Friday, January 20, 2012

Cyrille Guimard The Rider: 1972 Tour de France

Today is the birthday of Cyrille Guimard. The genius of Cyrille Guimard as a team manager and directeur sportif is well-known. Here is the man who turned Lucien Van Impe into a Tour de France winner, guided the early career of Bernard Hinault, discovered Greg LeMond, nurtured Laurent Fignon, and arguably hired a younger Lance Armstrong  into Cofidis. At least, before Guimard was sentenced for credit card fraud. More recently, he managed the junior team Velo Club Roubaix that counted Andy Schleck in its roster.

What is less-known to English-speaking readers is Guimard the Rider. This is a story of the 1972 Tour de France, and more precisely the battle of Eddy Merckx and Cyrille Guimard that will lead to the picture shown below.

Eddy Merckx and Cyrille Guimard at the TdF final podium in Paris, 1972.
Why is Merckx  in a cycling kit but Guimard is in a suit?

If that photograph had been in color, you will have seen that Merckx was wearing yellow and Guimard was holding onto a green-colored jersey.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Eve of OmegaPharma-QuickStep's Most Critical Season

Such is the weight of expectation on Belgian super-team QuickStep -- now called OmegaPharma-QuickStep -- that despite star Tom Boonen's convincing win in Gent Wevelgem its 2011 season was considered a failure. As the 2012 spring classics season approaches, we think that this will be their most critical season yet since the team's founding in 2001 as Domo-Farm Frites.

Tom Boonen and His Merry Band of Flemings, in better times.
For a team that specializes in, and has dominated, racing on pave for as long as most of us can remember, 2011's Paris-Roubaix was the first edition in which they failed to place a single rider in the top 10. Add to this a lethargic showing at the Tour de France, with no stage wins and no days in a leader's jersey.

What were the roots of QuickStep's lackluster 2011 performance? Here are our thoughts.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jurgen Roelandts' Injury and Lotto-Belisol

It's hard not to sympathize with Jurgen Roelandts' serious injury resulting from Tour Down Under's Stage 1 crash. Clearly this is not a good start to his season, what with that stage being his first racing day.

© Matthieu Riegler, CC-BYWikimedia Commons
But even more so than Roelandts' well-being, his team Lotto-Belisol may be seriously crippled come the cobbled classics. Last year the team pledged 200% support behind Roelandts in Paris-Roubaix, after the departure of Greg Van Avermaet and Leif Hoste.

Given that the team has pledged renewed Belgian focus - natural given that Lotto is the Belgian national lottery - who do they have left for the cobbled races? Have they lost their first home test on the first day of racing? Are they left to rely on non-Belgians Andre Greipel and Lars Bak (thanks inrng)?

We wish Roelandts the speediest and best recovery so that he can contend in the races as the leader that he has become.

Friday, January 13, 2012

On Oscar Freire's Coming Retirement

After a few back-and-forth decisions between continuing in the sport and retiring, it has finally been announced that Óscar Freire is retiring after 2012. Best known for his three World Championship wins and two Milano-Sanremo wins, Freire is one of the last graduates of the Mapei school of one-day racing on the late 90s and early 00s. If his fame and talent is obvious today, it wasn't so in the beginning. 

And I have to confess: for the longest time, I disliked Freire as a rider. I had thought of him as an opportunist and inconsistent sprinter who won only because he was below the radar. 

In fact, an joke that we shared was that he would only peak twice a year, once for Brabantse Pijl (3x consecutive wins) and later in the season for the Worlds race (3x wins). The rest of the time he seemed always to been plagued by injuries. In fact, his injuries were so frequent that he has his own page on ThinkExist with the following quote,
“I feel powerless to not be able to defend my world title, ... I'm frustrated because it's one thing to miss the world's if you're not in shape or strong enough, but it's another because of injury. These things happen in cycling and unfortunately I've become accustomed (to being sidelined with injuries).”
Freire in 2001, from Wikipedia commons. Photo by Eric Houdas.

Oscar Freire, Il Gato: The Cat. The man who could still beat Merckx' 3 Worlds titles in 2012. Twice winner of Milano-Sanremo, a three-peat of Brabantse Pijl, Gent-Wevelgem, and multiple grand tour stages. The man who was injured nearly always, trains almost never, but wins big races. This is a story of how I came to respect Oscar Freire after desisting for a very long time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Method to the madness, or how I learned about the classics (part 2)

Gentle readers, in Part 1 we learned about Liège–Bastogne–Liège, la Flèche Wallonne, and Paris-Roubaix. We learned that as many of the cobbled roads were converted to asphalt, the so-called Ardennes Classics LBL and FW took on more and more hills, whereas PR the Queen of the Classics, not so blessed with available hills along its route, took on what cobbled sectors remained and even added more and more "new" ones with passing years. It time now then to talk about the Tour of Flanders, de Ronde van Vlaanderen, or Vlaanderen Mooiste. 

Photo from Wikipedia, Creative Commons License, due to Mick Knapton. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Method to the madness, or how I learned about the classics (part 1)

Gentle readers, if you are reading this blog you are most likely already aware of what Paris-Roubaix is, perhaps of  Liège–Bastogne–Liège, and perhaps of the Tour of Flanders. But as soon as you delve a bit deeper beneath the icy surface of the Koppenberg, you find a whole other world of semi-classics such as Brabantse Pijl and Flèche Wallonne (which are really sister races, but that's another subject).

How does one possibly learn about these races, their significance, and how they relate to each other if one weren't born in a red barn-house in Belgium, and didn't learn to walk on Quick-Step laminated hardwood floors?

Allow us then to give a rambling tutorial of sorts, a story perhaps, of these races.

Classics calendar: spring 2012

For convenience reference, a race listing of the spring 2012 classics season, plus a Google Calendar!

In the beginning, there were cobbles

In the beginning, there were cobbles. And hills. And often there were cobbled hills. Over time, some of these roads were converted into asphalt. But the legions of fans saw fit to preserve some of these cobbled stretches and climbs, or even to convert some roads back into a cobbled state of being.

Today we are merely 58 days from de Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, when the peloton shall rumble over the cobbles of the classic cycle races that we love. Call them the "classiques" if you speak French, or "klassieker" if you speak Flemish, or "classiche" if you prefer Italiano. But the season of our obsession is coming, and none too soon.