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.
Paris-Roubaix. The Hell of the North. The Queen of the Classics. The greatest one-day race of the year. The biggest of the 5 monuments. Whatever you want to call it, this is THE one-day race. The battle goes down this Sunday.
It used to be that the same riders who contested the Three Week Grand Tours would do quite well in Roubaix (Merckx, Bobet, Coppi, et al). But in the modern era, it takes a completely different kind of rider to even think of coming close to the podium. Grand Tour winners of the past 20 years won’t touch it. Just think about that for a moment – Hinault, Indurain, Armstrong, and host of other Tour de France winners don’t even come close. Like the Tour of Flanders last week, Belgians have dominated this race since it’s inception in 1896: Belgium 53, France 28, and it drops from there. This race above all others takes an unworldly threshold for pain and suffering, a quality of toughness that Belgium breeds in its riders.
It’s no secret who’s going well this year. With Ghent-Wevelgem and Flanders in back to back weeks, it’s the same group of riders who stand a chance. If you want to know who to put your money on, just check the top ten from the last 2 weeks: Cancellara, Boonen, Gilbert, Nuyens. But don’t count out Hushovd, Hincapie, Chavanel, Hausler, or Ballan. It won’t be a climber. Not here. Also probably not a pure sprinter like Mark Cavendish. Roubaix dishes out so much pain and suffering that it takes a freakish power monster to arrive in the Velodrome with a chance.
The record for wins stands at 4 (Roger De Vlaeminck) with 7 others holding at 3 wins. Six of those riders hung up their cleats long ago. Only Tom Boonen, with 3 wins to his credit, lines up on Sunday with a chance to make history and join De Vlaeminck in the elite 4x winner club. But let’s not forget American George Hincapie. An American has never won this race and for YEARS Americans have been cheering for George to come through. Second place in 2005 has been the closest he’s come to the top step. Big George has suffered through every kind of bad luck and oppositional tactics that you can possibly imagine. In 2006, with 2 teammates with him in the winning break 30k from the finish, George’s steerer tube broke sending him careening into a ditch. The stars have never quite aligned for him but I hoping this will finally be his year.
Also keep a look out for American Taylor Phinney in his Paris-Roubaix debut. He won the U23 Paris-Roubaix just last year and is suited to this kind of racing. But he may not yet have the power to go the distance with the big dogs.
In case you’re wondering what a pre-Classics PRO Group Ride looks like, here’s a video of BMC getting ready to roll out. Except for the $8,000 bikes, rolling mechanics, team cars, vans, and impeccable kit, it looks just like every other Group Ride roll out: a bunch of skinny dudes standing around waiting for someone to call it out.
Here are a few recommended posts from Velonews to get you going for the race this weekend:
Velonews ran a great collage of Vintage Paris-Roubaix photos from years-gone-by. It’s worth a look to get a sense of the race’s history.
Graham Watson posted his photos of pre-Roubaix training rides on Velonews HERE.
Versus is airing 3 hours coverage of the Queen of the Classics this Sunday starting at 4pm PST.
Here’s a companion video to my previous post The Subtle, Devastating Attack. In the previous post, we see Fabian Cancellara simply riding away from heavy hitter Tom Boonen on the decisive climb in last year’s Tour of Flanders. In this video from the 2010 edition of Paris-Roubaix, we see Spartacus riding away once again (at the 2:10 mark) from the strongest riders in the world. Poor Boonen could only watch as he was sitting too far back in the field to respond. To give chase would only mean pulling the entire break up to Cancellara…assuming he could. My guess is that he would have if he could but he didn’t. My favorite moment comes around the 6:20 mark when Leukemans, sitting on Fabian’s wheel, literally just sits up because he can’t follow the pace any longer. He rode the final 46k solo. Spartacus bulldozed the field.
The first video includes the Bulldozer Attack. The second video takes you to the finish of one of the most dominating Roubaix wins in the modern era.
De Ronde and Roubaix are coming up in the next 2 weeks. Can’t wait to see what fireworks go off this year!
Here’s an incredible story that’s circulating the web: Azizulhasni Awang suffered an untimely crash in the final corner of the Keirin, picked up a souvenir from the Siberian pine wooden velodrome, and amazingly got back on his bike to finish the event in third place.
You can read the full story at the U.K.’s Daily Mail.
Ride on… (unless you have a huge piece of wood stuck in your leg)
Recently, I learned more about suffering, toughness, and perseverance than I have in a long time from a dude who just started riding.
The bros over at Velominati (one of the best cycling blogs on the interwebs) recently posted about what it means to be a Cycling Sensei – guiding a newbie rider through the honeymoon phase of cycling discovery. It’s a great read and it got me thinking about the few times I’ve served as bike Sherpa to new riders.
I’ve had the privilege over the past few months to guide my brother Adam through this first phase of his cycling life, mostly via long phone calls. He’s been bitten by the bug and recently came out to California from his home in Florida to visit us. He’s only been riding for a short time but he already has one of the most important qualities that make up a devoted rider: he’s tough as nails. Always has been. When he was a starting offensive player for the Johns Hopkins University lacrosse team, he would regularly sacrifice body and blood to put the ball in the goal. I can’t remember exactly how many concussions he had during those years but it was indicative of his commitment that he did not know how to quit. He’s tackling cycling with the same crazed look in his eye.
I took him on a ride out to Half Moon Bay while he was here and honestly didn’t know if he was going to make it. It was the longest ride he’d undertaken up to that point. Just in case you needed a reminder about how great our sport is, here’s a great story through the eyes of the newly converted:
I reached a place beyond my limits yesterday.
My brother Matt (@artofgroupride) and I rode our bikes from Menlo Park, CA to Half Moon Bay–a 23 mile journey that took us through a forest, over a thousand foot high mountain, and ultimately to the Pacific Ocean. For many, this would have been a low-intensity Sunday activity, but for me it pressed my body to the very breaking point of my physical capabilities.
It began to look bleak only 20 minutes in when I suffered a severe cramp in my foot. Later my brother would tell me that when he saw me fall to the pavement in pain he was convinced we would be turning back at any moment. I kneaded the cramp out and climbed back on with determination, only to wince as the cramp returned immediately. The night before our ride, I watched a documentary film that followed a well-known German cycling team through the 2004 Tour de France. Its images of crashes, gashes, concussions and perseverance flashed in my mind as I pedaled up the long gentle slope in front of us. If they could do that, then I could do this. We continued forward towards the main 4 mile climb which wouldn’t begin for another 30 minutes. Matt set up a draft that allowed me to recover and rest–30mph over flat and lazily descending roads to our final checkpoint.
We rested for a moment at the base of the mountain and Matt gave me one more chance to back out. “We can either continue or go back, but if we continue now, we will have to finish no matter what.” I looked at him through clouded eyes. “This is not a choice. We’re going.” He half smiled and climbed on his bike. Around the first corner the ferocity of the ascent confronted me. Steeply up a narrow winding road we went, at a snail’s pace. The pain increased rapidly and my heart began to pound out of my chest. A mile in, as I was losing all sense of my situational awareness, I suddenly felt a hand on my lower back. I glanced to the left and saw my brother arduously spinning with one hand on his bars… he was pushing both of us up the mountain–legs for him and right hand for me. His calm voice occasionally broke the ambient hum of my breath, my bike and the traffic around us. “This is a good pace. Keep pedaling. We can almost see the top. Keep pedaling.” More images of emaciated German cyclists nursing their wounds and launching day after day into the Pyrenees switchbacks strobed behind my eyelids as I fought total collapse.
Finally we reached the summit after 23 minutes of blinding agony up 829 vertical feet. I unclipped and sat down. My lungs burned as I shallowly pumped the 40 degree air in out, in out. Stars danced in my periphery. I couldn’t put a single thought together. “That was… sick,” I heard my brother quietly cheer. For him really, it was nothing. He’s done over 40,000 miles on his current bike in the last four years. But for me, with just over 200 miles in the last 2 months, it was the impossible made possible. The last 7 miles led us down the western face at 50mph–an experience more frightening than painful–to a beached fishing trawler (which painted an accurate portrait of my emotional disposition at the moment), and finally to a small cliff–a club-level seat to the Pacific sunset in Half Moon Bay. We had done it.
In 2001, George Hincapie was in perhaps the best form of his life when he lined up for Paris-Roubaix. Earlier in the week, he took the win at the semi-classic Ghent-Wevelgem and was poised to be the first American ever to stand on the top step in the Roubaix velodrome. After a few hiccups and mechanicals earlier in the race, George found himself in the winning break alongside 3 Domo-Farm Frites riders including the Lion of Flanders himself, Johan Museeuw. And George got Domo’ed. A lone rider even of George’s strength couldn’t possibly cover all the moves as the Domo boys launched one treacherous attack after another. It’s agonizing to watch.
Hard to believe the racing season is just about here! If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, Velopromo runs a few races in Fremont every Sunday from January 9th-30th called the Early Bird Criterium series. The categories offered are Juniors, 30+ and 45+ Category 5’s, Cat. 4’s, and Pro/1/2/3. These are considered training races so no points towards upgrades are awarded.
With all the changes in my life and limited training time, I didn’t line up for a single race last year. But I plan on going out for the Early Birds. I’ve been doing regular Group Rides for the past year so there’s some intensity there but I’m a time-crunched rider and haven’t been doing many long rides in the 3-hour plus range. Meaning, my depth of fitness isn’t very good. As I’ll be lining up in the Pro/1/2/3 category, my modest goal is simply to hang on in the pack and try not to get spit out. I competed in this category for a long time in Southern California but this will be my first race in Northern California and I’m told the racing is slightly different up here. I guess it’s just part of my personality but I tend to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. That said, I’m preparing psychologically to suffer and get dropped. But we’ll see.
The first race of any season for me is a harsh wake up call. Race intensity cannot be mimicked in training rides so the only way to get that kind of intensity is to race! As my friend and race promoter Chris Lotts often says, “The best training for racing is racing.”
If you’re a racer, what will be your first race of the year? Here’s hoping it’s fast, safe, and we all keep the rubber side down.