Much about professional cycling can be understood in terms of the Brady Bunch, that late ’60s, early ’70s television confection that taught a whole lot of us American types exactly how to function within the confines of an idyllic suburban milieu. The Brady Bunch took everyday family problems, turned their volume up to 11 and broke off the knob. If I hadn’t seen that one episode (“Mail Order Hero”) in which Bobby fakes a terminal illness to get a visit from his hero, Jets’ quarterback Joe Namath, then I most certainly would have employed that strategy to win a visit from my own “hero” of the time, Farrah Fawcett.
Whew, that was a close one.
The Grand Tours are like the Brady girls, Marsha, Jan and Cindy. Sure, Marsha (the Tour) is the oldest, prettiest and the one whose route you’d most like to explore, but she’s so conceited and self-centered sometimes. Seriously, high maintenance girls/Grand Tours can be so much more trouble than they’re worth. Jan (the Giro), on the other hand, is smarter and more well-rounded and probably deserves more lines in the show. She has a subtle sophistication that Marsha lacks. You could spend your whole life with her, grow old together, raise small tours of your own, like Suisse or Eneco. Cindy (the Vuelta) is just cute as hell, but it’s hard to build a whole show around her. She has that adorable lisp, and you’re just sure that when she grows up, in that future that never comes on television, she’s going to be a real knock out.
To carry the metaphor to the next, and even more absurd, level, the Tour of California is Mrs. Brady, not your first choice, but you’d do her. Come on, she (it) is gorgeous. The Tour of Oman is Alice, the maid. Her timing is all wrong, and she’s not pretty, but you can’t help but feel she brings something necessary (warm weather training) to the show.
The three big component makers, Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM are like the Brady boys. Campy is Greg. He’s the oldest. He’s a bit of a playboy, but also sort of a mess. Shimano is Peter, the middle child. He’s the go-to if you need to get something done, because you get less drama than with Greg. Sure, he’s prone to fits of fancy, like that one time when he imagined he was a great detective, prancing about the tiny screen with a deerstalker hat on (Di2 anyone?), but ultimately Peter is your friend. When everyone else is at tryouts for football or cheerleading, Peter is on the couch, doing his homework. SRAM is Bobby, the young upstart. Bobby’s got real potential. He learns the most from his mistakes. He’s going to be a solid grown up.
The Brady house is actually a good metaphor for the pro peloton as a whole. Mr. Brady is an architect, he designs other people’s houses, i.e. he sets the style for how other people race and ride. The Brady house was, at the time, a super cool, modern design that all suburban families were jealous of. It managed to be futuristically perfect for a family of eight, plus maid and dog, but also homey and comfortable. Just like the peloton of that time, though, the Brady house looks hopelessly dated through today’s eyes. What was once cutting edge, now looks sort of silly, like Greg LeMond’s time trial helmet.
I shouldn’t pretend to understand really. I’m just Tiger, the family pet, out in a small house of my own in the backyard, only sporadically involved in the show, never really allowed in the house for fear I’ll ruin the furniture.
It’s getting to that time of year. The wind blows cold. The sun sets early. Rain falls. The garage door rises, and I wheel out my bike. My breath bursts in a cloud in front of my face.
These are make or break moments.
After a summer of constant pedaling and an early autumn of blissfully lowered temperatures, we’re getting to the hard part now, when throwing your leg over the bike requires that little extra bit of motivation.
I’ve just christened a new bicycle, a sweet, blue, steel Torelli (full disclosure: Torelli is an RKP advertiser) with a brand new SRAM Rival kit. White saddle. White bar tape. White pedals. Hammered tin head badge. Very handsome.
What is more motivating than a brand new ride? Nothing. Nothing is more motivating.
I have spent the last weeks acclimating myself to DoubleTap® technology, learning the ways of Sampson pedals, retuning myself to a new gear array, fine tuning saddle position. These are excellent distractions to have when the weather turns.
Of course, it’s less than ideal to take a shiny new thing and subject it immediately to rain and grime and sand and grit. I hesitated at first, but the hesitation was fleeting. I just couldn’t see the sense in lying to my new bike. It’s dirty work being my bicycle. Robots don’t feel cold and wet. They require bikes that are similarly oblivious.
And so, we’ve been running the river in all of fall’s best and worst conditions. We’ve climbed our hill in the cold darkness, and we’ve climbed it with torrents of rain flowing down the asphalt. We’ve pounded through the flats and spun through traffic.
When I ordered my new bicycle from the kind folks at Torelli, they offered me the option to customize paint and decals. I chose a less logo-y look, one they themselves recommended, thus the hammered tin head badge, and a small decal down low on the seat tube just above the bottom bracket that reads “Made in Italy.”
When I am head down into the wind and wondering if I will be able to make the cut this year, if I will be able to face up to another winter in the saddle, I look down at that small sticker and know that I will.
Twelve years ago the Sea Otter Classic was a collection of bike races with some industry friendliness thrown in. It is an unusual event in that it embraces nearly every discipline of bike racing going. Back then, people hung out to watch the racing and during the road events, Laguna Seca’s famed corkscrew would host dozens of spectators. Mountain bike teams would set up their rigs in the infield and a handful of companies would set up small expo booths.
There’s road racing, cross-country, downhill, dual slalom and more. Throw in a 24-hour event, an alley cat and some track racing and all that would be missing would be the West Coast’s first spring ‘cross race. Yes, Virginia, there is a pump track if air time is more important to you than speed.
Today, the Sea Otter boasts an enormous expo, larger than Mammoth Mountain’s was back in the late ‘90s. Every company that has a serious presence in racing has a rig there to support their race programs and generally provide limited support to their customers. Bike shops sell everything from tires and tubes to helmets and cassettes. Frame builders show off their latest creations.
There’s stuff for kids to do, right down to races of their own. And they can meet the Sea Otter mascot.
Periodically, attendees will see a cordoned-off area with a bunch of (mostly male) journalists taking notes and pictures with impossibly small cameras. The fact is, Sea Otter has becoming the go-to locale for product introductions that weren’t ready for the prime time of Interbike. Truly, unveiling a product at Sea Otter can be advantageous to a company. How many story lines can you really hope for the press to cover at Interbike? For those companies constantly on the move, Sea Otter gives you a way to space out product intros so that a company can get press on a more year-round basis.
SRAM took the opportunity to announce another road group, Apex. So what’s the big deal? Gearing. With Apex, SRAM has slain the triple. Apex does a good deal more, though.
With a possible low gear of 34×32, Apex can get any cyclist up any hill. It carries a suggested retail price of $749, which is impressive given that Apex enjoys a 10-speed cassette and can be used to build up a 16-lb. bike. Theoretically, it will appear on bikes as inexpensive as $1500.
Some years ago I wrote that Shimano’s 9-speed Ultegra group was the best value in road groups ever produced. It was available in both double and triple versions, could easily build a 17-lb. bike and could be purchased at retail for $600. All in all, a fantastic value. I stood by that analysis until Friday. Last Friday.
Apex has the ability to make road cycling friendly to a great many people. I’ve seen plenty of new roadies ride around in a 39×23 and ask me what to do if they encounter a hill. Those days are—once and for all—over.
Apex comes in four
cassette sizes: 11-23, 11-26, 11-28 and 11-32. Walk into any shop in America and you can talk to a salesman who has sold mountain bikes just because the customer was overweight and was concerned about having gears low enough to get up a hill near home. Apex solves that issue—even for San Francisco. SRAM refers to the new system as WiFLi—Wider, Faster and Lighter.
Two different rear derailleurs were designed for Apex. The 11-23 and 11-26 cassettes work with a traditional short-cage derailleur while the 11-28 and 11-32 work with a longer cage version. Price and gearing are the only details that make Apex noteworthy. Everything else about the group is just very … SRAM. By that I mean the levers feel like every other SRAM lever I’ve ever used.
One of my issues with Shimano’s more affordable groups has been the degradation of shifting performance and lever feedback as price drops. In the Sora and Tiagra groups it’s been bad enough that I always steer people away from bikes equipped with those groups. By contrast, the Apex levers feature very firm spring response. There’s no mistaking when or how far you’ve shifted.
I refuse to discuss Campy’s “affordable” groups in this post. I haven’t seen anything less expensive than Chorus on the road in years. For reasons I can’t explain, I’m suddenly reminded of the scene in American Beauty—“It’s all I smoke … It’s $1000 an ounce.”
Similarly, the brakes feel like every other set of SRAM brakes I’ve used. In short, they stop. The constantly shifting sand underlying Shimano brake performance can be a colossal frustration. And since when did a less expensive bike have a reduced need to stop? Does it really make sense than Dura-Ace, Shimano’s most expensive group, would have the greatest stopping power? I’m thinking new riders want to be convinced they’ll stop in plenty of time. After all, a good deal of getting a new rider into roadiedom is reassuring them that they will have sufficient control over their bike.
The cranks come in three versions: 53/39, 50/36 and what is likely to be the most popular, the 50/34. And because we’re talking SRAM, they are available in lengths from 165mm to 180mm.
So after sitting through the dog and pony show, I headed back to the booth the next day for a test ride of the group. We’d do a 1.5-hr. loop culminating in the climb back into Laguna Seca. For those who have never visited the race track, the access road is a roughly 1-mile climb that reaches grades of 16 percent. Armed with a 34×32 low gear, we were assured we could remain seated for the whole of the climb.
Our guide for the ride was Michael Zellman (above), the PR manager for road products at SRAM. One of the features of Apex is its compatibility with other SRAM groups. To prove the point, Michael substituted the rear derailleur on his Red group for Apex and replaced his Red cassette with an Apex 11-32 cassette (probably added a longer chain, too). Boom. Mountain climbing machine.
Of course, the big question regarding the cassette is the spacing. Little known secret: You are most apt to notice a problem with spacing when you’re at or above threshold. If the jump is too big, you’re heart rate will go up just out of sheer frustration. I tend to notice this when I’m upshifting to find a bit more meat and my concern was that jump from 32 to 28. It wasn’t a problem. The biggest jumps come elsewhere in the cassette.
While I’d like to have a chance to get 1000 or so miles on the group, what I can say for now is this: In a pinch, you could easily do a fast group ride with the 11-32 cassette. It’s true that a triple would offer smaller jumps between gears; however, most triples will replicate roughly six gears and weigh an extra 10-15 percent more than the Apex solution. And Apex gives you more low-end and more high-end gearing than the average triple would.
This is, in all likelihood, the best value in road groups we’ll see for years to come.
Cutting the chase: the image above, which I snapped on the way back into Laguna Seca and right about where you’re certain that a 16-percent grade can only be attributed to engineering compromised by methamphetamine is, I believe, the lasting image that SRAM would like to convey. On the right, the past. On the left, the present.
Stay tuned for a more in-depth review.
My first experience with Sampson products came back in 1987 when a coworker at the bike shop I worked at bought a Centurion Ironman spec’d with Sampson pedals. For those of you who don’t recall these pedals, they featured an unusual L-shaped cleat that wrapped around the back of the pedal. They featured a unique clutch that held the pedal in place after you clipped out so that upon clipping in again it was in (hopefully) exactly the right position to clip in without fumbling around with your shoes.
The cleats were very difficult to walk in and broke. A lot. I wasn’t exactly impressed.
A few years went by and I received a test bike from Sampson. It was made from Reynolds 853 steel. For construction, Eric Sampson sought out Reynolds’ famous frame shop in Nottingham, England. This was the frame shop where all the Ti-Raleigh frames were built, a shop with as much history as there is to be found in the bike industry. The bike included a few different Sampson components, including cranks.
The bike was one of my favorites of the quartet that I reviewed. My opinion of Sampson changed dramatically.
Since then, I’ve reviewed two more Sampson bikes. Each time, he has done something essentially unknown among his competitors: He calls me and asks me what could be better. Invariably, I get another call a few months later in which he tells me about what changes he was able to make to respond to my suggestions.
I confess, during these calls I rock back in forth in my chair, grinning at my obscene power. Weekly calls of this sort could give me an ego transportable only by 18-wheeler.
So a couple of weeks ago I received a pair of the new s5 pedals. They feature steel spindles, a lightweight alloy body, a 62mm-wide cleat platform, three cartridge bearings and a cam-graduated hinge to make entry easier. The s6 pedals feature a titanium spindle.
Sampson claims a weight of 121g per pedal. My test pedals weighed exactly 121g each (the titanium model has a claimed weight of only 99g per pedal). I was so dumbfounded, I weighed them a second time. I can’t recall the last time a weight was accurate to the gram. Eric says he weighed at least eight pairs himself just to make sure the weight was dead-on.
Eric says that unlike most competitors’ pedals the contact plate on the s5 is replaceable to allow you to keep the look of the pedals new. The spring tension is also very adjustable thanks to a 20-position indexed Allen bolt. The cleats mount via a standard three-hole mounting pattern.
I’ve been a Speedplay X user for more than 10 years. While I have some other pedals at my disposal, Speedplays have been my pedals of choice. Non-Speedplay users tend to be critical of the system, pointing out how shoes will rock side-to-side when the cleats are worn. I tend to replace my cleats pretty frequently and never have any complaints about rocking or the amount of float when using them. It feels perfectly natural.
Okay, so that said, the Sampson’s are striking for their secure feeling. My cleats featured no float, which added to the ultra-positive power transfer. Entry and release is easy enough. I’ve set the release tension pretty low; thrashers afraid of unwanted release can increase tension dramatically.
Suggested retail for the s5 is $139, while the s6 goes for $239. Initially, they will be available in red and white. My test pedals are pre-production; they should be available in black in June.
I’m not sure there’s much more to say about a pair of pedals other than they are light, easy to get into and release and, best of all, provide a secure platform. By comparison both the Dura-Ace 7800 and 7810 pedals—while good pedals—they are heavier than the Sampsons, don’t feel quite as secure and are more expensive. Same for the Look Keo Sprint.
For years I wrote that Sampson products were a terrific value because they typically offered 85 percent of the performance of the top-drawer stuff for 50 percent of the cost. Those days are gone. He said he wants to compete head-to-head with companies like Shimano. After riding these pedals, there’s no denying that they are a great alternative to Shimano and Look.
It’s been a little while since we last spoke to Richard and with ‘Cross Nats just around the corner, it seemed a fine time to catch up about all things ‘cross.
RKP: Richard, you’ve been racing on the road since Sean Kelly was a junior, yet you turned to cyclocross relatively recently and quickly became a big convert. What brought this about?
RS: I don’t think “recently” is accurate. I was at the World’s in London’s Crystal Palace in 1973 when Eric De Vlaeminck won his seventh title and also witnessed the first-ever USA team compete in what was the amateur event earlier in the day. I was hooked then!
RKP: You’ve been legendary in New England for sponsoring racers over the years. How many years have you supported a team of some sort?
RS: As a sponsor, I started doing a ‘cross thing in the middle 1990s as part of the NECSA Junior Development program that I was a bicycle supplier to. The success of that spawned some relationships that took my commercial and benevolent interests to the next level by 1998 or so. I was having more fun in the ‘cross environment than I can recall ever having on the road. The people, the venues, the racing, the time of the year—all of it drew me in and I have never left!
For the record, the Richard Sachs Cyclocross Team as presently known it began 12 years ago. On the road side, the sponsorship program that launched all of this in the early 1980s ended by 2003.
RKP: You’ve sponsored some big names in cyclocross including Jonathan Page and Adam Myerson. How is it that you came to sponsor such accomplished athletes as these and others?
RS: I have never recruited a rider. Both of these cats you name approached me. In 1999 if I recall the chronology correctly, Jonathan called from the airport on his way to spend the several months in Germany. His was a comeback of sorts since he was away one full season focusing on off-road with the Diamondback team. He had no ride for 1999 and took a chance to call me. I said “yes” after thinking about it for a day or so. We Fedexed him a box with two frames, kits, and whatever we had to offer. I first saw him later that year when he arrived home for the Natz in KC, the winter storm event that no one will ever forget, due to the conditions.
Adam’s was a different story and his began in 1996. He approached me at the Tour of Somerville regarding a ‘cross sponsorship. It was a privateer thing, separate from what I was doing with NECSA. The liaison was a complete success from the start. Adam was the consummate pro and marketer. He knew at an early age what the sponsor-racer relationship entailed and gave more than good value for all involved. After two seasons sponsoring Adam alone, we rolled his situation into the NECSA fold for another season or so.
For the record, Adam was our team’s and our brand’s first-ever National Champion (Collegiate Men) and Jonathan, three years after he first signed with us, became our fifth or sixth Stars and Stripes winner with a superb ride at Napa.
RKP: You’re a one-man shop and pay another guy (Joe Bell) to actually paint your frames. Your wait list will outlast the Obama administration and you aren’t taking new orders. Why persist in sponsoring racers if it isn’t really going to contribute to your bottom line? Is this your version of tithing?
RS: I started a team sponsorship program in 1983 and haven’t taken a break from the sport since. At the front end, I sponsored because I was once sponsored. It’s as simple as that. Through all the years, all of the riders, all the sponsors who have helped along the way and have ultimately moved on, one constant is that I continue to support a team because when I was a serious racer (on the road) I had the good fortune of receiving support. There’s no reason to think about it more deeply than that atmo.
RKP: Let’s take a moment to talk about your team’s resume. Would you please refresh my memory of all the big wins and epic performances riders have delivered aboard your frames?
RS: Regarding ‘cross, I am fond of summoning up the fact that we (not me, the team…) have won ten National Championships since 1997. Several were U23 events, some were Juniors, one was a Women’s 30-34 race, several were at the Collegiate level, and one was Page’s win in the Elite Men’s division. I am going by memory now, but I think RS ‘Cross Team riders have raced at the World Championships at least eight different times. Actually, with regard to wins and epic performances, these are and have always been the icing on the cake. My first, last, and in between laundry lists for the sport, the support, and for the riders involved are, 1) represent the sponsors superbly well, 2) do everything it takes in a four month period to make great memories so that, down the road, we all look at each venue, and every weekend and wish we could bottle it all and make it last forever, and 3) help our fellow team mates achieve as many personal racing goals as possible.
(For background read this: http://rscyclocross.blogspot.com/2009/09/19-september-2009-memo-to-richard-sachs.html).
RKP: But it doesn’t end there does it? Judging from your team newsletters, you have been delivering some spankings to the other old guys in New England. You’ve had a good season this year, no?
RS: Results-wise, this has been our deepest season yet. Personally, my goals for 2009 were to race well at all the venues that were priorities for the team. These include the UCI races, the USGP events, and the Verge Points series here in the northeast. I also want a top ten at the Natz in Bend. So far I have won five times—Grenogue, twice at the USGP in Trenton, and then another two times at the NACT races in Southampton, New York. In the Verge Points series I have hovered between third and fifth all season and the last two events are this weekend. On the national level, in the USA Cycling Men’s Masters Cyclocross Rankings, I recently fell from first to fourth in all riders between the ages of 30 and 99, but still have a decent lead in the 55-59 grouping in which I mostly compete. And what can I say about Pookums, a.k.a. Matt Kraus? He was second at the Natz in 2008 in the Masters 35-39 division and finally, after a good long career in the Elites, decided to focus on age-graded racing. Matt has won a bunch so far this fall and is on track for another high finish in Oregon. Dan Timmerman and Josh Dillon are also on their games this season and the long term results speak to that. They are leading the Verge Series in first and second overall, and Dan also is in fifth place in the USA Cycling’s standings for those Elite Men racing in events on the Cyclocross National Calendar. Dan has won at least four UCI events and between him and Josh, the pair has podiumed at least seven times. Will Dugan, reigning 2009 Collegiate National Champion, is also having another fine year with us with many top tens going back to early September. Will’s focus for ‘cross includes parsing out his efforts and using the Natz as the Golden Fleece for the season, after which he’ll start life as a pro roadie with Team Type One. His first training camp with them comes within ten days of the races in Bend next weekend!
RKP: From the photos I’ve seen, your team travels together pretty much, even parking together at the races. It’s a pretty tight-knit bunch it seems. How deliberate is this on your part?
RS: Yes, it’s all part of the plan. The deal is this: we’re a bunch of pals who race. We race hard and often, and our priorities have become the UCI level events. We travel well, stay together, share lots of mid-week emails and laughs, and live for the weekend. ‘Cross fukcing rules atmo, and all that. We’re more like an extended family, a troupe, a private club, a cabal—I could go on….
RKP: You parted ways some weeks back with upcoming talent Amy Dombroski. She says she left the team, but rider contracts normally require agreement from the sponsor as well. I was blown away that anyone would want to leave such a successful formation. Why did she leave?
RS: I initially heard from Amy in the summer of 2007 when she asked for a spot on the RS ‘Cross Team. We had a full roster by that point so I declined. She asked a second time this past May and I thought it could be a good fit, particularly because we had no representation in the women’s field. We went back and forth on how the program works, what the schedule includes, and she was on board with us by late June.
I maintain contact with the riders on the team electronically. Countless emails and phone conversations are exchanged with all members of the team leading up to September, and everyone is CC’d on everything. All know full well by the summer what the plan is for the fall. We are a fully sponsored, soup-to-nuts team and completely looked after by a host of industry suppliers. For the sake of transparency, I should mention here that Amy refused to use the wheels the rest of us were racing (as well as winning on) at all. After agonizing over this very difficult situation that began before ‘Cross Vegas and having to repeatedly address this issue for over a month, I gave Amy an ultimatum: She could either comply with the standards we have in writing and each agreed to way back in June, or all liaisons with my team and its support system would end immediately.
After exhaustive exchanges about stationary weight versus rolling weight, chats about commitment and integrity, and doing all I could to pacify the needs of the sponsorship program without actually going Jersey on one of my riders, I accepted a compromise from Amy. She asked me if I could buy some wheels (from the sponsor) that she deemed light enough to pass her smell test. I ordered two sets of these wheels, delivered them to her in time for USGP in Kentucky, and was happy to see that she podiumed there that weekend. As I routinely do, I spammed out all the pic links to my sponsors on Monday. Cole was ecstatic to hear the news. Finally, after over a month of excuses about the wheels and the brand, she (Amy) finally had a set of Cole wheels in her frame at a race. I’ll add here that, despite Amy’s assertion that her Cole wheels would make her uncompetitive, she had never even USED Cole wheels up until the USGP in Kentucky—or so I thought. I cannot tell you how disappointed I am that all of this revolves around a judgment call about some parts that were never ever pedaled.
But I digress. Upon spamming out the pics I zeroed in on an image or three and realized that these were not Cole wheels at all. After receiving the very wheels Amy asked me to get so that this unfortunate chapter would sink into the past, she took the stickers off the rims and applied them to whatever she was using all along. When I called her to the mat on this, she apologized and admitted to the deception. There’s more to it than I can write here, and all of it is tethered to what I consider a complete lack of respect for a system of support that works extremely well. I thought the ordeal, especially after all the excuses I had to make for her, and all the hand-holding that occurred—after all of this, the relabeling debacle was a major league slap in the face atmo. That’s when I decided to open a window and ask her to come in and fulfill the obligations we all made to each other in the summer, or leave through it.
Looking back on the situation, the issues, the arrogance, and the cavalier attitude that I was met with through every conversation I had with her regarding the wheels and related stuff—it was a very bad rider-sponsor relationship. I have to take blame and responsibility for some of it because I could have been more direct about the wheel thing as soon as I sensed there was a problem. I hoped it would right itself with some prodding, peer pressure, and some long race weekends where the team’s energy would somehow communicate that her choices and actions were wrong and counterproductive. That it lasted until mid October will always be on my conscience because I believed we had a good solid foundation of support and trust, and were well on the way to becoming friends in addition to being teammates. And I’ll further qualify that by adding that, in all of my years running a team, I have never had a bad rider-sponsor relationship.
RKP: Couldn’t re-decaling a set of wheels (or any other component) make you look bad to your sponsor, maybe even endanger your relationship with that sponsor?
RS: Without even getting into the ethics of it or what goes on in behind-the-scenes deals made in other levels of the sport, using any part or component that isn’t supplied by a team sponsor (all parts and suppliers being in place and fully committed by the early Summer before each season begins) is not allowed. Except for this 2009 situation, it has been not an issue that has reared its head in our midst. And, to make it worse than worse, to do a relabeling gig after all the meetings we had about brand loyalty, commitment, and integrity, reflects a character trait that I do not wish to associate with personally or professionally.
RKP: So are you saying Dombroski was willing to risk sponsorship of the entire team just to have what she believed would make the difference in winning?
RKP: Do you give your riders any latitude about what equipment they use or do you specify everything?
RS: I don’t have to. We are a fully supported and sponsored team with every single part supplied by a long term industry brand name. We race on SRAM drivetrains, Oval Concepts stems, ‘bars, and seat posts, Cane Creek headsets and cantis, Cole Wheels, Crank Brothers pedals, Selle San Marco saddles, Wippermann chains, Clement tires, wearing Verge kits, Rudy Project helmets and eyewear, and most of us using Northwave shoes.
RKP: Has anyone complained before?
RS: To me—only Amy
To others—only Amy as far as I know.
RKP: ‘Cross Nats are coming up. You will be facing riders that you haven’t raced against this season. Any guys out there have you concerned?
RS: Will, Josh, Dan, Matt, and myself have all been in fields this year that have the best from the categories we race within. We have at least five wins in UCI races, countless podiums and top tens, Matt has won several Masters 35+ events, and I have won five 55+ races All of us are in very good shape and extremely motivated. Atmo the Natz will be just another day at the office.
RKP: Care to make any predictions about how your team members will go in their races?
RS: We’ll finish the season as we began it: representing all of our sponsors and suppliers in the best manner possible and continue giving good brand. We’ll use the last two weekends to crowd in many more memories that will carry us through the off-season months, and we’ll be there for each other another 20 days or so to ensure that we all get as close as possible to meeting our personal goals for ‘cross.
In-the-trenches images courtesy Anthony Skorochod, CyclingCaptured.com
As much as I love going to Interbike to see new bikes and parts each year, I need to be honest and say I’m far more excited to see friends both old and new. One of the things that has kept me in the bike industry for more than 20 years is friendship. I’ve had the good fortune to make friends with a great many people in the bike industry and each year my trip to the show is often my one guaranteed annual chance to see these great people.
Above is Brad Devaney, an engineer with Litespeed. Brad and I met in 1989 while working for the Peddler Bike Shop in Memphis, Tennessee. The Peddler crew was a tight-knit, collegial bunch and we frequently rode together. Of the mechanics I worked with, Brad was clearly the most resourceful and mechanically adept. A few years ago I bumped into Brad and asked him about one of our old coworkers, a triathlete named Corey; Brad and Corey were tight. It was there on the show floor that Brad told me Corey had been hit by a car while on a ride and killed. The show floor was a rotten place to hear the news, but there was no one I’d rather have delivered it.
I ment Alan Coté when I joined the UMASS cycling team in the fall of 1989. Alan was very fast and one of the only guys on the team who knew how to wrench on a bike. We spent a portion of one summer working at Bicycle World Too in Amherst before he moved to Boulder to be with his girlfriend (now wife) Megan. Today, Alan is a contributing editor to Bicycling and has been writing about cycling for longer than I have. He got his start freelancing for VeloNews and worked his way up to Bicycle Guide. It was as a result of Alan’s help that I got my foot in the door at Bicycle Guide. He questioned my sanity when I expressed my willingness to leave Northampton for Los Angeles—”Pat, isn’t Los Angeles the on-ramp to the apocalypse?”—to which I responded, “Dude, I’ve been to Mississippi.”
Jeff Winnick is an independent sales rep in New England. His lines have changed over the years, but he’s the same warm, straightforward and honest guy I met while working at Northampton Bicycle in 1990. I took Jeff to lunch one day to ask his advice on how to move from retailing into the industry side of the biz. He was generous with his time and knowledge, still is.
If you’ve ever raced a bike in New England, chances are Merlyn Townley wrenched on your bike in a neutral pit at some point. Merlyn and I met at the Olympic Training Center in 1992 when we were there to get our mechanics’ licenses. He was a delight to share a room with then and we worked together at many events over the next few years. Merlyn always impressed me with his utterly tireless enthusiasm for working on bikes. He is one of the only mechanics I can say reminds me of the great Bill Woodul. Today Merlyn has an upstart OEM wheel building business based in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Devin Walton called me up in May of 1994 to work neutral support for Shimano at the 1994 World Cup mountain bike event at Mt. Snow, Vermont. Over the weekend I worked on more bikes than I typically saw during a week at a shop. Devin’s professionalism filled me with a new respect for Shimano and the talent they assembled. Today, Devin is still with Shimano and has one of the company’s most coveted posts: media relations guy. He handles all media relations as well as some pretty heavy lifting on the PR side.
One of the other mechanics on hand for that June 1994 weekend was this guy, Mike Conlan. Mike was the first bike mechanic I ever saw don latex gloves for grimy work. A real pro and a very nice guy. Today, Mike is the manager of Outdoor Sports Center in Wilton, Conn. His instincts are as sharp as ever and he is a guy whose opinion I always ask when it comes to retailing trends.
I met Larry Theobald in Greenfield, Massachusetts in 1991. He was working for Breaking Away Tours in the summer and riding with us in the spring and fall. His wife, Heather, was finishing her doctorate at UMASS and I rode with her from time to time. In the winters, I’d frequently see him at one of the cross-country ski areas up in the Berkshires. These days Larry and Heather have a tour company called Cycle Italia that is known for excellent rides, great accommodations and even better food.
Butch Balzano may be the only mechanic in New England who is even better known than Merlyn Townley. I worked a few races with Butch in the early ’90s and thought him so competent as to make me superfluous. He has been providing race support through Campagnolo, Shimano and now SRAM for more than 20 years. He’s as easy going a guy as there is, and one of the few guys I can say for whom a 12-second wheel change is routine.
Richard Fries became known to me as a Cat. 1 who started a magazine called The Ride. I began freelancing for The Ride with its second issue and gradually became more involved in the magazine, eventually writing a column called Shop Talk. It was funny to write for a magazine whose publisher would frequently feature in headlines (I recall many along the lines of “Fries Wins Again in Marlborough”). Richard and his wife, Deb, published The Ride for more than 10 years; it was easily the best regional I ever saw published. Along the way a funny thing happened: Richard’s son, Grant was born and became old enough to ride his own bicycle, and Richard got concerned about where Grant could ride. Today, Richard is one of the nation’s most ardent and effective voices for bicycle advocacy, working with a variety of organizations, including Bikes Belong. Oh, and if you ever need to know anything about the Civil War, he’s faster with the facts than Wikipedia.
The man in the Reynolds booth is another former Northamptonite, Jonathan Geran. Jonathan’s easy way has seen him in sales for Merlin, Parlee, McLean Quality Composites and now Reynolds. The one thing we try not to do when we see each other is to discuss the mountain biking we used to enjoy in western Mass.
Chris Carmichael called on me to help the Junior National Team with several races in 1993. He was easy to work for and had the ability to tell each rider exactly what they needed to hear right before a race. I remember thinking it was no wonder he was head coach for the U.S. National Team. In the years since, Chris has been generous in giving me quotes for many articles and a book.
Derreck Bernard was one of the first people I met when I joined the staff of Bicycle Guide. He was part of the ad sales staff and was as nice and easy going a guy as you’d want to work with. He helped change my perception of the high-pressure ad sales guy. Since Petersen’s sale and re-sale, Derreck joined the staff of Hi-Torque Publications, where he sells ads for Mountain Bike Action, Road Bike Action and BMX Plus! Thanks to my freelance work for Road Bike Action, even though we don’t work together directly, its fun to think of him as a coworker again.
Carol and Bill McGann are the former owners of Torelli Imports. Bill and Carol are an incredible team and really collaborate on everything; their affection and respect for each other is something to envy. Bill still works for the company some, so I still get to see them in the Torelli booth each year. He is one of the rare guys on the manufacturing side of the business who really taught me a lot about the industry, rather than just his line. He’s got an incredibly expansive view (he’s an armchair historian which may help explain his ability to see the bigger picture) of the bike industry and has helped me see trends as they develop. He’s also one helluva travel companion and the week I spent with him in Italy will go down as one of the finest weeks of my whole life.
Until now there has been an expectation that so goes the team, so goes the bike industry sponsor. As evidenced by comments on this and other blogs, at least some members of the cycling public have viewed a bike sponsor’s lack of repudiation of the team of a convicted doper as a tacit approval of their doping.
Unfortunately, a sponsor such as Trek hasn’t got the ability to elect to sponsor, say, Formula 1 if they decide cycling is just too tarnished by doping. Liberty Seguros’ next sponsorship stop in sports could be golf, but that’s not possible for Specialized or SRAM.
Faust could appreciate such a dilemma.
So Shimano has announced that it will pull its sponsorship of a team if anyone in its management is found to be guiding a doping program for its riders. If a rider is caught doping, Shimano wants an explanation and a future containment plan to prevent a repeat. A second event is grounds for termination of the sponsorship.
Termination would be catastrophic to any team. A return of all Shimano equipment would leave riders unable to train or race until new equipment could be purchased, which could easily take a week or more and could cost upwards of six figures, an amount few ProTour teams (and no Pro Continental or Continental teams) would have lying around.
But let’s be real. While it is possible and maybe even likely that some directors have at least suspicions—if not outright knowledge—of his team members’ activities, the Festina Affair ended any large-scale participation by team management in its riders’ doping. We now have plausible deniability.
Unfortunately, a complete lack of knowledge of riders’ medical programs has a nasty consequence: the director appears clueless. Hans-Michael Holczer’s shock over Bernard Kohl’s and Stefan Schumacher’s positive tests made him look ineffectual.
But what of positive tests by individual riders? The number of teams that have had more than one positive inside of three months is perhaps surprising. Just yesterday the UCI announced the suspension of three riders (three!) riders from Liberty Seguros. Saunier Duval, Phonak and Astana are but three other names that come to mind.
The question is whether Shimano would actually revoke the sponsorship should the possibility come to pass and which teams are actually threatened by such action. Columbia-HTC, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Française des Jeux, Garmin-Slipstream, Rabobank and Skil-Shimano are the ProTour and Pro Continental teams Shimano sponsors. Of these, two (Euskaltel and Rabobank) have had high-profile doping issues in the last few seasons.
While it is fairly certain that most bike industry sponsors have some language in their contracts that allow the termination of a sponsorship as a result of a doping offense, Shimano is unusual in taking such a public stand. Perhaps other companies will have the courage to take a similar stand.
Shimano’s Statement in full:
With this statement, Shimano would like to make clear to all parties involved that we would like to strive for a fair and drugs free sport to protect the future of cycling for next generations. Besides the bad impact to the reputation of the sport, we all know Doping and Drugs are damaging and destroying the health and image of especially young people in and outside of the sport. Therefore we are taking a firm stand against doping in general and in the cycling sport in particular.
Basic guidelines in Shimano’s anti doping policy:
• All our contracts and sponsorship-relations are made under the condition and in the belief that there is no doping involved in the particular team or with the individual athletes.
• If the team management of one of our sponsored teams (no matter in which cycling discipline) is involved in any doping affair, we will stop our sponsorship of this team immediately.
• If an individual rider is involved in any doping affair without the knowledge of the team management, the team will be given the chance to give a clear explanation and a future improvement & control plan to Shimano, upon that it will be decided to continue the sponsoring or not. If another doping incident occurs within the same team, we will keep the option of terminating our sponsorship contract
• Terminating a sponsorship contract means return of all Shimano materials or other contributions that have been supplied to the concerned team immediately. This anti doping policy is already stated in our ongoing sponsorship contracts but Shimano feels it is valuable to emphasize this ones more to make it clear for everybody what is our opinion about the use of doping in sport. For all our future sponsorship negotiations it is essential for us that the teams show us their anti doping policy in advance.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The waiting is over. No Starbucks, no Nike, no Oracle. Officially, what we know of Lance Armstrong’s new team is that it will be sponsored by Radio Shack and that the seven-time winner of the Tour de France will compete at the Tour of California and the Tour de France as a cyclist, but that he will also compete through the season as a runner and triathlete.
Yes, sports fans, Lance Armstrong will make a return to triathlon.
No other sponsors, riders or team personnel were named except that the team will be managed by Capital Sports and Entertainment (CSE), the same team that managed the US Postal and Discovery Channel cycling teams. Radio Shack said the team would compete at the ProTour level.
Those are the facts. What can we infer from the announcement?
First, the ProTour license will likely come from Astana. Second, the team will be directed by Johan Bruneel. Third, Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, Yaroslav Popovych and Jose Luis Rubiera will ride for the team; many others from the former Discovery Channel formation are likely to follow. Fourth, the LiveStrong Foundation is likely to have a sponsorship role in the team. Fifth, the team will ride Trek bikes with SRAM components.
Will Alberto Contador be a part of this formation? It’s too soon to tell. Bruyneel and Armstrong may not want a rider, even one as talented as Contador, who can’t stick to the game plan and rides only for himself. Contador may not want to be on a team where he feels even the faintest whiff of a challenge to his leadership.