Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Brilliant Paris-Roubaix

Fabian Cancellara was expected to win Paris-Roubaix today … and he did, but the race didn’t follow the script that many were predicting. There was no winning move with 15 kilometers to go, followed by an individual time trial and a lap of honor around the velodrome. Today’s victory looked nothing like Cancellara’s dominating performance in the Ronde van Vlaanderen. If the Ronde were a triumph of Cancellara’s legs, then today we saw a great champion win with his head. Cancellara knew when to go hard and when to conserve energy. By a combination of his own tactical mastery and the misfortune of the riders behind him, Cancellara eliminated everyone but Sep Vanmarcke. When a last attack failed to shake Vanmarcke with 4 kilometers to go, Cancellara resigned himself to a sprint finish. As the pair entered the velodrome, Vanmarcke took the bait and went to the front. Cancellara powered past him just before the line to win Paris-Roubaix for the third time.

Spare a thought for Vanmarcke, who was absolutely heartbroken in the moments after the race and on the podium. One of the things that makes cycling special is the extreme range of emotions that the riders experience. Paris-Roubaix is perhaps the sport’s greatest one-day test. Every edition of the race is the emotional equivalent of the Super Bowl, the 7th game of the World Series, or the Indianapolis 500. In a long career, even a great athlete might get just one realistic chance to win. Vanmarcke, winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2012, is just 24 years old. If there’s any justice, then he will be back.

Spare a thought, too, for Stijn Vandenbergh, who was riding brilliantly with the leaders until a crash spoiled his day. Vandenbergh finished in 20th place. Watch this video and you’ll be convinced that the only way he was able to finish at all is because his helmet saved him from a serious injury. Former cyclocross world champion Zdeněk Štybar also got entangled with a spectator on the cobbles of the Carrefour de l'Arbre. As he had done earlier in the race, he displayed superior bike handling skills to keep himself from crashing. Unfortunately he couldn’t recover from the lost momentum as Cancellara and Vanmarcke rode away. Štybar eventually finished in 6th place.

A Not-So-Brilliant Me

Whether on the trail or off, there's still snow and ice in the shade.

I developed a cold last weekend and was on the sidelines until this afternoon. I waited for sunshine and the warmest temperatures of the day to ride the Eisenbahn State Trail to Campbellsport and back. Headwinds, a soft trail surface and my still-below-average health added up to a 14 mph average over 35 miles. During the summer I routinely complete that ride at 17-19 mph. I've got some training to catch up on this week, but the weather forecast is still an endless string of insults. Back to the trainer, probably.

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