Any given week, there are oodles of cycling stories flying around in the news. So here’s a quick-hit summary of this week’s happenings, plus my own garbage opinions on each. Much like my gambling advice, these takes are for entertainment purposes only!
In the not-so distant past, the world’s best sprinters (Mark Cavendish, André Greipel, et al.) would bang bars at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Not this year. Most of the big guns are at the Abu Dhabi Tour, working on their tans and enjoying the (I’m assuming here) opulent gift baskets. There’s one guy who is in Belgium, however: Alexander Kristoff. Kristoff is clearly not afraid of chilly weather, leg warmers, and cobblestones. You know what this tells me? The Norwegian is ready to rock this classics season. Choosing the Low Countries in February over the Middle East is a real hard-man move. That’s why he’s my Belgian Guy of the week.
If Canadian rapper Drake had a favorite WorldTour team, it would have to be UAE, because this team, “started from the bottom; now they here.” According to our Gregor Brown, the team (previously Lampre-Merida) was one of the poorest in the WorldTour last year. This year, its coffers have swelled, thanks to a cash injection of between 5 to 10 million euros from title sponsor Fly Emirates. Here’s my question: How will the team spend all that cash? I have a few suggestions. First, they should replace the team bus with a team airplane, which they can park at the races. The scene would harken back to the golden era of air travel. The riders walk off the plane down the Bluth family stair-car. Mechanics unload the race bikes on one of those luggage conveyor belts you see at the airport. If some journalists show up for interviews, they’ll have to wait at a kiosk while a friendly team attendant informs them the delay is due to thunderstorms over Atlanta. There could be an incentive program for the riders. Win a race, and you get to pick a free item from the “Skymall” catalog. Imagine it: a glow-in-the-dark toilet for Rui Costa, and a two-person Snuggie for Louis Meintjes and Diego Ulissi. My other idea: Box seats at an Arsenal F.C. game for some off-season footy.
Cannondale-Drapac is all-in for Andrew Talansky at the Tour, right? Well, maybe not. The latest news is that Rigoberto Uran will now focus on success at hilly spring classics before racing the Tour as an opportunist. A talented all-rounder, Uran has twice finished second at the Giro d’Italia. He sounds like a GC guy to me, not an opportunist. In a recent feature about Talansky, team boss Jonathan Vaughters said the move to race the American at the 2016 Vuelta (rather than the Tour) amounted to “mind games.” Is Uran’s new Tour assignment the latest mind game? Is it a coy way to let everyone know that Uran is a capable plan B, should something go awry? Sounds to me like Talansky has some good motivation.
Movistar was popping bottles last Sunday to celebrate Alejandro Valverde’s 100th pro win, which he collected at Ruta del Sol in Andalucia. I brought up my mixed feelings about “Balaverde” on the VeloNews Show this week, but to reiterate: About 20 of his wins came before Operacion Puerto hit the fan in 2006. He served a two-year ban for that doping scandal a few years later. Then, he immediately went back to his winning ways upon his return go the peloton and has continued winning big races well into his late 30s. Again, I enjoy watching him race for entertainment purposes, but as we mentioned on the VN Show, Valverde is our Ethical Conundrum All-Star. Perhaps this photo of Valverde wistfully looking out a window will help us tabulate how many victories we can confidently count:
Andrew Hood was pretty complimentary of Orica-Scott’s strategy for the 2017 grand tours. Sure, sending the Yates twins to the Giro and Esteban Chaves to the Tour makes sense on paper, but perhaps the explanation goes a bit deeper. Nairo Quintana has held the title as top Colombian GC guy for some time now — will Chaves make a statement by beating his countryman in July? If so, will Chaves get a hero’s parade through the streets of Bogota? And will he then get to meet the president? I hope so. With Quintana trying the Giro-Tour double, he might be vulnerable come July.
We probably wrung this story dry on Thursday. Owan Doull’s shoe got sliced in Abu Dhabi. He thought it was a disc rotor. It doesn’t look like it actually was. Twitter (predictably) exploded with disc brake-induced rage. We even did a little in-house experiment. So here’s one final fresh take: This is a huge opportunity for bike apparel companies to start developing Kevlar-woven shoes, jerseys, and chamois. That way we can be sure these spinning blades won’t filet our body parts.
This week, Travis McCabe gushed about his new teammate and road captain Greg Henderson, who has shepherded him to two big wins so far this winter. Henderson, who also raced in the WorldTour with André Greipel, seems to be something of a sprinter whisperer. He knows how to get the best out of his fast men with his legs and words. So what is he whispering? Is it something empowering? “You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. And doggone it, people like you.” Or maybe a little “Friday Night Lights” flavor? “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” McCabe has a good sense of humor, so I’m guessing Reece Bobby’s maxim from “Talladega Nights” would work best: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”