Attitude is everything. It is entirely platitudinal, and so when someone says it out loud, I tend to cringe. But my reaction doesn’t make it any less true. In fact, the truth of it only increases as you get closer, really think about and weigh up your own behavior.
On a solo ride, especially in dire conditions, your ability to focus on the positive, to keep your inner bitch on lock down, is the difference between 10 miles and 30, or 30 and 60. It’s also the difference between being able to complete multiple bad weather, solo jaunts, and sitting on the couch, packing your face with gratuitous calories and diving directly into the cyclist’s shame spiral.
But that’s you wrestling with yourself.
On a group ride, or in a race, attitude becomes even more important. Other people are depending on you. The things you say to companions or teammates make a difference, not only in potential results, but in the willingness of your crew to hang out with you afterward.
And beyond how fast you go together, that latter part, that social element, is the most important, because it’s the one that has ramifications for every other aspect of your life.
Unless you’re the Unabomber, your life is a group ride. It’s got family, friends and co-workers on it. If your attitude sucks, and you get it all over everyone, chances are you’re not going to have a lot of those people, the most important people in your life, anxious to love and support you when you need it. You may be an island in your own mind, but there comes a time in everyone’s life when they need help. And help comes from people.
Positive mental attitude (PMA* ) is one of those things that has primary, secondary and tertiary benefits. When you’re alone, it makes everything you do easier. When you’re with a gro up, it makes things easier for the whole group and reflexively for you. Further, the example you set influences what people do in groups you may not even be a part of. The converse is also true. The more negative shit you put out into the world, the worse off you are, the worse off we all are.
But so what? All of this is self-ev ident. Whatever bits of human wisdom persist long enough to become platitudes in the first place are perhaps, if not tautologically true, at least theoretically proven through the sheer weight of experience.
Here’s the thing though. Here is where we go beyond platitude and talk about the real challenge. As it turns out, the human brain is not equipped with a ‘good attitude’ switch. We can’t toggle it on when we need it. In fact, often when we need it most it is least accessible. It is this cruel reality that, I think, leads me to cringe whenever I hear “attitude is everything.”
For me, bad attitude is often born of automatic thinking, my unconscious mind with all its anger, pettiness, fear and insecurity spewing negativity into the mental stream. Negativity is like that drunk who won’t leave your party. You want him out desperately, but he bats down every logical entreaty with a laugh and a request for more chips. Oh, and he peed on the toilet seat. That’s what negativity does.
If you’re still with me, I should confess right now, that I don’t have a solution to this problem. There are a lot of days when an accurate mood ring would shine black, betraying me as a cynic, a skeptic, a practitioner of sarcasm and pessimism, a not-all-that-awesome guy to be around. To be sure, since my kids came along and taught me that I’m not the center of the universe, I have a lot more good days than I used to, but attitude is still, for me, a constant struggle.
The good news is that I have learned SOME things from that struggle.
The first one is that there probably isn’t a ‘solution’ as such to this problem, just as there isn’t a one-time ‘solution’ for fitness. It’s a thing you’ve got to work at all the time. Consistency is king (as long as we’re working the platitudes). So, despite the random epiphanies I have along the way, I am never going to just have a good attitude now and forever more. I am always going to have to work at it.
The second thing I have learned is that, just as with fitness, it gets easier the more you work. You make your greatest gains at the beginning, when the thoughts in your head are as toxic as New Jersey landfill, but, resolved to be a better human, you tamp them all down, plaster a smile, however fake, across your face and say something nice to someone.
What shocked me, the first time I attempted this daring maneuver, was that the people in my immediate vicinity all adopted the smiley-faced niceness and in short order we were all in a good mood. This isn’t science. Your results may vary.
Of course, this approach also has a cutesy name, ‘fake it to make it.’ The idea is you adopt whatever attitude you’re trying to achieve by whatever means necessary, including simulation. You lie to yourself. As lies go, this is a good one, because if it works, it makes itself true.
Imagine yourself alone on the side of a hill in two feet of shoulder. It’s gray and rainy. The wind is blowing. You’re not in the red, but you’re pink as hell. Cars zip by, and even ten feet away their after draft leaves you feeling vulnerable. One approach might be to curse your luck, curse the weather, curse the paving crew who left you only this narrow sliver to toil away in, to curse all drivers everywhere for all time and the stupid jerk who invented the internal combustion engine.
I have ridden that scenario, felt those feelings, and arrived home enraged. It didn’t work out well for anyone involved.
In that same scenario, you might also try to see that, of all the people on that hill at that moment, you alone are on a bicycle, testing yourself against gravity and the weather, that you will arrive home glistening in well-earned sweat, that you are busy living there in those two feet of spare pavement while everyone else gets wrapped around the axle of their daily lives. You’re the lucky one. Smile, but keep your head down. There’s work to do.
Many of us are trying to push our limits on the bike. We try to go farther or faster or better. And doing that absolutely requires the right attitude. It’s the mental game that coaches play. It’s the things we tell ourselves to push on. I suppose it’s possible to shame yourself into doing a ‘personal best’ on a climb or on a regular route, but does that seem like a viable long term strategy?
Padraig and I talk about this all the time. What we come back to over and over is that what works on the bike, works off of it, and vice-versa. Being nice, positive, honest and hard working endears you to the people in your life who are the most important. It also carries you up the hardest climbs, down the sketchiest descents and makes the last ten miles of a century all the more tolerable, even pleasurable. It makes me wonder about my training. Am I thinking too much about legs and my lungs, and not enough about the soft stuff between my ears?
* When I’m struggling I try to stick the Bad Brains song “Attitude” from their 1982 debut album in my head. They coined the acronym PMA for “positive mental attidude” in that song, and it makes an excellent mantra when you’re in the red.
Follow me on Twitter @thebicyclerobot.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
When pro team directors complain about the UCI’s almost total ban on race radios, they say that without radios they can’t get essential information to their riders, especially when the race is in a state of flux. What they rarely mention is the role played by the motorcycle-mounted blackboard man.
There’s nothing high tech about this official’s job, which has barely changed over the past 50 years. All he does [editor's note: le Tour put into action its first female ardoisier at the 2011 edition of the race] is sit on the backseat of a motorcycle, constantly writing on the blackboard the time gaps between groups, the distance covered, and the bib numbers of the riders in the breakaways. That board is shown to the riders in the peloton before the motorcyclist accelerates up to the front of the race to give the leaders the same information — which is also relayed by Radio Tour to all the team cars.
It’s up to the riders on how to react to that information. They can make a decision on their own, discuss a course of action with teammates in their group, or call up their team car to hear what their director has to say. That’s how all pro races were conducted until 20 years ago — when teams began using radio communication, which allows teammates to chat with each other via their earpieces, or the director to give his riders tactical advice without having to drive up to the head of the race convoy.
Early in my time as a cycling journalist, I often traveled on the back of a race motorcycle, filling my notebook with race information while also working as a blackboard man. My most memorable gig was doing this double duty at the world road championships when they first came to Great Britain in 1970. The course was based on the Mallory Park motor racing circuit near Leicester, England. And my driver was the highly experienced Alf Buttler, with whom I’d ridden on races all over the country.
Doing the worlds was a big responsibility, of course, but it was also a personal thrill to be showing the blackboard to a field that included Tour de France winners Felice Gimondi and Eddy Merckx. At one point, a couple of 15km laps from the finish, Merckx whistled to Alf from the peloton, so we slowed down to give the Belgian superstar enough time to study the list of riders in a breakaway that had just formed. He saw that his Italian rival Gimondi was up there, but so was his talented young teammate Jean-Pierre Monseré — who was Belgium’s latest phenom, having won the Tour of Lombardy classic in his rookie season of 1969 — along with Leif Mortensen of Denmark, Charly Rouxel of France and Britain’s Les West.
Merckx could probably have jumped across to the break on the rolling course, but with star teammates such as Walter Godefroot, Frans Verbeeck, Roger De Vlaeminck and Herman Vanspringel still in the pack with him, he knew that his team had more than enough power to close the break down if they needed to. And he was confident that the 21-year-old Monseré had the talent to beat Gimondi and the others in the small breakaway group.
Both Alf and I were hoping that the “unknown” rider in that move, British national champ West, could surprise the others with one of his hallmark late attacks. We could see he was itching to try something, despite this being the longest race (272km) he’d ever ridden. We had the best seat in the house, shuttling between break and bunch, first showing the leaders the board, then stopping to take a time check with my stopwatch (this was long before GPS was invented!), writing the new information on the board before moving back alongside the riders in the peloton, and finally accelerating back to the break.
The leaders did stay away. West did make a late attack — but was caught in the final straight and came in fourth. And Monseré did win the final sprint to take the rainbow jersey, with Merckx coming home in 29th. (Monseré was expected to be one of cycling’s great classics riders, but the following spring, in a small Belgian race, he tragically died after a collision with a private car that had wandered onto the course.)
All of this happened long before radio communication first came to the peloton in the early 1990s and became ubiquitous by the early 2000s. Two-way communication between riders and their directors is regarded as essential by most teams, but the UCI management committee felt that the radios were taking away the element of surprise in racing, and that racers were simply following orders and losing the tactical expertise that had always been a key component of a winning rider’s arsenal.
A phased-in ban on race radios was started three years ago and led to an emotionally charged debate between the UCI and ProTeam directors through 2010 and much of 2011. Last September, the proposed complete ban on radio communication was put on hold until the end of 2012 as both sides of the argument are examined. The teams would like intra-team radio communication to be restored to all pro races, while the UCI wants them banned completely.
At present, radios are only permitted in UCI WorldTour races, including this coming week’s Paris-Nice. The team managers say that radios make the racing safer because they can warn riders instantly of any hazards on the road ahead. UCI management argues that racing is more predictable and less interesting when team directors pull the strings and riders stop thinking for themselves.
There may be a practical solution. Instead of just one blackboard man, major races could have two or even three such officials riding alongside the different groups. And rather than blackboards, they could carry iPad-type boards that could display warnings of upcoming road hazards along with the basic race updates.
Using such technology, the teams would know that their riders were not only getting the race information they needed, as Merckx and his teammates did at the 1970 worlds, but also learning of any safety concerns. Meanwhile, the UCI would know that riders were having to think for themselves again and not being treated like robots.
And all of us can get to see what happens in races this spring. Will the non-radio races, such as this coming Saturday’s Strade Bianche classic in Italy, be more exciting than the with-radio WorldTour events? Will the WorldTour races be safer because of radio communication? The debate is on … and maybe high-tech blackboards are the solution.
Follow me on Twitter: @JohnWilcockson
Here are my thoughts on a terrific weekend of racing:
1. After their Belgian victories this past weekend, it’s clear to me that Garmin-Barracuda and Team Sky are two of the best squads in the world—because they understand how to ride as a team.
Heading into the race’s critical phase during Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Garmin sent it’s team to the front, upping the pace and positioning themselves to follow whatever attacks might come. Eventual-winner Sep Vanmarcke was therefore perfectly placed to follow Tom Boonen’s acceleration on the Taaienberg (and to avoid Lars Boom’s somersault).
Sunday, Team Sky kept their fatigued and vomiting world champion out of harm’s way throughout the day, ensuring that he was at or near the front on every climb and safely guiding him through the last 50-kilometers. In the finale, Chris Sutton—the race’s defending champion—and former Ghent-Wevelgem champion Bernhard Eisel escorted Cavendish to the line.
In an era dominated by super-teams, Garmin and Sky appear to have a successful formula—especially Garmin, a team that has achieved much success with surprisingly few superstars on its roster. It was an impressive display and most likely served noticed to the rest of the peloton.
2. On the other hand, Team BMC appears to be lacking chemistry at a critical point it’s season. Thor Hushovd was situated right where he needed to be when Boonen attacked Saturday, only to find himself isolated once the move was established—a situation that went from bad to worse once the Norwegian was dropped on the Paddestraat. For a team with so many superstars, management must have been shaking their heads after such a lackluster showing.
3. As for Thor, it is easy to criticize the former world champion for getting dropped, but one must remember: it’s still early in the season (as Thor himself admitted before the race) and at least he made it there in the first place.
4. And Rabobank’s Matti Breschel? It was great see him back at the front of a major cobbled classic—even if he didn’t stay there for long. Give him a few weeks and he’ll be fine.
5. Speaking of poor positioning, BMC’s Philippe Gilbert attributed his mundane showing (31st) to a lack of fitness and poor peloton placement heading into the Taaienberg. But while Gilbert’s result was a disappointment to his fans, it should help him later in the season. I wonder if Gilbert watched how heavily marked Cancellara was during last year’s classics and is making his best effort to avoid the same thing happening to him this spring—at least in Flanders. (Everyone was marking Gilbert in the Ardennes—clearly it made no difference.) Gilbert’s known for the timing of his efforts. Perhaps he saw no need to show his hand too soon?
6. Back to the winner: Saturday’s victory confirms the promise Vanmarcke showed back in 2010 when the youngster—then riding for Topsport-Vlaanderen—finished second in Ghent-Wevelgem. While I questioned Vanmarcke’s aggressive riding during the race Saturday—especially with Boonen and Flecha both having teammates—I now see the wisdom of his tactics. His acceleration on the Paddestraat disposed of Hushovd and Breschel; a second surge would later drop both Hayman and Devenyns. Not many riders would choose to isolate themselves against Boonen and Juan Antonio Flecha, but Vanmarcke was smart to realize that a 1:3 chance is better than a 1:7 chance.
I said before the race that the Omloop tends to announce the arrival of new classics champions. Consider Vanmarcke the best candidate to become Belgium’s next Ronde-Roubaix champion.
7. Vanmarcke’s performance also underscored Tom Boonen’s tactical ineptitude (sorry Tommeke, I want more than ever to see you return to form, but you really blew it Saturday). Yes, Boonen was given the unwelcome title of “pre-race favorite” by many pundits (myself included), but it was certainly not a new position to be in for the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider. And while his sharp attack on the Taaienberg was devastatingly effective (and predictable), his actions in the remaining 59 kilometers were confusing and at some points, head-scratchingly immature.
To me it’s apparent that Boonen suffers in races without radios, as the lack of accurate time splits and information regarding what’s happening behind him probably led him to do more than was necessary to see to it that the break stayed clear. Boonen became a professional at a time when radio use was already more or less widespread among the sport’s best teams. After more than 10 years of riding with them, I’m beginning to wonder if riding without them leaves Boonen feeling insecure and under-informed, hence his bull in a china shop tactics. The last “major” race Boonen won was last year’s Ghent-Wevelgem, a race run with radios.
8. As for Sunday, Cavendish took his third of the season despite battling sickness. The question now turns to whether the Manxman can forge himself into a contender for Belgium’s biggest sprint prize: Ghent-Wevelgem. A new, longer, and hillier course will attempt to thwart him, but given the depth of Team Sky, it’s hard to discount Cav’s chances. What do you think?
9. For the second year in a row in Kuurne, Saur-Sojasun’s Jimmy Engoulvent tried at a late-race move. Next year, he might want to try a different tactic.
10. Last but not least, where was GreenEdge this weekend? After more than a year of hype surrounding the formation of the squad, the men in green and black were conspicuously absent from the first important weekend of the season. The team’s best result was 12th in Kuurne. It all goes to show that it takes more than money to build a successful World Tour squad. Like many team’s before them, GreenEdge might find that their first season is filled with more growing pains than victories.
In other news:
11. Like Garmin and Sky, Liquigas-Cannondale deserves mention in any conversation about the best teams in the sport. The team won its ninth race of the season Sunday, as Eros Capecchi defeated Damiano Cunego and Enrico Battaglin to win the GP Lugano.
12. And speaking of Lugano, Battaglin is a rider I missed when compiling my list of Up-and-Comers a few weeks ago. Keep an eye on him—and look for him to be joining a World Tour squad soon. Maybe he can join Moreno Moser at Liquigas?
13. One final question: Michael Matthews won Rabobank’s first race of the year at the Clasica de Almeria in Spain, but why wasn’t he racing in Belgium? Matthews, Taylor Phinney, and John Degenkolb traded blows as U23’s in 2010—why isn’t the Aussie on the same career trajectory as the other two? He certainly possesses similar talent.
Follow me on Twitter: @whityost
Image courtesy Slipstream Sports
The knock against Assos is always their cost. The Swiss manufacturer is famous for nothing so much as their pricing that makes Mercedes seem as affordable as Kia. Sure, they are known for their over-the-top models and pimped-out images of said models in their clothing, but the prices can make you forget the models, at least until you put your injured Visa away.
But here’s the thing: While everyone I have spoken with about Assos has exclaimed, “Dude, that’s a lot of f***in’ money for a pair of shorts,” everyone I know who has actually plunked down said money has rendered the same verdict—”Best shorts I’ve ever worn.”
The F.I. Uno S5 is Assos least-expensive pair of bibs. At $200 that’s a good deal more than almost all of their competitors’ most expensive bibs. This is Aston Martin territory, wherein every vehicle they offer is more expensive than anything Lexus offers. That can be hard to wrap your head around. It doesn’t so much redefine the term “luxury” as render it useless.
And while I’ve driven very few Mercedes and only ridden in a single Aston Martin, I have this suspicion that after a fortnight in a fine example of either, going back to my Subaru would be like drinking Two Buck Chuck after having spent a weekend in the Russian River Valley. You’d wonder what the point was.
That’s a bit like my reaction to the Uno bibs. My recollection is that the most I’ve ever paid for a pair of custom bibs was $120. The material was pretty good and the fit was good, but the pad was just so-so. (The best pad ever included in a pair of custom bibs, by contrast, was not the most expensive pair.) You’d hope that the $200 Unos would be better than that, right?
Well, the Uno bibs are unsurprisingly better. They are also so superior to most of the custom stuff I’ve worn that I wish they did my custom kit. But then I don’t suppose many people would buy it. Here’s the crazy thing: If you told me that Assos made only one pair of bibs and the Unos were they, I’d believe and would never dare wish for something superior; they are that good.
But Assos positions these as their all-purpose training and racing bibs. Which may undersell them, kinda like having a dressy tux and then a casual tux.
When I compare the Uno to other shorts in the $180 to $220 range, the Uno is the hands-down winner. Now, I can’t claim to have worn all of the offerings from Capo and Rapha out there, but against Giordana, Castelli and Hincapie, the Uno is the clear winner. That’s not to say I don’t like the others, but the Uno is just superior.
Take the pad in the Uno. It isn’t curved like that in the Mille, but it still fits very well. It’s also more comfortable than the pad in comparable shorts from Castelli and Hincapie. And the pad in the Giordana Forma Red Carbon? This is the same pad that Vermarc uses, the same pad that graces the powerful hindquarters of Philippe Gilbert. That pad? It’s too narrow for my ass. My sit bones fall beyond the thickest portion of the pad. I have no such trouble with the pad Assos puts in the Uno.
And how a six-panel short can fit so well and offer compression over an evenly distributed area is as surprising to me as a pharmaceutical with no side effects. As much as I love Castelli products, I think their shorts are cut for people with less caboose than me; as a result the fit just isn’t terrific; they are a bit tight up front.
Let’s consider for a moment that I’m discussing each of these products in relatively newish state. My experience with Assos is that these bibs, now eight months old, will still be in rotation in five years. I’ve never had a pair of shorts last as long from any other manufacturer. For that reason alone they are worth comparing against any similarly priced shorts.
But here’s the kicker: Had I never worn Assos’ Mille bibs or the T.607 thermal bibs, and only knew the Unos, you could have lied to me and told me these were the very best shorts out of Switzerland and I wouldn’t have had reason to doubt you. I’d like to try the rest of the comparable bibs out there, if only to test my belief that these are the very best value in shorts you can get for $200. Given what else is on the market in this price range, this is one time when you simply can’t knock Assos as too expensive.
First off, let me apologize for the delay in getting out this week’s column.
I got hit with a bit of the winter-time crud, which is not a pleasant experience, but it’s also somewhat reassuring to be dealing with the normal travails of seasonal health issues, rather than those that ruined my summer and fall last year. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective, eh?
Anyway, I am finally switching gears after a long, and unfortunately necessary, string of doping-related articles to answering questions that have popped up in my mailbox these past few weeks.
I’m going to start with something that couldn’t be further from tales of the dope-addled professional: my favorite, a topic near and dear to my heart, namely kids.
I have been a cyclist and racer for most of my adult life, but I am embarrassed to admit that I was 13 before I could even ride a bike. It was not for lack of trying, but I recall being scared to death when my father took the training wheels off my bike when I was six or so and then I pretty much abandoned the things for six or seven years after that.
I am not writing to expose an embarrassing memory, but to ask how a reasonable parent might be able to make learning to ride a bike easier for my own son. I am not in a rush, but my wife and I just had our first child in January. Yeah, it’s still early, but I do want to get him on a bike as soon as is reasonable and I don’t have the childhood memories that would just let me teach him from experience.
How old do kids need to be to ride and how do you get them riding safely? What about racing?
Finally, if we were to stay in our current house, I would be nervous about letting my son ride to school, which involves a trip across a busy, busy road in our neighborhood.
Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Congratulations on becoming a dad. To quote a past employer when I told him that my wife, Diana, was pregnant and that we were expecting our first child the following summer, “kinda makes the rest of this @#$% seem unimportant, doesn’t it Mr. Pelkey?” Truer words were never spoken and I welcome you to the sappy pappy club. I wish you, your wife and your new son the best.
I love this question for a lot of reasons. First, I think I was nine or so before I got started riding, which I think is still way too late in life. Second, I’ve run across fully grown adults who had never learned to ride and I’ve help at least two of them get started.
I had the same question come up when our two kids, Philip and Annika, hit riding age and I did a lot of trial and error in that effort. Some things I got right, some things I would do differently.
When our son, Philip, started riding, our friend Portia Masterson, the owner of the old “Self Propulsion” bike shop in Golden, Colorado, was adamant about not using training wheels. I ignored her advice. I wanted Philip to ride and I wanted him to ride soon, without fear or trouble. So, thinking I knew better than Portia, I went ahead and got a nice little bike with that extra set of wheels on the back. He took to it like a fish to water.
Then it took me what seemed like forever to break him of his reliance on the things. Then I repeated the same mistake with Annika and got the same result. Portia, you were right. I was wrong.
If you’re a parent who made the mistake I did and started the kids out on training wheels, there are a couple of ways to wean them off of those things. Most training wheels are height adjustable and you can gradually move them up, so that the contact point is not always level with that of the bicycle’s rear wheel. That encourages the little rider to make frequent adjustments to balance things out, since they naturally want to be on an upright bike and they start to learn to rely on the bike’s momentum and the accompanying gyroscopic effect of the wheels to stay upright, instead of the false security of the training wheels.
That worked a little for us, but if you ask Annika how she learned to ride a bike, her standard answer is “Dad lied to me.”
I finally took off her training wheels and for about half an hour one morning I held on to the bike and ran alongside to reassure her that she wouldn’t fall down. “I got ya, I got ya, I got ya ….” Then, I stepped away. She rode off, made a turn and suddenly saw me standing at the side of our cul de sac.
She was shocked, but she kept on riding. She hasn’t stopped since. (Nor has she stopped giving me grief over the lie.)
A question of balance
In retrospect, I would do things a lot differently. I would have taken Portia’s advice to heart and never taken up training wheels. I would have also started both kids much earlier, probably around the time they started to walk.
I don’t use this column as a vehicle for product endorsements, but I do have to make a recommendation, which I unfortunately did not follow. Don’t opt for a tricycle and don’t get a bike with training wheels. Instead, start looking around for one of those cool little wooden “balance bikes” for the little guy to use in about 18 to 20 months.
These things don’t have pedals and are powered solely by the kid kicking his or her feet on the ground in a manner quite similar to the original Laufmaschine (“walking machine” in German), the world’s first real bicycle, purportedly invented by Baron Karl Drais Von Sauerbronn in 1817. (For those of you who still buy into the Leonardo da Vinci bicycle legend, it’s been shown to be a more contemporary fraud.) Like the Baron, a little one will naturally begin to lift his feet off the ground when the momentum is such that the thing will stay upright on its own.
I’ve seen these priced anywhere from $70 all the way up to $300 for the really fancy German-made versions. The design, though, is really simple and it would be a relatively easy project to take on if you have a wood shop at home.*
For one thing, if you end up building your own – and you do have time, John – it would make a pretty cool family heirloom.
Obviously, the number safety one rule is to get a decent helmet that fits properly. You may have to buy several over the years, but it’s a good investment. We made a habit of sharing and trading helmets with other families when our kids outgrew theirs.
There will be setbacks and there may be scuffed hands and knees, but kids are pretty tough and they are natural athletes. Have fun with it.
The daily commute
Once they are up and about and fully able to ride, then you get the real worry, namely when and where to let them ride on their own. I used to think the sleepy little college town where we live was a perfect place to let kids ride … until they were old enough to ride on their own. Then I suddenly saw the streets as a war zone, filled with inattentive and/or insane drivers in way-too-big cars and trucks and with no regard for anyone but themselves. I can only imagine how those who live in larger cities feel.
Mostly to allay my own fears, I made a point of riding with my kids when they rode to school. We, too, have a busy street between our house and their daily destination. It was easy for me, because I rode to law school every day and their school was on the way.
Eventually, though, you have to let them go off on their own. It’s a matter of trust and it instills confidence in the kids, but it’s admittedly nerve-wracking. One thing you might want to check in on is an organization devoted to that very question, the National Center for Safe Routes to School.
Odds are, though, you’ll never get over worrying when they’re off on their own. Nor should you.
My opinion on kids’ racing – or participation in any sport – is pretty short: wait and see if they’re interested. As an old roadie, I would love to see my kids compete, but I have been reluctant to push too hard to get them into it. As you might imagine, my kids have access to an array of bikes. Indeed, at 17, Philip is now 6-foot-3, so he’s just an inch shorter than me. That means he has full access to all of my bikes. He does dabble in it, too, but his sport is cross-country ski racing. Annika? She’s a figure skater and a volleyball player. The bikes are there if they want them, though.
I like the approach Davis Phinney took with his kids. He offered them opportunities in all kinds of sports. I remember visiting his house many years ago and the back yard was pretty much a playground with all sorts of toys, games and equipment available for the kids. His young son seemed to be completely enamored with soccer at the time and we joked about how the offspring of two Olympic cycling stars may never become a bike racer. Davis seemed cool with it and said he would never pressure his kids into taking up his own sport.
“If they want to, though,” he said, “we’ll certainly give them all the help they want.”
I guess Taylor reached that decision in his own time, eh?
If you want to provide your son with the opportunity to try it out, you can always organize a kids’ event in conjunction with a local bike race. Being a tall guy, who loved time trials and road races, I was personally never a big fan of racing criteriums, but those relatively short and closed courses offer a terrific opportunity for kids of all ages to test their legs in a fairly safe environment.
Even little two- and three-year-olds scooting around on those little balance bikes can make for a great one- or two-lap event. Besides, they’re cute as hell then and the promoter may be more than willing to give you the chance to help set that up. (I’d sure prefer watching little kids on wooden bikes over a bunch of guys my age riding $10,000 carbon wonders and getting amped over finishing on the podium in the masters’ 50-55 category.)
Have fun, John and, once again, congratulations on the new arrival. You’re in for an exciting ride.
* P.S. – My friend Andy Shen at NYVeloCity.com sent me a note this afternoon. He built his own balance bike and did a mighty fine job of it, too. Click on the link or the picture below to see the product of his labors.
The Explainer is now a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. 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. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
Follow me on Twitter: @Charles_Pelkey
Zero to delerious, that’s how I feel. Just the other day I was still snarking about the desert races (and being upbraided by faithful readers), and now, suddenly Classics season is ON. Tomorrow we’ve got Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and Sunday Kurne-Brussels-Kurne. I don’t want to do too much analysis as the far more capable Whit Yost has broken down the races for you here already.
I’ll just say this. I expect the 2012 Spring Classics season to be one of the most exciting in years. This year we have a perfect storm of talent and motivation. We have Philippe Gilbert thinking about adding Flanders and Roubaix to his palmares, about dominating the Ardennes races, and even about notching a third Omloop Het Nieuwsblad win to bring him level with legends like Peter van Petegem. Every race from now until April (and most of the ones after) Gilbert will be hungry to win. A hungry Gilbert is fun to watch.
We’ve also got Tom Boonen on what appears to be his best form in three years. We have Fabian Cancellara, the one-man wrecking crew, back and looking for revenge after the whole peloton worked against him last season. We have Hushovd, Gilbert’s teammate at BMC, needing to justify his leadership with some big rides. World Champion Mark Cavendish is capable of taking any of the one-day races with a reasonably flat run in to the finish, and guys like Andre Greipel, Heinrich Haussler and Peter Sagan can get in the mix, too.
It’s an awful lot of strong guys in good health and with top motivation.
Again, read Whit’s piece to get the in-depth, to read about the darker horses and to get a good sense for how this weekend’s races will likely play out. Then come back here and make your predictions. This week’s Group Ride asks: Who will win the opening salvos, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kurne-Brussels-Kurne? Who will lay down their markers? And who will go home and cry themselves to sleep having come up short?
Follow me on Twitter: @thebicyclerobot
Image: Jon Pierce, Photosport International
In the eyes of most fans, the season officially begins this Saturday with the 67th edition of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad—to be followed Sunday by the 65th running of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
In Saturday’s 200-kilometer “Omloop”, expect to see the leading breakaway form with about 20-kilometers remaining—just after a difficult stretch including the race’s third passage over the Haaghoek’s cobbles, climbs of the LeBerg and the Molenberg, and the cobbles of the Paddestraat, the Lippenhovestraat, and the Lange Munte. In all, that’s two climbs and about 8.5-kilometers of pave jammed into one 20-kilometer section of race.
On Sunday, while many will try to shake things up over the course of the 195-kilometer semi-classic, look for things to come back together for a field sprint. And should a breakaway succeed, expect the weather and a perhaps a handful of smaller teams (Professional Continental squads with nothing to lose) to have played a role..
When it comes to picking the favorites for the weekend, several things must be considered. First, many riders bring two captains—one for Saturday and another (usually a sprinter) for Sunday. Second, of the riders taking part in both races, one must consider in which of the two races the rider is more likely to play a major role. Going deep to win the race Saturday indicates a possibly lesser showing (or non-start) on Sunday—and vice versa. Lastly, it’s also a bit early to have a good idea of which riders are strongest; for many contenders, this is only their second racing weekend of the season.
Luckily, several teams have chosen not to make the trip (RadioShack-Nissan and Liquigas, for example). They’ve decided to make their cobbled debuts later in the spring—this narrows things down a bit.
So let’s take a look at the men to watch this weekend. Riders have been listed with their favored race in parentheses. (Disclaimer: Riders have been included according to the start lists available as of Thursday, 2/23—there can and will be changes.)
Tom Boonen (Omloop/Kuurne) – Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Tom Boonen has won just about every important race on the Belgian calendar—except the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The race’s early date might have something to do with it. After all, Boonen’s a rider accustomed to peaking for races in late-March and early-April; going “too deep” to win the Omloop might be something he’s been less than willing to do—in the past. This year, I suspect that Boonen wants to get a head start on the criticism that has dogged him throughout past two seasons. He’s in terrific shape, he rides for one of the strongest teams in the race, and his confidence is brimming after a fantastic first month of racing—he’s the man to beat Saturday.
Juan Antonio Flecha (Omloop) – Flecha’s finished third, first, and second in the last three editions of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. And as his third-place finish in the Tour of Qatar indicates, there’s little reason to believe he won’t put in another podium performance Saturday. Even better for Flecha, Edvald Boasson Hagen won’t be racing due to the flu. The Norwegian’s presence certainly would have prevented other teams from marking Flecha exclusively, but Flecha’s not the kind of rider—and the Omloop is not the kind of race—where that would have made a tremendous difference. If anything, Flecha will ride with more confidence—and perhaps aggression—knowing that he has his team’s unanimous support.
Andre Greipel (Kuurne) – Greipel is the top favorite for Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, an event much more suited to his talents than Saturday’s Omloop. In 2011, Greipel finished third in Kuurne and fourth in Ghent-Wevelgem, so he clearly knows what it takes to win on tight Belgian roads. Better yet, he’ll have the undivided support of his Lotto-Belisol team as Jurgen Roelandts is out until early summer following a nasty crash at the Tour Down Under.
Greg Van Avermaet (Omloop/Kuurne) – Of the all-stars lining up for Team BMC this weekend, Greg Van Avermaet’s the rider most likely to emerge victorious. Van Avermaet’s best Omloop finish was fourth in 2009, but he’s at the top of his game following a terrific 2011. Perhaps a bit miffed that his team signed not one but two classics superstars, Van Avermaet knows he needs to take advantage of his opportunities when they arise—Saturday’s one of them. And should things not go his way in the Omloop, he’s also a more than capable sprinter with the talent to contend Sunday as well.
Mark Cavendish (Kuurne) – If he starts the race, Cavendish is a favorite to take the win Sunday in Kuurne. He’s without question one of the two or three best pure sprinters in the world, and he leads a Team Sky squad that’s powerful and experienced—as evidenced by their Kuurne victory last season. That said, Cavendish came out of the Tour of Qatar fatigued and battered following a bout with the flu and crash—there might be some cobwebs. Cold weather won’t help either.
Matti Breschel (Omloop) – After a dominant cobbled campaign in 2009, Denmark’s Matti Breschel missed last year’s races due to injury. He returns this year, fresh and ready to lead his Rabobank squad in what he hopes will be his team’s second consecutive Omloop victory. Breschel’s showed himself to be coming along quite nicely in early races, and is clearly his team’s best bet for Saturday.
Philippe Gilbert/Thor Hushovd (Omloop)– These two former winners have had quiet seasons thus far. And while they could easily prove me wrong, I suspect both are looking further ahead into the spring. The Omloop is a race many riders have used to announce themselves as major cobbled contenders. Thus, several riders have won it once or twice and then gone on to bigger and better victories. Gilbert and Thor have both had their turns at the Omloop (Gilbert twice). While their fans would love to see them on the podium’s top step Saturday, they would happily trade a victory now for a more important one later. Then again, Gilbert is the reigning Champion—a victory would be a fantastic way to open the Belgian year.
Heinrich Haussler/Tyler Farrar (Omloop/Kuurne) – The top of the Garmin-Barracuda food chain is a bit clearer now that Thor Hushovd has departed for BMC. Or is it? With Haussler, Johan Van Summeren, Martijn Maaskant, Ramunas Navardauskas (more on him later), and Sep Vanmarcke all taking the start Saturday, Garmin has at least five riders (I didn’t even mention Andreas Klier) that could play a crucial role. Then again, that’s just the way Vaughters likes it. After all, it’s easy to mark a rider out of race when he is his team’s undisputed captain; the more cards you have to play, the better your chances of winning. As for Sunday, Farrar will lead the way after a day off Saturday, which makes sense in a race that more often than not ends in a bunch sprint.
John Degenkolb (Omloop & Kuurne) – While Marcel Kittel’s been winning races, Project 1T4i’s John Degenkolb has been slowly riding his way into shape—and he’s just the type of rider to watch in both events this weekend. Last year, Degenkolb finished 12th in the Omloop—the last man in the first wave of riders to finish the race in what amounted to horrible conditions. While Degenkolb won the majority of his races as a sprinter, it’s clear to everyone that he’s more destined for the cobbled classics. He’ll have his first shot to lead a team in one Saturday. As I said earlier, the Omloop is a race that often announces the arrival of new champions—is Degenkolb next?
Yauheni Hutarovich (Kuurne) – FDJ-Big Mat’s Yauheni Hutarovich is often overlooked in most race previews, but somehow he always comes through with a result—in certain kinds races, at least. Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne is one of them: hard, fast, cold, and likely to end in a group sprint. The Belarusian finished second in Kuurne last year. Expect to see him among the first five Sunday.
Taylor Phinney (Kuurne) – A field sprinter with the power and stamina to survive a long, hard cobble event, Phinney’s getting his first taste of riding the classics with the big boys this weekend—he’ll be on the starting line both days. Assuming he comes through the Omloop with something left in the tank, he has to be considered a contender in Kuurne on Sunday.
Sebastian Langeveld(Omloop) – GreenEdge’s Sebastian Langeveld won last year’s Omloop, but looks to be a bit more of a long shot this year after an unlucky spring filled with sickness and crashes. Still, experience counts for a lot in the cobbled classics, and Langeveld has several seasons of fine Flemish results on his resume.
Denis Galymzyanov (Kuurne) – Katusha’s Denis Galymzyanov took the biggest win of his career at last year’s Paris-Brussels, a race somewhat similar to Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. If he wins Sunday, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise as he possesses a powerful finishing kick and feels at home on Belgian roads.
Greg Henderson/Chris Sutton (Kuurne) – These two former teammates might find themselves in a position to win Sunday’s race should their captains falter. Sutton won the race last year, but will need a bad day (or a non-start) from Cavendish to be given an opportunity to repeat his 2011 victory. As for Henderson, his move to Lotto-Belisol is one of the big reasons why Greipel’s won so many races so far this season. He’s an able-bodied Plan B should Greipel find himself missing a step Sunday.
Ramunas Navadauskas (Omloop) – If you’re in the UK, go ahead and drop a fiver on Navadauskas. His U23 resume is filled with impressive results in amateur classics, he is an accomplished sprinter/time trialist, and he rides for a team with enough depth to put him in the perfect strategic situation to take a win (a place similar to where Van Summeren found himself in last year’s Paris-Roubaix). Say what you like about Jonathan Vaughters, but he certainly knows how to spot talent. Navardauskas could prove to be one his best finds yet.
Luca Paolini (Omloop) – The 41st Law of Cosmic Reality states: thou shalt not discount the chances of Luca Paolini in any race he enters. Trust me.
Daniele Colli (Kuurne) – The Italian from Team Type 1 – Sanofi recently finished second to Elia Viviani at the Reggio Calabria two-day in Italy. A sprinter who has only one professional victory on his rather long resume, Colli’s not likely to win, but could certainly squeak his way into the top-5.
Niko Eeckhout (Kuurne) – The 42nd Law of Cosmic Reality states: An Post’s Niko Eeckhout must be mentioned as a contender in any Belgian semi-classic he enters. After all, his nickname is “Rambo.”
So there you have it—my list of contenders for the season’s first big weekend. Share your picks and predictions below.
And look for me on Twitter during the race Saturday: @whityost.
Many fans couldn’t care less about the first four weeks of the professional cycling season. Part of me can’t blame them. I mean seriously—Argentina? Qatar? Oman? And of these early races, only a few feature terrain that puts the majority of the peloton into the red zone. In most cases, crosswinds and cold weather do more damage than the actual racing does. Even Southern Europe was not immune, as record low temperatures turned most races into leg-warmer contests where the rider able to stay the warmest the longest often found himself on the top step of the podium. You’re forgiven for not caring.
On the other hand, the first weeks of the season offer our first glimpses of new riders and teams, many of whom are eager to impress following seasons that fell short of expectations. These early tests also offer pundits a chance to determine which riders are starting the year in good shape, making them possible contenders for the season’s first major rendezvous in Belgium, France, and Italy.
So whether you weren’t paying attention either by choice or by accident (and before the “real” season begins this Saturday with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad), here’s a quick rundown of what you missed, packaged together in a little game I like to call Win, Lose, or Draw (no Dom DeLuise required).
Omega Pharma-Quick Step (Win) – Belgium’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step has enjoyed a terrific start to the season—one that calls to mind the exploits of HTC-Columbia/High Road. At this point in the season it’s usually one or two riders that have won the bulk of any one team’s race victories; in Omega Pharma’s case, six riders have shared the spoils (Chicchi, Boonen, Fenn, Leipheimer, Ciolek, and Velits), with two more (Martin and Trentin) just missing wins themselves. If the team continues its torrid pace once the “real” racing begins in earnest, they could easily end the season as the year’s top-ranked squad.
Lotto-Belisol (Lose) – Andre Greipel has already won five races for the restructured Belgian squad and Tour-hope Jurgen Van den Broeck looked strong in Qatar; but the team also lost Jurgen Roelandts after a crash in Stage 1 of the Tour Down Under. Roelandts was the team’s best hope for the cobbled classics, an important block of races for any Belgian team—especially one trying to keep up with Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s early season success. Without Roelandts, Greipel might need to ride himself into contention for the flatter classics—Milan-San Remo comes to mind, but Ghent-Wevelgem and the Grote Scheldeprijs might be better bets for the German speedster.
BMC (Draw) – BMC made the biggest splash this past off-season, but they’re winless so far in 2012. That said, with men like Gilbert, Evans, Hushovd, and Van Avermaet on the roster, there’s hardly good reason to worry. This weekend’s Omloop will be our first opportunity to see some of the squad’s biggest names racing au bloc. And with two former winners and several other possible contenders on the roster, don’t count them out.
Tom Boonen (Win) – Omega Pharma’s most successful rider thus far has been Tom Boonen, a welcome sight considering the Belgian’s frustrating past two seasons. Boonen’s sprint speed appears to have returned, but perhaps more importantly, so has his confidence. Here’s a an interesting bit of trivia for those hoping to see Tommeke add another Flanders or Roubaix to his resume: each year that Boonen won the overall title at the Tour of Qatar, he took one of the two cobbled monuments as well.
Southern European Races (Lose) – There was a time when Mallorca, Southern France, and Italy were three of the sport’s most weather-friendly early season locales. But not this year as frigid temperatures and snow forced the abbreviation or cancellation of reventsaces in all three countries. But don’t get your hopes up for an “epic” weekend of racing in Belgium—the forecast calls for dry, sunny conditions. Go figure.
Mark Cavendish (Draw) – Two stage wins in Oman plus a bout of sickness and a crash amount to a draw for the reigning world champ. On the bright side, Cav’s wins indicate that his Team Sky lead-out train is coming along quite nicely.
Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Win) – Easily the season’s biggest surprise has been Endura Racing’s Tiernan-Locke, the winner of both the Tour Mediterranean and the Tour du Haut. The British rider won each event’s “queen” stage and in doing so, the overall titles as well. Thanks to his victories, Tiernan-Locke has apparently attracted the attention of several World Tour squads. Look for him to finish the season in a new uniform.
Greenedge (Lose) – Australia’s Greenedge Cycling team won its first two important goals of the season—the Australian Road Race Championship and the Tour Down Under—but have since fallen flat in their inaugural World Tour season. With so many flat races on the schedule (and shortened ones at that), you have to think that a roster with such an impressive set of speedsters would have produced more results. But let’s be fair: many upstart World Tour squads (especially those created out of thin air) have often struggled to find consistent results during their first seasons (Team Sky and Slipstream come to mind) but have gone on to win several major races.
Alberto Contador (Draw) – For Alberto Contador’s fans, his two-year retroactive suspension counts as a loss. To proponents of a cleaner sport though, it’s a clear win. But at the end of the day, Contador’s suspension and the loss of his titles dating all the way back to the 2010 Tour de France amount to nothing more than a draw. First of all, Contador’s reputation seems to have survived the court of public opinion. Second, he’ll be back and racing in time to win his second Vuelta a Espana—which just about everyone expects him to do easily. Even his sponsor still supports him—a smart move considering he’s still likely to command a tremendous salary in spite of his suspension.
Elia Viviani (Win) – I identified Viviani as one of several young Italian sprinters to watch as part of my Season Preview a few weeks ago. So far, the Liquigas-Cannondale rider has lived-up to my expectations. Viviani’s already won five races, and until the win by his teammate Moreno Moser (yes, he’s Francseco’s nephew) in Sunday’s Trofeo Laigueglia, he was undefeated on home soil. If he manages to take a stage or two in next month’s Tirreno-Adriatico, look for Viviani’s name on the list of contenders for Milan-Sam Remo.
Rabobank (Lose) – Last year, Rabobank had already won nine races by this point in the season. This year, they’ve won nothing. Worse still, Oscar Freire—the man they let go to make room for Mark Renshaw—has already won two races for Katusha. Luckily, Matti Breschel seems to be healed and ready to contend this weekend in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, a race Rabobank won last year as well. Too bad the winner (Sebastian Langeveld) now rides for someone else (GreenEdge).
Alejandro Valverde (Draw) – Similar to Contador, Valverde’s status depends entirely on your perspective. For many, the Spaniard’s return to racing leaves a black eye on the sport and its ability to fairly mete out justice. For others, it simply marks the return of one of the sport’s most talented and exciting riders, someone capable of challenging Philippe Gilbert in the Ardennes. And while he’s already won two races, he’s still a long way from redemption.
French Youth Movement (Win) – It was also good month for young Frenchman as Europcar’s Pierre Rolland, Saur-Sojasun’s Jerome Coppel, and FDJ-Big Mat’s Arnaud Demare and Nacer Bouhanni took wins. While Rolland and Coppel have bright futures as stage racers, Demare (the reigning U23 World Road Race Champion) and Bouhanni give the nation two young sprinters to root for at Paris-Nice.
Saxo Bank (Lose) – We’ll know for sure sometime in March, but if the team’s hearing before the sport’s Licensing Commission on February 27 doesn’t go well, they could find themselves on the outside looking in at the rest of the World Tour. Bjarne Riis has struggled in the past to find sponsors to support his program; a demotion certainly won’t make life any easier.
Share your early season Win, Lose, or Draw contestants below!
Follow me on Twitter: @whityost
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
If the comments section of RKP has proven anything, it’s that we are a brotherhood. Well, that and that we’re passionate cyclists who love a good, hard ride. Okay, so it’s proven two things.
I’ve not too secretly held the suspicion that it would be fun to round a bunch of you up and go for a ride. The Ride Kite Rondezvous is ready for prime-time I’m pleased to say. The announcement took a little bit longer than anticipated but that was due to some negotiations to bring the overall cost of the event down (we’ve managed to shave off about 20% from our original estimate without dropping the quality at all).
We’ve added an item to the menu bar for the event, just left of the search field. That page spells out all the details from the length of trip (seven days, six nights), to the hotel we’ll be staying in (the historic Hotel Northampton) as well as the focal point of the trip: The Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee, better known as D2R2.
Aside from doing the ride we’ll have some special treats in store for participants. It will be a very fun time.
To learn more, go here.
Why Boulder is the home of modern American cycling
Last week, I was asked to sit on the advisory board of the U. S. Cycling Monument — which will be a memorial to the sport in this country. Its goal is to raise funds to build the monument, a futuristic metal-and-stone sculpture, in the Boulder, Colorado, park that is regarded as the spiritual home of modern American cycling.
North Boulder Park is where a young Davis Phinney watched bike racing for the first time, fell in love with the sport, and later became America’s most-winning sprinter ever. It’s where a young Greg LeMond was crowned overall winner of the Coors International Bicycle Classic before he became the first American to win the Tour de France. And it’s in the center of the city where the foundations were laid for today’s major U.S. stage races, including the Amgen Tour of California and Colorado’s U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge.
The story began in the early-1970s when a 19-year-old Mo Siegel founded a small herbal tea company, Celestial Seasonings, to supply local health food stores. Siegel and his hippie friends, who handpicked herbs and wild berries for their teas, were environmentalists, and after their nascent business passed a million dollars in sales, Siegel decided he wanted to generate awareness of cycling’s environmental benefits (and also publicize the company’s best-selling tea, Red Zinger), by organizing a bike race.
The Red Zinger Classic started out as a modest two-day, three-stage event, with a short time trial, a hilly road race through Colorado’s Front Range, and a criterium in North Boulder Park. It had a tiny budget of $50,000 but heaps of enthusiasm from Siegel’s Boulder employees and local volunteers. The inaugural edition, in 1975, was the one that attracted Phinney to the sport. It did the same two years later for Michael Aisner, a journalism student at the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus, who was moonlighting as a DJ for a Denver radio station and stumbled into a career as a promoter. It happened like this….
When Aisner saw a public service ad by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in 1976, asking for signatures to stop the killing of baby seals in Canada, he talked about it on his Denver radio show and garnered some 20,000 names for the petition. Impressed, the IFAW offered him a marketing job, and Aisner organized a trip by French movie-star campaigners Yvette Mimieux and Brigitte Bardot to witness the seal hunt in February 1977.
The subsequent story in Time magazine was read by Siegel, who contacted Aisner and invited him to lunch. “At the end of the lunch,” Aisner recalled, “Mo said, ‘So, you’re obviously good at PR. Would you mind doing PR for the bike race?’ I’d never even seen one before, but … I’m a curious guy, so I said, ‘I may as well do it.’”
Aisner produced documentaries of the race in his three-year stint as PR director, getting the film shown as a B-feature in cinemas all over the West. By 1978, the Zinger had expanded to seven stages, but the higher budget and extra working hours it now demanded became too much for the tea company. As a result, Siegel sold the event for one dollar to Aisner, who obtained the Adolph Coors Company as title sponsor and re-launched it in 1980 as the Coors International Bicycle Classic, adding stages in the Colorado ski resorts of Breckenridge, Vail and Aspen, and eventually extending it to California and even Hawaii over its two-week span.
The Coors, as it became known, had a glorious nine-year run, with the peak coming in the mid-1980s. Discussing those races, two-time Coors winner Dale Stetina told me, “I loved the Coors Classic because often, in the later days, the European pros would come over. They thought, because it was the U.S., they wouldn’t have a problem and it would be a cakewalk. They would come over, confident to race us at altitude on our home turf, and we would usually stomp ’em to pieces.”
That didn’t happen in 1985-86, when five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault came to Colorado with his La Vie Claire team. The French star helped teammate LeMond win the Coors in ’85 and won it himself the following year. Reporting the race as the editor of a European-based cycling magazine, I became so intrigued with the event and enraptured by Boulder that I moved to the city in 1987.
The 1985 race began in San Francisco, with a prologue up Telegraph Hill (which the Amgen Tour adopted two decades later) and a criterium on Fisherman’s Wharf. Everyone was impressed by the size of the California crowds — but they were just as big for the finale in North Boulder Park. That year, the last day’s circuit was extended from a short criterium loop to a hilly circuit of 1.65 miles, and Canadian star Steve Bauer won the stage with a remarkable solo break over the final 11 laps. At the following year’s race, just prior to the ’86 world championships in nearby Colorado Springs, the Boulder stage was again taken in a solo break, this time by local man Ron Kiefel. But my lasting memory of that day was Italian classics star Moreno Argentin making a searing, mid-race attack on the hill up Balsam to Fourth Street. Two weeks later, Argentin won the worlds.
Besides the Boulder-raised Phinney and Denver-born Kiefel, Boulder soon saw other pro cyclists move to the area, attracted by the mountain terrain, 5,430-foot elevation (with local roads climbing to 9,500 feet) and dry weather (with sunshine 300 days a year). The 1988 Giro d’Italia winner Andy Hampsten has a house at the foot of the Flatirons, the iconic rock outcroppings above the city, as does today’s top U.S. climber Tom Danielson. Danielson’s Garmin-Barracuda teammate Peter Stetina was born here after his dad, Dale Stetina, moved to Boulder.
“It was natural to come and settle here as soon as I stopped racing,” Dale Stetina told me. “In fact, when I first came to Boulder and looked up at the Flatirons and the mountains, I said I feel like I’m home. Being able to spend hours riding up in the mountains and down the canyons next to beautiful mountain streams, enjoying good weather, that’s as close to Nirvana, I guess, as I would get as a cycling enthusiast.”
Besides the athletes, some of the people who worked on the Coors Classic have remained in the sport. They include Jim Birrell, managing partner of Medalist Sports, which today organizes U.S. cycling’s major stage races in California, Utah and Colorado.
Over the past four decades, a whole cycling culture has taken root in Boulder. Its bike-race-related reputation and the number of cyclists settling here are the reasons that it now has an indoor velodrome, a custom-built cyclocross /mountain bike park and more than 300 miles of dedicated bike routes. It’s the home of advocacy groups such as Bikes Belong, Growth Cycle and the International Mountain Bicycling Association. And among the business that have settled here are CatEye, Dean Titanium Bicycles, Dual Eyewear, Optibike, Panache Cyclewear, Pearl Izumi, Recofit Compression, Slipstream Sports (owner of UCI ProTeam Garmin-Barracuda), TrainingPeaks, Velo magazine, VeloPress books and Vredestein tires.
A 2011 survey estimated that bike shops and associated business in the city accounted for more than 300 jobs and sales north of $50 million; but Boulder’s influence on American cycling is immeasurable in terms of prestige and legacy. Few would argue about its status as the country’s premier bike-racing community.
The city has donated a site in North Boulder Park for the U. S. Cycling Monument, which to date has raised about 25 percent of the $215,000 needed to build the structure. The symbolic sculpture, designed by local artist Kimmerjae Johnson, will include a 50-foot-long spiraling aluminum ribbon (which represents the racers and the looping course) linking a high, monolithic sandstone archway with a monumental element to be known as the Talking Stone.
Appropriate plantings around the monument will symbolize the waves of spectators that once packed the park’s criterium circuit. Later this year, the Boulder fans should be lining the climb up past the Flatirons for the defining stage of Colorado’s new race, the Pro Challenge. And should the fundraising be successful, Boulder’s grand monument to cycling in America will be in place.
To be part of the U. S. Cycling Monument go here.
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International