It’s amazing how quickly things can change from one season to the next. This year, GreenEdge won Milan-San Remo with a rejuvenated Simon Gerrans—not with Matthew Goss, the defending champion. Tom Boonen tore through the cobbled classics after two seasons of relative mediocrity, while Fabian Cancellara was nowhere to be seen after bad luck and a broken collarbone ruined his April. Now a winless Philippe Gilbert looks to be a complete non-factor in races he dominated less than a year ago.
So with the Ardennes classics upon us—beginning with this Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race—what can we expect? Will former champions like Alejandro Valverde and Damiano Cunego take a page from Boonen’s book and return to prominence in races they once dominated? Or will new stars have a chance to emerge? And what about Gilbert? Will his spring be a complete failure?
Here are six riders to watch over the next ten days:
Cadel Evans – Publicly, Cadel Evans has said all the right things regarding BMC’s off-season spending spree, but I wonder if he was nevertheless upset with BMC for signing Gilbert and Thor Hushovd. And why shouldn’t he have been? After all, as the team of the defending Tour champion, why add two riders to the roster who will do little more than help themselves to stage wins come July? The team could have easily afforded 2-3 experienced and talented support riders, men capable of helping Evans win another yellow jersey.
So don’t be surprised to see Evans send a message to his new colleagues and team management between now and Liege-Bastogne-Liege next Sunday. After winning the Criterium International, Evans has spent the past three weeks training and will certainly be his team’s best man over the next ten days. His team’s strong too, with Greg Van Avermaet serving as an able-bodied lieutenant and Gilbert a wild card who should at least keep some teams honest. By the time it’s all said and done, look for the former Fleche champion to add another Ardennes feather to his cap—possibly as early as this Sunday. And remember, Amstel is raced on a course similar to what the peloton at Worlds later this year—Evans could be giving himself an early edge on the competition.
Samuel Sanchez – Samuel Sanchez dominated last week’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco and now heads into the Ardennes classics as a top favorite. While the Euskaltel rider tends to perform better in stage races, his 2008 Olympic gold medal stands as proof that he can handle himself in one-day events. Of the three races between now and next Sunday, Fleche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege suit Sanchez the best. He has multiple top-10 finishes in both events and a team dedicated to supporting him.
Joaquim Rodriguez – Of all the riders to consistently perform well in the Ardennes classics over the past few seasons, Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez is easily the best to never have won one. Were it not for an indomitable Philippe Gilbert, Rodriguez would certainly have a won at least one of the Ardennes classics (or two, or three) last April—he finished second to Gilbert in both Amstel and Fleche (his second time as runner-up in the midweek event). Like Sanchez, Rodriguez enjoyed a fantastic Pais Vasco and heads to the Ardennes feeling confident and strong. Amstel and Fleche Wallone suit him best as both races end with steep climbs that suit Rodgriguez’s ascending talents
Simon Gerrans – GreenEdge might have been a bit surprised when Simon Gerrans won Milan-San Remo as it wasn’t exactly the race they signed him for—but the Ardennes classics were. Assuming Gerrans has fortified his Tour Down Under and Primavera-winning fitness over the past few weeks, there’s little reason to believe the Australian won’t improve on his Ardennes performance from 2009—when he finished inside the top-10 at all three races while riding for the Cervelo TestTeam. Volta Catalunya-winner Michael Albasini will play key role in GreenEdge’s strategy. He’s one of the sport’s better domestiques right now and will certainly force other teams to chase should he get up the road. Can this talented duo add to GreenEdge’s World Tour win total?
Alejandro Valverde – Much to the displeasure of many fans, Spain’s Alejandro Valverde has returned to the sport—and the top step of the podium. That said, while the Movistar rider bears watching in all three races, I wonder if the lack of a grand tour in his legs will hurt him. Amstel and Liege are long, grueling races—Valverde’s riding without the benefit of a full season racing in his legs, a factor that could limit him in the latter phases of both events. Then again, we’re talking about a rider with talent to spare and it’s not as if he sat around watching football during his suspension. Should he win next Sunday, he’ll be the second rider in three years to return from suspension and win La Doyenne.
Vincezo Nibali – My how far the Italians have fallen. The spring classics used to be Italy’s happy hunting ground as riders such as Argentin, Ballerini, Tafi, Bartoli, Bettini, DiLuca, Cunego, and Rebellin (yeah, I know about those last two) won scores of monuments in the Eighties, Nineties, and Aughts. But lately, Italy’s been reduced to a country of bridesmaids rather than brides, where its best riders’ best results are podium finishes and top-10’s. Enter Vincenzo Nibali—his nation’s best hope for success over the ten days. Easily Italy’s most exciting rider thus far this season, “Nibbles” looks to take a big bite out of the Ardennes (sorry, I couldn’t resist) before deciding whether to tackle the Giro or the Tour. If he rides like he did in Tirreno and Milan-San Remo, he could easily score himself a place on the cover of next month’s Bicisport. Liege—a race in which he already has two top-10 finishes on his resume—is his best bet.
In the end, I see Gerrans taking Amstel, Rodriguez winning Fleche Wallone, and Evans winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege—thus sending a message to both his Tour rivals and his teammates that he is indeed one of the best in the world.
On a personal note, I’m happy to say I made it back safe and sound after 10 days in Belgium and France to ride and watch the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about my experiences in the days to come, but for now I’ll leave you with this: the Tour of Flanders is held annually on the 14th Sunday of the year—start planning your own trip now.
Follow me on Twitter: @whityost
Image: Photoreporter Sirotti
There are things I don’t like about cycling. There, I said it. Not everything about our sport/hobby/obsession is my absolute favorite. I would expect that much of what I dislike, other people like intensely. Opinions are like dead-nun jokes, some of them are funny, but they’re all basically wrong. I am willing to be wrong, especially if it’s funny.
I don’t like the testosterone-fueled banter in the parking lot before the group ride pulls out. I don’t like to ride up on my bike and immediately have some crass joke aimed at me while I try to get my arm warmers straight and my sunglasses untangled from my helmet straps. I realize that some of my friends are so intensely starved for male-bonding that they feel compelled to engage in whatever this profanity-laced jack-assery does for them, but I don’t care for it. It makes me tired.
I don’t like chamois cream. Don’t get me wrong. I need chamois cream, some times more than others. But I hate the feeling of cold squish against my man-zone and the subsequent period during which the cream redistributes itself according to the laws of physics and thermodynamics.
I hate inhaling synthetic food stuffs while trying to hold the wheel in front of me. And when I say “inhaling,” I mean literally breathing in some glob of goo or half-chewed block. You go straight from gasping for carbohydrate-loaded air to asphyxiating in the time it takes to say ‘bonk.’ I also am not fond of the coating synthetic foods leave on your teeth, so that, by mile 50, I feel as though each of my teeth is wearing a hand-knit sweater.
If I never saw a Michelob Ultra commercial again, it would be too soon.
I also dislike the parochialism cycling descends into too often. Roadies disdain mountain bikers. No one likes fixed gear hipsters. Fixed gear hipsters swear they will only ever ride fixed and everyone else is a wus. BMX isn’t cycling, except that it is, and god forbid you ride a hybrid, with your kids, down the bike path. The immasculation attendant to that act will get you excommunicated from the uber-exclusive man club, even if you didn’t know you were a member.
To me, cycling is cycling. All cyclists are my friends. In fact, cycling itself can be too tribal. Let me try this one out on you: Motorists are my friends, too. No, not that guy who tried to run me off the road, but I wouldn’t like him on a mountain bike either. What I mean is that cycling is not a facet of my identity I use to shunt people OUT of my life. It’s a facet I use to draw people in. Fellow cyclists, in all their shapes and predilections, are my brothers and sisters, and anyone is eligible for membership, even if they think it’s cool to imply they slept with my wife last week while I am busy creaming my chamois and loading my jersey pocket with citrus-flavored goos.
Yeah. You guessed it. This week’s Group Ride is about the things we don’t like about this thing that we love. Have at it. Vent your spleen.
As I mentioned recently, I’m less interested in completely monetizing RKP to the nth degree than I am in getting stuff produced that I want to wear. It’s a selfish drive, no way around that. I like T-shirts that make cycling cool. Your run-of-the-mill century T-shirt is such a train wreck of sponsors and lousy illustrations I use them for rags. I don’t mean any disrespect to the events; I’ve invariably enjoyed myself, but those Ts are to cycling chic what back hair is to male models.
And though I self-select as an introvert, I do dig it when someone tells me that they like something I’m wearing. I had a woman come up to me and tell me she liked the back panel on the RKP bibs (the end is near). Apparently, she has a sense of humor. And I’ve had all sorts of people come up to me and comment on the Suffer T. I’ve sold a couple to non-cyclists.
Last year I wrote a feature that examined Eddy Merckx’ 1972 season for peloton magazine. I put forward the idea that it was the single greatest year of cycling any rider had ever put together—would ever put together. In winning Milan-San Remo, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Giro d’Italia (four stages along the way), the Tour de France (seven stages and the points jersey), the Tour of Lombardy and the hour record, he put together in one year what would be a fine career for any other cyclist. And if you examine all the minor stuff he won along the way you get the impression that his vocabulary didn’t include the word “peak.” He was badass on a full-time basis.
So I asked myself a simple question: Why not have a killer T-shirt to celebrate that?
I contacted my old friend Bill Cass to do the illustration. For Bicycle Guide readers, his name should be familiar. We used Cass’ work any time we could dream up an opportunity. Later, when I started Asphalt I was able to recruit him to do some fun stuff for us there as well. For those who don’t know him, Bill rose through the junior ranks racing in New England, eventually racing in the senior ranks as a Cat. 2 on the Prince Superoni team. He spent most of his career as a shoe designer at Nike and spent years working personally with Lance Armstrong on Nike designs that Armstrong wore to seven Tour de France wins. These days, he’s on Whidby Island near Seattle and has a studio there doing an fascinating variety of work.
The illustration in question will also find its way into print form, but that’s a ways off. First, we need to get these T-shirts circulating. They will begin shipping the week following Sea Otter, where we’ll be next week. Because of the art involved, these will be a bit more expensive than our previous Ts.
I want this to be flat-out the coolest T-shirt in your wardrobe. I want people to ask you about it. I want you to be able to say with a straight face than the New York Yankees and Manchester United put together couldn’t have a season like this.
I have a similar issue with baseball caps. Even though I love the baseball cap I have from a friend’s winery, I’ve wanted a cap that speaks to what I’m about as a cyclist. So I had these made. I’ve been wearing the sample for a couple of weeks.
And yes, Captain Correction, I’m aware that the phrase is ordinarily “new wares.” I’m punny that way.
On Wednesday night I have a standing hall pass from my usual parental responsibilities to ride with the guys from work. This little bit of freedom, over and above commuting and ’round town errands, is what keeps me sane and motivated and moving forward with good orderly direction.
Spot-on 6 o’clock, we roll out of the parking lot and head across town for the Minuteman Bikeway. The Minuteman is what every bike path should be, smooth, straight and just about clogged with walkers, joggers, roller-bladers, families, triathletes, roadies and commuters. It’s a ‘multi-use’ path that gets multi-used all day and much of the night, year-round.
With so many folks packed onto one narrow ribbon of pavement, this is the slow roll part of our ride, the long hallway that leads to the real fun.
You didn’t hear it from me, but if you exit the end of the Minuteman in Bedford, by the old rail depot, and do a quick left then a quick right into the woods along the narrow brook that runs under South Street, you gain access to a dirt path smooth enough to ride on a road bike, even though most of the guys choose a cross machine. That path links up with adjacent stretches that take us from Bedford clear out to Concord.
These are the New England woods in their back-to-nature form, former farmland let go to seed and thick with maple and pine. At dusk and at speed, this stretch is just about as good as bike riding gets. Head down to dodge the few roots and rocks that pop up, you can feel the coolness of the dirt rising to meet you. It’s a corridor through a forest. I imagine the Arenberg Forest spread with fresh loam over the cobbles and tamped to pitch perfect firmness so you can do it at 22mph AND keep your dental work intact.
Protected from the wind, we fly, slowing only to cross the occasional road without being crushed. If you are not going fast enough to feel slightly frightened, you are doing it wrong. Mostly we are all over each other like a pack of hounds on a fox hunt. Usually there is someone off the back who has lost the nerve necessary to hold the wheel in front of them or hit a patch of sand/mud/loose gravel.
There is a moment to rest in Concord. Once there, we regroup and roll the road down into the historic town center, not just the site of a famous battle, but also the cradle of 19th century American intellectualism, the home of Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau and the Alcotts.
We blow straight through and head south for the Battle Road.
The Battle Road is part of a larger national park just west of Boston that enshrines and encapsulates the significant sites of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, fought in 1775, the opening salvo of the war that produced this country, such as it is. Along the “road” are pre-revolutionary homes surrounded by farms and wetlands. These are the places where American colonists ambushed the British army as it retreated from Concord. This is where Paul Revere was captured during his famous ride.
Some heavy shit happened here.
In reality, the Battle Road isn’t a road, but a swooping, swerving gravel path hemmed and shepherded by stone walls older than the country they divide. That gravel couldn’t be more perfect for a pack of howling idiots chasing each other across the countryside, unreproached by traffic or clots of pedestrian obstacle. In the dwindling light we push ourselves back out to our limits, dumping every last bit of workday stress like a spent teammate on a time trial to the moon.
We finish in full darkness, headlights illuminating four or five square feet of the path in front of us, and then we’re out onto the road again, cars pushing us to the verge. Up and over one last hill, and we’re back into Lexington where pizza and beer is available.
It is not lost on me that we are laughing and joking and riding our asses off over the same ground our forebears worked with oxen and plow, where they tore rocks from the ice-aged soil to make enough room to plant crops, where they fired muskets and spilled their own blood to drive out an occupying force, where generations of immigrants washed through and fired the industrial revolution, and the rivers all drove looms, and the factories spilled out the first goods of what would become the consumer age.
On Saturday mornings, when I’m rolling through many of these same towns I think about the weight of all that history. I wonder if we’ve lived up to the hard work of those who came before us, and I am grateful for the charmed life I lead in the afterglow of their suffering.
But on Wednesday nights I shrug all that bullshit off, and I stand out of the pedals and grind up a white gravel path, past an ancient farm house, and I laugh, because short of a musket and a worthy target, this is the only way I know how to feel my freedom.
Follow me on Twitter @thebicyclerobot
Image: Minutemen facing British soldiers on Lexington Common, Massachusetts, in the first battle in the War of Independence, 19th April 1775. Original artist William Barnes Wollen.
Some years back I was in an editorial meeting for a bike magazine when two of my colleagues suggested the publication for which we toiled needed to embrace bicycle commuters and the double-century crowd. It could have been a disastrous move for the struggling media property. Imagine Bobcat Goldthwait abandoning stand-up comedy to devote his time and energy to finger puppetry and you get the idea.
Somehow (I’m still now sure quite how I managed), I was able to dodge the editorial suicide by arguing: Commuters weren’t clamoring for bike magazines filled with tips on how to get to work faster/in better style/with greater training benefit/at less expense. The double-century set, no matter how dedicated they were as cyclists, were a population fractional to the size of the century riding set. The primary expression of the roadie lifestyle were the thousands of people doing group rides week-in and week-out and those were the people our advertisers were trying to reach, whether they knew it or not.
For the entirety of my life I’ve been at the shallow end of some bell curve. Hell, just being a cyclist confirms that. The irony here is that as a roadie who lives for his local group rides, I am, for once, the middle of the bell curve. For reasons I can’t explain, I can look at a marketing plan or advertising campaign meant to reach roadies and I can tell you instantly if it will resonate or not. I can’t do that with anything else. I’m not in the middle of the curve for anything else.
A strange offshoot of that savant-like talent is that I can also look at geometry charts and tell you how a bike will handle. My recent post on the Roubaix-edition Felt F1 brought up some interesting questions both in comments and email. The most obvious and direct question is why Felt won’t be marketing that bike to the cycling public. Well, there are two reasons why not. The first is a simple one, at least, seemingly. The Roubaix F1 has a bottom bracket lower than 27cm and that violates a fundamental CPSC rule. In broad (very broad) strokes, that regulation says that a bike must be able to lean a certain amount with its inside pedal down without striking the pedal on the ground. The math ordinarily works out to a cheap rat trap pedal plus 170mm cranks equals 7cm of BB drop. A few sizes (56cm and smaller) of the Specialized Roubaix feature a BB drop of 7.2cm. I believe they manage this because of the 25mm tires spec’d with the Roubaix. Now Felt could get around the rule either by spec’ing a 25mm tire (like Specialized) or by marketing it just as a frameset; BB height rules don’t apply to framesets, which is why Serotta and Richard Sachs can build frames with a 8cm of BB drop.
I need to interject an interesting aside here: Trek’s new Domane has a surprisingly low bottom bracket. In most sizes the BB drop is 8cm. On larger frames, bikes with presumably longer cranks, the BB height decreases to 7.8cm. How they are getting this past the CPSC I don’t know, but I intend to ask. They also spec the bike with 25mm tires. Will it accept 28s? Likewise, I intend to find out.
But back to the larger point, the bell curve. When you’re a custom builder you don’t have to worry about the middle of the bell curve. If you’re going to NAHBS, you’re going to build a randonnee bike to show because it gives you a great chance to build tons of bike bling into the frameset. From trick routing of generator hub wires and Di2 cables to well-integrated racks, lights and fenders, they are a great way to show off a builder’s chops. But if you actually show up at a randonnee event here or overseas (especially overseas) the riders who want to make it into that top 20 percent of finishing times are on lightweight carbon machines.
Now, back to the real(er) world. Imagine that a product manager, say one from Cannondale, did some dirt-road ride like D2R2. And let’s say he decided to get behind a dirt-road spec for a new edition of the Synapse. And let’s, for the sake of fantasy or argument (your choice), say he managed to lay his hands on enough long-reach calipers to outfit all those bikes with brakes that didn’t conflict with the 28mm tires he spec’d for it. What happens if the market for dirt-road road bikes favors Specialized for reasons of spec, price or market affinity? Heck, it doesn’t even have to be another big company; it could be that the market simply favors custom steel builders. Let’s suppose that Cannondale runs 1000 of those bikes, just to be conservative. What happens if they don’t sell? Well, they get discounted later in the season. Depending on just how many are sitting in the warehouse, they might have to discount them a bunch, in which case they could be looking at taking a loss on the bikes. You can guess where this leads: Take too much of a loss on a bike that was a gamble to begin with and you risk more than your employer’s capital; you risk your job. And if you want to find out just how fickle the market it, just ask a rep from one of the bigger bike companies about color choice and inventory. It’s not uncommon to find that one color (such as blue) sells like Ecstasy at a rave, while the other color choice (lime green, for instance) is sitting in the warehouse, gathering dust.
Okay, let’s give Debbie Downer a chance to take a bow. The reality is a good bit brighter than that. The bike market is a good bit larger than it used to be. This is the legacy of the Lance Effect. Bunches of people who bought bikes because of Lance had the good fortune to join clubs, get a decent introduction to the sport and stayed with it. That bigger market has had a curious effect on what’s offered. (Okay, Debbie, we’re not quite finished; could you come back out a sec?) Factories making high-end product struggle to produce all of the frames, forks and components necessary to deliver bikes to bike shops each spring. You may think that consumer choice is the primary driver behind Cannondale offering the SuperSix EVO in Di2, 7900 and Red is to give consumers choices at different price points. That would be only partly true. Even Cannondale can’t get enough 7900 to equip all of those bikes with Shimano’s top mechanical group. Of course, these choices create another layer of risk for both the bike companies and retailers. What if consumers just don’t want to spend $8k on a carbon bike with Dura-Ace, but they’re fine with spending $9k on one with Red?
Let’s hope that shop has a crystal ball.
So that’s the minefield. But consider that we have bikes like the Specialized Roubaix, the Volagi Liscio, the Synapse (Cannondale) and now the Trek Domane (which is a replacement for the failed Pilot, oops). Our choices are increasing and the quality of what we ride has leapt. That’s a lot to celebrate. And it’s easier than ever before to find a custom builder thanks to the Interwebs. Here’s the thing about the bell curve: If the population grows, it grows. As events like D2R2 gain in popularity, more products that make those events more enjoyable will hit the market.
I had a long discussion last week with a friend who takes just a passing interest in bike racing. He was asking me about the state of American cycling now that Lance Armstrong has retired. I told him it was going very well, that Armstrong’s peers Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer were still contesting stage races at the highest level, that U.S.-registered teams BMC Racing, Garmin-Barracuda and RadioShack-Nissan-Trek were winning the toughest races in the sport’s major league (the UCI WorldTour), and that a new generation of excellent riders was coming through.
There are some exciting prospects in this new generation. At BMC, Tejay Van Garderen is being groomed to take over the Tour de France leadership role of Cadel Evans when the Aussie retires, and Taylor Phinney is the natural successor to his veteran teammate George Hincapie. Over at Garmin, a truly homegrown squad, Peter Stetina is working toward contender status in the grand tours, starting with next month’s Giro d’Italia, and Andrew Talansky is shaping up to match him. And while Armstrong has quit RadioShack as a racer, his team is schooling such talents as U.S. road champion Matt Busche and under-23 standout Lawson Craddock.
My friend hadn’t heard any of these names, except for Leipheimer and Phinney. And that was only because Levi received great coverage in the Colorado media last August for winning the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge, and Taylor is the son of local sports icons and Olympic medalists Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter Phinney. But if you only read the national press, listened to 99.9-percent of America’s radio stations and only watched network television, you certainly wouldn’t have heard of Leipheimer or Phinney, let alone all those other great American cyclists.
You may be thinking, this is nothing new. Cycling fans have known for decades that cycling is regarded as a second-class sport—or not even a sport—by the majority of couch-potato Americans. And we know that the only sports that register on the radar of U.S. sports editors are (American) football, baseball, basketball, (ice) hockey, golf, tennis and NASCAR.
My friend agreed that, besides cycling, the world’s other major sports—football (soccer), athletics (track and field), cricket and rugby—barely get a mention in the U.S. media. And he too was puzzled that while soccer is a far more popular participant sport in schools across the country than gridiron football, that doesn’t translate into the U.S. being a power player on the global soccer scene except, thankfully, for our women. But, then, there’s no money in women’s soccer, and it only makes the sport pages when there’s a World Cup or Olympic medals at stake.
Again, you’re probably thinking, why is Wilcockson going on about mainstream sports when he knows that cycling will never make it with the American media. The only time it does make the national news is when the words “Tour de France,” “Lance Armstrong,” and “doping” are contained in the same sentence.
Yes, I know all that, and I know how frustrating it is for journalists who discover cycling in all its majesty, beauty and history to come up against the brick wall that is the American-sports-editor establishment. All my above thoughts and feelings crashed together like cymbals this past Monday morning after I picked up our two nationally distributed newspapers, USA Today and The New York Times. Predictably, both of them headlined golf’s Masters tournament and the fairy-tale win by Florida native Bubba Watson. The sports editors were obviously relieved that in a week when Tiger Woods failed to beat par in all four rounds that the win at Augusta didn’t go to that South African guy with the unpronounceable name. Long live Bubba—who made it an even better story by invoking his Christian faith in his victory speech, à la Tim Tebow.
Okay, Bubba’s success was a great story. But I also expected that our national dailies would have some decent coverage of cycling’s biggest one-day classic, Paris-Roubaix, especially because NBC Sports had decided to broadcast it live in HD and repeated the coverage with a three-hour show at primetime. But, no, my hopes were soon dashed. USA Today didn’t even mention Paris-Roubaix, not even the result in tiny agate type. As for the Times, well, they had a paragraph in its sport-summary section under the insulting headline: “Belgian wins French race.”
Let’s admit it, American mainstream sports editors are out of touch. They propagate their views by only covering the sports that they’ve always covered. They may say that it’s too expensive or too difficult for them to put cycling on their pages — and why would anyone be interested in cycling anyway? But Web sites with a shoestring budget manage to cover cycling very well indeed, and virtually every American, like my friend, rides a bike at some point in their lives, so why wouldn’t they want to read about the heroic athletes who compete in one of the most dramatic sports ever invented?
It’s time to take those elitist sports editors out of their ivory towers and plunk them down in a frenzied crowd of fans on Mount Baldy at the Amgen Tour of Colorado, on Independence Pass at the Pro Challenge, or on the Manayunk Wall at the TD Bank Philadelphia International Championship. Better still, give them a VIP package to any of these American events, or ferry them across the Atlantic and wine and dine them at the Tour or Giro — or give them a front-row seat at the worlds or any of the one-day classics. Perhaps even take them to the Forest of Arenberg or the Carrefour de l’Arbre at Paris-Roubaix to see the athletes battling (and crashing) their way over the cobblestones at speeds that only four-wheel drives or trials motorcycles can normally contemplate on such rugged roads.
It was encouraging that NBC Sports (formerly Versus, formerly OLN) devoted its time, energy and resources to broadcast the live feed of Paris-Roubaix, even if it’s a half-century since the European networks first covered the Hell of the North classic. But it’s shameful that our national press virtually ignored one of the world’s truly great sports events, especially in a year when Tom Boonen made the most brilliant performance of his phenomenal career to become only the second man in a century to win at Roubaix four times.
And outside of Boonen’s triumph, there were a dozen other stories to whet sports fans’ appetites, including the amazing debut (and top-15 finish) of Taylor Phinney at age 21, and the record-equaling 17th Paris-Roubaix finish of George Hincapie at 38. You can bet that if Samuel Abt of the Herald-Tribune hadn’t retired and was still writing for the Times that he would have given his unique take on the race, and if Sal Ruibal hadn’t been let go by USA Today he would have seen that the newspaper at least mentioned Paris-Roubaix.
So what can we do? I suggest that everyone who reads this column begins writing letters, sending emails and making phone calls to the sports editors of every newspaper they read (on-line or in-person) to make them aware that cycling is a major sport in this country, not just in the rest of the world. Keep on sending those messages and send this column to your friends to do the same. Don’t take no for an answer.
If we can’t get the media to see cycling as a major sport then riders such as Phinney, Talansky and Van Garderen will continue to be perceived as second-class sports citizens in this country. You know and I know that these guys are far superior athletes to the Bubba Watsons and Tim Tebows of the American sports establishment. Let’s start to help our young pros (and help our sport) gain the recognition they truly deserve!
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: Photoreporter Sirotti
The efforts to tame the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix have included everything from running lower tire pressure in 28mm tires to wrapping the handlebar with foam pipe insulation and even using cyclocross bikes. The cyclocross bikes have been a less than stellar option for a few reasons. First, they’ve been chosen because the standard race bikes from the teams’ sponsors have allowed clearance for 28mm tires; in some cases they won’t even allow 25mm tires. Second, they feature geometries that include high bottom brackets (for pedal clearance) when the average Roubaix rider wants a lower BB to make the bike easier to handle over the bumps.
Felt has taken a novel approach to meeting the needs of their sponsored riders. For this year’s Paris-Roubaix, the Argos-Shimano team rode on a special run of the company’s F1 frames. How these frames differ from a standard F1 might surprise you. Unchanged is the bike’s layup and stiffness, which many might guess would be the first concession made to the cobbles. In fact, the changes are deeper in the DNA of the machine.
Felt’s engineering team changed the geometry of the F1—giving it handling and tire clearance perfect for the cobbles—without cutting new molds. Seems like an impossible trick, huh? Let’s cover the changes to the geometry and the rationale for it and then we’ll get into just how they did it.
The F1 seen above features head and seat tube angles a full degree slacker than the stock bikes. They also have a 10mm longer front center and 13mm longer chain stays to keep the weight distribution virtually unchanged. Felt’s engineers also managed to drop the bikes’ BB height by 3mm even after the addition of 28mm tires. And of course, the modified the fork and the rear triangle to create clearance for those bigger tires.
Again, the amazing thing here is that they managed all these changes without cutting new molds for bikes that will essentially be raced once a year. So how’d they do it?
They designed new dropouts that moved the rear wheel back and up (relative to the old position) which dropped the rear end of the bike and increased the wheelbase of the bike. Up front, new dropouts raised the fork crown and increased the rake, compensating for the decrease in head tube angle to keep trail consistent. The slacker seat tube angle allows riders to sit back a bit more, shifting some weight off their upper bodies to give their hands, arms and shoulders a bit of a break.
And to compensate for the changes to the fork and rear triangle, non-series Shimano long-reach calipers handle the stopping duties.
This isn’t the first time Felt has done this. In 2008 when they were sponsoring Garmin-Chipotle, which included Magnus Backstedt pictured above, Felt produced a run of F frames for the team. Those frames also featured Felt’s “Superstiff” layup, a feature that wasn’t required this time around as the new F1 is both lighter than the previous F1 (standard layup) and stiffer than the Superstiff layup.
While Trek and Specialized realize excellent marketing benefits from putting their sponsored teams on the new Domane and established Roubaix, Felt’s approach yields a bike more purpose built to the racers’ requirements. Both the Roubaix and Domane feature more trail than their racier counterparts. What’s most surprising here is that more companies haven’t had the insight to create a second set of dropouts to give their top-flight race bikes more versatility. Maybe this will help illustrate just how bright Felt’s head of engineering, Jeff Soucek, and his team are.
The Live Update Guy’s coverage of the 2012 Hell of the North
First off, we did get a good response from many of you regarding a possible point-counterpoint with Padraig over the issue of stop-as-yield, the policy that would allow cyclists to simply slow down at STOP signs. I have some great input on readers on the topic, but Patrick is a little banged up this week, so we’re going to put that idea on hold for a little while.
Second, I want to thank long-time reader Ed Rubenstein for sending me an absolutely wonderful press release from the Police Department of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The department is honoring two local citizens for their efforts to stop a hit-and-run driver from scampering away from the scene after he struck cyclist Frank Pavlik.
I won’t spoil the end by describing the events. Instead, just watch the video… indeed, you ought to scroll down and watch the video before reading the press release. While I am not normally a fan of those overly intrusive cam’ systems that seem to be popping up everywhere, this is one of the cases for which I am more than willing to make an exception.
The good news is that Mr. Pavlik was not injured in the incident.
Now, back to work.
I am gonna take a shot and see if you’re willing to end your ban on doping questions.
So, I have been reading a lot about the “progress” researchers are making in the detection of illicit doping products – like CERA, EPO and NESP – and even the manipulation of blood counts by monitoring through the Biological Passport. Now, I’m beginning to wonder if all of that is worth the trouble, since it seems like the new thing in the 21st century is gene doping.
Is it detectable? If not, what the hell are we wasting millions on doping controls when the real cheaters aren’t being caught?
Okay. I have to admit, I like the topic, too. It’s a little disheartening to constantly discuss the subject, but I do really find it fascinating. So, okay, I’ll try to tackle this one … and I’ll make a habit of answering future questions on the subject, if readers are interested.
Doping has been such a common subject of dinner time discussions in our house that I even got a copy of Angela Schneider’s and Theodore Friedmann’s book “Gene Doping in Sports: The science and ethics of genetically modified athletes” for Christmas a few years back. (And you probably thought I was tough to buy for.) A lot of progress has been made in the field since that book first came out in 2006, but the field is still in its infancy and I continue to believe that it may be some time before we see gene doping making an appearance in competitive sport.
That said, the day is getting closer.
As “traditional” doping is the unwanted off-spring of progress in pharmacology, gene-doping is the evil spawn of the new science of gene therapy. Instead of altering DNA to resolve an existing mutation or attack a disease, cheaters are hoping to trigger genetic changes that will result in enhanced athletic performances.
Case in point, is something I was planning to write about last summer, right after the Tour was over (but things came up that distracted me for a few months). Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania published an interesting article in the August edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation. If you’re into that sort of thing, it’s worth trying to work your way through “Loss of IL-15 receptor á alters the endurance, fatigability, and metabolic characteristics of mouse fast skeletal muscles.”
The short hand version is that the authors found the “negative regulator” of endurance. The absence of a specific gene actually allowed test subjects – in this case lab mice – to run more than six times farther than their counterparts who had the regulatory gene.
Another obvious approach, of course, is the effort to manipulate an athlete’s genetic structure in an effort to produce greater amounts of erythropoietin. Research has already shown that we could all become our own little EPO factories, cranking out red blood cells to our heart’s content.
And there’s the rub. At this point the science is still new. A few years ago, a study at France’s University of Nantes did show that genetic manipulation could “flip the switch” on erythropoietin production in mice. The problem was, however, that researchers hadn’t found the “off switch,” and the genetic manipulation resulted in the over production of red blood cells to the point the animals died of circulatory failure, heart attacks or strokes.
Of course, it may only be a matter of time before that regulatory mechanism is found. Already there are gene therapy drugs for anemic patients being produced in China and under preliminary review here in the U.S. I sure wouldn’t want to risk it, but others probably would. For long-time cycling fans, you might recall the spate of mysterious deaths of cyclists in the early ‘90s when some took a more-is-better approach to EPO and raised their hematocrit levels to 60 percent and beyond.
Assuming the safety issues are truly resolved, the problem then comes down to one of detection.
One big advantage that testers have in the effort to monitor genetic manipulation is that such gene therapies take time. The result is not instantaneous as the body undergoes gradual changes as it begins to adapt to the new genetic sequence.
The World Anti-Doping Agency has announced that it is refining and finalizing a testing method to be used in time for the 2012 Olympics in London. Financed by WADA and developed at the Universities of Tübingen and Mainz, in Germany, the test is said to be able to detect genetic manipulation that took place up to 56 days before a sample is submitted. [Gene Therapy 18, 225-231 (March 2011)]
WADA is attacking the question on several fronts and has established a “Gene Doping Expert Group,” headed by the aforementioned Theodore Friedmann. The group is overseeing the development of testing protocols and, like its Biological Passport counterpart, will be heavily involved in decisions as to whether a sample is to be flagged as positive.
Is it going to be effective? Time will tell. I remain hopeful (some have said “clueless”) but no matter what, I would reject the idea that we abandon the very notion of testing and throw open the doors to cheaters, simply because the technological stakes are constantly being raised.
P.S. – Back to racing, folks. I will be here – and on my own site, LiveUpdateGuy.com – providing up-to-the-minute reports on the action in tomorrow’s edition of Paris-Roubaix. I hope you can join me and the guests who may, or may not, wander through while we’re “on the air.”
The Explainer is 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
I’m sure it is a sacrilege to take up any time, this close to Paris-Roubaix, discussing anything other than who will win over the cobbles of Northern France, but sacrilege is kinda my thing, so today we’re going to talk about a conundrum I recently faced while riding my mountain bike with some friends.
The morning was pretty perfect for a trail ride, cool and crisp. I showed up a few minutes early and scared some deer in a meadow near the trail head. All seemed right with the world.
Then the guys showed up, and I realized I must have left my legs at home. I was immediately and for no obvious reason in the red. I’d ridden a fast gravel ride with them a few nights before, and my legs were dead. Sure, I’d failed to spin it out the following day, but I figured I’d had enough time to recover.
I did my best to follow a wheel, but pretty quickly I was off the back (OTB) and just trying to limit the damage, i.e. not lose them in the woods and/or throw up.
I kept it together reasonably well, and pretty quickly the time to head to work came upon us. The guys wanted to do one last loop up a steep climb before heading out. In my head I was thinking, “You’ll never make it up that climb,” and then, “It’s not a tragedy if you bail on the climb,” and then, “It’s so lame if you bail on the climb,” those three thoughts running in series, over and over as we wound our way back toward the foot of the hill.
I should add, at this point, that the climb itself is not that hard. I’ve ridden it a thousand times. Sometimes I’ve even ridden it just to see how fast I could do it. It’s probably 2-3 minutes of hard work, and the reward on the other side is a twisty, fast descent that most would term, “fun.”
It would also be overly dramatic to call this some sort of ontological crisis, but I found myself wondering immediately what you guys would think. What should I have done? Swallowed hard at the bile creeping up the back of my throat and willed myself up the incline? Or made an excuse and ridden off on my merry, shattered way? Never mind what I actually did. What would YOU have done?
Oh, and since it is actually the Friday before Roubaix, you can go ahead and pick a winner, too. We’ll have an FGR two-fer!
Follow me on Twitter @thebicyclerobot.
Photo courtesy of Matt O’Keefe.