Saturday, April 26, 2014


Sport isn’t always about the winner, sometimes it’s about the performance, the way a competitor approaches the test, which causes the jaw to drop or the stiff smile of quiet respect. I witnessed one such performance last week at la Fl├Ęche Wallonne Femmes, a one day race in the Belgian Ardennes.

A lumpy affair, the race finishes atop the fearsome Mur de Huy - the Wall of Huy, a short, steep climb which even the most conservative say has ramps of 19%, though most agree it’s 26%. That’s steep.

On the second and last 64 kilometre lap, New Zealander Linda Villumsen of the Wiggle Honda team, found herself in a group of riders who were, to a woman, likely to get up the Mur far quicker than her, so rather than accept her fate, she did the only thing a winner would do: she attacked. Now, having stood on the World Time Trial Championship podium four times, she is no stranger to measuring her effort and riding alone. But the spectre of that hill lay ahead.

Very nearly 10 kilometres she was away: 42 seconds her lead. However, as she struggled up the wall, the metres ticking past far too slowly, the others were closing the gap. Then, with 250 metres to go she was overtaken. She finished eighth, 21 seconds down.

“I tried, I couldn’t do anything different today,” she told me. And how did she feel? She smiled, “Buggered.”

Humour. Humility. Heroism.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Paris-Roubaix - The Final Analysis

Once again Paris-Roubaix served up another fantastically spicy dish of dusty, bumpy, combative racing. In the end, all the attacking, crashing, arm waving, head-shaking and fighting left eleven men to fight out the final few kilometres on the road to the faded, fabled velodrome in a slightly grim northern French suburb. 

But why, in those final few kilometres, did what happened happen? What were they thinking? 

You’ve read the reports and expert analysis, so have I, and this is what ran through those tired minds.

Niki Terpstra: “Sod all this fannying about, I’ve got no chance in a sprint and with three of us here if we don’t win we’ll be deep in trouble with the boss. I did it last week. Was it last week? They all merge into one when you’re knackered. Right, I’m off, thumb up bum, brain in neutral and PEDAL!”

John Degenkolb: “I’m not sodding chasing him, Bert can do it, then I’ll do Sagan in the sprint. Maybe”

Fabian Cancellara: “Go any harder and I’ll mess my hair up, despite the fact if I tow Sagan and Degenkolb to the line they’ll do me in the sprint, even if I do try sprinting on the drops… Not cool.”

Sep Vanmarke: “Every bloody time! What do I have to do to get rid of this lot? I’m not going again, I’m not towing Sagan and Degenkolb to the line, they’ll do me in the sprint.”

Zdenek Stybar: “Crikey [or whatever that is in Czech] Tom’s shot his bolt, Niki’s up the road, think I’ll sit here and get done in the sprint by Sagan and Degenkolb.”

Peter Sagan: “I wish I had packed at the feed zone, no one’s going to tow me to the line, I’ll do them in the sprint.”

Geraint Thomas: “I’m bloody shagged and Brad wants me to tow him to the line so he can get done in the sprint? Any Welsh cakes left…”

Sebastian Langeveld: “If I win this I hope the boss doesn’t give me an affectionate and annoying bloody nick name, like honey-sodding-badger. Look on the bright side, I’ve no chance, I’ll never do Sagan or Degenkolb in the sprint.”

Bradley Wiggins: “Reckon I wouldn’t manage it, did you Fabs? What the fuck do you know? Ha! Right, what have I got? A dusty beard and a massive, do anything, go anywhere turbo-diesel to tow the rest to the line so they can do me in the sprint. Fuck it, I’ll stay here.”

Tom Boonen: “I AM MISTER PARIS-ROUBAIX, not that Roger geezer. And, you know what, I’ve done enough bloody towing and I’m completely buggered.”

Bert De Backer: “Yes John, I’ll try towing you to the line, but I really am bolloxed and I’m not really sure I belong here.”