Archive | April, 2006

VeloNews Strikes Again!

28 Apr

It’s been a while since I gave the ol’ VeloNews cage a good grab-and-rattle. Part of it’s been that I’ve been busy, part of it’s been that I rarely read their articles anymore (I mean, with so many other options, why bother?), but at any rate, I’ve fallen off a bit in my vituperatives. Then yesterday, that mangy bird squawked louder and more gratingly than it has in some time with this alleged tech article, and I, as always, am eager to correct it.

First things first: “deep section” is a term referring to wheels with high-profile, aerodynamic rims; “deep dish” is a type of pizza popularized in 1940’s Chicago. The distinction between the two may seem pedantic, but “dish” already refers to something specific in reference to bicycle wheels, and the attributes that would actually make a wheel “deep dish” have essentially no bearing on rim depth. Now, Matt Pacocha, as a former MTBer, could be forgiven such a slip-up in what is largely roadie esoterica, except for the fact that he is employed by the most widely-read cycling magazine in the country, and as a “technical writer”, ought to have some expertise on such matters.

Blundered phraseology aside, however, what really boggles me about this article is why it was even written in the first place. I mean, what is the point supposed to be? Sure, pro teams using aero-section wheels in mass-start events was hot news back when Mark Wahlberg was Marky Mark, as pioneers like Lightweight and ADA kitted out big names like Jan Ullrich and Bjarne Riis with space-age carbon rims, when most of the peloton still rode steel bikes. But by 2001, the cat was out of the bag on composite wheels; as this previous Velonews article shows, all the big teams at the Tour rode them on pretty much a daily basis. Nowadays, you’re hard pressed to find a Cat 4 field without a spattering of carbon hoop here and there.

So maybe the message of this article is that people are using them specifically for hilly stages again? I mean, those first deep section jobs, aside from being aero’, were bloody light, but as the demand for reliable, everyday use aero-wheels increased, so did the weight; the once-ubiquitous Mavic Carbone isn’t exactly featherweight, and used to be even heavier. But if that’s the point, still, the use of deep-section rims on hilly courses isn’t news. Though the article cites Hincapie and Popo’s performance in the ’05 Dauphine as an example of deep section’s resurgence in the hills, here’s Stuart O’Grady on a set of Campy Boras at the ’04 Dauphine, about to beat Hincapie over a course with four categorized climbs. And look at what Bobby Julich used well over a year ago at Paris-Nice.

Then perhaps the big news is supposed to be that these Bonti’ Aeolus wheels are tough enough for everyday use? Again, that’d hardly make them unique enough among deep-section wheels to justify writing an article about them. The aforementioned Carbones were general issue as early as 2001, and even when aero’ wheels are not so reliable (search “broke”), teams will still use them, with occasionally race-changing consequences (search “broken”). At any rate, if one really wanted to highlight the toughness of these wheels, he or she could simply note that Hincapie put them on his custom Roubaix bike. Of course, then readers might be reminded of that bike’s spectacular failure, and Trek, the parent company of Bontrager, and likely the only real reason this article exists, probably wouldn’t want that.

Honestly, the article, a sort of infomercial for Bontrager’s new wheels, leaves me with more questions than answers. Is there really anything that seperates these wheels from all the other deep sections out there? What exactly is the difference between a HED wheel and a Bonti Aeolus? Just the inclusion of OCLV 110 carbon in the Bonti rim? Why would you use the Aeolus 5.0 instead of the 6.5? If the focus of the wheel design was aerodynamics, why use a paired spoke pattern, which Zipp (who knows a thing or two about aerodynamics) seems to think increases drag? Why is the Aeolus so freakin’ expensive compared to similar products? Normally, I’d guess it was weight, but I’d have no way to know from the article, as it never once mentions the weight of any of the products it describes. Typically poor excution on a hardly-noteworthy topic from the big guys out in Boulder.

Race Day DVD – Review

27 Apr

Ex-Postie Robbie Ventura and realRides deliver a crit-oriented intensity training DVD. 2004, Color, Approx 90min.

Originality: 5. I hate training videos. But calling this “just” a training video is a kind of like calling the Poggio “just” a hill. Its main training feature is an uncut, rider’s eye view recording of a race, complete with live commentary, heartrate, cadence and power statistics, plus some basic tips on racing and pack riding. Useful, unique and compelling stuff.

Watchability: 5. As soon as you get this DVD, throw it in the player and just sit down and watch the race sequence. If you don’t, you’ll never stay focused on your workout because you’ll be too drawn into the plot of the race. Once that’s out of the way, the DVD provides a great way to stay motivated for intensity work on that fiendish turbo trainer. It doesn’t hurt that Robbie “Mr Hollywood” Ventura has great screen presence (unlike some other training video personalities I could mention).

Variety: 3. Really, the lack of variety in the training material (only the “Warm-Up” and “Race” sections are training specific) was my only beef with this DVD. There’s plenty of different mini-features to play around with, and break up the monotony of trainer riding, but having only one actual race is kind of a let down. With 4.7 gigs of space on a DVD, and under 90 minutes of total footage in this video, it’s not like there’s no room to spare.

Style: 4. Training DVDs and style generally go together like Armstrong and Simeoni, but Race Day pulls it off pretty well. The music is entirely decent (reminds me of some of the tracks from Reasonable Doubt) and the camerawork finds a good middle ground between drearily slow and nauseatingly fast. Ventura knows how to talk to the camera, and little touches, like placing the “hero cam” just far enough the right that viewers can tell when Robbie is shifting, really keep it tight.

Bonus Features: 3. There are no bonus features in the traditional sense, but there’s certainly more on this DVD than just training footage. In addition to the teaser for the next realRides video (it apparently involves Floyd Landis wailing on Ventura in the hills), there’s an absolutely great course preview section, and a little cooldown mini-feature on just kind of enjoying the scene at a big bike race. Still, the lack of quantity hurts

Final Thoughts: If you like bike racing, this is a pretty freakin’ sweet video. You really have to experience training along to the race in this to appreciate how much better it is than riding the trainer, watching The Godfather, and pretending an attack goes every someone gets whacked. This DVD could be useful for a pretty wide range of riders, too: the more experienced will love trying to match Ventura’s accelerations (300% of 20k TT pace coming out of corners), while novice racers (especially that one guy who swears he’ll never race a crit) will gain a ton from Robbie’s knowledge and enthusiasm.

There's Just No News

27 Apr

Yeah, folks, I would have liked to write more in the past few days, but every since that dashing young Spaniard Valverde won Liege-Bastogne-Liege, there really hasn’t been any news in the cycling world to speak of.

Despite claiming the Tour de France is what “really matters”, Jan Ullrich waited practically until May to make his first start. Another Tour hopeful, Floyd Landis, has won three stage races already. Jan Ullrich being woefully behind in his Tour prep is not news. Ullrich claimed to be ready to “go through the pain barrier” prior to his first start on Tuesday, but then barely cracked the top 100 in the opening time trial (a discipline he is allegedly good at) in the Tour of Romandie. Jan talking tough and then underperforming – not news.

Der Kaiser then claimed to have ridden within himself because it was “a very technical course”. Jan Ullrich making excuses? Definitely not news, though media outlets making excuses for him might be (the worst example of this was Anthony McCrossam’s minute-long “it’s-tough-to-be-Jan” rant on the subject during today’s Romandie coverage on Cycling.TV). By the way, the winner of that ultra-technical prologue? Paolo Savoldelli, nicknamed il falco, for his bike handling and descending skills. Savoldelli winning on that course isn’t exactly something to stop the presses for.

The next day at Romandie (that’d be today…) Davitamon-Lotto finally got a European win in April. That would have been news given the team’s miserable spring, but the victory was notched by Robbie McEwen, who took a twisty, bunch-sprint finish in the rain. “McEwen wins difficult sprint in bad weather”; a headline up there with “dog bites man”. I mean, it was such a forgone conclusion that team management was pretty much banking on it.

Aitor Gonzalez, meanwhle is extremely miffed at the media. You may recall notorious French daily L’Equipe leaked to the world that the Aitorminator had a positive test at least year’s Vuelta. Turns out it wasn’t his fault, and the Spanish federation dismissed the case against him. This, combined the recent Hondo dismissal, might indicate people are reconsidering their attitudes toward dopers, and that might have been news if someone hadn’t suggested it last September.

Each year the bike world chills out and unwinds post-Tour de France. With the spring one-days just completed, and the Giro just days from getting underway, I feel like that’s what’s happening now. So until things pick back up, I’ll try to keep you interested, but let’s face the facts: I can’t make the the news happen.

The Race 2 Disgrace – Rant

23 Apr

So I was watching “Honey, We’re Killing the Kids” a few nights back (no, seriously…) and after a few minutes of pre-adolescant New Jersey-ites Twinkie, Coke and video-gaming away their afternoon, suddenly this commerical comes on with Lance Armstrong. Apparenlty, his other former teammates are so crappy when it comes to bike racing that Lance has found it necessary to hold an official race to find his successor as leader of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team.

Let’s pretend for a second that the “Race2Replace” will actually be an open competition to let one fan race for Discovery Channel at the US national championships, and start with obvious issue that the race to choose this fan is slated to go down at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Sure, Indy is one of those Cathedrals of Sport that’s inspiring just to think about competing in, but you don’t host Bar Mitzvahs in St. Peter’s or race Formula One through the Forest of Arenberg, so why on earth would you hold a bike race on a 2.5 race car track?

Even if the event uses the Brickyard’s 4.2 mile, 13 turn road course, I can’t imagine, with the relative width of the roadway and complete lack of elevation change, that the race would be in any way selective. Though the USA Cycling Championships web page is next to worthless (there’s no course information, the print is big and ugly, the 50k TT is described as “basically a sprint”, and the road national title event is apparently a “stage race”), I can’t imagine that such a high-profile event would be contested on a course as decidedly untaxing as that offered by the Brickyard.

Sure, the winner there will have proved himself either a strong sprinter or time-trialist, but suddenly faced with such obstacles as narrow roads, 90-degree turns, high-speed descents, and, oh yeah, going uphill, I see the “lucky winner” having a pretty short day in the saddle come September. And this is all assuming he actually gets to ride the National Championships in the first place; I don’t see USA Cycling (even run as it is by the Ochowitz/Weisel/Armstrong Axis of Evil) letting a non-professional start just for a chincy PR stunt.

However, far more troubling than these technical shortcomings (since I’m betting the Race 2 Replace winner won’t so much as smell the Nationals start line), are the contest’s implications to the American public about the sport of cycling. In case the poor condition of the National Championships webpage hadn’t tipped you off, even with the rampant success of the Tour of California, Americans are by and large ignorant of even the sport’s most basic principles.

As dime-a-dozen sportswriters have shown, Americans have no concept of how much hard work and athletic ability being a professional bike rider requires. Having a contest that pretends to operate under the assumption that an untrained diamond-in-the-rough can replace Lance Armstrong does nothing to squelch the misconception that any dumb jock can just hop up on a bike and win the Tour de France seven times.

But, no, to hear Lance Armstong say it, continued ignorance is a great way to promote cycling in America. Never mind that it puts forth the ludicrous suggestion that a cycling team has one leader throughout the season, rather than a different captain at each event – this sort of fallacy is “what’s necessary to keep cycling at the forefront of the American sports landscape”. Who cares about giving American audiences a clue about what’s actually going on when 200 thunder-thighed endoskeletons drag themselves up an 8,000 foot hunk of granite? An American successor is “the only way…[cycling] crosses over to the big-time press and the networks.”

Man, did I really just say it was a misconception that a dumb jock could win the Tour seven times? By this logic, Americans watch baseball just to see Americans hit home runs; a moronic sentiment, as anyone who’s tried to watched a game with a baseball novice can tell you. Viewers with no appreciation for intentional walks and sacrifice flies tune out long before Barry Bonds puts bat to cowskin. American sports fans only interested baseball for homers, just like American sports fans only interested in NASCAR for crashes, simply catch the highlights on the next morning’s SportsCenter.

Beyond the simple-mindedness that clings to this promotional campaign like tweak on a meth-head, what really gets to me is what a horrible waste of resources all this is. Discovery Channel has clearly put a chunk of change behind this promotion, and it would have been nice to see that cash actually go toward promoting the sport. There are plenty of actual pro riders out there looking for a few extra bucks, and having a basic cable channel televise a pro bike race once in a while (the Tour de Georgia, perhaps?) certainly wouldn’t hurt the sport’s standing. In then end, though, it’s Discovery Channel’s money, and they can burn it as they see fit; I just wish they didn’t feel compelled to undermine the sport of cycling in the process.

The Reagan Babies Confirm – LBL '06

23 Apr

(Yes, I am aware Reagan was not sworn in until 20 Jan 1981. I don’t care. Riders born after 1/1/80 are herein described as “Reagan Babies”.)

Perhaps there will be no image more representative of the 2006 classics season than that provided by Alejandro Valverde and Paolo Bettini in the closing meters of today’s Liege-Bastogne -Liege: the young Spaniard, sprinting to victory in this long, hilly classic with a Cipo’-sized gap, peering over his right shoulder just long enough to see the Italian drop his gold-covered head in disgust at being beaten soundly in a race he considered as good as won. Il Grillo, previously unbeatable in these small sprints, was perfectly positioned on Inbatible‘s wheel, but was never a threat to come by him in the closing meters. For those keeping track at home, that’s all four of cycling’s five Monuments this season taken by riders born after 1980, and perhaps more significantly, the winner at each event has been different. Without question, the Reagan Babies have arrived.

Today’s Liege, though raced at a blistering 41.3kph, was not particularly aggressive, as most of the favorites seemed content to let a rider or two float off the front while favoites CSC and Liberty Seguros rode tempo, those two teams having apparently forgetten the miserable failure of Liquigas and Rabobank to make this strategy pay off earlier in the week. Reagan Baby Philippe Gilbert of FdJ, egged on by hordes of rooster-waving Wallonians, gave the race its first few solid tugs at just over 40k to go, but Jens Voight turned himself inside out to keep the field together until La Redoute. As riders jostled for position on that climb, Damiano Cunego (yes, another Reagan Baby) found himself bounced off onto the two feet of grass between pavement and barriers, and decided he’d better thin out the herd with an attack. The end result was a field split, with the all favorites on the happy end of it, and a bunch of Quick.Step second-tier guys on the other.

Not wanting to wait around for Bettini’s thugs to catch up, Caisse d’Epargne sent Joaquin Rodriguez (b. 1979) up the road. Rabobank’s Michael Boogerd, sensing the “wait-and-see” attitude in the field, bridged up, and together they amassed a 42-second gap. Becoming suddenly urgent, Bettini threw down the Mother of All Attacks and dropped everyone, including Valverde, who had tried hard to follow. But as The Cricket cleared the top of a small hill, he stopped pedaling. Though no one behind him really put watts to pedal in a chase (Reagan Baby Thomas Dekker might have been working the hardest working rider in the race at this point , flailing and yelling at the 2nd camera moto to stop pacing the bunch behind), thanks to a long, wide descent down a superhighway, the first group came back together at the foot of the Cote St. Nick, some 15 seconds behind the breakaway.

The catch was odd, really, with most of the top riders, led by Martin Pedriguero, bridging up one by one. Somewhere in here, Vino’ got dropped. After the descent, CSC tried tossing out 1-2 attacks with Ivan Basso and Frank Schleck (Reagan Baby), but up the final climb in Ans, it became increasingly clear that this race would be settled on the final, flat 300 meter stretch. T-Mobile non-sprinter Patrick “Stinky” Sinkewitz (another Reagan Baby), hoping to place on position alone, led it out around the dramatic left-hand turn that caps the climb to Ans, with Valverde tucked in behind his wheel, and Bettini and Cunego strung along behind him. At 150m, Valverde jumped around the German to the right. Bettini tried to go with him, but was immediately gapped, and faded toward the line, lucky to have not been caught by Cunego, who took third. Sinkewitz just missed the podium in 4th, making his third top-five in a week.

The Cycling.TV Drinking Game

23 Apr

Not sure how many of you will find this useful, but here goes: alcohol has long been used to augment classics of cinema, and I have here attempted to carry that spirit over into the classics of cycling. I know that most of Cycling.TV‘s races air between 7 and 9am EDT, but that’s what they invented Bloody Marys and Mimosas for, right? I think the real issue may be that college students, who seem to find the most use for such boozy diversions, are either asleep or racing on early Sunday when the races are run. I suppose you could do it to their on-demand race highlights, but where’s the fun in that? Anyway, this should make tomorrow’s Liege a blast, no matter how conservatively it’s raced.

The game goes like this: all players drink on each of the prompts listed below. A drink is defined as anywhere from a tender sip to a hearty swig of the player’s beverage of choice, at the player’s discretion, based on his or her target level of intoxication and plans for the rest of the day. Game ends when the race does; if all goes well, everyone’s a winner.

Drink every time the streaming video jumps, stalls, or is interrupted; drink twice if you have to reset it.

Drink once for every one of your friends who will have to wait 10 hours to watch the tape delay on OLN.

Drink every time Anthony asks an easy question just to make Brian talk some more (you’ll have to exercise your own judgement on this one).

Drink every time Brian criticizes a rider for wasting too much energy; drink twice if the rider is Paolo Bettini.

Drink every time Anthony talks about how nice the pictures are.

Drink every time Anthony talks about how they can’t be blamed for bad camera work.

Drink every time Anthony uses the phrase “come to grief”, “spent force” or “armchair ride”, describes a hill’s grade as a ratio (instead of a percent), makes an “Ooooffff” noise, or refers to a team as “The [insert team name]” (e.g. “The Liquigas”, “The Quick.Step”, etc)

Drink every time Brian makes a cell phone call to Sean Yates, Scott Sunderland, or any of his other contacts in the team car; drink twice if they can’t get though.

Drink if Anthony’s or Brian’s pick wins; finish your drink if Anthony lies and claims to have picked the winner after the race ends.

Drink every time Brian looks bored when he’s in the studio.

Drink every time English profanity or crudely-rendered genitals are scrawled across the road.

Drink every time a rider who was previously described as “looking strong” gets dropped.

Drink every time an email message is read on-air.

Drink every time a commercial break is less than 30 seconds long.

Drink every time Brian agrees (with anything).

Drink every time a player mentions Phil Ligget or Paul Sherwen; drink twice if they mention Bob Roll (abuse of this rule is considered poor form).

Drink every time Anthony hopefully suggests that a rider he can’t identify is British or American; drink twice if the rider actually is British or American.

Drink every time Anthony encourages viewers to buy the Premium service.

Drink every time Anthony expresses hope that a late-race move will stay clear; drink twice if Brian believes the winner will instead come from the second group.

Drink every time the controls are unavailable (as far as I can tell, they are always unavailable – just click them if you’re feeling thirsty).

Drink every time a post-race interview is conducted in English; drink twice if it involves profanity.

Now this is a crash…

21 Apr

I found a decently sized rock on the side of the road on a group ride earlier this week and went flying, but it had photographers been present, it would have been nowhere near as exciting as this. Piecing together exactly what went wrong here is great fun. My guess is that’s Marco Velo (who broke his collarbone) is the Milram chap somewhat obscured by Hondo.

I suppose the fact that Danilo Hondo didn’t get caught up in such a catastrophic crash upon his return to the peloton could be taken as a sign that the anti-doping gods approve of his somewhat unorthodox exoneration process. Then again, the fact that there was a crash at all could be those same anti-doping gods registering their disgust.

I wonder if there’s some sort of anti-doping diviner we could consult on the topic…

Valverde Adds Belgium To Countries He's Won Races In

19 Apr

Every time Alejandro Valverde wins a race, I think about how Velonews‘ spring preview last year complained that he’d never won a race outside of Spain. Never mind that he’d been 3rd in the ’03 Vuelta, while winning the combine classification, along with two stages, and then finished second (to his teammate) at that year’s World Championships (held in Canada, by the way), or that the next year he won three week-long stage races, before finishing in the Top 10 at worlds (again, assisting a teammate who won). “Never won a race outside of Spain” – the Journal of Competitive Cycling, folks; get your subscription today. I wonder if Valverde sent them a postcard from Courchevel last July…

Anyway for those of you who missed it, Valverde (Caisse-d’Epargne) took one of the more effortless Fleche-Wallonne wins I’ve ever seen today. Things were pretty active at my least-favorite (not that I don’t like it) of the April classics this time around, with Oscar Freire and Alexandre Moos making the first race-threatening attack with 60k+ to go. Quick-Step and Liquigas put the chase on, working for Bettini and DiLuca, respectively, but their captains let them down a bit: Bettini by nearly becoming a gold-pated hood ornament on some spectator’s minivan, gesticulating wildly at race motos, and generally not focusing on the race, and DiLuca by just kinda hanging around in the front group, instead of driving it. Not such a big deal for The Killer, as he’s keying up for the Giro, but Bettini was apparently full-on for this one.

Some interesting faces showed up toward the end of the race, including T-Mobile’s Mattias Kessler, who tore the group apart over the penultimate climb, and Ivan Basso, who rode hard to bring it back together on the descent. Valverde kept hitting it on the front between the last two climbs, but the chasers were too many, and things were together, more or less, until 2k to go. Then Bjorn Leukemans figured he’d better let people have a look at the Davitamon kit soon, because they sure weren’t gonna see it at the finish line. His flyer made it a fair distance up the Mur, before Koldo Gil of Saunier Duval attacked from the Red Kite.

It was the last Fleche winner not to have also won Amstel, Igor Astarloa, who set off the final sprint with a big move at 700m to go, and if you’d never seen this race finish before, you might have thought it a winner. But lactic acid is an impatient creditor and called in the debt on the Barloworld rider on the final steep pitch. Right as the hill eased up with 100m to go, David Etxebarria (Liberty Seguros), Valverde, Karsten Kroon (CSC), and Sammy Sanchez (Euskatel) were shoulder to shoulder, but the non-Basque Spaniard put on a 4-5 pedalstroke burst to make you wonder what was wrong with the other three. After a quick glance behind, he put up a decidedly relaxed arms-to-the-sides salute as Sanchez out-gritted Kroon to sort out the podium.

It kinda surprised me to see Valverde win so easily, especially after his surprising absence from the tougher stage finishes at Pais Vasco (which Sanchez performed well on) and his suffering at Amstel earlier in the week. Perhaps the distance still hurts the young Spaniard, as his Tour win came after “just” 180k, and today’s victory after “only” 200. Though I’d never count Valverde out of any race (at least any race that doesn’t end in “Roubaix”), I’m still hesitant to list him among the favorites at this Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

The Race Organizers' Ten Commandments – Rant

18 Apr

I. Thy race documentation shalt be as concise, clear, and accurate as possible.
II. There shalt be separate pre-registered and day-of registration areas.
III. Thou shalt not organize thy race check-in by field.
IV. Thou shalt not distribute thy race numbers without regard to field.
V. Thy registration areas shalt be clearly delineated.
VI. There shalt be toilets in proportion to field size.
VII. There shalt be signage to all Critical Areas, and for all Critical Events.
VIII. Thou shalt not distribute swag on the honor system.
IX. Thou shalt have separate start times listed for each field.
X. Thou shalt start thy races on time.

I. Thy race documentation shalt be as concise, clear, and accurate as possible.

All too often, organizers seem to draw up flyers because they “feel like the race needs one”. Look at this example: no start location (perhaps we are intended to infer it from packet pickup?), no directions, packet pickup times that extend past the alleged race starts, two separate fields listed as being simultaneously run when they are not, resulting in needless additional footnotes, and the gearing and course description are not (in my opinion) what you would call “accurate”.

Similar issues plague this event’s webpage: information is spawled out down the page, requiring massive amounts of scrolling, the mish-mash of fonts, sizes and styles used makes it difficult to pick links out from text, the field information for online registration directly contradicts what’s posted on the flyer, directions are generic from MapQuest, and to top it all off, there’s a t-shirt ad stuck right into the middle of it. The course map and profile are the least deficient documents, with the map merely being cluttered, and the listed distance on the profile of 55.82mi being inaccurate (it’s just under 55).

A course flyer should be all the information you need for a given race site on a single page (or a general information page plus one page/event for weekends/stage races); that means no “see webpage” instructions, no “ask a friend who did it last year”. Pretend you’re going to compete in a grueling athletic endeavor in an area that’s completely foreign to you. What would you want to know?

My requirements would be a short, accurate course description, hand-made, local-knowledge directions, written simply enough enough to be followed while driving, along with clearly stated start times and locations. The information would be presented in an easy-to-read, logical fashion to minimize footnotes, and designed to be printed (.pdf is best, .doc is ok; webpages usually print poorly). Some style is acceptable as an afterthought. This year’s Beanpot flyer is a decent example (if a bit crowded).

II. There shalt be separate pre-registered and day-of registration areas.

This one’s a no-brainer. Pre-reg check-in requires showing a license and signing a release. In, out, and done with. That, not the five-dollar late registration penalty, is why people pre-reg. Day-of requires filling out at least one form, usually a couple. The difference in speed between these two lines is so astronomical that they should never come anywhere near each other. Don’t gripe to me about field limits – you’ll know when pre-reg ends how many spaces you have left. And if you can’t manage to have at least two different volunteers on registration, you might want to think twice about holding a race.

III. Thou shalt not organize thy race check-in by field.

This one really ticks me off, especially after three years of racing Cat 4. The objective of every registration table should be to minimize lines by getting the most people in and out in the shortest amount of time. When you register by field, you all but guarantee that certain lines will swell up, twist, and fatten, creating mobs that confuse the people in tinier fields, making them think they, too, have to wait in line. Additionally, since all members of a given field start racing at the same time, they have a tendency to arrive on site at the same time, too.

Best bet for check-in is ALWAYS alphabetical. Take all your pre-reg entries, put them into a spreadsheet (which they should be in already) and divide them into even sections based on the number of volunteers you have. This all but guarantees each line will be of equal and minimal size at any given time. It means a bit more work the night before, because you’ll have to staple numbers the registration forms by field (see Commandment IV), then re-sort them into alphabetical order. But this busywork will pay off in spades the next morning, for racers and volunteers alike.

IV. Thou shalt not distribute thy race numbers without regard to field.

Just a small touch here – since field sizes are generally under 100, distribute numbers (or dossards or bibs or whatever you want to call them) based on field. Example: Pro/1/2 Women get bibs 1-99, Pro/1/2 Men get bibs 100-199, etc, etc. This way, organizers can tell immediately which field a given racer is in, and thus know whether they’re off the front, off the back, drafting illegally in another field, or just plain lost. It also lets dropped racers know who they can and can’t work with, without the awkward “what field are you in” banter. You’ll inevitably end up wasting a few numbers in this process, but, you know, eggs::omelet. Most race organizers already function along these lines, and kudos to them.

V. Thy registration areas shalt be clearly delineated.

99.9% of infuriating registrations are a result of violating this rule. Not to whip skin from a horse carcass, but last weekend’s Battenkill-Roubaix furnished another great example of what not to do: they had a small registration tent, used only one side of it, and then hung signs for each line off a 3-foot-high registration table. 3-foot-high signs? What is this? A registration center for ants? Needless to say, for anyone who arrived after 8am, it was a long and laborious wait for 15 seconds of registering.

If you’re expecting six fields of 50-100 riders, you need to plan for it. My advice is to post signs at 6 feet or higher, and they must be BIG, to been seen over the crowd. The top of the tent seems an ideal location to mount (not hang) a very large (posterboard) sign for each registration group. Imagine you’re designing an interstate highway – use posts and rope to create definite “lanes” for each registration group. Too expensive? Use a roll of duct tape to form lanes on the pavement, and put up signs on folding chairs or “Wet Floor” signs at regular intervals. You can borrow some of those, right? To keep everything flowing smoothly, find an extra volunteer to stand toward the end of the lanes and direct people where to go.

Also, if possible, don’t just form one long registration plane for everyone. Align tables at right angles to each other to further separate registration lines. If you’ve got a tent, don’t just register off of one side; use three, keeping the fourth clear so officials and volunteers can come and go. Avoiding racer commingling is critical to an efficient registration process. In this vein, be sure also to to place registration far enough from restrooms and building exits to avoid any cross-traffic.

VI. There shalt be toilets in proportion to field size.

Can’t stress this one enough, people: if you can’t supply ample facilities, and keep them clean and in good working order, you can’t put on a race. Assume each of your racers will visit the toilet at least once before your event, and expect that they’ll need 5 minutes to do so. 1 toilet per 20-25 competitors should do the trick, though it depends largely on how widely spaced the start times are. Also, to speed the traffic through sanitary facilities, post patriotic posters on the inside of stall and porta-john doors, reminding athletes that “When you change clothes in the stall, you’re chamois-ing up with Osama bin Laden”.

VII. There shalt be signage to all Critical Areas, and for all Critical Events.

All those toilets won’t do much good if no one can find them. This is especially important when holding events at schools or other large, circuitous buildings. At larger events, signs may be required for staging, start and registration areas as well. This might seem excessive, since a racer can just ask an organizer or official where to find something, but keep in mind that organizer or official has now been distracted from whatever job they were supposed to be doing. Multiply that distraction by hundreds of racers, and it’s bound to slow things down a bit.

Make signs of day-glo posterboard with black marker – it’s sharp, eye-catching and more water-resistant than just a computer printout. Never be afraid to make a sign too big, and remember that while indoor signs can be attached to walls by just about anything, outdoor signs suffer from wind, moisture and clumsy bike racers. Anything put up out of doors stands up best (in my experience) attached to a deeply rooted wooden stake with nails or heavy-duty staples. A big, freestanding whiteboard in the main parking area or at registration can make a great place to put up announcements (numbers on right, start time changes, etc) and general directions.

VIII. Thou shalt not distribute swag on the honor system.

If the race comes with a complimentary water bottle, or cheese sample, or coffee grounds, put one of each in each athlete’s packet, and keep the rest secure until toward the end of the event, when interested parties or volunteers can come to snag left-overs. Having a big, open box of water bottles is just an invitation for some hooligan to pick it up, throw it in the back of his Subaru, and drive off, knowing that the street value of 300 bidons well exceeds that of the race entry he just lost.

IX. Thou shalt have separate start times listed for each field.

Bike racers are a nervous bunch. Despite the fact that your flyer may speculatively indicate “10 minutes between fields”, if you only list one start time, people will gravitate toward it no matter what field they’re in. This will cause needless congestion at registration and restrooms, and encourage bored racers from later categories to engage in such no-nos as riding around on course while other fields are racing.

I know it can be difficult to to prognosticate on these things, but no one ever said race organization would be easy. Go out on a limb and publish a guess at when each field will start. Having set times, even if they are, at best, speculative fiction, will reduce annoying questions from racers, smooth out registration, keep bathrooms fresher longer, and just make everything run more smoothly. Just remember: once you’ve posted a race time, DO NOT EVER start the race earlier. I once drove 4 hours through the Rockies to find that the race I’d signed up for had already been won.

X. Thou shalt start thy races on time.

I know hitting every start time square on the head is a virtual impossibility. But getting that first field lined up and off on schedule will alleviate a ton of problems. Tardy starts just snowball, making each progressive race later and later, sending racers back to the bathrooms, confusing timers, frustrating officials, and generally making everyone miserable because it’s freaking 4pm on a Saturday already and they just want to go home.

Organize exactly when everyone is going to be where ahead of time, and make sure all the officials, organizers and course marshals are clear on it. “Playing it by ear” is never an option. Sometimes, starting a race on time means leaving a few riders behind. Tough beans. You posted a schedule, you started on time, they blew it.

Fortune Favors the Bold

18 Apr

I know this hardly seems relevant to Americans, what with Tour de Georgia starting tomorrow and all, but I thought that was a pretty good Amstel they had on Sunday. The bunch stayed together a little longer than I like to see in a classic, probably because some people think they can just wait, sit on, and win the uphill sprint. That’s the problem with these Ardennes classics, same as it’s the problem with pretty much any amateur road race with an uphill finish; put a big hill at the end, and (usually) no one wants to attack ’til then. Boogard, having blown the sprint for the the uphill finish (that was supposed to keep the race from ending in a sprint in the first place, after Zabel’s Y2K victory panicked the Amstel race organizers) two years running, probably studied the heck out of the Cauberg this off-season.

Thankfully, it didn’t do him a lot of good. After a long and spirited chase, his Rabobank squad left him all alone when Paolo Bettini started jumping about like, well, like a cricket. Thus the nickname, I suppose, but proving with much ostentation that you have the best legs with 50k to go is no way to win this event. No, once the home team got through grinding itself into dust, and after the favorite got through channelling Bernard Hinault, and while T-Mobile was burning off its strongest rider so its leader could underperform (forget what the caption says, Ivanov was protected all day but still DFL in the sprint – anyway, it’s kind of a habit for the boys in fuchsia), it was Frank Schleck, shattering the looming specter of another irritating hill sprint finish, who stormed off wildly to victory.

And I do mean wildly. Frank, who’s known to be a bit unstable (see 3k to go) at times, rode across at least one Dutch driveway while overshooting corners on the race’s final descent, but kept it rubber-side down long enough to take the win. The Schleckster was apparently pretty jazzed about it, too, as nearly 20 minutes after the crossing the line, he told an English language interviewer that he looked back at 300 meters and realized “Fuck, I’m gonna win this shit” (from the live video on Cycling.TV; you can’t get access like that on OLN). Also psyched was CSC teammate Karsten Kroon, who got sweet revenge, playing the support role in helping his new squad spank his old one in their home race. Here’s to hoping Fleche-Wallonne is as aggressively raced.