yes. it is almost here. hot diggity damn.
this article originally appeared on The Roar.
“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.
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?
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!
read my take on the race here on The Roar.
who says cycling tees can’t be attractive?
i beg to differ…
contact for more details
just a bit…
a thank you to Bjarke Rasmussen for sending this along…
underwhelming, i’d say if i had to choose one word to sum up the TBS. most interesting thing about was – and yes they do sponsor me but it’s true – the BLK TEC all-carbon, bladed spoke wheels.
or maybe i’m just being an old crank. it’s a distinct possibility.
one very awesome moment was seeing Terry Lin, owner of Caffe Terry in Taichung (and voted one of the top ten cycling cafes in the world by Outside Magazine), wearing a crankpunk tee…!
another was the Kuwahara booth – the bike i wanted so bad as a kid was right there. i felt like stealing it.
the Simple bike was, after the Lapierres of course, my favorite bike in the show.
anyway, here’s some images.
possibly the longest team name in the history of cycling and there’s only one man on the team…
disaffected with most of my experiences on cycling teams i had an idea towards the end of last season – why don’t I race independently, forget racing UCI events, focus on the regional and international elite amateur road races on offer these days and start doing more international MTB events?
i approached the brands that i’ve been connected with for several years and some new ones too and wrangled both product and financial support from some and bingo, i’m a one man band now roaming the planet looking for finish lines.
supporting me through 2014 will be:
Lezyne with tools and accessories
BlkTec with wheels, stem, handlebars, seatpost and tires
720Armour with eyewear
and last but not least, Lapierre with both road & MTB frames and groupsets.
so far the calendar has only two confirmed races, the Craft Bike TransAlp (MTB) and the GENCO Mongolia Bike Challenge, though also in the sights are the TransPyr (MTB) the Crocodile Trophy in Australia (MTB), and Leadville (MTB).
on the road i’ll be racing in Taiwan in the regional series, doing the Singapore nationals again with the Lapierre Asia Cycling Team, possibly the Tour of Friendship again in Thailand, and the Tour of Bintan (again with Lapierre Asia).
i’d like to say a huge thank you to all my sponsors and to the friends and family that have supported me and continue to do so.
this year is, i hope, gonna be a corker!
thanks to Matias Lauryssens for this.
Thrilled to announce that I’m going to be sponsored this year by LEZYNE, using their kick-ass products as I venture off racing road and MTB in Taiwan, Asia and the rest of the world!
I’ll be joining a select few athletes that also represent LEZYNE such as Cedric Garcia, mad MTB legend from France, the legally blind rider Bobby McMullen who is just incredible [watch this video below, awesome stuff], and Angie Hohenwarter, a freerider who brings a great shot of glamour to the greasy business of bikes.
And of course also in the LEZYNE stable is porribly the world’s best known cyclist, Danny MacAskill.
He was in Taiwan last year and I was lucky enough to see some of the making of this film that you can watch here below. Just mind-blowing, not only the tricks, but the effort he puts in.
Thanks to all the folks at LEZYNE for making this happen, I intend to crank on!
Philippe Gilbert is one of my favourite riders on the World Tour – since he debuted with Francaise Des Jeux back in 2003, the man has done enough to be considered a living legend.
His first year in the pro peloton brought the Points Classification and a stage win at the Tour de l’Avenir, no small feat that.
2004 and especially 2005 saw a raft of wins in minor races, but it was in 2006 that the Belgian started to show his colors, flashing his peacock tail to take the mini-classic Omloop Het Volk with a raging series of attacks that saw him ride the last 7km alone.
In 2009 he again won Omloop and claimed the victory at Paris-Tours also, signaling to anyone with a modicum of bike sense that this was a serious prospect for just about any one day honor he set his sights on.
In 2010 he won Paris-Tours again, claimed the 20th stage in the Giro and managed his first ever Monument win in the Giro di Lombardia, a race he would win again the next year too.
Lombardia suited him, with its rolling hills and snaking lanes, but interestingly he was also third at the Tour of Flanders in 2010.
And who can forget his year of brilliance, 2011? He seemed to be able to win at will, with scintillating victories at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Amstel Gold Race, La Feche Wallone and the first stage of the Tour de France, among others.
It was an incredible run of form that brought him the accolade of the Number One ranked rider in the UCI World Tour for 2011.
He signed for BMC Racing for 2012 and things generally began to come apart for Gilbert – which might seem a ridiculous statement coming in the year he won the World Championships on the road, but it’s true nonetheless.
Later, Gilbert put his dip in form down to deviating from his usual training plan to adhere to the one devised for him by the BMC coaches, and also to a switch of pedals and saddle.
But whatever lessons were there to be learnt after a generally unimpressive 2012 didn’t seemed to have been heeded as the 2013 season unfolded.
Gilbert had a dismal season in the Rainbow jersey and was in serious danger of going winless through the year, something which would have had those who believe in the ‘Curse of the Rainbow Jersey’ frantic.
He finally managed a victory at the 2013 Vuelta a Espana on Stage 12, in what was undoubtedly his worst season, win-wise, as a pro.
And so on to 2014, and Gilbert has high hopes for a victory at Milan-San Remo.
Speaking at the unveiling of a new finish for the Italian Classic earlier this week, Gilbert said he was, “happy to see that San Remo is better for me and I will focus on this.
“San Remo is a race I love and I would love to win. I’ve been on the podium a few times and I’m still convinced I can win this and now even more.
“The riders make the race, but if we climb that climb with real climbing speed, I don’t see any sprinters – apart from [Peter] Sagan of course – being able to follow,” Gilbert said.
“Sagan is the exception, because he can climb, sprint and even [time trial], but the other sprinters, I don’t see a chance for them.”
Gilbert already knows a win at Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders is beyond him, partly because of his size (at 67kg he can’t compete with the likes of the 80kg-plus Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara) and partly because of the routes of those two races (Roubaix is too flat and the climbs of Flanders come too far from the finish).
But with the arrival of Sagan – whom Gilbert correctly points out as the main man for San Remo – the Belgian has an adversary that can beat him at his own game.
Sagan can and surely will win several Classics in the years to come, and was just pipped into second last year in San Remo by Gerald Ciolek. He won Gent-Wevelgem with a brilliant solo effort, as well as a host of other races.
His second at Flanders, to an incandescent Cancellara, was a great result even though he didn’t win.
Last year Sagan put down the markers for the older riders, announcing he has the legs not just to win the hard-men Classics like Roubaix and Flanders, but also the Classics more suited to the traditional all-rounders such as Gilbert.
For Gilbert – can he win Milan-San Remo? It’s a no for me. With fast men like Sagan and Marcel Kittel improving all the time, I can’t see him ever having another 2011.
And the other Classics where Gilbert has conquered all in the past? Pit a 100% fit Sagan against a 100% fit Gilbert, and I’d say the Slovenian gets the nod every time.