Monthly Archives: April 2019

Paris-Roubaix, a cobbled classic like no other 

Former French pro Christophe Mengin once said you need six months to get ready for it, and six months to get over it.


Following the FDJ team as it scouts the “secteurs paves” of Sunday’s race — also known as the ‘Hell of the North’ – there is little doubt Mengin was right.

“In this race, you’re at war with yourself,” sports director Martial Gayant, fourth in the 1990 Paris-Roubaix, tells Reuters as he leads his riders on one of the 27 cobbled sectors on Thursday.

“Because of the vibrations you get blisters on your hands, stiffness in your back, your shoulders. It also hurts your buttocks.”

Even if the cobbled sectors in the 253.5-km race are more or less the same every year, it is important to check them every season.

“It is important to start get your body used to the pain,” says Gayant, who knows every twist and turn of the course.

“It is also important to check out the cobbles every year because it’s when you can test equipment that is only used on this race. The tyres, the bike. It’s like a pilgrimage.”

Frenchman Yoann Offredo says the race can take everything away from you in an instant.

“It is one of the hardest races in the world,” he says, as he has his bike checked by one of the three mechanics deployed on the “reconnaissance” day.

“You can spend six months getting ready for it and still lose everything in the blink of an eye. Then it leaves mental scars.”


In one of the team cars is Felix Schaefermeier, product manager at Schwalbe, who supply FDJ with tyres.

“As the years go by, the tyres are getting wider. In recent years we have gone from a 26mm to 28 and now 30mm tyre width,” says Schaefermeier.

Sebastien Joly, one of the FDJ coaches, explains that the bikes have also got longer and heavier, and the frame is modified to better absorb vibrations.

Bradley Wiggins’s Team Sky even have a bike equipped with a rear suspension, though FDJ sports director Frederic Guesdon, the last Frenchman to win the race back in 1997, believes it would be better on the front.

It was just one of the countless technical discussions in the week leading up to the race, and mechanics know they will not get much sleep the night before as riders may require last-minute changes to the bike or tyre pressure.

Even the sports directors driving in cars during the race struggle with the terrain.

“Driving on the cobbles is almost as hard as riding your bike on the cobbles,” says Guesdon.

“Oh Fred, you’ve got a short memory!,” chides Offredo with a smile.

Even though he is a one-day classics specialist, Offredo, who weighs 66 kilos, will ride in support of French champion Arnaud Demare, the team’s thoroughbred who has an outside chance of raising his arms on the Roubaix velodrome on Sunday.

“A rider who weighs 60 kilos has nothing to do on Paris-Roubaix. If you want a shot at victory you must be between 70 and 80 kilos,” says Gayant.

“What will make the difference is the desire to win,” says team manager Marc Madiot, a double winner of the race in 1985 and 1991. “There are races you can win without really wanting it.

“Not this one,” he adds.

‘Roubaix’ takes on extra significance at FDJ because of Madiot’s love for the race.

In Beuvry-La-Foret he has a cobbled sector named after him, and his team are one of those who use one-day assistants on the cobbled sectors.

They can be family members, members of the fan club, office assistants positioned along the road with bottles and spare wheels should the team cars be too far down the field on the narrow cobbled roads.

“We cover about 90 percent of the cobbled sectors. It’s part of the folklore of Paris-Roubaix. There is a huge investment at every level of the team,” says Madiot.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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Time to renew the political thinking on renewable energy 

The week after Easter is rarely a big one for politics.


The four day week means many people will have taken time off, and with parliament not sitting and still over a month to go till the Budget, everything can get a bit slow. But despite this seeming lack of action there was a fair bit going on this week, and much of it related to energy.

On Wednesday, the government released its Energy White Paper. The crux of the paper was that the free-market will sort out all problems.

Except it is an odd sort of free-market. The paper makes a big deal about increased competition, but the reality is as Guardian Australia’s Matt Grudnoff points out, the history of energy policy (and certainly the current government’s position) is more about protecting current energy players, and merely privatising state owned assets rather than introducing more competitors into the market.

The paper also seems to be of the view that climate change is not an issue that has much to do with energy. The 74 page document made mention of “climate change” only once and that was to assure people that the government’s Direct Action plan “will contribute to meeting longer-term climate change emissions targets”.

This position fell very much into line with the government’s view of not introducing greater competition, because the main growth areas into the energy market would come from the renewable energy sector.

The White Paper’s lack of concern for climate change and competition also fit well with the current negotiations over the Renewable Energy Target.

The government is seeking to lower the current target of 41,000 GWh of renewable energy by 2020. It first wanted to lower it to 27,000GWh. This level was absurdly low and would have pretty much signalled the end of any new renewable energy investment.

It has since raised its proposed target to 32,000GWh.

The Clean Energy Council proposed a compromise of 33,500GWh. This level was supported by pretty much everyone – unions, the Business Council of Australia and even the Australian Aluminium Association.

The ALP had consistently said it supported a compromise in the “high 30,000GWh”, but this position was effectively rendered moot once the CEC announced its proposed target. And that this week the ALP also come out in support of that target, but would look to increase it if it were to win the next election.

The position is a pretty big cave-in given even at that level investment in the renewable energy industry is going to be greatly below what it would have been had the original target remained.

As Tristan Edis noted, the industry has the capacity to easily to meet such a target with projects that have already been approved.

But weak compromises are what every government wants to see an opposition party do. So surely the Abbott government was all set to crack the champagne and declare victory? After all it meant the government can get the RET cut from its existing rate. They don’t need to bugger about trying to get cross-benchers to support it, and, crucially, they have business on side.

Lots of wins there (except for maybe the renewable energy sector – but at least it would have some sort of firm target to work with).

But no.

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane told media the government was not prepared to shift above 32,000GWh. Both he and Tony Abbott suggested the proposed amount of 32,500GWH was just the ALP’s “first offer”, and that given the government had already compromised twice, it was up to the ALP to lower its proposal again.

Seriously, the children we have in government these days.

At some point I almost expect the Prime Minister to suggest of Bill Shorten, “I know you are, but what am I?”

Sometimes a government is so wrapped up in a partisan political mindset, it is too dumb to see a good thing when it is right in front of it. 

Greg Jericho is an economics and politics blogger and writes for The Guardian and The Drum.

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Indigenous chamber of commerce calls for end to welfare dependence 

An end to welfare dependence and the start of a new era of private enterprise in Indigenous communities – that was the message today at the launch of the First Australians Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a new peak national body to advocate on behalf of Indigenous businesses.


Deb Barwick, interim Chairwoman of the newly created body, said it is hoped the new body will open new pathways to employment and entrepreneurship for Indigenous Australians and an end to welfare dependency.

“Today marks a new page in our history as Indigenous Australians and power to achieve a bright, prosperous position within the Australian economy, and also in the global economy,” Ms Barwick told NITV News.

“What I do know is that the establishment of Indigenous businesses has a whole range of benefits; it creates role modelling, it creates jobs, more people within families are employed.

For the Federal  Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion it was a positive respite from the ongoing fallout from the Government’s decision to effectively shut down 150 remote communities and controversial changes and cuts to public funding for some indigenous groups.

“Without a doubt a strong and vibrant Indigenous business sector creates wealth, it creates independence and it creates opportunity and particularly it creates productivity for all of our nation,” said Mr Scullion.

“This isn’t about Indigenous businesses. Indigenous business is a sector of a larger Australian business and you can’t separate them necessarily.”

The Chamber will be supported by the existing state and territory based Indigenous chambers of commerce and also has strong backing from Indigenous business owners.

Wendy Yarnold from Real Futures told an audience at the launch that there was genuine excitement amongst Indigenous businesses around the new body.

“Harnessing the opportunity that on a national scale can give Aboriginal Australia the economic boost that millions of dollars of welfare and economic goodwill can never do.”

“The launch of a peak national body to facilitate the wind of change that captures a section of Australia,” she said.

“Harnessing the opportunity that on a national scale can give Aboriginal Australia the economic boost that millions of dollars of welfare and economic goodwill can never do.”

Businesswoman Jasmin Herro from Outback Global Australia echoed her sentiments and added that business was the way to end welfare dependency.

“For the first time in my life I believe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a vehicle with which to break the cycle of intergenerational dependence on government welfare.”

“For the first time in my life I believe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a vehicle with which to break the cycle of intergenerational dependence on government welfare.”

Mr Scullion said the new body was in line with the Government’s push away from welfare and towards private enterprise to drive Indigenous employment creation and opportunity.

“We know that Indigenous business will employ 100 times more Indigenous people than other businesses, it’s just a fact so that fact in itself, if we can encourage more Indigenous businesses to emerge and to support Indigenous businesses, we’re not having a  vicarious relationship – this is a direct outcome, this is a fact,” he told NITV news.

Mr Scullion also revealed that the government would be aiming to achieve three per cent of the pool of government contracts handed to the private sector out of an annual budget of $39 billion. With public servants evaluated on their success in overseeing the increase.

“Well for the first time this gets achieved in the same way any other business does. We’ve tied the KPIs to our CEOs to all our departments to that outcome. This is not an aspirational target – yes it’s a three year target but we also have interim targets and they have to meet them every year the interim targets we don’t want to wait three years to find out it’s gone off the rails”.

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Raikkonen gets a chance to show his pace 

Vettel, who joined the Formula One glamour team from Red Bull at the end of last year, has made an immediate impact after going toe-to-toe with dominant Mercedes in Melbourne and winning in Malaysia.


Raikkonen, who talked up the car in pre-season testing, meanwhile suffered bad luck in the first two races.

Botched pit stops ruined his race in Australia before the 2007 world champion battled to fourth place in Sepang after a compromised qualifying session and early puncture.

On Friday, he finally enjoyed a trouble-free run in practice for Sunday’s race and proved more than a match for everyone bar championship leader Lewis Hamilton as he chased the Briton’s Mercedes home in the afternoon session.

The Finn easily outpaced Vettel and showed again that Ferrari are a force to be reckoned with.

“Overall it has been a good day of work. In the afternoon, we had a problem with the brakes but the mechanics did a very good job and managed to fix it, then I was able to go back on track and go on with the programme,” Raikkonen told reporters.

The Finn clocked one minute, 37.622 seconds in the afternoon, around four-tenths slower than Hamilton, but held back on making a forecast for the race.

“It’s a bit early to make predictions, we still have things to improve,” he added.

“Tomorrow (Saturday) we have to make sure that everything works and have another good day without any issues or problems and then we’ll do our best for qualifying and the race.”

Vettel, who was third in the morning and fourth in the afternoon, said Mercedes still had the best overall package but was not too concerned about battle ahead.

“Generally I feel happy in the car but I think we can improve it for tomorrow, that is usually what Friday is for,” the German four-time world champion said.

“Fight for pole with Mercedes tomorrow? They were very strong today. For us the most important thing is to make a step forward, there are a few things that we can improve.”

(Writing by John O’Brien; Editing by Alan Baldwin)

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Bale absence, suspensions force Real reshuffle for Eibar game 

Ancelotti said he had not made a final decision on who would come into his starting lineup for the game at the Bernabeu, when second-placed Real will look to close the gap on leaders Barcelona, who play at Sevilla later on Saturday, to one point.


Asier Illarramendi and Isco will probably play alongside Luka Modric in midfield, with Jese joining Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema up front.

“All I can say is that Illarra and Jese have a very good chance of playing,” Ancelotti told a news conference.

Real at least have Ronaldo available after the Spanish soccer federation (RFEF) rescinded a yellow card the Portugal forward was shown in Wednesday’s 2-0 win at Rayo Vallecano which would have carried a one-match suspension.

Ronaldo is the La Liga’s top scorer this season with 37 goals, four ahead of Barcelona’s Argentina forward Lionel Messi.

Ancelotti said Ronaldo’s Portugal team mate Pepe, a centre back, would be available both for Saturday and Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final, first leg at Atletico Madrid after a short injury layoff.

Germany midfielder Sami Khedira and Portugal left back Fabio Coentrao have back and knee problems respectively and will not be in the squad for the Eibar game.

The modest Basque club are playing in Spain’s top flight for the first time this season but a recent poor run has left them in 14th with eight games left, in danger of dropping straight back down to the second division.

“Our thought is only to play a good match and compete, which is a word we use a lot in our dressing-room,” Eibar coach Gaizka Garitano told Marca sports daily in an interview published on Friday.

“We are not coming with any fear,” added the 39-year-old, who will be keen to avoid a repeat of the 9-1 thrashing Real dealt Granada at the Bernabeu last weekend.

“We defend well,” he said. “We have lost quite a few games recently but nobody has scored more than two goals against us in those defeats.”

(Writing by Iain Rogers, editing by Ed Osmond)

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