Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009

KBC-Driedaagse/3 Days of De Panne - Preview

Six days left to Flanders—that means one thing: time for a trip to the Belgian coastal town of De Panne for a lovely three days of sun and fun by the North Sea.

Obviously you’ve never been to De Panne in April.

The 3 Days of De Panne is the final chance for riders seeking to fine-tune their form for Sunday’s Ronde. With 4 stages over 3 days the race does not disappoint—unless you’re one of the many who will crash on these windswept coastal plains. De Panne is race that will literally make or break a rider’s form. For some, it gives one last chance to grow accustomed to the roads and the weather; for others, it can turn that sniffle into the flu or that shiny new frame into a twisted piece of post-modern sculpture.

This year’s race covers more than 500km and follows the traditional formula. The first stage covers 199km and tackles the most climbs of the race (many from Sunday). Expect a break to get away that will produce the first race leader (who will most likely hold the jersey until the last stage). The following stage is longer, but contains less hills (although the Kemmelberg is nothing to sneeze at). This will probably end in a bunch sprint—unless the wind breaks the race into groups. The Kemmelberg’s presence (or should I say it’s descent) also means a higher chance for a race-ending crash for at least one unlucky soul. Thursday morning brings a 112km jaunt around De Panne (almost certain to end in a bunch sprint), followed by a 15km time trial in the afternoon (in which most riders probably won’t even start).

Looking over the preliminary start list, the riders can be sorted into three groups of favorites: one-day men for Stage 1, sprinters for Stages 2 and 3a, and all-rounders who can time trial for Stage 3b and the overall win.

So here you go:

Stage 1
Hoste, Gilbert, Van Impe, Ivanov, Frishkorn, Maaskant, Willems, Bozic, Eisel

Stages 2 and 3a
Cavendish, Brown, Boonen, Roelants, Dominguez, Henderson, Bennati, Hunter

Stage 3b and Overall
Devolder, Sutton, Wiggins, Tuft, Hoste, Poosthuma, Van Impe

A few interesting notes on this race—things to keep an eye on:

1. George Hincapie has decided to leave this race off his program. Frankly, I couldn’t agree more with this decision. Hincapie has more than enough kilometers in his legs and he knows these roads better anyone without “Van-something” as a last name. Sitting this one out might be enough to keep him sharp for the week to come. If he wins Flanders or Roubaix, you can officially say it’s because he missed De Panne (and that you read it here first).

2. De Panne also marks the appearance of Garmin-Chipotle. I’m excited to see what the Argyle boys will do. Maaskant used this race as a launch pad last year—will he do it again? What about Tuft? I think he’s a rider particularly suited to races of this type—it will be interesting to see what he does on a stage this large.

3. Boonen is starting, but will not finish—barring something completely unforeseen.

My pick for the win? Devolder.

And you?

The Stones of Belgium - Part 2

The following is the second part of a story I wrote for Embrocation Cycling Journal, the brain-child of Jeremy Dunn. The story appeared in Issue Number 2. (You can buy issues 2 and 3 here. Please support them!) The third and final section will appear next week.

            The Flemish call the stones kassein, and I often wonder if this word came from the French word cassé, or “broken”. Only farmers use these stoned pathways now, and they were designed with little thought to traffic flow and sight lines—certainly with no regard for skinny, smooth-legged cyclists. I know this road ends with a blind corner where it rejoins the national roadway. I also know there is a slight rise about 500 meters before this corner where I can quickly glance over the field to check the road in both directions for upcoming vehicles. I concentrate on that moment; if I miss it I’ll be forced to slow myself to a stop, a risky venture on such an unpredictable surface.
            I crane my neck—no cars today—and set my mind on the new task at hand: rejoining the main road. Sections of cobblestones are not dangerous in and of themselves; there is a technique to riding them that anyone can learn, and even the most svelte riders can adjust their bodies to the jolts and jars. The tricky part is the transition from one surface to another. Knowing this, and nearing the end of the stones, I choose my line back onto the main road, re-center my weight, and point my knee in anticipation of the turn. Coasting into the corner, my chain slaps against my aluminum frame, tapping in rhythm with the pattern of the stones. Suddenly, my rear wheel hits a stray patch of gravel, sending the rear end of the bike skidding out from under me. In one fluid motion I unclip my cleated right foot from the pedal, plant my heel, and right myself and my bike by pushing-off and away from the roadway. I exhale as I regain my composure and my rhythm. My sunglasses slip, but hold.
            Now poured concrete slabs pass under me smoothly save for the untarred seams that send pulses through my frame, reverberating in the roots of my teeth. I take a swig from my bottle, the sugary drink replacing the grit in my mouth with a sweet, sticky film. I drop the chain from my big ring, shift-up a gear or two in the rear, and settle into a steady tempo. Leaving a slightly wooded area I can see the gentle upward slope of the roadway rise above me through the plowed fields. The wind is neither in my face nor at my back. I shift down one gear, lower my torso closer to the top tube of the bike, flatten my back, and bend my elbows. This might be a little more intensive than I had hoped for a pre-race ride, but opening-up a bit might be good for my legs and lungs. The wind is less than I expected, and the rain has held off for the moment. I smell the freshly turned earth around me, lower my head, and continue my ride home.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Brabantse Pijl Preview - Will Silence Remain So?

Tomorrow’s Brabantse Pijl begins in Leuven (my old stomping ground) and winds it’s way to a suburb east of Brussels. Tackling over 15 hills on the main loop, then 10 more via the 5 finishing ronden, the race usually ends with a small group duking it out to hit the line first on the Alsemberg. Last year Chavanel and Gilbert waged quite a duel, with Chavanel taking it in the end. However, don’t be surprised to see a sprinter with the ability to suffer through the climbs win this one—Freire’s won it three times, in fact.

The trouble with predicting winner here is that at least part of the race is dictated by what happens in the E3 Prijs the day before. Riders are dropped and added at the last minute depending on any residual carnage and fatigue from Saturday. Sometimes a rider will start merely to loosen the legs, dropping out at the feed zone or as soon as the race begins the finishing laps. Thus, it’s often a crapshoot.

For my money, I’d go with Phillipe Gilbert. Looking over the list right now he’s surely one of the 3-5 strongest riders on the line. Silence-Lotto simplay MUST win one of these races. They were completely absent from Saturday’s finale. Heads will be rolling soon (even with Evans' win today in Italy). Katusha has Steegmans and Pozzato listed as starting, but I find it hard to believe both will—especially after Pozzato’s win in Harelbeke. Allan Davis from Quick Step shouldn’t be discounted, and neither should Cervelo’s Hushvod—if he starts.

My big question: with so many talented riders, why wouldn’t Quick Step start Chavanel? Don’t be surprised to see him as a last-minute add on Sunday.

And darkhorses? Saxo Bank is going to need a result soon; Arvesen and Kroon could provide it. Simon Spilak from Lampre could shock everyone as could Mr. “I”ve got something to prove” Eeckhout. Finally, I’ll say it again: Bjorn Leukemans. Come on, Bjorn! I’ve been praising you and your team for weeks now; it’s time to deliver the goods!

Domo Ariagato, Pippo Pozzato!

"Would you describe, in your own words, what happened?"

"Bro... was ON! Didn't trip. But the folks was freakin', Man. Hey, and the pilots were laid to the bone, Holmes."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Brabantse Pijl preview coming soon.

E3 Prijs Vlaanderen Harelbeke - Live Stream

Here's a link to a Flemish live feed from the E3 Prijs.  Enjoy!

Just click here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

E3 Prijs Vlaanderen Harelbeke - Preview

The Ronde build-up intensifies tomorrow with the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen (Harelbeke). At a length of 208 km and containing 12 bergs, the E3 is a true test of who’s in-it-to-win-it next Sunday. I expect the race to be a repeat of Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen: Quick Step vs. Haussler and a wild card.

With Boonen, Chavanel, and Devolder, Quick Step has three riders who could win met vingers in de neus. Working together, they form an almost indomitable trio. On Wednesday, Boonen looked as if he could ride away for the win at any point; he’s just biding his time for the Ronde. Haussler though, might need to win now or forever hold his peace. He’s been pretty much in top form since Het Nieuwsblad (he has, hasn’t he?); form like that doesn’t last forever. He really needs a bit more support from his teammates in the lead-up to the finale of these kinds races. Without a lieutenant (a Geert Van Bondt sort of rider) able to ride beside him in the latter quarter of races, he’s doomed to be isolated by deeper teams.

Otherwise, the usual suspects remain. Will Silence-Lotto (Hoste and Van Avermaet) and Katusha (Ivanov’s won this race before in addition to Pozzato and Steegmans) show their cards? Do they even have any cards? Rabobank—at least on paper—brings a strong team with Flecha, Langeveld, and Nuyens. Columbia’s here with Hincapie beginning his build-up and Burghart and Boasson Hagen always ready to take a win. These are just the guys to pull a shocker while Quick Step stares at Haussler.

In the end, it will come down to one of two things:

1.) Will Quick Step self-implode due to an over-abundance of leaders?

2.) Will the rest of the favorites set aside their differences long enough to overpower Boonen and Co.?

If neither happens, it could be a long day for anyone not on Quick Step or without last name Haussler.

Who are your picks? Share your comments with the rest of us.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dwars door Vlaanderen - Quick Result

      What a race! I was able to watch the finale during lunch. A true lesson in tactics as Quick Step completely out-muscled the competition. Boonen looked as though he could win the race at any time, Devolder blew the race apart in the middle stages, and Van Impe hung tight to take the win. Haussler continued to do what we've seen from him all spring, and Niko Eeckhout tried his best for another win, but in the end managed only 2nd.

If this is a taste of things to come, then we're in for a special few weeks.

Unoffocial result:
1. Kevin Van Impe - Quick Step
2. Niko Eeckhout - An Post
3. Tom Boonen - Quick Step
4. Heinrich Haussler - Cervelo Test Team

Dwars door Vlaanderen - Live

I'm not sure if it's going to work due to possible geographic restrictions, but here's a link to a live stream of today's race. Coverage begins at about 9:25am Eastern.

Here's the link.


9:45est Update: I changed the link as the original url wasn't working. The new one does. Just click the "link" above.

10:25est Update: What a race! The weather is terrible! I picked-up the stream just before the Patersberg and in the middle of an all-out effort by Stijn Devolder to blow the main field apart. One name I left off my list yesterday and shouldn't have: Marcus Burghardt.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dwars door Vlaanderen Preview

"Northern Europe is about to be invaded—again. Racing on more than 1850 km of some of Europe’s harshest roads, the world’s best cyclists are about to…"

      Forget that. Too cheesy…

"Beginning tomorrow, the world’s greatest athletes will begin tackling the world’s hardest and most dangerous bike races!"

      Nope. Too much hyperbole…

"Their blood and sweat mingling with the mud and grime from the road, tomorrow begins what many call, the Northern Massacre."

      Nah. Too Tarantino…

      Ok, I’m done trying to come up with a dramatic introduction. Besides, as I’m sure we all agree, the Classics need no introduction. The races, the riders, and the countries hosting them have spoken for themselves over the past 100 years.

      For me, the best part of these races is that as a whole, they create an experience that completely transcends the sum of it’s parts. Yes, each race provides its own heroes, villains, triumphs, and tragedies. But when looked at as an entire oeuvre, a great story is told—a story with themes composed for a much larger stage.

      But here I go waxing poetic again. Maybe I should just get on with it…

      Tomorrow’s Dwars door Vlaanderen takes the riders over 200km and 12 climbs, including the Berendries, Valkenburg, and Oude Kwaremont (among others). Usually, a break or small group emerges, but bunch sprints are not uncommon. Two 15 km finishing laps in Waregem give the spectators ample time to see their favorites and drink some pintjes.

      Looking over the start list on the race website, Quick Step has the past 2 winners in Sylvain Chavanel and Tom Boonen. Look for them to try and control the race from start to finish; they have a line-up that can win in a variety of scenarios.

      Silence-Lotto is desperate for it’s first win of the season. For that reason, I think they might be more prone to let Greg Van Avermaet burn a few more matches than they might like—if he’s in a position to win. Same goes for Katusha with Pozzato and Steegmans.

      I’m waiting to see Rabobank’s Nick Nuyens show-up at some point this spring; he’s been relatively quiet to now. His teammate Sebastian Langeveld impressed many during the classics last year, and he could be a rider ready to take another step.

      Cervelo has another solid line-up even without O’Grady and Hushvod. Is Haussler’s form ever going to stop? He’ll be out for blood following his near-miss on the Via Roma.

      Finally, don’t discount the chances of Vacansoleil. Baden Cooke won this race in 2002 and was second in 2003. His teammate Bjorn Leukemans could also pull-off a surprise. I know I keep bringing this team into the mix, but I'm confident that soon they'll reward my faith.

      Who do you think will win on the streets of Waregem? Leave your comments so the debate can begin!

Them's the Breaks...

As you've probably heard by now, Lance Armstrong broke his right collarbone during yesterday's first stage of the Vuelta Castilla y Leon. The main field hit a particularly narrow section of windswept road, and when riders starting clamoring for wheels, calamity ensued.

Here's the video:

Now, while I'm not a fan of the "All Lance, All the Time" method of cycling journalism, I do think the crash is interesting for a few reasons:

1. It's been a while since a Lance crash has had such "catastrophic" results (I use that term loosely since riders break collarbones all the time and he'll probably heal quite quickly). His handlebar episode on Luz Ardiden in the 2003 Tour does not count.

2. The roads he crashed on remind of the narrower tracks his colleagues will soon be facing up North.

3. The crash will most certainly keep him out of this year's Ronde van Vlaanderen, a race in which I was eager to see him participate.

Extra credit if you can help me determine what language the video is in (I just can't place it).

If all goes well, I'll soon post a Preview of tomorrow's Dwars door Vlaanderen.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Stones of Belgium - Part 1

The following is the first part of a story I wrote for Embrocation Cycling Journal, the brain-child of Jeremy Dunn. The story appeared in Issue Number 2. (You can buy issues 2 and 3 here. Please support them!) As the Northern Monuments begin in earnest this week, I thought it would be nice to share the story again for those who might not have read it. Come back for regular installments.

Like most of its citizens, I hate Belgium. And that’s why I know I’m starting to belong here, for Belgium is the only country I am aware of where national pride is expressed as a form of self-deprecation. In Northern Europe, all paths at least lead through Belgium. As an American, I can’t wait for the moment when I can raise my eyebrows, turn-up my nose, and ask a newly arrived foreigner: “Why would you come to Belgium?” For true Belgians, you see, there is no valid reason why anyone would choose to relocate to their little country trapped in the French-Dutch armpit of northern Europe. But of course, like the others, I am here for reasons of my own, none of which can be overpowered by the Belgian national pathos. And besides, I have a race tomorrow.

On my bike things are clearer for me. The clouds stretch across the sky like a gray leather hide forming a tent over the maze of cobblestones and concrete slab roads on which I train. Sheets of rain cascade down in the distance, and sunlight peers through an adjacent patch in the clouds hinting at a rainbow for a small village on the horizon. In Belgium, the sun lies in wait like plaster behind layers of drab wallpaper. My emotions mirror this weather frequently, and some days I need hard rides and jarring roads to bring peace of mind.

I picked a route that takes me past my favorite tree. There it stands, as always, a beacon in a field of beets, flanked only by the small brick shrine built by a pious farmer years before, guarding his crops. Passing it, I turn in the direction if Tienen and my favorite cobbled roads.

Easing myself onto the stones, I slip my chain into the big ring, center my weight, loosen my joints, and float across the ridge of rocks. My legs pound a rhythm to keep me on top of my gear. My hands begin to hurt and my fingers go numb. The stones beneath me are slick with tractor oil, manure, and rain left from a passing cloud, but I pick a line that guarantees the support of my snake-thin tires. Luckily, this road is flat, and I won’t need to change gears. One missed shift could interrupt the delicate balance between rider, bike, and terrain, sending me directly to the sharp, granite stones.

Friday, March 20, 2009

PA Ramble: A Taste of Things to Come...

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of taking a drive up to State College to test-drive the course of the legendary PA Ramble. The Ramble’s a ride created by Ridelugged’s James and his buddies from grad school at PSU. The goal was simple: create an epic ride including as many dirt roads and climbs as possible. The results speak for themselves via the photos I’ve included here. In fact, I couldn’t even finish the ride—the final third was completely snowbound.

If we aren’t lucky enough to be selected for Rapha’s Continental Calling project, James and I are hoping to run the Ramble sometime later this summer (to give the surfaces a chance to settle down). In April we’re hoping to head-up for some extended reconnaissance. You’re welcome to join us.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Via Roma...

To be honest, while I appreciate the history of this race, it’s never really sparked my passion. For me, it just seems a bit too predictable. Don’t get me wrong, Cancellara’s attack last year was terrific; I love to see the sprinters team’s foiled on the Via Roma. What about the distance? Yes, 294 km is a lot, but I was there in 2001 and I can honestly say that for most riders the first 200 km of the race is nothing more than a stiff-tempo’ed training ride. (Not you, Will Frischkorn!)

That said, my riders for Saturday are (in no particular order): Petacchi, Hushvod, Haussler, Hincapie, and Rebellin.

No disrespect to La Classicisma, that’s just my two cents. Please share your opinions with the rest of us!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cajun Hell

Not sure how many of you follow the blog over at Competitive Cyclist; if you don't, you should start.

Today among the various bits of goodness there's a link to an article the New York Times did recently on the Rouge Roubaix, a 100-mile unpaved slog through some fine Louisiana back country. Note the people in the back of the photo walking their bikes.

It's a great article on an event that we all must try one day. Now I have yet another reason to get down to the Bayou.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hellingen van de Ronde

Only time for a short post today, but here’s something to keep you busy: the website for the Ronde Van Vlaanderen Sportif has links to the specifics of each col along the race route—paved and cobbled. There’s even a photo to accompany each berg.

Which is your favorite? Post a comment to let us all know.

The RVV Sportif is something to consider if you have the time and the means. Taking place the day before the race itself, the Ronde Sportif offers three routes each for road and mountain bikes. Choosing the 256km full course option gives you the perfect opportunity to test yourself against the same course as the pros. In some cases, riders have even been known to send people out to ride the course on Saturday with the intent of getting last-minute information about course and wind conditions for the day to follow. I forget the rider and the year (please remind me if you know), but I specifically recall one race winner saying he knew he'd have a tailwind after the Bosberg because of a tip he received from an amateur who rode the course the day preceding.

While I have not yet completed the Ronde Sportif (although it’s on my list), I have ridden several of the hills during my Belgian days. Last year, Fred Dreier from Velonews completed the full course. You can read about his experience here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pave Project - #1

Some of you may recall a project I mentioned upon launching thus blog.

The goal is to catalog and record all cobbled roads in America. Ambitious? Maybe. Worth the effort? Definitely.

Here's the first entry:

Located a few blocks from my apartment, Church Alley is about 100 feet of classic, cobbled goodness. Note the bricked sidewalk. Even better, the alley is adjacent to the local Iron Hill Brewery; so after a few loops of stone intervals, you can stop-in for a Brewski burger and some Vienna Red Lager.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Don’t get me wrong, I love Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. With Mercury in 2001, I drove the second car in the Race to the Sun when we won 3 stages with Koerts, Van Petegem, and Guidi. It’s a beautiful race covering some of France’s most beautiful roads and scenery.

However, it can’t be denied that there’s something a bit anti-climatic about the shift from the single day classics of Belgium’s opening weekend to the week-long stage races of France and Italy. Yes, they are the traditional warm-ups for Milan-San Remo. And yes, they usually contain all the protagonists for April’s northern classics. But there’s something of a palate cleansing effect to them—as if they’re simply setting the stage for bigger courses to come.

2007 marked the first change to the pattern with the inaugural Montepaschi Strade Bianche - Eroica Toscana, affectionately known as “L’Eroica”. To many, last year’s edition really put the race on the Spring map with a terrific dual between Cancellara and Ballan—two former winners of another spring race run on some rough roads. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

This year’s winner, Thomas Lövkvist, triumphed over a field sans an injured Cancellara and an ill Ballan, but he was anything but unworthy. Special props to Ryder Hesjedal for another top-10 ride. Here’s hoping he won’t become the “Hincapie” of the Tuscan Spring. (Don’t worry, George. We still believe in you!). Are there any doubts that riders are starting to take this race very seriously?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

All Signals Point to the NAHBS

No, I did not go the NAHBS in Indianapolis. Next year, hopefully, I’ll be able to make the trip (please bring it East!). But I have enjoyed the extensive coverage the event has received on various websites (Cyclingnews has an extensive piece) and blogs (Embro and BKW have some great words and photos). You can also see photos of all the award winners at Cyclelicious.

Some things that stood out to me:

Chris King is reviving his bike brand, Cielo. Taking a page from some of the mass-producers, Cielo is offering modules in which you can buy frames with pre-installed Chris King headsets and bottom brackets and wheels built using King hubs.

IF is taking the full-carbon plunge. Much to the plesure of some “carbon is the only material worth using” friends of mine, I’m happy to see smaller builders continuing to make frames that will compete with their larger counterparts. Can you imagine a frameset with a stiffness-to-weight ratio rivaling Trek and Specialized with the love and care that go into the building of an IF? Wow.

Jeremy Dunn’s moving to Portland? He says so in this post. The East Coast scene won’t be the same.

Then again, after seeing what Signal Cycles has to offer (see below), I’d move too.

Check-out their blog for great photos of bikes from last year’s show as well. I love this paint job:

(Photos from James Huang/Cyclingnews, Embrocation, and Signal Cycles. Please give these sites the courtesy of your visit.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Grin

We’ve seen it before. The smile of pain; the grin of exertion. It’s owner is usually off the front, fighting for the win; or about to be off the back, fighting for mere survival.

Philip Gilbert is one who comes to mind. Known for suicide breaks such as last year’s Het Volk, Gilbert often throws caution to the wind in an all-or-nothing effort. Regardless of the result, his countenance does nothing to belie the pain and concentration behind each pedal stroke.

I hope you enjoyed the weekend. I completely missed the boat with Thor; how could I have left him out? And Tommeke? None of us were surprised to see him win in Kuurne after his performance Saturday. If only we all the luxury to be disappointed with “just 10th” in the season’s first classic.