The Facebooks and Twitters have been full of apocalyptic references thanks to the easily anticipated fail of the Mayan end-of-the-world prediction. Laughing off the prediction of a 5000-year-old calendar created by a long-extinct people seems easy enough until you think about what cycling has been through this year. Had anyone told me this time last year that Lance Armstrong would be utterly disgraced and bereft of all sponsorship to the point of being dumped by his own eponymous foundation, I’d have laughed until I threw up. Similarly, if you’d told me that half the pro continental cycling teams in the U.S. would be without sponsors for 2013, I’d have laughed, though maybe not to the point of the technicolor yawn. And if you’d told me that there was a revolutionary movement afoot to topple the UCI and replace Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen with people of actual moral fiber, I’d have asked you just which drugs you were taking—and if you’d be willing to share them with me. For cycling, at least, it does seem a bit like end times.
The reality is, this is a year unlike any other the sport of cycling has ever faced. The news has been more bad than good this year, so this year’s awards may have more snark than praise. Herewith are a few things we think are worth remembering. And for good measure, this time around, we’ve asked Patrick O’Grady to sit in with our band.
News of the decade: Even though this one isn’t over, not by a longshot, I think we can call this one now—the actual fall of Lance Armstrong. Not only does most of the rational world believe he doped—a conclusion I didn’t think we’d ever get most folks to reach—sponsors have run from him like cute girls from a leper colony. I had an easier time getting a date in eighth grade than he does finding a sponsor today. That his own foundation wouldn’t shake hands with him with rubber gloves says a lot about how badly everyone wants to distance themselves from him, that is, excepting Johan Bruyneel, Chechu Rubiera and a few other pros who don’t understand that most people see doping the way they see racism—completely unacceptable.
Most believable Grand Tour winner: Ryder Hesjedal. I don’t care what Bradley Wiggins says about how he hates dopers or how the fact that he’s not as fast as Armstrong was proves he isn’t a doper. The fact that he won stage races in March, April, May and June before winning the Tour and then revving up once more to take the ITT at the Olympic Games smells as bad as one of my son’s used diapers. I’m not going to accuse him of doping, but if the press are going to be held to a standard of expectation that we’ll speak up when we’re suspicious, well, then I have to say that Wiggins’ never-before-performed season is highly suspicious. Even Eddy Merckx never swept Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie, the Criterium du Dauphine and the Tour in the same year. Hesjedal, on the other hand, was vulnerable in the Giro. His win was not the inevitable outcome that sucked the life out of watching this year’s Tour. He’s been riding for a team that I have the utmost belief in as a clean program; while I believe that cycling is probably the cleanest it has ever been, I think Garmin-Sharp has taken the best, most transparent approach to demonstrating their team is clean. Hesjedal, as a product of that team, has earned my respect and admiration.
Most clueless person in cycling: This one’s a tie between Pat McQuaid and his predecessor Hein Verbruggen. I liken them to the small-town mayors in the Southern states when the civil rights legislation was enacted. Those old boys fought integration for any number of spurious reasons, but the biggest problem with them wasn’t that they couldn’t come up with a solid, objective reason to fight equal rights for all people, it was that they failed to see how public opinion had evolved and, like those who now fight gay marriage, how their opinions were coming down on the wrong side of history. Verbruggen lost any credibility as a leader and even as an administrator once he proclaimed that it was the fans’ fault that doping had taken root, that because we wanted to see fast racing the fans had forced the riders to dope. Their mudslinging agains Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton in the wake of those two deciding to finally tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, is shameful on the level of scoutmaster sex abuse. Those two can’t go quickly enough.
Best new piece of gear: I can’t not give this to Shimano for the new Dura-Ace 9000. While my full review will come in the next few weeks, let me say that this group is what we hoped for when 7900 came out a few years ago. It’s a group of such magnificent improvement it reminds me of what I thought when I first heard Metallica’s Black Album: How did I ever live without this?
Biggest mistake award: For this one we have to go back to Armstrong. If he had just been willing to set aside his ire with Floyd Landis and give him a spot on RadioShack, his life would be very different right now. I’m not bemoaning our current situation, but come on, there must have been an epic, “D’oh!” in the shower one morning.
The Commander Omertà award: This one goes to Patrick Lefevre for thanking Levi Leipheimer for confessing his previous doping by firing him. If anyone could have sent a more convincing message to the peloton to shut up, I can’t think who could have accomplished that. ‘Shh, don’t tell mom about the pot brownies.’ I’d pay money to have Lefevre retire the day we put McQuaid and Verbruggen out to pasture so that I could hold a Stevil Kinevil-style party. Hell, I’d hire Stevil to run the thing.
The JFK-style Conspiracy Theorist award: This goes to everyone who is unwilling to believe that Levi Leipheimer, David Zabriskie, et al, told the full truth about their doping. Given that Leipheimer didn’t know what Hamilton, Zabriskie or any of the other riders who were ordered to testify before the grand jury would say, not telling the full truth about their involvement in doping was incredibly risky. If any of them were caught in a lie, they’d face prosecution for perjury and those agreements for reduced suspensions would be unwound. The pressure to be truthful was enormous. We should all be willing to take them at their word in this regard. Besides, so far as USADA and USA Cycling are concerned, this matter has been put to rest. You can second-guess it all you want, but you’re not going to get any new answers. Best just to move on.
Most Disappointing Win: Alexander Vinokourov at the Olympic road race. Based on his statements in the media, he has neither fully confessed nor repented his sins. He harks from a generation and mindset we need behind us. His victory salute was a reminder that even if he was clean on that day, the sport needs to be ever-vigilant in its quest for clean(er) cycling. My lack of confidence that he could/would win clean is the doubt that currently undermines my love for professional cycling. This would be why Vino also gets my Most Relief-Inducing Retirement Award.
Best line in a product introduction: Back in October at the introduction of Giro’s new line of clothing we were told how it was meant to pay homage to a new direction in cycling. Giro’s PR guru, Mark Riedy, uttered the line, “No more heroes.” ‘Nuff said.
The One Fingered Salute Award – Peter Sagan. The grown ups tend not to like it so well when some young whipper-snapper gets above his raising and makes them look foolish. The effect is only exacerbated when the whipper-snapper in question does it day after day after day and with increasingly audacious celebratory flourishes. Thus it was that Sagan more or less made the Tours of both California and Switzerland his bitches, while the grown ups flogged away at their pedals somewhere behind in his dusty trail. More than anything, the shy (off the bike) Slovak announced that not only was he not intimidated in the deep end of pro racing, but that he was capable of much more, that his raw power and top-end speed were wed to a racer’s brain far more mature than his youth would suggest.
The All Business Award – Tom Boonen. When I think of Tom Boonen, I have a hard time not thinking about cocaine and under-age super models. Just as a tornado will destroy the homes of both the rich and the poor indiscriminately, Tornado Tom’s approach to his career has created as much damage off the road as on it. But in 2012, the Belgian veteran was all business and all class, owning the cobbled Classics and inching his way one step closer to the record books in a Spring campaign that left the whole racing world with their mouths slightly agape.
The No Business Award – The Schleck Brothers. Luxembourg’s favorite family act must have broken a mirror while walking under a ladder placed by a darkly furred feline carpenter, because 2012 couldn’t have gone much worse for them. Chained to the sinking barge of the RadioShack-Nissan-Trek team, there was the early season set to with Johann Bruyneel (remember that guy?), a fractious start to an uncertain partnership, which saw both Andy and his brother Franck underperforming in every race they entered. Eventually Andy was injured in a seemingly innocuous crash and Franck got popped for doping.
The Other Shoe Award – Bjarne Riis. In a season when it seemed to be raining shoes, the painfully serious Dane’s reputation has been called into question more often than an Italian Prime Minister’s. Having confessed to doping during his own racing career, there remain serious allegations that he also facilitated doping in his teams as a manager. Tyler Hamilton says he did. Bobby Julich says he didn’t. It seems that, in pro cycling, where there’s smoke now, there was fire a decade ago. Riis’ persistence should really be seen as the test case for what cycling wants to do with its doping past. Will the worst offenders of the ’90s find a future in the sport? Julich’s own fate (fired by Team Sky) suggests one possible answer, but when/if the other shoe drops for Riis will tell us for certain.
The Most Sleep-inducing Grand Tour: Yeah, I know. Many of my British friends will believe it’s sacrilege to suggest that the first Tour de France to see a Brit’ atop the podium in Paris would rank as the most boring of this year’s grand tours. It was more than that. It was one of the most boring Tours in history. Come on ASO, three mountain-top finishes? Thankfully, this year also offered us the Giro and Ryder Hesjedal’s surprising and impressive win over Joaquim Rodríguez and the Vuelta’s three-way battle between Rodríguez, Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde. Here’s hoping that in 2013 the “world’s greatest bicycle race” lives up to that designation.
Most well-deserved victory lap: It’s clear that most agree that the implosion of Lance Armstrong is the cycling story of the year — or as Padraig points out, the story of the decade. It’s hard to disagree, but it’s important to point out that this was far from a new story. It’s a story that Sunday Times of London journalist David Walsh has been telling since 1999. I know first-hand of Walsh’s skepticism, since I spent the ’99 and ’00 Tours with the tenacious Irishman. It was déjà vu all over again when the USADA “reasoned decision” was delivered to the UCI on October 13, 2012. Sure there was more documentation, but most of the allegations were made years ago, when Walsh and Pierre Ballester co-wrote ”L.A. Confidentiel: Les secrets de Lance Armstrong” in 2004. At the time, Walsh was demonized by the Armstrong camp — which labeled him “the F#cking Troll” — and even shunned by fellow journalists. Well, he who laughs last …. When the report was released and the UCI soon confirmed its conclusions, Walsh teamed up with Paul Kimmage, John Follain and Alex Butler and quickly released ”Lanced: The Shaming of Lance Armstrong,” on October 31st, and followed that with his own, much more personal story “Seven Deadly Sins: My pursuit of Lance Armstrong,” on December 13. I, for one, hope that “Seven Deadly Sins,” sells more than the many works of apparent fiction shilled to an unsuspecting public by writers who should have known better. Maybe he should change the title to “It’s Not About the Bullshite: The Unmaking of the World’s Greatest Sports Fraud,” eh? Quite frankly, the book should be required reading for anyone hoping to work in sports “journalism.” Without that kind of moral compass; without that tenacity and without that consequences-be-damned attitude, we’re all just – to use an old, sadly accurate term — fans with typewriters. Hats off to the “F#cking Troll.” Enjoy the moment. You deserve it, sir.
Inspiring show of support: In recent years, the aforementioned Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen found that filing lawsuits against critics in a friendly, local court could be an effective tool. They, along with the UCI itself, filed suit against former World Anti-Doping Agency head, Dick Pound, and then against Floyd Landis, after he admitted his own doping and alleged the UCI conspired to cover-up Armstrong’s own infractions. Pound issued a brilliantly word non-apology-apology. Landis pretty much blew them off and lost in a default judgment. Then they went after Paul Kimmage. Ooops. Kimmage decided to put up a fight and he soon got overwhelming support from you, the fans. The folks over at Cyclismas.com and NYVeloCity started promoting the “Paul Kimmage Defense Fund” and readers eventually kicked in more than – get this – $92,000 to help in the fight. Kimmage, laid off from the Sunday Times last year, suddenly had the resources to take on the UCI. And, sure enough, McQuaid, Verbruggen and the UCI, put their suit “on hold.” Kimmage, however, is now pursuing his own case. None of that would have been possible had you, the readers, not stepped up to lend a valuable hand.
My favorite photo of the year: This one comes from Betsy Andreu, who offered up photographic evidence of Frankie Andreu’s reaction to Tyler Hamilton’s detailed confessional, “The Secret Race.”
A personal favorite: When it comes to my work in cycling, I think the highlight of the year for me was finding out that the unique business model of LiveUpdateGuy.com actually worked. Thank you to all of those readers who offered help and support during our Live Coverage of all three grand tours. Because of your support, we may well be able to offer the same in 2013. Those, of course, will appear right here on Red Kite Prayer, as well.
Patrick the Other—
Donna Summer Memorial Disc-O Dance Party Platinum Rotor Medallion: To the bicycle industry for trying to hang disc brakes on everything from road bikes to stick ponies. I can understand why bike companies want to sell discs —after all, some shameless hucksters will try to sell you a rat’s asshole, telling you it’s a pinhead’s sweatband, a Chris King headset or the One Ring To Rule Them All — but I don’t understand why anyone who isn’t a pro racer with a team mechanic needs discs. And some of them don’t even need ’em (see Sven Nys, Katie Compton, et al.). If I want pointless complexity “enhancing” my cycling I’ll look to the UCI or USA Cycling for it. Speaking of which. …
The Salvatore Palumbo Good People Certificate: This honor traditionally goes to the nefarious criminal organization most hell-bent on kneecapping the sport of bicycle racing (either USA Cycling or the UCI). This year, it’s USA Cycling, which this year tried putting the squeeze on the wildly successful activities of the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, once again confirming our worst fears — that our national governing body cares as much about grassroots bike racing as did Kid Sally Palumbo, organizer of the six-day bike race immortalized in “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” by Jimmy Breslin. One can practically hear USAC caporegime Kid Stevie Johnson ringing up OBRA executive director Kenji Sugahara to hiss, “You could be dead in a bomb accident.”
The Gov. William J. LePetomane Protecting Our Phony-Baloney Jobs Here Gentlemen Citation for Excellence In Oversight: UCI President Pat McQuaid. I still haven’t gotten a “Harrumph” out of that guy. But what I’d really like is an “Adios.”
Charles Foster Kane Snowglobe of Destiny: Lance Armstrong. As reporter Jerry Thompson said of Citizen Kane, Armstrong was “a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it.” We may never know what his personal Rosebud was, but a sled is a fine thing for going downhill fast, if you don’t mind the bonfire at the bottom, and Armstrong was not the first to build his Xanadu from a drug-induced dream.
Let’s start with a correction. I was wrong in last week’s column by naming Les Earnest as the sole opponent of the Mike Plant’s rather nefarious “reform” initiative back in the day. Board Member Chuck Collins was the only member of the board who voted against the measure, albeit with input from Earnest, American cycling’s Diogenes, who unfortunately is still walking the wilderness in search of an honest man. My apologies to Chuck and to Les for the error. I will attribute the oversight to an aging brain, if you’ll let me get away with that lame explanation.
Now, on to the business at hand. Well, we’re here; the last weekend of 2012.
As you recall, in last week’s column I also asked for input regarding the highlights and low points of the year. Several of you posted comments directly below the story and scores of you sent emails to my personal address.
It’s been a huge year.
It started out with Simon Gerrans’ win at the Tour Down Under last January and ended, I don’t know, maybe last evening when Bradley Wiggins was knighted, a reward for winning Olympic gold on home turf and, of course, doing rather well in that three week jaunt around France earlier in the year.
In between, we saw some spectacular racing, a bit of controversy and some guy from Texas refusing to defend himself when he was accused of stealing seven yellow items of clothing.
I have to say that on many, many levels the past 12 months were much better than the preceding year. Here’s hoping we continue on an upward path.
So, what were the best parts? Who were the best people? The worst? Having read your comments and emails – some of which actually changed my mind when it came to my picks – here goes:
Which of the three was the best grand tour?
This one was easy. Hands down, it had to be the 2012 Giro d’Italia.
Compared to the other two, this year’s Giro was the clear winner. We all have to admit that even if you are a fan of Brave, Brave Sir Wiggo, the 2012 Tour was something of a sleeper, with the outcome never really in doubt and the route not offering much in the way of excitement. Three mountain-top finishes? In the Tour de France? Come on.
The following month, the Vuelta more than made up for France’s shortfall by including ten of them, including a brutal finish atop Bola del Mundo on the penultimate stage. We saw a great battle between Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez and an impressive Alejandro Valverde. After missing out on the Giro, Rodriguez appeared to be on his way to winning his first-ever grand tour, until his spectacular implosion on Stage 17 to Fuente Dé.
Along the way, we also got to see five terrific stage wins by Argos-Shimano’s sprint sensation, John Degenkolb and a really great effort by Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Clark to win the KOM jersey.
In most years, the 2012 Vuelta would have rated as the best of the three … but for the Giro.
The racing was even more exciting than it was in the Vuelta a España, with the final GC determined on the last-stage time trial (I am a big fan of those, anyway). Again, it was Rodriguez who put up an impressive fight for the leader’s jersey. Unfortunately for Rodriguez, he came into that final time trial with a scant 31-second lead over Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal. Over the course of a flat 30-kilometer time trial, Hesjedal was clearly the favorite of the two. Most observers predicted that Rodriguez – not known for his TT prowess – would lose at least two or three minutes that. Remarkably, he ceded only 47 seconds, losing in the final standings by 16 seconds.
But in the end the Giro belonged to Hesjedal, one of the nicest, most selfless and hardest working riders in the professional ranks. It was a great finish and not one anyone would have predicted when the race started in Denmark three weeks earlier.
The Giro, too, offered up an answer to the question: Which was the greatest day of racing?
“Greatest” is such a subjective term, but I can’t think of anything better than that absolutely amazing ride put in by Matteo Rabottini on Stage 15. Admit it. You probably hadn’t heard of Rabottini until he slipped off the front early in the 166km ride from Busto Arsizio to a mountain-top finish at Lecco-Pian dei Resinelli on dreadfully wet day.
Rabottini went on to shed his companion and soldiered on through the rain – even crashing at one particularly dicey turn – for more than 120k. As is almost always the case with these suicidal attacks, Rabottini was caught on the final climb, by Rodriguez, who was intent upon putting time into Hesjedal, who had just taken the maglia rosa from him the day before.
If you haven’t seen this finish, you must:
To quote an old beer commercial, “it just doesn’t get any better than this.”
Which was the best classics performance of the year?
For me, it’s tough to come up with a single-day race that’s better than Paris-Roubaix. I just love that race (well, watching it, at least).
This year, the cobbled roads to the Roubaix velodrome served as the stage for Tom Boonen’s spectacular spring. Oft written off, Boonen is a resilient character and started a spectacular three-week-run with a win at the E3 Herelbeke, then won Gent Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders. On April 8, Boonen capped off his Classics performance with an impressive solo finish in Roubaix.
The Spring Classics, with Fabian Cancellara back in contention, should be spectacular in 2013.
What were the highlights? – What were the low points?
As he’s been able to do since his return to the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong pretty much stole the headlines when it came to cycling this year.
His spectacular fall from grace rates as both the highlight and the low point for the year 2012. For me, the release of USADA’s 200-page “reasoned decision” – with its 1000+ pages of supporting documents, was a highlight. Yeah, sure, I’ve never been a fan of the guy, and I did experience a bit of Schadenfreude when things finally came out, but that wasn’t why it rates as the highlight.
For me, it was the highlight of the year, largely because the people who have long rated as the heroes of the sport – people I long trusted and admired – were finally proven to be right. Again, it wasn’t for the simple pleasure of watching them (quite deservedly) say “I told you so.” What made it the highlight was the admiration I felt for Betsy and Frankie Andreu, Greg and Kathy LeMond, Emma O’Reilly, Filippo Simeoni, Christophe Bassons, Stephen Swart, David Walsh, Paul Kimmage, Dr. Prentice Steffen and scores of others who simply refused to be bullied into submission. Sued, slandered, threatened and more, they stuck to their stories.
I tip my hat to all of them. Chapeau.
The villains of 2012?
Yeah, sure, Armstrong, Bruyneel, Ferrari, et al … the whole gang of them rate. Nonetheless, my vote goes to the dynamic duo of Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid.
Somberly expressing disappointment at what they claimed to have learned in the USADA revelations, McQuaid and Verbruggen declared that Armstrong has “no place in cycling.”
Well, I hate to say it guys, but neither do you. The UCI’s record was abysmal throughout the fraud perpetrated on this sport by that feller from Texas. If they didn’t know, they should have known. As Agent Mulder would have said, “the truth was out there.” From all appearances, the management of cycling’s international governing body simply didn’t want to see it.
Nope, it took someone with a healthy I-don’t-give-a-sh#t attitude to dig through the evidence and make a compelling case. Travis Tygart is, therefore, my Person of the Year, but only because he did what the UCI could have and should have done years and years ago.
So, there you have it. Feel free to disagree. Post your comments or send me an email at Charles@Pelkey.com.
Have a happy New Year and let’s hope against hope that the news from cycling won’t involve another scandal, but just damn good bike racing.
I don’t get hung up on mileage anymore. I had a watershed moment about 15 years ago, when I was struggling to maintain 14mph into a head wind. I know I was going 14mph, because I was staring at the small digital display clipped to my stem, and I became angry that I was riding the computer rather than the bike, and I pulled it off its mount and stuck it in my pocket and I have not ridden with a visible computer since.
I do occasionally wonder how far I’ve gone on a given ride, and I’m sure some of my regular riding companions have grown tired of me asking what we’ve done. For a short time, I ran Strava, so I didn’t have to ask, but I got bored with that pretty quickly and returned to blissful ignorance.
But you know, mileage can equal goals, and goals can be motivating, so if you’re obsessed with numbers, I get it. If that’s what gets you on the bike, that’s what you use. I have not yet reached the point of diminishing returns for riding my bike. More is pretty much always better.
My friend Padraig is on the verge of 8,000 miles for the year, which given his life situation is a whole lot of distance. My friend Bryan, who commutes year round in Southern Maine, also puts up a pretty good number. In a small way, I envy them their milestones, but not enough to ruin my rides with data collection. This is what works for me.
So as the year winds down, all I can do is some basic estimation. With organized and disorganized weekend jaunts and commutes all stuck together, I’m going to guess I did somewhere between 2500 and 3000 miles. I could ride more. I could make fewer excuses.
This week’s Group Ride wonders what you did. How many miles or kilometers did you put up? Did you measure them exactly, or did you take a more offhand approach? Will you do more or less next year? Why?
I like routines. I’m a pretty strategic, logical, thinker. For everything that isn’t time spent with family, writing or riding, I want efficiency. I want to spend as little time as possible washing dishes, cooking dinner and doing laundry. So I like to work out routines so that I devote as little thought to these tasks as possible. And, yes, I’m a profoundly unambitious cook. The kitchen is not a place of magic for me.
As a cyclist, routines allow me to dress quickly in the morning; I am usually ready to ride, from waking to clipped-in, in less than a half hour. Routines are handy for those weekday morning training rides. If you’ve got two hours to ride, you can’t spend ten minutes deciding on a route, so established routes with known turnaround points are key to me making the most of my riding time.
However, there’s a point when routine becomes, well, routine. After the 16th consecutive week of doing exactly the same ride on Saturday, I tend to go batty. And even though I haven’t suffered that monotony of repetition lately, I have been trying to do lots of very easy miles (any Strava notches in my belt this time of year are purely accidental). And we all know from experience that group rides and going easy go together like multinational corporations and ethics.
So I decided to do something I don’t often do. I headed inland.
To non-Angelenos, that last statement will probably seem unremarkable. To cyclists of the Westside and Southbay, what I just wrote is considered tantamount to a suicide note. Like all big cities, Los Angeles has its areas of the ruling class (Brentwood and Bel Air), the haves (Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica), the doing okay (Culver City), the getting by (Inglewood and Pico Rivera), and then the hood (Rancho Dominguez—better known as Compton). Los Angeles also has exclusively industrial areas, such as the city of Vernon, which lies due south of downtown and has a whopping population of 113.
As I mentioned, I’ve been trying to do loads of very easy miles. While the coast of Southern California is punctuated by constant undulations of terrain, the area east and north of my home offers hundreds of miles of bowling-lane roads, and on Saturday and Sunday mornings they can be pretty lightly traveled.
So I took off into parts unknown. Mind you, these are sprawling swaths of suburbanity, spreading plains of asphalt and concrete, so they are known to millions of people but their residents are unfamiliar with Lycra-skinned cyclists and to cyclists, well Canterbury Knolls might as well be the Congo. After all, most of LA south of downtown that isn’t coastal is as hip as new Coke. These neighborhoods are not even stylish in an ironic sense, let alone the revived urbanity of a place like Echo Park or East Hollywood.
And it’s in these assumptions that educations occur. The preceding two images were shot near Leimert Park, and if anything can convey how a place is loved, how a place matters, how a place is home, it’s public art. The mural was an African creation myth that moved from the Big Bang through the pyramids and right into 20th century music and beyond. It was a remarkable and moving piece of art.
For the last two weekends, my rides have foregone the coast, both north and south, in favor of routes that take in the city’s rich ethnic smorgasbord. It’s worth remembering that for much of history all Western art was religious in nature. I couldn’t help but notice that as I moved away from the coast the occurrence of churches climbed sharply. And they came in more flavors than we have words for skin color.
The above was the nativity scene at Olvera Street, the Hispanic district in downtown. It’s a well of deep Catholic spirituality, a place where belief informs daily life, isn’t relegated to an hour on Sunday morning.
This has been a year unlike any other in my life. And while any year has plenty to qualify it as unique in a person’s life. This one has been so chock full of successes, disappointments, frustrations and downright tragedies, that I realized that right now the bike is, more than ever, my temple, a place where I can think, meditate, sometimes just brood. I don’t have anything to prove—not even to me, so my rides have become an opportunity to explore, to see, to wonder.
The exploration has inspired in me an odd curiosity. I find myself trying to imagine the daily arc of the lives of people who live in Little Tokyo, Silverlake, West Adams. The beauty of Los Angeles is rarely discussed, but the deeper I dig, the more I find. The wonder of what lives I might have led has never been more palpable than as I ride through these neighborhoods.
With the Mayan apocalypse now firmly behind us, it feels a little safer to come up out of the RKP survival shelter into the rain-swept, gray-light of a new day. And as these trying times slouch toward the New Year, I find myself looking for new sources of hope.
From the Lancepocalypse, which now strikes me as tantamount to a teenage acne problem, to the divisiveness of our national election, the unstoppable force of Hurricane Sandy and then to the reality-warping attack in Connecticut and the “fiscal cliff,” it feels easy, just lately, to sit and wonder what the hell is wrong with us collectively.
To quote Marvin Gaye, “What’s going on?”
As a bike person, I take great comfort in the sure knowledge that, no matter what happens out in the larger world, I can mostly pedal my way to a better (mental) place. And so when I’ve cast about in search of some sign that the apocalypse isn’t actually nigh and come up empty, I look to my garage for evidence that things will get better.
I guess I do it like anyone fortunate enough to have a thing called a garage. I hang my bikes from hooks, rear wheel up and evenly spaced, right in a line down one wall, and just seeing them dangling there stirs something warm in my chest.
Hung there (and carefully aligned, if only after the garage’s quarterly cleaning) they seem so perfect. In their inert state, I am not yet riding them badly. Striving and straining and second-guessing aren’t happening. Their energy accrues potentially, each bike limning the happiness still to come.
The kids’ bikes hang in between mine, their shorter wheel-bases making them perfect for space-filling. And there too I see deep wells of potential energy, future me on my road bike slowly slaloming behind one or both of my boys as they thrash away at their plastic platform pedals. This is idealized familial bliss, the making of memories to be cherished in advance. I find I need this theoretical future positive when the careening present seems at its most chaotic and dark.
Phrases like “stay in the moment” and “be here now” have all kinds of new-agey currency at the moment, and certainly as a general rule, it seems best not to dwell too long on the past nor to obsess too much about a theoretical future. But what is hope made of if not the notion of a better tomorrow, and what image conveys the feeling of that incipient change in our fortunes quite as well as a bicycle, cleaned and ready to roll?
Image: Matt O’Keefe
Gift giving is one of those activities that can take years to really appreciate. I didn’t get the value of it when I was a kid. Like the Grinch, there came a point when I’d like to think my heart grew three sizes. I doubt very much it happened in a single year, let alone a single event. The giving has come to mean much more to me and if I’m honest, I’ll admit that I think much less of giving than I think of sharing. I’ve still got a fundamentally selfish streak in me and writing is an activity I undertake first, and foremost, to satisfy me. Publishing my work is more an act of sharing than giving.
In as much as RKP can give a gift to you readers, I’d like to think we’ve been doing that all year long. So on this day we think of gifts both physical and spiritual, here’s to hoping that you got some gifts you were hoping for and were able to give some gifts that brought smiles to the faces of those you love. Most of all, I’m writing to thank you for the year you’ve given me. From the growth of our readership to the incredible support you showed me with the beer fund, this year has been an education in the power of the written word. My greatest Christmas gift is what you have given me this year and now being healthy enough to look back over the year that was and to have a chance to take it all in.
Thank you all for reading. I hope the holiday season brings you and yours much happiness.
As we approach the end of what has been a momentous year for cycling, a lot of us are left wondering where the sport goes from here.
Padraig and I have been chatting back and forth and one thing he asked for was something of a follow-up to the piece I did on the likelihood of reform at the UCI.
As I mentioned in a recent column – “When it comes to the UCI, change is needed … but it ain’t easy” – the structure of our international governing body is such that, despite its superficially “democratic” façade – real power in the organization is held in the hands of a very small number of people with the same set of skewed priorities and ingrained conflicts-of-interest that caused the problem in the first place
Padraig was interested in hearing about how our own national governing body was set up and whether we could possibly start the “revolution” from this side of the Atlantic.
Is reform possible?
Well, the short answer is “no.”
Back in the day, the old U.S. Cycling Federation (USCF) was something of a democratic organization. You bought a license and you earned the right to vote for members of the board of directors. Admittedly, not all that many voted and we’d see boards composed of people chosen in elections with less than 10-percent voter turnout.
Indeed, you still have the right to vote for board members, but your vote just doesn’t count for much. In 1999, a few years after the creation of USA Cycling, the successor to the USCF, there was a “special” meeting of the Board of Directors called by president Mike Plant (who, you might recall, remains a member of the UCI Management Committee) for which the agenda included some major changes to the Bylaws of the organization.
The measure was essentially railroaded through the board, without much discussion, save a vigorous effort from board member Les Earnest. If you’ve not heard of Les, you should, especially if you’re a reform minded cycling fan. Les’ professional background is in computers. He’s responsible for the development of the first spell checker, the first effective pen-based computer and was appointed as the executive officer of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1965. The guy is wicked smart and he loves bike racing. We’re lucky to have him around. (Author’s Note: I was incorrect in naming Les Earnest as the sole opponent of the Plant “reform” initiative. Board Member Chuck Collins was the member of the board who voted against the measure, as is correctly reflected in his comment below. My apologies to Chuck and I guess I’ll chalk up my error to an aging brain. I even wrote about Chuck being a lone voice in the wilderness at the time.)
Anyway, Plant’s changes were couched as an “emergency measure” (with no real explanation as to what the exact “emergency” might have been) and as such went into effect immediately upon passage. The net effect of those “reforms” was to place considerable voting power into the hands of a small group representing the USA Cycling Development Foundation. Indeed, while representing less than one percent of USA Cycling’s membership, the Foundation can effectively choose the majority of the membership on the USA Cycling board of directors.
Now, if you want the particulars, I am going to direct you to Les’ site, where he recently posted an essay describing the cycling’s current problems, a series of “coups,” representing what Earnest calls a “flagrantly crooked takeover by business interests” of the sport and the legal challenges that have resulted from those.
What is disheartening is that you find yourself agreeing with Earnest’s conclusion to the question “is reform possible?”
In short, it is not, unless there are serious changes to federal law (namely the “Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act). It is a dire conclusion when you realize your hopes of reform are rooted in that painfully rare phenomenon known as “Congressional Action.”
We do have one huge advantage
Now, I have to say that I have my reasons to believe that the situation here in the U.S. is still better than that of the UCI. It’s not that this country’s governing bodies are somehow better or less encumbered by conflicts of interest.
No, what sets American governing bodies apart from their international counterparts is that collective decision by those U.S. Olympic Committee-affiliated NGBs to hand off their authority to deal with doping cases to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Recall, that one allegation out there in the whole Armstrong case is that his “donation” to the UCI to assist in its anti-doping efforts was merely a pay-off to the organization to cover up an alleged positive doping test from the 2001 Tour de Suisse. While the UCI has yet to share the documents associated with that incident, how can anyone – after having seen USADA’s evidence – reasonably conclude that Lance Armstrong honestly made a contribution to the UCI to actually boost its efforts to control doping? (If you’re one who can reach that conclusion, by the way, give me a call. I have a really nice bridge to sell you in New York.)
The one element of the American system that should serve as a model for the rest of the world is precisely that separation of powers.
Read Les’ article and think about it for a minute. Then try to imagine the outcome had every bit of evidence in the Lance Armstrong case been in the hands of Mike Plant, Jim Ochowicz or Thom Weisel. The record books would remain intacct and few would be talking about reforming things these days.
It took a tenacious – and, above all, independent – agency to reach the conclusion that the Emperor did, indeed, have no clothes (well, at least no yellow jerseys).
That sole element, though, doesn’t mean that the U.S. system is otherwise any better than that which governs the UCI. We need fundamental reform. If you have a racing license, vote. And then let your opinions be heard. Contact the members of the board. Despite the lopsided and undemocratic imbalance of voting power, there are some good folks on the USA Cycling Board of Directors. Let them know how you feel. Demand changes. Finally, be willing to back up those demands with action … or as some suggest, in-action, meaning that you don’t renew your license for a year.
The sad truth, though, is that the current structure is largely the result of the inherently apolitical nature of folks in the sport. Hell, we didn’t get involved in cycling to add yet another political aspect to our lives. As a result, though, we let these folks take control. In some cases, they’ve done okay. In others … well, not so much.
If you want to see change in the organization, get involved. It will take all of us.
The big events of 2012?
Padraig had some other thoughts about closing out the year. I know at my old job, we would have editors and a few contributors sitting around voting on who was worthy of this, that or the other prize for things they did over the course of the previous year.
Certainly we here at RKP are not above pontificating now and then, but I want to hear from you, too.
I have my own opinion as to whom, for example, should rank as “Person of the Year” in cycling. What I like, though, is to hear what you have to say.
Please, use the comments section below or send me an email (Charles@Pelkey.com) and let me know your thoughts about the year in cycling.
- What were the highlights?
- What were the low points?
- Who are the heroes?
- Who are the villans?
- Which was the greatest day of racing?
- Which of the three was the best grand tour?
- Which was the best one-day race of the year?
- What great technical development may actually prove to be more than just a way to get you to spend more on bikes?
Feel free to comment on anything and everything. We’ll cobble together an awards column, but rest assured, it will be with your input.
Finally, dear readers, I first want to thank you for indulging my off-topic detour last week. Like all of us, I was pretty shaken by the events of the previous day.
I managed to attend the funeral for my friend, Bob, and tears aside, the event quickly devolved into an opportunity for many of us to share stories about an old friend. My contribution?
Well, a few years back, we were having lunch on campus at the university here in Laramie, when a young man walked past, resplendent in full western regalia: hat, boots, vest and even chaps, despite there not being a horse anywhere within miles.
“Ya know, Charles, I never got that; the whole cowboy thing here in Wyoming,” Bob said. “I mean, I’m from New England … and I don’t dress up like a @#$% ing Pilgrim.”
A lot of us ended up the day laughing as we shared a host of Bob’s best one-liners. I hope we can all leave that kind of legacy when we’re gone. I’ll miss you, Bob, but I will almost always remember you with a smile.
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.
It feels strange to even speak of it after so long, but you know what? Professional road racing is about to start happening again. Rising up from the ashes of the Lancepocalypse, spindly legged racers are due to crawl out from under their off-season rocks, emerging into the blinking light of the 2013 season.
What’s gonna happen?
The Classics, perhaps the least dope-tarnished races of the calendar, will once again give us the Boonen v. Cancellara races we all want to see, assuming Fabian Cancellara has killed whatever chicken he needed to to dispel the voodoo curse that ruined his 2012. We should also see the return of Thor Hushovd to the rutted cart paths of Northern Europe and find out just how serious Peter Sagan is about mixing it up with these infernal cobblers.
The first question of this week’s Group Ride is who will be this year’s Classics star? Can Boonen thrive with Cancellara in the mix, or will someone else rise to the challenge?
Stage racing, if we’re honest, is more of a shit show. TdF champ Bradley Wiggins is talking about skipping the July race in favor of the seemingly more favorable Giro, which puts Chris Froome in the captain’s seat for Sky. Alberto Contador is back in full swing. Purito Rodriguez showed his class last season, but will his team even make the races? And what of the Schlecks? The younger is coming back from an injury-blighted 2012, and the older will probably be suspended.
The second question for this week’s Group Ride mirrors the first. Who will be this year’s Grand Tour star? Can Ryder Hesjedal repeat his Giro heroics? Can any of 2012′s bit part players, Thomas de Gendt, Alejandro Valverde or Vincenzo Nibali, take another step up the podium?
It feels odd to me to be talking about these things. It feels as though some great schism occurred at the end of 2012, and that the future can’t be quite like the past. All I know how to do, at this point, is to look at what’s happened and wonder what will be, and hopefully, in the process, it will all be as fascinating as ever, if only that little bit better.
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
I get a lot of questions from readers about purchasing dilemmas, and I do my best to answer them all. The questions range from what saddle is best (I have a favorite, but unless your pelvis is a clone of mine, you might not like it), to clothing sizing issues (hard to do without being in the same room with samples in hand), to the typical frame selection and sizing questions.
The single most recurring question that I get from friends and readers is what wheel to choose. For someone purchasing a single set of high-zoot wheels, what would I recommend? And because I’ve reviewed more wheels from Zipp than Enve, Easton or other manufacturers, the question is often framed as, would I recommend the 202, 303 or 404?
It’s not a tough question for most riders, at least in my opinion.
For the purpose of this piece, I’m going to use Zipp wheels, but I think a number of wheels, such as those by Enve or HED, could be substituted for Zipp in this comparison. The point isn’t the brand, it’s the category. And frankly, getting a handle on the competing aerodynamic claims from one manufacturer to the next isn’t something I care to undertake—the marketing claims prove each brand is faster than their competition.
Before I get into the considerations that lead to the choices I would make, I want to lay out a few assumptions that guide my thinking. The first is that because I’m aware that a set of Zipp wheels are more expensive than some bikes, I don’t really see them as something I’d routinely take to a race, even if I was still racing. Sure, I’d use them in a time trial, and I might have been willing to use them in some road races, but the average crit isn’t a place I’d be willing to risk a $10,000 bike, unless, of course, I was sponsored to ride it—and even then I’d have a fair amount of trepidation. So while a great many people think you ought to save your most expensive equipment for race day, I think if you’ve got good stuff you ought to go ahead and ride it.
The second assumption is that fast is fun, and faster is more fun. So while I may be riding long training rides with a select group of friends or the occasional gran fondo, I want to ride as fast as I’m able. To that end, I want aerodynamic wheels for all the free speed I can get. Third, if I’m going to be on aero wheels, I don’t see any point in being frightened when riding in a crosswind; I want wheels that offer handling as close to that of a box rim as possible.
So now for a bit of objective data. The images that follow I got from Zipp. They offer a fairly objective comparison of several different wheels against the 202, 303 and 404.
For me, there a few takeaways from these images. The most striking is how a traditional box rim is aerodynamic equivalent of an elephant. The improvement of the 202 offer over a box rim is significant, but considered against the 404, I can’t help but wonder why a greater effort hasn’t been made to make a relatively lightweight aluminum rim that offers better aerodynamics (and handling) than the box rim. To my eye, the industry has given up. The best offerings I can see in the sub-$1500 range are HED’s Jet series wheels which mate an aluminum rim with a carbon-fiber fairing. What else is noticeable is how much more crosswinds affect the box rim and traditional V rims, and while I’ve seen how Firecrest (and other similarly rounded rims) handle better in the wind than V rims, it is interesting to see that phenomenon illustrated.
The basic wisdom on rim depth is that the flatter the course, the deeper the rim, and vice-versa. It’s the single easiest way to choose, but it leaves out all the nuance that causes lunatic cyclists like me to actually fret over these decisions. The discussion that follows isn’t about the obvious choices, it concerns the nuances that make you second guess.
The big knife
For riders across most of the world, where flat land dominates, the wheel that makes the most sense is the Zipp 404. That’s the simple truth. The weight penalty is more than overcome by the aerodynamic gains. Why deny yourself that aerodynamic advantage? Now, that said, there is a caveat to that selection. If you’re a light rider and you live in a place where the wind is a frequent training partner and if gusts are an issue, you may want to consider selecting a different front wheel, such as a 303 or 202.
There’s a lot of new technology that addresses the wind’s input on steering. Zipp’s Firecrest, Enve’s SES and HED’s Jet rim shapes have all used a rounded spoke bed that has fundamentally changed how the wind affects the wheel. Not only are the aerodynamics better, but the handling, as I’ve written previously, is much better than the previous generation of V rims. My first experience with Firecrest was on a pair of 808s and the on-shore breeze in the afternoons here can push me around as easily as a pro defensive lineman. The 808s were so easy to deal with in crosswinds I wondered if I was on Punk’d. It’s worth noting that Tom Boonen told me he starts every race, except for cobbled ones, with a 404 front and an 808 rear.
Where the 404 becomes an issue is on climbs. Its aero advantage disappears at speeds below 20 mph and then there’s the extra rotational mass of the deep rim to consider. But the issue the 404 faces is less going uphill than dealing with changes in terrain. When I’m on climbs that change grade the liability I encounter is in trying to accelerate the bike when the grade lessens. It’s not a huge issue, but the 404 flat-out doesn’t accelerate as easily as the 202. I think if I were riding in the Rocky Mountains consistently, where downhill speeds can easily eclipse 50 mph and the grades on climbs can often hover around 5 percent, I’d still go for the 404, but in the undulating grades of California’s coastal mountain ranges, there’s another wheel I prefer.
The 202 Firecrest is a wheel I was excited about even while it was still on the drawing board. It features the same 16.25mm clincher bead width as the 404, giving the tire a bigger footprint for superior traction in corners (handy when descending), but at only 1343g for a set, as opposed to 1562g for the 404s. That’s not a huge difference in weight, but as all of the difference can be found at the rim; you notice it any time you start winding up the wheels. The combination of aerodynamics and low weight make it a climber’s dream, but only if your heart is set on clinchers.
The 202 does feel faster than a traditional box-rim wheel, but I can’t say that I sense the difference between it and the 303. However, on the flats and on descents, I hit higher speeds with the 404. I also notice a difference on descents between the 202 and the 404: The shallower 202 is more maneuverable in turns. By contrast, the 404 feels more stable and gives me confidence at speed.
I can’t stress enough how impressed I was with this wheel’s strength when I went down back in October. I went from 30 to zero in about the amount of time it takes to sneeze. The front wheel, which is what did the stopping, didn’t even come out of true. While Zipp wheels do flex some side-to-side, the incident did a lot to confirm for me how much stronger their rims are than they once were.
The wheel of all trades
And so what of that in-between depth of 40 to 50mm? If your home terrain has got a few sustained climbs of at least 5k, hills like politics has liars or roads bumpy as a bipolar’s emotional life, then the 303 may be your ideal choice. It’s a wheel that is light enough to climb well and yet still packs a powerful punch on the flats. It has gotten great play as a stout wheel for cyclocross and races involving pavé. Featuring the widest rim in the Zipp stable, the 303 yields the broadest tire footprint if any Zipp wheel, making it preferable for anyone concerned about tire adhesion in corners.
At 1478g, the 303 isn’t much lighter than the 404, but I’ve experienced them as being much easier to accelerate, or at least what passes for me accelerating. It makes them more cooperative on climbs while still lending a powerful aerodynamic edge on the flats and descents.
It’s worth noting that Enve has taken a slightly different approach to their SES-series wheels. Rather than using the same rim front and rear, Enve uses a shallower rim in the front. The 3.4 wheels use a 35mm-deep rim front and a 45mm-deep rim in the rear. Practically speaking, it’s like running a front 202 and rear 303. The 6.7 wheels use a 60mm-deep rim in the front and a 70mm-deep rim in the rear. The front is effectively a 404 while the rear splits the difference between a 404 and an 808.
If you’re only going to buy one set of Zipp wheels, chances are the 202 won’t be the best choice. I can only see buying the 202 if you live in a place that is binary—either up or down. I know there are people out there who think about purchasing high-zoot wheels for race day and saving them for special occasions. I’m not down with that thinking. Any day you put a great set of wheels on your bike is a special occasion. They, after all, are not like a bottle of wine which is destined to last but a single night. You don’t have to work very hard to take care of any of these wheels, so you can do consistent miles on them without fear that each ride is death by yet another paper cut.
I can’t claim that can always feel the improvement in aerodynamics of the 4o4 over the 303 or the 303 over the 202. On long, fast flats, my sense is that I’m just faster. I’m usually going too hard to reason my way through it at the time. But I seem to have a lot of good days with the 404s. What I can say for sure is that the 404 is noticeably faster than the 202; I’ve swapped the two out and been able to note the improved speed, even when the switch was one day to the next.
Coastal California isn’t like most of the rest of the world, though. The world is, for cycling purposes anyway, flat. Most places I’ve ever visited merit the 404. And that’s a handy thing. Whether you consider the 404, Enve’s SES 6.7, HED’s Stinger 5 or any of a host of other options, the real point is that once you have a chance to ride with your friends over known roads, you’ll be amazed at the advantage the wheels give you. Granted, some of these flat places experience a lot of wind. Even with the rounded profile of a rim like Firecrest, there can still be some steering input. For lighter riders who want some aero advantage with as little steering input as possible, I’d suggest a front 202 with a rear 404 or a set of wheels like the Enve 3.4.
There are a great many products that might increase your enjoyment on the bike, but very few I can swear will make you faster. For purely selfish reasons I should probably shut up so that the guys I ride with don’t all start buying aero wheels, but that would really violate the spirit of this site. We want you to have fun out there, and there’s no denying that more speed is more fun.
This fall I was contacted by the folks at BreakThru Radio to see if I’d be interested in doing an interview for their series “Biology of the Blog.” I said yes, but then elected to flyswatter my face into a dirt road, so we had to put the interview on hold for a while, as it hurt to speak for more than a couple of minutes, and then there was the fact that some of my consonants were as intelligible as static.
BreakThru Radio—BTR for the dedicated—if you’re unfamiliar with them, is essentially an on-line radio station with a cadre of DJs spinning some stuff far too fresh for commercial radio. I’ve been digging them ever since DJ Margaret got in touch about the interview. Unlike some other forms of independent radio, all the shows are available as podcasts so you can listen to them any time. You can check out the interview along with the tunes DJ Margaret is spinning here. Just hit the “play” button next to her name.