It’s the season of cobbled dreams, that short sweet delirious season of steep stone climbs and big iron legs. The flat countryside, brown fields fallow alternating with the rain-greened growth of spring, the thin grey ribbon of road, and the rainbow horde, bikes flashing in the sun, they pass before our eyes in a blur.
Here we sit along the roadside on the way to the Ronde and Roubaix.
I think I have a purple prose problem today. Do bear with me. It’ll pass, I promise. At least, I hope it does, for it’s a sore affliction. I blame the espresso. It’s easier that way.
So last weekend, it was fun, no? A bike race every day, yes, I can get used to this idea. It felt a little like a battle of the mechanics this time around. I liked the surpriseface from the woman roadside who suddenly found herself holding Cancellara’s bike. It wasn’t a bad change as these things go, and Cancellara kept his cool, only his clapping hands a sign that he had anywhere else to be just then. And I hope Tom Boonen and Quick-Step tipped out the mechanic who ran up through the caravan to deliver him a new bike during Gent-Wevelgem. That was a nice sprint from that dude, the mech, I mean, though Boonen’s sprint several kilometers down the road wasn’t half bad either.
I think after Saturday’s race that there truly is more than one Sep Vanmarke. Would the real Sep Vanmarke please stand up? He was in the early break. He was off the front solo. He was in the chase group. He was in the podium sprint. So much Sep. It was a big ride, and as is often the case with cycling, the final results didn’t entirely tell the tale. Really, you had to be there.
Of course, the E3 was really all about Cancellara. Digression: The E3, can we get a sexier name for this race? It’s far too good for such a drab sort of name. Back to the story now: It was all fun and games until Cancellara decided it was time to do his Sprockets Dance. Then, well, there wasn’t much doubt about the final outcome. It’s hard to argue against Cancellara as Favorite Dude for the remainder of this short, sweet cobbled dream. Credit to Lotto and Garmin-Cervélo for fighting hard for the left-overs. Vanmarke and Haussler, I liked this combo, and they played well together, though they didn’t come home with much to show for it. Maybe next time.
I confess, I’m not really an aficionado of the solo breakaway. I like a little more friction with my bike racing. The solo breakaway wears the sepia-tones of the heroic, all legs churning and hair blowing in the breeze. But really, I like the cruel calculation of the small group finishes. I’m not chasing, no you chase. I’m tired, really I can’t ride any harder. Watch me now! Watch me attack you and slide that stiletto between your ribs. Ah, yes, the treachery, it tastes so good.
Tom Boonen won Gent-Wevelgem from a bunch sprint, though like always the end only tells a small part of the story. This Ian Stannard, he’s a crafty one. His late final kilometer attack almost stuck after he made a bit of a show of being far, far too tired to help Sylvain Chavanel and Peter Sagan hold off the fast-approaching bunch. Thomas Voeckler did ridiculous work in this race, much to the delight of his sponsors and his mom. Maybe he’s peaking for Mother’s Day? Really, it’s hard to be snarky about the grinning Voeckler. He just oozes earnest wholesomeness. May he win lots of races.
I’m not quite sure how Daniele Bennati beat Tyler Farrar in that sprint. Long time, no see, Daniele. How’ve you been? We’ve missed seeing you around. Don’t be a stranger now. Farrar made the front group, but none of his Garmin-Cervélo friends was there to help him. It’s a lonely business being a sprinter some days. And how beauty was that lead-out from Geert Steegmans? All Boonen had to do was steer and keep going. Oh sure, he did pedal hard, too. And the headbang! The Boonen signature headbang sprint! He should trademark that thing. Dancefloor, bunch sprint, it’s all the same, right?
One last thing, before I go. If you didn’t read the Bill Strickland story on Lance Armstrong. Do it. But don’t do it because of Lance. Or because of doping or Livestrong or the grand jury or any of those things. Do it, because it’s a beautiful, elegiac piece of writing, a piece of writing about life and learning and how little lies become bigger lies that explode under their own weight, and make us wonder who the hell that person was who believed all that shit, that person we used to be. The story is less about Lance than it is about Strickland. And man, that guy can write him something fierce. He’s almost too good, this Strickland, because I read, wondering where truth ends and art begins, and then, really, if the difference matters at all. The best art is true.
Until next time, my friends! On to the Ronde!