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In Case No One Told You, It Was Good Weekend For Cycling

29 Feb

I mean, don’t get me wrong—Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is always pretty upbeat because people are amped—dare I say stoked?—for actual racing to begin.

But this year’s event played out in a particularly satisfying fashion. Relative newcomer Luke Rowe of Sky initiated the winning move still 60k from the line, not by slipping away in crash post-crash confusion while the favorites had a nature break, but with a Hammer of Thor smackdown on the Taaienberg.

That particular climb has long been the personal hunting ground of Tom Boonen, one of the most dominant classics riders of the past decade, and who was nowhere to be seen Saturday as the selection formed. Boonen’s Etixx-QuickStep team (also one of the dominant spring squads since pretty much forever) somehow managed to flounder to an even less-auspicious finish than last year: Tony Martin crashed their chase while sitting third wheel, their efforts never sizably reduced the gap, and the team never got so much as a rider up the road.

Meanwhile, the winning selection was entertaining and easy to love. Lotto-Soudal’s 21-year-old classics prodigy Tiesj Benoot showed great form, while Tinkoff’s Peter Sagan, the world’s most exciting rider when on his game, signaled good things to come with an effortless bridge just after the Taaienberg.

Local minor league squad Verandas Willems had Brecht Dhaene and Kai Reus suffer on from the early move to well into closing stages, and AG2R’s Alexis Gougeard, hardly a classics specialist made a brilliantly measured effort to hang on from the early break as well, and lead out the sprint to preserve his 5th place finish.

Even the final kick, traditional hotbed of dull inevitability, played out well. BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet, known as something of a career underachiever, rode an uncharacteristically canny race, taking his pulls but making no undue effort, before a clever little dive inside Sagan in the final corner gave him a gap that he opened all the way to the line.

Three hours later on the other side of the planet, Boels-Dolemans Evelyn Stevens began an effort that would eventually set a new Women’s Hour Record. You’d think the visual appeal in 140-some-odd rotations of the same concrete track would be limited, but the livestream (unencumbered by antiquated broadcast agreements) peaked at over 40,000 simultaneous viewers, putting quantitative value to earlier complaints when live footage of teammate Lizzie Armitsted’s win at the women’s Omloop was unavailable.

It didn’t hurt that Stevens put on a good show, riding steadily for the first 40 minutes to secure the record before opening up to take a stab at Jeannie Longo’s “superman” (and likely superhuman) mark from the late 90s. In the end, Longo’s record held, aided somewhat by Stevens’ relative inexperience on the track. But when asked by a spectator afterward about the increasing amplitude of her deviations from the fastest line, Stevens responded with engaging bravado “whatever—I was going for it” (or words to that effect).

Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne continued the trend—the race is generally a second-fiddle followup to OHN, with the previous day’s contenders content to let a different group battle it out and attempt to stave off what is more often than not an 60-rider group sprint. But Rowe and Van Avermaet were animators, joining Boonen in serious-looking escape inside the final 40k, which had some potential to keep the Katusha-driven chase at bay.

But the winning move came early—after several kilometers of rotating through for hero pulls, Trek’s Boy van Poppel took a short flier, which his teammate Stuyven countered as soon as he was caught. As Boonen would comment afterward, it was foolishly early but brilliantly delivered; with the rest of the group bickering, the 23-year-old kept came away with the solo win—a nice bit of redemption after crashing himself out of another promising solo move at Omloop the day before, not to mention a classic demonstration of team tactics.

I don’t want to gloss over the bad stuff—two rider/motorbike collisions is too many over a season of racing, let alone a single weekend. But it’s also something that is very much on the UCI’s radar. Normally that’d be sarcasm, but in the past 12 months, the UCI has begun to unravel its reputation for historical ineptitude.

It’s streamlined motor-testing to the point that 90 bikes can be tested at a given start and it’s actually managed to catch people. It’s made it easier for teams to record and broadcast cool stuff, tested early stages of a severe weather protocol, assembled a coherent top tier of women’s races across road disciplines, and thus far managed to keep out of a mudfight with the ASO—even though they are totally asking for it.

Something to be excited about? We’ll see—but certainly an improvement on years past.

Deconstructing Self-Destruction

1 Feb

I got into a little Twitter dust-up this weekend with VeloNews’ John Bradley. It wasn’t on purpose—yes, I did tweet a rebuke at him, but it was based largely on my misinterpreting something he’d written.

He responded strongly—justifiably so, I think—and I apologized, attempting to explain where I’d missed his point. I don’t know John personally, but I like what he’s done in the past, and I think he brings a skillset that really shores up some of Velo’s soft spots. I had, and continue to have, no interest in antagonizing him.

That said, I was a little disappointed by his commentary that same day on cycling’s supposed “Self-Destruction”—of which Femke Van den Driessche’s motorized bike is apparently just the latest example.

There wasn’t anything inaccurate or offensive or lacking about the piece per se (I certainly didn’t dislike it as much as some people did—though they later made up) and it certainly covered some ground every long-term fan can relate to.

But this one line sums up what I found so sour:

“Cycling is not the most corrupt of sports, but it is one that the masses don’t understand.”

Now, for contrast, here is a screenshot of the VeloNews homepage from earlier today:
Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.10.08 AM

(click image for big)

There isn’t a lot of what I’d refer to as content that will help people develop an understanding of racing.

I hasten to add that VN’s recap article on the men’s race was quite good, but it’s practically buried less than 24 hours later, and there’s nothing in terms of deeper analysis on a race that delivered the blend of hell-bent carnage and nail-biting tactics that should have the sport’s journal of record salivating.

If “the masses” don’t get the awesome aspects of racing on the homepage of the biggest cycling publication in the US, then where the heck are they supposed to find them? As Bradley himself notes, it’s not going to be in SBNation or the New York Times.

On the off-chance a mainstream writer gets a tip to check VeloNews, they’ll see only headline after headline on a rule-breaking DNF in the women’s U23 race, a bit on a disappointed US Champ, something about a guy being spit on, and nothing on what made #CXZolder16 awesome.

It’s not that cycling-aware writers aren’t always lurking out in the larger publishing world—Sam Abt famously brought the sport to NYT and the International Herald Tribune between copyedits. But the few out there who do get it aren’t getting paid for analysis beyond humping eyeballs for the story’s semiquaver of relevance. Only a concerted effort by the publications they reference will sway headlines from the vapid quick hit.

This isn’t meant to be a rip on Bradley or VeloNews, just a nudge that cycling fandom and reportage do not have to be cast as this hopeless cycle of self-destruction. There’s plenty I don’t know about editorial, but I’ve worked for advocacy groups and political campaigns. Messaging and framing drive the marketplace of opinion, and there’s all the more hunger for context when the optics are blandly and obviously bad.

It’s not like Velo couldn’t do this—I mean, the content exists already. Andrew Hood’s article on the evolution of the UCI’s motor checks does fantastic work putting The Femke Affair into the context general publications so desperately need, and I have reason to believe that Dan Seaton will be producing another of his striking and accessible photo essays on the World Championships (update: delivered).

But I always seem to sense this notion across the cycling press, a kind of chicken-and-egg thing, that no one understands the sport, because explanations of why it’s awesome can’t be made, because no one will read them, because no one understands the sport. And that dogma is as wrong as it is self-defeating.

I cannot tell you how many comments I get about HTRWW getting absolute n00bs into watching bike races, and c’mon—CXHairs delivers the meat of what makes people want to watch in seconds-long clips on a pretty much daily basis. The van der Haar pass requires neither background knowledge or explanation—and 1400+ Instagram users will back me up on that.

A video posted by In The Crosshairs (@cxhairs) on

So I guess the self-destructive cycle I see here isn’t so much within the sport, but in the way its covered. I mean, when a moto-cheater gets caught after years of concerted attempts at moto-cheater-catching, that feels to me like cause for minor celebration, a footnote to a marquee event that absolutely delivered.

But when literally the day after one of the best races in recent memory, the lead pieces are gear testing and mechanical doping, you can see where I stumbled into the cynical misunderstanding that started this piece: “racing is a downer, let’s be stoked about our advertisers instead”.

The Recon Ride Podcast: Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2015

24 Apr

Tour of Flanders Recon Ride Podcast

Episode 10: Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2015
Dane Cash (@velohuman / and I discuss Liege-Bastogne-Liege, which is the oldest race…anywhere. Longer climbs than most classics, a ton of potential launch points, a ridiculous array of potential favorites, layers of history, and just the tiniest bit of post-industrial gloom make this Monument (if you think that’s a thing) a fitting send-off for the spring classics season.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 35:51 — 49.3MB)

Subscribe: iTunes|RSS

Photo by Sjaak Kempe|(CC)

The Recon Ride Podcast: Amstel Gold & Fleche Wallonne 2015

18 Apr

Tour of Flanders Recon Ride Podcast

Episode 9: Amstel Gold & Fleche Wallonne 2015
The youngest of the Spring Classics, Amstel Gold is punctuated by 30+ climbs and incessant road furniture. Wednesday’s Fleche Wallone takes riders over the photogenically steep Mur de Huy three times. Dane Cash (@velohuman / is back in the US to help me discuss the events, what makes them similar, what makes them different, and which riders to watch.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 40:36 — 55.8MB)

Subscribe: iTunes|RSS

Photo by Johan Wieland.

The Recon Ride Podcast: Paris-Roubaix 2015

10 Apr

Tour of Flanders Recon Ride Podcast

Episode 8: Paris-Roubaix
They call it the Queen of the Classics—long, pan-flat, jarring and legendary. Dane Cash (@velohuman / continues his European tour, interviewing my race favorite Sky’s Brad Wiggins, his teammate Gerraint Thomas, and MTN Qhubeka’s American veteran, Tyler Farrar. In addition, we both pontificate on the history, the most important cobbled segments, and of course, the contenders.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 42:11 — 58.0MB)

Subscribe: iTunes|RSS

Photo by Christian Bille.

The Recon Ride Podcast: Tour of Flanders 2015

4 Apr

Tour of Flanders Recon Ride Podcast

Episode 7: Tour of Flanders
An interview-filled edition on what I consider the biggest race of the year, The Tour of Flanders. Dane Cash (@velohuman / is on-site in Belgium, snaring interviews with Sep Vanmarcke, Patrick Lefevere, and Gerraint Thomas, while I pour over course profiles and archival footage, all to give you the best pre-race rundown available.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 38:53 — 53.7MB)

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Photo by Ctankcycles.

The Week in Bike #63 – Talent Retention

3 Apr

Because this is a news show or something, Catalunya, Trofeo Binda, Gent-Wevelgem, herding a peloton of cats, weather, motors, reporting, impressions, Be King of America, Flanders, banking on upstream sources with the optimism of a Californian water manager in the 1960s.

The Week in Bike #62 – Plus Ça Change

27 Mar

E3, Cancellara, The Recon Ride, minor league, analysis, highlights, Wiggle-Honda, Fedrigo by not a nose, Catalunya GC mayhem, next HTRWW, morphophobia, electronic shifting, motors…or an actual problem

The Recon Ride Podcast: E3 Harelbeke / Gent-Wevelgem 2015

26 Mar


Episode 6: E3 Harelbeke / Gent-Wevelgem
A double-feature on the start of what Ted King once called The Fourth Grand Tour. Dane Cash (@velohuman / and I discuss the first two big classics of the season, I make a rare outsider pick while discussing the top favorites, and we have quick chat on AG2R’s recent classics upgrades with Hugo Houle.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 43:41 — 60.0MB)

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Photo by shirokazan.

The Recon Ride Podcast: Volta a Catalunya 2015

21 Mar


Episode 5: Volta a Catalunya 2015 Pre-race Show
Unlike the previous episode, Catalunya is a race I’ve never taken too deep a look at before. But at the insistence of Dane Cash (@velohuman / I fumble through the stages and start list, and try to prognosticate on things that might happen and people who might win.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 30:07 — 41.1MB)

Subscribe: iTunes|RSS

Photo by Arnaucc.