Archive | Race Coverage RSS feed for this section

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.

The Recon Ride Podcast: Eneco Tour 2015

8 Aug

ENECO Tour 2015

Episode 22: Eneco Tour
One of my favorite races that I never have as much time as I’d like to watch, Eneco Tour combines a variety of Classics-esq courses found around the BeNeLux region for a unique test of riding ability. (@velohuman / discus potential winners, the general coolness of the course, and even work in a quick chat about it with Lotto-Soudal’s Jurgen Roelandts.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 37:08 — 51.0MB)

Subscribe: iTunes|RSS

Photo by LimoWreck (CC).

The Recon Ride Podcast: Tour de Pologne 2015

31 Jul

Tour de Pologne 2015

Episode 21: Tour de Pologne
Not unlike San Sebastian, the Tour of Poland falls into a weird spot in the calendar. But as Dane Cash (@velohuman / and I explore, it’s a surprisingly unique event, with a habit of turning up new champions, and maybe more in common with the Belgian races in April than the upcoming Spanish one in August.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 30:15 — 41.6MB)

Subscribe: iTunes|RSS

Photo by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland (CC).

How The Race Was Won – Amstel Gold 2014

21 Apr

Cars, furniture, wind, position battle, a dangling escape, and a a breakaway rider who perhaps overestimated his strength. Rap metal light opera accompaniment from UnderGunned Productions:


How The Race Was Won – Paris-Roubaix 2014

14 Apr

Don’t grab door handles. Don’t compensate for bad position by driving relentlessly to the front. Do attack once and make it stick. Don’t hire these guys to film your velodrome.

Oh, right—the boat:


How The Race Was Won – Tour of Flanders 2014

7 Apr

Otherwise known as the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Maybe next year I will use the actual Dutch. There were a lot of crashes, but between Greg VanAvermaet’s animation and OPQS’s over-extension, it turned into a pretty active little race.

This week’s outro music:

[iPad/iPhone/m4v or if you’re in Germany, where for some reason, YouTube can’t let you hear the music]

Giro d’Italia 2012, Stages 1-3 – How The Race Was Won

8 May

It’s nice to have a rest day so early in this years’ Giro d’Italia, because it makes for less footage and fewer competing stories for the grueling stage race HTRWW. The tenuous creative thread running this latest piece is all over the place—linguistic, geographic, and historical anachronisms abound—but I’m too exhausted to care.

[right-click for iTunes-compatible download]

I’d love to go into super-detail arguing about Ferrari’s sprint, and how 1) moves like that happen a lot and 2) when they do go wrong, relegation is invariably the sanction, but there really isn’t much point. Take out two of the most popular riders in the English-speaking world in front of an audience that generally sees bunch sprints in slick 8-second clips (as opposed to watching the whole run-in), and people will be calling for your head on the internet. And it’s just not worth arguing details with the fanatics.


2012 Paris-Roubaix – How The Race Was Won

9 Apr

Tom Boonen powers away to win number four in an historic display of strength and commitment. The only thing to feel bad about was that we didn’t get to see Fabian Cancellara shoot it out with him. Of course, had Cance been at the start line, Omega Pharma would have doubtlessly played their cards a little differently—but no matter. Enjoy the latest How The Race Was Won video, tentatively titled “Our Cobbles, Ourselves”; it’s a bit of a creative turn, but hopefully enjoyable none the less.

[right-click for iTunes-compatible download]

Just for the record, this was completed about 16 hours after the race concluded and was live before any competing, similarly-named titles at other sites (though I did not beat the Specialized unfiltered cut). I suppose it’s possible that after I’ve published this, these sites could have release better-produced, more creative, cleverer, more sharply analytical videos, but somehow, I doubt it.

How the Race was Ripped-Off

31 Mar

I think I may have surprised some people by not flying into an Internet rage yesterday when VeloNews launched a familiar-looking video feature with a not entirely unique name.

htrww title card

In happier times.

My magnanimous response not withstanding, I should clarify that I’m not psyched about the development. Indeed, there was a time when I would have let fly the dogs of Internet War over such a slight—and that time was two years ago. I lived in Boston, had my own apartment, could pedal office-to-doorstep in about 20 minutes, got paid enough to buy decent computer hardware, and could reliably turn out sharply-edited video recaps of European bike races 24-48 hours after they wrapped up.

But it’s not 2010 anymore. I got word of the VeloNews post this morning where I spend most of my mornings these days—in a car, on an Interstate, trying not to think about how much longer I have to drive, or the fact that pretty soon, I’d have to turn around and head back the other way. It’s not a routine I’m particularly fond of, but as things stand, it’s the life I wake up to every morning. Suffice it to say, it isn’t getting any videos made.

And that’s the important thing, here—there are tactically focused race-recap videos in production again. They might not be as nifty as mine, but they’re covering races that happened in the past two weeks—I haven’t done anything in the past two years.

While it may well be that biting the style, name, and idea of someone else’s work without so much as a hat-tip is a dick thing to do (you certainly wouldn’t get any argument form me on that point), it is far more of a dick move to pitch a fit because someone else decided they wanted to revive or reuse something cool that you created, but for whatever reason, aren’t pursuing to the fullest.

In fact, one of the most maddening aspects of doing How the Race Was Won came about 12-24 hours after posting each new video, when some minion of the ASO would invariably file a takedown request with YouTube because he or she felt like my reusing two minutes of one six-hour stage of a 21-day race without kissing their pinky ring was somehow doing them wrong.

In an ideal world, there’s no doubt in my mind that I could do (and have done) a sharper, funnier HTRWW than currently exists. But the fact is that right now, I can’t. And as irascible as I tend to be, I just can’t justify venting any of that rage toward people who can. The best I can hope for is that sometime in the future, I’ll get the chance to remind everyone else exactly how it’s supposed to be done.

Sanremo, Strength, and Tactics

22 Mar

Mauruzio Fondreist attacks the Poggio

Maurizio Fondreist disregards fairness
on the Poggio / Max Nicolodi, cc-by

For a guy who made obsessing over aerodynamics and other tech geek foibles into the development and marketing norm in the sport, Gerard Vroomen is surprisingly attuned to the sloppy, cut-and-run realities of professional bike racing.

After some muttering from fans following Sanremo, and some atypically direct criticism of RadioShack by Philippe Gilbert, Vroomen put together a nice little blog post on how “negative racing” is actually “bike racing”, and that pretty much everyone involved knows the score. It’s about trying to matching your strengths with your opponents weaknesses.

While I wouldn’t say I was particularly effusive in my praise of Gerrans’ Sanremo, I certainly wouldn’t say I was overly-critial of it, either. It bears mention that the riders weren’t all just kinda hanging out on the Poggio, and Gerrans thought “hey, look, Nibali is attacking. Guess I’ll jump up to him and then draft him an Cancellara to the finish”. Prior to the winning selection were nearly 300k of attacks, climbs, tight roads and sharp corners, where even a momentary lapse of focus could tail a rider of the back, or force them to make a race-killing effort to get back on.

Gerrans had been looking punchy long before the Poggio (I briefly mistook him for Cav during some smart positioning moves on the Cipressa) and, perhaps sussing out Liquigas’ climb-controlling strategy, the Aussie parked on Nibali’s wheel before Agnoli’s recapture at 7.5km to go (4:52 in the video below). While the Poggio isn’t particularly long or steep, it is narrow and raced at eye-watering speed. If you’re not in the spot you need to be, you’ll be hard-pressed to get through a-reduced-but-edgy peloton, let alone make up time plowing your own furrow up a 4% grade at 30mph.

Indeed, Cancellara may have been the only rider in the remaining peloton capable of the feat—if you watch the video, you’ll see Cancellara is heavily marked and gets the drop on no-one. The separation only occurs when the riders behind him simply can’t put out the necessary wattage to keep his wheel. Cancellara’s prodigious strength bears additional consideration in light of the perceived lack of cooperation in the final selection—even if you wanted to come around him, the drop in speed between your max and his might doom the break.

Finally, the sprint wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Cancellara isn’t exactly a pancake in the final meters, especially after a 250+km, and the final margin wasn’t huge. In fact, were Cancellara a little more inclined to close the gate, and had chosen to lead out on the opposite site of the road (both the flags and waves show a strong tailwind/crosswind from the riders’ left), the additional effort required for Gerrans to come by might have made the difference.

On a more general level, last weekend’s race highlighted what I find to be the most interesting aspect of the sport—tactics as much as strength determines who wins races.

While everyone likes to feel that a winner took the day as fairly as possible, that sort of warm, fuzzy definition for “fair” favors the most dominant, predictable winners—and dominance gets boring in a hurry. Because of finishes like Saturday’s, teams riding for guys like Cancellara have to be tricker in how they leverage their strength advantage; just powering away is only occasionally an option. Even the most impressive displays of raw power, like Cancellara’s 2010 Roubaix win, are often triggered by a brilliantly seized tactical moment—in the case of Roubaix 2010, an out-of-position rival.

I think it’s safe to say most American fans got their introduction to the sport watching US Postal at the Tour de France. And it wasn’t a bad primer for tactics at the basic level—aggressively control the race, keep your strongest rider fresh, and then put him alongside his rivals at the moments where he can make the most difference. While that’s a nice big-picture plan, it requires a rare, generally not entirely organic level of dominance, and, as I mentioned above, it’s kinda dull.

The sport is really at its most interesting when favorites and spoilers are equally reliant on cunning to get across the line first. When Liquigas can dictate terms all day, and Fabs can single-handedly fend off the charging field, and still both can come away empty-handed, it’s clear that they’ll have to go back to the drawing board in terms of execution. I’m excited to see what they come up with to chase down wins through the rest of the spring.