Last year, I was surprised by people who thought that Tyler Farrar was the next sprint sensation. He seemed to me to be Mister Fifth Place, Mister Always-The-Bridesmaid, a sprint contender but not a sprint dominator. Destined to play second fiddle.
Even when he won Scheldeprijs this spring, I shrugged. It’s just Scheldeprijs. People were tuning up for Roubaix. Then he came in 5th place at the Ronde, and suddenly, “Mister Fifth Place” seemed a little bit more impressive.
What turned me into a Farrar fan was the drama surrounding Stage 11 of the Tour de France this year. Mark Cavendish’s leadout man, Mark Renshaw, has been doing a pretty impressive job of putting Cav at the right spot to win stages. On Stage 11, this involved headbutting Farrar’s leadout man Julian Dean 3 times and then, after Cav launched, “closing the door” on Farrar by drifting over a lane on the road so that Farrar couldn’t pass. Farrar had to sit up, pause, and wait to sprint – he still got 3rd. Renshaw was disqualified – not from the stage, not relegated due to his sprint, but booted from the whole Tour. A bummer: I like watching him in action.
What got me was Farrar’s immediate reaction – still on the bike, between the finish line and the team bus. He is mature, articulate, and surprisingly even-keeled. He honors his opponents – “Cav can win if they ride a clean sprint” – and criticizes them without lambasting them. Without being a petulant hothead about it.
Basically, he’s not an arse.
With Renshaw sent packing, I think the likelihood of continued Cavendish Sprint Dominance is diminished. Farrar’s looking fast – he took 3rd on Stage 11 when he was put into the barriers and had to stop his sprint and re-accelerate. I think we might see him win a stage. It would be nice to see. And it would be nice comeuppance after a sprint that has sprinting heads of state in disagreement.
Filed under: pro crap
The coverage from TV cameras just doesn’t capture the speed, or the noise. The sound the crowd on the Kapelmuur made when Boonen passed – urging him back on to Cancellara’s wheel – is overwhelming.
Some people think that certain bikes with rich histories should only be equipped with certain drivetrains. Some people think that it’s heresy to hang anything but Campagnolo on a Colnago, for example.
Now, of course professionals ride what they’re paid to ride. But Johan Museeuw can do whatever he wants.
The Ronde Van Vlaanderen is on Sunday. As usual, Red Kite Prayer will have the florid prose if you want to wax lyrical about the races this time of year. And with the way that E3 Prijs and Ghent-Wevelgem played out, well, are you excited yet?
Filed under: pro crap
For bike racers in New York City, George Hincapie is our hometown hero. He grew up in Queens and cut his teeth racing the roads that still are the Sunday morning battlefields. Stories abound of him shaming 1/2/3 fields at the tender age of 16.
With wins at Gent-Wevelgem and Kurne-Brussels-Kurne, and a physique that’s decidedly suited to he cobbled classics, it’s no wonder that people know him for his goal of winning Roubaix. His best result is a tantalizingly close 2nd to Tom Boonen in 2005; his worst results include the famous snapped steerer tube: watch with a cringe as, in a lead group of 13 (including two teammates, for great odds), Hincapie’s steerer snaps, he rises and rides out of the group, his handlebars snag in his wheels and he’s flipped unceremoniously onto the pave, breaking his collarbone.
Hincapie is the nice guy, the hardworker, the veteran. It’s no surprise that he’s a perennial sentimental favorite for the big spring classics, that every year when Paris-Roubaix comes around people say, “Maybe this year, George will finally get one.” Some additional confidence this year came when he left HTC-Columbia to join BMC Racing, which stocked their roster with well-performing classics riders. But throughout the early part of the season, BMC was quiet and kept well away from major podiums. “It’s hard to consider George a favorite this weekend—and possibly next as well,” wrote Pave Blog in a preview of E3 and Gent-Wevelgem this past weekend. “I’m hoping he’ll have good legs for Roubaix in two weeks—it’s a race where age and experience still mean something—but his current form doesn’t paint an optimistic picture. I hope I’m wrong.”
In yesterday’s Gent-Wevelgem, however, Hincapie was with the lead group, driving the slimming group toward the finish line ahead of the chasers, visible behind them on the road. He opened the sprint too early and was beaten by Eisel, Vanmarcke, and Gilbert, but fourth place is a fine finish in a race of Gent-Wevelgem’s stature.
Now, with E3 Prijs being the day before, some of the Big Guns who entered Gent-Wevelgem weren’t racing, per se. Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen, who finished first and second in E3, abandoned rather than work themselves back to the front when the field was split due to a crash. Maybe Hincapie placed in Gent-Wevelgem but wouldn’t have placed in E3 the day before, if he had raced. Putting two prestigious races on the same weekend meant that the talent made choices, as evidenced by the podium finishers in each race. Cancellara, Boonen, and Flecha topped E3; Eisel, Vanmarcke, and Gilbert topped Gent-Wevelgem.
It’s all Monday morning deskchair speculation. We’ll find out how Hincapie will do in Roubaix in two weeks. Prior to this weekend I was all but ready to toss in the towel of sentimental support for his chances at Roubaix, but his finish at Gent-Wevelgem makes me reconsider.
Pictures from of cyclingnews.com
Milan San-Remo is tomorrow. Last year, in a odd sprint, Haussler opened a huge gap and Cavendish shut it down, his chin on his stem, his mouth open like a shark.
This year, Cavendish will get beaten. Not just in Milan-San Remo, but throughout the Grand Tours. He’s had problems this year: ‘dental issues,’ a crash and a poor performance in Tirenno-Adriatico. Maybe he’ll be in great shape for Tour de France but without Hincapie and Boasson Hagen to support him, his train is weakened. There are just too many question marks at this point for me to presume he’ll continue to be dominant.
As for Milan-San Remo, I predict that it will be won out of a late break. The riders who have expressed confidence – Pozatto, Gilbert, Cancellara – are the types who can go hard when everyone’s spent. With rain forecast, maybe we’ll see something as exciting as the 1992 Milan-San Remo, with Sean Kelly decending the Poggio suicidally, in the rain, tires slipping out, in an attempt to catch Moreno Argentin before the finish line.
Me? Well. It is the classic struggle of the spring: do I go race or do I stay home and watch important spring races?
You should read what Tom Zirbel has to say about his positive test.
He is one of the few riders I’ve ever seen to really offer a good perspective on how important our sport is in the grand scheme of things. His announcement is informal, rambling, and honest – far more personal than any statement regurgitated through one of the cycling news websites and repeated, ad nauseum, on other sites, blogs, and Twitter.
Despite keeping the door open for a ‘comeback’ when his suspension is served, he asks, What’s more extraordinary – if Greg Mortenson would have made it to the summit of K2 or if Greg Mortenson failed to summit K2 and instead dedicated his life to building hundreds of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan? What’s more extraordinary – Eric Heiden the amazing skater and cyclist or Eric Heiden the amazing surgeon? … I would rather help the boy I’m mentoring graduate from college and break the cycle of poverty in his family than win a Pro Tour TT. To me, the life I’m choosing from this day on is more challenging and potentially rewarding than the life of training to ride in a straight line really fast for 40 minutes. For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to do both so it’s time to step back and re-prioritize.
Kudos, Zirbel, and good luck.
With registration open for the Grant’s Tomb Criterium, and with a ‘training camp’ or sorts planned for the weekend before that, now is as good a time as ever to get excited about leadouts. Some recent action in the pro’s early season races has provided some good fodder for commentary.
It’s hard to talk about leadouts without thinking about Cavendish’s win on the Champs-Elysees last year. Columbia’s strong siezure of the leadout as the point of the arrow passed underneath the red kite was notable, but there was a lot that happened prior to the fiamme rouge. Garmin held the pace, but it wasn’t high enough and they put their men on the front too soon. A super-controlled leadout needs two fresh men and a sprinter with one kilometer to go. With 1k to go, Garmin was fading. Hincapie jumped, stole the peloton, and handed a victory to Cavendish.
New squad Team Sky could stand to learn a thing or two from Garmin. On the final stage of the Tour of Qatar this weekend, Bradley Wiggins took a huge pull that stretched the pack out into a long, thin line, but shortly after he pulled off, Sky’s big train reshuffled and faded, and Quick Step and Liquigas’s leadout trains started fighting for control. Sky’s train was derailed and their sprinter, Boasson Hagen, was out of contention.
Sky seemed to learn their lesson at the Tour of Oman. Rather than try to control the front from so far out, they appeared later in full force. Savvy, they took the front after a roundabout, with enough juice to power their train all the way to the line. Other teams are trying to draw abreast but struggle; gaps open behind. That’s a leadout. Team Sky delivers Boasson Hagen to the sprint without allowing other teams to control the front. Boasson Hagen finishes second. It wasn’t commanding, but it was an improvement over their performance in Qatar.
With new teams like Team Sky hitting the scene with big plans, and Garmin on its underdog quest to set Tyler Farrar up to win as much as some people think he ought to, it should be a fun season for sprinters – especially since now, still in the preseason, there seems to be some good competition afoot as teams show they’ve got teeth well in advance of Classics season.
As for me, I’ll keep going to bed with dreams of hammering away at the front, drawing out some low-cat field into a long thin line, setting up my sprinter.