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.

Ryedale4.jpg

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.

Ryedale2

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.

Ryedale1

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.

 

Advertisements

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.

______________________________

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.

Sagan 1

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.

Sagan celebration.jpg

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?

Alpe.gif

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.

Sagan teammate.jpg

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.)

NibaliGreipel

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?”

Sagan 2

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

___________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lincoln Grand Prix: 2017

“I carried the speed off the cobbles onto the flat. Normally I stop dead but this time it worked out.” – Ian Bibby of JLT-Condor

___________________________________________

Lincoln Grand Prix was the last of 4 rounds from April to May, with Ian Bibby taking the individual round win, just as he had taken the win in Chorley almost a month prior. Rory Townsend of BIKE Channel Canyon finished 2nd on the day to take the overall win of the 2017 HSBC UK | Spring Cup Series.

MensPodium.jpg

Photo: CyclingWeekly.com

The 62nd edition of the Lincoln GP, and the final event in Lincoln’s Festival of Cycling, ran from the neutralised zone at Yarborough Leisure Centre to the official start in Castle Square, where a 13 lap circuit awaited the riders. The women had previously tackled 8 laps of the circuit that same day, with Alice Barnes of Drops Cycling retaining her win from the year previous, with Emily Nelson of Team Breeze and Lydia Boylan from Team WNT following close behind.

Enrique Sanz (Raleigh GAC) started the day in the leaders jersey for the overall at the Spring Cup, with Townsend and Bibby breathing down his neck. 30 points were available for the first rider to cross the finish line, and the jersey was still up for grabs.

The representation in the established break was comprised of the likes of Madison-Genesis (Evans), ONE Pro Cycling (Williams), JLT-Condor (Lampier) and BIKE Channel Canyon (Stedman). The majority of the 7-man break managed to stay away until their lead of over 3 minutes began to fall. Stedman rejoined the peloton while Madison-Genesis hit the front, turning up the pace with 5 laps to go, with team member Evans continuing to work with Lampier and Williams in the break. Team Wiggins riders Walker and Howells were briefly dropped, but managed to work their way back up to the lead group.

Tom Stewart from Madison-Genesis took the Lincoln GP win the year prior, and the team were eager to replicate this in 2017. Stewart had just managed to beat Downing (JLT-Condor) in the final few metres, thwarting the 2005 National Road Race winner’s chances to take a 5th Lincoln GP win.

With 2 laps to go, Lampier attacked from the top of the Michaelgate, with James Lowsley-Williams putting in a large solo effort to bridge to the leaders, before instantly setting the pace at the front. The Michaelgate was a 1 in 6 climb that the riders had to scale 13 times, a true test for the best of them. While Lampier distanced the peloton and led the field over the top with 2 laps to go, JLT-Condor were also leading the team classification. Could they maintain their dominance?

Not for long. By the time the bell rang for the final lap, the peloton was momentarily back together again before another break off the front would contend for the win – which most importantly contained Bibby and Townsend – who held 25 seconds on the chasing field. In the end, it was Bibby who finally managed to secure his Lincoln win and gained 30 points on the line. However, Townsend never relented and placed 2nd on this round, finding himself at the top of the overall classification for the Spring Cup – 4 points ahead of Bibby and 6 ahead of Sanz.

Preston-born rider Ian Bibby had finished 3rd in Lincoln in 2016, behind Stewart (Madison-Genisis) and Downing (JLT-Condor). According to Cycling Weekly, his GP win this year was down to refusal to change gear, even in the tarmac section.

“I always lose it on that last bend where it goes smoother as I’m always in the little ring. With a lap to go I thought I would try it out in the big ring and it was alright. So on the last lap I left it in the big ring and it was amazing how much better it was.”

One aspect of Bibby I wonder about is – what would his impact be at World Tour level? His palmarés are more than impressive, while packed with race wins, he was also National Cyclo-cross Champion in 2010, 2-time winner of both Chorley and Ryedale Grand Prix’s, National Crit winner in 2015 and took the overall as the first British winner at the Bay Classic Series this year to name but a few. Yet, it’s obvious this UCI-Continental level suits him, with less opportunities to ride for himself awaiting at WT level, especially with teams that could focus on a different leader for Grand Tour for GC contention.

While Bibby’s dominating status at Conti level is one talking point, another is the impressive stance of BIKE Channel-Canyon. While only formed as a cycling team in 2017, also taking in riders from Pedal Heaven and now folded NFTO, they have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. A 3rd place for Opie on the opening stage of the Tour de Yorkshire have seen them contend for sprints alongside World Tour teams, with Opie placing above Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport), just behind Ewan (Orica). Townsend taking the overall at the Spring Cup Series has added more depth to their potential, alongside BIKE’s 2nd placing in the team classification. Where will BIKE go from here? It’s looking like the only way is up.

image1-2image2.PNGimage3.PNGimage4

2016 Season: Recap

“Cycling isn’t a game, it’s a sport. Tough, hard and unpitying, and it requires great sacrifices. One plays football, or tennis, or hockey. One doesn’t play at cycling.” –Jean de Gribaldy

As always, road cycling season kicked off Down Under, with Caleb Ewan retaining his title at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic and winning the People’s Choice Classic, with fellow Orica-Greenedge teammate Simon Gerrans reclaiming his place at the top of the Tour Down Under standings. This was to be a precursor for their 2016/17 season, seeing them challenge for Grand Tour podiums and gaining more wins in the process.

Cycling report

Photo: Sarah Reed.

Froome’s once-again dominating season began in February at the Jay Herald Sun Tour, with his attack on the final lap taking the final stage win and the jersey from teammate Kennaugh. Not only did Froome claim the mountains classification, but helped Team Sky win the team classification. One team lacking immediate wins were Giant-Alpecin, with six of their riders injured after a horrific head-on collision with a car on the wrong side of the road in Alicante. With Degenkolb almost losing his finger, he couldn’t defend his Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix double, yet came back to take stage 4 at the Artic Race of Norway and the overall at Münsterland Giro. He announced his decision to leave Giant for Trek in August, joining Contador in their new lineup next year. Haga, the most seriously injured, was determined to not let his fractured eye socket and 96 stitches get him down, updating fans through humorous messages on Instagram and Twitter.

“That was a shit season this year. But I am still alive, life goes on.” – John Degenkolb.

March marked the start of the classics season, with Geraint Thomas taking the Paris-Nice jersey from Matthews (OGE) at the end of stage six. He was close to losing it to Contador (Tinkoff) after the next and final stage, yet support from teammate Henao ensured it remained on his shoulders for the overall win. Tirreno–Adriatico was won by Greg Van Avermaet, with Cummings (DDD) winning the longest mountain stage and Cancellara taking the final stage, a 10km time trial to San Benedetto del Tronto. The first monument of Milan-San Remo was well and truly open, with the previous winner Degenkolb out through injury, contenders Dumoulin and Greipel out with flu and broken ribs respectively, and a landslide the morning of the race changing the route. After almost 230km, a last minute crash and a mass sprint, Arnaud Démare came out on top just ahead of Ben Swift (Sky), providing FDJ with their most important win of the season. After a crash-filled 200km in the second monument of the Tour of Flanders, rainbow jersey-wearing Sagan (Tinkoff) was able to see off Cancellara (Trek) and Vanmarcke (LottoNL)

Tour of Flanders

Photo: Graham Watson.

Sometimes in cycling, there are times when a rider defies all odds, from weather, injury or opponents, giving us unexpected moments that for many end up being a highlight of the season. When Mathew Hayman (OGE) was on the team bus before Paris-Roubaix in April, his exact words were “It’ll be my 15th attempt at winning”, and when speaking on the unpredictability of Paris-Roubaix, “You can come back a lot in this race. Keep believing, keep riding, it’s not over until you get to the velodrome.” Strong words from the 37-year-old who had broken his arm 5 weeks previously, and hadn’t been racing until this day. After numerous crashes, most notably his teammate Mitch Bower and a motorbike hitting Team Sky’s Viviani, Hayman tried to break away but was reeled back in while Sagan and Cancellara, two of the main favourites, were caught out from a previous crash. Team Sky were left disjointed after a crash while setting a high pace saw Rowe, Puccio and Moscon hit the ground. While Cancellara crashed again, a group of 10 riders including Boonen (Etixx), Hayman (OGE), Rowe and Stannard (Sky), Vanmarcke (LottoNL) and Boasson Hagen (DDD) broke clear and stayed clear. In the closing kilometers, 10 was brought down to 4 as Hayman, Boonen, Stannard and Vanmarcke battled for the win.

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

Yet he was relentless and refused to give up the perfect position on Boonen’s wheel. On the final lap of the velodrome, he moved up the ramps and took advantage of the dive to build momentum. Hitting the front while Stannard edged ever closer around the top, Hayman surged towards the line, beating the sure-favourite to take his first ever Paris-Roubaix win. His look of disbelief and shock was a picture to remember, and when teammate Durbridge ran to him post-race to say congratulations, we saw just how much it meant to not only Hayman, but the team. With their frequent Backstage Passes, Orica Greenedge-turned-BikeExchange-yet-soon-to-be-Scott have given viewers a new look on cycling, with their strong team emphasis and frequent adopting of their foreign teammates into the Australian culture. (Looking at you, Esteban Chaves.)

Mathew+Hayman+2016+Paris+Roubaix+Cycle+Race+o5k9kgmHzyYl.jpg

Source: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images Europe.

The Classics season finished with a triumph for Team Sky, with Wout Poels battling through snow and rain to win Liège–Bastogne–Liège towards the end of April, with previous champion Valverde having “his worst performance in the race since 2012”.

Grand Tour season arrived with the 99th edition of the Giro d’Italia. While winner Nibali (AST) and 3rd placed Valverde (MOV) were pre-race favourites, it was 2nd placed Esteban Chaves and his Orica teammates who deserve the biggest mention.

Whether it’s Boonen against Hayman or Froome and Sagan against sprinters on a sprint stage, everyone loves an underdog. Going into stage 19, Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL) was one of the strongest riders in the entire Giro. He held the pink jersey and had a comfortable 3-minute advantage over his nearest rival of Chaves (OGE), with Nibali trailing by almost 5 minutes. Yet Grand Tours are often unpredictable, as we saw from the 2014 Tour de France which saw Nibali take the win after both his rivals Froome and Contador crashed out. The sunny start to stage 19 was simply false hope, with snow later flanking dangerous roads as riders battled through fog. Chaves kept the jersey fight alive, attacking when he could while Kruijswijk stayed calm and followed, the pair leaving Valverde behind. Yet with just under 50KM to go, he crashed into a snow bank on the Colle dell’Agnello. This led to the jersey passing shoulders onto Esteban Chaves, and Orica thrown into even more of a fierce GC battle, only 40 seconds in front of Nibali. Stage 20 was to prove just as heartbreaking as the day previous, with Nibali attacking on the penultimate climb and Chaves desperately trying to stay with him, to no avail. Help from fellow countryman Uran (Cannondale) was sporting, channeling Richie Porte and Simon Clarke from the Giro the year before, yet proved fruitless. Though his team had tried their hardest to keep the jersey, they had all but lost it on the final day – yet this simply made them determined for more.

esteban-chaves-vincenzo-nibali-alejandro-valverde-giro-ditalia_3475448.jpg

Source: Sky Sports.

The Tour de France. Deemed by many as the greatest bike race on the planet, the 2016 edition proved Team Sky’s dominance once again, as Chris Froome took his 3rd Tour de France win ahead of Bardet (AG2R) and Quintana (Movistar) in July. For those who believe the Sky domination is making the race boring – there was plenty of drama this year. Through Contador’s early crashes on stage 1, 2 and his withdrawal on stage 9, to the sudden deflation of the 1KM to go banner on Adam Yates, causing him to flip over the top at speed in the white jersey, the Tour de France was as dangerous as it was unpredictable.

Who could forget this moment?

chris-froome-run_3744241

Source: Sky Sports.

The crowd bottleneck, the stopped motorbike, the rider pileup which included the prized Maillot Jaune. Viewers could hardly believe their eyes when the camera cut back to them moments later, with Froome having to run up the mountain in order to keep his jersey hopes alive. How about when Froome also shook things up on a sprint stage, coming second behind Peter Sagan, who he had cleverly worked with to gain a slight physical, yet large physiological advantage over his nearest rivals? Or how about the moment he debuted a new, interesting descending technique, winning the stage and gaining more time over his nearest rivals?

It wasn’t just Froome that provided the Tour with some memorable moments. Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx) had already found himself in the spotlight after crashing into a mountain during the stage 13 TT at over 32mph, yet he was unscathed.

ciqgH1lXqi7qAZuOlKEGykkP9eZxe4Llg0iXTrlHlvs.jpg

Source: Reddit.

Alaphilippe looked ready to take the stage 15 win before a mechanical saw him crash just before the final climb, and the day after he attacked with teammate Tony Martin for 4 hours over 145km, earning them both the combativity prize. Pantano (IAM) was also a Tour-standout, who alongside Majka, was left to battle for the win on stage 15 themselves after Alaphilippe was out of contention. He finished 2nd on the later stages of 17 and 20, before being called up to replace Quintana in the Columbian cycling team for the Olympics.

While the Olympics were wild, dangerous and crash-filled (see full reports of both the men’s and women’s road races here), one man saw opportunity. Fabian Cancellara, the 35-year-old Swiss, nicknamed ‘Spartacus’, hadn’t had the greatest year despite TT success in the Volta ao Algarve and Tirreno – Adriatico. He just missed a stage win tailored for him in his hometown during his final Tour de France, before pulling out to prepare for Rio. Earlier in the season, a crash saw him lose all hope of winning another Paris-Roubaix, and to add insult to injury, while holding the Swiss flag he later crashed on his velodrome lap of honour, landing in a puddle at the bottom of the track. But the gold medal at Rio was the perfect end to his final season, when he proved himself head and shoulders above the rest, beating the likes of Chris Froome, Tom Dumoulin and Tony Martin.

“It’s pretty special, I still don’t really have the words. After the disappointment in 2012, and many other up and downs that I’ve had, and this is my last season, it’s my Olympic Games and my last chance to do something. I knew that it was going to be a tough day, a challenging one with Chris Froome, Tom Dumoulin and all the others. It was an open course for all different characteristics. I have no words. Finishing, after 16 years, with the gold, it’s not bad.”

topelement.jpg

Photo: Urs Jaudas.

The Vuelta a España proved Orica were a team to beat once again, with Esteban Chaves not only taking 3rd place overall, but Magnus Cort winning the final stage sprint. He also won stage 18, with teammates Simon Yates and Jens Keukeleire taking stages 6 and 12, respectively. Nairo Quintana took the win by 1’23 over nearest rival Chris Froome, with a fierce fight between Chaves and Contador for the final podium spot. Where Orica prospered, others floundered, and as the race pulled up in Las Rozas for the final stage, Lotto-Soudal, Giant Alpecin, Astana, and most surprisingly, Tinkoff – in their Grand Tour swan song – had yet to win a stage.

From the Vuelta a España 2016: Recap:

[Many teams left out sprinters for extra climbers, meaning the likes of Degenkolb for Giant Alpecin and Bouhanni for Cofidis weren’t to be seen. Gianni Meersman (Etixx) profited from this to take two stages as well as having the chance to wear the Green Jersey (Points Classification) for 6 stages. Valverde fought hard to gain the jersey by Madrid, yet by stage 21 it was on the shoulders on Felline (Trek) – as the only jersey which could change holders by the end of the race. Yet Valverde didn’t contest the final sprint and Felline retained it, Quintana still held the red and white jerseys, Fraile won the polka dot jersey for the 2nd time in 2 years and BMC won the team classification. At La Vuelta, road books that didn’t quite match the profile were an issue, and the Vuelta was dubbed “insanely hard” by many riders, including Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data).]

So there we are. 2016 in a nutshell. Keep an eye out for Caleb Ewan towards the start of the season Down Under, Peter Sagan, Philippe Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet and Stannard/Rowe for the Classics, and another Froome/Quintana battle in the Grand Tours.

More Than Meets The Eye: Bahrain’s Background

Bahrain have officially launched their own cycling team this month, with the successful signing of Merida (who currently co-sponsor Lampre-Merida) as a sponsor. However there’s more to the cycling team than just promoting “the Kingdom as a premier business and tourism destination” as stated on their website.

actual

The newly formed Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team was launched by Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa. On the surface, he appears and powerful figure for sport. He led the Bahrain National Endurance team in at Portugal’s 2007 European Open. [1] He came 8th in the individual race while the team won silver. As Chair of the Olympic Committee for Bahrain, he represented them for the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony. Yet there were calls to block his entry from the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, who sent a dossier packed full of witness statements surrounding torture allegations. [2]

______________________________________________

“The King of Bahrain declared a state of emergency and a first wave of repressive actions by government’s forces took place. At this time, two oppositional leaders of Bahrain, when detained in the Manama Fort prison clinic Al-Qala’a (seat of the Ministry of Interior), alleged being flogged, beaten and kicked by the son of the King, Nasser bin Hamad. Both opposition leaders were sentenced to longtime imprisonment”

_________________________________________

In 2011, Bahraini footballers tried to absolve Sheikh Salman (to whom Nasser was a superior) – a potential FIFA presidential candidate. Salman had previously acknowledged government plans for a committee that would expose athletes opposed to the government then single them out for punishment. Nasser was head of this committee. On Bahrain TV, he rang in [3] to state:

“Anyone who called for the fall of the regime, may a wall fall on his head. Whether he is an athlete, socialite or politician — whatever he is — he will be held accountable . . . Bahrain is an island and there is nowhere to escape.”

It was also in 2011 after these anti-government protests and the cancellation of the F1 Grand Prix in Bahrain that he became subject to torture allegations. 3 individuals had reported to human rights groups they had been beaten by Nasser. One, known as ‘FF’, has been granted refugee status and lives in Britain. With Nasser being such a frequent visitor to Britain and the royal family, FF has numerous lawyers writing to the CPS asking for his arrest. [4]

(It’s worthy to reiterate that these are all allegations and this blog post is a compilation of said allegations to assess his involvement in cycling.)

________________________________________

However, cycling is not bereft of these types of powerfully rich characters with calls about their involvement in sport. Another man in cycling Oleg Tinkov. Recently in his blog, [5] he stated:

“This year, Sky (with its super budget) has been splashing out on new, talented riders and this means that they have a very strong team overall. This will give them some edge. But we will kick their ass anyway.”

It’s worth noting Contador went on to abandon the Tour de France, Chris Froome took the Maillot Jaune and Tinkov has stated his wish to return to the sport when Froome is no longer winning.

He has a history of being controversial. On Twitter, July 2015 he called Obama a ‘monkey’.

147015358556605

He’s also seen to be sexist on Twitter, tweeting Chris Froome was riding “like a girl”, and meaning it derogatorily. What he didn’t know for the reason behind Froome’s tentative riding was down to the fact he had a broken bone in his foot, yet carried on to finish the stage.

__________________________________________________

Yet unfortunately, cycling needs money. It’s a fact. You can either perform well in a top team, earning yourself quite a decent living or you can try and participate in the sport you love while struggling to get by. While the Tinkoff team are shutting down at the end of the season, Bahrain Merida are only just beginning. Some you win, some you lose and at the end of the day – we viewers can’t really do anything about someone’s involvement in our sport. We can only watch.