Can you feel it? It’s that time of year again, and I don’t mean the Tour Down Under. It’s the buzz of a new season, the sharpening of the knives, the shaving of the legs, the thrum of the media and the froth of the forums!
Bring it on.
One thing that caught my eye last week was a statement from Matt White, sport director at Orica-GreenEDGE, about Richie Porte.
“Porte is the strongest rider in the world right now and he’s my tip for the race,” said White. “He’s the favourite and having seen him on the bike first hand, I can say that he’s absolutely flying.”
We all know that Porte had a season last year that’d stink up an outside loo for half a decade, flitting between too few high notes and altogether too many lows.
Porte said as much in an interview with The Courier:
“Anyone who follows cycling would know I had a shocker of a season last year,” the 29-year-old said.
“I was pretty good here (at the road nationals) and at the Tour Down Under, but that was about it for me – my season finished up at the end of August.”
Fair play to him for getting his mojo back but I was struck by the thought: who on the World Tour roster apart from the Aussies is ‘flying’ right now?
Not to sound denigrating, but it’s not too hard to be ‘the best in the world right now’ when now is January – you just have to be the best Aussie and you take the world mantle by default.
Sure, there are always some non-Aussie riders who arrive for the TDU in smoking form but they are few and often the usual suspects, and you can be sure, apart from maybe Andre Greipel, that they won’t be going great in the European mid-season.
I’m aware that the Aussie cycling season follows in large part the Aussie seasons, but might it not be time for the Australian National Road Race Champs to be held in line with the European national champs?
To require a World Tour to be in top shape in January and then to try to hit those heights in May, say for the Giro d’Italia, or in July for the Tour de France, well, there are only so many times in a year a rider can be in top, top form.
Or maybe the guy who wins the Australian nationals is in pretty good shape but not great shape? Is the competition being devalued somehow, not that so many of the national contenders are based in World Tour teams?
I’m not sure. Maybe you can tell me.
The new UCI rules regarding doping were announced and were in large met with a kind of wearied shrug of the shoulders by both the press and the fans.
Some of the changes were expected, such as the four-year ban for ‘serious’ cases of doping, as WADA had already brought them in back at the end of 2014. But what is ‘serious’? Clenbuterol and platsicisers in the blood? Cocaine ringing the nostrils on the start line? Or EPO track lines on the arms, twice?
Yet there is a proviso in there that states that anyone that admits ‘promptly’ can have the four years dropped to two. Not sure how that will change anything, except leaving us with more calculated ‘admissions’ of guilt that change nothing.
Teams will be charged 5 per cent of their annual budget if a second and third rider get busted for doping, which is surely too little. If three positives result only in a 10 per cent fine then the fans – myself for sure – will feel conned.
One interesting change is the ‘banned associations’ ruling. This states that riders can be banned for associating with any banned individual in any capacity, meaning that Frank Schleck’s excuse that he paid banned doctor Emmanuelle Fuentes 7000 euro because he ‘just kinda did’ will be a enough to see him banned.
But again, while moving in the right direction, how about taking out all former banned riders who now work in management, and applying the same rules to those now working with riders who were not actually banned but who were heavily ‘associated’ with doping and characters involved in doping other riders?
Maybe because, well, we’d have almost no management left? Probably.
Just seems like there are too many caveats in the new rules to make this effective in the way it could be, if it were not being run by a federation that is famous for dragging things out.
Finally, some great news: MTN-Qhubeka are going to the Tour de France!
Yes, the African team received one of five wildcard invitations Wednesday from race organiser ASO and they are going to the big boys’ party in July. Amazing, what an achievement that is.
(Shame their kit is the worst in the history of cycling but you can’t have it all I suppose. Don’t they know vertical black and white stripes have a slimming effect? What cyclist needs that?!).
It’s not surprising that the team is thrilled, after being founded with this very dream in 2007.
General manager Brian Smith said, “The team is different and the Qhubeka foundation makes a difference, that’s why I took the job on. When I stood in front of them at the team camp in South Africa, I told them that I’d help them reach their goal.
“The Tour de France invitation … It’s emotional. I shed tears realising that this team is coming along. I’ve seen how Qhubeka makes a difference in the townships. This will make the world ask, ‘What is Qhubeka?’ And it will give so much brand awareness.”
Yeah, what is Qhubeka? Google it.
Well done lads!