As you may have heard, our friend and host Padraig, had a chance meeting with the ground the other day, a meeting that didn’t go so well, except that there happened to be a good plastic surgeon at the ER who put his face back together with some considerable skill. Oh, and of course, there were friends at the crash scene who made sure the ER happened and called the wife and did the things that friends do, which are simultaneously exactly what they’re supposed to do and yet also heroic and amazing.
The last time I was on the ground, I was mountain biking. The great irony is that I ended up sprawled across pavement. The trail left the woods, crossed a road and dove back into the woods. The catch was that the road edge had a slight lip on it that I quite inconveniently got my front wheel sideways to without making the subtle lift that would have made it the non-event it should have been. So there I was instead, laying in the road, windless from landing on my back. I rode on, but it hurt.
The time before that, I was riding a trail and saw a water bottle on the ground. I rolled up to it, leaned down low and plucked it off the ground. It was a brilliant maneuver until I jerked the handlebars trying to get back up straight and then of course I jackknifed the bike and catapulted myself face down into the dirt. No injury, except my pride.
When I heard about Padraig’s crash, I had a moment of visceral empathy. My last two crashes have been fairly innocuous, but I know from a lifetime on the bike what that moment is like. You are rolling along doing fine. There is no reason to expect anything but more of the same, but then you are on the ground. Sometimes it is a long, slow careening. Sometimes it is a sudden violent slam. Either way, there is that crystalline moment where all the important elements of control disappear.
Even before I heard the full story of Padraig’s crash, I knew what had happened, and it hurt me.
This week’s Group Ride asks the question: What was your last meeting with the ground like? Good, bad, indifferent? Did it change you or just make your friends laugh? Do you worry about crashing? Or do you just call it the price of admission? Spare a thought for Padraig as he sips at his smoothie (liquid diet only) and waits for his face to reassemble itself.
When I got my first staff gig with a magazine part of my mission was to write all manner of how-to stuff for newbies. It was a good fit for me; previously I’d taught everything from Nordic skiing to bicycle maintenance. I really relished the ability to help flatten the learning curve for new cyclists. In addition to giving a step-by-step approach to skills like how to start and clip-in on an uphill, I’d often try to give a little background on why things were the way they were, such as what might lead you to find yourself needing to start on said hill.
Fast forward nine months and I realized that the articles I was writing were vanishing after the issue went off the newsstand. There needed to be a book that collected all this stuff. Well, it took 10 years to get the opportunity, but I did and the book was released this year.
I’ve been getting some requests from folks to purchase a signed copy, enough that I decided to put a page up in the store. As we’re getting into the holiday and gift-giving season, this could be a great gift for another cyclist in your life. Or you can forward the link to the store page to your sweetie. Either way.
And if you tell me a little something about the recipient, I’ll personalize the inscription.
Check it out here.
Of all the changes that have occurred in relationships between entities and constituents in the 21st century, communication and collaboration may be the biggest. In the case of the media, readers no longer tolerate the ivory tower approach that marked the newspapers of the 20th century. Rather than simply accept news as fact, today’s reader sees shades of perspective and have opinions, both pro and con, about the news they encounter.
Blogging has cemented the readers place in the new media, by giving you, the reader, a chance to talk back. Whether the comment is served as a second, a confirmation of the writer’s effort or a dissent signaling that the author may have it wrong, comments have legitimized and elevated the opinions of the reader, making media much more collaborative than it has been in the past.
That need to peak behind the curtain and know more about the inner workings of the media has several sources, but I suspect the biggest ingredient is suspicion. Readers are suspicious of media organizations’ relationships with their advertisers and often with their subjects as well. The quest for revenue has blurred lines that used to be sacrosanct, much the way cycling shorts used to be black. Period.
If you’ve read the About page or my profile, then you’re already aware that I am making an effort to show you around my workbench. I suppose in time I’ll reveal the metaphoric tools I use, but Red Kite Prayer is less about the execution of the work than the approach to the work itself. Put another way, I doubt you are concerned with which truing stand I use, but whether I de-tension spokes before tensioning others.
To that end, I have created a group for RKP on Facebook. Rather than create a microblog for RKP about what is up with the blog, I’ll use Facebook to signal some coming attractions and solicit more direct feedback.
Not everyone uses social networking sites and some are downright hostile to them. I had zero interest in MySpace, but after joining Facebook for the sole purpose of staying abreast of group ride news (I’m amazed by the number of choices I have in rides every day), I quickly realized its staggering ability to allow me to reconnect with old friends. It’s become a must-see on a daily basis.
Facebook will give you, the readership, a chance to initiate contact with RKP publicly, rather than only responding to a post. Something in that sounds healthy.
Like any writer, I want my work to have an audience. Knowing that my work has shaped a conversation, popular opinion or even just struck a nerve to initiate further thought on a subject is deeply satisfying. For me, it’s always been about the work, rather than a desire for fame.
So I hope you’ll understand when I tell you that the Facebook group isn’t meant to promote me, though if you want to friend me, I’m happy to confirm you. That said, I’ll do what I can to separate me as a person from my work as a writer.
Be in touch.
For most of us dyed-in-the-wool roadies, we devote a little time each week to explaining our cyclophilia to coworkers, family, head shrinkers and the occasional careless driver. Making sense of our lives to those who don’t share our love of the bicycle is difficult with the most sympathetic audience. It’s not unlike explaining a V8 engine to a dog.
But each year we get a shot at opening a window into the excitement most of us feel each and every day. When the Tour de France gets underway this year, all of America will tune in ever so slightly to find out if an American will break his own record. You and I know there are more reasons than that to make the race worth following, but if it’s a chance to hook another fan, so be it.
But catching a new fan isn’t as simple as setting the hook. Think back on the first Tour de France you followed, either in the paper, on TV or the Internet. Each of us stumbled over certain givens of bicycle racing: Teams compete, but one guy wins. There are no timeouts, no matter how bad the crash. You eat on the field. The hero today is likely the zero tomorrow.
By the time you explain all this to your mom, boss, admin or spouse, their eyes have taken that glassy sheen common to supermodels and frogs.
Enter J.P. Partland’s book Tour Fever. If there’s a better book on cycling for the non-cyclist, it must be written in a different language. He imparts with ease the particulars of the race, Anglo-centric Tour history, bike technology, insights into viewing the race and more.
As it’s a small and short volume, it’s a quick read, but be forewarned. If you fancy yourself a Tour aficionado, brush up on your facts if you gift this book to someone. It’s packed with details on the sprinter’s competition, how KOM points are tallied, not to mention the top three finishers from each year of the Tour going back to its start in 1903. There is an excellent glossary to brush up on terminology in case someone tries to stump you.
What I’m getting around to is how you ought to have a copy of the book for yourself. It makes a great reference text, the perfect tool to brush up on data during commercials. J.P. has done a remarkable job. I’m thinking of ordering a stack of them to give to my few non-cycling friends and family. One of two things is likely to happen: I’ll either find myself talking to a convert by the middle of next month, or they’ll never ask another silly question about cycling again. A win, either way you look at it.
Somewhere deep in the recesses of Rube Goldberg’s excessively geared, pulleyed and levered heart was a burning desire to improve everyday life. He is the only person on the planet who could turn Macchiavelli’s most basic truth—that the ends justify the means—into the punchline of a joke, and accidentally at that.
There was a time when every bike I owned had one detail in common … aside from dirt. They were all equipped with Flite saddles. It was the negative to my hind quarters’ positive and its soft plastic shell gave in a noticeable and pleasant way on the frost-heaved roads around my home.
Somehow, in the course of reviewing scores of bikes, I lost track of my love (and ownership) of the Flite and my ischial tuberosities were forced to adapt to a greater variety of shapes than I would weave into a work of fiction. Trying that many saddles doesn’t even make for good humor.
In 2003 I was introduced to the Aliante by Fi’zi:k. When I tell you it was love at first site, I’m serious. I beheld the object of my affection from a dozen years before, only reimagined in greater design. I braced myself for comfort.
Since my first ride on the Aliante it has been my saddle of choice. And while the Arione is Fi’zi:k’s more popular model (the most popular saddle on road bikes worldwide, in fact), I can’t imagine why they even make it. But there you have it, everyone’s ass is shaped differently and that’s why I’ve been loathe to give saddle advice.
So while I will advocate some products, believing that if you use them the quality of your cycling experience will be improved, I’ve always stopped short on saddles. It’s ironic that while I know not everyone will agree on saddle comfort, I find the Aliante so comfortable I wonder how anyone could choose another saddle. Its comfort is seemingly universal. To say this saddle is uncomfortable is tantamount to saying you didn’t shake your thing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Where were we?
Unlike some saddles, the Aliante comes in a few iterations, meaning you can spend as little as $139 at retail or nearly double that, depending on which rails and other materials are employed. Naturally, as the price goes up, weight drops; my carbon-railed version weighed only 175g. If only the leather was as undying as my love; I’ve had one recovered, twice.
We can discuss the engineering brilliance of the twin-flex carbon-kevlar shell, the gentle curve of the saddle’s pocket or its surprisingly low weight despite its generous padding, but there’s not much point. At the end of the discussion a saddle either works or you try another. I’ll keep trying saddles and there are some good ones out there, but you’ll always be able to tell a bike I own from a bike I’m reviewing. Just check the what’s mounted to the seatpost.
In the early 1990s the cycling world rumbled with displeasure at the incredible success of mountain biker Juli Furtado and road racer Lance Armstrong. Furtado went a whole season undefeated until she DNF’d at the World Championships. Armstrong wasn’t winning everything in sight, but his shockingly successful season, culminating with a solo win at World’s had folks worried that he might corner the market on the V.
Every few years a rider comes along who initially stuns us with their brilliance. We revel in the miracle of their skill and bravado. We celebrate them as the newest confection at the candy shop, our latest favorite. Lance Armstrong’s 1999 Tour de France victory remade him for us. He was as fresh as a newly picked strawberry. The second harvest and even the third were just as delectable.
But invariably, we tire of the new flavor. My personal stomach upset came with Miguel Indurain’s fourth victory in the Tour de France. He was precise. He was consistent. He displayed nothing so much as data. I felt like I was watching a clock tick for all the emotion he betrayed.
On group rides talk of Armstrong has turned sour. While he still has some fans; my informal tally of what I hear is that most riders not only don’t want to see him win another Tour de France, they don’t even want to see him play his own card; support Contador or go home seems to be the dominant theme.
Judging from the comments here on RKP, Cavendish’s two successive stage wins threaten to cast him with the same distasteful brand of dominance that caused us to turn on Furtado, twice on Armstrong and Indurain; before them there were others we turned on, but it has been long enough that most are too young or too old to remember how we tired of Eddy Merckx’s unwillingness to leave behind table scraps.
The problem with a dominant rider isn’t success per se, it’s political. The rider who wins too much becomes a tyrant. We may not be socialists, but our sense of what is fair is that no one wins in straight sets day after day.
So what if Cavendish were to sense our reluctance to celebrate his brilliance and deliberately botch a sprint. As unlikely as that scenario is, we’d disdain him even more for not giving his best; the only thing worse than a gift used too much is a gift poorly used.
I like the bravado that comes with Cavendish. Clearly Columbia has developed the most effective leadout train since Cipollini’s; yes, I think they do a better job than Petacchi’s teams did. When he compared his competitors to juniors, it was a refreshing bit of smack-talk. Thems fightin’ words!
I do have one issue with Cavendish. He wins so much he seems to think he needs to keep changing his victory salutes to keep them fresh, or different, or something. As a result, they end up looking contrived. I get that Columbia-HTC has a new sponsor (the aforementioned HTC). What’s more: I get that HTC makes phones. What I don’t get is the need to remind us with a silly I’m-making-a-call victory salute. One might wonder if he was just phoning his victory in.
We love a true champion. And I’m willing to follow Cavendish as he takes stage win after stage win. I hope in the high mountains we get occasional glimpses of him suffering as he does what’s necessary to earn that green jersey he is wearing. But if I could ask for one thing from him, it wouldn’t be to win less, it would be to drop the predetermined victory salutes. Forethought is to passion what math is to art.
Cav, if you want to keep me, keep the rest of us as fans, show us how you really feel when you win. Drop the artifice and give us a guy who is just as thrilled to win this as he was his first race as a junior.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International.
I’ve been watching the Tour de France for a fair number of years. I’m still a student of the race and love to watch any film and video I run across. In my memory, relative to their years, the three best sprinters I’ve seen were Alessandro Petacchi, Mario Cipollini and Jean-Paul van Poppel.
I’m aware that Erik Zabel tops these guys for the sheer number of green jerseys he won, but he didn’t have the acceleration Petacchi, Cipollin and van Poppel had.
That’s what separated them from the garden-variety, faster-than-a-speeding-Ferrari sprinter—their stunning acceleration. From helicopter shots you could see the pedal stroke in which they unleashed their full power, as incandescent as the light that comes with a switch. In two pedal strokes you could see their relationship change to the riders around them; they simply gained more ground.
One of my favorite shots of all time was of a head-on finish from the ’87 Tour in which van Poppel in his Superconfex-Yoko jersey has taken the V. and has four of the race’s finest sprinters lined up, at least a length behind him. Outclassed is, I think, the technical term. It’s easy, in these more cynical times to wonder if maybe he was on something, but my speculation ends at the idea that his competitors were almost certainly on whatever he was on. Move along, nothing to see here.
At their absolute best, Cipollini and Petacchi both could drop riders during a sprint; Petacchi once dropped Cipo. But in each of the examples I can think of, Petacchi and Cipo gapped guys who … well most of us never thought they were up to the task.
In Stage 2 of the 2009 Tour de France we got a rare look. We saw the man who is arguably the world’s finest sprinter drop, yes drop, another sprinter who is undoubtedly in his ascendancy. With Tyler Farrar fixed squarely to his wheel, Mark Cavendish simply rode away from him.
Normally, when one fine sprinter is on the wheel of an even great sprinter, they will at least hold on and come off their wheel to gain a foot or two as they cross the line. The gain isn’t enough for the win, but they at least claw back some distance, now matter how tiny. Farrar is, to his credit, a young guy at the top of his game. He’s sure to get better, but he’s as fast as he has ever been and yet, he simply couldn’t match the acceleration of Cavendish while firmly planted on his wheel. This is significant because he was fast enough not to have to fight for Cavendish’s wheel and yet, Elvis left the building. Indeed, Farrar was so fast, no one could even come around him.
Cavendish is better than the other sprinters by order of magnitude. He’s like the guy fast enough to race the Pro/I/II event but keeps racing the IIIs just to have the chance to win. Cavendish needs a mandatory upgrade. Too bad there’s no one fast enough to compete against him.
The real question for the flat stages of this year’s Tour will be if anyone can ever outfox Columbia-HTC to beat Cavendish to the line.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International.
When the La Vie Claire team members each took the start house at the Boulogne prologue in the 1986 Tour de France, they were the finest team ever assembled. They were to cycling what the supergroup Asia was to rock music only a few years before: immensely talented, privileged, volatile … stars.
Over 23 days that July Greg LeMond and Berhard Hinault, as assisted by Andy Hampsten, Niki Rutimann, Jean-Francois Bernard, Steve Bauer, Charly Berard, Alaign Vigneron, Philippe Leleu and Guido Winterberg all but destroyed the field. King of the Mountains leader Robert Millar, favored by some to win the mountainous edition of the race quit after contracting bronchitis. Eventual third place, Urs Zimmerman finish nearly 11 minutes down on LeMond.
By the time the team members retired, they had amassed a record unequaled to this day. Though some of these results came with other teams, the results speak for themselves; no other team has amassed such talent. Hinault and LeMond split eight Tour de France wins between them. The various members scored 11 other top-10 finishes. They combined for a total of 41 stage wins and Hinault, LeMond, Bernard and Bauer spent a total 110 days in yellow. Banesto doesn’t even come close.
As it happens, the 2009 Astana team can’t match that record. Armstrong and Contador have eight combined victories and 79 total days in the yellow jersey. Armstrong, Contador and Leipheimer account for 24 stage wins. Team members Andreas Kloden, Levi Leipheimer and Haimar Zubeldia have nine top-10 finishes between them. It’s an impressive record, but not the ’86 La Vie Claire team. Or is it?
If we compare apples to apples, then we must consider the record of the La Vie Claire on July 4, 1986 to the record of Astana on July 4, 2009. Once we turn the clock back to the start house in Boulogne, we have a significantly different record. When Bernard Hinault rolled out of the start house clad in yellow, the team had the following resume: five Tour de France victories, three other top-10 finishes (two from LeMond and one from Hinault), 26 stage wins and 69 total days in yellow.
While La Vie Claire leads in stage wins with 26 to 24, Astana takes game and set with eight overall victories and 79 days in yellow. When you factor in the successes of the team directors, the single victory Paul Koechli could claim withers when compared to Johan Bruyneels 11 victories. Let’s put this in perspective, the L.A. Lakers’ coach, Phil Jackson, has shaped the careers of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, two of basketball’s greatest stars, and in so doing has earned 10 NBA victories. It’s a record for the sport.
After Bruyneel’s 11 wins, the next best record in cycling is that of Cyrille Guimard, who led Lucien van Impe, Hinault, Laurent Fignon and LeMond to seven victories. The difference alone—four—would make any other director’s career.
Okay, so the ’09 Astana team is the best team ever assembled, even with Dmitriy Muravyev. What does it mean for the race, though? It means that to win the Tour de France, a team will need more than one GC rider. The team will have to have a strong team to cover Astana’s moves.
It means that teams such as Marc Sergeant’s Silence-Lotto are more than unlikely to win the race. In 2008, despite crashing, Cadel Evans would likely have won the race if his team hadn’t been so thin. Sergeant’s unwillingness to re-sign the one rider Evans said he needed (the hapless Chris Horner) and his willingness to sign a rider released for irregular blood values, Thomas Dekker (the peloton’s most recent positive for EPO), show his judgment is lacking.
Jonathan Vaughters is smart enough to direct a team to victory and has done an excellent job of assembling talent. However, Christian Vande Velde will need something like a miracle to reach the podium, let alone the yellow jersey.
Carlos Sastre’s Cervelo Test Team isn’t even planning to try to win the Tour. Either they are taking the most comical reverse-psychology approach to victory yet devised or they understand reality and have adapted accordingly. I hope it’s the latter.
The best Ag2r-Mondiale, Agritubel, Bbox Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Francaise des Jeux, Lampre-N.G.C., Liquigas, Quickstep, Skil-Shimano, Team Katusha and Team Milram can hope for is a stage win or two and maybe a day or two in yellow, provided the stars align.
We might as well lump Caisse d’Epargne in there as well. Oscar Periero has as much chance of winning the Tour as he does winning the prologue.
Columbia-HTC and Rabobank are in the same boat as Silence-Lotto: Sure, a Corvette is fast, but it’s hardly capable of competing in F1.
Bjarne Riis is literally the only director with the intelligence and the necessary depth of talent to meet the Astana challenge. While Andy Schleck has been advanced as the team’s lead, the presence of brother Frank gives Riis the necessary firepower to wield a two-pronged attack.
If ever the was a year when teams should forge alliances the way individual riders used to, this is it. Saxo Bank working in tandem with Columbia, Silence-Lotto or Columbia-HTC is the best chance the peloton has of beating Astana.
Strap in sports fans, this will be one for the ages.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International.
Part of what I do in my work is to make sense of the world around us, given our cycling-centric view. Giving a great review to a product that’s been on the market since Fausto Coppi last won the Tour de France is just me sticking up for reliability and serviceability, ideals I believe in. Regarding other ideals, I have spoken out a lot against doping and the problems with both the dopers and the enforcement; the riders and the UCI both need to know that we are paying attention.
Every now and then someone outside of cycling throws us a bone. Jet Blue, as part of a joint promotion with Versus, is waiving its $50 fee on checked bikes for the month of July. We can take the cynical route and say, “Yeah, but they’ll absorb the loss as a marketing expense.” Let’s not.
The fees airlines charge cyclists wouldn’t seem such an outrage if we new that all other sporting equipment are hit with the same fees. Knowing we pay fees unheard of to golfers triggers my insult-to-injury response. The airline industry may be hurting, but gouging one user group won’t win any loyalty and can alienate people in a hurry.
Fares are all over the place right now, but saving $100 can make any trip more affordable. If you’re flying this month, give Jet Blue a look.
From Jet Blue’s press release:
“We continue to find ways to make the trip on JetBlue as enjoyable as the destination for our customers, and that means giving them more than the other guys — whether it’s a free checked bike to celebrate the race, more legroom, more free snacks and drinks, better customer service or more access to the most-talked about sporting events of the season,” said Sam Kline, senior analyst of Product Development for JetBlue Airways. “A lot can happen in the world of cycling on a six-hour long haul flight, but thanks to our live satellite TV programming and our dedicated channel for VERSUS this July, our customers won’t miss a minute of the action.”
“Once again VERSUS will air wall-to-wall and in-depth coverage of the Tour de France in July both super-serving hardcore cycling fans and big event viewers. We’re proud to partner with JetBlue for the sixth straight year so that sports fans can have access to one of the greatest competitions in all of sports even when they’re in the air,” said Marc Fein, Executive Vice President of Programming, Production and Business Operations for VERSUS.
In addition to its home town of New York City, JetBlue jets to some of the biggest cycling cities in the country, including: Austin, Texas; Chicago, Ill.; Denver, Colo.; Portland, Ore.; Richmond, Va.;Rochester, N.Y.; San Diego, Calif.; San Francisco, Calif.; and Seattle, Wash.
I spent the 1980s working toward a career in music. I planned to make my living as a drummer and the thought of playing one stale beer-smelling club after another sounded to me like job security. Just as the band I was playing in began venturing out to clubs beyond our immediate area code, the percussionist Gary Burton published a book called “A Musician’s Guide to the Road.”
Burton’s book was a Godsend musicians all over the world. It was filled with brilliant strategies for flying with musical instruments (arrive very early) and finding clubs in cities you don’t know (put one guy in a cab and follow him).
As important as Burton’s book was to me at the time, I can say without reservation Graham Watson has created a book that is vastly superior. I predict English-language Michelin Green Guide sales will plummet in the wake of the release of this new VeloPress volume.
Watson has been covering the Tour de France for more than 30 years. It’s not a record, but it does give him serious street cred when giving advice about following the world’s most popular annual sporting event. After all, whose advice do you want on the Tour de France—the race promoter? A team director? One of the racers? Or a guy who sees every single day from the seat of a motorcycle for the soul purpose of getting great photographs to document the exploits of men we have on occasion confused with gods.
The book is broken into six chapters, one each devoted to planning your trip, following the race, a primer on France, the geography, the great climbs and getting your own photographs. It includes a great many maps and they display exactly the information cyclists will find most useful.
I tell you this: Watson has just broadcast a great many bicycle tour operators’ most guarded secrets. Fishing guides have killed for less.
Honestly, given that Michelin published a guide to the wine regions of France, I can’t fathom why the venerable caretaker of travel never undertook a guide to le Tour. But on reading Watson’s guide, his expert insight into hotel availability (like trying to get tickets to a Springsteen concert), the great riders who hail from the various towns and his ability to translate the French sensibility for the foreign tourist means that Michelin’s effort could never match this.
Of course, no book by Watson would be complete without his stunning images. You’ve seen many of these before, but his crowd and leisure shots are lip-smackingly evocative. He reveals how he gets some of his shots, the competition to get unique shots and the challenge of trying to do stellar work in less than stellar conditions. No one will read this book and contemplate the life of race photographer. At least no one with a proper sense of comfort.
The writing is surprisingly fresh and immediate. He’s even funny at times; in all, the writing is better than I expected. However, what most impresses me about the book isn’t the quality of the prose, it’s that he really captures the reality of following the race. A book of random details could easily miss the bigger picture, the enormity of the event. His in-between-the-lines insights are what make this book a gem.
I’ve used a great many books in following the Tour on the occasions I’ve been there. And while I enjoy doing the research, there’s no doubt that Watson’s book could have made my research less time-consuming … and even more enjoyable.