Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tour of Flanders

George Hincapie is a 36 year old journeyman bicycle rider, not a star, but better than a domestique, a water carrier. His career is noteworthy mostly because for years he was the man who protected Lance Armstrong, who led him up the mountains before unleashing him for the final attacks. George realizes he is not the type of rider who can win a two or three week tour race. He is big, strong and deliberate in his style. What fits his style, what he wants, is a victory in either of the two Spring Classics which are cobbled races. The first of these, the Tour of Flanders, is run over narrow rural roads with occasional cobbled sections and steep hills. This year the historic 21% gradient Koppenburg is included among the 16 cobbled climbs which will turn a bicycle rider into a pedestrian in a heartbeat. I've heard it described as "like riding your bike up stairs". They slow down to a crawl, gasping, pumping, willing their bikes up the hill. If they hesitate or slow down they are off, and there is simply no way to gain momentum again. If one man fails, everyone behind him fails, a line of grim men trudging up the hill, leaning on their machines. The long tours get a lot of press. They are races of snake thin, spidery men - tactical races where teams nurse 5 second advantages for day after boring day. The one day Spring Classics are races for real MEN.

Last Sunday the 93rd Tour of Flanders was won by local favorite Stijn Devolder, his second consecutive . George Hincapie was not among the leaders. Paris-Roubaix has been run since 1896. Next Sunday may be big George's last real chance at it. Paris-Roubaix doesn't have the hills....but it's worse! The only word is "Epic". Same day coverage on Versus at 5 o'clock. More later. (Check out the 2006 Koppenberg climb, it's great!)

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