The Tour de Yorkshire | 2018

“This is my most beautiful win. I did it on a race that is growing in stature all the time, has more history now, and an amazing crowd. It’s been like riding the Tour de France over the last four days.” – Stephane Rossetto, Cofidis, Stage 4 winner.

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What do you get when you mix some of the world’s greatest cyclists with the most stunning scenery Britain has to offer? The Tour de Yorkshire. The creation of ASO and Welcome to Yorkshire stems from the popularity of the Tour de France’s ‘Grand Départ’ in 2014, in which the fight for the yellow jersey had drawn spectators from across the country, as Prudhomme praised the event as the “grandest Grand Départ ever.”

 

 

It’s no secret that the race has been going from strength to strength with every passing year since its induction. The inaugural edition in 2015 played host to thousands of spectators witnessing Team Sky’s Nordhaug clinch the overall win, while crowds increased further to over a million just a year later. By 2017, the race gained 9.7m viewers through TV alone, televised in a colossal 120 countries, according to The Huddersfield Daily Examiner. But unsurprisingly, it’s possible we just witnessed the strongest edition of the Tour de Yorkshire yet. Over 2 million spectators lined the streets to witness a newly-extended route, a 4-day and 2-day stage race for the men’s and women’s pelotons respectively.

The Tour de Yorkshire attracts a number of big WorldTour squads – Team Sunweb, Sky and BMC to name but a few – but I enjoy seeing the Continental and Great Britain teams getting to showcase their talents on home roads. Involving themselves in a combination of explosive breakaways, jersey fights and stage finishes, they help produce one of the most exciting races to watch in the cycling calendar. While writing a post for Yellow Jersey, I made sure to include that these teams would be a strong force in breakaways; Gardias and Tanfield had previously won the combativity prize and accompanying Dimension Data Digital Jerseys on back-to-back days for Canyon Eisberg in 2017.

As the men’s peloton took to the start line in Beverley, it appeared all eyes were on Dimension Data’s Cavendish to take first stage honours, despite having a crash-filled start to the season. A sprint finish in Doncaster with the Manxman prevailing seemed to be a likely outcome for some cycling fans, yet this script was to be thrown out of the window. With the peloton looking to be closing in on the breakaway at 10km to go, it felt that the five men up front would slowly be reeled back in. However, with 5km to go, even the commentators of Boulting and Millar started to believe. At 4km until the finish, with a steady lead of 35” over the peloton, it was to be a day for the breakaway – a surprise to many that they had not been caught yet. The same sentiments were echoed by numerous riders and directeur sportifs post-stage – that the Continental teams had been “underestimated”. This would ultimately be to the downfall of the WorldTour teams on the first day, as despite a momentary appearance of struggling from Canyon Eisberg’s Tanfield, a resurgence combined with a monumental sprint to the line meant the 23-year-old had bested the entire field, taking the stage win, sitting at the top of the sprints and overall classification, in addition to dominating an online vote and claiming the Dimension Data Digital Jersey. Wild’s sprinting prowess meant she had taken the honours on the first stage with ease in the ASDA Women’s Tour de Yorkshire just a few hours before. The Wiggle-High5 rider repeated her Tour de Yorkshire success in Doncaster, where she previously claimed victory in 2016.

Just as dramatic as the previous day, stage two held the first summit finish in the history of the Tour de Yorkshire. An 8.2% average with a nasty kick upwards towards the peak, the unforgiving Cow and Calf climb caused gaps throughout the peloton, resulting in Cort Nielsen (Astana) edging out BMC’S Van Avermaet in a hectic battle to the line. This differed to the women’s finish on the summit, as Boels-Dolman’s birthday girl Guarnier launched a successful solo attack with 200m to go, crossing the line with over 15 seconds on second placed Amialusik (Canyon-SRAM).

Not one to ever miss an edition of the Tour de Yorkshire, I made sure to visit in 2018, too. While university had caused me to miss the entirety of the women’s race, I could catch the final two days of the men’s Tour. Travelling to the picturesque finish on the penultimate stage in Scarborough might have taken a long time, but the views there more than made up for it. The stretch towards the finish ran alongside the coastline, with the approaching tide covering the beach in synchrony with an incoming peloton racing closer to the line. Scarborough was vibrant with activity, with the scorching weather helping drive people outside in their thousands, covering the hills beside the finishing straight with spectators. While a heroic solo attempt inside the last five kilometres wasn’t to be the winning move for Direct Énergie’s Chavanel, powerful sprinting from Walscheid of Team Sunweb saw the German rider edge out Cort Nielsen.

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“I’ve ridden races like Paris-Roubaix before, but have never seen crowds like that.” – Max Walscheid.

While I was impressed by the number of spectators for the finish in Scarborough, I was in awe of the crowds at Halifax. Stage 4 departed from the Piece Hall in the centre of town, which saw long queues outside simply to get in; its stunning architecture was the perfect setting for a dramatic culmination of the Tour de Yorkshire. The cobbled streets had been decorated with bunting and lined with team cars, before riders signed on and took to the start line.

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A short train journey later, complete with wasp-in-carriage saga, and we had arrived in Leeds for the finish; truly made unforgettable thanks to VIP wristbands from Andrew Turner of Halewood Wines and Spirits. Labelled the ‘Yorkshire Terrier’ stage, the peloton had 189.5km and 6 classified climbs to scale before reaching the finale of the 4-day race. An 18-man breakaway quickly whittled down to just 2 riders: Rossetto of Cofidis and Canyon Eisberg’s climber, Stedman. The latter gained maximum KOM points on the summits of the Barden Moor and Goose Eye climbs, before Rossetto eventually carried on alone. In fact, he would stay away and win the fourth and final stage, after spending 120km on the front and denying one last sprint finish. As Cort Nielsen had been dropped on the climbs, with no teammates around him, it was down to BMC to defend the virtual lead. Defend they did, and Van Avermaet crossed the line in second place, sprinting against Bibby of JLT-Condor.

 

 

The abundance of climbs on the fourth day had eventually proved too much for Cort Nielsen and the Astana team, who couldn’t compete against the manpower of BMC. Relinquishing the overall win to Van Avermaet, the Belgian stood on the final GC podium alongside second placed Prades of Euskadi Basque Country-Murias, and Dimension Data’s Pauwels, the defending champion of the Tour de Yorkshire.

Robyn’s Review: The Tour’s Top Moments:

Continental Contenders

It was a strong start for Continental teams, covering breakaway moves and lighting up the race from the very first flag drop. After writing some pieces for Canyon Eisberg since last year (so no bias here) – it was great to see Tanfield win the first stage, shining a brighter light on an already impressive team. It was also lovely to see how much it meant, not only to his fellow cyclist teammates, but to mechanic Lee Askew and DS Simon Holt on TV.

 

It was an all-Continental podium on the first day, with JLT Condor’s Slater finishing ahead of Madison Genesis rider Cuming for second place. Cuming would later wear the mountains jersey for three days in a row, before parting ways with it on the final stage, after Rossetto’s day in the breakaway. The highest placed Brit on the final GC was also a fellow Continental rider – JLT Condor’s Bibby. The Prestonian had strong finishes throughout the race, but particularly on stages 2 and 4 – with the 3rd place in Leeds helping cement his standing as 6th overall.

Côte de Cow and Calf Crowds

Back in 2015, the Cow and Calf had been featured on the climb-heavy final stage of the Tour de Yorkshire. À la the final stage in 2018, there were 6 classified climbs for riders to scale, with the most prevalent crowd presence centring around the 1.8km, 8.2% average climb. Spectators continued to increase in numbers throughout the previously 3-day event, and almost 750,000 turned up to watch the ultimate stage.

Fast forward to 2018, and the “record breaking” 4th edition of the Tour brought 2.6 million spectators to the winding roads of Yorkshire. The Cow and Calf climb produced an exciting solo breakaway in the form of Guarnier for the finale of the Women’s Tour de Yorkshire, and an explosive conclusion on the second stage for the men.

 

Rider Reciprocation

Cycling doesn’t have to be all serious, all the time. Aqua Blue’s Warbasse, appearing somewhat exhausted in Scarborough, instinctively passed his bottle to a waiting fan just after the finish line. High fives happened in Halifax as riders took to the stage for sign on. From Scarborough to Leeds, riders further down the standings – Direct Énergie and Aqua Blue included – encouraged the crowds to cheer them on to the finish. With smiles on their faces and to the delight of the waiting viewers, they waved their arms in the air, cupped their hands behind their ears and gained the most applause after the initial sprint finish.

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No doubt about it, the Tour de Yorkshire has been yet another success. Only getting stronger with passing years, I’m already looking forward to the developments for 2019.

Next up: The Lincoln Grand Prix on Sunday the 13th of May.

 

 

 

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Robyn’s Rutland Review: The CiCLE Classic 2018

“’Why would people tune in to watch a race other than the Tour de France?’ The answer is simple. We in the UK don’t make races look special enough. You go abroad and there’s so much razzmatazz and activity around it. TV companies in Belgium are vying for every event! [They’re] so attractive, it gets the crowds out. That’s what we have to do [at the CiCLE Classic] when it comes to road racing.” – Colin Clews to Always Riding.

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You’d be right to associate the ‘Spring Classics’ with Belgium or France, perhaps even Italy, anywhere but the East Midlands of England.

The Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, all legendary events which are held on foreign soil. But during one day in April for men, and one day in June for women and juniors, winding stretches of road, combined with bergs and sectors, à la some of the famous one-day races in cycling, are awoken. Make no mistake, the Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic being in Britain rather than France or Belgium doesn’t make it any easier. Take 2012 for example, torrential rain had caused roads to be flooded, the race to be re-routed numerous times, and the ruined course was littered with trees and remnants of banners. Only 22 riders finished that day.

The inclusive creation of Colin Clews (the race features UCI Continental teams alongside national and club teams, with a mix of ages in a multinational peloton) relies heavily on twisting, tight roads accompanied alongside uneven road surfaces, sectors, and sharp climbs. Just like at Roubaix, the sectors are classified through stars. This includes the Barleyberg (Sector 11) with its 5-star severity, a new addition in 2017 alongside the 4-star StaplePark, whose brutality is juxtaposed with the beautiful scenery of yellow flora covering the side of the roads. The StaplePark is scaled twice (Sector 3 and 1), along with the 5-star Somerberg (Sector 7 and 4).

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I did a lot of work for the UCI, over in Belgium. You see the races and you think to yourself “Well, what’s different?” And the answer actually is nothing is different, apart from the actual will to do something and make a race look good! – Colin Clews.

 

Despite somehow enjoying watching races that seem incredibly difficult to ride, I’d actually never been to Rutland-Melton before. The 188km race had eluded me, always falling when I was back home in Lancashire, until now. My friend and I, along with her father, travelled up to a bunting-covered Oakham town to catch the start – where the weather was warmly welcomed in stark contrast to a gloomy Chorley Grand Prix just one week prior. After watching the team presentation and witnessing a somewhat awkward recollection of events last year (with the mentioning of the, quote, “finger situation” on the finish line from Hayden McCormick as One Pro took to the stage), we watched the flag drop and headed to the sectors.

 

 

On arrival at Newbold, the scenery for Sector 10 looked interchangeable to that of a Spring Classics race abroad; Clews had previously compared the CiCLE Classic to Flanders in an interview with Always Riding, and it’s easy to see why. A vast countryside that seems at odds with the punishing drama that occurs within it; the choking dust kicked up from bikes and car wheels, the loud sound of gears shifting, the shouting for riders to change or keep position on the bike from teammates. As the cyclists passed through – some looking like they’d rather be anywhere but on the bike – we crossed the road to see Sector 9 and Sector 8. The road surface for Manorberg seemed tougher in comparison to Newbold, with more uneven patches and even a slight spot of rain to contend with. At this point, the combined fighting forces of the leading quartet (Morvelo Basso’s Mottram, Kenway from Vitus Pro Cycling, Guerciotti’s Rodríguez Gil and Kibble of the Wales national team) was enough to maintain a gap of around 3 minutes. Yet, seeing the determined Moses-led peloton speeding around the bend onto this sector meant their time at the head of the race would soon come to a close. Following being shrouded in a cloud of dust, mechanicals and the designated ‘last vehicle’ travelling through, we advanced to one of the three feed zones.

 

 

This was situated between the two attempts that riders would pass through the Somerberg sector, and it was clear here that riders were becoming more drained. Dust-covered faces were looking pained, and some climbed off at this point, through injury, fatigue or facing more mechanicals. We soon made our way to the finish in Melton Mowbray, where the sprint finish would take place, and even more importantly to some, the winner of the prestigious pork pie would be announced.

 

 

Melton’s streets were lined with eagerly awaiting spectators behind barriers, children banging inflatables together, and an air of suspense as the race was reaching its climax. Cullaigh for Wiggins led the break onto the final lap around Melton Mowbray, and while One Pro’s Domagalski was close to a repeat of his Chorley Grand Prix win last weekend, Cullaigh proved the strongest in the two-up sprint to the finish line.

 

 

Of course, one of the most interesting aspects of the CiCLE Classic are the unique prizes received at the end. Cullaigh won the day, the yellow jersey, and also a gargantuan pork pie for leading into the final lap, while Kenway was King of the Bergs for Vitus. Sprints winner Mottram won his weight in beer, while ‘lanterne rouge’ Orr of Memil CCN was awarded a bottle of wine after arriving to the finish 18 minutes down. Pretty rewarding, no matter your result, isn’t it?

After being unable to see the CiCLE Classic before this year, it’s certainly an event I wouldn’t want to miss out on again. There’s something special about witnessing a classics-style race without having to travel to a different country, and Rutland-Melton looks a perfect match under the control of Colin Clews. I, for one, can’t wait to see the day the race gains the attention to which it deserves, TV presence included. Also the direction it takes – will there be opportunity for expansion? Only time (and sponsorship) will tell. I hope the CiCLE Classic gains as much prestige in Britain as the Belgian Classics one day, but without the loss of UCI Continental and club teams to the UCI World Tour.

Robyn’s Roubaix Review

“It’s bollocks, this race! You’re working like an animal; you don’t have time to piss; you wet your pants. You’re riding in mud like this; you’re slipping. It’s a piece of shit.”

[“Would you ride it again?”]

“Sure! It’s the most beautiful race in the world!”Theo de Rooij, after abandoning Paris-Roubaix in 1985.

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The Queen of the Classics. L’enfer du Nord. A Sunday in Hell.

What’s in a name?

No race has the ability to sound more intimidating than that of Paris-Roubaix. While some are lucky to have nicer nicknames, take E3 Harelbeke as “the little Tour of Flanders” for example, there’s no niceness for the “Hell of the North”.

How could anything that sounds so tormenting be so enjoyable to watch? Take horror movies – not too far off watching Paris-Roubaix. We can vicariously experience one of, if not the, toughest races to ride; we get the drama, the adrenaline rushes, the enjoyment, all through the safety of our own homes. Yet this changed for me this year. I got to witness the juxtaposition of such brutality and beauty on the roadside, with my friend and her father.

À la our travelling for the Tour of Flanders the week prior, we made it to the Eurotunnel on the Saturday afternoon. This time we had the luck of sitting behind two adorable dogs in our carriage, which certainly delighted us for the half an hour journey through the Channel Tunnel. Despite losing an hour due to time zones, there was still enough daylight to check out certain sectors of the course that the riders would face. Our starting point was the Trouée d’Arenberg.

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#RobynsRoubaixRecon: Atmospheric Arenberg

From the very first time I watched Paris-Roubaix on TV, I questioned how anyone could enjoy riding this race; it was so long, and I’d never seen so many crashes in a few hours of each other, or so many riders barely recognisable from being covered in dust. Skinsuits were ripped, skin was bleeding, and yet, strangely enough, riders were adamant on returning the next year. I also picked up on the prominence of the Arenberg. One of only three pavé sections that obtain the hardest ‘five-star’ rank, it appears torturous to ride. A then-dominating Museeuw shattered his kneecap on this sector in 1998, gained an infection, and could have ended his career in the process – an amputation was almost on the cards. Mitch Docker has no memory of his high-speed crash here in 2016, during which he broke several teeth and his nose, cut his tongue in half, temporarily lost his ability to taste and could have lost his eye. Look at this way: the previous race director, Goddet, wanted to make the race more difficult in 1967, but not Arenberg levels of difficult. He took an extreme amount of persuasion, and the section was even pulled during 1974 – 1983.

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On the Arenberg. Photo by Chris Price, @TheWorstTrip.

In theory – it’s just one straight road of cobbles, but combined with the legacy of the 2.4km passage, the dark forest that envelops it, the trepidation riders have on approach to the sector, and the relief when they pass through relatively unscathed, the atmosphere is dramatically heightened into something almost unexplainable, had I not been to witness it for myself. Even with a few people riding the course as we walked along it, and standing in broad daylight, the apprehension just for this one stretch was evident.

 

#RobynsRoubaixRecon: Coarse Cobbles

After taking in as much atmosphere as we could handle, we headed south to Maing. Sector 22 was a three-star ranking in comparison to Arenberg’s five, and 2.5km in length, with the dusty cobbles travelling through exposed fields and lying in heavy contrast to the last sector we witnessed. There was no-one around on the part we were exploring, and as the sun was setting to paint Hauts-de-France in golden hour lighting, I have never experienced such a ‘calm before the storm’ feeling. There was a real sense of tranquillity here, in comparison to the expectation of a speeding peloton and roaring crowd to expect the next day.

 

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“Paris-Roubaix is the last test of madness that the sport of cycling puts before its participants…. A hardship approaching the threshold of cruelty.”

– Jacques Goddet, former Race Director.

As someone who wakes up and spends a while scrolling through their phone, checking Twitter like it’s a newspaper and preparing myself for the day, I saw a tweet in the morning that I wasn’t really expecting. It was from Matilda’s dad, Chris, saying that there was… rain? That couldn’t be right. Sure enough, I dared to look out the window, and there it rudely was. Rain. On Roubaix day. Not exactly a mixture I was hoping for. Nevertheless, the show must go on, and we made ourselves some coffee and eventually decided on an area to head to. I was definitely excited, my favourite one-day race of the year was here and I was seeing it, in person, for the first time. Better than being a child on Christmas morning right?

Fortunately, the weather improved the further south we travelled. Clouds were completely replaced by blue sky, and we parked up and walked through sector 25, the three-star Saint-Vaast, which was muddy from the rain, and slippery for those of us not even on bikes. Black on black wasn’t the smartest clothing choice for an abroad race that I’ve ever made, but even I knew despite this – the weather was boiling. As a pretty pale Brit, I would go so far as to say scorching, even. We settled on a grassy roadside with a large banking, on sector 26, passing the time before the caravan came through. This particular pavé was still 150km from the finish line, but held a harder ‘four-star’ ranking. (By the way, none of our predictions for the race came true. Not even on the podium. Maybe not even top-10. Oh well.)

 

Then came the joy of cycling races we all know and love – the caravan. The troupe of music-blaring vehicles that come before the main event, who hand out throw out hats and Haribo’s as they pass by. That filled a solid 15 or so minutes, as we still had to wait a couple of hours before seeing the break. But technically I was on holiday, so I didn’t mind.

Finally, along they came. You can always tell when the race is getting nearer, and it’s the approaching noise of the helicopter that gives it away. Then suddenly, it’s above you, and the break speeds past as if they haven’t been riding for 112km already. The peloton followed around 5 minutes later, and we ran back to sector 25. I’ve never had to climb through barbed wire before to experience a cycling race, but maybe I wasn’t being adventurous enough. They rode by once more, the break chased by the peloton, which had broken up even further as mechanicals and crashes had befallen riders; bike changes occurred just before us and ripped skinsuits were littered throughout the fragmented groups. One of the main things I love about this race is that everyone gets cheered with such passion. Sure, I know riders who have been dropped get cheered in other races, with their resilience to get back on something of an incentive for the crowd to be even louder, as if their voices could possibly carry them to the line, but it definitely felt stronger here.

 

So when the final cyclists rode through, we ventured back over cobbles and muddy roads to the car, making our way north this time – all the way to sector 2 – the last one before the Roubaix velodrome. Hem is a three star, 1.4km long section that only lies 8km from the finish. While waiting for the riders, it turned out we had beat the caravan here, so along came more hats for the waiting crowd on a now-cloudy sector.

 

It was certainly a sight to see the rainbow jersey-donned world champion, Peter Sagan – as well as the attacking force that was Dillier – leading after 54km on the front, still keeping the chasing groups away. The race was to be decided from this duo – Sagan sped away from Dillier in the final bend of the velodrome, claiming his first win in this Monument. Terpstra was the winner from the 4-man chasing group behind them, distancing the likes of 2016 winner Van Avermaet and ‘always-the-bridesmaid-never-the-bride’ Vanmarcke for the final spot on the podium.

And just like that, it was all over; my first Paris-Roubaix had finished. Want to re-live it with me? You’re in luck – Tilds and I vlogged it, which you can find here:

 

Has Roubaix further solidified its place as my favourite one-day race of the year? Definitely. Will I be going back? Absolutely. It truly is a race like no other.

Lastly, I would like to finish this blog post by saying RIP to Michael Goolaerts. I’ll be thinking of his loved ones and his team, Veranda’s Willems-Crelan.

#RobynsRandomRiders – WWT Edition

What’s #RobynsRandomRiders I hear you ask? Well let me tell you.

We all have riders we know and love. Cycling teams are becoming more creative with the way they gain and connect with fans, the #Wolfpack hashtag took off and now Quick-Step have new merchandise, while Orica-GreenEDGE’s BSP’s with Dan Jones are gone but never forgotten. We support certain riders throughout the season, and the season after that… and the season after that. It all gets a bit repetitive; so let’s break tradition.

How about spicing things up a bit, following riders that you might not have thought to follow before? How about, say, putting all names into a random generator and following the random rider it selected for you for the season? Well you’re lucky, because I’ve done it for you. I’ve already compiled a list of names for the men’s WT, and now it’s time for the women. (If you want to be added to this, let me know by either commenting on this or sending me a tweet over at @robyndavidsonxo).

So, without further ado, here’s the inaugural edition of #RobynsRandomRiders, for the WWT.

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Lauretta Hanson (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Women’s Team) – @robyndavidsonxo

Urska Bravec (BTC City Ljubljana)  @justprocycling

Alicia González (Movistar) – @bartoyuk

Ellen van Dijk (Team Sunweb) – @badgerbaroudeur

Monique van de Ree (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) – @KeejayOV2

Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling) – @GinaBally

Karin Penko (BTC City Ljubljana) – @matildaprice_

Alana Castrique (Lotto Soudal Ladies) – @audreydawicajo

Alexandra Manly (Mitchelton-Scott) – @WestemeyerSusan

Katrine Aalerud (Team Virtu Cycling) – @_HannahRoseMary

Shannon Malseed (Team Tibco-SVB) – @TheWorstTrip

Janelle Cole (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Women’s Team) – @Kerry13_

Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Valcar PBM) – @captain_canaway

Hannah Payton (Trek-Drops) – @o_ensan

Floortje Mackaij (Team Sunweb) – @emmaaum

Dalia Muccioli (Valcar PBM) – @lukascph

Brodie Chapman (Tibco-SVB) – @Pefo5

Kirsten Wild (Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling) – @ChrisRolfe16

Charlotte Bravard (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) – @NietNathan

Tanja Elsner (BTC City Ljubljana) – @BikeShrimp

Emma Cecilie Norsgaard (Cervélo–Bigla Pro Cycling) – @Sky_Blue_Neil

Nicolle Bruderer (Tibco-SVB) – @Nicanfo2000

Leah Thorvilson (Canyon-SRAM) – @TimBonvilleGinn

Jeidi Pradera (Astana Women’s Team) – @neilxca

Elizabeth Banks (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Women’s Team) – @VCAdelphi

Roxane Knetemann (Alé-Cipollini) – @adambecket

Jeanne Korevaar (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) – @InsidePeloton96

Annette Edmondson (Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling) – @velo_bristol

Francesca Pattaro (Bepink) – @KRUIJSWIJKGAAN

Lauren Kitchen (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) – @Spudacus12

Skylar Schneider (Boels-Dolmans) – @UlrichChevalley

Lucy Kennedy (Mitchelton-Scott) – @blakcate

Yara Kastelijn (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) – @perdom0

Sheyla Gutiérrez (Cylance Pro Cycling) – @EagleEyeEd

Erica Magnaldi (Bepink) – @dimsumwheels

Thea Thorsen (Hitec Products-Birk Sport) – @timhames

Karlijn Swinkels (Alé-Cipollini) – @YorkieExiled

Claire Rose (Cervélo–Bigla Pro Cycling) – @SteveGdfry

Lisa Klein (Canyon-SRAM) – @Alexmarr98

Katie Archibald (Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling) – @ThreeWeds

Sara Penton (Team Virtu Cycling Women) – @PeteJStanton

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So there we have it, follow your rider and let them know what’s happening with the hashtag #RobynsRandomRiders!

(Also I’m thinking about doing this for Conti level, so let me know if you’re interested)

Happy 2018 season!

Excitement and Expectations: A Look Ahead to the 2018 Season

It’s finally back. We’ve survived another long off-season, and it’s getting closer to being able to step off the turbo trainers and head for rides outside, leaving the base layers behind. The Tour Down Under has been and gone, yet we’re still jealous that riders are applying sunscreen on themselves at this time of year, but not necessarily the fact that they’re riding the not-so-entertaining Tour of Oman in the process. With a fresh season ahead of us, it’s time to knuckle down and get ready…

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So what’s there to look forward to so early? If you were extremely dedicated, set your alarms (plural, more than one is always necessary) and poured yourself some coffee before watching cycling on Australian time, Willunga Hill was definitely a season starting highlight. If, like me, track cycling has been your only form of entertainment this year, you’re probably yearning for some road action. The Perfs Pedal Race has just taken place, and eyes were on Tim Elverson’s team of Canyon Eisberg (formerly BIKE Channel Canyon, if you’re not used to the name change yet) to repeat their dominance here. After claiming the victory the past 2 years with Townsend in 2016 and Opie in 2017, they would gain their third consecutive win – Paton edged out Graham of Spirit Tifosi and Morvelo’s Marks on a windy course.

2018 also marks the season that I travel to watch some of the Classics. In April I’ll be heading to both Flanders and Roubaix with my friend Matilda, and we might just venture out into some vlogging. It feels like forever since I was last at a race (which, turns out, was the Tour of Britain in September), and I can’t wait to actually experience the Monuments for myself instead of watching them on TV. The chances riders take on the cobbles, the Belgian drinks and food on the roadside, the defending Flanders champion Gilbert hoping to retain the Flanders title. There’s also the Paterberg – now who among us wouldn’t pave the road outside our house in cobbles just so the race passes by our front door? You don’t have to travel far to see the action, and you get to remain a staple feature of Flanders history. Dedication. Paris-Roubaix is just the weekend after Flanders, and obviously I’ll be wishing Mat Hayman repeats his 2016 feat, hopefully without the broken arm five weeks prior, but if it works…

On to domestic cycling, and 2018 sees their Spring Cup Series shortened to 3 rounds, with Tour of the Wolds being cancelled while Chorley, East Cleveland Klondike and Lincoln remain throughout mid-April to mid-May. If I had to advise at least one to get yourselves down to – make sure it’s Lincoln on the 13th of May. Not only do riders scale the Michaelgate 13 times, and if you’re lucky the weather is pretty nice too, but the competition is incredibly fierce; the 2017 edition saw Ian Bibby of JLT achieve his first Lincoln win, while then-Bike Channel Canyon’s Rory Townsend’s second place on the day crowned him overall Spring Cup Series winner by 3 points. Simultaneously – the Lincoln GP marks the date that the National Women’s Road Series begins (9 rounds and equal prize money!), with Banks looking to defend her overall series title against the likes of Massey and Lowther.

 

 

 

The Grand Prix series is longer than the Spring Cup, comprised of the 5 rounds of Tour of the Reservoir, Bristol, Stockton, Leicester Castle Classic and Ryedale between June and August. After going to both Leicester and Ryedale, my favourite would be Leicester – it was much easier to get around more of the circuit, and with it being the last round of the Series in 2017, there were higher stakes on the line. Once again the Grand Prix Series last year was pretty close, the decider in Leicester began with just 5 points separating the top 2 riders in the overall standings of BCC’s Gardias and McEvoy of Madison Genesis on the start line.

 

 

The Tour de France. With the fate of the last winner uncertain at this moment in time, who else are we going to see contend for the yellow jersey in the staple of Grand Tours? Could 2018 be the year of Esteban Chaves? Hopefully; the smiling Colombian who easily marked himself as a fan favourite by joining forces with the Australian Orica-GreenEDGE, Orica-Scott, Mitchelton-Scott, has finished on the podium twice in Grand Tours, 2nd at the 2016 Giro d’Italia and 3rd at the Vuelta a España that same year. With his loyal teammates in Mathew Hayman and Sam Bewley alongside new recruits Nieve and Bauer to name just a few, there’s no doubt he’ll aim to make this year one to remember. The Tour de France is my favourite of Grand Tours – there’s something about it that seems to separate it from the others. For myself, the Giro d’Italia is usually during exam season, and while the Vuelta has produced some memorable moments, I just can’t shake those long transitional stages from my head. The Tour is different, it has Alpe d’Huez and the Champs-Élysées, the prominence of the jerseys, Didi the Devil, the fact it attracts a larger worldwide audience – and after travelling to see it twice last year – gives a definite party vibe. (Especially the Dutch Corner and Beefeater Bend).

 

 

 

Of course, La Course is a race to keep an eye out for too. While there’s currently no women’s equivalent of the Tour de France – or Roubaix for that matter – La Course is always enjoyable. While the format could be fixed further (I thought the 2017 ‘experiment’ was bizarre to say the least, the summit finish on the Col d’Izoard was great to watch, albeit short, and the time trial was only raced by 21 riders?) the 2018 edition should see riders such as Vos, Van Vleuten, Deignan and Niewiadoma tackle a 118km course, scaling the Col de Romme and the Col de la Colombière. No excuses for lack of televised women’s racing here – they’re on part of the same route as the men’s stage 10 of the Tour de France that same day.

Enjoy your cycling but don’t fancy being stuck in front of your screens for 7 hours a day throughout the whole month? The fast-paced nature of the National Circuit Series also provides great entertainment throughout the whole of July. Crits are short and definitely not sweet, with more corners, more technical elements and more crashes. But that’s what makes them exciting and fun to watch – plus there are six rounds centered primarily in the heart of England throughout the whole month, plenty of opportunities to get outside and watch some competitive domestic cycling.

Now it’s no secret the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of Britain generate some of the largest crowds for a British cycling race. But what makes them so special?

All the way back in 2014, the early stages of the Tour de France began in England, most notably – Yorkshire. What began as a Tour de France visit developed into a continued 3-day stage race in May that saw UCI Continental teams race alongside UCI World Tour teams. What’s not to love about it? The fact it’s up north, the publicity caravan, the flags, the crowds… most of these can apply to the Tour of Britain too, but the Tour of Yorkshire is a race to look forward to in its own right. I’m an atheist, but I can see why they call it God’s own country.

 

 

 

While the Tour of Britain in September is the last event in the British Major Events calendar, it always manages to end the season on a high. The Tour of Britain brings some of the best riders from around the world to our country, and travels further around Britain than the Tour de Yorkshire, with 8 stages for riders to contest. Again, UCI Continental teams race alongside the World Tour, but this time through points amassed from the start of the Spring Cup Series to the finish of the Ryedale Grand Prix. Last year’s edition brought the drama; abandons, crashes, disqualifications, photo finishes, retirements, highs and lows all throughout the eight-day period. I know I say this about a lot of events, but the Tour of Britain is definitely one to travel to.

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Needless to say, there are more races I’m looking forward to seeing; CiCLE Classic the day before my birthday in April, the Tour Series in May and the National Road Championships being contested in Northumberland at the start of July, as well as Sagan possibly going for 4 (because despite the numerous repetitive climbs, if anyone can, it would be Sagan) at the World Road Championships in September, and somebody different from Valverde winning La Flèche Wallonne this year. On that topic, it’ll also be interesting to see how Movistar cope with 3 leaders on their men’s team now with the addition of Landa alongside Quintana and Valverde, when the latter two haven’t always been so supportive of riding for the other. There’s also the newly formed Movistar women’s team – so keep an eye out for their 2016 Orica Scott/Astana kit mashup in the peloton. But enough about me. What are other people looking forward to this season?

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“I’m looking forward to watching Louis Rose-Davies and Isaac Mundy in the prems this season” – @matildaprice_

“So this year, I’m incredibly excited for the road season just to get going! There’s nothing better than rocking up at a race HQ and seeing everyone for the first time in ages, the dodgy tan lines from Calpe, the new kits and bikes, and everyone keen as hell to get on with it. From a Twitter point of view, it’ll be nice to talk about results and startlists and parcours, instead of this silly track nonsense!” – @CEUKFans

“Since I first saw the route, it’s been the Worlds in Austria. It’s been the first time I can remember that I’m more excited for that than any of the Grand Tours or classics. I can’t believe there won’t be a climber that won’t target the men’s seriously and it also gives a real test for the fantastic women’s climbers. Apart from that, the adventures of Superman Lopez have me on tenterhooks – I pray for his health every day, and he’s a future Grand Tour winner in the waiting. Watch out too for the overdue but welcome Movistar Women’s team.” – @KeejayOV2

“Call it wishful thinking, but I’m wondering if we’ll see a couple of first-time Grand Tour winners. On the women’s side of the sport, I’d love Niewiadoma to challenge the current Boels supremacy in the spring races and improve on her hat-trick of third places from 2017. From a personal point of view, I can’t wait for Strade Bianche – which I will be attending for the first time this year. My last wish would be a fast recovery for Luke Durbridge! – @JustProCycling

“I want a rainy Roubaix” – @InsidePeloton96

“More live women’s cycling coverage and an increased interest in general, which seems to be happening. I’m also really looking forward to CanyonSRAM (PFP and Kasia) actually challenging Boels in the Ardennes races this year. As for the men, Chaves back to top form and challenging for a GT and Lutsenko getting close in either Roubaix or Flanders.” – @JamieHaughey

“Strangely enough I’ve been feeling hyped about Nibali at Flanders. Usually I don’t care much about Flanders. I’m curious to see how Jungels, Meintjes and the Yates’ will ride. They were a generation that had total control over youth classifications for a few years, but now they’ve got to set different goals and different tactics to achieve them. Also, the top of the women’s peloton at Boels Ladies Tour and AGR. Hoping to see Chavito win the Giro, Van Vleuten the Giro Donne and Gracie Elvin some spring classics. – @badgerbaroudeur

“I want good weather for the first ever Tour of Germany after 10 years, so I’ll finally see a cycling race live without rain!” – @Benni1000

“I want justice for Aqua Blue Sport.” – @Spudacus12

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Hope you enjoy the 2018 season!

 

2017: A Season Review

Chorley Grand Prix | Chorley | 15th April

I kicked off the 2017 season with the race that’s closest to my front door; the Chorley Grand Prix was just a few minutes away from my home in Preston, and took place as the third event in the HSBC UK | Spring Cup Series. Chorley being named the “unhappiest place in the UK” according to the Office for National Statistics in 2016 doesn’t exactly warrant a large amount of tourism for the town. Yet despite the cold and at some points rainy weather, I was still impressed with the number of people that turned out to see Bibby take a solo win. Townsend of BIKE Channel Canyon secured the King of the Mountains competition for the day as Raleigh GAC’s Robbins secured the sprints, while his teammate Sanz retained his lead in the series standings.

Tour de Yorkshire | Harrogate | 29th April

After the Tour de France announced its plans to start in the UK for the 101st edition in 2014, I made sure my family would make a day of it at one of the stages. While it seems common for many cyclists to be influenced to take up the sport by their parents, no-one close to me had been the main reason. It was in fact through watching the journey of the women’s team pursuit squad of Laura Trott, Dani King and Joanna Rowsell at the London Olympics in 2012 that I was inspired to make my way down to the Manchester Velodrome, joining Eastlands and then Sportcity Velo. While I don’t ride on the track anymore, my love for cycling in its many forms is still there – and has fortunately relayed to my parents too. Which is lucky, as I’m not the one insured to drive their car to cycling races, and I’m sure they don’t miss the 6am Saturday starts just to sit down and watch me on the track for 3 hours. I have found the Tour de Yorkshire to be one of the most enjoyable races of the season, despite the fact crowds are left waiting hours to see just a few seconds of the riders as they come past, the atmosphere itself is unmatched. After coming to Yorkshire initially in 2014, then again in 2015 and 2017, it’s easy to see why the event attracts so much attention. The publicity caravans in all their bright colours and loud music throw hats and sweets to the crowd, just like at the Tour de France. The weather might not always be the best, but the spectators sure are. You’ll find people there are easy to talk to; I’ve been offered numerous cups of coffee and even on one occasion, some sunscreen, in exchange for some conversation between the caravan and the time the riders come through. The 2017 edition was no different, yet this time I found myself talking to the legendary Gary Imlach. No stranger to the camera, he eventually got through some outtakes and finished the opening sequence for the day’s coverage on ITV, before making his way to speak to those who had questions for him. After watching the next kilometres unfold on one of the big screens along the finishing straight, my parents and I were able to sit in front of the podium next to the finish line before the riders came through. Bouhanni (Cofidis) managed to outsprint Ewan (Orica) to win the stage, with Tanfield of BIKE Channel Canyon being named most combative on the day. One of the most successful UCI Continental teams at the Tour de Yorkshire, they achieved a third place finish from Opie on stage one, as well as two combativity awards with Tanfield and then Gardias on the final stage, and a rider in the break every day.

 

Lincoln Grand Prix | Lincoln | 14th May

The sun shone down at Lincoln, as my friend Matilda and I took a break from university revision to make a weekend of the final race in the Spring Cup Series. Alice Barnes retained her win from 2016, finishing the women’s 8 lap circuit ahead of Nelson (Team Breeze), winning in a similar style to Bibby of JLT who would take the men’s race. Full race review here. Lincoln was a great race to watch, not only was it good attacking continental cycling – one of the aspects I love most about the sport – but the warm weather made a change from earlier races in the season. Apparently it rained for the few minutes Matilda and I were getting lunch, but we could only tell for the sudden puddles on the floor after coming out of the café we’d gone in to. The majority of the day we spent on the cobbled climb of the Michaelgate, which I didn’t envy the riders having to scale 13 times that day. Walking up it just a few times was enough for me. Eventually we moved from the climb to the finish line, and found that the city centre was also full of people who had found themselves coming out of local pubs to watch the cycling unfold outside. That’s one of the good aspects of having a Grand Prix in the middle of a busy city, even if you’re there by chance, you’ll want to watch to know what’s going on, and there was a lot going on in this race. The Spring Cup Series was yet to be decided on the start line, and Bibby’s refusal to drop a gear after the final climb up the Michaelgate finally resulted in his first Lincoln Grand Prix win, with Townsend of BIKE Channel Canyon finishing 2nd and Holmes of Madison Genesis rounding off the podium on the day.

The results of the Lincoln Grand Prix meant Townsend won the overall for the Spring Cup Series, ahead of Bibby and Sanz.

 

Tour de France | Dusseldorf | 28th June – 3rd July

In my opinion, the Grand Départ signified the line between the old beliefs of German cycling (or cycling in general), and the new. While the symbolism of Tony Martin in the maillot jaune in Germany for the Tour de France would have been symbolic, having the yellow jersey on the (somewhat surprised) shoulders of Geraint Thomas as the first Welshman to wear it was also a sight to see. It was a pleasure to see Le Tour with people who love the sport and appreciate it just as equally as myself, and I was happy to experience the new acceptance of cycling in Germany, in person.

I remember the 2012 Tour de France. Not because I watched Wiggins winning, but actually because of the Wiggins/Froome drama that seemed to occupy my timeline and the daily news. So the first Tour de France that I actually sat and watched the whole way through was in 2013. I was instantly hooked. I remember watching it from start to finish, much to my dad’s (then) annoyance that I was taking up the TV for 6 hours a day on the same channel. He’s come around in that time though, telling me to shout him through when it’s 1km to go, only to walk through with 10km to go and staying anyway. My mum would be there the whole time – she loves cycling just as much, if not more than me.

The Tour de France seems to elicit much more drama than any other Grand Tour. With falling 1km banners, leadership drama, punches and controversial crashes, something will happen almost every day. I say almost as those transitional Grand Tour stages are enough to make anyone despair. No matter how many random facts commentators on both Eurosport and ITV can throw at viewers, or how many times Carlton Kirby can come out with classic Kirby phrases, those transitional stages are something else. But the Tour de France happens to fall conveniently when I finished with college or now, the university year, unlike like the Giro d’Italia which I found myself still watching through my university exams, or the Vuelta a España that reminds me cycling season is practically over. This year I travelled to the start in Dusseldorf with my 3 friends: Matilda, Kerry and Gina. Keejay joined us the day after. We all found ourselves becoming friends through a combined enjoyment of watching people suffer for numerous hours a day on a bike, as well as cycling ourselves. After arriving in Dusseldorf, Tilds, Kerry and I were waiting for Gina’s flight to land. It was here we saw an airport filled with tourists and cyclists, from team chefs to Quintana sitting by himself next to his suitcase for what eventually felt like hours. Really, why was no-one there for him?

A few years ago, having the Tour de France starting in Düsseldorf would be something of an urban myth. The sport was damaged, in general and also in Germany, which had stopped broadcasting the Tour de France in 2012. The numerous doping cases of Armstrong, Zabel, Sinkewitz and Vinokourov, to name but a few, had proved too much. Yet where there was a will, there was a way, and the determination of younger German cyclists banding together, such as Martin, Degenkolb, Kittel and Greipel helped pave the way for a belief in cleaner cycling.

One of my favourite moments this season stems from the team presentation on the 29th of June. After rolling down the ramp from the presentation on the stage, teams would make their way along the Rhine and head to their accommodation. Mathew Hayman stopped to talk to us, and seemed pretty happy when I told him his Paris-Roubaix win was my favourite cycling result of all time. (It still is.) Durbridge pulled up alongside him, and asked us if there were any good bars around. Unfortunately, he would crash out of the Tour de France during the individual time trial on stage 1, maybe not in relation to wanting to get to a good bar in Düsseldorf, but I didn’t ask him after. We also got the chance to talk to the happiest cyclist in the peloton – that being Esteban Chaves – and the cool-as-ever Bernie Eisel, before Taylor Phinney stopped to talk and take photos with us.

We later made our way to the Mythos Tour de France exhibition, complete with wall-mounted past jerseys, rider portraits, classic photograph moments and blood bags attached to an enlarged L’Equipe cover on the Festina affair, followed by the live recording of the Cycling Podcast, with the special guest of Paul Voß.

The 1st of July brought hammering rain onto the streets of Dusseldorf, but spirits weren’t dampened. World Champion and TT master Tony Martin, one of Germany’s greatest cyclists, was expected to win the time trial in his home country and take the first yellow jersey of 2017. He had worn the yellow jersey only once before in his life, in the 2015 Tour after stage 4 saw him break away on the cobbled stage to take the win. (He would crash out the next day while wearing the yellow jersey.) Every rider was cheered down the start ramp and around the full length of the course, but you knew when it was Tony Martin’s turn. The cheering got louder, beers were raised in the air as he shot past in his rainbow skinsuit, managing 4th overall in the wet conditions that brought down Valverde of Movistar to name just one casualty. It would actually be Welshman Geraint Thomas of Team Sky who took the stage – beating teammate Chris Froome with a time of 16:04. Of course, we were ecstatic. A Brit winning on the first stage? Getting the first yellow jersey? In Germany? We loved every single minute of it, even though not everyone in the busy German town square felt that way. Understandable of course – as Tony Martin had been the favourite, and also one of my favourite riders for a few years now. It must’ve hurt.

We saw the riders roll out on stage 2 as we headed to the Canyon pop-up store. They held numerous bikes on display, from Quintana’s Giro pink coloured Ultimate CF SLX to Cadel Evans’ Ultimate CF Pro, complete with a kangaroo on the stem and Australian flag details. Our final day consisted of just having to see the Specialized pop-up store. The free coffee on arrival was heaven, as we watched Tour repeats on the screen upstairs while browsing even more bikes – from Armistead’s Amira to Cancellera’s Tarmac – and Düsseldorf merchandise that we just had to purchase. (Find a more detailed blog post on my time in Düsseldorf here.)

 

Tour de France | Pau | 11th July – 14th July

I was lucky enough to make my way back to the Tour de France just over a week later, this time travelling to Pau in France with my parents, and even luckier to have VIP wristbands.

For the 11th stage, the peloton raced from Eymet to Pau, and as we were watching the action unfold on one of the big screens on the finishing straight – a staple feature of most cycling races – we were invited backstage to see the production of it all. Technical zones, to spaces where video interviews are conducted, it was really interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes. There was also a lot of cables. Cables everywhere. More cables than floor space. My mum and I then headed back to the finishing straight to see the Orica bus pass safely under the line – no repeat of 2013 there.

Another thing I enjoy about cycling races is the excitement that builds when you’re waiting for riders to come sprinting down the final few hundred metres, not helped by the official ‘Red Car’ pulling up at the finish line meaning that they’ll be coming anytime soon. I remember the heartbreak for Bodnar of Bora, reeled back in with only 200m to the finish line after being abandoned by fellow breakaway companions with 23km to go and launching an impressive solo attempt, before Kittel took yet another sprint win.

After the hectic finale we got treated to free glasses of champagne. Well, it would’ve been rude not to.

The 12th stage started in Pau the next day, and I got to see the neutral start before the flag dropped. This marked the end of my Tour de France journey for 2017, as my parents and I spent the rest of the day heading to the Pyrénées. We eventually found out we could’ve spent more time there, as our flight from Pau > Charles de Gaulle got cancelled, then finally rescheduled to Orly all because of Donald Trump being in Paris, but the time we spent there was lovely.

 

Ryedale GP | Ampleforth | 6th August

I’m not entirely sure how I convinced my parents to come to the Ryedale Grand Prix, 2 hours away from Preston, but somehow it worked. The weather wasn’t the most inviting – it was raining at times, and in the moments it wasn’t raining, it was incredibly windy. Unfortunately, as most women’s races seem to start before the men’s at a very early time in the morning, we got there after being held up in traffic. We managed to catch all the action from the men’s race however, from Moses (JLT) and Lowsley-Williams (BIKE Channel Canyon) breaking away as a duo, to the latter retiring due to back cramps, to the commentator telling the crowd over a loudspeaker something along the lines of that certain struggling riders would “probably pull out now, they’re really far behind, no point carrying on” … just as the riders would pass him. They definitely heard.

It was also at Ryedale we made friends with the lovely Ken and Diane from the area. We shared similar opinions on favourite riders and teams, and they also had 2 dogs that just seemed to be loving the race. One thing that really touched me was them wanting to make Ryedale an annual event with us – something which I would love to do, and I have cycling to thank for this!

 

Leicester Castle Classic | Leicester | 13th August

The Leicester Castle Classic was really important for me, not only was it the closest race to my university at Loughborough, but it was the race I started guest blogging for BIKE Channel Canyon (which you can find here) thanks to Hugh McManus and Rob Atkins.

The day wasn’t exactly stress free, at the start line Gardias of BIKE Channel Canyon was just 5 points ahead of Madison Genesis rider McEvoy. During the race a fight broke out on course as a man couldn’t cross over due to oncoming riders, he got pushed back across just in time, before riders shot past in front of him. It was in that same area Madison Genesis riders would crash, while later on a spectator would cross the road, in front of an oncoming rider, causing him to crash and ultimately end his race – which he was leading.

Gardias needed to finish no more than 2 places behind the Madison Genesis rider to take the overall of the Grand Prix Series, but he would ultimately finish just 3 places behind McEvoy on the line, one point as the overall difference. Despite the setback, the Tour of Britain was less than a month away, and it was announced BIKE Channel Canyon would line up alongside fellow UCI Continental teams of JLT-Condor, One Pro Cycling and Madison Genesis.

 

Tour of Britain | Scarborough | 5th September

One of the most important races in cycling calendars, the Tour of Britain never disappoints. It’s always enjoyable watching domestic teams mixed in with World Tour riders, they’re frequently on the attack to contest in King of the Mountains and sprints competitions, as well as getting themselves airtime to showcase their talents to people that might not have seen domestic racing before. Of course, I’m slightly biased here – BIKE Channel Canyon asked me to guest blog for them again during the eight-day race, so my focus was on breakaways which they covered throughout the race. It was a busy event for the team, collecting points in all categories, a 7th place finish on a sprint stage and a combativity award, as well as Opie’s abandonment, Lowsley-Williams disqualification and then Partridge’s retirement after the last stage. There was also a top 14 finish in the time trial from Tanfield, as the highest placed non-WT rider of the day. Not too bad for a rider on a single gear in a different skinsuit!

I first visited the Tour of Britain in Bristol during the 2016 race, and was pretty shocked at the close proximity of all the riders; they had to stay in the same area after the time trial as they still had a circuit race to complete a few hours later. In that time, Tom Dumoulin asked me how to pronounce descent, Tony Martin came riding past in his then-Quick-Step world championship kit, and Rohan Dennis seemed happy to warm down on his rollers outside the BMC team bus.

Always a popular event, crowds didn’t disappoint at the Tour of Britain in 2017 either. Schoolchildren waved flags and posters, and typical British weather didn’t seem to deter many people during any of the stages. I made my way to Scunthorpe for the finish of stage 3, and although the weather was pretty gloomy at the start, the sun started to appear just as the riders were getting closer to the sprint finish. Ewan (Orica-Scott) took the stage win ahead of Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) and Kristoff (Katusha). Tanfield won the combativity award for his efforts in the break on that day. You can find a full Tour of Britain race review here.

 

Track World Cup | Manchester | 12th November

A year after we had travelled to Glasgow for our first Track World Cup event, Kerry, Matilda and I travelled to the Manchester Velodrome for the 2017 edition in November. I love going to velodromes as the enclosed space makes for louder applauses and the fast nature of events means there’s always something to watch. Session 4 was from 6:30pm, and included the likes of the men’s sprint and omnium, as well as the women’s keirin and 500m time trial. We got to see a double gold for Great Britain, with the men’s team pursuit beating Denmark, and Archibald and Barker pairing up to beat Belgium in the Madison. Keirin queen Kristina Vogel won yet another title, and the British Team KGF proved there’s more ways to get to the top than just through British Cycling.

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2017 saw a mixture of road cycling to track cycling, watching both domestic and World Tour events, abroad and at home, with my family and with my friends, I had an enjoyable year that was topped off by getting into cyclo-cross for the first time. If I had to pick a few favourites, it would be the sunny and spontaneous Lincoln Grand Prix (Matilda asked me if I wanted to go just 2 days before. Of course I’d say yes), getting to blog for BIKE Channel Canyon at the eventful Tour of Britain and travelling to the iconic Tour de France with some of my closest friends, and then my parents. I, for one, can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store!

 

2017: Ryedale Grand Prix

The Ryedale Grand Prix was the 3rd event in the HSBC | UK Grand Prix Series for the men, and the final round of the National Women’s Road Series for the women, with two sprint finishes on the day. Massey (Drops) was able to hold off Sharpe (NCC Group-Kuota-Torelli) and Storey Racing, while a bike throw from Ollie Wood of Team Wiggins edged out Madison Genesis rider Matt Holmes on the line.

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From left: Matt Holmes, Ollie Wood, Graham Briggs.

Holmes’ teammate McEvoy was leading the standings after the Stockton Grand Prix by 14 points from Ian Bibby of JLT Condor. Twice a winner at Ryedale in 2015 and 2016, the Lancastrian would not be aiming for a hat-trick of wins – instead he’s in the line-up at the Volta a Portugal, while teammate Ed Clancy replaces him. 2016 series winner Lawless would not be on hand for points to defend his overall title – the sprinter moved from JLT to Axeon-Hagens Berman for the 2017 season.

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Ed Clancy of JLT Condor, wearing the #1 instead of teammate Ian Bibby.

Just as the women’s race in the morning had seen a long breakaway from Mottram (NCC Group-Kuota-Torelli), a lengthy early break awaited Moses (JLT Condor) and Lowsley-Williams, or ‘Hank’ (Bike Channel Canyon). Due to the strong pairing, the duo found it easy to amass a gap over the peloton of over 5 minutes at one point, until lower back cramps forced Hank to abandon as the gap started to be closed by One Pro Cycling and Madison Genesis. Moses, who won the second stage at the Tour of the Reservoir, carried on until eventually being caught with 2 laps to go.

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James Lowsley-Williams and Tom Moses.

Madison-Genesis were keen to make a last break attempt on the final lap but Handley was caught and reeled back in as a group of 8 riders then managed to contest for the win. On the final hill sprint up towards the finish it looked like Holmes would secure the win, but Woods caught and passed him on the line with a perfectly timed bike throw. Briggs was able to round out the podium (JLT-Condor) after finishing 3rd, just ahead of Oram (One Pro Cycling) and Gardias (Bike Channel Canyon).

The Leicester Castle Classic on the 13th is the final event in the series. Current leader Gardias is on 70 points, yet McEvoy of Madison-Genesis is only 5 points behind, with Briggs of JLT in 3rd with 51. The Grand Prix Series is still open, with the last race not one to miss.

Tour of Britain Qualification

Through the East Klondike GP that marked the start of the HSBC UK Spring Cup Series to the end of the Ryedale GP, UCI Continental teams have been amassing points to qualify for the Tour of Britain. One method of point collection in a race is based off the highest placed rider’s finishing position. As a result, the top four of JLT Condor, Madison-Genesis, Bike Channel Canyon and One Pro Cycling have all qualified for the OVO Energy Tour of Britain, meaning they now have the opportunity to race on home ground alongside WorldTour teams. Recently the promotion of RideLondon to WorldTour status meant domestic teams could no longer ride one of the biggest home events on their calendar – yet the hard work demonstrated throughout the start of the season has given these top 4 Continental teams a worthy spot alongside the best.

JLT started strong with Ian Bibby becoming the first British winner of the Bay Classic Series, winning the first stage and the overall against teammate Gibson and Ewan of Orica-Scott. Continuing their success in Oceania, from Australia to New Zealand, the team won 3 out of 5 stages at the New Zealand Cycle Classic with Frame and Mould. Closer to home, Gullen won the An Post Rás ahead of Australian Meyer and Groen of Delta Cycling Rotterdam.

Another domestic team at the Tour of Britain will be Bike Channel Canyon. They had a successful Tour of Yorkshire, with a man in the break for every stage as well as Opie sprinting to 3rd in the opening stage bunch sprint. Tanfield and Gardias were also wearers of the combative/digital jersey, decided by members of the public. Away from Yorkshire, Townsend took the win at the Spring Cup Series earlier in the year and finished second at Midden Brabant-Poort Omloop, while Tanfield most recently finished second behind de Kleijn at Antwerpse Havenpijl. The team are solidifying their status as one of the best ranked teams at continental level, and it’ll be interesting to see how they perform at the Tour of Britain.

One Pro Cycling are a prominent figure in the British cycling scene, having already experienced Professional Continental level before stepping back down to UCI Continental. Kristian House is retiring at the end of the season, and the Tour of Britain already provides him with good memories. The King of the Mountains in 2012 spent 6 out of 8 stages in the break – yet was only rewarded with the combativity award the year later. With this his last edition of the Tour, don’t be surprised to see ‘The Dude’ on the attack.

While Madison-Genesis are the final team to qualify for the Tour of Britain, Team Raleigh and Wiggins have missed out – with Wiggins also not being invited to the Tour de Yorkshire this year. They found success in Grand Prix events however – with Wood winning at Ryedale and Latham at Klondike.

 

The Sagan Show’s Saving Cycling… At Just The Right Time

“I don’t care if he wins the green jersey another five times. He’s definitely the best guy out there, he can win on every parcours. He’s good for our sport because he attracts people from outside cycling. You like it or you don’t. I think he’s just cool. Other riders say they don’t have time for such fun, but he just does it.” – Bernie Eisel of Dimension Data, teammate of one of Sagan’s biggest competitors in the Tour de France, Mark Cavendish.

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Unsurprisingly, the Sagan we’ve come to know and love (Cavendish maybe excluded) was always some form of character in cycling. Starting at age 9, he would frequently race in tennis shoes and t-shirts. At the Slovak Cup as a junior, after selling his bike and not getting another from his sponsor in time, he had to borrow his sister’s to race on. He won. After winning the Mountain Bike Junior World Championship in 2008, he joined Quick-Step for road testing in 2009 but failed to gain a contract. Temporarily quitting road cycling until his parents convinced him to start again, he would go on to become one of the greatest cyclists of the modern era. Here’s why we should be thankful he did, and how he’s helping save a sport almost ruined by its past…

Blunder Turned Thunder at the Tour Down Under

His first Pro Tour race could’ve started better, as the young rider was involved in a crash on the second stage in Australia. However, showing true determination at just 19-years-old, he carried on with 17 stitches in his arm and thigh – to attack on the Willunga queen stage just 3 days later. Alongside Cadel Evans, Luis León Sánchez and Alejandro Valverde, they broke away to contest the win, with Sagan finishing just 6 seconds behind winner Sánchez.

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Photo: Kei Tsuji

His… Unique Celebrations

It only took 2 days at the 2012 Tour de France for Sagan to claim his first stage win, and in true Sagan fashion, he celebrated rather interestingly. Beating prologue winner and yellow jersey wearer Cancellara to the line, he pulled some form of chicken dance after the finish. He topped this just two days later, after winning stage 3 and demonstrating his Forrest Gump inspired celebration.

The other evening my teammates and I decided that if I won again, I’d do it like Forrest Gump: when they told him to run, he ran; when they tell me to win, I win. I like doing something that makes people smile. When I watch sport on the TV, I’ve always liked it when someone adds a touch of fun to their victories, like Valentino Rossi does. Now that I’m winning, I try to do the same thing.

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Source: cyclingweekly.com

Not a stage win celebration, but it was at the fourth stage of the Tour de France in 2015 that after an intermediate sprint, Sagan joked to Greipel, Degenkolb, Rolland and Cavendish to form a breakaway. Degenkolb laughed as Greipel eventually caught on, with Rolland behind missing the joke completely and Cavendish not looking at Sagan while the peloton caught up with them.

Peter’s partial to a wheelie, too. Pulling one while grabbing some cookies at the Tour of California, or no handed in the world champion jersey while training. Most impressively, no handed while climbing up Alpe d’Huez in 2013. What can he not do?

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Gunning for Green

It seems like only a (right or wrong?) jury decision to take Sagan out of the Tour de France will stop him from obtaining yet another points classification jersey. He started strong back in 2012, winning a bet with the Liquigas management that he’d win two stages and the green jersey. He won the jersey, 3 stages and a Porsche. His 2013 victory in the points classification at the 100th Tour was certainly one of the most memorable – turning up next to an unsuspecting yellow jersey-donned Froome on stage 21 with a green beard and afro was a sight to behold.

Sagan beard

Source: dailymail.co.uk

If that wasn’t enough, here’s Sagan getting hands-on with a teammate.

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Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Despite being keen for green, the world champion Sagan’s stage 2 win of the 2016 Tour saw him put on the yellow jersey for the first time in his career. Instead of showing off some new celebration, Sagan used his time in the yellow jersey spotlight to tell fellow riders his displeasure at their risk-taking and called for respect in the peloton.

Everyone rides as if they don’t care about life… in this moment I’m not an important rider in peloton [to change things]. Nobody cares. It’s as if they lost their brains. I don’t know what has happened.

With his prominence in the points classification, the 4-time winner was surely a shoe-in to win in 2017? This year, the Tour de France took a different turn. Initially it was a close shave for a stage win; Sagan at first thought he attacked too early on stage 3, and went on to unclip as he started to sprint. But that’s right – he unclipped and still won a sprint.

“I decided to go, I guess it was too early – it was 400m to go. It was far away, in the moment, I said ‘f–k, again too early’. Then I started my sprint, and as I pushed – I pulled my feet out from the cleat. It was another mistake, I was like, ‘what is happening today?’”

Unfortunately for Sagan, that’s where his Tour success ended. Stage 4 ended in a sprint finish, but a messy one at that. Originally with the helicopter shot, it was thought Sagan elbowed Cavendish into the barrier, causing him to crash. Yet the head-on angle conveyed the fact that Sagan’s elbow came out after Cavendish was already falling and unclipping. Surely a penalty of relegation on the stage and points taken off would be enough?

Not for Dimension Data. Despite messy sprinting and crashes being part and parcel of cycling… (Cavendish and Gerrans, 2012? Cavendish and Veelers 2013? Cavendish and Viviani 2016?) the jury decided Sagan was to be thrown out of the Tour de France. So, right or wrong decision? It seems cycling fans are split.

“Take your time and watch the replay in slow-motion. Then forget about Peter and Cav. Focus on Demarre. [sic] He is the first to change trajectory. So when we start punish people- maybe consider him first. His move almost crashed Bouhanni, he is trying to save himself and moves Sagan. 

“Then Sagan moves over to the right and there is no space for nobody left. Its either be safe and break and lose, or maybe win or crash.

“So in my private opinion-the disqualification is too much. I am ok with -80 points in green jersey, last place [for the stage] and a time-penalty for Sagan.” – Jens Voigt.

Fighting Alongside Froome

To many people after the prominent figure of Bradley Wiggins as Team Sky’s once-leading cyclist, Froome appeared more reserved, more calm – seemingly the opposite of the extremely outgoing Slovakian? Yet Sagan is a personality in cycling that appears to appeal to the masses, and the two have shared a lot together in cycling. Podiums at the Tour de France, fun interview moments and breakaways on sprint stages.

In 2015, the pair were on the podium together in Paris, alongside white jersey winner Nairo Quintana. Sagan had some fun on the stage, pretending his trophy was a machine gun and bowing to the pair. Froome laughed, poor Quintana wasn’t exactly too sure what was going on.

It took many by surprise when, on a windy sprint stage 11 of the Tour de France in 2016, the unlikely pair suddenly attacked and worked together with 10km to go alongside teammates Thomas (Sky) and Bodnar (Tinkoff). By the time sprint trains had tried to organise themselves better and catch the quartet, Sagan had already won the stage while Froome placed 2nd, gaining valuable bonus seconds over his GC rivals.

He also likes to ‘video-bomb’ interviews. Whether it’s appearing over Nibali’s shoulder and nodding to everything he says, finishing an interview with Laura Meseguer then abruptly resting his chin on Greipel’s shoulder, walking over to Froome mid-interview just to put his arm around his shoulder, or interrupting another Froome interview just to say “Froomey! How are you?”, he does it all. When Froome replied “what happened, you didn’t win today man?”, the pair laughed as Sagan would channel Kellan Froome 2 years later, and try to steal Froome’s hat. (Chris’s son would succeed, however.)

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At Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, he bluntly told a reporter that it’s just “normal for people to go to the toilet”, before an interesting interview alongside Sep Vanmarcke. Beginning in typical Sagan show stealing fashion, he lowered his chair to the absolute minimum, then went on to ask Sep straight out “why didn’t you attack?”

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Tackling Tinkoff’s Threats

A poor start and lack of major results at the beginning of 2015 caused Oleg Tinkov to threaten to cut Sagan’s salary, while the team chef left at the Giro next year due to “threats and other inexcusable behaviour”. With this kind of environment, some could have struggled, under the pressure of a loss of income and management from a xenophobic sexist. It’s true that his season started on the back foot; he was in the lead group at E3 with 4.4km to go before being unable to follow Thomas’s attack and slipped from podium hopeful to 30th position. Yet despite this, Sagan soon appeared to perform better than ever. A surprise stage win ahead of van Emden in the time trial at the Tour of California awaited him, while he would go on to win the overall by millimetres – a bike throw gave him necessary bonus seconds over Alaphilippe of Quick-Step by 3 seconds. Amends for his lack of a contract in 2009, perhaps?

When Tinkoff folded at the end of 2016, as Sagan attacked solo and won the World Championships in Richmond, he joined teammates Bodnar, Kolar and brother Juraj at Bora-Hansgrohe.

Peter the Performer 

While one Sunroot advert shows him demonstrating his impressive bike talents, (wheelies, descending, bunny hopping up some stairs), it is perhaps the other one that generates the most interest. In the style of Gladiator, with his long hair flouncing and holding a sword, he eventually kicks down his competitor. The mise en scène then switches to Pulp Fiction style, with Sagan and his wife interpreting the dance scene. It’s… interesting to say the least. His latest advert with Bora is less extravagant. Turns out even someone like Peter Sagan can’t dress up and interpret many films to sell Bora.

Love him, hate him, or just impartial to him, it’s hard to admit that this man hasn’t had some form of an impact on cycling. After a while it only seemed the news was full of negative press about the sport, and while cyclists like Kittel and Martin are doing well for the sport in Germany, and Froome improving the sport in Britain, Sagan is definitely a figure that appeals worldwide. It’s easy to see why. While I haven’t agreed with all of Sagan’s actions (like that time Sagan pinched a podium girl’s behind and she was “frozen to the spot” trying hard to keep calm…), it looks like cycling is becoming Sagan’s show, and we’re lucky to witness it. Cycling needs a personality like him. I’ll end this post with one of my favourite Sagan quotes, away from the cycling circus. Feel free to add your own.

“The problems in the world we have to change… I think that in the next years it can all be different. I think this competition and all the sport is very nice for the people. And we are motivation for the people. The situation is very difficult. I want to say to all the people: change this world.”

 

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Stage 9: Nantua > Chambéry

“I guess the organisers got what they wanted.” – Dan Martin, Quick-Step Floors, after his crash with Richie Porte.

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Where the previous stages had lacked action, stage 9 held nothing back. Crashes, interestingly timed attacks and a day that culminated in yet another photo finish were all part of the action of the world’s greatest bike race.

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Source: BBC.co.uk

What do you get when you pack rain, three unclassified climbs, an intermediate sprint, a category 2, two category 3, and a category 4 climb into one day? Mayhem.

Sky appeared to start the day on the back foot as the only team not represented in the 38-man breakaway. They continued to control the peloton, while Démare was out the back once again, with 2 teammates for company. Once more FDJ ran the risk of losing multiple riders in the aid of Démare, who eventually flagged his teammates to go ahead without him. A crash on the descent of the Col de la Biche left Thomas (Sky) sitting on the road, a suspected broken collarbone putting an end to his Tour de France, and for the second time this year – an injury taking him out of a Grand Tour. The Col de la Biche was a real biche.

With Movistar and Sky both losing riders, AG2R were on the offensive. They knew the roads and had targeted today for a stage win, preferably in the form on young French rider Bardet, but not before Gautier missed a turn and rode off the road. A touch of wheels between Contador and Quintana saw Contador hit the ground for the second time that day, losing even more time as he swung back and forth on his bike in an effort to get back on.

At the front, Barguil (Sunweb) was riding himself into the polka dot jersey, distancing Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and cresting the Grand Colombier. With the intermediate sprint coming up, Matthews ensured his group bridged to the leaders. This 12-man leading group contained the likes of Geschke, Barguil and Matthews (Sunweb) and AG2R riders Vuillermoz and Bakelants – the latter recently forced to apologise after his comments about podium girls. Matthews won the intermediate sprint with a lack of contest, in the absence of his closest contenders for the green jersey – Kittel and Greipel understandably disliked today’s climbs, and Démare was still slowly cycling backwards.

Back in the peloton there was some controversy – Froome suffered a mechanical and raised his arm, which Aru promptly rode under to launch an attack with Quintana. Then was that Froome shutting the door on Aru later on? It was said later in the stage that Porte had actually neutralised Aru’s attack due to the timing of Froome’s mechanical. Who said they were enemies after the Dauphiné? Contador (Trek) was dropped as the amount of attacks from the front of the group rose, with only Froome (Sky), Porte (BMC), Uran (Cannondale), Bardet (AG2R) and Martin (Quick-Step) able to break away. They were just over 30 seconds down on leader Barguil who scaled the Mont du Chat to further his lead in the King of the Mountains standings. It was on the descent that Porte accidentally rode into the grass on the left hand side, before crashing back onto the road and harshly into the rock wall, taking Martin with him. An unnecessary number of replays followed while the remaining riders continued the descent, with Porte staying on the ground and receiving medical assistance while it appeared Martin got up and carried on until the end. Definitely out of another Grand Tour, I only hope Porte recovers quickly. A tenacious, determined rider, he is one who deserves to win a general classification.

The Frenchmen united up ahead as Bardet caught Barguil in the closing kilometres, while Uran suffered behind. His mechanical meant he could only ride on 2 gears, with his hanger bent and shifting broken. He powered on and by the time the group reached the final kilometre, they were all together. It looked like Fuglsang (Astana) could take the win, but he faded in the final few hundred metres, with Barguil surging forward and seemingly take the win from Uran by millimetres. Or so he thought…

A recurring theme in this year’s Tour de France, yet another deliberation over a photo finish was needed. While the stage was originally awarded to Barguil, who cried tears of joy (and possibly relief) and was shown to the ‘winner’s seat’, it was then retracted and awarded to Uran. Not bad for a team who recently went 2 years without a World Tour win. You know what they say about buses…

Thankfully, for both the viewers and the riders, tomorrow is a rest day. Chris Froome is still defending yellow, with Aru his closest rival at 18 seconds behind.

Talking Points:

  • When will Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte have a successful Grand Tour? With Geraint’s motorbike crash forcing him to abandon the Giro earlier this year, and Porte being unable to compete in the 2014 Giro due to illness, as well as that 2-minute incident in the 2015 Giro that docked him precious time before he crashed out, it’s looking like the pair are quite unlucky. It’s worth noting however, Porte gained a solid 5th place in the Tour de France last year.
  • The “unspoken” rule. Attacking when your fellow riders are in trouble with a mechanical – unsportsmanlike, or part of racing?
  • The losses for FDJ. It was going so well for Démare. Stage winner, green jersey wearer turned OTL on stage 9. It wasn’t just the green jersey FDJ had lost though, with a total of 4 riders (including Guarnieri, Delage and Konovalovas) not reaching the finish line in time. Is this because they spent too long with struggling Démare, or were they feeling the effects too?
  • Who’s getting the green jersey? With Sagan – quite possibly a shoe-in for the maillot vert – disqualified after stage four after that controversial decision, and current holder Démare now out of the race too, the competition is looking fierce for the first time in a few years. With Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) the current wearer, and the race heading through more mountains, this could change. Hot on his heels are Matthews (Sunweb), Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) to name but a few.

General Classification:

  1. Christopher Froome (Team Sky): 38:26:28
  2. Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team): + 0:00:18
  3. Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale): + 0:00:51
  4. Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) + 0:00:55
  5. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana Pro Team) + 0:01:37
  6. Daniel Martin (Quick-Step Floors) + 0:01:44
  7. Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) + 0:02:02
  8. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) + 0:02:13
  9. Mikel Landa (Team Sky) + 0:03:06
  10. George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) + 0:03:53

Düsseldorf’s Delight as Le Tour Travels Through

“At age 104, after a long illness… the Tour is clinically dead. It is a broken toy, a burst soap bubble popped by careless kids, unaware that they are damaging themselves, their health and their childhood dreams as well…It’s all the more painful as we had almost begun to believe in the Tour again… in these soap-and-water cyclists who we were so ready to love.” – France Soir’s mock death notice for the Tour de France in 2007.

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German cycling can finally categorise itself as entering a new era. While the past will not be forgotten, there is hope for a brighter future. This newfound optimism can be mostly chalked down to the likes of Marcel Kittel, John Degenkolb, Tony Martin and Andre Greipel.

After peaking with Jan Ullrich in 1997, the only German rider to win the Tour de France, cycling took a sharp nosedive after a series of doping scandals darkened the sport. From Festina to Cofidis, EPO to blood transfusions, cycling was rife with tainted teams and individuals. Armstrong was stripped of his 7 Tour wins, Zabel – 6-time winner of the green jersey – confessed to using EPO and Ullrich was banned for 2 years after being found guilty of doping, with his results from 2005-2006 stripped from him. By 2006, TV ratings plummeted by 43% in Germany according to Initiative Futures Worldwide. To name just a few scandals from the 2007 Tour contributing to the continued downfall of its popularity, it was revealed on stage 8 that German T-mobile rider Sinkewitz had tested positive for testosterone the month prior, while Vinokourov tested positive for a blood transfusion before the time trial on stage 13. In addition to the ongoing case of Operation Puerto, these were the final few rusted nails in the coffin. As a result, German broadcasters ARD and ZDF stopped all coverage of the Tour de France from stage 8 onwards. The Deutschland Tour was stopped after 2008 and after more dwindling viewing figures, by 2012 the country had refused to broadcast the Tour de France altogether.

“The 2007 edition [of the Tour de France] died on 24 July on the heights of Loudenvielle…Killed by Alexander Vinokourov, idolised by the media and cycling fans, but revealed to have the blood of another running in his veins on the finishing line. Damn Vinokourov! He sullied the infinite beauty of the Pyrenees, dirtied cycling a little more and further discredited the Tour de France.” – Le Figaro.

So how did cycling in Germany redeem itself, so far to the extent that Germans were willing to welcome the Tour de France starting in their country, only a few years after broadcasting had been pulled?

The answer lies with the next generation. When ARD, ZFD and many of the public gave up with the sport, the younger cyclists did not. National Championships still continued for Germany, with the likes of Knees (now at Team Sky) winning in 2010, and Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) holding off fierce competition from Degenkolb (now Trek) to take 3 wins in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Tony Martin is one of the most successful German cyclists of all time, racking up a total of 7 National Time Trial Championships as well as 4 World Time Trial Championships.

Argos-Shimano (now Team Sunweb), a Netherlands-turned-Germany registered cycling team were followed by a documentary team in 2014. The aim was to document that through the struggles of the past (their directeur sportif Rudi Kemna confessed to using EPO in 2003), they were a team that could still win clean. It can appear almost hypocritical, with Kemna present, yet the documentary goes on to show how drugs in cycling have impacted German cyclists. Marcel Kittel refuses to take legal tablets from the team doctor, despite the doctor showing them all and labelling them to the camera. John Degenkolb reveals his heartbreak that his idols from childhood had taken drugs, and addresses the issue people watching the documentary might be thinking, by telling the audience that “the problem is that I’m saying the same things these guys said ten years ago, so how can I convince people they should believe me?”. Also seen are riders getting “checked”, Degenkolb has his bloods taken before the first stage of the 2013 Tour de France.

“When I was young, there were people that I looked up to and said: [gasps] Jan Ullrich. Erik Zabel. If you’re disappointed by these people many years later… that really hurts. I can say from personal experience.” – John Degenkolb in Clean Spirit.

VeloNews stated that in 2016, Martin, Kittel, Degenkolb and Greipel went “as a delegation” to remind TV executives they had a combined achievement of 24 stage victories in the last 5 years. They succeeded. ARD began to broadcast the Tour de France again that year, and just before the 2016 Tour it was announced that the 2017 edition would start in Düsseldorf.

“It makes me really, really proud to see that this sport is now well accepted again in my home country. There was definitely a time where not so many spectators were standing next to the road. And those who were there were showing signs with EPO syringes.” – Marcel Kittel.

My friends and I landed in Düsseldorf on the 28th of June, just days before the Tour de France was due to begin. In Oberbilk, there was little decoration in comparison to the likes of Yorkshire in 2014, and I was left wondering if people in Germany really cared about the Tour de France making a “grand return”, or if the fans lining the streets would simply be arriving from a different country. However, the closer you got into the centre of Düsseldorf, the more Tour spirit you could see. Le Tour certainly felt more real after the passing by of Quick-Step and Katusha in the street next to us.

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As Matilda, Gina, Kerry and I made our way closer to the Rhine, the bunting became more prominent and the roads became more colourful. Quite literally in fact, with one painted yellow for the arrival of the Tour.

 

The team presentation began on the 29th on June. Situating ourselves opposite the setting sun just above the Rhine, the crowds were heavily focused in front of the stage. As teams were presented to the cheering fans, they rolled down the side ramp and along the riverside past us. To our delight, Mathew Hayman (Orica Scott) stopped to give autographs and have a conversation with us, with Luke Durbridge joining him soon after, asking us if there were any good bars around. The always smiling Esteban Chaves later pulled up alongside us as we wished him good luck for the upcoming 3 weeks, and he gave us his autograph too. Safe to say, Orica Scott really are the friendliest team in the peloton – if you haven’t already gathered from their Backstage Passes. We additionally had the pleasure meeting Bernie Eisel, one of the most experienced riders in the peloton, with the lovely Taylor Phinney stopping for a conversation and a few photographs with us. It was only when we got his autograph and he was in the polka dot jersey after the second stage that we realised the paper he signed was also polka dot themed. A sign?

The decorations were not the only indication that Le Tour was in town. There was a Mythos Tour de France exhibition, with jerseys, cyclist portraits, that famous incident between Eric Walkowiak and Giuseppe Guerini and a wide selection of pictures, artworks and a running documentary. If that wasn’t enough, we were welcomed to the live recording of The Cycling Podcast with Paul Voß at the NRW-Forum in Düsseldorf.

Finally, on the 1st of July, the racing began. The publicity caravan passing through before the stage undoubtedly generated a buzz throughout the city centre as caravans threw out hats, bags and sweets while blaring music and beeping their horns. We eventually moved from under the 1km banner, closer to the end of the circuit, seeing the likes of World Champion Tony Martin, Chris Froome and stage winner (and future yellow jersey wearer) Geraint Thomas pass us by. It might have rained, causing spills that took out Valverde and Gallopin, but it didn’t dampen Team Sky’s spirits, with 4 of their riders finishing in the top 10.

Stage 2 enabled us to see all the jersey wearers roll out slowly in the neutral start, twice, before the racing started for the day. Thomas and Kiryienka (Sky) wore the yellow GC and green sprint jerseys respectively, while Küng wore white for best young rider. As the peloton left Düsseldorf, we paid a visit to the Canyon pop-up store, with the bikes of Gilbert and Quintana present.

A quick visit (well, quick for us anyway) to the new Specialized pop-up store finalized our time in Germany the day after. Greeted with free coffee on arrival, the store was heaven for bike lovers. Cancellera’s Tarmac was on show, as well as Armistead’s Amira, and we dejectedly made our way to Düsseldorf airport for our flights back home.

In my opinion, the Grand Départ signified the line between the old beliefs of German cycling (or cycling in general), and the new. While the symbolism of Tony Martin in the maillot jaune in Germany for the Tour de France would have been symbolic, having the yellow jersey on the (somewhat surprised) shoulders of Geraint Thomas as the first Welshman to wear it was also a sight to see. It was a pleasure to see Le Tour with people who love the sport and appreciate it just as equally as myself, and I was happy to experience the new acceptance of cycling in Germany in person. One thing that will stick with me was the sheer amount of cheering for the German riders during the time trial. One of the greatest moments was hearing the waves of volume signifying that Tony Martin was about to time trial past us. While cycling in Germany has had a dark past, its future is here. Cycling is changing, and with it are people’s opinions.

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