Not so long ago, big-time Tour de France stars began winding down their seasons as soon as the Tour was over. They might ride a short program of lucrative exhibition races, the criteriums in Belgium, France and the Netherlands, but they rarely carried on training for the world road championships or the late-season classics. That trend began to reverse with Cadel Evans, whod be a top finisher at the Tour in late July and still be competitive at the worlds in early October.
Not many did the same as Evans, but when in 2009 the Australian made up for a disappointing Tour by heading to Spain to place third in the Vuelta a Espaa before winning the world title in Mendrisio, others started to take note. One was Irishman Dan Martin, who turned pro for Garmin in 2008 and has become a contender at all types of races, all season longhis career victories include Marchs Volta a Catalunya, Aprils Lige-Bastogne-Liege, Mays Tour of Tuscany, Junes Route du Sud, a stage of Julys Tour, Augusts Tour of Poland, a stage of Septembers Vuelta, and Octobers Japan Cup.
Martin starred in last months Tour by winning a mountain stage of the Tour (and he would have finished top 10 had he not been laid low by a final-week virus), and he starts next weeks Vuelta on August 24 as one of the top favorites before bidding for the rainbow jersey in Italy next month. Tour champion Chris Froome isnt riding the Vuelta, but hes now in Colorado, training at altitude prior to the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, and he may race in other North American races before heading to Italy for the worldswhich will be held, unusually, on an extremely hilly course.
Right after wrapping up the Tour, Team Skys Froome said, Id love to fly home and switch off for a few months but its never nice shutting down halfway through the season and not being able to do much for the rest of the year. Ive always felt terrible when I get to August time and sort-of running on fumes. And the opportunities for a climbing world championships dont come around very often, so I think Ive got to make the most of that opportunity.
Being the world champ is probably the second biggest thing in cycling after the yellow jersey, so Ill make that the focus of the second part of my season, and then use that as motivation to keep the form up, to see through the season with the rest of the races, including Lombardia, and possibly [the Tour of] Beijing and Japan [Cup].
Team Sky general manager Sir Dave Brailsford pointed out that Froomes probable worlds bid at the head of the Great Britain national team depended upon his rider continuing a regular training regimen, even if not at the same intensity as before the Tour. I think the important thing for Froomey is that he doesnt stop, Brailsford said. Everything is cyclical, and you cant just keep the same intensity in life, it doesnt matter what you do. And once you recognize that you can manage the ebbs and flows
I think hes doing absolutely the right thing in continuing to stick to the game plan because it gives him more structure. And everything that has got him here is discipline and structure. If you take that away then you kind of lose your way. But if you can keep familiarity with the structure then I think hell deal with whats coming his way in an okay fashion.
Discipline and structure, along with needing great motivation, were the main factors that once deterred Tour stars from continuing their seasons at a high level. But today there are many more opportunities for riders to get ready for the world championships, or score prestigious wins in August, September and October. Pre-worlds stage races such as the Tour of Utah, Arctic Race of Norway, Eneco Tour of the Benelux, USA Pro Challenge, World Ports Classic, Tour of Alberta, and (the revived) Tour of Britain didnt even exist 10 years ago.
Rainbow jersey contenders are now riding some of these races, or strongly considering them, to prepare for the world championship, rather than following the more usual path of competing in the Vuelta. Every world championship winner over the past 12 yearsfrom Oscar Freire in 2001 to Philippe Gilbert in 2012raced at least part of the Vuelta. And all 12 of those champions won stages of the Vuelta in their worlds buildupexcept for 2011 champion Mark Cavendish, who had to quit the Vuelta after four days, but went on to win a couple stages of the Tour of Britain before the worlds in Copenhagen.
The only worlds in the past 12 years that favored the strongest climbers was the 2009 edition won by Australias Evans in a solo breakaway, ahead of Russias Alexandr Kolobnev and Spains Joaquim Rodriguez. For a worlds that was truly mountainous we have to go back to 1995 in Duitama, Colombia, where Spains Abraham Olano won the title ahead of countryman Miguel Indurin and Italys Marco Pantani.
That year was also the first one after the Vuelta was moved from its traditional April/May date to August/September, and Olano won three stages and finished second overall at that 1995 Vuelta. It was no coincidence that Evans also finished on the Vuelta podium right before wining his rainbow jersey. All the other Vuelta riders who went on to win the worlds were sprinters or classics specialists, after using that Grand Tour to hone their stamina and finishing speed.
Stamina will be particularly relevant to this years worlds because the elite mens road race is almost 280 kilometers long. It starts at Lucca and takes a hilly 113-kilometer route to Florence where the field will tackle 10 laps of a 16.6-kilometer circuit that contains one long climb of almost 5 kilometers and two short, steep hills in the closing part of each lap. Among those who, unlike Froome and new Colombian sensation Nairo Quintana, have chosen to ride the Vuelta as preparation are Belgiums Gilbert, Irelands Martin, Italys Vincenzo Nibali and Colombias Rigoberto Uran.
Martin has had the worlds in mind all year. I only did 30 days of racing before the Tour de France because Im doing the Vuelta, he said recently. Its a new thing for me to try and do two Grand Tours. Im going there to race it, take it day be day, and see what happens. Maybe I wont make a run for the general classification, Ill see how Im feeling, but Ill definitely go there to win at least one stage. The idea of me going to the Vuelta is to have the best preparation possible for the world championships. Its the last realistic opportunity Ive got of winning the worlds for a few years.
Whether the 2013 rainbow jersey goes to a Vuelta rider such as Martin, or a man using the alternative races such as Froome, its sure that the number of riders who have a full calendar of racing from spring to fall is on the increase. Thats a good thing for the fans and a good thing for the sport.
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