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The Vanishing GC Sprinter

27 Apr

Brad Wiggins’ performance earlier this week in the first stage of the Tour of Romandie was a rare treat for the modern cycling fan: a real Grand Tour contender duking it and taking the win in a bunch sprint.

It wasn’t in a Grand Tour, of course, and it took a couple pretty serious climbs to thin out the field, but still—watching Wiggins reach back to his trackie days to hold Liquigas’ leadout, jump from the cheap seats, and even gamely extend his twiggy little elbows in the final meters was pretty damn cool:


The last time I saw something like this, it was 2004 and the biggest race in the US was a mid-April appointment in Georgia. Taking advantage of a field thinned by some late climbs, and leaning on his unique ability to lay down power at a high cadence, Lance Armstrong made a late surge in a fast, downhill sprint. Hate the Texan all you want, but respect the skills and instinct—rest day refills almost certainly didn’t help him here:


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1987 Tour de Suisse

9 Jan

While I could do without the music, and the grainy VHS-to-flash video quality, this Team 7-Eleven classic is definitely worth watch. It’s not often a 10-day stage race comes down to an intermediate sprint…


(via velogogo)

You’ve got to wonder at the behind-the-scenes machinations preceding this final stage. It strains credulity that Panasonic, after 10 days of racing, and shattering the field up the final climb the day before, could have controlled the entire peloton with their legs alone, before putting an all-rounder like Winnen in prime position to win the sprint.

7-Eleven, on the other hand, even after two years in the European peloton, probably didn’t have a lot in the way of leverage. Certainly, the team meeting gives an impression of isolation, with no mention of strategy beyond “stay close to Andy and don’t take any guff”.

Hampsten was indeed well-defended; you can see his yellow jersey about 15 riders back in the final bend before the sprint. But Ron Kiefel—who likes his victories improbable—was 7-Eleven’s point man on the day, trying to take the 10-second bonus from the Dutchman “If I’m in position”.

If I ever meet Kiefel, I’ll ask about the battle it took to find Winnen’s wheel coming into the line.

The State of Modern Kit Design

5 Jan

Back before the Internet, bike nerds must have had to crowd around well-thumbed copies of under-the-radar bike ‘zines at the LBS, squinting fitfully at blurry, black-and-white photos pirated out of Gazzetta dello Sport before coming up with clever things to say about how freakin’ ugly the new season’s kits were.

Can you imagine? Do you think fine details like the fake rivets and pockets on the notorious Carrera kits were even visible? Could they even tell that the Castorama kit was supposed to be a grocer’s Home Depot-style apron, and not hip waders or overalls? I shudder to even consider it.

At any rate, I think kit design has improved quite a bit since the early 90s—certainly if people are nominating the comparatively staid Kelme kit for worst of all time in any sport, we’re doing OK. Riskier designs like Highroad and Garmin have taken some heat, but being distinctive and having single concept that drives the design aren’t bad things.

That was my main complaint about the Radio Shack kits—aimlessness and safe, corporate sterility—and for the most part, I think Sky’s admittedly understated kit avoids that. I don’t like it as much as Quick.Step’s reprise of last season’s underused design (which has a nice retro feel while remaining immediately recognizable) but it’s certainly better than Astana (red S on yellow sleeve looks a bit ketchup and mustard, doesn’t it?).

While I’ll readily admit that some of my favorite designs are simple patterns from the 1970s and early 80s, I think it’s a good thing that kit designers still try to innovate: good, new designs sell more apparel and drive interest to the sport, and the total flops make everyone else look better.

You'd Be Concerned, Too

10 Nov

As Jens Voight’s crash reminded us this summer, there’s no end to the danger lurking in the high mountains of the Tour. But the woman in this image—taken from the excellent, free-to-use collection of the Nationaal Archief—has special reason to be concerned.

vrau_van_est

Wim Van Est was the first Dutchman to don the yellow jersey in 1951, winning the 12th stage to Dax from a break that finished well clear of the field. He was still in yellow the next day when he flatted (or misjudged a bend) and went flying off the Col d’Abisque and down 200 feet into a nearby ravine.

Miraculously, Van Est survived the tumble intact. However, the rock face he soared off of was so steep—and the state of his understandable mental collapse so total—that he had to be hoisted back to the roadway with a daisy chain of tubular tires.

I suspect that this remarkable tumble was the genesis of Vrau Van Est’s radio-and-portrait setup.