Archives for category: pro racing

“Hey 24, if you switch on me again…”, he didn’t finish with the rest of the threat, but whatever. I needed to extricate myself from the slow moving bunch and latch onto the fast disappearing break that was about to crest the top of the hill. This was the defining moment of the race, and politeness and pleasantries were the first casualties. Part of me flinched at the wrongdoing – but only a little part. I accepted the role of villain, gambling that I would emerge heroic at the finish.

The line between hero and villain is lightly drawn, constantly shifting depending on our biased perspectives. Cycling is a sport with wide expanses of grey, and yet it is often painted in stark black and white. For some we forgive and forget, but not for others. The determination to succeed in some is seen as ruthless, in others it’s admired. Some are exulted for their achievements, for others they are grounds for suspicion. Some performances are regarded as unbelievable, and others deemed to be beyond belief. Why this need for heroes and villains? And who gets to decide which is which? Read the rest of this entry »

Many will be meeting new teammates for the first time, new kit, new bikes, new expectations. After months of social rides and training camps, it’s back to business. On Saturday Het Nieuwsblad, followed hot on its heels by Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne the following day.

Like the first day of school, nerves buzz around the peloton. Even the hardest of training rides is no comparison to what’s about to happen. Everyone waits for the start impatiently and expectantly. The first taste of burn in their legs and lungs, the surge of the peloton, the organised chaos, crashes and near-misses, the white intensity. This is it – the season starts here…

These previously unpublished photos by Camille McMillan capture the start of the 2009 season at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne…

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The hot topic recently, lighting up blogs and fuelling the ping pong of Twitter debates, has been the inequalities endemic in cycling. The hand wringing, the scratching of heads, the unfathomable truths; how can it be that female riders are paid so little compared to men, why is women’s cycling practically ignored by the mainstream media? What can be done to correct these injustices? How do we move towards a fairer sporting world where everyone can live in harmony and draw a decent living wage from professionally pursuing their calling in the services of the great God of Sport?

No money, mo’ problems

Men’s professional cycling has been around for quite some time – the culture, folklore, infrastructure, fan base all well established. And yet it remains a minority sport in pretty much every country in the world except for maybe a couple of northern European exceptions. Only a handful of men, in an extraordinarily competitive and poorly rewarded profession, make a truly comfortable living, and even less end their career in the knowledge that their financial future is secure. Many teams – aside from the likes of Sky and Katusha – struggle for funding, many smaller races fight for their existence in the face of backers withdrawing funding.

And it is with this backdrop that we have calls for parity with men’s and women’s cycling – more money, more airtime, more column inches. It’s a noble aim, but with even the men’s sport poorly funded in all but the highest stratospheres, is it really feasible? Read the rest of this entry »

On Saturday the young Garmin rider Dan Martin – son of ex British pro Neil Martin, nephew of past Tour de France winner, Giro winner and World Champion Stephen Roche, and cousin of current Irish national champion and team leader of AG2R in this year’s Tour Nicholas Roche – won the Tour of Poland. And with a pedigree like that it’s not really surprising, is it?

Dan Martin is popping with raw natural talent and a formidable power to weight ratio. So far his form has been slightly erratic, but some impressive performances have marked him out as a young rider to watch. His rise into the professional ranks and to the top of the sport seems like a formality considering his inherited cycling genes. Read the rest of this entry »

For the past three weeks amateur cyclists have been glued to their TV sets reverentially watching the Pros racing around France; in awe of their aero lightweight bikes, of the exclusive helmets in team-specific colourways, and of their latest limited edition sunglasses. We’ve scrutinised sock length, bar tape choices, groupset specs. No facet of the Pro cyclist image has gone unnoticed; the attitude, the tans, the white lycra. We covet it all.

So it is only natural that having cribbed from the crème de la crème, we’ll be attempting to emulate the scenes from La Grande Boucle when we next line up at our local lower cat races. Read the rest of this entry »

In the 1979 film Breaking Away, a young American teenager from a non-descript Indiana town develops an obsession with cycling and the Italian team. “Ciao Mama! Ciao Papa!” – his parents are unimpressed, and his friends fail to understand his new passion. David searches out scraps of information on the Italian team, pouring over magazines and papering his bedroom walls with images of his European heroes. Campagnolo, Colnago, Coppi, Gimondi; the evocation of Mediterranean exotica.

So it is with great expectations when he hears news that a team from Italy will be travelling to compete in a local race. At last he gets to experience Italian culture first hand, to race against these foreign new adversaries from the spiritual home of cycling. When the day arrives, the Italians dominate the race, riding at the front and setting a fierce pace, dropping everyone except our American idealist. He is a nuisance, stubbornly refusing to drop behind with the other local riders – the Italians tell him in no uncertain terms – though in Italian – to bugger off. When their intimidation fails to make an impression, they ram a pump into the spokes of his front wheel. As David flies head over heels into the roadside shrubbery, his carefully constructed Italian dream also falls flat on its arse.

Later today, the riders will roll down the start ramp in Amsterdam to begin their three week adventure in the Giro d’Italia. For many the first grand tour of the year is also the best; beautiful scenery rivalling Le Tour, steeper more demanding climbs, racing that is less predictable and more aggressive. But most importantly, it winds it’s way through a country that embodies the soul of cycling, cheered on by the adoring and fanatical tifosi.

The hosts will once again be hoping that a local hero can emerge and claim the maglia rosa – the rest of the world will be hoping he is earning his glory through honest means. Recently we’ve seen too many improbable performances from the home favourites – Basso, Ricco, Di Luca. Too many times has this race, wrapped in the passion and beauty of Italian culture, also been unravelled by its uglier side.

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