Crystal Balls 2013

2013-Official-Tour-de-France-RouteHopefully Le Tour 2013 will be more gripping than the borefest Team Sky served up last year. Froome looks the strongest of the favourites but he may be undone by old allegiances and on the road ‘understandings.’ 

Let’s start with the favourites who will line up at the start line in Corsica –

Chris Froome

Ryder Hesjedal

Joaquim Rodriguez

Cadel Evans

Jurgen Van den Broeck

Tejay van Garderen

Alberto Contador

Outside chancers – Robert Gesink – Alejandro Valverde – Richie Porte – Bauke Mollema – Andy Schleck – Haimar Zubeldia – Igor Anton

I’d say Evans will struggle this year as perhaps his glory days are behind him. Van den Broeck will need to steer clear of injury and spills and the talented Hesjedal is recovering from a serious crash in the Giro. The very promising Van Garderen will most likely have to sacrifice his chances for team leader, Evans. Schleck has not shown much form this year.

So…Contador versus Froome is the battle we all believe will define the tour. Froome can certainly match Contador on any stage, including the many mountains in this 2013 edition of Le Tour. But…does Froome have allies on the road beyond his Sky team mates?

Rodriguez - maybe not winner but gamechanger

Rodriguez – maybe not winner but gamechanger

I think it’s possible that being the favourite will make him have to do twice as much work covering attacks etc. And as far as attacks go we should mention the dark horse for this year’s tour – Joaquim Rodriguez. Although he’s No. 1 cyclist he’s not always been around for Le Tour. He presents a problem for Froome not just because of his ability but his potential to rekindle his allegiance with Contador and also Cofidis main man Navarro. Froome has a lot on his plate just with these two alone!

get on yer bike Sagan

get on yer bike Sagan

New talent Moser


The GC aside there’s lots of other possibilities for excitement in the 2013 race. Of course there’s the amazing Sagan who will enthral us, I hope, with his finish line antics. I’d love to see him and Johnny Hoogerland in a break away together. It would also be great to see  new talents like Ted King and the much talked about Moreno Moser show their hands.

ted king

Ted King

As for the sprints, will Matt Goss and Griepel get the better of Cavendish? It’s unlikely.

Best Bikes – I’ll need to have a good look over the opening stages. At the moment it’s the Garmin team’s cervelos

And the worst tops – Sojasun





The Wild Hills

The biggest race in South West Scotland, The Wild Hills, organised by the TLI and Dumfries CC, takes place this Saturday 13th April – Now in its tenth year, The Clubman caught up with race organiser, Dave Moss for his thoughts on the event’s continuing success and some advice for staying in contention on the road. (This blog post will be updated with photos from the race after the 13th)

Wild Hills 1994 - Whisky in the bidons?

Wild Hills 2004 – Whisky in the bidons?

Clubman – How long have you been organising the Wild Hills race?

Dave Moss – Well the oldest file I can find is from 2004, so it’s being going at least that long( 9yrs). It seems we had sponsorship from Scottish Leader Whiskey that year ! 30 finishers. This year we have over 75 riders competing.

Sprint for the 1995 winner

Sprint for the 2005 winner

Clubman – Why do you think the race has become so popular with riders?

Dave Moss – I suppose it’s because it encourages participation from all ages and abilities. Perhaps it’s the chaotic organisation that prevents it being taken too seriously and helps maintain a friendly atmosphere! Another factor might be that word has gotten around that Moniaive is actually not in the back of beyond, but fairly easy to get to from Ayrshire and Glasgow. The fact that it’s one big circuit rather than laps ( so you have to keep going if dropped ) and the long downhill finish seems to make everyone forget the pain they endured to get there.

Some Dumfries CC riders all smiles at the start 2009

Some Dumfries CC riders all smiles at the start 2009

Clubman – What memories of the Wild Hills do you have from over the years?

Dave Moss – Having to ask the riders who won! The large number of riders for whom it’s been their first race is a special satisfaction. The fact that some of Scotland’s top amateur riders return year after year is another plus.

Climb out of Moniaive - dig in!

Climb out of Moniaive – dig in!

Descent down towards Carsphairn

Descent down towards Carsphairn

Clubman – What advice would you give to riders on the road?

Dave Moss – Well there’s three crucial things to keep in mind. Number 1 There’s no point in attacking on the first climb as you will need the bigger, power riders to help you on the next 16 miles. If you are intending to attack do it from Dalry. There you will need to build up a substantial gap on the series of climbs if you’re going to hold it on the final downhill/ flat run in.

Ready to attack on the climb out of Dalry?

Ready to attack on the climb out of Dalry?

Get to the top of Corriedo and then a 4 mile downhill back into Moniaive

Get to the top of Corriedoo and then a 4 mile downhill back into Moniaive

Dave Moss – Secondly  – If you get dropped from one of the first groups, don’t ride it like a time trial, recover so you will be ready to get on the back of a faster group when they catch you.

And finally never give up! The course splits the field and there’s always riders to catch or ones who catch you who can race to the finish, and the prizes are distributed randomly, you might get one for 50th place!
UPDATE – The Race
The 13th turned out to be a dry day with good conditions for the route. One or to little scrapes aside, the route was as challenging as ever. The scratch group caught forward groups in smart time and as in many past encounters, the decisive attacks came on the climb out of Dalry. Congratulations to all the riders for providing an excellent race day.
Below is a little video with some interviews and photos.

Excuse me are you John Stamstad?

John Stamstad

John Stamstad

‘…he moves like an engine and the ground shrinks before his treading…’

A couple of weeks ago I picked up on a link from my Twitter feed. It was a blog on cycling and the intriguing title was Reframing PainThe article was definitely one for the winter; confronting thresholds on your turbo.

Like so much to do with suffering on the bike the article eventually explored the mental aspect to training. This combination of discipline in training and the mental attitude really is a conundrum for all roadies. Does one generate the other? Is it possible to train relentlessly to exhaustion and still lack confidence? Are the mental and physical aspects of training actually separate?

This aside the article quoted a rider called John Stamstad….who?

The man

The man

I’d never heard of this cyclist, mainly I think because he was not a Pro tour rider and more a MBK endurance athlete. However the more I read about him the further my jaw dropped. Here’s some facts and stats about the legend from the site

  • in a 100-mile race in Pennsylvania he broke his collarbone after 20 miles but continued on to win and set a course record.
  • he takes off on 120-mile rides with only a quarter for an emergency phone call
  • he became the first rider ever to solo the 24 Hours of Canaan, besting half of the 380 five-person teams
  • he’s won the Iditabike, a 160-mile midwinter race across the Alaskan tundra in the last four years
  • he won the Iditasport Extreme, a 350-mile race from Anchorage to McGrath, Alaska. His strategy? Ride 65 hours straight (read: no sleep in sub-zero weather), which won him the race, beat the course record by two days, and his closest competitors by 12 hours.
  • he suffered a first-lap crash that left him with a compressed neck vertebra in the 24 Hours of Canaan but continued to finish the race without being able to move his head
  • he knows he’s mentally ready for a race when he can do a five-hour stint on the wind trainer, maintaining a heart rate of 155 beats per minute while staring at a blank wall
  • to avoid bonking on his Great Divide ride (2,466 mostly dirt-road miles and climbing perhaps 200,000 vertical feet), he chugged pure canola oil until he could get to the next rural gas station and refuel with Spam, cakes, and a 1-pound block of cheese.

If only one of these stats is true then this man is a God! The most impressive? Are you kidding me…ride 65 hours straight!!! Did I read that correctly..ride for nearly 3 days?

 You run as well??

You run as well??

His turbo sessions are something else – 5 hours at 155 bpm. And this Iditasport extreme race sounds incredible. Like a lot of boys in our club I’m a keen endurance rider but this is higher level. It’s not so much Iron man as the Kryptonite Kid!

So what does a man like Stanstad who has spent a lifetime with suffering as his bedfellow, have to say to us mortals about thresholds and the lactic attack?

‘Pain is a positive thing in my training. The worst thing to do is get emotional about your pain, because that heightens your sensations. Take it as a signal from your nervous system that you’re working hard. And when you work hard, you do well.’

Ah so that’s a truth that’s helpful for us cyclists. Listen to your pain and threshold suffering like a friend.

Back to the turbo then and when I sense the lactic creep I’ll keep turning those legs but I’ll be thinking too. Entries for the 24 Hours of Canaan anyone?

Broken back? So what?

Broken back? So what?

The Cooke, The ‘Thief’, The Tour and its Lovers

In a week of cat and mouse revelations from ‘Legend’ Lance Armstrong, a more deserving legend announced her retirement from cycling with an incisive attack on dopers – In doing so, Nicole Cooke  reminded us about the honesty most of us share in riding our bikes.

As with her breakaways and sprints, Nicole Cooke’s timing of her retirement was finely judged. Leaving the sport she loved, she fired a broadside at the Disney media managed, show ‘confession’ being played out across the Atlantic with Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey. I loved her unbridled courage in saying to the world

 ‘When Lance cries on Oprah later this week and she passes him the tissue, spare a thought for all those genuine people who walked away with no rewards – just shattered dreams. Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances…’

If only some of her fellow male cyclists had the guts to say that out loud in the 90s and early 2000s, then we might be further on than we are. In her press statement Cooke added

‘I do despair that the sport will never clean itself up when rewards of stealing are greater than riding clean. If that remains the case, the temptation for those with no morals will always be too great…’

This is certainly borne out by a BBC graphic released this week stating that of the 33 Tour title since 1980, 17 were nullified by doping. More than half. That’s a lot of shattered dreams for those who followed those races in awe.

Riding clean

Riding clean

Across the Atlantic, when what is needed is an unreserved and detailed confession to the proper authorities, all we read and hear is speculation about how Armstrong is avoiding litigation, how he is in discussion, how he is preparing the way for a book deal etc. Compared to these depressing shenanigans, Cooke’s honesty is like a ray of dazzling sunlight to the club cyclist. If it weren’t for cycling pros like her we might end up in an apocalyptic situation where we trust no one in the pro tour.

Sometimes we club cyclists could be forgiven for thinking that unlike fans of Murray in tennis or Messi in football, our sport has no pro heroes.  And when you think that, as I write, there are thousands of cyclists in their freezing garages or sheds smashing themselves in a turbo session then maybe we know who the real heroes of cycling are.

Thanks Nicole Cooke!

What’s Your Hematocrit Edgar?

secret-race-book-daniel-coyle-tyler-hamilton_mediumHematocrit =  The oxygen carrying capacity of blood.  Increased oxygen carrying capacity can lead to performance gains and using synthetic EPO, boosts the (hematocrit) red blood cell count.

‘Edgar’ = US Postal Team‘s code name for EPO.

On a recent visit to the Lakes I took a wander round a book store. I asked if they had a copy of Tyler Hamilton‘s controversial expose of race doping, The Secret Race which covered his time with US Postal (up until 2001) and then as team leader on CSC Tiscali then Phonak. The lady told me she had one copy left. It was in hardback. No. I wasn’t going to shell out hardback prices for Tyler Hamilton.

On Christmas morning after unwrapping six pairs of socks (brown, light brown, dark brown etc) I opened my next gift; The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle. Ah so Mrs McG does listen to me after all!

I have been unable to put this book down since. What an absorbing read it is and one of the most memorable books about cycling I’ve picked up. I don’t hesitate to say ‘about cycling’ even though you could argue it’s about doping, deceit, arrogance and ambition. Despite these powerful themes, the book also reveals a lot about pro-cycling whether it be training, diet, racing or team work.Lance_Armstrong_Tyler_Hamilton_153551555

Of course it also tells you a lot about Lance Armstrong who is the distant yet central character of the piece. However there are a whole range of other colourful characters in here such as Bruyneel, Landis, Dr Michele Ferrari, Hincapie, Pantani, Vaughters and the narrator himself, Hamilton, who illuminate the 300 or so pages.

Hamilton is clever and subtle in his portrayal of both Armstrong and himself. He goes to great lengths to portray his team leader as a personal hero and an inspiring, determined athlete, hungry for success. At the same time he provides a steady flow of damning details and anecdotes about Armstrong’s brutish arrogance and deception. It is a devastating character assassination which makes for a gripping read.

Ferrari - the key player behind Armstrong's success?

Ferrari – the key player behind Armstrong’s success?

Although Hamilton presents himself as a doper, obsessed with hematocrit levels, he also seems a victim of the EPO culture and the need to succeed at all costs. In the book the lowering of Armstrong’s reputation somehow elevates Hamilton as a man of truth. The worse Armstrong is portrayed, the better Hamilton appears even when he describes his shuttle flights to Madrid for ‘Edgar’ or a hotel rendezvous for BBs (Blood Transfusions).

Ullrich - feared by Postal

Ullrich – feared by Postal

For those of us who remember the pro-tour 90s, this book is a startling insider account of those times. Riis, Pantani, Ullrich, Virenque, ONCE, all seem caught up in the dark arts but the master was Armstrong who, according to Hamilton, earned millions of dollars from a sustained doping regime.image9

Despite the book’s whistleblower perspective I found lots of other aspects of cycling equally intriguing. Hamilton’s turbo drills and diet were a revelation as was his attitude towards lactic acid.

Also the book reveals how success on the Tour de France was all about numbers. If you had the right numbers you should win; the right level of hematocrit (high 40s), 5 extra heartbeats, the right weight, the right stats on hill climbs, the extra 3 -4 percent of watts etc…etc.

A great read – pick up a copy where you can. No doubt a film is in the pipeline!

Return of the Crystal Balls – Watts the matter?

2 weeks into Le Tour how have my predictions worked out and more importantly which teams have the coolest riders and the best bikes? Oh and watts going on with Team Sky?

My omens were not very good. Having come last in Halfords‘ Fantasy League in 2011, I tried again this year and picked a strong team for the opening stages. Due a ‘technical’ problem Halfords awarded me no points. We have now parted company. I’ll call it artistic differences. I struggle to even get a virtual tour right. I had a look back at my earlier blog on Tour predictions – here’s my report card so far with the balls of crystal…

I said Wiggins won’t win – mmm not looking like a good prediction (more of this in a moment)

I said the winner will come from Evans or Schleck – both of them looked like I did last Saturday on the climb up Loch Ettrick  (this is not a compliment to them or me)

I said we’d see a lot more of Pierre Rolland – He has indeed shone, winning again in the Alps

I said the sprints would be contested by Griepel, Cavendish and Goss – so far that’s been more or less correct. As for Tyler Farrar, I don’t think he’d win 30s on our club runs.

Jurgen Van Den Broeck has ridden extremely well so far. And Voeckler has entertained us again this year briefly.

And I said that Stage 11 would be decisive which I think it was.

Not bad I suppose apart from the GC winner. It seems that as I write after Stage 12, Sky and Wiggins have a vice like grip on the GC. I’ve certainly been wrong about Wiggins’s capabilities and this was underlined when Evans was dropped on the final climb of Stage 11.

However am I alone in being slightly underwhelmed by this year’s race? And is it wrong to place the blame for this at the door of Team Sky? The short answers to these two questions are – I hope not and Yes!

What is my problem with Team Sky? Well initially my concerns were the uncanny resemblance they have to Armstrong’s old Postal Team. This might be your kind of thing but it’s not for me. It’s kind of similar to the way Tesco’s build massive supermarkets and slowly strangle all the opposition.

With the exception of Cavendish, they are hardly a riveting watch. During Stage 11 I found my attention drifting…should I cut the grass?…think I’ll check my Twitter stream…again…

Have we all forgotten Le Tour 2011? I was glued to the screen.

What is this fascination Team Sky have with staring at their computers? Are they bored by themselves? Are they on Google? There is another reason I think. It’s Le Tour de Watts. Watching them is like following a mass turbo session. I could be wrong but maybe they should spend less time on the mathematics of power outage and consider that they’re in a spectator sport – so boys, stop staring at a rectangle and take more time concentrating on making this a RACE spectacle.

Sky Computers fit snugly onto handlebars

This brings me to the real star of Le Tour 2012 and it’s not Bradley Wiggins. Peter Sagan – what a class act. He is continually watchable in his reckless abandon and his winning routines are a pleasure to behold. Give me a race with Sagan, Voeckler and Hoogerland any day over the tedium of tempo riding epitomised by Team Sky.

Some other have impressed me mightily; Tejay van Garderen is a classy cyclist as is Sanchez, Rolland and the very cool Thibaut Pinot. Best Bikes – Cofidis on their Looks, Europcar on their Colnagos and Euskaltel on their Orbeas. Worst Top – that’s easy…what are Saxo Bank thinking with that monstrosity?

I suppose there’s another nine stages left…maybe just maybe…

Crystal Balls

If this year’s Tour is like last year’s then I might be spending more time in front of the TV than on the bike. Here’s my predictions of winners and losers for 2012. Apologies in advance to fans of Bradley Wiggins.

Our club organised an online league for the Halfords Fantasy Tour last year and I was last. This should give you a good idea of my ability in picking a winning team for the biggest of the Grand Tours. In saying that every roadie will have an opinion worthy or not, on stages and riders and the next three weeks of club runs should be full of Tour Talk.

cyclist or ancient gladiator?

More important sometimes than discussing the riders, is discussing their equipment. Pro set ups do influence club riders. In our club there’s a few guys with aero dynamic TT  helmets, electronic gear-shifting systems and some shiny new frames riden by the pros. I was smugly delighted when Felt bikes made an appearance in Le Tour. Then of course there’s the team tops. I’m a fan of the Liquigas colours.

As for the race who will win and who will lose?

I’m going to start a bit controversially and say that Wiggins will not win it. There are several reasons for this; his jarring black socks, ‘mod’ hair cut and thinking that dodgy bands are cool (The Inspiral Carpets?!). More importanly he lacks any explosive punch on the hills.

Glasses down Brad when you’re getting a kicking on the hills!

Last season’s Vuelta is the key to my argument. Wiggins was leading comfortably but he and Team Sky were easily out-foxed by Menchov and Sastre who set up Cobo to attack and destroy the field on the gruelling Alto De L’Angliru pass.

So who will win? I think the winner will come from a small group headed by Cadel Evans. Frank Schleck will not be far away but there are a number of other intriguing possibilities. Robert Gesink and Jurgen Van Den Broeck spring to mind as very capable riders alongside Samuel Sánchez.

Rolland and Evans a sight we will see again this year

I have some other favourites as outsiders; Rein Taaramae, Ryder Hesjedal and the terrific Lieutenant of Voeckler’s, Pierre Rolland. But if pushed I will say that I expect Evans to win another Tour.

As for the sprints, I definitely think Tyler Farrar should re-consider the sprinting career! Maybe develop into a classics rider if he can or join our club. How many times can he be third? I think the sprinting will be between Cavendish, André Greipel, Greenedge’s Matt Goss and perhaps Lars Boom.

We’ve got a club top for you Tyler and you can race with us for the 30s

And the decisive stage this year? Not the TTs as many predict but Stage 11 in the mountains with the Col de la Madeline and then the Col de la Croix de Fer – not as hard as Mitchellslacks down our way but hard enough for the pros. I’ll be watching that one from the comfort of my couch with a Killie Pie.

Dumfries Cycling Club’s very own Alpe d’huez – the Col de Mitchellslacks