Strange but true. The North American Handmade Bicycle Show will celebrate its tenth anniversary with next week’s gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina. Has it really been ten years? How cool is that? Though I haven’t attended each edition (I missed last year’s because of the birth of His Tininess the Deuce), I’ve managed to visit about half of them and I’ve never failed to be wowed by the artistry and skill on display.
In the late 1990s tubing supplier Reynolds and tubing distributor Nova Cycle Supply used to host the work of builders in their Interbike booths. It was a pretty genius idea. After all, looking at a completed frame is way more interesting than looking at a bunch of uncut tubes. It’s been long enough that I can now confess to showing up late for more than a few appointments because I spent too much time gawking at all the amazing frames in those booths. A similar thing happened at the LA Bike show circa 2003 when Hank Folson of Henry James Bicycles took out a large-ish space and gave builders who were purchasing tubing, lugs and jigs from him an opportunity to display their work.
NAHBS far exceeds what these fora were, but I mention them because it helps to frame just how impressive NAHBS is. If a dozen, maybe two, frames of variable workmanship could carbonate the pea-sized gray matter locked between my ears, I hope you’ll understand when I say that NAHBS has every right to claim that it is the bike industry’s closest event to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The funny thing is, I don’t think Don has ever made that claim. He ought to.
One detail I think that escapes many NAHBS attendees is the way the combination of the event and digital media has elevated the quality of framebuilding. Even in the late ’90s, I routinely saw frames that, to be polite, had issues. I saw it all: paint drips, accidentally asymetric lugs, windows overflowing with brass, alignment issues obvious to the naked eye and work that was so rudimentary and without creativity you’d think they were using the metalworkers’ equivalent to a paint-by-numbers set.
While not all work at NAHBS is created equal, I’ve yet to see a frame or bike there as questionable as the stuff I was seeing a mere 15 years ago. The combination of peer interaction thanks to the show and the ability to look closely at detail shots of the very best work on display has lifted the quality of framebuilding, not just in the U.S., but throughout the world. Show organizer Don Walker deserves a
beer Mexican Coke (he stopped drinking) from each of us.
For those of you who follow Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (or the NAHBS newsletter), you may have caught that I was recently named chief judge for the awards. I was really honored by Don’s decision to do this and I hope the awards will carry the full weight of recognition the work deserves. I am by no means the most qualified for this mission. As it turns out, one of the more important qualifications is simply being able to spare the time to do the work. And you can’t spare the time if you didn’t make the trip, so there’s that, too.
NAHBS is an event that has had more than a reasonable share of controversy blow through its halls. Don is a man of strong convictions; that much no one will argue. But he’s also the guy who put his entire career on the line to give framebuilders an annual shindig. My personal belief is that when the definitive history of the craft of framebuilding is written, Don will be remembered less as a framebuilder than for his work in bringing framebuilders together, for helping to elevate the quality of the work done, in part, by giving awards to the best work out there.
While it’s true that NAHBS has endured some dissention within the ranks, and more than a few bridges have been burned, the irony here is that prior to NAHBS, framebuilders were not known for socializing with each other. Framebuilding, because it is such a personal expression, results in some deeply held ideologies. NAHBS can be credited for bringing lots of these artists together and fostering a degree of brotherhood, through shared techniques and mutual admiration, that didn’t really exist before the event.
If you make your way to Charlotte, I’m confident you’ll see plenty to drool on. While you won’t see me on the floor Friday (I’ll be in another room doing judging with fellow judges Nic Legan and Jeff Archer), I’ll be cruising the show floor taking photos and talking metal filings with builders on Saturday and Sunday. And if I can find a place to have it, there will be a small gathering for RKP-types on Saturday night. Otherwise, I might just be in the nearest BBQ joint. Additionally, provided the forecast holds, I’ll be going for rides Saturday and Sunday morning. I hope to see/meet you there.
Since USADA released its Reasoned Decision in October of 2012, cycling fans have turned on riders it once revered. Most hardcore riders I know had tired of Lance Armstrong long before Travis Tygart served him like a calf, fatted, but George Hincapie, David Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde and Levi Leipheimer had remained popular riders among the cognoscenti. Once their doping was a matter of public record, though, the public turned on them.
It’s a state of affairs fueled by emotions running higher than the audience at a Grateful Dead concert. At a certain level it’s easy to understand. There were a few events in my adolescence in which my father said, “Just tell me what happened and I won’t get mad.” Of course, when I told him, he got mad. The upshot was that I never wanted to level with him when I got into trouble. If he was going to get mad either way, I figured I might as well keep my misdeeds to myself.
Pros who have doped are in a similar no-win situation.
As a result of the revelations regarding Leipheimer’s doping, Levi’s GranFondo has come under fire to some degree. Given the event sold out last year, though more slowly than usual, whatever hits it will take don’t seem to be that bad. I’ve also taken a certain amount of criticism, mostly in social media, for my support of Levi’s GranFondo. I can write most of it off to trolls, but because I’ve encountered some misperceptions out there about the event, I figured a post to help set the record straight was warranted. The guys at Bike Monkey signed on as an advertiser here at RKP and while I don’t owe them anything more than the advertising space they purchased, because I respect the work they do, I want to do them a solid by helping correct any misunderstandings about the event.
I’ve never pandered to RKP’s readership; I won’t write something just to try to attract eyeballs, nor will I allow anyone to tell me what to write. There have always been people who don’t read this site, and maybe even don’t like this site. That’s fine. If people choose to turn their backs on this site because I ride Levi’s GranFondo, that seems silly, but lose sleep I will not.
The single most frequent criticism I’ve heard is that the GranFondo is how Levi makes his living. I’ve asked the guys at Bike Monkey the question, and while I knew the answer, I just wanted to hear the response. Levi doesn’t make a dime from the event. I heard one person suggest that Forget-Me-Not Farms, which is a recipient of some of the GranFondo’s charitable giving, employs Odessa Gunn, Levi’s wife. Not true. She’s a volunteer and recently undertook a drive to Redding to help rescue a bunch (61) of diseased dogs from the home of an animal hoarder. Her vehicle, her gas, no reimbursement. You might say that’s just how she, uh, rolls.
So why not just pull Levi’s name off the event? First and foremost, Greg Fisher, marketing director for Bike Monkey, told me that the ride is Levi’s. It’s his event in that it was his idea, so even though Bike Monkey makes the event happen, it’s not theirs to rename.
Fisher put it this way: “Aside from the fact that he came up with the whole thing, we weren’t comfortable with renaming it. Our feeling was that we needed to stand by him, the history of the event to date, and his commitment to Sonoma County. We’ve taken hits for that, but long-term we think it’s the right thing to do. It’s different if you’re selling a widget; we’re trying to give people the best possible experience on a bike in our home county. We are tied to a place; we can’t just turn our backs on that part of it.”
Fisher’s larger point bears repeating: Levi is a local guy and this is a local event. It wouldn’t have happened without him.
Then he posed the question to me—what if they did rename it? “What’s the difference? (Levi’s vs. King Ridge). We would like see a short term gain on a semantic point. People are entitled to be angry about what happened with the doping scandal. We can’t control that. But we can remind people of the simple magic of a great day out on their bikes. For that reason alone, it’s probably not a good idea to be mad a long time.”
It’s fair to wonder just how long people will remain bitter about this generation of riders.
“These guys’ fame is very fleeting. Some kid in 10 years is gonna be on the line and turn to his dad and say, ‘Who’s Levi?’”
It occurred to me that could easily be me with my son Philip. I like that idea. A lot. It goes to the larger point I’ve tried to make to critics; this event is not just bigger than Levi’s sins; it’s bigger than Levi himself.
That there’s curiosity surrounding what the event does with its proceeds is understandable. The event has revenues from rider registration and sponsorship that runs roughly $1 million. For the armchair critics, this can only mean that Levi continues to inject EPO daily at a rate that exceeds my consumption of Mountain Dew. The truth is, unfortunately far less sexy. It is, as is typical of most things in life, easier to criticize an event you’ve never attended. But as someone who has ridden each edition and as a former racer who has heard event promoters complain about the incredible expense of securing the California Highway Patrol for road closures, I knew that having controlled intersections over a 100-mile course was probably worth what a down payment on a nice home in Sonoma County runs. I’m not wrong on that.
Fisher told me how in order to have enough officers to cover their needs they have to recruit from as far as four hours away. He clarified the need thusly, “There would be dope, guns and fucking in the streets if we took it all from the Bay Area.”
He stressed how much larger the GranFondo is than the other events the company produces. Numbers-wise, it is larger than their other events combined.
To frame the size of the event he told me, “We need 15,000 gels. We go through five five-gallon buckets of peanut butter. We go through a wall of bread 100 feet wide and 800 feet tall. We spend thousands in tents—not the pop-ups. There are so many buckets of water to hold down tents that’s one whole water truck.”
They marshall 1000 volunteers. And while they are called volunteers, the greater truth is that the bulk of them come from the various charities that receive the GranFondo’s largesse. In 2011 and 2012 that was roughly $250k, while for 2013 it was closer to $263k.
Fisher stressed that for Bike Monkey the sun rises and sets on the simple idea of Sonoma County as a great place to ride a bike. “This is the kind of event we would want to participate in. It doesn’t have an end date. It doesn’t leave Sonoma County. We’re here for the long haul.
Leipheimer himself expanded on the connection the event has to Sonoma County. “The strength of this event is in the connection it has to this community and how this community, in turn, supports the event. We wouldn’t be able to duplicate that by rolling into someone else’s town, taking up resources and trying to set up a business on the backs of a community in which we’re not deeply involved. This is about our home and wanting other people to know it and love it like we do.”
I’ve traditionally viewed the GranFondo as an outward-looking event, a way to showcase cycling in Sonoma County to the rest of the world. It’s a very real part of the mission of Levi’s GranFondo. Media about the event has often mentioned how the first edition was meant to help the City of Santa Rosa meet the financial obligation of bringing the Amgen Tour of California back to Santa Rosa. But Fisher clarified that the fundamental drive for Levi was simpler.
Perhaps the easiest way to clarify why the ride exists is to let Leipheimer himself say it. “Every bit of this was about putting on a truly spectacular bike ride, one that could only happen here.”
Toward the end of our conversation Fisher said something that completely surprised me. Bike Monkey had an additional motive for putting on the GranFondo. They wanted to show the City of Santa Rosa and the County of Sonoma the economic power of cycling. Because Bike Monkey is a local operation and needs as many friends in high places as possible to put on their events that showcase the incredible riding in Sonoma, they wanted to have an event that could swing a big bat, an event that would make the entire town wake up to cycling as a vehicle to drive tourism.
The upshot imparts a surprising debt. Businesses in Sonoma County have proven to be exceedingly friendly to cyclists, based on my experience. Next time you go clickety-clack through a hotel lobby and the staff asks you how your ride was, you have Levi Leipheimer to thank for that. Even I didn’t see that coming.
People have a right to be upset about the Generation EPO. I am. Have any of these guys been punished sufficiently? It’s not a point I really want to devote my time to because there are no easy answers. Any reasonable person can have dozens of reasons for not traveling to Sonoma County in October for a bike ride. The distance, the expense and the time of year are all perfectly valid reasons for not going. Not leaving your sweetie alone in a hotel room for eight hours is another fine one. However, if you don’t go to Levi’s GranFondo in order to punish him—because you don’t want your actions to support the life of an ex-pro—your punishment will miss its mark. I’d understand a boycott if the event was his new paycheck, but he’s not going to make a dime off you and in the end, all you’d really do is punish yourself by missing out on what is arguably the best cycling event produced in North America. The people supported by the ride will never be famous. They’re just residents of Sonoma.
Rest assured, if I’m not on the start line on October 4, it’ll be because I or one of my family members is in the hospital.
I spent most of last week in Phoenix, Arizona, at an event organized for members of the media by Skratch Labs. The lectures and Q&A sessions resulted in the closest I’ve come to feeling like someone inserted a memory stick directly into my brain in some years.
I don’t mind admitting that a significant portion of my bedrock assumptions about cycling have changed over the last two years. I won’t rehash everything that’s changed thanks to USADA, but in addition to that, there have been some big changes in tires and wheels, not to mention bicycles. On top of this pile, I now toss what I used to know, or thought I knew, about hydration and on-the-bike fueling.
I’d come to an uneasy detente with hydration, much the way I had with doping. I knew there was more to it than meets the eye, but the numbers didn’t add up. Specifically, drink makers have been marketing drinks that are supposed to be mixed at a 6 to 8-percent solution. Go any higher and you risked gastrointestinal distress, yet these same manufacturers are also marketing bars, chews and gels you’re meant to consume—also while on the bike.
The math didn’t work for me: drink mix + bar = need for extra bottle of water. The alternative was no better: drink mix + bar = GI distress. But I prefer having something with flavor, and because the marketing and sales staffers at some of these companies were clearly more concerned with selling me more product (or at least getting me to use more of their product), getting the truth from them was harder than getting a kiss from a nun.
Here’s where I have to credit Skratch Labs and Osmo Nutrition for taking the time to explain to me just how the body really works. Too often products are created that look great on the blackboard but don’t really work in real life. Here’s an example: Maltodextrin. Sure, I’ve seen some spectacular bonks due to people drinking water but not eating enough, but all the truly flashy fireworks (and I mean that almost literally) occurred when riders focused on drinks laden with maltodextrin. The sales pitch was always that a malto-sweetened drink would deliver huge numbers of calories in an easy-to-digest chain of glucose molecules. Then I crewed for a RAAM rider and watched her firehose a malto-laden drink into a ditch from her bike. What I didn’t understand until last week was that maltodextrin begins breaking down the moment it hits your mouth. It continues breaking down in your stomach, so by the time it reaches your small intestine, what you have is hundreds of calories of glucose and only water enough to help absorb about half of them. The rest goes in one of two directions. She didn’t have enough water to absorb all that sugar so her body ejected the rest. Not pretty.
And that’s just one of the minefields out there that I personally witnessed.
Even though Skratch Labs and Osmo Nutrition are incredibly competitive with each other, they’ve done a lot to give me something I can believe, and I’ve got two good reasons to believe. First, there’s the simple fact that I have found I ride better on both Skratch and Osmo than I do on anything else. Even more significant is that I felt better at the end of a long ride if I’d stuck to Skratch or Osmo. Second is the fact that these two companies are not only singing from the same song book, but they have been followed down this path by Clif, which is reformulating its drink mix to take the same approach to hydration. I’m accustomed to dealing with brands that try to convince me they make the only drink mix that could possibly work, that everyone else has it wrong, that without their mix, I’m destined to fall off my bike in the most epic bonk in the history of hypoglycemia. It gets old.
At root, what Osmo and Skratch Labs offer is a drink mix that keeps the mix of carbohydrate and electrolyte low, in the 2 to 3-percent range. As I’ve heard from both companies, the point is to include just enough sugar and salt to speed up gastric emptying.
Our sessions in Phoenix were led by Allen Lim. Yes, that Allen Lim; he of PowerTap, Floyd Landis, the Garmin team and even Lance Armstrong, he of the Ph.D. in exercise physiology. The guy at the root of the biological passport. Here’s how it was explained (in significant detail) to me: Plain water will move into your bloodstream by passing through the semi-permeable membrane. This process is slow, but it works. Use a sports drink with too strong a solution and water will be pulled into your small intestine in order to dilute the mix. The approach that Skratch Labs and Osmo have taken is based on studies that show that in that 2 to 3-percent solution range a roughly two-to-one mix of salt to sugar will cause something akin to floodgates to open, pulling water into your bloodstream far more quickly than can be accomplished by plain water moving across the semipermeable membrane.
It’s a huge relief to me to be able to write about something I’ve found success with and be able to show that I haven’t just chugged one brand’s Kool Aid.
That said, Skratch Labs will give you a half-dozen reasons why their product is distinctly different—and superior—to Osmo. Likewise, Osmo will swear that they are working from the latest science and that their stuff works even better. As a consumer, you could benefit from trying both, or you could conclude that because Skratch Labs offers a pineapple flavor, that’s your new go-to flavor. Believe me, I’m right there with you on that, though I’m becoming a fan of the raspberry as well.
Over the years, what I’ve learned is that I can drink just about anything and get through a three-hour ride. What Skratch Labs and Osmo help me to do is last longer so that my fifth hour is as strong as my third and as I pointed out earlier, ultimately finish a ride with more in the tank. So even though I’m no longer racing, on a weekend day, I need to get off the bike and be able to function. It’s not really okay for me to stagger from the garage, complain that I’m shredded, eat while bent over the sink, pass out on the couch in my kit and wake up as the sun is going down. Would it be too much to suggest that Skratch Labs improves domestic harmony?
Not at my home.
I’m in Rancho Palos Verdes on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, about 45 minutes south of where I live in Redondo Beach, Calif. I’m attending the first-ever Winter Press Camp, held at the Terranea Resort which sits on a cliff overlooking one of the most gorgeous stretches of California coastline there is. It’s prettier than Heidi Klum washed with unicorn tears.
I’m here to meet with 11 different manufacturers, from the gargantuan SRAM to a Lilliputian saddle manufacturer whose Kickstarter funded at more than 700 percent of their goal. It’s an interesting collection of products, to be sure.
I’ve attended one other Press Camp event, during the summer of 2012. I’m a big believer in not just the event, but its unique format. Unlike a typical trade show where you just wander around at your own pace, meetings are set up in advance and you spend 45 minutes in session with each manufacturer. It eliminates interruptions and allows for a more in-depth presentation of a company’s wares and all the manufacturers here are showing a limited number of products so they can really focus the visit to a targeted objective.
There’s a break after lunch in which we go for a ride one of of the bikes here. Because the PV Peninsula is my ‘hood, I’m leading both the road rides and doing my utmost to make sure and show these kids some views that are the visual equivalent of a taser. I’ll be back tomorrow with the first of my reports on the products I saw.
Dorel, the parent company behind Cannondale, Schwinn, GT, Mongoose, Iron Horse and Sugoi purchased the Canadian brand Guru last year. In doing so, Dorel was able to bring into the fold a new fitting system based around what might be the most sophisticated fitting device on the market, the Guru Dynamic Fit Unit. We got a look at the Dynamic Fit Unit at Interbike and had a chance to see the basic process for taking someone through a fit.
During the Cannondale team introduction I had a chance to go through a fitting with Colby Marple from Guru. The Guru system offers two different levels of fit, one for production bikes and another should you want to have a custom bike (say a Guru) produced to your personal requirements.
The fitting began with me being scanned by a Kinect unit. Yes, Kinect as in Xbox. As it turns out, Guru’s lead software developer was one of the original developers working on the Kinect unit. The Guru software includes a database of production bikes and their geometry. Based on its scan of me, we were able to choose a couple of different bike models and it quickly showed how neatly I fall between the 56 and 58 sizes.
The Dynamic Fit Unit (DFU) is the real heart of the system. Quick release clamps allow for easy swapping of both saddles and handlebars and the cranks can be adjusted to provide riders the recommended crank length.
For those familiar with the latest version of the Serotta Size Cycle, one of its big selling points is the ability to use an electric driver to make handlebar and saddle position adjustments while the rider pedals. The ability to move smoothly through a range of possible reaches, bar heights and saddle heights is one of the two biggest advancements in fit methodology of the last 25 years, the other being the rider flexibility assessment. I had one of the original Serotta Size Cycles in my garage for about a year and I’d use it to experiment with my fit. The difference between getting off the bike, making an adjustment and getting back on vs. pedaling continuously while the bar or saddle moves is the difference between the Dewey Decimal System and the Internet. It’s just no comparison.
Where the Guru DFU differs with the Serotta Size Cycle is that servo motors in the DFU unit make precise adjustments based on keyboard inputs by the fit tech, resulting in changes of higher precision and performed at greater speed. But that’s not all. Supposing you like your bar position relative to your saddle height but you want your saddle to go up a centimeter. The DFU fitter can make the two changes simultaneously. Similarly, say you want to try a slightly steeper seat tube angle, the DFU can simultaneously raise your saddle and bring it forward while also dropping the bar and moving it forward in order to preserve the saddle-to-bar relationship.
Wait, that’s not all.
The full-on Ginsu pitch is that the fitter can rock the full position back to simulate climbing on almost any gradient in order to allow you to experience what that position will feel like on Mt. Shootmenow. And if you’re getting a mountain bike fit, you can be swung forward to simulate an ultra-steep descent to get a feel for just how much weight you’ll have on the bike’s front wheel.
My view is that a fit system is just a tool. From the gear to the methodology, a fit system is just a tool to do a job. In the hands of someone with minimal training, it might not be a very effective tool. However, in the hands of someone like Cyclologic’s Paraic McGlynn or Bike Effect’s Steve Carre, the DFU is the most powerful dynamic fitting tool I’ve encountered. This thing could make a great fitter as formidable as Peter Sagan is in a sprint.
My session resulted in a fit that I’d be willing to put my faith in. It differs from my current fit by less than a centimeter in saddle height, while the bar position was more than a centimeter higher with roughly the same reach. I should mention here that because I move between a number of bikes on an ongoing basis and between as many saddles, I’ve grown immune to small differences in ft. I had to learn to put up with changes in my fit from bike to bike, even when I’ve gone to great lengths to replicate my position exactly. Exactly just never happens. Because I’ve managed to ride well on a number of bikes with slightly differing fits, I’ve come to believe that when someone (be it fitter or rider) starts to get fussy about that last millimeter they are failing to understand the inherent adaptability of the body. And I write this with the knowing admission that I’ve suffered problems at the hands of bad fits by alleged fit experts.
I think part of the genius of the DFU is that all the rider has to go on is the feel of the fit. With no stem to look at nor the visual cue of seeing the drop from the saddle to the bar framed by the bike itself, all you can really go on is the feel of sitting in the saddle and reaching for the bar. When the original Serotta Size Cycle was introduced I was skeptical that a good fit could be achieved by a fitter simply listening to feedback from the rider. I was perhaps right to be suspicious of the original iteration, but today it’s an approach that makes terrific sense. It does require that the person being fitted talk a lot about what he or she is experiencing as the key to a good fit is communication, but even a relatively quiet person can get a great fit from a good fitter. The best can see unwanted muscle tension the way poker players can suss out tells.
Finally, I’ll grant that it might be a challenge to place your faith in this approach until you’ve experienced it. I learned to give a lot of feedback as either the bar or saddle is moving: no, no, no, not bad, okay, yes, yes, errmm, nah, no, no, no. It was interesting to me that Colby had the same reaction to my feedback that Steve Carre at Bike Effect did. They both noted that they saw an easing of tension in my shoulders just as I started to say “yes.”
Again, the Guru system is just a tool, and that goes double for the DFU. However, in the hands of a great fitter I think the DFU has the ability to help a fitter arrive at a result that the client will believe in. Why? Well the dirty little secret of fitting is that the single biggest challenge a fitter faces is getting the client to not just adopt the recommendations, but to stick with them long term rather than switching the bike back after a ride or two. The DFU provides an experience that makes the recommendation one’s own, not some outside piece of advice. When I was first trained as a fitter, recommendations were made based on a set of tables the correlated to the rider’s personal dimensions. The process was effectly: here’s what you are, so here’s what your fit should be.
The DFU, more than any other fitting tool I’ve encountered, upends that convention by making the fitting a matter of self-selected comfort. That might seem obvious to the point of naive, but really a proper fit is fundamentally a function of comfort and who can better know your comfort than you?
There’s something about visiting the workshop of a craftsman who began honing his skills before Greg LeMond headed to Europe. If you cut Joe Bell (and I don’t mean shiv him), his blood runs with lithium grease. His shop is less a time capsule than a place where time is suspended It’s not frozen in the past but rather a place where the past and present come together in a mashup of ages, Jimi Hendrix with a techno backup. In Joe’s shop 1978 is just as valid as today and the photos, posters and stickers are a testament to that.
There was a time back in the ’90s where I think we went more than a year at Bicycle Guide where Joe had sprayed every single bike we ran in Hot Tubes. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say he is arguably the most important bicycle frame painter the U.S. has seen. Every other painter I know has cited him as an influence. The funny thing is just how modest Joe is about his own abilities. He’s far quicker to praise the work of other guys than he is to recall any of his own work.
Talking to him in person is probably the wrong thing to do if you’re not already convinced he’s the right guy to paint your bike. He’s sooner huff thinner than give you a sales pitch. But the fact that guys like Richard Sachs and Dave Kirk use him exclusively to paint all their frames is, perhaps, all the resume the guy needs.
The reason I was in San Diego was arguably business, but I made sure to carve out a couple of hours to drop by his shop to see the frame above. That’s my Bishop. And surprisingly, I’ve struggled with what this bike will look like. The only thing of which I was certain was that it would be painted by JB.
This was my first opportunity to see the frame in person. To say I was blown away doesn’t begin to convey the way I marveled at Bishop’s work. Chris Bishop, if I may be so bold, is one of a rare set of builders. His skill is truly exceptional.
The unfortunate truth about Joe Bell is that he knows enough about building that he has the ability to clean up sloppy work by a mediocre builder. He could easily have make a career in an auto body shop fixing dings and crunches in classic cars. He’s made okay bikes look amazing, but will never betray a lesser builder. That discretion is one of his more charming features. But it also means that when something exceptional comes through his shop he has no problem given full points to the builder.
I won’t repeat what he first said to me as a measure of his praise for this frame because the terminology wasn’t what we’d call politically correct, but it made me smile. It’s what my buddies into classic cars would have said. I knew what he mean and it was praise of the highest order.
I’ve learned a lot from Joe, often just from talking to him on the phone, about the subtle cues to just how good a guy is with a torch. He’s taught me how to look for signs that a builder fed more silver or brass into a joint than was necessary and what they did to try to clean that up, or signs that a joint was heated for too long.
He also taught me a few extra tricks for finding sight lines to confirm the symmetry of a frame, particularly for fillet-brazed work. So when he kept up the effusive praise not just for the cleanliness of Bishop’s brazing but the symmetry to his fillets in the lug transitions and point thinning, it came as a nice confirmation that I’d ordered my frame from the right guy.
I could probably have done all I needed to with Joe by phone and email, but there’s nothing quite like being in the room with a person you dig. Similarly, I could probably have been in and out in a half hour, but I enjoyed the phone calls and other interruptions that gave me a chance to poke around a bit and get a look at a sticker collection I hadn’t seen in 10 years.
Someday, I’m going to have a garage workshop that looks every bit as cool and lived-in (or worked-in) as this one. Forget the backyard garden, I want a workshop where I can get lost. A place like this.
And this shot kids, the frame with the man who will make it unspeakably gorgeous, this is one I’ll take to the grave. It meant a lot to have a frame—my frame—get Joe excited about the work that lay ahead. Oh hell yes.
I spent most of last week in Westlake Village and surrounding roads attending the team introduction for Cannondale. I see little point in tiptoeing around the fact that RKP’s editorial mandate is not to chase pro cycling in the trenches; that’s a terribly expensive endeavor. Similarly, I don’t want to do like some sites and pretend that we have feet on the ground in Europe by paraphrasing AFP and Cyclingnews race reports to falsely inflate our editorial reach. Bogus is the word we would have used in high school.
As a result, I/we don’t often get invitations to these events, so when this one came, I was intrigued. Intrigued because I wasn’t certain of the why, nor was I certain what the event would be like. Generally, the public view of a team introduction is that it’s a one-night affair, usually held in a theater so the riders can be paraded on stage for the assembled sponsors, VIPs and media to see, and usually, it’s the entire team assembled, right down to the last mechanic and soigneur.
This event wasn’t quite so over the top as that; Cannondale didn’t fly every last rider or staff member over from Europe for the event. Still, this was a far cry from a Division II team intro I attended that was held in the team director’s living room. Cannondale brought over 14 members of their team, including their two stars, Peter Sagan and Ivan Basso.
The collection of riders included:
Alessandro De Marchi
It used to be that the first gathering of a team in the new year was really just a training camp to give the new riders. The presentations began as a way to give sponsors a little winter exposure and get fans excited about the new riders and familiar with the new jersey so they’d know what to look for in the peloton. Based on some accounts, it also became the time when team management would lay out not just riders’ racing schedules, but their doping schedules and get them familiar with the medical staff.
Team camps may have dropped the medical program, but the sophistication continues to increase. More and more, they include media training, clinics with the sponsors so they understand what they are riding or what the sponsor makes if it’s not a bike product, and plenty of time for the media to interview riders. Whether you chalk it up to smarter operations, or an increased need to make sponsors feel like they are getting their nickels-worth due to a dearth of non-endemic sponsors (it’s a debatable point), teams like Cannondale are using their first camp of the year to serve ever larger purposes.
I attended product seminars on Vision wheels, FSA components, Kenda Tires and Sugoi clothing. These were short presentations in which a company representative would talk about the specific products the team would be using and if they assisted in the design and testing of the product, they detailed that. In the case of Kenda tires there was some additional discussion of which tires would be used when, not just the particular tires that would be used. In racing tubulars, the team will run the Volare. On the occasions they race a clincher, it will be the Kountach, while for training they’ll run the Kriterium. With Vision wheel choice will naturally be dictated by course conditions. The deepest wheels, the Metron 81 will only be used for the flatest courses. Riders will use the Metron 55 on more rolling courses, while the Metron 40, the shallowest and lightest of the bunch, will be reserved for mountainous races.
With the exceptions of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, where the team will ride the Synapse, the entire team will ride the SuperSix EVO for road races. Interestingly, Peter Sagan is a genuine knuckle-dragger. He’s the only rider on the team to receive a SuperSix EVO with custom geometry. His bike has a longer than standard top tube; it’s essentially a 54cm frame with a 58cm top tube, plus a 13cm stem. For time trials they’ll ride Cannondale’s Slice RS.
The presentation itself was held at the Canyon Club down the street from the Westlake Village Inn where the camp was taking place. Honestly, I couldn’t figure why they’d choose that until they mentioned that there’d be a concert after the presentation. Each of the riders present was introduced and in a brief interview rider strengths and goals were discussed.The audience was made up of attending media, area Cannondale dealers and sponsor VIPs. Naturally, the biggest cheers were for Peter Sagan, but as the sole American on the team Ted King took a huge roar from the crowd and mentioned something about unfinished business with a certain event in France to which those assembled cheered raucously. Sagan made it clear that Milan-San Remo was in his sites as was a certain three weeks in July. Given the ire for most confessed (or nearly confessed) ex-dopers, I was surprised, perhaps even relieved, that Basso received such a warm welcome from the crowd. He’s setting his sights on the Giro, and as a two-time winner he thinks he’s got a chance at taking the race a third time, given the course.
Oh, and that concert? The new-for-’14 Cannondale “house band” led by none of than Michael Ward, sporting a big-ass handlebar mustache (and a few more pounds than when last I saw him).
The crowd was also introduced to Scott Tedrow, the president and CEO of Sho-Air, the new presenting sponsor for the team. Tedrow took the mike and alluded to the criticism he’s received as a Johnny-come-lately to the cycling world. Whoever has leveled this accusation at him needs their head examined. When I was racing in the masters ranks more than 10 years ago Sho-Air was a significant sponsor to both mountain and road teams here in SoCal. His history notwithstanding, what truly boggles my mind is why anyone would bag on a guy bringing money into the sport when most other money is fleeing by 747? Further, to his credit, Tedrow is deep in the sport; this dude is no Flavio Becca. In addition to his sponsorship of racing at every level, he’s opening a bike shop in Orange County soon and he recently made what I hear was a rather significant donation to the National Interscholastic Cycling Association booster club. So far as I can see, Tedrow is good for the sport and the horsepower he brings thanks to his company—which does air freight for trade show materials—will make a difference in the lives of a great many racers.
I think that pro cycling still has a long way to go in earning back the public’s trust, but in the meantime, the lime green outfit of Cannondale is likely to provide genuine entertainment worth watching.
These past few months, I endured what can only be described as the long, slow, painful death of a relationship. Circumstances in play were out of my control. This is a feeling I do not like. At all. And in order to get through it, I turned to my wonderful friend The Bike. I knew the bike would get me through, keep me grounded and sane. The Bike would be my rock and foundation when other footing seemed shaky. My plan? Simple.
Ride as much as humanly possible.
At first this worked out wonderfully. I clocked over 300 miles during the week of Thanksgiving, a particularly difficult stretch, and barely had any brain power left to think about the drama. So far, success of a staggering nature. I climbed, I descended, I rode each of my steel steeds in turn so that each would play a part in my coping. I talked to friends while pedaling and created positive memories. I got those all important endorphins Bicycling magazine always tells you about. I stayed strong, physically as well as mentally.
The next weeks followed in kind. 198 miles. 174 miles. My legs accumulated physical distance and my mind accumulated metaphysical distance.
Then I planned to ride a solo century on the Friday we enjoyed off following our company holiday party. I knew the roads, usually crowded with Christmas tree farmers during the weekends, would be extremely quiet. I had a gorgeous loop in mind that climbed, and then went up, and then ascended. I decided to document the more engaging moments via social media, taking my friends along with me as I rode. I woke up feeling extremely excited and positive. When I began to turn over the pedals, I knew it was going to be epic in nature.
And it was. I rode 97.6 miles, and climbed 10,500 feet. It was without question the hardest solo endeavor I had ever completed. I returned home feeling triumphant and amazed at myself. A weight lifted. And I had my bike to thank.
But then on Saturday, I awoke, and looked at the same bike, and thought, “I don’t feel like riding.”
I ignored that instinct. I kitted up. I spun over to the local coffee starting point, sipping a latte with my friends while waiting for everyone to show. I had the nagging sense that this was not a good idea. My mind was cluttered. My legs felt heavy. The bike, something I had relished only 24 hours before, was no longer my friend.
It was a frenemy.
Still, I rolled out with the group. I decided that I could go easy, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal; difficult, but definitely doable.
Except that this time, it wasn’t just my body feeling crappy and the bike feeling unwilling beneath me. I couldn’t quiet my mind either. What if I just gave him another chance? What if he really was the One and I just needed to be patient? How could I go back to being solo? Why couldn’t he just be a different person?
One very near wheel overlap later, I had to stop riding. I pulled off early, still managing to get a good 60 miles in, but not enjoying them at all. And the subsequent rides followed the same pattern. Not fun. Not relaxing. Not what I wanted to be doing. At all. And not giving that all-too-needed sense of calm and well being once I arrived back at home.
I felt like the bike, so often the source of truth, had suddenly started lying to me. And I didn’t understand why.
On Sunday, I woke up with the intention of riding, looked at the bike, and didn’t. I went for a walk. I had brunch. I journaled. I called some old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I saw a movie. I took a nap. I read a book.
Then the next day, I woke up, looked at the bike, and did the same.
I went to work on Monday with the intention of riding during some spare time. But again, as I went down to the locker room and saw my Zunow in the hallway, I decided nope. Not today. Instead I borrowed one of the many office dogs and took a walk to the local Doggie Park. I played some catch. I gave some good belly rubs and scratched some ears.
And I felt so much better afterwards.
Tuesday came. I went down stairs during lunch and looked at my red, steel friend. And all of a sudden I was overcome with an urge to pedal so hard I could taste blood. I changed, climbed aboard, and absolutely murdered myself up two particularly difficult pitches known for chewing riders up and spitting them off the back. I saw stars. I spoke in tongues. I forgot my own name.
And felt so much better afterwards.
As I returned back to my desk, ready to face the rest of my day, my head cleared of cobwebs and my legs cleared of their glycogen stores, I reveled in the comfort of knowing that once again, the bike told me exactly what I needed, and delivered on the promise.
But then I realized something. The days when I took the break, did not ride, those were also some of the days where I felt the most whole, the most collected. The most myself during a time when nothing seemed real.
The bike hadn’t lied to me. The bike kept telling the truth. I needed to NOT ride. I needed to find my comfort elsewhere, reengage with people and activities that had been put on the back burner, connect with all of the things that made me who I was when not wearing copious amounts of lycra.
The bike was always honest. It was I that had been lying to myself.
The breakup, so inevitable and necessary and awful, is now past. A new, extremely exciting future lies ahead. But there will still be bumps. I will still need the bike to help me cope, and I still know it will tell me exactly how to get through every day.
I’ve just learned how to listen more carefully.
Marking time by counting the trips around the sun may seem arbitrary, as if counting off every 100 days or every 500 days would make more sense, but anniversaries resonate because marking 365 days gives us a chance to think back on what we were doing under similar circumstances. The fact that it may be frozen yet snowless where you are can help recall previous years and the events that unfolded under similar weather. The short days and that orange light that blooms in the afternoons can summon recollections as disparate as falling in love and breaking up.
I am looking forward to the new year more than usual because this time, it really does feel like a chance to hit the reset button. The way I’ve been marking time, this year has been longer than most. I suspect that I’m not alone in noting October, 10, 2012, as a day when life changed. While I remember it as the day I almost killed myself, it’s also the day that USADA issued its Reasoned Decision. One thing died for sure that day. So while my crash didn’t actually occur in 2013, I spent much of this year recovering from and processing the literal and metaphoric impact on my life that one wayward second meant.
There are times when I want to inventory all the questions that event begged. Why was I going so damn fast? Could I have pulled it out if I’d been willing to recommit to my line? How bad would that crash have been if I had tried but failed? Why has this crash been such a monumental event in my life? Other crashes were just things that happened, but this was an event—why? What does this mean for my family? I don’t mean just in terms of my presence as a parent, but how does this affect my values and what I should teach, not to mention how I teach my sons? What does it mean for my life if I stop chasing adventure, pushing myself? Is there a point at which any reasonable, responsible person shuts down the adventure? How much adventure is enough to keep you alive? How much is the ego of not letting go of youth? Does chasing adventure as a parent necessarily mean you’re being selfish, or is it a way to show your children what living is all about? For how long are we obliged to lead by example?
It may be that having faced mortality less than six months prior to the birth of a baby that wasn’t really meant to survive gave that previous crisis fresh weight. I know that I began to see my family as a far more delicate and frail structure than I did previously. What had once been concrete and rebar was suddenly little more than icicles hanging from a rickety rain gutter.
It seems clichéd to call this a crisis of faith, but that’s how this played out. Basic assumptions about cycling, my relative youth, the grip of bicycle tires, my ability to see down the road, again both literally and metaphorically, even what I thought of as my routines—it all went flying, like so many shards of a dropped glass. It’s made the writing harder, slower. Some advertisers have been more supportive than others.
Robot’s recent musings about how my life events intersected and altered what RKP was this year did two things for me. First, it gave me a chuckle because of the things he left out, like my Memorial Day trip to the ER that resulted in a bigger break from the bike than even my October crash was. He and I shared a lot with each other, behind the scenes. Second, in acknowledging that it was a weird year for the blog/site/media entity, that we’re allowed to admit we didn’t deliver all the content we wanted to, all the content perhaps you expected, he made it possible for me to take a slightly different look back.
I suppose if what we delivered was a bit more formulaic, a bit more commoditized, a bit more processed, hell, a bit more Cheez Whiz, we might have been able to conceal the acne a bit better. So it goes. The deeper truth is that in attempting to go deep, you don’t always pull up what you expect, or want. It’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve really begun to see this year as a blessing. As much as we love the Deuce, being present for his journey shell shocked us. It was every bit as traumatic as my crash, but it took billions of times longer to unfold.
My purpose isn’t to beg sympathy or prey upon vulnerable emotions, but simply to acknowledge the way I’ve been looking at the world for the last 15 or so months. It has made me tentative in ways where I was once more bold; I still can’t descend on the road the way I did even though my descending off road is every bit what it once was. That strikes me as an irony Thomas Hardy might appreciate. The guy who doesn’t trust the grip of his tires on the road is okay with sliding around off road. Insert 24-pt. WTF.
There’s a line, one that I admit is fuzzy, the way colors fade into one another. When does red become orange and when does orange become yellow? Somewhere in the middle is a life I can chase with purpose, a way I can show my boys how to chase bliss without simultaneously turning myself into a gravity jockey that will get my life insurance policy canceled. It’s a place that fulfills me, allows me to continue to grow as a person, or if not grow, at least not grow stale. That medium may be happy, but it’s not obvious, or easy.
Isn’t that the nature of cycling?
With another year coming to an end, this is our annual excuse to look back and recognize those moments from this year that are worthy of further acknowledgment and/or memorialization, even in those cases where the event is something we’d rather forget. But let’s not belabor the point; we’re going to jump in.
The Dr. Seuss ‘Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now?’ Engraved Invitation: Initially Seuss swore that his book, written and published as the Watergate scandal filled televisions and newspapers, wasn’t an allegory of wishful thinking for Richard M. Nixon (the names scan the same), but we know better. This award has to go to Lance Armstrong. Damn it, the only thing I loved more than watching this guy race was watching him in front of the press, especially when I was in the room. He was a world-class prick more carefully doped than East Germany’s entire 1972 Olympic team, but he provided drama in a way that an entire armada of George Hincapies would never be able to deliver. Prior to his retirement, he was never not interesting, which is different than being likable or trustworthy. The Oprah appearance was a disaster for him personally and professionally and his subsequent media appearances have served to underscore the unfortunate truth that he only understands stories that he makes up. I still believe he could play a useful role in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but I doubt it will actually take place. What I most wish he would come to appreciate is that there’s something we hate even more than his ongoing legal defense(s)—the thought of watching him compete … at anything.
The Penn and Teller Disappearing Act Trophy: This goes to the rider who by virtue of his near complete reversal of athletic fortune has caused me to think maybe he really was clean. That man? Bradley Wiggins. I was suspicious of Wiggins’ winning ways in 2012 for the simple fact that he set a record of fitness even Eddy Merckx didn’t manage. Wiggins’ 2012 season (sorry for the refresher course) included the overall victories at Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie, the Criterium du Dauphiné, the Tour de France and even the gold medal in the ITT at the Olympics—six months of perfect form. Maintaining that much fitness for that long was so outside likelihood it begged suspicion. It was classic more-than-meets-the-eye stuff. And then Wiggins followed up such an amazing year with … the overall victory at the Tour of Britain. Remember how Fleetwood Mac followed up “Rumors” with “Tusk”? Yeah, it’s like that. If he keeps riding this way, he won’t need to threaten the world with going back to the track. I can’t help but think that if the secret to his success had been something as obvious as oxygen-vector doping it would have been easier to replicate. But I could be wrong.
The Not-Quite Gold Watch Retirement Gift: This is less my award than the award presented collectively by the ProTeam directors who refuse to sign this year’s Vuelta a Espana victor to a contract. For reasons that are hard to understand, European teams have had a hard time paying Chris Horner what he’s worth. Unlike rising Hollywood stars who make the mistake of asking for more money than Tom Cruise makes, Horner has always had the sense to ask for money equal to what others delivering what he delivered make. It’s a sensible approach. Unfortunately, his Vuelta victory has come so late in his career that team directors have been left to think that either his victory was as the result of techniques too risky to pursue or that his amazing wick has only minutes left to burn. Either way, a guy who has earned a seven-figure payday may not see it.
The Biggest News of the Year Effigy: I keep waiting for someone, anyone to mention the single most jaw-dropping allegation contained within Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell’s book, “Wheelmen.” I’ve avoided mentioning exactly what it is because I try only to deliver plot spoilers to my own stories. However, no one is talking about it, so I’m going to out this little detail now: the book alleges that for the 2000 and 2001 Tours, Jan Ullrich rode clean. Why no one is talking about this black hole of a detail I can’t fathom. The very bedrock assumption we work from regarding doping is that everyone was doing it at the top of the sport. That belief is why I criticized the effort to go after Lance Armstrong with a singularity of purpose; I’ve long written that to reform the sport authorities needed to attack the the peloton equally. The great surprise is that our chagrined belief that there was no way to properly apportion the Tour win during Armstrong’s reign becomes a good deal easier than Pi for two of Armstrong’s victories. Just do it old school—hand it to the guy who finished second—Jan Ullrich.
The Horse Head in the Bed Buried Treasure: If this hasn’t already happened to Johan Bruyneel, you have to figure it’s coming. Can there be anyone in professional cycling with less to lose by telling the whole of his story? Similarly, can there be anyone that guys like Armstrong, Thom Weisel, Bill Stapleton and the rest of the Tailwinds mafia is more terrified to go Floyd Landis and spell everything out?
The Barack Obama Overly Biographied Life Pin: He may be the finest sprinter in the sport currently, but at 28 years of age, I’m not convinced Mark Cavendish’s life is already deserving of one biography, let alone two. Nothing against the people who worked on the books or the companies that published them—I can’t blame them for wanting to turn a buck on a big personality, but it takes some hubris to green light a biography before you’ve turned 30. To do it a second time … sheesh.
The Man-Up Commemorative Fist Bump: Recalls are a fact of manufacturing. If you manufacture something and have never issued a recall either you haven’t been at it for very long or you’re not producing goods en masse. SRAM recently took the nearly unprecedented step of issuing not just a massive recall of their road hydro brakes but a “do not use” warning. The root of the call relates to seal failure at temperatures below freezing, something that can occur during some winter cyclocross races. My buddy Byron at BikeHugger had a failure under far less unfriendly conditions and has been vocal in his disappointment. It’s an unfortunately turn of events for a new technology and there will be—without doubt—some people who will use this recall as all the reason to turn their backs on the technology as a result. The recall saves them the need to give the new brakes any thought. It’s not uncommon for a manufacturer to downplay the severity of a problem after issuing a recall in an effort to suffer as little bruising as possible. SRAM’s “do not use” warning staked any face-saving PR effort to the ground before driving the bus over it themselves. Better yet, SRAM created a separate site with an easy-to-find link from the company’s home page outlines what they know, when they found out and what they are doing to address the problem. Wikipedia’s definition for “transparency” has been updated to mention both “SRAM” and “Stan Day.” The approach is a tremendous statement about the company’s integrity and their regard for the consumers who ride their products. They deserve praise for doing what was unquestionably the right thing to do.
The Obligatory “It goes to 11″ Spinal Tap Reference: (Sorry, SRAM, but you guys are the only entity to get two awards, and while my previous award was a compliment, this one will be less so.) After introducing a slightly revamped 11-speed Red group this year, the company persisted in offering only cassettes that begin with an 11-tooth cog. While I know plenty of people who are willing to pedal around in a 50×11 with a cadence in the 40s, I only ride with one guy—Rahsaan Bahati—who can wind out a 50×11 in a flat sprint. The point here isn’t that you can’t make use of that gear, it’s that consumers would be better served with another cog in the middle, especially with that jump from the 19 to the 22 on the 11-28. Shimano offers a 12-25 and a 12-28, why can’t they? SRAM’s unwillingness to offer a cassette that begins with a 12 is my biggest pet peeve in tech, and that’s saying something.
The Red Wing® Lead Foot Book End: You might think this would go to the company that does more to create products to truly make people go fast, say an outfit like Zipp or Enve. In this case the lead refers less to the weight of the foot than the unintended contents of the foot. With their recent cease-and-desist letter to Café Roubaix, Specialized shot themselves in a certain extremity. While a reasonable person may observe that Specialized had some valid concerns where product is concerned, I can’t recall an occasion when public opinion more effectively lynched a company’s reputation. The shame here is that I don’t know of another company doing as much advocacy work on behalf of cycling as Specialized, but getting those stories to go viral the way this one did … well, this just proves how much more delicious bad news is. This dust-up contains a few classic object lessons: 1) counsel needs to think before it writes, and maybe even talk to some people on the inside 2) there’s a reason people hate lawyers and 3) reputations are hard to restore; just ask Lindsay Lohan.
The Best Cycling on TV Believability Index Blue Ribbon: The RedBull Rampage is an event that can cause me to repeatedly exclaim, “I don’t believe it!” Of course, my protestations are unintentionally ironic, a kind of hyperbolic affirmation to antigravity artists who have the ability to turn my inner ear against me even as I thrall to feats that take less time to unfold than the last 5k of a road race. Were drug testing performed at the Redbull Rampage the results would be funnier than a Louis CK routine. There’d be no worries about EPO, transfusions, clenbuterol or insulin; no, I expect we’d see lots of THC and other hallucinogens. Maybe a bit of cocaine, for these pilots are no strangers to euphoria. Watching downhilling and freeriding has become a way for me to watch cycling competition on TV without having to ask any ugly questions when the winner is announced.
The Top Step of the Podium Vindication Media Tour: It’s a four-way tie between David Walsh, Betsy Andreu, Emma O’Reilly and Greg LeMond. ‘Nuff said.
The Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out Bouncer Toss: The shame here is that this can only be awarded to Pat McQuaid when I’d like for history to show that Hein Verbruggen was dispatched with the same prejudice. If we ever heard from Pat McQuaid for any reason other than court testimony it will be several lifetimes too soon. When we try to conclude just who did cycling a greater injustice, McQuaid or Verbruggen, it really is a dead heat.
The Kirk Cameron – Growing Pains Award: Peter Sagan. From groping podium girls to annoying the crap out of his fellow professionals with over the top victory celebrations, this was the season Sagan came to understand that being fast wasn’t the only thing he needed to be, that professionalism is a thing you’re not born with, and that not everyone will give you a free pass, just because you’re not TRYING to offend them.
The Second Coming Award: Brian Cookson. After winning election to the presidency of the UCI, Cookson’s job is just to save cycling’s soul. NBD. Maybe he’ll start by changing water to wine or walking on water, you know, as a warm up.
The Last, Lousy Dorito Award: Lance Armstrong. There’s always that one guy who just can’t accept that the party is over.
The Julius Caesar Award: Bradley Wiggins. You think you’re loved. You think you’ll be emperor for life, but then you’re there bleeding on the theater steps. Et tu, Froome? Et tu?
The Simple Minds Award: Andy Schleck. Once the next great stage racer of his generation, it has to be wondered if Schleck will be anything other than pack fodder in seasons to come. Famously fragile, both physically and mentally, he will probably never return to the sort of climbing form that will overcome his lack of juice in the time trial. “Don’t you forget about me,” may well be the refrain as Trek seemingly bets the wrong horse, again, in 2014.
The Clark Kent Award: Travis Tygart. You see a guy in a suit. He looks like a regular guy, holds down a job, has a thing about truthfulness. But he’s really Superman. He saves the day. No matter how powerful a foe he faces, he prevails. You kick yourself for not realizing the guy in the suit was special, but then he puts his glasses back on and you forget he exists.
The A. Mitchell Palmer Ham-fisted Lawyer of the Year Award: Specialized’s unnamed Canadian “outside counsel” for sending a Cease-and-Desist letter to a small bike shop in Calgary, Alberta, asserting trademark rights over a name for which Specialized didn’t actually enjoy the rights. Yup, Specialized was actually using the name “Roubaix,” by permission of the folks at Fuji, but that didn’t stop at least one eager-beaver lawyer from sending out what the guys at my firm call “the asshole letter” (a written missive that combines a heap of bluff and bluster with a healthy dose of bullshit and carries with it no actual force of law) to the owner the “Café Roubaix Bicycle Studio” threatening to unleash the hounds of Hell for using “their” trademark without their permission.
Look, if you’re going to trademark the name of a French city, why not go for the big prize and register “Paris™”? No one would mind if you sent that Hilton woman a whole boat load of Cease-and-Desist letters. Now, that would be a public service.
The Can We Please Make This Stop Now? Pleeeeease? Award: Michael Sinyard, whose personal visit to Dan Richter, the owner of the aforementioned shop, put an end to the company’s trademark claim. Sinyard looked pained, embarrassed and uncomfortable in the video that came from that visit, but you gotta give the guy some credit for at least trying to clean up the mess.
Of course, it could have all been avoided if Sinyard and Co. could distinguish between the manufacture and sale of counterfeit product and a guy who just wanted a bike shop with a cool name. And no, Mike, it probably won’t stop … at least for a while. That whole Internet thing seems to have caught you by surprise. Being a bully – or by an act of omission, allowing your “outside counsel” to be bullies – carries a heavy price these days. News travels fast and these messes take a long time to clean up.
Here’s a mop.
The Most Deserved Victory Lap In Sport goes to David Walsh of the Sunday Times of London, whose dogged and unwavering pursuit of Lance Armstrong lasted 13 years and subjected him to all sorts of abuse. What is hopefully the last word in the Armstrong story was quickly released by Walsh soon after the Oprah interviews. The cool thing is that “7 Deadly Sins: My pursuit of Lance Armstrong” is, as they say, soon to be a major motion picture, starring the “IT Crowd’s” Chris O’Dowd as Walsh. Break out the popcorn, gang, we’re goin’ to the movies.
The He-sure-called-that-one Award goes to Greg LeMond, who, way back in 2001, said “If Lance is clean, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sports. If he isn’t, it would be the greatest fraud.”
The We-actually-do-it-right-here Award goes to the United States. While the IOC, its affiliate International Governing Bodies and WADA seem to have intended to keep sports governance and doping control separate, the Americans are actually doing it. Try, for a moment, to imagine how this whole Armstrong thing would have shaken out had it been the job of USA Cycling to aggressively pursue the case. Someone, somewhere along the lines, would have uttered those infamous words – “it’s bad for cycling” – and that would have been that. Actually, you don’t have to imagine … just look to the UCI and see how that organization handled what eventually became the biggest doping scandal in sport.
And finally we give our most prestigious and noteworthy prize:
The 2013 WTF?!?! Award to one David LeDuc, of Willow Springs, North Carolina, a (get this) 62-year-old masters racer who tripped the Dope-O-Meter™ for (get this) amphetamines, steroids and EPO at the Masters Road National Championships in Bend, Oregon, back in September.
Look, if you put morality aside, you can almost understand the reasoning behind a guy like Lance Armstrong deciding to step over the line and become a PharmaCheat. I mean, the dude “won” seven Tours de Freakin’ France (a sporting event watched by more than a billion viewers each year), gained worldwide fame (since turned into infamy) and amassed a fortune in excess of $100 million (of course much of that is disappearing fast). It’s like pulling off a huge casino heist for mega-millions. Sure, it’s not right, but you can at least imagine the reasoning and the motivation behind it.
But cheating to win the United States’ 60-65 Master’s title?!?!?!?
That’s like grabbing an AK-47 to rob the local MiniMart of $9.34 (in pennies), a couple of SlimJims and a pack of Marlboros. I mean really … who, aside from your wife, your kids and the other two guys who toed the line in that same race, actually gives a shit who wins the U.S. men’s 60-65 national title? It’s supposed to be fun, Dave.
Hence, the automatic reaction when you read about a guy, already 12 years into his AARP membership, doping himself to the gills to win a tinpot medal and a jersey can only be “WTF?!?!”