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    15.04.15

    Weekly Wibble: Trains, complaints and Amstel Gold

    Stuff and nonsense from the world of pro cycling. April 15: The little train that could create hysteria, Roubaix's fresh-faced top 10 and fine Tro-Bro Leon fare

    Words
    Andy McGrath
    Photographs
    Offside-LeEquipe
Professional cyclists, colourful jerseys, French flag, level crossing, train sign, sunny day

Destined for the Lille outskirts. An unstoppable force. Moving at warp speed. Garnering all the headlines. Yes, we’re talking about the star of the recent Paris-Roubaix – a TGV travelling at 220km/h.

Poor John Degenkolb, racing so adroitly, only to be upstaged by practically the only thing moving faster than him last Sunday. As it was fairly indisputable that the German was a strong, deserving winner of Paris-Roubaix, debate centred around that train crossing incident 90 kilometres from the end. Suddenly the whole cycling world was engaged in that most British of activities: querying the precise movements of locomotives.

Should those riders have ducked under the barrier? Shouldn’t they? Why wasn’t the train timetable amended accordingly? Why weren’t the miscreants disqualified? Think of the bike riders’ safety. In fact, think of the children!

The bottom line seemed to be the wish that riders and the UCI used common sense to ensure lives weren’t risked. True, but then a 250-kilometre race between Paris and Roubaix over 27 brutal cobbled sectors would never have taken off in the first place if that simple rationale had been applied.

Here at Rouleur, we like to see solutions, not problems. The biggest selection was caused, not by those hyped, horrid pavé sectors, but by two piddly plastic barriers at a train crossing. Maybe we’ve been looking at Paris-Roubaix the wrong way all these years.

Lycra-clad trainspotters note down details for the 1352 TGV to Lille. pic: Offside/L'Equipe

There’s a new race to be had in this, a kind of devil-take-the-hindmost course encompassing a dozen of the red-and-white rogues. If those barriers come down, riders must wait for the train, tough luck. The Tour des Level Crossings (it’ll come in straight at WorldTour level, naturally) would teach riders to stay at the front, instill obedience for future locomotive incidents and give some pizzazz to mundane flat days.

But back in the real world, it means that the UCI is rushing around like a demented Fireman Sam, putting out the next unpredicted safety inferno. One week, 90km/h winds at Ghent-Wevelgem; the next, a Shimano neutral service car going all demolition derby at De Ronde. And now the peloton’s stars narrowly avoiding getting splatted by a high-speed locomotive.

The commissaires must be quaking in their boots about the approaching weekend. What on earth is going to happen at Amstel Gold – and how can they prevent it? Rogue windmill blades? Alien abduction? We’re excited – and a little scared – to find out.

Or maybe, just maybe, we’ll have no extracurricular diversions or brushes with death and we’ll be able to focus on pure and simple compelling racing.

STAT’S THE WAY, UH HUH, UH HUH

9 – The number of riders under the age of 30 in the top ten of the 2015 Paris-Roubaix; Martin Elmiger (IAM Cycling) was the only veteran there. It’s the most since 1988 when the top 15 finishers were all 29 or under.

5.5 – The number of years since an Italian rider last won a Classic: Damiano Cunego at the 2009 Tour of Lombardy. Pull your fingers out, ragazzi.

YOUTUBE THROWBACK

A different view of Paris-Roubaix’s Traingate, with a lesson in French supporting and swearing.

 

The rough road Classics aren’t over yet. It’s the Tro-Bro Léon this weekend, a Rouleur favourite taking in treacherous Breton farm tracks.

The finale of the 1987 Amstel Gold Race, where a superannuated Joop Zoetemelk was let up the road with a weak attack to stop the Brit Malcolm Elliott from winning.

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