With Worlds upon us, we are fully into the season’s wind down. Riders who peaked for the Spring Classics may have mustered one more burst, or managed their work load with an eye on some of the Fall races. The big guns of summer have been laying low thinking about the end of year stage races. It’s all about peaking at the right time, or the right times.
Meanwhile, from my saddle, the onset of Autumn looks like a brand new day. I was thinking about how the pros plan their years, the races they target, the way they ramp up and cool down, and it led me, as it usually does, to examining my own patterns.
As a year-round rider, I also have peaks, and those correspond, roughly, to the seasons. In the spring, when the first warmth creeps back into the morning, and my gloves shed their fingers, I experience this great burst of form. I am fast. I am motivated. I can climb, and I can sprint, and it all feels good. Then the rains come. What started as a sunny rebirth turns into a wet slog that leaves me praying for the first strains of summer.
Then, too, I get a lift. The hot summer air gets me down to my lightest riding kit. Being lighter makes me faster. The summer blasts away. After a month of sweat-soaked speed, I get tired of rubbing salt into my eyes. The heat takes its toll. It wears me down.
Then the fall descends on us. Cool air blows up my hill. I pull on a pair of arm warmers, and I’m on top of it again. Instead of feeling as though I’m losing my soul to the constant flow of perspiration, I hum along at near perfect temperature, dropping triathletes in my wake, like the dust off a Trans Am’s bumper.
The leaves fall. The rain returns. Wet leaves turn the roads into brown ice. My knickers are sodden with cold water. By late November, I’m ready for the snow to fall. What portends months on the couch for some, connotes daily rides bereft of joggers and hybrid-pedaling accountants for me. To ride, as those first fat flakes drift from the graying sky, is sublime. It’s like the whole road is mine again. I ride down into the city, along the river, alone.
By February, I’ve been barking against the cold for too long. My tights are grimed with salt and sand, put down to keep the cars from reenacting a carnival ride. The elastics in my winter hats are all distended. I’d sell my bottom bracket for Spring to spring up from the icy crust.
These are my seasons. At the beginning of each I peak, by the end I’m just hanging on.
Sam Abt wrote of the pros:
“Out in the countryside of France, the fields are brown and barren, their corn long harvested and the stalks chopped down for fodder. Until the stubble is plowed under when winter wheat is planted, the landscape is bleak and the air full of despair.
“For professional bicycle riders, April is not the cruelest month. Far from it. In April, hopes for a successful season are as green as the shoots just then starting to push through the fields that the riders pass in their early races. The cruelest month is really October, when the nine-month racing season ends and the riders finally know what they have failed to accomplish.”
With no trophies to hoist aloft, no podium girls to kiss, I’m left to the elements. I ride to be fast and smooth, to find myself “on top of it” as Souleur wrote this week. All winter I ride to be fast in the Spring. All Spring I ride to be fast in the Summer. All Summer I ride to be fast in the Fall. All Fall I ride to be fast in the Winter. Seasonal.
I wish the pros luck in the coming month. Some will be sprinting for victory in Australia. Others will be eying Lombardy and Tours to salvage the hopes they sprouted in Sam Abt’s Spring. I will be riding too. Trying to be fast.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
One got the sense from watching the finish of Stage 12, the extended confrontation between Julian Dean and Mark Renshaw and the subsequent reaction of the commissaires, that TdF officials were more embarrassed and angry than anything else. The ouster of Renshaw from the race seemed more of an emotional reaction than a calmly reasoned one. “How could you sully our race with this behavior?” might have been the question. The answer was an emphatic, “Ce n’est pas possible. (It’s not possible).”
No one that I’ve spoken with believes relegating Renshaw was uncalled for. His expulsion is another thing. Many respondents thought Dean also should have been relegated, and a case could probably be made, except that Dean’s actions (leaning and pushing) were probably just this side of the line, whereas Renshaw’s were pretty clearly over.
Common sense wanted the race jury to vacate the result of the sprint, to take Mark Cavendish’s win as a punishment for Renshaw, but the rules don’t allow for that sort of remedy. Riders are individuals, except when they’re not.
They probably ought to have relegated Cavendish as well. While Cavendish isn’t responsible for his lead out, he does benefit. Sprinting confers individual glory, but it’s a team pursuit. The winnings that come along with a victory get distributed. The net effect of Renshaw’s cheating was his teammate’s win. As when a defender’s error in soccer (football) gets punished with a penalty kick, the sanction applies to the whole team. Did race officials consider that relegating Cavendish would have disproportionately affected the green jersey competition? Maybe.
To lose Renshaw from the race is a shame. The Australian is a great rider and a good teammate, and as fans we would have benefited from more battles between him and Dean. For the sake of posterity, Cavendish won the bunch sprint in Stage 13, pegging back those (like yours truly) who believed he was neutered without Renshaw’s pull. It must have been a hammer blow, psychologically, for Dean and his Garmin team who lost Tyler Farrar to injury the same day.
The further question of how to react to such a sanction is difficult. Rolf Aldag’s assertion that Renshaw was the victim rang hollow. Impugning Dean at that point was pointless. What Cavendish did in the next day’s bunch sprint seemed a much better retort.
Now about Andy Schleck’s chain…?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The last ten days have surprised me for one unusual piece of news after another. I’m not normally one to write the grab-bag post, but because so many disparate pieces of news have elicited the same reaction in me, I figured the uniformity of my reaction is enough to include them in the same post.
I’ve followed discussions about rate of ascent (VAM) on Tour climbs with some interest. While I have found some of the numbers reported troubling, I haven’t been willing to place too much faith in those numbers because it’s hard to be certain of just where the climb starts and finishes are, which can throw off the math in the calculations. And even if you trust the calculations, I haven’t yet seen an argument connecting the dots in a way that lead to an inarguable conclusion that normal biology can’t produce a particular performance. That is, I hadn’t seen one until I read this post on the Science of Sport blog. It connects the dots in a very convincing way. Because we are getting more and more information about riders as they race, in the future it will be possible to look at a rider’s performance on a climb in a very objective manner and the math that Ross Tucker provides will help us sort the fiction from the clean.
Some folks I’d prefer would shut up, have been making headlines. On their own, they don’t merit posts, but Michael Ball and Rudy Pevenage both elicited a “You’re kidding.” from me but for entirely different reasons. One wonders why Pevenage decided it was time to admit his involvement in organizing Ullrich’s trips to Spain to see Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes now, yet more curious is why he thought he needed to tell us this little factoid. It’s not much of a confession as most everyone was satisfied that Ullrich was involved in Operacion Puerto; who served as travel agent is inconsequential, and Pevenage’s moral relativism—“It was normal”—isn’t washing.
Michael Ball, ex-pricey jean entrepreneur and director of Rock Racing—the only professional cycling team to model its organization after the Bad News Bears—was served with a search warrant. Presumably, the warrant is as a result of Floyd Landis’ confession, as it was filed by investigator Jeff Novitzky, who is remembered for bringing the house of BALCO down. If Novitzky smells smoke, there’s a conflagration.
Ball, who briefly employed Pevenage in 2008, congratulated Landis on coming clean, telling the New York Daily News: “Floyd is in a better place. Someone needed to come clean who was on the inside, who had lived it.”
However, what made my jaw drop was his crazy claim that, “I was in the sport for three years and I saw what went on. But not on my team, because I wouldn’t allow it.”
Really? I assume by “what went on” he means doping. Has he already forgotten about Tyler Hamilton’s positive test? If there’s one thing we’ve learned about doping it is that those closest to the riders sometimes do not know, so for Ball to suggest he knows something about the use of performance-enhancing drugs by pro riders he didn’t sponsor means that he thinks we’re dumber than he.
Speaking of Landis, his latest accusation, this one printed in the Wall Street Journal, is that he couldn’t get an extra bike to train on because Armstrong was busy selling bikes to—gasp—buy drugs. Here’s a newsflash: Teams have sold off bikes at the end of the season for ages. That Landis expects us to believe that just because he couldn’t account for the presence of 60 bikes it means they were sold to pay for doping. In addition to claiming that that Johan Bruyneel admitted the bike sales were paying for drugs, he has also claimed he paid for the drugs he took. Unridden team bikes won’t carry any sort of multiplier with collectors, so those bikes would have gone for roughly $5k apiece. The only bikes that carry any sort of multiplier would be those ridden by the team stars and having spoken with collectors, I can say Lance’s bikes weren’t going for $20k, even with the aid of photographic provenance. Even if the accusation is proven true, it really adds nothing significant to his story, which makes us wonder why he’s talking.
Speaking of bike sales, a week ago Campagnolo announced it would begin offering industry deals to verified industry employees. For those of you who have never worked in the industry, I can tell you this is the single most surprising piece of news in this post. As a shop employee I remember checking with multiple distributors to see who had the best prices on Campy any time I needed—er—wanted to purchase new gear. The difference in price between different distributors could mean saving as much as five percent which was what passed for a discount for us wrenches. It has been my understanding that Campy USA wanted to do this for ages, but Italy finally listened and came to appreciate that having shop staff riding their components could make a difference in how often they wind up on a custom build. Bravo to Campy.
And while I’m still mystified that anyone would try to defend Mark Renshaw head-butting Julian Dean and then shutting the door hard on Tyler Farrar, we’ve continued to get other head-scratching moments every day at the Tour de France. Take Alexander Vinokourov. Let’s be honest; he has a reputation for being a rogue rider, which is why his declaration that he would dedicate his effort to supporting Astana team leader, Alberto Contador was met with at least a bit of skepticism.
So what does Vino do? He goes off on a breakaway in the final kilometers of the climb to Mende. Let’s be clear, if you’re sole mission is to support your team leader, then you’re not heading out for stage wins—that’s a big, big effort and burns more than a few matches. But once gone, why not give the guy some rope, right? But Contador chases down Joaquin Rodriguez, and then proceeds to take a very strong pull.
As I’d been saying all week, I couldn’t stifle myself from saying, “Really?”
Was Contador teaching Vinokourov a lesson? Or was he really that nervous about Andy Schleck that he felt compelled to gain every second he could? It’s fair to wonder if Rodriguez had enough gas on his own to catch Vinokourov. At the point Contador began his chase of Rodriguez he knew that he couldn’t gain all that much time, certainly not enough to gain the yellow jersey. While Vinokourov has never been my favorite rider, but Contador managed to make me feel some sympathy for the win he was denied.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get weirder, Vinokourov takes off on yet another flyer. And fortunately for his efforts, he got the win in Revel. However, after taking breakaways two days in a row, does anyone—John Lelangue especially—think that Vinokourov will really have the gas necessary to work for Contador through the Pyrenees?
If he does have the reserves to provide support to Contador, it will be an impressive piece of riding. Impressive, and for this writer, suspicious. If he doesn’t, then his pledge to support Contador will have been proven to be BS, and Contador’s chase will be hard to criticize.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The best lead out man in the business, Mark Renshaw, didn’t race his bicycle today. Given that the Tour de France was pointed uphill for Stage 13 means the Australian wasn’t going to do that thing he does anyway, but Mark Cavendish must have been awfully lonely in the laughing group.
Renshaw, of course, was relegated and expelled from the Tour after yesterday’s sprint finish to Stage 12. Coming into the final straight, Julian Dean of Garmin-Transitions began leaning into Renshaw, trying to clear some space for his sprinter, Tyler Farrar to come around. Dean was also, probably, trying to limit the amount of space Renshaw and Cavendish had to work in. Renshaw found himself suddenly behind Dean’s shoulder. Leaning back into his rival would only have pushed him backwards, so Renshaw struck out with his head, once, twice, three times, and then, glancing over his left shoulder to see that Farrar was coming around on the other side, he veered across the Garmin fast man’s line, effectively closing him out of the sprint. Cavendish cruised to victory.
See the video here.
In the brief time between the end of the stage and the ruling being handed down, most commentators expressed the belief that Renshaw would be relegated (i.e. given last place) and fined for his extraordinary behavior. Some, but certainly not all, were surprised to hear the Columbia rider was ejected from the race altogether.
The UCI rules governing sprints are not very detailed. Riders are prohibited from intentionally riding across each others lanes, and relegations for this infraction are not uncommon. See Abdoujaparov, Djamolidine.
Renshaw’s expulsion can be attributed, not to his closing out of Farrar, which would have earned a relegation, but to his head-butting of Dean, Tour officials taking the stance that such violent behavior poses a serious risk to surrounding riders in the high-speed chaos of a bunch sprint. Furthermore, given that Cavendish won the stage, officials weren’t content with a simple relegation, as it might have encouraged lead out men to court relegation as a reasonable means to stifling rivals in the closing meters.
What the rules don’t allow for is sanctioning Cavendish for something his teammate did, which puts officials in a tough spot as regards ensuring a fair result for all involved. It would only be too easy to DQ Columbia en mass and promote everyone who finished behind, but, in addition to being outside the purview of the rules, such a resolution raises more questions of fairness than it answers.
Today’s Group Ride asks what you think? Were the commissaires too harsh in kicking Renshaw out of the Tour? Or was his behavior over the line? Given the generally rough nature of bunch sprints, was the expulsion an overreaction to the overt violence (as opposed to the usual covert elbowing) of Renshaw’s lead out? Or is it high time that Columbia’s win-at-all costs sprint gets pegged back a bit? And even if you do think his behavior was over the line, should a team always circle the wagons and defend their riders, or should they admit if they crossed a line?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
When Jonathan Vaughters’ fledgling PRO team first went to Europe, all who watched closely enough to care asked a single question: Will they win? It’s an unsurprising question. Any time a team ventures from any Anglophone country to Europe to race, fans wonder what races they might win.
However, in the case of what was then Slipstream Sports, the question had a subtext. What people wondered wasn’t so much whether a predominantly American team run by the single most dapper director in the sport could beat the Euros at their own game. No, the question was whether a team that was so conspicuously, laboriously clean could win a bike race.
Slipstream, in other words, was a crucible. As the most believably clean program in the sport, if they won, it would be proof that it was possible to race at the ProTour level and win clean. If they failed, then winning clean was doomed as an ideal. Kill that hope, and you might well be killing the sport for many.
Of all the criticisms I’ve heard of the Garmin-Transitions team—and I’ve heard many—the one I’ve heard most often was that they don’t win. They don’t win big stuff; they don’t win decisively. Sure, there are criticisms that Millar has never returned to his form of old, that Danielson will never fulfill the promise of his gifts, but they have just been scapegoats for the program’s larger lack of high-profile wins to shut the doubters up.
I think, maybe, the time has come to give Vaughters his due.
In a single day, Garmin-Transitions swept the stages of the two biggest bike races going on in the world.
In stage 10 of the Giro d’Italia, Tyler Farrar won the stage following a burned-rubber lead out from teammate Julian Dean. He out-sprinted Robbie McEwen, a notoriously proficient freelancer who can pirate anyone else’s lead out train to his benefit. He also bested Andre Greipel, Robert Forster and Danilo Hondo. At this point, just about the only guy Farrar hasn’t beaten in a head-to-head sprint is Mark Cavendish. He also leads the points competition. In short, anyone with any remaining doubts about Farrar’s real talent can sit down.
Less than nine hours later the unthinkable happened. David Zabriskie, one of the most talented time trialists to ever wear the stars and bars, a guy so known for his prowess on a second-by-second basis that he has been almost completely written off as a road racer, surprised everyone by jumping hard—not to mention insanely early—and held off Levi Leipheimer and Michael Rogers for the stage win in Santa Cruz. Zabriskie donned the leader’s jersey, climbing to the top of the general classification for the first time ever in the Tour of California. Though he twice finished the race in second place overall (2006 and 2009), it didn’t seem that too many media outlets (or fans) took him seriously as a real contender for the win.
His win in stage three seems to have made people re-think his potential.
One day, two wins, two jerseys. ProTour teams are supposed to have depth enough to be competitive at two races at once, but to sweep the day’s racing isn’t just good, we usually call it dominant.