Philippe Gilbert is simply brilliant. He’s now won the past 4 major races in a row: Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. And he’s done it in a number of different ways – sheer power, tactics, even a sprint. If you’re unfamiliar with Gilbert, I did a short write up on the Amstel Gold HERE. Belgians, and Gilbert in particular, are on a tear this year.
When you’re done watching the final 4 minutes of the race posted in the video above, head on over to Red Kite Prayer to read a great write up on this monumental race.
Below, here’s a great insightful video from Leopard-Trek’s resident leg-breaker, Jens Voight, on what makes Liege-Bastogne-Liege unique and what Andy and Frank Schleck needed to do…turns out they were there in the end but maybe too much wasted energy led to their demise? Then again, they wouldn’t have been there together in the end if they hadn’t made the race like they did. Either way, according to Jens, it all comes down to taking a chance and being “brave.” No question the Schlecks rode bravely but in the end another man was simply stronger.
This is my son, Greyson, on his very first bike ride. He lasted as long as he could until he literally hit the wall.
Remember when you were a kid learning to ride a bike? For many of us, it was our first taste of adventure. At first, the bike was transportation. In 2nd Grade, I started riding my bike to school. Then, my brother and I started riding all over the place on the weekends. Not for training mind you (we were kids!), but for adventure. The bike was a ticket to a world beyond the 4 boring corners of our neighborhood. We would spend all day out in the sunshine riding bikes from one destination to another, basking in the freedom that a bike provided. This lasted for years.
Then I got my drivers license and the bike hung on the wall in the garage. There were new adventures to be had and I all but forgot about the bike. But somewhere in my 20’s, I rediscovered the adventure a bike can bring. Sure, now I have goals when I ride and usually have to hustle home as real-world adult responsibilities await. But somehow, riding a bike as an adult put me back in touch with that little kid that simply loved the wind in my face and the freedom and adventure of riding all over God’s creation on two wheels.
A childhood without a bicycle is a sailboat becalmed. A bicycle has the grace and style to give a billowing gaiety and a transcendent innocence to the fragile moments of childhood. In later years, those moments may be recalled for refuge, however evanescent, from the fits and frights of life. – James E. Starrs, The Noiseless Tenor (taken from “The Quotable Cyclist” by Bill Strickland)
Whatever your motivation for riding, you can’t help but benefit from reconnecting with your inner little kid. Remember that little you that longed for the weekend where you could throw your leg over a bike and ride off for hours on end? Try finding that little kid this weekend. See where he or she takes you.
The Amstel Gold was on Sunday and another Belgian won. Amstel is the Netherlands biggest pro bike race and begins what’s called the Ardennes classics. These series of spring races, named for the Ardennes mountains and forests that make up northern Belgium, France, and Luxembourg, include the monument Liege-Bastogne-Liege and also Fleche Wallone (coming up in a few weeks)
Ridiculously narrow roads. Road furniture that comes out of nowhere. Steep, punchy climbs and a crazy uphill finish. That’s Amstel Gold. The beauty of these spring classics (Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix + a host of smaller races) is that they all have their own quality and character and they generally favor different kinds of riders. Every few generations, we may see a Fabian Cancellara that can compete in all of them but for the most part San Remo favors the sprinters, Flanders takes a strongman able to burst over short climbs, Paris-Roubaix is sheer power and guts, and Amstel Gold takes an incredible all-arounder with a massive uphill sprint.
In this year’s edition, the rider with the number one on his back as defending champion, Philippe Gilbert, chased down Andy Schleck and powered his way up the finishing climb to reassert himself as a man for the classics. Gilbert is from the French speaking region of Belgium, but hey he’s Belgian, and the Flemish have adopted him as one of their own.
So just in case you’re counting this spring, that’s FOUR BELGIANS that have won the past FIVE classics/semi-classics: Tom Boonen at Ghent-Wevelgem, Nick Nuyens at Flanders, Johan van Summeren at Paris-Roubaix, Philippe Gilbert at Brabantse Pijl, and again Gilbert at Amstel Gold. Belgium is smaller than Indiana and they’re kicking the crap out of the rest of the world in the toughest races on the planet. The legendary toughness of Belgian bike racers is well-earned.
Almost makes me want to go train for 4 hours in the freezing rain. Almost.
Ah, the weekend. Don’t know where you are but hopefully you can get in some long miles over the next 2 days. If you’re in California, maybe you’re over at Sea Otter tearing it up.
I take a lot of inspiration from quotes and on occasion tape a quote to the stem of my bike. Some have gotten me up long climbs & have kept me hanging on in a tough Group Ride long after I’ve wanted to sit up. Here are a few that have made it onto the stem or top tube:
“To be a cyclist is to be a student of pain. Sure, the sport is fun with its seamless pacelines and secret singletrack, its post-ride pig-outs and soft muscles grown wonderfully hard. But at cycling’s core lies pain, hard and bitter as the pit inside a juicy peace. It doesn’t matter if you’re sprinting for an Olympic gold medal, a town sign, a trailhead, or the rest stop with the homemade brownies. If you never confront pain, you’re missing the essence of the sport” – Scott Martin
“I know the pain of cycling can be terrible: in your legs, your chest, everywhere. You go into oxygen debt and fall apart. Not many people outside cycling understand that.” – Greg Lemond
“When you are having a devil of a job to stay with the pack, when you can’t remember your name and you can hardly see your own front wheel, it’s at such moments that you must remember that Coppi, Van Steenbegen, Poulidor, Gimondi and all the others achieved greatness only because they knew how to fight through these moments.” -Charles Ruys
When I read these, I’m reminded that it’s worth it. That I love this. Momentary pain and suffering are minor costs compared to the lifelong rewards of physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Do you have any inspirational quotes that you’ve taped to your bike?
Have a great weekend!
Every so often, I’ll post video of daring and seemingly impossibly attacks from the world of pro cycling. Attack videos are cataloged HERE.
Do you remember this race? The 2006 edition of the Giro di Lombardia (the final of the 5 monuments) saw Paolo Bettini line up at the start just a few days after his brother passed away. The 2x World Champion (in back-to-back years no less) was well suited to the parcours but had a big target on his back. He attacked on the final climb and pulled away on this descent like a madman. Take a look at how close he gets to the guardrails and stone walls. Unbelievable. The moto has a difficult time keeping up! All the emotion of a win dedicated to his recently departed brother came pouring out as he crossed the line. Beautiful.
I cooked up a little Belgian fare for my family yesterday morning in honor of the country that’s taken more Paris-Roubaix wins than any other. But when Tom Boonen faltered mid-way through the race (punctures, crashes, ugh what a day for Tommeke), it looked like the Belgians’ chances at celebrating another storied win was all but shot.
Turns out it was a Belgian after all. Just not the one we expected. Johan van Summeren rode away with it at Paris-Roubaix yesterday, giving the American team Garmin-Cervelo a much needed Classics win. While all eyes in the final break were on Fabian Cancellara, Summeren’s teammate Thor Hushovd, Alessandro Ballan, and Juan Antonio Flecha (among others), Summeren took everyone by surprise by motoring away on the Carrefour de l’Arbe section of cobbles. Come to find out, his rear tire was almost completely flat as he entered the velodrome alone to take the victory. Well fought and deserved winner of the Queen of the Classics.
All eyes were on Cancellara who’s proven over the past few years to be the best Classics rider of this generation. This fact ensures that he’ll always have the biggest target on his back. Late in the race, it was easy to see everyone in the break watching his every move. And with good reason. He initiated every chase and, like Flanders last week, managed to ride the strongest riders in the world off his wheel. Always a great interview, Fabian said this before the race:
I just want to ride my bike. Live the passion from the race. It’s gonna be hard, it’s gonna be tough, but I think I’m ready. I’ll just do my best with my team ’til the finish line…but in this race you never know in which corner anything can happen. We’ll race our race and do what we can until we die.
That pretty much sums up this man and the way that he races. If you watched Cancellara’s late race heroics, bridging up to the break, dragging the pack along, and then storming off on his own again, it’s clear that he never says die. I think this is what makes him such a compelling figure. In situations like that, most team directors and riders would concede, sit in, get too tactical, and wait for the race to come to them. Remember Garmin’s team instructions to “race for third” at Flanders last week? Not Cancellara. He’s such an exciting and prolific winner because when he decides to lay it all out there, he commits and throws down. He’s a man of his word. No looking back and he fights to the end.
There were so many stories evolving in yesterday’s race, I’ll leave it to the news websites to report all the details. But here are a few moments that stood out to me:
- Boonen needing a bike change in the Forest of Arenberg. Ugh. Watching him stand there while his chances to win disappeared up the road was agonizing. With the narrow stretch of cobbles closed to cars, is there a worse place in any bike race to have a mechanical?
- Crashes. It seemed everyone went down at some point. And not just on the cobbles. Guys were flying around the pavement on straight, flat sections of road. I guess it happens to the pros too. When you’re at your limit for hours on end and can’t see straight, the details like road furniture, curbs, and the wheel in front come up fast.
- Sylvain Chavanel went down hard. The camera left him in his agony lying on the side of the road. Surely his day was done. A few minutes later, the moto camera shows him driving hard, the left side of his body torn to shreds. That guy’s got class and fight in him.
- Obviously, Cancellara. He chased from 1:50 down to 19 seconds back and when the dust finally settled, he walked away with 2nd place.
- George Hincapie lost out again. An untimely puncture, a desperate chase, and poor positioning when the leaders made their move left George dangling off the back. Again. Hoping he comes back for just one more year.
- The winner came from an early break! Sometimes the first moves in bike races matter a lot. Early race tactics actually played out the way all those guys fighting to get in the break in the first 100k dream about. And Summeren reaped the rewards of what he probably thought was just a “team move” to play out later for his team leader, Hushovd. Goed gedane, Johan.
The first two weeks of April sure haven’t disappointed. For my money, these races are the heart of the pro cycling season. I love the pageantry and big stage of the Grand Tours but the northern Classics give us pictures of heart, guts, and determination that can’t be found anywhere else. Makes me want to go ride my bike.
Today, the big dogs throw down. Pain and suffering, power and bike-handling, tactics and head games, Roubaix is a true test of guts and heart. Versus is airing 3 hours coverage of the Queen of the Classics this afternoon starting at 4pm PST.
Below is the full version of A Sunday in Hell. Still considered the best film ever made about pro cycling, it follows the 1976 edition of Paris-Roubaix. Grab a cup of coffee or bottle of Chimay. Embrocate. Soak it all in.