As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, “So Cool, So Psycho,” Brian Vaughn, the Chief Endurance Officer of GU is undertaking the Colorado Trail Race. This event sounds so positively unhinged that when Brian told me about it I, a guy in no position to require anything of anyone at GU, demanded updates whenever feasible. Yuri Hauswald just sent me the shot above, which he snapped at a post office where Brian was retrieving a pre-arranged mail-drop.
Something I left out of yesterday’s post is the live tracker that will allow you to follow all the crazy action. It can be found here.
Strictly speaking, this endeavor isn’t the typical sort of editorial we serve up on RKP. Maybe it’s because I find Brian fascinating, or maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking a lot about bike touring lately (and missing it a bit more than I might ordinarily due to kids at home), but I’ve wanted to follow this trip through Yuri and try to see it through the eyes of someone there. Lord knows I wouldn’t actually want to do this particular assault on one’s own body.
I got a few text messages and images from Yuri a short while ago. Apparently, things aren’t exactly stellar for Brian. As reader Jason noted in the comments on yesterday’s post, Brian went off-course, and ended up descending into Silverton on the road. He says the trail has been much tougher than expected and Brian is making progress at something like half the rate he expected. These first two days may have been difficult, but the next two days, which will have sustained episodes above 13,000 feet are to be a good deal harder.
After my brief experience at 9700 feet, I really can’t imagine trying to pedal a heavier-than-usual bike up singletrack climbs at elevations north of 12,000 feet. At least, not if I hadn’t been living in Boulder or something similar. But Brian, like me, lives at sea level. The obvious answer, EPO, has something of a bad rap around these parts, doesn’t it? I don’t think it fits within his moral compass to employ. Similarly, I’m betting that he decided to forego vasodilators.
Hopefully we can get some pictures of the sweet singletrack, even if it’s not with Brian in action on it.
Every now and then you encounter the perfect intersection between athlete and event. Consider Eddy Merckx and his seven victories at Milan-San Remo. The guy could climb like a squirrel up a tree; he could descend like a hawk diving at prey and he could sprint like there was a lion behind him. You might say he was made for that race.
Last year when I met Brian Vaughn, the CEO (Chief Endurance Officer) at GU, he stuck me as a fresh expression of the human potential movement. Instead of being some grandfatherly psychologist hunched over a lectern announcing pithy sayings to convince you that you are the only thing standing between you and your greatness, Brian, I could tell, saw things a little differently. He might say it differently, might pitch it differently, but to my eye, he sees athletes and goals and what stands between most athletes and their goals is optimal event nutrition.
He speaks of athletes unlocking their true potential, of setting records, of plumbing new depths within themselves.
And in a world where we value those who “walk the walk,” Brian is all-in. He’s lean like I wish I was, gentle like my stepfather was, and there’s a glint in his eye that tells me he’s got a sense of fun as adaptable as a child’s. I don’t just dig him, I’d like to spend more time with him.
But that won’t happen this week. As I write this, Brian is six hours into the Colorado Trail Race. It’s a mountain bike race. Straightforward, right? It’s a race from Durango to Denver? Straightforward, right? It’s a mountain bike race from Durango to Denver. Crazy, right? The course is—you guessed it—the Colorado Trail.
The event is like RAAM in that when the starter’s pistol went off this morning at 4:00 am in Durango, it was on. But it’s not like RAAM because there’s no crew. There’s also no entry fee, no registration and no support whatsoever. It’s you and your wits. It’s what you bring, what you stop to source and what you leave the trail to buy. All you have to do is ride 485 miles with about 70,000 feet of climbing over roughly 300 miles of it is singletrack. Insane.
Brian’s goal is six days, I’m told. Clearly, he’s not going to do the whole thing on GU—gels or chomps—but what strikes me is that the question is less the what than the how. He can leave the trail and roll into a town for a meal at a restaurant and a hotel room. Or he can eat bark and sleep in a bivy shelter. His call. I don’t know much of his plans, but GU’s brand ambassador, Yuri Hauswald, is going to be shadowing him in an attempt to document some of this crazy adventure. I’m hoping we can get an update or two on how this goes to make for some more reading for you all. Yuri can tell a compelling story; I just don’t know how he will find Brian, or if he will even find him.
And if you’re thinking he’s got this wired, let me share with you a little tidbit from NICA Executive Director Austin McInerny: “I suggested to him maybe he should bring a whole first aid kit.”
Let me be clear. Such an event would be a nightmare for me personally. It doesn’t sound like fun for me. But I’m fascinated by the possibilities for someone who looks at this event and thinks, “Ooh! Fun.!”
Check out the site for the Colorado Trail Race here. Brian might be hard to find; Yuri’s updates (f we get any) less so.
If I had been cynical/skeptical/jaded about this Tour de France over the first two weeks, yesterday’s stage with its double ascent of Alpe d’Huez cured me. With riders leaping off the front and dropping off the back, there was so much going on, so much chaos, that I found myself riveted. I have always been a fan of the epic climbing stages, and this one delivered enough thrills to qualify for the four-ticket bounty at the state fair.
And though Chris Froome and his Sky minions have controlled the race with well-calculated and muscular performances whenever and wherever it’s been necessary, so too have his rivals taken ample opportunity to attack. The race has been anything but a stately promenade to Paris.
I was wrong in my initial belief that the green jersey competition would be more interesting than the GC. Peter Sagan is riding away with the points competition, despite not dominating either in the intermediate or finishing sprints. On the other hand, once you look past Froome, the next four GC riders are within 47 seconds of each other. With one last mountain stage to ride, podium spots are anything but assured.
The preeminence of Team Sky in three-week races seems confirmed now, though Bradley Wiggins failed to impress (or finish) the Giro. Still, the short reign of Alberto Contador is clearly over, and it remains to be seen whether racers like Vincenzo Nibali and Joaquim Rodriguez can translate Giro and Vuelta performances into French success.
Sagan has stolen Mark Cavendish’s thunder, and even Andre Greipel is finding ways to win stages. The lack of real dominance is good for the sport, both from a fan’s perspective and from a credibility standpoint. It says something powerful that Froome’s ride in France has drawn so many questions, while the seeming parity of his rivals speaks volumes about the possible cleanliness of the top tier competitors. Maybe, just maybe, this has been a good Tour de France for cycling.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what have you enjoyed about this 100th Tour de France? Did it live up to your expectations? What were the surprises? And what does it say about the current state of Grand Tour racing?
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
There is a place that we will know only once we have arrived there. It defies definition by latitude and longitude, lies at an indistinct distance from the starting point, and access may be denied if we are alone, or sometimes if we are not alone.
We know we’re there when the pedaling seems effortless or the weather seems perfect, even possibly when it’s snowing, or when we realize that a broad, stupid grin has appeared below our noses while we rolled along, wholly unaware.
Some days I can arrive there simply by rolling up the garage door, my left hand on my top tube, my right adjusting the cant of my helmet. Other times, I can ride and ride and ride, sweat pouring through my brows, stinging my eyes, straining at the pedals to achieve the correct velocity or find the right rhythm, only to find that place unreachable in the time I have allotted, or more accurately, in the time life has allotted me.
At some point, a prison break feels a drop in the pit of his stomach, a visceral sense that the chasing guards and their dogs have stopped chasing. We disappear into the pages of a novel. Jules Verne has taken us 20,000 leagues deep. H.G. Wells has us off in his time machine. For a few minutes, maybe more, it all goes non-linear.
I leave my house and ride an ugly, meandering loop, a child’s scrawl on a map, and I return home, and I haven’t been anywhere near this place, never arrived there but simply rode around in the ultimately nonsensical way of the cyclist, leaving home, traveling for hours, only to arrive where I started. Solipsistic. Self-referential.
With friends, I can ride along with my hands on top of the bars, my head swiveled to one side, riffing on the same joke we’ve been telling since the 20th century put us on a two-wheeled machine in the first place, or else digging deep in the mine of shared human experience, exhuming what diamonds we might, and again time disappears and miles burn like so many calories flying invisibly off our back tires like road spray.
When I dream of this holy place, when I see it in my mind, I am climbing up a narrow, heavily wooded road by myself. My heart is in my throat. I can almost hear it pulsing in one of my ears. I am close to my limit, but at that pace, that rhythm that suggests I can hold and hover there until the crest passes, my head sawing back and forth over the top tube like a metronome. Click. Click. Click.
And there’s nothing else, just me and the work, time slowed down and dripping like molasses, every other thought crowded out like children in a game of musical chairs.
Every time I set out, every time I agree to meet someone for a ride, I am hoping to get to that place, if only I knew just where it was.
Image: Matt O’Keefe
Our leader for the Friday Group Ride, Robot, is away on a badly needed vacation, so instead of just sitting in, I’m stepping in to make sure this ride rolls out as planned.
For the last few days I’ve been in Copper Mountain, Colorado, attending the introduction of the 2014 product line for Specialized. I’ve had the opportunity to be exposed to the latest and greatest in road products, none of which I’m allowed to discuss until next week when our embargo ends. Honestly, I don’t get invited to these events very often, but when I do, it feels a bit like visiting Santa’s workshop.
The interesting thing about visiting the launch of an entire model year, rather than a single product, is that I’m being exposed to bikes and products that aren’t normally part of what I write about. There were plenty of times in the past that I had a chance to be exposed to stuff outside my central interests, and I passed on them. Just why, I can no longer say.
With so many bikes out there, so many styles of riding and with a son for whom the world is a big unfolding adventure, I’ve begun thinking about what cycling will be for him. I’m not speaking of the Deuce; the lengths brothers will go to differentiate, he could wind up completely bookish. That’s because his brother Philip, also known as Mini-Shred, clearly loves bicycles. My choices in cycling are unlikely to be his choices.
People like to say cycling is an aspirational sport. By this we generally mean that it gives us a way to aspire to greater fitness, the better you. But the presence of my children in my life has changed my ideas about aspiration. I’m beginning to see things through the lens of what Mini-Shred’s enjoyment will be. As a result, it’s given me a fresh lease on what it means to be a cyclist. I love bikes, full stop. The future is likely to include some types of bikes I didn’t used to ride, if my near-religious experience on a six-inch travel bike yesterday is any indication.
All things being equal, we’d all like to be faster. That’s an easy aspiration to name. Today’s question takes that ideal in a different direction: What do you aspire to as a cyclist? Is it commuting by bike more? Is it ‘cross racing? Is it your first enduro? Do tell.
Image: Ian McLagan
It might be that turning one’s attention to the Tour de France in July is inevitable for the dedicated cyclist. If it’s July, we’re watching the Tour. So being among other cyclists for me means conversations that are as likely to include talk of the Tour as they are talk of the weather.
The conversations are different this year, as compared to other years. This is the first Tour in the wake of USADA’s Reasoned Decision, the first Tour since Tyler Hamilton’s “The Secret Race,” the first Tour since the fall of Lance Armstrong. As a result the viewing public no longer seem to be willing to watch with the general belief that the peloton is clean, that we can watch first and worry about positive tests if or when they turn up. We seem to be asking questions first and watching second.
And of course, the question on everyone’s lips is whether the yellow jersey is clean. It may be that Chris Froome is clean. It may be. However, we, the cycling fans that watch the Tour, are unsure what to believe. The old practice of accepting a rider as clean until a positive test has burned us badly. So while UCI head Pat McQuaid loves to tout just how much better the testing is now than it was when he assumed the office of the president. That may be, but if you’re injured in a car accident, the surgeon asks himself not whether the bleeding is less, but whether the bleeding has stopped. Imagine a doctor coming to you and saying, “Good news, you’re bleeding much less today.”
McQuaid just doesn’t understand that’s not acceptable. We don’t want a pretty clean sport, we want a clean sport. Reasonable people will understand that some riders will always cheat, always seek a shortcut to glory. The assurance we need is that the sport’s governing body is doing all they can to pursue a clean sport. It’s apparent that for many years the UCI has simply wanted the appearance of a clean sport, and this distinction helps to explain why in 2010 the UCI waited until October to reveal that Alberto Contador had tested positive at the Tour de France.
Following the stage 11 time trial, Froome has a lead of 3:25 over Alejandro Valverde. But within a minute of Valverde are Bauke Mollema, Alberto Contador, Roman Kreuziger and Laurens Ten Dam. Froome’s gap begs questions in this era. In watching the coverage we’ve seen how he amassed his gap, but we’re asking not how he got his gap, but what allowed him to get his gap.
The tragedy here is that Froome is being painted with a doper’s brush even though he’s never tested positive. Sure, we can talk about his third-fastest ascent of Ax 3 Domaines, but he’s not new to climbing with stunning talent in a Grand Tour. If Froome goes on to win the 2013 Tour, the ineffectiveness of the UCI will have cheated the rider of his deserved glory and us of the enjoyment of watching a true champion crowned.
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
A week ago RKP marked its fourth birthday. Where my brain was is anyone’s guess. I’m precisely the sort that would forget his own birthday if given half a chance, so maybe this shouldn’t be too surprising. It’s not like I didn’t have the Tour de France, my own riding, posts for RKP, two kids and a marriage to keep me busy. And frankly, no one orders a cake for a blog, right?
When I think of all that has transpired in the last year I wonder how I got through it. I’ve been through the events of my life plenty, so I won’t rehash them now, but when I look back I can’t help but be amazed at how the readership has remained utterly consistent. The particular trifecta of the beer fund, the Deuce ordeal and the resulting Kickstarter has done much to rewrite what I think the cycling community offers its own, the depth to which calling someone “our peeps” can resonate and initiate action.
The shot above was taken this past weekend in the kids’ race (actually, one of five our six) at the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix by my friend Ian McLagan. This is the kids’ equivalent of the 45+ Masters 1, 2, 3 race—it was 2, 3 and 4 year olds with no training wheels. Ian, like most of my friends, is a rider whose photo hobby could double as a part-time job if his day gig dries up. Last year he dropped by the race to do some shooting and stuck around for the kids’ race when he saw me. That’s when the following image was captured.
You’ve probably seen that shot here; you may also have seen it on the Specialized web site. Of these shots all I know to say is that Philip has great fun radar. He needs no introduction; he can find it himself. He’s got something of the performer in him and I think the constellation of something he loves and being encouraged to do it in a very public way really tickles him. He talks about the race and how much fun he had.
Prior to the moment above, one in which I was unable to restrain myself from cheering him like I’ve cheered nothing in my life, I spent the day at the race selling RKP t-shirts. The opportunity to do so came about thanks to a friend who supported the Kickstarter project at the Coppi level. He’s also on the board for the Southbay Wheelmen, the club that has put the race on for 50 or so years. Here’s where I thank Steve Whitsitt publicly for pulling a few strings to get me that booth space.
I sold far more shirts than I ever expected, thought I can’t say that I really had an expectation for how things would go. And while the result was as pleasant as it was unexpected, the real gift of the day was meeting a number of RKP readers. In every instance they asked about the Deuce and most said their wives had been asking how he is. I’ll reiterate what I told them, that Matthew is happy and healthy, and I really do mean happy. He’s a really smiley, easygoing kid. I confess that having people continue to ask about him is really touching. I think back on those 37 days and it all seems so dreamlike. From the daily routine of driving to the hospital to the meetings with the doctors, nurses, social workers and administrators, I can’t help but wonder if this is what an F1 driver feels when he looks at a photo of his car after he walks away from a crash. Really? I was in that?
What I’m less at ease with is how much more personal RKP has become in the last year. There’s always been a personal side to my work here, but in the last year, from my crash, to the death of my stepfather Byron, and of course to the baring of my life in Enter the Deuce, my work has taken on a “me” edge that isn’t always comfortable. Putting my sons out there has given—is giving—me a chance to write about some powerful experiences, but I’m not a stage parent, and that part of the equation is quease-inducing.
That note of caution is more for me, than you. As I write this, I’m sitting in a condo at Copper Mountain in Summit County, Colorado. Outside my window I-70 passes and I can see a doe grazing on the grass just above the highway. My head throbs thanks to the 9700-foot elevation. I’m here to check out new bikes and last night, when I met someone who contributed to the beer fund (the world gets smaller), I found myself asking whether the kids’ bikes would be shown as well.
So as RKP marks its fourth year, this is a fair occasion to note that what we do here has evolved a bit. It’ll probably change more, but your continued support is why I continue to explore unusual avenues. Thanks for reading.
My takeaways from the first week of the 100th Tour de France are as follows: 1) Corsica is beautiful, and despite the narrow, nervous, crashy, not-altogether-organized nature of the opening stages there, I need to put it on my “Places I Need to Ride My Bike” list; 2) As always, there are some tough sons-a-bitches in that peloton, including three of my favorites, Ryder Hesjedal, Ted King and Geraint Thomas; and 3) the sprint competition is going to be more fun to watch than usual, with Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Peter Sagan, Simon Gerrans and Mark Cavendish all taking sprint wins (and intermediate points) through the first week.
When you toss in that Daryl Impey has just become the first African to wear the yellow jersey, it is hard to argue that this version of the Grande Boucle lacks for drama, grit and flair.
You will note that I have not yet even mentioned the GC competition (Impey is in yellow, but he is not in the GC mix). On that score, rather than attempting anything resembling expert prognostication, a task better left to the right honorable Pelkey and/or his Irish partner in crime, I will only say that Nicolas Roche, Roman Kreuziger, Alejandro Valverde and a whole gaggle of Garmins are still comfortably within touching distance of the top.
That means, to me, that weeks two and possibly three will have more real players involved in the struggle for the jaundiced shirt than past iterations of this race have allowed. So that’s cool.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what is the story of this Tour for you so far? What are the surprises? What magic is yet to come? Take this wherever you want, the Tour does not submit itself to easy reduction. We could, quite possibly, talk about this all day. So start now.
We rolled out of the grocery store parking lot, the meet up, and shimmied along the shoulder of the road to where the trail banked away up the hill. I said to Rob, “I just don’t ride mountain bikes enough to be any good at it,” and he said, “You seem like a capable enough rider.”
On the face of it, this was a compliment, but as I pistoned away awkwardly at the pedals, I circled back to that word, capable, and sussed it for its true meaning.
I recall sitting in my college counselor’s office, her in a high-backed leather chair, me in the standard issue plastic bowl chair endemic to high schools the world over, and her saying, “Well, John, we should maybe readjust your expectations a little. Your test scores suggest you’re capable of a lot more than your grades bear out.” The ensuing paragraph is lost to me now, but it certainly included the words ‘underachiever,’ ‘wasted potential,’ and ‘lazy.’
I nodded not-sagely. I could see her point, but that horse had already left the barn. “What does it really take,” I thought, “to sit through a liberal arts degree anyway?”
I had not yet broken a sweat, winding up through the rocks and soft dirt of the first climb, when all of this crystallized in my mind. Unwittingly, Rob had called out one of my great struggles.
To be capable is good. It is always preferable to to the other option, that state which finds you prone in a ditch off the side of the road or trail waiting for heart rate and will to return. Capable connotes the intersection of ability and potential. It is the blue sky overhead, the capacious mind, the hot-burning fire of imagination.
The trick, and this is especially true if the well of capacity runs deep, is that it takes a long time and a lot of effort to hoist that heavy bucket of capability up and out into the sunshine. Capability is good, but when it’s not wed to the drive to explore its every depth and contour, college counselors go branding you a lazy, underachiever.
In the end, I secured a B.A. cum laude in philosophy at a well-respected private university. It would have been a complete waste of time had I not met my wife while there and been pushed to take composition classes with a wise and patient author, a man whose kindness as regards my then (and possibly still) immature prose-style launched me on this path you find me now.
Being a capable cyclist has also allowed me to log a lot of miles over a period of decades. Very few of them passed quickly, and rare is the person who has marveled at my great skill on the bike. I am capable, but maybe not a natural.
The things is, somewhere in my soul, I reject many of the measures of capability. I have usually not seen the point of achievements, at least as they are commonly measured: grades, degrees, race placings, bank balances. If you can have these things, they are nice to have. If you can not, there are other things to focus your energy on.
The things I aspire to, patience, decency, peace, acceptance, truth and love, don’t chart very well. The things I got out of school, out of cycling, out of life, were never likely to be quantifiable in a way that meant something to anyone other than me. Maybe this is the patent rationalization of an underachiever, or maybe it’s just a simpler, more realistic way to live.
I am capable of showing up, of behaving reasonably well, and of enjoying myself. As near as I can tell, that’s the whole game, the whole challenge. And if there is one great thing I have become capable of, it is seeing that, at last, no matter how bad I am on a mountain bike.
Image: Matt O’Keefe
Six years ago the iPhone emerged onstage with the late Steve Jobs, a totem for those who believe in the transformational power of personal technology. It was a turning point that opened people up to giving technology a truly intimate role in their lives.
New pitfalls appeared on the path to enlightenment. There are many who spend more time staring into the glass screen of an iPhone than into the eyes of their children. Among cyclists, a sweatier narcissism can be found in the longing gaze at a Strava segment on a tiny screen.
Fortunately, cycling already had its iPhone moment. It was more than a century ago with the adoption of the “safety bicycle” as the high-wheel design phased out. With that perspective, we need not worry about being left behind technologically even if it feels like the sport’s essence is slipping from our hands.
The rider’s role remains essential, whether dashing in the dark to the store for a pint of half-and-half or carrying a sponsors millions on their shoulders at more than 50 kilometers an hour across the Arenberg’s cobbles. While driverless cars offer a rolling sanctuary for those burdened with an excruciating commute, a bike that steered and propelled itself risks being an abomination. If anything, driverless cars may make bikes the most exciting vehicles on the road.
The best wheelsets are lighter and more aerodynamic than ever. They are unmistakable for what they are, no matter the price tag, no matter the spoke count or the braking-surface material.
As for the rest of the machine, some perspective is in order. There are wonderful technological changes taking place in but whether they are revolutionary is an individual opinion. Much of it is about measurement, such as GPS bike computers replacing the Avocet two-button devices that are the equivalent of the cellular brick-phone.
For sure there are energetic debates over whether disc brakes have a place on road bikes, or even what size rotors are best. Electronic shifting sees cyclists choose sides quicker than Yankees and Mets fans. These back-and-forth are often so heartfelt because they are, in fact, fights over very small stakes. They also take place mostly online. Once on the road, it matters so much less if your rear cassette has 9, 10 or 11 cogs. Or if a servo changed gears for you or a disc rotor slowed your carving descent.
None of this enhances the feel the wind on your cheek. Or richens the laughter of a good friend. Or deepens the fatigue and gratitude of a hard ride.
We can mount more and more electronics on our bikes but cycling’s spirit is rooted in its analog years. Steel’s resurgence as a frame material is testament to this. It is a wonderfully defiant response to disposability and impermanence – twin curses of our age. These hand built frames are surely lighter and more refined than those ridden a century ago but their lineage is unmistakable. Like the hum of a ferrous railroad track ahead of a speeding train’s arrival, a similar energy is found in the muscular flex of a bottom bracket or the delightful ping of a stone ricocheting off a downtube. The Tour de France’s centennial this summer is a beautiful reminder of the sport’s continuity that is inherent in every steel bike even if the current generation of cycling icons may never have ridden the material.
The most memorable bikes are often our first. They were ridden with abandon before we learned to bind ourselves in straps to monitor our hearts and regard small screens with devotion instead of the horizon before us. These bikes were heavy, flexy and often cheap. Batteries had no role in our joy. In their imperfection was their attraction. Feeling, not knowledge, defined our riding.
Our current bikes are the product of rational and informed choices, even if they cost more than half a year’s rent or a first car. The latest are stirring designs made from a supply of quality carbon fiber that Cold War fighter engineers would have sold their children for. They are adorned with wireless sensors and GPS navigation that the bicycle-making Wright Brothers would have put to good use — just not on the ground.
The best innovators like Steve Jobs understand innovation is less about technology than it is about discovering new ways to enhance a shared human experience.
Cyclists have known that all along.