Sunday, April 6, 2008

Flanders: That's Why They Call It A Classic

It's been great racing all spring, and Flanders continued that trend and then some today. Just what you love to see in a spring race - snow, hail, rain, guys caked with mud head-to-toe, breath visible in the cold air as they struggle up the cobbles, and drama aplenty.

I'm really glad I got up to watch it live, seeing now how it was mercilessly sliced and diced for the Versus broadcast. And there was the added bonus of Sean Kelly commentating on Eurosport. All due respect to P&P, but Mr. Kelly does a lovely, understated job of it. The UK video stream was a bit dicey, so I switched to another country, with the UK audio going. They were out of sync then, with the audio a minute or so ahead. It worked out, though, because I was helpfully alerted to keep an eye out for notable visuals about to unfold.

It seems cruel somehow to love watching the riders suffer on the climbs, but it's just so epic. To know how strong these guys are, and to see them giving maximum effort to make it up, or get off and walk, you know how tough it must be, and I love them all for getting through it.

It's a real shame Versus skipped Leif Hoste's mechanical, that was quite the moment. There he was a big favorite, standing like a spectator on the side of the road as he had to wait interminably for the team car to make it to him. He looked the calm professional, but his insides must have been churning. And Oscar Freire's attack was a nice move while it lasted, a bit of a disservice to just show him getting caught.

George Hincapie was in fine form, making all the important moves, except of course that last one. But it was great to see him in the break, muddy face and grinding away. A well-earned fifth place for Big George, here's hoping it sets him up well for next week.

When the sun finally came out, and guys were peeling off layers left and right, it was kind of like Superman - as the dirty garments were discarded, the fresh bright colors of clean jerseys underneath were revealed. Stijn Devolder certainly took that to heart, deciding he would be the one to fly away from the field.

Watching him barrel along, earpiece dangling uselessly, I thought of one of the April Fool's jokes at VeloNews this week. I'm not big on April Fool's, but this was a fun satirical look at today's riders going without radios. Devolder's comments after the race could've been straight out of the faux piece, something along the lines of not having any idea what the gap was and just riding as fast as he could.

That was a crazy stretch after Devolder flew, motorcycles were everywhere, it was like the chasers had accidentally stumbled upon a pack of Hells Angels. As the chase went along, there were those frustrating tactical games. It seems crazy that some combination of guys couldn't put it together to bridge the gap, Devolder was so close. I get that if they pulled Tom Boonen up, they had very little chance of winning, but still, isn't little chance better than no chance? And if you're resigned to losing anyway, isn't a podium place better than nothing? Oh well, after what those guys went through today, who am I to question them.

I had to be happy for the robust Belgian fans. They didn't let the weather dampen their spirits all day long, what a great reward to see their national champion take the win in fantastic style. And Devolder was delightful after the finish, that huge grin and happily bewildered look in his eyes, still trying to take in what he'd just done. Aside from that little "rest" in the break, he worked like a dog all day long and it was a well-deserved win on a great day of racing.


cat2bike said...

I wish I had seen it live. Versus really chopped it up. I was thrilled Devolder won, but never totally understood why Tom didn't jump with him?? Or is that totally uncool to go on a breakaway as the team captain, with the guy who supposed to be helping you save yourself?
I wondered what happened to Leif.

Julie said...

Hey T! Yeah, the whole group would've gone with Tom if he went, can't bridge them up to your own guy. Leif had to work really hard to catch up after his mechanical, bad luck for him.

Nikki said...

I meant to drop a reply sooner. Flanders was awesome to watch and follow along with. I for one can NOT wait for the race this morning. An entry posted just a bit ago sys it's raining there so it will be a muddy mess!!! (It's currently snowing here... augh!)

Can't wait to read from you tomorrow! Off for a few zzz's before it starts!