Since the last edition of my column, the racing season has started for real — and it’s been full-on. My training started training early this year, although I can’t say the Tour Down Under was much more than a good training ride with lots of other teams around. The weather in Europe has been strange and I long for that Australian sun right about now. It was alright at the beginning of the year, but has only gone downhill since with freezing temperatures common.

The Tour of California is similar to the TDU and it’s just around the corner. The fans are just dialled up a bit more in the obsessive stakes. Some of those American cycling fans are borderline OCD with their questions about your bike and groupset. Most of the peloton looks forward to going to Cali because it’s like another vacation after the Spring Classics. It’s always fun going to the US of A, but certainly no Giro.

After almost any race it’s straight home on the evening the race ended. There’s no vacation afterwards, no sitting on the beach (but lets’ face it, the TdU or Cali are just holidays in themselves). It’s the same with La Vuelta and most other races. You’d think that when you’ve travelled halfway across the world you might have a day to yourself after the race, but not so. Not even a team dinner or celebration most of the time. You just pack your bags, go your separate ways, and you’re home that evening. The teams take care of all the equipment logistics, so I basically only need to bring a suitcase. The Tour de France however is the only race where every team has a big blow-out party afterwards no matter if your team wins or not. After such an intense three weeks, I think we deserve it.

Often after your team wins a race (or takes one of the jerseys), the team leader will give his teammates a gift to show appreciation for the work they’ve done. In a Grand Tour it’s quite common. Lance and some other winners of the Tour give their teammates cold hard cash for helping him win. After John Degenkolb won 5 stages of the Vuelta last year he gave each of his Shimano-Argos teammates a really nice portable Bose sound system. Nine times out of ten though, the team leader will give a nice watch to each of his teammates as a token of appreciation.

After Cancellara’s win at the Ronde, he’s the type of guy who will likely give his team some nice Rolexes or something. Or it might be an expensive Breitling if he wins Roubaix as well. But that’s only if you’re a big name rider like Cancellara, Booonen, Contador, Cav, etc. If you’re a small-time pro like me, you’re not expected to give anything if you win a race. Oscar Freire, a pretty big-name rider I’d say, gave each of his Spanish teammates an iPod Nano when he won the World Championships (for the third time!). Nice one Oscarito…

So, what’s on the minds of the pro peloton these days? Well, with the snow-affected races, cold weather, a lack of sunshine, and races on wet and slippery cobbles I think pretty much everyone is over it. Thank goodness the race organisers are taking a bit of pity on us with shortening Milan-San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem, and even having the sense to cancel Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. These are important races to many, but for me, the real season begins in June when I start coming into form and vying for our Tour squad. I don’t want to be on the backfoot because I’ve broken my collarbone racing on snow and ice. I just keep up at the front and have stayed out of trouble so far.

The talk of the peloton is about these ridiculous “aero” helmets they’re making us wear. I mean … seriously? They always put them on the big name riders first and then they start trickling down to the rest of us. You’ll see Specialized’s new helmet on Boonen right now. They had a great looking helmet and now what what they’ve done? Scott, Lazer, Kask, Uvex … almost all of them have gone backwards. We’re now on these absolutely ridiculous looking Giro helmets now and every iteration is getting worse and worse.

I remember seeing guys wear ones that looked like this back in the 80’s. Giro had the best looking helmet out of them all, and I can’t understand what they’re doing. Riders will say in public that they benefit from “marginal gains” with their aerodynamics, but really nobody cares. If you have the legs, then you’ll win. Simple as that. No helmet is going to make a difference with all the other variables thrown in there.

Helmet sponsors also tell us that these new-aged helmets will keep us warmer. They’ll also say that they keep us cooler (see Lotto Belisol’s helmets at the TDU). I can’t tell the difference. And whatever happened to a good old-fashioned cycling cap? I think everyone will look back on these and wonder what they were thinking. I pray that it’s just a passing fad. But the sponsors use us to sell more helmets, which ultimately pays our salaries, so we just play along.

How about Sagan? What a talent. The feeling in the peloton is that Sagan is making us all look like a bunch of cat 4s out there. He can climb, he can TT, he can do a mono, and he can sprint with the best of them. The whole podium girl thing? Well, it’s something you might joke about on the team bus, but to actually do it? Whoa…that’s not on…

So, who’s your pick for Paris-Roubaix? Cancellara again? Kristoff? Chavanel? Ladagnous, Haussler? Me?

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