Andrei Greipel has laid down a marker. As the season cranks up and folks begin thinking about who is going to win what, the German sprinter, with three stage wins and an overall at the Tour Down Under, has reminded everyone that the Manx Missile isn’t the only show in (Columbia) sprint town. In the US, the media focus last season was on Tyler Farrar’s attempts to best Mark Cavendish, though Thor Hushovd showed that there is more than one way to skin that particular cat (Get it? Manx? cat? Alright, whatever.)
The standings from 2009 look like this: Cavendish – 23 wins; Greipel – 20 wins; Hushovd – 9 wins; Farrar – 9 wins; and just for excrement and giggles, Edvald Boasson-Hagen had 9 wins (B-H isn’t a sprinter, really, yet, but he’s fast).
So this week’s Group Ride looks at the flats. So many of the season’s tune up races are fodder for the faster fellows.
Who do you think has the best shot at toppling Cavendish? His teammate, Greipel? Hushovd? Farrar? Boasson-Hagen? Or perhaps a dark horse like Gerald Ciolek (Milram), Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank),Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Robbie McEwen (Katyusha), Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) ?
Who is the next, next thing, or the old, next thing or the right now thing? Who will save us from Cavendish’s inane victory celebrations? Who has the best shot at being the fastest man in the peloton in 2010?
Every bathroom needs at least one cycling volume. Back when I had roommates I used to leave a history of Mont Ventoux, in French, on the tank of the toilet, just to mess with them. When I was younger, my volume of the Rolling Stone Record Guide occupied the coveted tank spot.
I’ve got a new book to occupy those trips to the reading room. Title rather simply, Bicycle History the first book from Bill and Carol McGann’s new venture, McGann Publishing, is a year-by-year assemblage of bicycle trivia, spanning 1860 to the present.
For the suspiciously minded: Frequent readers of RKP will recall that Bill McGann has contributed to RKP. Anyone who purchases a copy of the book will find a cover blurb I wrote for it. In neither case did any money change hand. I like what he does and he seems to have some regard for RKP. That’s as far as this goes. End of full disclosure.
Imagine a perfect world. In Utopia, I expect there would be a game show devoted to bicycle trivia. Who won the 1952 edition of Paris-Roubaix? When was the toe clip invented? And by whom? This volume could serve as the perfect source material.
Bicycle History is a compendium of facts unbridled from the constraint of a narrative in which the author might seek to impress upon the reader a larger truth. As a result, it’s an easy, if compelling read. You can sit down with 1951; maybe you’ll make it through the whole year before you’ve finished your business. What sense there is to be made of the facts is left up to the reader to decide.
Frankly, the disparate details the book includes are a bit like Lay’s potato chips. You won’t stop at one. Or two.
Each year’s chapter is a bit like a time capsule encompassing racing results, the births of future stars as well as the deaths of former greats, technological developments and sometimes business transactions as well.
Interested? You can order it here.
Winter storms can have a curious effect on a dedicated cyclist. Their greatest effect is to curtail riding. Whether it is snow, rain or something more ambiguous, any precipitation in cold weather makes riding less convenient at the very least, but has the ability to make it downright impossible for days at a time.
But for other sports, namely skiing and surfing, winter storms are the Promised Land, Christmas day, the prologue of the Tour de France. It’s times like these that I start thinking it’s time to broaden my horizons again.
Each of these sports shares some similarity in appeal. They require a fair amount of balance and coordination. They are also much easier to participate in if you have some fitness and strength. That’s why you never see zombie skiers, surfers or cyclists; they have mad strength, but terrible coordination.
Skiing—any variety of it—and surfing both have the advantage of being less equipment-intensive than cycling and, therefore, the potential to be less expensive as well. Yet for every feature that makes these sports attractive, I can think of a few reasons why cyclists are more fortunate. Now, given that you’re already reading this blog we can assume you are a dedicated cyclist and therefore need no sales pitch on cycling. However, a celebration, even at this time of year, of just how good we have it can’t really hurt.
The first and perhaps most obvious difference between cycling surfing and skiing is its lack of restriction due to geography or season. Surfing is confined to the coasts, so if you’re a waterman in Salt Lake City, yours is a life of ennui. Even if you live near the beach, there are plenty of days when the surf is just kind of eh. It’s even worse for skiers. Skiing is but a vacation endeavor if you live in Texas. But living near the mountains isn’t enough; the best ski areas are still open fewer than six months. Sure, there are wintery days when getting on the bike would be no fun, but there aren’t many places where you can’t ride at all for six months and terrain isn’t much of an issue. If there’s a road, you can ride.
My favorite feature of cycling is that it has the ability to be social in a way that skiing, surfing and virtually every other sport is incapable. Sheltered within the bubble of the peloton or just out on an easy ride with a friend, we can ride in close proximity, pedal and chat, all at the same time. Just getting close enough to another skier to speak while moving can be suicidal. I really cherish that ability to do and share simultaneously.
It’s true that straddling a surfboard and waiting for waves can be a great opportunity to catch up with friends. Similarly, the trip up on the lift is best spent chatting, so that you don’t focus on the cold. The problem for me is, compared to cycling, both of those periods are not doing. Compared even to soft pedaling deep within the group, that still counts as riding.
Here’s one of the unfortunate corollaries to cycling’s more social nature: With surfing and downhill skiing, much of the sport is about taking turns. While that’s a good way to learn social graces, it does hold the potential for conflict if someone doesn’t much feel like waiting their turn. Even getting a wave at a surf spot you are new to can be very difficult. I’ve never had someone tell me I couldn’t ride a road, though.
And whether you’re talking about downhill or cross country skiing, going downhill fast—as fast as possible—is rarely an option unless you’re in a race. Odd to say, but in cycling, many of my fastest descents came on roads I wasn’t racing. Even more frustrating for me was the fact that the steepest trails I most wanted closed during a cross country ski race—so that I could utterly rip them without fear pile driving another skier—never were used in races.
Let’s not forget the front door quotient, either. Being able to step out of my garage and swing a leg over my bike instead of having to load up equipment and drive anywhere from five minutes to five hours to enjoy my sport of choice really helps me maximize my time. There’s no doubt that Mammoth Mountain is worth the drive, but it really can’t be part of a practical daily regimen.
Ours is an opposite problem. We have the opportunity to do our sport too much, to overtrain. In some places, riding 365 days per year is possible; as a result, we actually have to choose days not to ride. If you make sure to take one rest day per week, that works out to about 313 days of riding per year. We never get that many days of riding, but it’s nice to know the 313the limitation is more inner than outer. Skiers and surfers can barely fantasize about so many days of their favorite sport in a year.
I’ve thought about what life would be if I, as a cyclist, faced the challenges found in other sports. What if I got a hostile reception on an unfamiliar road? What if I didn’t live near roads where I could ride? What if I could only ride during vacations? The reality is, I’d want a new sport.
That thought scared me, made me wonder if my devotion to cycling is less than a surfer’s who may wait years for a massive swell to hit his favorite break. What I realized was that my desire is no different from the motivation to get married. I want this thing in my life on a daily basis. I’ll take the mundane of base miles, the could shoulder of the wind, the disappointing days when the form just isn’t there. I’ll revel in the big days where every climb feels like a honeymoon. I love it enough to take it all and not just wait for date night, for vacations.
It’s still winter. It’s still cold. There’s snow down. Ice. Sand and grit. The wind is a flying dagger and the pavement is a black hole. Every night as I ride home in the dark, pedaling in and out of the glare of a million hostile headlights, I feel as though I’m on the moon. The wintertime road is a lonely place, a seeming light year from spring.
They say that discretion is the better part of valor, and that truism has been echoing in my head for the last month. Some weeks ago, I rode home with the air temperature at 9 and the wind gusting to 45mph. It was, as the kids say, epic. And perhaps stupid. My doctor friends warned me of the possible consequences of “exercising” in extreme temperatures. My wife looked at me askance and shook her head. Her eyes said, “Would it have killed you to take the bus?”
Of course, I’ve been reading a lot of my fellow sufferers lately. They talk about the form they’ll have in the spring, the misery of couchtime, the boredom of the trainer.
But I come back to discretion. Perhaps it would be better to take this time off, rest my body and hit the spring fresh. I could scale the mountain of books by my bedside with two full hours of reading on the train each day. The trainer is boring, but I can do laundry while I spin in place. To everything turn, turn, turn.
This winter is taking its toll on me. I am physically exhausted from riding into the wind every day. I have a chest cold that is moving into its third week of residency in my thorax. My skin appears to be sagging like the legs of a fat man’s bike shorts. I am slow. I am worn smooth, like a river stone. I am a winter shadow of my summer self.
Is this what the last section of pavé in Roubaix feels like? Is this what the third week of a Grand Tour comes down to? Is this my Mont Ventoux?
The word ‘toll’ denotes a price paid for some privilege, usually passage over a road. In that regard, I’ve certainly thrown the metaphoric coins in the metaphoric basket by continuing to scale the snow bank in front of my house with my bicycle slung over my shoulder.
In a tertiary definition, Webster’s also talks of that price being “grievous or ruinous.” In this connotation of the word, the toll is seen to be excessive, and maybe this is how I resolve my enduring ambivalence about this daily struggle. On the one hand, I’m paying for a privilege. I’m gaining access to something others aren’t allowed. And if that toll isn’t, in the final analysis, either grievous or ruinous, then perhaps the strictest discretion, those bits of reason that would put me on the couch in front of winter reruns or on the trainer, in the basement, next to the dryer, that discretion is not the better part of valor.
The better part of valor is softening your knees as you roll through a patch of slushy ice, keeping your weight back slightly to keep the front wheel from sliding out from underneath you. And, upon arrival, telling whomever asks that no, it’s not really that cold out.
It’s tough to boil down allegiances to teams, to isolate love for a formation independent of its riders and it showed in your answers. No matter how much we might want to identify a team’s personality with precepts of management, director style or strength in a set of races, we still track back to the names flying the colors.
To this end: Were Quick Step not the dominant team in the Northern Classics, they wouldn’t have made this list. At all. Their lack of native English-speaking riders loses them the jingo vote and without an ongoing streak of wins on cobbles, there wouldn’t be much to love. Let’s not be too surprised. We love them precisely because they kick ass.
The revelation was your love for Team BMC. By signing Big George (media outlets are contractually bound to use the adjective “big” before any mention of Lance Armstrong’s former lieutenant), Alessandro Ballan and—more important—Cadel Evans, BMC led the voting nearly three to one. What?
Reader Blue summed it up best when he called BMC an “underdog supergroup.” I’m still trying to get my head around that image. It’s like pairing John Paul Jones (everyone’s favorite invisible bassist) with David Gilmour (the world’s most impressive withdrawn guitarist), Anthony Kiedis (a truly underrated singer and songwriter) and Pete Thomas (who modestly backed up Elvis Costello on album after great album). An underrated supergroup. God, I’d buy that album without ever hearing a single song. Asia wouldn’t stand a chance.
Cervelo Test team got the next most votes and that illustrated a curious point: This underdog love thing isn’t just talk. The two teams that got the greatest number of points are both Pro Continental teams, not ProTour teams. How weird is that?
The strange corollary to this point is that only two teams, Radio Shack and HTC-Columbia got some negative votes. Consider these the hanging chads of the cycling world. HTC-Columbia is so dominant in field sprints that a win by them has the ability to downright disappoint some of you. Worse yet, there’s some noticeable backlash against Team Radio Shack before the first European race has ever been run. (Especially strange was how one reader disliked a team composed of old guys, but still digs Jens Voigt. Perhaps it’s a good thing the German powerhouse didn’t join an American team for his final season).
Garmin-Slipstream would almost certainly have faired better had they not joined the ProTour, but they scored as well as Quick Step, The Shack, Sky and HTC-Columbia, unless you figure in The Shack’s negative votes, and then they don’t fare so well.
If RKP had the ability to control race outcomes just to keep you folks happy, we would do well to make sure that Saxo Bank wins every tenth race that BMC or Cervelo doesn’t win. Settling the Grand Tours could be hard, but in this scenario, neither Astana nor Radio Shack would have a chance.
Sky may have bought themselves a world class team, but they have yet to buy your love.
Image courtesy BMC Cycling Team
All the big teams have had their presentations for the 2010 season. The season’s goals have been laid out, some publicly, some not as. So what’s likely to happen?
I got to thinking about what I’d like to happen. There are probably a great many of you who think I’ll be at the prologue of the Tour with sniper rifle trained on Alberto Contador. My equipment will be loaded, to be sure, but only with a 2 gig memory card.
Would it be interesting to see Cav win Milan San-Remo going away from the field? Sure. Would it be amazing to see Tomeke equal Roger DeVlaeminck’s record at Paris-Roubaix? Absolutely. Would it be great to see Contador battle Armstrong and Schleck until the field quit in submission? Truly, it would be riveting.
There’s just one problem. Not one of these outcomes would be surprising. Even those of you who hate Armstrong with the level of detestation ordinarily reserved for the intestinal flu must admit that an Armstrong victory is a possibility, no matter how damnable you think that version of the future might be.
And so, with five hours of me, a bike and an average heartrate lower than the speeds I drove as an irresponsible youth, I thought about the coming season.
Obsessed may be more like it.
I asked myself how I’d feel about Cav winning in San-Remo. Blah. Tomeke enter the velodrome in Roubaix alone? Equal parts thrilled and bored. Contador in yellow in Paris? Less ennui than I felt when Indurain won his third, if pleased to see him equal Thevenet’s and LeMond’s record. What if Armstrong stood atop the podium. Stunned. Plain damn stunned. Can you think of another rider that more teams will be riding against at the Tour? Has there ever been another rider that more teams will have deliberately ridden against? Did Merckx inspire that kind of opposition in anyone other than DeVlaeminck?
The answer, in my case, is that I just want some surprises. I don’t really mean of the Dirk Demol or Jean-Marie Wampers variety, you know a guy who doesn’t even get named as a dark horse, but rather, a guy who is a 10 to 1 or a 20 to 1.
It means seeing a break succeed at Milan-San Remo or—better yet—a tactical checkmate that leaves Quick Step chasing all the way to Roubaix—and off the podium. Not that I’ve got anything against them, I just want some finishes that I would never have guessed. And given the enormous limitations of my memory and creativity, it really shouldn’t be that hard.
So what would it require? Well, here’s the thing that occurred to me somewhere around Hollywood’s coastal outpost, better known as the Colony: Race outcomes were more uncertain—say it with me, people—before race radios.
There is plenty of dislike for race radios among the RKP readership as it is. I’ve straddled the line. Those of you who have been readers of VeloNews for a long time may recall Bob Roll’s account of riding the Giro d’Italia in the 1980s and entering an unlit tunnel only to plow into a pile of bricks in the middle of the road and fall in a puddle of diesel. Race radios might have helped him. They have done much to help team directors alert riders of coming course difficulties. On the other hand, the race courses are generally better scouted and selected today.
What of TVs in the cars? Honestly, I think these are as much a problem as the race radios. Do you suppose the team directors would be ordering their riders to the front to pedal hard quite as often if they couldn’t see live feeds of the race on TV in their cars?
So back to the old question. Should race radios be banned? If the team directors had less information about exactly what was happening from one moment to the next they might not bark quite so many instructions to their riders, ordering them to the front to ride.
Had radios been in use in ’88 and ’89 it is highly unlikely Dirk Demol and Jean-Marie Wampers would have stayed away to win Paris-Roubaix, and while I was non-plussed that a rider I had never heard of won Paris-Roubaix in ’89, I’d be grateful to see more uncertainty injected back into the racing.
So one thing is certain: At the very least, the TVs ought to be outlawed, even if the radios persist. It’s a miracle, if minor, that some DS, apoplectic over his riders’ inaction in the face of an attack, hasn’t crashed his car while glued to the feed.
Meh. So there it is, I’ve come around to wanting race radios banned from the peloton. I want the TVs yanked out of the cars, the radios left at home and team staff forbidden from watching TV at some hotel and calling the DS to update him on just what’s on the tube. So maybe the cell phones should go—just during the race, mind you—as well.
I risk seeming a Luddite. I’m not against technology, but what I want to avoid is the near constant feedback that tells the pack they are bearing down on the breakaway. The GPS data that reveals what the gap to the break is—5:10, 5:05, 5:03, etc.—is tantamount to the live TV feed. While it’s great for the home audience, I’d like to see anything that can give precise enough feedback to let the pack know the gap is coming down 10 seconds per kilometer find its way to Salvation Army.
After all, shouldn’t part of racing be based on your ability to do math when you’re at or above your lactate threshold?
So what’s going to happen? The call for radios to be banned will grow louder, that is what’s going to happen.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
I am watching the Tour Down Under and having a hell of a hard time bending my tiny brain around the idea of it being summer somewhere on this big, blue marble we live on. Intellectually, I get it, but like that water-spinning-the-other-way-down-the-drain kind of way, I just can’t quite believe it.
The other thing I’m having trouble with, as I do at this time every year, is figuring out which team is which in their new kits. BMC looks sharp in their black and red. Radio Shack look like a team of fax machines. Sky look like tubes of toothpaste. And of course, they’ve played musical chairs in the offseason, too. This guy is with that team now. That guy is over there. Confusing, despite keeping up 24/7 on this ever present Interweb®.
So, as I reconfigure my notions of what each team is about, I am wondering who you’re supporting this year. Not what rider. What team? Who are you pulling for and why? Is one rider enough to bring your loyalty to a whole team? Is national origin important? Is it style? Is it substance?
Enlighten me. Help me choose my own home team. Make your case.
Here at RKP World HQ we pay for the questionable service of Time Warner. A great many of RKP’s readers have let us know that they are unwilling to endure them and instead subscribe to DirecTV. However, DirecTV isn’t carrying Versus, which is precisely why this household is willing to endure erroneous billing, service interruptions and impossible customer service. It seems a reasonable price to pay to make sure we get as much bike racing on TV as possible.
While there are an ever-increasing number of options for watching bike racing on TV, many folks would prefer to lounge on the couch with remote in hand. For all those of you who are DirecTV subscribers wishing they would carry Versus, the network has a petition to which you may add your name. Your voice could help encourage DirecTV to make bike racing available to hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
So I got a request to write about for my favorite half-dozen clinchers. “What a fun survey,” I thought. And I began making my list. A list is nothing without bias, and I began to consider my priorities.
The first priority when I choose a tire is ride quality. Life is short; I say, ride what you like, even if that means you’re on carbon fiber rims intended for PROs. Placing ride quality first meant this list would skew toward open tubulars and away from inexpensive 60 tpi clinchers.
Second is availability. There’s no point in loving something you can’t find. A prime example of this is Pariba. They make one of the single most supple open tubulars I ever rode. It featured a godawful lavender tread (nothing wrong with lavender as a color, but it won’t match a single component on the market) with a grip like chewing gum. But you can’t find it anywhere in the U.S. Or at least, the combination of me, Google and 15 minutes of wasted time were unsuccessful. Ergo, not on list.
Third is mountability. If the tire has a great ride quality but is insanely hard to mount, and ultimately, to change a flat, that will bump it on down the list.
Fourth is flat protection. You don’t buy an open tubular because it doesn’t flat. You buy it because it is the rubber equivalent of the kid glove. No other tire combines sensitivity, grip and reduced rolling resistance so effectively as a good open tubular.
I quickly realized I don’t currently have direct experience with six clinchers that I can recommend. Some tires that I liked in the past have been discontinued. Some that I previously gave good reviews to have been changed to increase flat protection marginally, while decreasing ride quality noticeably. And there are some, such as everything by Challenge, that I have not ridden at all, while still others, such as Schwalbe, where I seem to have ridden all the wrong ones.
1. Any Vittoria Open Corsa. No other open tubular combines ride quality and availability the way the Vittoria Open Corsas do. Carrying Open Corsas is kind of a barometer by which I measure shops. If they don’t have these, it can only mean one of two things: Either they like something else better, or they aren’t that concerned with ride quality. I like the CG for durability. I rode thousands of miles training and racing on its tubular brother; it got my through some nasty Battenkill-style courses and training rides. That said, the CX is a little more supple and is preferable for descending and cornering. Performance-wise, probably the best tire out there, but you can’t run it every day. Put another way, this isn’t a tire for most of New England, but it’s the perfect tire for Provence and Tuscany. I haven’t tried the Open Corsa Tech or Slick, but would run either without reservation.
2. Torelli Gavia. This is my tire of choice as I’ve previously mentioned. It features a handmade casing and comes in but one color: Henry Ford black. It is also one of the grippiest tires I’ve ridden. I know the guys at Torelli and they let me to purchase directly from them, giving me a 320 tpi ride at 127 tpi prices. The Torellis are a good deal harder to find than the Vittorias, though you can purchase them online, so if you don’t need them today, you can do well. They tend to run a bit more expensive online than the Vittorias do, but I prefer the ride quality of the Gavia over the CG.
3. Vredestein Fortezza Tri-Comp. Any open tubular is hard to mount the first time you put it on a rim. This is a feature inherited from its tubular fathers, which is why we were all taught to stretch our tubulars on a rim before gluing them on a wheel. The Fortezza Tri-Comp stretches more than your average tire and after the first week of riding or so, I can change flats without the need for a tire lever, which stops quick as a pee and helps keep me in the group’s good graces. The Tri-Comp is a great tire, but I do not remotely buy Vredestein’s contention that they need to be pumped up to 145 psi to work properly. That’s like suggesting your food won’t stay frozen unless you pack your freezer to capacity. Right. At that pressure mountain road asphalt feels like black ice. Back at sane pressures (7-8 bar), they offer cat-like cornering with driving glove sensitivity. When a shop doesn’t carry Vittoria Open Corsas, this is usually the tire I find in its place.
4. Specialized Mondo Pro II. The Mondo Pro II is the Def Con II of bicycle tires. It offers almost all the protection of the Armadillo’s conventional warfare while still engaging the road with supple diplomacy. This is the only bicycle tire that I’ve ever ridden that I can say has never flatted in more than 1000 miles of riding and I’m still willing to ride on mountain descents with the same gusto I reserve for open tubulars. To be clear: the ride quality of the Mondo Pro II suffers in the ride quality department when compared to the offerings from Vittoria, Vredestein and Torelli. However any other tire with as seemingly impervious a nature as the Mondo Pro II is inevitably bound to offer the sensitivity of a mosh pit, which is why this tire so surprised me.
5. Specialized Mondo S-Works. Sensitive as a chick flick, as available as Chevy and me-too priced, the Mondo S-Works is a terrific alternative to any of the other open tubulars listed above. Just one problem: changing this tire is harder than calculus. If human flesh stretched so little, we’d all look like Heidi Montag. I dread changing flats with this tire the way I dread changing flats with a tubular, and that’s a level of fear that I reserve for Brian DePalma movies and phone calls from the IRS (not saying either are scary, just that I never know what I’m in for). It’s a terrifc-riding tire, but if you buy a pair, just make sure you carry two tire levers with you.
Again, this list is rather personal. There are hundreds of tires on the market. In the next year or two, I hope to try two or three more that might increase my vocabulary.
Another week, another Group Ride. This one seemed closer to real life than usual for me. In other words, I only had a vague idea of the route, and once folks got going I got dropped pretty quickly.
It’s a tough topic to address cogently, because it resists the categories I’d like to assign. There are new races that are good. Most agree TDU, underway now, is one of them. And then there are races that are not as good. Tour of Qatar might be one of those. Equally, the early season Euro races whose hold on the imagination has dwindled have this great historical flavor, but when the rubber meets the road, they sorta suck.
We seem split between those who believe the pro peloton should suffer through the European winter/spring, and those who think it’s a good idea to warm up in the, um, warm.
Of course this is all pretty fantastical as no one entity, not even the UCI, or particularly not the UCI, controls the races. They are privately owned events, as much at the whim of groups like ASO, as vulnerable to our vain wishes.
Phil Liggett, to whom I’m wont to defer in most of these situations, says the season is on. Versus is showing racing on my TV. Eurosport may be doing the same on yours.
And the peloton rides on.