I’m going to let you in on a little secret: For an American cycling journalist, historic pieces on the Tour de France are our stock-in-trade. There’s nothing easier or more fun to write. And they are even easier to sell. Why? Because the story lines are all so straightforward. You’ve got LeMond vs. Hinault in 1986. Then you’ve got LeMond vs. Fignon in ’89. LeMond vs. Chiappucci in ’90. Armstrong vs. Ullrich in ’00, ’01 and ‘03, just for starters. They are almost boxing matches in their simplicity. Despite the other 190-odd riders present, those Tours were mano-a-mano matches.
The ’86 Tour is king is this regard because of the intra-team rivalry between Hinault and LeMond. On top of the interloping Yank, you’ve got broken promises, the pressure of the media and a team that wasn’t afraid to split along partisan lines. Most burgers aren’t this juicy.
I lay that before you as a backdrop to what I have to say about the ’12 Tour. It is, for me, the most disappointing Tour de France I’ve seen since perhaps ’94 and ’95, which had drama the way Congress has compromise. The most interesting thing happening on the road is Tejay Van Garderen for the simple fact that he’s the most unknown of quantities. And this isn’t just a jingoistic yearning for the next Hampsten, which is to say a climber of such aw-shucks sincerity and tremendous gifts he is realizing he doesn’t know the world before him.
The thing about Van Garderen is that the world is littered with riders who were flashes in the pan, young riders who showed flashes of greatness only to ride anonymously for the rest of their careers. But there are also the stories of LeMond, Fignon and Hinault who showed greatness early on and then delivered over and over and that’s why Van Garderen’s ascension to team leader for BMC is a much more interesting story line than Cadel Evans’ collapse. Did he never really get in shape this year? Has he been sick for most of the Tour and the team has played coy? Whatever. Who really cares enough to read beyond the possible headline: Evans Admits He’s Over the Hill.
Off the course, all the drama is to be found in the interviews with Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins. Poor Froome. He deserves credit for sticking to the game plan and pledging his support to Wiggins and his team to any microphone within range. That he has managed to keep his cool despite the obvious provocations from the media, invitations from the world’s biggest media outlets to go rogue isn’t Jesus-in-the-cinnamon-bun miraculous, but it’s as impressive as anything I saw in the recent X Games.
Having said that, let’s take a moment to parse the future, or even a couple of futures. First, once Wiggins wins this Tour, we all know he will start last and wear #1 at the start of next year’s Tour. It’s silly to suggest that he’ll be anything other than Sky’s captain, unless some calamity befalls him during the spring. Any suggestion that maybe next year would be Froome’s turn is laughable. Not if Wiggins is on-form. Now, could Froome leave and assume the leader’s role at another team? Sure. But unless that team has a history of properly supporting a grand tour champion (think Saxo Bank, not Omega Pharma-Quickstep), he shouldn’t buy that yellow watch just yet.
There. I think I’ve covered all the interesting story lines from this year’s Tour, unless you want to include all the message board chatter by American viewers who are tired of Scott Moninger’s interlaced-fingers-jabber and begging for Todd Gogulski.
Back in undergraduate school I wrote a paper for a history class in which I analyzed the rise of Moammar Gadhafi as American enemy #1. I noted that in 1985 he wasn’t much different or doing different things than he was in 1978. The big change was the end of the Iranian hostage crisis. Once Iran stopped being our biggest international problem, once the Ayatollah Khomeni stopped being the villain-at-large, we needed someone new. Qadaffi fit the bill.
What this Tour lacks is a villain. Froome is the best candidate, but it’s clear he doesn’t want to wear the black hat. And he’s smart to beg off. If he went off the res he’d be far less attractive to courting teams. The first question on everyone’s mind would be whether or not he was coachable—capable of sticking to the script. Hell, the Schlecks make it look like they are sticking to the script and they are difficult enough, Frank’s B sample notwithstanding.
Yes, we need a villain, but not everyone is up to the task. Alberto Contador has a thick skin, thick enough to play the villain and play it well. Hinault had an even thicker skin, which is saying something. To play the villain, one must understand that though you may lose the hearts of the fans, there’s a kind of satisfaction in infamy.
It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
If you are a top pro rider, and you have not met any of your season objectives, it is now officially time to panic. Of all weeks of the year this, the last week of the Tour, especially when the GC is sewn up and so many pretenders to the thrown have crashed out, this is the week when a rider knows whether he’s set for next season or whether he needs to pull some result, any result, out of his ass in the closing months of the campaign.
Riders like Thor Hushovd, on a monster contract at BMC and with little to show for his efforts, must be thinking about what form is salvageable over the coming weeks and what results he might realistically target in order to justify his pay packet. His teammate Philipe Gilbert is probably in that boat as well.
Those guys have contracts though. Their paychecks are secure, even if their status, within their teams and also in the larger peloton, are not quite as assured as they’d like. They’ll be racing for pride as much as to maintain their values.
Then there are guys like Andy Schleck (I won’t even mention his brother), who have had really disastrous campaigns and will probably also need to change teams. Schleck is carrying enough baggage at this point that he’ll need to rent a cart and hail a sky cap at the airport. An undeniable talent, especially when the road turns up, Schleck might now be classified as something of an attitude problem. Whether his troubles are of his own making or derive from poor management at Radio Shack-Nissan almost doesn’t matter. The young Luxembourger would be well-advised to get himself in top form for the Vuelta.
Another rider who has underwhelmed, at least by his own very lofty standards, is Fabian Cancellara. Will there be a hotter property on the transfer market than the big Swiss?
In “When Autumn Comes” Sam Abt wrote:
Out in the countryside of France, the fields are brown and barren, their corn long harvested and the stalks chopped down for fodder. Until the stubble is plowed under when winter wheat is planted, the landscape is bleak and the air full of despair.
For professional bicycle riders, April is not the cruelest month. Far from it. In April, hopes for a successful season are as green as the shoots just then starting to push through the fields that the riders pass in their early races. The cruelest month is really October, when the nine-month racing season ends and the riders finally know what they have failed to accomplish.
I would argue that the cruelty of October is presaged in this final week of the Tour. The riders are already thinking of the end of the season and what they’ll have failed to accomplish. Behind the scenes of the grueling race, business negotiations are at fever pitch. In fact, the Schlecks have reportedly been chatting with Astana just in the last few days. In business terms, next season has already begun.
This week’s Group Ride asks: Which of the peloton’s stars most need results in the run-in to October? What are realistic goals for guys like Hushovd, Gilbert and Schleck? And which teams will benefit by picking up big talents at deflated prices?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
I was very fortunate during last year’s Tour to be unemployed. I am able to say that now, in retrospect, because after quitting a job on principle, I got the job I most wanted. At the time of course, I was nervous. Who quits a job on principle in an economy like this one?
My emergency job search turned up three good prospects, two of which I thought would be easy to get based on my qualifications and connections, the third was the job I have now, the one I really wanted. It was the long shot, and it came through. I was lucky, and as cycling teaches us over and over again, it’s better to be lucky than good.
As it turns out, I didn’t get either of the jobs I thought I was a shoe-in, because I was “overqualified.” I was too good. It’s nice to hear people think you’re good at what you do, but when you need a paycheck it’s less than cold comfort. It’s insult, and injury on top.
I bring all this up because, as I watch this year’s Tour, I see Chris Froome going through the same thing. Asked to be Bradley Wiggins’ chief lieutenant on the road, Froome has shown himself to be, on some days, even better than his boss.
First he was asked to sit up on Stage 11 when off the front with Wiggins grinding along behind. Then again today, as the Sky pair sought to overhaul a solo breakaway by Alejandro Valverde up a steep Pyrenean slope, Froome gapped his leader and had to wait.
The press have tried desperately to stir conflict within the Sky team by suggesting that Froome is resentful of having to maintain loyalty to Wiggins, while the rider’s own responses have been well measured. Clearly, Froome is doing his job, all the while reminding his bosses and everyone else that he might just be the strongest rider in France at the moment.
Without hauling out the baggage of the Hinault/LeMond intrasquad rivalry that is the template for just this situation, it should be said that pro cycling has little if any room for mutiny. Until a team leader shows himself unable to lead, as Cadel Evans has over the last few days, then a team’s total loyalty must always remain with him. The margin between victory and defeat is too fine to make any real space for freelance ambition.
So that leaves Chris Froome, quite possibly the strongest rider in the race, headed for the second step of the podium. His loyalty is admirable, but he must feel crushed not to be able to fulfill every rider’s ultimate dream, to wear yellow on the Champs Élysées.
Oh, he’ll be roundly praised, and Wiggins will pay lip service to the effort of the team. He has already made a Hinault-esque promise to help Froome win a future Tour, but it’s a bit early for the side-burned Sky captain to start playing kingmaker. Next year’s Tour promises to feature one Alberto Contador, not to mention a possibly resurgent Andy Schleck and a more-experienced Vincenzo Nibali.
On the face of it, Wiggins’ promise is generous. Beneath the surface, it is more or less worthless, almost an insult.
Chris Froome is lucky. He has a job, a good one, and a steady paycheck. He’ll be a hot property for next season as genuine grand tour GC contenders are perhaps the rarest talents in the pro peloton. Unfortunately, he’s overqualified for the job he’s got now.
His reward will be finding a new job and hoping against hope that he can arrive in France, at some point in the future, with the form it takes to win cycling’s top prize, a prize he is currently watching slip between his fingers.
Follow me on Twitter: @thebicyclerobot
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
The Giro d’Italia-sponsored Gran Fondo Pasadena happens this coming weekend and the big star the organizers have recruited to ride the even is none other than Francesco Moser. Winner of the 1984 Giro; the ’78, ’79 and ’80 editions of Paris-Roubaix, the ’77 world champion and victor in scores of other great races, not to mention the hour record, Moser is a true badass.
Most cycling fans may not be aware of two other little details about this legend of Italian cycling. He is still exceptionally fit; he raced as recently as 2008, winning the journalist world championship. And for more than 80 years his family has farmed a vineyard and produced their own wines. In the run-up to the gran fondo, Moser and his con Carlo are hosting some tastings of the Moser family wines.
I had the good fortune to receive an invitation to a tasting that was hosted last night at Bike Effect in Santa Monica.
I should mention that I’ve known about the wines for a good 10 years. However, what I heard from friends was that you’d only buy them for the name; they weren’t good enough to write home about. But given the push that Soilair, Moser’s importer, is making to market the wines in conjunction with this visit, it would be suicide to host tastings at some of LA’s most exclusive wine stores and serve the Italian equivalent of Two Buck Chuck.
I’m pleased to report that either the wines have come a long way or my sources were wrong. We had the opportunity to taste three whites and one red and while I suspect the red needs more time to age, the three whites were ready to go. First was a Müller-Thurgau, which was a light, crisp white, perfect for a hot summer afternoon. Second was a Riesling, and while many Rieslings are made with a bit of sweetness, this was dry as British wit with clear flavors like pineapple and grapefruit and just a bit of tang. The final white was a Moscato Giallo, which is another wine that is often made sweet and is favored by drunk people spilling out of tour vans. Some wine makers, if you prod them, will tell you they make a sweet Moscato only reluctantly, that it is the wine equivalent of Coca-Cola—sweet, but not serious. But it can be an easy sell to those who won’t normally spend more than six bucks on a bottle of wine. I mention this to put in perspective the fact the Moscato was, like the Riesling, Arizona dry. These aren’t the wines of a dilettante. The red was from a grape that is native to Trentino, where Moser lives. It’s a medium-bodied red that, given the region’s mountains, probably struggles to fully ripen in most vintages. Nonetheless it is a very food-friendly wine. His importer is also due to begin carrying a sparkling white called 51.151, named in honor of the distance he covered in his hour record.
Moser speaks as much English as I speak Italian, which is to say negligible, but he was enthusiastic about pouring the wines. When images of some of the Rapha Gentlemen’s Rides came up in a slide show on a big-screen monitor in Bike Effect, he turned to me and asked, “California?” I said yes and there was a flicker of appreciation in his eyes. He then conveyed that he’d been following the Tour of California back in May and had been wowed by Peter Sagan. His respect and admiration for the youngster was apparent.
The real high point of the evening came when wine importer and avid cyclist Jeff Morgenthal (at right above in the sport coat) briefly interviewed Moser. Morgenthal raced in Europe and knows cycling the way he knows wine—in depth. He asked a few questions about Moser’s victory over Laurent Fignon in the ’84 Giro and which races he most loved. Moser’s son Carlo translated the responses. As it turns out, Paris-Roubaix doesn’t need any translation; the race remains both his favorite and a source of pain he’s happy to be free of. But hearing him tell how he knew he could win the ’84 Giro because he was consistently taking 3 seconds per kilometer out of Fignon in the time trials seemed every bit as exciting for him now as it was then. In describing his experience of winning the cycling journalist world championship (he rode in the television presenter category), he seemed a bit embarrassed and it admitted it wasn’t very competitive; of the other riders he said, “piano” which is to say, in his mind, they didn’t pedal so hard.
I envy those who will get to ride with him in the gran fondo, but by the look of it, he appears to be fit enough that he won’t have much company.
Someone asked me the other day at the Tour de France what was my favorite climb of all in this phenomenally beautiful country. I said, they’re all great. But I do have a soft spot for the western slopes of the Col du Tourmalet, which this year’s peloton will tackle on Thursday’s stage from Pau to Luchon (and which the brave Rêve Tour women are riding as I write these words).
There are many reasons for my infatuation with the Tourmalet but the main one is: It was the first mountain pass I ever climbed. That would be on my first visit to France, in the summer of ’63, when I joined up with the Tour route in Normandy, saw Jacques Anquetil win the time trial at Angers, watched the peloton racing through the Landes pine forest south of Bordeaux and, after covering more than a thousand kilometers in five days, set up my tent in the dark at a campground near Tarbes.
I carried my tent, maps, clothes and tools in a full saddlebag, just as I did when climbing the hills of England, Scotland and Wales on previous cycle tours. British climbs are nearly always steep, with grades of between 10 and 30 percent, but they’re rarely longer than a mile or two, or more than a thousand feet in elevation. So I could only imagine what it would be like to ride the Tourmalet, which goes uphill for 33 kilometers and summits at 6,969 feet above sea level. That’s 2,500 feet higher than Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain peak!
When I left the French campground on my way to the Tourmalet, a thick mist covered the cornfields and hid the Pyrénées. As I passed through the pilgrims’ city of Lourdes (where I’m tapping these words out today), I knew the mountains were ahead of me. But it was still foggy, and I didn’t know what to expect as I entered a deep canyon, the Gorge de Luz, at the village of Pierrefitte-Nestalas. With the opaque, fast-flowing waters of the Gave River to my right, and near-vertical thousand-foot cliffs to my left, I began the long ascent.
Partway up the gorge, where the cliffs eased back, the swirling mists suddenly parted, and as I looked up I saw an azure sky and, for the first time in my life, a chain of rugged, snow-tipped mountain peaks. It was a stunning snapshot, and one I can clearly recall almost a half-century later. Although it was still early morning, the road was closed to motor traffic because the Tour riders would be coming up this canyon later in the day, preceded by the publicity caravan. Thousands of fans who’d driven in overnight were already in place and it was nice to receive their applause as the gradients slowly got steeper.
I stopped in Luz-St. Sauveur to stock up with a baguette, local goat cheese, fresh apricots, water and the morning newspapers— which provided details of the Tour’s 10th stage. This valley town of white-stone houses with black-slate roofs is the official start of the Tourmalet’s 19 kilometers and 4,656 vertical feet of climbing at an average grade of 7.4 percent. Those harsh statistics don’t reveal just how tough a climb this is. In recent times, the road has been resurfaced and re-engineered in places, but in 1963 it was narrow, with a much rougher surface. Certainly not an easy climb.
I struggled on the steeper, 9- to 10-percent pitches before reaching the village of Barrèges, a third of the way up this “official” section. It was villagers from this remote community who, on a winter’s night in early 1910, went searching for Tour de France official Alphonse Steinès, who was scouting the Tourmalet to see if it was suitable for inclusion in the Tour for the first time. He’d been driven up the other side of the climb until his car was stopped by a blizzard some four kilometers from the top as night fell. Steinès, wearing town shoes and a formal top coat, trudged on through the snow on what was then a stony goat path.
His chauffeur retraced and looped back via Lourdes to drive up the western side of the Tourmalet as far as Barrèges. Here, he organized a search party, and they headed toward the summit, some 12 kilometers up the pass. The lanterns they carried helped guide Steinès to safety by 3 in the morning. The next day, the assistant sent a telegram to his boss in Paris, race director Henri Desgrange, saying: “Crossed Tourmalet. Very good road. Perfectly practicable. Steinès.”
Fifty-three years after Steinès’s epic walk, and a few hours before the 50th editions of the Tour reached the Tourmalet, I carried on riding as far as I could on my bottom gear of 44×24. But like the Tour men of 1910, who nearly all walked to the summit, I had to dismount and push my bike for a couple of kilometers before reaching the best spot to see the race. By coincidence, I met some friends from another English cycling club here. We picnicked together, sitting on a grassy slope, where the road doubled back on itself over the Pont de la Gaubie—a famous stone bridge that has recently been bypassed with a modern road leading to a new ski station.
Our reward for riding up to this point on what was now a hot, sunny afternoon, was seeing the decisive move of the 1963 Tour. At this point, nine kilometers from the top, four men rode away from the splintered peloton: French stars Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor and Spanish riders Federico Bahamontes and José Perez-Frances. As the 108 survivors continued to pass us over the next 25 minutes or so, we heard on my little transistor radio that Bahamontes, a fabulous climber, take the KoM. The four leaders regrouped on the descent to the finish in Bagnères-de-Bigorre, where Anquetil sprinted to the stage win.
After seeing those Giants of the Road battling on the Tourmalet, I was inspired to ride the rest of the col at a decent pace, climbing on a shelf road along a precipice and up to almost 7,000 feet. Then came the thrill of my first true mountain descent—aided by the weight of a packed saddlebag. I stayed that night in a youth hostel at Campan before seeing the Tour again the next day on the Col d’Aspin and before getting caught in a thundering rainstorm.
A week later, after riding from the Pyrénées to the Alps, I saw Anquetil win another mountain stage and take the yellow jersey after out-sprinting Bahamontes in the rain at Chamonix. Anquetil would arrive in Paris to take his fourth Tour victory, 3:35 ahead of Bahamontes, with Perez-Frances in third at 10:14.
Since then the Tourmalet has been climbed 37 more times during the Tour, including the first stage finish on the summit two years ago, which marked the centenary of the first crossing by the Tour—and by the intrepid Alphonse Steinès! So, yes, I have a soft spot for the Tourmalet. Besides being as challenging climb as you’ll ever make, it has one of the most beautiful panoramas you’ll ever see of snow-spiked peaks that I first saw on my memorable first adventure to La Route du Tour all those years ago.
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
When I was a kid going to Catholic school, before our first confession we were told that every priest had heard every sin, that nothing we could say to them would be new or surprising, so we should just get over our embarrassment and misguided ideas that we were somehow committing rare or special sins and get on with the business of confessing our misdeeds. What they were really trying to instill in us was the belief that there is nothing new or unusual we might do. I didn’t buy it.
I get the feeling that designers in Italy responsible for Castelli’s many innovations had a similar childhood. I’m sure they tired of being told there were no new ideas. How else could you labor as a clothing designer for years on end if you didn’t believe that the world was big enough to hold a few surprises yet?
It is into such a void that Castelli thrust the San Remo Speedsuit. The first couple of times I saw it I didn’t appreciate just what it was. Watching guys on TV I couldn’t tell that what I was seeing wasn’t just another ultra-tight Castelli jersey paired with a set of Body Paint bibs. Oh, but the San Remo Speedsuit is nothing ordinary. But just what is it, if it isn’t ordinary?
In broad strokes, it is the skinsuit for the 21st century. Or maybe it’s the traditional jersey and bibs rethought in as aero a manner as possible. That’s the thing: The skinsuit family tree forked a few years back. The traditional skinsuit used in a time trial has become an ever more aerodynamic garment, with fabrics that make normal Lycra seem as slippery as sandpaper on skin. Long sleeves and integrated gloves have helped ratchet up the aero-ness of an already speedy outfit. The San Remo Speedsuit heads in the other direction. It takes the skinsuit as the starting point and makes it more functional, providing the wearer with a skinsuit that is more comfortable and practical than the Lycra jail that is the traditional skinsuit.
The San Remo Speedsuit begins with Castelli’s top-of-the-line Body Paint bib shorts. They are mated to a full-zip Aero Race jersey. To look at the garment is to see something that appears utterly obvious, but it takes a bit of explaining. The rear hem of the jersey and its accompanying gripper are removed; the jersey is sewn directly into the short. Consequently, the bibs are discarded. Also, unlike the Body Paint bibs, the front hem is brought up higher, making the Speedsuit more comfortable than Body Paint bibs for people who aren’t running 4 percent body fat. The front of the Speedsuit features a full zip but the fabric is anchored where the bibs would begin their run from the belly to the shoulders. What that means is that when you unzip the front of the Speedsuit, you realize two benefits. First, you don’t end up with a disco-style V-neck design running to your navel, you end up with real ventilation. Second, you also end up with a garment that doesn’t require Houdini-like powers to remove.
Let’s back up a sec. A few years ago I had the opportunity to try one of Castelli’s Body Paint jerseys. It was like a Lycra condom for my torso. Someone is reading this right now and thinking—”Perfect! That’s just what I’ve been looking for.”—but my experience was one of claustrophobia. I couldn’t have been more surprised by my reaction. Somehow, the fact that the garment wasn’t integrated into a skinsuit made the jersey intolerable. So I didn’t review it.
Whatever wasn’t working for me then has been sorted. It’s worth mentioning that the jersey portion of the Speedsuit uses more polyester which helps eliminate the whole ohmigod-I’m-covered-in-latex-in-public thing. The front up to the shoulders is Lycra, but the sleeves and back are poly. In the pits a textured material is used to help speed air flow in what tends to be a fairly turbulent area.
Of this garment’s many selling points is how it offers three usable pockets. It’s impressive because the pockets lie flat—as they should—but they aren’t so snug that it’s difficult to get your hand in or out while holding a gel. With pros wearing their jerseys snugger, this has caused jersey pockets to sit higher because all you’re really doing is wearing a size smaller, and that makes the pockets harder to access. Well one of the added bonuses of the Speedsuit is that the pockets sit lower than they would with a similarly cut jersey, making them really easy to access.
There are those ultra-hot days when all a base layer does is absorb sweat. Ditto for bib material. Imagine a garment that is useful enough and comfortable enough to ride a century in but eliminates as much bulk as possible. It’s amazing how comfortable the shorts are given there’s only a single seam running up the inside of each leg. Despite reading about all the science that went into these things I’m still amazed that they can fit so well.
The ends of the legs are lazer-cut and receive just the barest treatment for a gripper to prevent them from riding up. My one knock on them is that there isn’t enough pad in front to protect shifting equipment, and even if chafing isn’t a problem, modesty can be. However, the Progetto X2 pad is very comfy and does a great job of offering support without staying wet with sweat.
Having just finished a ride in the Speedsuit I’m reminded of just how much easier it is to open the dam for a controlled flow than with a traditional skinsuit. It’s also better than a skinsuit in that you needn’t be the human equivalent of skim milk (fat-free) to look good in it. I’m not at all sure how they pull that off, but maybe that’s part of why they patented the design.
I reviewed a large Speedsuit, just as I wear when I don a pair Castelli’s bib shorts. Now, I normally wear a medium in Castelli’s jerseys, but that wasn’t a problem with the Speedsuit. As I mentioned previously, the top was snug without being vacuum-chamber tight. I suspect that riders who normally wear a large jersey would still be comfortable in the large Speedsuit. I really only see there being a sizing issue for those who actually have a real upper body and wear a size jersey larger than their bibs; those riders will be faced with either loose shorts or an ultra-tight top.
Castelli claims this thing has a temperature range of 53 degrees to 95 degrees. Yeah, maybe if you slather your entire body in some Mad Alchemy Madness, but honestly, I won’t wear this thing out if the temperature is much below 80. As to that upper temperature recommendation, I’m of the opinion that if it’s not too hot for you to ride, then this is a suitable answer. I’m going to RAGBRAI soon and I’ll have this thing along with me. If it’s as hot as it was last time I rode the event, I might be washing it in a sink at the end of each day. Temperature aside, the material used in the back of the Speedsuit is ventilated enough as to be practically see-through; I was able to a buddy’s chest strap through his. On bright days wearers would do well to apply sunscreen to their backs all the way from their shoulders to the waist.
Some folks will flinch at the $350 price tag. Given the quality of the bibs, the incredible fit and just how functional it is, the San Remo Speedsuit is worth every cent. Maybe not a bargain, but I once had a bargain skinsuit and I can say that was a waste of $120.
With Team Sky’s dominance of the Tour de France through the first 12 stages, the question seems not to be can Bradley Wiggins win the general classification, but rather, what other honors can this team cram into its collective palmares. Chris Froome currently sits second overall, and Mark Cavendish, relatively quiet in the points competition, no doubt with an eye on the Olympics, remains in reserve to hunt stage wins later in the race when the road flattens out again. If you think of Wiggins’ TT win, Froome’s stage 7 win, Cavendish’s Stage 3 win, plus holding the top two GC positions, any further demonstration of power would just be cruel to the other racers.
But you know, it’s a cruel sport.
Wiggins must be the favorite to win the remaining ITT and, in fact, the overall, though if someone has a clear picture of how either Cadel Evans or Vincenzo Nibali can claw back time against the side-burned Briton, I’d love to hear the scenario. The truth is, as strong as the current maillot jaune has been when necessary, it is the class of Froome, Michael Rogers and even Richie Porte that have proven the difference.
Anytime a rival dares attack, Sky has responded calmly, almost casually, with superior talent. Even when Tejay van Garderen escaped up the road to slingshot Evans, who himself made a brilliant move to get away from Wiggins’ group, Sky snuffed the move easily.
So the question, our question, remains: What else can Sky take? Can Froome stand on the second step of the podium in Paris? How will he play the loyal lieutenant and vanquish Sky’s GC rivals at the same time?
Can Cavendish win another stage? Two more? Will Richie Porte or Michael Rogers be given opportunities to nab wins for themselves? If Sky are vulnerable in any way, what is it? If they are not, what is the limit of their potential success here?
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
One of the newest voices in cycling, and easily the funniest to come along since we realized that Fox News wasn’t ironic, is Seth Davidson, better known as the Wankmeister, the foul-fingered proprietor of the blog Cycling in the South Bay. The Wankmeister has undertaken the gargantuan task of properly mythologizing the epic epicness of Southern California group rides and the culture therein. Initially, his traffic was composed entirely of fellow wankers (like me) who lived to see their names pixilated. Eventually, word got around that he was writing about people who’d beaten you at your last industrial park crit and the resulting bump in traffic required a new term to explain it: narcissism by proxy. But now he has decided to tackle the world around him. This, then, is your warning. He’s known to offend some sensibilities, but if you’re not easily miffed, settle in for a rare combination of wit and insight.—Padraig
Please don’t target practice on the golf course, Sir
You know what an adventure is? It’s a trip where things went dreadfully wrong but you lived to tell about it more or less unscathed. Lop of that
“more or less unscathed” part and instead of adventure you’ve got a plain old catastrophe, or disaster, or tragedy.
No matter what they say, no one goes looking for adventure. They go looking for fame and fortune, or they go looking to get their name in the paper, or
they go looking to get away from the old lady with the droopy bosom and squalling kids, but nobody ever, ever, ever went looking for an adventure.
Why? Because to really have an adventure you have to be scared for your life. “Hey, Dwanda, is that engine falling off the wing?”
“I don’t speak their language, sahib, but that gesture means ‘Remove the white man’s genitals slowly.’”
“Now what was it the diving instructor told me to do when tank shows ’empty’?”
The time I conquered the Pacific Crest Trail
I’ve had lots of adventures in my life, but they were only adventures after I got home and recovered. At the time they were horrific mistakes compounded
by bad luck and made worse by awful judgment that almost cost me my life, like the time I decided to hike from Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Crest
That year, the statistics show, only five people made the 2,600-mile hike successfully. I, of course, wasn’t daunted by a six month hike in the
wilderness. Sure, the books all said to send food drops in advance and to carefully plot out the course because otherwise you would starve to death, but what did they know?
Buying and shipping all that food was too troublesome and expensive, so why not just live off the land? I went down to a sporting goods store and bought
a bow and some arrows and a target. “If the Indians could live with one of these, so can I.”
Recognizing that I might need a day or two of practice to master a skill that the Indians mastered over a lifetime, I went down to the public golf
course off of Red River in Austin and set up my target in front of some bushes. The first few arrows, tipped with deadly aluminum points “guaranteed to pierce the heart of a grizzly,” went whizzing off onto the course.
“Wow, these things are hard to shoot straight.”
After a while I heard some voices and peered over my impromptu target range. Along came a squadron of elementary school kids, taking a shortcut home
across the course. The thought of piercing the heart of a few golfers hadn’t bothered me much, but killing a third grader with an arrow to the chest made
“Fuck it. I’ll just learn how to hunt once I get to the mountains.”
The story goes downhill from there, with each terrible decision followed by a much worse one, until I found myself starving in the mountains in Oregon,
unable to walk, my feet swollen and bleeding as I crawled through the snow on my hands and knees. Death didn’t find me that time, but it scored a mark
on my forehead to let me know that it was keeping an eye on me for potential early enrollment. The whole thing was so horrible and frightening and
painful and wretched that it didn’t really become an adventure until many years later, after the PTSD wore off.
Yeah, I always thought that was a big adventure. But when I compare it to the task that James Lenz set for himself in 1892, I realize it for what it really was: a lark, and nothing more.
One of cycling’s greatest attempted adventures that ended in tragedy
David Herlihy has written a book called “The Lost Cyclist.” It’s not on Cycle Sport’s list of the fifty greatest cycling books, perhaps because
it’s not the fanboy pabulum slurp of some great champion of the Tour or the classics. Nor is it likely to ever make a “great books about cycling” list, simply because the writing is labored, dull, and uninspired.
Notwithstanding, the tale of the lost cyclist, and the descriptions of what it meant to ride a bike in the late 1800′s make for gripping reading. The
drawback to the “highwheeler,” or old-timey bike with a 53-inche front wheel, was its “Propensity to hurl … the pilot … over the handlebars. This
all-too-common occurrence, known as a ‘header’ could inflict serious injury and death.”
In one instance, the protagonist of this history, Frank Lenz, endured a ten-hour, 100-mile race on his highwheeler over roads that consisted of
nothing but mud and clay. At the finish, the riders had to be removed on cots with blankets tossed over them, so destroyed were they from the effort,
even to the extent that their clothes had been reduced to rags barely covering their bodies.
Lenz eventually decided to circle the globe on his bike, a feat that had been done once before on a highwheeler, although the cyclist, Tom Stevens,
had done much of the trip by boat due to the impassability of much of the route. Lenz’s plan was to cross the U.S., from New York to California, take
a ship to Japan, cross Japan, take a boat to China, cross southern China to Burma, cross Burma to India, cross India, then Afghanistan, Iran, and
Turkey, from whence he would cross Europe and take a final trip by boat back to New York.
The ultimate travel book, except for that one, uh, whatchamacallit thingy….
With such an incredible itinerary, and moreover one that crossed huge swaths of the world that are now called different countries (Persia/Iran,
Burma/Myanmar, etc.), you’d have thought that the author would have included a map of Lenz’s journey. No such luck. Apparently it was more important to show him dressed in native Chinese garb as a Mandarin than to provide a detailed map so that you could better grasp the enormity of his undertaking.
Lenz’s travels included carrying his bicycle for hundreds of miles, lugging it over narrow mountain paths where a slip meant certain death, moving it
over treacherous rivers, and … oh, wait a minute … that was all done by Lenz’s servants, or “coolies” as the author calls them. One of them was even
swept away and drowned trying to ford a river. The porter’s death shook Lenz mightily, but he recovered enough by evening to enjoy a hearty meal with his evening host.
None of this detracts from the brutal toil and frequent dangers that Lenz encountered. His bike weighed 57 pounds, and with it he carried a camera,
wooden tripod, and other gear totaling 38 pounds. His total cycle traveling weight exceeded ninety pounds, even though he was using the new “safety”
bicycle with two equally sized wheels and that radical new invention, the pneumatic, or inflatable tire. Of course he had neither derailleurs or
modern brakes, and his gearing was limited to the two cogs placed on either side of the rear wheel, which had to be taken off and flipped to change
Lenz was ultimately murdered in Turkey; this was during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and coincided with the Turkish massacre of Armenians. Lenz was foolhardy, refused to travel with a guide, and made a beeline for the most dangerous place on the globe. He died for his foolhardiness.
Just the facts, ma’am
Once news of Lenz’s death filtered back to the U.S., another globe-girdling cyclist traveled to Turkey to try and unravel the circumstances of his
death. The mission is only partial successful, and through the bungling of the investigator, an American named Sachtleben, the lives of five innocent Armenians are ruined, all wrongfully accused of Lenz’s death.
What’s excellent about this book is that it places cycling in the midst of great world events, and makes the cycling part of a greater whole, unlike
Lanceographies that force the motion of everything in the universe to rotate around the life of a person whose claim to fame is quickly pedaling a bike.
The snapshot of the world in the late 1800′s is vivid, complex, and fascinating when viewed through the life of a globetrotting biker dude with ninety pounds of gear and balls of steel.
What’s awful about this book is the author’s inability to do anything other than recite the facts. There’s no interpretation, no analysis, no
opinionizing, no fuck bombs, and no writer’s slant to turn this incredible journey into a tale. If the idea of riding your bike ten miles an hour
through impenetrable mud is appealing to you, this book will be right down your alley, because that’s often exactly how it feels.
Herlihy recognizes at the end that he’s recited a bunch of facts but has told no story, so he tries to epilogue us with some sharp observations. But
it’s too late. We’re desperate to put the goddamned thing down and slam a few cold beers. You should have romanced us before we passed out, buddy.
Better luck next time. What’s that you say? Your other book is called ”Bicycle: The History”? Well … maybe not.
Last February the guys who promote Levi’s Gran Fondo, Bike Monkey, issued a press release asking riders to leave their carbon clinchers at home. The ride takes in a fair amount of descending and some of the roads riders drop down are simultaneously steep and twisty. It’s not a great combination for riders who may not have a lot of experience and/or confidence on descents. One road in particular, Meyer’s Grade, hits 18 percent, but of course does that in a stretch followed by a slightly off-camber left.
In my personal experience, I’ve gone as fast as 44 in that section. A friend of mine did 54 there.
When Bike Monkey issued the release, I took some note of it, but knowing that their first interest is to prevent injury and give entrants the best, most successful experience possible, I didn’t blame them. For some years I’ve been seeing carbon clinchers fail in the Santa Monica Mountains. The descents that bring riders down to Pacific Coast Highway drop, on average, 2000 feet and contain an either terrific or terrifying mix (depending on your view) of steep drops and frequent turns.
Frequent readers of RKP have heard me sing the praises of these roads in Malibu. They are the most challenging descents I’ve ridden anywhere, including the roads used in Levi’s Gran Fondo.
I’ve seen a fair number of carbon clincher failures. We’re talking melted brake tracks, flat tires, wives called for rides home. I’ve contemplated a post on whether carbon clinchers were really a product that was as safe and reliable as aluminum clinchers. My concern was that it was unnecessarily argumentative, that I’d be picking a fight where none was required.
Just more than four months have passed since Bike Monkey issued that press release. It seemed that a well-intentioned advisory would go unnoticed by the industry, which was just as well. Then I got this from Reynolds Cycling: Read more
Bradley Wiggins is remaking the Tour de France in his own image. He has illustrated that there’s no such thing as an incumbent at the Tour de France, and all who hope to pull on the Golden Fleece must make their well-timed move with confidence, and after considerable preparation.
There can be little doubt about Wiggins’ preparation. In early March he won Paris-Nice, wearing the leader’s jersey for all but the prologue and opening stage, and taking out the final time trial—a mere 9.6km, but battled uphill. Next, at the end of April, he scored a win in the opening road stage of the Tour of Romandie, which allowed him to take the leader’s jersey once again. Luis Leon Sanchez did take the jersey off the Brit’s shoulders for a day, but in the final time trial Wiggins trounced Sanchez, taking back the yellow jersey and becoming only the second rider in 20 years to win Paris-Nice and Romandie in the same season.
Wiggins then confirmed that he was no spring champion with his performance at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Wiggins won the Dauphiné last year before crashing out of the Tour. Wiggins finished a single second down on Luke Durbridge in the brief prologue. Again, Wiggins took the leader’s yellow jersey following the opening road stage and held his one-second lead over Cadel Evans until the time trial. Of course, Wiggins killed it in the time trial; so great was his speed that he warped the space-time continuum to the point that he finished before Evans even started. Okay, not quite.
That time trial performance deserves a bit more scrutiny; we’ll get to it in a minute. Naturally, Wiggins went on to win the Critérium du Dauphiné and in so doing became the first rider in history to win Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné in the same season. Statistically, that makes him a pretty serious outlier, a less-than-1-percenter. As it is, only two riders have won both the Tour of Romandie and the Tour de France in the same season: Stephen Roche did (in 1987, natch) and Cadel Evans did it last year.
Here’s where a discussion of peak form comes into play. For Paris-Nice, Wiggins’ stiffest competition came from Lieuwe Westra, the Dutchman riding for Vacansoleil. The closest competition Wiggins had from a certified Tour de France GC contender was Andreas Klöden in 18th place, more than six minutes down.
At Romandie the Brit faced guys like Sanchez, Andrew Talansky and Rui Costa. Real Tour GC guys like Michael Rogers and Roman Kreuziger were showing up in the top 10, but were nearly a minute down.
At the Dauphiné Wiggins faced serious competition from guys like Michael Rogers and Cadel Evans, guys tuning up for the Tour de France. Despite giving up a few seconds to Rogers and 10 seconds to Evans on the final stage, Wiggins took the Dauphiné by 1:17, his largest margin to that point in the season. It’s possible that Wiggins wasn’t on peak form in March at Paris-Nice, but there is no doubt he was on better form than other riders with Tour aspirations. It’s hard to say he wasn’t on something approaching peak form at Romandie: he was definitely revved higher than his peers. But the Dauphiné? Few guys ever get the opportunity to show the kind of form at the Dauphiné that Wiggins displayed. How could that not be peak?
Here’s what leaves me scratching my head: The Dauphiné TT was 53km. Wiggins put 1:43 into Evans. In yesterday’s stage 9 TT, Wiggins put 1:43 into Evans, but the length of the event was only 41.5km. It shows that he is on even better form now than he was at the Dauphiné.
I’ve been thinking that Wiggins has been riding a wave of peak form dating to Romandie, the last week of April. That puts him in his 10th week of peak form. I’ve been telling people Wiggins will flame out, pointing out how no one in history has ever won Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie, the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France all in the same season.
That bears repeating: No one, not even the insatiable Cannibal himself, ever won Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie, the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France all in the same season.
Clearly, he’s not days from flaming out based on his ride in stage 9. But his form is too amazing to ignore, and by that I mean his form has been so good for so long that people are taking notice of more than just him winning. His form has crossed that threshold into being conspicuous. People are wondering if he might be doping.
It’s a shame, really. Everything we know about Sky is that the program has been, like Garmin-Sharp, at the very vanguard of clean cycling. Much of the brouhaha surrounds accusations by l’Equipe, the French sports daily known for having sourced information on positive EPO tests by Lance Armstrong. The Texan’s methods notwithstanding, l’Equipe has been just partisan enough in their reporting that it’s fair to wonder if they wouldn’t chase after any cyclist whose first language is English.
But the trajectory Wiggins is on is just the sort of physical miracle that draws attention. To use a literary term, his form has bumped up against our suspension of disbelief. And here’s a corollary to l’Equipe‘s susicion: at Romandie, Sky teammate Chris Froome finished the TT 39th, 1:45 down on Wiggins. At the Dauphiné Froome was sixth, 1:33 behind, and only 10 seconds faster than Evans. However, in stage 9 of the Tour, Froome was a stunning second, 35 seconds behind his team leader and 1:08 faster than the Tour’s defending champion.
Wiggins needs to understand that rides of that caliber don’t just suggest questions, they beg them. For my part, I sincerely hope he’s clean, because as long as he keeps winning the questions will keep coming and the quotes will be unpublishable in most locations. Hilarious, but unpublishable. His could be an unhappy tenure at the top.