Category Archives: Column

Twenty Years Later

27 June 2017

A dad and his son. It is the year 1997 and the dad and his son are in Paris. The dad, Erik Zabel, just finished another Tour de France. He just won the green jersey for the second time. He also won three stages that year. He is one of the favorite riders of the peloton and very popular in his home country, Germany.

Who could have guessed that the little boy he is holding will start his first Tour de France this Saturday? Of course, it is special to be the son of one of the best sprinters in the peloton. But it is even more special to start this Grand Tour in your own country. The boy, Rick Zabel, is excited and he cannot wait to take off in Düsseldorf. He probably won’t win any of the sprint stages, but he could get away in one of the flat stages and who knows what might happen then…

Erik and Rick Zabel / © Tim De Waele

Giro di Tom

31 May 2017

Did we not all think that he was a specialist? A time trial specialist. That Dutch guy from Maastricht, he could not possibly climb the mountains with the best climbers of the peloton. At least, that is what I thought a couple of years ago. It was in the Vuelta a España that I was forced to change my mind. In a mountain stage Tom Dumoulin beat the most steady climber of the peloton: Chris Froome. You could still say that this was just a ‘one time thing’, but he came so close to winning the Vuelta. If it was not for that bad day in the last week, then he would have won the Vuelta in 2015.

The Vuelta in 2015 made Dumoulin more ambitious. He began to think about his goals. Could it be possible that he was not just a time trial specialist? Could he change his goals and focus on mountain stages? Or even the general classification? Wearing the pink jersey in 2016 made him think even more about it. He decided to come back a year later, with an ambitious goal: a place in the top-ten of the general classification. 

We all know how that played out. He showed us, the other riders and himself that he was one of the strongest riders in the mountains. He made the 100st edition of the Giro d’Italia a special one. The rivalry with Quintana and Nibali, the ‘poo-accident’, and not to forget the time trial on the last day. The organisation could not have wished for a more nervous-wrecking finale. He made it through the finale and rode an excellent time trial. Enough to take back the pink jersey. A Dutch guy from Maastricht wins the Giro d’Italia. Now on to the next ambition.

Colombia’s New Hope

21 May 2017

Fernando Gaviria. He was born on the 19th of August, 1994. He grew up in La Ceja, Colombia. As a teenager he started to race on the track first and made quite an impression by winning the omnium and madison events at the 2012 UCI Juniors Track World Championships. In the year 2013, he signed for the Coldeportes-Claro team, the Colombian continental team with a lot of Colombian talents. In 2014, he won the omnium at the UCI Track World Championships. In 2015, he participated in the Tour de San Luis, a race early in the season. He won two sprint stages, beating Mark Cavendish twice. Cavendish stated that he never heard of Gaviria before, but he thought that it was impressive that such a young guy could beat him twice. He won the omnium at the UCI Track World Championships again and some European cycling teams started to follow him. By the end of 2015, the Etixx – Quick-Step team signed him for three months as a trainee. He directly showed that he was not just a ‘talent’ by winning a stage in the Czech Cycling Tour and a stage in the Tour of Britain. Of course, Etixx – Quick-Step signed him up for the next two years.
In 2016, Gaviria was on his way to win his first monument in Milano – Sanremo. He was about to sprint for the victory, but lost focus for two seconds and touched another wheel with his front wheel. He was on the ground before he knew it. He claimed that it was his own fault and he was in tears after the crash. But this also showed that he could manage to stay with the favorites after more than 250 kilometres of racing. Nevertheless, this year was a year with a lot of beautiful victories with a stage win in Tirreno – Adriatico and winning Paris – Tours.
In 2017, his team decided that it was time for his first Grand Tour and they let him start at the Giro d’Italia. Stage one went to André Greipel, stage two to Caleb Ewan, but after that the ‘Fernando Gaviria show’ began. He won stage three and even wore the pink jersey for one day. He won stage five and a couple of days ago impressed again by winning stage twelve and thirteen. He can become one of the best sprinters of the peloton if he goes on like this. Still, the young guy is not only dreaming of the Tour de France. He has shown in Milano – Sanremo that he is capable of winning a classic someday. In Gent – Wevelgem he ended in the top-ten twice. This means that he is a lot more than just a sprinter. And he stated that he always wants to win something new. Who knows what the future holds for him? Fernando Gaviria. He is on his way to become Colombia’s new hope.

© David Powell and Brakethrough Media

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

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