the Frenchies fix Le Tour! vive les Frenchies!

Chris Froome has folded. He took one look at the turn of the cards from the house and he figured he just couldn’t beat the odds. He’s out, off to Italy instead to take his chances there.

Are the French bothered?

Non.

Froome might well be disappointed. He was interviewed just last month and very cheerily said how much he loved time trials and how he’d need a few time trial kilometres to be able to balance Alberto Contador’s advantage in the mountains.

“You’ve always got to come up against tough rivals – Contador is a tough guy to beat when he’s climbing the way he climbs,” mewed Froome as he sharpened his claws on his cat post.

“One aspect of the race which I feel are my strengths is in the time trials. I’m quite eager to see the 2015 Tour route and whether in the time trials I can get an advantage on him.”

Just four weeks later a Tour route was revealed that was exactly what Froome did not want. Had the French been listening in?

Only 14km of ITT, a weirdly placed TTT (Stage 9), more of his favourite cobbles and a buffet of Classics climbs, and lots and lots of hills.

Boom! Take that, man sans les biceps!

all he wanted for Xmas was a pair o' guns

all he wanted for Xmas was a pair o’ guns

Well, not quite boom, because it was the Team Sky leader who in the end put the bomb under the route presentation.

Soon after he put this on his website.

“There’s no two ways about it, next year’s Tour is going to be about the mountains. There’s very little emphasis on time trialling which means the race will be decided up in the high mountains. With six mountaintop finishes it is going to be an aggressive and massively demanding race.”

Then the message that he might not bother to attend altogether:

“The team and I will have to give it some careful consideration before we make any commitments to which of the Grand Tours I will compete in. I see myself as quite a balanced GC rider and the Giro with it’s inclusion of a longtime trial of 60km and tough uphill finishes will make it a well balanced race which suits me well. If I did the Giro I may also be able to get myself back to top shape for the Vuelta and go there with a realistic chance of aiming for the win.

“In the past I’ve only targeted one Grand Tour each season but it could be a good opportunity for me to focus seriously on two. It’s still early days though and we’ll have to sit down and put our heads together as a team to work out what 2015 is going to look like for us.”

And so, even though the team did not even attend the presentation, they still stole the headlines.

Is Froome being prissy? No, not at all. Why bother going to a race that does not suit you? You use races like that to get fit, you don’t base your whole season around them. He’s a Tour fanatic in a sense, basing his whole season around it. Indeed he had looked, for a good solid year, like the man who would dominate July for year to come.

Thing is though, Froome could still win a race like this. He is still one of the best climbers in the world, but he’d need for a range of variables to kick in if he were to win the 2015 edition.

Contador would have to not take the cobbles seriously once again and then to be slightly off in the hills, for one.

Quintana would have to not improve in both his focus and concentration, because if he does he can beat anyone (now that the TTs are missing).

Nibali would have to have some bad luck in the first week and to meet a completely in-form Froome in the hills.

It would be a hard, hard win, even if he were to enter.

The race wasn’t designed though to be anti-Froome however, nor even anti-English, come to that. Team Sky may not be popular in Europe but Froome’s star has faded somewhat since his disastrous 2014 Tour, and also thanks to the way Contador dominated him in the Vuelta a Espana.

Nor was it designed specifically for the Spaniard. Though the parcours suits him generally, he is also a very decent Grand Tour time trialist and would have liked to see some individual kilometres in there for sure.

For Quintana? He will not like that first week, undoubtedly. It could be disastrous for the Colombian.

And Nibali? Sure, the first week suits him and he can climb, and on top of that he has the confidence after winning this year. However, three of the top guys were missing this year and Nibali had a blisteringly perfect ride. It might not go so well this time around.

Not everyone, after all, is as consistent as Lance Armstrong was.

There’s no doubt that the Tour de France organisers have gone for something a little different, with just 13.7 kilometres of individual time trials included in the race, all of which come on the first day in the prologue.

Another oddity is a team time trial in the second week. Traditionally this would come in the first, partly because all the riders are fresher then and because each team is just about guaranteed to have all its riders still in the race. The TTT comes on Stage 9 and is 28-kilometres long.

No other solo action against the clock will feature, but the famous Alpe d’Huez will be included on the penultimate day. However, at just over 100 kilometres, it is unlikely to force any major unraveling of the top three, whose dominance will have been established long before on this mountainous Tour.

So, this Tour has not been designed for the usual favourites per se, nor was it specifically anti-Froome. Rather, it has been created with the hope that a Frenchman may have a crack at the vaunted Maillot Jaune that hasn’t been won by one of their own since 1985.

Jean-Christophe Peraud claimed second last year and he can climb. He is though getting a little long in the tooth at 37. I am a fan of Peraud, as far as I can be of any rider these days, but it it with the man who came third this year, Thibaut Pinot, with whom France’s desperate hopes truly rest.

Pinot is some rider, make no doubt about that. In 2012 he made his debut at the Tour and was the youngest in the race. That didn’t stop him making his mark though, as he won Stage 9 in the mountains and took 10th overall.

This year he was third, won the Best Young Rider classification and had wizened and wearied old French cycling fans sparking up fistfuls of Gauloise, knocking back the Pernod, tossing their boules, chucking on Edith Pfiaffffft records and dancing in the streets as he took to the podium in Paris.

(yes, i was going for the record of French stereotypes in one sentence there…)

Can he win on 2015? It would take some godly maneuvering of several orbiting planets, a bit of voodoo on the others and a lot of hard work but yes, why not?

Nibali stunned us all this year, why not Pinot next?

Possible. But not likely. For one, he still needs to improve his descending skills.

Romain Bardet is another sweetheart of the French following his remarkable sixth place this year (15th in 2013). One year younger than Pinot, he can climb too and is pretty handy on those Classics routes – he was 10th at Liege-Bastogne-Liege this year.

Not all the French love the cobbles and the northern hills, and some, like Pinot, are handy in TTs. But yes, this is a route specifically for them.

Others may still be better over such routes, like Nibali who proved that this year, and Contador, who can, if on form, take back lots of time in the hills.

Crucially, it represents the best possible route for three Frenchmen that are showing real potential.

And why not? The French keep churning out these hopefuls and keep missing out on the prize the nation is salivating for, much like the British at Wimbledon. So many Henmans – where is their Murray? Step forqard lad, you’ll never buy a bottle of vin yourself again.

More power to them, I say.

Vive le Tour.

Vive le French!

CyclingSnooze gives Tiernan-Locke a free ride in soft-hitting interview shocker

yikes.

the recent all-holds barred, every-punch-pulled interview by Daniel Benson of CyclingSnooze is about as wet as a kiss from your Grandma… who’s lost her dentures.

when did it happen that journalists got told – and complied – to leave their opinions (or personalities even) at the door? is it just me or does this read like JTL wrote the questions?

and the ‘The Court of Public Opinion‘ and ‘Head Held High’ captions under the images. every so slightly hamfisted there, lads.

click on image for link

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 11.35.25

Astana: that’s 3 strikes, get them out

Cycling can learn from baseball (and I don’t mean in finding new tricks for hiding needle marks)? No, how about we borrow the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ concept? Because if we did, we’d be free from the shambles that is Astana.

In case you missed the news, a third Astana rider has been popped for le dopage within 3 months of the first. llya Davidenok has returned a positive A sample from a test taken whilst a stagiaire riding the Tour de l’Avenir for Continental Team Astana this August. Young Davidenok’s drug of choice, it seems, is anabolic androgenic steroids.

These are the steroids of choice for bodybuilders, used to increase strength (5-20% as reflected in various studies) and increase lean muscle mass whilst cutting fat, but they do not appear to affect endurance performance. It would be possible of course, that Davedinok was on other drugs that would helped with his endurance, but that they had already passed through his system.

But that would be a very cynical view to take. Banish that thought.

So, three guys with the same outfit.

Nice work lads! I was originally impressed with the stupidity of the Iglinsky brothers for getting busted within a few weeks of each other (because, seriously, to get busted these days you have to be breaking the rules of micro-dosing, and with EPO having a half-life in the blood of just 5 hours, well, you get the picture), but now it seems that a low IQ, coupled with a propensity for cheating, are common on this squad.

Strike one, strike two, striiiiiiiiike three! Yer out!

Right? Um, well…. No.

Vincenzo ‘BrassNeck’ Nibali explained today why three positives on one team within three months of each other was not a problem at all, just in case you had the cheek to ever entertain that ridiculous idea.

“I don’t think there are big problems for Astana’s licence,” said the 29-year-old.

“The incidents that happened concern the Iglinskiy family, it’s a separate thing. As a team we can’t respond to what two brothers got up to. As for the last one (Davidenok), he’s not one of ours, he’s part of the Continental team and is not managed by us but by someone else.

“Certainly things happened a few years ago but the team has changed and it’s also my responsibility to give more clarity on my part. But there is great serenity in the team in terms of my way of racing and my sporting seriousness in these years.”

So, all ok. Phew. Serenity now!

(Nibali in the back seat…)

And here I was thinking it was a proper disaster over on the weird blue and yellow bus. Apparently, it was never thus. As long as the two guys that get caught within days of each other are related, it has nothing to do with the team. Next we’ll be hearing that Davidenok is a second cousin, and all will be swept right under that bulging Kazakh carpet that’s already reminiscent of a boa that’s just swallowed a large wild pig.

Vino's yet to pay the fine for that hat

Vino’s yet to pay the fine for that hat

Imagine a football team or a rugby squad that had three positive tests in a month, two from first team players and another from the youth academy. Would the same bilge be dished out by a teammate – as is here by Nibali, whose disingenuous claptrap is doing him no favors at all – in that situation?

It might, but no one would buy it. But cycling is different you see. We are infected like a piece of rotting flesh by a culture that constantly and immediately apologizes for those responsible for this never-ending trail of cheating. And lo, if Astana wriggle free from this one who would really be too surprised by that?

“Certainly things happened a few years ago but the team has changed,” said Nibali as he rubbed a dollop of metal polish into his gleaming neck, completely ignoring the fact that the in latest infractions in Astana’s grubby ‘past’ was uncovered just hours earlier.

Let’s hope he gets that myopia seen to soon or at this rate, he’ll be falling off his bike at every corner.

In all seriousness, if ever there was an instance of a rider having the right to demand to move off a team that has been shown to produce dopers, it is here and now.

Nibali won many admirers for his ride in the 2014 Tour de France, and there was a groundswell of opinion that he may have been doing it clean too. Or cleaner. So where does that go now? Why, it has to be asked, would he not distance himself from all this rather than spew out statements that a five year old could contradict within seconds?

Upon hearing the news that the UCI was thinking of reviewing Astana’s ProTour license, Alexander Vinokourov, former doper himself and the man behind the team jumped off the merry-go-round, spat his dummy out and proceeded to have a full blown tantrum right in the middle of the playground.

“I don’t see why the team should have to pay for the stupidity of two [er, three – cp.] riders. The rules are the same for everybody and the commission will decide if we are working correctly or not.”

Let’s hope so Vino, for it would make a change to see a cycling commission do the right thing.

He then spoke of his own suspension for blood doping, saying that he felt that he and his team were being punished still as a result of it.

“I paid for it with my two-year suspension. I can’t pay for it all my life,” he said.

Well, let’s add the doping past (that he never admitted to in any case), along with the fact that the UCI, on August 20th this year, charged him and Alexander Kolobnev with bribery after Vino allegedly paid Kolobnev 150,000 euro to throw the 2010 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and the fact that he has now three doped riders on his current squad and, well, it’s all a little more serious than the 2007 positive.

“Maybe I was too naïve about the Kazakh riders on the team sometimes. It’s been a big lesson. When you’re a manager you have to be very strict with your riders,” he said, blissfully unaware of the ridiculousness of that statement.

How can a rider who once doped (and is from Kazakhstan!) be ‘naïve’ about riders from Kazahkstan on his own team? And was it just the Kazakh riders, Vino? Roman Kreuziger’s recent doping brouhaha (of which he was cleared by the Czech authorities but which the UCI and WADA will appeal) stems from his time at – you guessed it – Astana.

Quadruple KerPlunk.

dodging the dope tests - a nerve-wracking game of skill!

dodging the dope tests – a nerve-racking game of skill!

Here is the point that Vino is missing. He was a professional rider and a very successful one. Then he was shown to be doping and thrown out for two years. Then he came back and won the Olympic road race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Then he moved into management with Astana and became even more wildly popular in his home country, where, it is rumoured, he will one day run for president. And he’s loaded.

What in that story does not tell you that doping pays?

What in the Alexander Vinokourov StoryBook would suggest to a young rider that it is worth taking the chance? Two years out does not seem to big a price to pay for the riches, the wins, the success, the love. And even if you do get kicked out for good you can still find many a team willing to pay you top dollar for your ‘experience’.

The UCI it seems, might finally be ready to flex its muscles. Let’s hope they follow through, because this is a mess that needs cleaning up, and it is one that they are largely responsible for.

 

Hincapie’s Gran FRAUDO wanders ever further into The Absurd

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 13.39.35 alternate realities? string theory, perhaps, where near-identical universes thrum alongside each other, where other variations of you live out their existence doing the same stuff but with different outcomes? or the confirmation that the world has truly gone bat-shit crazy?

.

whatever it is, George Hincapie and his cheery band of fellow travelers have somehow managed – again – to write their own histories. Hincapie IS NOT a drug cheat. he is in fact a good ol’ boy who gave and still gives a whole load of something back to cycling. god bless him and the flea-bitten horse called Hypocrisy he rode in on.

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for his Gran Fraudo this year, a whole raft of guys who know a crapload about hiding needle marks will be attending. Lance will be there, Michael Barry and Tom Danielson too. Dave Zabriskie was supposed to join in but has since said he can’t make it – perhaps he’s realised the absurdity of this thing that is nothing less than a de facto celebration of cheating to win. perhaps not.

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a whopping 27 sponsors are lining up for the ride, that costs $215 to enter on the line. a gran fondo in Europe will cost somewhere in the region from $30 to $100. and it’s not a difference in scale – La Marmotte in France draws up to 7000 people and the cost is 50 euro. not quite sure why Georde’s Fraudiolo is so expensive – maybe you’re paying per doper?

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cos you sure get your money’s worth if that is the case.

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some are going to say ‘but hey, this is for CHARITY.’ well whoop-de-doo. let’s rewind. the reason these guys are drawing crowds is because they are famous, successful ex-professional bike riders. the reason these guys are famous, successful ex-professional riders is because they doped so very well and had the cash to get away with it. the message here is that doping pays. and the ‘it’s for charity’ stuff – only the truly naiive would fail to see that this can be used as a cloak to deflect criticism. it also means a nice little tax-break at the same time – double ker-ching.

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there are countless other ex-pros out there who NEVER doped who would be happy to do a ride for charity who are not raging sociopaths, but for whom nowhere near enough people would turn out. why? because people are just plain f*cking stupid. if you are going to this event then yes, you also, are firmly tucked away in that category. and a quick note on Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp, and why is Vaughters letting you go?) and Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing), Brent Brookwalter, Tejay Van Garderen and Larry Warbasse (all BMC) – sort your shit out, fellas. you can read their reasons for doing this here at VeloNews – but be warned, cos it MAKES NO SENSE. it will hurt your head.

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George has this to say on the whole Fraud thing:

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“The Fondo is not supposed to have an intended or implied message; at least that’s not what we are shooting for,” he bleated. “It’s just a celebration of cycling with friends [italics mine] and fans that also supports what we feel are important causes.”
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a celebration of cyclists who doped.
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let’s get that straight.
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“The Fondo also helps promote what a great region this is for cycling, and brings people here to ride. It even gets people who may have never thought about getting on a bike to challenge themselves and try it out. I have a few personal friends that are now totally into cycling as a result of the event, and it has changed their life.”
 .
[hand slaps forehead].
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George, the crap you and your buddies got up to changed many lives too – it forced countless riders from pursuing a career in a peloton they knew was dirty, it robbed clean riders of victories and contracts, and it worked the dirty great stain that is doping in cycling ever deeper into the fabric.
 .
enjoy that alternate reality lads. looks like you’re having a blast.
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Hushovd comments reflect deep-seated contradictions in cycling culture

I met Thor Hushovd once. I was racing in the 2012 Tour of Qatar as a member of the RTS Racing Team, previously known as the Giant Racing Team. We’d been invited by virtue of being the third best team in Asia in 2011, after two Iranian teams.

So, there I was, sat at the back of the peloton and getting a daily pummeling. One day I ended up riding in with none other than Mr. Hushovd, who had punctured with about 10km to go. I caught up with him and we rode in together.

“I like your kit,” he said.

“Really? I don’t!” I replied. The black and bright yellow kit wasn’t my cup of tea at all.

“I like yours though,” I said.

“Meh,” was his response.

8387215202_6e43521d36_z-e1371980809752

I’d always liked Hushovd as a rider. There seemed to be an honesty about his riding, a sense of graft to the effort he put in. Then there was his brilliant win in the Points Classification in the 2009 Tour de France when he rode solo on Stage 17 to scoop up points, which, much to my amusement (and no doubt many others), left Mark Cavendish markedly nonplussed.

“You’ve won the green jersey now but that’s always going to have a stain on it,” Cav said he told Hushovd at the time, ever the gent.

So it was nice to meet the man himself and to find that he was a decent bloke too.

He was one of those riders I always really wanted to believe was clean. Perhaps those of you reading this will know what I mean. Some of you may have felt that way about Armstrong. Or O’Grady. Or Basso. Or… the list goes on.

Hushovd recently gave a press conference to publicise his new autobiography. In it, he talks about both Christophe Bassons and Lance Armstrong. Bassons is widely regarded to have been a clean rider during his career, with Armstrong of course having been exposed, since his retirement, as the perpetrator of what has been termed as ‘the greatest sporting fraud of all time.’

Curiously however, in the press conference Hushovd had stronger things to say about Bassons than he did about the American, which is particularly strange as Hushovd claims that in 2011 Armstrong told him that he, and everyone else, had been at the dope.

Speaking of Bassons, Hushovd said that the Frenchman’s claim that it was impossible to win clean during the EPO heyday was false and more indicative of Bassons’ lack of talent or preparation than anything else.

Bassons

Bassons

“He [Bassons] probably had a rough time when riding, but he should also have the guts to look at himself,” said Hushovd. “Because, he has said it was impossible to compete at top level without using doping. Then he has to look at himself: Did he do a good enough job? Was his talent big enough? Did he eat the right food? He must look himself in the mirror. I’ve never seen anyone ask him those questions. Because it is possible. I did it.”

It does seem to me nothing short of ridiculous that a rider of Hushovd’s experience would basically dismiss Bassons’ claims without considering that EPO is widely accepted amongst athletes to give an endurance athlete a boost of 15-20% (though one study claimed that EPO increases performance levels by 54%) and without balancing what is nothing short of an attack on Bassons (history repeating itself?) without also considering how widespread the use of EPO and other drugs and methods such as blood doping were amongst the peloton at that time.

Are we to accept that, if Hushovd is indeed telling the truth, that he was over 20% better than those in the peloton who were using EPO when he claimed his many victories?

Speaking to a friend the other day, we posited this: what if, at that time, the peloton had its fair share of what would otherwise be average riders who were vying for wins thanks to illegal aids? What if, if that were true, a very talented rider was at the peak of his game on a given day? In that case, we wondered, could the truly clean and truly gifted athlete then beat the not very gifted and not at all clean athlete?

‘Maybe’ was the only (unscientific) conclusion we could agree on. It might be the case with Hushovd’s career, if he was indeed clean. Who’s to say either way. Some will say no one could have been clean then, others will say some were, and others still will admit to being nothing other than completely unable to say one way or another.

And then Hushovd moves on to Armstrong and the criticism he received from the Norwegian cycling authorities for not passing on the contents of what amounted to an admission of doping by the Texan in 2011.

Hushovd says that Armstrong said to him “Thor, let’s face it. Everybody did it.”

‘It’ of course being doping.

“Maybe I could’ve told the anti-doping bodies,” he said at the press conference. “But I don’t think it is my job to. And they were already working a lot on this issue at the time. If this would’ve happened again, I would probably have done the same thing. I’ve chosen to handle doping related issues in my own way during my career.

“If I had said that Lance did this, there wouldn’t have been a lot left of me. I was supposed to ride a bike. That’s my job. And I’ve done it pretty well now and then. Others will have to discover who doped or not. That issue I raise in my book as well. Why doesn’t the anti-doping government catch those who cheat? I think that’s worth raising questions about.”

‘There probably wouldn’t have been a lot left of me’ is a fascinating line, which could refer to the media and the frenzy that would have kicked off, or to the reaction by the peloton to a rider breaking the Omerta.

For me, Hushovd words on Bassons at the press conference amount to the Omerta rearing its head once again. Any rider who said that many doped and that it is either very hard or ’impossible’ to win, as Bassons did, was ostracized and, if we consider Hushovd’s words when he says it is not a rider’s job to call out dopers, isn’t he saying that the Omerta has its uses?

This method of calling riders who complained about doping inferior or weak (Paul Kimmage springs to mind) was the favoured technique, tried, tested and trusted, of Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid.

I’d also ask, when exactly is it a rider’s job to expose another rider who admits to doping? When the sport is half-standing, punch drunk from allegations and denials, as it was 15 years ago? Or when it is actually kneeling in the dirt, its reputation in tatters, as it has been these past few years?

We need riders who will stand up, riders who will find a voice. Hushovd is right in a sense in that, technically, exposing drug cheats is not a rider’s job, but in this era, being what it is, someone within the peloton has to make that breakthrough.

When asked at the press conference if he believed Armstrong had had a negative impact on cycling, Hushovd’s words, once again, were open to interpretation.

“Yes [Armstrong did damage cycling]. But he has contributed to building of the sport. I don’t defend what he did, I’m one of those riders who cried while climbing mountains because of Lance and the other dopers.”

And yet there is that line, ‘he has contributed to the building of the sport.’

Well, that depends on whether you fully accept that the reason he was in a position to do that was because he was the best doper in the peloton or not. Some say that Armstrong would never have won a Tour without doping, some feel that his ‘positive’ influence, which did drive bike sales up considerably, was still overshadowed by his doping and all that that entiled.

I still think Hushovd is a decent guy, but I also think that these comments from him, which are naiive at best, show how ingrained certain destructive attitudes are and how deep the culture of the Omerta lies.

i hate cycling

you know these days?

got up late. meant to get out at 8am but woke up at 8, thus throwing everything off by an hour.  why does it take me a whole hour and sometimes longer to get out the door? today was even worse.

sat down to have a look at my emails and was inundated, some stuff i just had to do immediately. this led to replies. and more stuff. and more stuff.

and – you get the picture.

then i realised i had a flat. i tried to fix the flat, had a nitemare getting the tire back on. tightest tires in the WORLD. snapped my last remaining tire lever in the process, used a spoon as it was all i could find, then finally got to pumping.

my floor pump decided it just wasn’t gonna work with the new valve. great. so i used my hand pump.

‘it’s going up…. no, it isn’t… is it? f******ck!’

sweaty. angry. despondent.

me

me

flat tire. pinched the tube with the spoon.  no more levers. bike shop thirty minutes walk away. roasting hot outside. laid out on bed depressed. decided not to ride. writing here instead.

runners? all they need is shoes.

kickabout with a ball? just need a ball.

cycling? an avalanche of crap is required.

top all this off with the fact that i have had a bad back for the past 2 weeks and ridden a whole THREE hours in that time, in much pain, add in a typhoon or two, and a short-term move to Hong Kong for three months, AND a 4 stage bike race commencing in the Philippines on Friday that i am in zero shape for, and yes…

sometimes, it is true, i hate cycling.

Crank Punk Coaching Systems: Tom Little on top of the podium!

Tom Little came on board the good ship Crank Punk Coaching Systems only on August 18th this year, after a season of racing MTB and road in which he felt his stamina and ability to hang in whilst the changes in speed went down were lacking.

we got to work on amending that, something i thought would take a while before it started to show results but Tom, 35, originally from England and now living in Dubai, decided he was having none of that, and went and won his first MTB XC race (the Turn & Burn Dubai XC TT) of the season last Saturday – by over a minute from the 2nd placed rider!

definitely a fast-responder. he worked hard on the longer to mid-range interval work I had him on, combined with long, focused tempo rides and the results are in, and it’s looking like it could be a successful season.

forza Tom, nice work!

Tom Little cracking the course at the Turn & Burn MTB XC TT

Tom Little cracking the course at the Turn & Burn MTB XC TT

 Tom rides for the CycleHub/Specialized Dubai team