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Amstel Gold, 2011 – Yup, Another Belgian Wins

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.

Ride on…

Art of the Group Ride Daily Newspaper – April 18, 2011

Click image to view The AGR Daily

The AGR Daily aggregates the most popular stories, photos, videos and trending twitter topics related to cycling. It’s a great way to find the most popular daily cycling news stories from around the world in one place. You can click on the headlines to read the full stories from sites like VeloNews and CyclingNews as well as personal tweets from pro riders and writers. Just click on the image above to go to the AGR Daily at Paper.li to catch up on everything that’s happening now. You can even subscribe to the AGR Daily (see subscribe button in the newspaper) to keep up to date with daily stories in the world of cycling.

Ride on…

Your Weekend Training and Racing Inspiration

Halfway up a local climb

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!

Ride on…

The Madman Downhill Attack

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.

Schools For Cyclists: 10 Bike-Friendly Universities

Photo by Erin Lubin, Bloomberg News, Getty Images

The Huffington Post recently released the article, Schools For Cyclists: 10 Bike-Friendly Universities, and it turns out that our very own local college has been rated as the most bike-friendly university according the  League of American Bicyclists. Only 32 schools applied for the designation. A fact that underlines a paltry awareness of the significance of being bike-friendly. Of those 32 schools, only 20 actually earned the designation. And only Stanford received a platinum rating. Go Cardinal!

From the Huffington Post article:

According to a press release, Stanford earned top marks thanks to its large number of bike-related programs and resources — like route maps, safety classes and safety repair stands — and because a whopping 21.7 percent of Stanford students, faculty and staff commute via bicycle.

I guess it’s true: smart people ride bikes.

You can find the full list of bike-friendly universities here.

Is there a college near you that made the list?

Ride on…

Thanks for Joining the Ride!

We’ve had a big few weeks here at Art of the Group Ride as readership has continued to grow since we launched 4 months ago. More and more of you have come along for the Ride and for that we’re extremely grateful. We’re all time-crunched these days so your internet browsing time is probably limited – so if you’ve enjoyed AGR posts, here are a few quick ways that you can follow along that will make the most of your time:

  1. Subscribe by Email – In the right-hand sidebar, you’ll see a box where you can enter your email address. You won’t receive any spam, just new posts directly to your inbox. WordPress is great like that. Scan it, read it, share it, delete it, whatever you like. Takes 3 seconds to decide & you’re moving on.
  2. Subscribe by Reader – If you haven’t discovered RSS feeds or Readers, this is the best way to organize and quickly scan through blogs that you like. I subscribe to about 200 blogs and regularly scan through post titles, stopping to read a few that seem interesting to me. I think Google Reader is the best out there. It’s free and easy. Simply head over to Google and open a free account. You’ll get a gmail address but you don’t have to use it if you just want to use the Reader.
  3. Become a Facebook Fan – You can find the AGR Facebook page HERE. This is a great way to stay in touch as new posts will show up in your News Feed.
  4. Follow AGR on Twitter – Join the Twitterverse. You can find the AGR Twitter feed HERE. I’ll follow you back too!

MANY thanks to Biking in LA, Richard at Cyclelicious, and Leslie at Go Faster! for linking to AGR over the past week. Also MANY thanks to John and Rachel at Bike Religion and Tony at Joe to Pro Cycling for partnerships in the past few months.

And MANY, MANY thanks to you for reading!

Ride on…

“Do What We Can Until We Die”

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Obviously, Cancellara. He chased from 1:50 down to 19 seconds back and when the dust finally settled, he walked away with 2nd place.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Ride on…

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