What has the bike taught you? What is it that keeps you going when you’re on the rivet, in the red, on the limit?
The bicycle can be a difference engine. You move its pedals. It yields information. It’s a tool for taking you to that place right at the edge of what you’re capable of, forces you to acknowledge your limits, like a spoonful of castor oil for the soul. As we push on into the suffering we learn more and more about who we are. We become more comfortable with paradox and uncertainty. We gain more specific data about the mathematical location of our breaking points.
Your bits of wisdom included some real gems this week. Everyone said something I could identify with. The ones that stuck out for me were:
randomactsofcycling said: “Success is a consequence and should never be a goal.”
James said: “I can exceed the limits I think I have.”
dacrizzow:” I HAVE NO CHOICE. For whatever reason, it motivates me in all of my life activities, and i don’t question it.”
Mike: “Cycling has taught me patience, perseverance, humility, self control, and to appreciate (beauty, limits, strength, solitude and friendship, the little things).”
Amityskinnyguy: “It has taught me that it’s OK to act like a kid sometimes.”
I like to get all philosophical about it and try to string a bunch of pretty words together, but another thing the bike has taught me, especially when I’m straining at the leash, is to take myself much, much less seriously.
I am not fast. I am not strong. I am not cool. I am not PRO. These are truths that help me in the rest of my life as well.
I am not smart. I am not strong. I am not cool. I am not special. I’m just one more bozo on a bike, trying to stay upright, just trying to get where I’m going. Leave it to a human-powered vehicle to help you feel more human.
And suffering is a like a foreign country. It’s not really comfortable, and you don’t want to stay forever, but it’s good to know what it’s like there, if only so you can appreciate home. You come back with good stories. And espresso on your breath.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Sometimes, when I feel weak, when my muscles hurt, when the sweat is stinging my eyes, I stop and ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” It is, I think, a fairly common-sensical question. You put your hand on the stove. It burns. You pull it back. Why, when you throw your leg over the bicycle, and your quads go leaden, and your body gives up its salt, do you keep pedaling?
It’s not because you’re a moron, though to be fair, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Maybe another way of asking the question, “Why am I doing this?” is “What is the bike teaching me right now?”
If you’ve read Joyce, or Pynchon, or Shakespeare for that matter, you know what it means to wade into the intellectual deep end, suffer a bit, become confused, glean a few truths and come out the other side a little wiser (if only by knowing you’re not up to the challenge just yet).
I like to think the bicycle is the physical equivalent of that same sort of intellectual challenge. Most days I ride (and read) for entertainment. Most of the miles disappear under my front wheel without attracting much notice or eliciting much response. Sometimes when I am riding, I am merely traveling, point A joined to point B. Sometimes when I am riding, I am actually just looking at the woods/river/pretty girls. The bicycle is only a chair.
And then sometimes when I’m riding, I’m Hamlet, poor tortured Hamlet. Is he crazy? Upon whom is he really visiting his revenge? What is the point of all this violence, of all this pedaling, into the wind, only to return home again, an absurd circle of suffering?
Quickly now, before I torture this metaphor any further, let me put the question to you? What has the bike taught you? What have been its lessons, and what do you tell yourself when the tires stop wanting to roll, your muscles stop wanting to fire and the fun turns to hurt?
Because Mark Cavendish, 25-years-old at time of writing, has just released his autobiography, “Boy Racer,” I decided to ride down to my local library and borrow their copy of “Memories of the Peloton,” Bernard Hinault’s auto-hagiography. It’s not that I’m not interested in Young Mark’s estimation and explanation of his times thus far. It’s more that I think he’s maybe jumped the gun a bit, but such is the fashion now.
Hinault “wrote” his ode to himself after he retired to his country farm. I say “wrote” because he actually seems to have rambled, nearly stream-of-consciousness style into a tape recorder and then had someone transcribe the manuscript. Even with serious restructuring by the English translator, Hinault’s account of his career is a bit, um, disjointed.
Here’s what I took away from the book, much of which you already know:
1) Le Blaireau was a bully. Even as a kid he took special delight in fist fights with students from a rival country school every afternoon on his way home.
2) He always got his way, either through intimidation or simple bloody-mindedness.
3) His motives were always, always, always beyond reproach.
4) He didn’t attack LeMond. All those times he was up the road, he was actually helping.
5) Greg LeMond is mentally unstable. Americans, generally, lack humility.
6) When he retired, he walked away happy and satisfied with what he’d done.
What I didn’t know, and might just be too-determined reading between the lines, is that, despite the enormous ego, Bernard Hinault was constantly fighting off self-doubt. In the book he casts himself often in a position of weakness, though he was, through much of the time covered, the widely acknowledged top rider in the world.
It is, perhaps, a mark only of low self-esteem that leads a rider of that caliber to feel the constant compunction to prove himself. Or maybe it is only a psychological trick that allows champions to motivate themselves to further and better accomplishment.
I have often thought the Badger, both in his racing career and in his retirement, was simply an asshole, a highly quotable and entertaining asshole, but an asshole nonetheless. And this gets to the core of much of my wonder about our more bombastic champions, whether they possess Hinault’s palmares or Cavendish’s somewhat less developed CV.
Does winning things make you arrogant, or is it arrogance that makes the champion in the first place? Is the tension between self-doubt and superior ability a recipe that breeds both winning and gracelessness at the same time? The arrogance is perhaps not a product of the championships, but rather a mechanism of them, like lactic acid in metabolism.
Even in retirement le Blaireau continues his combativeness. He is never slow to denigrate a race winner or a tactic he doesn’t approve of, and through this sort of sourness he carves out space for his continued legend. In the Hinault universe, not only did the man win all those races, BUT he also did it the right way. Infer what criticisms you will.
Clearly, Hinault and Cavendish were cast in different molds, the former a GC rider par excellence, the latter a pure sprinter. But the method behind the madness of releasing an autobiography so early in his career might be that Cavendish is the same sort of character as his French forebear. When the young Britton, also a country boy in a big city sport, says he is the fastest rider in the world, me thinks he protests too much. It’s not that he doesn’t back it up with his sprinting. It’s more that I suspect he says it out of fear that it isn’t true as much as belief that it is.
With both Hinault and Cavendish colleagues talk about the “hunger for success.” That hunger may be very real, but it invariably contains, within it, the fear of failure. Arrogance is the flip side of insecurity, isn’t it? Thus does Hinault attack LeMond. Thus does Cavendish bad mouth Greipel.
I am not going to run out and buy “Boy Racer.” There was an excerpt in the last VeloNews, and it reads much as one would expect it to. The Badger has gone. The Badger has come again. And this time he’s got bad teeth.
Any time I travel I do what I can to find a way to ride a bicycle. It may be one ride, or it may be four, but I won’t feel like I’ve explored a place properly until I have managed to ride a bicycle around whatever town I’m in.
My father’s family is from the Gulf Coast. I’ve been visiting New Orleans, Gulfport, Biloxi and Mobile since before I could speak. In the more than 20 years I’ve been a cyclist I had never ridden in any of these communities with the exception of one ride on the outskirts of Mobile in 1996.
With the help of a friend, I lined up a bike and got in a number of rides in New Orleans and Gulfport. It was on the final day of my trip that I set out to join the morning group ride in New Orleans that heads west on the levee bike path.
Of course, the Fates had other plans for me.
My chosen route is less than stellar and adds an extra half mile to my commute, and while I don’t object to bonus miles (who does?), my timeline is compressed due to oversleeping by a whopping eight minutes. My perfect timing is looking less and less perfect. Then it starts raining.
Every other day of my trip the rain holds off until after lunch. I wouldn’t care—I probably would even enjoy it—but my concerns for the camera hanging on my shoulder force me to pull over at a gas station for a plastic bag which I wrap around the camera before tucking it into my pocket.
I get to the bike path and start hammering. I have no idea how fast the group is or to what degree my effort will be futile. My hope is to get to the turnaround point and maybe, just maybe, they’ll be stopped and hanging out for a moment’s recovery before heading back.
I eventually ride out of the rain and just as I consider checking the time and mileage to gauge my distance from the turnaround, I see the group ahead on their return. A slight bend gives me some sense of their speed (hammerfest) and size (15-16 and shrinking). I see two guys weigh anchor just before I begin to slow down.
I stay to the right of the eight-foot path, and the lead rider puts out the call to let the group know a rider is up; they skinny and we pass each other comfortably. I hit the brakes, downshift, bang a U-turn and dig in. Instantly, the gap to the group is 60 feet.
Now, I could have turned around before they reached me and started to accelerate so that by the time the last guy passes me I am doing at least 25 mph. But while I’ve never discussed this with anyone, such a tactic seems tantamount to sitting out a lap in a training crit and then jumping back in. Definitely not PRO.
So it let them pass and give chase. Now, on my own bike at home this would have been plenty difficult, but my situation is a bit more complicated. I am on a borrowed bike. A travel bike. With 24-inch wheels. And a flat bar.
To recap: I’m in full team kit on a bike that probably wasn’t really intended for its current use, don’t look remotely PRO, trying to catch a good-sized group that is currently turning strong riders into exhaust.
What on earth am I thinking?
Turns out I was oddly suited to the bike. I ran out of gears at exactly the point I ran out of strength. a 52×12 can be turned over at about 29.5 mph, or at least, that’s what I think I saw as the distance to the group finally began to shrink.
A guy playing goal tender turns around to check what is behind. I doubt he expects what he sees. I assume his worst case scenario is to behold someone on aero bars gradually clawing his way back, meter by painful meter.
What he does see—I can assure you—is one of the stranger things he’ll see this year. Some 880-1408 heartbeats later (I’m a little rough on just how many because my heartrate was 176 and it was about five to eight seconds later), he looks back again and this time I am bigger. We repeat this routine twice more and then something wonderful happens.
But first, I must digress. If I was on one of my group rides, doing what group rides are meant to do (go fast until it hurts) and I looked back and saw some interloper trying to chase my group down while riding a bike that clearly didn’t fit the bill, I can tell you one of the things that would go through my head—go to the front and hammer. I don’t mean attack my group, but slither up to the front and gradually torque the pace up in such a way as to incite the boys into inflicting even greater pain on each other, and in so doing, open the gap to the interloper back up. Yes, I’ve been that guy from time to time.
I pull to within 15 feet of the group—close enough to think I’ve got them, but still too far to taste their draft. My legs are beyond painful; I’m on the bubble and wondering if I’m going to make it across and thinking that if I don’t find something deep down inside to finish this off, I’m going to look quite the fool. And then it happens. The goal tender begins to soft pedal and backs out of the group.
I make the catch when the gap from him to the group is about eight feet. He gives a little glance and then eases on the gas ever so slightly. A couple of seconds later we are in. The subtlety of his move is unspeakably PRO.
My excitement to make the catch is completely overshadowed by my admiration for this guy’s generosity. He doesn’t know me and my bike is clearly out of the norm, so he has no duty to me, but something in my effort speaks to him enough that he decides to lend a hand in an unspoken fellowship of the road.
His effort is subtle, artful, even and to me speaks volumes about experience picked up racing. His speed varies by only a mile per hour, making his move an unremarkable effort, but it makes all the difference in the world to me.
He waits a couple of minutes and then begins making his way up through the group and I follow him. He pauses for a few pedal strokes when he reaches the front and then turns on the gas just as subtly as he had before, but this time he goes much deeper: 26, 26.5, 27, 27.5 and then my unrecovered legs blow while he and three guys on his wheel pull away from the dozen or so left in the group.
I’ve been trying to read his jersey and memorize the club. There is a big “AR”—Alison-something Racing. There needs to be a study on what lactic acid does not to muscles, but the mind.
Watching him ride away bugs me less for getting dropped than for the fact that I’ll never get a chance to talk to him. Scratch that. I don’t want to talk to him, I want to buy him a beer. He may forget the effort, but I can assure you, I’ll remember it for as long as I ride.
The funny thing about the Group Ride, about any Group Ride really, is that it almost never goes quite the way you expect it to. You set out on a route you think you know, but then some big bastard you’ve never seen before comes roaring past on the left and your paceline goes to hell and by the time you get to the turn around you’re too tired to choke back an espresso and a fig newton.
And thus it went with this week’s group chat about technology in the pro peloton. For the most part, we ended up talking about TT bikes and deep dish carbon rims at amateur races. This topic wasn’t really on the route, but you know, the beauty of a group ride is that the group finds its own route, and I found it very interesting to hear everyone’s perspective on the non-pro peloton.
Those who did address the pros, tended to focus on race radios. I’ve yet to meet a race fan who supports the use of radios, but that might have more to do with not depending on them to be in the right place in the race at the right time. In other words, of course WE want to see racing get harder. The pros themselves, who are already pushing their bodies and brains to the absolute limit just to stay in a job, tend to appreciate the radios. Maybe we can allow them their race radios, if they’ll agree to give up their TT bikes. Or vice versa. It’s all about compromise, isn’t it?
I’ll tell you the truth, and so far everyone I’ve shared these views with thinks I’m absolutely zipper-down, drooling insane, I’d ban an awful lot from those carbon race machines we see week in and week out. To start with, I want to be rid of cyclocomputers and power meters. I’d ban anything that requires electricity. If you ride 300 training miles per week and don’t know what 45kph feels like, then what are you doing all that time? If you need a small black box to tell you how long you can sustain your current effort then, to me, you’ve not been paying any attention.
It’s “information doping.” See, I can make up silly cycling phrases too!
The larger point is that all of this information dulls the racer and the racing. It allows the peloton to calculate, within a few hundred meters, EXACTLY how hard they need to ride to catch the break at the line. It’s one thing to have a man on a motorbike tell you that there are four riders, two minutes up the road. It’s quite another to be able to look down at a digital dashboard and know that if you ride at precisely 34.6kph for the next twenty minutes you’ll overtake those impertinent bastards before they can put any time into you. That, to me, is not bike racing.
The power meters all but guarantee that a rider doesn’t over exert himself, or, that if he does, he can do it strategically, rather than squandering his beyond max effort in a race he won’t win anyway. Over the course of a three-week race these tools make it possible for riders to conserve their energy in ways that open, less information-rich racing wouldn’t allow. It affects results, and these bits of technology are not the bike. They are accessories, and I don’t think they belong.
Of course, the pros, by and large, love them. Computers and power meters make their jobs easier. You’d have as much luck getting them to give these things up as you would pulling the coffee maker out of the RKP office. It won’t happen.
And I’m probably the only one who thinks these things are even a problem. It’s not that I’m against technology. I have no problem with new frame materials being introduced, though I do like the idea of some uniformity, just so that it’s the riders racing and not the machines. I just think the UCI ought to be very careful about what it allows the riders to use that isn’t a bicycle, in their efforts to win a race.
Whether it’s EPO, a seat tube motor, a radio or a GPS unit, you have to see that it has an effect on the race. I’m in favor of quads and brains deciding the outcome, strategy and teamwork.
Call me old-fashioned.
Today, my Twitter feed mentioned that the UCI would begin scanning bicycles to prevent “mechanical doping.” I’m not sure what misguided interpreter hatched the phrase, but it has taken on a whole life of its own, hasn’t it? I’m guessing that “mechanical doping” is meant to denote any piece of equipment that puts force into the pedals OTHER THAN the rider’s legs. But if you open up the idea, if you consider the possible connotations of the phrase, you start thinking about the pros’ current standard equipment.
There was a time when Henri Desgranges, the patron saint of cyclorific suffering, would scoff at the use of multiple gears, when the derailleur qualified as “mechanical doping,” and the standard road race bicycle looked more like a cross between a track bike and a touring machine. That was a quaint time when the illicit use of brandies, schnapps and apertifs passed as illegal performance “enhancement.”
But time stands still for no man. First there were gears. Then there were aero wheels (I’m skipping some steps) and bars. There were cyclocomputers and power meters. We had indexed and now electronic shifting. We had steel and now carbon fiber. Each time the bicycle leaps forward there are those who lament the advantages conferred by new technology and those who celebrate the forward march of progress.
If I’m honest, I’m more of a Luddite than most. I keep in my mind some non-existent vision of pure cycling, where the equipment matters less than the talent and heart of the rider. Call me an idealist. For a guy who goes by the sobriquet Robot, it’s a sort of self-contradictory view point.
What I’d like to talk about on the Group Ride this week is what piece of equipment, if any, on a pro racing bicycle, you would ban. What would you get rid of? Assuming seat tube motors are not currently installed on every other race machine, what do you think is superfluous or even detrimental to the racing? Or do you live in the other camp? Do you think think technology has only benefited the spectacle?
If it is true that the greatest truths of our lives are revealed during times of adversity, then Joe Parkin knows a good deal more truth than I do. As cyclists, most of us have come to believe that suffering is a pursuit in which we learn as much about ourselves as we do the world around us. Those truths are relative, changing from rider to rider, making each new revelation a private affair.
What sustained Joe as a bike racer, feeding him hope enough to keep his mind open to possibility and believing that each new race was something other than a foregone conclusion is the book’s great mystery. And mystery it stays, teasing us through each page turned. What drives his belief that a big win is still possible that his career trajectory might still arc upward hardly matters; what buoyed him might not work for you or me.
It is his hope that makes this book so fascinating. Because his name didn’t become household, even bike-race-household in the way that John Tomac’s name did, you know at the outset that his story will end in something other than triumph.
Many of his performances are easy to identify with: the unexpectedly good form, the unexplainable misery, the occasional on-cue delivery, the unsurprising detonation. Most riders would tire of the needle-in-a-haystack hunt, yet Joe perseveres.
I may have looked forward to this book even more than most who read A Dog in a Hat. I met Joe in 1995 when he was with Diamond Back Racing racing cyclocross in New England. I’d do the C race and then split my time between offering neutral support (with ace wrench Merlyn Townley) and shooting the A race.
One of my favorite images I ever shot of cyclocross was of Joe at the UMASS ‘cross race that year. His bike was on his shoulder as his motion was highlighted by a blur of trees behind him, and while he wasn’t winning (that was Frankie McCormack with brother Mark in tow), Joe was hauling ass.
That winter I covered the snowy ‘cross nationals at Leicester, Mass., for VeloNews and wound up playing a role in getting Joe and teammate Gunnar Shogren reinstated following their relegations from eighth and ninth to the last two places for their method of bike change in the pits. I pointed folks at USA Cycling to videotape showing that most of the riders in the top-10 had used the same technique of dropping their bike on entering the pits and picking up a fresh one at the exit, giving them a few steps relieved of the weight of their bikes. Joe and Gunnar had been unfairly singled out. I’m not sure Joe was aware of it, but I was in contact with DBR team manager Keith Ketterer as the events wound to their satisfying conclusion.
My recollection of that fall and winter was that Joe was unfailingly nice. He was humble, prepared and knowledgeable. The only thing he seemed to lack was that big win, the one that makes people just nod nonchalantly with an ‘I saw that coming’ air. Seeing that fall through his eyes shows just what reserves of hope he possessed.
My favorite moment in the book was his description of the confidence that comes with form. Joe writes:
A rider in form can comfortably ride just about any bike. The seat position can be wrong, the handlebars can be too small—it really doesn’t matter. A rider in form simply gets on and goes because the feeling of form—the perfect combination of physical and emotional fitness—creates an almost euphoric state in which pain and suffering of racing a bike become life-giving, and equipment hindrances cease to even register. A rider in form can crash, get up, and chase for as long as it takes, while one without form will never progress beyond staring at the torn handlebar tape.
In keeping with the humility that marks both A Dog in a Hat and Come and Gone, he closes his career by writing, “Only champion bike racers get to retire. The rest of us just quit.”
It’s a passage that is at once hilarious (I’ve known far too many amateur racers who “retired”) and unspeakably sad because it is the sunset of a dream. That sadness lingers, at least it has with me. Here we have a decent, hard-working guy, a guy who dared to look within. He simply ran out of opportunities before he ran out of hope. The world usually beats the hope from us before we run out of opportunity. It’s enough to make your heart ache.
The question is not whether or not Alberto Contador is the favorite for the upcoming Tour de France. The question is who will challenge him and how?
Because there is only one ITT in this year’s Grand Boucle, it could be argued that Andy Schleck’s inherent disadvantage is not as great as last year’s. Will it be enough to cut the 4 minutes 11 seconds he lost to Contador in 2009? Maybe, maybe not. What will certainly be key to Schleck’s ascendancy is brother Fränk’s ability to break Contador’s rhythm in the high mountains. Still, Astana has proven themselves capable of competing in the big races, and el Pistolero will have help from Alexandre Vinokourov in July.
Lance Armstrong’s Radio Shack squad will have added incentive to top the podium next month. First of all, their captain isn’t getting any younger. This is quite probably his last crack at the maillot jaune. Second, having been snubbed by Unipublic for the Vuelta, the Shack has no reason to hold back Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner and Andreas Kloeden in France. All three of those riders have the ability to climb at the pointy end of things, giving the Lance every advantage against Contador, especially if he can get his time trialing on line. Of course, so far he has sucked this season. Is he sandbagging or just getting old?
According to my friend Jarvis, Team Sky, Dave Brailsford and Bradley Wiggins don’t really think they can win the Tour this go round. Jarvis’s ears are closer to the ground in the UK, so let’s assume he’s right. Wiggins probably doesn’t have the form or the support to equal his fourth place from ’09 anyway.
That leaves us with the Italians, and Liquigas may well have the best chance against Contador and the Astanas. Ivan Basso, Roman Kreuziger, Vincenzo Nibali, Peter Sagan, Robert Kiserlovski et. al. come into the Tour brimming with confidence. Basso seems back to top form after his Giro victory. Sagan has been the young revelation of the season, and Nibali has shown himself capable of riding with the best GC riders in the world. Will Basso turn super domestique for Nibali? Does Sagan have any more gas in the tank to help out? Liquigas have, thus far, shown that they can ride as a team, which, in the end, may be their best asset.
Here at Red Kite Prayer, we enjoy pro racing. If the Tour plays out as we all expect it to, it will be the best summer entertainment on offer. Having said that, RKP celebrates the survival of the breakaway. May we all hope for a dark horse, or whole herd of dark horses, to stampede the French countryside next month.
A little over a week ago I wondered aloud in a Tweet if the Amaury Sport Organization might make a preemptive move against Radio Shack and withdraw the team’s invitation to the Tour de France. It would be an incredible blow to the team, but in the wake of Floyd Landis’ accusations against Lance Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel, Levi Leipheimer and others, were the organizers to take Landis’ accusations as credible, history suggests they might just take such action.
Responses all ran the vein of ‘dead wrong.’ And yet now we have Team Radio Shack being denied a spot in the Vuelta a Espana. Like Garmin-Transitions, Radio Shack joined the ProTour since the 2008 agreement forged between the UCI and the organizers of the Grand Tours in which the UCI and the ProTour teams acknowledged the autonomy of the organizers to select only those teams they see fit.
Selections are not made in a vacuum. To help the organizers gauge a team’s potential competitive power, each team is asked to submit a roster of riders likely to ride the event. After all, if you’re Unipublic and you learn a team will send the same nine riders who rode both the Giro and Tour (not that that has ever happened), you’d be within your rights to conclude that team would be too tired to be truly competitive. Bruyneel’s short list of riders he submitted was an all-star squad: Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Kloden, Chris Horner and Janez Brajkovic. Radio Shack also skipped the Giro d’Italia this year with an eye toward riding the Tour of California and just two Grand Tours.
Bruyneel says he was “speechless” when he learned of the exclusion. Representatives for Unipublic, the organizers of the Vuelta said they left Radio Shack because the team would not be competitive.
It’s true that Radio Shack has been criticized for not being more competitive this year, but let’s take a moment to measure them against the six teams that were invited to the Vuelta by wildcard and their ranking in the world according to the UCI:
Team Katusha: second
Cervelo Test Team: ninth
Sky Professional Cycling Team: 17th
Xacobeo Galicia: unranked
Radio Shack, following Brajkovic’s victory at the Criterium du Dauphiné, is ranked eighth in the world. Prior to that they were ranked 14th.
In his The History of the Tour de France, Volume I, Bill McGann writes that one of the key features that makes the Tour a better race than the other two Grand Tours is that its organizers have largely avoided petty, nationalistic spats that have hurt the other races.
I’d have to say that’s at work once again. In 2006, the ASO refused to allow nine riders to start the race due to their alleged involvement in Operacion Puerto. Because five of those riders were members of the Astana-Wurth team it fell below the minimum number to start the race, so some thirteen riders didn’t start the Tour.
It’s no secret that since the 2009 Tour Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel have been portrayed in the media as public enemy nos. 1 and 2. Whether most Spanish cycling fans feel that way is harder to say, but Marca and As have done much to foster the conflict between Contador and Bruyneel/Armstrong.
It’s impossible to say what Unipublic’s motivations are for the exclusion. No one would be surprised if the snub were as a result of the Landis allegations. It seems that most of Europe will concede both that he’s crazy and telling the truth about his drug use and the drugs he alleges Lance Armstrong took as well. However, Unipublic took a different approach saying that Radio Shack wouldn’t be competitive. I’m sorry, but you could send Chris Horner to almost any race in Europe aboard a Schwinn Varsity and he would still be competitive.
Of the six teams invited by wild card, only Team Katusha was more highly ranked in the world standings. We can objectively refute the organizer’s claims that Radio Shack would not be competitive. Put another way, as good a year as Garmin-Transitions seems to be having (Tyler Farrar is having a truly breakout season), in winning both the Tour of the Basque Country and the Criterium du Dauphiné (not to mention third at the Amgen Tour of California), Radio Shack is having a better season; at least, that’s what the UCI’s numbers say.
Had Unipublic declared that they believe Floyd Landis and harbor too many suspicions about Armstrong, Bruyneel and the rest to allow their race to be besmirched by the presence of a team under such strong suspicion, some racers, officials and many fans would have cried foul. However, such a decision is not without precedent—think 2007 Astana—and given the number of inquiries opened up into the pasts of so many former US Postal riders, many people wouldn’t have flinched at the announcement. More importantly, the decision, while presumptuous, wouldn’t have smacked of the irrational.
But Unipublic didn’t do that. They claimed that Radio Shack wasn’t competitive enough. That’s like saying Los Angeles doesn’t have enough roads. Everyone knows that’s crazy talk, and unfortunately the damage it does is three-fold. Radio Shack loses an opportunity to try to win a second Grand Tour in a season. Racing fans lose an opportunity to see racing influenced by what would be almost surely a dominant team, and Unipublic loses some of the respect we reserve for events whose integrity we believe helps to elevate sport beyond mere entertainment.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing. Or maybe it was my relationship with my dad. Maybe I’m just defective. Somewhere, somehow, I blurred the line between suffering and fun.
Confusing suffering and fun is like confusing blue and orange or atheism and Catholicism. Truly, they don’t have much in common. Or, at least, they shouldn’t.
The upshot is that I’m at my best on rides between 60 and 80 miles but I keep choosing to do centuries and gran fondos that take me way beyond my comfort zone. And despite the fact that I’m not particularly fast, my preference is for rides reminiscent of a Yes song—long and difficult.
This season, for the second time since it has been offered, I’ve undertaken the King of the Mountains Challenge. Three centuries and the easiest of them is the final one, the Heartbreak Hundred. At 100 miles exactly, and containing 8500 feet of climbing, it’s both the shortest and flattest of the bunch. That’s relative, of course. Finding a century with more than 5000 feet of climbing is tougher than you think.
Here in the United States there is an organization called the Bicycle Ride Directors’ Association of America. The BRDAA has a Ride Rating System that ranks rides with a six-star legend (apparently, five wasn’t enough). Rides that rate six stars are centuries that have at between 3000 and 3500 feet of climbing (maybe a bit more).
So the rides I think are fun are off the chart. And I’m not good enough to ride them at a 20 mph average. Maybe set my sights lower?
And miss something like the Heartbreak Hundred? Are you high?
Every now and then you hook up with exactly the right wheel. Some angels wear lycra.
It’s easy to look at the course profile and imaging that because the sustained climbing is finished, the shorter climbs ought to be easy enough to tackle, right? That might be true if you weren’t above 5000 feet of elevation. It’s the rare rider who can hit those at full gas.
Amazingly, when you top the final climb at roughly mile 88, you have an unbroken descent the final 12 miles to the finish. Ride judiciously and you might pick up some riders to form a group. Between guys who caught me and other guys we caught (and dropped) I rode with a quartet back to the finish. Quick, powerful turns kept our speed easily above 30 mph.
It’s impossible to know how close you are to the top of the climb.
No matter how badly the last climb goes, a fast finish can cure all ills, can’t it?
Amazingly, the ride had fewer than 500 participants. For a ride with a course this good, this devoid of traffic (I could have counted the cars and not lost track) and perfectly supported, not to mention the RFID timing system I don’t see how every century-prone cyclist within two hours of Lebec didn’t do the ride. I don’t think any part of LA was more than two hours from the start, so that should have been thousands.
When I walked into registration I could see my time on a monitor. No wait.
One of these days I’m going to get all the details right and hit Heartbreak Hill full gas. I can’t wait.