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The Session

Gav Runs Out of Coffee
Then, Writes About Bike Racing

Gav_mediumI ran out of chocolate. And coffee. Both at the same time. This led to a crisis. I. Could. Not. Go. On.

So I hopped on my bike - the blue one, not the green one - and scurried out to secure these essential supplies. Now all is tranquilo and felice and whatnot. There is coffee. Fresh beans! Which, when mixed with water and heat turned into fresh espresso. And I got chocolate. With hazelnuts!

All of this means that I can write words now. Words are good.

So about that bike racing. This Man in the Red Shirt, it seems he is pretty fast, no? My mom, who likes to follow some bike racing, asked if it was common for a guy to ride alone to the finish like that. No mom... Am I the only one who now hears Suicidal Tendencies in my head? Yes Gav, you’re the only one. No mom, I said, it isn’t all that common, in fact, it only happened in one major race last year, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Not content to ride off the front of one monument, Cancellara had to do it twice. That’s a whole lotta breakaway time right there. And just a teeny bit repetitive for some of us playing along at home. I do like a little variety with my bike racing.

At the Ronde, though Boonen joined Cancellara’s big move, the Swiss champion dictated the race from the Molenberg to the finish. It was quickly apparent that Cancellara held the upper hand, and the main suspense lay in predicting when exactly he would leave Boonen behind and who would pick off the minor placings. In the event, Cancellara chose the obvious spot to go up the road, dancing away on the Mur and leaving Boonen to grit his teeth and fight his way to the line alone.

It’s rare to see a rider deep in the finale race bare-knuckled on the bars. Somewhere along the way, Boonen’s gloves went astray and in those final ten kilometers, his tensed hands told the story of just how hard he pushed. Never content to race for second, he’s a rider who dies on the bike. Behind him, Philippe Gilbert chased with much the same intensity. Gilbert had Björn Leukemans for help, but the impetus came mostly from Gilbert, another rider who dies on the road before he’ll concede a millimeter of ground. The battle those two waged against their human frailties and the unseen riders behind them gave the race’s finish a dramatic tension largely absent from the images of Cancellara celebrating in the final kilometers. For me, the enduring image of the race isn’t Cancellara’s mugging for the camera, but instead Boonen’s bare-knuckled fight to the line. Gilbert, meanwhile, earned his second trip to the podium at the Ronde, a well-deserved result for one of the more versatile riders in the bunch. Gilbert says Paris-Roubaix is the only monument he can’t win. Perhaps next week in the Ardennes, he’ll add another to his collection.

At Paris-Roubaix, the race ended long before the line, as Cancellara again had the form of his life and rode away with the race. It was frustrating to watch as the remaining favorites chose to let him go, racing for second instead of fighting for the win. Of course it’s always nice to show the sponsors on the podium, even if it isn’t on the top step. It’s hard to fault the Cervélo riders Thor Hushovd and Roger Hammond for taking the result they could get rather than gambling against the win that was rapidly disappearing up the road.

Plenty of observers criticized Boonen for working too much and giving up his chance at the podium, but with three wins at the Hell of the North, Boonen saw little appeal in racing for second. After Paris-Tours, Boonen said that he liked riding the breakaway with Philippe Gilbert, because Gilbert is a rider who "takes responsibility." He rides to win, and confident in his abilities, Gilbert takes his pulls and plays his cards. After Paris-Roubaix, Boonen said he was frustrated and disillusioned, and couldn’t understand why the other "bigs" chose to race for second. Waving the arms around, this doesn’t make for race wins. Yes, Leif, I’m talking to you. Didn’t anyone else want to win? It seemed not, and with just over 40 kilometers to go, the race was mostly over with only the minor placings left to decide.

Maybe Boonen should have sat on, let the other riders do the work, and relied on his sprint to put him on the podium. But for Boonen, these races are a bit more complicated than that. No one is going to do the work for him. Though he is less of a bunch sprinter than he was earlier in his career, Boonen still has a formidable turn of speed at the finish. No one really wants to go to the line with him, and if he wants to get a chase going, he has to commit and most likely, he has to do at least as much, if not more, work than the others. Such is the burden that five monument wins brings. For a rider like Boonen, there is no sitting on, unless he has a team-mate to do the work for him. Devolder... who? Alas, the team of Lefèvre is a shadow of its former self, a reality which Lef attributes to a reduced budget. Who really knows the reason for Quick Step’s absence from their big races, but certainly, it made Boonen’s task all the more difficult, if not impossible.

But the cobbled races are like so over now. It’s on to the Ardennes, which means some of my favorite races of the year. It also means a turn to a new cast of characters, as the races shift into hillier terrain. Robert Gesink, Fränk and Andy Schleck, Simon Gerrans, Philippe Gilbert, who has hardly been gone at all, Vincenzo Nibali, Damiano Cunego (unless he still has the flu), they’re all back now. Nice to see you all, it’s been too long. First up, Amstel Gold Race. Can it be Sunday yet?

You know what the Ardennes races also mean? They mean it’s almost... Giro! I burst with joy at the thought. Mountains and polemica and oh my, so much Italian grand tour goodness. Do you want to know a secret? You have to promise, cross your heart, not to tell anyone. Promise? I heard an unconfirmed rumor, mind you just a rumor, that the Gossip column will make a come-back during this year’s Giro. Now, after all that time off, it may not be on form to contest for the race lead. But it seems likely that the Gossip, with brand new kit, will take the start of this year’s Giro. No telling, though, ‘kay? Cuz it’s a secret.

And that’s all for this edition of Gav Writes Stuff About Cycling. Let’s do it again soon, shall we?

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