Even now, nearly a month beyond the solstice the winter can feel endless. The dark mornings, the gray skies, the biting winds, if this weather spoke for the whole of the year how many of us would ever have taken up cycling? How we ache for spring.
For most of us, our cycling is confined to the margins of our lives. Passion takes a back seat to necessity and so when the sun is properly up we tend to those most primary of priorities: job, family, home. We fit our riding into what others would call breathing room, which means at this time of year we ride in the least desirable temperatures and in light that seems counter to riding. The conditions can be enough to make meter maids and skiers both head for a coffee shop.
At first light and often before, or in light fading to the pitch of night, we drop pennies in the bank, knowing that while we can’t buy more sun, greater fitness at the peak of the season can make the sun shine brighter, the day seem just a little longer.
But thoughts of spring and summer days are the picture on the wall, temperatures that call for short sleeves the way Friday night calls others out for a night with friends at the bar, and yet we go about our routines.
Who among us bought a bike for a reason other than fun? Somewhere, all goals aside, the purchase of a bicycle was a reminder of the best part of childhood—fun with no agenda—just the enjoyment of doing something so pure the doing was enough. How often in our lives is the doing the payoff?
And yet, winter training is an ugly business. Bike maintenance doubles. The miles drag. The restraint we practice is a bridle none wants to wear. The sky blue day lost to a dingy ceiling of cloud. There’s no way to slice cold and wet into fun. The hardest among us may confuse a triumph of will over a winter day that would send others scrambling for the fireplace as fun, but honestly, all we’ve done is romance what we believe the real hard men are doing for six hours a day, when the best we can often carve free is two.
Winter training is the domain of those with an agenda, when our definition of fun has been narrowed, whittled down to something that can only be accomplished when we are out our best. We log these miles as if we were cleaning house, waiting for our beloved’s return home. We are preparing for the real event.
The attacks will have to wait. Race weight comes on a different page of the calendar. The pain we feel now is the pain of absence.
Each additional mile we tick by is a love letter to the object of our affection, months away. Those slow miles are a kind of chastity, a promise that there will be no romance with anyone but you.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Let’s get something out of the way: I’m a tire snob. I appreciate all the work that goes into designing a good tire and the number of really hard-working, conscientious people who go about their craft on a daily basis. There are any number of good tires and perhaps as many as a half dozen great tires of the clincher variety.
When I buy tires, which I do a lot of, I purchase open tubulars. This is why I buy a lot of tires. Kind of a syllogistic little thing because if you ride open tubulars, you ride a tire with a casing as soft as worsted wool and it will cut as easily as human flesh under a doctor’s scalpel. Call it an occupational hazard. It’s not unlike the weight you gain from drinking red wine.
Everything comes at a price, and some prices, extravagant though they may be, are still a bargain for the quality they bring to our lives. I’m talking about tires here, not wine.
Now while my personal fave is the Torelli Gavia, I do like to try others from time to time. I set out to review a set of Specialized’s Mondo S-Works open tubulars. This $70 290tpi tire is available in two widths, 21 and 23mm, and may be one of the more widely available open tubulars in bike shops around the U.S., though probably not worldwide. Availability is sort of key; no point in recommending something that can only be found in the razor-wire-fortified compound of a Central American drug lord.
Specialized has a notable history in bicycle tire manufacturing. I know of a few manufacturers who claim to have produced the first foldable clincher; I’m not in a position to pass judgement on such claims, but I can tell you the first foldable clincher I saw in a bike shop was the Specialized Turbo. It was the first foldable clincher I bought. I never purchased another non-folding clincher after that. Game. Set. Match.
The company has gone out on the ledge a few times in the name of performance. Anyone remember their nod to Pink Floyd with the ultra-grippy Umma Gumma tire? They sure were grippy but they lasted about as long as the flavor in a stick of chewing gum. Specialized has also been consistently the only tire company to follow motorcycle tire engineering by producing dual-radius treads. I’ve seen a few other tires produced this way, but no other company I’m aware of has committed to dual-radius tread as completely as Specialized.
The Mondo S-Works open tubular uses a dual-compound construction like a great many other tires out there; the company even gives the actual durometer numbers for the different tread materials on their web site, 70a in the center section and 60a on the shoulder. If you were a skateboarder in your past, as I was, these numbers are likely as familiar to you as psi figures. For those who did the normal thing and played stick-and-ball sports, 70a soft enough to make a skateboard wheel ride well on a street; 60a is akin to what many rock climbing shoes use—think Spiderman.
In the course of reviewing these tires on one bike, I rode a set of Mondo Pro II tires—two sets, in fact—on the Tarmac Pro and Roubaix Pro. The Tarmac featured the 23mm-wide casing version while the Roubaix was shod with a 25mm version called the Roubaix Pro II, which were amazing on rough and dirt roads. While I couldn’t switch the wheels with the open tubulars to the Tarmac or Roubaix (they were on wheels with a Campy cassette), I did ride all of the wheels/tires over all of the same roads at some time or other.
The Mondo S-Works open tubulars are the tightest, most difficult-to-mount clinchers I have ever encountered. The first time I mounted them required two tire levers. Now if I had hands like a lumberjack’s I can tell you I would still have needed at least one tire lever; these tires are tighter than a pair of Jordache jeans circa 1980. And while most cotton open tubulars stretch a bit with use, making subsequent mounting easier, my imagination stretched more than these tires did while watching the evening’s news.
The ride quality of the Mondo S-Words tires is exemplary. This is why spending $70 on a tire you are unlikely to get 1000 miles on is still reasonable, if not a downright good idea. We can discuss the sensitivity to road surface that comes with a top-quality carbon fiber frame, but that sensitivity can be utterly dashed with a lousy tire. A better set of tires is the quickest way to increase the road input you feel.
I have been a skeptic of dual-radius tires for the simple fact that I haven’t been able to objectively conclude that they offer improved cornering performance. I went as far as to inspect the tire for signs of wear in the softer compound red shoulder. On some tires, I can see where the wear ends due to the sharpness of the herringbone pattern; on the Mondo Pro II and the Mondo S-Works, the tire tread remained so smooth I couldn’t tell much. While the tire did show some signs of wear, it was minor and I realized that I couldn’t definitively attribute the breadth of the wear to the dual-radius design. I can’t say it doesn’t work, but I can’t tell you it is definitely an improvement, either.
And yet, as great as the Mondo S-Works are, what I didn’t expect to develop was a regard for the Mondo Pro II tire that exceeded my infatuation with the Mondo S-Works. While the Mondo Pro IIs don’t offer the same degree of road sensitivity that the Mondo S-Works do, the sensitivity they do offer isn’t bad for a 120tpi tire. The tire’s sensitivity and performance is all the more impressive when you consider Specialized’s inclusion of its proprietary Flak Jacket casing layer. They claim it reduces flats by 40 percent; my personal experience was that it reduced flats by all. I literally didn’t experience a single flat while riding the tires. The last time I rode a flat-proof tire it was as supple as a cinder block.
There’s a jetty near me that I ride twice a day between three and five days per week. This time of year waterfowl pluck mussels from the seabed and drop them on the jetty to break them. The smashed shells are hell on tires. I had one cut a 1/2-inch gash in a tire on its first ride. Weirder still was the inch-long finishing nail I yanked from the tread after hearing a ticking like a wheel magnet striking the sensor; the Flak Jacket hadn’t permitted the nail to puncture the tube by forcing it to run lengthwise along the tread. I think I could have ridden home with the nail protruding from the tread. I expected a hissing sound upon removal. Instead: silence.
The Mondo Pro IIs employ the same dual radius tread design and 70a center and 60a shoulder compounds. Surprisingly, the Mondo Pro II runs roughly 30g lighter than the Mondo S-Works. The tire retails for $40.
Every tire I’ve ever ridden that featured some sort of flat prevention belting has always made the ride of the tires so heinous as to evoke the Conestoga wagon. The Mondo Pro II is the first to feature good ride quality with real-world puncture resistance.
So yes, the accidental review. I hadn’t planned to review the Mondo Pro II, but as I logged more and more miles on both tires, the more I realized that it was the greater surprise, the bigger story. If there’s a better $40 tire out there, I’ve yet to ride it.
All week, as pro riders have been tweeting from the Land Down Under, and fans have been moistening their chamois (What actually is the plural of chamois?) in anticipation of the coming season, I’ve heard a small but distinct contingent of cycling purists who are lamenting the rise of such races as the Tour Down Under, the Tour of Qatar, etc., the so-called “new races,” that seem to be supplanting old races like the Etoile de Bességes and Paris-Troyes and the traditional season-openers in Western Europe, like the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium.
So this week’s Ride examines the value of tradition in cycling, versus the value of innovation.
Do you like the newer races? Or prefer the old? Why? And regardless of your preference, do you think the new races are better for cycling, spread out as they are, or do you think the future of cycling is going back to its roots?
There are echoes of this debate throughout the sport, as in the UCI radio ban and even in the use of certain performance enhancers, but for now, with the TDU nigh, let’s focus on the races.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The 2009 Tour de France is still being contested in Alberto Contador’s head. At least, if you follow the Spanish newspaper Marca, or most any other news outlet in Spain, it would seem that while Contador won the war, there is yet a PR battle to fight. Not a week has gone by without the paper running some story on the turmoil within Astana as reported by Contador or a teammate.
Lately, Contador’s target has been as much Bruyneel as Armstrong. He’s been quick to talk about the team’s politics and what he saw as Bruyneel’s attempts to isolate him within the team. It’s hard to say what the truth is and gossip has the value of sand at the beach, but one previous skirmish recently resurfaced that makes the situation a bit more curious.
At the end of the tour, everyone was abuzz about Contador having to catch a ride with his brother because all the team cars were shuttling Armstrong’s cadre. The first occasion was from atop Mont Ventoux, the second on the way to the final time trial. Bruyneel and Armstrong said Contador’s claims were completely false; we’ll never know.
What didn’t get the same level of attention was Contador’s claim that he didn’t get top quality equipment. The claim has been translated a few different ways, but the insinuation was that Armstrong had better equipment than Contador did. Until this week, there was really no way to know just what he meant.
As he said/he saids go, this gets a bit confusing. It begins with Contador statement he didn’t get top quality wheels and had to go buy wheels for the prologue in Monaco. Armstrong shot back and said Contador had exactly the same wheels as his teammates. This week, in a blog entry on Marca, writer Josu Garai wrote that Contador told him and members of Contador’s entourage “confirmed” that Contador purchased a set of Lightweight wheels. Yes, the ungodly expensive, handmade carbon fiber wheels that hail from the land of der Jan.
Well purchase them he may have, but race them he never did. I’ve gone back through the archives of John Pierce, Yuzuru Sunada and Roberto Bettini and viewed profile shots of Contador in each of the mountain stages and the time trials. In each of the shots you can see Bontrager logos on the wheels.
Now disc wheels are all pretty similar, right? So Contador could have been running a Lightweight disc in the rear and a deep-profile-rim wheel in the front, both with Bontrager decals, right? Not so fast. The Lightweight disc has a transparent finish to it, so that you can see the carbon fiber internal spoke pattern. It looks nothing like anyone else’s disc. Similarly, the Bontrager-branded, HED-designed H3 front wheel and Jet disc rear wheel look nothing like any Lightweight. Neither the H3 nor the Jet disc are offered at retail by Bontrager, but because Bontrager licenses HED technology, the re-branded wheels are done with both companies’ full knowledge and consent.
So that leaves the wheels that Contador used on the climbing stages. The high-flange appearance of the Lightweights really can’t be confused with the utter flanglessness of the Bontrager Race XXX Lite tubulars. The white spokes, the beveled rim profile, it’s a distinct look.
A quick e-mail to a source at Trek also confirmed what is standard practice with sponsors: Each Astana rider at the Tour had exactly the same equipment, right down to the slowest of the domestiques.
Is it possible that Bruyneel told the mechanics to withhold wheels from Contador? In theory, maybe, but again a quick check of the photos shows he’s on the same wheels as Armstrong and the rest, so that variety of crazy didn’t take place. It’s true that Armstrong’s bikes and wheels had unique decaling, but unique equipment wasn’t limited to Armstrong as evidenced by the all-white Madone Contador rode for most of the Tour and the personalized black and yellow bike he rode on stage 21 into Paris.
It’s not hard to understand the Spanish media’s dislike of Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel. Alberto Contador is a national hero and the media has largely portrayed the conflict between Contador and Armstrong as a Hatfield/McCoy blood feud.
That Contador is happy to be free of Armstrong should go without saying, but until Armstrong’s return to the sport, it seemed that Contador and Bruyneel had a good relationship. Since parting ways, Contador has been spare in his praise of his former director and Bruyneel has spoken openly of how he believed success went to the Tour champion’s head, making him harder to work with.
And what of Trek? Insiders there are mum on the point, but having the Tour de France champion claim he was shortchanged on equipment must smart.
No matter whether you take a side or not or whose side you take if you do, the claim by Contador that he didn’t get the same equipment as his teammates and had to go buy his own is absurd. It begs the question why he would say such a thing. Seemingly, being wronged by teammates, staff and sponsor make him an even greater champion in the eyes of his countrymen. But with the truth being as weird as it was, one can wonder why that story isn’t enough.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
I took up rock climbing this year. Inside. Away from the wind’s howl and the mercury’s shallow dip. In place of long rides through Boston’s quaint colonial burbs, and hill repeats out in the Arlington Heights. The commute remains, but the time I might otherwise spend spinning, I now spend climbing.
And as I’ve learned more and more about my new sport, the more it’s caused me to reflect on cycling, on how the sport is contested at its highest levels, on how it’s marketed and what its fans value most, and how its icons measure up against one another.
Over the last decade, Lance Armstrong has established himself, not only as the most famous modern cyclist, but also, likely, in this age of rapid information exchange and media saturation as the most famous bike rider ever. His comeback in 2009 brought money and attention flooding back into the sport. Despite the emergence of young superstars who may, one day, supplant him, Lance has proven that he is still the biggest draw in cycling.
Chris Sharma is, by near consensus, the best climber in the world today. Twenty-eight years old, lithe and handsome, Sharma has done and continues to do things no other climber ever has. He has opened innumerable new routes, first ascents of the greatest difficulty that the world’s other top climbers struggle to imagine completing, routes that, finally, required the expansion of the rating system to adequately describe their difficulty. From the age of 15 when he became the US National Bouldering Champion, Sharma has dominated competitions and set an entirely new standard against which future climbers will be judged.
Like Armstrong, Sharma has a list of victories as long as his arm. They are both generational athletes, rare humans with a unique combination of physical gifts, mental toughness and superhuman drive. And that, my friends, is where the similarities end.
Because while Lance Armstrong has developed a reputation for gargantuan ego, savvy business sense, ruthless managerial tactics and a bullying and condescending approach to his rivals, Sharma has gone about his business modestly, quietly and with a focus on something beyond competition.
It is traditional, in climbing, for the first one up a new route to name that route, but this is something Sharma is reluctant to do, leaving many of his first ascents to others to name. When climbing with others, he is well-known for offering to belay first (i.e. stand at the base of the climb, protecting his climbing partner by managing the rope and calling out encouragement). In interviews he talks about the necessity of competing, to promote the sport, to maintain his sponsorships, to stay sharp, but he also speaks about the desire just to be outdoors, working on various climbing projects, traveling, seeing friends, pushing the limits of climbing without necessarily vanquishing an opponent. He smiles a lot. Laughs.
Lance Armstrong is larger than cycling. He has used his seven Tour de France wins to further the fight against cancer, often taking meetings with heads of state and delivering inspirational speeches to cancer patients around the world. He dates celebrities and doesn’t rule out a future in politics, perhaps as Governor of Texas.
Sharma, for the most part, has remained within the climbing world, but he has redefined the sport’s aims and softened its risk-takers image. He has transformed climbing’s top end from a daredevil adrenaline rush into a more aesthetic and spiritual endeavor. He has, for the most part, walked away from climbing’s biggest competitions to push at the edge of what’s possible. in cycling, this would be akin to Armstrong winning a fifth Tour and then spending all his time working at the hour record.
To be sure, the sports aren’t entirely analogous. There is less money in climbing. There are fewer professionals and no teams. In short, the corrupting influence of hard specie has yet to finish its work. And while fans want to see Sharma win, what they really want is to see him do the impossible. Still, it’s interesting to me that Sharma has accomplished what he has without stepping on any toes. The guy still teaches climbing clinics at the place where he learned to climb.
Lance Armstrong is a remarkable person, strong, thoughtful, tough, focussed. And he has, arguably, done more for pro cycling than any other person, anywhere, in the sport. I’ve read innumerable writers claim that Armstrong wouldn’t have achieved what he’s achieved without an ego to blot out the sun, and yet Chris Sharma puts the lie to that claim.
Perhaps it’s Sharma’s lack of an overblown sense of himself that keeps him within the climbing world, that prevents him from curing cancer or influencing government leaders. No one, as far as I can tell, has criticized him for this. And maybe it’s unfair that so many take issue with Armstrong, even as he tries to better the world he lives in.
Images: Armstrong by John Pierce, Photosport International, Sharma by Pete O’Donovan
What I take away is that, even in sports where championships can be collected and awards awarded, how you do things is easily as important as what you do. And for an average guy like me, there’s a lesson in that.
Riding in the city requires foresight. There are a number of forces at work against you. Cars. Pedestrians. Potholes. Buses. Aggressive pigeons. Flying plastic shopping bags. Gravity. Etc.
Being safe means being able to anticipate what is going to happen next. People who have been riding cities for long periods of time develop a sixth sense, an awareness they’re mostly not even aware of. It leads them to tell non-riders that it’s really not that dangerous riding in thick urban traffic. But of course, it is. It’s very dangerous. But there are some things you can do to develop this sense, to make yourself a little safer. Here are some tips (and I’d love to hear more if anyone has them):
1) Know your lights. I’m talking here about both the traffic lights AND the walk signs. I find it really, really valuable to know when walk signs signal an upcoming red traffic light or when a red light gives way to a walk sign moving the same direction, a situation that makes the intersection relatively safe, rather than crowded with cars moving perpendicular to your path. The truth is, I cheat on lights all the time. I run them. But I don’t do it in the kamikaze rush I did ten years ago, plowing into the intersection and hoping to figure my way across once I got there. No. Now I know the lights that have long yellows. I know the timing of the turn signals and the walks. I can look at the walk sign and know what the traffic light will do. I use all that information to make decisions about when to plow forward and when to pull up.
[An aside on light-running: I don't advocate flouting traffic laws. You and I both ought to do what the law prescribes in all situations. That's what I'm going to tell the judge when he asks me about it. In my own personal, ethical universe, I run lights with some regularity, because I am most in danger when I have cars on both sides of me. I often run lights to get out into clear bits of road, where I'm less likely to get hit by accident or vendetta. I do NOT run lights as a matter of course. I don't dart into intersections. I only run a light if doing so is the safer thing to do, and it often is. This is all I will say on the subject of light-running and the law.]
2) Read the pedestrians. Pedestrians are slower than you are. By and large they look before they cross in front of cars (if not when they step in front of bikes), so coming to an intersection, you can usually tell whether you need to stop by seeing what the pedestrians are doing. Here on the East Coast, no one waits for the walk sign. Folks cross against the light all the time. You can use them to know what’s going on down roads you can’t see down yet. You can also use them as shields, since cars very, very seldom plow through a gaggle of foot-bound humanity. I use them to protect me from turning cars and as canaries in the mine of wide intersections.
Of course, pedestrians are also an obstacle unto themselves. You can see over the roofs of cars to see people cutting across the lane, but I also use the little, bubble side view mirrors of trucks to look forward across the lane to be sure there aren’t any errant walkers poised to step out into my path. There is a point some meters behind when the side mirror provides a good angle for this. If you wait too long to look, you just get a view of the ugly who’s driving the truck. Be warned.
3) Profile drivers. If you see a motorist on the phone while smoking a cigarette, it’s a good idea to assume they’re going to drive like an asshat. If you see a driver ahead of you squeezing into the bike lane (where there are bike lanes) or switching lanes without signaling, you really have to be extra careful passing them. Also, you should ALWAYS beware of women driving Volvos, men driving pick up trucks, cabs, buses, cops and box trucks. I won’t get into the reasoning behind singling these people out. Just take it on faith that they are dangerous and keep a safe distance.
4) Talk to yourself. The biggest danger in urban riding is ADD. There is so much input coming at you at high speed from every corner of your vision that maintaining concentration is a real challenge. I talk to myself, articulating what’s going on in front of me. If I see a cab driver getting ready to pull out of a cab stand, I say, “Douchebag in the cab. Douchebag in the cab,” over and over until I’ve passed the danger. It makes you look and sound crazy, but it reduces the risk of getting creamed by a douchebag.
When I approach other cyclists, I continue talking, and you’d be surprised how many times fellow riders have thanked me for unintended warnings.
5) Use your lizard vision. Coming into a crowded intersection, it’s very difficult to see all the things you need to see. At times like that I try to let my sight blur a bit, using my peripheral vision to see left AND right at the same time. This is especially useful when watching for cars on one side and pedestrians on the other.
6) Sometimes brake lights are turn signals. In Boston, only about 40% of the population uses their turn signals. Every time I’ve been hit or nearly hit, it’s been because a driver has suddenly cut across my lane with no signal. I’ve come to see that when a car brakes coming into an intersection, it’s often because they’re going to turn. I try not to get myself between them and their turn. I try to slow and insert myself in the space behind them, so that, as they turn, I can slip ahead of them on the left, without blocking traffic or getting crushed.
Please bear in mind, I am in no way qualified to tell you how to ride. These are things I do to try to minimize my risks, but we all know, intellectually if not viscerally, that the smartest rider in the world will one day fall off. We can’t control all the variables. We can’t control MOST of the variables. I am very curious what tricks other people use when riding the city (or the country, or the dark side of the moon) to stay safe. If any of this keeps one of us from getting hit on even one occasion, it will have been worth the pixel-cost.
Well, this was sort of a lay up, wasn’t it? What sort of a pessimist would say the coming season wasn’t going to be as good as last? Who could sell the future out so early in the year?
It’s curious to me that so many people, in stating that 2010 would be better, cited the coming Tour de France battle between Armstrong and Contador. Is it that the TdF is the biggest race of the year, and so, on some level, the single biggest arbiter of the season’s quality, or is it rather that this is the main Euro race people book time to sit down and watch?
Personally, I am really interested to see how the new super teams do, Sky, the Shack, BMC. They take to the battle alongside other fairly new squads like Cervelo Test Team and Katusha. I wonder if we’re not entering a new era, where sponsors with more global vision join the sport. For every behemoth like Sky that joins the fray, we seem to lose a quixotic contributor like Milram.
And how will today’s young superstars like Cavendish, Contador, Schleck, Boasson-Hagen, Martin, Nibali, et. al. plot their career paths? Will some of them follow the Armstrong/Bruyneel model, prepping and training for one big event each year, whether it’s the Tour or a single Classic? Or will they seek to flesh out their palmares a bit more, a la Merckx, Hinault, et. al.
So many questions. I guess this is what the weeks before the season begins are supposed to be like, full of frenzied anticipation. Or maybe I just need to drink less coffee.
Patrick Watson, Ron Peterson, Deputy DA Mary Stone and Josh Crosby (l-r)
With the courtroom filled to capacity and people lined shoulder to shoulder along the back wall, Dr. Thompson was the last to enter the court and his appearance was a surprise. Dressed in blue prison scrubs and shackled, he took short steps to his seat and once seated I could tell he had lost a significant amount of weight while in prison, perhaps as much as 20 pounds. Frankly, it had done him good.
I really hadn’t given a lot of thought to the statements that might be made by the victims. In my mind I had thought, “Yadda, yadda, stiff sentence. Next.” As for the friends and family, I figured, “Yadda, yadda, great guy. Next.” I didn’t think that it would be much of an opportunity to shed new light on a situation that had brought international attention to the tension between cyclists and drivers. The formality would end with Thompson’s sentencing and my only concern was that if he walked out of court that day, the cycling community would feel utterly marginalized. Any jail time at all would be a success.
I was surprised to see that Christian Stoehr did not attend. Christian’s perspective on the events of July 4, 2008, has been entirely more detached and, dare I say, even relaxed than anyone else’s, even Deputy DA Mary Stone; I attribute it to the fact that he spent most of his formative years in Germany. And while it wouldn’t have surprised me if in his mind he was finished with the case and ready to move on, as it turned out, he was working on location in San Antonio and had wanted to attend.
Judge Millington indicated he would allow three people to speak for each side, given that Stoehr was not in attendance. Peter Swarth, as has been typical of his demeanor throughout the case, asked the judge to allow more people to speak on behalf of his client, but was denied.
Patrick Watson was the first to speak and I was surprised by the degree of his anger; he seemed as angry as when I spoke to him on the phone in December 2008, some nine months after the actual incident. As he told the judge, “Mr. Thompson tried to kill us,” it was apparent that he really believed Thompson had meant to do more than just scare him and Crosby that day. Judging from the reactions of several people in court, there was some perception that his anger was a bit overblown relative to the experience he’d had with Dr. Thompson. What did resonate was when he spoke of Thompson’s lack of remorse for his actions. While it was true that Thompson’s defense did not permit him to accept responsibility for what happened, the remose he had shown on the witness stand during the trial had rung hollow to the cyclists present. To the degree that any one of the victims has given the defense license to speak of cyclists wanting vengeance, I’d have to say Watson has enabled them to play that card.
Josh Crosby was more restrained in his statement. For the most part, he addressed Thompson directly and the judge only at the very end. When he spoke of how Dr. Thompson’s actions had placed everyone in the courtroom—“your actions led to this day; you put us here”—it eliminated the ability to see his participation in the trial as retribution, but rather as a requirement of civic duty.
He showed real compassion for Thompson’s family as well in saying, “I’ve been on the other side; I had to watch someone close to me go away for a while. I’m sorry ofor all the cyclists involved in this, but mostly I’m sorry for you Dr. Thompson. I’m sorry that after doing grave harm unto others you show no remorse. I’m sorry that as a man, you take no responsibility for those actions.”
As he spoke of watching someone close to him “go away,” his voice broke slightly in the remembering.
When Ron Peterson rose to speak, the already hushed courtroom seemed to go even quieter. The strain of the trial was writ large on his face and his movements were very restrained. If watching him speak was uncomfortable, I believe it wasn’t half the discomfort he felt.
You can see the entirety of Peterson’s statement in a post that accompanies this, as well as Dr. Thompson’s statement and the statement made by Judge Millington here.
When Dr. C. Thomas Thompson, Dr. Thompson’s father rose to speak, I was surprised that a 60-year-old man had the good fortune to still have his father. He rambled a bit, but several points in his address made an impact on at least some present. He talked about how his son’s “widow-maker” obstruction had the potential to make any prison sentence a life sentence. It was a sobering thought. He talked about remorse, the remorse his son had shown since moving in with his parents in Oklahoma, to which many of us present shrugged our shoulders as if to say, ‘Telling your father you’re sorry isn’t the same as telling the victims you are sorry.’
Most disturbing was him describing what occasioned his son’s move back to Oklahoma, that he had “been ridden out on rails.” I’ve heard the assertion before from Swarth and was unwilling to give it any greater weight than a convenient defense tactic. The elder Thompson’s recounting of death threats against Dr. Thompson should give cyclists everywhere pause, perhaps none more so than Patrick Watson, who first posted Dr. Thompson’s contact information on the Internet. We, as a community, should hang our heads in shame over the threats that Dr. Thompson received. We are better than this. The machinery of justice is less likely to stand by our side if we are perceived to engage in vigilante actions.
In the time Tom Freeman, the head of the Upper Mandeville Canyon Homeowner’s Association, spoke, he devoted most of his effort to PR for all the great things the homeowner’s association had done in making Mandeville Canyon a nice place to live rather than talking about why Dr. Thompson really deserved leniency in sentencing. Were it me, I’d have expected a little more direct support.
Last to speak on Thompson’s behalf was Lillian Ferguson. To the degree that anyone put a truly human face on Thompson, Ferguson did it. She told a moving story of her daughter’s relationship with Thompson, how he taught her piano at his home, her aspiration to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” as well as he did, and her death in a car accident when she was 18 years old. Dr. Thompson and another doctor, she said, took it upon themselves to pay for her funeral and—through tears at this point—each week for the past 14 years Thompson has had flowers placed on her grave.
Just as the verdict came with a surprise—Dr. Thompson being remanded to custody on the spot—that Dr. Thompson chose to address Peterson, Watson, Crosby and Patrick Early (the cyclist who came forward and told of an altercation he’d had with Dr. Thomspon after he read about Peterson and Stoehr in the L.A. Times) was a big surprise.
I think nearly everyone present in court was shocked to hear Dr. Thompson say he took responsibility for his actions on July 4, 2008, that he admitted he was at fault for the injuries Stoehr and Peterson sustained. I don’t think anyone present would argue that he hadn’t done some soul-searching since his conviction.
We speak of people who are out of touch as needing a “come to Jesus.” Dr. Thompson had his. I saw tears of embarrassment, shame, love and truly, remorse. But oddly, Dr. Thompson’s reckoning seemed only to apply to the events of July 4. In addressing Watson and Crosby, he reminded them how they frightened him and went on to insist that he never encountered Early, despite the avowed car guy’s thorough description of the car and partial plate.
Even after Dr. Thompson’s statement, Swarth continued to stand by the defense conceit that Dr. Thompson was only stopping to take a photograph. To stand by that story means standing by the assertion that Stoehr and Peterson somehow brought the day’s events on themselves, that they were in some way at fault.
He railed against the suggestion by the victims that Dr. Thompson had shown no remorse, pointing out how when he testified during the trial he had expressed his sorrow that anyone had been injured.
In standing by the tattered defense it was as if, confronted with the actual Big Foot, Swarth continued to deny its existence. Further, citing Thompson’s previous apology showed his complete disconnect from the emotional experience of seemingly anyone who came in contact with him during the trial (indeed, his rudeness to all members of the media became a source of amusement to us). Because the context of Dr. Thompson’s apology was entirely different, the meaning, and therefore, its credibility, was entirely different as well.
Later, with regards to Dr. Thompson’s apology Early said to me, “He should have made that statement on the Fifth of July.”
When I asked him about Dr. Thompson’s unwillingness to acknowledge any altercation with him he said, “He drove me off the road and doesn’t even remember it! That says a lot about his attitude.”
Dr. Thompson said that cyclists and drivers are at a crossroads. In that, he was wrong; the tension between the two communities has been at a boil for years. Assaults happen on a daily basis; some are more veiled than others and the will of the police to investigate them is as variable as the profile of a mountain range.
It was Judge Millington’s statement that brought closure to the saga. He acknowledged cyclists’ vulnerability and declared a need for cyclists and motorists to consider their actions in sharing common motorways. He also declared the responsibility on the part of the government to provide bike lanes so that cyclists may enjoy safe passage on the nations roads.
May we hope that legislators everywhere hear Judge Millington’s words.
The following are the statements made in court by Ron Peterson, Dr. Thompson and Judge Millington. Each is profound for the insight it brings to bear on the case.—Padraig
I’d like to thank the court for the opportunity to speak this morning. These past 18 months have been difficult to say the least. Being the victim of multiple felonies is not a pleasant experience, one which is made even more difficult by the constant court date postponements, stress of being cross-examined, recounting the event again and again, then finally: the constant worry that in the end the truth will not be heard and justice will not be served. To my great relief the truth has been heard and Dr. Thompson has been found guilty on all counts. Now the question finally arises ‘Will justice be served?’
Your Honor you are in the position of having to decide what exactly justice is in this case. Not an easy task I’m sure.
In order for you to make an informed decision you need to know just how Dr. Thompson’s actions that 4th of July have affected us. The trauma to me, both mental and physical has been extensive, in fact much more extensive than I feel comfortable sharing in this venue. But Your Honor, I have to share, because you have to know.
As far as physical injuries go I don’t need to go into detail. Through the testimony of my physicians you have heard what Dr. Thompson did to me. My nose was nearly torn from my face, my front two teeth were broken in half, and I suffered multiple facial lacerations. You’ve also seen the pictures. They speak for themselves.
Then, of course, there are the scars. Let’s be honest, they seem relatively minor. I’ve had plastic surgery, and my face cleaned up fine due to the skill of my surgeons. But your honor, the scars are still there as reminders of the incident. I see them every day. I see them every time I look in a mirror, every time I shave or wash my hands. Now I’m an active guy; I have plenty of scars. Scars on my arms, scars on my legs. These are “active scars” a kind of proof that I have lived my life and enjoyed doing so. They are almost badges of honor. The scars on my face are not that kind of scar. The scars on my face remind me of the pain and trauma I went through because Dr. Thompson didn’t like cyclists riding on “his” road.
Mentally, this incident has been stressful as well. That Fourth of July, or after that 4th of July I was having a hard time coping with what had happened. I had difficulty sleeping, and when I did I was plagued by recurring nightmares. They were of brake lights, and slamming. When awake, despite myself I was constantly replaying the event again and again. Now, I’ve crashed before, and never had nightmares due to these accidents. I have nightmares because this pain was caused by an intentional act. That fact, in addition to the incident’s violent nature was extremely hard to deal with. Eventually I sought help from a psychologist and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was in therapy for a year, and still go back every month or so.
I hope you now have a better understanding as to what I have gone through. Christian as well, though he’s not here to say anything.
So the next question is, what would constitute “Justice”? I know some of the options being considered are probation or as the DA has suggested, 8 years of prison.
It is my firm belief that the crimes Dr. Thompson has been found guilty of must be severely punished.
Your Honor I understand you are taking many variables into consideration when deciding Dr. Thompson’s sentence. Of course you are considering that this is the first felony—actually series of felonies—Dr. Thompson has ever been found guilty of. However my run in with the doctor. was not the first time he attempted to injure a cyclist, nor the second, but the third.
I also understand you will also be taking into consideration Dr. Thompson’s professional history. He’s been practicing emergency room medicine for 30 years. I believe Dr. Thompson’s medical training and experience make these crimes all the more heinous. Very few people have a greater understanding of just what happens to someone when they strike a solid object at 30 mph. Horrible injuries occur, including severe head trauma, broken bones, even death. Over the last 30 years Dr. Thompson has seen them all. Yet he still sent Christian and me to the emergency room.
This kind of violent behavior is not acceptable. In fact, preventing this kind of behavior is exactly why we have a justice system in the first place. Arguably the main reason we have punishment for crimes is to deter unacceptable behavior. If Dr. Thompson is not punished for his crimes, the message will be sent that it is okay to intentionally harm another person, merely because you don’t like what they said, that they dressed differently, or they slowed you down on ‘your’ street.
Your honor, thank you for the opportunity to speak here this morning. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I’ve been through, so please seriously consider what I’ve said when deciding Dr. Thompson’s sentence.
First of all, pardon me for reading. I needed to jot this down. Before I try this I would like to say Your Honor that I’m blessed, I’m very blessed by having an extraordinary family, friends and neighbors who are here to support me, both here in the court room as well many outside employers.
That’s not what I wanted to say. I wanted to address personally and directly Mr. Stoehr and Mr. Peterson. I violated the most sacred rules of medicine and also in my personal life, and that is to do no harm. That should not only govern our profession but me and us all as beings, human beings. I did violate it.
I have been haunted by nightmares where I see Mr. Peterson, it’s more not seeing you sir, it’s hearing you go through the windshield. Five to seven times a week, and I, too, sir, have been in therapy since that happened.
In my 32 years of practicing in the emergency department I have had the privilege, I mean privilege, excuse me [voice breaking], to treat and counsel many patients with injuries and am painfully aware of not only the physical trauma but the mental trauma as well. And I know that the physical injuries heal as well as mental ones but that the recovery can be quite extensive and lifelong.
I only hope and pray that the recovery from the mental anguish my actions have created is as short as possible for you and your families, because I also this affects other people, not just you. And I apologize to your family as well. The physical and mental scars are my fault.
I think Mr. Watson said I’ve not been remorseful or accepted responsibility. I do. And I pray that the impact on a daily basis is lessened. I would like to apologize again deeply and profoundly from the bottom of my heart. For you and your family as well as for mine and myself, this entire sequence of horrible events seems to grow and grow during the past 18 months, spinning out of control in the public arena being dragged, all of us dragged into it many times, looking through some of the chronicle stories and many more innocent people have been affected, I think.
And to that end I would like to address the cycling community as a whole and Mandeville Canyon in specific residents, as well as residents as a whole in Los Angeles. I can only hope and wonder that if we’d each walked a mile in each other’s shoes and communicated how whether all sides would have had a more open and productive dialog and all parties would have reaped the benefits of that dialog.
Both sides—the cyclists as well as the community—are at a crossroads. The bible teaches us that we have two choices: revenge and retaliation, or resolution and reconciliation. If my incident shows us anything its that confrontation only leads to escalation of hostility and not resolution, and that’s on both sides. I strongly urge both parties to embrace resolution through reconciliation. You cannot fix the problem if you are consumed with fixing the blame. Both sides can begin by agreeing on common goals and common understanding an example is that both parties surely would agree that safety is their primary concern.
From the beginning, I believe that both residents and cyclists can resolve their differences to the benefit of everyone and I hope and pray that this happens as soon as possible. You can honestly disagree without being disagreeable.
In closing, I would like to say from the bottom of my heart that I am again sorry and to Mr. Watson and to Mr. Crosby as well if I offended you and I scared you, you scared me back as well as Mr. Fitts and I think that we both could use a little talk, a little dialog. To Mr. Early I apologize for the perceived incident, again I was not there, I am sorry to say, but I had nothing to do with that incident.
I’m sorry there’s this notion I’m not remorseful and have not been apologetic, there’s nothing I can say that’s going to change your mind, I suspect, but believe me from the bottom of my heart, I’ve lived my entire life never intentionally hurting or wanting to hurt anyone in my life, including you. I’ve spent 33 years trying to help people, not hurt them. And I pray that I have that opportunity again. I wish you all long life and good health more importantly [voice breaking] and may God bless you and your families. Thank you your honor [through tears].
The first thing I want to state is that this case illustrates to me the incredible tension between cyclists and motorists on Los Angeles streets, and honestly should be a wake up call to everyone. Government must become aware of the dangerous conditions existing on our city streets and the threat of injury to cyclists and should provide safe and accessible bike lanes to cyclists.
Cyclists and motorists should be respectful of each others rights to use the common roadways for all.
With that said, the court finds circumstances in aggravation as follows: the court does agree with people that the victims were particularly vulnerable in this matter. They were riding bicycles, where the defendant was in a motor vehicle and therefore the court finds them particularly vulnerable.
The court is also concerned with the lack of remorse, I did hear, I did hear the statements of the defendant today, but throughout the probation report and other statements continues to maintain that he was going to take pictures of the cyclists in this matter and the jury obviously didn’t buy that story.
The court also recalls the testimony on the 911 call that the defendant specifically told Mr. Stoehr after he was thrown over the vehicle to ‘get his bike off the road.’ The defendant also stated on that same call when Mr. Peterson was seriously injured, bleeding profusely, the defendant said, ‘they will claim they were really hurt.’ The court is also aware of the statement to the officer that he did this, ‘to teach the cyclists a lesson.’
The court also read and considered the report submitted by the defense by Dr. Whiting, and I think I also heard it in the testimony of the defendant about when he was 12 years old his best friend’s brother was run over by a car while riding his bike and that was traumatic for the defendant, yet he goes about and does something like this.
Circumstances in mitigation include the defendant did actually call 911 and remain at the scene; I don’t know if he did that—remain at the scene—because Mr. Stoehr was laying on the vehicle or he did that of his own volition, but he did call 911 to at least seek aid for the two victims in this case. He is 60 years old with a minimal prior record, just one 1977 reckless driving case.
We’re flattered to report that RKP has been nominated for the 2010 Bloggies, the annual awards given to blogs found on the Interwebs. And being the complete attention hounds that we are, we figured we shouldn’t let an opportunity like this escape, at least, not without a little P.T. Barnum-style self-promotion.
So we’ve been nominated in two categories: best new blog of 2010 and best sports blog. The voting process is actually called “nomination.” You can vote for us in both the above categories, but because you must nominate three blogs, we suggest you also nominate “All Hail the Black Market,” our personal fave of blogs that winked into existence in 2009.
Nominations will be taken through January 12, and can be made here:
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