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Rhétorique de la course

Vous trouverez sur cette page les dernières infos sur la compétition route, un éditorial, des reportages en coulisse, des vidéos—tout un contenu relatif à nos équipes professionnelles Boels-Dolmans, Quick-Step–Floors, Bora-Hansgrohe et Axeon Hagens Berman. Elle sera régulièrement mise à jour tout au long de la saison 2017. Alors revenez-y souvent et surtout, bonne saison de compétitions !

september 12, 2017

Vuelta a España: The A-Team

There’s no “I” in Team—that’s how the saying goes. To which you might reply: “Of course there’s an 'I.' Look at Matteo Trentin crossing the line on Stage 21. He’s an I.” And while you’d be technically correct—only one guy gets to stand on the top step of the podium—we all know that in cycling winning is rarely something one does alone. It’s through flawless teamwork that victories are delivered, and for the past 21 days, team Quick-Step Floors has been on a mission. And although they may not have won the overall, with their six stages wins, relentless attacking, and determined organization, they certainly won some hearts in the process.

There’s also no “O” in Team. This is not a saying, but the “O” on Stage 2 of the Vuelta came right before the MG, as in: “OMG, did you see the team blow the field apart to launch Yves Lampaert with a kilometer to go?” The systematic blowing up of the field on his behalf was carried with ruthless precision by three roaring Quick-Step engines. With only a handful of kilometers left in the stage, they massed at the front and torn the field apart. It was a thrill to watch.

“They shouted at me, 'go go go!’” said Lampaert, talking of the move that set it up for him. “I knew I could ride one kilometer very fast and it worked out."

There’s no “U” in Team, either, but the word “unbelievable” could have easily by represented by it on Stage 8. With 200 meters to go, Julian Alaphilippe got the jump on his rivals and raised his hands to cross two seconds in front of his two rivals. It was a flash of excitement that we love seeing from the young Frenchman, who’s been sidelined for a large chunk of the season with injury, and he finished with the kind of "good to be back" grin we love. It was a victory no-doubt celebrated loudly in the Quick-Step bus as each teammate made his way back from the fray.

And finally, there’s no “Y” in Team, but enduring three weeks of racing at the Vuelta begs the question, “Why am I doing this?” as riders fight fatigue and aching bodies to crawl out of bed every morning. But the answer can be seen in each of Matteo Trentin’s four (4, 10, 13, & 21) stage victories. The joy and jubilation at which the team celebrates each and every win as a family is evident. Each victory is a team victory, and sprinters know this better than most. In those last kilometers, as the pace ratchets up, it’s the lead-out train that comes into view, driving, churning, and setting things alight. They click into a tempo; each man burns his entire matchbook before pulling off the front to reveal the next eager domestique. The sprinter hides until the moment is right. The sprinter leaps and the race is done. It’s a win for one man for sure, but the team celebrates as one.

Now, there is an “A” in Team, but perhaps there should be another? It would represent the squad that never gives up. The team that gels for 21 days, increasing the bond day-by-day, determined, fighting, attacking, and not leaving anything to chance. They win and lose, they fly and suffer, and they do it all together. And that team—Quick-Step at the 2017 Vuelta a España, for example—that’ what’s called an A-Team.

July 25, 2017

Tour de France: The Final Countdown

Twenty-one days. A few rest days scattered here and there to provide that, “Oh well, I’ve come this far. Might as well keep going” state of mind. Those who are injured sometimes refuse to accept it—how can the quest be over—before the injury wins and their Tour de France dream is dashed on the rocks of reality. Those who are left don their Lycra and fasten their helmets, day-after-day-after-day, to roll out and see who’s holding the fireworks. In the final week, the fuse is once again lit.

With a rest day in their legs, the peloton twisted the throttle all the way to “drop mode” for Stage 16, setting a blistering pace. Unfortunately, that left Quick-Step’s Marcel Kittel in a bit of difficulty as contenders chipped away at his Green Jersey points. In a full-on hard charge to the line (of which he played no part), Kittel lost a few more of those points to his rivals. But it didn’t matter—the coveted sprinter’s jersey remained firmly on his shoulders as at the end of the stage. He, no doubt, dreams of holding it all the way to Paris.

But the thing about the Tour de France is that it doesn’t play favorites. It doesn’t care what you want, really. Kittel may have started the day in Green, but Stage 17 turned out to be a bit of a shit day for the perfectly coiffed German. And while we may have been expecting fireworks on the climbs—this stage was stuffed to the gills with gains, including the mighty Galibier—we didn’t expect a small crash to blow Kittel’s dream to smithereens. Taken down by a fall just 20km into the stage, we watched as he valiantly tried to get back in the groove. His goal was clear: stay and finish with the grupetto. But then came the tweet from Quick-Step that ended it all: “Green jersey @marcelkittel, and winner of five #TDF2017 stages, has stopped at the top of Col de la Croix de Fer.” He abandons and the glory of finishing on the cobbled streets of Paris, of riding over that line with the Green Jersey all his, fades from view. Meanwhile, a former ski-jumper wins the stage, so as one TDF dream ends, another comes true.

And then we arrive at Stage 18 and the Col d’Izoard. It is, in a word, steep. The dramatic mountaintop finish caps the last day in the mountains for the Tour and provides what might be the last opportunity for GC contenders to snatch that Yellow Jersey away from the man who just can’t seem to let it go. The col is 14km long and averages out at 7%, which guarantees suffering for everyone. There are attacks and fireworks aplenty, and sudden surges as people are gapped. Finally, one man launches off the front for a solo victory. Cresting the summit, he's totally alone and silhouetted against the sky. His face shows no sign of the suffering—just sheer elation at having not just won, but securing the Polka Dot Jersey for the 2017 Tour de France once and for all. He just has to make it to Paris in one piece, a mere three stages away. The countdown continues.

Stage 19 is the longest of the Tour, with 222km of lumpy-to-flat terrain to contend with. It’s a long, hot stage that sets a searing pace in the French sun. A large break forms, breaks up, and reforms until finally, near the finish, two riders break free. With 2km to go, a sudden attack jerks ahead and is unmatched. Another stage, another solo finish.

Speaking of solos, Stage 20 sees the ultimate solo event, the Individual Time Trial. Starting and finishing at the velodrome in Marseille, riders head out for a 22.5km loop of the town. With the Yellow all but sewn up, this is a race for glory and a young Polish rider, Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe), sets the standard early. As he sweats it out in the hot seat, he is left to watch rider after rider—previous TT world champions included—fail to beat his time. Finally, it's all over and Bodnar wins the TT by one second to get his first ever Tour victory. There's another victory this day—the Yellow is secured. Although there is one final stage to go, it’s pretty much all over, bar the shouting.

The last day of the Tour is like one long victory parade followed by a sprint to the bar. It started as this day most commonly does, with laughter and celebration and the sight of men on bicycles drinking champagne out of plastic (presumably) flutes as they roll through the French countryside. The pace is moderate and sleepy—well, for them anyway—and it isn’t until they reach the Champs-Elysées that there’s a murmur through the peloton that maybe they should settle down and do some racing. It’s a sprinters stage, and with 5km to go, Quick-Step’s Zdeněk Štybar lights his afterburners and attacks. But he's ignited too soon and is caught with 2.5km to go as all the sprinters mob the front. The race comes down to a neck-straining traditional hard man sprint and then, finally, the Tour de France is done.

The Tour de France is a long slog for everyone, but hard not to love. With all the drama of this year, it would have been easy to just give up on it altogether. But it’s the fireworks we love. It’s the fireworks we can’t take our eyes of as we oooh and ahhh the festivities. Each stage is decided in a flash of glory. A man surges to the front and claims it, sometimes with an impressive solo with no one around, other times with a well-timed bike throw or sheer brute strength and determination. Fireworks. A rider, bruised and battered, rides because he does not want to give it up because the Tour is the Tour. Another is ejected, causing us to shake fists at the sky and choose a side. Fireworks. A thin and wiry man attacks on a climb so steep other riders seem to go backwards on it. Fireworks. We’re already counting down the days to next year, when the fuse is once again lit and we get to do this all over again. Why? Because Fireworks.

July 18, 2017

Tour de France: Prize Fighters

A fight breaks out. Not one of those roadside funky punch ups with skinny guys in Lycra attempting to land air-knuckle sandwiches while slipping around in cleated carbon shoes. Nope, not one of those. This is one of those majestic fights where blows are landed, not with fists, but with bristling quads and watts burnt like tissue paper in a fire. This fight is for a bit of cloth—the jersey they call Green.

With the rest day behind them, the peloton embarks on 178km of racing for Stage 10. It’s a flat and short stage—definitely one for the sprinters—and with the break caught just 6.5km from the finish, the bell is rung. Marcel Kittel slams it home for his 4th win of the tour, and in doing so, the hulking German surpasses Cipo the Lion King's personal record, with 13 stage wins in the Tour de France.

“I feel like I live in a small little bubble in a small little world that is not really true,” Kittel says. In this alternate facts world we can confidently say this is not fake news, and as he slips on the Green jersey and zips it to his chin we all shout “ja!” to that.

Kermit the Frog once sang “it’s not easy being green,” but Kittel obviously doesn’t know the tune. He brazenly romps home to claim a deceptively effortless sprint victory in Stage 11, comparing his field leapfrog afterwards to playing Tetris—he just got the right gaps. Five stage wins in 11 days and we are left wondering—is the battle for Green all sewn up? What will the final week bring for those who love the brutal heave of a sprinter?

But before we get to that final week, the peloton heads into the mountains. Stage 12 promises sexy Cols all day long, and fans are treated to heroic climbs and exuberant breakaways. On a descent, the Maillot Jaune surprises fans in a switchback by rolling into the corner to do a quick spot check on their camper situation. Will this be the slight miscalculation that may prove costly later on? The finish ramps up to a wall that will test all comers. In the final stretch, the leaders grit their way up, and like a spoon hitting the hard shell of a crème brûlée, the Yellow Jersey cracks. A Frenchman, showing no sign of fatigue, wins it and tonight, a new man wears Yellow. There may be life left in this Tour yet.

The calendar flips over to Bastille Day and it’s out of the Pyrenees for a few Category 1 climbs wrapping up with 25km of downhill to the finish. It’s a day of breaks, with several riders throughout the day picking at the scab of victory, trying to pry it off for the win. In the end, it is a Frenchman who snags it on this most French of holidays and the Maillot Jaune stays where it is for the second night running. After finishing a valiant 6th on the stage, the sight of Quick-Step's Dan Martin being helped off his bike, his back seized tight and face grimacing as he hobbles to the bus, reminds us all that cycling is not golf. There are no caddies here—each man carries his own clubs.

Stage 14 comes and goes with yet another uphill wall-like finish. At an average of 10% for just over 500 meters of gains, this wall calls the shots. But when it’s all said and done, the Yellow finds itself hoisted, yet again, on the shoulders of a most familiar frame. Is the GC all but over? Will he crack again or ride this all the way to Paris? On paper, it’s not over yet, and as we rolled into Stage 15, fans were calculating times and crossing fingers for a showdown and fireworks. The last thing anyone wants is a script that’s been run year after year. It turns out to be a day of leg sapping climbs, culminating in the kind of victory we all love—a solo flyer with no other rider in sight. There's no change in the GC as we head into another rest day, and as the peloton kicks back with massages and easy spins we fans sleep in, dreaming of what could be. Yellow, Green, Polka, or White—no one gives up on a prized Tour de France jersey without a fight.

July 10, 2017

Tour de France: Where Eagles Dare

For man to soar at the Tour de France, he must be as the eagle. He must stand at the precipice and stretch his wings wide, shaking out the feathers and twitching the talons to release. His engine must rev, and when at maximum RPMs, he must launch his willing body at the goal. And with his Lycra-clad body flashing in the French sunlight, he must then swoop in to snatch that victory mouse from the battlefield. Week two of the Tour—it’s an ornithologist’s paradise.

The first case of eagle spotting occurred on Stage Six, with Marcel Kittel sharpening his claws and using his best skills to "ride the wind" all the way to victory. With his hulking frame hidden behind some real barn doors in the finishing straight, with 75 meters to go, he popped out from behind his safe draft to make the winning move. Case closed.

Stage Seven gave Kittel his three-peat in the sprint stakes, but it was a real talon-biter of a finish. Again, it was a wind assist, but this time it was a tailwind urging the peloton to hit even higher speeds. Flying toward the line, it seemed as though Kittel had left his charge too late, and as two riders crossed under the finish gantry side-by-side, cries went out, hands flew up in front of race feeds, and sprinters collapsed over their handlebars with heaving breaths. No one celebrated because no one knew who’d won it—you practically needed the eyes of an eagle to see a sliver of air between first and second place. Fortunately, technology took care of our failing eyesight, and within seconds, Kittel’s face went from hesitant doubt to jubilant celebration. With his 12th victory in the Tour de France, and third for this edition, the Green Jersey was his once more.

Eagles do what eagles do, and for stages Eight and Nine, our two-wheeled eagles went up. Stage Eight proved to be a tough series of hilly climbs, chained together and conquered in spurts. A Frenchman prevailed, daring to solo it to the top and battle his way through cramps on the final climb to secure the victory. A nation cheered. But then came Stage Nine, the toughest stage of the Tour, and the phrase "where eagles dare" really came into play, in both good and bad ways.

Riders are bold and brave. They seek and see opportunities and push themselves to limits. But with 45km of climbing on Stage Nine, many sought simply to survive. Sprinters dread days like this, and while the GC contenders battled it out at the pointy end of the race, these riders simply gritted their teeth, sucked down their gels, and dreamt of freezing cold cokes at the top of the climb. After surviving the Col de la Biche, they were promptly flogged by the Grand Colombier until their flesh was soft and tender. The final climb of the day—the Mont du Chat—proved the steepest climb of the day, and the Tour. Everyone felt this one. There were mechanicals and opportunistic attacks, heroics and fireworks. The break stuck in various forms all day, and looked to hold right to the end, but on the descent with 23km to go, everything changed. A crash, a wall, a nasty moment for us all with hearts in our mouths as we waited for news. Favorites abandoned or continued on with bloodied bodies and wincing faces, before the eventual winner, his own bike left traumatized by the day, made his leap to soar.

And after all the drama of Stage Nine, with favorites cracking on climbs, crashes causing abandons, and general suffering that we as fans are witness to, it’s time to put down our eagle-watching glasses for just a moment. But don’t put them too far out of reach because it’s just a rest day. We’ll need them again for Stage 10, because when eagles dare, we witness flight. And that is beautiful.

July 7, 2017

Tour de France: The Furious Five

The Tour. It gets your blood up. Simmers it right there beneath your skin in a prickly, warm heat. Your flesh made tingly by the anticipation of a potential win, the excitement of a break, or the adrenaline rush of an attack. And then there are times when your blood just simply boils in unpleasant anger and you shake your fist at the sky. Precious GC time is lost; Bad Luck signs its name with a flourish to any jersey caught out; Fantasy Leagues are blown apart; and all in the span of five furious days. That was the week that was, folks. Now it’s over. Let it go. Plenty of racing left in the Tour tank.

But sorry, we can’t let it go just yet, because what a damn week. The first stage, damp as a dishcloth, saw riders doing their best Tom Cruise-Risky Business impressions as they slid across the roads of Düsseldorf. Which was appropriate, because the strategy for the TT was literally risky business. Do you ride hard and chance crashing, or ride conservatively and lose time on the GC? The greasy roads had the final word on the twisty, technical course, turning some riders into human hockey pucks while stamping the word "ABANDONED" on their call sheets. But this is where the pieces are first placed on the board in this Tour de France, and after the stage, the Yellow Jersey first-timer wore his smile as broad and bright as the jersey itself. It’s obvious in this moment that this race can be just as kind as it is cruel.

A sprinter’s diet is a meaty one, and Stage Two was always going to be a carnivorous feast for whomever got to the table first. Quick-Step’s Marcel Kittel, pompadour wrangled deftly beneath his helmet, no doubt felt the weight of his entire nation upon him as he lined up for the start in Dusseldorf, Germany. But it was a comfortable weight for him, as it turned out, and in the finish straight in Liège, Belgium, he jumped from wheel-to-wheel to get to the front and stomp on home as enthusiastically as a tourist stomps grapes. But unlike using feet to make wine, in Kittel’s case, all that stomping had a very tasty result—and the sight of an emotional Kittel at the end of the stage was something we could all drink in. It marked his 10th stage victory at the Tour, and it saw him zipping up the Green Jersey on day two. Fun fact. Kittel hit a top speed of 69.19kph in the sprint, which if he hadn’t been wearing an Evade, would have most certainly blown his blonde locks back as majestically as a session in the Win Tunnel here at HQ.

Lumpy. It was a good word to sum up the profile of Stage Three, and after the neutral roll out in Verviers, France, it was over the hills we go. Two-hundred kilometers of rollercoaster ups and downs, leading to a short but technical uphill finish. And after all the hills, the thing that really caught everyone’s attention was a dramatic “foot pull” by the current World Champion in the sprint. Just as Sagan began to wind up to launch, he pulled his cleat clear from the pedal and spooled down briefly before—showing that calm agility and ability we all adore—clipping back in and spooling right back up. Using pure Sagan strength, he claimed his eight Tour de France stage win, and the first, and unfortunately (spoiler alert) the last, for this edition.

Which brings us to the adorable elephant in the room. From this point on, Stage Four of the 2017 Tour de France will only ever be remembered for one thing—not the rider who actually won the sprint, but for the ones who didn’t. People will give it names ending in "GATE" and message boards will light up with judges and juries, but there’s really only one conclusion to be made. It’s not right or wrong. It’s not one vs. the other. It’s simply a kick to the guts for any fan of cycling. We call it "the elephant in the room," because it’s uncomfortable to look at, but remember this: the other thing about elephants is that they’re absolutely fantastic and magnificent beasts. They have tough skins and a trunk load of class. We could all stand to be a bit more like elephants. There’s still a whole lot of racing left in the Tour de France, which we may have forgotten in the moment—which is something an elephant would never do.

And with that, we were finally in the mountains for the first of only three summit finishes in this year’s Tour. It was a day of breaks, including a valiant one by Quick-Step’s birthday boy, Philippe Gilbert, as he tried to distance himself on the final climb—the La Planche des Belles Filles. And while this may actually translate to "board of the beautiful girls," Gilbert summed the difficulty of this climb less sweetly with what may be the quote of the day: “It looked much easier on TV.” But still, it was beautiful to watch, even as he got caught. There’s just something about the grimace of a face as it tackles a 20% wall, or the twist to-and-fro of a body as it snakes up a grade that makes us pull faces of our own from the comfort of homes. Gilbert may think it looked easier on TV, but we all felt the strain and effort of every rider we saw slaying that final climb and summiting the mountain.

Five stages down, sixteen to go. Emotions are all over the place. Thrills one minute, disappointment the next. You can call it an emotional roller coaster if you want, but really, it’s just called being a fan of the Tour de France.

MAY 29, 2017

Giro d’Italia: Maglia Madness

After the shouts and murmurs fade, and after the relentless meme-ification of “the squat heard ‘round the world” has finally died down, it all comes to this—the Giro d’Italia is in league of its own when it comes to good old fashioned dramatics. Each stage in this final week was like some wild gesticulation of an Italian cycling tifoso, containing the emotion of the world and signifying, well, everything.

One question dominated all as the week began. Could a guy like Dumoulin, whose hopes looked to live or die with the final stage's time trial, hold off three GC contenders and maintain his slim lead, or would he swirl backwards down the mountains like water draining from an alpine sink? As we woke up for the final stage, only two jerseys hung in the balance—the White and the Pink. Gaviria had practically sewn the Maglia Ciclamino jersey on his back the previous week, so that was done, but White and Pink? That’s two-thirds of a Neapolitan ice cream and you can bet we were all screaming for it. We dream of this: a tight race decided on the last day, and the hope that some hero will rise—from a time deficit, a saddle on a mountainside, or even a roadside ditch (sorry)—to take it all.

A bad wheel, a bad meal, or a raw deal—that's all it takes. Fortune dictates that you can lose the Giro d’Italia in the blink of an eye, but flip that fortune over and you can just as easily win. And that’s what keeps us going. All those weeks of pink confetti and Italians yelling from their terraces or from the edges of neck-swiveling switchbacks; all those seconds calculated, with GC leapfrogs and nights spent sweating the time differences—it can all evaporate in the final kilometer on the final stage on the final day of the Giro d’Italia, when one rider defies the odds and grabs it all. Honestly, 3,612 kilometers had never seemed so short.

They’ll say the 2017 Giro was one to remember, and it’ll certainly be hard to forget. We had he first Dutchman to win the GC; the memory of Quick-Step running riot all over the race and claiming the team classification; Fernando Gaviria sprinting like a man possessed in his first Grand Tour; and let’s not forget Bob Jungels sneaking up on that last day to lay claim to the Maglia Bianca, making it two years running as best young rider. And there’s the rub. For as much as it’s the thrill and drama of this year’s hard-fought overall that’s forever branded in our minds, it’s the tantalizing glimpse of what’s to come when our current crop of legends depart. That’s what lifts our spirits, and it’s clear from one Giro to the next, the tifosi will never run short of idols.

MAY 24, 2017

Giro d’Italia: Electric Youth

Week two of the Giro begins with a Pink Jersey shuffle. It falls from the shoulders of one who's held it for days, and onto another’s whose goal is to fight to hold it until the end. Others are still hungry for it, of course, and their stomachs growl at the chance to taste victory in it. But after Stage Nine, the time gap is significant, and it will be a challenge to pull it back. There is still time—it’s only the start of week two and this is the always unpredictable Giro. Who knows what polémica will occur in the coming days? This is Italy, and mountain stages often come with a side of crazy.

While the GC is the only thing that some riders are thinking about, others know on which side their bread is buttered. Throw it in the air and when it lands, it’ll always be “stage win” side up. This week, it is the young ones—and one in particular—who are the opportunists. Brash and bold, audacious and daring, Quick-Step’s Fernando Gaviria throws these marks of youth into his fire pit and propels himself to a dramatic win on Stage 12. Twenty-two years old and it seems he’s collecting sprint points as easily as postage stamps. Is he the New Hope? The force is obviously strong with this one—so much so that he goes again and wins Stage 13 the very next day, bringing his stage win tally to an impressive four. He pledges to defend the “Maglia Ciclamino” from this point on to the finish, in Milan, and with the mountains looming and nice flat sprints pretty much off the table from this point on, it seems set.

But the week isn’t done for Quick-Step, and we close it out with 24-year-old Bob Jungels deciding that it wasn’t enough to wear the pink jersey for five days, he’d actually quite like to see what a stage win feels like, too. On Stage 15 it comes and in an all-out drag race to the line, he claims his first sprint victory and Giro stage, a feat not seen by a Luxembourgian since 1956. The week draws to a close with podium kisses and champagne showers, and the exuberance of youth romping all over the Giro. And now? The mountains are calling, and experience may yet rule the day.

May 15, 2017

Giro d'Italia: Pass the Pink

Like some impromptu game of Italian hot potato, the Maglia Rosa is punted from rider to rider during the first four days of the Giro d’Italia. This isn't unusual—not really—but with three of those riders being Quick-Step Floors and Bora-Hansgrohe, it was starting to look like sweaty jersey swapsies between Specialized-sponsored teams. Right up until Jungels decided he quite liked the hot potato in his hands, that is.

The first week of any Grand Tour is nutso. A slow-burn of riders settling in, tamping down nerves day-by-day, and avoiding those dumb, Giro-ending crashes caused, most often, by unbridled exuberance. One jittery misstep can end it all—but week one is also the chance to snag those early wins and make a name for yourself. Riders are as excited as spectators for the show, with the allure of pink flashing before them like some neon sign in Vegas. “Who wants to wear me?” it taunts. “Do you dare to think you can hold on to me?”

The first week, it’s anyone’s guess.

Day one and BOOM! Right out of the Giro gate and young gun, Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe), surprises everyone by stealing first and sliding on the Pink Jersey. Twenty-five years old with a victory smile so wide it barely fits in the picture frame. This unbridled joy, this moment of unexpected brilliance—this is what the Giro is all about. And while he does lose the jersey the next day, there’s one thing no-one can take away from him—he will always be the first in pink at the 2017 Giro.

On Stage Three, Quick-Step’s Gaviria pops out at the right time to stomp across the line in a display of pure power, securing not only the victory but also slipping on the Pink Jersey for himself. He'll go on to win another stage two days later, but this will be the only day he dons pink. That's because, here comes Bob Jungels and his five-chapter Jungel Book. And while he may not know a jovial talking or have been raised by wolves, he certainly knows how to run with them, snagging the pink on Stage Four and not letting go until Stage Nine.

But we move on now to week two. What will it hold—more hot potato hijinks with the jersey, or a long stint in pink for someone ready to crush all comers? We're as excited as anyone to find out.

May 14, 2017

Women’s Tour of California

It starts on a cliché Lake Tahoe day, with the sun blaring from the bluest of skies, the lake glistening in its laid-back Californian “look at me” way, and snow sprawled across mountaintops like a lazy blanket. The riders of the Tour of California’s women’s peloton mill about at rider sign-in, waiting to be called up the stairs to make their mark on the board. Shortly after, they're taking their positions in the start corral, and shortly after that, they’re off. One lap of Lake Tahoe. 72.7 miles. They'll have no time to marvel at the glassy water, take in the snow-capped peaks, or stop for a selfie in front of a scene that looks 100% completely Photoshopped. No, they'll be too busy attacking each other, fighting for wheels and breath in the high mountain air.

It is, by all accounts, a hot lap. Attacks come fast and furious but the field holds together. Nearing the finish with the road ramping up, one rider attacks, and then another. Opportunists jump to crack the field like a California walnut, before two Boels-Dolmans riders, Anna van der Breggan and Megan Guarnier, leap off the front to attempt to put an end to the pain. At the last corner, on the climb up to the finish, the three-time US National Champ kicks past the Olympic Champ to take the win. Stage One down. She breathes a sigh of relief, stepping off the podium with a stuffed victory bear and wearing the Yellow Jersey.

Day Two misses the memo about clichéd summer days in the Sierras and turns the thermostat down and the wind up. It whips across the lake and has spectators reaching for puffy jackets and beanies. They huddle around invisible fires, shielding each other from the wind, and warming their hands on cups of hot coffee. When the riders show up to sign-in, today, many are wrapped like burritos and will only strip down moments before the start. By the time they return to this start line, several hours later, the sun is out in force and Megan gives up the Yellow Jersey. But Olympic champion Anna van de Breggan is hot on the trail of the GC title, a mere three seconds off the leader. That afternoon, the peloton moves their race-hungry caravan downhill thousands of feet to warmer climates, and spectators break out the shorts and sunscreen, ready for Stage Three in Sacramento.

Three seconds. It’s all that stands between Anna and yellow, and on this, the third day, the Boels-Dolmans power house scramble and drive the train on a mostly tortilla-flat course. In an intermediate sprint, they crank the dial and Anna does the rest. Despite not being known for her sprinting, she nabs second and pulls back within one second of the leader. One thing’s for sure—the final stage is going to cook.

It takes a second to gain a second. For Stage Four, Anna van der Breggan embraces the California lifestyle and it’s “surfs up” as she grabs the wheels of her teammates. They're working for her and only her right now. Two seconds—it’s all she needs to leapfrog past the leader—and although she doesn’t win the sprint, it's enough. The second place has put her one-second in front. Later, as she pulls on the Yellow Jersey on the top step of the podium, securing the 2017 Women’s Tour of California overall, it’s plain to see that every second—both in time and your position in a bike race—counts.

23 avril 2017

Liège-Bastogne-Liège

La victoire d'Anna van der Breggen dans Liège-Bastogne-Liège a conclu de très belle manière pour l'équipe Boels-Dolmans la semaine des classiques ardennaises. La coureuse néerlandaise et Lizzie Deignan, sa coéquipière, ont chacune réalisé un triplé en trustant les respectivement première et deuxième places sur le podium.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège a commencé comme un bal de lycée, où l’on s'observe timidement en attendant que l'autre prenne l'initiative. Mais comme on n’arrive pas à grand-chose en faisant tapisserie, le rythme s’est rapidement accéléré. Chaque côte a donné lieu à une échappée rapidement rattrapée. Car l'orchestre, animé par Christine Majerus, Megan Guarnier et Karol-Ann Canuel de l'équipe Boels-Dolmans, imprimait un rythme élevé que la concurrence ne pouvait pas suivre.

Puis des groupes se sont formés. Lorsqu'une grappe select de cinq coureuses s’est détachée, Van der Breggen et Deignan ont commencé par laisser faire. Mais l'aventure fut brève pour le groupe maintenant réduit à quatre : un coup d'œil en arrière de Van der Breggan, un petit signe de la tête de Deignan et la championne olympique a accéléré. En quelques instants, elle a jailli de l'avant de la course dans un rythme puissant et régulier qu'elle a conservé jusqu'à la ligne d'arrivée, quatre kilomètres plus loin.

Anna van der Breggen réalise le triplé dans les classiques ardennaises (Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallone et Liège-Bastogne-Liège). Pour l'anecdote, aucune équipe n'avait encore réussi à placer deux coureurs sur les deux premières marches du podium de chacune de ces épreuves. Nous ne parlons ici que des équipes masculines car jusqu'à cette fameuse semaine, le peloton professionnel féminin n'avait jamais eu l'occasion de courir les trois classiques.

21 avril 2017

La semaine des classiques ardennaises

Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallone et Liège-Bastogne-Liège sont l'entrée, le plat et le dessert du « Classiques ardennaises », un menu que les filles du peloton professionnel ont été pour la première fois cette année invitées à déguster. L'entrée et le plat principal ayant déjà été servis, il ne restait plus que Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Un dessert pour lequel Anna van der Breggen (équipe Boels-Dolmans) avait gardé tout son appétit.

Tout a commencé avec l'Amstel Gold. Et même si son nom évoque une entrée à base de bière, cette course se compare bien mieux à un caviar de qualité : riche, intense et granuleux, avec 17 côtes qui laissent un léger « goût de la douleur » en bouche. Ce dimanche, Anna van der Breggen, la championne olympique qui avait à peine 12 ans la dernière fois que des femmes se sont alignées au départ de cette course en 2003, s'est détachée d'un groupe de six pour franchir la ligne d'arrivée en tête, suivie de sa coéquipière Lizzie Deignan. Les deux n’ont laissé que des miettes à leurs adversaires. Une coureuse néerlandaise membre d'une équipe néerlandaise qui remporte une course néerlandaise ? C'est bon comme une gaufre néerlandaise tout juste sortie du four.

La deuxième course, la Flèche Wallonne féminine, s'est tenue quelque jours plus tard. Un plat aux saveurs familières et rassurantes pour van der Breggen, avec un petit goût de victoire. Dans une attaque presque identique à celle menée un an plus tôt, Anna s'est élancée entre les deux dernières côtes, pour se retrouver seule dans le Mur de Huy et l'emporter avec 16 secondes d’avance sur sa poursuivante immédiate. Deuxième victoire dans les Ardennes, donc, pour la championne olympique (et une nouvelle deuxième place pour Lizzie), mais surtout, troisième victoire consécutive d'Anna van der Breggen dans la Flèche. Avec son record de victoires féminines dans cette classique, c’est vraiment la « reine du Mur ».

Il ne reste plus que le dessert : Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Personne dans le peloton féminin ne connaît le goût de cette course, puisque c'est sa première inscription au calendrier World Tour féminin. Nous sommes impatients de voir quelle coureuse sera la plus affamée de victoire et qui devra payer l'addition.

9 avril 2017

Paris-Roubaix

Il n'est jamais facile de dire au revoir, mais on avait la gorge serrée ce dimanche d'avril en voyant Tom Boonen dire adieu à ses rêves de 5ème victoire sur Paris-Roubaix. Alors que les kilomètres défilaient, une pensée singulière agitait les fans du puissant Belge : c'est la dernière fois. La dernière fois qu'on le regardera franchir en force la tranchée d'Arenberg. La dernière fois qu'on verra sur nos écrans Tommeke voler sur les galets à une vitesse stupéfiante. Au moment où il est entré pour la dernière fois dans le vélodrome, alors que le sprint pour la victoire s'était conclu à peine 20 secondes plus tôt, on s’est demandé s'il se disait, comme nous, que c'était le dernier sprint de sa carrière.

Bien que tristes de savoir qu'il n'y aurait pas de happy end, nous ne pouvions pas nous empêcher de sourire. Quelle carrière ! Quel bonheur il nous a donné ! Tom Boonen nous a offert 15 années d'exploits. Son style décontracté, ses nombreuses victoires et batailles homériques sur la route, son leadership et sa grâce sur le vélo resteront dans nos mémoires.

2 avril 2017

Ronde des Flandres

Sur les pavés du Kwaremont, Philippe Gilbert s'extrait des griffes du groupe. L'action est risquée : à 50 kilomètres de l'arrivée, il a toutes les chances d'être repris. Il jaillit du peloton sous les acclamations des spectateurs sur le bord de la route ou dans leur canapé. Nous retenons notre souffle en regardant l’homme foncer tête baissée vers l'arrivée. Implacable, prêt à tout, il vole.

Il fait bien mieux que résister. Ses poursuivants sont à 29 secondes lorsque Gilbert, à quelques mètres de la ligne d'arrivée, descend tranquillement de son vélo et le soulève comme s'il arrachait une épée des galets qu'il vient de conquérir. Il franchit la ligne à pied, tout sourire et encore étourdi par ce qu'il vient d'accomplir. C'est incroyable. Il a pris un risque fou qui a payé. Philippe Gilbert est le nouvel héros des Flandres.

18 mars 2017

Milan-San Remo

Comme un pull en laine qui se détricote, Milan-San Remo commence par un léger tirage de maille au moment où le peloton quitte Milan. Le pull conserve une forme solide et reconnaissable pendant encore quelque temps alors que des rangs et des rangs de terres agricoles italiennes sont méthodiquement défaites. Alors que le peloton fonce vers le tunnel au sommet du Passo del Turchino, le détricotage dans les plaines de Lombardie est considéré comme tellement sans surprise qu'il est rarement filmé. Mais dès que le peloton s'est débarrassé du Turchino et descend vers la côte, chacun sait que les mailles seront tôt ou tard saisies fermement et tirées d'un coup sec. Tandis que des hélicoptères survolent la côte, les fans sont hypnotisés par les kilomètres de fil couleur de mer arrachés à la course. Une échappée de 10 coureurs résiste aussi longtemps qu'elle le peut, mais elle n'aura jamais plus de cinq minutes d'avance. Derrière, dans le peloton, les sprinters se préparent pour une seule chose : survivre au Cipressa et au Poggio.

Dans une accélération sur la Cipressa, les coureurs, dont certains espoirs du sprint, sont balayés comme les aigrettes d'un pissenlit dans le vent méditerranéen. Le détricotage commence alors sérieusement. Sur nos canapés, tabourets de bar et lits, nos cœurs commencent à battre plus fort.

Lorsque Sagan attaque dans le Poggio, il le fait avec une puissance telle qu'il donne l'impression de dire à ceux qu’il lâche : « goûtez un peu de mon maillot arc-en-ciel ». L'arc-en-ciel a le goût de l'acide lactique. Deux hommes survivent à l'assaut et le rejoignent en tête. Comme eux sans doute, nos cœurs battent la chamade. Après avoir négocié les emblématiques virages en épingle à cheveux, ils déboulent comme un seul homme du Poggio. L'excitation est palpable. Ils ne seront pas rattrapés. Ils seront sur le podium.

Le sprint nous coupe le souffle. Trois coureurs d'élite se livrent une bataille acharnée ; ils puisent dans leurs dernières forces pour franchir en tête la ligne d'arrivée sur la via Roma. Les jambes n'ont plus d'énergie. Les poumons sont vides. Nous attendions Sagan ou Alaphilippe mais nous ne sommes pas déçus du résultat. Une arrivée comme celle-ci, tous les amateurs de sport cycliste en rêvent.

6 mars 2017

Strade Bianche

En 10 années d'existence, la Strade Bianche s'est progressivement affirmée jusqu’à devenir l'une des courses d'un jour les plus illustres et les plus pittoresques du calendrier World Tour. Du gravier blanc qui lui donne son nom à l'arrivée à Sienne, ville médiévale inscrite au patrimoine mondial de l'UNESCO, cet ancien « gran fondo » en passe de devenir une classique de printemps offre tout ce qu’on attend d'un monument du cyclisme sur un plateau italien en argent. Cette année, le ciel a déversé des trombes d'eau, ce qui donné sur la route blanche toscane habituellement inondée de soleil un avant-goût des courses septentrionales à venir. Évidemment, nous étions tous derrière Zdeněk Štybar et Peter Sagan. Et même si le premier a raté le podium de peu, la beauté absolue de cette future classique a suffi pour nourrir notre passion. Ce fut tout simplement une magnifique journée de course.

January 3, 2017

Calling all Race Fans

If we were to define 2016 in a word, it would be "transition." We saw old friends go in new directions, crowns get heavier, legacies meet the final page of their stories, and the dawning of new eras. And while it would be easy to stay there in the past, time waits for no one, so neither should we. Walk through the thresholds of Quick-Step–Floors, Boels-Dolmans, and Bora-Hansgrohe's Team Camps with us and witness what 2017 has in store.

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