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David L. Stanley

A look back at the 2023 bike racing season: Part two

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David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Story of the Tour de France and Cycling Heroes.

David L. Stanley


Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle

David L. Stanley's masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle is available in print, Kindle eBook and audiobook versions, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

Here's the link to the first part of David Stanley's 2023 season review.

David L. Stanley writes:

Before we dive into our four topics for Part II of 2023, a Look Back, I have a tragic and sad update to last week’s Part I breakdown. Mark Groeneveld died following a race in Hong Kong. The 20-year old Dutch rider (X-Speed United) had been in Hong Kong to compete at the Hong Kong Cyclothon. He finished the race but a short time after its completion, it is believed he developed a heart arrhythmia and died of a suspected cardiac arrest in the hours after the race. May his memory be a blessing.

Mark Groeneveld

Here’s are the four topics I am going to cover:

  • The Women’s Hour
  • The Galacticos
  • The Americans
  • The retirees

Vittoria Bussi Breaks the Hour

Do you know all about derived symplectic structure in generalized Donaldson-Thomas theory and categorification? Yeah, me neither. What do you know about crowdfunding 12,000 Euros to help offset your own Hour record attempt? Anyone?
What do you know about pushing a 70x14 hard enough to average over 50 kph? Only behind a motorcycle, right?

Someone does. Her name is Dr. Vittoria Bussi. The 36-year-old Italian woman earned a DPhil from University of Oxford in 2014 with her thesis of that title. While her sponsor did back her to a certain extent, to pay training and travel expenses to get her and her team to Aguascalientes, she staged a successful GoFundMe. She aimed for €10,000, and exceeded that to fund herself with an additional €12,064.

Dr. Bussi rode 50.267 kilometers in one hour on the vaunted Aguascalientes track, located 225 km north-northwest of Guadalajara. Why trek to Mexico? The wooden track is sited 1,888 meters (6,194 feet) above sea level. It’s a perfect altitude for a cycling track: the thinner air presents less wind resistance, yet still offers relatively quick acclimatization to the elevation. The wooden track is extremely fast. Peter Junek, once a member of the Czech national speedskating team, is known to design and build fast velodromes and he did his best work in Mexico. In fact, the Mexican locale is acclaimed by all who travel there to set records as the “fastest track in the World.”

Vittoria Bussi enduring a full hour of real suffering

Hour Record challengers—from Louise Roger who in 1897 rode 34.684 km at the Buffalo velodrome in Paris to today—benefit from technology updates. Roger was the first women to be allowed to race in (relatively) form-fitting clothes. Bussi, 126 years later, showed up with the latest in bike technology.

Her mathematical skills were an important part of the record attempt. Dr. Bussi showed the world that there are significant gains on offer when a rider understands advanced fluid dynamics and computational mathematics in their preparation for the Hour Record.

Bussi was the first woman to break the 50 km benchmark. Allow me this digression. In 1972, Eddy Merckx set the landmark record: 49.431 km. Eddy said it was the single hardest thing he’d ever done in cycling. As did every Hour Record supplicant in history, Eddy used the very latest in bike tech. That record stood until Chris Boardman, using a similar bike set-up as Merckx, pushed the record out by one-hundredth of a kilometer to 49.441. That’s one meter, but check my math.

The current men’s record is held by Filippo Ganna, using the very latest in aerodynamic gear. Last fall, Ganna covered 56.792 km in 60 minutes at the Tissot Velodrome in Grenchen, Switzerland. 52 years on, an unimaginable leap forward in technology, and 7.361 kilometers more distance covered in the Hour.

In 1972, the women’s Hour was set by Maria Cressari with 41.471 kilometers. Bussi, you remember, covered 50.267 km. 8.796 kilometers further down the road.
Bear with me, more digression: In 1972, the Men’s marathon record was 2:09:29 held by Ron Hill, Australia. The women’s 1972 record was held by Michiko Gorman, 2:46:36 in the Culver City Marathon. You might remember that 1972 was the first year women were allowed to compete in the Boston where eight women took part.

The current men’s record was set just three weeks ago, October 8, at the Chicago Marathon by Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum. He ran a 2:00:35 to become the first man under 2:01 in sanctioned competition. The current women’s record is held by Tigst Assefa of Ethiopia. In Berlin, this past September, she took down the women’s 2:12 barrier by 7 seconds, 2:11:53. For the men, 51 years, 9:54 improvement. For the women, 51 years, and a leap of 35:17. When it comes to endurance sports, women are closing the gap.

What women athletes have accomplished over the last 50 years of participation and serious training is remarkable. That in only 50 years, we’ve seen a woman, Dr. Vittoria Bussi break through a barrier that was seen as impassable as late as the 1940s is remarkable.

I was born in 1958. Two years before my birth, Jacques Anquetil set an Hour record of 46.159 km that would stand for 11 years. Of course, when he broke his own record in 1969, he refused to take the post-event doping control, so make of that what you will.

My point with all that digression? Using the most advanced technology available in each era, Dr. Bussi would have lapped Anquetil 16 times on a 250 meter velodrome.

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You could also forget all the other stuff I wrote up there, and relish Bussi’s accomplishment. In Sept 2021, Joss Lowden covered 48.406 kilometers in an hour. In May, 2022, Ellen Van Dijk rolled it up to 49.254 kilometers. That’s 0.85 km further than Ms. Lowden. On October 13, 2023, Vittoria Bussi shattered a barrier as she covered 50.267 kilometers in one hour under her own power. That’s one kilometer, 4 laps, further than Ms. Van Dijk.

The result.

Basta! We compare apples to apples. Similar eras, similar gear, similar hearts and guts and a willingness to endure an absurd amount of self-inflicted pain. Brava, Dr. Bussi! Brava!

The Galacticos. The last four years’ worth of Grand Tour winners.

Year

Giro

Tour

Vuelta

2020

Tao

Tadej

Primoz

2021

Egan

Tadej

Primoz

2022

Jai

Jonas

Remco

2023

Primoz

Jonas

Sepp


 

A nice group of big talents, eh?

Galacticos, the galactic ones. What a stellar term! <wink wink nudge nudge> Every generation has a rider or two who are the instant favorites for any race in which they enter. Yet, in 2023, we had a galaxy of stars. Primoz and Jonas and Tadej and Remco—it doesn’t really matter what race: a Classic, a week-long Tour, or a Grand Tour, you can hardly go wrong choosing anyone of the Wolf-Rayet stars.

Wolf-Rayet? Yes, the hottest stars in the universe, with temperatures up to 210,000 Kelvin. Destined for cataclysmic supernova, the Wolf-Rayets fuse the heaviest elements in the universe in their cores. Or, if you like, opt for one of the Gemini twins of cycling, Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel. Can those two win a Grand Tour? Not likely. Will they shift the balance of power in a Grand Tour? Most assuredly. Will they win Classics? Of course.

Jonas

  • O Gran Camiño stage race in Spain. Three stage wins, the overall, the mountains.
  • Paris–Nice. 3rd place
  • Tour of the Basque Country. 1st place. 3 stage wins and the points.
  • Critérium du Dauphiné. 1st place. 2 stages. biggest winning margin since 1993
  • Tour de France. 1st place, plus a telling win in the time trial
  • Vuelta a España. 2nd place behind teammate Sepp Kuss

Jonas Vingegaard after the 2023 Tour final stage. Sirotti photo

Primoz

  • Tirreno–Adriatico. 1st overall plus 3 stages.
  • Volta a Catalunya. 1st place plus 2 stages
  • Giro d'Italia. Maglia rosa plus the penultimate stage time trial.
  • Vuelta a Burgos. 1st place and two stage wins.
  • Vuelta a España. 3rd place with his two teammates and two stage wins.
  • Giro dell'Emilia. 3rd career win.

Primoz Roglic enjoying his Giro d'Italia victory with an upcoming Giro contender. Sirotti photo

Remco

  • Liège–Bastogne–Liège, 2nd consecutive win.
  • Giro d’Italia – Tests positive for Covid, left race in strong position for the win.
  • Tour de Suisse – third place, one stage win.
  • Clásica de San Sebastián - third win.
  • Belgian road championships – 1st place.
  • World Time Trial champion.
  • Chrono des Nations – 2nd place

Remco Evenepoel enjoys his Liège-Bastogne-Liège victory. Hard to beat winning a beloved classic while wearing the world champion's rainbow jersey. Sirotti photo

Tadej

  • Jaén Paraiso Interior – 1st place
  • Vuelta a Andalucía – 1st place
  • Paris–Nice – 1st place.
  • Ronde Van Vlaanderen – 1st place
  • Amstel Gold Race – 1st place
  • La Flèche Wallonne – 1st place
  • Liège–Bastogne–Liège – crashed, broke wrist.
  • Tour de France - 2nd place, 2 stage wins.

Tadej won a bunch of big races, eh? Jonas won one race, a big French one. Guess who won the French Velo d’Or?

“Care to play a nice game of Jeopardy, Professor Falcon?”

“Why, yes, certainly, Joshua. I’ll take cycling greatness for €1,000, please.”

“These two riders have won both a Tour de France and the Tour of Flanders.”

“Who are Tadej Pogacar and Eddy Merckx, Joshua?”

Tadej Pogacar has left everyone behind at the Tour of Flanders. Sirotti photo

The Americans

When I started racing in 1979, I was always reminded, in copies of Miroir that I read with a French-English dictionary at my side, and Cycling Weeklies that somehow made their way to Michigan State’s periodicals section, that Americans couldn’t race bikes. When CBS began to cover the Tour and Paris–Roubaix, I was reminded, often and disparagingly, that Americans could not race bikes. I suppose the idea was to temper our hopes, and build a narrative that explained to Americans and American TV sponsors that we couldn’t possibly excel at a “European” sport. Indeed, there was some truth. While Americans ruled the tracks at the turn of the 20th century, road racing was always the purview of the Europeans.


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Things have changed. Greg Lemond, Andy Hampsten, Chris Horner, and Sepp Kuss have won Grand Tours. Sepp Kuss was the only rider to enter and complete all three of 2023’s Grand Tours. More importantly, without Sepp’s incredible work rate, Jonas and Primoz don’t win the Tour and the Giro this year.
This group of guys, they’d be quite a team, eh?

Sepp Kuss after winning the 2023 Vuelta a España. Sirotti photo

  1. Brandon McNulty-UAE
  2. Joe Dombrowski-Astana
  3. Kevin Vermaerke-DSM
  4. Larry Warbasse-AG2r
  5. Lawson Craddock-Jayco AlUla
  6. Luke Lamperti -Soudal Quick-Step
  7. Magnus Sheffield-Ineos
  8. Matteo Jorgenson-Movistar
  9. Neilson Powless-EF EasyPost
  10. Quinn Simmons-Trek
  11. Riley Sheehan – Israel PremierTech
  12. Sean Quinn-EF EasyPost
  13. Sepp Kuss-Jumbo Visma
  14. Will Barta-Movistar

And This Just In - Andrew (AJ) August, all 18 years of him, just signed with Ineos.

You want a team with a man on the podium for the Grand Tours; a team with a superb climber, good support in the high mountains, a couple of men who can take their chances on a lumpy stage, plus a guy who can win a sprint from a small group? Yes, you do, and you can find eight men to fill all those slots right there on that list. You want riders who can be there at the finish of any of the Monuments? Pick seven wisely and I like your odds of being on the podium and maybe getting the win. US riders are that good.

There have been more US riders in the peloton in years past. I believe US pro participation peaked in 2011, with 28 or 29 riders. For this coming season, we have riders of such quality that there is a solid chance of a USA rider being in top three in every single race. Flat, hilly, mountainous, loaded with gravel—it doesn’t matter. A US of A rider will be there at the end. It is an exceptional era for US-based cyclists.

The Retirees

As the season winds down, my attention turns to the World Champion Track League (and your attention should look to the track season as well). We must say good-bye to some of the all-time greats of the game. Some have gone out on top. A few have perhaps stuck around one season too long. A handful were forced to retire with health problems. Thank-you and adieu!


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Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar). You have Vos, Longo, Burton and van Vleuten. That’s the list. Greatest female cyclist of all time. They’re all extraordinary champions, dominant across all facets of the sport for extended periods of time. Annemiek has a palmares that stands with any champion, either gender.

Annemiek van Vleuten wins the 2021 Olympic Road Race.

Daryl Impey (Israel Premier Tech). The 38-year-old has maximized his talent, serving his teams with honor everywhere he rode. He was the first South African to wear the maillot jaune. He won a stage. Impey, whatever needed to be done, he got it done.

Dries Devenyns (Soudal Quick-Step). The 40-year-old Belgian was always in the front group, scoring top ten results in dozens of races. Much like Impey, he was able to do whatever needed to be done to help the team succeed.

Greg van Avermaet (Ag2r-Citroen). One of cycling’s most successful 1-day and 1-week stage riders over the last 20 years. Paris–Roubaix, Gent–Wevelgem, E3, Olympic Gold, Tirreno–Adriatico; his palmares runs about 200 lines on his Wiki page. A true champion.

Greg van Avermaet on his way to winning the 2017 Paris-Roubaix. Sirotti photo

Jos van Emden (TJV). Another 38-year-old, and another pro’s pro. Jos was a true rouleur, a rider who could sit on the front for hours at 50 kph and burn all the fight out of the sprinters’ legs. He reached his apotheosis with a 2019 win in the Chrono des Nations.

Luis León Sánchez (Astana). A true grimpeur, an escalador; if it went uphill, Luis was a threat to get there first. 40 years old in November, go check out his palmares. Like Greg vA, it’s a long and worthy list.

Peter Sagan (Total Energies). The last few years, thanks to multiple attacks of Covid, have not been kind to the 33 year old. Of course, when you won’t get vaccinated, that’s the risk you run. But back to his accomplishments: 7 Green jerseys, 12 stage wins, many of the Monuments, 3 consecutive World championships; you can make the argument that he was a greater rider than a man regarded as one of the finest all-rounders of all time, Sean Kelly. For me, what has been equally interesting has been the chance to watch Sagan grow from a goofy, impulsive kid with an extraordinary talent into an adult regarded as one of the sages of the peloton.

Peter Sagan wins the 2015 Word Road Championships. Sirotti photo

Shane Archbold (Bora). A fine track cyclist who made his way as a road pro, he got on the plane to his last race, the Tour of Gaungxi as a rider. When returned to Germany, he was a retired racer with a mullet and a new job as a director sportif.

Rohan Dennis (TJV). One of the sport’s greatest enigmas, he was an exceptional time trialist and track rider, a wearer of leaders’ jerseys, a winner of stages, and man who stepped off his bike for no apparent reason and vanished during stage 12 of the 2019 Tour. He could go very fast.

Rohan Dennis winning 2023 Tour Down Under stage two. Sirotti photo

Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ). A climber’s climber, le grimpeur exceptionnel, mo steeper, mo bettah was Pinot’s motto. And yet, for all his panache, there always seemed to be a note of underachievement. Granted, he went head to head with the finest stage racer of his day, Chris Froome, but with nearly every Grand Tour, he suffered une jour sans. Ah, but on his day, he soared with the finest climbers of all time.

Thibaut Pinot about to start the 2023 Tour of Lombardy, the last professional race of his career. Sirotti photo

As an entry, five fine riders who retired too soon, thankfully.

  • Nathan van Hooydonck (TJV)            
  • Niklas Eg (Uno-X)                                 
  • Sep Van Marcke (Israel Premier Tech)
  • Wesley Kreder (Cofidis)
  • Zdenek Štybar (Soudal Quick-Step)

Why are these five listed as an entry? They all managed to survive significant cardiac issues or femoral artery surgery in order to officially retire. Anecdotally, cardiac issues seem to be on the rise in men’s pro cycling, and we give thanks that these men will have to chance to live out their lives with their loved ones.

Zdenek Štybar winning the 2019 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Sirotti photo

2023 was an epic season. We saw three Grand Tours with three winners, all from the same team. Thankfully, there were no major doping scandals, motor or pharmaceutical. We saw a huge performance in the Women’s Hour. We saw too many riders pass away. We saw champions do champion things in the Classics and Monuments and Grand Tours. Quite a year, eh?

Please, watch some track racing this winter season. You can catch the highlights on YouTube—it’s wildly addictive. See you in January as we head Down Under and begin the wind-up to the Paris 2024 Summer Games.

David Stanley, like nearly all of us, has spent his life working and playing outdoors. He got a case of Melanoma as a result. Here's his telling of his beating that disease. And when you go out, please put on sunscreen.

 

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