Thursday Shorts

Marcel Kittel

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.

Fading Star
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.

Elia Viviani

Herald Sunshine
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.

Scorching Limelight
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 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.

38 thoughts on “Thursday Shorts”

  1. Looks like Kittel with Spesh has a helmet that looks fitting, even if he carries it somewhat schrag here.

    Thanks for the Prima Facebook Evidence.

  2. +1 on the life in the peloton podcast. I gave it a listen on your recommendation on Twitter and thoroughly enjoyed it. Felt all the more for Mitch when he hit the deck in the Cadel Evans RR!

    • Agreed, a fascinating listen. Especially good getting the perspective of a domestique, as they’re so rarely interviewed by the cycling media. Luke Durbridge went from beating 2012 Bradley Wiggins in a prologue TT at the 2012 Dauphiné to his current role as a guy who works on the front for hours bringing back breakaways for Ewan and Matthews, and it’s fascinating hearing why he (and riders like him) made this change of priority.

    • I’ve got to say it too – this is really worth listening. Lovely unscripted, honest cycling nerdy stuff. Great chat with Luke Rowe in the second ep.

  3. I understood that dope derived from doopen which ultimately has the same origin as the English word “dip”. It went from dipping into something, to the thick liquid that was dipped into, to a slang term for the thick liquid solutions of opium used by addicts in the late 19th c, to drugs generally.

  4. Kittel looked like an absolute beast yesterday. When he see him up against Cavendish it looks like a mismatch. With the current batch of sprinters in the peleton – Kittel, Cav, Greipel, Kristoff, Viviani and even Sagan and Degenkolb – are we allowed to say golden era?

  5. RAI’s sport channcl is showing an hour (seems like longer) of the Dubai Tour each day here in Italy, I guess because RCS is producing the thing? Tuned in the first day and thought the TV had gone to black&white! Gawd, what an awful landscape!! Could have been a race through the Mojave desert to Las Vegas for all I knew. Meanwhile Etoile Besseges suffers and races like the Trofeo Pantalica here in Sicily where I’m living at present, are long gone. What happens when the petro dollars run out?

    • Haha, yeah the TV coverage in the Middle-East tours would be the most boring TV in history. I feel bad for the racers too, they have to race down the same highway a bunch of times this week… one solid long straight road with sand on both sides for 100km…. sounds horrible.

    • When the petrodollars run out there won’t be any world tour racing in the middle east (or outside of Europe for that matter), people will get to choose whether they live in the USA or Italy (because both won’t be possible), and the number of people travelling overseas for cycling vacations will be next to zero. Is that better than what we have today? Maybe, I’m not sure.

      • So, you think no alternative fuel will be found? The world will just accept that it can’t fly? Technology will come to a grinding halt?

      • Sadly, so-called REALIST, in your rush to snark, I think perhaps you missed the point? More than a few of the petro-states are facing real financial issues with oil down around $30 a barrel. It’s the petro-DOLLARS that might run out, not the petroleum, so I doubt any of your “sky is falling” predictions would actually happen just because a sandbox sheikdom no longer has the petro-loot to bankroll races. So for me, sooner is better than later.

  6. Good to hear that the maestro Inner Ring has had a look at the Van Aert footage.
    The trouble with these little video clips is that they have no context at all – go and look at his bike set-up, the race course and conditions at the very least to get a more rounded picture.

    On another note, going back to the last Wednesday Shorts – it does seem that the lore on avoiding melted cheese has merit :

    ps sorry about the rather ironic source!

  7. It is nice to see some of the old traditional races still going strong, like the Herald Sun Tour. Pity the TV highlights are on at a time better suited for Europeans to watch, than Australians.

  8. “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”

    Yes a good race around since ’52 with some great winners. Froome and Kennaugh were a class above yesterday. The paradox is that The Hun’s target demographic are also likely to be the drivers that give you grief on the road and often the comments are far too toxic when anything cycling is reported. They give the race great coverage then nothing unless Cadel wins the Tour or every four years an Aussie does well at the olympics. Sort of run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.

  9. How I wish Eurosport would show Etoile instead of Dubai! Yesterday’s stage was a dramatic, exciting finish and right now in the Etoile a beautiful, strong break of 29 riders, including many of the main players, is upfront almost 2min. and only 3 teams have missed out completely and have no riders in the break. A real race is happening there. Exciting!

  10. Motorbikes causing yet more problems today: Jungels looked like he might have won the stage in Spain, but the motorbike went straight on at a 90 degree right-hander with about 2k to go and Jungels followed him.
    Amateur hour.
    Good to see Vorganov biting the dust: the more cheats caught the better.

    • Yeah, but maybe the guy was just distracted… if I didn’t get the story wrong, they caught him with a very recent “new entry” in the forbidden substances list. If it was so, now we know one more product which a lot of people were probably using up to last year – and that was absolutely legal. Until now, that is.
      (Clearly, the most probable thing is that Vorganov knew it had been forbidden but perhaps hoped it wasn’t detactable, yet. Or, well, yes, who knows, maybe he really didn’t notice! It doesn’t change much for him, since in Katusha you can only take what the team doctors tell you and they *obviously* never told him to use this medecine).

      • Maybe it’s time to get rid of team doctors and only allow UCI doctors. Might be difficult to implement, of course.
        It’s clear that a large part of the problem is the legal drug-taking culture that exists in cycling.

        • Yes, you are absolutely right! I think this would be the very least we can demand: The UCI needs to check the roads in countries where UCI-races are held and I mean ALL the roads, because who knows, maybe on the race-day a different road must be used or a rider takes a wrong turn – and what would happen then!!! Then the UCI should at least have 3 people in every team (because only two is a bit too dangerous, who knows what they could be up to!), the doctors should obviously come from the UCI, too. And two things I was thinking about, but am till yet undecided about: The UCI should probably have an office in every bike-factory to check what is going on there and the second thing is: Wouldn’t it be much better, if the UCI would ride the races instead of the riders?

          Sorry, it is not against you. But it is only a sport. If it should end tomorrow, so be it, there are more important things. And to overcontrol the sport is surely not the right way to go. One day nobody will have fun anymore doing or watching it and then it lost all right to exist. As long as people and not machines do the sport, we will always have faults and will always have people cheating. I think we are on the far end of control and regulations the sport can endure, maybe even already too far. It is important to have the UCI make the rules for the sport – and not run it!

  11. Good comment on Femke being flemish. For sure Belgium is the worst country for being convinced of cheating in cycling races… In Flanders they both like cycling and gossip: exploding cocktail for this 19y old girl. No excuse of course, but it is difficult for me to see this young lady imagining all this on her own and now she can’t get out of her house without suffering what we can call journalistic assault.

  12. Loose the Etoile and the foundations of the shiny glass house have nothing to base their striking outward appearance on. When shiny glass looses its lustre, what then?

  13. Thanks for the life in the peloton recommendation. Will definitely give that a listen.

    On the note of podcasts, anyone recommend cycling related ones that are worth a listen? Listen to the “the cycling podcast” with Richard Moore, Lionel Birnie and Daniel Friebe which I really enjoy.

    • Cyclingnews do one a week now and it’s ok. The Recon Ride is good for race previews but we have to wait for the next World Tour race like Tirreno Adriatico or Paris-Nice. If you want to pay there is Velocast. The Cycling Podcast beats all three for me.

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