Who’s moving where for 2013? #3

From the sublime to the ridiculous, sporting transfer gossip offers no end of opportunities for speculation and distraction. Suffice to say, cycling is no different. This weekly column will bring you up to speed with the latest, greatest (and downright absurd) cycling rumours for your own examination and contemplation.

Oscar Freire – coming out of retirement with Euskaltel?

Image courtesy of Danielle Haex

The headline of this story in Spanish newspaper El País was Reducción al absurdo, a translation of the Latin phrase reductio ad absurdum or ‘reduction to absurdity’. That’s certainly one way to describe this story, with Euskaltel reportedly having hatched plans to sign newly retired three-time World Champion Oscar Freire as a rider and coach with the team.  Source (in Spanish)

However, I use the term ‘rider’ lightly, as part of the deal was understood to mean Freire spent more time at races off the bike than on it. Euskaltel’s move to sign the Spaniard seems to be as much about picking up 100 WorldTour points than the undoubted experience and expertise that the 36-year-old would provide. In the same article El País outlined the importance of such points to guarantee the sponsorship and survival of the small Basque outfit, and described the UCI’s points system as conducive to ‘grotesque situations’.

Will it happen? 2/5. While I don’t doubt that Euskaltel have made an approach to sign Freire – believed to have been after the World Championships – I do doubt whether Freire would seriously consider such an offer. I doubt he will risk his reputation for the sake of some WorldTour points, and it’s not a deal I expect to come off, despite the quick-thinking of the Euskaltel chiefs.

Michal Kwiatkowski – Omega Pharma-Quick Step to Sky in Cavendish deal?

image courtesy of DrabikPany/Flickr

In last week’s gossip column we reported that in Mark Cavendish’s expected move to Omega Pharma-Quick Step an unnamed “talented young rider” – believed to be Briton’s Andy Fenn – would be thrown into the deal as compensation. Source (in Dutch)

But, according to the Gazet Van Antwerpen, the deal wouldn’t involve Fenn, but Pole Michal Kwiatkowski would be Dave Brailsford’s bargaining chip. The 22-year-old started as a professional cyclist in 2009, with his first big move being a jump from Caja Rural to RadioShack in 2011, before moving to Patrick Lefevre’s Quick Step ahead of this season. He immediately performed well, winning the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen before a runner-up spot and podium at the Tour de Pologne and Eneco Tour respectively.

Will it happen? 3/5. With the Cavendish deal appearing to take so long to complete – with question marks still hanging over whether Bernhard Eisel would make the switch too –  the move for Kwiatkowski makes the complexity of the transfer even greater. He’s an undoubtedly talented rider, and it’s not surprising Quick Step are reluctant to let him go. But if that paves the way for the arrival of the world’s top sprinter, I can certainly see it happening.

Amets Txurruka and Ivan Velasco – Euskaltel to Caja Rural?

Amets Txurruka (mage courtesy of adambowie/Flickr)

Amets Txurruka, with his oddly placed ‘x’ and ever-aggressive style is part of the furniture at Euskaltel, having been at the team for five years. However, he has been unceremoniously dumped by the Basque outfit after failing to record a single race win, and he made sure he slammed the door on his way out, launching a scathing attack on the team and its new recruitment policy of signing riders outside the Basque region. “I will now see the team as just any other. It won’t be special any more,” he said. Source (in French)

Now it seems like Txurruka will move to another Spanish team – Caja Rural – as part of a package deal which sees him arrive with fellow Basque chum Ivan Velasco, a 32-year old who also hasn’t won a pro race at Euskaltel. Caja Rural are a Pro Continental outfit who would benefit from the experience and points of the veteran duo, as they look to build on their stage win at this year’s Vuelta a España.

Will it happen? 4/5. With both riders looking for new teams (and with almost entirely blank CVs) it seems like a move to Caja Rural – where they would both presumably be protected riders – is a good bet. It’s certainly something which I can see happening.

Who will be released from Saxo Bank?

Could the Haedo brothers be given the boot? (image courtesy of Roberto Bettini)

To end today’s column I haven’t got so much of a rumour as a simple fact. With Bjarne Riis executing a full-scale renovation of his Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank team this winter, as many as eight incumbent Saxo riders who have not yet been re-signed could be given the boot.

Juan Jose and Lucas Sebastian Haedo, Volodymir Gustov, Jaroslaw Marycz, Luke Roberts, Takashi Miyazawa and Ran Margaliot are all currently at risk. It appears that the latter duo are the most likely departures, although the likes of veteran climber Gustov, unconvincing all-rounder Marycz and the eternally under-performing (or over-hyped) Haedos can’t be counted out.

Riis has some big decisions to make, and if rumours linking yet more riders with Saxo like Ivan Basso have some substance, there will be even more unemployed cyclists scurrying around looking for rides next season.

Tour de France: Stage 5 review

Stage 5: Rouen to Saint-Quentin, 205km

The man with the largest thighs in the peloton, Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), powered to his second consecutive sprint victory, thanks to his well-drilled sprint train, overtaking a fading Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) in the drag race for the line. Goss managed to hang onto second while Juan Jose Haedo (SaxoBank-Tinkoff Bank) finished third, collecting valuable World Tour points for his team. The diminutive Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) was fourth and a subdued Manx missile, Mark Cavendish (Sky) fifth – still suffering from yesterday’s heavy spill.

The peloton had seemingly opted for an easy day, intent on conserving its energy for the weekend, on what turned out to be a fairly benign route  – no croswinds or rain – after the previous stressful few days of racing. This was the only stage in this year’s race where there were no mountain points on offer and, after a rolling start, the last 60km were pan flat.

The breakaway quartet were allowed to stay out in front for much of the day, cruelly giving them false hope of a possible win. Indeed, the sole survivor, poor Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi), was only caught by the bunch inside the final 300m. This was after Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) had fallen, with around 3km to go, possibly due to a rolled tyre, taking out green jersey Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale). Note, Farrar hasn’t won a race since his US Independence Day victory at last year’s Tour.

The stage winner’s trajectory was hindered by that crash but Lotto-Belisol kept their act together and it was crack-tweeter Greg Henderson who shepherded Greipel back into position and launched him to victory after the uphill drag into the final left-hand bend. Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan) finished in the main bunch,  to wear the maillot jaune for a record-breaking 27th day tomorrow. The top of the general classification, and all the other jerseys, remain unchanged.

VeloVoices rider of the day

I’ve selected Euskaltel’s 32-year old Pablo Urtasun who formed part of the day’s breakaway quartet because he came so close to fulfilling his dream of a stage win today. I was willing him on, to what would have been a sensational victory for the Euskaltel hard-man, in only his second Tour, and who only a few days ago suffered concussion after a crash in Stage 3.

One felt that the break was doomed from the start by the might of the sprinters’ teams, but their hesitation, coupled with that unfortunate crash with around three clicks to go, gave the quartet a slender chance. Tour debutant Cofidis’ Jan Ghyselinck went just as they passed under the red kite, but Urtasun timed his sprint to perfection, caught the Belgian within sight of the line, but couldn’t hold off the charging pack.

Urtasun eventually finished an exhausted 25th and will no doubt look back proudly on his effort in a few days’ time. Afterwards, he said:

“I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am happy to have been in the mix to dispute a Tour win. But on the other, opportinities for Tour victories are few and far between. We really needed another five seconds, the last 20 kilometres went very quickly perhaps if it had rained, that might have helped. But, I played my cards, was strong in the last 500 metres but came up 150 metres short. We are making the best of what would not normally be a favourable week for the team.”


Sadly Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) has succumbed to his injured knee, as opposed to his intestinal troubles, climbing off his bike after 40km of racing. Meanwhile the cycling wounded, who have become new best mates on account on their not dissimilar afflictions – Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) – continued to ride together at the rear of the peloton. Talking about their new bromance, Martin said on the team’s website:

“We are always together in the back of the peloton, where there is room for discussion. It is true, even if we suffer, we talk a little bit together. We talk about the race, the weather, the conditions of the road. It’s funny because each day, we give each other our medical reports. I will explain to him my condition, and he will tell me his condition. We are always kind of updated about our injuries. It’s  funny in these kind of conditions, while you are suffering, you can  sometimes find some good guys to share your thoughts with.”

The feverish Brice Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM), still in quarantine away from his teammates, is still the Lanterne Rouge.

And as you can see from this video from after the stage today, emotions run high in the Tour de France. Here is Tyler Farrar taking it to the Argonaut bus – he seemed to believe that one of the Argos-Shimano riders was the source of his accident and, well, he wanted to have a chat with that man.

Tactical analysis

There was much talk at the start of the stage at how Sky were faring much worse than BMC in the crashes largely, it was felt, due to the fact that BMC brought Classics riders like George Hincapie, Marcus Burghardt and Manuel Quinziato to form an impenetrable fence around their leader and keep him well to the fore.

Sky might not have the same Classics talent but today, to keep in position, Bradley Wiggins formed part of Mark Cavendish’s lead-out train. It served its purpose, even though Cavendish was a bit off his game and finished fifth, as no Sky rider was caught up in the crashes in the final straight. Expect Sky to deploy a similar strategy in tomorrow’s sprint stage.

The crash, however, has meant the green jersey contest has hotted up again. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) looked invincible at the stage start, indeed the commentators were speculating that Cavendish might not bother to contest the intermediate sprint. Hello, you don’t give up on a jersey in the first week! This competition is going to go to the wire. With Greipel winning again, Goss coming second and Sagan being taken out by the uber-unlucky Farrar, it’s game on.

Sagan still leads the points competition with 157 points. Goss is second with 137 and Greipel is third with 132, despite not contesting the intermediate sprints. Sagan was looking rather subdued on the podium – don’t forget, he’s still a Tour rookie. There’s nothing easy about this race and not even his superb bike-handling skills could save him being taken down by a rider-less bike. It takes as much luck as skill to get to Paris.

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

Cycling Families: Argentina

Brothers in arms JJ (left) and Lucas Haedo (image courtesy of Roberto Bettini)

Have you noticed how many sets of brothers there are in the peloton? In some cases, they’re part of cycling dynasties who’ve been inspired by the exploits of their relatives.

We’re starting our ‘Cycling Families’ series during the Tour de San Luis where two sets of Argentinean brothers are taking part. Continue reading