Archive | October, 2009

Some Thoughts On Sponsorship

29 Oct

Yesterday, Outside editor John Bradley tweeted the message I’ve inserted below. It’s a nice thought, and there’s some good logic behind it—Google’s a smart, agile company, with business all over the world. It’s also been running YouTube at a loss for years, so the company isn’t gun-shy about seeing little-to-no direct monetary return on high-profile investments.

team_google_tweet

The problem is, logic has no place in cycling sponsorships. None. Winningest team in the ProTour? American squad sponsored by an American sportswear company that doesn’t even sell cycling apparel. It’s secondary sponsor? A telephone handset manufacturer that barely produces any phones under it’s own brand in the US. Does any of this make sense? Of course not.

It’s tempting to pin the roots of this nonsense on the old US Postal Service squads, which promoted a domestic American mail service all across Europe for six full years. The squad was then taken over by Discovery Channel, who, other than a few glib commercials, gave zero airtime to the exploits of the team. Money well spent, no doubt.

You’d think things would be better over in Europe, where people at least have a decent grasp of the sport’s nuances. But no: Quick.Step? It’s a flooring company. And nothing sells a smooth, clean, well-laid hardwood kitchen floor like mud-spattered Belgians ricocheting off the hilliest, lumpiest, most mangled cobblestone roads in the world.

Just look at the businesses lining up next season. Footon? First off, the company needs to learn how to use the Internet—the first Google result is from Urban Dictionary, and footon.com, .net and .dk are all similarly unhelpful. If it weren’t for Andrew Hood, I’d have no idea that Footon is (drum roll) a Danish foot-beds manufacturer.

So Denmark + footwear + cycling…what comes to mind? Oh yeah. That’s exactly what a squad that’s trying to shed the image of its dope-laiden past is going for. I’m totally gonna invite these guys to my ProTour race, esepcially when The Chicken himself has said he’s got a top-tier ride for next season, but hasn’t revealed who it is yet.

I don’t want to insist outright that Rasmussen will be riding for Footon-Servetto next season, but a Danish sponsor—when the other big Danish name is spoken for—is pretty compelling evidence.

Then there’s De Rosa/Stac Plastic. In case you don’t read The Economist (article reproduced illegally here), everything in cycling is made in the same East Asian factories, and branding is key to a successful enterprise. So what better name to pair with a high-end classic like De Rosa than “Stac Plastic”. It adds so much to the gravitas, does it not?

Rather than the plastic storage bins or Lego-knockoffs you might imagine a company named “Stac Plastic” producing, it turns out the firm is actually a manufacturer of spray adhesives. I learned this from their totally sweet website (motion gifs? <frame> tags? BALLER.) that—in addition to pointing out their official sponsorship of Team LPR—features not one, not two, but three riders who have failed drug tests in the past two years. Could you ask for better brand representation? I think not.

So on second thought, #TeamGoogle might not be that much of a stretch. The Internet is rife with cycling sites that look like they’ve been optimized for IE 2.0 and that display none of the customization and versatility that’ve become the hallmark of the Modern Internet Venture. If nonsense sponsorship really is the rule in the cycling world, it’s not a matter of if there’ll be a Team Google, but when.

Props To Cadel Evans

29 Oct

I realize, looking back through my blog, that Cadel Evans, for a variety of reasons, ends up portrayed in a not-entirely-awesome light. And that’s a little unfair.

cadel

Many of Cadel’s more readily-caricatured traits—crankiness, occasionally short temper, especially with those organizing/supporting races—are shortcomings a ton of other racers (not to mention cycling bloggers) share.

Cadel finds himself in the crosshairs so much more than everyone else because he’s good, and he’s pretty open about what he shares with the Internet. I think he deserves more credit for having a sense of humor about the negative attention his outbursts occasionally receive:

magnified_shirt

(via ednl. confused?.)

Don't Snort at Media Standards

27 Oct

holland_sportWhat is this show “Holland Sport”, on which cyclists say things to the world? It does not seem like it sets a reasonable standard for investigative reporting.

(you should probably read the comments before proceeding)

First it was Thomas Dekker, talking about how EPO didn’t help and how he only took it once. Now it’s Tom Boonen, talking about how he can’t ever remember taking cocaine. Fact is, Tommeke may just be the first case of “second-hand coke” in recorded history. Wonder how long it’s going to take to get that on his Wikipedia page.

That’s hard-hitting journalism, folks. So rather than meeting with my boss and her manager for my review this year, I think I’m just going to go over my day-job performance on Holland Sport. I’d almost certainly get a raise—maybe even a promotion. Bet I wouldn’t even need to speak Dutch.

However, outside of fawning (see comments>comments) sports shows, that lack of language agility can be a barrier. Once upon a time, I used to make an effort to keep up with rider transfers, but being monolingual makes it too hard—all that searching and auto-translating and separating fact from rumor.

Fortunately, Cyclingnews has done its best to keep on top of things—and they even made it into a Geocities-closing memorial by laying out list after list on a mile-long HTML page! Just like 1998! Awesome!

And lest any of you accuse me of calling the kettle black, I’m currently doing as much as I can to bump online cycling resources into the 21th century—to 2005, at least.

Reason #487 Why I Don't Run Ads

23 Oct

The image below links to a full HD (1920×1080 pixel) screen shot of the Tour of Flanders map on MapMyRide.com. The new line of iMacs and their massive displays not withstanding, that is friggin’ huge for a browser window.

mapmysmall

Do you see Tour of Flanders?

Not only is the site painful to navigate (give up on their site search and just use Google), but the maps are almost entirely unusable. Floating ads, several layers of banner, pop-ups, motion GIFs—I’m not sure I could create a more infuriating user experience if I tried.

By not running ads, I’ve fixed half the problem. I’m working on fixing the other half now… 🙂

Fashion Police: The Sleeveless Jersey

22 Oct

A sleeveless jersey made an appearance in @CadelOfficial’s twitpic on the ’09 Vuelta rest day:
sleeveless

There’s so much that caught me off-balance in this photo. Guess I should start off by saying that this is the most team support I’ve seen Evans get at Grand Tour since he started riding for Lotto.

Secondly, it’s not even that sunny out—I can see a preening Euro pro wanting to even out the tan lines but given the flat light, I’d have to say this choice is purely for style, not function.

Third, why on earth does Lotto even have a sleeveless jersey in their kit? Does the squad have some secret triathlon team I’m not aware of? Does the Belgian cycling federation allow sleeveless jerseys at a level at which Lotto could potentially be racing?

The only explanation is that the sleeveless look is so hot in Europe that Lotto’s kitmaker can turn a profit selling these things to freds on the Continent. Even then, I’m still amazed that this rider would a) request them from the sponsor, and b) bring at least one along on a Grand Tour specifically for the rest days.

For the sake of cycling, I’m hoping it’s a vest he put on by mistake.

Playing the Lotto

21 Oct

evansI’ve been as thrilled as anyone by Philippe Gilbert’s late-season run. I think the Belgian has a great, positive style of racing that combines both tactics and straight-up guts. And like many others, I’m also thrilled to see Silence-Lotto score a couple of wins, after putting in a ton of effort and making a variety of races this season fun to watch.

But I’m not swayed by the notion that this is some sort of “new Beginning” for Silence-Lotto. Let’s not forget that Lotto put two riders in the final break of six at Roubaix this year, and was only derailed by Juan-Antonio Flecha’s crash. The tactics at Paris-Tours played very similarly to the rest of the classics, with Lotto and Quick.Step making probing attacks and putting a man in as many moves as possible. Not to take anything away from the Autumn Double, but luck plays as big a role as anything in the one-days.

As for Lotto’s performance supporting Cadel Evans in the Grand Tours, I think it’s been pretty miserable. Everyone remembers the bumbling wheel change that might have cost the Aussie the race, but no one seems to remember that Evans never should have been so isolated in the first place. Jurgen Van Den Broeck was on career form at this year’s Tour, and burned off most of it up the road in early breaks—not the kind of teamwork that regularly puts riders in Yellow.

Cadel’s biggest win—the World Championships—had absolutely jack-all to do with Silence Lotto. Not only was Evans riding on an Australian National team that contained no one else from his Belgian trade squad, but he also profited immeasurably from underdog status, as the Italian and Spaniard Squads battled to control the race.

The timing and determination of his attack, plus better-than-most support from his team is what brought Cadel the win at Mendrisio. While his support of the sponsorship is laudable, it’s almost disheartening to see Lotto flacking Evans’ gold medal as “their” accomplishment. More cycling commentators should go out of their way to point this out.

Making Something Useful from the TdF Presentation

19 Oct

tour_reflectI’ve never been much for Grand Tour prognostications immediately upon the release of a given event’s parcours. Aside from the fact that an infinite number of doping convictions, crashes, team developments, and vacillations in form could occur during the next 10 months, the fact is that things tend not to unfold as predicted.

Is the memory of this year’s Tour so faded that people have forgotten how the first action-packed week—tabbed by many beforhand to be something of a bore—led into a week and a half of largely formulaic and negative racing, culminating with a ride to the top of Ventoux that almost appeared to be a mosey to behind two day-long breakaways.

For me, the most telling insights from the 2010 Tour presentation had nothing to do with the route; Alberto Contador’s decidedly unsubtle walk-off of underdressed rival Andy Schleck, and possibly one of the most awkward handshakes ever captured told me all there was to know at this point in time. As Shane Stokes so rightly quipped “spot the alpha male”.

However, that’s not to say that the Tour route data can’t be put to some good use. After all, would I really leave you hanging without a post since Thursday if I weren’t up to something? ‘Cross racing only takes up some much time, you know—even if it involves concocting means of hoseless mud removal while watching others nearly freeze to death.

So I present to you Cyclocosm’s 2010 Tour de France Map viewer. Showing some decent online pluck for a print publication, Velonews put together a Google Maps overlay from what little route has been released so far. I followed-up by building a template around that to make the interface fast, beautiful, and user-friendly.

Outside of fresh scrolling muscles, there are two tremendous benefits to this set-up. The first is that I don’t have to worry about keeping my own version of the map up to date—the source material is identical, so if the map author makes a change, my map changes, too.

The second is that now I have a new content type for displaying Google Maps data; essentially, any bike race you can draw on Google Maps, I can display quickly, easily, and beautifully display within the site—with proper attribution for your efforts, of course.

Oh, one more thing: it doesn’t work in Internet Explorer. And I have no intention of fixing that.

The Peloton Replugged

15 Oct

mbarryI’ve got a lot of respect for Michael Barry. He’s one of the smartest, most introspective, eloquent riders in the peloton. He also happens to disagree with me completely on the issue of race radios in the modern peloton.

Barry recently wrote an extensive, heartfelt argument against race radios in his Velonews diary. While I enjoyed reading it, and understand his feelings on the subject, the essay made some fairly glaring errors and misstatements, so I’ve given it the Fire Joe Morgan treatment. No disrespect is intended; indeed, I’m much more swayed by the authors’ thoughts on radios and TTs.

Barry’s essay begins with a lengthy passage on the modern state of affairs:

Sitting in the middle of the peloton, riding along at a steady tempo as a team controls the pace on the front, I hear our director in the radio: “There is a dangerous descent coming up in four kilometers. Move to the front to stay out of trouble. There is gravel on the corners and many switchbacks. Get to the front.”

Sitting in the car, well behind the peloton, he has seen the technical section of course on the map and the commissaires have also relayed the information to him through their radio broadcast to all the vehicles following the race. Almost instantaneously there is a panic in the peloton.

Every team has ordered its riders, each of whom is wirelessly tethered to a director, to move up. In a few short moments, what was a controlled moment of racing with few dangers has become a panicked fight for the front. Riders push and shove through the bunch as they simultaneously try to follow orders.

My heart begins to race and I grip the bars firmly. Brakes are slammed, wheels skid, bodies bump together and carbon smoke is in the air as a crash is avoided. With several hours of racing remaining we are riding as if we are just minutes from the line. As we crest the summit and turn the first corner to descend, two riders touch handlebars, tangle and crash. The peloton’s nervousness increases and we are soon riding much faster than we had been before as everyone panics. More crashes occur.

I can’t really say, since I’m not a pro, but I don’t think 200 riders barreling unawares into a dangerous descent is safer than 200 riders battling for position a few k earlier. I also can’t say that the correct response is to follow the orders of your DS here—if there are hours left to race, and a long descent, the group should be able to come back together.

That having been said, as a spectator, I find the battles in the peloton that precede major obstacles like cobbled sections and rain-slicked bergs some of the most compelling parts of the modern sport. My apologies if it comes at the expense of the racers.

Radios have changed cycling.

No argument here. So have quick-releases, support cars, and derailleurs. Was lugging a spanner and a spare tubular up each col, slogging along with a choice of two (2) gears better for the sport, too?

Riders have lost their instinct

Oh really?

and have become dependent on the orders from their car and the racing has become increasingly controlled. Radio communication has eliminated many of the variables which make cycling exciting and appealing to the public.

As a member of the public, I must disagree, and reiterate that some radio-created variables have made the sport that much more exciting for me.

When teams began to dominate Formula One, limits were put on the cars and the technology was limited to challenge the drivers, boost the competition and level the playing field. The UCI’s announcement of a radio ban will attempt to accomplish the same thing for cycling.

So banning radios would level the playing field? Despite the fact that all teams currently have access to radios?

Cycling is a tactical sport. What intrigues the public are the variables which allow a long breakaway attempt and the heroic effort, to succeed.

I wish he’d stop telling me what I want to see. I’d also like him to admit that those variables still exist—bad weather, tired chasing teams, long-term tactical considerations, crashes, break composition, etc—radios don’t change that.

The public doesn’t want to see complete dominance and control. Cycling has become overly formulaic in the last 10 years.

Like Roubaix in ’06—the one with the train. Just like Bjarne drew it up.

Seriously, though, I get the feeling the “Cycling” here means “the Tour de France”. I haven’t heard people whine that a single classic was boring because of race radios.

Much of this year’s Tour

Ah-ha! I knew it.

was tedious to watch as it lacked the glorious moments where riders race with panache.

It’s also a 21 day, 2000 mile race. Panache is not a sustainable thing over those distances. At least, not without a little boost…

Over the radio we are relayed every piece of information available. We know the weather ahead, the course conditions and difficulties, the time gaps between the groups, who is dropped or who is in front, how big the remaining group is, how far there is until the finish, how far to the feedzone, where the soigneurs are standing in the feedzone, and dozens of other little bits and pieces that help solve the puzzle, or when there is too much information, complicate things.

So basically, radios save riders the trouble of paying attention? I’ll admit, that bugs me a touch. But as a non-radioed racer, I can say with confidence that very few of the people in my fields pay attention, either.

We are then encouraged, often repeatedly to annoyance, to stay focused, to rider harder, to go faster, to attack, to sit in, to drink, to eat, and to move to the front. The director, from his seat in the car, is in the race with us but without the same pain in his legs. 



I don’t think it’s possible to irritate a man into winning a bike race. Otherwise Manolo Saiz would have managed a Tour victory or three.

To me, the teams, riders and directors who are complaining about the proposed ban are scared to try a new formula for racing. Why would Ferrari, or whichever team is dominating, want a rule change when their cars are victorious on every weekend of the Formula One season?

No argument here. But one team isn’t dominating cycling—that is, if you realize cycling exists outside winning the GC at the Tour de France.

The winning teams have become victorious by controlling the variables in the race while using their talent to its maximum.

Yes. The idea is to win.

With televisions and telephones in the team cars the directors can see and hear everything that is happening or might possibly happen.

I’m sitting at home, not driving a car, and when a race explodes, I have no idea what’s going on, at least for a few moments. It strains credulity that race directors dictate the critical, race-winning orders in these chaotic moments.

The information is relayed to the riders and tactics are then dictated as they become puppeteers, all their denials to the contrary. The riders follow the commands and rarely question any decision.

Nobody marionettes Cav to the line. In fact, if Erik Zabel made excuses, he’d blame his ’04 MSR disaster on keeping his radio in.

Eliminate radios and the director’s role changes overnight.

There are many young riders in the professional peloton who have rarely raced without radios. Tactically they are inept because they have always listened for commands and have never had to plan and react alone.

Haven’t radios been banned the Espoir ranks for a while now? At any rate, if they’ve never had their tactical abilities tested, how can one tell they are inept?

Johan Bruyneel was one of the first directors to embrace any new technology. He then used it like a maestro to orchestrate the race and conduct his team. Under his guidance we rode beautifully together, each knowing our role. We knew when to increase the tempo, when to attack and when to slow the peloton down. The race was often under the team’s ─ Johan’s ─ control as we whirled away on the front for hours before the crucial, planned moment when the leader attacked and crushed his rivals.

Uh, yeah. That’s the idea, winning the race.

A decade later the formula, since adopted by everyone

…even the teams that lose?

has made racing mundane. No longer does the long breakaway last until the finish and rarely does the dominant team falter.

So Voeckler, Feiliu, Sanchez, Fedrigo, Sorensen, Hausseler, Ivanov, Astarloza, and Garate—9 of the 15 stage winners at the “tedious” 2009 Tour—were all flukes?

To their proponents, radios make racing safer by eliminating cars from the peloton.

Quite possibly the least compelling argument against radios, but yes, some people do say that. I’m not one of them.

But cars were not in the peloton constantly during the era of radio-free racing. They did come into the peloton but only with the permission of the commisaire, infrequently and when the moment was appropriate.

As opposed to now when the just drive in when they feel like it? Anyway, sounds like your problem is with cars, then, not radios.

Conversely, radios and the rest of the technology we now use, make the racing more dangerous.

I have seen many directors drive erratically in the race caravan

…so they aren’t in the field, but back in the caravan, as they have been since team cars were added to pro racing.

as they are either focused on the radio, the television, their BlackBerry or telephone instead of on the car in front or riders buzzing around them. Most of these communication devices have been made illegal to use on the city streets in normal traffic as it has been proven that multitasking is in fact impossible as the brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Why are these devices permitted in the closed, yet wildly chaotic, environment of races?

I do things on a bike in the “closed, yet wildly chaotic environment of races” that I would never do on “city streets in normal traffic”.

With the continued use of radios cycling risks becoming boring to the spectators

As a spectator, I’ve got no complaints.

and increasingly dangerous to the cyclists. As roads become more congested with cars, roundabouts increasingly prolific, and city centers dense, the dangers will continue to increase.

Isn’t the complaint here with courses? Or number of cars? Or density of city center? And how are radios bringing about these things?

Over the radios directors, management and organization can infuse the peloton with their directives which may often not be in the riders’ best interest. Prior to radio use there was solidarity amongst the riders where they looked out for their common interests when their jobs or health were at risk.

Like the consistent rider protests against mandatory helmets—and anti-doping efforts—throughout the 1990s?

With a voice telling us what to do, we have lost our voice as we seem to constantly buckle when under pressure.

Like the field did in Milan this past May?

Cycling is a spectator sport. We are paid to race our bikes to deliver advertising to the public watching us on television or from the roadside. The racing needs to appeal to the public.

L’Alpe 2004. No public appeal.

In all seriousness, I’ve never heard someone with an appreciation of the skill and timing required to set up and win a group sprint refer to the break-and-catch flat stages of Grand Tours as “boring”, either. Maybe some members of the public are just better suited for football.

In the autobiographical movie of Eddy Merckx, “La Course en Tete,” a journalist asked Eddy if he thinks cycling is so popular because, quoting biochemist and Nobel Prize winner Jacques Monod, “People admire courage, calculation and will power, all of which are primitive instincts.”

Eddy quietly ponders the questions and then nods his head in agreement. With radios we lose our instinct to race with panache.

You know who raced with panache? DiLuca. Two guesses as to why he was able to do that, and the first one doesn’t count.

Also, even with the drugs, he still lost.

The problem with panache is that nine times out of ten, it’s a sucker bet. You don’t win Grand Tours with panache. You win them by keeping calm, playing it safe, then dealing a death-blow when the opportunity strikes. Nothing—not even taking race radios out of the equation—can change that fact.

Frank Vandenbroucke – A Life In Words

13 Oct

Cyclingnews—at the time of his ascendency the only regularly updated online cycling resource—has a nice collection of photos cataloguing Frank Vandenbroucke’s career.

Lacking a photo archive to pull from, I Wordled together this grayscale text cloud from a variety of obits—in depth, brisk, mainstream, and cycling-specific—in an effort to capture a rider whose story was at turns glorious, miserable, mundane, and bizarre.

vandenbroucke_cloud_small
(click through for full-size, sources)

How The Race Was Won – Paris-Tours 2009

13 Oct

Can radios be ruining cycling if the *real* Sprinters’ Classic goes to a rouleur for the second straight year? QuickStep shoulders the chasing load, while in the break, a Skil-Shimano rider sees too much soft-pedaling and makes the leap for freedom. But it’s all together with 8k to go as a very unlikely group threatens to force the selection.

[right-click for iTunes compatible download]

Also available on YouTube.