Marcel Kittel gets his season off to the perfect start. He beat Mark Cavendish again, the Briton has yet to beat Kittel when they’ve raced together in a sprint finish. See of yourself with Cycling Quotient’s useful Head to Head feature but this is as much a function of the calendar and race programmes as it is comparative speed and power.
The season has barely started but look how busy it is with racing in Dubai, Australia, France and Spain right now and that’s just the men; the women are in Qatar too. Much is made of having the “best riders in the best races” but there’s something to be said about riders going their separate ways during the season too.
It means more races to watch which is obvious but there’s also the more subtle aspect of different stories in different places, like different threads in a tapestry which get woven together to make a bigger picture. It means we look forward even more to an eventual sprint royale between the top riders and the only lament is that this is so rare, we might have to wait for the Tour de France to see Greipel, Kittel, Cavendish and Kristoff plus other top riders together.
The Etoile de Bessèges is the obvious victim of all of this global competition. Bryan Coquard’s just taken his second stage win but the only way to follow the race is via the noble Direct Vélo website and get their live text updates. The race has never been huge – the first edition was a one day race and only 18 riders showed up – but you sense it’s on the slide. Cooler weather, cheap hotels and a low budget means the race can’t pay out big prizes nor buy TV coverage and the startlist looks modest at best. These days smaller races pay to have their races on TV, the idea is that channels are hungry for content and if the production cost is covered then everyone is happy: the race sponsors and region get airtime, the channel gets live action for a moribund daytime slot and the enlarged audience attracts teams, a virtuous cycle.
Some riders go to races for other reasons. Elia Viviani won in Dubai today and with Wout Poel’s TT win in Valencia yesterday and Peter Kennaugh’s recent double in Australia, first in the Cadel Evans and now in the Jayco Herald Sun Tour it puts Team Sky on four wins. Some have been asking what interest Sky have in the Herald Sun Tour and why Chris Froome has flown out for this race. Well it’s a good race with a long tradition and clement weather. But Froome and company can get themselves in the Herald Sun too: the newspaper that sponsors the race belongs to News Corp, the Murdoch corporate empire so there’s an obvious promotional interest, as much as Orica-Greenedge have given their team owner Gerry Ryan owns Jayco.
Talking of the media, Femke van den Driessche’s got problems but does being Belgian make things worse? Arguably it does, it means intense interest given the combination of cycling, scandal and local news. It’s the only country in the world where the sports pages of newspapers give cycling such prominence which is great if you want to read about racing and all that goes on around it but no so good if you’re a 19 year old with journalists camping out on your doorstop. The Van den Driessche family have become national property for the media. Of course people will say “think twice before you fit a motor” which is good advice but this is simply to say the story will play out differently if she was, say, Lithuanian.
Prima Facebook evidence
Wout van Aert’s wheel slips in the mud and some see this as evidence of a motor with furtive clips doing the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. But watch a GIF of the moment for yourself in slow-mo and there’s no sign of rotation of the wheel before he applies the torque. Social media can make you fear for the day you’re wrongly accused of a crime and have a go before a jury.
“The word doping is probably derived from the Dutch word dop, the name of an alcoholic beverage made of grape skins used by Zulu warriors in order to enhance their prowess in battle”
– WADA website
A last word on motors this week. Having looked at the procedural and the ethical there’s also the linguistic. We use the D-word for motors now as in “mechanical doping” but it’s an unsatisfactory phrase as doping refers to consuming some concoction. Doping has already corrupted the way we speak and write about cycling where phrases like “being prepared” and “cold blooded” can be loaded, even the adjective “positive” can be sinister rather than optimistic. Will motors do the same, will we think twice about other phrases such as “he’s got a big engine”, a “she’s a bit of a diesel” or “they’re recharging their batteries”?
Life in the peloton
No worries about linguistic niceties as Orica-Greenedge rider Mitchell Docker has started a podcast and it’s got the kind of straight talking you’d expect from an Aussie domestique. Have a listen for yourself, you’ll find it at lifeinthepeloton.com or search for life in the peloton via iTunes etc. It might feel a bit slow at the start but persist because it’s unscripted and free flowing. Docker talks to Luke Durbridge and the pair discuss working as domestiques, touching on insecurities like getting selected for a grand tour and why this makes races like the Dauphiné and Route du Sud so hard; or whether to blow out with food and drink during the off-season. It’s a good inside take and the riders are more open than any formal interview when a microphone is poked at then.