Our man in Italy, Alessandro Federico, gives us the lowdown on this year's Strade Bianche! Tuscan Triumph for Spartacus!
Riders head through the Tuscan countryside
On a day when World Champions and former winners came to the fore it was the two-time victor Fabian Cancellara who proved the strongest on the day…and won himself a named sector of this race through the beautiful Tuscan countryside. A strong and clever ride saw him win out in the end over the Etixx-Quickstep pairing of Zdenek Stybar and Gianluca Brambilla with Peter Sagan paying for his efforts on the final run-in.
Curse of the World’s Stripes?
Die-hard fans of our sport will remember the much-cited ‘curse of the World’s jersey’ where off-season dinners and ‘meet-and-greets’ took a toll on a champion’s ability to be race-fit come the following year. Younger fans though have never really been exposed to this and our current road champions have put the theory to bed.
In a thrilling finish to the women’s race Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead took yet another victory to see her season more than justified already…and she’s only just started. Could her male counterpart Peter Sagan do likewise?
Here’s how it played out.
As the riders rolled out from the historic city of Siena it was under leaden skies with a drizzly rain just beginning. Riders from the northern classics would be very much at home even if the mud was bound to be a different color. One racer missing from the start was Orica’s Adam Yates.
The first group to go clear consisted of eight riders: Jesse Sergeant (AG2R-La Mondiale), Riccardo Stacchiotti (Nippo Vini Fantini), Marcin Mrozek (CCC Sprandi Polkowice), Tom Van Asbroeck (LottoNL-Jumbo), the Lotto Soudal pairing of Jens Debuscherre and Pim Ligthart, Lorenzo Rota (Bardiani-CSF) and Tiziano Dall’Antonia (Androni). With the riders from lower level teams keen to get some television exposure they gained a lead of some three minutes. Eventually though, Etixx-Quickstep began to up the pace and this had the effect of splitting the main peloton into three distinct groups.
the famous gravel roads of the Strade Bianche
With the gap coming down the main group of about 50 riders came through the feedzone and there was the inevitable slowing as riders made sure to take on enough supplies to see them through the second half of the race. The gap to the leaders went out again but once the group had settled down the leaders were caught in short order.
Five of Nine
Onto the fifth sector and there was movement off the front as Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QS), Andriy Grivko (Astana), Pim Ligthart again, Salvatore Puccio (Team Sky) and Brent Bookwalter (BMC) went clear.
With Grivko bouncing on and off the back of the leaders their advantage was only 30 seconds as more and more riders were falling away from the chasing group. Bad news for Puccio as he had a chain issue and was forced to pull over.
With the main group down to 30 riders the second bunch was trying to organize an effort to get across but the lead group could smell victory. Lars Peter Nordhaug (Team Sky) attempted to get across to the break but ended up sitting in no-man’s land before being reeled in by the lead group.
The leaders had a gap of 1:08 but this was gradually coming down as the chasers could see them on the long straight sections. With Puccio’s bad luck Sky had put a man on the front of the group and were chasing with Movistar in an attempt to salvage something from this race. The lead riders however were working well together and the gap was hovering around 40 seconds with 25km to run.
Now or Never
Onto the seventh sector and Brambilla, who had been very active at the front forcing the pace, eventually pulled Brent Bookwalter clear of Grivko and Monfort.
Sky Plan B
The former World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) injected a huge effort on the front of the bunch in an attempt to close the gap. Sensing this, Brambilla dropped Bookwalter as he attempted to evade the efforts of his former teammate.
Kwiatkowski’s effort was so huge that it split the group and around 10-15 riders were left struggling to catch the wheels.
'most aggressive rider' must go to Gianluca Brambilla!
Onto the eight sector…and it was 20kms and 20 seconds for Brambilla as he attempted to solo to the finish. Could he hold off the challenge from the chasers or would he be caught?
And suddenly there was Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo)! He oh-so-quickly reeled in the Etixx rider but they also had a Plan B. With him was last year’s winner Stybar (Etixx-QS) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) quickly saw the danger and bridged across. If Cancellara could win for a third time he would get a sector named after him.
With Nibali (Astana) and Van Avermaet (BMC) caught up in the groups behind this lead quartet had a gap of 15 seconds.
Into the final 12km and the chasers were desperately trying to reel in the escapees with Nibali himself doing massive turns on the front. The four leaders were looking comfortable now especially as they’d just hit the final sector of strade and at only 1.1km in length they knew they didn’t have too much longer to run. The gap wasn’t great at 13 seconds but with Sagan and Cancellara making the running it might just be enough. Behind, Nibali was now paying for his efforts and had to watch Greg Van Avermaet tear off into the distance as he attempted to get back on terms with the leaders.
With another of the short, sharp climbs taken by Cancellara and Sagan at the head as usual, the distance between the chasers and the front of the race looked so slender, especially from the helicopter. Now it was a desperate struggle for both groups as they sped past ancient-looking villas and down twisting roads only 8km from the finish in the Piazza del Campo.
With two riders upfront the advantage was obviously with the Belgian squad and the first attack came from Brambilla with 7.7km to run. Sagan and Cancellara continued to push and it was the Trek rider who eventually closed down the attack.
Downhill, and into tuck positions as they headed into Siena, and they were all back together only to see the Italian attack once again as the road leveled out. Possibly, not the best use of their upperhand but Stybar knows how to finish a race off by himself.
5km to Run
Into the twisting streets and Brambilla almost overcooked it on a tight right-hander. The ‘bunch’ behind had not given up and were still chasing but time for them was fast running out. The Italian only had a few seconds in hand but with the steep sections at the finish the other three didn’t look too worried and were more intent on each other and the chasers behind.
Brambilla was under the flag with 8 seconds to spare over the others but the climb was hurting as Sagan, Stybar and Cancellara wound him in. Over the crest on his own…but only just as the crowd drove him on. Cancellara and Stybar were onto him as Sagan dropped off and for a moment it was three riders. But really it was all about Cancellara as he and Stybar left Brambilla to take third spot.
The Swiss rider had exactly the right position and held it through the final tight turns and as the two riders sped down the final little slope he was never challenged for the win by last year’s victor who had settled for second spot.
Cancellara now has his third win and will get that named sector…a fitting prize for a worthy winner and he was ecstatic at the finish. Stybar took second to add to his win last year. Brambilla, with all his attacks, could only take third and the World Champion Sagan had to settle for fourth today.
With Armitstead taking her second win in two weeks and with Sagan just off the podium in the men’s race, the future of the UCI World’s jersey looks secure for another year…and the curse has finally been put to rest.
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing 04:39:35
2 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step
3 Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Etixx - Quick-Step 00:00:04
4 Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo 00:00:13
5 Petr Vakoc (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step 00:00:34
6 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team 00:00:37
7 Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-Merida 00:00:41
8 Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal
9 Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor) Team Sky
10 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 00:00:50
In September last year Beverage Park in Kirkcaldy, Fife hosted one of the fastest running 'cross races in recent memory. The sun shone, the crowds turned up, the riders flew. February was always destined to be a more 'cross-like excursion.
Half an hour before the 'B' Race of the 3rd round of the Super Quaich and the forecast billowing, squally wind, accompanied by intermittent, but heavy, showers swept in across the lush green course. Even on the practice laps the main parts of the course had turned to seething sludge, but grooves cut into it that threatened to snap wheels out of line. The inclines, for many, were immediately converted into run-ups. The off-camber would lead to tripod riding. The 180 degree turns demanding close attention. In short, this was cyclocross.
Both the 'B' and the 'A' races rather miraculously avoided the worst of the rain, though the wind ripping across the course made some sections interesting in the extreme, with tape whipped into the mud, and poles that had been holding it in place snapped at the stem. But underneath the mud you didn’t go far before finding a solid-ish layer, though as the race went on this sunk further, and running became preferable for many in certain sections.
The beauty of the Quaich format is that it ignores the rather fallacious divisions based on age and sex, instead focusing on sheer ability, and every rider, no matter how fast, slow, old, young, will find themselves in a race. Watching the 'B' race unfold from inside, on my way to 59th place, battling with two others till the very end, demonstrated the achievement of the egalitarian aim perfectly. And that flowed right through the field, with the all-important top 5 positions for the men going to David Murdoch (Albannach), ahead of Kevin Pugh (Walkers Cycling), Martin Steele (VC Moulin), Chris Allan (Haddington CC) and Peter Houston. For the woman the impressive Erika Allen (VCM) lapped me on the tarmac just as it swept right, her call of "on the right" as pro as her riding. Lindsay Branston (RCCK), Mireille Captieux (Albannach), the ever-stripy Caroline Harvey, and Marion Kennedy rounded out the 5.
With the course suitably churned in preparation for the 'A' race, there was an intriguing spectacle on offer. We’re used to seeing Davie Lines (Espresso Cycle Coaching) effortlessly floating around a course at ridiculous speed, but he was surrounded for much of the first half by 3 riders who represent optimism for the future of Scottish 'cross. Cameron Mason (Team LBS/BB) was once again impressive, leading for the first lap, before dropping back to finish in 5th. Gary MacDonald (Hope Factory Racing) broke up the young guard, while ahead of him Struan Pryde (Deeside Thistle) put in an astonishing, gloveless, ride, considering he’d been at Beveridge early, with the rest of the Deeside crew, helping setup the course. He couldn’t quite reel in Sean Flynn (Edinburgh RC), and so had to settle for third, with the equally youthful Flynn taking a 2nd place that promises much for Dig In at the Dock, given this was winner Davie Lines’ last race of the season. And this wasn’t a weakened field, with the likes of Stevie Jackson and Ian Dunlop toiling behind the kids.
The women’s race had a familiar winner as well, Anne Ewing (WV Breda) overcoming the drawback of having glasses that really didn’t match the rest of her kit, to roll in first, ahead of Elizabeth Adam (Glasgow Green CC), Katie Carmichael (Hervelo) (who had the honour of being the very last rider across the finish line to wrap up the day), and Gillian Pratt (Team LBS/BB).
Kirkcaldy had once again proven itself as a class cross venue, despite organiser John McComisky’s repeated wishes afterwards that the weather had been better. Social media was still buzzing for hours afterwards, and personally the excitement for me ran into the next day. This felt like a ‘proper cross’ day. Battling riders, and the elements, and learning to flow with the course rather than fighting against it.
The Super Quaich has one more round, after which a champion will be crowned, and it’s still actually all to play for with only points from three rounds counting at the end. Come along, cheer on all the 'B' and the 'A' racers, and let’s see out the 2015/2016 series in style.
Portage Cycling has again paired up with the Fife Council’s Active Fife team to deliver the second Beveridge Park Grand Prix of Cyclocross. The event which forms the third round of the Super Quaich Winter Series will be held on Sunday 7th February 2016.
The sell out event has over 200 riders signed up to take on the challenging tarmac and grassland circuit of 1.2 miles in an exciting A and B race format.
The main protagonists in the Series thus far will all be lining up on the grid including David Lines (Wheelbase Altura), Ian Dunlop (Velo Club Moulin) and Stevie Jackson (Glasgow United). There will also be a huge local interest in the shapes of Scottish Veteran Champion Gary McCrae (Leslie Bikes/Bikers Boutique), John McCaffery (Pedal Power RT) and Brendan Roe (Leslie Bike/Bikers Boutique).
Well worth looking out for in the event will be a clutch of young riders who are performing well nationally; these include Conner Johnstone and Cameron Mason (Leslie Bikes/Bikers Boutique) and all the way from Deeside Thistle, Struan Pryde. These riders will no doubt prove to be a real spoke in the wheels to the more seasoned racers.
The top male riders will also have to contend with Series leader Anne Ewing (WV Breda) and, all being well if she returns on form after the Women's Tour of Qatar, Eileen Roe (Lares Wareodal). Roe who hails from Fife is one of the hottest tickets in British Cycling, and is a previous Scottish Champion, British Circuit Champion as well as Commonwealth Games contender. She is sure to add some spirit and fire to the main race of the day, and is tipped for a top position overall.
John McComisky from Portage Cycling added:
“Cyclocross returning to Beveridge Park for a second time is testament to Active Fife, Fife Council and the superb work done in the previous edition by Kirsteen Torrance who saw the potential in having a major cycling event right in the middle of a town parkland setting. The event again sold out very quickly and we have assembled a wide and varied grid, with British Champions, Scottish Champions, but also with local first-time cyclists making a debut in the races."
The racing will start from 12:30pm and there will be an event village, music, commentary as well as refreshments available in the Kirkcaldy Rugby Club and from park catering units.
Come along to Beveridge Park on Sunday 7th February to cheer on the riders and make some noise at Scotland’s most vibrant of outdoor sports.
This event would not be happening without amazing partner support from: Active Fife - Kirsteen Torrance, Fife Council, Ridley, Madison UK, Lazer - Adam Padgett, John McCaffrey Roofing, Ian and Tamara Hockey - Big Bobble Hats, Fraser Waters - Happy Cog, Caroline Lukes - Podium Flowers, John Anderson - Rennersport, Andy Rafferty, www.cross-shop.webs.com, Paul Zarb - Kinross CC, Andy Bell and Paul Davies - Dunfermiline CC, Portage and the Super Quaich team.
There's been an dramatic rise, an explosion almost, in the number of cyclocross riders willing to pit themselves against their friends and the devious inventiveness of the course designers. In years gone by, the season was all but over by Christmas with only the cultish Dig In at the Dock to blow away the New Year cobwebs.
Times have changed though…there are still 12 races to go, all in the New Year. Recently we saw the launching of the Super Quaich Series, a points-counting, prize-giving set of races including Rouken Glen CX, Doonbank, a new event at Beveridge Park in Kirkcaldy and the famous DIATD. These events sold out within hours of their entries opening.
While the Super Quaich was well trailed, out of nowhere it seems we suddenly heard of another series of 'cross races. The South Lanarkshire CX Series was announced and entries were opened. It came as a surprise to most of the cx community so just who is behind this series and what's it all about?
We were contacted by one of the organisers of the series and it was a pleasant surprise to find that he is a well known figure in both Scottish and British cycling…in fact, he's a current Scottish National Champion! Peter Murdoch is one of the men at the helm of a new company that is set to promote grassroots cycle racing in Scotland. His business partner in this venture is Ricky Sutherland, also well known in the Scottish cycling community. Pete explained their vision in a call from Spain and while they're keen to avoid the current political situation with breakaway groups, leagues and organisations they feel that there is a void at club level for riders who want to race but may never wish to, or be capable of, progressing through the ranks towards an elite career. They just want to get bums on saddles and get races back on the agenda across the board.
To this end they have made some great contacts with the powers that be at South Lanarkshire Council and they are keen to help and be involved. Pedro and Von, as most people know them, want to get back to a much simpler style of race promotion and organisation…a model which is still popular in France and Spain and which sees very large participation, week in, week out. Ideally, in most events, there would be just two races: one for women and vets together and an open event for everyone else. Now that might go against current thinking from some quarters where riders are pitted against others of similar age or ability but the guys believe that riders need to push themselves, and be pushed, if they're to get the most out of the race experience. This simplified model would take in everyone from youths right through to vets and they have a vision which is something along the lines of the old Super Six Series.
This brought us on to the question of cyclocross and the rather sudden appearance of the South Lanarkshire CX Series. Pete explained that they have made some really positive contacts within South Lanarkshire Council and that they're really keen to be involved, offering lots of help along the way and at upcoming events. To this end, they offered the use of several landmark locations such as Chatelherault Country Park in Hamilton. Later in the year these locations get very busy so some early dates were mentioned and Peter and Ricky decided, although it doesn't leave a lot of time for organisation, it would be a missed opportunity to pass up on this early chance to show the council what they can do.
This is why the Series seems to have come out of nowhere but with some very familiar faces working with Pete we can be sure of a successful set of events, and more to come. So, all that's needed now is for these events to sell out and the community to get behind the races. A lot of riders missed out on entry to the Super Quaich so getting involved in these would seem like the obvious thing to do. There will also be races for the Under 12's and Juniors at each event. For the 'cross junkies out there, that's four more events in which to race and takes the season through to March next year!
We'll be having a longer chat with Pete and Ricky after the holidays but in the meantime you'll find the entry links to each of the four events below. Get entering and we'll see you there!