Exciting stuff! Stay tuned for further details.
As you’ll no doubt be aware, the World Championship Road Races are underway in Doha. The courses are pan-flat due to the terrain; however, the time trials are technical due to road layouts. This weekend sees the World’s best cyclists attempt the road races, with pure sprinters provided with their best chance to secure the rainbow stripes in years. We’ve already seen the team time trials, Junior Women’s ITT and the U23 Men’s ITT; here’s a little round-up of some of the events thus far….
U23 Men’s TT
Last year, Mads Würtz Schmidt took the U23 title, and returned to the start ramp this time round in defence of his title. Alas it was not to be, as German powerhouse Marco Mathis set a blistering pace as only the second rider out of the blocks, securing victory with a time of 34:08 minutes, 18 seconds ahead of his nearest rival, compatriot Maximillian Schachmann. Miles Scotson of Australia rounded off the podium 37 seconds behind the winner, dashing hopes of a German1-2-3 with Lennard Kämna missing out on third place by 5 seconds. Last year’s winner Schmidt eventually took 21st, a full 02:02 minutes behind the victor.
Yet again vehicles found their way into the action, now a common feature of 2016 racing. As Mathis approached one of the roundabouts on the technical course, an ambulance which had been travelling ahead of him in the opposite lane started to cross into his path, a move which most certainly had the potential to knock Mathis from his bike. The rider, making a quick decision so as not to lose his rhythm and speed, managed to nip in front of the ambulance, tucking in behind an official race vehicle that had tried to communicate with the ambulance driver in an attempt to grant the rider safe passage. The incident caused Irish cyclist Ryan Mullen to question Mathis’s dominant ride, suggesting on Twitter that the German had benefited from drafting in the slipstream of the race vehicle.
Additional controversy stalked the race as Roxanne Knetemann, participating in the Women’s TTT for Rabo-Liv, described the high temperatures as “like riding in a sauna”. The UCI had already announced before the start of the Championships that the weather conditions would be continually monitored due to unseasonably high temperatures persisting across the country.
The USA’s Amber Neben rode an inspirational World Championship time trial in Doha, winning in a time of 36:37 minutes as the oldest rider in the field. Neben, who missed out on a place in the US Olympic team earlier this year, battled soaring temperatures and a technical 28.9 kilometre course to triumph over her younger rivals at the age of 41 – eight years after winning her first World Championship title in Italy.
As with the U23 Men’s TT and the Women’s TTT earlier in the week, the high temperatures were concerning. Neben explained that she’d been specifically training for such conditions. “I was in California when temperatures were up in the 90s – it was probably pretty comical to see somebody riding in a rain jacket and knee warmers when it was 95 degrees outside, but I was trying to get my body to adapt”.
Neben’s heat specific training clearly worked, as she took victory ahead of Ellen Van Dijk of the Netherlands, who claimed a podium spot, 6 seconds behind Neben. Australia’s Katrin Garfoot completed the podium line up, 8 seconds behind. Annemiek Van Vleuten, returning from her devastating crash in the Rio Olympics, was involved in yet another controversial incident, as if rogue ambulances and soaring mercury weren’t enough. Van Vleuten was coming up to a roundabout when Thailand’s Phetdarin Somrat, ahead of her on the course, did not move over to allow the Dutch rider through. Van Vleuten had to reduce speed which disturbed her rhythm and concentration, losing valuable seconds. Somrat, who had missed her allotted start time due to a mechanical, was disqualified from the race, compounding a frustrating day.
Hannah Barnes was the best British finisher in 14th place behind Anna Van Der Breggen, with Hayley Simmonds in 25th.
Team Time Trial – Elite Men
For weeks, participation in the TTT had been in doubt, as we reported last month. After the UCI agreed to provide start fees to all teams that entered, and stopped the event from being compulsory, there was enough interest from 10 of the 18 World Tour teams to make the race viable. In the end, the TTT proved to be a closely fought and exciting race, as the favourites for the title, BMC Racing, took on the young pretenders in the form of Belgian-based team Etixx-Quickstep. BMC have dominated the team time trial discipline in recent years, having won the World Championship title in back-to-back editions – 2014 and 2015. Prior to this, it was the Belgian team who were renowned TTT specialists, also having won two back-to-back World Championships in 2012 and 2013. Both Etixx-Quickstep and BMC were vying for a record-breaking third title.
The route, a 40km course undertaken in desert heat, proved to be technical despite its pan-flat profile. Etixx-Quickstep riders Tony Martin, Marcel Kittel, Julien Vermote, Yves Lampaert, Niki Terpstra and Bob Jungels rode a blistering pace, crossing the line in a time of 42:32 with an average speed of 56 kilometres per hour. The first section of the course contained technical corners and turns, and the Etixx team proved the most adept in handling these aspects, setting the fastest time at the first split. The BMC team, made up of Rohan Dennis, Stefan Kueng, Daniel Oss, Taylor Phinney, Manuel Quinziato and Joseph Rosskopf, were 4 seconds down on the Etixx boys at this point. The straighter sections helped BMC to draw level, as both teams registered a time of 27:56 at the 27km point.
Etixx lost Vermote and Lampaert as the course once again grew technical in the closing stages, meaning the team crossed the line with the minimum number of riders, the German pairing of Tony Martin and Marcel Kittel driving the pace during their turns on the front. BMC had pulled into the lead by a slim margin towards the end of the course, but Etixx-Quickstep showcased their superior horsepower under such testing conditions, fighting the extreme heat to eventually win by 11 seconds from BMC. Like the Belgian team before them, BMC dropped down to the minimum of 4 riders in what was a risky yet pre-planned move. After the race, BMC’s Taylor Phinney confirmed that the team had anticipated ending the race with “four or five riders. Everybody is deep in the pain cave by then…. strategy can only take you so far”.
Like the teams in the prior events, the riders found themselves affected by the desert heat. Etixx-Quickstep’s director, Tom Steels, explained that he’d never seen his team so depleted after a TTT, testament to both the effort that had been expended and the searing hot weather. Also riding the sweltering course, fellow World Tour team Orica-BikeExchange came in third, 37 seconds down, with Team Sky in forth, 54 seconds back.
The win was poignant for the Belgian-based boys of the Etixx-Quickstep team, as Tony Martin moves to his new team Katusha next season. “It’s a really emotional victory for me” explained Martin, “it was the last race for the team, and it’s become a family in the last five years…it’s a dream that came true…the perfect final for me, the perfect moment to leave the team with a fantastic memory”. Martin will be hoping to repeat his TTT victory when he competes in the individual time trial on Wednesday, although he has stiff competition in the form of riders like BMC’s Rohan Dennis and Giant-Alpecin’s Tom Dumoulin. British hopes will lie with Tour of Britain winner Steve Cummings and Movistar rider Alex Dowsett.
As the hackers known as Fancy Bears revealed medical information attributed to Olympic gold medallist Fabian Cancellara and Tour of Britain winner Steve Cummings on Friday afternoon, Bradley Wiggins found himself still embroiled in a heated debate about his own use of TUEs. As we reported last week, both former Sky rider Wiggins and current Sky superstar Chris Froome were subject to detailed scrutiny in the media and online following the release of documents obtained by a hack on a World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) database, showing that both Tour de France winners had taken banned substances with a therapeutic use exemption or TUE, the method by which professional athletes are permitted to use such medications to treat ongoing conditions such as asthma.
Chris Froome had previously spoken about his use of TUEs when his 2014 prescription for prednisolone was revealed. Earlier this year, the three time TdF winner had spoken to The Scotsman newspaper about using TUEs, which he confirmed he had done twice in his career, once in May 2013 for 5 days at the Critérium du Dauphiné, and again for 7 days during the Tour of Romandy in 2014. Both TUEs were UCI approved as part of the treatment for Froome’s asthma. Addressing the recent WADA hack, Froome shrugged off any controversy. “I’ve openly discussed my TUEs with the media and have no issues with the leak, which confirms my statements”.
Wiggins however was not so lucky. The controversy surrounding his TUEs centred around claims made in his 2012 autobiography ‘My Time’, in which Sir Bradley wrote that he had never received any injections in relation to his cycling career. The leaked WADA information appeared to tell a different tale, showing that, alongside a host of TUEs for asthma medication such as salbutamol and formoterol, Wiggins had been granted TUEs for injectable Triamcinolone Acetonide, used to treat a pollen allergy. A statement was hurried out on behalf of the former Sky man, claiming that the rider had been referring in his autobiography to the use of “illegal intravenous injections”, not approved intramuscular injections such as triamcinolone. This statement did nothing to quell the furore. Some felt uneasy that Wiggins had not made any direct comment, choosing instead to communicate through his press team. Others felt that, by drawing attention to the difference between intravenous and intramuscular treatments, the statement was addressing the public as if they were fools, and was also starting to appear as a case of ‘one doth protest too much’.
Photo: Wiggins on Stage 7b of the 2016 Tour of Britain.
Questions were also asked over Team Sky’s relationship with disgraced doping doctor Geert Leinders, who was hired by the team during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, when Wiggins was approaching the pinnacle of his road career. Leinders was banned from working in sport for life after he was found to have committed serious anti-doping violations when working for the Rabobank team. Whilst there have never been any allegations of doping stemming from the doctor’s time at Team Sky, a USADA report compiled as a result of the 2012 investigation into Lance Armstong claims that Leinders administered, possessed and trafficked a host of banned substances including EPO, testosterone and corticosteroids for Rabobank riders during his tenure as the team. Leinders was also accused of administering blood transfusions to Rabobank team members.
Forced to address his relationship with the Belgian doctor, a spokesman for Bradley Wiggins explained “Brad has no direct link to Geert Leinders. Leinders was ‘on race’ doctor for Team Sky for a short period and so was occasionally present at races dealing with injuries sustained whilst racing, such as colds and bruises. Leinders had no part in Brad’s TUE application”.
Again, the statement did nothing to quell the rising tide of voices questioning Bradley Wiggins. Four years on from the outcome of the Lance Armstrong investigation, fans are wary of being taken for fools yet again. Releasing statements through spokespeople instead of directly addressing the matter as Froome chose to do, has prolonged the sense of unease. By refusing to answer questions about his conduct in person, many have decided that Wiggins must have something to hide.
In the face of the ongoing storm, Wiggins has been forced to try a different approach to cease the clamour, by appearing on national TV on Sunday morning as part of the Andrew Marr Show. Following yet another Olympic medal haul for Team GB in the velodrome at the Rio games, Wiggins should be on our screens celebrating the close of a fantastically successful career as one of Britain’s most decorated Olympic athletes. Instead he faces the long, drawn out hangover from the Armstrong era.
As the controversy rumbles on with no sign of slowing, former UK pro cyclist and anti-doping campaigner David Millar told The Daily Telegraph that in-competition use of triamcinolone should be banned, and that there should be complete transparency surrounding the use of TUEs. Millar, who himself was handed a suspension from the sport in 2004 for admitting to the use of performance enhancing drugs, claimed that triamcinolone, brand name Kenacort, was incredibly powerful – even when compared with more well known performance enhancers such as EPO. “I took EPO and testosterone patches” explained Millar, “and they obviously produce huge differences in your blood…you felt at your top level. Kenacort though, was the only one you took and three days later you looked different. It’s scary because it’s catabolic so it’s eating into you. It felt destructive. It felt powerful….if it’s that strong, we shouldn’t be allowed to take it unless there is a serious issue. And if we’re suffering from that serious an issue, we shouldn’t be racing”. Millar went on to say that he couldn’t “fathom” why doctors would be prescribing such a powerful drug before races. “We shouldn’t have to face this”.
Sir Bradley may well be thinking “we shouldn’t have to face this” each time another armchair detective on Twitter claims to have known all along that there was something afoot at Team Sky. Whilst the UCI condones the use of TUEs, many so-called cycling fans are whipping themselves up into a frenzy over the WADA leaks, forgetting that Wiggins et al had explicit approval from cycling’s governing body to take the medication listed on their TUEs. Taking an approved drug to treat a recognized condition is not the same as systematic and sustained doping. Just like that colleague who is always ‘ill’ on a Friday, there are probably those who take advantage of the system, just as there will be those who follow the TUE procedure to the letter. The release of this information does not mean that any of the cyclists named by Fancy Bears have done anything wrong.
Establishing how to manage the TUE system so that it is fair to everyone should form part of the UCI’s approach to building a successful anti-doping programme. Meanwhile, one of the UK’s previously best-loved sportsmen is caught in the cross-hairs, facing a fight for his reputation.
Freewheeling takes three for three as our prediction was realised for the third day running! Team time trial World champions, Team BMC, swept to victory on the 20.9k course with a time of 23:11. Etixx-Quickstep were the second placed team, adrift by 6 seconds. Yesterday we also predicted that LottoNL-Jumbo would put in a strong performance; another prediction that was borne out by the team’s third place in the stage, stopping the clock at 23:34. Our third ‘one to watch’ from yesterday’s predictions was the Movistar team, who placed 4th overall.
The stage saw big changes to the GC, with Rohan Dennis reclaiming the top spot from yesterday’s stage winner, Peter Sagan. The Tinkoff rider drops down into 4th place, separated from Dennis by 27 seconds overall. Second place is awarded to Dennis’s team mate Taylor Phinney, by virtue of BMC’s commanding TTT performance. Etixx-Quickstep also put in an impressive time trial despite having lost Tom Boonen to a crash in the previous stage, which has catapulted Tony Martin up the standings into third place.
Now that the battle with the UCI over the World Championship TTT has been resolved, it appears that BMC have been thinking about those Qatari gold medals. “This shows why we’re the best in the world” exclaimed race leader Rohan Dennis shortly after his team crossed the finish line together and looking remarkably strong. “This was a very good test for Qatar”.
Etixx-Quickstep too had looked formidable – who knows what they would have been able to achieve with a full complement of riders?
With the UCI finally coming to an agreement with riders regarding the team time trial at the World Championships next month, the atmosphere around Stage 5 will be much less anxious and fraught. As we reported last week, WorldTour teams were threatening to boycott the World Championship TTT due to a dispute over the financial implications. The UCI has now agreed that the World Championship team time trial is not compulsory, therefore also removing WorldTour points from the competition.
Back to Eneco, and Friday’s stage begins in Sittard in the Netherlands before crossing into Germany and then swinging back round towards Sittard. The course is 20.9km, and comes immediately before the two big GC stages this weekend.
Sagan has talked of his pre-TTT feelings, noting “it’s important to ride a good team time trial, BMC are the World champions, but I’m sure Tinkoff can deliver a good performance”. Team BMC are the favourites as reigning champs, and have a very strong line-up for this discipline, including Van Avermaet, Rohan Dennis, Taylor Phinney and Daniel Oss.
Freewheeling prediction – It’s hard to see who could break BMC here, as their line-up is so strong. Movistar and LottoNL-Jumbo should go well, and I’m sure Tinkoff won’t want Sagan to lose too much time to Rohan Dennis. At 7 seconds behind Sagan, we predict more jersey swapping between these two…
Wow, that’s two days in a row where the Freewheeling prediction has actually been spot on! As predicted, Stage 4 was the perfect terrain for another Sagan win, and, as predicted, the Tinkoff rider and newly crowned European Champion took the race leader’s jersey. Sagan has won so much this season that it’s actually a rare sight to glimpse him in his Tinkoff jersey these days!
Setting out from Aalter, four riders got into an early break, building up a steady lead of four minutes. The first appearance of Belgian pave soon put an end to their hopes however, with the lead diminishing. The circuit was where the action was expected, and on entering this section of the race with 64km remaining, the bunch came together. Riders were to make 2 laps of the 32km circuit, which, as well as two pave sections, also had two climbs and a smattering of uncategorised cobbles.
Tom Dumoulin made a move and a group of six riders came off the front as a result. This shook up the peloton, who sharply shut the break down. After that, numerous riders tried and failed to form a sustainable break.
Rohan Dennis and Edvald Boassen-Hagen found themselves in one of these unsuccessful breaks, which formed as a result of the climbs. Dimitriy Grazdev and Andriy Grivko of Astana looked to be in with the best chance of a successful breakaway, but this too was eventually shut down with 3km of road left.
The second lap saw another push from Dumoulin, who had joined Tony Martin up the road. With two strong riders, the break looked to be promising, but the pair were unable to join the two Astana riders ahead of them to consolidate the move, dangling like a carrot in front of the peloton and never quite managing to bridge the gap to the men up the road. Eventually, the 8.2% gradient of Bruine Put saw the pairing sucked back into the bunch, however Trek-Segafredo rider Jasper Stuyven leapt off the front to join Grazdev and Grivko.
The sprint itself was not without drama. Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff started the action, and Sagan and Andre Démare of FDJ fought for his slipstream, resulting in a bumping of shoulders and jostling. Greipel meanwhile, had been set up by his Lotto-Soudal team mates to try for a sprint victory. The German powered across the line, only missing out on the win by a whisker in a photo finish. Neither Sagan nor Greipel was sure of the result initially, waiting for the finish line photograph to be analysed before Sagan was pronounced the victor by virtue of a bike throw.
Démare was evidently unhappy with the outcome of the sprint, which Sagan addressed after the race. “There are some riders who are not happy…I had a little problem with Démare, but that is sprinting. If I did something bad, I’m sorry, but I don’t think I did. I was in my line and he was very aggressive to me”.
There was drama elsewhere on the stage: his attention momentarily diverted by consuming a gel early in the race, Etixx-Quickstep’s Tom Boonen hit a pot hole and was thrown from his bike. Boonen remounted but couldn’t continue, abandoning shortly after. Team manager Patrick Lefevere explained that Boonen had felt ‘dazed’ after the incident, and was taken straight to hospital. After an x-ray, Boonen was permitted to return home and rest. At the present time, no comment has been made on whether or not this will affect his World Championship preparation.
As if that weren’t enough, an incident with a motorbike on a roundabout late in the race almost wiped out the three leading riders. The motorbike took a wide line around the roundabout, losing control after hitting the street furniture and careering from right to left across the road, directly across the path of the three cyclists exiting the roundabout on the left, who thankfully managed to avoid being struck by mere centimetres. The incident comes after Etixx-Quickstep’s Tony Martin praised the Eneco Tour on his Twitter page, writing “with intelligent diversions no motorbike has to pass the peleton” (sic).
For two seasons, incidents involving official race motorbikes have marred events, culminating in the tragic accident earlier this year at Ghent-Wevelgem where Antoine Démoitié sadly sustained fatal injuries after crashing and then being hit by a race motorbike. The Eneco Tour had impressed riders by introducing diversions for race traffic at pressure points on the road; however this latest incident in a supposedly safe race underlines the need for the UCI to truly investigate ways to ensure rider safety.
Lotto-Soudal have announced that they will not be sending a team to compete in the team time trial (TTT) at next month’s World Championships in Doha, Qatar. The announcement follows August’s war of words between the governing body, the UCI and the Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels, AIGCP, which looks after the interests of cycling teams worldwide.
The AIGCP released a statement last month threatening a boycott of the Doha TTT, after an ‘overwhelming majority’ of WorldTour teams voted not to participate. The dispute stems from the reintroduction of the team time trial at the World Championships in 2012, which the UCI included in the event to make the programme more appealing to fans and spectators. Whilst the individual time trial and road races are contested by national teams; financially assisted by home federations as an incentive to participate, the TTT is open only to commercial teams, and is not subject to the participation allowance which is available at all other top races.
The UCI dismissed the boycott threat, announcing that all WorldTour teams should be present. “We continue to expect excellent participation…the Road World Championships is a celebration for the whole cycling family…the UCI, a non-profit organisation, reinvests any surpluses in the development of the sport of cycling”.
The dispute with the UCI also includes issues with the expansion of the race calendar, which has seen the addition of 10 extra events, all in far-flung locations. The AIGCP has concerns over the financial pressures upon teams, given that sponsors will have already allocated budgets for future seasons, which may now be inadequate due to the expanded race schedule.
The debacle with the reduction of the WorldTour licences has also concerned the teams’ association, as has the two-year licence, previously three years, another outcome of the dispute with ASO (see Freewheeling article ‘WorldTour Woes’).
As with the licence reduction, these disputes all have the potential to negatively impact the future of the sport, as sponsors reassess their involvement with teams which will require much larger budgets in order to be competitive.
After five stage wins in this year’s Tour de France and a place on the top step of the podium with Steve Cummings in the Tour of Britain, cycling fans have grown used to seeing Team Dimension Data accomplish epic feats in the saddle throughout 2016. The South African team; home to Mark Cavendish, lead-out specialist Mark Renshaw, and the aforementioned British ace Steve Cummings, have become fan favourites with their top level riders and charitable ethos – riding for Qhubeka, World Bicycle Relief’s South African programme, and promoting the Bicycles Change Lives hashtag. Yet the team’s WorldTour licence is under serious threat as a result of a feud between the sport’s governing body the UCI and the company behind races such as the Tour de France and Paris-Nice, ASO.
ASO announced last year that it would pull all its races from the UCI WorldTour in 2017, as the long running battle between both organisations rumbled ever onward. Removing the Tour de France from the UCI WorldTour classification would mean the event would go ahead as part of Europe Tour, classified as an Hors Classe (HC) event. HC races cannot include a field of over 70% WorldTour teams, which, in a 22 team Tour de France, would mean only 15 WorldTour teams could enter. The remaining teams would be invited by ASO from the Pro Continental classification.
The 2016 Tour de France saw 18 WorldTour teams secure automatic entry into the race. Reclassifying the world’s most prestigious bike race as an HC event would mean that at least 3 top class teams would be unable to secure a Tour slot, potentially putting sponsorship in jeopardy. In response to ongoing problems, the number of UCI WorldTour licences are being cut from 18 to 17 for the 2017 season, which is the cause of Team Dimension Data’s woes.
Currently, the South Africa based team lies in 18th place in the team rankings, despite a successful 2016 season for its WorldTour debut. The team ranking positions are determined by adding up the total points of the top five riders within the team, taking the points from the WorldTour individual ranking system. Despite a successful season clocking up over 28 victories, only 9 of these will currently count towards the rankings, as the majority of wins came from races which are not part of the WorldTour series – including Steve Cummings’ yellow jersey at the Tour of Britain.
The five stage wins that Dimension Data clocked up at this year’s Tour de France, arguably putting the team second behind only Team Sky in terms of Tour performance, did not add enough points to the overall total, due to the somewhat bizarre system of allocation. A top ten finish in the GC at the TdF can see a rider awarded 50 points, whereas a stage win will only rack up 20.
Despite Tinkoff and IAM Cycling departing the scene at the close of the 2016 season, two Pro Continental teams are likely to be moving up to take up the vacant spots in the WorldTour grouping. Bora-Hansgrohe – star signing for 2017 Peter Sagan – will benefit from said rider’s lead in the individual WorldTour rankings. The other team looking for a WorldTour spot are the Bahrain Cycling Team, who have managed to secure Vincenzo Nibali for the forthcoming season. This leaves Dimension Data and Lampre scrapping it out for the 17th place as the racing season draws to a close.
It seems a shame that both ASO and the UCI can’t come to an agreement which will benefit the sport – with sponsors less likely to lend financial support to teams that might not make WorldTour races, riders will feel less secure about their futures. Considering the huge successes that Team Dimension Data have seen throughout 2016, it is hard not to feel aghast at the suggestion that their one season as a WorldTour team will also be their last. With a handful of WorldTour races yet to be run before the end of the year, and a few riders playing their cards close to their chest in terms of new signings, it’s far from a done deal. Let’s hope for a last minute reprieve for Team Dimension Data’s sake, as well as for the good of cycling as a whole.