Cycling: She is a harsh mistress

Sometimes, in the world of cycling, the stars align and you’re on top of the world. The next, it’s punching you in the stomach and stealing your wallet.

Ask every professional cyclist and they’ll tell you how up and down your luck can be in cycling.

Cadel Evans himself has experienced both ends of the spectrum. Always the bridesmaid and never quite the bride early in his road career.

Unfortunate crashes, competing against cyclists later to be found doping, and sometimes just unlucky.

Then, in 2011, nearly everything seemed to go right. Apart from a mechanical in the mountains at Le Tour that year, he rode the perfect race.

A tenacious chase up the Galibier kept him in contention for the general classification before he blew away his competitors with a whirlwind time trial that captured him the Maillot Jaune.

Richie Porte, Evans’ nemesis at times, is experiencing his own run of bad luck just as he enters maturity as a general classification rider.

Porte was meant to take over as Sky’s team leader in the 2014 Giro d’Italia but sickness saw that he didn’t.

He had a second chance at the Tour the following year when Chris Froome crashed out but a chest infection saw him unable to climb.

Now, fully fit and leading Team Sky at this year’s Giro, it seems cycling has some beef still with Porte.

A puncture early in the race saw him lose 47 seconds and then a further two minutes after receiving assistance from country-man Simon Clarke.

Now, he sits more than five minutes off the pace after he was caught up in a crash with 3.3 kilometres to go in last night’s stage.

In cycling, the race is not handed to the swift, nor the powerful, but those who persevere through trials and tribulations.

Porte’s resolve is being tested here. It’s up to him whether he throws in the towel or goes down fighting.

He has time trial tonight. A stage that, if he’s fit, he’s expected to win or, at the very least, finish in the top five such is his time trial ability.

This race still has a week to go and plenty of climbing to come. Porte’s down but not out. But now, it all depends on how much time he believes he can pull back on his rivals.

Tour Down Under Preview

With Marcel Kittel taking out the People’s Choice Classic the first race of the cycling year is about to begin. So just who will threaten to take out this years Ochre jersey, which sprint king will take the points and who will conquer the mountains?

The man nicknamed the gorilla has arrived down under and will be a big chance of taking home his third title. Greipel has the team around him to do so and with very little climbing this year the big sprinter could easily take both the overall and points jerseys.

Challenging him though will be a couple of home town heroes. Cadel Evans and Richie Porte headline the Australian representation in their national race but not far behind is the newly crowned Australian National champion, Simon Gerrans.

Evans tends to use the earlier season races as a tune up for his big shot at one of the grand tours later in the year. He’s competitive and has the team to ride for him but this early on in the season I don’t think we’ll see Evans in Ochre on Australia Day.

Richie Porte will also use the race to get some km’s into the legs and will once more have a brilliant Sky Team around him but he will have to make do without Chris Sutton who broke his wrist in the Classic.

Gerrans has won this race twice before and will be carrying the green and gold on his shoulders. His ability to climb and sprint will push Greipel a long way in the overall where Gerrans can pick up time bonuses on the climb.

Don’t count out Caleb Ewan. The impressive young rider is on the roster of UniSA and won the Bay Classic earlier in the year. Heavily supported by Cadel Evans and Matt White, Ewan may well be the dark horse this year.

For the points it will be a big battle between Greipel, Kittel, Mark Renshaw, Matthew Goss and should Goss come to grief, Michael Matthews will be up to the task. Renshaw is known more for his lead-out work but is an admirable sprinter.

Greipel, Kittel and Goss will more than likely face off in France later this year with the added pace of Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan making those three weeks even more interesting. But here in South Australia I believe Goss has what it takes to win the points.

He has a near Robbie McEwen ability to sprint off both a train and a solo effort, the home town support will also give him that bit of extra adrenalin. Up against Kittel and Goss, the points will be a highly sought after affair.

And whilst the King of the Mountains isn’t really pursued heavily, Australia having more hills than mountains, the jersey will still be on offer. Simon Clarke appears to be Australia’s best chance given his love for the breakaway but there are Spaniards lining up for that with Movistar fielding almost an entirely Spanish team.

Movistar haven’t taken the TDU lightly, fielding Javier Moreno, JJ Rojas and Jose Ivan Gutierrez. Garmin-Sharp, Lampre-Merida and Belkin will all be interested in any breakaways without having any clear overall contender.

A special mention also goes to the man of 1000 faces, Thomas Voeckler who has had to withdraw following an accident with a car only hours after landing in Australia. The Frenchman sustained a broken collarbone in the collision.

And where would professional cycling be without Jens Voigt. An incredibly popular member of the cycling world he will be starting what seems to be his final season and it will hopefully see a few more highlights from the affable German. 

So bring on the Tour Down Under and the cycling season I say.

Gerrans Wins Australian Nationals

A fantastic ride from Simon Gerrans and Orica-Greenedge has seen the Melbournian win the race for the second time in his career. With Gerrans expected to race the Tour de France this year, it will see the Australian Road Champion’s jersey appear in the peloton.

He had to work hard for his win, beating none other than Richie Porte and Cadel Evans to the finish in a tense final 10 kilometres. Gerrans has credited team mate Cameron Meyer with giving him the support he needed to bring it home in the final kilometre.

A breakaway hit off the front of the peloton early on which featured Luke Durbridge, Simon Clarke, Andrew Hansen and Steeve Von Hoff. With the pressure being piled on and the breakaway unable to sustain itself Orica-Greenedge took over at the front of the peloton.

Cadel Evans and Richie Porte had managed to tuck themselves away in the peloton with Porte having just one rider from Sky with him and Cadel the only Australian BMC rider. Evans said before the race he knew he would have to rely on himself completely and that he could threaten.

At the front of the peloton it was Cameron Meyer who went away. A time trial champion, he hoped to make it over Mt. Buninyong on his own but was soon joined by Gerrans and Evans.

With Evans outnumbered and being double-teamed by the Orica riders, it had shades of his solo effort against the Schleck brothers in 2011 on the Galibier.

 

Soon though the pressure was taken off him slightly when Richie Porte joined them. Over the following 1.5 laps the four fought for position with Gerrans content to sit at the back.

Meyer attacked a number of times with no success before Richie Porte went off the front. Evans sat behind Meyer comfortably, refusing to work for Orica-Greenedge and hurt his own chances of a podium finish.

As they descended from Mt. Buninyong the pressure amped up. They had caught Porte who was sitting behind Gerrans and continually threatening to burst past them. Evans was happy to sit in the middle with his metronome like cadence helping him mark any moves.

Richie Porte tried to launch just over one kilometre from the line but was marked by Gerrans. Then it was Evans, who held a two bike-length lead before Simon Gerrans was able to kick into his sprint and finish a comfortable winner and Australian champion for the second time.

The second position finish was a personal best at the Nationals for Evans who had never landed on the podium in Ballarat before. Richie Porte finished third, Meyer fourth and Jack Bobridge closed out the top five.

In one week some of Europe’s best will arrive in Adelaide for the Tour Down Under with Cadel Evans also racing the event to kick off the Pro-Tour circuit and also begins his preparations for a tilt at the Giro d’Italia.

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(From Left): Porte, Gerrans and Evans on the podium.

Evans Unlikely to ride Le Tour

Australia’s only champion of the Tour de France, Cadel Evans, has said he may not ride the 2014 edition. The 36 year old has said he will look to purely contest the Giro d’Italia. 

Evans won the 2011 edition of the Tour de France, becoming the first Australian to do so in the process. Since then it appears age has caught up with the tenacious Aussie with Evans limping to the finish in the past two editions.

However he finished third this year at the Giro as Italian, Vincenzo Nibali took out his home race. Whispers were saying Evans would likely not contest the Tour next year and concentrate on the Giro, a race he has worn the Maglia Rosa at on three stages.

The Giro was the very first Grand Tour Evans rode when he came across to road cycling and he’s keen to carry on with some unfinished business at the race.

“It’s not 100 percent confirmed, but at this point it looks like I’ll probably do the Giro,” Evans said.

If Evans were to win the Giro next year he would join the illustrious company of Eddy Mercx, Fausto Coppi, Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond having won 2 or more of the Grand Tours.

Cadel Evans sporting the Maillot Jaune on the Champs-Elysee in 2011.

“Bling” Ready to Shine

Michael “Bling” Matthews has come of age in this year’s Vuelta a Espana after taking out the Stage 5 sprint. It is yet another Grand Tour stage victory to Orica-Greenedge but more importantly it’s “Bling’s” first Grand Tour victory.

Matthews is in just his third season with a team that has a pro-tour licence. He spent 2011-12 with Rabobank before joining Australia’s Orica-Greenedge team.

An immensley talented rider, Matthews held the Under 23 World Road Race Champions jersey in 2010. He’s also won the points classification for the past two years at the Tour of Utah.

Whilst Rabobank were happy to have Matthews it possibly wasn’t the best fit for him. In fact I believe he found himself in the same position as fellow Australian Robbie McEwen who rode with the same team in the late 1990’s.

Rabobank favoured the breakaways, looking to give the sponsors maximum air-time as well as stage wins from the breakaways. They never really committed the team to working for a sprinter in McEwen’s time and I believe the team is still like that albeit under the name of Belkin.

Anyway, I digress. Matthews has been itching for a shot at a Grand Tour. He’s now got that and I’m sure is more than pleased with his results so far.

He’s in a team that enjoys its cycling and is prepared to work for a single team member. More importantly he’s confident in his own ability. An important trait for any professional athlete looking to make it big.

Matthews isn’t just a pure sprinter who falters at the mere thought of a climb. In fact on Stage 4 of the Vuelta he was only beaten by Javier Moreno and Fabian Cancellara after battling his way over the climbs.

I hold great hopes for Matthews. Hopefully the Australian supporters get to see him at Le Tour when he will test himself against the best sprinters in the world, including Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel.

I’m very interested in his competition with Peter Sagan. Whilst Greipel and “Cav” struggle over the climbs, Sagan seems more at home on the climbs, as does Matthews. 

At the very least Matthews seems that he is ready to step out of the shadows and announce himself as the man to lead Orica-Greenedge to yet more success in the Grand Tours and maybe even a Maillot-Vert down the track.

Orica-GreenEDGE rider Michael Matthews celebrates winning Stage 5 of the 2013 Vuelta a Espana (Image: Team Sky).