Happy birthday Alexandre Vinokourov

Alexandre Vinokourov Poptastic (thanks to Panache)

Happy Birthday Alexandre – С Днем Рождения Александр.

The sun has set on Alex’s career as a racer. His last ride, for sentimental reasons, was the Clasica San Sebastian where I heard his short retirement speech in the press room after the race. Yes, he’d come to show off his Olympic jersey(s) and his striking gold bike, giving them another outing before hanging them up in his trophy cabinet along with the gold medal he won in the road race at this year’s Olympics: a fitting end to his 15-year career. He’d also come to try and win after finishing runner-up to this year’s winner Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) two years ago. It wasn’t to be but, as always, he tried to win. An attitude much appreciated by the crowd, his popularity among the Basque cycling aficionados evident by the number of autographs he handed out and all those queuing to have their photo taken with him one last time.

While no official announcement has yet been made, we fully anticipate seeing Alex behind the wheel of an Astana-badged car next year passing on his words of wisdom and race-craft to his team.

Or does Alex have his heart set on getting behind the wheel of a more powerful car? (image courtesy of Alex Vinokourov)

So as we light the 39 candles on his glittering birthday cake, let’s take a look back over Alex’s long and successful career with a selection of videos and photographs.

Here’s one of the many tribute videos on YouTube displaying his attacking spirit:

Alex has also been a faithful supporter of the local cycling club, which each year hosts a sportif in memory of Alex’s late friend and fellow rider Andrei Kivilev. He and other local professionals take part whenever possible and he provides plenty of Astana goodies for the obligatory post-race tombola.

Alex in one of his limited edition Vino-4-ever outfits at the start of La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev (image courtesy of Stade Laurentin Cyclisme)

Trio of Kazakhs, including Alex, riding in support of their fallen colleague (image courtesy of Stade Laurentin Cyclisme)

We’ve already covered his winning the Olympic gold medal, but here’s a post-Olympics interview in London:

Clasica San Sebastian 2012: Alex's blinged up shirt

Clasica San Sebastian 2012: Alex’s blinged-up shirt (image courtesy of RDW)

He’s recently been back in Kazakhstan with the other Olympic athletes to receive recognition of their achievements in London 2012 from the government. Here’s a clip about Alex which was shown on Kazakh television:

Alex and other Kazakh Olympic athletes (image courtesy of Alex Vinokourov)

Finally, here is a picture of what Alex values the most: his family. No doubt they’ll be helping him to blow out all those candles!

The Vinokourovs en famille and, yes, the twins are seriously cute! (image courtesy of Alex Vinokourov)

The Monagesque Cycling Federation is holding a farewell criterium race for Alex around the port of Monaco on Sunday 7th October. There’ll be one race for the amateurs and one for the professionals. Further information here.

Friday Feature: Bridie O’Donnell’s Olympic women’s road cycling review

Over the past few days, a few people have asked why VeloVoices has not been covering the women’s road cycling at the London 2012 Olympics. The simple answer is that, while all of us take an interest in women’s cycling, none of us would profess to be particularly knowledgeable about the distaff branch of road racing. However, we do listen to our followers, so we tracked down someone who is an expert on women’s racing – because she happens to be a professional rider herself.

Australia’s Bridie O’Donnell is a former triathlete who signed her first pro contract in 2009 at the age of 35, first with Team Valdarno – where she was a teammate of road world champion Tatiana Guderzo – and then Top Girls Fassa Bortolo. She now rides for Vanderkitten.We figured she was probably a teensy bit more qualified to comment on the women’s road race and time trial than we were, so we sent Panache off to get her view on them. Here’s what she had to say.

Women’s road race

Panache: You told me on Twitter that you were excited to watch the women fight it out. What were your impressions of the parcours and how the race played out?

Bridie O’Donnell

Bridie: The weather certainly made the day a lot more difficult than the course profile suggested. The smaller bunch also made it hard for slower climbers to maintain contact or rejoin after they’d been dropped. Had there been 100 or more starters [only 66 riders took the start – Ed], I think we would have seen more groups fighting it out to make a bigger group to the finish.

I was unsurprised by the Netherlands’ tactics of attacking early and often. That’s the kind of race that Vos likes & clearly they were the strongest team. Even more impressive that she too attacked relentlessly to “tire herself out as well as the others” and that it paid off with a win.

We knew that teams of one or two really had no chance on a course like this. Using one’s firepower was the only way to get a medal, and no ‘hiding’ or foxing was going to work. A lot of talk by supporters of Team USA was that had Olds not punctured, she would have won but I disagree for two reasons: firstly, many riders had bad luck and mechanicals (Italy had three punctures, Australia two, and Gunnewijk, Armstrong and Villumsen all crashed) and secondly, any fourth rider in that break would have changed the outcome. Perhaps Olds’ lack of desire to work may have led to aggravation in the others, the break may have dissolved, been brought back & another gone. Wishful thinking by the Americans, understandably.

Panache: The weather for the women’s road race was wet to say the least. What’s it like to be in a prestigious race like the Olympics when the weather is terrible?

Bridie: For many, it’s a disappointment, knowing that your preparation and talent may be compromised by a greater degree of bad luck. For others – like the Dutch – who often prefer harder conditions, they believe it gives them an advantage. But still, the field was smaller than a World Cup, so the consequences of a crash/mechanical were less significant.

Panache: Before the women’s road race I asked you to give me three names of possible winners:

Panache: You said either Vos, Teutenberg, or Bronzini.  Of course, you picked the winner! What makes these three women so special?

Bridie: The first two in particular have won more races than any pro male (combined) and possess the qualities of champions: elite physiology, aggression, tactical nous and a strong team. They both race offensively and aren’t afraid to work hard. Bronzini is perhaps a more stereotypical Italian rider: opportunistic, skillful and always there in the finale.

Panache: Is there a tougher rider in the world than Marianne Vos?

Bridie: No.

Panache: Who surprised you with their performance?

Bridie: Zabelinskaya was surprising in both the road race and the time trial. She obviously timed her form perfectly for the Olympics but had showed no outstanding performances all season. Unfortunately, Australia’s riders were surprisingly poor, given the generally strong performances throughout the season.

Panache: Many people thought the women’s road race was much more exciting than the men’s race. (As if women’s racing is less exciting normally?!?) What do you make of these comparisons?

Bridie: There is no comparison. I keep telling people this! Women have different physiology, different brains, smaller teams, less financial incentive to ride for their team mates, fewer championship/media-sponsored opportunities to perform and completely different paths both to cycling and after it.

Women’s time trial

Panache: Your palmares illustrates your experience and success in the time trial. Okay, basically you’re a legend in my mind! What did you think of the Olympic route?

Bridie: It’s a great course, I would love to have ridden it! Just because it was flat, doesn’t mean it’s not difficult. Rhythm, pacing, holding close to your threshold … these are all part of TT talent as much as a climb/descent is.

Panache: Kristin Armstrong won the gold medal again after coming back from a broken collarbone. You raced against her in the Tour of California Women’s time trial this year. What goes through your mind when you line up against someone like her?

Bridie: Well I knew we would all be riding for second place, that’s for sure! She is a fierce competitor who gifts nothing. I didn’t have a great day in Bakersfield, and finished a long way down on Armstrong. But two weeks ago I had a better 25km TT at the Cascade Classic and was only two minutes down, so she’s a benchmark for all of us.

Panache: The average age of the women’s podium was 36. Are women riders in the time trial like fine wine? They only get better with age?

Bridie: It’s common knowledge that women continue to improve in their endurance capabilities into their late 30s. We see world record times for marathoners, ironman triathletes and road cyclists. It shows that these athletes have been amply supported by their friends, families, federations and teams. It also shows that they know what is required to perform at a world-class level.

Panache: We’ve seen dominant performances from riders like Armstrong, who should we keep our eye on in the future?

Bridie: Van Dijk, Vos, Longo Borghini, Armitstead, Pooley and Ferrand Prevot (from France, who didn’t start due to mountain biking commitments).

Advice from Bridie

Panache: Bridie, before you go, leave us with some sage advice. What do you think we as fans do to help encourage more media coverage and support for women’s racing?

Bridie: You engage with riders, support us, motivate us, keep us grounded and remind us that what we’re doing is important. In turn, this allows female cyclists the opportunity to feel important, valued and empowered. It means we expect more of our coaches, our team directors and our federations. This can place more pressure on race organisers and the mainstream media to better promote the sport.

Panache: What advice do you have for young women who are interested in participating in the sport?

Bridie: Do it! Ride, race, find people to help you, find role models to inspire you and learn to live with disappointment. Most importantly, learn the difference between a ‘performance’ which is something you can control and a ‘result’ which you can not. You can control how you prepare, how hard you train, who you surround yourself with and how you race. If someone is faster, that’s beyond your control.

Panache: How can women get that sexy wind-blown hair like in your Twitter profile? (Mrs. Panache wants to know)

Bridie: Get your hair cut, coloured & blow dried at a salon. Then go training, have a shower, sleep eight hours and wake up the next day …

Panache: I can use all the help I can get. Any advice for a 40-year old male masters racer with two kids, who works at a library?

Bridie: Goal-setting helps me, no matter how ‘small’ or amateur that goal is. It helps keep momentum, maintains morale and gives you something to work towards.

Panache: Bridie, thank you very much for your time and thoughts.

You can follow Bridie O’Donnell on Twitter or via her personal website.

Meyer Brothers winning team pursuit gold (image courtesy of Cameron Meyer)

Cycling families: The Meyer brothers

Meyer Brothers winning team pursuit gold (image courtesy of Cameron Meyer)

Meyer Brothers winning team pursuit gold (image courtesy of Cameron Meyer)

Cameron and Travis Meyer hail from Perth, Australia. They started riding at a young age and, with only a year between them, have ridden and trained almost constantly together, amassing a staggering number of titles at junior and senior level, largely on the track, but now increasingly on the road too.

Of course, given his track pedigree – world champion in the points race (2009, 2010, and 2012), Madison (2010, 2011) and team pursuit (2010) – you might reasonably expect Cameron, at 24 the elder of the two brothers, to be competing at the London Olympics. But no, he’s riding this week with his brother Travis for Orica-GreenEDGE in the Vuelta a Burgos.

But increasingly, since joining first Garmin and now GreenEDGE, the brothers have turned towards a career on the road. In 2010, when Cameron was Australian national time trial champion, Travis was the holder of the national road race title. Those victories on the road and track saw Cameron voted both best Australian cyclist of the year and, once again, best track cyclist.

Cameron Meyer next to Aussie champ Simon Gerrans at GreenEDGE Launch (image courtesy of Cameron Meyer)

Cameron Meyer next to Aussie champ Simon Gerrans at GreenEDGE Launch (image courtesy of Cameron Meyer)

In 2011, Cameron repeated his success in the national time trial championship and went on to win the overall and stage four in the Tour Down Under, becoming the first leader of the UCI’s WorldTour. This year he was second in the national time trial but won the team time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico where he placed tenth overall.

Understandably the boys were, along with Jack Bobridge, the first to be signed to the new Australian WorldTour squad of Orica-GreenEDGE. Team manager Shayne Bannen explained:

During my time at the Australian Institute of Sport I worked with many of the young Australians now making an impact on cycling’s world stage so I’m pleased to be able to continue that with three of our most talented young riders.

Cameron and Jack are going to play a big role in Australia’s success on the track at the Olympics and have already proven their quality on the road. Not many guys can finish the final time trial of a three-week tour in the top ten at such a young age like Cameron has for the past two editions of the Giro d’Italia.

And Travis was making big gains over the past 12 months before injury got the better of him. We know his recovery is in good hands and a minor setback doesn’t change how talented he is. Travis won five junior world titles on the track and as soon as he stepped up to the elite ranks he won the Australian road title at his first attempt.

As an Australian team aiming to be around for a long time it was important for us to make these three guys founding members of the team because they’re going to be around at the top level for a long time.

Travis’ 2011 season came to an impromptu end in late May after Bayern-Rundfahrt as he needed surgery on his left external iliac artery. He explained:

I have been out of action and my season is basically over, so it is great that Shayne and GreenEDGE have shown faith in me by offering a place on their roster for 2012. It’s been a little frustrating sitting on the sidelines for a good portion of the year but that only adds to my motivation.

Initially, Cameron said that one of the reasons for joining the team was having support for his continuing ambitions on the track.

I’ve really enjoyed my time at Garmin-Cervelo but joining GreenEDGE gives me the best support possible to chase my dreams and of becoming one of the leading road riders in the world along with the possibility of riding at the Olympic Games in 2012.

Despite that declaration, a couple of months ago Cameron decided to leave behind the boards for good to focus completely on the road and withdrew from consideration for selection for the team pursuit squad at London 2012. He reasoned that while it was a very hard decision to make, he wanted to see what he could achieve by focussing solely on the road, citing Bradley Wiggins as his inspiration.

Chris Boardman, who won Olympic gold on the track in 1992 and broke the world hour record three times in his career, has singled out Cameron as the pick of the very talented bunch of young Australian cyclists:

He can hardly be called ‘new’ now, but Cameron Meyer is a fascinating prospect. The only thing to understand now is what direction he is going to go and how that is going to manifest itself. Is he going to become a major tour rider? Or is he going to be someone who can grab stages? I will be interested to see how he develops. He is the most interesting prospect to come out of Australia.

However Cameron’s career develops, you can be sure than one of his keenest supporters will be his younger brother Travis who, now he’s fully recovered, may also become a force to be reckoned with on the road. VeloVoices will be keeping a close eye on their continued development starting with the Vuelta a Burgos.