Here’s a hint: It involves a planet with five sexes, plus Chinese New Year.
We’ve all grown used to bike brands introducing their new models during or right after the Tour. But then everyone waits around for another couple of months, until Interbike, for the industry’s big sales event. And to top it off, riders who might want to actually buy the new stuff often can’t get their hands on it for a couple months after that.
It’s like you get to open your presents on Christmas morning … but you can’t play with them until Groundhog Day. So what’s up with this craziness?
What’s up is that while you’re waiting for those cool new products, there’s a frantic—and almost entirely hidden—mating dance going on up and down the supply chain among retailers, bike brands, the Asian factories that make most of our bikes, and the component manufacturers that supply the factories. Plus you the consumer, of course, who’s the ultimate source of demand for the whole Rube Goldberg contraption.
Speaking of Rube Goldberg, now imagine a planet with five sexes. What would hookup bars look like? Well, that retina-searing image also represents a pretty good peek inside the bike industry kimono as to what’s going on each year between July and October. Here’s why:
The huge majority of bike sales represent a seasonal and highly weather-dependent business. We were blessed with a great spring last year, for instance, and by May 2012 there weren’t nearly enough bikes in the channel to meet demand.
Other years, the weather turns bad (rainy weekends are an especially effective sales-killer) or the economy goes sour, or both (as they did in 2009), and we have way too much inventory in the channel. That stuff ends up getting discounted to make room for next year’s models. Good news for bargain-hunters, maybe, but the whole business stands to lose tens of millions of dollars in retail sales as a result.
From the point of view of industry salespeople, product managers, and inventory planners, the key to a successful year is to build up a large but finite supply of bikes during September-April to meet in-season demand, while still leaving enough flexibility in the spring months to increase or cut back on production as needed.
Factor in the four-month window between placing POs and actually having bikes available at retailers, and the job becomes something like shooting fish in a barrel … only blindfolded and facing backwards on a fast-moving roller coaster while an army of winged monkeys hurl constant barrages of both insults and poo.
But back to the Rube Goldberg hookup bar. Within its five-way squeeze play, consumers have most of the power and flexibility. They can walk into their LBS during selling season and—assuming everyone else has done their jobs correctly—ride out on the shiny new-model-year bike of their choice.
After that, things get a little more complex.
Moving upstream along the sales channel, retailers need to have bikes available when customers want them. They also want to wait as long as possible each summer before placing orders for the entire next year’s worth of product, too. After all, they’ll be the ones left holding the bag if those bikes don’t sell.
But it takes months of off-season production to build up enough inventory to last through the intense spring/summer selling months. And bike brands don’t want to just fill up warehouses with product and hope bike shops decide to purchase it. They want firm, non-cancellable orders in hand before making a final production commitment with their factories. (Suppliers call this pre-season ordering practice “risk-sharing.” Retailers call it “extortion.” But it happens in all kinds of seasonal industries, not just bikes.)
Factory and component manufacturers, in turn, want to keep their production schedules filled and steady, so they need commitment from bike brands as far in advance as possible.
So what’s all this got to do with Interbike, and more to the point, why is it in mid-September? Turns out that’s the magic time when these various conflicting interests—retailers, bike brands, factories, and component suppliers—all come together. And that, in turn, happens because of Chinese New Year.
For those not familiar with the Asian calendar, the Lunar New Year falls between mid-January and mid-February. This year, for instance, the year of the Dragon started fairly early, on January 23rd. Next year, the year of the Snake, doesn’t start until February 10th.
Throughout the Asian world but especially in China and Taiwan, things pretty much shut down for a month. The official holiday period may vary between a few days and a week, but millions of factory workers—and between 150 million and 200 million total humans—travel to their home villages (Chunyun) for New Year festivities. And back again afterwards.
From a bike-building point of view, the bottom line of Chunyun is that if you want your bikes to ship from the factory before the New Year’s holiday (so they’ll be at retailers’ before the season starts in late March/early April), you pretty much have to place purchase orders by the end of September.
So Interbike becomes the last-ditch chance for retailers to take a look at what’s available industry-wide before placing their “final” orders for the season (there are still opportunities to make adjustments in-season, but those are limited). Bike brands fine-tune POs to their factories based on this information.
Then a big red imaginary button gets pushed somewhere, and something close to a billion dollars worth of bike production is collectively locked and loaded. And then all the players hold their collective breaths until April or May when it becomes clear what sales for the season are actually going to look like.
Meanwhile, development of the two-years-from-now models has already begun. Industry standard is a 14-month dev cycle, so 2014 bikes were already in their initial design/engineering phases back in May of this year.
And later this week, when bike shop buyers and industry salespeople are busy sniffing spokes and talking prices, product managers and factory reps will be huddled up in conference rooms … sweating the details on bikes the rest of us won’t even get a glimpse of until after next year’s Tour.
Follow me on Twitter: @rick_vosper
When I was a kid, the ultimate vacation I could take was to go to Disney World. I’d be excited for days, even weeks beforehand, dreaming of all the incredible rides I’d enjoy once through the park’s gates. Once actually through the gates, choosing what to go on first was no easy task.
Outdoor Demo has taken the place of Disney World for me. There are more bikes to ride and people to see than I possibly get through in two days, even after eliminating from the list everyone I’ll see inside the convention hall. But it never actually works out quite that way.
I began today with a spin on the Neil Pryde Alize, one of the bikes that I saw this summer at Press Camp, but for which I was too short on time to go for a ride. I rolled out with the early morning Lake Meade ride and while there are a great many people on that ride looking for a good hard ride as it could be their only chance to ride in the next four or five days, I decided to hide in the back of the group and take an early turn around so that I could get on to riding other bikes.
The Alize was a pretty nice bike. If anything, it reminded me of Felt’s Z bike before its newest incarnation. There was plenty of stiffness to be responsive but not so much stiffness you wanted to take air out of the tires. The handling was very predictable. Oddly, I found my heels hitting the chainstays, which, because I’ve got size 42 feet, is a very unusual—essentially unheard of—phenomenon. Aside from that one detail, a nice bike.
It’s been a while since I last rode one of Specialized’s more entry level road bikes. I rolled out on a Roubaix Comp mostly to see just how lively a ride Specialized’s more budget-oriented grand touring model would offer. For 2013 the Comp gives riders many of the features found in the previous Roubaix SL3 frame. Honestly, at this price point ($TK), I expected something on the doornail side of dead. Surprisingly, this bike was anything but.
There’s no doubt that the Zertz vibration dampers do mute some of the high-frequency vibration that would otherwise reach a rider’s hands and rear, but what surprised me is just how much feedback I was still able to experience. This bike is a good deal more sensitive than its predecessors.
The other aspect of the bike’s ride quality was the amazing stiffness this bike possessed. I wouldn’t expect too many bikes in this price range to offer the precise tracking or BB stiffness found in this bike. And while I have traditionally ridden a 56cm frame in the Roubaix (though I ride a 58cm in the Tarmac), I went out on the 58cm Roubaix this time and while the steering felt a bit light initially due to the high bar, I was able to shift my weight forward a bit in turns to make the bike handle a bit more predictably. I gotta say, though, riding uphill with a bar that high was more comfortable than a chaise lounge at the beach. Okay, maybe not quite, but I liked it in the same surprised-at-how-great-this-is experience.
My very next bike was of a piece, the Giant Defy 0. This is Giant’s next to the top-of-the-line for its grand touring line, or as they call it, their “Endurance” line. Position is very similar to the Roubaix on this bike thanks to a long head tube. I tell ya, it’s kinda nice to sit up like that. The frame offered really good stiffness in torsion without being overly stiff vertically. Road feedback was good; it offered a bit more sensitivity than the Roubaix, but it wasn’t the high-volume feedback that I’ve found in some frames.
The seat tube and seat stay shapes suggest a bike that should be pretty harsh at the saddle, but that wasn’t my experience at all.
Of al the bikes coming out of Europe, the #1 bike that my friends covet has been Look’s 695. I’ve been curious what the draw is, so I spent some time hanging out at Look until one was returned. In differentiating the 695 from some of the top-of-the-line American frames Look staffer Kevin Padgett used a wine analogy. He suggested that American bikes were like California wines—bolder, more fruit-driven, and less apt to age well—whereas the Look was more like a grand cru Burgundy—refined, structured, less flavor-of-the-month. Does the comparison really hold up? It’s hard to say. I do think it’s a fun way to get people to think about differences between bikes, though.
Here’s what I can tell you about the 695: There’s a good reason that people have been excited about this bike. It offers exquisite sensitivity and provided one of the stiffest platforms from which to sprint that I rode in the two days of Outdoor Demo. Honestly, I was surprised by how much road surface feedback the bike offered; every French bike I’ve ridden prior to this one was as wooden as a barn.
The other detail I liked about the bike was its geometry; it didn’t feel overly aggressive, so on the fastest parts of the demo course, it felt very stable, it was still really easy to flick into a corner. This was one of my favorite bikes of Outdoor Demo and one for which I’d really like to do a more in-depth review.
The 675 is Look’s response to the grand touring segment. While there’s loads of seatpost showing in the photo above, the bike in question is a 56 rather than a 58. While not as dead as many of the French maker’s older models, the 675 was intentionally laid up with the goal of damping a significant amount of vibration to leave riders feeling fresher at the end of a long ride. It’s harder for me to comment on the handling of this bike due to its small size; with the bar so low there was enough weight on the front wheel to make the handling a bit sluggish.
The unusual integrated stem and top-tube design looks like it isn’t very adjustable, but spacers are available to raise the stem so you’re not locked into a single fit.
The Litespeed C1 was easily the biggest surprise of all the bikes I rode at Outdoor Demo. More than any other bike, I really want to have time to do miles on the C1 in order to do an in-depth review. The c1, for those who aren’t familiar with the bike, is Litespeed’s contribution to the aero road bike category. The C1′s design engineer responsible for this bike, Brad Devaney, told me that their wind tunnel data showed this frame and fork provides a rider with more aerodynamic gain than a set of Zipp 404s. The claim seemed to hold water because on the downhill run on the demo loop the bike was significantly faster than my previous two trips down. While I didn’t have a speedometer of any sort, what I noticed is that I had to brake for a turn that I’d previously sailed through due to higher perceived speed on my part.
Seeming fast and being fast may be two different things; I’m sure I’ll be able to settle that for myself if I have a chance to review the bike. The problem aero road bikes have typically faced is that due to their narrow tube profiles, they lack torsional stiffness, so they get loaded up with more carbon to make them stiff, but the extra carbon deadens the frame feel. Well, the C1 was nearly as lively in feel as some of my favorite non-aero road bikes. To get great aerodynamics, solid road feedback and world-class stiffness in one bike has been rare. I need more time on this bike.
The L1 is Litespeed’s newest bike, an 830g road frame (they are already working on a new layup that could shave even more weight) that can take on bikes like the Specialized Tarmac, Felt F1 and BH Ultralight (I dropped by BH to try to take an Ultralight out, but I couldn’t get anyone to acknowledge me, so I left after 10 minutes). Compared to the Felt F1, this was a less aggressive, more comfortable bike, yet it seemed to give up nothing in torsional stiffness or precise handling.
This massive BB looks like it’s going to be stiffer than a plate glass table but a surprising degree of comfort comes through to the saddle. For as responsive as the bike was, I was surprised by how pleasant it was to stay in the saddle on rough pavement.
While the size of the seatstays suggests stiffness, the fact that the seatstays merge with the seat and top tube enables Litespeed to use longer carbon fibers in its layup and that helps the ride quality.
On a separate note, a number of readers out there who work in the industry saw me in my RKP kit and came up to say hi. If I didn’t thank you then, thanks for taking a moment to say hi and thanks for reading.
Tuesdays with Wilcockson
In last week’s column, I began to trace my journey in cycling from the 1960s, first as a racer then a writer, in connection with the sport’s escalating problems with illicit drugs. This week, I’ll continue the story from where I broke off, at the 1998 Tour de France, when the French team Festina was thrown out for organized doping. What the Festina Affair revealed was the degree to which EPO had transformed cycling in the worst possible way.
“Before EPO,” the 1988 Giro d’Italia champion Andy Hampsten told me, “we knew we were always racing against guys on drugs, but I don’t think those drugs gave them more of an advantage than the advantage we had knowing they’re gonna come crashing down. We didn’t lose energy worrying about what other people were doing; we just focused on ourselves, and we didn’t need to win every race.”
That “higher ground” attitude of Hampsten’s American team, Motorola, began to change in 1994. “There was a lot of grumbling on the team,” Hampsten said, “and we did get technical data from team doctor Massimo Testa because he’d talk to his colleagues on other teams. He was always straight with me. ‘Sure enough,’ he said, ‘if so-and-so who you raced with for eight years and you always dropped on the climbs, if that guy’s beating you now, his hematocrit is 15 points higher, and he’s gonna kill you in the mountains.’”
Because the new drug couldn’t be detected in anti-doping tests, no one knew for certain who was using EPO—and riders kept that secret to themselves. So, for the best part of a decade, until the Festina Affair, rumors were the only source of what was happening in the peloton. And rumors, without any corroborative evidence, were not things that professional journalists could write about. And when we did ask questions about doping those questions were sidestepped more often than not.
The situation began to change slightly in 1997 when the UCI mandated a maximum hematocrit level of 50 percent. Cyclists who tested above that level were not allowed to compete for at least two weeks, or until their red-blood-cell count returned to a “normal” level. But that couldn’t be translated into knowing a rider had used EPO. In any case, the new “health” regulation was a tiny deterrent because riders soon learned how to use portable centrifuges to test their own blood and keep the hematocrit level below 50—or so it was rumored.
The full extent of doping in the 1990s didn’t emerge until well after the Festina team was busted. First came the 1999 tell-all book, “Massacre à la Chaîne,” by soigneur Willy Voet who was fined and given a suspended prison sentence for his part in the Festina Affair. He wrote the book with French journalist Pierre Ballester, who worked for the Paris sports newspaper, L’Équipe, whose writers were just as shocked as everyone by the Festina Affair, the subsequent revelations in Voet’s book and the facts that later emerged in French courtrooms.
Testimonies at a December 2000 tribunal, which investigated the inner workings of the Festina team, showed that the French squad had engaged in organized doping since 1993. Prior to that year’s Tour de France, the tribunal’s report states, “the team riders who had yet to use EPO were growing impatient to get access to it several days before the start…. The main reason had to be that other teams were already administering this substance.”
Luc Leblanc, a French leader of the Festina team, admitted he used EPO in 1994 at the Vuelta a España and Tour de France, but he denied that EPO helped him win that year’s UCI world road title. But another witness, who worked for the team throughout the 1990s, testified that “all the Festina team riders at the 1994 world championships were given the same preparation: EPO with supplements. Luc did the same as everyone else.”
Riders entering the sport at that time were faced with a much more difficult decision than my racing peers had faced in the 1960s, when popping speed or getting injections of bull’s blood might have given riders a psychological edge but not much of a physical one. The dilemma in the ’90s for new professionals was to accept the use of EPO or risk never making the grade. That’s what Tyler Hamilton says made him begin doping in 1996, according to his new autobiography, “The Secret Race,” written with former Outside magazine journalist Dan Coyle.
Hamilton’s decision to use EPO coincided with his small American team, Montgomery-Bell, getting title sponsorship from the U.S. Postal Service that allowed them to start racing in Europe. By coincidence, I bumped into Hamilton on a flight back from Brussels to the U.S. in April 1996. I’d been reporting the spring classics for VeloNews, and Hamilton, then 25 and in his second year as a pro, told me about events he and the team had raced in the Netherlands, including his winning the Teleflex Toer stage race. Obviously, he didn’t say anything about EPO.
Like most other cycling journalists, I saw Hamilton—who majored in economics at the University of Colorado prior to turning pro—as part of a new generation of young riders from North America who were not polluted by Europe’s doping culture. Clean cut and quietly spoken, Hamilton seemed to be too smart to risk his health by doping, especially with the litany of dugs that appeared to be necessary to maximize the use of EPO.
As a sports journalist, you have to draw a fine line between writing about an athlete’s accomplishments and getting to know him (or her) through interviews and chats at races so that you can put those performances in perspective. Having had friendly working relationships with most of the sport’s successful modern “Anglo” riders—from pioneers Phil Anderson and Jonathan Boyer, followed by Steve Bauer, Greg LeMond, Robert Millar, Sean Kelly and Sean Yates, along with Andy Hampsten, Allan Peiper, Davis Phinney, Stephen Roche and many others—it seemed natural that I should do the same with the next wave, led by Lance Armstrong, Hamilton, George Hincapie, Chris Horner, Bobby Julich, Levi Leipheimer, Kevin Livingston, Fred Rodriguez and Christian Vande Velde.
It was difficult not to like all these guys. They were all young, intelligent and ambitious. And they were all making their mark in pro racing. When you did a one-on-one interview with those American cyclists you expected them to be truthful. That was the case in nearly all aspects of what they said about their lives, their training and their races—and you hoped it was true when they condemned doping and dopers.
Hamilton says in his book that he lied about his doping practices, even with his close friends and family. He was not the only one. I will write more about doping next week, but for now I’ll end with a quote from Brian Holm, now a highly regarded directeur sportif with Omega Pharma-Quick Step. The Dane wrote about his 13 years as a pro cyclist in his 2002 autobiography, in which he admitted to doping, just as Hamilton has today.
After Holm and many of his counterparts elaborated on their use of EPO at the Deutsche Telekom team, he said this to a Danish publication: “When I turned pro there was not that much talk about doping…and finally it was so normal that no-one thought it was illegal anymore. Many from my generation say that they were never doped, just as I said myself for a long time, because you thought that it really wasn’t doping or cheating. I actually think I could have passed a lie-detector test when I stopped my pro cycling career [in 1998], because I was convinced I was clean. It is only years later that you start realizing that it may not have been the case after all. It had become such a big part of your daily routine.”
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
No matter how many times I do Interbike, every year something unusual, something fresh, something exciting occurs to keep my interest fixed on a location that were circumstances any different, I can assure you I would never consider as the focal point of a long awaited vacation. I am here strictly for work. And while Las Vegas gets weirder with each passing year, that ever-increasing weirdness is a functional corollary to the bike industry itself, not that it’s getting weirder, but that change is ever afoot that each of us arrives with the hope that we’ll see new products destined to make our cycling experiences not so much better, but as thrilling as that first taste of independence how ever many decades ago it occurred.
This year my show started on an unusual note. Rather than host an afternoon ride to experience their products, SRAM invited some members of the media to meet them at the Ventian hotel, next to the Sands Convention Center, and ride out to the Outdoor Demo at Boulder Canyon. What I didn’t recall about the invitation was that we were going to ride the 2012 SRAM Red crank with Quarq power meter and—oh joy—we would ride a predefined section of the bike path to record a roughly five minute effort and then analyze the data recorded. What I found out was something I already knew: I was tired, and the Quarq power meter seems to provide the same level of data as the SRM in a simpler package. The bikes we rode were Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4s with 2012 Red, Zipp 202s and the aforementioned Quarq power meter.
Once at the Outdoor Demo, the very first bike I went to ride was the new Pinarello Dogma, or if not new, then the latest iteration of the Dogma. It’s been a while since I last rode a carbon fiber Pinarello and there’s been a good reason for that. The last carbon Pinarello I rode was not an impressive bike, no matter what Pinarello fans would have you believe. It used excessive amounts of intermediate modulus carbon fiber and as a result, though it was fairly stiff, it was dead as roadkill.
The new Dogma is nothing like that. I’d heard a few good reports on the bike, but remained suspicious; I wanted to find out for myself, doubting Thomas that I am. The very first thing I noticed was that in picking up the 9000 Dura-Ace-equipped bike it was a noticeably light bicycle, in the 14 to 14.5-lb. range. Upon rolling out I discovered a bike that offered excellent road feedback and precise handling. Telling you the bike was stiff doesn’t say much; what I’ll tell you is that this bike has gained a tremendous amount of stiffness. It’s stiffer than any of the open-mold bikes I’ve ridden as well as most everything else I’ve ridden coming out of Europe.
Regarding the new Shimano Dura-Ace 9000, I can say that I’m really blown away. While I definitely need more time with the brakes, I can say that the issues I had with both front and rear shifting have been solved. That said, Shimano has gone back to a trimmed front derailleur, with both big and little ring trim. Shift force for both front and rear is ridiculously light. The brakes seem to offer better modulation than the previous version, which was my big complaint—great power, but not enough modulation.
A couple of weeks ago I rode with Specialized’s road product manager, a guy named Brent Graves, who is a real industry veteran. Graves summed up the new group by saying, “It’ll give mechanical groups another five years of live.” I have to agree, though nothing will make me like the look of that crank. Even so, I can’t wait until I have the opportunity to get on a group longer-term.
Next on my list was the new Kestrel. The first name in monocoque carbon fiber bikes has struggled as a brand for some years. Good product has never really been the issue, getting the message out has. When I heard that the new Legend had a frame weight of 780 grams and was using some sophisticated construction techniques, including inner molds to improve compaction.
I went out for a ride with Steve Fairchild who led the design of this bike, RKP contributor J.P. Partland and mountain bike legend Joe Breeze. ASI, the parent company for Fuji and Kestrel is also the parent for Breeze’s Breezer bikes, hence the connection there. Fairchild revealed that he wasn’t concerned with making the stiffest bike on the planet. He’s long had a reputation from his work with Fuji, Jamis and now Kestrel for designing bikes that felt good to ride (read: not overly stiff) and handled with enough certainty to inspire confidence in the rider.
The Legend is the first sub-800g frame I’ve ridden that wasn’t designed with crazy amounts of stiffness. It’s a gentler bike and if Kestrel can get dealers to carry them and generate enough press and a big enough marketing effort, this bike could be fantastically popular. My take is that it’s a great alternative to “comfort” road bikes like the Specialized Roubaix. As opposed to making a crazy stiff bike and trying to quash vibration, the Legend lets the vibration move through the bike to inform your sense of the road surface, but in offering some flex, increases a rider’s comfort for the big hits like bumps, manhole covers, driveway ramps and such.
My final bike of the day was yet another Pinarello Dogma, but this time equipped with Campagnolo Super Record EPS. Having just come off the Legend which was equipped with Di2, this was my first chance to ride Record EPS on the road and to experience it back to back with Di2. The first, biggest difference between the two systems is that with EPS you definitely have a stronger sense of having just pushed a button. Di2 really lacks a strong tactile component that reassures you you’ve just hit a button. Also, the ability to just hold a button down and either dump gear or downshift straight to the bail gear is perhaps not a matter of jaw-dropping engineering, but it’s a surprising thing to experience. I’d like some more time to ride both groups, but based on this experience, I have to say that I think Di2 may downshift a bit quicker than EPS, but upshifts seem to be just as quick. More significant for me is the tentative approach that I’ve adopted with my own Super Record group has been assuaged by the foolproof front shifting of EPS. Shifts are faster and infinitely more precise.
Tomorrow begins with the Lake Meade ride followed by a frantic attempt to get on a great many bikes I didn’t ride today.
Thank you for doing the Live Update Guy during the Vuelta a España. I followed several stages with you when I had no television access, and found your coverage very enjoyable.
I have followed cycle racing since Greg LeMond raced the Tour, which also means that I’ve had to follow a lot of doping scandals, as well.
One thing that has bothered me has been the disregard of due process for the athletes involved and lack of rigorous scientific methods in the testing and identification of performance enhancing drugs carried out by WADA, and the national ADA’s.
It is very apparent to me in the Lance Armstrong case. No evidence has been presented by USADA, and statements from them lead me to believe that the evidence is under court seal of the grand jury investigation.
My question is what consequences are there for releasing evidence under court seal or the use of it in a court proceeding. I seem to recall that journalists have been jailed for publishing leaked grand jury testimony. I wouldn’t be surprised if this comes up soon.
First, thank you for your kind words regarding the Live Update Guy coverage of the Vuelta this year. We – Patrick O’Grady and I – had a lot of fun and I am surprised that 1) I was able to do all three grand tours and my day job without my head exploding at some point along the way and 2) that the response was generally positive and folks kept coming back to check in. We’ll see if we can do the same next year. No promises yet, though.
Let’s start with your assertion that USADA has demonstrated a disregard for due process rights in its treatment of athletes alleged to have doped. The World Anti-Doping Code has specific procedure outlined as to how an athlete is to be charged, what burden of proof is required to make a charge stick and how that athlete may defend himself or herself against those charges. That includes the option to appeal the original ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
In other words, the Code has within its rules the classic definition of procedural due process: “A course of formal proceedings carried out regularly and in accordance with established rules and principles.”
No, these are not the same as those afforded a criminal defendant charged in the United States. We’re looking at a set of rules designed to enforce a private agreement between parties – namely you get a license to race and you have to agree to follow the rules – and, frankly, they are rather extensive when you compare them to the procedural options available to others in similar situations.
Armstrong raised those very due process concerns in a federal lawsuit, filed in the Western District of Texas. In his suit, Armstrong asserted that USADA lacked jurisdiction and that the entire arbitration process violated his constitutional due process rights.
In dismissing the suit, Federal Judge Sam Sparks disagreed and said that USADA’s procedures and “arbitration rules, which largely follow those of the American Arbitration Association, are sufficiently robust to satisfy the requirements of due process. This court declines to assume either the pool of potential arbitrators, or the ultimate arbitral panel itself, will be unwilling or unable to render a conscientious decision based on the evidence before it. Further, Armstrong has ample appellate avenues open to him.”
The Olympic sports world’s final arbiter of disputes is the International Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. There are 25 years’ worth of case law to review since CAS issued its first decision in 1987. As Sparks noted, there are “robust” means by which an initial decision is subject to review. History shows that most national federations’ initial rulings are upheld at CAS, but there are some noteworthy exceptions. Most recently, CAS overturned the life-time ban of Mohamed bin Hammam, noting that soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, had presented insufficient evidence to support claims that he had bribed NGB officials in his bid to become president of the organization.
In cycling, the case of Iñigo Landaluze is worthy of note. Landaluze won the 2005 Dauphiné Libéré, but was suspended after lab results showed an elevated testosterone/epitesterone level in his urine. Despite concluding that Landaluze “probably” committed a doping violation, CAS over-turned his suspension based on the UCI’s failure to meet its burden of proof in the case, by ignoring a series of lab errors that occurred during testing. Of course, WADA subsequently opened itself up to harsh – and quite justified – criticism when it revised the WADA Code to preclude further challenges based on the legal theory used by Landaluze’s attorneys. (Landaluze, by the way, was later suspended again after testing positive for CERA.)
Of course, governing bodies and doping, too, have the option to appeal national federations’ decisions with which they don’t agree. The Contador case is a good example of that.
Whether he’s sick of the fight, or just not willing to lose it, Armstrong opted to forego those procedural steps and simply walked away, declaring the whole process to be flawed and inherently biased against him. That was his choice.
He raises an interesting question or two, though.
For one thing, it may be time to clarify USADA’s role. It has long claimed that it’s not a “state actor” (the police, for example, are state actors, working under the authority of the government), although a significant portion of its funding comes from public sources and much of its authority through both U.S. statute and international treaty. Were it to be defined as a state actor, in essence a law-enforcement agency, USADA would be subject to a much stricter constitutional requirements. I personally don’t believe that an agency enforcing what are essentially private contract provisions (you can ride, but you can’t cheat) qualifies as a state actor, but it would interesting to see how the courts take on that question. They may, however, be reluctant to get involved.
Sparks certainly felt it inappropriate to involve the courts in a dispute involving sports’ governing bodies and athletes. Sparks turned to another famous case, Harding v. U.S. Figure Skating Association, quoting that “courts should rightly hesitate before intervening in disciplinary hearings held by private associations. . . . Intervention is appropriate only in the most extraordinary circumstances, where the association has clearly breached its own rules, that breach will imminently result in serious and irreparable harm to the plaintiff, and the plaintiff has exhausted all internal remedies.” (My emphasis added. – CP)
Obviously, in choosing to walk away from the fight, Armstrong won’t come close to having “exhausted all internal remedies,” so if the courts ever do tackle the question, it’s unlikely to be because of the Armstrong case.
For his part, Sparks did raise some constitutional concerns based on what he characterized as deficiencies in USADA’s original charging document. Sparks noted that the June 12 letter wouldn’t meet the requirements of a charging document issued in a criminal case because it wasn’t detailed enough. In other words, like you, Sparks noted that USADA didn’t include enough detail about its evidence to allow Armstrong to prepare an adequate defense.
“Indeed, but for two facts, the court might be inclined to find USADA’s charging letter was a violation of due process and to enjoin USADA from proceeding thereunder,” he said. “First, it would likely be of no practical effect: USADA could easily issue a more detailed charging letter, at which point Armstrong would presumably once again file suit, and the parties would be back in this exact position some time later, only poorer for their legal fees. Second, and more important, USADA’s counsel represented to the court that Armstrong will, in fact, receive detailed disclosures regarding USADA’s claims against him at a time reasonably before arbitration.”
Had Armstrong decided to put up a fight and USADA not provided sufficient pre-hearing discovery, Sparks said he could easily re-open the case and “USADA is unlikely to appreciate the result.”
But Armstrong’s options on that front, too, evaporated when he chose not to take the case to arbitration. Tygart has, on more than one occasion, suggested that it’s because Armstrong already knew of the strength of the case against him and didn’t want it made public. But it very likely will make its way into the public sphere. Tygart says there is nothing in the rules to prevent that.
Grand jury secrecy
But what is USADA going to release when it does make some or all of that evidence public?
You are correct in noting that the disclosure of matters occurring before a grand jury is generally barred by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, specifically Rule 6(e). The rule prohibits grand jurors and staff – court reporters, interpreters and government attorneys – from revealing the nature of testimony and evidence presented to a grand jury.
There are exceptions, chief of which is that witnesses are not barred from publicly discussing their testimony. In the Armstrong case, the best example of that, of course, is Tyler Hamilton’s interview with “60 Minutes” and his recent release of “The Secret Race.”
The other big exceptions include the sharing of information with other grand juries, other attorneys for the government in their efforts to enforce federal laws and, by petition, “any other person whom the court may designate.”
That petition process may have been what USADA CEO Travis Tygart may have been considering when he issued the following statement on the day the Armstrong grand jury shut down its investigation.
“Unlike the U.S. Attorney, USADA’s job is to protect clean sport rather than enforce specific criminal laws,” Tygart said. “Our investigation into doping in the sport of cycling is continuing and we look forward to obtaining the information developed during the federal investigation.”
There is no indication at this point that Tygart and USADA have gained access to the evidence presented to the Armstrong grand jury. That’s not to say that Tygart has operated in complete isolation from the grand jury or those investigating the case. You might, for example, recall that in November of 2010 Tygart, U.S. Food and Drug Administration Agent Jeff Novitzky, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Miller, were spotted in Lyon, France, apparently meeting with investigators at Interpol.
Tygart was at least peripherally involved in the Armstrong investigation. He may have been able to convince Miller and other prosecutors that they should include a requirement to cooperate with USADA whenever offering any immunity deals to athletes in exchange for their grand jury testimony.
Tygart has, however, managed to gain access to evidence and documents presented to at least one other grand jury in the past. In the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) case, Tygart enlisted the help of Senate Commerce Committee chairman, John McCain, to do so. The Senate committee, which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Olympic Committee, subpoenaed BALCO documents under the Rule 6 exceptions and then shared that information with USADA.
Positives from outside the laboratory
But even absent access to grand jury case, USADA says it has substantial evidence to support the claims outlined in the original charging document sent to Armstrong, Johann Bruyneel and four other respondents on June 12, 2012.
The bulk of that evidence, according to USADA, is based on witness testimony. You might note in the charging document, that in virtually every one of the evidentiary summaries, USADA uses the phrase “numerous riders will testify ….”
Early on in the letter, Tygart notes that “with the exception of Mr. Armstrong, every other rider contacted by USADA regarding doping in cycling agreed to meet with USADA and to truthfully and fully describe their involvement in doping and all doping by others of which they were aware.”
Tygart has declined to release the names of those riders who testified, but we can pretty much put together a preliminary list based solely on media reports. Obviously, Hamilton and Floyd Landis have offered testimony. It was, after all, Landis’ revelations that triggered the grand jury investigation in the first place. Others reported – although not confirmed – to have offered testimony include former Postal riders, Frankie Andreu, Jonathan Vaughters, Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie, Tom Danielson and George Hincapie.
USADA has implied that there are more. What USADA has built is a largely non-analytical case, meaning that most of the evidence is based on things other than lab results. Yeah, we’ve all heard that Armstrong was “the most tested athlete in the world,” (a title that, quite unfortunately, Marion Jones once proudly claimed for herself), but the absence of a positive isn’t proof that didn’t occur. I, for example, haven’t received a speeding ticket since 2005. That’s not necessarily proof that I haven’t driven faster than 75mph on I-80 in the intervening seven years.
There is, according to the charging document, some medical evidence that would have been presented had this case gone to a hearing. USADA seemed prepared to raise the specter of those six Armstrong urine samples from the 1999 Tour de France, which subsequently showed signs of being positive for EPO. These were among a number of samples retested in 2005. Because the urine tested was composed solely of “B samples” (because the A samples had been destroyed when they were tested for other substances in 1999), they couldn’t be used to support an allegation of doping on their own. The question that would have come up, had Armstrong chosen to fight the case, was whether those results could have been used to support a largely non-analytical case.
My bet is that the Armstrong legal team would have successfully kept the 1999 EPO results from being admitted into evidence. There were enough chain-of-custody issues raised about those samples in 2005 to make it quite tough to use their results now. However, would the successful suppression of that evidence have made a difference? Probably not with that much witness testimony and other evidence available for the arbitration panel to consider.
Lab results are not the only way to prove a case of doping. Certainly, they are among the most direct means available to anti-doping agencies, but they are not the only means by which one can prove a case. Indeed, to support the aggravating circumstances surrounding the Armstrong charges – namely, trafficking, assisting, encouraging, aiding, abetting and covering up – a charging party would have to produce much more than lab results to show it. That would almost invariably have to include the testimony of witnesses and USADA says it has many of those. Add to that USADA’s claim that it has Biological Passport evidence from 2009 and, if they have what they say they have, the agency has a pretty solid case.
Know when to fold ‘em
At this point, it’s moot. Armstrong, for whatever reason, has decided not to contest the charges. He may have been holding out hope that the UCI would challenge USADA’s authority to impose the sanctions it did, but from all indications the world governing body is not planning to do that … and the clock is ticking down on that option in a few days.
The UCI has asked USADA to provide it with all of its evidence and sources say that the entire case file has been presented to officials at the agency and, to quote, “it’s overwhelming.”
Amid allegations that Armstrong sought, and received, special treatment from the UCI on at least one occasion (the 1999 Tour de France positive for corticosteroids), the world governing body may just sit back and hope the whole thing goes away.
Overwhelming or not, if the evidence remains unchallenged it has the net effect of leading one to the inevitable conclusion that Lance Armstrong was a doper. Not challenging it, however, will not keep that evidence out of the public sphere.
If former Postal team manager Johan Bruyneel follows through with his plan to challenge the case, a lot of the evidence will come to light. Indeed, even if he doesn’t, USADA isn’t obligated to keep its evidence secret once the full adjudication process in the six cases is complete. They can – and quite likely will – release information, if for no other reason than to counter claims that the case was fundamentally flawed.
And, quite frankly, it should come out. Armstrong built his very public reputation on a compelling story line. If that story is based on an ongoing pattern of fraud and deception, the revelation of that fraud should be just as public.
I, for one, look forward to seeing the evidence in detail. Maybe at that point, we can all sit down, review the evidence to our own satisfaction, reach a conclusion and then finally move-the-@#$*-on.
Isn’t about time we put the whole sordid chapter behind us?
P.S. – Let’s get this column on track with topics other than doping, okay? Feel free to send your questions and comments to Charles@Pelkey.com. I’ll do my best to answer your question … or try to hunt down someone who can. – Charles
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.
Here’s something I’ve been meaning to get to for more than a month. Travel has conspired to cause me to use these base layers from Rapha ever increasingly without singing their praises. Base layers are an item that don’t require a sales pitch in fall, winter or early spring. But it can be hard to convince some riders that they can be handy even in late spring and through the summer. I’ll admit that until recently, I’d go baseless during the dog days of August.
Well, I did that until these arrived. I’ve done more riding in crazy-hot temperatures this year than any other year in my cycling life. Now, I’m aware that compared to some friends who live in Texas, I didn’t suffer day after day of 100-plus temps, but in July and August I had more than 10 days of riding where temps climbed north of 104, and considering that I live and ride in an area that rarely sees 90 degrees, I nearly wilted like a flower in a broiler.
I can say that what did help were these base layers from Rapha. The Pro Team Base Layers are cut from the lightest polyester and Lycra I’ve encountered in a cycling garment. The poly is used for the mesh front and back and because that weave doesn’t have a lot of stretch to it, Lycra is used for the shoulders and side panels to make sure that it fits.
The sleeveless version goes for $70 while its short-sleeve brother goes for $75 which is not quite double what I’ve paid for some other base layers. This would be about the point at which some readers will huff with outrage. Yeah, I get it, Rapha is expensive. And yes, there have been times when I’ve found it difficult to justify what they charge for some items, but this really isn’t one of those occasions.
It’s worth noting that thanks to the inscriptions “Merci Roubaix” which Franco Ballerini scrawled on his base layer as his farewell in the 2001 edition of the Hell of the North, and “Vous etes des assassins” which Octave Lapize spat at Henri Desgrange as he walked his bike up the Col d’Aubisque in 1910, these base layers possess an entertaining quality, a cool, that no other base layer I own can claim. So there’s that.
But what really makes these base layers worthwhile is their gossamer weight. Even on the hottest of days they help wick moisture away and have done much to help keep me cooler than I would have been sans base layer. I did try one day going without a base layer on a ride in Serbia where the temperature hit 42 degrees Celsius. The next day, yet another kiln of a day, I returned to the Rapha base layer and found myself more comfortable. Not truly comfortable, but more comfortable. I took to washing them in the sink after every blessed ride.
I should mention that these are meant to be “race fit.” That’s code for skin tight. And they sent me the medium. I don’t wear medium tops except when it comes to T-shirts. It’s a good thing they chose the size, because had I specified small, I wouldn’t have been able to pull these things on. I must also mention one detail that is less favorable, though, is that they have all the stretch of a pair of Levis. There have been a couple of times where I was so fatigued I actually struggled to get them off.
I doubt I’ll be wearing these base layers this coming November, but while the hot weather persists, they will continue to be my go-to base layers.
I’m not sure when it finally happened, but sometime in the last 18 months, maybe less, I ate my last PowerBar. It wasn’t a conscious decision; I just stopped buying them and at some point ate the last of my stock. Gradually, over several trips to the store, I realized that I just couldn’t stomach the idea of eating another ounce of the textural equivalent to edible Play-Doh.
The only significant detail in this anecdote is that I seem to have lasted longer than most. A few weeks ago I asked around just to see who among my friends were still eating PowerBars and I couldn’t find a single devotee. Everyone I spoke to said it was a product that was part of their past, kinda like 8-speed drivetrains.
I have to admit, I spent the better part of 10 years with my head more or less down to new nutrition products. Most of what I ate and drank was confined to Clif Bars, the aforementioned PowerBars and Gatorade. The reasons were simple: All three products were/are readily available, are reasonably inexpensive as energy foods go and, not insignificantly, due to my familiarity with them, they were pretty easy to digest. This season that changed. Part of the change was a search for new options as my local Trader Joe’s carried fewer and fewer varieties of Clif Bar, and part of the change was the fact that any number of nutrition companies embraced RKP as never before, and sent me samples of products I’d never tried, some I’d never even thought to try.
The exception to this was the gradual trickle into my diet that gels made. Four or five years ago I noticed that during ultra-intense rides/events and at altitude I was having trouble digesting bars, particularly Clif Bars, so I began purchasing gels more frequently.
The upshot is that I’ve learned two things: 1) I’ve heard from a number of friends that as they have aged, their stomachs are a bit pickier about what they can eat during a really hard ride. 2) Whether you want to stick with rapidly digestible gels and chews or want something that has the taste and texture of actual food, the bike world is full of options now. The incredible diversity of options—and but a few are shown above—is a striking departure from where things were just over 20 years ago when your choices were either chocolate or malt-nut PowerBars.
The folks at Honey Stinger would love it for me to review their products. I’m not sure there’s much to actually review. I love their chews, especially the Lime flavor and while I like their waffles, they don’t travel well. For me the real point to the post is to note that we have so many more options available to us. Dude, I can remember walking into convenience stores and choosing between Pop Tarts and Little Debbie snack cakes. We’ve come a long way.
Further to my reluctance to engage in a review of products, there’s a lot of competing formulations out there. I’m not well-enough-versed in the science to make any determination about whose blend works best. I can say that when it comes to gels, the two that provide the best kick for me are Gu Roctane and Accelerade. My favorite chews are Clif’s Shot Bloks, but that has a bit to do with the packaging; they are simply easier to remove from the wrapper as I ride.
What’s most significant for me within the energy food market are lightning rods behind Clif and Gu, Gary Erickson and Brian Vaughn, respectively. To the degree that there’s a real story to chase in the future, it would be going for a ride with these guys. An interesting aside, both companies are based in the original earthy-crunchy Mecca—the Bay Area. Erickson of Clif has chased an ever more natural, more organic approach, while still offering cutting-edge calorie uptake options like the Clif Shots and Shot Bloks. Vaughn has chased a slightly different direction, pursuing what strikes me as an ultimate human performance approach. Nothing seems to make this guy happier than seeing someone like sponsored athlete Rebecca Rusch break a record at Leadville.
There’s something about True Believers, capital T, capital B, that I really dig. I don’t doubt that PowerBar employs folks who swear by their product, but Erickson and Vaughn seem to epitomize the very athletic lifestyle their products cater to. Objective correlative: Last year at the Sea Otter Classic gran fondo I rode much of the day with Erickson. I noticed three tubes of Shot Bloks protruding from his left pocket. The tops of the plastic on all three tubes had been cleanly snipped away with scissors—ready to go.
So this week’s question is a simple one: what are you eating on the bike these days? We’ll even take it a bit further: Have you sworn off any particular energy foods? And, is there anything that makes you think twice before experimenting?
We’ve often heard that necessity is the mother of invention. That may be true. However, the engineering required to bring any new bike product to the market can be monumentally difficult. One could be forgiven for imagining that a pedal would be a relatively easy device to re-invent. Nearly 10 years ago I had a ringside seat for some months to the design process for a pedal that sort of made it to market around 2004. Its inventor, Steve Lubanski, had all the creativity of a mad scientist on ecstasy, with nearly as much discipline. It was a great idea that simply needed more shepherding.
It is through that lens that I gave a careful examination to a pair of pedals that arrived recently, the Ultralites from a Carbondale, Colo., company called Ultralite Sports. On paper (and in the box) these pedals are fascinating … and promising.
They look less like pedals than just spindles. The retention system is based on a spring-loaded sleeve that slides toward the crank arm when the cleat is engaged. To release, the rider applies slight inward pressure while twisting the inboard edge of the cleat up. If you have trouble visualizing that, I can’t blame you; it’s the clearest description I can muster and demonstrates just how different the release motion is from any other pedal system on the planet.
But hey, these things weigh a negligible 72g for the pair of pedals, another 40g for the cleats. Nothing is lighter. Period. Also, the stack height is especially low, just less than 13mm from shoe sole to the center of the spindle. A low stack height reduces rotational weight, which cuts down on fatigue over the course of a ride.
Okay, so they are a fresh approach to clipless pedals, but are they really ready for the big time? My sample pedals are pre-production I’m told; Ultralite plans a few more changes before these hit the market this fall (a November 1 release is planned). Allowing press for a product that doesn’t make the full measure of the manufacturer’s intent seems a risky proposition to me.
I went out for a short ride on the pedals yesterday. The purpose was to see how quickly I could adjust to the entry and exit and whether I thought I could get it to be second-nature enough that I’d be willing to use it on the group ride the next day.
Let’s cut to the chase: I took the pedals back off following the ride. I don’t think these are bad pedals, but there are some issues that give me pause. If I had more time, I’d prepare a PowerPoint presentation with schematics and sound effects, but my multimedia guy is ice fishing in Patagonia, so I’m just going to have to give them to you in simple, bullet-point form.
- Placing the cleat’s opening perfectly on top of the pedal is a bit like trying to place pipe insulation on a flagpole while blindfolded. Whatever easy is, this ain’t it. Once it is there though, the engagement motion is surprisingly simple.
- The cleat has the highest profile of any cleat I’ve encountered since the Sampson pedal of the late ’80s. It’s not easy to walk in and because it is narrow, I have some concern about the chance of a twisted ankle should you roll your foot as the result of an awkward step
- The cleat allows fore-aft positioning but it allows about two degrees of rotational adjustment. We’re not talking float here; we’re talking yaw. The last time I encountered a cleat that couldn’t be adjusted for pronation and supination I had big hair. This is absolutely the biggest single problem I have with these pedals. If you can’t achieve proper fit, what’s the point?
- The release motion is profoundly unnatural feeling. I’m sure it’ll get better through practice, but on more than one occasion I banged my foot against the bottle cage mounted on the seat tube of my bike. I’d be bummed if I broke a bottle cage because I whacked it with my shoe, but if for some reason I actually damaged the seat tube, I’d be in the next county beyond bummed. The other thing I noticed about the release was that after releasing one foot, I couldn’t seem to ride a straight line and get my other foot out; I had to come to a complete stop and then release the cleat.
- Small rubber caps protect the end screw on the end of the pedal that locks the spring and sliding barrel in place. While two replacements are included, the simple fact that I managed to eject one of them in less than 10 miles of riding suggests I’d be through the replacements before the month is out.
- Did I mention no float? A float cleat is said to be coming, but the cleat I used had zero float, which combined with the lack of adjustability caused me to cut the ride short. I was simply unwilling to risk my knees.
I really don’t want to be too rough on these guys. The incredible amount of work they’ve put into these pedals is evident. Unfortunately, the shortfalls have the effectiveness of a 1k flyer that gets swallowed up 50m from the line. It’s just not quite enough. It may be that all of my concerns will be addressed with the final production version, but the way I see it, the cleat needs a bunch of changes to make it more adjustable, more ergonomically friendly and more walking friendly, not to mention easier to catch the pedal for speedy stoplight getaways and crit starts.
Between now and the start of Interbike you’re going to see a few different reviews of different pieces of gear/clothing because I’m playing catchup on reviews that should have been complete a while back. In my zeal to be thorough (and not review something before I’ve actually ridden it, ahem), I sometimes get more miles in on stuff than is truly necessary. It is perhaps not the greatest service, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to rubber stamp “approved” on a piece of gear I’ve only handled in a press conference.
I got interested in the Panaracer Race Type D tires this spring in part because I wanted to explore some of the options for wider tires that are out there. The Type D is a true 25mm-wide (it also comes in a 23mm width) tire. The tire gets its “D” monicker for durability because this is the more flat resistant cousin to Panaracer’s Race Type A, a more high-performance tire.
This isn’t a particularly light tire; one of mine weighed in at 258 grams. And it doesn’t have the softest, highest thread-count casing; it’s only 66 tpi. But an ultralight, supple casing, sticky race tire wasn’t why I was interested in this rubber. I wanted to see if it would fill my need for a bomber tire that would allow my road bike a bit more flexibility on terrain.
The casing includes Panaracer’s PT puncture protection which is a bead-to-bead puncture-resistant belt and it’s covered with Panaracer’s dual-compound ZSG rubber, which like many tires on the market, features a softer durometer rubber on the sides of the tread while sticking with a harder rubber in the center in order to keep rolling resistance low. The harder center tread is a fair bit narrower than many similar tires, meaning the moment you lean the bike you’re rolling onto stickier rubber.
For four months I’ve been riding this tire. It’s been over potholed roads in the South, godawful excuses for pavement in Eastern Europe including the single sorriest excuse for a road I’ve ever seen (thank you Bulgaria), up and down the Transfagarasan Highway as well as another bottom/top/bottom jaunt, just last week at Haleakala.
Panaracer recommends running these between 90 and 140 psi. I’ve been pumping them up to 100 psi and riding through stuff more than around it. In more than 2000 miles, I’ve yet to have a flat. And their grip has been something the Incredible Hulk would admire. Only once have I managed to push these tires to their absolute limit. I was getting low on the descent of Haleakala and on damp road when I felt the rear tire slide ever so slightly during a tight switchback. It gave a little and I stood the bike up a bit and it hooked up, then I leaned a bit again and it gave a bit more and hooked up the moment I stood the bike up a bit again. It was easily the most controlled slide I’ve ever experienced on a road bike on pavement.
I mostly ride tires that cost at least 50 percent more than this tire’s suggested retail of $44.95. Many are even double this. Why? Because I find so many tires in this price range to offer such woefully lacking performance an extra $25 or $40 per tire can make the difference between a lively ride and one that feels mired a peat bog, even while rolling down asphalt. I really didn’t think I could find a tire in this price range with phenomenal flat resistance that would still offer a rewarding ride. Color me surprised.
Before this summer, Road Holland was a brand completely unknown to me. I’m still trying to recall the circumstances where I first heard of the line. What little I do remember is that I was away from home and that I liked the jersey enough that I remarked on it to the rider who was wearing it. There are good reasons for all these details; they aren’t just random bits that obscure an otherwise easy-to-follow narrative. First is that Road Holland is a really new brand. And second is that their designs have a simple, elegant look that is worth remembering.
Then there’s third. There’s always third. Third is that in a market where everything peddled to us has inflated in retail price, often by hundreds of percent over the last 10 years, Road Holland has gone and done the unthinkable. They’ve released a premium product in terms of look, feel and construction, but minus the premium price. The jersey shown above (I’m using their photography because mine can’t seem to do it justice) is their Utrecht and while I’ll get into all the details that have me loving this garment, here’s the bit that puts this jersey beyond all reproach: It retails for $120.
The look and feel of this jersey is highly reminiscent of Rapha. There’s just no way to dance around the fact that Road Holland is going squarely after the English company’s customer with their jerseys—and yes, so far, all Road Holland offers are jerseys. The Utrecht is a spring-weight jersey, so while it’s a short-sleeve cut, it’s meant for slightly cooler temps; think 70 rather than 85. Much of that owes to the composition of the fabric, which is a polyester (61 percent)/Merino (39 percent) blend. It’s enough Merino that at the end of a really hard ride I smell like a wet dog, but am, I can assure you, far more comfortable. The eight-inch zipper may seem short, out-of-keeping even with a jersey like this, but given the material’s weight, it makes perfect sense; this isn’t a jersey meant for a day where you need a full-zip design you can throw open on a climb.
Road Holland sent me a small to wear. The cut was less aggressive than some jerseys I’ve worn lately. I’d describe it as form-following; unlike some less race-oriented pieces I’ve run across, this didn’t go bell-bottom at the hem of the jersey. It is still meant for a relatively fit cycling. My only issues with the fit of the jersey were the length and the collar. I really prefer a slightly shorter length—that hem was mighty close to my chamois and that always gives me concern about catching the jersey on the nose of the saddle as I sit down. This could easily be cut a centimeter or two shorter without losing the ability to reach the pockets. And the collar seemed to be a bit high given the weight of the material; perhaps I was just more aware of it because I’m so accustomed to collars that are less than half as thick, but a slight taper to the front of the collar might be nice.
It would be easy to write off the jersey as just a knock-off of another brand were it not for the touches that make the garment memorable, even beyond the material and the attention-grabbing orange. The embroidered logo is a classy touch, but one that adds zero function. However, the way they deal with the pockets is even more notable. The two outside pockets are cut on slants to ease access and the are both larger than normal to give you extra carrying capacity for food, arm warmers and that sort of thing. So where did the extra capacity come from? The center pocket. It’s cut fairly narrow, just wide enough to slip in a cell phone. My iPhone in its protective case and snack-size Ziplock baggie (is anyone buying these things for actual snacks?) was a snug fit; there was no chance the phone would slip out if I dropped into a full tuck.
Knowing that a great many riders also wear ear buds to listen to music while riding, the middle pocket features a button hole to run your ear bud wire inside the jersey. And for riders who really can’t risk losing anything from a pocket, there’s a fourth, zippered, security pocket which is big enough to hold a key or credit card; a small flap keeps the pull from catching on anything and white ticking gives it a bit of visual pop. The pockets are graced with a small reflective trim to keep you visible.
A silicone gripper keeps the hem in place and it reflects the orange and white color palette of the rest of the jersey. And just above the gripper on the left pocket the full Road Holland logo is embroidered. Other color choices for the Utrecht include a dark blue with orange and white accents and black with orange and white accents.
This would be where the cynical reader jumps to the conclusion that to get all this quality the jersey must be sourced in Asia in some sweatshop where children labor while shackled to boat anchors and are paid in Ramen noodles. Surprise, surprise, the jerseys are made in Miami.
I’ve gone over and over this thing, looking for an example where they cut some corner, took the easy way out or in any way presented substandard work. I’ve yet to find it. If this thing isn’t worth $120, I don’t know what is.