OK, let’s take the last part first. I’m a little angry that you even asked. In fact, step right back and get out. Overlooked, barely on TV, only vaguely on the internet, this is the grand tour that’s always third in the pecking order to the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia. The English-speaking world is slow to tune in, and for no good reason. But this year it is set up to be the GREATEST cycling stage race of all time. And so should it be. In the modern cycling calendar all the pro tour teams want a piece of it. It has the same set of illustrious winners – Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, etc. – and there’s no gap where Lance Armstrong won it, because the best he could do was fourth (subsequently voided). And for those who watched the Giro outperform the Tour this year in terms of competition at the top and a changing leaderboard right at the death, you can expect even more from the ‘Tour of Spain’.
Arguably the best three riders in the world at the moment are all racing: Britain’s-slash-Kenya’s-slash-South Africa’s Chris Froome, Colombian Nairo Quintana and two-times previous winner Alberto Contador of Spain. Of recent grand tour winners only this year’s Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali will not be racing. See the other favourites at the bottom …
So because it is likely to be the stage race of the year we have a competition going with a massive prize: the four Bloomsbury cycling books shown in the thumbnails below.
How to enter
All you have to do is enter a fantasy team at the road.cc Fantasy Cycling competition online and then enter our mini league called ‘A Bloomsbury Cycling Whitewash’. It’s not as hard as it sounds. You have to sign up to road.cc first and come up with a password, but you don’t have to pay any money.
Having signed up and named your team, you go to the ‘Pick team’ tab and choose nine riders for the first stage with a fixed budget of 160 points and riders of various point-costs. Every day before the next stage begins you can change two riders. However if you leave your team as is, you carry over these two unused transfers to the next day, so you would have four to transfer after one day, or six after three days unused, etc.
To enter our league click on the ‘Leagues’ tab and you’ll see ‘A Bloomsbury Cycling Whitewash’ near the top. Enter a bunch of other leagues too, why not. Ours will be the simplest to win though, as you are probably the only person reading this.
How to choose your riders
You can score a lot of points in a lot of ways: placings in general classification, points classification, young rider, king of the mountains, the top 20 home in any stage, the intermediate sprints, the mountain points, etcetera. But you’ll not win anything with kids, or, that is, the majority of the domestiques who will be riding purely to get their team leaders into the top places, then dropping back into obscurity, scoring you nothing.
In light of which it makes sense to put two of the very cheapest riders in your team, so that you can afford seven winning riders.
Which riders are best for which stages?
It’s important to distinguish between the various types of race. The flat stages will be won by the sprinters (designated by green ‘PC’ symbols next to them), the mountain stages by the best all-rounders or climbers, the medium mountain stages can be won by anyone, especially towards the end of the competition, and the time trials will be won by Tony Martin. The first stage is a short team time trial. I have no idea who will win this, but Astana, Orica-GreenEDGE and Team Sky look … as good as any.
There are a few good websites to go to work out who those in the know think will win each day. The website oddschecker compiles all the betting odds and the website c-cycling.com has brilliant previews every morning before the race (which seem to then massively influence the oddschecker odds).
How to follow the Vuelta online
Because of the British riders, there will be good articles in the usual online newspapers: Telegraph, Guardian, etc. The Guardian had no minute-by-minute last year for the Vuelta, but might this year.
Steephill.tv is the best for complete coverage of all kinds, and it links to the c-cycling preview every morning when this is up.
Road Cycling UK‘s site I have to plug too as they’ve just finished making the brilliant Infographic Guide to Cycling with us. But yes, very good Vuelta content up already with an article on who will win king of the mountains.
The official Vuelta a España website was a bit crap last year if I’m honest, but part of that is because the Tour de France coverage is so good on the internet that anything else seems a come down.
Chris Froome Sky’s big hope. He was disappointed to drop out early of this year’s Tour de France having won it last year. And he’ll be keen to show he is no grand tour one-shot. Having won the Critérium du Dauphiné (points competition) before the Tour, and having had time to recover from the falls that knocked him out of the Tour, he should be in good form. Notably he was second in the 2011 Vuelta.
Nairo Quintana This year’s winner of the Giro d’Italia and in a very strong Movistar team along with past Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde of Spain. He is only 24 but looks impossible to beat in the mountains when on form.
Alejandro Valverde As mentioned above he’s won this thing before (2009) and been on the final podium on four other occasions, last year coming third, only 1 minute and 36 seconds from the red jersey. He was fourth in the Tour this year too, so at 34 years old, and on home soil, Valverde is still very much a contender.
Alberto Contador The other big-name Spaniard is considered by many to still be the best cyclist out there. Despite having two grand tours stripped from him, he has legitimately won all three big grand tours, and five in total not counting the two that were nixed. The doping conviction (an ‘accidental ingestion of the banned doping product Clenbuterol’ in very small amounts) may not make him a popular figure with everyone, but his combative style and constant mountain attacks make him, at worst, an exciting villain.
Chris Horner Let’s not forget the American who won the Vuelta last year. Can he do it again? No way, he’s 42. Send him out to pasture. (Still, let’s hope he does.)
Cadel Evans The Aussie battler – sorry, love that cliché – is also on the northern side of 35, but the former Tour and Giro winner has maintained some decent form. He hasn’t won anything too major recently but was third in the Giro d’Italia last year and beat a decent field to win the Giro del Trentino in April.
Joaquim Rodríguez The Spaniard they call ‘Purito’ – for the dubious honour of being one of few riders not to dope – is in the prime of his career, but risks never achieving any major honours. This has to be his Vuelta if he’s to push himself above Contador and Valverde in Spanish hearts. Highly rated, he’s been on the final podium in all three grand tours without ever being more than a bridesmaid. Coming second in last year’s World Championship is the icing that didn’t quite make it onto the cake.
Fabio Aru Perhaps more an outside bet, the Astana rider is second fiddle to his team-mate Nibali and didn’t ride in the Tour de France this year, but he did finish third in this year’s Giro when free from the shackles. The Italian climber seems indefatigable in every stage. His team-mate Tanel Kangert will help Astana have a good shot at Stage 1, the team time trial (which they won at this year’s Giro).
Rigoberto Uran My personal favourite, the Colombian who left Sky last year for Omega Pharma-Quick Step, has come second in the Giro for two years running, and was unlucky not to win it this year. Another young gun like Aru and Quintana who will likely be a big name for some years to come.
Tony Martin OK, he won’t win the Vuelta, but he is so dominate in time trials he deserves a mention. The German is a shoo-in for Stage 10.
Peter Sagan He cruised to the green jersey of points victory in the Tour this year, without winning a single stage, and is likely to do the same here. He can sprint, he can handle a mountain or two, and he’s a smart cookie, always managing to get himself in the right place for the finish. The sprinters: Bouhanni, Ferrari, Degenkolb, Boonen, etc. may run Sagan close, or a top GC rider may win the points competition with so many to compete against, but my idiotic money is on Sagan.
We don’t like to boast, but, well, some of our books are just so bloomin’ great that we can’t help but sing their praises. And for this beaut, we’ve borrowed some words from people who’ve beaten us to it…
‘MILLIONS upon millions of words have been written on Eddy Merckx over the decades and it will get to the point soon when there is nothing new to say, which is possibly why Bloomsbury came up with the interesting idea of revisiting a year in the life of cycling’s nonpareil with a series of documentary type photographs. As all my snapper friends constantly remind me a great image is always worth a thousand words. Damn them, but they are right.
Not any old year mind and not any old photos. 1969 was an incredible career defining 12-months for Merckx while the project collaborators Tonny Strouton and Jan Maes boldy opt for a montage of huge black and white snaps when presumably there are plenty of fine colour shots available if desired. A great black and white image is worth 10,000 words in my opinion because they instantly convey and historical importance and almost timelessness which makes it easier to relive that moment.
Merckx 69 will stretch the budget but I suspect will prove irresistible for any serious collector of cycling books. Just as the man himself had to win every race – or at least try – Merckx fans tend to be ‘completests’ and their ‘Merckx corner’ of the bookshelf will look bare without this mighty tome.’
Brendan Gallagher, The Tour
‘featuring some utterly fabulous, grainy, black and white photographs from eddy’s 1969 season, tentatively holding your breath and opening the first few pages brings to mind nothing more or less than a pristine copy of rouleur magazine. you can argue the case for e-books all you like, there’s simply nothing to match the heady aroma of printer’s ink on heavy art paper. the photos are not only glorious, fascinating, engaging and addictive, but undoubtedly the very reason you’d part with your £35 in the first place.
this is an absolute doozy, one that will continue to offer those rouleur moments for ever and ever and ever.’
Are Tour de France champions born or made? Should cyclists strength train? How can pain become gain? What are the real benefits of contemporary sports nutrition? And – bottom line – can sports science help make race winners?
These are a few of the questions that a gathering of world leading sports scientists, coaches and medical practitioners aim to address at the UCI-endorsed 2nd World Congress of Cycling Science at the Rose Bowl in Leeds from Wednesday 2nd to Thursday 3rd of July, just days before the city hosts the Grand Depart of the Tour de France (Saturday 5th July).
The conference is organised by the University of Kent’s School of Sports and Exercise Science, which is headed by Professor Louis Passfield and Dr James Hopker, two of Great Britain’s leading names in the field. The conference has so far attracted representatives from the likes of UCI Pro Tour teams Garmin-Sharp, BMC, Francais des Jeux, Movistar and Omega Pharma Quickstep.
Integrating the various aspects of coaching, sports science, medicine, technology and performance, the Congress will provide a forum for the discussion of performance enhancement with a focus on the Tour itself. Speakers and participants include former riders turned coaches Charly Wegelius (Garmin-Sharp) and Marco Pinotti (BMC Pro Cycling Team), with other special guests to be announced.
As part of the Congress SRM are sponsoring a Keynote presentation where Uli Schoberer and a current Pro Tour rider (tbc), will discuss the use of power meters in professional cycling. SRM will also be exhibiting PowerMeters, PowerControls and cycle ergometers at the Congress.
Professor Passfield, previously a sports scientist with the Great Britain Cycling Team, said that the aim of the conference is “to further the use of science in cycling and to help share relevant information with coaches and sports scientists. The conference programme is designed to stimulate and inspire future collaboration and research-informed practice for the benefit of a new generation of cyclists”.
Further information about the Congress, speakers and how to book is available at www.wcss2014.co.uk. Alongside the Congress, there will also be a free evening event for up to 250 members of the public on the Thursday evening. Further information on the evening event and to book a place visit www.wcss2014.co.uk.
Dr James Hopker is the author of Performance Cycling.
The Outspoken Cyclists‘s Diane Lees interviews Ian Cleverly and Robert Wyatt from Rouleur to discuss the Rouleur Centenary Tour de France.
Click on the radio to have a listen…
With just under a month to go before we publish it, I thought I’d let our cycling fans have a sneaky peak at the new photographic book by Rouleur.
For the 100th running of the Tour de France, top cycling magazine Rouleur sent seven writers and photographers on the road at the Tour, each given three stages to record their individual takes on the race. Rouleur Centenary Tour de France captures these stories and provides a fascinating look at the race.
Out 7th November, it’ll make a nifty Christmas present for the lycra lovers among us.
« 3,404 kilometres » « 21 stages » « 21 stories »
Guessing the winners in the medium mountain stages of the Tour de France has no real-world hook to hang one’s guess on. One is left groping against a flat surface like a sleepwalker in a phone box. It depends. There are things it depends upon though, so I will try to help you out, and in an ideal world, this will put you in mind of a few bets that will lose you a great deal of money.
Our office has been involved in the road.cc online fantasy league for the Tour de France, and I’m taking it much too seriously. Here I am in second place in the Bloomsbury League (feel free to join for the next big race, the Vuelta a España in August, or the Tour of Britain in September) and I’m gnashing in vain at the heels of lackadaisical Tour-expert Kirsty in the yellow jumper spot. A few things have become clear. The time trial is pretty predictable. Expect the same top ten of Stage 11 to contest the same places in a similar order on Wednesday’s Stage 17. That is:
- Tony Martin
- Chris Froome
- Thomas De Gendt
- Richie Porte
- Michał Kwiatkowski
- Svein Tuft
- Sylvain Chavanel
- Jérémy Roy
- Tom Dumoulin
- Jonathan Castroviejo
A few of the top GC riders may also agonise their way into this top 10 (Valverde, Mollema, Ten Dam, Kreuziger and Contador) as they have the most to gain. But this also depends on the madness of the medium mountains on Tuesday’s Stage 16.
Flat stages are also an eye-rolling doddle to pick, if I may oversimplify sweepingly. Each team’s best sprinters will be kept in the peloton by their faithful colleagues and then released near the end. Things get shaky in the timing and organisation of the lead-outs, and the difference in ability is more marginal among sprinters than time-triallists (due to the distance of the final effort), throwing exact places into a blender, but betting on the likes of Kittel, Cavendish, Greipel and Sagan for the last race, Stage 21 on 21 July, would be far from insane. Sprinters can decide the medium mountains too, but quelle surprise, it depends.
The true mountain stages, especially those with a summit finish, again favour a particular flavour of rider. On Sunday’s mountain ascent, it was a surprise to no one that Froome and Quintana showed their superiority (Froome aided by colossal mountain pullers Kennaugh and Porte), with Nieve, Rodríguez, Kreuziger, Contador, Fugslang, Mollema and Ten Dam not too far behind. You’ll see a similar cast lolloping up the Alps in Stages 18, 19 and 20. These hulking pedal-metronomes can break away from the mortals in the medium mountains too, their uphill pace sucking the wind out of the sprinters before the final downhill.
And this is what kills me about Tuesday’s Stage 16, a bunch of different riders could be in the top 10. There is no medium-mountain expert as such, and there is even a degree of luck involved. Sure it helps to be a bit of an all-rounder, and quick on the downhills, but in a way, being out of contention, being a bit useless so far, is the most useful quality. I think officially it’s a mountain (as opposed to medium mountain) stage, but it’s the mediumiest of non-mediums you’ll find: with only 168km, no climb above Category 2, and only two of those, quite a long gentle climb to recuperate over before the high gradients of the final mountain, and the last 10km is all downhill. There are as I see it, three possible scenarios (and therefore likely a fourth, which is what will actually happen):
- Scenario 1. Any breakaway leading group is hauled in before the final summit by the peloton, which is likely to contain a few hardier sprinters and their teams. Sagan is the favourite for this very reason, being hardy sprinter incarnate.
- Scenario 2, and I believe a very likely one. A small group of riders that threaten no one in terms of the GC or points competition will be allowed to break from the peloton and streak ahead. This is their moment in the papers. The peloton will threaten to pull them in, but if they hang in over the final climb, no one will get them on the long downhill home. Picking this group requires a random number generator. Navardauskas and Niemiec may show some of their Giro form and rise from the pack like meerkats. Or expect one of the heretofore meek French to take a crack. I say go all-in on [throws dart at Tour de France wall chart] Vichot? Voeckler? Gilbert?
- Scenario 3. The mountain men dominate. Their teams set too vicious a pace on the ascents and break up the peloton. One or all of Quintana, Froome, Porte, Contador, etc., lead over the final hill and remain un-catch-up-able on the bobsled to the finish.
I don’t know. There is still a lot of GC/points to contest and a lot of riders need whatever advantage they can wring from this race. The odds online put Chavanel as second favourite behind Sagan. Go with that.
Louison Bobet in 1953, the three-time winner, and one of the Tour’s most famous Bretons, along with Bernard Hinault #tdf
Bloomsbury Sport’s Tour de France Photo of the Day
Against the clock
Louison Bobet on his way to winning the time trial from Lyon to St Etienne, just two days from Paris and his first overall victory in 1953.
These photos can be found on page 86 of Tour de France 100.
Bloomsbury Sport’s Tour de France Photo of the Day
Riders taking water from the roadside during the 1947 race.
These photos can be found on page 63 of Tour de France 100.
Bloomsbury Sport’s Tour de France Photo of the Day
British photographer Bert Hardy captured the riders snaking up the switchbacks of the Col du Tourmalet, the highest pass in the Pyrenees during the 1951 Tour.
These photos can be found on page 67 of Tour de France 100.
Bloomsbury Sport’s Tour de France Photo of the Day
War of attrition
The Tour made its first visit to the high mountains of the Pyrenees in 1910, in a bid to toughen up the race and fulfil Henri Desgrange’s ambition of having only one rider survive to the finish in Paris.