Dauphiné Libéré, Froome: L’Araignée Fragile

This week I’ve been mostly watching the Dauphiné Libéré, or as it’s more recently known, Critérium du Dauphiné. Like many stage races in France, it was started by a regional newspaper, before recently handing over responsibility to the ASO. The Dauphiné is considered as the last proving ground for the Tour contenders; an opportunity to fine-tune the form and gain a last-minute psychological boost ahead of the greatest show on earth. It usually echoes aspects of the Tour route in a compressed form, perhaps using the same stage as the time trial or incorporating climbs from the Queen stage. You also get to hear the dulcet tones of Daniel Mangeas echoing out across the mountain passes, a welcome harbinger of the return of Le Grand Boucle.

It’s been grand to see Chris Froome warm-up for a tilt at the Tour this year. He’s very much the flag-bearer for Kenyan British hopes in the absence of Sir Wiggo of Wiggins. His team are an impressive bunch, with lieutenant Richie Porte a GC contender in his own right, assisted by the monstrously strong Ian Stannard and the ferocious Geraint Thomas.

Ian Stannard is one of my favourite cyclists. He’s a complete beast on the bike and looks like he’s about to tear the handlebars away from the stem with each pedal stroke, such is his latent power and force. Froome is antithetical; a willowy and elongated sapling, each arm and leg seems to be working at odds with the other limbs and his head shakes and dips with the syncopated cadence. The bike seems almost unable to contain the narrow proportions of his 6″1 frame and his feet move at odds to his lower limbs. His elbows point outwards; the acute angles resemble the spindly and fragile joints of a spider.

Froome off the bike

He lacks the effortless charisma and bonhomie of Sir Wiggerton of Wiggston, but this is balanced by a willingness to attack and countenance the unpredictable when racing. His effort to overhaul Contador was similar to Dan Martin’s ride in Liege-Bastogne-Liege; a beautifully timed attack and paean to cycling in its purest form. His determination to lead the team around France this summer is also telling and appropriate. Everything he’s done over the past two seasons points to rider full of self-belief, fitness and form.

Vuelta a España

I’ve been really enjoying the first few days of the Vuelta. It’s been a riot of attacking cycling, with Contador attempting to reassert himself after being banned for ingesting clenbuterol in ‘tainted spanish beef’. He should steer (no pun intended) clear of el vaca espanol from this point onwards.

Yesterday was great. No sooner had i switched on the terrorbox than the race exploded across the open and windswept flatlands of wherever it was in Spain. Team Sky, marshalled by Flecha and Stannard – two of the hardest, fastest riders in the bunch, massed on the front and stepped on the gas. The race switched from a meandering cyclo-tour live on telly to a total cycling apocalypse. Almost as soon as they started the forcing the pace (within 2 minutes, if that) there was a huge crash in the bunch, taking out Valverde. I have no sympathy, Movistar this year have a track record of nefarious deeds. I shall also not mention Valverde’s past record as a TOTAL DRUGS CHEAT. Besides, as I have learnt this year first hand, there is nothing remotely controversial about what happened, and any kant or polemic can be answered with the simple statement: “that’s bike racing”.

And then it happened. You wait all year for a glimpse of this rare sight, and suddenly there it is, happening in front of your very eyes: ECHELONS. The riders were strung out across the road in 4 lines with broad daylight between each diagonal as they spiralled across the landscape like waves across the ocean. Those lucky enough to be firmly in the echelon were content, working hard. Those on the outside, not on the guest list, were condemned to scrap in the gutter in an unseemly mass. It was fantastic.

the echelon. a thing of rare beauty, except when you’re in the gutter and can’t get in.

But the fun didn’t stop there. Simon Clarke took the win from Tony Martin. A second group came in with Nicolas Roche and a few others. Roche sprinted in an attempt to grab a few seconds for his GC battle. David de la Fuente matched him then dug really deep to come past and take the battle for the 4th place. However, De La Fuente didn’t seem aware that he was battling for 4th place on the stage. He thought he’d taken the win.

There’s a certain glory and honesty in his celebration. For those few short moments he had in effect won the stage. He experienced the sensation unique to winners, those who manage to defy the odds and somehow take the win from 180 other bike riders. There is a purity to his gestures and excitement; the look back, mouth wide open, hands aloft in wild astonishment, the repeated wave to the sky. Afterwards I imagine he felt a little bit sheepish, maybe he saw the funny side, but it doesn’t change the fact that at that point in time he had won.

Etape De La Défoncé

Adjective

défoncé m. (f. défoncée, m. plural défoncés, f. plural défoncées)

  1. (slang) fucked, wasted, high (on drugs)

Verb

défoncé m. (f défoncée, m plural défoncés, f plural défoncées)

  1. Past participle of défoncer

Yesterday was the final stage for two of the most important stage races in living memory. The Tour De France and the Etape De La Défoncé. Unfortunately i couldn’t ride both so i opted for the latter. I came home after the stage race to watch the former, and marvelled at Wiggins performing the leadout, giving it a flick of the elbow on the last corner of the Champs-Élysées, leaving Cav to power up the straight to take his 4th win in a row. Later on the podium, Wiggo unleashed another impeccably timed one-liner; “We’re just going to draw the raffle tickets now”.

Cav and Wiggo get ready for the Etape de la Defonce
Wiggo re-enacts his fist pump for the EDD crowd.

I’ve been utterly overwhelmed by this year’s Tour. There’s not an awful lot more to say. My Mother rang me to discuss Both Wiggo’s and Cav’s victories yesterday. My Mother-in-Law cites Bradley Wiggins as her new hero. Everyone at work is talking about it. It’s on the front cover of The Times as a special wraparound poster – there is nothing else apart from the spectacular sight of the yellow jersey in full flight.

astounding

Whilst the Etape De La Défoncé may not have seared itself into the collective consicousness of a nation in quite the same way, it has left an indelible impression on the psyche of the participating peloton. It’s a terrific race, but pretty tough on the legs. I felt much stronger yesterday and rode much more conservatively at the start, despite us defending a slim lead. I rode in the bunch and did everything i could to avoid expending any energy.

John forgoes the team talk in favour of a team ‘stare’ instead.

John was in yellow and having a great race, things were getting spicy when suddenly a car came across a roundabout and he swerved onto the raised lip, knocking his gears out and ending his race. One of the amazing things about racing in Wales is that the Marshalls and NEG have the power to stop traffic. This leads to all but closed roads. Occasionally someone squeaks onto the course and causes problems. The NEG do an amazing job.

the red and gold reflected in the glorious weekend sunshine

When it got to the first major climb the race just exploded; riders started going backwards. One of the Kingston Wheelers took it on from way out for the time bonus and it just went mental. I found a tempo and rode back across. For the first time in a road race i found myself overtaking lots of riders and holding my own right at the front of the peloton. I began to bridge across to the main group, riding cautiously on the descent before tacking back across again, meeting up with Tom Ilet who was having a terrific race in the red and gold. Christian also was hurting himself recklessly and doing damage to the bunch in the process. It was exciting. I then went for the little ring to spin over the top and ride on with the break. It didn’t quite work out, the chain unshipped and wedged between the seat stay and the chainring. I couldn’t flick it back on so had to stop. It took me ages to get it back on, by which time riders had come flooding past and the break had gone. I was left in a futile chase across the valley to try to get back on, but didn’t make it. Again, i thought i must have been a long way down, but there were big groups behind me on the road. I got in with one of them, but wasn’t quite on their rhythm so succeeded only in disrupting their smooth chaingang until i managed to get in sync. Then my chain came off AGAIN. And that was it, i came home further back.

Strada Cycles holding onto yellow… by one second

It was a missed opportunity really; i wouldn’t have won or anything, but i definitely could have ridden for/with Tom and Christian and held on at the front, there were a number of big climbs to go. Tom took 5th overall and Christian bagged points to move up to 3rd cat. Sam had a tasty crash, but luckily somersaulted into a soggy and grassy ditch, rather than the unforgiving tarmac.

I’ll have to go back next year, it’s a brilliant race and is amazingly well-organised by Will Pring and his team of volunteers. I went from the euphoria of the stage win, to the slough of despond that is getting dropped, then back to the giddy heights of mixing it up on the climbs and seeing other people go backwards, then back down again, before finishing on a high because of the camaraderie and support from all the riders in the race. Riding with the Strada chaps was a blast, they are gentlemen all.

It was an amazing weekend to be riding a stage race with a rider in yellow.

Maillot Jaune (Etape De La Defonce)

It’s been a slightly insane day. I’ll work backwards. I’ve just finished watching the Tour and I am more than slightly overwhelmed by Bradley Wiggins’ Time Trial performance. I was also left gobsmacked by his amazing interview in French where he compared Francois Hollande to a chap from Big Brother. Apparently he’d promised to breakdance with Hollande if he won Le Tour.

La maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins s’est gentiment moqué d’un journaliste qui lui indiquait la présence du président de la République, François Hollande, à l’arrivée de l’étape à Brive, vendredi.

Ah bon ? C’était lui ? Je ne savais pas qui c’était, je croyais que c’était quelqu’un de Loft Story…... Il est où maintenant pour que je fasse du break dance avec lui ? Vive la France ! a-t-il souri.

Whilst Britain’s latest national hero was scorching his way to history across the baked tarmac of Bonneval, I was involved in stage race in South Wales. It started off with a team time trial, then a 53 mile hilly road stage. I love team trials. They are beautiful. Tomorrow is a 45 mile very hilly road stage. I’m riding for Strada Cycles Road Team, even though there is a BSCC outfit in the race. It’s a long story, but all’s fine and i haven’t yet been banished into the outer regions of the Severn Road Club for my rank turncoatery.

Bedminster’s answer to Froome and Wiggins

The plan was (John has lots of plans, this much i learnt today) to try and take the yellow jersey in the TTT and then defend it in the road race stage. John’s plan kind of worked, insofar as NOTHING went according to plan, but we managed to take the yellow jersey and defended it (in the loosest sense of the word) in the road race stage.

Le Maillot Jaune! Sacre Merde!

The TTT was about 7.3 miles. We managed 16.20. I’m not sure what the average speed was. I do know that at the turn John went the wrong way and had to do a complicated volte-face to get back and then we sat up a bit whilst he buried himself to make up the 50 metres. It was quite entertaining. We still managed to beat the next best team by 27 seconds which gave us a decent cushion for the road stage, especially considering the 20 second time bonus on one of the primes. Which brings me on to the road stage…

There was a prime at 3 miles. Immediately after this a break got away and we were left with chasing duties. I spent about ten miles on the front with Matt trying to get it back and it really hurt, and in short, it destroyed me. I started going backwards on the climbs. This happens to often to me in road races, i’ve yet to figure out why or how, it’s another post i suspect, with lots of navel-gazing and speculative nonsense, but i imagine it will throw up the incisive insight that a hillclimb is a time trial. I am good at time trials. A climb in a road race is not a hillclimb. I am not particularly good at road races. QED.

At one point we were working to chase down the break, doing a lot of through and off and really driving the pace. Whilst this hurt a lot, and i found the gaps getting steadily bigger, it was also a highlight of the race. As the wind changed direction the movement of the paceline switched and we changed on the inside. It was fascinating.

I started to yoyo off the back. It’s really hard. You can only get back on so many times. Whenever there’s a lull you plead for respite, but it soon picks up again. Eventually, after about 45 miles, and 8 miles from the finish, the elastic snapped. This wasn’t altogether unexpected, i had a feeling my endurance would let me down due to the lack of training. It’s a bum deal, but as i mentioned previously, the twin alignments of work and weather scuppered my build-up. I waved goodbye to the bunch, metaphorically, and locked into a battle for survival just to make it up the last 8 miles.

There was one chastening section; the race heads out to roundabout and then back up to the finish. I had to witness the break heading back. It was the cycling equivalent of the walk of shame. In the end, John held onto the jersey by ONE SECOND. This is great news. It’s also awful news because it means we have to go out and do the whole thing again. The only silver lining is i’m about 2 hours down on the GC so everyone will leave me alone. I don’t think my legs will be in attendance. I don’t like to compare myself to Jens Voigt, but i felt a certain empathy with his latest utterly genius pronouncement about the Tour. I don’t like to compare a 53 mile road race stage and 7 mile time trial around Cowbridge with 3000km through France either, but what the hell.

http://www.itv.com/tourdefrance/news/cult-cycling-hero-jens-voigt-talks-to-ned-boulting/

Every cell of my body was screaming at me: ‘Stop, stop, I’m tired.’ I could hear them all, millions of little cells yelling in agony: ‘Jens, stop, I can’t do it anymore!’

Bike Booms, Bradley Wiggins, British Cycling and Will Fotheringham

In the previous post i wrote about the current high watermark in British Cycling and the exponential growth in public interest and participation. I suspect further British success will elevate cycling even higher in the collective consciousness.

Today I gave a gallery talk at MShed alongside the Easton Cowboys, a fantastically anarchic football collective. We ranged across a range of topics and the comparisons and contrasts between the two clubs were fascinating. Eventually the conversation came round to the tour and I got the odd feeling that most of the people there knew not just who Bradley Wiggins was, but also Chris Froome. It was slightly surreal. They also had developed a working knowledge of the reasons why Froome sat up when he apparently had the stage victory in his grasp.

Bradley Wiggins is emblazoned across the front page of the Guardian Weekend Sports pages, ahead of the not-racist at all John Terry. Will Fotheringham has also written an excellent article on the Guardian website looking at the rise in British Cycling in depth. It’s well worth a read. The only thing he’s missed out is the effect of the cycle to work scheme which is a key part of the resurgence in cycling. He does make this link in his concise article in Cyclopedia though.

The below-the-line comments seem to be the usual mix of militantly out-there advocacy and statistical madness. There is a common thread though, the need for some kind of change in culture in terms of both driving and town planning. Maybe this will be the next step.

Wiggins et Froome, Ooh La La, Parfait.

I had a race today; my first open event for what seems like yonks. It was the Severn Road Club open 10 mile time trial. As such it was a close second to another race going on in somewhere in southern France. I imposed a spoiler lockdown, avoiding all tweets and inadvertent checking of any internet site that might have a banner or link to the results. At one point at the HQ a chap began talking about the stage and a couple of riders gave him a damn good shhhshing. I managed to watch the stage this evening with the wife. She was very excited by the cycling and knows her onions, commenting on Hesjedal’s untimely exit, amongst other tactical nuggets. It was brilliant to watch and genuinely exciting to see British Cycling, and Wiggins and Froome, elevated to such lofty heights. Froome’s late attack was staggering, his spindly, sinewy frame overcoming the gradient and the other riders with comparative ease. Normally i delete the stage after watching it but i’ve stored this on Tivo for repeated bongo sessions. The Tour is always exciting, but the added dimension of having a British rider at the sharp end of the race in a dominant team makes it completely engrossing. Froome is in polka dots, Wiggins in yellow. Cripes.

Meanwhile, on a main road somewhere in Gloucestershire, i got reacquainted with the Graveyard. I rode out, it’s about 22 miles or so, at a fairly brisk pace. The wind was swirling around and it was pretty damp, but it felt like a crosswind which is usually best for for the U7B (in the absence of float). I rode to the turn slower than the norm, around 27mph, and after the turn didn’t feel the sudden kick in the face from the typical headwind. After the climbs i picked up the pace and finished with a 21.15. This is a PB by about 2 seconds, which i’ll take, and it was enough for the win with the second placed rider about 30 seconds back. I then rode home. Despite the slightly hairy conditions, the most dangerous bit of the day was riding a full TT whip with aerobongo gear all the way down the Gloucester Road at 6.30pm. It garnered some funny looks. I felt a bit like i was on a stag do. Average speed for the race was 28.3mph, average speed for the whole 52 miles was 23mph.

It’s my 3rd open win of the season and i’m very pleased. Three is the magic number.