My first couple of cycling jerseys were made by Giordana. They were, relative to the 1980s, pretty hi-tech affairs, which is to say 4-inch zippered, three-pocket, sublimated designs on polyester fabric.
As my knowledge of cycling clothing increased, so did my sense of style. Soon I graduated to pro team jerseys, then to club team jerseys. At each stage, the previous style became rather unhip. As time went on Giordana jerseys seemed more and more like the antidote to PRO. Surely, I didn’t want the cure. At some point I just stopped paying attention.
It was as a result of Competitive Cyclist that I got a heads-up to Giordana’s Body Clone series of clothing. The company had done a lot of work since I last checked in. Rather than attempting to come up with clever sublimated designs, the look of the clothing relied on the use of different colors in different panels so that its look reflected its design. Form followed function. Mies van der Rohe would be pleased.
Learning about the Body Clone line has been something of a relief. Clothing that features advanced design with materials strategically placed according to function while maintaining an understated look has been almost the exclusive domain of Assos. And, as if you hadn’t already come to the conclusion yourself, giving an Assos garment a positive review is almost as likely as finding opium in Afghanistan. It’s about time they had some serious competition.
One of the first things you notice about the FormaRed Carbon jersey and bibs are the garments surprisingly low weight. I’ve got base layers heavier than the jersey and I’ve never felt a lighter set of bibs. With all the talk of lightweight bikes and components, here’s a surprising example of weight cutting that remains practical. The combo of bibs and jerseys weighs just 300g; I’ve got bibs that weigh that much.
Of course, such lightweight garments are specific in their appeal. This stuff is very well ventilated, dog days ventilated. This combo has been my go-to combo for the very hottest weather.
HC44 and Ametista fabrics make up the bib shorts. The 44 in the HC44 material refers to the thread count, which is said to be higher than similar materials while providing a level of compression on a par with materials using coarser fibers. What I can attest to the fabric’s supple feel, making it immensely form fitting while also offering excellent muscle support through compression.
Carbon fibers run through the Ametista material to aid compression. While the seems between the various materials are flat-stitched, the Ametista used in the bibs and Moxie used in the leg cuffs are unfinished at the edges yet doesn’t unravel the way many materials would. The front of the bib is cut very low to make nature calls as easy as possible.
The pad features gel inserts to reduce impact and vibration. What I noticed was comfort I’d associate with much thicker pads, yet a more conforming fit than possible with thick pads. The upshot of these many features is arguably the most comfortable pair of bibs I’ve ever worn.
The gloves are an impressive complement to the jersey and bibs. Pittards leather graces the palm and is combined with minimal padding to make the glove’s fit as accurate as possible. There’s just enough Terry-type material to give a good wipe when you need it and the MCK material breathes well and provides enough stretch to make the closureless fit secure. I’ve become a big fan of closureless gloves; I like the clean appearance they present.
All these features come at a price, of course. Retail for the jersey and bib combo runs $475, though discounters can be found. The gloves fetch another $50. Assos has already staked out this pricing territory; Giordana’s presence gives both companies greater justification for the work they do: one guy in a tree seems crazy, but six guys in a tree makes you curious to see the view.
I spent years all but unwilling to show up to a group ride in anything short of a full team kit. The FormaRed Carbon kit gives the stylish appearance of a coordinated team outfit minus all the sponsor logos. After all, the line between simple and boring is thinner than cellophane. Not many companies can manage that look successfully; fewer still get the look right while nailing fit and, ultimately, comfort.
FormaRed Carbon is to the hot summer day what a hotdog is to a baseball game. The right answer.
The entry of Radio Shack into the world of professional cycling is an unusual and historic move for cycling sponsorship in America. They are hardly the first American company to sponsor a European-focused cycling team. But they are certainly the first to view the value of sponsorship strictly through its impact on an American audience.
Many of the companies that sponsor cycling teams are wholly unfamiliar to non-European audiences. Quick Step makes laminate flooring. Lampre makes pre-coated steels. Rabobank is a Dutch banking company whose cycling team gained recognition before the bank expanded into the United States. Caisse d’Epargne is a French bank. Liquigas makes gas-operated barbecues, space heaters, generators and more.
Each of these companies faces stiff competition in the market in Europe; anything they can do to raise awareness or improve the company’s image is considered helpful. Historically, many company owners have been rabid cycling fans who sponsored teams for reasons more emotional than rational. Mapei’s Giorgio Squinzi was famous for his devotion to the team that bore his company’s name.
People wonder why more American companies don’t sponsor cycling teams. In many instances, such advertising is hardly necessary. Coca-Cola is easily the best selling soft drink in Europe. Microsoft? What else do computers run on in Europe?
When the 7-Eleven cycling team went to Europe, the Southland Corporation, which owned the chain of convenience stores, had zero European interests. The marketing payoff for the team’s European campaign could only be realized with cyclists and at races back home.
When the U.S. Postal Service Cycling Team was announced, one of the team’s stated goals was to increase recognition and exposure for its international mail services. Certainly its greatest success came at home with American consumers, but the USPS team could at least claim to have international recognition among its goals.
Discovery Channel may be an American company, but with 1.5 billion subscribers watching more than 100 networks in 170 countries worldwide, its interests were anything but provincial. One of its largest challenges was making sure that its many networks, such as Animal Planet, were associated with the parent company.
Radio Shack, or “The Shack,” as they plan to be known going forward, is the first American company without significant international interests to sponsor a cycling team whose primary racing schedule and strategic goals are international in nature.
It’s an odd marriage. An American company is going abroad to market its business to Americans via an international collection of bike racers racing mostly in Europe.
Radio Shack has some 4,400 retail locations. Roughly 200 of them—less than 5 percent—are located in Mexico; the rest are located in the United States, populating strip malls in markets of half a million or more residents.
Lance Armstrong and the cycling team aren’t going this alone; he and they are but one part of a large advertising effort. Radio Shack has devoted $200 million to the re-branding effort, and 10 percent of that—an estimated $20 million—will go to owners Capital Sports and Entertainment, giving it the biggest budget ever for a cycling team.
What sort of exposure will the Shack get for the investment? They can reasonably expect plenty of coverage in the cycling media, on Versus and Universal Sports; that’s not a lot of eyeballs. Further, coverage on the French network 23 means nothing.
The scenario would be laughable was it not for one simple factor: the Lance Factor. Everywhere he goes he makes news. He doesn’t even have to win the Tour de France to be the event’s biggest personality, biggest news generator. Hate him if you want, but, objectively, cycling has never had a personality who generated headlines in so many countries. You could multiply Eddy Merckx by Bernard Hinault and I don’t think we’d hit the media impact Armstrong has.
Bike companies, particularly those that have sponsored Armstrong’s teams, noticed a bump in sales with each of Armstrong’s successive Tour de France wins. The bump became known as “The Lance Effect.” Even companies like Cannondale (with no relationship to the athlete or team) would record a rise in sales as Armstrong’s success brought a rising tide for the bike industry.
But can Armstrong save a chain that is believed by most analysts to be on the skids? Radio Shack was once the clubhouse for electronics geeks; its survival depends on it developing a mainstream clientele to purchase its mainstreamed product line. Stories on the name change to the Shack have focused on how difficult recovery will be considering the competition it faces from chains like Best Buy and now Wal-Mart, which is growing its range of electronics offerings.
Somewhere, someone has a Venn diagram showing the crossover between electronics geeks and cyclists. I’m sure those two sets have a lot of crossover.
History has proven that cyclists will throw support to companies that sponsor cycling. That John Tesh found a market for his Tour de France soundtrack and the U.S. Postal Service sold out every product commemorating the cycling team is proof enough that skinny guys with hairless legs will shop at the Shack. The sort of recovery the Shack needs is greater than American cycling fans can provide, though. The gambit then (and this sponsorship smells like a hail-Mary pass) is whether Lance Armstrong can be the multiplier to channel America’s inner geek into a strip mall shack.
The success—or failure—of the Shack over the next five years is likely to determine how likely American corporations with largely American interests are to enter bicycle racing sponsorship. A Chapter 11 filing would kill any chance of sponsorship from a company without significant European interests. If the Shack succeeds with its turnaround—and if they succeed, they will be the turnaround of the decade—cycling will see some copycat dollars from companies that equate two wheels with success.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
When I was a newbie, Eddie B.’s book, “Bicycle Road Racing,” was considered a must-read for anyone who was serious about bike racing. It’s the one and only book I can think of that experienced riders uniformly told me I should read. Of course, “Bicycle Road Racing” was only a necessity to those riders who wished to race. Today, there are as many books on how to be fast as there are flavors of ice cream at Baskin-Robbins.
I never believed there was a single book that each and every cyclist should read, at least, not until now.
Most of you out there have been following racing for some time and recall Bob Mionske’s fourth place in the Olympic Road Race at the Seoul Olympics (perhaps the best ride by a clean rider that year) and may have read Mionske’s “Legally Speaking” column in VeloNews. He has since been plucked away and now contributes to Bicycling. His online column can be found here. Unlike many books that grow from a columnist’s articles, “Bicycling and the Law” (VeloPress) isn’t just a compendium of Mionske columns; rather, it is an elegantly organized reference text that addresses the legal issues of every aspect of cycling, from the vehicle code to product liability not to mention some unusual points in between.
Most of us have at least one rider on each ride who attempts to talk some sense to the group when the peloton blows a stop sign or sprints into a second lane. Mionske’s voice is one of reason, as it should be, but he is unusual—exceptional, even—in that he knows the law and the way that cyclists actually ride, especially when on a group ride. It’s a Keatsian negative capability most of us would rather not contemplate.
A book like this could easily have served as an anarchist’s handbook to disruptive activism—Critical Mass in print—but Mionske’s effort serves a higher purpose, one that should inspire us all. His writing benefits from a perspective meant to achieve harmony, one where motorists don’t despise cyclists and products are good enough that liability lawsuits are unknown. The knowledge you gain in reading the book does come at a price: Mionske lays out in clear and unequivocal terms what your responsibility is when on the road. If we are to have any hope of coexisting peacefully with motorists, we will have to show greater respect for the law.
Rather than admonishing the reader to obey each and every law, Mionske simply serves as a tour guide: Here are your rights. Here are your responsibilities. Here are the risks. Here are the remedies. How you ride is up to you, but our actions have the ability to influence how likely we are to survive and how motorists perceive cyclists.
Here’s where Mionske’s real value lies: His work concerning everything from road rage to “stop as yield” may be one of the best sources of education cyclists can turn to for evolving not just our behavior, but our activism in legal issues that have the potential to profoundly affect our ability to conduct group rides in an increasingly crowded landscape. Mionske is one of the smartest, sanest and most helpful voices for cycling since Congressman James Oberstar. Is there any chance we can clone him?
Readers of BKW may recall a set of reviews I did of Neuvation Cycling‘s R28 aluminum clincher and C50 carbon fiber tubular wheels. I was impressed by the wheels for their quality, performance and cost. I’d known Neuvation’s owner, John Neugent, since the 1990s and was surprised by his decision to launch a consumer-direct company. In the bike biz, consumer-direct was once viewed with the same jaundiced eye vanity press editions were seen by the publishing world—generally speaking, they were manuscripts too bad or offbeat to be picked up by any commercial publisher, and the determined author would elect to pay for his own print run. For me, the Neuvation wheels put to rest the idea that consumer-direct was the bastion of those who didn’t understand the market and couldn’t achieve sales by traditional routes.
Debate raged in the comments. Some readers thought the Neuvation wheels were anything but PRO; after all, they didn’t cost thousands of dollars and weren’t in use by a ProTour team. Radio Freddy and I thought they were PRO because of their particular combination of performance and value. A dollar well-spent is just that. And while some readers reported some spoke breakage, all were adamant about John’s good customer service. Since that review, several consumer-direct operation have entered the bike market; I decided to have a chat with Neuvation Cycling’s owner.
RKP: For RKP readers who aren’t familiar with your long resume, fill us in a bit on your background please.
Neugent: I started as a partner in a bike shop in 1973 and have since been a rep, product manager, and VPs of sales, marketing, and purchasing for various bicycle industry companies. I was president of Sachs USA for 10 years and worked with Lee Iacocca on his E-bike project. I’ve been in the industry my entire adult life.
RKP: Given your experience, someone with your experience must be in high demand at bike companies. Why did you choose to launch a consumer-direct operation?
Neugent: I wanted to live in San Luis Obispo. I also felt that job security in a big company is, at best, an illusion. After I was fired from my last job for telling the owners they would go out of business following their business plan (which did happen within two years after I left), I decided it was time to really follow my long term dream of starting my own company.
RKP: What was the attraction for you in deciding to launch a consumer-direct company?
Neugent: I can sum up consumer direct sales in a very short paragraph. For the first time ever, it’s possible to buy well engineered and designed product off the shelf from the same suppliers who supply the premier brands. That is not smoke and mirrors marketing. It’s a fact. Add to that the efficiency of the Internet, and consumers can save 40-60% or more on products of equal quality and design made from the manufacturers who make the “Gucci” brands.
Brands have always used and will be forced into more use of smoke and mirrors marketing – which I define as vastly overstating the benefits of their differences. Now more than ever, they have no choice.
The real challenge for us, as a consumer direct company, is to out perform other consumer direct companies. Customer service is one of the keys. Customer service is not lip service (“Have a nice day.” does not cut it). I define customer service as how efficiently we resolve problems. That is not to say everyone gets everything for free all the time but we go out of our way to treat our customers, and ourselves, fairly.
RKP: Is the emergence of consumer-direct sales in high-quality wheels and composite components and frames really just a matter of product availability overseas? Can it really just be chalked up to Taiwanese and Chinese companies doing more in-house engineering, or were there other market forces that permitted operations like yours to emerge?
Neugent: The emergence of Taiwan and China as good sources of not only engineered product but also well designed product made it easier but the Internet and affordable, easy to use, computer programs were also a major factor. One small case in point. I normally handle about 100 customer correspondences a day (sales or customer service). In a bike shop, it would take 4-5 people to make the same contacts. On all levels, the Internet is driving down costs, making better consumer deals possible. Given that much of Internet technology is less than 10 years old (what was life like before Google?) it’s only natural that most industries, including the bike industry, are lagging behind.
RKP: Are your primary competitors other consumer-direct companies such as Williams, rather than big wheel makers such as Mavic and Zipp?
Neugent: Anyone who sells wheels is my competitor but the two giants are Mavic and Zipp. Zipp now more so because of the increased sales of carbon wheels.
RKP: What is the driver for growth in your product line? Is it just opportunity—availability of product—or is it by design—are there items you have wanted to add to your line?
Neugent: Cash. There is tons of opportunity but you need to be able to pay for it and effectively market it. I have had multiple offers from people wanting to buy the company but it’s not for sale. I plan on doing this a long time. It’s my dream job. But because I want 100% ownership, the growth is limited by my ability to fund it. In terms of new products, I will have a vastly expended saddle line, a tri bike, cross bike, MTB wheels, single speed wheels, and a higher end carbon frame all in the works. Also some additional stems and bars and seat posts (some in white – one of the hottest colors out there). Most are due in 2-6 months.
RKP: What do you see on the horizon for the consumer-direct channel in terms of new products and new challenges?
Neugent: New products – you name it. It’s honestly hard to imagine something you can’t do this way. The fundamental problem companies have is that they focus on the wrong thing. They focus on having new “technology” they claim is better. They they market the heck out of it even though it’s really just different and not better. Don’t tell them this (they won’t listen anyway) but what they need to focus on is how to bring true quality products to consumers for a lower price. That’s what I do. It’s a totally different focus.
The challenges are honestly quite simple and can be summed up by asking “What do my customers want and how do they want to be treated?” It’s simplistic to say that it’s easy to answer those questions while making a fair profit but that’s all there is to it.
As a recent Dilbert blog said “By far, the most interesting thing to anyone, is themself.” Therein lies all real marketing.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity of the interview.
I’ve begun to suspect that floor pumps have something in common with saddles and political affiliation: Some folks just don’t like some stuff. I recently had a friend notice that I was still using a Silca floor pump. I won’t repeat what he said here, but he would react similarly were I to write in Teddy Roosevelt’s name in an election for any office.
He complained that his 50-year-old eyes couldn’t see the gauge, that he had to bend over too far to fully depress the plunger, the base was too small, the hose too short, the rubber seal wore out too quickly due to the threaded valve stems on his preferred tubes, the chuck didn’t accept the Schrader valves on his mountain bike and the handle was too small for his increasingly bony hands.
I may be outspoken in my views, but I do endeavor to be fair, even handed. I reasoned there must be others who don’t share my love of the Silca and I ought to see if there are pumps out there better suited to their needs. I did some checking around and found a pump that answered each of his criticisms; when I ran it by him, he liked it better than what he was using.
Enter the Torelli Amalfi floor pump. It has a small-diameter barrel to make it easy to achieve 8 bar, a 38-inch long hose, a self-converting pump head, a bleed-off button in case you overshoot your chosen pressure, a large base easy to get a foot on, a gauge placed at the top of the pump rather than the bottom for easy reading, a large and soft handle. Oh, and the barrel is a full two inches longer than that of the Silca, meaning that not only do you not have to lean over as much, it takes fewer strokes to reach your chosen pressure.
The suggested retail price for the Amalfi pump is $79.95. Serfas, to be fair, offers a very similar pump with a different base, handle and no bleed-off valve. Finding this pump, or one like it, shouldn’t be too hard, but I have a high level of trust that Torelli dealers will have replacement parts in stock.
Much as I love my Silca, I’ve used some wheels lately that had rims just a bit deeper than normal, leaving average-length valve stems protruding from the rim less than normal. The Torelli pump was handy for securing the head to the shortish valves; and while it may seem like the thing to do is buy tubes with the proper length valve, I do that for my own wheels; on review bikes and wheels, I only replace flatted tubes. The Amalfi made my life a little easier.
When I was introduced to my first arm warmers, they seemed like the punchline to a lousy joke. At the time, I lived in a place where temperatures at the start of a ride weren’t often terribly different from those at the finish. A cool day that deserved a long-sleeve jersey for even a minute, almost always did so for the whole of the day.
Those armwarmers I saw friends wear on late spring and early fall days did little to sell the concept, either. All black and usually made from Lycra with a bit too much stretch. Safety pins did the job of gripper elastic. Who in their right mind would choose armwarmers over a long-sleeve jersey that carried a design down each sleeve?
In the twenty-plus years since our introduction, I’ve moved, learned a thing or two and armwarmers have come a long, long way. They are now an indispensable part of my wardrobe and the reasons why are almost innumerable.
The first, biggest, reason is that I live in a place where your arms must be covered during morning rides at least eight months of the year. Many days, if you are on the bike long enough, the temperature can be counted on to rise 10 degrees or more, making clothing adjustments more than necessary.
Thermal Lycra with sublimated designs, improved fit (and less stretch) and gripper elastic have vastly improved the garments’ usability. And I love the look of an asymetric jersey design carried through long sleeves; who can forget the look of the red and blue Motorola jersey? The practicality and flexibility of armwarmers may have made them a necessary part of my wardrobe, but it doesn’t account for my affection for them.
To me, they are the visible embodiment of hard-man style. Their form-following fit befits the hardened physiques of the PROs and the aerodynamic requirement for speed. When I see a bulky long sleeve it makes me think of the countless base miles Euro PROs will accumulate in thermal jackets.
They are to arms what Belgian knee warmers are to the legs. It telegraphs the cold, the early start to the day, the hope for rising temperatures during spring and fall days. For reasons I don’t understand, they are rarely used on mountain stages in Grand Tours, so their appearance to me always spells a Classic.
I took my cues on how to wear armwarmers from the PROs I saw in photos from John Pierce and Graham Watson. Studying photos, I learned to put them on before my jersey so the sleeve came down over the cuff of the armwarmer, rather than pulling them over the sleeves.
Properly fitted armwarmers don’t budge, so when I see the exposed skin of an arm, what I see is a day with changing conditions—fresh rain, a cold wind blowing in. The best, though, are the shots that come from races like Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Lombardy, where the riders have pushed the armwarmers down to their wrists. As it’s not hard to take an armwarmer off, what I see in such shots is an indicator of just how hard the day is, how tactical the racing is and how other than for drinking an eating, the race hangs in too precarious a balance to take a hand off the bar for anything else.
I’m noticing a nip in the air on those early morning rides. It won’t be long now.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
Years ago, I used to argue with a friend about what constituted a sport. We joked that we ought to have a cable access show called “Sport or Not?” Generally speaking, we agreed on the big ones: Football, basketball, soccer, track and field, swimming and, of course, bike racing were all sports. Baseball and golf? We could argue those for hours.
But what about within cycling? Which are the greatest races? It’s hard to find a rider who won’t tell you Paris-Roubaix is the greatest one-day race, but I’ve been challenged to a duel. I have a friend who insists the Giro is a better race than the Tour.
Readers who have followed my work since the days of BKW already know my love for the Tour de France. Stated simply, I think the Tour de France is what happens when you make bike racing a lifestyle.
Bill McGann of excellent site Bike Race Info asked me to contribute a piece to a debate on which race is greater, the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia. Bill is a man who loves a great debate (I once tried to defend rock music against his belief that big band music is vastly superior). Larry Theobald, the owner of the tour company Cycle Italia made his case for the superiority of the Giro. It’s a great argument, but I’m still not swayed. The points are academic, but the arguments are no less impassioned for it.
Photo: John Pierce, Photosport International
The Specialized Toupé Gel Saddle
What passes for variety on the part of some manufacturers often ranges between differences in style and random changes that bear no logical relation to other products in a line. While I’m all for coordinating component choices so that a bike has as harmonious a look as it does function, I think there’s more to putting together a bike than making sure the handlebar tape and saddle match.
Specialized has taken a single approach to saddle design and managed to manifest it in 10 varieties, not counting changes in weight and color. The Toupé saddle comes in three widths, two base stiffnesses and two different padding thicknesses.
The three widths the Toupé is made in are 130, 143 and 155mm. Wisely, the folks at Specialized avoided calling the widest saddle a women’s saddle and instead simply distinguish the saddles according to width and padding.
So how do you determine which width is for you? With the help of the spectacularly named Assometer. The Assometer features memory foam that will briefly record an imprint of your sit bones and measure the distance of one sit bone to the others. The three widths, 130, 143 and 155mm isn’t the actual width of the saddle, but the measurement of the ideal sit-bone width for that saddle.
I’ve often joked that I have a big, fat ass. As it turns out, it’s only sort of medium; I take the 143mm Toupé. To date I’ve tried two widths and two different versions. There is no doubt the 130mm width is too narrow for me; sitting on it feels like I’m sitting on a broomstick without benefit of tutorial by Elizabeth Montgomery.
The Toupé saddles are meant to reduce pressure on the pudendal arteries in men and nerve compression for both men and women. The problem with most saddles of this ilk is that they so reduce pressure on one area, they increase it unforgivably on the surrounding tissues. On many of these saddles the large center cutout has left me feeling like I’m sitting on the saddle rails themselves. Not fun.
Specialized has reduced the width and depth of the cutout to the smallest possible area. The saddles’ ability to reduce pressure and maintain blood flow will vary from one rider to another, but any rider should see an increase in comfort the company says.
Like other saddles I have experienced/reviewed/suffered, the Toupé is a mixed lot for me, but then it is supposed to be. None of the 130mm-wide or 155mm-wide saddles should feel comfortable. The 143mm-wide saddle has been another story. Over bumps and rough road, the Toupé Gel is, in fact, more comrotable than its counterparts. It absorbs shock to a surprising degree. However, it’s not a saddle I can slide around on comfortably; either my sit bones are in place and I’m comfy, or I’m not. As I slide forward on the saddle the edges seem to roll off more dramatically, causing the outside edges of the saddle to place pressure on my nether regions.
The Toupé Team is a different story. It’s a firmer saddle overall, minimal in flex and moderate in padding. And while it is shaped nothing like my preferred saddle of choice, the Fi’zi:k Aliante, I find it to be one of the more comfortable saddles on the market. It provides excellent support when seated on long climbs while also offering sufficient support for moving around during all-out efforts.
My Toupé Team weighed in at 158g, essentially on the money for the published weight, while the Toupé Gel weighed another 40g more than its brother. While the Toupé comes in two very lightweight and minimal versions utilizing carbon fiber, these two are both durable and affordable with the Toupé Team carring a suggested retail of $170 while the Toupé Gel is slightly less at $160.
Growing up, I spent several summers in Vermont. For all its difference to west Tennessee, it might as well have been a different country. The local foods were different, the smells were different, the speech patterns and colloquialisms different but most of all, the landscape and climate were utterly foreign.
Family roots kept us returning to central Vermont, placing us in the shadow of the Green Mountains and the Vermont spur of the Appalachian Trail. We hiked sections of the trail and drove to lookouts. However, my favorite outings were our visits to Killington Ski Area, where we would take the Gondola to the top of Killington and view other peaks, the valleys below, distant lakes and forests of other states as they shrank to hazy horizon.
I was just beginning to ride “10-speeds” and saw in the twisting mountain roads fun waiting to be had. On drives I would press my forehead to the passenger window watching each bend and asphalt wrinkle like a kid nose to glass with a toy store’s Christmas toy display.
When I returned to the area in my 20s, Killington had become home to a stage race held over Labor Day Weekend. While the month of August is the seventh inning stretch to the PROs, for American-based amateurs, it is a cooling ember. In many areas of the country the race calendar is dead. But New Englanders know a good thing when they’ve got it. You race through the August heat because the winter is harder than any sprint.
A stage race over the Labor Day Weekend struck me as the proper send-off to the racing season. There were always a few more crits afterward, but Killington was the last big hurrah. And it wasn’t your typical road race/TT/crit stage rage, either. There was an uphill TT prologue followed by two road races, a downtown crit and a final road race. The five days of racing left everyone spent, no matter what category you raced.
The pictures here are from the first time I saw the race, in 1990. Some of my UMASS teammates were racing with their club teams and I loaded up my touring bike and rode the 120-odd miles up from my apartment to stay with them at a ski house near the race. It was the heyday of the 7-Eleven/Coors Light battle and the only real question on anyone’s mind was whether 7-Eleven could dislodge Greg Oravetz from the lead. (No.)
The first time I did the race I packed on the miles in August, inspired by that year’s Tour de France. Racing the closed roads, climbing through spectators cheering us into debt, flying down the serpentine mountain roads, it was better than I had imagined. Much better. It was also significantly harder.
It’s easy to be nostalgic about your childhood or your college days. What I find myself missing are those big climbing days in 90 degree heat, day upon day of abject suffering as I would train for the biggest race of the season. Labor Day is last call at the bar. Each year as I drove home from the race, I could see the first color in the trees and the cool in the air we felt when we stopped for dinner was a shivering portent of things to come.
The tale of Bernard Kohl just keeps getting more and more curious. The former Gerolsteiner rider enjoyed several days as a third place overall and king of the mountains at the 2008 Tour de France didn’t expect to be caught for his CERA use. Since then he has gradually revealed what he says were the techniques he and his manager, Stefan Matschiner used to try to evade detection.
As tell-all confessions go, this one has been weak. When dealing with the sharp end of a prosecutor, you tell, well, that “whole truth” thing. We all know that the point of a confession is to expose your misdeeds in toto so that the techniques used in the crime may be known and the other participants may be brought to justice.
In June Kohl revealed that he and Matschiner used the published results of other athletes’ non-negative tests to judge just what the tipping point was for the biological passport.
RKP checked with Paul Scott of Scott Analytics to see if Kohl’s assertion passed the sniff test.
“It’s certainly believable,” said Scott. “The manipulation Kohl is talking about is reasonable.”
But he made it clear that such evasion would require a coordinated effort.
“Riders couldn’t self test these things.”
It begged the question: If riders need sophisticated testing to monitor their blood profile so that they can theoretically stay under WADA’s radar, how are they doing the testing? Kohl’s latest statement to the press purports to reveal just how they worked to evade detection (even if they weren’t ultimately successful).
Allegedly, Matschiner was bribing the staff at multiple—as in more than one—WADA-accredited laboratories to conduct tests on blood samples of athletes he was managing, which, according previous statements by Kohl, included at least one other Gerolsteiner teammate, though he wouldn’t say which one. The employees he bribed were paid between 150 and 500 euro per test and the labs in question were located in central Europe.
The Austrian anti-doping agency, NADA, gave Kohl a two-year ban to which he reacted with disappointment.
“I’ve made my statement and I’ve been honest,” said Kohl; he declined to say whether he told NADA the names of his suppliers. “It’s a shame that I got the same penalty as someone who denies everything. This is the wrong way. I definitely made clear how I got it and what my reasons behind it were.”
But he claims now to have additional information; this is precisely the sort of cooperation that could have resulted in a reduced suspension. His revelation prompts a few questions, but the first and perhaps most important one is, “Why now?”
He has made it clear he doesn’t want to name names in the press, but obviously this points to other information he can reveal without naming a name. So why did he wait? It is fair to wonder if he just wants to be in the press. Many a criminal has developed a taste for headlines.
This latest disclosure was to the German television network ARD. The Viennese public prosecutor has demanded Kohl be brought in for a new hearing into his knowledge of the doping that occurred.
Should Kohl’s allegations be substantiated, WADA has a colossal problem on its hands. One of the agency’s most important responsibilities has been breached: Its labs’ employees can be had for a price. A pretty cheap price at that. Any cyclist (or other athlete) with the money and cojones to mount a brazen defense, a defense that would make Landis’ protest seem timid, could be expected to accuse the lab’s employees of being paid off to tamper with their sample. How do you defend against that? And what about the possibility of being paid not to test a sample?
Should we be surprised by this possibility? Perhaps not. Payola, bribery, alliances—whatever you want to call it—has been around bike racing for decades. Riders have been paid to ride hard or ride hardly at all. If lab techs can be paid to test an extra sample, they can be paid to lose a sample, substitute a sample or tamper with a sample. It’ll just take more money. When integrity is for sale the menu is a la carte.
Photo: John Pierce, Photosport International