OmLoop  photo:cyclingweekly.co.uk

Let the Season Begin

Let the Season Begin

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Omloop het Nieuwsblad is fast approaching on March 1st, Strade Bianche goes off the next weekend; finally, ladies and gentlemen, we have a season. For me the racing season really has to start in cold, wet Europe. I like the Tour Down Under just fine, I watch it, but it’s too early, too sunny and too hot to signify the start of the racing season. The races in the desert, though I’m sure they are windy and tough, hold no interest for me. Camels and embrocation do not compute. The endless speculation about Faboo‘s lack of perfect February form only means every reporter is bored and has no real stories to write.

The most interesting thing about the racing in the Middle East was seeing that Tom Boonen is whippet thin and ready to bring the pain in 2014. Knowing that Boonen is back lets me sleep better at night. He is lining up for Omloop, his team is ready to rumble on the Taaienberg, all is right with the cycling world. Please let it rain, but don’t let Tommeke get hurt.

I need to see some racers with every bit of wet weather gear on, riding into a hell storm off the North Sea. Cold and wet and in Belgium; that is the way we start the season.

The other thing that is great with the cycling world is the Strade Bianche the following week. A gravel race for the professionals? The race is new, not even ten editions have been raced, but it seems so right. San Gimignano to Siena, rolling up and down across the Tuscan countryside, many secteurs of white gravel, this is a stroke of Italian genius.

Another reason to be excited is Peter Sagan. The wheelie poppin’ curb jumpin’ bad boy comes into this season a year wiser. He has watched both Fabs and Tommeke ride away from him in different editions of the Ronde but they aren’t getting any younger and Sagan is only getting better. The younger generation of riders would like to topple the reigning twin kings of the Spring Classics but Boonen and Cancellara are still there because they are the two best Spring Classic riders of their generation. They aren’t going to go without a battle.

If no one breaks bones in the feed zones or gets infected elbows, this all portends a beautiful spring.

// Racing

  1. @Gianni

    @Darren H

    Will be interesting to see how Sky get on after abandoning their ill fated ‘classics’ build up of last year – but can’t see past Boonen, Fabio, Stybar and Sagan for the big ones (can’t wait). If Wiggins is genuinely on it and as motivated as he would have us all believe, could he be in the mix at P-R?

    Wiggo…I’ve been thinking long and hard about his chances at P-R and I don’t like them. In his favor: he has done the race a bunch of times, he has a huge motor, he understands the full gas concept for each secteur. But, those skinny-ass twiggo legs, something about them that makes me think he will get the shiet bounced out of him, and not be able to float (no one is floating) over the stones. Cancellara has intimated that the grand tour riders are too light for P-R. I hope Twiggo proves me wrong. I usually am.

    Der Boss Hogg should be killing it at P-R, he seems a better man for that race. Was he not the great white hope a few years back?

    I suspect that if any of the Sky boys are going to do something at P-R it’s going to be Geraint Thomas.  He seems to love the race, has got previous form there and looks to be going pretty well.  Boss Hogg seems to have parked his huge early potential and settled for domestique duties.  Shame really, cos although his baby face kinda freaks me out and I hate his almost effeminate victory salutes, he was shaping up to be a hell of a rider. It’d be interesting to see what he did with another team.

    No-one is mentioning Hushovd these days. Lurking quietly in the wings or lost forever???

  2. @Mike_P

    No-one is mentioning Hushovd these days. Lurking quietly in the wings or lost forever???

    How can you say that, he had a storming year in 2013, winning the Arctic Race of Norway.

  3. @Chris

    @Mike_P

    No-one is mentioning Hushovd these days. Lurking quietly in the wings or lost forever???

    How can you say that, he had a storming year in 2013, winning the Arctic Race of Norway.

    Sorry, I’m clearly not keeping up with the most significant race results of the season.

  4. @Mike_P

    @Gianni

    @Darren H

    Will be interesting to see how Sky get on after abandoning their ill fated ‘classics’ build up of last year – but can’t see past Boonen, Fabio, Stybar and Sagan for the big ones (can’t wait). If Wiggins is genuinely on it and as motivated as he would have us all believe, could he be in the mix at P-R?

    Wiggo…I’ve been thinking long and hard about his chances at P-R and I don’t like them. In his favor: he has done the race a bunch of times, he has a huge motor, he understands the full gas concept for each secteur. But, those skinny-ass twiggo legs, something about them that makes me think he will get the shiet bounced out of him, and not be able to float (no one is floating) over the stones. Cancellara has intimated that the grand tour riders are too light for P-R. I hope Twiggo proves me wrong. I usually am.

    Der Boss Hogg should be killing it at P-R, he seems a better man for that race. Was he not the great white hope a few years back?

    I suspect that if any of the Sky boys are going to do something at P-R it’s going to be Geraint Thomas. He seems to love the race, has got previous form there and looks to be going pretty well. Boss Hogg seems to have parked his huge early potential and settled for domestique duties. Shame really, cos although his baby face kinda freaks me out and I hate his almost effeminate victory salutes, he was shaping up to be a hell of a rider. It’d be interesting to see what he did with another team.

    No-one is mentioning Hushovd these days. Lurking quietly in the wings or lost forever???

    Boss Hog has definitely stalled hasn’t he – needs a big 2014. G Thomas is definitely due some luck after going down in just about every race he entered last year and I hope Stannard does okay (6th in MSR last year was a great result for him). Perhaps Wiggo will ride for G (but I doubt it). How do OPQS play it with both Boonen and Stybar – I hope it’s every man for himself if they’re in the mix with 40km to go!

  5. Rain is forecast all day long on Saturday for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

  6. It was only two years ago that I was intro’d to Paris Roubaix and watching one badass Belgian ride the hell out of his bike and run away with the race. The next year I was intro’d to a big Swiss cat that proved to be awfully precise at the end. Man there is something to be said for high def and big screen. I don’t know if I’m lucky just to be discovering this stuff or unlucky to have missed out on the beauty for so many years. To see these guys and the wheelie poppin’ green hulk bike riding youngster in the mix should be a blast. Along with some GC contenders ?? Oh yea. cheers all, RC

  7. My gosh, Sagan is looking slimmed down this year, but with bigger guns. Sagan, Cancellara and Boonen…things are going to be fast this spring.

    Classement. Yup, I’ve heard that one. No tv here, I watch all races online. I haven’t watch cycling on tv since espn used to broadcast the Tour when I was in middle school.

    Gianni – yep, those skinny damn legs, and body, make me think Wiggins has zero chance of doing well at P-R. He just seems to fragile.

  8. @wilburrox There are so many Classics I’ve missed, too — my youtube history is now just hours and hours of blocky vhs footage of amazing races.  When I’m working from home, I can have it going on a second monitor and time my breaks for the finales if I can.  Kelly coming down off the Poggio leaving motorcycles in his wake to take M-SR had me constantly checking my mic was on mute for a telco I was in, though.  Moser’s and Cav’s wins there were also awesome.  I was stupidly happy to see I’ve come far enough to realise the guy I was watching win the cyclocross worlds was the same guy I saw in the P-R get bumped out of the lead three by a spectator last year.

  9. There is an article today in the Washington Post about the 2015 Worlds being in VA.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/othersports/richmond-ready-to-host-the-2015-uci-road-world-cycling-championships/2014/02/25/e66183a2-9e72-11e3-9ba6-800d1192d08b_story.html

    Has anyone looked into volunteer opportunities?

  10. Couldn’t agree more Gianni, I’m just not feeling the love for the TDU or the desert. Omloop is the season opener for me.

  11. @Teocalli

    @Beers

    Can’t fuckin wait. I might actually try to keep up with VSP this year.

    So help me with the international time thing. Just as a simplified example – If I’m at UTC-9hrs and the race time zone is UTC+3hrs, and the race starts at 10am 1 March in that location, then I watch at 10am-9hrs-3hrs = 10pm on 28 Feb?

    If you have a smart phone just set the timezone as an alternate clock and it will do it for you.

    Brilliant!

  12. @Nate

    The best 6 weeks of racing of the year are about to start.

    http://fuckyeahcobbles.tumblr.com/

    Interesting. A young Pippo in the background saying, “Ah, so that is how you go hard and fast in the Classics. Looks tiring. But, getting tattoos and riding jerseyless in the sun…easy!”

  13. @Ron

    @Nate

    The best 6 weeks of racing of the year are about to start.

    http://fuckyeahcobbles.tumblr.com/

    Interesting. A young Pippo in the background saying, “Ah, so that is how you go hard and fast in the Classics. Looks tiring. But, getting tattoos and riding jerseyless in the sun…easy!”

    The closest Pippo will ever get to winning PR is washing Tom Boonen’s bike. Moser has more style and class in his pinky than Pips will ever have.

  14. @seemunkee

    There is an article today in the Washington Post about the 2015 Worlds being in VA. http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/othersports/richmond-ready-to-host-the-2015-uci-road-world-cycling-championships/2014/02/25/e66183a2-9e72-11e3-9ba6-800d1192d08b_story.html

    Has anyone looked into volunteer opportunities?

    I read about this yesterday. My gf and I are interested in going – we live about four hours from Richmond, VA (on MD’s Eastern Shore). We were both really excited about the Worlds 1) Coming to the US and 2) It being on the East Coast. Looks like it’s going to be a great course that will favor the Classics riders. I haven’t been to the Richmond area for years, so it would be cool to hang out there as well.

  15. wiscot – Ouch, that’s a strong statement, but one that is hard to think is not quite true. It happens in life, and sport, but rather frustrating and depressing when someone has the talent (or intelligence) to do something more, but seems to lack the heart or commitment.

    I know top-flight racing is insanely competitive and everyone is gunning for wins, but he does seem content to just be good, not better.

  16. Yes, at last! I can forget about the decline of Manchester United and get me some real sport contested by real hard-men. My favourite races of the year! I fancy Boonen for P-R (although I think Stybar may go well another year on). My outsider for Flanders is Roelandts – worth 50p each-way! I love the point in these races where they suddenly explode – that ‘now or never’ point!

  17. 123velo.net is the place to be right now…

  18. Nieuwsblad is certainly satisfying the early season cravings. Bad weather, attacks splitting the field… it’s all happening.

    Terpstra looking strong.

  19. Fuck yeah… great result.

    Sky got their tactics spot on (for a change).

  20. Chose VAN AVERMAET in 1st and VANMARCKE in 3rd, so I missed both by one position.

  21. Yeah so pasting twitter embeds doesn’t work so well.  Anyway, I’m bloody happy for Stannard, as is David Millar; there was a good profile in Rouleur 37 where he talked about the Classics and I’ve had a soft spot for him since.

  22. Large lashings of the V. Great result for Stannard and what were we saying about Eddy Boss in the week? I don’t take it all back, but good to see him do a ride.

  23. @Mike_P  Love that photo. Great result for the beast that is Stannard, although he looks nearer 40 years of age than 26 years he is – I suppose that’s what lashings of the V do to a man!

  24. @Mike_P

    Large lashings of The V. Great result for Stannard and what were we saying about Eddy Boss in the week? I don’t take it all back, but good to see him do a ride.

    This picture sums up perfectly what we’ve been waiting for. Here’s hoping there’s more to come!

  25. @Mike_P  Fuck yeah! Proper racing.

    In the words of Bing Ring Riding, SMASH THE FUCKING PINS, LADS!

  26. Picture of the year? Big guys, gurning, covered in shit, straining for the line. It’s what Belgium’s all about.

  27. Well, it’s truly on this morning. Greipel? Bunch sprint? Not exactly.

  28. Paolini should have said ‘fuck it’ the first time he rode the bunch off his wheel with 2 laps to go and tried to bridge while he had the chance. No wonder he’s frustrated: he looks to be the strongest man in the race. Sometimes no race radios results in less dynamic racing.

  29. Should still be a good finish coming up.  I guess radios might have changed the race in other ways and could have made it less dynamic in other ways; I’d rather see them without.  Greipel will be ropeable tonight.  Sky probably don’t mind too much after yesterday, though OBH would probably have something to say.  Belkin took a big gamble early and made it pay — depending who gets the win, of course, but they’ve had a hell of a day.

  30. Oh, I’m not suggesting that wasn’t a fantastic race, just that the Katusha team plan needed to change once it was clear Belkin and Omega were not going to be caught. Radios surely weren’t going to prevent what Belkin and Omega did to shred the race to bits, but might have allowed Luca his chance to at least try.

  31. Frank after yesterday’s race:

    Ah, Boonen finished back in the second group. Good, because winning Omloop would mean he’s coming into form too early. You can’t win this race and Roubaix.

    Frank after KBK:

    FUCK YEAH BOONEN! Coming into form nicely! Well on track for winning Roubaix.

    The most beautiful thing about being a fan is its the one place in life where being reasonable or rational has nothing the fuck to do with it.

  32. @frank

    The most beautiful thing about being a fan is its the one place in life where being reasonable or rational has nothing the fuck to do with it.

    That’s just brilliant.

  33. Anyone have some pointers for climbing the cobbled hills in the classics?  I did the Omloop het Nieuwsblad this weekend and while my legs are improving in their ability to handle 20% grades, I have difficulty keeping enough traction on the mud covered cobbles to keep going up hill.

    Riding up the gutters helps tremendously, but they aren’t always available, make you feel like a pussy, and are routinely clogged by people who have come off or slowed to a crawl.

    I’ve also dumped the PSI down to 80 or so as I’m only 70kg, but that seems a dangerous route given the length of these routes and number of cobbled sections… I’m also sure the 53/39 doesn’t help as your stroke isn’t as smooth as it would otherwise be if you were spinning a compact.

    Is the answer wider tires?  Does switching from 700x23c really make a huge difference?

    Apologies if a stupid answer, just continuing my quest to conquer the classics!  BTW for anyone who hasn’t done the course its absolutely amazing.  Probably my 2nd favorite ride behind LBL in Belgium.  Extremely well designed with lots of variation in scenery and terrain.

  34. Wow, what a race Kuurne Brussels and back was – won’t spoil it for anyone, as whilst the pic above shows the finish, the bit from halfway on was legend – well worth watching from just before the Kwaremont on – lashings more V in a very different sort of way – OPQ clearly have the guns fully loaded for the classics

  35. @Rob

    just watching KBK made me yearn for blasting around the Belgian roads again – there is something special about them, almost as if they were designed for cycling rather than vehicles

    I’ve just laced some HEC C2 tubular rims to take 25mm Veloflex Roubaix tubs, as our roads are so shite here that I may as well be on the cobbles, and I am conviced they will make a huge difference even though I haven’t finished building them! So there is a more stupid answer than your question…..over to the professional Vers for a sensible answer

  36. ….is it because the Belgian’s don’t seem to bother with hedges or walls or something, but you can tell you are watching a Belgian bike race as soon as you swith the telly on

  37. I see there’s been a bit of a fuss (storm level: in a teacup) from Lotto riders regarding OPQS and Belkin making the break up a tarmac bike path rather than a cobbled road, with respect to the new UCI rule that says “stick to the road”.

  38. @Rob

    Is the answer wider tires? Does switching from 700x23c really make a huge difference?

    Go to 25mm and be prepared to never return to 23mm. Races are won and lost over very small differences — even if you are just riding on V for yourself.

  39. @Rob I’m no expert, but losing traction uphill can only mean too much weight on the front, or a loose surface.

    If standing I try to have my hands to the side of the bars and just rock them back and forth, not on top of the hoods and leaning on them. This is hard when you are tired. But it also means all the weight is going straight down through the cranks and therefore bottom bracket, meaning, as the bike is on an incline and the angles of weight work to put the weight more through the back wheel.

    If sitting, again rather than leaning on the bars, or indeed pulling up on them (wheelie city on a 20%!) you pull horizontally backwards (horizontally with reference to the bike, not the hill) towards the back of the bike, which pushes the weight again more to the rear wheel.

    But other than that, you must pedal as smooth as you can in a circle. Typically I lose traction on the downstroke, and then know I must work harder on the under and back-upwards sections of the stroke. When you go full circle and not choppy, the bike climbs smoothly and you don’t give it a chance to skip. If it does skip, then your smooth motion helps regain traction, plus you have better form on the bike so will be more balanced to recover better.

    And then sometimes if you hit gravel, mud or slime, there will be little you can do other than try and keep pedalling for the centrifuge/balancing effect until you get traction again. Often you’ll still fall off.

    I one day want to ride the cobbles, but I would say the width of tyre is not increased for the climbs, it is for comfort and puncture resistance with a bigger bag between rim and cobble. The increased bounce a 23mm gives on a cobbled climb may hurt, but then you have higher kg per sq mm pressure to grab traction, which I would have thought would help with traction on a hill.

    That’my thoughts anyway, MTB and greasy road experience.

    Super jealous of your cobble ride!

  40. I recently switched to 25mm from 23mm, it is noticeably more comfortable on rougher surfaces. I didn’t notice any more speed, but I am not PRO.

  41. @Rob

    Is the answer wider tires? Does switching from 700x23c really make a huge difference?

    And… Aannndd… stayed on 25mm all of 2013 and never flatted. Ehh? Eehhhh??

  42. About to mount GP 4000s II (25mm) tyres to attempt another year without flatting.

  43. @Rob 25+ mm tubulars, lower pressure, more souplesse in your pedal stroke.

  44. @all thanks for all the advice.  I’ve never had a problem really with flats once I learned to actually steer around potholes or bunny hop over, but think I’ll pick up a set of vittoria pave to see the difference.  Everyone says bigger is less rolling resistance anyways….

    I know the smoothness of my stroke surely isn’t great with the 53/39 putting me at a cadence of 40-50 on the steep sections but it is what it is.  All you can do is barely touch the handlebars, lean back, and be thankful you spent time on the rollers and have good balance to hang on as you start slipping and sliding.  Think the only other real difference between myself and the others is it seems like alot of the guys really try to carry as much speed as possible into the hill.  I normally maintain my flat speed of 27-28 and just try to carry that as smoothly up the hill.  I think the quickest ones are maybe even sprinting beforehand so that they don’t have to apply as much power on the hill itself?

  45. @Beers There was some good advice in there, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much time you’ve spent on Belgian cobbles :)  Yesterday wasn’t that bad, but you know these nutters have 30% cobbled climbs?  With holes between cobbles like on the sections to Roubaix…….like you have to walk your bike down hill unless you enjoy face planting on pavé.  Yesterday was good fun as I’ve learned to let go of my American ego and just do the best I can, plenty of flandrians walking those climbs so you are in good company if you can keep smiling.

  46. @Rob

    @all thanks for all the advice. I’ve never had a problem really with flats once I learned to actually steer around potholes or bunny hop over, but think I’ll pick up a set of vittoria pave to see the difference. Everyone says bigger is less rolling resistance anyways….

    I know the smoothness of my stroke surely isn’t great with the 53/39 putting me at a cadence of 40-50 on the steep sections but it is what it is. All you can do is barely touch the handlebars, lean back, and be thankful you spent time on the rollers and have good balance to hang on as you start slipping and sliding. Think the only other real difference between myself and the others is it seems like alot of the guys really try to carry as much speed as possible into the hill. I normally maintain my flat speed of 27-28 and just try to carry that as smoothly up the hill. I think the quickest ones are maybe even sprinting beforehand so that they don’t have to apply as much power on the hill itself?

    Absolutely yes on the notion of more mo’ at the bottom of a cobbled climb, then try to keep that momentum going by spinning up the climb. Also, I believe the 25mm tire, run at 5.5 bar would improve traction too, more rubber gripping the stones. Lastly, and I only know this from our local <20% paved climb, there is a sweet spot on the nose of the saddle where there is just enough weight on the front wheel to keep steerage and enough weight on the rear to keep traction. And this only works sitting down, sliding forward on the saddle. Getting up a steep cobbled climb? Very subtle skills the locals have practiced for many years might be their secret. I have no experience doing it, I believe I would be pushing the bike. Keep at it!

  47. @Mike_P  What a photo !! Wow !! And that may rep well and proper racing and certainly I cannot help but be much impressed but I have to admit, that that is racing I’d prefer to watch than participate. I contrast the start of the season in Belgium with the start of the season in Alabama. Our little local muni park mtn bike race to kick off the state series was in blue skies and sunshine and perfect temps and perfect trails = little mud and little sweat. Might not have made for impressive pictures of hard men but sure was a blast. RC

  48. Excuse me……

  49. Strade Bianche has such an awesome finishing stretch, and the whole top ten came in one at a time.  Great jump on the steepest section for the win.

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