March 31, 2011

Vlaanderen's mooiste

Over the past decade or so I've really grown to appreciate the Ronde. Though it's always been legendary, I'll admit that I was less than insane for it in my first few years. Respect, yes. Reverence, not quite. For sure, great champions like Merckx, the Planckaerts, and Museew made their careers into legends on the bergs, but Roubaix always held my attention because the battles were more visible to an impressionable young American. LeMond stoked my early racing fire and he was rarely (7th in '85) a factor in Flanders (but he still got this pic in his first Sports Illustrated article in 1984 - yea, you should read it!)

Then Van Petegem won. He wasn't even really on my list of 'favorite riders at the time, but he took the win from wonder-kid-come-never-ran Frank Vandenbrouke and super-hero Johan Museew. It stuck in my memory for some reason and a deeper appreciation was born. That he went on to pull the Flanders - Roubaix double in 2003 is just sweet! Here's a short summary of that '99 race...

Of course Boonen was impressive in his wins, but much like Museew they just did't enthrall me (I'll give him his props for the tenacity of last years race, and for a stirring sprint victory at Gent-Wevelgem last week though. Good on ya Tomeke!)

The sweet spot for me was Stijn Devolder...and really that's where the love of Flanders comes from for me. Forget winning back-to-back (as only 5 others have done, including Boonen), it was the WAY he won those races. Pure Panache! Yea, he took some heat for the win in 2008 when Tomeke was 'supposed' to win...but watch the video and listen. He was on the attack from 46k, and smartly launched a tactically astute counter just as the break was caught...perfect team tactic! In the Belgian Champions tri-color no less! Awesome, simply awesome...

Ok, enough nostalgia..let's get to this year. The runnup has been fun to watch. From the E3 to Gent Wevelgem and 3 Days of Depanne...there has been great racing that puts a variety of riders on the 'watch' list and will hopefully* make for a great and thrilling race. Let's work our way thru the destruction sure to be metted out...

It's only fair to give due credit to the incredible depth that is coming to the race. Many of the teams have multiple threats that just might create the tactical situation Fabian Cancellara can't overcome. While not quite favorites for Sunday Thomas DeGendt and Marco Marcato at Vaconsoleil, Nikki Terpstra, Gert Steegmans and Sylvain Chavanel at Quick-Step, Leif Hoste and Fillippo Pozato at Katusha, and quick rising Lars Boom at Rabobank may just add to the story line. And that's only a partial list. Among my top favorites:

Stijn Devolder - you knew he'd make my list right? I'd look for him to be active early in the hopes that he can sneak out to a worthwhile margin and force the others to come to him. He's not been seen in the mix much yet this season, but that may actually serve to his tactical advantage

Phillippe Gilbert - On good form, if not quite up to his traditional fall flurry of fitness, Philippe will play a roll in the race. I see him forcing a selection on one of the infamous middle climbs like the Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg or Koppenberg. It won't break the field, but it will seal a fate or two.

Juan Antonio Flecha - has suprisingly agressive race at the RVV. He's often an instigator and may well be in the break as they cross the Taaienberg and Valkenburg, but I think the Muur - Kapelmuur will again be the make or break point - and he's very good on that climb. Good enough to stay in touch with

Alessandro Ballan - he's ridden well in the spring. He's won before. He has Van Avermat to play the foil. Maybe, just maybe it'll go his way. To do so he needs a small group together over the Muur.

Thor Husovd - Tyler rode very well last year (5th), but I just think Thor is better suited to this race. Motivated and tough, he may be the guy to tag onto the super-duo

Tom Boonen - you can't forget his two wins. It simply means too much to Tom to win and he dearly wants another crack at redemption. He doesn't have to drop Fabian, he just has to take him to the line. then again...

*Cancellara may simply ride away...


March 25, 2011

Ghent Wevelgem - Spring is Here!!

Ghent Wevelgem is often considered a semi-classic, but in a true underdog run it is striving to raise it's profile. Previously held on the Wednesday between the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix, G-W moved to the Sunday before RVV last year, presumably in an attempt to become more relevant. I like the mid-week slot ties the week together and, frankly, the cycling world needs to embrace the mid-level race instead of always looking for bigger-better. I am curious to see how the lack of a mid-week race may impact the riders freshness and agressiveness though.

They call is a 'sprinters' classic - and a quick persusal of the results bears this out for the most part, but it is equally likely that an all-arounder will win as evidenced by the variety of winners since 2000...

Sprinters: Van Bondt, Cipollini, Hushovd, Freire, Eisel

Roulers: Boonen, Mattan, Boasson Hagen, Hincapie, Burghardt, Klier

Ok, enough history - who's gonna pull it this year? Well...the list of POTENTIAL winners is as long as any other spring race..perhaps longer given the sometime selective/sometimes not nature of the course - in which case weather is the likely decider. Belgian wind and rain can take the measure out of any favorite who isn't on the sharp end at the right time. Unforunatley it's looking sunny.
Among the interesting storylines that might develop would be Andre Greipel getting a huge helping hand from Philippe Gilbert after his selfless riding at M-S-R last weekend. I don't think Gilbert will want to put it all on the line for this race with RVV coming up, so it's a natural tactic...and I wouldn't be suprised to see him working. Similarly Hushovd may well be at the disposal of Farrar given the proximity of RVV and Roubaix, if Farrar can make the selection.

Being a fan of the underdog I have to give a shout out to a few other potential spoilers. Yoann Offredo and Dominuqe Rollin could be a really deadly combination if the weather is deep (wouldn't you love to see that?). Thomas Voeckler is another shadow player in previous classics who is on better form than he's ever known (even when in yellow!). My regard for the Frenchman has gone up quite a bit since his World Cup win in Canada last year. I'm just sorry Stijn Devolder won't be on the start line.

Ok, enough writing - I'm going somewhat against the grain's just too tempting given the vast array of commentary that is picking Cancellara or Gilbert (both of whom would be very deserving winners) is my list of possible winners, not necessarily their finishing order (but hey, why not)...
1. Thos Husovd
2. Leif Hoste
3. Juan Antonio Flecha
4. Sergei Ivanov
5. Yoann Ofredo

March 21, 2011

Journalism-ish and Great Racing

More and more I find myself getting my race information from ever-more-sublime sources. There was a time when Winning Bicycle Racing Illustrated was the only read to read honestly. You can check out some 30+ covers - and I read every one!
They also produced the Tour De France Special Issues - BIG oversize format and chock full of great images...I promptly cut up the first few just to get some pics of LeMond and Hinault in '86, but I digress.

After Winning, VeloNews held the top spot for a long time. Big format, lots of Euro coverage, and a host of local stuff. VeloNews WAS cycling journalism.

Then the internet came along and the original crossed my path about mid 1998 and I was hooked. HOOKED! You can look through the "way-back" time machine and relive those heady days. It was just so cool to get up to date content from far away Europe and Australia. Bill did us all a great service and I hope he made a good return when he sold it...

Unfortunately, he sold it..and therein lies the problem. All that is cool is absorbed and diluted. Winning was cool. VeloNews was cool. CyclingNews was cool....then they weren't. Now they are aggregators of information, publishers of press releases, passers-on. They have somewhat made the sport as dull as race radios are purported to do. I can read the same article word for word on at least a half dozen sites

I admit it for awhile I was bored with pro-cycling. It was all so pre-destined, even the racing to a degree. The love was still there, but the passion was waning a bit.

Fortunately, my salvation came in the form of blogs about cycling by informed, smart, and intelligent writers, by not-so-run-of-the-mill content on bigger sites, and by live streaming video of races! Just this past weekend I went out and bought a converter to watch live video streams from my computer on my's awesome!

While most of these don't fall under the auspices of real journalism, I think it's fair to say that real journalism, at least in mainstream cycling media, is mostly a myth anyway, so I'll take my faux journo sites for now.

The other side of the equation is the racing. Watching Tierreno Adriatico and those incredible finishes pushed me back to full-throttle love for the sport! Forget the prognostications, the new technology (ok, not all of it), and the over-analysis and just watch the racing. It's been really good this year and we're just getting started. Now if only we had some great video coverage of smaller/local races we might be on our way...

Let's end with some racing:

March 18, 2011

Late Night Prognostications - Milan San Remo

The spring racing has been tremendous this year. Thanks to cyclingfans I've been able to watch a variety of races that I wouldn't normally have seen, and we can't forget the often great coverage afforded by Universal and Versus (but please get some new commentators!). So we have a good idea of who's riding well and it's a long list:

- Thor Husovd demonstrated some power at Tierrno Adriatico
- Damiano Cunego looked good too
- Ballan was very good at Strade Bianche and Tierreno
- Phillippe Gilbert...come on, that guy is a threat all the time
- Cancellara seemed to be improving but does he have that extra gear?
- Farrar (but honestly, I think Husovd will have the power after 300k)
- Peter Sagan has shown some flair in the early season.
- Oscar Freire has to be on any short list that's made

and there were some disappointments:
- Cavendish...just ain't getting it done
- Boonen is close, but not quite there yet
- Petacchi seems to have lost more than a step this season (yea, maybe it's illness, maybe not).

But let's throw a wrench or two into the mix - The Longshots
- Vincenzo Nibali is a great foil to Peter Sagan
- Alessandro Ballan is another rider coming into 2011 with something to prove. Solid on the Strade, a great worker for Cadel at Tierreno...I think he makes the podium, perhpas.
- JJ Haedo has shown that he can win at this level and might just be a suprise podium finisher - hey, it's called the longshots section for a reason, right?
- Thomas DeGendt or Marco Marcato are my ultra-longshot...i love the way Vaconsoleil races and they've been solid top 20 riders in several races this season, including DeGendt's 3rd place from the break in Stage 4 of Paris Nice.

So, who's the final podium? Well, it's always a guessing game so my guesses are
1. Thor Husovd
2. Phillippe Gilbert
3. Oscar Freire
4. Peter Sagan
5. Thomas DeGendt

we'll know in a couple of hours!