Is cycling a team sport?

Rabo team

“I really view cycling as a team sport… …that in order for their to be a sustainable business model behind cycling you need to have people identify with the team and not the individuals… …if we want the sport to be successful you have got to generate long term loyalty to organisations and not individual athletes”

Those are the words of Jonathan Vaughters, team owner of Garmin-Cervélo in a recent interview with podcasters The Flammecast, explaining his vision for pro cycling as a team sport in the years to come. But glance at the results and it is very much an individual sport, for example the records show Johan Van Summeren won Paris-Roubaix this year. So is cycling a team sport or one of individuals?

The simple answer is that it is an individual sport conducted with teams. But it gets more complicated than that, particularly if we look at the history of the sport and where things might be heading at the moment.

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Waiting for July

Le Tour Grand Départ

I found the Giro a mixed race, for me the death of Wouter Weylandt clouded everything and wish his family, friends and team mates well. Other moments of the race saw a dominant Contador and I know many are impressed but me, well I prefer more of a scrap between the contenders. Anyway, with the Giro d’Italia over, focus now turns to upcoming races.

Many races in June share a common theme, the results are there to be viewed against the backdrop of the Tour de France. Can form in the Critérium du Dauphiné stage race starting this weekend last into the back of July? Can riders dominant in Europe’s fourth longest race, the Tour de Suisse also stay fresh for Le Tour?

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Weekend round-up

The weekend’s racing threw up some interesting things. The Giro looms big but don’t let the anticipation overshadow some interesting stories from neo-pros succeeding to old dogs having their day over the weekend.

Degenkolb wins

First to Frankfurt, the Germany city that styles itself as Mainhattan, where a sleepy town meets global finance and skyscrapers. The traditional 1 May Grand Prix, these days known as the Tour of the Financial Square Eschborn – Frankfurt, a bit of a mouthful. I preferred the older name, the Henninger Turm, named after the local brewery’s visible grain silo. The race heads to the Taunus hills but it can come down to a sprint finish. As we saw yesterday several big names get ejected by the climbs, in particular in Mammolshain and it came down to a bunch sprint but not after several names got left behind.

This might be a bit mean but it was lucky John Degenkolb won. Why? Well go through the other 68 riders in the group and you’ve probably not heard of many of them. Even the top-10 isn’t quite star-studded.

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The sights, sounds and smells of a race

Cycling is often a very visual sport. It lends itself to superb photography thanks to fine landscapes and changing urban settings. I normally ride with a helmet and sunglasses but part of me longs for the days of old when you could see the whites of a riders’ eyes, today us cyclists are hidden a little bit behind all this protection, but for obvious reasons.

But visit a bike race and you will return with more than just images in your mind or on a memory card. The photos go a long way to capturing the action but the bunch is dynamic, noisy and at times smelly. Here are some of the sounds and smells I find accompany a big bike race.

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On luck

History is written by the victors
– Winston Churchill

When a rider wins a race or a general is victorious in battle, it is often easy to ascribe physical supremacy and tactical brilliance. We align a series of facts from the day into a story, the narrative of victory becomes self-evident. Only what of luck?

Napoleon Bonaparte

It makes you wonder about the tales and statues of war heroes, just how brilliant and superior were they? Or was an unmentionable stroke of luck involved too? This isn’t necessarily cynicism on my part, the last man to durably conquer Europe was Napoleon Bonaparte. When asked whether he preferred courageous generals or brilliant generals he replied “neither, give me lucky generals“.

I’ve often wondered about this when it comes to sport too. Do we ascribe particular skills and talents to some athletes and teams when in actual fact, they just got lucky? Before you leap to the comments section, I am not suggesting you fluke a win at elite level nor, I stress, suggesting that victories in warfare occur without guts and courage. No, this is not to deny the hard work and skill involved. Instead, what I’m trying to explore is whether luck is a bigger deciding factor that we might currently think. Are our heroes all conquering or do they get a little bit of luck along the way too?

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The rain bag

With the weather forecast suggesting showers are likely between now and Sunday’s Tour of Flanders and rain on the start line in De Panne today, here’s a quick look at an item of pro kit that’s not often featured: the rain bag.

This is a small bag belonging to each rider containing the clothing they need on a rainy day. It’s packed into the team car and can be brought out in case of rainy weather. The pro cyclist’s version of an umbrella.

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Trophies and what to do with them

Evans Tirrenno

There’s an impressive diversity of silverware and commemorative trophies awarded to the winners of bike races. Cadel Evans picked up what looks to be the largest item of the year. It’s a trident, the symbol of greco-roman sea gods and awarded to the winner of Tirren0-Adriatico, the “race of two seas”. It makes you wonder what he’ll do with it, indeed whether he managed to fit it in the team car.

Normally you get something more modest but still prestigious. Having won Milan-Sanremo, Matthew Goss gets something that fits more easily into the trophy cabinet and it’s ok, aesthetically. It’s not always so, Tour de France stage winners get a block of perspex which, for me, doesn’t quite capture the significance of their win, it’s a tribute to the sponsor, not the sport.

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How to watch a race

Going to watch a bike race is not as simple as you might think. Get it wrong and all you’ll catch is a cold, not the action. There are some hints, tips and skills that can substantially improve the experience. Given the classics season is now upon us, it’s time to share some of these. … Read more

Races and railway lines

In this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others Pour encourager les autres is French for “to encourage the others”. It’s a line from Voltaire’s Candide. After the naval battle of Minorca between France and Britain in 1756, Voltaire describes the British practice of shooting naval … Read more

Cobbles and concrete

This weekend marks what was once the proper start of the year’s racing season, in years past any event before Het Volk was effectively a training race. Now known as Het Nieuwsblad (“the newspaper”), Saturday sees the Belgian season start and it’s followed by Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on Sunday. Many races in Flanders feature cobbles, from residential … Read more