A Review of the 2014 Tour de France

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The Tour de France 2014

The Tour de France 2014

We’ve reached that point where after 3 weeks of action the main race of the season is once more over for another year. It’s been an eventful Tour in some ways and also not so much in others. Here’s a short review of this year’s events.

Stand-out Riders

Vincenzo Nibali

Vincenzo Nibali

It’s hard to look past Vicenzo Nibali, with the highest winning margin since Jan Ulrich’s 1997 win, this is the most imperious a Tour de France winner we’ve seen in a long time. People will argue that it was gifted after Chris Froome and Alberto Contador crashed out in their various ways but their crashes were down to either poor positioning or poor bike handling which ultimately vindicates that Nibali was the best rider. He had an answer for everything, winning into Sheffield, dominating the cobbles and leading from the front in the mountains. 4 stage wins showed how far in front he was in terms of class compared to the rest of the field.

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan


Peter Sagan
was another stand-out, despite not managing to win a stage, his consistency again meant another record total in the Points Jersey competition. It took until the 8th stage for him to finish outside of the top 5, a new Tour record and the variety of these stages shows the all round ability that he has. Almost unchallenged throughout, his four second places shows how close he was to that stage win this year.

 

 

Jean-Christophe Peraud

Jean-Christophe Peraud

French cyclists had a bit of a rennaisance this Tour with Jean-Christophe Peraud, Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet all featuring very highly. This was the first time a Frenchman had been on the podium since Richard Virenque in 1997 and the first time two were on the podium since 1984. It’s been two or three generations of cyclists since France last won their own race and this current crop has given some hope, second placed Peraud is 37 however.

 

Rafal Majka

Rafal Majka

Rafal Majka made his mark on the Tour by winning the King of the Mountains jersey thanks to an impressive display and two stage wins. He definitely stepped up and used the freedom from Contador’s crash to forge his own path and achieve his own personal glory.

Michael Rogers’ stage win also showed the depth that Tinkoff-Saxo has.

 

Not an out and out sprinter, Ramunas Navardauskas became a somewhat surprisingly consistent high finisher on sprint stages, particularly those that finished slightly uphill or had short climbs before the end. His win on Stage 19 gave Garmin some glory within the race and his third place on the Champs-Elysees ahead of established sprinters like Greipel and Renshaw showed he may be useful in the future as well.

Major Disappointments

Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador

Both Froome and Contador can be included here as neither enjoyed their Tour experiences, Froome should make it back to fitness for a stab at the Vuelta but Contador’s leg is too bad to consider it. The key part of the season lost to these two through a couple of errors.

 

 

Mark Cavendish

Mark Cavendish

Sprinting-wise Andre Greipel went missing a lot and Arnaud Demare struggled at this highest level. I’m a bit loathed to include Mark Cavendish in this, but he will be very disappointed to end the Tour the way he did, especially on home soil and with a genuine chance to wear Yellow for the first time. Although strictly speaking not a sprinter, Simon Gerrans was nigh on annonymous as well after his part in the crash on the opening day.

Andrew Talansky

Andrew Talansky

 

Lots and lots of other injuries and crashes meant that highly thought of riders such as Andrew Talansky, world champion Rui Costa, Mathias Frank, Andy Schleck abandoned and didn’t reach Paris. Talansky in particular could’ve finished highly after his impressive Dauphine.

 

 

 

Conclusions

 

Nibali destroyed the competition this year, France believes it can win again, Sagan can win the green jersey every year for as long as he likes and the UK has fully embraced the Tour de France.

Roll on 2015 and a showdown between Froome, Contador, Nibali and Quintana!

Norwich 100 Sportive – 1st June 2014

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Norwich 100 Route Map

Norwich 100 Route Map

A group of 3 of us took on the 2014 Norwich 100 last weekend, it was supposed to be 4 but Luke managed to break his elbow hitting a cat at 35mph on his bike a week or two beforehand. We all did the event in 2013 and were up for another go.

We rode in together, headed to the start at The Forum and were released with a large group of others by the Mayor and a hyperactive man with a microphone at 7:40am.

I was taking things relatively easily at this point, just moving around the slower more leisurely cyclists as we all headed out of the city. On the outskirts we ended up attached to a small group of reasonably organised guys who were efficiently taking turns at the front, I took my turn and as I moved over onto the inside for someone else to move up to ride next to me….noone appeared for a minute or so, a look at the Garmin showed I’d moved up to 23mph on the flat Norfolk roads without too much trouble and had created a big gap.

I set about catching the large group of Mulbarton Cycling Club members I’d seen glide past in Norwich as they looked like they’d be a good set to ride with – I was going fast but without overexerting and was passing huge amounts of people, a minimum of 100 within 5 miles.

Norwich 100 Holkham Hall

Holkham Hall

I took a breather behind a female triathlete on the top of the Reepham hill and two riders came flying past, obviously these were people to follow. I joined on the back and when it came to being my turn on the front we were accelerating through Reepham and ignoring the first feed stop. By the other side of the village there were just two of us.

Me and this other rider rode together averaging about 22-23mph until the next stop at Holkham Hall, we worked together, had a bit of a chat and just started dispatching people with ease. There weren’t many other people doing the speed we were and noone seemed to want to hang onto our tail.

At Holkham Hall, I took off down the straight drive, the scene of my cattle grid jumping escapades last year and went hard for the Strava segment (I ended up with 5th best Overall for that stretch). At the hall, I filled up my water bottle and lost my partner amongst the throng of people.

Norwich 100 Holkham Drive

The long straight powerful drag up to the obelisk

The next phase was the long coastal road section from Wells to Mundesley. This part has quite an undulating profile and doesn’t give much chance for coasting (ha ha). I struggled to find people going at my pace, overtaking groups and occasionally resting in one for awhile. The very overweight guy on a £4k Pinarello Dogma (Team Sky bike) provided some entertainment.

The worst part about this section were the slow cyclists on the narrow roads. I was held up massively by having to sit behind cars who couldn’t overtake slow cyclists riding two abreast and who didn’t communicate with the cars behind to let them know it was clear to pass. It was very stop start and there was no real rhythm for this part until we got into Sheringham.

I ignored the feed stop there and carried on, finding myself back in a decent group of riders, yay! We zoomed along but I was flagging slightly and got carried along by another rider who also dropped off the back of that group, the ten miles before the next feed stop were a trial.

Norwich 100 Weybourne

Weybourne and the sea

I actually stopped at this one, knowing from last year they had a grill going – some solid food instead of energy gel goop would go down well and a burger was perfect. Again it was a case of finding someone to ride with and I lucked upon a Norwich ABC club rider who set a pace at around 22mph the rest of the way back into Norwich. We blasted past flagging riders who were crawling towards the finish making sure the last 10 miles went past in a blur back on the main roads.

I got back at 1:06pm for an overall time of 5 hours and 26 minutes. I could’ve shaved 5-10 minutes from that on the costal road but it’s a personal best for 100 miles so still very good and happy to improve on my time from last year. The other guys finished about 2 hours behind.

Norwich 100 Certificate and Medal

Last year’s haul – I got a Under 6 Hours one this year.

The Gannets ‘How Hard Can It Be?’ Circuit Race – Stourport – 13th May

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I headed over to Stourport on Severn after work to go back to where my season began and where I destroyed the back end of my bike warming up, way back in January now.

This race was following the full purpose built circuit, anti clockwise as usual (well for me anyway) and a nice change from the tight courses at Leamington and Solihull. With a lot more room the race should be crash free, despite being a 4th Cat Only race.

The weather had been inclemental all day with some rain a few hours before the race making the tarmac surface a little bit greasy. With that day’s Giro d’Italia stage showing how badly some people are at going round wet corners on road bikes, I decided to be conservative in the corners and aggressive on the straights when I needed to be – the golden rule being that you have to reach the finish to contest it.

Gannets Stourport Criterium May 2014

Continental advertising tonight…

People must’ve been put off by the weather, 19 showed up and 1 warmed up before calling it a day. With 18 starters the odds were very good that I’d be finishing in the top 10 and getting my first points on the licence.

The early pace was quick, someone decided to solo attack from the start which never works so he was left to it for 5-10minutes to do his own thing. The bunch was strung out but together for awhile, keeping things sensible. Eventually though, it happened, someone decided to fall off. It was a bit of an odd one as it was the leader rider who just lost it, his front wheel slipping out from under him at low speed in the top hairpin. The rider following him took evasive action, looked to be clear and then fell off too. The bunch at the slowest part of the track anyway managed to make it through their carnage and carry on.

We had a huge shower that drenched the circuit, the greasiness turned into genuine wet with lots of water spray. In these changing conditions it became clear there was a group of around 5 riders (and me sitting in 6th wheel with them) who were stronger than the rest and they consistently took turns at the front and seemed in control. I was busy totting up numbers and worked out with 10 people now in the group, as long as I stayed upright, I would surely get some points.

Shortly afterwards we had the shout there was a Prime coming up, usually a sprint for a prize, it’s also a code word for ‘crash ahead’ as people become unpredictable chasing down something unimportant. Predictably we then had the second crash, the rider in front of me lost it coming out of the adverse camber corner at the bottom of the start/finish hill. I watched his rear wheel catch on the muddy grass and he speared off to the right and took someone else out. A very close near miss!

Post race train home

Post race train home

The race settled down and we all followed one rider who seemed to be stuck on the front pulling everyone to the finish. With 3 laps to go the pace ramped up again and it was back to proper racing. I was holding sixth wheel behind the five other strong riders comfortably until we reached the final hairpin on the last lap.

This is where in my first race I ran out of energy and dropped right back. Unfortunately this time it was lapped riders getting in the way. I got to the corner at the moment these riders took to the inside of the corner, only to have one swerve across me taking to a very odd line. This created a big gap at the crucial moment and I called the obstructive rider all sorts of words I wouldn’t want my grandparents to hear.

I was now effectively leading out the few people behind me for the finish so knew I had to accelerate hard to drop them and whilst sprinting hard up the hill, well into the red zone, a look under my shoulder showed I was on my own.

I coasted in for 6th, good enough for 4 British Cycling licence points. A third of the way towards the next level!

No Frills Racing – Race 1 – Solihull – Cats 2/3/4 – 7th May

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A relatively quick turn around between races this time and heading back to Solihull only a few days after racing there.

This race was a new experience, racing with higher categories – around 40 riders raced across three different categories, I was very much the small-fry in this race with not many 4th Cats apparently giving this one a go.

To get things off to a bad start, I realised in the queue that I’d forgotten my race licence and potentially couldn’t race. Luckily however I remember I’d taken a clear picture of my race licence to show it off and had it on my phone. Quick check later of the massive screen on the phone and I was ready to go.

The photo of my licence

The photo of my licence that scraped me onto the starting line…

From the off it was clear that this sort of racing was completely different to what I’d experienced a couple of days before. People immediately went off hard and I found myself following someone who didn’t take the corners hard or fast enough but also couldn’t get round due to the strong winds. The end result was being dropped very early into the hour long race.

Two other people ahead had also been dropped and I put in a long turn to create a group of four. We carried on, the winds making us progressively slower and eventually conceded two laps to the main field. I had a few goes on the front where after a lap of effort the other three would drop back making it pointless – I sat on 4th wheel waiting for the bunch to come back round again. We’d probably spent 20 minutes of the race together as a four and another 15 as a five as another rider was caught.

When the bunch came round again, it was missing a group of 2nd Cats who’d raced off the front and after making an effort I managed to get attached to the back of them. I spent the final 20 minutes of the hour long race racing around on the back of the main bunch and eventually finished there, albeit 3 laps down.

Bike at Solihull Station

Waiting for the train home

Naturally I didn’t feel great about the result having been lapped 3 times, but did learn a lot from it. Mainly that some races start very quick, especially with non 4th Cat racers in them and some wheels are better off not following. The 20 minutes I did spend with the bunch of primarily 3rd Cats showed that I could hang with them with the right positioning. I out sprinted a few too for good measure, being 3 laps down it was somewhat irrelevant though.

This definitely turned out to be a learning experience rather than a race for me. With the wind being as strong as it was that day, it was essentialy to stick in the bunch – as it was I didn’t come last, the other 4 riders I’d been with all finished behind me as they weren’t in the finishing bunch.

35th out of 40 sounds pretty bad but there are positives!

University of Birmingham Criterium – Solihull – 3rd May

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My first race since the Leamington Victoria Park Crits 3 weeks before took place in Solihull on the Tudor Grange Park cycling circuit – another new track to learn!

The race was a 40 minutes + 5 laps type and the track itself was quite interesting – there’s barely a straight line on the circuit, lots of sweeping bends and little kinks to be aware of and also a nasty kick of a bump to make things interesting.

Tudor Grange Park Race

I’m not in this picture…

Keen to avoid a repeat of Leamington’s wobbles and antics, I drifted around at the back for most of the race sticking to a line on the outside – the race itself was a 4th Cat Only race and as such not a lot really happened. A couple of people tried to move away only to not get far off the front, someone attacked and I went with him but we were caught within a lap. Deciding that was a pointless endeavour I drifted back to the back.

I managed to avoid the crash by the skin of my teeth – someone on the inside on the sweeping bend on the fastest part of the circuit wobbled, the person on my left shoulder pushed outwards and I had to make a detour onto the grass. Straightening up and sprinting out the saddle on the bumpy grass I only lost a second or two and recaught the bunch. The next time round though, a couple of people were off their bikes and were resigned to their race being over. I’d just about avoided the same fate.

Tudor Grange Park Race

Sweeping bends…

Coming towards the end of the race, the Garmin was saying 38, 39 minutes of racing completed I found myself back right on the front – scenarios played themselves out in my head and went with powering round as fast as I could at the front thinking that I’d make the top 10 (and points) if I could hold it until the last lap.

As it was, I held off the pack in the gap between 6 laps to go and 1.5 laps to go – being caught on the steep kick as I began to struggle. Almost immediately a counter attack went and my chance was gone, I’d effectively spent 3 miles at the front going flat out.

I stayed in the bunch and overtook a couple at the end – I can’t give an exact finishing position but 20th seems about right from 40. Again, I was strong enough to never be in danger of being dropped but just need to be better at finishing off races.

Leamington Spa Victoria Park Criteriums #1 – 29th March 2014

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It’s been a couple of months since I last raced, a combination of disappointment and destroying my bike at the last two race attempts affecting the confidence somewhat.

Everyone’s reaction to being told I was racing at Leamington was ‘there’s always a crash there’ and a more inspiring ‘you’ll do alright there’. The Criterium (or Crit) is held in a park in Leamington with the circuit being a slightly wobbly oval – a first glance suggests the circuit is flat but there was a noticeable gradient on one part of the circuit but nothing particularly taxing.

Victoria Park

Victoria Park (Non-race day!)

The day was split into two races of 30 minutes + 5 laps with a decent number of riders (high 40s) from a variety of clubs including some from as far away as Nottingham and Oxford.

At the start of the first race and after trying to keep myself high up the field to avoid the inevitable crash when it came, I averaged around 10th wheel but after an effort to catch onto someone’s wheel as they attacked created an incident where I smacked handlebars with another rider (and luckily just about held the speed wobbles) I dropped back a touch and kept a tight inside line figuring this also meant I was doing the shortest distance. It also made it easy to move up the bunch where necessary and kept me out of trouble.

With the 5 laps to go whistle, everything suddenly became hectic as everyone went flat out and gave no quarter. There was very little room and you really had to be aware of where your lines through corners were going to take you. With 4 laps to go I found myself on the front and going past the 3 laps to go point I was still there, thinking there was no way I’d be able to keep up the power needed, I soft pedalled and dropped back down the inside, ready to move back up the outside where the room suddenly was as people took tighter lines in the corners and to hopefully be in a good position for the final sprint.

After passing a few people easily on the start/finish straight, at the next corner someone overcooked it, went too wide out of the corner, took the rider behind him down too and went flying into a tree. I managed to see it and avoid it thinking to myself that I’d missed the crash for the day. Coming round the outside of the next corner I had loads of room only for the spot I’d given up a few laps before to be the source of havoc.

Clubmate Tim was in about 5th wheel but got closed out on the inside of the corner and edged onto the grass at which point he went down, this then caused a domino effect that found its way across the track to where I was. This is where the brain kicked into slow motion mode and I can remember hearing the crash, seeing the riders go down on the inside, seeing the rider slide out of it into my path and then working out my attempt to go round him was going to see me crash into a metal fence.

Victoria Park

Victoria Park (racing!)

Being able to crash well is a skill and it’s a hard one to get right as not many practice it. I managed to avoid the fence and fall onto the relatively soft landing mat of a human man. A bruised elbow, bruised forearm, chainring spike marks (which looks suspiciously like bite marks) and a bit of muscle damage in the other forearm were the extent of the injuries – carbon bike, absolutely fine. I did eventually finish, riding no handed holding my helmet as a basket with sunglasses/gloves in it, but probably won’t be classified.

Race 2 started with noticeably less riders taking part, some of the ten or so who had crashed obviously had decided to pack up and head home. Tim and I were fairly apprehensive at the start and were usually found milling around at the back of the bunch. I was just on autopilot maintaining contact, not really up for things as my forearm made getting out of the saddle and sprinting hurt a lot. Eventually after 20 minutes there was an attack and sprint for the prime (a mid-race sprint for the mighty sum of £10) and 9 riders went off never to be seen again. Everyone in our group let them go thinking they’d ease off and come back but it just never happened, in the smaller group I found myself with more room and feeling more secure took turns with one other rider to try and bridge the gap but it was clear we were just tiring ourselves out in a lost cause so I sat up and relaxed.

Victoria Park Criterium Crash

Not our crash…but same circuit

We largely followed the same guy for a number of laps with a couple of bursts to push up the pace by me until again I found myself on the front too early (this seems to happen in every race…) so eased back but not as much as in Race 1. Tim was up in this group as well but everything was far too disorganised to actually work together and be useful.

Victoria Park Criterium

Victoria Park Criterium

On the last lap, I moved up a couple of places to be in 5th of our group coming out the corner where we’d crashed, I was on the wheel of someone ready for the sprint only for him to swerve across and cut me up, luckily I was far enough behind him that I could go round but 3 people in front had already started sprinting. I opened up, the legs said no very quickly but sat down I had more speed than two people on my shoulder and then I had another go at a proper sprint to catch the two riders well ahead. I closed the gap but didn’t quite have enough to overtake both and ended up 2nd by half a wheel in our bunch and 11th Overall. The highest place you can finish with no recognition (the same as 4th at the Olympics).

Two very contrasting races, both good for the experience in a way, my first race crash and also my first actual sprint for the line, which also showed I have one. Physically it seems I’ve got the legs to be there at the end, tactically I could use some work to give myself a better chance at getting a higher result. At the moment, I’m knocking on the door of a very good result.

 

samcycling in action at Victoria Park Leamington Spa

I’m not in this picture…

Cotswold Climbs 3 – Larkstoke

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Larkstoke Hill

View from Larkstoke Hill

Larkstoke Hill is found just about in Warwickshire near to the village of Ilmington. There are quite a few different routes up this hill but the climb of interest takes us to the highest point in Warwickshire. It’s a popular one to tack onto sportives to destroy legs near the finish.

Larkstoke has one of those lies of the land that completely disheartens first-timers to the hill. After crawling up one slope, you’re then presented with another longer, steeper slope that’s hidden from you until you’re right on it.

Larkstoke Hill

The start of the climb, doesn’t look much here

A fairly nondescript junction is the start point and you can see the climb wind its way up past a very hopeful bench and out of sight. This first slope is steep but is just about manageable, ranging between 10-15% and can be a struggle if you go into it too quickly and use up your energy too fast.

Once over the rise, your eyes play tricks to make the second rise look far higher and steeper than it really is, you get a short downhill part to build up speed (don’t coast!) and really attack the bottom of this section.

You can see the road kink to the left and it’s here where it eases off into a tired slog to the real top of the hill marked by the microwave dishes.

There’s no real point where you to experience the views, but a cheeky look over the right shoulder on the steep part after the bench shows how far you’ve come already and a quick glimpse on the left hand kink to see your handiwork will suffice.

Larkstoke Hill

View down Larkstoke Hill from second rise

My PB: 9minutes 7seconds (67th out of 843 on Strava)

Larkstoke Hill

View from the top looking West