Archive | November, 2009

Morning Cyclocross Practice

18 Nov

There are advantages to a good Wednesday Morning Worlds beyond fitness, socializing, and improved handling skills:
Sunrise at cyclocross practice
Note also that I took these with an iPhone—not even the 3gS. Just imagine what it looked like in real life.

It's All In The Pitch

16 Nov

kohl-pitchWhat the hell kind of sales pitch is this? Mr. “it is impossible to win without doping” Bernhard Kohl is now opening a massive bike shop? How are you gonna sell all that gram-saving, wind-cheating schlock to armies of overpaid Masters racers when you’re on record as a member of the Better Living Through Chemistry camp?

Kohl had just better hope that no enterprising competitors—an ex-con, ex-manager, for example—decide to open “rejuvenation clinics” in the neighborhood.

Now this Velonews article is how you really sell bikes. The author, who has plenty of opinions about doping, sticks to talking about the things that make cycling awesome, while subtly mentioning the zillions of accessories (coffee, vests, gloves, bottles, cleaning supplies, etc) that go along with it. Now the same overpaid Masters racers are fired up to ride, focused on having a good time, and ready to buy, almost without regard for result.

Doping, as Kohl no doubt discovered after he was caught, is really only good for grabbing press. Even non-dopers (or at least those who’ve cleared a few more hurdles to avoid being caught) have realized this. The only word I’ve gotten of Chris Anker Sorenson’s new book is that he talks about the one time he missed an out-of-competition test in it, but that tiny incident was enough to get worldwide, English language press.

Not bad for a TdF domestique from a country most Americans can’t find on a map.

15 Nov

I believe you mean “”.

You also seem to have omitted, the obvious pinnacle of online cycling commentary.

The Procycling Manager Curse?

12 Nov

If there’s one thing keeping American sports journalists employed, it’s the notion of curses. A curse, The Curse, Billygoats, magazines, video games—whatever. It sometimes seems that anything that has nothing to do with on-field performance sells copy.

Apparently—possibly due to social support systems that don’t require pandering to the readers’ basest instincts to boil the pot—European sportswriters do not suffer this affliction. My evidence: this limited edition Alberto Contador cover of Procycling Manager has attracted no attention.

As everyone in America with nothing better to do knows, the player on the cover of the Madden NFL video game is horribly cursed each year. Procycling Manager generally just has crudely-painted renderings of fanciful TdF scenes, possibly to avoid this problem.

As far as I can tell, the only previous instance of a PCM featuring a rider occurred in 2007, when a poorly-photoshoped Carlos Sastre graced the cover. He seems to have been a special edition as well—alternate versions of the ’07 game certainly exist—but, uh, it actually ended up working out OK for him the next time around. But if anything, this confirms the curse.

You see, after the ’06 Tour, when people were likely deciding whom to place on the Procycling Manager ’07 cover, no one really had any idea what the eff was going on. So they played it safe picked the guy who probably wasn’t on drugs, and probably would start in next years’ race. This effected a karmic neutralization of the curse.

But Contador—oh man. It’s a coin toss. He said he alone won the Tour, but indeed got good team support—at least from the start line to whenever the road went uphill. Does the otra pregunta stonewalling balance with being left behind at the hotel? Seems risky.

So if disaster befalls pistolero between now and the 2010 Tour Podium, I’m attributing it to the dreaded Procycling Manager Curse. Just remember—you read it here first.

You'd Be Concerned, Too

10 Nov

As Jens Voight’s crash reminded us this summer, there’s no end to the danger lurking in the high mountains of the Tour. But the woman in this image—taken from the excellent, free-to-use collection of the Nationaal Archief—has special reason to be concerned.


Wim Van Est was the first Dutchman to don the yellow jersey in 1951, winning the 12th stage to Dax from a break that finished well clear of the field. He was still in yellow the next day when he flatted (or misjudged a bend) and went flying off the Col d’Abisque and down 200 feet into a nearby ravine.

Miraculously, Van Est survived the tumble intact. However, the rock face he soared off of was so steep—and the state of his understandable mental collapse so total—that he had to be hoisted back to the roadway with a daisy chain of tubular tires.

I suspect that this remarkable tumble was the genesis of Vrau Van Est’s radio-and-portrait setup.

Are You A Speed-Seeking, Torso-less Pair of Legs?

9 Nov

Then, man—has Speedplay got the pair of pedals for you.


In a claim worthy of Chesterfield Cigarettes, Speedplay has asserted that wind tunnel testing has proved its pedals will save you an astounding 33 seconds per hour if you use the four bolt attachment.

There are, of course, the obvious problems with this wind-tunnel derived claim—you don’t ride hour-long time trials; even if you did, you couldn’t ride them a consistent 30mph; even you could, they have hills and corners, and you’re overweight and a lousy bike handler. Then there are cross-winds, other competitors, traffic, mental toughness, etc.

But in this post I will ignore these things. Instead, I want to focus on highlighting Speedplay’s ill-conceived methodology and misleading conclusions.

“…the testing of a single component by itself raises questions as to whether or not the component will perform in the same way when installed on a bicycle and used outside of the tunnel.

With this in mind, we mechanized a life-size, lower-half of a mannequin so the mannequin, rather than a person, would pedal the bike.

Yes, you read that correctly—the problem with wind tunnel tests is that they’re not like real life, so we replaced a real life person with a torso-less pair of mechanical legs. Does its motion churn the surrounding air like a real human set of legs? Are its proportions correct? What about foot position—idealized by biomechanics, or average observed foot position of pro riders? These are questions Speedplay didn’t feel like addressing.

At any rate, Speedplay’s use of de-torsoed legs in means that the results—in the unit-less and not particularly useful form of coefficient of drag—apply only to this mannequin. When this bodiless apparatus is wears shoes with 4-bolt-mounted Speedplays, that coefficient is .237.

However, Biomechanics and Biology of Movement found that “a cyclist on a standard road bike in racing position” has a drag coefficient of 0.78. That 200% increase reflects all the things Speedplay’s disembodied legs left out of their results.

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So what appeared to be a small difference in coefficient of drag—2.5%—is actually an all-but-insignificant 0.7%*. And even that minor change requires to you have faith in the reliability of Speedplay’s procedures. Measuring drag coefficient to three significant digits—the finest measure available from the wind tunnel if Speedplay’s videos are any indication—and coming away with a single thousandth of variation invites far closer scrutiny of the study.

Sadly, Speedplay states only that the tests ran for five minutes, at a cadence of 100 rpm, and a headwind of 30mph. Data on number of trials for each pedal design, and variation in wind speed during the course of each trial would be more than welcome, but are entirely lacking.

Speedplay offers similarly little help in saying exactly what “available data” lead them to infer that the advantage to their pedal is “equivalent to the speed gained when switching from a standard front wheel to a deep-profile, aerodynamic front wheel.” The only data I could find using coefficient of drag were from Greenwell, which describes aero wheel advantages roughly two to ten times more pronounced than anything measured by Speedplay in this testing.

So, Speedplay—as far as I can tell, you’re lying to sell more gear. You certainly wouldn’t be the only ones. But I’d hate to stand here casting such aspersions without giving you a chance explain or clarify your findings.

I want to see the precise data behind this test—with detailed descriptions of apparatus, methods, and raw results. I’d also like to know the names and qualifications of those who designed and carried out this test. Finally, I’d like to see what research you used to conclude that, based on the data in this test, Speedplay pedals deliver such marked aerodynamic savings.

My request for this data is genuine. Readers and tech editors alike will tell you I’m receptive to criticism and more than willing publish your response.

*actually, I’m told that the increased surface area of a full-sized rider would make the coefficient of drag an even less relevant than the absolute value I’ve derived here.

The Tell-Tale Hub: A #CXDrama Story

5 Nov

There’s never been a shortage of #cxdrama surrounding the domestic cyclocross scene. All that standing around before and after a 45-minute long race inevitably leads to gossipy cyclists taking swipes at each other. Having the Internet around sure doesn’t help—Sandy Baggins, the ebay auction, the Johnson/Page incident, etc.

The Tell-Tale Hub Poster

But ironically enough, it took a man whose webpage info reads “FYI, THIS SITE READS BEST IN INTERNET EXPLORER. THE FONT ON THE SITE IS SET TO ARIEL [sic] AND IN “NORMAL” SIZE” to really take online #cxdrama to the next level. For better or worse, the emails have been taken down, but the story—unfolding as it does in classic film noir fashion—can never be suppressed:

Amy Dombroski, the femme fatale: a young, driven, female ‘cross racer finds herself in a very high-profile “liaison” (her word) with the Richard Sachs racing team. At first, things go well. Results are excellent, videos sweep the Internet. But with each passing race, more and more evidence trickles out that something is not as it should be…

Richard Sachs, the world-battered idealist. Decades of hand-building frames in his stubborn, ageless style have allowed him to wrest his own unique niche from an ever-more-outsourced world. He readily returns the sweet kiss of success, but will he turn a blind eye to his principles when push comes to shove?

Cole Wheels, the jilted lover – Not the most well-known. Not the most lusted-after. But supportive. An up-and-comer. Willing to make sacrifices, to ship lighter, more expensive wheels to its sponsored athletes at a moment’s notice—it’s worth it for the podium press. Provided, of course, their gear makes it to the podium…

It opens just after another national-level podium for the brilliant young Dombroski. Sachs is beaming with success, another great result for his team—not just a team, mind you, but a troupe, a cabal, a closed society; a family. But word from Cole pulls a cold breeze across an otherwise sunny day: “doubt was cast that these are not our T-38s in the pic. what’s the deal?”

It couldn’t be—Sachs runs to a computer, searches frantically. His face falls as he realizes, plain-as-day, that she’s taken not one, but two unsponsored wheelsets—megabrand Easton and boutique White Industries, from the looks of things. The complete range of competitors. How could she?

He confronts her—she’s taken aback and stalls for time. “I had no glue. I had no tires, minus 2 file treads. I had no one to glue them…”

“So tell me—is it my responsibility to ensure you have glue and tubulars?” He fires back?

God, she thinks, how can you be so much older than I and yet so naive? Time to end this ruse:

“If your sponsor cannot deliver the best,” she explains coolly, “there are ways around it.”

Sachs is crushed—he’s been used. But he’d let himself be used. The evidence was right there and he’d missed it. In his own photostream, even! Perhaps he’d been blinded by the success. Perhaps there’s a way to work this out.

Cole, meanwhile, is a nervous wreck. The right move is to ignore it. Sleeping dogs lie. But no food and no sleep will take their toll on a man. How to explain this. The photos. Dombroski is their rider. The media will ask—gotta come up with something…

“We’re proud to have our Cole wheels under the men and women of the Richard Sachs Cyclocross Team, including some very special prototype builds of theT38 (cousin to the T50 that VeloNews liked so much back in August) and T24 wheelsets (in some of the photos, they’re so new they don’t even have their decals yet).

Dombroski and Sachs recoil in horror. “So new they don’t even have their decals yet”? Might as well scream “hey, look at these non-Cole wheels.” And this is on the Internet! Sachs makes his offer—ditch the scam wheels, ride Coles, move on—but they both know it’s a moot point. There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle now.

Dombroski attempts a graceful exit—”Perhaps Richard’s loyalty is something we should all learn from”—and gets some favorable press. But in the hyper-political world of cycling, she’s damaged goods. Another promising pair of lungs and legs destined for a career of redheaded step-childhood, bouncing between underfunded and underexposed squads, never again to be trusted.

Sachs, knowing that it will eventually turn on him, publishes their messages in an attempt to give an unbiased view of the crisis. But the Internet revolts—publishing private correspondences for all to see is frowned upon. Suddenly, people who never had cause to care thumb voyeuristically through their story in droves; as Sachs reflects—too late—”The issue has taken on a life of its own…”

Only now realizing shortsightedness of his actions, Sachs deletes the story. Legions of curious bystanders aim their browsers at the once-voluminous correspondence to find only a cryptic note: “I have opened wounds that rival the contretemps that started all of this in the first place. For that I sincerely apologize…”

Two careers ruined, a team destroyed, a would-be wheel brand gone bankrupt, and the truth forever vanquished, overrun by an ever-mutating army of conspiracy theories…

…but forget it, Jake—it’s #CXDramatown.

[all motivations and internal monologue entirely conjectural for dramatic effect. Quotes out-of-context but verbatim because the Internet never forgets]

Cadel Evans: Intervention

2 Nov

cadelThis is an intervention, Cadel. You have a victim complex, and you need to stop sabotaging yourself. It’s not that surprising—competitive cycling is largely an exercise in masochism—and the best riders tend to be the ones who’ve learned how to wield self-administered agony with the most unmitigated glee.

But Cadel—oh, Cadel. I’m hoping you know something I don’t. Look at the names BMC has signed so far—Alessandro Ballan, Karsten Kroon, George Hincapie, Marcus Burghardt—these aren’t people who are going to get you over the Tourmalet. Sure, Hincapie should be on everyone’s TdF shortlist—especially with this year’s cobbles—but what good is getting through the first week within sight of the lead going to do you when your squad goes to shambles on the first Cat 2 climb?

You aren’t on this squad to win the Tour, Cadel. Or the Vuelta. Or the Giro. You’re here to make sure BMC gets invites to as many big races as possible. Continental squads need all the star power they can get, and the Arc en Ceil, cursed or otherwise, will always be a draw. I hope your Worlds Win/teamwork at Lombardy has given you a taste for one-days, because you’re going to be doing a lot of “Tour tune-up” in the classics this year

I should also mention that you’re more than just another Rainbow Jersey—you are the are the knockaround clean guy who loses to dopers. I cannot overstate how essential this is to Team BMC—after all, their bikes bore a pair of blood-bosted Americans to a Tour title and an Olympic medal, under the very same team boss—Andy Rihs—who currently pilots BMC.

Now I’ll readily admit that you could do worse that being a Biological Passport Incarnate for an upstart classics squad with mottled past. It’s certainly a step up from your current role as Lotto’s co-leader/scapegoat/advertisement (depending on recent results).

But I just want to make sure you’re going into this with open eyes. Unless BMC cleaned up at the Astana fire sale and just hasn’t announced it yet, you’re going to have the same miserable, lonely battle up every col and pass at the Grand Tours—you’re just going to be one, two, and three years older.

So, Cadel, as long as you’re clear on this, I wish you the best of luck in all your coming endeavors. Do the Rainbow Jersey proud and keep it rubber side down. Maybe win Amstel or something, just to show them you can.