Giro d'Italia,World Championships

Giro stage wins in the Rainbow Jersey

10 May , 2012  

The 2012 Giro d’Italia isn’t a week old yet and Mark Cavendish has, perhaps unsurprisingly, already won two stages. But his first Grand Tour stage wins of the year are even more distinguished than usual, because he has taken these victories while clad in the rainbow jersey of world champion.

As tiny nuggets in the annals of cycling history go, winning a stage of the Giro d’Italia as world champion actually isn’t that uncommon. Cavendish’s wins means this is actually the 22nd year in which this has occurred. As it’s only been possible in 79 different years, it’s better than a one in four chance that any given world champion will win a stage of the Giro.

Cadel Evans won a stage of the Giro in the Rainbow Jersey in 2010

The last rider to do so before Cavendish was Cadel Evans as recently as 2010 in that famous mud-strewn stage over the white roads of Tuscany to Montalcino. Evans crossed the line caked in pale brown slime, but had his wits about him enough to wipe his rainbow jersey slightly before puffing a big sigh of relief as he crossed the line.

The last rider to win multiple stages of the Giro as world champion, as Cavendish has now done, was Mario Cipollini in 2003. It was also the year where he famously equalled and broke Alfredo Binda’s record of 41 stage wins in the Giro d’Italia. It was the 13th year that Cipo had started the Giro, and it was the 13th time that he had won at least one stage, but his record-breaking 42nd win was to be his last.

Regardless of whether he completes the three week race this year, Cavendish is likely to win more stages, but he will find it near impossible to break the record of the most Giro stage wins as world champion. This record is shared between two riders and stands at a massive seven stage wins.

Alfredo Binda - Won the Giro twice as world champion

The most recent rider to have won seven Giro stages while in the rainbow jersey is the Belgian Freddy Maertens who did so in 1977. Even more remarkably he did so within the first eight days of racing (which included a couple of split stages). He abandoned during Stage 10.

The other rider to have achieved this feat went one better. In 1928, having become the first ever road world champion in Germany the previous year, Alfredo Binda won seven stages of the Giro and won the race overall. Binda is one of three riders along with Eddy Merckx (1968, 1972) and Giuseppe Saronni (1983) who has won the Giro d’Italia as world champion. Binda, like Merckx, also did so twice, achieveing this rare feat for the second time when he won the Giro for the fifth and final time in 1933.

The following is a breakdown of the world champions who have won stages of the Giro d’Italia:

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Classics,Giro d'Italia,Music,Tour de France,Vuelta a Espana,World Championships

Get Outta That Saddle Stephen!

26 Nov , 2011  

The 1980’s was a magical time for Irish professional cycling. For a while we could lay claim to the top two cyclists in the world. Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche won everything (except the Tour of Flanders). At no stage in their careers did they ever end up as team-mates, but they liked and respected each other and often rode for each other in races.

Roche once said that people shouldn’t look at their respective careers as separate entities, weighing up which one of them won which races. Instead, said Roche, we should put their career achievements together and view them as one.

These successes which brought so much joy to Irish cycling fans took place before I became one. Despite the recent resurgence spear-headed by another Roche along with Dan Martin and Philip Deignan, I can’t help but feel I missed out.

Fortunately, there are many ways for us to relive these moments.

Both Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche have books detailing all their ups and downs on the bike throughout their period of dominance.
Both riders also have DVDs documenting their life stories.

Sean Kelly even had a board game.

And in 1987, as he was on his way to winning the Tour de France, Stephen Roche had a song. It was written by Dermot Morgan of Father Ted fame for the radio show Scrap Saturday. And thanks to a very kind girl called Sinead, here ’tis resurrected from an old magnetic piece of tape housed in plastic, reborn as a living breathing digital sequence of numbers.

Get outta that saddle Stephen!

[mp3j track=”″]


World Championships

The World champion has been breaking rules!

20 Nov , 2011  

The UCI, cycling’s governing body, take their image rights of the rainbow stripes very seriously. The five colours, arranged as they are in order blue, red, black, yellow, green are a registered trademark and their use on any piece of bicycle equipment must be approved by the UCI themselves. They have many pages of rules and regulations regarding the rainbow stripes of World Champion available on their website.

Mark Cavendish, the current World road race champion has broken these rules.

The following is a photo of Cavendish on the podium in Copenhagen shortly after accepting his prize for winning the biggest one-day race in cycling.

This is the style of jersey that every world champion wears with no exceptions.

An example of this jersey is provided by the UCI in their regulations.

The only difference between the jersey that Cavendish was presented with in Copenhagen and one which he wears from now on while racing should be the position of his team sponsors’ logos. The details of the size and positioning of the logos is clearly defined in the UCI’s regulations.

But Cavendish’s jersey which he was worn since his victory does not conform to these regulations. He has been wearing an odd variation which breaks the iconic rainbow stripes so they are not continuous around his torso.

While it doesn’t explicitly say in these regulations that the rainbow stripes must be continuous, it does say:

The design, including colours and layout, of each world champion’s jersey is the exclusive property of the UCI.
The jersey may not be reproduced without UCI authorisation. The design may in no way be modified.

In addition, these regulations also state that the world champion of one discipline cannot wear their world champion’s jersey while competing in another. For instance, world cyclo-cross champion Zdenek Stybar can wear his rainbow stripes whilst competing in cyclo-cross events over the winter. But as soon as he goes back to road racing with his Quick Step team, he has to revert back to the standard issue team kit.

Mark Cavendish has also disobeyed this rule by wearing his rainbow jersey as road race champion in a track meet in the UK Revolution series yesterday.

For breaking these rules he is subject to a fine of 10,000 Swiss francs. He is not likely to ride any more for HTC this year, so Team Sky will be providing him with a new world champion’s jersey anyway. But why the understated look?

By wearing his rainbow stripes on the track, even though he’s not supposed to, it sends the message that he wants to be seen as much as possible in the iconic jersey. But then, the jersey design sends exactly the opposite message.

At first glance it’s not entirely clear that he’s wearing the rainbow jersey at all. Does he not want to stand out and send the message ‘I’m Mark Cavendish and I’m the World Champion’?

Isn’t that the whole point?

Edit: Having contacted the organisers of the Revolution series, a spokesman responded with the following when asked about the legalities of Cavendish wearing the Rainbow Jersey at the recent series in the Manchester Velodrome:

The rules can only be applied to UCI events and Revolution is not a UCI event so we can get riders to wear anything we like.

Having also contacted the UCI, they repsonded with a different view on things:

Regarding the track exhibition race, [Cavendish] shouldn’t have worn his world champion jersey. But as far as I know, we cannot do anything in retrospect as it was certainly not a UCI recognized event or part of the International Calendar.

The rainbow is the exclusive property of the UCI and I can tell you that it is a nightmare to fight against misuses of this registered trademark! But we are going to be more and more severe according to the same.

The UCI also had this to say about Cavendish’s strange variation on the Rainbow Jersey which he wore at the Revolution series and at Paris-Tours:

Cavendish has already been fined for wearing neither a correct nor submitted jersey on the occasion of Paris-Tours 2011.


Classics,Cyclo Cross,Irish Nationals,World Championships

The perfect cyclist – A jack of all trades

9 Nov , 2011  

One of the most interesting things about cycling compared to most other sports are the different disciplines that any given rider can take part in – road racing, time-trialling, mountain biking, track racing and cyclo-cross.

Stephen Roche once said that “maybe it is a view of a dreamer but I have always believed that a complete bike racer should be able to ride on the flat, in the mountains, in the time trials and on the track.”

Not long after Roche finished third in the 1985 Tour de France at the age of 25, he rode the Paris six-day race on the track with the British rider Tony Doyle. Roche crashed and hurt his knee, an injury which would plague him for the rest of his career.

But his sentiment about being a master of all trades remains:

The crash I suffered towards the end of the Paris-Six in November 1985, which led to such disappointment in 1986, has not altered my belief about the complete bike rider.

Stephen Roche racing on the track in 1991

It’s strange that Roche doesn’t include cyclo-cross in his list of requirements for the complete bike rider. He was the Irish national cyclo-cross champion in 1979 so he appeared to have that skill-set in his locker too.

It is common to see riders who excel at one discipline at an early age only to make a move into another later on in their career. Cadel Evans is a prime example. The Australian was a hugely successful mountain biker in his younger days and didn’t move to a professional road team until he was nearly 25. He has been even more successful as a road rider winning the Tour de France and the World Championships road race.

Cadel Evans in his mountain biking days.

There are also many examples of riders who find success on the track first and then make the move to road racing. Guys like Mark Cavendish, Stuart O’Grady, Mark Renshaw and Theo Bos were all world champions on the track before moving sideways and concentrating more on road racing.

Although it is hugely impressive to see riders capable of excelling in two different disciplines and different points of their careers, it is fascinating to follow riders who attempt to excel at more than one facet of cycling concurrently throughout the year.

To shift the focus to cyclo-cross – the art of mixing cyclo-cross in the winter with road racing throughout the remaining seasons has become less and less prevalent in recent years.

Adrie van der Poel won the world cyclo-cross championships in 1996 having previously finished second on five occasions. While on the road he also won Amstel Gold, Liége-Bastogne-Liége and the Tour of Flanders.

The Swiss Pascal Richard also combined being world cyclo-cross champion in 1988 with a successful road career. He won Liége-Bastogne-Liége, the Tour of Lombardy and the Olympics road race.

Perhaps most impressively, Roger de Vlaeminck won stages in all three Grand Tours, won all five of cycling’s monument classics (including a record four Paris-Roubaixs) and in 1975 he was also the world cyclo-cross champion.

Roger de Vlaeminck - A jack of all trades.

In addition, big names such as Franco Bitossi, Charly Gaul, Eugene Christophe and Marc Madiot have all been national cyclo-cross champions of their respective countries.

Two of the most high profile riders who have attempted to juggle both road racing and cyclo-cross in recent years are Lars Boom and Zdenek Stybar. Other riders who race both disciplines are the French riders Francis Mourey, John Gadret and Steve Chainel. Though they all have a long way to go though if they are to emulate the multi-tasking stars of yesteryear.

Although, in terms of multi-tasking, Lars Boom had a rather incredible year in 2008. He won all three national Dutch titles for cyclo-cross, time trialling and road racing as well as winning the world cyclo-cross championships.

A further special mention is deserved by the rather unheralded Czech rider Roman Kreuziger who finished on the podium of the junior worlds cyclo-cross, time trial and road race back in 2004.

Although Stephen Roche’s ideals of the perfect cyclist are not personified completely by any active rider, there are many willing to spread themselves a bit thinner than most and fly the flag for the multi-cyclo-disciplinarians.

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Paris-Tours,Tour of Lombardy,World Championships

World champion team-mates

7 Oct , 2011  

By winning the World Championship road race in Denmark, Mark Cavendish became only the second British rider to wear the rainbow jersey after Tom Simpson in 1965. But this coming weekend the world’s best sprinter has a chance to achieve what no rider, Brit or otherwise, has ever achieved – win Paris-Tours as World Champion.

Unlike most other one-day races, the World Championships road race takes place on a different route every year. Often it is won by riders who could be classed as ‘sprinters’. To illustrate, recent winners of the rainbow jersey include Mario Cipollini, Oscar Freire, Tom Boonen, Thor Hushovd and now Mark Cavendish.

So it seems surprising then that no rider has ever won the Worlds and gone on to win the sprinters’ classic directly afterward. Conversely, on a number of occasions, a rider has won the Worlds and gone on to win the other Autumn classic directly afterward, the Tour of Lombardy.

There are seven riders who have won the Tour of Lombardy in the rainbow jersey. These seven riders are Alfredo Binda (1927), Tom Simpson (1965), Eddy Merckx (1971), Felice Gimondi (1973), Giuseppe Saronni (1982), Oscar Camenzind (1998) and Paolo Bettini (2006).

The Tour of Lombardy is a far hillier race than Paris-Tours and this may be the reason for the lack of Worlds/Paris-Tours doubles. When a classics rider capable of winning hilly races has form, he has plenty of opportunity to use it. If he’s feeling good at a tough part in the race, he can attack. There is no one point in the race where he must make his form count. There will always be a number of opportunities to create the race-winning move.

However, a sprinter has only one place to show his form, the final 300 metres. This part of the race can be chaotic, unorganised and perilous. If a sprinter and his team don’t get it right here, he has no chance of winning. It doesn’t matter if he’s the strongest in the race.

Whereas if a punchy classics rider misses a move, of course he may lose the race, but there’s always a chance it comes back together and he can have another chance to go for glory.

Thus, if the Worlds road race is on a hilly course and is won by a hilly classics rider, there’s more chance of that rider using his form to win the Tour of Lombardy than if the Worlds was won by a sprinter on a flat course and he goes on to try and win Paris-Tours.

Comprenez? Just a theory.

Although it still seems likely that Cavendish will end up riding for Team Sky next year, rumours abound that he may end up at OmegaPharma-QuickStep instead. If this is the case, then this Belgian team would have Cavendish, Tony Martin and Zdenek Stybar in their ranks; the current road, time trial and cyclo-cross World champions. Stybar is already part of the team and Martin has signed for next year.

This would be the first time ever that the World Champions of these three disciplines were all team-mates. Of course, Cavendish and Martin are already team-mates at HTC-High Road for what’s left of the season. So it begs the question, have the World champions of the road and of the time trial ever been team-mates before this?

The answer is yes!

In 2005, Quick Step-Innergetic team-mates Tom Boonen and Michael Rogers won both world titles between them in Madrid before Rogers moved to T-Mobile in the off-season. It sort of happened in 2004, when both World champions from the previous Autumn, Igor Astarloa and David Millar rode for Cofidis. However, both riders were subsequently banned for doping and Millar was stripped of his World title.

So officially Millar wasn’t World time trial champion when he rode with Astarloa at Cofidis. And funnily enough, Boonen and Rogers never road a race together as team-mates in the autumn of 2005. Therefore, the world champions of road and time trial have, as yet, never ridden a race together.

It also looks likely given their respective race programs for the remainder of the year, that Martin and Cavendish won’t ride together again as team-mates at HTC-High Road either. Perhaps they will next year…

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World Championships

Ireland’s best World Championship performances

25 Sep , 2011  

The cycling road race world championships takes place in Copenhagen today where the winner is awarded the famous rainbow jersey. This year’s race will be 266km and will be over relatively sprinter-friendly terrain. Ireland will have three entrants in the men’s road race, Matt Brammeier, Daniel Martin and Nicolas Roche.

Irish riders have contributed to the long history of cycling’s most prestigious one day event. Here’s five of the most notable Irish performances:

5. Matt Brammeier (2010) – Last year the road race took place in Geelong, Australia. The route consisted of an 85km stretch before entering a 16km circuit which the riders would tackle 11 times. The world championships usually takes place on a circuit and it was unusual to have such a long point to point section before commencing the laps around the start/finish line. This unusual quirk in the route design almost lead to one of the biggest upsets in world championship history.

On the initial 85km journey from Melbourne to Geelong, five relatively unknown riders, including Irish champion Matt Brammeier broke clear. With all the major nations refusing to take up the chase in the peloton behind, the quintet created a massive gap of 23 minutes.

As the race approached the loop around Geelong, the peloton was in real danger of entering the finishing circuit as Brammeier’s group were already completing their first lap. This would mean all five riders would be back in the peloton but would be a 16km lap ahead of everyone else. Nobody would be able to take back time like that at this stage of the race.

The race organisers urged the peloton to speed up so that such an awkward outcome would not materialise. The peloton obliged and the group was eventually caught.

Brammeier’s group came within 50 seconds of turning the entire race on its head.

Matt Brammeier with his breakaway companions in the 2010 worlds (via

4. Seán Kelly (various) -There were only two major one-day races that Seán Kelly didn’t win throughout his amazing career, the Tour of Flanders and the World Championships.


Kelly was notorious for staying competitive throughout the entire year, ‘A Man for all Seasons’ they called him. If Kelly had concentrated solely on winning the Worlds then he perhaps would have taken at least one rainbow jersey.

The closest Kelly came to tasting victory were two bronze medals in 1982 and 1989. Agonisingly, he finished in the top 10 on five other occasions. But it was never to be for one of the greatest riders cycling has ever seen.


Sean Kelly finishing third in 1989 behind Dimitri Konychev and Greg LeMond

3. Shay Elliott (1962) – Before Roche and Kelly dominated world cycling in the 1980s Shay Elliott paved the way for English-speaking riders in the professional peloton. He won a stage in all three of the Grand Tours, and in 1962 he almost won the World Championships.

In Salo, Italy he found himself in the race winning move and under normal circumstances would have been a favourite for the victory. But Jean Stablinski was also in the group. The Frenchman was a top rider himself, having won stages of the Tour de France, and the overall of the Vuelta a Espana in 1958.

He was also Elliott’s friend and godfather of Elliott’s son.

So when Stablinski attacked coming towards the finish, Elliott sat up and refused to chase. The Irishman won the sprint for second place but by staying loyal to his friend Stablinski, he had forfeited the best chance he would ever get to win the rainbow jersey.

Shay Elliott with Jean Stablinski in the rainbow jersey and five-time Tour winner Jacques Anquetil.

2. Mark Scanlon (1998) -It wasn’t in the men’s road race but in 1998 Mark Scanlon did win a rainbow jersey by crossing the line first in the junior race. He won a four man sprint beating no less than future Milan-San Remo winner Filippo Pozzato into second place.

Scanlon subsequently turned pro and spent four years at what is now Nicolas Roche’s AG2R-La Mondiale team. He moved on briefly to race for an American domestic team but retired shortly afterward aged just 26.

He is 30 years old now and would be in the prime of his professional cycling career. But a combination of the derogatory attitudes of his French team-mates and the presence of drugs in the pro peloton nullified his enthusiasm for the sport.

He is now living in Sligo and working as a sports nutritionist.

Mark Scanlon winning the worlds junior road race in Valkenburg in 1998

1. Stephen Roche (1987) – Roche had already won the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France that year. Only one rider, Eddy Merckx, had ever won these two Grand Tours and went on to take cycling’s ‘triple crown’ by also winning the rainbow jersey in the same year.

But Roche went to the World championships in Austria that year with no aspirations of winning. He was there to work for his team-mate Seán Kelly who had a fantastic chance to finally win the rainbow jersey that had eluded him so far in his career.

The race was unfolding perfectly as Kelly and Roche entered the final few kilometres in a group of about 20 riders. Roche was marking breakaway attempts while also saving something in reserve to lead Kelly out in the sprint.

But with less than 3km to go, Roche marked an attack that nobody behind followed as Kelly and the other race favourite, Italian Moreno Argentin, marked each other. Roche found himself in a front group of five riders coming into the final 500 metres. Kelly’s group was too far back at this stage to catch up in time for a sprint finish.

So Roche attacked.

He sped up the road beside the barriers through an impossible looking gap. He caught the others by surprise and by the time they had realised what had happened, it was too late. Roche crossed the line solo to seal the final leg of cycling’s Triple Crown and with it a place on the top of the podium of the history of cycling.


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