Am I on track?

Am I on track?

Friday, 27 December 2013

Race 4/2013 - Twilight Criterium (HPRW), Nundah

Back on December 4th, I lined up for my fourth race of the year.  The Twilight Crits, run by the HPRW club, are one of my favourite crit race series - a bunch of Wednesday afternoon races that turns 'hump day' from boring to something to look forward to!

It would indeed be a race for me to remember for a number of reasons...

Normally I'd punch some stats up for the race straight up.  I'm not 100% sure what they are though - but thankfully Strava (ride link here) helps me out...  I raced in B2 grade, and I know that every single lap averaged over 40km/h - most in the low-mid 40's range.  It was a quick race...

The Story of the Day

I rolled up to sign on for C-Grade (as usual) - but the current grading system used by HPRW has Masters C riders under 50yo racing up in B2 (with the Masters B riders!!).  No worries of course - its all for fun and games.  I handed over my $10 and pinned on my number.

We lined up for the pre-race briefing at 5pm.  Based on the numbers I saw, there were about 60 starters in my race - definitely a big one!  The race format was a 'points race'. Basically, first across the line every lap scored points, and then on the last lap the first 5 scored as well.  Most points would be the winner.

As usual, my goals were a lot more modest (especially given I was racing 'up' a grade). I simply wanted to last the distance.

The race went hard from the gun.  The first 3 laps were actually the quickest of the day - all averaging above 45km/h (with the second lap up around 47.5km/h).  We were hitting 50km/h along the home straight each time!

Needless to say, I was struggling.  I was giving absolutely everything to just hang on.   I somehow survived those first few laps, but I was well in the red zone.  The clock on my speedo had just ticked over 5min, and I thought that may be it for me!

I started a simple game - just hold on to the next corner...  I kept digging deep, and pushing on & on. A number of times I thought I was gone, but I managed to just keep a hold of the peloton. My mouth was dry, but I dared not reach down for my bottle...

Time started adding up - 6min, 7min, 8min... When the clock ticked over to 10min, a wave of relief washed over me - I had at least made double figures!

At around the 12min mark - something changed with me. Suddenly, everything seemed to adapt. I was still pushing extremely hard, but the pain disappeared and I seemed to find my rhythm. It was a wonderful feeling, and I dared to dream that I may make the finish...

Finally, at around the 35min mark, the 2 laps to go sign came up.  The bell went a lap later, and I was on the final lap.  I was absolutely elated!!  I knew I had never been in a race this fast before and made it to the finish.  Having dug myself out of the deep hole I was in after 10min just made it sweeter again.

I knew I wouldn't be sprinting at the finish, so I decided to get out of everyone's way.  I was about a third back fro the front, and let myself drift back into the rear third of the field.

Suddenly, everything changes...

Second last curve of the race.  Some guy a few in front of me dramatically changes line and chops someone's wheel.  Guy goes down heavily in front of me, spreadeagled with his bike across the track.  I'm travelling at almost 50km/h with no-where to go.  I hit him and think, "please not my collarbone..."

The Short Story

Everything hurts - and then only my left shoulder hurts.  Yep, the same one as last time. Oh no...

Ambulance to Royal Brisbane Hospital. X-Rays and MRI's.  Concerns over a fractured eye socket eventually dismisssed (phew!).  Lots of concerns over a left shoulder that seems to be continually swelling, so kept in overnight.

Final verdict - left clavicle fractured distally, and needing to be plated. More concern though over the ligaments, that seem to be 'shredded' (registrar's words - not good!).  Surgery scheduled for the following week.

What's next?

Normally, this section of a race report is about my next lot of racing and/or training.  But I'll just leave things there for now, given that any cycling is months away (at least)...

For the sake of posterity though - next post will cover off on what exactly happened with my shoulder...!!

Stay safe everyone, and don't take the joys of cycling for granted.  I miss it already...

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Where have I been...?! (Oct & Nov 2013 Review)

Life's been pretty busy lately - lots happening in all spheres of my life.  Don't mistake inactivity in the bog for inactivity in life - quite the opposite!!  I'm checking in here quickly to log a few stats for my ongoing record, and quickly run over what I've been doing, and what's coming up...

Firstly - updated stats:

January - 300km / 13hrs
 February - 452km / 20hrs
 March - 341km / 20hrs
 April - 269km / 12hrs
 May - 201km / 10hrs
 June - 437km / 21hrs
 July - 71km / 4hrs
 August - 518km / 26hrs
September - 455km / 21hrs
October - 386km / 17hrs
 November - 245km / 13hrs

Year to date - 3674km / 178hrs

Obviously things fell away mileage-wise over the last couple of months.

The main culprit has been work.  I had a sudden change of role due to some urgent priority stuff going on. This included some changes to my work location.  So instead of working 4 days/week at my usual building (and 1 day/week elsewhere) - I'm now split 3 days/wk in the CBD, 1 day/wk in Milton, and 1 day/wk at my usual location.

My cycle commuting (which has been the backbone of my mileage) thrives on 'habit' - and my new arrangements haven't been conducive to that at all!!  It took me a few weeks to get access organised for my bike to underground carparks (and other annoying administrative stuff), and then some further time for me to work out the best way to carry a lot more than usual to/from work (the new CBD location doesn't have lockers available).

Fortunately, things are starting to settle into a routine again.  I'm managing to cycle-commute at least 3 days/week, which is (probably most importantly) is making me happy...  :)

Weekends have been a bit scrappy, as my kids' weekend school sport really ramped up over Oct/Nov as well.  That's not a complaint though - I absolutely love it.  Cheering my girls on and watching them improve and grow in confidence is one of life's great pleasures.  School sport is on Christmas holiday break now though, so plenty of opportunity over the next couple of months to build up some time in the saddle.

What's ahead?

In the short-term - club racing.  A couple of HPRW club's twilight criteriums on a Wednesday afternoon (including my first one this afternoon), and a couple of my own club's Saturday morning criteriums.  I had planned to race the Brisbane Blast Open criterium on 15th December - but I waited too long to enter and Masters C reached capacity. Lesson learned...

Big News!!

June/July 2014. Northern Italy - riding the Stelvio, Gavia, and Mortirolo. France - spectating a stage (or two!) of the Tour de France.  Looks like it will happen, but I dare not write anymore in case I curse my luck...

Needless to say, I'm excited...  :)

Getting ready for 2014

Normally, I spend the week or two around Christmas/New Year off the bike.  Then in January, I'll just do some sporadic riding to slowly get back into the groove of it all again.

With some big plans for 2014 though, I want to be ready to start strongly in January.  So December for me is about trying to rack up as many days in the saddle as I can to be ready for a big first 6-months of 2014.

Ride safely!!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Race 3/2013 - BBP Open Criterium, Toowoomba

Only my third race for the year, and I was lifting things up a level.  I made the 90 minute drive west of Brisbane to Toowoomba, a large town sitting atop the Great Dividing Range.  At the Glenvale Criterium Circuit, I was signed up for the Be Better Psychology Open in Masters C.

After a few navigation errors once I'd reached Toowoomba itself, I arrived at the criterium circuit about 20 minutes before race start.  I quickly signed on, grabbed my number, got changed, and squeezed in a few minutes warm-up before the call up for race start.

The temperature was perfect for racing, however the wind was not.  A fairly strong 'Toowoomba special' was blowing across the circuit.  The commissaires called the role at the start line (there were 18 of us), gave us a quick run down (30 minutes + 2 laps, with 2 mid-race primes), and we were away!

Race time!

The pace pretty much exploded from the start.  I felt the lack of a good warm-up, especially as the pace nudged 60km/h with the wind at our backs along the first pass of the clubhouse.  We swung around a corner, and the crosswind smacked us all across the width of the circuit.

I was already red-lining - on the first lap!!  We sprinted up the first climb, then swung around down the long back straight.  Now we had a cross/headwind, and we were strung out in single file along the edge of the circuit.  Half-way along and - KABOOM - my legs exploded and I was out the back.

Dropped on the first lap - not quite what I was hoping for!  The Race Commentator didn't miss me either, as I tried to regather my breath (and composure!) along the home straight, I heard him say, "And here comes a Balmoral rider - he obviously forgot this is a race and not a coffee ride, let's see if he can catch back on..."

I laughed and waved, and decided to make the most of what looked like becoming a hard training day instead of a race.

Wait up fellas!!  Disappearing off the back, on one of the climbs...

In the end, what became apparent was that I am still a good level below Open racing ability.  I did my best each time the peloton came around (another three times), but the best I could do was hold on for one full lap on one occasion.  I just wasn't good enough.

That said, a bad day on the bike is still, well, a good day! I learnt plenty about racing in crosswinds, and enjoyed watching my much stronger competitors as they went past.  I basically did a set of intervals for 30min, working hard and making the most of my time on the circuit.

My final stats were:
40 minutes of racing; Average speed of 29.5km/h; Top speed of 63.7km/h!
My fastest lap of the 1.8km full circuit was 2min 56sec - my 3rd lap, and the only one I completed under 3 minutes...
In contrast - the winner averaged 39.5km/h, and hit a top speed of 69.8km/h...!!

Glenvale Criterium Circuit

If you haven't raced at Glenvale before, and get the chance, you should definitely do it.  It is a very honest (and fast!) criterium circuit, and I highly recommend it.

If you consider the most commonly raced, dedicated off-road criterium circuits in South-East Queensland, then Glenvale is probably the most balanced and fairest of them all.  Murarrie and Nundah are flat tracks for the sprinters, while Lakeside and Nerang both have decent climbs in them that sap the legs and favour the lightweights.

The Glenvale track (photo taken during construction)

Glenvale is 'just right' - a couple of shorter climbs that favour neither the sprinter or climber.  Add in some wind, and there is no way anyone can fake (or hide) their way through a race.  A brilliant test of racing ability - I'm looking forward to my next opportunity to race there to see if I've improved...

Finally - many thanks to the cycling community of Toowoomba (and the organising club, Bikeline Racing).  It was an extremely well-run day of racing, by a very friendly and welcoming crew. Thanks, and I'm looking forward to coming back again!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Race 2/2013 - C-Grade club criterium, Murarrie

Finally!! Yesterday I raced my first criterium for the year.  Felt fantastic to pin a number on and bump handlebars in a fast moving peloton again.  Lots of fun, and stoked to reach all my goals for the morning!

Felt very nervous when I woke up in the morning - actually tried to talk myself out of it and go and do a bunch ride instead! But I had pencilled this race down in my head, and forced myself to head out and test the legs. The 20min ride to the crit circuit definitely helped relax me and settle the nerves.

Goal 1 - get through the first 5 minutes...

Around 40 starters for the 40min + 3 laps race.  A good turn-up, and I distracted myself by checking out some of the carbon bling in the peloton as we awaited the start. My first goal was to get through the first few laps.  I knew the pace would be a bit of a shock to the system, so the plan was to just keep my head down and work hard to stay amongst it.

A hard start did ensue - with such a big pack, the stronger teams were obviously keen to shake things up a bit.  I was happy to get through it and still be feeling OK...

Goal 2 - make the half-way prime...

A prime sprint prize was scheduled for the half-way mark (20min) - that became my next survival goal.  The wind was causing a bit of havoc, particularly along the '3rd straight' heading east.  It was a head/crosswind, and I couldn't quite work out exactly where it was coming from - no matter where I positioned myself I seemed to be getting buffeted by the wind.

Near the halfway mark, a flock of ibis in the sky caught my attention.  They were 'hovering' in a V-formation - and it clicked in my head that they must be facing direct into the wind.  So I used that to pick my position for the next lap, and it worked a treat...  :)

Twenty minutes came around, and I was still there!  I moved forward when the whistle blew for the sprint, giving myself some buffer to drift back when the pace sky-rocketed for the sprint.  I held well, and gave myself a little mental high-five for reaching the mid-race milestone...

Goal 3 - make it to the end!!

The last 20 minutes to go - time to hang tough!!  I had a few scary moments in the final half of the race, getting caught out a few times as I drifted towards the back.  I was really working hard, but felt ok at the same time.  I was lucky that the pace dipped at around the 30min mark when we were overtaken by B-Grade - it gave me a short, welcome rest.

Finally, at the 38min mark, the "3 laps to go" sign went up.  I had made it!  A big grin spread across my face. The rest of the race was just cream now, I'd just watch the moves and follow what I could...

Position is everything

Again, the stronger teams lifted the pace, and it was hard to follow.  I pushed hard, and managed to move up to mid-pack.  We reached the last lap, and I was trying to watch everyone at once to spot the winning move!

I saw a line of "Ascot Racing" riders move up the outside. I jumped across, and buried myself to follow.  We came flying along the 3rd straight, and I allowed myself to dream for a second that I could actually score  place...

Then my legs absolutely detonated, and that was that!  I had reached my limit, but had exceeded my expectations for my first race back. Made it to the end, and put myself in a position to win.

Looking forward to the next race, and seeing if I can repeat the effort!

Friday, 4 October 2013

September 2013 Review

I've been quit blog-wise for the past month.  Mainly because I haven't had anything exciting to say! I've just been consistently logging up my kilometres...


January - 300km / 13hrs
February - 452km / 20hrs
March - 341km / 20hrs
April - 269km / 12hrs
May - 201km / 10hrs
June - 437km / 21hrs
July - 71km / 4hrs
August - 518km / 26hrs
September - 455km / 21hrs

Year to date - 3043km / 148hrs


So my last two months have been my biggest two mileage months for the year so far.  Happy with that - now to see if I can make it three big months in a row...

Sand, sun & surf...

One of the highlights of the month for me was a week down at Burleigh Heads for a family holiday.  I took the bike down with me, and escaped for a couple of rides while I was there.

On the Wednesday night, I headed over to the Nerang Velodrome for "Road-track training". This is a winter training session they do, using road bikes on the track (doable as the banking at Nerang is very shallow).  Basically, its an hour long session of 100 laps, building to a sprint every 10th lap. 

Nerang outdoor velodrome

It was one of the toughest sessions I've ever done on a bike!!  I was clearly a level or two below most of the other dozen riders there, so I spent a fair bit of time circling on the upper parts of the track trying desperately to recover.  I was completely wrecked by the end, but had a fantastic time.  If you ever get the chance to participate in something like this, you should totally do it.

I also squeezed in another ride, following the coastline north & south of Burleigh. There are a huge number of bunches riding the coast roads, so I just 'bunch hopped' for the morning.  The views along the beach roads are stunning, and its no wonder cycling is such a huge recreational sport on the Gold Coast.

Finishing with a bang...

... but not a good sort of bang!!  On the last day of the month, almost home on my cycle-commute, my rear shifting suddenly got very dodgy, very quickly.  When I got home, I set the bike up on the stand to investigate, and the rear gear cable promptly snapped. D'oh!!

I generally do all my basic maintenance and repairs myself, teaching myself what I don't know via the vast resources of Google, forums, and YouTube.  But its actually been a few years since my bike has been looked over by a genuine professional mechanic, so I decided this was an opportune time to book the bike in for a full service.

My bike is being looked after today at Planet Cycles, getting the full pro "Saturn Service".  It basically involves the entire bike being pulled apart, everything cleaned out & regreased, bearings replaced, and then put back together.  I'm getting all my cables replaced as well (they're all 4+ years old), and I've already gotten the call from the mechanic saying my headset bearings are in pretty bad shape, so they are getting replaced too.

Its obviously not cheap, but Planet Cycles have a great reputation for their workshop expertise. Given its been around 4 years since a mechanic has touched my bike, and it'll likely be a long time before a mechanic sees it again, I reckon it'll be money well spent...

Hopefully I'll get my bike back after work today.  Will be good to give it a spin tomorrow morning and see how it feels.

October plans

Racing!  After this weekend, I'm planning to race every weekend for the rest of the month.  Depending on how I go, I may even have a crack at the Open criterium race in Toowoomba near the end of the month - the Be Better Psychology Open on the 27th October.

So that's it from me for now - time to shave the legs, pin a number on, and see if the last couple of months of consistent training will pay off on the criterium track...!!

Thursday, 5 September 2013

August 2013 Review

Very happy to be reporting last month's efforts.  Finally managed to get some decent consistency together, and kick a goal worth cheering about!!  Firstly, to the figures themselves...


January - 300km / 13hrs
February - 452km / 20hrs
March - 341km / 20hrs
April - 269km / 12hrs
May - 201km / 10hrs
June - 437km / 21hrs
July - 71km / 4hrs
August - 518km / 26hrs

Year to date - 2589km / 126hrs


Feeling awesome!!

Happy with this on a number of levels:
  • Biggest monthly mileage and hours for the year
  • First month to crack through 500km (finally!)
  • First 150+km week (155km)
After missing the first 6-days of the month due to the lingering man-flu from July, I wasn't sure exactly how much I would be able to achieve.  So I decided to just try and make sure I got on the bike as much as possible, and use August as a 'base rebuilding' period.

That worked out really well!  After a relatively easy first week back to make sure I didn't compromise my flu recovery, I was able to finish with three big weeks all clocking more than 130km each. The final week was my peak, hitting 155km to record my biggest weekly mileage of the year.

I've derived a whole heap of confidence from August.  While I'm still 'slow' after a month of base, I feel really strong.  I've already started adding a few short intervals into my September rides, and the legs have handled them well...

Looking ahead

Racing-wise, its all about criteriums for the rest of the year.  I have two Opens on my radar in October:
If the legs respond well to some harder riding and club racing in September, then I'll try and enter at least one of these races.

September Goals

In the meantime, the month of September (& hopefully some good weather!) lies ahead.  In simple terms, I just want to continue on and keep up with logging some decent mileage and time in the saddle.  To that end, I'm hoping to keep on hitting 100+km each week, and break through the 500+km mark for the monthly total again.

While I won't be adopting any formal training structure, I'll be gradually adding in some tougher efforts to my usual rides.  These will basically be in the form of some hard intervals interspersed throughout my rides.

Club racing is an important part of my September plans.  I'm aiming to race every weekend, but of course that is tempered with the caveat of not knowing what the kids' sporting commitments are yet.  So I'll squeeze in whatever races I can.

Feeling great

I mentioned on Twitter that it really is amazing how consistent training really feeds confidence and motivation.  I feel terrific after August's efforts, and I am really enjoying my cycling at the moment.  I don't intend to lose or forget this feeling, and will use it to drive me forward for the rest of the year.

Safe riding!!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Vuelta a Espana 2013 - preview & predictions

The final 3-week grand tour of the year is upon us - La Vuelta a Espana (or just 'The Vuelta' for those of us who are a little too fanatical).  The Vuelta is arguably the least prestigious grand tour after the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France. But that said, its still a grand tour, and as such is still a highly sought after prize.

This year's Vuelta is very much a climber's race.  Mountains and hills galore, with two-thirds of the stages having uphill finishes!  Not much here for the sprinters, which is probably why most of the top fastmen (eg. Cavendish, Greipel, Kittel, Sagan) aren't racing this year.

One of the unique features of the Vuelta compared to the Tour de France, is that the Vuelta has time bonuses for every stage.  The winner gets 10 seconds, 2nd place gets 6 seconds, and 3rd snatches 4 bonus seconds.  This definitely adds a new complexion to each stage, providing the overall GC riders a huge incentive to not just finish with the leading group, but to win the stage.

So who is going to win?

The favourite - Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

Nibali is the deserved outright favourite.  He already has a grand tour win this year - the Giro d'Italia - and has been in terrific form.  His legs should be well-rested after having a long break while many of the others were digging deep in the Tour de France, and has shown some decent form in the lead-up races.  Not an unbeatable favourite, but it will be a surprise if he doesn't win.

The young gun - Carlos Betancur (AG2R)

Betancur is relatively inexperienced, but is developing rapidly.  His breakout performance was at this year's Giro d'Italia, where he came a strong 4th.  Very much a pure climber, this year's Vuelta route suits him perfectly.  A bit of a question mark over whether he can peak twice in the one year, given his age - but I believe he will do well.

The homeland hero - Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha)

'Purito' Rodriguez has plenty of grand tour podiums, but is yet to crack an overall win.  He'll be super-motivated to do so at his 'home' grand tour this year.  He is a great stage finisher, so one of his great advantages is the time bonuses - expect him to hoover up a few full 10-second bonuses.  The question mark for him is whether he can back up from a tough Tour de France.  I think he will podium - but the fresher legs of Nibali and Betancur will be too much for him to win...

One last chance - Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) & Ivan Basso (Cannondale)

With both at the tail-end of their careers, they will be keen to notch up a win to go out in style.  Both riders will do well, but won't quite match their efforts of previous years.  Definitely top 10 riders, but both will miss the podium.

The Colombian Armada - Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran (both Team Sky)

A strong Sky team for the Vuelta, led by the Colombian duo of Henao and Uran.  Both skipped the Tour de France, so should have fresh legs.  While both had excellent Giro's, Uran  had the better result with a terrific 2nd place.  Henao has been given leadership status here though, most likely because Uran is leaving for another team next year.  However, expect both in the Top 10.

The sub-plots

Farewell Euskaltel-Euskadi

After 20 years in the pro peloton the 'carrots' are finishing up due to sponsorship difficulties.  It won't be the same without those bright orange jerseys racing!  Euskaltel have fielded a great team, stacked with their best climbers - including Sammy Sanchez, Igor Anton, and Mike Nieve.

Sanchez has a chance at the overall, and you can expect the others to go all out for stage wins as well.  Hopefully the carrots can animate this year's Vuelta and go out on a high!

Farewell Vacansoleil-DCM

Another team departing, it will be the final grand tour for Vacansoleil.  Again, expect them to animate with attacks - mainly as attempts by the riders to secure contracts for new teams next year.  The irrepressible Johnny Hoogerland will be the most visible, he is a breakaway specialist...

How to watch

In Australia, free-to-air broadcaster SBS will have a half-hour highlights show every night at 5:30pm.  They are also showing eight stages live - click here for details.  Not sure how many of these I'll catch after the Tour de France wiped me out - but I'll pick a couple of the big mountain stages for sure...

Well, c'mon, who is actually going to win?!

As always, I'll finish up with my predicted finishing order.  With some luck, I'll get close this year...!!

1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
2. Carlos Betancur (AG2R)
3. Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha)
4. Rigoberto Uran (Sky)
5. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
6. Sergio Henao (Sky)
7. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel)
8. Michel Scarponi (Lampre-Merida)
9. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R)
10. Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp)

Friday, 16 August 2013

July 2013 Review

A very quick post to update and record my stats for July 2013.

I could probably subtitle this month's post as "Blame it on the Tour"! What did I do? Nothing!! I discovered that I am well-&-truly not a teenager anymore that can 'rock-&-roll all night and party every day' - staying up for the Tour de France all through July absolutely destroyed me during the day. 

Just because I want to, doesn't mean I can...  ;)

I was able to do just enough at work to not get fired (luckily my boss is a fellow Tour de France fan!).  I slept as long as I could in the mornings, waking up just in time to madly get changed, kiss the wife & kids, and catch a bus to work. And I spent the rest of my time in a sleep-deprived daze.  It'll come as a massive shock that I also managed to catch "man-flu" not long after the Tour ended in my fatigued state...

Anyway - here are the embarrassing stats...


January - 300km / 13hrs
February - 452km / 20hrs
March - 341km / 20hrs
April - 269km / 12hrs
May - 201km / 10hrs
June - 437km / 21hrs
July – 71km / 4hrs

Year to date - 2071km / 100hrs


Pretty disastrous in terms of what I was planning and preparing for.  But hey, I love staying up and watching the Tour - it was an (unplanned!) sacrifice that I willingly made.

So what now - how does one recover from an unscheduled month-long break from the bike?  Well, you get straight back into it...

Apart from a work trip to Canberra and the lingering effects of the man-flu in the first week of August, I've managed to rack up some decent mileage again already. This month will be very much a 'base' month, rebuilding some mileage again.

The new race targets are a couple of months ahead in October.  There are three big Open criterium races, and I'll hopefully be able to schedule in 1 or 2 of them.  In the meantime though, I just need to focus on some consistent training.

Halfway through August, I'm already on track for it to be the biggest month of the year so far. If I can keep that up, that should set me up for some harder, more intense work in September leading into the October races.

Let's see if I can finally get through a 3-month plan!! I've had a few aborted attempts for various reasons this year - but I can't see impediments ahead. Fingers crossed!!

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A New Model for Cycling Stage Races

Change happens slowly in professional cycling - whether it be bike regulations (6.8kg minimum weights??), spectator-friendly technology (live rider telemetry??), or anything else that may involve a change to the status quo.  The UCI seems very loathe to make any changes unless huge pressure is applied.

With that in mind, I was very surprised when I read some previews for two races - the just-raced Classica San Sebastion one-dayer, and the currently racing Tour of Poland stage race - and discovered some minor tweaks had been made.

The key change made is an experimental reduction in team size - only six riders per team, down from the usual eight (Grand Tours have teams of nine riders).  This is something I really like and have advocated before, as it makes it harder for one team to control the race.

In the Tour of Poland, they are also doing some funky things with time bonuses, and creating an "attractivity jersey" for the leader of a combined classification that takes into accounts intermediate sprints and mountains points.  All a bit confusing and arbitrary - I just don't quite get what they are trying to do...

So with all that in mind, I started wondering - if I got the chance to make up a new model for stage races, what would I do......??

Firstly, let's start with the premise that if you are going to make some changes, let's do it properly.  Don't just fritter around the edges, but get stuck in and shake the system up a bit.

1. Teams of eight riders - six on-the-road, and two substitutes.

Each team nominates a team of eight riders at the start of the race.  However, only six riders can race at any one time.  Substitutes can only be made between stages.

All riders are eligible for any points-based competitions (eg. sprint jersey or mountains jersey).  So sprinters can sit out mountain stages, and mountain climbers can be subbed out for an extra lead-out train specialist on the flat sprint stages.

The team competition is still calculated by the best 3 riders on each stage, and is unaffected.

I think this would make the riding 'harder and faster', but without increasing the load on individual riders. Mountain goats could save their legs with extra recovery days, and the sprinters could go flat out and not have to save themselves to survive the tough days.

2. Designated team leaders, and only they can win overall.

Before the race begins, the team must nominate who is racing for the overall win.  They may nominate any two riders for this (a third may be nominated if they are also qualify for the 'young riders competition').

The "designated team leaders" MUST start every stage, and may not be substituted at any time.  They should also be easily visually-identified - either by having a uniquely coloured number, or maybe even a jersey-feature.

The overall classification will only feature these designated team leaders, and only they are eligible to win the race overall.

I believe this recognises the 'team' nature of cycling.  In most other team sports, competitors fill specific positions that have a definitive role to play.  This would give cycling the same structure.

Another benefit would be for the spectator, especially those that are relatively new to the sport.  It would be much clearer who the team leaders are, and to understand why different strategies are employed.

3. Anyone can win a stage, but time bonuses are distributed to the team leaders.

The stage winner is still the first rider to cross the line each day, that doesn't change.  However, if a time bonus is applicable to the stage winner, then that time bonus is automatically equally split between that team's "designated team leaders".

As an example, if the Team Wheelsucker sprinter wins a stage and gets 12 bonus seconds, then the two "designated team leaders" for Team Wheelsucker are automatically given 6 seconds each (or 4 seconds each if their are three team leaders).

This is another change that emphasises the team aspect of the sport.  It would also make for some interesting strategic choices with the substitutions for different stages...!!

Would this make 'better' racing?

I have no idea. Racing is pretty exciting now, this would simply make 'different' racing.

What I really like about this model is the shift to a more well-recognised team structure.  You have your team leaders known and recognised, and riders can be subbed in and out as it suits the team best.

I also suspect this would lead to a spreading of the talent pool.  Even if a team loads itself up with potential winners, it must nominate who its leaders are at the start, and only they can potentially win.  So riders looking for glory will need to go to another team in order to have a chance to fulfil their ambitions.  Perhaps a disincentive to joining a 'super-team'??

What I think might be lossed is the 'glorious uncertainty' of racing, when an unknown rider can snatch an overall victory by surprise.  That said, this happens less often these days as riding becomes much more controlled and less happens by surprise.


I am still, even some weeks later, suffering from post Tour de France fatigue. So maybe what seems like a good idea right now may not seem like such a good idea later when I'm better rested! However I think it would make for some interesting, different racing and strategy going forward into the future...

Please note though - if the UCI decide to make these changes, I thought of it first!!  ;-)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Tour de France 2013 - the business end...

As a cycling fan, July has been absolutely exhausting.  I must be getting old too - I remember (just!) when I used to be able to stay up night-after-night, watching multiple stages.  These days, it takes me a week to recover from just one late night!

I tweeted earlier this week that one of the great ironies of the Tour de France is that you actually get very little cycling done yourself.  That's OK though, I love watching the race, and suffering through my work days in an exhausted state is all part of the 'labour of love'...

So today, after the 2nd rest day, here is a few brief notes on the winners & losers so far, along with who is poised to do something special in Week 3 of the great race.


Chris Froome (Team Sky) is obviously the first person to mention here.  He has lived up to his pre-race favouritism, and absolutely dominated in the mountains and the individual time trial.  There are cynics out there, but I am a believer in a new age of clean cycling - that might make me naive, but I don't care. For now, I am just enjoying watching Froome's ungainly style as he launches himself off Richie Porte's wheel and up the hills to victory.

Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam (Team Belkin) have been fantastic this year.  I wondered before the race who their team leader would be, expecting Robert Gesink to be part of their strategy. Mollema, in particular, is showing himself as a possible Grand Tour winner of the future. As always, the proof will be if he can back up in the years to come.

Orica-Greenedge, as a team, have no pressure leading into the 3rd week. Arriving at the Tour this year having never won a stage, they have racked up two stage wins (thanks to Simon Gerrans and the Team Time Trial), plus have held the yellow jersey for a few days. Its all upside for this team!

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is also having a great race.  The relative newcomer is leading the white jersey classification, and has been the only one to seriously challenge Froome in the mountains.  Even if he struggles into the third week, he has gained mountains of experience (pardon the pun) which will have him well-prepared for future Grand Tours.

Peter Sagan (Cannondale) has locked up the green sprinters jersey race, winning points when most other sprinters have been dropped on some of the hilly stages. He is a class act on the bike.


Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was bitten by karma when puncturing at a very inopportune time, and fell away as an overall contender.  He was looking great, but is now out of calculations as his team shifts its support to youngster Quintana.

Team BMC has had its overall strategy go completely pear-shaped. Both Cadel Evans and Tejay Van Garderen have come up short, and Phillipe Gilbert hasn't featured as a possible stage winner.  They need something good to happen in this last week.

Who To Watch

There are a few riders who have an opportunity to do something exciting in the 3rd week. I'll be keeping a close eye on the following to see if they can snatch a stage win in the mountains:
  • Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil)
  • Andy Schleck (Radioshack)
  • Pierre Rolland (Europcar)
  • Thibaut Pinot (FdJ)
The overall general classification also has thrown up some riders who have shown potential in the past, but now seem to be coming through with real form.  Keep watching the following to see how they handle the big final week in the Alps:
  • Jakob Fuglsang (Astana)
  • Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff)
  • Michel Kwiatkowski (OmegaPharma-Quickstep)
  • Andrew Talansky & Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp)

A fantastic race so far, with so much more to come in the final week.  A tricky individual time trial over two big hills, plus the unbelievable double-ascent of the fabled Alpe d'Huez, will be just two of many highlights throughout the week.

I have no idea what's going to happen, but am looking forward to a few more nights on the couch, wrapped in a woollen blanket and sipping a hot mug of tea, and watching these amazing athletes fight their way to the finish in Paris.

Monday, 8 July 2013

June 2013 Review (& "Half Year Reflection")

I've had a great start to July - a week off work to have some time at home during the school holidays, which has been great fun.  Plus perfectly timed to match in with some late nights watching the Tour de France.

The bike has been left in the garage for the week while I slept in each morning after my late-night TdF watching, and my days were taken up with family day trips. Not ideal for race prep, but perfect for mentally rejuvenating family time.

Sadly back at work now, and so no more rest for the wicked! Before we get too deep into July, here is a quick review of how I went in June...

January - 300km / 13hrs
February - 452km / 20hrs
March - 341km / 20hrs
April - 269km / 12hrs
May - 201km / 10hrs
June - 437km / 21hrs

Year to date - 2000km / 96hrs

Finally some signs of consistency. I only missed one week due to rainy weather, and a few small runs of days due to a new role at work.  Very happy to log my biggest month of the year in terms of 'hours on the bike', and my 2nd biggest in terms of mileage.

Probably the best news (in a weird way) is that I could very easily have done a lot more.  I allowed myself a few indulgent sleep-ins on the weekends, for-going a lot of bike time.  So I'm super-confident of being able to keep the momentum going and building further and longer for July.

Six Months Down, Six Months To Go

A nice round figure for the first half of the year - 2000km (and 96 hours).  Not enough there to be a solid "Masters C" competitor in Open Racing, but at the very least a basis to build on.

My modest aims for the 2nd half of the year is to increase that by 50% - so knock out another 3000km and 150 hrs by the end of the year.  In simple terms, that's only a consistent 500km a month. And a very modest 100-150km per week. 

My very basic plan is to be on the bike for 3 weekdays every week - which'll be 3 days of commuting with some extra mileage or intensity thrown in on 1-2 of those days. That alone will carry me over 100km.  On top of that, at least one weekend ride as well - either a race or a long bunch ride.

That basic week-long structure will give me 150-200km every week. If I can hit that most weeks, I should see some solid improvement all-round.

What's Coming Up

I've mentioned it before, but looming large ahead is the Cunningham Classic - a 96km hilly road race on the 3rd August.  My initial plan was to build to this as my A-Race for the year, and give myself a short one-week taper leading in to the event.

Since then, I've started looking closely at the Charles Coin Memorial road race, being raced two weeks later on the 18th August. Based at Mulgowie (near South Laidley), it is run on an 18km country road circuit. My grade - Masters C - will do 4 laps, or 72km (other grades do more laps for a greater distance, with Elite A racing furthest at 7 laps/126km).

I'm thinking that the Charles Coin race will be more suited to me.  So I'm going to treat the Cunningham Classic as a hard training day, and not alter my training volume/intensity around it.  Instead, I'll taper in to the Charles Coin as my A-Race for the year.

Once those races are done, the rest of the year will be all about criterium racing.  I might make some changes to my training focus for that, but there is no need to consider that until after the two big August road races.
Plenty of work to do now for a big 6-week build into the Charles Coin Memorial. With a bit of luck, I'll reach it with plenty of mileage in my legs to give myself every chance of finishing with the main peloton...!!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Tour de France 2013 - Preview & Predictions

Only a couple of sleeps left until the "Greatest Show on Earth" kicks off on the island of Corsica.  I've been slammed at work over the last few weeks with a new job role, plus juggling some responsibilities from my previous role - but what has kept me sane has been some great mileage on the bike, and studying the form of the contenders heading into the Tour de France.

So without further ado - here are my jumbled, not-very-structured thoughts on how things will happen at the Tour de France for 2013...

Who will win - Chris Froome (Team Sky)

Yes, he is the favourite, so I'm hardly sticking my neck out here. But he's the favourite for very good reason.  Showing fantastic form all year, his lead-up has been almost flawless (in fact, it closely mirrors the lead-up form of Bradley Wiggins last year).

Froome is not invincible, and you can't bet your house on someone who has never won a Grand Tour before. However, this really is Froome's race to lose.  He has the 2nd best team in the race to support him, and he is free from injury and illness. It is he who will need to have a bad day to lose this race.

Who can make the podium

Alberto Contador (Saxobank-Tinkoff)

Contador is no longer the invincible, Grand-Tour-winning machine of previous years. He does remain as an outstanding performer over 3 weeks, and he arrives at this year's Tour de France with the strongest team of all.

I'm looking forward to seeing how Froome and Contador battle in the high mountains. What will also be interesting is how the two teams handle each other. Last year Team Sky was the superior juggernaut by far, however they have an equal this year in Saxobank-Tinkoff.

Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol)

Fourth overall last year, and expected to do well again this year. Not as consistent as some of the other contenders, but a podium position is not out of the question. One of the riders who benefits from the reduced flat individual timetrial kilometres in this year's race.

Cadel Evans (BMC)

What can Cadel do? I was writing him off at the start of the year, and then he showed immense class in finishing on the Giro d'Italia podium after only a short training block.

Can he do the Giro-Tour double? If anyone can, it's him.  Last time he attempted it (in 2010), all was going well he was in the yellow jersey!) until he broke his elbow in a fall.

The underdog status suits Cadel's style much more than favouritism, and I expect him to do well this year.

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)

'Purito' is desperate to do well this year, and has dramatically altered his traditional lead-up races in an effort to reach the Tour de France in peak form.  Is likely to do better than previous efforts. His flamboyant, punchy, attacking style is likely to be blunted by the sheer overwhelming strength of the Sky and Saxobank teams - but he won't die wondering. I'm looking forward to seeing him try to animate the race in the mountains.

The Future Stars - White Jersey contenders

This is a part of the race I'm fascinated with.  There is a huge crop of young riders in this year's race that seem destined for future greatness.  Most are riding for more experienced team leaders, but will also be looking to finish high on GC as well.

The best credentialed is Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) who won the white jersey last year and came 5th overall.  But also keep an eye on Thibault Pinot (FDJ), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp). 

This "race within the race" will be very close and hard fought, and will give us a clue as to who may be the new Grand Tour champions in the years to come...

Who Will Disappoint

A bit of a negative paragraph or two, but I think we'll see a few supposed 'contenders' fair relatively poorly this year.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is probably past his best, and has two great riders on his team (in Quintana and Rui Costa) that may eclipse him in the mountains.  Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) will also fall by the wayside.  He has said he's targeting the overall, but he'd be better served going after some stage wins.

Andy Schleck (Radioshack) is a tricky one. While he won't 'disappoint' per se, he won't trouble the GC contenders. I'm quite interested to see how he'll go this year, and if he goes for stage wins or the Polka-Dot mountains jersey.

The Green Sprinter's Jersey

Mark Cavendish (OmegaPharma-Quickstep) will win the most stages, but Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) will win the overall green jersey competition.  This will be due to Sagan's ability to gain points on some of the small/medium hilly stages where Cavendish will fall away and score nothing.  It'll be close, but I think Sagan will prevail.

Expect strong performances also by Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano), and Matthew Goss (Orica-Greenedge) on the flat pure-sprint stages, and John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) and Darryl Impey (Orica-Greenedge) on the bumpier sprint stages.

Sticking my neck out...

I can't wait for the Tour to start, and am already planning out the key stages to watch, as well as the all important 'snack and beverage strategy'...!!  To finish off - here is my predicted finishing order for this year's big race, I hope you enjoy it all as much as I know I will!!

1. Chris Froome
2. Alberto Contador
3. Cadel Evans
4. Joaquim Rodriguez
5. Tejay Van Garderen
6. Nairo Quintana
7. Jurgen Van den Broek
8. Ryder Hesjedal
9. Thibault Pinot
10. Thomas De Gendt

Friday, 7 June 2013

May 2013 Review

Just a quickie blog post here to keep my monthly stats up-to-date.

January - 300km / 13hrs
February - 452km / 20hrs
March - 341km / 20hrs
April - 269km / 12hrs
May - 201km / 10hrs

Year to date - 1563km / 75hrs

I've already talked in a previous blog post about the challenges with rain & work meaning I missed the first half of the month (again).  I missed most of the last week as well due to the same, so in isolation the 200km in 10 days was actually pretty good!

Main thing now is ensuring I have no stumbles heading towards the Cunningham Classic in early August.  I've started June well, building up some good consistency.  Without question, June has to be my biggest month of the year so far (in both hours and mileage) if I am hoping to have any chance of making it to the start line of the  Cuningham Classic in decent condition.  I'm not putting any pressure on myself - but the benchmarks I need to hit if I'm serious are clear in my mind.

What's ahead

I've started hitting the trails at Daisy Hill on my mountain bike.  It has been great fun, and has been a real positive for me both mentally and physically.  I reckon mountain bike time is worth almost double the equivalent road time, its really tough on the legs!  Without doubt, it has been an excellent addition to my cycling from all perspectives...

Also, I took advantage of a 'Scoopon' deal and bought a month's worth of access to my local gym.  My reasoning is to take advantage of their RPM and Spin classes, which will be my back-up plan if the recent runs of dodgy weather continue.  They also have Pilates classes, which will help me mix things up when it comes to core strength training. Hopefully, once my month-long membership starts up, I can get some decent benefit out of it.


The Cunningham Classic on the 3rd August remains my main upcoming goal.  I'll be aiming to start getting some race intensity in my legs this month via the Saturday club criteriums at Murarrie.  I also want to try the monthly club road race held at Pimpama (near Dreamworld Fun Park, run by the Gold Coast cycling clubs) to mix things up a bit.

My monthly stats at the top of this post look a bit dire, having been on a steady decline since February.  That said, I actually feel really good and am super-motivated for my August race goal.  I'm looking forward to continuing my good start to June and posting some big numbers for my June review in a few weeks time...!!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Criterium du Dauphine 2013 - Preview

One of the traditional lead-up events for the Tour de France, the Criterium du Dauphine is a great opportunity for the cycling fan to see how many of the contenders are fairing with a month to go before the Grande Boucle.

Normally, I'd title blog posts on major events as 'preview & predictions' - but the Dauphine isn't so much about who will win, but more about watching intently to see who's form is coming together at the right time.  So today's preview post is focused on who to watch out for to see how they are tracking for July.

Many have describe the Dauphine as a 'mini Tour de France without the boring bits'. The 8 stages include a 33km ITT, and 3 big mountain stages. The other 4 stages aren't what you'd call traditional sprint stages though, with all of them having pretty bumpy looking profiles.

So without further ado - who should we be watching during this year's Dauphine:

The Big Two - Froome & Contador

Froome & Contador, discussing their favourite French pastries...

There are two key riders who will be the favourites come Tour de France time.  Chris Froome (Team Sky) has had a terrific lead up so far, very reminiscent of lead-up teammate Bradley Wiggins had last year.  He has won or podiumed at almost all his races, but has been hidden away at the Team Sky training camp in Tenerife, Spain, for the last month or so.

Alberto Contador (Saxobank-Tinkoff), on the other hand, has had a much less spectacular build-up this year.  He'll be looking to make a bit of a statement with a decent result at the Dauphine.

Both team's are bringing the core of their Tour de France squads, so they are clearly using this race as a dress rehearsal for July.  It'll be fascinating to see how they are progressing...

Other Contenders To Watch

There is a long list of sub-plots to watch during the Dauphine. Plenty of riders that will be in contention for a podium spot at the Tour de France, and who'll be looking to show their team's that they deserve their full support on the lap around France.

Jurgen Van den Broek (Lotto-Belisol) - VdB came fourth in last year's Tour de France, and showed a massive step up in ability. He'll be looking to step up a place or two this year, but hasn't really shown any major form yet.

Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) - after an unhappy year with Radioshack last season, Fuglsang has much to prove here. He has shown potential in the past, and has publicly backed himself as a genuine contender. Time for him to speak with action rather than words if he is indeed the real deal.

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) - 'Purito' is specifically targeting the Tour de France this year, a change from previous years. Hopefully he'll show his form is on target to trouble the Big Two...

Team Cofidis - Yep, a whole team to watch!  Stacked with potential, I want to see who shines in the Dauphine as it'll tell us who they'll be riding for in July. Keep an eye on Jerome Coppel, Christophe Le Mevel, and Rein Taaramae.

Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) - one of the young American guns emerging in the peloton. Not sure if he or Ryder Hesjedal will lead the team in July, but he'll be looking to show he is up to the task.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) - does he still have the legs to be an overall contender? We'll know soon.  Also watch out for his new teammate Sylvester Szmyd, who supported Nibali last year on Team Liquigas - he is an amazing climbing talent.

Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil) - an emerging grand tour talent, who promises much. Another who'll be looking to confirm his team's faith during the Dauphine.


Don't try and pick the winner of this race, instead watch it to see what it tells you for the Tour de France. It'll answer some questions, but will also likely raise a few new questions of its own.

My fellow Australian fans can watch the race on SBS2 - but sadly it'll be on delayed telecast this year. If you are techno-savvy though, it'll be livestreamed by SBS 'Cycling Central' as well. Enjoy the race!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Giro d'Italia 2013 - Rest Day Review 2

I can only imagine how the riders are feeling as they reach the 2nd (and final) rest day of this year's Giro.  The weather conditions have been nothing short of atrocious - snow, wind, freezing rain - and any rider who finishes deserves to win some sort of "Medal of Cycling Hardness"...!!

Firstly, a quick look at how the overall GC battle looks heading into the final week.

1Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team62:02:34
2Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team0:01:26
3Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling0:02:46
4Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) Vini Fantini-Selle Italia0:02:47
5Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida0:03:53
6Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-Merida0:04:35
7Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) Ag2R La Mondiale0:05:15
8Rafal Majka (Pol) Team Saxo-Tinkoff0:05:20
9Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2R La Mondiale0:05:57
10Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team0:06:21

Who Will Win?

The first two places overall look pretty well settled.  Nibali is in exceptional form, and its very hard to seeing him losing any time to anyone.  His time buffer, while not huge, should be enough to protect him if he falters near the end of any of the climb-heavy stages later this week.

Cadel also looks to have 2nd place sewn up.  His form is good, and whilst he is likely to have a go at overhauling Nibali, the gap is probably just a little too much.  He has over a minute lead on the chasers behind him too, so barring a very bad day, he'll finish in a very well-deserved 2nd place.

The Grinners

Rigoberto Uran can really celebrate how this week has turned out for him.  With the withdrawal of his team leader (Bradley Wiggins), he has become the 'Plan B' team leader.  He has made the most of this opportunity, sitting 3rd overall - and he could have been even closer if he hadn't been made to wait for Wiggins during his 'bad days'.  Uran and Santambrogio will wrestle for the final spot on the podium.

Uran's contract with Team Sky ends this year.  He can expect his next contract (with Sky or whoever) to be a reflection of his terrific performance in this Giro.

Carlos Betancur has also had a great Giro.  One of the two leaders for Ag2R (with Domenico Pozzovivo), he has looked particularly strong in the high mountain stages. His efforts on last night's stage 15 up the Telegraphe and Galibier rewarded him with the white jersey for 'Best Young Rider' (a slim 5 second lead over Rafal Majka).

The Disappointments

Nothing changes the complexion of a race more than the withdrawal of two of the big favourites.  Bradley Wiggins was the biggest shock.  While he was at the pointy end of the race, he never looked comfortable.  He then totally lost his descending mojo, and the televised scenes of him gingerly coming down the wet, rainy Italian roads would have been both embarrassing and humiliating for him.

Wiggins was then struck with a bad cold and chest infection. Clearly, he walked under too many ladders! He has now left the race to recover, and prepare for the Tour de France.

Ryder Hesjedal, the defending champion, was also a disappointing withdrawal.  Some great attacking riding early in the race promised much, but he absolutely fell apart after the first rest day and ended up over 20 minutes behind the leaders.  No-one is sure what happened, but he also left the race with eyes on redemption at the Tour in July.

Samuel Sanchez was another pre-race favourite, featuring heavily in the pre-Giro advertising campaign.  He has fallen well away, and clearly isn't at the same level as the current Top 10.  Some better signs in the last couple of stages suggest he might come good in the final week for a stage win - but his race for the overall win is over.

Finally - Robert Gesink.  So many times he's promised to finally breakthrough for a first grand tour podium, and once again he has faltered.  Surely it is time for him to put his GT ambitions aside, and focus on different cycling goals.  It will be interesting to see where his career goes from here.

What's Next?

The final week of the race is dominated by mountains, including a 'mountain individual time-trial' on the penultimate stage.

Really, anything can still happen.  The stages are hard enough that any rider (even Nibali) can lose bucket loads of time if they have a bad day. The weather also shows no signs of improving, and no rider is immune to cracking in the wet, cold, miserable conditions.

As a cycling fan, this year's Giro has once again kept us on the edge of our seats. Terrific riding by the competitors, spectacular weather (of all types!), and surprises coming out of almost every stage.  The final week is not to be missed!!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Refocussing & resetting goals...

It's a recurring theme in my training posts - the quest for consistency.

When cycling for training & racing is a relatively lower priority - chiefly behind family time, especially making sure I am as involved as possible in all of my kids' extra-curricular activity - then maintaining consistency is always going to be the key obstacle to building quality training.

At the start of this year, I identified two key races as my main goals - the MAP Financials Metropolitan Championships road race (in two weeks), and the Lifecycle Classic 80km handicap road race (about a month away, in mid-June).  Where I had planned my training and fitness to be, and where they actually are, are unfortunately poles apart.

Over the last few weeks, trying to find time to squeeze in some decent training mileage on the bike, and failing, has been causing me some stress.  I really wanted to do these races - but to actually race them, not just 'complete' them.  And my inability to find enough time to consistently train was driving me a little crazy!!

So after much consideration, I have decided to remove the cause of this stress - I'm scrapping my Open racing plans for now.  These two races are off my calendar.  I train and race because, above all, its fun - and if the stress of going into a race under-prepared is taking away that enjoyment, then its not worth it!

A New Goal

I'm certainly not swearing off Open racing, that's for sure.  I'm simply resetting to aim at a goal that I have a much more realistic chance of reaching in the sort of racing shape I'd like to be in.

So here we go - everything is aiming towards the Cunningham Classic, a 96km road race from Gatton to Warwick on the 3rd August. It includes a very long climb up the Main Range, which you reach the top of at the 40km-ish mark of the race.

The Cunningham Classic is 12 weeks away (from the start of this week), which is a perfect length of time for a solid build into form.  Plenty of time, if I'm consistent, to develop into good racing fitness, plus get lots of time in the hills.

Hopefully the 'stars will align' in terms of work travel commitments and kids' sport, and I'll have no dramas reaching the start line that weekend.  Even if it ends up being logistically problematic though, the solid 12 weeks of training will have me in great shape for the back half of the year.

I'm actually feeling excited at the prospect of doing this iconic Queensland race for the first time.  This will be the 31st running of this race, and with some luck and dedication I can't wait to be there in Gatton for the start.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Giro d'Italia 2013 - Rest Day Review 1

After 9 tough stages, the Giro has reached its first rest day.  There has been some sensational racing in difficult weather conditions, and I have no doubt the superstars of our sport will be grateful to have a day off from competition.

A lot has happened, some of it not what I expected.  Here is a quick look at who is going well, and who will be looking to improve over the next couple of weeks.

The Winners & Grinners

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

One of the two big pre-race favourites - Nibali is looking in great shape.  He reaches the first rest day in first place, wearing the race leader's maglia rosa (pink jersey).  He has a decent lead over all his major rivals, and really its his race to lose from here on in.

Barring any bad days or unlucky mishaps, I'd expect 'Nibbles' to be wearing pink all the way to the final stage into Brescia.  But it won't be an armchair ride - the toughest stages of the race are yet to come, and the likes of Wiggins and the Team Sky Armada won't die wondering when it comes to challenging for the race lead.

Cadel Evans (BMC)

Well, Cadel Evans, what have you done?! People were already writing your competitive obituary, and even some of your biggest fans were hoping, rather than expecting, for you to at least not embarrass yourself in this Giro.  Many won't be eating humble pie yet - but they've at least taken it out of the pantry and started serving it up on dessert plates...

Cadel is sitting in second place (only 29 seconds behind Nibali), which is arguably the best position in terms of long-term race strategy for a Grand Tour.  All the leadership pressure is on the Astana team, while Cadel's BMC team can relatively relax.

The riding style of 'Cuddles' has been reminiscent of the way he rode during his 2011 Tour de France win. His Stage 8 ITT result was also impressive - a solid top 10 result, plus the fastest time up the final 3km climb.  Can he win from here? Who knows - but he can be very satisfied to be in an ideal position on the 1st rest day.

The Losers

Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp)

The defending champion always carries a heavy expectation on his shoulders, especially when he's talked himself up leading into the race.  Unfortunately for Ryder Hesjedal, this has not been a great start for him.

Ryder finds himself back in 11th place, more than 3 minutes behind race leader Nibali. An ordinary ITT, and then cracking in the latter stages of stage 9, he has had two bad days in a row.

While the Canadian rider may ride well for the remaining two weeks, its very hard to see him climbing back onto the podium in any position.  I think he has already lost this Giro.

Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky)

Wiggo sits in 4th place, 1min 16sec behind the race leader.  This may not sound bad on paper, but things have really gone pear-shaped for the British Tour de France champion.

Things first fell apart on the wet, rainy descents of Stage 7.  Wiggins totally lost his nerve in the slippery conditions, and the rest of the favourites rode away from him as he sat on his brakes on each downhill stint.  This put him a couple of minutes down on his rivals leading into the ITT.

A strong 2nd-place finish in the stage 8 ITT was hampered by an untimely puncture. But even so, the 3-4 minutes everyone expected him to put into the rest of the field simply didn't eventuate.

It was expected that Wiggins would have a solid 2 minute lead by the first rest day, and the rest of the race would see Team Sky trying to lock down the peloton and defend the pink jersey. Instead, Wiggins now needs to attack to try and make up time and position.  Can he do it?  He obviously has the ability, but mentally he's taken a battering and may not be able to push himself into the red-zone and climb onto the podium's top step.

The Surprises

Robert Gesink (Blanco)

The Dutch under-achiever - I've always thought he had great potential, but he's so often disappointed in Grand Tours.  Finally he's looking good, sitting in 3rd place overall, 1min 15sec behind Nibali (and just 1 second in front of Wiggins).

Its still unknown what he can do from here, but a good showing in the mountains sets Gesink up for a very solid Top 5 finish come the finale in Brescia.

Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida)

Blessed with undoubted climbing talent (whether or not its 'artificially assisted' in any way), the Italian was expected to lose out heavily in the ITT. Instead, he performed better than expected and sits in 5th place overall, less than 90 seconds behind Nibali.

Scarponi is well positioned with the toughest two weeks to go, heading into terrain much more suited to his talents.  He is a genuine contender for a podium finish overall.

In Summary...

I was expecting the Giro to reach the first rest day with Bradley Wiggins as the clear leader, with the rest of the race seeing suffocatingly defensive riding by his Team Sky colleagues as they locked up the leaders jersey.

I was also expecting to feel a tinge of sadness as Cadel Evans, one of my favourite riders, fell off the pace and wouldn't be a genuine title contender.

Instead - the race is still wide open, tactics are far from clear, and it looks like being a very exciting final two weeks. Even better, I'll be cheering hard for a Cadel Evans as he builds his good form into, hopefully, Giro-winning form.

The Giro has always been a brilliant race, and so far it has lived up to its billing amongst cycling fans as the most exciting Grand Tour of the year. Hopefully the racing will continue at this level for the remaining 12 stages!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

April 2013 Review

Time for a quick update on how everything went last month cycling-wise:

January - 300km / 13hrs
February - 452km / 20hrs
March - 341km / 20hrs

April - 269km / 12hrs
Year to date - 1362km / 65hrs

In outright terms, it was my lowest month of the year for both mileage and hours on the bike. Obviously that's less-than-ideal given I'm supposed to be building to a couple of big upcoming races.

However, you might remember from my last training update that due to a few circumstances (mainly work & weather), I didn't ride the first half of the month at all.  So I managed to accumulate those figures in the last 14 days of April alone.

Given that, I'm actually pretty happy with what I achieved.  No point in dwelling on the time lost that was out of my control. In the time that I did have available, I managed to rack up some decent training, which is all good.

What's next

I'm a little unsure about what to do next.  Not training-wise - that's easy, I'm just going to smash myself with as many kilometres as I can squeeze in. I'll pile in some hard interval work, and hit up the weekend criteriums if I can get to them as well.

My indecision is about the Open races.  Once again, work has 'interfered' and I haven't ridden yet this month due to a work trip to Darwin. Nothing that could be helped, and it was actually a very positive work experience that I enjoyed and got a lot out of - but once again my training structure has taken a hit.

So what do I do? The Metro Champs road race is only 3 weeks away, and I'm not sure if I should enter or not.  Last year, I had a great almost-700km month of training up my sleeve leading into that race (and I still got smashed!).  This year, its a significantly less-impressive lead-up.

I'm torn between just entering it anyway and enjoying it as a hard training day (even if it ends up being mainly solo), or saving my money (both entry fee and petrol) and focus on the Lifecycle Classic in June as my first big Open race for 2013.

I don't think there's a right or wrong answer here.  I'm still loving my cycling (whether its racing, training, or commuting).  Sure I'm a little frustrated that I'm not getting the time to lift my form to the level I'd like, but I'm OK with that as the time is being 'wasted' - its just not there to spend.

This might end up as one of those spur of the moment decisions I make just before entries close this Sunday night.  We'll see how I feel, especially if I can get some decent training in the rest of this week.

April goals

I really, really, really want to have a BIG MAY.  So far this year, I haven't had a huge month of training that I can look back on and think, "Yeah, that was a great month of quality, quantity, and consistency."

That'll be my driving force this month.  Making sure I get out onto the bike whenever the time is available.  The usual higher priority activities are there - my two kids are into the swing of their own sports seasons, plus my wife has a trip away mid-May as well.  But I reckon I can still utilise the time around that to rack up some serious mileage.

Here's hoping I can finally string 4 weeks together and start to approach some decent form!

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Giro d'Italia 2013 - Preview & Predictions

I'm currently on a work trip to Darwin, in Australia's Northern Territory. It's an exciting place - a bit like the wild west really - with a very different feel to any other city I've been to in Oz.

But as I enjoy the cooler evening weather, on the couch of my hotel room with a whisky & dry in my hand, I can't help but think of the first big Grand Tour of the season about to start in the home of my ancestors - the Giro d'Italia...!!

While the Tour de France is the most prestigious grand tour of the year, I've always believed that the Giro is the most beautiful race - not just visually, but also for the beautiful cycling. Its very much a Grand Tour for the cycling lover.  This year's course maintains that reputation, with a very well balanced route that has a few sprint stages, plenty of hilltop finishes to test the GC riders, both individual and team time trials, and a testing uphill time trial.

To further spice up this great race, this year's line-up is one of the strongest in some years. While there are a couple of clear favourites, the depth of talent chasing the podium will make for some very tight, competitive racing.

So without further ado, here are my tips for this year's Giro d'Italia!

The Big Two

This year, two contenders standout as deserved favourites for the winner's pink jersey

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

Nibali has never won the Giro, but has come very close, reaching 2nd place the last time he raced here in 2011. In fact, in the 5 Grand Tours he raced in the last 3 years, he podiumed in 4 of them (including victory in the 2010 Vuelta). He is a proven 3-week tour performer, and his recent form has been simply terrific - including victory in this year's Tirreno-Adriatico and Giro del Trentino.

Racing for Astana this year after leaving behind his Liquigas-Cannondale team, I believe Nibali is the man to beat at the Giro.

Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky)

The reigning Tour de France champion, no-one can question Wiggo's ability to win a 3-week tour. Is he as good as he was last year? And is his team as strong as well? I don't think so. But he is the most likely to defeat Nibali in the Giro. Expect to see a lot of the "Sky Armada" at the front of the race controlling the peloton...

Ready To Pounce

There are a host of contenders who are just a notch below Nibali and Wiggins in terms of form, but who are still capable of finishing the race on the podium (maybe even on the top step) if things go their way.

Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp)

The defending champion, the Canadian has shown good form leading into the Giro (especially at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, helping set up the win for teammate Dan Martin). In his favour, his team looks stronger this year. But going against him, no one will give him the latitude to escape that he got last year.

Cadel Evans (BMC)

A late addition to the Giro, Cadel is here to find form. After a great start to the year at the Tour of Oman, he has missed out at a few of the more recent races. After looking better at the Giro del Trentino, he comes to the Giro in the hope it will set him up for a great Tour de France. The win may be to hard this year, but he is a definite podium chance.

Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel)

The Spanish climber is a great racer to watch - always having a crack at the win, and never just sitting on wheels. Will be a contender, but I think this year's field is just too stacked with talent for him to steal a win.

Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida)

A Giro specialist, he can be expected to feature highly here. But he will lose too much time in the time trials, and can only hope to sneak onto the bottom steps of the podium this year.

Riders to Watch

There are a few performances I'm keen to watch, to see how they go as a marker for future year.  Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini) has shown interesting form. Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) is a talented climber, but is coming back from a doping suspension. Jose Rujano (Vacansoleil-DCM) is a pint-size South American climber who runs very hot and cold - can he put together some good days in the big final week of mountains?

How to Watch?

For my Australian brethren, selected stages of the Giro will be televised live on SBS2. There will also be a half-hour highlights package at 6pm each day.

Final Tips

So how will the final podium look? I'll finish this quick preview by sticking my neck out for the top 5. Here's hoping to a great Giro for 2013!!

1. Vincenzo Nibali
2. Bradley Wiggins
3. Cadel Evans
4. Ryder Hesjedal
5. Samuel Sanchez