Steady Up with More Speed

Boonen is broken by a stronger man; Bettini Photo

This is my favorite week of the year. I meant to write something earlier this week – as a prelude of some kind – but it didn’t work out. Then, as the weekend wore on, I busied myself with the usual weekend business, which always includes chores, family, friends, and cycling. This weekend, though, containing the First Sunday in April, happens to be the one bookend of the most important weeks of the year: Vlaanderen-Roubaix. It did not go as planned, but the reasons why don’t matter.

I love cycling. It is my favorite sport to take part in. It is my favorite sport to follow. It is my favorite history to study.  All of these things seem to come together during this week, more than any other time of the season. I love Milan-San Remo. I love Cyclocross. I love the Six-Days. I love the Grand Tours (my favorite Grand Tour is the Giro). I love the Ardennes classics. I love the World Championships and I love the Giro di Lombardia. I love them all. But most of all, I love the Cobbled Classics.

The races on the stones will go away and I will be excited about the Ardennes races. After that I will be thrilled to watch the Giro, the Tour. After that the Summer and Fall classics as well as the Vuelta. Then I will be excited about the World Championships and the Race of the Falling Leaves. But I will be most excited about the races that take place around Easter; the Cobbled Classics.

Tomeke Boonen is the Lion of Flanders. It does not matter that today he lost the Ronde van Vaanderen. The vision of Boonen and Cancellara racing across Flanders Fields evokes little more than a question of how Boonen could possibly win. On any other day like this, Boonen would destroy the field by climbing any Flandrian Muur in the big ring and watch the weak fall at his feet. After all, Walter Plankaert said:

We tried never to change gear. It was a matter of pride. Just ride and ride in the 14 or 15 sprocket. If there was a hill or a headwind you pressed harder instead of changing gear. It was the way then.

It is, after all, a matter of pride for a Flandrian to climb away from the rest on a steep cobbled climb. Boonen has won here both solo and from a small group. Today, he rode away with a stellar Fabien Cancellara who had already made a stellar bike change earlier in the race – at a point most Belgians had deemed to be the Touch of Death for a Mechanical.

But as the pair approached the Kapelmuur, Boonen rode to the front and set the pace. It seems, however, that Fabien has learned a tip from the Brothers Grimpeur who know a thing or two about climbing. The Schlecks, no doubt, have relayed the advantage of a smaller gear to the stongman Cancellara who was clearly riding in a lower gear as the pair approached the steepest section of the climb:

This was not a real attack. It was…I pushed a gear less [a lower gear] and yeah, went, yeah, like steady up with more speed. I heard on the radio that there’s a gap, so I pushed again more.

A classic hardman scenario of “Push harder on those things attached to your feet and you go faster.”

A lion shows his colors when he is challenged, they say. Boonen fought. There was a group fighting up to the Cancellara-Boonen duo when Fabien went. If Boonen were a sane man, he would wait for the group behind. A strong sprinter, he would almost certainly win the sprint for second place. Boonen is not such a man. He is not sane. He is a Hardman. He is a Velominatus Inspiratus.

I was doing 55 km per hour  and not getting any closer. If you loose against Cancellara in this shape, it is not really a bad thing.

This is a lion beaten: Strong, Courageous, and Gracious in defeat. There is pride in that.

Here at the Velominati, we do not cover the race reports. We generally don’t cover the doping cases. But the Velominati do cover the hardmen. Today, we honor the Hardmen: Fabien Cancellara and Tom Boonen. The Ronde van Vlaanderen was a perfect example of why we love cycling. Thank you for that – because in the end, it didn’t matter which of you won; this was a race between hardmen and the hardest man would win. Today, it happened not to be a Belgian, but next Sunday, perhaps it will. Viva the Hardman.

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19 Replies to “Steady Up with More Speed”

  1. That’s high praise Frank, Oli is a true denizen of cycling here in Wellington.

    The second paragraph pretty much sums up my own feelings also; great stuff mate.

  2. Here, here. The top two places may as well have been reversed. No matter. Watching those two work together for 25k or whatever it was was seeing and knowing that the two strongest men were where they should be. And seeing the gladiator create that gap flahute style was incredible. Classic duel. I can’t wait for Sunday

  3. @Oli Brooke-White, @brett
    Thanks guys! It’s easy to write when those guys keep going out there and race like that. I can’t think of any other sport that’s like this. Yesterday was a great day. Now on to Roubaix!

  4. @Marko
    It was awesome. The Gladiator when all Flahute on that climb. That was tough stuff. And Hincapie. Every year, it’s the same thing. You can’t sit back in the group and expect the others to do the work. Fabien and Tomeke made the race. That’s how you win.

  5. @frank

    Word on Hincapie. Watching the post race interview with him all I kept thinking was, dude, I think you’re cool and am rooting for you too but you can’t just assume things are going to play out the way you’d like. This is the Ronde, you gotsta make shit happen if you wantsa win. George is about the closest thing America has to a hardman and he aint hard enough to win.

  6. @Marko
    Quote from Fabien:

    When I get old and I can say to the young riders: ‘I won the Tour of Flanders alone and I attacked on the Muur,’ it’s a perfect scenario – the gladiator won the battle.

    That’s how you win on these roads. Not by following wheels.

  7. Frank/Marco, that’s why I stopped pulling for George. He’s got to learn to impose his will on the race, to gamble. That, and that stupid stunt he pulled in the TdF last year when he went for the stage win and whined about not getting the yellow jersey.

    It takes a hard man to win these races, hard in both body and mind.

  8. @Big Mikey

    Cheers to that. This is what I’ve now come to expect from George. It’s unfortunate. I’d still be pleased if he did something this weekend but am afraid a top ten is the best anyone can hope for.

  9. @Big Mikey

    He’s got to learn to impose his will on the race, to gamble.

    Exactly. But for a guy who’s in the twilight of his career, I’m running short on hope for him to learn new tricks – although I would welcome it. I remember when he won Wevelgem and in his post-race interview, he was meek and humble. Guys like Boonen – while not arrogant like Contador or, perhaps, Cavendish – are never meek and never humble, even when they loose. Boonen stepped up a notch for me this year with his sportsmanship. Anyone can be a good sport when they win, but to also be one when they loose is another matter altogether.

    And, another example is Cadel Evans – also a perennial move-misser. Like Hincapie, he generally waits for others to do the hard work when the critical moves go, but he took matters into his own hands and pulled off an amazing win at the worlds. That’s how you do it.

  10. @Marko
    I can hear the post-race interview already. “Yeah, I was really well positioned and then a bug flew in my face. I can’t believe it. It got under my glasses and I really think it was Team Radioshack’s fault. I would have won. I am incredibly disappointed.”

  11. @frank

    @Big Mikey

    Okay, it’s official. After today’s win at Scheldeprijs and last weeks 5th place finish, Tyler Farrar is now my American man for the classics. Sorry George.

  12. I’m in love with that quote from Plankaert. It doesn’t make sense to today’s PRO’s, they know there is nmore about winning a race than just pride. But for all those (wannabe) hardmen out there to whom results don’t matter, that is just peotry.

  13. @Jarvis

    But for all those (wannabe) hardmen out there to whom results don’t matter, that is just peotry.

    If i had a thing for typos, that’d be a rippa! Good work!

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