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Archive for January, 2012

A Superb Start

If perfection is a 10/10, and the attainment of perfection is impossible, then GreenEdge have had a 9/10 first month of racing.  They have won both the road and TT Australian jerseys for the year, and have won the overall on their first ProTour race.  Simon Gerrans is top of the UCI World Rankings, and GreenEdge are 3rd (for full lists, go to http://www.uci.ch/templates/BUILTIN-NOFRAMES/Template3/layout.asp?MenuId=MjExMw&LangId=1 ).

They controlled the final stage of racing at the Tour Down Under with panache, even sending Cam Meyer up the road in the final 10km, briefly threatening to derail the sprint trains, and thus ensured that Gerrans remained in front of Valverde on the overall.  Gerro upon winning the TDU

Cam’s heroics aside, the sprinters did have the final say for the week in South Australia, and Greipel did what Greipel does best.  He monstered the field with a dominant sprinting display.  One can only hope that he can take some of that form to European races where he can go head to head with Cav and Ty Farrar and we get to see kickarse sprint battles between the three of them and Gossy.

February is a quiet month as far as the World Tour calendar is concerned, with the next race that points are available being Paris-Nice in March.  There are other races, such as Qatar & Oman on, as well as Langkawi, but this is a period where teams will be scrabbling around a little looking for places to race their riders, and riders will be trying to get the necessary miles in their legs to prep for the Spring Classics while staying healthy and not falling off in the sketchy conditions that Europe in February can throw at them.

My second year at Garmin was a shocker for exactly this in February – we had fractured collarbones, ribs and even shoulder blades to deal with on top of regular ailments like colds and flu.  The gods didn’t smile on us that year, let’s hope they’re smiling on the peloton this time around.

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Doin’ The Math

What a great stage today!  And we in Australia were finally allowed to actually watch it.  Yes, Channel 9 decided that reruns of Big Bang Theory and Two And A Half Men were more interesting through the week, but with a big midday slot to fill on the weekend, they have generously decided to show some of the race live.  Yes I am peeved.

Today the traditional break went up the road, and things settled into a nice rhythm, and most were likely preparing mentally for the two ascents of Wilunga Hill at the end of the stage.  Unfortunately for those not in good position earlier in the stage than said hills, some hefty crosswinds and aggressive bike racing split the bunch into pieces, with a couple of those expected to feature late in the race winnowed out prior to even making the climb.

Once the peloton hit the final circuit, the boys from Movistar particularly laid the heat down, with a little help form GreenEdge, Sky & Radioshack, and so the bunch that hit Wilunga for the final climb was down to under thirty blokes.  The adage that the first to attack is the first to be dropped rang true with Danny Pate shooting off the front, then getting spat out the back of the group.  In the final 1500m it came down to Gerro from GreenEdge, Mick Rogers from Sky and Alejandro Valverde from Movistar.

Gerro & Valverde looked nothing like this upon finishing, although it was a great finish!

Dodge went, Gerro and Valverde waited… Gerro went for it and looked to have done enough, but Valverde stuck it out and Gerro came back to him, and then in a super cool side by side sprint (which you virtually never see) Valverde edged away from Gerro to take the win.

Now they sit on the same time, and Gerro has been credited with the race lead on account of some sort of countback.  I can only assume the conversation between the judges on the countback went something along the lines of “Give it to the Australian when at the Tour Down Under.”

There are still quite a number of seconds available in time bonuses tomorrow, and who will do what will depend on if the current official standings are ratified and confirmed.  If GreenEdge hold the race lead, they will send blokes up the road or let a break go so that the intermediate sprints can’t go to Valverde, and then they have to hope that Valverde doesn’t finish in the top three in the final kick.  The likelihood of him being on the podium for tomorrow’s stage are next to zero, but the GreenEdge boys won’t relax until the race is in their pockets.  And if Valverde does nab a second, the maths will all change.  Good times.

And can you even bet on Greipel winning again tomorrow?  He’s a red hot favourite on such a simple course as the final crit circuit through the streets of Adelaide!

 

My tips for the stage,

Greipel: 1

Petacchi: 2

Boassen Hagen: 3

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Start The Show

The Big Gorilla didn’t pack his climbing legs for this year’s TDU.  Translation: Andre Greipel couldn’t stay with the peloton as it went up the very tough Mengler’s Hill at warp speed. Oscar Freire, however, did, and he led a good-sized bunch over the line in Tanunda today.  It was a very good result for the race as much as anything: processions tend to put the fans off.

Stage 5 is going to be the decisive stage of the race.  It finishes at the top of Wilunga Hill, and does a lap prior to that going over the hill as well.  The hill is not that tough from a world cycling perspective, but is hard enough to put gaps between the strong climbers and the rest of the field.  Most likely the two passes up the hill will be ridden at warp speed, as will the lap in between in an effort to put some time into the sprinters such as Heino Haussler and Bling Matthews who have remained a threat on GC.

As I noted yesterday, there are a couple of contenders with some serious pedigree:

Hesjedal is always good, and will be cranking out a massive gear at a low cadence, Jan Ullrich style, looking like he is not going as quick as everyone else, but grinding away from them all instead

Gerrans is in great form as shown from his nationals win.  He also can position himself well in the bunch, and is faster than all but the sprinters when it comes to a kick.  He is going to have massive local support up Wilunga as well.

Valverde is returned from his drugs ban and would not be a popular winner.  He was craven in how he dealt with being caught, behaving like a primary school child, denying everything despite overwhelming evidence.  That said, he is a great bike rider, and in good form, so will be hard to beat.

Lloyd showed he has good legs at nationals last week, but may not be quite fast enough to skip away for the win as the hill isn’t quite hard enough for him.

Ryder can go deep to win a race!

It’s going to be a huge final 30 or 40km of racing, and the last kick will be spectacular to say the least.

Heart before head in the tipping: Hesjedal just getting past Gerrans in a photo; Valverde third.

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After the W Clarke bolt from the blue of yesterday, there was no way that Stage 3 of the TDU was going to be anything but a bunch sprint, and all of the key teams worked together to guarantee this today, with Andre Greipel from Lotto again the winner.  The big man can sprint!  Will he finally threaten Cav this

130km: do they even need a feed? In this weather, I think yes!!

year?  I certainly hope so – the best races are built around rivalries, not processions.

Hearing the big man’s comments today on how his team was decimated (not literally (for the nerds reading this)) in the Stage 1 crash, perhaps Lotto allowing yesterday’s break to go wasn’t so much a bluff as a necessity.  We shall see if something similar to Stage 2 happens again tomorrow on Stage 4. The stage has the shape of a bunch sprint, is only 130km long, and going on form, how could anyone bet against Greipel doing it all again tomorrow?

The winner of the whole race will likely be decided on Willunga Hill the following day.  We have had Valverde letting everyone know he is in good nick, Gerrans showing he has good legs with his nationals win last week, Rogers and Hesjedal being the class acts they are and Sanchez being the gun ready to explode.  It is highly unlikely the sprinters will get a chance at the overall, and so tomorrow they won’t leave anything in the tank.  Makes for good bike racing!!

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Will Clarke.  Wow!  A full day up the road with only one bloke helping out, and only for a short period of time. Chapeau!  A great win.  Whilst giving full credit to Clarke, this result was more due to errors in the peloton than his own ride (brilliant as it was).

One can only guess as to what was happening, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Lotto attempted to bluff GreenEdge into sharing responsibility for controlling the break, and GreenEdge calling said bluff.  This would be a good call by GreenEdge as all they would end up doing is setting themselves up to be de facto race controllers from now on.  Far from ideal for them, and in the end, their man Simon Gerrans has again positioned himself nicely to be ready to factor in the final gc standings.  Interestingly, Mark Renshaw is out of gc contention, meaning Bling Matthews and LL Sanchez are now their main cards; and Valverde has shown he is in decent form by putting his Movistar lads on the front late yesterday.  Willunga will be interesting.

Today’s stage to Victor Harbour will again be a bunch sprint similar to Stage One.  Greipel to redeem his team and himself with another win.

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Same As It Ever Was

Heat is the main thing making life difficult for the racers

And so they’re off!  Once again Andre Greipel has won a stage at the TDU, once again there is a bit of controversy about sprinters not holding their line, and once again the accused sprinter has taken the classic “WHAT! ME???” stance.  The season is underway.

Yesterday’s stage was typically nervous for a season opener, and was made difficult by the fact that it was such a hot day on the road.  This race and Qatar are the only opportunities that teams have to practise any thermoregulation theories on their riders prior to the Grand Tours in May and July, and I would be interested to know who is doing what and how they’re doing it this year! 

An interesting observation from yesterday’s stage was that GreenEDGE were essentially left to control the race prior to the other sprint teams contributing to bringing the break back in.  Similar to Rabobank at the Eneco Tour, the stakes are that much higher for the home nation’s team to perform that they are obliged to do more work than would be normal on more neutral ground.  Whitey of course played things well, ensuring that his boys didn’t do too much work, and that the other sprint teams put their share of effort in to drag things back together when the time came to set up the stage.

It was also hilarious to see commentators noting that an Australian team were chasing an Australian rider (not from their team) when GreenEDGE were involved in chasing Rohan Dennis in the final kilometres of the stage.  Errmmm… this is proFESSional cycling… you may have heard of it before… the TEAMS try and win races for themSELVES… strange concept, I know!!  I can’t imagine a scenario where Garmin WOULDN’T ride if they thought they were a chance of winning a stage if an American from another team was up the road.  Ludicrous!

Sadly for GreenEDGE though, all but Simon Gerrans appeared to be caught behind a late crash, meaning their GC policy is Gerro or bust.  Not at all a bad option!  They will still shoot for stage wins as they’re able, but will now concentrate on getting Gerro in the correct position on the two key days.

Today’s stage is an interesting one.  The Stirling finish circuit is a mainstay of the TDU, and it is a long uphill drag to the line which has seen opportunists leap from the front of the bunch to take honours, as well as strong man sprints over the past couple of years.  It was my first racing stage where I saw firsthand how tough pro cyclists can be: Cam Meyer as a skinny little neopro dislocated his shoulder in a crash over a waterbottle that another rider had dropped going through the feed zone and rather than laying on the ground whimpering like most of us would, Cam stood up, relocated his shoulder himself, got back on the bike and started chasing back on.  Hard man.

What with this year including a hilltop finish at Willunga later in the race, there is no way that an out and out sprinter can win the overall title this year, and this may take some of the motivation for the quick fellas to still be in the mix for today’s finale as well.  My belief is that there will be a strong man breaking off the front of a small peloton in the final two or three km who will hold on to win.  Let’s wait and see!!

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Rolling!

Alrighty!

We’ve had the little teaser of a crit race around a park on the edge of Adelaide’s CBD, which Andre Greipel emphatically dominated, we’ve had head knocks and called cops for GreenEDGE riders.  It’s sad to see GreenEDGE already having to deal with negative press, but that seems to be the Australian way: tall poppies beware.  Now we get past the rubbish and see some proper bike racing!

Stage One is going to be a bunch sprint. 

Gossy wins a TDU bunchy

It’s a hot day in Radelaide (37 degrees), and the profile looks bumpy, but this won’t be enough to trouble anyone.  An unthreatening break will be allowed to head up the road, the teams with sprinters will control things, and on the faintly downhill final 3km, the lads will be travelling at warp speed with leadout trains going head to head for the first time.  Andre Greipel is probably the fastest sprinter in the world in situations where it isn’t too technical coming into the (preferably) flat or faintly downhill finale, and so it’s hard to see him losing today.  That said, Gossy for GreenEDGE, Renshaw for Rabobank, Petacchi for Lampre & Eddie the Boss for SKY will all be doing their best to knock the big Gorilla off. 

My pick: Greipel from Goss, with Renshaw 3rd.

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