Old-Style Racing

Aug 9 2010

Dan Martin wins a stageThe number one thing mentioned by Americans racing in Europe isn’t the higher level of competition, or the bigger crowds, or the greater exposure, but the races themselves.

Euro Junior courses are so burley that “even the pro guys would protest” if people tried to put them on in the States, and Ted King frequently states the level of focus required to negotiate a course like Liege or Amstel makes Euro cycling “virtually a different sport“.

But, y’know, there are times when that kind of cutthroat racing seems limited to one-days in Belgium and the Netherlands—or at least that’s the impression one gets when the Tour de France peloton absolutely wets its britches when they’re forced to battle the chaotic thoroughfares of the low countries. With high mountains and long time trials, plus prizes and stages segmented out for riders of practically any different ability, stage races have become civilized, almost parliamentary, in how they produce winners.

Fortunately, there are events like the Tour of Poland to keep that seat-of-the-pants brand of racing alive in multi-day comptetions. Those unsatisfied with the post-Tour race offerings—especially fans of the spring classics—should consider Poland mandatory viewing. Lunatic grades to compete with anything at Fleche Wallonne, roads as narrow as the Netherlands, but with poor design and worse maintenance—enough that the kicker humps and gravelly patches make it so even solo breakaways can’t pedal some sections. Add to that truly demented finishing circuits and late-day starts and you’ve got a recipe for exciting, unpredictable racing that favors aggression.

One of the Eurosport commentators—David Harmon, I think—referred to it as “old-style racing”, and I’m inclined to agree. Even speaking as a radio-positive commentator, I’ll admit that there is a certain purity to racing where the selections come up quickly, and where success relies as much on skill and nerve as watts and the team car.

While the risks to the riders might be a little much over the course of a week (there’s a reason DePanne is only three days), I think the win at a race like Poland speaks more about the character of its winner—in this case, Garmin’s long-tabbed Irish talent Dan Martin—than the prestige of the event would suggest.

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6 Responses to “Old-Style Racing”

  1. Barry 9 August 2010 at 12:24 pm #

    Dan martin is a stud. I watched him race a crit in Dublin in a very small loop that was nearly half cobbles and he put on a clinic, the bike handling was truly magnificent. The big tours are too contrived to the point where we need a freak mechanical to get a little excitement.

    great blog btw!

  2. asphalt_juheesus! 9 August 2010 at 2:02 pm #

    The big tours are too contrived to the point where we need a freak mechanical to get a little excitement.

    +1. Where’s that race radio ban we were promised?

  3. S. 9 August 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    How about a How the Race was Won?

  4. Tom 9 August 2010 at 8:32 pm #

    Paraphrasing, American races are wimpier than European races.

    What’s the practical solution?

    I know of sections of Chicago (the city proper) with narrow cobbled roadway. You could make a pretty tough route, there.

    Ok, that’s one day what do you do for the next six? And you just got every person who lives and works in the race zone to hate cyclists a hundred times more. Because driving and parking in the city is a big enough pain in the arse, already.

    — Cycling isn’t big enough, hyped enough, not promoted enough, not seeing even a fraction of the marketing resources to get away with what it would have to do to make American races mentally and physically more demanding and so more exciting to the public.

    — And while in broader terms this is a great thing, American roads are just much better (overall) than European roads (when is the last time the street in front of your house MELTED in temps around 100F?), so a really great route is that much harder to find.

  5. asphalt_juheesus! 10 August 2010 at 10:51 am #


    American racing has some tough events. Tour of Battenkill is one. The country’s primitive roads are only getting worse too.

    The “problem” has more to do with USA Cycling. (USAC) USAC will sanction ‘interesting’ American events. The promoters are pretty much ignored like the rest of the membership. USAC doesn’t promote domestic competitive cycling. They’ve been trying to import Continental racing for at least 10 years at any expense.

    The latest casualty is the Tour of Utah. By all accounts a well run event, well financed and growing. The colorado event is all promises, no actual UCI permits, routes, or locations. Yet, no consideration was given to the Tour of Utah. USAC got an opportunity to import Continental racers to Colorado and will destroy the Tour of Utah to do it.

    Two years from now when the Colorado race evaporates because Americans don’t like riders with un-American names and accents riding on routes that are too long and slow, the Tour of Utah will have been killed at the same time.

    The elements required for interesting and popular bicycle racing are here. Blame USAC for crushing any interest in the sport.

  6. LDR 11 August 2010 at 1:53 am #


    Not so sure the Colorado race will kill Utah. A strong counter opinion is that two 5-7 day stage races back to back in the American West will attract European Pros to both races as a alternative to the Vuelta as prep for the World Championships.

    Don’t know if it is true, but is sounds intriguing.


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