Tour Down Under launches the 2015 road racing season
It doesn’t seem like a year ago that I was bemoaning the lack of television coverage (at least in the UK) of the Tour Down Under. Some of that discussion neatly ties in with a recent post I wrote about the launch of Velon and the possible implications that will have for armchair fans in the future (you can read about that here http://tinyurl.com/k3w6poo). If i’m honest I haven’t paid that much attention to the goings on in Australia and even less to the race about to start in Argentina (until today that is). I guess it’s because the TDU takes place during the (Australian) summer and we’re still ‘enjoying’ the coldest part of the year in Europe. I’ll watch the races in Qatar and Dubai, but for me anyway the season doesn’t properly start until the weekend of Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne Brussels Kuurne where the riders will at least be similarly dressed to me.
Anyway, back down under for a moment and firstly I will point you to an article by Lee Rodgers AKA Crankpunk (read that here http://tinyurl.com/m7q8hqs). The interesting point CP makes is that the timing of the TDU and the Aussie National Road Race Champs’ can give a bit of a distorted picture of riders form going into the season proper. It’s an interesting theory and the article looks at Richie Porte’s prospects for 2015 as he’s currently saying how good he’s feeling at the moment. The only way for Richie ought to be up as last season can’t have gone any worse for him really. He’s already got the Aussie TT jersey but I don’t think it’s either important or significant if Porte wins the TDU. What will be interesting is how Sky intend to use him this year. Before everything went pear shaped for Porte in 2014 he was lined up to defend his Paris Nice title until Sky withdrew him at the eleventh hour to ride for Chris Froome at Tirreno Adriatico. With the benefit of hindsight Sky’s desire to protect their star rider made sense but at the time it seemed like a strange decision and for all of the physical problems that dogged Froome’s BFF last year I wonder if having his programme messed with had a negative impact psychologically on Porte.
There was a lot of speculation last year, some of it stoked by the rider himself, that Richie would need to consider life away from Sky if he was to really fulfil his potential as a GC rider in the grand tours. I think the way Sky handle Porte this year will have a huge influence on whether or not he decides to stay with the team. I wonder if the stars are poised to align at some point in the next year or so that will see Porte move to Australia’s team Orica Green Edge, with one or both of the Yates brothers moving in the opposite direction to Sky.
Talking of Aussie riders I was super happy to see Heinrich Haussler take the Aussie road race title last week. I have been a massive fan of Heino since his Cervelo days and while it has been a while coming it’s great to see him getting a result like this for IAM cycling in their first year at the highest level. Haussler has been out of the limelight for a long time and he wasn’t wrong when he described his win as the biggest of his career. I hope that Heino can kick on from this result; he’s due a better showing in the spring classics too. I remember meeting him during his first year with IAM and he seemed genuinely surprised that anyone would have sought him out when the big crowds were surrounding the Sky Death Star. Hopefully in 2015 Haussler can remind a few more people of just how exciting he was to watch back in 2009.
You can probably tell that any TDU predictions are thin on the ground so far and that will probably remain the case (at least as far as this post is concerned). Marcel Kittel, who won the TDU curtain raiser at the weekend will probably take a win or two in the sprint stages. One rider who won’t be contesting the bunch with Kittel is Mark Cavendish. Cav’s starting his season in Argentina and will probably claim one or two wins of his own there. The elephant in the room is of course Cav’s record against Kittel. I’m just not convinced by his chances of beating the bigger, younger rider and can only see that getting harder over the next few years. The difficulty for Cavendish is that he’s in the final year of his contract with the erstwhile Omega Pharma (now Etixx) Quick Step team. The team have two big salaried stars who need to arrest their decline pretty quickly if you add Tom Boonen to the mix. I think that Cavendish will need to undergo a bit of a reinvention this year as I put the likelihood of him outsprinting Kittel in the marquee sprints (i.e the Tour) at pretty much zero. An early season (second) win at Milan San Remo might help his team get the chequebook out again but it will take something special for Cavendish to earn another contract of the same description in 2016.
Cavendish has been in the news today (and let’s be honest he’s nothing if not quotable) for going of the deep end to a journo’s question in Argentina. Asked if he thought the peloton was ‘clean’ Cav responded by asking if said journalist was “…100% certain no journalist was f**king his wife?” Not having seen the rest of the press conference that accompanied the quote i’m not sure what (if anything) provoked the reaction. If nothing else, as a ‘senior’ figure in the peloton isn’t it conceivable that Cavendish would be asked questions about doping, particularly after the Astana hoo ha that’s taken place during the off season. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the view that his reaction can be construed as having something (anything) to hide, but surely riders ‘get’ that these kind of questions are going to be asked. Don’t they? If Dante was writing the ‘Inferno’ right now he might just see philandering journo’s as occupying a level below dopers but two wrongs don’t make a right as far as Cav’s outburst is concerned.
Of course there have been enough stories about doping in other sports in the last six months that should force even the most parochial of cycling fans (or members of the peloton) to realise that the problem isn’t just confined to our sport. In a way this isn’t a bad thing; the focus on doping shouldn’t be focused on cycling exclusively. But the facts remain that a lot of the cycling narrative since the end of the season has been doping related. Let’s hope that the new season brings us something else to talk about.
picture credit First Endurance