Monday, November 19, 2012

Classics talents and the grand tours

To lovers of the classics, one of the most frustrating aspect of being a fan is that we have to watch promising classics talents waste their potential by foregoing the classics in pursuit of General Classification (GC) glory in the grand tours. Countless riders have fallen into this pitfall, sacrificing their huge classics potential yet not quite succeeding in the grand tours.

With specialization become both more prevalent and deeper in recent years, we consider some active riders of today.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Patrick Lefevere and the Yellow Jersey: Unconsummated Lust

As the boss of OmegaPharma-QuickStep, and with his history in MG-GB, Mapei, and Domo-Farm Frites, it can be argued that Patrick Lefevere is one of the most successful among modern cycling managers. His riders have won every classic at least once, and their domination of the spring classics is so complete that longtime fans rue that too much time has past since his team's last 1-2-3 win in Paris-Roubaix. Add to this multiple World Cup wins, World Championships, and stage wins / jersey wins in the grand tours.

Patrick Lefevere, from Wikipedia Commons.

One glaring omission is that Patrick Lefevere has never won the general classification (GC) of the Tour de France (TdF). In this article we recall his various attempts to buy, grow, cajole GC champions for the TdF.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Champions in a Brawl

As the off-season of road cycling is suddenly upon us, our Classiciens ponder: How would cycling champions fare in a no-holds-barred brawl in a bar in Belgium? We celebrate the heroics of our hardmen on the bike, but who would they do in real-life situations that we Classiciens may have found ourselves in, once or twice?

Since much of this philosophical discourse is, well, philosophical and full of conjecture, we mix heroes of the old times, the not-so-old times, and of recent times. We start with a hypothetical bar, let's say at the foot of the Kappelmuur in Geraardsbergen, in the dead middle of February when snow and frost are still on the ground, and add a hypothetical cast of Henri Pelissier, Briek Schotte, Bartali and Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Freddy Maertens, Bernard Hinault, and of course Greg LeMond.

Bernard Hinault - aka The Badger - demonstrating the usefulness of street fighting skills in Paris-Nice.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What The Rainbow Misses in Paris-Tours

With a high-speed crash putting an end to Philippe Gilbert's chase of an exclusive Worlds-Lombardia double, Gilbert won't be showing up at the start line of Paris-Tours. It is too bad, because if he wins it he might be the first to ever accomplish the double of Worlds and Paris-Tours.

For a race that is officially considered a “classic”, Paris-Tours is perhaps the least prestigious among them—but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Indeed, that it is absent from his list of 19 monuments and classics wins, Eddy Merckx cannot say that he’s won every classic.

Paris-Tours' first edition in 1896 was central France’s answer to Paris-Roubaix. The first edition followed a fairly flat course to Tours. Quickly it became known as the “Sprinters Classic”. In an effort to make it more interesting, derailleurs were banned for two years (1965 and 1966) and riders were only allowed two gears. Still, not content with what was thought to be a predictable finish, the organizers reversed the route in 1974, starting from the Tours area to somewhere in the vicinity of Paris. In 1988 the organizers decided to again reverse the route to start in Paris and end in Tours.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Rainbow in Lombardia

Philippe Gilbert (BMC)'s victory in the World Championship in Valkenburg heralded his return to winning ways. Following his two stage wins in the Vuelta a Espana, his blistering attack on the last ascent of the Cauberg opened a huge gap immediately and put the chasers into indecision. Now that he will be sporting the Rainbow Jersey for the next year, what other races are left for him to win this year?

Photo by corto.maltese, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Fear not, for we still have Paris-Tours and Giro di Lombardia: both races he has won in the past. How will the Rainbow Jersey fare in these two races? Read our preview here and read on below for our history of the Rainbow Jersey and the fall classics.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Italian Geometry

Have you ever wondered why certain bikes have that "special" ride? To many of us, our first great road frame was an Italian frame, probably made in the 1980s or 1990s. We asked Tim K, an avid collector and restorer of Italian bikes, what gave them that special ride: fast for crits but stable for long fast rides.

This is a guest post by Tim K, our resident expert on frame geometry.

From Channone, under CC-BY-2.0.

If you're talking pre-80's (like that Masi in my basement) then Italian geometry is actually very slack compared to an American bike from the same era.  Remember, Italy wasn't very well-paved until the 1980's, so a quick-handling bike would also be brutally uncomfortable, as well as dangerous.  So, angles tended to be a little shallower (around 72 degrees) and chainstays were quite long.  Fork rakes were around 50mm.  Bottom brackets were quite low.

These bikes have an exceedingly pleasant ride.  You can toot around town on them, go touring on them, or get in the drops and really start hammering, all by tweaking stem height a little.  They are not, however, particularly fast, since tons of pedaling energy goes into flexing the frame.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Komentaar: the 2012 Elite Men's World Championship Race

With one blistering attack on the Cauberg, Philippe Gilbert of Belgium opened up a mile-long gap from the front of the field in the 2012 elite men's world championship; effectively redeeming his 2012 season. We were impressed by the work of the Belgian team and of course by Gilbert's sense of timing. Despite having a different finale than the Amstel Gold Race route that the course borrowed heavily from, Gilbert bested our estimate that the Spanish armada would win by sheer weight of talent and history of teamwork. Had the Spanish bet on the wrong horse? Did team Italy work too hard in the middle part of the race? We share our thoughts below.

Monday, September 17, 2012

2012 World Championship Road Race Preview

The coming World Championship in the Limburg, the Netherlands, has parcours similar to the classic race Amstel Gold.  As usually the case, it is an attrition-style long course. While it is true that the course contains the dreaded Cauberg climb as it nears the finish - it can be a death knell for the ambition of many pure sprinters - it is hard to predict how the race will go.

For one thing, the distance from the final climb to the finish line is changed enough that we think it will have a significant impact that rouleurs might make it to the finish. Or even rouleur-like sprinters.

Read on as we share our observations and historical lessons from the last two times the race was run here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What's In a Name? Mauro Santambrogio and Campione d'Italia

One of the most valued mountain domestiques today, Italian Mauro Santambrogio of Team BMC played a significant part in Cadel Evans' Tour de France win in 2011. Tirelessly he paced Evans up the Alpine climbs, often the only climber left in the team to help their GC leader.

From Gianluca Gozzolli, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Just like many domestiques, Santambrogio rarely wins races on his own; but one victory in particular stood out, his win in Tre Valli Varesine in 2010. Finishing in the Alpine town of Campione d'Italia, Tre Valli Varesine is a great mid-summer race played out in the Italian alpine resort area.

Of course, what can't have missed what a great town name Campione d'Italia is: what's in a name? It is an exclave of Italy surrounded by Italian-speaking Switzerland that was ceded by Pope Julius II to reward the help of the Swiss back in the days. It stayed a part of Italy only because it was ruled by the Monks of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan, who then maintained their control of the town. Of course, that's the root of Mauro Santambrogio's name. We wonder if he celebrated this symmetry when he won that day in 2010.

Campione d'Italia: surrounded by Switzerland.

Campione d'Italia often hosts cycling races: the Giro d'Italia has held several stages there including time trials. Conveniently, it also hosts several casinos and use the Swiss Franc instead of Euros or Italian Lires back in the day.

So there you have it: Mauro Santambrogio and Campione d'Italia. What's in a name?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

2012 Fall Classics Preview

With the end of the Tour de France and Olympic cycling competitions, we turn our attention to the Fall Classics, perhaps the lesser cousins of the Spring Classics. What races do we look forward to? We preview the World Championship, Il Lombardia, Paris-Tours, and discuss the issues plaguing GP Ouest France-Plouay, and fall classics in general.

World Championship in Limburg

World Championship in the Limburg, the Netherlands, has parcours similar to Amstel Gold.  As usually the case, it is an attrition-style long course. While it is true that the course contains the dreaded Cauberg climb as it nears the finish - it can be a death knell for the ambition of many pure sprinters - it is hard to predict how the race will go. For one thing, the distance from the final climb to the finish line is changed enough that we think it will have a significant impact that rouleurs might make it to the finish.

Or even rouleur-like sprinters.

Unlike in the Olympics, the top teams are allowed to field 9 riders for the Worlds elite men road race. Clearly the home Netherlands team would love to win this one, and they might just have the numbers for it if not a clear contender. Cavendish might like to be the designated leader for team GB again, but his team is not likely to have Bradley Wiggins on the roster. Team Italy has been unusually quiet, even though Damiano Cunego former winner of Amstel Gold might be quietly preparing for this race. Whether coach Paolo Bettini will select him as team leader is not clear.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

La Vuelta a España, La Vuelta Desamado

La Vuelta a España, le Tour d'Espagne, the Tour of Spain, may be the least loved of the Grand Tours. After decades of directly competing with the Giro d'Italia - both races used to run at approximately the same time in spring - it moved to its current schedule in September in 1995. The new schedule made it an important race for many classics warriors who use it as a warm-up for the World Championship in October. But it also all but pushed it off the calendar of many General Classification (GC) contenders who already met their goals for the year. In a way, it became a race for GC contenders who were either left off the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France for various reasons and wanted a last chance to prove themselves.

History has made the case for us: many winners of the Vuelta don't even come back the following year to defend their title, if they showed up at all. We note the loyalty of Tony Rominger and Alex Zülle who are repeat winners, and recently Vicenzo Nibali who returned to try and defend his victory. To be fair, one can argue that Nibali had to target the Vuelta defense because he was crowded out of his own team who chose Ivan Basso to lead the Giro and the Tour that year.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

If Cavendish Were Joining OmegaPharma-QuickStep

Not even one full year into his tenure at Team Sky, Mark Cavendish is already rumored to be moving elsewhere;  super-team and classics powerhouse OmegaPharma-QuickStep (OPQS) is rumored to be the most likely destination. We've written quite a few pieces on this veritable team, but only focused on their spring classics goals.

Certainly there is much discussion as to why the sudden souring of relationship between Cavendish and Team Sky (Is it the failure to win the Olympic gold medal? Is it acrimony between Cavendish and Team Sky's GC leadership? Why did Dave Brailsford hint at it at all?), but let's look ahead at the prospect of Cavendish joining OPQS.

Cavendish is the world's top sprinter today, it is hard to argue against that unless there is a convenient obstacle near the finish that can be exploited by the likes of Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Cannondale. Here's what we make of the possibility of Cav joining OPQS.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fall Classics: What We Look Forward to in 2012

With the end of the Tour de France and Olympic cycling competitions, we turn our attention to the Fall Classics, perhaps the lesser cousins of the Spring Classics.  What do we look forward to this Fall? There are a few factors that brings us more excitement than usual. In this post we first discuss these factors and we will follow up with short race previews.

Loire Valley in Fall.

Monday, July 30, 2012

2012 Olympics Road Race: the What-If Game

Now that the Olympics Road Races (both for Men and Women) are over with, it is time to imagine: "what-if ... ?" We start with a few, feel free to share your own.

  1. What if Team GB had sent a rider up into the breakaway?
  2. What if Team GB had given the breakaway more time gap?
  3. What if Fabian Cancellara hadn't crashed?
  4. What if the breakaway had reached the final km all together? 

Family Ties

Nothing supports the idea of "nature versus nurture" more strongly than family ties in sports. The human physique, perhaps more than psychology and other less visible markers of human quality, evokes genetic advantage, and cycling has its share of family ties. In this post we share a few cycling family stories.

Serse and Fausto Coppi: brotherly love,
from .

One of the better-known examples to English-speaking fans is Nicolas Roche of Ag2R-LaMondiale, son of Irish cycling legend Stephen Roche who married a French woman. Father Stephen was best known for achieving the treble in 1987: winning the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France, and World Championship. Son Nicolas has been a GC leader or co-leader first with Cofidis and recently with Ag2R. He has won the Irish National Championship several times, and has nearly broken into the top-ten of the Tour de France. He has expressed his wish to switch teams for next year, and we are eager to know what he will do next. Even when riding a big race, he shares his thoughts on his blog for the Irish Independent.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

2012 Olympics Road Race Preview

Surely Great Britain (GB) sprinter Mark Cavedish (Team Sky)'s stage wins in the Tour de France have earned him top listing in most sports bets to win the Olympics Road Race on his team's home roads in London. With Team Sky effectively acting as the surrogate GB national team, that means that they have honed their sprinting train in the TdF. London's course has earned a reputation as being flat, and therefore would be advantageous for a sprinting team.

Photo by SurreyNews.  Distributed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

But poring over maps and profiles doesn't bring one closer to the experience and insight from riding it. For that, we tip our helmet to Fabrizio Viani who is a London local sharing his experience on his excellent blog.

What does it take for Mark Cavendish to win, or conversely, what does it take to beat him? Here's our take on the race, and predictions of the race.

Monday, June 25, 2012

FdJ: A Classics Powerhouse in the Making?

The win of Nacer Bouhanni in the French national championship road race, with teammate Arnaud Demare in second place, further reveals the worth of Francaise des Jeux's investments in their many young guns. All season long we have pondered the apparent friendly competition between Arnaud Demare and Yauheni Hutarovich, both having finished in the top ten of Kuurne-Brussels-Kurrne, and now Bouhanni has emerged as a contender for the sprints himself. Fans speak of Hutarovich as if he were "over the hill", but the fact of matter is that Hutarovichs is still 29 years old, Demare is merely 20, and Bouhanni is only 21.
Photo by Laurie Beylier under license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Andy Schleck's Exit: Good News for Some, Bad for Others?

With Andy Schleck's misfortunate meriting coverage even on mainstream media, we have to revise our Komentaar of only days ago. All the non-starters reminded us of the start of the spring classics season, with injury list ever-increasing.

It seems generally agreed that the GC race is shaping up to be a two-horse race between Cadel Evans (BMC) and Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky). Notably, both of them are roleurs who excel at time-trials but can keep up with most climbers at the high mountains. Both are in excellent shape, with Wiggins fresh off a dominating performance in le Dauphiné and Evans a consistent performance plus stage wins and near-wins. Team Sky may be the stronger team compared to BMC, unless Team Sky's super-sprinter Mark Cavendish shows up and brings a few riders specifically to support him in the sprints. More importantly however, both Evans and Wiggins appear very confident as the Tour de France (TdF) approaches.

With all the above consideration, what does this mean to stage hunters, sprinters, and GC contenders?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sagan the Żagań

Nowadays, few riders make news the same way Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) does, that is by not winning a race or a stage. So complete is Sagan's domination of stage-hunting in short stage races from the Tour de Suisse, Tour of Oman, Tirreno-Adriatico, to the Tour of California and the Tour of Poland.
Given his punchy characteristics, and his performance in the last edition of Milano-Sanremo, is Sagan a credible classics contender?
From Brendan Ryan, shared under CC BY-BC-SA 2.0

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Komentaar - 13 June 2012

With the biggest race of the season - the Tour de France (TdF) - looming just over the horizon, here in the ClassiquesKlassiekerClassiche headquarters we ponder the usual: how will our classics warriors fare in this year's TdF?

We start with the route and stages, and we finish with short comments on riders.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Is the Maillot Blanc a Good Predictor of TdF Success?

The Maillot Blanc of the Tour de France (TdF), or the White Jersey, is awarded to the highest finishing rider under 25 years of age. It suggests that that the winner has high potential of doing well in the future. In this article we attempt a quantitative analysis as we did in the Rise of Nations article.

As we are interested in the White Jersey as indicator of future performance, we examine the GC rank of a rider when he wins the White Jersey, versus his top GC performance since winning the White Jersey. We hope that this penalized one-hit wonders.
(c) Julius Kusuma
We limit the scope up to 2006: we think this to be a good stopping point, as many white jersey winners since then still contend actively. We realize that increasing one's rank on the GC of the Tour de France is an exponentially difficult endeavor, so we show a log-log plot, that is, both the x-axis and the y-axis are shown logarithmic-ally.

What insights were able to gleam?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Andy Schleck and Jan Ullrich: a Comparative Study

It is no doubt that Andy Schleck and Jan Ullrich are some of the most naturally talented cyclists of all times. Despite Ullrich's well-known issues with motivation and weight control, and Andy Schleck's lack of coach, they seem to have uncanny ability to get fit just in time for the Tour de France. Both name the Tour de France as their single most important goal of the season, although to be fair Andy Schleck occasionally produces a win in the Ardennes classics.

In a previous post we examined Andy Schleck's superhuman ability to get fit for le Grand Boucle in no time, leaping and bounding ahead of competitors. Unfortunately, winning the TdF on the road seems to be a challenge for both of them. We think that examination of these riders' performances in the warm-up race leading up to the TdF, be it Critérium du Dauphiné (CdD) or Tour de Suisse (TdS), is illuminating.

We now chart GC performances of both rides in the Tour de Suisse - the favored race of both riders excepting this year (arguably, this year's choice was made by Johan Bruyneel) -  and GC performances in the Tour de France.
Jan Ullrich and Andy Schleck: from Tour de Suisse
to Tour de France, in linear scale
 Read on as we share our analysis below.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Road from Tour de Suisse, or Can Andy Schleck Deliver in le Tour de France?

With much discussion on Andy Schleck's lack of form as we approach the Tour de France, we take a quick look at his performance, and that of other contenders, as they go from the Tour de Suisse to the Tour de France. 

Below we show the 2010 and 2011 comparison of performance in the Criterium du Dauphine (CdD) / Tour de Suisse (TdS) versus performance in the Tour de France (TdF). GC rank in CdD/TdS and GC rank in TdF is plotted on the y- and x-axis respectively.

We can clearly see that unlike other contenders, Andy Schleck has uncanny ability to literally bound ahead of competition, significantly improving himself from the TdS to the TdF.

This year's preparation is a bit different though, with Andy Schleck racing the CdD instead of TdS.

What do you think his kans is for the Tour de France? Share your thoughts below.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Road from Le Critérium du Dauphiné

With the Critérium du Dauphiné (CdD) approaching, we look ahead to what is popularly the biggest cycling race of the year, namely the Tour de France. As a weeklong stage race featuring similar climbs to the TdF, the CdD is often considered to be a preparation race for those with TdF aspirations, along with Tour de Suisse as an alternative option.

Route of the 2012 Critérium du Dauphiné.

We quickly examined where the top-ten CdD GC finishers have performed in the last two editions: 2010 and 2011. What have we discovered?

Where Should Nibali Go To?

With news (and non-news) breaking that Vincenzo Nibali is leaving Liquigas-Cannondale at the end of the season, we ponder the choice that he might make. We think that Nibali is a very exciting all-rounder, one of a very select cadre of riders that give truly positive meaning to the term "all-rounder." He's one of the best descenders in the business, a former winner of the Vuelta a Espana with true legitimacy to the Giro d'Italia crown, winner of several week-long stage races, and finally an exciting contender in the classics. His attacks in Milano-Sanremo and Liège-Bastogne-Liège were daring even if he didn't end up winner. Certainly Italian national coach Paolo Bettini agrees.

Liquigas-Cannondale has been his home for all his pro career. As we pondered some time ago, the squad is becoming too full, bursting with talent across generations.  Nibali's most inconvenient teammate is perhaps Ivan Basso, twice winner of the Giro d'Italia who is revered as god in Italy. This makes it hard for the team to not let him choose his races, especially for the Giro. As a result, Nibali is sitting out this year's Giro d'Italia, even if it is a more suitable corsa for him than last year's.

Where should Nibali go to? Should he go to Astana Version 3 to follow Giuseppe Martinelli the legendary team manager? Martinelli was behind the successes of Marco Pantani, Stefano Garzelli, Gilberto Simoni, Damiano Cunego, and now of Alexandre Vinokourov, Maxim Iglinsky and Enrico Gasparotto? If he does, he might have to dampen his classics ambitions a bit, but he may gain leadership in the grand tours, at worst shared with Roman Kreuziger.

Clearly, Nibali is a hot commodity, and as The Inner Ring rues, the transfer season is effectively all-year long for those high-potential cyclists.

What other teams do you think he should consider?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Giro d'Italia 2012: the Races within a Race

With Ryder Hesjedal's heroic ride up the Pompeago, the dynamic of the Giro d'Italia GC race is turned upside down. Despite not having the strongest team in Garmin-Barracuda, he and his squad has exceed expectation. Many had bet that climbing specialists would take time away from him, instead he has taken time from them. And somewhere in there, Ivan Basso of Liquigas-Cannondale is sandwiched between the pocket rockets and the time trial specialist.

Just like in other Grand Tours (GTs), there are multiple races within the GC competition of this year's Giro d'Italia. Simply put, this is because unlike in classics races, finishing in the top-ten of a GT is of great value to an aspiring rider, not to mention the multiple jerseys on offer.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Liquigas-Cannondale: a House Too Full

Liquigas-Cannondale (LIQ) seems to have done everything right in terms of commitment: they are well-funded, they have sponsors who have stayed for a long time and will continue to stay awhile. They have invested in many exciting new riders, and they seem to have a genuine esprit de corps when they race. But could it be that Liquigas-Cannondale is a house too full?

Photo by Luca Volpi. Lincense CC BY-SA 2.0

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Is an Italian Renaissance Near?

As we approach the Giro d'Italia, our minds wander to the heights of the Dolomites, the strade bianche of Toscana, and the hills of Trento. We count many great Italian classics specialists among our favorite, including Paolo Bettini's with his attacking style and Damiano Cunego's with his constant (attempts at) re-definition of himself. Indeed, the 2002-2008 period could be seen as the Golden Era of Italian cycling, during which they won many classics and world championships.

In the Rise of Nations article we pondered the fate of Italian cycling, and we ask, is there a crisis just beneath the surface? Who shall take the mantle of Paolo Bettini as King of the Classics?
Rise of Nations: Italy's monuments and worlds wins over the years.
Who are the young guns who we think will show their potential this year?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Once Upon a Time on the Tenbosse

Once upon a time on the Tenbosse climb, we were suffering up the hill deep into the Ronde van Vlaanderen cyclosportive. We only had another 30 km to go to the finish, and 3 more climbs. But the day was starting to feel long and heavy on our legs.

While we were grunting on a very little 34x25, an old man was spotted up ahead, on the top of the climb. A hat, elbow patches, and grocery bags. Our eyes locked, and he immediately understood the size of the cross we were bearing, and its weight. He immediately dropped his bags, hurried down, and pushed us up the climb.

Photo by FaceMePLS, under CC BY 2.0.
The day after, Stijn Devolder launched his winning move exactly from the Tenbosse.

Thank you Old Belgian Man, for understanding our sport of cycling. Lieve Vlaanderen!

In case you are wondering, that photo is not of that old man. We had much suffering and didn't take a picture.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Barely South of the Border

Not too long ago, nearly a lifetime ago, I took advantage of a work assignment to Paris and visited the beautiful pavés of the north. There, I was shown around by my friend Laurent and his dog Thibal, a local of Lille and very proud to be a Ch'ti.

We saw monuments, and the old citadel of Lille, and fortresses of Vauban, and even had home-made croissant which was amazing. We were on our way to a café for frites, when lo and behold: a bicycle race! We stopped the car immediately.

Secteur Pavés Gilbert Duclosse-Lasalle.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Three Versions of Astana

In light of Astana's victories in the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, we think this is a good time to re-visit three different version the Astana squad and tell the story of its formation. Many cycling fans knew Astana mostly from the time that it had both Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong in its ranks, namely Astana version 2. But the Astana of 2012 is nothing like Astana version 2: it is the latest version 3.

The story of Astana is full of intrigue, hostile takeovers, and continuous re-definition of the team. Before we embark, it is important to keep in mind that in its short life (it was founded formally only in 2007), it has had three different régimes controlling the team.

Hindsight is 20-20, but Astana's wins in the 2012 Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège makes sense in the context of Astana version 3. We tell the story in the following.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

La Doyenne: Liège–Bastogne–Liège 2002-2011

In the beginning there were monuments, the oldest of the races. Liège–Bastogne–Liège, nicknamed "la doyenne" or "old woman" in French, is the oldest of the monuments, although it wasn't the oldest of all the bike races; but that's another story. It was started in 1892 by a Belgian newspaper L'Expresse for promotions, much like how the much younger Tour de France was started by the newspaper L'Auto in France 10 years later in 1902. So much for most thinking that le Tour was the oldest of bike races.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

La Flèche Wallonne and Brabantse Pijl: Separated at Birth

Gentle readers, those of you who speak French and/or Flemish/Dutch may have noticed the symmetry between the two races La Flèche Wallonne (or Waalse Pijl) and Brabatse Pijl (or Flèche Brabançonne). These two races have symmetrical names in the two languages. How did this come about and what can we learn about Belgium from this elegant symmetry?
Belgium, its Communities, and a few races.
In two previous articles (click here for Fleche Wallonne/FW and here for Brantse Pijl/BP), we talked about how some of these one-day races came into being and how they came to be placed to each other. Today non-Belgians tend to think of Belgium in terms of the two communities, Flanders and Wallonia (there is actually a third community for German-speakers, but it is very very small). Both communities are described in terms of their primary languages, and both have their capital in Brussels.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Komentaar - 13 April 2012

Here at Classiques Klassieker Classiche HQ, we intended to write a preview of this Sunday's Amstel Gold Race: with short, sharp bergs, a beer sponsor, and guaranteed sea of Orange local fans, what is not to like? However, today we are right in the middle of the spring classics season - our favorite time of the year - and we have a lot of comments to share regarding how the season has transitioned from cobbled races to hilly races. Thus, we decided to broaden our view and offer a Komentaar instead. We share our thoughts on the "new" calendar, hilly classics contenders, and what we look forward to the rest of the year. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Farnese: What's in a Name?

Most flahutes are still celebrating Tom Boonen's historic 4th win in Paris-Roubaix to equal Roger De Vlaeminck's record. But curious minds in Classiques Klassieker Classiche wonder why the name "Farnese Vini", the sponsor of the yellow glow team led by the unfortunate Pippo Pozzato, sounded so familiar to Low Countries history buffs.

Photo by Cindy Trossaert, under CC BY-NC 2.0.
Indeed, the name of the Farnese Vineyard the sponsor is the same name as that of Alessandro Farmese, Duke of Parma. And here is a short history of how the Duke's deeds in the low countries came to shape what we now know to be the Netherland, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Komentaar - 09 April 2012

Wow. Just wow. We are speechless. The way Tom Boonen of OmegaPharma-Quickstep (OPQS) was able to win his fourth Roubaix was just astonishing. Today Tom Boonen has equalled both the record number of wins in de Ronde van Vlaanderen (RvV) and Paris-Roubaix (PR). What else is there left to say that is not already obvious?

Here are our impressions.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Brief History of Pavé

Inspired by recent Tweets, we ponder to ourselves, from where do pavé blocks come from? How did these cobblestone sections come about?

Pavés of the Arenberg trench, likely made from sandstone.
Our first stop is obviously Wikipedia, where we learned that the term "cobblestone" is idiomatic. The root English word is "cob" which means "rounded". Thus "cobbles" roughly means "rounded lumps" or "large pebbles".

Indeed, back before the days of automobiles and carbon fibre bicycles, the fastest means of land transport is by horseback. The rounded shape optimized the speed of propulsion by means of a horses' hooves, and they were found to be quite sturdy in all sorts of weather even if they noisy and not the most comfortable for carriage-riding.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Chasing the Gypsy: Preview of the 2012 Paris-Roubaix

It's hard to not have the image of Tom Boonen of OmegaPharma-QuickStep (OPQS) winning last Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen (RvV) in our minds as we consider the 2012 Paris-Roubaix (PR). In case there is any doubt, we think that Boonen is the best classics rider of his generation. Some argue that Fabian Cancellara of Radioshack-Nissan should be there, too, but we argue back that the ways with which Boonen has earned his multiple wins show that he is in a class of his own.

Tommeke's 2012 season may be historical for two reasons. First is that he joined the elite group who has won 3 editions of RvV, in the company of Johan Museeuw, Eric Leman, Achiel Buysee, and Fiorenzo Magni.

Second is that if he wins on Sunday, he will join Roger de Vlaeminck as winner of 4 editions of PR. Back in his heyday, De Vlaeminck's black hair and dark handsome look earned him the nickname The Gypsy. While it is true that De Vlaeminck competed in a different era, it is hard to not be awed by his collection of 4x Paris-Roubaix, 1x Ronde, 2x Lombardia, 3x Milan-Sanremo, 6x Tirreno-Adriatico and 1x Liège.

In two previous posts, we examined 10 years' worth of RvV and PR. If anything else, examining the many different ways that Boonen has won his three RvV and PR is a masters class in itself. With Cancellara now absent due to an unfortunate accident, we ponder how the 2012 Paris-Roubaix may play out.

Here are our thoughts on the coming 2012 edition, on how weather may play a big role, Boonen's chances, and why Juan-Antonio Flecha might pray for it to rain.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Riding to Victory: Paris-Roubaix 2002-2011

As analysis nerds and classics dorks, we are intensely interested in learning how races are won and how victories are earned. While we realize that the route of Paris-Roubaix has changed a bit over time, we think that a narrative graphic of how recent editions have been won is insightful.

In the following, we show how the winner of each edition progresses to victory as each race is run: the height of the bar goes up as the winner's chance of victory is increased with each move. Without further ado, we offer the following graphic (download for better viewing).

Monday, April 2, 2012

Komentaar - 02 April 2012

The night before the Ronde van Vlaanderen we were as giddy as our five-year old selves were on Christmas Eve. After an entire winter of waiting, the Ronde is finally here!

In a previous post we had shared our thoughts on the new Ronde van Vlaanderen (RvV) route. Despite some misgivings, we thought that it was reasonable to ask that RvV finishes in Oudenaarde where the RvV museum is located. Among the misgivings was that removal of the Muur also removed an iconic symbol of the RvV that distinguished it from its sister races E3-Harelbeke, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and Dwars door Vlaanderen.

We kept an open mind about the route however, and we were excited to see what impact the Oude Kwaremont - Paterberg combo would have on the race. And boy, were we surprised. Here are some of our impressions from the race.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why not have your Pavé and eat it, too: the 2012 Ronde van Vlaanderen

There is much consternation among fans regarding the removal of the Muur de Grammont / Muur de Geraardsbergen  / Kappelmuur from the parcours of the 2012 Ronde van Vlaanderen (RvV). Race organizers cite the wish to move the finish to a more suitable location, and a more uncertain finale, as the main reasons.

Regardless, we think that this year's race is more of an attrition race, and we share our thoughts below. And while we think that wanting to have the RvV finish is Oudenaarde is a reasonable line of thinking, we can't help but suggest a few things that could be done better: why not have your pavé and eat it (or ride on it) too by including the Muur in a race that finishes in Oudenaarde.

Exhibit A: old finish of de Ronde from Bosberg to Ninove

In a previous post we examined how the past 10 editions of de Ronde played out. It can't be denied that on half the occasion the Muur played a pivotal role in re-shuffling the cards the race had dealt up to that point.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Riding to Victory: Ronde van Vlaanderen 2002-2011

As analysis nerds and classics dorks, we are intensely interested in learning how races are won and how victories are earned. While we realize that the route of Ronde van Vlaanderen (RvV)'s route is changed for this year, we think that a narrative graphic of how recent editions have been won is insightful. After all, the argument for change was that it was becoming predictable. We mourn the loss of the Muur de Grammont, which many call the hand that shuffles the cards through which the game of racing is played.

The Muur and the RvV route had stayed fairly constant in the past decade. In the following, we show how the winner of each edition progresses to victory as each race is run: the height of the bar goes up as the winner's chance of victory is increased with each move. Without further ado, we offer the following graphic.

Monday, March 19, 2012

What I Love About Milan-San Remo

Editor's note: Today's update is a guest post from former Pavé editor Mattio. Follow him on Twitter at @_mattio.

What I love about Milan-San Remo is its devastating simplicity.
The Cipressa is not a hard climb. The Poggio is not a hard climb. I've done neither, granted, but I've looked at the maps and the charts and the figures. The Poggio is less than 4k, at less than a 4% grade. These are no alpine slopes, no devastatingly steep hellingen. But they come toward the end of almost 300 kilometers.
That makes Milan-San Remo extremely simple and utterly treacherous to predict. Put the Poggio, its descent, and the remaining handful of kilometers at the end of 220 or even 250 kilometers, and a field sprint is a safe bet. Stretch it out to Milan-San Remo's full 298 kilometers and we start to wonder, don't we?
Vicenzo Nibali attacked on the Poggio and didn't open up much space. He was joined by Gerrans and Cancellara and they crested the hill and began that twisting descent with 4 seconds over the pack. Four seconds! Led by Cancellara's diesel the trio held of the small chase group, finishing just two seconds ahead. Two seconds!
As the longest race on the pro calendar, Milan-San Remo has the distinction of being able to claim that its distance truly wears riders down to the point where a hill that would be damn near inconsequential elsewhere becomes decisive. It can boast that this as the potential for anything ranging from a solo finish to a field sprint. It's this variability that makes it La Classicissima.

A good writer will tell you that simplicity has the most profound effect. So too it is with Milan-San Remo.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Watching the 2007 Milan-Sanremo in Boston

In 2007 I made special effort to go to Cafe dello Sport in the Italian part (North End) of Boston, after calling them the day before if they would show Rai Due during La Primavera.

I came early that morning, with my girlfriend at the time. The shopkeepers mumbled something in Italian and English about some crazy dude (me) who had called the day before and insisted on Milano-Sanremo. A table next to ours had two elderly Italian gentlemen with the unmistakable pink of Gazetta dello Sport. They had hats on, steaming cappuccino, and that sage nod that only people beyond a certain age can muster.

Another table had a young Italian dad and a very young baby daughter. The dad was telling the daughter what a beautiful race it was, how colorful the peloton was, and where the race was in bella Italia.

Smug with satisfaction at how delightful this time-space was, I ordered cappucinos and canolis.

The table next to mine was full of Boston yuppies, chatting happily but barely paying attention to the race. During a lull in the race, one asked me, "How's Levi doing in the race?"

I can't recall what I said in reply, but girlfriend at the time said she never saw me show such mixture of confusion and anguish on my face.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

La Primavera: the 2012 Milan-Sanremo

Much has been said of Mark Cavendish's strong form and strong team ahead of Milan-Sanremo, nicknamed "La Primavera" in Italian. To win in MSR requires discipline in winter: indeed, it is the longest classic at just around 300 km. It is characterized by a long, slow slog down the Tirrenean coast, a hectic pace up the capi or hills, a daredevil curvy downhill, and finally just enough finishing straight to encourage a sprint finish. Over its life the race has added more and more hills: the Poggio in 1960, the Cipressa in 1982.

Percorsa of the 2012 Milano-Sanremo.
In a previous article we compared the capi of MSR to that of the Climbers' classic Liège-Bastogne-Liège. In this post we examine how the race has changed in modern times, and give a bold suggestion to pretenders to the crown of La Primavera based on our analysis. We sail forth in Adriatic sea with three questions in mind. (1) Is Milan-Saremo really a sprinters' classic? (2) Who are the contenders for 2012? and (3) What advice can we offer from our analysis?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Milan-Sanremo versus Liége-Bastogne-Liége

In modern times, Milan-Sanremo (MSR) is often billed as the sprinters' classic while Liége-Bastogne-Liége (LBL) is often billed as the climbers' classic. Naturally, our curiosity leads us to examine the parcours of these two races. Are the labels really justified?

We start with a coarse look at the corsa of MSR and parcour of LBL. Both races are very long: MSR is nearly 300 km long and LBL is around 280 km. What we have done is very crude image manipulation: we stretch both horizontal and vertical axes (after eyeballing) such that they are both on the same scale. We apply guidelines to calibrate based on the highest peak of these races: Col du Rosier at 565 meters.

Milan-Sanremo versus Liége-Bastogne-Liége, a coarse look.
Clearly, MSR starts with a rather pleasant jaunt southward from Milan, on very flat grounds too. A gentle slope brings one up to Passo del Turcino where the day's long break traditionally forms. By contrast, LBL starts nearly immediately with vertical challenges. The profile flattens after 40 km or so, and then there is a series of sharp hills nearly non-stop from Bastogne up to Liége.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Komentaar - 12 March 2012

With Paris-Nice reaching its conclusion, and its cousin race Tirreno-Adriatico way underway, we collect our impressions from the Mediterranean sea.

Bradley Wiggins' winter coat. Photo from Team Sky.

As we mentioned, these races give a good glimpse into riders' forms, team strength, and their intentions. Without further ado, we share our observations on Team Sky, predictions on the cobbled classics, predictions on the Ardennes classics, and the state of Italian classics contenders.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Team Sky's Enviable Problem

Come June, Team Sky will have an enviable problem. That is, what will be the team's focus (or focii) come Tour de France? Will they try to support both Bradley Wiggins' GC ambition and Mark Cavendish's quest for sprinting glories?

Bradley Wiggins warming up on the track. Photo by 1hr photo,  under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

We think that there are two key points which lead to intra-team competition, and a secondary point which may lead to a compromise. This may sound ominous, but we are reminded of T-Mobile's decision to leave Erik Zabel out of their 2005 squad in order to fully support Jan Ullrich's GC quest. We know that that quest failed (again), but it is a good lesson that even the richest teams know that it is hard to have too many top goals in one grand tour unless your top rider is Eddy Merckx.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Komentaar - 08 March 2012

With Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico in progress, we share some of our thoughts on team dynamics, race results, and what they mean to the big races that are soon to come.

We start with disappointment. Tony Martin's chances in Paris-Nice went down a drain clogged with rain, with terrible performance on Stage 1. See Squadralytics' take on the subject of whether weather had anything to do with it. As if to take revenge, OPQS drove a big break away on Stage 2 to eliminate the GC chances of many hopefuls - even if Tony Martin himself was left out. Watchful Wiggins, on the other hand, is in prime position to win the Paris-Nice GC. Not many contenders are left, and with his consistently strong performances we think Col d'Eze is strongly in his favor.

The big break of Stage 2 forcefully converted many GC contenders to stage-hunters. Still, Paris-Nice is a short stage race and Wiggins/Team Sky did a good job watching for finishing gaps. In particular, Richie Porte deserve kudos. Perhaps he is paying back the work that the team did for him in Algarve, where Team Sky took the race into their hands.

Ommegang to the races.

Tom Boonen has been riding as if he had found a new spirit: working hard for teammates in stages of Paris-Nice following his win on Stage 2. It is good to see his spirits up as we approach a frustrating juncture in his career where he is too big to let go but not dominant enough to crush mortals in the peloton.

Tejay Van Gardener, a young American, sat within fighting distance of Wiggins, but after a few hard days he is overshadowed by Return of the Prince of Spain Alejandro Valverde. Speaking of whom, Movistar is riding with a very united spirit that reminds us of the days of, well, Valverde. Like him or not, he seems to have a special way to motivate his teammates.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Valverde: Return of the Prince

This spring classics season marks the return of Alejandro Valverde from doping suspension, a rider that has divided cycling fans due to his insistence of innocence and the way his doping suspension was handed out.

We want to be clear on this: we think that Valverde is an exciting rider, and that we think his doping suspension was deserved. We are bothered by his claims of innocence, but at the same time he has served his sentence.

Valverde's "prince of Spain" special bike.

We basically look forward to thinking of him in terms of racing accomplishment.

Regardless of your opinion on the innocence or non-innocence of Valverde, it is astonishing to see a big team, Caisse d'Epargne -now- Movistar, stand behind their man unconditionally. This is the same team Reynolds that won the 1987 Tour de France with Perico Delgado, and became the legendary Banesto team that won the 1991-1995 Tours de France with Miguel Indurain, plus a host of great many grand tours and other races.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Komentaar - 05 March 2012

Last weekend may not have been an opening weekend, but it surely felt that way. It was a full weekend of races in France, Italy, Spain and beyond. We noted that several races that happened or started last weekend would make good indicators of team leaders' intentions and their fitness as they approach the bigger races merely weeks away.

Tony Martin's warm-up bike in Paris-Nice prologue.
(c) Julius Kusuma.

Here are a few of our observations and thoughts on bad luck all around, Tony Martin's unusual tire choice from last year, Voeckler vs. Boonen debacle, and the fate of Monte Paschi Strade Bianche.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

2012 Paris-Nice and Montepaschi Strade Bianche: Races of the Uncertain

There is much to look forward to as we approach the 2012 Paris-Nice: the beauty of south of France, the first of Graham Watson's pictures of the French countryside, and one of the first clashes between GC pretenders and classics warriors. See, Paris-Nice is just short and sweet enough that they have to seriously contend with each other, lest a classic warrior steal the overall from a GC contender.

A bit further east, Montepaschi Strade Bianche has established itself as a top race with top contenders making for an exciting race. Similarly to Paris-Nice, it is a race where cobbled warriors and Ardennes pocket rockets contend for the same prize.

Photo credit Luca Violetto. Under CC-SA 2.0 license
We like these two races as they provide clashes between types of riders who usually do not directly race against each other. Conversely, these races make for good indicators of intentions of riders. We highlight several cases: that of Philippe Gilbert (will he be able to repeat or improve on 2011?), Tony Martin (will he try to be a grand tour contender?), Damiano Cunego (will he give up trying to be a grand tour contender?), Vicenzo Nibali (will he try to escape Ivan Basso's shadow?), and Alejandro Valverde (will he be a credible grand tour contender again?).

Here are our thoughts for the two races of this coming weekend and these uncertain riders.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Komentaar - 27 February 2012

We blog jockeys have spent all winter reading tea leaves and Flemish wax grains, watching contenders jockey with each other in exotic locales like Qatar and Oman. Camels may gallop, stars may fall, but nothing forces re-thinking like the first real races of the season. And boy, do we have a lot of komentaar to share.

Photo credit Bram Souffreau.

After a full weekend of Flemish food, Flemish ales, and Flemish racing, we gather our thoughts and impressions from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (OHN) and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (KBK) while we munch on Liège waffles.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What Makes a Great Directeur Sportif?

What attributes make great directeurs sportif? In this post we cover a few traits that we think are essential attributes of legendary directeurs sportif that we respect.

Cyrille Guimard and protégé Laurent Fignon, riding a Cyfac under bike sponsor's paint job.

Tactical nous
This may seem obvious, but we claim that not all DS are good tacticians. It is one thing to bang on the side of the team car and threaten to run your rider over the edge of the Pyrénées, it is another thing to know just the right moment to attack, or the right moment to feint. To quote Lucien Van Impe, who credits his single Tour de France win to his DS telling him exactly when and where to attack, Cyrille Guimard truly is a man of dizzying tactical intellect. Headstrong Bernard Hinault perhaps explains Guimard best: "Cyrille Guimard does not listen to you, but in the races he is a tactical genius." Even the proud Laurent Fignon conceded, "With Hinault, Guimard already found a champion, whereas with myself, Guimard made a champion." Not only is Guimard a tactical genius, he is also a great scout of talent.

In fact, a deep look into the archives of Cyclingnews reveals that Lance Armstrong agrees (And consensus at the time was that Armstrong would definitely benefit from further tactical guidance). If you read French, an interview in which Guimard commented on Hinault, Fignon, LeMond, and even Andy Schleck is worth reading.

For a different side of Guimard, which may explain how he became a very accomplished DS, you can read our tribute to Guimard the Rider.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Like Shooting Star on Tapestry

Each year, the building hype as the Spring Classics season approaches is joined by a growing list of calamities - self-imposed or otherwise - that befall teams and riders. What hath brought bad omen for the 2012 spring classics season? Will history remember it as it did the appearance of the Halley Comet in the midst of the 1066 spring classics season?

Apparition during the 1066 AD spring classics season as recorded on the Bayeaux Tapestry.

Here's a roundup of misfortunes that have left us face-palming only days before the Omloop begins.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On to the 2012 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad ...

We are mere days from de Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (OHN), formerly de Omloop Het Volk, formerly Gent-Gent. In Classics Races Part II we went through how the classics races came about. This article is about our expectations for the 2012 edition of OHN.

Today OHN is an important race for several reasons. It is the first of the series of cobbled races in the low countries, and it contains many of the key climbs and sectors that headline other races including de Ronde van Vlaanderen (RVV) and Paris-Roubaix. Thus, OHN provides an important test of form for aspirants after a winter's worth of training. Tours of Qatar and Oman may have served as excellent training races and a means for testing one's form. But OHN is the real thing, run on real cobbles, and in real Belgian weather to boot.

To whom are we paying extra attention as OHN comes near? Read on ...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Qatar and Oman: Mondialisation's Impact on Early Season Training

With early-season (or early pre-season) races such as Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman gaining importance, we muse on the impact that these races have on the traditional spring classics season in Europe.

Here are a few plots to consider, from the year-long average high and low temperatures, plus precipitation, comparing Doha Qatar and Gent Belgium.

There is no need to squint, the message is obvious: Weather in Belgium sucks for winter and spring training. According to, Doha is warmer than Gent by 30F (17C) and Gent is wetter than Doha by 26.4 inches. So the advantage of traveling to Qatar and Oman for training is obvious.

How did ToQ and ToO gain such prominence, and how will this impact the European spring classics season? Here is our view.