If the Group Ride were an actual race, and Padraig was the RKP DS, then I’d be climbing up the stairs of our lavishly appointed bus right now and apologizing for letting the team down on the opening day of the race season (in Belgium). Clearly, I mistimed my attack, launching the Het Nieuwsblad prediction thread only a few short hours before the race rolled out of Ghent, leaving almost no time for you, the peloton, to chase it down. Don’t worry. I’ll round into form as the season goes on.
Having said that, what a great weekend of racing. Juan Antonio Flecha busts one off with 20km to go and makes it to the line, ALONE IN PHOTO, the best way to finish. Heinrich Haussler, that yapping terrier of a rider, broke the tape second, ahead of a sprint won by Tyler Farrar, for third place.
Gee, that’s funny, no Belgians in the top three. How embarrassing.
I wonder if it has anything to do with all those Flemish hardmen spinning their wheels in the South of Spain in advance of the season, instead of in the wind and cold of their native land. Ironic, then, to be beaten by a Spaniard.
Flecha was all class, not only in winning, but also in paying tribute to his fallen friend Frank Vandenbroucke, a cheater, yes, but a cheater with a flare for the dramatic and a heart of fool’s gold.
Of course, Sunday held the survival race-themed, 2010 running of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the weather in Belgium turning from “good” to “hellish” overnight. The storm that tore across the northern lands even had a name, “Xythia,” straight out of the Chronicles of Narnia. 195 riders were on the start list. 26 finished. That’s 13% of the peloton you might call “tough.”
Apparently, temperatures in the 40s with wind gusts to 60kph are too much for the pros. Having commuted in those conditions I can confirm that they’re sub-optimal, but really boys, aren’t you being paid to race?
Bobbie Traksel (WHO?) raced and won for Vacansoleil, the Pro Continental squad’s second big win of the year after Wouter Mol took the GC in the Tour of Qatar. Kinda makes you think the smaller investment sponsorship in a Pro Con team might make more sense than the big money Pro Tour ticket, since, to this point, the top purveyor of European camping vacations has garnered more positive press than most, if not all, of the lower level Pro Tour teams.
RKP props to Thor Hushovd and Sylvain Chavanel who were among the few big names who bothered to finish K-B-K. Will it take a Norwegian and a Frenchman to teach the Belgians what it means to be hard again?
There is, of course, time for redemption. We’ve only just begun. Are you listening Tom Boonen?
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
Oh, ye of little faith. The status quo arises to dampen future hope. But in that dragon of a peloton, slinking and slithering across the countryside, there is ALWAYS one who thinks he’s fast, who will test himself against the dragon’s might.
What am I talking about? No. Me neither. No clue.
So most of you expect Mssr. Cavendish to continue to blow the wheels off the competition, and you know, that’s probably a safe bet. He’s young. He’s hungry. He’s got things to prove.
I hold out hope that an angry Hushovd is a strong Hushovd, and that once Cavendish first sought to rattle the bars of that Cervelo Test cage, it was wholly and fully on. I also believe that Tyler Farrar will mature. Quite what that means for a guy who puts his head down and pedals like his ass is on fire, I’m not sure, but I think he’ll win more races this season.
What many of you pointed out was that a certain measure of the Manxman’s might is in his lead out train, and that without Big George Hincapie ®, the Columbia train will be somehow less strong. Further, it’s difficult at this early juncture to gauge the strength and organization of the Sky set up. It stands to reason that they’ll be good, but how good is anyone’s guess.
Perhaps Mr. Brailsford of Team Sky will force young Cavendish to leave Columbia-HTC by denying him the easy victories he must have grown accustomed to in 2009.
And finally, let me just address the contention that sprint stages are boring. They are. That’s my opinion. I often ask myself what the point of riding 170kms was if they were just going to finish in a humping, writhing mass at the end anyway. Without a hill of any sort, a flat stage abhors a breakway. I’d rather they just gathered at the race start and had a 400m drag race, myself.
Oh, I know, there’s more to it than that. Heinrich Haussler and Philippe Gilbert showed us that, but there are exceptions, and there are rules. Let the lead out begin.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Andrei Greipel has laid down a marker. As the season cranks up and folks begin thinking about who is going to win what, the German sprinter, with three stage wins and an overall at the Tour Down Under, has reminded everyone that the Manx Missile isn’t the only show in (Columbia) sprint town. In the US, the media focus last season was on Tyler Farrar’s attempts to best Mark Cavendish, though Thor Hushovd showed that there is more than one way to skin that particular cat (Get it? Manx? cat? Alright, whatever.)
The standings from 2009 look like this: Cavendish – 23 wins; Greipel – 20 wins; Hushovd – 9 wins; Farrar – 9 wins; and just for excrement and giggles, Edvald Boasson-Hagen had 9 wins (B-H isn’t a sprinter, really, yet, but he’s fast).
So this week’s Group Ride looks at the flats. So many of the season’s tune up races are fodder for the faster fellows.
Who do you think has the best shot at toppling Cavendish? His teammate, Greipel? Hushovd? Farrar? Boasson-Hagen? Or perhaps a dark horse like Gerald Ciolek (Milram), Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank),Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Robbie McEwen (Katyusha), Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) ?
Who is the next, next thing, or the old, next thing or the right now thing? Who will save us from Cavendish’s inane victory celebrations? Who has the best shot at being the fastest man in the peloton in 2010?