I was going to writing something witty and trenchant about the smaller Tours that dot the UCI calendar, but everything I came up with was too obscure, cruel or unfunny to waste your taxed eyesight on. The Tour of Romandie is on now. Then comes the Giro (and Tour of California). The Dauphiné and Switzerland are after that. Then le Tour. Tour of Poland and the Eneco countries are in there next. Then the Vuelta, and then it’s fall, and we’re back to watching Phillipe Gilbert write his legend.
For me, Tour season is tiring. There is a lot to keep up with, lot’s of racing, with very few results. The calculus of controversy becomes more abstruse. We go from reading the novellas of the Spring Classics to the Russian Epics of the Grand Tours. Oodles of characters to remember. Someone always going “mad.”
I am a Classics man myself. The races are smaller, easier to digest, like comic books…um…excuse me…graphic novels. They appeal to my sense of drama and brutality, my impatience. Four hours (roughly) to watch, four weeks to digest and debate.
Padraig is a Tour-a-holic. This is his season (quite literally) in the sun, and these are the races that quicken his pulse from its normally zombie-like cadence. The man loves an epic. Ask him how many Yes albums he owns. King Crimson. Pynchon novels. You get my drift.
This week’s Group Ride asks the question: Which are you, Classics or Tours? Perhaps there is a sub-species of one-week tour lovers, but I have not met one of these. Perhaps you love any and all racing. You’re poly-velo-amorous. You freak me out, but it takes all kinds. Tell us about it.
Say what you are, and why you are that way. Solve the problem, but show your work. Open our eyes to your unique and very valuable point-of-view.
In 1998 I was contacted by the owner of a new wheel company called Velomax. He proceeded to tell me how he was a cycling enthusiast who bought the company from the founder and believed that the wheels were revolutionary. I was a bit skeptical if only for the reason that the company founder had sold out. As it turns out, the company’s founder had been overwhelmed by production issues following a single favorable review.
You all know where this story goes: Company owner Brad Hunter conquers the production issues, gets OE spec and then sells the whole shebang to Easton. Bein jouer, as the French say.
Velomax wasn’t the first into the complete wheel game. Others, such as Mavic, had better distribution. Others made lighter wheels, though Velomax produced some very light stuff. They eventually abandoned their trademark T3 Technology (twin thread spokes, that is, they were threaded at each end to eliminate elbow breaks). So what made the wheels worthwhile?
They stayed true better than any other wheels I’ve ridden. Name a company making complete wheels: Campagnolo, Mavic, Reynolds, Zipp, DT. Velomax and now Easton wheels stay true better than any other wheels I’ve ever ridden. The secret is one I learned at Bill Farrell’s New England Cycling Academy back in the early ’90s: spoke tension. The secret to building a wheel that stays true isn’t high tension, it’s even tension. A wheel built with equal tension on all the spokes balances the forces working on it. Put another way, when I notice a wheel is out of true, the first thing I look for is a loose spoke; a low-tension spoke is a frequent culprit.
Tensiometers can tell a wheel builder spoke tension in broad terms. Most can be fairly difficult to read to single increments of Kilogram force (Kgf). A half-Kilogram force difference in spoke tension can result in a wheel that the average rider would consider to be significantly out of true. However, changes in pitch can be detected down to fractions of a cycle with ease. Velomax began truing wheels with the aid of transducers.
Velomox wheel builders would pluck spokes and check their pitch with the aid of what was essentially a guitar tuner. In the plainest of terms, Velomax tuned their wheels.
Naturally, I was curious to see if Easton kept up the practice of hand-built wheels after acquiring Velomax. The answer is yes. The EA90 SLX wheels feature 18 spokes front and 24 spokes rear, making truing especially difficult; the fewer the spokes, the harder it is to true a wheel and the more important equal tension becomes. A single spoke of high or low tension can pull an 18-spoke wheel out of true.
I’ve ridden more than 2000 miles on these wheels and while these shots were taken when this set was new, they still look good and run true. Why aren’t more wheels this reliable?
Products I review must run yet another gauntlet, one many of you don’t suffer. I live two miles from the ocean and the salt air will corrode any alloy part that isn’t properly plated. The EA90 SLXs are the only wheels I’ve reviewed featuring alloy spoke nipples that didn’t show corrosion after a year of use.
The front wheel features the single widest-spaced hub flanges of any wheel I’ve seen in years. Placing the hub flanges so far apart results in a wheel better able to stand up to side loads and with only 18 spokes, it needs all the strength it can find. I won’t lie; I can feel the front wheel flex in sprints and was able to flex it significantly under hard descents. What I didn’t detect was any twisting, which has a tendency to unnerve me because I’m not confident about my line; a bit of flex doesn’t seem to bug me.
The EA90 SLX wheels roll on ceramic bearings and while there is some valid criticism of lousy ceramic bearings that drive up cost without adding any real performance, I can say these wheels roll with little bearing drag. Wheel weight was a bit more than advertised; they claim 1398g but my set weighed in at 1436; not a capital offense.
Almost every company out there claims their wheels can be converted from a Campy freehub to Shimano and vice versa. Claim is the crux move in this phrase. On some wheels it’s so damn difficult I’d really rather try to run phone line through a crumbling 14-century Italian abby. Not so on the Eastons. I managed to do it in minutes and with a minimum of fuss. It took roughly as long as changing out the cassette. I’d have spent more time putting on a new set of tires front and rear.
I do have one criticism of the EA90 SLX wheels, but it’s not so much with the wheels themselves. It’s the rim strips. Like most companies, Easton is spec’ing a woven mylar rim strip that can get pushed to the side, exposing the rim holes, if you mount a tire with a particularly tight fit. It seems I can’t go more than about six months without writing some sort of rant about the worthlessness of these things, but they aren’t Velox, nor will they ever be. Technically, they have a value proposition roughly equal to feces. Whenever I receive a set of wheels, I use the rim strips included until I get my first flat caused by a rim hole and then I throw them away. This leaves me the opportunity to say I gave them a chance, while forcing me to chase the group like … well, like a guy who flatted. It’s good training I suppose.
The EA90 SLX wheels have a suggested retail of $1045. That’s a fair chunk of change, but I think they are more than worth it. They’re lighter than some frames, stay truer than a Supreme Court justice and because they feature an aluminum rim can be run anywhere on any day and with any amount of braking. Light enough for racing and yet all-purpose enough for daily riding and compatible with any bike you own—is there a better combination? I think I’m going to ditch some of the wheels I have to get another set of these.
I didn’t take up cycling to learn anything. I didn’t take it up to get fit, to prove that I was faster, stronger or smarter than anyone else, that I was special. I didn’t take it up as a means of self-expression.
I took it up because it was fun. Oh, and I dig bikes.
It’s true; I like the mechanical-ness of bikes. If we are stored energy, they are the expression of it, a noun to our verb. They move as if they are equations describing the very action of human potential, gravity, the laws of physics.
I didn’t take up cycling to learn anything. But learn I did.
At first, the lessons revolved around equipment and learning that being a cyclist meant more than having a bike. There were the shorts, the pump, the shoes, the seat bag, jersey, water bottle, computer, even the non-dorky helmet. Next came the education in how to care for the bike and all that gear.
I read magazines by the pound. At first, I read them because they took me places that I couldn’t go on my own rides: the Rocky Mountains, California, France. As I read more I began to decode the language of the dedicated. I learned about sew-ups, intervals, the wonder of titanium. References to a guy with a misspelled first name (who spells Eddie with a “y”?) peppered talk of the great races, greatest racers.
I was no student, yet I learned.
There were other lessons that came unbidden, lessons for which there was no guide. My first bonk was an event of such supreme impact on my body I could have confused it with a mystical experience. I arrived back at my dorm room and gradually pieced together my state, a drunk fitting the house key in the tumbler.
There came a turn. Just when, just where, I’ve no idea. However, I began to understand that I, like Plato, knew nothing. All the knowledge I’d collected didn’t add up to an understanding of the sport. I didn’t understand what fast really was. I rode everywhere at the hardest pace I could sustain. I arrived anywhere I went by bike leaking sweat. I was as unaware of what fast really was as what slow meant.
I began riding with a group. They showed me pacelines, drafting, how to hold my line. They taught me how and when to eat. I’d arrive home as tired from from absorbing all the skills as from the riding.
I became a student of speed. I entered races. Glued tubulars. Pinned numbers on. Learned to pin them on the right way—out of the wind and so you can get to your food.
Yet even once I chose to learn, became a student, I continued to learn lessons that were unexpected, surprising. Some, like road rash, were unwanted. Others, like being second into the final turn of a crit only to get 10th, were mystifying. At some point I experienced an epiphany. My entire conception of cycling had changed. When I started, riding a bike was fun. Nothing more and certainly not less. But in my application of self to the body of knowledge that is cycling, riding a bike had taken on a personality. The sport had moods.
Suffering dominated my days. There was the pain of the interval, but I came to understand how legs can hurt following a ride, sometimes waking you up from sleep. There was the calm of the recovery ride, a serene meditation of the pedal stroke. Once I moved to a land with mountains, ecstasy entered the sport. Icarus had it wrong; the drop held life itself.
As the years river their way through my life, the desire to learn continues, an appetite that can never be sated. What surprised me is how what cycling now gives me isn’t cycling, it’s the world.
I’d never have studied French were it not for cycling. I’d never have wanted to visit the country. I’d never have discovered lavender or the way a ton of any fresh-cut herb will fog the air with a perfume to beguile your consciousness, drugging you with reality itself.
In a twist of irony only a cyclist could appreciate, cycling gave me wine. As a racer, I’d all but sworn off alcohol. I drank alcohol less often than Sean Kelly had sex. I’d turned my back on micro-brewed beers and never considered what I was missing. That is, until I was touring through Provence and my glass was graced with a single ounce of Chateauneuf du Pape. That one sip contained within it more tones than an orchestra, more words than a Pynchon novel.
I faced a choice: reject wine, or surrender some speed. I chose wine. As a result, I’ve traveled from Napa to Nice and ridden the roads between the rows.
Cycling was making my world bigger.
The strangest, most unexpected lesson is the one now unfolding before me, how to age, how to slow down, how to share the sport with others. I won’t be the guy winning national championships in the masters races, and I’m more than okay with that. For me, the prize is striking that balance between fit, fun and family. I haven’t learned how to do it just yet, but if cycling has taught my anything it is faith, that an answer, like fitness, comes when I do the work, and I trust the sport holds a lesson or two more.
Philippe Gilbert has done what was truly the unthinkable. In sweeping the four races of the Ardennes Week—Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege—Gilbert has taken a quartet of victories no other rider has ever achieved. Even the triple of Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and L-B-L seemed too much to reasonably hope for, yet he went hope one further. How many riders can tell Roger De Vlaeminck, Rik Van Looy and Eddy Merckx to go suck it?
In the current issue (#3) of peloton magazine I put forward the suggestion that Gilbert is a rider cut in the mold of Rik Van Looy, the only rider to win each of the major classics. In the course of his career, Van Looy won each of the Monuments at least once, resulting in eight total wins of our greatest one-day races. What is interesting is that Gilbert’s victories in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Amstel Gold set him apart from Van Looy. The Emperor of Herentals, as he was known, never won Amstel or the Omloop Het Volk, as it was called in his day.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege marks only Gilbert’s third Monument, following his two wins at the Tour of Lombardy. Like Roger De Vlaeminck he has shown the ability to climb with the very best Grand Tour riders in a one-day race, and yet can sprint with Classics riders like Boonen. And that’s the trick.
Unlike his Belgian forebears Johan Museeuw and Peter Van Petegem, whose sole wins in the Monuments came in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, Gilbert has shown he can win south of Paris. Only a handful of riders, including De Vlaeminck and Michele Bartoli have won both the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Tour of Lombardy during their careers. Of course, Merckx did that, too.
What’s most interesting about Gilbert isn’t his ability to win on any terrain, though that is certainly part of his strength and his appeal. And it isn’t the fact that he is well-poised to become the greatest one-day rider of his generation, with the potential to win a greater range of races than Fabian Cancellara or Tom Boonen. No, what makes Gilbert so interesting is his capacity to surprise, his sheer wily-ness.
For us, the question isn’t so much if he’ll win the Tour of Flanders, it’s which year and on which muur he’ll launch his attack. His combination of incredible strength and tactical sensibility were on full display during Liege-Bastogne-Liege. In fact, the greatest move of the race wasn’t the attack that separated Gilbert and the Schleck brothers from, well, from anything that might have mattered. The greatest move was after dumping Andy Schleck on the Côte de Saint-Nicholas; rather than try to drag brother Frank to the finish, Gilbert backed off, allowing Andy to chase back on. The effort kept Schleck the younger on the rivet and prevented him from being much of a factor in the sprint.
Had Gilbert continued, Frank wouldn’t have taken a single pull, and while it was unlikely he could have taken Gilbert in the sprint, there was no point in towing him to the finish and taking that risk. Once Andy returned to the duo, with both Schlecks present and accounted for, they were obligated to take their pulls. Tactically, Gilbert could have sat on them, yet he continued to take strong pulls to make the break work, but it was obvious from his positioning on the road that he was ever-mindful of the risk of an attack from one of the Schlecks.
With four consecutive wins, questions about the source of Gilbert’s strength threaten to spoil our enjoyment of a simple bike race. We’ve no reason to doubt he’s clean other than success and if we are to doubt a rider who wins, we are to doubt all of racing. The sport is too good for that. Let’s enjoy the day.
We’re seeing a rare rider emerge, one with the potential to win on any day. We had better keep our eyes peeled.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The race that leaves from Liege, travels to Bastogne, snaking along the Luxembourg border, and then back to Liege, is this Sunday. It’s the oldest of the Classics, the doyenne, as they say. Lots of really skinny guys in funny clothes will be there, pedaling as quickly as they can over the roller-coaster course. Up and down. Short and sharp. It’s sure to be very exciting.
The overwhelming favorite must be Phillipe Gilbert, winner of Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallone all on the trot. If there is anyone stronger on a bicycle at the moment, I don’t know his name. That all the other skinny guys will be watching Gilbert closely is, perhaps, the only thing working against his possible win. We have seen what the entire peloton can do to an uber-strong rider when they get it in their minds to make him lose (see: Cancellara, Fabian).
Other contenders include Joaquim Rodriguez, Sammy Sanchez, the brothers Schleck, Alexandre Vinokourov, Ryder Hesjedahl and perhaps Damiano Cunego. This is the Group Ride. I can’t so ALL the work for you.
L-B-L favors the strong. You must have climbing legs, but also power, as the climbs come early and often, wearing down the riders right to the finish. Guys without a sprint, like Andy Schleck, depend on getting away on one of the steep climbs that come near the end. Otherwise, this race goes to an all-rounder, someone who can survive the punishing up and down and save something for the end. Someone like Phillipe Gilbert.
This week’s Group Ride asks you not for the winner, but for the whole darn podium. Name ‘em. Win something.
Padraig and I will both appear as guests on Pavé blog’s Feed Zone Live Chat during the race, starting sometime early on Sunday. You can read their fine preview here, as well as some analysis and prediction here. I hope you’ll join us.
One of the perks of writing about cycling gear is that from time to time you receive schwag. From jerseys to courier bags to T-shirts by the pound, bike companies spend untold dollars giving this stuff to journalists. Knowing that all this stuff is a drain on bottom line, I try to be mindful and respectful when I am the recipient of said schwag.
Honestly, some of the stuff isn’t that exciting, but every now and then some item clears the bar of wearable and vaults up into the territory of real find. Take these Merino wool socks from Castelli. Unless a pair of socks is hideous in appearance or so coarse as to be uncomfortable (both happen), they are likely to make it into my rotation. I’ve got so many pairs of socks I could go a month—maybe more—and not worry about dirty socks.
These are part of the Garmin-Cervelo kit, which explains the Garmin blue at the back of the sock, as shown above.
They are thinner than most wool socks, making them perfect for warm weather and come in three sizes, so unlike some socks, these actually came in a size that fit my foot. Perhaps their best feature is that they are available as part of Castelli’s Service Course custom clothing program. The only possible knock against the sock is that it has pilled a bit since these images were taken.
When it comes to great cycling clothing, touting the benefits of Assos can at times be a bit like shooting apples in a barrel—it’s that easy. The reason I do review Assos products is to show just how good a piece of apparel can be.
For reasons I can’t explain, Castelli doesn’t seem to receive the respect it deserves. This sock is a perfect example of just how good Castelli’s clothing is. Given that their stuff is noticeably less expensive than Assos’ and yet usually significantly better than anything offered by their similarly priced competitors, I can’t fathom why their stuff isn’t more popular.
Just to be super-explicit about this: When it comes to custom clothing, they are in the top three of all the clothing I’ve ever worn. These socks are a perfect example of the company’s attention to detail.
For the last week I’ve been trying to put together a massive image dump of a goodly portion of my 200 or so images I shot at the San Diego Custom Bicycle Show. As it turns out, there can be too much of a good thing. I crashed WordPress on three occasions by uploading too many images; I was too impatient to try to do another three or four posts.
What follows is a further edited group of favorite shots/bikes/cool stuff.
Builder Greg Townsend shows a lug with a piece of cut tubing that he will braze in place so that he can cut a new point for this lug. It’s time consuming work, but offers a great opportunity to make a fresh statement with a lug.
Santana Cycles has been perfecting a foam cutout packing system for tandems for some 10 years now. They seem to have it down. The system not only packs the tandem safely, it makes the process nearly foolproof.
Literally: suppleness, softness, flexibility, adaptability, fluidity. On the bike: smoothness, a one-ness with the machine. Think of a climber dancing away on that steep section that leaves everyone else pushing squares and threatening to rip their handlebars off.
Cadel Evans is not much with the souplesse. Also, Denis Menchov is a no. Alberto Contador on the other hand is a striking, modern example. Miguel Indurain.
Fausto Coppi’s souplesse was legendary, a pedal stroke as smooth as the back of a spoon. Coppi was dubbed “il Airone,” the heron, for his beak-like nose, and long, gangly legs, but just as the shore bird, Coppi seemed to move in slow motion, all the time floating away from his opponents.
As we get older, and top end speed ebbs away, souplesse becomes a new pleasure and a way to distinguish ourselves. How steady a line do we hold? How neatly do we skirt obstacles? How still are our hips? How easy our grip? Do we mash, or do we stroke?
I like to think this smoothness has a place off the bike as well. Faced with life’s natural conflicts, between rider and motorist for example, how easily do we slip by, let go of the conflict before it turns ugly. How solid remains our roll? Family affairs can be a messy collaboration, even at the best of times. Souplesse is that quality by which we refuse to engage pettiness with a brother or a parent. We set examples rather than boundaries. We act more than we talk. Souplesse contains within it humility, strength and patience.
Think of a simple, forged crank. Think of the curving sweep of an Italian saddle. Think of a true wheel. The medium is, perhaps, the message.
Souplesse connotes style, but it also hints at a deep-lying efficiency, an elimination of non-essential movement. Much has been made in recent years of incremental improvements, the sorts of time gains made in wind tunnels and in customized nutrition plans. Souplesse has that same incremental value, except that it comes from within the athlete.
My friend Francisco lives in Mendoza, Argentina. In the summer, his club rides from Mendoza, up over the Andes, down into Santiago, Chile and back. Francisco is my age and still full of piss and vinegar. This annual ride is a searing sufferfest for him. His stories of it are interesting, not for the hyperbolic descriptions of hypoxic climbing exploits, but rather for the character sketches of these ultra-lean old Argentine men who ride alongside him as he struggles for breath, whispering exhortations in his ear as they spin effortlessly over the high peaks. Souplesse.
This is a thing you can’t get from a pill, a shake or a properly stored bag of blood. Souplesse is the immeasurable measure of class. It’s charm is in its elusiveness. Form, as the old saying goes, is fleeting, while class is permanent.
We should all hope to be faster tomorrow than we were today. Fast is fun. Just know that there is something beyond speed, something beyond fun.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Just days before heading to the Monterey Peninsula for my annual pilgrimage to the world’s most unpredictable weather, I had a conversation with a friend about gran fondos. He, like many, was under the impression that a gran fondo was just a fancy pants name for a century. Why calling a century a century was no longer good enough was the only question on his mind.
He had a point, really. I’d rather engage a conversation of why to use the term “sportif” instead of “gran fondo” but just what distinguishes a gran fondo or sportif from a century isn’t as clear to riders as it ought to be, and blame there rests on event organizers. I’ll come back to why later.
This was the first time I would ride an organized event as part of the Sea Otter since I last raced the event as a masters rider in 2001. That year, on the opening descent out of Laguna Seca, the same descent that opened this year’s gran fondo, we were single file and I had wound out my 53×12 going 50 mph—and it’s not a particularly steep downhill. The leisurely start to this gran fondo was a good bit more my speed. We had several hundred riders for the 93-mile gran fondo, not the several thousand the weekend before at the Colnago Gran Fondo and with no VIPs to turn up the heat early, we relaxed behind the Nissan Leaf lead vehicle.
The single most important thing I can say about the gran fondo is that it boasts one of the prettiest gran fondo courses I’ve ridden. It is a perfect statement of central California riding. The opening 40 miles were countertop flat and as we rode over the chip and seal farm roads I enjoyed flashbacks to the spring road races I’d do in the San Joaquin Valley. It was all the beauty with only 1/3 the suffering.
After the second rest stop (our first actual stop) the course began to undulate, taking in the area’s rolling hills. Driving the group were Andrew and Alex from Bicycling and VeloNews, respectively. They enjoyed the fitness of two guys who race weekend in and out. Clif Bar’s founder Gary Erickson had been riding with our group but made the briefest of appearances at the rest stop. I think he took on water and nothing else before rolling out. I could see tubes of Shot Bloks with the ends snipped off protruding from his jersey pockets.
By the time we caught back up to Gary, the group had been whittled down to fewer than a dozen riders. The hills here were brief, usually 50 meters or so, but often with pitches as steep as seven or eight percent. The winter and spring rains meant the fields and hillsides were all painted vivid pastoral green. Gary looked over his shoulder, saw us, soft pedaled for a few seconds until we caught him on the hill and then he stood up to accelerate into the group. I’ve heard that he was a strong rider, but I hadn’t expected that he would ride as judiciously as a racer. Moments later, we caught two other riders who had been with him and that’s when something broke loose. It may have been hell.
I was at the back, having just completed a pull before we hit the hill and after Gary joined us the resident Bicycling gear editor applied a bit of pressure. Guys started to blow and I found myself locked in traffic like Tom Boonen on the Haaghoek, watching Fabian Cancellara ride away. After working through the traffic I put my head down and drilled it for the next 5k or so. So long as Andrew or Alex weren’t on the front, I’d make up time on the sextet, but as soon as one of them went to the front, the gap would grow. Watching the group yo-yo from 100 meters to 50 meters and back again was, um, well, it wasn’t my favorite.
Just as I was ready to wave the white flag a group of five riders caught me coming off one of the rollers but once the group came to within 30 or 40 meters, guys started trying to jump across on their own. Really? No one made it. I sat up. Then I made the right turn onto Carmel Valley Road and crossed the speed trap.
That seemed as good a time as any to start recovering. I was 10 miles, give or take, from the course’s high point, Cahoon Summit, but with the exception of the final three miles of the climb, the headwind was more difficult than the grade. The road was secluded, the rolling countryside dotted with trees and few structures. And in a stroke of cosmic justice, just as I started to feel good, the road turned up for the final three miles of climbing to Cahoon Summit; it was here that the road felt like a true climb. Less than 500 meters from the top riders were treated to a sweeping view of the Carmel Valley.
The descent off the mountain was pretty relaxing with one short and steep exception. I spent most of the next 20 miles chatting with the ride director of the Gran Fondo Colnago Philadelphia, Brian Ignatin, who comments here under the ID Touriste-Routier, the name given to the privateers who were allowed to enter the Tour de France during its early days. He’s an insightful guy I don’t spend nearly enough time with and he, like me, struggles with some neck issues as a result of years of racing, so we had lots to talk about.
In general, the course was so devoid of stop lights and stop signs due to its rural nature that two of the only occasions I put a foot down were for rest stops. So when we rolled into the village of Carmel Valley and cars began to buzz our single-file paceline, the earlier hours of peace shattered like a dropped lightbulb. We were so eager to get out of the crush of traffic that we skipped the final rest stop. Not my first choice.
As the group broke up on the 6k climb up Laureles Grade the wide shoulder gave us plenty of insulation from the traffic. But it was here that I finally regretted bringing only a 23, even with the aid of a compact. The course contained yet another surprise though. The descent of Laureles Grade drops riders off right at the main entrance to Laguna Seca, making for an as-advertised 93-mile route. We were, instead, routed in via York Road but to get to South Boundary road we were forced to dismount and walk around a chain-link fence on a narrow patch of dirt because someone didn’t open a gate for us. Had there been 3000 riders, that would have turned into a goat parade as the strip of dirt was strictly a single-file affair.
Once onto the road into Laguna Seca we joined with riders finishing the medio fondo route and an incessant stream of cars and trucks entering and exiting the venue. Why we were on that road defies explanation and the drivers were no more accommodating there than in Carmel Valley and my need to pass the slower medio fondo riders put me further into the road than I relished. At one point, the crush of vehicles waiting to park forced me onto the gravel shoulder. Couldn’t organizers close one road for an hour or two to let us live through the experience? The final turns were confusing—in part due to cones meant to direct traffic, not us—and lacked enough volunteers to make our return to the finish line as clear as possible, or even advisable.
Though I only stopped twice, my experience with the food was terrific. I enjoyed some bite-sized panini of smoked salmon and cheese, plus some real gourmet cookies. While the chocolate tangerine was really good, my favorite was the molasses ginger. There was plenty of water, some soda—Shasta?—and Heed. The soda would have benefitted from ice, though. As happens with so many organized events, the energy drinks, whether Cytomax, Gatorade or Heed, were mixed rather weakly. You couldn’t count on the Heed for adequate calorie replacement.
Signage throughout the route was terrific; a route sheet was unnecessary, as it should be. I can only recall two intersections that really would have benefitted from police control. That’s really impressive route design in my book. Next year, I hope the organizers will spring for some police assistance. Additionally, it seems that the residents of Carmel Valley might have benefitted from greater notification of our presence. Had thousands of riders been passing through the village, rather than the dozen or so I was with, I think things might have been significantly more hostile. A police presence would definitely be necessary.
So why isn’t a gran fondo a century? The mass start and course control are the defining characteristics. The Sea Otter Gran Fondo got the mass start right and as I mentioned the course didn’t require much stopping, but controlled intersections give riders a very different experience. They’re meant to make cycling a big celebration, and in that regard I think the Sea Otter Classic already had that part right.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the ride was the post-event meal. Free food? Just point me to it. I was so hungry I went straight to the tent holding the feast and sat on a picnic table in my chamois.
All in all, it was a terrific event and with a few minor changes—course control, more marketing, ice, a smaller number plate and no ridiculous dismounts—could make this event a real jewel among California gran fondos.
I don’t care how long you’ve been riding a bicycle, you haven’t ridden everywhere. You haven’t ridden everything. There are always things to try, to strive for, and to dream of. Even a guy like Padraig, who has forgotten more about bicycles than I’ve ever know, has a laundry list of bike dreams that runs up one arm, across his shoulders and down the other arm before cascading across the living room floor.
One of my great cycling joys over the last couple years has been watching my oldest son take to two wheels. From his first wobbly pedal strokes, the boy was in it to win it. Almost immediately he began pushing at the edges of what he could do, riding with one hand, off of curbs, flat out fast the length of the street and back again, the tiny single-geared BMX beneath him soaking up every haphazard crash and waiting patiently at roadside while we cried over skinned knees.
And so, rather than dreaming of scaling Alpen cols (well, of course I still do that), my current preoccupation is with BMX. I want to ride up and down the street with him, teaching him the bunny hop, the wheelie, the endo, the rock walk. I’ve blotted out the carbon fiber future in favor of full tilt BMX regression. That’s what’s lighting my cyclo-fire these days.
This week’s Group Ride is about the things you haven’t done on a bike yet. What is it in cycling that you most fervently dream of? What is there left for you to do?