Long live Spartacus

Long live Spartacus!

Cancellara wins Tour of Flanders Photo: EPA
Cancellara wins Tour of Flanders Photo: EPA

The Cycling Season has started

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Aussie cycling season. It is after all summer here in January and I’m fortunate enough to not work at this time of year, so I get to gorge myself on Aussie cycling. Delicious!

And of course there is the Middle Eastern swing, to steal a tennis term, in February to keep the Foxtel subscription in tact.

I cannot lie to you, though, I found Paris-Nice and even Tirreno Adriatico a little flat this year. Or it may just be that I’m in  touch with my masculine side and I find multi-tasking between cycling and tennis a little bit of a challenge this year.

Either way, it really wasn’t until Sunday’s Milan-San Remo that I began to feel the buzz of the cycling season again.

Spring is in the air, even if Sunday’s weather conditions left more than one rider with hypothermia and quite a few drinking tea from their bidons.

And with the European Spring comes the Classics season.

What is it about this time of the cycling season that enthrals us so?

After all, those of us living in the Southern Hemisphere aren’t looking forward to thawing out after a long, cold winter.

Quite the contrary, many of us are dreading the onset of a long, cold winter (and dear reader, whilst Melbourne may not get to sub zero temperatures and ten feet of snow, it does get quite nippy down here).

It is also tempting to argue that my cycling passion has been reignited by what I hope will be a glorious showdown, or two, between the two great Classics riders of our time, Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara.

We have been sadly starved of an epic contest from these masters of the one day race.

No. What the beginning of the Classics seasons brings us is the true romance of European cycling and these races signify the beginning of the European season proper.

I for one am very excited to once again be in true, deep love with cycling.

My sleep patterns from now until August will be interrupted, my household will be kept awake into the wee hours and my ability to function during the daylight hours will be severely compromised.

Bring on the rest of the Classics season!

 

The pain and glory of Paris-Roubaix

Last week I suggested that RVV is nothing more than a gigantic Easter Egg hunt.

This week I would like to suggest that after overdosing on copious amounts of chocolate , Paris-Roubaix was created as a form of self flagellation.

This is what you do to yourself when you have gorged yourself on chocolate Easter Eggs and now you must be punished for such reckless over indulgence.

This 260 odd kilometer ride through Northern France is grueling and punishing. The organisers are so kind, they even churn the ground next to the narrow, disused cobbled roads so that the riders don’t feel the urge to stop punishing themselves by riding off the cobbles. How thoughtful.

So much of the hype leading up to the race, centres on how this race is not only one of the most original and unique sporting events in the world, but how it is one of the harshest, physically and mentally.

There is no doubt that this is the case.

BUT.

I’m beginning to think that Paris-Roubaix is actually a wonderful way for male pro-cyclists to get in touch with their inner woman.

Yep, this is how men choose to send a message of solidarity to their lovely lady companions.

‘Girls we can’t give birth, but hey, we’ll do all we can to attempt to put our bodies and minds through pain on a similar, although not quite there, level.’

And it’s not just the participants joining in this solidarity. This is also why men love to watch the race and lap up all of the pre race hype about how this is the hardest, most grueling event on two wheels.

Personally, this sense of camaraderie, oneness and love between the sexes fills me with joy and warmth at being a member of such a great species.

Paris-Roubaix proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt that our society has progressed past the gladiatorial conquests of the Ancient Roman Empire. We no longer take joy in watching our fellow man being eaten by huge, snarling, terrifying wild animals from the exotic, far-flung reaches of the Roman Empire.

Rather, we rejoice in the human endeavor of those who take some spectacular crashes.

Enter, stage right, Yoann Offredo.

Ouch!

With so much talk of the dangers of the cobbles, someone forgot to tell poor Yoann of the dangers of traffic furniture.

By the way, I love the phrase, ‘traffic furniture’. It suggests to me a civic pride in furnishing your roads in the latest fashion trends and colours of the season.

Somehow I think Yoann may not be joining me on this one. I suspect his thoughts in relation to traffic furniture may be something along these lines;

‘Cobbles are for girls. Navigating traffic furniture is for real men.’

Or

‘What do ya’ mean, I’m not Superman.’

Sadly, I think the problem here could have been the traffic sign is the same colour as the FDJ kit.

Memo to FDJ: redesign your kit in colours not the same as traffic furniture.

Seriously, I have a huge amount of respect for these boys. Anyone who has ever walked over cobbles in five inch heels will tell you just how hard they are navigate.

Spring at last!

Well, if last weeks RVV was balmy, Paris-Roubaix was positively sweltering. The temperature almost got to double figures and with it the sense that spring has finally sprung in Europe.

The sky was clear, the weak sunshine filled our lounge rooms and there was not a Michelin Man in sight.

Dust appeared to be the main fare on the menu in Northern France. At times it was unclear if we were watching a cycling race in Northern France or an army convoy in Afghanistan.

With all of this dust, riders could write this event off as preparation for the 2016 World Champs in Qatar.

Where’s Fabian?

I’m not sure what coverage you were all watching, but as the race was getting within, say 40 kilometres of the finish, the commentators and camera operators on the coverage I was watching, seemed to have lost the race favourite, Fabian Cancellara.

In fact, this got me thinking that Fabian Cancellara could do quite a believable impersonation of Where’s Wally.

Just pop some tortoise-shell hipster glasses on, a red and white stripped long sleeve T, some blue trousers and voila!

Thankfully, Fabian was found alive and well and at the front of the peloton.

When road racing becomes track cycling

How awesome is it when road cycling morphs into track cycling?

What a tremendous finish.

In any other circumstances, I would have been cheering for Sep Vanmarcke. As an Australian from Irish stock, a love of the under dog is a genetic disposition, but I can’t cheer against Spartacus.

The cat and mouse game.

The master and the apprentice.

A cycling lesson was given to the young buck.

Now, all we have to do is sacrifice Peter Sagan – this is an ‘in joke’ that you can get in on if you read my piece of the Tour of Flanders, and hopefully next year we’ll have a Cancellara v Boonen showdown.

Bring it on!

 

Published on The Roar 9th April, 2013

A giant Easter Egg hunt disguised as a bike race

The Tour of Flanders is the second of the ‘Monument’ races and what a cracking race it is.

The parcours of this little piece of cycling lunacy is one of cobbles, narrow roads plus a little climb or two, that sometimes requires riders to dismount and carry their bikes up the hill. It is only the truly hard men of the peloton who stand any chance of winning this hard fought race.

So, what exactly did we learn from the 2013 Tour of Flanders?

It’s Freakin’ Cold in Belgium

Well, not really. I mean, it wasn’t snowing or anything. The race didn’t look like being cancelled, shortened or the riders getting a nice little bus ride half way through. In fact at around 4 degrees celsius, I would say it was positively balmy.

Could the ‘balmy’ weather be to blame for Boonen’s crash?

Poor Tommeke crashed his bike, or is he just too much of a weather effected Princess?

Milan San Remo may have gone something like this,

‘It’s too cold I can’t leave the bus. Surely we race team busses to the finish line?’

and then during Flanders,

‘What to wear? Will I need my leg and arm warmers all race?

You can’t expect me to be taking off and putting on clothing whilst hurtling my bike at break neck speeds over cobbles and through the narrow country roads of Belgium.

This is outrageous! I am Tom Boonen.

Where’s my Ferrari?’

Speaking of taking clothing on and off…

I did almost have to avert my very delicate little eyes from the television screen. I was watching SBS after all and had thought I’d stumbled onto one of those programs.

Was I watching bike racing or some form of male bicycle burlesque?

Leg warmers on, leg warmers off. Gloves on, gloves off.

Thankfully, the lads managed to stay appropriately rugged up till the end, but it did seem a little touch and go in places.

Aussies, Aussies, where art thou Aussies?

Apart from the fact that some Swiss bloke won the race, I would like to put forward an argument pertaining to the outstanding performance of the Aussies during the race.

Yep, the outstanding performance of the Aussies.

Firstly, congratulations to Heinrich Haussler for showing us all that a real hard man of the peloton does not need to wear gloves in such wintry, sorry, I mean, balmy conditions and that surely you can win this race from the back of the peloton.

The next example of outstanding Aussie representation comes from Sebastian Langevald, who as a Dutchy, is, well, actually an Australian. I have three words for you: Van Diemen’s Land, hence anyone Dutch is as close to a bone fide Australian as any man or woman you can find on the street with links to a convict past. Ok, he didn’t win, but he was our greatest hope.

Finally, Aussies were excellently represented in the break away. Surely Andre Greipel is at the very least a honourary Australian citizen, if not a full Australian citizen. I mean, the man owns the Tour Down Under.

Yep, Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.

Can we talk about men’s cycling fashions?

Winter bike riding does absolutely nothing for the fashion conscious cyclist. We all know how very fashionable and indeed, practical layering can be, but this is to the extreme.

These boys look like Michelin Men in lycra.

So, who are the fashionistas of the peloton and who are the fashion tragics?

Let’s start with the tragics.

The poor Astana riders look like they’re wearing old faded blue pajamas. In fact, they look a little like sky blue Ompaloompa’s, rather than the traditional orange skinned with green hair variety. I was almost expecting the Astana riders to break out into some sort of educational song about the dangers of riding on bike paths, instead of the allocated roads.

There were a couple of fashion winners on two wheels though.

I thought Sieberg’s little white and red booties were absolutely divine. I wasn’t so sure about the black leg warmers tucked into them, but please, these babies are surely the hottest things to hit cycling in a long time.

For the record, I think Moviestar have the smartest cycling outfit. The royal blue says formal and stately. It says ‘take us seriously’ and yet the hint of fluoro green for the ‘M’ says, ‘hey, we are glow stick waving, party boys just like you’. A fine balance.

Why are the cycling Gods against a Cancellara v Boonen showdown in Flanders?

Now, I don’t know who has upset the cycling Gods. All I can say is that it wasn’t me.

Last year Cancellara crashed out of the race and this year it was Boonen. A coincidence? I think not.

There is only one thing to be done to appease the Gods of Cycling.

A sacrifice.

Now, we all know that we can’t sacrifice some chump from the amateurs. Not even an underperforming World Champion who once carved the Classics up himself will do.

No. There is no other option.

It has to be Sagan we ceremoniously hand over to the Gods in some paganesque, type ritual.

Sorry Peter, but it’s for the good of mankind.

Speaking of Sagan…

A dramatic rivalry is played out before our very eyes.

Welcome Sagan and Cancellara to centre stage as this year’s inform contenders.

The drama was all there.

They toyed with each other all day. Spartacus with his Radioshack team driving the peloton and Sagan, trying to pretend he has a team but they never really hang out together, do they?

So, what is the Tour of Flanders really about?

Is it a battle over the cobble, through the mud and cold?

Is it a test for the hard men of the peloton?

No.

It is a massive Easter Egg race.

He who wants chocolates eggs most goes hardest.

Who else would win an Easter Sunday bike race than the man who is more Swiss than Toblerone?

What chocolate products are the Slovaks known for? None. Nudder, zip, doughnuts.

Think about it, if a Belgium isn’t winning this chocolate feast day race it’ a Swiss.

This isn’t a battle of bike riders. It’s a battle of chocolate producing countries.

There’s a lot of pride on the line.

All the Easter Eggs go to Switzerland.

So, there we have another Tour of Flanders and what a great edition it was.

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Easter and perhaps, unlike me, you are not battling a diabetic induced coma from trying to eat your body weight in chocolate eggs.

Published on The Roar 1st April, 2013

Cancellara – should he stay or should he go?

Two weeks ago we read article questioning Fabian Cancellara’s future as a winner of one day Classics. Quite rightly, Tim suggested that Cancellara’s predictability was the biggest factor in whether the great Swiss, otherwise known as Spartacus, will win another Classics race.

Throughout the course of the discussion it was also suggested and agreed upon that lack of an appropriate team structure was another key factor.

On Sunday, Cancellara rolled in third at Milan San Remo, behind Ciolek (first) and Sagan (second). The conditions were absolutely terrible, with the race stopped part way through and riders bused over the Passo del Turchino.

The trying conditions made for an incredibly interesting race although I suspect most of the peloton would have been far happier with less frosty conditions.

Once again, Cancellara had a place on the podium, but sadly, it was not first place.

What interested me most about Tim’s article wasn’t the observation that his racing has become so predictable that his opponents can read him like a book, which I completely agree with, but what wasn’t really discussed.

I think the question is would Cancellara benefit from a change of scenery?

Would a new team compensate for his predictability and offset the constant marking the Swiss rider faces.

There have been rumblings that he is not happy at Radioshack Nissan, and let’s be honest, he’s not alone there. Bruyneel stepping down late last year has been seen by many as one of the key things that kept him there.

So, I’ve been thinking about Cancellara’s predicament and this is what I think on the teams that are open or not, to Spartacus.

BMC – No.

Why?

Gilbert.

Philippe Gilbert is the newly crowned World Champion and a Classics specialist himself. Having Gilbert and Cancellara on the same team would evoke acts of cannibalism that no one would want to witness. An exercise in futility for riders and spectators would surely follow.

I can’t really see BMC doing the same kind of deal making that I suspect Sky do in managing the rosters (and egos) of their many GC contenders.

All of this equals, BMC not needing Cancellara.

OPQS – No

Why?

Two names: Boonen and Cavendish (Yes, I know Cancellara is not a sprinter. As usual, I will make a point, it just takes a while).

Tom Boonen, like Cancellara, is one of the greats of Classics racing. Boonen’s Classics season last year was magnificent. Sadly, Cancellara had a nasty fall at the Tour of Flanders and we were robbed of seeing these two greats go head to head. Let’s hope we see it this year.

Cavendish – now I’m not suggesting that Spartacus has an ego the size of Everest, but Cav does and let’s be honest, containing Cav and his ego in any team environment is going to be a challenge. Throw in Boonen and Cancellara? Enough said.

It is the same reasons that prevent BMC from needing Cancellara that prevent OPQS from needing his services too.

Ok, so let’s look at a few more teams.

Team Sky – No

Why?

They have a clear focus on GC.

We all agree that Wiggins is their number one, then Froome, then Porte and then Thomas.

They couldn’t cope with the distractions of a sprinter, who also happened to be World Champion at the time and generally considered the fastest man in the peloton. How would they cope with Spartacus?

This isn’t a realistic option for the man often described as more Swiss than Toblerone.

Orica Greenedge – No

Why?

It is true they have a range of riders from a variety of nationalities, who all win and are given the opportunity to win, but the team essentially aims to have its Australian riders as the main men for major races.

Gerrans is an all rounder who OGE would want to see contending Classics races.

Is Gerrans as good as Cancellara? Well, no, but he did out sprint him last year to win Milan San Remo.

Personally, I would give a vital organ to see Cancellara at OGE but then again, well, you all know how biased I can be. I don’t always see things clearly when talking about one of my favourite riders, Cancellara, at my favourite team OGE.

Anyway, I know it’s not going to happen.

Cannondale – No.

Why?

Sagan. Sagan may not be the time trialing maestro that Cancellara is but he’s a serious contender for the Classics, as seen during Sunday’s Milan San Remo, amongst other examples.

Katusha – No.

Why?

Licensing issues. Having to go to CAS to get the green light to race throws so much doubt over this team. Realistically, they may have held onto Joaquim Rodriguez once they got the right to race again, but any rider with half an operative brain cell will be looking for a more reliable team at the seasons end.

Saxo Tinkoff Bank – No.

Why?

Well, according to the internet (and of course we believe everything we read on the net), it was out of Katusha and Saxo who were going to lose their ride this year. If this is the case, I wouldn’t move to either if I was Cancellara.

Then again, is staying where he is his best option?

With better riders around him at Radioshack, could Cancellara overcome the issues of being marked?

Where would like to see Cancellara go? Obviously, there are quite a few teams not mentioned here that could be possibilities.

I’d love to know your thoughts.

 

Published on The Roar 20th March, 2013

Friday Flick: Spartacus descends the Porte del Comte

Thanks for tuning in to today’s Friday Flick.

Over the last few weeks we have taken some wonderful trips down memory lane, reliving cycling from days gone by.

For today’s flick we only have to cast our minds back a few short years to the Tour de France 2009.

I had actually forgotten about this remarkable performance until a few months ago when I stumbled upon this clip and I can’t tell you how excited I was to see it again.

I distinctly recall sitting up watching this feat of lunacy, bravery and outstanding riding skills. I recall watching it through fingers covering my face, with my heart in my mouth, as Spartacus rides ever so close to the cars, especially the medics.

What makes this clip so special is the man himself. Fabian Cancellara is so aptly named Spartacus and for those who are not familiar with why he has this nickname, you will be by the end of this clip. He knows no fear as he races through the Pyrenees to rejoin a peloton that is speeding away from him.

I know that many of you are familiar with this piece of footage and I hope over the next seven and a half minutes you enjoy reliving the spectacle of Spartacus hurtling down the Porte del Comte.

If this doesn’t get your weekend off to a heart starting, pumping thrill of cycling porn, then I suspect we need to call a medic and check if you are still alive.

Enjoy, An Ordinary Cyclist and take care out there this weekend.

PS – this comes with a warning that He Who Cannot be Named may be spotted at the 3.18-3.27 minute mark and then again at 6.04-6.13. Avert your eyes if you must, but I will not him or anyone else stop me from enjoying watching one of my favourite riders and you shouldn’t either.

Published on www.theroar.com.au 22/2/13