Friday, April 24, 2015

Greg Henderson races to call Fabio Aru a cheater, then backpedals

On Greg Henderson's controversial comments about Fabio Aru
April 24, 2015

By now many of you will have heard about Lotto Soudal's Greg Henderson calling out Astana's Fabio Aru after the latter skipped the Giro Del Trentino due to a "stomach virus".

The first tweets went like this:

“Sad to see @fabaro1 "sick". Mate make sure next time u come back to our sport "healthy". Aka. Clean! #biopassport! Or don't come back!”

And later posted: “I am so sick of it. It becomes common knowledge within days. Why try cheat.”

Cyclingnews notes that Henderson has close to 40,000 followers on Twitter.
[See further down for a follow-up tweet from Henderson...]

Greg Henderson, vocal opiner
Greg Henderson has always impressed me as a highly talented lead-out man/sprinter, always ready to sacrifice for his team, and battle through some of the most challenging stage finales to help secure top results for his team.  As an avid cycling fan, and with no other direct connection to the sport or its personnel, other than as a fan, I am probably not alone in wondering as to the veracity and the ethical implications of Greg Henderson's incendiary comment on Twitter about Fabio Aru.

In play are the facts of the matter themselves (is Aru actually involved in any blood passport investigation?), Henderson's previous relationship with the Italian climber and his currently contentious Astana team, and perhaps just as significantly for the sport, the cumulative moral and practical effects of potentially bearing false witness.

With no apparent evidence at this point to back up Henderson's questionable claim, a lawsuit certainly seems plausible...and likely necessary. It is difficult for me to imagine Henderson voluntarily uttering such reproach in so very public a forum, without offering any supporting evidence. [Henderson did allude to a "source" but as yet has not elaborated on that source].

Like me, I assume many of us do suspect biological anomalies when a rider--particularly a star rider--suddenly drops out of a scheduled race. But many factors come into play when teams and riders make such decisions, and with no other public suggestion of impropriety, it was very irresponsible and seemingly vindictive for Greg Henderson to publically call out Aru.

Fabio Aru, in the spotlight
Further, such comments do nothing to promote the cause of "healing" the vulnerable sport of professional cycling. If Henderson has some inside knowledge then he should share it with the appropriate authorities, not take to the public arena to voice slanderous accusations. We are experiencing a fragile era in pro cycling where each step needs to be taken with great care and consideration, so that we can move away from impropriety and toward a cleaner, more respectable institution.

Manx sprinting legend Mark Cavendish commented recently that cycling has strayed from its previous characterization as a sport of "gentlemen"--and I am liberally paraphrasing here--toward a slicker, shrewder cutthroat market. It pains me that a pro of Henderson's stature should be so insensitive to the rippling effects of seemingly unsubstantiated claims of doping, while the sport is still reeling from some of its most damaging scandals, and (hopefully) striving to improve the fairness of the sport as well as the public perception of the sport.

Stop chasing away sponsors!

We all want a level playing field, and most of us aspire to a clean sport, but there is an appropriate time and place to voice contentious opinions, particularly as they naively beg for litigated responses, and a volatile, though pedestrian, "social media" site wholly dedicated to online bragging is not it. Having said that, I'm sure the Kiwi learned a lesson, but one other point sticks in my craw...

Why would such an established veteran in the sport call out a rival unless he in fact does have some information that has not been made public? Whether that information has credence is one issue, but public insinuation in the absence of first-hand proof is another. I can't help but wonder what or who Henderson's mysterious source was, and if we will ever unearth any facts to back up his claim. But one disturbing thought lingers: has it become generally accepted within the pro peloton that the entire Astana team is a reprehensible collection of cheaters and liars? Or did Henderson pick up on some contentious detail, like the fact that Aru claimed to have been treated for a viral infection with antibiotics (typically for bacterial infections). The predicament smells to me like the Lotto-Soudal rider proceeded from comments by sources he has trusted, and opened his mouth before considering all the facts.

As of this writing, Aru is considering legal options to vindicate his reputation; and Henderson has issued a public apology for his comments:

When you are sick. You are sick. Jumping to conclusions helps nobody. My mistake @FabioAru1. I should shut my mouth. Sincere apologies.

more to come...

Friday, April 17, 2015

brief update...

Sorry I haven't been blogging much lately. So much going on. But I have been following every race all season, and will at least post previews for the Grand Tours (just about 2 weeks until the Giro d'Italia!) I already have all 3 GT's assessed and predictions ready.
Hope you enjoyed the Classics!

Monday, March 16, 2015

2015 Paris-Nice Race Wrap

Richie Porte in the Col d'Eze TT

Congratulations to 2015 Paris-Nice winner Richie Porte! The Tasmanian talent who is preparing to lead Team SKY at the Giro d'Italia later this spring, won the final time trial stage up the Col d'Eze. The 1:39 he gained on yellow jersey wearer Tony Gallopin was enough to propel Porte to the top of the final General Classification. Michal Kwiatkowski and Simon Spilak rounded out the rest of the podium, both finishing thirty seconds off the winning time.

Tony Gallopin did not have a good day on the mountain, and mentioned after the stage that he was not happy with having chosen to ride the timed climb so much in the tri-bar position.  Gallopin lost the race lead he had grabbed on yesterday's sixth stage into Nice, coming in 1:39 behind Porte in the TT, and wound up finishing just 6th on GC. Porte's teammate Geraint Thomas was pushed off the podium over the last two stages, and ended the race fifth overall. Jakob Fuglsang also underperformed, sliding from fifth overall to seventh.

French hope, Tony Gallopin on the move in stage 6

Escape artist and KOM winner, Thomas De Gendt

Michael Matthews of Orica GreenEDGE managed to hold on and win the points jersey he first grabbed with his win on stage 3. Thomas De Gendt of the Lotto Soudal team won the King of the Mountains jersey by making the break three consecutive days, including the very mountainous fourth and sixth stages. While he was not able to defend the overall race lead he had held earlier, Michal Kwiatkowski of Etixx-Quickstep did walk away with the white, best young rider's jersey.

The stage winners from this 2015 edition of the Race to the Sun were:

Prologue TT: Michal Kwiatkowski (EQS)
Stage 1: Alexander Kristoff {Katusha}
Stage 2: Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal)
Stage 3: Michael Matthews (OGE)
Stage 4: Richie Porte (SKY)
Stage 5: Davide Cimolai (Lampre)
Stage 6: Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal)
Stage 7: Richie Porte (SKY)

The final podium (L to R): Kwiatkowski, Porte, and Spilak

Final Overall Standings:
1. Richie Porte  (SKY)         29:10:41
2. Michal Kwiatkowski  (EQS)  + :30
3. Simon Spilak  (KAT)                ST
4. Rui Costa  (LAM)   
5. Geraint Thomas  (SKY)         :41
6. Tony Gallopin  (LTS)           1:03
7. Jakob Fuglsang  (AST)         1:05
8. Rafal Valls Ferri  (LAM)      1:24
9. Gorka Izaguirre  (MOV)      1:38
10. Tim Wellens  (LTS)            2:18

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bragging Rights in Fantasy Cycling Leagues

Okay, bragging time. In case you need a reason to have any faith in my picks for race winners, I am pleased to give you one. Here are the results of today's fourth stage of Paris-Nice on one of the cycling fantasy leagues I play in. The first image shows the 12 riders I picked to finish high in today's mountaintop finish on the Croix de Chaubouret. The second image shows the results of the leagues' 397 players today. My team is named "bkSuperbas", after the old Brooklyn baseball club.

Considering the field of climbers at the race, and his recent performances, I don't think anyone would fault me for picking Kelderman, he just didn't quite have it today. And I'm guessing everyone had Majka as a pick today. The talented Polish climber, and last year's Vuelta a España King of the Mountains, finished in 4th place overall at the tour of Oman a few weeks ago, after finishing 4th on the queen stage up Green Mountain.

Can I  pick 'em, or what?

OK, done bragging.
Hope you're enjoying the race!

Monday, March 9, 2015



From Wed. March 11 to Tue. March 17, 2015

The 2015 edition of the always-thrilling Tirreno-Adriatico World Tour stage race begins on Wednesday, and already the race has seen major changes. The third WT stage race of 2015 was to be the first showdown between the four top Tour De France favorites: Chris Froome of Team SKY, Alberto Contador of Tinkoff-Saxo Bank, Vincenzo Nibali of Astana, and Nairo Quintana of Team Movistar. On Monday, Team SKY announced that their team leader and race favorite, Chris Froome, would be pulled from the startlist due to a chest infection. So that four-way showdown will have to wait. Last month, Nairo Quintana was forced to miss the start at the Vuelta a Andalucia, after crashing in the Colombian National Championships. That race was supposed to have been the first meeting between the Colombian and Contador and Froome. Perhaps the deferred suspense will build toward an even more thrilling Tour De France, this July.

In addition to the TA race's GC favorite pulling out, the top sprinter, Marcel Kittel of Giant-Alpecin has been scratched as well. As has another in-form sprinter, Tom Van Asbroeck of the Lotto-Jumbo team. Plenty of talent remains on the roster however, to contest the seven stages that stretch from sea to sea, across the breadth of Italy.

Alberto Contador comes back to defend his 2014 T-A win
The other big change is the removal of the opening stage 22k team time trial. Heavy downpours and high winds are to blame for the organizers' opting to change the stage to a short prologue. The opening stage prologue will be a quick 5.7k individual TT now.

Favorites for the overall General Classification include the aforementioned Contador, Nibali, and Quintana, but two other riders who might have something to say about the GC this week include Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quickstep) and Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing). Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) might also be considered typical favorites in a climber-friendly race, but the two book-end time trial stages could create some challenging time deficits for the pure climbers to overcome.

A few other riders to keep an eye on to contest the top-ten on GC are: Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Maxim Monfort (Lotto-Soudal), Leo Konig and Wout Poels (SKY), Julien Arredondo (TFR), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Daniel Moreno and Giampaolo Caruso (KAT), Javier Moreno (Movistar), Damiano Caruso (BMC), Przemislaw Niemiec (Lampre), Louis Meintjes (MTN Qhubeka), Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin (Team Cannondale-Garmin), and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE).

The race also includes three sprint stages, though one will be an uphill sprint finish; a mountainous stage 4 that ends with an uphill sprint after a 6k descent; the mountaintop finish on stage 5 will provide the climbers with their best opportunity to gain time they may lose in the TTs. The 194k stage 5 finishes on top of the category-1 Termenillo (16k at 7.3%). The final stage is a pan-flat 10k Individual Time Trial.

Overall race profile of the 2015 Tirreno-Adriatico, updated

Each sprinter will be a little more secure with his chances on the fast flat finishes with the absence of Marcel Kittel. The standout marquis names remaining are Mark Cavendish (EQS) and Peter Sagan (TSB). Other notable contenders for the flat sprints include Elia Viviani, Ian Stannard, Luka Mezgec, Mateo Pelucchi, Sam Bennett, Pim Ligthart, Sacha Modolo, Mark Renshaw, Nicola Ruffoni, Max Richeze, Lloyd Mondory*, and Fran Ventoso.
Greg Van Avermaet and Daniel Oss of BMC are among the fast finishers who can excel on the tougher, uphill sprint-finish. So are Nikki Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Nathan Haas, Sep Vanmarcke, Pipo Pozzato, Simon Geschke, Jens Debusschere, Jurgen Roelandts, Luca Paolini, Jelle Vanendert, Mathieu Ladagnous, and Daniele Bennati. If Peter Sagan doesn't start to show better results after this race, it may be time to start worrying. The big Classics races he is targeting are right around the corner...
*Lloyd Mondory returned a positive out-of-competition test for EPO in February, so he is scratched.


7 stages: 5 road, 1 TTT, 2 short ITTs (2 days prior to start, the race swaps out the opening TTT for a prolgue TT, citing weather issues).
22 eight-man teams: all 18 WT teams, plus Bardiani, Bora-Argon 18, Team Colombia, and MTN-Qhubeka.


Stage 1: 5.7k Prologue ITT;   22.7k pan-flat TTT.

Stage 2: 153k from Camaiore to Cascina; Flat-ish; Bunch sprint finish.

Stage 3: 203k from Cascino to Arezzo; Flat-ish; Punchy, uphill sprint finish [900m at 5% (11% max at bottom)].

Final kms of stage 3

Stage 4: 218k from Indicatore to Castelraimondo; [Good for escape];
Starts with a short hill at about km10, then flat for 60k; then low rolling until km139; then two big climbs: the Poggio San Romualdo (10k at 7%), and Monte San Vicino (11.5k at 7.1%; tops out at km182, 26k to the finish; 

The San Vicino climb profile, stage 4

After the San Vicino descent, it's up and down to the final categorized climb, which is ridden twice. The Crispiero climb is a steep 3k, with a 15% max near the top. The first ascent tops out with about 19k to go, before the descent, and second ascent. The second and final climb tops out with about 6.25k to go, mostly downhill, until the final few hundred meters uphill to the finish line in Castelraimondo.

The stage-4 finish circuit

Stage 5: 194k MTF from Esanatoglia to the cat-1 Terminillo (up to 1675m up the 2216m-high ski mountain; 16k long at 7.25% average grade).
It's a pretty steady 7-8% until the final km, which flattens out on top. Three other categorized climbs along the way.

Stage 5 profile

The Terminillo, stage 5 summit finish

Stage 6: 210k mostly flat; Bunch sprint, possibly reduced;
Three little bumps in first 150k (just 1 cat'd climb, around km131 (around 5k, maybe around 5%?)). Final 68k mostly flat, 2 laps of a 14.4k circuit, final 4k are pan-flat.

Stage 6 profile

The final TT has very few corners

Stage 7: Pan flat 10k ITT;
Not very technical, very few turns. Almost straight out and back, will favor power TT guys. Malori, Durbridge, and Cancellara should excel.

Overall Route Breakdown:

2 bunch sprints (stages 2 and 6)
1 uphill sprint (stage 3)
1 MTF (stage 5)
1 climby classics/escapee stage (stage 4)
1 long-ish TTT (stage 1)*
2 short, flat ITTs (stages 1, 7)

The opening TTT is important; the winner will probably hold the leader's jersey until stage 4 or 5. The two strongest TTT teams on paper look like OGE (Best GC hope: Yates) and TFR (Mollema). EQS, SKY, TCS, MOV, and AST are capable of limiting time losses in the TTT for their leaders, Uran, Froome, Contador, Quintana and Nibali, respectively. Purito, Pinot, Pozzovivo and Rolland may not be so lucky.

*Stage 1 TTT replaced by ITT Prologue.
Stage 5 is the queen stage with the cat-1 MTF.

Categorized climbs in the 2015 Tirreno-Adriatico


1. Contador  2. Uran  3. Nibali  4. Quintana  5. Mollema  6. Pozzovivo  7. Caruso  8. Monfort  9. Moreno  10. Yates  11. Purito  12. Van Den Broecke

My pick for the overall win: ALBERTO CONTADOR.
Backup pick: Rigo URAN.
Points Jersey pick: Peter SAGAN.

Enjoy the race!