The Vuelta’s got off to a rotten start with rain, darkness, punctures caused by people throwing tacks on the course, trouble with the timing systems leading to delayed results, crashes galore and one of those rider semi-strikes. A leading Spanish journalist quipped all that’s missing is a plague of locusts. Of course by Madrid all this can be forgotten and hopefully today’s summit finish stage to Andorra should sort things out.
GCN has a good story from the Vuelta, click here for it and the added bonus is you can read it your browser these days as their stories are online rather than reserved for app users with the recent hires there is some good breaking news.
One reason the GCN story is good is that it pieces together what’s happening behind the scenes. Only some of this should be better communicated by the sport. One suggestion for all rider protests, go-slows, neutralisations and more is that if a rider or team wants to lead on the protests, they should also go to the TV cameras and social media to explain and apologise to the fans who might have taken a day off work or spent money on fuel only to get to the race and see it neutralised. This is typed sincerely as a positive suggestion – and not a moan or seeking to impose a duty or burden – with the idea being that riders can say “we’re really sorry but the route had this/that danger and so we had to take measures so that you can enjoy us racing for all three weeks, again apologies to all those who made their way to the race today“, that sort of thing because in the semi-hidden axe-grinding and political stand-offs between the peloton, organisers, the rider union and the UCI the fans ought not to be forgotten.
The Tour de l’Avenir Femmes starts today. It’s interesting to see how fast the women’s calendar is growing and here were can see a “top down” or even “reverse” calendar growth where we had an U23 jersey awarded at the Worlds in Glasgow for the first time, now we have the Tour de l’Avenir. But there are few other international U23 races, there’s only a very sparse calendar when ideally you’d have a regular series of women’s development races all year and then some trophy races on top to identify or coronate the very best, like the Worlds and the Tour de l’Avenir. This wider calendar should follow but launching new U23 races is hard given they can often share the same costs as any other major race but don’t get the same publicity. So arguably it’s easier to launch the big events rather than local ones.
🇲🇽 Isaac Del Toro, la révélation mexicaine du 59ème Tour de l’Avenir
— Tour de l'Avenir (@tourdelavenir) August 28, 2023
Staying with the Tour de l’Avenir Isaac Del Toro was the convincing winner of the men’s Tour de l’Avenir, taking the Col de la Loze summit finish stage but also placing second or third on the other three mountain stages, a feat that saw him take the mountains, points and best young rider jersey too (yes, for 19-20 year olds), a sweep last done by Warren Barguil over a decade ago. Pre-race pick Johannes Staune-Mittet did crash out early so he and we will wonder what could have been. But still it was impressive as Del Toro saw off many riders who are established professionals, including taking the yellow jersey off Matthew Riccitello, a rider who completed the Giro earlier this year. It comes on the back of third place in the Giro della Valle d’Aosta too so it’s not his first big result either. All this and Del Toro is only 19 so the Mexican now has a stampede of rider agents and World Tour teams at the moment. There’s talk of UAE but only that for now.
The transfer saga of Remco Evenepoel rumbles on although things have quietened down. A recent idea has been that Soudal-Quickstep and Ineos could merge, the story prompted by just how few riders they have under contract and that Ineos has reportedly been turning away riders who they were planning to sign, like Carlos Verona and Tobias Foss. Two thoughts on this, first is that Ineos probably have more riders under contract that stated, it seems Geraint Thomas has renewed… although this could have been a pre-agreement, a handshake rather than a deal but they’d hardly bump him out. This means it’d be harder still to merge teams and cap the roster at 30 riders, some might have to be paid off and placed on other teams at the expense of “Ineos-Quickstep”. Second is the cultural difference, even if Quickstep’s trying to become a grand tour squad these days it’s long been the team where a lot of the roster wins, many can get opportunistic wins and often while on a low contract, the idea being is they can move to another team and cash in as we’ve seen many times over. A contrast to Ineos where they line up behind a leader in stage races, sacrifice their chances with the quid pro quo that eve the domestiques earn a regal salary. It’s not to say it can’t be done, it’s more that doing it is going to be more than 1+1=2. It’s a very complicated way to hire Evenepoel.
Another transfer saga this summer is Caleb Ewan after his exit from the Tour de France and team management criticising him in the press. He presumably signed for Lotto-Dstny for big bucks and his win rate has fallen substantially, just the Van Merksteijn Fences Classic this season, a race that you’d be forgiven for not knowing anything about, although the old name of the GP Marcel Kint might be more familiar and of course Ewan has come very close to some big wins. With sprint opportunities reduced as well, plus rising talents filling spots on teams already, to move teams and break the contract would presumably mean taking a pay cut. So it could be that Lotto-Dstny management and Ewan are stuck with each other.
Finally talking of being stuck, cyclo-crosser Toon Aerts railed against the presumption of innocence in a statement that accompanied the news that he’d got a two year ban. The problem for him was A and B samples both containing a banned substance, and he couldn’t explain where it came from. It’s another reminder of the “strict liability” principle in the WADA anti-doping code, something we’ll also see in potentially similar upcoming cases of Shari Bossuyt and Michel Heßmann where it’s likely to be on them to prove contamination in order to be cleared or reduce a likely two year ban. This can be done, you might remember the case of the tennis player Sara Errani who said her mother’s anti-cancer medicine fell into a pot of broth while making pasta at home. Yes, your eyebrows might be raised but all the same if there’s an established prescription history for the medicine such as a parent taking the substance in question there’s path out.