- Posted by Robert Garbutt, Editor
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As much as I hate to tempt fate, 2013 is already shaping up to be Sky's best ever season.
Classics campaign aside, the boys in black (and blue) haven't put a pedal wrong, with Chris Froome and Richie Porte sweeping all before them in stage races.
Well almost. There's the small matter of Froome's second place in Tirreno-Adriatico, but with victories in the Tour of Oman, Critérium International and now the Tour of Romandy, he's already matched Bradley Wiggins's pre-Tour de France success rate from last year.
With the Dauphiné still on Froome's 2013 schedule, who's going to bet against him matching Wiggins's achievements of the last couple of seasons to make it a hat-trick for Brits in this prestigious French race?
In any other team Froome would be the undisputed Tour de France leader but on the eve of the Giro d'Italia there's increasing speculation of Sir Bradley going for the double. He's always said he'll ride both, but will he really be going to the Tour to support Froome? Quite possibly not.
Racing wise, Wiggins has had a particularly quiet build-up to the Giro, an indication that he wants to save something back for the Tour and not ride as a glorified domestique. We're heading for a big bust-up, but having two Brits going head-to-head for Tour glory isn't a bad problem for UK fans.
This article was first published in the May 2 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!
- Posted by Richard Abraham
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Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, can be a difficult city to get your head around. Look one way and facing you will be a tall, Parisian style boulevard. Look over your shoulder and you'll see a cluster of Soviet era apartment blocks. To your left will be a crumbling town house from the time of the Russian Empire, and on the right will be an ultra-modern swooping building of glass and steel.
One of the last things you expect to see, standing on the finish line of the first stage of the Tour of Azerbaijan outside Baku's imposing brand new cultural centre, is a Dulwich Paragon jersey.
"I've raced at Hillingdon and Redbridge and the Gravesend CycloPark: lots of crit races," explains Elnur Mammadli, who moved back to his hometown of Baku five months ago from a job in a bike shop in London. "Now I work for the Azerbaijan Cycling Federation. I'm the head of the tech and my job is to supply race ready bikes to the junior riders here."
The Tour of Azerbaijan continues for four more days, heading west into the country before returning to the capital on the shores of the Caspian on Sunday. Mammadli was at the race to help the new Synergy-Baku team which, much like the capital of the country in which it is registered, is an unexpected mix.
Managing the project is David McQuaid (son of Pat) while the team's directeur sportif and mentor to the team's young Azerbaijani riders is recently retired British pro, Jeremy Hunt. The team also sports British rider Dave Clarke, Namibian journeyman Dan Craven, and Irish riders young and old, David McCann and Connor McConvey.
The goal of the team is to put an Azerbaijani on the start line of the 2016 Olympic Games road race. It got a small step closer to that goal on Wednesday, where it won the opening stage of its home race, a 157km circuit race around Baku, thanks to its young German sprinter Christoph Schweizer. "It all worked out perfectly," said a taciturn Hunt after the race.
The Azerbaijan government, backed up by vast oil wealth, is spending heavily on sport and spectacle. Its two bids for the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games may have failed, but Baku hosted the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest and will stage the inaugural European Games in 2015.
"This race is very good for Azerbaijan internationally," summarised a young fan, playing truant from school to watch the race. "But it's not very good for the traffic."
Riders roll out from the start of the opening stage at the Tour of Azerbaijan
Dulwich Paragon, Baku Branch. Elmur Mammadli in front of the imposing cultural centre, start and finish of the opening stage
The race podium and the Baku skyline
Stage winner Christoph Schweizer meets one of his Azerbaijani fans
- Posted by Michael Hutchinson
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One of the pleasures of writing a column such as this one is that it occasionally gives you the
speaking, as it were, on behalf
A major cycling-related news story breaks, and the call comes to explain or to advocate, perhaps even to defend, the sport, the hobby, and the glory that is bike riding.
Perhaps the phone rings in the early hours. You roll over, still half dreaming, to answer it, hear a BBC producer apologising for waking you, and sleepily wonder what that loveable scamp Lance Armstrong has done now.
Or maybe you have to dash to a radio studio, to explain that Bradley Wiggins wasn't knocked off his bike in an act of god's divine equilibrium to atone for someone somewhere running a red light, but because some dozy driver wasn't paying attention.
Where is the love?
So it was a pleasure to get a call from a producer of a lifestyle programme that wanted to do an upbeat piece about cycling, now that spring is finally here. No crashes, injuries, drugs, just wall-to-wall bike love.
"What we'd like you to do for our listeners is just explain what it is that's so great about cycling, why you love it, and why you think that everyone who doesn't ride a bike is missing out," she said. "If you just want to run me through the key points so I can pass them to the presenter?"
"No problemo," I said. "Cycling is great because, well, it's a superb way to get some fresh air. Aaaand... um, it's a justification for spending money on a nice bike... though I suppose that's only an attraction if you're a cyclist already.
Actually, that's a bit circular, isn't it? What else is there...? It gets you out of the house, which is terrific if you're trying to escape a domestically tense situation. Though I suppose that most of my friends' domestic tensions do tend to start off with cycling in the first place. Did I mention the fresh air?"
"Tell you what, why don't you tell me what it's like on a day when you're planning to go for a nice, long ride, just how you look forward to it, from the alarm going off, and the excitement of getting out there to get away from all the stresses of everyday life?" she said.
"I get up, obviously. If it's raining, I... well I'm probably quite pleased if it's raining, because that's an excuse to bump the riding back till the afternoon, if it dries up. If the weather's all right, I probably hang around the house for a few hours, getting ready, deciding what pair of gloves to wear, what sunglasses are best-suited to the light conditions.
In the meantime, I'll keep checking the forecast every so often just in case rain suddenly appears. Eventually, when I can't put it off any longer, I go for a ride. It's often a bit late by then, so I have to cut it short. But I don't really mind. A bit of fresh air before dinner is always nice."
Voyage of discovery
"OK," she said. "We'll try this a different way. Would you agree that one of cycling's greatest pleasures is seeing the countryside, discovering unknown views, exploring tiny villages?"
"Oh, yes. Absolutely. Though I just ride up and down the B1383, because it's really good for interval training. But it's nice. It's got an industrial estate."
"You must get pleasure from the companionship of going for a ride with a friend?" "You haven't met Bernard." "Is it the fresh air?" "I do like the fresh air, yes." "Look," she said eventually, "maybe we should try to find someone else. Just as a matter of interest, are you planning on going for a ride today?" "Yes." "In that case, you have my deepest sympathies."
Acts of Cycling Stupidity
Word reaches us of a rider who, frustrated with the current weather, has been reduced to doing much of his training on the rollers. For those of you unfamiliar with roller
riding, one of the dangers is a build-up of static charge as you ride, which earths itself with an electric shock when you stop and, say, grab the edge of a table for support.
This rider was buzzing away happily in the kitchen, when his wife walked in, dressed to kill, hair done, ready for a girls' night out. She said goodbye, then, as he was still riding, went to give him a peck on the cheek. A bright blue spark arced between his cheek and her lips. She spent the rest of the night explaining to her incredulous friends exactly what had happened to her hair.
Great inventions of cycling - The cobbles of Paris Roubaix
Cobblestones have been used to construct roads for centuries. The smooth, round stones provided a permeable surface, one which was resistant to cracking and potholing, reduced the amount of dust and mud, and were so difficult to walk, ride or cycle on that they avoided suffering serious wear because everyone used the verges instead.
In the 18th century most traditional, round cobbles in Europe were replaced with setts - same concept, but squarer. This is what most of the cobbled Classics run over. Originally the cobbles were not thought of as anything special - that was how French roads were made.
Indeed, a lot of the time riders tried to use the pavements instead. Many crashes were caused by tired riders misjudging the sideways bunny-hop and falling over.
It wasn't till after World War Two that the cobbles on race routes like Paris-Roubaix began to disappear. Local mayors were embarrassed that they would make their areas look backward, so they replaced them with asphalt.
The grand-old men of the sport couldn't bear to see life being made easier for the riders. Tour de France boss Jacques Goddet described the Paris-Roubaix cobbles as the "last great madness of cycling" - and he meant that as a compliment.
Finally in the 1970s, serious efforts got under way to preserve the remaining stretches of cobbles. The maintenance of the route is now funded by a special society, and performed by students from agricultural colleges as training.
- Posted by Dame Sarah Storey
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When you are "hitting the wall" so to speak, but you know you have to push on through, what is it you think of to get you to focus and get through the pain?
This month's subject is an interesting one. As we get into better weather and you are increasing your training and workload, your body will be coping with more training, but you will be able to push yourself harder.
So, dealing with the pain of effort is something to be focused on. I have listed six ways in which I deal with it and you can adapt these to assist you in reaching your goal:
Depending on the situation if find myself in, I focus on:
1. I use this as motivation in training. When the going is getting tough, I tell myself that my rivals won't be pushing that hard so I will be gaining an advantage.
2. The journey to your big goal may involve some other build up races or some key days in training. So In a less important race or training, I think about how pushing on will benefit the big goal for the year. Last year each training session or race was all about the big goal of London 2012. Each moment of dealing with getting through the pain barrier was all about winning in London.
3. In racing you can find yourself in different circumstances. Sometimes I will be riding purely for my teammates so I will focus on how me hurting will help another rider achieve a result. Or simply, I may have to suffer to win an event and the joy at the end makes it all worthwhile!
4. One other way I deal with the pain is to think about how much good it is doing me physically. You could liken it to topping up money in the bank ready for race day, so you have more reserves to spend when you need it.
5. This is an odd one, but I do think often how much I actually enjoy the pain!
6. Ultimately as athletes we are working towards goals and ambitions that are exciting opportunities and will give us the chance to prove ourselves as athletes. It doesn't have to be a goal of World Champs or Olympic/Paralympic Games, just the chance to improve physically as a cyclist and beat your own previous best is at the heart of every athletes personal motivation. Having that intrinsic motivation is a very powerful tool and will help you in all areas of your life not just sporting challenges.
Have a good month and I look forward to giving you more tips next time!
Dame Sarah Storey is the ambassador for the Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Series. Etape Mercia (etapemercia.co.uk) and Etape Pennines (etapepennines.co.uk) are still open for entries and there are a limited amount of free places available in both events if you pledge to raise £250 for Marie Curie Cancer Care.
- Posted by Michael Hutchinson
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A few weeks ago, I reported on my friend Bernard's decision to retire from cycling, prompted by his deep feelings of ennui and languor. That his moment of clarity arrived in the midst of a sub-zero sleet storm several miles from home was, I'm sure we all accept, purely coincidental.
I predicted at the time that this retirement was unlikely to develop into a permanent state of affairs. And I was right. As I headed home at the end of a ride a few days ago, I caught up with my pear-shaped friend on his old training bike. "I read an article about how you can ride for just 20 minutes three times a week and enjoy all the benefits of 20 hours of hard training, as long as you do exactly the right efforts," he explained.
"As someone with a lot of experience of high levels of fitness, I thought I owed it to science to get back on my bike and give it a go."
I couldn't help thinking that if a five-minute warm-up, three half-hearted 20-second sprints and a five-minute warm-down actually was the training equivalent of 20 hours' hard riding a week, the chances are that somewhere in the 150-year history of competitive cycling, someone would have noticed before now.
All the same, I didn't want to spoil it for him. It's just that I couldn't help it. "Is this going to be as successful as the beetroot and chicken diet?" I asked.
This was last year's regime, uncovered in a 1970s US cycling magazine bought at a jumble sale, which promised a grade of miracle unseen for almost 2,000 years. "How did that work out?" There was an indistinct mutter in reply. I think what he said was, "I don't know."
This is the glory of what we do as bike riders. The grand experiment we carry out on ourselves. The research, from magazines, books, and websites.
The changes we make, the training we try, the different diet tricks. And, of course, careful, detailed and accurate monitoring of the results at regular intervals, all carefully annotated in a lab notebook or training diary and lovingly analysed to refine the overall scheme and ensure the improvements keep coming.
Or not. Bernard has a great enthusiasm for the first half of the experimental process, the changing of things, and a great deal less for the second, their measuring and analysis. He is, as I pointed out on this occasion, like a man who goes on a strict diet but doesn't ever step onto a pair of scales to see how things are going. I can't remember exactly, but there may have been an air of smugness around me.
"Whereas you keep track of everything," said Bernard. "Tell me, have you found anything as effective as my new regime?"
"Nothing as good as it claims. But plenty that's as good as it's actually going to be." "So if it's not going to work, and if, as you often say, there are no shortcuts, why would I want to measure it? Why would I want to know?
At least this way I have something to be optimistic about. Something that makes riding a bike full of hope. But of course hope is the kind of thing you like to extinguish whenever it breaks out."
"Well, I wouldn't quite..."
"The only comfort the rest of us have is the phenomenal accuracy with which you're going to be able to chart your decline into old age. The rest of us will be able to kid ourselves we're as strong as we were when we were 25, because we are careful to ignore the facts.
You will know, to three decimal places, just how old and infirm and crap you really are. And I just can't wait." It's like he's never been away.
Cycling Greats - Jacques Anquetil (1934-1987)
Frenchman Jacques Anquetil was the first five-time winner of the Tour de France, finishing in yellow in 1958, 61, 62, 63 and 64. He was at the centre of one of cycling's first drug scandals, when he was stripped of his World Hour record in 1967.
Anquetil was probably the most enthusiastic and open advocate of doping that cycling has ever had, and was normally quite happy to tell anyone who asked what he was using. He led a riders' strike against dope controls in the 1966 Tour.
He was a prototype for a certain kind of cold, calculating bike rider. He never expended a gram more effort than was required to win, never even approached the swashbuckling, and hung all his victories on his superlative ability in time trials.
The organisers of the Tour in the early 1960s were usually careful to include plenty of kilometres against the watch to accommodate him. Tom Simpson said that being caught by him in a time trial was memorable for the huge amounts of sweat that squirted from every pore. "It was like being overtaken by a thunderstorm," he said.
In retirement he became notable for having a child with his stepdaughter, which his wife raised as her own, only for Anquetil to leave her and marry his stepson's ex-wife and have a child with her too.
We remember him best, though, for his advice to a young schoolboy who asked him how to prepare for a race. "With a bottle of good champagne and a woman," he said.
Acts of cycling stupidity
I did my first race of the year last week - I won, thanks for asking. It was a little chilly, but dry, and quite sunny. I was surprised that a friend of mine from one of the local clubs was a non-starter. When I asked him about it later in the week, he said it was the weather. I pointed out it had been fine, excellent by recent standards.
"No, you don't understand. There was a gale-force easterly forecast for the following day. I wanted to stay fresh so I could get one of the local Strava segments." Ladies and gentlemen, the future is already here.
Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!
- 25 April 13:
- Blown away by the Cyclone
- 17 April 13:
- Dr Hutch: Impressing non-cyclists
- Spring has sprung
- 5 April 13:
- Eyewitness: Riders recce Roubaix route in the Arenberg Forest
- 21 March 13:
- Ready for sportive season?