Archive for the ‘Tour de France’ 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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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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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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Laurent Fignon   Leave a comment

I was deeply saddened this morning to check my twitter feed and read that Laurent Fignon had passed away of cancer at age 50. I had not been aware that he was battling cancer so I was particularly shocked by the news.  Apparently he was still working, providing television commentary at this year’s Tour.

Laurent Fignon - painting by Randall Talbot

I wasn’t sure why I felt as sad as I did. I certainly never new him personally but I sensed he was a good guy. He was my hero back in the 80’s as I started to seriously follow professional cycling, and particularly the Tour de France. I loved this guy’s style.  His look was unique enough – with the blond ponytail and glasses – just not what you’d expect for a professional cyclist but obviously this guy could ride and from all indications he was a good person and sportsman.

I was impressed by the words of praise for Laurent that flowed out of Twitter today from so many in the cycling community that I respect. The comments seemed heartfelt and confirmed him as a well liked and respected person.

Laurent won the Tour de France  in 1983 and 1984 and very narrowly lost to Greg LeMond in 1989. His life was not without some controversy but nonetheless he will be missed.

R.I.P Laurent Fignon

Posted August 31, 2010 by Randy Talbot in Cycle Racing, Tour de France

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Looking back – the 2010 Tour de France   Leave a comment

Well it’s been a week since the end of the 2010 edition of the Tour de France, so I just want to collect and express a few of my  thoughts.

For me this Tour turned out to be a real disappointment.  Normally the Tour is  the sporting highlights of my year. I will get up early and watch part of the live TV broadcast   before heading off to work. Then in the evening I would watch the extended re-broadcast.  I’d be following all of the websites I can and generally I  am obsessed with cycling for 3 weeks. This year looked to be one of the great match-up between arch-rivals Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador. Aside from these two there seemed to be a number of serious podium contenders that would make it interesting. In the end though, I never really got into this year’s event and I feel empty – like something is missing from my summer.

The Lance-Alberto showdown which was to be the headline story was a big fizzle. Once Lance had his 3-crash bad day and fell out of overall GC contention, this part of the story was all over. I was saddened to see that Lance seemed to lose it spirit after that. I really hoped and expected that he would continue to ride with the big boys after that. It makes me wonder if he really had a chance to win anyway. If he hadn’t crashed would he have had the fitness and strength to keep up with Contador and Schleck? It was nice to see Lance’s big breakaway performance on stage 16. We can only speculate on how much was physical and how much was his spirit. Hopefully he will talk about this some day.

The Alberto-Andy Schleck story was still a good once The two riders were very evenly matched physically, both motivated and I liked that the contest was still being fought up until the second last day. A bit of  interest was provided by the Stage 15 controversy when Contador moved to take advantage of a Schleck problem and thereby steal the Yellow Jersey. I gave Alberto the benefit of the doubt on that one and I was pleased to see that Andy accepted his apology. Still I loved Andy’s initial reaction and comment ” My stomach is full of anger, and I want to take my revenge“. It’s a classic – I’m tempted to get a t-shirt.

I really liked the first week route, with some hills and cobbles. It certainly made things more interesting than just a series of sprint finishes that so often seem to be the story of the pre-mountain stage. Obviously the weather played a factor that week too. It was sad to see the crashes and a few dreams dashed but it was interesting!

A major disappointment for me  was the television coverage in Canada. In years past the cable network OLN Canada has picked up most of the Versus coverage from the US. This year OLN decided to carry only the live morning coverage (filling out their evening coverage with garbage like Operation Repo). As usual the coverage with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen was excellent. However without the evening broadcast I missed out on the insights and humor of Bobke (Bob Roll). I really wish OLN/Rogers would realize what a gem they have with rights to cover the Tour de France. This lack of TV coverage really took the wind out of my sails, I just really never got into the Tour this year. I hope the Tour organizers will be able to award Canadian coverage rights in 2011 to a network that knows what they have and  how to do it right!

The television commercials are hard to avoid and watching hours a day you tend to see many of the ads over and over again. The OLN ads for their evening shows were bad to start with and particularly annoying when you realized that they were preempting  the good stuff.  However there were a few gems amongst the TV spots. The Alberto and Andy Specialized commercial was one of the best to air during the Tour – it made me laugh every time I saw it (deep fried turkey – ha ha!). I also thought the Nike/Livestrong Lance solo ride commercial was very inspiring. Finally, hats off to Cervelo for their honest, intelligent spots!

The 2011 tour is already shaping up to be interesting , just in terms of the riders that will be coming and going. It already  looks like the Schlecks and Contador will have new teams. We know Armstrong is going into retirement 2.0. Will Leipheimer, Horner and Hincapie follow him? The 2011 tour could be a year for a changing of the guard for American cycling. Canadians were very excited  and proud of the  7th place finish of Ryder Hesjedal from Victoria. It will be interesting to see if that accomplishment earns him a place as a team leader or will he be back to the role of a domestique in the 2011 race once the Garmin team leaders are healthy (assuming they are all still with Garmin).

How many days until the 2011 prologue? I can’t wait!

A Senior Pro Cycling Tour?   3 comments

I was feeling kind of sad the last few days hearing Lance Armstrong talk about his last mountain stage and the last time trial he would do in his life – and it got me thinking…

Now I’m probably not the first person  to have thought about this, and maybe it even has been tried, but wouldn’t it be neat if there was a senior pro cycling tour? I’m thinking of something along the lines of the Professional golf senior tour. There would be a minimum qualifying age – I’m thinking a cut-off of 40 years old. I’m guessing that fitness levels/capabilities would level off somewhat above this age so that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to  have riders 20 years apart being competitive with each other. Wouldn’t it be great to see many of the past greats compete against each other – time having healed some old rivalries while other rivalries may have been maintained and even escalated. Perhaps some new rivalries would develop from those who never crossed paths in their primes?  Can you imagine seeing the tour greats of different eras (say a 30 year span) riding together. I think it would be a blast.  I’d love to see Lance go head-to-head with Lemond. I think it would be a great draw for spectators and what draws spectators would draw sponsors.

I would expect the events to be scaled back from the regular pro tour – with just a  three month summer season based in Europe but it would be great for the sport if they had some events in North America and possibly other continents. I’m guessing the 3 week grand tour format would be out with maybe just single day events and a few 3 to 5 day stage races. I don’t see why they couldn’t include mountain, flat (sprinter) and time trial stages

Another idea, specifically for the Tour de France: how about a senior  event that would be open to all past TdF podium finishers (of perhaps anyone who had finished in the GC top-10 or perhaps anyone that had ever won a stage?) I’m imagining a one-day event on the day of the prologue? Wouldn’t that be exciting and a great way to pay homage to the Tour’s great history and characters?

What do you think – could this work? Would the old riders be interested in coming back to race? Would it be commercially viable? Do you think the riders would compete individually or can you imagine them being on sponsored teams?

Posted July 24, 2010 by Randy Talbot in Cycle Racing, Tour de France

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