Ronde! Ronde! Ronde! Ronde! Say it like that a bunch of times in a row, and it sounds like you’re revving a motorcycle in preparation for a jump over some absurdly large number of buses. Instead, you’re getting ready for, arguably, the most exciting week of bike racing all year, a week that begins with the Ronde van Vlaanderen (The Tour of Flanders) and ends with Paris-Roubaix.
Cobbles! Cobbles! Cobbles! Cobbles! goes the muffler on your vintage Triumph. The crowd’s collective stomach is all tied in knots. That’s a lot of buses, and the landing ramp looks a long, long, long way off. Is that a ring of fire they’ve lit on the end of the ramp?
We’re getting ready to launch the peloton’s hard men over many kilometers paved with bowling balls and bowler hats, narrow, twisting lanes that rise and fall like consumer confidence. Rain makes legends, but so does dust. Regardless, you’ll want the DVD.
The gambling houses stopped taking bets on Fabian Cancellara to win either race at the end of April last year. His current form must have every last rider on the road terrified. If I were Tom Boonen, I’d bring my Gent Wevelgem trophy with me so I had something substantial to hold while Cancellara is getting kisses from podium girls.
Who else could win? Hushovd. Flecha. Haussler. Gilbert. Ballan. Sagan. There, I’ve named a few. The rest is up to you.
Today’s Group Ride is a double dipper: Who will win the Ronde? Who will win in Roubaix? You get no points for guessing Cancellara, but do you really believe he can do the double? Again? If not, who is most likely to dethrone the rampant Swiss? Will anything less than a broken chain deny him his growing legend?
Enough, enough, enough of all this doping-related blather. Just because the Tour of Qatar is as entertaining as watching someone do their taxes, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be spending this time chatting anxiously about the coming season, rather than sticking pins in our Pat McQuaid voodoo dolls or trying to understand how the body takes in and stores dime store stimulants.
There is actually a racing season coming.
And, as it does every year, the landscape has shifted. Whether it’s the renaming of Team SaxoBank to Team Leopard – Trek (What? They’re not the same team?), or the merger of Cervelo with Garmin, the talent has been thrown up in the air like a deck of cards and then quickly reshuffled. How will it all play out?
Will Taylor Phinney’s move to BMC put them on more podiums? Will Tejay VanGarderen improve on last season’s promise? What of Jack Bobridge, the new owner of the world individual pursuit record? Will Radio Shack, the de facto retirement home for aging racers, have more to offer than they did last year, in Lance’s swan (dive) song?
Can Tyler Farrar help Thor Hushovd pour glory on the rainbow stripes, and can Hushovd help Farrar best Mark Cavendish? Can they even coexist? Will Andrei Greipel rise up to compete at the very top of the sprint pile? Can Phillipe Gilbert win big in the Spring? What does Fabian Cancellara do for an encore after complete lighting up 2010? Will Tom Boonen come back to the form from his early career?
So many questions. This week’s Group Ride tries to keep it simple: What is the most interesting unanswered question for the 2011 season?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Was it thrilling? Were you thrilled? Were you surprised to see Cancellara ride away with the race for the second weekend running? Were you pulling for Tommeke to reel the big Swiss back in? Did you think Hincapie was going to make something of his good mid-race position? Was Pozzato disappointing? What of Flecha and Hushovd, who seemed to wait for the Champion of Belgium to ride himself out in the chase, before dropping him in advance of the velodrome?
From my perspective, this year’s Paris-Roubaix was a bit of a let down. I successfully avoided learning the results all day in anticipation of the Versus coverage with Liggett and Sherwen (It’s the curse of residing on this side of the Atlantic that you can’t see these great races live), and then plopped myself down on the couch after reading my boys some rivetting bedtime stories about bears and mice having tea together, only to witness a decidedly subdued Hell of the North.
The French police barred spectators from drinking in the Arenberg Forest (above), and so there were far fewer at cobble-side, and thus less crashes. In fact, this version of the Queen of the Classics was just too short of mayhem for my tastes, an opinion not at all backed up by the fact that 85 riders had DNF next to their names at the end of the day.
The favorites rode to the front and stayed there. The usual attrition, the pummeling of the pavé, thinned the race down. And then Fabian Cancellara crushed the rest of the strong men, who scrabbled around in his dust, literally, leaving Tom Boonen alone to put up a fight. Quite how the nine of them couldn’t conjure any sort of meaningful paceline to at least limit their losses underlines how much stronger Cancellara was, physically AND mentally.
This was another aspect I found disappointing, the lack of fight from the guys who were supposed to fight.
After the race, as I noted in comments, Saxo Bank owner/manager Bjarne Riis took credit for his rider’s race-winning move. Apparently he commanded his giant Swiss-bot to attack at just the moment he saw Boonen napping at the back of the group. I’d pay 100 Francs to sit next to Bernhard Hinault while he read that interview and then went off on a profanity-laced tirade about modern riders all being a bunch of gigolos attached to Game Boys, but I’m like that. I love the drama. And badgers.
Getting to our little prediction contest…what’s wrong with you guys? You came up with really every permutation of Cancellara, Flecha, Hushovd, Boonen, Hincapie, etc., etc., et. al., PhD, MBA, PDQ, EXCEPT the right one. How did you do that? Well, now you know how Tom Boonen feels. Good effort, but no prize.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
Roubaix! Roubaix! Allez! Roubaix!
I don’t know. It just came out. So … here we are. For some of us, the biggest weekend of the cyclo-spectator year. The Queen of the Classics. The Hell of the North. A Sunday in Hell. Other, clever monikers incorporating the word ‘hell.’ Go on. Make up some of your own. It’s fun.
Paris-Roubaix, which actually starts in Compiégne, north of the French capital, and ends in the velodrome at Roubaix, consists of 28 cobbled sections (see the RKP Roubaix t-shirt here for the full list of cobbled stretches) connected by bits of proper pavement. The pavement serves as respite from the suffering, and allows the riders who have been dropped, crushed, crashed, mechanicalled or otherwise beaten by the cobbles, to regain their senses and climb into a team car or the broom wagon.
I could go on and on (ask my wife), but my hyperbole would be as a smear of embrocation against the elements. Not up to the task.
Here is a list of favorites (some more favorite than others, obviously): Cancellara, Boonen, Hushovd, Flecha, Farrar, Eisel, Maaskant, Pozzato, Breschel, Hincapie, Hoste. The dark horses: Everyone else.
Paris-Roubaix sometimes yields to the strongest rider, but other times bestows its glory on the luckiest. If you’re both strong and lucky, you’ll win. Maybe.
Anyway, let’s do something special for this most special of Group Rides. Let’s say, the first person to name the podium finishers correctly (and in correct order) wins the aforementioned Roubaix t-shirt. We will have one winner, the first up with the right answers. So name your podium … now.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The first two hundred kilometers of the Milan – San Remo one day classic played out like a group ride with triathletes in it. The pace it’s a little too high. It’s a little more competitive than it needs to be. And all the dudes are tragically skinny.
Sure, the first two hundred k’s include a climb of the Passo del Turchino, but everyone’s fresh still at that point, and it’s too early to attack and expect to win. In this year’s versions, when the peloton hit Le Mánie at 204k things were still together, but the legs were beginning to go dead, what with the rain and the mud and another 94k to pedal.
By the time they hit the Cipressa and then the Poggio the form riders who were thinking about attacking were too frightened to risk too much. Guys were getting spit out the back like froth behind a motor boat. No one had fresh legs at that point, and Stefano Garzelli road on the front and off into the red, until a bunch sprint was all but guaranteed.
From there it really looked like Tom Boonen, the most named pre-race favorite, was in good position to take the win, but old man Oscar Freire beat him by two bike lengths to join Fausto Coppi and Roger de Vlaeminck as a three time winner of the longest one day bike race on the pro calendar.
No one on the RKP Group Ride picked Freire. We had lots of Boonens, some Petacchis, a Pozzato or two, a few picking Boasson-Hagen, a Chavanel, a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker. But no Freire. Yours truly probably came closest by picking “an experienced sprinter,” but that’s really more begging the question than picking the winner, isn’t it?
Your thoughts on the race? Do share.
What? A Group Ride on a Thursday? Well, yes. I promised when the Het Nieuwsblad Group Ride went off a few short hours before the race itself got underway that I’d do a better job as the season went on. So here we are, all standing around the parking lot, unexpectedly, pulling up our warmers and sucking on our water bottles and waiting for someone, anyone, to head out.
Rather predictably, this week’s topic of discussion will be the 300k ‘classicisima’ Milan – San Remo. This is the sprinters’ classic and one of the monuments of the sport. You know. It’s important.
And accordingly, the list of favorites is as long as your arm, which is a curt way of saying there is no favorite. Last year Mark Cavendish shocked the cycling world by dragging himself over the races many climbs in good enough working order to win the sprint at the end. It was an announcement that the one-trick pony had added another trick, a really good one.
But, Young Cav has crashed on the final stage of Tirreno – Adriatico, and, if we’re clinical about this, he hasn’t really seemed to round into form just yet, so those who might otherwise say he’s the man to beat are keeping their powder dry at the moment.
So who else is in it to win it? Well, the list takes in a selection of the peloton‘s strong men and sprinters. It looks something like this: Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team), Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Juan-Antonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson-Hagen (both Sky), Tyler Farrar (Garmin), Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre), Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Philipe Gilbert (Omega Pharma Lotto), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha). And those are just the light colored horses. There are dark ones, too.
I won’t even break this down and tell you why each of these riders can win. These folks have already done it.
What I will do is ask you who YOU think will win it and why? Two weeks ago, frequent commenter Champs called Paris-Nice, but really, picking Contador isn’t a very risky maneuver, is it Champs?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Qatar rhymes with afar, which is where it is. The Tour of this tiny, wealthy, Arab emirate has slowly but surely planted itself on the ProTour calendar as an early season race worth watching, if for no other reason than to see the guys who didn’t ride in the Tour Down Under for the first time in the new year.
The question was, does the Tour of Qatar mean anything, or is it merely a warm-up for the stürm und drang of the spring? The answer you folks seem to have come up with is: yes. Both. For some it’s a way to put miles under wheels in preparation for the real races. For others, it’s the first chance to notch up wins. While some whiled away their time in the pack, chatting and acclimating to the flow of the peloton again, others sprinted in real anger, storming for the sandy line like it was the last chicken wing on the buffet.
Small teams, like GC winners Vacansoleil, have to take their wins where they can get them, and this registers as a big win for them. The sprinters who aren’t named Cavendish or Greipel took every stage, bar the opening TTT, as a chance to get their trains sorted out and their final bursts in order. Do NOT tell me that Tyler Farrar wasn’t disappointed not to take a stage. Do NOT tell me that Tom Boonen was just toying with his opposition like so many mice on the doorstep.
And so it’s a real race, for some, if not for others, but other than the Tour and Worlds, what real race is not?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The thing about Qatar, even though they don’t have any mountains (the highest point in the country is 340ft above sea level), is that it’s windy. Head winds. Tail winds. Cross winds. And they have massive air pollution from carbon dioxide emissions that come from electricity generation, sea water desalination, etc. So, despite not fitting the Euro profile for an epic race, the Tour of Qatar presents it’s own sort of challenges to the pro peloton.
Think of it as a prep for the winds of Northern Europe and the heat of Southern Spain, with all the lung choking charm of riding full tilt through Roman rush hour.
But what does the Tour of Qatar really tell us about the coming season? Tommeke Boonen took two stages there. Does that mean he’s on for the best season of his career? And who is Francesco Chicchi? The Liquigas sprinter notched two wins there as well, which is close to the average season win total for his career. Don’t even start me on the overall win for Wouter Mol (probably not his real name), who puts Pro Contintental team Vacansoleil on track to outpace a number of the Pro Tour’s lesser lights. Milram, that means you.
Or is this like preseason basketball/football/baseball/tetherball/curling/pinochle where the results mean nothing?
In 2007, when Specialized began sponsoring the Quick Step team, company representatives showed up at a winter training camp for the team with bikes for each and every rider. In the case of some riders, they actually showed up with two bikes if the size of their previous Time bike didn’t translate exactly to the Specialized bike.
In Tom Boonen’s case, the company came equipped with both a 58 and a 61 Tarmac. The 61 had the top tube length Boonen needed, but the head tube, he determined was too long. He couldn’t achieve the more than 10cm drop from the saddle to the handlebar with the 61; the bar was just too high. So Specialized left him with the 58cm frame and made a custom stem for him at their Morgan Hill fabrication shop. While no one has said exactly how long the stem was, indications are it was 15cm in length.
The season started … and so did Boonen’s back troubles. The PR fallout for Specialized didn’t seem too bad, unless you searched the message boards, and on those they were being murdered. Ditto for the talk on group rides.
With Boonen’s results suffering Specialized undertook a radical solution; working from the fit measurements of his previous Time, they recreated his fit exactly by building him a custom Tarmac and later a custom Roubaix from aluminum.
And yet the criticism of Specialized continued. Riders wondered why they weren’t building custom carbon bikes for Boonen. In fact, they were, but they wanted to make sure he was happy with the fit before they spent in excess of $25k cutting a mold. Those who have watched “This Old House” are familiar with the maxim, “Measure twice, cut once.”
As fate would have it, Boonen’s bike is just enough of a tweener size that the company has considered adding it to their size range.
The bike pictured here is the prototype Roubaix built for the three-time winner. While I haven’t heard definitively, I suspect Columbus Airplane (not Starship) tubing was used, given the bike’s weight and stiffness.
It’s a big bike by any standard. The top tube is 59cm on horizontal. The stem is 14cm and the bar is 44cm (center-to-center); both are aluminum. Reach from the nose of the saddle to the center of the stem is a whopping 63cm thanks to the 10.5cm drop from the saddle to the bar. And it is unmistakably a Roubaix thanks to the 42.5cm chainstays and the 60cm front-center. Saddle height is 80cm and his crank length is 177.5mm, naturally. With 25mm tubulars, the bottom bracket height would have been 27cm.
There’s a ding in the top tube from a hit and scratches along the left side of the downtube, signs of battle damage from the Hell of the North. Since it’s creation the bike has been with either Quick Step or Specialized; this is its first trip away from the Specialized HQ since coming back to the states. One other curious detail, as per the request of some team riders, this bike uses a Time fork painted to match rather than the Roubaix fork.