The Rise of Nationalism, The Demise of Races

Nationalism, nativism and populism are on the rise across Europe and beyond. Some like it, some don’t but put your take on this aside for a moment if possible because there’s sporting connection to it. Or at least there used to be. Many bike races have a long history of nationalist association, whether as expressions of patriotism or symbolic illustrations of occupying the terrain. Will today’s politics bring new bike races.

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From The Giro to Ukraine

Look at the picture above and what do Michele Scarponi and Roman Kreuziger have in common? Yes they’re riding the 2012 Giro, smiling and both wear Specialized helmets. Bonus points if you remember they have both hired Doctor Michele Ferrari for “training plans”.

There’s another connection. Scarponi’s got ISD on his jersey and Kreuziger’s with Astana. Both teams can trace links to the Ukraine, in particular to its steel industry. In fact five teams in the Giro share links back to Ukrainian steel. Today Ukraine is in political crisis and there’s a bizarre cycling connection to events.

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The Kemmelberg: Belgium’s New Toll Road

Belgian cobbles paveBelgium, the heartland of cycle sport where the popularity level of bike racing is greater than any other country in the world. But if it’s a popular sport in the Kingdom, not everyone loves it and there’s growing trend to charge bike races for riding through a municipal area and now even the Kemmelberg is getting in on the act with a new tax for races.

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Roubaix: The Road To Hell and Back


This post isn’t so much about cycling but the wider area around this Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix race. As you’ll see below, the  race’s “Hell of the North” title doesn’t come from cobbles but the state of the region.

Apologies if I upset the locals but Roubaix and the surrounding places are grim. Tourist rarely visit and the French share negative myths about the area. Today the region thrives as transport hub but it is rarely a final destination.

What’s so bad? The effects of wars past are still visible, from cratered landscapes to fields of white crosses marking mass graveyards. More recently the whole region has struggled with vanishing jobs and entrenched social problems. It’s a tough place with the toughest race.

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Flemish Flags, Polls and Politicians

Gent Wevelgem

No finishing straight in a Belgian race at this time of year is complete without a big yellow flag with a black lion. But whilst the “Lion of Flanders” is part of cycling lore, it’s also loaded with politics and nationalism and these flags can be an attempt to hijack the race, using sport to play politics.

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Cycling and Politics

Cycling and coffee often seem to go together; but what about politics and cycling?

First here’s a bizarre brew of Colombian cycling and Italian politics. Then there’s a more general look at those who have tried to swap pedal power for political power.

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Sunday shorts

Don’t worry, Sunday evening’s collection of short pieces is family and workplace safe. But you’ll find two stories where speaking out can land you in trouble, even prison. And if you enjoyed the Tinker, Tailor, Cyclist, Spy piece, there’s an appetiser for an upcoming story.

GP d’Ouverture – La Marseillaise
Samuel Dumoulin of Cofidis won the race in a sprint finish. Wearing full-fingered gloves and a long-sleeved top he beat Marco Marcato who sported a headband to keep his ears warm.

The Etoile de Bessèges stage race starts on Wednesday and even colder gear will be needed. Weather forecasts are predicting a deep freeze for France and snow is expected for most of the country, including the south.

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The pain in Spain

The Spanish economy is set to shrink this year, continuing the funk it has been in since 2009. Unemployment is over 20% and climbing. Set against it’s no wonder that several races are under threat in Spain.

Pro cycling depends on government funding and corporate budgets and across Europe times are tough. But not for all.

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Tinker, tailor, cyclist, spy

The Katusha team has yet to deliver the results that match its ambitions and its budget. Joaquim Rodriguez and Denis Galimzyanov have had some good wins but for me the most fascinating aspect of the team is the network of people who stand behind the squad.

This is a tale of secret agents, oligarchs, oil and gas, presidents and prime ministers as well as pro cycling. It is like no other team.

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Tuesday shorts

I’ve been away for the last two weeks and catching up with news from cycling. Here are a few things that have caught my attention so far.

Willunga Hill

Four weeks to go
The 2012 season is now less than four weeks away as the Tour Down Under starts on 15 January 2012. The race has grown on me over the years. Some label it a training race in the sunshine but if was only that it would be great as it marks the end of the winter off-season, we get to see the new kit and bikes abd with internet streams, the racing too.

But the rising importance of UCI Pro Tour points and the haul on offer mean the race is no holiday, there is now too much at stake for riders and teams. The overall winner takes 100 points. That’s the same as winning Paris-Roubaix or the Tour de Suisse and it is substantial enough to alter the team rankings. The top-3 teams in 2011 were separated by fewer than 100 points.

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