Perhaps no other stage in the 2009 Tour de France was as pivotal as Stage 17 to le Grand Bornand. It’s easy to argue who was right or wrong, depending on your view of the tactics employed, but there’s little doubt that it was a dramatic stage. John Pierce has compiled an impressive and illuminating set of images from the day. Here they are in chronological order.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
I’m not a Luddite. I need to say that as a prelude to the defense I am about to mount for a technology that has been abandoned as thoroughly as the Conestoga wagon. I’ve missed the quill stem for years now for rather selfish reasons. Every time I’m involved in a photo shoot for a bicycle frame with fork, I wish that I was shooting a fork with a cut steerer finished with a beautiful headset, say one from Campy or Chris King. The results from those shoots are so much more satisfying when there’s not six inches of carbon fiber steerer extending from the top of the head tube.
Deep breath … that’s a problem that almost no one else has.
I also miss the quill stem when I pack a bike for travel. Whether I’m packing one of my bikes in a travel case or even a cardboard box, I’ve always appreciated how I could loosen a bolt that was always 6mm, give a tap from a hammer and the stem would slide free. Simple and consistent.
Unfortunately, the needs of the traveling cyclist have been answered with a variety of travel products, some more enjoyable than others. And the way the airline bike charges are going, bike cases and cardboard boxes will cease to enter cargo holds altogether with.
But those are relatively minor annoyances when compared with the loss of handlebar height adjustability. The combination of a quill stem with a two- or four-bolt faceplate offers an incredible degree of adjustability. It’s easy to say that you can just leave several centimeters of steerer and place spacers above or below the stem, but that’s becoming less and less the case. New steerers from several manufacturers won’t permit more than 3cm of spacers between the stem and the top bearing of the headset and not more than 1cm of spacer above the stem due to the expander plug’s ability to fracture unsupported steerer.
I’ve been working on some reviews of bikes that will be running here shortly and have struggled to achieve the right combination of bar height and reach to allow me to hit that sweet spot of handling. It’s been 10 years (give or take) since most manufacturers offered bikes with quill stems; the benefits touted with threadless stems included lower weight and a reduced likelihood of misalignment between the handlebar and front wheel in the event of a crash.
Reduced weight isn’t a bad thing, but I don’t understand why this particular idea caught on to the degree that it did. I’ve seen plenty of crashed bikes that suffered a sheered steerer at the stem or upper headset bearing. No upside to that.
In bicycle fitting there was a simple calculus that all the bike fitters I knew kept in mind. I knew that for every 3cm up or down I moved the bar I needed to change the stem length by 1cm, longer if the bar came up, shorter if the bar moved down.
Does anyone still recall that you used to be able to order Cinelli stems in 5mm increments?
It’s too much to hope that the industry will resume using quill stems; it would be smarter to hold out hope that we’ll have free universal wi-fi available worldwide by the end of the year. Yeah, I thought you might laugh. However, is it asking too much to want more choices in stem angle? I know we all think that a stem with a positive rise (more than 90 degrees from the steering axis) looks silly, wouldn’t it make sense to offer stems in at least three angles, say 80, 84 and 88 degrees?
As the industry moves further and further from custom sized bikes on the high end, riders need more options to achieve proper sizing through component selection. Multiple setback seatposts are necessary just as multiple angle stems and multiple reach and drop bars are must-haves. It used to be that when I encountered a rider whose bike didn’t handle well I thought there was a problem first with the wheels, second with the bike. Today, I’m convinced that most of the time if there’s a problem with a bike’s handling, that problem is rooted in fit. Move the saddle, move the bar and you can usually solve the problem and in the end, that makes more sense to me as a means to help most riders; as much as I love custom bikes, what we really need more of is flexibility in component selection.
When I think of the cycling brands that have consistently set the bar in design, Giro is one of the first names that comes to mind. I can’t think of a single dud during the company’s history. Most brands out there have had some not insignificant missteps:
- Schwinn’s application of the Paramount name to TIG-welded frames in the 1990s.
- Campagnolo Delta brakes—beautiful, but ineffective.
- Modolo Morphos levers—they did more to hurt an excellent bar maker than competition did.
- Bell V1 Pro—that single helmet did more to set back the helmet cause than any head injury.
The V1 Pro and its predecessor, the Biker, offered cutting-edge protection for one of the most important organs in your body. Unfortunately, when Star Wars hit the silver screen three years after the introduction of the Biker, the Imperial Storm Troopers looked oddly familiar and while Star Wars fashions were all the rage at roller discos, cycling in America had yet to figure out hip. The V1 Pro looked rather like a leather hairnet on steroids and rigor mortis. The two designs were similar for fairly obvious engineering reasons, but both helmets missed the boat in attractiveness and ventilation. They were successful products for their time, but large numbers of cyclists—the majority by most statistics and my memory—avoided them like cod liver oil.
Jim Gentes introduction of the Giro Prolight in 1986 was a watershed moment for bicycle racing. Had Gentes been a motorcyclist, many of us might have trouble counting the concussions we’d have had by now. The look of amateur bike racing was instantly transformed and as PROs began to wear them at stateside events, Giro helmets became almost fashionable.
Since then only Bell and Specialized have truly been able to compete toe-to-toe with Giro. Several European brands have struggled to meet ANSI requirements. It’s fair to say that while its supremacy in helmet manufacturing has been challenged, no other company has had it in its rear view mirror.
Mastering a single market segment is tough to do, so I immediately wondered why Giro would enter the eyewear category. After all, one failed product can kill a whole industry, and while it is ludicrous to think a bad bike helmet could set us back to the BLH (before leather hairnet) era, New Coke proved that a sales win could still give you a black eye.
So I asked Giro the simplest of questions: Why eyewear?
Their response: Eyewear “had become a bit stale.” Citing the company’s reputation and expertise in fit, design and engineering, they believed they could breathe new life into sunglasses designed specifically for cyclists. The following five bullet points are the response I got verbatim:
- Lens interchange systems had not evolved from the most basic “tug and snap” interface (so we developed “PopTop” technology in the Filter sunglass)
- Nobody was engineering frames to fit with modern helmets (hence, Super Fit Engineering to create temple that minimize or eliminate fit issues with helmets)
- Styles had become stagnant (so we’ve been developing 2-4 styles a year)
- Lens technology wasn’t evolving much (we’ve worked with Zeiss to develop 3 proprietary lens tints for cycling, and we’re working on lens coatings and more…)
- Benchmark products had not evolved in a decade (imagine that same scenario for frames, components, helmets, etc!)
While most of these criticisms could be leveled at any competing eyewear maker, the third and fifth points seem most particularly appropriate to Oakley; the M-frame was more than 10 years old at the point Giro began its design work and the lens shapes had hardly changed; indeed the Heater lens, which looked oh-so-stylish on John Tomac in 1991 looks positively Halloween costume today … and it’s still available.
When I first saw the eyewear line I will admit I didn’t like the look of the company’s flagship wraparound, the Havik. Love the name, didn’t dig the styling. If anything, that was a good thing. The first time I saw the M-frame with the Heater I thought it looked a little too Buck Rogers. Then it grew on me. The recent retake on the design gave the shades a larger lens, slimmer frame and is now called the Havik 2.
Giro’s designers worked hard to create ventilation points to prevent fogging. There are ports at the temples and in the nosepiece to circulate just enough air to prevent fogging. It’s a tricky balance, that. Too much airflow can dry out your eyes, which will—ironically—make them water, leaving you with the feeling that you might as well not even have glasses on for all the good they are doing. Too little airflow and they can fog up, forcing you to take them off just so you can make out the wheel ahead.
I live in a fairly humid place and if eyewear has any inclination to fog, I’ll find out when I get to the start of my morning group rides. I’ve made enough of an effort on the way there to begin to sweat, so when I stop and wait for the others to arrive, I achieve a magic confluence of cool temperatures, warm water vapor and high humidity. Every pair of glasses I’ve ever worn has fogged up. That said, how quickly the fogging occurs varies like flavors of soda. The Havik will fog a bit more slowly than Oakley’s Radar, but much compared to the Jawbone, much more slowly.
Styling and fogging are minor points really when considered against the importance of lens clarity, quality and tint. Giro touts the excellent clarity of their Zeiss optics. My experience with Zeiss lenses goes back to my first introduction to Nikon cameras and the clarity that came with even their least expensive products. I’ll take their word that the impact resistance is sufficient; if it’s not and I find out, I suspect I’ll have bigger issues to consider, so I’m not too concerned.
But on the subject of lens tint, I get very picky. On a weekend day, my eyewear must be light enough to accommodate the low-light levels of a cloudy morning and yet dark enough to protect me from the bright sun of a cloudless noon. I’ve noticed that the difference in light from 7 am to noon at my home can be five F-stops or more, which is enormous considering that aperture is a squared function.
Specialized chose to address this problem with Adaptalite technology; consequently my Specialized shades are terrific on the darkest of early mornings, and just barely do the job when I’m heading home after coffee following the Saturday ride. With the Havik 2, I’ve been riding with the Rose Silver 23Z lens, which has shown remarkable flexibility so far. I’d actually prefer something that’s just a touch on the dark side when I leave home so that the sun isn’t quite so intense at mid-day. It is one of, if not the most adaptable lens tints I’ve used.
With almost two years in the eyewear category Giro has accomplished much. Any well-capitalized company can buy a ProTour team endorsement, but getting those athletes to wear bad glasses during a race’s hardest moments is not guaranteed. Establishing distribution and a sales force able to penetrate into even conservative shops isn’t easy; anyone who has worked in a shop has memories of trusted sales reps and the reps the shop owner used the staff to run interference. Oh, and there’s one other little detail that impressed me: I’m not surprised these glasses fit Giro helmets, but I am impressed they fit helmets from Bell and Specialized; clearly, they did their homework.
Alberto Contador photo: John Pierce, Photosport International
In the time since the Tour de France finished in Paris, images have been pouring in from John Pierce of Photosport International. While I’ve said what I have to say about this year’s Tour, most of Pierce’s Wal-Mart collection of photos have yet to see the light of day. The images have literally been coming in faster than I can file them. I’ll do a couple of these.
The ongoing talk and writing on the subject of Lance Armstrong vs. Alberto Contador has pretty well played itself out. The world is full of two alphas fighting for dominance. Whatever. The most interesting observations and most challenging disagreements have been made concerning the tension between Contador and his director, Johan Bruyneel. (Oh, and I apologize to all of you who thought of the 1980s sitcom starring Tony Danza.)
When is it okay for a rider to disobey his team director?
The question may seem academic, but our perception of what’s acceptable can determine our attitudes toward riders, their directors and even whole teams. Opinions have been so sharply divided on Armstrong and Contador, they might as well be charted as red or blue states. But the issue of Contador and Bruyneel isn’t necessarily as clear cut. Sure, plenty of Contador fans see Bruyneel as having been in league with Armstrong, but the fact is, Contador disobeyed his DS. It’s one thing to consider your teammate another competitor, but it’s another to think your DS can’t or won’t guide you to victory even if they know you’re the strongest rider in the race.
Tour de France chronicler Bill McGann, occasionally of these parts and more often of Bike Race Info asked me what I thought of Stephen Roche’s attack of Carrera teammate Roberto Visentini at the Giro d’Italia. Visentini was in the maglia rosa when Roche attacked.
The English-speaking press has traditionally portrayed Roche’s actions as justified, the acts of a guy who never was fully supported by his team. The fact is Roche attacked his teammate who was already in the lead.
My initial reply to McGann was that Roche’s attack was almost certainly wrong at the time but that history had vindicated his attack. Wait a second, though. At the time of Roche’s attack no rider from the Ireland or the U.K. had ever won a Grand Tour; statistically, his eventual victory was unlikely. McGann believes Visentini would like have won the Giro had Roche not attacked.
Cyclists may like Roche’s self-confidence, but that doesn’t change the fact that he attacked the Giro’s previous winner and current leader. It’s easy to come up with objective arguments in either Armstrong or Contador’s favor for why they should have been unquestioned leader of Astana, but there was virtually no reason to consider Roche for leadership.
Again, this may seem an academic argument, but the potential for this sort of conflict comes up all the time. It is increasingly common (likely, even) that a team will have two riders capable of a strong GC ride in a stage race. Some times it is easily resolved; consider Garmin’s example with Bradley Wiggins and Christian Vande Velde. Other times there is some tension, but the upstart asks for permission to ride for himself. Consider Silence-Lotto’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck who asked permission to ride for himself following following Cadel Evans’ implosion.
The ’09 Tour has been often compared to the ’86 duel between Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault, but it is the psychic alter ego of the ’85 Tour when LeMond was the young upstart who by many—if not most—accounts was stronger than Hinault and could have beaten him. LeMond fans wring their hands about how he was screwed by his team, how Paul Koechli lied to him, how the promise of support in ’86 was penance for his incredible sacrifice in ’85.
But here’s the real question: If winning a race requires your utmost in fitness, strategy and even politics, when isn’t the winner deserving? Should winning come at any cost, even if it means virtual destruction of team cooperation?
Do, as Macchiavelli wrote, the ends really justify means and does that give a rider the right to overrule his director? In starker terms, does the fact that Roche won justify his attack.
Photo: John Pierce, Photosport International
The first product I ever used as a chamois cream was Noxema. My teammates let me in on their little secret after I confessed that I was battling multiple saddle sores. The revelation improved my relationship with countless pair of substandard shorts, and made the good shorts heaven itself. It eventually fell from favor as shorts improved but as I aged and my skin became more sensitive it became a necessity once again.
When I ran across Beljum Budder in its red, black and yellow accented tube, I knew I needed to check it out. In the exploding market of chamois creams, a chamois cream that evokes Belgium and maintains a sense of humor definitely gets points for style.
I’ve been using Beljum Budder on rides longer than two hours for a few months now. The first major difference between Beljum Budder and some of the other chamois creams I’ve used lately is the fact that the mentholy-zing on this stuff is much less pronounced. It goes on easier and if I pull over to respond to nature it isn’t reactivated by a little fresh air, nor does it make the act unnecessarily difficult.
One of the oddest things I’ve noticed about some chamois creams is that they are actually too slick, at least for my taste; I don’t like the feeling that my nether regions are as slick as freshly lubed ball bearings. I’ve got no such issue with Beljum Budder. The cream seems to strike the right sort of balance between preventing chafing and making things slippery. Sorry if that headed into TMI, but the very nature of the discussion crosses at least one boundary, (cough).
While I like interesting scents for my embrocations, I prefer my chamois cream to be unadorned. Beljum Budder is, thankfully, almost perfectly scent-free.
I’ve been using an 8-ounce tube for three months and still have a long way to go before finishing it. It has caused me to wonder if I don’t use the stuff more judiciously because it’s not in a tub. While I certainly prefer embrocations in tubs, I think chamois cream may go further if it is sold in a tube. And for those who apply cream to their shorts rather than themselves, a tube is likely a good deal easier for application.
The 8-ounce tube carries a suggested retail price of $19 on the Beljum Budder web site. For $11, you can get 10 .3-ounce single-use packets, which are terrific for traveling.
I’ve yet to run across a chamois cream that I flat-out disliked or one that didn’t perform acceptably, so that may make recommending one cream over another difficult. Even so, that doesn’t mean I haven’t formed a strong preference; Beljum Budder is definitely my favorite so far.
One of the great tragedies of the bicycle industry is that most of the best work being done in bicycles is presented to readers on crap paper. So, when I heard that someone was finally going to publish a coffee-table book on handbuilt bicycles I couldn’t wait to see a copy. The book is published by images Publishing, which is known for its books on design and architecture and written by Australian cyclists Christine Elliott and David Jablonka.
Amazingly, Elliott and Jablonka uncovered builders I’ve never heard of, very fine builders who certainly deserved to be presented alongside the likes of Richard Sachs and Dario Pegroretti. Those discoveries are perhaps the book’s greatest treat. But those discoveries come at a price. The authors profiled 39 builders, a mere fraction of the builders who appear annually at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, but given the realities of paper cost and the amount of time writers are typically afforded to work on a nonfiction title and you are quickly forced to make some hard decisions. The representation is refreshingly international. Represented are builders from the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy.
Those choices—whom to include and whom to leave out—seem almost random. Many of the builders included are must haves: Richard Sachs, Dario Pegoretti, Bruce Gordon and Alex Singer. No book on handmade frames would be complete without them. Pleasantly, there are some lesser known veterans who could have been easily overlooked but no less deserving of the attention; I’m thinking specifically of Andy Newlands of Strawberry and Dave Bohm of Bohemian. However, there are some glaring omissions. No Brian Baylis, no Peter Weigle. Independent Fabrication is included but no Seven or Serotta.
At 240 pages, the profiles range between four and eight pages depending on the number of photos used. And the text, though brief, does a serviceable job of giving an overview of the operation while leaving the majority of the space devoted to a builder for photography.
The photography is, unfortunately the most hit-or-miss aspect of the book, which I find utterly baffling. Hard bound coffee table books are about nothing such much as gorgeous photography. For a book like this, the author isn’t so much the writer as it is the photographer. However, most of the photography is supplied by the builders, sometimes shot by the builders themselves, sometimes shot by a pro hired by the builder. That lack of continuity is frustrating and ultimately it gives some builders a much better presentation than others. In some cases—such as the lifestyle shots provided by Signal Cycles—the builder-supplied shots add a dimension to the portrait giving depth that might otherwise have taken, well, another 1000 words. Some builders included lots of shop shots, some none. The result is a quirky patchwork, but it does give each portrait a surprising individuality as a result.
That I find points to criticize in this book shouldn’t lead you to think I don’t like it. I love this book. I’m critical because this is a topic to which I’ve devoted great thought. And because some of the work contained within is very good, it’s reasonable to hope for the same level of work throughout.
Simply put, for the fanatics, this is a must-have. Because it is hard bound the press-run was likely fairly short; if you want it, don’t wait around to pick it up. And if this one sells well, maybe the publisher will decide to do a second volume and hit another 40 builders; lord knows there are plenty just as deserving.
The builders included:
Anderson Custom Bicycles
Bilenky Cycle Works
Black Sheep Bikes
Bob Brown Cycles
Bruce Gordon Cycles
Columbine Cycle Works
Cycles Alex Singer
Davidson Handbuilt Bicycles
Don Walker cycles
Ira Ryan Cycles
Jeff Jones Custom Bicycles
Keith Anderson Cycles
Llewellyn Custom Bicycles
Naked Bicycles and Design
Richard Sachs Cycles
Roark Custom Titanium Bicycles
Steve Potts Bicycles
When I was a kid the Fourth of July was summer perfected, a day devoid of household chores where my family and I moved from one party to the next, and ending in the mother of all parties (relative to my short life). Consequently one of the worst days of the year was July 5th. It should have been summer at apogee—the smell of sulphur hung in the damp morning air and the shells of dazzling light littered neighbors’ lawns. Yet I always felt a sadness. In my head, summer was all downhill.
Today, July 5th has been replaced by the Tuesday following the finish of the Tour de France. That Monday has always been a day of processing, reading follow-up stories, post-race interviews and looking at photos. Even in the 1980s when I was a shop rat, that Monday was the last coverage of the Tour de France in the New York Times. I’d pick up a copy on my way to work at the shop and I’d be joined by the other wrenches as we poured over the list of results.
And so Tuesday has traditionally been the day where the absence sinks in. No online coverage, no live updates, no TV, and the only fresh news possible is a non-negative result—the last thing in the world I want from the Tour.
But honestly, how often could I have taken another week of the Tour de France? The combination of online and TV coverage takes over my life, short-circuiting my ability to have even the most important conversations.
“What are we going to name the baby?”
“I don’t know; can we talk about it during the commercials?”
Kidding, but almost not. During the ’89 Tour I dreamt about the race three different times. In one, Laurent Fignon and I were teammates and worked for the same shop; we’d race in the morning and fix bikes in the afternoon.
It took me more than 20 years of following the Tour de France to realize that each year, no matter how entertaining the race is (and with the exception of ’94 and ’95 it is always very entertaining) I need it to end. I can’t spend 365 days a year the way I spend July. It’s the party that, while not yet over, you pull yourself from, knowing that there’s a ride in the morning and to stay to the bitter end will involve a conversation with the cops.
Even in this age of parting shots and counter shots, though the race may wind down later than usual, it does conclude in our hearts. Thank heaven; now I won’t cut the visit with friends at the coffee shop short. And that’s the embarrassing part: We might joke about going through withdrawal, but for those of us who come under the race’s sway the way a werewolf does with the moon, we’re different people, short-circuited in a way that only a junkie could identify.
But now that we’ve got our wits about us once again, bring on the Vuelta!
Image: John Pierce: Photosport International
Bill McGann is best known to the cycling world as the former proprietor of Torelli Imports. These days he spends his time writing about cycling and has two excellent volumes on the Tour de France to his credit.
Discussions of the strength of the 2009 Astana squad regularly bring up mention of the great teams of the past. The most commonly cited “greatest team ever” is the 1986 La Vie Claire team of Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond. Padraig put forward a strong case for this argument.
But hold on. Let’s not forget the LeMonds and Hinaults of the more distant past. I would like to submit 2 Tour teams for consideration for the “Greatest Ever” trophy.
The sport was different then. The bikes were fixed-gear, lugged, mild-steel affairs with terrible brakes. The stages were staggeringly long, sometime approaching 400 kilometers. This put an emphasis on endurance rather than speed. Stages would start before sunrise because they could take 13 or more hours to complete. There was another joker in the deck. Early Tour riders had to perform their own repairs. Broke a spoke? Replace it yourself. Got a flat tire? Repair it yourself. Broke a fork? Go to a blacksmith’s shop and fix the fork yourself. And don’t you dare let anyone help you, even by working the bellows, or you’ll be penalized.
Yet, for all those differences, they were the same as us. Riders then were dedicated athletes who trained hard and rode at the very limits of their abilities. They were revered and idolized by sports fans. The crowds along the roads then, like now, were huge. In 1908 there was one team that stood above all others of the time, and perhaps above all others for all time, Peugeot.
On that team was the 1907 Tour winner, Lucien Petit-Breton. I believe he is the most complete rider of the pre-World War One era, often labeled by cycle historians as the “heroic” or “pioneer” era. He could sprint, climb, descend and roll along the flat for hours. He was the first racer to win the Tour de France twice.
Also on the 1908 Peugeot team:
François Faber (1909 Tour and 1913 Paris-Roubaix winner),
Georges Passerieu (2nd 1906 Tour, 1st 1907 Paris–Roubaix),
Emile Georget (won 6 stages in the 1907 Tour, but only came in third that year because he was penalized for an illegal bike change),
Henri Cornet (awarded victory in the 1904 Tour after a great cheating scandal resulted in the disqualification of the 4 riders ahead of him),
Hippolyte Aucouturier (winner of 1903 and 1904 Paris–Roubaix, 2nd in the 1905 Tour de France and owner of the finest handlebar mustache in cycling history),
Jean-Baptiste Dortignacq (3rd in the 1905 Tour and the first foreign winner of a stage in the Giro),
Gustave Garrigou (2nd in 1907 and 1908 Tours de France and Tour winner in 1911), and
Georges Paulmier (would go on to win 2 stages in the Tour).
Nearly all of the riders on the Peugeot team were outright champions, men who today would command their own teams.
What did this outstanding group of men accomplish in the 1908 Tour de France?
They won every single stage. All 14 of them.
Peugeot also took the first 4 places in the General Classification, plus 6th and 8th place.
They weren’t racing against a bunch of chumps. Among the other superb riders contesting the 1908 Tour, Italy’s finest were entered: Luigi Ganna, (1909 Giro winner), Giovanni Cuniolo, Luigi Chiodi, Giovanni Gerbi and Giovanni Rossignoli. Forgotten today, they were magnificent athletes. Peugeot’s beating them all was no small accomplishment.
No team has ever equaled that record. I daresay no team has ever come close.
Coming, the French National team of the early 1930s.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International