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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rise of Nations

Just like in geopolitics, nations rise and fall as they contend in professional cycling. With the call for more and more globalization of pro cycling, we ask the question: what of the "old" nations and what of the "new emerging" nations?

In this article we use basic analysis tools to examine the rise and fall of nations in one-day racing. To be more precise, we consider Monuments and World Championship (WC) wins of Italy, Belgium, and France, versus those of "other nations." We use a moving-average of 7 years, which we consider the typical "mature and winning" period of a rider's career. We consider Milano-Sanremo, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Giro di Lombardia, Paris-Tours, and the World Championships.
What insights were we able to gleam? Read on ...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Remembering Frank Vandenbroucke

It is hard to speak of Philippe Gilbert's breakthrough 2011 season without hearing echoes of Frank Vandenbroucke in the back of my mind. This post is not about Gilbert - we'll have plenty of opportunity to discuss him, his astonishing 2011 season, and his coming 2012 season. And verily, to Gilbert's great credit I think his character is nothing like VDB's.

But enough about Gilbert. This post is about the rise and fall of VDB, about why so many pinned hopes on him, and about how the level of idolatry by the Franky Boys grew to fever pitch.

To those of us who follow the classics, "VDB" as he was affectionately known was considered the Second Coming of Jesus. There are several reasons for his fans' unyielding fanaticism.

VDB riding a Cyfac under  Cofidis MBK's paint scheme. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Season Openers

As the rhyme of winter marches on, spring is nearly upon us, and what better way to start the spring than to consider the traditional opener races? In France, this means GP d'Ouverture La Marseilleise. In Italy, this means GP Costa degli Etruschi. In Belgium, this means the long-awaited Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Season openers are a tricky affair both for race organizers and for riders. Doing well in them requires significant preparation in winter. We argue it also requires a bit more luck than usual, what with the entire peloton just waking up from a long winter slumber. Surely we all know how jittery those first springtime group rides can be .... And for organizers, a dose of luck in terms of decent weather is critical. We further argue it requires much more willpower than usual, what with colder temperatures, wet roads, likeliness of rain, and needing more frequent nature breaks.

Sebastien Chavanel in tactical preparation to race in the 2011 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Photo credit brassynn
In a previous article we learned of how de Omloop started as a counter-race to de Ronde, but that over time it ceded its competing schedule to one that is complementary. With this it earned its place in the spring classics. Now we will give the stories behind the other opening races, GP La Marseilleise and GP Etruschi.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Visit to Artisan Frame Maker Cyfac

As many of you know, I'm a big fan of Cyfac and I am fortunate enough to own a few of their frames.  Cyfac is a very small company in France that makes cutting-edge frames but in the old fashioned way:  everything is done by hand.

Work brings me to France every once in a while, so in December 2009 I asked Eric Sakalowsky a co-owner of Cyfac if it would be possible for me to visit their workshop near Tours, France.  He was YES affirmatively and arrange for the guys at Cyfac to even get me a loaner Cyfac to use during my visit.

Tours is easily accessed from Paris via the TGV, and in about 2 hours I made my way to Tours, and to Langeais which is where I was recommended to stay.  My hotel of choice was Hotel Errard, shown in the center of the first pic.

Monsieur and Madame Errard were very accommodating.  Monsieur Errard loves to cook, and goes shopping for fresh ingredients every day. They offered a prix fixe meal plan that includes a multi-course meal, and I accepted wholeheartedly!