What's Cool In Road Cycling

Lee’s Lowdown On Flanders

Race Analysis:  Fab’s dominance, Sagan’s podium behavior, Vos’ supremacy and the meaning of winning a big one. Pro rider Lee Rodgers covers it all in his look at the Ronde 2013.



Contributed by Lee Rodgers

I watched this year’s edition of the Ronde with my non-cycling friend, who popped in to catch the last hour.

“Is this a big one?” he asked.

“Pretty big.”

“How much do they get for the win?”

I looked at him and blinked a few times. It was, I suppose, a perfectly obvious question, and yet not one I had ever heard from a cyclist. I was a little stumped.

“Well… nobody knows.”

“What do you mean? It’s a secret?”

“No, not a secret. It’s just… I mean anyone can find out I guess, there must be people who do know, it’s just that, well, no one cares…”

“No one cares?”

No. No one gives a damn, not really. That’s the truth. I mean, what do they get for a Ronde win? $100,000? $125,000? $300,000? Do you care? Really?

It’s not about the money. It’s that simple. It never could be, not when winning this race, and any Monument for that matter, means so much more. Watching the race yesterday there was a moment when the camera lingered on the front line of the pack as they gathered themselves for the last 80km of racing, the scent of the early break streaming down their nostrils like that of fox for the hounds, a line of very fit and butchers’ dog-lean men massed to rip their prey to shreds.

Their eyes darted and glanced but stayed staring ahead. They scanned the roads for bumps, potholes, debris, but essentially they watched the future appearing, each seeing where they would be in a moment’s time.

The legs churned, the muscles contracted, the blood flowed and each pedal turn was like a drip of hurt into a reservoir of suffering, the cumulative effect of hours, thousands upon thousands of them, that had brought each man to this position, to this stretch of road in Belgium, to this day, to the brink of success.

They weren’t racing for cash. Not for a second.

Yet only one man was to be proven to be the arch-predator: the rest were fodder. When he pushed those pedals it was with a force that the average human cannot comprehend, indeed that even the average professional cyclist cannot comprehend. It was unfathomable that Fabian Cancellara (and, for that matter anyone else too) would drop Peter Sagan in such a definitive way. And yet he did. In plain view.

Ka-goddam-pow, amigo.

A one trick pony? I tell you what, if that is true (and it ain’t) then he’s still the greatest pony in the paddock.

Yoann Offredo of FDJ said later that he felt like a junior when Spartacus attacked. The great Swiss inspires awe amongst the already awesome. Incredible.

What we witnessed (and this is why we as cycling fans never give two hoots about what these guys get for the win) was an expression of one man’s will. The quill the wheels, the canvass the road, the ink the will. In two hundred and however kilometers of riding, only one sentence was writ large upon the sleepy street of north-west Belgium:

Hey Universe… Fabian Cancellara was here… and then some.

At the end he was interviewed. He stood there wiping his brow, struggling, it seemed, to take it all in, rummaging in his mind for the words to explain what he had just done. In the end there was one truly telling comment, and it was this:

“I suffered on the asphalt climbs all the way but for some reason, on the cobbles, I feel a special love for that.”

And there it is. When the rest start to wobble and stall, hurt beyond their respective limits and dread another attack, Fabian is just getting going. He has come home.

I feel a special love for that.

One of the other highlights of the race was the performance by Cancellara’s team, and in particular that of Stijn Devolder, and that of his facial muscles. I was almost as amazed by his gutsy ten kilometer pull at the front of the chasing pack as I was by his ability to grimace so hard for that long. He probably woke up with the same look on his face.

One great shame about the men’s race though is that it hogs the attention. For just as wonderful as Cancellara’s achievements are those of Marianne Vos, who those of us not in Flanders couldn’t even see on TV. Absolutely the best all-round cyclist in the world right now, and some may say ever, we have no recourse but to read about her in the gloomy corners of the cycling magazines and websites, and shame on us all that that is true.

Never mind Sagan’s rather naïve (I’m being nice there) fondling of the podium girl’s backside, if I was Vos I would be furious that the only women seen connected to racing in Flanders that day were trophy girls and not myself and my peers. Sure they are cute and nice to look at, but first let us champion the great women riders out there and then concern ourselves with the hairdos in high heels and short skirts.

Sagan will eventually grow up. I wonder if cycling ever will.

Lee Rodgers leads a double life as a pro racer on the UCI race circuit with the CCN Racing Team, competing in the UCI Asia Tour as well as some European events and the likes of the Tour of Qatar and Oman, rubbing shoulders with the best the WorldTour has to offer, whilst keeping up a day job as a cycling journalist. The highlight of his cycling career so far was winning the Singapore National Champs – road race and ITT – as well as claiming the Green Jersey at the 2.1 Tour de Taiwan in 2012, and naturally, writing for PEZ. His writing appears in several magazines and websites and you can catch up with him regularly on his blog, www.crankpunk.com.

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