Archive | August, 2009

Vino's New Saddle

28 Aug

So is he supposed to be The Thing? Or The Incredible Hulk? Neither seems particularly conducive to being a cyclist, or particularly linked to Vino’s personality—The Thing was part of a team and relied on the abilities of three other superheros, and Bruce Banner, the Hulk’s initial human form, is a brilliant physicist.

vinokourovs_saddle_600

I suppose one could take Vino’s muttery press conferences as the quiet, intentional reserve Banner shows when not hulked out. Other than turning green, Vino’ does have many Hulk-like attributes on the bike—but it’s hard to imagine someone as smart at Bruce Banner continuing to insist he never doped.

We're Getting Antsy, Here!

28 Aug

1294225878_7eafdffd42The Vuelta is close enough that you can almost taste it—and not a moment too soon. Cycling fans have been getting antsy with the second tier events.

The Classics hand off so nicely to the Giro, and then June splinters into a largely two-tiered Tour warm-up—Dauphine or Suisse. July is sensation, but afterwards, cycling wanders Europe like a bunch of hungover Freshmen on Saturday morning.

It’s safe to say Vuelta squads must be some of the hardest to pick. Some top contenders weren’t even considering the event until their Tours collapsed. Others are on a hot streak, but—having already done two Grand Tours—may be taking career risks by piling on a third. Of course, if they’ll be on another squad next year, is that really the DS’ problem?

Of course, with this year’s Vuelta starting on the flat and friendly roads of the Netherlands, and a rest day coming a mere four stages into the race, I’d imagine that first week attrition will be fairly high, as the sprinters attempt to make hay while the sun shines, well ahead of the four staggering mountaintop finishes slated for the ’09 event.

Worst Bike Video Ever?

25 Aug

This has got to be a troll post. It strains my rural-bred credulity to think that a legitimate news source like Slate could produce a video so rife with misconceptions, and yet so utterly devoid of the information that people buying “Urban Euro Bikes” really ought to know.


Let’s start with equating weight and durability. In the timeless words of Keith Bontrager, “Strong, light, cheap. Choose two.” For the nearly $1200+ price tag of each of these bikes, I can build up an old hardtail that will take the Pepsi Challenge against these machines in any urban environment, and tip the scales at roughly half the weight.

When you’re schlepping your bike up stairs, over curbs, and down sidewalks as America’s woefully inadequate infrastructure forces law-abiding cyclists to do, weight becomes far more critical than this feature suggests. The concern is double if your commute involves any sort of uphill—a geographical feature notoriously absent in the Netherlands.

While Seth Stevenson does note that the bikes are designed to be, and indeed are, quite comfortable, he neglects to mention how difficult they are to maneuver on a shared urban roadway. Maybe if he’d ridden somewhere other than a quiet side street—in the wrong direction, I might add—he might have learned threading those “beautiful little handlebars” between rear-view mirrors is a near-impossibility for all but the most agile bike handler.

Then there’s the absence of any real technical discussion. Yes, it’s mentioned that the Biomega is a chainless bike, and yes, anyone willing to drop $1200 on a frilly commuter is going to take it to the shop when it breaks and pay whatever they’re charged. But for the rest of us, the varying costs of maintenance and repair between different drivetrains and braking systems are deal-breaking considerations.

I’m sure by now some tight-pants, Converse-wearing intern has indignantly informed you that “fixed-gear” and “coaster brake” are not synonymous, so I’ll just skip to saying that when factors like wheel quality, tire suppleness, flat protection, and overall fit have a massive impact on satisfaction for even the most amateur rider, it’s inane to mention the lack of a three-dollar bell.

The simple fact is that cycling in America is different than cycling in Amsterdam Utrecht, and to expect a bike designed for one to perform well at the other is kinda like entering your BMW in a tractor pull. That’s not to say that urban Euro bikes are useless in the US, but the considerations resulting from the gap in infrastructure are critically important.

The inadequacy of this video would almost be forgivable if Slate hadn’t made it clear that they were already aware of the transcontinental divergence in urban cycling conditions.

How, Exactly, Does One "Come Back"?

24 Aug

vinoI wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it from so many sources: Alexandre Vinokourov, aka Vino-4-Ever, is not only back racing, he’s riding for the same Astana team that Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador struggled for control of this summer, under the very same same director that struggled to control them.

Not only that, but Vino’ will be present at the Vuelta, and from the looks of Astana’s line-up, leading the team in the GC hunt.

How exactly does this happen? How do two riders, ejected from the very same race and subject to very similar suspensions, end up at such dissimilar places once their punishment is up? Moreover, how is it that the rider who actually tested positive is the one back at the highest level?

How does it happen that other riders, never convicted of anything—though inextricably linked to a very prominent case—end up bouncing around the minor leagues, limited to some respectable wins from time to time, while those caught red-handed a year later are already back trying their luck at the biggest events?

What about the riders who never make it back? Is it really just lack of desire? Of good connections? Even after hip surgery, Landis was as strong against Dave Weims as Armstrong a year later—but the stark contrast between their 2009 seasons suggests something more may be at play.

It’s tempting to attribute failure to bounce back as the obvious result of clean riding in place of dirty. But if all it took to jump from a middling US Pro and a guy capable of putting 6 minutes into the entire TdF field was a skewed epitestosterone ratio, every athlete in the world would have a quack script for androgel.

In a sport so focused on nailing-down sea of objective, milimeter-level details—aerodynamic drag, power-to-mass ratio, co-efficients of friction—could the age-old attributes of being hard-headed and well-connected still be the biggest determinant in predicting success?

It's Officially Revenge Season

23 Aug

stijnRevenge season. That’s what I’d call this time of year. Get a little too skinny, and suddenly, some rain and a little hill is just too much to take.

Long seasons take a toll. Mark Cavendish may indeed be growing weary after a season of winning pretty much everything—he, too, was shaken out from the Tour of Ireland finale, while those toiling in the shadows, waiting for their moment, pounced.

Battered, season-long contenders can take inspiration—and occasionally share in a wins—from their teammates, but for the most part, this is the moment for riders to make up for misfortune.

Tyler Farrar took a win that he considered at the very edge of his abilities at ENECO, after missing the classics season from injury. Today, Farrar lost the lead to Edvald Boassen Hagen, whose rest during the TdF is now paying dividends.

Need I point out that the Vuelta is a veritable rogue’s gallery of riders who couldn’t quite get it done at the Tour? Sean Kelly, Tony Rominger, Laurent Jalabert, Alexander Vinokourov, Roberto Heras, among others, have all won the race—albeit many of them claiming the Golden Jersey in the race’s April-May incarnation.

After a few less-than-stellar years as American cycling’s GC heir-apparent, I’m excited to see what sort of damage a well-rested Tom Danielson can do this September. and looking even further forward, what Alessandro Petacchi can do against the youngsters, now that he’ll be sprinting a full ProTour schedule.

It's Inspiring, People

20 Aug

garminGarmin-Slipstream, presented by Chipotle. Who else out there is excited to see them in the driver’s seat at ENECO? Sure, it’s a second-tier ProTour event, likely backed a little harder than it ought to be by the UCI because it’s a non-Grand Tour-owned race, but hey—race leader, two stage wins, Brad Wiggins “layin’ back in the cut” as the kids used to say—that’s solid.

Of course, you could be all Debbie Downer about it, and point out that neither Cav, nor the ever-pinballing Petacchi, nor Hushovd nor a banged-up Robbie McEwen is there to battle Farrar for stage wins. Oh, sure, Boonen’s around, but he hasn’t done jack since winning Roubaix, and then there was that other thing, and well, just look at this photo.

Heck, if I wanted to be a real dick, I could point out that even Jimmy Casper had his day in the sun at a week-long stage race, but I am NOT going to do that, because I am a positive person. At least today I am. Because I have been inspired by Emanuelle Sella, who seems genuinely happy to be back racing.

I’m also inspired by the efforts of Caisse D’Epargne, who were somehow allowed to get a two-man time trial off the front and away for victory at the Tour de Limousin. In the sort of thing that just isn’t supposed to happen in modern racing, David Arroyo took the stage win, while his companion, Mathieu Perget, lept into first on GC.

Lots of Racing If You're Racing

18 Aug

beigginsBrad Wiggins is a forgetful guy. First off, he obviously misplaced his Garmin-Slipstream aero lid, and was forced to pair his Robin’s Egg and Creamsicle Argyle skinsuit with an obviously uncomplimentary Union Jack helmet.

His resulting detention by the fashion police doubtlessly cost him the stage (he was only :02 out), but the Brit seemed pleased enough with the performance—apparently he also forgot that he’s really, really good at racing for roughly four kilometers.

In the end, it was Sylvain Chavanel who won the opening stage at the Eneco Tour (né BeNeLux), despite the best efforts of VeloNews to spotlight Tyler Farrar into victory. The sprinter ended up a single second back, meaning Garmin-Slipstream is in a fairly sound position as the GC battle kicks off—it will be interesting to see how fortune smites them this time.

Elsewhere, Emanuelle Sella (seen here being a little too awesome) made his return to racing after year-long drug suspension. From what I can tell, the punishment was shortened from the normal 24 months because he agreed to race in a very ugly kit upon his return. At any rate, he had no bearing on the outcome of the Tre Valli Varesine, which—no matter how it came to happen—seems like a prudent decision on his part.

Meanwhile, Alessandro Petacchi is looking for a job next year—and some races to do before then. Man do I know how that feels. The second day at Chris Thater, the Mayor’s Cup and the Jamestown Classic all lack a Men’s 3 field. It could be worse, I suppose. I could be in California, routing my training around forest fires. The official line is that the latest was started by a marijuana smuggling ring—which, if his latest interview is any indication, could mean any group ride containing Gary Fisher.

Why Isn't Usain Bolt More Of A Lightning Rod?

17 Aug

bolt(This post badly misrepresents the difference between Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay’s 100m times. The actual difference is closer to 1%)

This past weekend, Usain Bolt ran 100 meters in 9.58 seconds —by far the best time ever recorded. The performance makes Bolt faster than any other man in history by a full 10%*—roughly the same margin by which Mark McGuire eclipsed Roger Maris’ single-season home run record in 1998.

Don’t take this post as incendiary—I’m hoping as fervently as possible that Bolt’s performances come with no asterisks. I’m just here to point out the fairly easy ride he’s getting.

When Alberto Contador exceeded Riis’ climbing rate by 1% this summer, the whole world muttered “doper”. Just imagine the response if a cyclist broke the current Hour Record by a full five kilometers—the same 10% accomplished by Bolt’s recent 100m performance.

Before 2005, only one man—Maurice Greene—had ever run under 9.8 seconds in the 100m, and even his long and illustrious career, he only ever managed it once. Since 2005, the feat has been accomplished a staggering 18 times by five sprinters—of these, one is currently serving a doping suspension, and another is currently in jail.

If the sudden ability of many athletes to achieve the previously unachievable doesn’t mirror the effects of EPO on cycling, or steroids on the MLB, I don’t know what does. Technical improvements like compression garments or better-designed spikes could be improving times, but advent of dramatically lighter and more aerodynamic parts to the peloton still didn’t explain away the record-setting Tours of the late 90s. Nor did the occasional corked bat prove the innocence of baseball.

Bolt has plenty going in his favor as a a unique specimen among sprinters; even accepting the supposition that something is rotten amongst 100m runners, Bolt is miles beyond them. And for those who believe the absence of evidence argument, he’s never failed a drugs test, nor had anything rumored against him.

But with second-best Tyson Gay revealing his full blood profile, and with suspicion always swirling around how seriously Jamaica takes drug testing, I think an examination of the idea that Bolt just might be doping deserves a little more effort—in fairness to cyclists, at the very least.

Catching Up After the Weekend

17 Aug

farrarAh, back from a relaxing weekend of stage racing at the Tour de Millersburg. While I’m not a fan of 3/4 fields—I should have just done the P/1/2/3 race and taken my beating—the event is fun, supremely well-organized, and enjoys a ton of community support. Well-worth the long ride down from Boston; if you’re closer than that, it’s a must-have for next year’s schedule.

The big news, at least for American cycling fans, was that Tyler Farrar and Garmin finally got a big win at Vattenfall Cyclassics. I think many outlets have been spinning it as *the* big win, but my standards for the definite article are Gent-Wevegem, Grand Tour stage, or higher. Podium Cafe claims significance because it’s the “first true sprinters’ win by an American in a classic”; I say, which other storied fast men did Farrar best in this sprinters’ race, exactly?

As usual, the event was accompanied by a string of ludicrously low-resolution photos on Garmin’s Flickr stream. I can’t even tell what sweet new ink Farrar was protecting from the sun during his win. Are there really that many royalties to be lost from people using your images without attribution/making their own high-res prints? The eye-punishing size and restrictive licensing of these photos virtually eliminates their value as promotional materials—which, if the “blog this” link above them is any indication, they are meant to be.

Possibly because of this affront to the Internet Gods, the Vattenfalls win was bumped rudely from sports headlines in the “Etc.” section—politely termed “Olympic” by ESPN—by two stories. The first was Lance Armstrong’s addle-pated demolition of the Leadville 100 record, the latest in a continuing week of nonsense from the Texan, who may or may not have implied that said George Hincapie would be riding with him next year. The other was Usain Bolt’s 9.58 100m dash, on which I’ll have more to say later.

So now the cycling season rolls into its deepest malaise, after the post-Tour rush, but before the Vuelta. Rider dairies are all blathery about trying to stay fired up when so many others are getting worn down or tossing out the anchor. One could stay active by keeping abreast of the ENECO Tour or awaiting Jens Voigt’s return—provided one wasn’t stuck in a cubicle all day or already busy daydreaming about ‘cross.

Is It Just Me, Or Has Lance Gone Bonkers?

13 Aug

lanceWhat’s Lance’s deal lately? Spreading scurrilous rumors about truncated April Vueltas. Everyone knows that the rain—or snow, as the case may be—falls mainly on the plain in the Low Countries until at least May.

Would the UCI seriously want to restart its proxy war with the Grand Tour organizers by shortening the Vuelta to 14 days? Even with a retooled (and presumably ProTour-backed) Coors Classic to fill the gap, I doubt that’s a power move the UCI is willing to make—at least until the results of the Tour of Cali/Giro d’Italia showdown are in.

I blame low blood sugar from what is clearly a case of manorexia gone bad. Unsatisfied with simply beating him on the GC, Lance is also gunning for Brad Wiggins’ mark of 4% body fat (which, by the way, still isn’t too skinny, to double-fist). And all this in training for what—setting the record at some mountain bike race?

What ever happened to raiding the Brussels Metro for that Hour Record attempt? Or are you just waiting to hit 40, so you can equal the feat of Francesco Moser—who, by the way, hasn’t been out of shape since the Johnson Administration. Of course, Moser’s record made use of great strides in aerodynamics—and some other fields as well. Lord only knows the rumors that would fly if Lance set it.