Sporza showed the 2015 Gent-Wevelgem last Sunday and it felt like a hard watch, why sit down for a couple of hours to see something old you know the result of? Well because there wasn’t much else to do and it was a lively edition…but it turned out to be a much better experience that expected. Once you know who wins you can watch and see how they win but there’s more.
Many of the sports channels you’re used to watching racing on are going to be replaying vintage editions instead of the planned live coverage. It’s not the same but here are a few suggestions to make watching repeats more interesting.
One of the reasons we’ve got live coverage from start to finish of more and more races these days is precisely because live TV is a draw for TV channels, whether sport or rolling news. With repeats and replays people skip the ad breaks or tune in for the finale, while live coverage keeps people on edge, even on the flattest of flat stages in the Tour people watch because something could happen. It’s a subject explained further in Why Show The Whole Race? from April 2016.
Things are coming on TV and they’re likely to be recent editions of big races. Chances are you’ve seen them before. But the likes of Youtube and to a lesser extent Vimeo and Daily Motion have more obscure races. This doesn’t mean an early 1990s village kermesse recorded on a Sony Camcorder, more like a mid-week semi-classic or a stage of the Tour of the Alps that you missed. Chances are you don’t remember the winner so if it doesn’t have the live feeling it can still surprise.
If you do want to sit down and watch a race, give it proper treatment. Look up the startlist on procyclingstats.com as this is more than a list of names. You’ll see the old teams you might already have forgotten about plus thumbnail images of the team jerseys. You can take this further, for example look up the bikes they were riding or the wider context such as the news or music at the time, perhaps to jog the memory or to help situate the race in time.
If you do know the winner of a race then you can still enjoy watching how they won it. Spoiler alert: Luca Paolini won the 2015 Gent-Wevelgem. But how did he do it? Today to mention Paolini’s name is to think of this race but also his subsequent ejection from the Tour de France months later after a positive test for cocaine and his personal problems with addiction and more. But cast back to that morning in March 2015 and Paolini doesn’t have the same clouds over him or your worries about him getting things back together. He’s just an outsider, a longshot bordering on moonshot.
The early scenes of the race are dramatic as a storm shreds the peloton. Some riders go in the ditch, one gets a musette stuck in his wheel and hurls his bike into the ditch. Even the motos on the race look unstable with their riders dangling their feet close to the ground to help with balance in case of another gust.
Paolini misses the winning move but bridges across and much of his move was solo. Then you can watch him in the breakaway. Chances are when you saw Niki Terpstra, Belgian champion Jens Debusschere, Greg Van Avermaet, Sep Vanmarcke and Geraint Thomas you thought one of them would win, not Paolini. Indeed Thomas was the form rider having just won the GP E3 Harelbeke when he’s associated with the Tour de France now. Paolini even gives you reasons not to back him in the finish, he’s dropped on a climb and has to claw his way back. He made a dummy move in the finale, Thomas is quick to close him down and perhaps it was a test, to see who was fresh and alert? Now you can see Quickstep falling victim to their own tactics, they have numerical superiority but can’t exploit it, they’re expected to chase when someone else goes. All told Paolini’s win looks glorious, he was strong, made the right moves and played the right cards.
All this can be applied to other races, could Tom Boonen have done anything different in the 2016 Paris-Roubaix and where exactly was Mat Hayman all day? Watch another recent cobbled classic and see how Peter Sagan fares, is he marked out of contention, is he lacking team support? Watch for Mark Cavendish and Heinrich Haussler at different points in the 2009 Milan-Sanremo and so on.
If you’re not watching live you can start to look for new things and small details. One is “the tell” of each rider. Just as poker players look for a nervous tick or other body language cues to suggest their opponent is stressed or confident, cyclists can look for signs their rivals are flagging. Some are obvious like a slowing cadence, rocking shoulders or tilting the head sideways but others are more discreet. In 1989 when Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon were duelling on Alpe d’Huez. Fignon’s directeur sportif Cyrille Guimard knew LeMond well having managed him before and spotted the American’s pedalling technique had changed, his ankle movement was slightly different. Guimard told Fignon to attack and the Frenchman did and took precious time. Chris Froome rarely looked comfortable on the bike in the frenzy of a summit finish on the rare times he was dropped his tongue dropped out. If you know someone is about to crack then try to look for their giveaway.
When They Were Young
The likes of Tadej Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel have made an impact on pro racing right from their first year in the pro peloton but it’s more normal for the champions to take their time. So if you’re watching a retro race look out for the surprise young names who might not win but are up there and learning. For example there’s a Netflix documentary about Movistar and you can Richard Carapaz in a new light, he’s no longer just a punchy stage winner and white jersey wearer when he rides the 2019 Giro and when he attacks on the Colle San Carlo and is alone on the descent soon after even his team managers are working the radio trying to dissuade him from pressing on alone to Courmayeur. They see it as a futile waste of energy… it turns out to be the race winning move that saw him take the stage, the maglia rosa and keep it to the end.
If you’re on social media you should find others watching too and can share the moment. If anything the problem at the moment is rather than the sporting calendar dictacting one or two clashing races at most, these days Eurosport UK is showing one race, Eurosport Italia another, Eurosport France a different one while people are watching different races on Sporza, L’Equipe TV and so on.
Apologies if this all reads like obvious tips to watch a race again, like a culinary blog switching to advice on how to sip lukewarm gruel… but it’s all we’ve got in the absence of live sport and perhaps it helps pass the time for some? Rewatching a race despite knowing the result proved more enjoyable than expected and it wasn’t an exercise in nostalgia either, there can be new things to look for. This week L’Equipe TV is showing parts of the 1989 Tour de France (it’s geo-restricted but many people use VPNs these days) and it’s footage that doesn’t exist on youtube, there are new details to look for. Some of it’s haunting though, watching a world in better times with the packed crowds and L’Equipe showed the 2018 Tour of Lombardy, the race touring a region now suffering so much and it’s hard to watch the race without seeing the fans beside the road and wondering how they are today.