Descending in the Rain

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I just watched stage 6 of Tirreno-Adriatico and realized that this stage race might have just been decided by who could descend fast in the rain. I don’t think that Chris Froome was having a good day, but that might have just been his mindset after he got dropped big-time on a wet, twisty descent.

Vincenzo Nibali railed a descent less than 15 km from the finish and rode into the lead. Only to be caught by Peter Sagan, last years team mate and a better descender too. Chris Horner was with Nibali when they started down and I was mildly surprised to see Chris get dropped. That was a big 40 seconds that he lost just not being able to follow a wheel. He would be solidly in 2nd overall if he would have stayed in the front group, maybe close to the lead depending on how he would have finished in the time bonuses at the end.

I’m not sure why there is such a big ability level on descending in Europe. I know the descends are tighter and trickier than here in the US. But, yesteryear, I never remember that the difference on final GC of big races such as this being decided by a few minutes of descending. It seems that many of the GC contenders don’t have it in their repertoire to be able to handle their bikes well enough. Especially in the wet.

Chris Horner, from my experience riding with him, is generally a pretty good bike handler. That is why I was surprised he got dropped from Nibali on such a short descent. But, Chris has had some serious injuries the past couple years and I’m sure that plays a part of the risks he’s willing to take in a race such as this.

I wrote a post a couple years ago about how I thought that descending has been affected dramatically by the use of carbon rims in the peloton. Carbon rims do not generally provide very predictable braking power. Add water to the mix and they pretty much just down right suck. But, all these guys are riding carbon rims, so they all are at the same disadvantage. I do think that that many of these top GC guys need to go out and train on their race wheels, at speed, maybe in the wet, and learn how to limit their losses or better yet, improve their skills.

It’s not like these guys are racing criteriums in the rain here in the US. Maybe all these guys are getting paid too much money and aren’t willing to take risks to win. That would be a real shame. If you start thinking of what you are risking while racing, then you are past the point of riding fearlessly. And that is the only way to truly descend fast. I do know that too many big races are being won or lost on bike handling skills.

This video shows how much faster Vincenzo Nibali can descend than other climbers in the peloton. He makes them look like they are just touring.

8 thoughts on “Descending in the Rain

  1. velocodger

    Thanks for saying it- because I’ve been thinking it-that the carbon rim thing has led to bad braking and bad bike handling. Imagine if your wheel got changed. The whizbang brake pads designed for your carbon rim now have a brand X (neutral service) wheel and ?? Racers are good at adapting to whatever equipment they are asked to ride. But even their ability to overcome bad equipment has its limits. Maybe someday road bikes will have disc brakes. But in the short term, I see nothing but problems with the carbon rim fad.

  2. Benotti69

    Was it Sean Kelly who was clocked while descending from Col de Joux Plane at 124km/h. Not bad on a bike.

    Kelly was fearless rider and a great bike handler.

  3. Anton

    I don’t see the point in blowing your whole season by taking risks in March. Wait until the Tour of Lombardia, it’s usually raining and there’s plenty of time to cover from a broken collarbone.

  4. Gummee!

    I remember a day back when I was in college… Betsy King visited Va Tech and wanted to go for a ride. It was kind of nasty out: mid-40s to 50s and drizzly that day and only a few of us showed up to ride with her.

    Going down one of the roads we usually ride down, she’s gone within the first few corners. …on a road she’s never seen before!

    Impressive stuff. She was nice enough to wait for us at the bottom.

  5. Thomas

    This video is stage 15 of the 2011 Giro. Nibali has missed the brake that Contador was in and forced to bomb down the Passo Giau. He foolishly rode with out fear. and had a angel on his shoulder A crash would have probably killed him and as it turned out he lost 1:30 to Contador on the day anyway. He passed guys because he was hammering and they were not.

    The corners with the motorcycles though took some skill

    Fun to see that video

  6. skippy

    Nibali is a HUGE Talent at descending , recall seeing him sprint away on a descent with the win in a Grand Tour Etappe , in the last years .
    Annoyed to see Taylor ruled out of the ITT by that assinine rule , on a day when others could not be bothered to complete zhe etappe !

    My email/comment to the organisers will be ignored because , we the public DO NOT COUNT !

  7. charlie

    I hate to admit it but…I have always been a woos when it comes to fast descents (don’t know how you guys do it). If I had been flying down that hill with them, I would have just been glad it was raining as no one would then noticed when I peed my pants.
    Charlie G

  8. The Cyclist

    This could actually be a pretty good solution to the PED probs in cycling. Skip all climbing. Skip TT. The fastest descender wins. Bye bye oxygene vector…


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