Thursday Shorts

It looks like another dry Paris-Roubaix. It hasn’t rained in the race since 2002. Northern France is a wet place – riders from the region often move south in search of better training conditions – but as explored in a previous post here, early April is actually the driest period of the year for the area. Even the forecast for wind earlier this week looks to have faded away.

Direct Energie is now Total Direct Energie. As you might know the French energy provider was taken over by the oil major last year and now it’s being rebranded. The team is playing its part in this with Paris-Roubaix as the first race for the new team. The timing of the change has been done to coincide with Paris-Roubaix which says something about the race and the team’s use as a communication and branding matter.

Talking of Paris-Roubaix and branding, have you seen the clever video from Specialized calling for a women’s Paris-Roubaix? There have long been calls but this is interesting plan, as if it’s trying to create extra demand for this race… and then imagine if Specialized were to satisfy it by partnering with ASO as the race sponsor for a women’s Paris-Roubaix in 2020?

Life imitated art the other day when Guillaume Martin won atop Mount Etna in the Giro di Sicilia. Martin’s “the philosopher cyclist”* who has a Masters degree in philosophy with a thesis on Friedrich Nietzsche and who has written a play. Now he’s written a book “Socrate à vélo” or Cycling Socrates and it’s the story of a team of philosophers invited to ride the Tour de France and also autobiographical as Martin describes his training and racing. One scene in the book includes Socrates and Plato training on Etna so things went full circle when Martin won. Less mindful but Brandon McNulty’s win is important for US cycling and it should keep open the door for more wildcard invitations for the Rally UHC team.

  • * Martin takes exception to this label and rightly so. Yes Primož Roglič was a ski jumper, Adam Hansen makes his own shoes and so on. These heuristic labels can be helpful but are very reductive – isn’t Hansen the rider with the most grand consecutive grand tours, as well as an engineer, Czech resident and plenty more? – and after a few uses they become tiresome.

Rally still have their work cut out a wildcard invitations could get a lot harder. 23 teams told the UCI they’re interested in a World Tour spot for 2020 and beyond. But it’s merely expressing an interest, a far cry from an application. had a scoop that legal action could see teams sue their way to a licence, essentially if Pro Conti teams are promoted into the World Tour then any current World Tour teams facing being dropped could get lawyers involved. The result of which could be 20 teams in the World Tour which implies the remaining UCI Pro Teams, the second tier squads, would be scrapping for two invites to the grand tours, thin pickings. In theory anyway, a story to watch. Some current World Tour teams don’t have long term sponsorship in place, for example Gerry Ryan won’t bankroll Mitchelton-Scott forever and the team still looking for new sponsors, earlier this year Chinese telecoms firm Huawei was cited as a potential backer.

Staying in Sicily, the 2021 Giro d’Italia is due to start in Sicily but where? This week’s Cycling Podcast mentioned off hand a rumour that it could involve a virtual prologue ridden online using Zwift as a platform. It’s not that far-fetched, the grand tours go where the money is and if Zwift wanted to pay millions for it then it could be arranged, and the UCI rules adjusted. Zwift is close to a tech “unicorn” status, a company valued at over a billion dollars, and like other technology ventures – think Uber or AirB&B – it wants to establish a market-leading position, something that means a big user base and can bring pricing power too. One route to achieve this is cultural dominance, to outspend rival platforms on marketing to the point where only Zwift seems to exist in the mind.. and buying the Giro prologue, or any other biddable race, would be a big way to pursue this.

There’s long been talk that the 2020 Giro d’Italia could start in Budapest and it’s getting louder. The Hungarian government is behind the deal and oddly the driving force behind the bid is none other than Viktor Orbán’s dentist, who is also big into cycling and triathlon. It wouldn’t be too far, nor too far-fetched given Italy and Hungary have a shared history of empire in the past and, skating quickly over thin ice, today their governments are aligned in some areas too.

Talking of febrile politics and returning to Paris-Roubaix, the Gilets Jaunes protests have been recurrent all over France since the autumn with regular, often weekly marches in major towns and cities. Named after the obligatory hi-vis vests that motorists must carry in their cars, it’s a wide ranging protest movement with varied demands and motivations and as yet no bike races have faced disruption in France. But the plan is to pause the marching this Sunday in Lille because of Paris-Roubaix because the police force is already busy controlling every junction along the route of the race; and also because of the Lille-PSG football match in the evening too.

Finally the Arenberg forest has seen the first part of the cobbles repaired with mortar placed in between the stones. It’s a case of things need to change in order to stay the same because the road is closed to traffic all year and because nothing uses the track, plants have been taking over. Each year the local authorities have gone through with a giant blowtorch to burn off the vegetation and then chase this with a big street cleaning vehicle equipped with a giant rotary brush to scrape off the dead vegetation and make it ridable for the race. But it’s been a losing battle. Interestingly ASO have had plans for years to detour around the forest if it rained because it would be too dangerous to use in the wet. Purists might howl but the repair works ensure the forest is just about rideable and the word from riders after their recon is that it’s still a fraught area and that the mortar just makes the stones feel harder, there’s less cushioning in between.

62 thoughts on “Thursday Shorts”

    • Isn’t Specialized releasing their new unisex “Roubaix” model to coincide with this weekend’s race?
      Various promotional videos are about.
      They are certainly making a big thing about being the brand with the most P-R wins to their name.

      On a slightly different tack, the new S Works Roubaix has gone more aero (as opposed to the previous bowed relaxed geometry) and looks more akin to the Tarmac; it’s interesting how these trends wax and wane. But product differentiation nevertheless – one of the first marketing rules,

  1. To be fair to Cycling News, their scoop did basically consist of reading the UCI’s rules that had been on their website since February. But none of their competitors did that, so…

    For what it’s worth, a 19 team WT is looking likely next year. Both Cofidis and Total Direct Energie are now ahead of Dimension Data, but with almost no chance of catching Katusha. DD are basically safe in 20th, so it will be them plus the top 18.

  2. I always appreciate your Shorts, and look forward to each new one. Perhaps they’re my favorite of all your writing, as they’re brief, but filled with insightful, clever nuggets. Thank you.

  3. Long-time reader but have never posted – just wanted to comment on the possibility of a virtual start to the 2021 Giro using Zwift. I hadn’t heard that rumor before but I think (hope) it would be a very good thing for the virtual cycling community. I use Zwift a lot over the winter and, while smart trainers like the Wahoo Kickr and the Tacx Neo and so forth, provide an excellent training aid – as well as replicating the feel of climbing and sprinting – I hope that Zwift continues to push trainer companies to innovate on the control side of things so that bike handling – or lack thereof – could also be replicated in the game. DC Rainmaker recently wrote about other aspects – such as production values and the need to prevent cheating – for virtual racing in the Zwift Racing Series – that would have to be addressed as well for a Grand Tour stage but I hope there are also some technological improvements on the “fun” side to go along with them. The bottom line is that I hope this is more than just a rumor…

    Anyway, rather than just rambling along in my first comment, let me also add my thanks to our gracious host and blogger. I have read and enjoyed your posts for many years!

    • I assume then you didn’t watch a minute of the last soccer world cup given that it was in Russia and will also be sitting out the next one in Qatar. Then there’s the upcoming winter Olympics in China…. International sport is a business and often the countries with an image problem are the ones willing to shell out to host big events. RCS Sport is a business, and businesses go where the profits are.

        • +1 … FWIW, I refused to view or read about any of the 2018 Israeli stages, only picked up the race plot post transfer to the Italian mainland.
          FYI, I still love the giro; always will – I suspect.
          However, ‘Steve’ , or Mr Zwift, I do draw the line at virtual cycling. Shame on all you who support such madness. Road racing means actual roads, with weather and furniture and differing surface qualities; it also means racing alongside actual, real human beings who can and do practice weird tactics at the drop of a flag. Selah.

      • Well, let’s see. I gave up watching FIFA based events some decades ago, since I’m only interested in my local football club and don’t care about this nationalism event bs, where people watch and talk about football who don’t give any damn the whole year. Like Tour or Giro.
        Your argument being what exactly? If you don’t have any ethical standards or sell them for cheap amusement, feel free to do so. But don’t try to piss on people who draw lines, dude.

  4. A prolog on Zwift is the biggest pile of rubbish I have ever heard. I hope that this nonsense never becomes reality. I can’t believe there are people who watch this e-events or whatever they are called and the day this gets mixed with pro road cycling will be the day the sport officially dies.

    • It might work in South Korea where the national sport is Starcraft but can’t see it having anything other than extremely niche appeal in traditional cycling countries.

    • We’ll see, it’s a vauge idea doing the rounds at the moment. It got my attention because when it comes to winter training Zwift is really dominating the culture and conversation with big marketing, pro riders doing races, I think there was a British national championships which paid more to the winner than winning the real road race title etc. It’s far from the virtual eclipsing the real but the likes of Trainer road, Kinomap, Sufferfest etc seemed to be wiped from the conversations because of all this. In part it’s because it’s very well funded.

      • Zwift has all but killed winter group rides in these northern parts:-( Some of my riding buddies no longer even venture out and many take their winter bike out only if the weather’s nice and the temperature’s not too cold. Those who “refuse to Zwift” are a minority.
        PS Rouvy and FulGaz are worthwhile alternatives to those who would like to look for an alternative and and who prefer a bit more real “reality”.

        • Zwift is boring as hell. I try it only as a last resort in winter when it is really impossible to ride outside (below freezing temperature and/or snow on the road), and even then it is impossible for me to ride longer than 1,5 hours. I much more enjoy Sufferfest workouts which have an engaging storyline and good music to keep your mind occupied and give you the opportunity to have a nice workout midweeks to avoid riding in the dark winter afternoons and evenings.
          I can’t believe the hype Zwift gets and it reflects the sad state of today’s society where people much rather enjoy to ride indoors than get out because it is windy, wet or cold. Each to their own I guess, but trying to enforce this rubbish into real road cycling is just mindboggling. Money talks and the marketing industry will do everything to sell their products to the consumer as is the case with disc brakes, e-bikes et all.

          • I’d rather eat inner tubes than ride indoors, just shows how soft people are becoming! Snuggle blankets and big girls blouses all round, what a sad way things are going. Zwift my ar**.

          • Sufferfest indeed! What a fantastic product they have put together.
            The Suf turned me on to pro racing to begin with. Before being told in one of their workouts that “Cobbles – Cancellara – You must defeat them both!” I had no idea what Roubaix was, or who Cancellara was. The race footage used in the workout was so compelling that I did a quick google after hopping off the trainer, saw that the real Roubaix was a few days later, managed to find a way to watch Degenkolb cross the line first, and that was that. I was hooked on road racing.
            I would so much prefer to ride outdoors, but I have to squeeze in my rides at 5:15 AM (due to family considerations) and riding outdoors at that hour isn’t feasible for large portions of the year where I live. I find myself looking forward to Suf workouts in my basement fully as much as I do outdoor rides. Which is no mean feat!

          • You’re complaining about people being soft but you won’t ride in below freezing temperatures? Ha. Zwift is good for an indoor alternative and all on here who are complaining are just riding rollers in their basement staring at the wall? Zwift races are great training, I just don’t really care if someone is cheating.

      • How does Zwift adjust for rider weight and air resistance? I imagine that if you just measure power to the pedals then Dumolin could do 50% better than Yates. Even on a 7km prologue that’s going to be race changing.

        • Zwift works on W/Kg – so whatever weight you put in is important and why currently it relies on honesty. Not sure what the fuss is about. It is a great training tool and has helped push up my FTP, which translates to real gains in the club TT. I view it as a training aid, nothing more and the active visuals help in making the time appear to go faster, always appreciated indoors.

          • You can see how honest the riders are by checking the climbing times of the Alpe du Zwift climb where the best have a VAM close to 1900 on an over 30 minutes effort. I wonder why they don’t go pro… I bet you can hear the outcry from the same people if someone gets busted from doping, although I agree with the comment below, that this is far worse than EPO.

          • What about air resistance? In real cycling if you want to double your speed you need a lot more than double the power. Is that factored into zwift?

      • When I was a boy (I’m not that old, but I was racing Sr 1/2/3 in 2005-2007) you had to train in the winter to get fit for the spring races. Those were the greatest rides… out suffering with your friends, riding together and afterwards you felt like a huge bad-a$$. That was what made real racers. This garbage of sitting in your million dollar house on a $3k Zwift machine is absolute garbage! It is one of the factors turning this sport in the wrong direction.

        The greatest feeling was in April when the rich doctors and lawyers would emerge from hibernation with their Zipp-wheeled, top-end carbon bikes and you could blow their doors off on your 2,000 bike with metal wheels because you trained 15-hours a week in the winter. And then in the races you were flying in April/May because your training outdoors in January and February.

        Then as a fan, you heard stories about the Pro riders with poor backgrounds who trained all winter long on steel bikes with fenders. Or Svein Tuft’s story where he had a steel bike with a dog trailer and rode for weeks in the Rockies to get strong. Or, the modest backgrounds of all the top pros of the past.

        If the next crop of pros are rich kids whose parents bought them Zwift accounts and gave them indoor training programs the sport will continue to lose public interest because that is the most boring backstory on the planet. How can it compete with the next footballer from the poor side of Rio who dedicated his/her life to football? It just can’t and that’s why cycling will continue to suffer in obscurity.

        BOOM… that’s the rest of my rant!

        • I agree – although I can see how stuff like this might not matter to some. However, I’d imagine – surely – that viewing figures for a zwift contest would be so small that if this awful idea did happen it would die on its arse on that first day. In a sport that is full of godawful ideas this one tops the lot by some distance.

    • Agree with you. Zwift, well, is just zwift. And to see guys and their Powers figures compete with each other os just appaling. And i doubt Lappartient agrees with this.

    • I completely agree – I have a huge rant all ready to go in my head… and I’m hoping I never have to use it. The powers that be in cycling won’t allow Boardman’s superman bike but they’re considering Swift?!? How is that possible. It’s not even the same sport. It’s sitting on a stationary bike.

      Every other sponsor needs to jump in and veto this – do you think Specialized wants its machines involved in this? There’s no difference to using a Venge or my kid’s tricycle – as long as you can hook a crank to a stupid wheel thing… It makes me sick to think this dumb idea is even entertained.

      This just proves once again there is zero long-term strategy or vision in this sport. We’re parasites who follows the money TODAY, not chasing the smart money in the future. The image of this sport would be a joke if general public found out that a Grand Tour took place on a computer attached to a stationary bike. It’s a joke, an absolute joke.

      Ok, that’s the short version of my rant.

    • I enjoy zwift and racing on the platform. It is a very diluted form of bike racing. But even diluted, bike racing is awesome. The zwift platform for racing is flawed in many ways, but the fundamental issue of power measurement inaccuracy is huge. Do we want someone losing the maglia Rosa because their power meter or trainer reads low compared to someone else. That is on top of ignoring positioning, bike handling, etc…

      • Agree totally with this.

        Zwift is a good training tool, especially if you’re time-squeezed with a young family. A 1hr “race” on Zwift feels about as tough on the legs as a 2/3hr tempo session in rh real world as there’s no freewheeling / stopping at junctions etc.

        Aside from the objections you’d expect I think the main hurdle to it ever being used in a GT is fairness. Different power meters will always give small differences and when you’re talking about real races being decided by fractions I can’t see it being incorporated.

        It is a different style of “racing” as well. The dynamics of the game mean it’s beneficial to go all out from the gun for 2 mins 150% FTP max and then settle in just below FTP in the lead group. It’s also almost impossible to do a solo break on flat courses, even more so than the real world.

        • Yeah it would be a shame to spoil the purity of pro cycling with a training aid, what with the ethics and earnings of all its team sponsors being so straight and all… :/

  5. Glad to see Brandon McNulty and Rally get a mention. I’ve been following him for a couple of years after being tipped off about his potential by a guy whose son raced against McNulty in the junior ranks. His success in Sicily is no surprise to those who follow the US junior cycling scene (not me, but I know some who do), and as I understand it he could have gone to a World Tour team for this year if he’d been willing, but he wanted to avoid the burn out that many young talented Americans seem to encounter in going from phenom to the biggest races in Europe. I assume that he will make the move for 2020, if only to make sure that he’s on a team that can get him into good races. However, I don’t think he’s interested in a career as a highly paid domestique, so it’ll be interesting to watch.

    I have to say, it’s a good feeling to cheer for an American rider to win a bike race, and have them actually come through.

    • Hopefully he’s not in a hurry. The stereotype is there are good US riders but they struggle on contact with the Euro peloton as riders rub shoulders and bump elbows to fight for position but if he can cope with Sicily and its twisty roads with added potholes and cracks then he’s doing fine already.

      • It was a great ride. As soon as he went he just looked so strong, you just knew they weren’t bringing him back. He looks a class act, I still feel sorry for him when he was caught in the last 100m or so in Dubai last year. Brutal finish.

      • From what I’ve read from other young north American riders it’s both culture shock on the road (as you mentioned) but also dealing with culture shock and loss of their support system all at once, and during the formative period of the late teens to very early twenties. And of course this hasn’t just affected US riders, it’s been an issue for talented young riders who hail from outside Europe.

        My impression is that McNulty is going into this career with eyes wide open and good advice. Plus he benefits from not yet having any significant pressure to produce results, at least so far. I hope as he comes into more prominence there are a few other successful American pro riders, so he doesn’t get the treatment that Tejay VG has gotten. Always nice if the expectations are spread around a bit.

  6. Isn’t the (male) u23 Paris – Roubaix ran by somebody other than ASO? If so is their anything stopping somebody else putting on a Women’s Paris – Roubaix?

    • No, nothing stopping someone else. And there’s a junior race put on the same day as the men’s pro race but it’s not ASO’s race either, the U23 and junior races are put on by local club VC Roubaix, who have their club HQ in the old velodrome.

  7. Roubaix is going to be cold. The forecasts say -2 in the morning and the temperature not lifting with a light wind from the ENE from Scandinavie, they say. This could blow the chances of a lot of non-habitues so expect the favourites list to be reinforced for BEL and NED riders wearing longs and just bear this in mind when you’re sitting in the warm shouting at the TV. ‘Tetanisee’ will be the mot du jour.
    While we’re on a round-up sadly we have to expect the Tour de Yorkshire and the UCI champs to be a superb swansong for this corner of the world and top-level road racing. The source of funds for Visit Yorkshire has all dried up owing to questions about spending by a principal.
    And last, if I’m sitting on my turbo at home what’s to stop me getting a power drill hooked up to the drive? Forget the hype: If something online is free it’s you that’s the product and the more of ‘you’ they have, the more funding they get to spend on the hype (been there, done that).

  8. Etna is the place for a philosopher’s victory! It had the “Torre del Filosofo” (philosopher’s tower) mountain refuge, which was destroyed by volcanic activity some years ago…

  9. Hey why not race Paris Roubaix on Zwift and turn on the rain 🙂

    There’s a point where you become much poorer if you don’t turn a big pile of cash down.

    Fingers crossed etc.

  10. The Zwift thing might have some legs; all the riders in one stadium on trainers, a massive screen up front showing their avatars, a single very short (50km?) mixed stage.
    Put the GC favourites next to one another so that no matter how far up the road they get on-screen they’re right there. A great psychological battle.
    Pure theatre but then isn’t that what pro cycling is about?

    Speaking of theatre:
    No race radios; team managers can just walk over to shout at their riders! (This one’s for you Larry T)
    Mechanics can adjust riders’ bikes at leisure (none of that dangerous hanging out of car windows with magic spanners).
    Crashes will be a thing of the past. Riders will be free to gesture wildly in total safety. Hell, even Abdoujaparov couldn’t bring this bunch down!
    Bidons will become less sticky. Hanging onto the team car will be relegated to the parking lot.
    The wealthier teams will be able to afford avatars with more panache.
    Helicopter panning shots may become repetitive.

    • We should get rid of the bikes.
      Just do a series of physiological tests and pronounce the winner.
      Cheap, easy to organise, safe, and would take up far less of everyone’s time.
      And it would be pure theatre. Bollocks theatre, but theatre.

  11. The ‘philosopher cyclist’ label might be reductive, but writing a book about Socrates in the Tour de France might be construed as inviting it…

    • Who now remembers how good a goalkeeper was Albert Camus? Rather a philosopher than a boxer if you’re going to miss out on results.

  12. Is there an English translation of Gillaume’s book and is it accurate? I can read a bit of French but I fear not well enough to appreciate the detail and nuance of the philosophy !

    Zwift: I’m all for tech innovation such as onboard bike camera etc but static racing will be effectively an en masse TTT but without the aero considerations or altitude or wind, which seems too reductive; A well organised team will get the course and use AI/robot tech to predict the racing behaviour and devise the power plans for the riders to ride to along the course. The teams with the biggest diesel’s will win. And we don’t get to see the actual road scenery or have Ned Boulting paraphrasing the road book 🙂

  13. I can only assume that Larry has spontaneously combusted at the thought of a zwift prologue.
    Have to admit I thought it was an April fools joke, and I’m still not absolutely convinced that it isnt.

  14. I’ve personally got no issue with the repair/renewal of the Arenberg pavé.

    I thought it was absolutely disgusting when I rode it some years back.

  15. The Australian hovernment has banned Huawei from involvement in our 5G network. They’ll could sulk in the corner or throw money at a charm offensive.

  16. I’m trying to imagine something more horrible than a Zwift stage of the Giro, and failing. It’s largely killed our winter riding, even here in MN. We used to get a good group for winter gravel with studded tires- not anymore. I like Sufferfest for solo indoor interval stuff, and FulGaz for fantasizing about where to ride when it warms up.

  17. Try as I might, I can’t ID that P-R rider in the first photo. Jersey is so dirty can’t even tell what team he’s riding for. Maybe Servais Knaven? Blue HB tape points to Domo-FF, but not sure. Inquiring minds want to know…

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