10 Wishes: Jack Sargeant

I am Jack, and I am a founding member of VeloVoices. I will watch pretty much any racing I can find, though I have a particular love for the spring Classics and a penchant for all things cycling in South America. When not watching cycling, I can usually be found writing about Italian football, much to the disdain of Kitty. Here are my wishes for 2013.

1. An exciting Tour de France

Every cycling fan knows there’s something special about the Tour de France, a buzz that no other race – however good the parcours – has. When it’s a complete snoozefest, it’s a bit of a letdown. So I hope for a supremely aggressive, exciting Tour, hotly contested until the final day in the mountains.

2. Philippe Gilbert: rainbow rocket

Let's hope the rest of the peloton has to chase the rainbow (image courtesy of Davide Calabresi)

Wish 2: Let the rest of the peloton chase the rainbow (image courtesy of Davide Calabresi)

PhilGil was dealt a rough hand in 2012, managing to salvage it at the last with his rainbow jersey success. Hopefully he will reverse the rainbow curse and be back to his attacking best for the Ardennes Classics. It’s just not the same seeing him huffing and puffing his way up climbs.

3. The carrots keep on attacking

Euskaltel-Euskadi may have lost their all-Basque (or at least nearly all-Basque) recruitment policy over the silly season, but hopefully they won’t lose their Basque heart, as it’s when they’re suicidally attacking up a mountain that the carrots are at their entertaining best.

4. Jonathan Tiernan-Locke delivers

Jonathan Tiernan-Locke is very much a British rider I could take a liking to. I love a good puncheur, and with JTL’s unusual career path it is excellent to see him given a chance by Sky. I hope he takes it.

5. Rui Costa’s upward curve continues

Wish X: Rui Costa does something (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

Wish 5: Rui Costa goes from strength to strength (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

Prior to 2012, Rui Costa was best known for being on the receiving end of a wheel lobbed his way by Carlos Barredo in some sort of Iberian feud. Last season, he changed that, with the biggest win of his career in the overall classification at the Tour de Suisse. He is a funny rider, good on both mountainous climbs and hilly classics. At 26, it seems the time is right for a big season.

6. Colombian climbers excel

With the help of Rigoberto Uran and Nairo Quintana amongst others, Colombian cycling is currently enjoying a resurgence. With their incredible climbing stock and through the great work of the Colombia-Coldeportes team – who are hoping for a Tour de France wildcard – it would be fantastic to see that continue.

7. Rolls Roy-ce returns

Wish 8:  (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Wish 7: Jeremy Roy attacks everything going in this year’s Tour and finally wins a stage! (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Tour de France wasn’t the same last year without the attacking exploits of Jeremy Roy, who was so aggressive the year before. Unfortunately for all his efforts he never managed to win a stage, and I hope that changes this year.

8. Pat McQuaid leaves cycling forever

Self-explanatory.

9. A great year for VeloVoices

With a sixth member on board, VeloVoices will hopefully be more entertaining than ever in 2013!

10. No more scandals

Wouldn’t it be nice for the focus to be purely on a great season of racing, for once?

Thomas Voeckler reviews the day's action (image courtesy of SDW)

Tour de France: Behind the barricades with Eurosport

If you’re fortunate enough to visit the start or finish of a Tour de France stage, you’re likely to find your access to the riders barred by barricades. Only those with accreditation or day passes can get past them and I was fortunate enough to be able to get behind those barriers when I spent the last three days of the Tour with Eurosport, one of the major international television channels. Here’s what a typical day is like when you’re working behind the barricades…

A day at the Tour starts early as we always aim to arrive at the Village du Depart just after it opens. Each day, the Village plays host to the guests of the sponsors and the host town and, to a lesser degree, the teams and riders. Upon arrival, we grab a late breakfast and the free newspapers to check what’s been written in the press before developing the day’s filming strategy. This is the time we sit down and determine who we want to speak to and what we’re going to ask them. As anyone who is a regular viewer of the Tour knows, all race footage is provided by the host broadcaster. Television channels around the world then seek to animate their race offering with a selection of pertinent pre-recorded and live interviews throughout the day’s stage. This means everything tends to be done very much ‘on the hoof’.

FDJ-BigMat riders catching up with the news in the Village du Depart (image courtesy of SDW)

FDJ-BigMat riders catching up with the news in the Village du Depart (image courtesy of SDW)

Having selected the targets for the pre-stage recorded interviews, we then trot around to the team buses to check on their availability. This is the first challenge – chances are everyone wants to speak to the same teams’ managers, directeur sportifs and riders and the media descends like a swarm of locusts on their prey. It’s no wonder the riders seek refuge in the team buses! A few of the riders, generally the French riders whose teams are sponsored by companies who also support the Tour, mingle with guests in the Village. To secure your man requires determination and sharp elbows.

Getting the interviews before the stage (image courtesy of SDW)

Once we’ve secured our quarry, we briefly explain what we will be asking him so that he has a bit of time to think of something to say. Generally, the short but pertinent questions will be about the previous day’s results or the likely outcome of the day’s stage. While an encyclopeadic knowledge of the rider’s palmares isn’t mandatory, it certainly helps, as does an ability to speak a number of languages. Those that haven’t been run to earth at the bus can generally be tracked down at the sign-in or while they’re waiting for the depart fictif (the processional parade out of the start town before the actual depart). It really is a case of persistence paying dividends.

As soon as the peloton leaves, we return to the technical area to review the morning’s shooting. A quick comfort break, some fruit for the journey, then it’s into the car and off to the finish by the designated off-course route – an impressive cavalcade of Tour followers. On reaching the host town for the finish, we navigate our way through the chicane of barriers, which effortlessly open for the car’s accreditation stickers.

First things first – lunch. In France this is typically 12:30 – 14:30, but this isn’t France, this is the Tour de France and so it’s whenever you get time. The television crews have a chow wagon that would put many a celebrated restaurant to shame and I would defy anyone to eat lunch here every day and not gain a few kilos by the end of the Tour! Lunch isn’t leisurely though as we need to get to the television crew and support staff in the technical area directly behind the arrival line to watch the action unfold on the screen. Hopefully, we picked right and that morning’s interviews have included someone who’s currently animating the stage.

Alejandro Valverde Tour de France stage winner receives a copy of stage profile (image courtesy of SDW)

Stage winner Alejandro Valverde receives a copy of stage profile (image courtesy of SDW)

The post-race interviews, however, are ‘live’ and therefore require far more co-ordination. Every man and his dog wants an interview with the stage winner. Live interviews after a time trial are easier since the riders arrive largely one at a time, but the scrum around some of them has to be seen to be believed. Frankly, I’d be tempted to keep on pedalling but riders are obliged to stop in case they’re required to pay a visit to doping control. There are more opportunities for interviewing those who will be making the trip to the podium. However, you need to be fleet of foot to catch those whose dreams of victory were snuffed out on the line – and they tend to be less inclined to talk. Live interviews are demanding for all concerned – you don’t have time to brief the rider and you have the director screaming instructions and questions into your earpiece. It’s stressful for everyone!

Ladies favourite Bernie Eisel warming up in Bonneval (image courtesy of SDW)

So, stage over, day done, right? Not quite, post-race segments still need to be filmed. Eurosport makes use of a number of well-known former riders who act as consultants, giving their opinion on the day’s action and their predictions for the race. The segment will generally include an interview with one of the riders who animated the day’s stage, one of the leading riders or perhaps a visiting personality. These are quickly choreographed and shot live. On the Tour’s penultimate day, the guest was the French public’s darling, KOM Thomas Voeckler who, having recently completed the time trial, fell on my homemade pain d’epice like a starving man and ate an enormous slice with evident relish – that made my day.

Thomas Voeckler reviews the day's action (image courtesy of SDW)

Thomas Voeckler reviews the day’s action (image courtesy of SDW)

There’s usually a large crowd for these interviews, again on the other side of those barriers, so I try and make someone’s day by collecting autographs from the various riders and former riders, who are more than happy to pose for photos. Stage and filming wrapped, everyone relaxes over a cold drink before packing up and heading back to the car for the drive to that night’s hotel, which might be 50km away or 200! On arrival at the hotel, we immediately head for dinner with the gang which can number anywhere from five to 15. Dinner’s usually a convivial affair with everyone swapping tales of their day and sharing gossip from the peloton. Tomorrow’s departure time from the hotel is a function of how far we have to drive and when the stage starts.

Dinner over, it’s back to the hotel to check that we have sufficient clean clothes for the next day. The Tour is a month-long affair for everyone (including pre- and post-Tour days) and it’s simply not practical to bring a change of clothes for every day, so you tend to bring your most versatile and hardwearing clothes. It also means there’s usually a spot of laundry before lights out. In the morning, it starts all over again. Just like Groundhog Day.

Link: Official website

My fantasy, my nightmare

The unzipped jersey of Panache

I smiled as I clicked the final submit button on my Velogames.com fantasy team, confident that my picks were solid and that I would continue my winning ways. After all, I had been in the top 20 of Giro fantasy and had dominated last’s year’s @Velobeats Tour de France league, placing second overall! I was also pleased to have the ‘unzipped’ jersey icon that I designed represent my band of select warriors (and thank you all who are using it as your icon on Velogames). This was my team dressed in custom pixels. Panache was in the winning break! Or so I thought.

But fantasy cycling, like actual cycling, is a seductive mistress that caresses you one moment and stabs you in the heart the next. It appears she has turned on me with blade in hand at this year’s Tour. A dark cave of suffering and misery has replaced my time in the Velogames limelight. I feel like certain big-budget super teams who look great on paper but have no results. Thus far I have had four riders abandon. With a week to go, I sit 116th out of 128 competitors. The lanterne rouge is within my grasp.

Here is my fantasy team, thoughts on each rider, and their current fantasy status. Warning: this is not pretty.

Cadel Evans

Panache had faith in the defending champion (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

I watched Cadel at the Dauphine and thought that he was on a perfect trajectory to peak for the Tour. He would limit his losses in the TTs to Bradley Wiggins and he would attack in the mountains to gain time. Upgrades to the BMC roster would fortify the Australian champion in the mountains as well.  Cadel, I thought, had learned the winning formula and showed that he could handle the pressure.

Meanwhile, Bradley would falter because he peaked too soon. The weight of the yellow jersey would be too much for him. Sky would be divided between Wiggo and Cav … blah, blah, blah…

Well, I was dead wrong. Brad is on fire and Sky have a focused TT/mountain machine that is grinding souls into oblivion and scoring massive points for others. Wiggins is handling the pressure like he’s on a group ride with a bunch of one-legged nuns. Cadel appears to be the second strongest rider … on his team (next to Tejay Van Garderen – blink and you’ll miss him as he rides past …). Riders like Vincenzo Nibali and Jurgen Van Den Broeck continue to finish in front of him. It also appears that luck has turned a blind eye on Cadel as illustrated by Puncture-gate!

Fantasy status: Only 778 points earned up to stage 14. He has earned me no stage win points. Cadel will be fighting just to make the podium, which may limit any possible bonus fantasy points.

Peter Sagan

Sagan has been the star of the TdF – and Panache’s Fantasy Team … (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

If you didn’t pick the Velvet Samurai™ then you haven’t been watching cycling this season. Multiple wins in California and Switzerland … He’s The Hulk, The Running Man (or Forrest Gump), and a descending demon, all rolled into one. As expected, he is dominating on all types of terrain and is in the clear lead for the green jersey. He has a bright future that could include an Olympic gold medal in a few weeks and/or the rainbow jersey – if not this season, surely in the next few years. You all know why I picked him, because you picked him too. Peter might be the only factor preventing me from becoming the lanterne rouge in the Velobeats league.

Fantasy status: a whopping 1,143 points earned up to stage 14. He has raked in stage win points, green jersey points and will give me bonus points for winning the green jersey.

Samuel Sanchez

Panache chose Samu over FroomeDog. #Unluck (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

Last year Samu wore the polka dots on the final podium and this year he wanted to do even better. With Alberto Contador on the sidelines, I believed that Sanchez would be Spain’s shining carrot for the Tour. Surely he would take a stage win and be top ten on mountain-top finishes! He was to be the X factor of the GC contenders. I was torn between selecting Sanchez or Chris Froome. I chose the defending Olympic road race champion – who proceeded to crash during stage eight, fracturing his right hand and injuring his left shoulder, while FroomeDog has been in perfect form. In my head, I see a Holy Grail Knight shaking his head: “You have chosen poorly.”

Fantasy status: a measly 60 points earned until he was forced to abandon.

David Moncoutie

Other than some upstart named Rein Taaramae, David Moncoutie is the Cofidis team. Known for being aggressive in the mountains and always trying to get in the break, David seemed like a sure thing for a decent price. The 2012 Tour would also likely be his last, so naturally he would want to put on a show! This is France’s greatest sporting spectacle and Cofidis would need David to get camera time and go for stage wins to satisfy sponsors and justify their selection.

But none of this was to be. Alas, Moncoutie crashed on stage 12, suffering heavy contusions to his left side and forcing him, for the first time, to abandon a Grand Tour. Cofidis now find themselves with no star while they deal with the doping-related arrest of Remy Di Gregorio and a struggling Taaramae.

Fantasy status: a dismal 20 points earned until Moncoutie was forced to abandon.

Marcel Kittel

This Argonaut was felled by a dodgy tummy … (image by Panache/ccarls1)

I’ve had my eye on Kittel since last year’s blazing performance at the Tour of Poland. We all know that this kid is fast. I selected him because he was young, healthy and had a team dedicated to getting him to the line first on the flatter sprint stages. Winning the sprints was his sole purpose and if he didn’t win, he would at least be in the top five and earn me some points.

I thought Marcel would have the stomach for victory in his Tour debut but he did not, quite literally. A stomach bug prevented Kittel from eating properly and as the Tour rolled on, he could not stay nourished. He abandoned after stage five.

Fantasy status: one point earned … that’s right.. only one freakin’ point until he was forced to abandon. All I have to say about that is … poop.

Tony Martin

Punctures, falls, abandonment for Tony Martin (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

I thought Tony Martin would be my ringer. He is the man who could have taken it to Fabian Cancellara in the prologue and put me in the lead on the first day of the Tour! But he could also be decent when the road goes up. Ha ha, I laughed, rubbing my hands together, take that other Velobeat players! Pride comes before a fall, however, and Lady Luck had different plans as she tightened her chastity belt and would not let Martin near her. Everything went wrong for Martin from the start. Before breaking his hand in the first stage, he punctured in the opening prologue, dashing his hope of claiming the yellow jersey [He was never going to beat Fabs, don’t kid yourself, Panache – Kitty.] One puncture is bad enough but then it happened again in the stage nine time trial! Discouraged and needing to mend to keep his Olympic TT hopes alive, Martin abandoned at the start of stage ten.

Fantasy status: a dismal 30 points earned until he was forced to abandon.

Johnny Hoogerland

Anybody seen Johnny? Panache hasn’t … (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

Before the beginning of the Tour, Johnny Hoogerland publicly stated that his goal was to get the win the King of the Mountains jersey. After witnessing his panache last year, I had to believe he was sincere. Surely the horrendous crash from last year would inspire him to greatness!

Has anyone seen Johnny Hoogerland? Anybody … (sound of crickets chirping, tumbleweed rolling down the street). Johnny, your lack of activity has thrown my fantasy team into a barbed wire fence! You know how bad that hurts! Help a brother out!

Fantasy status: zero points. Goose egg. Who would have guessed that Johnny Hoogerland would have no fantasy points? None??? The Mayans might have been correct … the world might end this year.

Marcus Burghardt

I didn’t expect much from Marcus because I know his role is to protect Cadel, carry bottles, and be a good domestique.  He was my last pick because I had four extra Euros to spend and that is how much he costs. I am shocked he has earned me more points than Marcel Kittel and Johnny Hoogerland combined (I can’t believe that) … So, Marcus, chapeau!

Fantasy Status: 23 points.

Jeremy Roy

Mr Roy came into the Tour in some of the best form of his life. This was evident in the French national TT and road races where he nearly won both. Last year he was awarded the most combative rider in the entire Tour! He was in every break trying to make something happen! This year, he helped set up Thibaut Pinot’s victory in stage eight by getting in the break and turning the screws. That is all we have seen of him. Who would have thought that Roy would be playing third wheel to Pinot and Federigo?

Jeremy, where are you?  Are you hiding out with Hoogerland?

Fantasy Status: 25 points.

One thing I have learned from this fantasy-turned-nightmare team is, if I can’t pick a winning team from all the cyclists in the peloton, what hell must a team’s management go through trying to build a winning team for the Tour? Unless, of course, you’re David Brailsford…