Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Real cyclists eat honey

In a week where we learned that Cadel Evans and his wife have decided to adopt an Ethiopian boy I thought it might interest a few to know what honey can do to a cyclist.

New Iranian studies shows that men who ate honey before training had lower levels of free radicals (which may indicate cell damage) in their semen after 8 weeks. 39 men aged 18-28 years participated in this study where half of them were given 70 g of honey 1½ hours before training.

According to the author of the study Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki, M.Sc.; “it may be possible that the honey supplementation following long-term intensive cycling training would be effective in attenuating the probable aggravating effects of intensive cycling training on spermatogenesis and fertility capacity in the road cyclists”.

On a site note, I can add that Alberto Contador will be given his own weight in honey on January 7 next year for winning the Spanish award "Su Peso en Miel”. And not only that, Contador will also be weighted with the six bikes on which he won his biggest victories.

The Spanish Giro, Tour and Vuelta-winner got married about a month ago but according to Contador he is not thinking about starting a family just yet. “Right now I don’t think about kids, I just concentrate on riding my bike”, he told me at the team presentation in November.

Well, at least he shouldn’t have any problems when he changes his mind if the “honey effect” really works…

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

I just want to take the time and wish everybody reading this blog a Very Merry Christmas! I truely appreciate your support and I promise to make an effort in making every article better than the last one.

Enjoy Christmas with your friends and family.

See you soon...


Friday, December 23, 2011

$30.000 for 4th place - Zero for the victory

Lance Armstrong on his way to 4th place and $30.000.
Yesterday ESPN wrote this article about the details of U.S. Postal’s sponsorship deal with Lance Armstrong’s team. Here it says that Lance Armstrong got paid $1,47 million in bonuses for his stage wins, yellow jerseys and overall victory in the Tour de France 2001.

On the statement showing how the $1,47 million are divided we can see that Lance Armstrong got $75.000 for each stage win and then $15.000 for keeping the yellow jersey after every stage. What I like to point out though is that Lance Armstrong apparently got $30.000 from U.S. Postal for taking 4th place on stage to Luz Ardiden. $30.000 and he didn’t even entered the top3.

May I remind you that in 2001 the American Dollar was higher than the Euro has even been...

The stage was won by Roberto Laiseka, first Tour de France stage win in the history of the Basque Euskaltel-Euskadi team, and how much do you think Laiseka got paid in bonuses for this historical stage win?

The answer is zero. No bonus but the glory.

 Laiseka wins on Luz Ardiden.
“At Euskaltel-Euskadi there are no bonuses for winning stages. The riders have their regular payments and that’s what they earn. Of course such a win can be used when negotiating a new contract, but for the stage win itself there is no bonus” , press officer of Euskalte-Euskaldi, Jesus Aizkorbe, explains to me.

You can argue that for Roberto Laiseka winning on Luz Ardiden in Basque territory in the orange colors of Euskaltel-Euskadi no bonus could probably top that feeling, but I’m sure he would have appreciated having a deal just giving him half of what Lance Armstrong got for taking 4th place on the very same stage.

Update - After reading this article Roberto Laiseka sent me the following message on Twitter:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

CAV4SPOTY - The odds are on his side

UPDATE 22/12 @ 23:00 - Mark Cavendish won!

Tonight it’s time for the BBC Sports Personality 2011 show and the big favorite for the award is no other than cycling’s very own Mark Cavendish. Winning two stages in the Giro, five in the Tour plus the green jersey and taking the World Champion title in September, Mark Cavendish finally seems to be rewarded for his amazing talent.

At the world’s biggest betting community, Betfair, Mark Cavendish is the number one favorite for the Spoty award at odds 1,40. In fact Mark Cavendish is such a big favorite that Betfair has made an extra market called “winner without Cavendish”. So far €700.000 has been matched on the BBC Sports Personality 2011 market - €280.000 of these on Mark Cavendish to win and that makes Cavendish check up on his rivals.

"He [Cavendish] is regularly checking the odds for him to win Sports Personality of the Year with the bookies and looking at what his main rivals are up to", Bradley Wiggins told cyclingnews last week.

On Twitter the CAV4SPOTY campaign has been going on for a long time and it seems like it will happen tonight. I sure hope he wins - wouldn’t it be great to end the year with some positive cycling news?...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Jakob Fuglsang ready to fly solo

Jakob Fuglsang now finally seems ready to lead his team in one of the three Grand Tours. Giro d’Italia next year starts in Denmark and after spending the last couple of years working for other riders Jakob Fuglsang now wants to be the sole team leader in the Italian GT.

Fuglsang did get the chance as captain in the Vuelta last year, but after his injury in the Tour a month earlier he didn’t managed to stay with the best riders on the steep parts in the mountains, despite getting the Red jersey right from the beginning of the race. The Danish climber admits he didn’t have the best preparation but that will change next year with the Giro on the menu.

“I’m sure that if I do what is needed and I do it down to the smallest detail, I will be able to be right up there with the best rider”, Fulgsang explained about a month ago.

One of the things Jakob Fuglsang needs to get under control is his weight. According to his Danish manager Kim Andersen; “he must lose two per cent of body fat. Otherwise he can’t make it all the way up the steep mountains. If he loses the weight and is in good shape, then he can be right up there," Andersen told Danish television TV2.

Another important thing for Jakob Fuglsang is the change of mentality. As I said he has been supporting team leaders the last couple of years, simply because he needed experience in the races and wasn’t ready yet. Frank and Andy Schleck have been very grateful for that support, but now it looks like they won’t have their Danish sidekick to help them in the Tour de France next year. Something has changed.

Fuglsang leading the Vuelta 2011.
“After the Giro I want to focus on the Olympics, the Vuelta and the World Champions. The World Champions route is definitely not bad for me. I rather want the opportunity to get some results myself instead just helping other riders in the Tour”, Fuglsang told feltet.dk.

Earlier Jakob Fuglsang has been happy to help his two good friends, but it sure seems like the Dane is now ready to fly solo. Of course the Giro-start in Denmark is an extra motivation and if he could take the jersey while the race is still on Danish ground it would be an amazing start for him. The ambitions are definitely there and even though he is up against riders like Ivan Basso, José Rujano, Roman Kreuziger and Michele Scarponi he believes the podium is within his reach.

“I aim for the podium and I think that’s realistic. It's obviously a possibility to grab the pink jersey in Denmark and I will do everything I can to do it”.

I personally don’t believe Jakob Fuglsang can win the Giro d’Italia but I do think top5 is possible and hopefully even more. If he gets that weight a bit down he can do better in the steep selective parts and that will be crucial for stepping on the podium in Milano. I think he will end 3-5 in the GC.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bookmakers to sponsor cycling teams? First reaction

Last week I wrote a piece about new possible sponsors for the cycling teams. First up was the betting industry, which I claimed was likely to be a new sponsor for a WorldTour team in a couple a years. Unfortunately one of the biggest operators on the market right now, Betfair, won’t be one of them.

I talked with Betfair’s Head of Northern Europe, Jacob Weinreich, and he made it very clear that Betfair has no intentions on moving in on the cycling market.

”My personal opinion is that cycling can be a tough sell to the gaming market. As an operator you have to be in the awareness game to enter into cycling sponsorships. For a market place like Betfair you need a high number of punters to get attractive markets going. Cycling is a small sport with few high profile races hence you don’t have many hard core punters following it”, he tells me.

As I wrote in my earlier piece, one of the main reasons why the bookmakers could end up staying away is the limited in-play action compared to football and tennis. Jacob Weinreich explains:

“The nature of gaming and bookmakers is that the more events the better. Football and tennis are great examples of this where you have more or less constant action around the calendar year. You can bet in-play and the odds are changing every second. In cycling it takes 5-6 hours from the stage starts till it ends and you can make a profit. That’s too much waiting without any - or very limited – action”.

Unfortunately that leaves us with only a few reasons why a bookmaker would step in to the cycling world.

“The only way I can see a bookmaker sponsor a cycling team is if they really want to create some awareness around themselves and show they cover all types of sports. Or if they want to make an impact on a specific market, ex. the Spanish market, and then go in and sponsor one of the teams in the Vuelta. You have seen this in the past with Unibet coming into cycling. Unibet had at this time a significant interest in France and the sponsorship could possibly be justified this way”, Jacob Weinreich says.

As you can imagine this was not exactly the scenario I was hoping for, still I totally understand Betfair’s point of view. I just hope that other bookmakers, like Unibet, want to move in on ex. the Spanish, French or Italian market now when the gambling monopolies are coming to an end. Time will tell…

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Possible new cycling sponsors - part I

In the light of HTC’s and GEOX’ goodbye to cycling and the fusion between Radioshack and Leopard, I’ve taken a look at some new potential sponsors who all bring a big bag of money to the table.

Two of the most sold jerseys worldwide, sponsored by Bwin.
First up is the betting industry. Bookmakers all over the world are making tons of money every day on poker, casino and sports betting and are all looking for potential sports to sponsor. Bwin has been sponsoring the entire best Portuguese football league for years and are currently on the chest of worldwide known players like Ronaldo and Kaka. The financial details of the Portuguese league sponsorship haven’t been disclosed, but we do know that that the price for the coveted sponsor deal with Real Madrid gives the Spanish club €20 million a year. And this is only a visual deal. Have you ever mentioned Bwin when you are talking about Real Madrid? I know I haven’t… Imagine if they put just half of that amount into a cycling team where they will get the rights to the entire team name. €10 million is more or less the budget Team Sky (Bradley Wiggins & Mark Cavendish) and Liquigas (Ivan Basso & Vincenzo Nibali) have and a few millions more than Team Saxo Bank (Alberto Contador) and Lampre (Alessandro Petacchi & Damiano Cunego) have.

Team? Unibet weren't allowed shown on the tricot.
It’s a known fact that the bookmakers have plenty of money to spend on marketing so why aren’t any of them throwing their love (and money) at cycling? Well, as you might remember; Swedish bookmaker Unibet tried just that back in 2006. Unibet paid €6-8 million a year for their ProTour team sponsorship but ended up abandoning the sport again after only two years. The different countries’ gambling monopoly prevented Unibet to take part in any of the three Grand Tours and therefore they decided to leave. ”It's too bad that cycling has been troubling a sponsor that invests no less than €25,000,000 in the sport”, team manager Hilaire Van der Schueren said in 2007.

So why should the bookmakers come back and spend €8-10 million on a WorldTour team sponsorship? First of all, it’s important to remember that the very same gambling monopolies that ended up killing Team Unibet now are about to disappear thanks to the EU-wide legalizations on the gambling markets. Denmark, France, Spain etc. will all legalize gambling and public sports betting advertizing in 2012 and that means that the fear of being excluded from ex. the Tour de France due to a bookmaker sponsor is now gone.

Denmark was the first country to legalize gambling and that has had an immediate effect on the best football league which, in 2012, will be co-sponsored by the Scandinavian bookmaker Betsafe while the 2nd division will be renamed to “The Betsafe League”. According to my information Betsafe pays around €1 million for this sponsorship. The thing is that Betsafe is already a well known brand in Denmark. Wouldn’t it be great if they decided to spend their money on the Danish Team Saxo Bank and help securing one of those big names (Thor Husvhod, Tony Martin etc.) that Bjarne Riis didn’t have the money for as well?

Odds on the Tour de France 2012 at Betsafe.
There is one big bridge to cross though and that is the fact that cycling still is an absolute niche sport for the bookmakers. Most bookmakers are making red numbers on their cycling bets and the amount of money placed on the cycling markets are microscopically small compared to big sports like football and tennis. Still we must remember that despite this fact Unibet did think it was a good idea to sponsor a cycling team in the best league.

It might look like a dead end, but personally I believe that we will see bookmakers entering top cycling within the next couple of years. It might be too early – after the end of the gambling monopolies – in 2012 already, but I feel quite confident saying that the Tour de France 2014 will have a least one team sponsored by an online bookmaker on the start list, except for Lotto and FDJ of course.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rumor killer - Vacansoleil-DCM denies ties with Cobo

Vuelta España winner Juanjo Cobo
After former Team GEOX boss Mauro Gianetti gave Juanjo Cobo ‘carte blanche’ to leave the team and a find a new one for 2012 different rumors have been going on about the future of the recent Vuelta España winner. One rumor sends Cobo to Vacansoleil-DCM since it seems like the Dutch WorldTour team will have some extra money left in case Ezequiel Mosquera gets the expected 2 years ban.

But after getting burned by first Mosquera and later thrown into the fire by Riccardo Riccò, Vacansoleil-DCM now wants stay clear of any suspicious riders. Juanjo Cobo was a part of the Saunier Duval team who had to withdraw from the Tour de France in 2008 due to doping violations by its riders Leonardo Piepoli and Riccardo Riccò and Vacansoleil-DCM can’t afford to have that happening again.

“We can’t be the team to sign a rider like him after what happened to us with Mosquera and Riccò. We can’t afford to do that again to ourselves and therefore we have never been interested in signing him. I have great respect for the rider and I regret to talk about a rider who is never tested positive in this way, but unfortunately this is how cycling is at the moment”, press officer Ard Bierens explains to me.

As I wrote earlier on this site it is expected that Juanjo Cobo will continue his career at one of the WorldTour licensed teams, but it will for sure not be at Vacansoleil-DCM.

EXCLUSIVE - No new sponsors to save Gianetti & Matxin

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that Mauro Gianetti had at least two concrete offers on the table to save the former Team GEOX. One of these was the deal with President Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan government while the other was with ‘regular’ international company. At the time it seemed like it was only a matter of time before a new sponsor deal would be signed but now the optimism is gone. I just got off the phone with Mauro Gianetti.

“The situation isn’t easy. Right now we are still waiting for a decision from the Venezuelan government. It’s a big, long term project and of course you can’t just rush to a decision, I understand that. I’m in touch with them every day though, but I don’t think it will be possible to continue on the level we would like to next year. Maybe we can make a deal for 2012 to carry on with a smaller budget, but I don’t know. To be honest it’s very complicated right now”, Gianetti explains.

Last Friday the UCI gave Gianetti & Matxin another week to find a new sponsor, but according to Gianetti that’s not enough time.

“Ever since GEOX announced the end of their sponsorship, I have been doing everything I could to secure a new deal. But now we just have to face the reality of modern cycling. It’s extremely difficult to find a new sponsor and if you look around there are really no new sponsors among the big teams. Not even Highroad managed to find a new sponsor. Due to the low economy it’s just not possible right now and we have to face that. Maybe we can sign a deal in one or two months, because I’m really talking with a lot of companies. The opportunity is there but the time isn’t”.

Denis Menchov has already been rumored to Katusha for several months and according to Mauro Gianetti that would indeed be the best solution. “I hope he sign the deal soon. Denis is a good rider and a good person and I think that Katusha should have the best Russian rider on their team”.

Also Juanjo Cobo, who has been faithful to Gianetti & Matxin in this difficult time, is now ‘free to leave’. “He has been approached by some teams. I can’t say which ones, but of course he is not going to stay now, I mean he is the winner of the Vuelta”, Gianetti says. According to my information Cobo will most likely continue on one of the World Tour licensed teams next year.

So unfortunately it really seems like the former GEOX team won’t continue next year and if they do, only on a level much lower than before. Such a shame for cycling!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Interview - Caroline Wozniacki talks cycling & anti-doping tests

Caroline Wozniacki - Number 1 in the world.
Caroline Wozniacki is the number one female tennis player in the world and knows what it takes to get to the top. I thought it would be interesting to get another view on cycling from an outstanding athlete of another sport. Therefore I made this quick, little interview with the Danish tennis darling.

Caroline, to start off, how much cycling do you watch?
Do be honest I don’t watch that much, but I do watch some of the stages of the Tour de France when it’s on. I think that the riders’ endurance is incredible and what they manage to do during the Tour is simply outstanding.

Do you have a favorite rider?
I remember I cheered for Bjarne Riis when he was in the Tour de France, but now I just support the Danish team [Team Saxo Bank].

Any specific cycling moments you remember?
Well, not a specific moment, more all of the things Lance Armstrong did in his career.

As number one in the world, you are used to the enormous pressure on your shoulders. How do you cope with that and do you see any parallels between tennis and cycling in that direction?
First of all you have to be mentally very strong to reach the top. It requires a lot mentally to be able to keep on pushing yourself in the difficult times. For what concerns me, I try to take it easy now. I know that I have already achieved a lot of great things, so I just try to enjoy every second of it. I have already achieved more than I have ever dreamed of! Now I just try to improve every day and see where it takes me.

To change the subject a little. It’s no secret that cycling is the sport with the most anti-doping tests per year. A rider like Fabian Cancellara had almost 60 tests last year. How many anti-doping tests did you have this season?
Actually I think it’s more than 30. So even though it’s not as many as in cycling, I still think that we are getting tested a lot. I don’t think it’s easier to cheat here since we are getting tested in every tournament we participate in.

Thanks to Caroline Wozniacki for taking time. I think it’s very interesting to notice the amount of anti-doping tests that Caroline, as number one in the world, had this season. People usually claims that big money sports like tennis and football don’t have the same amount of tests as cycling, and even though the number isn’t 60 like in the extreme case with Cancellara, I must say that 30 is a lot higher than I expected. Glad to be proven wrong. What concerns football, well, nothing has changed. According to UEFA, Barcelona had only 3 unexpected anti-doping controls last season.