With full apologies to our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, winter has begun to arrive in my New England home. Like the first guests showing up to a party, winter is milling about in the living room, eating chips and making small talk. We’re not in full force yet. The cops haven’t knocked on the door to tell us to quiet down, but the music is playing and it’s on.
This morning, with the temp at 29F (-2C) and a fair wind blowing, I opted for a sleeveless, synthetic base layer, a long-sleeve wool base over that, a wool jersey and then a super-thin wind breaker. Wind front tights. A pair of RKP wool socks, with a thicker wool sock over top, and then toe warmers, in lieu of booties.
If the wind weren’t blowing, I’d have foregone the windbreaker and maybe chosen a vest. The beauty of multiple wool layers is that they create layers of warmth, but still breathe. They allow me to practice my own personal cold weather riding strategy, which requires spending the first five minutes of the ride legitimately cold, before settling into the perfect range for long-term pedaling.
I like a thin windbreaker or vest, because I can always pocket it once I’m warm, which I can’t do with the myriad thermal jackets out there. I don’t like to be cold, but I really don’t like to be overly warm either.
I find that one or two of the pieces need to cover my neck. If my neck is warm, I can ignore a lot of cold on my arms.
When things get serious, and they will, then I’ll switch over to Gore-Tex shoes and a heavier, waterproof wind jacket. All of this seems to work for me, given the conditions here, and the only piece I’m still trying to figure out is the gloves.
I like to maintain manual dexterity, so I eschew lobster gloves, but I find that no one really makes a bomb proof, warm winter glove. If you’re a glove maker, and you’re reading this, and you think you have a glove that will do the job, send it to me, and I will run the rule over it.
My friend Neil maintains that makers of cycling apparel just don’t understand gloves, and he only wears ski gloves in winter. I have ski gloves that mostly do the trick, but they’re big and bulky and not all that attractive (I am unfortunately vain). Is there an ideal glove out there?
This week’s Group Ride asks the question: What is your basic, cold weather strategy? What items do you incorporate that we might not suspect? What gloves do you like? I know some of you are using chemical hand (and foot) warmers. Tell us your best kept secrets. Tell us what you’ve tried that doesn’t work. Winter is here, now how do we beat it?
Image: © Neil Doshi
When I get fast, I’m outta here. I realized this just today. When I get fast there won’t be any reason to write these words, to talk about bikes, to look for ways to get faster or to talk about pros who are fast. When I get fast, I’m done.
Not one time fast, mind you. I’ve been fast on single days in certain ways, fleeting, teasing ways, ways that left me leg-heavy after. Nothing permanent. When I get permanently fast, I’m done.
Or if I get free. Once I escape into that wild blue beyond that we only ever glimpse from the saddle, then I’m cashing my chips. Or actually, forget the chips. I won’t need them.
Yes, yes, yes, riding gives you that feeling of freedom, but then you stop pedaling and it disappears, a dragonfly that lands on your forearm and then darts off. Once I get really free, from responsibility, from gravity, from the bonds of self, then I’m off. Remember me fondly. I wasn’t the best, nor the worst of us.
Also, when I’ve solved all the problems of humans competing against each other with bicycles, then I will locate my deck chair and sail off into the mists of leisure, a destinationless cruise. I have ideas for how to get there, but most of them depend on the better natures of those who would vie for the prizes, and I have found (perhaps your results vary) that mostly when the prizes get big enough, the natures of those who vie for them get compromised in mostly irredeemable ways. Like a ticket for a destinationless cruise, I suppose.
Cycling holds out all these hopes that many of us have spent a lifetime chasing down, like a break we didn’t see go though we remain sure they’re just up the road, maybe around this next bend or over the next rise. We chase and chase and chase, and I do it on the bike, and I do it on this blog, and I do it in my head while other people are talking to me about things that aren’t that chase. My eyes have gone vacant and a little narrow. I am half-smiling and nodding in that small way that says, “Go on. I am listening.”
But it’s a ruse.
I am trying to get fast and free, to work out all the problems. I am on the front and working as hard as I can, turning the pedals over and over, relaxing my grip on the bar, canting my head forward ever so slightly to shade my eyes and relieve the tension in my neck. Staying alert.
And when I can’t pull anymore, I peel off the front and let Padraig pull, because, though I never think it’s possible given the hours in each day, he somehow manages to be working harder than me on all these things, and together we’re definitely going to blow this thing apart. Count on it.
And when we do, when we are fast, we’ll be gone, and there won’t be anything else to ride for. It will happen. Any minute now, or never. I’m sure of it. Just hold the wheel, and we’ll take you there.
Follow me on Twitter @thebicyclerobot.
Image: © Matt O’Keefe
Last week, I began this review of 2012 with the first half of my A-to -Z reflections. Here’s the second half, including some amazing performances by three 22-year-old pros, and an almost perfect sets of results by the women’s Eddy Merckx. But let’s start with one remarkable ’cross racer….
N for Nys. It’s being said that Belgian cyclo-cross star Sven Nys, 36, could be his discipline’s greatest-ever athlete. He has already won nine events in the current season to go with his more than 300 career ’cross victories. Though he’s only won a single world title (2005), Nys has taken six World Cup championships (and is headed for a seventh crown), 11 Superprestige titles and eight Belgian national championships in his 15 pro seasons.
O for Olympics. The Games of the 30th Olympiad in London saw cycling become one of the most popular sports, with estimated crowds of a million spectators watching the men’s and women’s road races on separate days, while the track, mountain-bike and BMX events all played to full houses. The home fans were rewarded by the British team winning eight gold medals, while no other country took more than one.
P for Phinney. In 2012 at age 22, BMC Racing’s Taylor Phinney shed his image as just the son of Olympic-medalist parents, and began building his own pro road palmarès. At the top of the list was his winning the opening time trial at the Giro d’Italia and defending the pink jersey until stage 4, while he came close at the London Olympics with fourth place in both the road race and time trial, before winning the final stage of the USA Pro Challenge and then taking silver medals at the worlds’ time trials (both team and individual). A sign for Phinney’s future was a promising 15th place in his debut Paris-Roubaix after working hard all day for his team leader, Alessandro Ballan, who placed third.
Q for Quintana. Another 22-year-old, Nairo Quintana, enjoyed a remarkable debut season with Movistar in the UCI WorldTour. This Colombian climber scored half a dozen wins. They included a significant stage victory in the Dauphiné at Morzine after dropping Cadel Evans, Brad Wiggins and the Team Sky armada on the Col de Joux-Plane; and a brilliant solo success in the Italian semi-classic, the Giro dell’Emilia, which finishes on the famed San Luca climb in Bologna.
R for Rodriguez. At age 33, Spanish climber Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha Team had his best-ever season, ending as No. 1 in the UCI WorldTour rankings for the second time in three years. His season was book-ended by classics victories at the Flèche Wallonne and Il Lombardia, while he won two stages and finished second overall at the Giro, and won three stages and placed third overall at the Vuelta.
S for Sagan. Many observers have compared Slovak prodigy Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Cannondale, still only 22, with the young Eddy Merckx. He won 16 times this year, starting with a stage of the Tour of Oman in February, and going on to win singles stages at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Three Days of De Panne, five stages at the Tour of California, four stages at the Tour of Switzerland and three stages of the Tour de France (along with the green jersey). Perhaps just as significant was the promise he showed in the spring classics, including fourth place at Milan-San Remo, second at Ghent-Wevelgem, fifth at the Tour of Flanders and third at the Amstel Gold Race.
T for Tiernan-Locke. Despite riding for a ProContinental team (Endura Racing) and missing several weeks of racing because of injury, Britain’s latest discovery, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, won four European stages races this year: the Mediterranean Tour and Tour du Haut Var in February, the Tour Alsace in July, and the Tour of Britain in September. All this at age 27 after missing three complete seasons because of the Epstein-Barr virus. His reward is a contract with Team Sky for 2013.
U for USADA. What could never be proven by hundreds of anti-doping tests was revealed in the testimonies of a dozen former U.S. Postal Service teammates in an investigation conducted by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency: Lance Armstrong used banned drugs and blood-doped for a decade when he was clocking up all those Tour de France wins. The investigation was masterminded by USADA CEO Travis Tygart, an attorney, who homed in on America’s iconic champion after May 2010, when Armstrong’s one-time colleague Floyd Landis began to spill the beans about doping within the former U.S. team.
V for Vos. Still only 25, Dutch phenom Marianne Vos carried all before her in 2012. Not only did she win the world cyclo-cross championship for the fourth consecutive year, but she also won the UCI World Cup for a fourth time (along with three rounds of the premier women’s competition), retained her title in the women’s Giro d’Italia (including five stage wins), and then won gold in a brilliantly exciting edition of the Olympic road race. Vos capped her season with a solo victory in the world road championship—after five consecutive years of silver medals!
W for Wiggins. Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins became the first British rider to win the Tour de France, and he did it in the style of five-time champions Jacques Anquetil and Miguel Induráin: by winning the long time trials and defending the yellow jersey in the mountains. But the 32-year-old Brit’s 2012 season wasn’t just about the Tour. He preceded it by becoming the first man to win Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and Critérium du Dauphiné stage races in the same year, and he capped it by winning the Olympic time trial to add to the three pursuit golds he won at previous Games and his six world track titles from his pre-road career.
X for Xu. Winner of the Chinese national road championship, the Champion System team’s Xu Gang, 28, raced from February to November in his first season as a ProContinental team rider. Besides winning his national title, Xu finished no less than 11 international stage races: the Tours of Qatar, Oman, Taiwan, Japan, Qinghai Lake, Utah, China I and China II, Beijing, Hainan and Taihu Lake! He cracked the top 20 in Taiwan, Japan and China I.
Y for Yates. British cycling Hall-of-Famer Sean Yates crowned his management career by leading Wiggins and Chris Froome to their unprecedented 1-2 finish at the Tour de France. That added to his own Tour career as a rider when he won a time trial stage in 1988 and wore the yellow jersey for a day in 1994. Yates, 52, announced his retirement from cycling in October because of health problems (he has suffered from heart irregularities for several years) and not because of Team Sky’s new zero-tolerance policy (Yates had an A-sample test positive after a Belgian race in 1989, but the B-sample was negative).
Z for Zabel. No, not Erik Zabel, the winner of six Tour de France green jerseys, four editions of Milan-San Remo and three Paris-Tours, but his 18-year-old son Rick Zabel who began his under-23 career this year with the Rabobank Continental squad. His 2012 highlights were winning the German national U23 road title and placing second to Belgian pro Kevin Claeys in the Ronde van Limburg, a 190-kilometer Belgian semi-classic with a 1.2 rating in the UCI Europe Tour.
You can follow John at twitter.com/johnwilcockson
Olympic image: Surrey County Council
Sagan & Wiggins images: Photoreporter Sirotti
Happy belated Thanksgiving. I wanted to extend my deepest thanks to all of you, the faithful readers of Red Kite Prayer. I think that RKP has proven to be a terrific home, especially after the events of last year.
My dear wife, Diana, reminded me that yesterday was the one year anniversary of what had to have been the absolute worst day of chemo in the five months I went through all of that mess. It was a rough day, with symptoms too numerous (and too gross) to list. Not to bring it up again, but dang, looking back reminds how this year is so much better. My appreciation of that fact also serves as a reminder of how kind and supportive many of you were throughout that whole thing. Family, friends and, yes, you too, made the experience tolerable and I just wanted to say that I haven’t forgotten. I do appreciate everything you guys did and continue to do.
I have much for which to be thankful and you guys are near the top of the list.
Now, while this holiday is often devoted to counting our own blessings, it is also an opportunity to think of others – especially friends and family – who may be suffering right now. Our good friend, Padraig, didn’t manage to do his usual Thanksgiving column this year because he was called away from home when his stepfather, Byron Vowell, fell ill. Just a couple of days later, Padraig let us know that Byron passed away on November 18.
As Padraig wrote on November 19, “The measure of any man’s influence can be seen in the way the lives of those he loved change in his absence. Missing you Byron.”
I agree, but with one caveat. That measure can also be seen in the ways he’s changed others’ lives before he leaves.
I didn’t know Byron, but from what Padraig has written of late, I can only assume that theirs was a close relationship and that his stepfather played an important role in helping him become the man he is today. And Padraig is quite the guy. If your stepfather played even a small part in making you the decent, honorable and kind human being you are now, a lot of us owe our thanks to the man.
Patrick, I can only extend my deepest sympathies to you and to your family. I know that the gift your stepfather gave you is one that you now get to pass on to your own children. In that very important way, Byron’s legacy lives on.
I am going to use this week’s column to update you on a few items. Again, I encourage all of you to send in comments, complaints and, above all, questions to my personal email address: Charles@Pelkey.com. If you have questions about any cycling-related matter, including legal issues faced by riders, racing strategy and history or just a general question that you’ve never quite been able to answer, feel free to drop me a line. I’ll at least give it a shot.
In last week’s column, a reader sought some help and advice regarding money that was owed him for riding on a small pro team. (see “The Explainer: A gift recommendation and problems with a dead-beat team“)
Well, I’m happy to report that we’ve reached a resolution and Zach has gotten a significant portion of that money and should get the balance within the month.
Zach managed to do this despite the fact that he didn’t have a written contract with the team. He counted on the fact that he was friends with the team manager and that, as a result, his friend would follow through. This time he did.
Still, I would encourage all of you hoping to ride for a team to spend a little time working out a formalized deal with team management, even if the expected compensation is for amounts as small as those owed Zach. Don’t count on a handshake. Employment is more than a “Bro’ Deal,” for both parties involved and you should do your best to get something in writing before you give up your day job, or max out your credit cards on expenses for which you expect to be compensated.
Get it in writing.
Long-time readers of “The Explainer” might remember that case involving the cyclist in Eagle, Colorado, when he was struck by an inattentive driver in a new Mercedes. After striking and nearly killing Dr. Steven Milo, the driver, Martin Erzinger, continued on his merry way and was later arrested while trying to hide damaged body panels from his car in his trunk and calling for a tow truck.
Sadly, the fact that some bonehead hit a guy riding a bike and then took off is not what earned this case a boatload of attention. No, it was the way the District Attorney responsible for the case declined to file felony hit-and-run charges against Hurlbert on the grounds that it would negatively impact the defendant’s career as a top-tier money manager at Morgan Stanley. Instead, the defendant was charged with two misdemeanors and served no jail time, because, as Hurlbert said at the time “felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession, and that entered into it.”
“Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications ….” Well, d’uh, counselor.
I won’t rehash the whole thing, but if you haven’t read up on the case, I wrote a ton about it for that other website for which I worked at the time and it might be of interest to you. Here’s a link to that coverage. (Keep in mind that the articles on that list are in reverse chronological order, so start from the bottom and work your way up.)
Anyway, after voters handily defeated Hurlbert’s attempt to overturn his judicial district’s term limit for D.A., his term is about to expire and he has been in the hunt for a new job. Hurlbert recently signed on as an assistant D.A. in Colorado’s 18th judicial district, which covers Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. It’s probably only a coincidence that the district is where Erzinger made his home, but it is, nonetheless, worth pointing out.
Meanwhile, this should serve as a reminder that you need to be careful, alert and ever-vigilant when you’re out on the road (especially, I suppose, in Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties in Colorado).
And, in case you’re wondering about Erzinger, he has apparently recovered from his brief period of unemployment after the money guys at Morgan Stanley did a quick cost-benefit analysis and realized he was less asset and more liability and cut the boy loose.
Resurrecting my old habit of checking the BrokerCheck section of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s website, it looks like our man Marty is now working for Sanctuary Securities, LLC, an asset management firm based in San Francisco, with a branch office in Colorado.
Look, I don’t have any assets to speak of. I admit that. If I did? I’d probably think of some other company to manage them, like Marsico Funds, the firm run by Tom Marsico, the father-in-law of the victim in this case.
Way back in August, we had a question from a reader so embarrassed about his situation that he felt compelled to use a nom de plume when seeking advice. (see “The Explainer: BUI can be a BFD”)
Well, for better or for worse, “Suddenly Sober” recently had the charges of operating a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol dropped by the municipal prosecutor.
“My lawyer pointed out that same Oregon ruling you mentioned and the prosecutor reached the same conclusion,” Suddenly wrote. “She decided that the state’s implied consent rules can’t apply to bikes since they don’t require a license and that she didn’t want to fight the suppression motion my lawyer was ready to file.
“I know I was wrong, but I am relieved,” Suddenly added. “Next time, I think I’ll take a cab.”
Good call, Suddenly.
Today is what is known in the US as Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the official beginning of the consumer frenzy that precedes Christmas. Bike shops across the country will spend this period selling off last year’s unsold inventory and trying to get their books into the black before the New Year comes and puts a general chill on cycling-related commerce.
Eurobike and Interbike allowed bike companies to trot out their wares only very recently. Padraig made a Herculean effort to highlight those wares here, here, here and here, and I was fortunate, this season, to be able to walk the show floor with him and talk about the relative merits of each company’s offering. I, for one, benefit from his insight, as he has this uncanny ability to tell you how something that looks shiny and fast on a pedestal in a conference hall will actually perform out on the road.
My own interests, this year, run almost entirely to more traditional products, made domestically. I can’t get enough wool jerseys. I can’t stop looking at the steel and Ti bikes being turned out by custom builders all over the country. I want almost everything Ibex makes. I want the latest Merckx biographies, and I want more hats. What is it about hats?
Oh, and I need some gloves that will keep my hands operational when the mercury dips below 30F. Suggestions?
This week’s Group Ride ignores completely the shameless consumerism of the season and instead indulges it. What the hell? What do you really, really want for Christmas? Is it a set of wheels? Is it a trainer and a stack of race videos? Are you likely to get whatever it is? Or do you live with a cycling Grinch, someone who doesn’t understand the mania you have for the finest Swiss toe warmers.
My boys start hockey on Saturday. Last night, when I got home, they were cavorting about in the living room with all their pads on, their helmets. My wife had, presciently, forbidden them from bringing the sticks into the house. They were, nonetheless, alight with the prospect of becoming hockey players.
I don’t really know how this happened. I grew up in Alabama, where football is religion, and hockey is something on a channel you don’t pay for. My own father, who is Welsh, only ever played soccer, and I had that from him. The magic of the ball dancing on his foot caught my imagination and lead me to a lifetime love affair with what some call “the beautiful game.”
The bike, an awkward confluence of triangles and circles, performs this trick all on its own. In one moment you are rolling down a paved strip, a parent’s steadying hand gripping the back of your seat, and then you are flying. It’s an epiphany of movement beyond the fragile processing capacity of your young mind, and if you’re here, on RKP, reading these words, you were probably hooked in that moment.
We write about that epiphany a lot, and we glorify it, and it’s a moment and experience worthy of glorification. We ride and ride and chase that feeling of first flight, and even close approximations are worth the chase.
Of course, it’s everything that comes after that’s important. It’s how we fill our lives with the love of motion, either on a bike or on a pair of hockey skates, that leads to fitness and community and experience, the things you learn from and the things that inspire you, the way the movement informs your thinking and shapes your world view.
My boys can hardly skate. They are only just at the wobbly beginning, but as I sat there watching them dismantle the living room, I thought about the lives in front of them and wondered what things would succeed in capturing their burgeoning imaginations. I smiled because I know how good whatever it is will be when it flowers inside them, how much magic can be in that moment, and in everything that comes after.
The 2012 season has seen cycling attain some remarkable landmarks, including the first Canadian racer to win the Giro d’Italia, the first Brit to win the Tour de France, and the biggest-ever crowds to watch an Olympic road race. The year has also seen the sport dragged through its most damaging doping scandal in the ongoing USADA case against Lance Armstrong and his longtime team manager and business partner Johan Bruyneel. But with pro cycling now emerging as one of the cleanest sports in the world, there are many more feel-good stories to report than bad-news yarns. I’ve divided my A to Z review of a momentous season into two parts, starting this week from Armstrong to Magni.
A is for Armstrong. That’s the one whose first name is Kristin. The 39-year-old American came back from starting a family to brilliantly defend her Olympic women’s time trial gold medal at the London Games, defeating reigning world champion Judith Arndt by 15 seconds in the 29-kilometer event.
B for Boonen. Belgium’s perennial road star, Tom Boonen, returned to his very best form to ace four of the cobbled spring classics: Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem and E3 Prijs Vlaanderen. Later in the year he won the Belgian national road championship, took the first edition of the two-day World Ports Classic, won the semi-classic Paris-Brussels, and helped his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team win gold in the inaugural world team time trial championship for pro squads.
C for Contador. Spanish fans (and his Saxo Bank team boss Bjarne Riis) were ecstatic when Alberto Contador returned from his much-delayed Clenbuterol-positive suspension to win the Vuelta a España for a second time. Whatever others think about his doping ban, the 29-year-old Spaniard earned the Vuelta win with an audacious solo move far from the finish of stage 17 between Santander and Fuente Dé, to dispossess national rival Joaquin Rodriguez from the leader’s red jersey.
D for Dombrowski. Only two years ago, Joe Dombrowski was a skinny teenager from Virginia who was given the chance to try out with the U.S. development team, Trek-Livestrong, by its director Axel Merckx. Today, he’s about to enter the UCI WorldTour with Team Sky after an amazing under-23 season with Bontrager-Livestrong that saw Dombrowski use his climbing skills to win two mountain stages and the overall title of Italy’s GiroBio; and take top-10 finishes at the Tour of the Gila, Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge. Tomorrow: the world.
E for Erythropoietin. Just when we thought we’d maybe heard the last of EPO in cycling, this blood-boosting drug again hit the headlines in 2012. And not just from former U.S. Postal Service team riders in their testimonies given in the USADA investigation (see “U for USADA”). Among those foolish enough to use and test positive for EPO were a wide range of athletes, including Tour of Turkey “winner” Ivailo Gabrovski of Bulgaria; French domestique Steve Houanard of the AG2R team; South African veteran David George, a U.S. Postal team rider 12 years ago; and two Gran Fondo New York prize winners, American David Anthony and Italian Gabriele Guarini.
F for Froome. If you’d told Chris Froome 15 months ago that by the end of 2012 he’d finish second at the Tour de France (and win a mountain stage), place second and fourth at the Vuelta a España, come fourth at the Dauphiné, and win a bronze medal in the London Olympics time trial, he’d have said, “You must be joking.” But that’s what this Team Sky rider has just accomplished. Not bad for a bookish 27-year-old born in Kenya and raised in South Africa who now races for Great Britain.
G for Gerrans. The Australian owners of the brand-new Orica-GreenEdge team could barely believe their luck when Simon Gerrans began their tenure by winning the year’s first two races: the Aussie national title and the Tour Down Under. And it only got better, with Gerrans taking his first monument, Milan-San Remo, in March; placing second at the Clasica San Sebastian in August; and winning the GP de Québec in September.
H for Hesjedal. Ever since he was winning top mountain bike races in his early-20s (he narrowly lost the 2003 world cross-country championship to Filip Meirhaeghe, who would later test positive for EPO), Ryder Hesjedal knew he had exceptional talent for cycling. After years of riding tirelessly for other team leaders, he blossomed at Team Slipstream with sixth overall at the 2010 Tour de France, and this year showed all his exceptional ability, climbing talent and grit to become the first Canadian to win the Giro d’Italia. He did it with great consistency: Garmin won the early team time trial at Verona; Hesjedal was heroic on the summit finishes at Rocca di Cambio, Cervinia, Cortina, Alpe di Pampeago and the Passo di Stelvio, and he crowned his victory over Joaquim Rodriguez in the final-stage time trial though the streets of Milan.
I for Iglinskiy. For most of his nine years as a pro racer, Maxim Iglinskiy has worked as a domestique for team leader and fellow Kazakh, Alexander Vinokourov, while still winning the occasional race. This spring, he emerged from the Astana veteran’s shadows by placing second to Fabian Cancellara at Italy’s Strade Bianche classic (a race he won in 2010), and then grinding out a late victory over Vincenzo Nibali at the last of the spring classics, Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
J for Jensy. Every bike-racing fan loves the aggressive riding of German veteran Jens “Jensy” Voigt, 40, who out-did himself in 2012 with nine months of solid racing from January to September for RadioShack-Nissan. The highlights included top-three stage finishes at Paris-Nice, the Tour of California and Tour de France—and then a magnificent stage victory on the Aspen-Beaver Creek stage of Colorado’s USA Pro Challenge, riding alone for 150 kilometers in rain and wind over Independence Pass and Battle Mountain.
K for Kulhavy. He wasn’t the favorite to win gold in the men’s cross-country at the London Olympics, but Czech mountain biker Jaroslav Kulhavy, 27, took one of the most exciting wins off-road racing has seen in a sprint finish with Swiss rival Nino Schurter. Kulhavy, the 2011 world champion, hadn’t won a major race all year before the Olympics. He went on to win the biggest French mountain-bike race, the marathon Roc d’Azur, ahead of Specialized teammate Christoph Sauser—and there’s talk that Kulhavy may convert to road racing in future seasons.
L for Lance. Some 18 months after his final bike race, Lance Armstrong was no longer a seven-time Tour de France winner, but merely a former world and U.S. road champion, the first American to win European classics (Flèche Wallonne and Clasica San Sebastian), along with a host of North American victories, after USADA (see “U is for USADA”) stripped him of all his post-cancer results because of doping.
M for Magni. Italian legend Fiorenzo Magni died in October at age 91. Known as the Lion of Flanders for his three consecutive victories at the Tour of Flanders (1949, ’50 and ’51), he also won three editions of the Giro d’Italia (1948, ’51 and ’55) and three Italian road titles. They were amazing accomplishments in an era when Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi were also at their zenith. An accomplished businessman until his death, Magni is also remembered for bringing the first non-cycling sponsor to the sport: Nivea began as his team’s title sponsor in 1954.
You can follow John at twitter.com/johnwilcockson
Boonen image: Photoreporter Sirotti
Contador image: John Pierce, Photosport International
I know Belgians who are not so tough. There. I said it. I will add that wearing the lion of Flanders on your chest/hat/socks will not make you tougher either. It has no mystical powers. At some point, Belgian-ness (and what about Wallonia?) became shorthand for toughness, for hardness, and while shorthand is good at conveying general meaning, there is so much more to hardness than simply riding around on crappy roads in cold rain. There is also more to being Belgian.
I am not tough. Let’s just get that right out of the way, even though I’ve pretended to be tough here on RKP and on group rides around town. My over-blown ego inspired me to crow about how cold it was or how much snow was falling or how far I went, but I’m not tough. I get cold, and I quit, and I fail to do rides I devise for myself because they’re too hard. I am tougher than some, but a long way off of some (many) of the people I know.
As the weather shifts toward raw and cold here in my New England home, I am, once again, faced with the limits of my own will. I peek through the blinds at the gray morning, feel the draft at the edges of the window, shiver in the core of myself, but still resolve to ride. Except when I don’t.
The people I know who are actually tough don’t talk about their toughness. They do long, long rides, by themselves, and you don’t find out about it except sometimes by accident. They ride in horrible conditions, but don’t blog/tweet/Strava the results, like so many virtual trophies. They ride the way they ride because they love to ride, and not to impress other people or rack up stats. Their egos don’t need to put their every effort on exhibit.
It’s natural to fetishize toughness when you’re a cyclist. Cycling is a hard sport. The hardness of the ride is an obvious way to measure it. The world is big, and we are small, and we rage against it and scream our lungs out trying to move the needle on existence.
Honestly, I am not even the toughest person in my own home.
All of this quickly devolves into cheap shorthand and ego-stroking bravado. The truth is, hardness is an elusive quality. Hard is the thing you haven’t done yet. Hard is the thing you don’t believe you can do. Dream about it, stalk it and hunt it down. Look for it in the dark. Seek it at the edge of your endurance.
You will find hardness occasionally, but you will not be able to mount it on the wall like a twelve point buck. Hardness has no fixed symbol, no permanent status. Hardness is not uniquely Belgian, nor the province of the fast and furious. Some of the hardest people I know are old and slow, strong and quiet.
The days are still shortening here in New England. The jet stream is yet to push the arctic air that makes up our winter far enough south to really test our mettle. But it is coming. It’s hard to know what kind of winter we’ll have, how much snow, how many truly frigid days.
I will try to be tough. I will go out and look for it, except on the days when I don’t because I just don’t have it in me.
Photo © Matt O’Keefe
Everyone: The ride here at RKP may be a bit bumpy for the next week or two. While I’ve got a couple of different posts I’ve been working on and a great many reviews I’m trying to finish, I need to let you, our devoted readers, know that my stepfather has passed away. This man was a giant in my life. I met him when I was a 14-year-old Boy Scout and he was instrumental in me achieving Eagle. I like to brag that I’ve known him longer than my mom has.
That’s Byron, above, attempting to teach my son Philip how to put his shoes on. I shot that photo over Memorial Day weekend; it’s the last image I ever took of him.
While I’ve managed to write both an obituary and a eulogy for him, writing about touring my old stomping grounds or finishing that review of the Zipp 202s is something I don’t seem to be managing.
I’ve also ground to a halt on the thank-you notes that have been going out to the 360-odd people who contributed to the beer fund. I’ve completed more than 300 and I aim to get through them all, even if I’m not capable right now.
What I’m really trying to say is that we’ve set expectations for you about how frequently you can find new content here. This year, Thanksgiving may have to involve a bit more football for you. I’m sorry about that; I’ll be back as soon as I’m able.
What comes to mind as I think about Byron is this: The measure of any man’s influence can be seen in the way the lives of those he loved change in his absence.
I am going to use this week’s column as a chance to catch up on some questions that have been sitting in my in-box for too long, since I’ve been either writing about doping or missed a couple of weeks for other reasons.
As for doping, as one reader pointed out, I kept promising to change the subject, but didn’t. Of course, the events of the last month made that difficult and I’m sure we’ll find ourselves mired in the muck again soon. For one thing, I have to assume that we’ll be hearing more about the “reforms” the UCI hopes to adopt and that they will be more than mere window dressing. We’ll see.
So, this week, I’d like to offer short answers to a couple of readers’ letters.
My favorite question of the week, arrived in my in-box just yesterday. I have a special affinity, I guess, since the guy in question is in my exact demographic.
I know you’ve been caught up in the Lance/Doping/UCI/USADA thing for a while. You also said you want to change the subject … although, admit it, you haven’t.
So, here’s a softball for you:
My father is 54 and I think was a Cat.2 back in the ‘80s and ‘90s and still rides quite a bit, but not competitively anymore. I want to buy him a nice gift for Christmas, but I can’t think of anything he doesn’t have. He’s got a garage full of bikes, has more wheels, tools and clothing than the bike shop down the street. I’m still paying off student loans, so I don’t have a lot of money.
Actually, I do.
Like your dad, I’m an old roadie and even the same age as he. Last year, when I was off my bike because of that damn cancer and chemo thing, I received a gift in the mail from one of the original “Raleigh Boys,” Bill Humphreys. A couple of years ago, while on a trip to Europe, Humphreys ran across a book produced by Henk Theuns, a Dutch collector of cycling jerseys. No mere hobbyist, Theuns has built what may well be the world’s most complete cycling jersey collection. He then put in a serious effort to catalogue the best of that collection and, with the help of writer, John Van Ierland, released that work in a book called “Koerstrui!” (The Racing Jersey).
Humphreys, known to many in the cycling industry as the “BikeGuy,” fell in love with the book and saw an opportunity. While Theuns’ collection is formidable, you might suspect that it has a distinctly European emphasis. Humphreys, meanwhile, had his own collection – and access to those assembled by others – and decided to remedy that oversight with an English version of the book, that includes a nod to the rise of American cycling, might be worth pursuing.
I’m glad he did. Humphreys’ “The Jersey Project” combines the work in “Koerstrui!” with a whole new section on American jerseys. I’m a sucker for this stuff and last year, when I had little energy to do much else, I spent hours lingering over photos of jerseys from back in the day. I fondly remember seeing many of those same jerseys (well, at least at the starting line) with some of the best belonging to riders who have since become friends.
It’s special to see the racing jerseys of American pioneers like Mike Neel, whose 1974 G.S. Siapa Antiparassitari jersey is on display, or Andy Hampsten, who’s represented not by the maglia rosa he won in 1988, but a 1979 jersey from the small Kretschmer Wheat Germ team. That alone may be the most beautiful aspect of this book, in that it reminds you that the greats of this sport got their start grinding it out with the rest of us on shoe-string budgets, racing small races in remote corners of the world.
In addition to the jerseys, Humphreys contribution includes some terrific photos from the era, including those of a young LeMond and shots of the one guy who seemed to know everyone back in the day, that mechanic extraordinaire, the late Bill Woodul.
Humphreys even includes Kevin Costner’s very Coors-Classic-like leader’s jersey from that mythic race “The Hell of the West” in “American Flyers.” (I am sad to say that it does not include a shot of Alexandra Paul in her “Res Firma Mitescere Nescit” t-shirt, but, alas, I digress.) Back in the day, several of my buddies were hired as pack fodder in the racing scenes, with some even being paid a “bonus” to crash at a pre-arranged point. (Thankfully, I was never that good … or that desperate.)
There’s way too much to list here, even if one were to limit the discussion to Humphreys’ part of the book. Add to that the extraordinary collection of Henk Theuns and you have a coffee-table book that won’t just decorate your coffee table. Have a look.
Elaine, your dad’s my age. His garage sounds just like mine. I have to assume he’s an old bike geek, just like me. If he doesn’t already have the book, I would suggest you consider getting him one. Then buy one for yourself. I loved it and find myself reaching for “The Jersey Project,” even now that I’ve gone through it many, many times.
Now for a question that may disabuse many of us of the notion that the life of a full-time racer is always glamorous and exciting. Sometimes, it just sucks.
This year, I got my first-ever chance to ride on a team that actually paid my expenses and promised to provide a small salary. The deal was that I would do races – even one in Europe – and submit my receipts and the team would pay me back.
Starting in May, I got my first check for my really tiny salary and, in June, I got my first expense check. All seemed fine until July, when a check for $1937 worth of expenses bounced and my salary disappeared.
The manager of the team insists that everything will be caught up, but it’s now October, my credit cards are maxed-out, my rent is due in a week and I have no money. The problem is that we are all “friends” and most of this stuff was done with a handshake. I don’t actually have a contract and I’m not even sure I was considered to be an employee of the team.
I am not sure I want to bring the police in on this bad check, but I am feeling desperate at this point. What can I do?
You wrote this last month and we had a chance to speak by phone a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure our readers will be pleased to know that we’ve managed to resolve the bad check issue and you got your rent covered.
I’m not sure that in this case, bringing the police in would have helped anyway. That reimbursement for expenses may be classified as an “antecedent debt,” or “a legally enforceable obligation, which has been in existence prior to the time in question, to reimburse another with money or property.”
Most states – including your state of Maryland – actually make a distinction between bad checks written for “the immediate exchange of goods or services” and those written to cover payments to fulfill an obligation or debt. In Maryland that includes checks written for car payments, rent and even utilities.
Oddly enough, bad checks in those cases are not necessarily considered to be criminal violations. So absent the option to pursue the matter through your local prosecutor, you would have been forced to turn to civil court and treat this thing like you would any other debt owed to you. Fortunately, the team managed to correct the problem and at least that one is taken care of.
Now, according to you, the team still owes you about $3400 in expenses and $5000 in missed “salary” payments.
There is where things may get tougher. From the sounds of it, you were not considered to be an employee of the team – or its sponsor – but rather viewed as an independent contractor. That said, Maryland is one of several states that has tightened up the definition of “independent contractor” in recent years, given the propensity of some employers to try and skirt state and federal workplace and labor laws by claiming that their employees are not actually employees.
Being an athlete also puts in a unique category, but you still have rights that the state is obligated to protect. Since 1995, the duty to oversee athletes’ contracts in the state has fallen to the Maryland Secretary of Labor. That’s handy, since that’s where you’d go even if you were an employee.
If yours is an accurate accounting of the situation, you have an agreement with the team, whether it’s written or not. Sure, it can be a problem enforcing that non-written, verbal, handshake agreement, but it’s not impossible. You may have to enlist the services of an attorney on this one, but it could be worth it. I know. I know. Lawyers can be expensive, but there are options out there. Legal aid groups often help out workers in wage claims. Some states also require the employer to pay legal fees for both sides in the event that you win the case. It’s worth looking into.
Even without a contract, you probably have plenty of documentation to show that you did, in fact, perform the services for which you were to have been paid. You may need witnesses – like other members of the team – to show that you and they were promised payment.
Make sure you have all of your receipts, race results and a list of possible witnesses organized before you go see your attorney.
It’s likely that the state has the usual requirement that you need to exhaust all of the available administrative remedies before you can file suit, should you choose to go that route.
Obviously, if you are still “friends” with the team, you may want to take a more subtle route, so try to remedy the situation without involving the state or filing a complaint for now. Failing that, you might also consider contacting USACycling about the problem. I have to assume that the team’s current financial situation doesn’t bode well for its return to racing next season, but teams are under an obligation to live up to promises to pay riders and failure to do so can put the team’s future plans at risk. At the top tier of the sport, ProTeams have to actually put money in escrow in order to guarantee wages. That, unfortunately, doesn’t happen further down the cycling food chain, but it is worth a shot asking for help from the national governing body.
However, it is important to keep one thing in mind. Most states have a time limit within which you need to file a complaint. Make sure you check with your attorney about how much time is left on the clock. It would really suck if there was a six-month window and you filed at seven months.
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.