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La Vuelta: Stage 7 The break can succeed

Four went clear early in the stage, like on many other days. Usually they are caught late in the stage. However, the peloton was only half interested and there were not enough teams wanting to chase. The break included Hesjedal whose hopes of a high place in GC have faltered already. Dupont, Tschopp and De Marchi made up the rest. The stage was won about 15km from the end when Hesjedal crashed on a short descent. De Marchi went clear and rode on to win a rare stage, both for him and for a break. The win is also significant for Cannondale. The team is “merging” with Garmin, which really means that the team name and sponsorshop is moving to Garmin. Most of the riders and support staff are not. De Marchi is one of the lucky ones, as he is moving to BMC.

The only news in GC was that Froome crashed and had to work to get back to the peloton. It does not appear that he was hurt though, as he attacked at the end and gained a few seconds on his main rivals. Barguil crashed heavily in sight of the line and walked across the line. Evans lost more than 8 minutes so can now be counted out of the GC contest.



La Vuelta: Stage 6 Is Valverde the new badger?

If Quintana is to win this year, he will need to beat his team mate. At least Valverde was not attacked off the front, and did a huge effort leading up most of the final climb. However when Quintana was fading at the end, Valverde powered on to the stage win, not looking back to see how his young team mate was doing. With that win, he is back into the race lead. Valverde keeps saying that his is just there to help Quintana, but if he is still in the lead in a week’s time, will he let up?

This brings a more famous battle to mind, Hinault vs. Lemond in the 1986 Tour. On that occasion, Hinault was meant to be working for Lemond but used all sorts of tricks to apply huge mental pressure on Lemond, including audacious all day attacks and obscure comments to the media. Hinault led the race until the last few stages. Lemond won that year, but only just and at the cost of plenty of stress.

The first Category 1 climb was a sort out of who is in form and might win the race. The climb found out a few, and the finish order of the stage could well be what the leaderboard looks like at the end of this year’s Vuelta.

The last few hundred metres of the stage were very tough, and it was Valverde who was strong enough to hold off Froome and Contador, and they finished in the same time. Rodriguez had tried to attack earlier, but was able to sustain his effort (8s). Quintana and Aru were slightly further back (18s, 20s).  Then the gaps start appearing: Gesink and Barguil 33s, Ten Dam and Kelderman 44s, Sanchez 47s, Dan Martin 59s, Uran 1:04, Moreno 1:25, Niemiec 1:54, Zubeldia and Evans 2:16.

Whilst those gaps are not huge, there are significant particularly for those who are better on the short punchy climbs like Dan Martin. It is also ominous as Froome and Contador were meant to be coming into form after their injuries, not already in form.  If they are already beating the peloton, then they can put serious time into them next week.

My long list of favourites is quickly reducing. I’m still watching about 16, but realistically we are down to about 5 or 6, and they are already top of the GC.

La Vuelta: Stage 5 Tinkoff attack in the wind

Degenkolb doubled up with a powerful sprint to take the stage win in Ronda. Bouhanni was complaining about being cut off, but replays showed that Degenkolb held his line and there was no gap there to begin with. Gilbert had attacked earlier but too early and was caught well before the line. Matthews did well enough to continue to lead the race.

Ronda is a spectacular pueblo blanco (white village) built on top of a gorge. The coverage of the race so far has not made the best of the rich history of the south, but at least we saw the beautiful village today.

The stage profile may have suggested a quiet day for the GC, but Tinkoff tried to take advantage of cross winds and put the hammer down. They did split the bunch but the cross winds were not strong enough to shell out too many riders. Garmin missed out with Talansky and Hesjedal losing over 3 minutes. Froome pinched a couple of seconds in an intermediate sprint earlier in the day. He must think that the race will be very close and each second is worth grabbing.

La Vuelta: Stage 4 Degenkolb makes no mistake

The last time I was in Cordoba it was so hot we had to find relief in air conditioned shops. It was just as hot today as the mercury topped 40 degrees, but there was no shelter for the peloton. The stage had a few climbs, none really hard, but the top teams were really pushing the pace on the Category 2 climb towards the end of the stage. That was enough to drop some of the sprinters like Bouhanni and plenty of others, but Degenkolb and Matthews were able to hang on. Sagan is still showing no interest in the finishing sprints, so either he is very off form or lacks motivation. He is moving team next year, which can kill the urge to fight for stage wins.

Movistar, Sky, Tinko and Katusha were all seen working at the front, but it was Valverde who attacked on the descent in the last few kilometres. His interpretation of working for his team mate obviously does not exclude going for stage wins himself. He was chased down and Degenkolb timed his finishing sprint very well on the uphill drag to the line. He was criticised for messing up yesterday so made no mistake today and won by over a bike length.  Matthews retains the race lead.

There was little action in the GC but Van den Broeck and Arredondo lost several minutes.

La Vuelta: Stage 3 The first of many finishing climbs

Having a climb at the end of the stage has become popular in recent years, particularly at La Vuelta. There are at least 8 stages with an uphill finish in this race. Orica Greenedge obviously had great ambitions all day and were working early to close down the break. Mas Bonet was all alone up front for a long time, cooking in the baking heat. The peloton was slow for much of the day, but they charged into the base of the last climb before the sprint uphill for the last 1km. Katusha set up Caruso and he jumped clear, but could not keep the gap and was closed down by Dan Martin. Orica’s Matthews had been named favourite and he showed why when he outgunned Martin at the line. Orica did reasonably well in the TTT so Matthews also takes the red jersey. He is building a fine collection which already includes the pink jersey for the Giro.

A few of the GC favourites lost some seconds today. Perhaps not enough to matter but Valverde lost the lead, possibly due to crashing earlier when his team mate failed to catch his musette and took out most of the Movistar team. Cunego lost more than 4 minutes, unable to keep up or did not want to?

La Vuelta: Stage 2 Along the motorway to Cadiz

The course was not exactly riveting as the peloton rode along the coast. A typical break with the usual suspects was caught a very predictable distance from the finish. The wind was feared but was not strong enough to result in the bunch splitting, even when they were crossing the high bridges approaching Cadiz. The teams with top contenders were working hard on the front for the last 10km and it was only in the last 1km that the sprint teams took the front. Then the best sprinter Bouhanni took the win by over a bike length, ahead of the second best.

Did anything else happen? Not much. Valverde takes the leader’s jersey is unlikely to have to fill it with water bottles like Castroviejo did today. Betancur and Pinot lost more than a minute so it looks like they can be discounted from the GC contest already.  Sagan did not contest the sprint which raises questions over his form and ambitions for the red jersery. Tomorrow’s hillier stage will tell us more.

La Vuelta: Stage 1 Team Time Trial

Cycling is a team sport won by individuals. Stage 1 is slightly different as the winning team picks up the honours. The team trial requires skill and power. Only a few of the teams practice their skills in this specialised type of stage, and some teams are more powerful than others.

Let’s have a look at how each team is looking for the overall race.

Movistar (Stage 1: First) Castroviejo was first over the line so will wear the leader’s red jersey tomorrow. The team is obviously strong and powered to the win. They will also be happy gaining valuable seconds over the likes of Froome. However, they will now need to lead the race until someone else (probably a sprinter like Sagan or Degenkolb) gains enough in bonus seconds to take the race lead. That might be quite late in the week, so they have lots of work to do. Quintana is the top favourite but the team has brought Valverde, which will be a major handicap for the Columbian. Valverde controls the team and seems incapable of working for anyone else.

Cannondale (Second at 6s) The team is breaking up although reports suggest that the merger with Garmin means the name will continue. Sad to see this long running Italian team disappear. Sagan is always good for a win, especially with some small climbs to the finish.

Orica Greenedge (Third at 6s) Usually Orica just target stage wins, but their talented Columbian Chaves might be able to finish high on GC.

Trek Factory Racing (9s) The usual mixed bag of decent individual riders but not strong as a team. Cancellara and Arredondo have a good chance of winning a stage.

Omega Pharma Quick Step (11s) Uran has a great chance of winning the race but the team looks weak. Boonen and Martin are good bets for stage wins. Very unlikely that the whole team will finish the race, half of them might quit for the worlds.

Giant Shimano (16s) Usually a team dedicated to winning sprints, but they have Barguil who might do well on GC. Degenkolb has won a bag of stages in past Vueltas and will be looking to add to that.

Tinkoff Saxo (16s) Contador is likely to be behind even Froome in recovery, but he might be able to gain form through the race. The team is not their strongest but they will be committed to their leader.

Belkin (19s) The team has too many leaders with Kelderman (who did well at the giro), Ten Dam (often a strong GC rider but not great) and Gesink (the Dutch prodigal son and unfilled talent). I doubt the team will achieve much.

BMC (21s) Sammy Sanchez is one to watch and has a good chance of a podium spot. Cadel Evans might be riding his last grand tour and has struggled to last three weeks for a year or two. Half the team might depart early as they will be thinking of the worlds.

Lampre Merida (25s) Conti will wear No. 1 now that last year’s winner Horner has withdrawn but I’ve never heard of him. I’ll be surprised if Cunego can do more than tag onto the others for a while, he might finish top ten. Niemiec, Pozzato and Serpa are exciting riders and worth looking out for.

Sky (27s) All for Froome who is one of the favourites, but there are questions about if has he recovered from his broken arms. They will be disappointed to lose so time this early. Team looks strong on paper but are they all fit?

MTN-Qhuebeka (29s) Look for them in the breaks.

Astana (30s) Aru was on the podium in this year’s Giro, but the young Italian might struggle to back that up in Spain. Kangert is one to watch. The team looks a bit like a B team after their win in France.

Lotto Belisol (30s) Expect Van den Broeck to be challenging for top ten but not the podium. He is likely to be seen falling out the back of the group of favourites. I’ve lost count of the number of grand tours Adan Hansen has done in a row, what a legend.

AG2R (33s) The hugely talented Betancur returns after disappearing for most of the year, however, he is reportedly overweight and must be unfit. The rest of the team will be targeting breaks and will hope for a stage win.

Katusha (38s) Rodriguez and wing man Moreno are in action again. Can the old man finally win a grand tour? An outside bet but don’t count him out. Another dismal TTT will not help.

IAM (40s) Unknown, probably going for breaks.

Garmin Sharp (41s) Unusually poor TTT, but not as bad as the Giro. Another team that has so many leaders there are few left to do any work. They are also desperate to achieve what they think are worth, but are unlikely to get close to that. Watch for them in stage wins and falling down the GC leaderboard when the going gets tough.

FDJ (45s) Bouhanni will be angry and gunning for stage wins, quite likely to win a few as well. Surprised that Pinot is riding after doing so well at the Tour, will he even finish?

Caja Rural (48s), Cofidis (51s), Europcar (63s) Will be visible in breaks and hoping for stage wins, but unlikely to get them.


La Vuelta: preview

La Vuelta is the third of the grand tours. The Spanish tour may not have the history or reputation of the Giro and Tour, but recently La Vuelta has been very entertaining. Gone are the boring long flat transition stages and in their place are many tough shorter challenges. We are also seeing more of the top riders compete and the peloton is more international. A few decades ago the race was dominated by the local riders, including some dodgy tactics to make sure that foreigners did not have a chance. Most infamously Scottish climber Millar was targeted by most of the peloton, and a few fans as well, to conspire to prevent him winning in 1985. Pedro Delgado won that year and now designs the greatly improved courses.

The parcours can be split into two halves for several reasons. The first 9 stages are in the south and east, then the race is in the north and north west. These two areas are traditional strongholds for cycling in Spain, so hopefully the local fans come out. The first half is also the easiest, in term of mountains at least, but it can be very hot with temperatures regularly above 40 degrees. Most of the stages are lumpy rather than hilly but there are a couple of steep finishes on Stages 6 and 9. Many of the well-known tourist attractions could be shown off as the race passes the likes of Ronda, Cordoba, Granada and Cadiz.

The individual time trial on stage 10 is a neat divider between the two halves. Then the race heads north into the high country, but not all stages are mountainous. Steep climbs to the finish line have become a real feature of La Vuelta, and this is true again of Stages 11, 14, 15, 16, 18 and 20. A race with eight uphill finishes certainly favours the climbers. The riders really suffered in cold weather last year, perhaps this year will be kinder.

We will see all the World Tour teams (AG2R, Astana, Belkin, BMC, Cannondale, FDJ, Garmin Sharp, Lampre Merida, Lotto Bellisol, Movistar, OPQS, Orica Greenedge, Europcar, Giant Shimano, Katusha, Sky, Tinkoff Saxo, and Trek.) They will not all be strong compared to the Tour or Spring Classics, as this late in the season there can be conflicts with rider transfers and the upcoming world championships. The wild card entries will be Caja Rural Seguros RGA, Cofidis, IAM, and MTN Qhubeka. The lack of Spanish teams is very noticeable. Only one world tour team and they cannot even field more than one wild card team. The great cycling nation has fallen far.

The entrants this year is looking particularly good for the race. The Tour suffered from the lack of Colombians (particularly Giro winner Nairo Quintana and runner up Rigoberto Uran) then when Froome and Contador crashed out. They will all be at racing plus last year’s winner Horner. The contest is mouthwatering.

Sailonline Race Around Turkey 2014

The 1430nm Sail around Turkey race has become an epic annual challenge for SOLers. The Black Sea often has shifting light winds and the middle section has both the Dardenelles and Bosphorus Straits, both tight twisting channels that after difficult to navigate under any weather conditions. The course is not much easier in the Mediterranean Sea where near shore marks require close attention. The final couple of days are easy in comparison, but lack of attention can easily result in ruining the effort of the previous few days.

Rumskib won in a time of 6 days 12 hours 53 minutes. I was 1 hour 7 minutes behind in second place. The map below shows Rumskib’s and my course (from hmm’s excellent site

Let’s have a day by day look at how the race played out.

Whole Race

Day 1: Eastern Black Sea

Day 1

The wind is often light and fickle in this large inland sea, and so were the conditions on the first day of the race. After a very slow start the wind stabilised from the NE allowing good progress to the NW into the middle of the sea. Keeping a fast boat speed was key and when the wind backed a westerly course was taken. The fleet started splitting up as the wise (or were we just lucky) managed to avoid the trap of lighter winds. At the end of the first day I was slightly behind on the course, but had advantage of the wind angle, so there was nothing in it.

Day 2: Central Black Sea and Sinop

Day 2
Some weather models indicated that there might be an advantage heading north and staying in the middle of the lake, whilst others lead to a course near the coast. There was little in it. Rafa and I chose north, Rumskib and most others chose the coast. With the wind generally NW, we were sailing into the wind. However, as the wind strength was decent then progress was good enough. At the end of the day there was still nothing to separate the two routes. However, we will see that the weather gods will favour the coastal route. The winning move was made at the start of Day 2 by turning towards Sinop.

Day 3: West Black Sea, Bosphorus and Marmara
Day 3
In the morning, I was in stronger wind than the coastal boats. I also managed to get a slight lead on Rafa although there was some give and take with our subtle differences in course. However, as the day developed the lighter wind that enveloped the coast drifted NW and stronger wind developed behind. This allowed the coastal boats to accelerate earlier. I gybed to sail into better position but Rumskib’s better wind strength gave him the lead. The Bosphorus is a small gap between Europe and Asia, rich in history and full of commercial ships. We do not need to worry about hitting boats in our virtual world, but hitting land is very likely. The strait is 17nm and only 700m wide with many twists and turns. I had set plenty of dcs (delayed commands) as it was the middle of the night, and I like sleeping. I woke at 4am to find that I was having a rest on land. Rafa and Franci sailed past me as I slipped to fifth place. I had not even made the first turn and had hit the rocks. Sleep was gone and a dozen turns later I escaped the trap. I set a safer and had a nap. The weekend was over but sailonline carries on. DCs were set for the working day through the middle of the Sea of Marmara. My route through the middle of the sea was a good one, I stayed in better pressure and overtook three boats to climb to second. Ghibli retired, an early victim of the needs of the race, after sailing very well through the Black Sea and leading past Istanbul.

Day 4: Dardanelles and into the Aegean Sea

Day 4
The Dardanelles is the twin of the Bosphorus, even longer but not quite as wide. History in this part of the world but also tinged with sadness, 100 years ago almost to the day terrible battles raged. Thousands of lives were lost in the folly of war. Every year New Zealand, Australia, Turkey and many others commemorate their loss. I avoided hitting land this time and into the Aegean. The slightly more open water allowed easier sailing, but not by much. The course designer had thought that the straits were not enough of a challenge and added in a few islands to round, forcing the fleet to keep close to shore. I had no trouble with the first few, but sleep beckoned and some slow sailing allowed Rafa to overtake me again. Rumskib had no such challenges as he forged on ahead.

Day 5: into the Med

Day 5
The sea becomes more open after Samos, but the fastest course sometimes keeps up close to land. Too close on occasion, as a rare mistake from Rafa allowed me to overtake. He had a comfortable lead on me at this stage and would probably have finished again if he had not beached. Franci also had a rest on a beach and lost touch with the lead. No such trouble for Rumskib as his flawless race continued. At times his course was outrageous as he dodged between little islands. Was our competition not enough?
Navigation was somewhat easier, but as the wind as astern regular gybes were required. The difficult polar on the 90 foot monohull also required attention, as the best angle changes with the wind strength. The course I set during my sleep time was not great, but good enough to maintain my position. I gybed too early and was slower than ideal due to lighter winds and deeper sailing.

Day 6: The run home

Day 6
The bay off Antalya usually has little wind. Approaching the mark in the bay can be tough to navigate. Do you stay offshore and come in late and fast, or hug the coast for shorter distance? The coast was much better for angle this time. The shift required a couple of tacks but there was no trouble rounding the mark. The next few hours were a relaxing broad reach. Another shift came through approaching Anamur. I made a mistake and tacked too early then sailed maximum VMC by sailing fast and low. Rafa and Rumskib did much better by spotting a localised band of stronger. I had a worried hour or two but was able to gradually close the door on Rafa. My second place was nearly lost I had just enough rounding the last headland to secure second. The last 18 hours or so were no such trouble. There was a final patch of blue to negotiate close to the finish but with Rumskib a long way ahead and my second place safe it was a stress free finish.

Congratulations to Rumskib on his flawless race. Thanks to Rafa for keeping up the fight and well done for rounding out the podium. Hours after we finish, the valiant and determined SOLers will cross the line. Chapeau to you all.

TdF #21 Le tour is over. Long live the tour.

The final stage was true to form: Kittel won the stage, Nibali won the tour and there were a few crashes to cause the French concern. Peraud crashed, seemingly without any one touching him, and AG2R had some work to do for the elderly Frenchman to save his second place.

Kittel made it over the line first but only just. If he was fresh, he would have by at least a bike length. However, his legs were tired taking his big powerful frame over the high mountains. Kristoff was close but the German had enough speed to overtake him near the line. The sprint was more disorganised than the last few years. Giant –Shimano as a team were tired, so the other sprints team were able to compete. Lotto and Greipel controlled the race near the finish, but faded out of sight in the final straight. The last dash was between the above, as well as the likes of Navadauskas and Coquard.

Sagan was in the top ten again, but had little chance of winning his last chance of a stage this year. His green jersey is great consolation but the young gun has to learn a few new tricks to maintain his winning ways. Majka wins the mountain jersey and Pinot the young rider competition, as well as third place.

Nibali had no trouble on the final stage, like much of the tour. He has dominated this year’s race. His task was certainly made much easier after Froome and Contador left, but he has given no-one even the slightest hope of challenging him. Chapeau.

I’m already dreaming of next year’s race. That will help ease the post-tour blues. We can hope for the best of this race plus former winners Froome and Contador. Add to that Giro winner Quintana and runner up Uran. Nibali is very unlikely to have it so easy again. A mouth-watering prospect.