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.

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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.

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

2017

Column

15 January 2017

The past two months were without professional cycling. Yes, there was track racing and cyclocross. Quite interesting to watch, but not as intense as a road race (in my opinion). So I am happy that in two days the Tour Down Under will start again. Although here in Europe the broadcasting is early in the morning, so I won’t be able to watch the race live. Still, the race is great to follow, not only because of the race itself, but also to figure out who is on which team now. There are so many new teams, new colours and changes that it is hard to get on track.

The good thing about cycling is that the cycling races actually never change. I know that the Tour of Qatar got cancelled, due to a lack of funding.  But other than that the calendar looks pretty much the same. And I cannot say that I will miss the Tour of Qatar.  Still, I am aware of the fact that a new cycling season is about to begin. I am starting to check out the profiles of the riders on Twitter and Instagram again. I can tell there is lots of training and lots of kangaroos. It feels good to know that we still have so much to watch this year. Bring it on, 2017!

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The boys of Team Sky are training on Australian roads. Wonderful!
© Team Sky

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Presentation of the BORA-hansgrohe team at the Tour Down Under. The hair of Peter Sagan has grown again. © BORA-hansgrohe

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Enric Mas Nicolau and Petr Vakoc are holding a kangaroo. It is so cute!
© Quick Step Floors Cycling Team

morne-de-klerk-caleb-winsAnd the first win goes to… Caleb Ewan. Winner of the People’s Choice Classic.
© Orica-Scott / Morne de Klerk

Der Rudi

On the 28th of August in 1966 the World Championship road race was held on the circuit of Nurburgring in West Germany. For once there were no motorbikes on the circuit, but just bikes. Without engines or helmets. Riders were just wearing a cap on their head to protect them against the sun. Nowadays it is hard to imagine a rider without a helmet. But it was quite normal back then.

It was dry that day, so a lot of spectators came out to see the riders. There was a lot of wind, which played a huge part and the circuit was not flat at all. At the start there were 74 professional riders, only 22 of them would finish. It shows that it was one tough race on the circuit of Nurburgring.

Of course, Jacques Anquetil was one of the favorites. He was riding for France along with Raymond Poulidor and Jean Stablinksi. Shay Elliot, an Irish rider, was also competing. He was a strong sprinter. And Gianni Motta participated for Italy. But during the race, some odd things happened. Gianni Motta was riding for Altig, instead for his own teammates of Italy. Also, it was said that Anquetil rather saw Altig take the win than his French teammate Poulidor. The Irish rider Elliot went for his own chance, but during the race he felt that he wasn’t good enough. He decided to help his old teammate Rudi Altig. When Anquetil and Poulidor went off together, it was with the help of Elliot that Altig could make the jump to the two Frenchmen.

In the sprint Rudi Altig beat Anquetil (second) and Poulidor (third), claiming his first and only World Championship victory ever. After already some great victories on his palmares (winning the Vuelta in 1962, green jersey in the Tour de France of 1962, Tour of Flanders in 1964), this victory was one of the best of his whole career. It was extra special, because the event took place in his own country and he made all the West Germans very proud. He became one of the cycling heroes in Germany and still remained a hero after he ended his career and became a television commentator. The cycling world in Germany was in shock after he passed away this summer at the age of 79. It would be quite something if, after exactly 50 years, another German rider would cross the finish line as the first one. Preferably a sprint. Rudi Altig would have been so proud.

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Rudi Altig wearing his rainbow jersey. Sitting on the left is Tom Simpson, World Champion in 1965 and next to Altig is Jacques Anquetil. On the right of Altig is Eddy Merckx, World Champion in the year after Altig, in 1967. (copyright: http://www.stevetilford.com)

Into The Open Desert

Column

6 October 2016

“IN DOHA 2016, THE ROAD WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS ARE DIFFERENT!”

Today I entered the official site of the World Championships in Doha, Qatar. On the site it was said that Doha 2016 will be different from all other World Championships. Doha is proud to announce that their city is the first city in the Middle East to host them. Hello Doha, good for you to have a week full of team trials, individual time trials and not to forget the road races. But why does a song from ABBA pops into my head right now?

On the fourth of October some news about Doha was published. It is extremely hot there these days. Although the UCI and the organisation in Qatar decided earlier to held the races as late as possible in the season, the heat still seems to cause some problems. Still, the UCI has a protocol for extreme heat in Doha. They will send four experts to check on the weather every day. If the heat continues and it will be above 35 Celsius on the day of the road race, this will maybe happen: “The following measures may be decided in the event of high temperatures: for the men’s elite road race, to reduce the 150km initial distance, for all other road races, to reduce the number of laps of the circuit.”

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© Yuzuru Sunada

The consequence of this measure is that the race will consist of seven laps, each of 15,2 kilometres. The total distance would be 106,2 kilometres instead of the 257,6 kilometres. It reminds me of a Sunday in Paris. A lazy Sunday in Paris. But this Sunday will be stressful, hot and sweaty. Even more so when the organisation decides to cut off 150 kilometres. Because you cannot let cyclists ride 150 kilometres in an open desert. It is too hot. My alarm bells would have gone off ages ago. In fact, before deciding to let the World Championships take place in Qatar. What’s next? Racing on the North Pole?

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The artificial island ‘The Pearl’

The team time trials, individual time trials and the last seven laps of the road races will take place on an artificial island, named ‘The Pearl’. The island is constructed, it wasn’t even there before 2004. It should be completely finished around 2018, costing about 15 billion in total. In less than a few days there will be riding hundreds of cyclists on this island. Although the organisation stated that there will be a lot of spectators, I am still holding my breath for that. My guess is that the organisation does not care, nor the UCI. The race is held in a new part of the world, the cameras are pointed at an island of 15 billion and Doha is on the map again. And again, that song from ABBA pops up in my head:

“Money, money, money. Must be funny. In the rich man’s world.”

Pizza Time

Column

12 September 2016

Every year after the end of the Vuelta there is this feeling of sadness. Not because the Vuelta was boring. Not at all. The many attacks in the mountains, the strong comebacks of Froome and Chaves and the exciting sprints made this Vuelta one of the best grand Tours of the year. No, the feeling of sadness sets in, because there will be no grand Tour anymore this year. Also, the end of the Vuelta means that the season is almost over. Only a few more weeks to go. But most of the riders are looking forward to the end of the season. Some of them were even riding their final ride yesterday. For instance, Chris Froome is not coming in action anymore this season. So now I understand why he was already eating a pizza with Esteban Chaves from Orica-BikeExchange. It is because he can.

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The final grand Tour is over. That means that also the final big ceremony is done. The organisation of the Vuelta a España sure did everything to make it a perfect one. They even made the riders ride one extra lap in the last stage, so that the ceremony would be in the dark. Now that is insane. Not that the thousands of Colombians along the roads minded. They were happy to see their heroes pass by one extra round. Two Colombians on the podium, they can be very proud.

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© Graham Watson

Well, who would have thought? The BMC Racing team beats the Movistar Team and goes home with the award for best team of the Vuelta. What an achievement. If I were them, I would go party and have a couple of drinks. Or a pizza. Or both. Ask Christopher Froome for more details, he knows where to get one!

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