Time to catch up on all the past weekend’s cycling news (including race results from Liege-Bastogne-Liege) with the AGR Daily Newspaper. The AGR Daily aggregates all the news from around the world of cycling, allowing you to view in one place. If this is your first time viewing the AGR Daily, you can read a brief explanation of how it works HERE. Just click on the above image to view the newspaper!
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.
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.
Today is a HUGE day in the cycling world: De Ronde van Vlaanderen. A few days ago, I posted about the significance of this race and last Wednesday I shared video of last year’s decisive break in The Bulldozer Attack. Over the past week, it seems every cycling website and blog has devoted heavy coverage to Flanders. In my wanderings around the interwebs, I’ve found a few gems:
Here’s today’s heavy favorite, Fabian Cancellara, in his pre-Flanders press conference, including footage from Team Leopard-Trek’s reconnaissance training ride around Flanders. It’s fascinating to hear the man with the biggest target on his back go over tactics and what’s been running through his head this week:
Here’s a video of recreational riders that takes us through the village of Geraardsbergen and up the Muur van Geraardsbergen, one of the decisive climbs in the race. Amazing how narrow the road actually is considering 200 riders will be fighting to be in the first 10 places at the bottom. It’s quiet and empty for now but it’ll look different this afternoon:
One of my favorite cycling blogs, Red Kite Prayer, has an awesome post previewing the race and considers contenders.
Velonews.com has great pre-race coverage as well.
Versus coverage of the Tour of Flanders airs at 1pm PST this afternoon.
If the glory of pro cycling lies along the country roads and cols grandes of France in July and the romance lies in the boulevards and passi di montagnes of Italy in May then surely the heart and guts lie among the cobbles, muurs, and bergs of Belgium in April. Especially in the Flemish region. To the Belgian faithful, where bike racing is a national pastime, the Tour of Flanders is the Super Bowl and World Cup combined.
“I told the organisers it wasn’t a race but a war game. It’s hard to explain what the Koppenberg means to a racing cyclist. Instead of being a race, it’s a lottery. Only the first five or six riders have any chance: the rest fall off or scramble up as best they can. What on earth have we done to send us to hell now?” – Bernard Hinault (5x Tour de France champion, never won Flanders)
First raced in 1913, Flanders was held in March during those early years – on the same day as Milan-San Remo, actually. As the race grew in stature, it was moved to the first weekend in April after World War II. One of cycling’s five “monuments” (Milan-San Remo, Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Tour of Lombardy), the Ronde van Vlaanderen is characterized by narrow roads, and short, punchy cobbled climbs dotted throughout tiny Belgian towns. And for a few hours at the beginning of April, the world descends upon these sleepy Flandrian villages. It’s always a war of attrition and only the strongest survive.
“Only those who are in top condition can say that the Ronde is not hard. For everyone else, it’s the Way of the Cross.” -Andrea Tafi (’02 winner)
In total, Belgian riders have won Flanders 66 times. The next closest country is Italy with 10. No American has ever won here. Only 4 men have won the race a record 3 times. This year, 2 men will line up that have won de Ronde twice, Tom Boonen and Stijn Devolder. Both Belgians. Will this be the year one of these riders join the exclusive 3-win club or will Fabian Cancellara or a host of other strongmen ride away with it?
“As a Belgian, winning Flanders for the first time is far more important than wearing the maillot jaune in the Tour” – Johan Museeuw (’93, ’95, & ’98 winner)
The Flemish have a term for the strongest of strong men who take well to a race like de Ronde: Flahute. A Flahute is Vlaanderens mooiste (Flander’s finest). The website Cycling Revealed has an incredible post written by Graham Jones on what it means to be a Flahute. It’s required reading. But in part:
The Belgian school breed them tough. They thrive in foul weather and on atrocious roads. As children, they grow up “playing racing.” Museeuw tells us that the Tour of Flanders route passed right by his house. The kids dream of being like the great champions. When they are old enough to race they start to train in conditions similar to the races. Only the toughest survive and in the Flemish tongue these “hardest of the hard men” are known as Flahute. – Graham Jones
Welcome to the first weekend in April where the Flahute come out to play and destroy. Versus coverage of the Tour of Flanders airs at 1pm PST on Sunday. Set your DVR or, better yet, watch it live.
I couldn’t believe my eyes this week! I found myself flipping back and forth between 2 cable television channels (Versus and Universal Sports) as they showed coverage of two of the biggest early season pro bike races, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. Not sure what’s going on here, but I love it! Not too long ago, you’d NEVER find major European bike racing on TV – now it’s an embarrassment of riches. Not that we’re seeing sprint finales or team time trials on Sportscenter’s top ten plays…yet…
You may have been following the racing this week. Versus and Universal Sports have daily coverage, between 1 and 2 hours each. Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll are fantastic on Versus. If you don’t get these channels, now would be a great time to call your local cable operator. From the looks of it, all the major races throughout the year will be covered by these channels. Of course, you can find coverage, sometimes live video feeds, on innumerable cycling websites as well.
Coverage on TV like this is a further sign that cycling in this country has come a long way. Not only are more people getting out on bikes but we’ve seen the rise of stage races like the Tour of California, Tour of Utah, and the upcoming Quiznos Pro Challenge in Colorado. As long as these events continue to draw thousands if not millions of people out to the side of the road and bike racing fans tune in to Versus and Universal Sports, my hunch is that we may even start to see the sport of cycling go a little bit more mainstream. There’s more to bike racing than just the Tour de France, after all. The idea of bike racing becoming more mainstream may make you a little queasy but remember that the more people that understand and appreciate our sport the better for you as a rider. I’m not saying I want cycling to be like baseball but I would prefer to not get run off the road by cranky SUV commuter that thinks I should be riding my bike on the sidewalk!
Click on the images below to visit each channels’ website and check on racing coverage:
The European road racing season really kicked off officially this weekend with the start of Paris-Nice, the first week-long stage race on European soil. Sure, there have been races going on since the Tour Down Under in January and smaller races like the Three Days of West Flanders, Vuelta a Murcia, and smaller races in Italy. But Paris-Nice has traditionally been the true start of the European season. This is also the time of year when Versus steps up it’s coverage. No more 30 minute showings of the Tour of Oman or TDU – Sunday we were treated to a full two hours of P-N.
Here are 7 pro peloton stories I’m looking forward to following this year:
- Will Alberto Contador be allowed to start the Tour de France? The legal battle has gone back and forth on this one concerning his positive test after last year’s TdF and it looks like the UCI and/or WADA will appeal the most recent ruling which allowed Bert to line up for Murcia. This could go on all season. Whether he starts the Tour or not could be this year’s biggest story.
- How will Radio Shack do without Lance Armstrong? Still one of the best teams in the world (with one of my favorite riders, Chris Horner), it will be interesting to see how The Shack responds with the General out of the line-up.
- Will Fabian Cancellara continue to dominate the early classics? Spartacus had a lock down on Flanders and Roubaix last year and seems to do just fine in races with 199 other riders staring at the target on his back. Will he continue to dominate or will Tom Boonen among others figure out how to shut down the Swiss?
- America‘s new Super-team? I’ll be fascinated to see how Garmin-Cervelo responds to the hype of having Tyler Farrar, Thor Hushovd, Christian Vande Velde, David Millar, Dave Zabriskie, Ryder Hesjedal, Heinrich Hausler, among others all on the same team. These guys are STACKED top to bottom with one of the most exciting rosters in pro cycling. The classics, shorter stage races, one-day races – in every format except for the Grand Tours they have the talent to win anything they line up at this year. They still don’t have an out-and-out Grand Tour contender but keep your eyes on Vande Velde, Hesjedal,and a host of young guys that will challenge in the 3 week races.
- Can Cavendish keep going? Already the most exciting and prolific sprinter of his generation, The Cav has won 15 Tour de France stages in 3 years. Think about that for a moment. That’s already 3 more than 8-time green jersey winner Erik Zabel and ties him for 12th all time. And he’s done it in only 3 Tours! Every time he comes into the final K at the end of a lead out train, we’re watching history.
- The Tour of California – Every year, this race gets bigger and bigger and I feel lucky that I’ve gotten to see it roll past my house (or at least 15 minutes away). This year, the race will forgo it’s traditional San Francisco visit and start up at Lake Tahoe. Looks like I’ll get to spend a long weekend at the lake watching and getting some riding in.
- The Quiznos Pro Challenge – Of course, I’m partial to the race that travels the highways and mountains of the Golden State but keep an eye on Colorado’s newest week-long stage race. Strategically placed in the calendar during the month of August, the Quiznos Pro will attract riders and teams looking to skip the 3 week Vuelta a Espana for a more sane build up to the world championships. And is there a grander canvas for a bike race than the Rockies? Not quite the history of the Alps or Pyrenees but the climbing stages will reach higher elevations than the Tour or the Giro ever has.
What stories are you looking forward to following this year?