Cyclists take their motivation from many different places, sometimes they can even get a little boost from Twitter. That may have been the case for Bontrager rider Gavin Mannion's all-day adventure off the front Tuesday during stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California from Palmdale to Santa Clarita.
The 21-year-old from Dedham, Massachusetts joined Champion System's Chad Beyer and WorldTour riders Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Andy Schleck (RadioShack Leopard) in a high-profile-yet-ultimately-unsuccessful breakaway.
Despite the move being caught and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) eventually sprinting to the win, Mannion also walked away a winner - in an ongoing battle with head soigneur Reed McCalvin over who could attract more followers on the social media platform.
"It started a few months ago," McCalvin said of his lighthearted battle with Mannion. "We were talking, and I was making fun of the guys because I had more followers than they did. Gavin picked up on it, and so each race he's been like, 'Gaining on you. Got this many, Got this many now.'"
While the team was driving to the start on Tuesday, Mannion checked in with McCalvin about his current status and found out he was only 10 followers away from his soigneur. Then McCalvin tempted fate.
"So I said, 'Don't go getting in the break today to try and get more followers than me," McCalvin said. "And then of course he's in the all-day break with Lieuwe Westra and Andy Schleck. So he skyrocketed over me that night. But I'm going to get his little leprechaun ass back this week."
The playful banter is a way for McCalvin, who has been with the development team since its inception, to keep things light for the young crew he helps oversee. And Mannion, who won the Best Young Rider jersey at the Tour of the Gila, is an enthusiastic participant. After his foray into the Tuesday breakaway he jumped past McCalvin by 34 followers. But the soigneur won't be taking this temporary defeat lying down, even if it means he has to employ some less-than-savory tactics to regain the lead.
"It's what I did when I was underneath 1,000 followers," McCalvin said. "I just put 'Belieber forever' and 'boobs' and a bunch of words like that. Then I got all of the spam people to follow me. So I think I might need to do that again, something vicious like that to get at him."
But Mannion has an even better card to play.
"It sounds like it's getting intense and he's going to play dirty," Mannion said with a sheepish grin before the stage 4 start on Wednesday. "I might have to go in a breakaway again. I'm going to have to pull something out to keep my followers up."
Just as day follows night, the one hundredth win of Mark Cavendish’s career was followed by his one hundredth winner’s press conference. And just as his win on stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia in Treviso was typical of the genre, so too was his meeting with the media afterwards.
Although Giro press officer Matteo Cavazzuti warned that Cavendish’s conference would be a short one because of the lengthy transfer to Friday’s start in Busseto, the Manxman still found time to cram in just about all of his traditional themes in what almost amounted to a greatest hits compilation of press conferences past.
The lavish praise for his teammates, a forensic description of the finishing straight, a moment of introspection and thinly-veiled barb at the gentlemen of the press (of this very parish, in fact) all featured in Cavendish’s brief cameo in Treviso’s Istituto Comprensivo Stefanini after the stage.
“Normally it wouldn’t mean anything but the 100th win is quite special, it is quite a milestone,” Cavendish said of hitting his century, before segueing into a lengthy paean to his Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammates.
“The guys took control on a quite horrid stage from beginning to end and they rode out of their skins. They went longer than what I thought was possible. Young Julian Vermote was pulling 5k at the end and Matteo Trentin normally goes at 800 metres but he had to go from 2k but the guys all day, they were incredible. Every single one of them did something special today and that makes the win even more special.”
Next up was the de rigueur question about the final kilometre of the race, and every reporter in the room duly leaned forward as they strained to listen to Cavendish dictate the opening paragraphs of their race reports.
“I knew the wind was coming from the left but we had to start the sprint on the left because we caught the break so I had to drift right and hopefully get the guys coming in the wind on the left,” Cavendish said. “I was happy because I didn’t sense anybody at all but I didn’t want to celebrate because of the conditions so I just lifted one hand.”
There was also an opportunity for Cavendish to charm his hosts with his Manx-accented Italian, honed in Tuscany, which he broke out when asked for his thoughts on fellow countryman and former teammate Bradley Wiggins’ travails on the stage. Wiggins lost over three minutes and all hopes of Giro success when he was distanced in the final 40 kilometres.
“For me the Giro is for my team and other teams are other teams. He’s a friend of mine and I want the best for him but I’m with my team doing my race and he’s with his,” Cavendish said carefully of Wiggins.
And finally, we came to the airing of grievances. Asked to articulate the difference in mindset between his first and one hundredth wins, Cavendish offered a moment of genuine insight into the expectations that have built up around him since his maiden win as a raw 21-year-old in at Scheldeprijs in 2007.
“When I first started, winning was a bonus, you know? Now anything but a win is a loss. That’s how things have changed. I no longer win races, I lose races and that really changes not just my perception of things but the team’s perception of things," Cavendish said, before indulging in his favourite press conference parlour game –taking aim at perceived slights.
“You see the criticism the team’s come under this year. I think some people made some shit comments about the Saturday in Napoli when Gert [Steegmans] had a mechanical and they said that it didn’t work perfectly when in fact it was quite a perfect stage routine you know. Cyclingnews…”
But before one could ask if a man with one hundred wins could really be so thin-skinned, Cavendish summed up his situation neatly: “That’s part and parcel of it, it shows you’re doing something right and I’d rather be in that position than a position where you’re less successful.”
And with that, Cavendish wrapped up his press conference. After one hundred performances, he knows how to put on a show.
Will decide on whether to continue on Friday morning
Bradley Wiggins' hopes of overall success at the Giro d'Italia ended on the rain-soaked roads to Treviso during stage 12 on Thursday, but Team Sky refuted speculation that he might immediately quit the race, putting off any decision until Friday morning.
Wiggins has been suffering with a cold and chest infection for several days and taking antibiotics. When the speed picked up in the final, flat part of the stage, he was unable to hold the wheel and lost contact.
All his Team Sky teammates except overall contenders Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao waited for him and escorted home but he finished 3:17 behind fellow Brit Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who was elated to secure the 100th victory of his career.
Wiggins' emotions were very different and he looked empty and ghost-like when he crossed the line. He didn't speak to the media before getting on the bus. Team manager Dave Brailsford came out in the rain to dampen any ideas that Wiggins would automatically quit the Giro d'Italia and he would home to recover and start thinking about the Tour de France.
"He's knackered, to use a nice British term," he said despondently.
"It was reported that it was a stomach illness but that wasn't the case. He's got a severe cold and a chest infection. He battled that yesterday but it got worse overnight. We always knew it was going to be an uphill battle, but it's not like Bradley Wiggins to lose a wheel on the flat."
Several TV interviewers pushed to understand if Wiggins will continue in the Giro. Brailsford insisted it was too soon to make any decision.
"He's fit enough to carry on but it's not about fitness, it's about sickness. They're two very different things. If you're sick, you're sick and there's not much you can do about it," he said.
"He'll have a shower, have some food, get to the hotel and see how he is overnight. If he's over the worst and getting better then he'll carry on. If he's getting worse it'll be up to the medics to make the call that's best for him health wise."
"If it's raining tomorrow, we don't want someone's health to deteriorate progressively worse but if he's over the worst, then he'll carry on."
Overall hopes have gone
Brailsford conceded that Wiggins' overall chances of victory had gone, and with it any dreams of a rare Giro-Tour double. However he insisted that Wiggins could carry on and target other goals in the Giro if he recovers.
"The GC has gone but he's still got the rest of the race. You've got to consider his health and the impact on that to consider or not. If he recovers, he could focus on the time trial as a goal and commit to helping the rest of the team," Brailsford said.
"If he can continue, he will continue. In his mind, I think the time trial could be a goal. So if he can continue, he will continue. He's going to have to be pretty ill to stop."
Wiggins has been criticised and ridiculed by parts of the Italian media after his problems on the descents earlier in the Giro but Brailsford defended his team leader.
That's sport and that's life. We had a lot of things that went our way and not a lot of set backs. In the fullness of time, these things come along and you've got to take them in your stride," he said.
"I think he's brave and showed a lot of courage to get on his bike. When you open the curtains and are feeling as sick as he was, the last thing you want to see is the pouring rain. He's still in the race. Lets see what happens overnight."
"We've all had colds and the flu and we all know how we feel. I'm sure some of us would call in sick and have a day off but these guys can't do that. You have to look inside yourself sometimes and I think he's shown a lot of courage."
All for Uran now
Rigoberto Uran may not stay with Team Sky in 2014 and was not the designated team leader for the Giro d'Italia, but the Colombian now carries the team's hopes for overall success. He is now third overall, 2:04 behind race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
"It's very disappointing for Brad, but it's still a very positive race for where we're at on GC," Brailsford said, trying to find a silver lining in the grey clouds over Treviso.
"The team will get right behind Rigoberto Uran and keep on racing all the way to Brescia. He looks in good shape and so for us it's still a very exciting race, and we'll compete to try and get on the podium or even better with Rigoberto."
"The team lost its purpose when Brad broke his collarbone (in the 2011 Tour de France) but here we're still in the race."
Although temperatures during Wednesday's stage 4 of the Amgen Tour of California cooled considerably from the previous days, the battle for the mountain classification was at full boil.
Three of the top five contenders for the polka dot jersey made the day's six-rider breakaway; noticeably absent from the group was KOM leader Carter Jones (Bissell Pro Cycling), but his Continental-ranked team had the 24-year-old rider's back.
Jones' teammates Chris Baldwin and Frank Pipp joined classification runner-up Jim Stemper (5-hour Energy/Kenda), fourth-placed KOM rider Marsh Cooper (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) and fifth-placed Chad Beyer (Champion System) - along with Bontrager's Nate Brown - in a move that went down the road just a handful of kilometers into the race. Despite the dangerous move, Baldwin and Pipp were able gobble up more than half the points on offer and help Jones keep his polka dot top.
"The only reason we were there was to protect that KOM jersey," Baldwin told Cyclingnews after the race. "We saw Stemper go, and honestly the idea was to bring Carter with me, but he was really ambitious at the beginning of the stage trying to go with every little jump, and he burned a lot of matches. But it was mission accomplished as far as trying to protect those points."
The 134.6 km stage featured just two KOM spots, the category 4 climb outside of Santa Paula at 67.5 km and the category 3 climb of Casitas Pass, exactly 100 km into the race.
Baldwin struck first, taking ultimate points in Santa Paula. Pipp, usually known for his turn of speed on the flats rather than his ability to fight gravity, grabbed third on the climb, leaving Stemper to collect a single point, while Cooper was second.
On the ascent of Casitas Pass, Bontrager's Brown lit out to grab the six points available to the first rider across, while Baldwin finished second with his teammate Pipp grabbing third. Cooper settled for fourth, leaving a single point for Beyer. Stemper was shut out completely.
"We kind of had a pretty good situation," Baldwin said of his team's efforts in the break. "[We had] one climber to go early and then one sprinter to stay with [Stemper] and attack him. I actually felt pretty bad for him. He worked really hard to get out there, and he's done a really good job getting some points. He just got the short end of the stick this afternoon."
For all his efforts, the 5-hour Energy rider came away with only a single point on the day and slipped to third in the mountains classification behind Cooper. The disappointment was evident as he talked to a reporter outside the team bus.
"I learned some valuable lessons about bike racing today," Stemper said. "I'm disappointed in myself for sure. That's the feeling for today. I'm just very disappointed. I guess I showed some naivete. I guess everyone has to learn that lesson. I wish I hadn't had to learn it at the Tour of California."
Stemper was upset that he not only had to fight the Bissell teammates and the other KOM contenders for the points, but also the Bontrager rider who was not really in the hunt for the jersey.
"I knew that Bissell would be racing me for it," he said. "But I guess maybe I thought everyone else in the break wouldn't care, and that was wrong. It was definitely wrong. And strategically I didn't play it well at all. In fact I messed it up unbelievably. I just wasn't strong enough. It's just disappointing."
Stemper apparently didn't know that deals were being cut in the team cars behind the breakaway that all but doomed his chances to exploit the day's move. Bissell director Omer Kem said he told all the other team directors that if they wanted Baldwin and Pipp to contribute to the group's pace, their riders would need to fight for the KOM points and deny Stemper.
"Otherwise there was no reason for us to have two guys up there," Kem explained. "If I can have my guy in the field saving energy while the other guys are out there chasing points, it's really good for him."
Baldwin wasn't surprised when he found out Stemper was upset and disappointed.
"I'm sure he is, but that's bike racing," the 38-year-old former national champion said. "It seems like a race within a race, and that's exactly what it is. We're racing against him for this jersey. For our team, this jersey is one of the highest objectives we could have, so if we can have it at the end it would be one of the best accomplishments of our year."
Jones, resplendent in his latest polka dot jersey and with each cheek showing the telltale lipstick traces of a another podium appearance, said he was proud of the team, and he was ready to reward his teammates' work with an all-out effort to keep the jersey through the end of the race.
"I'm psyched," he said. "I had full team support to scoop up the points, and now I'll be looking toward tomorrow and then the Diablo day for some more points to possibly lock it up. I'm recovering from the first day - that was a big effort - and I'm feeling better day to day. Hopefully I'll be able to score some points in the days coming up. That's the goal, and I definitely think it's doable. I just need to do it."
The Bissell rider now leads Cooper by seven points and Stemper by eight in the mountains classification. Beyer, Baldwin and UnitedHealthcare's Lucas Euser are all 13 points down. Thursday's 185.7 km stage offers just one opportunity for the KOM riders on the category 2 climb of San Marcos pass. Saturday's stage 7 will be the final chance for the climbers, with two early KOM spots and the category HC finish atop of Mt. Diablo.
Martinelli: "Wiggins out of contention but Uran, Evans and Scarponi still dangerous"
While Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) suffered in the rain and lost any chance of overall victory at the Giro d'Italia, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) enjoyed another trouble-free day in the race leader's pink jersey during stage 12 on Thursday.
The Italian was able to perhaps sit back and smile during the long transfer across the north of Italy towards Busseto, knowing that he had survived another day in pink while perhaps his biggest rival was considering heading home rather than planning attack is the rapidly approaching Alpine stages.
As race leader, Nibali is obliged to attend a post-race press conference after every stage. But with lots of kilometres to cover on the autostrada he let directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli do the talking.
The subject on everybody's mind was Wiggins' bad day and the loss of the Tour de France winner as a major rival.
"I think he's really ill. I could see it a bit in the way he gave up, he didn't fight to get back on like he did on the other days. I think that in this Giro he has had a few problems and they're still making themselves felt," Martinelli said outside the Astana team bus.
"It changes a lot. I've always said up to now that Wiggins most dangerous rider and he was the one we feared the most because he’s a great champion. You don't win the Tour de France by chance, so certainly, him out of the 'classifica' gives us a bit of morale. Uran, Evans and Scarponi are still dangerous. Uran is a good leader for Sky and he's going very well at the moment and he’ll be an hard nut to crack. But I think that the most dangerous rider isn't there anymore."
Martinelli refuted suggestions that the Astana team is not at its best after illness struck Paolo Tiralongo and Fabio Aru, and Frederik Kessiakoff struggled to provide support in the mountains.
"The race is getting harder and harder, but I think a lot of teams are in the same position as we are. The important thing is that the leader is well. if the leader is well then the team is well," he prophesied, admitting that leading the race and wearing maglia rosa has its responsibilities as well as glory.
"The worst part of it is after the race because you have to do the prize ceremonies and all the rest, but I think that a champion has to be ready for all of that, too. It's better to be up front and have the lead than be behind."
Like ever directeur sportif, Martinelli is anxiously scrutinizing the weather forecast for the coming days and the big Alpine stage at the weekend. He is no doubt hoping the finish on the Galibier will be cut if the snow causes problems but refused to say as much.
"It's going to be the same for everyone. I just hope that we can do all of the stages as planned and that the riders don’t have to risk too much in the mountains," he said.
"I don't think the weather will affect things too much. It's the same riders who will be up there fighting."
Australian within touching distance of maglia rosa
Over half way through the Giro d'Italia and BMC's Cadel Evans is riding high in second place on GC, 41 seconds in arrears to Italian favourite Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). It's a position that not many would have predicted for the Australian rider after a difficult 2012 season that was plagued by illness and a loss of a form and slightly lacklustre start to 2013.
In this exclusive video for CyclingnewsBMC sports director Max Sciandri talks about Evans' form, how he's getting stronger each day and the tactical advantage BMC could play with both Sky and Astana fighting for supremacy in this year's race.
Bissell rider refocuses on season's next objectives
After being pulled from Tuesday's stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California when he fell nearly half an hour behind the peloton, Bissell Pro Cycling's Phil Gaimon is back home in Atalanta hoping to recover from a stomach bug and reset his season for another block of racing.
Gaimon finished with the main bunch during Sunday's opening stage in Escondido, and he was 15th on the tremendously difficult stage 2 that finished in 110-degree heat on the Tramway climb outside of Palm Springs. But as the race headed north the next day toward Santa Clarita, Gaimon's performance quickly headed south.
"Every time the road went uphill, I was going backwards," he said while enroute to Atlanta on Wednesday. "We were going uphill, and I was in the back with the sprinters and that's peculiar. I didn't feel that bad, but clearly something was wrong. I can look at the guys I'm next to on the climbs and know that something ain't right."
Gaimon may have fallen victim to the same bug that knocked Julian Kyer from the team roster before the race even started. Kyer flew in from Colorado for the race, but a high fever sent him packing, and Mike Torckler took over his spot. Gaimon said the difficulty of stage 2 may have worn his body down enough to give the bug a better foothold, and he just didn't have enough strength the next day.
"It's one of those things that if I was working in an office, I would probably be able to go to work," he said. "I'd be pissed off and grumpy, and no one would like me that day, but I wouldn't have to call in sick. But the way my job is, that kind of thing doesn't work that way in bike racing. It takes it out of your legs and there's not much you can do. I definitely tried, which was frustrating."
Gaimon rode nearly 80km off the back with team manager Glenn Mitchell following in the support car. Gaimon said Mitchell was helping him choose a pace that may have seen him finish within the time cut, but a race official that had been with them the entire time finally yanked him from the race about 5km from the finish.
"I think whatever official was behind me was tired of it and yanked me out - in a move of mercy, I suppose," Gaimon said. "It was one of those things where I was going to try and finish the day and hope it got better. That didn't work out either. But I know now that it wouldn't have gotten any better, because I feel like shit today."
The 2012 Redlands Bicycle Classic winner said he will enjoy his time at home, the first time he's been back since January, and focus on recovering for the upcoming national championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Parx Philly Cycling Classic in Philadelphia and the Tour de Beauce in Canada.
"Then there's time for a real break before Colorado and Utah, the next big races where I get to show my stuff," he said. "Hopefully I can make it more than two days in those."
It is not so much the quantity of Mark Cavendish's victories that impresses, but the quality of them, both in terms of when and how he claimed so many of them. Since he notched his first pro win at the Tour of Berlin when riding for Sparkasse in May 2005, Cavendish has a won a staggering 39 stages in Grand Tours. While this still leaves him a good distance behind Mario Cipollini's career total of 57, Cavendish's latest success at Treviso, the 100th of his pro career, came five days before his 28th birthday. If he continues winning at his current rate, he will equal the Grand Tour haul of the "The Lion King" towards the end of the 2015 season, when he will still only be 30.
More than the numbers, though, it's the sprinting brilliance of Cavendish that stands out. For a long time he had an unjust reputation as a sprinter who could only win when he had a fully-committed lead-out train. This stemmed from the successes he enjoyed at Highroad, who were more than happy to put almost everything they had behind the Manxman. Yet, Cavendish has consistently shown he can prevail when he's got to find his own way.
The best example of this is his victory in the 2011 Worlds. The great work his British teammates had done in keeping the race together seemed to have come to naught when Cavendish ended up 20 riders back swinging onto the final drag up to the line. Watching the coverage from the helicopter above, it's staggering to see how many riders Cavendish picks his way past. He knows which wheel to follow for an instant and which ones to avoid, like a human pinball whose target is a narrow gap most won't even see. Somehow, he ends up shooting out of the pack to lead out the sprint, his initial burst catching his rivals unawares and carrying him so far clear victory is assured.
Is he the best of all time? He's certainly the best sprinter the Tour has ever seen, not only because of his number of wins but also his consistency - he averages just below five stage wins per Tour over the last five years on the biggest stage of all. Other sprinters, including the likes of Freddy Maertens, Walter Godefroot and even Cavendish's current teammate Tom Boonen, have had more all-round ability than the Briton. But who would you back in a straight head-to-head? It would be Cavendish every time.