All roads lead to Belgium. No other country embraces cycling in the same way, the fervour is extensive and comprehensive. There are billboard ads in the streets and at bus stops to promote races – including that one for the E3. The local press are full of reports for this weekend’s double of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and last night’s TV had reports on the route recon by teams. Gossip magazines put cyclists on the front page. There was even a live stream for the great Claude Criquelion’s funeral yesterday. The pedal revolution is televised.
Etixx-Quick Step didn’t recon the course yesterday. The foul conditions meant they stayed inside, not a bad idea since the most of the riders must know the course well and getting soaked wasn’t a good idea; although look closely at the pic above and you’ll see the towering figure of Stijn Vandenbergh. Lotto-Soudal rode and now pre-race tip Jurgen Roelandts is out of the race with “flu” and André Greipel is doubtful for the weekend with illness too.
To warmer climes and well done to Thomas Dekker for getting so close to the UCI Hour Record, just one lap short with 52.221km. I didn’t think he’d last an hour but he really got to work in recent months. As the result shows he can hold his place in the pro peloton if he he was struggling to hold the black line last night, he does have a big talent. So will a contract appear? The difficulty is to convince a pro team that he can maintain the same focus and discipline while collecting a salary from them, results in the past two years suggest he’s been drifting but perhaps he needs disciplined team? In a small way the record attempt will change his label. Just as some riders have nicknames like the Eagle of Toledo or The Professor, others have frequently-repeated associations, for example Nacer Bouhanni is “the boxer” while Rui Costa is a “former world champion”. Dekker now goes from “busted for EPO” to “came close to the hour record” and if he can’t escape the past, he’s helped to improve his image.
— UCI (@UCI_cycling) February 25, 2015
Talking of images, if Dekker missed, the biggest failure of the evening was the television coverage. The velodrome seemed to have two cameras while an on-screen graphic counted the time. After several laps it became clear there was no indication of the distance covered so it was almost meaningless to watch. Worse the on-screen stopwatch was actually wrong, in 60 seconds of real time the clock would languidly reach 50 seconds. You have to laugh but a clock that can’t count the time accurately during a time world record attempt is astonishing. The UCI was quick to disown the production.
Another thing disowned by the UCI was the E3 Harelbeke poster with the UCI issuing a public statement about it. If the UCI is worried about Belgian race posters and sexism it’d also do well to review the everyday sexism in its own rules and ways. For example if you watched the recent world track championships you’ll have seen the women hanging around for the medal ceremonies: there is a specific UCI rule that insists on “six maids-of-honour” for all world championship medal ceremonies. I’ve pointed this out before and will keep doing it until it’s changed. Also the UCI are hiring an assistant for Brian Cookson. Visit the UCI website and you can see the job ad in English but see the job ad in French and it’s for une assistante, the feminine form of the word in French. English is gender neutral for nouns but in French it’s clear they want a woman for the job (hat tip @yvclassics)
Thibaut Pinot is training in in the Canary Islands but on Gran Canaria, not Tenerife. There is a volcano but it’s not as high as Tenerife’s Teide and Pinot has gone for the good weather. But this symbolises a big change, the French teams are getting focussed on performance and starting to plan their season more and more, investing in training camps and planning for the season with specific goals and objectives. Ex-pro Erwann Mentheour gave a good interview to the radiovelo podcast bemoaning the way some French teams still pick riders for a race based on their performance in the last race, for example have a good Dauphiné and you’re in the Tour squad but this means riders are fighting to peak for June and turn stale by July.
Pinot used the Tour of Oman as preparation but this might not be an option for some in the future. After the rider protest and decision to neutralise a stage Eddy Merckx and the other organisers were upset. There’s talk of revenge as it’s their prerogative to invite teams. This is not a World Tour event so there is no obligatory attendance, the organiser can invite the pro teams that they prefer. The race is run by a company called Paumer, the Pau- being Dirk De Pauw and the -Mer being Eddy Merckx and they bring in ASO to manage logistics and filming. Turning down the likes of Etixx-Quick Step would seem mean and risks wider repercussions in Belgium: the biggest cyclist rejecting the biggest team.
One thing missing from the Oman fiasco is a statement from the riders. They decided to stop the race but there’s been no coherent message after the event, a lot of the chaos could have been avoided if we got a clear explanation within an hour after the race. What seems to have happened is that a wave of punctures for the Bardiani-CSF team was the straw that broke the, ahem, camel’s back on a day that had already seen the start moved because of a sandstorm and then when the racing resumed was held in searing temperatures. But you need detective work to piece together what happened and why, collecting a statement here, looking at a photo there. It points to the need for a rider union, if only to issue a common statement to explain their decision.
Make sure you have some tires that won’t explode for 100 Climbs That are Better Than Alpe d’Huez . Sometimes lists are clickbaiting silliness but this isn’t one, after all it took time to write-up 100 climbs and it’s is very useful if anyone wants some summer planning ideas. The premise is that Alpe d’Huez has a status and notoriety thanks to its embrace of the Tour de France but it’s not necessarily any better to ride up than any other ski resort in the area.
If you won’t be riding in the Alps this summer, you’ll probably see the landscapes on TV. One element of the Tour de France coverage are scenes of farmers making a show of their fields. These are not spontaneous gestures as they’re coordinated farming union the FNSEA, even the GPS co-orindinates are given to the TV production crew ahead of the stage so that the helicopter camera crews can line up the best shots. Today saw race boss Christian Prudhomme dishing out the prizes at Paris’s giant Salon de l’Agriculture trade exhibition. It makes you wonder if the Belgians should do the same to brighten up the grim landscapes that will appear in the coming weeks? But what if the tractors got stuck in the mud?