It’s time for fantasy cycling to become part of the club 10 car park narratives for the next month as a number of games launch ahead of the Grand Depart.
I am an addict so play the Procyclingstats star allocation game (a la Het Nieuwsblad), I also play their stocks and shares trading game Procycling-game (despite being terrible at it).
For the Tour de France 2022 though I am putting my all into the Velogames competition (sorry official Tissot Le Tour one) and would love you to do the same.
This isn’t an endorsement of the game (officially) and I am getting no benefit from promoting it… just to make that clear.
Now I am sure that each and every one of you reading would have a different view of who to pick and where to spend the 100 EUR budget. Heck reading the news I might still substitute Wout Van Aert if his knee is broken.
But the whole idea is to add fun to the three weeks of the Tour and a bit of depth of interest when watching.
So please do pick a team (its free and if you have a social media account you don’t have to go through any registering process) and join in. I am sure you will have the skills to finish above me !
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and after spluttering into the mic of the friendly chap on the finish line about how most Clarion clubs share the red black and yellow colour scheme, I rode away wishing I had something profound that I could have said.
Something, that after the Rutland Border Epique could drift on the strongish wind over the nearby market in Melton Mowbray to get shoppers to stop and think “he sounds clever“.
I have thought of those words and they are the post title.
Apologies that I have been so tired that it’s taken me until the following Thursday for them to come to me though.
But now the quote has formed in my mind… how apt it is.
I know Southern Rutland well especially the area near Oakham and the south shore of the lake which are regular roads for me to shred my legs on.
This event intrigued me as it started in Melton Mowbray before heading north towards Nottingham ahead of a right turn towards Belvoir castle and Grantham. The route then headed into the stiff southerly back to Oakham before a sting in the tail heading back north to the finish.
After being part of a decent hard working group from the start, I hung back behind a car and a big group on the way up to Belvoir. I got back on during the descent, but there were a couple of riders missing having headed off up the road.
I formed an alliance with new riding buddy for the day Paul lasted over the lumps and bumps ahead of the feed. But that last 8kms before refreshment had me struggling and despite thinking I should stick with someone as long as possible, I urged him to go ahead and not wait for me.
Due to a bit of traffic and a motorcycle club run I managed to miss the feed and found myself pressing on towards Cottesmore and Greetham alone and with the wind really starting to punish my legs.
The sight of my wife and kids cheering me on from a layby got me back towards Oakham and then the dream scenario of a tail wind started to come to fruition.
But I guessed that the toughest climbs were to come when we arrived in Wymondham and took in the sharp steep drag past the bike shop and up towards the Colsterworth – Melton Road.
The family had made it across to that point but could see that I was fading fast with 80km in my legs (in one ride for the first time since 2016).
I plugged away on the last couple of climbs unzipping my jersey and snatching off my arm warmers. But I was literally and in the cycling sense cooked.
A couple of riders came flying past, Paul included after a sugar filled cake stop, but I wasn’t in a position to tag on to any trains.
Even the downhill back into town and the finish in Melton was now back against the wind so I just hung in and made it to the line as best I could.
My mind was scrambled and my legs like jelly. That explains my boring chat to the finish commentator, I suppose.
What I have to say is that this was a first class event. Brilliantly organised and marshalled. I saw no trouble from horse riders or motorists, some achievement with the start and finish in the centre of a busy town on market day.
I will be back in 2023 with hopefully more adequate climbing legs and a time to beat.
Mainly for his incredible attacking on the uphill’s and fearless descending coming back down.
See that footage from the Dauphine off the Mont de Chat for the best example of that.
Yesterday though, that deep affection for this rider moved on a step.
After his overall win in the Tour of the Alps last week, he would have been in the group of 5 star favourites for Liege-Bastogne-Liege yesterday.
But he made a decision on the road that affected his changes of winning the race but elevated him as a human.
We could talk for hours about the causes of the crash that took down so many riders but there is a positive news story among the cracking of bones and bumps and bruises.
As World Champion Julian Alaphillippe lay stricken on the forest floor after a high speed crash, Bardet chose to stay with him and seek medical help rather than ride on and try and regain the peloton.
What a gesture.
There was genuine concern for a rider who isn’t a team mate and only shares a nationality with him.
I think that somewhere in Bardet’s brain was the feelings from his Tour de France crash that gave his a fracture in his skull and concussion and a feeling that he might have recognised in Alaphillippe an urgent need for care.
If there is any chance that the Velo D’or award this season can be given to someone other than Tadej Pogacar, how about Bardet for this gesture?
After a midweek of Magnus Sheffield winning and team dominance, along with an Amstel Gold success, Ineos Grenadiers had showed they were truly on the road to being a classics squad by taking the big one.
Dylan Van Baarle proved that three attacks is too many but two just enough when he made his way across to the 2nd threatening break of the day and dropped them to head into Roubaix with a hefty winning margin.
The truth is that this was a win set up nearer the start than the finish of the race. In a slight crosswind his team put all 7 riders into a move that took until the 2nd sector of cobbles to pull back. Pre-race favourites Mathieu Van de Poel and Wout Van Aert had to use more riders than they would have hoped in getting it back.
This left the Grenadiers with plenty of riders on the front foot and at the head of the race. In their old more defensive style of riding, the travails of Fillipo Ganna would have been enough to derail their plan, but whilst it was bad news for the Italian, the mechanicals that had him dropped and having to chase alone didn’t affect the strategy. They had riders in abundance.
There were, however, riders clear at the key point in Arenberg forest and Milan San-Remo winner Matej Mohoric was proving to be no one trick pony in forcing the pace at the front. But with Ben Turner pushing on behind in the group of favourites and keeping things in check, Ineos didn’t panic.
Mohoric came back to them when hW Hs a puncture and Van Baarle made his first move driving the final selection away. This was despite the spirited Tom Devrient remaining clear from the initial breakaway.
The second Van Baarle attack was clinical and final with only Van Aert trying to respond, the rest were on their knees at this point.
But despite having Devrient, Stefan Kung and Mohoric back after his mechanical, they couldn’t get close to the Dutchman whose lead grew all the way through the final sectors and on into Roubaix.
Seeing Sir Dave Brailsford and Van Baarle embrace in the famous velodrome at the end of the race showed that despite having won Amstel and Liege-Bastogne-Liege (with Wout Poels) this was the one they wanted. And it was worth the 12 year wait to get it.
The fact that Quickstep continued their nightmare spring might have added a bit of gloss to the win and the feelings of joy perhaps? who knows?
But with the Ardennes coming up it will be interesting to see if that drought can end for the Belgian super team.
Alexander Kristoff produced a great escape from an elite group of sprinters and escape specialists to win this rainy classic.
There was a lot of pressure on Quickstep ahead of this one so it was surprising that they managed to miss the big crosswind split (it went near that tunnel you drive through on the way to Amsterdam!).
There was a bit of a chase but with some considerable distance to race there were some commitment issues in the group behind meaning Fabio Jakobsen was stranded and the mini Quickstep classics drought was set to go on.
Sam Bennett of Bora now looked a nailed on for the win but started to drift off the back as the cold and wet started to set in. His team mates tried to rally him but as with last years Gent-Wevelgem, when Bennett was tired, he was dropped.
The onus moved on to Alpecin who had managed to get both of their days sprinters, Jasper Philipsen and Tim Merlier in the move but with an attacking run in (maybe due to the riders wanting to get in from the cold!) it was Kristoff who made his acceleration stick.
There was a pursuit of sorts but the breakaway starting to fold in on their self and the Norwegian was away.
It was a brilliantly executed moment and his celebratory ride down the finishing straight was the Kristoff of old. It was brilliant.
So with all the new guard winning left, right and centre, this was a moment for us oldies.
Once the peloton head to the coast and start to chase down the inevitable breakaway hopefuls it feels like the season has started in earnest.
This year there was a bit more excitement with the break holding that vital 1 minute per 10km left to race advantage until they went into the climbs at the back end of the race.
There were negatives. I felt a sort of inevitability about Tadej Pogacar just riding away from everyone to win either on the Cipressa or the Poggio and that made me sad.
People who win too often or are too dominant are now subjected to a scrutiny that exists in no other sport. The stars of tennis don’t have to continually justify their sporting cleanliness in the same way as cyclists.
I want to believe in Tadej. But the history of the sport means there is always an asterix. That’s just how it is and I hate those juiced up 1990’s cheat for that.
As it happened the rest of the race ganged up on Pogacar to ensure that he didn’t win. The speed of the race over the Cipressa, a pace set by both UAE and Jumbo, meant that the break was absorbed but that no-one could sneak away.
UAE kept this speed up on the flat coastal road between the final two climbs. In a way it telegraphed their team leaders motive and to no-ones surprise Pogacar jumped before half distance on the climb.
He was actively marked by Wout van Aert who later admitted that had stunted his ability to deliver maximum power at the finish. Mathieu Van der Poel on his first racing day of the season also committed much to stopping Pog from winning.
As they reached the top of the climb it was all fairly close with a large number of riders, including former winner and sprinter Arnaud Demare in contention.
The race was won on the descent with Matej Mohoric shrugging off that horrific crash he has last year in the Giro in Italy, by riding away on the tight turns using every bit of road and some driveway to get clear.
He was using an MTB seat post to get more aero but the way he rode I think he would have been too good for the rest on a chopper not a dropper.
He even survived dropping his chain in the last KM to out last the fast closing Anthony Turgis who will be desperate for a classic win soon to avoid becoming the next big thing not to win a big race.
Was this a brilliant race? Not really but then the drama in Milan San-Remo is always condensed into the last 10 minutes, not the proceeding 6 hours. However, we had a worthy winner and a positive performance to start the monument season, and I am happy with that.