Domestique hopes TOC ride will earn him a Tour berth
“Yeah, I stopped eating in March.”
Team Cannondale domestique Ted King is always quick with a wisecrack, this time in response to how thin and fit he’s looking.
Just ahead of the Amgen Tour of California, Ted King spent a couple of weeks in Colorado, training with his friend and former teammate Timmy Duggan. Cyclingnews caught up with the 30-year-old American to talk racing, training, Peter Sagan and the Tour de France.
King kicked off his season in Argentina with the Tour de San Luis, then headed to Europe for Paris-Nice and then the classics.
“Our season thus far has been very good. Team Cannondale had podiums in virtually every classic barring Paris-Roubaix,” King said.
This spring Cannondale’s Peter Sagan won Gent-Wevelem — riding a wheelie as he crossed the finishline alone — took second to Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders and then outsprinted World Champion Philippe Gilbert to win Brabantse Pijl.
“I’ve been racing with Peter a lot, which is a good thing,” King said. “He is a very good rider to work for. For one, he is successful. He just makes your job easier.”
“Also, Peter’s a good kid. He’s 23 years old. He has a very pulled-together perspective,” King said. “He recognizes his potential, and you see him striving for more. That translates off the bike. It’s humbling and inspiring, really, as a 30-year-old working for a 23-year-old.”
“Everything between ‘the go’ and the ‘1k to go’”
King came to Team Cannondale when the title sponsor was Liquigas. Before that he rode for CervéloTestTeam, also as a domestique. At Liquigas last year he raced with his good friend Timmy Duggan, and the pair continue to connect for training when possible. Ahead of California, King stayed at Duggan’s house up in Nederland, Colorado, elevation 8,230 feet (2,500m).
“Before California I had to hit the quick life-reset button: See the family, see friends, check a mountain of mail,” King said. “Then I did some thin-air training before heading out to California for the Tour."
In California, Team Cannondale set a high bar last year.
“We set quite a standard last year with five wins and a second place,” King said. “And the race looks significantly harder this year from the get-go.”
King’s job in California is pretty straightforward — work the front when the team needs it. “As a non-climber and a non-sprinter, I am tasked with everything between ‘the go’ and the ‘1k to go’,” King said.
The California team roster is similar to that for the Tour de France, King said.
“In the bigger picture I’d like to put in a really good ride and make the selection for the Tour,” he said. “I’ve done every race I’ve wanted to do except the Tour: the Giro, the spring classics, the world championship, the Ardennes classics.”
So how does one make the Tour de France team?
“The captains’ spots are virtually guaranteed. Then there is a bigger pool of riders shooting for the remaining six spots,” King said. “Who’s healthy, who’s fit, Darwinism and luck will weed out a few. Then I just have to work hard and hope for the best.”
King’s Colorado training ahead of California consisted of some long days when weather permitted it, a fair amount of climbing, some motorpacing to simulate race efforts and some intervals on the trainer on foul-weather days. “I hate riding the trainer,” King said, “but I’ll do what I have to do.”
Some of his trainer workouts included three- to four-minute intervals at 400 watts with short recoveries of 250w.
As temporary holder of the maglia nera, Jack Bobridge (Blanco) was the first starter in the stage 8 time trial at the Giro d’Italia. In spite of his strong pedigree against the clock, the Australian opted to save his resources during the undulating 55 kilometre test with an eye to his duties in support of team leader Robert Gesink in the next two weeks.
“I just wanted to finish but that last climb was tough… I don’t know why it had to finish up there,” Bobridge told Cyclingnews after negotiating the final haul up to the Villa del Balì. “I was just riding to get through it, I didn’t go full on at all. It’s more important for Robert that I’m as fresh as possible for the two weeks to come.”
Bobridge’s Giro to date has been one of ups and downs. Like many, he struggled during the two testing days in Italy’s deep south that followed the Ischia team time trial, but he enjoyed a foray off the front in the company of fellow countryman Cameron Wurf (Cannondale) on stage 6 to Margherita di Savoia.
“It wasn’t the plan to get in the break but it just happened that way and it was good to have a roll and a stretch with another Aussie,” Bobrdige said. “We didn’t go too deep it was a fairly consistent effort so I didn’t feel too bad after the stage.”
Friday’s rugged stage into the heart of the Abruzzo region was a different matter, however, as the peloton split to pieces over a final 50 kilometres that featured scarcely a metre of flat road. With heavy rain making the descents especially treacherous, for those caught behind it was simply a matter of exercising due prudence and making it to the finish to fight another day.
“I had a bad day yesterday and I was in the gruppetto and there were a lot of crashes because those roads are like ice when it’s wet,” he said. “Yesterday was just about finishing within the time cut and moving on.”
Bobridge’s chief role at the Giro, of course, is to chaperone Robert Gesink to the foot of the mountains in the best position possible, and as a collective unit, the Blanco team enjoyed a solid opening week. Gesink begins the time trial in 7th place overall, while Steven Kruijswijk and Wilco Kelderman are also well-placed.
“The atmosphere’s really good in the team and everyone’s really happy,” Bobridge said. “We’ve got through the first week pretty good, Wilco had a couple of crashes but he’s ok. So far we’re pretty happy with how things are going and hopefully it continues and we can get Robert onto the podium.”
Though Bobridge harbours long-term ambitions of exploring his possibilities as a stage racer, he is mindful that he is still limited by his track-laden programme of the past four years, in which he broke the world individual pursuit record and lead Australia to team pursuit silver at the London 2012 Olympics.
“I think mainly my role will be in the valleys before and positioning before the climb for this year,” he said. “I haven’t done enough road yet to get over the big climbs and mountain passes. But maybe in a few years’ time it will be a different story.”
In the shorter term, Bobridge is aiming to pick up wins and placings in the second half of the season. “I go from here to the Dauphiné and I think it’s hard to say I’ll be good there, as I’ll still be pretty tired but I think it’s the best thing for me at the moment to do the Giro and all these races,” he said. “Then in the second half of the season I think I can be a lot better and have a lot better form and maybe have a go for myself somewhere.”
Tamayo put together a successful team of sprinters for the flatter stages; stage 3 from Palmdale to Santa Clarita, stage 4 from Santa Clarita to Santa Barbara, stage 5 from Santa Barbara to Avila Beach and the finale stage 8 from San Francisco to Santa Rosa. Those sprinters are Aldo Ino Ilesic, Jake Keough and John Murphy.
He also built a team of proven climbers to showcase during stage 1 over Mt. Palomar, stage 2 at the finish in Palm Springs and stage 7 at the finish on Mt. Diablo. Those riders include Phil Deignan, who recently won the overall title at the Tour of the Gila, Marc de Maar, Lucas Euser and Chris Jones.
The eighth rider is Jeff Louder, a strong time trialist for stage 6 in San Jose, and an opportunist during difficult stages.
"This year's Tour of California has a little for everyone," Tamayo told Cyclingnews. "I felt it was important to have a well-rounded team. We should see sprints, mountaintop finishes and an extremely hard time trial."
Tamayo placed a priority on course recon and drove every stage of this year's parcours in February. "It was important for some of my athlete selections," he said. "Course recon is essential to knowing what's coming next in the race. It gets the rider's mindset right and it helps me visualize what may happen during the stages."
Tamayo pointed to stage wins as his team's number one target during the week-long event. His riders have had an abundance of success during the early season, winning Tour of the Gila, Belmont Criterium, Roswell Criterium, Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium, Delray Beach Twilight Criterium and Cigar City Brewing Criterium, among others.
"We've been on a good streak as of late," Tamayo said. "In general, what we're seeing this year is more overall depth. I had six different riders on the podium last week. How many teams have that success spread amongst its riders?"
UnitedHealthcare could take a new approach to the Tour of California after losing Rory Sutherland, who was a key overall contender for the team during previous editions. Sutherland signed a contract with Saxo-Tinkoff for this season and is currently racing at the Giro d'Italia.
"Rory will always be missed in our program," Tamayo said. "We've had to adjust and spread out some of his responsibilities to other riders. We have a solid and well-rounded team."
Puncture costs Sky man stage win as Nibali moves into pink
Bradley Wiggins’ words have been at a premium at the 2013 Giro d’Italia and at the finish of the stage 8 time trial from Gabicce Mare to Saltara, observers were once again left to read the runes of his silences.
Before the Giro started, the 55-kilometre test was expected to mark the beginning of Wiggins’ spell in the maglia rosa. After losing almost 90 seconds in a crash the previous day, it was then expected to herald the beginning of the Wiggins fight back.
Instead, the performance was inconclusive. Wiggins completed the time trial in second place, 10 seconds down on Alex Dowsett (Movistar), and was quickest over the final kilometres of the course, but he only clawed back a scant 11 seconds on chief rival Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who assumes the overall lead.
An early puncture upset Wiggins’ rhythm and offered mitigation of sorts, but instead of holding a healthy advantage over Nibali ahead of the mountains, the Englishman now lies in 4th place overall, 1:16 down.
At the end of his effort, Wiggins seemed less a knight of the realm than the Grand Old Duke of York: he marched a string of journalists up the hill past the finish line and he later marched them back down again without uttering a word, save to agree with a Gazzetta dello Sport journalist who asked if he felt the puncture had cost him stage victory.
“A team who is sponsored by a communications company should perhaps advise its champions to behave differently,” Silvio Martinello would later quip in the RAI studio by the finish line later on.
As has been the norm at this Giro, it was eventually left to Sky’s management team to communicate with the press, with performance manager Rod Ellingworth looking to draw the positives from Wiggins’ afternoon. “He’s alright but it was a bit of a shame that he had a front wheel puncture,” Ellingworth said
Wiggins had begun his time trial with a flourish, cruising past his minute-man Danilo Di Luca (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) in the opening kilometres and scarcely breaking from his aerodynamic tuck. Around the 18km mark, however, Wiggins wheeled to a halt and clattered his bike against the roadside.
“He was going well and I think the puncture broke his rhythm,” Ellingworth said. “He hit something on the road and it was two or two and a half kilometres before he realised he’d done something to the bike. I just think it completely broke his rhythm and it was hard to concentrate.”
Wiggins came through the time check after 26 kilometres some 52 seconds down on Dowsett and was even trailing Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) by 22 seconds, but over the second half of the course and – particularly – the tough final haul to the line, he recouped his losses well.
“Once he got onto that flat section, he was off again and he brought it home beautifully,” Ellingworth said.
Approaching the end of the opening week of racing, Wiggins finds himself unexpectedly on the back foot. He trails Nibali, Cadel Evans (BMC) and Robert Gesink (Blanco) – three riders who would have been expecting to be behind Wiggins at this juncture – and tactically, Sky’s race will be very different to the one envisaged by the so-called “Project Giro.”
As ever, Ellingworth remained a paragon of pragmatism. “I think with the Giro you’ve got to take it every day so we now look at it and think what position we are in,” he said. “There’s another time trial to come and a lot more racing. You just don’t know what’s going to happen – just look at what’s happened to us in the past few days. You just don’t know.”
On the technical, demanding and long (54.8km) course from Gabicce Mare to Saltara, Nibali came home 4th behind winner Alex Dowsett and, more importantly in terms of the bigger picture, finished just 11 seconds behind Wiggins.
That showing leaves Nibali with 1:16 in hand on Wiggins in the overall standings at a point when he surely expected to be trailing the Englishman and looking to make up ground in his favoured terrain of the mountains.
“You can’t say that I’ve got the Giro in the bag,” Nibali said in his post-race press conference. “Nothing’s a given. I don’t underestimate [Michele] Scarponi, [Cadel] Evans, [Ryder] Hesjedal or even Wiggins. He’ll be there fighting until the end.”
While Evans lies just 29 seconds back and Scarponi has moved himself up to 5th overall at 1:24, Wiggins was widely viewed beforehand as the man most likely to prevent Nibali from winning the Giro. After all but breaking even with Wiggins on his favoured terrain, the pendulum has surely swung in Nibali’s favour but the Astana man was keen to point out that the undulating nature of the time trial course had levelled the playing field.
“This was a hard time trial with a lot of changes of rhythm and there were parts of it that favoured lighter climbers, in particular the opening sections,” said Nibali, who even held the best time at the first intermediate check after 26km. “I wouldn’t say that Wiggins was a disappointment today, it just that it wasn’t precisely the kind of flat course that suits him best.”
The “script” for this Giro d’Italia had anticipated that Nibali would be forced to go on the offensive in the closing two weeks in a bid to make up time on Wiggins. Instead, he finds himself with the overall lead and a different tactical outlook. Astana, and not Sky, will look to control the race in the coming days, although Nibali promised not to curb his attacking instincts completely.
“I’ll look to defend the jersey and my rivals will certainly look to attack me,” Nibali said. “In this first part of the Giro, I’ve stayed pretty covered and only gone on the attack once so far [on stage 7 to Pescara]. If there’s a chance to gain seconds in the in the stages to come ahead then I’ll go for it, but I’ll also defend myself against my rivals.”
Asked if he had taken the jersey too early, Nibali suggested that the aim was simply to keep calm and carry on. “We’ll try not to lose it and we’ll try to stay calm,” he said. “Being tranquillo is part of who I am and when I’m relaxed I can give 100 percent."
The 27-year-old is still trying to regain the form that propelled him to the 2010 Tour de France title (after the disqualification of Alberto Contador) following a broken pelvis sustained in a crash nearly one year ago.
Much criticized in the media for several false starts in his comeback, Schleck is hoping to complete his first week-long stage race since his injury after dropping out of first the Tour of Beijing last fall, and then the Tour Down Under, the Tour Méditerranéen, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco earlier this year. He showed some spark of his old self in the final Ardennes Classic, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where he had his best result in a year in 41st place.
"I think I did a good race in Liège, which is a hard race. I was ready there, not to win, but I was in the final, which gave me a lot of motivation for the coming races. That was the goal I had in my head, and it was the first goal I reached this year, so [the form] is going up," Schleck told Cyclingnews.
Although he's had good training since the Ardennes Classics now that the dismal weather that plagued the European spring finally turned to sunshine, Schleck isn't putting any expectations on himself for the Tour of California.
"I don't count myself among the GC favorites. I'll see how I am in the race. It's different here than in Europe: I know I will suffer, but if I'm not so bad I'll be up there."
Because of his injury, Schleck said he hasn't been able to practice so much on his time trial bike during the off season, and with a 31.9km test in his near future in San Jose he isn't sure how he will go.
"A time trial is something that when you're strong on the roads and the climbs, you're also OK in the time trial. I don't concentrate so much on it - of course I want to do my best. I'll have to see how it goes, I'm taking it day by day. It looks like a nice time trial."
Schleck hasn't had time to preview the other key stages to Palm Springs or Mt. Diablo, but having last shown himself here in 2011, with a second place finish atop Sierra Road, he expects it to be a tough week.
"I don't know how hard it is exactly. A few years ago it was Sierra Road, it was bloody hard, and I think I made a good race up there, I finished second. Palm Springs is different, I haven't seen it so it's hard for me to say. It's all still preparation for the Tour."
The Tour de France: he's been declared winner, but still has yet to have the honour of standing on the top step of the podium on the Champs-Élysées, holding the winner's trophy while wearing the maillot jaune. There was been much expectation heaped upon his shoulders, and much skepticism since his injury, but Schleck himself is taking a cautiously optimistic approach to this year's race.
When asked if he needed to either get a stage win or at least show himself in the mountains of California to gain confidence, Schleck gave a firm no. "I stopped doing that, because I know what I have to do to get on a good level. I think I showed that before the Ardennes, to get on an OK level which I expected to be, and I was in the end. I don't need to win a stage to take more confidence. I just need to keep working on what I'm doing and I hope I'm OK.
"I will do everything to be 100 percent, but maybe my 100 percent now isn't the same as what it was two years ago. I'm getting older even though I'm still young, and last year there were six months (sic) where I didn't ride my bike, I'm still suffering from that. But I have fun and I feel good on the bike. I believe - I will do everything to be in my best possible shape coming into the Tour, and only then can I tell how I am."
Evans took 7th place on the 54.8km course, 39 seconds off stage winner Alex Dowsett (Movistar), but limited his losses to new maglia rosa Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and pre-race favourite Bradley Wiggins (Sky). The Australian now lies just 29 seconds behind Nibali and 47 ahead of Wiggins on general classification.
“I think I’m shaping fairly well on classification at this point but we’ll see from here on in: I think the Giro changes from here on in,” Evans told reporters through the rolled-down window of the BMC team car after the finish. “I think a time trial always shows everyone’s cards. It’s a good position to be in at this point but the real Giro is just starting.”
Since winning the Tour de France in 2011, and especially over the opening months of this season, Evans has sometimes struggled against the watch, but his showing in the Marche on Saturday was a sign that he was drawing closer to solving that particular conundrum.
“Compared to the other guys I’ve been riding reasonably well during the week, which was a good sign but for one reason or another I hadn’t had a good time trial this year but it’s started to come together now,” he said. “It gives us a bit of a yardstick to look towards the rest of the Giro.”
The Saltara time trial was an exacting one, as demonstrated by the winning average speed of just over 43 kilometres per hour, and Evans acknowledged that it was difficult to gauge his effort over the rolling parcours.
Although he did not realise it at the time, however, Evans can take heart from the fact that he was the quickest rider on the final 3.3km climb up to the finish line outside the Villa del Balì. The Australian covered the drag 5 seconds quicker than Wiggins, 6 seconds quicker than Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and 8 seconds quicker than Nibali.
“The first third was rolling and undulating, it was sort of like the Amalfi coastline there,” he said. “Then you had a couple of open sections and two really steep climbs which in such a long time trial is very taxing. It’s hard to stay within your limits on the steeper pitches. It really had every sort of variation possible.”
The expected fight back from Bradley Wiggins did not quite materialise on Saturday as he could only manage 2nd place on the stage, but Evans said that the Englishman may well have been still suffering the after-effects of his crash on the road to Pescara on the previous stage.
“I think he’s had a rough couple of days and hitting the deck can really knock you around and that really shows up in a time trial,” Evans said. “I’ve been in that situation myself back in the time trial in the Tour de France in 2008. You do everything right and you’re riding okay but if you’ve got a few bumps and bruises it can really affect you."
"If I hadn't been diagnosed as a haemophiliac, I wouldn't be here now"
Reigning British national time trial champion Alex Dowsett says that his breakthrough victory in the Giro d'Italia's stage nine can contain an important message for haemophiliacs like himself.
"In a roundabout way if it wasn't for the haemophilia" - which means his blood doesn't clot properly - "then I wouldn't be here," Dowsett, who was diagnosed at 18 months, said.
"The NHS, whom I can't thank enough, told me to go swimming and I was like a fish when I was a kid, swimming there five or six times a week. That fitness made me fast on the bike, and if I can send a message to young haemophiliacs, it's that there's a common misconception, that they should be wrapped in cotton wool."
"It's true that if I crash, then everyone panics a bit more or if I break a bone, then I need to go to hospital. But if it's just skin then I should be alright."
Dowsett defined himself as "fundamentally a time trialist. That's how I got into the sport, I always liked the purity of it and the technology, but i certainly wasn't expecting a result like this one, particularly as there was so much climbing. Really, I would have been content with a top ten."
While Sky might have seemed like a "natural home" for British riders, according to one journalist, Dowsett defended his decision to move on to the Spanish Movistar squad, which is forging a strong reputation in the team time trials in particular in recent years, such as when they took their win in the Vuelta's opening TTT last August in Pamplona.
"It wasn't a difficult decision for me, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Sky...but then I saw I was not getting the rides in big races, and I didn't get the opportunities because I lacked the experience."
He broke out of that particular vicious circle by moving to Movistar, where "they have put me in the big races and at the same time they rested me as much as they could coming up to today. A win like this is repaying them as best as I can."
Although he had his family out for support for a stage that he knew could be important to him - both his parents and his sister Lois were present at the stage finish - and they did their best to ease the tension during a three hour wait, Dowsett said it had not been easy to keep his nerves at bay when he was so close to taking his first Grand Tour stage win.
"For me, the race was about doing what I do. I was catching a lot of riders: it was like a carrot on a stick for me, although I knew a lot of them were taking it easy."
"But the wait was horrible. There were three standout moments: one, when [Tanel] Kangert came in very close to my time. Two, when I was up on [Bradley] Wiggins at the split, although I knew he'd improve. And three, with Vincenzo Nibali, when I knew the reverse would happen: I knew he'd be good in the twisty start, but I'd be better on the later, power sections, and that was how it went."