Sunday, April 13, 2008

Paris-Roubaix 2008: Beauty and The Beast

Mud is dramatic and all, but I have to say I was happy for the riders to see blue skies and sun at today's Paris-Roubaix - the cobbles are torture enough! Likewise for the home viewer - we've already got shaking cameras from the cobbles, it's nice to not have to look through raindrops as well. The gorgeous weather made for spectacular viewing and a great race. Of course there was that one rain cloud, hovering over George Hincapie forevermore. Clearly, the earth will stop revolving on its axis if Hincapie ever wins this thing.

Teamwork is one of my favorite things about cycling, and is as strong at P-R as anywhere. So much can happen, you really have to look out for your guy. Quick Step and CSC both put on an excellent show in that category. They kept a strong presence at the front, and each got two strong guys in the final break from the peloton. They were able to play their cards perfectly, ready for the win with whichever pair made it away. I especially love to see Hincapie taken care of, and High Road did a nice job of it for a while. There was Bernhard Eisel, snagging a bottle and offering it to George before he took it for himself. And Servais Knaven anchored to Filippo Pozatto's wheel as he came back, covering all the bases.

But then, as we've come to dread, suddenly Hincapie was gone. With so much going on, we didn't see what happened. It appeared to be a mechanical, as George was waving his arms frantically while trying to catch back on. (Just read over at VeloNews that he flatted twice, argh.) High Road lost big in the team car order lottery, second to last. However true it is that you make your own luck out on the road, this is one piece of bad luck George had no control over. What a shame if it cost him a chance at the podium. Watching him weave through the team cars on the narrow road to get back on - yeah, I didn't need those years off my life! Holy guacamole, that was dicey. And then, along with the rest of the peloton, he was out of sight out of mind. Such are the cold, hard facts of staying where the action is. Once upon a time Hincapie would've been thrilled with a "Top Ten" finish in ninth, but today it must've been a bitter pill.

Speaking of being thrilled with a Top Ten Five finish, can we get a little Captain & Tennille, please? I'm talkin' Maaskant Love. Following up on his strong finish last week at Flanders, Martijn Maaskant of Slipstream Chipotle continued to impress. To be in the final big break, with all the strongmen of the race, well done. He appeared to sit on quite a bit, so I wonder how well his attack at the end to snag fourth sat with the other guys, especially Leif Hoste, who wasn't getting any help from Stijn Devolder or Stuart O'Grady as it was. [CyclingNews reports that Stuey and Stijn were getting cagey with each other, so I guess no qualms there, good on the kid for going for it!] But it sure was fun to see a solo Slipstream rider in the velo. I know they had big hopes for this race, and given how it went, they have to be thrilled with fourth. Especially with Maaskant, strength for the future!

Watching Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen, and Alessandro Ballan zoom along at the front, I thought the wheels in their minds must be spinning as fast as those on their bikes, thinking of how to play it in the velo. My heart broke for George, but with the sun, the other favorites out front, the massive fans, it was a beautiful sight. They had plenty of time, so it was a relief to see a lack of big games as they got close.

When Cancellara started stretching his legs in the final kilometers, I hoped he was just working out the cobbled kinks for a strong finish. But alas, it was cramps, and when Boonen went for the line he could not follow. Nice win for Tom, you knew he was smarting after last week, teammate or no. That cobblestone trophy always gives me the willies, especially when small children are on the podium as well (as Julia Hincapie was a few years ago). Thankfully Boonen didn't even try to hold it by the base - smart racer, smart trophy-lifter.

I really have to learn Danish, I love the tone and rhythm of the Sputnik commentators. Given Eurosport's late and choppy audio entry on the race, I didn't even bother listening to them. It's not like I couldn't tell what was happening at that point! And Sputnik had a lovely post-race show. Again, couldn't understand much, but good video and some of the post-race interviews were in English, bonus! And now it's on to Davis Cup, can Andy Roddick hold off the Frenchies? And the Masters - I am so not a golf fan whatsoever, but even I want to see if the kids can hold off the big guns again today. Great day to be a sports fan.

A couple of notes I didn't get to post earlier in the week:

I was greatly saddened to hear of Randy Van Zee's death in a cycling accident last weekend. I don't generally follow RAAM, but there was a fantastic documentary on the 2004 race, by Stephen Auerbach. Whatever you think about ultra-marathon racing, the video is compelling and beautifully done. Randy is one of the more endearing subjects in the video, so gentle and good-humored, even as he goes through agony. His neck muscles gave out, so he had to wear a contraption to keep his head up. Then he crashed and "hurt his hip," and couldn't swing his leg over the bike. He had to have someone slide it up between his legs. But he kept on going, and finished. With a broken pelvis. He had a great attitude and spirit, and I'm glad we all got to know him just a little bit.

In an odd twist of fate, there was a hauntingly similar image on Friday's stage 5 of the Vuelta al PaĆ­s Vasco that left me clutching my heart. I had the live video streaming on my computer, about the only way we get to see Astana this year, not to mention Alberto Contador battling Cadel Evans and the like. The weather was brutal, pouring rain and cold, as a small leading group came into the final kilometers. There was a very nasty right turn, I just knew someone would go down. Through the rain on the camera, I could see that someone did, but then they had to follow Contador and Damiano Cunego battling it out for the win. When the camera went back, there was David Herrero, clearly in a great deal of pain, trying to get back on his bike, but seemingly unable to move his right leg. But he was fourth on GC, and leading the points classification, so nothing was going to keep him down. Two guys had to lift him up and slide him onto the seat, it was difficult to watch. One of the guys then ran alongside him, pushing and/or steadying, for some distance, until he got too winded and had to drop off. Herrero made it to the line, crying and pedaling only with his left foot, his right leg hanging uselessly on the other side, completely heart-wrenching. He crossed the line alone, and I was yelling at the crowd monitor guy to reach out and help him, I was so afraid he was going to flop over on that right side. No broken bones, but he was unable to start the final stage on Saturday, what a disappointment.


cat2bike said...

Julie dear, you are a fabulous writer!! Do you think you could make some extra money at it?

I love the bit about the earth will stop spinning if George wins this race! It does seem like the cycling gods are trying to teach him some life lesson.
It kills me to see a rider do anything to finish.....oops, just had a flashback to Tour of France o7, Vino....he just couldn't stop.

I wish I could watch as much racing as you do, but, I love reading your blog!! It's just like being there!


Anonymous said...

I agree! Excellent post again Julie!

Anonymous said...

Note regarding George in Paris -Roubaix - It appears from photos I have seen on the internet that George was riding semi-aero carbon wheels! I thought he would run the same traditional wheels that all the other favorites ran in Paris rims, heavy duty tires, brazed spokes, etc. This error in judgment may have caused some of his bad luck.

Nikki said...

Great writes Julie. Theresa is right!

My heart sank this morning when George was trying to get a car. I was trying to figure out where his teammates were and then you'd hear he was coming back up. Augh! I so wish we could just will him to win and make it happen.

And how about Maaskant?!? So good to see him finish so well. He's a good rider and know we are all noticing just how good!

Julie said...

Thanks all, I'd love to, I've been trying to get my act together on that.

Anon - I saw that VeloNews updated and said George broke a wheel, so you may be right!

Hearing now how Ballan was cramping also, and Boonen wasn't feeling that strong, it must be all the more painful for George!