Dear Greg

9 April 2017

Dear Greg,

How does it feel? How does it feel to win one of the monuments? It was not your favorite, I know. But it is Paris-Roubaix, so you should be grateful. It is one of the hardest races of the season. I don’t have to tell you that. The dust, the cobbles, the dirty French roads. It is the hell on earth and today you became one of the legends of the ‘Hell of the North’.

It was a nervous race. All eyes were on Tom Boonen and on you. After your second place in last week’s Tour of Flanders you became one of the favorites for the win today. You were patient. You waited for a chance to get away from the other favorites. With six other riders you entered the Carrefour de l’Arbre. Immediately you placed an attack and only Zdenek Stybar and Sebastian Langeveld were able to follow. The three of you stayed together until the Velodrome. Although Jasper Stuyven and Gianni Moscon returned in the last hundred metres, because you and the other two started to look at each other. None of them had a chance. Stybar took off for the final sprint, but you came after him with way more power in your legs. He knew that. The whole season, you are unbeatable in the sprints. Today was no difference.

They will never ask you again when you will win a big monument. The pressure is off. Although you will keep putting pressure on yourself, because the job is not done yet. Next year there is another Tour of Flanders to ride, another Paris-Roubaix. Now that you know how it feels to win a monument, I am sure you are eager enough to win more. And I am sure that those wins will come.

© Photo News

© Paris-Roubaix

Three Out Of Five

2 April 2017

He was ascending the Oude Kwaremont. There was still 55 kilometres to go in the 101st edition of the Tour of Flanders. Boonen told him to to take the lead and he did. When he looked over his shoulder, there was no one in his wheel. Panic. What to do next? Should he wait for the others? Or should he continue on his own? Without any help, just his own legs to count on. In the final there is still the Oude Kwaremont and the Patersberg to climb again. Hesitation. He screamed in his earphone.

“What should I do?”

When they told him to continue on his own, he did. How was he supposed to know that it would become the biggest time trial of his life? He was nervous, he was asking more than once how many seconds the others were behind. Meanwhile, his legs were doing the job.

Woosh, woosh, woosh, woosh.

There goes the national champion of Belgium. His last monument was in 2014. The Amstel Gold Race. This is Flanders. This is different. This is climbing, bad roads, cobblestones, heavy lungs beating in his chest. This was one of the monuments that he was still dreaming about. He suffered on the climb of the Oude Kwaremont. Thousands of people along the road were cheering for him. “You can do it, Gilbert.” He looked over his shoulder again. What happened? How many seconds? He shouted to the man on the motor…

Combien de secondes?
Dis moi, je veux savoir!

Fourty-five seconds. Fourty-five seconds. Sagan crashed, Van Avermaet crashed too and was hurt, but still chasing. He knew he had to keep going. If Van Avermaet got to him, he was not sure about the victory anymore.

Woosh, woosh. Woosh. Woosh.

He suffered, but he kept going. There was not another option. He could almost feel his heart beating in his throat. All those people along the roads waving with the Belgium flag. For him. Only one kilometre to go. Another look over his shoulder. There was no one in his wheel. The finish line was getting closer and closer. It was only a few metres away when he got off his bike. He held it above his head and stepped over the finish line.

The winner of the Tour of Flanders is named Philippe Gilbert, 34 years old. Going to Quick Step Floors was his last chance to win a monumental race again. Last week he already showed that he was not an outsider, but one of the favorites for the win. The victory of today has proven that he was the strongest of them all.

© Joris Knapen

It Is Not All About Racing

Some say it was ‘the tweet of the week’. Some don’t even know if it was real or not. But the tweet of Luke Rowe about his teammate Gianni Moscon was the tweet that everyone talked about in the cycling world. After a crash in Gent-Wevelgem Moscon fell on his knees and when he looked up there was a mysterious woman standing there. This was all on television and Luke Rowe decided to make a still of it and post it on Twitter.

Hilarious, right? While thinking about it, you realise that there is so much fun in the peloton but that we pay less attention to this side of the riders. Most of the time it is all about preparation, time schedules, resting or eating. But over the years I have found some great, hilarious moments in the cycling world.

Last year in the Vuelta, Magnus Cort Nielsen fell asleep in the bus on the way to the start of the fifth stage. And Esteban Chaves noticed it and could not resist to take a photo of this moment. Isn’t he the cutest thing when he sleeps?

At Team Sky they also like to play with socks. And give them eyes. And make them talk. Well, at leat they did this in 2012 and Thomas Lövkvist was good at it.

In 2014 taking selfies was a great thing to do. Kevin Reza knew this and thought it was hilarious to take selfies with all of his teammates. We all know who has the biggest smile in all of these photos!

On a sunny day a couple of years ago Ramunas Navardauskas thought: “I’m just going to lay myself down in the grass, because it feels so comfortable. We like to call it ‘grass-hugging’.

So you end up on the podium in the Tour de France of 2014 and what do your teammates do? They just throw you into the water. Wet Thibaut Pinot…

He loves to take a challenge. Bram Tankink tries to eat a mega burger, but it seems that it does not fit in his mouth. Hilarious moment, though.

Ice cream!!! John Degenkolb loves it so much, that he doesn’t even has time to smile to the camera.

Hopefully we will see more hilarious moments in 2017.

Postwar Champions: Ferdi Kübler

During the second World War, not many cycling races were held and most of them even got cancelled. After the second World War the roads got restored and most of the races were held again after one or two years. Who could have thought that the years after the second World War would become the ‘golden age’ of cycling? One of the riders responsible for this was Ferdi Kübler. He was born on the 24th of July, 1919. He lived and grew up in Marthalen, in the countryside near Zurich, Switzerland. The family was poor; they had to feed him and four other siblings and there wasn’t much money. When he was in his teenage years, he ran away from home and started to work for a bakery as a delivery boy. He became a professional cyclist in 1940, but due to the war, there were not many races in those years and he only raced in neutral Switzerland. After the war, international races were held again, including the Tour de France. In 1947, he participated for the first time in the Tour and immediately became the first rider to wear the yellow jersey after the war. He did not finish it that year though, because he did not meet the time limit in one of the stages.

Kübler in the Tour de France of 1949 / © STF-AFP

In 1949 he already started as one of the favorites for the win, but he got unlucky that year. In one of the mountain stages in the Alps, he punctured three times and ran out of spare tyres. Unfortunately, the service car broke down too, so they were unable to help him. He stood along the road, waiting for help, and all the other favorites passed him by, one by one. He screamed and there were tears in his eyes, but there was nothing he could do.
A year later his dream finally came true and he won the Tour de France. With this win he became very popular in Switzerland, but they also gave him the nickname ‘the pedalling madman’. That was for two reasons. Kübler talked to himself on the road, to keep himself going and to keep himself motivated. But he also was a bit reckless and sometimes he went too fast in the descents.
In 1951 he showed that he was not only a man for the Grand Tours, but also for the classics. He won the races La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, reapeating this a year later. In 1951 he also won the World Championships. He was never able to win the Tour de France again; there were too many good riders in those years. Still, there was a place on the podium for him in the year 1954.
He ended his career in 1957, because he thought he was too old for the job and saw that his ‘golden years’ were over. He died on the 29th of December, 2016. For a long time he was the oldest living winner of the Tour de France. Not any longer though. Ferdi Kübler became 97 years old.

Kübler after his Tour de France victory in 1950 / ©


Two Captains On One Ship

25 March 2017

Two captains on one ship. Two world champions. Two legends in the cycling world. Philippe Gilbert and Tom Boonen are the Belgium classic experts. Still they are both in their thirties and they are not getting any younger. But they do have a lot of experience. And that might just help them to what they want this year. They have different goals, but the same ambition. They want to win a Spring classic. Some might think that it is time for some fresh and young riders in the classics. But I don’t agree on that point. Of course, talents are great to watch and they bring some sort of excitement with them. But I am always glad to spot an ‘oldie’ in the front of the field. It means experience. It means that the game has begun. We all know that in three weeks the career of Tom Boonen will be done and dusted. We will then also know if we can call him the only ‘Monsieur Paris-Roubaix’. Because that is his goal this year. That is his only goal. Winning Paris-Roubaix for the fifth time would be the crown on his career. He got so close last year, so he knows that everyone will watch him this year. Where is Tom? What will he do? It will not be easy, I think it might be his hardest Paris-Roubaix ever. Still, he is confident enough that he can win ‘his’ classic one more time.
Philippe Gilbert will not be in that race to help his friend. His goal is to win the Amstel Gold Race or Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He thinks he can pull that off another time, because he is  motivated. It still frustrates him that Liège-Bastogne-Liège is only one time on his palmares. It is almost in his backyard. He grew up there. Now that he is getting older, he knows that the chances to win there another time are getting tight. It will get hard, but he has a lot of experience. And that experience is just what you need in the classics.
Two captains on one ship. Two friends. They are not young and reckless anymore, they have become old and wise. The question is if these two legends can become even more legendary than they already are.

© Quick-Step Floors


Strade Bianche – An Instant Classic

7 March 2017

Sundays in April are saved for watching the classics. Some of us prefer Paris – Roubaix, while others like to watch Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Since a couple of years a one-day race in Italy is getting more and more popular. It’s the Strade Bianche. It is an Italian classic, held in the first or second weekend of March. The race takes place in Tuscany and contains more than 60 kilometres of white gravel roads. That is what makes the race a hard and difficult one and it is certainly one of the toughest races of the cycling season.

Beautiful views during the race / © Tim de Waele

The first edition was an recreational race held in 1997, only for vintage bikes. The race also had a different name: Monte Paschi Eroica. At a certain moment the organisation felt that it was a good idea to let professionals participate in this race too. So in 2007 the first race for professionals took place. In 2009 the name of the race was changed to Strade Bianche (in English white streets) and that is still the name of the race today. Right now, the race for professionals exists eleven years and has reached the status of ‘instant classic’. In the last couple of years it gets more media attention, thousands of Italian fans are on the roads to cheer for the riders and the riders are lyrical about it. Most of them have a big smile on their face at the start and that smile is still there when they finish the race. For example, in the last edition Peter Sagan was actually sick and not able to race, but he still started the race, stating that “Strade Bianche is a prestigious race”. Vincenzo Nibali crossed the finish without winning and still called it “happiness”, Tom Dumoulin’s reaction to the race was “boy oh boy, was that cool”, and he also never was able to win the race. It says enough about the popularity of the race among riders.

As of this year, the race is added to the UCI World Tour calendar. That means that the event can be seen as an important and prestigious race. It is becoming one of the biggest Spring Classics, even though the race is still young. But the beautiful environment of Tuscany, the dusty riders on the bike and the epic fights on the gravel roads make the race already monumental.

Michal Kwiatkowski (winner in 2014 and 2017) with Fabian Cancellara (winner in 2008, 2012 and 2016) / © Strade Bianche