Of all the changes that have occurred in relationships between entities and constituents in the 21st century, communication and collaboration may be the biggest. In the case of the media, readers no longer tolerate the ivory tower approach that marked the newspapers of the 20th century. Rather than simply accept news as fact, today’s reader sees shades of perspective and have opinions, both pro and con, about the news they encounter.
Blogging has cemented the readers place in the new media, by giving you, the reader, a chance to talk back. Whether the comment is served as a second, a confirmation of the writer’s effort or a dissent signaling that the author may have it wrong, comments have legitimized and elevated the opinions of the reader, making media much more collaborative than it has been in the past.
That need to peak behind the curtain and know more about the inner workings of the media has several sources, but I suspect the biggest ingredient is suspicion. Readers are suspicious of media organizations’ relationships with their advertisers and often with their subjects as well. The quest for revenue has blurred lines that used to be sacrosanct, much the way cycling shorts used to be black. Period.
If you’ve read the About page or my profile, then you’re already aware that I am making an effort to show you around my workbench. I suppose in time I’ll reveal the metaphoric tools I use, but Red Kite Prayer is less about the execution of the work than the approach to the work itself. Put another way, I doubt you are concerned with which truing stand I use, but whether I de-tension spokes before tensioning others.
To that end, I have created a group for RKP on Facebook. Rather than create a microblog for RKP about what is up with the blog, I’ll use Facebook to signal some coming attractions and solicit more direct feedback.
Not everyone uses social networking sites and some are downright hostile to them. I had zero interest in MySpace, but after joining Facebook for the sole purpose of staying abreast of group ride news (I’m amazed by the number of choices I have in rides every day), I quickly realized its staggering ability to allow me to reconnect with old friends. It’s become a must-see on a daily basis.
Facebook will give you, the readership, a chance to initiate contact with RKP publicly, rather than only responding to a post. Something in that sounds healthy.
Like any writer, I want my work to have an audience. Knowing that my work has shaped a conversation, popular opinion or even just struck a nerve to initiate further thought on a subject is deeply satisfying. For me, it’s always been about the work, rather than a desire for fame.
So I hope you’ll understand when I tell you that the Facebook group isn’t meant to promote me, though if you want to friend me, I’m happy to confirm you. It will also give you a chance to connect with RKP’s other contributors. I don’t want to blur lines, so I’ll do what I can to separate me as a person from my work as a writer.
Be in touch.
“Who am I? What am I doing here?”
─ Admiral James Stockdale
1992 vice presidential debate.
A really, really long ‘brief introduction’
Like Ross Perot’s running mate, I am not going to just assume that readers here at Red Kite Prayer know who the hell I might be, nor will I assume that they have the slightest clue as to what it is I am doing here. So, given that this is my first column on Red Kite Prayer, it’s probably a good time for a not-so-brief introduction. “Brevity” means something different in this 140-character, Twitter-constrained world, so for those used to that, I’ll probably go on a little long here.
What follows is a rambling history — and really, you can skip this part and get to this week’s question if you already know more than you want about this stuff. I won’t be offended. I promise.
My name is Charles Pelkey. I’m a somewhat cranky, opinionated (some say “clueless”), 53-year-old cyclist, cycling fan, journalist and attorney. In terms of history, I’ve been a cyclist and cycling fan longer (33 years) than a journalist (28 years) and the lawyer thing is a relatively recent phenomenon.
If you do recognize the name, it’s probably because you’ve stumbled across my work in VeloNews magazine or on VeloNews.com. I took that job in 1994, when the magazine’s then-owners, Inside Communications, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, namely to leave a pretty cool job in the U.S. Senate to join a relatively small staff at a feisty cycling magazine that I had already long loved.
Back then, the company was run by an entity known as “the trio,” composed of three wonderful — and admittedly eccentric — characters: Felix Magowan, David Walls and John Wilcockson. Yeah! Fricken John Wilcockson! That was the same guy whose stories about the Tour de France and other great events on the calendar would cause me to race my friends to the local newsstand each month when the latest issue of Winning came out back in the `80s.
After considering the offer for two, maybe three microseconds, my wife, Diana, and I packed up our possessions and our 8-week-old son, Philip, and moved back west to Colorado. It really was the start of a beautiful relationship. We all worked as a team: reporters, editors, owners, ad staff, everyone actually worked. Management was a sideline for the bosses and they actually did hands-on work now and then.
My first job title at VeloNews was that of technical editor, which gave me the opportunity to work with my old friend Lennard Zinn. Being an old news reporter from way back, I also got the chance to stick my nose into things non-technical, covering some great races — including the grand tours — and the governance of the sport at the old USCF (now USA Cycling) and the UCI.
It was because of that background that my one-day visit to the 1998 Tour de France (I was coming home after covering the women’s Giro that year) was suddenly turned into a three-week assignment covering the exploding “Festina Scandal.” I loved it and Wilcockson and I quickly cobbled together a book on that year’s Tour, with John writing about the racing and me offering stories from the middle of a much bigger media scrum chasing the dopers.
My life as a “doping expert”
Over the years, I drifted away from the tech side toward race and news coverage, with a big emphasis on doping. I was eventually named news editor at VeloNews and then became the editor of VeloNews.com. All the while, my interest in the subject of doping, WADA, USADA and the World Anti-Doping Code took up more and more time.
It eventually turned into my primary focus and I would often offer commentary on other news outlets including NPR, the BBC, MSNBC, ESPN and CBS, to discuss the topic in whenever a new scandal broke. Somehow, along the way, I got the undeserved title of being something of “an expert” on the subject of doping, (a bit of irony that did not escape my old friends when I showed up at my 30th high school reunion after a morning appearance on MSNBC back in 2006).
In 2005, I actually “quit” VeloNews to take a job in my Wyoming stomping grounds. I never really left, though, serving as a contractor for VeloNews.com while editing a quarterly magazine. Yeah, a quarterly … it was a tad on the sleepy side. VeloNews hadn’t replaced me and I jumped back into my old job on the condition that I could do it remotely from Wyoming.
It worked … and worked well enough for me that I used the opportunity to attend law school in my “spare” time, starting in 2006. It was a decision largely driven by my interest in the legal complexities of all of the doping cases I was covering at the time. I graduated with a juris doctor in 2009. (Thank you, Tyler. Thank you, Floyd. And a special big anticipatory thank you to you, too, Lance.)
Meanwhile, in 2008, Inside Communications had been sold to an investment group, which put VeloNews and its associated enterprises under the umbrella of Competitor Group Inc. I continued working in my isolated little corner of the world until July of 2011, when two days after the Tour ended John Wilcockson and I were let go, due solely to economic reasons.
“You’re not being fired, you’re being laid off,” they assured me. That’s kinda like getting dumped by your girlfriend when she insists that “no, no, no, it’s not you, it’s me.”
CGI’s decision to let Wilcockson and me go following this year’s Tour was a business decision. I am not going to second guess that. It’s not my area of strength, I assure you. This is the 21st century and experienced journalists are being laid off all over the world these days.
My friend Sal Ruibal lost his long-running gig at USA Today a while back. This summer saw San Francisco Weekly boot out a bunch of old hands, including Matt Smith, whose cycling coverage has been phenomenal. Reporters at my old paper, the Casper Star-Tribune have had colleagues fired – errr, laid off – or their own salaries frozen or cut. Hell, the entire staff of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News found themselves on the unemployment line when the paper folded after a 150-year run. (Note to self: I bet you’re glad you didn’t get hired for that legal reporting gig you applied for at the Rocky back in 2004.) The Times of London recently fired — errrr, laid off — a big chunk of its sports staff, including former pro and anti-doping campaigner Paul Kimmage. It’s a reality of the profession these days.
Shit happens. It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.
Bottom line, I have nothing but good to say about my time at VeloNews. It was a bike geek’s dream job. I mean come on — I’ve had the chance to cover the Tour, the Giro, the Vuelta and a long list of races I only dreamed of seeing back in my racing days. I’ve probably been to Europe more than 40 times on their dime.
Many of those trips culminated in a bit of vacation time and a visit to my home town of Göppingen, in Germany, to visit my grandmother until she died in 2003 at the age of 97. I was there for that, working on assignment in nearby Stuttgart, which allowed me to spend time with her in her final days. I even got to take my then-10-year-old son, Philip, with me when I covered the Vuelta in 2004. It was a great job and I have no regrets.
Those 17 years at VeloNews gave me the opportunity to work with a host of amazing people, including Zinn, Wilcockson, and former editors Tim Johnson, John Rezell, Kip Mikler and Ben Delaney. I had some terrific bosses, including Magowan, Andy Pemberton, Greg Thomas and Ted Costantino. I’ve made a long list of great friends over the years, including racers like ‘crosser Tim Johnson, Tour winner Greg LeMond and his family, news sources (most of whom I have promised not to name), journalists at other publications, including Rupert Guinness, David Walsh, James Startt, Bonnie Ford, Tom Goldman, Stephen Farrand, brothers Alasdair and William Fotheringham, Sam Abt, the crew at NYVeloCity.com, Patrick Brady and far too many others to name here. Above all, I’ve developed friendships with a large collection of readers, many of whom I’ve gotten to know personally.
I am grateful that the company afforded me the opportunity to continue in my role as senior editor of VeloNews.com for the three years after they bought VeloNews in 2008. They did so despite having had very limited direct contact with me. It’s all good.
Following my layoff, I asked VeloNews.com editor Steve Frothingham — now at Bicycle Retailer — whether he’d be interested in at least continuing “The Explainer” column. He was and I produced five more for the site over the past few months. Steve then announced plans to leave and … well, I was beginning to feel like the kid who kept coming back to visit his high school after graduation. I didn’t feel like sticking around after Steve left. Maybe it was time to cut the ties and move on.
My hesitation was well-timed. Indeed, as I was crafting an email to Patrick Brady, my phone rang and he was calling to see if I would take him up on an earlier offer to run the column here. He’d match the price and frequency — twice a month — of what VN was offering me for my post-lay-off columns and we’d later see if we could expand the arrangement to include other work and news coverage in the future. I jumped at the chance. It’s one I really appreciate, Patrick. Thank you.
No. This is not a slam at Velo or VeloNews.com. They have a terrific crew, led by Neal Rogers, with Brian Holcombe, Caley Fretz and technical editor Nick Legan, working there these days. Several of my old colleagues, like Zinn, my partner in crime, Andrew Hood and that wonderfully cranky old bastard, my friend and older brother, Patrick O’Grady, are still regular contributors. The art work is something to behold, too, with world-class photographers Graham Watson and Casey Gibson regularly sending in shots from the road. I make a point of checking in to keep up on the work of the whole crew. I would hope that you might, too.
In addition to being “The Explainer,” and the doping guy, I spent a lot of time doing live, up-to-the-minute coverage of cycling’s biggest events for VeloNews.com. In recent years, the company wanted to scale those back a bit and I found myself only doing marquee races like the Giro and the Tour in 2011. Indeed, I was scheduled to meet with my bosses on July 27 for a meeting, which I hoped might include discussion of doing more of those, especially this year’s Vuelta. That meeting was canceled, but I did get a phone call that day … and it wasn’t exactly about the subject I had hoped to discuss.
So I started LiveUpdateGuy.com and offered coverage of this year’s Vuelta, largely out of habit and because a lot of those “LUG” readers had become friends over the years. I will expect to continue those updates during the 2012 season and those will be offered on a direct feed to RedKitePrayer.com as well.
Those friends and readers
When I say that many of those readers became friends, that’s something of an understatement.
Purely coincident with my layoff, I found out that I had cancer this summer, too. It was breast cancer of all things. Breast cancer? I’m a guy! Sure, I’m a sensitive New Age sort, who had long been sympathetic with the plight of women, but I thought all I needed to do to prove that was to represent women in divorce and domestic violence cases and raise a feisty and assertive daughter (which 11-year-old Annika truly is). But nooooo … I had to get freakin’ breast cancer to underscore my empathy. Sheeesh.
Anyway, in this modern economy combining layoffs and employer-supplied health insurance, the confluence of events didn’t escape the eye of Andy Shen and Dan Schmalz over at NYVeloCity. When I was in the hospital for the first of three surgeries, they slapped up a “Chip-in” page and published a request for readers to throw in a few bucks to help meet my medical costs. I was completely floored when I got home and found my PayPal account had suddenly exploded with more than 10 grand in contributions from readers and friends all over the world. It was embarrassing, but it was beautiful, too.
I cannot express how that felt. Sure, the money has been a blessing. It has helped cover COBRA and co-pays and uninsured expenses at a remarkably tough time. But more importantly, it went a long, long way to offset the inevitable feeling of utter worthlessness one invariably encounters when being let go by a longtime employer. I will be forever grateful for that.
Anyway, I am now more than halfway through chemo, which really does suck. I am usually pretty tired (for you doping geeks, my hematocrit has dropped from its normal 48 to 31 this week) and “chemo brain” really does make writing and thinking a little harder than usual. But the prognosis is good. I should be through all of this crap by the end of January.
Okay, okay enough. This went way too long. I apologize.
This week’s question: What if I already signed the waiver?
So, here we are at Red Kite Prayer. Longtime readers know the drill. You offer up a question. I then pretend to know something about the subject and offer up an answer. You can send those questions directly to me at Charles@Pelkey.com. So let’s take on this week’s question.
I read with interest your advice to “Quinn” about signing waivers after an accident.
For me that advice came a little too late. I was a bike messenger in Washington, D.C. and doing pretty well … until I was hit by a car in June of 2010. The injuries were pretty damn serious and I spent more than two weeks in the hospital. While I was laid up, an insurance adjuster came and visited me and offered “a fair settlement” that came close to six figures. At the time, it sounded pretty good, so I signed.
Well, to make a long story short, that close-to-six-figure-settlement had already probably been eaten up in medical bills. I didn’t have insurance. I lost my job and now I am facing collection actions from the hospital, the doctors and the radiology department (did you know that a CAT scan can cost you more than $4000?).
I used up about half of the settlement paying hospital bills, but then I stopped when I realized I was running out of money and had no source of income. I am about to be sued for amounts totaling between $50,000 and $60,000. I have no job and none of this was my fault.
What the hell do I do now?
Man, oh man. This is a tough one. You might have some options, though, and I really do have to retreat to my usual default advice and suggest you visit with an attorney.
It’s funny how we attorneys always seem to offer that bit of valuable advice, isn’t it? Seriously, though, this time you need help from someone who can guide you through the myriad legal issues raised in your case. What follows is just general advice, designed to point you in the right direction. Keep in mind the usual disclaimer: I am not offering you specific legal advice and you and I are not establishing an attorney/client relationship here. Okay?
First off, I do know that lawyers ain’t cheap. As John Burman, my old torts professor, used to say, “If I needed a lawyer, I couldn’t afford to hire myself.” Indeed, even at my relatively low hourly rate, I sure as heck couldn’t afford to hire me at this point in my life.
I am assuming that you are in a pretty tight situation right now. You may qualify for help from low- or no-cost legal services offered by groups like the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. Of course, you may also be in something of a Catch-22, since you hinted at the fact that you have quite a bit of money from the settlement still in the bank. No matter what, though, you should check with those guys first.
Assuming for a moment that you don’t qualify for help from Legal Aid or other similar groups, don’t give up. Look for a private attorney who might — after hearing your story — consider taking on the case on a contingency-fee basis. There are a number of questions worth considering here.
Contractor or employee?
First, you need to see precisely what your status was with your employer at the time. You might have been eligible for workers’ compensation for the injuries you sustained if you were hit while making a delivery. Even if you were working when you got hit, you may fall into that awful employment status of having been a “contractor.”
Don’t give up right away if your employer calls you a contractor. It’s not entirely up to them to decide. The U.S. Supreme Court has, over the course of several employment cases, ruled that there is no single, easy rule to apply in defining who is a contractor and who qualifies as an employee.
There are a number of factors to be considered when reviewing your relationship with the owner of the courier company. Those include:
- The skill required to perform your job;
- The source of the instrumentalities and tools (I have to assume that was your bike you were on, right?);
- The location of the work;
- The duration of the relationship between the parties;
- Whether your boss had the right to assign additional projects to you;
- The extent of your discretion over when and how long to work;
- The method of payment;
- Your role in hiring and paying assistants;
- Whether the work is part of the regular business of your boss;
- Whether your boss is in business, or whether you were part of a cooperative of bike messengers;
- Were you eligible for any benefits?
- What was your tax status regarding money you earned there?
Basically, it comes down to the degree of control your employer had over you and how much “independence” you had in that relationship. If you look like an employee, have a schedule like an employee and are treated like an employee … well, you might just be an employee.
If you turn out to be an employee, well, well, well, that opens up a whole can of worms — along with opportunities for you and your attorney. Not only might you be eligible for workers’ compensation, you might have a cause of action related to your loss of a job and, of course, your medical bills could be covered in their entirety. Again, you need to speak with a lawyer.
What about that waiver?
I admit I cringed when you said that probably-friendly insurance adjuster showed up at the hospital to get you to sign a waiver. Sure, we can all look at what you did and say you made a huge mistake signing it when you did, but there could be other questions at issue here.
Mr. Adjuster Dude got you to sign a waiver, which is a contract with provisions that include your promise not to sue in exchange for a one-time cash payment. In retrospect it’s deplorable, given that you really had no idea what your long-term costs might have been.
Again, it’s something that you need to discuss with an attorney. Some contracts can be negated, depending on the circumstances under which they were signed. Your lawyer might be able to re-open the question, based on the adjuster’s timing and behavior when you signed.
Your lawyer might ask about the extent of your injuries and your physical and mental condition when you signed that waiver. Did you suffer a head injury? Were you on pain medication when you signed the waiver?
All of these issues need to be explored with an attorney. Show up prepared. Take some time to think of any questions or issues you want to discuss and search for any and all documents that might apply to your case. Do yourself and your lawyer a big favor and sort through those documents and organize them in advance of your meeting. That way, you can whip out relevant documents — and nothing else — when a question comes up.
By that I mean put your medical bills in one folder. Get your medical records from the hospital and bring those, too. Put any and all communications with the insurance company in another. Place all of your employment, tax and payroll records in another.
Good luck and let me know how this all turns out. Not only am I now really interested, this should make for an interesting column in the future.
All the best,
The Explainer is now a regular feature on RedKitePrayer.com. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com.
We seem to be living in a world full of protests. From North Africa to the Middle East and clear into Greece, 2011 has been a year of the common man stepping forward to protest oppression, entrenched dictators, alleged democracies, failing economies and, in the case of Occupy Wall Street, the looting of the U.S. by a bunch of bankers.
I site these examples not to draw battle lines but to illustrate just how far-reaching that revolutionary spirit extends. There’s little that could possibly unite the average man on the street in Libya and the typical fast-food worker in the U.S.
Red Kite Prayer was started as a kind of protest, if I’m honest. The work I’d been doing for Belgium Knee Warmers had attracted a surprisingly large following, but I knew from my previous attempts at querying most of the publications that the pieces I was writing for BKW would never be run by any of the print magazines. What I was doing was mostly uncharted water. I believed that there was room for what I was writing and that there were bike companies that would see it as a viable advertising vehicle to reach readers. And that’s why I started RKP; Radio Freddy wanted to keep BKW true to its garage band roots, the great un-signed act.
I wanted a paycheck.
Most of my life has been spent at the shallow end of one bell curve or another. Cyclist. Writer. Masters degree. Apple owner—for 25 years. I’m almost never part of the 99 percent. That said, I understand the outrage at Wall Street, and why the protest Occupy Wall Street started. (For the record, Goldman Sachs advised Petersen in preparation for its sale to Emap and was directly responsible for Bicycle Guide being folded.) I’m not about to go live in a tent on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall. I’ve got a family; besides, there’s no wifi there.
OWS is chaos. Most can’t really articulate what they want to change and feel so powerless to effect any change that they’ve taken to the streets. Folks, this is how revolutions start. The whole point to having government is to eliminate chaos. However, if you’re still not convinced that there is adequate reason for OWS, check out this article by Matt Taibbi over at Rolling Stone.
In the bike biz, we’ve had some chaos of our own. If you haven’t been following the drama at Competitor Group Inc. over the last year or so, on the order of three dozen people have either left or been fired from CGI’s titles—VeloNews, Inside Triathlon, Triathlete and Competitor. They are bleeding people faster than they can hire them.
For months I watched the departures with a kind of detached fascination. I couldn’t imagine what could be going on in Boulder to cause as many people to quit as were being fired. Then, last August, it was announced that CGI had laid-off (a really passive term for fired) Charles Pelkey and John Wilcockson.
The changes at VeloNews (okay, now Velo) have really pissed some people off. Check out what Richard Sachs had to say.
When it comes to bike racing journalism in the English language, Wilcockson and Pelkey are two of the very best. And Pelkey’s “The Explainer” column is routinely some of the best analysis in the bike biz.
Folks, I’m not a socialist, but I do think what Wall Street is doing to the rest of the U.S. is wrong. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” There’s a lot of change that I’d like to see happen in the world, but my sphere of influence isn’t all that great. So, I’ve decided to take the most significant stand I can.
I’ve hired Charles Pelkey to contribute to RKP.
Charles will continue to pen his “The Explainer” column, just now for us. I’ve decided to stand up and say that he’s a journalist of great talent and integrity and if his former employer won’t stand by him, then I will.
And if I had the cash, I’d hire Wilcockson, too. Who the hell fires their database?
I plan to be there for Charles as he recovers from his cancer—yeah, he’s recovering from breast cancer that was diagnosed in August—and for years to come. Initially, Charles will post every other week. He writes his column the day before his chemo treatment, which is the best he feels all week. After the chemo ends and as his strength returns, we will begin running work from him more frequently, with the goal of providing one piece from him per week, more when the opportunity presents. Watch for his work beginning next week.
This represents a significant investment for RKP as a business and me personally. One of my advertisers, when informed of the move, asked if this meant an easier workload for me and more time with the family. Amazingly, the answer is no. My workload won’t go down a whit. I’m not doing this to make my job easier, I’m doing it to make RKP better. In barest terms, this is a chance to stand up for quality.
The addition of Charles to RKP’s already terrific roster of contributors is certainly a protest against MBAs who focus on the bottom line above all other considerations. A spreadsheet isn’t what makes a company or a product great. The greater truth here is that I love his work and I believe by bringing him into our fold I increase the value of this blog to both you our readers and our advertisers. I aim to deliver a blog that is ultimately smarter and more diverse in its offerings than I, alone, could present. At the end of the day, RKP is simply a measure of content that I like to read, and I’m stubborn enough to believe my vision will resonate with readers around the world, so in that regard, maybe I am part of the 99 percent.
Bernard Hinault hated Paris-Roubaix. He called it “nonsense.” He raced it until he won, and then he quit showing up each year. Fabian Cancellara and Thor Hushovd and Tom Boonen all get paid to race it. They say they love it, but if they weren’t being paid, do you think they’d subject themselves to that torture. Of course, if you want to ride the route, you can sign up for the Paris-Roubaix Cyclo, which takes place every other year, and shell out your hard earned cash for a perineum pulverizing promenade over the pavé.
Such is our love for cyclo-suffering that we will actually pay for the privilege of experiencing the same pain as our heroes.
You can ride the Êtape du Tour, l’Eroica or the Flanders sportive. Each ride gives you a chance to challenge yourself over difficult terrain in a legendary locale. People are already doing these by the thousand, sometimes on vintage bicycles. Our sport is anything if not perpetually nostalgic, right?
Or, you can ride Paris-Brest-Paris, Boston-Montreal-Boston or even the Race Across America (RAAM). Go big and then go home. Why not?
Just the other day I met some gentlemen who are racing RAAM this year, and what struck me about them, beyond the passion for cycling they exuded, was just how like ordinary cyclists they looked. Any of them could be on your next group ride, and you’d never know what they were capable of. But they’re daring to do something extraordinary.
This week’s Group Ride asks: If you could ride one of the big events in cycling, not as a pro, but as an amateur, which would it be? This is not fantasy time. This is time to think about a challenge you might actually take on and ride. Tell us what you’d do, why you’d do it, and when you think it’ll happen.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Over the weekend, Andrew Hood of VeloNews posited that the upcoming year could be the one for Fabian Cancellara to win the Tour de France. Hood’s logic is that with the emphasis on the individual time trial and the de-emphasis of summit finishes, Cancellara, the best time trialist of our generation (ever?), who can be a fairly effective climber, could, in the fashion of Miguel Indurain, vanquish a Grande Boucle of the kind we shall see in 2012. Of course, being teammates to the brothers Schleck makes this line of reasoning a non-starter; however, Hood is not the only one who thinks that Cancellara could contend for the final malliot jaune.
For what little it’s worth, I wholly agree with Mr. Hood’s assessment and nominate Cancellara as the most compete rider of the last 10 years, may be more.
He can win on most any terrain and type of race. The diversity of his wins is unmatched by any rider in the current pro peloton. His time trial ability is unquestionable, despite Tony Martin having the upper hand this year. He can win one-day classics on cobbles and gravel (Roubaix, Flanders, E3, Eroica). He can win where sprinters typically prevail (Milan-San Remo, flat Tour stages), and in 2011, nearly beat the sprinters on their own terms with a second at MSR, a fourth (third??) at this year’s Copenhagen Worlds, and fourth on the Champs Elysee. He can win in the one week stage races with significant climbing (Tour de Suisse, Tirreno-Adriatico).
On Monday, Bernard Hinault celebrated his 57th birthday, and Cyclingnews paid tribute by asking if “The Badger” was the greatest of them all. Hinault is the last rider to win in a Grand Tour, a Cobbled Classic, an Ardennes Classic and a World Championship, laying the foundation for his claim to greatness. It also makes him the last of the complete riders, who could ride, and win, from late winter through the spring and summer into the fall in any kind of race.
Arguably, only Cancellara has come closest to matching Hinault’s swath of victories, and even he falls well short, at least so far. Why is it that in the past 25 years since Hinault’s retirement no other rider has been able to truly take on the complete rider mantle?
The answer may lie in a strange irony. Fitness.
Specifically, the idea that today’s pro cyclist is a fitter, stronger, more precisely honed machine than ever before.
When Francesco Moser took on the Hour record in 1984 he opened the flood gates to whole new method of scientific based training that was elevated by Greg LeMond and made the indispensable standard by Lance Armstrong. Riders today, and not just the pros, but even we weekend warriors, can train to such specific peaks in ultimate fitness so as to time them for pre-determined goals. To be competitive at any race on the calendar requires riders to be within one of their peak fitness windows.
The science behind this training also tells us that humans can only achieve these sustained performance peaks for a few weeks at time only two, may be three times a year at most.
While sports medicine was around in Hinault’s day, it was rudimentary by today’s standard. It would be fascinating to look back and know whether Hinault and his cohorts raced in a perpetual state of over training or under training. Ignorance being bliss, they raced on for nine months of the year simply because they had no reason to do otherwise.
Today, Cancellara and every other rider in the pro peloton, knows from the outset that defining specific goals necessarily requires sacrificing others. With riders so specialized in a particular style of racing, the odds simply don’t encourage Cancellara to sacrifice the spring for the summer.
Much ballyhoo has been made on both sides of the argument for and against banning radios to improve racing. But, if what we yearn for is a return to the halcyon days of the complete rider, then instead of banning radios, we should ban practitioners of sports medicine, nutritionists, physiotherapists and osteopaths, along with power meters, heart rate monitors and the rest.
Or, we can simply accept progress for what it is and revel in the moment that we are in, and look forward to what the future has in store, while we recall the greatness of what once was.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The garage looks as a garage should. A phalanx of bikes hung across the back wall. A repair stand with half-ass repair in progress. A tool chest with bike stickers, drawers in various states of openness, the hex keys to the fore. Then a big plastic parts bin, too random to catalog, as well as another bin with lights, fenders, mismatched pedals, frame pumps, old shoe covers, water bottle cages, flotsam, jetsam and bric-a-brac. Two floor pumps. Three sets of orphaned wheels. A pile of tires. A shelf of lubes. Another shelf entirely dedicated to inner tubes needing repair. By the door, a rack with helmets, road, mountain and BMX.
Enter the basement. An entire coat rack devoted to cycling hats, wind vests, rain gear. A basket with seldom-used gloves, more hats, warmers, arm, knee and leg, and a few u-locks. Vintage cyclocross poster by the door. Posters from local races. A product poster with Cippolini on it, riding, laughing, text in Italian. The trainer, Kurt Kinetic, slung over by the TV. A pile of unwashed kit by the washing machine. That post-ride tang hanging in the air from when, last weekend?
Climb the stairs.
The living room offers up only a couple subtle clues. An RKP water bottle, half empty/half full. The kids use all my best water bottles to stay hydrated after obscenely large bowls of movie popcorn. On the bookshelf, a few cycling DVDs, Stars and Water Carriers, Overcoming, the 1994 Paris Roubaix.
On the kitchen counter, a brand new, tags-on Castelli cyclocross beanie, in gray. Also a copy of peloton, issue seven. Nearby, the bowl that holds the various and sundry on-bike nutritional products, ShotBloks, GUs, Lara Bars.
The half bath is a veritable trove. Copies of Cycling Plus, Road Bike Action, Velo, as well as the Colorado Cyclist catalog. A large framed poster from the 1943 Volta Cataluña, a smaller frame with the cover of the 1893 Columbia Safety Bicycles catalog. Two square canvases with original stencil art, one of the great Coppi, the other of Raymond Poulidor. It’s a half bath, but it’s all-cycling.
The dining room is littered with more evidence. My courier bag, Chrome Metropolis, black, ‘ROBOT’ stenciled across the back, a three-way flasher bolted through the top flap. Also, a small pile of gloves from Descente, Capo and Giro. The rest of the Castelli order, still tagged and cosseted in plastic; two thermal skull caps, one red, one black; a pair of Pavé bib tights; a smart, gray wool jersey; a pair of Diluvio gloves. Also, a pair of well-worn Sidis, tucked under a chair.
Up the stairs and into the bedroom. Lycra hung on door knobs and hooks, mostly to dry out before going into the hamper. Half pairs of nice wool socks on the floor, the other halves eaten by the greedy-ass dryer or simply hiding in another load. Beside the bed, another pile of cycling magazines, Patrick Brady’s “The No-Drop Zone”, for reference, and the inevitably large bedside “Journey Through Hell” that I never manage to finish reading, mostly because I only look at the pictures.
The bathroom keeps its secrets pretty well, but for those with the temerity to breach the medicine chest, there are multiple tubs of embrocation, Cream of Courage and Mad Alchemy’s Madness, as well as an Icy Hot balm stick, for when you just need that old, medicinal burn.
There’s a pair of wool RKP socks on top of the stairs, too. Who left those there? I did.
We could peek into the kids’ room. There will be more water bottles there. The little thieves.
The attic is cycling-free. Only insulation up there.
Look, I don’t know how all this happened. Credit cards were swiped. Gifts were given. SWAG was had. I traded for some of it, and because of what I do, much of it just washed in on the tide like so many broken clam shells and bits of sea vegetable.
In a court of law, I’d be easy to convict. I’m a cyclist. At some point you don’t have to be caught red-handed. The weight of circumstance is enough. The truth is, if you hang around long enough, it just gets all over you.
Follow me on Twitter @thebicyclerobot.
Last winter I placed an order with Panache for some thermal bibs emblazoned with the RKP logo. You may also recall the review I did of the Castelli Claudio Bibs in which I mentioned that my nickname for thermal bibs is the secret weapon. They look like regular bibs, they they are so much warmer.
The RKP bibs were nearly as black as could be made. The perfect industrial-strength bib for training in the worst conditions. I wanted a warm pair of bibs that I didn’t have to worry about getting clean. As happens from time to time, I took the opportunity to order a few extra.
It’s a little early to be thinking about Christmas, but far enough into fall that these can be handy for anyone living in a place with four seasons. Of course, if a significant other were to purchase an early Christmas gift and not wait until late December to give the gift, that could be pretty amazing.
Before I say too much to entice you into lusting after them, I should mention that I’ve got four pair left. Two large and two extra large. And honestly, I wouldn’t mind pulling another one of the pairs of large for myself. So maybe there are only three pair left. The pairs that are left are going for $120. That’s a bit less than the Claudios and honestly, I like the pad and fit of the Panache bibs better.
Because the thermal material doesn’t stretch quite as much as traditional Lycra, these have some compression to them. Naturally, there are silicone leg grippers, but if you combine these with embro—which seems to make the most sense—that won’t matter much. And for those who like riding with an iPod but prefer to keep it hidden, there’s a radio pocket in the bib.
If you don’t get a set now because I’ve sold out of your size, don’t worry. If you’re willing to be part of a pre-order, drop a note to the same address that you would to order one of the remaining pairs of these: killerkit [at] redkiteprayer [dot] com. If I get enough pre-order requests by December 1, I’ll place another order December 5.
Some things in this world are inevitable. Baby-kissing politicians, people going “aw” at pictures of baby animals and Assos introducing its own line of ultra-premium (and expensive) eyewear. How could they not? Whether you like the Swiss company’s style or not, theirs is a unique statement, a flair as impossible to reproduce as it is to anticipate.
I’ll be honest and say that at first blush, my initial viewing of them at Interbike, I briefly flashed on the idea, “My God, this time they’ve gone too far.” It’s the same thought I had when Oakley introduced the first M frames, the initial Zeros and, come to think of it, countless other models. Eventually I got used to seeing strange stuff from Oakley and I was no longer surprised. But the Zegho was something new, more alien than fresh, more Beverly Hills than Boston.
If you’ve ever been wowed by packaging, be prepared to be wowed by this presentation. The box folds open to reveal a number of shots that depict the construction of a set, from unmelted beads all the way to final assembly. Natrually, they come with a first-rate case
As cool as the packaging was, I couldn’t stop looking at the glasses.
The cascade of details that makes them distinct is hard to take in all at once. The first thing I tried to take in were the lenses. They are huge; not quite diving mask huge, but seemingly Oakley Factory Pilot huge. Where’s Davis Phinney when you need him?
When you pick them up you can’t help but notice how light they are. Were they helium-infused? Most bottle cages weigh more than the 27g these come in at. And as you’re trying to process just how light they are you notice how that they are as flexible as a yoga instructor. Then there’s the frameless design, making them ideal for head-down efforts at the front so that you can look straight up your brow to the road ahead.
When I put them on I expected to look in a mirror and see something ridiculous, like when my son wears my wife’s sunglasses upside down, or when my cat plays Jack Johnson songs on the bongos. That first look in the mirror? No gasp. It was different, but not heart-stopping. I’ll admit that I joked how I wanted to get a pricey golf shirt, my best wool slacks and Cole Haan loafers and just walk around Rodeo Drive. I figured it was my best shot at being mugged by people who make enough to buy and/or sell me.
Back to the actual details. The Zeghos are available in three models. There’s the Werksmannschaft (factory team) which features predominantly white temples with Assos-green details. The lenses are a charcoal gray gradient. Next up is the Amplify which features black temples, the same Assos-green details and a high-visibility yellow lens perfect for riding in lower-light conditions. Finally, there’s the Noire which features the same black temples as the Amplify paired with the charcoal gray (Assos calls it black) gradient lens of the Werksmannschaft. I’ve been riding with the Noire.
I live in a locale that is exact opposite of Boulder, Colorado, based on available light. By the time the sun comes out in the South Bay, my ride is over and I’m doing something else. So I was curious if on ordinarily overcast days there would be enough light for me to see. I don’t mind saying I was pleasantly surprised the first time I wore them on one of the early weekday rides and the gradient gave me more than enough visibility. I was surprised; I honestly thought that I wouldn’t be able to wear the Noires that early in the day except around the time of the summer solstice when the sun rises, well it rises too damn early at the end of June.
Part of the visibility puzzle is solved with a really key piece of information. The lens is made by Zeiss. If that doesn’t ring a bell tolling “ultra-high quality”, this one will: Nikon. Zeiss makes the elements in Nikon lenses. In general, lenses are much better than they were a dozen years ago, but these are exquisite; I’m accustomed to noticing a gradient and with these I can’t tell just when they start they are so gradual. Assos materials tell how this eyewear is less an Assos project than a collaboration with Carl Zeiss. What that means is that they made full use of Zeiss’ considerable knowledge, and it shows.
The Zeghos have an unusual degree of wrap to them. Assos touts how they offer a true 180-degree field of vision. I haven’t measured, but I can say they offer the most complete and unobstructed view of any eyewear I’ve ever worn. They call the fit ClickFace, which refers to their claim that once on the glasses don’t move even if you look straight down as your tongue lolls on your bike’s top tube. That’s certainly my experience (not the tongue thing but the glasses not moving bit). The optics have been certified as Class 1, top-of-the-line and distortion-free.
All the best eyewear that I use these days also feature lenses with hydrophobic coatings. I wore the Zeghos on Levi’s Gran Fondo (more about that in a sec) and when the day turned foggy and occasionally misty I was impressed at how well the lens remained clear. On the often dark descents out at the far end of King Ridge Road the gradient treatment really allowed me excellent vision. Part of the reason I chose to wear the Zeghos was also to see if other riders would look at me and ask, “Did you lose a bet?” “What’s that on your face?” “Dude, do you know you look like Elton John’s deranged nephew?”
I can’t tell you how many people saw them on me that day, but it was easily in the hundreds and no one said a thing against them. I did get a few inquiries from folks who wondered, “What are those cool glasses?” Not a lot, to be fair, but there were some.
Because of their unusual shape one concern I had was whether they would rise high enough above my eyebrows to bang into my helmet. It’s a problem I’ve had with Bell Helmets and all eyewear I own. I hate that that happens with Bell helmets; I love their designs. I’ve worn the Zeghos with three different helmets from Giro (including the Aeon) plus two from Specialized (including the Prevail) and didn’t have that problem with any of them. I was also able to find a good way to tuck them into both the Aeon and the Prevail.
You may recall that I mentioned just how flexible these are. That little feature became a serious selling point any time I wanted to pull them from my helmet and then get them on my face without getting the temples caught in my helmet straps. They are so flexible I can simply hook a temple over one ear and pull them across. Don’t try that with your Jawbones.
I can feel some of you queueing up to report your disdain for the styling. I respect not everyone will like them. Better yet, Assos knows some people won’t like their stuff and they are more than okay with that. They don’t want to be the ubiquitous clothing line out there. That may tell you a bit about why their stuff features what seems to be the most expensive materials they can find and why their products can carry prices that would make Vera Wang blush. Which brings us to the damage, chief. The entry point for the Zeghos is the Amplify at $399. The Werksmannschaft goes for $429. The Noire I recently found out are limited production and go for an unflinching $469.
Giro and Specialized both pulled out of the eyewear market because Oakley is less an 800-lb. gorilla than an 8000-lb. one. To have two fabled companies pull out of the market tells you something about the uphill battle it is to go head-to-head with Oakley, but to enter the cycling eyewear market is to do exactly that. You really don’t have any choice. Assos is taking an approach that isn’t unusual for them, but really hasn’t been tried by anyone else. Rather than try to compete at the same or a lesser price point, they are going above. I’ve got a few buddies who will buy some because that math makes perfect sense to them.
Are they perfect? No, but they sure do aspire to it. What could be better? Other than the price, I’m not sure. Are they worth it? Given what we pay for some of their competitors, without a doubt.
Since Steve Jobs’ recent death I’ve learned more about the iconic leader of Apple Computer than I ever wanted to know. I admit I was curious about him. Based on my read, he and I shared some basic traits: creative, big-picture thinkers on the intense side. So that made him interesting to me and even, on occasion, a north star to stay true to my personal views and beliefs.
His taste was impeccable, even if he did tend to dress day-in-and-out in the same wardrobe. I wish I had his taste. But as I’ve read more, I’ve learned other, less attractive features about the man. He could be tone-deaf to others’ feelings; I’ve suffered that at times. He could be both cruel and petulant. He could be a bully. I’m relieved those aren’t mine.
Malcolm Gladwell has called him the ultimate tweaker. It doesn’t seem to be a job title many of us would want, but Jobs turned it into something memorable. He seems to have been a man of extremes. His complicated nature make me more curious about him, even if I wouldn’t want to share more in common with him. I may have to read Walter Isaacson’s book.
The bike industry is full of complicated figures, too. Mike Sinyard of Specialized burns with a holy light for cycling. He rides more miles each year than plenty of guys I know half his age. He can be generous and warm. I’ve also heard that he can direct his wrath at employees who don’t measure up.
Friends in the industry who have worked with the Bikes Belong Coalition have told me that the great unsung hero of bicycle advocacy is Trek’s John Burke. People say that Bikes Belong wouldn’t be as well funded or as effective without his involvement. Yet from the sources I have, Burke never rides and he is known for being callous. One former employee told me that the wife of a staffer made a wistful comment about how she wished she saw more of her husband, to which Burke replied, “Get a dog.”
Cycling just lost one of the most interesting guys in the sport: Bob Stapleton. By all accounts he had vision, was both organized and disciplined and even ethical. The sport’s loss.
Then there are guys like Rob Vandermark of Seven Cycles, a guy whose business acumen seems as natural as Michael Jordan’s basketball talent, but whose personal life couldn’t be more shielded from public view. No one seems to know if he rides or not, if he does anything other than work. As a public figure, he’s unfortunately two-dimensional. On the other hand, we have Richard Sachs, a frame builder who has had more words devoted to his work than all other frame builders combined. Hmm.
The question today is: Who interests you, and why? Do you like the principled monastics like Sachs or do you find the complicated figures like Burke interesting? Or both?
Naturally, this leads to yet another question: Are there figures we ought to turn the spotlight on here at RKP?
Nostalgia isn’t a bad thing. And not all old things are obsolete. Take the ’68 Ford Mustang. If Ford started rolling those off the assembly line tomorrow, I’m sure there would be a line out the dealership of 40-, 50- and 60-something people (let’s be honest, they’d be mostly men) waiting to buy one. Forget traction control. I’ll take old-school muscle for $1000, Alex.
I offer that as a prelude to Selle Royal’s reintroduction of the first saddle I ever liked, the Selle Royal Contour. Now, the Contour is to current technology exactly what the ’68 Mustang is. Not remotely up-to-date, but undeniably functional and containing a depth of style that runs straight to its DNA.
This isn’t the saddle you should put on your Pinarello Dogma. But if you’re rebuilding a Colnago Master Light, this is the cherry on top. Alternately, if you’re turning an old steel frame into an around town fixie and you don’t put this on it, well, you’d better have a good excuse, or a Regal.
In my case, I put it on my steel Torelli and then immediately rolled around my neighborhood. Something in the familiarity of its shape transported me back to midtown Memphis and the streets near my favorite bike shop and book store. They don’t make saddles with this shape anymore, or at least, not often. The Contour has just that: contours. It’s round where so many other saddles are essentially flat. Honestly, for when I’m down in the drops, it’s still one of my favorite shapes ever.
At nearly 400 grams this thing is heavier than Neil Diamond, but it should last as long as the frame you mount it on and the old-school stitching reminds me of just how durable a pair of Levi’s jeans used to be. C’est la vie.
I’ve been riding the handmade version ($90) that uses real leather (identifiable by the stitching at the bottom) but there’s also a low-fi version with an even longer-lasting microtex cover ($60). Mine is the natural leather pictured above but it also comes in nabuk (white) and black (black).
Final thoughts: Some shapes shouldn’t change. I just wish my body would get on board with that.