After a busy few months of racing The Secret Pro is back. In this latest instalment our anonymous insider writes about the latest chatter within the pro peloton, what’s been happening at the Giro d’Italia, reflects on the Fabio Aru vs Greg Henderson case and more.
It’s that time of year again. The Grand Tours are finally underway and the Spring Classics are behind us. In fact the Spring Classics feel like they were a lifetime ago.
So far this season we’ve seen quite a lot going on outside what I like to call “the real racing”. We’ve had the whole situation with Astana and their licence, then the Aru and Henderson saga, motors in bikes are back in the news … basically the usual circus of stuff that detracts from what the sport is truly about: guys going out and racing hard against one another.
But I’ll get to some of that stuff in due course. First, the racing.
The Classics were interesting this year. You had the cobbled classics without the big favourites and then at the Ardennes Classics the one guy that stood out, yet again, was Alejandro Valverde. Finishing second at Amstel Gold and winning both Liege and Flèche Wallonne is no small feat. He’s a guy who polarises fans — you either love him or hate him. I don’t know him very well but from all accounts, he’s a very nice bloke.
As with all the Grand Tours the first week of the Giro d’Italia is always full of crashes and this year’s race has been no different. It’s part and parcel of the job but it’s still shit when it happens. At this year’s race there’s already been two situations that have stirred serious conversation not just among riders but with fans and the media too. On stage 2 a spectator tried to get in on the action and on stage 6 a spectator with a camera caused a pile up in the sprint. These incidents are cause for concern because both were caused by “fans”.
Though the blame can’t always be put on crazy fans — sometimes it’s the fault of the riders too. In many cases there are guys in the front of the peloton in the final kilometres at the Grand Tours who just shouldn’t be there. Smaller guys like the climbers may be trying to stay out of trouble or trying to look after their team leader but end up not knowing how to handle the situation up front in a sprint. These guys, with their limited sprinting skills, cause the crashes. They need to know where their place is.
But considering how many kilometres we ride a year in total and the number of spectators on the roadside it’s surprising crashes caused by spectators don’t happen more often. Just take the Tour last year. The crowds were massive but not because of your normal European fans. Instead most of them were new cycling fans who weren’t used to seeing guys whiz past so close at 60km/h. I was surprised more crashes didn’t happen there. In some respects I was glad not to be at the race, even though it looked amazing on TV.
Getting through a Grand Tour is a case of picking and choosing your stages, doing what you can on these days and then, on the days where you don’t have an aim, just trying to take it as easy as is possible. If that means rolling in five, 10 or 15 minutes behind then so be it. Just making sure you get in within the time cut is the goal on those days.
The whole Astana situation is something that’s been the talk of the peloton for a fair while now. I for one haven’t got a clue what the UCI were up to when they allowed Astana to keep their licence. The team and their situation pisses so many people off; they’re a joke really.
And as for Fabio Aru, well, I’ll keep my mouth shut. I’ll learn from the mistake made by Greg Henderson, a man I have huge respect for. To people who say the omertà is still alive and that riders should just speak out if they know something: get a grip. In this day and age throwing around accusations without evidence is tough; you can’t say anything for fear of getting sued. But I know after Greg Henderson put “that” tweet out many people made the effort to shake his hand and praise him for saying what he did.
While I’m on the subject of Astana they, along with Tinkoff-Saxo, have been throwing their weight around in the peloton at the Giro. Trying to show who has the biggest balls seems to be the order of the day for these guys.
The racing at the Giro is crazy; it’s always a hard race. I’ve done all the Grand Tours in the past and despite how hard it is, I enjoy doing the Giro. You need to adjust your body clock a bit as the late starts throw everything off — you go to bed late, eat late, there are late transfers and so on. But compared to the Tour it’s a damn sight better.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in a shitty hotel, as many of them are in Italy. Just the simple stuff is done right — pasta and food in general is actually cooked how it should be, coffee is coffee and not just black water. The Italian kitchens are the heart of the hotels and this shines through. Plus the all-important WiFi actually works in most places, unlike in France. France is a bit backwards in many respects with stuff like this.
I noticed that the guys here at CyclingTips published an article about testing a motor in a road bike. Many people will call it bullshit, but I’m pretty damn sure it has gone on in the past. But the penalties the UCI has brought in, for riders caught using a motorised bike, will hopefully stop this.
I’ve seen stuff at races and it’s there on some YouTube videos if you dig about. We’ve even seen mechanics from certain teams behaving oddly at races in the past, standing at the side of the course with spare bikes when usually those bikes would just be placed on the car. And when those mechanics are left at the side of the road with bikes after they’ve changed, well, that’s the sort of odd stuff you wouldn’t usually see.
Anyone that says they couldn’t believe pro riders using a motorised bike is kidding themselves. Guaranteed performance improvements without having to risk health problems? Come on!
You may have seen that Richie Porte is staying in a camper for the duration of the Giro and not in hotels like the rest of his team mates. Richie is a great guy, but if I were on his team I’d be out every night banging on the door!
But again it’s not all his choice. I’m guessing it’s a test for the Tour and Froome. It’ll be another “marginal gains” situation, same bed, no worrying about packing etc. It just seems overkill though. The stress of changing hotels isn’t that bad at the end of the day. Packing your suitcase every morning can be a pain at times but when you look at the whole picture it’s not as if it takes you two hours to clean out your hotel.
The “same bed” explanation is kind of flawed as many teams let their riders bring their own mattresses. LottoNL-Jumbo, Etixx-Quick-Step and a few other teams have vans that are filled with sponsored mattress that get put on the hotel beds every night.
Let’s talk about some of the up-and-comers for a moment. New guys come through every year; some go the distance, others don’t. One guy that has truly impressed me this year is neo-pro BMC rider Stefan Kung. That guy is pure class. You sit behind him on a bike and he looks as though he is made for cycling; a true athlete. You can just see it — the muscles, the way he pedals, the way he sits on his bike, he has it. His stage win at the Tour de Romandie was particularly good.
Obviously Australia’s cycling media loves to focus on young Caleb Ewan. He’s another guy that I think should progress well if Orica-GreenEdge looks after him. He’s a big talent. I don’t know him that well — I’ve said hello in passing a few times but he seems respectful enough.
Sam Bennett is another guy worth keeping an eye out for. He has had some good wins lately and he sounds like Sean Kelly to boot. If he has half the class Kelly has he’ll be ripping things up soon. Seems a nice guy too.
That’s it for this time round, next time it’ll be closer to the big event in July and the stress that comes with it.