Friday, February 27, 2009

This weekend's events...

As mentioned in an earlier post, the “real” season begins this weekend. The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (formerly “Het Volk”), officially opens the Northern season with over 200km of the finest stuff Belgium has to offer. While not possessing quite the prestige of its bigger brother, the Tour of Flanders, the Omloop is still nothing to sneer at. Any rider worth his salt is eager to add it to his palmares. Head to the great folks at Cyclingnews or Pez for some reports and previews chock full of facts and figures.

If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on three riders:

Gert Steegmans could profit from Filippo Pozzato’s presence on his Katusha team. Able to win in a break or a sprint, Steegmans could find himself in a move allowing him to sit-on and wait for his team to bring the race back together for his kopman. If the break fails, he’s fresh for whatever ensures. If it’s successful, he’s perfectly placed to cover attacks in the finale or win the sprint. If I’m completely wrong and he has no role in the race, look for him Sunday in Kuurne—a race with a much greater chance of ending with a bunch sprint.

Greg Van Avermaet is on the verge of something big. Winner of a stage and the points jersey in last year’s Vuelta, he’s primed for a breakout performance in one his country’s biggest events. Like Steegmans, perhaps his biggest asset is also his potentially biggest obstacle—his Silence-Lotto teammates. The defending champion and two-time winner, Philip Gilbert is now his teammate. Gilbert is eager to set himself alongside the race’s greatest legends with his third win. This could harm Van Avermaet’s chances, or, like Steegmans, help them immensely.

Bjorn Leukemans is a rider with something to prove. Winner of a stage in the Etoile de Bessèges earlier this year, Leukemans wants to prove that he has fully rebounded from the scandal that found him serving a 2-year suspension for le dopage. He’s a wild card for sure, with a team (Vacansoleil) that is certainly a step below some of the other squads on the starting line. However, with a smart, savy race he could find himself on the podium’s top step.

Het Begint!

I’ll never forget the day. Spring 1995. Driving south on route 309 having just left the local Performance Bicycle, the only place near me that sold Velonews. This was still the time when Velonews read more like a newspaper than a magazine. Big sheets of newsprint; ink marks on your fingers. Pearl Jam blaring from my Sony Discman, I looked over to quickly scan the cover. “Ballerini Wins Het Volk.” The headline might have been something different; it probably made mention of “the North” or used a pun to indicate the weather or the terrain. But the gist was the same. Ballerini and Edwig Van Hooydonck graced the cover, riding for Mapei-GB and Novell respectively. Their names alone invoke the passion of all riders from these two great cycling nations. Edwig, the Boss of the Bosberg, was nearing the end of a brilliant career. Franco, a classics king about to be crowned, was nearing the zenith of his. He would win his first Roubaix later that spring.

Needless to say, I was hooked. It was the beginning of what would soon become my favorite part of the season. How fitting to start another new endeavor at this time.

Come back later for some thoughts on this weekend’s events.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Project - Introduction

James from Ride Lugged introduced me to a project he and some like-minded friends started a few years ago. The goal: to record and catalog the "rideable" (use this term flexibly) dirt roads in PA and MD. They started with roads in and around State College, PA and Frederick, MD, but they hope to expand the project in an area near you. You can find their results at I'm sure James would appreciate any additions you might care to make. He's color-coded his maps according to surface type.

After tooling around on James' site, I started thinking: what if the same could be done for cobbled or bricked roads? Growing up in the Philly area, I've come to love the smattering of cobbled climbs, roads, and trails the area provides. Why couldn't I create a place for people to share similar experiences?

Voila! So let it be known: I'm officially accepting all submissions of the cobbled and bricked roads you know and love. Please include all the necessary data: location, surface condition, length, difficulty, and any other interesting tidbits. Of course, your photos are much appreciated.

I'll publish your stones here for the rest to see, ride, and share. James has also mentioned adding these roads to his maps using new colors to differentiate their respective surfaces.

Here's a sample:

This is a picture of yours truly on a stretch of cobbles just outside the town of Wijgmaal, Belgium. (Okay, I'm cheating by going all intercontinental on ya'...) This is the same road in the photo in my previous post. It's a tree-lined lane of about 2 km running through cow fields. The surface? Grassy, slimy, and often covered in manure. Years of tractor use have created a crown made all the more dangerous by the grass growing in the elevated environment. Riding the gutter brings the danger of misplaced stones, puddles, and holes. In other words? It's perfect. This photo took about an hour tinkering with the timer, a mini-tripod, and a rotten fence post.


This site is something I’ve been subconsciously planning for quite some time. Sites like Belgium Knee Warmers, Embrocation, the Rapha Continental, and Ride Lugged have helped put me back in touch with everything I came to love about the sport of cycling. In particular, they have rekindled my fondness for the traditional, the old school, the provincial. And I can think of no better expression of these ideals than the cobblestone.

Known by many different names in many different places, the cobblestone represents all that we cyclists hold dear: simplicity, endurance, suffering, and tradition. It is the quintessential symbol of victory in one of the sport’s most legendary races. Yet, despite its varied roles in many of our sport’s grandest of tales, it is in danger of disappearing completely.

So here, I hope to create a place to celebrate and preserve one of our sport’s smallest, yet most significant of patrons. Enjoy!