Am I on track?

Am I on track?

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