Monthly Archives: June 2013

2013 Tour de France Preview (From a Guy That Can’t Ride a Bike)

By Daniel Cousens ( @DanCuzns )
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Chris Froome at the Vuelta a Espana

If you know me well you know how much I love the Tour de France. Well this year’s edition, which begins on Saturday, is the 100th edition of le Tour and they have gone all out to make it a cracker.

For the first time in a decade le Tour doesn’t leave French soil, with the first three stages being held on the island of Corsica for the first time. We also will see two individual time trials and a team time trial as well as a stretch through the Alps described (at least on Wikipedia) as brutal, including a double climb of the famed Alpe d’Huez, which happens to be my favourite mountain the Tour regularly climbs.

One thing they are doing without this year is the Prologue time trial stage at the beginning of the race, so instead of seeing Fabian Cancellara (who isn’t even racing) in Yellow for a few days, we will likely see one of the top sprinters like Mark Cavendish in yellow come stage 2. However with it going straight into the mountains the next day, that won’t last long.

If you happen to be one of those fans who for some reason prefers the sprinters fighting it out for the Green Jersey then this probably isn’t the year for you. There are only seven flat stages and they are spread out over the three weeks, plus I think quite a lot of the sprinters will struggle to make the time limit to finish the stage in that last week through the Alps, especially on Stage 18.

So that’s a bit about the structure of this year’s Tour, but what can we expect during the race itself?

Well first and foremost you can expect Chris Froome to win. Froome, if you don’t know, finished second last year to his teammate Bradley Wiggins, but many thought he was the strongest rider last year and if the team had let him he very possible could have won the race for himself. This year Wiggins has pulled out of the race and appears to never be returning, so Froome, who has been in even better form this year, is the unbackable favourite to wear the Maillot Jaune on the steps in Paris.

That said, anything can happen during the three weeks and crashes or illness or injury can change everything. So if things go awry for Chris Froome, who else is in with a shot?

Well this year Aussie Richie Porte will be doing the role for Froome that Froome himself did for Wiggins last year. Porte is in great form himself and the main thing stopping him contending is the fact that his job is to help Froome win as opposed to himself. But if Froome struggles, Porte will be given the green light to try to win it for himself and he is a very big chance to do so if given the chance.

Old favourites and former champions Alberto Contador and our own Cadel Evans are still there and always in with a shot, but I have a feeling neither will be able to quite keep up and we will see the next generation of riders surpass them once and for all. Contador certainly has the ability, but he has never been the same since he got off the juice. But that kind of goes without saying now doesn’t it.

That dastardly Andy Schleck will be competing without big brother Frank this year and is being counted out. I agree with counting him out as he hasn’t quite been up to it lately and two time trials will ruin his chance. The time trials will likely also ruin the chances of some of the great climbers, such as Pierre Rolland and some of the Spanish climbing specialists.

I think we will see great performances from young guns like American Tejay van Garderen, who last year was supposed to help Cadel Evans, but when Cadel couldn’t keep up, Tejay went out and finished fifth overall himself. Similarly Evan’s former teammate Jurgen Van Den Broeck finished fourth last year and continues to improve. I expect to see the Belgian on the podium in Paris with Wiggins and 2012 third place getter Vicenzo Nibali not in the field.

I also think we might finally see Canadian Ryder Hesjedal live up to a lot of the hype he had going into le Tour last year. I don’t think he will podium, but he is a chance to do so and there will probably be at least one stage where he looks like a real threat.

In terms of the Green Jersey, the obvious duo of Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish are the only two considered a chance to take it out. Sagan is favourite as he is much more adept than Cav at getting through mountain stages, as well as joining breakaways to pick up extra points along the way. I also worry about Cavendish finishing the race at all, a concern I don’t have for Sagan.

In terms of value betting, Cavendish’s former teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen is paying huge odds to win the Green Jersey and he, like Sagan, is a sprinter who can also handle the mountains and enjoys picking up extra points out on the course. Plus he no longer has to worry about helping Cavendish and whilst his team will be focused on the Yellow Jersey, he is a chance to give the Green Jersey a shake.

However, much like with the expected winner of the Yellow Jersey, I think the favourite will end up winning the Green Jersey as well, with Sagan top of the pops in Paris.

The Polka Dot Jersey for best climber is much less clear. The betting favourite is everybody’s favourite Frenchman Thomas Voeckler. It quite simply isn’t a Tour de France if Tommy V doesn’t break away and wear the Yellow Jersey for a few days. Second favourite for the jersey is Voeckler’s teammate and climbing specialist Pierre Rolland. Two years ago Rolland did an incredible job helping Voeckler hang onto the Maillot Jaune for a lot longer than people expected and they are a formidable and entertaining duo. Rolland however drew the ire of many riders last year when he attacked during the “Tacks on the Road” fiasco that left many riders, including Cadel Evans, with flat tyres.

Beyond the Team Europcar duo there is a plethora of climbers and aggressive riders who will be looking to win the jersey, especially in a race filled with climbs. It will be a year of attacks and counterattacks and the Polka Dot jersey will be one to watch in 2013.

As mentioned earlier, the Tour this year features a Team Time Trial stage. The thing about TTT is that it heavily favours those riders with stronger overall teams, even more than having a strong team helps on regular mountain stages or building a lead out train for a sprinter. It doesn’t matter how good an individual time trialist you are if you are on a weak team and have to slow down to stay with your weaker teammates. This is yet another reason why Froome is so heavily favoured to win this year, as Team Sky is so strong from top to bottom and will not lose much time on the TTT stage.

I hope to see the Australian team Orica-GreenEDGE perform well in the TTT stage as a lot of the boys on the team are very solid individual time trialists and it would be good to see the Aussies shine for a stage or two.

If you are someone who likes to support riders based on their names I offer you two solid options. First there is Dutch rider Lars Boom. Boom isn’t a chance to win the Yellow Jersey or anything, but he is a great time trialist and might be involved in a few breakaways. Also his name is Lars Boom.

If that doesn’t tickle your fancy and you are more into TV, New Zealander Jack Bauer is your man. To be honest he likely won’t be a factor too much during the race and I guess it is unlucky for him that the race never reaches a Stage 24. No word yet on whether Bauer and his team will spend the entire race communicating via very loud whisper.

Overall, despite the fact that the winners of the Yellow and Green Jerseys seem to be predictable, the 100th edition of the Tour de France could still be one of the most entertaining ever. The course is one that big fans of the race are super excited about and hopefully there are no doping scandals or major crashes and injuries to change the focus. It would also be great if people on the side of the road kept their dogs on a leash as there always seems to be at least one Labrador that gets in the way at some point.

I will be getting very little sleep throughout July and I invite you to stay up late with me and get involved in all the banter. I’ll be tweeting a lot ( @DanCuzns ) and my mates over at SBS and Stackla have put together a great Social Hub to get involved.

You can read more of Daniel's work at The Back Sage

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AT&T National 2013 Preview

By Michael McGill ( @MickSportsNews )

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This week the PGA Tour heads to Bethesda, Maryland for the AT&T National which is being played on the Blue Course at the Congressional Country Club.

The tournament was established in 2007 and has been played at Congressional from 2007-2009. It was moved to the Aronimink Golf Club in 2010 and 2011 due to the US Open being played at Congressional in 2011 when Rory McIlroy won by a staggering 8 shots. Last year it returned to its home at Congressional.

Blue Course is a Par 71, 7574 yard test of patience and precision. It has 96 sand bunkers and 5 water hazards. There are also three Par 5’s and the greens are bentgrass. The course has hosted three US Opens and a PGA Championship.

The Blue Course at Congressional plays much like a US Open where hitting greens will be a premium. A player will need to have patience and be a good putter as the greens are undulating and will be slick and fast.

According to many players this week the rough is high and thick which will mean hitting lots of fairways will take you a long way to winning. Due to the rough expect to see good scrambling stats being a big factor too.

The bookies Top 5 in betting are 12/1 Adam Scott, 14/1 Jason Day, 15/1 Hunter Mahan, 18/1 Brandt Snedeker and 22/1 Billy Horschel.

So apart from the five favourites already mentioned, who else is in the field this week?

There are twelve current 2013 winners which includes the likes of Russell Henley, John Merrick and Martin Laird.

Two Past Champions are teeing it up this week, Nick Watney (2011) and KJ Choi (2007). They will be joined by players of the calibre of Rickie Fowler, Bo Van Pelt, Ryan Palmer, Jim Furyk, Scott Stallings and Bill Haas.

The field is also full of International players like Fredrik Jacobson, Martin Laird, Angel Cabrera,  Nicolas Colsaerts, Brendon De Jonge and John Senden.

There are two players I expect to see up there challenging over the weekend.

John Huh 66/1

Last year was John’s rookie season on the tour. And what a year. He won the Mayakoba Golf Classic after enduring eight play off holes against Aussie Robert Allenby. That win showed his true grit and nerves of steel. Huh also finished 2nd in the Valero Texas Open.

This season he has made 12 cuts from 19 starts. He has managed five Top 25’s from those starts. What stands out is that three of those Top 25’s have come in his last five outings.

If you look closer at John’s results you will notice how well he has played on the big  stage. T17th in the US Open and T11th Masters Tournament.

When it comes to bentgrass greens he has also showed signs of enjoying the fast pace of the greens like Augusta. T8th at the Byron Nelson Championship proves this point.

Last year in this tournament Huh finished T17th which will have him in good spirits this week.

John Huh is a player who I have been watching closely since arriving on the scene last year. It will not be long before he records his second PGA Tour victory.

Marc Leishman 66/1

Much like John Huh, Leishman is the perfect man for this tournament.

He loves Bentgrass greens. Look at his results. T4th at his first Masters Tournament and T12th at the Byron Nelson Championship (T3rd in 2012). The faster the better for Marc.

Leishman has had four Top 10’s this season from 17 starts. They include T9th Sony Open, T4th Masters, T9th RBC Heritage and T8th Players Championship. So it looks like he players the tough courses well.

Last year Marc finished 32nd at this tournament while he was also 25th in 2009.

He is coming off a T30th at the Travelers Championship where he was defending his title after winning it in 2012.

Expect to see Marc playing this tough course well over the weekend. It fits his style of play very well.

Good luck and good punting.

Arthur Sacked Before The Ashes Series

By Brad Eveleigh ( @Brad_Eveleigh )

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Cricket Australia have announced the sacking of national coach Mickey Arthur in England today, just days before the first Ashes test.

The hierarchy of Australian Cricket all met at the conclusion of Australia A’s victory over Gloucester, where the Chief Executive of Cricket Australia, James Sutherland, broke the news to Arthur.

Arthur’s replacement has almost immediately been announced as former international and current Australia A coach Darren Lehmann.

This poorly timed decision is the result of the team’s performance both on and off the field, which have been well below par in recent times.

Warning signs started with Australia’s disastrous 4-0 tour defeat in India. 4 players were stood down for not responding to managements requests to pinpoint why the team was failing – also known as not doing their homework.

Failing to progress past the recent Group stage in the ICC Champions Trophy tournament was another blow to the equation.

This tournament also seen David Warner being stood down for assaulting England player Joe Root in an Australian themed Birmingham Bar.

All of these were major contributing factors for Arthur’s dismissal, which could not have come at a more inconvenient time with the Ashes Series commencing in Nottingham just 16 days from now.

Arthur successfully coached South Africa from 2005 to 2010 where he built a dominating force. At the time, South Africa were the best test playing nation in the world and interesting enough, had no off-field indiscretions within the playing group. Some describing that this is Australia’s current problem.

Arthur’s success in South Africa was rewarded by becoming the first international identity to coach the Australian national team, signing a contract that was to conclude at the end of the 2015 World Cup.

His number 1 priority given to him by Cricket Australia was to win the Ashes, which adds irony to his sacking just days prior to the first ball being bowled.

Cricket Australia have since announced the appointment 43-year-old Darren Lehmann as Arthur’s replacement.

Lehmann is currently touring in England as coach of the Australia A team and will be conducting actions in his new role effective immediately.

His experience is not only subject to the secondary national squad but all 3 forms of the game with Queensland/Brisbane. He has also coached in the Indian Premier League with Kings XI Punjab and the (now nonexistent) Deccan Chargers.

The domino effect of managerial positions will see former Australian representative Stuart Law offered the now vacant Queensland job upon his recent return from his role as Head Coach of Bangladesh.

pic: BBC (UK)

What’s Next For Scottish Football?

By Brad Eveleigh ( @Brad_Eveleigh )
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In recent times the Scottish Premier League (SPL) has taken a few crucial blows resulting in some big backwards steps for both clubs and the League, which molds the question: Is the SPL a healthy league?

This is not an opinion piece to potentially persuade readers either for or against but rather placing the topic up for debate for the millions of interested football fans around the globe.

Before I go into why I think this is even a topic I shall start by explaining the structure of the SPL as it’s not your common “everyone plays everyone twice” type set-up. I have extracted the explanation from Wikipedia where it is best described and it is as follows:

There are currently twelve clubs in the Scottish Premier League. Teams receive three points for a win and one point for a draw. No points are awarded for a loss. Teams are ranked by total points, then goal difference, and then goals scored. At the end of each season, the club with the most points is crowned champion. If points are equal, the goal difference and then goals scored determine the winner.

A season, which runs from July until May, is divided into two phases. During the first phase, each club plays three games against every other team, either once at home and twice away or vice-versa. After this first phase of matches, by which time all clubs will have played 33 games, the league splits into a ‘top six’ and a ‘bottom six’. Each club then plays a further five matches against the other five teams in their own section. Points achieved during the first phase of 33 matches are carried forward to the second phase, but the teams will compete only within their own sections during the second phase. After the first phase has been completed, clubs cannot move out of their own section in the league, even if they achieve more or fewer points than a higher or lower ranked team, respectively.

At the beginning of each season, the Scottish Premier League ‘predicts’ the likely positions of each club in order to produce a fixture schedule that will ensure the best possible chance of all clubs playing each other twice at home and twice away. These are known as the league seeding and are based on clubs’ performance in previous years. However, should a club not finish in the half where it was predicted to finish, it faces the possibility of playing an unequal number of home and away games; for example, one club may play another three times at home and once away.

The bottom placed SPL club at the end of the season is relegated, and swaps places with the winner of the Scottish First Division, provided that the winner satisfies the league’s entry criteria.

This split format can cause a little confusion for the average punter, for example: Hibernian (51 points) and Aberdeen (48 points) finished 7th and 8th overall, BUT, 1st and 2nd in the bottom half of the split table. Both teams finished on more points then Dundee United (47 points) but Dundee finished 6th overall. Hibernian will not be bothered; they claimed a Europa League spot from 7th on the table. As shown below.

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This format in itself has come under some heated criticism from high levels within the SPL.

Scottish football has been known in the past for the dominance of Celtic and Rangers. For the average football fan here in Australia, you only really heard news of the SPL when there was an Old Firm Derby being played.

In the last 48 years Celtic and Rangers have shared the League title on 44 occasions. Aberdeen won the league in 1979-80 / 1983-84 / 1984-85 and Dundee United won it in 1982-83. So it’s pretty much always been a 2 horse race.

Domestically, Rangers have won more leagues and more trebles than any other club in the world, but, in 2012, Rangers FC became insolvent and were forced to enter administration, resulting in liquidation.

An agreement could not be reached with its creditors, business assets (including Rangers FC) were bought out, the clubs Scottish Football Association membership was transferred, eventually, so that the club could “relaunch” in the Third Division in 2012 (they won that league and have since been promoted to League 2).

With Rangers now out of the SPL international interest seems to have dwindled somewhat as that 2 horse race in now dead with some people referring to the league as the Celtic Premier League.

Celtic won the 2012-13 title 16 points clear of Motherwell, which places most interest on the challenges from 2nd onwards.

Is this a good thing for the league? Is 1st place just resigned to Celtic and other clubs aim for the 2nd and 3rd spots which European qualification is an acceptable achievement?

Another backwards step for the SPL occurred just yesterday as Heart of Midlothian FC (Hearts) entered administration with accountancy firm BDO taking over the running of the club.

Hearts have debts of up to £25m (AUD$41.74m), owed to companies formerly owned by Vladimir Romanov, who invested in the club back in 2005.

What is the solution to all of this? Does there even need to be a change? Are things fine the way they are? These are the type of questions I’d like to see discussed.

The always-present debate of Scottish teams entering the English Leagues never die off. Would this be a better option for the SPL clubs with all this grayness?

I’m sure 99% of Scots would tell me it’s a bullshit question and tell me to jog on but it’s always a point of conversation. I’m not promoting the move at all; it’s just a question.

If your answer is yes, they should join the English Leagues, how would they join? Take into consideration that clubs from both England and Scotland must not be demised. You must put the shoe on the other foot as some would say.

I don’t think it would be possible to place SPL clubs into the top tiers as this would disrupt promotion and relegation.

Would it be beneficial to create a League 3 constructed of all SPL teams and have Blue Square competition winners make up the remaining numbers? I don’t think so.

Going from the SPL to League 3 in England would be a slap in the face for the clubs, not to mention loss of revenue etc etc. Plus, the EPL team would buy the decent players and they would all be stuck in the pits of English football.

I would love to see Celtic play in the English Premier League, but how would they (and other SPL clubs) be injected?

The responses I’ve come across in the past have always been interesting. What are your thoughts? Change or no change? If so, how?

The Socceroos are off to the World Cup Finals

By Brad Eveleigh ( @Brad_Eveleigh )

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 8.52.29 PMThe Australian Socceroos qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil last night by defeating Iraq 1-0 in Sydney.

The Green and Gold made it hard for themselves leading up to the final round of Group B with disappointing results, which meant only a win would see them progress in the tournament.

Australia were lucky not to go ahead inside the first 5 minutes with pleasant passing between Tim Cahill and Robbie Kruse resulted in a close range shot from Cahill. The shot was sensationally palmed away by the diving efforts of Ahmed Ibrahim wearing the gloves for Iraq.

The game was played at a frantic pace from the get-go with structural plans nonexistent as the ball went from end to end, neither team dominating possession.

The visitors were putting up a great fight considering they stood at the bottom of the group and this looked to unsettle the Socceroos who struggled to execute their game plan.

Most of the 80,523 supporters at ANZ Stadium were suffering from nerves as the teams went to the halftime break at 0 – 0, a break that Socceroos Manager Holger Osieck would have been desperate to commence to have words with his team.

Nerves were quite evident for the Australians in the second half and the visitors were actually causing a few ‘deep breath’ moments for the home supporters with their attacking plays.

Holger Osieck had to make a big call to change the tempo and did so by taking off Brett Holman, whose performance was well below par.

Tom Rogic, who signed with Celtic FC in Scotland’s domestic league last season, replaced Holman with immediate effect. Within the first 5 minutes of taking to the pitch he posted 3 shots at goal.

As Australia were mounting pressure Osieck surprised everyone by replacing Tim Cahill, who was obviously confused and disgruntled by the decision, for Josh Kennedy. Even the home crowd made their opinions heard with boisterous bellows of “BOOO”’s around the stadium. Playmaker Robbie Kruse was also substituted for Archie Thompson in another surprise move.

Osieck’s unpopular gamble with the fate of the Socceroos future turned out to be a masterstroke as Josh Kennedy headed home the winning goal with only 7 minutes remaining on the clock.

Marco Bresciano found slight open space on the right corner of the 18-yard box and whipped in a cross to Kennedy, who was in open space of his own.

Kenedy made no mistake of the headed shot at goal with a textbook downward header into the bottom right corner and Australia lifted as one with wild celebrations.

The 1 – 0 result consolidated second spot in Group B behind Japan, who qualified for the finals the round before.

Australia are off to the World Cup Finals in Brazil!

pic: The Australian

Travelers Championship 2013 Preview

By Michael McGill ( @MickSportsNews )

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The PGA Tour this week heads to Cromwell, Connecticut for the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands.

The tournament was established in 1952 when it was won by Ted Kroll. Back then it was known as the Insurance City Open and he won US$2,400 for his efforts. This year the Purse is US$6,100,000 with the winner taking home a cool US$1,080,000. Times have certainly changed on tour.

Over the years the tournament has gone through a few name changes and has been known as the Travelers Championship since 2007. It has been played at TPC River Highlands since 1984. The course is a Par 70, 6,841 yard birdie-fest with 119 sand bunkers and 5 water hazards. It is ranked as one of the easier courses on the PGA Tour and as such you can expect to see a lot of low scores this week. The last 5 years have seen scores of -15, -20, -14, -22 and -18.

Considering that we had the US Open last week the field this week still has many big names. The top five in betting are 14/1 Hunter Mahan, 14/1 Justin Rose, 18/1 Jason Dufner, 18/1 Lee Westwood and 22/1 Bubba Watson.

All five players are backing up from the US Open so it will be interesting to see if we have any late withdrawals, particularly from the winner Justin Rose who has not had time to rest for one minute due to all the media commitments that go along with winning a Major.

Aside from these five great names we also have eight winners from this season teeing it up with the likes of Brian Gay, Kevin Streelman, Michael Thompson and Harris English. Then we have seven past winners of the Travelers Championship including Defending Champion Marc Leishman.

Other past winners are Bubba Watson (2010), Hunter Mahan (2007), JJ Henry (2006), Brad Faxon (2005).

So what does it take to win at TPC River Highlands? While last week was all about accuracy and precision, this week is time for the big hitters to shine. There is more emphasis on distance when you look at the past winners who have all ranked highly in this stat over the years.

There are only two Par 5′s on the course so look for players who have good Par 4 stats.

Good putting stats have also been a good key to the winners in the past. Most have been ranked highly in this category.

After taking this all into consideration I have come up with two players whose game should suit the course.

John Rollins 33/1

Rollins is the guy to be on this week if you want a guy who is in great current form and course form. He is this weeks ‘form guy’.

His last three tournaments have been t21st Byron Nelson Championship, t4th Crowne Plaza Invitational and 6th St Jude Classic. Pretty good results in anyones book. From 16 starts this season he has had ten Top 25 finishes. Great consistency in his game.

Then you look at his course form. Again it all points to a positive outcome. Last year he finished t4th while in 2011 he was t2nd.

John’s stats this season see him ranking well in all the right areas. 36th in driving distance, 10th in greens in regulation, 32nd in birdie average, 25th in scoring average, 23rd in par 4 birdie or better average and 14th in ball striking.

Expect to see Rollins up high on the leaderboard heading into the weekend!

Charlie Hoffman 50/1

It has been a consistent season so far for Charlie. 14 starts for only 3 missed cuts and four top 10′s. Those Top 10′s came in the Humana Challenge, Valero Texas Open, RBC Heritage and Byron Nelson Championship.

His last four outings have seen him playing on the weekend in all those events. 37th Players Championship, 8th Byron Nelson Championship, 18th Crowne Plaza Invitational and 63rd The Memorial Tournament.

When it comes to the Travelers Championship Hoffman has good memories after finishing t2nd last year. He will no doubt be aiming to go one better this week.

Like Rollins, Hoffman has the stats to se him go a long way this week. 44th in driving distance, 60th in greens in regulation, 26th in strokes gained putting, 11th in birdie average, 37th in sand saves and 21st in par 4 birdie or better average.

At 50/1 Charlie is at juicy each way odds. It would not surprise to see him lifting the trophy this weekend.

Last Week

Justin Rose saluted for us in the US Open at 25/1 to keep up the great run we are currently having with winners. Lets hope we get a few more as the season continues.