How The Race Was Won – Milan-Sanremo 2016

21 Mar

So—probably just going to be a handful of these this year, but you should thank the good people at CyclingTips that there are any at all. Sanremo was the first race I ever did (back in 2009) and one of my favorites. But between the crashes and the lack of attacks, I think it may be time to freshen up the profile just a touch.

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The Recon Ride Podcast – Volta a Catalunya 2016

20 Mar

The Recon Ride Volta a Catalunya 2016

Episode 35: Volta a Catalunya 2016

The Volta a Catalunya is a great race and an old race, but underproduced and out of place on the WorldTour calendar–or at least that’s what I think. Dane Cash of VeloHuman, who was at the event itself last year, has some different thoughts as we pick some potential winners and preview the parcours.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 28:38 — 39.5MB)

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Photo by Dane Cash.

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The Recon Ride Podcast – Milan-Sanremo 2016

17 Mar

The Recon Ride Milan-Sanremo 2016

Episode 34: Milan-Sanremo 2016

The World Tour’s longest race also brings the most compressed action, but I’m pretty resigned to thinking this thing is always going to be a sprint. Dane Cash of VeloHuman and I discuss the good and the bad of that, tab a few favorites, and even get some on-the-ground info from Velonews’ Italian specialista Gregor Brown.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 34:22 — 47.2MB)

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Photo by Daniel70mi Falciola (CC).

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The Recon Ride Podcast: Tirreno-Adriatico 2016

6 Mar

The Recon Ride Paris-Nice 2016

Episode 33: Tirreno-Adriatico 2016

A mid-week stage race that’s comfortable with who it is, but at the same time isn’t afraid to try new things. That’s the Tinder Profile for Tirreno-Adriatico, and in this latest edition of the Recon Ride Dane Cash of VeloHuman and I tell you when to swipe left, when to swipe right, and when to stop belaboring the metaphor and just watch the dang bike race.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 36:23 — 50.0MB)

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Photo by Conseil départemental des Yvelines (CC).

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The Recon Ride Podcast: Paris-Nice 2016

3 Mar

The Recon Ride Paris-Nice 2016

Episode 32: Paris-Nice 2016

After last week’s Belgian season opener, the eyes of the sport head to France where a storied event becomes ever more undermined by the organization that owns it. Dane Cash of VeloHuman talk about the ins, outs, stages, implications, contenders, and maybe—just maybe—make a few accurate predictions.

Podcast: Download (Duration: 30:58 — 42.6MB)

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Photo by Conseil départemental des Yvelines (CC).

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In Case No One Told You, It Was Good Weekend For Cycling

29 Feb

I mean, don’t get me wrong—Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is always pretty upbeat because people are amped—dare I say stoked?—for actual racing to begin.

But this year’s event played out in a particularly satisfying fashion. Relative newcomer Luke Rowe of Sky initiated the winning move still 60k from the line, not by slipping away in crash post-crash confusion while the favorites had a nature break, but with a Hammer of Thor smackdown on the Taaienberg.

That particular climb has long been the personal hunting ground of Tom Boonen, one of the most dominant classics riders of the past decade, and who was nowhere to be seen Saturday as the selection formed. Boonen’s Etixx-QuickStep team (also one of the dominant spring squads since pretty much forever) somehow managed to flounder to an even less-auspicious finish than last year: Tony Martin crashed their chase while sitting third wheel, their efforts never sizably reduced the gap, and the team never got so much as a rider up the road.

Meanwhile, the winning selection was entertaining and easy to love. Lotto-Soudal’s 21-year-old classics prodigy Tiesj Benoot showed great form, while Tinkoff’s Peter Sagan, the world’s most exciting rider when on his game, signaled good things to come with an effortless bridge just after the Taaienberg.

Local minor league squad Verandas Willems had Brecht Dhaene and Kai Reus suffer on from the early move to well into closing stages, and AG2R’s Alexis Gougeard, hardly a classics specialist made a brilliantly measured effort to hang on from the early break as well, and lead out the sprint to preserve his 5th place finish.

Even the final kick, traditional hotbed of dull inevitability, played out well. BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet, known as something of a career underachiever, rode an uncharacteristically canny race, taking his pulls but making no undue effort, before a clever little dive inside Sagan in the final corner gave him a gap that he opened all the way to the line.

Three hours later on the other side of the planet, Boels-Dolemans Evelyn Stevens began an effort that would eventually set a new Women’s Hour Record. You’d think the visual appeal in 140-some-odd rotations of the same concrete track would be limited, but the livestream (unencumbered by antiquated broadcast agreements) peaked at over 40,000 simultaneous viewers, putting quantitative value to earlier complaints when live footage of teammate Lizzie Armitsted’s win at the women’s Omloop was unavailable.

It didn’t hurt that Stevens put on a good show, riding steadily for the first 40 minutes to secure the record before opening up to take a stab at Jeannie Longo’s “superman” (and likely superhuman) mark from the late 90s. In the end, Longo’s record held, aided somewhat by Stevens’ relative inexperience on the track. But when asked by a spectator afterward about the increasing amplitude of her deviations from the fastest line, Stevens responded with engaging bravado “whatever—I was going for it” (or words to that effect).

Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne continued the trend—the race is generally a second-fiddle followup to OHN, with the previous day’s contenders content to let a different group battle it out and attempt to stave off what is more often than not an 60-rider group sprint. But Rowe and Van Avermaet were animators, joining Boonen in serious-looking escape inside the final 40k, which had some potential to keep the Katusha-driven chase at bay.

But the winning move came early—after several kilometers of rotating through for hero pulls, Trek’s Boy van Poppel took a short flier, which his teammate Stuyven countered as soon as he was caught. As Boonen would comment afterward, it was foolishly early but brilliantly delivered; with the rest of the group bickering, the 23-year-old kept came away with the solo win—a nice bit of redemption after crashing himself out of another promising solo move at Omloop the day before, not to mention a classic demonstration of team tactics.

I don’t want to gloss over the bad stuff—two rider/motorbike collisions is too many over a season of racing, let alone a single weekend. But it’s also something that is very much on the UCI’s radar. Normally that’d be sarcasm, but in the past 12 months, the UCI has begun to unravel its reputation for historical ineptitude.

It’s streamlined motor-testing to the point that 90 bikes can be tested at a given start and it’s actually managed to catch people. It’s made it easier for teams to record and broadcast cool stuff, tested early stages of a severe weather protocol, assembled a coherent top tier of women’s races across road disciplines, and thus far managed to keep out of a mudfight with the ASO—even though they are totally asking for it.

Something to be excited about? We’ll see—but certainly an improvement on years past.

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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)

Subscribe: iTunes|RSS

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 VeloNews.com editor Spencer Powlison providing some added insight.

Listen at VeloNews.com >>>

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