30 June 2014

My Top Twenty Climbs in France

We all have our favorites, these are mine

Since 2003, I have been fortunate to ride a bike frequently in France. I want you to know I actually wrote out five other posts in route to mapping out and writing this one simple post about my favorite climbs in France. You would think it easy, but any time I think of climbs, I think of scenery, I think of traveling to the climbs, I think of the Tour de France .. and I generally get very distracted.

Oh, I like so many things ...

So here it is in all it's simple glory - my favorite top twenty climbs (*top 10) in France: Link to google map of climb locations

Alpe d’Huez *
Col d'Agnes
Col des Aravis *
Col d’Aspin
Col d’Aubisque *
Col de la Columbiére *
Col du Galibier *
Col d'Ichère
Col d'Izoard
Col de Marie Blanque *
Col de Murs
Col de Peyresourde
Col d’Portillon
Col du Soulor *
Col de Tamié
Col de Télégraphe
Col du Tourmalet *
Hautacam
La Hourquette d’Ancizan *
Mont Ventoux *

My favorite, you ask? Well I just have this thing for the Col d'Aubisque to Cirque du Litor to Col du Solour route. The Tourmalet is a must ride. I also love Mont Ventoux in all it's boisterous glory. 

Map of my favorite climbs in France https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zF3Mdi_RS4EA.khPsCpthHhgk

ALPS

My favorite climbs in the Alps: Col de la Colimbiere, Col des Aravis, Col de Tamie, Alpe d'Huez, Col de Telegraphe, Col de Galibier, Col d'Izoard.


PROVENCE

My favorite climbs in Provence (granted I don't know much about Languedoc, which has many good reported rides and climbs): Col de Murs, Mont Ventoux


PYRENEES

My favorite climbs scattered across the Pyrenees are: Col de Agnes, Col du Portillon, Col de Peyresourde, Hourquette d'Ancizan, Col d'Aspin, Col du Tourmalet, Hatuacam, Col du Soulor, Col d'Aubisque, Col de Marie Blanque, Col d'Ichere.


This year, of my favorite climbs, the Col d'Izoard, Col d'Portillon, Col de Peyresourde, Col du Tourmalet and Hautacam will be featured in the 2014 Tour de France.

My favorite areas to travel and ride a bike in France are the Pyrenees, Le Grand-Bornand/Haute-Savoie region of the Alps, and the general areas of Provence and department Vaucluse. I also enjoy riding the foothills of the Pyrenees Atlantique and Haute-Pyrenees. The Dordogne is a fabulous place to visit. Lyon, Marseille, and Toulouse are the preferred smaller airports to fly into with a bike in France.

You can see more of the climbs I have ridden in France on my About page, so many are good, but these are better. Now onto posting those other five posts I wrote on my way to finally mapping out my favorite climbs in France ......

29 June 2014

Big #17 for Jens Voigt

Jens is going to the Tour de France

A few days ago it was announced by the Trek Factory Racing team that one of their most popular riders - Jens Voigt - earned his way onto the nine man team for the 2014 Tour de France. The Grand Tour begins on Saturday, July 5th and will mark Jens Voigt's 17th participation. A tremendous accomplishment when you consider that the Trek Factory team has 28 riders and only nine get to go to Le Tour every year, let alone every year for seventeen years!

Being selected for the Tour de France is a highlight and yearly goal for many riders. Something they work hard to achieve. It is a dream, an honor, but every man knows he is expected to give his all for three-weeks. The payoff is big. Within this one race riders and teams stand to earn more than most races on the calendar for the year (besides paid personal appearance fees from other races and endorsements).

The news that Jens will be racing in the 2014 Tour de France means guaranteed entertainment. There should be the unveiling of the celebratory 17th year Trek bike, perhaps a few good interviews with a new quotable phrase, the expected break away or memorable moments out on course, the final solute into Paris, and plenty of fans opportunities to get that one last Jens Voigt signature during big #17.

Read: One Last Summer Vacation in France! Jens gets selected to start his 17th Tour de France, by Jens Voigt for Bicycling Magazine. "You know I calculated it the other day. I will have done nearly 340 days of racing in the Tour de France."

Jens Voigt has raced in every Tour de France since 1998, he won two stages in 2001 and 2006. He won one stage of the Giro d'Italia in 2008. He is a rouleur and break away specialist, German, age 42, 6'3', 170 lbs, a husband, and father of six!

I am personally not expecting a GC miracle from the Trek team, but their riders will be interesting to watch, especially Cancellara, Van Poppel, Busche, Voigt and the hard-working domestiques.

Trek Factory Team roster for 2014 Tour de France
SCHLECK Andy
SCHLECK Fränk
VOIGT Jens
CANCELLARA Fabian
ZUBELDIA Haimar
BUSCHE Matthew
IRIZAR Markel
RAST Gregory
VAN POPPEL Danny

Now it is time to share my latest Jens Voigt story from the Tour of California in May

It was the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California in Westlake Village, I had just left the sign-in stage area and walked closer to the media car I planned to board for transport out to the KOM climb on course. The media cars typically depart ahead of the peloton to place photographers along the route. I was having fun using my final minutes pre-race by directing the riders back to their buses after sign-in. Many had ridden in from their hotels and were unsure of the start village layout.
Directing the riders at ATOC, Hi Bradley, Hi Mark!

Honestly it was pinch-me is this real exciting and yet felt so comfortable. "Bradley, you'll want to go this way," "Mark take a left up the hill, then right." All smiles and in my element, suddenly Jens Voigt rolls up on his bike. By now the race start is within ten minutes and the start line about 20 meters away. "Hey Jens, what are you doing, are you looking for another cookie?" I say sort of jokingly, but suddenly Jens stops his bike and says in his thick German accent, "Um ya I am looking for Kim, she said to meet her at the VIP area, she has a special sweet for me."

I laughed along with Pez Photographer Darrell Parks who was standing nearby. Are you kidding me, I thought, minutes from race start and Jens is once again tooling around satisfying his sweet tooth! Shortly there after, out pops Kim from a nearby VIP car, holding a packaged caramel apple covered in nuts, and hands it to Jens. He grins from ear to ear. I am telling you, if you could see the joy this man gets from sweets.

Jens holds the apple in his hands as if it is gold. "Ooooooh, maybe I should save this for later when I can enjoy it," he says. This was not a question, this was Jens planning out loud. Which means I could not reply, "Ya, cuz' that race thing is approaching fast." Off he rode showing tremendous bike handling skills while holding his trademark pre-race coffee in one hand and the caramel apple in the other.

Jens Voigt has been a professional cyclist since 1997, if there is anyone who knows how to make his way around a bike race - it is Jens Voigt. I am confident Jens found a team car before heading to the start line just in the nick of time, because later at the KOM marker no caramel apple was seen tucked inside Jensie's jersey pocket for the circuit laps of Stage 8, Tour of California 2014. This disciplined rider saved his prize for after the race.

All photos below by Karen Rakestraw at Pedal Dancer®

A relaxed Jens on the sign-in stage before the stage start
Jens with his prized coffee and caramel apple
Jens all smiles minutes before the start
No evidence of an apple in his jersey pocket on the first lap
But he was working hard on the climb (Jens left next to Niki Terpstra center)

The apple that powers The Jensie

My other sweet story of Jens Voigt from August 2013: Jens Voigt p/b Cookies and Coffee

Jens talking time to collect a Rapha espresso next to an unsuspecting fan minutes before yet another race start in 2013

Jens Voigt and his Pepperidge Farm cookies in May 2012
Fans have learned that Jens likes sweets and this package of cookies was a gift from a fan in California, 2012.
For all the talk of suffering, pain, and old age, Jens Voigt certainly takes time for the sweet things in life. But first, he earns it. I think this is why Jens Voigt will forever be a fan fovorite - because he is real.


24 June 2014

Recommended Road Bike Rides Near Aspen

6 bike rides near Aspen, Colorado

There are a few towns in Colorado perfectly situated to stay and ride - Aspen is one of them. Aspen is a beautiful location to plop yourself down and ride in various directions - out and back or happily looping around the area on a bicycle. Depending on your desired ride distance, these rides can be combined or done separately allowing for time in the day to also hike, fish, eat good food or sit on a patio with a cold beer, whatever makes a weekend in the mountains just right for you.

This past weekend I played in Aspen, taking in even more rides and exploring this wonderful Colorado town. As I rode along I couldn't help but think - forget Europe, if I was a pro rider and paid to do this - I would live in Aspen, Colorado. 

Recommended road bike rides near Apen:
  • Maroon Bells (Maroon Creek Road)
  • Castle Creek Road
  • McClain Flats to St Benedict's Monastery
  • Independence Pass
  • McClure Pass
  • Aspen to Snowmass Village and McClain Flats Rd Loop
  • Bike Paths in Pitkin County

RIDE DESCRIPTIONS AND MAPS

All photos and maps by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®

I like all of these rides because the roads vary enough to allow changes in gearing, which to me, means a perfect mountain climb. Be aware that the road to McClure Pass has no real shoulder, also be aware that the road surface when descending the west side of Independence Pass has dips, bumps, potholes and patches.

The town of Aspen is a wonderful with good restaurants and plentiful hotels or campsites (I usually camp). The Rio Grande Park in Aspen or the Aspen Recreation Center make for a good starting points for any of these rides, or you can depart from your accommodations. My suggestion for the top two must-do rides would be Maroon Bells and Independence Pass.

Maroon Bells (Maroon Creek Road) - 17 miles

The Maroon Bells are a Colorado geological landmark, they are truly special. This road is a pure pleasure to climb. The road is closed to car traffic (tourists being shuttle to the top via bus) from 9:00am-5:00pm, resulting in pure heaven for cyclists. With this kind of quiet, you will hear the river flowing and birds singing along the route. You will also likely see deer, marmot and maybe even moose. A highly recommended ride, rated difficult, but the views entertain. Free to cyclists, $10 for cars (when road is open) before 9:00am or after 5:00pm.

View map on Map My Ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/453810798
The highly recommended road to Maroon Bells
With resident moose in the pond near Maroon Bells
Castle Creek Road - 24 miles

Another relatively quiet road because the only people driving up this road are locals or those going to the Pine Creek Cookhouse ($$$$). The peaceful beauty is a real treat. Easy to access and ride (although rated difficult), the descent will delight. 

View map on Map My Ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/453791350
The beautiful climb up Castle Creek Rd

Independence Pass - 40 miles, elev. +4200ft

This is your chance to climb to 12,095 ft on a bike. Within this one ride you will ride your bike through Valley Floor, Montane Zone, Subalpine, and Alpine Tundra environments, as well as see a ghost mining town in the valley below. The climb to Independence Pass is a true accomplishment, don't miss out on this one if you are in the area. Definitely a long difficult climb at altitude but totally worth it! (more climb details by mybicyleroutes.com)

View map on Map My Ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/453823332
Ghost town of Independence
The last big switchback before the summit of Independence Pass - west side
Last mile to top of Independence Pass, just around that corner is the top!
Independence Pass summit
Yes, it was worth the effort to get to the top of this mountain!

McClure Pass - 50 miles, elev +2600ft

Another pass in the area and often featured on the routes of Ride the Rockies, Bicycle Tour of Colorado, and in 2014, the USA Pro Challenge. There is a gentle bike path for much of the distance up the Crystal River until the final miles wind up the pass. (more climb details by mybicyleroutes.com)

View map on Map My Ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/453907378
The beautiful Crystal River on the way to McClure Pass
The coke ovens near Redstone Colorado
The climb up McClure Pass
Summit of McClure Pass
McClain Flats to St Benedict's Monastery - 43 miles

McClain Flats Rd parallels Hwy 82 taking the high route, this road offers sweeping views of the mountain range encompassing Aspen through Snowmass and beyond to Mt Sopris. No shoulder, but usually light traffic, this rolling road is a gem. Crossing Hwy 82 is made easy by using the signal traffic light.

View map on Map My Ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/453902336
Sweeping views from McClain Flats Rd

Aspen to Snowmass Village and McClain Flats Rd Loop - 23 miles

You can ride the route of the USA Pro Challenge Stage 1 (2013 and 2014) with a variation using local bike paths for added safety. The route is 23 miles. The pros do three circuits (22 miles each) of this route using the main roads. 

View map on Map My Ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/453933262
The pros riding up Owl Creek Rd to Snowmass Village in 2013

Bike Paths in Pitkin County

Bike paths are plentiful in the area. If you prefer their structure or ease in linking up to other beautiful roads in the area, here is the map of local bike paths in Pitkin County (Aspen, Snowmass, Basalt, Carbondale, all the way to Glenwood Springs). From Glenwood Springs you can ride the bike path east up the canyon. 

map of bike paths near Aspen, Colorado

Bike paths can take you swiftly to the inner and outer limits of Pitkin County, designed to keep you off major roads while allowing you to enjoy the beautiful surrounding views. I personally find the seams (tatink tatink) annoying for great distances and the safety questionable, but I do appreciate any local government which has place funds into providing a path for its citizens.

Enjoying downtown Aspen
I have yet to see a bear in downtown Aspen
Other activites in the area:

The very small towns of Carbondale to Redstone to Marble have a collection of art, cafes, or incredible fall foliage scenery in the autumn.  

Aspen has a wide variety of events, see a summer calendar here: Aspen Chamber.

Enjoy semi-free bluegrass music at the top of Aspen Mountain, June to September, noon-3pm. You will have to pay for the gondola ride to the top, $19 each, dogs can go along with you for free. More information: Bluegrass Sundays

Some restaurant recommendations may be found at the bottom of this link: USA Pro Challenge in Aspen/Snowmass

Fishing recommendations: some of the largest trout in the state at the Taylor River tailwater. Or fish in the Upper Arkansas River north of Buena Vista. If he has to wait until the Stage is done, the Roaring Fork and Fryinpan rivers near Aspen hold nice browns and rainbows. http://coloradofishing.net/wtf_aspen.htm

Mountain bike recommendations: near Buena Vista there are some good stretches of the Colorado Trail http://comtb.com/alpine/. Also Aspen isn't too far from Poncha Springs where the Monarch Crest loop starts and stops. This is a classic ride that's worth the side trip. Leadville has lots of old high-altitude mining roads to ride, and there's always the Leadville 100 course. More Colorado Trail (CT) sections nearby. Snowmass and in Beaver Creek offer lift-assisted riding.

Tent Camping: I like Difficult Campground (5 miles east of Aspen center), be sure to reserve ahead of time, this is a popular campground located in an aspen grove on the way to Independence Pass. There is also a nice campground up Maroon Creek Rd on the way to Maroon Bells called Silver Bells Campground.

Enjoy your rides and visit to beautiful Aspen, Colorado. I sure did!

16 June 2014

Sunday Bike Ride in Boulder

I rode for hours with a huge smile on my face

I admit a man can put a smile on my face. Yesterday that man was Dale Stetina. I was beyond thrilled when I noticed Dale Stetina at Mary's Market & Deli general store in the tiny town of Hygiene, Colorado yesterday. "It's all yours," Dale said as he was heading out of the bathroom and I was heading in. I hardly thought it the time and place to start gushing over someone, but my "Holy shi* that was Dale Stetina in a BMC jersey," response determined right then and there that I would say hello to this man I admire.

Outside Dale stood under a shade tree chatting with his tandem bike pilot friend. I awkwardly eavesdropped, trying not to be too rude, until I found an opportunity to step up and say how wonderful it was to see Dale out riding. It was one of those situations that appeared like a sign - not to go all granola-Boulder on you - but truly Dale's words were inspiring. Dale is insightful and sharp, and quite honest about how his recent accident has changed his outlook on life. If anyone is looking for a motivational speaker - look to Dale Stetina. I know I would like to hear more of what he has to say.

A perfect Sunday - race tactics and bike rides

Purpose of life stuff aside, I was absolutely honored as Dale, now standing in the sun outside the general store, gave me a play by play race tactics replay of the previous day's Criterium du Dauphine Stage 7 in France. I love that stuff! I can't imagine a more perfect way to spend a Sunday morning than talking bike racing (with a very knowledgeable source) during a break from a bike ride in a beautiful place. The experience will be a long-cherished memory.

It had been almost a year since I had ridden across the roads of Boulder County. I reasoned a trip to see a friend (Cycling Injures) in the hospital in Loveland in the early morning would be a perfect excuse to later park and ride from the nearby tiny town of Hygiene, Colorado. Years ago I rode these same roads maybe three times a week. It seemed like ages ago when I rode hard with groups and teams.

I am no longer cool on a bike and that might be okay

I noticed something yesterday. I no longer ride in a team kit, I wear a bright friendly non-affiliated jersey and my Castelli shorts (which I will never go without). Clothing no longer needs to match perfectly and I have returned to riding my old titanium bike (the Cannondale Evo Supersix sits in the basement). The Ti bike is a fine bike, fixed up just right with Shimano Dura Ace triple, handbuilt Dura Ace wheels, Selle Italia saddle, and new ENVE fork. It is silver and black and simple with no power meter in sight. I am much less cool but I tell you - I get tons of smiles and hellos from cyclists out on the road.

No matter the local opinion (and controversy) of who waves and who does not in Boulder. I discovered that it might just have far more to do with how you present yourself. What you give off might correlate with what you get back. I figure by now, my chances are nil that someone will sign me to that pro team contract based upon my ability to seriously pass them quickly on a road in Boulder, Colorado. I have a far better chance of sharing a wave or a nod with someone whose instant impression of me might be - gee she looks like she is really enjoying her bike ride today.

Indeed I was. I smiled for miles, inspired by a fine conversation and a ton of smiles received from fellow cyclists.

Mary's Market & Deli in Hygiene, Colorado - a local gathering place and a fine place to talk cycling.
Beautiful views along a nice bike ride in Boulder
A farm along the way
My dream house in a nice location for convenient cycling
new life
Added inspiration by watching some of the triathletes in the 2014 Boulder Ironman race, witch took place on the roads near Hygiene yesterday.
Location of Hygiene, Colorado, along the Front Range, north of Boulder and Denver. A recommended ride location.

14 June 2014

A Cycling Poem

For a nice day in Colorado

I had a nice bike ride today, in 70˚ weather with country love songs on my ear piece. I was reminded of a poem I wrote a couple years ago and thought I would share it again this evening.

Cyclist - a poem

I pump the tires.
Place the bottles where they belong.
Hear the click of my right shoe. Half a pedal stroke, a second click. I'm off.
The cool air flows over my arms. I am moving.
The first minutes offer a snapshot of what my ride will be. The first gear chosen tells me how my legs will feel.
I find my spot on the saddle and fix my gaze forward.
My mind clears and I settle into a rhythm. In the same moment a flash of confusion tells me I've just begun, I've ridden for hours, it is time to stop, I want more. This is experience talking.
I've ridden a bike a lot. My body remembers ever mile as one.
It is a knowing comfort on a bike, a place to feel at home.
The notion of a new mile covered, a new corner turned, has me longing for more.
I turn the Pedals. I am a road cyclist.
With a long way to go.

~ poem by Karen Rakestraw (Pedal Dancer), September 2011

11 June 2014

Cycling Injures

This sport we all love is just not safe at times

It is with a heavy heart and tearful eyes that I share a very tough week. To know cyclists is to see their ups and witness their downs. For a cyclist, the downs often result in injury or worse.

I just read the news that a local Colorado racer named Victor Williams died last night from a head injury fall in the Velodrome. Vic was a track, road and cyclocross racer. He was on the Board of Directors for Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado and the Colorado Velodrome Association. Reading that sentence tonight took my breath away, "No, not him." I didn't know Victor well, but I have seen him at local races for many years. When you cheer for a racer along the barrier, see a racer through a camera lens and then later on your home computer while editing photos, you build a sort of respectful bond with a rider. I will always remember Vic for his strength on a bike, huge smiles and tremendous enthusiasm.

I found myself crying. In a week when I've shed enough tears.

Last Saturday, my friend Julie Stoligrosz's boyfriend Bob Dean was involved in a very serious hit and run accident. He was participating in a 250-mile brevet event ride when a truck struck him from behind. Bob remembers the truck circling back and then fleeing the scene. That kind of inhumanity hurts to the soul. Bob's broad group of family, friends and coworkers all feel the pain that truck driver caused Bob deeply. Bob was left on the road with a broken back, pelvis, 9 broken ribs, a ruptured bladder, and deep lacerations. He will walk again, but seeing a friend in the hospital room in that condition is profound. 

I try to help the way I know best, by being there for friends and through words. I have been writing Bob's Caring Bridge Page so that friends and family can keep abreast of his progress. The show of love and support for Bob has been heart warming and heartbreaking. Why did this happen to such a good man? Bob was simply out enjoying freedom of movement on a bicycle and athletically challenging himself.

Just this morning I read every word of Taylor Phinney's injury recovery interview recap on Cycling Tips. I was impressed with Taylor's knowledge and honesty regarding his recovery, but I worried about the pressure put on him when other article titles read "6-8 weeks" recovery for Phinney. You just never know, we are human beings, even the toughest of the tough are not built to be battered around or thrown into guardrails. Some athletes heal fine, some do not.

No matter how strong the will of a professional athlete, such as Amy Van Dyken, when a spinal cord is severed from an ATV for example, motivation and toughness can only get you so far toward a full recovery. Unrealistic expectations run the risk of bordering on cruelty. As we are individual in our athletic ability, so too are we individual in our recovery.

Last Sunday I was talking with another friend, Scott Shoup, about the cycling injuries we have both experienced. I remember saying to Scott, it is a fine balance between acceptance and hope. Almost a dance I would say. Sometimes I have preferred to keep my dance a private one.

But I have to admit that my injuries from breaking my pelvis in four place four years (and those 12 other bones over the years) have left me a different kind of cyclist. Truth be told, the injury left me a different kind of person. I was deeply hurt by comments from those who had expectations that I be just like them or I be as I was before. I am not. I am a person who lives life as if there is no tomorrow (sometimes too much so). I am a person who has learned to love more deeply. I am a person drawn to humor and smiles and enthusiasm and strength of character. 

I am also a person who still loves a nice bike ride. But my head is sometimes filled with fear and sadness, and that is simply the truth. I am not giving up on this sport. If doping scandals didn't diminish my love of pro cycling, than I will not allow the truth that bicycles can harm, ruin a perfectly good spin on a bike.

Today I had my first appointment with a new functional physical trainer. A person named Kim who explained to me where my lack of function and strength are based and how I can improve. Improvement - that sounds like the best kind of hope.

I am thinking of you Bob, Taylor and Amy. I will miss you Vic. I continue to follow your improvement Dale Stetina. To the rest of you - stay safe and ride with joy.

09 June 2014

George is still here

George Hincapie is like the relative who came to visit and never left

How can I ever heal this broken heart if he keeps bringing up the same topic at the dinner table? That is why I won't be reading George's new book The Loyal Lieutenant. I shudder just to say those words in combination.

He is sort of like the Ex you don't want to hear from anymore. I am trying to be courteous to a man I once believed in, but that fool me twice thing kicks in before any other thought or interest allows me to hear more about George Hincapie.

I hate to pay good money to read another excuse book, but I ponder whether I am missing out on learning more real cycling history? I think I will have to take that chance.

I did read this, an interesting commentary piece on VeloNews by Steve Maxwell, June 9, 2014: Hincapie’s ‘Loyal Lieutenant’ rationalizes doping choices.

I also read this blog post by Fat Cyclist. Fatty says the things many of us think: Review, Part I: The Loyal Lieutenant, by George Hincapie.

Fatty wrote his Part I book review on June 5th, he hasn't written Part II yet, maybe because a topic that he states as being interesting to him, is still not a feel good topic. It leaves one feeling sort of empty, disillusioned and yes - peeved. Plus the subject won't go away because it feels like George is still in the guest room! Please leave.

George Hincapie has once again returned to Colorado this week to ride Ride the Rockies, that bucket-list of an event ride with six super mountain days of climbing. George carries on his nice lifestyle free to ride and write his history while enjoying the beautiful Colorado mountains with friends and a lot of followers.

Timmy Duggin (2nd from L) is featured in this photo with George, Nelson Vails is not pictured. Photo by Road Bike Action

What is the first impression you have when you look at this photo? Do you want hours of that same feeling? If the answer is yes, read the book. If your answer is no, read the two reviews above and forget the book.

Or better yet, grab your bike and train for the 2015 Ride the Rockies yourself. But if I ever hear you mutter the words (as George did about his doping administration experience), “I exited the bathroom a changed man. I felt completely at peace. […] This was a new me, one without limitations, and one without the deck stacked against him,” you are definitely not invited to dinner at my house. I fear you might never leave.

Related post by Pedal Dancer: 2014 Ride the Rockies Route

06 June 2014

Cycling is a team sport, or is it

8 men ride so that 1 man can win

For years the sport of cycling has tried to convey to casual spectators that what is seen inside the blur of color swooshing by in the peloton is in fact a well-orchestrated team strategy. Even though the riders don't always either see or understand the strategy unfolding at every kilometer of the race, every man in a team, but one, is in fact riding for another man to win the race.

In the sport of cycling no man is an island (unless you are Alberto Contador).

Strategy and purpose drive the rider selection and initial team race plan. From which hard work, chance, luck, distraction, and individual gumption play a huge role in the outcome of the race. Going into every race, team managers make decisions about how to best get a group of athletes to reach the intended goal. Directeur sportifs and the entire staff attempt to work in unity to support those team management goals. The riders, they don't just follow, they make it happen.

Or not

Bradley Wiggins is not on the SKY team roster for the 2014 Tour de France.

What a huge disappointment, simply because Bradley's form is so good this year and I wanted to selfishly watch him race. I know I am no alone in specifically wanting to watch Bradley Wiggins for three weeks in July. Apparently there is more to consider than entertainment and the fact that Wiggins is British in a year when the Tour de France starts in Britain.

I would have thought Wiggins would be good press for sponsors and people who like Sirs, mod hair styles and mountain man beards. Let alone all the PR work Wiggins recently did in California and England, and the fact that he is a past winner - one of the few we've had still on the books.



VeloNews placed this poll online this morning, which made me think of this hot topic in a different light:

1. If you were Sky manager Dave Brailsford, given the history between Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, would you take Wiggins to the Tour de France?

Yes or No

No, I wouldn't if I were Dave Brailsford. My bet is Brailsford reasoning is based upon:
  • Fractional distraction within a cohesive team between two capable riders who do not get along
  • Major interruption by a media barrage of the same questions for three weeks
  • Team members or staff taking sides
  • Mental exhaustion added to physical demands
  • Chance that both men might not win if support is split
  • Fear of loss of control over individual competitors within the team
  • Richie Porte is already on the roster and a trusted wingman for Froome
  • The importance of offering Chris Froome full confidence through full team support

But if this question was phrased as, "If you were Sky manager, would you take Wiggins to the Tour de France if you wanted to win the Tour de France?

Absolutely Yes, I would.
  • Wiggins can add strength to the team in the initial stages in England and over the cobbles
  • His climbing form is excellent, his endurance good, his experience needed
  • His training this year is well timed for the Tour de France
  • He could thoughtfully take off some of the pressure from Froome
  • He is paid to race for the team and is one of the best resources on hand

Wouldn't a Team Manager want the strongest team?

Remember when now disgraced DS Johan Bruyneel decided to load his nine-man Tour de France Squad with two or three possible GC contenders? He trialed this approach over a couple different years with great confusion and meaningless results. That dual GC approach didn't work out so well and we instead witnessed Alberto Contador take matters into his own hands and ride his heart out, ignoring management orders.

Team Sky is sticking to the traditional strategy of putting all their eggs into one basket by backing Froome, and Froome alone. A Grand Tour is won through consistency and support. I suppose Brailsford's chips all in risk taking is worth watching just to see the results of karma and strategy play out in real time. Will Froome win? Will Brailsford's decision be proven correct?

At the final press conference in May at the Tour of California, I heard Bradley Wiggins respond to the oft repeated question, "What will your role be in supporting Chris Froome at the Tour de France this year?" Bradley let slip as if almost under his breath, "I plan to drop Chris at every stage." The serious room was slow to respond to his humor, or perhaps the question of honesty resulted in uneasiness among the media. "No, I will ride in full support of Chris," Bradley followed up quickly. Only the last part of his response got printed in the press.

I wonder most about the thoughts that are foremost in a man's mind. Especially when the unexpected race strategy later unfolds in front of him in the middle of a very hard stage with no teammates around. That moment in which a competitive individual makes an instinctual decision without a Team Manager's restrictions. Moves which are game changing.

Yet I believe Wiggins is a visibly different man than he was four years ago. His growth has changed his motivation from the ground up. We all witnessed his proven team riding skills at the Paris-Roubaix in April. I actually believe Wiggins is a rider who can prioritize and stand by a word given. For this reason I believe Wiggins would make the SKY team stronger.

At the time I voted on the VeloNews poll this morning, the results were:

Yes - 75% (6837 votes)
No - 25% (2283 votes)

I want to see Bradley Wiggins race. I understand why he is not racing in the 2014 Tour de France. I think Team SKY is making a mistake by not supporting the concept of best team in a team sport. I feel badly for the British citizens who will not see Wiggins grace their roads. I feel worse for not honoring a previous Tour winner.

SKY team rosters for the 2014 Dauphiné and Tour de France? 

The nine man Tour de France roster for Team SKY will contain many of the eight men on the roster for the Criterium Dauphiné.

SKY (SKY) team 8-man roster for Critérium du Dauphiné 2014:

  FROOME  ChristopherGBR
  KIRYIENKA  VasilBLR
  LOPEZ GARCIA  DavidESP
  NIEVE ITURALDE  MikelESP
  PATE  DannyUSA
  PORTE  RichieAUS
  THOMAS  GeraintGBR
  ZANDIO ECHAIDE  XabierESP

SKY team 9-man roster for 2014 Tour de France 2014: The official roster will be announced by the team after the Tour de Suisse (14-22 June 2014). The preliminary 8 riders according to ProCycling Stats include:

Team Sky
 FROOME Christopher
 NIEVE Mikel
 HENAO Sergio Luis
 THOMAS Geraint
 PORTE Richie
 KIRYIENKA Vasil
 SIUTSOU Kanstantsin
 KENNAUGH Peter

The list of Top 10 GC contenders for the Critérium du Dauphiné (8-15 June 2014) should give us a good indication of the top contenders for the 2014 Tour de France (considering slight form and /or injury illness changes). The Top 10 are considered to be: Froome, Nibali, Contador, König, Kwiatkowski, Van Garderen, Porte, Voekler, Gerrans, Démare.

Although I see stage winners or top twenty in this list more than overall contenders. I will be watching Froome vs. Contador; the team versus the island. Meanwhile I am no longer certain how to explain to casual viewers of the sport that cycling is a team sport. For the well-seasoned cycling fan, we will all be watching the outcome of the 2014 Tour de France for more race strategy lessons. 

Bradley Wiggins, a very talented hard riding bike racer, who coincidentally looks fabulous in yellow.
Bradley Wiggins won the Amgen Tour of California in May 2014.  Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer 2014

Chris Froome, a man who needs the support of an entire team, will have Riche Porte again at his side.
Porte and Froome will be together again for both the Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour de France. Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer 2013

Recommended Reading at: The Guardian, Sky may not limit Sir Bradley Wiggins if he chooses conscious uncoupling, By William Fotheringham. Friday 6 June 2014 11.10 EDT

Video: Team Sky - 2014 Tour de France Yorkshire Stages Recon, Chris Froome, Richie Porte, Mikel Nieve and David Lopez.

Provisional startlist for the 2014 Critérium du Dauphiné via ProCycling Stats.