The Cycling Anthology Volume 5 – Book Review

It is a strange feeling to realise that I have not reviewed a Cycling Anthology before. They have popped up on the blog in the past on Christmas wish lists and the launch of Volume 4 featured, tangentially at least, in my Portrait of The Cycling Podcast feature but I must admit that I was somewhat chastened to find I’ve not previously written specifically about these excellent collections of original writing. As the series now reaches Volume 5 the time has come to rectify such a glaring oversight.

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The premise of the Anthologies remains simple: get the very best cycling journalist’s around and give them free rein to write, at length, on a subject of their own choosing, and share the sales income equally. It’s an appealingly noble formula that has served editors Ellis Bacon and Lionel Birnie well over the editions and Volume 5 – the second to be published by Yellow Jersey Press (RRP £8.99, paperback) – is no exception. The range and quality of the writing is as high as ever and this edition can be seen as a particularly strong one.

In the latest offering, alongside Bacon and Birnie who both offer excellent chapters, are such notable cycling stalwarts as Brendan Gallagher, Jeremy Whittle, Francois Thomazeau, Edward Pickering, Andy McGrath, Matt Beaudin, Daniel Friebe, and Matt McGeehan. The ten chapters range widely; going back as much as a century historically and as far as Colombia geographically. We find treatises on that most elusive of cycling qualities: panache, alongside a revealing look at the Tour de France’s least well known director, Jean-Francois Naquet-Radiguet.. Who? Well, exactly. We have a report from the 2014 Track World Champs in Cali, Columbia and an elegy to the forgotten Pyrenean summit finish in Superbagneres. All are good reads in their own right but collected together in short chapter form they give us a fantastic tasting-plate of words that the authors have really invested their hearts and souls into.

The stand-out chapters for me this time around are equally varied. The volume rightfully opens with Brendan Gallagher’s “Soldiers of the Road”, covering his thoughts on the centenary of the start of World War I, as seen through the veil of the cyclists who fought (and often perished) in the conflict. As well as discussing the three Tour winners who died, Lapize, Faber and Petit-Breton, Gallagher also contextualises the War in terms of the bicycle itself. A key military ‘vehicle’ at the time, it is estimated that over 100,000 British soldiers served ‘a la velo‘ during the Great War. The number for the French and Belgians is significantly higher. The sheer scale of the conflict is always bewildering but, as usual, it’s the human touch that hits home hardest. Gallagher’s poignant revelations about reconnaissance cyclist John Henry Parr, the very first British soldier to be killed in the fighting, bring the madness and confusion of war home in the most personal way. His loss serves as a marker for all those who followed.

Loss of a different kind is covered excellently by Andy McGrath in his chapter “The Search For Joey McLoughlin”. McLoughlin was a promising Liverpudlian rider in the  late 1980’s, the winner of the 1986 Milk Race, who, like many before, headed to the Continent to fulfil his pro-cycling dreams. A contract with the Z-Peugeot team in 1988 that should have been the start of something great was really the beginning of the end. He returned to England and retired a year later, aged just 26. A few years later he disappeared completely, nit just from his cycling friends and work associates but also from his family and relations as well. McGrath starts the process of tracking him down but it will take more time and a longer story to solve this particular mystery.

Elsewhere, Matthew Beaudin’s “The Sounds of Cycling”, an aural analysis of the 2014 Tour de France, is a structural tour de force – a brilliant conceived and executed diary of a month away from home, as told through the audible assault that defines the chaos of the Tour. It’s quite wonderful. Similarly bold is Ellis Bacon’s retelling of the same Tour in rhyming verse. I must admit that I approached this chapter with significant apprehension but Bacon manages the seemingly impossible and actually leaves you wanting more. Chapeau indeed sir..

The four preceding volumes are also still available and have become a valued repository of cycling fact and cycling whimsy in my house. Even at the distance of such an overdue review, I would heartily recommend them all..

The Cycling Anthology Volume 5 will be released on 6th November.

A Match Made in (Hair) Heaven – Team Giant Alpecin

There is only one big cycling news story today.. Even if Tony Martin somehow manages to muck up the Men’s ITT over at the World’s in Ponferrada, the screaming headline of le jour is that Giant Shimano – home of one Marcel Kittel – is teaming up with a turbo-charged German shampoo company next year and will be known as Giant Alpecin. It truly is a match made in Hair Heaven.

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La Vuelta 2014 – The Rest Day Round-up. #2

Apologies for lack of pictures this week but I’m writing this on the road (rail actually). Will add some later.

For a week which included what is being widely touted at the “Most Boring Grand Tour Stage in the History of the World. Ever”, we’ve actually been treated to a hugely enjoyable set of races in the last seven days. We’ve had high’s, lows, slows and blows as the race has taken a more solid formation ahead of the final week.

First up was the ‘up and down’ Individual Time Trial that saw race leader Nairo Quintana crash in spectacular fashion. After cresting the mid-point climb he began adjusting his rather unique, shin height overshoes as he picked up speed on the downhill. Whether it was taking his eyes off the road for a moment is uncertain but he took the wrong line into a corner and a worse one out of it and met the roadside barrier with sickening force. The cameras initially picked him lying flat on his back and the thought was his race was over. He managed to get up and finish some three minutes down and, though I had said that the Vuelta would not end in smiles for one of Quintana and Valverde, this was not what I had envisaged. Worse was to come though for the Giro champion the following day when he would be involved in an early mid-peloton tumble and suffer a similar fate to Froome and Contador did in the Tour. He climbed into an ambulance and was spirited away for an operation on a broken shoulder.

The expected TT charge by Chris Froome failed to materialise, lending more weight to the theory that he is not riding at 100%, with the Team Sky leader coming home way down in 11th place, beaten by people including his team mate Vasily Kiryienka. Tony Martin (OPQS) won of course but a great ride by Alberto Contador put him into the race lead and a surprising second overall for Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) suggested that he would be a force to be reckoned with as the race headed towards the mountains of the North.

The Stage 11 summit finish was won by Italian youngster Fabian Aru (AST) but the real talking point was what had gone on behind the main bunch of GC contenders rather than off the front. TeamSky had approached the final climb with their standard operating procedure of high tempo, massed ranks pulling hard. Only difference today was that Froome was off the back and apparently falling away. As the gap increased it became apparent that, unable to follow the initial attacks, he was riding his own race and hoping that an even tempo would get him to the top in roughly the same time. Time and time again he slowly reeled the leaders in, only to be distanced again. With what looked like a race-defining effort he caught them once more and finished alongside them.

Then we had the aforementioned stage from hell. A purgatorius eight-lap circumnavigation of a town called Logorno. It wasn’t so much a case that John Degenkolb (GIA) won but that everyone else, including the viewers, lost..

The following day the Vuelta organisers took everyone to the zoo – presumably to make amends for the boring city tour of the day before. I’m surprised that the riders weren’t given an ice-cream each as well to appease them a little more. With a sharp climb right at the end of the stage, which finished in a nature reserve complete with elephants and (hopefully caged) lions and tigers and bears, it looked like the kind of profile that would suit Dan Martin or Alejandro Valverde. Valverde did manage fourth on the stage and Martin ninth with the same time but Spaniard Daniel Navarro, riding for the French Cofidis team took the win with a well timed attack. Most of the GC contenders had held station, knowing that there were tougher days coming ahead. Three massive mountain days beckoned and the stunning Asturian outcrops provided the rocky background against which the riders would have to smash themselves.

Stage 14 to Le Camperona saw a repeat of the Chris Froome tempo show. Again he was left, apparently for dead, on the lower reaches of the incredibly steep Vallee de Sabeo climb and again he arose, Lazarus-like, to come back to the fore in the latter stages. Indeed he broke away in the final metres to eek a few seconds over Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez, who were all consolidating their top four places. Froome had been moving up place by place and now lay third as Uran shipped time on the first of a number of bad days. Ryder Hesjedal (GRS) won the stage from the break, either heartbreakingly overtaking Oliver Zaugg (TKS) just 100m from the line, or expertly judging his effort depending on your point of view.

By now it was clear that Froome’s antics were a pre-defined tactic; designed to limit his underprepared body from debilitating effort and to allow him to race himself into fitness and form whilst maintaining a strong GC position. The tactic was again on show in the second of the three mountain stages of this middle week, though with slightly less success than the days before, Again he hung back as Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez forged ahead and again he came back to them in the final kilometre of the famed Covadonga climb. Contador had repeatedly looked back for him throughout the climb, using every switchback to measure the distance between himself and the dogged Team SKy rider, making it obvious he views Froome as his main rival and threat. But this time the three Spaniards had the measure of the Briton and a Valverde attack a couple of hundred metres from the line – after he had contributed his usual little to the pacemaking – won him 5 seconds over Contador and a second place bonus whilst it cost Froome 7 seconds over the race leader when he couldn’t match the finishing pace. Przemyslaw Niemiec (LAM) just held out for the win, giving Lampre a second stage win of the Vuelta.

And so dawned the Queen Stage. Contador leading Valverde by 31seconds, and both Froome and Rodriguez by 1:20. The race winner would certainly now come form these four men and probably the podium too. Aru lay a distant 5th at 2.22.. I had thought that this would be the day for Froome to attack the Possum/Phoenix tactics of the week were becoming played out and his strength and confidence were visibly growing. Pundits were noting that there seemed to be no love lost between the three Spaniards and that there was none of the collusion that the race has seen in the past. With four Cat 1 climbs (including the summit finish) and a Cat 2 in a short 150km stage it seemed certain that the pattern would have to change. Again Team Sky drilled to the front on the approach but this time Froome was firmly in position and attacked a good 5km out. Only Contador could go with him and the pair raced up the climb, quickly mopping up the breakaway riders and look to contest the stage win. Contador never looked in trouble but the question remained whether Froome would have a second kick. When Contador attacked in the final kilometre it was obvious that the answer was no but he stayed well clear of the chasers to end within three seconds of Valverde’s second place.

We’ve seen a different side of Chris Froome this week. We should know that he is a fighter, a sufferer, a grinder when it is needed. He has not really had the chance to show it to date. If he wins this Vuelta – and I’m afraid I don’t think he can overcome Contador from here – it could just stand the test of time to be his greatest of his career.

In other Vuelta news we had worrying reports and sights of riders plunging over the edges of steep descents. Whilst Quintana luckily managed to stay on the Tarmac side during his acrobatic brush with barrier, Garmin’s Dan Martin and Movistar’s Jose Herrada both had to extricate themselves from the trees during treacherous descents. Both were able to continue with Martin coming in not far off the leaders. Not so Uran, who completed a miserable post TT week with a 15minute plus deficit on Stage 16 alone.

Not able to complete Stage 16 were Tinkoff’s Ivan Rovny and OPQS’s Gianluca Brambilla who brushed with each other on stage 16. The pair exchanged blows during the latter stages and as Brambilla went ahead in the break he was summarily ejected from the race by the commissars who, in the certainty that they would have done so after the stage, were worried that he would have a major bearing on the days outcome. Rovny was then subjected to the same public ejection in order to balance the books.

Fighting in the peloton has a long and varied history – we saw some quality ‘handbags’ earlier in the year and there was a bit and to and fro between Niki Terpstra and Maarten Wynants in the Eneco Tour – but it is usually confined to a bit of elbowing/head butting/bottle throwing by the more het up of the sprinters. Hearing the following day Phillip Deignan accuse Joaquin Rodriguez of a similar full faced punch is worrying. As yet no action has been taken against the Spaniard who seems to have escaped by dint of being not caught on camera.

The final week lies now lies ahead of us with a massive pair of cycling shoes to fill. It’s not in Froome’s nature to settle for second – we know that all too well – but can he really take the fight to Contador and give us that dream showpiece – the final day Time Trial upset – that we foresaw before the race began??

 

GC Standings:
  • 1 CONTADOR, Alberto (TINKOFF-SAXO) 63:25:00
  • 2 VALVERDE, Alejandro (MOVISTAR) + 1.36
  • 3 FROOME, Chris (SKY) + 1.39
  • 4 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin (KATUSHA) + 2.29
  • 5 ARU, Fabio (ASTANA) + 3.38
  • 6 MARTIN, Dan (Garmin Sharp) +6.17
  • 7 GESINK, Robert (BELKIN) + 6.43
  • 8 SANCHEZ, Samuel (BMC) +6.55
  • 9 BARGUIL, Warren (GIANT-SHIMANO) + 8.37
  • 10 CARUSO, Damiano (Cannondale) +9.10
 

La Vuelta 2014 – The Rest Day Round-up. #1

The 2014 Vuelta could have got off to a real ‘flying start’ if the organisers had had the sense to switch the Prologue Team Time Trial with the showpiece Stage 3 beginning – which took place on the deck of the Spanish aircraft carrier LHD ‘Juan Carlos I’. Despite this obviously missed opportunity the Grand Tour’s take-off salvo was reasonably impressive none-the-less as local lads Movistar jetted across the 12.6km course in the best time and Cannondale upset the expected order by coming in second ahead of more favoured teams such as Orica-Greenedge and Team Sky, who suffered yet another ignominous day in the saddle to only manage 11th.

-Stage 3’s village départ was fairly spectacular.

 
The Movistar team looked united throughout with Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana both coming across the line in the time-setting group. It fell to Jonathan Castroviejo to claim the first leaders’ jersey though as he led the seven intact riders home. Judging by what we have seen since, this might have been the first and last show of unity within the team. Valverde got on the wrong side of a seven second split on the aforementioned Stage 3 and since then he has appeared to be looking to initially regain parity with his younger team mate and then push on beyond him.. It’s unlikely to be the spectacular enmity of the 1986 Tour all over again but it will be interesting to see if he commits to supporting Quintana or just doing his own thing. On Stage 4 he attacked on the final downhill and, though only ever gaining a maximum 14 second gap, forced teams to chase him. Tellingly, Quintana brought the rest of the team to help the chase. It was becoming apparent that nothing in this Vuelta was going to be straightforward.
 
Before those fireworks in the GC battle got started, the sprinters in the race had a couple of days in the sun. And what sun! Temperatures soared as high as the bearded vultures of the Iberian peninsula and also looked to pick off any under-hydrated riders. Teams fought the conditions just as much as each other in the opening stages. Trek Factory Racing’s Fabian Cancellara shed 4kg on one stage alone and whose bronzed thighs must have been like well-roasted crackling by the days end with the combined effects of heat and salt from all the sweat. Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) showed he thrives in the heat as he took the first sprint win with a strong finish but it was Valverde who ended the first open-racing day in red by dint of coming in ahead of Castroviejo. His podium appearance in the leader’s jersey may have set something off in his mind about ‘letting the road decide’ who was the Movistar team leader.
 
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I can’t see this Vuelta ending in smiles for both Valverde and Quintana
 
Alejandro is another who is said to thrive in hot conditions but he couldn’t repeat the trick the following day when, on a finish that looked well suited to his old Liege-Bastogne-Liege winning skills, he got caught in that split which cost him seven seconds. Michael Matthews (OGE) showed great strength and even greater timing to overhaul another favourite for the day Dan Martin (GRS) to sneak the win and, thanks to those time bonuses, the leader’s jersey as well. Matthews is becoming something of a first week leaders jersey specialist having worn pink for six days in May during the Giro and now holding onto red for three days in Spain. Giant-Shimano took the stage win reins next as they looked to remind the cycling world that they don’t necessarily need Marcel Kittel to win Grand Tour sprints. Kittel’s fellow German John Degenkolb took two wins on the bounce to first challenge and then overtake Matthews in the green jersey competition.
 
The usual hustle of the GC contenders to get to the front of the pack in order to avoid the chances of being held up in a crash at the end of each days racing provided some early indication about how much credence we should be giving to Alberto Contador’s words about only challenging in the final week. ‘Not much’ would seem be the answer as the Spaniard was well to the fore in every stage and marshalled his troops to ensure that he was always in contention. He looked far more competitive from the off than Quintana whose usual first week impression of an invisible man was particularly impressive this time around. So good in fact that when he had transponder issues on Stage 7 and didn’t show up in the final standings, the general consensus was that he had been dropped and lost a whole bunch of time. In fact he had finished 12th but no-one had noticed. Neat trick.
 
Chris Froome was having a more visible first week than the man who was being touted as his main rival for the overall. He too was often at the head of affairs and, after the disappointment of the TTT, Team Sky performed much more like we would expect them to. Having crashed (yet again) earlier in the day and had to chase back for 15km, Froome powered away in the final metres of that same Stage 7 finale to grab a couple of seconds back over the others but he and Valverde had done more damage the day before when they broke free from a stellar five strong group also containing Quintana, Contador and Joaquin Rodriguez (KAT) on the final metres of the 1st Cat Alto Cumbres Verdes to contest the victory. Valverde edged out the Briton, reclaimed the red jersey and leapfrogged Quintana on GC with same blow. It was a riveting finish to an intriguing stage but one which, in the end, asked more questions than it answered. What are Valverde’s intentions exactly? How bad was Contador’s Tour injury really? Will Froome fade and Quintana bloom towards the end of the race?
 
Valverde win
Froome, Valverde, Contador and Rodriguez made time on the Alto Cumbres Verdes
 
The answers were supposed to be put on ice for Stage 8 with a flat day that had ‘bunch sprint’ written all over it in store. But as we have seen before those pesky crosswinds put paid to the idea of a relatively calm approach to the line for the sprinters to frenetically contest. Echelons exploded across the peloton with around 15km to run and, although the first group initially contained all the favourites, Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo put the hammer down again and split the still large group again. This time Quintana was found wanting and it required the worried Giant-Shimano team, desperate to deliver Degenkolb back up to the front, to bring him back into contention. This time it was he, rather than Valverde, who was isolated and without the support of his team. Nacer Bouhanni won the ensuing sprint – albeit with an almighty wobble at the very end that seemed to put Matthews off his own effort and which divided the race jury 2-2 as to whether he should be punished for a irregularity. It was pretty ironic given that Bouhanni had made a great noise of complaining about Degenkolb’s line a couple of days earlier.
 
Someone making a conspicuous lack of noise has been Peter Sagan (CAN). Inevitably touted as a strong contender for the green jersey and with some early stage profiles suiting his all-round explosive style, finding him languishing down in 25th with only 17 points by Saturday (Degenkolb led with 87 at that stage) would prove a mystery to most onlookers. ‘Slightly overweight and ‘totally uninterested’ has been the professional pundits’ verdict; the cause of which has been assumed to be mainly his now-confirmed switch to Tinkoff for next season. Perhaps he is acting ‘honourably’ by not wanting to earn any more World Tour points this season as they will only benefit his new team. Or perhaps he just can’t be arsed.
 
The Stage 9 showdown – ahead of the rest day and the first individual time trial – proved to be as thrilling a finish as Stage 6. With a large break ahead for most of the rain-sodden day, the selection process on the approach to and up the final climb of Aramòn Valdelinares played out in two places almost simultaneously. As the magnificently monikered Lampre-Merida rider Winner Anacona struck out from the disintegrated break in an attempt to snatch the stage win from Bob Jungels (TFR) and then Javier Moreno (MOV) and the overall race lead with a bold solo ascent, Dan Martin was lighting the peloton’s touchpaper after more solid work from TeamSky to half the break’s advantage from over six minutes to hover around the point where Anacona – lying 2′ 50″ back at the start of the day – would take the red jersey. Martin could not make his attack stick but his initial foray goaded the others into action and when a visibly bouyant Contador shot past the Katusha riders who had ferried Rodriguez et al back up to Martin, few could follow. Valverde and Froome certainly could not bridge the gap and immediately went into damage limitation mode. Sky’s dominance of just a few minutes earlier when Kennaugh, Deignan, Nieve and Cataldo were all making good on the usual mammoth stint from Kiriyenka was washed away with the standing water coursing across the mountain road. As Quintana and Rodriguez battled their way back towards the dancing Contador the race for the GC lead was inexorably clawed away from Anacona, who had already crossed the line as stage winner, to whether Contador could hold off Quintana for the three seconds he would need to leapfrog him. As remnants of the break still staggered over the finish, the Colombian Giro d’Italia winner, aided by Rodriguez, caught Contador on the line to secure the same time and deny El Pistelero the leader’s jersey. Sadly in doing so he also denied a fair few cycling sub-editors the chance to dust off their ABBA puns and declare that “The Winner Takes It All”.
 
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But it was Quintana who finished the first week in the leader’s red jersey
 
Froome and Valverde toiled in a further 23 seconds back with both trying to sound positive afterwards. Froome looked towards Tuesday’s 36.5km trial trial as a place to recover his 28 second deficit time whilst Valverde – though acknowledging it was good that the lead had stayed within the team – still only trailed by eight seconds and made statements about the road deciding who will lead “Team” Movistar. With the top six within 30 seconds of each other and five summit finishes included in the next block of racing after the time trial we really do seem set for the ding-dong battle that we have all been wishing for.. This ‘Spanish Feast’ does keep on delivering.
 
GC Standings:
  • 1 QUINTANA, Nairo (MOVISTAR) 35:58:05
  • 2 CONTADOR, Alberto (TINKOFF-SAXO) + 3
  • 3 VALVERDE, Alejandro (MOVISTAR) + 8
  • 4 ANACONA, Winner (LAMPRE – MERIDA) + 9
  • 5 FROOME, Chris (SKY) + 28
  • 6 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin (KATUSHA) + 30
  • 7 ARU, Fabio (ASTANA) + 1:06
  • 8 GESINK, Robert (BELKIN) + 1:19
  • 9 URAN, Rigoberto (OMEGA PHARMA – QUICK-STEP) + 1:26
  • 10 BARGUIL, Warren (GIANT-SHIMANO)