It’s still January, just. The cycling season feels like it’s been roaring for some time now. We’ve had one day races, stage races, a time trial, a summit finish at 2,600m, controversies and more.
The road cycling season is starting earlier and earlier. The Tour Down Under, the Vuelta San Juan too, the Tropical Amissa Bongo are all known fixtures of course. But in Europe things are earlier. The GP La Marseillaise used to mark the opening of the season in Europe, it’s been superseded by the newly promoted Clàssica Comunitat Valenciana which happened week earlier, plus we’ve already had the Challenge Majorca races. This early slot meant snow forced course changes, although it’s bad luck too.
There are no training races. Sure the big names will wait for major races and some can use races as a step to something bigger, but precisely because of this others are given leadership roles and other goals. With teams of 30 riders some almost have to target the January-February part of the season to get a look in. For those teams in the hunt for points every result counts and in this time of year can be quite lucrative. It doesn’t make these early season races the be all and end all of the sport of course. There’ll be a point later this week where Bessèges feels like the centre of the universe but of course it’s ephemeral.
With the added intensity comes more risk. One of the Challenge Majora races was criticised for the tricky finish into Alcúdia where the finale seemed to tour the town’s roundabouts before curling around the town’s medieval walls before a short finishing straight. Unsafe? It looked like it and several riders took to social media to say say too. The grey area here is that there’s no solid rule. There is a handbook for race organisers, the UCI Specifications, and this mentions the finish line. Here’s the relevant bit:
The finishing straight should be as long as possible, at least 200m. It should also be sufficiently wide, at least 6 m, and ideally 8-10m. The road width must be consistent and must not narrow at all. Of course these specifications can be adapted depending on the type of finish. The road surface must be in excellent condition.
You can spot the contradiction, “the finish line should be… at least 200m…. of course these specifications can be adapted”. It turns out the specifications aren’t very specific. Plus this isn’t the actual UCI rulebook either, although the rulebook stipulates organisers should follow the specifications.
To falling foul of other parts of the rulebook now… and Miguel Angel Lopez has won the Tour de San Juan. He was ejected from the Astana team, the press release saying the team “discovered new elements showing Miguel Angel Lopez’ probable connection with Dr Marcos Maynar”. Maynar’s a sports doctor with a sulphurous Wikipedia page but never mind that. It’s lesser know but actually in the UCI rules that any pro who uses outside help such as a coach or nutritionist is supposed to do this with the approval of their team and there should be to be a paper trail of approval and shared work. For example if Dr Maynar suggested, say, eating more spinach, then this prescription would be given both to Lopez and crucially copied to the Astana team. This seemingly never happened and would be a breach of contract. Lopez says this is excessive. Obviously the unsaid aspect to Lopez’s ejection is the ongoing police investigation as part of Operacion Ilex. Of all the doctors to seek advice from Miguel.
There was more cheerful news from San Juan. The Argentine region is buying into cycling, it’s building a brand new indoor velodrome to host the 2025 World Championships. Or take Sam Welsford winning two stages, he’s been a rider to keep an eye on since swapping the Australian team pursuit squad for the road with DSM. Fourth in the Koksijde Classic, third in the Scheldeprijs last year, he quietly impressed with his long sprint that suggested a lot of power under the hood. DSM have struggled in seasons past to get their first win, now they have three in a weekend with Marius Mayrhofer taking the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road race.
Team DSM only got a one year licence from the UCI rather than the standard three year ticket, the UCI press release saying “the second and third years of the licence [are] conditional on the provision, during the season, of additional documents related to the financial criterion.” How come? Dutch cycling news website WielerFlits has the answer: it’s because the company DSM is in the process of a big merger with Firmenich, a Swiss chemicals company and so technically the sponsor is changing and the outlook isn’t certain and therefore the UCI didn’t award the longer term licence.
Skipping back to DSM on with three wins already, only five World Tour teams are without a win this season: Ag2r Citroën, Alpecin-Deceuninck, Arkéa-Samsic, Astana and Groupama-FDJ. Again it’s still only January, the “team without a win” story becomes more stressful for a squad come March or April.
L’Equipe had a feature and interview with Axel Laurance (€), the rider who finished second to Wout van Aert in the Bretagne Classic (ex GP Plouay) and took a stage of the CRO Race, results that meant when the B&B team was vanishing he attracted interest from other teams. Quickstep was one and he tells the paper he met with them and left with the impression that “I knew I’d have a place”, only once the B&B team officially imploded and he was free to sign elsewhere, he called the Quicksteppers… who they said they didn’t have the budget left. So he went back to Arkéa-Samsic and Ag2r Citroën who’d expressed interest, only by now they’d filled up their rosters. Which left Alpecin-Deceuninck and he’s had to join their development team for a year as the World Tour squad is full. As he rues, the lesson is to always get a job offer in writing. And as Nairo Quintana must surely know, sign it.
Laurance is one of the lucky ones, as getting a contract with a side team that’ll mean he can’t do a World Tour race this year is still a job. As readers shared last week, Chloe Hosking has been left high and dry by this and so have many others, the French regional press is full of similar stories with riders out of pocket over travel expenses and more. Again the solution must be that teams changing sponsors should show some proof of the new income source by, say, 1 August, rather than being able to spin out the licence review process into November. Sure it’s only January but August isn’t far away when it comes to preventing repeat fiascos.
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In the Trofeo ses Salines – Alcudia sprint the first rider into the final corner was almost bound to win the race. Van den Berg and EF knew that and exploited it. The sprint maybe wasn’t fair, and Van den Berg was probably not the fastest rider but he was smart and won.
Ethan Vernon does look fast and should win more. Can he step up to a better class of race, and with Merlier and Jakobsen in the Soudal-Quick Step squad will he get the chance?
A final point, getting used to new colours and names will take this viewer a few races too.
My thoughts entirely. The road they finished on is certainly long enough for a 200m straight but there’s a speed cushion halfway along so maybe the organisers thought it better to stop before it. Van den Berg was switched on, got to the front and shut the door on the others. Nothing wrong with that.
I’d say the Palma circuit was more troublesome: the finishing straight probably was 200m, but from a dead turn that took out Bouhanni on an earlier lap. Sometimes compliance with the specifications isn’t everything.
Palma was safer by virtue of it being a circuit finish with multiple chances for the riders to see it before the final.
Well I guess I was mistaken about questioning ICW’s ability to get points and their likelihood of falling out of the WT at some point. Strong start by some questionable teams including EF and DSM. Not sure if this is a philosophy change to target “easier” early races etc. or just randomness. And I know it’s ridiculously early, but all three French teams are winless and if other WT teams keep poaching Coupe de France races it could be troubling for them.
Looks like the typical Intermarché results, scrapping for results here and there and collecting points along the way. Said it before on here but they did look doomed a while ago but then I noticed they hired a coach called Aike Visbeek, he’s been very well regarded and it’s brought a lot of structure and new ways to what was otherwise an old-school team.
I wouldn’t call their Mallorca results “scrapping for points”, they went there with a strong team that was not trying to stay en masse in the front group to finish 5th, 6th and 7th, but raced for wins, ending up with 3 1st places, 2nd, 3rd and 4th.
Larry Warbasse touched on (I think) this coach in the latest Cycling Podcast episode. Mentioned he did introduce new methods to the team.
Pretty sure there are 4 French squads and one of them bagged a stage win at TDU with Coquard. Not really concerned about FDJ, and AG2R should be OK, but Cofidis and Arkea really need to come out hard and early before the big guns limber up. Arkea needed all those early season points from Quintana last year, but they look even thinner this year. Squads like EF, Jayco, DSM must realize that they were skating close to the edge last year and probably don’t want to repeat the experience which will make the competition even tougher in the early races. Then again, it’s very early days, it’s only Year 1 of the relegation round, and this time last year I was sure Lotto would manage to stay up and that Arkea and IWG were the most likely candidates for the drop.
Greenedge (Jayco) should be okay this time around.
They were disproportionately affected by Covid during the last cycle, and have had to rebuild the management structure after the former manager Shayne Bannan went rogue and attempted to sell Gerry Ryan’s team to Manuela Fundacion for a pittance.
I think they should be back to business as usual by now, which until the Covid years did include them getting lots of victories in mid-level races and finishing the year around the middle of the WorldTour rankings,
A lot of teams go into these races with the main objectives; stay healthy, don’t fall and no risks.
I think in the past this also applied to DSM and EF. But if you go into these races with the objective to win you will be rewarded quite easily because of this no risk policy of the big teams. Wanty were the first to find this out and others are now following. Additionally EF, DSM and Wanty don’t have a big sprinter or GC guy (Carapaz being the exception) and their riders are well suited to poaching…
What make you think the team who finished 5th last year, ahead of Quickstep, don’t get points and could fall out of the WT?
We live an age of sudden jumps in performance, and sudden drops, all within a certain range for every team, of course, and sometimes it comes in cycles (fittingly so). Just checking the history of the last three-year period you may notice some team performing very well in a given season, then terribly so etc.
Kristoff, Hirt, Hermans, Pozzivivo all gone. Meintjes has never been consistent. That was like 70% of the points last year. But they seem to have done well to find some replacements but I’d be surprised to see a lot more victories from Costa this year.
I did the math an they were talking about “only” 50% of the points last year. Beside Kristoff, Girmay, Rota and Meintjes earned more than the other 3 guys, who got only average points.
Girmay looks like he’s here to stay, and more.
I’d be surprised too, but he just won a whole stage race. ;-D
Also notable this week was Sagan announcing his retirement at the end of the season, though there was some indication in his statement that he would be part of TotalEnergies next year despite focusing on mountain biking. And while he had no zig in his sprint (not surprising since it’s still January), it was nice to see him having fun and being there at the finish. Looking at last year’s results, only once did he have consecutive days with decent finishes (early in the TdF, with three consecutive top-10s). In San Juan he had six top-10 finishes in seven stages, and looked playful and relaxed.
Yes, Sagan will ride for Total Energies next year but only a few races and to give him some more racing ahead of the MTB Olympics but he’ll do races like the Tropicale Amissa Bongo or the Tour of Rwanda and the idea is for the fun of it. The defining part of his early career – the Liquigas years – was racing for the sheer fun of it but as he became more famous, it felt like he was increasingly controlled by marketing and even legal departments, to use a metaphor he went from a start-up to a multinational and Mr “Why So Serious” couldn’t have as much fun. Maybe things will be more carefree for him now, although he’s still closely tied to many brands.
Apropos your mention of the upcoming Etoile de Besseges race, may I ask if anyone knows if this will be viewable in the UK? I have a Eurosport subscription via Discovery+ (as the Eurosport Player I used for the last 2 years is now defunct) but I can’t see any sign of it among the upcoming races on their website. When I tried Google I got various results about French TV but nothing for the UK. Yet catching up on the GP Marseille this evening one of the commentators said something about commentating on it next week. So I’m confused!
I saw today that the Etoile is on Eurosport…but not in the UK. No idea why, maybe some other broadcaster owns the rights but doesn’t want to show it? But in France it’s not on Eurosport either, L’Equipe TV has it. You might want to see if this is georestricted… or not and for those with VPN networks, normally you can connect to L’Equipe TV and watch a few seconds to make the online “handshake”, then turn off the VPN and carry on watching the channel.
Thanks for the explanation. That’s annoying there’s no easy way to watch it in the UK. I’ve never tried using a VPN, plus I don’t think my 20 years ago GCSE French is going to be up to understanding French cycling commentary, so I guess I’ll be giving it a miss.
Give the French commentary a go. You might pleasantly surprise yourself. L’Equipe are good, the names are the same in either French or English and the identification of riders is usually much better than by Anglo commentators. Christophe Riblon can identify every French rider unerringly.
If you’ve any ear for these things then you’ll quickly pick up specific, cycling-related words and phrases which will stick, especially if they sound like the English equivalent. Patrick Chasse’s pronunciation of “craque” when a rider gets dropped is worth the entrance money on its own. There is also the live ticker at Directvelo which can help a lot as the important words and phrases recur regularly. https://www.directvelo.com/direct/5243/etoile-de-besseges-etape-1
When all else fails, of course, we all know what “attaque de Pierre Rolland” means in any language 🙂
“the names are the same in either French or English ”
technically true, but if you’re used to the made up pronunciations by Kirby and Kelly all the time, you might be surprised to hear the real ones.
I’m not sure I’d be able to understand much given the speed the commentators will doubtless speak at. My main exposure to French/German/Italian is from seeing opera but with sung text being so much slower than spoken it’s easier to pick out words & phrases there. I shouldn’t think there’s much vocabulary crossover between opera & cycling either!
I was able to follow basque commentary, also belgian (I don’t know which one) –
and enjoy it as much as english commentary
it’s 90% names of riders and the tone, and you can pretty much deduce the rest from the context
I’m pretty sure an english speaking cycling fan can follow french cycling commentary
I tried a few countries using VPN. It is being shown in the US (so English Language) if you have the appropriate software.
Tiz-Cycling has it for tomorrow. Look on the Blue Button.
Welsford’s pair of wins are what caught my eye … against what looked like strong fields.
They were nice victories, and he fully earned them, but the key sprinters (esp. Bennett, Jakobsen) appeared very undercooked (as they should be in January). Gaviria was the only other sprinter who seemed to have come into the race in good shape, and he had minimal support.
I don’t think a twisty finishing circuit is inherently unsafe – it all depends on how you ride it.
As long as the road book tells the riders how it is, it’s up to them to not charge blindly into it. Skill is a part of cycling, as are tactics. The winner of that stage in Majorca showed great tactical nous by getting to the front early. Well done to him.
Riders who have connections to dodgy doctors (can anyone think of any other reason why MAL would be working with that person?) not being picked up by teams is a positive step.
From what I’ve heard in comments, the riders/teams were told there was a 400-metre finishing straight, not 150m. And having ridden there regularly there is no reason why there couldn’t have been..
Well, yes, the riders do rather rely on the organisers not lying to them about how the finish is.
I could be wrong, but along with whay I read on local newspapers I think that some teams protested about the original finish, so it was changed accordingly. Only, as it often happens, there was no general agreement in the peloton, so although the changes were communicated to everyone before the race itself started, many athletes and DSs were completely unaware of what had went on and just sticked to what they could see in the printed materials.
Sagan’s departure will be a shame – I expect he feels he’s won everything he can and is looking for something new. Big question is what happens to his wingman Oss?
As for the teams competition, I can see both Astana and Arkea having difficulties. Otherwise, it’s been punctures galore in S.Arabia, dangerous finishes in Spain, crashes for Bernal & Bouhanni, a suspected doper winning and a mobile phone in the head. Not bad for January!
I guess that could be a big question for Daniel’s ever-loving mamma. To the rest of us, not so much.
…go gravel? ^___^
(As he already started doing)
I,m not quite sure if flobikes is a new service or not but it seems to have taken some races of GCN including cyclocross. The cross world champs in the past has been on either / and SBS or GCN so this will be the first year i don’t seem to be able to watch in live for a few years. I will watch the replay on youtube presumably as all the previous races this year have arrived there the next day.
FloSports is not new in the US. Have some races including CX World Cup but its coverage is often terrible. Random ad placements. I was hoping they were giving up on cycling coverage as the number of road races they covered had dwindled but I guess not.
FloBikes is not new for the USA. Coverage is poor; worse is its price scheme.
If it’s not on GCN, how do you see the race?
The answer is not to subscribe to any other service so that they don’t get any money, and we can have all the cycling on one channel – and only pay once.
Ok. will just need to accept that De Lie will be our new cycling overlord. Impressive.
Very impressive by De Lie (I know its only just February, but even so) – I think his agent could get very busy soon!
Lotto shrewdly extended his contract last season. Yesterday was just his kind of finish, an uphill sprint but still, the way he covered Pedersen and then jumped away was impressive although if van Aert, Pogačar, Alaphilippe or others were there it wouldn’t look so easy. I think he’ll find a flat finish harder (they have Ewan anyway). Keen to see how he does in longer distance races. In a way Evenepoel’s megastar status right now is probably helpful for De Lie.
He’s got a busy Spring (and he’s not 21 until March) – Paris-Nice, Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix etc etc so by the time the Tour comes around we’ll know how well he does against the big name sprinters and the likes of van Aert & Pogacar.
I for one miss the training races, following the progress of weight loss through the Spring.