There’s a long straight stretch of road that forms part of one of my regular rides. Along this road runs a bus line. Some days I never see the bus, the benches, intermittently placed to mark the stops, and the pavement, cracked by the weight of its daily round, provide the only sign that it exists at all. Other days, it’s all about the bus. We play tag the length of the road, the bus roars by me, then stops, the people get on, the people get off. I sprint around the bus, gaining a momentary advantage. Inevitably, it catches back up to me. Then, it stops again. I sprint around. It catches me again. There’s a metaphor here somewhere, but I think I rode my bike too hard to find it. Or, maybe the coffee just isn’t strong enough, though if it were any stronger I think I’d have to chew it.
The Ardennes classics are like my afternoon game of bus tag. That’s a simile, not a metaphor. I did say, I couldn’t be bothered with metaphor. I only do metaphor on Monday. Friday afternoon, forget about it. But back to the bike races. At last week’s Amstel Gold Race, first Ivanov, then Gilbert, then Kolobnev tried their luck with the solo escapes. Each time, the group behind chased back to them. Bus tag.
In a post-race interview, Philippe Gilbert said that he actually waited for the group behind to come up to him, because he decided he’d gone from too far out. Waiting for the bus is sometimes a wise strategy. It worked out for Gilbert, and he arrived fresh for the final sprint on the Cauberg. Kolobnev, he tried until the final kilometer, but he couldn’t escape the bus.
This week’s races featured two riders who had learned patience. In the past, Gilbert never met an attack he didn’t love, and always he was trying to ride alone off the front. This Amstel win resulted from mixing power with patience, an early attack that forced the pace, but didn’t take everything out of his legs followed by a canny ride to the final sprint. It looked for a short moment like Damiano Cunego might leap over the top of Gilbert in the sprint, but when the time came, Cunego lost his legs and faded backward down the field. No one could challenge Gilbert’s final sprint. Ryder Hesjdahl, meanwhile, paid his first visit to the podium in a major classic. A surprise, maybe, except for those who have been paying attention to the steady rise of the tall Canadian.
Cadel Evans also benefitted from a new patience this week, waiting until the final 100 meters to launch his winning move on the Mur de Huy. Twice before, Evans attacked too early in the finale at Flèche Wallonne and watched the victory pass him by. This time, he got it right. That’s a second big one day win for a rider, who until last year’s World Championship road race, was best known for his near-misses in the grand tours. Surely, it must have added that extra sweetness to the win to ride over the top of Alberto Contador, considered by many to be nearly unbeatable on an uphill finish. Beaten, it seems, but a too-early attack and the patience of Evans, who finally cracked the code on the Mur de Huy.
Sunday we come to one of my favorite races of the year. Liège-Bastogne-Liège with its steep climbs and long distance guarantees hard racing. Much like the Amstel Gold Race, the terrain begs for a rollicking game of tag, or attacks and chases through the uneven terrain of the Belgian Ardennes. I’ve rarely been able to pick the winner for this race, since the route to victory varies. Andy Schleck won solo, Alejandro Valverde likes to wait for the sprint, Gilbert, well, he used to attack too early. Maybe this time he’ll get it right just like last week. Damiano Cunego hasn’t cracked this race yet, really, he seems tentative on the attack, like he wants to wait for the sprint. But he has yet to win from a small group either. Ivanov and Kolobnev, they rhyme for a reason, they both want to escape. So does Vinokourov, who rhymes too. Bus tag and bike racing, sprint ahead and wait for the catch. He who escapes last wins the prize.
So the coffee shop is closing soon, so I’d best be on my way. I’ve lost the knack of writing in coffee shops, though I used to do it all the time. At least I got a table. With a plug. Because really, does anyone’s laptop batteries actually work? Mine certainly doesn’t. The coffee was good, my fingers are tired. Maybe my internet will work again soon. Then I’ll come back and write some more. But not now. Meanwhile, watch out for buses.