Category: From the Mag

How to lose weight for cycling while staying fast

Editor’s note: This article is from the November/December 2016 issue of VeloNews magazine.

Dropping weight is a tricky task. Doing so as an athlete, while training and remaining healthy, is an even more difficult prospect. We check in with several cyclists and sports nutrition experts to see how they’ve found the balance.

Body composition is your highest priority

The number you see on most scales doesn’t tell you what type of tissue you’re carrying — your body composition. Nor can it tell you the type you’re losing if you’re shedding weight (fat or muscle, for example). If it’s all muscle, that’s not a good thing. “Ultimately you want to drop the weight that is non-functional tissue,” nutritionist and author Philip Goglia says. “And that’s body fat.” Targeting a body fat percentage will help you attain an optimal weight with the right composition. A skinfold test is one of the best measures: Six to 10 percent for men and 14 to 20 percent for women (depending on the exact method) tends to achieve the best race weight. Below that you will lose power and performance and degrade your ability to recover.

Power and fatigue

If you’re unusually sore when you ride and performance is dropping, your problem may be caloric. Retired pro racer Phil Gaimon points out that too many cyclists look at the lowest weight they’ve ever hit as an adult and think that’s their ideal race weight. Instead, he recommends logging your weight over the span of years so you’re able to determine your weight when you were performing at your best.

Lose weigtht slowly

“Don’t crash diet,” warns two-time national road champion Matthew Busche. “You might lose weight quickly, but then your body rebounds and you can’t train as well.” Rapid weight loss generally coincides with the loss of muscle tissue and power or, worse, over-training. Target one to two pounds per week, at a maximum.

Shed weight in the base season

Too many cyclists try to lose weight during the season when performance, recovery, and reducing inflammation are critical and require proper nutrition. “The base season, when people don’t care how fast they go, is the time to go to ‘food jail’ and lose your weight,” Goglia says. You might even consider completing your base season a few pounds below race weight so you have room to fully support the nutritional demands of your season.

Avoid empty calories

“Your endurance and strength capacity and your ability to recover are all built in the kitchen,” Goglia says. “Don’t be afraid of calories. Reduction of inflammation and tissue repair are super-important and that requires caloric balance.” To rebuild and recover, our bodies need more than carbohydrates. It needs healthy proteins, anti-inflammatory fats, and a variety of micronutrients. Many recreational riders are surprised that top pros forgo empty carbs like pasta for something like salmon and fresh vegetables.

Protein for recovery and adaptations

Protein is essential for tissue repair and proper DNA expression. Eat lots of quality protein for recovery and training adaptations. There are many good sources, but Goglia prefers chicken, fish, steak, turkey, and eggs.

Avoide inflammatory foods

The bulk of our immune system lives along our digestive tract. Consequently, food can have a detrimental impact if it’s promoting things like leaky gut and inflammatory responses. Those conditions hurt energy levels and recovery. Goglia notes there are some basic inflammatory foods: “no yeast, no mold, no dairy, no gluten, no refined sugars.” He recommends replacing bread with single-ingredient carbohydrates such as rice and yams.

Form habits

Changing the foods we eat is hard. But Gaimon reminds us it takes 90 days to form or break a habit. It’s like training — stick to the plan and it will work. As an example, he drinks a recovery shake that consists of kale, almond butter, and beet and apple juice. “It’s like a big cup of green-red sludge, and I hated it and had to force it down,” says Gaimon. “Now with an hour to go on my ride I’m craving that stupid kale shake.”

Cheat a little

Gaimon will periodically splurge and get a pizza. We all need our cheat days. Just keep them spread out. According to Goglia, it takes 48 hours for your body to adjust. He recommends one day per week.

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Six ways to make your base training better

Earlier this week, we published an article from our ongoing series of case studies, “Diagnosis.” In it, we examined the case of a young rider who was trying to find the right amount of base training to do in the winter months. Readers requested more information on how they might be able to tailor their base miles, so here is an article from the August 2016 issue of VeloNews magazine that has some tricks to help you find time to fit in long rides and make them worthwhile.

One every seven to 10 days

Dr. John Hawley, head of the Exercise and Nutrition Research Group at Australian Catholic University, feels one long ride per week or even less is sufficient. Providing some evidence, a study out of Canada’s Waterloo University by Alan Green — one of the few to truly test the benefits of long rides — showed that the increase in MCT and plasma volume lasted six days.

Two hours is not enough

While the right length varies widely with experience level, it was clear from Green’s research that two hours produced few adaptations in even untrained subjects.

No more than six hours

A third study out of the University of Waterloo showed that three hours per day of low-level muscle stimulation was enough to produce near maximal MCT gains in rats. And MCT levels dropped slightly when muscles were chronically stimulated for more than six hours.

Keep the intensity low

These rides are not another opportunity for intensity. To train the right adaptations and isolate slow-twitch fibers, the rides should keep blood lactate levels below two millimoles. That roughly translates to 60-75 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Make them fatiguing for fast-twitch gains

If the rides are sufficiently fatiguing, you’ll see gains in fast-twitch fibers, according to Hawley. You’ll also deplete your glycogen and train your fibers to use fat for fuel. The ride should still be steady and avoid high-intensity work. Just ride close to 75 percent of your maximum.

Do them year round

Gains from high-intensity work can take as few as six sessions. But many of the gains from long rides can take years to accumulate, which is part of why they are hard to research. Bundle up, and make them a regular part of your routine throughout the year.

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VeloNews awards 2017: Froome is rider of the year

Editor’s note: To close out 2017, we named our 30th annual VeloNews awards in the November/December issue of VeloNews magazine. After some deliberation, we named Chris Froome our Rider of the Year, due to his dominating wins at both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, a feat no rider had achieved since 1978. Several weeks after our issue hit newsstands, Froome’s adverse analytical finding from an anti-doping test at the Vuelta came to light. Since then journalists, fans, and pundits have wrestled with how to properly view Froome’s historic 2017 campaign. Does the adverse analytical negate his achievement? Should the sport wait on the UCI’s decision before passing judgement? In lieu of any official ruling by the sport’s governing body, we decided to proceed with publishing our award. Time will tell whether the history books (and our Ride of the Year) will need to be rewritten. 

Rider of the year: Chris Froome

For many cycling fans, it’s hard to like Chris Froome. Any online cycling forum will showcase this anti-Froome vitriol. For whatever reason, the four-time Tour de France champion doesn’t engender the same fervent adulation as Alberto Contador and his crowd-pleasing attacks, or Bradley Wiggins and his old-world eccentricities.

Froome is a superstar without a following.

Many fans complain that the Team Sky captain’s dominance is boring, predictable, and even unfair. His gangly, spastic pedaling style is hard on the eyes in a sport where aesthetic and style are just as important as results. His programmatic racing style and schoolboy personality don’t evoke much sympathy. He’s no Badger or Pistolero. Discreet and efficient, Froome simply smothers the competition, and leaves it at that.

And during two grand tours this season, coming at the sharp end of Team Sky’s ruthlessly metronomic proficiency, he patiently nipped away at the competition. In 2017 Froome was at the peak of his powers, and he delivered cycling’s first back-to-back grand tour victory run since 1998. That’s why, despite the ambivalence among some cycling fans, we unequivocally named Froome our 2017 VeloNews rider of the year.

“Froome deserves a lot of credit for racing and winning the Vuelta after the Tour,” says Vuelta race director Javier Guillén. “How easy would it have been for him to stay home? For me, he is one of the great champions.”

Guillén’s ebullience is understandable. The Vuelta has been riding a wave of popularity, thanks in large part to the fact that Froome and many other top GC riders have put it firmly on their respective radars.

The relatively ambivalent, and even negative reaction, among some fans comes in sharp contrast to the opinion of riders within his team and many others in the peloton.

Rivals shake their head in admiration at his consistency and determination, while teammates laud his work ethic and drive to win. You never hear about Froome chewing out a teammate or taking Armstrong-like revenge on rivals. Froome is the politically correct, measured champion of the post-modern era.

“No one sees Froomey inside the team bus,” says Sky sport director Nicolas Portal. “He is always laughing and making the other guys feel relaxed. He is very thankful for their work. Chris is the ultimate professional.”

All that seems lost on Froome’s detractors. The respect he garners inside the bunch is often at odds with the sometimes-visceral reaction (or utter indifference) of fans to an athlete who is one of the most successful grand tour riders in cycling history.

And if Froome’s enigmatic personality isn’t enough, Team Sky’s assembly-line style of racing leaves many feeling empty. Where’s the panache? The raw emotion? Everything seems too planned and too robotic for a sport built on drama, emotion, and passion.

And, finally, some simply do not believe his performances. The idea that a clean rider could dominate the hardest and most important race of the year, then win another grand tour less than two months later, is as alien as, well, extraterrestrials landing on the Champs-Élysées.

While there is evidence that the peloton is more credible than ever, old habits die hard. Just this season, the 2008 Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez tested positive for human growth hormone, just one case among nearly a dozen doping positives and violations in 2017. The biological passport, enhanced controls, and cultural and generational shifts all seem to suggest cycling has turned the page. But there’s a lingering suspicion, coupled with whispers of the use of concealed motors, that still tarnish cycling, and have some people believing the sport still operates by the same old, dirty playbook.

Chris Froome
Chris Froome and Team Sky were flawless in Tour de France stage 18. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Unfortunately for Froome, his successes come at a time when professional cycling is struggling for credibility in the post-Armstrong era. Fans simply have a hard time believing what they’re watching on television. Team Sky’s own foibles, including the issue of Wiggins’ TUEs and the mysterious “Jiffy” bag, certainly haven’t helped. Many openly scoff at the idea of marginal gains. Though Froome remains untouched by the festering scandal, his accomplishments often get short shrift when seen through that suspicious lens.

Oddly, even Froome’s politeness and discretion seem to rub some fans the wrong way. It’s rare to see Froome ruffled, and he steers clear of polemics as if he’s avoiding a pothole in the road. With his private-school manners and Boy Scout work ethic, Froome gets the job done without much fanfare. And it seems to drive many fans crazy.

Everyone likes to cheer for the underdog, and after six years of Team Sky’s domination, just about everyone else in the peloton falls into that category.

It’s only when the bike race begins that Froome’s drive and ambition shine through. And it’s those qualities that let him win races.

“When Chris gets on the bike, he’s a real animal,” says Sky teammate Geraint Thomas. “I’ve never raced with anyone who wants to win more than Froomey. No one can suffer like he can.”

No moment better reveals his spirit than the closing stage of the 2017 Vuelta. Rather than sit up in the final sprint, he dashed to 11th place in Madrid. Why? A top-15 helped him secure a rare, once-in-a-lifetime points jersey. How did social media react? Most people on Twitter complained about how greedy he had been. Froome just can’t seem to win.

As a rider whose national affiliation is so convoluted — he was born in Kenya, schooled in South Africa, races with a British license, and lives in Monaco — Froome doesn’t have a national fan base from which to draw upon. While the Spanish will loyally defend Contador, and the Brits will always love Wiggins, Froome is a man without a base. Like a modern mercenary, his loyalties lie solely with his team.

Like him or not, Froome had an incredible 2017 racing season. On a Tour de France course that was designed to limit his advantages, he meticulously secured yet another yellow jersey, making it four wins in five years. What he did next — win the Vuelta a España after finishing second three times — pushed Froome into another league.

As always, the victorious Froome was modest, saying, “It’s not for me to say where my place is in history. Obviously, this victory and achieving the double is something overwhelming.”

A bronze medal in the world time trial championship in Bergen capped off his season.

With Contador’s retirement, Froome is now first among active riders, with five grand tour victories. He joins Italians Gino Bartali, Alfredo Binda, and Felice Gimondi, each who won five grand tours during their respective careers. He became only the 10th rider to win two grand tours in one season.

Froome deserves credit for his perseverance to chase, and ultimately secure, the double. His persistence in racing the Vuelta four out of five years after racing the Tour de France reveals more about his character than perhaps anything else.

Some fans think (or even hope) that Froome has peaked, and will soon be knocked off the top step of the podium. Could it be Nairo Quintana, Tom Dumoulin, or Mikel Landa next? No one knows. Some want to believe that next year’s rule change, which sees grand tour team sizes reduced by one rider, might make a difference. That’s unlikely. (Unless Team Sky were the only one to lose a rider.)

Froome turns 33 in May, and he still has a few good years left in his career. His top aim is to join the Tour’s “five-win” club, and perhaps take on the Giro d’Italia to complete the grand tour sweep. He said at the beginning of 2017 he plans to race at the top level for “another five years.”

If that’s the case, Froome could be around well into the next decade. Maybe it’s time to accept Froome for what he is: a damned good bike racer.

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VeloNews awards 2017: Off-road riders — Schurter, Cant, van Aert, van der Poel

Editor’s note: To close out 2017, we named our 30th annual VeloNews awards in the November/December issue of VeloNews magazine.

Mountain biker of the year: Nino Schurter

Runners-up: Aaron Gwin; Yana Belomoina

Over the 27-year history of World Cup mountain bike racing, no man has swept the XC series. Nino Schurter did it this year. He also won the world championship in Cairns, Australia. Rider of the year? Try rider of the decade, if not the best of all-time.

Among the downhillers, American Aaron Gwin might not be as devastatingly dominant as Schurter, but he won his fifth World Cup title this year and bronze at worlds.

Apart from a DNF at worlds, Yana Belomoina had a sterling 2017 season. The 24-year-old Ukraine champion won the two final World Cup rounds plus the overall title.

Versatility award: Mathieu van der Poel

It goes without saying that Mathieu van der Poel’s ‘cross season was exceptional. He won his third consecutive elite Dutch national title, the Superprestige overall title, and three World Cup rounds, among other accolades. (He missed the first month of the season due to knee surgery.) But it wasn’t until May 2017 that the diversity of his talents became glaringly obvious. In the span of four days, the 22-year-old beat newly crowned Tour of Flanders winner Philippe Gilbert in a sprint finish at the Tour of Belgium, then jetted to Germany to pressure the world’s best mountain biker, Nino Schurter, at the mountain bike World Cup stop in Albstadt. He finished second. And he stunned the cycling world.

Male cyclocrosser of the year: Wout van Aert

During the 2016-2017 men’s cyclocross season, there were two riders who repeatedly stood above all the rest: Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel. Last season, the pair finished one-two on 18 occasions. Van der Poel got the better of van Aert in 14 of those races. However, the record book tells a different story: van Aert’s overall victory in the World Cup series (in which he won four rounds and finished second three times) and his second consecutive world championship title elevate him above his rival. His was a complete season.

Female cyclocrosser of the year: Sanne Cant

Not long ago, Sanne Cant was the most talented racer never to win worlds. And then came the 2016-2017 season. Not only did she take her first world title, she dominated the season from start to finish. She took her eighth consecutive Belgian national title, as well as 17 other major race wins. She won her second consecutive Superprestige series title and the DVV Trophy title. She finished atop the UCI world ranking to become the indisputable queen of ’cross.

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VeloNews awards 2017: Best gear of the year

Editor’s note: To close out 2017, we named our 30th annual VeloNews awards in the November/December issue of VeloNews magazine.

Road bike of the year: Cervelo R5 Disc

Remember when racers worried about disc-brake-equipped bikes being too heavy? Those are quaint, faraway memories now. Cervelo’s R5 is one of the lightest disc-equipped bikes on the market today (831 grams for the disc-equipped frame; the rim-brake frame actually weighs more, at 850 grams). It’s a joy in the mountains and shockingly capable in just about every other situation, making it the VeloNews bike of the year for 2017.

Read the full review >>

Innovation of the year: Specialized Diverge

Specialized Diverge

Specialized obviously did its gravel homework when designing the new Diverge racer. Its new, totally redesigned carbon Diverge features a lightweight frame, massive tire clearance, geometry built for stability, and a Future Shock head tube suspension system.

It has all the compliance and comfort you’d want for long races like Dirty Kanza. The frame is also light and responsive. It has a smart component spec and includes a dropper for added capability.


Accessory of the year: Oakley Aro 5 helmet

Oakley Aro helmet
The Aro 5 has massive vents up front, but the rest of the helmet is enclosed and aerodynamic. Even the vents are an aero tool, sucking in air through the front and venting it through the back. Photo: Dan Cavallari |

Oakley hopes to bring its performance reputation into the helmet world with the release of its Aro helmet line. The first three offerings, the Aro 3, Aro 5, and Aro 7, address the three most significant road riding markets as Oakley sees it. All three feature a gossamer Boa retention system. The Aro 5 in particular impressed us.


Runner-up for accessory of the year: Bontrager Velocis helmet

Photo: Dan Cavallari |

One of the first companies to embrace Boa dials on helmets, Bontrager redesigned its Velocis helmet from the ground up and came away with a fast, secure, and attractive helmet. It comes in second to the Aro helmets only because its possible that the helmet retention system will interfere with the arms of your sunglasses.

Read the full review >>

Thoughtful update award: Mavic neutral support dropper posts

Mavic representatives couldn’t confirm what material the loop is made of, but it looks and feels similar to a Boa shoe cable, though slightly thicker. Photo: Dan Cavallari |

The indelible image of Chris Froome running up Mont Ventoux at the 2016 Tour de France has inspired changes for the 2017 race. Mavic’s fleet of neutral support bikes featured specially designed KS dropper posts. This enables riders to adjust saddle height when riding the unmistakable yellow Canyon Ultimate CF SL bikes. That’s the biggest change, but not the only one.


Lab coat award: CeramicSpeed UFO Drip chain lube

Part of the benefit of UFO Drip’s low-friction formula is its ability to reduce drivetrain wear over time. Photo: Dan Cavallari |

CeramicSpeed’s goal was to create the fastest chain lube a customer could use at home without having to send a chain in for treatment. So while UFO Drip isn’t quite as fast as a UFO-factory-treated chain from CeramicSpeed, the process of applying UFO Drip is also significantly simpler. It can be done at home, with few specific tools and knowledge beyond a good chain cleaner and some patience. But it isn’t cheap.


Debate of the year: Beauty is only skin(suit) deep

Geraint Thomas
Geraint Thomas stormed through the German rain to win Tour de France stage 1. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Who would have thought that the first controversy of the 2017 Tour de France would be a wardrobe flap?

Team Sky’s duds during the Stage 1 time trial caused an outcry. Detractors claim that dimples on the arms and shoulders of the skinsuits worn by Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas (who eventually won the stage), Michael Landa, and Vasil Kiryienka flout Article 1.3.033 of the UCI rules which states, “it is forbidden to wear non-essential items of clothing or items designed to influence the performances of a rider such as reducing air resistance or modifying the body of the rider.”


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VeloNews awards 2017: Van Avermaet is classics rider of the year

Editor’s note: To close out 2017, we named our 30th annual VeloNews awards in the November/December issue of VeloNews magazine.

Classics rider of the year: Greg Van Avermaet

On February 1, Greg Van Avermaet began his 2017 season at the humble Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. His BMC Racing team won the team time trial that day, setting the tone for the rest of Van Avermaet’s spring.

Three months later, the Belgian concluded one of the most dominant classics performances in recent memory. His four wins included his first monument, Paris-Roubaix, as well as Gent-Wevelgem, E3 Harelbeke, and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. He added two second-place finishes at the Tour of Flanders and Strade Bianche.

“It was an amazing spring. Hard to beat, really, in the coming years,” Van Avermaet says. “Everything went perfect — and I had the right luck, which you also need in these kinds of races. Hopefully next year I can just add Flanders to the palmarès.”

He didn’t stop after the cobbled classics, either. He took his stellar form into the climber-friendly Ardennes, where he finished a respectable 12th at Amstel Gold Race and 11th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The results speak volumes about Van Avermaet’s versatility and his combination of power, endurance, and knack for getting over punchy climbs.

Van Avermaet’s first monument victory was only slightly overshadowed by the circumstances of this year’s Paris-Roubaix: nostalgic cycling fans, especially Belgians, hoped to see Tom Boonen end his career on an extremely high note. It didn’t happen, and Van Avermaet, who outsprinted Boonen’s teammate Zdenek Stybar and Cannondale-Drapac’s Sebastian Langeveld on the Roubaix velodrome, put a punctuation mark on an emphatic spring campaign — the new king of the cobbles.

“It’s nice to be on the list of Paris-Roubaix, for sure,” Van Avermaet says.

“I have been chasing after a monument for a while now. It finally came; almost everything came in one spring. It’s something to remember, even after 50 years when I look back and see my name on the list of Roubaix winners.”

Not to be forgotten, Philippe Gilbert also had an incredible spring. (Many would say that was a given, considering he was in need of a new contract.)

This year, Gilbert diversified his palmarès, stepping outside his traditional Ardennes wheelhouse to snag the cobbled Tour of Flanders. He grabbed his fourth Amstel Gold Race, as well as the overall victory at the Driedaagse De Panne.

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VeloNews awards 2017: Van der Breggen is female cyclist of the year

Editor’s note: To close out 2017, we named our 30th annual VeloNews awards in the November/December issue of VeloNews magazine.

Female cyclist of the year: Anna van der Breggen

The Olympic gold medal brings massive amounts of pressure to the man or woman who wears it; across all sports, athletes often fall into a slump after an Olympic victory.

Not Anna van der Breggen.

After winning the Olympic road race in 2016, van der Breggen enjoyed the most successful season of her young career, dominating the women’s WorldTour from the spring through the late summer, winning six races and the series title. At the end of her fruitful year, she then helped her Dutch teammate Chantal Blaak win the UCI world championships. And she accomplished this in her first year with the Boels-Dolmans team.

“For me, it’s a bit more of a year of ‘experiencing’ things with the new team,” van der Breggen said in an interview in May. “Get to know them and find my way in the team.”

Van der Breggen found her way early. She swept the first ever Ardennes Week for women, winning La Flèche Wallonne Féminine (her third-straight win), the Amstel Gold Race, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes within a span of eight days.

In May she won the four-stage Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Women’s Race in California in a brutal duel with Team UnitedHealthcare; van der Breggen defeated UHC rider Katie Hall by just one second.

Van der Breggen then won women’s cycling’s biggest stage race, the Giro Rosa. She took the pink leader’s jersey on the second stage and defended it for eight days.

At the world championships in Bergen, Norway, van der Breggen finished second to Annemiek van Vleuten in the time trial. To complement that silver, she also brought home silver in the team time trial.

Not a bad haul for someone whose season peaked six months earlier in a Belgian springtime.

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VeloNews awards 2017: Rivera’s dramatic Tour of Flanders win

Editor’s note: To close out 2017, we named our 30th annual VeloNews awards in the November/December issue of VeloNews magazine.

Female performance of the year: Coryn Rivera wins Tour of Flanders

You may have heard of Coryn Rivera‘s 70-something national championship titles, across road, track, and cyclocross, from her time as a junior, under-23, and elite racer. It’s a staggering figure.

In April 2017, one result immediately eclipsed all of her previous victories. The pint-sized American sprinter beat Orica-Scott’s Gracie Elvin and Boels-Dolmans’ Chantal Blaak to become the first American, man or woman, to win the Tour of Flanders.

“There are really good performances that are unexpected and those that are very expected,” Rivera says.

“What makes my win at Flanders so special is that I don’t think anyone expected me to do what I did. No one had any idea I had a chance to win that day — even myself.”

Aggressive racing saw Rivera and her Sunweb teammates on the back foot late in the race. She and teammate Ellen van Dijk, within a group of 15, chased relentlessly on the run into the finish, catching the leaders with one kilometer to go.

The diminutive sprinter jumped out of the saddle with 250 meters to go, snagging the win at the line.

“Flanders is definitely one of my greatest achievements. The fight and willpower to keep going made the difference,” she says. “And to hear the national anthem playing on such a big stage for cycling was pretty special.”

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VeloNews awards 2017: Giro stage 16 is race of the year

Editor’s note: To close out 2017, we named our 30th annual VeloNews awards in the November/December issue of VeloNews magazine.

Race of the year: Giro d’Italia, stage 16

There was no shortage of great bike races in 2017. Yet one day of racing stands above all others for its combination of intrigue, high stakes, difficulty, beauty, and one man’s poise under fire.

Tom Dumoulin nearly lost — but ultimately saved his chance to win — the Giro d’Italia during the epic, three-climb, 222-kilometer stage 16 over the Mortirolo, Passo dello Stelvio, and Umbrailpass, which was punctuated by his very public and inopportune call of nature. In the middle of the most important stage of his life, the Dutchman succumbed to a mildly embarrassing and potentially disastrous case of the … well, he “needed to take a dump,” as he said after the stage.

By stage 16, Dumoulin had already won two stages and boasted a firm grip on pink, leading by 2:41 over Nairo Quintana (Movistar). To have any chance of winning, the Colombian needed a repeat of the surprise attack he sprung on Chris Froome in the 2016 Vuelta a España stage to Formigal.

As many had predicted and as race organizers had hoped, the infamous Stelvio would produce the Giro’s decisive mountain battle.

We spoke with the lead protagonists for a deeper understanding of how the most exciting stage of the 2017 season unfolded.

Sunweb sport director Aike Visbeek had no doubt what was on the line that morning in Rovetta, where stage 16 began: “We were a bit nervous about the stage. We were afraid that Tom would be attacked on the first climb up the Stelvio, so we had Laurens [Ten Dam] up the road. He really made the race for us that day.”

‘The situation was looking perfect for us’

Sunweb slotted road captain Ten Dam into the day’s breakaway; he would provide key help later in the stage. American Chad Haga paced Dumoulin up the Mortirolo, and everything seemed to be going to plan.

Haga: “There was no hint that Tom was in trouble, and he was super strong up the Mortirolo. I was leading the peloton over the top, and there was a kicker there, and I popped a little wheelie, ‘Wheeee!’ I finished the stage, and I had already cleaned up, showered, and was ready to have my massage before I even found out what had happened.”

Dumoulin safely negotiated the climb up the fearsome Stelvio from Bormio. There were a few dangerous riders up the road, but he was marking the aggression from his direct GC rivals. And then he felt an unexpected and unwelcome tinge in his stomach.

Dumoulin: “The legs were great, but I started to feel bad in the stomach on the descent off the Stelvio. It was a nervous moment.”

Visbeek: “The situation was looking perfect for us. As we came down the Stelvio, he came right up to the car and said to us, ‘I have a problem.’ I looked at him and he did not look well. ‘I have to make a nature call.’ I asked if he could get over the final climb [of the Umbrailpass]. He said that was not possible.”

Visbeek immediately realized the Giro could be lost. Movistar and Bahrain-Merida were pressing the action as the peloton approached the start of the final 13-kilometer climb. The situation was precarious.

Ten Dam: “I didn’t see him the whole stage, because I went away on the Mortirolo. And when I came back to him after the first Stelvio, he wasn’t the same Tom. I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ He said, ‘I need to shit.’ And I said, ‘Oh, shit!’ First, we tried to stop it, and then we had to get rid of it. It came on at a bad moment.”

Dumoulin: “It could have been a combination of the altitude, and eating more gels than normal. You cannot eat bars on climbs like that. It was a big fight with myself, to try to manage everything.”

‘Shit happens. What can you do?’

With about 32km to go, still several kilometers short of the start of the hardest part of the Umbrailpass, Dumoulin swerved violently off the right side of the road. It quickly became clear that he had a serious problem.

BMC Racing sport director Max Sciandri, driving in the first team car to support Tejay van Garderen, witnessed the entire thing: “I wouldn’t have stopped there. I would have stopped further up on the climb. The group always accelerates to hit the base of a climb, so in that valley the race was full-on. He probably lost a bit more time by stopping where he did.”

Visbeek: “The same thing had happened to Caleb Ewan a few days earlier, so when the Orica-Scott car drove by, they gave us some extra rolls of toilet paper.”

Dumoulin did the best he could under the circumstances. He returned to his bike as quickly as possible, and was soon chasing through the team cars with Ten Dam leading the way.

Sciandri: “Every team packs toilet paper, wipes, and some spare clothes. They handled it in their own way. I saw him coming through the team cars. He wasn’t panicking. Shit happens, what can you do?”

Nairo Quintana: “I didn’t attack Dumoulin when he was in difficulty. I was respectful of the maglia rosa, but the other teams wanted to make their own race. They were not trying to profit from his misfortune, but simply looking to take advantage of the opportunity of the stage.”

‘The race was on’

There was confusion in the bunch. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) attacked and Movistar slowed a bit, but the race was on as the small GC group hit the Umbrailpass. LottoNL-Jumbo’s Steven Kruijswijk, still an outside GC threat, was up the road as part of the day’s main breakaway, along with Sky’s Mikel Landa and Movistar’s Andrey Amador. Vincenzo Nibali, who had circled this date on his calendar, wasn’t going to miss his chance. While online pundits immediately opened the debate of whether they should wait or race, there was no such hesitation within the peloton.

Nibali: “It was a confusing situation. The race was unfolding. The other teams were pushing the pace. There were attackers up the road. When I crash or I puncture, I just get back on the bike again, and keep racing. I never expect anyone to stop for me.”

Dumoulin: “The race was on. Kruijswijk was attacking, so I cannot expect them to wait, and give him three minutes. I don’t know what happened in the front. I was trying to get moving again as fast as possible.”

Ten Dam: “Once he got rid of ‘it,’ he really had good legs. He was yelling, ‘Go faster! Faster!’ I was tired from jumping on the Mortirolo and over the first pass of the Stelvio so I could not help him as much as I wanted to.”

Visbeek: “For a few moments you think you’re in a very bad movie. Tom could have lost everything right there. We said to him, ‘You still have the time advantage. Just ride your race.’ It turned into a time trial for him.”

‘He kept his cool’

Tom Dumoulin
Tom Dumoulin rode alone on stage 16, fighting to save his Giro d’Italia lead after an untimely bathroom break. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Now alone, Dumoulin raced to limit his losses as his GC rivals pressed the pace. With Landa distancing the other early attackers, Nibali attacked and brought Quintana with him. Dumoulin’s pink jersey hopes were quickly unraveling.

Dumoulin: “I just had to fight, fight, fight all the way to the line, and then take the conclusions there. I was very disappointed. I was thinking, ‘Now I will lose the Giro for taking a dump!’”

Visbeek: “Everyone thinks Tom could have lost the Giro there, but this is where Tom won the Giro. It was a moment when he could have panicked or when he mentally breaks. Tom never did that. He kept his cool in a very complicated situation. He stayed focused. The only time he lost was when he stopped. He was just as strong as those guys up the [Umbrailpass].”

Nibali outsprinted Landa for the stage win and Quintana crossed the line 13 seconds back. Dumoulin finished 2:18 back. His lead to Quintana was trimmed to 31 seconds — but he still had the pink jersey.

Dumoulin: “I knew I could have stayed with Nibali and Quintana on the final climb. I still had the final time trial, but instead of nearly three minutes’ lead, I only had 31 seconds. That day made the rest of the Giro a very different race.”

‘He was still the best guy in the race’

At the finish line, an angry and disappointed (and soiled) Dumoulin didn’t want to talk to the press. Veteran Sunweb press officer Bennie Ceulen convinced him to clean up and answer a few questions. Dumoulin couldn’t hold back his disappointment.

Visbeek: “To be honest, we didn’t talk too much about the incident. We focused on making sure Tom was feeling okay. The guys were disappointed, but we talked to the veterans on the team — Ten Dam and Simon Geschke — and said to them, ‘Tom rode up the climb as fast as Nibali and Quintana.’ It might have been a silly way to lose time, but he’s strong enough to win the Giro.”

Haga: “Tom was pretty dejected after his GC lead took a huge blow, but that’s when Laurens really stepped up as team captain and said, ‘Hey man, you stopped, you did your business, and you still kept the leader’s jersey.’ He put it back in Tom’s head that he was still the best guy in the race.”

For Dumoulin, the character he showed on the Stelvio carried him through the final week. Seven days later in Milano, he secured the pink jersey in the final-stage time trial. Dumoulin became the first Dutchman to win a grand tour since 1980, and the first to win the Giro. A happy and relieved Dumoulin could even make light of the unplanned rest stop.

Dumoulin: “I will go down in the history books for winning the Giro after shitting in the woods. It’s quite amazing.”

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VeloNews awards 2017: Double national champ Amber Neben

Editor’s note: To close out 2017, we named our 30th annual VeloNews awards in the November/December issue of VeloNews magazine.

Domestic female rider of the year: Amber Neben

When she turned 40, Amber Neben decided to simplify her life. Rather than crisscross the globe chasing UCI points every weekend, Neben streamlined her racing schedule to focus on just two races: the world and national championships.

“I wanted to be minimalist with my schedule,” says Neben, now 42. “With my age and physiology, there is only so much intensity I can do.” Neben says her new approach was also an outgrowth of a series of debilitating crashes, the most recent of which occurred in 2013. After spending two years in recovery, Neben says she was wary of racing too much, fearing another crash could end her career for good.

Neben’s pared-down strategy bore her a world title in the individual time trial in 2016, so for 2017, she embarked on a similar schedule. She participated in a handful of stage races and one-day events in the spring, all in preparation for the U.S. national championships in Knoxville, Tennessee. She arrived at the two-day race knowing that her form was nearing its zenith.

Neben expected to dominate the individual time trial, which she did, beating Lauren Stephens by 32 seconds. With no teammates, Neben had few expectations for the following day’s road race. So when the lead group slowed with 35 kilometers remaining in the 101-kilometer race, Neben decided to make a daring solo move.

“I had nothing to lose — I wasn’t afraid to lose,” Neben says. “And I knew I had really good legs.”

Neben’s gap ballooned to more than 30 seconds as the women’s peloton struggled to organize itself. None of the teams wanted to tow sprinter Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) to the line, and without a teammate of her own, Rivera was in no position to chase. When the pack finally did give chase, it was too late, and Neben powered across the line with an 11-second buffer.

“It was a really special weekend,” Neben says. “It’s one of the biggest accomplishments of my career.”

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