Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Going to El Norte

The focus of cycling is finally shifting away from the troubled regions in the Middle East and Northern Africa to friendlier places such as Andalucia, Sardinia, and the French Riveria. There, the sun is still warm enough for a short sleeve jersey and shorts but there is no need to dodge road pirates, tear gas, tanks and stray bullets. Although an occasional flock of goats and a few badly behaving dogs can add some spice to otherwise mellow pre-season favorites.

Another advantage of moving North is many more spectators.

Oscar Freire took his first win of the season in the Ruta del Sol, while Damiano Cunego scored a double in Sardinia. So far we have not heard anything about the earphone protests that were predicted to paralyze European races. It appears riders are happy to be out and about.

All that sounds good and well but what has Belgian aficionados really riled up this week is the absence of the big names for the upcoming opening weekend. 

Heinrich Haussler, Fabian Cancellara, Tyler Farrar, Alessandro Ballan and Nick Nuyens all bailed out of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Brussel Kuurne Brussel. Blame the weather says Greg Van Avermaet of team BMC, "Not everyone has an appetite for a serving of narrow roads, Flemish hills and rough cobblestones. Certainly not in the pouring rain and icy wind."

Traksel, victory at the end of misery

Many probably remember last year's Kuurne Brussel Kuurne, won by Bobby Traksel of Vacansoleil, a race so miserable only 26 riders finished. At one point a chase group split up and 40 riders called it quits. This type of suffering has lost a lot of its luster and today's favorites prefer Milan San Remo or the Tirreno Adriatico where the sun adds warmth and glamour, over the mud and sleet on the cobbles of Flanders.

Racing Flemish style

The forecast for Saturday is rain with highs hovering in the low 40s (4-9C). Sunday will supposedly be better with some sun and only partly cloudy skies, but in Belgium such forecasts always err on the side of optimism.

Speaking of weather, although Northern California is warmer right now, it is not by much. Plus we are looking at a cold Alaskan storm that will bring rain and snow to the area in the upcoming days. Today is overcast and cold, although yesterday was very nice. I have been riding on rollers pretty much every day of the past week, except for Sunday and yesterday, when I went on 8 mile runs. 

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