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The Session: Putting The Pedals On

Gav_medium Last December, I took the pedals off my road bike. I was going to visit the Specialized-lululemon girls, and on these kinds of visits, there will be bike riding. So, I took off my pedals, took them on the trip, and went for some bike rides. Then, the pedals came home. And, there they sat in the used coffee bag I used to transport them. Just waiting.

Yesterday, I took my pedals out of their coffee bag cocoon and I put them back on my bike. Then, I went for a bike ride. It’s spring, you see, and time for road bikes and road racing.

Yes, my friends, this weekend it all begins. Both the men and women head to Belgium to dance on the cobbles of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. And after this weekend, it all follows in swift succession: Paris-Nice, the Ronde, the Ardennes, and off in the distance the grand tours sit waiting for the calendar to turn, waiting for it to be their moment in the sun.

These opening races are always all anticipation, because really, anything is possible. And there are the riders in their brand new kits. They just look so shiny. Until, of course, the first burst of Belgian rain and the first splatters of mud. Really, is there anything not to like about that combination?

Best of all, after the long winter of waiting, we finally get to see our favorites. Who you watching this year? Here’s a few riders I’m most looking forward to watching this cobbled season. Predictions? Not so much. But I do have my favorites, because doesn’t everyone? So here’s a list.

Tom Boonen. Ah, Boonen, you heartbreaker. So you won the Tour of Qatar. And that’s supposed to get my hopes up for the classics? The problem for Boonen, of course, is that he won so big so early in his career. How was anyone outside of Eddy Merckx going to keep up with Boonen’s early record of victories? That 2005 Ronde van Vlaanderen-Paris-Roubaix double. Ooh là là, that was some bike racing, amiright?

It’s easy to say that Boonen’s been a disappointment since, but lots of riders would still kill for a season like 2010 when Boonen was second at Milano-Sanremo and the Ronde, and fifth at Paris-Roubaix. And last season, he won Gent-Wevelgem, so there’s that. But it’s hard not to view anything other than a monument win as a disappointment for Boonen. And I never like to see my favorite riders disappointed.

Heinrich Haussler. Haussler had, by his standards, a relatively anonymous season last year, likely due at least in part to the injuries that kept him out of racing for so much of 2010. Garmin-Barracuda team manager Jonathan Vaughters has said he expects that last year’s racing miles will set up Haussler for a fab season this year. Here’s hoping that Vaughters has it right. Because that sprint with Cavendish at Milano-Sanremo in 2009, that was just so Drama right there. And I do like me some drama with the bike racing. The solo Tour stage win in 2009 was pretty special too. Haussler, he has the passion. Thank you, can we have some more?

Matti Breschel. Right, so there was some talk that Breschel is supposed to ride the Ardennes or something, which just feels like one of those stranger than fiction moments. He’s teammates with Lars Boom over at Rabobank, so who knows how that pairing will work out.

If I have to wait for the Ardennes, I’ll wait, but I’m not a very patient person when it comes to my favorite riders. I want to see them race now! Demanding, I know. That sixth place finish from Breschel in the Ronde in 2009 feels like a long time ago, but he’s still only 27, which is in fact the same age as Haussler. Breschel is the rider is always Right There, but not quite winning. So me, I want to see him winning. Not Right There! First!

Megan Guarnier. Guarnier won the late season Giro di Toscana last year, while riding for the U.S. national team. She said she set out to ride for the points jersey, then found herself in the front group with the climbers and just kept rolling with it. She won the overall, her biggest international win to date.

Guarnier is part of an ambitious effort from the U.S. women to pick up another slot in the Olympics, and Guarnier as one of the top five U.S. women is a key part of that effort. Only the top five riders in each country score points. I had thought the national team was riding the Omloop, but apparently I dreamed that part. Guarnier and Tibco are on for the Ronde van Drenthe and the Drenthe world cup, anyway. And! Special shout-out to Amanda Miller, who will race on the cobbles for the first time this spring.

With Emma Johansson still recovering from her double collarbone fractures, the women’s Omloop should be pretty wide open. I like unpredictable.

Filippo Pozzato. Well, you knew I had to mention at least one Italian, right? And if there’s one thing wrong with these early season races, it’s the shocking lack of Italians. To be fair, they have their own bike race over in Lugano. Cadel Evans (not Italian, but he lives there, so..), Mauro Santambrogio (one of my fave names in cycling), Damiano Cunego (I’m just not even going to...), they’ll all be in Lugano, not Belgium. But Belgium, that’s what we’re talking about. All those climbers, they’ll have their day.

Why do I like Pozzato? Well, it’s certainly not his tat or that miserable excuse for a ‘stache he rocked last year. If he still has it, don’t even tell me. I’m going to pretend it’s gone, anyway. But about the bike racing. Come back with me to 2007. Remember that year? I know, it was really quite a while ago. But that’s the year that Pozzato caught my eye with a fabulous bit of bike play in the finale of Omloop Het Volk. He played his attack perfectly, and won that bad boy. He also won Milano-Sanremo the previous year, one of the few non-sprinters to do so. Want to win my heart? Win Milano-Sanremo from a breakaway. Swoony!

Yes, it’s time to put the pedals back on and head off to the races. It all starts now. We can look down the length of the season, down the road to the vanishing point. The new season is like a book with blank pages, just waiting for the riders to write their stories. Whose will you be reading?