The Sky is Not the Limit – the other British riders in the pro peloton

Team Sky (or Sky Procycling as they were until the start of this season) have undoubtedly changed the way that cycling is perceived in this country. Although they were set up from the start as an internationally rostered team – albeit with a very clear aim of initially achieving success in the Tour de France for a British rider – they were often described as a de facto British national road team. The overlapping managerial & coaching staff from the national track squad adds fuel to this conflation, especially for the legions of new cycling fans that the team’s success has turned onto the sport. It was also inevitable that many of the existing and upcoming British riders would find a home at Sky where the people, program and language were most familiar. But what of those British riders who choose not to ‘Take to the Sky’ with Brailsford and Co? Are they getting a fair share of cycle fan’s support when faced with the media-attention black hole that the Tour-winning team creates wherever it goes?

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Foreign Starts – Grand Tours on Tour

With both the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia set to start outside of their own borders next year it seems like a good time to have a look at this increasingly regular phenomenon. In 2014 the Giro will spend three days in Ireland during May, visiting both Belfast and Dublin, before Le Tour comes to Yorkshire, Cambridge and London in July. Whilst the Vuelta tends to be much more of an insular affair – having only started outside of Spain twice in it’s 60 year history –  a fifth of all the Giro starts since it’s first foray to San Marino in 1965 have been foreign affairs.
The Tour is an even more international event with over 20 foreign starts dating back as early as 1954 in Amsterdam. This began a sequence of around three Tours each decade commencing in foreign parts up until the Millennium. After that they increased again and Tour De France race director Christian Prudhomme clearly stated his aims in 2007 when he said that 3 out of every 5 Tours should begin abroad. Talk during the Armstrong era of a start on American soil may have failed to materialise because of the very real logistical issues of transferring the entire race and it’s vast entourage across 5 time zones of Atlantic Ocean but the appetite to take the Tour ‘on tour’ is self evident.

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The Mavericks – Adam Hansen – Seventh Heaven for Grand Tour Glutton

Lotto Bellisol’s Adam Hansen has just completed his seventh straight Grand Tour. Since late 2011 he has ridden the Giro and the Tour twice each and La Vuelta three times – all without a break. He has covered almost 24,000 Grand Tour kilometres in those 2 years and raced an incredible total of 16,059km over 106 days last year alone. In an era of ever increased targeting of races Hansen is a throwback to the classic years of cycling when even the top contenders rode vast seasons covering all events. In a sport renowned as being one of the toughest on the planet,  his insatiable appetite for racing the biggest tests over and over again is earning him numerous fans and a reputation of being the hardest of the hard? The Jersey Pocket looked into what makes Hansen tick and found enough surprises to warrant him a place in ‘The Mavericks’.

Hansen has often been marked out as being a bit different. The fact that 32 year old Australian chooses to live in the Czech Republic rather than in one of the usual pro peloton hangouts like Girona or Nice is often used to highlight a non-conformist nature. Never shy in terms of doing things his way Hansen’s unique personality has been enlivening the peloton since 2007. Following spells at T-Mobile, HTC and Omega Pharma Lotto, ‘Croc-man’ (as he is known to his team mates) joined Lotto-Bellisol for the 2012 season, just after embarking on his Grand Tour Odyssey. He seems to be very settled with the Belgian squad and this contentment is showing in both the relaxed nature of his interviews and the increasingly successful nature of his racing. Whilst his commitment and focus at the sharp end of a race should not be questioned that doesn’t stop Hansen from occaisionally reminding us that he enjoys his job too.

hansen L'Angliru

Adam Hansen – Doing things his way at La Vuelta. Alto de L’Angliru 2013

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Grand Old Men of the Grand Tours – AKA The Chris Horner problem

“Chris Horner’s recent victory at La Vuelta has made him the oldest winner of a Grand Tour stage ever. At 41 years and 307 days he eclipsed the previous record by some margin to win Stage 3. Horner is one of a few Grand Old Men still riding hard in the hardest of races at what should be long past the dusk of their careers.”

I wrote these words a couple of weeks ago on holiday thinking that I could return home and finish it off to create a piece about the wonderful remarkableness of a couple of older guys winning the odd stage in Grand Tours. The trouble is Horner has kept winning and at this moment – the morning of the last real racing day of La Vuelta – he leads by 3 seconds having distanced his younger rivals on a number of occasions to claw back the time he lost in the Individual Time Trial. Eyebrows are being raised so far they are falling off the back of some correspondents heads, and tongues are wagging so furiously that they are danger of giving their owners whiplash. Whatever the truth is about how Horner is managing such a performance, the cycling community seems desperate to avoid looking naive again.

“This years Tour de France”, I wrote “was illuminated on multiple occasions by Jens Voigt attacking from the get-go and then attacking the break again in an age-defying attempt to solo to a victory. One month older than Horner he fell just short of a win in France although he did manage a solo victory in the Tour of California earlier in the year. So what are Horner and Voigt doing still riding off the front at the wrong side of 40? What on earth keeps them going? And at what cost?”

Each day that has passed has made the implied assumption that Horner would fade and fall down the GC as the race progressed more ridiculous. But what else would have been a reasonable assumption to have made? I wrote elsewhere that Horner’s “few days in red” at the beginning of the race might even complicate his team leader Cancellara’s plans.. I did not contemplate for a second that we would still be writing about him now.

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