Tour de Romandie Wrap

Ilnur Zakarin won the Tour de Romandie, climbing faster than Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana on the mountain stage and were it not for a mechanical mishap he’d have out-ridden Tony Martin in a technical time trial too. The Russian was the surprise package of the race while the pre-Tour clash of Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali never came alive.

The week opened with a win for Team Sky over Orica-Greenedge by fractions of a second. A puncture the next day saw Geraint Thomas dropped at the wrong time and put Michael Albasini in yellow and he went about winning the next two stages. This performance alone is astonishing for Albasini who should be sponsored by a Swiss watch maker for his timing.

The opening team time trial was a disaster for Ag2r La Mondiale who finished last. Romain Bardet tried to look on the bright side say it was an “alarm bell” ahead of the Tour de France which will feature a TTT too. Gains can be made but it requires a lot of work and technical knowledge, the likes of Orica-Greenedge and Team Sky have been born out of national track programmes and the team pursuit is still in their DNA.

Stefan Küng wasn’t a revelation given the neo-pro has already won a race this year plus the pursuit title at the World Championships in February but the manner of his stage win impressed, joining a move right from the start on a wet and windy day. It was pre-meditated too, he told the mechanics to fit a bigger chainring that morning. The same for his late attack with 25km to go, he bombed off on a descent and was never caught, even having the authority to tell his DS to stop shouting encouragement via race radio.

The queen stage was won by Thibaut Pinot. Thanks to FDJ’s impressive team time trial he was a threat on GC so his moves were marked at first but he still managed to get away and then stay away, a win à la pédale rather than by chance. It was a rare win and he’s been counting the days since the last success. He’s still 24 but looking increasingly solid. Did he produce the most watts/kg? Possibly but Zakarin was close behind but despite having Pinot as a hare he couldn’t catch him. Chris Froome was using his Vuelta climbing technique of starting steady, he was dangling as last man in the group before winching his way to the front. Romain Bardet was impressive, he put in several spiky attacks, the opposite of Froome’s linear display. Nairo Quintana was thereabouts but not what we might have expected. A headwind on the climb neutralised things but lower down the slopes Vincenzo Nibali was suffering.

Tony Martin won a time trial. Normally a formality, success against the clock hasn’t been easy for Martin with only the win in the Volta Ao Algarve this year by a fraction of a second and several losses. The German resembled a St Bernard dog yesterday, drooling over his handlebars during the effort. He could have been beaten too were it not for Zakarin’s mechanical mishap which cost him time.

Which brings is to Zakarin, his win is described in today’s Gazzetta Dello Sport as a sorpresissima, a giant surprise. According to the Gospel of Matthew “the last shall be first” and he was the last of the one-chainring picks in the pre-race preview, added because he was surprisingly good in the Tour of the Basque Country. He’s come on leaps since April, now he can time trial faster than Tony Martin and outclimb Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana. All this in 25 year old. Apparently he’s lost 10kg in two years to boost his climbing and he is down to 65kg; it shows with his taunt skin stretched like a drumhead. He lives and trains in Cyprus, Russia’s off-shore outpost, and a regular base for his old RusVelo team who exploit the Troodos mountains for altitude training camps despite their lack of altitude, you can’t ride above 2,000m. He’s been caught doping with Dianabol and banned for two years. No zero tolerance worries at Katusha! In fact he’s been welcomed into the Russian programme since his return to competition with stints at Rusvelo, Katusha, Itera and now a full contract with Katusha and has been identified for some time as a grand tour contender in contrast to his younger brother Aydar who’s won a medal in the junior track worlds. Zakarin’s doping past casts a dark shadow from which he’s struggling to emerge, at times this weekend it was as if he had a double-barelled name: Zakarin-Bannedbefore. It’s unfair to assume that what he did as a teenager continues now he’s an adult but us humans like to make short-cuts, so his past; the background noise of countless Russian athletes testing positive; Katusha’s own status – the UCI tried to throw them out of the World Tour – and the team’s record of rider development – remember Dennis Galimzyanov? – mean some communication effort is needed to “sell” Zakarin as a credible figure. If you believe in him, great but plenty seem not to and even the Swiss press is asking aloud:

One problem here is the self-contained nature of much of Russian cycling. Most Russian riders have risen up through the domestic system as opposed to the path of travelling to Western Europe to ride for an U23 team, attract a pro team and absorb a second language along the way. This means they often appear as monosyllabic dullards and post-race interviews rarely go beyond “I am happy” and “thanks to my team” but it’s just because they can’t express themselves well in another language. The linguistic barrier prevents personality being displayed yet alone an exploration of ethics and cultural values. But here’s a long interview in Russian if it helps…

Zakarin also outclassed team mate and man of mystery Simon Špilak, once again on the podium of this race with some very strong climbing and time trialling. He seems to like the cold conditions, even cutting the sleeves off his skinsuit for the chilly opening stage and the rainy final one.

What lessons are there ahead of the Giro? Well Zakarin is propelled into a very strong position. Can he cope with three weeks? That’s what he and his team want to to know. He can climb with the best and is a time trial specialist so the 2015 Giro route seems ideal but don’t get carried away, he’s never done such a long time trial. Rigoberto Uran had a stealthy week to finish fifth overall, better than last year when he was outside the top-10 before going to finish second in the Giro so extrapolations are hard to make. Expectations are not that high for Jurgen Van Den Broeck but he wasn’t climbing with the best although strong in the time trial.

As for the Tour de France Chris Froome was ahead of his rivals but it was hardly a reassuring result. Team Sky DS told L’Equipe that Froome’s watts are up there, suggesting the slippery streets of Lausanne explain his relative under-performance in the final time trial. Vincenzo Nibali was worse off and both will meet each other on the slopes of Mount Teide this month for training camps while Nairo Quintana flies home to Colombia for more of the same. We didn’t get the pre-race battle but perhaps that’s all the better, to have a sport with surprise and room for others rather than a tennis-like scenario of the same names winning all the time.

81 thoughts on “Tour de Romandie Wrap”

  1. small correction: Sky won the opening TTT by fractions of a second over Orica.

    That aside, thanks for another great write-up!

    • No matter how young you are, as an adult you are responsible for your decisions. And that applies no matter what the pressure from others is.
      As for Zakarin’s current amazing attributes in both climbing and time trialling, you can form your own opinions. Personally, I judge him on his actions, not his interview technique.

    • Ummmm, me too. I was a Division I scholarship athlete. The silly things I did were along the lines of staying out too late, having a few too many beers, and snuggling with a nice gal. I should have been in bed resting.

      They were not…taking steroids or other PEDs to enhance my capabilities. Then again, I played the sport because I loved the game and the competition; it was not a career or money-making venture.

      Still, I wouldn’t consider doping at 19 as a “silly thing”; I’d call it calculated cheating.

  2. Any chance of Chris Froome heading over the to the Tour of California rather than going to yet another training camp? It would be like a training race for him anyway with a lightweight GC field and warm weather (which he seems to do better in). Plus since his team puts wants to reward 20th Century Fox for sponsoring it…well no offence to the two of them but Peter Kennaugh and Ben Swift aren’t exactly household names across the pond even amongst cycling fans.

    • Pretty low chance, he will race before the Tour but at the Dauphiné. Will this be a full on race to win like in 2013 and 2014 or will the fashion be to come in for this race at 90%?

      • I think that despite what he might claim after the fact, Froome never just turns up at a race for training, he wants to win. Incidentally, Froome’s only had 19 race days so far this year, and that would only be 27 after the Dauphiné.

    • Not only that, but Swift isn’t looking like he’ll be in California after crashing in Yorkshire (which, incidentally, was a great race despite Sky being a bit too much stronger than the rest (and Eurosport should hire Boulting/Millar — by far the best commentary I’ve heard all year)).

      • Yes, wasn’t that commentary excellent? Millar’s explanations of the psychology of racing — essentially, what he’d be thinking if he were in a particular rider’s shoes — were absolutely riveting. And Boulting was the perfect steady foil to Millar’s exuberance. Both very intelligent men. I do hope ITV4 bring them back in that configuration for their Tour coverage (big shame they’re not doing the Giro too).

        Sorry this is off-topic, @INRG — but we didn’t get ANY legal coverage of TDR in the UK.

      • Will have to check that out. I used to like Carlton Kirby, but lately he’s grown a bit over-the-top with his screaming.

        • Great comment above, Ron.
          As for Kirby, I find if you mute him with 500m to go the race is actually far easier to follow – without him shrieking about a bloke who’s coming in 7th.
          Sadly, come the Tour, ITV will surely wheel out Heckle and Jekyll (I think it’s Larry I have to thank for that one) again, so Eurosport will be the only option.

      • +1 for the commentary from Millar and Ned. -1 for the lack of coverage of Romandie.

        Any idea why ITV4 do the TDF and Vuelta but not the Giro by the way?

  3. Glad to see new faces on the podium. Spilak and Zakarin looked cold to one another after the last stage TT. There’s got to be some strange chemistry there between the two–in the figurative sense, not literally.

  4. Well the interview doesn’t tell us very much except that the interviewer is awful and a lot about his taste in food! Gave up when they started discussing his favourite animals.

  5. These small stage races are often a bit dull – as for many riders they’re really just training for grand tours and classics. This one certainly fit that bill. Quintana was a particular disappointment: Froome’s and Nibali’s performances being less surprising.

    Ag2r’s travails are why I dislike the team time trial – it skews the result too much. Yes, to an extent, cycling is a team sport, but a long TTT (like that in the upcoming TDF) punishes some teams too much – usually those with a lower budget.

    With some riders shoved out of contention just by this one stage, the race is made less exciting.

    • Bora Argon 18 won the TTT in Trentino, beating WT teams including Sky. Failure in the TTT is not a question of budget, more one of squads not training for the discipline Orica GreenEDGE are one of the dominant TTT teams, and I’d think their total operating budget would be far less than Sky, BMC and EQS, the other big TTT powerhouses.

      • Fair point, but it does tend to favour the big budget teams – and, more importantly for me, it does still skew the race too much.

        • I think it favors the feeder programs more than the budget, Sky and OGE in particular for the deep field of track athletes they have to draw from. Although, I wouldn’t say it skews the race, it rewards the strongest, most comprehensive team and their ability to function as a cohesive unit. AG2r, for example, doesn’t seem to excel anywhere as a team unit.

          • They’re quite cohesive as a team, witness them standing in the rain to applaud Blel Kadri’s Tour stage win. But technically there’s room to improve. Riders have had to buy their own power meters, fund their own altitude training camps and so on.

      • its more that you need a big budget to be able to assemble a team which can both be strong in a TTT and also contend for overall tour GC. Bora certainly showed that a TTT can present a great opportunity for a team of strong men to win but even OGE don’t really have a GC contender. AG2r are at the other end – lots of climbers but lacking strong men for the TTT

        • That is true, but I really enjoy the balance of it. It forces teams to think about such things, and that rocking up to a Grand Tour with nine 60kg climbers isn’t always the best plan. It’s noteworthy that both BMC at the 2011 Tour and Garmin at the 2012 Giro were criticised initially for bringing squads featuring more big men suited to the TTT than mountain goats, yet both teams did their job in shepherding their leader along the flats and over the small hills leaving him to win in the high mountains and the final TT.

          • Augie, I’m with you about balanced teams; I believe cycling is interesting also because the physical mix you need to sort out.
            That said, Hesjedal 2012 had a good bit of luck in the first week when the other “big guns” didn’t push to call him out in a couple of occasions. Ryder would have been really sorrow not to have at least one teammate able to help him back in, if he hadn’t been spared by that sort of Mexican standoff. That’s race dynamics, so I’m not saying it wasn’t legitimate nor anything on that line (quite on the contrary, he made it alone to the front group: even if it’s true that they weren’t pushing, all the same he didn’t just quit when he saw himself distanced, and that’s remarkable); though, if you’re making a strong bid for a GT as a team, you can’t count on things always working out just fine thanks to the control between the others.

    • “These small stage races are often a bit dull” you speak for yourself, not for me. Some people have been following these races for decades and have what’s called attention spans.

      • Your response incorrectly assumes that I haven’t been watching these races for decades – based on nothing.
        It’s self-evident that I only speak for myself.
        You then – anonymously – accuse a complete stranger of having a short or no attention span despite knowing precisely nothing about that person.

  6. I was surprised that you wrote that Jurgen Van Den Broeck was climbing with the best as I remember him struggling on the Queen stage. I looked back at the results that show he came in 16th place 1:27 back. That’s about 30 seconds behind Nibali who you described as suffering on the climb. (Personally, I thought Nibali would ride better coming out of the Ardennes.)

    Regardless, nice write-up of what was, for me, an disappointing week of racing for the top contenders. It seemed like they weren’t really that interested in winning and happy to use the race to train.

  7. I stick by that well proven adage that “If it seems too good to be true, then it probably isn’t true”.

    Saves all the speculation, moralizing and rule reading and is correct many more times than incorrect.

    • PS Just a tongue-in-cheek provocation, BC, I get what you mean and I partly agree, still it’s very easy it all becomes so arbitrary that there’s no room for discussion: A says a certain performance it’s plausible, B says it isn’t. So what?
      Anyway, unfair it may be, I guess we all feel the same about the “Katusha situation”. It’s not just a Zakarin thing (Chernetckii, Vorobyev, and through difference shades of credibility some other victories, too). That said, time will tell, we don’t have a gun to our head forcing us to guess right now who the suspicious figures are. It soon gets quite boring, and distracting.
      One of the peculiarity of cycling, even if it’s not the unique sport like that, is its strong historical dimension: much is about patience, perspective and *very* long term narratives.

      • Gabriele. If you could stop being a philosopher in your posts, and get to the point, I think we might just be reading from the same book. But I am not sure !

        The adage above has served me well over the last fifteen years. I am in the happy position (your A lets say) of never being disappointed or feeling duped by later revelations, unlike (your poor gullible B). Unfair, of course, unscientific, of course but better than any guaranties at present on offer from inside the sport or from the doping authorities.

        • Well, Froome certainly looks way too good (and a bit too ugly) to be true. So what’s your *the point* about him?
          I don’t fell obliged at all to decide who is a doper, still I’ve never been disappointed by any *revelation* about this or that cyclist. The point is cycling, not doping.

          • BC- I don’t think you and Gabriele agree very closely. He said he sees your comment as ” a tongue-in-cheek provocation,” whereas to you it is much more than that. I am with him in considering that perspective to be of limited usefulness.

          • well maybe he just trusts froome more. Of course a judge or an official body has to be more or less objective, but for a private person (without any sanctioning powers) its simply unpractical. unfair? yes of course. arbitrary? no, just subjective.

  8. Wondering if there’s some sort of a truce between the grand tour guys yesterday. It probably wouldn’t do to try too hard, risk too much on a stage like this then fell, get injured & have everything knocked off track.

    • There was a headwind on the mountain stage which stopped Froome and Quintana from risking everything and in the TT yesterday Nibali was among those who said he wasn’t going to risk everything on the wet cobbled roads.

      • I believe it’s quite possible most of them decided not to risk anything. It would have been interesting data: as you wrote above, it’s intriguing to be partially in the dark about the contenders’ contidions, towards the big races, but it’s even more intriguing to have something we can speculate on (besides doping suspicions), like in last year’s Dauphinée 🙂
        Nibali said he felt he had spent more than he desired being the one always shutting down Quintana’s attacks earlier on, I feel it’s sort of an excuse. He’s still following that “no-fuorigiri” religion… and those attacks looked more like tests, nothing comparable to Terminillo. Anyway, hard to say without numbers, I crunched those relative to the Ti-Ad stage (quite impressive), but I’m not so motivated in this case.
        Good things by the French, it’s a pity they won’t race the Giro (ever…?) for obvious reasons, it’s a race generally way more suited to both. The tricky stages which are so abundant this year would have been perfect for Bardet’s offensive style, ditto the high mountain for Pinot (given he has overcome, as it seems, his troubles descending). Same goes for Valverde, whose bid for the Tour looks more useless than ever (well, I guess he’ll finally climb the podium to prove me wrong), whereas in the Gio he could have had an impressive first two weeks, with stage victories and maybe the Maglia Rosa, then… whatever came would have been nice. And I would have liked to see at least one of the Yates twins, too, but I suppose I should be happy with Chaves (and Matthews, Gerrans etc.).

  9. Cycling News reports on a France 2 documentary on the impact of undetectable microdosing on amateur athletes. Whilst I don’t fully trust CN’s translations it would seem the impact could over 2% on a static time trial over 14 kms or the equivalent of about 30 secs over the final Romandie TT. Any reaction Inrng?

    • It’s said what we all know, that the passport can be gamed (eg for practice / for theory) but take the performance gains with a pinch of salt as there’s no scientific control for this, it could be real, it could be placebo, it could be a mix of both. Eight athletes were tested but no double-blinds etc.

      I suppose the point of the documentary was to point out to the wider public that the passport isn’t foolproof but hopefully/sadly most cycling fans probably know this already.

      • I suppose the other point to make here is the fact that passport relies on long term data collection to work well.

        It seems that in the French tv experiment, all those participates were only on the programme for a month (or just had their blood values fed through the system for once). Would the passport system be able to identify them if they carry this on throughout a season or even over a year or two with the passport system monitoring them throughout the period?

        The passport may or may not be able to do so. But is it logistically possible to carry out such experiment (trying to keep all other parameter constant so that any improvement is cause by micro doping) not to mention morally correct to carry out such long term experiment that definitely has a negative effect on participants? Is it worth such sacrifice to find out the effectiveness of the passport system?

        • I was on a course of chemotherapy last year and had to have my blood values checked every 3 weeks. My hematocrit started at 47 and approached 50 during the 6 months. 3 months after completing the treatment it is now at 53. Caused me to start doubting the true value of the ABP!

  10. Zakarin is from a country that seems to have an organized doping program, from a team that’s been downgraded by the UCI, and he’s been caught for doping before. That’s just too much for me to take.

    Greg Hardy (look him up) hasn’t been convicted of anything (technically he´s had his convictions dismissed), yet I don’t want to root for the guy either. I get that you shouldn’t completely take away someone’s livelihood just because it makes bad press. And that everyone can make one mistake. But if you want competitors to race clean and you don’t point out the very likely cheats you’re going to wipe out any efforts towards a clean peloton. If cycling has proven anything, is that the insanely hard working extreme competitors that make it in pro sports, no matter their background and almost regardless of their character, aren’t willing to sacrifice their livelihoods and the opportunities they can afford their kids just because they want to feel good about themselves or “do the right thing”.

    So if you’re going to have him and Rebellin in the Giro, everyone should agree to call them something along the lines of “surprisingly high-performing ex-dopers” Rebellin and Zakarin. Every single time. They should get some kind of an asterisk next to their names and performances. Either that just give up or push towards a move to a more legalized doping environment. Otherwise what you’re really asking for is a return to the lying, the cheating, the bullying, the omertá, the dark doctors, the dead kids and the near-universal hypocrisy.

  11. (I’ll start by declaring an interest – I am a fan of Chris Froome and a huge admirer of Nairo Quintana.)
    Surely it is no surprise that Grand Tour GC contenders were not taking too many risks in the TT. Measured against their lofty ambitions this I think that this race does not mean that much – no more than a training exercise.

  12. Looks like I could be doing a lot of groaning this cycling season. Especially after reading this: A lifetime ban for cheaters would see guys like this gone-for-good but I accept this means only the stupid or inept get the boot while clever, well-funded types can go along for years winning while cheating. Meanwhile, what has happened to the “marginal gains” wizardry of Froome’s team? Does it only work now with Porte? Can it work for the entire length of La Corsa Rosa for Porte? Will it work again for Froome in July? As to Gabriele’s comments (or mine or anyone else’ for that matter) if you don’t want to read them it’s pretty easy to scroll right past the way I do with those from Anonymous and Co. I find Gabriele’s comments well-thought out and interesting for the most part.

    • I’m no fan of Froome but do like Porte. Tbh Larry I”m actually more comfortable seeing riders go through ups and downs in terms of their performance. It shows they’re human, and it feels more ‘real’ to me. I’m not comfortable seeing day in day out dominance from one rider year-after-year. Much like dear Lance in fact. I would not want to see Froome winning the Tour year after year – but not just Froome, anyone in fact – including Nairo who’s one of my favourite riders from the last few years.

  13. I’m not one for saying ‘so and so won so he must be a doper’ but is anyone a little concerned by the pre-eminence of Katusha? Fair enough Rodriguez winning in the Badque Country but this Zakarin has popped out of nowhere and even Kristoff has risen pretty quick over the last couple if years?! Obviously it’s just conjecture and if a promising junior loses 10kg then I suppose they will be a decent rider!

    • You should read his results from last years, and then think twice about this famous “nowhere” from where you guess he popped up..
      A Froome could be proud if he could show so much results in a CC team before he popped up from Kenya.

      • When you say ‘results’ do you mean ‘cycling’ or ‘lab test’?

        Obviously, last year’s rampaging victory in the GP Adygeya pointed towards World Tour success this year.

        • Before stating anything like that, it would be at least wise to look at more than just Wikipedia. He got many nice results since 2011. One being 21th last year in the Tour de Pologne, a WT-race. Or 28th in the Giro del Trentino.

          • I was quoting his best result – giving him the benefit of the doubt. 21st at Pologne, where the TDF riders mostly don’t ride, to first at Romandie doesn’t seem like a bit of a jump to you?
            Particularly when you bear in mind that he is already a confirmed cheat.

  14. Valverde, Rebellin, Zakarin etc. etc. It’s extremely disheartening to see convicted, ‘former’ dopers (young and old) still winning major cycling events. Doesn’t the sport realise how this cancer is consuming it from within? Keep up the healthy scepticism INRNG.

  15. I was disappointed that BeIN Sports decided to broadcast soccer games on Saturday and Sunday in the US instead of the Romandie which they did show during the week. With all the build up for the Queen’s stage, it was quite a let down not to be able to see it on Saturday and the TT on Sunday.

  16. (calling myself Sam2 now as there’s another poster called Sam)

    INRNG, thank you for writing this. Its a shame that the cycling media default to the laziest route when ‘reporting’ the program, and add nothing in the way of analysis (qualitative or otherwise). I’m thankful that ‘we’ have somewhere to turn to like this for rather more than the sensationalist headlines.

  17. This guy lost the benefit of the doubt when he doped before.

    Too good to be true – and to be honest, it’s tough sh*t if that’s an unfair opinion to take on the kid. I don’t care anymore really, been burnt far too many times.

  18. I was worried that we would have a Giro without the traditional ridiculous doped-up performance from a random rider but it looks like Zakarin will step up to the plate huh

Comments are closed.