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The VV View: Where Do The World’s Top Riders Come From?


Where do the World’s Top Riders come from? It creeps up on you, the need, nae, the burning desire to rant. The last straw was Chris Froome’s comments about the Tour organiser’s intention to include cobbles in the 2014 race. Chris isn’t keen – he wants just long, flat time trials and mountain stages; but we guess he’s OK with the sprinter stages. too?

The TT stages are for the specialists, the “rouleur” who can find the groove and churn the big gear.

Anquetil, Indurain and Wiggins all fall into this mould – punish your opposition in the TT then hold on to your gains in the mountains.

It’s the classic Grand Tour tactic; effective but not the most inspiring to watch.

World's Top Riders
Chris Froome isn’t sure cobbles have a place in the Tour. We are!

Then there are the pure climbers, thinner on the ground than they used to be; but Quintana is a throwback to the days of Gaul, Van Impe and Pantani.

But if you’re like Vik and me you’ll be wondering too if there’ll be an “Armstrong Memorial” day in the le Tour in the future when Lance’s ‘tea is oot.’

If they have one in the Giro for the little Italian who rode whilst constantly kitted up throughout his entire career, then surely Plano’s finest will have one in the race he ‘owned’ for so long?

But I digress.

The climbers do their damage in the mountains then hang on for grim death against the stop watch and cross winds.

If you’re a tester or climber then, there’ll always be days in le Tour somewhere to suit you.

But the fact is that the most exciting six weeks of the season are provided by the men of the Northern Classics.

World's Top Riders
Guys like Geraint Thomas who excel on the cobbles should have a chance for a stage win in a grand tour as well.

These races provide the biggest, wildest crowds; the toughest and most technical of parcours; often Arctic weather and the hardest of men in the thick of it all.

It doesn’t make sense to me that these riders should be denied their chance to shine in the Tour.

And whilst no one wants to see crashes, it’s all part of the game – no one said multi-stage bike races were for wimps.

And we had Phil Gilbert moaning about how hard he has to work – excuse me Phil but rumours are you’re on 2.5 million Euros per season, amigo.

It’s preposterous that the Tour of Beijing is a World Tour event and Paris-Tours isn’t.

A big programme these days is 85 race days, if I recall correctly, Sean Kelly was on 140.

Eddy Merckx, Freddie Maertens and Roger De Vlaeminck could all win 50 plus races in a season.

And let’s hope Brian Cookson turns his attention to the calendar.

The North Italian “Autumn Triptych” – which Lampre’s Diego Ulissi dominated – were the preparation races for the Tour of Lombardy; but now they come after it.

‘Lombardia’ was moved to accommodate another Chinese stage race which was going to follow the Tour of Beijing.

But then the Chinese race was quietly cancelled leaving the European calendar in disarray – Lombardia was always meant to be the pinnacle.

And it’s preposterous that the Tour of Beijing is a World Tour event and Paris-Tours isn’t.

Paris-Tours, the ‘Sprinters’ Classic’ with epic tales of it being limited to single freewheels and Jan Jansen falling off whilst alone in the lead due to – “heat stroke.”

But Beijing has those damn pandas, I guess…

What happened to all the criteria that new World Tour races were meant to meet – including the all important “historical” one?

All guff – what counts in Aigle is cash, and it’ll be hard for Brian Cookson to change that, even if he had the will to do so.

World's Top Riders
Doug Dewey and plenty of other British riders are making their own way in Europe. Photo©Adeline Roué

And on the subject of ‘BC’ the latest World Rankings make interesting reading.

On the face of it they look good for BC; Chris Froome is second in the individual rankings; Sky sits second in the teams standings and GB fourth in the nations ranking.

But as Winston Churchill once said; ‘there are lies, damn lies and statistics.’

If you care to dig a little deeper on those individual rankings you’ll find it’s maybe not quite as rosy as it looks.

Take the number of riders per nation in the individual rankings top 100 and it looks like this:

Top Riders Per Country

  1. Italy 15
  2. Spain 13
  3. France 10
  4. Belgium 9
  5. Netherlands 8
  6. USA 6
  7. GB 5
  8. Germany 5
  9. Colombia 4
  10. Australia 4
  11. Poland 3
  12. Norway 3
  13. Slovakia 2
  14. Ireland 2
  15. Switzerland: 2
  16. Czech Rep. 2
  17. Portugal: 1
  18. Denmark: 1
  19. Estonia: 1
  20. Canada: 1
  21. Ukraine: 1
  22. Slovenia: 1
  23. South Africa: 1

The GB five are: 2, Chris Froome; 29, Mark Cavendish; 43, Geraint Thomas; 72, Bradley Wiggins and 90, Ian Stannard.

And whilst it’s great that GB ranks well within the top ten whichever measure is applied, there’s no room for complacency based or self congratulation.

Let’s remember that there are three times as many Italians in the world’s top 100 riders and twice as many Frenchmen – that’s no accident.

Name one rider in the World Top 100 who came up via the Kirkcaldy Crit …

It’s because the infrastructure is in place to bring the young riders up through the system – but not with just one professional team which is tied very closely to the national squad.

‘Answers, then?’ I hear you say?

Not easy in a winter which will see five Division One and Two teams consigned to the history books.

But a good start would be to have a have a proper race calendar in Scotland and the rest of the UK for riders to get their teeth into.

But first and foremost to continue to encourage young riders to get across to France, Belgium and Italy to live and race where it’s for real and means something.

Televised town and city centre crits may be cool – but name me one rider in that world top 100 who came up via the Kirkcaldy Crit …