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Monday Shorts

The racing is back and it’s been majestic to see the peloton crossing the landscape in real races instead of riders bobbing around on their balconies for virtual competitions. The blog is back too and time for a quick spin through some current topics before some more detailed pieces in the coming days…

Small races are suddenly a big deal. Normally at Vuelta a Burgos and the Route d’Occitanie you look for two things: form ahead of the Vuelta and Tour de France, and to see some young riders given their chance (remember Pierre “Roger” Latour battling it out with Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana?). Now these races are feasts after the lockdown famine. They’re further enhanced by more World Tour teams than usual, each bringing their best riders: starlists instead of startlists. With little time until the Tour de France and other big races every day counts.

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Still Remco Evenepoel managed to be both the young rider to watch and the star name in Burgos. He passes each test he’s set. Turn pro aged 19? Win a time trial? Win a summit finish? Win a stage race? He’d done all that by February. Now he’s won atop the Picon Blanco in Burgos, a longer summit finish compared to February’s Alto de Fóia and he dropped some of the best climbers in the world like George Bennett, Esteban Chaves, Simon Yates and Mikel Landa. It earned him a headline in the evening’s TV bulletin in Belgium, alongside the bankruptcy of a big Belgian retailer, the Coronavirus and Donald Trump. The next test is a longer climb, say, 40 minutes and then coping with several climbs in a stage, then doing this deep into a grand tour. You wouldn’t bet against him.

 

Saturday’s Strade Bianche saw two convincing winners. Annemiek van Vleuten’s was the obvious favourite before the start but her victory wasn’t obvious until late in the race, she seemed out of contention only to surge past the chase group solo and hunt down lone leader Mavi Garcia. Then even the finish wasn’t obvious, perhaps van Vleuten would pay for the intense chase and cramp? Of course not. In the men’s race Wout van Aert went solo too. Watching the race he seemed the problem for the other riders, who would want to take him to the finish given his power and sprint? Only he turned this around, dropping the climbers on the Tolfe climb to go solo.

Milan-Sanremo will get a preview here soon. It was impossible to do one for the Strade Bianche because form is so unknown but now we’re beginning to see the riders in action. The big twist with Sanremo is the route change, local mayors along the coast have vetoed the race’s visit so it spends more time inland, crossing the arid Ligurian Alps before reaching the coast just in time for the Cipressa, it’s more olive oil than gelato now. There’s more climbing and this comes later in the race but it’s mostly on a big road that’s well engineered with a series of viaducts and tunnels. It’s a slight tilt away from the pure sprinters but otherwise similar, the big difference will be the feel of the race without the procession along the coast, the familiar towns.

On the subject of route changes, it’s official now that the Tour de France will start in Copenhagen in 2022 rather than as planned next year. This means re-routing the plan for 2021 and a start in France, with Brittany tipped by a local newspaper as the most likely option. The city of Saint Etienne has been cropping up again and again on the route of Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Tour start there, but if not 2021 then perhaps 2023?

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Today’s challenge is more whether the Tour de France starts in 2020 as planned. Probably, hopefully, but it’s not certain. It’s great to see the racing back over the weekend but meanwhile events are still being cancelled – the Tour de l’Avenir is the latest – so enjoy what you can. The resumption of sport isn’t a return to normality, you only have to look at the images of riders wearing masks on the startline or podium protocols complete with hand sanitiser pumps on stage. At best cycling has to find ways to manage the risks but rightly the decisions are not down to the sport, it’s national governments and local health agencies. With pro cycling restricted to Europe now (the Canadian World Tour races cancelled, the Japan Cup is off, we’ll see for the Tour of Thailand… and the Tour of Guangxi has vanished off the UCI calendar), case numbers are rising in some countries including France and travel restrictions and conditions are being reimposed. Belgium has just imposed a quarantine on the part of Switzerland where the Worlds will take place so in theory if someone wins the time trial or road race they’re out of the Binck Bank Tour, Liège-Bastogne-Liège etc.

Some cheer for the long term now as Ag2r La Mondiale will become Ag2r Citroën in 2021 as the team gets a co-sponsor. It’s a big deal, literally as it’s bringing millions in extra budget, and from a large company people have actually heard of rather than an unknown foundation. The team has a deal already with Levis for leisure wear where riders must wear their garments, now one or two riders might be worried they’ll have to drive a Citroën for travel to races. As Vincent Lavenu told L’Equipe, it’ll propel the team back towards the front group of teams in terms of budget and crucially it all looks very stable, something the likes of Astana or Bahrain-McLaren can’t offer. We know the team budget is around €18 million, now it’ll be closer to €25 million and secure too with blue-chip backers as Ag2r La Mondiale is on board until at least 2024. Despite the money it still looks like Romain Bardet is leaving which is perhaps best for both sides, it’ll force the team to rebuild, more so since Pierre Latour is leaving too. There are strong hints Greg Van Avermaet will join and the team will have BMC bikes, “GVA” owns a big BMC store in Nazareth but the team need a headliner for the Tour de France as well.

Maybe GVA’s noticed it in his showroom, e-bike sales are surging in Europe. You can read about 23% sales increases and even 60% production surges… or you can visit the Alps and Pyrenees. Many holiday makers in July seemed to have sensible swapped crowded beaches for spacious Alpine pastures and brought e-bikes with them. You see a few senior types on race bikes, like those Pinarellos with the downtube the diameter of a drainpipe, plenty of e-MTBs but for the most part it’s people on ordinary town bikes now scaling hitherto unreachable mountain passes, all in that distinctive low cadence. It’s a lifeline for the precious cafés and restaurants at the top of mountain passes who now get a new clientele.

Reaching a summit by bike can be cause for celebration and commemoration whether you’ve done it under your own steam or with some assistance but someone’s gone too far in their quest for a souvenir: the summit sign at the top of Mont Ventoux was stolen over the weekend. It’s not the first time either.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Michael B Monday, 3 August 2020, 2:35 pm

    Great to have you back INRNG.

    Strade Bianche was a fantastic race, and loved seeing WVA back to his best post-injury. Amongst all the understandable MVDP / Evenepoel hype he’s a little left behind… but he’s still the man with TDF sprint and TT stages to his name (and as many CX Worlds as MVDP).

    Also I thought Formolo looked fantastic and actually held a little back in the WVP chase. Could he take Il Lombardia or LBL? It’d be great to see some unexpected faces in the mix.

    • Michael B Monday, 3 August 2020, 2:49 pm

      *WVA chase

    • Allan Almeida Monday, 3 August 2020, 5:15 pm

      Strade Bianche is always one of the best races every year. First with Annemiek Van Vleuten winning in very unique fashion and later with WVA showing a dominant performance. I was skeptical after his crash in last year’s Tour, but it’s awesome to se him back and in excellent shape

      • Allan Almeida Monday, 3 August 2020, 5:15 pm

        *see him

  • Paul S Monday, 3 August 2020, 4:02 pm

    Nice to have racing and Mr. INRNG back!!
    It feels like life is slowly getting back to normal.

  • weeclarky Monday, 3 August 2020, 4:39 pm

    Great to see you back!

    • Ecky Thump Tuesday, 4 August 2020, 5:21 am

      Indeed.
      And that IR’s chuckle muscle hasn’t dried up and dropped off during the lockdown.

  • Loop Guru Monday, 3 August 2020, 4:51 pm

    Good to have you back, was worried that you were a C19 victim. Looking forward to your analysis…

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 3 August 2020, 10:33 pm

      Just not been much to cover, so spent July riding parts of the Tour route… rather than watching it on TV.

  • Allan Almeida Monday, 3 August 2020, 5:11 pm

    Great to see Inner Ring back. Got worried after no preview on Strade Bianche, but there are some very good observations here,as always. Will Remco be up to the challenge of a Grand Tour? Even if he never even rode one? Hard to believe, but it’s even harder to doubt on him..

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 3 August 2020, 10:36 pm

      I’ve been skeptical but was privately thinking he’d suffer in Burgos from the length of the climbs and the heat… only to happily be wrong. If anything he was too lively in Burgos, launching doomed moves on the flat stages when he had what it takes to win a summit finish but that’s part of the interest now.

  • Kevin Gunning Monday, 3 August 2020, 5:51 pm

    Not entirely unsurprising that Ventoux sign is much more accessible this year as it has been taken down from its pole due to the extensive work around the summit to improve the separation between cars and cyclists. Also a reminder about the Ventoux Dénivelé challenge (1.1) this Thursday. 179 km with two ascents of Ventoux, up to Chalet Reynard first of all, then along the beautiful Gorges de la Nesque and up to the summit from Bedoin. Bardet, M-A Lopez, Richie Porte, Bauke Mollema, Fabio Aru and Quintana on the startlist.
    PS Good to have you back – a little touch of normality

  • Ben Monday, 3 August 2020, 7:38 pm

    Welcome back, missed your writing!

  • TheSquid Monday, 3 August 2020, 7:39 pm

    Good to hear from you. I was getting nervous!

    • Somers Tuesday, 4 August 2020, 7:15 am

      I kept checking his twitter account to confirm he was still alive.

  • BC Monday, 3 August 2020, 7:54 pm

    Excellent to see you back INRNG. Hope you feel regenerated by the break.
    Look forward to the informative previews.

  • _kw Monday, 3 August 2020, 8:25 pm

    Aaah, the drought is over. Glad to see you back!

  • J Evans Monday, 3 August 2020, 8:55 pm

    Fantastic to see some racing again and what a race the Strade Bianche was – great to see WVA back after his injury. But I just don’t understand why year after year the TV companies (whoever is responsible) only show the last 60km (I’m assuming this is the case everywhere?) of SB. They don’t do this with other races, and it means we always miss crucial moves in SB because there are two large gravel sections just before the TV comes on. Does anyone know why this is?

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 3 August 2020, 11:26 pm

      Strade Bianche is still just a 180km race for the men so seeing 60km is still the final third. RAI show the women and the men and yes there’s more to show of each but both are broadcast to a mass audience in Italy, adding more to this is probably too much to ask, remember RAI only shows a few of the Giro stages from start to finish, it’s just not in their register to cover more for now.

    • UHJ Tuesday, 4 August 2020, 2:29 pm

      As Mr. INRNG said + the cost of production is still quite high for bike racing. It is – even for a big one-day event – a costly affair to cover from start to finish and, finally, covering it from the start is no guarantee of exciting racing. It might just as well (in “regular” years, not this shortened and compressed after-corona-season) be, that the complete race is a bore.
      That is also the charm of bike racing. “Mama always said: ‘Life’s a box of chocolates…'”
      When the modern day drone becomes a viable way of filming, that is really gonna drive down the costs.
      BTW: When are the race vehicles; cars and motos etc. + team cars transitioning to electrics? It can’t be that far off, surely.

      • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 4 August 2020, 2:39 pm

        On electric vehicles I think the sport is some way off. A 300km Milan-Sanremo can easily be 350km given driving from the hotel to the start etc and many vehicles have a 200km range, a challenge for more ordinary races like the Route d’Occitanie, even more so because the sport visits a lot of rural places where charging points are rare. Plus once you add bikes on the roof the aerodynamics are ruined and so the range further reduced. But if a manufacturer can reach this challenge, good for them.

        • UHJ Wednesday, 5 August 2020, 9:31 am

          That’s the state of electric vehicles today, but I believe it may be possible for a lot of other races, though. Anyway, the distance (and the reduction when fully loaded) is the least of the challanges, the most important challenge in this scenario will be the charging. It is far from all countries that have the electrical grid and infrastructure to support electrical vehicles yet, and a hotel aprking lto ready to charge x number of EVs, that is a problem.
          I read – about a year ago, I think – that at least one team (PC) was going in the direction, so something is brewing.

          • UHJ Wednesday, 5 August 2020, 9:31 am

            * challenges

          • noel Wednesday, 5 August 2020, 6:09 pm

            Ha! …just imagining the queueing team cars in a wee French ski resort for the only 3 charging points between 2 mountain stages! One of those buses would take a week to recharge… Ineos would of course have their own artic that folds out to reveal an acre of solar panels…

    • CNull Tuesday, 4 August 2020, 2:39 pm

      While I appreciate the challenging production costs mentioned in the responses, I’m with you J. SB is typically animated early and I hope we get to a point where they can make it work to show all or certainly a lot more. We all love this race. It’s so gorgeous and fun.

  • J Evans Monday, 3 August 2020, 8:56 pm

    On a much more serious note, I’d like to see nobody by the side of the road and certainly far fewer than I saw at Strade Bianche. Crowds of people will only mean increased COVID infections, which may well also mean the cancellation of other races. The message from cycling from the very start should have been ‘Don’t turn out to watch these races’, and the authorities (governmental, not cycling) should have enforced this.
    It’s an epidemic: if you go back to behaving how you did beforehand, infection rates will go back to how they were too. It baffles me that both governments and the public still seemingly have to learn this, particularly when anyone with even a vague biological background has been saying this since at least mid-March (I’ve ignored my degree in biology for 25 years, but this has still always been blindingly apparent even to me).
    Cycling is much more of a risk than other sports because crowds cannot be controlled – much like beaches, nightclubs, bars, cafes, etc.

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 3 August 2020, 11:30 pm

      It’s difficult but we need to take a local approach, for now it seems the infection rates are low in Tuscany but all the same the sight of fans crowding without masks is a concern. Similarly south-western France has been spared compared to north-eastern France. We could see climbs of the Tour de France closed to the public because they’re in orange or red zones of France, eg the Pyrenees are open to all but the Planche des Belles Filles stage is practically closed off etc but for now this is a suggestion, we’ll see what the numbers say in a month or more.

  • Evan Monday, 3 August 2020, 10:16 pm

    Great to have the Inrng back in business. Excellent wrap-up here. Also, even though we’ve missed the posts, thanks for not flooding this blog with endless recaps of virtual races. If there’s anything more boring than watching a virtual bike race, it’s reading about someone who watched one.

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 3 August 2020, 10:31 pm

      It’s only a blog here so for better or worse no need to cover things or invent coverage and ended up spending July in the saddle rather than the sofa for a change… but it’ll help the Tour previews here as it meant I could cover all sorts of new climbs from the Selle de Fromentel to the Suc au May.

      Each to their own tastes but the return to racing and the TV coverage of Burgos, Strade Bianche and even delayed evening resumés of the Route d’Occitanie seem so much better than virtual racing. Even with a literally captive audience the only races didn’t get a big audience, it’s restricted to converted fans already compared to the general public.

      • ChrisW Thursday, 6 August 2020, 5:35 pm

        Though having said that, it seemed like there was enough demand that Eurosport Player’s servers crashed at the start of the Strade Bianche coverage and stayed down for a good while…there was considerable foul language at my end! Did manage to catch the last few kms though, thankfully.

  • Allegedly Anthony Monday, 3 August 2020, 10:47 pm

    I have to echo the messages above: we really missed you. Welcome back. I was starting to worry that you might not be returning to us.
    Is there any likelihood of INRNG kit reappearing at Prendas?

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 3 August 2020, 11:22 pm

      Hi, not discussed this with Andy and Prendas but I sense that a lot of people who wanted to buy kit – not everyone, but plenty – have bought it so it’s a harder sell now. The last thing I want is for Prendas to order some stock which they struggle to sell. The blog here does have its running costs but these have been trimmed, eg no dedicated photo account, so it can function with fewer sales. Of course if people want to support this sight it’s generous but so far it’s ok… feel free to read, share, comment etc.

      • Greasy Wheel Monday, 3 August 2020, 11:38 pm

        I would like to buy another jersey. Maybe some socks too.
        Not sure how many orders needed to make it all viable.

      • Ecky Thump Tuesday, 4 August 2020, 5:19 am

        Perhaps a new line in Inner Ring Covid masks? 😃
        Actually, that’d be rather natty.
        I’m liking the Trek Segafredo line of masks too.
        Who fancies a brown Ag2r Citroen face mask though? 🤣

      • AJC Tuesday, 4 August 2020, 7:57 am

        Lovely to have your writing back, always enjoy your insights.

        As for fan kit, I’d be keen for socks/hat/jersey

        • David Wednesday, 5 August 2020, 7:41 am

          +1 for more socks and caps. Mitts would be nice too, if that can be arranged – can never have too many of those.

  • Motormouth Tuesday, 4 August 2020, 4:41 am

    Glad to see a new post!

    I love how Fuglsang has been racing in his late career – he had a nice effect on this race.

    So many punctures of great riders – Nibali, Sagan, Alaphillipe — is the gravel different this time of year, or in the heat? Bad prep or bad luck?

    Great edition of the race for sure.

    • John I Thursday, 6 August 2020, 4:49 pm

      It looked a lot drier and dustier this year. I imagine that makes the gravel “sharper” than a wetter spring road would have, and maybe more resulting punctures. And it is painful to watch the clouds of dust behind vehicles just in front of the bunch. I can’t imagine riding at the limit and having to breathe that stuff in.

  • Ecky Thump Tuesday, 4 August 2020, 5:34 am

    After watching the tremendous racing in the baking heat of Tuscany, I thought that there’d surely be nothing nicer than a long relaxing shower post-race to wash away the dust and sweat.
    But with multiple riders on a team bus, and I presume on-board water tanks, are the showers rationed in terms of the available water supply?
    Not to mention the Covid precautions on the bus (returning footballers have had to practice social distancing in travelling to and from matches)?

  • Krishna Tuesday, 4 August 2020, 7:49 am

    Great to have you back, Inrng! And glad to know that regular previews are coming for upcoming races – missed reading yours for Strade Bianche (as you wrote here).
    I still doubt Remco winning his first GT (Giro). 3 weeks of hard racing, no real team to support him, lack of experience for GT, only 20 yrs old. Even someone like Simon Yates (atleast more experienced than Remco) got burnt in the third week (Giro 2018).

    • RQS Wednesday, 5 August 2020, 10:20 am

      I think you are right on Remco. Mostly because Quickstep are not a team well set up for supporting a GC rider. He youth and naivety will count against him of course, three week races are about measuring your efforts and you need salt on your legs to know when to hold back. Someone is going to point to young Bernal, but for me the difference is the GT experience you have in that team compared to DQS.
      Bernal is also a more pliable individual. He is happy to sit and learn, I think Remco is more impetuous. I don’t mean that as a slight on either, but when it comes to listening and understanding and getting the Giro right this might be telling.

      • noel Wednesday, 5 August 2020, 6:15 pm

        great comment there – Bernal’s looks more like a 3 week GC physique also, with RE perhaps suiting 1day to 1week better… RE is rewriting the script however…

  • David Walker Tuesday, 4 August 2020, 8:28 am

    Welcome back. We need your knowledge and insight.

    Like you I fear for the Tour. Many towns are now imposing masks in all public spaces, cases are steadily increasing – even if that’s not yet seen in raised fatalities. If the case numbers continue rising it’s hard to imagine the TdF caravan travsersing France day after day – even with restrictions – when the constraints on individuals and thier employment are becoming more severe. What’s also concerning is not just the Tour d’Avenir but also the other lost races where juniors and U23 hope to make thier names and be spotted. It’s not the really big names but the potential mid-ranked future pros who risk lost careers.

  • Richard S Tuesday, 4 August 2020, 9:06 am

    I don’t think I’ve ever watched a bike race and felt more sorry for the riders. A hard, hilly race in 37c heat would be bad enough but add in a constant cloud of dust, dust in your mouth, dust in your eyes, dust in your arm pits, dust chaffing your you know what… it’ll be coming out in the shower for the rest of the week. It made Paris-Roubaix seem like quite a pleasant club ride.

  • Greg D. Tuesday, 4 August 2020, 3:28 pm

    “feasts after the lockdown famine”, “startlists instead of startlists”. Great wordsmith, great commentary. I’m so happy you are back. Once again I can sound like a cycling guru when explaining the sport to my friends.

  • CA Wednesday, 5 August 2020, 5:09 am

    Yes!!! Inrng’s back! It really wasn’t a return to racing without an Inrng blog post! By far the most interesting site on the interweb… thank you so much for coming back!

    Congrats on taking your time off and using it on your bike, that’s amazing! I look forward to your valuable insights of these climbs and hopefully some more roads to ride pieces.

  • RQS Wednesday, 5 August 2020, 10:28 am

    Around the 60km mark Fuglsang started to get quite lively, enervating the race. At one point he looked like he was going to sail off the front (on more than one occasion), but what bothered me was the stupidity of the camera bike in creating an blinding haze of dust. For the life of me couldn’t understand why they didn’t pull the bike and more to a helicopter shot.
    It certainly hampered Fuglsang’s move. Though I think he knew that he didn’t have the legs to go all the way at that point.
    As others pointed out Formolo looked on great form. Though WVA certainly looked serene and in full control way before his move. Carlton Kirby picked him out for precisely that reason. In some ways I was disappointed that we didn’t have a selection for the final climb into the Piazza. This is normally so telling on who has ‘survived’ and who has ‘thrived’.

  • hoh Wednesday, 5 August 2020, 1:10 pm

    Welcome back, been waiting for this.

  • Nick Thursday, 6 August 2020, 11:36 am

    Great to have you back, Inrng – the only cycling blog I read cover to cover!

  • Steppings Friday, 7 August 2020, 11:00 am

    Would loved to have been stood gravelside in that opening shot.

  • David Sunday, 9 August 2020, 10:46 pm

    ” instead of riders bobbing around on their balconies for virtual competitions”

    OK boomer