Blazin' Saddles

Classics spring clean

Blazin' Saddles

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Boonen

With the cobblestone and Flemish races now over and the Ardennes classics just around the corner, Saddles weighs in with 10 key points he'd like to get off his chest.

Don't sack off Tommeke: If Lance Armstrong confirmed for seven successive years at the turn of the century that cyclists can come back from a medical condition that affects the nether regions, then Tom Boonen did just that this year with his indomitable Flanders campaign. He showed that there is life after tearing the sensitive flap of flesh known best as the perineum. While Boonen's wins in the E3, Ghent-Wevelgem and Flanders came as a result of routine sprints, the 32-year-old's totally emphatic display at Paris-Roubaix — in which he soloed off the front with 55km remaining — has pretty much cemented the Belgian's place in history as perhaps the best cobblestone rider of all time. While everyone went on about Boonen's bravery in not wearing any gloves, it was the Belgian's undercarriage that Saddles was more worried about.

Turbo Turgot woe: Supposing the crowning moment of Sebastien Turgot's career turns out to be his second-place in Paris-Roubaix — and let's face it, previous results suggest that it could well just be that — then perhaps the Frenchman may regret the fact that he didn't really make the most of the occasion. Instead of wholeheartedly celebrating the fact that he became the first Frenchman to make the Roubaix podium in 15 years, Turgot simply lamented that he didn't win the race. "I only ride to win, I'm not interested in picking up the scraps for second place," he harrumphed. "Cycling for me is just about reaching the top of the podium. I am never satisfied until I have the winning bouquet." With that in mind, poor Turgot hasn't exactly had a very satisfactory career by his standards. The Europcar sprinter really should lighten up instead of making misplaced promises that "one day, I will beat Boonen — whether it's in Roubaix or elsewhere". The guy just rode a wonderfully scintillating race. Besides Boonen, he was the clear rider of the day. He should stop taking himself so seriously. After all, it may never get as good as this again. Just ask Anthony Charteau...

Here's Tommy: Sticking with Europcar, who it must be said had a superb Flanders campaign, it's time to big up Thomas Voeckler, a man Sebastien Turgot could learn a lot from. Voeckler's early season has been rather patchy after the lofty heights he hit last year — but the French housewives' favourite put the smile back on his face this week with an expert solo win in the wet and demanding Brabantse Pijl race in Belgium. Voeckler's return to form comes at an ominous time for those who have aspirations in the forthcoming Ardennes Classics, in which the Europcar team-leader will now enter as something a little more credible than a dark horse (let's say a grey stallion, shall we?). It was also just rewards for Voeckler's second-tier Pro Continental team, who rode all the Flanders races a whole lot better than the majority of their Pro Tour counterparts.

Vaschlecktomy: Saddles invented this new word this week to refer to the phenomenon of male sterilisation on two wheels — and watching Schleck riding this year is certainly doing wonders for birth control worldwide. In short, Andy Schleck's torrid campaign went from bad to worse this week when the Luxembourgeois whippet came a cropper and injured his wrist during the Brabantse Pijl (it was raining and the roads were rather slippery). It doesn't bode well for the Ardennes Classics, which Schleck had targeted as a good place to hit something remotely resembling form after pretty much throwing in the towel during every race in which he has featured this season. Still, it does give the younger Schleck brother an excuse to sit out the Amstel Gold race, which is notoriously difficult. Ironically, Schleck's most successful year in cycling (the one in which he was finally awarded the 2010 Tour de France title) could also be his worst.

Cheers for cycling: This weekend's Amstel Gold race is part of a dying breed of cycling events that are sponsored by brewers. In the 80s America's national cycling race was called the Coors Classic, while in the Caribbean there is still the Amstel Curacao Race (in which the leader's jersey is presumably bright blue). It got Saddles thinking why there weren't more major races sponsored by beer brands. Surely if it's okay for a pharmaceuticals company to plug money into that cycling jolly in California then it should be acceptable for alcohol giants to have their fill. Britain's old Milk Race could be picked up by Baileys Irish Cream; there could be a one day race down near Marseille called the Pernod Classique (raced only in the wet season when there's jugs of water around); perhaps a famous Danish brewer could get involved in a criterium in Slesvig-Holsten — for we all know that if Carlsberg did cycling races...

Carnage ahoy: Saddles is getting moist with anticipation ahead of the Ardennes Week, which gets underway with the Amstel Gold on Sunday. Although actually in the Dutch region of Limberg, the Amstel Gold is seen as the curtain-raiser to the Ardennes period (which takes place in an area whose currency, until fairly recently, was predominantly in coarse grained pate of the pork or game variety). The Flanders cobbles may be a spectacle, but so many riders run scared and so this weekend we'll be reacquainted with the likes of Joaquim Rodriguez, Simon Gerrans, Philippe Gilbert, Frank Schleck and Voeckler, which will be nice. There's also the return of Alejandro Valverde to look forward to — having already won Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Green Bullet will hope to add Amstel Gold to his palmares. Indeed, Valverde's team says this weekend is "one of the longest-awaited moments of Movistar's season" — right up there, no doubt, with Angel Madrazo's scheduled appearance in the Superbad sequel as McLovin's younger brother. Amstel Gold is a brutal race where road furniture, parked cars, narrow roads, tight bends and terrible conditions usually amount to crashes aplenty. It's the kind of race that to win, you usually need something extra. Quite literally: between 2003 and 2007 the winners were Alexandre Vinokourov, Davide Rebellin, Danilo Di Luca, Frank Schleck and Stefan Schumacher.

The best man wins: Of course, the Ardennes races are very hard to predict, although thankfully Simon Gerrans is on hand to help viewers out: "The races are so selective," he squeaked this week. "It's generally the guys who have the best legs at the end of the day that get the results. You can mark guys out, it's always handy to have the numbers and possibilities towards the end of the race, but they're pretty honest races." Gerrans knows a thing or two about honesty in races — just ask Fabian Cancellara...

Brotherly love: Fans sick and tired of the Schleck uni-sibling that is Frandy will be pleased to hear that the Ardennes week will see another brotherly combo reach the peloton. It was announced this week that 28-year-old Jerome Gilbert, the younger brother of the formerly good rider Philippe Gilbert, has signed with a second-tier Belgian team and is expected to make his debut at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. "Jerome is obviously important for publicity purposes," said Accent.Jobs-Willems Veranda's team manager Thierry Eeckman, before picking out a spade in a game of cards. Luckily for Jerome, he won't have much trouble out-performing his illustrious brother on this season's form.

Cereal thriller: News this week that US cyclists Matthew Busche and Dotsie Bausch will appear on the back of an upcoming Grape-Nuts box. Rumour has it that the cereal company had first approached David Zabriskie with the intention of changing the cereal's name to DZ's Grape-Nuts — but this was understandably shot down by PR and marketing advisors. Busche and Bausch (who really should be a pair of cartoon characters) are not the only cyclists in history to grace the presence of cereal boxes: Lance Armstrong appears on the back of the Wheaties box in 1999 while in the same year France's Richard Virenque became the Coco Pops monkey in France for a limited period under the slogan "Because I turn the milk chocolaty". A decade later, Tom Boonen was also approached by the makers of Honey Smacks but politely turned down the offer.

Hold that thought: Believe it or not, but Vacansoleil-DCM's Stijn Devolder, after a pretty torrid classics campaign, announced this week that he intends to be in the mix for a high GC finish in this July's Tour de France. Clearly living 11-odd days behind the rest of the world, the Belgian at least showed his understanding of the April Fools tradition. Still, it has to be said, he does possess a wonderful pair of legs. As Saddles has said before, beauty is in the thighs of Devolder...

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