Saturday, June 12, 2004

Der Kaiser again

Now I've always been a bit of a Jan Ullrich fan since the big German lobbed into Australia all those years ago and won the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic in 1993(?). Then he went and won the Tour de France in '97 in his second attempt, which is not bad going. But then LANCE came along and relegated Ullrich to second for the term of his natural life, or so it seemed. Pantani did too in '98 and that annoyed me.

Watching Der Jan win the Olympic Road Race in Sydney, as I was doing the live coverage from Frank Conceicao's shop at the top of the Bronte hill was pretty bloody good. He steamed to the top of the hill with Vinokourov and Kloden in tow (they were and are still all teammates), with the Italian connection of Paolo Bettini and Michele Bartoli chasing. LANCE? In the bunch, later claiming he had missed the move because the USA team radios didn't work. Or that might have been Georg Hincapie. Whatever dude.

Thus, watching a "big boned" looking Ullrich puff and pant his way to the top of the Mur de Huy in fifth last wheel after 66 km of La Fleche Wallonne this year caused me some concern. He didn't make it on lap 2. Two and a bit months - enough time to get in Tour shape?

But it seems as though he's turned on the gas a bit, finishing second in the Tour of Germany TT (7th overall because he can't attack on a climb). Then in the first stage of the Tour de Suisse he got in the front group of 39, jumped across to the two leaders with about 25 km to go and proceeded to hammer them in the sprint. Not bad, even if it was downhill.

With this, combined with Mayo's awesome ride on Ventoux and Hamilton and Heras all showing good form, I think Armstrong is going to have some big trouble in little China come July. Of course he could be bluffing, or simply not peaking yet, but at least it's not like other years where he wins the Dauphine and says "I'm only at 20 percent of my best condition" just to really piss everyone off. Maybe this year it's reverse psychology.

Call it schadenfreude, and I'm supposed to be objective and all that, but dominance always gets a little boring. It was the same with Big Mig. He was an awesome rider (like Lance) but I was always cheering for Rominger/Bugno/Zenon Jaskula/the anti-hero etc. Even though Chiappucci always annoyed me for some reason too.

I won't even mention the Dauphine today, suffice to say that Hamilton needs to stop enjoying the scenery and concentrate on keeping both wheels of his velocipede on the road. None of this "I can fly" business when you're descending an Alp. Save that for the post-race party, mate.

Back to real life. No racing for me until Tuesday so I went out with the boys on the Saturday bunch ride. And It Was Good. Once I woke up.

There must have been 40 or so riders by the time we reached the backside of the Molenberg (the non-cobbled bit) and I couldn't be bothered fighting for position so I sat back a bit and watched Eric Van De Wiele (ex-pro from about 20 years ago, now racing masters) lead a small group off the front. I got some room to move near the top and closed the gap, but they didn't really want to work and the rest of the bunch caught us at the bottom of the Trap Op.

Mr. Van De Wiele led for about half of it; I did a token turn which is more than I usually do; then Kristof Trouve (Palmans) and Sammy Moreels (another ex-pro from 10 years ago) drove it to the top. I had a bit more go-juice today so I could do the last turn to the top, where the speed reaches 40 km/h on the false flat. I guess that race last Tuesday did the engine some good.

It was reasonably windy on the way back along the Schelde - cross/headwind, mostly cross (which makes people cross) but we somehow averaged 43.5 km/h. I think it was Trouve and Moreels doing a lot of the damage. With 10 km to go it was a crosswind and quite exposed, so I moseyed on back to the front in time to get on the wheel of Moreels and Trouve when they attacked. Van De Wiele was there plus another ex-pro and we were away! To use the parlance, deep in the final!!!

We didn't muck around and averaged over 44 km/h for the last bit but my HR never got above 180, so that was rather nice. The rest of the bunch was somewhat distanced at the end. The main guy we missed was Guido, who was caught slacking in about 20th wheel when the move went. By the time he got to the front we had 100m and it wasn't to be.

Now I just have to apply this to a race one time and I might actually finish top 10 :-)

The election is tomorrow. Maybe I'll vote Vlaams Blog.

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