Domestique Bliss - As told to Michael Rogers


Karma bites

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One thing they didn't tell me about life as a professional cyclist was the important role of karma.

Sure, I knew there were going to be days when the sprint wouldn't go my way. It happens to every rider at some stage of their career, unless your name is Alexandre Vinokourov. But I figured karma and its potentially career-altering impact would be restricted to actual racing and not the little stuff, like what I yelled at the TV.

Anyway, it all started when our team reconvened in Belgium after Liege-Bastogne-Liege for a team meeting, where the team directors delivered good news and bad news. The good news: I'd been named in the provisional squad for the Giro! The bad news: So was my main rival, and we were told that whoever produced the best training results over the next week would get the nod.

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Sagan a sorry sight

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I'm worried about Peter Sagan. Not only is he not returning my text messages, but now he's not even winning races.

From dominating the podium in the middle part of the spring, Sagan has barely fired a shot in the past week. These hillier courses were meant to suit him down to the ground but all we're getting is excuses about cramps and hot weather (Amstel Gold) and other riders just being too good (La Fleche Wallonne).

Cramps and heat I can almost accept, but others being too good? From what I have seen first-hand, it's implausible. And I have a theory on the real reasons behind Sagan's mid-spring slump.

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Praying for a miracle

I spent the week before Paris-Roubaix asking my teammates what I should look out for on the day. Apart from 'Get into a breakaway and don't look back', the most common response was 'Pray'.

But what for, I wondered. We Italians are generally a devoted lot and I am no different. I can directly attribute at least half a dozen of my best race wins to divine intervention of some kind.

In my local under-16 regional championship, a rogue Chihuahua caused my opponent in the sprint to swerve into the kerb at the last minute. And there was another time when my tyre blew in the last 30 metres and I was left expecting a last-second loss, only to see my rival's front fork spontaneously lose its structural integrity. Don't let anyone tell you miracles can't happen.

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Bad ideas

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I never thought practising a wheelie would end in international scandal, but there you go. It just goes to prove you never know what's around the corner when you're a pro cyclist.

Remember last week how I mentioned that Peter Sagan caught me pulling wheelies outside the team hotel? Well, he came up to me on the Saturday before the Tour of Flanders and apologised for the way his team-mates had been heckling at me after he told them what I'd been up to.

I thought that was a great gesture from a guy who didn't need to give me the time of day, let alone apologise.

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This would never have happened in Italy

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You see, we Italians are civilised. Today build our roads out of bitumen. Not cobblestones as we did 2000 years ago. And when we build roads up very steep hills, we choose not to build those roads via the steepest possible route up those hills. And we use bitumen. Not cobblestones.

And the one thing we don't do in Italy is find the most difficult roads in a 100-mile radius and send a couple of hundred professional cyclists along those aforementioned roads. (Unless your name is Michele Acquarone and you set the route for this year's Tirreno-Adriatico, but he already said he was sorry.)

But Belgians - they're another story altogether. The double fried Frites with mayonnaise alone should have been a dead giveaway, but they've hardly advanced from the stone age, literally.

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