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
I often have friends and co-workers approach me for advice on buying a new bicycle. This is a little bit like approaching Buzz Aldrin for advice on space travel. So much of what I say to them makes no sense, because our contexts are starkly different. I come from Planet Bicycle. They come from Planet Earth.
Once I’m done issuing forth with a quick discursive on componentry and frame materials, which sounds to them like, “bloop, blorg, bleep,” I end up saying what I really believe, which is, “You should buy the bike that you think looks the best.” The truth, in my opinion, is that for non-bicycle people, most bikes are just the same. This is certainly true at the lower price points they are usually considering. The materials and components on offer are so similar that choosing among them becomes awfully difficult unless you’re willing to abandon yourself to aesthetics.
It might seem as though I don’t take their requests very seriously, but quite to the contrary, what I really, really wish for is to convert this unsuspecting earthling into a bike person. I want them to fall in love with their bike and with cycling, and become one of us.
And like any love, it starts with attraction. The paint is as crucial as the cranks. Believe it.
And so this week’s Group Ride is about the bikes that we think look best. I’ve posted some of my favorites here. What are yours?
Woodsmoke is one of my favorite aromas. Its first charry scents on the breeze signal the advent of winter. It also takes me back to the camping trip on which I met my wife, but that’s a different topic.
Pine is another scent I quite like. It’s that Christmas tree smell. Some people get it from the paper air freshener dandling from their rear view mirrors, others get it by dragging a freshly cut tree through their front door in advance of the holiday.
Fresh coffee puts off a nice bouquet. And while it’s a fragrance I appreciate year round, is it ever really better than on a cold morning, when the brew’s stimulative properties are enhanced by the warmth it imparts to your hands?
Of course, my dog smells bad, as dogs are wont to do, but I bury my nose in his neck anyway. It’s a stink I love. I’ll not list the stinks he loves.
Down in the garage, citrus degreaser mingles with lubricant to create a perfume I think of as “bike.” It clings to my tools and tool box, to the floor around my work stand, to the work stand, to the drive trains of all my bicycles. It’s a heady aroma that fairly suffuses the air down in my private bike shop. It’s a smell, to me, like grandma’s cookies, one that says ‘home.’
This week’s Group Ride is about smells. What are your favorite cycling smells? Where do you find them? Why do you like them? What do they say to you?
Papa needs a brand new bag. I mean that literally. I need a new commuter bag. I have three or four jammed into the front hall closet, but none of them is answering my needs quite the way I would like.
I have a North Face day pack. It’s small, and it makes my back sweaty, and I have packed it full of climbing shoes and chalk bags and tape and harness and all that other stuff that makes it not usable for bicycle commuting, but pretty good for quick rock climbing trips.
I have a small messenger style bag made from used sail cloth and salvaged inner tubes made by Teamwork Bags. I stenciled an image of Fausto Coppi on its pristine white surface, and it’s very stylish, but also very small, and not entirely water proof, and it just won’t do for wintertime transit.
I have a medium-sized courier bag from Chrome, the Metropolis, which is capacious and durable, but not that comfortable. I am a fan, generally, of the courier bag, because it allows me to access storage while in the saddle, but the one-shouldered burden begins to wear me down and the cross strap constricts my breathing (when tight enough to secure the load), which makes climbing difficult. We have a love/hate relationship, like Oprah and cake.
There have been other bags of course, either handed down to nephews (my original courier bag), or given away to a friend (a Pearl Izumi, purpose built courier backpack), but none of them has been so overwhelmingly awesome that I’d buy a replacement.
This week’s Group Ride asks the questions: What bag do you ride with? Do you love it? What do you love about it? Why did you buy it? What could be better about it? What would you buy right now, if you were buying a bag?
I am hoping that your valuable input will guide my search and Santa’s sleigh. Most of my riding, since the arrival of those two irascible little demons I call my sons, is commuting and/or errands. I carry a bag on the bike so often that when I don’t, I feel a bit naked. So this is an important question.
My current thinking is a largish, waterproof backpack, but I am swayable. I defer, mostly, to your wisdom. The only thing I will not consider is panniers. I just don’t like the way they feel (or look). BUT…if you’re a pannier-devotee, I want to hear about that too. Tell us why.
I really hope that Bryan Nygaard, Kim Andersen and the Schleck Brothers just never announce a sponsor for their new team, so that we can go on calling it The Luxembourg Project indefinitely. Projects are neat. Think of some of history’s great projects, the Hoover Dam, the Pyramids at Giza, the Alan Parsons.
Calling themselves The Luxembourg Project also leaves open all sorts of options for businesses other than a pro-racing team. They could open a chain of restaurants specializing in Luxembourgish food. They could start a hip-hop record label featuring only Luxembourgish MCs. The sky is the limit, no pun intended.
And so now, as they complete their takeover of Bjarne Riis’ Saxo roster, and add various and sundry others to their squad, the time has come to ask a slightly more serious question about the team with no name, namely (see what I did there?) what are their goals? What are they after that they needed to leave the icy flatlands of Denmark for the rainy, cold flatlands of Luxembourg?
They’ll have the Schlecks to sprinkle over the three Grand Tour podiums, and presumably they’ll have Fabian Cancellara to break Tom Boonen’s spirit wherever the indomitable Swiss chooses to ride against the…um, domitable Belgian. They’ve also got Jakob Fuglsang, Stuart O’Grady, Jens Voigt and Dominic Klemme (also Saxo), Linus Gerdemann and Fabian Wegman (Milram), the Italian sprinter Daniele Bennati (Liquigas-Doimo), Brice Feillu (Vacansoleil), Maxime Monfort (HTC-Columbia), Joost Posthuma (Rabobank) and Robert Wagner (Skil-Shimano).
They’re stacked. They are the Pamela Anderson of pro cycling.
So this week’s Group Ride is: What will constitute success for TLP? Do they have to win a grand tour? Do they need to win more than one classic? Will it be enough to simply accumulate a number of wins equal to those of all their riders’ wins from last season? Or do they just have to win more than Team Sky did in its inaugural season?
What will it take?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Fausto Coppi had a big schnoz. I like to think it helped him cut through the wind. His hair was notoriously neat, Brylcreemed left and right, with a razor sharp part. No wind would take purchase there. He had a strange barrel chest that housed steam engine lungs, a narrow, almost feminine waist, and a pair of bird legs you would hardly believe could generate the power that made Coppi ‘il campionissimo,’ nearly untouchable on the road between 1949 and 1952, and the unquestioned top cyclist on this big blue marble in many of the preceding and successive years as well.
If one were to take the palmares of the top five or six riders in history and set them side-by-side, it would be hard not to conclude that Eddy Merckx is number one. In this exercise, Coppi would drift down the standings somwhere between Hinault and Anquetil. But this is the stuff of paper and statistics and apples and oranges and oddly colored fish on impossible bicycles. It’s nonsense.
Coppi won the Giro d’ Italia in 1940 and set the Hour Record in ’42. He then went off to war in North Africa where he was taken prisoner and lived in a POW camp. He didn’t race again, properly, until ’46, three seasons later. That year he won Milan – San Remo, the Giro di Lombardia, the Grand Prix des Nations, the Giro della Romagna and three stages of the Giro d’Italia. He won the overall again in ’47. Thereafter, he won everything in front of him, Spring Classics, Grand Tours, a World Championship. He was a climber of legendary ability, his signature move being to attack on a hard climb, distance the field and finish minutes before the next rider, alone, as they say, in photo.
It is difficult to separate Coppi from the history of Italy at that time or, for that matter, from the history of professional bicycling. While he, along with great rival Gino Bartali, gave Italians something to cheer about in the bleak post-war years, he also revolutionized bike racing, developing new standards for nutrition, rest, recovery, and preparation. He was a great contributor to modern team tactics at a time when the Grand Tours were just beginning to embrace the notion of competing teams rather than individual cyclists.
I would argue that, given back those three seasons during WWII, and without the toll of disease and ill-nutrition that POW camps and wartime rationing imposed on him, he would have set a standard that Merckx would have strained to see, even from his lofty perch.
For these reasons and many others, Coppi is my favorite cyclist of all time. Though I never saw him race, perhaps even BECAUSE I never saw him race, Coppi represents the absolute apex of what it means to be a PRO cyclist. He is a man who really did transcend himself, both athletically and culturally. With Coppi there are myths and legends, because we don’t always have the concrete language to describe the things he achieved.
I could go on and on, but you’ve read all this before by other people’s hands.
This week’s Group Ride seeks to leave behind the troubling times of our current top cyclists and would-be legends. What we want to know is: Who is your favorite cyclist of all time, and why?
Rhapsodize, my friends. Wax poetic.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The hill leading to my house is not that long, but it features a couple of steep ramps, no matter which direction you come from. I know, because I have tried coming from virtually every direction in a vain attempt to avoid having to climb them.
The nice part is that you can put together almost any kind of climb you want if you know which way to go. One approach is well-paved and fairly gradual. Another is brutally steep, but short. There is one way to go that keeps you off the super steep until the very end, but some of the access to it is paved in a fashion similar to the Arenberg Forest. I go that way when I want to pretend I’m riding a Belgian Classic.
Each route I’ve chosen affords a different profile. There are some that are roll-y, up and down. There are some that give you good flats to rest in, in between lung-busting pushes skyward. And there are some that manage to be both long-ish and steep-ish in a way that makes me want to cry blood.
As I was churning away at my smallest gear last night (and I’ll not disclose that gear’s ratio in order to preserve the illusion that I am not a complete waste of saddle space), I was wondering which is better, a climb you know intimately or an ascent you’ve never seen before.
The familiar climb is nice, because you know how to pace yourself. You know when to rest and when to push. You know when you’re nearing the top and can access that little bit of pre-relief that’s just around the next bend. At the end, you can assess your form, because you can compare it to past ascents.
On the other hand, the familiar climb can be a killer, because you know exactly how much further you’ve got to go. You can judge your lack of form because you know it ought to hurt less than it already does. You know all the potholes and asphalt scars, all the odd, roadside trees, so there’s not much to distract from gravity’s brutal crush.
A climb you’ve never seen before can be terrifying. You feel good at the bottom, but how long will that go on? Will it get harder? Will you have pumped yourself out before the hard part? Can it get harder than it already is? For a brain already fighting with oxygen debt, legs already filling with acid, the unknowns can cause a lot of unhelpful anxiety. A strange hill is like a bogeyman, stuck behind a tree, waiting to knock you out of the pedals.
On the other hand, sometimes I climb best when I have no idea what’s coming. On the most brutal steeps I’ve ventured, it is almost always the case that my mind has been more settled, that I’ve been more in the moment, and thus more in the pedals, than I would be if I knew what misery awaited me. I have done things I’d have thought not possible through simple, blissful ignorance.
So this week’s Group Ride is about climbing. Which do you think is better, the old familiar or the surprise left hook? Would you rather know what’s coming or just deal with it when it comes?
As Padraig prepares to board a flight for Fantasy Island, where Mr.Roarke and Tattoo will set him up on a dream bike and point him at the sorts of Alpen cols that spend most of their time being mailed around as postcards, the Group Ride turns its attention to the world’s great rides and wonders where YOU would most like to Tour.
To me, the Cairo to Cape Town ride documented in this film is awfully appealing. In my mind ‘adventure’ is usually found very near the intersection of fun and misery.
One of my neighbors is working on a project with his kids where they ride every inch of every street in our town, documenting it on a map as they go. They’ve been riding for four years and have about ten percent of it done. On the flip side, this fellow rode his bicycle from Sweden to Nepal, and then climbed Mt Everest without oxygen or Sherpa support.
Everyone has their own idea of adventure, and hardcore fans, such as ourselves (because let’s be honest, if you’re not a hardcore cycling fan, you’re probably not reading RKP), often dream of taking in the same climbs as our heroes, the Tourmalet, Aubisque, Zoncolan, Mortirolo, Ventoux, Galibier, Izoard, Marie Blanque, Blockhaus, Peyresourde, Alpe de Huez, Portet de Aspet, Superbagnéres, Stelvio, Gavia, and on and on and on. There is a not small industry of tour operators who cater to the desires of freaks, such as ourselves, who wish to spend their holidays slowly draining every last bit of energy they’ve got across an inert and oblivious mountain range.
So do tell us. Where do you dream of riding? Or, what tours have you taken that shifted your paradigm, blew your mind and rearranged your auntie’s quilt collection? Speak to us of hill and dale. Spin us yarns of legendary ascents and the drops on the other side, the ones that left you bowel-clenched and shaking, but ultimately satisfied that you’d done something special.
It would have been easy, last week, to give over the Group Ride to a Tour prediction competition. We resisted, but no more.
Now that things are beginning to shake out a little, now that we’ve had a chance to espy the form of the favorites, it’s time to lay down our markers.
We’ve seen Contador and Schleck (the younger) come unscathed across the cobbles. We’ve seen Cavendish lose and win. We’ve watched Thor Hushovd win a stage and snatch the green jersey, and we’ve seen Geraint Thomas pull on the white jersey. And while Jerome Pineau currently sports the polka dots, something tells me he won’t be wearing them at the end of the day tomorrow.
And so, let’s do this the right way. Let’s hear your predictions for each jersey, yellow, green, white and dotted. Whoever gets the most right gets an RKP sticker pack. If multiple people get all four right, we’ll award the adhesives to the best climber as determined by an ITT up the Matterhorn on goat back. Best get your goats tuned up.
The yellow jersey, which currently resides with one Mr. Fabian Cancellara, will likely not end on the Swiss’ back. Among the favorites, Cadel Evans is closest to taking it over, but Evans’ climbing talent is not equal to that of either Andy Schleck or Alberto Contador. Can he find other ways to put time into his rivals, or will the maillot jaune trickle down to the top grimpeur?
In that case, the advantage goes to Schleck, but he’s lost his most capable mountain climbing domestique, brother Fränk. The question then becomes whether or not Contador can gap the young Luxembourger in the coming time trials. History suggests he can, but these are only suggestions. The race is still out on the road.
The green jersey competition is probably less open. Thor Hushovd showed last year a shrewdness and opportunism that saw him in green in Paris despite winning just one stage to Mark Cavendish’s six. Oft misunderstood as the “sprinter’s jersey,’ the maillot vert goes to the most consistent rider who may or may not be a consistent stage winner. Hanging around the top of the standings currently is 36-year-old Alessandro Petacchi, a wily veteran who can’t be discounted, and don’t write off Robbie McEwen either. He appears to be back in form after a long stretch of injury and disappointment.
The two jerseys most difficult to pick will be the polka dotted and white. This 2010 Tour is even climbier (not a real word) than recent editions, so there are opportunities for all the best to take points. The key here is that the best climbers don’t always score the most King of the Mountains (KOM) points, because they find themselves more interested in the general classification. That leaves openings for other freakishly skinny, hugely-lunged members of the peloton. The contenders include Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Matthew Lloyd (Omega Pharma Lotto) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank), assuming the latter doesn’t launch himself at the GC. Still, the King of the Mountains may hold a surprise. It may be that a rider like Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) or Tony Martin (HTC Columbia) makes a run at this prize in lieu of a higher placing in the standings.
British Road Champion Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) currently wears the white jersey, awarded to the best young rider (under 26) on GC. This is a shirt won recently by a veritable “who’s who” of Grand Tour winners, including Andy Schleck (2008, 2009), Alberto Contador (2007), Denis Menchov (2003) and Ivan Basso (2002). This year’s contenders include Gesink, Schleck (again), Tony Martin, Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas – Doimo), and Edvald Boasson-Hagen (Team Sky).
That’s all the help you’re going to get here, though. Riders not named are still eligible for any of the prizes enumerated herein, and I will almost guarantee you they don’t all go to script.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
This week’s ride was about stories, the ones the race tells and the ones we wanted to hear. Fortunately, and this is the hallmark of a good storyteller, this 2010 Tour de France is spinning some of the most unexpected and strange yarns we’ve heard in years.
From the roads of Rotterdam to the hills of Flanders, nothing has gone exactly as we’d anticipated. Did anyone see Armstrong beating Contador (if only by 5 seconds) in the short prologue time trial? The Lance-in-decline narrative took a twist there, didn’t it? And how did Tyler Farrar ride himself into the top ten?
Stage 1 saw 36-year-old Alessandro Petacchi sprint for the win after dodging a series of crashes that took out his younger competition. Experience 1 Audacity 0. This stage also introduced us to this idea of big GC names crashing: Kløeden, Leipheimer, Basso and Millar.
If Stage 1 introduced the idea, Stage 2 elevated it to the level of a Mad Max sequel. Apparently, a motorbike went down on the already rain slick descent of the Stockeu, turning it into a virtual luge run for the tetchy peloton. Something like 80 riders crashed there leading Fabian Cancellara to organize the neutralization of the run in to the finish with the acquiescence of Tour management, an odd finish to an unexpectedly brutal day on the road.
And then came the cobbles.
We’ve been talking about Stage 3 for months now, and when the riders finally rode it, all battered and bloody from the previous days’ fun, things went from bad-to-worse/ good-to-great (circle one).
Between crashes (Fränk Schleck busted his collarbone in three places.) and mechanicals (An untimely puncture cost Armstrong nearly a minute to Contador, who looked like a natural on the pavé, and over two minutes to Andy Schleck.) Stage 3 was everything we expected it to be plus a whole lot more.
To be sure, the peloton didn’t relish their time on the cobbles, and we can argue ad infinitum about whether it’s appropriate to insert a mini-Roubaix into a Grand Tour, but it sure made for great entertainment to see them strung out across the countryside like a chain of Christmas lights with half the bulbs burned out.
Like the first week of this year’s Giro, where the riders complained of the shear brutality of the course, Tour 2010 is off to a harrowing start. “Harrowing,” in this case, is French for “incredibly awesome.”
It just goes to show that every effort we make to predict the race is foiled almost the instant the riders roll out of the neutral zone. This is a story with thousands of authors, the riders, the organizers, the roads, the spectators, and an occasional off-leash canine. The results vary wildly, but the quality of the tale seldom drops.
Please note: The word “carnage” was NOT used in the production of this piece.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International