Under the radar and not over the top…

It’s not often I open an article with the headline coming from a lyric created by 1990’s hardcore techno act Scooter, but these are different times.

Cycling is back however with racing over the weekend in Italy with Strade Bianche and today in Lombardy.

Being a fan of Belgian riders, especially those with a cyclo cross slant, you could be forgiven for not getting too far past the performance of Wout Van Aert at the weekend.

He proved once and for all that there is more to converts from the mud and dirt than Mathieu Van der Poel and Zednek Stybar.

His dominant performance in dispatching a group of known grand tour and classics stars was a win for all ages. It was all the better for us having had such a wait to see it.

But down the results list and in the breakaway today is the name of a rider who is going under the radar but is impressing.

The next cab of the rank was likely to be Tim Merlier who was starting his transition to the road and was present in the opening weekend of Flemish classics back in February. But for me Quinten Hermans could be the better bet.

He was up there without being super impressive on the rough stuff in the winter, but has settled in with Wanty/Circus since the restart. He is clearly able to get in a move and hang in until the latter stages of big races.

I will be keeping an eye on him as I think a breakthrough win could be coming soon.

Back at the club 10

I think like most of the planet emerging from lockdown, there was an element of nervousness in me as I threw a Fendrien jacket over my club skinsuit and fixed the lights to my time trial bike before heading off to the start of the race last Wednesday.

I didn’t know how I would feel or what my performance was like. Things that help you understand performance, such as power meters had been sold last summer to keep things ticking over at home so this was a real step into the dark for me.

The first drama was some light drizzle as I crossed the A16 and got on the country lanes, that was followed by the East Coast Mainline stopping me for two trains at the crossing. This was stuff that in previous years would have phased me, it would have affected my concentration and added to the nerves of bike racing.

This year though, it just feels so nice to be out there that I took it all in my stride as part of the experience. It’s like lock down has actually given us more time to do things and think about what’s going on.

I collected my number, socially distanced of course, and fixed it to my new number belt. Yes I know I look like a triathlete, but skin suits aren’t cheap so any avoidance of pin damage is fine by me!

I stashed my jacket and bottle in the undergrowth near the car park and started to get my act together as other riders were arriving.

My start time was nice and early so I was able to do my 10 miles (25:15) and get back to the finish before layering up and riding home.

This reminded me of when my kids were first born and I did little in the way of training. With that in mind I rode the St Ives (Cambs) CC 10s mid week as where I lived meant I could easily ride out to the event and back for extra miles, usually it was a 50km evening. Those tired rides home with my lights twinkling and the fens looking splendid were some of the best I can remember.

The same applied here and as I waited for another 2 trains at the crossing going home I reflected on a successful evening for the club and enjoyed those last 8km home without sprinting for village signs or eyeballing the heart rate numbers on my computer.

And if a weekly stress relieving ride home each Wednesday is as good as my truncated cycling season gets this year, that will do just fine.

I would like to go a bit faster in the race though!

2015 Tour memories

Unable to sleep I spent the early hours of day light re-watching stage 20 of the 2015 Tour de France on Eurosport.

Not only were Sean Kelly and Carlton Kirby in brilliant form, the race was exciting and the sun was beating down on the peloton as they headed towards the foot of Alp D’Huez.

But this was a Tour with an undertone. There was a feeling of real hatred towards Chris Froome in the yellow jersey. At times as well it spilled over from feelings into actions which is wholly unacceptable, regardless of what nationality you are and what teams or riders you are aligned with.

This was a Tour, and in the Covid age of masks preventing saliva transfer this seems ridiculous, that Froome found himself spat on regularly as he rode towards Paris.

In fact within the last 4km of the Alp on this stage you saw a clearly drunk man in a free gift polka do jersey lurch into the road to empty his sinuses on the passing yellow jersey.

Despite being in a real battle with Nairo Quintana to keep the race lead, Froome still had time to look back over his left shoulder and clock a look at the perpetrator.

Cycling is the most wonderful, beautiful and positive experience. But as with everything there are those who can’t behave and who let themselves down. This will be important to remember going forward as any indiscretions like that in this autumns condensed calendar will see bad publicity and possibly racing cancelled.

We don’t want that.

Lockdown sees strange times for sponsors

The procycling model is broken… I hear that statement on podcasts and read it in articles continually.

But is it?

The fact that our sports has carried on for over a century, most of that with sponsored trade teams, and continued to provide value and exposure for sponsors whilst remaining free to fans is something that should be admired.

In these times, I am not sure I even know what a “stable funding model” is. But not many teams and organisations in any sort of sport will have it. ,

Budgets are clearly going to be cut and sponsors that remain will have their finance departments casting an ever more critical eye over that key “return on investment” calculation to make sure that for every £1 spent, more than that can be attributed to incoming revenues.

There are a couple of teams at cyclings World Tour level with changes in the offing.

Mitchelton-Scott have been looking for a main sponsor for quite some time and have recently announced a link up with Manuela Fundacion. Its not been without drama and controversy with both the new sponsors and existing CEO claiming they are the teams owners.

But this does show that in Europe there is still a desire to back the sport.

CCC have an altogether more pressing situation with their sponsor being in the retail sector and being hit hard by the lockdown. They are now getting out of their deal a year early leaving the team with a big gap to fill.

There are hopeful noises coming out of the CCC Camp with a number of names linked and their main man confident something will be announced ahead of the Tour de France. Let’s hope so as I still want to see a Van Avermaet/Trentin classics combination in full effect.

There could be more changes ahead or some tweaks to jersey’s as the pandemic carries on. In the meantime we are edging nearer actually seeing some of the 2020 teams in action and we must hang on to that positive in these wretched times.

Stay safe.

Why Bardet transfer could be the biggest this winter…

There are two other contracts that have been signed which influences the important of where Romain Bardet ends up in 2021 and beyond.

Firstly there is the commitment of Flemish classics start Oliver Naesen to stay with the Alpine based Ag2r team. It shows their faith in him to deliver a monument (despite a number of near misses including one with a spectators coat) and with some of the other names on that teams retained list there seems to be a bit more emphasis on the all round aspects of cycling than just whether Bardet can even win the Tour de France.

On the other side of the French team divide is Groupama/FDJ and their extension of Thibaut Pinot’s contract.

There is an argument to say that he is even more of a flaky GC contender than Bardet having succumbed to injury more times than Bardet has suffered stage fright. But his team see enough in him to make sure he is tied to a deal.

So with his main French rival under contract and settled in his environment and the main classics star on his own team already signed up (along with a number of other young French talents) does this leave Romain in the wilderness?

Well, he is 29 so if its going to happen in Le Tour he doesn’t have long left. However he doesn’t seem able to address that weakness in time trials and seemed happier to go to the Giro (as Pinot had done in previous years) to get away from the pressure of being one of the home country’s hopes to end their yellow jersey drought.

He clearly feels like a change may benefit him and Sunweb who were caught short (hahah) by Tom Dumoulin’s departure could see him as a good bet for a stage win and mountains jersey at least. After their rudderless performance in the Tour last year it would give them someone to get behind easing the pressure on Michael Matthews on the earlier flatter stages.

I do hope that wherever he ends up we see that sense of freedom back in his riding because when he attacks both uphill and down (remember that thrilling descent from the Dauphine a few years back?) he is box office to watch.

Classics riders on the market for 2021

Sorry to link another CN article but I found this one equally as interesting.

Click here.

The name that leaps out to me is Sep who despite starting to reach the latter years of his career still deserves that one last shot and the Ronde. I hope the sentence at the end of the piece regarding the need for more investment in the EF team isn’t a precursor to another summer of uncertainty for that team.

There is a name missing from that list as a rider that I think is out of contract at the end of the season and that is Jurgen Roelandts. Yes I am a total fan boy and yes that is all based on his 2015 Gent-Wevelgem lone breakaway which is half a decade ago now, but … he is the boss and I expect to see him back in Belgium leaving Movistar and helping one of the lesser teams get to the front next spring.

I am predicting Wanty. You read it here first.

Back to the article however and of course Yves Lampaert and Nils Pollit will command the biggest transfer…