The silly season is upon us, and, with the demise of HTC-Highroad, there are a lot of top riders on the market. The merger of QuickStep with Omega Pharma and the start up of the Australian GreenEdge project will also shuffle the pack. And of course, there is the normal, seasonal activity on top of all that.
One move that is sure to create waves is Thor Hushovd’s switch from Garmin-Cervelo to BMC. Hushovd, who absolutely killed it at the Tour de France this summer, was not happy with how G-C managed his spring classics campaign. He believes he’ll get better support and higher priority at BMC. More money probably helps, too.
As a result of Hushovd’s announcement, Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters promptly excluded the Norwegian from his team’s roster for the Vuelta a España. This makes perfect sense as the Garmin-Cervelos will need all the points they can get for returning riders, in order to maintain their WorldTour placing. Deploying departing riders isn’t very useful to managers in the current pro set up. It’s better for Vaughters to key on Tyler Farrar, who is staying, in grand tour sprints. That Hushovd evinced surprise over losing his Vuelta spot is silly.
One has to wonder the wisdom of Hushovd’s move, though, given that Cadel Evans has already told BMC boss Jim Ochowicz point blank that he doesn’t want Hushovd at the 2012 Tour de France. Freelancers need not apply. If the god of thunder knew that going in, it says something about his commitment to winning Paris-Roubaix, and may indicate BMC’s resolve to support him there.
Another big move is in the offing for Philippe Gilbert, the world’s number one rider. He has been linked with both the new, Belgian super squad and BMC, though where he would fit in with the latter is hard to see, given his large salary and the amount of support he would need to achieve his spring (and fall) targets. Gilbert is running out of things to accomplish. Milan-San Remo and/or one of the cobbled classics must be on his list, but that level of ambition requires ambitious support. With the reported salary of Hushovd being $2.5M euro, it seems likely that BMC—despite its well-deep pockets—was angling for either Hushovd or Gilbert, but not both.
Finally, there is the curious case of Mark Cavendish. In my mind, you can reasonably ask whether the Manxman’s departure from HTC-Highroad preceded or precipitated the end of HTC’s sponsorship of the team. Regardless, now, he’s moving on, and he’s doing it without his lead out man Mark Renshaw, who has already signed with Rabobank in an effort to move from second fiddle to first violin. If Cavendish goes to Sky, as has been rumored, who will comprise his new lead out? There will be more money and a home-based team, but Sky will have the same problem with Cav that BMC might have with both Hushovd. Too many stars, not enough water carriers.
That brings us to our question. Which of these riders will land well, and which will be disappointed in 2012? The motivation to move from one team to another lives somewhere at the nexus of greed, ego and ambition. Getting the balance right is key to success, as long as you measure success by wins. So, who is getting it right? And whose pride goeth before a fall?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
So HTC-Highroad is no more. Technically, that’s not quite accurate; the team will come to an end with the close of this season. But it feels like the team might as well be mothballed now. Any wins that come will carry a certain lame duck pointlessness as they won’t have the ability to attract a sponsor or serve as confirmation that an incoming sponsor made a good choice.
How bad is Bob Stapleton’s inability to find a new title sponsor for his program? It’s the worst thing that will happen to cycling this year, perhaps for years to come. Here’s why: There’s not a single doping revelation that can confirm potential sponsors’ worst fears about the sport the way the dissolution of this team does.
We’ve already had the Tour de France champion test positive twice in the last five years. Stapleton’s failure to secure a sponsor is directly due to that. In a conference call with journalists, Stapleton admitted that doping scandals were a topic of conversation in “every negotiation.”
Compounding matters was Stapleton’s refusal to be confined to irrelevance by racing on a shrunken budget while battling Sky and Katusha—teams that each have an estimated annual budget of $20 million. After all, if part of your raison d’etre is to lead the sport into a new, cleaner era characterized by better management, you can’t do that from the back of the bus.
The end of HTC-Highroad is the corollary to the Leopard-Trek dilemma. It proves (at least for the court of public opinion) that doping is what prevented Brian Nygaard’s formation from landing a real title sponsor (or co-sponsor, for that matter). Worse, the fact that Katusha, Sky and Leopard are funded by ultra-rich businessmen who could use the tax write-off makes the sport that much less relevant. It could be argued that BMC is no better given that few people seem to believe that BMC is selling enough bikes that Andy Rihs could fund the team exclusively out of the operating capital of that one company.
If bicycle teams become the playthings of oligarchs, it will be hard to sell the public on the idea that the sport carries the moral mantle of doping-free athletic achievement. There is a general perception that billionaires play by a different set of rules than the rest of us, and the recent phone-hacking scandal in London that brought down Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World and killed his play to become majority owner of bSkyb is all the proof many people need to come to the conclusion that cycling lacks a moral compass. After all, if Murdoch’s businesses will run roughshod over the most basic elements of privacy, why would anyone think his cycling team is any more ethical?
I’ve met a number of principled people in cycling. I’ve met plenty of truly ethical people in the sport as well. I don’t think I’ve ever met a smarter, more decent person in cycling than Bob Stapleton. I’ve met no one with higher aspirations for helping the sport to function in a cleaner, more transparent manner—in other words, to be its best—than Stapleton. He brought credibility that simply can’t be purchased elsewhere and served as the ever-reasonable counterbalance to the ill-considered pronouncements of the UCI. He was a sort of sanity constant.
As I mentioned before, losing Stapleton and his team isn’t just the worst thing that will happen in cycling this year. It’s the worst thing that will happen in cycling for years to come. If the sport can’t keep a man universally respected and admired, then it will be no better than the cesspool of politics because it may only draw people we’d rather not have dinner with, figures like Bernard “Dr. Mabuse” Sainz.
Sainz’ nickname comes from the Fritz Lang film of the same name. The film was a commentary on post World War I German society, a time of amoral criminality. Dr. Mabuse, “the gambler,” was a megalomaniac who ruled—via hypnosis—an organized crime syndicate of counterfeiters, thieves and murderers. I can’t think of an uglier thing for cycling to be compared.
We’ve lived through that once, or something thereabouts. If the riders don’t get the idea that they need to clean up their acts, there won’t be a sport left to employ them. But we can’t place all the responsibility on the riders. The UCI has an obligation to make sure that testing is performed in a rigorous manner and justice handed out promptly and equally. Until John Q. Public sense we’ve turned that corner, it will be hard to attract leaders like Stapleton and sponsors like HTC.
Every cycling site on the planet has postulated some theory about just which rider could conceivably beat Alberto Contador. Naturally, almost no one places much stock in their theories because all indications are that Contador will spend the next three weeks riding at an endurance pace and then making the odd acceleration to dust off his legs … and the competition. As foregone conclusions go, this harkens back to the time of Miguel Indurain when it felt like the other guys rolled up for the prologue hoping, at best, for second. Despite his ongoing dominance, it felt like there was more fight in the air as Lance Armstrong was winning.
Currently, Radio Shack is the only team showing up with anything like a strategy. Their stated game plan of four general classification riders is the right idea. Rather than sending them all up the road in a single shotgun blast, repeated attacks by each of their protected riders has the potential to put a strong rider on the defensive. It’s not possible for one guy to respond to each attack by a group of peers. Eventually you either crack or have to let someone go. Unless you’re Contador. The trouble I see here is that Radio Shack simply isn’t strong enough to deliver enough knockout blows to dislodge Contador from the lead group. Certainly, Contador will get smart to the sequence of attacks and his propensity to launch his own, withering, attack that has the ability to make previous attacks look like accidental surges could easily negate the whole of the Radio Shack team.
To make the us against him strategy work, a combine of teams will be necessary. That’s because even though Leopard-Trek will have two of the strongest riders in the race, the Schleck’s brotherly love will see them try to leave the field together, rather than truly alternate attacks. Their inability to take Philippe Gilbert at Liege-Bastogne-Liege showed their lack of tactical genius necessary to use their numbers to optimal advantage.
To beat Contador, Leopard will have to join with Liquigas and BMC and Euskaltel. This is a climbing Tour and Andy Schleck will have to choose whether he wants to ride for second or see Contador beaten. That’s the choice; for any of the GC favorites, the options are to work with other teams to collectively defeat Contador or resign yourself to racing for, at best, second. Even if the teams come together, the odds that a protected GC rider will win the overall don’t improve any. That’s why such a strategy is unlikely to succeed or even last the whole of the race.
It’s possible, though unlikely, that Contador has overplayed his fitness and won’t be as sharp in the third week as he needs to be. These days, very few riders can be fit enough to win the Giro and then go on to win the Tour. But Contador is at the height of his powers. Still, holding peak form for two months is like creating a balanced government budget—easier said than done. Adding yet another unusual wrinkle to all this is the embattled Spaniard’s decision to go vegetarian for the Tour. We must suppose that his chef has the ability to deliver the balanced diet necessary for Contador to ride well. Still, that does not ensure that his body will necessarily agree with said diet. It’s a big change to make so close to the race. The new diet is conceivably the greatest obstacle he faces.
As a total aside, Contador’s new diet is absolutely his best argument for his innocence I’ve heard. It should have no bearing on the case before CAS, but from the standpoint of a gut-check reaction to the individual, I’m chastened by his declaration.
What I see before us is a mouse smarter than the mouse trap. No one can attack with the paint-peeling acceleration he has and only Andy Schleck has the ability to accelerate as many times in 10k as Contador can. In my mind’s eye I see a flurry of attacks with accelerations that impress us, but followed by a counter-attack by Contador that casts his competitors as Mustangs compared to his Ferrari. “You thought that was fast? Check this out.” We’re all going to need neck braces to deal with his head-tossing speed.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Here’s the part of this bike’s geometry that is surprising: The combination of a 72.5-degree head tube angle and 4cm fork rake results in an astonishing amount of trail—6.53cm. That’s more than some of the most sluggish bikes I’ve ever ridden. It may be that what kept this bike handling with the crisp precision of a Swiss timepiece was that long head tube and relatively high bar position. The retailer from whom I picked up this demo thought that at my height (5-feet 11-inches) I ought to be on a 53cm frame. Aside from the fact that I’d never be able to sit up enough to get up a hill, there was that tiny problem of the pinched nerve and the unavoidable problem of having so much weight on the front wheel that the bike would only turn under duress. Yes, I tried it in the parking lot and the suggestion that a guy my height would ride a bike that small was, well, laughable.
Speaking of sizes, the Race and Team Machine are both available in six sizes. Top tube lengths are 52, 53.5, 55, 56, 57.5 and 59cm. Every one of the bikes features a 73.5-degree seat tube angle and 40.2cm-long chainstays. The bike with the 52cm top tube has a 70.5-degree head tube angle and the 53.5cm top tube has a 72-degree head tube angle. All other frames share an identical 72.5-degree head tube angle.
That the same head tube angle, seat tube angle and chainstay length runs through most, if not all, frames tells you a couple of things. First, it tells you that BMC saved money in tooling by not cutting as many molds. But because (to the best of my knowledge) every frame uses an identical 40mm-rake fork, four of the sizes enjoy identical steering geometry. The 53.5cm top-tube bike is close. Only the 52cm-frame falls significantly outside that geometry; it’s got so much trail that unless it’s spec’d with a 50mm-rake fork it’ll need a tugboat to turn.
While these similarities help unify the handling across most of the sizes, there is a liability to this approach. In the smallest frame a 73.5-degree seat tube angle may not be steep enough for some riders and in the biggest size that seat tube angle may be way too steep for some riders. The challenge here is that with a proprietary seatpost, you don’t have the flexibility to order an aftermarket seatpost with either no or 4cm of setback. I can envision some very disappointing fitting sessions if someone didn’t do their homework ahead of time. Details like this make the new Retül Frame Finder an indispensable fitting tool.
BMC touts several technologies in the Race and Team Machine models. First is the TCC or Tuned Compliance Concept. With the TCC the fork, seatstays and seatpost feature specific layup and material selection to allow for a certain amount of vertical compliance. I really need more miles on the Team Machine to see how much they vary between the two models, but having been on bikes that excessively stiff vertically, I can say that it is possible to make a bike that is less comfortable than the Race Machine—it really could be stiffer vertically, and I’m glad it’s not.
The ISC or Integrated Skeleton Concept is the design element that leads to the little strut that runs from the top tube to the seat tube just below the seat tube junction. It’s meant to spread impact forces, but honestly, I’m not sure what impact forces the marketing copy refers to and given that no other bike company has gone this route, I’m suspicious of the benefits it confers.
Two other design details contribute to the bike’s performance-oriented stiffness. First, the bottom bracket uses a BB30 design to all but eliminate twisting forces at the BB. Second, the fork features a tapered steerer to increase stiffness at the head tube and crown. The tapered fork is one of those innovations that came from a single company (Time) that nearly everyone has adopted. That’s how you know an idea is good. When I go back and ride my old Seven Cycles Axiom I immediately register the difference in torsional stiffness; that bike uses a 1-inch fork, and while it doesn’t feel like a noodle, the increase in stiffness when I move to another bike is unmistakable. I might not be able to quantify the difference, but that doesn’t make the perception subjective. Similarly, I can recognize features of my wife’s face in my son’s face, but I’ll never mix the two up.
With its particular constellation of features—consummate stiffness, relaxed handling and low, but not excessively low, weight—this bike is a great choice for a huge number of riders. Its handling is more aggressive than grand touring bikes like the Specialized Roubaix, but isn’t as sharp as more race-specific rides such as the Giant TCR Advanced. It’s going to serve well for someone doing group rides and gran fondos and if you want to jump in a crit from time to time, it’ll corner effectively. With two bikes so similar in design, I’m inclined to recommend the Team Machine to lighter riders while encouraging guys 165 lbs. and up to go with the Race Machine.
I’d love to get some more time on the Team Machine in order to help differentiate the two bikes further. I’ve never encountered a web site that did less to identify the differences between two similar bikes than BMC has done. I went as far as watching some videos produced of the bikes, one theoretically meant to tout the bikes’ stiffness and another that fancied itself a report on the bikes’ low weight. The two videos were identical between the two models and nearly identical to each other. Making matters worse was the fact that the only sound was a bit of sound effect; there was no voice-over.
There’s no doubt the Race Machine is a terrific bike. Honestly, my greatest criticism is their marketing copy. They’ve done so little to differentiate it from the Team Machine, the only way I can recommend one over the other is by rider weight, and I doubt that’s what they had in mind.
Every now and then the stars align and a brand will rise from relative obscurity to consummate “it” brand of the day. BMC bikes have been around for years, but when the company began sponsoring a team with a heavy American contingent, stateside sales took off like a Bugatti Veyron in the hands of a 16-year-old.
The Swiss brand didn’t overhaul its line to appeal to Americans. All they did was hire George Hincapie, Cadel Evans and a few other Anglo-revered riders. Those riders mount either the company’s top-of-the-line Impec or the Team Machine. The Race Machine comes from the same molds as the Team Machine. The two models are differentiated by weight and rear triangle stiffness, with the Team Machine getting the more compliant version of the stays. Like many of the company’s previous designs the Team and Race Machines feature tubes with a great many angular profiles, chamfers and bevels. The frame looks like something out of a 1990s sci-fi film.
But while I couldn’t make sense of the tube shapes early on, I was hearing from a number of friends who had purchased one of the various BMC models just how much they enjoyed the bikes. Depending on the build, the bikes I was seeing weighed in the 15- to 16-lb. range—not ultra light, but not beastly, either.
The roots of this review began with a brief test ride of a Team Machine at Interbike last fall. My sense then was that the handling was sharp but not to the point of twitchy and the road feel of the bike was muted, taking the sting out of the road surface without feeling dead.
My 57cm Race Machine weighed in at 15.5 lbs. It was spec’d with a SRAM Red group (complete except for Force brakes) and Easton EA70 wheels, plus Easton EC70 carbon bar and EA70 alloy stem. The frame demands a proprietary carbon fiber seatpost. I didn’t have a chance to weigh the frame alone, but given the bike’s overall weight and the fact that it would be easy to shave weight with a lighter set of wheels, lighter bar and stem, plus a few other minor touches, I think one could break 15 lbs. without any drastic acts.
According to my contact at the company, the Race Machine is meant for riders who aren’t spending six hours in the saddle day after day. Not a bad idea given that describes … most of us. Their reasoning is that shorter group rides and racing criteriums demands a bike that will deliver the utmost in performance (rhymes with stiffness) when accelerations can’t be compromised by comfort.
On the road, I expected a bike that was going to beat me up. I’ve been on some stiff bikes and if this was their stiffest bike, a frame so stiff that guys like George Hincapie were choosing a more compliant bike for their racing, I figured I might lose a filling or two.
I’m pleased to report that I have yet to schedule a meeting with my dentist. Yes, the bike is stiff, but on rides between 70 and 80 miles, it wasn’t so stiff that I regretted taking it out. It’s probably not the choice for anyone doing double centuries and the like, but how many bikes are?
The Race Machine had some surprises for me, though. The geometry really wasn’t what I expected. As bike companies have come to embrace the idea that road bikes can come in more flavors than just racing and time trial, many have sharpened the handling of their most race-oriented bike in order to make room for a grand touring bike. BMC has not done this.
On paper, the Race Machine (and by extension, the Team Machine, as they share molds) may be one of my favorite all-around road bikes. My 57cm frame featured a 57.5cm top tube, a slackish 72.5-degree head-tube angle, a 40mm-rake fork, a steepish 73.5-degree seat-tube angle and an 18.8cm head tube. On paper, it’s one of the better-fitting frames on the market for me. A pinched nerve in my neck doesn’t permit me to achieve pursuiter-like positioning anymore and while I’ve had some concerns about keeping enough weight on the front wheel for descending, I’ve managed the transition to the higher bar position with few challenges. With a head tube this long, I end up with fewer spacers between the top cap and the stem (it’s possible that I could ride this with no spacers between the top cap and stem). The top tube length was nearly ideal for me, as was the steeper-than-usual seat tube; my femurs are half the length of my leg and I usually end up with a saddle fairly forward on the rails, especially if the seatpost features a lot of setback—a lot in my case being anything more than a single centimeter.
Next up: Part II.
I watched yesterday’s Paris-Roubaix twice. There were so many pivotal moments, I needed the second viewing to make sure I’d seen what I thought I’d seen. To my eye, it looked as though with 30kms to go and the gap to the breakaway plummeting, Fabian Cancellara sat up and decided to have a chat with his team car. At that juncture the gap was 25 seconds. When the big Swiss decided, in concert with his director, to put his head down again and ride on, the gap was back up to 1 minute 10 seconds.
I don’t know for certain what Cancellara wanted to talk about, but I would guess he was concerned that, in bridging up to the break, he would merely be towing his companions, Thor Hushovd and Alessandro Ballan, up to their teammates in the lead group, thus burning all his matches to double the strength of his opponents.
Sitting at home, I was finding it very hard to believe that Garmin-Cervelo’s endgame was to sacrifice Hushovd’s chances to give Johan van Summeren a shot at victory in the velodrome, but that’s exactly what happened. Shortly after Cancellara’s team meeting, van Summeren attacked the lead group, forced a gap and rode solo to victory.
Behind him, Cancellara seemed to have resigned himself to defeat until a frantic, late attack saw him dash to the front of the race, albeit behind van Summeren, and snatch 2nd place from a small group of breakaway survivors. Ballan settled for 6th, Hushovd for 8th.
In effect, Garmin-Cervelo won this race when they were able to put van Summeren in the break and keep Hushovd on Cancellara’s wheel. From the time Cancellara forced a selection from the chase group, a move that eliminated everyone but Hushovd and Ballan, he was stuck. He couldn’t bridge for fear of linking his opponents to strong teammates, and he couldn’t sit in and draft, because Leopard-Trek had no one in the break. This was the triumph of tactics (and luck) over pure strength.
All of this sells short the effort van Summeren made to take the biggest win of his career. From a lead bunch that contained experienced powerhouses like Lars Bak, Lars Boom, and Gregory Rast, finding the strength and resolve to attack and win off the front was nothing short of breath-taking. Van Summeren found himself in a break full of top lieutenants and showed that, on a team that boasts Hushovd, Tyler Farrar and Heinrich Haussler, he was more than worthy of being promoted to captain.
Some other observations, it must have broken Hushovd’s heart to think he had the legs to stick with Cancellara all day, the strength to outsprint the Swiss, but had to sit-in and slow his roll to allow a teammate to win. He gave up his chance at winning Paris-Roubaix in the world champion’s rainbow stripes to watch a teammate climb to the top of the podium. Bittersweet.
Maarten Tjallingii? Rabobank? 3rd Place? Yeah, that happened.
Ballan must be the big loser here. He showed guts to fight his way back up to Hushovd and Cancellara when they’d dropped him, but his teammate in the break, Manuel Quinziato, didn’t justify Ballan’s sacrifice in sitting on the Leopard-Trek rider. Ballan made the same sacrifice as Hushovd and took 6th place for his trouble.
Next to Ballan, crying in the corner, you’d probably find QuickStep’s dynamic duo of Tom Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel. Both of them found it necessary to kiss the pavement multiple times, the former crashing out altogether, the latter finishing in 38th, next to his brother Sébastian. Consolingly, Chavanel did get an inspiring cameo on TV, fighting back from his crash, bloody and torn. That shot is sure to make it into race promos for years to come.
Speaking of broken hearts, if you’d told me two weeks ago that Belgians would win in both Flanders and Roubaix, and that neither of them would be named Gilbert or Boonen, and that neither of them would come from teams based in Belgium, I’d have chuckled. Nuyens and van Summeren are top pros, for sure, but nobody saw these results coming. Nobody.
A final note for the DNFs. This year’s list of non-finishers includes a lot of big names: Stuart O’Grady, Roger Hammond, Heinrich Haussler, Geraint Thomas, Matt Goss, Mark Cavendish, Tom Boonen, Pippo Pozzato, Leif Hoste, Bjorn Leukemans, Allan Davis and virtually all of Movistar and Euskaltel (each team finished one rider).
Thanks also to the guys at Pavé who allowed me to join in on their Live Chat of the race. It was a lot of fun, and I hope some of you got to chime in.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The concept store business model takes a certain amount of heat from cycling enthusiasts. On the one hand, they tend to be beautiful stores. Merchandise is well-displayed, everything is clearly priced and their stock is often relatively consistent (i.e. they tend to keep your favorite tire in stock). Of course, the critical view is that they are homogenized, expensive and squeeze out any line that is remotely competitive with the primary line, be it Trek, Specialized or Giant.
Cynergy Cycles is a Specialized Concept Store in Santa Monica, California. In an attempt to help break the perception that a Specialized Concept Store has very little that isn’t Specialized, they invited customers and representatives of a few of their European lines to come and mingle one evening. As I’m a fan of anything a shop can do to break up the business-as-usual approach, I made sure to drop by.
The Buru promises to be the only top you’ll need on a moderately cool day.
Handlebar Coffee Roasters is a new line of coffee and café in Santa Barbara.
The owners are former PROs Kim Anderson who won the Route de France in 2009 and Aaron Olson who won stages of the Tours of Ireland and Poland among other achievements. Both are alums of Bob Stapleton’s High Road (previously T-Mobile) formation. They are genuinely charming folks with a real passion for coffee.
Enough, enough, enough of all this doping-related blather. Just because the Tour of Qatar is as entertaining as watching someone do their taxes, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be spending this time chatting anxiously about the coming season, rather than sticking pins in our Pat McQuaid voodoo dolls or trying to understand how the body takes in and stores dime store stimulants.
There is actually a racing season coming.
And, as it does every year, the landscape has shifted. Whether it’s the renaming of Team SaxoBank to Team Leopard – Trek (What? They’re not the same team?), or the merger of Cervelo with Garmin, the talent has been thrown up in the air like a deck of cards and then quickly reshuffled. How will it all play out?
Will Taylor Phinney’s move to BMC put them on more podiums? Will Tejay VanGarderen improve on last season’s promise? What of Jack Bobridge, the new owner of the world individual pursuit record? Will Radio Shack, the de facto retirement home for aging racers, have more to offer than they did last year, in Lance’s swan (dive) song?
Can Tyler Farrar help Thor Hushovd pour glory on the rainbow stripes, and can Hushovd help Farrar best Mark Cavendish? Can they even coexist? Will Andrei Greipel rise up to compete at the very top of the sprint pile? Can Phillipe Gilbert win big in the Spring? What does Fabian Cancellara do for an encore after complete lighting up 2010? Will Tom Boonen come back to the form from his early career?
So many questions. This week’s Group Ride tries to keep it simple: What is the most interesting unanswered question for the 2011 season?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Day two of the Outdoor Demo began—for some, at least—with a ride to Lake Mead that began at 8:00. I borrowed one of Felt’s AR1s, which is the company’s aerodynamic road bike. I had hoped to spend more time on the F2, but the previous afternoon one of the two demo bikes in a 58 got slaughtered in a hot corner by a staffer … d’oh!
The ride begins downhill and I had the distinct impression that some of the riders present weren’t accustomed to such a fast descent in a pack. There were times when even moving to the front of the group remained interesting. Nonetheless, it was a fun bunch. I turned back a bit early because I promised the folks at Felt I’d have the bike back in time for 9:00 demos.
I’ve spent some time watching wind tunnel testing and I’ve noticed a few things about the very fastest bikes. First, the top tube is parallel to the ground. Also, there are no hard edges out where they can catch the wind. I haven’t seen the AR in the wind tunnel, but I have my suspicions that it is a very clean bike to the wind.
BMC has been making inroads and I wanted to find out if the bikes are really that good. The Team Machine is part of a select group of bikes I rode that had superb handling, definitely in the class of the F and Tarmac. It does more to dampen vibration than some bikes I rode.
There simply aren’t many bikes on the market that combine the degree of stiffness that the Giant TCR Advanced SL possesses with precise, balanced handling and genuine road sensitivity. Where this differs from the F and Tarmac is with a stiffer rear triangle. It’s a crit meister’s dream.
I’d never ridden a Moots before yesterday and the Vamoots was a revelation. They should all come with a boarding pass for Europe. This bike is no race machine, but that doesn’t mean it’s not high performance. It was plenty stiff and the handling crisp, but what I most wanted to do on the bike was just pedal into the sunset. The Vamoots wasn’t typical of the bikes at the Outdoor Demo, but it really was one of my favorites.
Next up was the Moots RSL. This sub-15 lb. bike is an indestructible race machine. I’m going to recommend it to a Cat. 2 friend of mine who has terrible luck with crashes. Very stiff with sharp handling. I wish I had more time to write more about it.
The Focus line has been interesting to me and I can say they are doing excellent work. The stiffness was on a par with the other top-end bikes I rode and the handling was exceptional; it reminded me of the BMC. It damps vibration more than some bikes and if you prefer a bike that really mutes vibration without making the bike feel dead, you should have a look at the Izalco.
This new glove from Giro is ultra-thin and super form fitting. It was like wearing a skinsuit for your hand. Pretty fun stuff. Just takes a bit to get it back off.
I ended the day with a ride with the folks at Cervelo. Above is Roger Hammond on the right. We rode the R3 featuring the company’s new BBRight crank and bottom bracket design. Phil White gave us a little presentation and then we took (thank God) a very leisurely spin through a nearby neighborhood. The R3 is fast becoming one of my favorite bikes.
I’ve got to give some thought to my three faves of the two days of riding. I’ll do a short post on that soon.
The recently concluded 2010 edition of the Amgen Tour of California was easily the most exciting edition of the race, thanks in part to two of the hardest courses the race has ever undertaken, a field arriving with a great deal more fitness than could be expected in February and a host of real contenders who rode as if the race were the only goal of their season.
Surprisingly, I’ve heard some criticisms of the race coming from varied quarters. The criticisms are free-range: the race takes in too much of a large state; the organizers caved to team pressure and moved a stage start from an historic, crowd friendly and scenic location (Pasadena) to a wasteland (Palmdale); the time trial was made a mockery by the presence of Floyd Landis and pre-runs of the course by corporate big wigs and triathletes; the course was either too damn hard or the judges too unforgiving, which resulted in 37 riders being ruled hors delai between stages six and eight.
At least one thing is true beyond a doubt. After the DNFs and HDs, only 37 riders finished the Amgen Tour of California. I can’t recall a race that started 128 riders and finished less than a third of them. What’s unfortunate about this is how perception can be shaded as subtly as the chiaroscuro on the faces of the subjects of the Dutch masters. The difficulty of next year’s race course may turn on whether people (racers, directors, sponsors, fans) come to the conclusion that the race was harder than granite and cool, or harder than Rubik’s cube and unreasonable.
Which conclusion people draw may rest on the officials’ actions. Hors delai is a rule around which officials can exercise some discretion. Of the 80 riders that did not finish the race, 68 of them saw their race end on either stage six or stage eight. Of those, 37 didn’t finish because they were outside the time limit.
As many riders finished outside the time limit as finished the race.
While I haven’t checked just how deep prize money went, presumably money was left on the table due to the small number of finishers.
The DNFs were attributable to fatigue, crashes or other maladies, such as leg cramps, and claimed another 41 riders over the course of the race. Still, had 79 riders finished, more than six teams would have been listed in the final team GC. Only Garmin, Radio Shack, HTC-Columbia, United Healthcare, Team Type 1 and Bissell finished enough riders—three—to be counted on the teams classification.
The question for AEG is: How similar are ‘wow, really hard race’ and ‘whoa, that’s just stupid’? My guess is you can quantify the difference. I’d say it’s about 37.
By almost any standard, the Amgen Tour of California presented race fans with an extraordinary week of racing. Despite the HDs and DNFs, we saw a more competitive field with a higher overall level of fitness than in previous years.
I feel like I learned a few things about the teams present, such as: Danielson’s DNF means that once and for all, we won’t see him at the Big Show and if he’s released from Garmin, his next stop will be with some Continental team that needs a affordable former sorta star. Hesjedal’s stage win indicates the guy is getting stronger with each passing lunar cycle. Liquigas has some serious depth given that they, like Garmin, are managing to be competitive at two races at once. Team Jelly Belly is composed of cycling’s equivalent to suicide bombers. They didn’t win a single stage, but they figured in almost every significant break. They give new meaning to “die trying.” HTC-Columbia and BMC both must hope that their teams recover well after the Giro and Tour of California, otherwise they won’t have the depth necessary to support their GC men at the Tour de France. Oh, and watch out for Saxo Bank at the Tour; Andy Schleck generally looked like he was out on training rides.
I’ve seen a lot of racing over the years and I can say the final stage Amgen Tour of California was some of the most thrilling racing I’ve seen in person. While it didn’t carry the weight of a Grand Tour or Monument, it really was the next best thing. I’d hate to see it get watered down.