End of an era: An inevitable conclusion for Chris Froome and Team INEOS

After months of speculation, it is now no secret that seven-time Grand Tour winner Chris Froome will not be having his contract renewed with Team INEOS after 2020. So why now? Why is this big news for cycling and what next for Froome?

First things first, the talk of a mid-season transfer is now put to bed. For 2021 he’ll be riding for Israel Start-Up Nation but it’s clear that if Froome rides this year’s rescheduled Tour de France it will be his last with the British team. To enter the special club of five star winners is going to be tough but an announcement before the race has even begun will open up more speculation about team selection and internal rivalry.

Team INEOS are accustomed to media spotlight with Tour de France dominance since 2012 so the pressure will be on them to deliver as the dominant team, so could this news cause everything to fall apart or strengthen the team further?

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Let’s not hide away from the facts. 14 Grand Tour stage wins, one Giro d’Italia, two Vuelta a España and four Tour de France titles since 2011 – Chris Froome is one of the greatest tour riders of his generation.

Despite the Giro victory, 2018 didn’t go to plan with Geraint Thomas clearly the stronger rider and in 2019 Froome’s crash at the Dauphiné scuppered his plans to ride for a fifth title hence Egan Bernal’s victory and Thomas’s second place last year.

Regardless of his critics, his haters and the controversy surrounding the salbutamol case, which he was later cleared of, you cannot deny that Froome’s victories are nothing more than remarkable. Tactically spot on, overcoming difficulties and having a will to win – that has to be admired.

The turning point was 2017 with Geraint Thomas going for sole leadership at the Giro with an ambition to win Grand Tours plus Froome not at his absolute best to secure his fourth yellow jersey alongside an historic Tour-Vuelta double. Holding three Grand Tours at once in 2018 plus Geraint Thomas’s quality, certainly threw the cat among the pigeons.

To make things more complicated it was Froome’s almost career-ending crash at the Dauphiné that gave Thomas the green light for leadership only for Egan Bernal to win yellow. With Geraint Thomas not knowing how last year’s Tour would’ve finished with the weather affecting the final two stages in the Alps, Bernal’s triumph added more internal ambition.

Still with me?

Managing individual aspirations on the road will be interesting. How will INEOS deal with the situation and that’s only if Chris Froome starts the Tour. Bernal’s comments that he won’t sacrifice himself if he’s at 100 per cent and Geraint Thomas having a stake in claiming his second Tour title adds all sorts of spice to this year’s Tour de France. 

The aim will surely be to see how each rider fares up until the third week and see who is in the best shape to win overall. It’ll therefore come down to team management and tactics, in the hope that nothing unfortunate happens.

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Make no mistake this is a huge moment for cycling. It’ll signal the end of Sir Dave Brailsford’s partnership with Chris Froome and quoted from the team website, Brailsford says:

“Chris has been with us from the start. He is a great champion and we have shared many memorable moments over the years but I do believe this is the right decision for the Team and for Chris. Given his achievements in the sport, Chris is understandably keen to have sole team leadership in the next chapter of his career – which is not something we are able to guarantee him at this point. A move away from Team INEOS can give him that certainty”

I’m sure there’s a mix of sadness and pride within Brailsford’s mindset, his knowledge that he cannot guarantee leadership but joy in what he’s seen Froome achieve. The future of Team INEOS now lies in the talent of youngsters. Egan Bernal is only 23-years of age and has plans to win every Grand Tour, newly appointed 2019 Giro champion Richard Carapaz certainly won’t want to stop at just one Grand Tour, Pavel Sivakov has a bright future plus British duo Tao Geoghegan-Hart and Owain Doull could easily develop themselves as mountain goats in my personal opinion.

Rumours of Geraint Thomas transferring to other squads has always been talked out and I think that will be another inevitable outcome, unless I’m proved otherwise. The future is with new emerging talent and in INEOS their future isn’t going to rely on Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas forever. I’m certainly not writing them both off but times do change.

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This isn’t new for cycling and not new for Team INEOS but it could signal a shift in Tour de France dominance. Jumbo-Visma have competed and continue to look strong, Movistar might get their house in order, Thibaut Pinot stands the best chance in ending French pain for over 35 years plus new Grand Tour talent is emerging across the peloton. Israel Start-Up Nation under the ownership of Israeli-Canadian property developer Sylvan Adams have targets of their own after being upgraded from pro-contintental to World Tour level.

Sole leadership is what Froome seeks and he’ll certainly get that in 2021. One last chance to win a fifth Tour with Team INEOS is going to be hard. In recent years he hasn’t been in the best form at the Tour and if it wasn’t for his crash last year, who knows what could’ve been the final outcome!

In my own personal opinion this was the news cycling fans were all expecting. The end of Chris Froome’s leadership at Team INEOS and a new future for the British team. Lots of respect to him and lots of challenges for Froome still to conquer.

The big question is what will his position be if he starts this year’s Tour? After the crash, what will his physical form look like? Look out for the 29th August because this year’s rescheduled Tour de France is going to be epic.

Featured image courtesy of imago

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Vive Le Tour: 5 Tour de France Stages To Help You Through Lockdown

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July is usually the month of the year that is bookmarked for cycling fans, earmarking 3 weeks of the month for soaking up the finest spectacle in professional cycling. It feels customary for fans of the sport to be drunk from the incomparable euphoria of La Grande Boucle during the month of July as they seek escape in the colourful haze of the professional peloton. However, 2020 marks a new beginning. 

Instead we will now turn to September to embrace France’s great race, trading the Mediterranean summer sun for the falling leaves of autumn. Nevertheless, July will always hold a special place in the heart of those who call the sport their home even if a global pandemic is occurring. Whether you’re in dire need of cycling to fill your lockdown July afternoons or you’re in need of some motivation to get yourself back in the saddle, here are 5 fine stages from recent years to help silence the pandemonium of the current climate.

Tour de France 2017 – Stage 9

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Chris Froome looked to have had the 2017 Tour de France under his thumb even by stage 9, but this épreuve through the Alps showed that you don’t need to finish thousands of metres above sea level to create a thriller for the history books. After an early finish on La Planche des Belles Filles, we gained a sneak peek into who the stronger competitors looked to be coming into the more testing days of the race.

Already in the early phase of this stage it looked to be a day that would be cross-analysed in the years to come as former maillot jaune wearer Geraint Thomas and Rafał Majka hit the deck on an early descent. Once they crested the final climb, the hair raising descent became the amphitheatre for the next plot twist – a race ending crash for Richie Porte and a nasty tumble for Dan Martin who fought on to finish solidly, even whilst nursing a broken vertebrae, adding a merciless ambiance to the day.

Once the smoke looked to have settled, Rigoberto Uran faced an issue with his gearing plaguing his preparation for the final run-in to the line as mechanics performed the elaborate practice of high-speed repairs, a classic Tour de France oddity.

The arrival of the finish line in Chambéry was welcomed with open arms for the lead group billed as the assumed GC favourites and challengers to Froome. The misconstrued Warren Barguil was declared the victor at first glance after a bike throw against the eventual GC runner-up Uran who against the odds managed to contend for the win. Just as Barguil sat down for interviews with the official race press as the day’s winner, the plot thickened as it emerged that Uran won the sprint on second glance. Barguil’s ill-omened post-up may be tainted in retrospect but the dynamics of this stage make it one that stands out from the somewhat dire 2017 edition.

Tour de France 2016 – Stage 12

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Stage 12 was supposed to be the first ‘alpine’ showdown for the 2016 pack unlodged in the time standings. It fell on Chris Froome to lead the way with a negligible lead over his competitors before the stage. With the prospect of Mont Ventoux up ahead, this was bound to be one to tell the kids about. However, this stage will forever be remembered for vox pops like ‘Chris Froome may finish this race without a bike, he’ll cross the line on foot’ rather than a race defining duel up the Provençal climb. 

In reality, high winds shortened the stage, allowing it to finish further down the arid slopes of the ‘Giant of Provence’ at the less glamorous destination of Chalet Reynard. Fans can therefore be forgiven for expecting a more tame performance. However, this proved itself to be more than a classic – it became a comedy of errors.

Normally the fight to the observatory at the summit of Ventoux is a Greek tragedy for many of the riders as they succumb to their fatigue, raw emotion as we unravel the race in its most visceral form. Instead of a Greek tragedy, the comedy of errors debuted in 2016 was a calamity of a finale that will be remembered in history for a motorbike crash forcing Richie Porte, Bauke Mollema and Chris Froome onto the smouldering concrete of the mountain. 

The breakaway race was all but sealed at this point, still providing another explosive skirmish, but all eyes were transfixed by images of the yellow jersey running up one of cycling’s most mythical climbs. Once he crossed the line, an indescribable tension loomed as a forum of questions and debates sparked even before Froome regained his yellow Pinarello. Adam Yates was ill-fatedly declared the initial yellow jersey whilst the images of the fallen shaking their heads were broadcast to the world. Nevertheless, this is a must-watch for the 21st century cycling fan, marking a new episode in the curious saga of Chris Froome’s career.

Tour de France 2011 – Stage 18

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It would be naive to ignore this mammoth of a stage that still sits firmly in the hallowed collection of Tour de France exploits. The 18th stage of the race marked the beginning of the final brutal days in the Alps, providing the titans of the epoch, Schleck and Contador, the chance to snatch back the yellow jersey that they felt they deserved. With a cloud of controversy surrounding Contador in the early stages of the race, all fans’ fingers were crossed for a grand-stand contest on the slopes of the Col du Galibier. 

Enter Thomas Voeckler however, Europcar’s very own matador. The ever expressive Frenchman held onto the yellow jersey until the final summit finishes, reinvigorating the French press and public to rally around their unsuspecting frontrunner. Voeckler may have added to the pretext, but Andy Schleck was the man to take the lead up the slopes of the race’s highest point that year. 

The Luxemburger who had searched out a Tour de France crown his whole career, tamed the steep gradients, his competitors and the fans, gaining an astronomical lead on the road thanks to a tandem effort alongside teammate Maxime Monfort. Once he approached the top, it looked to be ‘game over’ for the race, Schleck was back and better than ever.

Whilst we digested Schleck’s move, the yellow jersey story imploded behind. The likes of Contador and Evans placed pressure on Voeckler who looked to wain at the back of the race contenders’ group. In the end Voeckler would cross the line with just a 15 second advantage to Andy Schleck. Serving as the main spectacle of this fabulous 2011 yellow jersey battle, Schleck laid all his cards on the table on the Galibier, ready to fight for the right to wear the maillot jaune in Paris, a feat he never achieved.

Tour de France 2015 – Stage 4

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The 2015 edition of the Tour de France was held with a lot of prestige and curiosity. The route looked like a proper mountain fondo  and the startlist was more than star studded. With the tainted 2014 cobble stage fresh in the minds of many of the 2015 competitors, the fourth stage was set to be an unpredictable one. 

The first days of the race provided a habituel change in the race leader with Froome assuming leadership on the day the race hit the cobbles of L’Enfer du Nord. Rumbling underneath this facade, ‘the Panzerwagen’ Tony Martin eyed up his first ever grand tour leaders’ jersey after a strong run in the opening stages. 

After a tense, but well controlled exhibition from the teams of Nibali, Quintana, Froome and Contador, the race appeared wide open. That was until around 4 kilometres to go when the curtain dropped and the ‘Tony Martin show’ began. As the German put out a gut wrenching effort, cycling fans across the globe were biting their nails, sending their final prayers for Martin to finally take the maillot jaune, a career goal for him. 

On the final run into the line, the outcome still looked unclear as Martin dangled open mouthed in front of the main group. The multiple time trial world champion did hold on, however, to take one of the most emotional wins in recent Tour de France history, vanquishing the yellow jersey which he held until a heartbreaking crash two days later on the road to Le Havre.

Tour de France 2019 – Stage 9

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Still crisp in the minds of Tour de France viewers and journalists alike, this stage gives us everything that we need for a truly epic show closer to the race’s first week. After a calypso of stage winners and surprises over the first week of the 2019 Tour, stage 9’s Bastille Day backdrop had a lot to give for riders looking to make their mark before the rest day in Saint Étienne.

Giulio Ciccone, the unknown package, clutched onto a slender lead in the maillot jaune ahead of the impassioned Julien Alaphilippe who was showing signs of what was to come later in the race. After a dominant performance through the vineyards of Champagne (a close contender for this list), Alaphilippe provided a whole fiesta on France’s national holiday. Alongside French nearly-man Thibaut Pinot, the two joined forces to ride away from the bunch to gain a wavering gap ahead of the main group consisting most of the main race contenders. Add into the mix Thomas De Gendt, the ever enthralling breakaway staple, in front and we are left with a concoction that epitomises the Tour’s class. 

This stage did not shy away from ‘Tour de France arithmetic’ as the gaps needed for Alaphilippe to regain the yellow jersey, Pinot to climb onto the podium, the deficit faced by bruised Thomas were firmly in the balance, not to mention the frantic chase for the stage win. Pure cycling brilliance!

Business or Pleasure?: 6 Tour de France Grand Départ Destinations To Consider

The Grand Départ is at the heart of cycling’s conscience as cycling fans lust for the most outlandish and extravagant start to Grand Tours. Whilst the Giro d’Italia push the bounds of what is acceptable for what they call the ‘Big Start’, we as cycling supporters are left to wonder what the Tour de France could do to challenge them in the years to come. The anti-climax of hearing about yet another flag-drop in a raining Northern French city, Benelux metropolis or Atlantic holiday town should soon be remedied by this list of potential (and somewhat realistic) Grand Départ options for the Tour de France to make in the years to come.

SLOVENIA

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Although the clear geographical distance may lead some people to think of Slovenia as unfeasible, this growing cycling powerhouse is clearly craving an appearance in one of cycling’s big races. It is true that many Slovenians make the journey to Italy to see the Corsa Rosa, but in reality, nothing compares to the circus of the Tour de France. As the likes of Roglič and Pogačar are now schmoozing in the field of yellow jersey contention, there is no better time for La Grande Boucle to visit this nation fixed with cycling at the moment. The increasing number of Slovenian flags at the side of the road must be catching the Tour de France organisers’ eyes as this nation imposes itself as a candidate for the race’s ouverture.

Although the Tour de France has a tendency to keep the Grand Départ firmly away from summit finishes, it would be quite the spectacle to see the aforementioned homegrown contenders fight for a yellow jersey on home soil, an opportunity that could inspire not only Slovenia but nations nearby in the Balkans as well.

MARSEILLE

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This may appear as a boring choice. Marseille is after all ‘yet another French city’, but it is one that is distinct to its counterparts, especially those often favoured by the Tour de France. Marseille is a city with a real identity, a counterculture scene and a whole new demographic that the race could cultivate by setting off from the city. Although the depths of Marseille have not been properly honoured with a road stage (the 2013 stage finished far away from the centre of the city), a Grand Départ could do this city a world of good.

Considered to be ‘rough and ready’ by many inside and outside of France, Marseille’s grand old buildings, guaranteed good weather and stunning landscape provide the race organisers with a fantastic canvas. The city could really utilise the platform to display its unique charm and challenge the perception of what it means to be a French city. 

QUÉBEC

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The once assumed rule of ‘stay on your own continent’ was clearly broken when the Giro made the daring move to host their opening in Israel, therefore, Québec may be forgiven for holding onto a dream of hosting the Tour de France. The province, which already hosts UCI World Tour classics, would act as an interesting contrast as the Tour would set its feet in North America for the first time. In addition, the province’s cultural and geographical similarity to mainland France may ease the jet-lag induced ‘culture shock’ that may ensue as the riders tackle a whole new corner of the world.  

Let’s address the major elephant in the room surrounding this prediction, the time difference and clear logistical nightmare would be unbelievably chaotic for the race. Moving between continents would prove to be the Tour’s biggest challenge in recent years. In fact, it could crux many riders as they wither in the hands of jet lag and sleep deprivation caused by the trans-Atlantic journey. This being said, the race is heading to Denmark in 2021, hinting at a transfer par avion for the race. This indicates that there is feasibility in having a plane transfer, albeit one that is astronomical in comparison to the challenge of which the race will face next year.

ALGERIA

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France has a tumultuous and turbulent relationship with this North African country that scars the French psyche. Despite this, the prevalence of Algerian influence within France is undeniable and France’s sporting staple has a clear place within the cultural homeland of so many of its citizens. 

This may be another continental issue as the race would dip its toes into Africa for the first time, however, boat connections to Marseille provide a clear bridge into France rendering its possibility as equally feasible as that of London or Corsica. In addition, the Arab influenced North may be worlds apart from the Africa many Europeans envision, but cycling’s increasingly popular presence in Africa could make Algeria the perfect meeting point for both African and European racing teams, especially as Team NTT (formerly MTN-Qhubeka) still holds a place in the professional peloton. Algeria, therefore, occupies a unique position uniting the new cycling frontiers of the Middle East and the emerging market of the Arab League as well as embracing the newfound cycling energy in Sub-Saharan Africa. This may be a pipe dream, but a project that could prove to be more than just a Tour de France Grand Départ as the race would look to redefine the ragged Franco-Algerian relationship alongside satiating the hunger for professional cycling within both Arabia and Africa.

BALEARIC ISLANDS

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Already visited by many Europeans, the Balearic Islands may be found within Spain’s international domain, but the French Grand Tour should definitely consider a visit to this archipelago. Already a customary cycling paradise, the interest and infrastructure are already there for a large scale cycling event. The islands, particularly Mallorca, would be well equipped for the challenge of hosting a Grand Tour, as they have done on the odd occasion in the past. As the Grand Départ in Corsica proved, there is a room for a self-contained island to start the 21 days of racing.

A trip to France is becoming a frequent element of La Vuelta, so why shouldn’t France return the favour to Spain? There has only been one Grand Départ in Spain which seems bizarre given the history tied alongside the nation and cycling. The Balearic Islands may be more aligned with Catalonia than the rest of the Kingdom of Spain, however, cycling fever still runs rampant in the region. If Catalan cycling legend Joaquim Rodríguez could get on board with this venture, there is no reason to not believe that the race could make a splash in this vacation destination.

SCOTLAND

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Scotland proved to us all that they can host an exciting bike race, just watch the 2018 European Championships as proof. Edinburgh has attempted to bid for Grand Tour starts before but the plans have fallen through for a multitude of reasons, however, there is still hope in finding a way for Scotland to play host to cycling’s biggest spectacle. 

If one thought that the hills of Yorkshire were all that the UK had in terms of climbing then look again as Scotland holds the highest peaks around. The prospect of having a challenging day in the Highlands or even a 600m summit finish at the Cairngorm Ski Centre would prove to be a fantastic way to show off Scotland as a viable host for cycling races and events.

One issue does lie in the fact that Scotland may lack the clear poster boy or frontman for this mission. This should not pose a problem though. As the Giro ventured to far-flung lands, the issue of having a face for the Big Start was not an issue, especially for Israel and Hungary. A poster boy may add to the spectacle but it is not a key element in this project, instead, Scotland should be targeting a new generation of Scottish cyclists to enter the global road cycling scene. 

What makes a successful Grand Départ?

Saturday 27th June.

Today was the day that was due to welcome the start of the most famous bike race, a joyous occasion for cycling fans across the world. The streets of Nice would’ve been packed but sadly coronavirus has put the Tour de France on hold. At the foot of the Alps with Mediterranean sea air, Nice and indeed all of cycling is holding its breath, hoping and praying that the revised UCI calendar takes place this August.

With cycling on hold for the moment what better time could there be to write some features for The Chain Gang! The Tour’s prestige would be nothing without the cutting of the ribbon, the Grand Départ to start it all off. So, what makes a successful Grand Départ?

Fans cannot contain their excitement for much longer with all their favourite riders assembled on stage for the team presentation. Pomp and ceremony, it’s time for celebration, it’s time to get ready for a race that every rider wants to take part in, a race that defines the season. The crowd are hyped, the media spotlight shines, we’re all keen to get the race underway.

The mindsets for the riders are set, the ultimate prize being the famous maillot jaune. Who gets to wear the first yellow jersey? A career highlight for any sprinter, time trialist, all-round breakaway specialist or a puncheur – it depends on the stage in front of you. Whatever the start of the Tour is composed of it has to please some but disappoint others.

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Suspense. Nervousness. Two descriptions of a Grand Départ.

Flat stages with the sprinters teams all bustling for position on the road trying to deliver their lead sprinter the first yellow jersey. A free hit for the fast men but a free hit where the GC contenders need to stay safe.

Time trial specialists love a TT to begin, a brilliant opportunity to show off TT positions, some crazy-looking helmets and create some personal memories. Time trial or sprint stage – it can either be delight or a nightmare for individual GC contenders, shaking up the early pecking order. In many ways the contenders to win the yellow jersey overall are in a no-win situation with any mishaps, crashes or errors determining a Tour de France won or lost.

Composition of the stages and madness of the Tour are two ingredients put together.

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By determining the stage profiles, fans have a Tour de France Grand Départ to feast their eyes upon. Drama, triumph and good sport to watch, the opening of the Tour certainly provides exactly that. Unexpected moments at its unpredictable best.

Crashes and mechanicals (unfortunate as they are) create talking points. Just last year Jakob Fuglsang suffered from a fall, in 2018 Chris Froome going for the Giro-Tour double fell onto a grass bank with Nairo Quintana also having a problem before the 3km to go mark, Alejandro Valverde won’t want reminding of a rainy day in Düsseldorf and remember the dreadful scenes on Stage 3 in 2015? Antwerp to Huy after the Utrecht time trial and a shattered peloton in crosswinds along the Zeeland coast, the race was neutralised after an awful mass crash involving the yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara.

Chaotic scenes and unfortunate abandons for some riders including Daryl Impey with a fractured collarbone and Simon Gerrans suffering a fractured wrist.

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It’s not always bad though. Never discount the moments of glory.

Some serious Pennine climbs on Stage 2 in 2014 saw Vincenzo Nibali launch a heroic solo win on his way to yellow jersey dominance and a Grand Départ is also good for debuts as Fernando Gaviria will tell you in 2018.

It is the seizing of that first yellow jersey which always brings the moment every professional dreams of. Marcel Kittel announcing himself as a world-class sprinter in 2013, Phillipe Gilbert taking the opening day win in 2011 and for British fans the memories run deep. Who can forget the three times Chris Boardman won yellow in 94, 97 and 98 via three successful time trials, Geraint Thomas taking yellow in 2017 and the career-defining scenes when Mark Cavendish beat his rivals to the line in 2016.

Even if it’s only wearing yellow for one stage, the honour of taking the first leader’s jersey are memories both riders and fans will always cherish.

Captivating stages of celebration and despair are two more ingredients.

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Location is key for a Grand Départ.

Keeping the Tour de France purely French is always a priority as 2013 exemplified with the 100th edition beginning out in the Mediterranean on Corsica. French starts are important for the identity of the race but let’s not forget that out of the three Grand Tours, the Tour has gone abroad the most on 23 occasions since 1903. The first city that began the trend was Amsterdam in 1954, at a time when you’d be laughed at for suggesting the world’s biggest bike race could start outside France.

Nowadays a foreign start is the new norm.

Depending on the current coronavirus situation, the Grand Départ of the 2021 Tour de France will start in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is fair to say that when a city bids to host the Tour it does come down to money but moreover what is the legacy of a city once the Tour comes and goes?

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1987 starting in West Berlin to mark the 750th anniversary of the German capital, at a time when the Iron Curtain was still standing, gave us famous pictures of cyclists peering over the Berlin Wall.

Belgium is regularly awarded Tour stages over the years and just last year we saw the Grand Départ begin in Brussels to celebrate the 1969 victory of Eddy Merckx fifty years on and one hundred years of yellow – Merckx symbolising a legacy altogether. Rembember Liège in 2012? The 99th edition gave us Peter Sagan’s first-ever stage win and his first of a record seven green jersey’s plus Britain’s first Tour winner in Bradley Wiggins starting well in the opening day time trial.

There might be a slight bias here but there’s one Grand Départ that has had a long-lasting legacy. If the Tour hadn’t have landed in Yorkshire five years ago then would there even be a new race in the Tour de Yorkshire? 2014 was one amazing year after ten years of British Cycling success at the Olymics and two years after London 2012. The capital did host the Tour back in 2007 but the long miles of bunting, the painted sheep and crowds of 4.8 million people swarming climbs cross the Dales and villages along the route – that’ll live long in the memory.

With coronavirus cancelling this year’s Tour de Yorkshire and leading organisers Welcome to Yorkshire in financial trouble, the future of the race is in doubt. The legacy of Yorkshire 2014 is in grave peril and it would be a tragedy if the race had to fold.

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Cycling fans on the road make the sport a pleasure to watch and without them a Grand Départ would be nothing. The pre-race hype, the mindset of the riders, the complexion of the stages, the unexpected moments, the foreign starts and the crowd – these are all the ingredients you need to make a Grand Départ successful.

Coronavirus is unfortunate and it is sad that the Tour doesn’t start today. But here’s to the end of August and fingers crossed the city of Nice gets to see their own prestigious Grand Départ.

Featured image courtesy of Welcome to Yorkshire

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A Lesson Cycling Needs To Learn…

Cycling is a sport loved the world over, and if you’re reading this, likely by you too. So why is it we see so many issues with the sport and why do we never learn.

The first thing I’ve always noticed about cycling is the blind arrogance we can see when it comes to younger riders and the equipment and training facilities now deemed “normal”. Anyone who tell you cycling is a free sport, doesn’t understand the true nature of racing in the sport, and the immense social pressure within the cycling community to have all the best gear.

To start, a race license will set you back a fair amount of money, but as a fair defence this is no more than a registration fee for plenty of other sports. If this was all it cost to race, cycling wouldn’t have the issues, but this isn’t all.

Beyond this, you then have: the cost of bikes, the cost of wheels, the need for multiple bikes for multiple disciplines, a smart trainer, a zwift subscription, winter kit, summer kit, rollers and the list goes on and on. Within cycling, particularly from the ages of 14-23, the vast majority of cyclists get all this on a plate from their parents and accept it to be the norm.

This is what creates such a drastic social pressure on people from lesser financially stable backgrounds to work harder just be on a level playing field.

In my experience, most riders with all this in front of them are so drastically spoilt they don’t even realise how lucky they are, and it truly is incredible to see.

Having spoken to one rider in particular, I know it actually really upsets those less well off to see the constant bragging of new kit and training software, particularly amongst those who work part-time jobs to pay for every last aspect of their career.

So please, cyclists, let’s open our eyes and look out for all those around us, and actually realise just how spoilt the vast majority of us are.

It’s not nice for everyone else, let’s stop being arrogant and make cycling a happier place for everyone.

Could the Current Hiatus In Cycling Lead To A Revolution In The Peloton?

The future of cycling is no doubt now shrouded in mystery, with races postponed and a very small window at the end of the season to fit them all in. This element leaves room for little debate beyond if races will go ahead. The more important question to discuss is how the cycling dynamic will change, if at all, with certain riders not allowed to ride outside if following the rules of their nation.

Before I get into this, I’d like to add that the most important thing in this time is, of course, everyone’s safety, and this article does not mean to overlook this in any way.

Starting with the riders most affected, I believe it is very possible we could see a drastic drop in performance in riders living in countries that have had large bans on outdoor riding. Whilst we may have indoor training methods and other ways to train, they don’t quite provide the same training as being out on the road, with core strength and bike handling playing a minimal role indoors. 

For these riders, it is possible they will end up struggling in the peloton, as one DS warned a few weeks ago, that the cycling world is in danger of a drastic divide between those training on the road and those who are unable to. Using this, we see the chance is fairly high that we may see a completely new dynamic at the top of our sport, with riders residing in Italy, Spain or any other country with tight restrictions, potentially falling largely behind. If this is to happen, would it provide a huge opportunity for riders from lesser affected nations, such as those in Africa?

Shining through this awful situation could, therefore, be the new opportunity for riders to make their break, and see continents yet to hit the top of cycling come to the fore. 

Alongside this, we also have the first time in living memory that cyclists will not race potentially for a season, meaning the riders heading towards the end of their career have potential to see a drastic fall-off in their performance levels, and as such could add to a huge shakeup in the peloton we saw racing last season.

However, all of this is simply speculation, and we will never truly know until it happens. For now, the most important thing is to keep each other safe, ride alone and follow government advice.

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Climbing the Isolation Mountain – How We Can Help Each Other Out

With the ongoing situation around the world still worsening, now is the time to express our views on how we can help each other out, at a time that will be hard for all.

For people suffering from mental health issues, this time could prove to be a huge test,  and we need to do our utmost to help each other out and keep pushing on.

Seeing Charlotte mention before how mental health issues can prominent amongst cyclists, it’s therefore vitally important for all of us to look out for each other, and here’s a few ways we can do it:

  • Drop your usual competitors a message – you may be rivals on raceday but you still socialise. Even if this is not a big deal under normal circumstances, it is now as everyone has lost all social interaction in person. Your message could keep someone going.

  • Make a new friend! – Go out and message someone new or someone you’ve briefly met a few times, you could put a smile on their face

  • If you’re not a racer, still message people – riders love to talk to fans and there’s no better time than now.

  • If you’re struggling, reach out to people – The Chain Gang will always reply on any social media and we’re happy to be there for those who need to talk, as will thousands of others online.

Let’s fight this battle together and make sure we make it out the other side as strong as we all can.

We can fight this adversity and make new friends in the process, message that cyclist you’ve followed for years.

On a personal note from me, I’ve never been a cyclist, yet now most of my best friends are cyclists, and I took the steps and have surrounded myself with a great web of support, now you can do the same.

Rating the Grand Tour and Monument Trophies

Once again, we’re back with some hard hitting journalism. The trophy the winner receives at the end of a race is carefully designed, and made to look nice, so just which one is best?

Giro D’Italia

10/10

This trophy is just so perfect, it’s so pleasing on the eye, it’s modern and it is so unique. I think this trophy’s beauty genuinely goes beyond any I have seen in any sport across the globe. What’s even better is that it comes with the best colour leaders jersey, and would just a complete honour for any rider to win.

Tour De France

7/10

Now, the Tour De France has a few trophies, but this is the one given to all the jersey winners. This is a fairly nice trophy, but it does bare quite a striking resemblance to the more modern football trophies. Also, a winner of this race would much rather show off their yellow jersey over this trophy.

La Vuelta

4/10

This is so underwhelming compared to the other two, it’s not particularly aesthetic and is very dull. It’s a massive shame that ASO don’t create a nicer more modern looking trophy for La Vuelta, rather than just an over-sized dinner plate.

Milan – San Remo

8/10

This trophy’s only flaw is the fact it does look slightly dated. I really enjoy the attempt to incorporate the logo into a trophy, and this does make it look extra unique. And, what’s more, you can easily go and enjoy a game of ring-toss to wind down after the race.

Ronde Van Vlaanderen

4/10

I mean, I guess this one will have its fans for people who appreciate the craftsmanship of the trophy. For me though, it is simply not up to scratch with a lot of the other trophies we see in cycling. Maybe they should look to modernise the design drastically to create a perfect harmony

Paris – Roubaix

6/10

Now, whilst I’m assuming the design for this trophy was a long a scientific process, I think it is really nice and simplistic. It also is perfectly traditional, and likely will not ever appear dated thanks to its extraordinary heritage.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege

5/10

This is a nice looking trophy, just a bit too generic for my liking. I feel a monument should have a really distinctive trophy, and whilst this trophy is aesthetic, it just feels like it’s straight off the shelf of your local trophy shop.

Il Lombardia

5/10

Just another average looking trophy to my eyes, nothing particularly special about it. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be a bike wheel, but to me it just looks like a 1950s F1 steering wheel.

Athletes and Mental Health – The Complexity of Being Human

By Charlotte Broughton

As some of you will know, in recent years I’ve become vocal on my own issues mentally and within the sport across my social media platforms, namely Instagram.  I do not claim to be a professional, no way! But it costs NOTHING to be kind and to listen. I’m tired of people jumping on the bandwagon but not living up to the ideals of just being a decent human being. 

Let’s get into the thick of it. 1 in 4 people will suffer with a mental health condition every year within the UK. Suicide is the biggest killer in the UK of men under 45. Therefore, why do we still hold such a stigma towards mental health, especially with athletes? 

Charlotte racing at the 2020 Track National Championships

After I opened up about my own struggles I had an influx of messages fill up my inbox. So many of you bravely confided in me expressing your relief that you weren’t alone in how you felt. I think it’s important to note that these messages were not just from cyclists and from a mixed demographic.

With regards to cyclists, I noticed more young males had messaged me, often expressing the shame they felt being the main barrier stopping them from telling others how they felt.  It seems that a lot of young men just do not discuss their mental state nor confide in one another. It appeared a lot of these young men were more fixated on not failing than achieving.  

What are we doing wrong within the sport? We simply put too much emphasis on cyclists being cyclists around the clock (judging what they eat, their weight, their form, their own idiosyncrasies, how they express themselves). It’s vital that we remember that cyclists/athletes are normal people too who also want to enjoy other aspects of life.  Let’s put it this way, imagine being told within your own time you could only concern yourself with matters regarding your job for the rest of your professional career. You simply wouldn’t have it, so don’t expect athletes to, it’s unrealistic! 

In this way we also take away an athlete’s own personal identity, potentially leaving them with an identity crisis on the horizon and vulnerable to self-sabotage, as well as acting recklessly in order to rebel against the labels we (unfairly) attach to them. This behaviour often then leads to self-isolation and a downward spiral.

I do believe it is important to note that as with any job/career that is results-based that you do need to apply a certain amount of pressure to achieve goals, however, we need to rethink what is acceptable treatment of athletes.  

It’s important to appreciate that athletes aren’t superhuman mentally; if anything they are often exposed to a greater amount of stress, pressure and criticism than the average person. Too much pressure means too much stress and too much stress has an AWFUL physical and mental effect on the human body, leading to inconsistent training and bad form.  No one wins in that situation, not the team or the rider. For me, too much emotional stress meant an inability to eat. This was highly problematic as not eating meant no energy, and so then I’d get very stressed about how rubbish I was doing in races and training – and so the vicious circle continued.

The general feeling is we need to see more support for the psychological side from a younger age given by national governing bodies and then following that support on through to the UCI teams to ensure consistency with regards to mental health treatment.  If support isn’t commonplace then the stigma will remain. We have to encourage young athletes and even parents to be more vigilant and understanding.

Unfortunately a lot of the people who contacted me sited their parents valuing them more on their ability as an athlete than a human (constantly comparing their child against other athletes who were having a better season or on better form) being a major source of stress and anxiety. This has to stop; your child is an individual, not a chess piece. I appreciate parents make sacrifices for their children to compete in cycling but it’s not an excuse to project your issues and insecurities out on them, most of the time young athletes are critical enough of themselves without that added criticism from the main people who are meant to support and nurture them physically and emotionally.

In conclusion, all people have different needs and abilities mentally; therefore looking forward this needs to be considered carefully and should include the wishes of the athletes when deciding how best to approach the issues of mental health in cycling. But as fellow athletes, fans, parents, coaches, friends and social media users, we do need to all be more active in helping aid positive progression. Be kind, check up on people, notice strange behaviours and encourage those around you to talk by creating a safe and non-judgmental environment to do so.

If you have been affected by any of the issues within this article and need help and support then please reach out to the following services: 

Mind –  http://www.mind.org.uk   – 0300 123 3393 (Mon – Fri, 9am to 6pm)

Samaritanshttp://www.samaritans .org.uk  – 116 123 (free phone 24 hour helpline) 

Rethink Mental Illnesswww.rethink.org – 0300 5000 927 (Mon – Fri, 9:30am to 4pm)

The Top 5 Cycling Kits of the 2010s

So here we are again, it’s time to put out our favourite pro-team kits of this century, and give our thoughts as to why. In the current pro peloton, we are awash with fades, so we’re going to aim to praise those who went against the trends.

Jelly Belly (2018)

This kit is just such a cool idea, who wouldn’t want to ride around covered in one of the world’s most iconic sweets? It also is a nice way to incorporate branding, and stand out despite having a simple white and black kit. If anything too, I always wanted to use Sports Beans just because Jelly Belly had a cool kit, so I suppose the marketing works just as it is intended to.

Saxobank – Sungard (2011)

Now I think this kit has slipped away without the credit it deserved. It’s so hard to integrate animals into a jersey without it looking frankly ridiculous, but with this, they did just about manage it. The kit brings with it a fairly bland colour, but enough detail that it is not boring, and I think just such a great kit.

Canyon-SRAM

This kit just stands out a mile off and looks absolutely incredible. To be able to work so many colours into one kit is just amazing, usually it would end-up looking awful. It’s also so nice that the sponsors are not at all a dominant feature, a difference to most pro kits.

EF-Education First (2019)

This kit was just such a refreshing change for cycling, such a good looking kit, so vibrant and really stood out. Their kit this year has followed a similar suit, so hopefully this identity for the team might inspire others in the peloton to go bold.

Bora – Hansgrohe (2019)

This is just such a classy kit, the gradient stripes matched with the sleek black just makes for such a nice aesthetic. I think a lot of Bora’s kits have been great but this one is definitely my favourite A kit fitting for the team of the sport’s greatest showman.