Chosing your riders

Tis the season for the cycling spring classics and so that means, yes, its time to chose your favorite riders for the cycling season. If you know nothing about cycling, the spring classics, or don’t even own a bicycle, have no fear. Choosing your favorite riders doesn’t require any skill or expertise.. you just need a few nuggets of information and a love of mens’ butts in cycling shorts.

Step 1: Chose your niche. Are you someone who appreciates the legs of Thor and last minute heart pounding races to the finish? You need a sprinter.
Prefer a stern skinny teeth gritter who’s legs resemble your forearms and probably weighs as much as your 4 yr old? You’re a climbing fan.
Like your heroes middle of the road, predictable and balanced? You’ll be focusing on the GC contenders. Not sure? Pick the guy who looks most crazed during the first time trial and stick with him. Everyone loves to see someone blow up during the second leg. Cycling is a team sport, and yes, you might pick an entire team to favor (Go BMC!), but that’s so American. Its much more fun to pick a few favorites in each category. A wider spread means you won’t be bored through the flat stages or lamenting your guy dropping out as soon as he hits a 3% incline.

Step 2: Chose your nationality. Cyclists, like everything, come in a variety of flavors. And oh, do they support the stereotypes we know and love. This one takes some thought.

The French – Tend to dominate the sport in their own minds (they’re still reliving their domination of the 1960s-70s), but these days, rarely deliver any winners outside of a random Bastille day stage.  Ok, they did have Richard Virenque but he’s long gone.Whether its due to their fear of drugs or a lack of fire in their belly (damn socialists!), the French are good as scenery or as instruction on weird riding styles. Check out Thomas Voeckler who rides as though he just got a bike for the first time, every time he rides. He swings and sways, grimaces and bobbles around as though he can barely stay on the damn thing. Amazingly he’s won a few stages of major races.. though I’m not sure who was more surprised to see him in yellow, himself or every other single cyclist in the entire world.

The Belgians – If you like ’em beefy and stolid, stoic and square jawed, you’ll love the  Belgians riders. The home of the best rider of all time (don’t even consider arguing), Eddy Merckx and not-too-shabby-either Tom Boonen (Big Tom), the Belgians are doing something right as their winner-to-resident ratio is off the charts. I guess there isn’t much else to do in the Hague, given its legendary flatness, but hey, they’re cool, calm and they can blast a bike at the end of a 125 mile ride. Not exactly firework personalities and they rarely shine in the mountains, but damn, they’re dependable riders. And also, not unattractive.

The Germans. I’m not sure what has happened to the Germans these last few years (maybe all that schnitzel is hampering them now that every other cyclist weighs about 90lbs), but the Germans used to rock cycling in the 80s. Erik Zabel and Jan Ullrich started out large every April but by the end of July, could pound the pavement and look like they weren’t killing themselves doing it, (though watching the weight loss was just as interesting as the actual riding sometimes) Personality wise, tended to be less aggressive than you’d think but their size made them easy to spot as they rocketed past those weedy Frenchmen. Plus they all sound like Arnold.

The Italians: Ah, the heady 80s when the Italians added verve and flair, sexy looks and passion to riding. Then they stopped doing coke and it all fell apart. Noone can forget ‘the Lion’, Mario Cipollino, who probably slept his way through every podium girl (and those who lined up for seconds). A madman on the bike and Captain Sex off the bike, his hair still has its own website. Like the Spanish,  the Italians can tend to  be over excitable, and therefore never fail to crash spectacularly.  Despite being part of almost every crash on every course, every year, Ivan Basso and Alessandro Petacchi are worth a look. Very pretty, even though they’re generally riding with blood dripping from somewhere after the first 40km. In 2010 I watched a bare and bloodied buttock for at least 2 hours…worth every second.

The Americans. Well I still count Lance and of course Greg Lemond, so the Yanks do have heritage. We suck on the one day classics, where speed and individual verve is critical, but as team members, hard to beat. The next big GC will be American (Tejay van Garderen is only 24 yrs old people!). Its what the Yanks do best. Unfortunately, as with America, not everyone can be a winner and if your choice is a second tier rider who doesn’t have a great team committed to his success (Levi, Hincapie, Landis), its painful to watch them plug away year on year. Because Yanks don’t quit, even when you wish they would.

The Spaniards. Look no further. Exciting riding, staggering athleticism, big noses and good looks, Spain is where its at. Of course they’re just as likely to cry as any teenage girl, they’re petty and selfish on the road, and could be blown away in a strong gust, but wow, Spain has given us some great riders (drugged or otherwise) over the years. Contador, Sastre, Pereiro and Freire – all spectacular to watch, even as you wonder how drugged they actually are. Contador dances along on his pedals and all of the best climbs featured Spainards, bouncing along as though they’re on the flat. They do well in the heat, but are whiney and unpredictable as soon as the temperature dips below 50 degrees. If its warm, count them in. If its cold, look to a Brit.

The Brits. Growing up on cycling in the UK, I have a soft spot for the unprofessional, eccentric British cyclists. Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish (and I’m counting Sean Kelly), these guys train with long rides in the rain and cold, drink ale as a diet food and lack the team fervor or passion of the Spaniards or the Yanks. But I like the randomness of their success. You might wait for 10 yrs before you see anything approaching a win, but the Brits do love a failure more than a success. The outside bet. Not pretty at high or low speed.

The Ozzies: Better looking than the Brits, less corporate than the Yanks, the Ozzies are everyone’s favorite who don’t take things too seriously. And they can ride. They don’t cry, they don’t skimp on leading the peleton and they churn out some amazing riders (McEwan, Cadel). They’re heads down guys, big of thigh and ginger of head. Not pretty but dependable.

Now that you’ve selected your rider, cue up your DVR and ready the sofa for your post ride/ brunch/ walk/ nap viewing pleasure. Nothing beats watching someone else do a lot of hard work. 

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