Tour de France 2015 Recap

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Another Tour is in the history books with Brit Chris Froome now a two time winner of the race. The hilly profile created lots of exciting racing and a tight finish with a race between Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome up Alpe d’Huez to decide the winner. The start back in Utrecht feels like a lifetime ago but after a little introspection the 2016 Tour is only 11 months and 1 week away!

2015 Tour de France Froome Quintana

Tour de France 2015 Prediction Recap

Yellow Jersey Tour de France icon
1 – Chris Froome (1st)
2 – Nairo Quintana (2nd)
3 – Alberto Contador (5th)
4 – Vicenzo Nibali (4th)
5 – Thibaut Pinot (16th)
6 – Romain Bardet (9th)
7 – Alejandro Valverde (3rd)
8 – Tejay van Garderen (DNF – Sick)
9 – Pierre Rolland (10th)
10- Simon Yates (89th)

7 of the top 10 predicted correctly!

Sprinter Jersey Tour de France icon Green
Green Jersey – Alexander Kristoff (10th) – Way off with this one, Kristoff was weirdly quiet through the Tour. Peter Sagan predictably dominated, riding in the break on many consecutive days to thwart Andre Greipel.

Polka Dot Jersey Tour de France icon King of the Mountains
King of the Mountains Jersey – Joaquim Rodriguez (5th) – Not a shocker, he was a contender and did have a go

Youth Jersey – Nairo Quintana (1st)

Outsiders:

Simon Yates – 89th – The overall position disguises the promise shown, Orica Greenedge had a horror first week and ended up severely depleted for the rest of the race. 8th on the Muur de Huy and 11th on Alpe d’Huez shows genuine talent at a young age.
Tony Gallopin – 31st – Spent most of the first two weeks in the top ten overall, had 5 top ten stage results without winning a stage.
Louis Meintjes – DNF – Got involved in a breakaway on Stage 12 and finished 5th but another who struggled with illness.
Sam Bennett – DNF – Had one top ten result but then became ill and really struggled before having to quit the race.
Eduardo Sepulveda – DSQ – Sepulveda was doing well until during a mechanical he hopped into the team car and was driven 100 metres up to the other car with a replacement bike. Riders can’t ride in cars at all and he got disqualified.

And finally some of the best Tour de France on-board camera footage:

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Tour de France 2015 Recap was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

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The Dutch Yellow Jersey Drought

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The Netherlands has a rich cycling history with various Grand Tour winners and at home, a cycling infrastructure that is the envy of the rest of the developed world. Yet somehow, a surprising statistic is that the Dutch find themselves not having worn the yellow jersey since the 1989 Prologue stage.

The support on the 7th hairpin, now known as Dutch Corner, on the Alpe d’Huez shows the love that Dutch fans have for the Tour de France. The passion and craziness amongst the sea of orange as the riders climb the iconic climb is testament to this. With the Alpe providing the last meaningful action in this year’s Tour, we can be sure the whole mountain will be a tunnel of fans supporting their favourites.

Alpe d'Huez Dutch Corner Orange Tour de France

On the Prologue stage held around Luxembourg in 1989, Erik Breukink beat the challenge of GC contenders Laurent Fignon, Sean Kelly, Greg LeMond, Steve Bauer and Miguel Indurain by between 6 and 10 seconds. Winner of the White Jersey for best youth the previous year, he ultimately withdrew from the race and didn’t reach Paris, but finished on the podium in 1990.

1989 Erik Breukink Prologue Tour de France
Erik Breukink on his way to winning the 1989 Prologue.

The beginnings of the drought

With 11 different Dutch Yellow Jersey wearers in the 80s alone, there was nothing to suspect that a 26 and ongoing year wait was in store for the next one. No Dutch rider has finished on the podium in Paris since Breukink’s 1990 result with the closest being Robert Gesink’s 4th place in 2010. For most of the 1990s and early 200s, Michael Boogerd became the great Dutch hope, a 5th place in 1998 a sign that hopefully he would kick on and potentially end the drought.

Michael Boogerd Tour de France
Michael Boogerd

Boogerd only ended up with one other top 10 however, a result of 10th in contrasting with a low point of being the highest placed Dutch rider in 74th in 2004 (the worst ever result for Dutch riders). For most of that time there were still stage wins to fall back on, but even these dried up. After a run of 40 years out of 44 with a stage win, Dutch riders didn’t win a stage between Pieter Weening’s victory Stage 8, 2005 and Lars Boom winning on the cobbles of Stage 5 in 2014.

Not all Dutch Doom and Gloom

The Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin had a great chance to break the run in this year’s first stage and was the favourite but ended up finishing 4th in Utrecht with Jos van Emden in 5th. With an in-form Dumoulin, future prologue style Stage 1s could see the Dutch run finish.
This far into the race, it’s no surprise to see the pair of Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema as the highest rank Dutch riders, but being close to 3 minutes back already it will be a tough ask to haul themselves into Yellow at any stage and so the run should continue into 2016.

2015 Tom Dumoulin Utrecht Stage 1 Tour de France
Tom Dumoulin, Stage 1, 2015

THe upside to 2014 was a double top-ten result with Laurens Ten Dam in 9th and Bauke Mollema in 10th. If these riders and Robert Gesink perform to their potential and attack similar stages to the Mur de Bretagne early on then they do stand a chance of reaching Yellow.
praying for wind.”

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The Dutch Yellow Jersey Drought was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Tour de France Cobbles – An Amateur Experience

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With today’s Tour de France Stage 4 going over some of the cobbles in Northern France – it’s time to regurgitate my interesting experience of Paris Roubaix in 2013.

2015 Tour de France Stage 4 Profile

As you can see, one climb, and apart from the cobbles, a fairly easy stage.

2015 Tour de France Stage 4 Route Map

The start of the 2013 Paris Roubaix Challenge was a little underwhelming with small groups setting off whenever they wanted and no health and safety briefing that we Brits are used to at every sportive, a more French ‘if you’re doing it, get on with it, I don’t care’ attitude sufficed.

I was in a group with 4 other guys and we ended up tacked onto the back of a group doing an easy 18-20mph on the flat before we hit the first section of cobblestones after nearly 10 miles. I caught up and passed two randoms, dodged lots of bottles which at the first sign of bumps had escaped their cages. It was immediately obvious from this section that the Paris Roubaix cobbles were worse than the tamer ones in Norwich city centre.

The section crossed a main road halfway through and not wanting to get taken out by a car I tried to use my brakes – it turned out that the vibrations had completely wrecked the gripping muscle in my forearm, luckily as it turned out I didn’t need the brakes as Gendarmes were stopping the traffic anyway. I ended up finishing the 1.3 mile section 30 seconds quicker than the others. We all ran Strava which provides GPS tracking and then has various short segments where people race against each other for the best time.

We went quite quickly over the next few sections, which all just appeared from nowhere round a corner and were always a shock. A lot of the following sections merge into one after this point, which probably shows that I was beginning to tire and was zoning off inside myself and not thinking much. I do however, remember the Arenberg.

The Arenberg is the picture that most people have of the Paris – Roubaix race, it’s a 1.5 mile section, dead straight, through the forest and is rated 5-star difficulty (all the sections are rated by the organisers and only two are 5-star). We stopped and took a couple of pictures at the start which was probably unwise as we should have used the preceding downhill to build up speed to really attack it. I certainly found it hard to get up to speed whilst trying to clip in and avoid Sean Kelly doing a piece to a camera bike. I found the whole thing a struggle and could only really trundle along, it certainly got harder when I decided to do the ‘Geraint Thomas Paris Roubaix’ move of crashing there by bouncing off the cobbles to the right and getting my pedal caught in the metal railings set up for the race the next day.

I ended up going over the handlebars and was sat on the ground facing the way I’d come with my legs somehow unclipped and the bike on top of them. I did a quick sit rep and didn’t appear to be hurt, the phone in my back pocket was somehow unsmashed, so I got back up and rode to the finish.

Arenberg
Arenberg, Paris Roubaix

Lots of people were regrouping after this important Paris-Roubaix secteur and about 10 seconds after setting off the side of my front wheel was smacked into by someone turning their bike around despite my shouts at him, luckily I didn’t come off here. On the very next secteur of pave however, I managed to find a way to crash. Roubaix was starting to feel a long way away.

PR2b

I was following a randomer closely behind having shot to the front of our group at the start of the cobbles and he very kindly decided to heavily brake to a stop with no prior warning leaving me with nowhere to go but down. I uttered an expletive or two, got myself back upright and rode off shaking my head.

Aware that I had been at the front of the group and not noticing any of them going past during my altercation, I waited for around 10 minutes at the end of the next secteur which led straight into the Pont Gibus Paris-Roubaix secteur, after which I again waited for about 10 minutes. Eventually getting bored and wondering if someone had had a mechanical, I cycled on. As it was, when I got there I found everyone waiting for me wondering where I’d been. Typical.

We pushed on going over a number of other secteurs, all starting to create an agonising pain in my right hand that felt like I’d broken it. Secteur 13 is where my Paris-Roubaix experience differs to most.

I punctured fairly close to the start of the 1.4km segment, whilst overtaking a particularly slow rider I had to move off the relatively smooth area at the side to the wrecked wheel tracks area and the back wheel made such a metallic clang bouncing around that I was fairly certain the tyre was wrecked. Sure enough, in a matter of seconds it was dead flat. Not having any spare inner tubes (though I did have levers and a pump…go figure) I started walking hoping a fellow cyclist doing the Paris Roubaix challenge would bail me out. Luckily one did after a few hundred metres, so I set about repairing the puncture by replacing tubes, no problems there. The tyre however just would not inflate at all. Back to walking. I made it off the end of the cobbles and found myself in a quiet town of Orchies. No obvious shops on route here, so I stopped and hoped for the best.

A British cyclist stopped and put a CO2 cartridge into the tube as I’d figured it was my pump that was rubbish as I never use it and then went on his way. Annoyingly about 20 seconds the tyre was flat again…I’d been given a spare tube with a hole in it to begin with, great. At this point I was thinking I was basically just going to be sat on the streets of Orchies waiting for the broomwagon to sweep me up and take me into Roubaix, but that’d be at least a couple of hours away before that arrived. I’d turned the bike upside down and taken the back wheel off to make it obvious in case one of the neutral Mavic service bikes appeared…which predictably none did.

What did bail me out however was an older French gentleman who came up to me and enquired what the issue was and said he had some spares at his house, just put the bike in the car and we’ll drive 250m there. Now being British, my upbringing has conditioned me to be highly sceptical at offers of assistance from strangers but this guy was a true gent. He gave me a new tube, then appeared with a track pump and made sure everything was fine before I set off again. I thanked him profusely, making sure I’d shown my gratitude at the help I’d frankly not been expecting and as an offer of thanks gave him the inner tube I’d been given as it only had a small hole and could be repaired and used by someone who actually had a puncture repair kit.

Looking at the map towards Roubaix, I was aware that I’d lost about an hour with this mishap and it seemed easy enough to cut off what looked about an hour’s riding, catch up somewhere near where the group would be and still do the 5* rated Carrefour de l’Arbre and more importantly, get to the Roubaix Velodrome before it shut at 6pm. I figured I had just under 4 hours to ride about 40miles, in theory very doable, provided nothing else went wrong.

I headed North instead of West, up a ridiculously straight busy main road, into a headwind. The sides of the road were full of grit, something I tried desperately to avoid having had one puncture and now heading off route, away from even the broomwagon. In theory I had to make a left turn according to the rudimentary map detailing the Paris Roubaix event route, in practice the turn I saw said it was heading to a village in the middle of the section of the route I was trying to cut off and was no good. Suspicions I’d missed the turn were raised when I began to see long disused and empty pillboxes from the Maginot Line and then a sign saying I’d entered the Wallonie Region (yet oddly no mention of Belgium). Nothing really changed from one side of the border to the other, same style buildings, same language, but here I was, in Belgium.

Now traditionally, Paris – Roubaix has never entered Belgium, in fact the only mention I can find relating to Belgium is to do with when 3 riders got disqualified after riding through a flashing train crossing because apparently in Belgium they stop the trains going through cycle races. This was completely new ground. I turned off the main road, going more North West and basically ended up on the tarmac lanes going between farms. All in all, I spent about 30-40 minutes in Belgium quite enjoying myself, especially when I realised how much honeycake and honey waffles I had in my jersey pockets from the last feed stop. A much needed sugar rush.

I shortly came to a junction where a lot of cyclists suddenly zoomed past, chasing onto the wheel of one, I noticed he had one of the Paris-Roubaix numbers on his handlebars, I was back on route! Unfortunately less than a mile later I was back on the pave. I’d missed out Secteurs 12-6 but now everyone I passed or was passed by could be someone I recognised from my group. Secteur 5 was a good introduction back to the brutalness of the pave, that pain in my hand hadn’t got any better, Secteur 4 was the 5* Carrefour de l’Arbre, which felt hard work but I didn’t realise it was that one until near the end. It was good to know I’d done the last really hard section and celebrated with my final piece of honeycake.

PR2b2 Getting into Roubaix, there was one final annoying drag of hill and then I hit the back of a massive traffic queue that went all the way up the final stretch of straight boulevard to the entrance of the Velodrome. Taking my lead from a presumably French cyclist, we did some traffic weaving, waiting at red lights and very slowly making progress.

2015 Quievy Cobbles Tour de France

Eventually we reached the right turn into the Roubaix Velodrome park and then the glorious moment where it all opens up and you’re on the velodrome proper. This is closely followed by a feeling of panic as your eyes tell your brain that based on what they’re seeing you’re in a deal of trouble. The angle of a velodrome is way way steeper than it looks on a television.

Immediately at the finish I had a medal hung around my neck, as I had reached Roubaix under my own steam after doing 150km, even if it was unconventional! I was pointed in the direction of the coach expecting to see the guys already there…as it was I’d managed to get 15 minutes ahead of them and Chris’ face in particular when he saw me sat there already was priceless. I told them some cock and bull about how I must’ve overtaken them without them realising before giving them some snippets of what had happened. I don’t think I mentioned the French guy at all amongst all the other happenings.

With any luck, with the Tour de France covering some of the same ground, they crash less than I did or at least end up as equally as unhurt. After yesterday’s crashfest on Stage 3 of the Tour de France, there will be a nervous peloton for sure.

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Tour de France Cobbles – An Amateur Experience was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Tour de France Prologue and Stage 2 Recap

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The Tour de France started this weekend and we’ve seen two stages take place already. The return of the Prologue time trial has allowed the general classification to receive an instant shake-up and just like previous years, Fabian Cancellara has found himself in the yellow jersey early on.

Tour de France Prologue

The Prologue was won by Aussie Rohan Dennis, who stormed through holding off Tony Martin by 5 seconds with Fabian Cancellara 6 seconds back and home favourite Tom Dumoulin 8 seconds back. Dumoulin had been a great hope for the Dutch to get their first yellow jersey in 25 years, an epic wait that seems unexplainable given the popularity of cycling in Holland and the amount of quality riders coming through.

Yellow Jersey Tour de France icon

In the potential GC battle, Wilco Kelderman came first, finishing 10 seconds ahead of Rigoberto Uran. French favourite Thubaut Pinot was only a second behind, TJ van Garderen a further second back and Vincenzo Nibali two more to lead the big four. Chris Froome, Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana lost a bit more time but the biggest loser was Romain Bardet, losing a full minute on the other GC contenders.

Top 5
1 – Rohan Dennis
2 – Tony Martin 0.05
3 – Fabian Cancellara 0.06
4 – Tom Dumoulin 0.08
5 – Jos Van Emden 0.15

Tour de France Stage 2 – Utrecht to Neeltje Jans

2015 Andre Greipel TDF Stage 2 Sprint Victory

This almost pancake flat stage was ear-marked for a bunch sprint finish, but the winds on the coast and a number of crashes meant that a front group emerged and stayed away until the finish.

The sprint was won by Andre Greipel ahead of Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellara and Mark Cavendish. The bonus seconds for coming in 3rd allowed Fabian Cancellara to take the yellow jersey from Rohan Dennis who finished in the bunch who finished 1 minute and 28 seconds behind. Another large group finished 5 minutes back and contained Dutch riders Wilco Kelderman and Laurens ten Dam, Pierre Rolland, Ryder Hesjedal and Simon Yates. Their GC chances and probably top ten chances now all but over.

Yellow Jersey Tour de France icon

Top 5
1 – Fabian Cancellara
2 – Tony Martin 0.03
3 – Tom Dumoulin 0.06
4 – Peter Sagan 0.33
5 – Geraint Thomas 0.35

8 – Tejay Van Garderen 0.44
10 – Chris Froome 0.48
14 – Alberto Contador 1.00
31 – Thibaut Pinot 2.07
33 – Vincenzo Nibali 2.09
39 – Alejandro Valverde 2.22
41 – Jean Christophe Peraud 2.25
44 – Nairo Quintana 2.27

Sprinter Jersey Tour de France icon Green

Greipel’s victory meant that he took on the Green Jersey ahead of favourite Peter Sagan. The stage finish on the Muur de Huy in Stage 3 shouldn’t influence this standing too much.

Top 5</center
1 – Andre Greipel 55
2 – Peter Sagan 39
3 – Fabian Cancellara 35
4 – Mark Cavendish 26
5 – Tony Martin 25

Polka Dot Jersey Tour de France icon King of the Mountains

With no KoM points on offer so far, we’ll see the jersey take an owner in Stage 3.

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Tour de France Prologue and Stage 2 Recap was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Miffy at the Tour de France

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Traffic Light Miffy Nijntje Utrecht

Miffy the Rabbit

This year the Tour de France starts in the Dutch city of Utrecht – home of Dick Bruna, creator of Miffy (or Nijntje in the original Dutch) the rabbit.

Miffy Nijntje Cycling Bike Hill Mountain

The simple drawing of a cartoon rabbit is found throughout the city with traffic lights using her image as an Ampelmann and a whole square dedicated to her too (the name of the square is Nijntje Pleintje which has a nice rhyme to it, although not obvious to English speakers).

Miffy Square Nijntje Pleintje Utrecht
Miffy Square or Nijntje Pleintje

With the Tour de France doing its Grand Depart this Saturday (4th July 2015) from Utrecht, Miffy has been chosen as the mascot for the big event. With a Prologue and a stage depart the next day, there will be plenty of chance to see her pop up. There are walls with graffit paintings of her peering around the corner and it has been confirmed that a whole fleet of cars supporting the race will have a giant likeness on the roof. These were first seen in last year’s race in Yorkshire as Utrecht built up the support and interest for this year’s Grand Depart.

Miffy Nijntje Cycling Bike Rain

Despite her youthful image, Miffy is in fact 60 years old and in her old age has also managed to become an icon for enviromental protest. First appearing in this guise with a spanner behind her back in the 1990s in relation to the Newbury by-pass works.

Miffy Nijntje Cycling Bike Accident Crash
Hopefully we don’t see a similar scene on Saturday!
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Miffy at the Tour de France was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana bind

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Astana-Pro-Team-2015We’ve been here with Astana before, some time ago.

Way back in 2007 in their first proper season Astana had big names such as Vinokourov, Kashechkin, Kessler and Mazzoleni suspended for doping (it’s not hard to see the link to the Deutsche Telekom team either). These actions saw them not receiving an invite to the 2008 Tour de France (and other ASO events) despite having defending champion Alberto Contador in their lineup. Not racing in the biggest events of the cycling season can only have had a massive hit to their finances and without state financing would surely have seen them go under.

Vinokourov

Vinokourov

2009 saw the return to racing of Vinokourov and the unretirement of Lance Armstrong who came third one his return to the Tour de France before it was expunged for his own doping exploits.

2010 saw Contador stripped of his Tour de France win due to the infamous tainted beef clenbuterol positive. Yet another doping positive and result taken away from Astana.

Contador

Contador

The period of 2011-2014 however was relatively quiet with any scandals coming later and being backdated.
Levi Leipheimer admitted that he doped whilst on the team back in 2008-9, Remy di Gregorio was taken into custody due to doping in 2011 with Astana, Roman Kreuziger was placed under investigation for anomalous blood values in 2011-2012 and Paolo Savoldelli admitted to working with Dr. Ferrari in 2007.

Nibali

Nibali

Which brings us to the winter break leading into the 2015 season. 5 Astana (2 full Astana riders and 3 from the junior Astana team) riders were banned for doping, a massive spike and a sign of a wider problem.
First off was Valentin Iglinsky who had a positive doping test in the Eneco Tour race, closely followed by his brother Maxim, both for using EPO. The three riders on the Pro-Continental development team were Artur Fedosseyev, Victor Okishev and Ilya Davidenok who were all caught having used steroids.

Today we’ve learnt that Astana stand to lose their racing licence for 2015 which puts certain high profile riders such as 2014 Tour de France winner Nibali in a certain bind.
Cataldo

Cataldo

Those riders such as Dario Cataldo must be regretting their decision to move to Astana and face this uncertainty, as it stands there could be a firesale but with team budgets already confirmed and presumably full for 2015, there’s only so many who will be able to find other rides this year. The likely bet would be that Oleg Tinkov could free up some funds to sign Nibali for his Tinkoff-Saxo team but some of the old guard would probably be forced into retirement.

With the UCI’s plan to reduce team numbers and Europcar’s decision to finish at the end of 2015, having many more riders than available places will cause more issues than it solves, cycling is currently much too transient and unstable financially to support their plan of 20 WorldTour teams without an ongoing battle.

Ultimately we could eventually see a situation such as Formula One, where those with high talent and good results at junior level find it impossible to attain a spot in a decent team at the highest level due to drivers managing to pay their way with sponsorship and a fear of failure.

Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana bind

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Astana-Pro-Team-2015We’ve been here with Astana before, some time ago.

Way back in 2007 in their first proper season Astana had big names such as Vinokourov, Kashechkin, Kessler and Mazzoleni suspended for doping (it’s not hard to see the link to the Deutsche Telekom team either). These actions saw them not receiving an invite to the 2008 Tour de France (and other ASO events) despite having defending champion Alberto Contador in their lineup. Not racing in the biggest events of the cycling season can only have had a massive hit to their finances and without state financing would surely have seen them go under.

Vinokourov
Vinokourov

2009 saw the return to racing of Vinokourov and the unretirement of Lance Armstrong who came third one his return to the Tour de France before it was expunged for his own doping exploits.

2010 saw Contador stripped of his Tour de France win due to the infamous tainted beef clenbuterol positive. Yet another doping positive and result taken away from Astana.

Contador
Contador

The period of 2011-2014 however was relatively quiet with any scandals coming later and being backdated.
Levi Leipheimer admitted that he doped whilst on the team back in 2008-9, Remy di Gregorio was taken into custody due to doping in 2011 with Astana, Roman Kreuziger was placed under investigation for anomalous blood values in 2011-2012 and Paolo Savoldelli admitted to working with Dr. Ferrari in 2007.

Nibali
Nibali

Which brings us to the winter break leading into the 2015 season. 5 Astana (2 full Astana riders and 3 from the junior Astana team) riders were banned for doping, a massive spike and a sign of a wider problem.
First off was Valentin Iglinsky who had a positive doping test in the Eneco Tour race, closely followed by his brother Maxim, both for using EPO. The three riders on the Pro-Continental development team were Artur Fedosseyev, Victor Okishev and Ilya Davidenok who were all caught having used steroids.

Today we’ve learnt that Astana stand to lose their racing licence for 2015 which puts certain high profile riders such as 2014 Tour de France winner Nibali in a certain bind.
Cataldo
Cataldo

Those riders such as Dario Cataldo must be regretting their decision to move to Astana and face this uncertainty, as it stands there could be a firesale but with team budgets already confirmed and presumably full for 2015, there’s only so many who will be able to find other rides this year. The likely bet would be that Oleg Tinkov could free up some funds to sign Nibali for his Tinkoff-Saxo team but some of the old guard would probably be forced into retirement.

With the UCI’s plan to reduce team numbers and Europcar’s decision to finish at the end of 2015, having many more riders than available places will cause more issues than it solves, cycling is currently much too transient and unstable financially to support their plan of 20 WorldTour teams without an ongoing battle.

Ultimately we could eventually see a situation such as Formula One, where those with high talent and good results at junior level find it impossible to attain a spot in a decent team at the highest level due to drivers managing to pay their way with sponsorship and a fear of failure.

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Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana bind was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling