I got off a plane yesterday afternoon and was greeted in my first minutes back at home by a press release from Shimano announcing their new 9000-series Dura-Ace groups. Groups—plural—because the release detailed both the new mechanical and electronic versions of the group. We’re not in the habit of reprinting press releases here, but this is an exciting development if for no other reason than I really haven’t much liked 7900. In my cursory reading of the press materials I noted some changes that suggest I couldn’t have been the only rider out there who didn’t see the group as a step up from its predecessors.
That said, I will need another day or so to put together a full post on the changes that seem to address the previous group’s weaknesses. In the meantime, here are some images from Shimano for you to pore over.
Ryder Hesjedal takes his career as a professional bike race ultra-seriously. He trains obsessively, he never shirks from working hard for his teammates, and whenever he gets a chance to ride aggressively he grabs it without a second thought. That’s why his magnificent performance in the 95th Giro d’Italia—the first Canadian to finish on the podium of a grand tour, let alone win one—didn’t surprise those who know him well. Even if his victory shocked the European cognoscenti.
So, you may ask, why has the 31-year-old Garmin-Barracuda team man taken so long to reach the top of the cycling world?
The answer to that question is a complex one because Hesjedal has always had the talent to excel at the highest level, though we’ve only seen flashes of his capabilities in a wide range of races over the past decade. But befitting his calm and dignified manner, the British Columbian has shown infinite patience with his career and been quietly confident that one day his time would come. Now it’s here.
The Italians say that men capable of winning grand tours—they call them fuoriclasse—give hints of their great talent at an early age. Hesjedal, whose great-grandparents were farmers who emigrated from Norway in the 19th century, certainly did that. He grew up in the small rural community of Highlands, to the northwest of Victoria on Vancouver Island, where Hesjedal’s father made a meager living selling firewood that he cut in the pine forests. Dad and mom later took jobs with the municipality, while son Ryder showed a penchant for sports, excelling at baseball and lacrosse.
Everyone rode bikes in the Highlands, and young Hesjedal soon developed a love for riding his hard-tail Norco mountain bike on the single-track trails that crisscrossed this hilly region of lakes, woodlands and wilderness. The District of Highlands Web site says that its residents are “both self-reliant and cooperative.” That certainly characterizes Hesjedal, who began competitive cycling in his early teens as part of British Columbia’s booming mountain-bike scene.
Like other cycling journalists, I was first impressed by Hesjedal’s talent when he finished second in the junior men’s cross-country race behind Frenchman Julien Absalon at the 1998 world mountain bike championships at Mont-Ste-Anne in eastern Canada. Three years later, at the mountain bike worlds in Vail, Colorado, we saw the lanky Canadian again place second to Absalon, this time in the under-23 category. That same week, his fellow Victoria resident Roland Green, six years older than Hesjedal, won the pro men’s world cross-country title.
At the time, it seemed a given that Hesjedal would follow in Green’s footsteps, especially when at age 21 he won a 2002 World Cup cross-country at Les Gets in the French Alps, beating a field of champions that included off-road legend Thomas Frischknecht. But, at 6-foot-2 and 159 pounds, Hesjedal was big for a cross-country racer compared with more compact rivals such as Absalon, Cadel Evans and Miguel Martinez.
Like Evans before him, Hesjedal was already integrating road racing into his schedule by signing with Rabobank’s espoirs team in 2002. He quickly showed his talent by winning the French amateur classic Paris-Mantes in April that year, making a long solo break to finish more than three minutes ahead of the field. And in September, shortly after that World Cup victory at les Gets, Hesjedal showed his stage-race strength by winning Spain’s four-day Volta a Cataluña de l’Avenir.
But mountain biking remained first on his agenda, knowing he had a chance of Olympic glory in Athens. He won the prestigious NORBA national series in 2003 (and again in ’04) and placed second in the pro men’s cross-country at the ’03 worlds in Lugano, Switzerland—only beaten by Belgian veteran Filip Meirhaeghe, who would admit to using EPO prior to the ’04 Olympics.
Hesjedal was also preparing his post-Athens career by joining Lance Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team in 2004. So he debuted in European pro road racing that spring. I chatted with him in Bruges before the start of his first classic, the Tour of Flanders, where he told me how pleased he was to play a part in helping new teammate George Hincapie win the previous week’s Three Days of De Panne. Hesjedal didn’t finish Flanders, but a week later, in Spain, he got into the winning, eight-man breakaway at the extremely hilly Klasika Primavera in the Basque Country: He placed fifth behind winner Alejandro Valverde, and ahead of the Italian stars Damiano Cunego and Gilberto Simoni.
That early success was almost forgotten in a year dedicated to winning an Olympic gold medal — a dream that ended when he flatted five minutes into the dusty Athens cross-country. He didn’t finish the race and dropped out of the worlds a couple of weeks later, and never started another mountain bike race.
So, in essence, Hesjedal’s road career didn’t really begin until age 24 as a domestique with Discovery Channel in 2005. He worked for Hincapie in the northern classics and, in stage racing, for Italian Paolo Savoldelli at the Tour de Romandie (placing 32nd, only two minutes behind his team leader) and at his first grand tour, the Giro, which Savoldelli won. Hesjedal valiantly did his team duty at that Giro, even after a bad crash on stage seven in the south of Italy; but he eventually pulled out (with 15 others) on a savage stage 13 over five passes in the Dolomites.
Hesjedal did enough that season to be recruited in 2006 by the ambitious Phonak team, whose leader would be Floyd Landis. I interviewed both of these North Americans at their pre-season training camp in Majorca. Hesjedal said he hadn’t given any interviews since dropping out of mountain biking, and I found him to be quietly ambitious about the year ahead. He was hoping to return to the Giro, a race he said he really liked, but Phonak put him on another program — which included taking fourth overall at May’s Volta a Cataluña (thanks to fourth place on the mountaintop finish in Andorra) and 17th overall at the Dauphiné.
His only grand tour in 2006 was the Vuelta a España, where he was lying a promising 21st before he abandoned the race on the 11th stage, with a view to riding a strong world championships in Salzburg, Austria. Perhaps he should have finished the Vuelta because he placed only 22nd in the worlds’ time trial and didn’t finish the road race, and when the doping-scandalized Phonak team folded at year’s end, Hesjedal was left without a team.
His career in limbo, he spent 2007 with HealthNet-Maxxis on the U.S. domestic scene, with 10th place at the Amgen Tour of California the highlight. The ever-optimistic Canadian didn’t give up his apartment in Girona, Spain, confident that he would be back on the Continent before too long. And that was the case. He was signed by Jonathan Vaughters at Garmin-Chipotle and so his European road career finally received its real beginning in 2008, just four years ago.
Since then, Hesjedal has improved every year, growing in confidence at the grand tours and performing at the highest level in the spring classics. The highlights have been diverse: aiding teammates Christian Vande Velde and Brad Wiggins place fourth overall in the Tours de France of 2008 and 2009 respectively; placing fifth at the 2009 Clasica San Sebastian before winning stage 12 of the Vuelta in a summit finish at Alto de Velefique; and, in 2010, placing second to Philippe Gilbert at the Amstel Gold Race, winning a stage of the Amgen Tour of California, placing sixth at the Tour de France (after team leader Vande Velde crashed out and including brilliant rides on the cobblestones of northern France and the mountaintop finish on the Tourmalet), and third at the GP de Montréal behind Robert Gesink and Peter Sagan.
His 2011 season was something of a transition year, the highlight being Garmin’s victory in the Tour de France team time trial and overall team prize, while Hesjedal rode support for sixth-place Tom Danielson. Perhaps 2012 would have seen similar results, but in the winter team manger Vaughters and new team director Allan Peiper persuaded the British Colombian to be the Garmin team leader at the Giro.
Now, with his astounding victory in Italy, Hesjedal can truly say his career has taken off!
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: Photoreporter Sirotti
Somewhere in the smell of the early morning dew on grass, tar on lumber, the croak of nearby frogs there’s a sense that home is at hand, that the past is around the corner, that long-closed haunts may still be mopping up last night’s spilled beer and cigarette butts. But you know that can’t be the case. In your absence time has allowed a city to grow, prosper, improve and fail, one address at a time.
The old faces seem more familiar, more welcome than ever. The old roads and hills shorter, easier than you recall. For every comfort found in the familiar you feel suspicion for the new. It’s not what Thomas Wolfe was referring to when he wrote You Can’t Go Home Again, but the effect is the same. You’re a stranger among your people. You know their ways, their speech and yet you no longer know their souls. Or don’t you?
All it takes is a group ride to find family. Like meeting a cousin you’ve heard stories of since childhood, your collective past may criss-cross only once or twice—if at all—but there’s a familiarity that goes deeper than Lycra, a connection that runs straight to the heart. Culture is in the blood, and those who know the rhythms of the efforts will always be a refuge for the stranger, even if the stranger is a native.
Live Coverage of the 21st Stage of the 2012 Giro d’Italia, a down-to-the-wire, 30-kilometer individual time trial in Milan.
If you would like your comments to be seen during the stage by the Live Update Guy, please use the comment box in the Live Update Window. The usual article comment box will not appear in Live.
The first Tour de France, held in 1903, was considered an absolute success. It changed the fortunes of the newspaper that sponsored the event, l’Auto, and united France in following what was arguably the greatest sporting spectacle of the age. The following years didn’t go as smoothly. While there was a huge readership for the paper, cheating became such a problem that the Tour’s founder, Henri Desgrange, nearly abandoned the event.
But instead of giving up, Desgrange got the officiating—and cheating—under control. But that didn’t mean that running the world’s greatest annual sporting event became simple. Desgrange monkeyed with national teams vs. trade teams as well as how best to drive revenue—selling newspapers was great, but not enough.
Desgrange’s successor, Félix Lévitan, tied sponsorships to every facet of the race. Rather than go with a few sponsorships for big bucks, Lévitan sold tons of sponsorships for tiny amounts of money. The meager sponsorship dollars necessitated ever more sponsors.
Today, the Amaury Sport Organization, the owner of the Tour, faces a new pain of growth. There’s a growing chorus of voices calling for ASO to share revenue from the TV rights it sells. It’s a reasonable request as without the riders, there would be no Tour to sell. Should not the stars of the show make some cash off their performances?
No matter what happens, the Tour rocks.
I offer that prelude as a prologue to something of an admission. RKP has been experiencing some growing pains. I don’t mean to suggest that RKP is in any way comparable to the Tour de France (that’d be like suggesting there was a significant similarity between a firecracker and a nuclear bomb). the Tour is, for me, something of a north star, a demonstration that an entity can evolve and change without losing its central essence or its core mission.
In the last year I’ve added a host of new contributors, at least one of whom—John Wilcockson—is significantly more experienced than I. There are a few new items in the store, though we still don’t have a full complement of kit. And then there’s travel and communication; I’ve been on the road a good deal more than in previous years and I’ve lagged on email responses to readers, including the gentleman who took the time to outline his frustration with how Live Update Guy is viewed and contrasted it with the superior way Cyclingnews offers its live updates. That anyone would even compare us with Cyclingnews is staggering. They’ve got more full-time employees than we do part-time contributors. They aren’t so much Goliath to our David as they are Goliath to our squirrel.
Where were we? Ah, yes. Growing pains. If I’m honest, we’re experiencing some bumpiness in our editorial. The issue isn’t one of quality, but one of regulation. I’m not a great planner and product review runs on a schedule that is utterly irregular. We need to smooth that out, but more important it needs to be broader. Some companies—notably Specialized—have really embraced us, while I’ve done an abysmal job of cultivating a relationship with Trek, though it’s not for lack of trying. My concern is that uneven coverage comes off as favoritism, instead reflecting the truer nature of the access we’re afforded. The issue here, as I see it, is the challenge of being both a start-up and independent.
The other area we’ve failed to achieve anything like our potential is with Live Update Guy. Charles brought that to RKP this spring with the understanding that we would sell the advertising for it (I even brought on industry veteran Nick Ramey to handle those sales) and all Charles would have to do is type and get paid.
He has typed a lot. He hasn’t been paid a thing.
As it turns out, trying to sell advertising for a new venture in April or May isn’t just foolhardy, its ridiculous. Things may turn around in July, but we have our work cut out for us.
If you’ve been following the Giro thanks to Charles’ coverage, I hope you’ll do him a solid and drop by his site and jingle his tip jar.
When I started RKP, I had a single, guiding principle. I wanted to post great writing characterized by solid analysis and possessing real insight. I never dreamt that we’d be publishing the work of Charles Pelkey and John Wilcockson, but then I never dreamt Wall Street would experience a catastrophic meltdown and middle America would be blamed for it. Seeing Pelkey and Wilcockson’s work alongside mine and our other contributors’ is a good deal happier ending.
Thanks for reading.
With four riders jammed within 96 seconds of Joaquim Rodriguez’s maglia rosa, we’re about to witness one of the closet Giro finishes in recent years.
Garmin-Barracuda’s Ryder Hesjedal is Rodriguez’s closest challenger. With two stages in the Dolomites and the final stage’s individual time trial in Milan, can the Canadian overcome the deficit to win his nation’s first grand tour?
And what about Liquigas-Cannondale’s Ivan Basso and Lampre’s Michele Scarponi? The Italians have won the last two editions (although Scarponi took his by virtue of Contador’s disqualification), but sit more than a minute behind Rodriguez. They might have the strongest teams in the race, but do they have the legs to gain back the time they lost to Rodriguez earlier in the three-week event?
No matter what happens, this weekend will likely bring the closest finish in recent memory.
So who’s your pick to take the win and how will he do it?
Image: Photoreporter Sirotti
We’ve had a number of tangents in our comments following posts that concerned tire clearance and bigger tires. Partly because they were already in the works and partly as a response to those conversations, I’ve been meaning to post two different tire reviews. The first of these is the Specialized Roubaix tire. This is a relatively newish tire, introduced around the time of the re-introduced Turbos.
The PR machine at Specialized (my God, they are effective—other companies would do well to emulate them) brought these to my attention following a little field trip to Finland they made with a few of my colleagues including peloton‘s Ben Edwards and Bike Radar’s James Huang. So why Finland? That’s where one of the only neutral—as in not brand-affiliated—bicycle-tire testing facilities in the world is based. James produced a really interesting piece based on his visit, which is worth checking out here. So what did Specialized have to crow about? Well, they got a little surprise when they visited Wheel Energy. Long before they took any journos there, they’d conducted loads of tests and concluded that their new Turbos were a good bit faster than their old tires. They also discovered something a little surprising. Of all the tires they tested, the tire with the lowest rolling resistance, i.e. the fastest, was the Roubaix.
This was a surprise to all involved, I’m told. The Roubaix Armadillo Elite is, by virtue of its containing an Armadillo Elite puncture-resistant belt, a tire that should theoretically be a bit slower. Okay so what’s the key to the Roubaix? Well, it’s a pretty fresh take on what a wide(r) tire can be. You see, the Roubaix features a 25mm casing but only a 23mm tread. The way it was put to me is that you get the benefits of a larger casing, which means less resistance-causing deformation at the footprint while getting the smaller footprint of a smaller tread. I suspect the answer is a bit more complicated than that, though.
My own experience in riding this tire is that it does feel fast. Get it up to speed and it just rolls well, especially on rough surfaces, and you can feel free to extrapolate that all the way to dirt roads because I’ve taken this thing off-road. Now what Specialized’s machine didn’t mention is that while this thing rolls like a ball bearing on glass, it’s 50 percent heavier than the lightest open tubulars I’ve ridden. I weighed one at 308g, which means these things are somewhat porcine. So there’s the whole “getting it up to speed” bit. And no, I didn’t have the sense that I was receiving a flywheel-type benefit once they were at speed.
I don’t think I’ve ridden a more versatile tire. They were perfectly acceptable on group rides, were impervious to every surface and bit of debris I rode over and handled enough like a racing tire on descents that I didn’t have to do any extra braking while on the drop.
Maybe the truest measure of how much I like these tires—despite their weight—is the fact that I’ve mounted them on three different wheel sets. That’s got to be a first for me. And at $60, anyone serious about their cycling can afford to run these. But don’t get the wrong idea; I’d still run the Turbo or a similar racing tire for most of my riding, but any time I needed rubber with wider margins, I wouldn’t hesitate to mount these up. Paired with a set of Zipp 303 clinchers and I’d give these a try on some cobbles, maybe even the Wallers-Arenberg Forest?
On the day of stage two of the Amgen Tour of California I took part in a charity event benefitting the organization Right To Play. The organization was started by four-time Olympic gold medalist Johan Olav Koss, the long-track speed skater. In broad strokes, Right To Play exists to bring opportunities for sport—and all the lessons that lie therein—to children living in impoverished and war-torn countries. They have programs running in roughly two dozen countries around the world, places like Ethiopia, Rwanda and the Palestinian territories. They’ve built facilities so kids can play sports like football (soccer) and volleyball. And yes, some of their programs involve cycling.
So what’s this really got to do with cycling? Well, people often need a little incentive to do good deeds—think the coffee mug you get when you make a pledge to your local public radio station. Right To Play does a lot of fundraising and they called upon the bike industry to pull together something special that a great many people missed out on.
Thanks to their relationship with Specialized, Right To Play was able to offer fundraisers a breakfast with Phil and Paul, a ride out of Aptos that took in part of stage 2′s race course, a VIP pass at the finish that got you one of the best spots to view the final sprint (won as you can easily recall by Peter Sagan, if only because he won nearly every stage … dang) and, finally, a dinner with the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team. Just which of these events folks took part in was determined by just how much they raised, but if you went all in and donated $17,000, you got each of those experience plus a Tarmac SL4 and a BG Fit at your nearby dealer. Of course, it was possible to get in on some of the festivities for as little as $1500.
Whether you like their products or not, Specialized comes in for some criticism from time to time for their business practices. Here’s an occasion that is worth considering. Specialized, due to their size, does more on the advocacy front than most companies in the bike industry. Indeed, they have a person on staff dedicated to advocacy efforts; heck, for a while Specialized even funded the salary of the director for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, the group that is bringing mountain bike racing to high schools around the country.
The ride was fun; no two ways about it. We climbed out of Aptos and up to Corralitos through dense Redwood forest. Following a brief descent we hooked up with the race course for the fast descent into Aptos and the run through town to the finish at the college. Western Spirit Cycling Adventures provided support; not that we needed a bunch of support for a 37-mile ride, but a snack or two at the top of the climb was hard to say no to.
Of course, the highlight of this thing was the dinner with Omega Pharma-Quick Step. And here’s where Specialized really made the difference. Anyone willing to lay out the greenbacks can buy a tent and VIP experience for a bunch of friends. But very few bike sponsors have the kind of pull with a pro team to hold a dinner for eight or ten people who donated money to a charity a bunch of pro riders have never heard of. Indeed, to kick the dinner off, one of Right To Play’s staffers got up to tell the team about what it is they do and how they do it. Some of the European riders seemed not to listen at all, but I looked over and noticed that Levi Leipheimer was paying close attention.
I need to stress, this sort of thing is just not done. Meal time has always been a sacrosanct event for riders. They sit together, you don’t bug them and when they finish they head back to their rooms to rest. They don’t sign autographs and they don’t hang out and talk with a bunch of bike geeks. But that they did. While the riders did sit together for dinner, the staff spread out and joined the VIPs at tables throughout our dining room. As fate/luck would have it, I was seated across from Patrick Lefevre and he spoke freely, entertaining questions from everyone at the table. What was most entertaining was hearing him address the issue of television revenue. His frustration at the lack of a unified front between the teams was readily apparent.
Generally speaking, teams can refuse any sort of PR request during a big race. That they did this speaks to the value Specialized sees in the team and how they view their investment. It’s one thing to sponsor a fast guy. It’s quite another to sponsor someone who can be personable with complete strangers. And honestly, every team at the Tour of California could have offered this, but very few teams could match OPQ for star power with both Levi and Tom Boonen at this dinner.
Beyond that, I was really impressed with how friendly and funny Phil and Paul were at the breakfast; who knows how many requests of this sort they get each time they come stateside. They even did a short promo video for Right To Play and showed what pros they are by nailing it on the first take.
There’s a reason Specialized brought me along. They want more people to know about Right To Play and a pretty killer event you can attend if you donate to them. So why mention it now? They plan to do something similar next year.
When Padraig asked me if I wanted to attend a small SRAM event during the first weekend of my trip to Flanders and Roubaix last month, I needed no time to think about my answer. After all, I was heading over anyway (to ride the Flanders Sportive and watch the both races)—why not spend a few days with other media types getting to know the latest innovations from SRAM, Zipp, and Quarq?
I landed on a cold, grey Friday morning a few weeks later and headed straight for our hotel. After some introductions and a quick lunch, we piled into vans for a field trip hosted by Jason Phillips and Ben Raby, two of SRAM’s European Sponsorship liaisons. Our first stop was Liquigas-Cannondale, a team who switched to SRAM at the beginning of the 2011 season. Interestingly, none of the Liquigas bikes we saw were running the new Red. Distribution is still taking its time to catch-up with demand, and only a handful of riders in the professional peloton had it on their bikes. Instead, Liquigas was running the “old” Red, albeit one with custom graphics to match the bright green of the riders’ bikes and kits.
Parked to the side was the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team car that brought Sylvain Chavanel to a press conference being held in the hotel’s conference room. Luckily for us, the team was kind enough to bring along one of Chavanel’s race bikes—with the number from his victory in the Three Days of DePanne still attached. Omega Pharma-Quick Step uses its service course as a base of operations throughout most of the spring classics (meaning less casual access for journalists and fans), so I was excited to have a chance to see Chavanel’s bike up close.
As the French Champion and a favorite for Flanders Sunday, Chavanel was, along with teammate Tom Boonen, one of the few riders lucky enough to have the new Red 2012 groupset. Jason pulled the bike down from its rack and began walking us through each component. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step deal was a major coup for SRAM as the team agreed to ride Red components and Zipp wheels, but Zipp bars, stems, and seat posts and Quarq power meters as well. The team’s decision to ride Specialized bicycles certainly helped matters, but this is one of the first instances where SRAM has been able to provide a team with just everything it has available.
But while pro bikes are always nice to see, I was here to experience Flanders—and SRAM Red 2012—for myself. Saturday offered me more than my fair share of both.
Each year, more than 15,000 people tackle the Ronde van Vlaanderen voor Wielertouristen one day before the professionals. There is a reason why you might not be able to imagine what it is like to ride with 14,999 other people: because it’s insane. At the start, people and bikes were everywhere and came in all shapes and sizes: young and old; men, women, and children; road, mountain, and hybrid bikes—even a few tandems! Some people wore sneakers—others had backpacks. Of course, this being Belgium, there were several hundred Omega Pharma-Quick Step jerseys as well.
On the road, I immediately noticed the relative silence of the new drivetrain—a big effort went into creating an altogether quieter experience. To achieve this, SRAM replaced the original Red cassette with the new Powerdome X cassette, a lighter, drilled-out cassette cluster similar to what SRAM uses for its XX mountain bike groupset. StealthRing elastomers have also been added between cogs, dampening vibration and reducing noise even more.
Shift lever ergonomics are vastly improved as well. On the “old” Red, it took a while for my hands to get used to feeling the shift and brake cable housing enter the level underneath the hoods. SRAM redesigned this transition with the new Red, making a smoother, more fluid interface between the housing, the bars, and levers. This offers a pleasant place on the hoods to rest your hands while improving the shifting even more (derailleur cables now have a more direct route to the shifter, meaning less drag and cleaner shifts). SRAM also provides a newly textured hood for extra grip on gloveless days. Lastly, the levers are fully customizable thanks to SRAM’s Independent Reach Adjust mechanism—folks with small hands will certainly appreciate that!
On smooth roads bike was incredible. I found Cannondale’s SuperSix EVO to be one of the lightest and stiffest bikes I’ve ever ridden with what I have come to consider a “World Tour” ride quality that begged me to get out of the saddle and accelerate. I especially appreciated this at the end of the day, on the wide, flat roads from the top of the Paterberg (the final climb) to the finish back in Oudenaarde. As the wind picked-up and echelons began forming, I found the bike gave me an extra gear, responding quickly as I jumped from echelon to echelon, pretending I was fighting my way back up to the leading group on my way to “winning” my first Ronde.
Riding an event like the Tour of Flanders is one of those “once in a lifetime” experiences that subjects you to a whole slew of conflicting emotions: you love it, you hate it; you’re exhilarated, you’re exhausted; you’re optimistic, you have no idea why you signed up for an 85-mile event in mid-April with only 6 weeks of solid riding in your legs.
You get the idea.
My first moment of apprehension arrived with the day’s first cobbled sector. A long, flat stretch of about two kilometers, the gutters were littered with water bottles, wrenched from their cages by riders too lactic to have noticed they were gone. Here, the stiffness of the bike (and its saddle) became more of a detriment. I remember wondering, “Are pros just more accustomed to how bikes like this feel on cobblestones?” And then it hit me. I stopped and examined my tires; the pressure was too high. Burping some air helped, but the harshness was something I would be forced to deal with several more times throughout the day.
But the bike made up for it on the climbs. First up was the Molenberg. Picking my way through several hundred riders—all climbing at different speeds—I realized that the day’s biggest challenge would be making it up each climb with my feet still clicked into the pedals. Luckily, the new Red handles shifting under load beautifully—I slipped the chain into the cassette’s biggest cog and picked my way through the mayhem. The new Red levers also felt as if they have been tightened-up on the inside. Shifts were crisp and gave positive feedback. Each shift was distinct and clear, even on rough, cobbled roads.
At the top of the Molenberg, it was time for me to reassess what I hoped to get out of this experience. I started the day with two goals: First, I wanted to survive it without bonking, blowing-up completely, or embarrassing myself. Second, I wanted to document as much of it as possible, even if that meant stopping frequently for photos. But the Molenberg showed me that making it over every climb without having to put a foot down would be an achievement in and of itself; I added that to the list.
From there I decided to treat each climb as its own finish line of sorts, mentally preparing myself for each and counting them down to mark my progress. The 22% beast of the Koppenberg came soon after the day’s first feed zone. Everyone was fresh, fueled, and feeling heroic. Sure enough, the crowds were dense, and I sat at the bottom, propped on a barricade, waiting for a lull between waves of riders making their way up the steep cobbled slope. Again, the new Red worked like a charm. Hands on the tops of the bars, I relied on my easiest gear. Keeping my ass on the seat and legs spinning at a high cadence enabled me to maneuver as if I were on a mountain bike and I made it to the top cleanly. I was finally starting to get the hang of this again, 15 years after mastering it for the first time.
Success on the Koppenberg buoyed my spirits for the next two hours, but I knew that two of the day’s toughest climbs awaited at the end: the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg. Since I knew it was not as steep as the others, I started the Kwaremont a bit over-geared. But as soon as the cobbles began I regretted this decision and—promising to return another day to tackle it at speed—I upshifted to snake my way through walkers and slow-moving cyclists as I passed earlier. Success!
The Kwaremont dumps you onto a two-lane national road with a smooth surface and a wide bike lane. A left turn and a nasty false flat then take you to the top of the descent that ends at the foot of the Paterberg, a short, but steep cobbled climb that maxes-out at 20%. It’s also the last climb of the day.
The descent to the bottom of the Paterberg was narrow, technical, and fast. Imagining how fast the pros would tackle it the next day, I made my own bid for glory. There were few riders on the road at this point, and I was able to push the bike as far as I was willing to take it, braking late and carving the corners. Braking was even more powerful and smooth than the original Red—even with carbon-specific brake pads.
The Paterberg’s difficulty is exacerbated by the run into it. You scream down the descent into a tight right-hand corner that immediately sends you up the Paterberg’s steep, cobbled grade. Braking, downshifting (front), and upshifting (rear) simultaneously, I expected to drop my chain and prepared myself for the unenviable task of beginning the climb from a dead stop. But despite breaking every rule in the book, the bike shifted, the chain stayed engaged, and I attacked the last climb in the Tour of Flanders.
Back at the hotel, SRAM’s Michael Zellmann asked me what I thought. Struggling to come up with something eloquent or “techie” say, all I could manage was, “Well, it’s just better”.
“That’s exactly the reaction we’re hoping for.” He continued:
“You see, while everyone else is trying to reinvent the groupset [by going electronic or hydraulic], we felt traditional mechanical groupsets had yet to be perfected. Based on feedback we received about the original Red and our own research and testing, we knew there was still room to improve. With Red 2012, we feel we’ve created the best mechanical groupset in the world.”
Granted, I only spent a day on it, but after what the Ronde put us both through, I’m inclined to agree.
Last week I attended a mini media camp. It was three days of riding Cervelo bikes and Easton wheels in Sonoma County. All my work should be this hard. As it happened, the get together also included an introduction to a new nutrition company, Osmo Nutrition. For those of you who tuned into Lance Armstrong’s un-retirement, you may have caught a story about Tex swallowing itty-bitty telemetric thermometers so they could track his core temperature as he exercised. Well the Ph.D. who tracked that data—Stacy Sims—has come up with a whole new plan for hydration, the results of which are Osmo.
Osmo is a four-drink system. First is PreLoad Hydration. You drink that the night before a big day and the morning of a big day. Big day being any ride with heat and intensity when you don’t want to suck. Second is Active Hydration. You drink that during exercise; it is not a carb delivery system. Osmo works with the adage: Food in the pocket, hydration in the bottle. Third is Acute Recovery. You drink it in the half-hour window immediately following exercise to stop the catabolic effects of exercise and begin the repair and adaptation response. Fourth is GoodNight Recovery. You drink it before bed to aid recovery and sleep during hard training blocks and/or stage races.
My understanding is that Active Hydration and Acute Recovery are meant to be used any time you ride. PreLoad Hydration and GoodNight Recovery are when you need the big guns; even for racers you may only need them a couple of times in a month.
Some years back, at another publication, I was assigned the role of guinea pig. Every new nutrition device that came down the pike entered my system. Some of the results were not pretty. Some of them caused me to dispense methane with the frequency a foghorn sounds on the Northern California coast. But here’s the thing: Some of you may remember a before/during/after system of nutrition products with both drinks and bars called SmartFUEL. They went out of business and a few years went by without its help. Five years later I looked back and realized that SmartFUEL made a notable difference in my performance. I was unpleasant to be around while I was on that stuff. but during the years I raced on it, I was the fittest I ever was.
Which is to say, it was pretty good, but with that much methane off-gassing, something was still amiss.
Osmo has a series of videos on their web site and I’ve got to say that Sims not only makes a compelling case for why their products will work for you and me, there are even little nuggets of nutritional wisdom that have affected how I look at my own exercise nutrition. Getting me to re-think how I take care of myself is no small feat. Hell, even getting me to examine my nutritional needs is impressive. Most pitches I’m suggested to can simply be boiled down to: Use this instead!
Without months of use and diligent tracking of changes in fitness it can really be difficult to report—as a reviewer—that one nutrition product is superior to another. Actually, any claim to that effect ought to be regarded with great suspicion. I know a two, maybe three journalists in the industry who have a great enough command of their fitness that they could claim to have done the work necessary to be objectively convinced one product is superior to another. I’m not among them.
So I went into this thinking, “Cool, I’ll try these new drink mixes and I won’t have to use any of the expensive stuff I brought.”
That wasn’t the outcome I experienced.
Stacy Sims, in a series of videos on the Osmo website makes the case for Osmo’s products not by making broad claims of “science shows … blah, blah, blah.” She refers repeatedly to studies that have appeared in peer-reviewed journals, which for those who slept through the Intelligent Design wars are where that pseudo science fails to make any headway.
Okay, now a little back story. Between November and March I got hammered with a series of colds. Six, in fact; every one of which lasted longer than a week. It wiped out anything akin to an aerobic engine within me. I made some mention of it in other posts and did some bitching in social media. So I’ve been riding nothing but base miles since April. I went into these three days of riding knowing that I needed to conserve whenever possible and let go anyone who was feeling frisky. Day one was 31 miles and 2500 feet of climbing. Day two was 46 miles and 4300 feet of climbing—the famous Geysers loop. Day three is what convinced me that Osmo is to my system was 91 octane gas is to my car.
Day three is a day that should have gotten sideways almost from the start. Those first two days were just hard enough that I should have been in the hole on waking on day three. Back when I was racing, I could do a hard Saturday and Sunday followed by our local holiday ride on Memorial or Labor Day and still have something in the tank for those. For a good five years now, if I go hard both Saturday and Sunday, I’ve got nothing at all for Monday. I just haven’t been able to rally.
So when I woke on day three and my legs weren’t just okay, but good, I was impressed. The ride we did began in Occidental and took in a portion of stage one of the Tour of California, including the Fort Ross and Coleman Valley climbs. As I dropped into the descent back to Occidental I was overtaken by the United Healthcare cycling team and was rather pleased that they didn’t dump me on the descent, but I digress. We rolled back into Occidental, dropped off a couple of riders and then pushed on for Geyserville and the climb up Sweetwater Springs.
Sweetwater Springs is a climb known to locals and almost no one else. Which may or may not be good. It’s about 2.5 miles and pitches at times approach 20 percent. Trust, me, the sections that are 11 percent feel like a pretty normal climb. I was in a 39×25 and suffered like the whole of a chain gang. But that wasn’t our last obstacle. The driveway up to our lodgings was a bit more than a half mile and while the whole thing was difficult, it’s the section at 28 percent that reduced me to a cadence of 12.
I should note that we had a support vehicle supporting us and I drank six bottles during the course of the 6.5-hour ride. We returned back with 89 miles and 7500 feet of climbing. At the end of the ride I was tired, but not shattered. And the next morning, under ordinary circumstances, I should have risen only with great effort, but instead I felt okay. Tired, but good enough to head out for a recovery ride.
I’m convinced the stuff made a difference in my riding. And not just a bit of a difference, but a truly notable difference.
Now, this stuff doesn’t come cheap. Osmo products come in resealable bags. PreLoad and Active go for $24.99 (ten and twenty servings respectively) while Acute and GoodNight go for $39.99 (ten and eight servings respectively). Active and Acute are the two products you are likely to use most often and are arguably the best overall value of the bunch. The taste in all of them is light and they offer a couple of flavors in most cases. Mixing Acute with milk or almond milk makes for a very refreshing post-ride drink. PreLoad is the one, due to the amount of sodium in it that is the least exciting to drink, but it’s still not as stomach turning as, say, wheatgrass.
Whether you believe me or not, you might drop by the Osmo site and give them a few minutes. They produced a set of videos about their products in which Sims explains the science behind each of the drinks. They are entertaining to watch and surprising enough in their content that you may learn a thing or two. Check them out here.