Thursday Shorts

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound? Of course it does. But when it comes to the media things can be different. If a story breaks behind a paywall will it make a noise?

News needs to be paid for so paywalls are a good solution, just imperfect at times. So when a cycling story appears behind one it may not be seen by many nor can it be shared easily. Take Patrick Lefevere’s now infamous Humo interview. The blasting of Julian Alaphilippe went around the world, in part because other sections of the Belgian media lifted it and put the quotes online free for all to read so it was easier for everyone to read and share. But the parts of the interview where he berated women’s cycling, surely as controversial, didn’t seem to make it beyond the paywall. Maybe no bad thing.

There were also informative parts where he explained what was behind Evenepoel’s Vuelta a España Tourmalet implosion. The Belgian went into the Vuelta as a top contender and was sitting third overall with “only” Kuss and Soler ahead of him after the first time trial and going into the big summit finish at the Col du Tourmalet. Then it all went wrong. What happened? Here’s Lefevere in Humo (my translation):

It was a combination of factors. There was the tension before the stage to the Tourmalet, there was the stress due to the rumours surrounding the merger, and on top of that he had not had an ideal preparation.

Perhaps the first and last parts combine: he was stressed because he did not have an ideal preparation. But Evenepoel knew about the mooted merger with Jumbo-Visma by then and could have been losing sleep. Either way it still leaves the long climbs as Evenepoel’s final frontier, the ability to cope with them repeatedly, be it within one day or harder, across several days. We’ll get more answers in the Critérium du Dauphiné.

Another interesting story behind a paywall was about One Cycling in Le Temps. The article was exploring the past attempts to buy the Tour de France and looking at One Cycling’s project, essentially if it can’t get the Tour, can it bundle up many other races. It floated an interesting idea about Brian Cookson and Rothschild bank but that’s for another day, we can’t lift the whole piece. The piece concluded that One Cycling could turn out to be a project to flush out febrile teams and organisers and learn about their finances… while the patient Saudi funding could end up being directed towards Tour de France owner ASO which is already allied with the Kingdom thanks to the Al Ula Tour, and why Greenedge, one of the original Velon teams, is conspicuously not part of the One Cycling Project. Timber!

Staying with media reporting, did you see the story of 130 riders who quit a bike race in Spain when doping controls were announced? The story first seemed to get traction at and then went national, then international. But like the game of teléfono descompuesto each time the story was reported it took a twist. So while Ciclo21 said riders abandoned “for different reasons”, Marca ran with the headline “the announcement of a doping control provoked 130 abandons”. This version went global, appearing on viral news sites, national newspapers. Why not, it sounded hilarious. Only was it true? The local race publishes its results and every year a high proportion of riders DNF, typically half the field. So while this year’s DNF rate was higher than average, the “130 riders flee doping control” headline is an exaggeration at best as many if not most riders seem to quit in a normal year.

Now to riders feeling the heat in a different way. The UCI has brought out the “High Temperature Protocol“. This was part of the Extreme Weather Protocol but they’ve introduced more specific measures for the heat such that there is now a set of procedures where various parties at a race can meet to discuss mitigating measures. The important thing to note is the use of the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature measurements: this is not the same as a thermometer, it is an index. People can be easily misled by the Celsius reference. So the day’s forecast temperature is a component, alongside humidity and windspeed, in this case the speed of the rider and these are put into a model to get back a rating. So if you’ve read “Red zone (WBGT above 28°C), high risk” in the UCI rules, this does not mean a day’s racing in temperatures of 29°C is “high risk”. For illustration, steelworkers in a blast furnace can be exposed to 31°C on the WBGT scale but this might be 60°C in Celsius. WBGT is probably the right approach but for a bike race it is also fraught with complications, you can take the temperature for a tennis court but where during a 200km stage? Is the forecast average speed suitable, a rider should fine on a long descent, it’s during a climb that they can cook. Are organisers incentivised to suggest higher speeds in their roadbooks when visiting warmer locations? A lot to explore actually, we’d better return to it in a full piece for summer.

Staying with hot weather, one thing certain to come in the summer will be kit changes. Visma-LAB will have to change their yellow jersey at the Tour de France, it avoids the colour clash with the maillot jaune. Do they go all black with bits of yellow? It used to be thought that black kit was hotter given black absorbs all wavelengths of light and so can get hotter. But a cycling jersey can’t absorb much heat to start with so that’s less of a problem when compared to, say, a roof. And black kit can be better at stopping the light from getting through which spares the rider underneath from heating up. One other kit change and Bora-hansgrohe promise new kit for the summer that will showcase their new Redbull takeover. We need it because the green looks just like the Tour de France’s green jersey, it was hard to tell their riders apart from the maillot vert during Paris-Nice.

The world’s third best cycling team (this week’s UCI rankings), Decathlon-Ag2r La Mondiale, has just changed kit. Why? Well lead sponsor Decathlon unveiled a corporate rebrand on Tuesday. The CEO was on stage like a TED Talk only to unveil a slight change in the font and a darker hue of blue. Still the team kit is materially different, out goes the geometric blue and white, in comes the navy blue with a “galaxy” pattern. All this was planned long in advance, riders at the team training camp in Denia last December went out for photoshoot rides in both versions of the new kit (pictured) but the team had to use Decathlon’s long-standing branding until the official launch this week.

Finally, talking of new looks, a housekeeping note. This blog has looked the same for ages but it that might change in the coming days. Unlike the Decathlon CEO there won’t be a mission statement, no talk of renewed purpose, nor any coordinated reveal. Instead you might see the site look different all of a sudden and then some changes being made. The blog runs thanks to several cooperating pieces of software, including the “theme” which provides the structure and layout. This theme came with a “lifetime licence” but the company behind it is now asking for a hefty renewal fee and annually. Rather than have this site running on unsupported software that could come undone if it clashes with other bits of software it’s time to change.

44 thoughts on “Thursday Shorts”

  1. IMHO the Belgian seems mentally fragile – but then so was Eddy Merckx according to some? I don’t think he’s gonna change much so radio control by a seasoned DS is essential though of course “The Cannibal” managed a fair amount of success with just a DS yelling at him from inside a car, so?
    Good luck with the mechanics/logistics of the blog. I’ve used Blogger for decades but I don’t do much that is complicated – just post a photo and blather away at the keyboard. If they start wanting me to pay for this, dunno what I’d do…I keep the blog going as much for myself to look back at as anything. It’s great to wonder “What year was it that we did X?” and be able to look it up!!

      • Isn’t it kind of the reverse on the bike? I’ve read many accounts of guys feeling stuffed early in races. Perhaps now with the sugary goo they squirt down their throats it’s not such an issue…but if you’re hungry on-the-bike…you’re toast, based on my experience.

    • There’s a contemporary documentary of Eddie Merckx – I think it’s “La Course en Tete” – and his wife talks about how she worries for him when he retires, because he has so much self doubt and dissatisfaction at his achievements!!!! My impression from that is he felt like a bit of a failure! It’s incredible how subjective we humans are – although perhaps this is a clue as to why the Cannibal could never date his hunger.

    • He’s under a huge amount of pressure and so far has barely frowned or shrugged once in public although in private things have probably been harder.

      The Belgium media follow him everywhere, a banal photo on Instagram gets written up as a news item etc. The surprise is he’s handled it well, moving to Calpe is probably part of this.

      I’ve found him interesting in interviews, he doesn’t give the stock replies. But Cyrille Guimard was saying he noticed how Evenepoel was doing this at Paris-Nice, a bit more guarded than usual. But look, now his words are being scrutinised in great detail. Like everything the big test comes this summer whether it is on the road or in front of the microphones.

      • The guy has a motor for sure, but IMHO he’ll be another to come up short in the “next Eddy Merckx” lineup no matter how successful he might be. I hope he matures more and we see fewer roadside tantrums or dumb post-race rants against competitors (or his own team) but under that kind of pressure, how much can one expect? It’s gotta be tough on every “next Eddy Merckx” and likely will be so forever?

        • I hope to be the only one to see flashes of Frank Vandenbroucke when the topic is about the pressure that Belgian media put on Remco Evenepoel

  2. I suspect we might see a similar implosion followed by racing to win stages from Evenepoel in this year’s TdF. I don’t think there’s any way he can rival Vin/Pog, plus he doesn’t have anywhere near as good a team. I can’t see him riding for a place in the top ten (I’m not confident he’ll podium even). Once he started losing time on that Vuelta stage, he sat up entirely.
    I’d like to see him not go down the route of so many others whereby he forsakes his talent in other races in order to become a ‘TdF contender’ with little or no chance of winning it.
    For the sake of the races, we have to hope that none of the big three race organisers ever sell out to ‘Whoever the latest chancer is who bafflingly thinks cycling is a big-money-making sport’. These people would soon realise that there’s only one race that makes big money, and what do they do then?

    • One thing I find interesting about Remco is his handling up to this point – handling is not the greatest word – but for a long time it’s been tough to fully assess his abilities because he’s been kept away from certain races and because of that riders – this Paris Nice amazingly being his first stage race in France I think?

      Whereas Cian U, Ayuso and Pog before them were/have been racing Grand Tours from very early, Remco took a different path it seems (as well as a some bad luck holding him back) which has been brilliant for building up his name/worth but also, as we haven’t seen enough GT head to heads with his best contemporaries, gives him further to fall if he comes up short?

      I agree with others here than in the last few years we seem to be getting clearer picture that he’s a level below the best and prone to off days/accidents after repeated climbs – but it’s hard to see whether that’s because of the nervous/overthinking impulses of his personality or whether he’s just missing the power over multiple climbs?

      I have a feeling it might be the later and over time he’ll be outperformed by his junior super Belgian Cian U but I do think it’s a tiny bit unfair to say he’s mentally fragile – it’s easier to be mentally strong when you’re just physically better than everyone like Pog/Vin, but if you’re a notch below, any mental fragility might understandably be born out of having to be constantly on the limit to stay with the best.

      I think what all this really comes down to for me currently is that Remco is freakishly good but he is not as good as he or his fans need him to be currently to repeatedly win the TDF in a era of freakishly good riders. As always happy to be proved wrong, but I think Remco only wins the Tour if others suffer bad luck and he has a perfect run, in the vein of a Geraint – who still makes me smile for winning the only year I can remember him not crashing.

      • “I do think it’s a tiny bit unfair to say he’s mentally fragile ”
        Dunno what races you’ve watched this guy in but he’s had what I’d describe as plenty of “meltdowns” that IMHO point to a fragile mentality.

        • Handling and meltdowns are the correct words.
          Remco is spoiled. Like a little kid.
          He was winning everything and he just can’t understand why that doesn’t continue. So it must be someone else’s fault.

        • Apologies – good point, I meant to say ‘up until he won’.

          I really like Geraint but had started to find his constant crashes slightly comical by the time his TDF win came around and then thought it was quite apt he won without a single issue – but as you say since then it’s been less of an issue! Also his rides since (the 2nd&3rd) have been excellent and regularly underrated.

          • Even our esteemed host once joked that Thomas needs a pair of balancers. Though granted, some of the crashes are not his fault entirely (like being T-bones in an hairpin decent. He even has the good humour to say “my name’s Chris Froome” when the medics came around with the concussion questions).

      • Remco is superb TTer and world ITT champ, so the power is clearly there. He is reportedly in 130 lbs range, and surely Watts/kg are extremely high (his aero-ness is also big factor).
        Maybe his recovery capabilities are not up to par , to withstand multiple long climbs over a few day period … multiple genetic and extrinsic factors.
        Maybe his physiology is not as well adapted to less oxygen at high altitudes, as his key rivals
        IIRC, he has not done any altitude training camps this season, yet, which also seems atypical. I’ve read altitude camps are not a panacea, some athletes respond strongly to it, but others not so much.

      • I thought that Thomas did crash the year that he won the TdF … in the time trial; but still achieved a respectable time. It is always possible though that what I recall was a different race.

        • I think that’s the year before. And he didn’t crash in the ITT. He won that ITT (a stage one ITT, not a prologue on account of being 14km long), was in yellow, and crashed out stage nine or something. Valverde had a nasty one in the stage one ITT that written off the rest of his season (slid out on a corner).

      • I’m half way through listening to the Red Bull Just Ride podcast with Annemiek van Vleuten (a superb podcast imo). She talks a lot about mental strength and how it is an area she now wants to start studying in more detail so she can help younger riders.

  3. Talking of rankings, IPT have demonstrated that by prioritising second tier events the UCI points and wins can soon pile up. Maybe, as IR has already suggested, their Pro Team status helps with all but two of their thirteen wins in (mostly) distant 2.1 races with limited fields.

    Finally, what do IPT think of Decathlon’s new kit? Maybe it’s a compliment!

  4. This website (blog?) is without doubt my very favourite place on the web – informed, articulate and balanced (although I rarely comment). I appreciate that you like to keep it free, but I would be more than willing to contribute to the increasing costs – if you placed a voluntary “support” button, I would click it in an instant, and I suspect many more would too….

  5. A curiosity on the Decathlon kit. VanRysel is the “brand” name they’re slapping onto their high-end cycling stuff now, including the bicycles. Who knows who actually MAKES those but the clothing is even more curious: they have the VanRysel name on that too, but just underneath is an actual clothing MAKER’s name, ie ROSTI. WTF? I’ve purchased a clothing item or two at a Decathon store in-a-pinch and thought based on the inside labels, the stuff was actually MADE by our friends at Nalini. They make an amazing amount of clothing with other brand names on it but I wonder if now ROSTI is Decathlon’s private-label supplier? Seems odd that both names would appear on the jersey IMHO.

    • Rosti has been supplying the team before they moved to Decathlon. Maybe they have to serve out this deal before we get Van Rysel branded clothing because normally they do their own kit, as in bikes, shoes etc.

      • Could be, though the brand name Van Rysel’s on there too so easily confused. Makes me wonder if ROSTI will likely still be making the team stuff if their name no longer appears? I wonder about the stuff they sell in the stores? As I wrote I think at least some of that was made by Nalini based on the pieces I purchased at one. Obviously as a private-label supplier Nalini doesn’t brag about it but you’d be surprised (and possibly shocked) at what (and how many) brand names were being sublimated onto clothing made there when I visited.

        • I’ve done some work in one of Decathlon’s main distribution warehouses. A lot of their stuff, and particularly their clothing, is sourced from multiple suppliers.

  6. I initially reacted strongly after I read that headline about the amateur abandons related to the doping control, but after thinking about it I might be spooked by full on doping control. I race a few events per year in the competitive old man category and take training semi-serious. But I don’t buy the most expensive supplements all the time (not that I take much or often) and I didn’t even think until now about the fact that I use a topical steroid (prescribed by a dermatologist) about 2x per year when I get a bad rash from poison oak that won’t go away otherwise. I don’t really care about being the best cyclist I could be. I know there are amateur racers around who are full on doping and it makes me sick. But for me a failed doping control due to a bad supplement or trying to keep poison oak from spreading to sensitive areas to race some random participation event would be ruinous for my professional / personal life. I was just trying to rationalize 130 amateurs dropping out and maybe a few had a similar worry?

    • There might be some who quit but it seems this race in question just has a lot of DNFs, people are are a few minutes down on the front group and so not going to contest the win are ruled out so they can reopen the roads again.

  7. If you fall foul of a doping control as an amateur or at an amateur race. What difference does this make. By definition you are not cheating anyone out of prize money of you win.

    If you separate the possible medical implications. Is amateur doping an issue?

  8. One thing that might have come out over the paywall from Lefevere’s interview is a UCI ethnics hearing. I don’t know if it was the interview – the UCI doesn’t say, L’Equipe says it it – but if it was, he’s got to make a public statement and has a suspended CHF 20,000 fine, suspended for three years in case he does it again.

    • A more appropriate sentence might be for him to drive one of the commissaire’s cars at every Women’s WorldTour race for the month of April.

  9. Always enjoy the thought provoking commentary! Chapeau!

    ASO already works with the Saudi’s for the Paris Dakar rally every year!

    I doubt they need or want Plugge mucking up a negotiation to buy them if they ever went route! They can call the King and ask for a sit down.

    Can Plugge F’up the show by signing up every other event on the calendar in a revenue share outside the main 3 tours and other ASO races?
    Many of these are really complicated to host with feet in the streets and living in the market.

    Its not F1 – fly in, get paid to host your event at the track – split revenue with the promoter and fly on to the next place.

  10. I don’t get this “speech police” role the UCI gives itself. Lefévère is surely a stupid blabbermouth as most cycling team managers have always been. But he shouldn’t be fined for just speaking his mind in the media.

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