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.

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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.”

 

46fqeo

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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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