Now We Wait

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The racing comes so thick and fast at times that you can’t watch it on TV, you need a computer screen with multiple windows open. Last week you could watch the Tour of Slovenia, the Belgium Tour, the Route d’Occitanie and the Tour de Suisse all at the same time. This week? Not much.

The Groupama-FDJ team said today is the first day since 4 May that they haven’t had anyone racing. It’s the pre-Tour de France lull, you go from feast to famine with little more than the national championships to full a two week block.

If management consultants designed the calendar it probably wouldn’t look like this, you’d have no clashing races and a series of pre-Tour tests throughout the month, and probably with as much charm and authenticity as the vanished Hammer Series. Instead the calendar has grown organically and having multiple races and overlap events works in cycling in a way that it would not in other sports. Formula 1 won’t have some drivers in one GP, and others in another on the same weekend: that would be ridiculous. But it works in pro cycling where part of peloton can ride the Critérium du Dauphiné and another does the Tour de Suisse, all while others take part in additional events outside of the World Tour calendar too. They remain primarily national races in terms of organisation and target audiences, and teams are staffed to handle this.

But nevermind logistics or market demographics, it’s the intrigue that is the best part. Having Geraint Thomas in the Dauphiné and Richard Carapaz in the Tour de Suisse is more interesting than having them side-by-side in the same race, the fascination is trying to work out who is the better rider today and especially who will be better in July. Having them on separate paths means the Tour de France is a heightened contest. If they’d both done, say, a Dauphiné in late May and a Tour de Suisse in June we’d know more, or at least think we knew more and the suspense wouldn’t be the same.

Citing the two Ineos co-leaders just makes a succinct point but the same holds for the other riders and more so, Tadej Pogačar has just won his Tour of Slovenia which suits him and his home audience but also holds back any direct competition on a summit finish with the collective force of Ineos, and saves him from immediate comparisons to Primož Roglič, and we have no insight into his time trial form either. Meanwhile Roglič is training in Tignes and has been out on recon rides of many of the Tour de France’s key stages, short of lurking behind a rock with a stopwatch outside Tignes nobody outside the team knows what his form is like. We do know that his Jumbo-Visma team have looked weaker than a year ago. But how is Wout van Aert going is a big question given how Mathieu van der Poel was strolling around Switzerland and the Tour de France’s opening stage has that tricky uphill sprint finish. It all leaves a lot of loose threads that will be woven together at the Tour de France. The wait is long but hopefully worth it.

The one piece of action is the upcoming national championships over a long weekend with both time trials and road races, and in many countries across the northern hemisphere. Interest and importance varies, both for participants and fans alike. For some it’s a long way to travel home for one of the few races where only winning counts, coming 5th is much less meaningful than a top-10 in Sanremo or Liège. For some riders and teams it’s a big deal, the sight of the Groupama-FDJ team at work in the French nationals shows how much it matters to them…. although if it’s important they still let Thibaut Pinot stay at home last year as the Tour de France was even more important. Some Tour de France selection spots are dependent on the performance this weekend although it can be as much about staying out of trouble rather than having to prove form. If you want to tune in on TV or online the Italian championships use the same roads as last autumn’s world championships, and the French race is hilly – 16 circuits with a 2.5km climb at 6% – so a sprinter won’t be crowned.

Finally if there’s no racing it’s not to say nothing is happening. Final touches are being made to form with training and recovery rides. New bikes are being built in time for the Tour de France as Shimano’s new Dura-Ace group is set to appear, and at least one team is going to have new kit unveiled at the Tour and probably a minor name change so there’s team cars and a bus to wrap. Team managers have selection decisions to consider.

102 thoughts on “Now We Wait”

  1. As you say, it is mostly better this way with the bigger races, but surely the Belgium Tour or the Tour of Slovenia could have been on this week instead of clashing with the Tour de Suisse? They’d get a lot more viewers, presumably, and neither are essential TdF preparation.

    • Tour of Slovenia is positioning itself in last yeas as na easier preparation race for TdF. Of course, it is meant as an opportunity for domestiques to race for themselves. Or some years ago it was made for sprinters because both Dauphine and Tour of Switzerland were too hilly.
      Many years ago it was in May (clashing with Giro?) and it was mostly a Slovenian race with some other continental teams. Now it attracts WT teams.

      • Fair enough, but that still leaves the Belgium Tour and the Route d’Occitanie. Surely, one of them would rather not clash with all the others, and attract viewers in an empty week?

        • The issue here is that riders needs to taper and rest up before the Tour. Taking yourself too close to the Tour, no one would come and tire themselves to compromise Tour performance.

        • I’m not sure how much appetite there is, among Tour de France contenders, to race hard this week. I think most will be content to do the last recons, maybe the national champs, and then a week of rest. If you had events starting today and finishing in 3-4 days, you’d risk running without the big stars.

        • But most riders are not going to the TdF (and those who are already have better races to choose from – Dauphine, Suisse, Slovenia, even). If you’re – let’s say – the Route d’Occitanie, you have your race this week, you have mostly non-TdF riders (which seems to have been the case anyway), and you get on the TV.

          • Part of the issue will be that some riders will be on standby in case they need to replace someone. You can’t have those riders who have been fatigued starting the tour.

  2. And I still can’t bring myself to watch any football.
    For once I’m actually interested to see how INEOS approach this, they’ll have a strong team yet not the strongest rider. They’ll need a knights of the round table approach, with maybe someone who fancies himself as a potential winner self-sacrificing with misdirection (hopefully not literally).
    Roglic and Pogacar have chosen more relaxed build-ups, maybe they’ll fall flat a la Quintana if the frantic first days of the tour catch them cold but it’s unlikely. Will the Jumbo guys lure INEOS into doing the work this time around, I wonder… what happened last year must have damaged their tactical confidence a bit.

    • This year, Ineos are quite happy to let others lead if it suits them. It is also easier to let JV domestiques tire themselves out rather than burn them off your wheel.

      • How relevant is it whether it’s Ineos, Jumbo-Visma or Uncle Tom Cobbley setting the tempo if Pogacar is rolling on in behind anyway?
        He’s (probably) the best rider on show and if last year provides any clue it’s that it is nigh on impossible to shake him in the mountains, train or no train.
        The only stage that he lost time on was on the flat, in the winds, so the other teams have to hope that the flat stages bring the Mistral or wind or that they somehow engineer a break / gap on a lumpy stage.
        I think that this Tour may be very interesting, you could well see that what we may initially view as non-GC stages proving to be exactly the opposite.
        Seconds are going to count here, and every bonus or podium finish over Pogacar might prove vital in the end.
        But the best rider will win in the end, barring accidents.
        I do like that Pogacar has barely shown his hand though.
        I bet the rest are, in the words of Simon Yates, “shitting their pants”. 🤣

        • The obvious tactic is instead of riding tempo like usual, Ineos and Jumbo fire riders up the road to force UAE/Pogačar to chase, the old 1-2 / strength in numbers game. Porte did this in the Dauphiné, launching when Thomas gave him the nod and many were marking Thomas.

          • At least Ineos is poised to do that with their marry go round of stage race wins amongst different riders. At the moment, JV and UAE couldn’t afford to let either Porte, Yates or Carapaz go up the road in mountains. Ineos can have TGH protecting Thomas in the peloton and then counter himself or launch Thomas when any of those got caught. Failing that, Thomas has shown that he is a fast finisher with his track background ( at least back in 2018).

          • The way for Pogacar and/or Roglic to counter this tactic would be to attack themselves, especially Pogacar with his weaker team.
            Hopefully, at least some of these attacks will come to fruition.

          • This is a respond to J Evans’ comment below that Pogacar and/or Roglic should counter Ineos firing GC danger man up the road by attacking themselves.

            At least I don’t think Roglic is very attacking. He tends to wait for mountain top sprints. Pogacar is more attacking, but this is more a result of his underdog status. He attacked a lot in the 2019 Giro but he was not threatening to win. He made some attacks in first and 2nd week last TDF, but again that was after his lost on the crosswind and JV didn’t count him as a direct threat at the time.

            Even if they are attactive riders, I don’t think for them to attack makes sense (especially Roglic with his team strength). All these attacks achieve is to open themselves to classic Sky/Ineos train tactics. Whilst you busting yourself attacking, Ineos can gradually bring their leader back with the train without the leader ever needing to go into red. It will be impossible to cover their counter attacks when the catch is made. All you achieve was to setup a la Pierre St Martin Froome style attack for Ineos.

            All these years, people talked about rounds of continuous attack on Sky/Ineos train to derail it. None of the teams had the depth to do it. Not Moviestar, not Tinkov. Ironically, Ineos is the only team to have the depth to shoot rider up the road to derail other teams’ trains whilst having a few others who can wait in the lead group waiting to counter attack. Ironically, We may probably finally see Ineos break a Skyneos train in the form of JV this year, all the while with a Pogacar ready to pounce.

          • But then JV have a good train themselves, so by that logic, no matter how many times different Ineos riders try attacking, the train just keeps bringing them back. (This might well be the case.)

          • The assumption that JV have as strong a team as last year let alone the likely Ineos one is somewhat dubious. I know riders are looking to be in peak condition come the third week but neither Sepp Kuss or Steven Kruijswijk seemed in particularly good nick at the Dauphine. We dont know how WvA has recovered from his health issues. Balanced against this Jonas Vingegaard is a good addition.

            Also the key stages could come as early as the first two, uphill finishes, no 3 second rule etc. Having a strong team, the likes of Luke Rowe barging his way to the front could be key to both avoiding splits and keeping upright. Loosing a time on an early stage is hardly ideal, eg the 2015 edition when Nairo Quintana lost time on stage 2 in the storm which gave Chris Froome a big advantage despite NQ probably being the best rider in the mountains that year.

          • @ J Evans

            The key point here is that you attack with your 2nd fiddle who is still a GC danger man.

            This 2nd fiddle needs to be strong enough and stay out long enough that he wears down the train, or even force their leader to chase himself. By the time the catch is made, it is your leader against their leader mano a mano.

            Ineos’ advantage in this is that potential they will have 3rd & 4th fiddles on top of the 2nd fiddle who’s effectively a co-leader. Also, Carapaz and Thomas compliment each other in such a way that it suits Carapaz to attack and Thomas to sit on.

            That said, Thomas still needs to be able to counter attack Rog & Pog or beat them in the ITT. Carapaz still needs to gain enough time in his attacks to offset time losses in the ITTs.

        • I’m hoping (but not hopeful) that Pogacar’s presence might force JV and Ineos to try something different from the train. In last year’s race, JV set a new low bar, snuffing out break aways that were no threat to the GC whatsoever. They seemed to be doing it just as a matter of course. As you say, flat, windy days are the days to really go after Pogacar – see if he can follow then.
          However, I don’t buy into the idea that Pogacar is a dominant force (the same thing was said by many about Bernal after he won one TdF), although I’d still have him as favourite. Last year, Roglic took time out of him on at least one mountain stage, and there is no guarantee that Pogacar will reproduce the likes of last year’s final TT. Also, Roglic seems to be attempting to mitigate his third week weakness with his build-up to this race.

          • Yes, Ineos and JV will NOT be setting up a train for Pogacar to sit on this year… the responsibility to lead the race is absolutely not for them. I hope UAE brings some strong riders because they will be expected to pull everyone around France for 3 weeks.

          • That’s very much not how Ineos and JV usually behave, though. And there’s no reason for UAE to assume the role either – they can simply refuse.

          • Very good point, Sky/Ineos, JV, Movistar have often been seen sitting on the front setting tempo in races where they don’t have the strongest leader at all or when they are not leading on GC.. It is so stupid. But maybe they really don’t feel comfortable riding in the pack.

          • KevinR – I’m assuming you’re referring to Ineos spending a lot of time setting a train at this past Giro… if so, Ineos had to, they had the strongest rider.

    • Ineos have never won a stage race against either Roglic or Pogacar.
      Generally, no matter how strong your team is, it doesn’t come to much if your leader is not the strongest – we see that time and time again when teams pull hard on a stage and then in the end their leader flounders and loses time.

    • WHY WOULD INEOS/JV or anyone who isn’t UAE touch the front?? Pogacar is the clear favourite and another rider shows as the favourite, Pogacar and co. will be leading the pace.

  3. “having multiple races and overlap events works in cycling in a way that it would not in other sports”

    It depends what you mean by “works”, and who the overlap works for. I quite like it, for the reasons you give. I’m not so sure that it works as well for attracting the interest of new fans, or necessarily for the stability of pro cycling. I could be wrong, but don’t think any of the proposed season reforms have included more overlaps.

  4. A point of intrigue for the next couple of weeks will be Cav. It was great to see him win against a high quality field. The thought that he is even in contention to go the the Tour is quite something after last autumn. All that said it would be a shame if Sam Bennett is prevented from riding because of an injury.

    • Yes, and the possibility of a DQS team without a sprinter. We’ll see for Bennett. Cavendish is winning at the moment but can he get over the Alps? A Dauphiné or Suisse in the legs could be needed. DQS sans sprinter would mean one less team chasing and with no leadout etc they have more space to back Alaphilippe, bring more attackers etc.

      • Counter to what I said at the end of the Giro, if DQS race sans sprinteur and in support of Alaphillipe, then it could be good practice for when Remco is fit to race a GT. it will be strange not seeing them go for stage wins on non-mountain stages if they do.

      • Yes would be quite a sight to see QS look for GC and not prioritise stages – have we ever seen this?

        Cav for sure is the question mark, he won a solid sprint with a less than ideal leadout so looks to have great sprinting form. BUT, and it is a huge BUT, he does not look fit enough to handle mountains.

        What is the solution?

  5. An interesting and consistent ride to 5th on GC from Ribble Weldtite’s James Shaw in Slovenia – and all on a meagre diet of home racing and training, and that after a GC 5th in Yorkshire two years ago. He had two years with Lotto-Soudal who let him go. Did they make a mistake, or am I missing something? Will his or his agent’s ‘phone be ringing now?

    For the TdF IR makes the point that some team managers have selection decisions to consider. I know the Tour is a rider’s dream but to be dropped in now without the required preparation and rest must feel a poisoned chalice.

    • His phone could be ringing… because of agents. I don’t think he has one and that could help.

      As for Tour selection, it’s more having several riders able to take part as they’ve been aiming for this and the team has to decide now. It’s a perennial problem, riders who look like they’re on fire in June can be an easy pick only they turn stale by July, picking someone who is underdone at the moment can feel risky. But there are better tools to measure this these days, coaches on hand rather than the DS and they’re view from the team car.

    • DJW – to mirror Inrng’s comment at the December training camp, teams split the teams into Classics and stage racers, then as the year goes they set a long-list of TdF riders (often 10 or so). So, each of these ten guys is planning on the Tour, so they’re all planning and preparing for the Tour. Unfortunately, the ones who miss it go to the Polish Tour (also in July, but 1-week and not as famous – although now it is infamous for Jacobsen’s crash with Groenewegen).

      Anyways, the point is, normally they don’t parachute someone in who hasn’t been preparing for the Tour. Normally, they prepare too many riders and make a tough selection around now about who goes and who gets cut.

      • Tour de Pologne is in August (and has always been, hasn’t it?) but apart from that I’ve gathered that it is roughly as you described for domestiques, breakaway specialists, stage poachers and riders with other typical roles as a team member in a GT, but I can’t imagine that a top sprinter or a true GC rider prepares himself or peaks his form for a GT unless he is certain to start, barring injury or illness.

        If he gets ready “just in case” but doesn’t get the nod, what is he going to do? If you don’t count in Tour of Qinghai Lake, there are no races to ride and that form goes largely wasted (and at some cost, I believe: training for post-TdF races would’ve looked quite different).

        The next stage races (for those who won’t be in Tokyo) are Tour de Wallonie and Tourde l’Ain and both start after the TdF has reached Paris. Tour de Pologne comes next – but if you’re going to do the Vuelta, you probably won’t start there.

        It’s a curious calendar, indeed, but not without a certain logic – if you look at it from a certain point of view and that normally means knowing well ahead which GT you’re going to race.

  6. I get the management consultants line and understand that races in the current system need to be vaguely financially viable but I do think there is another argument against this racing calendar – it is not inclusive, which is made painfully obvious when you look at the make up of the peloton. I realise efforts have been made to include China and a few other places but personally I find it disgraceful the lack of effort cycling has put into broadening its appeal by taking its calendar and biggest stars to new continents, and giving a chance for those less fortunate than us in the west to enjoy racing that wasn’t an irrelevant tour lying at the fag end of the season.

    I think a marketing consultant would jump for joy at this suggestion but personally I think it goes further as we know many countries love to cycle, and whilst those in professional cycling speak of heritage, we must also acknowledge that heritage, even if it’s not cycling specifically, lies in an element of colonialism and unfortunately racism. Tradition and heritage are simply not a good enough argument against change, and I think cycling should be more honest with itself rather than looking to Kevin Reza for answers as to why the peloton is not more diverse – serious races in more continents would be a positive change that anyone who feels the peloton should be more representative would support.

    I realise this doesn’t address overlapping races specifically but I do feel by extension of the above, a more organised calendar where the motive was to make cycling more inclusive by focusing on having the biggest stars racing in anger against one another more often around the world would be the most positive thing cycling could do for a number of reasons.

    I’m well aware it’s no one person or organisations fault cycling has developed into the immovable and disparate lump it now is, and none of the above is even vaguely possible – but – I do also think when people bang on about the classics having to remain where they are or Grand Tours remaining three weeks because of tradition, they should also remember they are speaking from a place of privilege more often than not with a current calendar that caters to them and stops many would be fans and participants from having any way into the sport, or even knowing about it.

    Okay, off my soapbox. Apologies, I do feel passionately about this despite knowing the issues and it likely being impossible – but – the current calendar is a joke in my opinion.

    • I’d assume you agree with the guys over at The Outer Line most of the time?
      I get their weekly email posting and what they write sounds a lot like your take here.
      I’ll “..bang on about the classics having to remain where they are or Grand Tours remaining three weeks because of tradition, they should also remember they are speaking from a place of privilege” as I did when I lived in the USA back-in-the-day when you couldn’t find much of anything about pro cycling except for Velonews (printed on paper!) and network TV shows on LeTour. I don’t believe I was in a place of privilege then but my attitude was the same as now, when I finally live in a great place to appreciate and enjoy pro cycling.
      I may be in the minority but I’m glad pro cycling is not F1 or a North American sports franchise setup. “Heinie’s Folly” has f__ked it up quite enough IMHO with plenty of failed experiments into globalizing the sport, I dread the idea of more of them or marketing-mavens turning the sport into the commercial commodity that is far too many sports these days. While I understand there are plenty of sports businesses I don’t want the latter to destroy the former so we end up with junk sports like a boxer with a 50-0 record “fighting” some Youtube palooka on pay-per-view…or maybe that Hammer Series 🙂

      • The one interesting thing with cycling in this is that the races around the world that could be inclusive do exist, and they are on the UCI calendar, just pretty much always at lower levels. At the very least, that feels like a base to build on (should cycling decide to do so), right?

        So you’ve got a couple of .1 races in sub-Saharan Africa in Rwanda and Tropicale Amissa Bongo – the former with the parcours potential to attract bigger teams. And then there are races like Tour du Faso and Tour du Cameroun. Though it’s obviously pretty meagre, it’s not nil.

        And then there’s a decent circuit in east and southeast Asia – ignoring Guangxi (or whatever the WT Chinese stage race currently is – didn’t it used to be Hainan), there’s Qinghai Lake, Langkawi, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, a few in Indonesia.

        Plenty in North and South America too, and plenty of .1 and .2 races in Eastern Europe too. I guess the questions are how do you grow a greater profile and consideration for races outside of Europe in whatever region without just throwing money and hoping it sticks?, and is that the best way to diversify cycling and grow it around the world? Damned if I know, a few more WT teams going to Rwanda or Sibiu or San Juan doesn’t sound awful to me from that standpoint, I doubt it’d push out the smaller local/national teams for whom that’s the annual highlight right?

        Oh, and one other big question: how do you globalise the top-end cycling calendar without pumping an obsence amount of CO2 and equivalent greenhouse gases into the air from all the extra flying, freight and all associated ephemera? Maybe if fewer teams were based in Europe, but given the calendar can and probably even if diversified will continue to be dominated by Europe, you’ve just got that issue with teams flying in.

        I don’t really have a point here, just a bunch of questions!

        • Both Hainan and Qinghai Lake are Chinese races. Neither were WT. You were talking about Tour of Beijing probably.

          Qinghai Lake is high altitude racing. There are decent climbs in Hainan. Even Beijing is surrounded by some serious climbing.

          What I don’t understand is why a lot of these Chinese races decide to be pan flat despite the geography at hand. Is it because their spot on the calendar and no serious GC/Classics guys want to attend?

          • Or is it perhaps at least partly because they haven’t got a clue what bike racing is all about and don’t care and nobody who does know and care can be bothered trying to engage with them other than by taking their money?

        • I guess the biggest question is: Should pro/WT cycling be “globalized”? Why? So the sponsors can sell more of their goods/services to more people? Is that what sport is for? So the UCI can collect more fees from more race promoters?
          OTOH I have to admit following the sport from the USA via the old WINNING Magazine and Velonews for awhile until the Coors Classic brought Bernard Hinault over with Greg LeMond on what was The Badger’s sort of swan-song to stage racing. I figured I might not ever make it to France for Le Beeg Shew so why not go and see Bernie and Co in NorCal, even if the race had no real consequences and was mostly a tune up for the World’s in CO later that year? I’ve never regretted it (ending up going to CO to see those World’s later that same year) sowing the seeds there for a job with a tour company that took me a few years later to see that Beeg Shew along with the Giro d’Italia a couple of years later, where I met my wife-to-be. That was the USA in the mid-1980’s, does Africa, China or the Middle East have potential fans who could end up caring much about pro cycling? Are they potential consumers of whatever the team sponsors are selling – do they have the disposable income and desires? So far I’d say the answer is no, but can/will that change? I wouldn’t bet much on that idea and hope the traditional calendar will never be chopped up/compromised in favor of adventures like those. Too many get business-oriented ideas where the lure of potential customers/fans leads to taking-for-granted/ignoring your current ones.

          • AWESOME – “Le Beeg Shew” haha. Great comment.

            I agree with everything you are saying. And with Inrng’s comment – cycling’s schedule works, and in my very unhumble opinion, the reason it is not stronger financially isn’t because of the schedule.

            The reason it isn’t stronger is very complicated.

    • I share your passion @oldDAVE and write in allyship, but isn’t exporting the concept of a European bike race to Africa dangerously close to – or actually just is – continuing the pattern of colonialism?

      • Exactly. Let other countries develop the sport if and how they want to.
        Enough of the patronising European idea of ‘helping’ them, which always means ‘helping them do what we do’.

    • I wasn’t expecting to read about colonialism in the comments of an article about the weeks before the Tour… And I don’t really see the point. Cycling (I might be booed on this website for saying so) is not a right, or a basic human need ; it was invented and developped in Europe, where it found its public, its sportsmen and its organisers. If you want to race in the highest level, you have to go to Europe, where the public and structures are : it’s not forbiden, certainly harder, but you just have to travel. The place for Keirin is mostly Japan, and Pervis used to pass few months a year there, because there was the public and the money. I really have the impression you just take this colonialism thing and try to make it come into cycling, where it really doesn’t belong. If something, colonialism has exported cycling (and bikes !) into other countries, like Erithrea… And I won’t repeat all the others answers on the impossibility of doing what you want to do. Cancel or amputate a race which has its volunteers working all year long to organize it (because it is what tradition means in cycling, people involving themselves), a working businessplan and its public, to organize one from outside, by Europeans, with no public, and what money ? I’m not far from md3 here…

  7. Oh I should say I loved this article and obvs love this blog, this wasn’t a diatribe against either, just me mulling over something in general and triggered by a phrase, probably the wrong time and place, apologies.

    • Ha, no worries. I’d just say be careful what you wish for. New events on the calendar can often be “top down”, imposed from above and they don’t feel authentic, for the ultimate examples, see the Qatar Tour or Abu Dhabi one, they don’t share the sport with new fans. They’re brittle, a sheikh shrugs and the Qatari race ends.

      Ideally new events rise up from the “bottom up” and get nurtured, for example the Colombia 2.1 has huge support, the Tour of Rwanda has a good following by the roadside (and arguably more important than sending the Worlds there for a week). The TDU looks to have support through thick and thin, if it does not happen again in 2022 because of travel restrictions (and it still could), you feel confident it’ll be back in 2023. A pro race is best when it’s the top of a pyramid of bike events right down to kids races and local gran fondos. It’s all about putting down roots and becoming part of the social fabric.

      • Excellent article. Thank you.
        Aren’t many of the ‘new classics’ such as TroBro Leon and Strade Bianche born of the grassroots popular sportives that came up through organic growth to support a higher status race? These events were not ‘always in the calendar’ and found a place.
        On inclusivity, cycling is in competition with all the other sports as entertainment to gain the marketing bucks that buy you airtime. What facet of the sport is it best to portray? -probably not the long afternoon of a sprint or Angliru-style ramp finish; not when there’s track elimination and points racing, or Keirins, or denivele challenge style events, not forgetting freestyle or downhill. Team cycling on the road is infinitessimally hard to explain, when there could be women in each team, or dirt or climbing or descending specialists mixed in there according to the parcours ( just thinking of how other sports adapt presentation for exposure).
        Then you get on to the price and opportunities for participation. The old days of leaving the mine or workshop for a seasonal journeyman job in the peloton are gone. Riders now tend to come from families that were into cycling,who know about the sport and go to clubs as a way to get started with the young. Many youth clubs and many race series do great outreach work but it takes a lot to go beyond your obvious catchment of committed and funded parents who want their kids to learn riding in a bunch. Many countries don’t let coaching take place on the roads, so there’s another barrier of needing a facility devoted to road cycling.
        Cycling is an ace means of transport, making it unlike most sports that have no practical application (anyone swim to work, or use their foot to stack shelves..?), and this actually has been to the sport’s detriment in emerging markets because, well, everyone wants to have a car.
        Last, it’s worth mentioning the sport’s own traditions and traditionalists. INRNG comments hive-mind is not going to let any outsider develop aspects of the sport to break a new market in any way that jeopardises the sport of road racing exactly as it is now. New branches of the sport – eg; gravel or long distance challenge rides – always grow away from the trunk, and that’s how we like it.
        You need to grow the audience in order to expand the sport, but you can’t make it any easier to get into, either as rider or spectator. There’s the rub.

        • Some excellent and very interesting points in there Gabriele.
          I know in Britain that participation and success in a lot of the Olympic sports is now by athletes from private schools backgrounds, ie wealthier families.
          Working class kids are mainly swept up by football, rugby, cricket and athletics.
          And yet, the odd thing is, while cycling fans in Europe may not consider Britain a cycling nation, the bicycle has been an ever-present in almost all children’s lives since probably the aftermath of World War Two.
          A road racer bicycle once was once a right of passage into adolescence (for boys) and this has now been replaced by the hybrid or mountain bikes. They’re everywhere and it’s good to see kids out on them.
          Whilst there’s been a surge in numbers of cycling club riders here, they’re almost all older people (though happily a lot of women too).
          The kids are out on the back streets, bmx parks, mountain and forest / gravel trails etc. That could be the saving grace for road cycling, I reckon we’ll see more kids coming from mixed cycling backgrounds. It’s started happening already anyway.
          I think the e bike may have a part to play somewhere along the line as well, as shocking as that may sound.

        • Cycling is an ace means of transport, making it unlike most sports that have no practical application (anyone swim to work, or use their foot to stack shelves..?)…hahaha this is so true! Even motor racing – driving above the speed limit has no legal or practical application –

      • EXACTLY – Races have to have a grass roots base first before you drop a World Tour race in. In Canada the Quebec races worked much better than the Alberta Tour, in large part because Quebec has a great racing scene. The best Canadian races are in Quebec.

        Why not grow the sport through helping the local racing scene. Eg. instead of giving the South African Sport Federation $1M for a high end race, give Team Qhubeka Assos $20k per year for 10 years to run a local crit or gravel race, and see how it grows organically from there. Anyways, that’s the only way to grow the sport. The concept of parachuting World Tour races into places with no fans is only a temporary “solution” (solution isn’t the right word at all).

  8. One of the things I love about the mad arrangement of the calendar is how much there is to learn and discover. You come into the sport maybe watching a bit of the tour, then discover the monuments and other classics — and start watching long races, which seems absurd to people who aren’t into it. Then comes other grand tours, and, much more subtly, races like the dauphine or paris-nice which really have very little action if watched with newcomers eyes. Each season brings new races that were overlooked before because it takes such a long time to learn what is going on.

  9. I never quite get the F1 comparison (para. 3). To my mind F1 is equivalent to RCS/ACO, whilst the FIA matches to UCI. For example you have both F1 and Forumla E this coming weekend, theoretically splitting interest of fans, drivers and teams. Or the weekend after for F1 and the WRC. All three are the top tier of FIA events but run at the same time, to suit different styles of racing event. (I won’t through in things like IndyCar or Nascar to the mix as well).

    Suisse, Belgium, Slovenie & Occitane all have unique routes and stages on different days. Suit different teams and riders and tactics.

    Give me lots of cool unique events as often as possible! Sometimes mountain stages are boring, but we could have a fun hilly classic to enjoy. Or a sprint stage that only needs 5 minutes of attention, whilst a TTT blasts past to decide a GC race.
    Basically, i just want lots of fun races to keep an eye on a lot of the time!

    • Both the FiA & UCI run multi discipline sports. So, F1 is the biggest championship for the FiA, though Liberty media run it on their behalf, as the main Promoter. Road is the biggest championship for the UCI, who don’t have Promoter to run the World Tour – lots of race organisers are involved – and there is your issue.
      Similarly, the WRC has their own global Promoter, which is part owned by RBMH,who happen to be the main business/broadcaster behind the UCI Mercedes-Benz MTB World Cup.

      • Well, you see, a lot of people saw Froome’s scarcely credible meteoric rise and felt very suspicious (having been through this before quite a few times). Then, we were told – incessantly – that he rode for a team who were ultra-clean, but… And then he failed a drug test, but was then found to have not failed a drug test (just like his team mate, Henao). And then he joins Team Israel. All this leaves something of a sour taste in the mouth.

        • Did Henao actually fail a test? My memory is blurry, but I thought Sky did some internal number crunching and thought something was awry, rather than any formal test failure. Not that the promised investigation ever led to any explanation…

          Froome’s test “failure” crosses over into the murky world of politics and legal arguments. It’s just another in a long line of questions about Sky and where they drew the lines of what was permissible. Clearly “legal” and “ethical” were not synonymous. I agree Froome will not be a huge loss to the peloton… which is a sad legacy for someone with so many Grand Tour wins to his name.

          • No, I think they were asked questions by the CADF in the first place because anomalies were detected in Henao’s bio-passport. That’s not a “positive test”, but the explanations then offered, which of course satisfied the UCI, weren’t ever made public.

            And… “legal arguments”? That’s better defined by bending the rules. Even more so because in the aftermath UCI and WADA were quarrelling to deny their own responsability in the decision, while trying to blame the other institution.

          • We were promised a “full scientific research paper on Henao blood values by the University of Sheffield in the months ahead” (that was 2014).

          • ‘Failed a test’ is merely the phrase I use (this ‘Anonymous’ was, unintentionally, me) for these situations: I’ve no interest in ‘AAF’s or similar euphemisms. But gabriele and ZigaK are more accurate.

      • Bold. Old. Slow. Grace was never on the list, sorry. We’ll see how unselfish and useful he’s going to be to the team soon enough, though past performances don’t create much optimism.
        He’s a guy that can’t hang up the wheels too soon IMHO. Despite (so far anyway) beating-the-rap on doping charges he’s on my “people who’ve given pro cycling a black eye” list, though not being a bully puts him below BigTex, who of course is at the top.

          • Anonymous, at least choose a username if you come here. I can see you post multiple messages, 95% of which are potshots at fellow readers. Just coming to say “I don’t like what you’ve typed” in various rude forms doesn’t add much, think Stadler sitting a higher box moaning about Waldorf in the box below. Please cool it.

          • I think he’ll find it easier to fulfil the road captain role than might previously have been the case because: 1. He’s getting paid about €5m per annum to basically be a Team Israel mascot and 2. He couldn’t ride away from Woods anyway.

            When he pulled that stunt on Wiggins he was still chasing the huge contract / team leader role and he genuinely was stronger uphill. Neither of those things are true now.

            He’ll role around France, do the odd pull for Woods when the cameras are on at the bottom of a climb, say some nice things in interviews, and finish about 127th.

          • He started out as a team helper, he’s probably going to finish one, if handled well it’s a neat story. Ideally Michael Woods wins a stage and somewhere along the way whether it’s closing the gap or just encouragement via the race radio, Froome has played his part.

            Road captain is a nice way of phrasing things as he can bring experience and advice by staying in the peloton rather than having performance goals. If he doesn’t make to Paris, so be it but it’s not as if Israel have some fantastic riders being left out to make room for Froome, look at the whole team roster, deduct the ones who went to the Giro and can’t do the double, that Daryl Impey is out and there’s not much left. It makes you wonder if €5m annual budget could have been better invested by the self-proclaimed “start up nation” team but that’s another question.

          • jc- Thanks for that link, I somehow missed that piece.
            And regarding “Larry has never been a great fan of Chris Froome, though to be fair he has shown little evidence of any sort of TdF form.” Larry has NEVER shown any evidence of any sort of TdF form when it comes to racing a bicycle 🙂

          • Investment-wise, you’ve got to wonder. Not even from a sporting success perspective but marketability.
            Having the prize asset yeet out the back of the bunch on the daily can’t be the most productive publicity.

          • There are plenty of Italians on my “black eye” list – most of them more-or-less forgotten once they’ve hung up their wheels and (in most cases) vanished into private life.
            Pantani’s an interesting case – of the many books I’ve read I think reality falls somewhere in between what Matt Rendell wrote in his and what Manuela Ronchi wrote in hers. Before his tragic demise I think Italians were pretty much split between hero and zero on the subject of Il Pirata. Since the Madonna di Campiglio scandal is still being argued, I think most Italians have since moved him closer to hero than zero.
            One can only wonder what opinions would have been had BigTex left the scene early, maybe even before his ill-fated comeback? Just as with Coppi vs Bartali an early and tragic death has a big effect on public opinion over time since the dead person’s no longer around to do anything further to affect it.

  10. “at least one team is going to have new kit unveiled at the Tour and probably a minor name change so there’s team cars and a bus to wrap”

    That was the Total Direct Energie team which is now rebranded as Total Energies from today.

  11. Sorry for restarting this meh thread, but surely Froome is history now. Why the once perspicacious, presently incoherent Gabriele joins in is beyond understanding- though kids do that to your brain, without you noticing. Damn them and their unqualified affection that makes irrelevant discussions of meaningless athletic activity seem so totally pointless. Stay well all.

    • Heck, I had barely commented *once* in this page – six merely informative and quite indisputable lines about… Henao LOL

      Although apparently I was attributed a commentary actually written (and signed) by plurien!
      Isn’t this a bit of an obsession? ^__^

      I’d actually love to comment *more*, but, yeah, that’s what kids do with your life (in addition to undeniable brain damage, of course).

      Man, why don’t you just rejoice in this circumstance instead of suffering so much from it?
      You know, the half full glass thing.

      I’d normally be sitting here dashing off a self-celebrating paper of sort about decolonial perspectives in cycling, you know, the Abdelkader Zaaf (supposed) wine anecdote from the 50s, Cunego in Qinghai, Coppi’s criterium in Ouagadougou, the subsequent safari and his eventual death, the Vuelta al Tachira, Major Taylor… I can feel you cringing behind the screen.
      Yet – nothing of that, you lucky guy 😉

    • Speculation is by definition pointless (unless there is an element of financial risk and reward involved), but it need not be entirely…pointless, if the exercise entertains us or, better yet, pushes us to inform us both about the subject at hand and our ways of thinking about it.
      And in any case, speculation is seldom quite as pointless as after-the-fact armchair analysis of how the race should have been raced : D

      PS The only thing in this context that is truly and appallingly pointless is marching in and making a self-grandiosing entry and proceeding to give a review of the discussion and of this or that commentator…

  12. And more news while we wait:
    But that’s after this:
    where the Manx Missile answered the question- Do you want to do another Grand Tour? With ‘Not at this salary, no.’
    Kind of an interesting way to say thanks to a team that gave you a spot with a world-class leadout train when most thought you were well past your sell-by date, no? Would/could you have won anything in this comeback without the Wolf Pack piloting you to the finish sprints?
    I have a love-hate thing going for this rider – I love it when he honors the traditions of cycling by finishing Grand Tours even when there are no further sprinting opportunities but then there are things like this that make me want him to hang up his wheels and STFU.

    • I don’t really see why there should be any issue with that comment (and it doesn’t seem like Lefevere does either). His arrangement with Quickstep was predicated on a season that didn’t include the Tour. A three-week tour is a hard thing to put yourself through, particularly at the back end of your career, and when you haven’t been orienting your season towards it. It doesn’t seem unreasonable for him to think that he doesn’t need it, and so there would need to be something extra on offer to make it worthwhile doing it to himself.

      And at least it’s honest, rather than the empty flannel many other riders might give in his position, even though they’d probably be thinking the same thing.

      • But being a pro cyclist is a hard thing to put yourself through, full stop, and to do it on a minimal salary, even without the TdF pressure, indicates to me that Cavendish is doing this for some combination of ego (not saying this in a critical way, who wants to leave their sport being seen as a faded joke) and a competitive desire to retire one of the greats. On that last point, the absolute most impressive part of Cavendish’s palmares is that he’s second to Merckx in TdF stages, and if he somehow got close to closing that gap further it would be an absolutely massive story, and a storybook finish to his career. If Cavendish doesn’t have enough money now to comfortably retire on, then he’s made some big mistakes. Will he, ten years from now, smile to himself that he didn’t let Lefevere short change him monetarily, or will he look back with regret that he didn’t mix it up one last time on the biggest cycling stage in the world? I think it’s the latter, but there’s a third possibility – he could end up looking back with regret that he went to the Tour one last time and couldn’t handle to rigors of the tour and the sprinters who now surpass him.

        I have the feeling the the salary aspect is something of a beard. Yes, there’s a legitimate aspect to it, but after his recent success in minor races, he now has a decent swan song going. To go to the TdF and get washed out would undo that, and so it’s a wretched calculus. Easier to say “they’re not paying me enough for that pressure” than say “I’m kinda worried I won’t be able to handle it.”

      • Well I guess honest greed is better than dishonest greed…so there’s that. But does anyone think the Manx Missile’s comeback (if you can call it that) would have happened with anything less than the leadout provided by Lefevere’s squad? Seems like he more-or-less begged to be put back on the team, even taking a minimum salary in-the-process. Then, when Lefevere starts to think he might be useful to replace the injured (and departing?) Bennett at LeTour, suddenly the Manx Missile decides he’s worth far more in salary? Unless Lefevere has dreams of replacing Bennett with Cavendish next season he should have told him to find another team….now.
        Let’s see how many sprint victories he comes up with then….and how many Bennett notches up with his new team next season while we’re at it.
        I understand it takes a bit of an ego to be a successful field sprinter in the first place, but some of these narcissists seem to need someone behind them like the Roman Emperors had at their triumphs, whispering “You are mortal” in their ears.

        • Well, Cavendish claims that money isn’t an issue (it was Lefevere who said it was):
          ‘In the interview with The Telegraph, the most successful Tour de France sprinter of all time stated that his contract negotiations for next year were not a stumbling block for a possible Tour spot.’

          • When you hear someone claim “money is not the issue” it usually indicates the opposite, no?
            Is he trying to deny: “…the Manx Missile answered the question- Do you want to do another Grand Tour? With ‘Not at this salary, no.’
            Unless he’s gonna deny that it seems money is indeed the issue here.

          • A lot of this discussion is based on comments by Lefevere. I think one aspect of this that some people miss is that Lefevere is a master game player and manipulator, and his public statements about riders are extremely calculated but subtle. My take, for example, on his public complaint about Sagan’s bloated salary demands and entourage, and that QS could “revive” his career, followed by the claim that negotiations were off, was actually part of a still active negotiating strategy. He’s trying to get inside Sagan’s head, make him come down from his demands. He says outrageous things in public not just to stir things up, but to advance his objectives. And , just as importantly, to position himself to look good when he doesn’t get his way. In this case, if Sagan caves and comes to QS with a smaller entourage and salary, Lefevere wins. And if Sagan goes elsewhere, and doesn’t win another WC or crush some big races, Lefevere pats himself on the back as the wise sage he positions himself to be.

            His latest ‘loving insults’ of Cavendish and Bennett seem the same. “Hey, I’m just telling you both as a friend and mentor, one of you is weak in the head and the other is over the hill. But I love you both, and if you play by my rules you’ll be fine.” Bennett can respond by toughing up, and give Lefevere some wins on his way out, while at the same time setting Bennett up for failure after he leaves QS. Next year he can say, “He needed me to push him and motivate him and give him a proper lead out; just like all those other sprinters who left me and disappeared.”

            For Cavendish, I don’t think there was ever really a place for him on the QS tour team except in the fantasies of fans and some of the press. Cavendish hasn’t finished a grand tour since 2015, and has shown no ability to deal with even modest hilly stages in this, his resurgent year. Lefevere’s quoting Cavendish about “not at this salary” is a face saving move, for both of them. It’s reasonable that Cavendish would want more than minimum money to do the Tour, and it’s reasonable that Lefevere can claim that he doesn’t have that money this year, nor does he want to commit to a fat contract in 2022 for Cavendish when he has much better riders unsigned right now. For for very acceptable reasons they agree like gentlemen that it just can’t work out this year.

          • One last (I promise!) time – Does anyone think the Manx Missile’s comeback (if you can call it that) would have happened with anything less than the leadout provided by Lefevere’s squad?

          • There’s of course no way to know, since he’s won with the leadout he has, and there’s no way to test if he would have won with the leadout of another team in the same races.

            The primary excuses for his lack of wins the three prior years was illness (and a lot of crashes), and apparently he’s now the healthiest he’s been in years. He won lots in his first year with Team Dimension Data, so it’s hard to blame his subsequent decline on team performance.

            There’s also something else that QS gives it’s star riders – reduced pressure because they have multiple options. Confidence is obviously crucial for sprinters, and too much pressure as the primary (or even sole) potential winner is a lot to deal with. There’s been zero pressure on Cavendish this year. He’s been free to find his way back to winning, with no more than a shrug of the shoulders from the team when he finishes behind second and third tier sprinters. I’ve seen him in several races this year where the DQS leadout seemed excellent, and Cavendish had given up before the sprint even started. I think it’s fair to say that at best the DQS leadout is a but small part of the equation.

          • In recent times none of Elia Viviani, Fernando Gaviria or Marcel Kittel have prospered after leaving QS, I suspect Sam Bennett might be the same. Cav is an exception to this as his first couple of years at Dimension Data were pretty successful (4 wins & a yellow jersey at the 2016 tour) before his health issues arrived. There is no doubt that in recent times QS have created a system which allows sprinters to thrive, few if any other teams have such a set up, maybe Lotto. Cav returning to the setup has meant he had the support and lead out needed to succeed if he put in the work, he did & he has. I very much doubt he would have succeeded or had the motivation to succeed elsewhere.

            It has certainly been a joy to watch him race this year. Fat too much blah written about the “greatest” rider or whatever but Cav really does have a claim to being the greatest sprinter. It has been a much better way for him to bring the curtain down on his career (hopefully one more season) than the sad state last autumn.

    • It’s complicated but France has just announced a series of restrictions will be lifted this week when they were due for July so this means the race/spectators won’t have part of the race under one set of rules, another part under new rules. There can still be local advice and we’ll see what the race does but from the general sound of things it won’t be as closed off as last year.

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