Jakob Fuglsang takes over the lead (Image courtesy of official race website)

Tour of Austria review

The Tour of Austria finished with overall victory for Jakob Fuglsang  the first by a Dane in the Tour – providing a much-needed boost for RadioShack-Nissan, albeit from one of their (many) want-away riders. Fuglsang had seized the lead and the yellow jersey from Danilo di Luca (Acque & Sapone) on the key Grossglockner mountain stage, and never let it escape from his clutches. At the race conclusion in Vienna, he said:

It’s particularly nice that I didn’t win by merely following, but also by taking a stage win. That’s always nicer. Since I took the jersey, the team worked really hard and made it easy for me. I did what I had to do in the time trial and the team helped me with everything else.

RadioShack also claimed the team classification while Fuglsang’s Austrian teammate Thomas Rohregger was the best-placed young rider to cap a successful week of racing. Team Type 1’s Georg Priedler won the mountains classification while teammate Alessandro Bazzana claimed the points jersey. VeloVoices was keeping an eye on young Colombian Carlos Betancur (Acqua & Sapone) who, having ridden in support of team leader di Luca, finished 19th overall and second in the young rider’s competition.

Jakob Fuglsang winner Tour of Austria 2012 (Image courtesy of RadioShack-Nissan)

Jakob Fuglsang, winner of Tour of Austria 2012 (image courtesy of RadioShack-Nissan)

Stage 1: Innsbruck Circuit, 153km

Team Type 1’s 28 year-old Alessandro Bazzana took his first professional victory in the bunch sprint at the end of the circuit race around Innsbruck. Francesco Gavazzi (Astana) was runner-up and Marco Canola (Colnago-CSF Inox) finished third, while fourth-placed Georg Preideler was the best-placed Austrian.

Stage 2: Innsbruck to Kitzbuheler Horn, 157.4km

Danilo ‘the Killer’ di Luca (Aqua & Sapone) took the rain-soaked stage two, which included the climb of the Kitzbuheler Horn, ahead of Steve Morabito (BMC) and Thomas Rohregger (RadioShack). The stage started with the inevitable breakaway which was reeled in before the final climb thanks to work done by the WorldTour teams, notably RadioShack hoping to set up Jakob Fuglsang. He was part of a ten-man group which attacked on the climb but was ultimately distanced by the leading trio.

Having taken the  leader’s jersey, the 36-year old Di Luca said after the race:

This was one of the hardest mountains I have ever ridden. The start of the stage was hectic and here up to the Kitzbuheler Horn I felt very comfortable. Right from the start I drove my tempo and slightly increased it on the last 2km and that was enough for stage victory.

Stage 3: Kitzbuhel to Lienz, 141.8km

Stage three finished in another bunch sprint, won this time by 25-year old Sacha Modolo (Colnago-CSF) ahead of Austrian Daniel Schorn (NetApp) and Francesco Gavazzi (Astana). Di Luca still held the overall from Morabito by 11 seconds.

Stage 4: Lienz to Skt. Johann/Alpendorf, 141.3km

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again and that’s what RadioShack-Nissan did on stage four. They animated the race from the start and Jakob Fuglsang delivered the team a fine victory to take the race leader’s yellow jersey.

The team sent four riders up the road forcing Acqua & Sapone on the defensive. The junction was made on the major difficulty of the day, the Grossglockner, 95km from the finish, at which point Fuglsang made his escape along with NetApp’s Leopold Konig. The duo managed to push the gap up above three minutes and with Fuglsang unsure whether his breakaway companion was sandbagging, he soloed off with 20km remaining to finish with more than a minute’s advantage over Konig. Afterwards he said:

I’m super happy with this win and the overall. It is certainly defendable and we’re going to do everything we can to bring the yellow home. It’s cool that the team has the yellow jersey in two different stage races [here and the Tour de France, where Fabian Cancellara was overall leader at the time – Ed].

Here’s how the stage was won:

Stage 5: Skt. Johann/Alpendorf to Sonntagberg, 228.3km

The race’s longest stage saw a successful breakaway go all the way to the line with victory for 27-year old Fabio Taborre (Acqua & Sapone) – the biggest of his career – ahead of compatriot Marco Bandiera (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Austrian Matthias Brandle (NetApp). The stage start was hectic with numerous attacks in the first 90km until a break formed that contained a dozen riders, none of whom threatened RadioShack’s GC lead. RadioShack patrolled the front of the peloton keeping the gap at a constant 12 minutes and covering moves by second-placed Di Luca and third-placed Morabito. The pair managed to gain back a few precious seconds on the leader, who finished in the pack some nine minutes down on the winner to remain in the leader’s jersey.

Stage 6: Waidhofen/Ybbs to Melk, 185.2km

Friday’s stage was harder than it looked, with riders battling for position and trying to get into a breakaway from the off. It was full gas on the undulating course with breaks getting away and then being pulled back by teams looking for a stage win, which rather suited RadioShack. In the end it came down to another bunch sprint and once more Modolo prevailed this time ahead of Daniele Colli (Team Type 1) and Danilo Napolitano (Acqua & Sapone). 21-year old neo-pro Marco Haller (Katusha) was the best-placed Austrian in fourth.

Stage 7: Podersdorf am Neusiedler See, 24.1km individual time trial

Four days after his place in the Italian team for London 2012 was confirmed, Marco Pinotti (BMC) beat Kristof Vandewalle (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) by some 32 seconds to take victory in the individual time trial. Frantisek Rabon (OPQS) was third, a further 20 seconds back. Race leader Fuglsang finished over a minute off the pace but had a sufficiently large enough cushion to retain the yellow jersey by 1:24 over Morabito. Robert Vrecer (Vorarlberg) was 28 seconds further back in third while di Luca – 46th on the day – dropped to fourth.

Stage 8: Podersdorf am Neusiedler See to Wien, Burgtheater, 122.8 km

The final stage was another circuit race, this time around Vienna, where the Italians recorded their seventh stage win with victory for Daniele Colli ahead of Alexey Tsatevich (Katusha) and Blaz Jarc (NetApp). The day’s breakaway, which never gained more than three minutes, was hauled back before the final two circuits setting up another bunch sprint finish. The podium was unchanged.

As anticipated, Fuglsang became the first Danish winner of the Tour, retaining the leader’s jersey which he’d won on the Grossglockner stage. It was his second overall win of the season after earlier prevailing in the Tour of Luxembourg.

General classification:

1. Jakob Fuglsang (RadioShack-Nissan) 28:13:09

2. Steve Morabito (BMC) +1:24

3. Robert Vrecer (Vorarlberg) +1:52

4. Danilo di Luca (Acqua & Sapone) +2:15

5. Alexandr Dyachenko (Astana) +2:16

6. Marco Pinotti (BMC) +2:41

7. Thomas Rohregger (RadioShack-Nissan) +2:42

8. Marcel Wyss (NetApp) +2:53

9. Petr Ignatenko (Katusha) +2:55

10. Sergio Pardilla (Movistar) +3:04

Links: PreviewOfficial website

Tour de France: Stage 8 review

Stage 8: Belfort to Porrentruy, 157.5km

There may not have been any great changes in the GC after the difficult stage eight, but it was an unpredictable and exciting day in the saddle, narrowly won by FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot after a long breakaway. There were seven categorised climbs as the race rolled into Switzerland, with all the main GC contenders finishing together.

Speaking of Swiss rolls, Samuel Sanchez took a tumble early on in the stage, rendering the Euskaltel-Euskadi rider unable to continue. In the land of the Red Cross, the Spaniard was carted off in an ambulance with a broken rib, collarbone and wrist.

Sky worked as efficiently as a luxury timepiece in shutting down the opening breakaways, preventing the likes of Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) and Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan) gaining ground early on. Eventually a break did manage to create a gap, headed by last year’s most combative rider Jeremy Roy. FDJ’s Frenchman attacked alone, slipping away from the other escapees, before Astana’s Fredrik Kessiakoff managed to bridge across to the leader on the Côte de Saignelégier.

But by the time the penultimate climb had come around, Roy had been dropped and Kessiakoff was all on his own. Liquigas had taken up the pace-making in the peloton, with RadioShack’s Tony Gallopin and FDJ’s Pinot dangling between the leader and the bunch.

Kessiakoff’s lead to the maillot jaune had stabilised at around about three minutes, but on the final climb it was Pinot who he had to worry about. The gutsy FDJ rider attacked inside the final 20km, and by the time they reached the top he had caught and ridden straight by the Swede.

All of a sudden the favourites were galvanised into picking up the pace, with first Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and then Cadel Evans (BMC) both seeing whether they could make up time on the other GC contenders on the descent and flat run to the finish. Kessiakoff was caught, but would Pinot hold on? The gap had been rapidly closed down to under a minute, and he seemed to be running out of steam. Fortunately he could, taking the stage by 26 seconds, with the GC contenders coming across the line together behind him.

VeloVoices rider of the day

This award has to go to stage winner Thibaut Pinot. FDJ’s young revolution continues, with Pinot – the youngest rider in this year’s race – taking his first Grand Tour victory at the age of 22. It was a heroic effort and the French outfit will have pleased their sponsors in fulfilling their stage win hopes already. His palmares – which includes a mountains classification win in the 2010 Tour de Romandie – suggests that he is a rider capable of challenging for mountain victories again in the future, and could maybe even fight for yellow.


Seeing FDJ directeur sportif Marc Madiot – a former Tour stage victor himself and twice winner of Paris-Roubaix – screaming at Pinot from the window of the team car in the closing kilometres was a magnificent sight. A very popular character, it was obvious what this win meant to Madiot and his small French team, who punch above their weight at the Tour de France every year. What’s more, a successful July will always please the sponsors, even securing the team’s future. Let’s hope this win is the first of many.

FDJ DS Marc Madiot urges Pinot on to victory (image courtesy of Andy Jessop)

Tactical analysis

Kessiakoff has a small consolation for missing out on the stage win – he has taken over the lead of the polka dot jersey by a single point. Sky’s Chris Froome remains in second place, with Cadel Evans two points further back in third. However, Sky won’t be wearing the controversial yellow helmets on tomorrow’s stage, with RadioShack-Nissan ironically taking over the lead in the team classification – this despite their awful season and Tour to date. Their Basque rider Haimar Zubeldia is the highest placed in the GC, 59 seconds behind Wiggins in fifth place. Belgian Maxime Montfort continues to impress in seventh.

Sky looked slightly more fallible today than in their supreme efforts recently. After comparisons to Lance Armstrong’s dominating US Postal Service team, today they looked slightly weaker, with riders being dropped relatively early on in the stage. It is clear that if Bradley Wiggins is going to match the likes of Vincenzo Nibali and Cadel Evans in the mountains, Chris Froome will be vitally important.

Rein Taaramae will continue wear the white jersey of best young rider tomorrow, with Tony Gallopin in second place. BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen has fallen down to fourth behind Pinot after losing time today, perhaps a cause for concern for Evans, given that the American has looked like his key domestique so far this Tour.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of every stage on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Tour de France official website

The art of descending like a stone

Today’s stage eight at the Tour de France concludes with a 16km run, mostly downhill, to the finish in Porrentruy, a reminder that descending skills can be just as valuable as being a proficient climber. Here Panache brings us his personal insight into the art of descending like a stone.

Races can be won or lost depending on how adept a rider is. Descending is thrilling, yet scary and the only thing that can combat the fear is confident handling skills at very high speeds. But what does it actually feel like when you’re racing down a mountain at incredible speeds? And who in the peloton are masters of the descent?

If you’re the heaviest, you’ll fall the fastest

This spring I had the opportunity to attend my team’s four-day training camp in the mountains of West Virginia. Each day we rode between 90 and 120km over some of the most beautiful scenery in the eastern US. I was a little apprehensive because at 1.96 meters tall and 82kg, I’m not the greatest of climbers and we were going to be doing a lot of climbing.

Panache doing his best impersonation of Bernie Eisel – please note the facial hair …

On the first day, at about the 50km into the ride, we began to ascend a category 3 climb. I was pleased with my ride as I was the last of a select group to reach the summit. The rest of the team had been dropped and we would not be waiting for them. As I approached the top, my teammates were stuffing their short, lightweight bodies (yes, I’m jealous) with food and starting to hit the road again. I was just trying to catch my breath when one of them said to me, “Come on, Giraffe, you don’t want to get left behind here. It would be a long way back to camp if you were alone.” He was right and with those words, we began the descent.

The way up the climb had been on a long, open, steady, clean, wide road. The 11km descent was just the opposite. This road was narrow, twisted, and full of potholes, dirt and gravel. A kilometre into the descent we were reaching speeds over 80kph. A gap started to open up between me and two other teammates, and the rest of the group. The three of us were falling behind! Being the heaviest, I was told to move to the front and pick the lines. Supposedly, I could “fall the fastest”.

We needed to stay to the right-hand side of the road because there was oncoming traffic from time to time. I was doing all I could to catch the leaders but I was nervous. We were going so fast and I wasn’t confident in my ability to pick the correct lines. I was afraid. My heart rate was elevated. I had a death grip on my handlebars (a big no-no when descending) I felt like I was expending more energy going down the mountain then I had going up! And then it happened…

On one particularly hairy turn, I misjudged the line.

I was going too fast but was able to scrub some speed with my brakes before the corner. I shifted my weight to do the counter-steering technique I had been taught. Still, I had to use the entire road. I came within inches of going off the edge but somehow carved the turn and kept my bike upright. If an oncoming vehicle had been coming, I would have been toast. The two behind me recognised my error, slowed down, and picked a better line.

After that experience, I realised that I need much more practice.

The pro peloton descends

This fact is evident in the pro peloton where the speeds are 20-40kph faster than my meagre attempts. Stages 12-15 of last year’s Tour were a lesson in descending. In stage 12, the wet roads reminded Geraint Thomas how cautious and mentally acute a rider must always be while going downhill. He lost traction in a corner and had to bail off of his bike to avoid falling off a cliff. He then lost traction again moments later!

In stage 13, Thor Hushovd skillfully took time out of two French riders, David Moncoutie and Jeremy Roy on the descents. He then rode away from them both in the final kilometres to take the stage victory.

Finally, Cadel Evans and Alberto Contador schooled Andy Schleck on stage 15 during the final, rainy descent into the town of Gap, gaining over a minute. Andy would go on to complain that “a finish like this should not be allowed”. People were critical of the Schlecks but who can blame them for being cautious after Frank’s harrowing experience in the 2008 Tour de Suisse? Regardless, if the Schlecks had better descending skills, they would have had more courage.

There are plenty of current pro riders to watch and emulate when learning to descend – Fabian Cancellara, Vincenzo Nibali, Peter Sagan, David Arroyo, and Danilo Di Luca are all really good. But in my humble opinion (which means this is a fact), the greatest of all time is Paolo Savoldelli. Now retired, Paulo was known as Il Falco (the Falcon) because he could drop off of a mountain like a bird of prey. The world got a glimpse of his truly unique ability in the 14th stage of the Giro d’Italia in 1999. Flying though Italian villages, with no helmet, he would take the stage because no one would take the risks that he did. He would later use this courageous ability to win the Giro d’Italia in 2002 and 2005!

I’m no Il Falco yet, but I have been practicing a bit and my ability and my confidence have increased. We’ll see if the descents in this year’s Tour de France play such a critical role like they did in 2011. If they do, I hope Frank Schleck has been practicing as well.