What follows is the personal account of regular RKP reader Rob Discher, recently back from his first tilt at the Leadville 100. He was kind enough to share it with us, and now with you.
Going into Leadville, I was a complete mess. Barely slept for 3 days. I played out every worst-case scenario in the week before the race, every barrier that would separate me from clearing the course in under 9 hours, which is the cutoff point for getting the Big Belt Buckle. Hissing tires, broken rims, fractured seat posts, flattened nutrition, flatter legs. I told Kate that I’d never thought about one thing … one event … and trained planned and obsessed over it for an entire year like this. As the race got closer I started to think back on everything that went into the preparation, how these legs carried a story that spanned 5 AM wake-up calls, long hours out on nameless county roads in West Central Texas, social engagements turned down and smaller races, little ones, that built up into what happened on the course.
As context, roughly 2,000 riders line up for this race every year. About 10% of them finish under 9 hours. A few hundred never make it back and tap out. Twelve hours is considered “finishing” the race, and you get a belt buckle for that, but it’s not as big as the Big Buckle, and its size and lore is a huge motivator. Everyone shows up for this race in outrageous shape, and most guys (and a few really tough chicks) think they have a nine-hour ride in them. I knew going into this that it was just barely achievable.
There are five major climbs on the Leadville course. You do everything out and back, and in order. The killers are St. Kevin’s on the way out, Columbine outbound, Powerline inbound, St. Kevin’s inbound and then “The Boulevard”—the nasty last 3 miles of hell that wrings out any remaining resistance. Of all these climbs, Columbine gets the most cred because it takes you over 12,000 feet. My biggest concern was Powerline, which arrives at mile 75. More on that later.
The start scene is amazing; 2,000 riders lined up in a small mountain town listening to the Star Spangled Banner at 6:15 am, with all the spectators, is a hell of a sight. I was reminded this week that in the starting corrals everyone looks fast. They certainly did to me. Shiny bikes, kits emblazoned with everyone’s home team, odd facial hair commemorating the occasion and making some odd statement of commitment to the cause. I wasn’t any different. I proudly took of my warm-up jacket, revealing my Austinbikes jersey and matching bibs, proud to represent the first shop to offer me a ride. I had the mutton chops in full flight, the result of months of grooming an awful beard in hopes I could pull off something extravagant for race day.
As we rode out St Kevin’s, the first climb of the day, there was this mix of excitement and nerves. The pace was slower than anyone would have wanted, but the smart ones, the guys who’d listened to the vets, knew that this was part of it. Take advantage of the slower pace, let your legs loosen up, don’t worry about losing time. I only looked up to notice my surroundings three times the entire race, but two of them were on the way out. I caught Turquoise Lake, with the steam coming off it and the sun streaming through, and then again around Sugarloaf, where I took one brief glance around. Stunning stuff.
There was an amazing spirit of collaboration on the way out, and for good reason. Leadville is funny like that. With the exception of about 10 riders who are actually trying to win it, everyone else is racing against the clock, not each other. You feel an awesome sense of connection with the other riders and whenever possible, you work together. Everyone wins; 40 miles of the course are flat or at least close to it, and road tactics play a major role in keeping speed and saving legs for the long, brutal climbs. At the start of the first road section following St. Kevin’s, a group of about 15 riders all got together and worked the flats, pushing a huge pace. It was organized and focused, right up until the big climb on Columbine, the second real climb of the day and the first true test, where things started to fracture.
In the two miles leading from Twin Lakes, the aid station just before Columbine, and the actual Columbine climb, you could feel the sense of dread in our group. We all knew what we were in for. Most of us would take between 90 minutes and 2 hours on the ascent. We knew there would be walking. We knew there would be suffering. We all marveled at the pros who came hauling down, full tuck, legs churning on an 8 percent downhill over ruts and rocks. It sounded like a jet engine taking off. Aspirational. It’s one of the coolest parts about Leadville’s out-and-back format. You get to see the leaders roaring back in the other direction as you’re still on the outbound portion of the course.
I knew at the top of Columbine, around mile 50, that my 9 hour goal was in trouble. My boss and biking sensei for the past year, Morris, and I hit the midway point of the race, up above 12,400 feet, about 15 minutes over target. I tried not to panic, but I had that moment, that point I’ll never forget where I doubted myself, where I started doing the math, realized I had another 50+ miles to go, and I wondered if I shouldn’t just ease up and enjoy the back half of the race, ceding the almighty goal of 9 hours and that coveted Big Belt Buckle that I’d been fixated on since April.
Right around this time, roughly 5 hours in, as I made the mid-point turn, I stopped doing the math on how realistic it was to clear the rest of the course in 4 hours. This light went on, and I just said to myself, “I’ve trained too hard to give up and not pour everything I have into this race … nine hours or not.” I committed to leaving it all out there, even if sub-nine was a total pipe dream. If I got off my ass and hammered the course, I thought I had a chance, so I let off the brakes and started drilling the long 7 mile downhill. Morris passed me about halfway down and paced me the rest of the way. He’s an amazing downhiller, and I knew if I was catching his wheel, I must be crushing it.
We were. 1:45 up and 30 down. That’s moving.
After that big decent, I came back into the Twin Lakes aid station (outbound mile 40 and inbound mile 60) feeling amazing. I’d been gritting my teeth the whole way down, listening to the endless loop of “For Those About to Rock” in my head as I blurred past the still-suffering climbers, some of whom had over an hour to go to the summit. My pit crew, my family, was amazing. They were all day. I came in NASCAR style, red-hot, slammed on the brakes, and they went to work. Dead water bottles flying out of the back of my kit and cage, new ones replacing them. Gels stuffed into the back pocket. 30 seconds max and then I was off, almost. Kate noticed I’d dropped a chain coming in, which someone, I have no idea who, helped me get back on. All I remember was leaning over the bike and seeing this fully tattooed arm reach over, spin the pedal and get the chain working again.
It took five minutes to get out of the massive Twin Lakes aid station, passing hundreds of people all out supporting friends and family. It felt like a jam band concert parking lot. People were partying, getting loose, having fun, ringing bells and shouting encouragement. After a quick road section, I started in on the singletrack, where I got caught behind a few slowpokes, and then it was on to the rollers, which really sapped the legs. Pipeline aid station, the second-to-last stop of the day and about an hour after Twin Lakes, was a welcome sight. With 35 miles left, I didn’t think it would ever come into view. Your mind does some odd things out there. I legitimately wondered if they’d moved the aid station or if everyone had just decided to pack up and leave, done for the day.
Pulling out of Pipeline, I dropped one water bottle off my cage and just left it. I tried to eat a rice bar and got down 3 bites before I just couldn’t stomach any more and threw it to the side of the trail. The road section following Pipeline was miserable. Full-blast mountain headwinds were about the most unwelcome thing I felt all day, but I picked up a few buddies and tried to work that section together. It wasn’t nearly as successful as the first lap through when we had that large, fast, fresh group. These guys were slow and tired, and I ended up pulling the entire way. With about 3 miles left of flats and rollers, I looked back and realized I was towing about 20 people. No idea where they came from. They just materialized out of nowhere.
My legs felt heavy and tired in the lead-up to that godforsaken crippler Powerline. A sense of dread came over me when I turned off the road, rolled around the dirt corner, and faced up to The Truth. Everyone was walking. I pedaled as long as I could, then climbed off the bike and started pushing. Ten minutes, one foot in front of the other. Everyone struggled to find footing, to keep moving. After that first false summit, the course became “rideable,” but just barely. It’s a sick thing to string together a series of climbs, one right after another, that are just barely doable in the lowest gear. Any easier and you could create some actual pace. Any harder and you’d give up and walk. As it was, I kept turning the cranks, averaging about 2-3 MPH, keeping the head down and trying to push out that thing in the back of my head that made me want to cash it in.
After Powerline I got off the climb with about 80 miles in my legs, ripped a gel and bombed the descent. It felt amazing to be moving again. It was like the sensation you get when you’ve been in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate for an hour, finally get past the wreck and can get out of first gear. One of the volunteers told me I was still in the hunt for 9 hours. I kept that in the back of my mind as I did my best Pua Mata impression and stroked it on the loose downhills leading into St. Kevin’s.
The climb up St. Kevin’s, somewhat predictably, was longer than I remembered in the pre-rides. From the pre-rides I genuinely remembered St. Kevin’s being all road, followed by a short punchy trail section that led into more blessed downhills. The road analysis was right. It was a long slow grinder, about 7-8 mph all the way up that feels like it’s never going to end. With about 100 yards left, I saw my friends Kate and Johnny yelling at the riders and cheering them up the hill. I knew I was close, and the emotional lift was enough to get me to pass through the aid station and keep hammering into the finish.
The part I didn’t account for was the 15 minutes of climbing that happens after you get off the road section, which includes a fair bit of uphill, all on dirt road, with a few sections I didn’t remember at all. I way over-shot one corner, ran off the course and had to carry the bike back onto the trail to get going again.
Up, up, up … until the downhill, that sweet downhill, onto the road, where I grabbed a guy, told him we could make sub-9, and demanded that we work together through the flats. I was yelling at people for the entire last 3 hours of the race, trying to assemble groups so we could work together, trying to lift guys out of some miserable looking states. “Get on the train!” I’d yell as we rode by, hoping they’d pick up the pace, join the group and help pull, so I could get off the front and draft. I got lucky with around 10 miles left when I found a guy who had a bit of spark.
He didn’t think we could make 9, but I barked something nonsensical, and he got inspired to make the push with me. I knew the math was tight, but I wasn’t ready to give in. We pushed hard through the road section, motored through the dirt roads and then struggled up the Boulevard, where he pulled away for a bit.
That aptly named “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is, without question, truth in advertising. It was 1,000 feet of elevation gain over the last 3-5 miles of the course at a time when I was pressing with everything I could to maintain speed and cadence. I was dying to push into the finish, and it seemed like it would never end. At that point I had already reached down into myself 100 times to find that extra gear, but I managed do it again, and then again as I cleared the short, punchy section and then ride out the false flats. I could almost hear guys crying at this point. The dreams were dying left and right, and I passed my friend from the flats who couldn’t find anything else in the tank.
It was a short push to the final road section and then a quick right onto 6th street, the last turn of the course. As I climbed up 6th, past Lake County High School, I looked down at my Garmin and saw it roll 9 hours. It was a heavy moment. A week ago I would have thought this would have killed me, that it would have represented this massive shortcoming when I was so close, literally within sight of the finish, to making my target time. I realized that the Big Belt Buckle dream was done. The marker I’d set, the one I’d talked about with friends and family, the one all of the guys I’d trained with were shooting for were chasing, was just barely … out of reach.
But somehow it wasn’t a sad moment. It was uplifting. Relieving. I could have never predicted this reaction, but I pedaled in the last two-plus minutes with this amazing sense of satisfaction that I’d done what I came to do. I’d left everything on the course. I found something in myself, this reserve, this fire, this energy, that I never knew was there, and I kept reaching down into that well throughout the race and finding more.
There are no regrets. No regrets about the training that took this stocky 195-lb. meathead and turned him into a lean, slick cyclist in the course of a year. No regrets about the nutrition plan, the in-race strategy, or most importantly, the effort I laid down. I was a 9:02 racer and I’m damn proud of that. There was no more in me at the finish line, and as I crossed the red carpet, got my medal, took a hug from one of the volunteers and began searching for my family, I was completely expended. I was, as Harry Chapin said, “good tired.”
Rob Discher normally writes about hockey, the Red Wings specifically, for The Production Line. He plans another attempt at Leadville next year.
When the route for the current Vuelta a España was announced last fall, much was made of its record number of 10 mountaintop stage finishes, the most ever in a grand tour. Fans were excited that they’d be seeing so many spectacular days of racing. But they may not end up being so thrilled if all those uphill finishes turn the race into a too-predictable procession.
That’s what happened the last time a grand tour had an extreme number of summit finishes: the 2011 Giro d’Italia. After just two of that event’s seven uphill arrivals, Alberto Contador was solidly installed as the race leader, leaving the Italians Michele Scarponi and Vincenzo Nibali far behind in a duel for second place. Although Contador’s win was later voided because of his much-delayed suspension from a 2010 Tour de France drugs offense, that ultra-mountainous Giro was distinctly un-spectacular.
It can be argued that the Vuelta is a very different race from the Giro, that the climbs in northern Spain are often much shorter (but no less steep) than those in northern Italy. But judging by the action this week on the first two of the 10 summit finishes at the 67th edition of the Vuelta, the race looks as if it will quickly devolve into a four- or even three-man race—at least until the one individual time trial on August 29. After that, with nine stages and six summit finishes still to come, the Vuelta could be effectively over.
As he was at last year’s Giro, Contador is the central figure in what is his first grand tour since his doping suspension ended. The Spaniard’s half-dozen sharp, uphill accelerations on the steepest (13-percent) sections of the short Alto de Arrate climb on Monday were spectacular in their frequency, and only three riders were able to respond. His countrymen Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez were quick to match Contador’s thrusts, while British co-favorite Chris Froome was content to bridge up at a steadier, but still rapid, climbing pace. “There are a lot more climbs to come,” Froome reasoned.
Contador was able to launch his series of attacks after being helped immensely by Dani Navarro, the one Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank teammate able to stay with the 30-strong front group at the foot of the final climb. At the same time, stage winner Valverde had two Movistar teammates working for him in that group, Benat Intxausti and defending Vuelta champion Juanjo Cobo; Rodriguez had the support of Katusha teammate Dani Moreno; and Froome counted on his impressive Team Sky colleagues Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao.
With so many climbing stages ahead, and probably some flat stages in between, where wind and heat will be factors, the leaders will have to rely on strong teammates to keep them stay in contention and set them up for the summit finishes. The “team” factor could well work against Contador, especially on the stages with longer climbs where Froome, in particular, looks like enjoying greater strength in depth, with his two Colombian climbers Uran and Henao, Aussie all-rounder Richie Porte, Spanish worker Xabier Zandio and British national champion Ian Stannard.
All these Sky men were prominent on Tuesday, when they split the peloton in crosswinds shortly after race leader Valverde was involved in a crash. As a result, they helped Froome move into second place overall on the 13.4km, 5.2-percent climb to the finish at the Valdezcaray ski station, only a second down on new red jersey Rodriguez, with Contador in third overall.
There are two more summit finishes before next Monday’s rest day (which follows a 1,000km air transfer from Barcelona!). This Thursday, the Fuerte del Rapitán climb at Jaca is 3.8km long, with pitches of 12, 13 and 14 percent in its average 5.4-percent grade. And on Saturday, the only Pyrenean stage ends in Andorra with the toughest and highest ascent of the week, the Collada de la Gallina, which averages 8 percent for 7.2km.
Next Wednesday’s stage 11 is probably the most challenging long time trial at a grand tour since the extremely hilly TT along the Cinque Terre at the 2009 Giro. On a 39.4km course between Cambados and Pontevedra, this Vuelta stage starts and finishes at sea level on the Atlantic coast, and is dominated by the Alto Monte Castrove, which climbs through 1,466 feet in 10km and mostly descends the remaining 16km to the finish. It’s the sort of time trial on which Contador and Froome could gain two or three minutes on lesser time trialists such as Rodriguez and Valverde.
The race’s fifth summit finish comes the very next day at Dumbria. It’s just under 2km long but averages a nasty 13.1 percent! That’s just an appetizer for the horrendously hard Labor Day weekend that has three consecutive mountain stages, all with summit finishes. Stage 14 ends on the 9.5km, 8.1-percent Puerto de Ancares, stage 15 has the classic 13.5km, 7-percent Lagos de Covadonga finish, and stage 16 features the Puerto de Pajares ascent that’s been extended to a distance of 19.4km with the new-to-the-Vuelta Cuitu Negru summit with passages of more than 20 percent over the final 3km.
The mountaintop overload will be completed in the final week with stage 17’s finish up the 17.3km-long Fuente Dé (with only a 4-percent grade), and stage’s 20’s pièce de résistance: the mighty Bola del Mundo, a 11.4km climb that ends on a concrete-paved goat track with 23-percent back-breakers!
Whether the Vuelta’s final six mountaintop finishes will have any major effect on the race’s outcome remains to be seen. We hope they will, but they could end up being consolation stage wins for those who’ve already lost their chances for the final classification.
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
There’s precious little art devoted to cycling. Contrast that with all the incredible surf-related art and its enough to chafe you like 200 miles in an un-creamed leather chamois. I keep my eye out for any sort of bike art as a result. Recently, the work of artist Kathleen King came to my attention. She’s a trained artist who has an incredible range.
Given the way artists and writers have to do backflips to find homes for our work, she is a kindred spirit for me. Judging from the murals and other commissions she has received, I’d like her work even if she didn’t do cycling-related work, but her cycling work holds a special appeal for me.
I’ve been attempting to do a post on her for some months; something always seems to get in the way. Finally, we have the perfect occasion: Kathleen is at the USA Pro Challenge. She’ll be following the race and doing chalk art on the course at various points. Better yet, she’ll be showing her work at the Kamruz Galler in Telluride and will be at the gallery in-person on Monday. If you happen to be following the race, drop by and check out her work.
Much of what King is known for are what she calls her bike “scribbles.” The spirals and eccentric, nested ovals possess a very kinetic look and despite the highly abstracted appearance of her work, it really seems to capture the essence of a bike in motion. The piece above was her first in this style and carries the very apt title, “1 km.” I dig that.
Check out this YouTube video of Kathleen doing chalk bike scribbles at the Amgen Tour of California. Pretty killer temporary art.
And if you’re in Telluride visit the Kamruz Gallery: www.kamruz.com
333 W. Colorado Ave. Telluride CO 303-442-7790
The Vuelta starts tomorrow, and, if we accept the dominant storyline that this steep Tour at the desperate end of the season is only a showdown between Sky’s Chris Froome and Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank’s Alberto Contador, then this week’s Group Ride is pretty simple. Who will win, the domestique, straining at his leash, or the returning master of the modern grand tour?
One view is that Contador will win because that’s what he does when the tour is grand. No one on the planet can stay with him when the road goes up and he’s in good form. But is he in good form? Last week’s Eneco Tour would suggest he’s going pretty well, but is it good enough to win in Spain?
The other view is that nothing can stop Chris Froome’s rise to the top of the sport, except perhaps a firm but quiet word in his earpiece from a DS who doesn’t want to see the flying domestique upstage his team leader. Like Contador, Froome excels in the steep. He is able to jump, to find another gear when he needs it. The question is whether he’s had enough time to rest and recover from the Tour and then the Olympics, and then to build his legs again for a three week race.
Of course, there will be other GC contenders showing up, trying to wriggle their way onto the podium. Defending champ JJ Cobo showed last year that he can hang pretty well in the mountains, and Team Movistar will also have Alejandro Valverde along, should Cobo falter.
Rabobank’s Robert Gesink is a rider on the brink. He might not have the change of speed the others have, but he’s a world class climber, and this is certainly a climber’s race. Other’s who might factor include AG2R La Mondiale’s John Gadret, Euskatel-Euskadi’s Igor Anton and Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez.
So have at it. This week’s Group Ride asks: If it’s either Froome or Conatador, which one? And if not them, then who will be the one to confound the commentators?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
You have ridden with these guys so many times, but for some reason, over a different route, longer or steeper or stranger in some way, you are nervous. Or maybe it is exactly the same route you always ride with them, but because of work/family/laziness your form isn’t what it should be. It isn’t what theirs probably is. So butterflies flitter in your guts, and you put extra attention into your ride prep.
There you are trying to decide whether one gel pack is enough, one bar. You pack an extra. You dump powder into bottles and shake it up. You check the weather again. You wake up before the alarm.
I don’t know why it is that a thing so familiar and fun, so already a part of our identities, can stir such anxiety, but it does.
How many thousands of miles have we ridden and yet still fear the unknowns of riding? How well do we know those friends who are willing to show up to coffee shop parking lots when it’s still dark out, but worry what they’ll think if we’re somehow off our game? How much nervous, pre-ride blather do we need to get off our chests before we can just settle down and ride?
To me, every ride is a challenge to be stronger and smarter than the last time I turned the pedals over. I catch my attention wandering. I lose the wheel in front of me or overlap momentarily, before I give the brakes a subtle squeeze and fall back properly into line. Why are these things not yet effortless?
I can take a simple thing, turning those pedals over, left-right-left-right, and unravel it into a pile of threads that each leads off in a different direction, so that I arrive at the meet-up in a state of mental disarray over whether or not I’m good enough to ride with a bunch of people who are as half-assed and ill-prepared as I am.
Fortunately, it is no more than ten miles to serenity. Whatever detail I was churning in my mind recedes by the time someone’s GPS dings at that distance. Luckily, the problems of riding are mostly solved by riding, another absurdity to ponder as you stand in your kitchen in the still dark morning, your bib straps limp at your sides to allow one last trip to the bathroom, to work out your nerves, before you go.
Follow me on Twitter: @thebicyclerobot
Admit it, even with the Vuelta a Espana just around the corner, and whether or not Bradley Wiggins was your choice for the yellow jersey, the end of the Tour brings with it a state of dissatisfaction. There’s an ennui that no other race can fill, even with the epic showdown of this year’s Vuelta looming.
Well, there’s a cream for that itch. It’s called “The Greatest Race” and if it’s not the finest photo book on the Tour de France ever assembled, it’s certainly on the podium. The Greatest Race is the result of a two-year project by photographer Mike Powell. We did a post roughly a year ago about the book as it was being prepared for publication. It was published last year but for reasons that are anything but clear, the publisher chose not to distribute it in the U.S.
My heart sank on that piece of news.
In the wonders-never-cease department the book is now available through Amazon. Which is all the occasion I needed to revisit Powell’s work. We spoke earlier this summer about what makes the work in this book so different from what you generally see from other photographers. Credit where due, James Startt is an exceedingly brave shooter and one who won’t settle for formula. A quick look at my bookcases will reveal no less than four coffee-table books by Graham Watson. He’s captured thousands of images that helped define the sport for me.
As we talked, Powell said what set this project apart from other assignments he’s had at the Tour de France was that he wasn’t on assignment as a journalist. There were no requirements that each day he capture the breakaway, that he find some scenic shot of fans enjoying a lazy day, that he be in the photographer’s scrum at the finish. He was free to pursue the shots that he found the most compelling. What can be difficult for the average fan to understand is that when you’re a brand-name photographer there’s a need to deliver each and every day. Experimentation isn’t something that plays well with a need to have something for an online report or a magazine feature. By necessity most photographers end up shooting nearly the same formula each and every year.
Powell explained how in working on this book he had the freedom to spend a whole day pursuing a particular image. Not many photographers get the opportunity to chase such windmills. Of course, not many photographers have the credentials Powell does. As the former head photographer of AllSport (later purchased by Getty Images), Powell can be credited with a great many truly iconic sports shots. He is arguably one of the greatest track and field shooters, ever. If a moment can be captured, he’ll get it, tack-sharp, and from the perfect perspective.
I don’t mind saying that this is less a book review than an explicit endorsement. Flipping through the book makes the Tour fresh and intimate, reminding me of the occasions I’ve been there and giving me a window into events I didn’t have the chance to enjoy. It does more to capture the totality of the race than any other photo book I’ve ever seen.
Enjoy the shots. And if you don’t pick the book up yourself, you might consider sending this link to your sweet one before Christmas rolls around: The Greatest Race.
Images: Mike Powell
Imagine that the Olympic Games happened—or next week’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge took place—and no one came to watch. There’d be no applause as the racers came through the towns, no camper vans massed on the climbs, and no one banging the billboards along the finish straight. You might say, so what? Ninety percent of the world’s racers don’t have crowds watching them; they just ride for fun. But at the elite pro level, it’s the synergy between the riders and the spectators that creates the event. Without the fans, a race would lack the energy and excitement that we tend to take for granted.
Take the Olympic men’s cross-country race last Sunday at Hadleigh Farm in the Essex countryside east of London. A capacity crowd of some 20,000 spectators lined the challenging course that gave rise to one of the best mountain-bike races in the sport’s history. As with every other event at the London games, the home fans were hoping that a British athlete would be on the podium, but when their best hope, Liam Killeen, crashed out with a broken ankle they warmed to a superb race between pre-race favorite Nico Schurter of Switzerland, world champion Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic and Italian dark horse Marco Fonda.
The roar of the crowds all around the course undoubtedly inspired the three Europeans to ride harder than they’ve ever ridden before. The faster they raced, the louder the cheers. And the louder the cheers, the faster they raced. Without such great support, Fonda may not have been so doggedly brave, after he lost his seatpost, to ride the whole final lap out of the saddle to hang on to the bronze medal. And Kulhavy may not have kept chasing back when Schurter kept on accelerating and the Czech may not have been ready to jump past the Swiss in the dying seconds to take gold.
That was the perfect example of how a crowd can both make racing more thrilling and influence an event’s outcome. Other crowds, including the wall-to-wall mob that lined the barriers from start to finish of the Olympic time trial two weeks ago, can add tremendous enthusiasm to an event and increase the enjoyment level for both themselves and the riders. Top time trialists normally operate in a world of their own, focusing totally on their pedal cadence and power output, the next bend in the road and the rider they’re catching. But having crowds urging you on adds a major element to your performance.
Around the Hampton Court Palace course on August 1, the constant encouragement of the hundreds of thousands spectators was an element that transcended a rider’s internal forces. Gold medalist Brad Wiggins said, “The noise was incredible. I’m never, ever going to experience anything like that again in my sporting career.” And his British teammate Chris Froome, who claimed the bronze medal, said the crowds “weren’t just cheering, they were screaming our names.”
There was an informal comparison of sound levels at the various Olympic venues. Not surprisingly, the decibel counts were loudest at the indoor arenas, with one or two bouts at the 10,000-capacity boxing arena just out-scoring the most exciting races at the 6,000-seat Olympic Velodrome. Judging by the huge popularity of the track cycling in London—despite the lack of the individual pursuit and the often harsh application of arcane sprinting rules—this branch of the sport is making a strong comeback. Indeed, world road champion Mark Cavendish, who was on the BBC television commentary team at the velodrome, was so enthused by the racing that he said he will make an actual comeback to the track with a view to contesting the team pursuit and six-race omnium for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
It was instructive that the track racing in London lasted for six days, the same as traditional six-day races, which may have lost much of their luster in recent decades but remain one the most potentially popular branches of bike racing. Anyone who has attended a European six-day race (including London’s Skol Six that introduced many British fans to track racing during the 1980s) knows that a well-staged “six” that’s contested by a variety of two-man teams, including sprinters and stars of the Tour de France, can be more entertaining than any other form of racing.
Today, few remember that road riders such as Eddy Merckx gained a lot of their finishing speed by racing on the six-day velodromes, while both Wiggins and Cavendish won Belgium’s prestigious Ghent Six in an early phase of the pro careers. So, following the track’s massive popularity at the Olympics, six-day races could be added to the track racers’ still-limited annual schedule of World Cup races, world and continental championships, and the occasional specialty events such as the Revolution races held at British velodromes.
The interplay between the racers and the fans is a vital part of track racing—no one would want to race in any empty arena! Everyone wants the crowds to be as big as those that watched the London Olympic road races and the ones that we’ll likely see on Boulder’s Flagstaff Mountain and Denver’s time-trial circuit at the USA Pro Challenge in a few days’ time.
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Most of the cycling world has been abuzz since yesterday when the first links appeared to Jonathan Vaughters’ op-ed piece for the New York Times. It’s rare that we direct readers to another site, but if you haven’t already read the piece by Garmin-Sharp’s director and you follow pro cycling, then this piece is required reading. You can read it here.
What’s notable about Vaughters’ piece isn’t that he openly admits that he doped. It’s simply an item on his resume, a resume that includes lifelong cyclist, former pro and lieutenant for the U.S. Postal Service Team. What is significant is that Vaughters uses those details to establish his bona fides as an authority on how to create an environment where an athlete isn’t forced to confront the choice he faced.
There’s a tendency to immediately sum up any rider found to have doped as a cheater. It’s an easy equivalent to draw. And because doping provokes such a passionate response in cycling fans—me included—it’s easy to reduce the offending rider to a black-hat-wearing villain. As it happens, it’s easier to condemn than it is to understand. Been there, done that, sent the postcard.
Vaughters weaves a deft journey through the many factors that contribute to an athlete’s choice and while there is ample opportunity to dodge responsibility, he acknowledges that it was a choice that he alone made. What his essay best illustrates is a point I’ve written about on multiple occasions, that most doping comes as the result of coercion, either explicit, such as from a coach (it’s worth noting that his callout to “the boss” was a shot across Armstrong’s bow), or implicit, as a result of the sense that one is being left behind by the competition.
Since its inception Slipstream Sports has run what is arguably the cleanest program in cycling. If for no other reason, Vaughters deserves our attention, has earned the right to make the case for how we can clean up cycling. Will the UCI listen? That’s the question.
Image courtesy Slipstream Sports
I don’t even want to tell this story, but it brings up a question I need to have answered. I woke up yesterday with a completely trashed front wheel on my bike, a hangover I will never forget and a citation for a Driving(!!!!!) under the influence.
I admit that I was out the night before and I know I had too much to drink. I remember hitting a pothole going down a hill on my way home and the cops stopping to “help” me.
What I didn’t know was that I could get a DUI ticket for riding my bike. I have never even had a ticket in my life and I thought I was being responsible by not driving. How does this affect my driving record? How does this affect my insurance?
Should I just pay the thing or fight it? How should I fight it if I do?
I am as embarrassed as you can imagine, so I will just sign my name as,
– Suddenly Sober
I tried to email you back after I received your question, not to offer you specific legal advice (which I do not do in this column), but to find out more information.
There are a lot of things missing from your story; chief among the questions in my mind is which state you live in.
Most traffic laws in American towns and cities are based, at least in part, on something known as the Uniform Vehicle Code. The Code is prepared by a private, non-government organization, the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances, to promote the establishment of a set of consistent rules and practices that should allow to you to feel relatively familiar with the roads and rules no matter where you drive in this country. Traffic laws and traffic signs tend to be consistent across the U.S., whether you’re driving in San Francisco, Cleveland or even out here on the high prairie roads of Laramie, Wyoming.
Now if you haven’t already bought one, go out and grab a copy of “Bicycling and the Law,” by my friend, Bob Mionske. I am assuming that you don’t already have one, “Suddenly,” because Bob actually tackles the question of Bicycling Under the Influence very nicely.
To start, the question of where this violation occurred is key. In Mionske’s own state of Oregon, the law is quite bicycle-friendly, embracing the statement that cyclists all across the world love to hear: “Every person riding a bicycle upon a public way shall have all of the rights and all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle.”
How cool is that? Bicycles have rights and they’re the very same rights as anyone driving a car. I’m sure you also saw that killer caveat, namely “all of the duties.” And that, for Drunk Cyclists (with apologies to my friend, Jon) all over Oregon, is the key phrase.
Back in 1986, the Oregon Court of Appeals considered the case of a fella named Morris Woodruff. Woodruff was cruising along U.S. Highway 97 in Oregon when he was stopped by police and ordered to take a breathalyzer test. He was arrested for Driving Under the Influence. At trial Woodruff’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the charge on the grounds that the state’s DUI law doesn’t apply to bicycles. The trial court judge agreed and dismissed the case.
Prosecutors appealed and the Court found that the little phrase “all of the duties” did in fact mean that cyclists were subject to the provisions of the law.
The case also produced an interesting distinction, though. Oregon, like most states, has an “implied consent” rule, which roughly means that if you have applied for and received a driver’s license, you’ve already granted your consent to be tested for alcohol and other substances if an officer has reason to believe you are intoxicated.
Well, back at the trial court level, Woodruff’s attorneys had also filed a motion to suppress the results of the breathalyzer, arguing that since riding a bike didn’t require a motor vehicle license, the implied consent rule didn’t apply to cyclists. The Appeals Court actually bought that argument and agreed that the breathalyzer results couldn’t be presented in evidence against Mr. Woodruff.
I’m not sure of the final outcome of his case, but I have to suspect that if the breathalyzer results were tossed, then prosecutors would have had a tough time making their case against Woodruff. But the important element of that ruling, at least as it applies in Oregon, is that bicyclists are bound by the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. Hey, the whole “equal rights” thing is what many of us have been asking for, so why bitch when we get saddled with the same duties?
Anyway, that’s Oregon for ya, but other states approach the problem of the Velocimpeded in a variety of ways. Mionske offers up some fine examples of that by mentioning the approaches of several states. Take California for example, where the traffic code has a separate offense for bicycling under the influence. For adults, that could result in a fine. For under-age drinking cyclists, that could result in a one-year suspension of a driver’s license or a one-year delay in its issuance in the event the offender is not yet licensed. California, too, does not apply the implied consent rule to cyclists, so if asked just decline the opportunity.
In Utah, the state applies the same DUI laws to cyclists, but adds that such two-wheeled offenders are not subject to the same penalties as those operating a motor vehicle while impaired.
In other states, riding under the influence is not even a specific violation of the law, although you could still be subjected to arrest and prosecution under the provisions of a broader “drunk and disorderly” law. Cops are particularly prone to cite you for a D-and-D if they feel you pose a risk to your own safety or, worse, to the public at large.
So, for you, “Suddenly,” since you were actually cited for a DUI, I would probably suggest you contact an attorney and see what it is you’re facing. At bare minimum, look at the ticket and see if it cites the exact statute or ordinance you’re accused of violating. Then Google it. You may be able to find the specific violation and penalties. That should make your decision as to whether or not to contact an attorney easier.
If it turns out that you’re in one of those states that doesn’t treat a BUI in the same way as a DUI, you may be better off paying your fine and chalking up the whole thing to experience.
If you’re in a state in which the rule is applied in the same way no matter what kind of vehicle you’re operating – or in a state where the question still hasn’t been settled – then talk to a lawyer. It may be worth a fight.
Now, I have refrained from lecturing you about the stupidity of doing what you did. To do so would be a touch hypocritical on my part, if I consider that embarrassing incident 33 years ago when I destroyed my bike, broke my wrist and nose by … oh, never mind, it’s a long and stupid story.
Anyway, I hope you learned a lesson from the experience. I sure did when I made the same stupid mistake.
Hypocrisy or none, I do need to point out that alcohol consistently plays a role in between 25 and 33 percent of all cycling fatalities. It’s something worth keeping in mind.
The bottom line, though, is that no matter what your state’s approach to the question, operating any vehicle – including a bicycle – enhances risks both to you and to the public at large. People die from crashing bikes and people die from getting hit by people on bikes.
Please, whatever you do, be careful out there.
P.S. – The Explainer is taking a break again, because his alter-ego, Live Update Guy, will be back doing Live Updates from each and every stage of the 2012 Vuelta a España. The Vuelta begins next Saturday with a team time trial in Pamplona and ends on Sunday, September 9, in Madrid. It should be a good three weeks. The Explainer will be back with another column on the first Saturday after the Vuelta, September 15.
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.
A bicycle, functioning properly, sounds something like a finely cast fishing rod or a baritone cricket. And at some point, you become so accustomed to the regular zip and hum of your bike, that you don’t actually hear it at all. You should treasure this time for deep in the micro-dermis of every well-running machine are the beginnings of failure.
Generally what brings you back around to hearing your bike is something aberrant in the regularity, a squeak or pop or groan or creak. It becomes, in the silence, a dripping faucet, a non-event, an innocuousness that threatens to crush your brain.
I have dealt with these sounds both with patience and with the frenzy of a werewolf at dusk. I have worked methodically through the multiple causes of a creak in the works, tightening, greasing and adjusting, and I have also broken down almost completely, pulling cranks and bottom brackets, applying grease like a finger-painting toddler and breaking down in tears when the creak creaked on, unimpressed.
I have watched YouTube videos of people doing battle with bike noises, and I have read the unabridged Sheldon Brown. I have chased noises from hub to hub, BB shell to seat post. I have won some and lost more. The best trick I know for eliminating a noise is to isolate it to the offending part, remove that part, leave the bike in pieces for a few weeks and then put it back together. That strategy is usually good for two to three days of annoyance free pedaling, and I don’t recommend it.
This week’s Group Ride asks: What is your worst noise story? Where did it end up? How did you fix it? And how much can you actually tolerate before the tools come out and the gloves go on?