Bridging the Gap

Little light on the content here these days, eh? Well, that’s because the Daughter of the Service Course was born two weeks ago, and anyone who’s done that drill knows that newborns can really cut into your casual cycling commentary time. She and I get along just fine, though, because newborns are a lot like cyclists – they’re asleep most of the time, and when they aren’t, they’re eating, pooping, or crying about something. Kidding aside, we’re all thankful that everybody’s healthy, and we’re getting enough sleep to stay relatively sane.

At this point, there’s no way we can catch up to all that’s transpired in cycling over the last couple of weeks. But as we all know, when your team’s missed the break entirely, nothing reassures the director that you really are trying like an ill-fated, half-assed bridge attempt. So here goes…

Rebellin Lights It Up

I left a comment on Pave site right after Fleche Wallonne, wondering if Davide Rebellin’s (Diquigiovanni) latest win there would finally get him the recognition he deserved as one of the finest classics riders of his (aging, mostly retired) generation. Well, maybe it would have, except for the fact that a few days later, Rebellin’s legacy took an unfortunate turn in the other direction with the news that he lit the doping lamp for CERA after his bronze medal performance at the 2008 Olympic road race. Like Johan Museeuw, he has to be regretting his decision not to have hung up his wheels just a little bit earlier. And like Museeuw, we may be in for another “in the last years of my career…to try to remain competitive…etc., etc.” half-confession that does nothing but call the entirety of a career into further doubt. Ah, well.

Schleck Finishes on Time, Race Finishes 20 Minutes Too Late

Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) took a really exciting win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, or at least he would have if the race ended shortly after he made his winning move and established his gap. But it didn’t. And as much as I love L-B-L, watching Schleck cruise alone, however speedily, up that long, wide, dead steady, dead straight climb into Ans was just excruciatingly boring. L-B-L has a lot of beautiful, dramatic climbs – the Graham Watson special in Houffalize, La Redoute – but the Cȏte de Saint-Nicholas just ain’t one of them. Coupled with Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank), to hear the press tell it, single-handedly menacing an entire herd of about 35 certified Ardennes classics threats into a total stupor, it wasn’t the best finale the race has ever seen. I mean really, nobody could attack because Frankie was there? Cunego? Valverde? Anyone? Because you really weren’t going to win with Andy up the road, anyway.

Ardennes Specialists are People, Too

Despite his recent lighting of the lamp, Rebellin won a load of big races, including his legendary sweep of the Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2004. Yet when people talk about classics riders, he’s rarely mentioned with contemporaries like Michele Bartoli and the like. Why? I think the reason is two-fold. First, for whatever reason, Rebellin’s never gotten any respect – years of non-selection for the Italian World Championship team show that. I don’t know the guy, but I do know that some folks’ heads and mouths can rob them of opportunities their legs should have given them, and in a time when national coach Franco Ballerini was trying to build unity, Rebellin just didn’t seem to fit into the plan. So maybe Rebellin just rubs people the wrong way, but if he does, it’s never been in as public a way as some of his compatriots, like Gilberto Simoni (Diquigiovanni) or Filippo Simeoni (Ceramiche Flaminia).

The personality part of the equation is likely to remain a mystery, to non-Italian speakers at least. Besides, the second reason Rebellin isn’t regarded as a classics legend is much more broadly applicable and more important anyway: the misplaced perception that classics = cobblestones. Some classics do, of course, have plenty of cobbles, and the stones do add a certain something to the feel of the race and the legends of the men who thrive on them. But plenty of big classics are held over smooth roads as well – races like San Remo, Liege, Fleche, Amstel, Lombardy, and Paris-Tours. Despite that, it seems that unless someone wins Roubaix or Flanders, they aren’t dubbed a great classics rider, and that’s unfortunate. Sure, grand tour guys snap up some of the Liege wins, and if you win Paris-Tours or San Remo, they’ll probably still just call you a sprinter. But there has to be a place for guys like Rebellin in the classics pantheon, doesn’t there? Maybe if there were, guys who are clearly cut from the same mold as Rebellin, like Damiano Cunego, Alejandro Valverde, and Danilo Diluca, would stop chasing slim chances at grand tour wins and focus on the asphalt classics where their talents really shine. That said, they’d be stupid to ignore the financial incentive of the grand tours vs. classics equation if they have a reasonable chance of success over three weeks, so I can’t say I blame them.

Actually, It’s Three Blows

Speaking of cobbled classics, Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) has made a habit of winning them, and unfortunately, he seems to also have made a habit of knocking back some Bolivian marching powder afterwards. The news is everywhere you’d care to look, of course, including Monday’s revelation on that this is actually Boonen’s third cocaine positive, not the second. News coverage is great and all, but the week’s best contribution to the hubbub comes from this article, where Lance Armstrong comments on the situation with a fantastic double entendre:

“It’s a blow for him, a blow for Quick Step, a blow for their sponsors and Belgian cycling.”

Well played, Armstrong, well played.

Pick a Winner

Hey, wait a minute! That last article we cited also noted that the Giro d'Italia has started, and admitted that there are people besides Armstrong riding it. I’ll be damned. Other than some arguably more spectacular scenery, what does the Giro have over the Tour de France? A shitload of former winners on the start line. Stefano Garzelli (2000), Gilberto Simoni (2001, 2003), Damiano Cunego (2004), Ivan Basso (2006), and Danilo Diluca (2007) are all in the mix this year. Why does the Giro seem to always have so many former winners on the line, when the Tour sometimes struggles to have even one?

The simple answer is that the last 30 or 40 years of the Tour have been dominated by a host of multiple time winners. In fact, from 1968 to 2008, only 19 men have won a Tour de France. When a few guys account for anywhere from three to seven wins within a ten year block, there just isn’t a hell of a lot of room to stack up a host of former winners on the line. Armstrong’s tenure alone saw pretty much every other active Tour winner retire or die.

The Giro’s recent history, however, has been dominated by fierce competition among the natives, hence this year’s presence of all those still active former pink jersies with surnames ending in vowels. Not all of them have a good shot at winning by any stretch of the imagination, but they all still have enough kick to make things interesting on those notorious uphill Giro finishes.

Thinking about the presence of former winners at the Giro got me wondering – does the Tour, by virtue of its status as the “premier” Grand Tour, just lend itself to dominance by standout riders more than the Giro? The answer is, in the last 40 years, as the Tour has risen to greater prominence and specialization has increased, yes. But comparing the Giro to the Tour over their histories shows less of a disparity. In 91 editions, the Giro has had 58 winners, for an average of 1.56 wins per victor. Over 95 editions, the Tour has had 56 distinct winners, for an only slightly chunkier average of 1.69 wins per victor.


Like a lot of people, I like the Giro because, well, it’s not the Tour. It doesn’t have that same over-scrubbed, made for television polish added to it to appeal to the uninitiated. It still manages to maintain the image that it’s about bike racing more than the “event” or the brand. The Italian fans, the tifosi, are, of course, already a legendary part of that feel, and you’ll see it again this year when the race hits the hills. But lest you think that the insanity you see at the tops of the climbs today is new, some sort of depraved reflection of the over-the-top society we live in today, watch this clip of the 1974 climb of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo.

And turn the sound on, so you can hear the thump when the motorcycle hits people.