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Sunday, February 27, 2005

2 Great Finishes in Frigid Belgium

It's always nice to see a non-Lance American succeed in a major European road race, if you can call Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne such a race (and by the course and start list, I'd say affirmative). So when George Hincapie outkicked another Van Impe for the palmare yesterday, well, it got the Discovery Channel's experiment with pro cycling off to a fabulous start. Hincapie and Stejn Devloder look like two solid workhorses for the cold spring northern classics, some of the best cycling every year.

For proof of that assertion, look no further than the previous day's Het Volk, which is Dutch for "the people" as well as the traditional (as in sixty years) season opener for the northern Classics, where Nick Nuyens stayed just a mere 15-20 seconds off the peloton, riding alone, to solo home from 15km out. I dunno how much I can really glean from reading about this, w/o the benefit of TV, and 15km isn't all that long, and apparently everybody assumed (correctly, it turns out), that if they worked hard to catch one Quick-Stepper in Nuyens, the race would be won by another Quick Stepper, Tom Boonen. Still, for Nuyens to be so close off the pack for any length of time suggests he really gassed it at the end. Nice ride to him, a really cool victory, and shame on anybody who didn't want to at least try to get forward, so they could lose to one Quick Step rider instead of two (Boonen took the field sprint for second).

And yes, apparently some people speak Dutch in Belgium. The ones who aren't speaking French, right? I can never keep that straight.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Damiano Cunego - Italy's new Messiah?
by Drew from Liege

It's been asked by one of our esteemed members if Cunego is the real deal, based on his breakout season last year, the Giro win, and his current #1 World Ranking. All pretty heady stuff for a 23 year old. Is he the real deal and can he challenge for the Tour at some point?

It's impossible to speculate on his future place in the peleton because we've seen these types or breakout years from young riders before. They rise amid fantastic results and fanfare only to be followed by a Sputnik like crash to earth. They fall into the categories of unfulfilled potential/wasted talent (Le Enfant Terrible - Frank Vandendbroucke) and wanting to achieve too much too soon (Lance's old mate David Millar), and many others in between. FVB is rapidly approaching 30 and is supposed to ride for what seems his 15th team, though he's already said he doesn't have the fitness to even ride the early season classics let along contest them. Millar is on the shelf until 2006 and is looking at a long climb back up to the Yellow jersey that he snagged a few years back in his TDF prologue win. How will Cunego deal with the pressure of being Italy's new Pantani, a threat in every race that features vicious climbs?

From what I've read he seems to be a pretty level headed young guy, always a plus. He says the right things about just wanting to perform at his best and not step on anyone's toes (hello Gibbo), but at the same time will not back away from a challenge that he believes himself good enough to win simply to spare some teammates feelings (Lemond did it once in '85 and it nearly broke him). Cunego sounds like he just wants to ride well, ride hard, and do his best to win the races he's selected for by the team, and ride as a good supporting domestique for the ones he is not. Sounds fair to me. I expect he'll be a strong contender for the Giro again this year because he's young, he can climb very well, most of the other contenders are another year closer to or over 30, and the Giro isn't the Tour.

As for the Tour, he's going to ride it only as a learning experience and he'll need more than one trip around le grand boucle. Ask Simoni how good he felt the last two years wanting to go up against Lance and ending up looking for table scraps in the mountains after all the heavy fighting had been done. The way the Tour strings together multiple days in both the Alps and Pyrenees separated by at most 1 rest day and 1 semi flat stage, combined with a TTT and at least one TT, it is the stage race against which all others are measured. Have a bad day in the Giro and you're still in it and maybe even still sitting high up. Have a bad day in the Tour and you're starting your run on 2nd place finishes (Jan - 1998). Cunego has proven he can climb in the Giro but can he carry that through the much more difficult climbs of the Tour? And if yes, what about Time Trialing? This is why the Tour is the gold standard for determining the best all around rider. You must at least be good in both, not great in one and ok in the other. In reality you have to be great in one and at least good in the other to have a hope of a podium finish.

The real challengers to Lance's crown in the future are guys who can be great / good or great / great. Ulrich will be a contender at least another 2 years but after that he's getting up there in age. Kloden - showed signs last year of finally achieving the results that were predicted for him 4 years ago. Better late than never I guess, but he can certainly TT well and climb with the best 5 no doubt. Basso - if his TT'ing gets better and he holds his climbing form he stands a good shot at the podium, plus he's still young and coming into this best years. Baden Cooke I don't think has what it takes to be great / good in the Tour. He showed well in last year's Giro but I'm not sure he can keep up that kind of effort in the Tour's extended
climbing and TT stages. He's fun to watch though for sure. Vinokourov has a couple of good years left in his legs but is caught up in the T-Mobile too many chiefs not enough indians stew. He could do it though if given the support. Leipheimer needs to be more consistent in both climbing and TT'ing but he's shown that he can put it together in the past (Vuelta 2002).

Can he do it on the big stage? He's got to make his move soon as he's on the backside of 30. Danielson of Discovery - he's shown he can climb in shorter races but we'll see what he's made of if he makes this year's Tour team. At 26 he's got time to ride 2-3 Tours as a support rider, while learning (a la Tyler, Leipheimmer, Landis) and then take his own shot when he's around 29-30. That will also be the height of his physical development so things are in his favor that way.

Some other guys to watch would be Discovery's new hire, Popovych. That guy has shown signs of being great / great and at 23 has lots of time to grow. Johan has shown to have as good a discerning eye at evaluating talent as Belichick and Pioli. Georg Tortshing (sic) from Gerolsteiner showed well last year in his first Tour and bears watching as he poses the right make-up. Vladimir Karpets (last year's best young rider) is another Russian who looks to have the proper makeup. I liked how well he rode as a young, first year entrant. A couple of French riders to watch (don't laugh) are last year's Yellow sensation Thomas Voeckler and Sylvain Chavenal. I've been watching the 2004 Tour this week on the trainer and Voeckler climbed out of his mind for a guy considered to be a sprinter / roller type. On the climb up to Plateau du Belle he finished ahead of guys like Leipheimmer and Virenque and only 90 seconds down on Ulrich. The Yellow jersey does give one wings but he's only 25 and learned more in last year's ride than he would riding 4 Tours as pack fodder. Whether he can make the conscious decision to improve both climbing and TT is up to him. Chavenel has the climbing part down (he's good, not great) but needs to get it up into the top echelon to be considered a real threat. His TT is ok so that would have to improve as well.

There are some other young guns on the way up that I'll enjoy watching grow but won't list here as they are numerous but not germane to our discussion.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Winter Doldrums

Seattle weather is kind of trying to the cyclist. It's been consistently dreary, but rarely is it so cold and raining so hard (or for that matter snowing at all) to force you indoors. No self-respecting would-be racer would sit out just because it's getting close to freezing, or the roads are a bit wet. So we trudge on, day after day, washing the grit and mud off our clothes and derailleurs, running through one wet lube bottle after another. I know this sounds lame to someone who lives in the snowbelt and has only the trainer to thank, but really, somedays I wish it would just dump snow so I could get out of the slop.

Anyway, what to make of Damiano Cunego? I say there is no way to answer this question until after this season -- his first as a team leader, his first with major expectations and distractions, etc. If he can keep his focus and desire through a season as the Italian media darling -- no small task -- then he is the here and now of cycling, and we can debate based on head-to-head results whether he or Basso is the better man. My money's on Basso, if only because he's with Riis and away from the madness in his home country. But that's just a guess.

Peter Van P: Campy vs. Shimano

Here is my take after extensive Shimano and recent Campy usage;

Shimano is slightly less money, the equipment is easy to find
and it is durable stuff. My Ultegra has rarely let me down and I find
that the cables are good for two seasons, the cassette is good for a few
thousand miles and they do not need a lot of tuning. The front shift
lever has failed a couple times, but nothing killer. The rear has
always behaved fine. Shimano is easy to service and their parts are
fairly compatible with other manufacturers like SRAM and FSA.

Campy is slightly more expensive (some parts like cassettes are
silly expensive) but every component can be completely re-built and the
parts aren't hard to find but don't bother with your LBS. There are
some neat features like the ability to get into your smallest cog by
simply holding the right thumbshifter down and the front derailleur has
8 trim stops for a 10 speed set up as opposed to 3 for Shimano. It's
nice because you can get a perfect alignment in every gear.

One Campy advantage is that when they went from 8 speed to 9 and
9 to 10, they didn't make the old stuff obsolete. It's all compatible.
Plus they offer 10 speed through at least three groups. When Shimano
switches, you are kinda stuck unless you want to upgrade which can be
expensive. Perfect example, If you have a set of shimano compatible
wheels and you switch from Dura Ace 9 to the new 10 speed, the free hub
body is useless. They decided to change the spline pattern just enough
so you can't use your 9 speed stuff. I understand that spacing changes
and chain widths change as you add an extra gear, but freehub bodies?!

In conclusion, Shimano lures you in with neat technology and
lower prices, but once you're in you're stuck. Campy is an expensive
club to join, but once you're a member, they take good care of you and
make sure you can use your stuff for 10 years or longer.

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