Cycle Sport February: out now!

The February edition of Cycle Sport is out now, featuring the finest writing and photography of professional road racing. Our cover stars this month are the Schleck brothers, who invited us to Luxembourg to discuss losing and winning the Tour de France. We’ve also got an interview and photoshoot with mercurial Australian rider Michael Rogers, a major feature looking at the craziest and most innovative Grand Tour stages in history and a look five years into the future to find out which riders will be dominating the sport in 2017. There’s an interview with multi-talented Lars Boom, an eyewitness account of the Tour of Rwanda, while Iconic Places covers the Ballon d’Alsace, plus we answer the question: who is the best cyclist in the world? For cycling fans, Christmas has come early.

Words by Cycle Sport Staff

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Wednesday December 21, 2011

Those Schleck brothers, eh? Do you love them or hate them? It seems that they have an equal number of doting fans, and fierce critics – while some admire their climbing prowess, and Andy Schleck’s excellent record in the Grand Tours, others are scathing about Andy’s seeming inability to convert second place into first. The younger brother has come second in four Grand Tours (three Tours and one Giro) – only two riders in cycling history have managed more, and those two (Joop Zoetemelk and Jan Ullrich), have at least won one as well. In Schleck’s defence, he is still only 26, and it would be a major surprise if he goes his entire career without a yellow or pink jersey to hang on his washing line. This table shows where he stands compared to his historical rivals:

Rider Second places GT wins
Joop Zoetemelk (Ned) 6 2
Jan Ullrich (Ger) 5 2
Gino Bartali (Ita) 4 2
Raymond Poulidor 4 1
Claudio Chiappucci (Ita) 4 0
Andy Schleck (Lux) 4 0
Felice Gimondi (Ita) 3 5
Luis Ocana (Spa) 3 2
Alex Zulle (Swi) 3 2
Gustav Garrigou (Fra) 3 1
Francesco Moser (Ita) 3 1
Carlos Sastre (Spa) 3 1
Robert Millar (GB) 3 0
Italo Zilioli (Ita) 3 0

The other criticism of the Schlecks is that they have been too passive in their riding – the accusation is that they left the 2011 Tour to the Alps, when they should have tried to win it in the Pyrenees. “We did attack. Everyone else just follows,” Frank told Ellis Bacon for our interview. What nobody can deny is the boldness of Andy Schleck’s attack over the Izoard for his stage win on the Col du Galibier.

With portraits by Richard Baybutt, this is a revealing and honest interview with two of the best riders in the world.

Also in the magazine…

Former world time trial champion Michael Rogers is one of the most enigmatic riders in the peloton. Gregor Brown visited the Australian at home in Italy to try and find out what makes him tick, and to discover why his career has been such a roller coaster. After trying and failing to become a Grand Tour contender, a process he intensely regrets, Rogers seemed to have found his level in 2010: wins in the Tour of California and top 10s in Tirreno-Adriatico and Romandy, along with strong support of Mark Cavendish at the Tour de France. But in 2011, after joining Sky, he was hit with a recurrence of the glandular fever which has blighted his career, and it was a terrible year. Which Michael Rogers are we going to see in 2012?

Five years ago, in early 2007, we wrote a feature predicting what the state of the sport would be in 2012, highlighting the riders we thought would be dominating cycling. Top marks to us for saying that Mark Cavendish, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck would be three of the top riders in the world, but we’re going to the back of the class for suggesting Thomas Dekker (ooh), Dmitriy Grabovsky (aah) and Riccardo Ricco (stop now – Ed) would also be at their peaks. Andy McGrath has repeated the experiment, in the class of 2017, listing the 13 riders who we think will be dominating the sport in five years’ time. We reckon we’re on safe ground with Edvald Boasson Hagen, Peter Sagan and Tejay Van Garderen, but if Jetse Bol and Jasper Stuyven also turn out to be stars, we’re coming back here in 2017 and boasting even longer and harder than we did when we won the IG Markets cycling pub quiz.

One of cycling’s biggest issues at the moment is how to attract new fans and new money into the sport, and the Grand Tour organisers, wise to this, have started incorporating more variety into their races. The Giro has led the way, with the strade bianche stages of recent years, while the Tour experimented with a short-but-sharp mountain stage to Alpe d’Huez last year. But if you think that the Grand Tours haven’t tried out some stranger formats to their stages, think again. Lionel Birnie has looked back over a century of Grand Tours and dug out 21 of the most unusual stages in their history, for our feature Wacky Races.

Among the strange stages we found: the 1-kilometre “Preface” to the 1988 Tour, a mountain time trial up Superbagnères on the third day of the Tour, the Giro’s downhill TT on the Poggio, the splitting of the Vuelta field into groups of 36 to race a circuit in Tenerife, a 28-km massed-start race up Mont Revard at the Tour, and the 1939 Tour stage which was split into three: a morning stage over the Galibier, followed by a mountain TT up and over the Iseran, and finally a 103-km stage to finish the day.

Dutchman Lars Boom may well be the most multi-talented cyclist in the world. He’s won world titles at cyclo-cross (senior) and time-trialling (U-23), and now he’s directing his considerable energies towards the road. He’s already won the Tour of Britain and Tour of Belgium, along with good results in prologue time trials, but his biggest ambition, he tells Gregor Brown, is to perform at the cobbled Classics. At his second attempt at Paris-Roubaix in 2011, he was 12th, after suffering a puncture that cost him his place in the group of eventual winner Johan Vansummeren.

Cycle Sport’s new year’s resolutions are to stop bragging about our win in the IG Markets cycling pub quiz, to try and get out more, rather than spending our time getting excited about obscure race results and stats, and to maintain high standards of cassoulet and cognac-consumption at the Tour de France. We also got in touch with some professional riders and asked them to share their resolutions with us. Brian Holm, wished for, among other things, Mark Cavendish to stop using black handlebar tape; Alex Dowsett resolved to sacrifice style for practicality in certain situations, such as wearing white skinsuits in the rain; Karsten Kroon said that for him, in 2012, there would be “less trance, more rock”; while Geraint Thomas promised to give up mince pies, but not welsh cakes. Taylor Phinney’s resolution was the weirdest, but you’ll have to buy the magazine to find out what it was.

Who is the best cyclist in the world? It’s impossible to say, really, but Edward Pickering has made an attempt to answer the question. We’ve identified seven riders, who are all dominant in one or more fields: Mark Cavendish (sprinting), Alberto Contador (stage racing, although he’s a reluctant inclusion given his ongoing problems with the clenbuterol scandal), Fabian Cancellara (flat and cobbled classics), Andy Schleck (climbing – bear with us), Philippe Gilbert (hilly classics), Tony Martin (time trialling) and Marianne Vos (everything). We’ve looked at the respective strengths of all of these riders, and come to a conclusion. Who’s the best? The answer is in the magazine.

Photographer Mjrka Boensch Bees sent us a photo-diary of the Tour of Rwanda, a race which is contributing towards trying to rebuild a shattered society, while Pierre Carrey wrote us an eyewitness account. The stunning scenery, and enthusiasm of the participants, made it a memorable event. In Rwanda, the population are celebrating a peaceful present and future, while trying to come to terms with the country’s terrible recent history and the genocide of 1994.

Iconic Places visits the Ballon d’Alsace, the first major mountain pass ever visited by the Tour de France, during its third running in 1905. While the Tour had crossed the minor Col du Pin-Bouchain north of Lyon in 1903 and 1904, this wooded, domed climb was the first  the Tour had specifically sought out, and it was for both political and sporting reasons. From 1870 onwards, Germany had occupied the eastern Vosges, and race organiser Henri Desgrange realised that the climb of the Ballon came within metres of the border. For the Tour to inch so close to what Desgrange described as “the enemy” was a bold and popular statement. Chris Sidwells tells the story of the Ballon d’Alsace in the Tour de France, and celebrates its long history in the race.

Plus…All our regular features – Graham Watson showcases his best pictures of his favourite climbers; Shop Window dazzles our eyes with the latest pro-level cycling hardware; Broomwagon lists the ideas that didn’t make it into the breakaway league plans (“Have the bike race on a rectangular field, take the bikes away, and have the riders try to kick a ball into rival teams’ ‘goals’. The team with the most goals wins.” – that’ll get us more money, we mean spectators); Any Questions with Adam Blythe (“I love prawn cocktail Pringles and hummus”); 12 things to watch out for in 2012; the Tour in Corsica; Top 10 unlikely comebacks; Geraint takes us right inside the Sky sprint train, and much much more.

Cycle Sport February, featuring the very best writing and photography of professional cycling, is available from Wednesday December 21 in the UK, priced £4.35, and later in the USA. It is also available electronically through Zinio.