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.