how Boonen & Sagan lost Paris-Roubaix

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Crikey, what an edition of Paris-Roubaix that was. If you weren’t up out of your seat several times over the last 60km, you’re either terminally bed-ridden or already devoid of breath. It was that thrilling.

We, the weatherbeaten scandal-weary cycling fans, finally got just what we’d been begging for like gooey-eyed puppies for so long – a Roubaix in which Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara were at something very close to equal strength. Make no mistake, Belgium’s No. 1 son was stronger than Cancellara, if not by much.

“I’ve won twice over here with much worse legs than today”, Boonen said to the throng of hungry journalists that follows him just about everywhere. Stronger or not, ‘Tomeke’ was left to chew over a bitter loss that was ever-so-slightly tempered by his teammate Niki Teprtsra’s win.

Boonen bides his time

Boonen bides his time

The problem with Boonen’s ride on Sunday was that he and Peter Sagan frittered away their superiority over the course of the race, like men losing water from a hole in a bucket. In doing so, they gave the advantage to men not as strong, but who rode smarter and more conservative races.

Was it brilliant to watch? Seriously, is there a greater sight in professional cycling than Tom Boonen heading off solo up the cobbles? Sagan too drew hollers and whoops as he launched his courageous, ridiculous attack with too many kilometres to go. Even the Flandrians present gave the Slovakian a cheer.

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Make no mistake, they are all Boonen folk in these parts, but they know a bike rider when they see one, and Sagan’s verve is highly respected in the heartland of the Classics.

Boonen was visibly irritated to be asked if he had the legs to win the race. “I don’t think I have to say that. That was obvious,” he retorted.

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Yet the fact is he is not as strong as when he won solo in 2012, and it remains to be seen if he has it in him to better Roger De Vlaeminck’s four wins, which Boonen equaled two years ago. De Vlaeminck, it should be noted, claims Boonen is not worthy to be ranked as highly as himself, claiming modern bike racing is too soft.

Part of Boonen’s motivation is to make the retired pro eat his words, but De Vlaeminck will have at least one more year to wait before he gets out the recipe books.

On Sunday, Boonen rode like it was 2012, taking off in an unplanned attack to bridge up to the leaders on section 14 of the pavé. Once he’d bridged and learnt very few riders were willing to work with him, fearful of taking him to the finish, he attempted several solo attacks but could not make any stick.

Two things are happening here. Firstly, Boonen and Cancellara are not as strong as they have been in the past. Secondly, several of the younger generation of riders have raised their game.

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Sep Vanmarcke, Greg Van Avermaet, John Degenkolb and several others are emerging or consolidating their reputations as serious contenders for the Monuments that once seemed to be Boonen and Cancellara’s to lose. Witness Van Avermaet at Flanders, where his poor tactical choices allowed Cancellara to win in the sprint.

Vanmarcke too may well have already won one Roubaix, in 2013, had he not led out Cancellara. Degenkolb rode the race of his life yesterday and, on the evidence of his second, will be a serious threat next year. Stybar too looked strong and might have jumped to Terpstra had he not been on the same team.

An exciting collection of riders indeed.

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Peter Sagan, of course, is the cream of that crop but he too overestimated his power and made poor tactical choices. He is like Boonen in some ways, the most obvious being not his natural ability but the honesty of his riding. Like Boonen, he never shirks a turn at the front and will drive a break just to confound the chasers, even if it means fatiguing himself.

His attack was fantastic to see but so obviously doomed that it brought a twinge of consternation. He could have won, I do not doubt that, but he needs to ride more with his head than his heart.

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Cancellara was tired, that was easy to see. He had difficulty reeling in surges by what would be considered lesser riders and seemed off his game. A mention must go to Bradley Wiggins, whose ride will have surprised many.

And so to Terpstra. A popular winner, he’s deserved a victory like this for some time. It was a cracking attack into a slight headwind and you could see the pain he put himself through to realise his greatest ambition in the race he loves most.

It was a brilliant win on a mad, crazy day, in the most open Paris-Roubaix for almost two decades.

Just magnificent. Just Paris-Roubaix.

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all images by Lee Rodgers

Pascale Honore: paraplegic surfer

just because.

 …Come, my friends,
’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Tennyson, Ulyssees

 

 

crankpunk on the Paris-Roubaix favorites

yes. it is almost here. hot diggity damn.

this article originally appeared on The Roar.

 

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“How can somebody be in love with Hell?  It’s a contradiction. Makes no sense. Most would call it madness…

 “In a religious context, Hell is a place of punishment in the afterlife, an endless realm of suffering for the transgressors, the evil. But not in cycling. In cycling Hell is a place for the brave and the heroes. Survive a day in the Hell of the North and you are a hero.

“Win or lose.

“For me this is the biggest, most prestigious race on the calendar. It’s made for heroes and only won by heroes. This is the race you have to have a passion for just to be able to finish, and to win it – well, you have to truly love it.

 Amidst so much suffering, such beauty. This is Hell. This is Paris – Roubaix.”

Leon Van Bon, two-time winner of stages in the Tour de France and two-time 4th place at Paris-Roubaix.

 

Of all the Monuments, none quite seems to get hardened one-day riders like Leon and fans like me so misty-eyed. There’s just nothing like Roubaix. The cobbles of Flanders are a world apart from those that define the race that comes a week later in the calendar, smaller, smoother and far easier to navigate.

Paris-Roubaix’s pave sections look like they’ve been dropped from a great height with the intention of bringing great pain to anyone mad enough to ride over them.

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It’s difficult to explain fully just how jagged and huge these things are to anyone who hasn’t ridden over them. You get up on the crest thinking that is the best place to be but after having your brain just about shaken from your skull you start looking for alternative routes. Yet once you leave the crown the cobbles that have been pounded by decades of tractors and trucks rear up like the sharp, jagged teeth of a subterranean monster hell-bent on consuming riders.

Each hundred meters or so brings a fresh burst of lactic acid and, slowly but surely, your speed begins to fall even though it’s completely flat. Once traversed, your respect for them professionals who win or even just rider here goes up tenfold.

The combination of elements that make a winner here are complex. They need a bike rider’s DNA, first of all, as well as power in spades, strength, courage, flat line speed, immense handling skills and, as if all that were not enough, the final and most important factor is that they actually have to enjoy riding over the cobbles.

The courage factor should also not be underestimated. These guys don’t just accept that they may well come clattering down over the stones but embrace that fact.

Which brings us to the potential winners of this year’s race. Chatting to three-time winner Johan Museeuw on Wednesday at Scheldeprijs, he said that it was hard to choose a winner but that “it will be one of the usual names,” by which he meant, basically, Fabian Cancellara or Tom Boonen.

Can these two win again this year? Of course they can, but can they win in as spectacular a fashion as they have in the past?

Probably not.

Tom Boonen was under form at the Tour of Flanders though he did a nice chunk of work at Scheldeprijs on Wednesday, which was good training for Roubaix.

Boonen spoke before the star at Scheldeprijs about his form and he sounded optimistic.

“I was very happy afterwards [after Flanders]. I have very good sensations until the last 30 or 40 minutes,” he said.

“This week will give me maybe that little bit extra. Plus, Roubaix is a different race. Flanders was really hard this year. It’ll be easier to save more energy for the final in Roubaix.”

Can he break Cancellara if the Swiss rider gets away with him? I very much doubt it. Cancellara’s win at Flanders was truly one for the memory banks and I think that he is a notch and a half above the Belgian at the moment.

Of the other contenders it comes as no surprise to see Peter Sagan’s name up there in most people’s list.

“I don’t know, I’m not thinking about Sunday right now,” he said on Wednesaday. “If I find myself in front it will be the same – everybody will know that I’m there. We’ll see.”

And that might be just why Sagan didn’t figure in the finale at Flanders, and why he’s had a string of nearly-there’s in the classics in the past two seasons. He seems to do too much work at crucial points in these races, and whilst no one would deny the immense talent he has, others will point to the tactical naivety that informs his riding.

He is brilliant though, and he can win in Roubaix -one day.

One other rider in great form is Sep Vanmarcke. The Belkin rider was 2nd last season to Cancellara and is a very serious threat to the two big men. He love the cobbles too, but he’ll have to stop leading stronger men out in the sprints if wants to get the win his talent deserves.

Greg Van Avermaet of BMC is another nearly man as he proved last week at Flanders where he was 2nd, and though also very talented I cannot see him winning this Sunday. Roubaix is fundamentally different to Flanders and much better suited to the tall, muscular rider than the smaller man. Van Avermaet is 5’11, not exactly tiny, but he has a slightness about him that means hs is not ideally suited to Paris-Roubaix’s much tougher cobbles.

How about Marcel Kittel, the Giant-Shimano rider who won on Wednesday at Scheldeprijs? Some may scoff at the suggestion that he could ever do well here but I believe he can, though admittedly not this year. Like Hushovd was, he’s a big guy with a great sprint but as he loses some of that power in his later 20s he might just become a great cobbles rider.

One other mention before my prediction for the winner: Bradley Wiggins.

He says now that he is ready to take more risks on these roads as he is no longer focused on the Tour de France, but can he actually be there at the end?

I doubt it. Too frail, too flighty, too liable to get irritated by the whole shebang that is Paris-Roubaix.

So, who’s going to win on Sunday?

Tough call. I’m going to go for Taylor Phinney of BMC. I can’t quite say why. I just get ‘that feeling’ that it’s his time. We shall see.

Leon Van Bon, by the way, is going for Cancellara.

Predictable, Leon, predictable!

 

 

 

 

 

Aiyana Currie turns pro!

since i became a cycling coach there have been many really great days and weeks when my Crank Punk Coaching Systems clients have either won races, got on the podium or just achieved whatever goal they had in their sights.

in all honesty, not only do i get more nervous when they set out for a race but i also feel an even bigger buzz when they accomplish their aims than when i achieve my own. immensely rewarding.

in the annals of CPCS successes though, Aiyana Currie’s has to be right up there with the best of them. Aiyana, 37, from the USA but residing with her family in Singapore, has been working with me for about 4 months. about a month ago she so impressed Austalian professional  Sarah Jeanne Fraser when she nearly beat her in a race that she earned herself an invite to join Sarah’s Energy HR/EHBS team at the  Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s Cup Women’s Tour of Thailand.

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Aiyana’s put in a huge effort to get where she is and fully deserves this incredible opportunity to ‘ride pro’ at 37! and to do all this with a family and a full time job is, well, she is an inspiration.

so, a massive GOOD LUCK Aiyana!

crank on…

 

what we know ahead of Flanders….

You can talk about Milan-San Remo being a Monument classic but I think you’ll all nod sagely in agreement with me when I say that the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are truly the Big Ones of the Spring.

I mean, naturally, no disrespect to San Remo, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro di Lombardia, but Flanders and Roubaix just are everything that cycling is about.

Two massive, massive races in one week.

It’s like going to your Gran’s for your Sunday dinner and getting two Knickerbocker Glories.

The Giro di Lombardia comes at the end of the season and it is a bit like coffee, cheese and crackers, all crisp and delicate, the perfect way to end a season, whereas Liege is a prime slice of beef, laid out on the plate medium rare with a little glistening of blood to get the nostrils flaring. It’s an altogether adult pleasure that one, a race for the grown ups. Not necessarily spectacular but not without its flavours and intrigues, but you do need to know what you’re looking at.

Milan-San Remo? I’m inclined to say it’s becoming more and more a Brussels sprout (poor Brussels, to have first cultivated such a boring and unpopular vegetable, but you could never imagine Paris or Milan growing them could you? The ‘Milanese sprout’ just wouldn’t do). Quite dull and getting duller each year, I have to say.

A  bit like, uh, a Milanese sprout.

But Flanders and Roubaix? Full on, sugar-laden, sense-overloading, excitement-in-a-syringe, straight-to-the-vein crackerjack brilliance. A November night sky full of a thousand fireworks, with a bit of violence thrown in from time to time and maybe even a cheeky snog with Karen Braithwaite behind the waltzers if you’re lucky.

If ever crack cocaine was a bike race, it’d be not just one of these but both. They are the only two races that I will not miss a second of, because these are two races where it can all happen, anytime and anywhere.

Painfully beautiful. If you asked me to choose two words to describe these races, it’d be those. Achingly glorious would be two more. Fractiously perfect, if you were being generous, would be the final two.

The races preceding these races of races do give – usually – an indication of what will happen over the next two weekends (at Flanders this and Roubaix the next). Though this year if there’s one thing we know it’s that we don’t know much.

Or rather, if there is one rider of that group that have the talents to winwin at Flanders and in Roubaix that truly is head and shoulders above the rest, he is playing a very clever gamegame of rope-a-dope.

Fabian Cancellara was second at Milan-San Remo but has yet to be seen to put down that power that has so distinguished him over the past few seasons. Is he trying to con everyone by not turning it on? Wouldn’t be the first time but if so, he is deep undercover – remember, he was citing fatigue way back in February.

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Tom Boonen looks to have the sprinting speed and decent stamina in his legs but he too has shown few signs of the kind of form that saw him winwin so brilliantly at Paris-Roubaix in 2012.

Peter Sagan is on form for sure, but he is still not the finished article and whether he will ever be allowed to get away by Boonen or Cancellara, unless he discovers another five per cent between now and then well that would take a large error on both their parts for that to happen.

Ian Stannard of Sky might have been in form to go for a winwin but he’s out injured after Gent-Wevelgem. Nikki Terpstra, Boonen’s roght hand man, will be one to watch as he is going very well, as is another golden oldie, Stijn Devolder.

Devolder rode very well indeed at Gent-Wevelgem and who know, should Boonen and Cancellara find themselves too tightly marked then Devolder and Terpstra are perfectly capable of riding hard enough to win.

Then we come to the likes of John Degenkolb and Marcel Kittel. Both are classed as sprinters and yet, strange as this may be to say, they are not in the ‘pure’ sprinter mold of say Greipel or Cavendish. Each is a little less stocky, more rangy, and while still blisteringly fast, each could, if they took a leaf from Boonen’s book, think about reshaping themselves as men for races just like Flanders or Roubaix.

If either of these two ended up in a bunch of 10 coming into the Roubaix velodrome, you know who would win. Maybe not this year but in the future, I can see this happening.

So, predictions for Flanders?

I could be completely wrong but I think it won’t be Sagan, Boonen or Cancellara, for the reasons outlined. Someone completely new, that’s my guess, but who?

Guess we’ll have to watch to find out.