April 10, 2014 § 7 Comments
This year Paris-Roubaix promises to be the one of the best editions in years. Here’s why:
- With the less-than-on-form Tom Boonen failing to effectively challenge Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders, 2014 marks the first time in over a decade that there is less than a 98% chance that the race will be won by either Tommeke or Fabs. Riders, fans, and pundits alike are thrilled at the 3 – 4% chance of crowning a new winner.
- Following the sunny, pleasant weather of the Ronde, Paris-Roubaix promises to be another beneficiary of the global warming that seems destined to kill off the human race while, instead of hanging the Koch Brothers and Exxon from the nearest yardarm, instead basks in the warmth of a fun bicycle race. Trademark applications have already been submitted to change the race’s nickname to the “Heck of the North.”
- Rainy, chilly weather ruined half the pro peloton’s Belgian campaign with the sniffles and the ouchies after Milan – San Remo, so team managers are doubly pleased at the prospect of picnic weather for Paris – Roubaix, even as the ghosts of Roubaix Past roll in their graves.
- As with MSR and the Ronde, Paris – Roubaix 2014 promises to be another epic “strategic” battle between alcoholic, drug-addled team directors screaming instructions into earpieces while their automatons robotically follow instructions until their legs fail or their bicycles break. A PSA on race radios and how they’ve improved race safety will be given by Johan van Summeren.
- The finishing velodrome will not be renamed “Specialized.”
- American fans have a new, popular, handsome, energetic disappointment to replace the old, battered, brokedown disappointment of George Hincapie, as Taylor Phinney promises to be one of USA’s greatest potential 2nd-place finishers since Big George.
- A handful of up-and-coming French riders promise to bring Gaulish strength back to this legendary French race by threatening to crack the top fifty.
- 2014 Paris – Roubaix has introduced a brief comedy segment called the “Wiggins Hour,” where Mr. Drinkypants himself seeks to be the first TdF – PR winner since Bernard Hinault.
- Sep Vanmarcke believes he’s ready to beat Cancellara in a sprint finish on the velodrome in Roubaix because, unicorns.
April 8, 2014 § 18 Comments
Cycling in the South Bay was privileged to interview several top professionals after Fabian Cancellara split the lead group and won out of a four-up breakaway.
CitSB: How did the race unfold?
Sep Vanmarcke: I was with Cancellara over the Kwaremont and Paterberg, but in the end he destroyed the field and made us look like children. Belgian children. Stupid Belgian children.
CitSB: Any conclusions about the race?
Greg van Avermaet: All in all it was a more tactical race than the last two years, since changing the finish from Meerbeke to Oudenarde. I am very pleased with second place but it was very difficult to beat Cancellara due to him crushing us all like a bunch of bugs on the windscreen of a jet.
CitSB: You must be disappointed with seventh place?
Tom Boonen: Yes, of course, I was just two percent or so off. I believe I had a chance to beat Cancellara, but that was only in the warm-up around the bus.
CitSB: How would you evaluate the race?
Peter Sagan: Evaluate it? I got my ass whipped. You know how they say it in Slovakian? “Your eleventh finger is in the meat grinder.”
CitSB: What was going through your head as you approached the line in a 4-up breakaway with Cancellara?
Stijn Vandenbergh: “I’m totally screwed.” Something like that.
CitSB: You must have felt good about your early breakaway, taking the pressure off Greg for most of the race?
Taylor Phinney: If you think it feels good to have Cancellara annihilate an entire field when you’re one of the riders in the field, you’re a complete fool.
CitSB: What is Team Sky planning to improve on its top Ronde placing of 65th?
David Brailsford: We’ll do some more marginal gains away from the testers next year, that’s for sure. And wait for Cancellara to retire.
CitSB: It’s been 2008 since Italy won a monument. Why do you guys suck so bad?
Filippo Pozzato: I would like to point out that Cancellara comes from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.
CitSB: How does a guy with no teammates beat an entire field of 200 riders, including 30 riders from Omega-Pharma-Quickdope riding on their home turf?
Patrick Lefevere: Heads will roll, trust me. We do not race for second place. In fact lately we haven’t even been racing for tenth. Firings and public humiliation will continue until morale improves.
March 16, 2014 § 21 Comments
Richie Porte, the leader for Team Sky at Tirenno-Adriatico, expressed surprise today that his race tactics did not result in a stage win atop the climb to Selvarotonda. “I was on the front for most of the climb,” said Porte, in disbelief. “I was killing those guys.”
Alberto Contador, winner of the day’s stage, couldn’t explain the result either. “You know, Richie was up there on the front of the group, just drilling it really hard into a huge headwind up a very long and challenging climb. It’s hard to understand how he didn’t win.” Contador was seen shortly after the interview high-fiving his teammates on the bus and grinning slyly at his team director.
Overall leader Michal Kwiatkowski, who finished the stage with what analysts believe is an unsurmountable 34-second lead over Porte, was also at a loss to explain the outcome. “Richie was favored to win the race, and on the decisive climbing stage we were all sure he would win, the way he sat very impressively on the front for such a long time into such a bitter headwind with no teammates to help him and all of us in the leader’s group on his wheel like that. But somehow he lost.”
Second-place finisher Nairo Quintana was likewise mystified by Porte’s failure to win the stage and take control of the race despite his clever tactical riding. “We were all telling him, you know, ‘Wow, Richie, you’re killing us, dude,’ and ‘I’m cracking, I can barely hang on,’ and stuff like that, but then somehow just towards the end we all felt better and were able to pass him and put a lot of time on him. It’s weird. He was riding so strong and we were all so, how you say, in the box of hurt?”
Porte concurred with Quintana’s analysis. “It’s fuggin’ weird. Every time I looked back they had these faces that were filled with pain, awful grimaces, you know? And their shoulders were drooping and they were making loud breathing noises. I had ‘em, I had ‘em, I swear. Then, poof! We get about one kilometer out and suddenly everybody takes off and there I was, even though I’d done all the work, I couldn’t go with them. After pulling them up the climb like that you would have thought that they would at least have waited for me,” Porte added with a slight show of frustration. “It’s almost like they were playing me. If we weren’t all such good pals, I don’t know.”
Teammate Bradley “Wiggo” Wiggins was nonetheless upbeat at Porte’s chances on Sunday’s last mountain stage. “He’ll just have to hammer from the gun,” said Wiggo. “Tire ‘em out from the start, maybe take a little breather if he can, and then go right back to the front and drop the hammer on the climb. Ride ‘em off ‘is wheel. That’s the ticket, just like it was a triathlon, full fuggin’ gas from the get-go. They won’t know what hit ‘em, especially at the end when they hit the Muro di Guardiagrele with its 30% ramp.”
After the award ceremony, the top finishers congratulated Porte on his outstanding ride, saying “You were a beast,” and “I hope you don’t hammer us like that tomorrow. We won’t stand a chance!”
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December 26, 2013 § 6 Comments
I’m recently becoming on the cycling fan. With usual German thoroughness I have learned with excellence how to understand the Tour of France and the Giro of Italy. Before I learn to follow the Vuelta, however, could you explain to me what it is?
It is the largest bicycle race in the world that no one cares about.
Sorry to bother you again, but if it’s such a big race, why doesn’t anyone care about it?
The main reason no one cares is that it’s a bike race, but there are other reasons too, like everyone using more illegal drugs at the Vuelta than the usual quota of illegal drugs at the other grand tours, and all the good riders quitting after a week or so in order to prep for worlds, and the same seven spectators who line the roads, and the fact that it’s in Spain, which most Americans confuse with Mexico and assume there’s a drug cartel on every corner waiting to kidnap them and sell their parts to be made into Al Contador’s beef.
Wow, you sure are an asshole! The Vuelta is the most exciting of all the grand tours! Spain is a friggin’ beautiful country. Great wine and food and perfect weather and bitches. Eff you, Cap’n d-bag! Also, Horner rocks time a million!
“The most exciting of all the grand tours” still translates into “as exciting as watching someone diagram sentences.”
How would you compare the hardest climbs of the Vuelta, like the Angliru, with something like the Stelvio or the Alpe?
The main difference is that unlike the Alpe or the Stelvio, no one cares about the Angliru, and not just because it’s hard to pronounce. They don’t care because it’s part of the Vuelta. You could line the Angliru with porn stars and beer kegs and people still wouldn’t care. Wait a minute … I think we’re on to something.
December 18, 2013 § 23 Comments
At a press conference today, UCI President Brian Cookson revealed that “The first official act of my administration in 2014 will be the announcement that doping in professional cycling has been eliminated once and for all. We have finally moved past the sport’s dark days of doping.”
Putting this into context, Cookson explained that “All of the news focuses on drugs and cheating and doping, and innocent people are harmed by the implications. You have perfectly clean riders being tarred as dopers because of the actions of a few bad apples who did bad-applish kinds of things in the past. Part of the ‘Clean Cycling’ initiative that I’ve begun is to help fans and casual cyclists, as well as amateur racers, understand that doping is no longer happening in our sport. We cannot continue to live in the past, and people are tired of all the bad news. People want good news.”
When asked how he could justify saying that doping had been eliminated, Cookson pointed to the following:
- The biological passport. “It’s working. We’ve canceled the visas of numerous cheats through this program.”
- More sophisticated testing. “Athletes know they will get caught, so they no longer have any temptation to cheat.”
- Public shaming. “People won’t accept doping anymore. If you’re caught doping, you’re publicly humiliated. Shaming works.”
When asked about today’s revelations, in which Mick Rogers was busted for doping during the Tour of Japan, which he won, and in which Jonathan Tiernan-Locke was busted for doping passport violations, Cookson said, “There’s no better person to quote on this matter than Chris Froome, so I will. ‘We need to get on and start talking about the good things in the sport and the great racing that’s getting missed now because we’re harping on about what happened 10 years ago.’
“D’ye get that?” asked an agitated Cookson. “Doping happened ten years ago. Chris said it, I believe, and that settles it. Now, where can I get another drink?”
December 3, 2013 § 12 Comments
For all the retro riding, wool jersey wearing, down-tube shifting, Velominati masturbators who think it’s just not real road riding unless you’re banging over cobbles in the rain and sleet and mud while dragging a tire behind you on your third 100-km loop on Flandrian farm roads in January, Sean Kelly’s autobiography will enlighten you: He, Sean Kelly, one of the hardest of the hard men, didn’t particularly like any of that shit.
He did it because he was a professional, and to his way of thinking, a professional did what his employer told him to do.
Coal miner’s daughter
Kelly is a terrible writer. The Kindle version of the book is filled with mistakes, and Kelly writes the same way he once laid bricks. However, the brute force and brute honesty of the book make up for it.
Kelly writes openly about his despicable decision to violate the international athletic ban and join fellow douchebag Pat McQuaid by racing in South Africa during apartheid. To his discredit, he never seems to understand how deplorable his actions were, and worse, his experience in South Africa left him completely unmoved. “Different lifestyles,” was how he summarized a despotic regime that brutalized people based on the color of their skin.
To his credit, he never complained about being banned from the Olympics due to his actions. Kelly admits to knowing the risk, and to uncomplainingly accepting the consequences. This factual, unromantic approach to life is one of the things that made him such a superb racer. He was devoid of illusions, and focused only on the task at hand, which for him was essentially hard, hard work and a shit-ton of it.
No diapers, no thank you
One can look at the Froomes and Frandys of our modern peloton and grimace when comparing their pampered lives to the career of Kelly. He went to France as an amateur, followed instructions, and won races. As a professional he rode for Jean de Gribaldy at Flandria, and was lucky to race under a manager who was years ahead of his time. Gribaldy demanded shorter quality rides as well as a long mid-week rides in a era when it was all about huge mileage. Moreover, he was fanatical about weight and diet.
Under de Gribaldy’s tutelage, Kelly became King Kelly. The book chronicles his successes, but is amazingly humble. Most telling is Kelly’s description of his attitude towards inclement weather and tough riding conditions. He never liked it, but since it was his job, he went out and did his best. The sheer number and volume of races that he did each year was likewise incredible, but he did it because his manager demanded it, not because he was some kind of glutton for punishment.
Drugs, yes, please
Kelly’s book is likewise frank about drugs. He was busted twice for doping, and he never reviled Paul Kimmage — unlike many of his contemporaries — for breaking the code of silence about drugs. “A lot of what he said was true,” says Kelly. As with his Olympic ban, Kelly doesn’t go into too much detail, but he never evades the truth. Kelly was a pro. Pros doped. Complete the syllogism yourself.
You’ll enjoy this book. It’s a complete rejection of the Velominati and their faux hardman ethos. You’ll also appreciate what a hard working professional Sean Kelly really was.
October 21, 2013 § 47 Comments
I just finished reading “Tour de Lance” by Bill Strickland and “Breaking the Chain” by Willy Voet. Voet was the soigneur/drug dealer who was busted by French customs officials as he crossed over from Belgium into France with a load of goodies destined for the Festina team a few days prior to the 1998 Tour. The bust and its payload of EPO, among other things, resulted in the exposure of French star Richard Virenque as a doper, and got Festina booted from the Tour.
Strickland is one of the worst hacks in the world of faux cycling journalism, and his hagiography of Armstrong is fully revealed in the title. “Tour de Lance” is one fanboy’s masturbatory fantasy as he follows the team bus and watches Armstrong try, and fail, to win his eighth Tour. For Strickland, the project was a win-win. Either Armstrong stood atop the podium and the book could conclude “greatest athlete ever,” or Armstrong didn’t win, and Strickland could piously intone that Lance was now “more human. More like us.”
Either way, there would be a mountain of used Kleenex to get rid of.
Justice for Lance
With each disgraced doper retiring into comfortable fame, the accusation of Armstrong as “the most evil person to ever live including Hitler and Stalin” becomes sillier to read and more ridiculous to maintain. When Michael Barry begins publishing soporific, sappy little magazine tidbits that exhort us to “never forget the fun of cycling,” I have to choke back down my breakfast. This is the same Michael Barry who doped throughout his career, and we’re now supposed to take anything seriously that he has to say about what’s important in cycling?
Of course the most egregious offenders are George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer, who run successful businesses and ragingly popular Gran Fondos that are successful due to the fame they achieved as cheats, liars, dopers, and sporting frauds. And when Christian Vandevelde or Dave Zabriskie hang up their cleats, their cheating legacies are mere asterisks, nothing more.
But Lance, of course, is different because he exterminated the hopes of countless 12k dreamers. He personally directed the deaths of millions as a leader in the Khmer Rouge and as a henchman to Idi Amin. Plus, he was really mean to Betsy, so we should pursue him forever, no matter what. If Lance hadn’t lied about drugs, I’d have won the Tour, I know that in my heart.
The real culprits
We all know who the real culprits in the doping saga are. They are the athletes who cheat. They are spectators who uncritically adulate. And they are the media who refuse to act like journalists and instead act like PR shills.
“Breaking the Chain,” written shortly after the Festina scandal, is a short, punchy, brutal look at the rich history of drugs in cycling. When Laurent Fignon piously intoned in his autobiography that in his day doping methods were minuscule, he is contradicted by Voet’s detailed description of the methods, means, and effects that had been around for decades — including the years in which Fignon raced (busted for doping twice, in ’87 and ’89).
Although it only plays a vaguely minor scale to the tune of “Poor, poor, pitiful me,” Voet’s book reveals an old truth. The mules and drug dealers and soigneurs will get hung out to dry long before the stars. At worst, Voet was a bottom feeder and a drug addict himself who worked assiduously to master the black art of obtaining and administering drugs to racers. At best he was a tiny cog in a nasty, evil machine, culpable perhaps, but nothing on the level of the real villains.
And such a real villain is Bill Strickland
If you can get through “Tour de Lance” without alternating bouts of rage, incredulity, revulsion, and despair, you are made of pretty stern stuff. Here’s a guy who writes for Bicycling magazine as its editor at large, writing nine years after the publication of “Breaking the Chain,” and who can’t do anything other than hang around the Trek team bus and insinuate himself into the good graces of the mechanics and Bruyneel and Lance himself in order to uncritically accept every spoon-fed lie that is doled out.
The book isn’t even about Lance, it’s about Strickland and his fanboy fantasy as he revels in being on the inside even at a time when no critical writer could have accepted the plethora of lying denials regarding Armstrong’s doping. To make it even more sick, there is a post-script that mentions Landis’s confessions and accusations regarding drugs on Armstrong’s US Postal team, but even with that Strickland can’t bring himself to do anything more journalistic than jerk himself off one last time as he slobbers about how much more human Lance has become in his failed comeback bid.
And Strickland’s motivations for refusing to acknowledge the truth are just as base as his motivations for writing the fanbook in the first place: He’s simultaneously working on another lickspittle book that hoists up Johan Bruyneel as the greatest race director of all time — “We Might as Well Win,” and it simply wouldn’t do to take the wind out of that sail. After all, we’re talking money here. Bill’s money.
As we all found out, the people who threw Lance under the Postal bus the quickest were the very media whores and corporate rapists who had deflected all criticism and refused to investigate even his most incredible lies. Strickland is now back to his old business, writing puff pieces about the joys of bicycling even as Lance pays for his sins — and pays, and pays, and pays, and even as Lance’s former cronies continue to profit from their ill-gotten gains, gains made possible by people like Strickland.
The juxtaposition of “Breaking the Chain” and “Tour de Lance,” especially when read in sequence, tells you everything you really need to know about how it all happened, why it all happened, and whether it’s happening still. And no matter what the fanboys say, it is.