Archive | April, 2010

How The Race Was Won – Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2010

28 Apr

Vino’s excellent comeback win, though presented more as a Rant than the traditional Fun Stuff. It’s a bit late, and frankly, a bit angry—especially now that most people’s Vino’ angst has left the news cycle. But I think this needed to be said. Plenty of good questions a have been raised in response to the Vino’ news stories; this is where I think the answer lies.

[right-click for iTunes-compatible download, tap for iPad/iPhone]

(Contains many photos, most of which are public domain or licensed for free use, and footage from Eurosport and NOS Sport.)

Oh, also, my mic’s owner needed it back this weekend, so I was left shouting into the built-in. Doesn’t sound great, I’m afraid.

Sympathy For The Badger

27 Apr

I’m not a petty man. I disagree with Bernard Hinault on a number of issues, but I’ve still got a tremendous amount of respect for the former rider, who, to quote another blogger, has been “taking people to the pain cave since 1977“.

So it’s nice to finally find some common ground with the Breton—even if it is fleeting and a bit less emphatic. Hinault has said (among other sweeping, uncompromising statements) that Contador can hand over five minutes to his rivals before the Alps and still win the Tour.

I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I would like to double-down on my statements from earlier this year that Astana is a better team than they’ve been given credit for. This classics season, Contador’s potential TdF domestiques chalked up wins in two fairly brutal one-day contests against top-flight competition—and let’s not forget the reign champ still has the ’06 “winner” by his side as well.

While Armstrong’s RadioShack squad didn’t exactly perform poorly, representing the sole Belgian win on the cobbles and taking a week-long stage race against some Tour-level opponents, Armstrong himself has been a bit of a dud (you can check out Hinault’s interview for the details).

Now we all know that through immaculate (or, as some have suggested, extremely maculate) preparation, Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel always come to the Tour with their A-Games prepared, and despite a lackluster spring, there’s still no reason to assume that 2010 will be any different.

But I do think, after Astana’s performance this spring, we can safely take another potential weapon out of the seven-time Tour champ’s quiver.

A Tale of Two Podiums

22 Apr

Well, I didn’t see it happen live, but I hear that the finish of Wednesday’s Fleche-Wallonne (or “Walloon Arrow”, if one is to take Universal Sports or the AP seriously about this sort of thing) was pretty exciting.

Tactical considerations aside, I think it’s nice to see a reigning Tour champ active and attempting to win races in mid-April. And to see him battle against two potential Grand Tour rivals only sweetens the mix. Certainly beats listening to some old crank stay home and whine about the weather

But what I’m decidedly less pumped about is the reaction to another podium of potential Grand Tour winners at the Giro del Trentino in Italy. Versus, through the magic of Google Translate, called it a “regal podium”, and were assailed for it almost immediately. The same-day win by Evans was heralded as “a victory for the anti-doping movement” in contrast

That opinion lasted all of about five minutes, however, as Evans’ teammate Thomas Frei, who had been doing quite well, ended up turning in a positive EPO test. Never mind that that B-sample hasn’t been tested—the A is never wrong, after all—time to pull BMC’s Tour invites and start simply lying about the circumstances surrounding the suspension of other riders on their squad.

Attitudes like this are why I view much of the anti-doping movement with deep skepticism. You can dislike the riders currently leading the standings at the Giro del Trentino, but the fact is, all three of them have been caught and punished according to the rules. They’ve served their time. What more do you want?

Cycling has the heaviest testing regimen and most rigorously enforced penalties in the sporting world. It’s gotten to the point that teams routinely suspend riders the moment their names appear in an investigation—regardless of validity. Is that still not enough? Does every ex-doper need to be taken out behind the press tent and beaten with a bag full of BikePure headset spacers every time he or she turns in strong performance?

At some point in their careers, Basso, Ricco, and even Vino’ (who does look awful beefy for a guy racing a Grand Tour in two weeks…) were riding exceptionally well despite not taking any drugs; why is the assumption that, as soon as they return to form, they’re back on the juice? Why do people brand their very reappearance in the headlines as a horrible thing?

Perhaps what I like least about this vocal court of opinion is the uneven nature in which it dispenses punishiment. I don’t seem to recall anyone screaming out for justice when Pantani made his last exciting lunges for victory at the ’03 Giro, or when VDB almost came back from the dead at that year’s Ronde.

For that matter, reformed doper David Millar is routinely excoriated for being too sanctimonious about his rehabilitation, and depending on who you ask among the “tarnished podium” crowd, some grant Ivan Basso a pass for reasons as tenuous as his status as a “[nice] family [man]” and his post-suspension work Cadel Evans’ coach.

While the Ricco certainly seems to have all the personality his nickname would imply, objectively speaking, he’s also the purest example of reform from Wednesday’s “tarnished” podium. He confessed immediately and cooperated with authorities, which is more than one can say of either Basso, who denied all charges for nine months and still didn’t really confess, or Vinokourov, who maintains his innocence to this day.

I think it’s pretty clear that the real villains in this tale of two podiums are the fickle cycling fans and commentators, and I think more people need to adapt the attitude taken by Fleche Wallonne winner Cadel Evans: some athletes in every sport will always cheat to win, and no amount of wristbands, invasive testing, or draconian punishment is going to change that.

Cycling does the best job of any sport at rooting out the drug cheats, and I think it’s time we started celebrating the efforts that catch dopers instead of whining that cheats exist in the first place.

How The Race Was Won – Amstel Gold 2010

19 Apr

I’ve got to admit, after almost a decade, this business of Amstel Gold finishing on the Cauberg is starting to grow on me. A relaxed early tempo gives way to all sorts of fun attacks and just a bit of tactical resilience in the closing kilometers. And while I have a horrible feeling that we may have just traded one one-day tyrant for another, it was exciting to see someone other than Fabian Cancellara take a win.

[right-click for iTunes-compatible download]

(Contains many photos most of which are licensed for free use, and footage from NOS Sport.)

The (Go) "Jens!" Shirt

16 Apr

UPDATE: Also available: Jens! coffee mug and Jens! beer stein.

I was looking at the Amstel Gold start list this morning and noticed that dossard #178 would be worn be a certain indefatigable German on the SaxoBank roster. It reminded me of a few reader requests that came in shortly after I added the “Stop Lance” shirt to the Cyclocosm shop.

However, the idea presented a few design problems. The whole “Stop Pre” thing doesn’t really work on Jens. Sure, he’s got a bit of the cockiness and knee-jerk reactivity that made Pre such a polarizing figure, but under normal circumstances Jens just seems way too goofy and enthusiastic to evoke an antagonistic response

My next instinct was obviously “Go Jens!”, but it didn’t fit well in anything but a triangular shape, and frankly, it seemed entirely redundant. When Voigt charges off the front of the field, the comments at the Podium Café live chat don’t read “Go Jens” or “Jens breaks away”; what other rider is so established among the fan base that a first name and punctuation is sufficient as both a description of race action and enthusiastic display of support?

And so, the shirt reads simply “Jens!”, set in the DIN typeface used on German road signs. Currently, available in various combinations of green/white, custom colors or other apparel available on request.

And So End The Cobbled Classics

15 Apr

And so end the cobbled classics for another year. Some commentators may have jumped the gun a little bit—especially with a Belgian sweep at Brabantse Pijl yesterday—but the sentiment remains valid: this was a pretty crummy year for the traditional powers

Even viewing things along team lines, the season was unusual. Continental squads Topsport Vlaanderen and Vacansoleil seemed as prominent as anyone else, and who would have guessed back in February that Quick.Step’s biggest win this spring would come from an Italian in Spain?

It’s tempting to blame the dearth of wins on a certain maniacal Swiss—who, by the way, might not be done yet— but the most striking difference for me was the relative lack of authority exerted by Quick.Step. While Tom Boonen’s Belgian tri-color was a race-making presence in nearly every event he stared, single-handedly biking yourself to victory remains prohibitively difficult.

Boonen did what he could, placing attacks that reduced races to a handful of riders when the numbers were not in his favor. But riding in the break is a heck of a lot easier when you’ve spent the previous 100km drafting Wouter Weylandt, and whole lot less stressful when you’ve got a fistful of riders keeping an eye on things in the chase.

That said, I don’t think the racing suffered. While watching Cancellara blow the wheels off everyone for three consecutive events—except when he missed the start—might have gotten a little old, his squad, along with Sky, Cervelo, and occasionally Omega Pharma-Lotto, filled the power vacuum amply. If anything took the edge off racing, it was the revamped schedule—but more on that later.

Outside the rainy, muddy confines of Belgium, the rest of the cycling world has continued to spin merrily along. HTC-Columbia manager Bob Stapleton stepped in to soothe the puerile dispute between his two sprinters, initiating a period of calm that lasted precisely three days before Cav decided to kick over the apple cart again. As an added bonus, The Guardian managed to mung up the drama on the 14th Stage of last year’s Tour, referring to Cav’s pre-relegation 13th place finish as a “win”.

In Spain, Chris Horner rode himself into a Txapela over some fairly notable company, making himself an outside contender for the Ardennes Classics. Given the crummy record of the Johan Bruyneel Experience in one-day races, I don’t expect too much, but then again, Horner has previously displayed an ability to ride essentially unsupported in big events.

How The Race Was Won – Paris-Roubaix 2010

12 Apr

I never want to call Roubaix boring, but this year’s Hell of the North felt uncomfortably similar to a non-2003 Armstrong TdF win. That said, there’s plenty of action to run through, including but not limited to another fantastic Cancellara bike change, two dog incursions, a poorly-timed feed, and more arm flailing than one of those air-powered tube displays.

[right-click for iTunes-compatible download]

(Contains many photos to which I do not own the rights, and footage from Sport+.)

For those who are asking, yes, I do plan to make more videos going forward, and yes, I do have footage from some other races this spring—namely, KBK, Gent-Wevelgem, and (maybe) Flanders. I have been especially busy this month because I am preparing to leave my current job at the end of May. Come June I anticipate having plenty of time on my hands.

Also, if anyone has any hints on better quality footage, these videos would come out much nicer. I would (and have) gladly paid for Cycling.TV, but I have no intention of giving them $100 until they can start scheduling races more than four days in advance.

Paris-RouBingo – The Paris-Roubaix Home Game

7 Apr

“The are no races,” Jacques Anquetil once quipped, “only lotteries.” And nowhere is that more true than this Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix. Broken steerer tubes, rogue freight trains, cartwheeling Norwegians—in an increasingly calculated sport, it’s a welcome change to see chance play such a prominent role.

So with that in mind, I’ve created Paris-RouBingo, the bingo-style home game for Paris-Roubaix:

(big sizebuy postercreate/share your own)

The rules are simple: watch the race, and mark off the incidents/sightings as they occur; first person to get five-in-a-row is the winner. Of course, if everyone used the same board the competition would be pretty boring, so here’s a blank copy in an 8.5″x11″ size you can edit and print out.

There’s even a Flickr pool where you can upload your completed board, and download those made by others. If enough boards get uploaded, you and you bike nerd friends can download randomly and play actual bingo as you watch this Sunday.

Post-Flanders Drama

6 Apr

Yes! My oh-fer 2010 continues ! After saying that Boonen was on another level this season on the climbs, and would ride clear on the tougher Ronde parcours, it’s Fabian Cancellara who rises to the challenge over the steepest pitch of the Muur and solos away to victory.

Much was made of a telling screenshot, revealing the Swiss champ seated and comfortable while Belgium’s finest stood thrashing in his wake. Some people who’ve actually ridden the section claim it may be easier to sit, but a brief photo hunt doesn’t entirely agree; regardless, Cance’s gap (I can’t really say that he attacked, per se) was immediate, enormous, and continued to extend for kilometers after.

It’s gotta be tough for Tom Boonen. He’s in good enough form to take second in two entirely dissimilar Monuments this season, yet comes up short twice in eight days to the same rider. And that rider just so happens to be one of only two guys to beat him at Paris-Roubix in the past five years—when else could beating the rest of the field by nearly a minute be so deflating?

I suppose I should also say something about the two Americans in the Top 10. Chapeau to Farrar, and to the suicidal teamwork of an on-form David Millar—with Maaskant thrown into the mix, Garmin could well be the sleeper this Sunday. The only comment I have on Hincapie’s performance has already been made.

This year’s Flanders also delivered no shortage of drama. Cancellara went through two bike changes, including one pre-orchestrated CX-style pit stop, while his teammate Matti Breschel, who did not receive such awesome support, excoriated his mechanics in a profanity laced post-race rant. There used to be videos of both these things, but they’ve since vanished PaveBlog got a screen capture of the bike exchange. While I love to hint at conspiracy theories, it’s tough to blame this one on politics; Breschel hasn’t been shy about shopping around.

While we’re on the topic of intra-team politics, the Cav-Greipel thing has really blown up, with Cavendish saying not only would the German never win a major classic, but he would refuse to race with Greipel ever again.

That’s pretty bold talk so early in the season, especially considering Cavendish still needs to replace one of the best lead-outs in the business. With Cav bailing on the Giro, Greipel, beginning with tomorrow’s Scheldeprijs, has some serious spotlight time to prove his worth as mid-season transfer—or possibly even to stage a coup at HTC.

Cavendish’s palmares to date (he’s only 24, after all) are untouchable, but his 2010 season has been considerably less impressive, with only a single win—at the second-tier Volta a Catalunya. He attributed his failure to defend his MSR title to bad luck—apparently six-minutes’-worth.

Baden Cooke, who’s scarcely seen a podium since he took the points title at the in 2003 Tour (aged 24) might do well to remind the Manxman that the road to becoming the next Cipo’ is paved with Ivan Quarantas.

A Serious Flanders Post on April First

1 Apr

It’s not that I consider myself above the phenomenon best described as “Internet Jackass Day“—I used to participate, back when I wasn’t very good at Photoshop, apparently—but I am up against the friggin’ wall in terms of free time.

I’m going to ignore the impact a two-weeks-on, two-weeks-off approach is having on my fitness and focus instead on the fact that for many year-round cycling fans, this is the most important week (or kinda two weeks, now) of the season.

Given my relative lack of productivity, what you should have been reading was Chris from Podium Cafe, who is actually in Flanders, doing a fine job with the set of press credentials he procured prior to his arrival.

I can’t link to all his reports—because SB Nation apparently doesn’t support categories(?!)—but their internal search is solid and “dateline” seems to precede all the Belgian posts. He’s also got a modestly-stocked Flickr account but has applied a license that will prevent you from doing anything awesome with the photos without breaking the law.

Anyway, today is the last day of fiddling around before the meat of the cobbled classics season—Flanders and Roubaix. Tyler Farrar has taken a stage at DaPanne, but success at the event doesn’t necessarily into a great Flanders or Roubaix. Yes, Ballan doubled up in ’07, but neither George Hincapie nor Stijn Devolder were able to do much after their DaPanne wins in ’04 and ’05, respectively.

While I’d be psyched to see any American energize the fair-weather crowd with a win in the one-days, Farrar tellingly tried and failed to make a bridge to the winning move around 40k to go on Sunday. It reveals that the Garmin rider has a great nose for racing, but also that he might not have it yet on the steep stuff.

After watching three riders pop out of the elite move during his pulls on a false flat on Sunday, I think George Hincapie is still the best American classics hope. However, his poorly-thought-out-if-well-intentioned strategy in the Wevelgem finale indicates that if he’s going to win, he’ll probably have to do it alone.

That said, you’d be nuts to have anyone but Tom Boonen down as a favorite for Sunday. Say what you will about his string of second-places, his under-performing teammates, or whatever this is all about—Boonen’s attacks in Het Nieuwsblad and E3 Prijs showed that he’s on a different level than the rest of the field this spring. On a course like Flanders, Boonen won’t have to make the selection early and hand his rivals the final 40km of flat roads in which to plot against him.

Instead, with climb after climb peppering the business end of the race, Boonen will probably power an elite group off early—on the Taaienberg at 60km to go, if the season to date is any indication—and then make a decisive solo attack whenever he feels strong enough to go full gas the remaining distance. I feel like a rapidly thinning group of rivals only makes this outcome more likely.