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 The GP La Marseillaise used to mark the opening of the season in Europe, it’s been superseded by the newly promoted Clàssica Comunitat Valenciana which happened week earlier, plus we’ve already had the Challenge Majorca races.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.