Friday, 30 December 2011

2011 - The Year That Was

It has been a massive year for Australian cycling, both internationally and in the domestic scene. In my last post for the year I thought I would offer some statistics that really put the years events into perspective:
  • Of the 26 UCI World Ranked events, 5 of them were won by Australians
  • Cadel Evans became the first Australian to win the Tour de France. His wins at the Tirenno-Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie helped him to finish 2nd on the UCI world rankings, beaten only by Phillipe Gilbert (who had an outstanding season)
  • In terms of country rankings in the UCI World Tour, Australia placed fourth (this is calculated by adding the individual points of a country's top five riders). This is a massive achievement, Australia finished ahead of many cycling powerhouses such as America, France, Britain and Germany
  • At the World Championships Matthew Goss placed second, narrowly missing first place from Mark Cavendish. This means that in the last three years Australia has taken home 1st (Cadel Evans 2009), 3rd (Allan Davis 2010) and 2nd (Matthew Goss 2011). Never before has Australia experienced a time of such continued success on the world stage. 
  • Australia lead the final medal tally at the 2011 UCI Track World Championships, taking home 8 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze
  • Interest in cycling in Australia has boomed. The Tour de France gave SBS its highest viewer ratings of the year, in total, 5.37 million viewers tuned into watch the Tour De France nationally, up 33 per cent on 2010 which saw 4.03 million viewers tune in
  • Over 1.2 million bikes were sold in Australia, outstripping car sales again
  • The National Cycling Participation Survey found out that this year, more than 4 million people ride a bike each week, with Victoria the most active cycling state boasting 1.08 million weekly rides. 
This is just a snapshot of the situation in 2011, I'm sure I could easily triple the size of this list if I did a little more research! I know that womens professional cycling, our elite mountain bikers and our professional riders on the Aussie pro tour have all had bumper seasons also.

I look forward to following cycling, in all its different shapes and forms, in 2012 - and then writing about it! I also look forward to attempting to conquer my own cycling goals for 2012, which include competing in a mountain bike 24hour and winning a club road race! I also look forward to some new bike purchases which will hopefully take my riding to a new level. Happy New Years All!  

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Green Edge Gets The Green Light

Australians will be cheering their very own cycling team during the 2012 UCI World Tour! Aussie entrepreneur and long-time cycling supporter, Gerry Ryan, and his right-hand man, Shayne Bannan, first conceived of an Australian team a few years ago, and now, after much planning and paperwork, their new team, GreenEdge, has been granted UCI World Tour status, which aside from everything else, gives the team automatic entry to the 2012 Tour de France.  

There has been talk of an Australian international cycling team for many years and there has even been a failed attempt, but according to everything I've read and seen, this is the real-deal. As we all know, teams can come and go very quickly, just look at HTC Highroad, so GreenEdge in it's current form, wont be around forever. It will change and evolve, obtain new sponsors and lose old ones, but two things we can be sure of is that they are the first Aussie team to be granted such a license, and that they will be a force to reckon with in 2012!

So far, the team looks to be set up very well. There is a state of the art training base in Italy, and their equipment looks top-notch, being provided by high profile sponsor Scott. Other major sponsors, SMS Santini, will be providing the team kit, and Subaru - the team cars.

And lets not forget the most important thing - the riders! I joined the GreenEdge email mailing list many months ago to keep up to date with their progress, so I was well informed of all of their signings as the media releases trickled out. With their finalised list of 30 riders being released in early December, it was clear to see that they have some real depth - with a sprinkling of star talent. This i not a team that will be contesting for Grand Tour victory any time soon - but team management have acknowledged that. It seems their focus for now will be the one-day races, and picking up as many victories as possible with their strong sprinters. Matt Goss, Allan Davis, Leigh Howard, Robbie McEwan etc. will surely bring them some early success.

Two major signings were Australian sprint legend Robbie McEwan and everyone's favourite, Stuart O'Grady. These guys will bring a wealth of knowledge to the young team. And it's great for them too, both have stated in interviews that riding in an Australian team was a dream of theirs, and now it is a dream that will be fulfilled in the twilight of their career.

The early support is palpable. As we all know - Australian cycling is growing enormously and all of the new fans that the sport picked up through Cadel's victory will now have a team to focus their support on. And their will be no shortage of support - the GreenEdge website crashed the day they made their memberships available!

The team will make their debut in the coming days at the Bay Criterium Classic, where they are sure to pick up some significant placings. I for one will be happy to be there on the sidelines to support our new team and to check out the new kit - witch will be unveiled for the Classic!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Book Reviews

Bill Strickland – Tour de Lance

Ok, I know I’m a bit late with this one, but I only recently finished reading it. According to the big bold letters on the front of the book, Tour de Lance is ‘The extraordinary story of Lance Armstrong’s fight to reclaim the Tour de France”. This is a bit of an exaggeration, it should have read ‘ Tour de Lance – An interesting account of the first year of Lance Armstrong’s return to international level competitive cycling’.

And indeed, it is interesting. Bill Strickland writes well – he should considering the fact he has edited one of the worlds most widely read cycling magazine (Bicycling) for many years. Bill gives an honest and, at times, heartfelt assessment of the return – and all of the factors surrounding the return (the training, the doping claims, the reasons for the comeback, the failure to win his eighth Tour,  and the people surrounding Lance that had an impact).

Lance is Bill’s hero, he makes no secret of this, he doesn’t want him to fail, he doesn’t want him to come back for the wrong reasons and he doesn’t want him to break his perfect record of seven TdF victories. Lance does fail, he does come back for questionable reasons, and he did break his perfect record by coming third in the 2009 TdF. Bills assessment of all of this is a fascinating read albeit if, at times, he sounds like a kid who has grown up and suddenly found out their childhood hero is flawed.  

The fight against cancer gets a big mention. The great work that the Livestrong foundation does and the hope that Lance gives to survivors and grieving family members is a recurring theme. Bill does this well – he speaks with everyone at races, from hardcore fans to hangers on who know nothing about the sport of cycling except for the name Lance. These encounters make you realize the far reaching impact of Lances work – both on and off the bike.

The doping also gets a big mention, how could it not? You can’t write a book about Lance Armstrong without devoting a large chunk of it to the allegations that have dogged Lance for the last 13 years. Bill remains impartial, but offers a good summary of the situation as it stood at the end of 2009. It is interesting to note that the since the release of Tour de Lance, Bill has officially jumped the fence and joined the long list of those who believe he is a cheat – I think the statements by all-round good guy George Hincapie were enough to sway him. I wonder if this admission has ended the friendship?!

For me, perhaps the most enjoyable aspects of this novel were the few pages here and there where Bill gets sidetracked. During his 25 years career he has amassed a formidable knowledge of international cycling competition and its main protagonists. As a cycling fan I found these little diversions entertaining, particularly the three-page account of the romantic tragedy that was the life of cycling legend Fausto Coppi, and the tales of some of the TdF’s most famous Lanterne Rouge’s who fought for the honour of last place. Concerning last place Bill writes the following – a quote I will not soon forget:
In the Tour de France, you can’t coast into last place; you have to tear yourself apart for the honour.   
 I liked this book – this is a pretty glowing review, I must admit. I never have been much of a critic. It is yet another novel about Lance Armstrong - one of our sports most interesting characters – but one that should perhaps sit closer to the top of the pile. 4 out of 5 stars!

Elizabeth Kreutz – Comeback 2.0 Up Close and Personal

During the 2009 season, the comeback season of Lance Armstrong, Lance gave unrestricted access to photographer Elizabeth Kreutz, to visually document his comeback. It’s a similar story to Bill Strickland and Tour de Lance really.

This is pretty much like every other sport coffee table book – minimal text and really beautiful pictures. It would be hard to stuff one of these up! The introduction by Lance is interesting and he offers captions for almost all the images, which is great for context.

You have to wonder if he had a big hand in the compilation of the book as it is strategically put together; it has Lance in training, Lance racing, Lance with celebrities, Lance campaigning for cancer and Lance speaking with government officials (there’s even a pic with K Rudd!). I guess it is a side effect of Lance’s spectacular, tumultuous and controversial career that we now question the motivations behind everything he does. 

I like Lance Armstrong, I think he is one of the biggest names in cycling, and international cycling would not be the same without him. Honestly, I think he probably did cheat, but it still takes an incredible athlete to achieve what he did (doper or not). I am a fan. Therefore, I enjoyed this book, and any fan would. It was particularly great to flip through it whilst reading Tour de Lance, as it provides the visuals for Bill Strickland’s account of the 2009 comeback. Again, 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Made in Australia? I Wish!

So I’m approaching that time that all bike enthusiasts day-dream about every day – the time to purchase a new bike. I have been making do on my aluminum frame Fuji for a long time, racing and training on the same bike, and it’s time to take the plunge and spend some serious money on a carbon frame. Hopefully it’ll make go a little faster!

I’ve been doing a lot of research to ensure I get something that is going to tick all the boxes – or as many of them as possible. One of the biggest boxes that I’d really like to tick is to buy Australian.

Manufacturing in this country is sadly dying. Our car industry has been downsized, many Ford plants have shut their doors, the textile industry is non-existent, even classic Aussie brands like Bonds have now gone offshore. Pretty much everything we buy these days has a Made in China label on it. And, this is now true for the cycling industry too.

The cycling market is dominated by the large Asian brands (Giant being one of the biggest – centered in Taiwan). However, what is interesting is that ownership of many of the big name cycling brands is still spread out throughout U.S.A., Europe, and the U.K.. Even though the parts and frames are manufactured and distributed in Asia, ownership of the brand has remained in the country of origin; for example, Trek remains an American stalwart, Bianchi, Colnago, De Rosa and Cinelli are still Italian owned, and Gitane remains French.

What’s my point? Cyclists living in Canada, America, Europe, Britain, and all over Asia can support home-grown brands – yet Aussies have no option.

The concept of a transportation machine consisting of two wheels put in line was pioneered by an eccentric German named Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbronn, who in 1817 created a prototype that consisted of two wooden wheels connected by a wooden bench that the rider straddled. In its current form, the bike has been around since 1885, when Bianchi pioneered the use of equal sized wheels and rubber tyres. So why, 126 years later, does a big name Australian-owned bicycle company not exist?

I can hear you screaming – “what about Malvern Star?” Well friends, Malvern Star, a great Aussie brand started on Glenferrie Road in Melbourne in 1902, became a wholly owned New Zealand brand as of 1 September 2011, when Pacific Brands sold it to the New Zealand based Sheppard Group.

So what do I do, frankly, I would love to buy a Malvern Star. Their new range competes with any of the big European or American brands, and I love the history associated with Malvern Star – their links to Aussie cycling legend Sir Hubert Opperman and I work on Glenferrie Road – not far from the brands humble beginnings back in 1902. But is this iconic Australian brand, now owned by the sheep-shaggers across the Tasman my only choice?

I’m aware of a few humble operations like Baum, that concentrate on bespoke frames and client specific set ups – but this is not a solution for the cash strapped enthusiast. These bikes are for those who consider the cost as irrelevant.

As an Australian, acutely aware of the downward spiral our manufacturing sector is riding at the moment, I want to buy Australian. I want to support an Australian company. And I’m astounded that there aren’t many options out there. I suspect that this situation has arisen because the cost of a wholly owned, manufactured and distributed Aussie bike brand is too expensive – because of high taxes, rates, wages etc. etc. And if this is correct – it is a sad state of affairs indeed.

Am I right? Are there other bike brands I’ve missed? What do you think I should do? Comment below!