Sunday, April 12, 2009

Joost rides the Hell of the North today

Paris-Roubaix starts in an hour or so. It's one of the best-known and most interesting one-day races of the year. Joost Posthuma hasn't ever done well in it and isn't considered a podium contender today. His role on the team is to provide support for the top riders in the major races and to see whether he can't come out on top in one or two of the minor ones. So far this season, he's one of these less familiar races — the Vuelta a Andalucia — and taken in second in another, better-known one — the KBC Driedaagse van De Panne-Koksijde (which he won last year).

If Paris-Roubaix is well-known, probably the most famous of the spring classics is the Ronde van Vlaanderen, which he rode, as domestique, last week. About that race, he reports in his home page that he crashed on the approach to one of the first of the dangerous steep, cobbled hills. These approaches are chaotic. Everyone wants to get in the front, the roads are very narrow — just cart paths — and there's consequently lots of high-speed jostling for position. It was cold, wet, and windy. The cobbles were slick and muddy. A rider in front of him slid into Joost and he went down. A whole bunch of others landed on top of him. Amazingly, he wasn't hurt and was able to catch up with the peloton farther along.

He managed to get up to the front of the pack at one of the the final climbs and to join a small break, leading the team's selected rider of the day. At this point his back tire punctures. The roads being narrow, he has to wait an agonizingly long time for a neutral support vehicle to bring a replacement wheel. He again squeezes through to regain the front, but the wheel he's obtained doesn't quite fit and starts causing problems for him. At this point he's managed to ride himself back into the race twice, something that takes strength and skill beyond the ability of most cyclists, and all has come to naught.

Joost's name doesn't often show up in the English-language cycling press, so I was surprised to see this on Cyclingnews this morning:

Posthuma hopes to flank Flecha on podium

By Brecht Decaluwé in Compiègne, France

While the Rabobank team usually tries to have several men in front during the Spring Classics, their tactics for the 107th edition of Paris-Roubaix are slightly different. One of their big guns, Belgium's Nick Nuyens, opted not to race on Sunday in order to be ready for the Amstel Gold Race next week.

The team will instead rely on Juan Antonio Flecha, often referred to as John Anthony Arrow, as its leader. For riders like Joost Posthuma it's an opportunity to step up into the spotlight and support Flecha as long as possible.

"During the Driedaagse De Panne – Koksijde I was already going well. Sadly enough our team ran into bad luck during the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Hopefully we can come back with a strong performance in Paris-Roubaix," Posthuma said.

The 27-year-old's record in the Queen of all Classics isn't impressive, but he has the body and the skills to have a good run on the pavé.

"If there's a big breakaway group gone early on then I should feature among them, but if the group isn't strong then I should be saving energy in the bunch; one shouldn't waste energy before the first cobbles arrive after one hundred kilometers. I firmly believe that Flecha can top the podium on Sunday and silently I'm hoping to flank him there," Posthuma said.

{Some of the cobbled pavé on today's route; source: Joost's page}

Paris–Roubaix - on wikipedia

107th Paris-Roubaix - Live coverage on dailypeloton

107th Paris-Roubaix - HIS France, April 12, 2009 live coverage on cyclingnews

{What the race looks like when it's cold and wet; this is George Hincapie at front; source:}

{Photo of Joost from last season; source}

{Another; source}

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