Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday Musette - Ballan Spills the Beans

1. Congratualtions to George Hincapie for taking another Stars and Stripes jersey in South Carolina yesterday. (Dave Z. took one too in the ITT.) It's looking more and more like George will be wearing his new kit next year for BMC. Early reports had Levi Leipheimer making the switch as well. Could it be true? Or will The Shack's call be too strong? We'll know more for certain after tomorrow--when transfer announcements can become official.

2. Alessandro Ballan has apparently spilled the beans already about the rest of the line-up at BMC in 2010. At first I couldn't understand why someone like Hincapie would want to ride for a team that--on paper--would offer him little support in the races of which he's most fond. But throw-in Ballan, Marcus Burghart and Karsten Kroon, and BMC has the makings to be an immediate classics powerhouse. Ballan put it best himself, comparing BMC to this year's Cervelo TestTeam, a squad that didn't need a Pro Tour license to make an impact.

3. As for the Vuelta, Fabian Cancellara won the Stage 1 ITT, as expected. Tom Boonen and Tyler Farrar rounded-out the Top-3, putting themselves in good position to take the leader's jersey later in the week. Roman Kreuziger won the battle of the GC favorites (albeit by 2 seconds). Could he come good on our hopes for him in July with a victory in September? Basso, Valverde, Evans, and Gerdemann were all close by. Might this year's Vuelta be one of the most exciting in recent memory?

Stage 2 was won by Gerald Ciolek of Milram. While the win's good for him and his team, I'm sure they can't help but wish they could do something similar in the Tour.

Today's Stage 3 was taken by Greg Henderson. Things got a bit chaotic at the end apparently, with Andre Greipel missing the lead-out. Good thing Henderson's a more than capable sprinter in his own right. Tomorrow takes the riders through the Ardennes, hitting some famous hills from Amstel and L-B-L along the way. Could it be a day for local boy Philippe Gilbert, or will Alejandro Valverde take a stab at returning to Spain in yellow?

4.) In product news: Rapha's Fall Collection is about to be announced; the sneak peaks are revealing some very interesting new products and designs. And for the sake of full disclosure: they offer no support to myself or Pavé; I just enjoy the product and what they're about.

But would we turn down offers? Would you?

5.) Speaking of terrific companies, Rivendell has just announced the release of the Roadeo, a lightweight, steel road bike, perfectly suited for wide tires, rough roads, and all the sorts of the riding I know you enjoy. If you're in the market for something classic and fun, give them a chance to sell you a bike--you won't be disappointed. You can read more about it here.

That's it for today. What's on your mind as September beckons? Share comments below.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Vuelta d'Espana Preview

It’s back to school time, so that means it’s time for the annual 3-week party known as the Vuelta d'Espana. Seriously, I remember hearing of fights among team personnel over who would get to work the race—it’s that much fun.

For the riders though, it’s a bit of a different story, especially for those coming to the race with ambitions of one sort of another. Looking over the latest start list in fact, it’s pretty easy to sort the riders into categories based upon their expectations and hopes for this year's race. Let's take a stab at it.

The Redeemers come to the race hoping to salvage their seasons. Maybe they were injured and missed a big race or two, maybe they were suspended and are trying to return to their former glory days, or maybe they just spent the season searching for form that never came. Regardless, these men come to this year’s Vuelta hoping to erase the past with a win in the year’s final Grand Tour.

1. Cadel Evans tops the list of Redeemers this year. An utter disappointment at the Tour de France (a race he was expected by many to win), Cadel comes to the start in Rotterdam looking to win his first Grand Tour. Silence-Lotto has given him a solid team capable of getting him where he needs to be for the victory, but it will be all up to Cadel to keep his head in the race against some fierce competition. When he’s on his game, he’s a force to be reckoned with; but when he’s not he races with the temperament of a pubescent teenager. He better take advantage now, in what could be his last real shot for Grand Tour glory.

2. Alejandro Valverde makes his 2009 Grand Tour debut at a race he would most certainly love to win for his home fans. He wasn’t allowed to start the Tour this year due to his Italian racing ban, and his team appears to be eager to sign one of his fiercest rivals, fellow Spaniard Alberto Contador. A win by Valverde might convince his management that Albie’s not worth the extra millions, a poor outing might just put the nail in his Valverde's Grand Tour coffin. For my money, I’m hoping Valverde makes this his last attempt at Grand Tour greatness; he’s much more suited to the Ardennes Classics and shorter stages races. Can you imagine how he would do were he to focus exclusively on those?

3. Remember last year when Kim Kirchen won Flèche-Wallone and then spent a week or two making everyone think he could win the Tour? Seems long ago, doesn’t it? Yes, he was injured for the better part of the season, but he’s better now and has enough racing in his legs to warrant consideration here. His situation isn’t nearly as critical as Evans’ or Valverde’s, but he certainly could use a good result to remind everyone of just how talented he is—or was.

4. And of course, one cannot forget Alexandre Vinokourov, whose need for redemption needs no explanation.

Other candidates: Philipe Gilbert, FDJ, Euskaltel-Euskadi

The Builders come to the Vuelta hoping to build form for the season’s final month, namely the World Championships, Paris-Tours, and the Tour of Lombardy. Most of these riders can’t logically claim to have ambitions for the GC; they’ll be looking for stage wins and opportunities to test their legs against their peers. In many cases, these men are also seeking redemption, using the Vuelta to help them find it in the season’s waning moments. A bit risky perhaps, but a stage win or two along the way never hurts, no?

1. Tom Boonen might also be considered a Redeemer in the sense that his Tour de France was an entirely lackluster affair. He started the season well with his usually impressive Classics campaign. Then the wheels fell-off when Tommeke tested positive—again—for cocaine—again. His team fought for and won the right to bring Tom to the Tour where he spent more time flatting and falling than sprinting and winning. He then announced he would ride the Vuelta in the hopes of reminding everyone that he’s one of the top sprinters in the world--and to gain some form for World’s. If can build the fitness he needs for a big win later, while winning several stages, he might just kill two birds with one stone. If he can’t, his fans will spend the off-season wondering what could have been instead of celebrating what was.

2. Like Boonen, Damiano Cunego comes to Spain hoping to build the form he needs to make everyone forget what’s been a pretty disappointing season so far. He failed to score a Spring Classic win and was nowhere close to being a factor in his beloved Giro. Perhaps more so than Boonen, the Worlds parcours actually suits Cunego’s strengths though, and now without Danilo “It’s A Conspiracy” Di Luca in the picture, he might have a team entirely dedicated to helping him get it. Cunego needs to ride smart, treating the Vuelta strictly as training, lest he risk doing too much too soon. Sure, he can go for a stage win now and again, but he cannot do so if it means burning too many of the matches he’ll need for success at Mendrisio and Lombardy.

3. Alessandro Ballan would like to defend his World Title; unfortunately, he might find the course and the competition a bit too much for his talents. That said, there’s always Paris-Tours, a race much more suited to his skills. The Vuelta will help him get where he needs to be. Fabian Cancellara would also like another World Title in the ITT. He’s racing for his home fans at Mendrisio, and the Vuelta will provide just the training he needs to ensure they don’t go home disappointed.

Others: Bjorne Leukemans, Lars Boom, Oscar Freire, and Carlos Barredo

The Asserters come the Vuelta hoping to prove that they warrant the hype they've been given at point or another. They could be a young sprinter hoping to show everyone they deserve to be considered one of the World’s fastest, or an all-round rider looking to make the jump from weeklong race contender to Grand Tour favorite. To them, the Vuelta is a chance to assert themselves as deserving a place at the top of the sport.

1. Andre Griepel was pretty disappointed to have been left-off his team’s roster for the Tour. He comes to the Vuelta hoping to re-assert himself as one of the world’s fastest sprinters. In doing so, he might simultaneously build some form for a race like Paris-Tours and earn himself a fat new contract for 2010—either with Columbia or someone else.

2. Along with Edvald Boassen Hagen, Tyler Farrar was perhaps August’s most successful rider. He comes to the Vuelta looking for a Grand Tour breakthrough. He’s already beaten just about everyone he’ll be competing against in Spain, now he just needs everything to fall into place. His confidence is brimming, his team is dedicated to helping him win, and all that’s left is for him to make it happen. I think he will—several times.

3. Samuel Sanchez comes to the race wearing race number 1. His only task is to end the 3-week race at the same place on GC. He has a team that will certainly be motivated to help him win their home tour and draw attention from the scandal surrounding them after July’s Tour. Frankly though, I don’t see Sanchez as a rider capable of winning a Grand Tour. Like Valverde, he might be suited to hillier classics and weeklong stages races of the Paris-Nice/Pais Vasco sort. Should he prove me wrong though, he will have convincingly asserted himself as one of the world’s finest.

4. And finally, there’s Andy Schleck. Does Andy need to assert himself as one of the world’s best Grand Tour riders? Absolutely not. That said, he’s finished on the podium in both the Giro and the Tour now, and a win at the Vuelta would assert his status as perhaps the greatest threat to Alberto Contador in the years to come. If I were Andy, I would love to go into the off-season with a Grand Tour win under my belt, thus fueling the fire for an impending re-match with Contador in next year’s Tour.

Other Candidates: Roman Kreuziger, Rinaldo Nocentini, Ignatas Konovalovas, Allan Davis, and Fuji-Servetto

To put it simply, the Seekers come to the race looking for one thing: a contract for next year. September marks the beginning of the official transfer period as well as the start of the stagiaire audition season. A good ride in Spain can make the difference between a good contract and a bad one, or in extreme cases, no contract at all.

1. Ivan Basso needs the Vuelta to remind everyone—and his potential suitors—that he still has what it takes to win a Grand Tour. His return at the Giro was positive, but it did little to strike fear into the hearts of his rivals. A win or solid placing in Spain might convince a team that Basso’s best days are not behind him. A bad race, and Team Radio Shack might be able to change a digit or two in their latest offer.

2. Simon Gerrans will certainly have offers for next season; the Vuelta will just give him a opportunity to make them as high as he wants them to be. A stage win in Spain and he’ll have bagged one in all 3 Grand Tours—in 2 seasons, no less. The race might also give him a chance to show what he can do on GC; his team contains no threat to his leadership should he choose to go that route.

3. As we mentioned earlier, Tom Danielson finally looks to be worthy of at least some of the hype surrounding him during his Pro Tour career. A good Vuelta will solidify his place on someone’s team next season—maybe even Garmin. A bad race, and he could be looking for work back home on a team hoping to make him their leader for Redlands. (Now I'm sounding like Bobby Julich.)

4. If I were to make a list of Indefensible Claims for this year’s Vuelta, I’d pick Chris Horner to win. Like Gerrans, he’ll have no problem finding a team next year—especially if he decides to follow Lance. But Chris is a wily veteran, and his inclusion on Astana’s Vuelta team shows me that he’s willing to go it alone to prove to anyone watching that he’s got talent. With Alain Gallopin (the man responsible for bringing Chris to FDJ way back when) driving the car, Chris could pull-off the result of his life, giving him the right to demand more dinero from Team Lance or elsewhere.

Other Seekers: Kurt-Asle Arvesen, Matti Breschel, Michael Albasini, Xacobeo Galicia, and Contempolis-AMPO

That said, here are my predictions for this year’s Vuelta Top-5:

1. Andy Schleck
2. Roman Kreuziger
3. Cadel Evans
4. Alejandro Valverde
5. Chris Horner

What about you? Who are your Redeemers, Builders, Asserters, and Seekers for this year’s race? Share your comments below.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Radio Rumors

I bet you were as excited as I was to read the Armstrong Brings Classics Riders to RadioShack headline over at Cyclingnews.

And I bet you were as disappointed as I was to read that the riders in question are Grégory Rast and Tomas Vaitkus, both currently with Astana. I’m not sure whom to blame, but the headline might as well have read Radio Shack Adds More Astana Riders.

Aside from that, one has to wonder what The Shack’s thinking. I mean really, Rast and Vaitkus? Those are hardly names to strike fear in the hearts of Quick Step, Silence-Lotto, and Cervelo. They’re great domestiques; but for whom will they ride? If TRS really wants to make an impact next spring, it will need to do better than these two. Of course, teams are barred from officially announcing their signings before September 1st, so there’s still a chance Lance and Bruyneel have some tricks up their sleeves. (In fact, Het Nieuwsblad--via VeloNews--just reported that Sébastien Rosseler and Gert Steegmans have signed.) Also interesting to note was the blurb at the end regarding Stijn Devolder. Apparently he’s staying with Quick Step in 2010 and The Shack's unable to negotiate with him. But the cycling rumor mill runs pretty much like the elementary school game Opposite Day, so I'm still thinking Devolder will be riding a Trek in 2010.

And while we’re on the subject of Radio Shack rumors, I’m sure you’ve by now heard the rumblings that Floyd Landis will be joining the team. Frankly, I think it’s a good move for Lance and for Floyd. If Bruyneel can somehow resurrect Landis’ talent, then they have another valuable asset come July. If not, Lance can at least say he tried to give the guy a second chance.

What are you thoughts? Share them below.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday Musette - ENECO Final Days, Gerrans, and Blood Doping for Everyone

1. The ENECO Benenlux Tour wraps-up tomorrow with a 13.1km time trial around Amersfoort. After his performance yesterday, should we just go ahead and declare Edvald Boassen Hagen the winner now? The biggest threats to his GC hopes come from the men in places 3, 4, and 5 after Stage 5: Chavanel, Nibali, and Poosthuma. All three are talented against the clock, and if Edvald the Conqueror has a bad day (albeit unlikely), one of these men could take the win.

And don't forget Tyler Farrar at only 15 seconds back; he's no slouch in a TT either (he finished 2nd in the Prologue). Strange things have happened before in the final stage of the ENECO Tour. Maybe Boassen Hagen pulls a Menchov and crashes on a wet road? Or perhaps he flats at an inopportune time? You never know. Regardless, Farrar's done a heck of a job--look for him to earn his first win in a Grand Tour at this year's Vuelta.

2. In other Pro Tour news, Simon Gerrans won the GP Plouay yesterday, adding another impressive win to his palmares. The fact that this race has received Pro Tour status--in my opinion--says more about its location than its difficulty (no offense, Simon). Were it not in Brittany, it might just be another well-attended summer circuit race with a 1.1 UCI ranking (like the 8 to 10 of them in Italy right now). That said, Gerrans' win re-asserts the fact that he should have been on Cervelo's team for the Tour. It also adds fuel to the belief held by many that Gerrans will either be joining Lance at The Shack or his former DS Scott Sunderland at Team Sky in 2010.

3. Speaking of Lance, did you hear that he dropped-out of the Tour of Ireland during yesterday's last stage? Too bad for the fans who braved the terrible weather to get a glimpse of the legend in action.

4. And while we're on the subject of back pain, take a gander at this column from Thursday's New York Times. I'm not necessarily willing to tackle the doping problem here at Pavé--especially when there are many others more talented and able to do so. But the irony in this article is truly mind-boggling, especially from a newspaper so outspoken against doping and performance enhancement. I know, I know...there's a difference between a medical treatment overseen by a professional and bags of blood in the back of a soigneur's Opal. But for cryin' out loud!

5. Did you see that Alessandro Ballan testified that he was approached by an amatuer cyclist offering him CERA? Bravo.

6. I'll end with one final thought and a question on doping. This morning on ESPN Radio, the jocks were discussing Pete Rose and his admission of betting on baseball. As they see it, there's no crime against a sport worse than betting on its games, since it could lead to the games being fixed by the athletes playing in them, thus damaging the sport at its competitive core. As they see it, it's even worse than performance enhancing drugs--so much so that locker rooms are adorned with signs reminding players to not bet on their sports.

So I ask you, which is worse? Fixing a race, or doping to win it?

Share your comments below. And have a great Monday!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Should E-N-E-C-O Equal R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

Admit it, you've spent more time over the past week reading about Leadville than this week's ENECO Tour. It's okay, you're among friends.

I made the same mistake. In my Embrocation column this week, I intimated that the ENECO Tour (among several other August races) doesn’t hold the same amount of prestige (and therefore doesn't warrant much attention) as races in other months. But after following the coverage of the Benelux Tour’s first 3 days, I can’t help but wonder if we might all be wrong. Does the ENECO Tour deserve more respect than it’s getting?

First, take a look at the parcours. Were you surprised to learn the race is 8 days long? That’s as long as Paris-Nice and a day longer than Tirreno-Adriatico. A few stages top 200km and there are two days of individual time trials—albeit short ones. And don’t let those sprint finishes fool you, this race has some hills. Remember those climbs we spent most of April covering? Well, many of them return here: the bergs of Amstel, the muurs of Flanders, and the cols of the Ardennes. For example, the Muur de Geraardsbergen left it’s mark yesterday with about 76km to go, reducing the field with it’s steep cobbled pitch. The Ardennes are yet to come; look for the real GC battle to sort itself out there.

But what really impressed me was the event’s startlist (click "Deelnemers")—it’s quite stellar for an August week-long stage race. Quick Step brought Tom Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel (Chavanel won the race Prologue). Garmin--along with current race leader Tyler Farrar--brought Bradley Wiggins, fresh from his 4th-place in the Tour. And speaking of high finishers in the Tour, how about Vincenzo Nibali? He’s there too. Andreas Kloden took the line for Astana; he would have been a candidate for the win had he not crashed and injured his wrist yesterday. Columbia brought 4 men capable of winning the overall: Tony Martin, Maxime Monfort, Thomas Lövkvist, and Michael Rogers. Edvald Boassen Hagen is there too, looking to continue his good run of summer form. Silence-Lotto took the line with Greg Van Avermaet, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, and Johan Vansummeren—what, no Cadel? Rabobank brings Classics men Juan Antonio Flecha and Nick Nuyens. If this were the Start List for Paris-Nice or the Tour of California, would it be getting more press?

And speaking of respect, it’s also time to give some to the race’s current leader and double stage winner, Tyler Farrar. Young Farrar’s entered 4 races this week (not counting today’s stage), winning 3 of them and finishing 2nd in the fourth. It’s a testament to not only Farrar’s blossoming talent, but also to the confidence that comes from getting your first big win. Tyler’s been ready to boil over since this year’s Tour, when he finished 2nd almost as many time as Mark Cavendish finished 1st. Sunday’s win in the Vattenfall Cyclassics was just the result Tyler and his Garmin teammates needed to top-off their confidence, as their performances in ENECO have clearly illustrated.

So maybe we all need to spend a little less time thinking about transfers and a little more time focusing on the great racing going-on right under our noses.

What are your thoughts? Share them below.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Postcard From August

And then it was August.

I know. It’s hard to get excited about the Clasica San Sebastian, the Tour of Poland, and the Benelux Tour. You don’t know where Burgos is, and you certainly have no idea what “Vattenfall Cyclassics” means. But rather than moan and groan about all you can’t do during the month of August, here are some suggestions for passing the time.

Peak. August is a perfect time for a late season peak, particularly if you just couldn’t get it done this past July. When I raced in Belgium, August constituted the doldrums of what amounted to a long season. Fewer starters, slower fields, and less aggressive fans all meant a much more user-friendly (albeit still ungodly difficult) racing experience. You probably encounter somewhat of the same wherever you live and compete. Maybe there’s a big stage race in July for which everyone traditionally tries to peak. Maybe several riders in your category were training for Nationals. Regardless, no matter where you live—if you can play your cards right—August is a month for taking the win that might have eluded you earlier in the season.
Sound like a cheap way to score some upgrade points? I think not. Savvy is the rider who looks at entire the season as a race in and of itself, knowing when to attack, when to sit-in, and when to save it for another day. Do you think Alessandro Ballan felt his win the Tour de Pologne was a cheap way to get some UCI points? Did someone come up to Tyler Farrar after winning in Hamburg and say, “well, you still didn’t win a stage in the Tour”? No. These riders were simply excited to take a win at a time when many other riders were too tired or slow to do it themselves. Maybe it’s a good month for you to do it too. After all, a win’s a win.

Spread Rumors. The UCI prohibits any official transfer announcements until September 1st, but that never stops anyone, especially in the age of Twitter. As a result, August is the perfect time to spread rumors. There are fewer major races, thus fewer opportunities to confirm or deny the veracity of what’s being said. But, the teams are still getting their ducks in a row for the following year, making it impossible for cats not to be let out of bags. Case in point: Team Radio Shack. Rumors are flying as to which riders will join Lance at “The Shack” in 2010. While the core of his Astana posse seems to be following him, there are still grumblings that stranger things might be afoot—like Levi Leipheimer and George Hincapie signing with BMC. Another rumor to watch? Alberto Contador appears destined to be somewhere other than Astana in 2010, despite the fact that his contract—and Astana’s management—seem well-positioned to prevent it. Regardless, enjoy this time; once the truth arrives, it will be quick and somewhat anti-climactic. Rumor-mongering is always much more fun than the facts themselves.

For the rest of the story, head over to our friends at Embrocation. But come back here to share your thoughts!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday Musette - Farrar, Hampsten, and Mueslix

1. Congratulations to Tyler Farrar for breaking through with a big win in yesterday's Vattenfall Cyclassics. It's a result we've been expecting from Farrar, and it followed a solid effort from his Garmin team. With Tom Danielson on form as well, it could be an interesting fall for the boys in blue and orange argyle. And remember folks, I know it seems like Farrar's been around for years (well, he has), but the guy's still only 25. Big things beckon for the young American! I see a contract with a Belgian team in his future.

2. Lately there's been a lot of praise for the website Cycling Quotient, most recently in a recent Boulder Report post. A treasure trove of information for data-lovers, I can't believe I haven't stumbled upon it sooner. CQ's Head 2 Head feature is one of its most interesting, allowing you to select two riders and (duh) compare their head-to-head results. The site's also a terrific source for the most up-to-date transfer rumors and news. They're not all accurate--they're rumors after all--but it's a great way to get yourself caught-up on what's been floating around.

3. Not sure if you've ever taken a trip over to Hampsten Cycles, but if you haven't, you should. Andy and his brother Steve make some of the nicest looking and most thoughtfully designed bikes I've ever seen. A lot of the work is done in-house and some is outsourced to such frame building luminaries such as Moots and IF.

I have my eye on two of them. First, there's the Classic, which they describe as their "tribute to 1970’s racing icons such as Eddy Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck, bushy sideburns included". Classic geometry, room for wider tires, and a tasteful simplicity evoke the era and region that the bike's inspiration.

The second and perhaps most tempting to me is the Strada Bianca, named for the white dirt roads of Tuscany, home to L'Eroica. The Strada Bianca is Hampsten's "60's era" road bike, one built for even wider tires than it's Classic brother. The bike pictured is shod with Rivendell's 33.3mm Jack Brown's. Beautiful indeed.

4. And speaking of Rivendell, have you ever spent some time at their site? For some, I'm sure Rivendell's a household name, but if it isn't, take a few moments to get aquainted with who they are and what they do. As autumn approaches and your thoughts turn to falling leaves and rougher roads, Rivendell could be a great source for your wide-tire needs. I've already ordered a set of the aformentioned Jack Brown's; look for a review in the future.

5. Last but not least, Here Come the Belgians has a nice post on mueslix. I remember the mueslix our Swiss soigneur used to make at Mercury. When done right, it's a wonderful slurry of oats, fruit, and yogurt--perfect for a long day in the saddle (or team car).

That's it for today. What's on your mind?

Share your comments below.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Another Look at Worlds Qualification

Thank heavens for astute (and polite) readers!

As someone commented after Wednesday’s post, I seem to have overlooked something in my discussion of the UCI's procedure for determining the number of starters for each nation in the Worlds road race. In a nutshell, the UCI World/Pro Tour ranking is only used to determine the first 10 qualifying nations for Worlds (I got that wrong by saying it was used for more than 10 nations). After the first 10 on the World ranking, the various Continental rankings (which can be quite different) are used to determine the rest of the field. In most cases, this doesn’t pose a problem in regards to the solution I proposed, but in Europe's case, it most certainly does. So let’s revisit!

As discussed earlier, these are the first 10 nations on the UCI’s World ranking:

1. Spain 1334 pts.
2. Italy 910
3. Australia 710
4. Germany 661
5. Russia 590
6. Luxembourg 563
7. Belgium 505
8. Great Britain 462
9. Norway 414
10. USA 389

All 10 of these teams qualify to start 9 riders in the Worlds road race. As for the rest of the European qualifiers, the first 16 teams on the UCI Europe Tour ranking also qualify—excluding any teams that have already qualified via the World ranking. Here though is where things get a bit vague. Perhaps it would be best to quote the UCI regulation itself:

“The first 16 nations of the classification by nation of the UCI Europe Tour on 15 August 2009 [qualify for participation in the World Championship road race] excluding the nations qualifying via the world classification: the first 6 nations qualifying can enter 9 riders, with 6 to start; the nations ranked 7th to 16th can enter 5 riders, with 3 to start.”

What’s vague is the “excluding the nations qualifying via the world classification” part. Are we to take the Top-16 from Europe and then exclude those that have already qualified; or do we first exclude those that have already qualified and then take the Top-16? I’m interpreting it as the former as opposed to the latter; thus taking the Top-16 and deleting those already qualified via the World ranking.

So here’s the first 16 teams in the UCI Europe ranking:

1. Italy*
2. France*
3. Netherlands
4. Spain*
5. Germany*
6. Belgium*
7. Slovenia
8. Poland
9. Russia*
10. Portugal
11. Ukraine
12. Denmark
13. Great Britain*
14. Estonia
15. Norway*
16. Austria

*Nations in the Top-10 in the UCI World ranking

Now we need to delete the teams that have qualified via the World ranking, thus leaving us with the following nations:

1. France
2. Netherlands
3. Slovenia
4. Poland
5. Portugal
6. Ukraine
7. Denmark
8. Estonia
9. Austria

Of these (if I’m reading it right), the Top-6 get 6 riders in the road race and the rest get 3.

The biggest loser here has to be Denmark, which now only gets 3 starters (as our reader rightfully pointed-out).

And remember too, that there are still other ways for countries qualify based upon the ranking of their individual riders--there's a list of them here.

But let’s go back to the Pavé adjusted ranking, shall we?

Under the Pavé system, these are the Top-10 nations in the World ranking:

1. Spain
2. Italy
3. Australia
4. Germany
5. Russia
6. Belgium
7. USA
8. Luxembourg
9. Norway
10. Netherlands

The list remains largely unchanged aside from the Netherlands replacing Great Britain (sorry, blokes!). Now we delete the European nations on this list from the Top-16 of the UCI European ranking and get the following:

1. France
2. Slovenia
3. Poland
4. Portugal
5. Ukraine
6. Denmark
7. Great Britain
8. Estonia
9. Austria

Like before, the Top-6 get 6 starters, the rest get 3.

So under the Pavé system, the Netherlands now brings a full team to Mendrisio by jumping into the World ranking's Top-10. Denmark jumps from 3 to 6 starters, and Great Britain loses 6 starters, dropping waaaay down the ranking.

Is my method fair? Maybe not, but I feel it’s a better system than the one being used now. An even better solution might the way points are weighted in Pro Tour races, as another reader suggested, or to just make Worlds a trade team-only event--yet another suggestion from Pavé's commentators.

No matter what, I hope you appreciate the revised attempt at setting the UCI straight. And thanks to whomever set me straight; it gave me something else to think about during these dog days of August.

Now back to your comments!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Is Worlds a Sham?

In this week's Monday Musette I mentioned my shock over the fact that traditional cycling nations such as France and the Netherlands will have their numbers reduced in this year’s World Championship road race due to the fact that both nations will—as of August 15th—be outside of the Top-10 in the UCI’s World Rankings. Now, while I have indeed calmed down a bit, I still find the selection procedure less than perfect.

You can read the entire selection criteria here. In a nutshell, Worlds participation is based upon the UCI Nations Ranking. The Nations Ranking is calculated by adding-up the points earned by each country's respective riders’ in Pro Tour races (the sum of which constitutes their World Rankings). Cut-offs are then made after 10 and 6 nations, giving each of these nations 9 and 6 riders respectively in the road race. Let’s take a look at the ranking (with points) as of August 10th (and how it will remain on August 15th):

1. Spain 1334 pts.
2. Italy 910
3. Australia 710
4. Germany 661
5. Russia 590
6. Luxembourg 563
7. Belgium 505
8. Great Britain 462
9. Norway 414
10. USA 389

These 10 nations will get 9 starters in the road race. The next 6 countries in the ranking will each get 6 (it’s a bit convoluted as to why and how, but you can read about it here):

11. Netherlands 341 pts.
12. Czech Republic 321
13. France 301
14. Switzerland 253
15. Denmark 210
16. Belarus 111

Does this look right to you? At first glance it appears that several deserving nations will have riders excluded in favor of countries with an individual or two who might have over-achieved. At least that’s how I see it.

My solution? It’s really quite simple: throw-out the points from each nation’s highest rider.

Since the ranking is being used to judge the participation of a national team, then it should be used in a way that reflect a nation’s consistency, not as a reward for having one particularly good rider.

For example, how about Luxembourg and its 563 points? Are Andy Schleck’s 334 worthy of the entire nation getting 9 riders on the start line in Switzerland? Does Luxembourg even have 9 registered pros? Without Andy, Luxembourg would have 229 points on the Nations ranking—a much more logical number to me.

But let’s not stop there; let’s apply the “Pavé Test” to the entire Top-16.

Here’s how the ranking would look if we exclude the top point-getter from each nation:

1. Spain 807
2. Italy 708
3. Australia 491
4. Germany 429
5. Russia 372
6. Belgium 318
7. USA 239
8. Luxembourg 229
9. Norway 198
10. Netherlands 196

These nations would have 9 riders in the road race. Here are the next 6, each getting 6 riders in the event:

11. France 194
12. Great Britain 158
13. Denmark 128
14. Switzerland 105
15. Belarus 50
16. Ireland 16

The Biggest Winners?
1. In both systems, Italy and Spain are clearly heads and shoulders above the competition. The consistency and depth of their riders is clear. The same can be said for Australia, Germany, and Russia, all of whom held their spots in the ranking.

2. Also, the Netherlands jumped into the Top-10 under my system. Extend the deadline to after the Eneco Benelux Tour and perhaps they move even higher.

3. Ireland has to be happy to go from 3 to 6 riders as well. They’re lucky that Colombia is ahead of them in my new ranking and is therefore included since it qualifies under the UCI America Tour ranking.

4. And Belarus. Belarus.

The Biggest Losers?
1. The Czech Republic lost 310 points from Roman Kreuziger, dropping them from 9 to 3 riders.

2. Great Britain went from 9 to 6 riders with Mark Cavendish’s 304 points being excluded.

3. And France? Well, under both systems they get only 6 riders on the line. Désolé, mes amis!

A major factor creating a problem with the UCI’s method lies in the fact that it de-emphasizes one day races in favor of Grand Tours. Eliminating each country’s top point-getter seems to fix this. For example, under the new system, Spain earned the majority of its points via Alejandro Valverde as opposed to Alberto Contador. And why shouldn’t they? Is it fair to participation in a one day event on points earned by riders in Grand Tours? Should Andreas Kloden and his 232 points be the reason Germany gets 9 riders? No. Heinrich Haussler and his 217 points should. Under my system, the right riders from the right nations get rewarded for the results in the right races. Right?

Share your thoughts below...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Monday Musette - Danielson, Worlds, and Reading

Here's a round-up of some of the most important news from the past few days:

1. In case you were wondering about that high-pitched squeal echoing through the atmosphere on Saturday afternoon, it was Jonathan Vaughters getting positively giddy about Tom Danielson winning a bike race. (I wonder if JV dropped his designer specs.) Anyway, it could prove to be a case of too little, too late. At some point, Vaughters needs to send a message to some of his riders that riding clean and looking good in orange and blue argyle isn't enough anymore. Letting Danielson go might remind the rest that Vaughters is their Boss, NOT their friend, big brother, teammate, or fashion guru. Danielson has done very little to reward his benefactors for their patience. All this win did was likely help him secure a ride with another team--like SKY. (Yup, you heard it here first.)

2. Alessandro Ballan won the Tour of Poland Saturday. One can't help but wonder what could have been had Ballan been in shape this past spring. He and Cunego will make a formidable tandem come World Championship time.

3. And speaking of Worlds and Poland, does anyone else think Edvald Boassen Hagen is the odds-on favorite to win the race? Now I know what you're thinking: but he rides for Norway. Yes, he does, but he'll have a full team of riders entirely devoted to getting him the title. If he can find a chance for some rest between now and his final build-up, thus saving some form, look for EGH to be one of the race's major protagonists. Hopefully he'll have the added benefit of a rider as talented and as savvy as Kurt-Asle Arvesen at his side.

4. While we're on the subject of Worlds participation, did you hear the news that France and Holland--due to their placement outside the Top-10 on the UCI's World Rankings--will be allowed to start only 6 riders in the World Championship road race? (Nations in the Top-10 will be starting 9.) Does this bother you? Well, it bothers me--so much so that I'm making it the subject of my Wednesday feature. Come back then for more.

Other morsels for your Monday:

5. Here's a terrific review of John Wilcockson's new Lance book.

Needless to say, I doubt I'll be reading it--unless they want to send me a copy (hint, hint). To me, Daniel Coyle's Lance Armstrong's War is the best book on the subject of Lance, mainly for its coining of the spot-on term the "Belgian woof shrug". And for the fact that it seems to look at through the lens of someone not already one of his friends.

6. Bicycling has a great piece on the enigma that is Greg Lemond. You can read it here, but buy the print edition for the great vintage-style photos accompanying the writing.

That's it for today! What's on your mind? Share your comments below.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

An Equipment Appetizer - Wheels and Tires

We have yet to spend a significant amount of time at Pavé discussing equipment. Over the next several weeks though, one of the new projects we'll be unveiling will give everyone reason to get excited about some new (and old) products for the roads we all love to ride.

For now, I thought we would whet your appetites with a series photos courtesy of Jeremy
Dunn and his trip to see the Classics last spring
. While I'm sure you've all seen Jeremy's (including his terrific videos), for me the most poignant might have been those photos of the unsung heroes of the Spring Classics: wheels and tires.

Mundane? Maybe to some. But as anyone who's ever ridden the pavé and/or dirt and unpaved roads can attest, wheels and tires might be the most critical choices you can make. Besides, I've always been a sucker for nice set of handbuilt wheels and some fresh rubber.

So which is your favorite? What's your choice when things get rough and dirty?

(You know what we mean...)

Share your thoughts below...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Embrocation's New Website

Our friends over at Embrocation have just launched their new and improved website featuring expanded content and columns from folks like yours truly.

Be sure to add this link to wherever you add them.

And you can read my first submission here.

That said, I'd love to hear your submission suggestions. What would you like to read? Stories from my days in Europe? Expanded racing coverage? Opinions and editorials?

The good folks at Embro have given me a blank canvas. Share your suggestions below or in an email...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Monday Musette - San Sebastian and More...

Some fodder for your Monday:

1. Congratulations to Carlos Barredo for taking a terrific win in the Clasica San Sebastian on Saturday. In doing so, he made Quick Step relevant for the first time since April. This is the kind of win that starts new phases in riders' careers (Barredo's only 28). With a win like this under his belt, it will not be a surprise to see Carlos in the win column some more between now and the end of the season.

2. Yes, we too were disappointed to see Kreuziger lose. Are there any more doubts about this kid's talent? And is Filippo Pozatto this season's version of Michael "Bridesmaid" Boogerd?

3. Did anyone else notice the abundance of Flemish flags at the finish line in San Sebastian? No wonder a Quick Step rider won!

4. Here's a great picture of Alberto Contador’s new logo. Subtle isn't it? I wonder if he meant to use a different finger.

5. There was an interesting article in Friday's NY Times about the debate in Aspen surrounding whether or not to have a celebration in honor of its newest resident's 3rd place in the Tour. I'll let you form your own opinion, but it must be nice to live in a town where the biggest issue facing the mayor and city council involves planning a party.

6. If you haven't seen it yet, here's a look at Rapha-Condor’s new kit. It's amazing how something so retro can look so cutting edge. But will Bioracer call them copycats?

And now for some recent highlights from a few favorite blogs:

7. Here's why Embrocation's Jeremy Dunn is our hero. Hilarious. Absolutely hilarious. (WARNING: the photo in the post contains a bit of nudity.)

8. Ryan at The Service Course explains how to start a rumor. Hmmm...this gives me an idea or two...

9. Pedal Strike's Kaiko has a new venture called Cassette. It's never too early to shop for the holidays!

That's it for this Monday--thanks for reading! And please, if you like what you see here, tell some friends and/or add us to your blogroll.

Have a great week!