Paris Roubaix to be wet?

The second best one day bike race (after the Ronde) takes place this weekend for the first time since 2019.

The 2020 Paris Roubaix, or Hell of the North, was cancelled in the April of that year as the Covid pandemic raged. It was provisionally re-scheduled for the end of that year but a surge in cases around the races finish area in Lille saw no race and much sadness for fans.

April 2021 saw more challenges in that area of Northern France and whilst the Flemish classics just over the border in Belgium took place, the Roubaix velodrome was again left silent.

But we do now have an event with a firm date for this Sunday, 3rd October 2021 and what’s more both the men’s and inaugural female events will both be hitting the cobbles.

This feels like a massive moment for cycling and a real sign that things are coming back to some level of normality and we will have a full set of one day monuments to look back on (unless something terrible happens in Italy to affect Il Lombardia).

My favourite memory of Roubaix was the 1994 edition where Andrei Tchmil survived the rain, mud and snowy blizzards the best. He was able to make the velodrome finish and take home the coveted cobble as his prize.

I remember a classic shot from the tv motorbike as Tchmil got away and the back drop was some old mining pulleys and towers with the cloud behind them the likes of which I’d never seen before.

The snow followed soon after and it was clear this would be a race we would talk about for years. I know I still am!

1994 Paris Roubaix

Since 1994 we have only seen one truly wet event, in 2002.

The forecast for this Sunday isn’t great with showers and 24kph winds anticipated on the exposed roads north of Paris.

If that doesn’t whet your appetite for this great event then nothing will.

Enjoy the race.

2021 Worlds a race for the ages

Despite being, what I would call, a cycling buff, there are many instances where I can’t take in all of a race.

I have even written on this very website how the recent trend of tv coverage from flag to flag sometimes can feel like too much cycling.

The first instance of this trend I can remember was the 2015 Paris Roubaix where the first hour of action waiting for the break to form was much more entertaining that what went after it. So the television execs thought they’d hit on a successful formula and it stuck.

But for every race like that, there has been plenty where ‘sleepy’ would still be too active a description for the action.

Its content like that which gives commentators abuse on the internet. They can only call what they see and if nothing is happening the dead air is filled with less quality. Same goes for the racing.

But.

The 2021 world professional men’s road race yesterday was one occasion where if you invested the time at the start of the race, there were massive rewards at the finish.

The French national team rode the perfect race.

Unlike the Belgians who seemed to back both Remco Evenepoel and Wout van Aert before leaving home town rider Jasper Stuyven to content the finale, the raiding team from south of the border had a clear strategy.

They backed the defending champion to the hilt and were rewarded by his retention of the precious rainbow jersey.

From 140kms out Benoit Cosnefroy and Anthony Turgis were a total pain in the Belgians backsides with attacks and counter attacks forcing lots of chasing.

Italy were caught out in the first big split, something that might have contributed to a subdued finale from their main hope Sonny Colbrelli.

Mathieu Van der Poel was very subdued and was content to follow all day without having any impact on the race.

Julian Alaphillippe attacked four or five times to get his win with a number of these digs coming in the last lap and a half around Leuven.

He eventually wore them down with his desire to get clear and with Valentin Madouas working hard to help him establish his lead he was gone and gone for good.

The splinter group chasing him down had neither Van Aert, Tom Pidcock nor Van der Poel within it and didn’t have the power left to make the catch.

You can argue that Alaphillippe is all show and no content, but the wins he is racking up now make that point of view weak.

He is so entertaining to watch and his attack so wonderful to behold that you can’t help but be engaged and excited.

Last year he won with style. This year he won with persistence, style, panache and flair.

It truly was a world for the ages.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 ALAPHILIPPE JulianFrance6003505:56:34
2 VAN BAARLE DylanNetherlands4752600:32
3 VALGREN MichaelDenmark400190,,
4 STUYVEN JasperBelgium325150,,
5 POWLESS NeilsonUnited States275130,,
6 PIDCOCK ThomasGreat Britain2251100:49
7 ŠTYBAR ZdeněkCzech Republic1751001:06
8 VAN DER POEL MathieuNetherlands150901:18
9 SÉNÉCHAL FlorianFrance12580,,
10 COLBRELLI SonnyItaly10070,,
Top 10 from http://www.procyclingstats.com

Carlton Kirby – The Magic Spanner

The last review of something I did for the website was the first Ned Boulting stand up show.

There are some comparables between that piece of what was essentially theatre, and this book by Eurosport anchor, Carlton Kirby.

The main man has written a tome…

Boulting is similarly aloof and abstract. I find his commentary resembles Kirby whilst not being in the same wheelhouse.

I suppose you could say that ‘gnarly’ old Carlton obsesses more about roundabouts and uses more cliché.

However Ned gets a much smoother ride from those ‘internet people’ that Mark Cavendish used to complain about. Does this book get to the bottom of why that is? and is it fair to bash Carlton more so than other cycling commentators?

Well. Essentially that depends on your viewpoint before you open the pages to be honest.

If your mindset is that Carlton is a numpty with a motormouth spilling a collection of words and phrases that sometimes come together to describe a bike race then there is nothing in this book to make you think differently.

The man himself is very accepting of his position in polarising the views of cycling fans with his style and delivery and will no doubt have dropped some passages in this book to boil their blood.

Having read the book objectively, I think that the haters who have read it will be using it as fuel on their anti-Kirby fires. Everyone else might have a bit of fun.

If you can keep a level head and get past reading the introduction from Sean Kelly in his voice in your head (I couldn’t) then you are going to get a book full of ‘pals in a pub’ anecdotes which will vaguely enhance your cycling knowledge but mainly make you fearful of backwater French hotels.

I wouldn’t say that the book hangs together and grips you, its very much a pick up and put down piece designed to make you chuckle and read bits back out loud to your partner. She hated me doing that though and prefers Rob Hatch.

There isn’t the level of detail and description of races and characters you would find in a William Fotheringham book, but then there are people that hate them as well so its all relative.

If you are a fan of Carlton and want to understand what goes on in that head of his (scary) then this is the perfect light entertainment style book to enjoy.

As to why he gets the most stick of all cycling commentators, I think its mainly because he is different and that comes through clearly in the book.

Is the criticism fair? I think its not. Anyone trying to do a job and talk on the air about something for hours at a time day after day isn’t going to be 100% on top of their game all the time. Although I would certainly love a go at it !!

My take out is that if you love Carlton you will love it. If you don’t do your blood pressure a favour and stay away!

2021 Vuelta week 2 and 3 review

We left the Vuelta at the week 1 rest day with Primoz Roglic in the leaders red jersey and a situation that felt pretty similar to the Tour de France.

This Slovenian looked home and dry as the chinks in the armour of Richard Carapaz and Egan Bernal were starting to show.

But our Primoz had been burned a number of times in stage races, especially when it came to conceding the lead in the latter stages of big races (2021 Tour, 2022 Paris Nice etc.) so he reduced the level of pressure on his Jumbo Visma team and allowed a break to go clear containing Odd Christian Eiking who was still far enough away at the finish to take the race lead.

He didn’t win the stage, in-form DSM rider Michael Storer did, but this ensured that there would be a number of riders and teams now interested in keeping order and calm at the head of the race.

And as with the other grand tours of the year, once the peloton had settled, breakaways started to get bigger time gaps and stay away.

There were memorable stage wins for Magnus Cort (multiple), Romain Bardet and Rafal Majka.

Eiking retained the lead thanks to the composition of those breakaways not having a rival for his jersey, but it always felt on loan to Roglic. And so it was.

It took the fearsome climb to Lagos de Covadonga to shake the Norwegian off, but it was definitive.

The best day of the race saw Bernal give it an all or nothing attack which Roglic was equal to. When the time came the Columbian was dispatched and no other riders could get within a minute and a half of the defending champion who took the jersey back, and for good.

Movistar showed their incredible ability to mess something up with two riders in the top three going into the penultimate day of the race.

But as Bernal faded, Miguel Angel Lopez, a stage winner two days before, got stuck in a group with him losing his podium place in the process (on the road).

As the time gap drifted over seven minutes Lopez abandoned with less than 100km of the race to go. A sad end to a Vuelta that had started to look like it would end on a high for him, but ended in a team car.

The stage was won by an opportunist in the breakaway (which is so 2021!!!) Clement Champoussin who bagged a third stage win for France. In contrast Spain won zero.

Roglic secured the final days time trial, although the incredible Cort tried to take that off him, ending up with close to a five minute gap on Enric Mas who was the best of the rest and the best of Spain.

An honourable mention to Jack Haig who came third after coming under intense pressure from Adam Yates on the final mountain of the race. He suffered terribly and was dropped many times but came back each and every one.

I wouldn’t say this Vuelta was that interesting in terms of a GC battle. But that was the case in the Tour and to a lesser extent Giro.

What has made this year so special has been the baroudeur spirit of breakaways and their ability to time their run to the line just right and hang on for valuable stage wins.

It started in Italy with Taco Van der Hoorn and carried on here with Corts stage wins being evolutions of that tactic. It’s made a number of key stages in grand tours like one day classics and that is 100% no bad thing.

For now we move on to the Worlds and the end of season classic campaigns, so there is still plenty to get excited about and enjoy.

See you on the road!

2021 Vuelta Week 1 Review

There is an overused word to describe the feelings riders and fans have towards the Vuelta.

Its ambience.

People often write or speak of the specific relaxed, end of term vibes of the Vuelta. It’s a unique ambience they say.

It certainly works for me.

I spend many a happy hour watching the Vuelta imagining life as a hardened pro cyclist getting to the end of their season and riding round the humid, windy interior of Spain to get a nice tan to take into the winter.

The first week of this year’s race has certainly done nothing to diffuse that stereotype.

There were a couple of flat stages where the organisers prayed for high winds to get the echelons forming. But there was barely a breeze and the riders enjoyed the sun and several sprint finishes.

Where there have been climbs there has been excitement. But Primoz Roglic is in control with rivals such as Egan Bernal clearly going backwards.

Hugh Carthy is sadly at home in Preston by now after abandoning.

Alessandro Valverde suffered a terrible crash before being forced to quit the race. It will be interesting to see how the race develops with his bickering team mates Enric Mas and “Superman” Lopez battling to lead Movistar in his absence.

Sadly, it appears there is no series 3 on their fly on the wall documentary on Netflix. The episode featuring this week’s racing would be a must see.

If this was the Tour de France and if it was Tadej Pogacar in the lead of the race, I would be declaring this one over in terms of a GC battle.

But Roglic has previous (see 2020 Tour, 2021 Paris-Nice) of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

He might be going for a hat-trick of Vuelta wins but in both 2019 and 2020 he was close to losing the race in the closing days. Once through a needless crash when Movistar pushed on and once on the final summit finish when Richard Carapaz went after him.

For those of an English and Ineo bias, the race seems to be slipping away.

Carapaz is fading after his Olympic road race glory and with Bernal losing time on the last summit finish before yesterday’s rest day it might be that Adam Yates gets the responsibility of leading the team now.

However, he is over two minutes behind Roglic and that seems very unlikely a gap that he will cross. Even with two weeks of racing left.

So, let’s enjoy this weeks stages, some sleepy looking towns and wave lashed beaches with the riders swooping past. All mirrored Oakley’s and sun cream as they get through the final grand tour of the 2021 season.

RnkPrev▼▲RiderTeamUCITime
11 ROGLIČ PrimožTeam Jumbo-Visma2034:18:53
23▲1 MAS EnricMovistar Team0:28
34▲1 LÓPEZ Miguel ÁngelMovistar Team1:21
47▲3 HAIG JackBahrain – Victorious1:42
56▲1 BERNAL EganINEOS Grenadiers1:52
610▲4 YATES AdamINEOS Grenadiers2:07
711▲4 CICCONE GiulioTrek – Segafredo2:39
88 KUSS SeppTeam Jumbo-Visma2:40
92▼7 GROßSCHARTNER FelixBORA – hansgrohe3:25
1014▲4 DE LA CRUZ DavidUAE-Team Emirates3:55

My 30 year relationship with the midweek club 10

Wednesday night was a real landmark occasion for me.

It concluded the season of local club time trials that came 30 years after my first.
This season ended with cold weather which was very much in keeping with how the series started back in April.

Back in 1991 I was a teenager on a Dawes with some bright yellow Scott TT bars that my hero Greg LeMond used.

My hair was long and under my Bolle glasses was a young kid trying to find his way in a tough, unforgiving, grown ups sport.

The Bluebell series is a local cycling institution. It has run in this format for decades with a name evoking the early season flowers that add a blanket of colour to the heath which the race both starts and finishes on.

My first time was 30:08. No-where near the first page of the results I seem to remember but it was a start point and benchmark for my 10-mile career. The next week I was 2 minutes faster and with the handicapping system managed to build a healthy series lead across that summer.

I seem to remember the weather being warm and sunny every Wednesday evening of the series and I was comfortably in the 26s before the final round.

It was mentioned in the local paper and I was super nervous.

On that golden August night, I recorded a 27:30, one of my worst of the season but just clung on to take the trophy by the skin of my teeth.

For that reason, the Bluebell is the competition that I love the most and feel most passionate about. It brings people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities together to bomb around a beautiful course before (post covid) a nice chat and a brew on the heath.

Fast forward to 2021 and as I rode home from the event Wednesday with the daylight fading to the extent you could see my lights starting to take effect, I took some time out (ok a train was coming on the crossing, so the gates were down) to ponder my life in cycling.

There have been downs as well as ups, and my geography has meant that despite it being 30 Bluebells since I started riding, its probably only 23 that I have taken part in (winning again in 2004).

But despite everything, this is something that we can cling on to and cherish as a little piece of sporting history of our own and on our own doorsteps.

2021 Fenland Clarion club 10 on Helpston heath


With so many other factors in my life to come in to play, its too early to say whether there will be a campaign from me to celebrate 31 years after my first. But wherever you are, please support you club local weekly 10-mile time trial.

Forget about the crucial revenue it generates for the club and the competitive racing it provides. Think more about the camaraderie, friendship, and benefits for the soul.