The year is 35 days old and professional cycling is enjoying a frenzy of action. Just getting through the press releases for the racing on 3 February 2016 is a reminder of how full the professional racing calendar is and it begs the question: how is this sustainable?
One day, five major international events in five countries. Where is the logic?
It’s complicated enough for pro cycling teams to manage their resources but when they have to consider taking on a range of races in multiple countries – all at a time of the year that was considered ‘pre-season’ – surely the puzzle will simply become too large to piece together…
Interest in racing is high, but how much is too much?
Let’s break it down…
1. The prologue of the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour in Melbourne
Headline act: Chris Froome’s return to racing, his first race of the season.
Result: A second successive victory for Will Clarke, once again just one second ahead of Caleb Ewan on a fantastic short TT course on the streets of inner-city Melbourne. Can anyone spell déjà vu?
Highlight: Fantastic to have another stanza of the summer of cycling in Australia in good weather, a fantastic location, a peloton that includes some of the genuine stars of the sport, all on a course that is accessible and interesting.
Winner’s comment: “It would be nice to hang on to the jersey for a day or two but we have to see how the race plays out. With such a short prologue the time gaps aren’t huge so it’s not like I’m 10, 20 seconds up on anyone.”
2. Stage two of the Ladies Tour of Qatar
Headline act: An impressive roster of world-class riders.
Result: Victory for Katrin Garfoot thanks to a solo attack in the closing kilometres – arrives at the finish with a lead of 13 seconds… into the leader’s jersey for the Orica-AIS star.
Highlight: Confirmation of the impressive talents of a relative newcomer to the sport who is improving with every season. The TT national champion now has a leader’s jersey… and a strong chance of taking the title last won by the current world champion Lizzie Armitstead.
Winner’s comment: “I’m pretty stoked to take the win today – after a windy and quite stressful stage.”
3. Stage one of the Dubai Tour
Headline act: A coming together of world-class sprinters for their first big hit-out of 2016.
Result: Marcel Kittel is back…! The big German held off a late challenge by Mark Cavendish to claim his first victory for the Etixx-Quickstep team.
Highlight(s): The peloton covered 173km in 3h35’21”! It might have been flat and the conditions favourable but this is extremely fast for such a long stage: an average of 48.2km/h for 173km…!
Inside the final 5km an attack by Philippe Gilbert prompted a (brief) pursuit by Sir Wiggo…
Finally, a very well timed, long range sprint by Kittel to prove that he’s over his health issues from 2015.
Winner’s comment: “I’m incredibly happy that I could win today for my first race with my new team. Everything has worked so well that I can’t think of any topic to raise to make it better. The boys have done a good job. We were the strongest in the lead out and the timing was perfect. We made a plan and we executed it. I surely enjoy the win. This one has a special flavour. As I said before the season, I restart at zero.”
4. Stage one Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana
Headline act: Spanish stage racing begins for the season – leading to a showdown between Team Sky and Astana…
Result: Sky, Astana, Sky, Astana… Wout Poels ahead of LL Sanchez, ahead of Vasil Kiryienka, ahead of Diego Rosa.
Highlight: A chance for GC lieutenants to show themselves and chase some success of their own: a solid result for super-domestiques in a 16km TT. And the world champion on the podium…
Winner’s comment: “Kiry is a team-mate but it is also cool to beat the world champion! We trained a lot this winter as a team on the TT bikes and it’s already paid off for me.”
5. Stage one Etoile de Besseges
Headline act: The opening bout of racing in France for the year…
Result: First victory for the newly named Direct Energie team (formerly Europcar) with Bryan Coquard beating a pair of Belgians in Beaucaire.
Highlight: Ah… ditto – as per above.
Winner’s comment: “It’s very rare for a sprint to take place as expected. When I launched my sprint at 200 metres to go, I could already hear ‘Adri’ [Petit] celebrating our victory. I had already had a lead of two or three lengths…”
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Conclusion: Cycling is good. There are lots of stories to consider. But just reviewing a few basics from all the races on one day at the start of the season takes quite some time.
What’s also worth noting is that the anticipation that makes an event like the Australian national championships or the Santos Tour Down Under so appealing is already gone…
We are seeing Grand Tour champions in competition and a world of opportunity opening up in countries that previously had little history in cycling and there’s good racing taking place. But is there a risk of there being burn-out before the end of February?
Is there anyone out there who got to see a little of each of the five major international competitions that were on overnight? If so, can you please explain how did you manage this…?
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PS.Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that the Australian track cycling championships began on the same day as all this…