HTC is pulling out of pro racing, mergers promise to reduce the number of ProTour teams surviving into 2011, Alberto Contador continues to ride with a CAS-sized question mark over his head, and Lance Armstrong, the ghost of cycling past, waits to find out whether he’ll be indicted by the US government. But screw it, it’s always darkest before the dawn. You’ve got to stay on the sunny side. Accentuate the positive. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Etc. Etc.
This has been a GREAT year for racing, beginning with the Spring Classics, continuing through the Giro and culminating with the just finished Tour de France. If you have not enjoyed this season, it is likely you don’t care for bike racing. You should take up the harp or explore your interest in paragliding.
Having just won the Tour, Cadel Evans is a strong candidate for rider of the year. He dazzled last season, while wearing the rainbow stripes of World Champion, and that gave him a measure of popularity he hadn’t enjoyed previously. He won Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of Romandie before claiming his first maillot jaune at 34.
Thor Hushovd started slowly, and though his marking of Fabian Cancellara clearly led to Johan van Summeren’s big win at Paris-Roubaix, the norseman was vocally upset that Garmin-Cervelo wasn’t planning more races around his burgeoning talent. As this year’s wearer of the rainbow stripes however, Hushovd absolutely lit up the first week of the Tour, spending eight days in the yellow jersey and generally getting to display his class on the very biggest stage cycling offers.
Of course, any discussion of 2011 has to include Philippe Gilbert. To wit, Gilbert has won: Ster-Elektrotour, the Tour of Belgium, the Belgian road championship, Liége-Bastogne-Liége, Amstel Gold, La Fléche Wallonne, Montepaschi Strade Bianchi, Brabantse Pijl, stages at the Tour de France, Tirreno-Adriatico, and the Tour of the Algarve, and stood third on the podium at Milan-San Remo. Dude. Wins. Everything.
And, now that you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking I’m going to ask who the rider of the season has been up to this point. Wrong. Gilbert wins it going away (as usual). No. The question is, who has anything left for the end of the year? Evans can certainly be competitive in those Fall Classics that have, over the last few years, been the meat and potatoes of Gilbert’s palmares. Hushovd will surely notch some more wins before the leaves drop.
The question is: Which of these three will win more this year? Where? And why?
With Worlds upon us, we are fully into the season’s wind down. Riders who peaked for the Spring Classics may have mustered one more burst, or managed their work load with an eye on some of the Fall races. The big guns of summer have been laying low thinking about the end of year stage races. It’s all about peaking at the right time, or the right times.
Meanwhile, from my saddle, the onset of Autumn looks like a brand new day. I was thinking about how the pros plan their years, the races they target, the way they ramp up and cool down, and it led me, as it usually does, to examining my own patterns.
As a year-round rider, I also have peaks, and those correspond, roughly, to the seasons. In the spring, when the first warmth creeps back into the morning, and my gloves shed their fingers, I experience this great burst of form. I am fast. I am motivated. I can climb, and I can sprint, and it all feels good. Then the rains come. What started as a sunny rebirth turns into a wet slog that leaves me praying for the first strains of summer.
Then, too, I get a lift. The hot summer air gets me down to my lightest riding kit. Being lighter makes me faster. The summer blasts away. After a month of sweat-soaked speed, I get tired of rubbing salt into my eyes. The heat takes its toll. It wears me down.
Then the fall descends on us. Cool air blows up my hill. I pull on a pair of arm warmers, and I’m on top of it again. Instead of feeling as though I’m losing my soul to the constant flow of perspiration, I hum along at near perfect temperature, dropping triathletes in my wake, like the dust off a Trans Am’s bumper.
The leaves fall. The rain returns. Wet leaves turn the roads into brown ice. My knickers are sodden with cold water. By late November, I’m ready for the snow to fall. What portends months on the couch for some, connotes daily rides bereft of joggers and hybrid-pedaling accountants for me. To ride, as those first fat flakes drift from the graying sky, is sublime. It’s like the whole road is mine again. I ride down into the city, along the river, alone.
By February, I’ve been barking against the cold for too long. My tights are grimed with salt and sand, put down to keep the cars from reenacting a carnival ride. The elastics in my winter hats are all distended. I’d sell my bottom bracket for Spring to spring up from the icy crust.
These are my seasons. At the beginning of each I peak, by the end I’m just hanging on.
Sam Abt wrote of the pros:
“Out in the countryside of France, the fields are brown and barren, their corn long harvested and the stalks chopped down for fodder. Until the stubble is plowed under when winter wheat is planted, the landscape is bleak and the air full of despair.
“For professional bicycle riders, April is not the cruelest month. Far from it. In April, hopes for a successful season are as green as the shoots just then starting to push through the fields that the riders pass in their early races. The cruelest month is really October, when the nine-month racing season ends and the riders finally know what they have failed to accomplish.”
With no trophies to hoist aloft, no podium girls to kiss, I’m left to the elements. I ride to be fast and smooth, to find myself “on top of it” as Souleur wrote this week. All winter I ride to be fast in the Spring. All Spring I ride to be fast in the Summer. All Summer I ride to be fast in the Fall. All Fall I ride to be fast in the Winter. Seasonal.
I wish the pros luck in the coming month. Some will be sprinting for victory in Australia. Others will be eying Lombardy and Tours to salvage the hopes they sprouted in Sam Abt’s Spring. I will be riding too. Trying to be fast.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
By almost any ordinary definition the season is spring. The Spring Classics have begun. Spring training is on the minds of cyclists and baseball fans alike. Some schools are on Spring Break. Snow has stopped falling in most states and most European countries.
Not that it’s necessarily warm, mind you, but the weather is cooperative enough in theory to allow most cyclists to train. Now’s the time when many cyclists are trying to build or complete their base miles for the season.
You’ve been at this a long time and know that there’s more to logging base miles than just decent weather. Work, children, better halves, any of these can derail a three-hour ride faster than instant coffee.
That said, we know your heart. We know you want to be out there. So tell us, just how cooperative has your life been? How many hours a week have you been able to train on average?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International