Here’s a new podcast – I haven’t recorded one in a year!
Andy Rafferty encouraged me to join him to watch the European Championships
Listen on the player below or subscribe on Apple podcasts.
The British national championships will be back on the Isle of Man this year. As Rouleur’s email newsletter highlighted, Robert Millar won the national title there back in 1995 at the age of 36.
The win was the last race of his career and the house of cards that his team, Le Groupement, was built on came tumbling down. He was due to race at the Tour de France that year, but never got the chance to wear the British stripes.
Other riders on the team included Luc Leblanc, Jean-Paul van Poppel, Robert Millar, Marcel Wüst and Graeme Obree – who walked away when he realised he was expected to contribute a proportion of his wages to doping.
Millar then retired from racing and withdrew from public life. The story of this, and of his life and career, is told in Richard Moore’s In Search of Robert Millar.
Highlights are available on YouTube (below) from Duke Video.
On the Saturday evening after watching Stage 8, I returned to the house to find the appero being served and the barbecue being readied for cotes de boeuf, saucisses and pork chops. Drink was taken and I hatched a last-minute plan to watch the TTT with the one true cycling fan amongst the group.
We set off at 10am from our location in central Brittany to drive the hour towards the TTT course. I felt it was a bit early and wasn’t relishing nursing my groggy head for several hours at the roadside before the race came past. My companion was right to leave so early though, as we got through a few back roads and pretty close to the course at just the right moment before the verges became clogged with parked cars. We’re on the penultimate climb, about 5km from the finish line, and have a good view down the drag of the teams heading our way.
It’s already jam packed with fans and we see several teams doing an easy recce, as well as Oleg Tinkoff riding the stage – nobody seemed to recognise the Tinkoff-Saxo team owner, despite Contador being hugely popular in France.
The madness of the publicity caravan whizzes through, and there are some ugly scenes. It’s another cliche that can ring true – grown adults debase themselves for a commercial freebie, but that’s for another blog post.
Several riders in white and red, publicising Mecenat Chirurgie Cardiaque – a heart surgery charity. There are several Tour luminaries including Roger Legeay, former DS of Gan / Credit Agricole, Jean-Francois Pescheux, former race director, Bernard Hinault and Bernard Thevenet.
To the racing, and the teams come through in descending order of the highest-placed rider on GC. Orica are just surviving, as I overheard Matt White explaining to a journalist the previous day. They had come to win the TTT, and since it’s now impossible, with 3 riders retired and 1 rolling wounded, they will be taking it easy.
My friend and I try to start a stopwatch – I’m no timekeeper, so I focus on the photos and note-taking, while he aims to clock which teams are ‘up’ or ‘down’.
I was lucky enough to be in position to see the start and finale of Stage 8 of the 2015 Tour de France, which took in 181.5km from Rennes to Mûr-de-Bretagne.
I’m staying with my in-laws very close to the 50km mark at Saint-Méen-Le-Grand and had an ambitious plan to watch here as well as at the start and finish. Unsurprisingly this idea was a bit too much to ask, due to various factors.
Having enjoyed mooching about the start area in 2011 at Dinan I wanted to do this again, and wasn’t disappointed, getting close to team buses, managers, journalists doing their work and a few riders. It is much more interesting for me that the tacky publicity caravan, which wears pretty thin after having seen it once or twice.
As I waded through crowds and headed towards the paddock, a guy wearing a Festina cap caught my eye. The scandal of 1998 must be forgiven, I thought. I tried wearing a retro Festina jersey back home once and the slagging and banter became tedious – even 15 years on, the name is synonymous with heavy-duty endemic doping.
I’m really looking forward to this year’s Tour de France Stage 8, Rennes to Mûr-de-Bretagne. I’ve seen the uphill finish before, in 2011, and in 2015 the route is even more accessible for me, starting just 30km from where I will be staying, and making its way through an area I know well.
The climb at the finish is steep and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s name means the ‘wall of Brittany’, in a similar fashion to the Flandrian bergs such as the Muur de Geraardsbergen. Fans are more likely to be confused give that the Mur de Huy is the uphill finish a few days earlier on Stage 4, in the French-speaking Walloon region of Belgium.
Renaat Schotte works for Sporza on Belgian TV and is often found reporting from the motorbike during one day classics and grand tours, or from the pits during ‘cross races. Fellow blogger Andrew Rafferty managed to catch up with him for a piece for the Dig In At The Dock race programme last January.
AR: I asked him why cyclocross is so popular in Belgium.
RS: ‘There has been a continual process of professionalising and modernising. More so than other countries who were also traditionally strong at cross, like Spain and Switzerland. And as popularity increased and crowds grew, the races got bigger and riders became more successful, which increased the popularity and so on. A virtuous cycle.’
Is it fair to say that it’s a not a Belgian thing, but a Flemish thing?
‘Yeah, it’s not an exaggeration to say that. The races held this year in Walloonia (the French speaking part of Belgium) are actually organized by Flemish! And all other races organized by Walloons in the past have been cancelled.
Cyclocross is part of Flemish life, like speed skating in Holland or Skijumping in Germany.’
Or bagpipe playing in Scotland?
‘Exactly, ha ha.
Look at how things have changed on the TV. In the early 90s you could watch maybe six races a year. Now its three or four times that, with bpost, superprestige, World Cup and National and World Championships. Plus numerous standalone races. It’s getting bigger.
We see the same thing here in Scotland, albeit on a smaller scale as the number of races, participants and spectators grow. And many people watch Sporza broadcasts online. Can you give your Scottish viewers some key words to listen out for?
Greppel (chreppel) means ditch and Beek (bake) means burn or stream. You should hear them in most races. Zandstrook (zandstroke) means sand section like at Koksijde.
(Or Irvine!) Continue reading
In the past week or so, we had the news that Edinburgh will host the Red Bull Hill Chasers series and a round of the Tour Series of criterium races in 2014.
The Red Bull Hill Chasers is a Hi-NRG hill climb eliminator, which was run last year up the cobbles of Cockburn Street, with competitors encouraged to use any bike.
The event will take the stage on April 14th this year up the Mound, possibly the first time Edinburgh has seen bike racing up The Mound since 1989, when the Kellogg’s city centre crits visited the city?
I had missed the news back in April, reported by Susan Swarbrick in the Herald that John Paul had been dropped from the British Cycling Academy programme.
He’s a rider that most trackies will know about, but maybe others won’t. A young Scottish track sprinter has the ‘next Chris Hoy’ tag to deal with but he seemed to be progressing well.
After a poor 2012 though, where he failed to meet qualification times, he was let go abruptly from the performance programme but Shane Sutton, British Cycling performance manager, said:
“John Paul has left the British Cycling Academy Programme as he didn’t reach the performance targets set out for him. The door is not closed for John to return to the programme in the future, and we wish him well with his cycling career.”
Netapp-Endura targeted a Grand Tour ride this year and finally got a wildcard entry to the Vuelta. The Pro Continental team, part headline-sponsored by Scottish clothing manufacturer Endura have certainly grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
I’ll recap some of their exploits at the race briefly below but rather than simply regurgitate the press information, I thought I offer an alternative take on what success means.
Endura’s stated goal when they expanded their pro team was to build the brand in Europe and with a road audience, as they were already well known in the UK and for mountain bike apparel.
Without interviewing the director Jim McFarlane, it’s pretty hard to quantify how succesful sponsorship of a pro race team is. Even still, I’d guess they might be reluctant to publicly state what they felt they were getting for their money, as with any marketing. However there are a few you can look at.
Outside of a GC win or a jersey, which would be pretty tall order, a stage win would provide the best exposurefor the team to date, and they got that with 25-year-old team leader Leopold Koenig’s victory on stage 8. You get a prime spot on live TV and plenty of visibility in post-race coverage, not to mention a nice shot with hands in the air.
It’s now two weeks since Evan Oliphant won his 3rd edition of the Davie Bell Memorial Road Race down in Ayrshire. The promotion and reporting of this particular race by Ayr Roads CC is some of the best in Scotland, off the top of my head, comparable with the Scottish road race championships when run in Balfron by Vortex RT and the Dig In Around the Dock cyclocross event.
Their race report is too good to waste but it’s too late to run it as a blog, so click through to Velo UK if you want a recap – the interesting point is that a race held over such tough parcours (below) came down to a sprint from a group of 14.
Evan has since won the Scottish criterium championship, at Ingliston on Saturday, where he attacked the bunch and pulled out a 30 second gap as he rode solo for the victory.