Back in cycling business: a day in Liège

2 Jul

When your everyday job (unfortunately) is not in cycling, it can be a challenge to really sit down and write something about it. There is always something going on. So much, I sometimes don’t know where to start or what to think. But a day in cycling, and I don’t mean watching it in front of the TV, can change all that.

Last Saturday the sun was up and a new battle for yellow was on. My beloved Tour de France finally started. Liège isn’t far from where I live, so the question wasn’t whether I would go, but when it finally was time to go. For people who know me, it’s a matter of common knowledge: my enthusiasm for cycling. Watching the fans trying to spot their heroes, journalists capturing the first movements and words of the ‘stars’, the buzzing sound of the wheels during the warming-up, staff members getting ready….When you look at it in a certain way, cycling is far from boring.

Even though he was already back on his bike for a few weeks, Saturday really saw the return of a rider who is (in more than one way;)) beautiful to look at. Fabian Cancellara. Seeing him win again, the relief and the confidence in his eyes, those are the inspiring moments in cycling and made a great day in Liège even better.

By Graham Watson

Watch this…

14 Mar

Here is Fränk Schleck doing his warm up before his time trial to Col d’Eze in this year’s Paris-Nice. Click on the picture for a video. 

A London encounter with Mart Smeets

6 Mar

Love him or loathe him – Dutch sports journalist and commentator Mart Smeets is at the very heart of professional sportsmanship. “I live sports, I breathe sports and I think sports” is what he firmly states as we find ourselves at the ‘Double Dutch’ event in London, organised by Litro Magazine and the Dutch Embassy, on a particularly sunny afternoon last week. Indeed, during the 30 minute hosted session, he speaks with great passion and conviction about ‘his’ sports and does not mince words on the topic of doping. The WheelerWatchers report.

No bright-coloured sweater, but a well-cut suit. No Dutch spoken, but English. Yet, it is unmistakeably him: tall, with the white hair and fashionable glasses. It is a bit odd to see him here, with no relation to Dutch television and without the NOS Studio Sport tune that usually plays prior to him speaking. “It is such a joy!” he refers to commentating for the NOS on speed skating since he just returned from Moscow. “We Dutch are born with it and we like it so much because we’re good at it. When my grandfather was 87 years old, he was still skating.” It is certainly evident that sports run in the DNA of the Smeets family. Being a professional basketball player himself before going into broadcasting in 1974, he proudly mentions his two children Nynke and Tjerk and his daughter-in-law Minke who have achieved outstanding results in softball, baseball and field hockey respectively.

Since we are at the home ground to the Olympic Games that are only a few months away, talks naturally shift towards his profound love for procycling. “Something funny will happen in the Olympics this year. There is a man that goes by the name of Mark Cavendish…” He pauses. “This man is very likely to become the Olympic champion. He will provide a boost to British cycling. England has never been a bicycle country, but he will change that. You have Belgium, France, Italy… all the catholic countries. Cycling is a catholic sport. There is the ‘I-did-it-because-everyone-did-it’ mentality.” As the session host and Editor in Chief of Litro Magazine wishes to elaborate on the subject, the Contador verdict is questioned.

“Nothing is proven, but here is my idea: doping is an ingredient. Some doping is part of sportsmanship. When I was an athlete, did I use doping? Yes, I used doping. Was it fair? No, it was not fair. I popped one of those funny red pills offered by the team doctor. Did it help? No! If you believe in it, then it probably helps you, but it did absolutely nothing for me.”

Everyone in the room is silently intrigued as Smeets continues his monologue. “The human body uses 6-7 kilos a day in the Tour de France. How would you gain this back during such a race? Now, most of the people were not using, but there were people doing it. And, we all want heroes. We all want them to be good.” As the words slowly but surely fill the room, it is concluded that a man is still free in his choice and that this discussion could, without a doubt, go on for ages to follow.

Smeets is then eager to share some more insights as he is asked about his other great love: music. He starts speaking about the 198 riders he questioned in the early ’90s about what music they would listen to during cycling. “Almost all of them answered Dire Straits. It appeared that their songs were just perfect for pedalling in a certain rhythm. There were a few exceptions though. One guy called Marc Sergeant said he listened to Mozart – he could listen for 6 hours straight to Mozart! And there was Andy Bishopwho told me he played the flugelhorn concerts of Bach!” Smeets tells, visibly amused. Nearing the end, the familiar question about Smeets’ relationship with Lance Armstrong is put forward. The answer is loud and clear:

“I met a man’s man. Whether he used something or not I do not know. The only thing I do know is that he won the Tour de France seven times. And, he is the chairman of an organisation that fights cancer. I work for it and I believe in it. They have not found anything that proves him to be guilty.” 

Finally, Smeets looks back at his previous Olympic experiences and turns a bit nostalgic. He vividly remembers the days in Lillehammer during the Winter Olympics of 1994 and he has fond memories of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney where he “mingled with so many people.” His predictions for the London Olympics? Track- and road cycling will be for the Brits and drinking will be an Olympic sport during the night time. “Just relax, be yourself and enjoy. Go out and party!” he enthusiastically puts it. As it was announced earlier last year, Smeets will retire after the Olympics and work as a freelancer for the NOS, though to a lesser extent and in a different capacity. Until that time, the WheelerWatchers will definitely enjoy his presence on Dutch television. Especially during the Tour de France. May we say that? Yes, we may say that. 

Youngster beats ‘the Classics’

25 Feb

”I have been dreaming about this race all my life, and now I win.”

Sep Vanmarcke takes the win, leaving Boonen (2nd) en Flecha (3rd) behind (Source: Sporza)

Yesterday, he tweeted his renewed website was online. Today he provided some great content. After Philippe Gilbert (BMC) was the last in 2008, Omloop het Nieuwsblad has a new Belgian winner: Garmin-Barracuda’s Sep Vanmarcke. In a three-man battle to the finish line, Vanmarcke outsprinted ‘Classics’ Boonen and Flecha and secured his 1st victory as a pro.

With a 3rd spot, Flecha came close and added his 5th podium in six years Omloop to his palmares. After the race, Boonen acknowledged his loss and admitted the last meters to the finish line caught him by surprise: ”I saw the finish this morning and still I get caught. I thought I went at the right moment, but … the race was 50 meters too long (Source: Cyclingnews.com).”

Vanmarcke’s team mate Heinrich Hausler (who celebrated his 28th birthday today) won the field sprint and came in 4th.

Click here for a full race report and results by Cyclingnews.com.

Last kilometer Omloop het Nieuwsblad

So, today saw the beginning of racing on the Belgian roads. The pre-race footage on Sporza, hearing the Belgian commentators and their lovely expressions…the rambling over the cobbles, the fighting spirit of the riders…it was just all good again! Unlike last year, the race was watched in front of Mr. Telly. Although we agree you get the most out of it this way, being on location and taking in that typical cycling atmosphere is part of the charm.

Tomorrow it’s ‘ride on’ in the 65th edition of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Our picks for the day: Greipel (LTB), Ciolek (OPQS),  Cavendish (SKY).    

To conclude, the following tweet by @dwuori, which rounds up this day best: ”For those unfamiliar, #omloop is a Dutch word meaning “Thank God there’s racing again.””

Belgium breathes cycling again

24 Feb

Even though after October the roads go relatively  silent for a while, cycling is never really out of sight. In the world of cycling, there is always something spinning. Something you can hold onto during the ‘empty days’…. And then that day is here. The day the roads are filled again with the typical buzzing sound of the wheels that makes you smile. Followed by that excited feeling that creeps up on you when you realize: a new cycling season is on!

In January and early February, there was already more than enough cycling action for the eager beavers and early birds of the cycling community (including ourselves) with the Tour Down Under, exotic sprints in Qatar and Oman and races on the European continent (such as the Volta Ao Algarve, Tour Cycliste International du Haut Var).

However, most cycling fanatics will tell you that this weekend is when the real deal is about to kick in. Hardly revived from last years ‘mud madness’, in a few hours Ghent will lead the way in what is traditionally seen as the opening of the belgian cycling season and the start of Spring: the 67th edition of Omloop het Nieuwsblad (1.HC).

Between the start and finish in Ghent, the riders cover a distance of 200.3km. En route, they’ll be challenged with 10 climbs (some with cobbles) and nine cobbled sectors. The first obstacles of the day are the Haaghoek, a 2km cobbled sector and the climb of the Tenbosse (6.9%). After the riders faced the climb of the Kruisberg (6%), they face the hardest part of the race with a series of cobbled sectors and climbs. The last climb of the day is the Molenberg (7%) at 35 kilometers from the finish. At 5 kilometers before the finish line the riders are challenged with the Steenakker, the last cobbled sector with a length of 700 meters.

Last year, it were Flecha and Langeveld who showcased a very close call at the finish line, resulting in a win for Langeveld. Predictions for today? Although both are aiming to peak a little further along the Classics road, Gilbert as well as Boonen are candidates to ride away with the flowers. And, even though Edvald Boasson Hagen (who initially was our pick) cancelled his appearance due to illness, the Blacks & Blues from team Sky might still have what it takes to put a stop to a Belgian victory.

OHN 2011: Flecha and Langeveld battle in a close call to the finish (Source: Graham Watson).

On Sunday, we stay on the Belgian roads for Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. We’ll post updates on both races on this blog and via Twitter @Wheelerwatchers.

Ride on!

Race information Omloop het Nieuwsblad 2012:

Other recommended reads:

Pauwels and van den Brand stand their ‘white’ ground in Heerlen

12 Feb
While the ‘roadies’ are preparing themselves under more pleasant circumstances for the upcoming 3rd edition of the Tour of Oman, (check this photo by RadioShack Nissan Trek press officer Tim van der Jeugd),  a snow covered ‘Hellegat’ was the scenery today for the 17th edition of the Cyclo cross Heerlen.
 
Cyclo crossers Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) and Daphny van den Brand (Team AA Drink) landed the number one spots on the podium. Pauwels, who took his 2nd victory in Heerlen, was clearly too strong for the rest of the field. But afterwards he expressed promising expectations to runner-up and Under-23 World Champion Lars van der Haar: ”It might not be next winter, but for the winters thereafter I expect he’ll be competing for the top spots. There were a couple of times today when I was having difficulties with increasing the gap between me and him. My victory was surely no present, I really had to battle for it (Source: Wielerland.nl).” For van den Brand, it was the last active appearance in the Hellegat. She will end her career after this season.
 
Full results women and men (Source: Wielerland.nl)
 
Icy conditions during Cyclocross Heerlen 2012

 

Lars van der Haar raced to a 2nd place: "I can't yet compete with Pauwels, but this result reassures me I've got what it takes" (Source: http://cyclopunk.blogspot.com)

Click here for some more impressions of today’s Cyclo cross in Heerlen.

© Photos: Wheelerwatchers

St Paul Trois Chateaux – hellooo George!

21 Jul

For the départ of the 16th stage, the WheelerWatchers hit the road again to see the bunch off to Gap. It was to our surprise that the team buses were quite hard to get to, yet it was also understandable considering the number of people who came to this ‘petite village’! One bus, however, was easier to spot and visit: BMC. Here we had a close encounter with legendary George Hincapie, who is riding his 16th Tour de France this year!

All American George still very relaxed before the stage to Gap

 
Check our impressions of the day here
 
Tomorrow we will go higher up and throw ourselves in the craziness of the stage to Alpe d’Huez. Probably wishful thinking, but it would be cool if  new Dutch glory could rule the mountain once again. Maybe a stunt by Robert Gesink after all or another heroic deed by Johnny Hoogerland?
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