The upcoming Giro marks a change in the season

Despite their being much disruption still across Europe and beyond, we have had a cycling season to enjoy and 2021 has delivered.

There have been a number of highlights in the classics and one week stage races to date and before we get into the Giro D’Italia let’s cover our top 3…

3. Mark Cavendish in the Tour of Turkey

“Cav” has come a long way from his tearful farewell to 2020.

After release from Bahrain/McLaren he was late in finding a team, but when he did it was a key move in returning to the Quickstep set up where (Harrogate aside) he had enjoyed constant success.

It took a while to click. There were a couple of Belgian semi-classic near misses and a fall when he was in the mix at Nokere Koerse.

He arrived in Turkey though and finally got the win. And then he won again. And then he kept winning.

The field of sprinters wasn’t deep the whingers cried.

But Jasper Philipsen is a top tier rider who had beaten Cav earlier in the campaign, and Andrei Griepel was still motivated to succeed.

Where the great mans season goes from here who knows.

But as he has said in interviews since getting back from Turkey, he has proved what he wanted to prove and now anything else he gets is a bonus.

2. Paris Nice Last Day

Fendrien covered this a lot at the time. Cycling is full of unwritten rules and rituals. One of which Primoz Roglic broke on the penultimate day of the race when refusing to gift a stage to Gino Mader who had been out in the days breakaway.

There was no need for Roglic to sprint and overtake Mader in the final metres of the stage as he had dropped his rivals and had no need for the win and time bonuses. He had the yellow jersey and the race was all but over.

The final day of the race seemed destined for formality before Roglic managed to crash twice, the second time the peloton decided to take its own retribution for how he’d treated the youngster on the previous day and rode on without waiting.

Two days of racing and two broken rules with race leaders gifting stages and the peloton waiting for race leaders after crashes up in smoke as the riders headed south through France.

Despite a spirited pursuit and a real desire not to give in, Roglic lost the race to Max Schachmann.

He learned his lesson though and later in the spring hauled in Tadej Pogacar and Brandy McNulty on the last day of the Tour of the Basque Country. However as a thanks to David Gaudu for helping his daring escape succeed and win him the race overall, Roglic didn’t sprint for the stage and the Frenchman won.

  1. Mathieu Van de Poel in Italy

You will be groaning to see that I have managed to shoehorn a couple of moments of MvdP magic into one bullet point.

You could also throw in his below par Milan San Remo performance as evidence you shouldn’t generalise.

But… two performances from the man of the season so far cannot be split by this correspondent.

First off was his 1600+ watt attack in Strade Bianche. It was a moment that regular cycling watchers will continue to rewind and replay for decades to come.

The fact he managed two of these accelerations, the second of which on the streest of Siena was enough to win the race should never be forgotten.

He proved that quick sharp attacks weren’t the only thing in his locker by attacking to keep warm on a icy wet day in Tirreno-Adriatico.

Castelfidardo is a town that will be forever immortalised in cycling history after he rode the race off his wheel and despite misjudging the efforts impact on his legs hung on for the win.

So now we moved on to a new phase of the season and the first three week stage race of the season in the Giro. It will be scenic and packed with great stories and stages. But it will need to be good to beat the opening part of 2021, that is for sure!

A lull in the action

Last April was so full on you can’t even imagine.

Understanding what was happening in the pandemic and carrying on working whilst some of my friends and colleagues were furloughed around me was harrowing.

I turned the emotion, and need to have thinking time into a challenge of riding every day during that month.

This was a particular challenge with the UK restrictions at the time as it was unclear if you could leave your house and how far you could go.

The majority of the miles were done on the turbo trainer with other riders less than 7km from home on a looping circuit.

2020 was warmer so the virtual highway was a better, less challenging place

As well as relaxing my brain, it challenged my powers of resilience and motivation.

Fast forward to April 2021 and its been a whole different proposition.

The stress of late summer 2020 job hunting followed by being locked down again and having months of the children home from school has left me craving something different this month.

Rest.

So far I have ridden 2 of the club 10 mile races this season and am about a minute away from where I was last year.

My usual attitude to that would be to throw more miles and more intensity into those efforts. My initial reaction was to start checking the credit card balance to see if funds were sufficient to go back on the merry-go-round of training with a power meter.

But then I stopped to think.

Every time I have started a way off where I wanted to be in a season I have reacted by trying even harder.

Most of those years I have struggled to keep racing past August.

So for me 2021 is about a different approach. More of a gamble and more of a test of patience. But I am hoping for results that show it was worth it.

This week I have barely travelled 20 miles by bicycle as of yet. And all of that has been virtual miles out of the icy cold northerly wind that has chilled us for weeks here. The smile is slowly coming back to my lips through the grimace of the effort.

All of the data charts and graphs show that fitness wise I am starting to dip.

But they all measure three metrics and one of those going down is a positive.

Fitness, form and fatigue are the three, and whilst its great to see that my heart rate and turbo trainer power data shows the final measure, fatigue, is in decline, meaning I am ‘fresher’, its the benefit to my mind I am most interested in.

After all cycling is our hobby, not our profession. So for me to know be back at the stage where I want to get out on my bike and have fun, not be a slave to data and numbers, is the best win of the season.

Regardless of what it does to my times in races.

Personal Emotion in cycling

Can cycling be emotive on a freezing cold Wednesday evening on a stretch of gravelly road between Peterborough and Rutland?

For me it was when I saw a familiar car and face beaming out at me as I suffered to get into a rhythm.

I might be closing in on 50 and celebrating 30 years since I starting bike racing in this same “Bluebell Series”, but seeing my Mum watching still makes me find an extra couple of KM/h.

It’s a long and complicated tale of parental support on cold road sides for decades. My parents love the sport and have enjoyed my journey through it. There have been endless pasta meals at 5am on a weekend before a long time in the car and then huddled up with a flask waiting for me to get to the finish or whatever race it was. There were only minimal complaints from them!

But, there is also the part where my best days and biggest results coincided with a period of serious ill health for my Mum. This meant I rode Flanders and had my best finish in the Tour of Cambridgeshire gran fondo without her being there to join in the celebratory beers and pizza.

And that still hurts even today and 6 years on.

So, still suffering with ill health, when she makes the effort to watch a race (safely socially distanced and in the car) I feel duty bound to make the effort to give my absolute best in return.

Last night was no exception.

I paid for the effort and the near 10 mile head wind ride home after the race in freezing temperatures was a challenge but nothing like the one she has been through to be able to come and show me her support.

I just want to say thank you.

Crafty Kasper – A Flanders retrospective

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 ASGREEN KasperDeceuninck – Quick Step5002756:02:12
2 VAN DER POEL MathieuAlpecin-Fenix400200,,
3 VAN AVERMAET GregAG2R Citroën Team3251500:32
4 STUYVEN JasperTrek – Segafredo2751200:33
5 VANMARCKE SepIsrael Start-Up Nation2251000:47
6 VAN AERT WoutTeam Jumbo-Visma17590,,
7 VERMEERSCH GianniAlpecin-Fenix15080,,
8 TURGIS AnthonyTeam Total Direct Energie12570,,
9 SÉNÉCHAL FlorianDeceuninck – Quick Step10060,,
10 VAN BAARLE DylanINEOS Grenadiers8550,,
From http://www.procyclingstats.com

The big 3 favourites for all of the big 2021 races were outsmarted by the Danish Champion, Kasper Asgreen, in another epic edition of the Tour of Flanders on Easter Sunday.

(Click here for an excellent gallery from procyclingtips)

With the mornings suicidal breakaway managing to get close to a quarter of an hours lead, the finale of this race was always going to be fast and slightly ragged. At key points in the race, there was a real chance they would stay away.

As the race hit the finishing circuit and got into the meat of the climbs there was a merging of the main favourites and the break led by a Julian Alaphillippe attack.

From the front group, Paris-Nice revelation Stefan Bissegger of EF seemed the most capable of hanging on.

However the French world champion didn’t have the legs to see it through and when Asgreen went clear with Mathieu Van der Poel and Wout van Aert (although he was soon distanced) there was some head scratching from the experts.

That disbelief turned to open frustratin as after the last ascent of the Paterberg, Asgreen made no attempt to drop Van der Poel on the run in.

It was as if Quick-Step had conceded the race and MvdP was going to get back to back wins in the race without competition.

Still Asgreen took his turns and the two of them marched on towards Oudenaarde and the finish.

Greg Van Avermaet launched a desperate attack out of the chasers with just over 3km to go, but it was a move for the podium rather than the win.

The sprint for 1st place seemed to take an age to get going and Van der Poel got ahead of Asgreen before something quite remarkable happened.

Superman became human and the Dutchman sat back down as the Dane surged past him for the win.

Yes. Asgreen had been imperious in his cobbled classic wins over the last year or so, but that hadn’t been the level of the RVV. This was a real step up for him and a tactical masterclass by his team.

As the race watched Alaphillippe he kept himself to himself before only launching his attack when absolutely neccessary.

It’s a shame we didn’t get to see round 2 at Paris Roubaix last weekend, but fingers crossed there will be futher encounters between these guys across the summer so the pot is still boiling come the autumn and the re-scheduled Hell of the North.

My day of hell on Flanders Sunday…

I thought I would be different and breeze through my Covid vaccination without any interruption to my Easter weekend plans.

The reality was quite different and for those of you still to get the jab it might be worth remembering.

Saturday morning was normal with rugby training before heading to get my injection at 2pm.

As I had walked and not driven I was in and out in less than 5 minutes. The process was very effiicient.

For the remainder of the day I felt absolutely fine with no side effects or symptoms that the leaflet accompanying the Astra Zeneca jab suggested might be present.

Even Sunday morning I felt great and with it being the Ronde I wanted to head out for an hour or so before the action got going in Belgium.

There was definitely a feeling of some power lacking in my legs before I’d even reached the end of the street so I took note and agreed with myself to stay out a minimal amount of time.

This plan was working solidly until I realised I was about 13 miles from home (or anywhere) with a headwind to battle.

It was there that my arms and legs suddenly became super heavy and I literally couldn’t get out of the saddle to either increase or maintain speed.

Those last miles were among the worst I have ever spent on a bike. Mountains, snow, wind, cold, heat, cobbles… all of it. This was up there with it and it was on a reasonably smooth A road in the Lincolnshire fens.

I was travelling from the top of the map down into a south-westerly and you can see the impact in terms of speed from the Mywindsock report.

The blue is above average speed, reds below.

I spent the afternoon shifting between asleep and just about awake on the sofa before going to bed at 6pm.

I watched the last 70km of The Ronde on my laptop Monday morning.

It wasn’t the Belgian beer swilling, burger munching afternoon I had anticipated, but there is a bigger picture here and now that the side effects are gone the thought of being Covid protected means much more to me than one Sunday afternoon in front of the TV.

Stay safe.

Oakley launch new Encoder frames

Oakley Encoder

Launched without the usual blaze of publicity and razmatazz that you would expect from Oakley these beauts landed in online stores a couple of weeks ago without too much press.

The ever reliable Oakley Forum has run a review which you can read here.

The likely retail price is going to be high on these as there is no ability to lens swap meaning there is no after sales market for upgrades and spares.

The lack of a frame is boosted in stability and strength by a strip of aluminium across the top. Cyclingtips got a pair to review and give good detail on that here.

I have to say that compared to the Kato frames we saw briefly on the face of Sam Bennett and Chris Froome in the autumn of 2020, these look much better and less of a leap from traditional to modern.

As you will all know from the sunglasses history post from this time last year, I’d had a clear out of Oakley products.

That list is now horribly in need of an update with some Sutros and M2’s now having arrived at my house!

It will be interesting to see if this frames is the long term successor to the Radar and Radar EV and my eyes will be peeled to GCN+ to see if I can see them on any pro faces sooner rather than later.

Flemish weekend whets the appetite

It was a brilliant weekend of racing in Belgium again this weekend.

With E3 on Friday and Gent-Wevelgem Sunday we got 2 classics in the truest sense of the word. Races fit to stand on their own merit as opposed to being just a practice before the Ronde.

Kasper Asgreen produced the best ride since he won in Kuurne in 2020 with a long lone attack taking in the Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont before looking cooked when the main favourites group reeled him back in.

However as Greg Van Avermaet and Mathieu van der Poel looked to have settled in for a sprint the Dane kicked again.

There was a bit of indecision in that main group. They had just seen Wout Van Aert fly off the front on on the last climb before being taken back and then shooting out the back.

Should they chase Asgreen hard and risk leaving the group disjointed and liable to slow letting Van Aert back on, or try and keep a reasonable tempo that stopped people getting on from behind giving them a better chance of catching the leader but with little wiggle room?

As it happens they kind of chose neither.

The 2nd group didnt get back on but they also managed to ship over 30 seconds to a man who had been out on his own over two of cyclings most hellish climbs.

It was brilliant from Asgreen. Cancellara or Boonenesque. He will now be a real threat in the Ronde at the weekend, no doubt.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 ASGREEN KasperDeceuninck – Quick Step4002254:42:56
2 SÉNÉCHAL FlorianDeceuninck – Quick Step3201500:32
3 VAN DER POEL MathieuAlpecin-Fenix260110,,
4 NAESEN OliverAG2R Citroën Team22090,,
5 ŠTYBAR ZdeněkDeceuninck – Quick Step18080,,
6 VAN AVERMAET GregAG2R Citroën Team14070,,
7 VAN BAARLE DylanINEOS Grenadiers12060,,
8 HOELGAARD MarkusUno-X Pro Cycling Team100501:28
9 VERMEERSCH GianniAlpecin-Fenix80461:30
10 HALLER MarcoBahrain – Victorious6842,
from procyclingstats.com

Gent-Wevelgem was a slightly more cagey and less attacking affair in the final.

The main group of favourites was away with around 70km to go and despite some forming and reforming of the peloton behind them that was about that.

It doesn’t mean there was no excitement however. Van Aert was keen to put E3 behind him and was key in driving the breakaway.

It was a sprinters paradise with Sam Bennett, Giacomo Nizzolo, Matteo Trentin, Sonny Colbrelli and Michael Matthews all present.

Lots of teams were covered and had no interest in chasing behind and that looked like it was that.

But.

Bennett had some issues with his last feed and was sick. He was dropped from the front group and shot back through the chasers with no strength to hang on.

Deceuninck now found themselves going from the position of close to 100% certain to winning the race if it came to a spring with Bennett to not having a rider up front.

Their fierce chase couldn’t reduce the gap so late in the race and Yves Lampaert was their top finisher in 14th place.

The riders up top had settled for a sprint and all looked really tired.

When it came to the finish Van Aert was a lot fresher and faster having had Nathan Van Hooydonck in the group with him to do some of his turns.

It was a great win and bodes well for this weekend.

Who’s your money on?

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 VAN AERT WoutTeam Jumbo-Visma5002255:45:11
2 NIZZOLO GiacomoTeam Qhubeka ASSOS400150,,
3 TRENTIN MatteoUAE-Team Emirates325110,,
4 COLBRELLI SonnyBahrain – Victorious27590,,
5 MATTHEWS MichaelTeam BikeExchange22580,,
6 KÜNG StefanGroupama – FDJ17570,,
7 VAN HOOYDONCK NathanTeam Jumbo-Visma150600:03
8 VAN BAARLE DylanINEOS Grenadiers125500:52
9 TURGIS AnthonyTeam Total Direct Energie100460:54
10 VERMEERSCH GianniAlpecin-Fenix85421:25
from procyclingstats.com

Decathlon launches refurbished bike online store

After a few weeks of waiting and wondering, Decathlon has hit its UK customers up with a mailer to launch “Second Life” its 2nd hand refurbished store.

With supply nowhere near the level of demand at the moment, refurbished bikes are a great option for those looking to get into the sport.

Click here to have a look at their current road bikes for sale.