Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Paddling Toward the Waterfall

So, that was Paris-Roubaix 2008. What more can you say about it? Plenty, and the cycling media will be busy cranking out those stories for the next week (web) or month (print), resulting in a volume of words eclipsed only by the Paris-Roubaix discussions already raging in online discussion forums. Whatever the venue, expect suspect answers to such questions as:

Why do people who should know better insist on using deep carbon wheels for Roubaix?

Who is Martijn Maaskant, the least talked about but most effective member of Slipstream's classics squad?

Now that he has undeniably good team support, can we switch to “mechanical problems” as the official George Hincapie post-Paris-Roubaix discussion subject?

And, most importantly…

Was Cannondale secretly behind the de-cornrow-ization of Pippo Pozzato? Because that hairdo was a PR nightmare.

Yes sir, the implications and speculations will be flying around for a week or so, until the Ardennes classics come along and give people something else to think about.

In an effort to not get caught up in the rampant over-analysis that inevitably follows Paris-Roubaix, I’ll offer just one observation: You know that Fabian Cancellara (CSC) and Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) had to be riding those last 40 kilometers thinking, “Seriously? We’re just going to rotate through like we’re on a well-oiled training ride, and bring Tom Boonen into a sprint on the velodrome?”

We’ve all had those moments, both on and off the bike, in which we’ve actively played a leading role in our own demise, gallantly paddling the canoe towards the waterfall while the natives look on expectantly from the banks. We know what’s going to happen if we don’t stop doing what we’re doing, but for any number of reasons, we’re powerless to change course.

If bicycle racing occurred in a pain vacuum, Ballan would have attacked Boonen over the waning cobbles at the Carrefour de l’Arbre, Hem, and Gruson, and Cancellara would have mustered his resources for one of his late race, 4-kilometer dashes to the line. But it doesn’t, and they didn’t. Ballan and Cancellara (and Boonen) would have known that Boonen would eat them alive in the sprint, but without the strength to try one more attack, to dig deep one more time, all the tactical savvy in the world doesn’t mean a damn thing. So there was little to do but keep moving towards the velodrome, hand Boonen a fork and napkin, and get on with it. And if they went straight to the table like good little boys, maybe they get to keep their podium places.

Those who have to wait until the Versus coverage next Sunday to see Paris-Roubaix should be sure to stick it out to the sprint, even though the results will be stale news by then. The resignation of the two men to their fate as they roll toward the velodrome is both frustrating and beautiful. You want the attacks to come, for Boonen’s competitors to fight for their lives, but Ballan and Cancellara have already done what they can. There isn’t an attack left in either, and they’re left to wait for that dinner bell that signals one lap to go. And when Boonen starts his sprint before the last corner, it’s like seeing a starving man enter the Old Country Buffet – he goes in, jumps the whole line, and five seconds later there’s not a crumb left.

And that’s what keeps bicycle racing interesting – it takes time-tested tactical dogma and then complicates it by introducing human strength and weakness to the mix. People say professional cycling is like chess, but that only covers one part of the equation. It’s a game of chess that you can actually lose because you don’t have the strength to move your piece.

Parting Shots:

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Cancellara apparently tried to accellerate a couple times and Boonen indicated the show of force was not impressive. I can see that... it's not like Cancellara is the World TT champ and capable of riding people off his wheel or anything...

Hincapie had a teammate - apparently Eisel, for some reason I've been calling him Maeskant though Maeskant is a Slipstreamer - who f***in drilled it when Hincapie's Hed wheel disintegrated. On Cycling TV, they kept showing Hincapie screaming into his race radio for the team car. Would not have gone down this way, if Demol was running things. Good riders, but disarray on High Road? Maybe.

I've heard a rumor Magnus Backstedt flatted twice, then busted a carbon seatpost in the Arenberg. Far be it for me to point this out, but perhaps Maggy, like one of our mutual friends (and indeed like me), is not a carbon-seatpost-mountain-biking kind of guy.

Did you catch Boonen slapping Cancellara on the ass and telling him to close the gap to Ballan as they made the second or third to last turn prior to entering the velodrome? Then Cancellara did just that? Pretty funny when you can get your archrival (they each have 5 wins this spring) to work for you going into the last 1500 meters.

I will reiterate what I said after the Ronde - Boonen said he had really good legs, and I believe him.
Of all the PR postmortems I've read, yours is the best by far. I love the way you provide the fatalistic thoughts of the winning break. Everybody knew what was coming. Fantastic stuff.
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