Dust settles on le Tour, and the Olympic Games loom on the horizon
Well, it's now 9 days to go before the world's sporting attention turns to Beijing, and the 2008 Olympic Games. As we've tried to do all year, we'll be keeping a close eye on proceedings both on and off the track/pool/fields to bring some insight and analysis of the Games.
You can read all about Beijing's pollution, prospects of doping at the Games, Speedo and Arena's swimsuit wars, and other previews of the Olympics in our "Beijing Build-up" tab above. From now on though, with the Games so close, we'll switch to a specific, theme-by-theme preview, and try to spend the next week or so looking at issues that will be relevant to performance in Beijing.
They will almost certainly include doping, with much going on in the battle against drugs in sport, so I expect a great deal of coverage of this controversial topic. The swimsuit war will finally come to a head, when Speedo's LZR meets Arena's Powerskin Revolution Mach-2 in the pools, and the result should be a slew of world records. We're obviously particularly fond of the endurance events, and so the battles between Kenya and Ethiopia on the track should deliver some fireworks. Expect Ethiopia to dominate, winning at least 8 out of the 12 medals in the men's and women's 5000 and 10000m events (and all the golds).
As for the marathon, can Martin Lel, the greatest marathon runner in the world at the moment, deliver Kenya it's first gold in that event? If he fails, there's a better than good chance that it's another Kenyan who beats him anyway, with Cheruiyot and Wanjiru particularly posing the greatest challenge. We'll look at all these events and more in the weeks to come, and we'll post those articles at this link for those who want to jump straight there.
The world of sport will be going into something of a "hiding" phase for the next week as most of the teams will be taking their athletes to pre-Olympic training camps. Last night, for example, saw the last major track and field meeting before the Olympics, and many of the great athletes were not there, having finished their preparations a week or so earlier. So actually knowing who is taking what into the Games will be difficult, but we'll use the "gap" to build up to what will hopefully be the greatest Olympics yet!
Cycling: The Tour is over, looking back
The Tour de France finished on Sunday, and not surprisingly, it was a procession into Paris that saw Carlos Sastre become Spain's third consecutive champion. The Spaniard won the race with his solo attack on Alp d'Huez, and then held on by riding a great time-trial over 53km on Saturday.
The one man who was favoured to beat Sastre (experts gave him a 60-40 chance, or more) was Cadel Evans, who simply didn't have the legs in the final ride to bridge the 1:34 gap. Whether it was Sastre who rode out of his skin or Evans having a bad day, I guess we'll never know, unless we can get hold of the power output data from the two riders in both their Tour time-trials.
However, interesting observations from Wayne, one of our readers, suggests that if we use Stefan Shumacher as a "benchmark" (since he won both Tour time-trials this year, incredible performance), then it appears that Evans did slide off his performance in that second time-trial.
Looking at the performance, it turns out that Evans was 1.26% slower than Shumacher in the first, 29km time-trial, and fell to 3.26% slower in the final time-trial. Sastre, on the other hand, was 4.8% slower than Shumacher in TT1 and improved to 4.02% slower in TT2. Sastre was therefore better in TT2 (relative to Shumacher), but not by a huge amount, whereas Evans was considerably worse. Bernard Kohl, who surprised all with his final time-trial (including us), improved from 5% slower to 3.7% slower.
There are of course important considerations here, like the fact that the second time-trial, being hillier and longer, might favour guys like Sastre and Kohl, but it's interesting to note that if Evans had even kept the same gap between himself and Shumacher (1.26%), then he would have beaten Sastre by 1:44 and claimed yellow...but it wasn't so much the spectacular time-trialling of Sastre that held the yellow, it was a combination of his moderate improvement and Evans' fatigue after three weeks of hard racing that may have denied him yellow. If we could just get the power data...but thanks Wayne for that insight!
As for the overall summary of the race, that stage on Alp d'Huez was crucial, and I really can't help feeling that if Evans hadn't been caught up by the CSC tactics behind Sastre, and just ridden his own climb, the result would have been different. I am quite sure that by himself, Evans could have ridden the climb in 40:30, rather than the 41:45 he did it in. Had he done this, he'd have gone into the final TT with a 34 second deficit and who knows...?
Ifs and buts get sportspeople nowhere of course, and so we're not suggesting anything should have changed - the strongest man in the final week won the Tour in the end.
The 2008 Tour: A turnaround for cycling?
As for the Tour, it's being hailed as "turnaround" for cycling. Apparently viewership figures were up, spectatorship was higher, and of course, the authorities feel that they are getting to grips with the doping problem. The big feather in the cap of the doping authorities was that they were able to catch guys using a third-generation EPO, which those riders must have felt was not detectable. For once, it turned out, the testers were a step ahead (or level with) the dopers, and that can only send a positive message to all sports.
Four positive tests were eventually returned, and it's been hailed as a success because that is fewer than in previous years (and at least we didn't lose the yellow jersey in the cloud of controversy this time around!). I'm not sure I agree. To me, the number of positive tests tells you nothing about the state of the doping battle, because one could just as easily return not a single positive test because the dopers are that far ahead in the race. So I wouldn't say it's time for high fives and pats on the back just yet - for every MICERA, 3rd generation EPO that can now be caught, there may be 5 drugs that can't, and so the fight must be intensified.
Whether the race was clean this year is difficult to say. Certainly, the days of dominant riders going off the front are over. The jostling for position, the small time gaps, the brutal racing all suggest less doping, which would narrow the physiological gaps. The days of single attacks producing time-gaps of minutes between riders are now over. Sastre succeeded because of the tactical play behind him, but no other attack was able to create that much time in this year's race, which is interesting. So I think it's a step in the right direction, but wouldn't get too carried away just yet!
Thanks for joining us in our coverage of the 2008 Tour, and let's hope Beijing brings the same kind of action!
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Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Dust settles on le Tour, and the Olympic Games loom on the horizon