To Be Myself Again

While I’m an emotional person, I don’t often become emotional over the death of public figure. I didn’t shed a tear for Michael Jackson, Patrick Swazye, or even Heath Ledger, someone I had a huge teenage crush on. But for some reason I was intensely emotional over Wouter Waylandt’s death. While it felt strange, I was comforted by the fact that the cycling community shared my grief and emotions. As silly as Twitter can be sometimes, these past two days it has been a place for me to “be” with people who understood what I was going through and who I could be emotional with. Today’s neutralized stage was a great closing for me. Eurosport commentators David Harmon and Sean Kelly did it just right, and the shots of the Leopard-Trek team rolling through the finish with Tyler Farrar were extremely moving.

But, now I’m ready to look forward. I’m not one to dwell on things past, as they can’t be changed. I’ll take with me always how I felt these last few days, but life must go on. Tomorrow, I am myself again.

Giro d’Italia, Stage 4: Tribute Stage

The writer’s over at US Pro Cycling News (myself included) will be doing daily recaps of both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour of California.

Peter Alvelais recaps the stage rode in tribute to to  fallen comrade, Wouter Weylandt.

Photo: AFP

In Memoriam: Wouter Weylandt, 1984-2011

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for US Pro Cycling News.

Cycling is a dangerous sport. No one denies that. Crashes are part of the business, never welcomed but always expected. When one of those crashes results in a cyclist’s death, however, it rocks the cycling community to its core. I was not following cycling when Fabio Casartelli crashed and died during the 1995 Tour de France, nor when Andre Kivilev met a similar fate during the 2003 edition of Paris-Nice. But I was right there when Wouter Weylandt crashed on a technical descent during today’s stage of the Giro d’Italia.

The sick feeling I got in my stomach when I realized this was more than just a simple crash has yet to go away. The emotions that bubbled up to the surface when I learned he had died could not, and can not, be stopped. I cannot claim to have had a personal attachment to Wouter. But I can claim to have a personal attachment to cycling, and to many of the cyclists Wouter called friends and teammates. We see these guys crash on television all the time. But they almost always get up and walk away. Or get up and go to a hospital, back on the bike in weeks, months. When we see one of our beloved cyclists go down, but not get up again, in front of our very eyes, it is shattering. It wrenches emotions from me that I did not think possible to have for a person I did not know.

But this post is not about me. It’s about Wouter and the larger cycling community. I cannot speak to Wouter as a person. There are others who can tell you of Wouter’s personality, what he brought to the peloton, his accomplishments. But I can speak to the fact that I don’t know of a single pro cyclist who doesn’t love cycling with all his (her) heart, soul, body. Thus I can say with complete certainty that Wouter loved cycling with all his heart, soul, and body. If nothing else, this little fact makes the reality that he will never be on a bike again heartbreaking for those who cycle.

The other thing I can say is that the cycling community feels his loss to the core. While the rest of the world goes on around us without a hitch in its step, the fans and lovers (sometimes haters!) within the cycling community can grieve and reminisce together, all while helping each other remember that despite the dangers, despite the risks, we will always get back on the bike.

Giro d’Italia, Stage 3: Somber day

The writer’s over at US Pro Cycling News (myself included) will be doing daily recaps of both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour of California.

Fitzalan Gorman’s recap of Stage 2, which saw the death of Leopard-Trek rider Wouter Weylandt, gracefully balances the sad news with the stage results.

Top 5 Stage results

  1. Angel Vicioso SPA (Androni Giocattoli)
  2. David Millar GBR (Garmin-Cervelo)
  3. Pablo Lastras SPA (Movistar)
  4. Daniel Moreno SPA (Katusha)
  5. Christophe Le Mevel SPA (Garmin-Cervelo)
Top 5 GC
  1. David Millar
  2. Angel Vicioso at 7sec
  3. Kanstantsin Sivtsov BLR (HTC-Highroad) at 9sec
  4. Marco Pinotti ITA (HTC-Highroad) at 9sec
  5. Craig Lewis USA (HTC-Highroad) at 9sec

Giro d’Italia Stage 2: Petacchi takes the win by a tire spoke

Petacchi wins, Cav poutsThis is a reprint of an article I wrote for US Pro Cycling News. I am sharing recap writing duties with the other writers of both the Giro and the Tour of California.

Today’s Giro stage was the longest of the race, at 244km. Sebestian Lang (Omega Pharma Lotto) escaped after 6km and thus started a solo breakaway which lasted almost the entire race. Lang probably expected someone to go with in the break, but it didn’t happen, and he was on his own. Even though he had 20 minutes at one point, it was a doomed escape, as the peloton would work hard to bring him back and ensure a bunch sprint.

Everyone worked for their sprinter today, even Marco Pinotti (HTC-Highroad), the pink jersey wearer, was working for his sprinter, Mark Cavendish. As a flat stage it was a relatively calm one, but at about 35km to go, the field started jockeying for position and working to bring Lang back. Lang was rewarded for his time out front along by taking the Mountain Classification jersey.

The second Lang was swallowed up, with 24km left, Leonardo Giordiani (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) launched a counter attack, followed quickly by Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Michal Golas (Vaconsoleil-DCM). Soon, a group of eight had amassed at the front: Ivan Rovny (Radioshack), Ruggero Marzoli (Astana), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Jérôme Pineau (QuickStep), and Daniele Righi (Lampre-ISD). However threatening this group was, it was not to be, as it was caught within the last 10km.

With 1.5km left, Garmin-Cévelo, Lampre, and HTC were all leading the peloton, working to get their sprinters (Tyler Farrar, Alessandro Petacchi, and Mark Cavendish, respectively). Coming into the final 100m, Farrar’s Garmin-Cérvelo had the perfect position, but Farrar was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Petacchi and Cavendish duked it out, with Petacchi edging out Cavendish by a few scant millimeters. Cavendish was clearly unhappy with how Petacchi ran his sprint, as his prolific hand gestures indicated. Afterwards, Cavendish charged Petacchi with with changing his line 3 times, causing Cavendish to have to slow down to avoid running into him. However, despite Cavendish’s displeasure, Petacchi gets the stage win.

In the end, Cav may have lost the stage win, but he gets the pink jersey, as his finish ahead of Pinotti put him in the lead.

I hate to say it, but Garmin-Cérvelo were the real losers of the day- despite having a mess of riders up front in the closing meters of the stage today, they were unable to get Farrar to the line.

Tomorrow will be a tricky day for sprinters team. A Cat 3 climb 40km from the finish could allow a well timed breakaway to succeed. However, the sprinters teams will be watching attacks very closely, as they will want the stage to end in a bunch sprint- especially Cavendish and HTC, as he was denied today. Check out the profiles here.

Top 5 stage results

  1. Alessandro Petacchi ITA (Lampre-ISD)
  2. Mark Cavendish GBR (HTC-Highroad)
  3. Manuel Belletti ITA (Colnago)
  4. Roberto Ferrari ITA (Androni Giocattoli)
  5. Borut Bozic SLO (Vancansoleil-DCM)
Top 5 GC
  1. Cavendish
  2. Kanstantsin Sivtsov BLR (HTC-Highroad) at 12sec
  3. Craig Lewis USA (HTC-Highroad) at 12sec
  4. Marco Pinotti ITA (HTC-Highroad) at 12sec
  5. Lars Bak DEN (HTC-Highroad) at 12sec

Giro d’Italia, Stage 1

The writer’s over at US Pro Cycling News (myself included) will be doing daily recaps of both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour of California.

Check out Peter Alvelais’ recap of Stage 1, where HTC-Highroad took the Team Time Trial and Marco Pinotti put on the pink leader’s jersey.

Top 5 Stage results

  1. HTC-Highroad
  2. RadioShack at 10sec
  3. Liquigas-Cannondale at 22sec
  4. Omega Pharma-Lotto s.t.
  5. Garmin-Cervelo at 24sec
Top 5 GC
  1. Marco Pinotti ITA (HTC-Highroad)
  2. Lars Bak DEN (HTC-Highroad)
  3. Kanstantsin Sivtsov BLR (HTC-Highroad)
  4. Mark Cavendish GBR (HTC-Highroad)
  5. Craig Lewis USA (HTC-Highroad)
Photo: Graham Watson/VeloNews.com

Giro d’Italia: Let The Climbing Commence

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for US Pro Cycling News.

Now that the Classics have come to an end with the closing of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, attention turns to the Grand Tours. The first of the Grand Tours starts this weekend, with the opening of the Giro d’Italia. There are three Grand Tours- called as such because they are three week tours of their host countries. May is the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy), July is the Tour de France (Tour of France), and August is the Veulta a España (Tour of Spain). Each of these races has its own personality, but they all require the utmost in dedication and preparation. Whole seasons are dictated and structured around Grand Tours. If one hopes to win, place on the podium, or even in the top ten,  commitment must be 100%. There is no half-assing it at the Grand Tours! This is because Grand Tours are brutal to the max. Racing around 200 kilometres a day for 3 weeks, with only 2 rest days, is like running a marathon every day for 3 weeks.  They offer different challenges than one day races, with the cyclists hoping to be a General Classification contenders or podium finishers having to race smart to make sure their bodies can survive 3 weeks of racing. As such, the tactics are subtler and attacks by favorites less frequent. In addition, an awesome team is needed that can protect and shepard their leader to the finish.

Background

The Giro d’Italia was started by an Italian newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport. They were inspired by L’Auto, which had created the Tour de France five years earlier to boost sales. In 1909, the first race was held, with 127 riders on the start line. Only 49 riders finished 8 days later. Like most races of the era, it’s run was interrupted by World War I and II. Until 1914, winner was decided by how many stages they won, not by overall time.

Winners

Until 1950, only Italians stood on the top step of the podium and it wasn’t until 1919 that there was a non-Italian on the podium- Belgian Marcel Buysse. In 1925, Alfredo Binda started winning stages and races at such a rate, that in 1930, the organizers offered Binda 22,500 lire to not run the race! He returned in 1931, but had to abandoned due to a crash.

By the 1950’s, wasn’t being won just by Italians any more. In 1954,the the Swiss rider Hugo Koblet was the first non-Italian to win the race, and there wasn’t another run of Italian winners until 1997.

Not surprisingly, Italians have won this race 66 times, with Belgium WAY back in second with only 7. Andrew Hampsten is the only American to have won the Giro, in 1988.

Alfred Binda, Fausto Coppi, and Eddy Merckx are tied for most victories, as they each have won 5 times.

Jerseys

1931 was the year the pink jersey made its first appearance for the overall leader. The color was modeled on the color of La Gazzetta dello Sport‘s newsprint color. Francesco Camusso was first winner to bring this jersey home.

Maglia Rosa

The King of the Mountains Classification (maglia verde) jersey was introduced in 1933, as well as the first individual time trial.

Maglia Verde

The points classification jersey (spring jersey) is the maglia ciclamino (mauve jersey).

Maglia Ciclamino

The best young rider’s jersey is white, maglia bianca.

Maglia Bianca

In the 1940s, there was a black jersey for the cyclist in last place. Another entry in the interesting fact file was Alfonsina Strada as a female rider in the 1924 Giro. She was disqualified form the GC when she crashed and finished outside the time limit, but she was one of the 30 riders to finish that year. This was because when the newspaper saw a spike in sales after her participation, they made her the highest-paid participant so she would finish the remaining 4 stages.

2011 version celebrating 150th anniversary of unification of Italy and promises to be a doozy. Many riders have expressed their fear that the route might be the death of them. Podium Cafe has a great breakdown of the race and also check out the US Pro Cycling News previews as well!


Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Gilbert is King!

What’s there to say? Philippe Gilbert was the king of this year’s late season Ardenne Classics. With great form, good tactics, a supportive team, and, of course, a little bit of luck, Gilbert was able to take 4 wins in a row. Having won Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallone and now Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Gilbert has done what no other racer has done and won all four in a single season.

Calm start, calm finish

Compared the previous Classics of the season, LBL was relatively calm. There was no bunch sprint, no last minute attacks, no successful breakaways. But even the calmer races still make for an exciting time. A ten man breakaway got away within the first 12km – Sébastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet), Jesus Herrada Lopez (Movistar), David Le Lay ( AG2R), Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Thomas De Gendt (Vancansoleil), Tony Gallopin (Cofidis), Mickaël Delage (Française des Jeux), Yannick Talabadon (Saur-Sojasun), Mathias Frank (BMC). The break was never allowed much leeway, unlike Flèche Wallonne, where the break had 17 minutes at one point. OmegaPharma-Lotto and Leopard Trek worked to keep the break close, which never got more than four minutes.

On the Côte de la Haute-Levée, a counter move by nine riders, including Enrico Gasparotto (Astana),  Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step), Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale), Laurens Ten Dam, Juan Manuel Garate (both Rabobank), Blel Kadri (AG2R), Kanstantsin Siutsou (HTC-Highroad), and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) went up the road and with 63km to go, they caught up with the original break. In spite of the large group up the road, the group was allowed a gap of 1:43.

Not until la Redoute climb was the gap reduced through Leopard Trek’s hard work. By the top of the climb, only seven riders remained in the break and they had only 45 seconds. Gasparotto, Pineau, Van Avermaet, Garate, Ten Dam, Kadri and Siutsou were alone in the front now, and were allowed to grow the gap while OmegaPharma-Lotto and Leopard Trek argued a bit over who should lead the chase.

The decisive move

With 21km to go, on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, Gasparotto and Van Avermaet took off from the lead group just as the Schleck brothers took off from the peloton, with Gilbert in tow. The Schlecks and Gilbert quickly reached the leaders, who had been joined by Pineau. Gasparotto and Pineau were not able to hang on, but Van Avermaet stuck with the three favorites as they came by.

With this move, the fate of the race was written. The peloton was only able to get within 24 seconds of the leading four and although Gilbert attacked on St Nicolas climb, dropping Van Avermaet and Andy Schleck, A. Schleck made it back to the two in front with 5 km to go. As they came up the false flat to the finish line, Gilbert put on a final burst of speed the brothers could not match and crossed the finish line to take his 4th victory in 12 days.

The New Favorite: Gilbert on Form for Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Photo: VeloNews

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for US Pro Cycling News.

After the cobbled classics of the north, the classics move to hillier south of Belgium. The Ardennes Classics are hillier and offer a different set of challenges than the cobbled classics. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is one of the five monuments and the last of the Ardennes Classics. It is called “La Doyenne”, which means “the oldest,” and it is, as it started in 1892. This predates Paris-Roubaix by 4 years (Paris-Roubaix is still the oldest of the cobbled Classics). Even though LBL’s history is not nearly as storied or interesting as Paris-Roubaix, it is considered the Ardennes Classics version of the Tour of Flanders- which is to say, the most famous, and biggest, of the Ardennes Classics.

Background

The Ardennes Classics include Flèche Wallonne and at one time LBL and Flèche Wallonne were run on successive days and known as the Le Weekend Ardennais. Only six riders have achieved the Ardennes double by winning both of these races in the same year.  Like many races of its era, LBL was conceived and organized to publicize to publicize L’Expresse newspaper in 1862. Because it was a French newspaper, it was run through the southern, French-speaking part of Belgium.

It was first run as an amateur race, from Spa to Bastogne and back. After racing for 11 hours, Leon Houa won the first edition, 22 minutes in front of the second place finisher. Out of 33 racers who started the race , only 17 riders finished, and after Houa crossed the finish line, riders were still arriving 5 hours later. Not only did Houa win the 1893 thirty minutes ahead of the second place finisher, he also won the first race when it became professional in 1894.

Despite becoming a professional race in 1894, that was the last edition until 1908. It was again suspended during WWI and WWII, however, there was an edition run in 1943 and 1945.

Route

It is often seen as the toughest of the classics, with many long, steep, climbs. The fact that the three hardest climbs occur in the last 35km is a nice sting in the tail.  The 2011 edition is 257.5km long.

Liege-Bastonge-Liege map 2011

Liege-Bastonge-Liege 2011

Who Will Win?

LBL has been won 57 times by Belgians, 12 times by Italians, and 6 times by the Swiss. The lone American winner was Tyler Hamilton in 2003. Eddy Merckx is the only rider who’s won it 5 times.

Typically this race favors puncheurs, strong cyclists who are capable of  short, explosive attacks on short steep climbs. As Philippe Gilbert fits this description, all eyes look to him to match Davide Rebellin’s hat trick of wins from 2004, where he won Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and LBL. Other cyclists on the top of many lists are Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervelo), Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana, and a previous two time winner), and Igor Anton and Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel-Euskadi).

Alone in the picture, Gilbert solos to another win

Gilbert winning fleche wallonneThis is a reprint of an article I wrote for US Pro Cycling News.

Philippe Gilbert has done it again. For his third race in seven days, he’s crushed the competition to take a solo win, crossing the finish line alone in the picture. I imagine this race win was even more special for him, as a Wallonian winning in front of a home crowd, in a race traversing his home region. He is the first Walloon since 1989 to win this race.

Despite a flurry of breakaway attempts through the closing kilometers, no one was able to escape the group for long and it ended a bunch sprint up the Mur de Huy, with Gilbert leaving everyone in the dust.

The race started off slow, with four riders- Maciej Paterski (Liquigas-Cannondale), Maxime Vantomme (Katusha), Matti Helminen (Landbouwkrediet) and Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator)- breaking away right away and, with the peloton in no hurry to chase, were allowed a 17 minute lead at one point. Their lead only started to drop after 70km, as they started up the Mur de Huy for the first time. This was when Leopard Trek and Saxo Bank-Sungard took control of the peloton to bring the gap down, working for their respective leaders, the Schleck brothers and Alberto Contador.

At 90km in, Dan Martin (Garmin-Cervelo) and Nicholas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) crashed, forcing them to abandon the race.

An attack lead by two BMC racers, Martin Kohler and Jeff Louder, who were joined by Simon Geschke (Skil-Shimano) and Sébastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet) was shut down as they crested the Côte de Haut-Bois climb.

By the time there were just 54km to go, the peloton had started to chase in earnest, shaving minutes off the break’s lead. The peloton was starting to string out, with riders coming out of the back. By the second climb of the Mur, the leader’s gap was just 2:30. When the peloton crested the Mur, Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) made his move, taking Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) with him. Thomas Löfkvist (Team Sky), Alexander Kolobnev (Katusha), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Vasil Kiryienka (Movistar), and Michal Golas (Vacansoleil-DCM) joined them, and caught the leaders up front with 20km to go. However, once they did make contact, they were only 20 seconds ahead, with OmegaPharma-Lotto riding hard on the front.

Soon after the lead group was caught by the chase group, Löfkvist and Kiryienka attacked from the front group and were the only ones off the front when the rest of the lead group was caught by the peloton a few kilometers later. But, despite their most valiant efforts, they were taken back with less than 8km to go.

Once the group was together again, attacks started anew. Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step) and Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) struck out and were able to get a gap of 18 seconds with 5km to go. Even though Leopard Trek, OmegaPharma-Loto and Rabobank working hard behind them, the two still managed to keep a 20 seconds with 3km to go. The peloton worked hard to bring them back, but Pineau’s teammates at the front of the peloton kept them from working faster. The duo still had 13 seconds at the red flag, but the final climb up the Mur was starting and the favorites were amassing behind them. The peloton swept them up…

…And Gilbert Attacks

With 400m to go, Gilbert made his move. Despite the best efforts of all the favorites behind him, no one was able to match the Belgian, and he opened a huge gap, rolling up to the finish line by himself, taking in the cheers of his hometown crowd. These past two weeks he’s shown incredible form and one can only speculate what this means for this Sunday’s race.

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