1. This weekend I learned a valuable lesson: never bet against Alejandro Valverde (unless it's July).
"It’s February," I thought.
"He’s saving his best for later in the year," I assumed.
"The competition is more motivated than he is," I predicted.
I was wrong on all counts—with the lone exception being yesterday's super-motivated stage winner, Francesco Masciarelli. My pre-race favorite, Johnny Hoogerland, finished the race in a respectable 4th-place overall—9 seconds behind the winner. The other favorites finished about where we expected: Vino, Gesink, and Danielson all finished inside the top-15. But in the end, it was Valverde who punched his victory card a bit earlier than we might be used to, thus cementing his status as the World’s most dangerous man in every race that's not cobbled or the Tour.
2. Two stages of the Tour of Oman have come and gone, and things are running as we expected: sprinters have won the first two stages and Edvald Boassen Hagen has taken the overall lead. It was nice to see Jimmy Casper continuing Saur-Sojasun’s optimistic start to the season with a Stage 1 victory. Kudos as well to Daniele Bennati—he and Chichi seem to be one of the sport’s most-formidable sprint duos at this point the season. Here’s hoping they can keep it up once they return to Europe.
3. The early season stage races continue this week in Portugal with the Vuelta Algarve, a race with quite an interesting start list. Algarve marks the first appearance of many of the favorites for this year’s Grand Tours including Astana’s Alberto Contador, Radio Shack’s Levi Leipheimer, and Garmin’s Christian Vande Velde. Several of the sport’s best one-day men will also be using Algarve to continue their slow builds to April including Stijn Devolder, Sylvain Chavanel, Geert Steegmans, Samuel Sanchez, Sergei Ivanov, Nick Nuyens, Thor Hushovd, and Heinrich Haussler. And don’t forget the sprinters—they’re here too led by Robbie McEwan, Andre Greipel, and Julien Dean. There are also several wild cards, talented men hoping Algarve will present them with chances to take their first win of the season while the stars collect their kilometers. Of these, Geoffroy Laquatre, Ryder Hesjedal, David Zabriskie, Joaquin Rodriguez, Lars Boom, Luis Leon Sanchez, Sandy Casar, Manuel Cardoso, and Bjorn Leukemans come quickly to mind.
In the end, look for a rider talented enough to finish well in the sprints and do well in the final stage’s ITT to take the overall win. I’ll go out on a limb and pick Thor for the overall victory—he’s sure to finish well on the flatter stages and the relatively short ITT suits his strengths.
4. There were some great cyclocross races this weekend as well—but you’ll have to come back for Erik’s Cross Report and Power Rankings to hear more about those.
Away from the racing scene we have several other goodies—including some great videos.
5. My friend Fxdwhl at lockring.not.included posted a series of excerpts from the great Merckx-era documentary, Stars and Watercarriers. Of all the scenes Fxdwl includes, this one is my favorite. It’s got it all: a funky “recovery device”, an overly demonstrative Italian soigneur, scenes from mealtime—with separate tables for riders and staff, and of course, mechanics taping bars and gluing tires. In a word, it’s perfect. (Sessa, Geert, and Kepa: I miss you, guys.)
6. Let's jump from 1973 to 2001, and scenes from the USPS team car at Paris-Roubaix (I believe this comes via the Road to Paris documentary. I enjoy this one for many reasons, but here are 3 of the best: it’s Paris-Roubaix in rough weather; it’s the one and only year that Mercury got an invite; and it forever answers the question as to who really ran the USPS team (if there were ever any doubts).
7. And while we’re on the subject of the 2001 Paris-Roubaix, check-out this terrific picture of Wilfred Peeters and his short-lived bid for Roubaix glory. Notice the front wheel--does it look familiar? Well, let’s just say it wasn’t standard-issue for Domo back then—heck, it wasn’t even "standard-issue" for Mercury. But that’s a long story for another day…
Enjoy your week!