I took some time out from my visit to the Sea Otter Classic last week to speak with Diane Lees of The Outspoken Cyclist radio show. It was a chance to discuss the implications of the Boston Marathon bombing for cycling as well as (much more pleasant) spend a bit of time promoting the Kickstarter project for my book “Why We Ride.”
Most of the world’s cyclists don’t actually live within the broadcast range of Cleveland’s WJCU, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hear the show. Diane’s a delight to talk to and this particular episode serves up the Bike Snob as well, who was promoting his new book, “Bike Snob Abroad,” which I look forward to reading.
You can check out the podcast here.
BTW: The Kickstarter campaign is doing well and as of this writing has just passed the $17,000 mark with six days to go. I’ve put some great rewards together and if you haven’t checked the project out, I encourage you to drop by. I hope (and suspect) that you’ll find at least one of them appealing.
The Kickstarter is here. Drop by before time runs out!
Our friend and yours, Charles Pelkey, the Live Update Guy himself, will not be able to lend us his reportage or insight for this year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege due to a health issue. Our very latest communication from him, by text, was “I am not dead yet,” which we take to mean both that he is not dead AND that his sense of humor remains largely intact.
We apologize to those of you who had planned their morning around Live Updates from the race.
Your Friends at RKP
Image: Pelkey Family archive
Sometimes we ride for community. Sometimes we ride to escape.
Our kids ride out of love and wonder.
After a day spent cheering the Boston Marathon’s athletes at mile 16 with friends, we returned home to our quiet street in our neighborhood well outside the city.
“Ride bikes?” said my three-year-old daughter, hopped up on enough orange slices, potato chips and fruit juice to tackle the Cauberg.
What kind of cycling parent can say no, particularly to a girl who the day before began riding a bike without training wheels? I’ve stood watch over her older sister riding in front of our house during the middle of winter, harping about slippery ice and slippery road grit. And still she would ride until her fingers ached and turned red.
“Of course!” I said.
The car wasn’t even unloaded before she was being launched down the road. One moment my hand was firmly on the cheap white vinyl of her princess bike’s seat. The next I feel that distinct loss of contact as she is on her own.
This was one of the best weekends of my life. It was also one of the worst.
A few minutes later our neighbor across the street quietly mentioned there were two explosions downtown near the marathon’s finish line.
My thoughts raced to our friends who should be finishing right at that moment. I contrived to dash inside to check in with my wife, and then helped my 3-year old get back on her bike.
Up and down the street she rode, me a step behind. The steady tattoo of my footfalls betrayed my anxiety. I ran ready to pounce in order to protect her from her own inattention or a careless driver or a curb. I know there is so much I can’t protect either of my girls from, no matter how well they learn to ride their bikes. We can’t protect our friends either.
My oldest daughter and I spent the weekend practicing leaving skid marks on the dirt path along the Charles River. She can handle her bike. But can I handle her world?
There is a particular nausea when listening to your first-grade daughter recount her first lockdown drill at grade school. Legs pressed to her chest, nose buried between her knees, all on display at the dining room table as she unconsciously recreated the posture that I know could be a final position.
She recounts the boys who didn’t listen and the teacher who secured the classroom door while the local police involved in the drill rattled the handle to see if it could offer protection against the unspeakable.
In the coming days many of us will turn to our bikes for solace, for comfort and for strength. Ride together. Ride with your kids and let their joy, as they bat away stray hair with one hand and confidently hold the handlebar with the other, steel your nerves and warm your heart.
I had the good fortune to meet Carlton Reid last summer at the industry event Press Camp. Carlton is the executive editor of the English trade publication Bike Biz and the editor for BikeHub.co.uk. Bike Biz is a terrific publication that features more Euro-centric bike industry news, making it a great alternative to Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. For those who really want to know what’s going on inside the bike biz, they are indispensable reading. His other publication, BikeHub is aimed at newer riders; as someone who has written extensively for beginning cyclists, I really appreciate what he does with the site.
Carlton has a Kickstarter campaign for a cycling history book, called “Roads Were Not Build for Cars.” While I can’t offer a review as I haven’t read the book yet, I can say that I was intrigued enough that I decided to pledge my support for it. What I know of it is that Carlton examines the history of roads and cycling’s contribution to road building and automotive history. And it’s not just a U.K.-centric book. He examines the early roads built by Romans as well as American roads and the influence of automotive titans like Henry Ford.
Carlton has a light and witty style of writing, which I’m sure will make this a pleasant read. And next time you’re in polite company discussing what a nuisance bikes are to traffic and the proper movement of people, this will surely give you some fun talking points, though it seems cyclists never win these debates.
Pledge amounts have been strong enough to allow the project to hit some stretch goals. He recently commissioned a graphic for his play on a Monty Python bit, “The Motorist’s Front of Judea.” The joke might require a brief refresher on the Pythons’ “Life of Brian.”
My gut says this book isn’t for every cyclist, but I bet it’s right up the alley of RKP readers. If you’re interested, act quickly, the campaign only has five days to go.
I don’t live in the world of my parents. Yes, the house I grew up in still stands. Yes, the schools I went to still educate young people. Yes, the bike shop I first worked at still sells, fixes and fits bicycles to an ever-growing community of cyclists. But beyond those rudimentary similarities, my life has none of the surety, consistency or security their lives have enjoyed (and just to be clear, both of my parents are still with us). While there are plenty of people who still enjoy jobs that will pay pensions in their leisure years, I’ve occasionally had to engage each of my parents in conversations about how radically my life doesn’t resemble theirs. This is usually in response to me sharing some sort of garden-variety challenge of daily life. People who care about you never let these moments slide without a, “Well did you consider…?”
And that’s when I mention just how different my life is from what theirs was when they were my age.
I attempted to follow a career track similar to that of my father. I moved to California to go to work for a big publishing company, a place where a great many people spent entire careers writing for the same magazine. Within 90 days of my arrival—I’m not kidding—the publishing world began to implode. All the old rules about magazine publishing were incinerated along with a great many magazines. For the record, the magazine industry dove over the event horizon of former business models years before the music industry got sucker-punched by Sean Parker.
The one important lesson that stayed with me from that time was that your average enthusiast magazine was disinclined to celebrate the truly inventive, what management types love to call “out of the box thinking.” I don’t mind reporting that my most creative ideas were all shot down because I couldn’t justify the “user service.”
It’s easy to rail about the evils in today’s world—Monsanto, Wall Street, the U.S. health care system and … well, there’s plenty we can complain about without ever bringing up the UCI. If you’re a cynical type, the inevitable conclusion is that the world (or at least the U.S.) is going to a land of eternal fire by shopping cart. The reality is more complex. The world is just different.
To wit, I submit Facebook. Forgetting their nearly disastrous IPO, Facebook has had a profound effect on society. It has allowed us to connect more broadly than at any point in history. Sure, much of that connection lacks the depth of a one-on-one conversation with a trusted friend, but the benefit I derived from Facebook during the Deuce’s NICU stay was sustaining. Actually spending time in-person with friends was nearly impossible. Our schedule was too hectic, and the NICU rules regarding visitors ruled out everyone except us and grandparents. Facebook kept us in touch with people we simply couldn’t catch up with otherwise. Facebook takes a lot of knocks. In my view, it’s just a hammer. What you do with it is up to you. You can be a pinhead and break a bunch of windows with a hammer, or you can build a house with one. It’s up to you. Thanks to Facebook, metaphorically speaking, I’ve added an addition to my home.
Which brings me to Kickstarter. When I first heard about it last year, I must admit I didn’t really understand it. The concept seemed only slightly removed from gambling, and as I’ve got as much interest in gambling as I do intravenous drug use, I tuned out more or less instantly. Then I started reading about it. Here’s where I have to admit my initial reaction was as ill-considered as Kin Jung Un’s latest rhetoric.
Kickstarter, if I may say, is genius. If this had existed when I was trying to launch Asphalt I might have managed to publish a dozen or more issues before it got swallowed by its own gravity.
Over the last month or so I’ve become something of a student of Kickstarter. While it is the obvious repository for nearly every ill-conceived get-rich-quick scheme by a dilettante with no experise, it is more properly known as the ultimate expression of the crowd-sourced effort.
Kickstarter is the ultimate elevator pitch. It’s up to you to convince people you’ve got the goods to make cool things happen. It’s not a place that will reward the mundane. You’ve designed the next $39 toaster that might outsell the Sunbeam unit at Walmart? No one cares. Commodities are destined for grave stones in Kickstarter.
How cool is that?
I offer this as a prelude to a coming Kickstarter project of my own. I don’t mind saying it’s one of the more audacious efforts I’ve undertaken, just the sort of thing that would have been shot down—with prejudice—at my former employer.
If there’s one thing we can say about this new world that we live in is that it tends to reward more creative, more inventive ideas. Hey, I gotta celebrate what I can, when I can.
Here we are again, Roubaix weekend. I can’t think about this race without hearing, in my head, the horrible rattling of the pack over those impossible “roads.” I can’t think about this race without imagining the jarring, the wishing for it to end, the ludicrous proposition of racing there, the relief of entering the velodrome.
Fabian Cancellara will win this race. He has to. It is impossible that he will not with the form he’s got, with the experience he has gathered, with his great rival, Tom Boonen, struck down. Something terrible will need to happen to the big Swiss to prevent him from sitting on a crappy plastic chair in Roubaix, a soigneur pawing at his face with a sponge glove, while the rest of the peloton limps into view.
But then, this is a race where terrible things happen. Cancellara has already crashed twice this week, once at Scheldeprijs, once on a simple recon ride. It is impossible to know his true condition, though the team has played down his injuries, calling them superficial.
I don’t know about superficial injuries. In my experience, the effects of a crash accrue over time. What seems like an innocuous spill in the moment feels like a hammer blow later, your body’s natural entropy accelerated and exacerbated as you ask it to do more and more work. Paris-Roubaix is work.
Nonetheless, with Cancellara in the race, all other horses must be dark. Sagan, Pozzato, Hushovd, Roelandts, Phinney. There. I’ve said their names. I could say more, but does any of them ring with the truth of Cancellara.
This week’s Group Ride asks, is it inevitable? Must Cancellara win? If not him, then who? Why won’t he win? What is the tactical play that overcomes his sheer strength?
Image: Vlaam – Wikimedia
Do you get like this? Your brain threatening to liquefy in a stew of stress, ambition, guilt, and the bone-headed decision to amplify and accelerate it all with massive doses of caffeine? I may walk placidly through the rooms of the small suburban home that shelters and renews me, but upstairs, where I plot and plan, all is amok.
Let me be clear in saying that I have no actual problems. This is the great travesty of my life, the rambling farce that balances the drama, an invention of difficulties where none might reasonably abide. I take some comfort, as I mill about my various family and friendships, to understand that most of my fellow travelers feel this same sort of mental/emotional/spiritual straining toward something better for themselves, something necessarily ill-defined and just over the rise, a churning yearning whose only firm tenet is that we are not currently doing what we ought to be.
This morning I entertained the idea of selling all of my non-essential possessions and giving the money away, the quicker to unburden myself of whatever material bondage might be restraining me. My better sense suggested I not mention this to my wife, sitting in the living room, reading a novel on her iPad.
I once had a guy tell me that the only difference between him and the crazy folks you see on the street, mumbling their stream-of-consciousness garbage laced with profanity and the broad outlines of conspiracies visible only to them, was that he had the brute strength to hold closed his jaws, to keep his own weary counsel.
And I sat in the dining room, Sponge Bob Square Pants echoing into my headspace from the kids’ Sunday morning conclave, and tried to gather my thoughts. I folded the laundry and washed the pots and pans from the previous night’s dinner. I thought about the day and the things that still needed done, bits of work that Monday would demand of me. I began to succumb to the fever dream of it all.
And then I looked out the sunny window and imagined myself riding away up the street, bundled to the eyeballs against this clinging, relentless winter, and I knew it would make me feel better, that it would be all the pharmaceutical I needed to relieve the worst of my own thinking.
Because, truth be told, I have no problems. I have everything I need, including a bike, prepped and ready to ride, pointing silently toward the basement door.
Image: Matt O’Keefe
Okay, we’re on for Paris-Roubaix. The response in emails and in the comments section has been such that Patrick O’Grady and I will most certainly provide Live Coverage of Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, April 7.
Check in here at RKP or at LiveUpdateGuy.com. We’ll try to get things rolling as soon as possible.
In re: Matthew
I also want to say how happy I was to read the news in the latest entry in the “Enter the Deuce” series. Like Patrick, I have two kids. Like Patrick, our oldest is a young man named Philip. That’s where the similarity ends. Both our son and our daughter, Annika, were born healthy and feisty from the get-go. I cannot even imagine what Patrick and Shana have endured these past five weeks. We had the privilege of holding our young’ns almost from the minute they were born.
It’s difficult to fathom how difficult it would be to stand by, watch your own child through glass and wonder if he’ll make it through his first month. What a relief and a joy it is to lean that his chest tube is out, “The Deuce” is now doing well and that his parents can hold him like he was meant to be held.
Welcome Matthew. I look forward to watching you grow and hope to get to know you in coming years. You already have my respect, kid. You’ve got a lot of fight in ya.
As for last week’s column, I have to agree with Betsy Andreu’s comments that real reform of cycling will have to begin in places other than a strong riders’ union:
“The solution for cycling? Start by cleaning house at UCI and USAC. There is too much demoralization in the sport due to a lack of integrity with the governing bodies and federations. Only then can the sport not only remain viable but grow.”
I agree that reform at the UCI and, to a lesser extent, USA Cycling, is key to changing this sport. As I’ve said in the past, the first – and most critical – step is to take the UCI out of the doping control business. That’s the one significant advantage that the U.S. governing body has over its international counterpart. The separation of governance and enforcement is precisely why Lance Armstrong was finally brought down. Had it been up to USA Cycling to pursue the case triggered by Floyd Landis’ allegations, and the ensuing federal case, the results would not have been the same. I remain convinced that someone, somewhere along the way, would have concluded that an aggressive pursuit of the evidence would have been “bad for cycling” and the matter would have quietly disappeared.
I have to agree with Betsy in that a strong riders’ union isn’t, in any way, a panacea, but I remain convinced that its an essential element. I understand that players’ associations in American baseball and football have historically served as apologists and defenders of dopers. It’s important, however, to note that the governance of those sports puts a great deal of power into the teams (in the form of Major League Baseball and the National Football League), power countered only by the players’ association. Like the UCI, the power to enforce doping rules rests with the MLB and NFL. In cycling, we have the advantage of having the World Anti-Doping Agency, which should be given full enforcement authority. Only in a system in which doping enforcement is in the hands of an independent agency does a riders’ association serve an important role.
Again, the first step has to be a separation of powers, removing enforcement authority from the governing body. To me, that’s even more important than full-scale reform of the UCI. Even if the management committee were to tar and feather Hein Verbruggen and run Pat McQuaid out of town on a rail, the inherent conflicts of interest would remain. I remain convinced that there are four critical roles to be filled when it comes to the management of cycling: that of a governing body; that of a doping enforcement agency; that of a teams’ association and, finally, that of a group representing the interests of riders.
The governing body has a role in overall management of the sport, including licensing, coordinating calendars and development of rules and procedures. In a sense, the doping agency could expand its role and become an “ethics enforcement” agency, overseeing enforcement of doping rules and, ideally, leading the fight against corruption in all forms. WADA and its national counterparts would, in a sense, fill a prosecutor’s role, enforcing rules that keep sport honest. Teams have interests that include the needs of sponsors and those have to be represented. The riders’ interests can, at times, conflict with those of the other three and, yes, on an individual level, that may even include defending riders against charges raised by the “prosecutors” from WADA and its sister agencies. Enforcement of any rule is meaningless when there is no opportunity to mount a reasonable defense. It’s all a question of balance … and, no, that’s not where the sport is these days, nor is there any likelihood that it will be any time soon.
In terms of “reform” at the UCI, there is a major news story worth following. Over at VeloNation.com, Shane Stokes has been following developments at Cycling Ireland, the board of which is apparently divided regarding the question of whether or not to submit Pat McQuaid’s name in nomination for the presidency of the UCI. Board members of McQuaid’s national federation have submitted his name in advance of his winning his first two terms. Irish cycling supporters and journalists have been at the forefront of reform efforts (David Walsh, Paul Kimmage and Stokes among them), so it’s somewhat ironic that the UCI was guided through its most controversial period by a member of Ireland’s cycling community. That said, even if McQuaid loses the backing of his compatriots, his name may well be advanced by the Swiss Federation, given that he is now a resident of Switzerland.
We’ve already discussed the difficulty – or near impossibility – of UCI reform beginning at the UCI itself. All of this should be interesting … and probably disappointing. It may require a major push from outside to initiate meaningful reform. Former WADA president Dick Pound suggests that kicking cycling out of the Olympics might serve that purpose. I am somewhat skeptical, since the Olympics really plays a small role in the sport and that the real attraction and financial power rests with the grand tours. In support of Pound’s position, though, the UCI derives considerable power and influence because of its participation in the IOC.
Anyway, at this point, we’re largely being speculative. I am not confident that we’ll see meaningful reform in cycling, even on the heels of the Armstrong affair. That’s disappointing.
I’d like to open this discussion up to you, the readers, too.
Given the obstacles to meaningful change in cycling, how would you turn this sport around? I’m eager to hear your ideas. Use the comments section below or, if it’s a long one, go ahead and send it to my email address: Charles@Pelkey.com.
Have a good week and don’t forget to join us for Live Coverage of Paris-Roubaix on April 7.
The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
Two time Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Judith Arndt has retired. That leaves former winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Rabobank) as a firm favorite in a race in which experience is so crucial to success. German veteran Ina Teutenberg’s Classics season was derailed by a bad crash and concussion a few weeks back, and that will leave Rabobank, where van Vleuten races alongside Marianne Vos in the driver’s seat. Vos has to be considered a contender for any race (in any discipline) she enters. Having said that, the Classics are always packed with chaos and anything can happen. The list of potential winners from the rest of the peloton is long.
On the men’s side, the favorites have to be Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen and Peter Sagan, not necessarily in that order. It is always amusing to hear the pre-race interviews as each of them explains in detail why the others are more likely winners. This is sandbagging at the PRO level.
In year’s past we have done a straight ahead prediction thread for the pre-Flanders Group Ride. This year, let’s try something slightly different.
For the women’s race, it would be cool to have someone with greater expertise than I have, explain what’s going to happen and who the dark horses are (Where is Whit Yost when you need him?).
For the men’s race, let’s do two things. First, let’s predict the full podium. Then, per my friend Dan’s suggestion, let’s figure out what the winner will say to the other two guys on the lower steps.
Here’s an example: Sagan to win, Cancellara second, Boonen third, and Sagan says, “This is fun, huh? How long have you guys been riding bikes?”
Anyone who correctly picks a podium that does NOT contain all three of those guys will get a pair of RKP wool socks and my unreserved respect. If you also correctly name the women’s winner, I’ll spring for an Eddie ’72 shirt from the RKP store.
Image: PhotoSport International