Back in the early ’90s I ran across a catalog for a Utah operation called Sierra Trading Post. It was the very first mail-order retailer I had run across selling closeout products from high-end outdoor manufacturers. The market has changed a great deal since then, with a great many new retailers entering the market and the paper catalogs giving way to Internet sites.
However one thing remains constant: Everyone loves closeout pricing.
New sites have proliferated at a rate roughly equal to political sex scandals. Of those, the site formerly known as Backcountry.com has relaunched as a site with more broad-based appeal, hence the name Department of Goods.
Nevermind the fact that in five years the logo is going to look more dated than an episode of the Brady Bunch, the relaunched site not only has great brands (Time, De Rosa Santa Cruz, Patagonia, North Face and Salomon, among others) but has products from these companies that you have likely lusted after. One of the issues I had with Sierra Trading Post back in the day was the fact that if they had my size, it was a color I didn’t want, or vice versa.
With the economy hitting incomes and more, rather than review another premium product that you may or may no accept at its given price point, when I ran across the Department of Goods I thought a heads-up might be in order.
The site is easy to navigate and the discounts real. Most stuff is at least 30 percent off, but deals of 45 percent off or more are there. I’m a big believer in brick-and-mortar retailers, but I’m a bigger believer in spending responsibly so you can afford your lifestyle.
Every now and then you ask a question that serves up its own seemingly obvious answer. Like the time I was in high school and called the local radio station to see what time they’d play the midnight album. The DJ hung up on me.
Stage 1 of the Amgen Tour of California was designed for the sprinters and to the degree that you prefer the obvious or unsurprising, Mark Cavendish of HTC-Columbia served up a win on schedule just like he’s been doing all season.
Oh, wait. Scratch that. He had a lousy spring thanks to an infected tooth and his teammate André Greipel bitched about being the better sprinter and being banished to the Giro when he ought to be the team’s chosen sprintmeister in the main event.
He’d probably have a case if he had scored even one stage win in Italy. As a result, the look of satisfaction and pleasure on Cavendish’s face looked … genuine. Having an adoring audience seems to matter to him.
You wonder if Cavendish won a sprint with no audience present if he’d celebrate as visibly. If a tree falls in the forest….
It’s hard to know how the land of chaos can transmit video while a sophisticated production in California can’t. Let’s just file this under “bygones” and go with the belief that it won’t rain again this week.
On to those catalogs.
Most of the love we heard for catalogs were for the old Bridgestone catalogs produced by Grant Peterson back in the 1990s before the Japanese manufacturer pulled the plug on its American bike operation.
Let’s try that again: For most of you, your favorite catalog hasn’t been printed in roughly 15 years. If I didn’t know better, I’d accuse each of you of being the paper equivalent of a luddite. But that’s not the case. Anyone who ever saw a Bridgestone catalog came to appreciate almost immediately just how insightful and involved the catalog was. It was created by people who cared as much about cycling as a means of personal expression as they did the bicycle as an extension of beauty.
The only present-day catalog that anyone expressed any affection for was Rapha’s. And while I had never considered the possibility that the old Bridgestone catalog had something in common with the Rapha catalog of today, it’s easy to see the parallel. Stylishly evocative imagery evokes less the perception of a premium brand than a particular outlook on cycling itself. Ultimately, you’re sold on your own love of the sport rather than just some cool piece of gear.
I suppose it’s not so much different from prostitution, which is generally sold on your imagination of the events to follow, rather than your attraction for the specific service provider. Between our increasing environmentalism and our desire to be sold on our own love, that may explain why the big mail order outfits don’t attract the same level of excitement they used to enjoy.
Oh, and for those of you who want to win some stickers, you need to step up your efforts; SinglespeedJarv nabbed them for the second week in a row.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
Back in the 1990s Mario Cipollini was getting fined by the UCI with the frequency Cristiano Ronaldo seems to be fouled. The Lion King couldn’t just show up to a stage of a grand tour and ride it. No, he had to put on a show and when Cannondale became the sponsor of Cipollini’s Team Saeco, in them he found a willing partner to make an entry spashy enough for Milan or Paris.
Leading the Tour of Italy? Let’s do a pink kit and bike to match. Leading the Tour de France? How about a yellow kit and a matching yellow bike? Celebrating the Fourth of July? Why not wear some stars and stripes shorts?
Cipo may be gone, but Cannondale’s sense of style is intact. We received these photos from Cannondale of a special bike they whipped up for the Tour of California.
Sprinter Francesco Chicchi of Team Liquigas took two stages at last year’s Tour of Missourri, the stages into St. Louis and St. Joseph. Following his win in St. Louis—the gateway to the West—Chicchi declared his love of American western movies and the folks at Cannondale decided to have a bit of fun.
Cannondale presented Chicchi with this bike upon his return to the U.S. for the Tour of California and with the bike comes a nickname: Frank the Sheriff.
Cannondale worked with an Italian design company called Artech to give the bike its wild-west-themed look. Artech is no stranger to the bike industry. This isn’t the first time they have worked with Cannondale, and they were also responsible for the custom paint jobs you may have seen on some of Cinelli’s Ram integrated bar and stem combination.
Liquigas saddle sponsor Fi:zi’k even got into the act with a custom Arione saddle with the central leather strip replaced with one of cowhide. They also provided him with leather bar tape.
“I hope the day comes this week when I can fire off another shot and win here in California. Then they can say that the new sheriff is in town, named Frank!” Chicchi said when he was presented with the bike.
If you’re like me, your daily encounter with the mailbox is followed, very closely, by an encounter with the recycle bin. Who in their right mind still prints things on paper, stuffs that paper in an envelope and pays postage to have a human trudge across the soggy expanses to plunk it in a box in front of your house? Lunatics do. And catalog businesses.
Of all the things I carry from box to bin, the only survivors are those bills that are not available digitally and bicycle catalogs. I get Nashbar and Performance and World Cycling Productions and VeloGear and various and sundry others. Each of them seems to sell some subset of the same array of lycra, carbon fiber and aluminum bits, but some are pricier than others. The photos are better (or worse). The models look more or less improbably like actual cyclists. They address different market segments (all of which I belong to in one way or another), and each of them gets a full flip through before being binned. I have kids. I can’t be buying every shiny bit of velophernalia that catches my eye.
Before we start let us all agree that the local bike shop (the proverbial LBS) is a grand and ideal place to spend our dollars/euros/rupees/limpira/pesos/pounds/sheckels/duckets/silver, BUT that’s not what we’re talking about here.
Probably as a result of being addicted to bicycles and all their related accessories, we have found our ways onto so many mailing lists, paper and binary, and so we find ourselves under fairly consistent bombardment by glossy shots of Assos kit and cut rate carbon handlebars.
What? Where? When? Why? How? The Group Ride starts now.
And because the pro peloton is riding rough over Italian asphalt this week, and those who are not in the land of pasta and Roman ruins are tuning up for the Tour of California, this week we will also have a little prediction action. Upcoming ToC (notice I leave out the sponsor’s name…they can have a mention when their check arrives at RKP HQ) prologue winner and GC finalist. Name both. Win stickers. Go.
I wish wrapping handlebars was easier or that I was less lazy. There. It’s out. Now I can begin recovery. I’m such a nerd for ergonomics and comfort that if adjusting handlebar and lever position was anywhere near as simple as say, adjusting saddle position, I could spend whole weekends playing with lever and bar position.
In truth, while I do a very pro job of wrapping a bar, once I have taped the cables in place, I really don’t want to make any further adjustments. Like I said, I’m lazy and it’s too much work.
I’ll mount a bar, position the levers where I think they need to be and then go ride around my neighborhood for a minute with the cable housing flapping in the wind. When I roll back to the garage I might adjust the roll of the bar or the height of the levers, but once I tape down the cable housing, those levers aren’t moving another millimeter.
I love to look at how the pros set up their bars; I’ve seen some pretty surprising stuff. It used to be that the bottom edge of a lever was in plane with the bottom of a bar. Always. And the bottom of the bar was parallel to the ground. When I first learned to ride and work on bikes, I saw countless bikes set up just like Richard Virenque’s is above. It would be more than 20 years before I considered that other positions might increase my comfort. Eventually, you started seeing guys like Lance Armstrong roll the traditional bend bar up just a bit.
In the mid-1990s I saw Sean Yates’ bar rolled down. It seemed physically impossible for him to put his hands on the levers the way they were positioned. Later, in 2002, Johan Musseuw’s bar was positioned crazy low and the levers were rolled up so high they seemed just as impossible to put your hands on the hoods. Then I noticed how when he did place his hands on the hoods, there was no bend at the wrist. The combination of how bar and relatively short reach made the lever position workable.
The new Ritchey Logic WCS Carbon Curve bar gave me a chance to experiment with just what works best for me with a compact bar. The short/shallow bar is to the 2010s what the anatomic bar was to the 1990s. I haven’t been super-sold on the new shape for a few reasons.
My first reservation is the mindset that led to the bar’s design. It came about from riders getting rid of all the spacers between the headset and the stem and then realizing that riding in the drops wasn’t too comfortable. The solution? Give the bar less drop.
Many years ago some very experienced riders taught me that if you run a deep-drop bar fairly high you can maintain a flat back when in the drops and still enjoy a rather upright position for maximum climbing power when on the bar top. It’s one of the reasons I like the FSA K-Wing bar so much. But enough of that.
Little known fact: The compact bars on the market almost all feature a 128mm drop. Traditional bend bars, which to me are as comfortable as trying to wear a child’s shoes, are still surprisingly prevalent in the pro peloton and feature a 130mm drop—just 2mm difference. Reach on traditional bend bars is usually in the 87-88mm range, about 3mm more than most compact bars. So, on paper they don’t seem to different, but in practice, the difference in curve makes the difference in fit and comfort dramatic.
The Ritchey Logic WCS Carbon Curve bar I reviewed had a 31.8mm clamping diameter and a 42cm (c-c) width. Advertised weight is 206g and my bar weighed in at 208g. Pretty stinkin’ close.
To try to squeeze a little extra reach out of compact bars and to position my hand in the flattest portion of the drop, I roll them out until the reach is parallel to the ground. This seems to be a fairly common way to position based on what I’ve seen in the pro peloton.
Little known fact #2: Fabian Cancellara rode a compact bar on his bike in both Flanders and Roubaix. Go figure. Had I not seen it, I’d have assumed he would ride a deep drop bar, in part just because he’s so flexible.
For those of you who are still riding aluminum bars I can’t stress just how much a carbon fiber bar increases comfort for the hands by damping vibration that would otherwise travel through an aluminum bar. I really don’t ever want to have to ride an aluminum bar ever again. Which means I need to do something about the bar on my ‘cross bike.
In reviewing this Ritchey bar I realized that I’ve ridden at least four different compact bars and while I thought that the shape of the drop was virtually identical from manufacturer to manufacturer (at least, it was really close on the first three), the decreasing radius bend (the bend gets tighter the closer you get to the levers) of the bar is more comfortable to my hand than any of the others I’ve tried. The lesson: Not all compact bars are created equal.
The stunning spread of carbon fiber to nearly every component on the bike and its accordant inflation of the cost of every single bike component in which it is used is nothing to cheer about. It’s how we went from $5000 bikes to $10,000 bikes in 10 years. So while I’m not wild about spending $284.95 for a bar, the Carbon Curve is lighter, stiffer, stronger and more comfortable than an aluminum bar. It is an F1 car competing against a Jeep Cherokee.
Virenque image: John Pierce, Photosport International
They are, in the purest sense, pilgrimages. Like the trip the devout make to the Santiago de Campostela or the Hajj, these rides give shape to the participants’ cycling lives, adding purpose to their riding and providing incentive to live deliberately, that is, with a training plan and a diet that sacrifices tonight’s indulgence for tomorrow’s performance.
They are holy days, these rides; they are anything but another ride. These days are remembered on calendars, occasions both solemn and joyous.
In the U.S. we function as if we got the holy days and the rules, but none of the books or prophets. It’s a strange life we lead.
There are perhaps two dozen recreational events that take in courses on which legends could be written. Take any of them and run pro races over them for 50 years, and you’d have a mythology rich enough on which to build not just clubs, but communities.
Doubt that? Ask anyone what the Philadephia neighborhood of Manayunk was like in 1980. It was working class—which is to say poor—and anything other than hip. Today, thanks in no small part to a race that made a steep hill the most pivotal part of its course, Manayunk is one of the hipper enclaves in Philly. At least, that’s how they pitch it.
Most regions have an event that takes on truly legendary status locally, if not nationally, even without the aid of great racing. In the Southeast there’s the Assault on Mt. Mitchell. In New England, there’s D2R2. In the Pacific Northwest, there’s Seattle to Portland among others. In the Southwest, El Tour de Tucson. In California exists a true embarrassment of riches—courses of such difficulty that the Amgen Tour of California could use them to run a 10-day race that would exceed in difficulty the Dauphiné Libéré or the Tour de Suisse.
Truly, I’ve participated in nine events that exceed 100 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing over the length of the course. I’m aware of another three or four that qualify, and that’s without going crazy with the double century stuff.
Of those, one of the little-known gems is the Breathless Agony. Annually, only 750 riders are permitted to participate in the ride. The spots sell out within a day or two of registration opening.
Having ridden it a few times, the ride feels like it contains four climbs, though on paper it doesn’t really look that way. The first climb comes roughly five miles into the ride, is two miles long and climbs a bit more than 500 feet. The second is over a road that was formerly paved and these days is mostly dirt and potholes. It starts about 16 miles into the ride and climbs roughly 850 feet in four miles. Rest following the climb comes in the form of one short dip followed by roughly eight miles of false flat.
The third climb of the day is substantial. Oak Glen has been used in the Redlands Classic. It’s five miles long and climbs 1700 feet, give or take. It also has some surprisingly steep pitches; plenty of stretches hit 10 percent while one short section tips skyward at a cruel 16 percent.
The organizers like to think of the climb from the ranger’s station at the edge of Redlands up to Angelus Oaks as separate from the rest of the climb from Angelus Oaks to Onyx Summit. I’m not that easily fooled. Breaking up a climb with a rest stop that precedes some big rollers is a pleasant respite, but in the end it feels like one big-ass climb. Making matters even more difficult is the fact that the second half of the climb to Onyx takes you from 5800 feet of elevation up to 8500.
By the time I reach the top, I feel like the elevation has shaved about 30 watts off my output. It’s an ugly, humiliating business.
Organizers take your time at Onyx Summit, 75 miles into the 112-mile ride. The ride back is almost entirely downhill. Total climbing is about 12,000 feet.
I, like most riders I know, am wrecked the day following this ride. This thing ought to be the crown jewel of a whole series of gran fondos. Fortunately, the organizers of Breathless Agony teamed up with Planet Ultra to create a series, the King of the Mountains competition which takes in two Planet Ultra events (the Mulholland Challenge and the Heartbreak Hundred) plus Breathless Agony over a seven-week span.
I’d love to see this run as a true gran fondo so that at least you don’t have to stop periodically and give your name to someone with a clipboard in order to check in. It’s a rotten system. Markleeville, Mulholland and many other rides just paste a colored sticker on your race number and send you on your way. It’s much, much quicker. A few controlled intersections could be a great addition as well.
That said, the ride can’t be faulted for not being more than it is. With limited sponsorship, the organizers have managed to put on a stunning course that accommodates a wide disparity in rider abilities.
On balance, it’s not as pretty as Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo or the Mulholland Challenge. Nor is it as hard as the Markleeville Death Ride (also known as the Tour of the California Alps). Nonetheless, I put it in the top-10 of California events. This is one of those rides that ought to be on your bucket list.
Well it’s been one of those weekends. First, a note on RKP. The site was infected with some malware that not only took the site down for hours that felt like days, but left behind numerous other files that took hours more to delete, even once the site was fully back online. How the attack occurred is still unknown; security was seemingly tip-top and all software was up to date. Guess it was bound to happen sometime. All I can say is that Mexican drug lords are too good a fate for the people who dream this stuff up. Thanks for your patience and notes of concern.
Meanwhile, the Tour of Italy was busy touring … the Netherlands. I get how the Tour de France starts outside of France every other year. Starting in Germany or Switzerland and riding into France lends the race an elegant international feel, and everyone—even non-cyclists—gets the sense of journey that comes with finishing a ride or race in a different nation. But starting three countries away? As a sense of story goes, it’s absurd. As race planning goes, it’s even worse, as evidenced by today’s rest day, which has been selected not for the racers’ recovery—which was the days’ original purpose—but rather for a transfer that risked being derailed a volcano. You can’t dream this stuff up.
In the prologue, there was a lot of love for David Millar and fellow Brit, Bradley Wiggins. The only surprise in the day’s results was the lack of surprise that came with Wiggo’s victory. It’s funny how our perception of the import of a great ride differs when the victor is someone vying for overall victory (which we chalk up as confirmation of form) versus a bit player such as Brent Bookwalter (where we hope he has just pulled one out of his hindquarters and not a more sinister indication that something is rotten in proverbial Denmark).
And in three days of racing we’ve had three different riders wear the maglia rosa. No surprise in that, but there’s a lot of surprise in seeing three of the race’s favorites—Wiggins, Cadel Evans and Alexander Vinokourov—trade the pink jersey like baseball cards.
That Wiggins, Evans and Vinokourov have all worn the leader’s jersey and not some sprinter interlopers is highly unusual. I can’t recall a Grand Tour that has unfolded this way in … ever. It speaks to just how aware this year’s favorites are that they must remain attentive and up front, just in case.
Seemingly, another character in this year’s Giro is the crashes. Amateur criteriums don’t feature this many crashes per day. Crashes have ended the hopes for Christian Vande Velde as well as Wiggins. And while Wiggins isn’t out of the race, his 4:26 deficit in a race with this much climbing means he’s unlikely to do more than take a stage win.
Of course, the majority of you who weighed in are looking for Carlos Sastre to take the overall victory. He’s a rider with a great deal of class and a willingness to attack. But will that be enough? True, his climbing talent makes him suited for this course, but we can’t forget that his Tour de France win came less due to his aggression than due to tactics that saw him ride away while Evans marked teammate Andy Schleck. If he can play riders against each other to his advantage once again, he could be formidable, just like that damn malware.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
So this week the well-respected journal the Annals of Internal Medicine published a study that human growth hormone (HGH) does, in fact, improves athletic performance by helping to build fast-twitch muscle fiber. Specifically, the study found that in men HGH would improve performance by 3.9 percent—shaving .4 of a second from a 10-second sprint time in the 100-meter dash. And while sprinting performance was dramatically improved, HGH did nothing for endurance (unsurprising) or overall strength (somewhat surprising).
In cycling, an improvement of 3.9 percent isn’t the difference between steps on the podium, it is the difference between pack fodder and crushing the competition. Whether you look at the results from a Grand Tour or from one of the Monuments, a single percent range in performance can include the top-20 finishers.
Some of the men in the study also received injections of testosterone. For those men, the performance increase was a whopping 8 percent. Imagine for a second being an 8-percent-improved rider. That’s going from a 1-hour 40k time trial to a 55:12 40k time. Eight percent could turn you from a climber into a time trialist or a nobody into a god.
The study begs several questions. First, is anyone really surprised by this? There has been strong anecdotal evidence that HGH produced results for anyone looking for an illegal edge.
A bigger question is, what is the dosage size that athletes taking HGH normally use? Dr. Ken Ho, who ran the study, gave his subjects modest doses for only eight weeks, as compared to what guys like Mark McGwire were taking, which is alleged to be a much higher dosage for extended periods of time. Obviously, the gains could be more than 4 percent. Much more, perhaps.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) helped fund the study. One wonders why they wanted the results printed in a peer-reviewed journal. This would seem to be information that they wouldn’t want athletes willing to dope (or their doctors or coaches) to find out. One can safely assume that some aspect of this study will aid those who are trying to evade detection of their drug use.
The amateur athletes who participated in the study reported several side effects. The HGH caused fluid retention that resulted in some swelling as well as joint pain. One man reported that his breasts grew.
Maybe drug testing in the future should include looking for pros who are wearing jog bras.
More seriously, the media has reported the publication of this paper with a certain amount of surprise. As I read about it, I’ll admit my jaw went slack, but my expression was more “duh” that “holy cow.”
There have been whispers about who in the peloton has been using HGH, but so far, the most substantive accusation was that the entire T-Mobile team was using the stuff along with EPO. And of course, boatloads of the stuff was in Willy Voet’s Festina team car when he arrived at his fateful border stop in 1998.
I don’t want to accuse you readers of being a cynical bunch, but are any of you surprised by the results of this study, either in general or the more specific aspect of just how much performance can be improved by either HGH alone or in combination with testosterone?
And in other news … there’s this little cycling tour that’s going to take in some great sights in Italy. Disingenuousness aside, most of the cycling media outlets are saying this is the most wide-open Giro in years. That may be right. With no Menchov, no Killer, no Pellizotti and no Contador, Evans would seem to be the heir apparent; he seems to have developed a taste for actually winning instead of just showing.
Does anyone think Garzelli has something like a chance to win? Even Simoni seems to have conceded that he is over the hill and will hope for a stage win in this, his final Grand Tour.
So two questions to you all: Who will take the maglia rosa in the prologue? We’ve got stickers for the first correct answer on that. Also, who do you think will get to go home with the pink jersey once the last kilometer is ridden? Stickers to the first correct prognosticator.
I’ve got my money on Evans.
Giro, for those who haven’t been paying attention to one of the world’s top helmet manufacturers, has entered the glove market cannonball-style. That’s in addition to the eyewear and other accessories that the manufacturer has moved into.
It was a risky move. Giro’s place as one of the top three helmet makers is virtually decreed by government. All it would take to crack the foundation would be a crappy lens or two and gloves that didn’t fit or didn’t last.
Last fall I reviewed the Lusso glove, which has since been renamed the LX. I liked the Pittards leather glove a lot, but in the comments, I did get a bit of pushback. One owner of a set complained about how the gloves dried out after washing them.
The folks at Easton-Bell Sports read RKP after they are all caught up on the real news over at Cyclingnews. The brand manager for the gloves saw the comment, contacted the reader and addressed his concerns personally. It makes for great PR when you do something like that publicly, but I only know about it because someone at Giro contacted me.
I can say that no other bike company has shown the same level of concern for addressing consumer issues as Giro. The opportunity is certainly there.
Late this winter I received the long-finger version of the LX glove, called the LXLF. Like the LX, the LXLF comes in either a black and white or all black color scheme. Unlike the LX, it blends some more stretchable fabric at the knuckles to make the gloves more dextrous without forcing the leather to stretch. The perforated Cabretta leather on the back of the glove helps keep it breathable. And the alternating black and white makes them look like a classy costume accessory for the Oaxacan Festival of the Dead.
Compared to the short-finger version of the glove, the LXLF, rather surprisingly, features much less of the 3M technogel padding. While the pads are nice and do a great job of preventing vibration from reaching your hands, it is a little on the bulky side. The LXLF features but two pads at the heel of the palm. As a result, the palms move with your hands much more naturally. Yet, as thin as the glove feels, it still provides more than adequate protection in terms of padding and temperature control.
I wouldn’t advocate using this glove much below 50 degrees and certainly not above 70 degrees, but that temperature range describes my typical ride for at least eight months of the year.
Ever concerned that I’ll do something to stretch the LXs out, I’m super-careful when I remove them. With the LXLF, not so much. With a gentle tug on the fingertips, it’s easy to pull them off my hands. And after more than a month of near-daily use they still look new.
The gloves feature a section of microfiber fabric over the thumb to give you a place to wipe your sweaty, drippy bits, but honestly, the fabric behind the knuckles does just as good a job at absorbing bodily fluids.
Speaking of bodily fluids, in reviewing another company’s short-finger Pittards-palm glove, I had a less-than-fun incident involving the black dye used in the leather and my bar tape. I sweated so much on a hot day that the black dye not only stained my hands the color of coal, but stained my bar tape so that it looked brick red. I have yet to pick up any hint of dye on my hands from either the LX or the LXLF gloves. Some details you just don’t notice until someone else messes one up.
Easily my favorite feature of the gloves is the incredible sensitivity and dexterity they offer. My son’s butt is only slightly softer than these things, but LXLF has the advantage of being wearable for hours at a time.
In my climate, I can make use of a spring-weight glove, as I mentioned, for at least eight months of the year. I’ve tried a lot of lightweight, long-finger gloves. You’d be shocked if I told you how few of them are memorable. The LXLF is not only memorable, it is easily the best long-finger spring-weight glove I’ve ever worn. Periodendofstatement.
Because they retail for $70, it’s not a glove I’d be inclined to wear, say, during a cyclocross race or a six-hour, rainy training ride. I know they can be cleaned, but the cleaning process requires a bit of care and they aren’t indestructible. For those reasons, I don’t wear them on rides I anticipate will be messy.
If this whole global warming thing turns out to be a hoax and supposing my morning rides maintain their 55-degree start temp, I won’t mind. These gloves are so enjoyable, I’d gladly wear arm warmers year-round just to help justify wearing the gloves.
In the grand scheme, what makes these gloves so great isn’t how Giro got all the details right. What makes them so great is the fit of the glove combined with the feel of the leather on your hands; the combination of softness and dexterity is simply unparalleled. Pardon me, but I think I’m going to put them on and retype this review just so I can have another hour to wear them. Seriously—these gloves are so nice, you’ll rethink why you wear gloves … and the standard you hold them to.
I believe that Bjarne Riis holds the keys to the future of professional road racing in continental Europe [Cue the sounds of a needle scratching a record/glass shattering/monkey's rioting at the banana packing plant].
For years we’ve been talking about the impact that each new doping scandal would have on the sport’s ability to attract sponsors able to support teams on the financial level necessary to race the UCI’s evolving, global race calendar. And, certainly, sponsors have dropped out after prolonged exposure to the negative publicity of having their athletes frog-marched out of the Grand Tours, heads hung in shame. What brand benefits from having their name associated with a bunch of anorexic junkies?
And yet, every time we lost a stalwart sponsor like T-Mobile, we gained a Garmin or a Columbia. Even the recent emergence of teams like RadioShack, Sky and BMC suggest that there are still deep-pocketed brands who believe in cycling. It is, perhaps, noteworthy that the Shack is built specifically to support Lance Armstrong, a marketing juggernaut independent of cycling. Sky comes out of the British Cycling Federation’s successful track tradition, a group without doping-related baggage to carry around on tour with them. Among those three, only BMC, formerly Phonak, has struggled through years of dope-conjured setbacks, specifically with Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, Oscar Camenzind and others. Their survival can be put down, completely, to the iron will of owner Andy Rihs, who loves cycling, perhaps to his own detriment.
On the European continent, things have not gone so well. Formerly dominant Italian teams have self-destructed or soldiered on, shadows of their former selves. Spanish sponsors have fled nearly wholesale, and the French, well, they seem to be underachieving on every front. Milram, the only ProTour team in Germany, will end their sponsorship commitment at the end of this season. Doom? You’re soaking in it.
That brings us back to Bjarne Riis and his Saxo Bank team. Among the ProTour horde, Saxo Bank stands out. They have dominated the Spring Classics through Fabian Cancellara, a rider who will also bring them Grand Tour stage wins in any race against the clock. They also have the Schleck brothers, Andy and Franck, who, in addition to contending for GC honors in the Tours, also represent the fresh, young face of cycling. Few teams bring to the ProTour what Saxo Bank brings, and much of that is down to their owner and manager, Riis.
And now that Saxo Bank is ready to end its sponsorship of the team, it is Riis scrambling around to find funding for what is, arguably, the best team on the continent. The irony is that Riis himself is a repentant former doper, who confessed, without coercion, to having won the 1996 Tour de France with the help of the blood booster erythropoietin (EPO), even offering to give back the yellow jersey he won that year.
A polarizing figure in cycling, Riis is clearly at the forefront of modern team managers, bringing new training techniques and technical innovations to the table more aggressively than any other. Many cycling fans are ambivalent about his influence though, disgusted with his participation in the drug culture of the late ’90s peloton, but intrigued by the performance and tactics of his team. Never a particularly warm presence, Riis has managed his team in the same ruthless way he raced. It wins races, if not always fans.
So now it’s down to this man to find a title sponsor for his team. It’s a proposition that tests the very premises of continental racing. Can a former doper with the best squad on two-wheels secure the funds? There is probably not a more valuable commodity than Team Saxo Bank, not a better end product to sell. But Riis may well be his own albatross. The deal maker might just be the deal breaker.
And this dilemma is not peculiar to this team. Every continental team has baggage to contend with when talking to sponsors. That is what makes Saxo Bank such a clear litmus test for the ProTour.
Let’s not be too dramatic. Pro cycling will not die. Where teams fail, others will spring up, but the new shoots of growth might come from unexpected sources, Australia or Japan maybe. The UCI has undertaken a globalization project for the sport. This can be looked at as either an effort to grow into new markets, or a tacit admission that the peloton has simply poisoned the well in mainland Europe.
Let’s hope this isn’t the case. Whether we like him or not, let’s hope that Bjarne Riis can present a business plan that overcomes the trepidation that must come from shaking hands with a former cheat.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International