benefit golf tournament in which I was paired with a x-linbacker of the “American football” team the San Diego Charges, his name was Jeff Staggs, as I recall he was 45 or 50 at the time and he had sever arthritis, and other complications which severely hampered his ability to just walk. He attributed this to his years playing football. Pro-cyclist I believe deserve everything that they can bargain for as it pertains to working conditions, but my sympathy will not be as easy to negotiate.

    ” Gorge Mount” L believe once said the older I get the faster I was”

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