‘Tis a long aul’ winter.

In 1998 Pantani won both the Giro and the Tour, the last time that feat was achieved.

The cycling season is coming to a close now, there are only two major races left to be decided. Namely, Paris-Tours on October 11th and one of the five monument classic races, the Tour of Lombardy taking place the following weekend. For the cycling addict out there, there’s not much else between now and the dawn of Team Sky and The Shack at the Tour Down Under next January. Although, the ‘off-season’ has gotten steadily shorter over the last few years. There was a time when the first major race of the season was Het Volk, now known as Het Nieuwsblad at the end of February. Now, races in January and February like the Tour Down Under, Tour of Qatar and the Tour of California are all televised and provide cycling fans with some very early tasters (although the California stage race has since been moved).

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Rainbow Jersey: Blessing or a curse?

Cadel Evans on the top step of the podium with Australia's first ever gold medal in the World Championship Road Race

Congratulations must go out to Cadel Evans for winning the World Road Race Championship with an uncharacteristically aggressive attack on the final lap in Mendrisio last Sunday. He crossed the finish line solo and claimed the gold medal for Australia. The importance of having a strong team was evident with the Australians. They placed Michael Rogers in the major break of the day who sat on and didn’t contribute, then eventually it was the Aussies themselves who pulled back the dangerous 29-rider break of the day with Stuart O’ Grady, Adam Hansen and Matthew Hayman all doing their fair share of work at the front of the chasing pack. This set up Evans to make his move towards the end of the race. The smaller nations (including Ireland) just wouldn’t have been able to exercise such control over a race like this. It wasn’t to be for the Irish riders who all fell by the wayside before the final selection was made. Roche, who it seems had perhaps over-trained in the run up to the race, was dropped after only 100 kilometres or so and abandoned not long after. Martin managed to stay with the main favourites until about 2 laps to go, and Deignan fared slightly better only getting dropped when Cancellara decided enough was enough and put the hammer down on the final lap.

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Ireland at the World Championships

Philip Deignan and Nicolas Roche will be two thirds of Ireland's team for the World Road Race Championship this sunday.

The World Road Race Championships takes place this Sunday in Mendrisio, Switzerland. As Stephen Roche said in a recent interview, this is the first time in a long long time that Ireland will have a good team with strength and depth. That there is strength within the Irish team, I don’t think there’s any doubt. But depth? I’m not so sure. Ireland will have 3 riders take to the start line at 9:30 Irish time on Sunday, Nicolas Roche, Philip Deignan and Daniel Martin. Having only three riders will be a major handicap when compared to the big cycling nations like Italy, Spain and Belgium who will all have 9 riders per team.

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Are sponsors singing in the rain?

Francisco Mancebo winning Stage 1 of the Tour of California. But what team does he ride for?

Cycling is a strange sport in that there are no entrance fees to view the professionals do battle. Spectators need not part with their money to view the mountain goats soaring through the Alps and need not reach for their wallets to see the fast men battling it out in a mad dash for the finish line. There are no season ticket sales, corporate suites or director’s box and there are certainly no prawn sandwiches.

No, cycling teams are funded by commercial companies willing to fork out the money required to run a professional outfit. In return, these companies get the privilege of having their corporate logos branded on every one of the riders’ team kit. The idea being that revenue will be generated from the advertising that this provides for the company. Sponsors want exposure, and they want success, because ultimately success leads to more exposure.

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A New Irish Trio

Philip Deignan celebrating the biggest victory of his career to date and Ireland's first Grand Tour stage win for 17 years.

The Vuelta a España will be coming to a close in Madrid this Sunday. All going well, there will be two Irish riders completing the race with Dan Martin  finishing his first ever Grand Tour. There is also Philip Deignan, who fantastically for him, and for Ireland, won today’s 18th stage of the Vuelta.

That’s the first Grand Tour stage win by an Irishman since 1992 when Stephen Roche won a stage in the Tour de France, and the first stage win in the Vuelta since 1988 when Seán Kelly took two stage victories. Deignan will now be completing his fourth Grand Tour having previously ridden two editions of the Giro d’Italia and one other edition of the Vuelta. Deignan, after today’s brilliant ride, currently lies in an excellent 9th place.

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To abandon or not to abandon?

Alessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego (along with Matti Breschel) on the podium of last year's World Championship road race in Varese.

The main contenders for the World Championships are all starting to call it a day in the Vuelta a España. This morning before Stage 17, the notable absentees from the start line included double stage winner Damiano Cunego and current World Champion Alessandro Ballan, the latter having now ridden his last race in the rainbow jersey, unless of course, he wins it again. The two Italians add their names to a long list of riders who’ve abandoned the Vuelta so far.

Alessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego (along with Matti Breschel) on the podium of last year’s World Championship road race in Varese.

Riders expected to do well in the World Championships that are on that list include Fabien Cancellara, Oscar Freire, Tom Boonen, Sylvain Chavanel, Simon Gerrans and Pierrick Fédrigo. But the question I’ve been asking myself this morning is, does it actually benefit the rider to abandon with 5 or 6 stages left to ride. Perhaps, the rider would be better served finishing out the Spanish Grand Tour, keeping the body and the form ticking over? Ignoring the possibility of crashing and picking up an injury at top level racing, is it more beneficial for riders to complete the 21 stages of  the Vuelta or to prepare alone over the final few days before the Worlds?  Or perhaps avoiding the Vuelta altogether is a better option?

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