Ripwell Reports. What’s In The Jiffy Bag?

It has been almost three months since the Fancy Bears international hack team leaked the medical documents which showed Bradley Wiggins had received three highly questionable medical treatments during his days as a Grand Tour contender. It has been two months since the revelation of a potentially sinister package being transported across Europe by Team Sky employees. It seemed for a while that Wiggins and Sky’s worlds could come crashing down. The one man who could have helped the situation, David Brailsford, has remained fairly quiet, possibly wanting the whole thing to blow over. After a period of relative respite that tactic may have been working but things will start hotting up again as on Monday the 19th of December Brailsford will need to appear in front of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in Parliament.

With the story being quite a mess and so many unanswered questions I sent my undercover reporter, the well known historian and cyclist, Giles Ripwell on the case to summarise what has been going on and try to answer the what everyone wants to know.

Ripwell Reports. What’s In The Jiffy Bag?

It has been over a year since I last rubbed shoulders with the fellow going by the name of Mr Bradley Wiggins-Sir. I was riding for his side TEAM wiggins in the Tour de of Britain and remember having jolly good chats with him during the stages. Since then I hadn’t heard much from him. Apparently the British weather had finally got to much for him in his old age and he would only cycle on the indoors roads doing Olympic Pursuits. I thought he had forgotten his old pal Giles until he called me in July. He was very emotional and explained to me through sobs that the dastardly Mr Chris Froomes had won another yellow jersey. A couple of months later I heard from him again but this time he was in much better spirits. Jingos! He had won another Olympic gold medal and told me it was now Wiggo-Sir 5 FroomesDog 0. Since then, as you might have heard, he has been involved in a touch of controversy and I was sent on the case to find out was has been happening. I tried contacting him to see if he could give me any information but I was told that he’s only talking to his new best friend, some fellow going by the name of Mr Andrew Marr. So with Mr Wiggins-Sir gone quiet I had to figure out what has been happening myself.

The whole situation started in September when some Russian computer buffs started a fancy new website where you can go and look at medical files of athletes that have been in the Olympics. It caused quite a stir to begin with until everyone realised that most of the athletes medical information was stuff we already knew or contained information on drugs and medical practices which everyone has agreed for a while should be more tightly monitored. Unfortunately for Mr Bradley Wiggins-Sir his information was among that of a small group of people who’s information raised some alarm bells. Three of Wiggins-Sir’s courses of drugs looked highly suspicious and one of those was just before the Tour de France which he won against Mr Chris Froomes. I have complete faith in my good friend though and firmly believe that those drugs were taken for genuine medical reasons and not to enhance his performance. There would be no need for him to dishonestly take any drugs to win the race as I’ve been told of an unsavoury character calling himself Mr Sean Yaytes who would have brought harm to anyone trying to beat Mr Wiggins-Sir, including his team mate the scoundrel Mr Froomes.

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Digger and the Twitter Doperati.

Following any sport closely can be an emotional business for its fans. There can be highs but at times feelings of disappointment and anger will rise out of nowhere as you watch your football team lose a penalty shootout or you see an umpire makes a bad call against your favourite table tennis player. For fans of professional cycling things are slightly different. We get the same emotions but they often come a good time after the action has finished. There’s the disappointment that our favourite riders and their feats we’ve enjoyed have been aided by banned (and legal) substances and anger at the UCI, cycling’s governing body, for their inability to introduce the reforms that could help ensure fairer and safer competition. Although we encounter these feelings time and again we continue to follow the sport because it’s so entertaining. Because of this murky and frustrating history and the regular promises that things will change for the better three groups of cycling fan have emerged.

The largest of these combines are the ‘Optimistic Pessimists’. They still love the sport but watch things with a heavy dose of scepticism. They have been fooled in the past by cheating and don’t want it to happen again. Instead of celebrating an incredible performance the reaction is now “Mmm, not sure about that”. The UCI are still infuriating but in terms of racing things do seem to be changing ever so slightly. A few riders are now willing to speak out against doping instead of being part of the omerta which protects dopers and their feelings are that much of what they see during races seems to be credible. They watch racing in a different way now. As well getting immersed in the tactics and team dynamics, at the back of their minds they are analysing things to work out if what’s happening is believable and clean. It is obvious that doping still goes on at some level but they’re thankful that the eyebrow doesn’t get raised as often as before.

The eyebrows of are the two other sets of fans don’t move at all and they are very much at opposing sides of the “Who is doping and how much of it is going on” debate.

The first lot, the ‘Deniers’, are either gentle souls, who perhaps only follow a few races a year and are just not interested in whether doping happens, or diehards who will always defend their favourite rider or team against allegations of cheating no matter what actual evidence of malpractice is shown to them.

The last bunch of cycling fans are the Deniers sworn adversaries, though they actually make themselves enemies of anyone who doesn’t agree with them. This restless gang of ‘Truthers’ believe that everyone is on the juice and are very vocal about it. Instead of saying “Mmm’ not sure about that” their mantra is “Yep that’s dirty”. They spend plenty of time proselytising and will end up frustrated then angry if you’re not brought round to their way of thinking. Their arguments to back up their beliefs range from sarcastic coughs to elaborately formed concepts which contain ‘secret inside information’. Some say they resemble conspiracy theorists and I’ve even heard people call them a cult. If you use Twitter and follow cycling you will have seen them pop up on your feed from time to time. They are the Doperati and their illustrious leader is @Digger_forum.

Who is Digger?

My introduction to Digger came in 2011. It was the time of the federal investigation into Lance Armstrong which proved to be the prologue for the big mans fall from grace. Floyd Landis was the main witness in the case but was at that time still coming to terms with his own downfall as well being in the process of being investigated for computer hacking. There was also the question of the nearly $1 million raised for the ‘Floyd Fairness Fund’, money that I believed was donated by people being sold a lie. I decided to hit twitter to see what my 20 or so followers made of my opinion by suggesting that Landis perhaps wasn’t the most reliable of witnesses. Not long after I got a reply from someone who, if I remember right, was calling himself Big Tex Is Going To Jail or @Digger_forum for short. I was quite excited because he wasn’t one of my followers. “Wow” I thought, someone must really value my opinion. They’ve taken time to ‘engage’ with me. Dreams of commenting on pro cycling for a living flashed through my mind. Then I actually read the tweet:

“Charming” I thought. I tried to clarify my point but after becoming aware that my new acquaintance was arguing against a point which was different to the one I was trying to make I decided to finish things as it was becoming a waste of time.

As I became more familiar with twitter and started using it to follow professional cycling I set up a new cycling specific account (@JamesRannoch), mainly so my friends wouldn’t get annoyed by me adding pictures of men in Lycra to their timelines. I saw Digger get mentioned now and again and I occasionally dropped in on his profile and followed some of his ‘conversations’. He seemed to have some pretty extreme theories but to me it looked like were built out of suspicions which he was taking as fact. I didn’t disagree with everything he said, he raised and highlighted some important issues, but I held back from engaging with him when I did. It was obvious that there was no point in arguing with him because his mind wouldn’t be swayed by anyone else’s opinion. But the older I got, the grumpier I became and the less I was able to suffer him gladly. His infuriating debating style should have been scarring me away but it was drawing me into his world of accusations and innuendo. I started to become a little obsessed with disproving some of his more ridiculous theories. I felt that it was morally wrong throwing out proclamations about peoples integrity with flimsy evidence and cowardly to do so from behind an anonymous twitter handle. This would be fine if he was just prattling away in the corner of a pub somewhere because we could just nod or tut at the right moments but he was stating, as fact, things which could effect innocent people on public forums. There is also a fair amount of anger and venom whipped up among his followers and that anger and venom has been joined by spit and whatever else and is now getting directed at the condemned riders from the roadsides of the world. I’d had enough and ended up doing something I am not very proud of. I became a twitter troll. I was going to satirise this so called Digger and my shield of anonymity would be @Borer_forum.

First I tried to find out who this faceless keyboard warrior was, to see exactly what I was up against. There are many theories about his identity and background but after extensive research I could only find one reliable description of him and a photo which surfaced online a few years back.

Next I would employ my arguing skills to take apart all his theories. Unfortunately it didn’t take long for him to block me. There would be no late night debates about hidden motors as we smoked cigars. I wouldn’t receive scented jiffy bags containing long agonising letters about the differences between intramuscular and intravenous. I tried wooing him back with poetry…

….but alas, to no avail.

So I was reduced to taking incessant screen-grabs, much like the great man himself, of his more ridiculous tweets and posting them to the Borer account. Very quickly I found that following him so closely wasn’t good for my blood pressure and general happiness so I decided I would write a blog about Digger, put Borer into retirement and enjoy my life again. This has taken a lot longer than I’d hoped for thanks to the Fancy Bears but here’s what I found:

(Some of the screen grabs are straight off his time line so read from the bottom to the top.)

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Bearsway Decision 

Last night East Dunbartonshire council voted against the extension of the bearsway cycle lane which would provide a traffic free route from Bearsden to Glasgow. 

Active travel is key to Scotlands future health and wellbeing but has suffered another defeat after a similar cop out in Edinburgh where the Roseburn to Leith Cycle Route has been shelved. 

Stubbornness to accept fact based research and the selfish belief that infrastructure should only be provided for cars means another great opportunity has been missed. But while stubborn voices should be heard as everyone should be allowed an opinion, it is local councils that are the ones who weigh up these views with the facts when decisions need to be made. 

East Dunbartonshire Council voted 12-11 against the bearsway. 8 SNP, 2 Lib Dems and 2 independents were those 12. In Edinburgh only 2 Green Party councillors voted in favour for the proposed route their and now in Ayr SNP councillors are in favour of ripping up a recently built cycle lane.

On the 4th of May 2017 there will be local council elections across Scotland. 

Ripwell Reports. Roseburn to Leith Walk Cycle Route.

Over the last few months I have been following the final stages of Edinburgh City Councils planning process to build a new cycle route from the west of the city, near Murrayfield stadium, through the centre of the capital to the east in Leith.

The bold scheme which includes plenty of segregated cycle lanes will provide a safe and direct route for those wanting to commute to the city by bike (as well as making improvements to pedestrian safety) and the desired outcome is more people on bikes, less in cars which leads to less pollution and a clearer, healthier, happier Edinburgh.

However, being bold and ambitious the planned route has inevitably been met with scepticism and objection. The reasons people give when they say they are against the route are the same ones which are echoed across the country every time new or improved cycling infrastructure is put on the agenda and they are born out of prejudices and misinformation either personal or fed by the media. Perhaps the biggest thing holding back progress though is the human follies of fear of change and comfort in the status quo.

I sent my investigator, the well known historian and cyclist Giles Ripwell, to report on the project. He found out about the various campaigns who are for and against the scheme and revealed the concerns people have which make them wary of something which may be of a benefit to them in the future. He also reports from a highly charged public meeting which showed the type of miss-information and stubbornness which campaigners for safer cycling constantly have to battle against.

Myself and Giles are not involved in any of the campaigns and our thoughts are purely personal. The comments made in the meeting are not satire.

Ripwell Reports. Roseburn to Leith Walk Cycle Route.

The Roseburn to Leith Walk cycle route has been a project which The City Of Edinburgh Council has been putting together since the initial feasibility study in early 2014. They are keen to fulfill their promise to “make Edinburgh’s transport system one of the most environmentally friendly, healthiest and most accessible in Northern Europe by 2030” and the route they have been planing would help them achieve that. Original public consultation was promising with 72% of respondents strongly supporting and only 15% strongly against it. There were some residents and businesses along the route who rightly had concerns about some aspects of the plan, it was going to impact their day to day lives after all, and most contentions centred around the Roseburn Terrace and West Coates parts of the plan. A local residents group going by the name of Roseburn Cycle Route was set up and started spending plenty of time gathering facts about this and other schemes to provide evidence based answers to peoples worries. They broadly support the councils plan and believe it will be a benefit to the area.

Everything seemed to be going along smashingly but as the saying goes “Turning roads into cycle paths turns people into psychopaths”. Along came a fellow calling himself campaigning force Mr Peter Greggsons and his organisation Suits Not Kids. He was very much against the proposed infrastructure. Rather than encouraging safe, pollution free transport which would benefit future generations he would rather be a thorn in the councils side so no money gets wasted on bureaucracy. Being “a cyclist himself” though he formulated an alternative route for the council to consider and called it the “Roseburn Vision” or the “NCN1”. The vision must have been something special because a petition in favour of it gained 3500 signatures before it was even released. It may be possible that the signatures were from folk who read alarmist posters titled ‘Save Our Shops’ which ignored evidence which Roseburn Cycle Route had already gathered and suggested businesses could lose customers and close down because of the route. One real fear that businesses had was the loss of loading bays. This was addressed by the council and their plans were revised. Roseburn Cycle Route were happy with these challenges to the council, and the changes, as it gave businesses a better deal than the original plan while keeping the scheme on track. Suits Not Kids weren’t finished however and pressed ahead with the vision. Loading bays weren’t their only gripe with segregated cycling.

Another group which had concerns about aspects of the project are Living Streets Edinburgh. They are a local group of a national charity which campaigns for everyday walking. In principle they support new cycling infrastructure as long as it doesn’t take space away from existing pedestrianised areas. They also want pedestrian safety to be a consideration in any new cycle schemes and had highlighted a few areas in the councils plans where cyclists and walkers could come into conflict. They seem to have been working with the council in a calm and constructive way to try and provide a better deal for those they serve. A few of their concerns have been addressed but they are still very unhappy with the part of the route which will cut through a heavily used pavement on Princes Street.

After further consultation the council drew up an alternative plan which would go before the transport committee as well as the original. The decision on whether Option A (the original) or Option B would get the go ahead would be made by the committee on the 30th of August. A further decision to delay the decision or reject both proposals could also be made but with plenty of research and fact gathering already done this was unlikely. However,

The Meeting

A public meeting was set up by those opposing the cycle route and was held on August 2nd. Some of Edinburgh’s councillors who are on the transport committee, and therefore responsible on deciding the outcome of the matter, were present. So the anti-routers were anxious to put their views across and were probably ready to listen to the other sides arguments too as they must have wanted what was best for Roseburn. With the final decision less than two months away this would be their final opportunity to have their say so they would have had plenty of information to share with their guests to try and bring them round to their way of thinking.

Here is a not so brief summary of a long and heated meeting (my notes are in brackets):

Phil Noble the senior cycling officer on the council kicked things off. He explained that the project was part of the councils plan to make Edinburgh a people friendly city. He said surveys showed that large numbers of people in the city wanted to cycle but they wanted safer and more direct routes so the plan was there to make that happen. He added that cycling routes converged at Roseburn hence the importance that it is designed properly to ensure it is a safe through route. He went on to say workshops were held with locals, cycle groups and businesses to help the design and there was a need for an alternative to the NCN1 as it was less direct and came into contact with trams. He finished by saying he had spoken to every business in the last two months and after listening to concerns changes were made to the plans so now loading bays were to be on both sides of the road at Roseburn Terrace.

Questions were then taken from the floor. There were some worries raised about businesses having to change delivery times and whether the design of a junction was right. When someone asked why a segregated lane was causing so much hostility when it would reduce risk things started getting animated then the anti-routers fired their first shot. “It’s not safe to load from the other side of the road” one of them cried. But, there’s loading on both sides he was told.

Next up was Peter Greggsons from Suits Not Kids. The leader of the anti-routers was bound to have some good points to make. He admited to being  a cyclist and doesn’t think the proposal is right. He confessed that if he cycles 2 miles he gets sweaty so it’s unlikely that other people would cycle further. He then claimed that tram tracks weren’t as dangerous as made out before suggesting that better paint on cycle lanes was the way forward. He then explained that there’s 28 shops on Roseburn Terrace and loading would be cut by half, (or in real life, 22%).He said shoppers won’t be able to (illegally) use loading bays if lorries are there, (presumably the cycle lanes kerb also means they won’t be able to drive onto the pavement to park too). Mr Greggsons added that the NCN1 just needs better sign posting and suggested that more should be done to encourage the use of buses. Some might have thought he had completely missed the point of the council trying to improve conditions for cycling but he had one more trick up his sleeve to get them on side, the petitions. He pointed out that the petition in favour of the scheme had people living in areas away from the proposed route and therefore they shouldn’t carry as much weight. (For clarity from henseforth I will refer to these people as commuters). He then proudly mentioned the survey which showed 90% support for the vision.

Peter Greggsons then took some questions. Firstly he was asked: “Do you think it’s alright to fill in petitions with false addresses?” He said “yes” and “because it was for an anti-gun petition”. Next someone told him the point of scheme was to increase cycling and reduce car use which the vision wouldn’t do. Ah but “commuting cyclists would have different view from council and may not use their scheme.” (Presumably the commuters who agreed with the scheme in the original petition). He claimed the council didn’t use an economic case but improved health benefits as justification for the scheme. (Improved health is a benefit to economics) A respiratory physician, siding with Greggsons, said option A would be a disaster as it will increase congestion and pollution which is a cause of respiratory disease. (Apart from the fact that when recent roadworks which reduced some of the stretch down to two lanes showed there was no increase in congestion he may have a point).

A Gentleman from Donaldson’s Amenity Association was next to speak.

He said he was also a cyclist and sees the proposal as dangerous so current commuters won’t use the scheme. In his opinion filling in pot holes and better signage would be a better solution. In fairness to him he said he wants safer cycle routes. But still opposes the scheme. The fellow then mentioned Holland where good cycling infrastructure is common and explained it works there because it doesn’t get as dark so cyclists don’t need to worry about lights from oncoming traffic. He finished by saying the project would aggravate drivers because they will have space taken away from them and aggravating drivers doesn’t help cyclists and pedestrians. While he was talking someone in the audience asked hiw many people are killed along the stretch. “Typically one a year” was the answer. Someone was heard saying “All this for one cyclist  a year?”

Next up was a trader from Roseburn Terrace, a chap called George Rendall. He would be the final member of the opposition to speak.

He was adamant that shops will close if the plans go ahead. He said that he had asked every commuting cyclist if they would use it and no one had said yes. Furthermore, in his opinion, pedestrians will be terrified to use the pavement. (Though I assume they’ll be able to get down the pavement without cars parked on it). He explained that 50% of customers come by car but cyclists wouldn’t use his service because they can’t collect shopping by bike. “It’s illegal to carry large objects by bike” he added. A point was raised from the floor that other bike lanes show trade goes up. “Roseburn is different” was his reponse.

Next up was Roseburn Cycle Route who would be putting the case for the project to the concerned public.

As soon as he started people began walking out. “We need to act on air pollution.” The reply from the floor was “I don’t want to hear this waffle” as more people got ready to leave. Roseburn Cycle Route were putting across the reasons for a safe cycle route into the city. Here are some of them: A healthier mode of transport was needed as increasing obesity costs NHS £600m pa. There is a need to tackle congestion as there’s not space for everyone to drive into the city. 43% of hoseholds don’t have cars but cars have on average only 1.2 people in them. (More walk out). Population is growing in Edinburgh and they can’t keep using cars. They stated that 50% of people live within a 15 min cycle to work but what’s stopping them? The answer is dangerous tram tracks, unsafe and busy roads meaning no safe route into city. So, they pointed out, the plan is for people who don’t currently cycle but want to because,after all, why should you be brave to take a mode of transport? To answer questions on design it was pointed out that the plan uses best practice from elsewhere. And as for the cost? Forcasts show that the route will deliver £13m in benefits. Throughout Roseburn Cycle Routes slot people had been trickling out.

There were then more questions and points raised from the floor.

There was a complaint about cyclists speeding in Roseburn park, at 30mph. (It’s not know whether the complaint came from one of the many drivers that nonchalantly speed through Roseburn Terrace).There was then a complaint about pavement cycling. (It’s not know whether the complaint came from one of the many drivers that illegally park on the pavement on Roseburn Terrace). Another concerned resident pointed out that London and Europe have different climates and people won’t cycle in Edinburgh. He certainly has a point as Amsterdam, with a similar annual temperature, has slightly more rainfall over a typical year. Another point was made that pollution was not going to fall. (An opinion, not fact).

It was now down to the final speaker, David Spaven from Living Streets Edinburgh

More people were leaving. He Welcomed the scheme as it would improve walking safety as well as that for cyclists. He had concerns about floating bus stop and speeding cyclists. His view was that they need to turn Roseburn into people friendly not vehicle friendly place. Option B was his preference as both pavements are widened in that plan. He said he was impressed with the councils willingness to listen to his concerns. He was not keen on the vision, which has segments which both cyclists have to use together. He believes shared use is no good and does nothing for pedestrians and infact makes things worse for them. Greggsons defended the vision by saying he hasn’t seen conflict on one of the shared use paths in Edinburgh.

And with that the meeting drew to a close.

I would like to thank Mr Ripwell for his report.

The decision on which option (A or B), if any, will get the go ahead is being made by the Transport Committee of the City of Edinburgh Council on Tuesday the 30th of August. I hope they honour their promise to “make Edinburgh’s transport system one of the most environmentally friendly, healthiest and most accessible in Northern Europe by 2030” and ignore the baseless reasons behind opposition to the scheme.

I have to thank @PidginPosting for providing me with most of the information I used in this post and I would encourage you to visit Roseburn Cycle Routes website as well as CyclingFallacies.com.

Rest Day Recap.

The Tour de France’s second rest day is an occasion for the top contenders to try and regain some energy before their final assault of the race. This year they face three tough mountain stages as well as a difficult Alpine time trial before the final day procession in Paris so the interlude will be well received but for those watching the race will also be looking forward to recharge their batteries. 

Grand Tour fatigue is something that many cycling fans suffer from. It takes a lot of time and energy to follow three week races and sometimes your interest in them can start to wane. I believe the Vuelta is affected by this fatigue as some can’t handle experiencing three Grand Tours in a season but this year I started getting symptoms of the malaise early. I am lucky enough to watch all of the stages live but with not much happening during the flat stages and little GC action in the mountains my interest has been slowly (very slowly) worn down. At times I was even happy to see a Voekler face to break the boredom. There have been many great stories in the race but overall it has been a disappointment so far. 

Many people point their hands at Team Sky for the making the race dull by controlling things in a robotic manner. But what are they meant to do? They picked a strong team to support Chris Froome in his Tour challenge and they’re succeeding in a disciplined manner. In fact Froome has been one of the more colourful protagonists of the race in the way he’s looked for opportunities to gain time when his rivals aren’t expecting him to and of course there were the bizzare images of him running up Mont Ventoux. So because of Froomes antics he has the yellow jersey and Sky have to defend it. I wonder if the same people who criticise the team for being dull would also call them out for disrespecting the yellow jersey had they not been defending it. It is other teams who should be blamed for the state of the race.

Cofodis. It wasn’t till stage 12 when Daniel Navarro finished 3rd on Mont Ventoux that they did anything. Ok, they were missing their top rider Bouhanni but they needed to do more to justify the privilege of a wild card. They needed to get in more breaks at the start of the race. Many of the breaks in the first week were pitiful with only a couple of riders in them. They were always doomed to failure. Most breaks are but the more riders in them the better the chance of succeeding and attacks within the break are something which can animate things but there was none of these things to make the race interesting. Instead all that was on offer for the fans was hours of nothing and no prospect of anything till the end of stage sprint. 

Movistar and Astana haven’t been much help either. Trying to challenge Sky for the race win they have used some bizzare tactics. First of all their team selection. They haven’t had anyone in the Luke Rowe or Geraint Thomas mold to power their leaders back to Chris Froome when he has forced a gap between them. In the mountains they keep on sending a couple of men up in the break, presumably for Aru and Quintana to bridge up to but in the mountains the breaks have been given so much time that these satellite riders are nearly finishing the stage as Aru and Quintana are only starting the final climb. The riders in the break could drop back but it seems that Movistar and Astana’s GC men have never intended on bridging up to them anyway. All the ‘tactic’ has resulted in is Aru and Quintana being a little isolated on the final climbs while Froome still has four or five men with him. Vincenzo Nibali hasn’t been much help for Aru either. Supposedly a Super Domestique he has clearly just riden for himself in the search of a stage win. When mentioning Nibali I have to consider Valverde too though he has been the polar opposite. The Spaniard has been a great team player for Quintana even though, judging by Nairo’s form, he might be the better rider. 

The challenge against Froome by the top riders has also been disappointing. Quintana doesn’t seem to have much in the mountains, Contador crashed out early, Aru is missing something and it’s a surprise he hasn’t lost more than 5 odd minutes to the leader. Thibault Pinot has been the most disappointing rider. The Tour needs a credible French hope as the excitement that generates on the roadside can work its way onto the TV but within a few days it was obvious that Pinot had something wrong with him. Out of GC contention early on he seemed to be interested in the mountains jersey before dropping out of the race all together. Bardet has flattered to deceive, Tejay Van Garderen has been invisible and it is his team mate Richie Porte who out of the pre race favourites has been the closest challenger to Froome. He lost around 2 minutes on stage 2 due to a puncture but still seemed in the race after matching Froome in the mountains before, inevitably, losing another 2 in the Time Trial. 

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom though. In the GC race Bauke Mollema and Adam Yates have shown good promise. Yates has done incredibly and even if he slips down the standings in the last week he is due much praise. Mollema has always promised a good Grand Tour and I’m hoping he maintans his form to put up a good fight with Froome in the Alps. Of the four mountain stages so far, three have been won from breakaways. I see this as slightly disappointing because it suggests a weak GC competition. The breaks were all also afforded buckets of time so there wasn’t even the excitement of “will they or won’t they succeed”. But I have to admit my feelings are biased due to my fantasy team which is loaded with overall riders rather than polkadot specialists. In fact the wins by De Gendt, Dumoulin and Pantano have made me smile. They were highly deserved by the three riders made popular not just by their panache but by their overall pleasant character. 

Another popular winner has been Mark Cavendish. Written off for a while he is now the top sprinter at the Tour and as Kittel and Greipel are there too he could be considered the best sprinter in the world again. Four stage wins so far is an incredible achievement and the fact he is always quick to mention the charity Qhubeka and all the good work they do during his winners interviews makes the Cavendish story a good one.

Three other riders have also brought some joy to the race. Peter Sagan who could brighten up any race, apart from perhaps the Tour of Qatar, has been magnificent, at one point owning the Rainbow, Green and Yellow jerseys and Greg Van Avermaet put up a great performance in the leaders jersey especially on stage 7 when during a medium mountain stage he actually put time on his rivals. Steve Cummings again proved his worth with a great victory in that same stage 7 and made a mockery if Pete Kennaugh’s Olympic selection. 

So today I rest up and enjoy life before plunging into the final week of the Tour de France not wanting to expect too much in case I get let down but at the same time knowing I’ll watch it all no matter how terrible it is as there’s always the chance you’ll see something quite special. 

Tour de Past, 21 Stage Memories. Stage 10, 1995. Pantani’s first stage win, Alpe D’Huez. 

I became a fan of professional cycling in the early 90’s and being from Britain this meant watching Tour de France highlights on Channel 4 at home or occasionally Eurosport if I was at a sports club. The Tour was the gateway drug and it was only later that I hit the harder stuff like the Giro or the classics. So watching cycling in this restricted manner at that particular time meant witnessing Miguel Indurain’s dominance. It was very impressive and as I enjoyed a Time Trial I didn’t find the era as boring as others. There were also more flamboyant riders such as Claudio Chiappucci to add some colour to the race but when his team mate Marco Pantani came on the scene my enjoyment of the sport reached a new level. He was different from everyone else, everything about him was striking from his looks to his climbing style, out of his saddle but still in the drops. He quickly became my favourite rider. I was so fond of him I even liked his Carrera Jeans kit with the denim cycling shorts.

He turned pro in 1992 and completed his first Grand Tours in 19994, he was 2nd at the Giro and finished 3rd and won the White Jersy in his Tour debut. During that Tour he had beat the record for the ascent of Alpe d’Huez but missed out on the stage victory as Roberto Conti had triumphed from a break. The climb was to be used again in 1995 and he wasn’t going to let the opportunity of a stage win slip him by again.

Approaching the mountain there was a break just like the previous year but Miguel Indurain’s Banesto team were racing well and keeping those ahead at a manageable gap. The riders in the break were of a good caliber (Richard Virenque and Ivan Gotti among others) but it looked like they would be caught. On the lower slopes of the Alpe Banesto start riding hard but Gerard Rue tells them to slow down, has he concerns about the form of his leader Indurain? Pantani decides to find out and flies off. He passes by members of the break one by one and after passing Gotti he has the lead. After that his victory is never in doubt and the top riders of a generation such as Indurain, Riis and Zuelle are left fighting for second.

Tour de Past, 21 Stage Memories. Stage 9, 2003. Lance does some cyclocross.

Like some people I’ve never been a Lance Armstrong fan. But unlike the majority of Lance haters I’m old school, not one of these post-oprah ex-dope-denier types. I didn’t like him as a person and while I couldn’t deny he was a great bike rider, he was certainly bad-ass,  I didn’t enjoy watching him race. He was too mechanical, I thought he lacked panache. On the big issue that surrounds him, I thought accusations made against him made sense of a lot of things but I would never believe them 100% until there was a  positive test (though I was always happy to mention the Swiss cortisone thing to Armstrong fans) and I would never in the world believed there would be a confession. Furthermore I was a huge Pantani fan and deplored the way he acted in the 2000 Tour after the stage to Mont Ventoux. After Armstrong let Pantani win the stage Pantani said in an interview that Armstrong was being a little disrespectful in doing so. Lance being Lance then resorted to his role of schoolyard bully during a press conference calling Marco ‘Elefantino’, a reference to his big ears and a nickname which the psychologically fragile Italian had hated for years. That stage win on Mont Ventoux happened to be Pantanis final victory and as his life headed towards a tragic end Armstrong was becoming the dominant force in cycling. I was hopeful someone would be able to challenge him. Ullrich looked very promising finishind 2nd behind Lance in 2000 and 2001 but I was holding out hope for an ever improving Joseba Beloki.

The Basque rider had turned professional in 1998 aged 24 and rode for Euskatel-Euskadi for two years. During this time he placed well in some mountainous stages of the Dauphine and Tour of Catalunya. He also had the reputation of a decent time trialist, he was perfect GC material. He joined *cough* Festina in 2000, finished 2nd in the Tour de Romandie and in July started his first Tour de France. Without really doing much he finished a solid 3rd behind Armstrong and Ullrich. 2001 saw the exact same podium but Beloki was starting to look much more dangerous by finishing 3rd on the stages to Alpe D’Huez, Pla d’Adet and the Time Trial to Chamrousse. Ullrich was missing from the 2002 Tour. He hadn’t raced since January due to a knee injury and had just been handed a six month suspension for testing positive for amphetamines. (The ban wasn’t for longer as the German Cycling Federation believed his explanation that they were taken recreationaly along with ecstasy thus not performance enhancing). With the German missing Beloki duly finished 2nd. In the Texans first three Tours de France nobody had finished within 6 minutes of him but Beloki was getting closer to him. He was now next to him on the podium and the time differences between the two at the end of each race were shrinking too. I was sure that in 2003 the Basque rider was in with a great chance of winning.

After the first week of the race which was designed heavily for the sprinters the riders were faced with three days in the Alps. Beloki was matching Armstrong all the way during the first two of those stages finishing alongside him in Morzine and Alpe D’Huez. The two were together again on the decent of the Cote de La Rochette which was the final climb of the first block of mountains. Things were looking good. There were only 4 km left till the finish in Gap and Beloki was only 40 seconds behind Armstrong in the overall (30 of those were ceded in the Team Time Trial) and 1 minute 30 ahead of Ullrich who had returned after his year out. Beloki could maybe start thinking about what he could do in the Pyrenees. It wasn’t to be.

Cycling is a sport were you hang from success by a thread. If the thread snaps you can only watch it disappear as you eventually crash down to earth. Coming down a straight towards a sharp turn Beloki lost control of his bike. Skidding one way then the other it looked as though both his wheels had locked. He was fighting to regain control but just could’t and ended up crashing heavily onto his hip and sliding down the road. Armstrong just behind him reacted quickly to avoid the stricken Basque but the only place he could go was off road as his momentum took him into a field. He guided his bike downhill over the coarse ground and back towards the road which wasn’t too far due to the twisting nature of the course. There’s a ditch now between him and the road but Lance quickly hops off his bike, jumps over the ditch with it and rejoins the race as the group he was just with goes past. The calm way he instinctively delt with the situation was incredible and contrasted brilliantly with the sight of the wee fan at the roadside running about like a headless chicken not sure whether to help then just standing and clapping. Armstrong didn’t have the riding flair of some of the greats but he certainly provided a bit of Hollywood from time to time. 

Armstrong finished the stage and was still in the lead of the race. It was however a disaster for Beloki. A teammate had stopped to see how he was but it was over for him. The crash was horrific. He had hit a piece of tarmac which had melted in the intense heat of the day. His injuries included fractures on his right thigh, elbow and hip and would effect him for years to come. He was never the same rider after this stage, the crash had ended his career as a world class GC rider. Beloki retired in 2006 and has since worked as a commentator for Basque radio and various magazines and was also a training consultant for the Cafes BasqueBasque team.

Tour de Past, 21 Stage Memories. Stage 8, 2012. Marc Madiot Losses It.

One of the best things about watching the Tour is witnessing the pleasure it gives to everyone involved in the race. Whether it’s the excitement of the massive crowds on mountain stages, the joyous celebrations of a rider winning a stage or comfort that @nyvelocity gets from the Tour de France inspired tractor art by French farmers. The role the Director Sportifs who manage the riders have can be a stressful one so it isn’t surprising that they can lose control of their emotions from time to time too.

Marc Madiot the ex-cyclist and twice Paris-Roubaix winner had been manager of La Française des Jeux since its inception in 1997. The Tour de France would always be their main focal point of the year but going into 2012 they had only 7 stage wins in 15 editions. Stage wins would be all they could hope for too. An overall win was never possible if you considered the strength of their riders and they had to watch from the sidelines as the other French teams won the King of The Mountains jersey at various times over the years.They were very much the ‘petit poisson’, but Madiot knew things were about to change.

French cycling in general had been in the doldrums for years but things were starting to look up as many exciting young riders with genuine talent were beginning to emerge. FDJ had one of those talents and his name was Thibault Pinot. Only 22 years of age and although he still had much to learn he had already shown he had exeptional climbing ability by wining the climbers jersey at the 2010 Tour de Romandie. It was only a matter of time before he showed his worth on the biggest stage.

The moment he chose was a medium mountain stage ending in Porrentruy, Switzerland. With 6 categorised climbs already completed he had been part of a large breakaway chasing down two lone leaders. Nearing the top of the final climb of the day, the category 1 Col de la Croix he had escaped from the break and caught the final man up the road Freddie Kessiakoff. Aftet steaming past him and peaking the climb he only had 17km of descent then flat road between him and the finish. On the descent the liked of Froome, Wiggins, Evans and Nibali got their act together and briefly looked like they’d catch up with Pinot but the closer the finishing line was to him the more likely that he would complete a famous victory. Marc Madiot wasn’t taking any chances though. In the team car behind his rider he started shouting encouragement to the young climber through the radio. The shouting soon became screaming then screeching and before long he was shrieking out the window, banging on the car door as with 1km to go the victory was certain. 

It was a great moment and brought a smile to everyones mouths. It showed exactly what the race means to people. Perhaps the only person who didn’t appreciate the rabid and deafening nature of Madiots way of dealing with staff morale and probably learned to turn off his team radio before trying moves like that in the future.

 

 

Tour de Past, 21 Stage Memories. Stage 7, 2011. Britain Not Ready For A Tour Win Yet. 

 

Team Sky came into the 2011 Tour with a lot of hope and expectation. A difficult race the previous year, where their top GC rider Bradley Wiggins only finished 24th, was put down, in part, to the fact that it was the teams debut year and mistakes were bound to be made. Now though they thought they were ready to mount a serious challenge at the Tour de France. Bradley Wiggins had been going well so far in the season and won in the recent Criterium du Dauphine, beating rival Cadel Evans, and followed that up with a win in the National Championships. Sky fanboys all over the UK were being driven into a state of frenzy. They knew when the team launched they stated that their main aim was to “create the first British winner of the Tour de France within 5 years” but they could achieve it in 2!

Team Sky and their fans confidence had taken a further boost the previous day after Edvald Boasson Hagen had won their first ever Tour de France stage. Geraint Thomas was in the white jersey as best young rider and they occupied 6th, 7th and 8th in the overall. However all these positive points weren’t hiding a couple of truths. Out on the road the Sky riders still had a lot to learn about riding as a team and the tactics given to them by the DS’s were very limited.

In the nervous first week of Grand Tours there are plenty of sudden crashes in the peloton. The top riders will therefore stay at the front of the pack as this reduces the chance of being involved in a situation, there won’t be a mass of riders suddenly falling down infront of you at high speed. To further help them stay out of trouble he’ll have a couple of riders around him for protection. However during the first week you would often see Sky’s GC man Bradley Wiggins, easy to spot in his British Champions jersey, in the middle of the bunch with no teammates around him. The more this happened the more Sky were tempting fate.

With 40km of the stage from Le Mans to Chateauroux left it happened. There was a smaller crash almost 10km before as a warning but this one was massive. Dozens of riders were involved. Amazingly after most of the riders had untangled their bikes and started riding again there were only three left seriously injured. Remi Pauriol was sitting down cradling his arm, Chris Horner was in a ditch somewhere and Bradley Wiggins was wondering around in a daze. The doctor arrived fairly quickly though it was clear what was the problem as Wiggins like Pauriol was now holding his arm in the classic “I’ve broken my collarbone” fashion. The dream was over for Wiggins. He had paid the price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time but what was most disappointing was that he should have been in the wrong place.

Not being able to keep their main rider out of trouble wasn’t thethe end of Sky’s tactical woes though. As Wiggins was being assessed by the doctor three of his team mates (Edvald Boasson Hagen, Xavier Zandio and Juan Antonio Flecha) were waiting for him. Fine, this is standard practice. If Wiggins was good to continue they could try and pace him back up to the peloton, though the longer they waited the harder it would be, and it wouldn’t matter if they lost time as they weren’t GC riders. At least the white jersey leader Thomas whos time was precious wasn’t one of them? Well no but he was waiting further up the road along with Rigoberto Uran the exciting young Columbian. Why had Sky sacrificed their whole team to protect Wiggins now it was too late. Was it necessary? All of the eight remaining Sky riders rolled in 3 minutes 6 seconds behind the leaders. Their leader had crashed out and due to some strange tactics Uran’s GC and young riders chances were over along with Thomas’ in the young rider competition. At the start of the day they had three riders in the top 10 and now their best placed man was 38th. Sky didn’t just put all their  eggs in one basket they dropped the basket too.