Blazin' Saddles

Fab’s Golden Balls

Blazin' Saddles

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Spartacus may have put those outlandish claims of motoring across the cobbles to bed, but now the Swiss time-trial specialist has been accused of having balls - and golden ones at that.

According to the owner of a bike shop in Riccione, Italy, Fabian Cancellara's hoard of gold medals, classics and ITT stage wins were won with the aid of a revolutionary system of "Gold-Race" ball bearings that cuts down friction by 95 per cent and offers time gains of up to 2.5 seconds per kilometre.

The reduction of friction is said to bring about a decrease in lactic acid accumulation, allowing riders to use the kind of bigger gears that saw Cancellara break the back of Tom Boonen in last spring's Tour of Flanders.

And the 2.5-second gain per kilometre might explain just why the former Saxo Bank stalwart habitually plunders around 50 seconds from his main rivals across a 20km course.

You too can equip your bike with this innovative (and entirely legal) equipment - provided you have a spare 1,100 Euro lining your back pocket. Andy Schleck apparently has: according to shop owner Denis Migani (quoted in the Belgian media), the younger Schleck used the system during the mountain stages of last year's Tour de France.

Could this, then, be the real reason behind the balls-up with Andy's chain on the Port des Bales climb? Saddles is no bike engineer, but surely having a couple of loose ball bearings inside your bike may well increase the scope for a disaster.

That said, without those ball bearings, how would Andy have kept up with Alberto all the way up the Tourmalet? It must be hard hugging someone when you're lagging 2.5 seconds behind them on a steep climb.

Cancellara's manager at Leopard Trek, Brian Nygaard, was swift to deny reports that his rider used Gold-Race as he sealed the Tirreno-Adriatico time trial in typically emphatic fashion last weekend.

Nygaard diplomatically explained that, while Fab may have used such technology in the past, the ball-bearing bikes were not being employed by anyone on the Leopard Trek team.

Interestingly, a 2.5-second loss over the 9.3km of the San Benedetto del Tronto stage would have put Cancellara down in 6th place on the day.

With this in mind, maybe the UCI could bring in a new ruling which requires every rider except Cancellara to be equipped with Gold-Race technology. That way we might see some competitive time trials every now and then. It would be a bit like the handicap system in horse racing.

THE BARON OF MELBOURNE: As regular readers of this humble blog will know, Saddles is currently taking part on his own tour Down Under - and a few days ago he came upon the legendary "Borsari's Corner" in Carlton.

Nino 'Cavalier' Borsari - also known as the Baron - was a member of the gold medal winning Italian pursuit cycling team at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, and he was competing in Australia when World War II broke out and prevented from returning home to north Italy.

The story goes that Borsari sold his bike and gold watch to raise funds to travel from Sydney to Melbourne, where he opened a bicycle repair shop on the corner of Lygon Street and Grattan Street in 1941 in an area which would soon become the epicentre of the city's Italian population.

A colourful character - in Los Angeles in 1932 the pharmacist-cum-sprinter had done a screen test with a Hollywood career in mind - Borsari soon became a pivotal figure in the area. Married to Fanny, a great Italian opera singer, Borsari became the unofficial spokesperson for the Italian people in Australia in the days prior to the existence of an Italian embassy in the country.

He would also become the president of the Australian boxing federation, the founder of a local football team and a crucial delegate for Australia for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Incredibly, he still rode into the early 50s, winning The Sun Tour twice, aged 42 and 43.

As a wily businessman he was also responsible for introducing the first Cappuccino machine to Australia, a seemingly crazy idea given the country was traditionally a nation of tea drinkers. For that alone, the Baron could be seen as the father of the Flat White - no small accolade.

In 1961, the expanding shop moved three doors down, but the neon sign of Borsari remained above the door of the property on the corner, and to this day is a heritage site. Nowadays the premises is one of the area's better Italian restaurants, called Borsari Ristorante, and is filled with memorabilia from the rider's illustrious career both on and off the bike.

For someone who won 90 per cent of his races as a junior on a paltry diet of just grass and polenta, Borsari's achievements are colossal. The Second World War was a dreadful thing - but one silver lining for both Melbourne and Australia was that it extended the stay of one of cycling's true great characters. Borsari passed away in 1996, but his memory lives on in Carlton.

THANKS, ALBERTO: And finally, Dutch mountain biker of the year Rudi van Houts has been let off by his national cycling federation after testing positive for clenbuterol following a trip to Mexico in the autumn.

With Van Houts claiming the product could have only entered his body by eating contaminated food, it's fair to say that one embattled Spanish cyclist may find himself on another champion's Christmas card list next December.

Follow Blazin' Saddles throughout the week on

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