Monday, September 30, 2013

The One True Groupset

To celebrate Rui Costa's win in the World Championship, we offer the following tribute.

Fellow Brothers and Sisters in Campagnolo, let us pray. 

Dear Santo Tullio, since 2009 when Cuddles Evans won the World Championship thanks to his seamless multi-gear shifting up the final hill in Mendrisio, Swizzera, our faith surely has been tested. His win in the 2010 Giro d'Italia's muddy epic stage notwithstanding, was followed by the Great Twin Betrayals of BMC and QuickStep as they switched away from Campagnolo. 

We thank You for rewarding our faith last Sunday with the World Championship win of Rui Costa, of the Most Campagnolo Team of Movistar -- formerly known as Caisse d'Epargne, formerly known as Banesto, formerly known as Reynolds. 

Please guide your Apostle / Team Manager / Directeur Sportif Eusebio Unzué, who has guided Delgado, Indurain, Jiménez, Rodriguez, and Valverde, as he seeks to find new sponsorship for his team. May Unzué continue to be faithful to the One True Groupset. 

In the name of Santo Tullio, and His Son Eddy Merckx, and the Holy Delta Brakes we pray, Amen. 

Photo by Petit Brun shared under by-nc-sa 2.0.

Friday, April 12, 2013

It's Go Time For Astana

Last year Team Astana v 3.0 delivered excellent performance in the Ardennes classics, with victories in Amstel Gold Race (AGR) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège; these wins were delivered by Italian Enrico Gasparotto and Kazakh Maxim Iglinsky.

The squad may forever be associated with the controversial Alexandre Vinokourov -- seemingly unrepentant doper but brilliant rider who recently won London Olympic Gold -- who remains as General Manager. However, today's Astana is equally the team of Team Manager Giuseppe Martinelli. He first became famous as the manager of Italian squad Carrera, which became Mercatone Uno as Claudio Chiappucci retired and Marco Pantani rose. From there he worked for Saeco, being the personal director of a young Damiano Cunego. Looking at his accomplishments as manager, it is clear that this is a man who knew how to win hilly classics and grand tours.

Maxim Iglinsky at the 2007 Tour de France.
Photo from Wikipedia Common, by McSmit (GNU Free Doc License 1.2).

This season's Team Astana v 3.1 added rising Italian star Vicenzo Nibali formerly of Cannondale. With a rising Peter Sagan and ever-popular Ivan Basso, Nibali moved to Astana partly to be his own grand tour contender. But Astana has proven itself with hilly classics contenders Gasparotto and Iglinsky.

In short, Nibali may have given up on classics ambition in order to pursue grand tours as a team leader

It is now up to Martinelli to use his squad to match their performance last year: don't forget that Nibali was second to Iglinsky in LBL, after a gutsy solo break that nearly succeeded. It will be too bad if Nibali were to give up on classics performance completely.

What's your prediction for Astana this year, will Martinelli's boys be able to step up to the challenge? Share your thoughts below.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Age and the Classics Contender

When Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan, and Jurgen Roelandts ascended the Ronde van Vlaanderen (RVV) podium last Sunday, we thought that it represented three generations of cyclists. Cancellara (RadioShack) is today 32 years old, Sagan (Cannondale) merely 23 years old, and Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) is 27 years old.

We ask ourselves: How do classics contenders age?

Naturally, we went to Cycling Archives and explored the wealth of data to compare several notable cyclists of various era, and compare them to more recent heroes.

What of older heroes?

Thinking about the RVV we certainly thought of Briek Schotte (born in 1919), twice winner of de Ronde and one of the original hardmen. We then thought of Eddy Merckx (born in 1945) and his impossibly long list of victories. We also thought of Roger de Vlaeminck (born in 1947), a rival of Merckx. And of course Bernard Hinault (born in 1954) of a slightly younger generation much like Cancellara and Sagan.

We then plotted our perception of their accomplishment in classics races, versus their age. What we found was interesting.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Super Mario in Gent-Wevelgem

Peter Sagan's charismatic win in Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem was superb, sign of a true champion who knows when to take charge and when to push for the win. While many expected him to wait for the final sprint, he put in more than his fair share in a break of 13 riders, and left them all in the dust by attacking away. In the end, he had a 23-second advantage in a race that had been threatened with cancellation just hours prior.

His win reminded us of "Super Mario" Cipollini's three wins in Gent-Wevelgem: in 1992, 1993, and 2002. His first win was perhaps the most amusing one (Watch video starting at 1:55). What was to be a formality -- a field sprint -- had "Tashkent Terror" Djamolidine Abdoujaparov pull on Cipollini's seat post as Cipo was surging past him. The tug was enough to push Abdou ahead of Cipollini, however Cipo kept his cool and raised his arms in celebration anyway.

"I knew he'd get penalized," he said calmly.

Cipo's 1993 win was straightforward: he simply hit the gas and sprinted literally from the front, nobody was able to get around him.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Is Milano-Sanremo really a sprinters race?

In modern times this race has been billed as the "sprinters' classic," despite it having a series of sharp hills near the finish. This, after nearly 300 km of racing. Whether MSR comes down a field sprint is itself a difficult question to answer.

Curious to see whether and  how the sprinters' grip has strengthened, we look at whether the race ends in a sprint, starting from the 1960 edition to recent years. Which by the way, we don't view as having ended in a field sprint due to a very splintered front group. After some tweaking, we ended up with the following plot.

Does Milan-Sanremo end in a field sprint?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Roads to Milano-Sanremo

The latest freezing spell - blanketing snow on western Europe - had thrown a wrench into the preparation of many aspirants to the throne of Milano-Sanremo (MSR). It started with the change of day, from Saturday to Sunday. Suddenly, Belgium's little known Wednesday race the Nokere Koerse appeared to be the perfect last test before the lineup in Milan. Alas, snow forced cancellation of the event.

In previous post we have thought of how the pre-season, or early season, has changed. Which roads have the winners of Milano-Sanremo taken? We start with the latest, in 2012, when cheeky Australian Simon Gerrans won. He started his year with hard riding down under, including the Tour Down Under (TDU) and the various Aussie road races. Taking a break from racing, he resumed competition only in Paris-Nice (PN) on his way to victory.

Road to Samremo 2012.
On the other hand, second place Fabian Cancellara went to do the Tours of Qatar/Oman (TQO), then after some break from racing he went to Strade Bianche (SB), Tirreno-Adriatico (TA), and finally MSR. Third placer Vincenzo Nibali and fourth placer Peter Sagan, teammates in Team Cannondale, did nearly the same thing, although both skipped Strade Bianche. The fifth rider John Degenkolb did the harder route, from Qatar/Oman to Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to Paris-Nice.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

For Briek's Sake

I am just reminded again of the awesomeness of Briek Schotte.

It is so much so that 't Gaverhopke Brewery released a limited edition Koerseklakske.

If you don't know Briek, all you need to know is here:

I can tell you more about "de Briek" lunch menu at the cafe near the museum of de Ronde in Oudenaarde, it is simple pasta with brown sugar and nothing more. 

Briek died in 2004 on the day de Ronde was won by a German, in front of two Belgians! By eyewitness account, winner Stefan Wesseman's wife was sitting in a cafe/bar in Oudenaarde when this happened. The Belgian crowd boasted that the race was won when two Belgians and a German entered the finale together. As the German winner crossed the finish line first, the crowd grew hushed, the silence so deafening that Wesemann's wife left the bar in awkwardness. 

Damn, Briek must have died heartbroken. 

Lieve Vlaanderen! 

(*) Koerseklakske refers to the leather helmet cyclists had to wear in Belgium well before helmet rules were widespread. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tour Down Under, Tour of Qatar, and the early season to de Omloop

Fans of the classics: as if the snow blanket of winter had lured us to complacency, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (OHN) is nearly upon us already. Hailed as the opener of the Belgian classics races (some other nations have had their opening races by then), we wonder the impact of emerging early season races in warmer climates on the OHN. More specifically, we wish to compare the importance of Tour of Qatar (ToQ) and Australia's Tour Down Under (TDU) on the performance of classics warriors who have done well in the OHN.

In order to do this, we made a list of wielrenners who finished in the top 5 of the OHN from 2008 to 2012 and empirically compute the correlation of their performance and their attendance at the TDU and ToQ. What are we able to find out? Read on.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Belgian Succession

It is hard to believe, but Tom Boonen is aging. The Belgian boy wonder from east and north of Antwerp is already 32 years old, he may be at the peak of his prowess but he's ridden for 11 seasons. Just like his former mentor and teammate Johan Museeuw - whose career overlapped with Boonen's in near-perfect synchronous sequence - Boonen has become a much more focused rider than he was in his younger days. The overlap between the aging Museeuw and then-surging Boonen spoiled us fans in more ways than we realized then. We never had to look for a Belgian hero of the cobbled classics, for a new Lion of Flanders.

Tom Boonen in 2012, from Creative Commons under license CC BY-SA 2.0,
photo taken by Angelo Giangregorio.

This natural succession also benefited Patrick Lefevere's QuickStep team, who always had a popular icon to stand behind. Even in Boonen's leanest years of 2010 and 2011, when he merely won  Gent-Wevelgem and merely reached the podium in both editions of de Ronde. As we know, cycling is a team sport, therefore having such icons as Museeuw and Boonen helped the team secure sponsorship which in turn enabled the retainment of a royal retinue, a merry band of Belgians and Italians whose job security and raison d'etre revolved around those few sacred weeks in April.

Who shall succeed Tom Boonen as the Belgian kaseinfretter?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Can Old Dogs Learn New Tricks?

Several retired pros have gone on to have illustrious careers as team coaches and directeurs sportif (DS). Raphael Geminiani comes to mind: as a rider he won the King of Mountains jerseys in the 1951 Tour de France and Giro d'Italia, yet he is perhaps best remembered as the DS and team manager of the mercurial Jacques Anquetil. Not only was he the DS who could manage the tempestuous Anquetil to incredible feats, he was a business innovator who side-stepped restrictions on team sponsorship.