Old-Style Racing

Aug 9 2010

Dan Martin wins a stageThe number one thing mentioned by Americans racing in Europe isn’t the higher level of competition, or the bigger crowds, or the greater exposure, but the races themselves.

Euro Junior courses are so burley that “even the pro guys would protest” if people tried to put them on in the States, and Ted King frequently states the level of focus required to negotiate a course like Liege or Amstel makes Euro cycling “virtually a different sport“.

But, y’know, there are times when that kind of cutthroat racing seems limited to one-days in Belgium and the Netherlands—or at least that’s the impression one gets when the Tour de France peloton absolutely wets its britches when they’re forced to battle the chaotic thoroughfares of the low countries. With high mountains and long time trials, plus prizes and stages segmented out for riders of practically any different ability, stage races have become civilized, almost parliamentary, in how they produce winners.

Fortunately, there are events like the Tour of Poland to keep that seat-of-the-pants brand of racing alive in multi-day comptetions. Those unsatisfied with the post-Tour race offerings—especially fans of the spring classics—should consider Poland mandatory viewing. Lunatic grades to compete with anything at Fleche Wallonne, roads as narrow as the Netherlands, but with poor design and worse maintenance—enough that the kicker humps and gravelly patches make it so even solo breakaways can’t pedal some sections. Add to that truly demented finishing circuits and late-day starts and you’ve got a recipe for exciting, unpredictable racing that favors aggression.

One of the Eurosport commentators—David Harmon, I think—referred to it as “old-style racing”, and I’m inclined to agree. Even speaking as a radio-positive commentator, I’ll admit that there is a certain purity to racing where the selections come up quickly, and where success relies as much on skill and nerve as watts and the team car.

While the risks to the riders might be a little much over the course of a week (there’s a reason DePanne is only three days), I think the win at a race like Poland speaks more about the character of its winner—in this case, Garmin’s long-tabbed Irish talent Dan Martin—than the prestige of the event would suggest.

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