FROM ABU DHABI TO HAINAN TO LAKE TAIHU
Procrastinating at it’s best
You’re probably wondering how can procrastinating made someone to go on a journey from Abu Dhabi to Hainan to Lake Taihu. That’s a long journey to take, from the United Arab Emirates to someplace in China. As it turns out, you can. Yours truly experienced it himself, and is currently not sure whether its a good thing or a bad thing.
I am of course referring to the end of the road cycling season. I am not sure when it ended, but if we are strictly talking about the UCI World Tour, then it ended back on October 4th in Lombardia. However, I decided to postpone writing about my thoughts on the 2015 season till after the Abu Dhabi Tour taking into account a few number of big name riders at the event, most notably the World Champion himself, Peter Sagan. Then came the beautiful Tour of Hainan, where Sacha Modolo of Lampre-Merida won the overall. Of course, I decided to postpone writing my piece after the race finish. Then, the Tour of Lake Taihu rolled around, and I postponed again. So now, before any other interesting road cycling event comes around, I better write about 2015 before it’s too late to even be about the 2015 season. So here goes;
MY TAKEAWAYS FROM THE 2015 ROAD CYCLING SEASON (Only the 3 best ones)
All the hour record attempts
It all started back in 2014, when the UCI (the world governing body for cycling) decided to amend the rules and regulations regarding the hour record. Riders can now attempt the record using any bike allowed per UCI standards for endurance track events. The previous double classification for the hour record is now unified, with the benchmark set at 49.7 km, a record set by Ondrej Sosenka back in 2005. Riders must also be part of the biological passport program in order to attempt the record.
With these changes and the benchmark at a deliciously doable level, a lot of riders decided to have a crack at it. The now retired Jens Voight started it all by posting a new record at 51.110 km before being eclipsed by Matthias Brandle at 51.852 km. Both of these attempts were in September and October 2014 respectively at the end of the traditional cycling season, making any more attempts on the record to be made in 2015, when the riders are fit and firing. With all due respect to the aforementioned duo, they are not the big hitters that fans expect to break it. But, with these attempts already setting the bar pretty high from the previous record set in 2005, it means that if the big hitters do attempt it when they attempt it, it is expected to be monumental.
Sure enough, a few big names throw their hat into the ring. Names like Jack Bobridge, Rohan Dennis, Alex Dowsett and the biggest one, Sir Bradley Wiggins announced their intentions to attempt it in 2015. Bobridge went at it first at the end of January. However, he somehow failed to crack the record, posting 51.300 km instead. Rohan Dennis was the next to go in February and he managed to crack the record, setting it at a new level of 52.491 km. With Alex Dowsett inadvertent injury, his attempt was postponed from February to May, making the wait more excruciating.
Two more riders attempt to break the record before Dowsett’s turn in May. Thomas Dekker and Gustav Larsson posted 52.221 km and 50.016 km respectively, not enough to dislodge Rohan Dennis as the hour record holder. The wait till May proved to be rewarding though as Alex Dowsett broke Dennis’s record by posting 52.937 km. This very high bar set by Dowsett made fans wonder how Sir Bradley Wiggins will be able to break it and by how much.
The wait was so nerve-wrecking (for me at least), not helped at all by the buildup created by the media. The attempt was to be in June, set in London. The fact that it was Sir Bradley Wiggins, gold medalist at the Olympics, winner of Tour de France and the reigning world time-trial champion at the time made all heads within the cycling community and perhaps those outside of it to turn. I can only imagine the pressure faced by athlete himself at the time. However, disappointment was not the word of the day then, as Wiggins smashed the record at 54.526 km, setting the bar far higher and somehow making it impossible to break in the near future.
Indeed, all these hour record attempts were spectacular and for a while, drew the spotlight away from the usual road cycling calendar. It is a welcome distraction however, and I am looking forward to the record set by Wiggins to be broken in the future. For now though, it looks set to be there for a long, long time. This is evidenced by the lack of future attempts announcement by other riders, particularly from time-trial specialist Tony Martin. With 2016 being an Olympic year, this will discourage any riders to attempt it, focusing on the games in Rio instead. I am sure though, that Martin will attempt it later. Dennis and Dowsett also indicated that they will attempt it when they reach their 30’s, making fans wonder how much further can they push the record, considering the distance they set was at a pretty high level already.
The Giro d’Italia is the best grand tour for 2015
There are three grand tours each year to choose from, and this year, from my viewpoint, the Giro is the best of them all. Supporters of the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana might disagree, and both of these races do have their best moments, but, none as many and memorable (good ones) than the Giro. It had it all. From a charismatic, injured champion, to an internal battle between teammates on who should go for the win and of course, who can forget, a star rider with the right tools, equipment and a motorhome failing spectacularly.
The champion of this year’s Giro is of course, Alberto Contador, who injured his shoulder on stage 6. Being the fighter that he is, he continued on, injured weathering attacks from the Astana duo of Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa in the mountains. One of Aru or Landa would have actually able to dislodge Contador, if only their team would recognize who the stronger rider was. In this case, it was Landa who was stronger than Aru at the time, and therefore, much more suitable to challenge Contador. Instead, the team insisted on Aru still being the leader, and this stubbornness is what led them unable to land the pink by the end of the race.
By now, everybody knows that Team Sky is a juggernaut when it comes to stage races and particularly, the Tour de France. However, the Giro and Vuelta are yet to be tamed. To address this, they sent one of their best, Richie Porte to lead the team. He was a pre-race favorite considering his pedigree. The preparation was superb, with Porte winning the Paris-Nice and Volta a Catalunya in the buildup to the Giro. He was even given a motorhome to sleep in, away from the others including his own teammates. Marginal gains they say, a new approach they say. However, just like Sir Bradley Wiggins before him, he failed spectacularly. Maybe the Giro isn’t for Team Sky.
The beginning of the 2015 Tour de France was a sight to behold, especially the stage 2 finish in Zeeland. It was a spectacular stage, with the wind or rather, a storm playing its part as well. However, I was more intrigued with the famous human engineering achievement, the Delta Works. It was of course built to protect the Netherlands from the flooding caused by the North Sea. I’ve never had much interest to research something about a stage finish in the Tour de France than this particular one as far as I can remember.
Stage 4 between Seraing and Cambrai, featuring the cobblestones usually found in the spring classic, the ‘Hell of the North’ Paris-Roubaix, was a point of contention for many cycling fans, me included and riders alike. I am torn about the suitability of including a cobbled route in a stage race, especially one as big as the Tour de France. On one hand, I like the Tour to include a variety of routes to challenge the general classification contenders. On the other hand, I would like routes like the ones used in stage 4 to be left alone to its original home during spring. In the end, after much bickering inside my head (like in Inside Out), I am leaning more toward the latter.
The rest of the Tour was like vanilla to me. No disrespect towards the riders contesting the race, but we all know that Chris Froome is going to win it once he got his hands on the yellow jersey on stage 7. It was plain sailing for him till the end. The same can be said about Peter Sagan winning the points classification (green jersey), even though he didn’t win a stage at all. Heck, even the penultimate stage to Alpe d’Huez failed to excite me this year. Perhaps Mont Ventoux next year can capture my attention.
Finally, we come to the final grand tour, the Vuelta a Espana, which, in my opinion, way better than the Tour de France but falls just short of the Giro. The engrossing battle between surprise challenger Tom Dumoulin and Fabio Aru was a joy to watch. Not to mention the emergence of riders such as Jhon Esteban Chaves and Louis Meintjes. What’s more surprising was because the battle for the win was supposed to be between Froome, Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali. However, injury, fatigue and getting caught by the race comissaires put a dent on their chances.
Chris Froome broke his foot on stage 11 and withdrew from the race while the Movistar duo of Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde were visibly not that much into it after their exertions in the Tour de France. Perhaps the most bizarre reasons to derail one of these 4 favorites was to be caught red handed by the race officials doing something illegal. Vincenzo Nibali was caught getting a tow from the Astana team car and was dismissed immediately. However, this proved to be a silver lining for Fabio Aru, also from Astana. With Nibali gone, team leadership falls on his capable young shoulders. And, unlike the Giro where he and Mikel Landa was at odds over team leadership, it was made pretty clear who the leader is and who’s in even better form this time.
With the drama within the Astana camp over with, Aru came face to face with Jhon Esteban Chaves and Tom Dumoulin with the latter being the more persistent challenger and obstacle. He managed to overcome Dumoulin on the penultimate stage to Cercedilla, condemning his rival to a 6th place overall finish at the finish line. With the final Madrid stage being just a procession, Aru sealed victory at the death. As for Dumoulin, he shouldn’t let this disheartened him too much, seeing that he didn’t even target the general classification in the first place. In fact, it should motivate him even more now that he proved that he can hang with the best till the end. He will definitely be one of the riders to watch for next year.
So, despite all this excitement, why is Vuelta not the best grand tour of 2015? Well, one needs to look at the beginning of the race to see why. The opening stage was already a dud with the stage being neutralized due to it being dangerous for the riders to ride on. Quite how this stage was actually planned in the first place is beyond me. Then came the huge crashes, with the stage 8 crash coming into mind. Kris Boeckmans was injured badly in that crash, suffering severe facial traumas and fractures, a concussion, broken ribs and a punctured lung. He had to be put in an induced coma for more than a week due to the severity of the injury. The crash also took out race favorites Dan Martin and Tejay van Garderen and star sprinter Nacer Bouhanni. Winner of the stage Jasper Stuyven also had to abandon due to a broken scaphoid suffered in the crash.
As if the crash was not bad enough, the neutral service motorbike decided to join in the fracas as well, although this occurred later on in the race after the crash. Still, the motorbike took out one of cycling’s star, Peter Sagan by hitting him from behind. The soon to be World Champion suffered some cuts and burns as well as a contusion to his left arm. To add insult to injury, he was fined €300 for inappropriate behavior after the crash. The motorbike rider was of course excluded for the remainder of the Vuelta but still, the fine was unjust. Perhaps with this injustice and with one eye on the world championships in Richmond that Sagan decided to abandon the race.
So there you have it, the Giro is the best grand tour of 2015. It might change next year, but if this year is any indication, the Tour and Vuelta needs some working, especially for the Tour de France. As the biggest cycling event every year, it surely has to deliver more exciting racing. Sure, the riders are responsible for making the race exciting as well, but perhaps the Tour organizer ASO can add some challenging routes in the middle or near the end of the 3 week long race to make it exciting. As for the Vuelta, they need to work on the safety of the riders even more. The crashes could have been avoided seeing that it was due to potholes not being covered up adequately or warning signs to prevent riders from hitting it while stage 1 was just really bad planning from the organizers. Meanwhile, for the Giro, they seem to be getting it right at the moment. Just, please don’t start in Japan. That is a logistical nightmare no matter which way you look at it.
That Awesome World Championships in Richmond, Virginia
I usually don’t care so much about the World Championships but there’s just something about the 2015 edition held in Richmond, Virginia that appeals to me. Was it because it’s held in the United States? No, that’s not it. In hindsight, I was actually enticed by the course back when it was first announced. Come on, cobbles in America? I would love to see how the riders tackle that sort of course. In America too. Now, when we mention cobbles in road cycling, fans will point to the Flanders region in Belgium and of course, the Paris-Roubaix and its various sectors. Of course, the cobbled section in the Richmond course is only a few hundred meters, but it was interesting nonetheless.
Overall, the course was greatly designed. It’s not just the cobbles, but the hills too, which made the course akin to a spring classic. From this, we can deduce that only the strongest riders can win on this type of course. By strongest, I mean the ones that we see battling it out in the Spring classics. And true to form, the strongest did win. Peter Sagan was heads and shoulders above the rest while Michael Matthews was really let down by his Australian team tactics, not least to a certain fellow named Simon Gerrans. That’s not to say that Matthews could have won, but at least it would have been more of a fight with Sagan. Still, the right rider won, and I am really looking forward to how he’ll perform next year.
Aside from the main event that is the men’s road race, the other events also had their fair share in the limelight. Like I said earlier, there’s just something about this World Championships that appeals to me. I think, this is the first time that I really follow all the races on offer. From the Junior men and women category, to the under 23’s and of course, the time trials and road race for both men and women. Not to mention there were some very interesting story-lines too.
The women’s trade team of Velocio-SRAM signed off with style by winning the women’s team time trial event. I can’t help but being sad by this being their last season together. Then, there’s also the controversy surrounding the winner of the women’s time trial event, Linda Villumsen of New Zealand. She rode a Trek bike instead of her team sponsored Wilier bike in the event, prompting speculation on her job status at UnitedHealthcare for disrespecting a sponsor. It was all resolved, thankfully, and Villumsen herself will return to the team for next year.
It is safe to say, my interest in the annually held World Championships has bumped up a notch after this year’s edition. A big hand for the city of Richmond for being a great host to the event. Hopefully, they’ll be able to reap the benefits from it. The most important being in financial terms. But it’s not just from the financial and economic perspective that I hope Richmond will experience. The infrastructure, to the experience of hosting a world class sporting event and also, letting it be a focal point to grow the sport of cycling in America. Next year’s edition will be held in Doha, Qatar and will certainly bring a new type of course (sprinter friendly) and new World Champions. A lot of work needs to be done to match the high bar set by Richmond this year so, no pressure.
It’s been a while since I post something on Medium. I’ve been meaning to but I always ended up postponing stuff until the content that I wanted to write about is no longer relevant. Talk about procrastinating. Anyway, here’s my post, it’s not too late I believe. Better late then never.
Also, I’ve been meaning to share with you that I am now a columnist at a sports publication thanks to my travails on Medium. It’s called the sportswhorl.com , where I write a weekly column on the English Premier League. It also contains content on the NFL, NBA, MLB and recently, the 2015 Rugby World Cup. We have also expanded into the podcast realm, talking about said sports. You can listen to it or even download it at Soundcloud . That being said, thank you everyone, have a nice day.