Caleb Ewan’s impenetrable wall of bikes – VCSE’s Racing Digest #42

Tour of Poland 2015

So Marcel Kittel got the monkey off his back (or should that be Gorilla?) in his first race since the Tour finished; the 2015 Tour of Poland. No doubt the win was hugely cathartic for the Giant Alpecin rider although if it was meant to herald a return to the heady days of 2014 where he won for fun it didn’t quite go according to plan.

Kittel took the opening stage victory from Orica’s Caleb Ewan and he was in the mix again the following day until a touch of wheels with Lampre Merida’s Sacha Modolo caused an accident that left practically the entire peloton stuck behind the tangled two wheeled wreckage where most of those involved in the bunch sprint were piled on top of one another. Missing from the crash scene was Kittel but he had already lost position before Ewan’s downfall. As he crossed the line behind stage winner Matteo Pelucchi, Kittel showed more emotion than he had at point of victory the day before; erroneously thinking the IAM sprinter had blocked him previously.

Pelucchi took another win the following day with Kittel trailing in a distant 7th as the stage delivered a kick before the line. He lost the overall race lead a day later and that was the end of the beginning of Marcel Kittel’s return to front line racing. His stage one win and the bizarre end to stage two at least delivered some drama to the uninspiring parcours that the race organisers chose for the opening few days. When you have become used to cycling being used as a sometimes not so subtle advertisement for the local tourist board it did seem a bit strange that this years race seemed to have decided to celebrate Poland’s urban rail infrastructure. One stage looping up and down a dual carriage way bisected by a tram line would have been enough; three was probably over doing it.

The second half of the race demonstrated how the Tour of Poland can often throw up an unusual result. Stage 4 provided an unlikely breakaway win and this was followed by the GC changing hands daily as first Bart De Clercq, then Sergio Henao and finally Jon Izaguirre pulled on the leaders jersey. Henao had been in the situation of holding the race lead into the final day’s TT stage at the Vuelta a Pais Vasco earlier this year. If there’s a safe place for your money it’s definitely not betting on Henao winning a stage race when a TT is the deciding factor. It’s still hugely enjoyable just to see the rider racing again after a career threatening injury but Henao is unlikely to be offered the chance of leading Sky in a race that really matters to them anytime soon.

And just as the spores of wild funghi spread across the undergrowth the sponsorship mushrooms of the Tour of Poland continue to multiply. If there’s a symbol of the race for me it’s these inflatable bulbs that line the race route as I have noted previously (here and here). Maybe this was the motive for the finishing circuits on this years race as the mushroom count for this years race surpassed both of the previous years combined. It’s part of the race’s charm that a sponsor can get maximum bang for their buck and yet random members of the crowd can get to the stage winner to claim an autograph of bidon before even the soigneur has handed them a coke and a towel.

Tom Danielson positive for Testosterone

Ahead of the Tour of Utah came the news that Garmin Cannondale rider Tom Danielson had returned a positive test for testosterone. A mainstay of the Slipstream team in it’s various incarnations since 2008 and (supposedly) a reformed character where doping is concerned the positive has significance that extends beyond the rider and the team.

Once a doper always a doper? - Tom Danielson
Once a doper always a doper? – Tom Danielson

Among the front rank of race teams Garmin have been held up by themselves and others as an example of how it was possible to compete and win clean. For all the plaudits that Dave Brailsford received for winning a grand tour with a clean rider, Jonathan Vaughters was achieving the same goal in the same year but a month earlier when Ryder Hesjedal won the 2012 Giro. But here’s the rub; Vaughters was (at the time) a semi-admitted doper and as we learnt at the end of that year so were quite a few of his team (including Hesjedal and Danielson who both served out of season bans after coorperating with the USADA investigation into Lance Armstrong). For many, the fact that Vaughters the ex doper was able to run a team that included high profile ex dopers within its ranks was bad enough. The events of last week could well result in more people turning away from the team, if not the sport as a whole.

In these situations our words come back to haunt us and Vaughters has been reminded of his vow to walk away from the team if one of his riders tested positive. In his only comment (at least that I have seen) on the story he announced that he intended to stay. To say that rubs salt into the wound is a bit of understatement but in the middle of the season I have to wonder what else he could have done. Danielson (at least so far) seems to be sticking to his story that the test can be explained away and that may yet ‘prove’ to be the case. For Vaughters and the team Joe Drombrowski’s stage and GC win in Utah provided the slightest of balms.

I suspect that the story will simmer on into the off season. The marriage between the Garmin and Cannondale squads has been less than successful so far and it’s a nightmare scenario for attracting more sponsorship when your key point of difference with (for example) Astana is undone with a positive test. I have written before about Sky and the expectations set for that team as a far as being demonstrably clean is concerned. The expectations are the same for Garmin and as such the fallout is worse (ironically) that an announcement of a another positive from Androni or Astana.

Velocio SRAM to cease racing in 2016

The announcement that Velocio SRAM are to cease racing at the season surprised me this morning. So far there hasn’t been any official word other than team owner Kristy Scrymgeour saying that she is looking for fresh challenges. You would at least think that it’s nothing to do with results as the team has enjoyed much success in it’s latest incarnation in 2015.

It’s an unsettling time for the riders many of whom faced uncertain futures this time a year ago when the team lost its principal sponsor. After using a much publicised crowd funding operation to help finance the team this year it seems a little strange that the decision has been taken to pull out now. No doubt more will emerge but if the reason does prove to be financial it will highlight the difficulty of trying to grow the women’s world tour.

Froome to the Vuelta 

Chris Froome made it official when he tweeted that he was looking forward to lining up for the start of the final grand tour of 2015; the Vuelta a Espana. This years race is moving from a consolation run out for Vincenzo Nibali to one of the strongest fields in (say) 12 months (insert wink here!).

Sky, when hinting at potential Froome participation during the Tour, talked about maintaining the riders condition for 2016 but might they just be thinking of their own grand tour ‘double’? Alberto Contador was unable to pull off the Giro / Tour in the same year but might Froome attempt the Tour / Vuelta?

Feature image of Tour of Poland by Kancelaria Premiera on Flickr via Creative Commons

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