Roglič Expunges His Demons; Cavendish Is Still Here; Impact of the New UCI Points System; SDWorx' Incredible Season; New UCI Equipment Rules ...
· Roglič Switcheroo … Snatches Victory From the Jaws of Defeat
· Cavendish Shows He is Still Strong - Heading to TdF?
· Impact of the New UCI Points System
· Team SDWorx: A Season for the Record Books
· LIV’s On-Going Lessons for Cycling
· New UCI Equipment Rules
The 2023 Giro d’Italia wrapped up over the weekend with Jumbo-Visma’s Primož Roglič coming from behind on the penultimate stage and winning the ultra-steep uphill time trial, overtaking Ineos’ Geraint Thomas to win the overall GC by a razor-thin margin of 14 seconds. The drama was enhanced when Roglič, who was running an experimental 1x gravel crankset for wide range gearing, dropped his chain on a steep gradient towards the top of the climb. This mechanical forced him to dismount, fix the chain, and restart, all of which cost him at least 20 seconds. Adding to the 26-second margin he needed to make up on Thomas at the beginning of the stage, the mishap appeared to end any hope of erasing Thomas’ lead. However, the veteran Slovenian recovered quickly and powered through the final few kilometers of the stage, while Thomas showed signs of weakness after looking unbreakable for three weeks. The 37-year-old Welshman and former Tour de France winner would end up ceding 40 seconds to Roglič by the time he came over the finish line. Roglič was finally able to shake off his demons and come full circle from his disastrous stage 20 at the 2020 Tour de France, where he ceded overall victory to Tadej Pogačar on a similar time trial on the next to last day of the race. While Thomas was visibly heartbroken, Roglič and his throng of loyal fans celebrated only a few miles from the Slovenian border.
With the GC wrapped up on Saturday, Sunday’s sprint stage into Rome was the only remaining question mark – and 38-year-old Mark Cavendish served up a surprisingly dominant victory, only days after announcing that he will retire at the end of the season. His win – aided by his former teammate, the ever-sportsmanlike and gracious Thomas – showed that Cavendish is still capable of top-tier performances, and suggests that he has a very real chance of breaking Eddy Merckx’s all-time Tour de France stage win this coming July. While Roglič and Thomas took the two top spots, 35-year-old Damiano Caruso and 33-year-old Thibaut Pinot finished 4th and 5th, making this Giro a considerable outlier in this age of youthful domination. (Only third place finisher Joao Almeida was less than 25 years of age.) Nonetheless, it’s worth pointing out that Roglič and Jumbo’s overall win means that, yet again, the big races continue to be dominated by the Big Six.
The general consensus was that the 2023 Giro was one of the dullest grand tours in recent memory, even given the historically thin margin of overall victory and the exciting racing and fantastic scenery the last few days. There was virtually no GC action for the vast majority of the three-week race, with breakaways fighting for the victory in nearly every stage; in fact, only one non-time-trial stage was won by a GC contender. An indication that something is seriously wrong with RCS’ route design is that the top five finishers in the final stage 20-time trial finished in the exact same order as they did in the final overall standings. If a three-week race across an entire country produces the same result as a 3-minute uphill effort, something seems amiss. This dearth of GC action and complete disconnect between individual stages and the overall classifications mirrors the same issues the Giro d’Italia had in 2022, where breakaways were allowed to contest nearly every stage. Meanwhile the GC leaders sat in wait until the brutal stage 20 summit finish – unleashing a flurry of action that only lasted a few minutes. These issues mainly stem from the overly difficult and back-loaded route (the 2023 Giro featured six stages over 200km compared to only two at the 2023 Tour de France). We wonder if this edition will finally force Giro boss Mauro Vegni to come to terms with these issues.
Although perhaps a bit overshadowed, a constant subplot of the Giro was Israel-Premier Tech’s neo-pro Derek Gee, who had a breakout performance – with second place finishes on four stages, along with a second place in both the points and KOM classifications. The lack of a stage win might have been disappointing for Gee personally, but he managed to rack up an absurd number of UCI points along the way (close to 1,000) due to the UCI’s modified points system – which prioritizes top placings at major races, like grand tours, over wins at smaller events. These points are critical for his Israel-Premier Tech team, which needs to land inside the top two second-division teams to be invited to the 2024 grand tours. The points gained at this Giro from Gee – as well as impressive performances from their young core including Marco Frigo, Matthew Riccitello and Sebastian Berwick – must certainly irk their primary (and also relegated) rival in the second-division, Lotto Dstny, which made the decision last December to skip the Giro in order to score points at smaller events, only days before the UCI issued its revised system.
Over on the women’s side, Team SDWorx is putting together a dominant season for the ages. The well-coached super-team won all six stages in the Ladies Tour of Thuringen this past week, each with a different rider, swept the podium and – unsurprisingly – won the teams classification. The team has also won every stage of two other events – Itzulia Women and the Vuelta a Burgos. However, explaining at least a part of their dominance this past week was the fact that much of the women's peloton was competing in the Ride London Classic. For years, we have been pointing out that one of the structural faults in men's cycling is that top races are regularly scheduled for the same day or week, not knowing which events should take priority over others, and too many events overlapping to make viewing – and broadcast monetization – feasible, economical, or even profitable. Unfortunately, we now have to ask: are we beginning to see the same thing happening in women's cycling?
Come hell or high water, there is no doubt that the LIV Golf experiment has had a major impact – and a generally positive one – on the overall sport. Although its unexpected TV deal with CW Network has drawn very small audiences – and despite the various lawsuits in which it is ensnarled, last weekend saw the first LIV golfer, Brooks Koepka, win a major at the PGA Championship. Certainly, the controversy and competition between LIV and the PGA tournament, boosted by the popular Full Swing Netflix series, has raised the visibility of the sport, drawn in new viewers, and forced the PGA to revise its prize money structure. The money behind the effort – from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund – still remains highly controversial, but no matter what happens, LIV has already demonstrated that a well-funded breakaway league can force changes, modernization and improvement upon an overly comfortable and stodgy PGA organization. There are many parallels and lessons here for pro cycling.
A recent competition in the field of sustainability in sports events yielded some innovative solution proposals for future host cities of the Olympic Games, and suggested novel approaches that might reduce environmental impacts and improve housing affordability for many other world championship-level sporting events. The competition was won by a team which imagined a “floating city” of repurposed shipping containers to be used for tourism housing during a hypothetical future Copenhagen (Denmark) Olympics, which would be converted into permanent housing and rentals after those games concluded. While the competition yielded other innovative approaches to maximize sustainability and reduce environmental stress, an easier solution may be to reinvest in and re-use mature infrastructure in over a dozen existing Olympic cities from the games’ long history. Given the track record for most new Olympic sites to overrun stadium and infrastructure costs – with many host city facilities wastefully falling into disrepair and disuse after those games concluded – it might be time to reconsider the morass of “bidding” and over-promises and take a pragmatic, less-wasteful, and potentially more sustainable approach for future Olympics – and other world championship-type events.
The deadline for the UCI’s new “Road Equipment Registration Procedure” – a policy which requires teams participating in the men’s and women’s 2023 Tour de France to catalog all of the so-called critical equipment they will use during the race – is rapidly approaching. Men’s teams have until Thursday and women’s teams until June 17 to have everything from frames, wheels, and components they plan to use labeled with UCI-supplied RFID tags, including soon-to-be launched final products and even late-development (by special UCI permission) pre-production items. The UCI’s stated goal is to ensure that all cycling equipment in the race conforms to safety standards, but – more in line with IOC mandates – that the equipment be the same as what is available to consumers in the open market for competitive parity. The documentation outlines multiple scenarios regarding registration, substitutions, and replacements for a variety of scenarios (all of which have to be witnessed and/or approved by a UCI representative).
On one hand, the apparently noble intent of the policy might improve safety for the riders if it reduces the chances of accidents due to underdeveloped racing products. On the other hand, it will be a nightmare for mechanics and a constraint to bike brand marketing plans and objectives – the latter of which should be determined by market forces, not by an invasive regulator that owns zero percent of any of the sport’s major constructors. Hopefully, the UCI’s overwrought, labor intensive, and potentially pointless attempt at bicycle equipment oversight doesn’t stifle innovation and hinder market differentiation for everyone in the industry, especially during the current era of bike sales volatility.
This week’s feel-good story comes from last week’s PGA Championship, which every year invites a few club pros from across the country to play with the Tour professionals. Michael Block, who teaches golf and takes care of a course in Mission Viejo, California, was the only invited club player to make the cut, and played on Saturday with former U.S. Open winner Justin Rose. On Sunday, he lined up with Rory McIlroy. As per Front Office Sports, this “made-for-Hollywood story climaxed when Block sent the gallery into a frenzy with a hole-in-one on the par-3 15th hole.” Block’s improbable run culminated when he sank a par putt on the 18th green to clinch a tie for 15th place overall.