Tour de France 2012 – A Review

Differenty colored cycling jerseys as used in ...

This year’s race has been fantastic. It always is in my opinion despite some calling this edition boring due to Sky’s controlling dominance in the mountains this year. I disagree and feel that great riding and teamwork is just as exciting as attacks depending on the situation. The race was won in amazing style by Bradley Wiggins who is clearly in the form of his life, and has been all season long, winning three prestigious stage races. No other rider has achieved the feat of winning all four of these races in one season. It’s an incredible achievement for Brad and the team.

Rather than go into all of the stories one by one, I’ll highlight some points that I’ve been thinking about most, as it would take forever to talk about everything I want to.

Will Bradley Wiggins work for Chris Froome in 2013?

I think Chris Froome deserves a chance at GC undoubtedly. I think he wants that chance at Sky but I have no idea on the time-frame he’s setting for this. He’s considerably younger than Brad so it appears that he has plenty of time, but in another year or two, his window may close significantly due to new talent emerging or guys like Tejay Van Garderen or Thibaut Pinot living up to their potential as yellow jersey contenders. If Froome ended up working for Wiggins again next year and getting on the podium again, and then never winning after that when he did get the support, it would be a travesty. It must be an awful feeling to know that you have to wait another year, and you may never get a better chance. Having said that, Bradley Wiggins is running out of years to win the tour again, so the argument goes both ways. Whether they continue helping each other as team-mates will depend on how much Brad wants to defend his title, and whether or not Chris is willing to work as a team-player again, and for how long. I just hope he stays in Team Sky, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brad helping him to win next year if the route suits his team-mate. He just comes across as that type of selfless champion.

What does Mark Cavendish do next year?

Once it was clear that HTC Highroad was folding at the end of last year, it made sense that Cav joined Sky for 2012 for multiple reasons. Due to the strong cross-over between staff in British cycling and Team Sky, he would be stepping into a familiar environment full of friends and people he had worked with in his early career. Not only this, but it would mean that in an Olympic year in which he’s considered among the favourites for gold in London, he’ll be riding all season with three out of the four men who would be on the GB team for the games. It was the perfect match for this year and so far it’s gone well. Even though he had to settle for 3 stages instead of his normal 5 or 6 at the tour, he’s won three of the best tour stages of his career including being lead-out by the yellow jersey winner on the final stage in Paris to win his fourth in a row there. Not to mention being a part of and contributing in other ways to one of the most successful teams in Tour history.

However, once this season is over and done with, does he really want to do another tour with Sky and play second fiddle to a predominantly GC based team? I’m sure he’d love to see Bradley or Chris win more tours and to be a part of future success in a British team. But if he wants to win more stages and be a team leader with a strong train as he has had in the past, he’ll undoubtedly have to switch teams. Not to mention win the Green Jersey again, which I think it’s been proven in this tour is extremely difficult when you’re riding on a predominantly GC orientated team when you’re a pure sprinter. Peter Sagan won on a predominantly GC team, but his ability to win on uphill finishes gave him a huge advantage as he gained so many points there, and just had to consolidate his lead on the pure sprint stages, which he did better than anyone could have expected. He even won a flat out sprint against Matt Goss and a battered and bruised Andre Greipel.

If Sky had a full complement of riders to focus on GC then you would have to think that they would be even stronger in future tours. Let’s not forget that they lost Kanstantsin Suitsou early in the race and he would have been a fantastic domestique in the mountains. If you combine him with potentially two extra climbers in place of Cav and Bernie Eisel then you would have an almost unbeatable team to help Brad or Chris. Cav being in a separate team would probably help himself and Team Sky. Sky would of course miss having him winning big stages for them, but their job overall would be much simpler and allow them to focus solely on the GC and stage wins in TT’s and summit finishes as well as a few uphill sprints for Boasson Hagen.

We saw in the Tour how important a strong lead-out train is with Greipel’s 3 stage wins. He was well positioned in all of those and in two of them he had to be paced back to the front. Once after miraculously avoiding crashing with Farrar and the second after he was slightly distanced after a climb before the finish. If any sprinter deserves a full lead-out train it’s Mark Cavendish and he’s certainly not going to get it at Sky.

There will be a number of aspects weighed up that determine whether or not he switches teams. How much he enjoys being a part of Team Sky, whether or not he can find a team that will give him a full lead-out train like he had at HTC and his desire to win as many sprints as he has in recent years. With being a team leader comes huge pressure, and no guarantee of the kind of success he’s enjoyed in past tours. Would it be worth leaving a team he’s extremely happy in to only win 3 stages with a foreign team? Maybe if he feels like a burden to Sky but I doubt he does.

At the end of the day, I’m struggling to see how Mark could be a team leader in any of the top World Tour Teams next year. Everyone has a GC contender and I think the only team that could fit him in would be a team like Omega-Pharma Quick-Step. The team does still have a GC rider in Levi Leipheimer but it would be the closest thing to what Andre Greipel has at Lotto. He has Jurgen Van Den Broeck on the team with Yelle Vanendert for the mountains but still has most of the team devoted to him.

The bike manufacturer a team uses may also play a part. It’s been said that Cav favours Specialized and it’s easy to understand why. He’s won on Scott, Pinarello and more but with Specialized producing some of the best bikes for sprinting and with him winning his world title on a Venge, you can see why he might want to be reunited with that machine again.

Overall, Quick-Step would probably be the best potential destination, but even they can’t offer him what he had at HTC Highroad and that probably mean’s he’ll stay where he is. Especially as a team would have to buy out the final 2 years in his contract in order to sign him.

What do the rest of the Sprinters do now?

The likes of Matt Goss, Mark Renshaw and Tyler Farrar have some thinking to do. Goss is in a better position as he is near the top and is certainly an able sprinter, even if he does keep coming second to Cav in big races like the World Championships last year. But at least he’s winning stages and his position as an elite sprinter is secure after only one season into it, having worked for Cav at HTC last year. He’s got plenty of time to improve and get some TdF stage wins, as he’s younger than most of his main rivals except Sagan.

Renshaw and Farrar have more to ponder. Renshaw has had a win this season in Turkey, albeit by the narrowest of margins over Goss, but Farrar has struggled for form all year, not registering a single win. It was frankly a bit embarrassing that Eurosport interviewed him before the Champs Elysees stage because he’s clearly not got the speed right now to win a sprint against the top 3 or 4 guys without them crashing or being held up somehow.

He should probably be asking himself what the problem is. Whether it’s that he’s just having a poor season or whether he just doesn’t have the speed and tactical nous to be able to win grand tour sprints against the top fast men. I think a change of training, or maybe even a change of riding style are in order. He has to change something because in the world of sprinting, winning is mandatory. I’d like to see him and Mark Renshaw get some big wins, but before that, they just have to start winning anything convincingly. The Eneco Tour would be a great place to start unless we see something shocking at the Olympic Games before then.

There’s so much to talk about from this year’s race. I may post more thoughts so stay tuned for possibly more soon.


Giro D’Italia 2012 Recap

Giro d'Italia
Giro d’Italia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I really enjoyed this year’s Giro. There was drama right from the beginning in Denmark and it carried through the entire three weeks. On the first day, I remember being disappointed as I saw Taylor Phinney coming around the final turn with a time that I knew would be good enough to handily beat Geraint Thomas and take away his rare opportunity to wear the pink jersey in the Giro. However, I quickly realized what it meant to Taylor and his family, and couldn’t help but like him more. He’s such a character in cycling and it was a huge dream of his to wear pink that it wouldn’t have been right for anyone else to have worn it at that time, especially as he had planned for that time trial since October.

Taylor fought like a champion to keep the jersey despite a catalogue of crashes and mishaps and endeared himself to the fans even more. The Italians especially, as he now lives there and speaks the language fluently. He was involved in a crash on stage 2 and had to chase back on as it happened outside of the 3 kilometre to go mark, and then again on stage 3. This time causing him a scare and an extremely painful ankle, and also saw Mark Cavendish hit the ground hard in a scary incident at high speed. This incident haunted both until the end of the race. Phinney battled on but his injury got the better of him and a below par performance in the Team Time Trial caused him to lose pink to Garmin and Ramunas Naverdauskas.

It was an interesting race for Mark Cavendish. Three stage wins is no mean feat for any rider, but considering his lofty standards and what else happened in the race, he’ll probably have mixed feelings about the event. The crash on stage three may have cost him another win, or at least a strong points finish, the stage where Pozzato and Goss collided cost him another potential win as he had to go the long way around and then was brought down at slow speed. The stage won by Roberto Ferrari (who probably should have been kicked out for causing the crash on stage 3) also could have been better for Mark. He had to check his speed on the final tight corner and he couldn’t get back on terms. The last sprint stage was won by Andrea Guardini. That was a stage everyone expected Cav to take with ease as almost all of the big contending sprinters had gone home. Maybe he underestimated his opposition and didn’t start sprinting until it was too late or maybe he was just tired, but whatever the case, those extra points certainly cost him the red points jersey.

It’s a far tougher proposition than the Tour Green Jersey as in that race, all sprint stages offer double points, whereas the Giro doesn’t offer that. To only lose that competition by 1 point must have been excruciating after all the pain he and the team went through to protect it. Having said that, you can’t say Joaqiun Rodriguez didn’t deserve a jersey in this race. Only the final time trial was his undoing in the GC fight and even in that he did himself proud, outdoing most people’s expectations.

There were so many other moments I loved. The solo win of Matteo Rabbotini was absolutely incredible. When Rodriguez overtook him in the final stretch for the line and he came back at him to win, I couldn’t help yelling at the TV, cheering him on and getting excited the same way I would for Cav or another of my favourite riders. Cycling inspires that passion in people, and that’s what I love.

Other stand out moments include the wins of Paolo Tirralongo, Lars Bak, Joaquin Rodriguez, Rubiano, Pozzovivo, Kreuziger and I almost forgot about the incredible win of Thomas De Gent on the final road stage up to the highest ever Giro finish. That was an absolutely brilliant stage win and he positioned himself perfectly for the final time trial where he once again produced a stunning ride to seal a podium place.

The General Classification was an interesting fight throughout the event with lots of guys being in touch with the main contenders for quite a long time due to the profiles of the stages in the first two weeks. In the end though, it was clear coming into the final week that it was going to be a two man fight between Hesjedal and Rodriguez. Former twice champion Basso, last year’s inherited winner Scarponi and his team mate and former winner Cunego among the others such as Roman Kreuziger, Dominico Pozzovivo and the two Columbian Sky riders all didn’t quite have the legs to challenge for the overall. I must say I was impressed by Ivan Basso and Liquigas. Despite him being a twice former champion, his form this year has been poor for the most part and I expected him to get dropped earlier than in the final 2 stages like he was.

It was a great battle and I’m so pleased for Ryder Hesjedal and Garmin Barracuda. They desperately needed a big win like this as they haven’t had a huge amount this year. The TTT win was also huge for the team and gave them a solid base from which Hesjedal could build from and win this race. It was great to see Ryder become the first Canadian grand tour winner.


Will Mark Cavendish go to Team Sky?

Mark was on BBC Radio 5 Live on Tuesday morning and in the interview he was pressed heavily about his decision to potentially move teams. He confirmed that he has made a decision and that it will be made public in the next few weeks.

Despite the fact that going to Team Sky would reunite him with good friend Bradley Wiggins as well as put all of the British stars in a star studded “national team”, I still think it would be the wrong decision for him personally.

HTC Highroad is a team built around Cav and without him, they’ll have to have a complete reorganisation. He’s the face of the team and he’s been with them for his entire professional career. All of his successes have come in a High Road jersey.

As the old saying goes, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it and I definitely feel that this is the situation here. Reading this article in which Geraint Thomas expresses his desire to have Mark in his team next year does curb some of my reprehension towards such a move but I still feel that he may struggle to win as many stages in that team.

HTC riders all sacrifice themselves for Mark on each flat stage, sometimes even the hilly ones, just to keep him within the time limit. Tony Martin did win the individual time trial at the Tour de France this year but even so, he could have been capable of far more had he been allowed to show his true potential more often.

In Team Sky, he won’t have 8 guys working for him. Bradley Wiggins will continue to be a main focus of the team. Thomas seems willing to give up his own stage winning ambitions to work for either of those riders as well as potentially Edvald Boassen Hagen as he did in this year’s TdF. Boassen Hagen, as well as Ben Swift though may be the hardest hit because all sprinting duties will surely be handed over to Cav, even if they both stay with the team.

Will they be ok with the role of being Cav’s leadout men in the same way that Mark Renshaw, Tony Martin and co have been in the last few years? If they are, then it could be a good move for everyone, but it’s going to be a tough ask for those guys to give up the chance of individual glory, especially as Eddy had two stage wins, and probably should have had a third. It’s true that one of those was a brilliant breakaway attack rather than a sprint, and so that could still happen again in future, but the opportunity for sprint wins would look unlikely.