Saturday, 30 March 2013

Tour Of Flanders: Who Will Win?

Finally, the Tour of Flanders is upon us and Belgian roadsides like the one pictured will be transformed tomorrow as one of the biggest bicycle races of the year gets into full swing but I'm not going to do a big preview this year - for one of those head over to Inner Ring - instead I'm going to try and answer the big question: Who will win the Tour of Flanders?...

Friday, 29 March 2013

Picture This: A Very Belgian Easter Sunday

I came across this picture whilst scouring the Internet for all things Flanders in my excitement for Sundays Ronde. The Tour of Flanders this year falls on the second biggest Christian Festival in the Calendar: Easter and whilst many across Europe will start their day with a visit to the local church perhaps in Belgium the Tour of Flanders is bigger than any religious festival. The race itself is a festival, stalls and mobile bars line the roads and half of Belgium comes to watch, kids, mums, dads, grandmas, grandads - it's a real family event like no other on the racing calendar anywhere else. The Ronde is such a big deal - that if you look to the top right of the picture - even Jesus turned out to watch....

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Tour Of Flanders 1985 - Beating The Weather

If one thing is noticeable about this years season so far, it's probably the weather. Much of Europe has been suffering a prolonged winter with races in France, Belgium, Spain and Italy all being effected in some way shape or form by lower than average temperatures, torrential rain and heavy snow like in this years epic Milan-San Remo - some have even been cancelled as a result. Last years Classics season was more noticeable for its mild, tame weather and this often makes a disappointing spectacle for viewers who have long come to associate the cobbles with hard weather and harder racing. If the weather remains as it is on Sunday then we might well be in for one of these hard races and if there are calls for cancellation or grumbles about the weather, spare a thought for those riders who took to roads in the 1985 Tour of Flanders...

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Peter Sagan: Terminator?

Today saw the first stage of Three Days of De Panne fall victim to none other than, yes you guessed it, Peter Sagan. Attacking with 11kms to go only Sylvain Chavanel could follow until the peloton finally dragged them back only for both riders to end up in a 12 man break-away group to contest the finish, which, almost predictably, Peter Sagan won ahead of Arnaud Demare. He's starting to eat up races for fun - extending his overall WorldTour lead and it's certainly going to make the Tour of Flanders an exciting prospect this Sunday. It's no surprise he's earned himself the nickname 'Terminator' and as the above Cannondale promo shows, he's taking on the role wholeheartedly...enjoy.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Gent-Wevelgem: Final Kilometres

For those who didn't have access to an online feed for Sundays Gent-Wevelgem here is some nice HD footage of the closing 4 kilometres from the point just as new WorldTour leader Peter Sagan made his move leaving his break-away partners for dead and soloing to victory, oh and keep an eye out for that one-handed wheelie at the finish line...enjoy.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Volta a Catalunya: End Game

Tomorrow is the final day of the Volta a Catalunya and if it's a Time Trial or a sprint to the finish that your expecting then you won't find one here. Stage 7 is set to be just as gruelling as the rest of the week has been and it looks as though the winner will be one of the above. Many have suggested this final stage is almost designed for Rodriguez but nobody expected to see Dan Martin in the leaders jersey and until now he has defended it well, the question is: can he keep it?...

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Picture This: Dan Martin - Volta a Catalunya Leader

Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) rides away from Movistar's Jesus Herrada, he's been in the break since the 41st kilometre and now 170 kilometres later he's heading off up the remaining 8km of the final 19km climb by himself. When will Rodriguez Jump? When will Quintana bridge the gap? When will the Sky train drag him back? The answer? Never. In the ride of his life Dan Martin not only made it over the finish line alone, winning an extremely difficult queen stage, he also did it with so much time to spare he now dons the Leaders Jersey. Many are predicting that he will be overhauled on the final stage by Rodriguez, it 'suits him' they say. It's true that the undulating 7th stage is like a one-day classic all by itself but Martin is no slouch in races like this - 2011 saw him finish second in Lombardy, he was 5th in last years Liege-Bastogne-Liege, 6th in La Flèche Wallonne. Do not write him off. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Volta a Catalunya: Port-Ainé - Queen Stage

If today's summit finish in the Volta a Catalunya looked tough, it's because it was - but if riders think the pain ended at the top of the Vallter then they are mistaken because tomorrow brings us the Queen stage and another brute of a summit finish picture above on Port-Aine and this time the mountain comes after 4 other categorised climbs. If time gaps between the favourites were small today, it could be a very different story tomorrow...

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Volta a Catalunya: Vallter 2000

After only two 'sprinters stages' (neither were flat and stage 1 in particular saw plenty of climbing) the Volta a Catalunya heads to the high mountains in stage 3 for a summit finish, and here it is - the Vallter 2000 Ski Resort...

Monday, 18 March 2013

Volta a Catalunya: A Giro Prelude?

So today saw riders head to the north-east of Spain for the start of week-long stage race, the Volta a Catalunya. Seven mountain-heavy stages will see a battle between a star-studded field for the General Classification including the likes of Joaquim Rodriguez, Michele Scarponi and Alejandro Valverde - any of whom could easily reign victorious here, but all eyes will be on two riders using Catalunya to prepare for their attack on the Giro d'Italia, last years Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins. So will this be a Giro prelude?...

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Picture This: Gerald Ciolek Wins Milan-San Remo

We all suspected that today's Milan-San Remo would be a straight battle between Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara, and it was - for second place. Sagan's face in the picture above as he's pipped to the win by German Gerald Ciolek tells it all. An extremely tough day in torrential rain and snow paused at the halfway point, re-routed and re-started topped off with a weather beaten select group of riders heading for the home straight - it looked like Sagan had this one in the bag, but not even he expected to be overhauled on the line by a supreme sprint from MTN-Qhubeka rider, former Cavendish lead-out man and under 18 national road race champion Ciolek. An extraordinary win for him but a massive deal for MTN-Qhubeka: No African team had ever won a WorldTour race before, now they have won one of the five Monuments. All the riders that started and finished the race deserve a pat on the back - a great day of racing created by individual stories in extreme circumstances and story of the day was while some big names stepped down from their bikes and abandoned the race, a smaller name went on to beat his rivals, the weather and win an extraordinary race. Chapeau.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Milan-San Remo 2013: The Contenders

So, Sunday presents us with the first monument of the season, a real spring classic and by far the longest race on the calendar (at 298km the UCI grant the race special permission to breach it's 250km limit) and if the wider press is to be believed, it's a two horse race. Fabian Cancellara versus Peter Sagan - a war of words is underway between the two, adding to the potential drama on race day but there are plenty of other riders in with a chance of victory. There are plenty of race previews doing the rounds and for a full race preview see here but today I'm going to focus on the contenders...

Friday, 15 March 2013

Happy 1st Birthday

Those with a keen eye may have noticed celebrated it's first birthday yesterday - 223 posts later and the blog has survived it's first year - yes, survived is the right word - and I can say though it has been fun it has been really hard work and the time and effort that goes in to producing even the smallest, most insignificant of posts here has been full-on especially when holding down a full time job. The truth is that I do enjoy doing it, though spare a thought for my long suffering other half! The readership has grown - steadily - over the last year to a point where visitors are well into the tens of thousands (though not daily, unfortunately!) and it's thanks to all of you who have read, commented or both that this blog continues. Thanks also goes to those who have helped along the way providing me with some useful guidance, including the likes of Inner Ring and former Olympic cyclist, Eurosport commentator and team manager Brian Smith amongst others! Thanks everyone, and long may the blog continue...

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Film Thursday: Climbing In Tirreno-Adriatico

Much has been made of the gruelling stage 6 of this years Tirreno-Adriatico in which riders tackled a 210km 'rolling' course in heavy rain. Rolling was a little underestimation, it really was a leg-breaking stage with repeat climbs of 30% gradient and I'm not sure even the riders quite knew what was coming. The stage prompted comments from many riders suggesting it was too difficult though others put this down to the rain making the climbs slippy, others said it was the hardest day of riding they had ever encountered in a stage race and even race organiser Michele Aquarone tweeted an apology afterwards simply saying:
Anyway, here's a video shot by those closest to the action - the fans - and it sums up what a brutal, brutal day it was in Italy...Enjoy.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Picture This: Tirreno-Adriatico Podium

Well if there was any doubt over just which race was looking the better of the two this year between Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico then a glance at the podium in Italy should tell you everything you need to know. Yesterdays stage has been described by many top riders as the most difficult they have ever had to race with plenty of others abandoning along the way or finishing well out of the time limit, not surprising with the mix of a long stage, poor weather and brutal 30% climbs (it's not often you see riders getting off and walking, but it happened here!) but Just like Oman, Tirreno-Adriatico has produced a podium worthy of any Grand Tour though I wouldn't have guessed the order before the race - Vincenzo Nibali has produced the ride of his life to reach the top step here ahead of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. The Giro d'Italia battle between Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali really could make for a great race this May...

Monday, 11 March 2013

One To Watch: Michal Kwiatkowski

When we think of Omega Pharma-Quick-Step it's not often we think of the general classification in stage races, the exception usually being Tony Martin who can TT his way to a week-long race win if the course is not overly mountainous, but if you have been watching Tirreno-Adriatico this week, you may now be familiar with this name: Michal Kwiatkowski...

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Tirreno-Adriatico Stage 4: Prati di Tivo

This is the stunning sight that awaits riders at the end of today's 173kilometre stage of Tirreno-Adriatico and after a fairly subdued summit finish at yesterdays Paris-Nice I'm hoping that today's display in Italy will be a little livelier...

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Paris-Nice Stage 5: Montagne de Lure

Stage 5 of Paris-Nice could give the general classification another shake-up as the race finally starts to head upwards with 4 categorised climbs before the testing summit finish on the Montagne de Lure. The race first tackled the Montagne de Lure in 2009 where it became the highest stage finish (1600m) in the races long history and it certainly isn't a climb for the faint-hearted...

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Tirreno-Adriatico: A Preview

While much of the focus this week has been directed at the historical Paris-Nice stage race which started on Sunday, there is another race starting tomorrow which could grab far more headlines, Tirreno-Adriatico. Whilst only 47 editions old and lacking much of the history of Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico has something that Paris-Nice doesn't this year: A Tour de France worthy start-list...

Monday, 4 March 2013

Picture This: In The Shadow Of The Coliseum

This must surely be the cycling photograph of the year so far and it could be a hard one to beat. A stunning photograph to mark a stunning victory by Frenchman Blel Kadri (AG2R) in Sunday's Roma Maxima single day race. Kadri found himself in the early breakaway before dropping his opponents with 40 kilometres to go and riding solo to victory in front of Rome's Coliseum and the Fori Imperiali ruins. Kadri spent 127km's in the days breakaways but still had the energy left to see off a chasing group in the closing kilometres containing Vincenzo Nibali by a cool 37 seconds. Nibali's group was caught by the main bunch with metres to spare resulting in Pippo Pozzato crossing the line in second place with hands aloft believing he had taken victory - embarrassingly he wasn't aware (thanks to a no race radio policy) that Kadri had escaped him. It was a remarkable finish to a very entertaining race.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Paris-Nice Second To Tirreno-Adriatico?

The 'Race to the Sun' starts today with a prologue in west Paris and usually this marks a point in the calendar as one of the great early season stage races. Indeed the race holds a certain prestige and although in recent years riders have used it as build-up for the Flandrian classics or for form finding ahead of the Tour de France, winning here is a huge accomplishment in it's own right. But if this is a race of a certain prestige, then the start list looks a little lacklustre this year...

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Picture This: Moreno Moser Victorious In Piazza del Campo

I mentioned the 22 year old Italian, Moreno Moser, as a possible contender in the Strade Bianche preview and he proved to be the man to beat as he rode solo to victory in Siena's Piazza del Campo ahead of team-mate Peter Sagan putting in his decisive final attack on the 16% run in to the City square after riding away un-marked from Fabian Cancellara and co in the final 20km to join the leading break-away group where he dropped them on the run in to the finish. A remarkable home win for the Italian but today I'm feeling a little smug - this is definitely not the first time has singled out Moser, in fact we have been banging his drum for the last year here, here and here. This win certainly makes Moser one to watch for the remainder of the classics season, and beyond.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Film Friday: It Ain't About Cav: A Film By Benedict Campbell

This weeks Film Friday is a special little gem. I say little but actually it's an hour and six minutes long though it's well worth taking the time out to watch. Titled 'It Ain't About Cav' this documentary was filmed during last years Tour of Britain. Directed by Benedict Campbell and narrated by Kristian House and Jonathan Tiernan-Locke the film features some stunning footage and gives a nice insight into racing from an inside-the-team perspective. Originally meant to be a short behind-the-scenes film the finished product in the creators own words is: A self funded cinematic documentary depicting the beauty, drama and the grit of the highest level of British cycling. Its certainly achieved its aims. Enjoy...