Friday, March 2, 2012

DJ Wheel Crusher's Race to Sun Picks

I am on the road right now, but I got an electronic mail message from my hype man "Crash Masta Z" this morning reminding me that Sunday begins one of the most mysteriously overrated races of the season, Paris-Nice. For those that don't have my french skills, Paris-Nice is not nice. From what I've heard, Nice isn't even that nice.

Paris-Nice gives the mountain goats and stage racers something to do during the spring to distract them from their whiny fear of cobbles; and of course, to help them forget they are not "hard-men" that can win hilly classics like Fleche-Gilbert and Liege-Philippe-Liege. The only other purpose the race serves is to give one-week stage races specialists a chance to shine. Last I checked, there was only one of these specialists in the world, Tony Martin.

To me, one week stage races exist to fill the schedule, and make promoters some coin. While Grand Tours tend to lose my interest due to my ADHD; and classics leave me wanting more; one week stage races are nonetheless pretty "meh". Reason being, the results are based on the formula of "every stage is pretty much the same, either hills or flat, and THIS year, we threw in a (fill in the blank with mountain top finish or time trial) to mix things up!". You're confused? So am I.

Take the Tour of Oman this year as an example. Without looking, who won? Andre Gri-nope. Oh yeah, it was Peter Sa-nope. Peter Velits. Yeah, you didn't know that. I didn't either until I looked it up. All we remember is Andre Greipel, Peter Sagan, and Marcel Kittel having a badass contest over whose balls were bigger. But apparently the organizers threw in a hilly stage somewhere and shook things up.

Or remember when Cam Meyer won the Tour Down Under in 2011? Yeah, probably not.

You see people, my job is to pick races. I have no other choice. If I don't, my hype man will be calling me, and the 26 people that clicked on my post yesterday will be disappointed that I left out the Race to the Sun. So ask (implicitly) and you shall receive.

DJ Wheel Crusher's 5 Spoke Favorites:
  • Tony Martin - again, I hate putting everyone's favorite in my 5 spoke category. Makes me feel like there is no point in me typing this boring post. But let's be honest, Tony Martin is the man. He declared boldly last year that he was going to specialize in 1-week stage races. As you can imagine, I laughed at this. But you can't fault a man for wanting to get that paper (and share it with his teammates). Further adding to Tony Martin's chances, he has probably the only other guy in the world that could successfully be a 1-week stage race specialist (but refuses to acknowledge it, unless it involves beating up on 20 year olds and Conti teams in the US) Casper Leipheimer. My only concern with Tony winning is that he built up too much beef on those hammies in his successful bid last year to topple Fab's Time Trial World Championship dynasty and he won't be able to hang on the climbs in France.
  • Alejandro Valverde - I love a good upset story. What I love even more is "haters gonna hate" story. Don't get me wrong, giving Valverde the benefit of the doubt, he still a huge dirtbag. But then again, in all likelihood, so is that good American cyclist. (Haven't met either of them). Common thread? They both are awesome at riding their bikes. If I wanted a popularity contest, there's a lot more American Idol on TV in the US than cycling. Valverde has shown that he doesn't need dope to win, or at least this time he found a better way to do it. Either way, I wouldn't be surprised to see navy blue and green on top of the podium in Nice.
DJ Wheel Crusher's 4 Spoke Favorites:
  • Simon Gerrans - GreenEdge basically took Australian cycling and made it super lame, but that's beside the point. Gerrans showed earlier this year that he has good early season form, mostly due to Australia's mandatory backwards weather. He's also got a solid dose of old-man swag. GreenEdge probably won't win anything major for the rest of the season that doesn't take place on a track, so this would be a good chance to slip in a W.
  • Denis Menchov - he's shown since randomly winning the Giro that he doesn't intend to take a major win for the rest of his career. Lately, the only thing he has won is the contest to see which rider can hop to the most dysfunctional team every year (I'm calling it, Cristina Watches when his Katusha contract is up). So it's about time he prove to us he still knows how to win. If he has done any training this winter, which is not a given, he could shine in this race. Especially in the final stage time trial that may or may not be a legitimate uphill time trial.
DJ Wheel Crusher's 3 Spoke Favorites:
  • Tejay Van Garderen - I think we're getting to the point where we can stop wondering if Tejay is going to be the next lance. I'm not a physiologist, but it seems logical that he would be better suited for one-week stage races rather than three-week slugfests. He showed last year that he could ride with the big dogs, especially on his home continent. I'm ready for him to bust out in Europe on the big stage, and not just for one stage.
  • Richie Porte - Porte would be a 5 Spoke favorite for sure if it weren't for one very lanky, very pale reason. Porte has the unfortunate burden of being on Bradley Wiggins team. In two years, Wiggins went from being one of my top favorite cyclists to being my least favorite. After selling out to Sky, he has shown a startling proficiency in disappointing and holding down his teammates in the process. My guess is that Porte will be the Froome of Paris-Nice and Wiggins will get 4th.
DJ Wheel Crusher's Darkhorse:
  • Thomas Voeckler - Voeckler's a darkhorse? Yeah...because if he isn't he'll disappoint. Voeckler has shown over his long career that the only thing in his life rivaling his love for suicidal breakways is his hatred for expectations. This is why he won't ride for a ProTour team. So now that I have framed him as a darkhorse, I expect him to shine. If he can race in a somewhat logical fashion (highly unlikely), I think he might go somewhere in this race. It is not going to help that he will be missing the most badass French cyclist since Jeannie Longo, Pierre Rolland.
That marks the end of my picks for this weekend. Feel free to leave comments if you agree/disagree/want me to stop writing this crap.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

DJ Wheel Crusher's Strade Bianche Picks

If you know me, you know I'm not a very good bike racer. I'm built to be a football player. Totally kidding, I'm not built for athletic activity. Thankfully, for my arteries, I enjoy sports (does this counteract my love for sweet and sour chicken? questionable)

I've spent a lot of this off season doing things off the bike (ok, I mostly spent time studying for the CFA, but that is neither here nor there.) I became the Treasurer of the Illinois Cycling Association, I did whatever I could to whore out the talents and intangible property of Rhythm Racing in an attempt to get new sponsors (with questionable success), and I spent countless hours reading about transfers, team training camps, new equipment sponsors, and even some boring stuff about doping. This is a long transition to my next point. I am really good at picking race winners.

Totally kidding. In the past couple of years, I have gauged my race picking success through my performance on Rouleur Derby. If you haven't been on Rouleur Derby, quit being silly. It is fun, challenging, and supporting Luke is good karma (you probably still owe him for all the years he ran CBR, let's be honest). I knew when I picked Nick Nuyens to win Flanders last year, I had a gift. Well, maybe that was a shot in the dark that made me look good. But, I still take pride in picking Todd Wells to win the 2011 US CX Championships. In the same vein, I still take pride in betting the farm against Cadel in last year's Tour. That worked out well.

So I decided to start writing about cycling again. Just this time, not about myself. People like this blog. I don't know why, I think they're insane. But ask and you shall receive. This might be the only post I write this year. This might be the start of something awesome. In a year, I might be the next Neil Browne. Ok, I hope I forget that I wrote that sentence by the time I get to the end of this and click "publish".

After a four paragraph intro (I don't mean paragraph in the correct grammatical sense, don't get me wrong), I think we are ready to get started.

DJ Wheel Crusher was born a about three years ago when I started riding a road bike. I weighed way too much to ride a road bike (in reality, I still do) and I was riding factory built, crap wheels. I became notorious for breaking them. There's nothing better than being 30 miles from home and breaking a spoke. Rhythm is sponsored by the best wheel builder on the planet, Psimet, but that didn't stop me from totaling a hand-built, 32 spoke, RR585 wheel last year (on a solo training ride...)

Without further ado, time for DJ Wheel Crusher's race picks for the week.

This weekend, our favorite Pro Tour, Pro Conti teams, and some random team from Columbia are taking on a random Italian race chalk-full of history (sorry for the pun). Strade-Bianche is mostly famous because a big part of the race takes place on crappy dirt roads. For the local Illinois riders, basically, a bunch of Italians copied Leland. I'll be honest, I like to ride on either pavement or grass/dirt, that's it. Gravel and stuff that isn't called gravel but is basically the same thing, scare the s*** out of me. Why people want to race on this is beyond me. Either way, I guess guys that are getting paid to race on gravel are all for it because some of the biggest names in cycling with be at Strade this weekend. From what I can tell, the course includes a fair amount of hills and a downhill sprint. Sounds pretty much like the Burlington Road Race plus a bit of gravel and no center-line rule. Since I have raced Burlington, I have an inside view of what Philippe, Christian, and the guys will be faced with on Saturday. Here are my picks:

DJ Wheel Crusher's 5 Spoke Favorites:
  • Roman Kreuziger - this former Czech phenom (he's still Czech, just not as much of a phenom anymore) moved over to Astana last year after shining on Liquigas but having to race in the shadow of other badasses like Basso and Pellizotti. Kreuziger's lack of success becoming a real GC contender in the grand tours has me convinced that this is his race. Plus, I think he lives in Italy.
  • Philippe Gilbert - I don't really think Gilbert is going to win this race. The problem is that he can if he wants to. So if he decides he wants it, I'd look like an idiot not putting him here.
DJ Wheel Crusher's 4 Spoke Favorites:
  • Peter Sagan - Sagan would be a 5 Spoke favorite, but I suspect he might have to ride for Nibali at some point. I don't think Nibali is in condition to win this race, or really wants to, but Italian politics are confusing and weird. That said, when Nibali gets dropped and Sagan realizes he's the only one left, he will proceed to crush everyone in the sprint (never heard that story before...)
  • Giovanni Visconti - Visconti is an Italian on a Spanish team. That's important because this race is in Italy, and Spain, as a country, is not doing well. The guys on Movistar could be riding for a job every race, especially if their entire country folds (although Lance might bail out the cycling teams, he does stuff like that). Movistar has had a quiet start to the season, and I wouldn't be surprised if Visconti threw together some old-guy-magic on Saturday. (I looked, he's actually 29, wonder who I confused him with...)
DJ Wheel Crusher's 3 Spoke Favorites:
  • Fabian Cancellara - it's really, really trite to mention Fab in classics picks. Sorry. Basically, I'm thinking if he gets into a small group, he'll turn on his "engine" and ride away. I don't think he'll get in a small group, and if the better climbers start kicking each other in the nuts on the gravel hills, Fab might be out of his element, but if they let him stick around, things might get weird.
  • Ryder Hesjedal - I'm a pretty big Ryder fan boy, but this pick is real. Ryder has the legs to win this race and I think he should. He crushed in the 1 day Canadian races last year, mostly because he was Canadian. But my hope is that he realized in those races that Grand Tours are for weirdos like Cuddles and he should start crushing hilly classics. Come on Hes-J!
DJ Wheel Crusher's Dark Horse:
  • Darwin Atapuma-Hurtado - why? Well, for starters, his name is Darwin. He probably has no chance of winning this race. He races on a Columbian team I've never heard of. Ok, I couldn't name any other Columbian team right now. He has probably never seen hills as small as the ones in Strade. But he could easily find himself in a break, and if he can escape from the break, the guys in the peloton might completely forget about him and accidentally race for second.
Tune in next week when I will talk about a race I actually know something about and recap my successes/failures of the weekend.

(This post would not be possible without the inspiration of Dan Wuori, Neil Browne, and Whit Yost.)