It won’t be long now until I’m back home after what feels like a big stretch away. Even though the season is just kicking off and the “real” races haven’t even started yet this is the time of year where many of us have already had the biggest chunk of time away from our loved ones at home. From the first training camps, then races in Argentina or Australia, and then the Middle East with Dubai, Qatar and Oman, it’s the one period of the year when we can be away for months at a time.
It’s always great to get home, see friends and family, sort through all the mail and bills, and also knuckle down for some serious training instead of just getting smashed at the races.
The Middle East now has become a pretty good place for the sort of racing and training that you just couldn’t get anywhere else at this time of year. The crowds aren’t anything to write home about, in fact it feels like we’re racing in front of one man and his camel at times. We’ll maybe get twenty guys watching at the finish line, but as preparation for the European calendar and events that matter to sponsors, it’s the perfect training ground.
Loads of riders hate the racing in the Middle East. It’s windy, there are sandstorms (thankfully they cancelled stage 5 in Oman) and it’s hot but it makes for some of the hardest racing I’ve ever had to do. It can be balls-out from the moment the flag drops. Take one minute to ease off while you’re at the back of a flowing echelon and you’ll be out the back end of the race in no time. You just can’t ease off the pace and expect to stay in the echelon you are working in. You don’t get conditions like that in Europe all year, even up North in the races that hug the coastline of Northern France or Holland.
The racing can be the hardest that it could possibly be all year, I’m not exaggerating at all. Just take what Valverde mentioned in an interview about the fact that he’d prefer to do the Tourmalet five times than do a stage at Qatar again. But on the flip side if there’s no wind it can be a pretty shitty race to do, you’ll just cruise about all day, a couple of riders will hit it up the road, they’ll get caught and it’ll end in a sprint.
“This is inhuman. It is crazy. In the first stage we saw that this was a bit hard, but today was… I have not seen anything like this. It’s not just the wind, the sand too, you can not even breathe or anything.”
“There were splits, regrouping, more splits, crashes,… Everything. There are no climbs, but I prefer them. I would rather do the Tourmalet five times.” –Alejandro Valverde in an interview with Marca.com
I feel for the mechanics at these races as they need to keep the bikes running smoothly, with the amount of sand that gets blown in to the components it must be a massive task. Chains need to get changed much more often as well as other parts. The mechanics can’t just give them a good wash and a re-grease. It can’t be much fun for them.
Lack of respect
I thought I’d revisit what I said in my last article about guys with no respect. Like I said back in the days when Cipollini was in the peloton there’d be respect from the new guys in the peloton or domestiques towards the elder statesman and guys that actually performed well regularly and had some sort of palmares to shout about. Now there is absolutely none of that in the peloton.
One of the worst guys who thinks he’s the dogs nuts in the peloton is Cofidis rider Nacer Bouhanni. He has a real chip on his shoulder. Sure he’s a good sprinter but he has absolutely no respect for anyone.
Maybe it’s that boxing background he has, where he thinks he needs to talk it up and be the big man that gives him a sense of entitlement. I remember a few years ago he was in the wrong for screwing up a sprint or something and he blamed Greipel. He called Greipel out and said he wanted to have a punch up after the race; he rattles a load of guys in the peloton. I don’t blame Marc Madiot for giving him the boot last year.
In general there’s a lack of respect from the younger guys. However, if I see any of the new or younger guys being disrespectful on my team I’ll roll up next to them and tell them to wind their neck in. I know this happens on other teams too.
The Hour Record
I, like many, was pretty surprised that Bobridge didn’t break the record. I thought he’d smash it. But then again Rohan Dennis only just beat it by a short way. It just goes to show how damn hard it is and how fit Matthias Brandle was when he took it from Jens.
It’s clearly a lot harder than people think, and all the guys who break it or even have a crack at it are hugely respected in the peloton. It’s become a little bit of a talking point but I can guarantee I won’t be attempting it. A recent time trial made me realise that going full stick for longer than we did in the TT would be an absolute nightmare.
Seeing Cancellara shy away from it by saying he’s lost interest doesn’t surprise me. Once Wiggins does it I think it’ll be a long time till we see other guys attempt it. I expect he’ll destroy the record and set a mark that will stand for a long, long time. Some say he’ll go 55 kilometers. You won’t get guys attempting it for fear of looking foolish.
I noticed an amateur attempted the hour record in Melbourne last week. 48.275km is bloody good and a solid effort!
There was talk of disc brakes being trialled at this year’s Flanders, but it’s not going to happen in the end. Personally I find the only place that they’re good is on a mountain bike, that’s about it. I don’t see how they’re going to benefit the pro peloton. You shouldn’t be in the bunch if you don’t know how to brake properly. Saying that though some of the guys on Pro Continental and Continental teams could do with them or at least a lesson in staying upright.
It’s amazing when you get to the big races and Grand Tours where the wild card teams have been invited, and how many times it seems to be that the wild card teams are the ones involved in the crashes. I’m not being elitist, I’ve had to rise through the ranks to get to where I am now. it’s just interesting to note that the Pro Continental and Continental guys are renowned for crashing. I’ll try and avoid them in the peloton just knowing that there’s a stronger chance they’ll cause other guys hit the deck.
But as for disc brakes, the only place I can see them being an advantage is on the really wet days. Bikes now are so advanced, just jump back ten years and the change is massive. Road bikes are light, stiff and fast, and braking on wheels now is good enough I just see no need for discs. I can’t see where technology will go next. I could actually see that disc brakes would cause more crashes than they limit.
The Lance Armstrong saga continues
I see Lance has been sued for $10 million. I’m personally pretty bored hearing this stuff now. It’s bad for him but it’s also hypocritical from the UCI, WADA and the like as every doper has been treated so differently.
We know he bullied people around and did plenty of other shit stuff, but the way he is treated is a world away to how the dopers of Italy and Spain are treated. They manage to do their two-year ban and come back as heroes. The public hails them, and they come back winning. It’s a joke. I’m not saying that Lance should be treated like this at all, but the other guys should take the flack too.
Jan Ulrich has been treated as an outcast too. He did massive things for cycling in Germany when he was racing; the sport was huge there. But as soon as he got busted for drugs his country turned their collective backs on him. He’s treated as an evil person now. Just because he did drugs doesn’t make him a bad person. I can’t say I know fully what was going on in that era but it seemed that a huge amount of the peloton were on the gear, and I know that doesn’t excuse peoples behaviour, but let’s have some sort of across-the-board treatment of these people.
I guarantee it if Lance was Italian he wouldn’t have been treated the same, the press and drug enforcement bodies wouldn’t have gone to the same extent to uncover the history and everything involved. It’s not just the cyclists though, it’s a shame that Italians and Spaniards or other nations where a sports person comes back after getting popped aren’t treated in a universal way. Cycling takes the heat but drugs are prevalent in every sport. There needs to be some consistency throughout the sporting world.
One guy that might be able to get involved in helping the sport with pushing things forward now is David Millar. He’s retired so it would be a perfect fit for him. As a rider I can say he did a great job of speaking out, and if he can transfer this to a position outside of cycling he could be a man for change and reform.
The Classics are coming
The classics are coming up and that means the strong men are ready to hit it out against each other. But it’s not just strength you need to win a race like Paris-Roubaix, luck and being a savvy rider is also needed. There are some guys in the peloton who could be winning more races if they were just a little more switched on when it came to tactics. They aren’t stupid, but they just depend on on pure power, and it doesn’t get them anywhere.
One guy who’s just a massive engine is Ramunas Navardauskas of Cannondale-Garmin. He is the strongest man going around, an absolute engine. If he could just position himself better, he’d win a load more races. He is just so, so strong.
There isn’t any one man in the peloton I’m scared of when I see them roll to the front to turn the heat up. It’s just when the GC teams hit the front to turn up the heat when you know you’re in for a hard ride.
Tinkoff-Saxo is a team that I think we’ll see some fireworks from this year, and I don’t mean just in racing. Oleg is a man who puts fear into his riders and I’m sure it’s not ‘respect’ that the riders are feeling towards him. It’s definitely fear. From what I hear he’s a man who likes to shout and scream at the team when they screw up or don’t perform to the high level he expects. I don’t think he gets that races sometimes don’t go as planned.
He’s a guy that seems on the surface to love supporting a team but I wouldn’t put it past him if he’d just pull the plug on the team one day if they weren’t doing as he had anticipated. But saying that, his Twitter account is well worth following as it makes for some crazy reading.
Let the racing begin!
Speak to you soon.