The Cobbled Curtain Raiser

For the eager cycling fan, the start of the season is marked these days by the Tour Down Under in January. Others consider the true season opener to be the Paris-Nice stage race in mid-March. For everyone else, the 2011 racing season truly gets under way this Saturday in Belgium, with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (formerly ‘Het Volk’).

Just as the Tour de France contenders require stage races to hone their racing acumen early in the year, as do the classics specialists require one day races to get into the mood. The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad provides just this. It is about 200km long, there are short sharp cobbled climbs and if the weather forecast is to be believed, there’ll be rain.

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Doubling up with Yellow and Green

Although it’s still very early in the season, team managers will have most of their Tour de France team decided already. There may be room for one or two changes if particular riders show great signs of improvement over the coming months (or indeed, get injured). But in general, even if the team managers don’t announce it publicly, the majority of each nine man team for the Tour is already final.

The makeup of each Tour team depends on the goal of that team. For example, take the US Postal team of Lance Armstrong during his Tour winning reign. Each rider that was picked for the Tour de France was going there to sacrifice himself for the G.C. aspirations of their leader. There had been some decent sprinters on the US Postal squad throughout that time such as Julian Dean and Max van Heeswijk, but none of them ever got to ride the Tour due to the singular focus of the team. The Banesto teams of Miguel Indurain were similar. For those with such a fixation on General Classification, harbouring sprinters was not a great concern.

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Riccardo Ricco in quotes

In the wake of the news that Riccardo Ricco has been admitted to hospital with kidney problems due to a self-administered blood transfusion, the following are a collection of quotes from Ricco himself, and from others discussing Ricco:

June 2007
Daniel Friebe: “What about you Riccardo? What do you think when Millar wins a race and says loud and proud that he’s clean?
Riccardo Ricco: “I think he’d be better off keeping it to himself, knowing that he’s clean but not shouting it from the rooftops like he does. By doing that he makes it seem like everyone else isn’t clean.
DF: But the rest of you can do it too. Why don’t you say ‘I’m clean’ every time you win?
RR: Because we do all sorts of tests and there’s no need to tell everyone. As long as you know yourself, that’s enough. That’s my opinion. But then everyone’s entitled to behave as they see fit.
Pro Cycling Magazine – Shortly after Ricco announced himself to the cycling world by coming close to winning the 2007 Milan San Remo

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Where’s all the team time trials gone?

The Tour of Qatar got underway this past weekend, but instead of the team time trial which has been part of the race since 2007, the opening day was a 2.5km individual prologue time trial. Getting rid of the team time trial seems like an odd decision by the race organisers. Quite apart from the fact that the discipline makes up part of the Tour de France this year, it is also one of the most beautiful sights in the sport of cycling. As Matt Rendell writes in A Significant Other:

The team time trial was a product of [Tour Organiser] Desgrange’s sadism: he wanted to force every rider to ride flat out for the entire stage. It remains one of the great set pieces of the modern Tour de France.

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The search for a home victory

One thing about the recent Tour Down Under which is apparent when reviewing the results is just how Australian they all are. Cameron Meyer won the overall prize and a stage, Matthew Goss finished runner up overall, took the points classification and won two stages (if you count the warmup crit race), Michael Matthews won a stage and finished 4th overall and finally, Luke Roberts won the mountains classification. In the races history, Australians have won overall more often than not, winning seven of the 13 editions. Even after the race was granted Pro Tour status (now World Tour status), and the peloton swelled with far more quality international riders, Australians have won two of the four editions overall, as well as taking 12 stage victories via nine different riders.

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