Commentary – Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Mon, 18 Dec 2017 14:38:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Commentary – 32 32 Commentary: Froome scandal could burst British cycling bubble Fri, 15 Dec 2017 19:50:42 +0000 Merely a decade ago, cycling was nearly undone by a litany of doping controversies. Now, another scandal looks poised to rock the sport as

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Merely a decade ago, cycling was nearly undone by a litany of doping controversies.

Now, another scandal looks poised to rock the sport as a whole: Chris Froome’s 2017 Vuelta anti-doping test that was over the limit for Salbutamol.

While it’s unlikely that Froome’s adverse analytical will torpedo the sport’s global appeal, it may have a sizable impact within the United Kingdom. In the UK, cycling is enjoying a boom. TV ratings, and grassroots events that dwarf that of much larger nations.

Bikes are big business to the Brits. According to its 2016 annual report, British Cycling recorded a membership of 120,000 riders. That number has increased by nearly 75,000 participants since 2012—a growth spurt that is itself bigger than the entire membership of USA Cycling (approximately 60,000). This difference is shocking considering the UK has a population of 65 million versus a whopping 320 million in the United States. Britain’s cycling personalities have enjoyed hero status. Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy, and even David Brailsford have all been knighted by the Queen.

British Tour de France viewership has also skyrocketed since the success of home riders. In 2017, Eurosport reported increased viewership numbers across Europe, including Britain, with an average of 785,000 viewers per stage. By contrast, NBC Sports reported flat U.S. viewership from 2016 and a 16 percent decrease from 2015, with an average of 331,000 viewers per stage. The BBC audience research department reported that in 2014, 10.7 million viewers watched the race in Britain, which works out to a whopping 509,523 viewers per stage. Due to Froome’s success, it is likely that number has significantly increased since then.

Would a Froome doping ban crash this wave? The U.S. cycling scene can directly track its exodus of sponsors after the Lance Armstrong doping revelations in 2013.

The major issue is that Froome’s adverse analytical comes after 15 months of bad headlines for British cycling. In August of 2016, World Champion Lizzie Deignan was controversially cleared after missing three anti-doping tests in a year. A few months later, the Fancy Bears hacking story revealed that Bradley Wiggins had received a TUE for corticosteroid triamcinolone immediately before the 2012 Tour de France, which he won. This began a chain of events that led to a UK Anti-Doping investigation into Team Sky and the infamous Jiffy Bag incident. The country’s cycling heroes were dragged before Parliament to explain themselves, and the media covered every twist and turn.

Scandals like these can have a huge impact on sports fandom. USA Cycling’s membership numbers have dropped every year since 2012, the year USADA released its reasoned decision against Armstrong. And in the wake of Armstrong’s 2013 mea culpa, major sponsors such as Nissan and Radioshack left the sport entirely.

Cycling is hardly alone. The National Football League has endured several years of non-stop controversies—everything from domestic violence, to rampant head injuries, to now the polarizing political protests by players. Since 2015 the NFL has seen its television ratings decline by nearly 20 percent. One in five football fans have lost their passion to watch the sport on TV.

Will British fans lose their passion? Of course it’s not guaranteed to happen. One has to wonder how the bombardment of negative news will impact the average cycling fan in Great Britain. After all, controversy breeds cynicism, and cynicism often leads to disenchantment.

Already, sports columnists in the UK are beginning to question Froome’s story. On Friday the Guardian ran a story titled, “Clouds over Chris Froome and Sky will linger despite contrite response.” Writing for Australian news outlet ABC, columnist Richard Hinds started off his story with the words, “Yeah right, Chris Froome.”

Perhaps most damning was a column by Oliver Brown, the chief sports feature writer for The Telegraph. Brown wrote, “So, for now, Froome can spare us any talk of untainted legacies. His sport has the grimmest history, and it is one with which his team, Sky, have failed to make a convincing peace.”

This week British cycling writer Jeremy Whittle went on the VeloNews Podcast to discuss, among other topics, how British fans feel about Wiggins following his very public controversy for his TUE. Whittle said that, after a few beers, the fans he’s interacted with seemed to be somewhat cynical toward the ordeal.

“People are really struggling to understand what was really going on, and people think they were fiddling the system to give those TUEs in advance of grand tours,” Whittle said. “They think the fact that we still don’t know what was in the jiffy bag means that it must have contained something suspicious. It isn’t going to go away anytime soon, to think it is is very naive.”

One bellwether of Froome’s popularity will come this Sunday, at the gala for BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Froome has never won the award—both Mark Cavendish and Wiggins have. Two Grand Tours would likely put Froome high up in the running for the award. But the recent bad press may torpedo his chances.

It’s unlikely that Froome will emerge from this ordeal totally unscathed. The best precedent for punishment is Diego Ulissi’s nine-month ban in 2014 after returning similar levels. While Ulissi was able to serve his time and move on, Froome is a four-time Tour de France winner. He is under far more scrutiny and pressure than the Italian. Come July, when he returns to the Tour, he and Team Sky will face more questions than ever before.

Great reigns always end unexpectedly. The American dominance in the 2000s created a bubble that rose quickly, only to burst dramatically in the wake of controversy. The constant stream of scandals chips away the credibility and creates a decay that paves the way for another scandal to deliver a knockout blow.

Will this scandal be the tipping point for British cycling? Time will tell.

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Commentary: No easy (or quick) solution in Froome case Thu, 14 Dec 2017 15:29:23 +0000 Fasten your seat belts: It’s going to be a bumpy and lengthy ride as Chris Froome and Sky are likely headed to court with UCI.

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Fasten your seat belts: It’s going to be a bumpy and lengthy ride. The battle lines are being drawn as you read this, as both sides in the Chris Froome Salbutamol case — on one side Froome, his wife Michelle, and a besieged Team Sky, and on the other side of the fence, the new-look, sharpened-up UCI led by Frenchman David Lappartient — lawyer up.

Don’t expect a quick resolution. This affair is likely to take some time and many twists and turns. In fact, it has already been rumbling on behind closed doors since Froome was notified of the adverse analytical finding during the 2017 World Road Championships in Bergen, Norway.

While Froome was picking up achievement awards on stage in Paris at the 2018 Tour de France presentation and the Giro d’Italia organizers were fretting over his appearance in their race next year, Froome and Team Sky were already building their defense twice-over-the-WADA-limit excretion of the restricted asthma drug.

There is much at stake here — Froome’s reputation of course but also the continued existence of his team’s big money sponsorship. Team Sky have hired Mike Morgan of Morgan Sports Law, the renowned lawyer who pulled former world champion Lizzie Armitstead back from the brink to avoid a ban, even though she’d missed three drugs tests in 10 months.

Even so, the precedents suggest that Froome’s hopes of avoiding a ban are slim. Italian star sprinter Alessandro Petacchi was given a 12-month ban and stripped of his five stage victories at the 2007 Giro for exceeding the Salbutamol limit.

More recently Diego Ulissi served a nine-month doping ban after the 2014 Giro, where he won two stages, showed 1900 nanograms per milliliter of Salbutamol.

Pat McQuaid, the former UCI president who oversaw the Petacchi affair believes “it will be difficult for Froome and Sky to disprove” culpability.

“We had the same with Petacchi,” he said, “and he served time for that, despite making many efforts to show it wasn’t deliberate.”

“I think the case will run for a while,” McQuaid said. “I heard Brailsford’s comments about lawyers and it may go to CAS [Council for Arbitration in Sport] eventually but despite how hard they will try to prove he took the normal doses, this will be difficult for them.”

McQuaid sees the case stretching on into the 2018 season. “It could be going on during the Giro d’Italia and even during the Tour. If he is sanctioned soon by the UCI, then it will go to appeal at CAS and then it will take more time.”

In Britain, the reaction has been divisive, with some accepting that Froome’s beyond WADA-permitted level may be simply explained away and others seeing it as further evidence of Team Sky’s loose ethics. Others have gone further, seeing as further evidence of a sinister and sustained attempt to cheat.

Froome speaking to the BBC, insists that he will be vindicated. “I can understand a lot of people’s reactions, especially given the history of the sport,” he said. “I think this is obviously a very different case. This is not a positive test.”

And there has also been some confusion over the potential for misuse of Salbutamol, described by various media outlets as having no performance-enhancing qualities. That’s not how Jonathan Vaughters, whose team Cannondale-Drapac placed Rigoberto Uràn second overall to Froome in July’s Tour de France, sees it.

“It’s not a surprise that he was taking it,” Vaughters said of Froome’s Salbutamol use. “It’s the amount that is surprising.”

Salbutamol is effective at opening up inflamed airways for those with exercise-induced asthma. It has been common knowledge that Froome has taken the product during his career.

“It’s a tricky substance,” Vaughters added. “I’m not against people taking it for asthma or for an inflammation. In higher doses, such as pills or injections, Salbutamol can have a muscle-building effect and a fat-burning effect, like clenbuterol. When you get into the higher doses it can be performance-enhancing, which is why the threshold is where it is.”

Despite today’s revelations, Froome still has influential friends in high places. He is still a nominee for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. For the moment, he has the benefit of the doubt, even if his team is now viewed with widespread skepticism.

And even though Sky’s once impregnable fortress continues to be breached by debilitating allegations, you can be sure that he and Brailsford will fight to the very last to defend their achievements.

Jeremy Whittle is the author of “Ventoux: sacrifice and suffering on the Giant of Provence.”

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Commentary: Froome’s positive test may earn him an asterisk Wed, 13 Dec 2017 21:09:56 +0000 Chris Froome’s tightrope walk with Salbutamol could spell his doom.

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Chris Froome’s tightrope walk with Salbutamol could spell his doom.

Cycling’s dreaded asterisk might well soon be added next to Froome, cycling’s most successful grand tour rider in a generation.

Word leaked that Froome tested positive en route to victory at the 2017 Vuelta a España for elevated levels of Salbutamol, a bronchial relaxer most commonly used via an inhaler. By Wednesday morning, the news broke and headlines akin to cycling’s bad old days splashed around the world.

Because Salbutamol is not strictly banned under WADA rules, but is rather a threshold drug, Froome does not face a provisional ban nor was his case required to be publicly revealed. It was thanks only to leaks to British and French newspapers that the story came to light.

Salbutamol is an allowed asthma treatment that many in the peloton regularly use. Froome’s problem, and what could lead to a racing ban and the disqualification of his Vuelta victory, is that his tested levels are double the allowed limit under WADA rules.

That’s going to be hard to explain away, but Team Sky and Froome are certainly hard at work behind the scenes to do just that.

The damage might already be done. Sky’s credibility is near-zero in some quarters following a string of incidents that have left many howling that Sky’s success on the bike is fueled by more than marginal gains. Even if Froome and Sky are given a pass, cycling takes a huge blow with even a hint of scandal involving its star grand tour rider.

This isn’t some unknown rider from some second-rate team. This is cycling’s marquee champion who’s dominated stage racing from the sport’s richest team. As Alessandro Petacchi told VeloNews contributor Gregor Brown, “This is like an atomic bombing falling on cycling.”

Long history in the peloton

Salbutamol has a long history in the peloton, and for good reason. In spray form, it helps alleviate asthma and open up the bronchial tubes. Breathing efficiently is essential to performance in cycling.

Many cases in the more-lax 1990s and 2000s were cleared for “medical reasons,” but riders have been banned over Salbutamol. In 2007, before the rule change, Petacchi was banned for 12 months after he tested for 1,320ng/ml. Petacchi had a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for the product, as the rules then required, but he was 320ng/ml over the limit. Petacchi eventually lost a challenge to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). In 2014, Italian rider Diego Ulissi received a nine-month ban after testing for levels at 1,900ng/ml. He unsuccessfully argued that a crash caused his levels to spike. Froome’s levels are higher than both of those cases.

Taken in a spray form, it required a TUE until 2010, when WADA changed the rules to allow its use with imposed limitations. The allowed dosage is 1,600 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) within a 24-hour period, and 800 ng/ml within 12 hours. One puff roughly equals 100 ng/ml.

Anything over a limit of 1,000 ng/ml in a doping control triggers an adverse analytical finding. And if reasonable medical explanations cannot be provided, a ban could be imposed. Froome tested for 2,000 ng/ml, double the permitted limit.

Salbutamol can also be taken in pill form or injected, with much stronger doses that would go well beyond the current limit. The WADA-imposed limitation was meant to serve as a reasonable ceiling to prevent false positives for taking the allowed doses in spray form. The drug in higher doses can also burn fat and build muscle, similar to Clenbuterol, but are more easily detected by the 1,000 ng/ml threshold.

So what happened during the Vuelta?

Froome has long been linked to asthma, and he claims he’s been an asthma sufferer since childhood. In 2013, Froome used a TUE to use the corticoid Prednisolone to treat asthma during the Tour de Romandie. His eventual victory kicked up a firestorm when it was revealed he was using a TUE. He used another TUE in 2014. Since then, Froome has vowed not to use a TUE, and since 2015, Team Sky has raced the Tour without any riders using TUE’s.

Froome has long used Salbutamol in the inhaler form. In fact, in 2014, he was caught on camera using an inhaler during stage two of the Critérium du Dauphiné.

It’s no secret that Froome is known for bouts of coughing after hard efforts. This reporter has spotted Froome behind the Tour podium more than a few times wheezing with a raspy cough following big mountain stages.

Leading up to the second half of the Vuelta, Froome was clearly suffering from what appeared to be a minor cold. During a rest-day press chat on September 4 — a day before he won the Logroño time trial and three days before the test — Froome was congested and hiding a cough. When pressed by journalists if he was sick, Froome denied he was ill, something that’s normal among athletes who are not keen to let their rivals know they might be suffering.

The day after the time trial, Froome suffered on the steep summit finale to Los Machucos, losing 42 seconds to eventual runner-up Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida). Spanish journalist Ainara Hernando reported that Sky teammate David Lopez, sleeping in a room next to Froome’s, told her he was kept awake by Froome’s intense coughing the night before Los Machucos.

The next stage to Santo Toribio de Liébana, Froome was back with the best, even gapping Nibali to take back 21 seconds. That is the stage that is now under the microscope. Froome told finish-line reporters he “was fine” and felt no ill-effects from a rumored cold, and he later tested positive for elevated levels of Salbutamol.

Damage is done

Even with its tattered image, Sky will now try to convince the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation, the stand-alone body that handles disciplinary review within the sport, that Froome’s high levels were unintentional and circumstantial.

Froome’s explanation — that he wasn’t feeling great and wanted to increase his dosage under doctor’s guidance — isn’t likely far from the truth. It’s hard to imagine Froome knowingly taking Salbutamol in any other form, especially when he knew he was the race leader and being tested daily. That would be career suicide.

Yet the numbers don’t lie. Rationalizing double the allowed limit will be hard to take for CADF, more so now that the case has blown open into the media. Even if Froome took what was allowed right up to the limit, Sky will have to be able to prove it. We’ll see if it’s learned any lessons from the “Jiffy Bag” fiasco that torpedoed Bradley Wiggins’ reputation in the eyes of many.

At the granular level, expect a long trail of experts and lawyers to get involved. And they certainly already are working behind the scenes since Sky has known since September 20 about Froome’s adverse analytical finding. Froome could risk seeing his Vuelta win disqualified as well as a racing ban, but since Salbutamol is not a hardline banned drug, a ban would likely be less than two years. If Froome is slapped any sort of ban, expect a challenge to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. With Team Sky’s and Froome’s reputation on the line, this could go on for months, perhaps even years.

By any measure, the news is another blow for cycling. The sport has been lurching since the Lance Armstrong scandal in 2012.

Cycling is in a better place than it was during the Armstrong generation, but it’s clear that some riders and teams continue to push the limits. Team Sky has flirted with going right up to the line, and even if they insist they haven’t crossed it, the optics remains the same.

No one was surprised Wednesday that a Tour de France champion is being called out for a possible doping violation. The only surprise seems to be that it took so long.

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Garbage Takes: Is the TDF Sagan saga over? Fri, 08 Dec 2017 13:52:15 +0000 The UCI closed the book on the Sagan case from the Tour de France. But did they? I still have three outstanding questions.

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The Garbage Takes opinion column has been on hiatus during the off-season. However, when news came down that the UCI and Peter Sagan had settled the Tour de France DSQ case, we couldn’t resist. As always, these takes are purely commentary and for entertainment purposes only!

The UCI and Peter Sagan have settled a lawsuit that goes back to a sunny day this past July in Vittel, France. Sagan was kicked out of the Tour de France for allegedly elbowing Mark Cavendish into the barriers. Cavendish abandoned the race with a broken collarbone. Who was to blame? As we learned this week, apparently nobody. The UCI labeled the entire ordeal an “unintentional race incident,” ending months of Gif analysis by armchair videotape analysts (his elbow DID NOT MOVE ON ITS OWN!)

At last, cycling’s governing body has reached the same conclusion as millions of Twitter users — except it only took the fans about one day to figure it out.

The settlement must be chilly comfort for Sagan and his throngs of fans. If the NFL wrongfully kicked Tom Brady out of the Super Bowl and then apologized in August, would the Boston faithful be satisfied? Not bloody likely. Still, the UCI closed the book on the matter. But did they? I still have three outstanding questions.

How much are 18 Tour stages worth?

Does the UCI plan to reimburse Sagan or his team for it’s big SNAFU? Sagan was kicked out on stage 4, and thus missed plenty of publicity and marketing that comes from all of those victories and podiums. After all, that Tour route was perfect for him. We even predicted he might have won 11 stages! So how does one quantify all of those lost marketing impressions in real dollars? I know that everyone in pro cycling is an armchair marketing executive these days, with lots to say about social campaigns and the CPM value of Instagram pictures. I tell you, I’ve looked at a few handy websites dedicated to all of this marketing BS, and my brain has melted from too much talk about Ad Value Equivalence (AVE) and CPM value. My guesstimate is that Sagan and his team lost out on a billion kajillion dollars worth of advertising. So, my solution is to have the UCI simply post Peter Sagan photos on its Instagram feed 20 times a day for the rest of the decade. And yes, I’ll just take everyone’s word that cycling is the best advertising value in pro sports — so long as the governing body doesn’t accidentally boot out your star rider.

Can the Tour implement ‘coach’s challenge?’

Here’s a tidbit from Bora-Hansgrohe’s statement on the settlement: UCI president David Lappartient says, “The UCI intends to engage a ‘support commissaire’ to assist the Commissaires Panel with special video expertise on the main events of the UCI World Tour.” Video expertise? That sounds to me like cycling is creeping closer to instant replay. This could be a step in a strange direction. Will cycling also impose a coach’s challenge system like we see in the NFL? I sincerely hope so. I’d love to see team directors and riders chucking red challenge flags during the middle of a race. Do riders have to do a penalty lap if they don’t overturn the ruling on the “field?” Or, maybe we should just leave this up to the directors in the team cars. If we aren’t careful, the riders could start chucking these red flags into each other’s spokes like the Italians did with a frame pump to David in “Breaking Away.”

Can Cavendish and Sagan hug it out?

After the UCI and Bora-Hansgrohe issued their press releases, Mark Cavendish’s Dimension Data team issued a statement saying it was “surprised” to be excluded from the hearing. The team felt it should have been part of the investigation that analyzed the race footage, since Cavendish got a front-row seat (or course fence) to the carnage. In all honesty, Dimension Data has a point. Still, I see this complaint as a big publicity opportunity for the UCI. The organization could hold a live televised judgement for all of the kerfuffles that occurred during the season. Hold it during the off-season. Give the fans a show! I’m envisioning a cycling-themed court show, similar to “Judge Judy” or “The People’s Court.” The UCI could hire a charismatic arbiter (Tom Boonen? Jens Voigt?) to oversee the plaintiff and defendant. The arbiter could take a studio audience through the entire proceedings and then, bam! Make the judgement. If that won’t get fans fired up for the 2018 cycling season, I am fresh out of good ideas.

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Commentary: Why Froome’s Giro-Tour double will win you over Fri, 01 Dec 2017 21:40:31 +0000 Chris Froome's bold plan to attempt the Giro-Tour double will be a success no matter what happens, and it will win over skeptical fans.

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Chris Froome sent shockwaves through the cycling world on Wednesday when he announced plans to race the 2018 Giro d’Italia. He will attempt to hold all grand tour titles at once and become the first rider to win the fabled Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998. This is an absolute masterstroke by Froome and exactly the type of charm campaign the Briton needs to finally win over skeptical fans.

Froome is criticized for being a boring, methodical rider who lacks versatility. Team Sky and Froome have an often contentious relationship with the media that has only helped cement this negative reputation. I believe that the Giro-Tour double has potential to charm the haters. No matter whether he succeeds or not, it is the perfect solution to transform Froome’s public perception.

The thing is, any perceived “risk” of failing at the double isn’t a real risk. I think that failure would only help boost his image and profile.

Scenario one: He wins both the Giro and the Tour, he would have his name etched in cycling history and would have to be considered one of the all-time greats.

Scenario two: He wins the Giro and fades in the Tour de France (likely, since all who won the Giro have lost the Tour since 1998). That means we will get the rare treat of Froome racing from behind. He will be a maverick who went down swinging and raced with aggression and panache. Cycling fans love a fading star who takes big chances to make up for their waning powers (Exhibit A: Alberto Contador. Exhibit B: Tom Boonen).

Scenario three: He fails at both races. Regardless, he will line up for the 2018 Tour de France as an underdog and fan favorite for taking a tilt at the Giro. He may squander a record-tying fifth Tour victory this season, but in 2019 he will be 34 years old, still two years younger than the oldest Tour de France winner. I bet he would be able to eke out a fifth victory before retirement.

The only thing that I see stopping Froome in 2018 at the Tour de France is misfortune in the chaotic first week, especially the brutal cobblestone-ridden stage 9. However, an ill-timed flat or crash could happen regardless of if he races the Giro. Why not take a shot at immortality (and increased net worth) while he has the chance?

Since the announcement, some have said Chris Froome is exhibiting hubris and greed with this double attempt. Greed? Maybe. Hubris? No way — that takes willful ignorance. I think Froome knows exactly what he is doing by taking on this challenge. He realizes that he is simply better in grand tours than his competitors. This is his chance to boost his legacy before victories stop coming so easily. Plus, I imagine he won’t have trouble making room in his bank account for the reported 2 million euro start fee from the Giro organizers.

Sure, he might not truly need the 2 million euro bonus (if it even exists). But pro cyclists have short earning windows. When Froome looks around his Monaco neighborhood, I would guess that he wants to cash in while he still can.

I truly believe that Froome possesses the necessary talent and the mental and physical strength to handle the strain to win both the Giro and Tour. No one in the current peloton possesses superior skill in both time trialing and climbing, not to mention a team that can control a race from start to finish. He won the 2015 and 2017 Tours; both editions had the fewest individual TT kilometers in modern history and featured stages designed to foil him and Sky. While his 2017 margin of victory was less than a minute, and he suffered numerous mechanicals during key moments, the race never looked out of his control.

Chris Froome has the ability and team support to make history while rewriting his own story. His decision to make a run for this historic feat isn’t folly, it’s a stroke of genius.

Don’t agree with this take? Read about why Froome’s Giro-Tour double could spoil the Tour >>

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Commentary: Froome’s Giro plans will spoil the Tour Fri, 01 Dec 2017 21:38:56 +0000 Chris Froome's plan to race the Giro d'Italia will squelch the excitement of the season's most important race, the Tour de France.

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It’s still hard to believe, but after months of rumors, Chris Froome finally confirmed it on Wednesday: The 2018 Tour de France won’t be the race the sport deserves. Instead, the four-time defending champion will try for the elusive Giro-Tour double.

In May, we’ll rejoice at Froome’s presence on the Giro start, but in July, we’ll be robbed of a pure showdown on the sport’s biggest stage. Sure, there are thousands of fans celebrating that Froome and the suffocating Sky train will be more vulnerable in July, possibly opening up the race. But I’m having a hard time getting excited about a Tour that doesn’t actually pit the sport’s top stars against each other at their very best.

We can all agree that the Giro is an amazing event, a scenic spectacle that is an expression of so many things people love about cycling. It has earned its place in the sport’s pantheon of great races with a long history of brilliant battles. It managed to stay thrilling in recent years with an always-grueling route and plenty of exciting mountaintop finishes.

Nevertheless, the Giro d’Italia is not the Tour de France. The French grand tour is cycling’s undisputed marquee event — and it should be cycling’s marquee showdown of the sport’s top stars at peak form. But no matter how you slice it, with a Giro in his legs, even Froome will struggle to match the likes of Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Richie Porte (BMC), or Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First-Drapac) if they show up fresh to France. Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin might Froome a huge favor in joining him at the Giro, but most of the other top Tour contenders won’t be so kind.

Froome has won the Tour and the Vuelta España in the same season, of course, but the Giro-Tour and Tour-Vuelta doubles are not one in the same. His competition doesn’t target the Vuelta the way they target the Tour, and most of the Vuelta contenders each year have already raced one grand tour, and are therefore on a level playing field of fatigue.

Alberto Contador tried the double in 2015. He proved to be in brilliant form at the Giro, but as great as his successful bid for pink turned out, he fizzled at the Tour. Quintana gave it a go this year, trying to win the Giro at 90 percent while saving something for the Tour, and came up short on both accounts.

Understandably, there’s something tempting about being the first rider since Marco Pantani to pull off the rare feat — but perhaps there’s a reason “Il Pirata,” whose climbing panache was matched only by his sky-high hematocrit levels, was the last guy to pull it off.

Modern cycling requires its stars to have a shorter list of season objectives than the laundry list of targets Eddy Merckx might have laid out in January each year. Delivering peak performances worthy of topping the GC hopefuls in both races is just too much to ask. In the immortal words of Bruce Hornsby and the Range — or Tupac and Talent, for the (slightly) younger crowd — “That’s just the way it is,” at least in this day and age.

By lining up for the Giro, Froome will torpedo his opportunity to join the exclusive five-time Tour winner club next year. And if Quintana then goes on to win the Tour? For 12 months, cycling analysts will be forced to preface every statement with, “Well, he only won because Froome rode the Giro.”

Plus, while the four-time Tour champ has good years remaining, at 32 years old, he’s reaching his apex. Quintana is 27 and so is Bardet, so theoretically their best years are ahead. Now’s the perfect time for a thrilling battle between the very best cyclists. Everyone should show up fresh to this rumble.

What if Contador had brought his blazing form directly to France for the 2015 Tour? What might a fresh Quintana, reaching his prime, have managed against Froome this past July?

Instead of yellow jerseys, Contador and Quintana were left with excuses and overcooked legs at the end of July.

Froome should spare us the excuses in advance and come to terms with the fact that the Tour is cycling’s main event. He is cycling’s biggest grand tour star. Could you imagine a top athlete like Mikaela Shiffrin or Michael Phelps not giving the Olympics top priority? Froome’s July appointment is mandatory, the rest is just a prelude.

Don’t agree with this take? Read about why Froome’s Giro-Tour double will win over the haters >>

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Commentary: Reviewing Gaimon’s ‘Draft Animals’ book Wed, 15 Nov 2017 17:58:49 +0000 While it is fraught in many ways, "Draft Animals" is a blatant attack on cycling's culture of silence.

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By now you are probably aware of the latest maelstrom to envelop pro cycling, a blustery gale that I have dubbed “Hurricane Phil.” Two weeks ago retired pro (and former VeloNews diarist) Phil Gaimon published his latest memoir, “Draft Animals: Living the Pro Cycling Dream (Once In A While).” The 320-page book chronicles the back half of his pro cycling career, which came to a close in 2016. For two of those years he rode for Slipstream Sports’s WorldTour team.

Full disclosure: I like Phil Gaimon. I’ve had him as a guest on the VeloNews Podcast, and I genuinely appreciate his take on pro cycling. In my opinion, his book is worth reading, however it has several fundamental problems—namely the repeated printing of rumor and second-hand knowledge—that made me squirm. But perhaps that is the point.

The book is an unvarnished and highly opinionated account of Gaimon’s life in cycling’s trenches, as the sport struggles to rebound from the go-go doping era. Cycling is in full decline during Gaimon’s tome, as teams battle over a shrinking pool of sponsorship dollars, and riders and staff worry about their jobs. Money is sparse. Almost everyone — riders, team directors, managers — appears to be consumed by their own self-interests.

Throughout his journey Gaimon battles with doping’s lingering specter. He is vehemently anti-doping, and calls out those riders who he believes to be suspicious. Yet as he progresses through cycling’s ranks, he befriends Tom Danielson, Thomas Dekker, and other admitted cheats. As the story progresses, Gaimon wrestles with the ethical challenges posed by these relationships.

Bad behavior abounds throughout the story, and Gaimon is not afraid to name names and sling mud. Few figures in this book escaped unsullied, and Gaimon spends page after page calling out various riders and figureheads for their supposed misdeeds. One might suggest an alternative title for the book: “Draft Animals: Phil Gaimon Nukes His Cycling Relationships.” Indeed, Gaimon’s book has blown into the cycling space like a hurricane.

Yet the storm clouds brewing around Gaimon’s books have less to do with the mudslinging and are instead due to his inclusion of unverified rumors throughout his story. Gaimon is not shy to print hearsay. In fact, much of the book reads like a literary version of the loose talk you might have with your riding buddies after that third IPA.

As you may know, the segment that has Gaimon in hot water involves Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara, who Gaimon believes used a concealed motor to win races during his career. The section in question reads:

“[Cancellara had] dominated time trials and one-day races with such ease that conspiracy theorists suggested a hidden motor in his bike. I dismissed it until I heard his former teammates talk about certain events where Cancellara had his own mechanic, his bike was kept separate from everyone else’s, and he rode away from a “who’s who” of dopers.”

Last week Cyclingnews asked newly-elected UCI President David Lappartient to comment on the book’s Cancellara segment, and Lappartient’s answer (“Of course, I heard all the rumors, like everybody, and I just want to know exactly. So we will investigate, that is our job,”) placed Gaimon and his book squarely in the crosshairs. Hurricane Phil began to churn, and within two days, Gaimon and his book were splashed across the web. On Monday, Cancellara’s lawyer demanded Gaimon’s publisher, Penguin books, stop its distribution. Gaimon has subsequently issued a statement standing by his book, arguing that “I repeated a rumor that’s well-documented and many years old, and I present it as such. I stand by my opinion, but it’s exactly that …”

That may be true, but Gaimon so skillfully blends his opinions with his personal revelations, that it is sometimes challenging to separate the two. Gaimon passes the Cancellara comment off as opinion, yet he asserts that former teammates told him that Cancellara kept his bicycle to himself. It’s this blend of rumor and firsthand experience that can muddy the waters. And Gaimon regularly uses this blend of what is know and what is not to aggressively flame those riders he sees as enemies.

“I bet [Chris Horner] was off the good stuff by 2013, but the anti-doping system still had some loopholes, and the rumor is that he spent the first half of the year ‘injured’ pumping himself full of cortisone,” Gaimon writes.

While Gaimon may pass these comments off as mere opinion, to the reader, they come across as informed accusations. And there are many, many cyclists who feel the sting of his barbs: Chris Horner, Jens Voigt, Andy Schleck, David Millar, Fred Rodriguez, Ryder Hesjedal, Luca Paolini, George Hincapie, Dave Zabriskie, and a long list of others.

As an editor and reporter, I recoiled in horror after reading each besmirching comment. Yes, many of these comments reflect the brand of chatter that even we cycling journalists engage in. To print them, however, is enough to make a defamation lawyer faint. My hope is that Gaimon’s publisher, Penguin Books, has a robust legal department.

As a cycling fan, I was completely captivated by Gaimon’s book, and I churned through all 320 pages in one day. Yes, there is nastiness and rumormongering, and many of Gaimon’s musings come across as petty. But he also has tremendous insight into this very strange period in the sport’s history and recounts the emotional and psychological fallout from each success and failure.

Gaimon is at his best when he details the frustrating and secretive world that he saw firsthand. Jonathan Vaughters verbally promises him $70,000 to ride for Cannondale, yet when the offer arrives, it is $65,000. Andrew Talansky prefers children’s Clif Bar products to the adult version, and Gaimon must ride back to the team car to fetch more of the kid snacks. Wealthier riders pick up Gaimon’s coffee and lunch tabs, knowing full well that his entry-level salary barely covers his expenses.

Whether or not Gaimon’s book will draw further legal ire is yet to be seen. While reading it, I could not help but be reminded of the off-the-cuff conversations about Lance Armstrong and the sport’s doping that went on between riders and journalists 10 years ago. Nobody dared print those chats, of course, fearing lawsuits and a loss of access. Because of this, there was a huge chasm between cycling’s daily discourse, and what ended up in books and magazines. Chalk it up to omerta or the sport’s insular nature, but cycling has maintained a culture of silence.

While it is fraught in many ways, “Draft Animals” is a blatant attack on cycling’s culture of silence. Hurricane Phil pontificates, slings mud, and shoots from the hip. And we should probably listen to what he has to say, albeit with an IPA or three.

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Commentary: Celebrating the Badger’s birthday; cycling’s last hero Tue, 14 Nov 2017 22:14:20 +0000 On Bernard Hinault's 63rd birthday, Andrew Hood reflects on cycling's last grand patron, a man who dominated the 1980s peloton.

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The first glimpse is always the best.

In the summer of 1985, we went badger hunting in the mountains of Colorado. A buddy and I scrambled onto the top of a condo on a street corner in Vail. It was the Coors Classics, and although it was Greg LeMond’s triumphant return to the United States, everyone only wanted to see one man: Bernard Hinault.

The Badger’s arrival at the Coors Classic set the burgeoning Colorado cycling scene on fire. In lap after lap, Hinault stood out in the blur of the peloton. There he was. Ramrod like a Napoleon dressed in Lycra. Pugnacious, confident, built like a boxer. What caught everyone’s eye were Hinault’s space age, clip-in Look pedals.

A buddy and I took the week off of doing nothing much at all, such were the lazy days of summers in the 1980s, and spent the week following the last few stages of the race. After another crit a few days later in Boulder, we elbowed through a sweating throng to press nearer to the Badger. We wanted to get close. We snapped off a few long-lost photos, and my friend stammered out, “Vivre, le blaireau!” Hinault turned and smiled in our general direction. We were giddy beyond measure.

Flash forward three decades, and the last French winner of the Tour de France celebrates his 63rd birthday Tuesday.

It’s almost surprising that Hinault is still that young. His last Tour victory in 1985 seems ages ago. He’s a living legend and a guardian of the Tour podium. It’s a job he took very seriously. Hinault’s combative character, softened by the years, would come blasting out like the Hulk when some drunken fan or an upstart punk tried to sully the sacred space of the Tour podium. You can cage a badger, but you can never really tame one.

I saw Hinault again a decade later, this time as a young scribe covering my first Tour de France. Having a press pass gets you access. My first interview request? The Badger, of course. By the 1990s, Hinault had lost his infamous scowl, yet he was still an intimidating presence. Then part of ASO’s publicity machine, he would take time to field journalists questions, a task he so often loathed as a racer.

Hinault would play up his image as France’s last gallant warrior. Every July, thanks to translation help from colleague and traveling companion Rupert Guinness, we’d perform our annual rite of interviewing the Badger. His quotes were borderline cliché, but they made great copy nonetheless. Why can’t a Frenchman win the Tour? “Pfffft,” the Badger would say in derision, “Because today’s riders are soft.” How to win the Tour? “That is easy!” he would say with a shrug of exasperation as if you’d have to be a fool to even ask. “You must attack!”

The Badger would prowl the Tour start village every morning, and he couldn’t walk five feet without someone stopping in their tracks. Fathers would point him out to their sons, “Look, mon fils, there is the last Frenchman to have won the Tour.”

For me, Hinault is the last of the great, larger-than-life cycling champions. Much of that perception is personal. Other big stars have come and gone, some with more charisma, and others with better success.

Seeing him in person near the end of his career left a mark. I reveled in Hinault’s loutish arrogance and dominance, both on and off the bike. Who else could punch striking miners daring to block a racecourse? Only the Badger. His ego was often bigger than his lungs, but his palmares reveal an excellence and quality that put him among cycling’s greats. Coppi won with finesse, Merckx on class. Hinault won by brute force. And he retired at 32.

And my opinion is also framed by the filters of the day. European racing in the 1980s remained something mystical, romantic, and far away. For American racing fans in those pre-Internet days, news of cycling’s biggest races was more precious than gold. If you were lucky, a local newspaper might run a one-paragraph summary of the day’s major race in the briefs section. So unless you had a girlfriend on a study-abroad program in France, you wouldn’t know who won Liège-Bastogne-Liège until your VeloNews showed up in the mailbox a month later.

The Hinault of the 1980s existed in our collective imagination. Cycling’s great battles of that era were elusive. There were no live feeds to pirate, or YouTube videos to watch. Newsreels and grainy, black-and-white photos only entrenched the notoriety of Hinault’s exploits. Magazine accounts provided more details. The rest you had to fill out yourself.

Hinault’s roguish good lucks and fiery temperament made him the star of his time. He was the last of his breed, the final great patron. He was all at once fascinating and, especially if you were a Greg LeMond fan, a villain.

The world’s a different place today than when the Badger roamed free. And that’s perhaps a good thing. Today’s champions don’t evoke the same fear or respect. The WorldTour peloton is truly international, and there’s much more mutual respect between the riders. Hinault’s abrasive style would not win him many fans.

Peter Sagan seems to be the first rider truly hard-wired for 21st-century sensibilities. The three-time world champion packs rock-star charisma, has the racing chops to back it up, and communicates in gestures perfect for a public consumed with packing their thoughts into 140-character tweets.

I often wonder how the forceful character like Hinault’s would handle today’s Tour de France. The hierarchy of the contemporary peloton is measured with watts, not brawn. Today’s interwoven world of social media and 24-hour news cycle dilutes the aura of cycling’s big champions. We share their every moment. The mystery and romance are erased with that intimacy.

Hinault the racer would feel out of place in today’s highly controlled, high-tempo peloton. Panache died a lonely death with the arrival of the first SRM. In Hinault’s era, riders would lose five minutes in one mountain stage, only to gain back eight minutes in the next. In 2017’s tightly wound peloton, a loss of 45 seconds can prove fatal to GC aspirations. His brutish arrogance would be rejected by the social norms of today. The rabble of social media would rally to defang the Badger. Who could Hinault punch if the insults were virtual?

I can imagine Hinault on this evening, quietly celebrating a dinner with family and friends. Hinault will be savoring a good wine, and playing with his grandchildren. There won’t be any selfies from the Badger.

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Commentary: What if Sagan hadn’t flatted (twice) in Roubaix? Tue, 14 Nov 2017 15:32:01 +0000 Let’s indulge in a little revisionist history to construct the Paris-Roubaix that fans were dreaming of in 2017.

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Cycling history is peppered with ‘what if’ moments. What if that French fan didn’t punch Eddy Merckx on the Puy de Dome? What if customs officers never pulled over Willy Voet in his Festina team car? What if Cadel Evans didn’t suffer a puncture at the worst moment of the 2009 Vuelta a España? We are left contemplating alternative scenarios to how races played out.

This past season gave us a handful of new what-if moments to mull over. Today, we’ll take a deeper dive into Paris-Roubaix.

As you may recall, we cycling fans were salivating over a possible slugfest between world champion Peter Sagan and Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet along the Roubaix cobblestones. Coming into the race weekend, Van Avermaet had bested Sagan throughout the classics season, beating him at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke, and Gent-Wevelgem. Sagan needed a result, and with his crash at the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix presented his final opportunity to win a major classic in 2017.

The stage was set for a battle, and then — CRAP! — Sagan flatted with 77km to go. He chased back to the group. Hope was not lost! And then we collectively groaned as he flatted again with 30km to go. That final puncture all but knocked him out of the finale, which Van Avermaet took in a sprint in the Roubaix velodrome.

So now for the what-if conundrum: What if Sagan escaped without a flat? Let’s indulge in a little revisionist history to construct the Roubaix battle that we wanted.

Flat tire #1: The long shot

Greg Van Avermaet out-foxed a group that included Peter Sagan in Gent-Wevelgem 2017. Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media |

Had Sagan escaped that first flat tire, what would have happened? Let’s start the what-if game. Remember, he is on the attack with 80km to go when the Roubaix gods smite his tubular. And his breakaway companions are no slouches: Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Daniel Oss (BMC), and Sagan’s teammate Maciej Bodnar.

The move is a long shot, both in terms of distance to race and the composition of the group. On one hand, Stuyven and Oss are good riders to have along. With Van Avermaet in the group behind, BMC is not inclined to immediately chase, instead leaving that to Quick-Step and the other teams that missed the move. Stuyven is similarly advantaged with teammate and former Roubaix champ John Degenkolb watching the peloton behind. But Bodnar’s presence is bad for the breakaway’s chances of success. Everyone knows it’s a bad idea to let the world champion get away with a teammate to aid the cause. To make matters worse, Quick-Step is not in the break. It is Tom Boonen’s farewell race, so at some point, they chase full-gas.

Given the Quick-Step factor and the long distance from the finish, I’d give this break’s chance of survival about 25 percent. Sagan, Bodnar, and Stuyven take monumental pulls to keep the gap going, and at some point, Oss becomes a passenger. In a best-case scenario, the four men survive until the Templeuve. After they are caught by a small peloton, there is a flurry of attacks. Sagan is able to stay with the group after the catch, but just barely. A small group enters the Roubaix velodrome, and the world champion is simply too tired from his huge effort. Van Avermaet finishes him off.

We fans would have gotten our Sagan vs. Van Avermaet showdown, but in this scenario, Sagan would be lucky to finish on the podium. In fact, that first flat tire might be a blessing in disguise.

Flat tire #2: The last straw

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Van Avermaet out-sprinted Sagan at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Unlike the first flat, Sagan’s second puncture was exceptionally costly. If you remember, Sagan provoked the winning breakaway, bringing Van Avermaet, Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale-Drapac), Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step), Gianni Moscon (Sky), and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Soudal). After he flatted, Van Avermaet handily took the sprint ahead of Stybar.

That was a thriller. Now, back to the what-if game: What if Sagan had made that group with no problems?

With 30km the break is gone. Sagan’s presence in the group alongside Van Avermaet means the breakaway is bound to succeed. Quick Step has representation with Stybar, and the other major favorites are isolated and unable to claw their way back.

The group enters the Carrefour de l’Arbe and splits. Sagan is able to follow Van Avermaet into the front group alongside Stybar and Langeveld.

With Sagan’s added firepower, the group builds a bigger advantage on the chasers. With the added time, the men are able to take turns attacking into the final 15 kilometers, rather than ride in unison. The Roubaix finale turns into a repeat of 2016 when Boonen, Sep Vanmarcke, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Mat Hayman traded haymakers.

Who has the legs to attack out of the (hypothetical) final four in Roubaix 2017? After his petulant — and unsuccessful — ride in Gent-Wevelgem two weeks earlier, Sagan plays it cool. He follows wheels. But so does Van Avermaet, a notoriously cagey rider. Stybar buries himself, but remember, the team’s plan was a grand farewell victory for Boonen. The Czech had spent too many matches earlier in the race. There is a brief lull in the pace after Stybar’s last-gasp attack and Langeveld goes all in. Sagan and Van Avermaet mark each other out and settle for an also-ran sprint. Later, Cannondale-Garmin boss Jonathan Vaughters promises fans his team will focus exclusively on classics in 2018.

In another scenario, Van Avermaet and Sagan come into the velodrome together. Normally Sagan wins in a more conventional sprint. But this sprint comes after 257 kilometers of brutal cobblestones. Neither man has his usual turn of speed. So who has the advantage?

Van Avermaet’s win over Sagan in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad earlier in the spring was a great example his confidence and caginess in the final meters. Throughout the 2017 campaign, in fact, Van Avermaet sprinted to victory with his head as much as with his legs. He never made the first move, instead letting his rivals lead out the sprint. In some occasions, he nearly rode to a standstill in order to provoke a rival. And Sagan? To his credit, he rode an incredibly patient sprint at Bergen world championships to claim his third rainbow jersey. Springtime Sagan, however, was jumpy. Just a month earlier, at Milano-Sanremo, Sagan lost to Michal Kwiatkowski when he led out the sprint. Which Sagan shows up in the Roubaix velodrome? It’s anybody’s guess. Maybe he somehow taps into a Zen state to win a cobblestone trophy.

Unfortunately, fans can only speculate about how this dream duel could have played out. We can speculate and we can wait, because Paris-Roubaix (April 8) is only 146 days away.

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Transfers: Balance of power shifting on five big teams Fri, 10 Nov 2017 11:26:33 +0000 Cycling’s transfer season has come and gone, and most WorldTour teams have finalized their rosters for 2018. Which teams got

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Cycling’s transfer season has come and gone, and most WorldTour teams have finalized their rosters for 2018. Which teams got stronger, and which teams became weaker? Let’s take a deep dive at five major teams and how their fortunes might shift in the coming year.

Quick-Step: Abandoning grand tour GC

2017 UCI WorldTour ranking: 2nd
Predicted 2018 WorldTour ranking: 5th

The favorite team of Flemish fans, Quick-Step will maintain its traditional focus on the cobbled and hilly classics in 2018 with Philippe Gilbert and Zdenek Stybar. But has Patrick Lefevere’s squad given up on grand tour GC altogether? With David de la Cruz (seventh at the 2016 Vuelta) and Dan Martin (sixth at the Tour) leaving, it sure seems that way. That’s why I expect Quick-Step to slip a little in the WorldTour rankings this coming season. The team won’t drop dramatically, of course. Fernando Gaviria’s assault on the Tour’s green jersey will keep Quick-Step’s UCI points tally high. And new addition Elia Viviani should collect some wins as well. While its GC ambitions may be gone, Quick-Step’s devotion to its bread-and-butter races deserves our respect. Who cares about a yellow jersey anyhow?

Movistar: Climbing back to the top

2017 UCI WorldTour ranking: 6th
Predicted 2018 WorldTour ranking: 2nd

After winning four straight WorldTour team titles, Movistar hit an Alejandro Valverde-sized road bump in 2017 when it’s evergreen Spanish climber crashed out of the Tour on day one. For 2018 the team remains centered on Nairo Quintana and his assault on the Tour de France and, perhaps, other Grand Tours. However, Movistar needs a healthy Valverde in order to pad its UCI points total. Can he do it? Stranger things have happened — after all, he won on Tour Down Under’s Old Willunga Hill after sitting out 2011 with a doping ban. Movistar should get a boost from Spanish climber Mike Landa, assuming he can work alongside Quintana in the grand tours. At least Spain’s only WorldTour outfit will keep the folks at home happy with the peloton’s top Basque climber.

UAE: Aiming high with grand tour talent

2017 UCI WorldTour ranking: 12th
Predicted 2018 WorldTour ranking: 3rd

UAE stands to make the most dramatic improvement in 2018, due to the infusion of new talent (and cash) in both the sprints and grand tours. The team rose out of the ashes of Italy’s last WorldTour team, Lampre-Merida, in 2017. In recent years UAE relied on the diminutive South African climber Louis Meintjes for grand tours (Meintjes has left for Dimension Data). For 2018, the team welcomes 2015 Vuelta winner Fabio Aru and Dan Martin, with Aru slated to tackle the Giro d’Italia and Martin the Tour de France. Can these two help the team finally grab a grand tour podium? Plus, Norwegian classics rider Alexander Kristoff transfers to UAE for 2018 from Katusha-Alpecin. Can Kristoff finally return to the form that won him Milano-Sanremo and Tour of Flanders? His silver medal to Peter Sagan at Bergen worlds was a promising start.

Katusha-Alpecin: Beefing up its sprints

2017 UCI WorldTour ranking: 11th
Predicted 2018 WorldTour ranking: 6th

You think UAE is excited about the Kristoff transfer? Just ask the management at Katusha-Alpecin, who bid adieu to the Norwegian after two frustrating seasons. In his place the team has welcomed aboard German ace Marcel Kittel, who will likely be a big upgrade for the Russian team. Kittel, as you remember, likely should have won the Tour’s green jersey, had he not crashed out. Can Kittel grab green in 2018? If nothing else, the coiffed German the perfect pitchman for Alpecin caffeine shampoo. Also, Katusha beefs up its support squad for homegrown climber Ilnur Zakarin, who has flirted with grand tour podiums in recent years. American Ian Boswell and Nathan Haas won’t grab headlines, but they will be ready to support the Russian in the grand tour mountains. Katusha should move up the rankings, yet I wouldn’t bet on Kittel winning five Tour stages again. After all, the UCI commissaires won’t remove Peter Sagan from the Tour TWO years in a row.

Astana: A step back

2017 UCI WorldTour ranking: 15th
Predicted 2018 WorldTour ranking: 13th

One of the strongest grand tour teams of this generation has lost much of its mojo for 2018 with the departure of Fabio Aru. Should Astana hit the panic button? Team boss Alexander Vinokourov (who apparently doesn’t follow any cycling media) claims he was caught off-guard when Aru left for UAE in November. Losing Aru, who won the 2015 Vuelta and finished second at that year’s Giro, is a huge loss. Still, the team could find a way to make lemonade from this lemon. Will Astana’s younger riders finally get a chance to shine? Miguel Angel Lopez was the revelation of the Vuelta, winning three stages and finishing eighth overall. Jakob Fuglsang doesn’t animate like Aru, but he can get results. Plus, the team adds Spanish climber Omar Fraile and up-and-comer Magnus Cort Nielsen. This isn’t a return to the good (or is it bad?) old days when Astana won the WorldTour in 2009, but it’s enough to keep the Kazahks happy.

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Commentary: When to trust cycling Fri, 03 Nov 2017 21:52:51 +0000 Fred Dreier muses on how quickly we can lose trust in the safety of cycling, but how its intrinsic value is worth the risk.

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I snapped the above photo on a chilly October evening in 2011 at the corner of Chambers and West Street in lower Manhattan.

The livery cab had been headed southbound on West Street before making a hasty right-hand turn into the path of the Westside bikeway. I was riding northbound on the path. The stoplight ahead flashed green, and the little pedestrian walk signal beamed with light. I trusted the safety signals and rode into the intersection. In an instant, the cab darted in front of me, and my wheel slammed into the hood. I somersaulted over the hood, up onto the windshield, and then down to the asphalt. I stood up and snapped the photo. A crowd of rush-hour pedestrians gathered around. Sirens pierced the air, and after a few minutes, an ambulance arrived to whisk me away to the emergency room.

I was lucky. The bruises on my back and legs kept me on the couch for days, a nasty cut on my hand took forever to heal, but that was the extent of my injuries. As the weeks went on, however, I realized that the deepest wound was to my sense of trust in the societal system that, up until that point, had prevented cars from crashing into me during my bike rides. I was riding on a bike path, after all. My little pedestrian walking man was illuminated. The system said I should have been safe, and instead this cab had turned me into a rag doll. Call me naïve. Whatever trust I had was gone.

In the ensuing months, my bike rides became agonizing slogs of paranoia. Every time I crossed through an intersection my brain played that uncomfortable guessing game. Are the cars really going to stop? On every lap around Central Park, I waited for a car to dart out of nowhere and take me out. When I heard the sound of an approaching engine, my mind raced. Will the truck pass me by, or hit me?

Eventually, I stowed my bike in my apartment, fished out my running shoes, and started (ugh) jogging. If I couldn’t trust the system, was riding my bike worth the risk?

THAT SAME STRETCH OF BIKE PATH at Chambers and West will forever be known as the site of Tuesday’s terrorist attack in Manhattan, which claimed the lives of Darren Drake, Anne-Laure Decadt, Nicholas Cleves, Hernán Diego Mendoza, Alejandro Damián Pagnucco, Diego Enrique Angelini, Hernán Ferruchi, and Ariel Erlij. The reverberations from their tragic deaths will stretch far beyond Chambers and West, far beyond lower Manhattan. That’s the very purpose of terrorism — to destroy our trust in the systems that keep us safe. We are all meant to feel as though a speeding truck has hit us all.

There have been several great essays written this week about why we cyclists are immune to the impact of this terrorist act. After all, we’re accustomed to death and tragedy. Every few days our social media feeds beam news of another car-related cycling death into our lives. Yet every day, we climb back aboard our bicycles and pedal onwards. We are as resilient as we are vulnerable.

I agree with this sentiment, yet I also sympathize with riders who have become so overwhelmed by the daily dose of tragedy that they have hung up their bicycles. I know what it’s like to lose trust in the system, and Tuesday’s attack reminded me of the trust that all of us follow when we pedal a bicycle. After my crash, I retreated. If Tuesday’s attacks have shaken your trust, you should not feel like some outcast or weakling among the tribe. If the weekly reports of cycling deaths have you worried, it’s okay.

You are well within your right to lose confidence in the safety systems of stoplights and bike paths. So much of being a cyclist is based on trust. Every time we carve through a turn, we trust that our tires, wheels, and bike frame will prevent us from tumbling off the road. And yes, we trust that bike paths and rural roads and trails are the “safe” zones, where we can relax and ride without fearing the hum of approaching cars.

Each time we read about a death, another safe space is tainted or flat-out ruined. Organized group rides are safe spaces, right? Last year’s horrific hit-and-run in Michigan claimed the lives of Debra Ann Bradley, Melissa Fevig-Hughes, Fred Anton, Larry Paulik, and Suzanne Sippel. Are gran fondos safe spaces? Last month Aaron Paff, 21, allegedly steered his Dodge Ram into a group of riders on purpose during California’s Jensie Gran Fondo, sending four of them to the hospital. Residential streets are safe, right? The list of tragedies involving residential cycling deaths is simply too long to list.

These stories should make us scared, and they should make us angry. They should motivate us to contribute to bicycle advocacy groups and to pester our local lawmakers to enact laws against distracted driving. They should convince us to demand better lights, helmets, and protective gear from our industry. And they should inspire us to honor those who never rode back home.

Read about what to do if you’re hit by a car while riding >>

IT TOOK ME SEVERAL WEEKS to be able to go on a ride without freaking out. I started with late-night laps around Central Park and progressed to slow spins along Palisades, where there is limited car traffic. Within a few months, I was back banging bars in the Saturday morning Century Road Club of America races and zipping along through traffic to and from my office.

What brought me back to cycling was not my trust in the system but rather my renewed trust in the value that cycling brought to my life. I know this sounds, well, totally lame. I wrote down all of the qualities that cycling brought to my life, and the various ways a bicycle ride enriched my day. (Hint: I had more for cycling than for running.) Those were things I could trust.

I lost that list long ago. So I’ll leave you with an updated version.

I trust that my bike ride today will help me…
Figure out the feature story that is due next week
Clean that technical section of singletrack (or pucker and walk it)
Get over that Dodgers loss
Cure my hangover
Win the town sprint
Eat that second slice of pecan pie and not care
Forget that argument about the dumb thing
Listen to the latest episode of “Embedded”
Find out where that mystery road goes
Even out my pedal stroke
Daydream about the future
Catch up with an old friend
Not look at my phone for a few hours and be totally fine with it
Win back that Strava KOM
Feel like I could drop everyone on that climb
Make someone else suffer
Be more than just pack fodder
Descend like Nibali
Climb like Nairo
Master my Froome impersonation
Understand my latest failure
Cheer my latest success
Remember to call Mom
Forget the stress
Feel alive

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Commentary: Froomey’s workout plan to win 2018 Tour de France Mon, 30 Oct 2017 17:07:56 +0000 Chris Froome arm-wrestles Marcel Kittel. Maybe he needs to step up his training for the 2018 Tour to ensure he wins that fifth title.

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In midst of the autumn doldrums, Chris Froome delighted the cycling world last weekend at the Tour’s Shanghai Criterium. It wasn’t his “win” that set the Internet alight, however. Instead, Twitter went bananas for a goofy arm-wrestling match between the four-time Tour champ and sprinter Marcel Kittel.

Froome put up a good fight. But it got me thinking: Maybe he needs to step up his training for the 2018 Tour to ensure he wins that fifth title.

“I fully appreciate just how hard that is. After winning four Tours, it’s definitely not getting easier, that’s for sure,” Froome said in Shanghai. “The level is just getting higher and higher every year.”

With such an unusual Tour route next year, maybe Froome should roll out some unconventional cross-training to prep for the key stages and their perils.

Team-building for stage 3’s TTT

Froome and Sky must have been disappointed with a third-place result in TTT worlds this year. To make matters worse, they lost to Tom Dumoulin’s Sunweb outfit. Will Dumoulin and Co. put time into Froome in the 35km test around Cholet next July? Not if Team Sky gets back to basics. I’m talking about teamwork, plain and simple. Sure, Bjarne Riis can be faulted for his dubious history, but he sure knew how to do some good ol’ fashioned team-building. Maybe Contador only managed two (ish) Tour wins, but he got a nice tan in the offseason. Surely a pale Englishman like Froome would benefit from this off-season workout that Riis’s old Saxo Bank team used to gear up for the 2013 season.

Get rad to clobber the cobblestones

While Froome was goofing around in Shanghai, the freeride mountain bike world was fixated on Red Bull Rampage. The Brit has a rough ride ahead in stage 9 at the Tour. Maybe it’s time to hit the dirt to get accustomed to the gnar? Now, I know what you’re thinking — this is way too dangerous for Froome, let alone any pro roadie. I agree. Fortunately, Froome is so skinny that he should be able to squeeze into multiple sets of body armor. Start with size extra-small, then layer on some medium armor, and top it off with extra-large pads. He’ll look like Randy from “A Christmas Story,” but at least he’ll be safe.

Throw them ‘bows in the club to handle Alpe d’Huez

The funny thing about this stage is that Froome should be fine with the climb itself. However, if history is any guide, the Alpe will be jam-packed with fans this July. He has to avoid a mishap like the crazy crash on Mont Ventoux in 2016, which left him loping up the climb with a broken bike. Froome needs to be prepared to negotiate elbow-to-elbow crowds of drunken revelers like he did on Alpe d’Huez in the 2015 Tour:

Alpe d'Huez
Alpe d’Huez is always one of the Tour’s most crowded climbs. Photo: Tim De Waele | (File)

Again, Froome can learn from one of cycling’s dirt disciplines. Former U.S. cyclocross champion Jeremy Powers has been known to moonlight as a club DJ. So, next time Powers heads to Europe for a World Cup race, Froome should buy some turntables, hook up with Powers, and mix it up in the discotheque. With those pointy elbows, I think he’ll have no trouble at all on a crowded dance floor.

Scramble up the steeps with Sagan for stage 17

How can this stage possibly climb 12,000 feet in just 65 kilometers? It’s crazy! Well, it seems like Froome will have to get crazy with his training to avoid an ambush like the one that scuttled his 2016 Vuelta on the Formigal stage. Stage 17 is all about steep climbing, but maybe a sprinter actually has the key to training. Yes, that’s right, Peter Sagan is the man to help Froome prep for the Pyrenees. It wouldn’t be the first time they collaborated either — remember how they attacked in stage 11 of the 2016 Tour? That stage rocked.

Although these wacky cross-training tips are ill-advised, we can draw one conclusion from the Shanghai arm-wrestling match. Froome, ever the wiry climber, isn’t carrying any unnecessary upper-body weight. If he had out-matched the beefy German sprinter, Team Sky would have put the kibosh on Froome’s off-season hamburgers and bench-press routine.

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Roundtable: Will 2018 route favor Froome? How many can Sagan win? Tue, 17 Oct 2017 20:02:43 +0000 The Tour de France's 2018 route is unconventional. Here are our takes on the cobblestones, short climbing days, and Froome.

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Oh-Em-Gee, ASO revealed the 2018 Tour de France route Tuesday, and boy is it a doozy! There are dirt roads, pavé, and even a super-short 65km climbing stage. Are our French friends boldly thinking outside of the proverbial grand tour box, or is this route simply a newfangled gimmick? Let’s roundtable!

What was your first reaction when you pulled up the map of the 2018 Tour de France?

Chris Case @chrisjustincase: Hey, that looks like France to me! What’s that? A 65km stage? Oh, so like a third rest day?

Andrew Hood @Eurohoody: Hmmm, had I seen this somewhere before? No, not really, but the suspense of the ‘big show’ to announce the Tour route has been somewhat been diminished from all the leaks and reporting that slowly drips-drips-drips details about the route in the months leading up to today. But that aside, it’s a fantastic route overall, with real challenges, risk-taking design, original planning, without forgetting the history of the Tour. It’s a near-perfect Tour course.

Fred Dreier @freddreier: This gravel movement is officially over — even the Tour de France has gotten on the bandwagon. Pretty soon they’ll be selling cycling fanny packs and 32mm tires at Urban Outfitters.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegsThis is like putting an oversized spoiler and spinner rims on a classic car like a Jaguar E-Type. ASO put a lot of gimmicks into the world’s biggest bike race. It isn’t a good look. But hey, maybe we’ll finally get an exciting race for yellow?

What rider is this route designed to favor?

Chris: I was expecting to see more time trial miles, increasing the likelihood of a duel between Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin. Or, perhaps the thinking is that Dumoulin can handle the cobbles more than other contenders. Or maybe the short, punchy stages are an attempt to give Froome the heebie-jeebies. In any case, the best riders will rise to the occasion. This route, though unique on paper, is still the Tour de France. Ultimately, I think Froome is the man to beat.

Andrew: The survivor. On paper, it might favor the climbers, especially with all the climbs packed into the final half of the Tour. But that run from the Vendée to Roubaix is going to see a few big names out of the frame, as well as some significant time differences even before hitting the climbs. The 2018 Tour winner will be multi-faceted, strong, consistent, and very lucky.

Fred: I think it is designed to not favor any specific GC rider of this generation. It has a challenge for everyone. Since Froome is the most well-rounded grand tour rider right now, then I have to say it suits him best.

Spencer: I guess it favors Sky’s Gianni Moscon because he can finish fifth in Paris-Roubaix then smash the world’s best climbers in the Vuelta? In all seriousness, it favors pure climbers who have enough teammates to keep them safe in the first week and on even time after the TTT. That stage 20 individual time trial is hilly as well.

Which stage will have a bigger impact: Stage 9 and its 21.7km of cobbles or the ultra-short 65km stage 17?

Chris: Much of it will depend on the race situation during those two respective stages, as well as the weather for stage 9. It would be incredible to see another day like we did in 2014 when Vincenzo Nibali crushed it over the slick cobbles, dropping Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara along the way. My God that was awesome.

Andrew: The cobbles will only matter if some big GC riders lose time. Stage 9 is a day to endure and to limit losses. The ultra-short mountain stage in the Pyrenees is one to press the advantage, be it someone looking to defend a lead, or a rival looking to revive their GC ambitions. Aggressive racing, however, will pay off on both days.

Fred: Stage 9 has the potential to have the biggest impact. I’m already preparing for the sad post-stage interviews with Thibaut Pinot, Nairo Quintana, and Romain Bardet.

Spencer: It seems like Tour cobble stages are often duds. That day in 2014 was one exception. I’m expecting fireworks on stage 17 — it climbs right out of the gate and doesn’t relent. Maybe I’m taking a shine to these gimmicks after all …

How many stages will Peter Sagan win this Tour?

Chris: Zero. He will be disqualified on stage 6 for taking on “unauthorized refreshments” from a roadside fan.

Andrew: Two. This year’s course features plenty of lumpy terrain, but it mostly comes in the first half, so the sprinters and stage-hunters won’t be giving away any of their chances. Sagan will be in the top-five nearly every stage that doesn’t finish on a summit or against the clock. Two, maybe three stage-wins, plus the green jersey.

Fred: Three. He can win the cobbled stage, a flat stage, and then one of the punchy stages during the first week.

Spencer: Sorry Sagan, you’ll only win one in 2018. This will be Fernando Gaviria’s Tour when it comes to the sprints.

Which stage will most decide the overall?

Chris: I have to agree with Froome that stage 12 and its 71km of climbing over the Col de La Madeleine, the Col de la Croix de Fer, and Alpe d’Huez offers someone like him the chance to take control of the race by the scruff of its neck.

Andrew: Paris. You gotta survive this “Tour de Ambush” to win, and that means all the way through the final time trial. The boobytraps come thick and often, all the way to Paris. No sleep ’till the Champs.

Fred: I’m with Chris and Chris. l’Alpe d’Huez is a spot where guys can and will lose minutes. Set your TiVo, cycling fans, that stage is one to watch.

Spencer: It’ll come down to the final time trial on stage 20. That day is preceded by a heinously difficult Pyrenean stage — Aspin, Tourmalet, Aubisque. Plus, the TT will be hilly and technical. How appropriate to have a spicy finish in Espelette, the place where they grow pimento peppers.

Listen to our discussion of the 2018 Tour route on the VeloNews podcast:

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Roundtable: Our 2018 Tour de France wishlist Fri, 13 Oct 2017 20:14:12 +0000 The Tour de France's 2018 route will be revealed October 17. Here are some ways they could spice things up.

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Tour de France organizer ASO will announce the race’s 2018 route on Tuesday, October 17. We know a few things by now. It will start in the Vendée region of western France with a road stage from Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile to Fontenay-le-Comte, including a ride over the infamous Passage du Gois. Stage 2 is another road stage, from Mouilleron-Saint Germain to La Roche-sur-Yon. Stage 3 is around Cholet, suggesting a team time trial could be back in the Tour. There are also rumors of a return to the cobblestones near Roubaix and a trip up Alpe d’Huez.

The rest of the 21-stage “Grande Boucle” is unknown. That’s where we come in. Our panel of experts is taking this opportunity to dream up our wishlist of ways to make the 105th edition the best Tour yet. Let’s roundtable!

Pick two things you want to see in the 2018 Tour route — one practical idea and one WACKY idea.

Fred Dreier @freddreier: We all know that dirt is cycling’s hot trend. So the Tour de France needs to fire up the Future Bass playlist and live in the now, dammit. I say for 2018, the Tour adds some long sections of the Belgian grass/dirt roads that are used in Schaal Sels for the first week of the race. Then, in week three, there’s a day of big, long, dirt climbs in the Pyrenees.

That final stage of the 2017 Hammer Series was so unorthodox and bizarre, and boy did I love it. So my wacky idea is for the TDF to install a bizarre TTT format where the teams leave the start gate like 30 seconds at a time and then are allowed to group together and attack each other as a full TTT squad. The first five riders across the line win! Nacer Bouhanni is already practicing his left hook.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: I want two mountainous stages that are shorter than 120km, ideally one in the Alps and one in the Pyrenees. If you want to get wacky, let’s also run a team time trial on the Roubaix cobblestones early in the race, but make sure those pavé sectors are nice and long — I’m thinking 40km of racing with 39km of cobbles.

Chris Case @chrisjustincase: I’d love to see a big, painful, uphill time trial. Maybe that’s Alpe d’Huez but probably not this year. Better yet, have them tackle the Galibier or Tourmalet. Yes, I want more agony. But what I really want to see is a team competition interlude à la the Hammer Series, with a climb, sprint, and chase component. The video explaining the rules of the Hammer Series is almost two minutes long, so I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say, it will bring a much-needed wacky respite from the doldrums created by Team Sky’s smothering tactics.

Andrew Hood @eurohoody: OK, so we’re doing this eight-rider per team thing this year. But let’s keep an open mind about it. Teams and riders say it is not good for their job security, or for their ability to finish the race. If safety is the true concern, there is a lot more the UCI and race organizers can do. If major grand tours don’t have a discernable safety improvement after this year, bring it back to nine-man teams.

Wacky: How about making this the Tour of short climbs? We’ve seen that the shorter, multi-climb stages are the most thrilling and decisive. So why not pack this Tour with a lot of them? There still have to be longer stages to make it a race of attrition, but when it comes to the mountains, pack in a string of shorter, 100-125km stages, one after another. Three in the Alps, and two more in the Pyrenees. Remember, short is the new long.

Dan Cavallari @browntiedan: I want super-short, super-steep climbing stages on successive days, followed immediately by short, fast sprinter’s stages. Keep the excitement over the course of four or five days to shake up the race and help prevent that feeling of it being a foregone conclusion during the final week. For my wacky idea, let’s kick it old school: flat pedals only on one stage.

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Commentary: Our rules for motorized cheaters Tue, 03 Oct 2017 19:53:03 +0000 A Frenchman is caught with a motor bike in a cycling race. Should we worry? Or should we live with this new reality (and make some rules)?

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By now you’ve probably read that French amateur Cyril Fontayne was busted with a motorized bike in a race on Sunday near Périgueux. The French Cycling Federation and local authorities, led by ex-pro Christophe Bassons — known for clashing with Lance Armstrong back in the day over doping allegations — mustered all of their resources to catch the cheat. According to some reports, Bassons jumped into his car to chase the guy down, making Bassons the closest thing cycling has to an anti-doping superhero.

And who is this nefarious cyclist? Fontayne, 43, is a local tradesman. The perp says he only wanted to get back into racing after a herniated disc this spring.

“I didn’t want to be the champion of Dordogne or win a lot of races. I just did it to feel good again,” he told France Bleu Périgord radio. “I’ve not sold drugs or killed a child. I’ve simply placed a motor in a bike. I will be made an example of, but that’s to cycling’s benefit as I’m not the only one to do this.”

It is a stretch to sympathize with Fontayne. Part of his argument rests on his belief that the motorized cheater bicycles are now commonplace. Yeah, he’s that guy on the group ride who believes that everyone who beat him must be cheating.

Personally, I’m somewhat dubious of Fontayne’s claims. But let’s embrace debate and assume that these nefarious bikes have completely inundated the amateur peloton. Every weekend the Masters 50-plus category at your local gran fondo is composed of guys zipping along at 40mph without pedaling. In this dystopian scenario, it would be incumbent on cycling’s governing body to create some regulations for the new technology.

If I were charged with regulating cheater bikes in amateur racing, here are the rules I would levy on the motorheads:

1. No chamois allowed

Bike racing is all about discomfort. He (or she) who can endure the most pain and suffering should win, right? Not with a cheater bike. A motor in the bike makes things a little too cushy for cyclists. So my new rule: Motorheads are forbidden from racing with a pad in their shorts. Back in the day, the only pro rider who could endure this masochistic level of pain was Tinker Juarez. He went chamois-free for most of his races. So if you’re going to pound out 100 miles on your motorized bike, prepare to go full-Tinker and plant your heinie on the ass-hatchet with nothing but a paper-thin layer of lycra in-between. Sure, you may finish 20 minutes ahead of your buddy, but you will spend double that time applying Alocane to your chapped nether regions.

Unexpected upside: Skin balm becomes a new sponsor category for gran fondos.

2. You better weight for everyone else

Cycling is also a math equation. If there’s a climb, the ratio of your wattage relative to your weight determines whether you are the proverbial hammer or nail. Of course, a motorized bike blasts its rider to the top of the climb, no matter how heavy he (or she) may be. But what if the motorized rider was, like, SUPER heavy? Here’s my answer: mandatory weight vests for the motorheads. Just stop by your local gym or scuba diving shop and buy some wearable lead weights. Sure, they may be uncomfortable, but hey, it’s a light price to pay in order to race a cheater bike. And it’s not like a weight vest will totally slow you down. This guy won a Spartan race with one on!

Unexpected upside: Built-in body armor for those out-of-control motorheads.

3. Breathtaking riding required

Gym rats have a lot of great ideas for leveling the playing field with motorized riders. Have you ever seen those $90 training masks that purport to build your lung capacity by restricting your air intake? I know — seems like really sound science. Motorized riders like Fontayne are doing a fraction the effort as their competitors. So why not force them to simply take in a fraction of the oxygen? I’m sure these riders will accept the challenge. After all, they get to look really tough, like Bane from “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Unexpected upside: We inadvertently create a group of super-human athletes who can win bike races AND do push-ups!

So, to wrap things up, I’m all for allowing cyclists like Fontayne to race their motorized bicycles in sanctioned amateur events against those of us who prefer to pedal our bicycles, endure the pain, and win or lose based on the merits of our legs, lungs, and brains. So long as riders like Fontayne are willing to subject their bottoms to awful, terrible chafing, load themselves down with lead, and siphon off their airflow, then hey, it’s all good. If these riders aren’t willing to go there, then maybe they should stay the hell away from our sport.

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Garbage takes: Sagan slim-fast; ‘Belgian guy’ of the week returns Fri, 29 Sep 2017 17:16:16 +0000 Peter Sagan needs to lose weight to win 2018 worlds ... Hello sponsorship opportunity! Plus, Cipollini is bored with bike racing.

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Any given week, there are oodles of cycling stories flying around in the news. So here’s a quick-hit summary of this week’s happenings, plus my own garbage opinions on each. Much like my gambling advice, these takes are for entertainment purposes only!

Sagan’s slim-fast program

Peter Sagan’s Slovakia kit has barely gone into the laundry after he won his third consecutive world championships, but he’s already talking about 2018. Sagan said it’s possible he could win an unprecedented fourth rainbow jersey in Innsbruck, Austria. To do that, or win hilly spring classics, he admitted he’ll need to lose some weight. I smell a sponsorship opportunity for the always-savvy champ. The wacky European weight-loss companies will be all over Sagan in hopes of marketing their systems. He already starred in some cooking videos for Bora. If you’re channel-surfing late at night and see a smirking Slovak on the screen hocking special powders and freeze-dried foods in rainbow-striped packages, you know Sagan has cashed in — yet again!

Contador’s injustice has nothing to do with cycling

Speaking of watching what you eat, Alberto Contador complained this week that the disqualification of his 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d’Italia was “a huge injustice.” That was seven years ago, man! I’ve got a bone to pick with Alberto, but it has nothing to do with stripped grand tour titles or tainted beef. My grievance: He hid his singing talents from us for far too long. Imagine if he had belted out this little number atop the Vuelta al Pais Vasco podium, wearing a traditional Basque txapela! Eurovision 2018 is coming up in May. If Contador starts posting Strava rides from the Lisbon area, you can bet he’s preparing for a new kind of competition.

Belgian guy of the week: The man who banned beards

Back in the spring, I was handing out “Belgian guy” awards on a weekly basis. When I heard that Sport Vlaanderen director Walter Planckaert had banned his riders from sporting beards, I knew it was time for a comeback. Citing a need to preserve “the elegance of cycling” Planckaert drew a line in the sand. Classic Belgian guy move. It isn’t about the aesthetics, a potential electric shaver sponsor, or a secret obsession with the New York Yankees. Nope, this purely about draconian control, letting the riders know who’s boss. After all, the storied Belgian development team only won three major races in 2017. Those Sport Vlaanderen riders better watch out — if they don’t start winning soon, Walter might issue some more diktats. Red meat for breakfast! Wool kits! Elegant steel bikes with downtube shifters! The guy won Tour of Flanders during the Ford administration, so he must know what he’s doing.

Cipollini is bored

In a story on Cycling Weekly, our faithful European reporter Gregor Brown wrote that Mario Cipollini is bored with bike racing these days. He criticized rival teams and riders for not taking the fight to dominant stars like Peter Sagan and Chris Froome. It’s hard to get mad at cycling’s most charismatic rider ever, but come on, Cipo, we need some constructive criticism here. It’s not so simple to just attack and isolate Sagan and Froome. Maybe we need other ways to stir up some cycling excitement, less racing-oriented approaches. Let’s put Cipollini in charge of designing race leaders’ jerseys. Perhaps he can give Sagan some hairstyle tips? (That buzz cut… Ouch!) And as always, tasteful nudes never go out of fashion.

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Commentary: Interbike is us — If it wasn’t good, we’re not good Fri, 29 Sep 2017 14:33:46 +0000 It’s not too difficult to come up with a word to describe the 2017 Interbike trade show, the last bike gathering to be held in Las Vegas.

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It’s not too difficult to come up with a word to describe the 2017 Interbike trade show, the last bike gathering to be held in Las Vegas. Diminutive. Lilliputian. Small. For old time’s sake, I bumped into a few people. It was awkward because we were the only ones in the hallway (apologies).

Interbike’s smaller size might confirm our fears about the bike industry. After all, we’ve seen the stats — The National Bicycle Dealers Association’s (NBDA) 2015 Industry Overview reported a decline in the number of bicycle shops in the U.S., a trend that has continued since. Is the industry dying? Should we be worried about the future of our beloved industry?

I don’t think so. That same NBDA report notes that participation in cycling was slightly up. Overall sales have been stable. It goes on to note that cycling’s outlook is “positive.” So why the contraction of the trade show? Interbike’s size and scope are simply a reflection of us, the bike industry, and our desire to participate in an annual gathering. If we choose to embrace a trade show to showcase our brands, Interbike will thrive. If not, it will die.

And while it’s understandable why many bike brands have abandoned the show, there is value in an annual industry-wide meetup. With Interbike set to leave Vegas for Reno next year, now is the time for the industry to decide what, exactly, it needs in a big show.

Some of Interbike’s problems are obvious. Vegas is expensive. With so many brands launching products, it’s tough to cut through the clutter. It falls at a strange time in the product cycle. So, few brands plunked down the coin to attend the show, and even fewer went to Outdoor Demo. Yet to call Interbike 2017 a failure would be to diminish what it really was: A moment to hit the brakes, see the people we love in this industry, and ask ourselves why we showed up at all.

No doubt there’s a need for an industry pow-wow in which media, vendors, shop owners, and fans get together to celebrate what’s great about us. When you distill Interbike to its most basic elements, the only missing component was dollar signs. For years, Interbike was the week when dealers placed preseason orders and media saw what’s new and cool for the year. Shops don’t operate like that these days. With the rise of social media, brands can now launch products on their own timeline. Many major bike manufacturers now prefer to launch product via their own press camps. And why not, considering Las Vegas’s expensive booths, hotel rooms, plane tickets, and food?

On the show floor, there was much head-scratching and hand-wringing. But there was also a sigh of relief: The contraction meant more of what we all came to love about this gathering in the first place: face-time and beverages with each other; a sneak peek at the new and cool; media, vendors, athletes, and shop owners all mingling, trading ideas, and discussing solutions to the contraction that affects us all. The show floor can and should be a breeding ground for ideas and partnerships, but that’s on us. It’s unfair to place the blame squarely on Interbike. If we fail, we fail together.

There’s value in getting together with a renewed focus. This is an opportunity for the industry to become proactive, to address cycling’s biggest roadblocks to growth: infrastructure and cycling safety. It’s also an opportunity for bike shop owners to come together to develop a strategy for survival and best practices. Interbike holds conference seminars that address e-commerce and advocacy. That’s a good start, but most lectures focus on granular topics like bike fit and store design.

Perhaps instead of fixating on near-term business goals or product updates, we should focus on how to improve infrastructure in the United States so new cyclists (perhaps some on those e-bikes) actually have a safe place to ride. Advocacy events like the National Bike Summit have been doing this for years. Interbike, however, is an opportunity to bring more of the bike business community together to tackle these challenges.

Attendees largely called the smaller Interbike a success. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the individual attention those vendors were able to give to media, bike shops, and other show attendees. Pivot Cycles, in particular, seemed to come out on top: It had the longest lines at Outdoor Demo and the booth in the show hall was packed from start to finish.

That’s great for Pivot, and it might be a selling point for Interbike moving forward. Or, it could have a different impact entirely. The next step in a bike brand’s evolution seems to be a personalized event on home turf, much like Trek’s yearly event in Waterloo. It’s an enticing proposition that could save vendors some much-needed cash, and it affords them a truly captive audience. The model seems to have worked out well for Trek and other large companies who hold events with the focus squarely on its own brand. Those vendors who won big at Interbike this year will probably head back to meeting rooms and discuss if there are any other benefits to showing up at Interbike besides a little bit of extra attention.

Admittedly, my take on Interbike is tinged with nostalgia. I first came to Vegas and stepped onto the Interbike floor in 2005 as a wrench for a small Arizona bike shop. My week consisted of a lot of free schwag, invites to special events like movie premieres and private limos to punk clubs, a lot of free booze, and face time with all the top industry celebs, from Floyd Landis to Geoff Kabush, Lennard Zinn to April Lawyer. In other words, it was fun. For a young shop rat like me, it was a crazy escape from the travails of an unforgiving real world. If it isn’t that anymore, that’s only because we’re not willing to let it be.

Interbike has always been a mirror image of ourselves as a community. If the big guys make moves based solely on dollars and cents rather than the greater good, we fail. If bike shops make moves based solely on history and what’s been done before, we fail. Like a team time trial, we’re only as good as our slowest guy. Let’s help each other out.

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Interbike: Three things I noticed at Outdoor Demo Mon, 25 Sep 2017 17:53:25 +0000 Interbike's Outdoor Demo was smaller than ever, but there were still interesting trends to watch. Here are three we noticed.

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Arriving at Interbike means hopping the shuttle out to Boulder City, Nevada to check out the Outdoor Demo for our first glimpse at what’s new and cool in the bike world. It’s also an opportunity to ride the rugged trails at Bootleg Canyon. This year’s Outdoor Demo was a downsized version of its former self, but the trails were still there and they were still a ton of fun. Here are three things I noticed about Outdoor Demo that I think will matter in 2018.

1. Tech trends

Interbike has historically set the trends for bicycle technology in the United States. If we are to believe that’s still the case, look out for a lot of e-bikes in the near future. The Outdoor Demo in the Nevada desert was diminutive when judged against previous years, but the brands that were present indicated a distinct shift in what the future holds, particularly for mountain bikes. And that future is electric.

In fact, the majority of brands holding down the windy fort in Boulder City had e-bike offerings, most notably Focus and KHS. Shimano also showed off its updated Steps drive unit, which integrates pretty slickly with its XT Di2 system.

Yet e-bikes — and more specifically, e-mountain bikes — have been slow to catch on in the United States. Contrast that with the ubiquity of the powered mountain bikes in Europe and you’ve got a bike industry with a conundrum on its hands. How do you sell e-mountain bikes to an American population that already has a host of problems like trail access issues and dangerous roads? It seems brands are becoming bold enough to try, and it’s happening at all levels, from brands like Trek with its drop-bar Crossrip to relatively new names like Haibike and Pedego.

So there’s faith that Americans will embrace e-bikes, both on and off the road. And that, to me, seems admirable, as long as the growth of e-bikes comes hand in hand with a fight for better, safer infrastructure and trail stewardship. The former has long been a significant American weakness, and the bicycle industry has so far relied heavily on PeopleForBikes and IMBA to do the big lifting.

My take: That’s no longer good enough if these pedal-assist bikes become ubiquitous. We all suffer the first time an e-biker makes headlines for going far too fast and taking out a pedestrian or hiker. If e-bikes are the future, their presence should come hand-in-hand with new stewardship and infrastructure partnerships between brands and advocacy groups.

2. Gear Boxes

Pinion’s gearbox is a new take on bicycle shifting. Photo: Dan Cavallari |

Pinion showed off its C1.12 gearbox at the Outdoor Demo. It lives in the bottom bracket shell rather than in the rear hub. This moves the added weight (Pinion says its system weighs about a pound and a half more than most derailleur-based drivetrains) to the center of the bike from the rear, which should improve handling. I tested this bike on the trails in Boulder City. While it is certainly an improvement over rear hub-based gearboxes, the added weight was still very noticeable. I had to really work to lean the bike over in corners. Once that weight reached a certain lean-over point, it took some work to keep the bike from diving further than I wanted.

It’s an interesting concept that’s been skirting the mainstream for years with hub-based systems popularized by Rohloff. Moving the system to the bottom bracket area certainly improves the likelihood that internal gearboxes could catch on, but my first experience with Pinion’s system left me with the sense that this is promising but not ready for primetime. Any system that requires the rider to re-learn how to shift is bound to run into some stiff resistance, and I’m not anxious enough to ditch my derailleurs. Quicken the shifting here and Pinion’s got a real contender on its hands.

3. Where art thou, roadies?

Road bikes were conspicuously absent from the Outdoor Demo. A few brands like Focus had a road bike or two kicking around. Campagnolo was on hand to show off its new disc brakes. But this year’s Outdoor Demo was almost exclusively a mountain bike affair. Where have all the roadies gone?

For starters, much of the new technology in road bikes has already been released, either at the Tour de France or at Eurobike. A show this late in the year perhaps doesn’t make a lot of sense for road bike reveals, since the pros have largely been riding the new stuff throughout the season.

Of course, there may be other issues at play, like Interbike’s shaky future (the show will high-tail it out of Vegas next year and land in Reno). Perhaps it’s simply the fact that the mountain biking around Boulder City is much better than the road biking.

Or maybe there just isn’t a lot of groundbreaking tech happening on the road side this year, while there’s quite a lot happening on dirt. Gravel bikes, e-mountain bikes, new suspension … all dirty bits. Sure, there’s a lot of engineering underpinning the leap to road disc brakes, but that’s hardly a sexy showpiece for a visual affair like Interbike.

So will we see the subjugation of the “stiffer, lighter” mantra that seems to be the core of just about all road bike marketing and engineering? Not likely, since those two aspects of engineering matter so much to road bike development. And that begs the question: Are road bikes as good as they’ll ever be right now? It’s certainly possible. My guess is we’ll see a new frame material crop up in the next few years that will push the envelope even further. It will likely be some play on carbon fiber, but speaking strictly as an observing writer and in no way as anything resembling an engineer, road bikes will change again and we’ll be sitting around in five years reminiscing about the quaint years we rode just regular ol’ carbon fiber.

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Worlds roundtable: How did Sagan do it? Mon, 25 Sep 2017 16:12:52 +0000 Did Peter Sagan's third world title salvage his 2017 season? Let's roundtable!

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The finale of Sunday’s UCI Elite Men’s World Championships in Bergen, Norway contained plenty of heart-stopping drama. We watched Julian Alaphilippe zip away from the peloton on Salmon Hill and fly to likely victory, only to have the moto’s TV feed cut out and be replaced by a still shot of a Norwegian sailing ship and a sea of waving Norwegian flags. When the video finally came back, we saw a gruppo compatto peloton thunder to the line, where Peter Sagan took a historic third consecutive win. There was drama. There was salmon. There were oh so many Norwegian flags.

Let’s roundtable!

What was your reaction when the moto camera died with 3km to go?

Fred Dreier @freddreier: Go Alaphil—WHAT? NO! Where is the peloton? Why did the producers switch to clipper ship cam right now? Is this grainy pirated Sporza feed to blame? No! It’s the main feed, and the moto camera must be down! Cookson’s gone for two days and look at the chaos …

Spencer Powlsion @spino_powerlegs: At first I was confused, then I started to get a bit nervous, and finally I just pretended I was there at the finish in Bergen, eating Norwegian salmon and waiting for the peloton to appear around the final bend.

Andrew Hood @Eurohoody: My empathy was with the technical crew. After six-hours-plus of flawless broadcast, something bad had had to have happened. Somewhere in Norway, a few technicians were living their worst nightmare. For the race? There was some unexpected tension in not knowing what was happening up the road. Old-school. When it came through with the bunch together, you knew Sagan had a chance.

Caley Fretz @caleyfretz: There was a time when I was sure that the bootleg live streamers of international cycling were all part of some sort of twisted cabal determined to hide cycling’s best moments from its fans. And so when the feed cut out on Sunday I felt only resignation; the anti-cycling cabal wins again.

Which team missed the opportunity to win?

Fred: Belgium had Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet in perfect position heading into Salmon Hill, and I was sure that Gilbert was going to make it across to Alaphilippe and Moscon, but he either didn’t have the legs to go, or he figured the move would have come back. By my estimation, that threesome (plus perhaps Niki Terpstra) is gone if they crest the climb with the gap that Alaphilippe and Moscon eventually got. Instead, Phil Gil tried his hand with solo flyers on the flats, and that went nowhere. Considering the strength of their team, Belgium really missed out.

Spencer: The Italians had a lot of good cards to play, but none of them delivered in the finale. Alberto Bettiol led out the sprint perfectly, except it was perfect for Alexander Kristoff and Peter Sagan. Plus, to add insult to injury, Gianni Moscon was disqualified for a sticky bottle. Honorable mention: Apart from Philippe Gilbert’s short-lived attack, where were the Belgians?

Andy: Australia. They needed to make it harder with two and even three laps to go to get rid of a few more sprinters, or at least made it more difficult for them. Matthews also mentioned how he wasted energy chasing moves over Salmon Hill rather than waiting for it to come back. Italy played it right tactically, but Trentin didn’t quite have the legs to deliver the podium.

Caley: Colombia’s Fernando Gaviria should have been in the sprint for a medal but did far too much work. The rest of the major nations appeared to play the cards they had. There were really only three teams (Norway, Colombia, and Australia) with a reasonable chance of beating Sagan in that sprint, so all those doomed attacks from the Dutch and French and others had to at least be attempted.

What were the key components to Sagan’s victory?

Fred: In interviews with Sagan’s rivals, all of them lament their wasted energy with bad attacks on that final lap. Not Sagan. He kept his powder dry until that final lunge to the line. And perhaps the most important component was his well-timed bike throw. Go back and watch the slow motion replay, and it’s the bike throw that gives Sagan that extra oomph to win.

Spencer: The keys were what you didn’t see on replay. You didn’t see him make any unnecessary early attacks. You didn’t see him make an effort to pull back breakaways. He ghosted through the peloton until the very end. Pure patience. And of course, his super-fast sprint finish is pretty key as well.

Andy: Patience. Sagan was invisible until the final 800m. Even he admitted that he thought the race for gold was over with 5km to go. He astutely followed wheels, and kept his options alive. Positioning was also key going through those final corners. Sagan was perfectly placed on Kristoff’s wheel. Had he been behind Matthews, there would be no triple.

Caley:  Patience. Sagan hasn’t always raced with such a level head, but his patience on Sunday was astounding. After hiding away for hours, he made the decisive splits and didn’t hit the front until he could see the finish line.

The key moments come in the final 2km. The helicopter shot we got later shows a reduced bunch attacking and swarming like sparrows as riders hit out and then are reeled back. Watch Sagan. He’s the most efficient sparrow, following wheels and jumping from group to group so that he’s always in the one moving quickest.

What is your assessment of Sagan’s 2017 campaign?

Fred: The world championship obviously salvages his year, since the three-peat is such a historic accomplishment. But here’s my hot take: Sagan had a lousy year. Because it’s Sagan, we need to grade him on a curve, and this year lacked a monument and a green jersey. He was outsmarted at MSR, sloppy in Belgium, and the victim of overzealous officiating at le Tour. Here’s hoping for a better 2018.

Spencer: He saved his season with a historic third-consecutive world championship title. Apart from Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, his classics season was fruitless. The stage 3 win at the Tour was nice, but we all know what happened the next day. Sagan is so exceptional that even a 12-win season looks mediocre, so this rainbow jersey came right when he needed it.

Andy: A complete success. Sagan is one of the few riders who can alter any race he’s in. He missed a big monument win this year, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a protagonist in every race he started. The Tour de France was a balk on the race jury’s part, and Sagan came back to deliver sweet revenge when it counted. He’s now in a class of his own.

Caley: The only month in which he didn’t win a race since February was April, classics month, and that’s a pretty good reflection of his season as a whole. It was among his best but, without Flanders or Roubaix, it can’t be called the best.

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Garbage takes: Froome’s next big challenge Fri, 15 Sep 2017 09:54:01 +0000 Chris Froome needs a real challenge, like racing a rhinoceros. Also, why is Vincenzo Nibali still racing this late in the season?

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Any given week, there are oodles of cycling stories flying around in the news. So here’s a quick-hit summary of this week’s happenings, plus my own garbage opinions on each. Much like my gambling advice, these takes are for entertainment purposes only!

Froome should race a rhino

Chris Froome did it! He won the Tour and Vuelta in the same season, like he’s always wanted to. Are we done hearing about the Brit until next July? Of course not. Froome is generating buzz for his attempt to win the world time trial championships next week. Froome’s clearly got a hot hand (er, legs) right now. So, I think he needs to go big. I mean REALLY big. The Tour/Vuelta/worlds triple is great, but it doesn’t move the needle in mainstream media. He needs to orchestrate a wild publicity stunt, like Michael Phelps did in July by “racing” a great white shark. Here’s my plan: Froome races a rhinoceros. Froome already advocates for wildlife conservation, and he already sports a cool rhino decal on his bicycle. Can he drop a charging rhino like he dropped Nibali on the Angliru? I think Wout Poels will need a significant bonus to sign up as super-domestique for this project.

Nibali not quitting

Vincenzo Nibali is not done racing this season. Even though he suffered a cracked rib at the Vuelta, the Italian still wants to race. He plans to target Il Lombardia and other Italian one-day races this month. For a guy who’s won all three grand tours, 2017 was a bit of a dud. Sure he won a stage in the Giro and one at the Vuelta, but he must feel a bit disappointed to have only one GC win, at the Tour of Croatia — not quite as prestigious as the Tour. So I have to admire his gumption to just keep hammering away, trying to collect a few more victories. Now if we find him slugging it out in ‘cross races in December, maybe we can all agree he’s taking it a bit too far and could use some R&R.

Retirement bug bites Americans

Two notable American pros retired in the last week. Andrew Talansky and Tyler Farrar both announced they were moving on. First off, I salute both of them for their successful careers, as well as for their classy retirement announcements. Talansky put up a sentimental post on Instagram. Farrar quietly spread the news at Grand Prix de Montreal. I can’t help but worry. With Flu season upon us, I’m curious if retirement is also contagious. If so, then we need to protect our American WorldTour riders. BMC Racing needs to put Tejay van Garderen in a social-media quarantine until New Years. Jonathan Vaughters should make Taylor Phinney go on an epic bike tour with nothing more than a denim jacket and a bespoke handkerchief. (I bet he’d actually enjoy that.) At this point, the U.S. only has 10 WorldTour riders on contract for 2018 — we shouldn’t take any chances.

Contador coaching: Stand up and fight!

Our man in Spain Andrew Hood pointed out that Alberto Contador is one of the last big Spanish stars to retire. Who will take the mantel after Contador’s swashbuckling final victory on the Vuelta’s Angliru finish? Many ex-pros go on to start coaching companies. If Contador takes that route, he can kill two birds with one stone. He’ll have a new gig to keep him occupied in retirement, and he can foster the next generation of Spanish cyclists. Imagine some of the workouts he’d design. “Okay Pedro, go out and find the steepest climb you can and sprint up it out of the saddle, 20 minutes minimum! Can’t find a climb that’s steep enough? Lay some planks down on the stairs at your local stadium.” “Carlos: You need to attack tomorrow’s group ride, but make sure you’re covered in bandages first, that way you simulate a horrible first-week crash in a grand tour.” If in 2027 every Spanish rider is climbing out of the saddle like a marionette, we’ll know El Pistolero has left his mark.

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