Archive | April, 2008

Who's Stupider: Pro Cyclists or NFL Players?

17 Apr

It’s a question I’ve turned over many a time in my head. To an American, it seems like a gimme for lunks in shoulder pads. American football players are universally acknowledged as big, dumb sacks of meat, while most cyclists this side of the pond are skinny, smooth-legged oddballs with the means to buy three-thousand trinkets toys on an almost yearly basis.

But upon closer scrutiny, the question is not so obvious. After all, every NFL player has to enroll in something that is at least nominally a higher education; two-time Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon was known as “the Professor” because he had round glasses, and – unlike most of the peloton – briefly went to college.

Furthermore, many pro football players go on to notable secondary careers in acting, car sales, and politics. While there’s no shortage of talk about the political futures of a certain Texan, most cyclists seem to have a way of living out their non-sporting years broke and miserable.

While quirky figures like Bob Roll and Dave Zabriskie carry air of scramble-headed genius about them, you’ve really got to wonder about David Clinger’s disappearing/reappearing facial tattoo, and Frank Vandenbroucke’s disappearing/reappearing, well, sanity. Sure, football players do weird stuff, too, but when you go to a stripclub with $81,000 of your cash in a garbage bag, you’ve got be ready to lay down the law.

But the most damning evidence against the smartness of cyclists is this: in the entire history of the NFL, I can only think of a single touchdown lost because someone celebrated a few seconds too soon. Granted it was in the Super Bowl, but still – cycling’s best racers continue to lose entire events by putting their arms up before they cross the line. How smart can you be if you toss away the wins you’re being paid millions of dollars to get?

Forget drugs. This is what makes me fear for the future of the sport.

2008 Paris-Roubaix – Tornado Tom Roars Again

13 Apr

Ah…now that’s what I was waiting for. Tom Boonen comes through with the big win (30 meters clear in a sprint!) just to remind you that he’s still the greatest classics rider of his generation. It’s hard to pick a more elite group to come into the line with, too: the 06′ Roubaix winner and the ’07 Flanders champ. Not bat company at all.

While Silence-Lotto threw down the first glove, splitting the race with Johan VanSummeren at the Arenburg Forest, CSC and Quick.Step held court from then on, going punch for punch right up to the velodrome. Devolder went up the road (which probably made Boonen a bit nervous), and O’Grady was sent to follow. The two dangled out that familiar 18 second gap until Silence-Lotto was forced to burn out VanSummeren reeling them back.

Cance then tried a very familiar attack (see Roubaix 06), but Boonen was ready, and Ballan hopped on for the ride. With the heads of state away, the CSC/Quick.Step battle continued, turning Devolder and O’Grady into temporary allies in a frenzied attempt to get some more cards into the hands of their leaders up the road.

The only tactical move I didn’t like was Cance’s late attack. The Swisstalian has pushed Boonen in a classics sprint before, and as Erik Zabel has noted, it’s a different game entirely sprinting after 260km. My money would be on holding back until the final 300, letting the less experienced Ballan make the mistakes, and hoping to get a drop high off the wall on Tommeke.

Of course, you never really want to full-out sprint when you’re cramping like the umpteen-time world TT champ allegedly was, and honestly, even with a bidon-full of pot belge a couple vials of EPO, I don’t think anyone was coming around Boonen at the end of this one. Maybe Oscar Freire. But the hard part for him – if he ever manned up for Roubaix – would be getting to the velodrome in the first place.

Luck played a factor, as it always does, and I can’t help but notice that the riders tagged as “biggest rivals” by the favorites never factor in the result. Boonen, probably still sore from the trashing Devolder gave him at the 05 KBK (leading to a Hincapie win), tagged the recently crowned Flanders winner as the favorite before his 2005 win. Today, Tommeke tabbed Backstedt as a man to watch, and the Swede never figured in the race.

Cancellara, too, engaged in the gamesmanship, giving perennially unlucky George Hincapie the “rival” mark. Two flats and a poorly-timed attack by teammate Bernhard Eisel later, GH was solidly OTB. Nobody, not even the blatantly America-centric Velonoews, picked Slipstream’s young Dutch thunderer Martyn Maaskant. So what if he just sat in the wheels? No one gets a “lucky” fourth place at Roubaix.

Freire Wins '08 Wevelgem, Cyclingews' Decay Continues

9 Apr

Not sure how many of you were up on yesterday’s comment thread, but to jackhammer the point through the floor, today’s Cyclingnews post not once, but twice misnames Juan Antonio Flecha as the 2008 Flanders runner-up. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the race hadn’t been four days ago. Jeff Jones, where are you?!

Anyway, Flecha: not a winner Sunday. Not even a runner up. But today he still got some props from his teammate, homeboy, and today’s winner, Oscar Freire, who reminded the world who should have been the first Spaniard to win Gent-Wevelgem, back in ’05. Still, not like anyone in Spain cares about this cobblestone crap. The Tour, the Vuelta, and that’s about it. And my pick, Boonen? Just seemed to be out for a ride. Hopfeully, he’ll be that much more ready come Sunday.

Velonews’ candidate, Mark Cavendish, did manage to finish the race fairly winded, but only because of the tirade he went on, berating the people who were “not even sprinters” contesting the group kick finale. Young Cavendish should take a lesson from Slipstream’s Christian VandeVelde, who won the argyle squad’s first Euro race on a bike apparently borrowed from a 12 year old. And he didn’t even complain once. Then again, he didn’t have to go over any “roads” that, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, couldn’t even be called “sidewalks”.

Wevelgem Eve with Roubaix Looming

8 Apr

Man, is there a close layover between Ghent Wevelgem and the Ronde or what? I feel like it’s hardly enough time to walk after Flanders, let alone take on a few more bucketloads of Belgian cobblestones. It makes the relative lack of respect Wevelgem gets all the more inexplicable. But once Cipo’ wins a race, the purists’ respect goes out the window. Get over it you fogies – Cipollini’s a good rider. He’s trading elbows in final k at an age when Merckx’s biggest rivals were sausages and Stella.

Anyway, as Brian Smyth jokingly summarized one year “There’s nothing to Wevelgem, really – tough it out over the Kemmelburg twice and then win the sprint.” I love Wevelgem. Lots of different ways to finish this guy off: Small break (Cipo, 2002), Group gallop (Hushovd), Cancellara-style (Pozzatto), a friendly motopace (Mattan), in the back of the meat wagon (Farrar), and you might even get knocked over by a horse (Zabel). That’s what I dig this race: as many ways to close it out as there are riders in the peloton, and it’s (almost) never the same finish twice.

Now, quickly, I will recap all the stupid stuff I’m ignoring because I love talking about cobbled one-days:
1) Cyclingnews’ new look giving a face to its steady decay into the worst parts of Velonews.com and the old ProCycling page.
2) Running bike
3) Boonen whining that he was supposed to win Flanders. It’s like Elway being pissed that he had to hand off.
4) Five days from Roubaix, the eve of Wevelgem, and this is a top story? Really?
5) Worst bike lane ever
6) Cavendish? I like him, but dude. Boonen. Solo. Because he’s got something to prove.
7) Also…”sprinters’ classic”? Paris-Tours? MSR? Maybe sprinters’ cobbled classic…

Tour of Flanders 2008 – A Study in Intimidation

7 Apr

I’ve always admired Stijn Devolder’s penchant for attacking. He’s been a massively important protagonist for years in one-day races, and despite what John Wilcockson says, he’s been in contention for a classic win at least once before. And while claims that he’s a Tour contender still seem a bit unwarranted, winning the Ronde in the Belgian Champ’s kit certainly cements his legacy with a solidity it had not heretofore achieved.

That having been said, Tom Boonen won this race. Just like two years ago, he marched over the Koppenburg with all the grace a man can display in powering a bicycle over a mucky, cobbled, 25% incline. Just like two years ago, this shattered the field and gave notice – with some 70 kilometers of racing to go – that all paths to the finish must go over, under, or around Tom Boonen. And just like two years ago, Quick.Step’s flawless tactical execution send them home with the trophy.

In 2006, Discovery Channel’s Leif Hoste jumped away over the Valkenburg, 30km from the finish, much as Devolder did in yesterday’s event. But unlike Hoste, who had a practically unbeatable Tom Boonen in his wake, Devolder immediately fell back on his ace in the hole: no need to pull through when you’ve got the guy who just tap-danced up the Koppenburg wearing your kit and lurking in the chase group’s wheels.

Hoste could have played the same hand, forcing Boonen either to tow, or to drift back to a chase group in which Disco riders outnumbered any other team 2-to-1, but instead he rode a two-man time trial with the reigning World Champ, only to be righteously and predictably thrashed in a two-up sprint.

Devolder’s reticence to come around left him relatively fresh, kept Boonen fresher, served to tire his competitors, and put the impression in their minds that he was riding only for his captain. A few kilometers later, no one’s willing to burn the matches to follow the impetuous Devolder, let alone organize a chase that would essentially serve as Boonen’s personal stagecoach. 45 minutes later, we have a new Flandrian champ.

Despite the grit and agony etched on finishers’ faces, it’s clear from the 20 man pack less than 30 seconds behind the triumphant Belgian, that more effort could have been made to break this race. For all the squads milling around the front of the field, only Rabobank made serious overtures at contesting the win.

While it’s a powerful testament to the respect the peloton pays Tom Boonen, I’m hoping it also serves as inspiration and motivation for other teams that the Q.S juggernaut must more aggressively, unless they want to see it walk off with the unprecedented trifecta of Flanders, Wevelgem, and Roubaix.

Carnage Looms at Flanders, Fans Grin Gleefully

4 Apr

Well, two days to go until the Ronde and I’m already sick of Flanders…PSYCH! Velonews drops some coin on a Graham Watson photo history and details Leif Hoste’s plans not to be second again. Note to the Belgian – self-calling that you won’t be second on the cobblestones in April is historically not a good idea.

Speaking of history, Podium Cafe has a brief DYK on the race, as well as a previewing of potential team tactics, because everything else has been previewed to death already. But in case you’d been living under a rock in a cave on Mars with your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears, here’s the course preview from Pez.

So who’s hot? Well, Joost Postuma (man, I hope he turns out to be on drugs so I can write his name as “Juiced”) pulled out the DaPanne vic on an impressive ITT. He gives himself mega-longshot odds in service of Captain J-A Flecha, but given the weather forecast (42 degrees, rain, hail, snow, carnage) I’m guessing it won’t be a walkaway win for anyone.

The Great Tombino says he’s locked and loaded, and with God’s Own supporting cast behind him, he’s even money with the smoking hot Cancellara. Cance’s given a better shot at the podium, though, which I find inexplicable given the race conditions; correct me if I’m wrong, but Cance has yet to score a major result in anything tougher than partly cloudy. Not that I’m saying he can’t, of course – just that he hasn’t.

My pick? We’ll save that for tomorrow. And the not-so-fun stuff might just have to wait ’til Monday.

Three Days of Pain, Ramp up to Ronde Continue

2 Apr

We’re barely through the second of 3.5 stages, and already The Pain has taken a toll – Leif Hoste’s well on his way to another unhappy Ronde, to go with his flag-in-spokes from ’03 and leave-stronger-teammate-behind-before-losing sprint from ’06. It’s all fun and games for Tom Boonen, of course; he seems awfully relaxed for a guy whose biggest performance this year has been at Tour of Qatar.

At T-minus 4 days, the Flanders hype machine is running full-bore: check the bergs n’ cobbles pain scores over at Podium Cafe, or see what UK hardman Barry Hoban has to impart from his fistful of rumbles over the undulating pavé. Despite not considering Cipo’ one of the best sprinters of all time, Hoban still manages an insight or two – though someone ought to drop him the memo that his “man’s race” does indeed have a woman’s event.

Ah – now for the fun stuff. While a friend of mine calls 1 April “Internet jackass day”, in honor of all the fake news, he might as well have been referring to the “final” Danilo DiLuca hearing, which was both skipped by the accused and delayed by the judge. Yes, it seems cycling’s allegedly new attitude toward the dopage might still need a few refinements. And you know it’s not going to help that the governing bodies still can’t seem to stop chasing their tails. Isn’t there some way the Federal Reserve could maybe step in and fix this?

It's not an April Fool's Post, Folks.

1 Apr

Well, it ain’t the Tour de France, but as per my prediction, Sylvain Chavanel certianly is on a tear. While Dwaars door Vlaanderen has turned out its fair share of oddball winners (Frederik Veuchelen, anyone?) Brabantse Pijl has been the personal property of thrice-over world champ Oscar Freire for quite some time. We’ll see the true measure of Chavanel this weekend at the Ronde; my guess is a key supporting role for teammate Nick Nuyens, but good legs are good legs, and Flanders is Flandersanything could happen.

‘Til then, we’ll just have to satiate ourselves with the race I humbly refer to as the “Three Days of Pain“. It’s an easy race, really, so long as you discount the cobbles, the headwinds, the rain, the narrow, unpredictable roadways and the fistfuls of middling Belgian riders who realize that if they don’t make in impact between now and May, they’ll be boot-deep in cow dung this time next year. Expect them to be even angrier for the rest of the race, as a trio of Italians took Stage 1.

Two last notes before I leave the comfort of Boloco’s free wireless (the only free hotspot in Harvard Square, I might add) – and they’re on E3. First, it’s always nice to see a company man like Kurt Asle-Arvesen at the top of the results sheet. Like Giovanni Lombardi, he busts tail for the team 99 times out of a hundred, only occasionally being cut loose to take one of what Cipo’s lead out man used to call “his pet wins”. A superdomestique like Jens Voight gets a chance to shine a few times a year, but for a guy like Arvesen, its a few years between spotlights. Savor it, big guy.

The other note from E3: it’s practically April. Where the heck is Boonen?