For as long as we’ve had bicycle racing, we’ve had off-the-bicycle drama. Three words: Lady in White. She nearly derailed Fausto Coppi’s career. Today we’ve got turf wars between doping agencies, tension between the UCI and manufacturers, conflicts between the UCI and race organizers, and, of course, squabbles between teams and race organizers.
This last, the issues between teams and race organizers should seemingly be the easiest to resolve. Independent of a team’s registration is the UCI’s ranking of teams based on the accumulation of points by the team’s five best riders. It’s an absolute, objective measure of just how good a team is, even if it does favor those teams with a limited number of chiefs over a team like HTC-Columbia that seemingly has the ability to keep other teams guessing about just who may take the day, provided they aren’t setting Cavendish up for a sprint.
As a race organizer trying to position your race as producing a true champion, the best of the best on that course, the self-serving answer is to invite the best two-dozen or so teams as ranked by the UCI. To do anything else is to dilute the field on paper. We know from experience, however, that giving unranked Spanish teams entry into the Vuelta can spark some exciting racing, so some discretion does seem reasonable. But how should that discretion be exercised?
Were a race organizer as partisan as the Spanish federation, it is conceivable that Unipublic could invite only Spanish teams to the Vuelta to ensure than an Italian doesn’t win next year. Though the racing might still be animated, it would lessen the importance of the Vuelta in our eyes, and rightfully so.
Chatter on the RadioShack/RCS tiff has tended to favor RCS. Given the way Big Tex has fallen from favor, we should perhaps not be too surprised. What is more surprising is the brush with which the entire team seems to be painted.
RCS obviously had a reason they didn’t want RadioShack to appear at the Tour of Lombardy. Let’s explore the possibilities:
1) They had been “snubbed” by RadioShack not racing the Giro, which may have felt like insult to injury after Armstrong didn’t toe the line for a much-anticipated appearance at Milan-San Remo.
2) They didn’t want a team facing such serious doping allegations to besmirch their race.
3) They lost the invitation.
So what’s wrong with #1? It’s petty. Teams have a right to decide what riders will race which races. The Shack deserves some criticism for not sending some squad to the Giro, though. They are a ProTour team and there is the expectation that such a team is capable of fielding two competitive squads simultaneously. It doesn’t seem to be an issue for HTC-Columbia. The fans deserve the best racing they can see and that means inviting them, even if you don’t like their choice of squad, which means sucking it up if Mr. Big Shot chooses the Tour of California over the Giro d’Italia. Just deal. Pros have been choosing to race the Dauphiné and the Tour of Switzerland instead of the Giro without retribution for years. Armstrong comes in for a little dressing down of his own, though: Don’t make noise about starting a race (Milan-San Remo) and not show unless you’re injured.
Okay, what’s wrong with #2? Not much, in fact. If you have a fear that your race will become the backdrop to a colossal doping scandal, you really shouldn’t be obligated to invite a team that is under large-scale investigation. This perspective is problematic, I admit, but at the end of the day, if all your sponsors pull out, you have no race, and the race’s survival trumps all else. Let us observe that this is a bigger concern for Unipublic than RCS. But there’s one caveat: Have the cajones to be honest. Don’t hide behind incompetence or lack of sporting results as an excuse.
And what’s wrong with #3? Everything. RCS didn’t “forget” the Radio Shack invitation; they forgot the contract. The team was snubbed by an organization with a short memory, and RCS was unwilling to admit it. This was proven when they (RCS) had to ask the UCI for a waiver that would allow them to include a 26th team in the race. Again, have some balls and be honest.
Look, I know that defending Armstrong on any level is more dangerous than unprotected sex with a lion. That said, talk that RadioShack is a shit team and didn’t deserve the invite they didn’t get to the Tour of Lombardy or the Vuelta really isn’t rational. RadioShack has been ranked as high as eighth this season and is ranked 10th as we speak. To put this in perspective, Caisse d’Epargne is ranked 11th. To all those who think Radio Shack is a bad team, I ask you this: Is Caisse d’Epargne a worse team?
There are plenty of strong riders on RadioShack who have turned in terrific performances this year. There’s just no way to say they are a bad team and come across as rational. All but nine teams on the planet are worse. The team’s median age of 65 is a problem for their future, but we shouldn’t denigrate their performance this year because they have a bunch of old guys, some of whom walk under a cloud of doping controversy that maps like a hurricane.
Based on sporting results, Radio Shack deserved invites to the Vuelta and the Tour of Lombardy. Concern for another Floyd Landis press conference or an announcement from Jeff Novitzky could reasonably make a Grand Tour organizer gun shy. No matter what, great racing is dependent on inviting the strongest teams; if it weren’t so, we’d all be sticking around to watch the Cat. 4s race the local Gran Prix du Industrial Park.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Interbike, the annual peek inside Santa’s workshop, has arrived. Even though the bike industry has moved to a year-round product development and introduction cycle, thanks, in part, to events like the Sea Otter Classic and the Amgen Tour of California, Interbike is the place to wow cycling’s devoted with the latest and greatest.
The question of whether Interbike or Eurobike is bigger is a distraction. Go to Eurobike and a fair chunk of what you’ll see—say trekking bikes, for instance—will never enter an American port. If you want the pulse of the American market, Las Vegas is the place, at least one last time.
Going into this year’s show, I’ve been more focused on the names of the companies I won’t be seeing there rather than thinking about the new stuff I’m convinced I can’t live without. The number of companies displaying only at the Outdoor Demo is growing as is the list of companies that won’t even be there this year. I’m hoping that Airborne’s new head honch Rick Vosper’s prognostication is correct, that part of the move to Anaheim included negotiating a large-scale return to the show floor for everyone from Trek to Giant, Cannondale, Cervelo and Felt.
Their absences, and the absences of plenty of others, made the show floor a little less interesting last year, if easier to get through. Still, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
The question we put to you this week: What have you heard about in the run-up to the show that you are most excited about? New wheels from Easton? New bars, stems and more from Zipp? Puncture-proof Hutchinson tubulars? Whose new bike would you most like to ride?
I have never before, in 37 attempts, had a Group Ride fall apart within minutes of clicking the Publish button, but last week, that very thing happened. It couldn’t have been ten minutes between the moment I finished writing about Angelo Zomegnan’s failure to invite Team RadioShack to his Giro di Lombardia, and the moment the VeloNews alert hit my in box, declaring the whole thing a misunderstanding.
The only misunderstanding going on, I think, is the powers of the pro peloton thinking we didn’t see through the last minute reversal. The story here, of course, is not really about Zomegnan and RadioShack.
Yes, the Shack stood the Giro d’Italia up, turning down an opportunity to race Italy’s most important race. Yes, Zomegnan was pissed off, offended. The decision not to field even a second string squad for the Giro was offensive, even if it was obvious that the Shack’s American sponsor was going to be more interested in appearing at the Tour of California, which ran concurrently. This is a pissing match between a team without sufficient diplomatic nous to appear humble even when they are not, and a race director looking to plant a stake in the ground as regards the importance of his race.
More than that though, this is about traditional cycling pushing back against the tide of modern cycling. Whether you view the Giro as an old world race and the Tour of Cali as a new school impostor, or you view the doping allegations that dog Lance Armstrong and his cadre of red and gray riders as a sign of the coming apocalypse, this little tiff over the Tour of Lombardy encapsulates many of the tensions seething within pro racing.
Are Zomegnan and his Vuelta a España counterpart, Javier Guillen, objecting to RadioShack’s general comportment, or is this a not-so-subtle way for the Europeans to push back against the globalization of the sport? Are they trying to keep suspected dopers out of their races, or are the doping allegations simply a pretense for playing out their prejudices against the nouveau riche of the sport?
By chalking this little flap up to a clerical error, a breakdown of communication, is to paper over the cracks.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Generally speaking, our cycling life informs our daily life. The lessons we internalize on endurance, on building strength, how to recover, set goals, act with grace and even digest disappointment have probably transformed most of our lives. But lessons from daily life rarely work in cycling.
Balancing a budget will keep you from digging deep to see what hidden reserves you might possess. Three squares teaches you nothing about topping off the tank whenever possible during a long road race.
Our romantic lives have provided us with one important guide to survival, however. Just as the buddy system works for a night out on the town, it serves us out on the road. We knew the value of the wingman even before we had a name for him (or her—women know not to travel alone, too).
Think of all they do. You’re never without a drink. You can lose your wallet and your wingman has your next round covered. It’s the same way with food. If you’re running low, your wingman has a hot dog stand, late night burger joint or donut shop wired.
He knows the course, too. It’s not enough to show up at a bar, you have to be at the right bar.
When you feel flat, he’s the guy who takes time to stop with you while you fix yourself up. He won’t leave you alone.
In the pack, your wingman can lead you to the front of the crowd, giving you a clear path to the dance floor. And if things get too rowdy or if the object of your interest blows you down like a stiff wind, your wingman has the exit covered. Concerned that the guy coming up fast is an ex-boyfriend? Your wingman can box him in and give you time to make a move.
Feeling a bit rough? No one will tell you you’re money as convincingly as your wingman. He knows your strengths and has seen you through finishes both good and bad. If anyone can conjure a good ride from you with a positive word, he’s the guy.
Let’s be honest, there were nights when you were too drunk to handle the drive home. He took over, guiding you out the door and making each turn as easy as rolling downhill. His line was so good you didn’t have to think.
As much as we value him when the chips are down, his greatest value is when you need the extra nudge to get the win. He chats up her friend while you make the breakaway. And if he realizes there’s no separating the two he provides the leadout, offering a barbecue at his place guaranteed to charm one and all.
And what of the crushing loss? He’s the guy there to pick you up, dust you off, take you outside and put you on the bike to remind you just how good you have it.
In a recent conversation my friend said at the recent state time trial championship, ‘he just never got on top of it’. He was speaking of his gear of choice, and as we rode along he continued to elaborate further that he couldn’t find any gear that he could get on top of and that he simply didn’t have it that day. It had been a while since I had thought of it, but I was glad my friend mentioned this to me.
Being ‘on top of it’ is something we do recognize as cyclists. It’s that feeling you notice when your legs and cadence are smooth, the bike flows and the gear is relatively easier in effort than previously. For me, its when I spin my 53×17 at a cadence of 100 to 105. My feet feel light, my knees are even, my breathing effortless and the K’s tick over quickly. Even climbs are different, as they may be out of the saddle efforts yet I may remain in the same gear; the cadence slows a bit, but there is minimal need for shifting now, just a nice swaying of the hips and pull on the bar for the climb.
It’s feeling like you have a good tailwind, but you realize there is none, you’re doing it for yourself and you couldn’t care less if there is even a headwind because you’re on top of it. For some of us, it’s a short-lived seasonal feeling that we experience, and for others it’s a feeling that lasts for weeks at a time. I have been fortunate to found myself in that zone the past two weeks and my friend is tapering at the end of a long-fought race season.
Conversely, there is a good amount of time we struggle with not being on top of it. When we are not on top of it as my buddy mentioned, we tend to find our cadence slower, our pedal stroke sloppy; it’s something we fight the bike over—the gear—and we tend to look up and ask ourselves if we are in a headwind or perhaps we have a brake dragging. Not being in such harmony is where many of us tend to reside for a good amount of the year. But for a few weeks we do find ourselves making poetry with our bodies and this makes the painstaking miles a worthy endeavor.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Ti S&S travel bike by Carl Strong
Bicycle frame builders are an enigmatic lot. They are as different as peanut butter and jelly, but to the average cyclist they are as fascinating as the unfolding of Paris-Roubaix. Most of us, when given the opportunity to visit a frame builder in his shop will spend the first hour just standing around mouth agape staring at tools, works in progress, more tools, tubing, whatever’s on the walls, and then maybe talk to the craftsman.
Getting some of them to actually talk about their craft can be a challenge, but it is when they reveal their insight into the process that they tend to become most interesting. I can say this with something approaching authority, having interviewed builders who knew what they were doing and why as well as guys who didn’t see what all the fuss was.
A work in progress by Mike Zanconato
Our friends over at Velocipede Salon began a series back in 2008 called “Smoked Out.” Each installment is a builder-written profile aimed at the cyclist who has never visited the builder’s site or even seen one of their bikes. Think of it as a one-page autobiography/mission statement/resume.
The seat cluster from a frame by Dave Kirk
Richard “Atmo” Sachs is to be largely credited with getting this going. It’s unlikely that any other builder can better attest to the power of speaking up, not just about the sport, but about oneself. He has mentored more builders than he’s willing to name and “Smoked Out” reads like a kick in the pants to get each of these builders out there in the public eye a bit more.
That some of these profiles have been viewed upwards of 5000 times is a testament to the interest in the handmade frame, not to mention the hard work of the builders to let people know the profile is up; not all threads are read equally.
Frame builders are like chocolate chip cookies. They vary endlessly, but I’ve yet to meet one I didn’t like.
Check it out: http://www.velocipedesalon.com/forum/f22/
So the folks at Interbike announced yesterday that they are moving the industry’s largest trade show from the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas to the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim. The Sands has been Interbike’s home for the last 12 years, so this is a big change.
Not only are they moving the location, but they also chose to move the show’s date up—to early August.
It’s a mixed-bag announcement. For entirely selfish reasons, I like the fact that the show is being moved back to California. It’s much closer to home for me and I doubt I’ll miss all the cigarette smoke.
More objectively, Anaheim was the show’s home before it moved to Las Vegas and in the interim the facility has been improved and added to. That should prove to be helpful to the show. My greater curiosity is what this will do to exhibitor costs. If the new/old location proves to be less expensive than Las Vegas was, then the move could help lure manufacturers who stopped exhibiting back into the folk.
Hotel costs are likely to rise for most folks. Vegas has been hurting and sites like Travelocity can lead the frugal to hotel rooms going for less than a half-tank of gas.
The real question the announcement raises is just who will be served by the new, early-August dates. It will certainly help some manufacturers with their introduction of new products. It will be much more convenient to the production cycle for some, though definitely not everyone.
What doesn’t make sense is asking retailers to vacate their stores during one of the 12 most important weeks in the selling season. The further north you go, the shorter the season gets and leaving a bike shop in August (no matter how capable the hands) is like hitting the jackpot on a one-armed bandit and then walking away before the silver dollars spill out.
Even if retailers attend, they can’t afford to leave their shops understaffed, so the number of wrenches attending the show will drop. While this will clear the floor a bit, shop staff are a passionate bunch eager to view the coolest and newest. Smart shop owners have always used their staff as their eyes for new products and trends. Their effective reach will be cut.
I know RKP has a number of readers working in the industry. Whether you’re on the retail or the manufacturing side, we’d love to hear your opinion. To my eye, August seems a terrible decision, but I’m just one guy who can’t be trusted to watch American Idol without my wife forcing me.
Let us know what you think, and which side of the fence you sit on.
In Italian bike racing, Angelo Zomegnan is an important, powerful and sometimes sensitive person. The former Gazzetta dello Sport writer is now race director for the Giro d’ Italia, Milan-San Remo, Tirreno Adriatico and the Giro di Lombardia, all owned and organized by RCS Sport. You will recall that, having been notified that Lance Armstrong’s RadioShack team would not be attending the Giro, choosing the Tour of California instead, Zomegnan chose not to invite the Shack to Tirreno Adriatico either.
Apparently, there was a subsequent agreement, made after Armstrong called Zomegnan directly, to allow Radio Shack to ride in the Giro di Lombardia. In fact, according to the Shack, a contract of some sort was signed guaranteeing them an invitation. Then, Zomegnan decided not to invite the American team after all, and now they have filed a suit in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) seeking to be admitted to the last big Italian race of the season.
It has been alleged that Zomegnan’s pique with the Shack began when Armstrong did not appear for Milan-San Remo, as expected. Then, when Armstrong’s team opted out of the Giro, the Italian director wrote the squad off entirely. Whether or not this is the case, and remember that Vuelta a España director Javier Guillén also chose not to invite RadioShack to his race this year, is only conjecture, until Zomegnan steps forward and confirms it.
Shack rider Janez Brajkovic finished second at Lombardia in 2008, so RadioShack believes it deserves to be at the race start. Armstrong himself never planned to be at Lombardia, but Levi Leipheimer had the race on his schedule, so two riders with legitimate chances for the overall win suggests the team was taking it seriously.
This week’s Group Ride asks the question: What should have happened here? Should Zomegnan have invited the Shacks? Or has RadioShack peed in the proverbial pool? Has their decision not to race the Giro given European race organizers the reason they needed to cross the team off their lists? Is it about Armstrong personally? Or is it about the way the team has conducted themselves?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
It is, perhaps, a mark of the this time of year that Padraig’s post about rim tape should garner more interest and passion than an open debate about the transfer market. It seems our minds have wandered away from the pros and onto the very serious subject of how to best ride the end of the summer (except for you Aussie and South American readers, of course).
Sophrosune brought up an excellent question, a topic for another Group Ride, which is, “What constitutes success for a pro team?”
Looking at recent transfers, it’s hard for me to believe that Riis Racing won’t succeed next year. Master Bjarne has replaced a Tour de France runner up with a winner, and, thus far anyway, retained last year’s Paris-Roubaix/Ronde von Flanderen winner. Does he have the two top riders in the peloton? I would say so.
Ryderider brought up Liquigas, which I failed to mention in my Group Ride intro, though the Italian squad boasts Basso, Nibali, Kreuzier, Kiserlovski and Sagan. One gets the distinct impression that, organized properly around a designated leader, they have the team to take a grand tour. Having lost Francesco Chicchi to Quick Step, they only have Daniele Bennati for the sprints, which will pull some wins off the table. You have to ask though, will winning the Giro be enough for Liquigas in 2011? Or do they need to make a serious assault on the Tour, given they have nothing for the Classics?
Omega Pharma – Lotto is the other team that sticks out for me. Living in QuickStep’s shadow for the last few seasons, things looked bad for Belgium’s other team when Cadel Evans left, but Phillipe Gilbert has kept their profile high with stellar end of season riding, and now they’ve signed Andrei Greipel who will, undoubtedly, add to their win total, and give them a proper presence at any grand tour they run him in.
The Spanish teams, Movistar and Geox,are the big question marks. What will money do for Spanish cycling? If Team Sky is any indication, not much, but their results may vary.
And now…back to rim strips!
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The passing of the Professor, Laurent Fignon, left me thinking. As an American watching him race live, I found him haughty, distant and more than a little effete. To my naive eye, LeMond cut a much more heroic figure. Looking back now, and having educated myself a little, I have a much better appreciation for what Fignon really was, the last of his kind.
To be sure, we still have Merckx and Hinault to remind us of a time when a Tour de France champion also raced Paris-Nice, the Tour of Flanders, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege in the spring, as well as the Tour of Lombardy and Paris-Tours in the fall, a time when a top pro’s season spanned March to October, rather than just 19 days in July.
If Bartali and his use of the derailleur in 1939 marked the end of the pre-War era, that time when Desgranges was constantly screwing with the format of the race and keeping his riders on simple, heavy machines, then Fignon’s passing marks the eventual extinction of the all-rounder, the sort of champion who can win in the rough and ready spring, then dominate a grand tour in the summer, before giving the Worlds a good shot. After Fignon came LeMond, the first real grand tour specialist, a champion of a much narrower sort. From LeMond, the narrowing of focus only increased until the Bruyneel/Armstrong tandem turned the Tour de France into a year long project that saw the American win seven times in Paris.
My cyclo-ignorant friends ask me if Lance Armstrong is really the best rider ever, and I usually reply with a derisive snort. That’s not a knock on Armstrong’s palmares, but I take pains to explain to them that there is more than one race on the pro calendar, and that the greatest champions have raced all year and built a list of wins that far exceeds what Armstrong has done.
Fignon won the Tour twice, the Giro, Milan-San Remo twice, La Fleche Wallone, the Grand Prix des Nations. He finished third in the Vuelta. He was French national road race champion. And this is not to compare his palmares only to those who came after, it’s to underline the difference in attitude. Once upon a time the Tour de France was a goal, but it was not sufficient unto itself. When Greg LeMond was named Rider of the Year in 1989, Fignon was incensed. He’d lost the Tour by eight seconds, but he’d won more races than the American.
To be fair, early in his career, LeMond rode Paris-Roubaix with an eye on the win. His Tour specialization really commenced in earnest after his hunting accident. You could argue that LeMond’s early career was raced in the old, all-rounder mode, while his later career presaged Armstrong. Whether by diminished capacity or as a tacit rejection of the Guimard-Hinault school of racing, LeMond pared down his interest. Always keenly aware of commercial factors, perhaps he simply cottoned onto the fact that an American star was only ever going to really get rich by winning the Tour.
Fignon, on the other hand, came directly from the same mold as Hinault, his actual arch-rival. He never complained of lacking Hinault’s support when they were in the same team. He gave the Badger no quarter when they were opponents. He attacked to win. He won with panache. He may have been hard to like, as Hinault and Anquetil had been before him, but he was easy to respect.
And who has ridden so well since?