Hate to Say I Told Ya...
Does the pavement in Doha ever melt? Probably not, because it's always WAY TOO HOT FOR CYCLING THERE. Anyway, that's the lead story in today's edition of the Desk. The fact that the World Championships are being held in a place so inappropriate that we might see the sport's most coveted year-long prize handed out after a 100km circuit race to a bunch sprint.
The Doha course is focused on the Pearl-Qatar (seems to be how they write it), a man-made island built on top of where people used to go pearl diving. Personally I find entirely man-made places creepy, but on the ground it's probably a lovely place, and the basic idea of building out into the harbor is for people to live along the waterfront -- of which there will be 32 kilometers when the dredging and filling finally stops. That's about all I can claim to "know" about the place.
Should the World Championships be there? The answer is... pointless, because that's where they are, and now it's time to make the best of them. But what exactly is that? The good news (spin?) is that it starts with rider safety, hence the potential shortening of the race, in the face of a 40-degree (celcuis, 103 farehnehit) forecast. I guess we can stay focused on that for now, and save the part where we make fun of the world champion winning a 100km race for later.
Boonen Retirement Talk Stays On Course
We officially know when Belgian classics legend Tom Boonen will stop his career. No more ifs, ands or buts. Assuming no interruptions, knock on wood, Boonen will roll across the line in the Roubaix velodrome on April 9, 2017 and keep on rolling home to Mol to begin his post-cycling life. He made this announcement over the summer but has reaffirmed it more recently to the Belgian media as an answer to their inevitable questioning about what he will do if he becomes world champion. Keep being you, Belgian media.
This might come as a surprise to you but I am actually a pretty big supporter of Boonen. Still, even I don't think he will be world champion again anytime soon, unless he starts doing masters races. Which raises an important question... should he start doing masters races? Can we have Boonen vs Cancellara duking it out in the Masters Tour of Flanders? Whoever supports this in the current election has my vote.
Anyway, some recent riders to hang up the bike right after Paris-Roubaix include Yaroslav Popovych, Frederic Guesdon, Servais Knaven, and probably others. Actually, you might think there would be a long list of riders ceremonially retiring after their favorite race, but the reality of cycling is that you generally have contracts to fulfill, and it rarely makes sense to train yourself into top fitness all winter and not see the next season through to the end. Even Peter Van Petegem made it to the GP Briek Schotte in September of 2007 before saying adieu. Also not too many teams are excited about saving a spot for a rider who won't be around after Easter. Boonen is a special exception, one of few. When you've had multiple seasons of scoring over 2000 UCI points, you are entitled to go out on your own terms.
Dude, Where's My Peloton?
I don't want to make too light of this subject, because I'm sure it was a truly upsetting experience for the cyclist involved, but Orica-Bike Exchange's Rob Power missed his start for the Giro di Lombardia Saturday after emerging from the team bus too late. Power spent 10km chasing through vehicle traffic that launches behind the peloton but was unable to reconnect. It's not something that happens much, if ever, from what the article says, but it turned out OK in the end for the team anyway, as Esteban Chaves sealed the win.
The history of guys missing starts is another thing I can't recite, but I know it's longer than one might think and includes one rather memorable incident -- to me -- where the 2010 Gent-Wevelgem race decided to roll out seven minutes early. YouTube seems to have buried the evidence, but I was standing at the bottom of the ramp leaving the stage, where riders would roll by after being introduced by Michel Wuyts, on their way to the staging. IIRC Tyler Farrar was the one who noticed that they were about to roll out when he was still making his way there, and took off. On stage still was Fabian Cancellara, winner in E3 Prijs the previous day, who then politely excused himself and came down the ramp in front of me like ... you might imagine a time-pressed Cancellara might have done. Boonen too was lagging. But on this day the various tardy stars were just a bit behind and the peloton was still just creeping up the road. No harm was done.
Power wasn't so lucky. But he's 21 and apparently has a bright future ahead of him. He capped off his final pre-pro season in 2015 with an overall win in the Giro delle Valle d'Aosta Mont Blanc, winning the ITT and maintaining a lead to the Grand St. Bernard where the race ended. Before that he was the first Australian to make the Tour de l'Avenir podium. This season was spent learning the ropes, which now include how to get the hell off the bus in time. But it's a huge improvement over where he was heading into the season, coming back from a bone disease that threatened to shut him down for up to two years. So Power will be OK, and his FSA DS value will be artificially depressed for another year.
All this, AND he shares his name with the producer of The Low End Theory.
Tomorrow I'll start in on the Worlds rosters. #letsmakethebestofitbecausewhatchoiceisthere