The Giro was snowed out today, which suits Danilo Di Luca quite well, I’m sure. It has been a dramatic race, mostly due to the weather, but also because Vincenzo Nibali has shown himself to be head and shoulders above his peers around nearly every bend of Italian pavement.
In fact, Nibali was so good in the uphill time trial to Polsa that only Sammy Sanchez got within a minute of him. That means he was more than 2% faster than everyone else. I saw the gap, and I immediately thought, “there is no way,” which may just be where we are with pro cycling. I don’t have any reason to suspect Nibali specifically, but that’s a big gap in such an important race.
Subsequently, Vini Fantini-Selle Italia’s Di Luca got popped for EPO (EPO for christ’s sake!!!!!), and I thought, “hey, all the time I’ve spent not paying attention to the racing was time well not spent.” I am sadder about that than I sound here, mainly because I always shroud my sadness in sarcasm. It’s a family thing.
Padraig summed it all up well just the other day, but perhaps recent events suggest the moment he described is passing like so many moments before it in pro cycling. Is it about the racers? Is it about the teams? Vini Fantini DS Luca Scinto sure did sound sad and pathetic announcing Di Luca’s test result. Fool me twice, eh Luca?
This week’s Group Ride asks the simple question: How believable is pro cycling today? Use a scale from 1-10, with 10 being unimpeachable and 1 being pro wrestling. Where are we? Do wins like Tejay van Garderen’s last week do anything to shift the balance against the news of Di Luca’s positive test?
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
I will endeavor over the following paragraphs to make no butt jokes, employ no puerile double entendre, and avoid, at all costs, referencing parts of the human anatomy I have barred my young sons from mentioning at the dinner table. We have over recent weeks been discussing product preferences for such crucial gear as helmets and gloves, and you, our readers, have chimed in ringingly with your insight and experience. We are group-sourcing this cycling thing, and it goes better when we all participate. So thanks for your effort.
Now, of all the touch points on the bike, I will argue that the most important one is the saddle. I don’t believe I have ever heard of a person’s ride being ruined by an insufficiently ergonomic lever, an improperly rounded handlebar or a properly functioning pedal of any stripe. To be sure, those things, bars and levers and pedals, if broken or set up badly, can have a dramatically deleterious effect on your ride, but your saddle, even functioning as it was intended by the bespectacled engineers who first drew its curves onto a sheet of paper, can turn a century into an eon, an epoch, a shambling millennium of despair.
And our hind quarters (careful now) are also highly individualized and various. We cyclists run from the beanpole narrow to the Volkswagen wide, our sit bones two points on a line describing a continuum not easily charted in leather or synthetic, with manganese, Ti or carbon rails. The seemingly simple curves of our selves are also bisected and punctuated by sensitive equipment (I know, I know) whose function ought not be compromised by a spirited, two-wheeled jaunt with our friends.
On my own primary road bike I recently installed a Specialized Romin saddle, which I assumed I would hate (because I assume this about all new cycling products that enter my world), but in actual practice (as with many of the aforementioned products) I love it. I can ride it for 100+ miles and maintain a level of comfort that keeps me seated on climbs I might normally attack out of the saddle, merely to give my aft deck (ok, sorry) a break.
This week’s Group Ride asks the question: What saddles do you love and why? Do you subscribe to the cut out model? Do you prefer firm or soft? What is it about you that works with the saddle of your choice? Give us enough detail that like-sized/minded riders might draw some benefit from your hard won experience.
Oh, man. When I brought up helmets last week, I had this sneaking suspicion it was a better conversation starter than the Giro d’Italia, though in years past I know we would have turned the Giro over and over like a favorite record. 50 comments later, I think we covered helmets pretty well.
In midweek, Padraig reviewed a new pair of gloves, and that got me thinking that gloves have that same sort of personal character that helmets do.
Truth be told, I prefer to ride without gloves, but years of doing so, while spending my days with my paws on a keyboard, have left the nerves that run from my arms into my mitts with less than optimal connectivity. Some days it doesn’t take very long for a familiar buzzing to creep from my palms up into my fingers.
So, I tend to keep a couple or three pairs of gel-palmed gloves in my steady rotation. The right glove can cradle my frayed nerves and dissipate enough vibration to keep me sensate all day long, over road and gravel, up singletrack and down powerline cut. The Giro Monaco long-fingered glove is a particular favorite, with just the right amount of pad.
Padding, breathability, seam-angle and height, materials, they all go into making a great glove, and of course durability is an issue, because we use our hands for everything.
This week’s Group Ride is about gloves. What do you wear and why? As it’s mostly warm most everywhere right now, let’s keep this to warmer weather gloves. The winter variety can be an entirely different beast with a whole other set of challenges.
If you had asked me, one year ago, which topic would garner more interest from RKP’s readers, the Giro d’Italia or the new Rapha Sky Kit, I’d have laid my lira on the Giro. Rapha’s general nattiness notwithstanding, it would have been hard for me to foresee the conversation-inspiring value of a single kit, especially as compared to a Grand Tour, a GRAND TOUR people!
But this is a different time. As Padraig noted the other day, pro cycling might be stuck in a sort of purgatory after the hell of the EPO-era. Many fans, myself included, feel far less passionately about the races than we once did. These are days when dedicated cyclists are retreating a bit into the deep pleasure of their own riding, including a renewed interest in the ephemera of the cycling life, the bikes, the stuff.
So, folks who want to talk about the Giro can step back to last week’s Group Ride. Please do. This week we’re going to talk about helmets.
I am in the market for a new noggin hugger myself, and I seem to be surrounded by riders in the same market. Helmets are a funny old thing to buy really. Very few people would say their helmet is fun. And of course, the helmet is one of the few cycling products you hope never to learn how well it works. That leaves fit, form and style as the chief criteria by which to evaluate.
Then we get into shape and ventilation, the form of the helmet, whether or not your sunglasses slot neatly into the holes in the front or tuck neatly into the back. This too is subjective and random. You have awful taste in sunglasses probably.
Finally there is style. There is no accounting for style. Have we discussed your sunglasses?
Here’s what I will tell you about my recent history with helmets. I wear a Giro Prolight. It’s light, like its name implies. It fits me well. I like it. There is a high likelihood, because I tend to be brand loyal, that I will get another Giro, probably the Aeon, but I am also somewhat suggestible.
This week’s Group Ride asks: What are you wearing? Do you like it? Why? What would you consider switching to? There are so many choices now, from the conventional to the esoteric. Has any of them saved your life? Let’s not get into the larger helmet debate. Let’s assume, for the sake of the discussion, that we need to wear helmets, and we just need to pick one. Thanks.
The blinds made their metallic flutter in a breeze that hadn’t breached the window’s sill since some time last September. Dust whorled in the bright sun. The dog raised his head and looked askance before settling back into his mid-afternoon siesta. Were it only, as they say, a dog’s life.
The weather in New England is finally begging us to ride our bikes. Oh, it had allowed us to ride previously. It had granted permission, but it is now fully knees-to-ground begging.
So we rode our bikes. Not the tepid, slow roll of the early season where you’re just gathering at the meet-up to bolster one another’s resolve, but the lung bursting, leg hollowing runs of which mid-summer form is made. I had not ridden as hard as I did last night since before winter’s first snow flakes fluttered to the ground last year.
I could feel the tension rising as we threaded our way out of the city, a prison break that might actually succeed. Once we’d scented that freedom, we lost our heads a little. The Wednesday night ride is the one with tacit, albeit silent, agreement that we will try to break each other. It’s a full gas ride. It is not a race. We always come back together before the end and roll into town as a group, but the middle is a frantic, tongue-lolling scramble over pavement and packed gravel, really the only opportunity I take to ride this way.
At the halfway point, I had swallowed enough dust that the hunger pang bouncing around my hollow gut over the opening 20 miles finally settled. What is the caloric value of New England farmland dust? Or does it just convert readily to adrenaline when mixed with the sight of your buddy going over the rise in front of you, in the drops.
That my lungs burned would be easily enough attributed to the same swirling grit, but I imagine they would have been burning similarly had I been wearing a surgical mask, such was my desperation to take in more air. I was flying along, my good speed only occasionally sapped by loose patches of sand. It felt awful/fantastic.
I had the distinct sense that I was burning off a winter’s worth of lethargy, that I was airing my lungs in much the same way my wife throws open the living room window to let the couch breathe, the dog smelling, child-battered couch, transformed by a bit of sunlight and oxygen.
This ride was more than the first hard ride in the spring shine though. It was a celebration and a protest, an airing of grievances against nature and against ourselves for having let it all go so long without riding this route in this way. Winter has been over for some weeks now, but we needed to get it off of our chests.
Image: Matt O’Keefe
Briefly, I will apologize for the FGR’s two-week hiatus. Technical difficulties kept us from sending our semi-fortnightly missive, and then a mad man on the loose on my home turf kept our minds otherwise occupied. But let’s leave behind weighty topics for a bit. All, now, seems back to normal, and so we push on with queries new and exciting.
While we were away, Classics season seems to have ended. Sadly. But as the Byrds (via Pete Seeger) sang, “…to everything, turn, turn, turn.” Grand Tour season is upon us. I call myself a Classics man, but Padraig prefers the Grand Tours. This we have hashed out in previous and ancient versions of the FGR.
And so the Giro, a race that has, arguably, been on the rise for the past decade. A confluence of great routes, closely-fought finishes and the dark star, self-destructive gravity of the Tour all coming together to the elevate the Italian affair.
As some indication of the Giro’s rise, last season’s Tour winner, Sir Bradley Wiggins, has opted to race for the Giro win rather than defend his yellow jersey. Team Sky will say that this Giro route suits Wiggins’ strengths better, while teammate Chris Froome will lead the squad in France, but it is hard not to understand the decision in the context of increased prestige for the Italian race.
Wiggins’ prime adversary is alleged to be Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali, a Vuelta winner with a better burst of uphill pace and a demonic ability to descend. Ryder Hesjedal, last year’s maglia rosa, remains a dark horse, which seems a bit cruel given the talent, guile and heart he showed in winning the 2012 race.
This week’s Group Ride opens our 2013 Grand Tour discussion, which also includes our own Charles Pelkey (Live Update Guy) doing live text updates throughout the race. Be sure to check in with Charles, a far keener analyst than I can pretend to be. So…the big question this week is: Who will win and why? Is Sir Bradley the man to beat, or will Sky’s disappointing season continue to disappoint? Who have we missed? Who else can win?
Images: Fotoreporter Sirotti, RCS Sport
Very seldom am I anything other than middling. There are some cool summer nights that will see me pressing the strength of my usual riding companions, daring to dart off the front of our fast ride. And there are some dark winter nights when I can’t do any more than slog home, legs heavy as the night. The rest is just middling.
On a recent morning group ride, I spun along next to Mike while the guys on the front pulled (not so) slowly away from us. “Are we the laughing group now?” I asked. He laughed.
Sometimes, I imagine it would be nice to be that guy off the front, Hinault with his broad Breton brow and shitty scowl, putting the hurt on those behind. But I don’t have the forehead for it, nor the scowl. Neither do I have a great urge to leave behind my companions.
If we are the laughing group, the mini-bus, I am quite content as passenger, as fellow traveler. This is the general remit of the middling cyclist, to be among and between. Ours is the craic and the bottle passed. Ours is the steadying hand in the small of the back.
In the broad middle I can hang onto a faster wheel, but I can never be sure how long I can hold it. I can make big efforts early in a ride, in say the opening 30 miles, and then sometimes I am good all day, but other times not. The thing about the middle is that it is unreliable. Will it hold? This is our conflict and our denouement.
In high school I was a C student. This was mainly down to a disinterest in hard work and an abiding affinity for trouble. As a cyclist, I stay true to form. I’d rather be sharing a joke at the back than gritting my teeth on the front.
From this middle place, I can be inordinately grateful when I find the strength to ride hard past 60 miles, but also the grace to slink away humbly when I can’t.
For some reason, when I think of myself as a cyclist, I envisage wildebeests on the Serengetti, massive packs of anonymously identical animals churning across the plain in some ahistorical drive for water or food or relief from the summer heat, and there I am in the midst of the horde, sweating fervently, moving forward as I can, well insulated from the danger, predators of every stripe lurking at the edges.
I am really lost in how to think about this thing, like an algebra problem with too many variables. I was scared, but only briefly, as you are when something unexpected and violent happens in your comfort zone. Bombs going off on Boylston Street. A firefight in Watertown. These are aberrant events in locations that are deeply familiar to me.
I thought to write last week, when bombs first exploded downtown, but couldn’t get my thoughts together well enough to attempt it. Even now, I feel confused, struggling to fit the thing into its correct context.
The brief fear that welled up in the heat of the moment was quickly supplanted by a deep sadness, certainly for the victims of the violence, also in a strange way for the perpetrators who must have been very frightened, angry people. And then also the sort of sadness you feel when a thing you thought was safe and fun turns out to be dangerous and scary, an accident on a summer roller coaster, a shark attack at a favorite beach.
One of the cool things about living in Boston is the sense of living in a space where history has been made, the knowledge that big ideas have sprung from this soil and the tides of change have surged from what is, today, only a badly organized city, perched on the edge of a cold, northern ocean.
I came here nearly twenty-five years ago, a college kid with no clue how Boston would lay claim to me. I spent a year trying to understand its haphazard geography by train and foot before a bicycle presented itself as clearly the best solution to a difficult problem. Subsequently, I have ridden nearly every inch of this place from Harbor to western suburb.
To cruise past the Common late on a summer night and think of the dramatic events that transpired there generations ago, town meetings and riots, the hanging of witches, the grazing of cattle, right there in the middle of everything. This is how you get to know Boston. The stray patches of cobblestone that dot downtown, they take you to the Boston Massacre and to the shifting of American sentiment that preceded the Revolution. You can’t ride the city without feeling that history.
For nearly a decade, before I switched jobs, I rode into town every day, my wheels spinning the path down the river into Back Bay. My commute took me across Clarendon Street, which runs behind the big, old Trinity Church. It’s a narrow artery through the heart of the city. The Marathon finishes a block west on Boylston Street, where the massive Boston Public Library sits at the other edge of the Square facing the church. That’s where the bombs went off last week, another mark on Boston’s timeline.
Days later, in a maniacal car chase/shootout, the young men who apparently planted the bombs met their end in Watertown where I work now, the second kid, the subject of a massive manhunt turning up, bloody and finished, under the tarp of a trailered boat right down the street from my office. That’s Franklin Street, our cut through to Watertown Square, where lunch comes from. A casual cruise around the neighborhood turns up cars and houses bearing the obvious scars of an intense gun battle. There is a blood stain in the street.
I had a text from work in the early morning on Friday saying, “Don’t come in. Check the news.” I went to the Guardian site and saw a picture of a SWAT team filling the main intersection around the corner. History seemed to be happening in the streets I live in.
And as I watched the news and worried about how it would all change the city, my city, I kept thinking, these are the streets I ride every day. How do I process this? How will I go on riding there?
The word aftermath refers to the consequences of a disaster, the period of time when we’re left to contemplate what’s different now. It might as well mean the math we have to do after the lesson, the part where we apply what we’ve learned. Having ridden the city up and down, studying its history, I’m left wondering just which lesson to apply.
Perhaps it will occur to me in time. Or maybe the lesson is the same as all the others,and the answer is just go on doing what you’ve always done, but try to do it better, more gently, more thoughtfully. To borrow a line, there has been chaos. Keep pedaling.
Last Monday, the day of the bombing, I rode home by a route that crosses a park that overlooks the city. The sun shone brightly in the soft-stirring air, and the skyline was unaltered, the Prudential building and Hancock Tower standing off to one side, the lump of downtown jutting grayly into the horizon. You would never have known what had happened down on Boylston Street.
This week I resolved to throw my leg over the top tube and go on about my business. I rode straight into Watertown, past the same houses and schools I pass everyday. The potholes, I noticed, are all still where they were before.
Image: Susan Margot Ecker
Our friend and yours, Charles Pelkey, the Live Update Guy himself, will not be able to lend us his reportage or insight for this year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege due to a health issue. Our very latest communication from him, by text, was “I am not dead yet,” which we take to mean both that he is not dead AND that his sense of humor remains largely intact.
We apologize to those of you who had planned their morning around Live Updates from the race.
Your Friends at RKP
Image: Pelkey Family archive
Here we are again, Roubaix weekend. I can’t think about this race without hearing, in my head, the horrible rattling of the pack over those impossible “roads.” I can’t think about this race without imagining the jarring, the wishing for it to end, the ludicrous proposition of racing there, the relief of entering the velodrome.
Fabian Cancellara will win this race. He has to. It is impossible that he will not with the form he’s got, with the experience he has gathered, with his great rival, Tom Boonen, struck down. Something terrible will need to happen to the big Swiss to prevent him from sitting on a crappy plastic chair in Roubaix, a soigneur pawing at his face with a sponge glove, while the rest of the peloton limps into view.
But then, this is a race where terrible things happen. Cancellara has already crashed twice this week, once at Scheldeprijs, once on a simple recon ride. It is impossible to know his true condition, though the team has played down his injuries, calling them superficial.
I don’t know about superficial injuries. In my experience, the effects of a crash accrue over time. What seems like an innocuous spill in the moment feels like a hammer blow later, your body’s natural entropy accelerated and exacerbated as you ask it to do more and more work. Paris-Roubaix is work.
Nonetheless, with Cancellara in the race, all other horses must be dark. Sagan, Pozzato, Hushovd, Roelandts, Phinney. There. I’ve said their names. I could say more, but does any of them ring with the truth of Cancellara.
This week’s Group Ride asks, is it inevitable? Must Cancellara win? If not him, then who? Why won’t he win? What is the tactical play that overcomes his sheer strength?
Image: Vlaam – Wikimedia