Archive for the ‘Cycle Racing’ Category

The Tour Lives   Leave a comment

After the doping revelations in the fall of 2012, I told myself (and anyone who would listen) that I was done D-O-N-E,  with following professional cycling. There would be no following the 2013 Tour de France for me!

Well easier said than done after a person has been avidly following the sport for years. I did avoid most of the first week  but then got a bit curious and picked up a tidbit of information here or there.

Being away from home/internet for a week made it difficult to follow as did the difficulty in finding live TV coverage feeds once I was back – but I did pay a bit of attention. Although it seemed like it would be a wide open contest, with many contenders it turned out to not be all that competitive in the end. Chris Froome of Team Sky won quite handily after the other big names faded away. Nonetheless, he and his team did ride a smart tour and the victory was deserved.

Posted January 2, 2014 by Randy Talbot in Cycle Racing, Tour de France

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The End   Leave a comment

Well, that’s a wrap!

I’m disappointed – very disappointed, but not entirely surprised. I refer to the the release yesterday (2012/10/10) of the USADA’s “Reasoned Decision” and the subsequent confession statements. I guess the USADA did actually have a case – too bad they presented it as a Lance Armstrong witch hunt. It is now apparent that the entire US Postal Service team/organization was involved and likely other factions within the sport. The findings still need to be reviewed and acted upon by the international body, the UCI, but now I am willing to consider it a done deal.

What sealed it for me were the public confessions, announcements by the previously highly-respected George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer. At this point I really don’t care what Lance did himself. I feel betrayed by that team with which I was so impressed. I feel let down by the sport of professional cycling – I can no longer support it!

I admit I am still curious  about a few thing related to this saga: How Johan Bruyneel will present his defence and how this fallout will affect Lance’s Livestrong brand and work (He has done good work there for the cancer community and I wish him him well). Yes curious, but I won’t be actively following the story.

This is of course not the first time we’ve seen big doping revelations in the sport with the subsequent claims of a new era. Unfortunately it now appears that the new era was not one of just harder and smarter training, improved equipment and tactics, but also an era where the doping cheaters leapt ahead of the detection science. It is sad that there even has to be so much effort put towards the detection system.

I will continue to  write and advocate for cycling – as a means for physical and mental health, for touring and commuting but this will be the last post I will make with regards to professional cycling. No longer will I be spending my mornings in July glued to the coverage of the Tour (nor May’s Vuelta or September’s Giro). Ahh, I will miss them but (and I hate to paint the entire sport and all its participants with the same brush) I can now longer waste my time with a sport in which I don’t have the confidence of completely fair competition.

“This is the end – beautiful friend”

 

 

Posted October 11, 2012 by Randy Talbot in Cycle Racing

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Livestrong Lance   Leave a comment

Many people have weighed in on the announcement  last week by Lance Armstrong that he will NOT contest the USADA allegations against him – here’s my two cents worth on the topic.

In my heart I want to believe, I need to believe –  I DO believe that he is innocent – but I don’t know –  and you don’t know. If he is innocent only he will know for sure. If he is guilty chances are only a very few others will know. I fully understand him saying “Enough is enough”. What a burden to have to keep defending himself against the same old charges, year after year after year. It has got to be very, very tiring. I note very clearly that his decision (which incidentally he first announced months ago) to not contest the USADA allegations is in no way an admission of guilt!

If he didn’t dope then why was he so successful? I have a rationale that suits me. It comes down to hard work, smart work, dedication and focus – qualities I admire!

My strongest memory of Lance’s golden years was his singular focus on the  the Tour de France. He made that one event, his one goal. He was not interested in going after the other grand tours, the one day classics, world championships etc. Sure he did some of those events in his training and preparations, but the goal of winning the Tour de France remained THE purpose and that focus led to his success. I will remember reports of his elaborate preparation for the Tour,  such as repeatedly riding the very same climbs that would be used in the Tour de France stages, so as  to know every slope and corner of the course. His familiarity with he route gave him “home field advantage” on many of those classic Tour climbs that paid off in well-timed and efficient attacks.

Race tactics undoubtedly played a significant role in his success. Not only his individual tactics and his smart decisions on the road, but his team tactics were meticulous. Those tactics didn’t always make for the most entertaining races, as there was no wasted effort, no challenges on the road unless they’d lead to the ultimate goal: number one on the podium in Paris. Those team tactics were also demonstrated by  being part of a very strong team and using that team brilliantly. How many times did we see Lance’s teammates lead him up the climbs, saving Armstrong’s energy for the final assault, after his team mates had given their all.

Success also came from the extensive preparation and use of scientific tools by Lance and his team. I remember watching reports of his time trial preparations – using wind tunnels to analyze and make minute refinements in the bike, his position upon it and even the clothing he wore. This was no “short-cut” but a lot of intelligent application of science and engineering!

I hypothesize that Lance did have one unique advantage that lead to his great success. The cancer that nearly killed him allowed him to come back stronger than ever – stronger in precisely the ways necessary to become a cycling animal. When the chemo broke his body down, he had an opportunity that few athletes have – to rebuild their body , practically from the ground up, and to do so in a very specialized way. I believe that the rebuilt Lance, through his mind power and training, put energy into those systems (e.g. lungs and leg muscles) necessary for cycling, without wasting energy and weight on superfluous parts. It was as if an evolutionary process to transform man into a Tour-de-France-cycling-machine occurred not over a thousand generations, but in one man’s lifetime and body.

I wonder about the motives of those who have come out against Lance. Some of them I can dismiss as just being a bit unbalanced and not to be taken seriously, but other seemingly respectable people I just don’t know. I don’t understand where they may be coming from, unless the accusations are just a manifestation of some personal conflict between them and Lance. About the only person’s word that could have swung my opinion  on this case would have been George Hincapie. He would have seemed to know Lance very well and to be a very respected and honorable person, with no axe to grind against an old friend. Reportedly he had given incriminating evidence to the USADA but he’s never said anything publicly so we don’t know what Hincapie did or did not say. With Lance choosing not to contest the case we may never know for sure.

And what about the motives and tactics of the USADA? I’ll admit I don’t fully understand their jurisdiction or power. I especially don’t see how they can strip Armstrong of his 7 Tour de France titles. Think what they may, do what they feel they must, but the USADA did not award those titles so they are not theirs to revoke. In any case I don’t think Lance (after undoubtedly very much thought) really cares about the formality of those titles anymore.

I also wonder about how the decision to give up the fight to clear his name, will affects Lance’s cancer-fighting Livestrong activities (or indeed about his long-speculated political ambitions). Hopefully the effect will not be too negative, because whatever his doubters may think about his cycling performance, even they have to admire his leadership in the cancer fight. Perhaps one indication of the effect is a report that I saw saying that donations to the Livestrong campaign are up in the days immediately following the USADA’s deadline and surrounding publicity.

There is more than ample evidence that Lance Armstrong’s success came from hard and smart work. The evidence against him is weak and increasingly dependent upon a conspiracy theory that ranks up there with the most complex of them.  I don’t know for sure what the truth is, but for now I am comfortable with my beliefs. Live Strong Lance!

 

Posted August 27, 2012 by Randy Talbot in Cycle Racing, Tour de France

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2012 Tour de France – Wrap-up   Leave a comment

Well, that’s a wrap – the 2012 Tour de France. As I write this, there is still the final ride into Paris but that is largely ceremonial as far as the General Classification is concerned.

Bradley Wiggins won, but more by attrition and by a strong team, than by any personal heroics on his part. It is sad that his most noteworthy moment (to those outside of the UK anyway) will be remembered as his angry, foul-mouthed response to reporter’s questions.

Cadel Evans, the 2011 winner was supposed to challenge Wiggins but he never seemed to be in contention – he was dropped in the mountains and suffered big time losses in the time trial (where he was expected to do much better). I won’t be surprised if we hear some story after the race, about how Evans was hampered by an illness or injury that was not made public during the race.

Frank Schleck positive was a surprise but did I hear correctly that he tested positive for a diuretic which itself was not prohibited but is often used as a masking agent for other banned substances – so Schleck drops out immediately (or did the Radio Shack team make that decision?). I’ll credit Schleck for his cooperation with authorities and give him the benefit of the doubt with his suspicion that he was poisoned. Normally I may not have been so quick to accept that excuse but after the tacks on the road incidence, it does seem like someone may have been trying to influence the results of this year’s Tour.

My favorite competitor in this year’s Tour was Wiggin’s Sky teammate Christopher  Froome. He’s the type of rider I like to watch (and support) one who is strong in the mountains and a good overall competitor. I’ll be watching him closely  next year and if he does end up on a different team, things should get interesting (not to mention how interesting things will be if Andy Schleck is back, and Ryder Hesjedal too).

I was also impressed with some of the sprinting performances – Peter Sagan comes to mind first but also the powerful finish of Mark Cavendish on Stage 18!

Overall, I found this year’s tour to be the most boring that I have seen. Although I faithfully watched the live race coverage everyday (via British Eurosport), I never seemed to really get into the race. I don’t think there was anything wrong with the event, the coverage or the course, It’s just the way things worked out.

The next big event on the cycling calendar is of course the Olympics but I’ve never found Olympic road cycling to be particularly captivating – probably because of the way Olympic TV coverage jumps around from event to event. What I am looking forward to next is the Vuelta d’Espana. I’ve heard very little of who will be riding but I am  looking forward to it nonetheless.

So what did you think of the Tour? Did it meet your expectations?

Posted July 21, 2012 by Randy Talbot in Cycle Racing, Tour de France, Uncategorized

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Thoughts on the First Week (of the 2012 TdF)   1 comment

As I write, Stage 8 of the 2012 Tour de France is just ending – a few thoughts on the first week of this classic:

This year I’ve been following the tour much as I did last year.  I’m using  SteephillTV as a gateway to live video feeds. I usually chooses a Eurosport feed and have been enjoying the commentary from Sean Kelly and David Harmon. I am happy enough with this coverage that I have not even explored the coverage from Canadian or U.S.  sources (which frustrated me so much last year)

I also have been finding the Skoda Tour Tracker app to be handy for results when I am away from my desk. I am a little disappointed that the videofeed is not available in my area through this app, but the  text updates and results are great to have.

My biggest disappointment of the first week was Canadian Ryder Hesjedal withdrawing from the race. That came as a result of him being caught up in the big, bad crash on stage 6 that saw him getting pretty beat up and losing 13 minutes. A time loss of that magnitude would be very difficult to make up against the front runners Wiggins and Evan. Although  Hesjedal definitely was physically injured I have to wonder how much  the the decision to withdraw was to made so he could focus on other events. He has already turned his attention to the Olympics and then perhaps (having save himself from the exhaustion of the TdF mountain stages) he will make a go at the Vuelta?

The crash that took out Hesjedal affected many of the riders. He wasn’t the only member of the Garmin Sharp team forced to withdraw, nor were they the only team. There seemed to have been an inordinate number of crashes during the first wee. It reminds me of the year of Lance Armstrong’s last Tour. The race seems quite wide open at the start, then crash by crash, the field of GC contenders gets whittled down. Frank Schleck also lost  a fair bit of time in that crash and for that reason alone seems like a long shot for the podium now but it should be an interesting last two weeks, with lots of mountain stages.

What are your thoughts on this year’s Tour?

 

Posted July 8, 2012 by Randy Talbot in Cycle Racing, Tour de France

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Tour Down Under 2012 (on a cold winter night)   2 comments

What a world we live in. Here I am on a dark winter evening in Edmonton, the temperature is -17C – and I am watching live coverage of the 5th stage of the Tour Down Under from the Adelaide area in Australia, where it is a hot, sunny afternoon.

The web coverage of this event is being streamed by Sky Sports via the ProCyclingLive website. I wasn’t thinking about the event being on but was fortunate to notice a tweet from @procyclinglive. A special treat is that the commentary is being provided by Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett, legendary Tour de France commentators.

It’s not the same as riding oneself but watching these guys cruise along the Australian coast is not a bad way to spend a winter’s evening.

A Well Deserved Rest Day   Leave a comment

The 2011 Tour de France reaches it’s well deserved first rest day – what a start it has been. It has been painful to watch because of all of the pain on the road. Fans need a break too. There were times in that first week when I really questioned if I wanted to continue watching. We all know that there are going to be crashes and there will always be riders having to abandon, but this year has been different in frequency and severity. Stage 9 had not one but two crashes that just made me cringe and I hope I never see anything like them again.
I have to admit that after Vino’s stage 8 attack I was kind of pulling for him and hoping that his last Tour might have a magic moment or two for him. To see the pained look on his face on stage 9 as his teammates carry him up out of that ravine – with a broken femur! – heartbreaking. What a way to kill a dream.
Then there was the second major Stage 9 crash – the France TV car crashing into the breakaway riders. Horrifying and inexcusable! The initial impact was bad, seeing two riders launched from the road was bad and crashing into that fence …
What grit, what character for the two of them (Sky’s Flecha and Vacansoleil-DCM’s Hoogerland) to get back on their bikes and finish the stage – particularly Hoogerland who tangled with the barbed wire fence suffering multiple lacerations and extensive bleeding – what a moving performance. I’m sure hoping the rest day is enough for these two to recover enough to continue but time will tell.
Of course Stage 9 was just one of many crazy crash filled days. Who would have guessed that so many GC contenders (Brajkovic, Wiggins, Horner) would have been knocked out even before the big mountain stages. Other contenders such as Contador and Leipheimer have had multiple crashes, and while they are still riding with no serious injuries, they’ve lost a lot of time and are unlikely to reach the podium in Paris. So far the. Schleck brothers stand out as the lucky, crash-free ones and if I were a betting man…
Of course there is still a lot of racing to come and as we know too well from the first nine days, anything can happen and lots of time can be lost in the Pyrenees and Alps.
So as much as I hate to see the crashes and injuries, you know I will not be able to ignore the rest of this year’s Tour.

Posted July 10, 2011 by Randy Talbot in Cycle Racing, Tour de France

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Following the Action in Day 1 in the 2011 Tour   2 comments

In yesterday’s post I  talked about my options in following the 2011 Tour de France from here in Canada. As I write, the first stage in nearly complete and here is what I did.

Without digital cable to watch the TSN2 television coverage in Canada, I have resorted to web coverage – and it hasn’t been bad. Without subscribing to the NBC All Access Pass I have not been able to follow the commentary of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen [I just noticed that the all access pass is restricted to U.S. residents only so that option wouldn’t have worked anyway].  What I have been watching is the english language UK web feed from Eurosport via fromsportCOM.  The  biggest drawback to the web feed is the small display window – but it is fine for sitting right in front of the computer screen. Pleasantly, I am finding the commentary on this feed to be good – Phil and Paul are not the only capable commentators.

Not only am I tuned in to the video/commentary feed but I also have a number of other browser windows open for various info on the Tour. Here are the websites I currently have open:

Who am I picking to win this year’s Tour? There would seem to be half a dozen contenders and I think it will come down to the breaks – the good and bad luck of teams and individual riders.  If Contador plays it safe and smart, he should be a favorite. Personal I am pulling for Andy Schleck this year. After a couple of second place  finishes I’d love to see him come out on top this year. I also wish the best for Canadian rider, Ryder Hesjedal  and in terms of teams, I’m cheering for Team Radio Shack. We will see what happens.

Following the 2011 Tour   1 comment

It was the day before the-start-of-the-2011-Tour-de-France and … I am excited, but confused and anxious.

I am excited because the Tour is my favorite sporting event and seeing the French countryside in the TV coverage always makes me smile, partly because of memories of the riding I’ve done in that country.

I am confused and anxious because I am very unsure what my Tour-following experience will be like this year. For a number of years we had pretty decent TV coverage as the OLN Canada cable network had picked up and broadcast the excellent, live and enhanced Versus coverage from the U.S. Then last year (2010) OLN slashed their coverage to just the live coverage in the morning with no broadcast of the extended coverage in thew evening. I was not happy with that situation and lamented that the powers that be should not give Tour broadcast rights for a country unless the network was going to do it right.

So here we are in 2011 and have things improved? Well OLN Canada is not broadcasting the Tour so that sounded promising. The fact that TSN announced that they had the rights sounded good but coverage details have been slow in coming and I don’t like some of what I’ve heard. My first criticism is that the Tour will not be on the main TSN network but on their TSN2 network. TSN2 is a digital channel which I do not have in my cable package, and am not equipped to receive. So do I make an investment for just this 3 week event – is is worth the cost and hassle?

Another problem was that I didn’t know what I would be getting in the TSN2 coverage. From the now available TSN  schedule it appears that TSN2 will be providing the live coverage (approx 0600-0930, local time) and a rebroadcast most afternoons at 1300. There are however 7 days when the rebroadcast will be on regular TSN network (which will not require digital cable capability), in the evening.

Until very recently I wasn’t sure from where TSN2 was going to pick up their commentary feed. I  am very happy to discover that they will in fact be featuring the Versus team of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwan and the often corny, but so delightful, Bob Roll.

At this point I will probably make do with the web coverage of le Tour for a day or two and see if that’ll be adequate. I have also been considering the NBC/Versus All Access Pass for enhanced web coverage of the Tour.

If  these web options don’t cut it, I may have to splurge for additional cable hardware and channel packages. One way or another though, I will be (virtually) there. I am excited – for the Tour always has drama, unpredictability and of course, great scenery.

 

How will you be following the 2011 Tour de France (especially from Canada)?

 

Posted July 1, 2011 by Randy Talbot in Cycle Racing, Tour de France

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2011 Giro d’Italia   Leave a comment

Today (2011/5/7) was the start of the first of the three Grand Tours in the world of professional cycling. I caught some of the action of the Team Time Trial and hope to follow the event regularly this year.

The Giro d’Italia is of course the three week stage race  around Italy – covering 3522 kilometers this year. I first paid big attention to the Giro a couple of years ago (2009) when Lance Armstrong rode the race with the Astana team. Lance of course is really retired now but what I discovered watching the Giro that year is the reason I still want to follow the event this year.

What I loved about the Giro is one of the same big things that keeps me coming back to le Tour de France – the scenery! I love the “TV” coverage that shows not only the action  on two wheels, the personal dramas, the sporting tactics but the views of the landscape from the road and from the helicopters. I love seeing those mountain passes, the historic architecture, the picturesque coastlines and even the serene rural areas. Of course there is no TV coverage per se in this part of the world, but what I discovered in 2009 was the power of the Internet to deliver live cycling coverage. My go-to site is Steephill.tv which can be counted on to have links to all television feeds that are covering the professional races (in many languages). Click here to go straight to Steephill’s Giro d’Italia page but do go back to their main page to check out all of the other information they have of interest to cyclists (tourists as well as fans of the races).

I have not had time to follow the professional cycling scene much this year so I can’t give you a preview of what to watch for in this year’s race. You can get that though from this Cycling Fever website. What I do know is that last year’s Tour winner (and off-season doping controversy-embroiled) Alberto Contador is racing with his new team Saxobank Sungard and the Schleck brothers will not be racing. As is usual, and to be expected, is that there are not as many of the big names at the Giro as will be lined up in July for the Tour. Radio Shack in particular has many of their biggest names assembled for the Amgen Tour of California which runs May 15th to 22nd (coinciding with the middle week of the Giro).

The limits of the field notwithstanding, I still have no doubt that the battle for the pink jersey will be competitive, there will be some surprises and of course the Giro coverage will show us some molto bello Italian scenery that will leave me dreaming of riding there myself someday.

Posted May 7, 2011 by Randy Talbot in Cycle Racing, Cycle Touring

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