Bryn Lennon, Getty Images Sport
Well... if I had a notebook, I'd be emptying it right now.
Are you listening, Richmond 2015? Have you called Taylor Phinney or Tejay van Garderen yet? Maybe you can intercept them on their way back to Colorado, do a little on-bike brainstorming. The word "malpractice" comes to mind if you don't.
I'm still waiting to watch the full replay. We can blame my cyclocross "racing" ambitions for this, but I prefer to point fingers at the rotation of the Earth. It's not my fault the sun doesn't shine at 2am Pacific. But I've seen the last lap and kinda saw the one before that. Belgium had a great mix of riders setting things up. Behind Nibali, a quartet of blue shirts massed in a diamond formation, like they were running the Single Wing offense or something. That was Leukemans setting up Gilbert, with Van Avermaet playing the secondary blocker role and Boonen the decoy. Belgium has to be the only team that felt completely comfortable with either of the two non-break winning scenarios, the late attack on the Cauberg or the sprint. Boonen, for his part, had Roelandts and Meersman assigned to watch over him, and like Gilbert he hadn't wasted much energy. So if it came to a sprint, you -- Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Uganda, everyone but Germany -- were just as hosed as you were by plotting to counterattack Gilbert.
So yeah, Belgium had numbers. In the end Gilbert was so dominant that you could fantasize about him being alone with the other contenders and still winning. Perhaps. But back to reality, Spain couldn't launch its many weapons at Gilbert, knowing Leukemans was every bit as strong on the Cauberg as Rodriguez. The fact is that this was a Belgian/Dutch style course, with lots of corners to blast out of and plenty of skinny roads where your positioning meant an awful lot. The little things matter a lot less when you're on a long Spanish highway for three hours, headed toward a final climb. That's not a knock at all on J-Rod or Valverde, both of whom have won in Belgium. It's just to say that pure climbing ability isn't the calling card. It's something more akin to overall strength, plus the ability to get over the Cauberg quickly, and the Belgians have that ability in their bloodstream.
And good thing too, because if Gilbert doesn't attack, Degenkolb might be in rainbow today. That kid's got it.
Oh, and Gilbert's celebration? Not good. Don't overthink these things Phil. I know, it's hard, when you've been waiting a few years for this moment. Let it flow.
I know my early years of Lars Boom fanboyness were almost tongue in cheek (or a cry for help, you decide). And I know Lars isn't the King of the Cobbles, or making any dramatic noise in the sport. But his steady improvement to where he took fifth yesterday wraps up a season of excellent strides by any realistic assessment. Dude is up to 23rd overall (Podium Cafe; 24th at CQRanking), a quantum leap from the back of the top 100. Obviously winning ENECO is a lot of points that fans don't totally care about, but that's the sort of thing you do to pay the bills. Boom is a consistently solid time triallist, and there are a few places on the race map where you can score big for your team on that basis alone. Boom took care of business this year. But what I love most is that 6th in Paris-Roubaix, riding in the first chase group to the velodrome. Boom is 26. He's on a good course.
Is it just me or was Vincenzo Nibali thoroughly unconvincing? The end of the course was bad for the Shark, with a power sprint to the line. Maybe if there was a screaming descent off the Cauberg... different story. But while I will always respect his aggressive tactics -- he alone was able to get in front of the Belgian Armada, in terms of positioning -- sometimes when a move is obvious and doomed it's a little painful to watch.
- The UCI has a lot of flaws, and how they play to public perceptions is one of them. But I'm not ready to pile on them for serving up world titles to obvious, charismatic winners. Yes, it looks like last year was Mark Cavendish's from the get-go, just as this year seemed to always belong to Marianne Vos and Philippe Gilbert. But realistically, only in the case of Vos could you say that the organizers had the eventual winner in mind when designing the course. Sure, Gilbert and Cavendish before him seemed like guys being handed preconceived rainbows by the UCI, with courses laid out perfectly for them. And no, they aren't the only guys who were smiling at their respective venues, but both riders are guys whom you could see the UCI wanting to crown. Why wouldn't the world cycling body want to hitch its brand to Cavendish, the devilishly fast sprinter, or Gilbert, the dominant one-day rider for the hilly classics? But it doesn't make sense that the fix was in. The hosts pick the course, subject to UCI approval, and Copenhagen is as likely to rally around a mouthy Brit as Limburg is around a Belgian.
- That said, the fix was DEFINITELY in for Vos. And the world is a better place for it. No matter how dominant she is, you'd have to really be a hard-hearted beast or desperately tired of seeing her win to have any problems with Vos regaining the world title that has so painfully eluded her all these years.
Photo © Fotoreporter Sirotti