Heavy climbs and picture break up – VCSE’s Racing Digest #36

Vuelta a Espana week 1 Review 

There’s no such thing as a dull finish at the Vuelta. One of the things that makes the supposed runt of the grand tour litter so exciting each season is that no matter how uneventful the proceeding kilometres may be the finish always seems to spring a surprise with an uphill drag thrown into  a stage that’s supposed to favour the sprinters or some other cycling curve ball. Take stage 6 (one of VCSE’s stages to watch) where the final was a relentless climb of nearly ten percent without so much as a curve to distract the peloton that they had only one way to go; straight up.

Alejandro Valverde – Hinault to Quintana’s Lemond?

Stage 6 was, as predicted, the first selection on the GC albeit with an unexpected outcome. Alejandro Valverde may not be everyone’s favourite rider but the roads of southern Spain are what the Movistar joint team leader calls home and he took the stage while retaking the race lead he had held for a solitary stage earlier this week. At the time of this post Valverde has one more stage to contend with another summit finish if he’s to hold on to the number one spot on GC into Mondays rest day. The question of who leads the Movistar team at this years Vuelta has been one of the main back stories to the race with many commentators (including your correspondent) suggesting that Nairo Quintana would be the man to watch. Leaving aside the other contenders for a moment Valverde took 12 seconds out of Quintana on stage 6 and might have gained some more today as the younger rider got caught out in a crosswind effected stage. Valverde himself has said that we shouldn’t write Quintana off; he’s expecting him to “..strong in the high mountains.”

Tomorrows stage (with another summit finish) to Aramon Valdelinares with its  3,2,1 countdown of categorised climbs may mix the GC up again but it’s entirely possible we’ve already seen the protagonists for this years race when we look at the stage 6 top ten. Joining the Movistar pairing were Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez, Fabio Aru and Robert Gesink. At one point it look as if Purito was going to claim the stage win, but it was Valverde who set the pace pretty much the whole way, shedding riders with GC pretensions all the way including Wilco Kelderman and Rigoberto Uran. Of course another ‘story’ that’s been cooked up for this race is the supposed re-match between Contador and Froome. The Sky rider has played down his own chances this week and while he possibly ‘only’ looked at 95% on the stage 6 finishing climb his condition doesn’t look like the issue. What is becoming a bit of a problem is Froome’s bike handling and he came off the bike again on yesterday’s stage. There’s some suspicion that the accidents that have befallen him are a result of his stem fetish; Froome’s constant glances at his power meter can mean that his eyes aren’t on the road (and the rider immediately in front of him) at crucial moments. It certainly looked like the Sky team leader was being carefully shepherded by his domestiques on today’s stage.

Contador as predicted has been low key, but more importantly never far from the action so far. With one stage to go until the rest day the Tinkoff rider lies in third place 18 seconds behind Valverde and two ahead of Froome. Rodriguez, Aru and Gesink also make the top ten with the current surprise package, Orica’s Jhoan Chaves in 5th place.

The early race lead, taking over from Valverde after winning stage 3 was Chave’s teammate Michael ‘Bling’ Matthews. He add’s the race leaders jersey from the Vuelta to the one he gained earlier this year at the Giro and in some way it might make up for his last minute withdrawl before the start of this years Tour. Matthews lead was set up by a typically strong team time trial performance from Orica, but the surprise package from the opening stage was Movistar who won against more fancied opposition. Matthews held the lead until stage 6 and has placed well on the other ‘flat’ stages. VCSE’s sprint pick John Degenkolb has two stage wins so far equalling FDJ’s outgoing sprinter Nacer Bouhanni who just pipped Matthews today. The only ‘surprise’ win in the first week was from breakaway specialist Alessandro De Marchi who gave Cannondale a nice sign off in the current incarnation with victory on stage 7.

VCSE doesn’t expect the top four to change in terms of riders tomorrow, but the order might do. The good news is that Froome and Contador both look as if they’re going to play their part in this years Vuelta to the full and that could mean a trio of grand tour winners on the podium in two weeks time.

What’s up with this picture?

Maybe a follower from the US can help out with this one? Why is it that so much coverage of US races falls over due to picture break up? During last weeks USA Pro Challenge in Colorado we lost coverage for most of one stage (at least the part that was meant to be televised)  and large sections of others. This was blamed on weather conditions and the altitude, but picture break up is a feature at most of the races were coverage is picked up from a US host broadcaster. This is disappointing as much of the rest of the coverage (the on screen ‘ticker’ that shows race position etc.) is excellent. The racing too is very often exciting, save for the inevitable intermediate parts of the stage that have to use arrow straight highways.

Fortunately one of the stages that wasn’t overly effected by transmission difficulties had Jens Voigt in his farewell race in the kind of break that made his name and indeed his ‘Shut up legs’ catchphrase. We were denied a fairytale finish when Voigt was caught within the final kilometre but as may said at the time it was probably fitting that things didn’t quite come off. Voigt leaves the sport undiminished as a rider from the generation that has been most vilified for the doping that signified the period. Voigt, when asked, has always vehemently  denied any involvement in PED’s and it’s to be hoped that the rider remains the exception rather than the rule in retirement. As someone who has been such a great marketing tool for Trek worldwide it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine how disappointed his fans would be he turned out to have feet of clay like his erstwhile Trek ambassador Lance Armstrong.

It was interesting to hear that Voigt apparently polarises opinion, with some fans critical of the way this years USA Pro Challenge had been trailed (at least in part) as a valedictory event for the rider. The VCSE standpoint is that Voigt is a character and in an increasingly anodyne sporting world cycling (any sport in fact) needs characters. Compare and contrast Bernard Hinault or Jacques Anquetil with today’s riders and you get the idea.

Always another side to the story

English: Scott Sunderland at 2009 Tour of Britain

A tale to tell – Scott Sunderland 

VCSE first read about Scott Sunderland’s short-lived tenure as a DS at Sky in Richard Moore’s updated ‘Sky’s the Limit’ book. As UK cycling writers go, Moore is fairly prolific with recent books about Robert Millar and the 1986 Tour de France rivalry of Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond. He also seems to be the go to guy from British Cycling’s point of view with books about the track programme as well as STL.

‘Sky’s the Limit’ was written around the time of the teams inception taking into account the period leading up to last years success in the Tour. Certainly not the whole story but an interesting aspect was the period Scott Sunderland worked for the team. Sunderland’s take on the situation has to be interpreted but it does look as if he quickly became the square peg to Dave Brailsford’s round hole.

What does become clear from the original portion of the book is that some of the ‘best laid’ plans and assumptions that Sky made about joining the pro peloton didn’t come to pass. From Moore’s text Sunderland is protrayed as a ‘traditional’ style DS, whereas Sky perhaps wanted more of an emphasis on the director element. Dave Brailsford’s acknowledged control freakery occasionally shows through while never that far from the surface.

All of this remains a cameo in the overall tale, now updated with a chapter on Bradley Wiggin’s 2012 triumph. Perhaps never to repeated, that is a story for another day.

The reason for this article is from another one VCSE came across this week on Cycling Tips (link below). This site comes out of Australia so the guys behind it are well placed to tell the tale of the ex pro rider. Sunderland appears regularly on the SBS channel in Australia who carry most of the racing coverage down under and also made the ‘Hell of the North’ documentary shown on the VCSE YouTube channel.

Sunderland’s story is definitely a triumph over adversity and to an extent is not over yet, particularly in relation to an ongoing court battle with the erstwhile TVM team following a horrific accident involving Sunderland and the team car when he was riding for them in 1998.

With experience of riding grand tours and the big one day races Sunderland was a sought after super domestique and can claim to have helped a number of riders to their greatest results including Eurosport colour man Magnus Backstedt at Paris Roubaix in 2004.

For a rider who apparently once so disillusioned with doping practices in the peloton he considered quitting the sport it seems ironic that Sunderland ended up working for Bjarne Riis at CSC. The article doesn’t dwell on that contradiction but hired as a classics specialist Sunderland enjoyed plenty of success with CSC with victories for riders like Fabian Cancellara and compatriot Stuart O’Grady.

Sunderland has also had an element of ‘square peg’ syndrome while working with the UCI, but rather like his Sky experience it isn’t being charitable to suggest that the reality of the situation didn’t match the brochure. Now working with Cycling Australia in addition to his TV work, thanks to Cycling Tips for enlightening this northern hemisphere fan.

Read the article here 



New content on the Veloclub Sud Eglise YouTube Channel

We have been adding lots of new content to our YouTube channel over the last week or so. There are some new uploads including a brief clip showing Bernard Hinault winning Liege Bastogne Liege in appalling weather in 1980. Supposedly, Hinault has never regained the feeling in two fingertips after getting frostbite during this epic.

There’s another clip to inspire us to get up and get out during the cold and wet weather. It centres on a Triathlete preparing for an Ironman event but we think it hits home for cyclists too.

As part our mission to bring you more from the women’s scene we are seeking out the best stories and background articles from YouTube to give more of an insight into the sport. For starters there are a couple of videos from Specialized Lululemon rider Evelyn Stevens. Evie recounts how she left her career as a Wall Street banker to become a professional women’s cyclist in this short but inspiring clip.

We have also added the final two episodes from Beyond the Peloton series two. It was disappointing that it took the producers until the end of season two to bring anything from the women’s Cervelo Test Team. Ironically, it was the women’s team that preceded the men’s outfit. The footage here is from the World Championships in 2010. As we’re nearly three years on from this event, hopefully it isn’t too much of a spoiler to say that Cervelo swept the board.

We will continue to add to this playlist as we come across more great content, so stay tuned!

Staying on the Cervelo theme, albeit tenuously is Behind the Peloton. VCSE recently came across this series from the US. These guys are clearly steeped in cycling (particularly Flandrian) culture. This short series of films play with the Beyond the Peloton look with a tongue in cheek homage to the in race footage from that series (indeed any pro teams video content). Those of you who have seen the ‘S**t Cyclists Say’ video will appreciate this one.

All this and more great video content can be found by following the links on the homepage to the VCSE YouTube channel. Don’t forget to subscribe or comment!