Thursday, July 8, 2010

That's bike racing

It's hard to watch Lance on the cobbles and not get just a little bit excited.  I had the same experience watching him race in the Tour of Flanders this year.

Stage 3 saw him riding in the gutter, tired, punctured and eventually alone. Here, he is more vulnerable; here, he is just Lance, the bike rider. No bullying, no Johan (only on the radio), no mind games, no solicitors and no formidable team.  He powered over those cobbles and ensured the 1.51 deficit to Cadel blew out no further.

Seeing him ride like that, I can't help wonder what might have been had he focused on more than just the Tour each year and ridden more of the Classics.  These thoughts were also recently pondered by Anthony Tan in a post for SBS Cycling Central who suggested he shouldn't have just focused on the Tour after his comeback. 

He probably would've won a few.  Imagine the exposure for the sport, the sport that runs from January to October every year.  Imagine then too the potential for the deeper knowledge of these Classics and their history among Lance fans. And then also imagine the other potential knock on effect - up and coming cyclists wanting to hone more than climbing or time trial skills. Then, imagine the implications for the Tour - the ASO would build it, and they would come - sans whingeing. 

Stuart O'Grady said recently Lance revolutionised what was possible in cycling and made the Tour his own. Others are anticipating the 'void' he will leave again when he retires, ahem, again.

But perhaps this is where the younger generation can make their own mark, by focusing less on July and returning to the more exciting era of all-round cyclists racing each other.  (Or, even still focusing just as much on July but because future Tours will be organised similar to this year's, more Classics are added to the calendar). 

This isn't such a stretch.  Look at what the feathers Schleck and Contador did in Stage 3.  Sure, Cancellara was pretty much giving Andy a dink but still. And even though he'd lost his brother Frank, his body language seemed to scream "I'm bloody loving this."   And who wouldn't?  Flanders and Roubaix champion driving you through the cobbles with the World Champion just nearby?  It's what cycling dreams are made of. 

And Contador.  Experts the world over were predicting he'd either crash or lose so much time not even a well timed attack in the mountains could save him. I thought at worst he'd lose about three minutes max but not the amount everyone thought he would. As an awesome time trialer, it's not hard to believe his ability to drive himself back like he did after being caught up in Frank's crash.  I also don't know why we all thought his bike handling skills would be so bad that he couldn't bunny hop when needed or stay alert and balanced. Hard to believe just one session with Pete van Petegem would produce that. It's instinctive. 

Let's not forget Cadel's ride, as if we could.  Big George and BMC moved him into position perfectly, and then he made his own luck. I don't know where Cadel will be on the podium this year, (I think somewhere on the podium is the only place he will be though) but one day Cadel will realise just how awesome a one day Classics rider he is and put more focus there in the years before he hangs up the black diadoras. 

It seems they are already getting the message.  They all rode Liege Bastogne Liege this year.  Schleck rides this race regularly, Cadel rode it after winning Fleche Wallone.  It's not cobbles but if you believe what some riders said after stage 2 - and I do - it is equally dangerous because of the narrow roads and tricky descents in a rainy region.  

But what about Fleche Wallone this year?  World Champion up against reigning Tour de France winner.  World Champion triumphed.  Like cycling duels of old.  This is the shot in the arm cycling needs.  Who wouldn't lap up more chances to see Tour GC rivals outside the Tour racing each other on all terrains.

Kloden and Jens had the hide to say we fans are sadists and want to see crashes.  On the contrary, we want to see clashes.  Not automatons controlled from the car by control freak DS's.  At the Tour too, we want to see not just the best climber or the best time trialler, we want to see the best all-rounder. We want to see the GC shaken up, not by crashes but by teams being unable to totally dominate all external factors.

I can't help but think guys like Schleck, Cadel and Contador are filled with an awesome sense of cycling history and want to ride more and more Classics.  So it's disappointing when 'some riders' as Phil Ligget said, and then said "I repeat, some riders" as well as DS's come out so hard against the ASO's choice of tour route for the first few days.

Wiggins too rode well on the cobbles.  But it was his pre Tour words to Michael Barry that fills me with the most hope. “I forgot how much I love riding the cobbles. It is a fantastic feeling.” Actually, do yourself a favour and read the whole post.  And tell any riders you might be in touch with to read it too. 

Instead of whingeing about the ASO including these stages in a three week tour, maybe more riders should concentrate on all round skills.  Or at least some of the basics. Like Cadel pointed out at the time, the Giro had crashes galore because of inexperienced cyclists.  And as Phil Ligget pointed out, this Tour has 60 debutantes.    

I'm also sick of the 'you don't know what it's like' line.  No, I don't understand what it's like.  But I listen to people who do - including current riders in the peloton.  And they say some of the complaining riders are being a little bit precious.

I love Jens and I understand his emotion losing Schleck like that, especially what could be their last tour together.  However, has everyone forgotten Jens' accident last year?  He cheated death.  It was on a descent.  Noone, especially he, called for the exclusion of climbs where descents are required. 

With crashes like these or other factors they are able to accept, cyclists say "that's bike racing."

So why can't this too be bike racing?  It once was. 

There is a place for cobbles in the Tour.  And there's a place for GC Tour riders in the Classics.

Tweeps who put it best this week:

Nicholas O'Donnell
"Who is to say that the only characteristics of a Tour de France winner should be just a climber or time triallist or any combination of the two? Why shouldn’t a powerful and smart bike handler who can also climb and time trial not be able to use all of their skills to win? And why is it that those people whose knowledge of the Tour only extends as far back as the Armstrong years think that the ideal race is a procession over 3,600km of hot mix and should be decided by the guy who climbs the last hill fastest? I don’t. And fortunately, I’m in the vast majority.

And @brassyn in 140 characters

"You know the course in advance, you choose whether to race. Accidents can happen on flats, on downhills, on corners. Anytime"


  1. One thing I was thinking about the other day was that earlier this year there was a someone that said they thought Fabian could possibly one day win the tour.. It would have to be a year like this one, I think. If ever.

  2. I first discovered le Tour when Armstrong was dominating it, and waited a long time to see a real race with real competition, ie not just a Lance-fest. I am loving the fact that he's past his prime so we are getting real competition, with all sorts of different riders and changing dynamics.
    The cobbles changed everything in this Tour, and lots of riders shone. Jens had an uncharacteristic spray, which just adds to the entertainment, Lance's isolation showed us his true colours (and how about that photo of his aggro at Berty!), Cadel powered to the finish, Spartacus naturally had a walk in the park and some big names bit the dust. It's a bike race, not a fun run. Go with the flow, enjoy the power-shifts, stop whingeing. It's so much more fun than it was a few short years ago.

  3. I like Sylvain Chavanel’s quote:
    "I think the rider that wins the Tour de France should be the most complete rider, at ease on the cobbles, in the mountains, in the time trials. It’s all part of it."

    Regarding the cobbles, all the teams knew they were coming. As Bradley Wiggins said, they’d known for seven months and they’d prepared for it. Surely all the teams did or should have?
    I found it exhilarating and I was filled with admiration watching these guys battering over the cobbles. I’m not a Contador fan but I definitely respect the way he rode. Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck too, knew what the route was and did what they had to. They just got on with with it because they want to win. It’s part of the Tour this year and they want it. Allez, boys.
    Because a certain stage causes your GC guy to lose time, does not necessarily mean that it was a terrible stage. It simply means it didn’t go the way you wanted it to.

    I know I stated on twitter that I wanted Jens to shut up I understand his emotional reaction, so excepting Jens the phrase that keeps coming to mind is “empty vessels make the most noise”.

    I’m not actively seeking accidents but they can happen on any stage. Txurruka fell yesterday on the flat and no one is talking about it. The only difference is that Stage 3 had the anticipatory factor of so many teams being nervous about where they were placed and it’s nerves that can cause crashes in the peloton as much as the route. Stage 2 being an example of that and no one declared after that that the organizers has the nerve to include that big flat run-in after many kilometres of flat inaction which had made everyone edgy.

    The Tour is the greatest bike race there is. I see no harm in it encompassing everything the fans love about watching bike races. And yes, I admit that I don’t know what it’s like to race it. I will never know what it is like to race it. I love watching these guys show me how they do it.

  4. dioporko, re Fabian - agree.while I'm talking here about wanting to see an all rounder, you still need to climb great. However, if Fab wanted to, he could, i don't doubt that. But i think his focus has been more on helping Andy and working on getting all the power he can to dominate the cobbles. While I think Schleck and Alberto could be good on the cobbles, i"m not thinking they'd pull a Fabian or Boonen and dominate it. I just want to see them do it more, and see what happens. Funnily enough, Riis apparently has said after Shleck's ride they're thinking about Tour of Flanders for him. Cool. Jude - agree,that's what i mean by Wiggo's comment, just relax and enjoy the history of the cobbles. They all made far too much of it. Natalie - agree again. Wasn't having a go at Jens either.