BMC’s Very Bad Day at the Tour de France

Setting the Tone

The blood bath of the Roubaix stage started early. It changed the Tour even before it was expected to do.

Porte (BMC Racing) is out. An unfortunate early crash put an end to his Tour hope for the second straight year. That it happened even before the cobbles is even more unfortunate.

For all the fretting about the dangerous narrow roads in Brittany and before the peloton even hit the cobbles, it’s a reminder how dangerous professional bike racing can be, how it’s often not the course, but the riders (and I’m not blaming Porte by any means) that make the race.

Porte and Rojas’s (Movistar) abandonment change the dynamic of the race. It’s again up to Nibali (Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team), Quintanna (Movistar), and maybe Thomas (Sky) to challenge Froome. Alaphilippe (QuickStep Floor) might be in the mix too, but Froome’s route to the top step of the podium just got a whole lot easier.

Cobbles

The cobbles bit early and hard. Bardet and Greipel both had mechanicals on the first sector (15)—as did one of the riders in the early break. Both Bardet and Greipel had teammates near so the damage wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it along with the Porte crash served to put the peloton on notice. And for Bardet it would be a foreshadowing of things to come.

Other early victims included Groenewegen (Lotto Jumbo) who was caught up in a bad crash exiting a section (13). His crash may seal his fate of not making it through the Alps.

After that, it became easier to keep track of who didn’t crash. Or flat. Or break a wheel. Or themselves.

Deep into the Cobbles

On Sector 4, Greg Van Avermaet attacked with Landa group chasing. He got away with two other riders—John Degenkol (Trek–Segafredo) and Yves Lampaert (QuickStep Floors) and despite Sagan’s best efforts and despite Gilbert trying to chase down his own teammate, it was to be the move of the day. Even Greipel tried his hand in bringing the three back. Problem was of the three—two of them were past winners of Paris-Roubaix. And they worked well together—because they knew what it takes to win Roubaix.

For the rest of the groups, it became day of survival and hoping to limit losses as well as licking of wounds.

Winners

Besides John Degenkol, other winners of the day were Froome, Quintana, Valverde, and Gaviria. QuickStep didn’t get the win, but they got in the final break, shut down Sagan, and despite Gilbert’s freelancing, generally rode as a team.

Greg van Avermaat. He holds his Yellow Jersey, showed a lot of grit, and at least got something for BMC Racing on day that was otherwise a disaster.

Movistar. They survived and in doing so stopped the bleeding of their early mistakes.

Trek, finally getting a good cobblestone win.

Losers

Landa, Bardet, and Uran. Tejay van Garderen. Not sure why van Garderen gets his own line, but he does.

BMC Racing.

Heading to the Mountains

There are a lot of teams who will be severely depleted heading into the mountains. What BMC Racing does for the rest of the Tour is a mystery. Maybe they’re fooling themselves that Tejay van Garderen will get into and stay with a break that claws back a good chunk of his six minutes? Right, that’ll happen. More likely Damiano Caruso will win a mountain stage for BMC.

 

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Tour de France–QuickStep Floors Bus on Fire

Looking Towards Roubaix; QuickStep Floors Bus on Fire

Where was QuickStep? With Julian Alaphilippe held up by a crash and Sky on the front driving the pace after reeling in the last of the breakaway, it took QuickStep a long time to get on the front and once they did it was too late to control the pace. Once they got on the front all they could do was work for Gaviria.

This week has been, despite having 3-4 riders in the top ten, was not a great one for QuickStep. They’re finding running the pack is a lot harder in the Tour than it is in one day races and the early stage races.

Maybe they did the math and figured Alaphilippe wasn’t going to make it back to the peloton, but their best climber has given up any advantage he had on Froome going into the mountains. QuickStep gave up any chance for a Yellow Jersey in Paris, or even a podium spot in exchange for a chance of sprint stage win. And then to add to the disaster, Gaviria gets regulated.

The first full week of the Tour has been a disaster for QuickStep despite having multiple riders in the top ten.

The Sprint

Wow. Griepel and Gaviria battling it out costing both of them a win and eventually a placing. Gaviria had to know that his chance for sprint stage win came at the cost of leaving Alaphilippe out in the wind. The regulation of Gaviria just makes things worse. Combined, both might make for some team tension going into Roubaix and then the mountains.

Early Week Mistakes by Quick-Step Adding Up

Early in the week Quick-Step overplayed its hand when they thought they had Lotto-Soudal caught out in a cross wind. They burned a lot of energy for no results.

The pressure for Sunday’s Hell of the North stage is on and not in a good way for QuickStep Floors.

Not Boring

Despite complaints by the American TV commenters about the first week being boring, today’s regulation, the crash of Martin and Alaphilippe, the earlier crash of Domoulim,  the mid-stage time bonuses as well as a GC that has Froome down a minute, a mix of contenders and pretenders in the top ten, and Sunday’s Hell of the North looming, the first week as been fairly exciting.

Tour Take 3

Team Time Trials, all Time Trials are boring TV watching, but they have a huge impact on the Tour de France podium and on the stages in between. Today’s Stage 3 Team Time Trial was no different. Yet, at least three stages in the next week may make the Team Time Trial moot.

BMC did what it had to do. Sure they only picked up a few seconds on Sky, but given that nearly all of the team except Richie Porte have 50 seconds on Froome, those seconds will count. Tejay van Garderen and Greg Van Avermaet might be distracting enough to keep Sky on its toes. Add in that everyone associated with BMC is riding for a job next season and things could get interesting. No one but Porte is a real podium threat, but even van Garderen can be a distraction to Sky if he has 50 seconds on Froome especially on a stage like Stage 6. Or he and Van Avermaet can team up on Sky in Stage 9?

Done

Movistar is done. Or at least Nairo Quintana’s chances of winning the Tour are over. Done.

Niabli (Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team) will be doing nothing other hunting for a stage win in the mountains. Or maybe Stage 5, 6 or 9. But he like everyone else will have to get through Peter Sagan or QuickStep Floors on those stages.

Stage and Yellow Jersey Hunters

Sagan and his BORA – hansgrohe team lost time, but realistically they never had a real chance at holding the Yellow Jersey in Paris. Expect Sagan to hunt for and nab more than one stage win all next week—most likely Stage 5, 6 or 9—or all of them.

And we can’t discount Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and just about all of QuickStep Floors to make a run at yellow on Stages 5, 6, and 9.

All Bets are Off

There’s a lot of danger in the next week of racing for Froome and his continued reign on the top step of the podium in Paris. Beyond the competitors, the narrow roads, the punchy climbs, and the pavé pose challenges to not just Froome, but also every contender. That Sky is a bit on the defensive having lost 50 seconds on Stage 1 and not being able to crawl back much if any of the time on anyone but Niabli and Quintana will make Stages 4-9 full of vicious racing as BMC, QuickStep Floors, and Sunweb looking to put Sky in the gutter.

And then there’s Stage 10 looming after what could be a blood bath of Stage 9.

Tour de France Hot Take, Stage 2

World Champion for a Reason

Sagan showed his experience and skill in riding the peloton along with benefiting from the work of his team in Stage 2. Unlike Fernando Gaviria (QuickStep Floors) who showed the difference between racing the Tour for the first time and being a three time World Champion and having multiple Tours’ experience. Gaviria showed his lack of experience by being so far back going into the last corner—a corner everyone knew might very well be the deciding factor in not only the sprint finish but also in the race for the Yellow Jersey. His team was left leading out no one in the last 300 meters. QuickStep Floors has been dominant all season and is full of experienced pros so expect Gaviria to not make the same mistake again.

And then there were the disappointing finishes by the other sprinters— Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) who got out sprinted by Sagan. Sure it wasn’t a true sprint finish because the crash that took out Gavira also took out Greipel, Kristoff, Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) and Arnaud Démare’s (Groupama-FDJ) lead out trains, but Sagan showed up the true sprinters in what amounted to a head to head contest. As both a tactician and strategist, Sagan showed himself to be among the best—there’s a reason why he’s a three time World Champion; he makes use of but isn’t dependent upon his team for his success. Look for more Sagan success through Stage 9.

Démare showed some moxie, but he started too early and showed his anxiousness.

Others

Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) racing his last Tour was pure class.

Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) abandoning because of crash is blow both to Astana’s chances and puts into play the mountain stages where they’ll be one less climber to test Froome. Sanchez’s teammate Jackob Fuglsang will miss him in the mountains as will his team in tomorrow’s team time trial.

Looking Ahead

Chris Froome and Sky may be vulnerable tomorrow. Sure they’ll crush the team time trial, but expect BMC Racing Team to hold its own and they have 50 seconds or to work with, which could be crucial heading into the cobbles and then the mountains. Though, BMC wouldn’t be advised to put too much faith in Tejay van Garderen. More likely, Richie Porte and company will have to at least hold their own in the team trial. If they can get out of it with Tejay 40 or 50 seconds up, they might have a strategic advantage in the early mountains.

Vincenzo Nibali and his Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team might find some advantage by having a decent team trial. Nibali might just make it to the first mountains with a small lead over Porte and more importantly over Froome. And we can’t count out Team Sunweb and Tom Dumoulin who also have 50 seconds on Froome as they head into the team time trial.

The less said about Movistar the better at this point. They’ve missed yet another chance early on in the Tour to set themselves up for good finish in Paris.

The real question is, how much time will Sky crawl back in the team time trial and then what happens in the one day race like stages before the Tour hits the mountains in Stage 10.

Right now Froome and Sky are a bit on a back foot, but they didn’t have a great opening to the Giro and Froome ended up on the top of the podium.

Winter Clothing, Southern Style

In my last post–a long time ago, I recounted purchasing some winter clothing in summer. Of course, since I live in southern Louisiana my version of winter is likely different than yours. We rarely get daytime temperatures in the 30s. Even during the recent east of the Mississippi polar freeze, our daytime temperatures were still in the

Gore WindStopper SoftShell Jersey, front
Gore Power Windstopper Softshell Jersey.

high 30s and low 40s, which is cold by the way.

With that out of the way, on to a quick review of Gore Bike Wear’s Men’s Power WindStopper Softshell Short-Sleeve Jersey.

 

Overall, it’s a good jersey. I run hot–see pictures below so I find it’s a bit warm for most of the weather I encounter. I’ve tried it in low 60s and 50s and have found it warm and that means sweat, which means chill. The first few rides I did in the jersey were afternoon rides that started in the low 60s and maybe dropped into the high 50s. They were spirited rides–tempo or better. I ended up unzipping the jersey. Recently I did a ride in similar weather with a heavier, but not a winter jersey and the same base layer. Overall, the level of sweat on the base layer was the same, though I felt a touch less clammy.

Gore Windstopper
A bit warm for the GGore Power Windstopper Softshell Jersey.

One ride I had a zipper malfunction and ended up fully unzipping the thing. Luckily it was warm enough that I didn’t have to stop or try to be pro and sit up and zip up.

I generally layer so on all occasions I had either a short or long sleeve base layer on–basically if I’m wearing this, I’m going need some covering on my arms, but I think the long sleeve version would be too much for my temperatures. Perhaps paring the Gore jersey with no base layer and arm warmers might be the ticket.

Perhaps Castelli is on to something with the lighter Perfecto jersey?

That said, I’ve ridden a few times in the low 50s and high 40s and it seems to be fine. The last time I wore it, I appreciated the windstopper fabric as the wind was blowing and while my arms were a bit chilly, my chest, shoulders, and back were comfortable. It was only the last three or four miles of the ride that I noticed I felt like I needed to unzip a bit–disclosure the pace picked up a bit.

What I Like

At first look I was skeptical of the long tail, fearing that it would get in the way, but it hasn’t.

It’s comfortable–other than the overheating issues. The high collar works. Even though I’m not a fan of things around my neck, I’m growing to like it early on in the ride.

It’s held up to four or five washings and a few repeat wearings with no washing. The reflective lettering on the back (which may not be to everyone’s taste) seems to be holding up well.

The rear pockets do their job–they’re not too big, not to high or low, and despite feeling stretchy don’t seem to droop with my standard load–iPhone 7, small wallet, three or four keys, asthma inhaler, and occasionally a bar or gel.

Back in July I thought the inside felt a bit gummy, but I haven’t noticed it on the bike and overall the fabric feels soft.

I’m not sure I’d pay full retail for the Gore Bike Wear’s Men’s Power WindStopper Softshell Short-Sleeve Jersey.

For me, this is best for temperatures that max out in the low to mid 50s and could probably work into the low 40s with the right base layer and arm warmers.

 

Winter Clothing in Summer

Smart cyclists buy clothing off season. Add in the Tour de France sales and doing so just make sense. Over the past few weeks I’ve picked up two winter clothing items.

First is Castelli’s Gabba 2 Short-Sleeve Men’s Jersey. Second is Gore Bike Wear’s Men’s Power WindStopper Softshell Short-Sleeve Jersey. Both feature some version of Gore’s Windstopper. I’ve been a big fan of Windstopper since I raced as a grad student at The Ohio State University. Mostly I liked base layers since I could still wear my short sleeve race jersey. But now that I don’t do much racing and live in South Louisiana, I figured I’d give full on Windstopper jerseys a try. Add in TdF sales and I got two for basically the price of one.

Fit and Finish

Castelli Gabba 2 front
Castelli Gabba 2

The Castelli Gabba 2 fits traditionally Castelli and that means sizing up for most of us Americans. Add in a fabric that’s heavier and less stretchy than a typical jersey and the Gabb 2 fits even a bit tighter than most Castelli/Italian brands. It’s snug. Really snug.

And yep, I said “heavier.” The Gabba is no lightweight. It’s got some heft to it and inside feels a touch rubbery. I’m not sure I’d wear it without a base layer of some sort–tune in sometime in February or maybe January for some long term testing.

The Gore Bike Wear’s Men’s Power WindStopper Softshell Short-Sleeve Jersey feels quite a bit lighter than the Gabba 2. It also feels a bit softer and not quite as stiff as the Gabba (I haven’t put the Gabba 2 in the dryer on low, which is supposed to soften it up.) And the Gore fits a bit less like it was designed for pro racers with 3% body fat and small frames. If you’re like me and have a bigger build and could stand to lose a few pounds, that’s a good thing. One thing I’m not sure about the fit on the Gore is the sleeves feel a bit long, but that might change once I get on the bike.

Gore WindStopper SoftShell Jersey, front
Gore Bike Wear’s Men’s Power WindStopper Softshell

Like the Gabba 2, it has a zipper flap, but it’s on the inside. Just trying the two jerseys on and walking around in them, I like the inside zipper flap on the Gore jersey. And there’s more zipper fun. The Gore has a nifty little zipper pocket at the collar that lets the zipper tuck in. It gives the jersey a bit of cleaner look. Again, long term testing will tell which design is better–though it looks like the Gabba 3 will have a similar design.

Both jerseys feature a tall collar, though the Gabba 2’s is a bit taller. One thing that’s nice about the Gore’s collar is that it has some contouring to it. It’s scalloped in the back, giving some room for riding with your head up a bit. Again, tune in sometime in the winter to see if it makes any difference.

The Gore’s back pockets are a bit of mixed bag. The center one is made of the same material as the main jersey while the two side pockets are made of a thin stretchy material that may prove troublesome once filled with stuff like keys, small wallets, gels, bars, etc. I haven’t seen a Gabba 1, but they may be similar to the pockets on it and that may be a problem.

Both the Castelli and the Gore feature a longer tail, which may be nice in wet weather, but may complicate things for those sizing up in the Castelli.

Aesthetics

Gore Windstopper Softshell Jersey, back
Gore Bike Wear’s Men’s Power WindStopper Softshell

Both jerseys are red. I like red. Both come in other colors if you don’t like red. The Castelli Gabba is a pretty understated design and I like that. It has the Castelli scorpion on the sleeve and center back pocket along with Rosa Corsa on the chest with a slightly darker stripe running across the chest for a bit of design. There is some reflective piping along the back of the jersey as well.

The Gore Power WindStopper Softshell is also pretty understated with the exception of the bold “WINDSTOPPER” reflective lettering  along the spine of the jersey. I’m 6 feet tall and a bit wide so I can already hear the jokes. But, it’s an ok way to add some low light visibility on the jersey (maybe a lazy way that no Italian designer would ever do, but…).

As you can see the back of the collar is also black for a bit of contrast. And there is some reflective piping above the pockets.

If you like team logos, it looks like Castelli offers versions of the Gabba 2 in team Cannondale colors.

Final Thoughts

Both jerseys seem like they’re quality pieces. It’s currently 90 degrees and 99% humidity in Louisiana so I have no idea how they’ll deal with cold wind and keeping out drizzle.

So yeah, I live in Louisiana, but the temperature ranges of these jerseys–high 40s to 60s is pretty much our winter. It’s humid here so temps often feel a bit lower and it’s windy in the winter; I’m looking forward to trying both of these jerseys out. For me, something that cuts the wind is as important as insulation, especially on tempo or higher rides.

I’m not sure I’d spend $150 plus for either, but if you can catch them on sale they look like good additions to your cycling wardrobe. Add in the slight waterproof aspect of the Gabba 2 and the Gore jersey and they beat out windstopper type base layers, unless you have no plans to ride in the wet.

 

 

 

Automatic Shifting for the People? Changing Cycling one Shift at a Time.

I’ve been riding for the past two or three weeks in eastern Massachusetts and while the locals tell me it’s not hilly, for someone coming from southern Louisiana I beg to differ. Mostly I’ve been riding in Myles Standish State Forest, which gets me anywhere between 900 and 1,200 feet of climbing over a 25 mile ride. What eastern Massachusetts lacks in long mountain climbs it makes up for in short punchy climbs that often have short stretches of 10% grades (up and down). The takeaway, it’s the kind of road riding that rewards momentum and smart shifting to maintain it or to take advantage of the quick grade changes.

And that takes me to electronic shifting. I have it and like it despite having been a bit of retro grouch before getting it. (Disclaimer, I rode thumb shifters on my mountain bike well into the late 90s and only made the switch when the guys from GripShift (now SRAM) pried the thumb shifters from my cold but not quite dead hands.) Riding where the terrain requires frequent shifting and frequent double shifts, I’ve grown even fonder of Di2. Shimano was at the forefront of bring electronic shifting to the market and they are pushing the horizon–perhaps in directions that will change cycling and what makes a cyclist a cyclist.

The big change in electronic shifting isn’t SRAM’s wireless system (and it’s innovative, don’t get me wrong), but rather Shimano’s Di2 Synchro Shift. It has the potential to change cycling in ways that wireless shifting doesn’t. Leonard Zinn has a great explanation over at VeloNews of how S2–full Synchro Shift mode works. Basically, it manages rear upshifts and downshifts by a cog or two based on what the rider does with the front chain ring–upshifting a few cogs when the rider shifts from the big ring to the small. As I’ve been refining my riding (and thus shifting) in the up and down terrain of eastern Massachusetts–and missing or getting the shift just a bit wrong, the idea of having a system that keeps me from being over or under geared is intriguing. Of course, it takes some of the challenge out of cycling (and what’s the fun without the challenge?). But then, would we find new challenges?

What really got me thinking is that if electronic systems can make such decisions now, what does the near future hold?

  • How far away are we from systems that auto shift based on some combination of cadence, power, heart rate, wind speed, and elevation?
  • How will such systems impact events like time trials in which a cyclist or coach could program shifts given the course or the cyclist’s fitness?
  • Or a hilly up and down road race course where the system analyzes the rider’s effort, the conditions, etc. and makes the shift to keep the cyclist in the ideal HR or power band?
  • What about a route the rider has ridden a lot or pre-ridden as part of race prep? Will shifting systems be able to learn a rider’s tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses and compensate for them through shifting patterns?

On one level such innovation may change cycling in ways that takes some of the challenge and skill out of the sport and turn cycling into even more of a fitness centric sport than it is now. On another level such innovation may open up the sport (you’d be surprised by how many new and casual cyclists find shifting a black box). And for recreational cyclists or commuters or those cyclists who face physical challenges, such automatic shifting could be a great boon and open cycling up to even more people–or make some para cyclists more competitive than they are now.