Zdenek Stybar conquers his third cyclo-cross World Championship

This blog is a space for minor sports and underground stories that are not usually launched in the main streams. In my humble opinion, cyclo-cross is the most amazing of the unknown sports. Although it is the little brother of cycling, there are few sports so exciting and thrilling, with riders fighting face to face riding full gas for an hour in a circuit full of mood, obstacles and mechanical.

Yesterday took place the World Championship in Hoogerheide, a race traditionally dominated by Belgians and riders from other mid-European countries. Nederlands, Italy, France, Spain, Germany and Cchec Republic have little tradition in this sport and only a few of them can snatch to Belgian rider a place in the Top 10.

Sven Nys was the favourite, all the more since Niels Albert crashed during the morning training and injured his wrist. The World Cup winner, the 23 years-old Lars Van der Haar had not been consistent in during the last couple of weeks and Zdenek Stybar, who had barely ridden on the mood this season, focused in his road race career, was not thought to beat Nys, that lately had mastered the final part of the season.

(Watch the highlights of the race)

But as laps passed, Nys rivals had to give up due to his strong pace and only Zdenek Stybar catch up and stuck at his wheel. The passed the last lap together and when everybody expected Nys’s attack and Stybar’s surrender, it occurred quite the contrary, Stybar, who had been pushing during the whole race, as it is usual in such a brave rider, struggled for the ultimate push and got some metres that Nys was not longer able to chase.

Both had won the World Championship twice, but a memorable race end up with the greatest cyclocrossman of the history giving up against a top class rider that had ridden little during the winter season.

The Cannibal Queen carries on her dictatorship

The female category brought us another exhibition from the greatest female rider of the history, both in race and in the mood. Marianne Vos did not give any chances for her rivals and dominated the whole race, all by herself since the first lap, to win her sixth world Championship in a row and seventh overall. She is only 26 years old. Needles to say how outstanding and one of a kind is this Dutch rider that every year continues widening her legend.

(Watch the full race)

An unbalanced Vuelta, once again

This year’s Vuelta a España route has been unveiled today and thus confirmed that once again organizers will keep on with the same “successful” pattern of the last editions. I say successful as every year since the race director, Javier Guilllem, took charge the overall classification has been tight until the end, keeping the emotion and the attention of supporters until the very final of the race.

However, many cycling fanatics do not agree with the directors point of view about the race, that makes the  route in order to avoid big differences between the leaders, and making the peloton face many consecutive uphill stage finals in which just few seconds can be scrapped in the GC fight. Last year where 12 uphill finishes and in 2014 there will be 8. Too much, taking into account that there will only be one long time trial, of no more than 34 kilometers and last day’s 10 kilometers individual sprint, that will hardly decide anything important. So once again time trial specialist will be far from Spain when the third Great Race is being held.

Curiously, this is the kind of route that most benefits Spanish riders “Purito” Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde that although every year La Vuelta makes a perfect route for them, they have not step on the first place of the podium since the race assumed this pattern.

The race is unbalanced in other aspects. Most of the stages will take place in Andalucia (southern Spain), where at the end of August riders will suffer an extreme heat of more than 35 degree. And there will be 5 more stages in Galicia (northern Spain), making the route map a bit ridiculous as stages will be only held in the south and in the north, avoiding the rest of the country, including the capital city Madrid, for the first since 1993.

The Vuelta will include other of Guillem’s main trend, very steep climb to attract spectators. This year’s will be San Miguel de Aralar, a climb with cement pavement that as formerly did Angliru or Cuitu Negro, will take riders into a narrow climb and test their ability to keep their balance up on the bike. Team cars and motorbike will have to struggle not to be stood up and provoke a jam.

Trying to create an spectacular race organizers have end up turning the race into a boring one, as every year the race is quite similar, sprinters and time trial specialist avoid the race because they have no opportunities and always the same kind of riders fight for the red jersey. Organizers have much too learn from Tour and Giro.

Welcome to hell, Wiggo

Source: “Sky Sports”

The last year’s Tour de France winner, Sir Bradley Wiggins, pointed to the Giro of Italy after getting his greatest aim. Everyone thought that it was a strange choice, as those riders who show enough strength to fight for the Tour tend to focus their entire career into the French race. Far more in the case of Wiggins, who is 33 and will not have many other chances to repeat his success in France.

He said that he wanted to win another 3 weeks race and Giro is the second most prestigious race of the world. Probably Wiggins thought that he could use the same method that he used in the Tour. Getting the same good shape that he had last year, use his teams strength to control the peloton and thanks to his superiority in time trials, get the pink jersey in Brescia. Turn the Giro into a velodrome and rule with the power of his sophisticated method of data and scientific stats.

Now that 11 stages of the course race have been ridden, we can say that Wiggins was wrong and reality has shown that winning the Giro is much difficult than winning the Tour, in particular for a rider with his features.

First of all, although the first week in Italy is not as hard as in France, where the peloton flies during 7 days and there is much stress to get the first positions of the bunch, in Italy the first week is full of death traps. Short but steep climbs, stages with not a single flat kilometre, bad weather and so on. In Wiggins’ case, his main problem during the first week has been a combination of two factors: bad weather and dangerous descents. He lost time and showed weakness when the road went down and he also caught a cold, what did not allow him to show his real abilities. In fact, he told in the start of the race that data said he was in his best shape ever.

He is actually fourth and more than 2 minutes down in the GC. Surely, taking into account that a 56 kilometres long time trial has been ridden, before starting the Giro he expected to reach at this point wearing the pink jersey with a great advantage. He managed that scenario in his mind.

The real situation is quite different: if he wants to win the Giro he needs to attack and get time in the stages which he expected just to defend his jersey. In this new scenario, Wiggins is not the favourite to win the Giro and he is not even the only option for his team. Some think about Rigoberto Uran as team leader, a better climber than him who has never shown weakness in the descents. He has already won a stage with a great demonstration of strength taking advantage of the other leaders’ control of his team mate.

If he had not wait to Wiggins the rainy day that the Briton descended, in his words, “like a girl”, he would be just one minute behind Nibali in the GC. Unfortunately for him, he had to wait and team managers will not entrust him to lead the team so soon. Probably they will commit the same mistake as in the 2011 Vuelta. Then Froome showed that he was more capable of winning the race than Wiggins and he lost time working for him. Afterwards, if he had not lost that time, he probably would have beaten Cobo. And the story seems to repeat.

There is still much more to come: many steep ascents, dangerous descents, attacks from the Colombian and Italian riders, controversy inside Team Sky and so on. At this time nothing seems advantageous for Bradley Wiggins, but he tries to send the message that he will no surrender.

Last year, in the Tour, Wiggins and Team Sky played the role of the hammer and got a crushing victory. Now Wiggo is the nail and it is difficult to think that he will recover and become the hammer again in such an unfavourable scenario as the hard third week of the Giro.

Spanish sport loses all credibility

Source: Dani Pozo (AFP)

We all knew that Operacion Puerto was no more than a cover-up strategy to avoid further damages in the national sport. As doping was not a crime when the mentioned Operation was carried out, Fuentes and company could only be banned for acting against public health. The highest prison sentence request was a two years one. The final sentence, one year prison condemn and four-years ban to work as a sports doctor He will not go to prison becouse of his lack of criminal record. Ignacion Labarta was also condemned for four months and Yolanda Flores, Vicente Belda and Manolo Saiz were absolved.

But the worst new was not that these cheaters were almost all absolved and condemned with such light sentences. The fact that embarrasses the public opinion, the world of sport and the international athletes is that, according to the judge’s sentence, we will never know whose blood was inside the more than 200 bags discovered under Fuentes charge.

Although the Spanish Antidoping Agence has stated that they will appeal that decision, we should not rely any more on Spanish justice. It is widely known that Spain has been indulgent with doping and cheaters for years. Probably most of the greatest achieves by Spanish athletes were accomplished thanks to performance enhancing drugs and a permissive legislation and a loose control of doping.

Recently, the Spanish government has approved a brand new anti-doping law, mainly because such a permissive country as Spain could hardly request 2020 Olympic Games. So they make that new law for making up such a flagrant lack of responsability against doping.

But now, after 7 years, Spain had the opportunity to show that they really want to fight against cheaters and doping. A wasted opportunity, as we know that more than a hundred athletes used Eufemiano’s prohibited methods to get sport success but we probably never know their name. Press unveiled some years ago whose bags were the codenamed blood samples, but  as they discovered ones, they omitted others, probably the names of the greater athletes.

And those ones that were responsible of the greatest doping system never discovered in Spain have been almost absolved. Nor Saiz either Belda have been condemned. Both cheaters and liars that have deeply hurt our sport and never apologised, that treated riders as machines to get success and that changed cycling into a circus of unbelievable performances, have been absolved.

Shame on Spanish sport and authorities. Open bar for dopers and cheaters. Before the new law was approved Spain was the paradise of doping and dopers. Many athletes have stated that (Read the Reasoned Decision by USADA). Doctors as Del Moral, Fuentes, Padilla and many others have acted as scientifics of doping without limit. The Spanish sport grew to become the greatest power and we already know why. Doping has never have limits. Everything has been cheating and covering up. No justice here. No more reliability on Spanish sport.

Andy Schleck, the story of a complete breakdown

Source: Elreferente.es

The last Andy Schleck’s episode reported by a French politician, Pierre-Yves Le Borgn, has lightened which is Andy Schleck’s current state: he is absolutely sunken in the shadows. That politician wrote in his Facebook page that he met a famous rider, classified second in a Tour of France, drunk in a lifter, unable to press the correct button due to his bad condition. When people inquired him who was that cyclist, and some started speculating that could be Andreas Kloden or Jan Ullrich, he clarified that the rider was Andy Schleck.

Some days ago, after giving-up at Tirreno Adriatico’s seventh stage (one of the hardest stages recently held), RadioShack Team’s sources stated that they have failed focussing to improve the rider’s physical condition instead of concentrating in his mental health. And now we have understood the regrets of the team about having paid scant attention to their rider’s psychical recovery, as this seems to be the main hurdle to be back in his best shape. To sum up, his real problem is more psychological than physical.

The fact is that since last year’s Criterium du Dauphiné Schleck is living in a vicious circle. Withdrawals in almost every race that has taken part, his brother’s positive doping test and the consequent ban and so on have not allowed him to demonstrate the great rider he is. Or better to say, he was. Schleck has never been on of those riders that love cycling more than anything in the world, cycling is not his main passion, but a great way to earn his living. He loves money and fame, but happiness and sport success do not depend in either of them. And thus why his recovery will be hard, because he will give up when things will not go well for him. He is mentally very weak.

There is no room for doubt that he is one of the most gifted riders of the peloton. Since his outstanding appearance in the Giro d’Italia in 2007, until them he was a complete unknown rider for most of the cycling fans, he was expected to dominate the world of cycling. If he was able to get a second in such a tough race as the Giro when he was just 22, what was he not able to do?

He then aimed to win the greatest cycling race and in fact he achieved his aim, after Contador’s disqualification gave him the 2010 Tour de France win. He also got two second places in 2009 and 2011 and added a Liege-Bastogne-Liege race to his winner list. But the most remarkable fact that he achieved in those years was that he seemed the only rider capable of beating Alberto Contador, unstoppable until Schleck started shining. Schleck was the only one that dared to attack him in mountain stages and the Spaniard feared him. And in 2011 he played the main role of one of the most memorable days of the modern cycling, when his “all in” attack in Col du Izoard with more than 60 kilometres left recorded the epic cycling that the fans love.

Whether Andy Schleck will have enough strength to get out this vicious circle is a complete enigma. If what the French politician says is true, the key aspect of his recovery will be to make him understand that hard work and mental strength is the only way to be back in his best.

His challenge to come back in his best shape will be for him the tougher hurdle that he has ever faced. It is usually said that for an athlete the most difficult thing is not to get to the top, but to stand there. Schleck reached the top and now has fallen so deep that he seems unlikely to return to the top. Some people have started comparing him with Chava Jimenez or Marco Pantani. I thing that his case is not so extreme, but his team needs to do a great effort to bring him back from the shadows.

The “logarithmic cycling” and how to avoid it

Source: Steephill.tv

The term that I have used to headline this post may seem strange. I will explain it briefly. Since Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky discovered that a “fat-ass” rider can win the tour thanks to sophisticated specific training, the application of science on cycling has been thought as the panacea for performance enhancing. We know that some years ago science was used in other ways to make riders go faster (yes, doping existed and most of the riders used it), but this applications where more linked to medicine.

Since cycling is doing great efforts to be a cleaner sport, with the so called “modern teams” with Dave Brailsford, Sean Yates and Tim Keirrison’s Team Sky leading them, new training methods are been introduced. People in the world of cycling now talk about SRM tools, watt-counter systems and so on. Sky has turn roads into velodromes, every single movement seems to be measured. When we see Team Sky riders setting the path of the bunch they ride at the ideal speed, the one that is suitable in every moment of the stage, appropriate for their leaders strength and form. Even when the leaders attack, after having caused enough fatigue to the rest of the bunch, they focus on their little screens to check that they ride under the correct watt threshold. Everything must be always under control and thus how Team Sky has been so successful in the stage races of the last two years. This way they won last year’s Tour de France, Paris-Nice, Criterium du Dauphiné, Tour de Romandie and Volta ao Algarve. And in 2013 they have also won Paris-Nice with Richie Porte, using the same strategy they formerly used with Wiggins and Froome. It does not matter who is the leader, they always act the same way. 

But suddenly, at today’s stage in Tirreno Adriatico, cycling has turned against the Team Sky’s “logarithmic cycling”. And that has succeeded thanks to 3 main factors: the meteorology, the route and, above of all, the riders’ ambition. For almost 6 hours cyclist have stand under the heavy rain that, if possible, has toughen a stage that was designed for pain. Uncountable short but steep climbs in the second half of the stage have converted the stage in a mined battle camp. With 50 kilometres remaining, some riders needed to put their feet off the pedals for not falling to the wet pavement. It was such a tough climb that riders moved in slow motion, some of them, at the back of the bunch, moving from one side to the other of the road, zigzagging to avoid losing the balance. Images of suffering and epic cycling.

In that context, and with the chase just 2 minutes ahead, the bunch has decided to fight for the victory and the main riders, considering that the stage was being so complicated, started to move trying to dismast the control that since then Chris Froome’s team had installed in the race. They found a great opportunity to become the watt counter useless and test the leader’s strength and ability in a chaotic final, take him out of the protection of data and science and carrying him to a face to face struggle.

http://video.gazzetta.it/vince-sagan-nibali-nuovo-leader/0b11e20e-8a75-11e2-bc5c-838ef8f87b52 (Click here to watch the stage’s highlights)

Nibali attacked toughly in a 20% slope and only Joaquim Rodríguez and Peter Sagan, the stage winner, could resist his pace. Froome did not manage to keep his balance and after losing many positions in the last short climbs, spent too much strength trying to get to the chase group, for the first time in 2013 Tirreno Adriatico, racing alone with many riders ahead. Without teammates around, his effort was not enough to reduce the difference between his group and the two groups that rode ahead. Thus he lost a race that seemed to be his.

Race organizers have discovered how to create a stage ideal for fans’ joy, reviving the epic of the ancient cycling, when riders reached the finish line one by one, losing minutes and provoking great changes in the overall classification.

Today we have not seen Team Sky’s boring control that desperated both fans and rivals last Tour de France. He have seen the superb all-powerful team suffering and losing the control of the situation.

Showing such superiority they have create a willingness of watching uncontrolled cycling, with attacks, attractive routes and epic movements. And that is what we have watched today, a total breakdown of Sky’s dictatorship thanks to the weather, the toughness of the short steep climbs and, above of all, the courage and ambition of Vincenzo Nibali, a man that must be regarded as the current main entertainer of cycling races.

Tylor Phinney’s great deed

In such an epic day, I want to praise Tylor Phinney the same way I have praised Nibali or Sagan. However, he spent 37 minutes more for fill in the stage. 37 minutes more under the rain. 37 minutes more of pain. And, in his case, there was no recompense in the finish line. No fight for the victory, or improvement in the overall. He only wanted to finish the stage, after been left alone by his “grupeta” fellows, who decided to give up with 130 kilometres to the finish. But he did not. He continued alone, under the rain and surely thinking “what the fuck I am doing?” I strongly recommend reading his last tweets to understand how a rider feels after doing what he has done. And a little detail must be added: his effort was useless, as he arrived out of time limit. Pure cycling.

The cannibal queen

Source: Cyclingnews.com

In cycling the nickname “cannibal” is usually given to those outstanding riders who are dominant during a long period in which no victory seems to fulfil them. They keep winning over and over again until their rivals get absolutely hopeless. Eddy Mercks and Sven Nys where nicknamed this way when they started winning endlessly and established a sport dictatorship in their respective period.

At 25, Marianne Vos already deserves to be given that nickname. If it possible Vos is a more complete cannibal that the before mentioned two riders, as she has dominate the whole women’s cycling: cyclo-cross, track and road. Just taking a look at her list of relevant victories can you realize who is Marianne Vos, without a doubt one of the most dominant athletes of the history of sport. To compare her with Eddy Mercks is more than right, moreover at this point I try to think whether the Belgian would have ever won titles in other disciplines of cycling and, at the same time, be so dominant in road cycling. And that  seems quite unlikely.

Vos has demonstrate not only having talent and physical capacity to beat their rivals, but to be capable of overcoming her own limits to get victories that for any reason offered her more resistance. That is the case, for example, of the Giro Donne, a race that she was determined to win and has already won twice. She had to lose weight to improve her climbing skills and perform better in the tough roads of Italian ascents. So she did, and she won the race.

She neither gave up when she seem to be incapable of winning the rainbow jersey again, trying to repeat her succes in 2006. Until last September 2012, she waited patiently although winning the silver medal five times in a row. She waas obliged to be close to the rider that every year during a five-year period was taking the world best rider’s jersey, just a step higher than her in the podium, when everyone believed the victory must be hers. She end up retaking the jersey thanks to a impressive attack climbing the Cauberg, an acceleration that will remain for many years in the cycling lovers’ memory.

When the winter comes the temperature drops down and most of the riders, both women and men, tend to hibernate, hiding from the flashes, selecting a good place for recovering and then start training for the next season, but she doesn’t stop at all. It is cyclo-cross time, the discipline in which Marianne has won more world champion titles, five, in overall 6 participations. Thus during winter Vos increases her number of victories, with her distinctive smile and those appealing blue eyes in her muddy face, hands up, and her first rival more than a minute behind. That is the most repeated image in the races that Vos takes part.

Source: cxmagazine

As said before, Vos has dominated road, cyclocross and track cycling. I haven’t mentioned the other great discipline of cycling, the mountain bike, because she only competed in mountain bike in her early years. And, of course, she won the national championship. But this discipline will not miss Vos’s talent any more, because she stated that she will compete in Rio 2016 for trying to win a medal. She has already won Olympic medals in both road and track cycling and if she accomplishes her new goal, she will achieve an unbeatable feat: no other rider has ever won 3 medals in three cycling disciplines. And, certainly, many years will pass until any other is near of such a feat, as it seems unconceivable, at least in men’s cycling, where is impossible for any rider to combine succesfully such different disciplines.

Where are her limits? She is now 25 and if she continues in the way of the last years, maybe in 5 years to come we will be talking about one of the greatest athletes of the history and the best female athlete ever. She is not as highly regarded as she deserves due to two main reasons: she is a woman and, unfortunately, our society doesn’t take much into account female athletes and she is a cyclist, a sport that due to doping scandals has been despised by the world of sport and media.

In any case, I believe that Vos deserves to be mentioned in this humble blog due to her contribution to the world of sport and I think there was not a better way to show my respect  and my admiration that dedicate her a post.