Am I on track?

Am I on track?

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...!!