Posted by: sneekes | January 16, 2011

The New Guys

Team Sky are going with the full complement of 30 riders this year, a sensible move in my opinion. Whilst they haven’t added an established superstar (although they had a run at Cancellara) they have added strength in-depth, including 3 more quality young riders – one of whom could be battling it out for big prizes in 2011.

Michael Rogers

Whilst Team Sky impressed in flatish week-long tours through EBH, and saw impressive GC wins for Swift and Downing –  when the roads went uphill the only men able to contend in the GC were Wiggins in Murcia, Possoni at Brixia and Burgos, and the odd flash from Lofkvist. What Rogers gives the team is a chance of winning one or two prestigious week-long events such as Paris-Nice, Romandie, Td Suisse, Catalunya etc that they really didn’t give themselves a chance of winning in 2010. Sky have promised not to putt all their eggs in one basket in 2011 so the opportunity should be there for Rogers.

The signing of Rogers also gives Sky a very good support rider for grand tours  – he can climb pretty well (in the diesel rather than mountain goat fashion), can lead the peleton, and can even work in the lead-out. Whether Sky have anyone worth supporting in those Grand Tours is another matter!

Jeremy Hunt

I like Jeremy Hunt, he’s no spring chicken – but he’s got guts, and experience, and he’ll give you everything until the tank is empty; he’s a lot like Steve Cummings. He can sprint a bit, and he can ride the cobbles, but I believe he’s on the team to provide mentorship to the young riders. I think that Stannard and Thomas will be the main beneficiaries, but Apollonio and Swift will learn lots too.

Christian Knees

A good opportunistic signing after the Pegasus team failed to earn a Continental Licence the talented German was able to entertain other offers. Knees isn’t going to set the world on fire, he’s a pretty good all-rounder who goes particularly wll on the cobbles – I see Sky using him as a man to animate races – trying to get in the break, and if that doesn’t happern – reverting to a support role. It’s going to be good to see him in the the German National Champions jersey.

Rigoberto Uran

Sky’s best signing of the winter. I was very impressed with him in the Vuelta,  and he’s still very young. I’m not sure he’s a potential Grand Tour winner (I hope I’m wrong) but I think he’s certainly likely to finish top 10 several time, and top 5 once or twice. My reasoning is that I’m not completely convinced about his stamina on very long climbs – but perhaps that will come with age, what I am convinced of though is his ability on short-medium punchy climbs such as those we see in the Ardennes classics. I think that as soon as we get a hill towards the top end of Phillipe Gilbert’s range then Uran becomes a contender along with Evans, Anton, and Rodriguez. I wouldn’t be surprised if Uran won a classic this year or next. I also think he’d do very well at Tirreno-Adriatico.

Xabier Zandio

I know very little about him, but I know that it is important to keep Uran happy, and that he wouldn’t have picked someone who couldn’t help him. Plus, you don’t stick on a team like Caisse D’Epargne without having some ability.

Davide Apollonio

I don’t know much more about Apollonio, but a 21-year-old  with a good sprint who can get over bumps – sign him up!

Alex Dowsett

For Sky to carry the full 30 man squad they must have two neo-pros (Peter Kennaugh still qualifies) and so signing the most promising young British rider was a no-brainer. I’m not expecting a lot, this is his year for gaining experience, finding out what it’s like to be a Pro-Team (!) pro. He should perform well in time-trials, I’m looking forward to seeing him in the TTT in Qatar.

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Posted by: sneekes | January 16, 2011

My absence

I went missing after the Tour; I’m certainly no Tour fanboy, but I guess I’d become a bit disillusioned with Sky’s approach to cycling, in particular their inability or unwillingness to change plans on the fly. This continued throughout the rest of the season which included going to the Vuelta and Lombardia without any real possibility of winning, and the debacle at the Tour Of Britain that involved relying on Henderson’s ability to climb hills! It was fair enough putting Hendo in that position and hoping for the best – but to burn out both Wiggins and Thomas was stupid – they should have had a plan B that involved one of those two.

Anyhoo, a new start.

 

Posted by: sneekes | July 25, 2010

Tour Awards

Best ride – Christophe Riblon (AG2R la Mondiale)

Riblon’s stage win on Ax-3 Domaines was hugely impressive, he joined the break of the day after only 25k, as the 9 man group got to the hors categorie Port del Pailheres they quickly shed riders until only Riblon, Moinard and De Weert survived. Riblon then kicked before the summit and dropped his break-mates. Moinard descended slightly quicker than Riblon just about catching him at the foot of Ax-3, but as soon as the road turned uphill Moinard struggled. Now I’ve seen many a suicide break before, and it’s at this point that Riblon should have hit the wall and been swallowed up by the yellow jersey group – but he didn’t – he carried on bashing out an impressive tempo all the way to the top, winning by just under a minute. Not bad for a rider who had to be talked out of quitting the previous evening.

Honorable Mentions: Chavanel’s second stage win, and Geraint’s second place on the cobbles

Best Domestique – Daniel Navarro (Astana)

I never knew he was that good – to set that pace for k after k whilst dropping some really big names is impressive, to do that day after day is heroic. Chapeau Daniel Navarro

Struggling Heroes – David Millar (Garmin Transitions) & Robbie McEwen (Katusha)

I love those riders who despite having little to ride for besides perhaps pride – choose not to give in, choose to struggle at the back in the hope of beating the broom-wagon to Paris. Both Millar and McEwen (Millar in particular) suffered mightily with illness and injury – but they both kept going.

Teams who needn’t have bothered – Milram & Cofidis

At least Cofidis tried – but I only recall 3 Milram attacks all tour (Gerdeman, Roberts & Knees). Sky will be disappointed in their tour – but at least they were active and Geraint featured will in the first week. Liquigas would have been mentioned had it not been for Kreuziger.

International Bright Young Thing – Rafael Valls Ferri (Footon Servetto)

Looks a very promising young rider. It’s clear that the guy can climb, and if he develops he could be one of the pre-eminent climber of the next decade – but what is also encouraging is that he also appears to be able to time-trial to a reasonable standard – he finished the final TT in 51st place, ahead of Armstrong, Horner, Brajkovic, Hincapie, Cummings, Malori, Moreau and others

Posted by: sneekes | July 25, 2010

St 19 Review, St 20 Preview

Stage 19

Contador really struggled in the TT, would have been a little more interesting had Denis Menchov been a little closer.

People will talk about how the 39 second gap between Contador and Schleck is the exact same time-gap that Schleck lost when he dropped his chain! However, if he hadn’t have dropped those 39 seconds then things may well have been different on the Tourmalet. We’ll never now for sure – but I think the best rider is in yellow right now

Stage 20

Prediction: Cavendish

Posted by: sneekes | July 24, 2010

Welcome relief at the Brixia Tour

CJ Sutton provided Team Sky with a much needed win.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that there is some young talent in this team. I’ve been a bit down about the overall TdF performance, but I’m falling into the very British trap of thinking that if you’ve not got a GT contender then you’ve failed. The truth is that over half the teams cannot have someone in the top 10 of the TdF, and at least Team Sky have some young sprinting talent in the likes of EBH, Ben Swift and CJ Sutton.

Posted by: sneekes | July 24, 2010

St 18 Review, St 19 Preview

Stage 18

One of the most predictable stages of the tour went as predicted. You can do whatever you like, but unless you get a massive lead on Mark Cavendish – he’s going to burn right past you. It was nice to see a propoer lead-out train for EBH, but it looks like they went a bit early – G got swamped and as a result EBH found himself boxed in – he recovered well to finish 6th so there are some good signs there as there were earlier in the tour – if they hadn’t go t boxed I think he could have got himself another top 3 place – but I don’t think the win was ever going to be ther for the taking. It will be interesting to see how EBH goes in the Tour of Poland or the Eneco tour (if he rides them).

Stage 19

Big long flattish time-trial = hard to see past Fabian Cancellara. But, most of the times we see Cancellara in time trials – he hasn’t just spent the last week cycling through the Pyrenees! There is then the slight possibility that Cancellara is suffering physically (although I’ve not really seen any evidence of this) and that someone who coped better in the mountains can close the gap on him. The next best pur time triallers are probably Tony Martin and Brad Wiggins, but they too have struggled in the mountains; could it be that Alberto Contador comes out of the mountains the freshest and actually wins the TT?

I expect a really strong showing from Radioshack: Horner, Leipheimer, Kloden and Armstrong should all do well. Menchov and Grabsch should also be in contention, maybe David Zabriskie too.

Prediction: Cancellara

Posted by: sneekes | July 23, 2010

St 17 Review, St 18 Preview (sort of)

Stage 17

There were a number of journalists and experts today condemning the lack of fireworks from Schleck and Contador on the Tourmalet – but that isn’t the way I saw it – I saw Schleck launch a number of attacks – many of them small – but still they were efforts to break free of Contador. Contador’s attack then let Schleck know that he still had something left. Stephen Roche among others criticised Schleck for not counter-attacking – but I don’t think Schleck had much left at that point – I think he settled in and hoped Contador didn’t attack a second time otherwise he’d be dropped.

What I would criticise is ASO’s decision for the second year running not to award time bonuses. I think this has a number of negative effects:

  • It encourages ‘gift’ stage wins. How much more interesting would it have been on yesterdays stage if Schleck could have wiped out the 8 second difference by beating Contador in a sprint finish?
  • It reduces the chances of the yellow jersey changing hands in the first week. Without stage bonuses we run the risk of a Cancellara type winning the prologue and dominating the first week
  • It gives sprinters a chance to wear yellow. As it stands both TTers and climbers have a reasonable chance of the maillot jaune, but sprinters don’t really.

Stage 18

There’s only 60k remaining as I write this, and it’s clear the current breakaway won’t last – so it’s hardly mystical foresight on my part to predict a sprint finish…and if it’s a sprint finish then…

Prediction: Mark Cavendish

Posted by: sneekes | July 22, 2010

St 16 Review, St 17 Preview

Stage 16

Glad Lance didn’t win, the TV coverage would have been unbearable. I like Fedrigo, I think he’s underrated, I’d like to see him give the Ardennes classics a really good go – I think he’s on a par with say the good version of Simon Gerrans.

Stage 17

I expect a decent sized breakaway which is the side-story for Contador -v- Schleck.

The breakaway: anyone interested in the KotM will try and get into it:  Charteau, Moreau, maybe even Pineau. Thor Hushoved will want to collect some intermediate sprint points so he’ll be there. Some teams have nothing else to go for so expect Sky, Cofidis, BMC, Liquigas to be involved.

The real contest: I reckon Schleck keeps his  powder dry until halfway up the Tourmalet – then the fireworks will begin.

Sub-contest: Sammy Sanchez -v- Denis Menchov

Prediction: Schleck (but with no significant time gap to Contador)

Posted by: sneekes | July 20, 2010

St 15 Review, St 16 Preview

Stage 15

First off, well done Tommy Voeckler; like pretty much everyone I love Voeckler with his quixotically optimistic attacks, and his ugly drowning-man style of riding. Pretty good to see the French National Champions jersey winning a stage.

The big story though was Andy Schleck’s mechanical, and whether Contador was unsporting in not waiting. My take is that this is very unfortunate, and it has possibly ruined the battle for the maillot jaune, but Contador is not really to blame.

The second the mechanical happened Contador had the opportunity to stop, and ensure the others behind him stopped – and wait for Schleck. However, in the small period of time he was probably unaware (or at least unsure) that it was a mechanical issue rather than one of ability – and so he rightly carried on. By the time he would have been told over his ear-piece that it was a mechanical – he already had Menchov and Sanchez charging up the mountain with him – he wasn’t going to stop and let those two go – imagine he had waited and Menchov ended up winning the Tour but 20 seconds? 

The other problem with waiting for Schleck is that it sets a precedent that may be too hard to follow…had it been Menchov with a mechanical should they have waited? what about if it were Basso? What if Schleck’s mechanical had happened when he was in the middle of the pack rather than attacking? What if it had happened 4 km from the end? What if it happens to Petacchi 4km from the finish line on the Champo Elysee  -do they all wait for him?

It gets to complicated. It’s terribly unfortunate for Schleck – but that’s just the way it is – just like no-one waited for Lance on the cobbles – it’s pro-cycling – you learn to take the rough with the smooth.

Still, I hope Schleck wins on the Tourmalet on Thursday, and I hope Contador doesn’t win the GC  by between 0 and 39 seconds.

Stage 16

These type of stages irritate me: high mountains followed by 60k on the flat – what’s the point in that?

Prediction: Hushovd or Freire

Posted by: sneekes | July 18, 2010

St 14 review, St 15 Preview

Stage 14

Chapeau Christophe Riblon. That’s probably the ride of the tour so far.

Weird stuff from Schleck and Contador, wish Menchov had punished their arrogance a bit more than he did.

Stage 15

Coming after the two tough climbs today there is a chance some will suffer tomorrow, but I’m not expecting the top 10 to change that much. I think we’re all waiting for firworks on Thursday. This stage is ideal for someone like Valverde – but as he’s serving a doping ban I will plump for someone else who can climb/descend/sprint…

Prediction: Sammy Sanchez

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