Boonen back to his best in what is clearly his favourite race

The Gent-Wevelgem, also known as the Tom Boonen classic, took place this weekend. One of cycling’s popular spring classic races taking place in the heartland of cycling — Belgium — the race is a big notch on any good cyclists resume. Former cyclist turned cocaine sniffing party boy, turned cyclist again, Tom Boonen, took the win for the second year in-a-row and third time in all. It was his seventh race win of the season for a man really looking like he is back to his best. He out sprinted a group of 13 men including Peter Sagan, Oscar Freire, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Fabian Cancellara to take the glory, or at least that’s how the result sheet suggests it was won.

I sadly didn’t get to see it myself as I had hoped. Time and other stuff didn’t allow for it which is a shame because I’d have liked to have seen the video shots of Gent, a beautiful city that I’ve spent a good bit of time in over the years and of which i have many fond memories.

2012 Olympic Champion, Mark Cavendish missed the break and could only finish in the large second pack in which he didn’t feel there was any pride to be gained by sprinting for 37th place.

“I’ve found back my sprint,” cheered Boonen after the race. “I’m not the fastest man in the peloton — that’s probably Mark Cavendish — but if everybody is tired then I’m one of the best.” And Boonen makes a good point. It’s only worth being the fastest man on the planet if you’re at the stage of the race were being the fastest is most important. Granted, Cavendish often is, especially on those flat stages or in last years World Championship and British hopes are being pinned heavily on him being in the mix with 200 meters to go at the upcoming Olympics.

The Olympics though isn’t an out and out flat course however and that’ll be Cavs biggest challenge. There’s been talk that one day the man from the Isle of Man will one day amend his racing style to become more a classics rider and perhaps hang in over some of the tough climbs to put himself in contention by the finish, but right now he’s going to have to find a way to stick in there in the Olympic race in a way he couldn’t at Gent-Wevelgem.

Still, a big win for Boonen in what is becoming a big season for the Belgian. With three of the big Monuments just around the corner in the Tour of Flanders, the Paris-Roubaix and the Liège-Bastogne-Liège Boonen must surely be a favourite to win at least one of those.

Evans in yellow again

Following last years Tour de France it is clear that Cadel Evans is getting used to wearing a yellow jersey and holding a cuddly toy upon a podium. The defending Tour champion won the Critérium International by eight seconds over Pierrick Fedrigo and fellow countryman Michael Rogers, spelling out the Australian’s good form heading through spring. Given the nature of the 2012 Tour de France Evans will be confident about retaining his title, and wearing the Maillot Jaune on the top step here will only remind him of the pleasure.

A tip of the hat to Albasini

A tip of the hat to Swissman Michael Albasini who came from relative obscurity to take Green Edge’s first ever overall victory by winning the seven stages of the Volta a Catalunya. He thumped second place man Samuel Sanchez by a good 1-30 to take the general classification as other such cycling hero’s Daniel Martin, Damiano Cunego, Denis Menchov and Tom Danielson could only battle it out for third place from which they all finished on the same time, 1-32 behind Albasini.


Back outdoors and a sore bum

At last. Though if i’m truly honest, it came much sooner than expected. When I created my gym program for my ‘winter training’ (something that has taken a back seat recently) I didn’t expect to cycle outdoors until April. I mean, March break was just last week and over here people always say there’s usually one good snowfall after March break. Well, there still could be, but it will have to take a real drop in temperatures. These past ten days, the weather has been nothing short of glorious for March. It’s May/June type weather for Canada, and it’s mid-summer type weather for Northern Ireland. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity not to get a couple of miles in — thanks in part to the new Garmin.

I didn’t think I was going to get the chance. Since becoming a new dad little more than two weeks ago I have been (gladly) too busy to think about too much exercise. When I would stare out the window from my ever over-heating condo I would look at blue skies and sunshine and tell myself and anyone who cared to listen, “that’s some bloody good cycling weather for March.” All week it had been in the 20’s with Thursday being the peak of this hot spot and so when I went and picked up my new Garmin on Wednesday night there was no doubt I’d get myself out to at least test it out.

I decided to take the mountain bike, though really the road bike would have done. It was all paved paths for the most part. By the time I got setting out it was already dusk and by the time I would return home, it was dark. I had no lights, but again, I knew I wouldn’t be on the road at any point so felt safe enough. Granted the lights might have done for some sections in the park. It was so dark I had to hope that the path didn’t contain some unexpected pot-hole that might toss me over the bars, smashing up my body, and worse, smashing up the Garmin. I was lucky enough in the end.

As I burst out the side door to my building and out into the world ready to get going, I threw my leg over the saddle and immediately frooze. I looked upward, held out my hand and thought, it can’t be. Indeed, a couple of spots of rain were falling. The first of the day . . . heck, the first of the week . . . longer still. Trust it to start raining the moment I stepped out for my ride. It wasn’t hard though and I was from Ireland after all so I pressed on confident that Garmin wouldn’t still be in business if they sold bike computers that broke the moment they got wet. Fortunately for me the drizzle lasted no more than ten minutes.

I stuck to footpaths while beside the roads — due to the fading light — and to the bike paths along the park. There was a handful of other cyclists in the park but nowhere near the number that had almost ran myself, my wife and my newborn over when we went a walk along the same park path twenty-four hours plus change, before.

I spent as much time flicking through the settings on the Garmin as I did concentrating on the path, looking at the various data outputs, and seeing what all I could enjoy as the rides went on in the coming weeks and months. Had there been the number of people on the path then as there was the night before, I surely would have ended up in a big spill. The elevation data was great, the heart-rate information more than informative and the ability to set an average speed and then race the computer, fantastic. I was always a couple of minutes and a half mile behind my preset computer in the race, but that didn’t matter very much.

By the time my ride came to and end I was glad to get off the saddle. That’s what several months off the bike and in the gym only will do to your butt. You get used to it quickly but those first few rides can hurt after a while, and the next day they can hurt from the get-go. But you deal with it, moan a little and then it goes away.

When I did get home I sparked up the computer and plugged in the Garmin ready to see the damage. Impressive how quickly it all uploads. Very impressive. Also impressive the various features on the Garmin website as well as with Strava. It seems that for the near future I’ll be uploading to both. The real standout on the Strava site however is the ‘segments’ — preset sections on roads and tails with which anyone who rides through them records a time that appears on a leaderboard. I could set my own and see how I went again others or I could go about seeking out existing ones. I wasn’t aware of it during my ride but it appears I did go through a ‘segment’. A short, flat-baring-a-few-bumps, 1.3 mile burst with a leading time of 3:42 and average speed of 20.4 mph. Being unaware at the time I do remember cruising through it and so it proved to be with a time of 5:10 and average speed of 14.6 mph which was good enough for 25th of the 36 that have tried it. Fired up by the challenge I have decided to take the road bike out this weekend to try move way up that leader board, if not to the top!

And that’s one of the great things about Strava . . . you can race, time-trial, compete and train without actually entering a race or a time-trail. Like a computer game that doesn’t see you vegging out on the sofa getting fat, you go out, burn calories, get fit and get healthy while chasing a computer style highest score. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend a large portion of Friday night searching out different segments in my area to go and challenge. Indeed, this could become a real problem!

Post-ride weigh-in: 198.6 lbs

Buying a Garmin, Part 2: My cycling just got more interesting

It only took about five minutes in the end. Once I had my mind made up I knew I couldn’t hesitate. Not over that amount of money otherwise I would tell the bloke behind the counter, “I’m going to think about it and come back,” before driving home as fast as I could, burying my head under the sheets and convincing myself it was okay and that I would go back to the shop a braver sole the next day. So I walked in, demanded the product, slapped the cash on the counter, and stormed out with it under my arm. Okay, not quite.
Continue reading Buying a Garmin, Part 2: My cycling just got more interesting


Buying a Garmin, Part 1: The maps are key

For the past year or so I’ve come to accept the current computer on my road bike is long since out of date, long since past its best and long since needing replaced. The thing has served me well enough, but about halfway through my riding year in 2011, it all but stopped working, leaving me to go on Map My Ride following a ride to see just how far I went. I could only guess at average speeds. So, this winter it was my goal to get myself something high tech and something I could have a bit of fun with. Step forward The Garmin.
Continue reading Buying a Garmin, Part 1: The maps are key


A daddy on a bike

My winter training took a big hit this week, though you won’t hear me complaining. Not even when the weather has taken a turn for the beautiful with temperatures even touching the 20 degree mark on the thermometer. Why? Well, on Wednesday evening of last week at 9.16 p.m. my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. All 6lbs and 13oz of her. We’ve spent this week getting her settled into her new home and getting ourselves accustomed to our new way of life, but it generally explains the lack of writing on here for the past little while.


18 miles and went nowhere

All winter my training has been indoor, on static bike machines, treadmills, weights or in the swimming pool. It’s been a mind numbing ordeal and it’s been a struggle to get myself to go along. I had planned to go almost every day but that I have went as often as I have has even surprised me. For the most part it has been short but hard interval bursts aimed at shedding weight rather than building stamina, but last night I moved it up a level by continuing to ride intervals, but throwing in a decent spin either side of it.

Continue reading 18 miles and went nowhere


The race to the sun

Sean Kelly in the Paris-Nice, a tour he dominated in the 1980’s

The call is the “Race to the Sun” though it’s officially known as the Paris-Nice. I prefer to refer to it as the “Sean Kelly Classic” given the Irishman dominated it for seven consecutive years from 1982 to 1988. It begins this weekend, it lasts eight days and it holds a little more interest for me given I was in Nice last summer for my Honeymoon and it’ll be interesting to see the race finish there as I try point out as many familiar sights as possible. Sad, but we all do it when the TV cameras show a foreign place we’ve been to before.

At first glance you might think that winning this race bodes well for your chances at the Tour de France given that three of the last six winners have gone on to cross the line in Paris in July with the Yellow jersey upon their shoulders. Floyd Landis in 2006 and Alberto Contador in 2007 and 2009. Of course, it doesn’t take much further study to quickly realise that Landis was later stripped of his title and Contador of his 2009 crown following positive doping tests which means this years winner ought to watch his step. Also the 2008 winner of the “Race to the Sun”, Davide Rebellin, has since failed a doping test himself.

Anyway, we’re in a new era now right? Tony Martin won it last year and look how badly he did in the 2011 Tour de France. He’s back to defend his crown for 2012, though if you’re looking a good man to throw your hard earned cash at look at none other than a man who has already come out his doping suspension over with, Alejandro Valverde. The Spaniard has been in fine form earlier this season what with his teary eye’d stage win at the Tour Down Under, and second place overall, and well as a stage win and overall win at the Vuelta a Andalucia.

If not him then Luis-Leon Sanchez, the 2010 winner of Paris-Nice, or someone like Levi Leipheimer. I could rattle off half a dozen more names but that still won’t necessairly make me any closer to being right. This race is wide open, it’s the first week long stage race of note of the season and for the traditionalists, this one tends to mark the true start to the European road racing year.