Esteban Chaves: Winner of Stage 19 and Our Hearts

The curtain has closed on the 2019 Giro d’Italia. The ticker tape has landed. The unfurled flags are being stuffed back into suitcases, re-emerging when the next chance to showcase cycling-related patriotism comes around. Movistar’s tactics were executed flawlessly; Richard Carapaz reigned victorious, separated from his team for one last time trial around the streets of Verona, a different feeling to the flanked protection that he had felt for three weeks. Slovenian Primož Roglič undertook a journey that, at times, felt sharply contrasting to a protected Carapaz’s. He was often distanced from his team through no fault of their own. Vital experience gained for his younger teammates, yet ultimately a Grand Tour lost. Roglič was the favourite coming into the Giro. He had never lost a stage race that he had participated in this year, until the 26-year-old from Ecuador and ‘Shark of Messina’ leapfrogged him in general classification.

The 3,518-kilometre trip around Italy enabled the unravelling of diverse narratives along the route from Bologna to Verona. Abandons, controversy, crashes, relegations and victories all played a part in the legacy of the 102nd Giro d’Italia. Because that’s the beauty of cycling. Anything can happen.

Anything did happen.

The last three weeks bared witness to spectacular victories. Supposed sprint stages ultimately tipped in the favour of the tenacious breakaway – Damiano Cima, one third of the lasting break on stage 18 – came within mere metres of being swallowed up by the impending peloton. Instead, he emptied himself after over 180 kilometres at the head of the race, ensuing a first Giro d’Italia victory not only for himself, but for his Nippo–Vini Fantini–Faizanè team. A win that might have been “just another win” for the World Tour teams, but potentially produces more sponsorship and a means of staying afloat for another few years at the Professional Continental level. More race invites in the future. More chances.

Let’s not forget the heroic efforts of Team Sunweb’s Chad Haga on the final stage. A car on the wrong side of the road almost cut his life short in 2016 and yet here he is in 2019, winning the stage 21 time trial as he simultaneously forces every viewer of the Grand Tour to reach for the tissue box and dry their eyes.

The Giro d’Italia provided another chapter in the lives of all 176 riders that flew to Bologna to roll down the first time trial ramp. Some chapters were added to already swelling books, heaving with the lively experiences that go hand-in-hand with the opportunity to experience a dream that many of us can only imagine.

Esteban Chaves is one rider with a book already bursting at the seams. Life experiences almost unparalleled. A smile almost unrivalled.

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If you search “adversity” in the dictionary, a picture of the Colombian – happy, of course – would be below it. He has been through much in his 29 years, managing to bounce back even stronger than before.

In 2013, Chaves’ career almost threatened to end before it could truly take off. A crash at the Trofeo Laigueglia left him with head trauma, broken ribs, blood-filled lungs, a partial tear in his suprascapular nerve and a completely torn axillary nerve. It affected his memory too, the young rider often calling his father to tell him that he was in the hospital, a fact he had already relayed countless times before. Numerous doctors told Esteban that he would never race again. He, and the final doctor he went to, disagreed.

Neil Stephens refused to give up on Chaves, signing him before he had even recuperated. The directeur sportif reassured him that they knew about the nine-hour surgery he had undertaken, and that they would provide him with help. Chaves flew to Catalonia so the team could see him on the bike. Stephens told him it was a done deal. They were signing him right away.

“Unbelievable! This is why I believe in dreams. They gave me hope. Every morning I woke up, I knew I had one step towards my dream of racing Grand Tours. I knew I needed to work hard because they gave me the chance to live my dream once again.”  Esteban revealed in an interview with ‘de velo’.

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Chavito and Mitchelton-Scott, who were racing under the name Orica-GreenEDGE when the then-23-year-old joined them in 2014, have been the perfect match. Their belief in the Colombian was substantiated. He climbed to new heights, literally and figuratively, up mountains and up general classifications. 2016 was a standout year in Chaves’ career, at the height of his fitness and at a time when only Vincenzo Nibali could contest him in the Giro d’Italia. On one fateful day and one fateful climb, the penultimate stage and penultimate climb to be exact, Esteban was distanced while wearing the coveted maglia rosa by his Italian rival. Initially it was heartbreak, a fairy-tale ending could have produced Orica-GreenEDGE’s first Grand Tour victory, one that sat right with an abundance of cycling fans who often hold contrasting views on Grand Tour winners.

Colombian flags and football shirts were on full display as footage of Esteban losing time to Astana’s Nibali then played during the Backstage Pass video for stage 20. “I won’t back down”, sang the background vocals, an apt addition by Dan Jones.

Yet Esteban was, naturally, all smiles at the end of the stage, encircled by his fellow teammates. “Thank you… all the team, my family. This is because you, you guys, Australia, believed in me. Gave me a hand in the most difficult moment of my life. And this is only the beginning.”

Sam Bewley added that this race was the defining moment in which the Australian team showed the world what they could do in Grand Tours, as did Chaves. A statement quickly followed by rapturous applause, as Amets Txurruka and Bewley lifted the small Colombian over their heads in celebration.

At the Vuelta a España that same year, Chaves climbed his way to third in the general classification, standing alongside second-placed Chris Froome (Team Sky) and winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar) on the podium in Madrid. One of the most memorable sights involved Damien Howson riding back from the breakaway and burying himself for his team leader to ensure he made the podium over Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador. Howson pulled off with 16 kilometres to go on the brutal Alto de Aitana climb on stage 20, looking so spent that he could barely turn the pedals. It worked. After all, Esteban finished third by 13 seconds.

Vuelta a Espana - Stage 21

Chaves on the podium of the Vuelta a España, 2016. c: Cycling Weekly

Chaves capped off the year in spectacular fashion, becoming the first Colombian to win Il Lombardia ahead of Diego Rosa (Astana) and countryman Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac).

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Another moment that stuck with me occurred after stage 20 of the 2017 Vuelta a España. The Mitchelton-Scott team car (which had died on the unsparing Angliru climb) greeted Chaves as he rode back towards them. “This is the hardest climb I have ever done in my life… but also, it’s a beautiful one.”

I know what you’re thinking. But Esteban, how can something labelled ‘the toughest climb in Spain’ be so beautiful?

“Because you can feel at one with the people. It’s a really nice feeling. I think not many sportspeople can feel that. Cycling is beautiful… but it’s hard.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

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The Giro d’Italia in 2018 couldn’t have started any better for Mitchelton-Scott. Chaves won atop the stage six Mount Etna summit finish, made even more glorious by the fact teammate Simon Yates finished directly behind him, both with their arms raised in unified celebration as Yates took the maglia rosa off BMC’s Rohan Dennis. It then couldn’t have gone any worse for Mitchelton-Scott. A few days after his win, Chaves started to struggle. He ended the Grand Tour in an uncharacteristic 72nd place on GC. Yates relinquished the maglia rosa to Chris Froome, losing almost 40 minutes to the eventual Giro winner during stage 19.

After many tests, Chaves was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus. He took an eight-month break from racing. The virus itself can be a nightmare, described as “like a flu that won’t subside”. Riders such as Mark Cavendish and Stefan Küng have also faced months off the bike in an attempt to regain a decent level of fitness.

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“It’s beautiful to be back.”– Esteban Chaves.

The Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in 2019 marked Chaves’ return, his peloton homecoming long-awaited after his lack of presence was felt throughout the cycling world.

On the 17th stage of the 2019 Giro d’Italia, AG2R La Mondiale’s Nans Peters broke away from the breakaway to claim the team’s first Giro victory in eight years. Esteban kept his cool in the chasing group, launching an attack that distanced Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates) and Krists Neilands (Israel Cycling Academy). He climbed his way to the finish line; Mitchelton-Scott labelled it an “emotional second place”. They were right. It wasn’t a stage victory, but Esteban had demonstrated that his fitness truly was returning after eight months off the bike. A victory in itself.

“Second is good but also you have this strange taste in your mouth. But anyway, we will continue to try until the end of the Giro. – Esteban Chaves after stage 17.

He tried again two days later. A 151-kilometre route from Treviso to San Martino di Castrozza, the 19th stage was a day containing three climbs. It was on the final one, the category two San Martino di Castrozza with a summit on the finish line, that Esteban attacked on. He attacked, he attacked again, he attacked once more. Putting the hammer down with 2.7 kilometres to go, Esteban dropped Pieter Serry (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and François Bidard (AG2R La Mondiale), flying around corners with gritted teeth as the gap to his former breakaway companions grew. I don’t know what was being yelled into his earpiece by the Mitchelton-Scott car, but past episodes of the Backstage Pass dictate it was probably loud encouragement mixed with a couple of ah fruits from team staff, with eyes on the road and minds solely transfixed on the climber that they had initially believed in all those years ago. The belief that was still there, through injuries and the Epstein-Barr virus. As Rob Hatch told viewers while commentating, “Esteban Chaves is about to confirm that we should never, ever lose faith in a big champion like this.”

Just before the finish, Esteban glanced to the left-hand side of the road at whom I presume were his parents, a circumstance that sums up everything perfectly fitting about this day. He drew a cross with his hand and let out an almighty roar in celebration as he rode over the line. One that showed just how much this win meant to Chavito, the champion that had refused to give up – just as he had demonstrated all those years ago after crashing at Trofeo Laigueglia, just as he had demonstrated during stage 20 of the Giro d’Italia in 2016, just as he had demonstrated in the face of the Epstein-Barr virus. A trait that was especially evident in the final few kilometres of stage 19 of the 2019 Giro d’Italia, an attacking prowess on show that meant even you knew – yes you, the one sat at home cheering on Esteban from your sofa – that he would take the stage. Emotions overcame everyone at the finish line that day, and everyone watching at home. The man that had been through so much was now crying into the arms of his parents, who were in turn crying with him.

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c: Mitchelton-Scott

Giro d'Italia 2019 - Tappa 19 - TREVISO SAN MARTINO DI CASTROZZA km 151

c: Zikloland

His victory on the summit of the San Martino di Castrozza climb meant Chaves became the first Colombian to win a stage at three different editions of the Giro d’Italia. History made. Heartstrings tugged.

“Give me some Kleenex tissues,” Chris Juul-Jensen told the camera post-stage 19, “I’m going to find the little guy and cuddle him.”

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a more popular winner across the entirety of the peloton. There’s a reason why Esteban is so beloved, not only in his home of Bogotá, and not only in his adopted country of Australia, but worldwide. In a sport that often makes headlines for the negatives, Esteban radiates positivity with a smile as big as his heart. Which is pretty big, if you were uncertain. Grand Tour victories or stats on a computer screen do not tell the full story of Esteban Chaves. Neither does this blog post. But there’s no doubt that the smiling Colombian embodies everything that we should aspire to be. Not only as a cyclist, but as a person. His win on stage 19 of the 2019 Giro d’Italia was a win for himself. It was a win for Mitchelton-Scott.

It was a win for cycling.

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c: Alessandro Di Meo – Alessandro Di Meo / EFE

 

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Robyn’s Rest Day Recap #2: Giro d’Italia 2019

Crashes, fist bumps, time losses, mountains, victories. A lot has happened since my first rest day blog post during the Giro d’Italia. Fortunately, I’m back once more (even though no-one asked) to give you a recap of all the drama we’ve encountered so far.

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Hatsuyama Has Covili’s Company

Remember when Sho Hatsuyama was forced to endure a solo breakaway for 145 kilometres during stage 3, and told us after his heroic ordeal that he hoped he would not be in the breakaway again this Giro? He fooled us all.

Granted, the Nippo-Vini Fantini-Faizané rider also stated “but the Giro is long”, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to see him off the front again during stage 10, just one day after the rest day. The 145-kilometre stage from Ravenna to Modena was entirely flat and contained two intermediate sprints, earning complaints from armchair viewers around the globe that it was simply “another rest day.”

But it wasn’t another rest day for Hatsuyama. He was probably happy to look around and see that there was double the number of riders than there were during his stage 3 breakaway into Orbetello. Granted, that means there were only two riders in the break this time, with one of them being him… but it’s still double!

Italian Luca Covili (Bardiani-CSF) was the man who had the pleasure of breaking away too, but they were eventually caught after passing under the 30 kilometres to go banner. A long breakaway resulting in another sprint finish sounds familiar, but we can’t have fast-paced action all day. I have to emotionally prepare myself for the devastation the harder mountains can cause to the general classification standings.

Breakaway Buddies

I was going to include this in the previous paragraph, but after tweeting that I would headline this section “Breakaway Buddies”, I can’t go back. I’m a woman of my word.

Breakaway Buddies™ Damiano Cima (Nippo-Vini Fantini-Faizané) and Marco Frapporti (Androni Giocattoli–Sidermec) previously joined forces during the longest stage of the Giro d’Italia. Cima was caught after 200 kilometres at the head of stage 8 from Tortoreto to Pesaro. Frapporti only rejoined the peloton after contesting the final King of the Mountains points with Trek’s Giulio Ciccone a few kilometres later.

The two Italians clearly got on so well that they were pleased to form a breakaway once more. Or at least that’s what I like to tell myself. The pair distanced the peloton with Bardiani-CSF’s Mirco Maestri after the flag drop on stage 11 from Carpi. The 221-kilometre stage was pan flat, apart from a slight incline into Novi Ligure. The all-Italian trio were eventually caught after 200 kilometres out front. I don’t envy them, but I hope they swapped phone numbers. That’s what people in the breakaway do to pass the time, right?

Hail, Cesare!

I can’t take credit for that heading. Almost everyone that reported on the stage has used it by now, and it was the caption for The Cycling Podcast’s KM 0 episode with Cesare Benedetti.

The 31-year-old found himself to be the man of the hour after stage 12 from Cuneo to Pinerolo. I love when riders that exhaust themselves for their team find themselves in a position to win a stage in any race, and Benedetti was in that exact position.

Granted, the Giro d’Italia is not just any race, and it was the Bora-Hansgrohe rider’s home Grand Tour. A fact that probably made it sweeter when Benedetti crossed the line ahead of his breakaway companions Caruso (Bahrain-Merida) and Dunbar (Team Ineos) to claim his first professional victory, at 31 years of age. A feel-good moment for not only the Italian, but for all of us that followed the 157-kilometre stage. Hail, Cesare indeed.

Will Jumbo-Visma Be Roglič’s Downfall?

When I think of ‘Grand Tour’ teams, Team Ineos (albeit under a different name) and Movistar (despite their tendency to take too many leaders to such races) spring to mind. So forgive me, Jumbo-Visma, for being slightly worried on Primož Roglič’s behalf.

Their team leader put himself in a strong position in terms of overall standings on the very first stage, winning the time trial with a time of 12:54 and donning the first maglia rosa of 2019. By the time the second time trial on stage 9 was done and dusted, the Slovenian had relinquished the jersey. He didn’t sweat, still standing strong on general classification in second place. Rivals such as Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Landa (Movistar) were +3:34 and +6:42 down on GC, respectively.

Roglič has a reliable team to depend on, sure. Who wouldn’t want Jos Van Emden and Laurens De Plus alongside them? The issue is the latter. De Plus abandoned on the 7th stage. While remaining riders such as Sepp Kuss and Antwan Tolhoek are trying their hardest – there’s no doubt here – we have frequently witnessed Roglič’s isolation in comparison to other team leaders such as Landa, backed up by his other-team-leader Carapaz. So much back up, in fact, that Carapaz is now leading the general classification. Whether the 25-year-old has earned the right to lead a team in Grand Tours, by himself, after placing 4th in the 2018 Giro d’Italia – instead of the likes of 39-year-old Alejandro Valverde – is a debate for another day. (Disclaimer: I know Valverde is not at the Giro d’Italia, which is why I wrote Grand Tours.)

But there’s no doubt Movistar are prepared to win the Giro d’Italia.

Preparation appears to be an area Jumbo-Visma lack. Laurenpgiles on Twitter informed me that one of their riders admitted something along the lines of we don’t have a plan for stages like this, we just hope someone can stay with Primoz part of the wayto The Cycling Podcast. Not what you want to hear from a professional cycling team, and probably not what you want to admit as a professional cycling team, either.

Then came that fateful moment on stage 15. Roglič dropped back to the Jumbo-Visma team car to get more bidons after the descent of the category two climb Colma di Sormano. His DS had taken a quick nature break, believing it would be safe timing-wise. It wasn’t, as Roglič now needed a new bike with his team car far behind him. Tolhoek quickly gave his team leader his own bike instead.

Roglič approached a corner on the descent of the Civiglio climb a bit too fast. Suddenly, he was on the ground. Live images didn’t show the crash, and I would’ve instinctively covered my eyes anyway, but they caught the Slovenian tangled up in a guard-rail at the side of the road. Thankfully his injuries were not serious, and he managed to get back on Tolhoek’s bike to limit his losses. Losses that were not ideal.

Roglič enters the second rest day still in second place on general classification. He lost 40 seconds to rivals Nibali and Carapaz. With a time trial still in his favour, can he make it through the remaining mountainous stages to win the 2019 Giro d’Italia with a big enough advantage on his rivals? Only time will tell. And with Nibali fist-bumping Landa in the middle of stages, he might want to make more alliances for when he runs out of teammates to rely on, and fast.

I’ve Finally Found One (1) Flaw With The EF Kits

I never thought I would type those words.

A flaw? With the EF Education kits? But Robyn, you love them! I hear you say. I know, I’m shocked too. But here’s the thing.

I’ve mistaken them for the maglia rosa more times than I would like to count. While team management would probably enjoy the fact we think the maglia rosa is in their hands, current GC leader Carapaz would probably like you to know he’s a Movistar rider. But you never know, maybe I’ve predicted the future. Will Carapaz be riding for EF Education First next year? Only time will tell.

GIRO DOG KLAXON

You know I love my Cycling Dogs and that I will point them out at any opportunity. If you didn’t, now you do. Whether it’s at a rainy Ryedale or a drizzly Düsseldorf (why is it always raining at my races?), I’ll be looking out for everyone’s favourite friend at the side of the road.

We’ve already been blessed enough to witness Giro Dogs™ :

 

But we’ve been blessed by another. Dario Cataldo, winner of stage 15 of the Giro d’Italia, was greeted with a wet, sloppy kiss at the end of the day. Not from the podium girls, but by his dog, who appeared very happy to witness the 34-year-old taking his first stage victory in the Giro d’Italia for Astana.

Special Shoutout To…

Last time it was Hugh Carthy. Who will it be this time? Drum roll please…

Simon Yates! Yes, the Giro d’Italia commenced in ideal fashion for the 26-year-old, who only lost 19 seconds to Roglič on the first time trial. Fast-forward to the second time trial on stage 9, also won by Roglič, and the Mitchelton-Scott rider plummeted down the general classification. He dropped to 24th, standing at +5:36 behind then-leader Valerio Conti.

Since then, the man from Bury has begun to pick up steam. He’s not afraid to attack on his own, and if the leaders underestimate him too much by letting him develop an advantage on them, like they did in stages 14 and 15, he might just be creeping up the GC again before we know it.

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Stage 16 from Lovere to Ponte di Legno is a 194-kilometre ride over two category 3 climbs, and the category 1 Passo del Mortirolo. There are no more rest days, so I’ll be back after the stage 21 ITT finish in Verona to recap the final week.

Who will win the maglia rosa? Let me know at @rxbyndavidson.

 

 

Robyn’s Rest Day Recap: Giro d’Italia 2019

Pour yourself a coffee and pull up a chair – it’s the first rest day of the Giro d’Italia! Let’s recap and discuss all the drama so far, shall we?

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Pink for Primož

“The Giro is far from over.” – Primož Roglič.

Primož Roglič has cemented himself as the man to watch heading into the first rest day. The former [redacted] has had himself quite the week; winning the opening stage time trial resulted in the 29-year-old being the first rider to wear the coveted maglia rosa this year. Of course, it can be quite a task to retain the jersey throughout all 21 stages, so there was no panic when he relinquished the lead after stage six to Valerio Conti of Team UAE Emirates. The Jumbo-Visma rider just probably wished he had to do so without a gaping hole in his shorts as a result of a crash that same day.

After storming to victory in yesterday’s stage nine time trial by 11” over Lotto-Soudal’s Victor Campenaerts, Roglič sits second on GC. But as AG2R La Mondiale rider Larry Warbasse posted on Twitter: “we haven’t even seen a real mountain yet.”

It’ll certainly be interesting to see if Roglič can put even more time into such rivals as Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott). He’ll have to do so without strongman and teammate Laurens De Plus. The Belgian climber was forced to abandon during stage seven.

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© Cor Vos

Viviani’s Veering Cost Him (Literally)

“To me he is the clear winner of today’s stage. I feel bad for him.” – Fernando Gaviria.

Elia Viviani thought he’d secured Italy’s first win this year in their home Grand Tour, but it wasn’t meant to be. Deciding that the 30-year-old deviated from his line enough to impede Trek–Segafredo’s Matteo Moschetti, the race jury relegated the Italian road champion after the third stage into Orbetello. Ex-teammate Fernando Gaviria (now UAE Team Emirates, a fact my brain likes to forget) was awarded the stage victory, but refused to raise his arms on the podium. He believed Viviani was truly the winner of the stage.

Not content with only relegating him to last place and issuing a 500CHF fine, Viviani was also slapped with a 50-point penalty in the sprints competition, as well as a 30-second time penalty from the race jury. Bet his future sprints will be straighter than a ruler from now on.

Solo Sho Hatsuyama

“Will you be going for the break another time?”

“I hope not… but the Giro is long.” – Sho Hatsuyama.

When the words “solo breakaway” come to mind, you’d be forgiven for thinking of Thomas De Gendt. While the Belgian’s affinity for punishing himself in the form of spending hours at the front of a race is known throughout the cycling world, it was to be Sho Hatsuyama as the first man punishing himself this way.

Ever so slightly overshadowed in terms of headlines due to occurring on the same day as Viviani’s relegation, the Nippo-Vini Fantini-Faizané rider braved extremely strong winds alone after attacking from the flag drop. Thankfully the likes of Esteban Chaves and Caleb Ewan were safely tucked away in the peloton, with no danger of potentially flying away when the next gust came.

Forced to undertake such a lengthy stage with no breakaway companions, I can only imagine what the former national champion thought about to pass the time. What’s for dinner? What’s the profile for tomorrow? When’s the bloody rest day?

Hatsuyama was eventually caught by the peloton after around 145 kilometres of talking to himself. By that point, he was probably thankful to see another rider again.

Dumoulin’s Drop Out

“For me, it’s terrible. Months and weeks of preparation and dedication went into this Giro and then in one stupid crash, it’s over.” – Tom Dumoulin.

A considerable amount of focus within the first few days of a Grand Tour is directed towards the sprinters and breakaways, who try to make the most of the early opportunities presented for themselves and their team. Tom Dumoulin probably wished this was the case too, but the cameras couldn’t tear themselves away from him towards the final kilometres of stage four.

The Dutchman was caught in a crash before reaching the important 3 kilometres to go mark, and because his name is not Tejay van Garderen and this is not an American race, he tumbled down the general classification as he slowly rode towards the finish.

Surrounded by his loyal teammates whilst sporting a continually bleeding knee, the 2017 Giro d’Italia winner finally reached the finish line four minutes behind winner Carapaz (Movistar), unable to produce any effort to limit his losses.

Dumoulin vowed to give everything he had during stage five after being cleared by Sunweb’s medical team. Unfortunately he couldn’t carry on, abandoning the time-trial-packed edition of the race after just one kilometre from Frascati.

The Italian Job

“I’m struggling to understand what I’ve done…” – Valerio Conti.

After Viviani’s relegation (and subsequent punishments) succeeding the third stage, the Giro was still without that elusive Italian victory prior to stage six.

Step forward: the breakaway stylings of Androni Giocattoli–Sidermec’s Fausto Masnada and UAE Team Emirates rider Valerio Conti. The Italians dropped the other riders in their breakaway, refusing to look back and merging into an impermeable duo. Their coordination carried them all the way to the line. Masnada claimed the stage victory, as Conti was bestowed the honour of wearing the maglia rosa. He’s the first Italian to do so in the 102nd edition of the race, and will wear it going into the first of two rest days.

Yikes, Yates

“There’s no pattern to the race. It’s unpredictable. Anything can happen on any day.” – Bradley Wiggins.

Stage nine from Riccione to San Marino was an individual time trial, the second of its kind in this year’s Giro d’Italia. It just so happened to rain, to pour and Campenaerts almost snored waiting over two hours in the hot seat. While there’s plenty to unpack from this stage alone – would Campenaerts have won without the mechanical that left him almost unable to get going again? Yes – one standout story stems from Mitchelton’s misfortunes. (I’ve taken the alliteration theme and I’m running with it.)

The first section consisted of a flat 20 kilometres, before riders scaled the second category 12-kilometre climb to the finish. Simon Yates, who finished second in the opening stage time trial, 19” behind Roglič – lost 3’11” to Roglič during stage nine, pushing the Brit back to 5’36” on GC.

After climbing off his bike, Yates admitted that the 34.8-kilometre stage had been a “stinker”, and that Mitchelton-Scott would have to develop a new strategy for the final two weeks.

Major Flex Alert

Before Roglič theoretically kicked him out of the hot seat, Campenaerts had a lot of time to kill. As the Eurosport feed cut from the studio containing Orla Chennaoui, Simon Gerrans, Brian Smith and Bradley Wiggins – a show which has been a successful addition by Eurosport – back to Campenaerts, he was showing something to the camera.

That something was a phone case, and on the back read “55.089”, the number of kilometres the 27-year-old travelled to set a new UCI Hour Record. The record had previously been set by Bradley Wiggins in 2015. #majorflex

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Tour Tracker

Some personal news! If you’re wondering why I was slightly quieter than usual during stages seven and eight of the Giro d’Italia this year, that’s because Tour Tracker asked me to cover two stages for them. You can find my live coverage and recaps of stages seven and eight on the Tour Tracker app.

Special Shoutout To…

The last segment of this rest day blog post. Here I’ll name a rider that deserves a shoutout for their performance in the Giro d’Italia so far, and I’m proud to say the winner of the inaugural edition goes to…

… Hugh Carthy! Yes, my follow Prestonian earns such a prestigious honour while ultimately receiving nothing for it. His blistering performance in the stage nine time trial, producing a time of 53”22, resulted in 8th place on the stage. The EF Education First rider now sits in 16th spot on GC. They teach them well up north.

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That’s it for my first Giro d’Italia rest day blog post. But what do you think of the past nine stages of action? Let me know at @rxbyndavidson.

Tomorrow will be a 145-kilometre flat stage from Ravenna to Modena, perfect for sprinters.

 

Pink is Perfect for Primož: Roglič Wins First 2019 Giro d’Italia Stage

The Spring Classics are done and dusted. Governed by Deceuninck-Quick-Step (humble brag that I did not have to copy and paste that name), who eventually kept having to fight off a tenacious Fuglsang, we’re now moving into Grand Tour szn. Yes, the Giro d’Italia is here.

While there’s often a danger that we’re once again straying onto the grounds that Team Sky – sorry, Team Ineos – so frequently dominate with their stranglehold on the peloton, that probably won’t be the case throughout the next three weeks. The newly-named British team rolled up to the start line in Bologna with some fresh red and black kits that are completely innovative in the current peloton, but they did so without current Giro d’Italia champion Chris Froome and intended leader Egan Bernal. The Colombian fractured his collarbone on a training ride just a week prior to the first stage. There’s no doubt that it would have been enthralling to watch the 22-year-old’s fight for the maglia rosa unfold against the likes of 2017 Giro d’Italia winner Tom Dumoulin and a confident Simon Yates. Yet, we now have an opportunity to witness something different for Team Ineos. Tao Geoghegan Hart and Pavel Sivakov have been given free rein at the Giro d’Italia – a welcome change to the controlled nature of Grand Tours under Brailsford. Both riders are fresh off the back of their first professional victories at the Tour of the Alps; Geoghegan Hart won both the opening and fourth stages as teammate Sivakov not only climbed to victory on the second stage, but claimed the general classification too.

The opening stage of the Giro d’Italia was, as expected, drama-free. Primož Roglič donned his first ever maglia rosa after beating Simon Yates by 19 seconds in the individual time trial. The former national time trial champion and winner of four Grand Tour stages (two in the Tour de France, and now two in the Giro d’Italia) is on fine form coming into the 102nd edition of the race. He’s reigned victorious in every stage race that he’s participated in this year. He’s also a former ski jumper, didn’t you know.

Roglic

c: twitter.com/giroditalia

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Biggest winner: Primož Roglič, yay! Which might make us the biggest losers as we now get to hear even more about his past as a ski jumper.

Biggest loser: Mikel Landa. The Spaniard lost over a minute.

Memeable Moment: Sadly, N/A. I demand more memes.

Thomas De Gendt Breakaway Count: An individual time trial does not count, so 0. So far…

 

Peter Sagan: 2019 World Champion and Home Run Derby Winner?

Peter Sagan’s latest advert left more than a few people scratching their heads, but the real discussion is not being had.

Sagan and Specialized have once again smashed it out of the park. Their newest collaboration “Chasing Rainbows” is a thing of beauty, a work of art just like an Aaron Judge home run swing.

The two themes in the collection are “Overexposed” and “Underexposed”. One new frameset is a combination of chrome-y metallic and rainbow tints, an obvious representation of the rainbow jersey Sagan has donned in the past, most recently for three years in a row. Other pieces in the collection include tyres, socks and road shoes in the same style.

But the main takeaway from the advert? That swing though!

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In case you missed it, I tried to combine both baseball and cycling – two of my favourite sports – in this blog post. Sagan drew comparisons to Justin Verlander, and while one is American and one is Slovakian (I’ll let you guess), would you want to face either of them? No thanks!

The advert begins with a close-up shot of a vase, as piano music plays in the background. Just as a voice tells us to “break the moulds”, Sagan destroys the object with one swing of his bat, shattering the previously white vase into an explosion of red powder. It’s too easy for the 29-year-old, who creates such colourful destruction with only one hand on the bat. It’s the kind of swing that would absolutely send the ball out of the park, with a dramatic bat flip à la Bautista during Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to accompany it.

The advert continues in this fashion, with Sagan smashing numerous plain vases until eventually he is covered in a variety of different colours. Y’know, like a rainbow. Because he (used to be, sigh) the world champion. The one-minute video ends with the tired Bora-Hansgrohe rider lying on the powdery, vase-littered floor. The voiceover tells us to “just break s–t… break it and go,” as the Specialized logo flashes on the screen.

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Fine words to follow, I guess. While the purpose of the advert might not have been entirely clear initially, I’ve never been happier to see a rider swinging a baseball bat and colliding my sports. He’s not the first cyclist to do so, either, as Geraint Thomas (amongst others) tried their hand at pitching and hitting during the Saitama Criterium in November last year.

Why do I pick out Geraint, you ask? Because he ended up accidentally hitting a fan in the face with a baseball. Specialized are probably happy that Sagan only hit those white vases.

The three-time world champion shares another (weak) link to baseball, too. While the Yankees are busy chasing #28 in 2019, Sagan will be busy chasing the rainbow stripes once more, as he takes on current champion Alejandro Valverde in Yorkshire. Both are events not to be missed!

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Robyn’s Round-Up #2: The Cycling Action So Far

You know what they say about buses. Well, this past month has been no different. You wait months for another road race, only to have them all suddenly arrive at once, hitting you in the face and trying to pull your attention every which way. In fact, I almost don’t know where to start. Lucky for us, we have the exciting races of the… [checks notes] …Tour of Oman and the UAE Tour to begin with. Oh good.

If you know me in some form by now, be it in person or through the lovely invention of Twitter, you’ll know that a) I meme my way through the season, and b) I wasn’t really looking forward to the “desert” races. No offence to the winners of said events, but the landscape doesn’t really leave much to the imagination. It’s all a bit Vuelta-transitional-stage, the kind that leaves poor Carlton Kirby begging for some form of wildlife, a tree, anything to pass the time and comment on. As Fred Dreier once said, it’s like a “battle scene from a Mad Max movie”. Expertly phrased.

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The Tour of Oman: 16th of February – 21st of February

Astana once more tried to come for Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s win total crown this year by continuing their strong form, as Lutsenko pipped poor Pozzovivo of Bahrain-Merida to general classification victory at the Tour of Oman. The 26-year-old has now won back-to-back editions of the race, with a trio of stage victories on the second, third and fifth day securing him the red jersey this year. If I had to make a complaint, it would be the fact that said jersey is almost the exact shade of red that we see on the shoulders of the Bahrain-Merida team, constantly causing Lutsenko to accidentally look like a member of the opposition. Or maybe it’s not so accidental…

 

The UAE Tour: 24th of February – 2nd of March

First of all, I have an issue with this race location. The issue being that the UAE aren’t exactly a shining example for people to look up to in relation to, y’know, basic human rights? That being said, the newly-formed combination of the Dubai and Abu Dhabi races still boasted an impressive field, with the likes of Nibali, Dumoulin, Gaviria, Viviani, Kittel and Ewan all arriving to the start line. Even Froome was scheduled to start at Al Hudayriat Island, tempted by the opportunity to glance up from his stem at all the exciting scenery the UAE Tour had to offer. However, one quick Google search told him exactly what he’d be seeing – or not seeing, rather – and he pulled out a few days prior to the opening stage. Okay, he tweeted that it was to recover fully from the Tour of Colombia, but we know the truth.

Jumbo-Visma, the 2019 edition of the LottoNL-Jumbo team, beat a strong Team Sunweb squad to TTT victory on the opening stage by 7 seconds. Roglic was not only the first man to don the red jersey, but the only man, keeping a tight hold of his general classification prize for seven stages. He also received the honour of looking like a Bahrain-Merida/Trek-Segafredo/Team Sunweb (take your pick) rider for the week, because again, the whole red jersey situation.

Not even stage three winner and world champion Valverde could stop the Slovenian’s success, as the Jumbo-Vista rider won atop the stage six mountainous finish in Jebel Jais to all-but-secure his general classification victory. Day seven was heaven for the Irish Bora-Hansgrohe rider Bennett, sprinting to stage honours ahead of Gaviria, Ewan, Kristoff and Viviani.

 

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: 2nd of March

Oh Omloop. Dragging us from the deserted desert and onto the cobbles, this Belgian race helps solidify this time of year as one of the greatest.

That being said, it was not perfect. The ten-minute gap between the women’s and men’s editions of the race was confusing to everyone that has ever watched cycling before. Of course, a strong solo attack by Hanselmann of Bigla Pro Cycling caused her to catch the tail end of the men’s peloton, forcing the organisers to neutralise the women’s race in the fear of Hanselmann overtaking the entirety of the men’s field to win both their race, and her race. Which she could have done.

“We could just see the ambulances of the men’s race. I think we stopped for five or seven minutes and then it just kills your chances.” – Hanselmann.

Being forced to stand in freezing conditions while the men theoretically get their skates on is possibly one of the most unideal situations imaginable, and eventually the 27-year-old was able to set off again. I’m not one for what if’s, because the winner was absolutely worthy, but it would’ve been nice to see exactly how Hanselmann’s move would’ve panned out.

The women’s race was eventually won by Boels-Dolmans’ Blaak. Her perfectly timed and decisive attacks both just prior to, and while on the Muur, were no match for the rest of the peloton on the day, and she claimed Boels’ first victory of the season.

As for the men, who were uninterrupted at the head of their race, a strong group of five would contend for the win in the final kilometres. An attack from Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s Stybar from the leading group containing Lutsenko (Astana), Teuns (Bahrain-Merida), Van Avermaet (CCC Team) and Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) eventually stuck, due to the lack of co-operation by the foursome. They were left looking around at one another, waiting for someone else to make the next move, as the 33-year-old up ahead added to Quick-Step’s 2019 win total.

They’re lucky Ian Stannard wasn’t with them.

 

Quorn-Brussels-Quorn  Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne: 3rd of March

I’ll give you one guess at which team won this race. Go on, guess.

You ready?

It was Deceuninck-Quick-Step.

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Yes, in a complete surprise to no-one, the team notched up yet another win during the 2019 season. This time victory was delivered in the form of Jungels, who soloed his way to the finish line after an attack within the last 16 kilometres. But one of the most notable events of the day was occurring behind him.

Team Sky’s Doull, who not only signed a new contract with the Classics in mind just a few months ago, but also celebrated his first professional road victory last month, rode to an impressive second place behind Jungels. Speaking to BBC Sport Wales, he labelled the podium place as “massive”, and that it changed his own expectations. The Welshman was able to beat the likes of Terpstra and defending Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne winner Groenewegen to second place, and took to Twitter to share his happiness.

“Actually can’t believe it, growing up I’ve always wanted to be in the sharp end of these races, but to do it today feels surreal. Thanks for all the kind messages.”

While there was no edition of this race for women, there was one held for juniors. Unfortunately, a large number of riders were taken out in the early stages by the race director’s car. The vehicle suddenly stopped in its tracks, leaving the juniors directly behind with nowhere to go but on the floor. Dutchman van Uden was able to win the race.

 

Le Samyn: 5th of March

Le Samyn was next on the calendar, providing us with an exciting sprint finish that gave us a completely unexpected…

…oh right. It was another Deceuninck-Quick-Step victory(!)

Remember when I said Astana were coming for them? Maybe hold that thought. As the leading group reeled Declercq back in within the final kilometre, his teammate Sénéchal timed his sprint to perfection to claim his maiden professional victory.

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Meme professionally made by yours truly.

 

Strava Bianchi  Strade Bianche: 9th of March

Astana and Deceuninck-Quick-Step would later battle it out on the dirt roads through Italy. Alaphilippe and Fuglsang were tied to each other’s wheels for the final 20 kilometres, until van Aert worked his way back to crash the party with just one kilometre to go. Alaphilippe and Fuglsang eventually decided three was a crowd, dropping him on the final uphill slog to the finish line. It was to be Alaphilippe’s day – if anyone is surprised – powering ahead of his Danish breakaway partner to win on the streets of Siena.

Van Vleuten also broke away from an incredibly strong leading group in the women’s race that contained the likes of Boels-Dolmans’ van der Breggen and CCC-Liv’s Vos with 12 kilometres to go. The Mitchelton-Scott powerhouse maintained her lead, soloing to victory by an impressive 37 seconds ahead of Boels-Dolmans’ Langvad and Niewiadoma of Canyon-SRAM.

 

Operation Aderlass: Ongoing

I first caught major wind of Operation Aderlass after seeing a tweet involving an elite athlete being caught red-handed. Max Hauke, a cross-country skier, was captured on video allegedly in the middle of a blood transfusion during the Nordic skiing world championships.

Then came the spread to other sports.

As someone who works in cycling and is currently undertaking a placement year in anti-doping, this was an incredibly disappointing and yet – unsurprising – revelation.

Rewind to the 2017 Vuelta a España. The Aqua Blue Sport team bus had been completely burnt due to an arson attack during the night. An unfortunate discovery for any team, let alone one on the Professional Continental circuit in their debut season. Denifl’s victory on the 17th stage felt like something of a fairy-tale for the Irish team, a triumph in the face of adversity, a feel-good story that we often crave in such a demanding sport. The Austrian won in style, attacking the torturous 180km stage – the toughest of all 21 stages – almost from the flag drop, remaining ahead of the likes of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador all the way to the painstakingly tough finish atop the Alto de los Machucos. He dedicated the win to his wife and new-born son.

Denifl, who was scheduled to ride for CCC in 2019 until his contract “dissolved” on Christmas Eve last year, recently confessed to blood doping in an interview with police. It had blindsided me, serving as a stark reminder that the sport I love is still not immune to the occasional breaking of hearts.

Waking up the next day, I rolled over to check my phone – just as I had done the day before. There was the news another cyclist had been caught up in Operation Aderlass – again, just as I had found out the day before.

Georg Preidler confessed to police that his blood had been extracted twice in 2018 for a potential transfusion at a later date. He then emailed his team, Groupama-FDJ, to terminate his contract. Teammate Pinot described how he had shed a tear upon hearing the news, describing the events as “high treason” and a “betrayal” before labelling Preidler an “idiot” for “screwing up his life”.

Pinot’s sharing of his heartbreak, although devastating, was a glimmer of light in the darkness. For many years I’ve been hoping more cyclists would be more vocal surrounding the sensitive subject of doping, revealing their true thoughts and feelings with us. While I’ve accepted this is certainly a concept easier typed than done, I welcome the amplification of more athletes’ voices.

In addition to Pinot, Marcel Kittel has also spoken about the recent developments in the doping scandal, taking the time to pen his thoughts before publishing them online for the world to see. The German has been a favourite of mine since the release of the Argos-Shimano documentary, when the sprinter even refused to take tablets from his team doctor in the fear of not knowing what they might contain. He also previously stated he was “sick” of the cycling community defending Armstrong. The 30-year-old explained his feelings towards the complications surrounding doping – the environment, the support systems – framing his words to question how we can help those who have, quote, “slipped off the narrow path.”

“The more important questions are, how can we help athletes like Georg Preidler, who apparently slipped off the narrow path and could no longer hold out against the pressure? Some athletes aren’t as lucky to have the environment that I have, one which has supported and protected me during my whole sports career. Success in sport is not just physical but also involves mental strength. That is why I think that especially young athletes can and must be prepared for this situation with coaching and much explanation, in order to be strong later when they are faced with temptation… Sport plays an important role in society, keeps people healthy and fit, and provides both entertainment and role models. But all of that can become too much for an individual and he breaks because of it, or tries to find a shortcut through doping.”

At the moment, 21 athletes from five different sports are currently under investigation.

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Strap yourselves in folks, because next time I’ll be recapping races such as Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo. Will Deceuninck-Quick-Step win every race between now and October? Let’s find out…

Robyn’s Round-Up #1: The World Tour and Conti Action So Far

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to write more. No matter the subject, no matter how random. Fortunately for you, I’m not back with another blog post involving photoshopped riders or trying to force my baseball comparisons down your throats. This year I’m trying to do a monthly round-up of all the action that’s gone on, be it World Tour or Continental level. So, what’s happened so far in 2019?

Australasian Action: January – February

You know the road cycling season is back when we start getting those Instagram posts of koalas and snakes. You also know the road cycling season is back when Amanda Spratt kicks things off with a bang. While most of us were recovering from the drunken antics of New Year’s Eve, Spratt soloed to victory on New Year’s Day during the Bay Crits, reminding all of us of a healthier way to start off the year. At the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under, the Australian dominated alongside her Mitchelton-Scott teammates, with the team winning two out of four stages. Spratty topped the overall classification, keeping a tight hold on the ochre jersey after her triumphant win on the second day. Thrice is nice for the 31-year-old, whose overall victory this year solidifies her status as Queen Down Under™, reigning victorious in the overall standings for three years in a row.

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All Hail Queen Spratty. c: Santos Tour Down Under

Prior to the men’s Tour Down Under was the Down Under Classic. Caleb Ewan notched up his first victory in Lotto Soudal colours, ahead of Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sagan and former teammate Edmondson.

This year, the Tour Down Under returned with a twist for the men. The iconic Willunga Hill? No longer the star feature on the penultimate stage. This bad boy moved to the final day, the perfect conclusion to an expectedly explosive six days. Daryl Impey ensured double success for Mitchelton-Scott in the TDU – the South African won the fourth stage into Campbelltown and finished the race sat at the top of the general classification for the second year in a row.

Oh yeah, and Richie Porte won on Willunga for the sixth time in a row. Obviously.

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The Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race followed the Tour Down Under, extending the Australasian action and nicely letting us vicariously live in warmer conditions for a little bit longer. Astana’s Sierra broke away from the leading group and soloed to victory with 4 kilometres to go, finishing ahead of Mitchelton-Scott’s Kennedy and Spratt. The men’s edition of the race would be the complete opposite. Attacks were constantly neutralised, resulting in a fiercely contested bunch sprint between the likes of Viviani and Ewan. The Italian just managed to edge out his sprinting rival; inevitably only the first of many sprint showdowns this season. It’s what we deserve.

Last but not least, the Herald Sun Tour. Only a two-stage event for the women, Kennedy helped cap off an impressive first month for Mitchelton-Scott, winning the overall by 36 seconds over her teammate Spratt. Team Sky dominated the men’s five-stage race. Not content with only winning the team classification, their Dutchman van Baarle topped the overall standings. This still wasn’t enough for the British World Tour team, as stage victories awaited both Halvorsen and Doull, victory arrived for Knees in the form of the mountains classification, and Sivakov earned his place as the best young rider. Not a bad few days!

Vuelta a San Juan: 27th January – 3rd February

Somewhat overshadowed by a certain Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider (more on this later), the Vuelta a San Juan was a week-long race towards the end of January. Gaviria just managed to clinch the opening stage victory in a packed bunch sprint, reminding us all that he’s actually a UAE Team Emirates rider now, no longer a member of the Wolfpack.

Before the rest day, the race was dominated by the men in blue for various reasons. Alaphilippe won back-to back stage victories in the form of a solo attack followed by a time trial, resulting in him leading the general classification. UAE rider Gaviria then timed his bike throw to perfection at the stage four finish line after 185.8 kilometres. Post-race day, the general classification would be topped by a different man in blue. Stage five winner? Winner Anacona. (I tried to make winner, winner fit in many ways here and that is what you get). No large bunch sprint for victory awaited the peloton by the end of stage six, with Continental rider Tivani – at the risk of sounding like Carlton Kirby – really ‘putting the cat amongst the pigeons’. His breakaway group managed to keep the World Tour teams at bay, winning a three-man sprint after 140 kilometres at the front. The final stage ended in jubilation for Irish rider Bennett, pipping Quick-Step’s Hodeg to the line. Winner Anacona won the overall, thankfully, as I feel like if you have such a promising name, you need to deliver.

But let’s ignore the actual racing for a second. My favourite moment of the Vuelta a San Juan had to be at the finish line of each stage, when winners would be blasted with confetti after exhausting themselves over hundreds of kilometres. I say: more (of the environmentally friendly kind) please. And if anyone happens to actually implement my ideas, I would like more podium puppies too. It’s only right.

So, what more is there to say about Iljo Keisse that I didn’t already cover in this blog post? Not an awful lot. In summary, Deceuninck-Quick-Step found themselves in hot water when Keisse imitated having sex with a San Juan waitress, and later issued an apology after she rightly filed a police report. In an ideal world, Quick-Step would’ve pulled him from the race and this would’ve been the end of it. Except it wasn’t. After some unnecessary comments from Lefevere, the team issued an apology that everyone saw through. Lefevere obviously thought Keisse was an innocent bystander, promptly victim blaming his way through the saga and posting a Daniel Craig meme on Instagram that he probably found on some Facebook page.

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana: 6th – 10th of February

Before I start recapping this race, I just want to say how weird it felt watching cycling at night. That being said, maybe I prefer it? Actually spending my day outside before settling down in bed at night to watch some cycling lies in stark comparison to spending the entire day covering Grand Tours and trying to write something about it at night. I digress.

Naturally, the general classification after the opening stage was led by those blessed enough to manage a decent time trial. Boasson Hagen eventually lost the lead on the fourth stage, with previous wins from Trentin and Van Avermaet not putting a big enough dint in the time gaps. Adam Yates secured an uphill victory ahead of Valverde on the penultimate stage, but a fourth place from Izagirre meant the Spaniard was all but assured to clinch overall victory. The ultimate day left little to the imagination, the 88-kilometre stage set up for an eventual sprint. The bunch would be dramatically reduced after a crash inside the final 3 kilometres, and Groenewegen surged ahead of his fellow sprinters to take the stage win.

Perfs Pedal: Perfect for Canyon

A lot of things haven’t shocked me so far this season, and Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes’ performance at Perfs Pedal is another to add to the list. Yes, the team contending with the likes of EF Education First (etc etc) and Deceuninck-Quick-Step for the longest team name came out on top once again. They managed to get two men on the podium; Paton placed third behind teammate and race winner Vaughan.

On this subject, it’ll be interesting to see how the Conti scene develops this season – especially with the unfortunate losses of both JLT Condor and ONE Pro Cycling. Their presence will be missed in the peloton, but various riders have been lucky in securing spots on other Continental teams. As there’s no Chorley Grand Prix this year (thanks, Brexit), I’ll have to wait a little bit longer for my own season to start.

Zwift

Another fun note to add to this post has been the recent domination of Zwift throughout cycling headlines. Their KISS Super League series appears to be a fun way for riders of all levels to compete against each other without actually leaving the house, and can also be a unique way for fans to see the action through Facebook/Instagram Live features organised by teams. I never thought I’d be sucked into this world, and I’m yet to sit through an entire Zwift race from start to finish, but it has been an entertaining concept so far.

Last but not least, the closing segment:

Drum roll please…

Things We Should Leave in January

  • Patrick Lefevere
  • That Astana rap video. No, I have not got all the way through. No, neither do I want to. Can we please just not talk about it again?

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Coming up next are races such as the Tour of Oman and Tour of Colombia. I wonder what will happen between this blog post and the next? See you soon!

 

O Captain, My (Road) Captain!

“It’ll be my fifteenth attempt at winning.”

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Those were the words spoken by Mathew Hayman before the greatest victory of his cycling career.

Looking back on the 2016 Paris-Roubaix edition of Mitchelton Scott’s Backstage Passes, his words would surprisingly echo the exact unpredictability of the famed one-day race.

“The best bit of advice I’ve ever got for Paris-Roubaix comes from Marc Wauters, and it’s always keep riding.”

A star feature of said Backstage Passes – professionally put together by Dan Jones at the time – he helped Mitchelton Scott reinvigorate the sport, transcending the once closed-door nature of cycling teams. Showcasing their differing and yet equally lovable personalities worldwide, it was a unique way to interact with fans. We’ve been able to witness Hayman at his peak, as he was shocked into a state of disbelief after crossing the finish line at Roubaix. We’ve been invited to listen as he imparted his words of wisdom to the world. A favoured development through the years has been that of the growing friendship between Hayman and Chaves; the Colombian’s adoption into an Australian team and subsequent assimilation of their phrases into his vocabulary, all while under the nurturing wing of the man he calls “boss”. But my appreciation of Backstage Passes is an article for another time.

Hayman will undoubtedly be missed. Not only for his experienced presence in the peloton, but for his time spent being a dedicated domestique, putting everything he has on the line for his team. Not forgetting his amiable personality, the lessons he’s managed to teach his teammates throughout the years, and the lessons he will inevitably still be teaching as he remains with Mitchelton-Scott post cycling-retirement. All of the above will compile the shining legacy of one of the greatest Australian cyclists we have been fortunate to witness.

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10th April, 2016. Paris-Roubaix.

You can come back a lot in this race,” he told the camera before taking to the start line. “Keep believing, keep riding, it’s not over until you get to the velodrome.”

Never before have words been so oddly foretelling, but the then-37-year-old was speaking with almost unrivalled experience. As someone who had been there at Paris-Roubaix, done that, crashed numerous times and ripped the t-shirt, Hayman was well versed in the mercurial nature of the race dubbed “The Hell of the North”.

Paris-Roubaix is a race unlike any other. Labelling such a brutal event as a “breath of fresh air” in the calendar might appear strangely conflicting, but it’s true. In a sport that can often pinpoint the three-week-long Grand Tours as its focal points, the one-day, short, sharp, and anything but sweet Paris-Roubaix is a welcome sight in a lengthy season.

The Australian’s arrival to the start line in Compiègne coincided with his return from an ill-timed injury. Hayman had broken his arm just five weeks prior. He had been forced to train on the turbo trainer in his garage while utilising a ladder as an arm rest for his cast, demonstrating possibly one of the most unorthodox preparation methods for the iconic race in recent years.

Tenacity is a notable trait in every cyclist that lines up to start the cobbled classic. You can see it build throughout the course as various riders try their luck and attack from the head of the race, never giving up in their pursuit of the famed cobblestone prize and their name engraved in the history books.

Crashes would litter the 257-kilometre route in 2016. Paris-Roubaix prides itself on being equal parts dependent on luck, and the skillset of the rider. Anyone can be forced to abandon at any time. Teammates can be left behind. Hayman’s compatriot Docker was ruled out after a nasty crash in the Arenberg Forest, dropping the number of Orica-GreenEDGE riders down to seven. Viviani was hit from behind by a motorbike. The unbeknown fate of three of the Italian’s teammates (Rowe, Puccio and Moscon) left Team Sky momentarily disjointed after hitting the ground. The predictable script-like race nature that has befallen many Grand Tours as of late is easily ripped up and thrown out of the window from Compiègne to the Roubaix Velodrome.

Cancellara’s swansong Roubaix was eventually cut short, an abundance of crashes leaving him too far behind to contend. A decisive split soon emerged; four-time winner Boonen, Boasson Hagen, Stannard and Vanmarcke joined Hayman, compiling the five-man leading group that would eventually contest for the win.

Roubaix forced riders to exert every last drop of motivation they could find during their endeavours. As they painstakingly pedalled their way to the finish line, five became two.

“Hayman has won 2 professional races; Boonen has won 109. The odds are stacked against the Australian.”

It was Boonen against Hayman as they began the first lap around the velodrome. The perfect cat-and-mouse situation, until Vanmarcke worked his way back into contention with Stannard eventually re-joining them. Hayman’s refusal to give up prime positioning on Boonen’s wheel would be his salvation, utilising the height available from the velodrome to build momentum.

The tables suddenly turned, Boonen found himself boxed in. 200m… 100m… Stannard was relentless, creeping up around the side, and Boonen refused to be shaken away in his pursuit of yet another Paris-Roubaix win.

But this was Hayman’s year.

As he crossed the line and met Dan Jones just a few moments later, his face was an assortment of emotions. Shock, disbelief, relief and eventually jubilation. The entertaining nature of this win, combined with the sheer likeability of the winner wrapped the 2016 edition of Paris-Roubaix in a neat underdog story bow, certifying itself as one for the books.

“This doesn’t happen… it doesn’t happen.” Hayman told Durbridge in disbelief as they celebrated.

“It does to you,” he replied, before turning to the camera, “that’s one for the good guys.”

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29th June, 2017. The Tour de France.

Constructed between 1990-1997, the Rhine embankment was particularly symbolic of “Düsseldorfers’ Rhenish joie de vivre”; perfectly fitting with the exuberance that the Tour de France seems to bring to the countries it visits, before eventually returning to its home country.

The embankment was the long stretch of pavement for cyclists to head down after their team presentation, circling back on themselves in the shadow of the Rhine Tower. My friends and I settled down here, propped against the barriers that kept the fans at a safe distance. As it happened, waiting here proved to be a very smart idea. The crowds dwindled the further away you got from the main presentation area, the stage surrounded by fans of the Tour. Riders would slow down here, iPhones out on the embankment, photographs of the Rheinturm to be uploaded to Instagram that night.

A smile here, a wave there, and it looked like the cyclists seemed to appreciate four cheering women in the relatively quiet area.

Mathew Hayman was actually the first rider to stop for us. Granted, I don’t think we asked anyone before him. We thought we’d try our luck with the so-called “dad” of the peloton. And he happily complied. Hayman stopped, signed all our yellow “allez, allez, allez” banners that we’d collected en route, and asked where we were from and how long we were in Düsseldorf for. Then I decided to tell him.

“Mat-” my northern accent said, documented on video, “your Paris-Roubaix win is my favourite of all-time.”

Then came the smile. The sincere “thank you”. The joking “it took a while!” comment. Suddenly, Luke Durbridge also pulled up next to us. “Come and meet some of my friends”, Hayman told him. Durbridge signed our banners too, and asked if we knew any good bars in the area. A couple of minutes later, and the two Australians headed in the direction of the Rheinturm, leaving us with memories to last a lifetime.

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Hayman didn’t need to ask us questions, sign our things, share a laugh. But he did anyway. To this day, I’m thankful that he stopped for us. Now the time has come that Mathew has hung up his cleats, he no doubt has a lot of cycling memories to look back on. In retrospect, so do I. I try and travel to a lot of races. But this one moment is possibly the greatest cycling experience I’m yet to have, as both a fan and a journalist. Hayman was one of the most welcoming riders I’ve ever spoken to in my life, and whenever his name is mentioned, I look back on this moment with a smile.

Thank you, Hayman.

Iljo Keisse’s Season Started in the Worst Possible Way

“They cannot come to another country and treat women as things, as something insignificant and worthless.”The San Juan waitress who filed a police complaint against Iljo Keisse.

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The Vuelta a San Juan has barely begun and Iljo Keisse has already been thrown out of the race.

It should have been a normal team photograph with a fan. Instead, the Deceuninck–Quick-Step rider decided to pose inappropriately with the woman as, unbeknown to the waitress, he was captured miming a lewd sex act behind her.

Keisse is not the first rider to disappoint me, and I’m certain he won’t be the last. He apologised on Tuesday, the usual “I made a mistake” followed by a “I wish I could turn back time…”. He was promptly removed from the race, his first of the new season, by the Vuelta a San Juan organisers. The woman reported him to the police, resulting in Keisse being given a fine of 3000 pesos. According to Cycling News, the local judge who had found Keisse guilty told Telesoldiario:

“Woman have to be able to walk quietly down the street, be happy at work and at home. Things have changed socially. That’s enough of sexist jokes and macho attitudes that are no longer socially tolerable.” – Enrique Mattar.

Then it somehow got worse for Deceuninck–Quick-Step.

Team manager Patrick Lefevere tweeted that Julian Alaphilippe’s victory on the third stage was “nice”, but the “cinema around Keisse” was not.

He took it one step further, labelling the woman – undoubtedly the real victim in this situation – as “motivated by money” in an interview with Het Laatste Nieuws. He has since threatened to pull his entire team from the race.

“If it depended on me, the whole team would leave the Vuelta a San Juan. We are reviewing what the UCI regulations say, and then we will quickly decide whether we will start or not.”

Quite an overreaction to the appropriate action taken by organisers, especially as Deceuninck–Quick-Step rider Alaphilippe is on a winning streak. He currently sits at the top of the GC thanks to his back-to-back stage victories.

Even if this was not during the #MeToo era, Lefevere’s comments would be striking. You’d think that Deceuninck–Quick-Step would simply accept the fine, maybe even have removed Keisse from the race themselves, but Lefevere’s wildly unprofessional comments appear to have missed the mark and then some. Especially during a time where both men and women feel able to speak out about the inappropriate actions they have been subjected to.

The entire situation could have been dealt with more professionally. I’ve seen numerous tweets from cycling fans who have also been let down, not only by Keisse’s actions, but the subsequent comments from a man as influential as Lefevere. As someone who even bought into their “Wolfpack” mantra via a top from their team store, it feels tarnished.

If this has taught me anything, it’s that we cannot let these issues be brushed under the carpet. We must continue to spot inappropriate behaviour and challenge this, as well as any inappropriate comments that arise. After all, it is 2019.

 

 

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Cycling is back in session! The Australian races are officially warming us up like a set of rollers as we prepare to dive headfirst into the 2019 season. Haller (Katusha-Alpecin) stormed to the overall Bay Crits victory as Scandolara (Roxsolt Attaquer) retained her title from 2017 the Bay Crits were not held in 2018. Let’s not forget how we were blessed with the first national championships of the year in Australia and New Zealand, too.

Of course, the Australasian action doesn’t stop there. From the 10th to the 20th of January, the Tour Down Under returns.

The newest edition of the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under began with a 112km stretch through the Adelaide Hills; 19-year-old Paternoster (Trek-Segafredo) edged out second-placed Roy of Mitchelton-Scott in a bunch sprint. Mitchelton-Scott controlled the peloton throughout the second day, eventually forcing a crucial split in their favour as the riders approached the base of Mengler Hill. Naturally, their efforts produced a remarkable 1-2 win as they reached the summit. Spratt managed to distance teammate Kennedy by 39 seconds to ensure victory. The Australian team helped cement Spratt’s stronghold on the leader’s jersey with their third day domination; Brown pedalled to victory as the ochre jersey crossed the line in 5th. Thrice is nice (no, sadly this phrase wasn’t my idea) for Spratt, eventually reigning victorious in the Women’s Tour Down Under for the third year in a row during the early hours of yesterday morning. Fellow Aussie Hosking was able to see off some fierce competition to win the 25-lap circuit ultimate stage.

The Down Under Classic – a precursor to the men’s TDU – took place on the 13th of January. No surprise here that Caleb Ewan notched up another victory in his new Lotto Soudal colours.

The men’s edition of the Tour Down Under begins tomorrow. This year the organisers decided to spice things up even more for us, like Australia needed any more heat? Stage 6, the concluding stage, will now be the one to feature the famed Willunga Hill, no doubt forcing the Tour Down Under to a climactic head on a perfectly fitting scene. Despite Richie Porte experiencing more than his fair share of bad luck in other races – take Grand Tours for example – he always outshines the peloton on this short but not-so-sweet stretch. Willunga is his territory.

While important questions are already up in the air: “Who ate too many mince pies?” “Will Porte make it six times on Willunga Hill?” – I’m bringing you the most important content you’ll receive all week.

That’s right, animal photos!

In case you don’t know, the start of the year always produces adorable snapshots of riders alongside various animals. In the past, we’ve had the likes of Simon Geschke kissing a koala, and subsequently giving us his best Britney impersonation.

2019 is no different, so cue the koala/snake/kangaroo cuddles.

All together now, one-two-three:

“Aww!”

(P.S. yes, I resisted the temptation to write Joey with a joey. You’re welcome.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course I’ll be updating this collection when more photos start rolling out of Australia. All credit to the respective riders/teams and their Instagram accounts.