GÉANT DE PROVENCE
ONE DAY ON THE TOUR'S MOST ICONIC CLIMB
Before the Yorkshire Worlds, we look back at the remarkable career of Beryl Burton
How she went from novice to Giro stage winner in five years
RIGOBERTO URÁN MUSIC AND FASHION GURU
TEJAY VAN GARDEREN AMERICAN SPORTS NUT
E F EDUCAT ION F IRST S P EC I A L
GOING THE DISTANCE
EXCLUSIVE ACCESS : ON THE ROAD WITH CYCLING'S ORIGINAL AMERICAN DREAMERS
MICHAEL WOODS SUB-4 MILER
12â€ƒ Procycling / October 2019
BinckBank Tour Stage 4, Houffalize 15 AUGUST 2019 More famous as a rendezvous in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Côte de Saint-Roche hosts the BinckBank peloton. The famous wall-like climb was covered three times during the stage and on the final ascent, Laurens De Plus attacked and drew with him Tim Wellens and young talent Marc Hirschi. The latter two contested a close-fought sprint, with Wellens ultimately edging the young Swiss rider, who opened up his sprint far too early. De Plus, distanced slightly in the final, took ample retribution three days later when he won the GC, which was also his first pro win. Image: Getty Images
Procycling / October 2019 13
ALEX DOWSETT TEAM KATUSHA-ALPECIN
34 Procycling / October 2019
I was finally confirmed as the King of the Mountain, Surrey’s finest, London’s lad, the Prince of the Prudential. I could continue... Climbing isn’t my forte, nor is In response to this strange sprinting. Sprinting up the hill tactic of actually racing a race, against my colleagues would I engaged every last one of my not have ended well for me. fast twitch fibres – a novelty It was at this point my maths in itself. This sprint put me in came into play. I would win two a good position to watch Stan KoMs, as would Stanley and reach the line metres ahead of Pascal, but we hadn’t discussed me. From the front it may have the remaining runner-up looked close and gladiatorial, spots. I cunningly worked however it was anything but. out that if I finished second Had I won the overall in every KOM I didn’t win then competition? I wasn’t sure. I would win overall and write It was an agonising wait to my name into cycling’s rich the finish line, but I was finally history forever. In every confirmed as the King of the Hollywood romcom, there’s Mountain, Surrey’s finest, a moment of jeopardy, London’s lad, the though. Young Stan Prince of the Alex has broke the pact and Prudential. I could his victims, Pascal and Stan, actually sprinted for continue but I shan’t – exactly where the final KoM. I have a word count. he wants them
For completion’s sake I should probably add that Elia Viviani won the race, but when the course is as arduous as this, I was the real winner, surely. I then went on to the European Champs TT and finished agonisingly close to second and third place - 2s and 0.48s respectively over 22km. I did receive my first schooling from the Belgian prodigy Remco Evenepoel, though. I’m not the first experienced pro this year to be surprised but not surprised by his talent. What impressed me was not so much the ride, it was the dedication to the late Bjorg Lambrecht immediately after the biggest win of his career. For someone so young, that’s class. AD
37 DAYS RACING
15, 663 179,493 KILOMETRES METRES RIDDEN
Illustrations: David Despau Images: Getty Images
ife since the Tour has been great. My coach’s words: “The volume is done.” In my mind this means any training for the next week or two involves recovery rides and rest. I still achieved what might be regarded as my greatest achievement thus far, the KoM in RideLondon. Let me take you through it, blow by blow, pedal stroke by pedal stroke… With one guy up the road after 15km the peloton was unsure what to do. One rider wasn’t enough to last and a small group was needed. But obviously the sprint teams were ready to shut this down. Sensing this chance, I launched a devastatingly mediocre attack out of the bunch, closely followed by Pascal Eenkhoorn of Jumbo-Visma. We joined the sole leader Stan Dewulf and the bunch sat up. I won’t lie; I felt the same way about the five climbs of Box Hill as I do about all hills. I feared it. Yet after the first ascent in which I channelled my inner Thibaut Pinot, I realised Box Hill, although shrouded in British cycling’s myth and history, was not actually very steep, nor long, nor indeed too hard. We agreed that splitting the KoMs would be beneficial to our breakaway chances. This suited me.
GEORGE BENNETT JUMBO-VISMA
s the dust settles on the Tour, a lot of riders tend to loosen their ties. It’s time to follow the path of least resistance into the off-season. Not for me though, as by the time you read this, hopefully I’ll be in the thick of the action at the Vuelta. Because the arms of some of those around me have started to lose their structural integrity and have been easily twisted into having another beer at the pub, it’s been important for me to stay at home in Andorra for another block at altitude and stick to the straight and narrow. The period between Tour and Vuelta is like walking a tightrope: you’re in danger of falling off either side from a great height. You’re physically on the limit and you don’t really feel like riding. Mentally you also need to reset, so you give yourself a week of freedom to decompress, which is important in order to stop yourself losing the plot before the next big race begins. You also need to treat your body right to nurse it back to health and that means not doing anything too adventurous, but that’s alright because you’re too tired anyway. This year I was really crook with a nasty virus from the last days of the Tour. That lumped me with a wicked fever and the black lung, so I didn’t feel like doing anything but watching Netflix.
At some stage I had to get back on the bike. I started riding, but I wasn’t sure how to approach the Vuelta. Usually I make the skeleton of my training plans and my trainer goes over it with me. This time I didn’t know where to start. It’s a fine line between recovering from the hardest three weeks you can do and not losing too much. You’ve got to provide your body with the fuel it needs to heal, but not so much that you gain weight. Essentially, you have two weeks to train properly before it’s time to taper. We ended up going with a philosophy of training without stress or cumulative load. Just riding smaller hours, one or two-day training blocks with a lot of rest days and nothing extra. No saunas, no low carb, no gym and surprisingly no high intensity on the bike. We knew it would be hard to be firing again for the whole three weeks like in the Tour, so the plan is to sharpen the pencil in the first week of the Vuelta, suffer like hell to get some top end back and hopefully have something give to the fight for a result – or help in the last two weeks depending on how the race unfolds. It’s a lottery, but at least I have bought a few tickets. We are heading into this one with me, Stevie and Primož [Kruijswijk pulled out of the Vuelta on stage 4 - Ed]. The ground rules are clear: “free role without hurting Primož and Steven’s position” is more accurate than third leader. This is a good test for us and we all recognise that having other strong guys wearing the same jersey as you is only an advantage as long as we don’t play it like Movistar in the Tour. GB
51 DAYS RACING
24, 166 410,492 KILOMETRES METRES RIDDEN
ey everyone! Hope you guys had a good summer, with lots of time in vacation mode, but also some time out on the bike! It’s indeed been flying by and I find it hard to believe it’s September already. First thing first, a small update on my injury progress. It’s not yet fully good, but I’ve come to terms with it better by now and found a bigger calm and acceptance in the situation, although a constant ‘slow’ head, tiredness and some headaches aren’t super fun, you have to make the best out of it. In August I went by to meet up (finally!) again with my team when they were racing my absolute favourite race, the Swedish WorldTour race in Vårgårda. I might be biased here you could think, but it is truly one of the best events out there. It’s a single women’s race and has also stuck around for so many years, being held since I stepped into the pro peloton back in 2007 already. It was a World Cup event back then and it’s always been one of the biggest races on the calendar. It’s a great course, with all the locals supporting it fully and all the families come out with the kids to cheer. The course is unpredictable as to how the race will play out, not being too hard in terms of hills, but decisive with a technical circuit
and a small climb that will wear you out in the end. So this race has always been close to my heart. It’s always a big goal of mine. I suit the course quite well and I normally manage to come into this period in good shape. It’s sort of crazy that it was also the first and so far only WorldTour race I’ve won, back in 2016. It was definitely hard watching it from the sidelines this year, or more precisely, in the following car in the convoy, but it was well needed to see everyone again and also feel the racing tension vibrating in the air! I’ve started get back out slowly on the bike again, trying to find where my limits are and how to slowly keep pushing them, but I’m quite modest in my hopes and ambitions to return to racing this year. If I do, it’s a big bonus. The next weeks will tell whether that’s possible or not and this is hands down the biggest time off the bike I’ve had since I started cycling. But it’s crazy how much I enjoy being out on the bike again. Spending so much time doing nothing, it feels great just to be outdoors, and almost to the extent I even found myself still enjoying it getting caught out in a cold rain shower. That’s got to be seen as the upside out of all this, maybe one day I’ll be able to tackle the Swedish winters again! EF
A small update on my injury progress: it’s not yet fully good, but I’ve come to terms with it 13 DAYS RACING
9,290 101,314 METRES
Procycling / October 2019 35
PHYSICAL EDUCATION EF Education First are cycling trailblazers. As Garmin in 2008 they were the original ‘clean’ team, pushing an anti-doping agenda when cheating had brought the sport to its knees. Now they are trying to break out of road cycling’s traditional parameters by racing gravel, off-road or endurance events. All this, while maintaining the quirky ethos that has always defined the team. In a special collection of features, Procycling goes behind the scenes with the pioneering team to find out what really makes them tick Photography Chris Auld
RIGO 38 JV 44 CAPTAIN AMERICA 52 GRAVEL, DUDE 58 TOM’S TOUR DIARY 68 MAMMA DI PASTA 74 CHEF OLGA 80
36 Procycling / October August 2019 2019
Urán fights his way to seventh on the Tourmalet in the 2019 Tour Urán (bottom, in pink), led the 2014 Giro d’Italia for four days
the current Movistar Team. “At Unibet, the directors asked me to take care of him because he was only 20 and might have struggled to adapt to the team, but he came across as a very young yet very mature man. A week later I told this DS that he might end up taking care of me!” Pasamontes is a pundit and mental coach nowadays, and he offers a different perspective on Urán’s approach to cycling. “He has the ability to do everything right and still find space and time to deal with his clothing business, attend events and music shows… Those projects and hobbies are essential to reduce the emotional toll of racing and maintain his career at the top level longer than usual. Being super professional can drive a rider crazy and wreck his career. Rigo has proven it is not mandatory to weigh every bite of food to be an excellent professional cyclist.” Urán is indeed the Colombian rider with the longest spell in road cycling’s top tier: 12 seasons and counting. Santiago Botero had 10, and Víctor Hugo Peña nine, and neither of them had a grand tour podium to their name. Meanwhile Urán has been runner-up in the Giro d’Italia twice and once in the Tour de France. He has never won a grand tour, though, despite his three second places. “Do I need to?” he reacts when questioned about it. “What for? I’d be glad to, and I’m happy to train for it. But I don’t lose any sleep over it. A grand tour victory wouldn’t change my life. I’m over it.” Some may construe that way of thinking as a lack of desire, but he disagrees. “Far from it. I am serious about racing and about doing my best. I know that if I said all this to any other team in the world, they might not understand. But at EF Education First, they do. They know me, and they know I’m absolutely committed to cycling at my best. They are also aware that I will stop cycling any time I’m fed up with it. It’s very important for me to feel supported by my team and to know that they respect my way of life.”
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MAJOR RESULTS Rigoberto Urán has achieved 57 top threes. His best win is a stage of the Tour, but he’s also been second on GC in both Tour and Giro
“He has this rare ability to understand what is essential to life,” says Pasamontes. “I haven’t found it to the same extent in anybody else. His life experience has taught him what matters and what doesn’t.” At this point, it is unavoidable to recall how, at 14, he lost his father, murdered by gunmen, and how he found himself with the responsibility of caring for his family. He saw cycling as a way out of that difficult and heartbreaking situation. “Back in 2001, when I first raced on a bike, we were going through hard times at home,” Urán says. “I reached the junior category and I began making money out of racing. I saw cycling as a possible solution at a critical moment for both my family and me. The job to bring home the money was badly needed.”
PLEASE DON’T STOP THE MUSIC An aspect of Colombian culture Urán has promoted is his country’s music. “When I was in Caisse d’Épargne I’d play reggae songs on the bus and my teammates would tell me to shut it down,” he remembers with a laugh. “Now, the whole world listens to it. Its rhythm is easy to enjoy.” His passion for music has led him to make some acquaintances in this world. “I know several Colombian musicians such as Carlos Vives. They invite me to their concerts when they know I am around, but these chances don’t come often as I live in Monaco now. I attend fewer music shows than I’d like.”
The agent Giuseppe Acquadro found him a spot on the small Italian Tenax team. “It was hard for him to leave his family and move to Europe,” says Pasamontes. “But he knew that his family was his very first reason to move.” Urán is emphatic: “Cycling has changed the life of my whole family, and it has done so for the best.” Yet money isn’t everything for our circus performer. People come first. Talking of his early years in Europe, Urán speaks of his ‘Italian parents’ before recalling anything else. “The Tenax team had rented this apartment from an elderly couple,” he says. “From the very beginning, they became my Italian parents and supported me no matter what. I still visit them from
time to time and they still keep my room as it was – my clothes, my old bike, and my trophies. This acquaintance is one of the most beautiful things that has ever happened to me in cycling.” A revealing snapshot of Rigoberto Urán: “I love walking barefoot,” he says. “It makes me feel that I am in touch with nature. Whenever I am in the Colombian countryside I love taking my shoes off, walking around, hugging trees… My grandma always said it was a great way of loading our batteries with natural energy.” Fewer acts are purer than walking barefoot. And one last thing: some say that going bare-footed is the best way to walk the highwire. It seems to work for Urán.
Images: Getty Images (left), Kristoff Ramon (right)
R I G O B E R T O U R A N
Procycling / October 2019 43
paying people more. Like, our generation just pay people more. With millennials it’s also about: ‘What does my company stand for?’” Does that also count for his riders? “Maybe it’s not as crazy as back in the day, but I think we’re seen as one of the looser, happier, funnier teams. That comes down, sort of, to my personality. There are riders and fans who are attracted to that eccentric looseness and some riders and fans who think it just looks like a clown show. You end up with a team of guys who are attracted to that environment, like Rigo or Higuita. Alberto Bettiol is a classic example – he likes it here. Riders who need a more rigid, directive environment are going to fall off here. But that’s also true for fans. I don’t imagine there are a lot of Deceuninck-Quick Step fans who are also EF fans. They are, like, ‘We are the Wolf Pack. Rarrrr.’ “To me, that is eyeroll-worthy, but to that team which is very focused on winning as much as they can and very focused on just the sporting qualities and not necessarily on the broader thrust of what it’s putting out, that works for their fans and a certain set of riders. “We’re in a different space. From a commercial aspect I don’t view that team as a competitor, and they don’t view me as a competitor. I’ve never once run into Patrick Lefevere chasing a sponsor, ever. He and I are not fishing in the same pond.” Vaughters and Lance Armstrong were uneasy team-mates
The jury is partly in now. Slipstream’s has been a winning programme, to a point. But that, according to Vaughters is the point. “The thing is, with this team, we’re not prolific winners. But we’ve kind of won a lot of the best races,” he says. “That’s the way we’ve functioned from the very beginning. Winning Nokere Koerse has never been a priority for us. We’ve always prioritised the big, interesting races. Roubaix, Liège, grand tours... When we recruit, I always think, ‘Is this a ParisRoubaix rider? Is this somebody who can win Lombardia? Is this somebody who can do well in the Giro or Tour? I’ve never wanted a guy who really wants to win the Tour of Romandy.”
IL LOMBARDIA 2014
TOUR DE FRANCE 2017
TOUR OF FLANDERS 2019
Solid groundwork by Ryder Hesjedal in attacking and forcing the other teams to chase puts Dan Martin in the front group on the final climb to Ans, where he is too strong for his rivals in the sprint.
Dan Martin takes his second monument win, and the team’s third in the Race of the Falling Leaves. He jumps away from a select final group with 1.5km to go, and soloes to victory while the others dither.
The team achieve their highest ever GC finish at the Tour when Rigoberto Urán comes second, not far behind winner Froome. Urán also takes a spectacular stage win in Chambéry.
EF Education First take their fourth monument when Alberto Bettiol soloes away on the Oude Kwaremont. With Sebastian Langeveld policing the chasers, the Italian wins alone.
50 Procycling / October 2019
Images: Getty Images
here was another memory from the 2000s, this one a year later, which stayed with me. The season Slipstream launched, wore the pink jersey in the Giro and came fourth in the Tour, 2008, was the same year Lance Armstrong announced his comeback. I’d gone to Austin to interview him, and because I was interested in Slipstream, and in Armstrong, I asked him about his compatriots. Armstrong was more of an asshole in those days and I remember him bristling about the ‘clean team’ ethos. He pointed out, yes, that it may have been a clean programme, but, he asked, missing the point deliberately or otherwise, “Is it a winning programme?”
However, with the recruitment budget Vaughters has had, there is necessarily compromise, though that comes in terms of tactics, not ambition. “With a big budget you have a larger margin for error. Ineos ride at the front and they don’t get so many crashes – sure, because they have millioneuro riders sitting there pulling. If we tried to run that strategy, we’d blow up after less than a day. If you can’t do that, you have to sit back, but now you’re in a more dangerous position and will get into more crashes. That’s not luck, and it’s not some brainiac strategy, it’s just raw horsepower keeping you out of a bad situation. “I’d love to have kept Dylan van Baarle, but I can’t afford him any more. What does he do for Ineos? Pull. And he’s a fricking strong guy. On my team, I thought of him as a future Tour of Flanders or Roubaix winner. On Ineos, he’s a windblock, and a very effective one. Essentially they are
Images: Gruber Images
Paris-Roubaix is one of EF’s biggest targets. They won it in 2011
“I don’t imagine there are a lot of Deceuninck fans who are also EF fans. They are, like, ’We are the Wolf Pack. Rarrrr” paying a guy to give up personal ambition, and I can’t pay guys enough to do that.” But while EF might not be able to ride like Ineos in the Tour, at least their future seems to be guaranteed, and given how close the team came to folding in 2017, that is as solid a foundation as Vaughters has had in a decade, possibly ever. “2017 was the leanest year ever for money, and we were still second in the Tour. But you can only do Moneyball for so long, until it just doesn’t quite hold together,” he says. “The key to the support now is that the run is very long. We’ve shored up some issues and I’ve got a little more budget to go to the
rider market. It doesn’t mean I’m going to go and buy Peter Sagan, but I had a discussion with the chairman of EF the other day and we were talking about how to win the Tour de France in five, six, seven years. Like, what are the long-term strategic steps? “That is something I’ve never had the luxury of. In the past, it was more like, we’ve got three and a half months of sponsorship left. Asking me to think five years ahead might as well have been asking how we get a team to the moon.” Add those five years to the 12 seasons Vaughters has already got under his belt, and you get almost two decades of continuous existence at the top level of cycling. For a team who have been living from year to year almost since the start, just targeting the 2024 Tour is victory enough.
Procycling / October 2019 51
Should we convert some grand tour stages into those marathon and gravel races? [Hesitates]. Probably not ! [Laughs]. I have enjoyed it, but the bikes we rode on the gravel are pretty specific and it changes the dynamic. But if we could take the atmosphere and the community aspect into WorldTour level, Howes has ridden for EF since he turned pro that would be in 2012, but also came pretty fun. through their feeder team
How can you bring this social aspect and fun into traditional road cycling? That’s the challenge. I think a lot of it is just attitude. From doing these events I realised I saw a lot of my competitors less as people and more as racers, and more of an obstacle than humans. So in a lot of ways it’s humanised professional road racing for me – to see other riders on the start line not only as racers but as fellow humans. You still race full gas, but it changes the perspective on the whole race.
Many road professional riders look bored or depressed. Are you concerned by the fact there are many antidepressants being used in the peloton? It’s an issue in cycling, but it’s also an issue in society as a whole. If you look at the levels of depression and anxiety throughout the world, particularly in developed nations, it’s gone up in recent years, and I think a lot of that has to do with people feeling that they have lost their place in the community and don’t feel as connected with their neighbours as they used to. It’s ironic because we’re all so connected but we’re losing those close personal relationships throughout society.
With this alternative programme I feel like I have a second chance...
Is it possible to change? Road cycling is quite brutal. It is brutal, but at the same time, I think there’s room for humanity. The race doesn’t need to be off the bike. In years past, the race was on the bike, and when you were off the bike, the race was over and you could still smile at your competitors, and it’s moved away from that.
You have raced for Jonathan Vaughters’ feeder teams and WorldTour squad for 11 years. Why did you stay in the same group? Because of the atmosphere on the team and because they gave me the opportunity to race at home. As much as I love racing in Europe and in the rest of the world, I have a special passion for racing at home. I don’t think I’m unique in that regard: some of the best French riders, their best performances come in France; it’s the same with the Italians and the Spanish. I love racing in the States because it’s familiar and my parents and my wife can come and watch. Having family around and friends, people I grew up racing with and against, is something invaluable. And you have almost that same feeling within the team. I’ve known a lot of people within the organisation for many, many years so I have that feeling of being home. Aged 31, are you a young fruit or an old fruit, coming to maturity? I’m at the perfect state to eat, not green but also not so old yet. I think I’m the perfect ripeness, but every rider takes a different time. My win at the Nationals reflects this new situation. I have a lot of stability at home - I got married in the
56 Procycling / October 2019
Images: Getty Images
Is that going back to cycling’s roots? In a lot of ways, yes. It’s not necessarily racing and when you spend that much time – Kanza was 10hr20 for me, and that was a pretty fast time – when you spend that much time riding, you get an appreciation for how special it is. You take a bicycle, some snacks and your body and you cover 200 miles in one go. A lot of the cyclists who do these rides and do these races are not professional athletes, they work nine to 10 hours a day at a desk somewhere, but they find a reason and find a way to actually train for these events. It shows you how bikes can be so special.
fall, I have a house and a wife and I’ve been able to focus on training. We moved up into the mountains, so I work at high altitude now. Leading up to Nationals, I was at home for almost a month, so having that time and that clarity helped. It’s almost like seeing the racing world with a new set of eyes, both because with this alternative programme and doing new races, it’s a real breath of fresh air, and I feel like I have a second chance. Are you referring to hyperthyroidism, the disease that affected you for part of 2018 and put your career at risk? It happened very slowly, in a way that you can’t put your finger on and diagnose the issue. I was sort of sliding down the slope in my career with my legs going out the window. I really didn’t think it was a medical issue, I just thought I was crap: ‘Maybe I’m just old and just crappy, and this is how it’s going to end.’ Trying to race while that was going on was really bad. When I was 21, I won the queen stage of the Tour of Utah and last year when I was 30, I did the same stage and I was dead last. That was the hardest day.
Howes takes to his mountain bike in the 2019 Leadville 100, where he came fifth
Being an elite WorldTour rider doesn’t immunise a rider against fatigue on an mtb
Did you know what job you would do next, in case it was impossible to ride your bike again? No, I don’t know. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about it, but I didn’t come to any serious conclusions other than that math is quite hard. I was taking night classes. Now you understand why I feel like a neo-pro again. Not in the sense that I didn’t remember anything but because I was just really excited for every race, for every training ride. I was feeling happy and having fun. In the end, it was a real blessing. How is the Professional Cyclists’ Book Club these days? This is a nice project we had back in the time we were young and living mostly in Europe, staying for days in hotel rooms. The rule was: one book per month with a meeting and discussion at the end of each month. Some other rules were: “There is a 400-page limit - read the Quran on your
own time;” “No bike books, no Lance bullsh*t, no tween lit;” “Beverages are required at each PCBC rendezvous,” et cetera. Six years later, the club is good and dead at the moment. It never really took off. But I still read a couple of books. In August I had Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway and Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols. But the breakdown of the Club means its members – cycling pros outside Western Europe – are now happy and busy with a new life.
Procycling / October 2019 57
TOMICH, HIGHLANDS The route was on public paths, but it still meant climbing tricky gates with a laden bike. “It was amazing. In Australia or the US you’d have a hard time linking so much land together like you can in the UK.”
FORSINARD, SUTHERLAND EF is the first WorldTour team to participate in the so-called alternative calendar. “It’s what brought me back to the team, 100 per cent. I’ve always thought racing is the gateway to how I want to be able to ride in my own time.”
66 Procycling / October 2019
KIRKSTYLE, CAITHNESS “I thought it was the sort of thing I’d do and then not want to see my bike for a month,” Morton said. But in fact he woke up wanting to keep on riding. He believes it will help his road racing. “I just feel more confident in my ability to take on situations,” he added. “I can be suffering, but now I can think: ‘How does this compare to the last 100km of stage 2?’”
KIRKSTYLE, CAITHNESS The Australian completed the GBduro in 111hrs 44mins, 38 hours ahead of the second-placed rider, Angus Young. “Completing it has probably shifted my outlook on bike riding in the most significant way,” said Morton.
Procycling / October 2019 67
BJORG LAMBRECHT Professional cycling was left reeling by the sudden and tragic death of Lotto Soudal’s young star Bjorg Lambrecht, who was killed in a crash at the Tour of Poland. Alasdair Fotheringham witnessed how the race and the peloton paid tribute to one of its brightest talents
rom the perspective of a grassy hillside in Bukowina Tatranska, waiting for the closing stage of the Tour de Pologne to start, there seemed nothing remarkable about the approaching Lotto Soudal team car. Only when the vehicle moved into the race traffic could you see that one bike of the half-dozen spares on the roof was actually a race bike. You could tell because it bore a race plaque. Number 143. Number 143: the number that crackled through race radio at around kilometre 50 of stage 3 and which told the team director Mario Aerts that his rider Bjorg Lambrecht had crashed. The young rider was found slumped and fatally injured in a rain-soaked concrete culvert. Number 143: the number daubed dozens of times on the race route the following day. Number 143: scrawled on sheets of paper and held solemnly aloft by roadside fans. Number 143: painted in white, on the edge of the day’s black finish archway. The change in what that number represented – from designating a rider to honouring his memory – was one way the Tour de Pologne turned from a sporting event into an emotional rolling memorial to the popular 22-year-old. The day after Lambrecht’s death, as the church clock struck noon, heads
92 Procycling / October 2019
Lambrecht’s Lotto team-mates were distraught at the young rider’s tragic death
were bowed by a peloton paying silent, tearful tribute. At its head, six Lotto riders arm-in-arm. They also led home the two-wheeled cortege between barriers where publicity had been replaced with pictures of their teammate - and that number again, 143. Before the tragedy, a table in the hotel dining room had been filled with chatter of Lotto Soudal riders unwinding after a long day. Now it remained poignantly empty. Around the dining room, other teams ate in near silence. No words can describe the arbitrary death of a popular, well-liked rider at such a tender age, one with the brightest
of futures, doing the thing he loved, especially one whom fellow riders said was so warm and friendly. For the last four stages, the pain of Lambrecht’s death became part of the race’s landscape. Winning riders pointed fingers skywards as they crossed the finish line. Or they’d suddenly fight to hold back tears, like overall champion Pavel Sivakov did when he talked fondly of the fellow 22-year-old he had raced against so frequently when they were amateurs destined for the WorldTour. Simple moments said more than words could. Like the hauntingly blank expression on the face of Lambrecht’s team-mate, Tomasz Marczynski, when he was presented with the King of the Mountains lead. A few stumbling words, “This is for Bjorg”, conveyed the grief and loss the whole peloton felt. Then there was Lambrecht’s race number 143 fluttering on the bike on the team car roof rack as it sped away on stage 7. Another silent, grief-filled way of saying he’s gone, but he’ll always be with us.
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in 1970; Froome needing it too after winning there in 2013. Ventoux could break a rider’s spirit. “Ventoux has killed Ferdi,” moaned Kübler after the ascent in ’55. “Ventoux doesn’t like Lance,” Armstrong said years later, when he finished second to Richard Virenque. Even in cycling’s supposedly sanitised modern era, the Ventoux retains its enduring reputation as
Even in cycling’s supposedly sanitised modern era, the Ventoux has retained its enduring reputation as an agent of chaos an agent of chaos. The sight of Chris Froome running up the Ventoux through huge crowds in 2016 is an indelible part of the iconography of his grand tour supremacy. What scenes. As is his attack above Chalet Reynard in 2013. His furious cadence that day lifted the lid for all sorts of theories he was a cheat. And then there’s the saddest story, the most enduring of all, of one indomitable cyclist’s will beating helplessly against the implacable mountain. As Jeremy Whittle lays out in his book, Ventoux: The summit is visible from a long way down the climb, a demoralising sight for stragglers
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Bardet tried in vain to drop Herrada, but the Spaniard was more than equal to his attempts
Sacrifice and Suffering on the Giant of Provence, Tom Simpson’s death here in 1967 intersects so many of cycling’s great themes: the Tour, the mountains, the pain, the ambition, the hurt – the drugs. Simpson’s monument near the summit is decorated with colourful tributes from passing cyclists: bidons and casquettes offerings that are blown away almost as quickly as they’re set down. But perhaps the better, more fitting monument to Simpson and his story is the Ventoux itself. As William Fotheringham wrote in The Guardian in 2009, “You look at the mountain and think of the man.” We climb to the finish, passing amateurs wearing a distinctive topaz jersey that was a memento from the previous day’s gran fondo. They live the myth again, riding slowly past the black and yellow poles that mark the edge of the abyss for drivers and cyclists on foggy days. The amateurs’ sportive used much of the same route as the professionals today. A portion of their entry helps towards the organisation of the race,
but only to the tune of 50 per cent. Local authorities around Mont Ventoux were unwilling to support the event, saying cyclotourism is already very strong in the area. That’s according to the race organiser Nicolas Garcera. But he believes the race could earn the right to join the WorldTour calendar. “Now we have to work to find good partners who can continue to increase the performance of the race,” he says. He looks to Strade Bianche as the working model of a gran fondo which parlayed popular appeal into a successful race. Garcera has a mountain with history and a race. But he does not have a good calendar slot. A mid-June Monday, after the Dauphiné and during the Tour de Suisse, is the closest thing cycling has to a graveyard slot.
he upper treeline is filigreed with wind-sculpted aleppo pines and – a little echo of the Tour – tufts of spanish broom, a shrub whose stalks are the colour of the points jersey and flowers the shade of the maillot jaune. Above that lie the bare bleached limestone lauzes, naturally quarried by centuries of ice and heat. We arrive at the summit as riders hit the easy lower slopes. Geoffrey Soupe leads the rout of the break for Cofidis. But by the Saint-Estève bend, the hairpin which signals the moment the climb changes from scorpion’s back to its stinging tail, Ag2r are back in control. Pre-race projections for the fastest speed predict 62 minutes from bottom to top – about the same time as Gaul’s TT win in ’58. It’s far from the rocket-fuelled times of the 90s and 2000s that line up behind Iban Mayo’s time of 55:51. Bardet’s team-mate Tony Gallopin is having a good race, his best since a bad crash at the French nationals almost a year ago. While Bardet has been flogging himself at the Dauphiné, Gallopin has been training on these slopes all week. “I just love this mountain,” he will tell us at the summit. At 8.6km he swings over and Bardet attacks in that characteristic woodpeckerish style. A cheer goes up
The final pitch of the Bédoin ascent of Ventoux is one of the steepest of the entire climb
Jesús Herrada celebrates ascending to cycling heaven with his win on Mont Ventoux
from the small partisan crowd watching the big screen at the top. He’s joined by Cofidis’s Jesús Herrada. Above Chalet Reynard, where the gradient finally eases, Bardet and Herrada are in front. There are groups behind, but they’re no longer a factor. Herrada looks the freshest. Bardet looks like he’s ridden the Dauphiné. Bardet attacks hard at 3km. Herrada responds. Bardet again at 2km. Herrada responds again. Bardet again at 500m. Herrada responds and with interest and the Ag2r rider is well beaten. In the thrum of the finish, flat-on-hisback Herrada welcomes the few cameras to document his win on the iconic climb. His DS Roberto Damiani will explain how the team had made the race a top target for in-form Herrada, who before today had won five races this season. But Bardet keeps riding over the crest and down to the teams cars. His wish to escape looks plain, but duty calls. He returns to the podium and to pose for the official photo which records that France’s top contender for the upcoming Tour was beaten by a ProConti rider on a set-piece
climb. Few will remember the mitigating factors. For everybody bar Cofidis, today was not meant to end like this. Bardet’s grunting cough returns and he excuses himself from all but the TV interviews. He’s clearly sick as well as tired. The Brussels grand départ is two weeks away and he has a lot of recovering to do. The aspirations of numerous Tour contenders have been cast down on the slopes of Ventoux, but then that happens every year on any mountain. No, the difference is surely that only the Ventoux can raze a contender’s hopes weeks before the Tour has even started.
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Burton pictured with Italians Paola Scotti (l) and Florinda Parenti after the 1962 worlds
I N A S S O C I A T I O N W I T H
104â€ƒ Procycling / October 2019
RETRO BERYL BURTON
Burton always marked the occasion Burton was one of the best time triallists when she overtook a man in a time in the UK, either trial, usually by saying something male or female along the lines of, “You’re not trying hard enough.” I can’t help wonder whether, at some point in her troubled childhood, someone had said those words to her, and whether this was payback.
AHEAD OF HER TIME In the 21st century, how should we position Burton? Her story and her achievements still resonate today. Lizzie Deignan, who comes from the same West Yorkshire area, told me of how her grandmother told her tales of Burton; Yvonne McGregor took up cycling after reading Burton’s autobiography Personal Best. Emma Pooley had no hesitation when asked to provide a quote for the cover. Burton’s life has inspired Maxine Peake’s widely acclaimed play - a staging of Beryl in the Welsh Marches to a packed crowd prompted me to get on and write the book I’d often thought about. At the Worlds in Yorkshire this month, she will rightly be remembered alongside such local greats as Brian Robinson and Barry Hoban; her achievements outstrip those of both men. If Burton had been racing at any time since 1994, she would have won the time trial worlds every year thanks to her immense horsepower. The individual pursuit would have fallen her way on a regular basis too, given the times she was belting out over 3,000m on open tracks on nonaero kit. And she would have been competitive in any world road race championship on a hilly course; the far longer distances of today’s Worlds would also have favoured her. Similarly, she would have found hilly one-day races and stage races in today’s far more extensive international calendar to her liking. Burton was profiled as one of the pioneers of women’s racing by the writer Isobel Best in her anthology Queens of Pain; her performances through the 1960s - and her
personal campaign - made the case for men and women to compete together in races in the UK. It would be good to write that on seeing what she did, the men who ran the sport were inspired to move women’s racing forward, but the lack of support from the men in power shocked me throughout my writing and the true progress came in the 1980s when her international career was over. As we debate the possibility of a women’s Tour de France, or bemoan the lack of television coverage of women’s Classics, the historical context matters. Burton raced at a time when world championship organisers grudgingly recognised the needs of females, to the extent that they might not even bother clearly defining a start point for them, or would simply refuse to run women’s events. She was ultimately frustrated by the lack of opportunity her sport offered and we owe it to her successors to make sure they do not suffer the same fate.
times British women’s individual pursuit champion
The Greatest: the Times and Life of Beryl Burton, is out now. For more information, go to www.williamfotheringham.com.
ICONIC DESIGNS / GREAT QUALITY / SIZES FOR ALL W W W.PRENDAS.CO.UK
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