Archive for March, 2010

March 29, 2010

Cobbles

While training on the Tour of Flanders course last week I rode with a helmet camera and captured some of the cobbled sectors. The camera came loose a few times so my teammate Juan Antonio Flecha edited the segments on his computer and we put together a short film . The team riding on the cobbles was: Juan Anotonio Flecha, Kurt-Asle Arvesen, Edvald Boasson-Hagen, Mathew Hayman, Greg Henderson, Ian Stannard and G’ Thomas. You can make out a few of the faces in the film. The rider who takes off on the cobbled section, the Holleweg, is Flecha–we rode the section quite quickly which the camera captures.

The camera doesnt come close to capturing the gradient of the cobbled climb though. It was neat to see commuters riding the cobbles in the other direction on their way to work–you can see a woman riding her city bike along the smooth bit of stones on the left side of the road coming towards us. Riding the course is something unique even when we are not racing. The history, the culture and difficulty brings out an excitement in the team not felt elsewhere.



March 26, 2010

Back In Belgium

The Tour of Flanders course is extremely technical and for riders who don’t live near the course and know the roads well, a reconnaissance ride prior to the race is vital . The fight for position before the cobbled sections is as crucial as a rider’s skills on the cobbles, as the peloton splits on the small roads due to bottlenecks and crashes. Most teams ride the final 100 km of the course prior to the race to preview the stones and find the smoothest and quickest line. We rode the course the day after Dwaars door Vlaanderen–a midweek semi-Classic.

Most of the boys were tired from a hard and well fought race while Edvald Boasson Hagen and I had fresh legs from a few days of rest post Milan Sanremo. The weather was abnormally warm for Belgium which made the countryside all the more beautiful. This weekend will be big: E3 Prijs-Vlaanderen-Harelbeke and Gent Wevelgem. The team is prepared for a tough battle–rain is in the forecast and the temperatures will drop.

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March 23, 2010

A Recent Photo Tour

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March 19, 2010

Cipressa Descent

My teammate Juan Antonio Flecha filmed the descent off the Cipressa with a helmet camera while we were out pre-riding the racecourse. The Cipressa and the Poggio are the two decisive climbs in Milan Sanremo where the descents are as important as the ascents as position and a rider’s ability to handle his bike often determine the outcome of the race.

Yearly, a rider crashes in the one of the numerous hairpin turns coming off the climb. The road surface is smooth and the climbs are in the final hour of the race so the speed will be high. Every rider is tired and on his limit from the distance and the intensity of the race so errors are made and splits in the peloton occur. When the peloton reaches the coast road after the descent off the Cipressa the peloton will be in a long thin line and will often split near the back of the group as riders are unable to maintain the speed.

March 5, 2010

Classics

The Classics punish the riders, the bikes, the mechanics, team vehicles and soigneurs. The roads, the weather, and the intensity of the races drain teams. Each team prepares in its own way to deal with the wear of the races.

The Classics bikes are designed for comfort and practicality with frame clearance around the tires for mud, larger tires are used, special clothing is designed, team car suspensions are customized, wrists are taped, handlebars are padded, thicker chamois are fitted, and anything that can increase performance, comfort and durability is considered. The extremes of the Classics push the human and the bicycle.

Last weekend, in Het Volk and Kuurne Brussels Kuurne, we started the spring cobble campaign. As it was our first time back on the cobbles after almost a year away from the north our directeur sportifs, Scott Sunderland and Steven de Jongh flew us in a day early to preview the course.

Pedaling over the cobbles in training is entirely different to the race. While training, we don’t force like we do in the races, and therefore feel the bumps. At speed the bikes float over the stones with a unique fluidity. Tire pressure, tire diameter, and quality make a significant difference in performance. With low pressure the rider has more traction, the bike doesn’t bounce but floats beneath him, which also eases the wear on his body while also reducing punctures. Finding the right pressure is key as the bike must also perform well on the tarmac—too low a pressure only slows the rider on smooth surfaces. The other factor the mechanics consider when pumping the tires is how much air they lose during a six-hour race. Most tires lose a bar or two of pressure so they are pumped harder at the start of the race in expectation for the loss.

We have been testing several different tires. For the opening weekend I rode on FMB Roubaix tires—handmade cotton tires from northern France—, which were glued on to 32 hole rims and laced to Dura Ace hubs. The wheels handle incredibly well on the cobbles—personally I prefer the ‘classic’ aluminum wheels to the carbon rims although Flecha rode a carbon Shimano 35 to victory. I think a lot is dependent on the rider’s height, size and riding style.
The team has prepared a unique truck for the mechanics and soigneurs. Often, there is foul weather during the early part of the season and the mechanics suffer while working outdoors on the bikes in the pouring rain. So, the team has bought two trucks with pop-outs, which allow the mechanics to work on the bike indoors. They have a television, music and everything else a normal workshop might have so they can focus on the job instead of worrying about frozen hands and feet. The soigneurs area is equally as unique with space to prepare our race food, storage for the massage tables, a fridge, washer, dryer and everything else they need to take care of the team. Like our team bus, the truck is somewhere you actually want to hang out or work in, which in the end makes the long racing season much easier–comfort brings happiness, happiness brings performance.

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