I’ve got Vince Guaraldi playing, the boy is wearing a onesie that says “Not an Elf” and every blog in America has posted a Christmas gift guide … ‘cept this one. Time to get with the program.
The vast majority of all books on cycling are simply information delivery systems. Whether they are training manuals, repair manuals, accounts of racing or biographies of racers, the vast majority of all cycling titles out there deliver little more than facts. Finding a truly gripping story can be kinda hard.
I’ve known Bill and Carol McGann for more than a dozen years. It might seem odd to see two authors listed on a volume, but to meet Bill and Carol is to see their intertwined talents and inseparable efforts. Bill is an ever-rational Don Quixote, easily inspired into new quests, and Carol is his Sancho Panza, the master of logistics and details. And while I have summed up their roles tidily here, the truth is that except for physically, it’s hard to tell where Bill’s efforts stop and Carol’s efforts begin; their professional efforts are that seamless.
In the late 1990s Bill told me he wanted to put together a comprehensive history of the Tour de France for English-speaking folk. I couldn’t deny his passion, but the guy owned a bike company—Torelli Imports—not a publishing house. It seemed just a little hare-brained a scheme, but I was more than happy to play along. I loaned him every book I had on the Tour in case it was any use.
Three years ago the first volume was released, encompassing the years 1903 to 1964. What unfolded in its pages was an unexpected treat. I was suddenly embarrassed that I’d ever wondered what sort of work they’d produce.
The McGanns are keen students of history. They can discuss Renaissance art and architecture, the satire of Al Capp, or any edition of the Tour de France, all with equal ease. Carol lets Bill take lead, but it’s apparent during his occasional silences that she’s as well-versed as he.
When I confessed in a phone call that I had some trouble identifying with the pre-WWII riders and wondered how it was he found racing in such different circumstances so compelling, he was aghast. “Those guys were going bloody hard!” If I can testify to nothing else, I can say Bill knows a thing or two about going “bloody hard.” And he loves it.
What surprised me in reading both of his volumes was his use of novelistic techniques to tell the stories of these great riders. He can kill off a rider’s relevance—indeed, his whole career—as fast as Flaubert killed off the first Madame Bovary. He uses foreshadowing to build drama and hint at coming tragedy in a way that reminded me of Stephen King.
Asked who his literary heroes are, he cites Homer and Tolstoy. Perfect. Stick the two in a blender and you get a sweeping epic that crushes lives, spans generations, rattles politicians, shapes culture. Sounds a lot like the Tour de France itself.
This account isn’t an account of each stage won and passage of the yellow jersey from one rider to the next. No, it’s a big-picture view; the McGanns mine each year for themes of treachery, transcendent efforts, unchecked ego and Sisyphean heartache. In his telling Icarus falls as often as Oedipus gets the girl. (Ew.)
Here’s a classic example of the storytelling in the books. This is from the 1996 Tour:
It took Riis 11 years as a pro to attain this level. It was a performance the 32-year-old would not repeat. Since that Tour victory, Riis has been dogged by accusations of EPO use, accusations that Riis steadfastly denied until 2007. Riis’ confession was an important part of the dramatic events that rocked the 2007 Tour. We’ll save the details of that episode for later. His young charge, Ullrich, became the first German since Kurt Stoepel in 1932 to make the Tour’s podium.
Whew, I feel like Billy Pilgrim—unstuck in time.
Were you to read every word published on every Tour in l’Auto and l’Equipe and someone were to ask you to sum up the events, what your takeaway was, this would be it. With these two volumes you get perspective, a la Leonardo Da Vinci. Off in the distance each of the lines representing the careers of these riders converge and the McGanns are more than happy to tell you what badasses they were.
The books are available through Amazon or from the Bike Race Info website here.
It’s only natural that a bike meant for longer days would be designed to eat vibration the way a whale sucks down krill. Specialized includes its Bar Phat bar tape with gel inserts to further cut vibration at the handlebar, before lawnmower hand has a chance to become a problem. This tape, of course, is wrapped around a wing bar, easing the degree to which your hands have to wrap around the bar.
The wheels are Roval’s Roubaix, a modern answer to the 32-spoke, 3-cross wheel that remains the favorite of pros racing the event that gave rise to this bike’s name—Paris-Roubaix. The wheels feature 24 spokes front, 30 spokes rear, two-cross, bladed spokes with machined aluminum hubs featuring a Swiss-made freehub rolling on a Specialized 25mm-wide Roubaix tire.
So what else can you do to reduce vibration transmission? How about a Specialized Body Geometry Toupé gel saddle?
Zertz inserts, Bar Phat, wing bar, old-school wheels (sorta), big tires and gel-filled saddle, it all adds up to as many different responses to vibration as I can think of. You might say a no-stone-unturned approach to reducing vibration.
Reducing vibration does more than just increase comfort, though. It reduces muscle fatigue and has the power to make five hours feel like four, leaving you fresher at the end of a long ride. This probably isn’t as big a deal for young riders, but for riders who have celebrated their 50th birthday, nerve pinches and back and neck issues become very real obstacles to comfort if not outright completing long rides.
I don’t want to go too far into the parts spec for this bike; it would be unfair to Specialized to judge the bike relative to my like or dislike of Shimano componentry. There are, however, some important points to touch on.
The Roubaix is spec’d with a compact drivetrain. The crank is Specialized’s carbon fiber S-Works model with 50/34t rings. It is mated to a Shimano Ultegra 12/27t cassette. When one considers that this bike’s most likely consumer is a non-racer, the choice of a compact crank and widely spaced cassette is an entirely logical pairing. Why not give the bike gearing meant for mortals?
The shifters and derailleurs come from the 7900 Dura-Ace lineup, while the brake calipers are Ultegra. The only real fault I can find with the bike is in the Ultegra calipers; they simply don’t offer the same stopping power and modulation as the Dura-Ace grabbers, but that’s something I’m aware of due to riding different bikes. Someone without the same frame of reference won’t have any issue with the Ultegra brakes as they do an adequate, if not pro-worthy performance. On the other hand, the mix of Dura-Ace and Ultegra parts helps bring the cost of the Roubaix Pro in at $5000, as opposed to the cost of the Roubaix SL2, which runs $2200 more. Heck, that’s another bike!
So what’s the Roubaix like out on the road? I think it’s simply one of the most comfortable bikes on the market. People often confuse vibration damping with road shock. The Roubaix won’t fill potholes, hide rocks or smooth driveway ramps, but it has a very real ability to hit everything you ride over with 300 grit sandpaper. It won’t make every road glassy smooth, but it will definitely take the edge off any rough road.
Vertical compliance is an elusive quality to track. I don’t often believe I’ve found it in today’s carbon fiber bikes due to their incredible stiffness. Consider that Dave Kirk, the builder who invented the Serotta DKS suspension, said that suspension system, even when equipped with the softest of the three silicone dampers included with the bike, only saw 1-2 millimeters of vertical travel in the chainstays. I’m sure you experience more vertical compliance with an old Vitus or Alan than any of the current crop of carbon wonders. However, I’ve identified occasions when there was too little vertical compliance and found a bike to be chattery on rougher roads. Yes, a bike can be too stiff. That said, this bike doesn’t have nearly as much vertical compliance as an old Alan or Vitus. I wish that were enough to put the conversation about vertical compliance to rest, but it won’t.
The debate still rages on about whether energy is lost when a bike flexes, particularly when it flexes at the bottom bracket. I’ve got my answer, and had it long ago. For new riders, the answer is much simpler, though. A stiff bike allows someone still developing their skills to apply more force to the pedals with fewer hazardous overtones. On the Roubaix, any power you put into the bike will cause it to continue in the direction it is pointed with nothing so much as increased haste.
Torsional flex is yet another dimension of frame response that can be problematic. In the extreme, torsional flex can make a bike really hard to handle. Anyone who ever rode a Schwinn Twin tandem will tell you it handled like al dente pasta. Early carbon fiber forks from Europe (I’m specifically excepting the Kestrel fork) flexed enough in hard cornering to alter my line. I experienced no torsional flex that I could comment on with this bike. With its enormous-diameter tubes (I could fit a Navel Orange in the down tube) this thing tracked as straight and true as a sheet of drywall, even in aggressive cornering.
The bigger deal with the Roubaix is its handling. When I began building my vocabulary of bikes through ongoing shootouts and reviews, I quickly picked up on a theme of preference. I liked bikes that had really calm manners. They didn’t tend to feel too exciting when I first got on them, but after four hours you appreciated the way they held a line and when on a descent they made 45 mph feel like 35. And because your perception of speed is often the great decider for when you hit the brakes, any bike that makes you feel more in control and less like you’re doing something reckless is going to inspire confidence and a feeling of safety. Heck, you’re likely to go even faster.
The Roubaix seems a first cousin in its handling attributes to some of my old favorites. When I look back on the best descending bikes I’ve ever ridden, many of them have been Italian. CPSC rules prevent American bike manufacturers that deliver complete bikes (as opposed to framesets) from designing with a bottom bracket drop of more than about 7cm; you’ve got to calculate pedal-down lean-angle clearance very carefully to get any more BB drop than that. As I mentioned, Specialized squeezed another 1.5mm of BB drop into the design; it may not seem like much, but even that tiny amount makes the bike easier to lean into turns.
Out on long rides, the easy handling of the Roubaix is a pleasant departure from the twitchy reflexes of many bikes. You can sit up and look around, enjoy yourself, see the sights—and not worry that you’ll soon run off the road. Is there a more appropriate bike to take on a century traversing back roads of questionable maintenance? Maybe not.
The issue of weight must be addressed or it will seem like I left out the be-all, end-all number. It’s not, but that number is 16.06. Given the pavé-capable wheels and tires spec’d on this bike, that’s a very impressive number.
The number of people who enjoy road riding has has increased by multiplicatives in the last 10 years thanks to charity rides, Lance Armstrong and a host of other factors. When you consider how many of them joined the USCF (their numbers are up, but they haven’t doubled) you realize a very small percentage of newer roadies have moved into what many folks think is a much more aggressive expression of the sport. The Roubaix is an appropriate response for tens of thousands of riders who don’t need the agility of a bike like the Tarmac.
The 2010 Roubaix does feature some different parts spec from the 2009. That it has taken me so long to write this review is something of a disservice to Specialized. I’m sure you’ll be able to find this bike on the floor at many bike shops, but I’ll note the differences in spec for the new season. The big changes are as follows: a Dura-Ace 50/34t crank is substituted for the Specialized carbon fiber model. An Ultegra front derailleur replaces the Dura-Ace model. An even wider-spaced 11-26t cassette is exchanged for the 12-27t one. A narrower, 23mm tire replaces the 25mm one; both feature 120 tpi casings with Flak Jacket protection that seem impervious to all but land mines. Finally and most significantly, the Roval wheels on the ’09 bike are replaced with Roval Fusee SL wheels, a noticeably lighter set. The 2010 bike will weigh closer to 15.5 lbs. out of the box.
As a reflection of the population, grand touring bikes ought to be dominating road bike sales. Specialized did much to remove the stigma from these bikes by offering the Roubaix in carbon fiber and giving it top quality parts spec. In a world dominated by bikes made for American crit racing, the Roubaix is one of the most intelligently designed bikes I’ve ever ridden. Easily one of my all-time favorite bikes.
As I did with bikes I reviewed at BKW, I’ll be scoring bikes on a 100-point system. It will take into account every facet of the bike: price, design, effectiveness for given consumer, parts spec, fit considerations, handling, weight, stiffness, road feel and even availability, the idea being a $2000 bike has the same chance of scoring 100 points as a $10,000 bike if it accomplishes its consumer-oriented goals.
Specialized Roubaix Pro: 94 points
When Specialized introduced the Roubaix in 2004, it was the first bike on the market to combine top-of-the-line carbon fiber construction with a more relaxed geometry aimed at riders doing charity rides and centuries. Up to this point in time, the handful of bikes out there from the bigger manufacturers that combined a longer head tube for higher handlebar position, a longer than usual wheelbase and more trail for greater stability were made from aluminum and were rarely equipped with anything as nice as Shimano 105.
The implicit message seemed to be that if you weren’t fast you wouldn’t appreciate quality. The reality was simpler: For companies like Giant and Specialized, these early bikes had been aimed at a new wave of cyclists entering the sport, often as a result of events like the AIDS Ride. Getting these riders transitioned to a road bike from a mountain bike had been a significant achievement and there was little stomach on the part of risk-averse product managers to try to steer them into a bike 10 times as expensive as their last.
The road product development team recognized a need for a bike that combined the geometry found in the charity ride bikes with the high performance carbon fiber technology found in their top-of-the-line Tarmac. The Roubaix has been an unqualified hit among more than just the charity ride crowd.
The chicane in the chainstays really doesn’t flex much vertically, but aids in vibration damping
So how different is the Roubaix from the Tarmac? On paper, the differences seem minor, insignificant even. Just a few millimeters here, a centimeter or two there. Let’s compare a 56 in each:
|Seat tube length||53cm||51.5cm|
|Top tube length||56.5cm||56.5cm|
|Seat tube angle||73.25 degrees||73.25 degrees|
|Head tube angle||73.5 degrees||72.5 degrees|
|Head tube length||17cm||19cm|
Three dimensions are the big determiners for fit: the top tube length, the seat tube angle and the head tube length. Those first two—top tube length and seat tube angle are identical. What changes is the head tube length; its greater length gives riders the opportunity to adopt a bar position 2cm higher, allowing them to sit more upright without exposing too much fork steerer above the top headset bearing. As many of you are already aware, too much exposed steerer is at risk for breaking because of the greater leverage the rider can exert on the steerer from the handlebar.
So the bike offered a less aggressive position for greater comfort. The designers didn’t stop there. They increased the wheelbase length by more than 2cm by increasing the chainstay length and by using a slacker head tube angle and more fork rake, thereby increasing the front center distance as well. Practically speaking, this increased the distance between the rider and the wheels, cutting road vibration. More comfort.
The choice to go with a longer wheelbase had an added benefit. It addressed the rider’s more upright position and higher center of gravity (CG) which resulted in reduced weight on the front wheel (relative to the weight distribution in the Tarmac). Bottom bracket drop was also increased to help offset the higher CG; 2.5mm may not seem like much, but it’s enough to make a subtly helpful difference.
The Zertz inserts in the fork are angled to absorb more vibration
The longer wheelbase of the Roubaix means the bike won’t track quite as tight a turn as the Tarmac, but the fact that the slacker head tube angle is paired with more fork rake results in exactly the same trail as the Tarmac. As a result, steering input remains as crisp as the Tarmac’s.
Back to the issue of comfort. The Roubaix’s single most distinctive feature are the Zertz inserts in the fork, seatstays and seatpost. The size of those inserts and the way they are positioned in the fork and seatstays has changed since the Roubaix was first introduced in 2004. They are larger now and positioned more at an angle to the fork blades and seatstays to better serve their purpose, which is to interrupt the transmission of vibration.
I’ve met riders who doubt the Zertz inserts do what they are advertised to accomplish. Having ridden the Roubaix (in various iterations) more than 1000 miles and having ridden other, grand touring category bikes, I do believe that the Zertz inserts cut vibration transmitted through the frame. I often compare vibration—which is different from road shock—with the vibration from a lawnmower. While it’s not nearly as severe, I think the point illustrates the issue rather well. Anyone who has ever used a lawnmower with a two-stroke engine (as opposed to a push mower or an electric mower) knows well the interesting feeling your hands have once you let go of the mower. For a minute or more afterward your hands feel, well, like they are still on the mower. Sex aids wish they were so memorable.
Tomorrow: Part II
It may be said that Southern California is to cold what Belgium is to tropical. Short-sleeve skinsuits are generally the rule for cyclocross in SoCal, but to say cold weather is unknown to cyclists here is to think all cyclists are skinny.
Most of the group rides I do depart early. Whether it’s July or January, we’re on the bike by 7:00, often earlier. Let me tell you that life at the the beach in December isn’t what you think of as life at the beach. In the winter months I do a lot of riding in the 45 to 55-degree range. They are not the freezing conditions I experienced in New England, but proper preparation is no less important.
My preferred embrocation for cooler conditions is Record’s Pregara Forte. You can see my review of it for BKW here. It’s perfect for those days that start in the 60s or the upper 50s but will warm as the sun rises. It’s thin and provides just enough heat to keep my legs warm for about two hours.
However, on those days that start in the lower 50s and may not warm much, Pregara Forte is a couple of spokes shy of a wheel. Last winter I began adding a coating of another Record product, Pregara Impermeabile.
Pregara Impermeabile is meant to be used in cold and especially in wet conditions. It’s heavy on petroleum jelly but has a much stiffer consistency than regular Vaseline thanks to the addition of paraffin and lanolin. Many—if not most—of the other ingredients are mixed in to create the product’s distinctive perfume. Camphor, rosemary, ginger and lavender to create a lovely, heady concoction that conjures thoughts of hard riding for me, and our honeymoon for my wife. As it happens, I brought Record products along instead of knee warmers. Like the smell of apple pie, the scent of Record products fill me with anticipation.
Now because of the petroleum jelly, paraffin and lanolin, this stuff won’t wash off with ordinary soap. I keep a bottle of Dawn dishwashing liquid in the shower during the colder months just for this duty.
- Overall heat—low (best if combined with Pregara Forte)
- Euro style—Incredible shine
- Smell—Better than a Provençal herb garden
- Durability—All day; longer if you’re not careful
Like other Record products, Pregara Impermeabile is available in 100ml tubes and 250ml jars; they retail for roughly $19 for the tube and $32 for the jar. Torelli Imports distributes Record products. To find a Torelli dealer near you, click here.
It may seem like an extra, time-consuming step to add the Impermeabile over Forte, but I have come to love being able to formulate exactly what I need for the day. Even as I try other embrocations, this will stay in my bag of tricks.
Trek and Greg LeMond have been ordered by the judge presiding over their case to hold a settlement conference in a last-ditch effort to avoid going to trial. U.S. magistrate judge Janie Mayeron ordered that the two parties to meet at a St. Paul, Minnesota, courthouse on January 28 for the purpose of perhaps negotiating a settlement.
As a prelude to the meeting, counsels for both parties are to meet on or before January 18 for a “full and frank discussion of settlement.”
However, if Trek and LeMond do not come to a settlement at the settlement conference, each attorney is required to submit a confidential letter to the judge. In it the attorneys must each give a progress report including outstanding issues and analyze their case’s merits and weaknesses.
While the roots of the conflict began with LeMond criticizing Lance Armstrong’s association with Dr. Michele Ferarri, a known proponent of EPO use for cycling, for business purposes, the conflict began when Trek informed LeMond that it would not renew its 13-year licensing agreement with him when it expires in 2010. LeMond filed suit on March 20 claiming that Trek had promoted Armstrong ahead of his brand and asked the court, essentially, to require Trek to continue to make and promote LeMond bicycles. On April 8, Trek sued to sever all ties with LeMond.
Trek cited multiple reasons for severing the relationship including dilution of the LeMond brand name due to mass-merchant line of parts bearing the LeMond name. And while there has been wide-spread belief that the brand never sold well, industry statistics show LeMond was the fifth largest road bike line in the U.S. in 1999.
Whether the case settles out of court seems to be up to LeMond and what his greatest priority is. If protecting his brand and his income is his greatest priority, then the case will get settled behind closed doors; terms of the settlement are likely never to be known. If LeMond’s greater desire is to attempt to expose Lance Armstrong as sporting fraud, then this case is bound for a jury and the fireworks will be considerable.
LeMond’s choice may be pivotal. Should he pursue an open trial, the number of companies will to do business with him will shrink considerably. Certainly any players that consider themselves risk-averse would shy away from any association.
An out-of-court settlement would end the mudslinging and let LeMond get back to his mission of marketing a line of bicycles bearing his name. The business climate has changed significantly for the bike industry since LeMond negotiated his deal with Trek in 1995. The market consolidation taking place then has largely dried up. However, there is one notable exception.
Dorel, the parent company for Pacific Cycle and Cycling Sports Group, is the cockroach that ate Cincinatti of the bike industry. Dorel’s cycling brands include Mongoose, Schwinn, GT, Cannondale, Pacific, Roadmaster, Dyno and Sugoi.
And they are still buying. Recent purchases have included Australian distributor Gemini Bicycles as well as UK distributor Hot Wheels and Circle Bikes. Dorel also acquired the Iron Horse at auction for a measly $5.2 million following the bike brand’s demise amid multiple lawsuits and finger-pointing. Oak trees aren’t a shady as the deals made to try to keep the brand operational.
If LeMond were to go quietly, it wouldn’t take a science fiction author to imagine a deal with Dorel that could place the LeMond name in the mass market, the sporting goods chains or the IBD before the end of 2010.
It’s been a little while since we last spoke to Richard and with ‘Cross Nats just around the corner, it seemed a fine time to catch up about all things ‘cross.
RKP: Richard, you’ve been racing on the road since Sean Kelly was a junior, yet you turned to cyclocross relatively recently and quickly became a big convert. What brought this about?
RS: I don’t think “recently” is accurate. I was at the World’s in London’s Crystal Palace in 1973 when Eric De Vlaeminck won his seventh title and also witnessed the first-ever USA team compete in what was the amateur event earlier in the day. I was hooked then!
RKP: You’ve been legendary in New England for sponsoring racers over the years. How many years have you supported a team of some sort?
RS: As a sponsor, I started doing a ‘cross thing in the middle 1990s as part of the NECSA Junior Development program that I was a bicycle supplier to. The success of that spawned some relationships that took my commercial and benevolent interests to the next level by 1998 or so. I was having more fun in the ‘cross environment than I can recall ever having on the road. The people, the venues, the racing, the time of the year—all of it drew me in and I have never left!
For the record, the Richard Sachs Cyclocross Team as presently known it began 12 years ago. On the road side, the sponsorship program that launched all of this in the early 1980s ended by 2003.
RKP: You’ve sponsored some big names in cyclocross including Jonathan Page and Adam Myerson. How is it that you came to sponsor such accomplished athletes as these and others?
RS: I have never recruited a rider. Both of these cats you name approached me. In 1999 if I recall the chronology correctly, Jonathan called from the airport on his way to spend the several months in Germany. His was a comeback of sorts since he was away one full season focusing on off-road with the Diamondback team. He had no ride for 1999 and took a chance to call me. I said “yes” after thinking about it for a day or so. We Fedexed him a box with two frames, kits, and whatever we had to offer. I first saw him later that year when he arrived home for the Natz in KC, the winter storm event that no one will ever forget, due to the conditions.
Adam’s was a different story and his began in 1996. He approached me at the Tour of Somerville regarding a ‘cross sponsorship. It was a privateer thing, separate from what I was doing with NECSA. The liaison was a complete success from the start. Adam was the consummate pro and marketer. He knew at an early age what the sponsor-racer relationship entailed and gave more than good value for all involved. After two seasons sponsoring Adam alone, we rolled his situation into the NECSA fold for another season or so.
For the record, Adam was our team’s and our brand’s first-ever National Champion (Collegiate Men) and Jonathan, three years after he first signed with us, became our fifth or sixth Stars and Stripes winner with a superb ride at Napa.
RKP: You’re a one-man shop and pay another guy (Joe Bell) to actually paint your frames. Your wait list will outlast the Obama administration and you aren’t taking new orders. Why persist in sponsoring racers if it isn’t really going to contribute to your bottom line? Is this your version of tithing?
RS: I started a team sponsorship program in 1983 and haven’t taken a break from the sport since. At the front end, I sponsored because I was once sponsored. It’s as simple as that. Through all the years, all of the riders, all the sponsors who have helped along the way and have ultimately moved on, one constant is that I continue to support a team because when I was a serious racer (on the road) I had the good fortune of receiving support. There’s no reason to think about it more deeply than that atmo.
RKP: Let’s take a moment to talk about your team’s resume. Would you please refresh my memory of all the big wins and epic performances riders have delivered aboard your frames?
RS: Regarding ‘cross, I am fond of summoning up the fact that we (not me, the team…) have won ten National Championships since 1997. Several were U23 events, some were Juniors, one was a Women’s 30-34 race, several were at the Collegiate level, and one was Page’s win in the Elite Men’s division. I am going by memory now, but I think RS ‘Cross Team riders have raced at the World Championships at least eight different times. Actually, with regard to wins and epic performances, these are and have always been the icing on the cake. My first, last, and in between laundry lists for the sport, the support, and for the riders involved are, 1) represent the sponsors superbly well, 2) do everything it takes in a four month period to make great memories so that, down the road, we all look at each venue, and every weekend and wish we could bottle it all and make it last forever, and 3) help our fellow team mates achieve as many personal racing goals as possible.
(For background read this: http://rscyclocross.blogspot.com/2009/09/19-september-2009-memo-to-richard-sachs.html).
RKP: But it doesn’t end there does it? Judging from your team newsletters, you have been delivering some spankings to the other old guys in New England. You’ve had a good season this year, no?
RS: Results-wise, this has been our deepest season yet. Personally, my goals for 2009 were to race well at all the venues that were priorities for the team. These include the UCI races, the USGP events, and the Verge Points series here in the northeast. I also want a top ten at the Natz in Bend. So far I have won five times—Grenogue, twice at the USGP in Trenton, and then another two times at the NACT races in Southampton, New York. In the Verge Points series I have hovered between third and fifth all season and the last two events are this weekend. On the national level, in the USA Cycling Men’s Masters Cyclocross Rankings, I recently fell from first to fourth in all riders between the ages of 30 and 99, but still have a decent lead in the 55-59 grouping in which I mostly compete. And what can I say about Pookums, a.k.a. Matt Kraus? He was second at the Natz in 2008 in the Masters 35-39 division and finally, after a good long career in the Elites, decided to focus on age-graded racing. Matt has won a bunch so far this fall and is on track for another high finish in Oregon. Dan Timmerman and Josh Dillon are also on their games this season and the long term results speak to that. They are leading the Verge Series in first and second overall, and Dan also is in fifth place in the USA Cycling’s standings for those Elite Men racing in events on the Cyclocross National Calendar. Dan has won at least four UCI events and between him and Josh, the pair has podiumed at least seven times. Will Dugan, reigning 2009 Collegiate National Champion, is also having another fine year with us with many top tens going back to early September. Will’s focus for ‘cross includes parsing out his efforts and using the Natz as the Golden Fleece for the season, after which he’ll start life as a pro roadie with Team Type One. His first training camp with them comes within ten days of the races in Bend next weekend!
RKP: From the photos I’ve seen, your team travels together pretty much, even parking together at the races. It’s a pretty tight-knit bunch it seems. How deliberate is this on your part?
RS: Yes, it’s all part of the plan. The deal is this: we’re a bunch of pals who race. We race hard and often, and our priorities have become the UCI level events. We travel well, stay together, share lots of mid-week emails and laughs, and live for the weekend. ‘Cross fukcing rules atmo, and all that. We’re more like an extended family, a troupe, a private club, a cabal—I could go on….
RKP: You parted ways some weeks back with upcoming talent Amy Dombroski. She says she left the team, but rider contracts normally require agreement from the sponsor as well. I was blown away that anyone would want to leave such a successful formation. Why did she leave?
RS: I initially heard from Amy in the summer of 2007 when she asked for a spot on the RS ‘Cross Team. We had a full roster by that point so I declined. She asked a second time this past May and I thought it could be a good fit, particularly because we had no representation in the women’s field. We went back and forth on how the program works, what the schedule includes, and she was on board with us by late June.
I maintain contact with the riders on the team electronically. Countless emails and phone conversations are exchanged with all members of the team leading up to September, and everyone is CC’d on everything. All know full well by the summer what the plan is for the fall. We are a fully sponsored, soup-to-nuts team and completely looked after by a host of industry suppliers. For the sake of transparency, I should mention here that Amy refused to use the wheels the rest of us were racing (as well as winning on) at all. After agonizing over this very difficult situation that began before ‘Cross Vegas and having to repeatedly address this issue for over a month, I gave Amy an ultimatum: She could either comply with the standards we have in writing and each agreed to way back in June, or all liaisons with my team and its support system would end immediately.
After exhaustive exchanges about stationary weight versus rolling weight, chats about commitment and integrity, and doing all I could to pacify the needs of the sponsorship program without actually going Jersey on one of my riders, I accepted a compromise from Amy. She asked me if I could buy some wheels (from the sponsor) that she deemed light enough to pass her smell test. I ordered two sets of these wheels, delivered them to her in time for USGP in Kentucky, and was happy to see that she podiumed there that weekend. As I routinely do, I spammed out all the pic links to my sponsors on Monday. Cole was ecstatic to hear the news. Finally, after over a month of excuses about the wheels and the brand, she (Amy) finally had a set of Cole wheels in her frame at a race. I’ll add here that, despite Amy’s assertion that her Cole wheels would make her uncompetitive, she had never even USED Cole wheels up until the USGP in Kentucky—or so I thought. I cannot tell you how disappointed I am that all of this revolves around a judgment call about some parts that were never ever pedaled.
But I digress. Upon spamming out the pics I zeroed in on an image or three and realized that these were not Cole wheels at all. After receiving the very wheels Amy asked me to get so that this unfortunate chapter would sink into the past, she took the stickers off the rims and applied them to whatever she was using all along. When I called her to the mat on this, she apologized and admitted to the deception. There’s more to it than I can write here, and all of it is tethered to what I consider a complete lack of respect for a system of support that works extremely well. I thought the ordeal, especially after all the excuses I had to make for her, and all the hand-holding that occurred—after all of this, the relabeling debacle was a major league slap in the face atmo. That’s when I decided to open a window and ask her to come in and fulfill the obligations we all made to each other in the summer, or leave through it.
Looking back on the situation, the issues, the arrogance, and the cavalier attitude that I was met with through every conversation I had with her regarding the wheels and related stuff—it was a very bad rider-sponsor relationship. I have to take blame and responsibility for some of it because I could have been more direct about the wheel thing as soon as I sensed there was a problem. I hoped it would right itself with some prodding, peer pressure, and some long race weekends where the team’s energy would somehow communicate that her choices and actions were wrong and counterproductive. That it lasted until mid October will always be on my conscience because I believed we had a good solid foundation of support and trust, and were well on the way to becoming friends in addition to being teammates. And I’ll further qualify that by adding that, in all of my years running a team, I have never had a bad rider-sponsor relationship.
RKP: Couldn’t re-decaling a set of wheels (or any other component) make you look bad to your sponsor, maybe even endanger your relationship with that sponsor?
RS: Without even getting into the ethics of it or what goes on in behind-the-scenes deals made in other levels of the sport, using any part or component that isn’t supplied by a team sponsor (all parts and suppliers being in place and fully committed by the early Summer before each season begins) is not allowed. Except for this 2009 situation, it has been not an issue that has reared its head in our midst. And, to make it worse than worse, to do a relabeling gig after all the meetings we had about brand loyalty, commitment, and integrity, reflects a character trait that I do not wish to associate with personally or professionally.
RKP: So are you saying Dombroski was willing to risk sponsorship of the entire team just to have what she believed would make the difference in winning?
RKP: Do you give your riders any latitude about what equipment they use or do you specify everything?
RS: I don’t have to. We are a fully supported and sponsored team with every single part supplied by a long term industry brand name. We race on SRAM drivetrains, Oval Concepts stems, ‘bars, and seat posts, Cane Creek headsets and cantis, Cole Wheels, Crank Brothers pedals, Selle San Marco saddles, Wippermann chains, Clement tires, wearing Verge kits, Rudy Project helmets and eyewear, and most of us using Northwave shoes.
RKP: Has anyone complained before?
RS: To me—only Amy
To others—only Amy as far as I know.
RKP: ‘Cross Nats are coming up. You will be facing riders that you haven’t raced against this season. Any guys out there have you concerned?
RS: Will, Josh, Dan, Matt, and myself have all been in fields this year that have the best from the categories we race within. We have at least five wins in UCI races, countless podiums and top tens, Matt has won several Masters 35+ events, and I have won five 55+ races All of us are in very good shape and extremely motivated. Atmo the Natz will be just another day at the office.
RKP: Care to make any predictions about how your team members will go in their races?
RS: We’ll finish the season as we began it: representing all of our sponsors and suppliers in the best manner possible and continue giving good brand. We’ll use the last two weekends to crowd in many more memories that will carry us through the off-season months, and we’ll be there for each other another 20 days or so to ensure that we all get as close as possible to meeting our personal goals for ‘cross.
In-the-trenches images courtesy Anthony Skorochod, CyclingCaptured.com
Long sleeves are as inevitable a part of my cycling life as chamois cream. I may not need them for every single ride, but more often than not, my arms are covered.
That may seem an odd statement for a cyclist living in Southern California. While it is true that I have gone soft since leaving New England, the actual facts of my circumstance might not fit with the typical perception of Lalaland as being sunny and 73. I live just a few miles from the beach in an area known as the South Bay. The Alaskan Current coming down the coast boasts water chilly enough for most surfers to require wet suits year round. All of my rides start by 7:00 am, when the night chill still lingers in the air.
I ride in arm warmers or sleeves for all but about 10 weeks per year. No lie.
My preference is for long, thick arm warmers. I’ve got a few different reasons for this. They are guaranteed to keep out the cold and can be removed if the day really warms that much. They have a form-following fit unlike many a windbreaker, and that pays two dividends—it cuts down on noise and allows others in the pack to see past me more clearly. Anything that can contribute to pack safety I’m all about.
The intermediateEVO jacket was sent to me for a photo shoot and like the gloves I reviewed last spring, I tried it out because, well, because my curiosity wouldn’t allow me not to. On paper it seemed a little strange. The sleeves seemed awfully lightweight, and the windstop fabric in the chest seemed overkill. It seemed like a frame with a 50cm top tube and a 60cm seat tube.
Then I wore it one morning when the temperature had yet to nick 60 degrees and wouldn’t hit 70 until long after I was off the bike. I don’t care whether you call it a jacket or a jersey; it’s kind of the two-headed love child of a jacket daddy and long sleeve jersey mama. Combined with a light base layer (sleeveless in my usage) I was good to the low 50s.
I got home amazed. While my arms were a touch cool on the rollout, once I warmed up its temperature control was so near miraculous, I checked for the thermostat after I took the jacket off later. I’ve done a few different descents in the Intermediate EVO and been amazed at its ability to keep me warm enough.
The windblock material is Assos’ airBlock 799, which is essentially a lighter weight version of the airBlock 851 which is used in the popular elementOne jacket. It’s heavy enough to keep the wind from coming through without being bulky. In short, I’ve never worn a jacket that was this light and still kept me as warm.
Assos suggests the piece is appropriate for temperatures from 48 degrees to 64 degrees Fahrenheit. I usually think these recommendations need to be skewed a bit according to the region you’re in, but I think their guidelines are pretty spot on. I’m still comfortable in this thing up to about 68 degrees, but you start getting pretty sweaty if its any warmer than that.
Of course, one of the big reasons you consider Assos clothing is the fit. Honestly, why other companies (no names mentioned, but basically it’s all of them) haven’t done more to emulate if not actually copy their fit boggles my mind. You can tell an Assos jersey or jacket the moment you put it on because it feels, um, wrong. There’s a tightness across the chest that I suspect is nothing like heart trouble, but it still seems like someone made a mistake. However, as soon as you get on the bike, bend over and put your hands on the bar, the chest loosens up and the shoulders lose their slack in the most elegant way.
How is it that as good as some other clothing is, none fits this well? This reminds me of my first skinsuit, by Assos, which I purchased by just pure, dumb luck. The chest was so tight vertically, it literally pulled my torso down into an aerodynamic tuck. In 20 years I have yet to run across another skinsuit that fit as well. What gives?
And it wouldn’t be Assos if there weren’t other inimitable touches, such as the reflective piping that follows the seaming of the sleeves. And if you’ve ever stuffed your pockets so tight that the contents started to squeeze out, you’ll appreciate how Assos cuts pockets with a pocket; that is, there’s a bit of room in the bottom of the pocket because the outer layer of material is left a little slack at the bottom but snugger at the top. A zippered key pocket will ensure that you can always get back in the door.
Then there’s the price. With a suggested retail of $270, plenty of riders won’t look twice at it. Their loss. The quality of materials, workmanship and fit make this one of those pieces that I suspect could get use six months of the year from many riders.
Perhaps the neatest trick of all is the fact that this jacket/jersey doesn’t rely on the assistance of sponsor logos to look snazzy.