Last week Omega Pharma-Lotto director sportif Marc Sergeant squashed conjecture concerning Philippe Gilbert’s goals for the 2011 season. In an interview with Cyclingnews Sergeant refuted the idea that Gilbert might be a contender for the 2011 Tour de France.
Sergeant indicated that in his talks with the star, Gilbert indicated that he would try for the Vuelta or the Giro before attempting the Tour.
“I know that it could be too hard to try at the Tour de France where the riders there are at the highest level and he was certainly talking about the future, not 2011,” Sergeant told Cyclingnews. “Let’s say he wins Amstel again and perhaps one day the Tour of Flanders, then he can turn around and say that he’s proved he’s one of the best one-day riders and now he’s going to try and tackle something different but we have to wait and see.”
In this, Sergeant is both right and wrong. He’s right in that should Gilbert win the Amstel Gold Race again and follow with that a win in the Tour of Flanders in a subsequent season then he will have proven that he is one of the best one-day riders around. Why he would choose to go after Amstel again rather than going after Liege-Bastogne-Liege is another matter entirely. After all, there’s prestige and then there’s prestige.
As for tackling something different following successes in Amstel and Flanders is where Sergeant’s judgement comes up short. Sergeant could use a history lesson, in fact.
Victory in either the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix actually narrows a rider’s career prospects rather than broadening them. Not that a rider will earn less than he deserves or wind up on a lousy team (though that happens often enough—it’s just not the fault of the race), what it means is that the races a rider is likely to win narrows dramatically.
It’s a stunning piece of information.
Gianni Bugno was the last rider to win both the Tour of Flanders and a Grand Tour (the Giro). He won the Giro in 1990 and Flanders in ’94. The last rider to win both Flanders and the Tour in the same year was Eddy Merckx in ’69. Before that it was Louison Bobet in ’55. Merckx is the only rider to win all three (Flanders, Giro and Tour). Rudy Altig won the Vuelta in ’62 and Flanders in ’64, making him the only rider to win both the Vuelta and Flanders, other than Merckx.
It may seem like a rider as talented as Philippe Gilbert should be able to take a season and focus his efforts on a singular goal such as the Vuelta or the Giro. However, history suggests that as riders have increased their specialization in targeting specific races a curious clumping of victories has taken place.
In short, riders who win the Northern Classics, such as the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad don’t go on to Grand Tour wins.
Recent guys to win Omloop Het Nieuwsblad include Johan Museeuw, Thor Hushovd, Juan Antonio Flecha, Peter Van Petegem, and Michele Bartoli, guys who didn’t come close to winning a Grand Tour. The last guy to win both the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and a Grand Tour was the outlier of outliers: Eddy Merckx. He took both in 1973.
Since 1973 if you won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, one thing in your career was assured: No Grand Tour victories for you. It seems entirely counterintuitive to suggest one victory could prevent another, but victory in this semi-classic includes a dead end.
Gilbert has already won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad twice, in 2006 and 2008. He’s 28. By the time he was 28, Eddy Merckx had already won four Tours de France, four Giri d’Italia, the Vuelta a Espana, two World Championships, five Milan-San Remos, the Tour of Flanders, three Paris-Roubaix, four editions of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and two Tours of Lombardy, plus three editions of Paris-Nice. If Gilbert was destined to rival Merckx, the world’s number three rider would have shown more by now.
It’s impossible to say that Gilbert absolutely won’t win a Grand Tour in his lifetime, but I don’t think I will come up with more conclusive evidence of a finer rider who simply doesn’t have the credentials to suggest he will win a Vuelta, Giro or Tour.
There may not be a faster rider alive unable to win a Grand Tour.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Bike companies will, in some cases, say almost anything to cajole you into buying their product. From suggesting women (or men) will swoon in your presence to the possibility that victory is assured, marketing efforts have been known to make claims that would be laughed off even by those who still believe in Santa. You knew about Santa, right?
Oops, my bad.
In 2008, I was doing oodles of copy work for a bike industry company that shall go unnamed. That spring, I had a ringside seat for one team’s journey through the Spring Classics. Along the way, Zipp had some notable wheel failures, particularly at Flanders and Roubaix. I was able to gather that some folks were mad of the hopping variety.
That anyone would risk their most important rendezvous of the season on as-yet unproven technology struck me as undue sponsor influence. What else could explain a situation going so seriously south as Magnus Backstedt’s double pinch flat at Roubaix?
For the better part of the last year I’ve been hearing about how the redesigned Zipp 303 conquers the problems encountered in 2008 and 2009, how this wheel is literally twice as good as the previous wheel. What has surprised me about the presentations I’ve attended with Zipp staff has been how forthcoming about the wheel’s shortcomings in 2008. They really don’t hide the fact that the wheel didn’t do the job then. There wasn’t an ounce of spin-doctoring from the staff.
Such honesty is really refreshing.
Zipp enlisted Ben Edwards (formerly TestRider.com, now of peloton magazine—and yes, I do freelance for peloton and know and like Ben, but I have no incentive to promote this effort) to create a documentary that would help them catalog the improvements they made in a set of wheels that went from shattering the hopes of a former Roubaix winner to actually helping Fabian Cancellara win the race.
At 16 minutes, it’s short enough to be considered, uh, short, but in-depth enough to be bike-geek fascinating. I can smell spin faster than I detect skunk spray, though I like the scent no better and this is as devoid of it as any promotional film I’ve ever seen.
Even if you have no interest in paying thousands of dollars for a set of Zipp wheels, the film makes for interesting viewing for anyone curious about how products are developed, especially carbon fiber products.
Check it out here.
Thor Hushovd image by Tim DeWaele
When I think back on the moments from this season that excited me to be a cyclist, my mind turns on two events. They are Fabian Cancellara’s attacks that resulted in victory at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Cancellara’s wins were impressive, but what made me love them and return to them in my head, over and over had as much to do with the attacks as the wins themselves. When Cancellara attacked on the Muur de Grammont, he did so for reasons that were more than just strategic. He chose that spot as much for its historic importance in the race.
After the race was over he said, “I suppose it was a perfect race. Even my attacks were perfectly timed. Going on the Molenberg was the right moment and then I had to try on the Muur [de Grammont] because that’s where the legend and history of this race are made. When I realised I’d dropped Boonen it was like having wings on my feet and kept going all the way to the finish.”
Just a week later he accomplished the rare feat of taking the Flanders/Roubaix double, but of course, he didn’t attack just anywhere, but moments before entering the Mons-en-Pevele sector of cobbles—one of the truly decisive sectors with a history of changing the race.
Despite an idiotic effort to dull the luster of his wins with an allegation of using a motorized bike, Cancellara’s wins have given us the opportunity to revel in watching a stunningly strong cyclist ride the world off his wheel.
His wins were convincing. They were well timed. They were brave. They were also incredibly stylish.
I love style. I love PRO. But style is a luxury. It is the flourish that comes only when the rest of one’s craft is assured.
This is a lesson I learned in skateboarding more than 30 years ago. My friends and I could carve a brave line in a pool, grind the coping, even catch air. And while we were competent, most of us were short on the confidence that gave our posture on the board that extra spice that could make our friends cheer.
What I came to appreciate was how the arch of skater’s back sang of assured grace, how balance wasn’t a goal, but a plaything. That gently curving spine was all choice, no question.
Watching Cancellara spin a gear lower than Tom Boonen, stay seated and then drop him on the Muur de Grammont was an attack I could believe. After all the doping scandals, all the questions, it was a move I didn’t doubt. There was style in his strength and it was a moment I cheered.
The end of the season is well and truly here with tomorrow’s Tour of Lombardy. As the fifth and final Monument of the season, this is a PRO’s last real chance to score a win of note and either capitalize on a great season or hope to rescue a lousy one.
Unlike Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, the winner of Lombardy, the race of the falling leaves, is often a man of the Grand Tours, but not in the way you think. It’s true that the roll of winners included Fausto Coppi, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Francesco Moser, Bernard Hinault, Sean Kelly and Tony Rominger, but the majority of winners have been riders who aspired to do well at the Grand Tours, but rarely put together the form for a win. What more of them have in common is a win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Indeed, in the last 20 years, only two riders have put together a Grand Tour win and success at Lombardy in the same year. Three-time winner Damiano Cunego did it back in 2004 when he won the Giro d’Italia, and sustained his form all the way from May to October. Prior to that Tony Rominger did it in ’92 following his win in the Vuelta a Espana when it was still held in April.
And while it may seem that a rider should be able to capitalize on great form from World’s, so far, only Paolo Bettini has been able to cross the finish line at Lombardy in the arc-en-ciel.
Clearly, Lombardy is not a race for Thor Hushovd, but Cadel Evans seems to be both hungry and going well. However, following his win in the Tour of the Piedmont, Philippe Gilbert seems to be on track to repeat in Lombardy. Clearly, Matti Breschel and Filippo Pozzato will have something to say about who wins.
I say Gilbert will be too heavily marked to win. I’m going with Evans.
What say you?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
In movie making, writers of thrillers and mysteries will often use a device to heighten suspense and keep viewers from guessing too much of the plot. That element is called a Red Herring. Formally, a Red Herring is a kind of fallacy. It’s an argument introduced to distract the audience from the topic by inserting irrelevant information.
The “Miss Lonely Hearts” character in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is one of cinema’s great Red Herrings. Her personal drama of a loveless life that deteriorates into a suicide attempt is completely unrelated to the disappearance (and murder) of Mrs. Thorwald. Similarly, the stolen money, and what ultimately becomes of it, is utterly unrelated to the real plot of Psycho. They are distractions of a grand order.
Cycling now has its own Red Herring. It is being called “motorized doping”—using a bicycle with a tiny motor hidden from view to potentially offer the user an extra 60-100 watts at critical times. It comes at a truly inopportune time. The fight against real doping, that is, the scourge presented by engine-enhancing blood transfusions and EPO has proven to be more than the UCI is equipped to deal with.
Even though this story is really just coming to light now, it has been a topic of discussion, even concern, for months. According to the UCI, some bikes were checked at both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. Enrico Carpani, of the UCI’s technical commission, says they found no unusual bikes.
And yet, the story persists. One of the problems is that former pro Davide Cassani, who inadvertently alerted the world to Michael Rasmussen’s Italian training regimen (when he was allegedly training in Mexico), carries great credibility and impact due to the fact that he has the distinction of being a television commentator who unmasked a doper. Cassani demonstrated such a bicycle on TV and then boasted how he could win the Giro with its help, despite being 50 years old.
How is it that Pat McQuaid couldn’t dispatch this rumor—it is, after all, only a rumor at best—with a single knee-slapping guffaw? You know, the melting-into-the-couch, uncontrollable, tears-down-your cheeks laugh you’d do if someone told you straight-faced that Barack Obama wasn’t American or even Kenyan, but an alien and he controlled the drug trade on behalf of other aliens who were preparing for an invasion of Earth.
It is more than my vivid imagination can conjure. I have an easier time believing in something that took place “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” than I do in the idea of a secret e-bike powering the world’s reigning Olympic and World Champion in the time trial to victory at Flanders and Roubaix. After all, if Cancellara wasn’t strong enough on his own to get the job done at those two monuments, then please, Captain Skeptical, how did he manage a gold medal and rainbow stripes?
Perhaps he’s been on an assisted bike all along? Yeah, that’s it.
And wouldn’t such a bike have required not just complicity, but cooperation on the part of Specialized? Morgan Hill’s favorite employer was ready to sell its Shiv to consumers in the wake of its UCI ban. Joe Cyclist doesn’t have to worry about UCI bans. How many consumers would say ‘yes’ to a road bike equipped with a jet pack? What are the chances that if Specialized actually managed to create a mechanical assist to the crowd-favorite Tarmac that they’d really keep quiet about it? Okay, so they couldn’t really publicize something that offered an illegal advantage. But the cost of developing a frame to handle such an addition (and today’s carbon fiber frames aren’t engineered to have extra stuff crammed in them) would be significant, too significant for most bike companies to do without trying to trickle that technology into other bikes.
So what we have is a Red Herring, a distraction. Perhaps a magician’s sleight of hand. Because certainly the more important question about Cancellara’s performances is whether or not he executed them with no biological doping. All indications are that he was clean, and he’s been tested a fair amount, which is encouraging.
The only question regarding motorized doping worth asking is who started the rumor and what possible motivation they might have to do so.
But instead, we have UCI technicians working to develop a scanner that will tell them whether or not a bicycle is equipped with a motor.
Really? Is that the only way they can dispel this nonsense? How about look for control wires? How about weigh the bikes? How about look for control buttons? Given the current state of e-bikes and the amount of engineering Shimano employed to develop its Di2 group, you are safer assuming there is no motorized doping going on than asking a boy scout to escort you across the street.
Why aren’t we laughing? Why aren’t in tears begging the mongers to stop—that if we laugh any harder or longer, we’ll throw up? This is funnier than Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Every euro the UCI spends developing a motor scanner is a euro that ought to be going to the fight against the real doping.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Paris-Roubaix is the Angelina Jolie of bike racing. It stunning. It’s mythically proportioned. Everyone wants to win it.
And it’s batshitcrazy.
Liege-Bastogn-Liege is your spouse. It is gorgeous, smart, presentable to your family and sane enough to live with for the rest of your life.
At least, that’s my view of the races. I adore Paris-Roubaix. You don’t have to explain what makes Paris-Roubaix amazing, like you don’t have to explain why Brad Pitt left Jennifer Anniston; you just show a picture of Jolie. Liege-Bastogne-Liege is a race you have to get to know. Some folks may never get it, and that’s okay.
Paris-Roubaix is the fling. The weekend you’d like to have once a year, provided you were the sort of person who had flings.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege is what makes daily life rich and worth living. Truly, it’s a tough race, tougher than most people really understand, even most devout cyclists.
For starters, L-B-L is modest. Fewer than half the climbs are noted by name. No official record of the race lists its total climbing, which I’ve estimated at more than 8000 feet. There are mountain stages of the Tour de France that don’t climb that much. Not bad for a country many people think of as flat. At 258km (160 miles), it isn’t the longest race going, not by a longshot, but it is a race that very fine climbers can have trouble finishing.
When I think of the sort of riding I like to do on a routine basis, the kind of riding I can do day after day, rides that feed the soul, it’s terrain like that found at L-B-L that I want. Unlike Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and the Tour of Lombardy, there isn’t a flat spot to be found in L-B-L. Each of the other three races has long stretches of flat punctuated by climbs. L-B-L features a profile that looks as if it were constructed from the climbs of the other three races.
Below are the notable climbs of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. You are probably familiar with the stats on their length and average gradient. What you may never have seen is their elevation gain. It helps to put the climbs in a fresh light.
Cote de la Roche-en-Ardenne: 2.8 km climb, average grade of 4.9%; 449 feet
Cote de Saint Roch: 0.8 km climb, average grade of 12%; 314 ft.
Cote de Wanne: 2.7 km climb, average grade of 7%; 618 ft.
Cote de Stockeu: 1.1 km climb, average grade of 10.5%; 378 ft.
Col du Rosier: 6.4 km climb, average grade of 4%; 838 ft.
Col du Maquisard: 2.8 km climb, average grade of 4.5%; 412 ft.
Mont-Theux: 2.7 km climb, average grade of 5.2%; 460 ft.
Cote de la Redoute: 2.1 km climb, average grade of 8.4%; 577 ft.
Cote de la Roche aux Faucons: 1.5 km climb, average grade of 9.9%; 486 ft.
Cote de Saint-Nicholas: 1.0 km climb, average grade of 11.1%; 363 ft.
Elevation gain: 4895 ft.
As I previously mentioned, those 10 climbs are fewer than half the climbs your legs will note, though they do account for more than half the total altitude gain.
You’ll frequently hear riders say that Milan-San Remo is the easiest of the Monuments to finish, yet the hardest to win. You’ll also hear riders talk about how the pavé makes Paris-Roubaix the hardest race. What you don’t hear frequently, though it is said consistently, is that L-B-L is the most difficult race run over decent roads.
What I love about these John Pierce images is that as you look off in the background behind the riders, you see towns far below the riders.
These are no ordinary hills.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Following last week’s Paris-Roubaix, the big question on everyone’s minds was why, when Fabian Cancellara attacked, Tom Boonen didn’t react straightaway. While it isn’t possible to know exactly what was on Boonen’s mind, we can perhaps try to see the race through his eyes.
And if you’re wondering why this post is just now appearing, it has something to do with the steady stream of images arriving by e-mail from John Pierce; every day for a week, I’ve received another half dozen or so images. What you see here wasn’t available the day following the race.
When Cancellara attacked the first thought I had was that Boonen was too far back in the group to be the appropriate guy to counter the move. Even though he was arguably the strongest guy left in the group, to jump from that far back in the group would see everyone one his wheel, leaving him to play tow truck for Hushovd, Hammond and the rest. Boonen is a star and wouldn’t submit to so undignified a role as that. It’s like asking George Clooney to be an extra in a movie written for him.
Consider also the other information Boonen had at his disposal. Following Flanders he said he was riding at 55kph and couldn’t bring Cancellara back. That’s faster than the average TTT speed at the Tour in the 1980s and yet it wasn’t enough to bring back one man. (Okay, so that one man happens to be the current ITT World Champion.)
It was late in the race as well; even the best riders have a finite number of attacks in their legs. To counter Cancellara’s move means burning a match you planned to use later. Based on the shots of Boonen trying to rally the group to work together, it’s fair to say he realized he couldn’t pull Cancellara back on his own and knew his best opportunity was to get the group to work together to bring Cancellara back.
Based on what I’ve seen, I’d say Boonen didn’t settle for second; rather, the other riders in his group did. He seemed to be the one rider who really wanted to establish a paceline to bring Cancellara back.
After what happened at Flanders, Boonen can be forgiven for believing the only hope for victory was with the help of the group, and that without it, defeat was certain.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
John Pierce of Photosport International has continued to edit images from Flanders and sent these along. Consider them a sort of portfolio of the day, a whole race distilled into a few magical moments of the race’s most pivotal stretch of cobbles, the Muur de Grammont.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
Monument #2 of the season is this Sunday: the great Tour of Flanders. No other race in the world takes a series of short hills and turns them into such a series of body blows that even Muhammed Ali would have to take note. Maybe even compose a little poem.
And if you think I’m about to write a commemorative poem for the Tour of Flanders you’d be both right and wrong. I’m just not sharing it here.
Fully 82 percent of all stories on cyclists in Belgium right now concern Tom Boonen and the Tour of Flanders. It will be a national crisis if either he or his team doesn’t deliver something like the Second Coming on Easter.
The list of riders who want to win Flanders is nearly as long as the list of men who’d like a date with Heidi Klum. Similarly, the number of riders truly capable of such a win is just as short as the number of men Miss Klum would allow to buy her coffee.
In my mind this year’s race is an either-or. Stijn Devolder, as great as he is, has been something of an interloper, mopping up spoils when Boonen was just too marked. I don’t think he’ll get that sort of opportunity a third time. No, Belgium wants Tomeke crowned king of Flanders. With his second at San Remo Boonen has proven that he is both fit and hungry for a big win.
So who’s the or? Simple. Cancellara. He has made it clear that he likes new challenges. With Roubaix, San Remo, a World Championship and the Olympics under his belt, he’d like to win something he hasn’t won before. Hmm, Flanders fits the bill.
So here’s the challenge to you: Do you think the winner will be someone other than this oh-so-dynamic duo? If so, who? More important: Why?
Not to point too fine a point on it, but here’s a real challenge: Make a case for why Pozzato could pull this off.
Oh, and while you’re at it, as unlikely as it ought to be, Da Robot has picked up the H1N1 virus. How a Robot gets a pig disease, we’re not sure, but you might wish him well as he suffers.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International