Archive | February, 2010

How The Race Was Won – Omloop Het Niewsblad 2010

28 Feb

Yes! It’s bike season again! Here’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, half of the Belgian season’s opening weekend, run in some unseasonably nice weather over various cobbles and bergs, and featuring an inordinately large number of mechanical problems.

[right-click for iTunes-compatible download]

Contains a photo from Jeff Jones’ Cyclingnews days, and footage from Sporza.be.

Be sure to check out the rest of the videos, either here, the iTunes store, on Vimeo or on YouTube. I’ve also got footage from today’s KBK event, which should be making an appearance later in the week.

QuickStep vs. Lotto – A Classic Rivalry

24 Feb

This weekend’s races at Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne mark the beginning of the classics season in professional cycling. It also marks the renewal of the sport’s best rivalry, between QuickStep and Omega Pharma-Lotto.

But what’s that? You’d like to know some of the backstory behind this grudge match? Well, have I got a chart for you:


click for huge versions – buy a meatspace copy

Yes, that’s the “route” of the rivalry, so to speak, laid out over a map of Belgium, running from Oostende to Roubaix (or the French border very near it), with each province representing a different year. I simplified the borders in a few places—Belgian fans, I apologize for messing up your map.

I had initially planned to make this more data driven but for a variety of reasons older results can be hard to find/less reliable, especially for the smaller classics. I also tried to focus mainly on Roubaix and the more major Belgian races (they are Belgian teams and this a map of Belgium, after all) and limit the storyline to other events only where the teams clashed directly.

Plus, rivalries aren’t about numbers—just go back in time to 2003 and ask a Red Sox fan. And which do you think ads more spice to the conflict: QuickStep’s edge in Dwars door Vlanderen wins, or the mattress ad that featured McEwen’s headbutt?

Contador's Opening Salvo

19 Feb

Today, Alberto Contador broke away to win the mountainous third stage of what is turning into a particularly miserable Volta ao Algarve.

In 2004, Armstrong issued a similarly strong statement in the Algarve TT. When asked about it in an interview with The Times of London, Armstrong said:

I was thinking what would I do if I heard Ullrich had won a time trial in February,” he said. “I think I’d get straight down and do 50 sit-ups just to say to myself I was doing something.

Add rival who knows how to train and play mind games to the list of arguments against an Armstrong victory at the 2010 TdF.

Drama in the Desert with Boasson-Hagen's Bladder

17 Feb

EBH FeedsWhew! A day of rich drama and intrigue such as seldom graces the cycling world in February—and remarkably, most of it is due to racing.

It all started at the Tour of Oman, which was introduced to the peloton’s pre-season swing through the Persian Gulf presumably to counterbalance the relentless flatness of last week’s Tour of Qatar.

After two sprint finishes (Jimmy Casper and Daniele Bennati, if anyone’s curious) the third stage seemed to unfold no differently, with Team Sky controlling the race and delivering race leader Edvald Boasson-Hagen to a group sprint win.

But today’s stage would suggest that something else was going on, though pretty much everyone seems to be at a loss as to what. Here are the facts (along with parenthetical comments): A six-man break gained 7 minutes after an hour of racing (not uncommon). Team Sky then refused to chase (a little odd for a race-leading squad, but not unprecedented), and no one else bothered to work (fairly normal response).

Reportedly, this made Sky cranky and sources indicate (for some reason, no one has confirmed this) that they retaliated by attacking the feed zone (classic jerk move) and echeloned the field into the gutter when the crosswinds came up. In case you’re new/only watch in July, fighting for position in the echelons is not fun.

Returning to the hard facts, sometime after (or during) this nonsense, race leader EBH decides he needs to answer nature’s call at 50k to go, provoking many riders (apparently led by Cervelo TestTeam) to attack (it’s generally considered poor form to attack the race leader while he’s peeing or crashed).

Long story short, Boasson-Hagen and a whole lot of others missed the split, the stage was won (over still-impressive competition) by some 20-year-old whom VeloNews had just profiled, the race leadership fell to Daniele Bennati (link also contains Kurt-Asle flavor quote), and the resulting fistfuls of intrigue were gobbled up journalists, bloggers, and fans alike.

The whole affair also spun off ancillary drama in the Twittersphere when Roger Hammond made his first tweet in five months to call out Stephen Farrand for an earlier version of this story. No word on whether updates posted since then have allowed them to make up, but regardless of outcome, it brought tremendous glee to the always-ready Twitteratti.

dope signAnd because that just wasn’t enough mayhem for one day, former-doper-turned-witness-turned-reformer-but-apparently-with-a-layover-at-dealer Joe Papp plead guilty to charges related to selling Chinese drugs for a fat $80,000.

Papp, likely heeding the advice of counsel, said little other than he plans to say more later, but the blowback has already begun. I’m holding off for now, but the issue appears to have already bisected the cycling community.

As far as l’Affaire Boasson Hagen goes, I’m willing to bet Team Sky wasn’t nearly as malicious in today’s stage as the peloton has made them out to be. I say this based not on any inside knowledge, but the intuition that if the war were truly on, and Boasson Hagen had to pee himself for the good of the team, you probably wouldn’t have needed to ask him twice.

Out of Your Element

16 Feb

There’s nothing like like watching endurance sports covered by a glorified electric company to remind one how miserably people tend to perform when placed outside their sphere of expertise.

Like a French judge ruling on cybercrime, for example. Judicial officials are already notoriously ignorant on matters of technology, and I sincerely doubt that having a shot at the man who embarrassed your national race is going to do anything for the judiciary’s grasp of the subject, or the fairness of its ruling.

The very allegation at the center of this debate—that Landis presented documents in his defense that must have been “hacked” from the LNDD’s computer system—is an eyebrow-raiser as well. The lab is at least as well known for leaking documents as it is for busting dopers. After half-a-decade of A-sample positives mysteriously turning up in the European press, a wayward document pops-up in the Landis defense and suddenly cyber-security is an issue? I’m highly skeptical.

That said, it’s also deeply believable that a supposed tech novice like Arnie Baker would be foolish enough to attempt a cyber attack from his own IP address, as is alleged. Even seasoned troublemakers like the Anons that hacked Sarah Palin’s email forgot to obscure the URLs of the proxy servers they were using. Like most things on the Internet, the basic info and tools for rudimentary attacks are easily available, but the knowledge to use them correctly is far, far more elusive.

Still, I suppose it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to be as comfortable in unfamiliar circumstances as Wouter “can’t lose” Mol. Beyond the fact that Mol handled his first (somewhat) major win with all the enthusiasm one generally associates with eating a sandwich, it may also be worth noting what wheelset the 6′ 5″ Belgian Dutchman used to accomplish the feat.

If Vacansoleil can keep up the strong early performances, we might see the famously cast-aside hubs competing—and possibly even winning—in progressively more prestigious events as the season rolls on.

There's Drama in The Air

9 Feb

You know what I think it is? I think it’s the lack of top-flight competition. It’s not that Etoile de Besseges, Trofeo Mallorca or Tour of Qatar don’t feature some of the best riders in the world—Bozic isn’t exactly a flat iron, after all—it’s that too many of them are holding back in an effort to keep the powder dry.

The days are gone when riders came into Paris-Nice fat, slow, and cowering. Even the riders who are still tuning up are fit, and if push came to shove, the top names could probably throw down with near-peak intensity. But prudence, the ever-present radio, and good coaching intervene, leaving the mouth as the only outlet for the naked aggression that makes splits and wins bike races.

Case in point: the effusive praise Brad Wiggins heaped on his squad after winning a team time trial at the Tour of Qatar because of a relegation. The press recorded no such elation from Sam Dumolin, despite his significantly shorter palmares, when he defaulted his way into a similarly insignificant win.

I can’t decide whether Sky’s management (or lack thereof) for the notoriously talkative Wiggins is idiotic or brilliant. It certainly gets draws more than its fair share of pixels from the media, but how will it play out if things go pear-shaped for the Briton this July? His former boss made a concerted effort to keep Wiggins out of the limelight—can a fatter paycheck buy a thicker skin?

Of course, that comment about Wiggins was probably the least controversial thing JV said in his recent Times interview. The real drama there came as Vaughters suggested Astana may have been taking things easier to “not embarrass Lance”. I think the statement is entirely reasonable—if Astana’s “chase” on Ventoux had been any slower, Tony Martin might have fallen over sideways—but Vaughters backed away from the statements when Joe Parkin gave him the chance.

It’s too bad, too, because Armstrong seems to have no comprehension how a 38-year-old man with a career that speaks for itself is supposed to react to such criticism. Lance detractors might want to note that leveling a reasonable, easy-to-substantiate criticism, then letting the Texan make an ass of himself in response might be the best method of attack.

In terms of media relations, both Armstrong and Wiggins would do well to take a few cues from Robbie McEwen (“For me, the most important thing is that I have no discomfort in my leg”) or Oscar Freire (“To win the second race of the season is a nice feeling, but we must not exaggerate”). And you thought the sprinters we supposed to be the hot-headed ones.

The Rookie

4 Feb

The American cycling fan has but one dream. It can be roughly summed up by the plot of the 2002 film The Rookie—reaching the pro ranks in middle age by finally getting a chance to develop your long-neglected (or in most cases, completely hidden) talent.

And in case you’ve been stuck at the back of the team van for the past two months, it actually happened this year, to Bicycling Magazine’s Joao Correia.

I think it’s pretty cool—despite my suspicion that it couldn’t have happened without the industry connection, and despite the fact that it makes an obscenely good story for a former member of the media—but man, does he have to be such a friggin’ n00b about it?

While I like hearing from the Cervelo TestTeam masseur, the breathy, awkwardly-filmed video is disturbingly reminiscent of a certain genre, and the filmmaker commentary (“Johan Museeuw, King of the Classics, the Lion—*rar*”) definitely doesn’t help.

He may be a pro (and keeping up just fine, I might add) but he is not yet Pro. Still, I hope he keeps the updates coming, even if there’s going to be an occasional awkward video (or grammatical error).

Disappointingly, it’s highly unlikely Correia will do any tweeting about initiations. Not because they don’t happen—check out the Footon-Servetto hazing, which is not entirely unlike what Bernhard Kohl described at T-Mobile—but because Cervelo TestTeam apparently has an official policy about tweeting.

Ten Exclamation Points Ain't What It Used To Be

1 Feb

I think I like the difficult ‘cross races best. They reward unflappability and positive mental attitude—good news for Zdenek Stybar, bad news for Jon Page, ten-exclamation-point tweet aside. And is there ever a bad day for Marianne Vos? Mountain Bikers and BMXers should count themselves lucky she doesn’t feel compelled to add some more rainbow jerseys to her ever-expanding collection.

But enough ‘cross—it’s Feburaury! Road season! Check out this huge AFP image of the GP de Marseilles, where Frenchman Jonathan Hivert—wait a minute. That’s a Team Sky rider, losing to some dude from a Continental French squad?! But Sky is the Man U of cycling! I don’t think that’s what Rupert is paying for. He wasn’t even on the podium—I guess Steve Cummings wants to ride for Rapha-Condor next season.

There’s also racing in Italy, where Alessandro Petacchi—who earned me a still-undelivered beer last May—took his first group sprint of the season. Petacchi, now 36, has been haunted by misfortune the past few seasons—a tenuous doping charge, a questionable CAS decision, problems with team finances—yet still seems to come up with a win whenever he gets the chance.

It’s a focused mindset Tom Zirbel might want to take inspiration from, since his B-sample came up positive this past weekend. I’m all for a tough anti-doping policy, but cases like Zirbel’s and Petacchi’s bring up serious issues with the doctrine of zero tolerance.

Things are almost certainly out of place if one rider can knowingly and intentionally take a powerful oxygen vector drug CERA and get 18 months, while the almost certainly accidental use of substances that don’t do anything nets a full two years.