Bike companies will, in some cases, say almost anything to cajole you into buying their product. From suggesting women (or men) will swoon in your presence to the possibility that victory is assured, marketing efforts have been known to make claims that would be laughed off even by those who still believe in Santa. You knew about Santa, right?
Oops, my bad.
In 2008, I was doing oodles of copy work for a bike industry company that shall go unnamed. That spring, I had a ringside seat for one team’s journey through the Spring Classics. Along the way, Zipp had some notable wheel failures, particularly at Flanders and Roubaix. I was able to gather that some folks were mad of the hopping variety.
That anyone would risk their most important rendezvous of the season on as-yet unproven technology struck me as undue sponsor influence. What else could explain a situation going so seriously south as Magnus Backstedt’s double pinch flat at Roubaix?
For the better part of the last year I’ve been hearing about how the redesigned Zipp 303 conquers the problems encountered in 2008 and 2009, how this wheel is literally twice as good as the previous wheel. What has surprised me about the presentations I’ve attended with Zipp staff has been how forthcoming about the wheel’s shortcomings in 2008. They really don’t hide the fact that the wheel didn’t do the job then. There wasn’t an ounce of spin-doctoring from the staff.
Such honesty is really refreshing.
Zipp enlisted Ben Edwards (formerly TestRider.com, now of peloton magazine—and yes, I do freelance for peloton and know and like Ben, but I have no incentive to promote this effort) to create a documentary that would help them catalog the improvements they made in a set of wheels that went from shattering the hopes of a former Roubaix winner to actually helping Fabian Cancellara win the race.
At 16 minutes, it’s short enough to be considered, uh, short, but in-depth enough to be bike-geek fascinating. I can smell spin faster than I detect skunk spray, though I like the scent no better and this is as devoid of it as any promotional film I’ve ever seen.
Even if you have no interest in paying thousands of dollars for a set of Zipp wheels, the film makes for interesting viewing for anyone curious about how products are developed, especially carbon fiber products.
Check it out here.
Thor Hushovd image by Tim DeWaele
When I think back on the moments from this season that excited me to be a cyclist, my mind turns on two events. They are Fabian Cancellara’s attacks that resulted in victory at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Cancellara’s wins were impressive, but what made me love them and return to them in my head, over and over had as much to do with the attacks as the wins themselves. When Cancellara attacked on the Muur de Grammont, he did so for reasons that were more than just strategic. He chose that spot as much for its historic importance in the race.
After the race was over he said, “I suppose it was a perfect race. Even my attacks were perfectly timed. Going on the Molenberg was the right moment and then I had to try on the Muur [de Grammont] because that’s where the legend and history of this race are made. When I realised I’d dropped Boonen it was like having wings on my feet and kept going all the way to the finish.”
Just a week later he accomplished the rare feat of taking the Flanders/Roubaix double, but of course, he didn’t attack just anywhere, but moments before entering the Mons-en-Pevele sector of cobbles—one of the truly decisive sectors with a history of changing the race.
Despite an idiotic effort to dull the luster of his wins with an allegation of using a motorized bike, Cancellara’s wins have given us the opportunity to revel in watching a stunningly strong cyclist ride the world off his wheel.
His wins were convincing. They were well timed. They were brave. They were also incredibly stylish.
I love style. I love PRO. But style is a luxury. It is the flourish that comes only when the rest of one’s craft is assured.
This is a lesson I learned in skateboarding more than 30 years ago. My friends and I could carve a brave line in a pool, grind the coping, even catch air. And while we were competent, most of us were short on the confidence that gave our posture on the board that extra spice that could make our friends cheer.
What I came to appreciate was how the arch of skater’s back sang of assured grace, how balance wasn’t a goal, but a plaything. That gently curving spine was all choice, no question.
Watching Cancellara spin a gear lower than Tom Boonen, stay seated and then drop him on the Muur de Grammont was an attack I could believe. After all the doping scandals, all the questions, it was a move I didn’t doubt. There was style in his strength and it was a moment I cheered.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
I’m not apologizing to Dickens, not after the last two days of racing. He couldn’t have seen this coming.
For the Schleck brothers and Team Saxo Bank the Dickens quote sums up the last two days in a few different ways.
Yesterday’s stage neutralization preserved Saxo Bank’s 1-2 GC punch. Lucky thing for them. So yes, they did benefit twice as much as other teams, after all, Lance Armstrong is the only GC threat Radio Shack is advertising; same for Alberto Contador at Astana.
But to preserve the Schlecks, Fabian Cancellara had to surrender the maillot jaune. History shows us no one does that happily, readily and rarely willingly. Established professional or not, surrendering the yellow jersey when you have good legs has got to hurt. It just hast to.
Less than 24 hours later Frank Schleck goes down on the pavé and breaks his collarbone. If teammate Jens Voigt’s reaction is any indication, Saxo Bank is devastated to lose its GC duo: “It was a daft decision to include this stage in the Tour. For months, we’ve said, people, this is too much of a spectacle, this is too dangerous, did they listen to us? No. And now Frankie has a broken collarbone. This is the last straw. I’m so disappointed.”
For most teams, securing the yellow jersey—yet again—could overcome the shock of losing almost any rider. Given the way they’ve ridden for the last ten years, this is doubly true for any French team.
What this needs is a reduction sauce: During stage 2, Team Saxo Bank surrendered the yellow jersey but managed to preserve the GC hopes for both Schlecks. In stage 3, Team Saxo Bank regained the yellow jersey—an event almost no one would have dared predict—but lost one of its most important GC riders.
We expect that the unexpected will take place in racing, that some riders will fall victim circumstances and by the time the race’s most strategic stages unfold the list of front runners might have changed somewhat; still it’s unfortunate to lose a rider due to a crash on cobblestone. To the degree that the cobblestones are meant to be a strategic focal point the intent is to force racers to be vigilant and stay up front, not take them out in crashes, though we understand that possibility is ever there.
Schleck’s departure and Cancellara’s regaining the yellow jersey may have been unexpected, but they weren’t the stage’s only surprises. To see Alberto Contador ride so well on the pavé was a genuine surprise, especially the way he gained time on his biggest rival, Lance Armstrong, who flatted on the cobbles.
In a day full of surprising turns, the one that most surprises me is Andy Schleck’s ride in hanging onto teammate Cancellara’s group as he drilled it to the finish. It’s hard for anyone to claim that they anticipated Cancellara regainin the yellow jersey, harder still to claim they could anticipate pavé virgin Contador’s good ride or Armstrong’s bad luck. However, almost no one would have been willing to bet that injured Andy Schleck would have gained time on the other favorites on a stage that was just flat but containing sections of road a climber just isn’t meant for.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
One of cycling’s central tenets is that it is a gentlemens’ sport. Not that it is a sport plied by well-heeled graduates of the English public schools, but rather that even in sport we are meant to rise above the most base animal instincts that guide our sense of survival and success.
As racers, we are taught not to attack in the feed zone. Periodically, some bastard does it, and in my experience, the group’s opinion of that rider is never quite the same afterward. Similarly, we’re taught not to attack following a crash or when other riders need a nature break. All this goes doubly during stage races and trebly if it involves the race leader.
It’s fair to say that most cycling fans consider Fabian Cancellara the most unfairly persecuted rider in cycling. As the one rider so far accused of “motorized doping”—perhaps the silliest possible name to describe the silliest possible idea in cycling currently—Cancellara’s remarkable wins at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix have been surreally—and unfairly—denigrated thanks to Italian TV commentator Davide Cassani.
One wonders if Cassani is on the payroll of an e-bike company.
In stage 2, following a crash that decked almost every favorite, Cancellara went to race official Jean-Francois Pescheux and announced that the riders had elected not to sprint the finish.
It would be easy to be cynical and say that Cancellara was simply acting in his team co-leaders’ best interests. The Schleck brothers had been gapped off the yellow jersey group and were chasing to rejoin and by shutting down the race, the Schlecks were able to rejoin the lead group. However, Cancellara was in the yellow jersey and no one gives up the jersey out of a need to be decent. Well, amost no one.
Cancellara did exactly that.
“It was the right thing to do to wait so everybody comes together to the finish line together,” Cancellara told the AFP.
“When you have everybody on the ground and people five minutes behind because they can’t find their bike then it’s only normal.
“I think fairness comes before being selfish.”
The most significant victory of the Tour de France may already have been decided. The moral victory has already gone to Cancellara. After all, we should remember a man who says, “There’s other things to think about than the yellow jersey.”
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
In movie making, writers of thrillers and mysteries will often use a device to heighten suspense and keep viewers from guessing too much of the plot. That element is called a Red Herring. Formally, a Red Herring is a kind of fallacy. It’s an argument introduced to distract the audience from the topic by inserting irrelevant information.
The “Miss Lonely Hearts” character in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is one of cinema’s great Red Herrings. Her personal drama of a loveless life that deteriorates into a suicide attempt is completely unrelated to the disappearance (and murder) of Mrs. Thorwald. Similarly, the stolen money, and what ultimately becomes of it, is utterly unrelated to the real plot of Psycho. They are distractions of a grand order.
Cycling now has its own Red Herring. It is being called “motorized doping”—using a bicycle with a tiny motor hidden from view to potentially offer the user an extra 60-100 watts at critical times. It comes at a truly inopportune time. The fight against real doping, that is, the scourge presented by engine-enhancing blood transfusions and EPO has proven to be more than the UCI is equipped to deal with.
Even though this story is really just coming to light now, it has been a topic of discussion, even concern, for months. According to the UCI, some bikes were checked at both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. Enrico Carpani, of the UCI’s technical commission, says they found no unusual bikes.
And yet, the story persists. One of the problems is that former pro Davide Cassani, who inadvertently alerted the world to Michael Rasmussen’s Italian training regimen (when he was allegedly training in Mexico), carries great credibility and impact due to the fact that he has the distinction of being a television commentator who unmasked a doper. Cassani demonstrated such a bicycle on TV and then boasted how he could win the Giro with its help, despite being 50 years old.
How is it that Pat McQuaid couldn’t dispatch this rumor—it is, after all, only a rumor at best—with a single knee-slapping guffaw? You know, the melting-into-the-couch, uncontrollable, tears-down-your cheeks laugh you’d do if someone told you straight-faced that Barack Obama wasn’t American or even Kenyan, but an alien and he controlled the drug trade on behalf of other aliens who were preparing for an invasion of Earth.
It is more than my vivid imagination can conjure. I have an easier time believing in something that took place “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” than I do in the idea of a secret e-bike powering the world’s reigning Olympic and World Champion in the time trial to victory at Flanders and Roubaix. After all, if Cancellara wasn’t strong enough on his own to get the job done at those two monuments, then please, Captain Skeptical, how did he manage a gold medal and rainbow stripes?
Perhaps he’s been on an assisted bike all along? Yeah, that’s it.
And wouldn’t such a bike have required not just complicity, but cooperation on the part of Specialized? Morgan Hill’s favorite employer was ready to sell its Shiv to consumers in the wake of its UCI ban. Joe Cyclist doesn’t have to worry about UCI bans. How many consumers would say ‘yes’ to a road bike equipped with a jet pack? What are the chances that if Specialized actually managed to create a mechanical assist to the crowd-favorite Tarmac that they’d really keep quiet about it? Okay, so they couldn’t really publicize something that offered an illegal advantage. But the cost of developing a frame to handle such an addition (and today’s carbon fiber frames aren’t engineered to have extra stuff crammed in them) would be significant, too significant for most bike companies to do without trying to trickle that technology into other bikes.
So what we have is a Red Herring, a distraction. Perhaps a magician’s sleight of hand. Because certainly the more important question about Cancellara’s performances is whether or not he executed them with no biological doping. All indications are that he was clean, and he’s been tested a fair amount, which is encouraging.
The only question regarding motorized doping worth asking is who started the rumor and what possible motivation they might have to do so.
But instead, we have UCI technicians working to develop a scanner that will tell them whether or not a bicycle is equipped with a motor.
Really? Is that the only way they can dispel this nonsense? How about look for control wires? How about weigh the bikes? How about look for control buttons? Given the current state of e-bikes and the amount of engineering Shimano employed to develop its Di2 group, you are safer assuming there is no motorized doping going on than asking a boy scout to escort you across the street.
Why aren’t we laughing? Why aren’t in tears begging the mongers to stop—that if we laugh any harder or longer, we’ll throw up? This is funnier than Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Every euro the UCI spends developing a motor scanner is a euro that ought to be going to the fight against the real doping.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
I wish wrapping handlebars was easier or that I was less lazy. There. It’s out. Now I can begin recovery. I’m such a nerd for ergonomics and comfort that if adjusting handlebar and lever position was anywhere near as simple as say, adjusting saddle position, I could spend whole weekends playing with lever and bar position.
In truth, while I do a very pro job of wrapping a bar, once I have taped the cables in place, I really don’t want to make any further adjustments. Like I said, I’m lazy and it’s too much work.
I’ll mount a bar, position the levers where I think they need to be and then go ride around my neighborhood for a minute with the cable housing flapping in the wind. When I roll back to the garage I might adjust the roll of the bar or the height of the levers, but once I tape down the cable housing, those levers aren’t moving another millimeter.
I love to look at how the pros set up their bars; I’ve seen some pretty surprising stuff. It used to be that the bottom edge of a lever was in plane with the bottom of a bar. Always. And the bottom of the bar was parallel to the ground. When I first learned to ride and work on bikes, I saw countless bikes set up just like Richard Virenque’s is above. It would be more than 20 years before I considered that other positions might increase my comfort. Eventually, you started seeing guys like Lance Armstrong roll the traditional bend bar up just a bit.
In the mid-1990s I saw Sean Yates’ bar rolled down. It seemed physically impossible for him to put his hands on the levers the way they were positioned. Later, in 2002, Johan Musseuw’s bar was positioned crazy low and the levers were rolled up so high they seemed just as impossible to put your hands on the hoods. Then I noticed how when he did place his hands on the hoods, there was no bend at the wrist. The combination of how bar and relatively short reach made the lever position workable.
The new Ritchey Logic WCS Carbon Curve bar gave me a chance to experiment with just what works best for me with a compact bar. The short/shallow bar is to the 2010s what the anatomic bar was to the 1990s. I haven’t been super-sold on the new shape for a few reasons.
My first reservation is the mindset that led to the bar’s design. It came about from riders getting rid of all the spacers between the headset and the stem and then realizing that riding in the drops wasn’t too comfortable. The solution? Give the bar less drop.
Many years ago some very experienced riders taught me that if you run a deep-drop bar fairly high you can maintain a flat back when in the drops and still enjoy a rather upright position for maximum climbing power when on the bar top. It’s one of the reasons I like the FSA K-Wing bar so much. But enough of that.
Little known fact: The compact bars on the market almost all feature a 128mm drop. Traditional bend bars, which to me are as comfortable as trying to wear a child’s shoes, are still surprisingly prevalent in the pro peloton and feature a 130mm drop—just 2mm difference. Reach on traditional bend bars is usually in the 87-88mm range, about 3mm more than most compact bars. So, on paper they don’t seem to different, but in practice, the difference in curve makes the difference in fit and comfort dramatic.
The Ritchey Logic WCS Carbon Curve bar I reviewed had a 31.8mm clamping diameter and a 42cm (c-c) width. Advertised weight is 206g and my bar weighed in at 208g. Pretty stinkin’ close.
To try to squeeze a little extra reach out of compact bars and to position my hand in the flattest portion of the drop, I roll them out until the reach is parallel to the ground. This seems to be a fairly common way to position based on what I’ve seen in the pro peloton.
Little known fact #2: Fabian Cancellara rode a compact bar on his bike in both Flanders and Roubaix. Go figure. Had I not seen it, I’d have assumed he would ride a deep drop bar, in part just because he’s so flexible.
For those of you who are still riding aluminum bars I can’t stress just how much a carbon fiber bar increases comfort for the hands by damping vibration that would otherwise travel through an aluminum bar. I really don’t ever want to have to ride an aluminum bar ever again. Which means I need to do something about the bar on my ‘cross bike.
In reviewing this Ritchey bar I realized that I’ve ridden at least four different compact bars and while I thought that the shape of the drop was virtually identical from manufacturer to manufacturer (at least, it was really close on the first three), the decreasing radius bend (the bend gets tighter the closer you get to the levers) of the bar is more comfortable to my hand than any of the others I’ve tried. The lesson: Not all compact bars are created equal.
The stunning spread of carbon fiber to nearly every component on the bike and its accordant inflation of the cost of every single bike component in which it is used is nothing to cheer about. It’s how we went from $5000 bikes to $10,000 bikes in 10 years. So while I’m not wild about spending $284.95 for a bar, the Carbon Curve is lighter, stiffer, stronger and more comfortable than an aluminum bar. It is an F1 car competing against a Jeep Cherokee.
Virenque image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Wow! I’ve not seen consensus like that in the RKP comments section since … uh … since … okay, I’ve never seen consensus like that here. To whit: Fabian Cancellara, Jens Voigt, Tomas Voekler, Jens Voigt, Philipe Gilbert, Oscar Freire, Michael Barry, George Hincapie, Sylvain Chavanel, Stuart O’Grady, Chris Horner, Johan VanSummeren, Thor Hushovd.
That list is notable for not containing the names: Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish. World Champion Cadel Evans had a passing mention, but no real advocate. So, what I’m getting is that winning doesn’t give you class. It just gives you a trophy, a bouquet and lipstick smears on each cheek (also possibly a hotel key … I’ve heard stories).
The Cancellara lovefest just went on and on. Here is a rider of supreme power, humble demeanor and team first attitude, a guy who clearly loves his family and rides with a smile on his face. The guy’s so classy he probably eats his pomme frites with a knife and fork. He most assuredly never farts in elevators or litters. I actually think in Switzerland littering is a capital offense, so maybe that doesn’t count. But still….
We also heaped the love on Herr Voigt, though he’s a different sort of rider than Cancellara. Voigt is not so much a dominant winner as a hammer par excellénce, the guy who, as he passes you on the way to the front of the peloton, you think, “Crap! There goes the morning!” Oh, and he smiles. First he crushes you, and then he grins. Nothing says class like a man who can smile while YOUR heart is breaking.
Also, clearly deserving and oft mentioned, was Philipe Gilbert, who is not the fastest or most powerful, not the strongest climber or sharpest sprinter, but a tactician and all around attack-minded rider, the guy who lights up the one-day races like a halogen in a coat closet.
I, for one, need these riders desperately. As the revelations spew out of Festina and Puerto and Mantova and little, out-of-the-way sports clinics in Austria and Germany, I need to remember that there are riders of true class in the peloton. There ARE reasons to keep watching.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
Following last week’s Paris-Roubaix, the big question on everyone’s minds was why, when Fabian Cancellara attacked, Tom Boonen didn’t react straightaway. While it isn’t possible to know exactly what was on Boonen’s mind, we can perhaps try to see the race through his eyes.
And if you’re wondering why this post is just now appearing, it has something to do with the steady stream of images arriving by e-mail from John Pierce; every day for a week, I’ve received another half dozen or so images. What you see here wasn’t available the day following the race.
When Cancellara attacked the first thought I had was that Boonen was too far back in the group to be the appropriate guy to counter the move. Even though he was arguably the strongest guy left in the group, to jump from that far back in the group would see everyone one his wheel, leaving him to play tow truck for Hushovd, Hammond and the rest. Boonen is a star and wouldn’t submit to so undignified a role as that. It’s like asking George Clooney to be an extra in a movie written for him.
Consider also the other information Boonen had at his disposal. Following Flanders he said he was riding at 55kph and couldn’t bring Cancellara back. That’s faster than the average TTT speed at the Tour in the 1980s and yet it wasn’t enough to bring back one man. (Okay, so that one man happens to be the current ITT World Champion.)
It was late in the race as well; even the best riders have a finite number of attacks in their legs. To counter Cancellara’s move means burning a match you planned to use later. Based on the shots of Boonen trying to rally the group to work together, it’s fair to say he realized he couldn’t pull Cancellara back on his own and knew his best opportunity was to get the group to work together to bring Cancellara back.
Based on what I’ve seen, I’d say Boonen didn’t settle for second; rather, the other riders in his group did. He seemed to be the one rider who really wanted to establish a paceline to bring Cancellara back.
After what happened at Flanders, Boonen can be forgiven for believing the only hope for victory was with the help of the group, and that without it, defeat was certain.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
We took a position near the start of the pavé section of the Arenberg forest – a good 160 kilometers into the Paris-Roubaix. As we waited a few hours for the riders to come, it occurred to me, I was literally standing on history – sections of pavé first laid down in the time of Napolean Bonaparte.
Bombs from both World Wars had fallen nearby.
Team Saxo Bank’s Fabian Cancellara leads part of the pack at the entrance to the Arenberg Forest.
I’d seen the coverage on and off for 25 years, and I’ve seen plenty of bike races before, but nothing could prepare me for seeing the 108th edition of the “Hell of the North” in person.
The fast-approaching buzz of the paparazzi helicopters from above. (If only Red Kite Prayer had the budget). The roar of the crowd, pickled from one too many Belgian beers. The bedazzlement of the many 100-year-plus French farmers, who still appreciate this annual spectacle.
And then there they were. Approaching fast from behind their gendarmerie escort, I could see the flurry of colorful jerseys from the world’s top cyclists.
Though each one was thirsty for blood, all with something to prove, it was the bouncing and vibrating of their arms and legs that said it all. The pavé – or, cobblestones to those of you on the left side of the Atlantic — humbled even the thirstiest of them. The gods of the pavé began to tremble. And tremble they did for the more than 50 kilometers of cobbled road.
And before we knew it, they were gone. In an instant. Nothing was left except the dust hanging in the air and gasps from the crowd — satisfied, but only for now. Arenberg forest dust coated my face and eyes.
And, again, in an instant, the crowd departed. I was off to see the next section of pavé, fully aware of my selfish desire to feed my new-found addiction.
But one cyclist on Sunday was not humbled. Was Fabian Cancellera’s addiction satisfied on Sunday or is he shaking the centuries-old dust off of his jersey in preparation for another cobbled classic?
Images: Alex Armitage
John Pierce of Photosport International has continued to edit images from Flanders and sent these along. Consider them a sort of portfolio of the day, a whole race distilled into a few magical moments of the race’s most pivotal stretch of cobbles, the Muur de Grammont.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International