The seven-day, 600-mile long Quizno’s Pro Challenge has already landed the honorific of “the greatest bike race ever held on American soil from August 22-28, 2011.” True enough. After all, the 1996 edition of the Tour DuPont, which was 1225-miles long, was held in May. Nevermind about the 18-stage edition of the Coor’s Classic held in 1986 which was won by Bernard Hinault and was held in … August, though obviously not running from August 22-28.
We don’t know a lot about the Quizno’s Pro Challenge just yet. Aside from seven stages encompassing 600 miles of racing, we’ve been told it will feature a prologue and one individual time trial plus several mountainous stages, and just one stage suited to sprinters.
If the 2011 Giro d’Italia is any indication, stage race organizers may be starting to think about what makes for exciting racing to the viewing public. Mountain racing is exciting, whether you are watching in person or on TV. And whether you’re at the top of the climb or 5km from the top, it’s still exciting to watch. Contrast that with watching a crit two corners from the finish. Yes, watching a pack fly by at 36 mph is pretty cool, but you almost never have the feeling that you’ve watched a win in the happening. Worse, watching a crit on TV is rarely as good as a trailer-park fight on an episode of COPS.
The chance to watch 120 PROs tackle the mountains of Colorado is a siren call to any roadie. As sure bets go, it seems likely that some folks who would have traveled to see the Amgen Tour of California will, instead, head to Denver to take in some stages of this new race.
And that, dear friends, begs the question: What gets you out to watch bike racing? Have you ever built a vacation around going to watch a bike race, be it the Tour de France, the Amgen Tour of California or the Hell of the North? Further, to the degree that you would consider attending either the Amgen or Quizno’s races, which would you go to … and why?
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
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.