Fabs and Vanmarke make the split on the Kwaremont. Photo: Alexandre Voisine

Balance

Balance

by / / 78 posts

I had always imagined that de Ronde van Vlaanderen must be hardest race in the world. The way I worked it out – having never ridden the course of either event at the time – was that de Ronde had the same cobbles as Roubaix, but with 20% grades thrown in. It makes enough sense so long as you don’t know what you’re talking about, but what you quickly discover once you have ridden them both is just how bad the cobbles of Roubaix are: the worst kasseien in Belgium are about as rough as the best pavé in France.

Both routes are so hard you need to experience them in order to appreciate their difficulty; words are hopelessly inadequate in describing the separation the rider feels from their bicycle while simultaneously feeling more connected to it than at any other time. It is through breaking down the illusion of control that the Cyclist is finally allowed to truly bond with their machine.

The element that makes Vlaanderen a slightly easier race is the most counter-intuitive: the bergs. On most routes, the hills are what separate the wheat from the chafe. Yet because of the brutality of the cobbles, they allow a rider to hide. The secret to riding cobblestones is speed; the faster you go, the better the bike is able to skim over the top with the effect of smoothing them out. This requires big, big power to sustain over the distance of a secteur of cobbles, let alone over the whole of a race. But the bergs neutralize the speed somewhat; how fast can anyone go up a 20% grade – on cobbles, no less? The answer is none fast, so the gaps between the strong and the weak are reduced somewhat until the final decisive moments when the pressure is so great that every chink in the rider’s armor is ruthlessly exposed.

To ride the cobbles is to dance with paradox: ride full gas while keeping something in reserve for the crucial moment  – not when the odds are stacked in your favor, but the you are at the smallest disadvantage. During Sunday’s Ronde, we saw a Cancellara who was not at his best; he won both his previous two Ronde by being so superior that he could drop his adversaries on the last of the steep grades. This year, he made his move on the one section of the finale where his power was a definite advantage, despite his relative weakness on the day; he attacked not on one of the two steepest parts of the Kwaremont, but on the cobbled false flat between the two where speed could make a real difference. He then hung onto Vanmarke over the steep Paterberg before being dragged patiently to the sprint finish to take his third Ronde. 

Cancellara is learning tactics as his strength steadily wanes; before last few year, there was no need for such subtlety. Now he is patient; he is calm. He knows both his strength and weakness, and doesn’t let the antics of the race affect his action. It reminds me of Neruda:

I like you calm, act as if you were absent, and you hear me far-off, and my voice does not touch you.

- Pablo Neruda

// Awesome Swiss Guys // Belgian Affirmations // Racing // The Hardmen

  1. The need for balance might not be as great for next Sunday. It looks like a dry one. Good for them, bad for everyone else.

  2. @Tartan1749

    For the talk of a weak Spartacus, I think this article tells a great story – at least regarding preparation I haven’t heard until now.

    It seems Fabs has been doing interval sprint training just for such an occasion. Whether you call it 1) getting tired of 2nd too many times, 2) ‘weaker’ (aka older), 3) everyone else catching up via better training over the last few years (Sky’s incremental gains), 4) fans bitching about him sprinting form the hoods, 5) tired of hearing he was a 1 trick pony (a trick I’d take any day of my life), etc. – what matters is that he/team noticed he had a weakness and they decided to attack it head on and get real results. I’d say mission accomplished.

    Agreed.  I would seriously hesitate to call Cancellara weak this season. Is he the same rider as years’s past? No, and I’m sure he recognizes that. But, what makes him doubly dangerous, in my opinion, is his clear ability to adapt. He’s clearly improved his sprinting capabilities, and I still think he can crush most of the peloton. He has had some monster rides already this year.

  3. @G’rilla

    Faboo meets Sven Nys for the first time: http://www.cxmagazine.com/spartacus-cannibal-sven-nys-fabian-cancellara-paris-roubaix-cobbles?utm_content=bufferbeea3&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

    When and how did Nys get the nickname The Cannibal? That seems a bit blasphemous, no?

  4. @KW  yeah – Fabian was clearly as strong as Sagan and everyone else, if not stronger, in E3 – he was just caught up behind a crash.  The way he was powering back was so, so impressive as it was like everyone else was pedaling in slow motion.

  5. @KW

    @Tartan1749

    For the talk of a weak Spartacus, I think this article tells a great story – at least regarding preparation I haven’t heard until now.

    It seems Fabs has been doing interval sprint training just for such an occasion. Whether you call it 1) getting tired of 2nd too many times, 2) ‘weaker’ (aka older), 3) everyone else catching up via better training over the last few years (Sky’s incremental gains), 4) fans bitching about him sprinting form the hoods, 5) tired of hearing he was a 1 trick pony (a trick I’d take any day of my life), etc. – what matters is that he/team noticed he had a weakness and they decided to attack it head on and get real results. I’d say mission accomplished.

    Agreed. I would seriously hesitate to call Cancellara weak this season. Is he the same rider as years’s past? No, and I’m sure he recognizes that. But, what makes him doubly dangerous, in my opinion, is his clear ability to adapt. He’s clearly improved his sprinting capabilities, and I still think he can crush most of the peloton. He has had some monster rides already this year.

    Agreed. Faboo is getting older and realizes it. His TT is not as dominant as it once was. He’ll never be sprinter in the Cav, Kittel mode. So he’s smart – he works on his weaknesses. This is why he will go down as an all-time great and the Schlecks (despite abundant talent) won’t.

    I can’t wait for PR. Faboo is obviously on form. Tommeke needs a big win this year and PR is it. I wouldn’t dismiss Taylor Phinney either. He has form and form for this race and isn’t such a newbie that he’ll be intimidated by the older guys.

    Here’s hoping the fans behave on Sunday. I’d hate for a contender (or any rider for that matter) to be taken out by a drunken asshole. BTW, Has anyone heard how the lady in the Vansummeren crash is doing?

  6. @Tartan1749

    It seems Fabs has been doing interval sprint training just for such an occasion. 

    That, right there, is what separates a rider like Spartacus from a rider like Schleck.

    @KW

    @G’rilla

    Faboo meets Sven Nys for the first time: http://www.cxmagazine.com/spartacus-cannibal-sven-nys-fabian-cancellara-paris-roubaix-cobbles?utm_content=bufferbeea3&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

    When and how did Nys get the nickname The Cannibal? That seems a bit blasphemous, no?

    He’s the Cannibal van Baal – not just a universal Cannibal. But yes, I feel its a bit blasphemous, just goes to show that CX is a sport of savages.

  7. @frank

    He’s the Cannibal van Baal – not just a universal Cannibal. But yes, I feel its a bit blasphemous, just goes to show that CX is a sport of savages.

    Nys is a great CX racer, obviously. But that just sounds rather unoriginal (I know, he probably didn’t coin it himself).

    Just seems to me that if you are a cyclist, regardless or discipline, there are a few nicknames that are off limits: Cannibal, Badger, Professor, just to name a few–there are plenty of others.

  8. @TBONE

    Sweet dreams!

    Pfft.  A pillow and a blankie?  What a wuss.

  9. @The Oracle

    @TBONE

    Sweet dreams!

    Pfft. A pillow and a blankie? What a wuss.

    Never mind the pillow and blankie, what about the wee cuddly toy next to his head FFS? A real man would have a block of concrete for a pillow and a fine roll of turf as a blanket.

  10. @wiscot X-actly. 

    Speaking of tough conditions, are you riding in the 23 mph wind this afternoon?  Sounds a tad brutal, until you realize that it’s also 60 degrees and sunny!

  11. @The Oracle

    @TBONE

    Sweet dreams!

    Pfft. A pillow and a blankie? What a wuss.

    There’s gravel in the pillow and wire wool on the skin side of the duvet.

  12. @wiscot

    @KW

    @Tartan1749

    For the talk of a weak Spartacus, I think this article tells a great story – at least regarding preparation I haven’t heard until now.

    It seems Fabs has been doing interval sprint training just for such an occasion. Whether you call it 1) getting tired of 2nd too many times, 2) ‘weaker’ (aka older), 3) everyone else catching up via better training over the last few years (Sky’s incremental gains), 4) fans bitching about him sprinting form the hoods, 5) tired of hearing he was a 1 trick pony (a trick I’d take any day of my life), etc. – what matters is that he/team noticed he had a weakness and they decided to attack it head on and get real results. I’d say mission accomplished.

    Agreed. I would seriously hesitate to call Cancellara weak this season. Is he the same rider as years’s past? No, and I’m sure he recognizes that. But, what makes him doubly dangerous, in my opinion, is his clear ability to adapt. He’s clearly improved his sprinting capabilities, and I still think he can crush most of the peloton. He has had some monster rides already this year.

    Agreed. Faboo is getting older and realizes it. His TT is not as dominant as it once was. He’ll never be sprinter in the Cav, Kittel mode. So he’s smart – he works on his weaknesses. This is why he will go down as an all-time great and the Schlecks (despite abundant talent) won’t.

    I can’t wait for PR. Faboo is obviously on form. Tommeke needs a big win this year and PR is it. I wouldn’t dismiss Taylor Phinney either. He has form and form for this race and isn’t such a newbie that he’ll be intimidated by the older guys.

    Here’s hoping the fans behave on Sunday. I’d hate for a contender (or any rider for that matter) to be taken out by a drunken asshole. BTW, Has anyone heard how the lady in the Vansummeren crash is doing?

    http://www.gva.be/sport/wielrennen/aid1566582/man-van-zwaargewonde-toeschouwster-65-win-nu-voor-marie-claire.aspx

    she is in a coma – her husband has told Vansummeren to win the race for her…

  13. @frank

    @PeakInTwoYears

    You just referenced Neruda in the contexts of de Ronde van Vlaanderen and your lust for for Cancellara in a way that nearly made poetic sense. Chapeau.

    NEARLY? NEARLY? I had a Nerudon with a touch of giardia while I was writing all that. It was totally intentional.

    @wilburrox

    The more experience I get the more I’m impressed and amazed at what the racers in pro ranks accomplish. 6+ hours of hammering it and still, to play the chess match at the end like they did? Has to be pure instinct kicking in and built on so much experience. Amazing. Can’t wait for Sunday. Big screen and High Def. Oh yea.

    Exactly. That’s why Vanmarke fucked up and that’s why the classics are so often won by vets. You just can’t make any mistakes and mistakes are so easy to make when you’re in oxygen detox.

    Easy to read the race from my bed at 6am with an espresso. Not so much from the road.

    Big Maggie’s other great call on RVV was when GvA and SvdB got a gap in the last 10km, and t Fab just sat up and looked at Sep. Backstedt said something like “Cancellara won’t chase because he isn’t desperate for the win”. So true. I just hope that Sep has watched the replay by now and learnt from it, because I’m picking him for P-R.

  14. Thanks for the encouragement guys.

    By the way the Giro is almost here…

  15. @Pedale.Forchetta

    Thanks for the encouragement guys.

    By the way the Giro is almost here…

    As per your flickr page, great shots, they tell so many stories.

    What camera/lense combo are you using ?

  16. @The Oracle

    @wiscot X-actly.

    Speaking of tough conditions, are you riding in the 23 mph wind this afternoon? Sounds a tad brutal, until you realize that it’s also 60 degrees and sunny!

    I certainly did – my standard 50kms look around New Fane and Kewaskum. Roads seem to have held up ok over the winter. Headwind home was a bastard though. Got home and figured out what the issue was with the new cable on my rear Sram Force derailleur – I didn’t route it around the wee router-thingy. Big sign of relief that I hadn’t buggered everything up.

  17. @dissolved

    @wiscot

    @KW

    @Tartan1749

    For the talk of a weak Spartacus, I think this article tells a great story – at least regarding preparation I haven’t heard until now.

    It seems Fabs has been doing interval sprint training just for such an occasion. Whether you call it 1) getting tired of 2nd too many times, 2) ‘weaker’ (aka older), 3) everyone else catching up via better training over the last few years (Sky’s incremental gains), 4) fans bitching about him sprinting form the hoods, 5) tired of hearing he was a 1 trick pony (a trick I’d take any day of my life), etc. – what matters is that he/team noticed he had a weakness and they decided to attack it head on and get real results. I’d say mission accomplished.

    Agreed. I would seriously hesitate to call Cancellara weak this season. Is he the same rider as years’s past? No, and I’m sure he recognizes that. But, what makes him doubly dangerous, in my opinion, is his clear ability to adapt. He’s clearly improved his sprinting capabilities, and I still think he can crush most of the peloton. He has had some monster rides already this year.

    Agreed. Faboo is getting older and realizes it. His TT is not as dominant as it once was. He’ll never be sprinter in the Cav, Kittel mode. So he’s smart – he works on his weaknesses. This is why he will go down as an all-time great and the Schlecks (despite abundant talent) won’t.

    I can’t wait for PR. Faboo is obviously on form. Tommeke needs a big win this year and PR is it. I wouldn’t dismiss Taylor Phinney either. He has form and form for this race and isn’t such a newbie that he’ll be intimidated by the older guys.

    Here’s hoping the fans behave on Sunday. I’d hate for a contender (or any rider for that matter) to be taken out by a drunken asshole. BTW, Has anyone heard how the lady in the Vansummeren crash is doing?

    http://www.gva.be/sport/wielrennen/aid1566582/man-van-zwaargewonde-toeschouwster-65-win-nu-voor-marie-claire.aspx

    she is in a coma – her husband has told Vansummeren to win the race for her…

    That really is too sad. It doesn’t sound good either. That’ll make for a seriously motivated Vansummeren on Sunday though. Imagine the emotions if he wins . . . .

  18. @wiscot I did a quick 30km last night.  I started southbound, so I was in the wind  (and gradually uphill) for the first part of the ride before turning east and eventually north again.  I was about six minutes behind my target pace on the southbound leg, and almost made that up again heading north!  http://www.strava.com/activities/128661364  No matter what, it was great to be out in just bibs and a jersey–After the winter we had, it’s going to take some time to get used to the feeling of wearing so little.

    Good to hear you’ve gotten your mechanicals sorted.  Reminds me that it has been a while for a thorough maintenance check for me as well.  The bike is pretty well covered with early-season grime.

  19. @The Oracle

    @wiscot I did a quick 30km last night. I started southbound, so I was in the wind (and gradually uphill) for the first part of the ride before turning east and eventually north again. I was about six minutes behind my target pace on the southbound leg, and almost made that up again heading north! http://www.strava.com/activities/128661364 No matter what, it was great to be out in just bibs and a jersey-After the winter we had, it’s going to take some time to get used to the feeling of wearing so little.

    Good to hear you’ve gotten your mechanicals sorted. Reminds me that it has been a while for a thorough maintenance check for me as well. The bike is pretty well covered with early-season grime.

    Yeah, first ride sans shoe covers, cap and long-fingered gloves. Felt so good and light. It was a damn long winter . . .

  20. I’m intrigued by the development of Cancellara as a tactician. Why did he graduate from Mapei into the racer he is, while say Pozzato has become the Potato? I know it is extremely hard to race the top level, but what separates the winners from the really good. Is it mental confidence, is it training?

    Nice one, Frank!

    Also, that photo of Sep it amazing. I’m laughing aloud at it right now. I like that dude. He seems honest, earnest, and humble.

  21. @frank

    @Tartan1749

    It seems Fabs has been doing interval sprint training just for such an occasion.

    That, right there, is what separates a rider like Spartacus from a rider like Schleck.

    @KW

    @G’rilla

    Faboo meets Sven Nys for the first time: http://www.cxmagazine.com/spartacus-cannibal-sven-nys-fabian-cancellara-paris-roubaix-cobbles?utm_content=bufferbeea3&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

    When and how did Nys get the nickname The Cannibal? That seems a bit blasphemous, no?

    He’s the Cannibal van Baal – not just a universal Cannibal. But yes, I feel its a bit blasphemous, just goes to show that CX is a sport of savages.

    Universal Cannibals are omnivorous and Cannibals van Baal only eat fellow Benelux racers?

  22. Wow, that photo of Johan and Marie-Claire is absolutely wrenching.

    He’s clearly in a world of pain, his shoes are off, her shoes are off, he hit her head-on at a serious pace, his bike is on top of her. I don’t even know what to think.

    I hope both of them are able to make a full recovery.

  23. @Ron

    I’m intrigued by the development of Cancellara as a tactician. Why did he graduate from Mapei into the racer he is, while say Pozzato has become the Potato? I know it is extremely hard to race the top level, but what separates the winners from the really good. Is it mental confidence, is it training?

    Nice one, Frank!

    Also, that photo of Sep it amazing. I’m laughing aloud at it right now. I like that dude. He seems honest, earnest, and humble.

    I really think it has to do with attitude, and, dare I say it, intelligence. Cancellara has talent and brains. Pozzato has talent. That will only get you so far. It’s what truly separates the champs from the runners-up. I read a story about Cancellara getting a really expensive car to test drive after a big win. He drove it and returned it – it just wasn’t him and he didn’t need it. I think Pozzato would have taken the car.

    Look at every champ and you’ll find a drive, a passion and smarts. The really smart ones can also adapt to changing circumstances. In a year or two I see Cav going much more for classics as his sprint fades. He won’t do LBL, but Flanders, Roubaix could be targets.  Look at Boonen. The killer srpint is no longer there but he adapted. Some, like Hinault, know when to quit to preserve their pride.

    Cycling is merciless in exposing weakness, it’s not like a team sport where you’re all on the same field when the whistle blows; in cycling you’re 10 minutes behind the winner.

  24. @Ron

    I’m intrigued by the development of Cancellara as a tactician. Why did he graduate from Mapei into the racer he is, while say Pozzato has become the Potato? I know it is extremely hard to race the top level, but what separates the winners from the really good. Is it mental confidence, is it training?

    Its got to be a combination of elements. Talent, drive, discipline (training and mental).

    Also, that photo of Sep it amazing. I’m laughing aloud at it right now. I like that dude. He seems honest, earnest, and humble.

    I love seeing Pros who appear to still love their bikes. Also that shot of Kittel bringing his bike flowers after he millarcopter’d it.

    I’m liking Sep too; I hope he gets his big win some day soon.

  25. Yesterday, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iphone and tested to see if it can survive a 30
    foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now destroyed
    and she has 83 views. I know this is totally off topic but I had to share it with someone!

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