Friday, March 11, 2016

It's Spring Classics time! (and also MARCH MADNESS College BB tourney!)

Here we's already the middle of March and the Spring Classics are already underway!

Two of them are already in the history books:

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (back on Feb 27th, won by Greg Van Avermaet of Team BMC), and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne (on Feb 28th, won by Jasper Stuyven of Trek-Segafredo). Stradi Bianchi(won by Fabian) isn't considered a "Classic" as it's only about a decade old...but it's quickly turning into a "Classic" based on the powerhouse field it boasts every year. And I mentioned it because, well...Fabian won...why not?

The "rest" of the official Spring Classics:

3/19 Milan San Remo, which is also the 1st "Monument" of the season. Degenkolb (last years winner) is still out due to his training crash (with a car) back in February. But there are plenty of other possible winners, chief among them is, wait-for-it...Fabian (of course!) Sagan and Matthews will also be in the mix, and I believe I recently read that Kristoff won't be there (I'll have to re-verify this tidbit).

3/27 Gent Wevelgem. Luca Paolini won last years edition. Typically a race for the sprinters...but it takes strong men to win this one. Last year saw winds that literally blew riders to the ground and/or off the road (oh favorite...WIND!) Edvald Boason Hagen was one such rider, who was blown into a bollard breaking his collar bone, and thus ending his classics campaign.

4/3 Tour of Flanders, the 2nd Monument! This race began in 1913, but this year is the 100th edition so it's just that much more special. There are six riders who have won it 3 times, and two of them will be racing it again this year: Boonen and guessed it....Cancellara! (GO FABIAN!!)

Of course, there are literally at last a dozen other potential likely winners and another dozen or more long-shots (and's a bike race...pretty much ANYTHING can happen). Both Boonen and Fabian will be HIGHLY marked and will find it very difficult to win...unless one of them can take a solo flyer escaping the chasers (aka Fabian) and pull off the solo win. It will certainly take a great ride by either of them to pull off a remarkable 4th win. I'll be quite happy if either of them are able to do it. Boonen is, after all, known as the "King of the Classics". He's certainly no slouch, that's for sure...and he does have "home field advantage" being a Belgian (where he is a SUPERSTAR). Fabian missed this race last years due to crash injuries (fractured vertebrae), and with this being his last year he will have nothing to lose going for it.I think he'll be EXTRA motivated!

4/10 Paris-Roubaix: the QUEEN of the classics, and the third Monument. A race so special that some of the roads (and I use the term "road" lightly) are only open the one day of the year. A race with so many wicked sectors of pave that mechanicals play a huge part in who DOESN'T win every year. Last year both Boonen and  Fabian were out, and Degenkolb took the honors. I am assuming that both Boonen and Fabian WILL be there this year, and also that Sagan (who is QUITE hungry for a win this season, let-alone a Monument) will also be on his "A" game. We've still got over 3 weeks till this one, but hopefully all the main players will still be healthy to contest this one. No matter who's not there, it will still (and always) be a race for the ages!

4/17 Amstel Gold:  the first of the Ardennes Classics. This one hasn't been around THAT long, only begun in 1966. But it has become a classic nonetheless and is a good one. Kwiatkowski (say THAT name fast 10 times!) won last years hard-fought edition by a bike-length in the final sprint. And again, neither Boonen nor Fabian was there. They both will have something to say this year, however with the current FANTASTIC crop of young classics riders in the peleton, they really have their work cut out for them in a BIG way!

4/20 La Fleche Wallone, the second of the Ardennes Classics (and just 3 days after Amstel Gold). Last year it was Valverde taking top honors, ahead of the presumed strong-men/sprinters (the repeat climbs of the Mur de Huy along with all the other short but steep climbs typically drop out the pure sprinters). I'd think someone like Sagan will really be targeting this race. A sprinter who can climb has a good shot here. Valverde was a surprise to me, but he is a crafty veteran who knows his limits and when to time a move.

And finally, on 4/24 we have Liege-Bastogne-Liege. This is another OLD race (begun in 1892), and it's also the final Ardennes Classic, and is also THE final Spring Classic of the year (boo hoo). It's also the 4th of the 5 Monuments. Valverde won this one last year riding well after winning Fleche Wallone 4 days earlier. This is a race where Grand Tour winners have a chance, as experience and all-around talent go a long ways. The finish isn't listed as being at the end of a climb, but the end does come at the end of a long gradual rise. After all the other climbs on the out and back route, a strong climber has a good shot here. Being a Monument AND the last of the years Classics, everybody wants to win here.

I'm only sad that I'll likely see exactly ZERO of these races this year (same as last year, and the year before...and the year get the picture). And OH how I WISH WISH WISH upon a falling star that there was TDF type television coverage of these races...wouldn't THAT be something? Alas, I can only dream. And sitting down at my computer to watch them on a weekend...well, that's just not going to happen. Even the Tour stages I typically watch later in the evening off the DVR...can't imagine NOT having that!

And real races this weekend (there are races of course, but none of the big ones...just the ones with names I've never really heard of and would never remember). I'm hoping Boonen and Cancellara stay healthy this year and are both hot in the mix along with the young wippersnappers. And it's no secret that I'm hoping Spartacus has his best Classics season EVER...this being his last. Losing Jens and now Fabian? I'll be LOST! Who on earth will I ever root for? I'll have to slowly start working on liking some of the up-and-comers.

Nah...that can wait till next year.

And HEY! Not that I'm a basketball fan, but it IS March Madness time! Although I do really like College football, I LOVE the fact that theoretically ANY college basketball team in the country has a shot at winning the National Title! I can't think of any other major College sport where that is true. It's certainly not in football. That game is still rigged for the big schools with big budgets. So as always I hope to catch some BB when I it seems EVERY game in "The Dance" (the 64 team tournament) is a good one. And as always, I'll be rooting for the under-dogs to take out the top-dogs. That's just my way. I LOVE a Cinderalla Story!

And so...GAME so many ways!


PS: in full disclosure, I got most of my info on the Classics from Velo News and/or Cycling News...just want to be sure to give credit where credit is due..those are 2 fantastic sites of cycling information!

And as of today (Happy St. Pattys day everybody!) the DANCE brackets are complete..64 teams all with a shot at the National Championship!

I've filled out my bracket, though I have far less than a snowball's chance in hell at getting it right...(technically I blew it yesterday already when Holy Cross beat Southern....but IMO that doesn't count cuz they kind of added 4 teams for a pre-tourney tourney. So Holy Cross goes on to play #1 Oregon...good luck there (you're doomed). The other crazy matchups are #1 Kansas plays #16 Austin Peay, #1 NC plays 16 FGCU (who was another one of the "First Four"), and the last #1 seed Virginia plays #16 Hampton. I'd LOVE it if one of these 16 seed teams could knock off a #1...but so far it's never happened (but you know what they say...there's always a first time for everything!) Also longshots are all the #15 seeds play all the #2 seeds (there have been those upsets before), and the #14's play the #3's, #13's play #4's, and on and on. Any way you look at it tho, it's sudden death play...lose 1 and you're done. So as of right now, ANY one of those 64 teams has a chance.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Iditarod Trail Invitational (Iti)

It's that time of year again...yep...the Iditarod! Up in Alaska starting last Sunday (Feb 28th) was the start of the annual Iti race. This one is for Humans. The dog sled teams start in another week or 2 (can't remember which...if it's just 1 or 2 weeks after the humans start). There are multiple categories: foot, bike, or skis. And once again Jill Homer and her boyfriend Beat Jegerlehner are on the trail. They are BOTH doing the full 1000 miles (from Anchorage to Nome)...Beat is again doing it on foot pulling his home-made sled (his third time...his first year he finished in Nome, last year he was snowed in and abandoned around the half-way point). Jill has never tried the full 1000, she has completed the 300 miles to McGrath once and abandoned the 2nd time she tried (she punched a foot thru the snow into a river and filled her boot with water, and then ended up with frostbite trying to get to the next way-station and had to abandon).

Beat is currently (as of March 2nd, 11:30am Pacific time) at route mile 125. Jill is moving quite well so far and is at mile 207 (not to say that Beat isn't moving FANTASTIC! He's averaging 44 miles PER DAY thus far!) When Greg and I go backpacking, 15 miles is a pretty big day with 25 to 30lbs on our backs....can you imagine PULLING 50 (or MORE!) lbs over snow, slush, mud? YIKES! Jill's Erikson bike is fully loaded with all her survival gear, and likely weighs at LEAST 50lbs...probably more like 60.

If you'd like to peek in on the action, here is the home page with the SPOT (Satellite POsition Tracker) blips showing where each participant is on the route.

2016 Iditarod Trail Invitational

 If you hover your mouse on an athlete their blip on the map jumps around showing you where they are. If you then click on an athlete, it opens a window and gives you the details of that persons race thus far. At the bottom of the page is an altitude profile showing little blips on the route...when you hover your mouse over one of those blips, it will make their spot on the map jump out just like hovering over their name.

MOST of the participants are doing the shorter version (300 measly easy-peasy miles) will be stopping at McGrath in another few days (the fastest on bikes have already finished). Jill and Beat will (if they finish up in Nome) be out for weeks. For FUN! In ALASKA! In WINTER! Every year at this time when watching this race unfold I'm flummoxed, mystified, stupefied and mesmerized that ANYBODY would do this to themselves. Mental GIANTS do you NOT give up when things get bad? (and rest assured...mother nature throws EVERYTHING at you in a race of this duration!) Rain, snow, BITTER COLD, warmer temps (in the 30's and 40's, which is a BAD thing when you are trying to race on what is SUPPOSED to be a frozen trail that goes OVER streams, lakes and rivers).

Personally I'd find something ELSE to do for fun...but Jill and Beat are something else are all the athletes out there right now doing this race. I see that Jay and Tracey Petervary are both doing the 350 mile route on bikes this year...Jay and Tracy are both finishers of the Great Divide Race multiple times (that's the mountain bike race that goes from Banff Alberta to Antelope Wells New Mexico every year). Jay held the men's record for many years and was only beaten a few years ago. His wife Tracy is an endurance athlete in her own right (and to be fair, Jill set a new women's record the one time she did the GDR, back about 6 years ago I think). Also I recognize other names on the Iti this year from previous editions of the GDR. Endurance athletes are a unique bunch for sure.

Anyway, just wanted to get a report in that this FANTASTIC race is ongoing. As to the professional road bikers, their Spring Classics season is just beginning! I likely won't get to see ANY of them, so I'll just have to read about them on Velo News. I see that Nibbles is going to the Giro for the win...and will be skipping le Tour. I'm quite anxious to see how Taylor Phinney does this year...I'm REALLY rooting for him to WIN some big races! What he has come back from, just to be on a bike again is a MIRACLE! Last year when he raced the Tour of Colorado (yes, I know it's not really called that) was just fantastic! There's a really nice article about him in's a link:

Taylor Phinney: I'm stronger than I was before!

I hope he kicks some SERIOUS BUTT this year! I'd love to see him start picking up where Fabian will be leaving...(he can't have that many more races in him sadly).

OK. Enough for now. Have a nice March!

Game ON!