The Changing of the Guard

Stage 11 of the Tour offered a great deal. A classic, dramatic Alpine day. A French winner. A champion fighting for his life. A team controlling like we haven’t seen in years. But most of all, it offered a glimpse of the future.

In time, we may go back to La Toussuire and mark in down as cycling’s red letter day. The moment that the peloton’s old guard got the tap on the shoulder.

Evans fought for his life. An audacious move, perfectly planned and executed, which could, and perhaps should, have gained him big time. But as the mind showed it was willing, the body failed. No fairytale Schleck like attack. “Not my best day” he said afterward. No Cadel, but you went down swinging. This was no surrender.

More of the races big names came and went. Frank Schleck looked comfortable in the lead group, before cracking close to the finish.

Valverde, Cobo, Menchov, Basso, Vino, Kloden, Horner, Scarponi. Tapping away behind the actual race.

Even Wiggins, he of the strongest team, best preparation and pottiest mouth, seemed to feel the effects of the racing, holding onto wheels for grim death.

Instead we were treated to the young guns, Pinot, Rolland and Van Garderen. And the prime timers. Van den Broeck, Froome and Nibali. Exhilarating, dashing riders. Always eager to make their mark, take a chance. Have a go.

We knew of Rolland, from his victory on the Alpe last year. But this win cemented him in the new group. Crashing at high speed, getting up and riding past the break to take the win. Guts, talent, panache. Call it what you will. I call it class. Forget the theatrics of Voeckler. Rolland is the jewel in Europcar’s crown.

And Pinot. The youngest man in the bike race, now with 2 wins in a week. France have been yearning for a star for years. Now they have two.

Tejay was quite brillant too. Stronger than his captain who he laid himself on the line for, Van Garderen looked in the kind of form to take the stage.

As did Froome who bowed to team orders and dragged the Maillot Jaune across the line. In the last 5km, Froome was the strongest man, and Sky could’ve made a tactical gamble and let him go to seal a strong 1-2. Instead pragmatism reigned. Froome was a good boy, and Wiggins remains in control.

An era of Champions is coming to an end. The generational change may not be immediate but it is knocking loudly on the door.

The Vuelta Espana will offer a peek at it, as Froome is expected to take on Schleck and Contador and Rodriguez. And maybe Van Garderen will be given the chance to ride GC for BMC. In the Sky camp, Uran and Porte are both top 10 material.

It’s an exciting prospect.

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Wiggo is Human. Just.

There’s been a bit of a storm circling around Bradley Wiggins over the last few days. Not about the way he rides a bike, which is incredible, but more about a few dirty words he said to the members of the Fourth Estate.

Brad was asked but the doping rumours that swirl around on Twitter. His colourful response contained an F, a W and a big C bomb. I know. Shocking.

Since then he’s been lambasted by some, including my own colleague Mike Tomalaris who doesn’t like what he see’s as Wiggins disrespectful and boorish behaviour.

Sure, Wiggins choice of language left a bit to be desired, but his response was primal. A deep seated anger at those casting aspersions upon his work. Upon his very being. The bait was laid and he gobbled it up.

But give me a man who reacts with honesty and fire over one who trots out the same anodyne media quotes. Wiggins is honest, up front and speaks his mind. As someone who’s job is the media, I like this. He’s interesting.

Wiggins is a complex character. A deep thinker and a man prone to huge periods of self doubt, and dark depressions. One of his close advisors said that Brad called him a few days ago and asked him to come over to see him before the Time Trial as he had to talk to him about it. He also revealed the black periods following races, where Brad fails to cope with life away from the bike race.

Ego? No. Arrogance? No. If he’s guilty of anything its of trying hard to disguise his own insecurities. With the media he’s pugnacious but I feel it’s a sign of his own insecurities. And of having a slight potty mouth.

It’s a strange media landscape we live in. We bemoan the lack of characters in sport these days; how they are all media trained robots, but expect them to still entertain us, and be role models. Yet in this tour Peter Sagan has been criticised for celebrating wins, and Wiggins for speaking his mind.

Damned if you do.

Spurs Prepare for the Future

After taking a big gamble a few weeks ago by dumping Harry Redknapp, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has effectively gone “all in”, with Andre Villas-Boas on the verge of taking the Spurs job.

The move for AVB signals a shift in policy at The Lane. After 18 months of uncertainty over Redknapp’s future, Levy is now looking to install a young, dynamic coach for the foreseeable future. A new project. The expectations will be there. Harry set the bar pretty high in pure results terms.

Villas-Boas will be expected to, at the very least, challenge for 4th spot again. But there’ll be no ultimatums. No Chelsea like reactions to any stumbles on the way. He’ll be given the chance to implement his blueprint.

His Porto side were dynamic, easy on the eye, but ruthless. That’s what Spurs fans want. Too often in recent seasons, the football has been breathtaking, but the clinical, killer instinct was missing.

At Chelsea, he was changing the way the team played, trying to be more expansive, and a little easier on the eye. They were too, but they were also vulnerable, and once the senior players turned, he was done for.

Now Spurs aren’t exactly watertight as it is, but with a solid base of Walker, BAE, Kaboul and Parker, there’s something to work with.

How he accommodates the flair players will be telling. Where does Van der Vaart fit in? Lennon and Bale play as conventional wingers, not exactly a Villa-Boas trademark.

And what of Modric? The Portuguese coach was desperate to take him to The Bridge. Can he persuade him to stay at The Lane? It’s unlikely. A move to Real Madrid is on the cards, but with Levy renouned for his ability to play hardball, Spurs will get a good deal. Higuain and Sahin have both been mentioned as possible makeweights in any deal.

He’ll need to address the striker role with some urgency. Only Jermain Defoe and the youngster Har ry Kane remain after the cull of the last 12 months that saw Crouch, Keane, Pavyluchenko and Saha shipped out, and Adebayor return to City.

After that a long term goalkeeping option, a regular partner for Kaboul (if the Vertonghen deal falls over)and a new Modric are the areas of concern.

I believe it’s an exciting appointment. He’ll be brash and at times controversial. He may not achieve immediate success. But we’ve seen enough from AVB over the past 2 years to know that he is the real deal. The Chelsea experience will serve him well, and he will surely go about things a little differently.

It’s a new era at The Lane. A risky one, sure, but To Dare is To Do.

The Best Rider You Don’t Know

At around 4.30pm local time Saturday afternoon, the Twitter parody account Tweeter Sagan came out with “For a year Belgium have no government. In a few minutes they will have at least new ruler”.

As Sagan rolled out of the Liege start gate, the expectation was palpable. Sagan, the Slovakian sensation. The man who beat Spartacus in his own backyard in the Tour de Suisse Prologue. The man who owned the Tour of California. The man who, in cycling terms, is just a boy.

Sagan started the Prologue like a train. Attacking the roads of Liege as though mortally offended by them. But the smooth, sweeping Belgian roads stood their ground. Generally speaking the tougher the circumstances, the better Sagan is. A handful of seconds down at the halfway point and the outside tip of every cycling journo saw yellow slipping away. It was confirmed moments later, as he slipped out of the pedal and went sideways. Most riders would of hit the deck. Not Sagan. The boys a bit special.

He first came to my attention at the 2010 Tour Down Under, duelling with Valverde and Evans on the slopes of Old Wilunga Hill. A 19 year old punk, going toe to toe with two of the sports big names.

By that stage he was already a star of the BMX and Mountainbike scene, skills he shows regular on a regular basis. A teen prodigy who has become one of the deadliest riders in the bunch. The stats are incredible.

2010 – 5 wins

2011 – 12 wins including the national championships and 3 Vuelta stages

2012 – 13 wins and counting, including a second Nationals, dominating the Tour of California and Tour de Suisse, and finishing top 5 in 4 of the classics.

He is a superstar. Not a sprinter but quicker than most. Not a climber but can go uphill. A strong man, a quick man. A winner. His team Liquigas is built for the high country. Sagan works solo.

Sagan is exciting a lot of people. The possibilities are endless for the man from Zilina. Already Aussie bookies have him as Green Jersey Favourite. Olympic Gold is looming too. It seems appropriate to bookend with Twitter. Are we about to see the #summerofsagan?