The Secret Pro: Giro gossip and underperforming teams
Some big teams need to get their act together.
Some big teams need to get their act together.
Hello, everyone. Good to be back.
I’m home after what may have been a trip around Italy, maybe not. I’m not going to say either way. That would be foolish, very foolish to leave a considerable crumb out there for you to follow and possibly work out my true identity.
Anyway, the Giro was good, wasn’t it?!
It’s been a good few weeks since I was last tapping away on here, letting you fine folk of the internet know what my thoughts are on what’s going on in the world of pro cycling. Since the last article, we’ve had the Classics, the start of the Giro in Hungary, and just the other day, one of the best/most brutal 145km of racing all season; actually scrap that, the past few seasons.
Shall we first dig into the Giro and work our way backward?
Now I can discuss the start in Hungary, because obviously when you’re in Hungary you can’t discuss Hungary, or at least any misgivings you have with the place. Like any sane person, I do. But I try to distance myself from pretty much any questionable country’s politics when I find myself racing there. It can become just too much, too overwhelming. I may sound like a real wuss, but I have a job to do, and when you’re not top of the pile, and with young upstarts wanting a place on any team, sometimes you just need to focus, do your job, and ignore the shitstorm surrounding places. But I will doff my cap to those who find the energy, especially Jacopo Guarnieri; there’s one brave man.
The startling thing with the depart in Hungary, though, was the fact that we were just a few hundred kilometres from the Ukrainian border. It had a few wondering if this was a wise move by RCS. But then again, it’s not been the only race held in the region in the past three months since the war began.
Let’s just put it out there. There were two epic stages of the Giro. Stage 14, Santena to Torino; who’d have thought it would see Bora-Hansgrohe rip the seams apart. And then there was stage 20 from Belluno to Marmolada, with the final ascent of Passo Fedaia. My man for the win from the outset was Jai Hindley; he’s been quietly doing his thing all season, the way he showed that he can ride out of his body on that first mountain stage up Blockhaus should have had many worried.
He got a lot of shit for hanging on up Blockhaus. But you could see he was 100% a bloc, hanging on, chewing that stem. But then to take that stage win was impressive. That showed everyone he has that killer instinct. Hindley and Bora should be a force to be reckoned with from now on. That team is only in its first proper transition year, from the Sagan days to a new breed of lads, and they’ve already got it dialled. I know it’s made plenty of us sit up and take note.
The team just used what they had to perfection. They let Ineos be the big boys of the peloton, left them being all confident and in control, all the while slyly ambushing them when it mattered.
One guy I was sad to see leave the race was Romain Bardet; what a shame. If you caught the final images of him climbing into the back of the Team DSM car and being sick before getting in, you might think that was down to his bad stomach. I have an alternative theory that it was actually just the thought of a) his plans going down the plughole, and b) him having to climb into a DSM team car. Let me explain.
If you remember back to last season, Bardet was flicked by his then-new team and not taken to the Tour de France as he had a difficult spring. Now he’s in his second year with the team and seems (up until stage 14) to have been having a terrific season. He won the Tour of the Alps and was performing outstandingly well in the opening week of the Giro. So is that down to things clicking at DSM for him? I wouldn’t be so sure.
Sure, he’s signed to the team until 2024, but I bet he’s putting on a great show in the hope that a few teams will take notice – so when he eventually wants to give DSM the flick sometime this season, someone will want to snap him up. It’s not uncommon for riders to jump from this team mid-season. It speaks volumes about how much the team infrastructure sucks if a rider is willing to say ‘fuck it’ to a WorldTour team and the money that comes with it.
The latest rider rumoured to want out of his DSM contract is Thymen Arensman. Will Bardet be next? My guess is yes. He’s a seriously lovely guy, one of the only Frenchies I chat with. I hope he gets to a team that isn’t built like some kind of locked-in cult. From what I know, you get on the squad, and you’re not allowed any outside form of coaching, sports nutrition advice, nothing like that. You do what the team wants, how they want it and when they want it. It doesn’t matter if you have a successful partnership with a private coach; it’s the team’s way or the highway. And it seems to be more are taking the highway.
The next bit of Giro gossip is Simon Yates and his performance. Now the press bigged him up as a contender for GC, but it’s been pretty common knowledge within the peloton – well, if you’re mates with a few of the BikeExchange riders who like to talk – that he wasn’t planning on going to the Giro as a GC rider. Stages were always the plan, and it certainly seems to have worked out for the team.
As we’re in that slight lull of the season before the next big block of stage races, I thought I’d talk a bit about recovery and nutrition fads within the peloton. Yep, we go through the fads too. One that you may have heard of and had red lights flashing is that of Ketones. Ketones are basically… actually, I’m not going to go into it. But it was a fad a few years back. It helped with recovery, it swept through the peloton, and we were all into it at some point. There’s still a percentage of riders using it to help with better recovery, but it’s just one of the many trends over the past few years.
Sometimes I wonder if the nutritionists and sports doctors who are paid to fuel us right look at us as experimental dummies or if they even have a clue what they are doing themselves.
It’s crazy how often the docs and nutritionists can change what we put down our throats. One year it’s all carbs for training, then the next, it’s just protein. I’ve heard of others being told to down up to half a kilo of carbs in a five-hour race. How the hell are you supposed to digest that?
Honestly, I’ve been doing this long enough to know what works for me. And it differs from race to race. I’m now at the stage where I’ll pick and choose the sports science that I think looks like it may be of service.
But there are those that think they know it all, even though they’ve not been around long enough to learn.
There is one rider who, when he jumped from the junior ranks up to WorldTour, thought he could fuel as he did in a junior race. How wrong he was.
He claimed that he could race on 110 g of maltodextrin per hour and that he could do this at an early-season stage race that is usually very hot. All the staff were telling him it was not possible, that he couldn’t digest all that in the heat and repeat it day after day. He claimed he was fine with it, plowed on and did as he did in the junior ranks. Well, come day three, unsurprisingly to us but not to him, he came down with serious stomach problems. It’s good to see situations like that blow up at times, if you get what I mean.
For spring campaign disasters, we need to look no further than Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl. Boy oh boy did they have a shocker of a Classics campaign. However, from what I can gather, their poor performance is down to a few factors – and one of the factors could have been dealt with mid-campaign and could have, if not rectified their spring results, maybe steered them in the right direction.
I’ve mentioned it before that this season we’ve seen and will continue to see teams rock up to races with rider rosters that just aren’t what you’d expect. And that’s down to multiple sick riders and teams being stretched thin. It’s calmed down a bit since the start of the season, but still, team rosters continue to be a little rocky at times. And this is what happened to Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl – multiple ill riders, or riders that had been ill and had to race. And when you’ve got a bunch of riders who are undercooked for racing, it means that you’ll overcook it in the races, especially if it’s “top priority” races, which the Classics are for Quick-Step.
They were constantly chasing that win, pushing it too hard, and, in doing so, digging themselves a big old hole that was going to be a bastard to get out of. What they should have done is something that old Pat isn’t very good at: communicate.
What do I mean by that? Well, if you communicate with your sponsors and, being a Belgian team, with the Belgian press, that you have a tired, slightly below-par team due to illness, you can lay it out straight. Tell them that the only way forward is to take a week off, ease back, look after the riders, regroup and then go for it again. I don’t mean they shouldn’t have raced: they have to, they’re a World Tour team after all. But for a week, they shouldn’t be expected to perform; they would then have had the pressure taken off them enough to find a new path forward instead of that constant push, push, push, or dig, dig, dig.
Yes, you’d need an understanding sponsor – but that’s something I think Quick-Step may have been, as they’ve been in the sport long enough to learn how it all works. As for the press, well, that would have been a double-edged sword. They may write the team off due to taking an enforced breather, but then they also got ripped a new one due to having a crap season. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you have someone who’s skilled at this sort of communication, playing with the media and keeping sponsors in the know, it can give the team that needed extra time.
While all eyes were staring at Quick-Step, one team that should have had more questions asked of them was fellow Belgian team Lotto-Soudal. A team that didn’t just underperform at the Classics, but all season. Man, they’re currently in the running with megabucks Israel-Premier Tech for dropping down the rankings to ProTeam level come 2023.
They had so little impact in the build-up to the Classics that no one even bothered to mention Florian Vermeersch when factoring in riders to watch on the cobbles. This should be Belgium’s bright new star after his stellar second place at Roubaix last year. Admittedly, a good Roubaix would have been a huge task for Vermeersch as he should have been a marked man. But he did nothing; he struggled, even scoring a DNF at Roubaix.
The team needs to build around him. They have the experience but not the killer blow to win. It’s a team of massive engines, but it takes more than that now to win a race.
I spoke of good sports directors in my last article, but some on Soudal are really long in the tooth. Racing has changed, and that actually brings me to the next team that I want to rag on.
Israel-Premier Tech. As I mentioned, they’re languishing in the lower echelons of the rankings. But they certainly don’t help themselves with building a team that can’t win. Come on, guys, stop bringing riders to races just to keep sponsors happy. It’s a joke. They seem to turn up to races with ill-equipped squads, riders that are there purely because a sponsor wants them to attend.
As of writing this, they have four wins. The only rider that I’ve actually taken note of this year from the team is Simon Clarke at the early part of the season; no wins but some great racing. [They have since won the Mercan’Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes courtesy of Jakob Fuglsang].
It’s a team that has some big names, but they’re all a touch long in the tooth and a bit too eclectic to gel as a solid squad. And that’s what happens when you either bring guys on to keep a sponsor happy or riders who are just there for the cash, because this team has a good budget to play with.
As I said – some experienced riders, long in the tooth, but experienced. These guys would be perfectly placed to pass on their knowledge, you’d think, but you need young guys who want to learn to pass on that knowledge to. How are you going to develop that next generation of talent when the team only has about four fresh faces, if that? It’s an old, old team; there are no young guns in the team. It’s a retirement home, a cash grab for the guys on their way out. So don’t expect anything from them this season or next. It’s purely a plaything for the sponsors, which is a shame as loads of talent is wasted there.
And lastly, what about TotalEnergies quietly putting out the quote that Alexandre Geniez’s contract has been expunged? As you may be aware, he was found guilty of domestic violence in March and the team came under fire for not sacking him straight away; even the sponsors seemed to keep quiet.
Well, if you read the tweet that they put out, it says nothing of his court case, just that he is no longer with the team. As far as I know, the reason for the radio silence from the team and sponsors at recognising this whole problem was down to French employment law. It’s taken them this long to untangle the whole mess and get rid of him. Not the best look for the team, obviously, and as far as I’m aware, they can’t say anything about it even now. But it’s good to see him out of the peloton.
Anyway, ’til next time, thanks for reading.