What. A. Race. There were so many big moments in yesterday’s Tour of Flanders, it reminded me of a Fourth of July fireworks show. As soon as you think, “That must be it,” another big blast goes off and leaves you breathless.
First of all, Nick Nuyens. This guy has been an increasingly dark horse since some good showings in 2008. That he won the Dwar doors Vlaanderen a week-and-a-half ago might have been an indication of good form, but it took more than form to win yesterday’s Ronde. It took the perfect tactics, riding wheels, getting in the right moves, saving up, and then exploding in the last 200m to absolutely shock everyone.
Padraig: Nick Nuyens rode a terrific race and has given Bjarne Riis the right to walk around with a guilt-free smug grin for the rest of the week. And though he won, because he isn’t a rider I have feelings for one way or another and really did nothing to make the race exciting save for the fact that he won the final sprint (and let’s be honest, it is the most important move of the race), I must admit I feel slightly cheated by the outcome.
For some Nuyens’ win is disappointing. The Ronde is an emotional race, and it wants an emotional winner. Does anyone have any feelings for Nuyens? No. I didn’t think so.
At the finish I wondered, though, if Cancellara had had Riis in his ear, would the outcome have been different? More importantly, did Spartacus have the same thought? For fans, this win for Saxo can only intensify the rivalry with Leopard-Trek. Can there be any doubt who is winning?
Padraig: Spartacus was the man of the day. He may only have gotten third, but he was the carbonated water in my Coke, and a Coke without fizz is just pointless.
And if the Leopards were disappointed with third place, how must Quick Step have felt about 2nd and 4th. It looked as though QS put too much stock in the plan to win with Tom Boonen, completely disregarding, until it was too late, the obvious strength of Sylvain Chavanel on the day.
Padraig: For my part it was a race of surprises. I was surprised to learn that Quick Step director Patrick Lefevre was all-in on Boonen. You’ve got Sylvain Chavanel and you won’t let him do anything more than mark Spartacus? Really? That Philippe Gilbert couldn’t stay away showed how stunningly strong the top riders were. But I think my biggest shock was when Cancellara originally attacked how easily Tomeke seemed to give up when he got caught up in traffic.
The turning point for the Quick Steps seemed to come with about 2k to go with Chavanel off the front with Spartacus and Nuyens. The Frenchman shook hands with the Swiss as if to say, “I’ve been released. We can work together now,” which is just what they did, holding off Boonen, Gilbert, Flecha, Leukemans, et. al. Where Riis got it just right, QS chief Lefevre got it just wrong.
Was anyone else screaming at the TV for Gilbert when he made his own move with 3k left? It was textbook Gilbert, but just as Cancellara’s textbook escape with 40ks left failed to break the chasers’ will, so too was Gilbert reeled in.
Special mention should go to three domestiques. First, Chavanel, who was clearly Boonen’s up the road decoy, continued to follow the plan long after Boonen was able to hold up his end of the bargain. Second, Geraint Thomas buried himself over and over to keep Flecha in amongst the leaders, and finally Big George Hincapie performed yeoman’s work towing Alessandro Ballan over cobble and dale. Even if their leaders didn’t come through, they did their jobs to perfection. Hats off.
The only item left on my agenda is a quick assessment of Garmin-Cervelo. They sucked. I suppose Farrar did well to take the bunch sprint from the peloton, but did anyone hear Haussler’s name mentioned all day? And what did Hushovd do in the rainbow jersey? He was there or thereabouts for two-thirds of the race and then faded like a pair of Levis on permanent spin cycle.
I watched the race twice. Once on the Eurosport feed (while tuned in to the Feed Zone on Pavé, and that was excellent) and then again in the afternoon on Versus. It struck me how completely different were the stories the two networks told.
What did you think of this year’s Ronde? What surprised you? And what does it all mean for next week’s tilt in the North of France?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
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
Data-less riding is in vogue these days. Rolling around with no computer and only the feedback of lactic acid to tell you how hard (or not) you’re going has a minimalist appeal. Think of it as the fixie romance for those with legs too big to fit in skinny jeans. (Dude, come on, even Robin Zander wasn’t that skinny!)
Where was I? Oh yeah, sans details. I do get the appeal. I was once in a Specialized Concept Store and discussing the merits of a wattage device with a prospective customer. What I said wasn’t helpful to the sale: “If your hardest training is on group rides, wattage doesn’t matter. When the move comes, either you’re there or you’re not.”
So it goes with riding hard. Either it was hard enough, or it wasn’t. And if it wasn’t, it’s likely all you did is delay your next opportunity to train hard enough. For those of you struggling to get more than a few hours of riding per week, this perspective might be less helpful than gasoline to a firefighter. Apologies and all that; there’s a wheel review coming shortly.
I have tended to find computers and heart rate monitors most useful as a governor to my efforts. It’s easier to go too hard on a recovery ride than it is to gridlock Congress. I remain a big believer in using data to keep from overtaining and in these parts you can group ride yourself into overtaining in less than half a lunar cycle. The Easy-Bake Oven isn’t that easy.
Even for those who don’t want data overload on their rides, riding five or six days per week deserves to be tracked for the sake of planning recovery rides and rest weeks. Of late, I’ve suffered from two broken GPS units and have thus used my iPhone and the Map My Ride iPhone app to keep track of my riding while alleviating me of the self-doubt that plagues me every time I look down at those little numbers. Oh, the questions!
How much longer can I maintain this pace? Is the pace high enough? Why isn’t the pace higher? Should I be hurting this much? Is my form declining?
In a bookcase I have notebook after notebook of old training data. Most of those accumulated miles are unremarkable, but there were rides among them over roads and routes that I no longer recall. To have a full range of digital data on all those rides is something that I … well, I wouldn’t kill for it, but I might squash a bug or two.
When Map My Ride hit the Interwebs a few years back I was stunned to see someone finally offering what MotionBased had promised circa 2004. As a registered map nut (I get lost in maps the way some cooks get lost in the kitchen) I get an unnatural entertainment from looking at my route on a map. I love playing back in my head the climbs, turns and descents.
As I mentioned both my primary and back up GPS units threw a rod and, as a result, I’ve been using my iPhone to track my rides. It’s a nearly ideal solution for me. I’ve been relieved of knowing exactly how fast I’m going, which is bad news more often than good, and I still finish the ride with a file detailing my ride. Better still is the fact that I don’t have to download it to the site as the iPhone app does that for me within seconds of climbing off the bike. I bought an external battery to extend the life of my iPhone so I can ride for more than three hours, to boot.
I’ve looked at each of the services that allow a cyclist to download training data. For strictly training purposes, Training Peaks kills Map My Ride, but because I’m not trying to race anymore, and few people I know are training as seriously as is necessary to really utilize the full suite of features of Training Peaks, Map My Ride strikes me as a better overall package for most riders. I completely geek out on the mapping and elevation profile features. The social media aspect of Map My Ride makes it a powerful way to connect with friends as well, whether you’re just posting your rides to Facebook or connecting with other riders who seem to be on your riding wavelength.
When I contacted them to get a few images, they asked me to mention that they’ve got a couple of deals going for the Holidays. I dig this site. I dig their CEO (he’s a halogen bulb even in a room full of high-wattage incandescents) and I dig that they’ve been willing to take feedback from me on features they should add.
The first is:
Buy any new Premium membership and receive a FREE invisible Bracelet membership for one year!
Invisible Bracelet is a competitor to Road ID, but with an important twist. IB is creating a database of users so that emergency service providers have a complete set of contacts for you and your loved ones. Whether it’s a standard everyone adopts remains to be seen; regardless, it seems a powerful way to reach out to families in the event of an emergency. Learn more here.
The second is:
Gift your loved ones a Premium membership for a special discount price of only $19.99!
MMR is offering their bronze membership benefits as a “special holiday deal” for only $19.99 (regularly $29.99, and said to be a value of more than $71.00 given the monthly access price is $5.99). Learn more here.
My point: Killer Christmas Gift.
As the transfer season churns and boils, riders lining up new teams and new plans for 2011, the landscape and traditional power centers seem to be shifting. Omega Pharma – Lotto’s paltry four wins in 2010 will surely be bolstered by the addition of German sprinter Andrei Greipel. The merger of Garmin – Transitions with Cervelo Test Team gives the already opportunistic boys in argyle even more strong horses in more races, the only piece missing a real grand tour GC threat. Movistar’s take over and cash infusion with the current Caisse d’Epargne team promises a bright new day for Spanish cycling, not to mention Geox’s takeover of Footon-Servetto.
Along with the advent of the Schleck’s new Luxembourg-based team and Bjarne Riis’ capture of Alberto Contador to replace Schleck, this may be the most active off-season in recent memory.
The question for this week’s Group Ride is: Who will come out of this battle royale with the strongest team? Who is on the rise, and who is on the wane?
You don’t get any points for predicting the slow demise of Team Radio Shack, but I am curious to hear what we think of the moves made by the Belgian teams, Quick Step and Omega Pharma – Lotto. The rain in Spain is also mainly on the plain with a group of teams, once looking on the verge of collapse, blundering into new pots of money. Which team will emerge as the new Iberian powerhouse? And is there any hope for the French?
No. Probably not.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
I used to have a cyclocomputer, a not very fancy one. It told me how slow I was going. It gave me my average lack of speed, my top slowness and the paltry total distance I’d covered. I hated it.
Of course when I first affixed its magnet and wired its sensor, I was excited. So this is what 25mph feels like. So that’s how far it is from my house to the end of my second water bottle. All this new information was fascinating. I used it to formulate boasts to friends about how much further I was riding than they were and how much faster I had climbed this hill or descended that one. I used it to measure my progress from the chilly beginnings of spring to the stiff breezes of leaf strewn autumn. And on some level, I just accepted that this was part of the equipment, part of the way you rode a bike.
Last summer, Wired told me about the boom in personal metrics measurement. Suddenly this trend that cycling has been following for years was spreading and “booming.” People loved and felt inspired by statistics. And with the proliferation of devices from Garmin and others that would quantify your work in dozens of different ways and allow you to make bar charts and graphs and multicolored pie representations of your everyday grind, who could blame them?
Why generate sweat when you can generate stats?
One day, about two years after I’d purchased my first such device, I was struggling into a headwind up a false flat staring down at its digital readout. 14.1 mph. Grunt. Groan. 14.2 mph. Muttered curses. 14.3 mph. Pain. Strain. Incredulity. 14.1 mph. Back and forth like this for a few minutes, all the time with my head down, all the time bouncing between 14.1 and 14.3 mph, in other words, working hard for no real gain with my head down and a growing frustration.
At some point, I had a revelation. I reached down, unplugged the computer and slid it forward out of its bracket, depositing it in a jersey pocket, before lifting my head, seeing both the forest AND the trees and riding off on my merry, if deeply fatigued, way.
I realized in that moment that I had, at some point over the preceding years, ceased to ride my bicycle. I had begun to ride my computer, and, in the end, it had ended up riding me. I had stopped collecting experiences on my bike and resorted only to collecting statistics. Perhaps worst of all, I had stopped seeing where I was going. I was the computer. The computer was me.
Computers don’t ride bicycles. They compute.
It was shocking to me how much more I enjoyed riding once I stopped measuring my rides. I became more aware of my form and position on the bike. I live in a beautiful part of the country, and I began to see it. I got faster, if not in actual digital terms, then certainly in my heart, because I felt faster. I swore then to reaffix my computer only after deep and careful thought about what doing so would get me.
I’m not sure where that thing went. I think it’s in a box in the garage.
Obviously, I understand why professionals use these tools. They earn their living by generating large numbers. They tune their rides by percentage of max heart rate or by speed intervals or by sustaining specific efforts for specific periods of time. And of course, the tools have become more and more sophisticated. The simple measurements I was taking years ago don’t complete the basic functions on today’s most basic units. There are GPS and power meters. There is software to chart progress (or lack thereof) over days/weeks/months/years.
Clearly, racing cyclists of every category who want to get better will want to measure their workouts and most of them do. I can see that even casual cyclists take some great satisfaction from the accumulation of data. I might just live in that odd middle space where I am neither casual in my cycling, nor very much interested in racing. I suppose though, it matters what and whom you are racing.
A zen master once said, “When you are drinking tea, only drink tea,” and, for me, this applies to the bicycle as well. When I am riding my bike, I try only to ride my bike. I don’t concern myself with speed, fitness or progress. Those things are elusive. They come and go. When I ride, I become fit. I progress. I go fast. Except when I ride myself right out of fitness, speed and progress. The form dips and swerves. The consequences of my riding change and shift, but the riding is always there.
For me, measurement started as a curious and entertaining diversion, but ended as an obstacle. Somewhere along the fault line of the pro-hobbyist divide, technology and science have interceded. Those who wish to race, if not professionally, then certainly as the pros do, have followed them down the statistical path. It is, perhaps, a hobby within the hobby, neither bad nor good, but simply another thing you can do with your bicycle.
I’ve left it far behind now. Occasionally I wonder exactly how fast I’m going, but the thought passes. I’m going fast enough.
The end of the Tour de France gives most of us back our lives, but not Bjarne Riis. The erstwhile Dane spent much of the Tour answering media questions about his next team sponsor and what he’s going to do if (when) Fränk and Andy Schleck leave to start their own team. After announcing software giant SunGard as one of his future sponsors and confirming that he does, in fact, have a new title sponsor lined up as well, Riis goes back to trying to convince his other stars to stick with the cause.
With SaxoBank exiting the picture, we’ll have yet another iteration of the Bjarne Riis show, much the way we had 7-11, which begat Motorola, or US Postal, which begat Discovery Channel, or Reynolds, which begat Banesto, which begat Illes Balears, which begat Caisse d’Epargne, or the Rabobank team which went this way: Kwantum Hallen-Decosol-Yoko to Superconfex-Yoko to Buckler-Colnago-Decca to Wordperfect-Colnago-Decca to Novell Software-Decca to Rabobank.
Between fickle sponsors, inconsistent management and unstable rosters, one might argue (I am right now) that pro cycling teams have, at best, a loose grasp on coherent identities. We’re calling Bjarne Riis’ team SaxoBank at the moment, but we’ll call it something else next year, all the while aware that it is, at root, Bjarne Riis’ team. He is, for better AND worse, their identity.
This state of affairs stands in somewhat stark contrast to other sports where clubs or franchises maintain a consistent character for decades on end, an attribute which allows them to develop quite loyal followings based on a set of characteristics which transcends the current management, ownership and roster. It also allows them to sell a lot of merchandise.
As a result of its erratic nature, cycling is a harder sport to write about than others. So much of the shorthand that’s available to media when discussing soccer or baseball for example, just doesn’t exist for cycling. The current “rivalry” between HTC-Columbia (Team Telekom, T-Mobile, High Road, etc.) and Garmin-Transitions (Slipstream, Chipotle, Jingleheimer-Schmidt) contains a kernel of the sort of narrative that can emerge from a more stable peloton, but that kernel disappears once a title sponsor leaves and a few riders defect to other teams.
Instead of teams, cycling focusses very much on personalities, usually the transcendent riders like Merckx, Coppi, Anquetil, Hinault, Indurain, Bobet, Stablinski, Indurain, LeMond, Gimondi, Cippolini, Kelly, etc. etc. etc. For a team sport, the stories of individuals far outstrip the stories of great teams, and when we do talk about great teams, the stories are these ephemeral whispers about groups of men that came together at random, crushed all comers, and then slowly slipped away into the mists.
There are myriad reasons for the sport to have developed this way. The governors of the sport, from newspapers to private companies to the UCI and national federations, have never had a clear vision of what they wanted pro cycling to look like. Perhaps no other sport has undergone the transformations cycling has in terms of equipment, rules, team structures, and tactics. The current iteration of the Tour de France, as but one example, bears very little resemblance to the races of 30, 50 and 100 years ago.
In as much as cycling has survived and succeeded, it has done so in spite of itself. With its ever-shifting structure, the races have emerged as the true stars. If the teams have, by and large, failed to hold themselves together, to market themselves effectively, the races have, by sheer force of persistence, elevated themselves in the eyes of the fans.
We may, on a rainy, spring day, cheer on this rider or that one as they approach the velodrome in Roubaix, but none of us turns off the television when he, invariably, crashes out. The drama and spectacle of the events stands in for the tribalism of team support.
Perhaps this is at it should be. We may not have a favorite team (at least not one that lasts very long), but we have the races. You can not paint without a canvas. You can not ride without a race. And maybe, in the end, the fluid nature of a team sport dominated by individuals is best organized by the current system.
Still, as Bjarne Riis puts together the next version of his traveling circus, one has to wonder if a system based on franchises might not make more sense for pro cycling. The UCI already sells licenses for ProTour teams. The next step would be to attach some identifying characteristic to each license, a color, a name, something that would stick with the team, regardless of sponsorship. This would allow identities to form and grow. It would allow shirts to be sold, memberships offered.
There are a million possibilities, and if cycling is to go on, it will need to avail itself of some of them, for the UCI needs new ways to sell our sport in the wake of the doping era, the Age of Armstrong and the brief, wondrous life of Team SaxoBank.
Well this is one time the FGR won’t be settled immediately. We’ve got nearly two weeks to see how this will shake out, but they are, after all, two weeks we’ve been waiting for since last August.
Interestingly, in your comments, There’s really only consensus on two classifications. With two exceptions each, everyone thinks that Thor Hushovd will take the green jersey, just as he did last year, and Andy Schleck will double up on the white jersey as well.
Alberto Contador was the only rider to come up with more than one vote for the yellow jersey, so it seems we must acknowledge that he remains the favorite. Interestingly, Andy Schleck was the only rider to get votes in three classifications: overall, mountains and best young rider. An inobservant reader might believe that to be an indication of his completeness as a rider, but it really doesn’t back us into a larger belief that he has the potential to wear yellow in Paris.
Eight stages in, a new question is worth asking: With Lance Armstrong’s GC hopes dashed, Christian Vande Velde out of the race, Bradley Wiggins unable to deliver as he did last year in the blue, white and orange of Garmin, if we assume that Contador, Evans and Schleck are the likely podium, who do you think will round out the top five or six?
Armstrong’s demise also spells out a very surprising development: Levi Leipheimer is finally the GC leader for a Johan Bruyneel-led team at the Tour de France. I don’t think anyone ever thought those three details would line up. It’s as if a one-armed bandit came up Bar-Bar-Bar for Santa Rosa’s favorite athlete. Go figure.
And as a corollary to my previous question, do you think Ryder Hesjedal can pull off what Wiggins did last year? Sky doesn’t seem to have figured out Wiggo the way Vaughters and White did. Rather an interesting development, given the way he badmouthed Garmin on his way out.
No bad guy? No bad guy? Are you guys kidding me? With no bad guy, there’s no good guy. If everyone’s a good guy, then no one is. They’re just guys. Who wants to watch a bunch of guys riding bikes? BO-RING!
I liked what Big Mikey said:
This isn’t about legal law, as both parties worked out a compromise due to the fact that GS was going to lose BW to Sky due to the (lack of) enforceability of the contract per European contract law (imagine that), this is about perception and behavior. And while Vaughters was mostly restrained, Wiggins let slip some less than exemplary behavior/comments. A very nice touch given that Garmin worked hard to support his fourth place in the TdF. They gave him the shot to focus on the tour, and he repays it by acting like an entitled brat.
If we combine what Padraig and SingleSpeedJarv had to offer, about Wiggins being unhappy at Garmin even before Sky came into the picture, then we can, to some extent, let Brailsford off the hook, though I can promise you Andrei Tchmil will NOT be letting Brailsford off the hook (for poaching Ben Swift, a Katusha rider until Brailsford turned his head). Not Tchmil’s style to forgive and forget. You can just go ahead and assume that Katusha won’t be taking any turns on the front of the peloton if Sky will benefit in anyway.
So Wiggins wanted out of the contract that suited him pretty well less than a year previously? OK. He doesn’t like the Garmin way. Sometimes things don’t work out. Sky came along at the right time with a boatload of cash to emancipate him from the servitude that all but put him on the Tour de France podium. Fortuitous, not just for Wor Bradley, but also for Jonathan Vaughters who ended up having a tantrum-throwing prima donna taken off his hands and replaced with a fat check.
All is possibly well that ends well, except that, in order to extricate himself from what was, to him, an untenable situation, young Mr. Wiggins felt it necessary to disparage Garmin in the press. There were several allusions to the team not preparing its riders properly for racing success. There was the infamous ‘I need to be at Manchester United, and currently I’m at Wigan,” line, which, for those not steeped in British football culture, basically means “Garmin is bush league, and Sky are pros,” an odd assertion to make about a team that had, at that point, not yet raced a bike in anger.
So this scribe’s personal take (in case it wasn’t obvious) is that, though all parties seem to have made out alright in the end (even though I’d bet the above-pictured Vaughters would have preferred to show up in France this summer with TWO GC threats rather than just one), Brad Wiggins acted like a first class ass hat throughout the affair.
Rather than effecting his transfer with discretion, class and bonhomie, he alienated his team manager, teammates and probably some fans, by turning a private business deal into a public spectacle. If he wins the Tour for Sky this summer, then we’ll probably all just salute his hard-headed competitiveness and forget that he acted like a jerk. If he fails to podium, then we’ll all shake our heads at yet another ego-case crashing and burning on the fumes of his own ambition. If he fails to podium and Christian Vande Velde does make it onto the hallowed steps, well, I can’t wait to see what the French press writes about that.
I’m really not sure how we’ve come this far without hashing and rehashing the Bradley Wiggins transfer until we were all sick to death of it. And so, without further ado, let’s make some hash!
What I want to know is: Who is the bad guy?
As you may well know, Bradley Wiggins had a big 2009, converting himself from track legend to Tour de France contender just by putting down the lager and coming into the season a few kilos lighter. After his surprise fourth place in France, there were rumblings and grumblings and rumors that he would move to the brand new Team Sky, under the tutelage of his British Cycling mentor Dave Brailsford. Of course, he had a contract with Jonathan Vaughters at Garmin, and most of the fall was spent determining whether having a contract meant anything in the grand scheme of things.
By now, we know that Vaughters let Wiggins go, reaping some unnamed bounty in “transfer fee” from Sky. Vaughters, while mostly keeping his powder dry, refused to get too snipey about the whole thing, but let it be known that he was “disappointed” to lose his rider. If there were other, more bitter comments, I missed them.
Wiggins, who made no secret of his desire to leave Garmin and let slip with some not-very-nice comments about the holders of his contract, got what he wanted, and so did Brailsford, who also got into some not-so-nice with Team Katusha’s Andrei Tchmil, over the transfer of Ben Swift.
The whole thing revolves around what contracts are worth, how riders should conduct themselves, whether cycling should be prone to the same transfer sagas that rule the football (soccer) world and whether, to modify a phrase, “money makes right.”
The question I put to you this week is: Who is the bad guy and why?
D) None of the above
E) Lance Armstrong
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International