Race to the End of the World

This afternoon one of the most spectacular races in the calendar begins close to the Arctic Circle.

Here’s your guide to the Arctic Race of Norway, with thanks to Eliot Lietaer of Team Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, who’ll be lining up on the start line today.

What is the Arctic Race?

A fairly new addition to the race calendar, the Arctic Race was first held in 2013 as a category 2.1 UCI Europe Tour event. From 2015 the race was classified as 2.HC.  Fittingly, the inaugural edition was won by the Norwegian Thor Hushovd. Hushovd continued to be involved with the event as an official race ambassador.

The 2014 Arctic Race near the city of Tromso (Photo: Mojanorwegia.pl)

 

What’s the route like?

The route this year is made up of 4 stages, each designed to accommodate different styles of rider.  This is a theme in the Arctic Race of Norway – to date we’ve seen overall victories going to a sprinter (Hushovd), climber (Kruijswijk), GC rider (Taaramaie) and Classics specialist (Moscon).  Last year, Team Sky’s Moscon took home 500 kilograms of fish as well as the winners Blue & Orange Jersey!

The riders will cover a distance of 680km over the 4 stages of the race, cheered on from the roadside by enthusiastic fans, and cycling through some of the most spectacular scenery seen by the professional peloton.  “Norway is a really nice country to race in” explains Eliot Lietaer of Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, who is competing in his second Arctic Race.  “The roads are really good, the hotels are nice – always good WiFi – and there are very friendly people cheering at the side of the road”.

The route this year is well suited to Lietaer’s style of racing, comprising one real climbers day, two for the sprinters – one a pure sprint day – and a rolling stage perfect for puncheurs, which includes some sharp climbs to test the legs.

“I’m really looking forward to the Arctic Race of Norway this year because it really suits me – three relatively flat stages and one mountain top finish where the GC will be decided and where I can show my real strength”.

Lietaer thrives in situations like this, and coming off the back of a great showing at the Vuelta a Burgos, don’t be surprised to see him mixing it at the sharp end.  “I prefer stage races as I do very well at them. My recuperation is very good at the end of a stage race, and I’m still feeling strong and can go for a good result.  The Tour de Wallonie and Vuelta a Burgos were my goals for the season as well as the Arctic Race – after that I’m only racing a few one day events. I hope to do well as I have ambitions to ride for a WorldTour team next year, so every race counts”.

 

What can we expect to see over the 4 days of racing?

 Amazing scenery, Norwegian flags and some great racing!

“The style of racing is pretty similar to races in traditional cycling countries” explains Lietaer.  One thing that will be different is the amazing backdrop.  “I rode the Arctic Race of Norway once a few years ago, and it was a really nice experience, as we finished one stage at a place called ‘The End of the World’ – the North Cape.  It’s always nice to finish at spectacular places like this.”

The End of the World – Norway’s North Cape (Photo: Visit Norway)

Day one sees the riders starting the race on the island of Andorja, and utilises a finishing circuit last seen in the 2015 edition of the race.  5km before the finish line, the riders will reach the summit of the Skistua climb, which covers 2.3km at an average of 6.6% gradient.  The pure sprinters will be eyeing up day two, which starts at Sjovegan and uniquely finishes on the runway of the airport at Bardufoss.

Stage three is the day for the climbers, with the route heading into the spectacular Lyngen Alps for a summit finish in Finnvikdalen, after 4km of climbing with a 5.5% average gradient.

The forth and final stage starts and finishes in the Norwegian city of Tromso, encircling the settlement with a loop of 118km before tackling three laps of a 13km finishing circuit – including some pretty punchy climbs to ignite the GC competition.

 

Who’s competing?

The Arctic Race of Norway has a bit of a cult following, and its position in the race calendar makes it an attractive prospect before the Vuelta.  Fresh from victory at the Tour of Poland, BMC’s Dylan Teuns is confident he’ll be able to perform well.  Teams at the Arctic Race are made up of 6 riders, with some, like Dimension Data, choosing to take one or two stagiaires to increase their race experience.

WorldTour teams Dimension Data, Astana, Sunweb, Katusha-Alpecin and Teuns’ BMC will be on the start line, and there’ll be a strong local contingent with a number of Norwegian teams taking part.

“There are a lot of Norwegian teams competing with a lot of talented guys who are really motivated” explains Lietaer.

 

What are the prizes on offer?

 The race leader will wear the Blue & Orange Jersey, with a Green Jersey on offer for the Points Classification, and the so-called ‘Salmon’ Jersey (a sort of orange colour) for the King of the Mountains.  Prizes are also rewarded to the ‘Most Active Rider’ of the day, and to the best placed team on GC. 

 

Who’s going to win?

Newly crowned European champion Alexander Kristoff will want to continue the winning streak he started at London-Surrey – especially on home turf. Dylan Teuns of BMC is the Freewheeling pick for the GC however, and don’t count out Rein Taaramäe, the overall winner here in 2015.

When can I watch it?

Eurosport 1 will show live coverage from 4-5pm BST.  This footage will be repeated on E2 at 7pm.

From Austin to Colorado via the Stages Podcast – Freewheeling interviews JB Hager

This year there was a new addition to the Tour de France coverage – the Stages podcast with Lance Armstrong and JB Hager. Stages was a word-of-mouth success, topping tastemaker lists, making the iTunes top ten, and achieving over 5 million downloads by the time the riders rolled into Paris.

Fans were keen to hear more, and the comments on the Facebook Live feed after every stage was full of requests for the pair to cover the Vuelta later this month.  Although Lance said on-air that he wouldn’t be covering the Spanish Grand Tour, he did hint at covering the inaugural Colorado Classic, which kicks off tomorrow. The event issued a press release announcing an official partnership with the podcast, however just a few days before the Classic kicked off, USADA intervened and declared Lance’s involvement an infringement of his lifetime ban.

If there’s one thing we know about Lance Armstrong though, it’s his steely resilience in the face of a challenge. Less than 50% chance of surviving cancer? Lance ain’t gonna let cancer win. World class cyclist comes down in front of you on a precarious bend? No worries – cycle through a field, avoid a puncture, jump a ditch, rejoin the bunch. The Stages team will be covering the Colorado Classic in an unofficial capacity, which could be good thing, allowing Lance the freedom to tell it like it is without any constraints.

I managed to catch up with Lance’s co-host JB Hager just before he left Austin for Colorado.  Read on to find out about JB’s awesome work with his Bikes for Kids charity, the state of US pro cycling in 2017, and of course – the Stages podcast.

 

Were you surprised by the success of the Stages podcast?

Yes and no. Surprised because I doubted myself. Lance asked me if I wanted to do it just a few weeks before the Tour started and I said “I would love to, but I haven’t been following pro-cycling for over 4 years.”  He said, “Cool, neither have I” so I said, “Ok, I’m in”.

I ran into Lance last December and I wasn’t just blowing smoke up his ass, but I had to tell him how good I thought his “Forward” podcast was. Great interviews, well prepped, engaging.

I wasn’t sure how “Stages” would do until I heard how unfiltered Lance was on the first episode or two. Then I was like, “Holy shit, this is the stuff I always wanted to know” and as a broadcaster I have always had a keen sense of what the audience wants vs. just being safe and beholden to an employer. It was and is genuinely entertaining asking him the insider info about the Tour and professional cycling in general. It’s a fascinating and incredibly complicated sport. You have to keep in mind that he was one of the best tactical racers that did so much in the off-season to be better prepared, like recon, wind tunnel testing and gear R&D.

What I didn’t expect was the global audience that has tuned in. I shouldn’t be surprised because most parts of the world understand the complexities of cycling so much more than Americans. Others ask about team dynamics, the intricacies of the sport, watts, tactics, etc… while most Americans are still hung up on “how do you pee on a bike?”

 

On the Stages podcast, Lance mentioned your involvement with the Bikes for Kids campaign, are you able to explain a little about how the campaign worked?

Sure, I never had a bike growing up but I was always fascinated with them. When I started my radio show in Austin in ’96 I started Bikes for Kids. We would collect money from our listeners to buy bikes, helmets and locks for kids. The most unique thing about the program was that our listeners would nominate the families to receive them. We were looking for kids that weren’t on a charity list, easily overlooked, but they had a neighbor or a co-worker that knew the family had fallen on hard times. They would nominate them and if selected, could elect for the family to come pick up the bikes or they would pick them up and surprise them on Christmas morning. Over the years on the radio it added up to about 2 million in bikes, helmets and locks. We were adamant that they be good quality bikes so over the years we were able to buy wholesale from Raleigh, Giant and Trek.

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JB and Lance in the Airstream Studio for the Stages podcast, July 2017 (Photo: Lance Armstrong, Twitter)

With only 3 riders in the Tour this year, some commentators and fans seemed concerned about the state of pro cycling in the US.  Watching the Tour of Utah last week and hearing about the plans for the Velorama Festival, it seems that pro cycling in America is pretty healthy and has been rejuvinated by some interesting concepts, like Velorama and the Colorado Classic. Do you think we’ll see more US riders coming up through the ranks for future Grand Tours?

I’m certainly not the best equipped to answer this question, but from what I’ve seen in Austin in the last 20 years it’s stronger than ever. In Austin I’m one of the founders of www.drivewayaustin.com , along with another notable bike racer, John Korioth. We wanted to see see bike races on our motorsport complex. This series has exploded and developed a lot of great racers. I know that Criteriums are not the global standard, but being able to do an official race like this every week from late March until the end of October is huge for developing young racers. I may be speaking out of school, but I think we’ll see more of the great American talent when the American sponsors get behind cycling. It’s a well-educated, higher income fan base so it makes sense. I often compare it to motorsports where there are only so many butts that get in the seats of the cars. That is also true in cycling. Great riders need the opportunity to go to Europe, get their doors blown off for a year or two and then get their legs. It can happen.

 

JB was also kind enough to answer a special version of ’30 Seconds With…’, read on to see what he had to say…….

30 Seconds With….JB Hager

 

What was your first bike like, and what do you ride now?

It was a Peugeot Canyon Express rigid mountain bike.  I was a broke college kid working at a steak restaurant. I had unpaid parking tickets and got in trouble so I traded my motorcycle with a co-worker for this mountain bike. My commute to work was about 10 miles. I would get off work at 1am; bike lights were unheard of then.

 

I didn’t get my first road bike until I was about 28 years old. I became friends with the neighborhood bike shop owner because of our Bikes for Kids radio charity and he let me pick what I wanted from his catalog at cost. This was around 1998 and Schwinn did a re-release of the Classic Paramount but it was a painted titanium bike built by Serotta. Honestly, that was my first road bike.  I wish I still had it. I regret just about every bike I every got rid of for various reasons.

 

Now I ride a Madone. Well, I should say I just got back on the Madone. I quit bike racing a few years ago and the weight gain came easily. My daughter, Raleigh Hager, is a Pro-Wakesurfer. She won the women’s world title at age 10 so I hung up the bike and started driving a boat every evening. Now, she’s a teenager and interested in other things so I knew it was time for me to get back on the bike. I kept finding excuses until Lance called about the “Stages” podcast and I was like “Fu@$, I gotta get back in shape!”

I do have to say my fave bike right now is my Surly fixie. I love that thing and my legs are whipped in an hour and a half.

 

Books or Movies? 

Books for sure. The process of going to movies annoys me. Agreeing on a movie is impossible, finding the right seat, people eating and slurping is annoying. I’d much rather wait until I can see it at home, so I read a lot. Especially humor books like David Sedaris, Chuck Klosterman and I still like to revisit some Woody Allen or Dave Barry every now and then.

 

What’s on your mp3 player?

I have an online music series, www.onairstreaming.com, so my musical taste is pretty eclectic, plus I’m out of Austin, Tx, which is the self-proclaimed live music capital of the world. Some of my faves might include Avett Brothers, Ray LaMontange, The National, Band of Horses, Phoenix, Alpha Rev, Fences, The XX, Blitzen Trapper, Cold War Kids, Daughter, Jack White and First Aid Kit just to give you a snapshot but my heart lies with the post-punk alt-rock I grew up with like The Police, Echo and the Bunnymen, Elvis Costello, The Cure, XTC, The Jam, R.E.M., Psych Furs, P.I.L., Talking Heads, U2, The The, The Church.

 

Sorry you asked yet?

 

If you could go back and ride any event from the past what would it be?

Tough question.  There were two rides that had a decade plus jump on me out of Austin. 1st, there was the Swedish Hill Bakery ride on Saturday mornings. This is where I first cut my teeth riding with the big boys. I probably got dropped 20+ times before I could stay in for the 50-60 mi ride and then slowly graduated to the 80-100 mi rides. It was not uncommon to have 100 riders for this hammer fest.  Eventually, the Austin bike scene got segregated by more organized teams and this ride fell apart.

Once I started taking an interest and getting the legs to race, there was the legendary Tuesday nighter in Austin. This was a bootleg, unsanctioned, all category race that happened just outside of Austin for over 25 years. Everyone would meet in the city and then ride an hour warmup out to the 9 mi rolling hill course. It was an unofficial 3 lap race, anyone who showed up was in. I also got dropped from this but more like 50+ times before I could finish all three laps. It was a chance to race against Cat 1, 2 guys and you never knew if Lance or a traveling pro would show up.  I learned how to race there before I ever raced.

 

If you hadn’t worked in radio, what would you have done instead?

Most likely would have gone into the restaurant business. I was a cook at a high-end steak restaurant in Austin, the same place I traded my motorcycle for a mountain bike.  I later became a waiter and I just loved the business. My college internship in radio led me away. My semi-secret passion is writing. I’ve been doing it for local magazines for the last decade. I have a monthly column in Austin Woman Magazine.

 

stages

From France to Spain – Your Post-Tour Survival Guide

The time between the end of the Tour de France and the start of the Vuelta a España is packed to bursting with excellent racing -which is great news if the finishing circuits of the Champs-Elysées leave you feeling flat and uninspired. We’ve already seen some one-day action with RideLondon hosting the World Tour level London-Surrey Classic and Michal Kwiatkowski’s brilliant win at the Clásica San Sebastián since the Tour finished in Paris.  As for stage racing – the Tour of Poland, Tour of Utah and the Vuelta a Burgos are currently in full flow!

We’re still a few weeks away from the Vuelta, but there’s plenty of road racing to keep you busy. Here’s your post-Tour survival guide to take you from France to Spain each year.

Tour de Wallonie                                                                                          

 22nd – 26th July 2017

The Tour de Wallonie travels through the French speaking part of Belgium, and is part of the UCI Europe Tour. From 1974 to 1995, the race was for amateurs only. This year saw BMC’s Dylan Teuns take the overall win – fittingly for a Belgian!

Clásica San Sebastián                                                                                                 

29th July 2017

This year, Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski won the one-day classic in Spain’s Basque region, a race which is famed for its stunning coastline scenery and tricky climbs. Part of the UCI World Tour, San Sebastián usually clocks in at around 220km in length, with the race often being decided on the slopes of the Alto de Jaizkibel, a climb which the riders tackle twice and which makes its second and final appearance around 20km from the finish line.

Lance Armstrong won here in 1995 before his cancer diagnosis; other famous winners include Casagrande, Jalabert, Indurain and Valverde. British rider Adam Yates won the 2015 edition.

London-Surrey Classic                                                                                              

30th July 2017

The annual London-Surrey Classic grew out of the hype around the 2012 Olympics; the first edition of the race was run in August 2011 as a warm-up for the Games. The inaugural London-Surrey race was relatively short for a Classic, covering approximately 140km and taking in many of the same roads as the Olympic events a year later. Once out of the city, the riders enter the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and tackle a number of circuits of Westhumble through to Ranmore Common and on to Box Hill. The famed climb of Box Hill is not the only incline on the route, which also includes Leith Hill and a 50 mile circuit in and around Dorking.

This year the London-Surrey Classic joined the UCI World Tour as part of an ever expanding calendar of races. The race has become a favourite with the riders for the iconic locations taken in over the 200km course – as well as Box Hill, the route also passes through Westminster, crosses Putney Bridge, and finishes on The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace. Amateurs get the chance to ride the same roads as the pros immediately prior to the Men’s race on the Sunday of the RideLondon festival of cycling.

The race is well suited to sprinters – Mark Cavendish won the inaugural edition, this year the honours went to Katusha Alpecin’s Alexander Kristoff.

Tour of Poland                                                                                        

9th July – 4th August 2017

First held in 1928, the Tour of Poland is a week long stage race. Like the Tour de Wallonie, the race began life as an amateurs only event, eventually becoming a pro race in 1993. Now classified as part of the World Tour, the Tour of Poland has earned a reputation as a top quality, well organised race.

Inspired by the Tour de France, the original race even had the backing of a newspaper like it’s French counterpart; the Warsaw Cycling Club teamed up with Przeglad Sportsowy, a sporting newspaper, to organise the first edition.

The 2016 edition was won by Belgium’s Tim Wellens, and I expect by the time you read this we’ll know who the winner of the 2017 edition is!

Tour of Utah                                                                                          

31st July – 6th August 2017

Nicknamed ‘America’s Toughest Stage Race’, the Tour of Utah is relatively new on the scene and notorious for its difficulty – half the competitors did not finish the 2010 edition. The race is made interesting and tough through a combination of extreme weather and high altitude, which are often the deciding factors in the General Classification competition.

Founded in 2000, the inaugural edition was only open to amateurs. In 2004 that changed, and the race became known as the Tour of Utah. The format was bought and promoted by Larry H Millar Investments in 2007 – ironically, the ’07 edition was postponed due to a lack of sponsors.

One of the only UCI sanctioned stage races in the US, the Tour of Utah attracts a mainly American field, and the results table is reflective of this – Levi Leipheimer and Tom Danielson have won two editions each. Last year the race was won by Australia’s Lachlan Morton in a break from the usual US dominance.

European Road Race Championships                                    

2nd August – 6thAugust 2017

The European Road Championships have been regulated by the European Cycling Union since 1995. Riders are chosen by their national governing body and wear national team kit.

The winners receive a Champions Jersey reminiscent of the EU flag – blue, emblazoned with gold stars. This year the event takes place in Herning, Denmark, with the 2018 event scheduled to be held in Glasgow.

The 2016 European Time Trial was won by Castroviejo, with Victor Campenaerts in second place. This year, Campenaerts has just won the Time Trial, with Maciej Bodnar, fresh from Tour de France TT victory, taking second place. In common with national and World championship competitions, the European Championships also hold U23 and Women’s events.

Fun fact – Marcel Kittel won the U23 Time Trial in 2009!

BinckBank Tour (formerly Eneco Tour)                                              

7th-13th August 2017

The BinckBank Tour grew out of the Tour of the Netherlands, which was stalling and losing popularity in the early 2000s. The race as we now know it started life in 2005 when the Eneco energy company came on board as a sponsor. The original idea was to join forces with the Tours of Belgium and Luxembourg, and to roll all three races into one Benelux Tour. The idea faltered, and all three remain as separate races.

Bobby Julich won the newly named Eneco Tour in 2005. The race has always suited Edvald Boassen Hagen’s riding style, and he has won the General Classification twice. Last year Niki Terpstra took the GC honours, with Oliver Naesen in second place and Sagan completing the podium.

The Arctic Race of Norway                                                                    

10th -13th August 2017

The Arctic Race is organised by ASO, who also run the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España amongst other high profile races. A relative newcomer, the inaugural edition was held in 2013. Fittingly, the first edition was won by the Norwegian Thor Hushovd, who is now the race ambassador. The 2016 race traced the edge of the Arctic circle and was won by Team Sky’s Gianni Moscon.

The Arctic Race takes place in northern Norway and features some of the most stunning and spectacular scenery in the whole of the UCI calendar. The 2017 edition covers 680km across 4 stages, aiming to provide terrain for sprinters and punchers, with a bit of climbing thrown in for good measure.

The Arctic Race celebrates Norwegian culture and heritage, and is proud of its reputation as a ‘race with a crazy touch’. Stage 2 will be one for the pure sprinters with an unconventional finish on the runway of Bardutoss Airport. The Norwegian fans are very vocal in their support of the race, which is fast becoming a highlight of the UCI calendar.

Colorado Classic                                                                                        

10th – 13th August 2017

A series of 4 one-day races, the Colorado Classic is a new event which is said to fuse the best elements of ‘Colorado’s lost Red Zinger Bicycle Classic, the Coors Classic and the USA Pro Challenge’. Red Zinger and the Coors Classic were popular American criteriums, whereas the Pro Challenge was the perfect made-for-tv extended advert for the Colorado tourist board, taking the viewer on a spectacular journey of the Colorado high lands.

For a state obsessed with all things bicycle, stage racing has never really found its feet in Colorado. The new initiative hopes to address this anomaly, and includes a ‘three day street party’ in Denver called Velorama. The organisers see Velorama as the perfect vehicle to relaunch road racing in the public imagination, relying heavily on advertising slogans such as ‘Pro Cycling is Back’, and ‘100+ cyclists, 3 cities, 1 giant party’. Colorado is well known as a creative outdoor hub, and it seems fitting that something as unique and intriguing as Velorama is taking place here.

Local lad Taylor Phinney and his teammate Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale-Drapac will be amongst the number of pro riders making an appearance, fresh from Uran’s 2nd place at the Tour de France.

Lance Armstrong and JB Hager will be covering the Colorado Classic for the Stages podcast, a perfect match as both the Velorama event and Stages take a new and pioneering approach to road racing, which could be just what the US scene requires to inject some much-needed enthusiasm at grass roots level. The 2017 Tour de France only included 3 American riders; hopefully initiatives like Stages and Velorama will go some way to rectifying this perceived lack of depth in US pro cycling.

  • Keep your eyes peeled for the Freewheeling Arctic Race special with Eliot Lietaer of Sport Vlaanderen – Baloise

Four Wins, Four Things….

In honour of Chris Froome’s 4th Tour de France win, we look back at 4 things we learned from the 104th edition of the race…..

1) Team Sky can multi task.

Not content with having the rider who completed the course in the shortest amount of time on the team, Sky was also home to the rider who rode round France the slowest – Luke Rowe was this year’s Lanterne Rouge, 4 hours behind his leader Chris Froome.

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Road Captain, Lanterne Rouge….Team Sky show they can munti task with Luke Rowe

2) Team Sky have a thing about numbers…

It looks like 4 might well be Team Sky’s lucky number, which is good, because 9 clearly isn’t. Geraint Thomas crashed out of the race on Stage 9, on July 9th, wearing race number 9. Thomas had been in an excellent position at the Giro a few months earlier when a crash on Stage 9 of the Italian tour caused injuries which eventually saw Team Sky pull him from the race. (There was another 9 involved there too, as Thomas wore number 179, ooh spooky!) Perhaps next year they’ll put Geraint in the number 8 or something, or rename Stage 9 as Stage 8+1. One thing’s for sure, he won’t have the option of turning his race number upside down as is customary for rider 13. (I’ll leave you to think about that for a second – it took me a while to work out why that wouldn’t work….slow day, call me Rowe!)

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This is what happens when you wear number 9 apparently…Geraint’s jersey following his race-ending crash ob the Mont du Chat stage

3) It’s not all about Froome – Landa vs Portal, Kwiatokowski vs rear wheels.

This Tour gave us shades of the 2012 Wiggins v Froome drama when Mikel Landa rode away from a clearly struggling Froome in the closing 200m of the stage to Peyragudes. Briefly stumbling to work out why, commentators seemed relieved when some clever spark suggested that Landa was riding to try and steal some of the bonus seconds on offer to prevent them from going to Froome’s rivals. The angry scenes at the Team Sky bus following the stage seemed to suggest that this wasn’t the case – Directeur Sportif Nicolas Portal was so incensed with Landa’s attack that he couldn’t wait to question the Spaniard in the privacy of the team bus, deciding instead to have words and gesticulate at his rider in full view of the world’s press.

Team Sky’s winning ways didn’t stop at the yellow jersey, as they won the team prize and Michal Kwiatkowsi won Rouleur magazine’s Supreme Banana award. Throughout the race, Rouleur awarded a Top Banana prize to the ‘unsung hero of each stage’. Kwiato won the banana for his instantaneous morphing into a mechanic on the road to Le Puy en Velay on Stage 15. Froome broke a spoke on his rear wheel at a critical moment on the stage; both Froomey himself and Dave Brailsford fully recognise that this could easily have been the end of Team Sky’s grip on the yellow jersey. With an enviable sense of chill, the former World Champion Kwiatkowsi pulled up alongside his team leader, and calmly exchanged Froome’s broken back wheel for his own. It happened so quickly that it was only after the stage had finished that Kwiato’s heroics were appreciated in full. His wheel change was so quick, and Kwiatkowsi so calm, that the incident was almost downplayed.

Now that the Tour is over, we can all appreciate the brilliance of this moment, not to mention the other numerous brilliant Kwiato moments, like actually riding himself to a painful looking standstill on the Izoard, or the tweet he sent attached to a video of him casually throwing his (highly expensive) sunglasses away – “state of mind while you’re over the threshold” (you’ll be pleased to know he sent a follow up tweet the next day thanking Oakley for his replacements “back looking cool”). When presented with the Rouleur Supreme Banana, Kwiatkowsi replied “I was always aiming for the yellow banana on this Tour. Chris has only one yellow jersey, so I’m happy to have the yellow banana. It is yellow, yes?” (I hope he really did say that. They also asked what he was going to do with the Supreme Banana award, which is not actually one supreme specimen of the fruit, but a whole bunch of five. “I’m going to make a smoothie I guess”).

Look up super domestique in the dictionary and there’ll be a photo of Michal Kwiatkowsi, who may or may not be brandishing a banana. Kwiato the mechanic could well have won the Tour for Chris Froome.

4) Chris Froome has a cute baby.

 

Photos courtesy of Reuters, Geraint Thomas Instagram, ASO. Video footage courtesy of France TV and ASO.

On This Day in the Tour…….1978

7th July 1978

The 1978 edition of the Tour is perhaps best remembered as the race which announced the arrival of a certain Bernard Hinault on the world stage.  Hinault was already well respected by cycling fans and riders, yet his star rose infinitely higher the day he stood on the winners’ step on the podium in Paris in ’78, for the first of what would become five visits.

The 1978 Tour started without an overwhelming favourite – Merckx, Gimondi and Poulidor had retired after the 1977 season, and the winner of the 1976 Tour, Lucien Van Impe, was recovering from a broken collar bone.  Hinault, riding for Renault – Gitane – Campagnolo, was considered by some as the man most up for the task, although Joop Zoetemelk was also highly regarded, as was the Belgian National Champion Michel Pollentier.  Ultimately, Pollentier was thrown out of the race at the centre of a doping scandal after he won Stage 16 to Alpe d’huez, clinching the overall lead as well as the stage.  Pollentier was caught attempting to falsify a urine test by trying to pass off a clean sample as his own via a system of tubes worn under his jersey at doping control.

On the 7th July, almost ten days before Pollentier’s unceremonious removal from the Tour, the riders arrived in Saint Émilion, ready for an individual time trial to Sainte-Foy-la-Grande.  Of the men considered most likely to win the yellow jersey, Hinault was regarded as the best bet to perform well in time trials.  An all-rounder, Hinault not only excelled in TTs, but could maintain any advantage this skill provided him with by riding well in the mountains.  His all-round style even stretched as far as race types – The Badger won Grand Tours, Classics, World Championships…his talent was prodigious, and awarded him a deserved place in the history books.

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Photo: Hinault wears Yellow 

On the 7th July 1978, Bernard Hinault secured the first of many victories at the Tour de France, storming to success in the individual time trial that made up Stage 8 in 1 hour 22’01, a full 34 seconds ahead of the second place rider, Joseph Bruyère.   Bruyère had done enough to secure the yellow jersey, but The Badger was busy laying the foundations  of an impressive first Tour win, and had risen to 4th place in the overall classification.

If the ’78 Tour marked Hinault’s arrival as French cycling’s hope for the future, his actions on the road throughout the race also saw him secure his role as the patron de peloton.  Although only 23 at the time, Hinault commanded respect amongst his peers.   Fed up of the increasingly unfair treatment of the riders by race organisers, a strike was held on 12th July.  The day had been divided into two ‘half’ stages, a 158km flat stage from Tarbes to Valence d’Agen, followed by a further 96km from Valence d’Agen to Toulouse.  The previous stage on the 11th July had seen the riders tackle the climb from Pau to the finish at Pla’ d’Adet, and the transfer had meant that no one in the peloton had managed to get sufficient sleep.  The configuration of the stages had seen riders finally getting into bed around midnight, before getting up at 5am to continue the race.

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Photo: Hinault leads the peloton in protest, 12th July 1978

The peloton, lead by Hinault, staged a protest, riding at 12kph and arriving at the finish line an hour and a half behind the anticipated end time.  Within sight of the finishing straight, the riders dismounted and walked across the line, Hinault at the helm.  The Tour organisation was forced to annul the stage, and a legend was born as Hinault began writing himself into the history books, propelled by the blistering ITT of July 7th 1978.

Cav’s Catalogue of Unfortunate Events

Following the controversial crash at the end of Stage 4 of the 2017 Tour de France, which ended the involvement of both Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish in this year’s race, Freewheeling looks back at some of Cav’s other race-changing incidents….

  1. A Stain on the Jersey

     

     

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    After winning an amazing 6 stages at the 2009 Tour de France, Mark Cavendish left Paris without having secured the prize he most coveted – the green jersey. Despite being on top form, Cav’s designs on the maillot vert came to an abrupt – and controversial – end, when he was disqualified from the Stage 14 results, deemed to have been riding dangerously by steering his rival Thor Hushovd into the barriers.

    Cav complained loudly about his disqualification, believing that Hushovd had not played fair by making an official complaint about the Stage 14 sprint. The dispute between the two riders rumbled on throughout the rest of the Tour, with Cav telling the press “this guy thinks so highly of himself that he thinks I’m trying to cheat to beat him…I said to him ‘you’ve won the green jersey, but that’s always going to have a stain on it’…”

  1. Flicking the V in Romandie

     

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    After Cav’s 6 wins in the ’09 Tour, the lack of the green jersey in Paris started to simmer below the surface for Cav and his team, and they were not ashamed to be vocal about targetting the maillot vert for the 2010 Tour de France.

    Following the usual pattern however, Cav’s path to glory was far from smooth, and his claim on the jersey looked to be on shaky ground from the off. Cavendish contracted a nasty dental infection in the off-season, which impacted upon his ability to train during the winter months, when most pro racers are laying the foundations for the rest of their season. Cav and cohorts were understandably frustrated going into the early season races, concerned about the impact his truncated training period would have upon his Tour de France ambitions. Some sections of the media began questioning Cav’s commitment, and suggestions were circulating that Mark’s volatile emotional responses – to racing, to questions from journalists, to the actions and statements of his rivals – were hampering his ability to reach his undoubted potential.

     

    The press were keen to focus on what some saw as a question mark over his form, given Cav’s inability to defend his Milan-San Remo title in March 2010. His rocky relationship with team mate and fellow sprinter, Andre Greipel, was generating the column inches which, in a perfect world, would have been filled with a host of early season wins. Cav felt that the media had failed to understand the nuances of pro racing and the impact his dental problems had had upon his training and early races. All these ingredients were swirling around in the pot when Cavendish was selected by his team HTC-Columbia for the Tour de Romandie, a stage race in late April.

    Storming to a typically impressive sprint victory in Stage 2 in Switzerland, as he crossed the line in Fribourg, Cav flicked the V sign, the gesture clearly aimed at his critics in the media. In case anyone was confused, Cav told the post-stage press conference that he wanted “to send a message to commentators and journalists who don’t know jack shit about cycling”.

    Cav raced Stage 3 – a time trial in which he finished 139th, however HTC-Columbia pulled him from the race soon after, citing “inappropriate actions” when flicking the V in Fribourg. Cav was forced to make a public apology, “I did want to make a statement to my critics but realise that making rude gestures on the finish line is not the best way to do that”.

  1. Ragin’ Renshaw

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    Following his expulsion from the Tour de Romandie at the end of April 2010, Cavendish remained undeterred in his green jersey ambitions. The HTC-Columbia team had perfected the art of the lead-out, with the Aussie Mark Renshaw as the last link in the chain, the man to take Cav up the final few metres towards the finish line before swinging away and allowing Cav to leap from his slipstream and dart towards the line with his incredible power and natural sprinting ability. HTC-Columbia’s lead-out was the envy of every sprinter in the peloton, a well-oiled-and-well-drilled machine, with tactical prowess and the ability to accurately read race situations before allowing Cav to power to the line with a frightening acceleration. Going into the 2010 Tour de France, you’d have been mad to suggest that the maillot vert had a destination other than the Manxman from HTC-Columbia.

    If you listen to Cav’s post-race interviews, you’ll notice something – a sentiment that he’ll repeat no matter the outcome of the stage. Mark Cavendish will always thank his entire team for their role in delivering him to the line, their individual roles as crucial as Cav’s sprinting skill. So it was a bit of a concern (to say the least) when Renshaw was expelled from the 2010 Tour de France after a headbutting incident during a bunch sprint to the finish of Stage 11 in Bourg-les-Valence.

    Renshaw was leading Cav to the finishing metres of Stage 11; the HTC-Columbia train having worked to perfection. Other teams had tried to match HTC-Columbia’s organisation, and everything was set up for an exciting bunch sprint. The Garmin- Transitions team were working for their sprinter Tyler Farrar, who had his lead-out man, New Zealander Julian Dean, ride up alongside Renshaw as the riders hit the 400m to go mark. In the frantic and frenetic final moments of the finishing straight, Renshaw headbutted Julian Dean – not once, not twice, but three times, before cutting into Farrar’s race line, impeding his sprint. “He carried on after (the headbutting incident) and came across Tyler’s line and stopped Tyler from possibly winning the stage” Dean said after Renshaw’s disqualification. “It’s dangerous behaviour, and what we do is already dangerous anyway…if there had been a crash it would have caused some guys serious damage”.

    Despite the antics in the bunch, Cav took the stage victory, with Renshaw’s result immediately declassified. Race officials reviewed the footage of the final 400 metres, and deemed Renshaw’s actions unacceptable. “We have decided to throw him off the race” stated race official Jean-Francois Pescheux. “This is a bike race, not a gladiator’s arena”.

 

Photo credits: Top – Getty/Tour of California, Stain on the Jersey – Telegraph, Flicking the V – Telegraph, Ragin’ Renshaw – Eurosport/ASO

Who are….Wanty-Groupe Gobert?

Of the four wildcard entries into the 2017 Tour de France, only one comes from outside of France.  The Wanty-Groupe Gobert team is based in Belgium, and makes its Grand Tour debut in the 104th edition of the Tour de France.

Vital Stats

  • Wanty-Groupe Gobert was founded in 2008 as the Continental level team Willems Verandas.  The team took on its current name in 2014.

 

  • The team currently rides at Pro Continental level, and were the only Pro Continental team to win a WorldTour one day race in 2016, with Enrico Gasparotto’s victory in the Amstel Gold Race.

 

  • Wanty-Groupe Gobert have never ridden a Grand Tour, and each of the 9 selected riders is making his Tour debut.

 

  • The Tour team features: Frederik Backaert, Thomas Degand, Guillaume Martin, Marco Minnaard, Yoann Offredo, Andrea Pasqualon, Dion Smith, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Pieter Vanspeybrouck.

Stage 2 Spoils

With todays stage finishing in Belgium, it seems fitting that a Belgian team ended the day as leaders of the team classification.  Yoann Offredo was awarded the Most Combative Rider after his excellent ride in the two-man breakaway, which he rode with Cannondale-Drapac’s Taylor Phinney.  “I studied the race book and immediately saw that an escape would leave early.  When the break was formed, I wondered why I was in front.  It was raining the whole day, but the feeling was good…some talked about a breakaway for publicity but that was not my main goal.  In my mind there was something else.  The stage victory.”  Unfortunately for Offredo, the peloton caught the break with 1k to go.

Speaking of Offredo’s ride, directeur sportif Hilaire Van der Schueren said “I am more than satisfied.  This is the scenario we dreamed of! I saw the sponsors in tears…such days are not common”.

Only two days in to the 2017 Tour and Wanty-Groupe Gobert already have much to be proud of!

 

UCI World Championships 2016 – Elite Men’s TT Round-Up

Photo Credit: AFP Photo/KARIM JAAFAR

Wednesday saw the elite men take to the start ramp in Doha for the 2016 UCI World Road Race Championship Time Trial. There were a number of pre-race favourites, including 3-time winner Tony Martin, defending champion Vasil Kiryienka, Australian Rohan Dennis and Tom Dumoulin, who wore the Dutch national champion’s jersey. Dennis was looking to erase memories of his Olympic time trial in Rio, where his handlebars broke, costing him a precious 30 seconds. He ended up in fifth position that day, missing out on an Olympic medal by 8 seconds. Tom Dumoulin was the Olympic silver medallist behind Fabian Cancellara, a medal which had looked to be in the bag for the Australian, who had been in second place until the incident.

For much of the World Championship TT, 22 year-old Irish rider Ryan Mullen was in the leader’s seat. Mullen was riding for the first time at elite level, and outperformed some of the World’s best time triallists with a time of 46:04 in the searing heat. “I saw all these big names coming in and they’re behind me and I’m thinking ‘ did I take a shortcut or something, have I missed part of the course?'”. Mullen eventually finished in 5th place, ahead of riders like Rohan Dennis and Tom Dumoulin, who finished in 6th and 11th place respectively. The Irish cyclist remained in the leader’s hot seat for over an hour, having been 10th out of the blocks and riding at what was the hottest part of the day. “I was sitting in saunas on the turbo trainer for a week prior to coming here. I had the radiators on trying to emulate the humidity and heat”.

Another rider who undertook heat specific training was eventual winner Tony Martin, who claimed that his friends thought he was ‘crazy’ for “training in the bathroom with the heater on” to adjust to the high temperatures in Qatar. Martin’s ‘crazy’ training schedule clearly worked, as he stormed into first place an astonishing 45 seconds ahead of Vasil Kiryienka in second place. Jonathan Castroviejo of Spain completed the podium, 01:10 behind the winner.

Martin’s World Championship title was all the sweeter given that the past few years have seen the German’s grip on the time trial discipline slip somewhat. After losing 3:18 to Fabian Cancellara at the Rio Olympics, Martin decided to return to his previous position on the bike, which, although not as aerodynamic as his newly adopted style, was much more comfortable. Reverting to his previously successful position obviously felt more natural, as Martin took his first TT victory this season at the Tour of Britain in September, soon after making the decision to switch back. “The changes have been serious. I had my hands very high up and my elbows low down, but it wasn’t for me. Now, I feel much more comfortable again. One has to accept that the aerodynamics are not everything, but the comfort plays a very, very important role. If your body does not work well, then aerodynamics means nothing”. Although Martin’s newer style, which he adopted last year, was more aerodynamic, the German believes that he lost between 5 to 10% of his power due to not feeling comfortable on the bike.  He conceeds that trying the new position was not necessarily wrong, but that he “just couldn’t get used to it”.

When asked about his time trial victory, Martin was ecstatic. “After three hard seasons, I am once again able to show my best”. On a par with Fabian Cancellara’s four World Championship titles, Martin exclaimed “I do not care about records. The most important thing for me is that I will be able to wear the rainbow jersey again”.

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