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.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 下午3.49.06

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.

booncacel.jpg.h380.jpg.568

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.

crankpunk on PEZ on FLANDERS! (aka Euro Adventure ’14 Part 3)

yeeha! i’m here, i’ sipping the local juice, and i’m loaded in so many, many ways.

read all about the trip’s first installment here on Pez Cycling News

“What do I have to do?”

“Get to Belgium, chase the Tour of Flanders, the E3 Scheldeprijs and Paris-Roubaix, get taken care of by Velo Classic Tours, ride the Flanders sportif, hit the cobbles, drink the beer and write about the experience,” replied the Pez.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked.

“No.”

5 minutes later my flight was booked and I was set. I was going to Mecca…

Gino Bartali: the only truly clean Grand Champion?

Bartali-pp01-01

 

this is from wikipedia, i found it as i was writing an article on Gino the Great for a magazine.

it kind of blew my mind, to think that he was possibly the first in-competition drug tester of all time! as well as being a participant, and a huge one at that.

here are the quotes:

Drugs search

Bartali always suspected that Coppi took drugs. On the hairpins of the Col di Bracco, during a stage of the 1946 Giro from Genoa to Montecani Terme, Coppi drank from a glass phial and threw into the verge. Bartali drove back after the race and found it. He said:

With the meticulous care of a detective collecting evidence for fingerprinting I picked it up, dropped it into a white envelope and put it carefully in my pocket. The next day I rushed round to my personal doctor and asked him to send the phial to a lab for analysis. Disappointment: no drug, no magic potion. It was nothing more than an ordinary tonic, made in France, that I could have bought without a prescription.
I realised that I should have to try to outsmart him and I devised my own investigation system. The first thing was to make sure I always stayed at the same hotel for a race, and to have the room next to his so I could mount a surveillance. I would watch him leave with his mates, then I would tiptoe into the room which ten seconds earlier had been his headquarters. I would rush to the waste bin and the bedside table, go through the bottles, flasks, phials, tubes, cartons, boxes, suppositories – I swept up everything. I had become so expert in interpreting all these pharmaceuticals that I could predict how Fausto would behave during the course of the stage. I would work out, according to the traces of the product I found, how and when he would attack me. 

both quotes are from Miroir des Sports, France, 1946.

Cop-Tre-Uomini-Oro

 

crankpunk’s Euro Adventure ’14: part 2

the ridiculously satisfying rides continue on a daily basis but hecky thump it is cold, 6 degrees today and i am no longer built for these conditions, that much is abundantly clear. my fellow Northerners would say i’ve gone soft and i will agree, and you know what? i always wanted to be soft. when in was a kid here i dreamt of life on a tropical island. i’d like to see them survive a Taiwanese summer on anything less than three layers of skin, a bucket and a half of camomile lotion for the burns and without saying ‘bloodyell, too ‘ot for me is this!‘ fifty times a day.

sunburn-medium_new

reminds me of when i started scuba diving in my mid 20s. we went for our first outdoor dive to a sunken quarry in Leicestershire. in february. you could see the top of the abandoned crane poking out of the top of the water. there was a picture of a fish in the clubhouse, it was reputed to live in the lake and was the only fish anyone had ever seen, but no two people had ever claimed to see it at the same time, so its existence was very much debated.

everyone else by the dock had on full dry-suits, under which they wore tracksuits, thermal undershirts and thick wool socks, everything any sane person would insist on wearing before jumping into a lake that was full of water cold enough to kill a man without protection in about 3 minutes.

we, being new recruits and not having yet attained out dry-suit certs, wore 7mm wetsuits. our hoods were so tight that everyone’s face looked a bit like a testicle trapped in a zipper.

our instructor handed each of us a liter of water.

‘drink’.

‘why?’

‘you’ll see.’

we dived in, and i was sure i’d been lobotomised. the rush of cold on what was exposed of my face is still now indescribable.  the visibility was down to 2 feet and we clung to our buddies with our frozen claws as if our lives depended on it… cos, well, they did depend on it. after a couple of minutes of flapping about amidst the mind-jolting coldness, my buddy tapped me on the shoulder.

i turned to see him looking at me, eyes wide, then suddenly they crinkled into what might have been a half-grimace but was also kind of a half-smile. i thought maybe he was about to check out and leave me to drag his frozen stiff corpse back to the surface, but no – he then started to pat the area around his belly and then his legs and even his neck.

i wondered what the heck he was doing when i felt my bladder protesting. ah. got it. he was pissing in his suit and shifting the warmth about with his hands!

i felt the liquid release and did the same,patting it about me, as my eyes fluttered and rolled in their sockets like i was having an underwater hot-gasm. it was that good. i tell you, i can feel it still, warm, wonderful, glorious urine!

when we all got out and unzipped though, i almost got whiplash, the smell was that bad. neoprene is a wonderful thing, but i advise against pissing a litre of English tap water into it. just in case you ever get the urge.

unless of course you’re in 7mm of it in a sunken quarry.

in Leicester.

in February.

after the dive i chatted to the instructor, Simon, who was still completely stinking of booze from the night/morning before.

‘i’m thinking of going to Thailand to do my instructor course.’

‘ugh.’

‘is it any good there?’

‘well, if you like looking at fish and shit, then yeah, i suppose it’s not bad…’

'fish and shit'

‘fish and shit’

everdrunk Simon, you see, was so hard and so bloody much a man that his idea of scuba was getting together with a bunch of blokes who looked like they’d rape you with a broken pool cue ‘just for a laugh’ and who all drove cars with stickers on the bumpers that said ‘divers like a lot of bottom time’ and going to a quarry to dive to depths of 90 meters on a baffling mix of gases that meant they had to be down there for hours, in the dark, rather than going diving at 15 meters in tropical oceans and seeing the kind of fish and colors that had you wondering if there wasn’t some strain of magic mushroom being pumped through your regulator.

and the point of that long preamble is this: riding in England in March, or February, or January or take-you-pick-uary is an altogether different kind of riding than riding in more temperate climes. it’s like a grim march, the winds whip your skin to flakes and the cold inhabits your bones like a scab that’s broken the picket lines to take your job. it’s beautiful, terrible, breathtaking, brutal and all in between and then some.

the moors under snow

the hills under snow

feels amazing when you get home though, though the post-ride meal has been bacon and sausage sandwiches almost daily, in a desperate attempt to get fat back in between bone and skin. but yeah, you feel like Scott might have felt if he hadn’t died in that tent.

i’m home Ma, i made it!

but it is beautiful. they call Yorkshire, the next county over, ‘God’s Country’ on account of its terrain, but it extends to Lancashire and the Lake District too. if you haven’t been here to ride, i implore you to consider it. those foreign lads at the Tour this year are gonna be gobsmacked.

the Lake District

the Lake District

did my first race in the UK in 20 years and more last Sunday, a Cat 4 one hour crit, and got 3rd. i still say i was 2nd, but the line guy was adamant. we had to sprint through 20 guys that we’d already lapped so it was a bit of a crapshoot but still, it was a lot of fun. i’m a long way off form so it was great to get the lungs going, same race  tomorrow so will be going for the win this time.

Flanders and Roubaix draw ever nearer, i am so excited that if i was wearing a 7mm wetsuit i’d definitely pee in it.

today Sagan went and won the E3 and threatens to make this journo dude look a bit of a fool, the same guy who said he couldn’t beat Boonen and Cancellara next week.

cough…

over and out. next installment of the Euro Adventure 2014 coming soon, thanks for reading.

 

i’m currently in the UK on my way to Belgium to cover the Tour of Flanders, E3 Scheldeprijs and Paris-Roubaix for PezCycling News, courtesy of Velo Classic Tours.

 

 

Can Peter Sagan gatecrash the Cancellara & Boonen Classics Show?

this article originally appeared on The Roar

Peter-Sagan_2269703b

There are a couple of anecdotes about Peter Sagan that tells you just how precocious the 24 year old from Slovakia was as a teenager.

Having started racing bikes at the age of 9, he had already made a name for himself by turning up to road races wearing normal shorts and t-shirts, riding an MTB with a pair of tennis shoes on his feet – and still winning.

Later, as a junior racer he entered the Slovak Cup, but after selling his mountain bike he was left without a replacement as his team’s sponsor couldn’t get his new bike to him in time. Faced with racing on any bike he could get his hands on or not racing at all, he borrowed his sister’s supermarket special – and carried on to win the race anyway.

I’m an admirer of Sagan and have been since he turned up at the EPO Tour of California in 2010 and won Stage 5 & 6 and carried off the White Jersey for Best Young Rider and the Points Classification for good measure.

Here was a guy who looked like the real deal, and you could see that anyone who had that build yet could still climb a bit and win uphill sprints must be packing some serious firepower in his legs.

He didn’t remind me of Boonen nor of Cancellara but more of Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon, perhaps even with a bit of Sean Kelly thrown in there too. He was reminiscent – and still is – of those riders before the days of the Lance Armstrong ‘inspired’ specialization, when these tough nut all-rounders threw themselves into every kind of race they could get their hands on, and quite often won too.

And if his riding style conjures memories from another era, that pinching of a podium model’s backside after the Tour of Flanders just compounded that. It was a sign of immaturity, and it’s one that extends to his riding too, which I’ll get to in a minute.

er, it is 1978, innit?

er, it is 1978, innit?

Sagan is so good that many commentators started tipping him as a future Grand Tour winner. He has the flatline speed to become a good time trialist, and the legs to become a very decent climber if he can lose a few kilos of his upper body muscle, but I have to say I am on the fence on that one.

With the kind of specialization we have today, with riders like Chris Froome basing their whole year around one race and turning up with 3% body fat, it’s hard to see Sagan competing for the podium in any of the big stage races any time soon.

But where he can cement a legacy and establish himself as one of the greatest of all time is in the Classics.

Indeed, he might have already started along that path had one or two of the big races gone his way. Instead, he has so far racked up two ‘mini’ classic wins (Gent-Wevelgem and Brabantse Pijl last season), and a whole truckload of close calls.

2012 saw him claim 2nd at Gent-Wevejgem, 3rd at Amstel, 4th at Milan-San Remo and 5th at the Tour of Flanders.

In 2013 he was second at Strade Bianche, 2nd at Milan-San Remo, 2nd at E3 Harelbeke, and 2nd at the Tour of Flanders.

This year, he was again 2nd at the Strade Bianche and 10th at Milan-San Remo.

One of Sagan’s problems – and he has very few it seems – is that sometimes he is just too good and doesn’t know what to do with it. In some races, like the recent Strade Bianche, Sagan took off so fast and at a point when only one other man could go with him that he effectively handed the race to Michal Kwiatkowski.

Alessandro Valverde has a saying that goes like this:

“When you are not strong, take a chance. But when you are strong, do nothing until the end.”

Of course, we love to see swashbuckling riders who take big chances and give it everything, but that game is a little hit and miss. If Sagan could pull back his natural instincts just a fraction I think he would win even more races.

Strade Bianche was a case in point. Cancellara said afterwards that from the get go it was obvious that Kwiatkowski was on a flyer. Did Sagan not see that too? Or did his natural egotism get the better of him? Perhaps Kwiatkowski would have won no matter had there been 30 riders at the finish, but Sagan carried him to the line on a finish that suited the Pole rather than him.

Sometimes in bike racing you have to be prepared to lose it all, to win.

That Sagan is one hell of a Classics rider is not in dispute. Neither is the fact that, if he wants to win at Flanders or Roubaix this season, he will have to usurp two of the best Classics riders of all time: Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen.

Not just good, these too, they are truly great riders, proper legends in an era when so many have fallen by the wayside. When they roar, the peloton listens, for they are lions of the peloton.

Can Sagan be as good?

Judging simply from wins and age, he is actually doing better than Cancellara was at 24. In 2005, at the same age Sagan is now, Cancellara had in terms of Classics’ results one 4th place at Paris-Roubaix to his name.

In terms of big wins in big races such as the Tour de France, Sagan is way ahead on that score too (Sagan has 4 already, Cancellara has 8 in his career to date).

Cancellara though had won Roubaix by 2006 when he was 25, the first of his three wins. His record since has been one of the best in the modern era, with two Flanders wins, one Milan-San Remo and four victories at the E3 Harelbeke.

He’s looking good this year too despite a sluggish start that saw him not at his best in the Middle East. Last week’s 2nd at San Remo though will have buoyed him and indicated that he is near top form.

Then we come to Boonen. At the age of 22 he was third at Paris-Roubaix. By 24 he had won Gent-Wevelgem and the E3 Prijs Claanderen, the Points Jersey in the Tour de France and two stages there too.

tom-boonen-quick-step-gear-11-japan

By 25 he was World Champion, and in the same year won Flanders And Paris-Roubaix. His one day classics palmares is unrivalled even by Cancellara, with 4 wins at Roubaix, three at Flanders, three at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, three at Gent-Wevelgem, five at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen and a host of smaller wins too.

On paper Boonen is the best Classics rider of his generation and absolutely one of the best of all time. Cancellara’s wins may be more spectacular, generally, but it is Boonen who has the numbers (Boonen’s tally at the Tour by the way is 6 stage wins).

It is these two men that Peter Sagan will come up against in the following weeks as he strives to claim his first Monument Classic win.

Cancellara is firing and Boonen had been having another great start to the year until the still-birth of his first child last week forced him to miss Milan-San Remo (and I’m sure all out thoughts go out to him and his partner at this time).

But, Boonen is already back on the road and determined not to let his training over the winter go to waste.

And so, can Sagan win at Flanders or Roubaix?

No, not this year. Barring an accident to the other two, I can’t see him winning on firepower alone. Perhaps if he could manipulate a situation to have them negate each other, maybe, but for one, the Swiss and the Belgian are too experienced to fall for anything but the con job of a master and for another, Sagan just isn’t smart enough yet to do that.

There is also the fact that the skills of Boonen and Cancellara mean that Sagan comes up lacking, if ever so slightly, in comparison. Boonen has a far greater wealth in experience of conserving energy for the sprint at both races and can go it alone too, when on his absolute best form. Cancellara of course can go it alone from just about anywhere, even if at 90% against most riders.

There’s no doubt that Sagan is very, very good, but he has some way to go to be considered in the league of Boonen and Cancellara, and he’ll have to wait another year at least to claim a win at either Roubaix or Flanders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milan-San Remo: it’s a bit dull, isn’t it?

yeah, it’s just not doing it for me, the ‘biggie’ that opens up The Monuments season.

you can read why here on PezCycling News.

here’s a snippet:

Ready for some blasphemy? Ok, well, Milan-San Remo is a little boring.

There, I’ve said it now, it’s out there and I can’t take it back.

It’s like the bloated uncle sat loosening his belt after too much turkey and stuffing at Thanksgiving. It’s a Hummer in a car park full of thoroughbred race cars. It’s that kid that can’t play football that is still left standing there, alone at the end, every time you pick teams…

 

'hello, is that the Missing Lumberjack hotline? we may have found your man...'

‘hello, is that the Missing Lumberjack hotline? we may have found your man…’