Defining Moments: Sprinteur to Rouleur

As we grow older, humility takes it’s chilling hold. The little nagging questions like, “Will this next activity kill me?” start to weigh heavier on our minds.  It’s not that these questions weren’t asked when we gripped our youth like a toddler grips his penis; it’s just that they didn’t mean as much to us then as they do now.

You see, when you’re young and that particular question is asked, it is spoken in a wimpy voice which sounds a lot like it’s being a Pussy. As we get older, the Smart Ones realize that annoying sound is actually the “Voice of Reason” and that perhaps we should not ask our buddy to “hold our beer” while we attempt the as-yet-unaccomplished feat of jumping our BMX from the top of the interchange to that tiny little ledge an impossible distance away.

Such is the progression from Sprinteur to Rouleur. The devaluation of risk versus reward; of the pleasure of winning versus the pleasure of winning at all costs. We’ve seen it before; Sean Kelly wins Green at the Tour more times than I can count and then turns to winning the Classics instead. Eddy Planckaert starts as a sprinter, eases into winning Flanders, then wins Green, and turns to winning Roubaix. Johan Museeuw wins Green and becomes the Lion of Flanders, never to ride the Tour again. George Hincapie made the same transition, albeit without any of the aforementioned results. I feel strongly that after a season of near-misses in the classics and taking a beating in the gallops, Tom Boonen is about to follow suit.

It’s a natural move from Sprinteur to Rouleur, but often it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact time when the transition happens; Kelly, Planckaert, and Museeuw made the  change gradually. I don’t know who the guy is pictured here in front of Jalabert – he appears to be either Dutch or Luxembourgian, based on the cuffs of his sleeve. Whoever he is, he looks completely fucked – not to mention that we never heard from him again after such a nasty crash. I can make an educated guess that, based on the apish look on his face, he’s probably Dutch. (I’m Dutch, so that’s not racist. If you lash back in kind, I’ll sic the Anit-Dutch Police on you. They are mean, and will get the Swiss to write you an angry letter, so don’t tell me you weren’t warned.)

Between the two subjects in the photo, the Dutchemburg guy looks by far the better off. The crash was caused by a Policeman wanting to photograph the finish of the 1994 Tour Stage to Armentieres, and who in his idiotic Darwinism stepped into the path of the charging bunch. Jalabert required extensive facial surgery in order to stop looking like a stand-in for a horror movie, but nevertheless returned to win the Dotty Jumper a couple times in the Tour – distinguishing himself as the only rider besides Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault to win both the Spotted Dick and the Green Willie.

For that, I thank the ape-man in the sweet Cinelli hairnet for offering us the Defining Moment in Jalabert’s career when he became an all-rounder who won our hearts.

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92 Replies to “Defining Moments: Sprinteur to Rouleur”

  1. O’Grady and Eisel (again without as much glory) seemed to have gone down this path, and the new rainbow clad viking looks to be headed that way also with Boonen.. Haussler mentioned he was not looking for too many sprints this year. I wonder if Cuddles has thought about a different type of transition after his last few ‘ Le Tours’ vs his victories in the last 13 months

    Rouleur is the new black .. again?


  2. I’m thinking it may be more physiological. Seems after years of endurance training, a portion of our fast-twitch muscles convert to slow-twitch, scrubbing that awesome speed we had in our youth. Now I don’t know if this can be prevented with specific exercises or if it just happens uncontrollably. I also have read that fast-twitch decreases with age, but not really read enough about this to know if it’s true or not.

    None of this explains why I’m so freaking slow though.

  3. I had a somewhat similar experience last night when racing an open-age crit instead of my usual masters. Was thinking “gee these young riders are pulling some crazy moves into gaps that aren’t there, etc. Better stay up near the front.”

    A loss of concentration, I find myself mid-pack, then some young bastard attempts a pass up the inside of a corner, bringing him and a guy on my inside down who then gets me and a couple of others. Will cost me a new helmet.

    Arggh. But what are you gonna do? Get angry at the crazy fucker for trying? Nah. At least I could numb my road rash with beer.

  4. @Frank: Man, that’s an ugly pic – from the bloody face, to the crooked useless leather helmets – to that nasty road rash on the dude’s arm. Yeah, that’s gonna sting a little.

    @Marcus: Nasty pic as well. What did you do with that balled up chuck of skin hanging there? Cut it off? Let it get crusty as is? Ouch.

  5. …although I like to ignore all of Jalabert’s achievements and especially his conversion into a “mountain goat” given who he rode for and what was going on in the peloton in those days. Never liked him though.

    Jalabert was following the path of Sean Kelly in turning into a rouleur.

  6. Frank, the jersey sleeve stripes are just the standard team strip – not national champ stripes. The poor chap in question is neither Dutch or Luxembourgese (?) as neither nationality had riders on the ZG-Mobili Team. I am pretty sure he is the team’s Italian sprinter Fabiano Fontanelli.

  7. @ash
    O’Grady has one or two decent results in his palmares!!! One of the hardest in the peloton, and if half the stories are true, would do very nicely as a subject in Joshua’s ongoing Beer in the Bidon studies. Or did you just mean Eisel?

    Also, Cadelephant may do alright in a Grandie if he has Faboo riding with him (has where he’s going been announced yet?), although I’m unsure he has the charisma of either Grimpeur to get Faboo to ride for him.

    @Marcus: Wicked photo!!

  8. @Oli Brooke-White
    Got it in one: Fabiano Fontenelli. Notice how he’s holding his left arm; Fontenelli withdrew after this crash with a fractured collar bone. He rode with Pantani during his annus mirabilis in 1998 and was subsequently busted for EPO in 2001.

    So the Dutch want to look like Italians””I guess there’s that style element. But maybe that’s what the Anti-Dutch police are for. I’d be curious to know how that would go down…

  9. @michael
    I wonder too if there’s a psychological benefit to offset the slowing of fast twitch muscles. As we see riders gain age and experience they get a better understanding of their bodies and have the frame of reference to meter out pain. This is why most GT winners are older and tri athletes are older, no? It’s evolutionary. Gotta be. How else could I outpace my students in the backcountry who are barely half my age with much more energy?

    I also think this is why Cavenifheevergrowsupandstopsbeingsuchawankerdish could end up being a rider for the ages.

  10. @Rusty Tool Shed
    ++1 for the video.

    Looks like Jaja has his glasses underneath his helmet straps, hmmmm?

    And I love that video has Everything In Its Right Place as a sounds track.

  11. Marko :@Rusty Tool Shed++1 for the video.
    Looks like Jaja has his glasses underneath his helmet straps, hmmmm?
    And I love that video has Everything In Its Right Place as a sounds track.

    Maybe Rule #37 doesn’t apply to leather hairnets? Hmmmm….

  12. frank :@Rusty Tool Shed

    Maybe Rule #37 doesn’t apply to leather hairnets? Hmmmm….

    Of course it applies to hairnets as well; JaJa is merely demonstrating why Rule #37 exists.

    Well I’m glad JaJa could lend a hand. I now am confident I will be compliant with #37 the next time I venture out with my hairnet upon my head. But still I marvel at his superhuman abilities to retain his glasses during that little tumble.

  13. @Marcus

    I was going to say that I got the rabbi up the road to chop it off but thought that might offend someone.


    Holy Merckx that is a nasty looking wound, I thought it was some horrible porno shot when I first glanced at it.

  14. @Oli Brooke-White
    Good lord! Why would they want to do that? I’ll take Italian wine and bicycles over the Dutch equivalents most days of the week. It’s also a little-known fact, but Italy’s “boot” isn’t actually kicking a Sicilian football, but rather about to clip into a Sicilian speedplay pedal…

  15. @hawkeye – yeah was referring more to Eisel’s palmeres. The Freckle definately is a hardnut, with some impressive results to match.

  16. @ash
    Baden Cooke’s selection for the Aussie team in the World’s was on the basis of him being “a workhorse”. Long way from his green willie too.

  17. b


    Sun Tour some (many) years ago, Stuey O finishes Mt.Buller stage (16km climb ave 6% I think from memory), goes out drinking with a mate of mine. Approx. 6am my mate gives up and his last ‘memory’ is O’Grady still drinking playing pool. Some time later his Team mechanics are interrupted as Stuey stumbles into the room and falls over the team bikes they are working on, they put him to bed for a couple of hours and he rides into Melbourne with the peloton for the final day’s stage.

  18. @frank
    I mean…obviously Jalabert stole Fontanelli’s banana. Fontanelli went ape-shit. Jalabert went to hospital while Fontanelli sat sulking in the road, right?

  19. @Rusty Tool Shed

    His “superhuman” ability to retain his sunglasses was probably caused by his direct violation Rule #37. Doesn’t make it right, but there his glasses are. Just as sometimes a bank robber gets away with the goods, he benefited by throwing caution (and The Rules) to the wind.

  20. Sweet observations and even more poetically penned Frank!

    Even though the observation of the human physiology repeatedly notes the transition over our lives from the ‘red’ fast twitch fibers to ‘white’ slow twitch, I don’t think that has a damn thing to do w/the Rouleur. It has everything to do w/the Rouleur’s legs and will, which both tend to be hardened over time.

    Summed up: don’t jack w/billion mile legs

    Every sophmore cyclist does jack w/the old man, at least once, more if your like me and need a few beatings before learning a lesson. We laugh at the black socks, the brooks saddles, the unassuming physique. Yet its a pitiful thing to be pummeled by some old man, not in a 100m, but over his choice of a distance and that is the beauty of V-cut calves that have seamlessly ridden over a billion miles.

    The Rouleur has much more in his arsenal than the opportunists last ‘200m’ to kick your ass. He may choose a long lonely headwind w/a gradual slope to suppelly grind your guts into smitherenes. He may choose to let you pull like ‘the diesel you think you are’ to only up the ante if you will w/20k to go, you studmuffin you. He may descend w/the finesse of ‘el Falco’, not taking risks for himself, but for the novice using a skillset others have not assumed.

    However, for some of us, we just do not learn. My last lesson was in the master category race that I was the newbie 40 y/o. I should have physiologically been most apt, logically, to win. Right. Immediately however, the line was single file, through the technical crit corners, the snake careened. One by one was dropped. I was on the back, in difficulty the whole way. A 50+’r on the front, pulling comfortably..all race. In the finale’, I dropped, in a 1/2 hr, our speed was 45kph average. The stud on the front, raced the next race Pro 1-2 and won it also! That is the Rouleur not Sprinteur.

    The Rouleur comes down to ones will, and as cycling is, whose will will be imprinted on the peloton that day. The Rouleur makes his choice on that. The Sprinteur hopes for a chance.

    Don’t jack w/the billion mile Rouleur.

  21. What bones have you all broken in crashes? I know collarbones are common. I’ve broken mine once (but in two places, so not too shabby). I heard a rumor that Sean Kelly broke his left and right collarbones a total of twenty-five-ish times during his career.

  22. @ZachOlson
    Hey man, welcome. I have yet to break a bone on a road bike. However, when I like 13, I was giving this kid a buck in the dark on the seat of my Mongoose, hit a pothole, went over the handlebars, and the kid landed on the back of my head and ground my nose into the gravel. Broke my nose, still crooked. Still made it to the movies that night though, I think it was “Fast Times…” Take that Sean Kelly!

  23. @Souleur

    The Rouleur comes down to ones will, and as cycling is, whose will will be imprinted on the peloton that day. The Rouleur makes his choice on that. The Sprinteur hopes for a chance.

    That needs to be printed and distributed to the weak as inspiration to rise up.

  24. @ZachOlson
    No real bone breakages but a back injury that hasn’t healed in 10 years when I absorbed a number of riders square in the back. That and the permanent damage that Paulo caused me, but that wasn’t from me racing.

    Collar bones, shoulders, elbows, wrists, little bones in hands all break pretty commonly. Big bones like femurs are really hard to break, but it seemed that broke pretty commonly a few years back, which made me really wonder about bone-density issues perhaps related to drugs.


  25. @ZachOlson
    While I am broken bone free, I have a little saying that I like to tell my friends and family. And it goes:

    As a cyclist, I have a little alarm clock sitting on my collarbone always ticking down, at some point that alarm is going to go off…

    For some reason, they don’t find it funny.

  26. @Marko I broke my nose once, drunkenly boxing a large man in a blonde wig with pigtail braids. One of my finer moments.

    @Collin I fear that my alarm clock hasn’t been removed, only reset.

    Coming back from a crash is nerve-wracking, and I found out that having a little rainy day slide-out after being cut off by a car took care of a lot of those nerves. Just have to remember that shit happens but it’s not all so bad.

  27. @ZachOlson
    That’s what Rule #64 is all about.

    I recently switched to Scwalbe Ultremos on Bike Number One which I had the pleasure of riding today. The trouble is, it started to rain, and in when of the many hairpin turns while descending, the tires revealed themselves as being truly unnerving as both wheels would slide out simultaneously.

    I love those tires – they roll beautifully and take a high pressure, but Merckx they suck in the wet.

  28. I think I may have the answer as to why Ja-Ja’s Bolles stayed on (other than violating Rule #37). Back in the day, those Bolles came with two pairs of interchangable earpieces that telescoped into the main legs of the glasses. One was the now standard slightly curved and hooked leg, the other was a pair of semi-circular hooks that really wrapped around the back of the ear. I still have a pair that are still going strong. You could also get a great range of lenses: red, clear, yellow, great, brown and variations with mirrored finishes.

  29. @wiscot
    I think you might be onto something, mate. Gianni sent me a pair of old Oakley EyeShades that have the same attachments. Strongly played.

  30. @frank
    Have you tried Open Corsas? They are as supple as can be and roll beautifully, have a bit of tread for grip in the wet, and can take enough pressure to support a Dutch giant like yourself. Personally I like to run them at lower pressures for better cornering — they handle that well too.

  31. @Nate
    Yeah, I’ve ridden them for ages; for urban riding, the rubber is much too soft and they get cut up too easily, although their ride quality is phenomenal. I’ve found the GP4000’s to be the best all-round riding tire. The rubber is durable enough to not get torn up, and they have a good ride to them as well.

  32. I’m looking forward to trying the GP4000’s when my current tires wear out. I have a set of Vittoria Zaffiro tires, which came with my wheels. I was all set to replace them ASAP, but I’ve actually found them to be pretty darn nice, considering that they aren’t exactly expensive. I have over 2,400 km on them so far, with no flats and no sliced-up sidewalls, which is quite surprising. When inflated properly for my weight, they roll and corner well.

  33. The exception to this understandable evolution or devolution, depending on what side of the age spectrum you currently occupy, is Super Mario. Guy ceased to win sprints and quit. No silly comebacks to pay his taxes or alimony. Quit while he was still beautiful and fast.
    No matter your opinion of him, you gotta admit that a lot of athletes would benefit from such a classy exit.

  34. @KaffeineKeiser
    Classy exit? I thought some cheetah or lion chased him down and ate him in that silly kit.

    Point taken, but I think there’s something admirable in trying to recreate yourself in a craft you love.

  35. @Steampunk
    There were certainly interesting costumes paraded around the roads of Italy and France, but hey it’s Mario and he’s beautiful. (Two years ago in a pastry shop at the start of the TdF stage in Cuneo, Italy I witnessed 3 old blue-haired local women standing behind Cippo as he waited for his macchiato, in full discussion about how beautiful his ass still is. Hand gestures to describe the shape and all. True story, should’a turned on my camera but I was stuffing my mouth with a cream puff.)

  36. @KaffeineKeiser
    You better not ever divulge your address to Gianni, but if you do, make sure your bedroom door is securely locked. I can hear his pulse racing as he reads your posts already.

    I’m with you 100% and disagree, for once, with @Steampunk‘s defense of the comeback. Pharmy said himself when he retired that he wasn’t going to be one of those guys who would keep showing up.

    Cipo almost threatened to become a Rouleur in Gent-Wevelgem in 2002 when he bridged up to the break, but then he quickly realized he was still fast and went back to sprinting and winning World Championship Road Races and all that.

    Flamboyant, silly, arrogant, but always with the utmost respect for the sport and his fellow athletes. Which made it loads of fun.

    And yeah, the zebra-stripes were hiddeous, but what humor to kit up like your own prey when you’re name is the Lion King?

  37. frank :@KaffeineKeiser
    You better not ever divulge your address to Gianni, but if you do, make sure your bedroom door is securely locked. I can hear his pulse racing as he reads your posts already.

    As a Velomati newby, I don’t understand, is Gianni a Mario hater? With a name like Gianni, he should be a fan.

    Looking at the photo you posted, I just gotta laugh. Remember how amazing those guys looked? Remember when Eros Poli had his huge escape at the 94 TdF? Those guys were amazing. Poli had a chance to ride for himself (Cippo had hurt himself before the Tour and didn’t start) and escaped the group over 100km from the bottom of the Ventoux, summited alone and made the descent to Carpentras with with no one else in sight. Sprinter turned rouleur for a day.

  38. Steampunk :@KaffeineKeiser
    Classy exit? I thought some cheetah or lion chased him down and ate him in that silly kit.
    Point taken, but I think there’s something admirable in trying to recreate yourself in a craft you love.

    I really admired the way that JaJa rejiggered his machine. I was on the Col de Tamie in 97 when he made his solo break on the way to Col de Columbier with a finish in… don’t remember. No man ever made pink look so mean.
    Recently, my admiration for JaJa has been tested as he is know to frequently violate Rule #42. Yet I believe his aim is to show full-time participants of the 3-sport-folly, that they need to learn Rule #5.
    Thus swelling my man-love for Laurent.

  39. @frank Actually, the best of example of this transition may well be Thor, who openly admitted to being scared in the bunch sprints this year after his return from a broken collar bone and has decided to commit himself to the Classics and day races in 2011. He will ride the Tour, but in order to claim a stage and to help Corn-fed win green.

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