Tom Boonen: Time Trial Specialist?

Tom Boonen is a cross between a sprinter and a strong cobbled classics rider. He’s a multiple winner of both major cobbled classics, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. He’s also won six stages of the Tour de France along with the green points jersey in the Tour and the rainbow jersey of World Champion. Add to that most of the other cobbled races, Gent-Wevelgem, Grote Scheldeprijs, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, E3 Prijs Vlaanderen and Dwars door Vlaanderen and he’s won most of the races that a rider with his abilities would be capable of winning.

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Roche: The shape of things to come

Next season is a very important one in the career of Nicolas Roche. He will probably always have the label of being a Tour de France winner’s son put on him. However, while Stephen was undoubtedly a G.C. rider for the big tours, Nicolas it seems  still hasn’t really settled on what sort of rider he will focus on becoming.

Still only 25 years old, he has already completed all three of the  Grand Tours of cycling. In 2008, what could be considered his breakthrough season, he finished a highly creditable 13th in the Vuelta a Espana. He also finished 2nd on Stage 18 to Las Rozas, only barely missing out on the win in a four man sprint. Last season he rode his first Tour de France finishing 23rd overall, the highest finish for an Irish rider in the Tour since his father finished 13th in 1993. Over the past year he’s also produced top 20 performances in the prestigious Critérium International, the Tour Méditerranéen and the mountainous Pro Tour race, the Volta a Catalunya. He also finished 35th in Milan San Remo.

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The cycling season: A musical journey

The stage is set, the musicians are ready, this is what they’ve been practicing for all winter. All that hard work, monotonously reeling through chord progressions, day after day of repeating the same sequences of notes over and over again. Finally the day of the performance is here, the musicians’ fingers are twitching, eager to put an a show as some harbour hopes and dreams of greater success, while others fear for their future as a musician if this performance isn’t a triumph…

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A Tour/Monument double

Rik van Looy, Roger de Vlaeminck and Eddy Merckx. The only three riders to have won all five monument classics.

In a previous post I discussed the difficulties of winning all five of cycling’s monument classics, a feat only achieved by three men, Rik van Looy, Roger de Vlaeminck and as usual with these kind of stats, Eddy Merckx. Seemingly, the last cyclist capable of such a feat was Seán Kelly in the 1980s. While winning one day classics is immensely challenging, targeting the General Classement in a Grand Tour poses a whole other set of challenges. While Kelly did win a Grand Tour in 1988 and Eddy Merckx is an exception to most of the rules of winning bike races, van Looy and de Vlaeminck never came close to winning a Grand Tour. This pair of classics specialists were hard men, masters on a bike, but men not equipped with the necessary attributes to challenge effectively over a three week stage race.

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The King is dead…is there anyone else?

A mudcaked Sean Kelly in Paris Roubaix. Just one of the variety of races that Kelly was capable of winning.

Seán Kelly was known as the man for all seasons because he was as competitive at Paris-Nice in March as he was at the Tour of Lombardy in October. He seemed to be at peak or near-peak form right throughout the year. While this is a reputation that has stayed with Kelly, he was by no means unique in this regard. In the eighties the modern idea of preparing for a season and basing an entire training regime around one or two races was quite alien. Plenty of riders were highly competitive right throughout the season. What is actually more impressive about ‘King Kelly’ was his ability to challenge in such a wide variety of races.

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Here Riccó again

Riccardo Riccó shortly after being ejected from the 2008 Tour de France

In the 2008 Tour de France Riccardo Riccó was ejected from the race after Stage 11 having tested positive for CERA, the next generation of the blood-booster EPO. This week UCI, the world cycling governing body, have reduced his 2 year suspension to 20 months after a successful appeal by Riccó to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). This means that he will now be eligible to ride as and from the Milan San Remo next March.

I had written in a previous post that ex-dopers aren’t welcomed easily back to the peloton. They find it difficult to find a top team willing to sign them and even harder to instill enough confidence in their team mates to convince them to ride for their newly reformed leader. It was pointed out however, that there are exceptions. Ivan Basso for example, returned to Grand Tour racing at the Giro earlier this year without registering too much on the returning-doper-animosity scale. Perhaps the two riders that currently lie on opposite ends of this scale are British rider David Millar and Alexander Vinokorouv from Kazakhstan. They were both cheats and were both found guilty of taking drugs. But Millar is now more well-known for his anti-doping stance rather than his prior misdemeanors, whereas ‘Vino’ is probably more synonymous with the phrase ‘unapologetic wanker’.

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