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.