One of my favorite new memes is the possibility — nay, the responsibility — of going mental. It’s a time-honored team strategy whose utility we hope will be tested by Team Quick Step in the monumental Cobbled Classics, but more than that, it appears to have become the dominant theme of the Classics to date. Yes, there’s the story of Greg Van Avermaet (now known as “koning”) and all the winning he’s been up to. Chapeau. But in his wake is a growing list of Riders Behaving Badly. It’s the pressure-packed Cobbles Season, and in their own way, a lot of riders seem to be ready to go mental.
First on everyone’s list is Niki Terpstra, of the aforementioned Quick Step squad. More than a few bytes have been bytten on the subject of why and how he just flat-out refused to work in the breakaway that, up til then, included him with Peter Sagan, Soren Kragh Andersen, and the two guys who got away, King Greg and Jens Keukeleire.
Here’s a long-form version of the conflict that erupted between the two former Monument winners Terpstra and Sagan, with blow-by-blow video, but the gist of it is that Sagan has gotten a bit tired of people expecting him to do the work in general, and Terpstra took that unwelcomed expectation to rather absurd lengths on this occasion, knifing both Sagan and himself in the back as the two Belgians sped up the road. Terpstra.
Because another word getting around is that of him spitting on Kragh Andersen.
Terpstra with a douche move on Søren Kragh Andersen: "He spat me in my face" according to the Dane. https://t.co/CP8bdUrZpq— Jesper Carstens (@JesperCarstens) March 26, 2017
Terstra issued a strong denial to both charges. Hopefully the spitting thing didn’t happen, but who knows? As to the race tactics, it’s disappointing to fans and to Sagan, but it’s not crazy for Terpstra to look around that break and think he had zero chance to win from it unless they gave him an armchair ride to the line. Reasonable minds will no doubt differ.
Apparently Sagan was in no mood to be trifled with even before things erupted in the last 20 minutes...
That’s the Rainbow Jersey grabbing another rider by his saddle and shoulder-checking him, an infraction that generally gets you booted from a race if you get caught. I believe the recipient was Maxime Vantomme, a veteran (and highly adoptable!) Belgian rider for the Flemish sponsor salad WB-Veranclassic Aquality Project Team. [Vantomme was 11th on the day, and the rest of his team was long gone. He also retweeted the video.] Vantomme drifts into Sagan’s line on the Kemmelberg, but not in any way that you would think would provoke a reaction. So Sagan is either a petulant child, or... something else happened that wasn’t caught on video. No reports anywhere yet as to what that could have been. Neither rider had anything to say on Twitter; Vantomme tweets about once every three months, and Sagan reports that he’s having venison for dinner. Is “vantomme” Dutch for deer? If not... the mystery deepens!
As a bike sumo matter, it’s utterly inconsequential. Yes, shouldering your opponent to the edge of the dohyo is a thing, but it requires a sustained pressure, not just a single blow. This is even more necessary in a cobbled classic, where your opponent has the width of the road, a gutter, and even maybe some grass to regain his balance and counterattack with a one-arm throw or hard thrust to your lowered head. So while Sagan may be a Yokozuna in his biking style, his sumo technique is Juryo junk. For more on bike sumo, go here.
Pardon this brief commercial interlude, but... are you having fun yet? Want to geek out more over the Cobbled Classics? Because I, um, wrote a book about them. If you like reading this site, well, I can’t say for sure that you’ll love the book but you’re definitely our target audience. Four ways to buy:
And I will probably bring a couple hard copies with me to Flanders next week.
Back to the road...
Must fight against the grassing. Actually, as a Northwesterner, I’m more concerned about the mossing. Anyway, here’s a documentary on the 100th Ronde van Vlaanderen, the one from last year. It’s 74 minutes long and you have to fake your way through a Belgian-looking login (hint: postal code is four digits) but it is positively fascinating. The behind-the-scenes look at how a race actually happens, with press arrangements and getting the fixed-wing plane up so it can relay signals to the internet, where they get repackaged in some kleptocracy into a pirate feed... so we can watch the Ronde van Vlaanderen! Seriously, it’s great to see. Even a very random Sven! sighting.
So are things happening yet? Are we at RONDE DEFCON 1? [Little known fact: DEFCON 4 was the lowest one, not the highest.] Some would say yes. Sporza has tracked down the first camper van of the week (this was on Monday), parked on the Paterberg. Definitely play the first video, of Patrick getting out of his van. Priceless.
One question I’ve had lately is, where the hell is Lars Boom? The Netherlands doesn’t have a lot of stars expecting to shine this weekend, frankly. Boom has been one of the biggest names, with Terpstra, for some eight years, but he’s been going backwards every time I’ve spotted him. My pick for Top Dutchie Sunday is absolutely Cannondale’s Dylan van Baarle, eighth in Dwars and ninth in E3. Obviously Flanders is a good bit longer than the warmups, but van Baarle is having his third bite at the Monument apple, and got sixth and 16th last year in Flanders and Roubaix. Given the attention his captain Sep Vanmarcke will draw, you can’t help but think of van Baarle as sitting pretty, young and strong, and no real pressure. OK, some, but less than others. He’d be an unlikely winner, but stranger things have happened.
Want to get inside the race with a fun small outfit? Check out the Israel Cycling Academy’s video blog of their trip to the Cobbles. Not sure where any of these guys are headed but you can bet they’re having the cycling experience of a lifetime.
Finally, one administrative note, I added a one-day probationary requirement to newly-created PdC logins, in the hopes that it deters the nauseating spam we’ve been seeing. If not, I’m sure they will eventually go away, since we can vaporize all their trash the second any of the managers notices it, and I suspect they aren’t making any money off of our community. But hopefully this delay in access will hinder them enough to make them move on.