Posts Tagged ‘sean kelly’

Sean Kelly: King of the Kasseien

March 28, 2013

Words: Matt Seaton Photos: Graham Watson

What makes a great rider of the pavé?
First of all, it’s a rider who is strong and powerful. You have to be pretty heavy, or the cobbles will just hop you all over the place.

And, usually, if you have the weight, you have the power – if you’re any good. You need the power because you have to ride a gear that is higher than normal. You push a bigger gear to get the power down smoothly and keep traction.

Then you have to learn to overcome the cobbles. If you’re Belgian, you grow up born and bred to ride the cobbles, certainly from when you start racing as a teenager. But if you’re a non-Belgian national, you don’t race a lot on those roads. It takes time to know how to do it.

I had ridden the Paris-Roubaix five or six or seven times before the first time I won – and not only the Paris-Roubaix and big races like the Tour of Flanders, but a lot of smaller races in Belgium. There was the Grand Prix de l’Escaut that finished with three laps of a 15km circuit that had a several bad sections of cobbles every lap.

Riding a lot of these smaller races is how you learn to ride and control the bike on the cobbles. Of course, when they’re wet, it’s a different matter…

In the Paris-Roubaix, you sometimes see riders hunting for a flat section in the gutter, while some seem to prefer to ride on the crown in the middle. What’s the best way to ride the pavé?
There’s a trade-off. When it’s dry, it’s much easier to ride on the side, not even on the cobbled surface. But the risk of punctures is much greater – you have all the grit and small stones from the fields there.

So you’re conserving energy but you’re risking having to chase back on after having to get a wheel change. That’s OK early in the race maybe, when you still have all your team around you, but later in the race fractions of seconds become critical.

And in the Paris-Roubaix the service cars are always further behind, so you can lose a lot of time.

So the safest place from punctures is to ride in the middle of the cobbles. On either side the road is cambered quite steeply, so especially in the wet you have to stay in the middle.

What changes did you make to the set-up of your bike when you were riding the Paris-Roubaix?
The main thing was you ran fatter tyres – and higher, to avoid the risk of pinch flats, which was greater because you rode them softer than you would for a normal race on asphalt. I didn’t change my position on the bike; very few riders did.

But some used to put foam padding under the bar tape to absorb the shock. I didn’t; I didn’tlike the extra thickness – it’d give me cramp in my hands trying to grasp the thicker bar.

What was your technique for climbing the muurs? You see a lot of riders who sit back in the saddle to get the power down, but sometimes you see a power rider like Boonen who seems to be able to climb the cobbles out of the saddle.
Sitting down, definitely, and keeping the weight to the rear. Most riders can’t do that like Boonen – you have to keep the momentum very smooth, which is difficult on cobbles, and it’s very hard to keep traction.

But there are always some who can do it – Eddy Planckaert was one of the few who could climb like that.

Who else did you rate?
[Eric] Vanderaerden, obviously. He had the power. Greg LeMond could have won more of the classics, but he chose to take it easy and concentrate on the Tour later in the season. Steve Bauer was good, too. He could ride the cobbles.

You were always flying in the Paris-Nice, and kept that form through the spring classics. How did you prepare so well?
The good winters in Ireland helped me a lot – all that sun. No, but I seemed to work quite well in the winter. I wasn’t afraid to go out in the weather. It didn’t bother me. I could do 4-5 hour rides in January; I didn’t get cold as easily as some riders.

Also I didn’t need a lot of training kilometres to get into shape. Some riders had to do half as much again. That’s just the luck of my physiology. I didn’t have to do as much to get good condition.

And then I always looked forward to the classics. So motivation helped. Those northern classics are a monument in Belgium: you have to have lived there to understand it. And if you can win one, you’re a hero for a long time there.

What does the Paris-Roubaix in particular mean?
I always say it was the most horrible race to ride, but the most beautiful to win.

Was it harder than any other? And which hurt most afterwards– your legs or your arms?
Well, the wrists could hurt a lot. But if you’re riding well, you don’t hurt that much.

But it does take longer to recover from the Paris-Roubaix than any other race. The body just takes more punishment than a long but straightforward race like the Milan-San Remo, or even the Liège-Bastogne-Liège which has a lot of climbing in it. Two or three days after the Paris-Roubaix and the body is still pretty weary.

And it can hurt to pee afterwards. Your prostate takes a pounding. A lot of riders complain that you get a burning sensation for a couple of days when you go to the loo.


Extract from issue 2

Badge of Honour

July 21, 2011

Words and X-ray: Guy Andrews

A broken collarbone seems harmless enough when you’re watching the Tour on TV and it’s reported over the airwaves after the peloton has folded into a heap and the casualties have been fully assessed. It never sounds so bad, be back on your bike in no time… Well, that’s what I always thought.

The first I remember watching was during the Tour of 1987.

Sean Kelly is a tough guy, I trust you’ll agree. Jeff Connor’s description of the Irishman, in the excellent book Wide Eyed and Legless, had him down to a tee, especially when receiving short shrift when asking him for an interview. Connor wrote: “Kelly said nothing, climbed slowly off the car bonnet (where he had been sitting) and on to his bike, pulled his gloves on tighter and, without even looking at me, rode slowly away.”

Kelly was a mean rider too. The over-used expression ‘he let his legs do the talking’ perfectly described the taciturn man from Tipperary. Kelly was a class apart. One day, however, all this fell apart.

On stage 12 of the 1987 Tour de France he broke his collarbone, and although he tried to remount his bike and continue (at one stage riding off in the wrong direction), he eventually succumbed to the pain and collapsed into the arms of his DS in floods of tears. It can’t be the pain, I thought: Kelly’s too tough. I reasoned that perhaps he was just realising his chance for that year’s green jersey was over.

To say this was moving was an understatement. Kelly was stripped bare for all to see and he just wept. We stared at the TV with our mouths wide open. Kelly was crying. It was like seeing your dad upset when you were a kid, or watching Ring of Bright Water for the first time (it’s a film about otters… a really sad one… no? Just me then). We were all close to tears for him ourselves and it was a defining moment in the history of cycling. We all remember where we were the day Kelly cried…

Tyler Hamilton suffered the same bone break at the Tour a few decades on. Whatever he got up to behind the scenes, I can’t comprehend what Hamilton managed to put himself through to continue the 2003 Tour and even win a stage. For such a ‘nice looking boy’, it seems that he had a love of the pain. He loved it so much that when he had carried on riding in the previous year’s Giro (with a broken shoulder, eventually finishing second overall) he managed to grind his teeth so hard to mask the pain that he allegedly had to have 11 of them capped or replaced after the race. Ouch.

And then there was Fiorenzo Magni. I can’t imagine that Magni ever cried. He looked like he was made from granite or iron – Signor Magni’s made of different stuff to you or I. But he had his fair share of crashes and the 1956 Giro is still the stuff of legend. After crashing and breaking his left collarbone, not only did he climb out of the ambulance and refuse to go to hospital so he could finish the stage, but he also crashed again a few days later and fainted with the pain. Then his mechanic (incidentally, Faliero Masi, who Magni rated “the best bicycle mechanic ever”‚ and his bike brand is the subject of a feature in issue 25) tied an inner tube to his handlebars that he could pull on with his teeth when he climbed. Tough? We don’t know the meaning of the word.

“The day after the end of the Giro I went to an institute that specialised in bone injuries,” Magni explained later. “They said I had two fractures – I thought I had only one – and forced me to put a plaster cast on. The next day I went to my machine shop and asked my mechanic to cut the plaster cast away with the special scissors he used for sheet metal. This way I could start training again. Well, my shoulder is a little crooked now, but that’s that.”

Please don’t try this at home.

As for recent collarbones, Bradley Wiggins suffered the cyclist’s badge of honour in this year’s Tour and it was clear the minute the cameras revealed him from under a heap of riders what his injury was. Bradley put a brave face on it that’s for sure. I don’t know if he cried (I doubt it), but his teammates all stopped, threw their own races out of loyalty to the team leader and, however tactically stupid this may sound in retrospect, I can now fully appreciate their concern.

You see the reason why I’m wibbling on about busted clavicles is that I recently did mine too. Not in a race, not even falling off. I was car-doored, hardly a race situation, but the result was the same, and despite my earlier thinking that it’s ‘just a collar bone’, the classic cyclist’s injury seems to be perfectly fitting to a sport that hurts like hell. And yes I cried. Not for the fact that there was a peloton fast disappearing into the distance, or that the rest of my season was in doubt. I cried because it hurt like hell.