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Lee’s Lowdown: Classic Chaos!

This week Lee’s has been getting excited by the action on the Belgian cobbles in the Tour of Flanders. His pulse has steadied enough for his Lowdown on all the happenings from Sunday, some good, some not so good, but all seen from Lee’s unique insider perspective.

I can’t take many more races like Sunday’s Tour of Flanders or I’m going to need a defibrillator next to the sofa. That’ll teach me to watch a Monument whilst wearing a heart rate monitor. Best max numbers for five years…

The rollicking was so intense that it shook one rider’s dentures loose. Poor Zdenek Stybar is still suffering the consequences from his horrific crash back at the Eneco Tour in 2014 when he landed – there’s no other way to say this – right on his face. As a result the Etixx – Quick-Step rider has a temporary bridge of two front teeth that is, or was, cemented in place. The second ascent of the Kwaremont though put paid to that bit of dental work, as the cobbled hill rattled the thing loose. He’s not a rider you associate with good luck really, is he?

ENECO Tour 2014 stage - 4The crash that rearranged Zdenek’s pearly whites

“Straight away he had problems to take in food,” said team DS Wilfried Peeters. “He only consumed gels. He had trouble to open them up too. He was a bit in fear because of that. It wasn’t the biggest problem in the final of the race. I can’t blame him for anything he did. Maybe only his bad moment on the Paterberg, but other than that he rode the perfect race.”

Stybar wondered how much the loss of his gnashers affected his performance: “It’th not the betht feeling to ride without teeth,” he thaid, lithping the betht line you’ll hear all theathon. Ahem.

Still, riding without teeth is better than not riding at all because your collarbone is no longer intact, which is the fate which befell Jesse Sergent of Trek Factory Racing. I say ‘fate’ and ‘befell’ but what happened was nothing of the sort – the break was the result of sheer bloody stupidity on the part of whoever was driving that car.

I think it’s about time riders started beating the &%$# out of anyone who isn’t racing that knocks them off their bikes. Would anyone have blamed the other members of the break if they’d stopped to give that driver a walloping? You don’t have too many blameless punches in your life and they should be used wisely, but anyone who’d lamped the operator of that vehicle would have been handed a Mulligan from me.

If that wasn’t bad enough a similar incident occurred not long after, involving Sylvain Chavanel. What is surprising though in these races is that this stuff doesn’t happen more often. I did the UCI Asia Tour of Korea some years back and the organisers had summoned all their sagacity and decided in a moment of brilliance and cunning to employ the Harley Davidson club of Korea to provide the moto service for the race.

Chaos ensued. Jan Kirsipuu was taken out by a Harley on day one and later in the race the Ukrainian U23 champ had his vertebrae broken when he was hit from behind by another hog and was helicoptered out.

These crashes are seldom though, which is what made Flanders last Sunday seem so crazy, but the truth is that there are probably a thousand close calls to every actual contact between car and rider. The drivers are highly experienced, at least in the team cars, and almost always are former riders so have an acute sense of the pack and of spatial awareness.

However, I doubt the Shimano guys are former pros. It could prove costly for their company too, as rumours were swirling that Sram was on the phone straight away.

flanders15-mm-ShimanoThis might cost a bit to fix

Back to the frivolities, it was great to see El Wiggo still determined to press on in his quest for the Most Miserable Sulk in the Peloton award, even though he’s already uncatchable in that category. Just after he’d let his bike crash down on the kerb, the Eurosport guys started reading tweets from people complaining about his actions.

Eurosport these days has become somewhat of a ‘zero-criticism of Sky’ zone, a sense shared by many and only exacerbated when the commentator pithily said that in his opinion Wiggo hadn’t thrown the bike but that he had ‘inadvertently let go of it’. Best line of the day that.

I felt most for the mechanic who’d jumped out of the car and was about to grab the bike but then had to stoop to collect it like a janitor picking up discarded rubbish. Several other riders found themselves in the same boat as Wiggout on Sunday, but they didn’t act like a petulant spoiled brat. That bike costs, for many an amateur, anything upwards of three or even four months salary. The annoyed comments were justified, and Sir Brad is even more out of touch with reality than the average WorldTour rider.

‘Inadvertently let go of it’ might well have been the best line of the day but the worst was this humdinger from Carlton ‘Blinkers’ Kirby. Two Astana riders appeared stage front and he said, with relish: “Great to see Astana having a go here!’ and I just thought, ‘Is he after Phil Liggett’s job?’ What a bizarre thing to say of a team that the fans, many riders, and even – shock horror – the UCI want gone from the sport. Way to not go Carlton. You’d have been right at home when Lance was in his pomp.

Whilst we’re on the awards:

Best Helmet-Resembling-A-Potty goes to: Androni’s man in the break, Marco Frapporti.

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2015 men elite worldcupSecond potty from the right

Best Attempt to Age 30 years in One: Tom Boonen, as seen throughout the race commenting on the action.

Best Put Down of Oleg Tinkov: Greg Lemond, speaking about Peter Sagan’s loss of form. “Psychological pressure is more damaging than physical pressure [and he should know]. The urge to perform comes from within. If I was in his position I’d have said ‘screw you’.” Get in there Greg!

Best Non-Winning Ride of the Day: Andre Greipel. He was incredible, talk about laying it on the line. Great stuff.

The race ultimately was decided in two places, the first coming with 40km to go. “There’s the race!” I was shouting at the TV, spilling my Belgian beer all over the dog as I did so. I can be forgiven though, because the split was so obvious, and yet some guys still hesitated. Then, in a moment, it was over for them. This is Flanders, lads. You don’t get second chances here.

The other was when Terpstra went and Kristoff went with him. Poor Niki, being up there and knowing immediately the second you look over your shoulder just how close you are going to get to not winning the Ronde Van Vlaanderen.

Gutted. You could hear the silent scream within the dry valley of his soul from Oslo. That Kristoff was going to win was just so clear that had it been a game of golf, Terpstra would have handed the Norwegian his ball even before he’d teed off.

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2015 men elite worldcup

The Katusha rider is the most complete sprinter we’ve seen since the younger version of Tom Boonen. If the field at Roubaix next weekend plays the same softly softly game they played here, when none of the non-sprinters did anything apart from Terpstra, I can see Kristoff making it a brilliant double.

Stannard is way off form, Wiggo is likely to spit his dummy out again, Thomas doesn’t have the power to crack the Norwegian, Van Avermaet is just annoying (and his line that he had the legs to win Flanders was just plain unnecessary), Vanmarcke is missing a spark plug, Vandenbergh doesn’t have the maturity yet and we all saw what he did to Terpstra.

Man against boys. Completely.

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2015 men elite worldcup

So, one more mighty, mighty race next week and then a couple of ‘just’ mighty ones before we get to the plasticity of the Giro and the Tour. Norman Mailer said some things in an interview before his death that resonate for me, especially when I think about the urgent and violent validity of the Ronde and Roubaix in comparison with the robotic, metronomic nature of the modern Grand Tours and their top riders.

“I still feel,” he said, “that the world is going into a dreariness and a mediocrity that it does not need to go into. Now there are great things happening all the time, we are creative people and we are creative and fine and extraordinary and expressive [the Classics], but at the same time there’s a triumph of the mediocre [the Grand Tours].”

Oof. Controversial.

And with that, I salute you, Lovers of the Classics.

See you for Roubaix!


Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.

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