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When Josephine Baker Sprinkled Her Stardust on the Tour de France

10/16/2021 0:02
Josephine Baker at the start of the 1936 Tour de France
Josephine Baker at the start of the 1936 Tour de France, with Sylvère Maes (l) and his namesake Romain Maes (r) | BnF

Dancer, singer, star of stage and screen, Josephine Baker is synonymous with the Jazz Age in Paris. But there is more to her than just that. When World War Two began she became a spy. When France fell she became a résistante. In later years she became a civil rights activist. Somewhere in between all those aspects of a storied life and career, Josephine Baker also found time to sprinkle a little bit of her stardust on the Tour de France.

1933

Josephine Baker, Maurice Goddet, Henri Desgrange, at the start of the 1933 Tour de FranceMiroir des Sports / BnF
Baker at the start of the 27th Tour de France

Our story begins in 1933, a little bit before eight o’clock in the morning of Tuesday the 27th of June. Photographed here, at the Tour’s grand départ, is Baker alongside L’Auto’s editor and the man in charge of the Tour Henri Desgrange and – separating Baker and Desgrange – Maurice Goddet. In the right of the frame is Baker’s manager, Count Pepito de Abatino.

Maurice Goddet is the forgotten son of Desgrange’s deceased business partner Victor Goddet and the overlooked brother of Desgrange’s then heir apparent Jacques Goddet. His airbrushing from official Tour history is partly down to the belief that he is responsible for the selling of the Tour to Nazi sympathisers in 1940, a claim neither fully true nor fully false: like so much else in the Tour’s history it’s complicated.

One can only imagine the look of abject horror that must have passed over the face of Desgrange that morning when Baker casually admitted that she wasn’t a cyclist. “I don’t know how to ride a bicycle,” she told Desgrange and Goddet, “but believe me well, gentlemen, today I regret that.” Perhaps that explains the Father of Tour’s dour expression. While Baker didn’t know an awful lot about bike racing at that time you have to imagine that she knew what she was doing when she chose her ensemble that morning, picking a daffodil yellow jacket to accompany her white dress – a deliberate homage, you want to believe, to the Tour’s already iconic maillot jaune.

Baker’s yellow jacket was not the only way in which she tapped into cycling history, either by accident or design. She attached flowers to the handlebars of the Tour’s riders, an act that recalled a recently published history of the sport which referred to riders as les chevaliers de la bécane, ou la fleur au guidon: the knights of the bike, or the flower of the handlebars. André Leducq – one of the stars of the 1933 French squad having won the Tour in 1930 and 1932 – went on to use ‘flower of the handlebars’ as the title of his autobiography (Une fleur au guidon).

This was the fourth Tour run under the international teams rule, Desgrange having got fed up with the trade teams after Alycon’s shenanigans in the 1929 race. Having won only a single Tour between 1919 and 1929, the French were batting three for three since the new rules came in. Here we have Baker with the 1933 French squad, who were about to make it four wins on the trot for les tricolores:

Josephine Baker with the French Tour teamMiroir des Sports / BnF
Josephine Baker with the French Tour team

On the left of the above picture Charles Pélissier, youngest brother of the mercurial Henri, can be seen playing with Baker’s cat. Or is it a dog? Pussy or pooch, more should be written about Charles Pélissier and the way he might play with people’s pets.

Charles Pélissier and Josephine BakerL’Intransigeant / BnF
… and the way she might look at you. Baker and Charlot.

The chemistry in the above composition is almost breathtaking. Pélissier – who by 1933 had already pocketed 14 Tour stages in just three starts – was to the fore as the Tour shrugged off its ‘vagabonds of the road’ past and embraced a new era of style. His pomaded hair and general air of grace earned him the nicknames Valentino and Brummel. It’s no wonder Baker can hardly stop gazing at him. You would too if you were there.

Then again, maybe she was just fascinated by his hair.

An ad for a hair produced promoted by Josephine Baker, Bakerfix, from the pages of L’Auto alongside product samplesL’Auto / BnF
Ads for Bakerfix regularly appeared in L’Auto and other journals. Baker earned royalties from the sale of this hair-care product.

Many reports today tell us that Baker set the riders off on their way that morning. Some tell us that she cut the ribbon holding them back. Others that she fired a pistol. Still others suggest that she waved the same flag Georges Abran had waved when he sent the riders of the first Tour on their way 30 years before and which he and others had used ever since (although one presumes that the stick supporting the flag had been changed once or twice and the cloth itself replaced a couple or three times). Whichever method used, Baker probably didn’t. This is from a report in Paris-Soir the day after:

“one of my colleagues swears that the depart was given by Georges Biscot; another claims that it was given by Josephine Baker; another claims that it was given by Henri Desgrange; another claims that it was given by Cazabis; another swears that it was given by Georges Carpentier; and finally another particularly inventive one swears that it was given by Georges Milton, who was sleeping at that time the sleep of the just.”

Biscot and Milton were stars of stage and screen, Carpentier the world champion boxer famously defeated by Jack Dempsey. Cazabis looks like a typo of Lucien Cazalis, the secretary general of the Tour and the man responsible for the race’s first official anthems (1933’s ditty was ‘Le Tour qui passe’ – a real banger). Other stars of stage and screen present that morning included Mauricet (Georges Renaud) and Pierre Nay. From the world of sport there was the fencer Lucien Gaudin and athletes Jules Ladoumègue and Jacques Keyser. The aviator Michel Détroyat was there. Track star Marcel Berthet – he of the Hour fame – was also there, along with fellow trackies Falk Hansen and Lucien Faucheux. Few of these names may be recognisable today but each was well known then. Baker stands out among these men, not just for the longevity of her fame.

 A ad for a beret promoted by Georges MiltonL’Auto / BnF
Some who attended the start had commercial interests to promote

As for the issue of who really did give the start, Paris-Soir’s report from the evening before has Biscot waving the flag that set the riders on their way. L’Auto’s reporting from the morning after supports this claim.

Before moving on we have to ask how Baker came to be at the Tour’s start. Was this, like Major Taylor’s appearance at the start of 1901’s Bordeaux-Paris, arranged by L’Auto? Would that it were. But like so much in Baker’s life, her presence at the Tour’s grand départ in 1933 was down to the star taking things into her own hands and making them happen. Like so much in the Tour’s history events were overtaking the race, leaving it to play catch up.

For Baker, the key event was a couple of Italian journalists from Turin’s La Gazzetta del Popolo attending one of her shows in the Folies Bergère. They were in Paris to report on the Tour and, after Baker’s performance ended, they sought out her manager, Abatino, who was another Italian. He introduced them to Baker. They talked to her about the Tour. And that was enough for Baker to decide to write to Desgrange asking if she could be a guest at its start.

Baker’s letter to DesgrangeL’Auto / BnF
Baker’s letter to Desgrange: “Having had tonight a visit from foreign journalists authorized to report on the Tour de France, they tell me that the start your formidable event takes place in Vésinet. Living in this locality and having been interested for many years in your admirable organisation, I would be delighted to obtain permission from you to personally offer at the start, to each of your admirable champions, some flowers and at the same time show them my encouragement and my sympathy which will accompany them at all times throughout your excursion. Please, Mr Director, with my thanks, accept the assurance of my sporting consideration.”

1934

Baker was back at the Tour the following year, again one of a number of stars seeing the riders on their way after they had proceeded across Paris from the départ fictif outside l’Auto’s offices in Montmartre to the départ réel in Vésinet, via the Champs Élysées and Porte Maillot.

Georges Biscot – who had starred in two Tour-set films from Maurice Champreux, 1925’s Le roi de la pédale and 1931’s Hardi les gars – ceded his traditional flag-waving duties to the Grand Prix driver Louis Chiron (pub quiz fans pay heed: he’s the first and so far only GP driver from Monaco to win his home race), with Baker joining the two at the start line. Also in attendance was the American boxing promoter Jeff Dickson, who had taken over the running of the Vélodrome d’Hiver in 1931. Elizabeth Argal, 1934’s Miss Paris, was also in attendance.

There is the tiny possibility of confusion over who really waved the little yellow flag and set the riders on their way: L’Auto and Paris-Soir agree it was Chiron, but this cartoon from Miroir des Sports muddies the water somewhat by giving Biscot his traditional honour:

A cartoon from Miroir des Sports depicting the start of the 28th Tour.Miroir des Sports / BnF
Biscot, top left, is depicted giving the start of the 28th Tour on the morning of Tuesday, July 3rd.

One suspects that the Miroir’s cartoonist may have got a little bit ahead of himself and prepared that one in advance.

The lack of photos of Baker at the Tour in 1934 may be down to her only arriving a few minutes before the riders were sent on their way, at ten o’clock in the morning. Some claim that the late start was an attempt by L’Auto, a morning paper, to spike the guns of its evening rival Paris Soir, which had invested heavily in covering the race. Whatever the causes of the late start and Baker’s late arrival, she still had time enough to give small bouquets of flowers to the leaders of each of the teams.

1935

Baker couldn’t make the start of the 1935 Tour de France but in her stead she sent along a delegation of young women to give out flowers, which some reports say were meant to bring luck.

By this stage Baker had been in Paris for close to a decade. She had first arrived in 1925 as part of an American touring troupe and from there had been signed to the Folies Bergère. Her success was immediate and, for some, has come to define her: dancing naked except for a string of pearls and a skirt made of rubber bananas she both pandered to and parodied European colonialist fantasies. The poet ee cummings, writing about those early performances, said Baker was “a creature neither infrahuman nor superhuman but somehow both: a mysteriously unkillable Something, equally nonprimitive and uncivilized”.

The media and the audience may well have objectified Baker – dehumanized her – but at the same time doors were open to her in Paris that had been shut in her face throughout her life in America: restaurants weren’t closed to her, she didn’t have to travel in the back of the bus. Like Major Taylor before her, Baker was welcomed warmly in Paris. Not that she ever fully escaped racism even as the French embraced her: she was dubbed the Ebony Venus and the Black Pearl, with few commentators ever able to overlook the colour of her skin.

Baker, she leaned into it and – to an extent – transcended it. As well as the haircare product, Bakerfix, she was the name behind a skin-darkening lotion, Bakerskin, while the best designers dressed her as she went from image to icon.

Baker also expanded her artistic repertoire: in 1930 she recorded a song that became an anthem for her, ‘J’ai deux amours’. The two loves she sang of were her country and Paris. At first her country was America but, as she grew more disillusioned with America by the segregation she experienced there, France took its place.

Baker’s artistic repertoire was also expanded by starring in a production of the Jacques Offenbach operetta La créole (whose run finished a few months before the start of the 1935 Tour) and by moving into films: a silent film, La Sirène des tropiques (Siren of the Tropics) in 1927 and a talkie, Zouzou, in 1934. It was the making a third film, Princesse Tam Tam, that kept Baker away from the 1935 Tour.

Josephine Baker and the airplane she bought in 1934Getty
From being a fantasy of colonialism Baker went on to become a fantasy of celebrity. Like Hélène Dutrieu and many others before her she found freedom in flight. Of the airplane she bought in 1934 Baker wrote to a friend saying “I fly myself, and I’m crazy with joy.”

1936

Josephine baker with Belgian riders Robert Wierinckx and Marcel KintBnF
Tuesday, July 7th, 1936. Josephine baker with Belgian riders Robert Wierinckx (r) and Marcel Kint (l)

Baker was at the Tour for a third time in 1936. Above, Robert Wierinckx is too busy talking to his Belgian team-mate, Marcel Kint (Paris-Brussels 1938, World Championships 1938, Paris-Roubaix 1943, Flèche Wallonne 1943, Gent–Wevelgem 1949), to pay much heed as Baker attaches her flowers to his handlebars. That little bouquet still brought him luck and the next day Wierinckx won the sprint into Charleville’s vélodrome at the end of race’s second stage.

Sylvére Maes and Romain Maes with Josephine BakerParis Soir / BnF
Sylvére Maes and Romain Maes with Josephine Baker

Wierinckx may have been too busy to notice Baker but his team-mate, Romain Maes, appears to have been utterly smitten by the American star. In the above image Maes’s namesake Sylvère Maes tries not to look too embarrassed by his team-mate’s antics. Behind is another Belgian rider, Felician Vervaeke.

Georges Biscot trying to call the riders into order for the start of the 1937 Tour.Miroir des Sports / BnF
Biscot is close to losing it.

As the hour approached nine o’clock Biscot began to lose it as he tried to call the riders to order. Baker just looked on, well used to this cycling lark now and no longer the ingénue Desgrange must have taken her for three years before.

On Baker’s right in the above image is Georges Milton. Another star present for the start that morning was the British-born singer and actress Meg Lemonnier, who was married to Maurice Goddet. She went on to star in Jean Stelli’s 1939 cycling film Pour le maillot jaune, which incorporated footage from the 1936 start.

Paris Soir did a celebrity round up that year, asking a few stars of stage and screen to pick their favourites for the race. Baker plumped for René Vietto, as did Maurice Chevalier. Georges Carpentier went for Maurice Archambaud. Mistinguett – with whom Baker had something of a bitchy rivalry, having succeeded her at the Folies Bergère – went for Antonin Magne, as did Lys Gauty. Jean Gabin went for Romain Maes. Gabin came closest, with the win going to the other Maes, Sylvère.

Pretty as her posies were, at this stage you might be wondering what became of the flowers Baker handed out. Surely the riders didn’t race with them still on their handlebars? L’Auto’s Robert Perrier wrote one year of watching Baker fix her flowers to the riders’ bicycles. Later he watched as some of those riders threw their little bouquets of flowers to shopgirls watching on. And, once the race had left Vésinet, he watched those shopgirls surround Baker and proudly present her with their little bunches of flowers. In a way, that’s a metaphor for the Tour itself: the riders left Paris and 27 days later the riders came back to Paris. They could have just stayed where they were but on each stage on their journey they brought joy and pleasure to different people.

1937

Once again Baker was distributing her lucky flowers to the riders ahead of the Tour’s grand départ when the 1937 Tour rolled around. The previous autumn her manager, Count Pepito de Abatino, had died. Though he styled himself an aristocrat he was in fact a former stone-mason from Sicily whose real name was Giuseppe Abatino. The two had a complicated relationship: they claimed to be married (even though Baker had not yet divorced her second husband), they were sometime-lovers, and their business relationship saw much of Baker’s wealth being held in Abatino’s name for various legal reasons. The Italian had been by Baker’s side since soon after her arrival in France and had helped Baker shape the arc of her career, from exotic burlesque performer to elegant and glamorous star. Their marriage may have been false but it’s clear that Abatino was an important part of Baker’s life, emotionally as well as professionally.

Fittingly, this next image has Baker fixing her flowers to the handlebars of the Italian Tour squad, who were led that year – at Mussolini’s insistence – by il Pio himself, Gino Bartali. Italian audiences loved Baker almost as much as French ones did: some credit here must be given to her ‘marriage’ to Abatino. Some must also be given to the ease with which Baker had supported Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, Baker credulously buying the Italian line that Haile Selassie – who was largely supported outside of Italy – had enslaved Ethiopians. Celebrity and politics, it’s fair to say, have never been a good mix.

Josephine Baker and members of the 1937 Italian teamMiroir des Sports / BnF
Wednesday, June 30th, 1937. Josephine Baker and members of that year’s Italian squad. One Italian journalist, writing for La Stampa, captured what the riders endured as the race got ready for its start in these terms: “after being very nicely decorated with flowers by Josephine Baker, kept cheerful by Biscot’s nonsense. photographed by a hundred lenses, asked for autographs by a thousand nuisances, invited to speak to five microphones, finally sorted by nation, they were set free by Antonin Magne”.

Many modern day reports tell us confidently that Bartali fled from Baker when she appeared, others that he refused to be photographed with her, most have him crying out “I’m engaged!” (he married Adriana Bani in November 1940). Thing is … well … it’s complicated.

Bartali was under a lot of pressure at the start of the 1937 Tour. It was his debut at the French version of the Giro d’Italia (which he had won for the second time just a month earlier). Mussolini wanted a maillot jaune and no one wanted to upset il Duce. Despite a maglia rosamaillot jaune double being unprecedented, Bartali was the out and out pre-race favourite. Everyone wanted a slice of him. When I asked Herbie Sykes about this – he’s the go-to man on all things Italian cycling – he suggested that Bartali was probably just in a grumpy mood that morning and we really shouldn’t read too much into this story. Certainly in later years, when the pressure was off and he could be more relaxed, Bartali had time at the Tour’s grand départ to smile and be photographed with the likes of the film director Orson Welles (1950) and the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson (1951).

Bartali may have been in a grump that morning but the same could not be said for the French star Georges Speicher, who had won the Tour in 1933. He was in such an exuberant mood that he lobbed the gob on Baker.

Georges Speicher kissing Josephine Baker on the cheek became a popular image from the start of the 1937 TourLife / Ce Soir / Paris Soir / BnF
Georges Speicher kissing Josephine Baker on the cheek became a popular image from the start of the 1937 Tour

Also present at the race’s start in 1937 was the Tour’s first British team, which was a bit of an Empire affair, made up of the Britons Bill Burl and Charles Holland and the Canadian Pierre Gachon. None of them made it back to Paris.

Josephine Baker offers her flowers to the Tour’s first British entrants, Bill Burl and Charles Holland.Paris Soir / BnF
Josephine Baker offers her flowers to the Tour’s first British entrants, Bill Burl and Charles Holland (with the 65 bike number)

After a minute’s silence for the recently deceased Adrien Buttafocchi (the 29-year-old Tour veteran had been killed the week before while descending the Estérel in the GP Antibes) Antonin Magne, recently retired from the pro peloton and now writing for Paris Soir, took over the starting duties from Biscot and set the riders of Tour’s 31st edition on their way.

In recent years a much repeated claim has it that, having distributed her flowers, Baker then joined the 1937 Tour’s caravane publicitaire, at the behest of the French banana growers association (sort of like the Toast Marketing Board). The more fruity versions of this tale have her performing naked save for the banana skirt and pearl necklace that had helped make her famous a decade before.

While I can find no contemporary evidence to support this tall tale, I can find a lot of evidence suggesting that it is unlikely to be true. A fortnight after the grand départ Baker was in Paris for the city’s Bastille day celebrations, performing an outdoor concert in the Place de Grenelle. The Tour on Bastille day was 800 kms away, travelling between Marseille and Montpellier via Nîmes (it was a split stage). Throughout July Baker’s appearances at the Folies Bergère (evenings, and weekend matinees) continued to be advertised in Paris’s dailies. The Exposition Internationale was on (May through November) and Paris was thronged with tourists thirsting for entertainment. You’d need to have been selling an awful lot of bananas to have been able to afford to lure Baker away from that.

A newspaper ad promoting Baker’s appearances throughout July at the Folies Bergere.Ce Soir / BnF
Ads like this appeared in some of Paris’s newspapers each Saturday throughout July. Baker’s evening performances were advertised daily in the theatre listings.

There’s also a lack of support for this story from Baker herself. Interviewed in 1949 she recalled her association with the Tours of the ‘thirties. She reminisced about getting up in the morning to cut the flowers she would give to the riders. She didn’t reminisce about dancing half naked in order to help flog phallic fruit.

Finally, you have to ask if this story fits with the way the publicity caravan was working in the 1930s: it was still a relatively small affair and while it was open in the evening for members of the public to come along and grab whatever freebies were on offer, it had not yet reached the point where it was providing organised evening entertainment.

Two shots of the 1938 Tour’s caravane publicitaire, where members of the public could get free stuffBnF
Two shots of the 1938 Tour’s caravane publicitaire, where members of the public could get free stuff

Whatever grain of truth their might have been in this story, in the telling and the re-telling it has been lost as we mash together our perception of the Tours of the 1950s and the 1960s – when Charles Trenet, Petula Clark, and Johnny Hallyday all performed as part of the publicity caravan – with the interwar Tours of which we know too little, and with Baker’s story which, for many, has not been allowed to evolve beyond that one dance routine.

1938

Baker’s stardust failed to fall on the Tour in 1938, she having recently set out on her own tour, taking her to England, on to Belgium and then up into Scandinavia. In her place her husband (she had remarried the previous November) entertained race officials at the couple’s villa in Vésinet, where according to a report in L’Auto they enjoyed “an excellent Vouvray 1918 and even took a few bottles which will keep us pleasant, but too short, company during the Tour.”

Josephine Baker’s villa in VésinetHistorire de Vésinet / BnF
Beau Chêne, Josephine Baker’s villa on the Ave Georges Clemencu in Vésinet, fifteen hundred metres away from where the Tour started on Blvd Carnot. Baker’s downtime at Beau Chêne included doing the gardening. In one interview she recalled her time at the Tour and the flowers she brought along: “I remember that once a year I would get up very early in the morning to go and pick a large bouquet of flowers in my garden that I would then distribute before the start, one to each rider.”

C’est tous, mais…

And that, ladies and gentleman, is that. As quietly as Baker’s association with the Tour had begun, it ended. Her own grand tours again kept her away from Paris in July 1939. No reports mentioned her absence or recalled the memory of her past presence. Then came the war and the new adventures of Josephine Baker, spy and resistante.

Across six Tours Baker had attended four and delegated others to act on her behalf in the other two. She never actually got to wave the flag that started the race, though she didn’t quite remember it that way when she recalled the Tour in later years – a diva’s memories are prone to minor embellishments and we accept that. But for those six Tours between 1933 and 1938 Baker was a part of the race’s furniture, playing an important role in la fête de juillet.

Like Cléo de Mérode in the 1890s, Baker brought a dash of fashion to cycling. But there’s more to this than superficialities. The Tour was going through a period of radical change. When the race first started from Vésinet, in 1925, it did so in the dark of night, a couple of hours past midnight. In 1938 it was heading for noon when the riders rolled out, 11:15 in the morning. The Tour was being civilized, some of its most dehumanising aspects excised. Newspapers had created the Tour now newsreels and radio were reshaping it, making it popular for a whole new audience. An audience more familiar with the likes of Josephine Baker than with Georges Speicher or Sylvère Maes. The Tour’s heroic age was passing, its golden age being born, and it really isn’t too much of a stretch to say that Baker was one of the midwives helping usher in that new era.

Diva

Categories:Podium Cafe - All Posts

What the Hell Is Happening to Lombardia?

10/8/2021 0:03
Lombardia map

New-look Falling Leaves Classic unveiled… do we like it?

The Monuments of Cycling are the subject of lots of debate — should we add a sixth “monument” for this race I really really like (and let’s not talk about its cosplay origins)? How about a seventh, with lots of beer, since it’s in the middle of the others? And anyway, who decides what is a “monument”? And since it is Cycling, there are no answers, only more arguments. Just today, VeloNews posted a piece by veteran journo Andrew Hood wondering aloud whether it might be preferable to always run Paris-Roubaix in October. [Behind a paywall but here’s a link.] Hood is an esteemed presence in Europe so I will forgive him for his heresy (and also it’s not an insane idea, though I’ll pass). But isn’t a Monument a race with a special sense of gravitas, one ingredient of which is tradition?

I am not a traditionalist by nature, not for everything, but Cycling needs its cornerstones probably more than most sports. Would the NFL be fine without its traditions? Well, almost every stadium from the grainy black and white days has been replaced more than once. The forward pass ended up helping, not hurting, the product. Games have been played in countries that don’t tend to speak English, and countries where they speak too much English. Not a problem. Baseball, like cycling, has playing surface dimensions that can vary, and we spent the 1980s and 90s screaming at everyone who thought you could replace a quirky old (rapidly deteriorating) ballpark with a perfectly curved multipurpose stadium. Now the sport has veered back in the other direction, trying a bit too hard to create new quirky traditions, but that’s kinda worked out OK too. And yeah, it’s not like old Tiger Stadium wasn’t falling down.

Tiger Stadium DemolitionPhoto by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Cycling takes the quirkiness to the ultimate extreme, pitting the athletes against the variable terrain of the quasi-natural world as much as it pits them against each other. The terrain is very much a character in every show, and as we know from watching way too much TV, you don’t want to lightly just kill off and replace key characters from a show. Not to say you can’t do it, but you had better know what you are doing.

I guess they know what they are doing over at RCS, where the course for the Giro di Lombardia has been completely reimagined for this year’s edition. Gone is any hint of the Madonna del Ghisallo mattering, though that isn’t a new change. But also removed is the Muro di Sormano which defined a few recent editions, last year most notoriously as the place where Remco Evenepoel so dangerously crashed on the descent. Gone are the many short, punchy climbs of Lake Como (or gone from the final 3 hours anyway), which while hard still left the door open for a few riders who didn’t fancy themselves grand tour aspirants (hello Philippe Gilbert). In their place is a beast of a course, including 4500 meters of climbing, a number you won’t find matched anywhere else in cycling, outside of the big stage races. I am struggling to find elevation stats but San Sebastian, the other big climbers’ classic in terms of long ascents (8km or so), looks like it has in the vicinity of 3000 meters of uphill, is my guess. This is on another level.

Lombardia profile 2021

The fact that it starts with what appears to be a puny little warmup climb — the aforementioned Ghisallo — should give you some sense of how big the race is going this year. But here are some more precise images to help you along. The Roncola:

Roncola Alta

Huh, just under 10k and about 6km of non-stop 8+%. That should wake up the legs. Next, the Berbenno:

Salite Berbenno

Just a palate cleanser. Good thing too, because…

Zambla Alta

Welp. That’s 11km of pretty steady 6-7% climbing, then a “break” before another 2km punch, some false flats, and two more km at 7%. But the race will be most strongly influenced (probably) by the Passo di Ganda:

Passo di Ganda

Yeah, that’s gonna hurt. Note that it tops out at km 207, with 32 remaining. So it will take guys to a dark place, and then spit them out into the greyishness of having to find the energy for another half hour of racing. Sure, half of that is downhill, but the flats will hurt, as will that little lump near the finish:

Lombardia finish

Just about 1.7km of climbing at just about 8%, with some cobblestones thrown in there for good measure. One thing is for sure, the winner will be someone from the “strongest rider” category. What a beast.

All of these changes are part of the reorientation of the race to a finish in Bergamo, something it had back in the 80s, but over different climbs. This appears to be a whole new way of conducting the final Monument of the Year. No tradition at all, apart from the name and general location. Some of the scenery. The little church with the bikes hanging from the ceiling. That’s about it.

ITALY-CYCLING-GIRO-DI-LOMBARDIA-BLACK AND WHITEPhoto by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

The idea is to change the feel of the race and make it more of a true-climber’s classic. A de-Woutification, if you will. The Venn diagram of potential winners of this race and last weekend’s Paris-Roubaix is just two circles nowhere near each other. Maybe they aren’t even circles. Maybe they are two outlines of middle fingers pointed at each other. That is the difference. The old route not only is not such a diagram, it not only could be won by a guy who wins Paris-Roubaix — it has been won by such a rider, Philippe Gilbert. And Bernard Hinault, Sean Kelly, Moser, Merckx, Coppi… you get the point. I am not so sure that can happen anymore. Maybe this is a question for Sonny Colbrelli to answer. Unless you think we already have his answer in one Lombardia start on the old course… and a DNF.

Anyway, the choice is to be set apart from the other Monuments. Are we for that? About 10-15 years ago I spent a fair amount of time bemoaning the lack of action in Ardennes Week, thanks to the climbyness of both LBL and Amstel, and thanks also to a peloton of climbers who were a bit too cagey (and doped) for most people’s tastes. The doping… has dropped off some, at the very least. But Amstel and LBL both changed their finishes in order to prompt more attacking. The action has been much much better in the last several years compared to a decade ago or more. 2019 Amstel will be in the hall of fame of great classic editions. [Idea for an offseason post!]

So basically, making the races more inclusive is what made the Ardennes Classics return to prominence. In that case I am against making Lombardia exclusive… right? Actually no. First, it’s been a while since the doldrums of the past — can we just call them the Valverde Years? — and I don’t feel great about assuming that the current crop of ambitious climbers would just fall back into the same old patterns. I’m happy to try different ideas out now.

And secondly, there is a pretty good argument that this course won’t play out that way regardless. We shall see soon, but it’s a long way from the Passo di Ganda to the line, and if there are a few fast finishers hanging around the front, you could see attacks on the Ganda, on the descent, maybe even on the flats or at least some tactical nuances. Then you have the short climb on the Via Giovanni Maironi da Ponte (in case you weren’t sure this is Italy), which itself has a descent with a tricky hairpin before flattening out into a classic Via Roma wide-boulevard sprint.

Arrivo Bergamo

That hairpin needs some discussion. It’s not just a >90° turn… it’s a sharp corner into a very narrow gate through the Porta Sant’Agostino, a gate that radiates from the former monastery just behind it, which is now part of the University of Bergamo. I could easily wander off into a walking tour of the area, describing how the exit to the gate is no longer a wooden drawbridge, but let’s focus on what it will take to ride a bike at very high speed through here. The photos below show the entrance, interior and exit to the gate.

Entering the Porta Sant’Agosto
Inside the Gate
Exiting the Porto

I don’t know if this will have a great influence on things, but if a group enters containing one rider who is a significantly more confident bike handler than the others, this would be a nice place to get a gap. And if not… well, it’s a nice reminder of why maybe the race knows what it is doing by moving the finish to Bergamo from the suburbs of Milan.

Adam Yates (L) of Team INEOS Grenadiers, Primoz Roglic (C)...Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Riders of Note

Let’s go team by team here. This is pretty superficial since I haven’t had time to watch since Sunday, but based on the results of the Giro dell’Emilia, Tre Valle Varesine and Milano-Torino, we have lots of riders gearing up for Saturday, and a sense as to who is on form.

Deceunink-Quick Step: The #1 dossard goes to the world champion Alaphilippe, but the real threats are Joao Almeida and maybe Remco Evenepoel. The latter we haven’t seen climb with the climbiest climbers, but he’s definitely on form (solo victory at Coppa Bernocchi) and a recent winner in San Sebastian, so assuming he avoids calamity maybe he can finish what he started last year. Almeida is a solid bet though, he’s coming off second at Emilia and third at M-T.

102nd Coppa Bernocchi 2021Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images
Remco

AG2R Citroen: Benoit Cosnefroy and Aurelien Paret-Peintre both finished in the group just behind the two winners in Varese.

Alpecin Fenix: Not gonna be their day.

Astana: Major players, although the defending winner Fuglsang is out with a collarbone, and is leaving the team anyway, and that was on the old course. Still, you have to keep an eye on Vlasov and Lutsenko here, and maybe LuLu Sanchez?

Bahrain-Victorious: Mikel Landa is their guy, you would think, except he has barely raced since the Vuelta. So then there is Jack Haig, or maybe Gino Mader, but they have barely raced too. So Dylan Teuns? Total wildcard team here.

Bardiani CSF: Not a lot of horses for this courses. Maybe Covili is their guy?

Bora-Hansgrohe: They have been winning a bit of late — two minor ones just today. Buchmann is the big name but the hotter hands are Matteo Fabbro and Felix Großschartner.

Cofidis: Guillaume Martin was in the mix at Varese. With Red Sox-Yankees this week, it’d be cool if French Billy Martin did something.

104th Giro Dell’Emilia 2021Photo by Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

EF Education-Nippo: Leader is Rigo Uran but with serious support in Sergio Higuita and Neilson Powless. Neither Uran nor Powless have been hot lately, so actually Higuita (6th in Varese) will end up as their guy.

Eolo-Kometa: The beautifully named Lorenzo Fortunato is their guy. His results aren’t great, but hey, it’s better to be lucky than good, right?

Groupama-FDJ: Forever backing Pinot, but David Gaudu was top ten at both Varese and M-T, so he has the form to get in the mix here.

102nd Milano-Torino 2021Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

INEOS: Adam Yates has spent the last week chasing Roglic around, in vain, but whatever, he is 100% their guy. Fourth in Emilia and second in M-T so he’s headed in the right direction? Just cutting his last placing in half each time?

Intermarche-Wanty: Old friend Taaramae and Lorenzo Rota have both been hanging around the climbing races this week, so they are in with a chance.

Israel Start-Up Nation: Made some waves at Paris-Roubaix, but more to the point, this is the last career race of Dan Martin, who would love a second win in this event. He is going OK for an old guy (6th in Emilia) but he has several on-form teammates in Michael Woods, Ben Hermans and Tre Valle winner Alessandro De Marchi. Maybe even an elite bottle-fetcher in quadruple Tour winner Chris Froome! The Star of David will get some airtime Saturday.

Jumbo Visma: Not to let the air out of the balloon, but Primoz Roglic won both Emilia and M-T, so this might not be such a mystery race after all. Kruijswijk, Oomen and George Bennett among the elite helpers, and watch out for Jonas Vingegaard, who is getting over his post-Tour podium hangover by taking 12th at Emilia.

Primoz Roglic of Team Jumbo - Visma celebrates the victory...Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Lotto Soudal: Not sure we should take anyone seriously but you might see Steff Cras or Andreas Kron get a nice placing. Tim Wellens is their guy if he can turn the switch back on.

Movistar: There is actually a village in or adjacent to Bergamo called Valverde. Horrifying, I know. They’ll have to drop him before reaching the city limits.

Arkea-Samsic: Say what you will about Nairo Quintana at the Tour, but he’s always been good in Italy, winning Emilia years ago plus two Giri. He’s taken a pair of top tens this week so he’s likely to hang around.

Bike Exchange: Well there’s another Yates, the supposedly right one, but neither he nor his teammates have shown much of late. Chaves is a former winner, FWIW.

Team DSM: I guess I should include the Giro di Sicilia in my recent races consideration, although it doesn’t line up with the classics ongoing and drew more of a stage racer’s field. Still, Bardet looked good there. Michael Storer could hang around.

Qhubeka-Nexthash: The forever young professore, Domenico Pozzovivo, has been riding quite nicely lately, I guess.

100th Tre Valli VaresinePhoto by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Trek-Segafredo: Vincenzo Nibali last won here in 2017, his second triumph, and he is coming off an almost pre-ordained win in Sicilia, but it’s his last race with Trek before he jumps back to Astana. A better bet is probably Bauke Mollema, on form as usual, and a more recent Lombardia winner (‘19) than the Shark.

Team UAE: Talk about burying the lead, Tadej Pogacar would like to add a cherry on this sundae of a season which includes a Tour de France and Liege triumph. It’ll be Slovenian-on-Slovenian action, the World #1 vs the World #2 and hottest rider. Pogs has plenty of elite help in Brandon McNulty, Diego Ulissi (the sprint threat), very in-form Formolo (2nd in TVV), Hirschi, Majka, Polanc… They are so loaded that Alessandro Covi went top ten in Varese and couldn’t even make the startlist.

Vini Zabu etc.: No.

102nd Milano-Torino 2021Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Categories:Podium Cafe - All Posts

Re-Ranking Roubaix: Where Does 2021 Go?

10/5/2021 0:02
118th Paris-Roubaix 2021 - Men’s Eilte
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Thanks to all in the forum yesterday as we shared that time-honored experience of watching the most tense drama cycling can offer in the form of a muddy Paris-Roubaix. The race delivered all sorts of excitement, and the entire weekend was an unmitigated success. There is a lot to say about the race, and so many others have covered a lot of the bigger points, so I will go with where my mind naturally wants to go — how does this edition and Bahrain’s Sonny Colbrelli’s victory stack up against the history of Hells of the North?

Last year I did a post, in lieu of getting to watch Paris-Roubaix, where I ranked all 20 editions that had taken place in the new millennium, which kinda-sorta corresponds with a changing of the guard or two and nicely separates out from the 90s and earlier. I don’t think you could rank the race’s entire 126-year history in anything without a jacket on it, and in a perfect world I would happily try to write that, even posing for an author photo with a blazer on and my dog by my feet. But just the 2000s, that makes for a good blog post. You can read the whole thing, but basically it took each edition and asked:

  1. Was het een drama? For the few people who don’t already know this, this is a nod to Michel Wuyts, the Sporza announcer known for some memorable Flemenglish moments. If memory serves me, “dit is een drama” was a response to Frank Schleck falling off a bridge (again), and the most memorable Wuyts-ism from Paris-Roubaix may be him observing Cancellara’s winning attack from long range in 2006 with “Balen, we have a problem!” upon finding the Belgian rocket known as Tom Boonen was having trouble lifting off. Anyway, this category is about the story of the race and how dramatic it may have seemed at the time.
  2. Greatness-ness? Not greatness, as in the race, but greatness-ness, as in whether the race was one by someone who possesses greatness. Drama is fun, but tends to be more so when the guy who wins is something of a legend in the making. I probably should have spent more time on the greatness of the guys who came in top five, really, because beating the greats is equally if not more confirming of the race’s quality. Anyway, my top ten ended up as follows:

10: 2003, PVP breaks through

9: 2004, Museeuw falters Maggie profits

8: 2009, Chaos and crashes

7: 2012, Boonen rides to history

6: 2000, Museeuw and Domo sweep out the rot

5: 2010, Cancellara in clash of titans

4: 2011, Vansummeren shocker

3: 2002, The Last Lion

2: 2001, Knaven in the muddy chaos

1: 2006, I still can’t believe what happened.

You will be surprised if not genuinely horrified to know that there was not unanimous agreement with these rankings, even after I insisted on people rewatching the 2006 race in lieu of the covid-canceled event itself. I don’t want to do another round of defending the 2006 race (actually that is exactly what I want to do, but let’s move on), but I do want to ask, where does the 2021 race fit into this list? Let’s break it down.

118th Paris-Roubaix 2021 - Men’s EiltePhoto by Etienne Garnier – Pool/Getty Images
Maybe this is why they call him the Cobra?

Was Het Een Drama?

Just so you guys know, as much as I enjoy fumbling around in fake Flemish, this is an actual translation of the intended text! So if you were hoping to mangle Flemish on purpose, don’t use this. It is not exactly op de hoek.

Yesterday’s race was pretty dramatic, but I don’t want to overrate it on recency bias or without checking ourselves by remembering what a “normal” Paris-Roubaix looks like. If it weren’t muddy, I might be able to convince myself that this was pretty standard fare — a guy from the early break hung out there longer than expected, the favorites group slowly splintered, and the break either was or wasn’t caught, with the former leading to a velodrome sprint. Seriously, that is about what happened, right?

Nope. Emotionally it was on a whole other level. First, there’s the Moscon problem, which I am guessing we pretty much all were hoping would get solved before it was too late. The guy’s nickname is il Trattore, the Tractor, which is exactly what you want to be called if you are planning to try to win a race like Paris-Roubaix. And which is an upgrade over what most people are calling you, il deplorable racist. I have slightly mixed feelings about taking one incident and pinning it on a guy forever and ever, sometimes things are not as simple as they seem. But Moscon has had a few other outbursts that should make us fans not rush to rehabilitate his reputation. And Jens Debusschere has a quote out there that says basically all the riders hate him, which means something since they actually know the guy. So, with all that, I am and will continue to be all the way out on Moscon. Watching him saunter away from the dregs of the breakaway, seemingly about to win this beautiful, memorable mess of a race, it hurt to watch.

118th Paris-Roubaix 2021 - Men’s EiltePhoto by Jorge Luis Alvarez Pupo/Getty Images

That ramped up the drama substantially. But even more so was the mud. Sure, without it we might not have much to debate, but so what, it was there, and in copious quantities, especially as the race wore on. They don’t run cars through Arenberg, so that was clean, but the later, uglier secteurs get driven over, and also sit next to farmers’ fields, which means the mud rivulets get flowing whenever it rains. Adding to the mess was the day before, when both the women’s race and the sportive had been run. So Orchies, Mons, Carrefour… all pretty much a total mess.

Moscon had been handling the muddy cobbles pretty well and not losing any time to Mathieu van der Poel, who was leading (and I mean leading, like the whole time) the chase from behind. Van der Poel is a crosser, MTBer and a proven quantity on the cobbles, so it was no surprise that his was the wheel to follow when searching for a good line and a confident attacking ride over the infernal pavé. But with only 30km remaining and the pavé secteurs running out, van der Poel was making hardly a dent in the Tractor’s body armor.

This was high drama enough, these two factors, but when suddenly Moscon’s rear tire started looking a bit soft, and then really soft, on the Templeuve stones, it felt like divine intervention. Moscon lost a bit of time as his tire dragged, then maybe 20 seconds more on a bike change once he and his car were off the cobbles, leaving him with roughly a 40 second lead. It wasn’t over, and suddenly the upcoming four-pack of secteurs — Cysoing, Bourghelles, Camphin and Carrefour — all looming extra large. A minute-plus gives you a buffer against a small mistake or three, but with only 40 seconds, any slip and your dreams could die.

Instantly, that is what happened. Moscon had not merely acquired a new nice clean bike with a non-flat tire, he had picked up one with much higher tire pressure than he was used to. You could see it immediately. First he wobbled off the crown of the Cysoing stones when that hard tire began slipping sideways, then he slid out entirely and crashed. When he got going again, it was clear that he lacked the ability to ride the cobbles with conviction anymore. It wasn’t over yet, but basically it was. When the catch happened on the Carrefour de l’Arbe secteur, Moscon’s chances dropped to zero, thanks to the presence of both van der Poel and the much sprintier Colbrelli on hand. More than that, Moscon was broken, like riders who get caught close to victory on a long, hard day usually are. Buh bye. Don’t let the door hit ya.

The remaining 15km came with very little sense of inevitability as to who would win, and a few accelerations happened like you would expect. The sprint itself was fantastic. All in all, this was some two hours of constant, medium-high tension, against the backdrop of cycling’s wildest scenery. Dit was een drama.

118th Paris-Roubaix 2021 - Men’s EiltePhoto by Tim de Waele/Getty Images
Colbrelli behind van der Poel — as usual

Greatness-ness

If this category is to retain any meaning, then I cannot help but mark down the 2021 race for this reason. Not a lot, but for now at least it cannot be rated along with the wins by past world and Olympic champions, to say nothing of the legendary Boonen-Cancellara battles.

Colbrelli’s victory is about as unlikely as they come, for a rider prone to winning races. Maybe less unlikely than Johan Vansummeren’s, given Summie’s profile as a support rider; Colbrelli is a guy who wins races. And maybe not unlikely from the run-of-form perspective; Colbrelli is now up to fifth in the Podium Cafe Rider Rankings, thanks to the tear he is on now that started with his win at the BeNeLux Tour (ENECO!) and continued through the European Championships. Colbrelli on the winners’ stand at a major race is generally no surprise.

But this one?? Thoroughly shocking. As great as he may be in general, it barely extended to the cobbles and certainly not to the cobbled monuments. He didn’t take the Belgian spring races seriously before 2016, just riding Driedaagse de Panne and maybe Brabantse Pijl, which I wouldn’t call easy races but are not among the top cobbled classics. The former has tough cobbled stretches but modest competition; the latter is a strenuous race but the cobbles are a bit too polite for me. Starting in 2016, though, Colbrelli tried his hand at Gent-Wevelgem, and while he took a DNF that day, perhaps he enjoyed it regardless — which is roughly the experience most amateur cyclosportive types like me have had in Flanders. That sucked and I can’t wait to go back.

Cycling : 57th Brabantse Pijl 2017Photo by LC/Tim De Waele/Corbis via Getty Images
Colbrelli wins Brabantse Pijl in 2017

In 2017, he came to Flanders for a full slate of Flemish cobbled classics, meaning everything except Paris-Roubaix. He even won Brabantse Pijl, which may explain the choice to skip L’Enfer du Nord three days earlier. Notably, he was seventh in his first crack at E3, second in the bunch sprint a minute behind the winning trio of Van Avermaet, Gilbert and Naesen. Then he finished in the peloton at Gent-Wevelgem (big bunch sprint for third that year), and was again in the bunch at Flanders, taking 10th place. That is a big step up. But it was also in Flanders, and as I recall from being on hand, the weather was nothing short of lovely.

Since then he has ridden the same programs (and the 2020 version of it), with no further breakthroughs. He never rode Paris-Roubaix, apparently not at any level as far as I can tell. He has never ridden the cobbles in a deluge, and in the last five years when he’s been in Belgium there has been barely any rain at all. Dry Flemish stones are as good a prep for Paris-Roubaix as you can get, I guess, but as I am sure you have heard a million times, it’s not the same. It’snotit’snotit’sNOT!!

118th Paris-Roubaix 2021 - Men’s EiltePhoto by Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images
Men of the Mud

Obviously that lack of experience didn’t disqualify Colbrelli — or runner-up Florian Vermeersch, with one Espoirs P-R to his name, or van der Poel, with no past races here — it just means that he is an exceptionally fast learner and a truly outstanding bike handler. And a guy with a steady nerve. It also tends to support the idea, commonly accepted as recently as the 1980s, that as unusual a race as this is, it still favors guys who are just plain strong, regardless of body type or specialized experience… as long as they can stay upright. Paris-Roubaix used to be contested by guys who won Tours de France. Maybe it will be again.

And lastly, there is the nervy strategy that defines so many races, not just Paris-Roubaix. Colbrelli won this race by sitting on van der Poel’s wheel for a good chunk of the final hour including most of the cobbled secteurs. Van der Poel was visibly spent in the last 20km, and said as much at the end that he had truly emptied his tank. The Dutch star has previously come under some criticism for pulling too much, but if the only race he ever won were 2019 Amstel Gold, we would still all thank him for his approach to racing. So hats off… but if you think his strategy of doing basically all of the work in the last 40km was a good one, well, that’s tough to swallow. He seemed to have no choice, by dint of being van der Poel, when it came to who would track down Moscon. He’s so strong, and he’s also willing to play the role that is expected of him… but when he attacked and Colbrelli hunted him down, that was his signal that Colbrelli was strong enough to contribute more. Could van der Poel have taken his foot off the gas and dared Colbrelli into chasing more? Maybe. In hindsight he probably should have done that? But at the time maybe he liked his sprint regardless, or at least didn’t think the other two would be any less shattered than he was.

So I get van der Poel’s approach, even if it’s maybe unwise. Colbrelli’s was brilliant, if devious, given how much help he got eliminating the Moscon threat and being handed a sprint he could win. This is the permanent realpolitik of cycling, and I think Italians are born knowing that they should try to get someone else to pull for as long as possible if they ever find themselves in a bike race. Is it part of the baptism ceremony? Can a priest recite the basics of G2 chasing behavior in Latin? Probably. Certainly the man from Lake Garda knew what to do. They call him the Cobra, presumably because he sneaks up and bites you to death all of a sudden. That’s basically how his race played out.

[Yes, I remember Ricardo Ricco calling himself that, but Ricco stated in 2010 that “the Cobra is dead,” so I guess the name was available.]

CYCLING-ROUBAIX-BALLERINI PODIUM-2Photo credit should read OLIVIER MORIN/AFP via Getty Images
RIP Ballerini

Finally, Colbrelli ends a 21 year run where few Italians had anything to say about the Hell of the North. The most prominent classics riders since the 1999 victory of il Gladiatore Andrea Tafi (which was the third Italian win in five years after Franco Ballerini’s two wins) were Filippo Pozzato and Alessandro Ballan. Pozzato, one of the smoothest pedaling riders you will ever see, was on his very best form in the dramatic 2009 race, where Hushovd slid out in Carrefour de l’Arbe, but could not close the gap on Boonen. [Thanks partly to a fan jumping into his way.] Ballan fared about as well, taking a sprint for third place another 1.39 behind that Boonen guy again, his second time on the podium if you count the result he inherited in 2006 after the disqualifications were done with. The only other Italian winners are both Coppis, Bevilacqua, Gimondi, and Moser (three times). So for Colbrelli to join this illustrious company is a wonderful thing. For him to take the spot from Moscon, even better.

Ranking? I will place this fourth, ahead of Vansummeren, who won a great, nervy race of his own but on a lovely afternoon, not a monsoon. I can’t put this one ahead of Museeuw winning a race of very similar character, and I will leave 2001 — the all Mapei affair — and 2006 — TrainGateGate — where they are, even if they are acquired tastes for some. This one scores on drama and doesn’t totally suffer for greatness, with the European champion beating a heroic figure like van der Poel. And that is even before we know what to really make of the 22-year-old Vermeersch, who looks like he has a glittering future. What do you guys think?

CYCLING-FRA-PARIS-ROUBAIX-PODIUMPhoto by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images

Categories:Podium Cafe - All Posts

P-R Results Post: Deignan Kicks Off Mega Weekend By Going Long

10/3/2021 0:02
TOPSHOT-CYCLING-WOMEN-RACE-PARIS ROUBAIX
Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP via Getty Images

How improbable was Lizzie Deignan’s victory in the inaugural running of the Women’s Paris-Roubaix earlier today? Somewhere short of the Olympic road race victory this summer by Anna Kiesenhofer, but not much less. Deignan, in post-race comments, says that not only was her 82km solo effort unplanned, she wasn’t even the team leader. In fact, she got on the front to try to do something useful after noting that her actual team leaders, Elisa Longo Borghini and Ellen van Dijk, were struggling with the cobbles. She blasted onto the stones at the Hornaing-Wandignies secteur, riding hard on the front as so many do out of self-preservation, but quickly found she had a gap and decided it wouldn’t hurt to keep it going. Eventually she figured out that she had a real chance to stay away. And ultimately, she profited from near perfect conditions. The strong tailwind meant that the race was effectively shortened, as far as energy usage is concerned. And being alone not only helps a rider simplify their choices (compared to the gamesmanship that so often unfolds in their wake), but also gave her a clean look at the best lines on the cobbles.

1st Paris-Roubaix 2021 - Women’s ElitePhoto by Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images

That proved to be a major advantage. On the Camphin-en-Pévèle secteur, the muddy stones got treacherous indeed, as first Deignan lost the crown, sliding off it to the left before fishtailing back to the right and holding it together. Two-plus minutes later the elite chasers arrived, and had the same experience — but with no room to maneuver defensively, riders just keeled over instead. First van Dijk, who fell very heavily on her side but was miraculously unharmed, then Christine Majerus and others ended up on the floor. The next photo of Vos shows the crown I’m talking about. Off-camber slopes are not your friend when you are moving slick 110psi tires over wet stones.

Marianne Vos had finally had enough of this nonsense and sped off in pursuit of Deignan, with a few secteurs remaining and more than two minutes to recoup. Longo Borghini followed, but looked very shaky on the cobbles as the trio of soloists reached the Carrefour de l’Arbe stones. Vos flew over them like the off-road champion she is, and did pull back a minute on Deignan, but with the tailwind in play there simply was not enough road left.

1st Paris-Roubaix 2021 - Women’s ElitePhoto by Etienne Garnier – Pool/Getty Images

Vos acknowledged the error in leaving the chase too late, though you have to think that an attack that wasn’t even meant to happen is a bit more convincing of its benign nature than one where the attacker actually believes in what they are doing. Of course, Deignan did eventually believe in her haphazard race plan, and certainly she was always a rider to take very seriously, but by the time this became obvious to all it was a bit late to do anything short of a coordinated show of force. And we all know how coordinated chase groups tend to be.

RESULTS

  1. Elizabeth Deignan (GBr) Trek-Segafredo, 2:56:07
  2. Marianne Vos (Ned) Jumbo-Visma Women Team, at 1:17
  3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 1:47
  4. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling Team, at 1:51
  5. Marta Bastianelli (Ita) Ale’ BTC Ljubljana, at 2:10
  6. Emma Norsgaard (Den) Movistar Team Women, s.t.
  7. Franziska Koch (Ger) Team DSM, s.t.
  8. Audrey Cordon Ragot (Fra) Trek-Segafredo, s.t.
  9. Marta Cavalli (Ita) FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope, s.t.
  10. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (Ned) Team SD Worx, s.t.
  11. Christine Majerus (Lux) Team SD Worx, at 3:03
  12. Leah Thomas (USA) Movistar Team Women, s.t.
  13. Maria Van ‘T Geloof (Ned) Drops-le Col Supported by Tempur, s.t.
  14. Amy Pieters (Ned) Team SD Worx, at 4:26
  15. Lotte Kopecky (Bel) Liv Racing, at 4:33
  16. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope, s.t.
  17. Teuntje Beekhuis (Ned) Jumbo-Visma Women Team, at 4:36
  18. Romy Kasper (Ger) Jumbo-Visma Women Team, at 4:41
  19. Maria Martins (Por) Drops-le Col Supported by Tempur, at 5:55
  20. Lucie Jounier (Fra) Arkea Pro Cycling Team, s.t.
1st Paris-Roubaix 2021 - Women’s ElitePhoto by Tim de Waele/Getty Images
Here it is, your moment of Zen

Categories:Podium Cafe - All Posts

Your Paris-Roubaix Men’s and Women’s (!!!) Favorites Post

10/2/2021 0:02
old paris roubaix

Well here we go with previewing the outcome of Paris-Roubaix. If you look around you will see…

Oh.

Oh. My. God.

I honestly don’t know how to feel here. At first I was awed by the majesty of it all — not a sentence I expected to use for Team Delko, I should say. Then I started to get angry at the fact that they seem to be trying so hard to reach guys in their 50s or older. Is this a marketing department idea? Do the riders wearing them even know that La Vie Claire existed once? Did Pierre Barbier shout “OMG Mondrian!” thanks to his study of modern art? Unknowable. All I do know is that the idea of resurrecting the old LVC look of LeMond and Hinault and Hampsten and so many others is… not new. But it is generally awesome.

PdC Mondrian Jersey

Speaking of LeMond, the discussion around this weekend’s editions — PLURAL!! — of Paris-Roubaix have centered around the weather. When is the last time we had a monsoon-like edition of the Queen of the Classics? That would be 2002, and before that, 1985 comes to mind, with maybe another one in between that I would not remember. It doesn’t really matter how many of them have happened, since they are infrequent generally but just frequent enough to glean some useful information from them.

2002: Museeuw Rises, As Does His Successor

This one didn’t start off terribly wet, but it sure did finish that way. Johan Museeuw won the Hell of the North for the third and final time, beating out Steffen Wesemann and George Hincapie, among the favorites, with one of Hincapie’s lieutenants, a kid named Tom Boonen, taking third. I honestly don’t remember a ton besides the field slowly reducing itself in painful ways. But the recaps all tell me that the wind is what really blew the race apart. Take note of that, as if you weren’t already.

1985: Star-Studded Slopfest

This is one of the most colorful editions on record, particularly to American audiences who were seeing it and one of our guys for the first time. Marc Madiot emerged from the mire a newly-minted star of the cobbles, France’s last great such person, along with his contemporary and fellow double-winner Gilbert Duclos-LaSalle. Madiot won alone, ahead of his teammate Bruno Wojtinek, who in three tries never finished worse than 11th. Then came the super-duperstars, who hit the velodrome in a small pack that commenced its ceremonial lap-and-a-half by sliding off the track into the infield. Sean Kelly outkicked Greg LeMond for the final podium place. The defining moment of this race is a tossup between three-time defending winner Francesco Moser losing the crown on the Carrefour de l’Arbe, sliding sideways, coming to a stop and keeling over… and the post-race interviews where everyone looked like players in a minstrel show and Theo de Rooij declared the race, simultaneously, “a pile of shit” and “the most beautiful race in the world.” Commence maniacal laughter.

*****

So what do these races mean? I think 2002 is spot on for Sunday — the wind is probably the bigger factor than the wetness, and as a result, you can expect only the strongest and smartest and best protected riders to make the finale. I think you can say the same for Saturday, when the women will have a bit less wind and rain, but not none, and when you add in the novelty it will be those best prepared for, well, anything who have the upper hand.

That is not to say that all of the riders who fit that description will still be hanging around in the last hour. Cycling rarely works that way, and especially does not in a race like Paris-Roubaix where the first rule is to have no bad luck. Someone will have bad luck. Some others will have bad moments — one thing you can say about the rain is that it will punish even the briefest moment of inattention. When Moser, then chasing down escapee Eric Vanderaerden on a quest to match “Mr. Paris-Roubaix” Roger De Vlaeminck and his record four wins, lost the crown of the nasty stretch of slippery stones, he experienced what even the best riders will recognize as a hopeless situation. I can’t say from grainy video exactly what happened there, but the crown is sometimes surrounded by steep slopes, which means that you hold that line or you move left or right into a wet off-camber nightmare, which I think is what happened. To make matters worse, the crown is established by tractor tires pushing the stones down in their tracks, over time, but sometimes the pattern stops or disintegrates and a rider has to change his/her line or deal with whatever lies ahead. Of course, they practice these things and probably know where crowns start and end. But you still have to stay on it, in the heat of the race and in the face of a creeping exhaustion. These guys aren’t machines. Not even the Dutch women.

Finally, every Paris-Roubaix features a rider who we didn’t expect to see up there, never really knowing in advance who will show up with good legs and better ambitions. Lack of bad luck means some guys find space vacated by the riders who didn’t lack bad luck. Paris-Roubaix shuffles the deck a bit more than the Ronde van Vlaanderen, where sometimes all the favorites are still hanging around in the last 25km. This means the winner will be a worthy one, if not necessarily someone you thought of beforehand. Matthew Hayman was an okay-ish P-R rider before his win in 2016. Johan Vansummeren was a classic cobbles Clydesdale type who generally didn’t make it to the finale, particularly in his support rider’s role, until one day he did. Statistically speaking, the most recent winner, Philippe Gilbert, might be the unlikeliest, with two previous tries and only a 15th place to his name, except that Gilbert’s win gained him four of the five Monuments, where he has a total of five victories, along with a world title and assorted other indices of awesomeness.

So… who will be up there?

18th Ronde van Vlaanderen - Tour of Flanders 2021 - Women’s ElitePhoto by Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Women

Here are the contenders and my (admittedly superficial) case for their candidacy.

Marianne Vos: Road and Cross world champion, won some time trial worlds, and has won on the cobbles. Vos, as you bloody well know, is the greatest rider of her generation and maybe all time, across virtually all disciplines. She’s bound to win the Artistic Cycling title before long, I’d bet. Anyway, while it would be brilliant for her, of all people, to lead the women’s peloton across the finish line at the Roubaix Velodrome in this historic race, it’s not as sure as it would have been ten years ago. Vos isn’t as consistent, and the competition is much better these days. Still, although she hasn’t won Flanders in eight years, she did win Gent-Wevelgem just this past spring. She was second at the Worlds road race and won three stages at the Simac Tour just beforehand.

Amy Pieters: Second in Flanders last year and generally strong in the Classics.

Chantal van den Broek-Blaak: A strong favorite. CvdBB won Flanders in 2020 and has bagged most of the big classics at some point in her illustrious, world champion’s career. Not entirely sure she’s on winning form but she did take the GC at the Simac Tour (with no stage wins), so she’s not not on form.

17th Tour of Flanders 2020 - Ronde van Vlaanderen - Women ElitePhoto by Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images

Lizzie Deignan: Nobody questions the pure power of the track and road star, who has plenty of cobbled classics, including 2016 Flanders, on her resume. She’s getting older though, and not on any sort of scintillating form.

Elisa Longo Borghini: Another veteran rider who has won across several disciplines. She’s won many of the major classics, including Flanders, over her career, but more importantly she’s had an excellent year, including a win at the GP Plouay in August.

Ellen van Dijk: Your new world time trial champion, which is a good sign that she is ready to crank out the wattage. She’s consistently in the mix but doesn’t take as many classic wins as some of the other names here.

Lotte Kopecky: The double-Belgian champ (RR and TT) has been very good on the cobbles this year, winning Le Samyn, second at Gent-Wevelgem etc. She’s a bigger, powerful rider.

94th UCI Road World Championships 2021 - Women Elite ITTPhoto by Luc Claessen/Getty Images
Norsgaard

Emma Norsgaard: I’ve seen her mentioned a couple times, and she can definitely ride the cobbles — second at Le Samyn, the Omloop and Scheldeprijs this year. The question is whether the 22 year old is ready for the next step, which … maybe?

Lorena Wiebes: Like what I said about her fellow 22-year-old Norsgaard, except she won the Scheldeprijs. So she sprints better?

94th UCI Road World Championships 2021 - Women Elite Road RacePhoto by Tim de Waele/Getty Images
Balsamo

Elisa Balsamo: Your new World Champion…and another youngster with some good results in Belgium. There’s a case for her as a trackie who could hold a strong pace for a while.

Marlen Reusser: One of the biggest riders and coming off second in the worlds ITT. She has some experience in Belgium too. She’s definitely a dark horse for the win, and a favorite to bag a cobble eventually, if not right off the bat.

Annemiek van Vleuten: Are you betting against her? Be my guest.

Cycling: 116th Paris to Roubaix 2018Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Men

I have some odds shown just so you can see how the sharps are weighting their status.

Wout Van Aert (+350): If we make him the favorite to win every race, eventually we will be right, no? In the Forever War with van der Poel, Wout owns the lead in experience, two starts to zero.

Mathieu van der Poel (+550): Has anyone ever won this race on his first attempt? Yes, I think… so far I have Serse Coppi and Rik Van Steenbergen as the only two in the “post war era,” whatever that means. Did you know?! That Madiot is the only rider to ever win the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs (U23) and the senior edition? But van der Poel didn’t even ride that event.

CYCLING-BEL-FLANDERSPhoto by DAVID STOCKMAN/Belga/AFP via Getty Images

Kasper Asgreen (+1200): Flanders winner automatically gets considered here. He was pretty strong in the Worlds ITT of late too. Just ridden once on these roads.

Florian Sénéchal (+1200): Very much a favorite, and it makes sense to have him at the same odds as Asgreen, his teammate. Because one of them is going to fuck somebody’s shit up on Sunday, and I have no idea which one of them it’ll be. Sénéchal has been knocking on the door here in past years and is also on good form, so I’d probably pick him over Asgreen. Although when the Dane gets hot, there is no stopping him.

Mads Pedersen (+1400): Speaking of Danes, the still-young Flanders almost-winner should probably be lower in the odds, except we can never quit him for long. He has a Gent-Wevelgem and KBK title to his name, as well as a very strong teammate in…

117th Paris-Roubaix 2019Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Jasper Stuyven (+1400): … who is my pick of the Trekkers to have a real shot here. Run of form favors Stuyven, who was very frisky in the worlds RR last weekend, and has six finishes, with two top-fives, in this event. Am I wrong in thinking he’s especially good in the slop? Or am I just making unacceptable generalizations about Belgians?

Peter Sagan (+1400): Former winner. He’s the former-___ [fill in lots of things] these days.

Zdenek Stybar (+1800): Sigh, I thought I covered Quick Step already. He’s probably their very best bet to win, with two second places, a very good run of form, and the all-world handling skills that got him a few rainbows on the cross circuit.

Yves Lampaert (+2000): Fucking hell. I give up. Someone from Quick Step is going to win.

Nils Politt (+2000): Out to defend his second place from 2019, finally, and seemingly ramping up for this too.

117th Paris-Roubaix 2019Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Dylan van Baarle (+2500): Won Dwars. Is good at this stuff. No great history at this distance though, unless you count worlds. Last weekend. With Moscon, Kwiato and Rowe, this is a team you don’t want to underestimate. Count on them to have van Baarle in position and with some help when the race thins out.

John Degenkolb (+3300): Former winner with his own secteur now, albeit early on. Pretty cool though.

Michael Valgren (+3300): Hot form, but no history with the event.

Alexander Kristoff (+3300): He’s going OK, but it’s been a while since he was threatening to win here.

Sonny Colbrelli (+3300): Like Valgren, no evidence he’s well suited to this race, even though he’s well suited to a lot of races right now.

And so much for all of that. We do know that the race will get white hot right before it enters the Arenberg Trench, and possibly a bit before if someone gets cheeky and tries to take the initiative away from the Quick Steppers. We also know that the weather report is still calling for rain and wind gusts up to 20mph, so the wet and wild edition seems on the horizon now. Both will play a role as the teams fight to stay upright and to close gaps, which is hard enough under normal conditions and terrifying when you’re in muddy echelons. I’ve spoken already about wanting to be on the crown on some of these cobbles, but if the wind is hitting at an oblique angle, that means you are in it, or you have to fan out to the side, where the stones might cause more problems than your wind break can solve. It should be a fascinating chess match. Hopefully the inevitable crashes are not too harmful to anyone. We like a good slop-fest as long as nobody gets seriously hurt.

CYCLING-FRA-PARIS-ROUBAIXPhoto credit should read ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images

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The Long, Bumpy Wait Is Over

09/28/2021 12:03
117th Paris-Roubaix 2019
Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Want to know how long it has been since Paris-Roubaix was last contested? The defending winner is Philippe Gilbert. Of Deceuninck-Quick Step. No disrespect to Gilbert, who is a wonderfully accomplished rider and whose crowning achievement, his Ronde van Vlaanderen win, I was able to see in person. [Note: that was probably not his crowning achievement.] But when is the last time you woke up and thought “I bet Gilbert could do something big today”? Possibly 2019, which of course seems like forever ago.

Good things come to those who wait, I guess, and we have had to wait extra long for our (formerly) annual Journey to Hell. Riders and fans alike have suffered the anguish of seeing the 2020 race canceled outright and not rescheduled (even when Flanders was), and then postponed in 2021 (even when Flanders ran on time). We have dreamt of watching the next wave of powerful young riders try their luck on this truly unique course. Writers and pundits alike have waited anxiously to throw the word “Hell” around in just about every cheap cliche you can think of. It has been far too long. But no longer.

Paris-Roubaix will be run on Sunday, October 3, the first time it has ever been run outside of spring, and only rarely outside of April, having traditionally been the Easter race which occasionally pushed it into late March. The latest day the race had ever been run was April 25.

Right now I just want to get a quick post up about the race course. The riders themselves, we will get to in another post. Probably the most important development of all will be the running of the inaugural Women’s Paris-Roubaix, and we will talk about the riders for that too. This is a truly historic event in the sport of women’s cycling, a signal that ASO has finally been shamed into letting women try the hardest events on the calendar, at least the low-altitude ones. Probably no woman athlete or fan alive is even remotely surprised at how long it took and how small the steps were along the way, but it still seems like a time to rejoice, given how iconic an event Paris-Roubaix is considered to be, all around the world.

Let’s start with the men’ course, since the women’s course is carved from it, like one of its ribs.

CYCLISME-PARIS-ROUBAIXPhoto credit should read PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP via Getty Images

Men’s Parcours

I have only a few rather minimal notes to add about this year’s course. It contains one more secteur of cobblestones than the 2019 edition, but appears to nonetheless be about 800 meters shorter in cumulative cobbles length. All of the changes happen in the first half of the race, and among the first eight cobbles secteurs. From secteur #22 in Quérénaing to the final few bumps along Espace Charles Crupelandt, the race is identical to 2019 and substantially the same as it’s been for the last several years. You won’t notice the difference unless you are really into geeking out on obscure cobbled secteurs, in which case hello! Let’s be friends!

The biggest news is the subtraction of the 3km secteur of not inconsequential stones from Briastre to Viesly, named the Secteur Michael Goolaerts after the former Verandas Willems rider who suffered a fatal cardiac arrest while contesting the secteur in the 2018 race. The 2019 event saw the secteur named for him, but now it’s out of this year’s race. I haven’t seen any explanation for this, but it is not uncommon for ASO to reshuffle the deck a bit in the middle portion of the race, where the first cobbles happen, presumably out of some combination of necessity/availability/road condition and just wanting to let some other villages experience the race for a few moments. In this case, the race was rerouted to Haussy, the next village over from Briastre, to head to Saint-Martin, over a mere 800m of two-star cobbles.

The other subtraction is the Verchain-Malgré secteur, which had served as the meat in a cobbles sandwich of 6km worth of madness over a total distance of under 10k, approaching and passing Quérénaing. Instead, the race goes to Capelle, over the stones to Ruesnes, then from there to Artres where it resumes the cobbles en route to Quérénaing. Instead of three cobbled secteurs in 10km, you get four of roughly equivalent distance over a not much longer but slightly later (5km) bit of racing. And they are serious cobbles, whatever the numbers say. Here’s Capelle to Ruesnes:

 

Capelle to Ruesnes Cobbles Secteur

And Artres to Quérénaing:

 

Secteur Artres a Quérénaing

OK, that is a lot of writing about a portion of the course that will do little to determine the outcome (although the Capelle-Rusnes one is tight enough to cause some mayhem if people aren’t careful). The main events will be:

  • Haveluy-Wallers/Arenberg Trench 5km duo, and the lack of much rest time in the subsequent 25km (95-65km to go);
  • The brutal combination of Auchy-lez-Orchies à Bersée/Mons-en-Pévèle brutes, four- and five-star secteurs totaling 5.7km with less than 2k of smooth tarmac separating them (42km to go); and
  • The quartet of Cysoin-Burghelles/Burghelles-Wannehain/Camphin-en-Pévèle/Carrefour-de-l’Arbe, 6.3km of hard, hard cobbles over 11km of road, which would reduce any normal human to tears.
carrefour de l’arbe

 

Carrefour de l’Arbe cobbles

Women’s Course

The women’s event will hop in behind the men’s race, with about a 45 minute gap, in the shadow of the Arenberg mining equipment — or metaphorically anyway. It would be more precise to say that the race starts in Denain, 10km south of the entrance to the Trench, goes around in circles for a moment, to say hi to the fans, and then joins the men’s course on the smooth road known as the D440 as it begins meandering north towards pretty much all of the great pavé secteurs except for Arenberg.

 

Inaugural Paris-Roubaix Feminin Map

As far as I can tell, the route is exactly the same as the men’s course from secteur 17 to the velodrome. The total distance raced is 117km, a far cry from the 268km course the men run, and even a dropoff from the women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen which was just under 160k. But numbers aren’t everything; the 17 cobbles secteurs total 29km worth of racing across the pavé; they include three five-star misery-fests, missing only Arenberg from the men’s slate; and they catch three of the four-star ones as well, missing only two early ones from the full course. This is the business end of things. It should be a phenomenal race.

Cycling: 115th Paris - Roubaix 2017Photo by LC/Tim De Waele/Corbis via Getty Images

Cobbles In Focus: Hornaing to Wandignies

Many of the secteurs of Paris-Roubaix are international media superstars, full of colorful stories of future racers mining underneath them and what have you. But for our focus on a secteur we turn to clearly the star of the show… the Hornaing à Wandignies stretch that will make history as the first secteur of P-R pavé in women’s cycling history.

This is no patronizing set of stones being placed in front of the women’s peloton as a soft warm-up event. No, this is in fact the longest secteur of cobbles in either the men’s or women’s race, at 3.7km. It carries a four-star rating, largely for the distance but the other characteristics of the course contribute as well. It is narrow, has some crowning in places (which, if you hadn’t heard, makes it difficult to hold your line, on top of the fact that you were already having trouble bouncing all over the place), and the stones are moderately rough and unfriendly. Google Images don’t quite do it justice, but they will do for now:

 

Hornaing-Wandignies Secteur

The road is also pretty narrow, so if you can’t hold your line, you could be in for some unwanted adventure along the grass. Presumably, even this early in the race, the peloton will stretch out to allow people some space and/or sanity as they traverse this. Obviously the teams will have practiced it several times, so it won’t be a shock. But if your team is smaller or you aren’t feeling super aggressive, you’ll make it just fine across the stones racing from the back. But when the front of the race hits the tarmac and accelerates, the rubber band will start stretching pretty thin at the back, right off the bat. Not a comfortable way to start your first trip through Hell.

You can pick out this secteur from the stark, oversized concrete water tower that looms over the road, shown above. The only colorful story associated with the secteur of which I am aware is the fact that it has been dubbed the Secteur Pavé John Degenkolb, in honor of the fact that Degenkolb, the winner of the 2015 race, donated money to save the Juniors Paris-Roubaix event from cancellation in 2019. Chapeau Degs!

Cycling: 116th Paris - Roubaix 2018Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Conditions

My final thoughts on the route are whether we will notice any change in conditions from some recent races. I can’t really detect any meaningful difference in conditions generally from the fact that this is October instead of April. In my neck of the woods, stuff like moss and grass tucked into stones like these get dried out in summer and disappear until spring, but France isn’t Seattle. The few pictures I’ve seen show some bits of grass in the cobbles, as ever. So I guess it really comes down to the weather on race day.

Oh. Oh my. In the moisture graph, the one with the grey and blue shading, the blue field is chance of rain, and it hits a high of 81% during the race. More importantly, though, that’s day 3 of a constant high threat of rain, which means some accumulation is virtually certain. The bottom graph is wind speed, and on race day it will be 16-18kph pretty much all day. I’m not sure it’ll be completely wet and wild, but it could be, and some wetness and wind are a sure thing. That could also mean wet leaves in the few secteurs that traverse forested areas. One in particular comes to mind. It’ll be interesting to see if the race marshals can get out and clean off the stones beforehand, but if the wind keeps blowing, there won’t be too much anyone can do about it. Stay upright, everyone!


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Your Binary Choice World Championships Men’s Road Race Preview

09/22/2021 0:02
93rd UCI Road World Championships 2020 - Men Elite Road Race
Photo by Alex Whitehead – Pool/Getty Images

Will he or won’t he? That’s really the question

The leaves are coming down, the mushrooms are coming up (ask me about my foraging!) and the World Championships have come to town. Well, somewhere, and in this case in what some people call Flanders, if you use the binary “I don’t hear them speaking French, do I?” definition, rather than Brabant or what have you. In any event, it’s the general area where you fly into Zaventem, get on your bike, thrown down a waffle, pedal over some punchy cobbled climbs, and stop for a delicious, delicious beer. Yep, that part of the planet. It’s coming home.

Wait, what does that phrase mean? Because it might be particularly apt in this case. The races started already with the time trials all several days or even a full week before the road race events, under the new format, and we re-crowned Filippo Ganna the King of the ITT again. But breathing down his neck was one Wout Van Aert, Belgian Cycling Action Figure, one half of just about every sentence used to describe the classics these ways, along with his Dutch foil/tormentor who we will get to later. Van Aert is a heavy favorite, even by Worlds standards, to pull on the rainbow stripes next Sunday, and for good reason. So yes, the sport of road cycling is coming to one of its most prominent spiritual homes, particularly with regard to this type of a race. And the rainbow stripes may be coming with it. Let’s delve into the details.

The Course

First off, the parcours for the Men’s road race starts in Antwerp to get the legs warmed up, heads down to Overijse and Leuven for two separate circuits taken several times each, with hills packed in closely enough to keep the suspense high. Let’s take a closer look. Map time:

World Championships Map

This is a terrible, terrible graphic, whose problems are only exacerbated by my making them into a screenshot. However, coming to our rescue is the indispensable web resource Cycling In Flanders (dot.cc), which has a spreadsheet of the climbs included in the finishing circuit. They are as follows (with links to CIF which has lovely photos and details), and divided into two clusters.

The Flandrien Circuit — these are the hardest climbs and happen once at around 80km and a second time at around 200km in. They occur near Overijse, in Brabantse Pilj country, and proceed as follows:

  • Smeysberg, 600 meters averaging 8% but topping out at 17%. This one counts double since it both opens and closes the Flandrien loop, while the rest are traversed once per circuit. It looks paved and fairly wide;
  • Moskesstraat, 500 meters about 8-9%, average and hitting its steepest bits toward the end. Oh, and COBBLED! Also winding and narrow. I so want to ride this. The name might be a reference to a mosque?
  • The S-Bend, which is a curving S figure through Overijse that then connects to the arrow-straight Taymansstraat, and goes on for a total of 1km at 4.8%, a grinding bit of pavement in downtown Overijse, which means it will be jammed with fans, or at least some slightly socially distanced facsimile thereof;
  • Bekestraat, COBBLED!!, and all of 430m at 7% on average, kicking up to 15%. It’s another narrow, lovely bit of winding road;
  • Veeweidestraat, the road of cow pastures, and who doesn’t love that? It’s 660 meters at 4.7% average, smooth, steady and wide compared to your average Flemish climb.

The Leuven Circuit — Get to know these climbs well. They happen once (plus) before the first Flandrien Circuit, then four times before the second Flandrien Circuit, then two (plus) more times to close out the race.

  • Keizersberg, the hill of the Keizer, 400 meters averaging 6.5% and winding past the Abbey’s imposing stone walls;
  • Decouxlaan, a 3% rise for 1.1km, which wouldn’t bother anyone if it weren’t a full km long;
  • De Wijnpers, whose name translates to wine press. This one is a mere 3km but averages 9% through the center of Leuven, and starts with a 90-degree turn to slow things further. The *plus designation hinted at above is because De Wijnpers gets an extra lap to start the climbing phase;
  • The Sint-Antoniusberg, for which I can’t find any details, except here is a photo of it, apparently:
CYCLING LEUVEN GP JEF SCHERENS RACEPhoto by DAVID STOCKMAN/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images
Sint-Antoniusberg, Leuven

The Sint-Antoniusberg happens on each of the seven full Leuven laps, plus one extra time (with De Wijnpers) before lap 1 and another extra time to finish the race. It’s a bit of a curious omission from the list, since if you squint hard enough to read the road map, you will see that this is the final climb on the squiggly red circuit before hitting the finish line. It features three turns of perhaps more than 90 degrees, which won’t be a huge issue if the slope spreads out the riders and keeps the speeds manageable, which I think it does. Anyway, it’s a dash down the back side to the Leuven Ring Road before a world champion is crowned. The same approach to the line appears in all of the races, so we will see just how large a role the Climb of St. Anthony plays in these races before the big event Sunday.

However you want to phrase it, this is a suitably hard course for a Worlds road race, clocking in at 268km with 2,562 cumulative meters of climbing. That some of them are on cobbles adds to the suffering, as do the many little twists and turns on the course where the race slows down and speeds up again, over and over. Weather can make matters worse, as it often does in early April, although it looks like Belgium is in for a damp but mild day Sunday. Whatever, if anyone has the legs to attack, they will have a steady stream of invitations to do so.

11th Primus Classic 2021Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images

The Favorites

As to who will win, here is where the choice appears to be somewhat binary: Wout or … someone else? Below is a list of betting odds, which may not be everything but to my eye they are far from insane:

World Championships Men’s Odds

I gather the numbers all refer to x:1, so Wout is no more than a 2.65: 1 favorite to take the win. Of course, 2:1 translates to a 50% chance to win, and 2.6:1 is more like a 38% chance, which means if the race is run eight times, Wout wins three of them, and the other 200-plus riders win the other five. I guess then you could say that Wout is not favored to win; some other unnamed person chosen from the entire rest of humanity is. But if you have to name one name, his is certainly it.

Do we trust odds on a Belgian rider winning in Belgium, or anywhere else? I’d love to know just how much these numbers are driven by Belgian fans literally knocking infirm and/or elderly people out of the way in a mad rush to get a bet down on their man (hopefully not too much). But cycling betting is maybe not as sensitive as some other major sports, so maybe this is just a few oddsmaking individuals watching Sunday’s time trial and knowing enough about the guy to jot down what seems like an eminently reasonable number to hopefully not lose the house’s shirt on again.

Anyway, my point isn’t to promote gambling; it is merely to demonstrate just what a strong favorite Van Aert is coming into Sunday. He’s obviously on fine form, having just taken a silver medal against the watch. The course practically cries out to his skillset, climbing punchy hills and gearing up for any sprint that might take place — or in more classics-sense, simply being in possession of enough of a sprint to make everyone else start calculating when they should make their attack. Finally, Wout is from just up the road in Herentals, has probably ridden through Leuven on training rides close to 100,000 times, and anyway Belgium is about the size of Vermont so he could be from the farthest reaches of the country and still be from just up the road. All of Belgium will be tuning in to cheer him on. Literally.

To what extent are we able to pick winners of the Worlds’ men’s road race ahead of time? A quick run through the last five editions shows that pre-race previews had named the eventual winner in four of them, only missing on Mads Pedersen’s surprising 2019 win in Yorkshire. Personally I find a lot of “name that favorite” articles rather simplistic, rattling off names of sprinters for the sprinters’ courses. To me, a hot run of form probably says more about who will win.

Wout checks that box, but so do a few others. Michael Valgren, currently listed as having odds ranging from 13- to 26-to-1 to win, just took a pair of hard races in Italy last week, the Coppa Sabatini and the Giro della Toscana. Sonny Colbrelli and Matej Mohoric spent last week dueling over the Flemish cobbles and climbs at the BeNeLux Tour, with the Italian taking a narrow win but the Slovene grabbing the most notable stage victory in Geraardsbergen (although Colbrelli’s win in stage 6 is not a terrible indicator of potential success this weekend). Valgren, meanwhile, gave credit to his teammate Neilson Powless for his wins, which is cool for me because this weekend they won’t be teammates, and Powless, riding for my home country, was recently seen beating Mohoric for the Clasica San Sebastian title. Oh, and this past weekend you may have noticed Florian Senechal taking a win on Flemish soil in the Primus Classic, over Tosh Van Der Sande and, more notably, Jasper Stuyven, who was actually selected to ride the Worlds race. Finally, on the subject of France, Benoit Cosnefroy’s win in the grueling Ouest-France Bretagne classic was nothing to sneeze at, considering it was just three weeks ago and he dragged Julian Alaphilippe to the line before taking the win. That’s some on form shit right there.

As to the others on the official bettors’ favorites list, they come in as names that you just know people want to bet on, more than guys who might actually win you some money. Never say never when it comes to Mathieu van der Poel, but he’s had a bad back for a while, especially since his crash in the Olympics MTB race, and all he’s done since is… er, win the Ports Classic in Antwerp, and take a few other casual spins around the area. Ala, Evenepoel, Asgreen, even Mads Pedersen all just seem like guys you want on your favorites list, if you treat that list like card collecting. Which is like 95% of what we do for the Worlds race.

94th UCI Road World Championships 2021 - Men Elite ITTPhoto by Kristof Ramon – Pool/Getty Images

My Pick to Win

Wout gets it. Let’s not overthink things. He’s a better sprinter than anyone else who can hold his wheel, and he’ll probably have a teammate around when things get nuts and breaks need chasing. About the only alternative is where Wout gets Lefevre’d by, oh, Evenepoel, who “helpfully” goes on attack to “relieve the pressure from his captain” and is never seen again. But I think the French, Danes, Dutch and Italians should be strong enough to minimize these chances. Oh, Evenepoel is attacking? Cool cool, here’s Magnus Cort Nielsen to “help the break stay away.” Anyway, if the race looks nutty enough, Wout can just form the attack for himself on one of the longer climbs, narrow it down to a group where nobody (including himself) has any teammates to watch out for, and he just seals the deal by himself. That’s my #1 scenario, and it probably won’t happen, but everything else is a longer shot, so I’ll just do what UNIBET tells me to do. Minus the actual money part.

Who ya got?


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PARIS-ROUBAIX SCHEDULING EMERGENCY: 2022 CALENDAR IN FLUX!

09/18/2021 0:02
CYCLING PARIS ROUBAIX 2019
Photo credit should read DIRK WAEM/AFP via Getty Images

Some stupid rule about a stupid national election causing a shift

Just when you think you can’t handle any more Earth-shattering news that shakes humanity to its core, now comes news that the 2022 edition of Paris-Roubaix is in flux because it would otherwise be scheduled to occur on a day when France is going to the polls to vote for president. The details:

  • The 2022 Ronde van Vlaanderen, following its normal scheduling protocol by nabbing the first Sunday in April, will happen on Sunday, April 3. So far, so good.
  • That would put the Hell of the North on course for April 10, but as I said, that’s the day of the presidential election, and I guess there is a rule that you can’t have an event like this on election day.
  • The organizers are supposedly looking to April 15, the following Friday, the 16th (Saturday, duh), or Monday the 18th as fallback options. Sunday the 17th is both Easter and Amstel Gold Race Day, which makes it off limits but then brings Monday around as a reasonable choice, being a national holiday in Belgium, where most of the fans come from.
  • The women’s race will happen either the same day as the men, or the two could be split to happen Saturday (Ladies) and Monday (Men).

I have a few questions. The most obvious one is, why can’t they just run it on the 9th? Is this because the fucking Scheldeprijs happens in between the two monuments? Are we supposed to pretend that anybody cares about the Scheldeprijs besides a few sprinters and leadout trains, all of whom can just suck it up and get back on the bike Saturday because they aren’t winning Paris-Roubaix under any format short of eliminating all the cobbled secteurs? Reporting so far isn’t great — Sporza doesn’t go into French election law and L’Equipe’s cover story is about cyclists stopping during a race to urinate — so I am left to guess that the election maybe runs all weekend or at least has some logistical aspect that won’t jibe with the Queen of the Classics. OK, then how about Friday the 8th? Why am I not in charge of this shit?

FRANCE-CHASSE-ENVIRONNEMENTPhoto by DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images
Department du Nord, on any day other than Paris-Roubaix day

My other question is why this is such a conflict. As we know, the start area is a big draw for a few hundred people, and there are pockets of fans along the way in the race’s early phase, but no more than what you would draw out with a truffle hunt or cheese tasting or whatever people do on the weekends in the Department du Nord-Pas de Calais. Then the race gets super interesting, which is when the roads are lined with drunken foreigners, none of whom have any stake in voting for anything more consequential than “best use of hops” at a beer tasting event. Finally, the race arrives in Roubaix, where it is overseen by the local dignitaries, descendants of the people who established the race largely to remind people that Roubaix and the surrounding area were still part of France. If that is the case, do they need or want to even vote? Maybe that’s all the more reason to vote. Whatever, the race starts at 8am and takes for bloody ever to reach Roubaix, more than enough time for people to pop by the ballot boxes — probably located next door at the high school — and do their civic duty.

Cycling: 103th Tour de France 2016 / Stage 7Photo by KT/Tim De Waele/Corbis via Getty Images
Accomplished French Shouter Marc Madiot

Maybe the idea is that the race will influence the outcome of the election, if, say, one of the Madiot brothers were running for President or Secretary of Transportation or Minister of Shouting Into Race Radios. [France has a large and efficient public employment secteur.] Another possibility is that, sure, everyone going to the race is either Belgian or drunk or both, so who cares? But then you have a lot of French security personnel occupied by the election, and the long-threatened Belgian Invasion would be quite an unnerving event on such a day. I’m not saying the Belgians are invading, because they have better things to do, and half of the Nord Department speaks Flemish already. I’m just saying, this could be the reason for France’s decision to shut down the race. Overthinking things. Probably the fault of the DGSE and paranoid Directeur JJA (Henri Duflot would never have freaked out like this).

104th Tour of Flanders 2020 - Ronde van Vlaanderen - Men ElitePhoto by Luc Claessen/Getty Images
Jesus, not these two again?

Anyway, this gets a bit weird for the riders. The cobbles are their own subdivision within the sport, and the excruciating, punchy efforts required over seven hours of racing is a specialty like none other. If the riders are forced to wait another week for the season to wrap up, it may force some of them to think harder about how they time their form. Right now, it’s becoming increasingly common for the Wouts and Mathieus and Kaspers and so on to show up at Strade Bianche looking feisty and strong, something they can carry over into Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico a week later and Milano-Sanremo the week after that. Such a buildup can work for Flanders, definitely, and we often start identifying Flanders favorites from these results. But can the Paris-Roubaix dudes hold that form all the way to mid-April? Some, sure, but they may have to hold back a bit early on. If you think you can win Strade Bianche, you probably aren’t a P-R threat. Well, except for Fabian Cancellara. And Mathieu van der Poel and Wout… OK, back to my original point: there may be some harder choices made when it comes to spring priorities as a result of this change.

Stay tuned.


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Retirement Roundup: Celebrating Martin, Aru and Others On Their Way Out

09/16/2021 0:03
106th Tour de France 2019 - Stage 12
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Some greats are departing this year

With the season winding down, it’s probably a good time to say our goodbyes to some old favorite riders, and to acknowledge the closing chapters of some other riders we at least though of and maybe cheered on from time to time. This year’s list of gents tempo-tapping off into the sunset includes four riders of special note, who I want to ruminate on for a bit: Daniel Martin, Fabio Aru, Tejay van Garderen, and André Greipel.

The first three are an interesting study in contrasts as to why one retires, while the Gorilla is in a category by himself, in so many respects.

CYCLING-BEL-LIEGE-BASTOGNEPhoto credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images

Daniel Martin

It is a bit hard to believe that the Irish climber is only 35, given that he has been in the peloton, and near the front of it, since the early days of Team Slipstream, his first pro club. Martin came to the continent in 2004 to race for the French club VC La Pomme Marseille, which has earned a nice place in the sport since its founding in 1974 and has a particular connection to Irish cycling, having trained Nicholas Roche, Mark Scanlon, Philip Deginan and Sam Bennett in its long tenure. That Martin should find himself there, and in the sport, was no shock, being the son of former British pro Neil Martin, and of Maria…née Roche, Stephen’s sister. So basically he went over to France to race with Cousin Nic. Martin won a British Junior Championship, then became Irish National Champion at age 22, shortly after turning pro with the Vaughters outfit. A year later, he was second overall at Catalunya, and by 2010 he was the winner of a World Tour stage race, the Tour de Pologne. From there, we all began counting the days until he won a grand tour.

We are still counting, although he isn’t, so maybe it’s time we stopped. Anyway, Martin’s career from there will be remembered for what he could do, which is win one-week stage races and climbers’ classics with the top riders in the world. He might also be remembered for not finding a way to translate that into grand tour success — he never came closer to winning than fourth at the Vuelta (just last year) and sixth place was his best Tour de France finish (2017). But he also checks out as a member of the elite club of now 101 riders to win stages of all three grand tours, having taken two Tour stages — at Bagneres-de-Bigorre and fittingly the Mur de Bretagne — plus three notable mountain stages of the Vuelta and Giro.

Cycling: 105th Tour de France 2018 / Stage 6Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images
Martin on the Mur

What he lacked in consistency over three weeks Martin more than accounted for in his consistency over shorter time periods. In the one-week stage races, he won Catalunya, possibly the most prestigious of them all, and took three other podium spots at what was clearly his favorite event, rarely finishing outside the top 10. He bagged third at Paris-Nice, second at the Pais Vasco, and two more thirds at the Dauphine. And of course Martin rose to his greatest heights in the classics, winning the two climbers’ Monuments, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro di Lombardia as well as notching second in each event. And of course he notoriously lost a chance to win LBL on consecutive tries when his wheel slipped out in the final turn in 2014. He took a few podiums at La Fleche Wallonne, and could have won there easily except for the fact that he did not have the sprint of Alejandro Valverde, to whom he lost three times. He did appear to have an ethical code, though, so you wouldn’t be entirely wrong to add some moral victories to Martin’s palmares.

CYCLING-ESP-TOURPhoto credit should read JAIME REINA/AFP via Getty Images

Fabio Aru

Known back home as Il Cavaliere dei quattro Mori, the Knight of the Four Moors, Aru’s somewhat quixotic career ended after a nice run at the Vuelta this past month. Sardinia’s first grand tour champion (and thus the four Moors reference), Aru goes home with a nice run of success that definitely ended all too early, as he retires at the age of 31.

He also ends his career as the greatest Sardinian cyclist since Alberto Loddo, winner of the Tour of Qatar, so maybe it’s much safer to simply say Aru is the greatest Sardinian cyclist ever. I can’t say for sure what impact that will have on his home region, although a few internet searches show that the English speaking world is full of riders salivating to take their bikes there on holiday. Now, of course, the distance from the remote Italian provinces to the Italian cycling talent machines of the north are much shorter, and the next potential winner from the Island will not go casually overlooked. Aru himself might have some ideas about helping local talent, given that he cited the need to stay home more as a reason for stepping away, along with just generally sounding tired and having accepted the limits of his career.

This all sounds a bit dismal, and for the last few seasons as he has battled iliac artery blockages and intolerances to both gluten and dairy, all limiting factors for a cyclist, which probably help explain how his career seemed to fade away starting in 2018. But the arc of his career is pretty special, one many cyclists would happily trade theirs for. He started out both on the road and the MTB circuit as a junior, racing for a Sardinian team, before moving to Bergamo with the Palazzago squad, with whom he was able to race against the top competition in Italy. His first major win was a stage on Monte Grappa, and in two seasons with Palazzago he won four mountain stage races, including the prestigious Valle d’Aosta event, a proving ground for future climbers. He took second in the Baby Giro, behind Joe Dombrowski, and nearly won stages at Monte Terminillo and Passo Gavia. Astana scooped him up to support Vincenzo Nibali in the Giro d’Italia, where Nibali won and his protege took fifth in a stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo, battling a snowstorm. By the following year, after Michele Scarponi withdrew as captain, Aru was a team leader, stage winner and podium finisher at the Giro.

Tour of Spain: Last stage of La VueltaPhoto by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

From here, his career was consumed by the grand tours, which might not have been the best thing to ever happen to him. Perhaps he could have found more success and happiness in the one week races, like Martin, or in a few more of the classics. But nobody was paying him grand tour money unless he could contest grand tours, and he sealed his own fate in 2015 by taking second in the Giro and winning the Vuelta, placing him sixth in the world rankings. That got him ticketed as a Tour contender, and with Nibali downshifting to Giro/Vuelta status, Aru became Astana’s leader at the world’s biggest race. He did OK, all things considered, for a guy who was really just a climber and nothing special against the watch, moving up to fifth place in 2017 with a stage victory at La Planche des Belles Filles and a short stint in yellow before Chris Froome greedily reclaimed his crown.

But for these plans, Aru probably could have won a Giro along the way, except that he never returned to the race after his second place in 2015, where he held the maglia rosa for a day and hung with eventual winner Alberto Contador to the end. Most painfully, his Tour selection meant he couldn’t start the 2017 Giro in Sardinia. In hindsight, it was probably for the best, but I am sure he has some regrets. Aru is in select company, joining Martin on the list of 101 riders to win stages at all three grand tours, and joining a more select 20 or so riders (it was 20 in 2017) who have worn the leader’s jersey in all three events. He was a national champion in that memorable 2017 season, and was an Olympian in 2016, taking sixth in the Rio road race after his captain and countryman Nibali crashed out.

CYCLING-ESP-VUELTAPhoto by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images
The Vuelta celebrates Aru on his last professional day

Compared to Martin, it’s safe to say that expectations make our assessment of his career seem less than what the Irishman accomplished, when in fact he was just a different rider, or at least he was sent to do different rides. Left to his own devices, perhaps he could have done more in the classics or shorter stage races where Martin garnered his greatest successes. But a grand tour win probably trumps all of that, along with his Giro and Tour exploits, so Aru should feel mostly OK with the cards he was dealt.

USA Pro Challenge - Stage 7Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Tejay van Garderen

One of America’s most decorated stage racers, probably its best since Lance slunk away (although Chris Horner and his odd Vuelta win say hi). In any event, van Garderen got people excited as an American coming up through the Rabobank system, which seemed like a good idea at the time, and if nothing else exposed van Garderen to the wider world of cycling as compared to the U.S. development options. We Yanks tend to get excited about the next big stage racing talent, and TVG made matters worse when he took third at the Dauphine during his first professional season. He was anointed the Next Big Thing.

And the truth is, he WAS pretty big. Just not as big as some of the others. Remaining consistent over three weeks is fundamentally harder than doing so for one (if you were to name one single reason why cheating exists…), and while van Garderen was strong enough against the watch to make him a legitimate stage race contender, he generally couldn’t repeat the performances often enough to take down guys like Contador, Froome and the other big stars.

CYCLING-FRA-TDF2013Photo credit should read PASCAL GUYOT/AFP via Getty Images
Tejay’s Alpe Adventure

Van Garderen won a lot on home soil, taking overall wins at the Amgen Tour of California and two editions of the USAPCC in Colorado, plus several stages along the way. He really was of that caliber, even if he wasn’t of the next level up. He did win a Giro d’Italia stage, plus the white jersey at the 2012 Tour (and fifth overall), followed by a double-Alpe d’Huez stage in 2013 where he nearly took an iconic, career-defining solo win before Christophe Riblon caught him in the final 2km. He really could climb on his good days. He rose back up to fifth at the 2014 Tour, and seemed on track for a podium in 2015 when he took second at the Dauphine just 10 seconds behind Froome, only to see his Tour undone by illness.

In the end, he never won a major stage race in Europe, but took three podiums at the Dauphine, another at Catalunya, and high finishes in all of the biggest one-week events (Paris-Nice, Pais Vasco, Romandie, Suisse Tour). His final race was arguably the USA national time trial championships, where he finished third. He would also contest the road race a couple days later but didn’t finish. He reached a world ranking of 20 in 2014, a rank any cyclist short of the superstars would be proud of. Well done Tejay.

So, to tally it up, we are saying farewell to three stage racers who are defined in part by one-week successes, and in part by their varying results in grand tours. One, Martin, veered away from that ambition and made a massive name for himself in the classics, while another, Aru, broke through in the three week format, and maybe could have done so again, while van Garderen reached neither height but took enough from his stage racing exploits to feel good. This is what life as a grand tour hopeful looks like: mostly defeating, but to even be a grand tour hopeful suggests that you can make a name in plenty of other places, as all three did.

CYCLING-FRA-TDF2012—LINEPhoto credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images

André Greipel

Switching gears, we have to spend a bit of time talking about the Gorilla, who hangs his bike up this year too. Greipel isn’t done yet, having just completed the Tour of Britain, and at a minimum he is on the startlist for October’s rescheduled running of Paris-Roubaix. So we can hold on to our hankies for now. Arguably, though, his retirement is the biggest one of the year. Greipel has been a sprinter who then crossed over into classics success. He’s been a helper and a constant presence in the sport. He’s been a pro for 17 seasons. He might be the greatest rapper in World Tour history. [And maybe the worst too.] His numbers:

  • 158 wins as a pro
  • 11 Tour de France stage wins, including four in 2015, when he finished second in points to Peter Sagan
  • Seven Giro sprint wins and four more at the 2009 Vuelta, his breakout race as a sprinter and his only points competition win
  • 19 points competition victories in one-week stage races

Prior to the 2009 Vuelta Greipel was seen as more of an understudy to Mark Cavendish at T-Mobile, but with his 2010 move to Lotto he got to ride for himself, even nipping Cav in a Tour stage for his first such win. From there, being on a Belgian team, he started to appear at races like Gent-Wevelgem (fourth in 2011), Flanders (15th in 2015) and Paris-Roubaix (7th in 2017). He won on home soil at the Vattenfalls Classic, plus three other podiums, and took third in Eschborn. Such performances allowed him to escape being pigeonholed as a temperamental bunch finisher and won him hardman recognition. Always a good thing in cycling, especially if you’re going to pull off a nickname like “gorilla”. Last, it’s hard to know these people, but Greipel seems universally liked in the peloton. He might be the one guy on this list who is missed the most.

*****

Finally, those may be the biggest names, but numerous others are stepping away after this season, or have already. Here are some of the more notable ones.

German Philipp Walsleben (C) jumps overPhoto credit should read THOMAS LOHNES/DDP/AFP via Getty Images

Philip Walsleben — A cross sensation who didn’t do a ton on the road, but no matter. At one point the Potsdammer held a full house of (U-23) titles: German, European, World and UCI World Cup. At the senior level he couldn’t quite get past the stars of the sport, topping out in second place in the World Cup standings, but he was one of the top non-Belgians at least.

Marcel Sieberg — Long time teammate of his countryman Greipel, Sieberg was a classics/sprinter type who topped out at seventh (like Greipel!) in Paris-Roubaix and won a Ronde van Drenthe in 2005. He also performed for many years as a veteran domestique of some note.

Kevin Reza — One of the few Black riders in the peloton, the French sprinter and track star notched some nice results at the pro level (4th in Classic Sud Ardeche, 3rd in Paris-Camembert) plus a win as an espoir in Les Boucles de la Loire. His final Tour de France participation saw him ride at the front on the stage into his hometown of Paris, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Cycling : 64th Criterium du Dauphine 2012 / Stage 5Photo by Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images
Kevin Reza

Jonas Van Genechten — Belgian classics guy, once took third at Paris-Tours and won a stage of the Vuelta in 2016. Probably better known as a classics domestique.

Sean De Bie — Another classics/cross rider, De Bie notched five wins, including the GP Impanis. He comes from a long line of pros including his dad and several cousins. He just missed out on one last win at the Tour du Finistere, where Benoît Cosnefroy took him on the line.

Stage winner, Polka dot jersey of best cPhoto credit should read PASCAL PAVANI/AFP via Getty Images
Vanendert, a/k/a manindots

Jelle Vanendert — One of many Belgian Climbing Sensations, Mr. Van in Dirt took a Tour stage win at Plateau de Beille and held the KOM jersey for a bit. He was twice second at Amstel Gold and third on one occasion at La Fleche Wallonne. GP Waregem, Vlaamse Pijl and a stage of the Belgium Tour are his other palmares.

Mitchell Docker — Aussie classics rider and notable lead-out guy. His stage win at the Route du Sud is his biggest pro palmare, unless you count being part of a TTT squad that won a Giro stage.

Mickael Delage — A French national champion on the track, Delage won a couple combativity prizes at the Tour and took third in San Sebastian.

Cycling - Paris - RoubaixPhoto by Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images
Wynants on duty

Maarten Wynants — wow, Wynants hung on through his age 39 season as a classics rider and beloved teammate at Quick Step, Lotto, Rabobank and Jumbo Visma. His only win was U23 national champion, but he shepherded Tom Boonen to some magical moments back in the day. Wynants stopped after De Ronde this year, not being willing to extend his career another five-plus months just for Paris-Roubaix, where he had four top-20 results including tenth in 2012.

Brent Bookwalter — A fine teammate and time triallist, and thus a good guy to have around for your TTT squad. The New Mexican was mostly known for helping out some very strong BMC squads.

Koen De Kort — His career didn’t pan out quite the way he wished, joining Liberty Seguros and then Astana at a time when these teams were getting shelved or nuked for doping cases. But the U23 Paris-Roubaix winner notched some decent results at the middling classics and took 12th overall at the ENECO Tour once.

Marco Marcato — Wow! He was still riding? Somehow a bunch of us, possibly relying on poorly sourced information (my blog posts), convinced ourselves that he was a cobbles ace, and in fact he did score top ten finishes at E3, Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars. For a bit he was paired up with Bjorn Leukemans and Stijn Devolder in an effort to muscle their Vacansoleil team into the inner circle, which didn’t quite happen. The Italian from San Dona di Piave, which sort of sounds like pavé, did prove his classics chops with a win in Paris-Tours in 2012. He never got close to a monument win, unless you want to count him crashing on the descent of the Poggio at the 2011 Milano-Sanremo, from a group that saw Matt Goss take the win. Coulda shoulda? Whatever. He also got linked to Dr. Ferrari, so I’m OK with Marcato just being a guy we kinda remember and not something more.

Cycling : 4Th Tour Of Oman 2013 / Stage 2Photo by Tim De Waele/Getty Images

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On the scene at the Vuelta, week one

08/25/2021 0:03

I’m back at my first grand tour since the 2019 Vuelta, and I forgot how exhausting it is! It’s also a lot of fun, though.

The Vuelta commenced with a 7.1k time trial departing from the front door of the 800-year-old Burgos Cathedral.

Koen Bouwman and Maxim van Gils on a turn about 500 meters from the start:

Alex Aranburu, who finished second on the stage, in the finishing straight:

Tom Scully, fourth on the stage:

Egan Bernal:

Stage winner Primoz Roglic:

Rein Taaramae won stage three on the first uphill finish, at Picón Blanco.

Enric Mas dug deep to gain three seconds on Roglic and other GC contenders.

On stage six, Magnus Cort managed to just hold off Primoz Roglic for the stage victory at Alto de la Montaña de Cullera.

Aleksandr Vlasov, fourth on the stage:

In the finish area, I was photographing Hugh Carthy when a descending rider passed just in front of me, leading to this fun shot:

For stage seven to Balcón de Alicante, a lovely, wooded climb, I hung out around 700 meters before the finish line.

Stage winner Michael Storer:

Carlos Verona, second on the stage:

The Roglic group came by around three minutes later.

Sunlight glinted off the gold helmet of Olympic champion Richard Carapaz as he and Landa, Ciccone, and Aru came by.

Luis Angel Mate:

Clement Champoussin:

Stage nine finished in Spaghetti Western territory, at Alto de Velefique. I stopped at a spot with good viewpoints about 6k from the finish. Here’s stage winner Damiano Carusu in four different places on the road, starting just after the 8k banner:

The GC favorites group was all together between the 7k and 6k banners, but when they passed me with a little under 6k to go, Lopez, Roglic, and Mas had broken away from the others.

Roman Bardet:

A couple of shots of later arrivals from different vantage points:

Fabio Jakobsen, in the green points jersey, had five teammates around him, finishing safely within the time limit.


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