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
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?
OK. Circle up. Circle up. Zip up your jackets. Straighten your knee warmers. Adjust the velcro on your shoes. It’s time to roll out.
I got to thinking recently that, though the TDU wrapped up and the pros are moving on to minor races and mini-camps and whatnot, the season still hasn’t really begun. It’s torturing me a bit actually. I’ve read the Cycle Sport Season Preview twice. I’m ready.
The Etoiles de Bességes is on, but I can’t watch it. Tour of Qatar is coming. Yawn. Hot. Flat. Sandy. It’s a training ride.
So, absent my first choice of cycling entertainment, let’s turn to my second: equipment.
This week’s question is this: What bike, that you’ve owned and ridden, has been your absolute favorite and why?
Mine is the red Peugot CPX-100 dirt bike I got for Christmas when I was eight. I’ve loved a lot of bikes, but no other machine proved as great a revelation as that one. That bike gave me a style and independence that I had wanted so badly without even knowing it. It gave me access to miles of trails and jumps, tucked back in the woods near the house, and gave me, for the first and last time in my life, the nicest ride among my friends.
I have an old, steel Moser that I’m quite fond of. I have a Surly Cross-Check that has seen me through a couple of winters, but that old red BMX is my all-time favorite.