Looking for Mr. Boonen

28 02 2011

I have to thank DVM for inspiring today’s rant blog. His suggestion in Sunday’s musings about the Belgian semi-classics that I check out cycling.tv to easily watch live bike racing from Europe gave me license to vent some frustration about this online webcaster. So what started as a reply to his comment has now morphed into a full-blown post:

I was a longtime subscriber to cycling.tv. Heck, I remember when they showed the Tour of Burkina Fasso. I remember when they showed the Omloop and K-B-K, Paris-Nice, as well as many other races for free, and their Tour de France “coverage” consisted of a panel in a studio watching the race on a laptop and making pithy comments; but they had a good trivia contest going on and I managed to win a Rapha jacket.

This is what you see when you go to cycling.tv. Don't be seduced.

When they went to a paid service, I gladly ponied up my $100 (our exchange rate was worse then) as it was the only way I could watch these races in the comfort of my home, with english commentary. The problems started when they launched a re-engineered site right at the start of the Giro and it was fraught with technical issues. Then races started disappearing off their schedule or were scaled back to highlight shows. Other races inexplicably became unavailable to North American subscribers due to rights issues, even though those races were otherwise unavailable to us via any other media outlet (I suspect the people at cycling.tv just couldn’t afford them).

The last straw for me was last year, when they had barely any races on their service, and of the few they did have, many were relegated to audio coverage only. Seriously? I’m paying for cycling.tv, not cycling.radio.

I have their site bookmarked, and I check occasionally to see if they’ve got their act back together; but when they’re asking me to pay $80 and can’t provide a schedule of upcoming races so I can determine whether my money will be well spent, I am amazed anyone signs up at all.

I love the idea of cycling.tv. It’s the kind of niche content that is tailor-made for the internet as even with the plethora of cable sports channels we have on television, none of them can see the value in programming to a small, dedicated and affluent audience of cycling fans, with most live programming available at times when it wouldn’t conflict with their more mainstream properties. But the current proprietors of cycling.tv have managed to destroy much of their credibility with hollow, vague promises that they don’t fulfill and sent most of us fleeing to cyclingfans and steephill, mining their links to live race coverage and possibly learning a little Dutch, Spanish or Italian along the way. They can be hit and miss too, but at least the misses aren’t costing me money.


Appreciating the “Hard Men”

28 02 2011

The European cycling season is officially underway.

So while we were dealing with this:

Our roads are a mess after four inches of snow fell early Sunday morning.

The pro peloton was in Belgium, dealing with this:

Walking the cobbles of Flanders.

While there have already been races in Italy, France, Portugal and Spain, and cash-grab races in those cycling hotbeds of Qatar and Oman, the real season begins in the rolling hills, narrow country roads and cobbled climbs of Flanders.

The Omloop Het Volk and Kurne-Brussels-Kurne aren’t considered full-on Classics like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix; they’re more like regional races that attract a lot of the pro teams to prepare for the big northern European races that will come later in March and April.

I’ve been especially looking forward to these races this year, not just because they’re a harbinger of spring, but mostly because I now have a familiarity with riding those country roads and cobbled climbs.

The Omloop started and finished in Ghent, where we spent a week last October. And the K-B-K included some of the climbs we tasted during a very cold and wet ride escorted by our cousin Filip and his brother Kristoff.

Katie concedes to the cold, rough climb up the Oude Kwaremont.

Like any athletic endeavor, watching it on TV (or in the case of most cycling races, in a little window on my Mac) doesn’t do the reality justice. The climbs like Oude Kwaremont and the Kruisberg aren’t terribly long or impossibly steep, but the cobbles and ruts beat you up. If it’s wet, it’s hard to get traction. If it’s cold, your legs scream with ache and your fingers numb. String six or ten of those climbs together, mash a huge peloton onto their narrow confines, throw wind and rain into the riders’ faces, and you gain a whole new appreciation for why it takes a “hard man” to be successful in the early spring in Belgium.

The “real” Classics begin in exactly a month, with Ghent-Wevelgem, then the Tour of Flanders on April 3 and Paris-Roubaix a week later. In between will be the week-long Paris-Nice and the one day Milan-San Remo in Italy. I’ll be getting up early for all of them, scouring the internet for online video feeds.