Deconstructing Self-Destruction

1 Feb

I got into a little Twitter dust-up this weekend with VeloNews’ John Bradley. It wasn’t on purpose—yes, I did tweet a rebuke at him, but it was based largely on my misinterpreting something he’d written.

He responded strongly—justifiably so, I think—and I apologized, attempting to explain where I’d missed his point. I don’t know John personally, but I like what he’s done in the past, and I think he brings a skillset that really shores up some of Velo’s soft spots. I had, and continue to have, no interest in antagonizing him.

That said, I was a little disappointed by his commentary that same day on cycling’s supposed “Self-Destruction”—of which Femke Van den Driessche’s motorized bike is apparently just the latest example.

There wasn’t anything inaccurate or offensive or lacking about the piece per se (I certainly didn’t dislike it as much as some people did—though they later made up) and it certainly covered some ground every long-term fan can relate to.

But this one line sums up what I found so sour:

“Cycling is not the most corrupt of sports, but it is one that the masses don’t understand.”

Now, for contrast, here is a screenshot of the VeloNews homepage from earlier today:
Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.10.08 AM

(click image for big)

There isn’t a lot of what I’d refer to as content that will help people develop an understanding of racing.

I hasten to add that VN’s recap article on the men’s race was quite good, but it’s practically buried less than 24 hours later, and there’s nothing in terms of deeper analysis on a race that delivered the blend of hell-bent carnage and nail-biting tactics that should have the sport’s journal of record salivating.

If “the masses” don’t get the awesome aspects of racing on the homepage of the biggest cycling publication in the US, then where the heck are they supposed to find them? As Bradley himself notes, it’s not going to be in SBNation or the New York Times.

On the off-chance a mainstream writer gets a tip to check VeloNews, they’ll see only headline after headline on a rule-breaking DNF in the women’s U23 race, a bit on a disappointed US Champ, something about a guy being spit on, and nothing on what made #CXZolder16 awesome.

It’s not that cycling-aware writers aren’t always lurking out in the larger publishing world—Sam Abt famously brought the sport to NYT and the International Herald Tribune between copyedits. But the few out there who do get it aren’t getting paid for analysis beyond humping eyeballs for the story’s semiquaver of relevance. Only a concerted effort by the publications they reference will sway headlines from the vapid quick hit.

This isn’t meant to be a rip on Bradley or VeloNews, just a nudge that cycling fandom and reportage do not have to be cast as this hopeless cycle of self-destruction. There’s plenty I don’t know about editorial, but I’ve worked for advocacy groups and political campaigns. Messaging and framing drive the marketplace of opinion, and there’s all the more hunger for context when the optics are blandly and obviously bad.

It’s not like Velo couldn’t do this—I mean, the content exists already. Andrew Hood’s article on the evolution of the UCI’s motor checks does fantastic work putting The Femke Affair into the context general publications so desperately need, and I have reason to believe that Dan Seaton will be producing another of his striking and accessible photo essays on the World Championships (update: delivered).

But I always seem to sense this notion across the cycling press, a kind of chicken-and-egg thing, that no one understands the sport, because explanations of why it’s awesome can’t be made, because no one will read them, because no one understands the sport. And that dogma is as wrong as it is self-defeating.

I cannot tell you how many comments I get about HTRWW getting absolute n00bs into watching bike races, and c’mon—CXHairs delivers the meat of what makes people want to watch in seconds-long clips on a pretty much daily basis. The van der Haar pass requires neither background knowledge or explanation—and 1400+ Instagram users will back me up on that.

A video posted by In The Crosshairs (@cxhairs) on

So I guess the self-destructive cycle I see here isn’t so much within the sport, but in the way its covered. I mean, when a moto-cheater gets caught after years of concerted attempts at moto-cheater-catching, that feels to me like cause for minor celebration, a footnote to a marquee event that absolutely delivered.

But when literally the day after one of the best races in recent memory, the lead pieces are gear testing and mechanical doping, you can see where I stumbled into the cynical misunderstanding that started this piece: “racing is a downer, let’s be stoked about our advertisers instead”.

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The Recon Ride Podcast: Tour Down Under 2016

16 Jan

GP Quebec and GP Montreal

Episode 31: Santos Tour Down Under 2016

Hello, yes—it’s not really road season yet, but Dane Cash of VeloHuman and I are back to entertain (and even discuss) the notion that the Tour Down Under might actually be a WorldTour event. Some fantastic course features have been worked back into the route, and a compressed season schedule (thanks, Olympics) and political machinations add some interesting subtexts to this year’s event.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 32:51 — 45.2MB)

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Photo by Visible Procrastinations (CC).

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WorldTour Transfers Chart 2015-2016

19 Oct

I broke my toe (slightly) last week, enough to take riding and running off the schedule for a bit. I still have to go to my day job, so don’t expect the return of HTRWW anytime soon, but I did have a enough time to play around with some data viz packages.

Want a bigger view? Of course you do.


This is just a quick-and-dirty implementation of d3 using the sankey chart plugin to show transfers for WorldTour teams between the 2015 and 2016 seasons. A data visualization is only as good as its data set, and I pulled my info from ProCyclingStats' transfers page.

Additionally, I assembled the JSON that powers the chart with some ad hoc scripts and regex, so there's probably a transcription error or two. Finally, I'm assuming Dimension Data eventually joins the WorldTour, and I've counted stagiares and riders who may have retired earlier in the season as making their debut/departure in 2016. Each line represents a single rider, holding the cursor over a line will reveal the name of the rider.

There's probably something wrong here, but the chart is also easy enough to update. The UCI should, in theory, have an accurate and definitive record of all team changes over the past few seasons, but guessing Brian Cookson's got a bit too much on his plate to start setting up an API.

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Off-Season 2015 – The Recon Ride Podcast p/b VeloNews

16 Oct

Recon Ride Off-Season 2015

With Il Lombardia, Paris-Tours, and the Abu Dhabi Tour in the books, most of the riders in the pro peloton are now enjoying some well-deserved time off, so the Recon Ride p/b VeloNews is getting into offseason mode too. Dane Cash and Cosmo Catalano team up for one last podcast episode of 2015, with editor Spencer Powlison providing some added insight.

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Il Lombardia 2015 – The Recon Ride Podcast p/b VeloNews

1 Oct

Richmond UCI Road Worlds 2015

Episode 29: Il Lombardia 2015
The Recon Ride Powered by VeloNews rolls into the end of the season for the fifth and final “monument” of the year—a mere six months since the last one. With an ever-evolving course that seems to have no middle ground between horrifically rainy and story-tale picturesque, Dane Cash (@velohuman / and I pontificate on the favorites and likely tactics, while Como-based reporter and Velonews’ regular Gregor Brown brings press-box insights and local knowledge.

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The Recon Ride Podcast p/b VeloNews – UCI World Road Championships 2015

24 Sep

Richmond UCI Road Worlds 2015

Episode 28: Richmond UCI World Road Championships 2015
In our inaugural Powered by VeloNews edition of the Recon Ride, Dane Cash (@velohuman / and I discuss the general weirdness of world champion events and racing, examine the surprisingly thoughtful race course, go over the favorites, and check in with Taylor Phinney, Sep Vanmarcke, and VeloNews’ own Caley Fretz.

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Photo by Tim De Waele /

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The Recon Ride Podcast: GP Quebec and GP Montreal 2015

10 Sep

GP Quebec and GP Montreal

Episode 27: GP Quebec & GP Montreal 2015
With worlds in North America and the Vuelta improving/degenerating into a pain-fest, the French Canadian GPs are especially prominent this year. Dane Cash (@velohuman / and I discuss the two urban circuits (yes!) and highlight the favorites, even scoring a few interviews along the way.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 49:40 — 68.3MB)

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Photo by Dane Cash himself

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The Recon Ride Podcast: Vuelta a Espana 2015, Part 3

8 Sep

Vuleta a Espana, Part 3

Episode 26: Vuelta a Espana 2015, Part 3
The unprecedented brutality of this second week in the 2015 Vuelta truly delivered, but turned out a GC standing that was anything but expected. Dane Cash (@velohuman / and I recap the casualties, assess the surprise contenders, and—with help from Velonews’ European correspondant Andrew Hood—make prognostications on how the final few stages (including the race’s only ITT) will play out.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 40:31 — 55.7MB)

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Photo by bego paterna (CC).

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The Recon Ride Podcast: Vuelta a Espana 2015, Part 2

1 Sep

Vuleta a Espana, Part 2

Episode 25: Vuelta a Espana 2015, Part 2
After a wild first week that saw a couple young GC surprises (and crashes drop a few GC favorites), Dane Cash (@velohuman / and I catch up on the Vuelta, and look ahead at its truly brutal second week—including an 11th stage of near-unprecedented inhumanity.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 38:24 — 52.8MB)

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Photo by Renault Sport (CC).

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The Recon Ride Podcast: GP Ouest-France 2015

28 Aug

GP Ouest France-Plouay

Episode 24: GP Ouest-France
The GP Ouest-France is that big French one-day that isn’t Paris-Roubaix. No cobbles, no bergs, but instead a rolling circuit which is fiendishly good at holding the breakaway/bunch sprint decision until the last moment. Listen as Dane Cash (@velohuman / guest interviewee Giacomo Nizzolo of Trek Factory Racing, and myself discuss the parcours, rattle off the likely contenders, and pontificate on the role of the race in the ever-changing cycling calendar.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 36:34 — 50.2MB)

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Photo by Renault Sport (CC).

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