Archive | November, 2011

"A Sprint that will be Talked About"

27 Nov

If you missed yesterday’s World Cup Cyclocross race in Koksijde, consider yourself unlucky. Aside from the usual train of heinous sand sections, this year’s Elite Men’s Race finished with a two-up sprint, won very controversially by Sven Nys.

As someone who’s watched a lot of road sprints, it seemed like a pretty obvious case of Nys closing the gate on Pauwels—and I certainly wasn’t the only one who thought so. On the road, Nys would have been relegated to second at best, and likely full-on disqualified, but after a protest and some deliberation (“a sprint that will be talked about” was how Nys’ Sporza interviewer styled it in English) the result was left unchanged.

The UCI’s official explanation of the decision—that Pauwels wouldn’t have been strong enough to get by—is…well, the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from the UCI over the years. Aside from the fact that it’s essentially impossible to assess exactly how strong a blocked rider might be, it also makes the counterproductive implication that it’s totally OK to cut people off, so long as they wouldn’t have beaten you anyway.

But as nonsensical as the “official” announcements of race directors can be, they also tend to reveal certain implied rules of the sport. When Mark Renshaw was kicked out of the 2010 Tour for headbutting (generally just a relegation) it wasn’t his actions that got him bounced—it was the fact that his teammate, Mark Cavendish, went on to win the stage. The officials couldn’t punish Cavendish–he’d done nothing wrong—but relegating the Australian would be essentially no punishment, since he hadn’t been riding for a result anyway. The message: don’t use dodgy riding to give your teammate an advantage.

So assuming the UCI officials aren’t crazy—or, as Mario De Clerq gamely suggests, swayed by Sven Nys’ position as one of the greatest ‘cross racers of all time, and a member of the UCI cyclocross commission to boot—what’s the major difference between road and cyclocross sprinting that sees Nys keep his result while, say, Giuseppe Calcaterra gets relegated?

First of all, the final sprint in cyclocross just an entirely different animal than what we’ve become accustomed to seeing from the modern road peloton. In flat stages at the Tour de France, the final kilometers are the battle ground of some dozen sprinters who’ve been keeping themselves rested and fresh all day long, before slingshotting off megawatt trains of domestiques to top speed for a final, all-out, all-or-nothing burst.

Behind them, nearly 200 others, often exhausted and essentially blind, cling desperately to the wheels in front of them just hoping to make it to the next day of racing without losing time. The bunches are huge, the speeds are incredible, and the collateral damage from a split-second mistake can be enormous.

A cyclocross sprint, on the other hand, comes following an hour-long, non-stop, full-on effort, punctuated by dozens of unsustainable surges as riders try to put daylight behind their rear wheel or draw back their rivals. Technical course features open gaps, and it’s rare to see more than a handful of riders contest a final charge. When they do, it’s a low-speed, nearly-cooked effort, on a short, straight-line finishing stretch. There’s room to manoever, plenty of road for everyone, and in the event that disaster does strike, the fallout is limited.

But I think it’s the very reality of a cyclocross race, rather than any consideration for safety, that plays the largest role in sustaining a result like yesterday’s. While position and line selection is important in road racing, in cyclocross it’s a constant consideration—as soon as you exit one corner, you’ve got to be mentally assembling your approach to the next.

The focus on where you’re putting your bike is relentless—it is as important as wattage in preserving your position, closing the gap to the riders ahead of you, and—most relevantly—denying the riders behind you an opportunity to pass. To suddenly apply the stricter (if somewhat more capriciously enforced) rules of the road sprint to cyclocross would be to suddenly alter this equation, turning the tables away from the very unique set of skills that are the essence of ‘cross.

In his post-race interview (or at least the English portion of it) Nys was unambiguous about saying he’d gone to the opposite of the road specifically to get in Pauwels’ way. What made it legal, Nys contends, is that Pauwels wasn’t yet alongside him.

The implication seems to be that Pauwels’ attempt to ride though a not-quite-wide-enough opening along the barriers was the Sunweb rider’s own poorly-calculated decision, same as if he’d tried to dive for the inside line through a corner earlier on the course, and gotten stuffed by riders ahead of him who’d set up more sensibly.

Of course, Pauwels had a different story, claiming that Nys’s knee banged into his front wheel and handlebars as the Landbouwkredit rider drove him from one side of the road to the other, before pinning him against the barrier. And if that’s true, by Nys’ own admission, he ought to be punished.

Sadly, without the all-determining helicopter camera shot, there’s no way to determine exactly how the barrier-to-barrier dance between Nys and Pauwels went down. Pauwels’ body English certainly suggests contact, but there isn’t anything definitive in the photos and videos I’ve seen. If nothing else, the last few seconds of the race are a great example of how, in cyclocross, leading out a sprint early can actually play to your advantage.

Cyclocross Clinchers: Pressures, Sealants, and Tube Variations

25 Nov

latex sealant bubbles through a punctured innertube

Burble, burble, burble… / by Ben Freeman cc-by-nc

Wonderful for most cycling applications, the humble clincher tire does not perform well under the rigors of cyclocross racing. While I’ve discussed this before, there are a few things I didn’t bring up in the previous piece that definitely deserve mention.

The first thing that ought to come up in this discussion—as readers have noted—is pump gauge accuracy. I get the sense that most floor pumps are built to conveniently air up the volumes needed for fat MTB tires, and the high pressures needed for road tires, with the gauge itself being more of an afterthought.

I checked my pump’s readings against an automotive gauge last fall and found them more or less identical, but many other pumps are widely reported to over-estimate pressures in the CX range. Tiny changes make a huge difference in cross, so a digital gauge, or one of those cool cordless compressors is definitely the way to go if you’re going to be picky about it.

The second thing I’d like to cover is the massive variety of innertube types available. I generally ride on standard CX-width 700c butyl tubes, but I’ve still found time to play around with a variety of different innertube types this season. Here are my experiences:

Road tubes: I don’t know why people do this. The only time I’ve had road (18-23mm) tubes inside CX tires is when I have no CX-sized tubes on hand and really, really, really need to ride. They are lighter, but flat almost on a whim. I’m all for kludges and shoe-horning, but this is one shortcut you want to avoid.

Latex tubes: most riders seem to take an interest in latex for its lighter weight and improvements in suppleness. My main interest was in alleged puncture resistance. The lighter weight is indisputable, and I guess I noticed a slightly better ride (though not better enough to be outside the range of the placebo effect). What I did not experience, however, was a reduced number of flats. The problem might be the size (I used 25-28mm, the largest I could find), but short of tearing up old tubulars, I can’t seem to find a source of latex tubes in a ‘cross appropriate size.

Sealant/removable-core butyl tube: this would seem to be a great solution, as most tubular tires are readily repaired/nearly flat-proofed by a quick shot of Stan’s or CaffeLatex. But alas, in my experience it’s proven worthless at fighting off/repairing the dreaded pinch flat in standard butyl tubes. My guess is that the way in which butyl fails—breaking in half-inch-long tears against the rim—is just not the same sort of tubeless tire puncture that sealant is able to close up.

Sealant/removable-core latex tube: there may be some hope here. Unlike butyl, latex seems to pinch flat with tiny, non-tearing holes, and I’ve successfully repaired them with a post-flat application of Stan’s. That said, I’ve still managed to pinch-flat two sealant-filled latex tubes: one by casing a marble curb post-race at Providence (which I consider forgivable), and one by riding easy, afterthought gravel at on the bell lap at Gloucester (which I do not).

Thornproof tube: I readily concede it is pretty much impossible to pinch a thorn-proof tube. However, it’s damn near impossible to race ‘cross on one as well. There’s a significant decrease in suppleness from the extra material, but that probably won’t come into play because at CX race pressures (≤40psi) the tube doesn’t inflate fully enough to press against a 32mm tire with the appropriate amount of force. Best case scenario, the tube wobbles around inside the tire, and you finish the race before the rim hole tears the valve free from the rest of the tube, flatting you out. Worst case, the tire unseats from the rim under hard cornering pressure. Either way—avoid.

Pre-sealed tube: In a commendable mea culpa for last season’s bead-breaking tubeless fiascos, Hutchinson sent me some of their pre-sealed tubes this fall. There’s a noticeable-but-not-awful weight penalty, and through a month of racing—including some not particularly well-chosen lines over the roots at Northampton, they seemed to hold up great.

Even after a pinch-flat on an unlucky rock at the Connecticut State Championships, the pre-sealed tube still held air long enough to see me over a fairly tough off-camber section before deflating. But the very next time I attempted to ride one of them, a pinhole puncture—the sort of thing sealant should have no problem fixing—flatted me out of a ride before I could even leave the parking lot. For the weight, I’d like something a little more reliable.

The Dissatisfying Taste of Due Process in the Contador Case

21 Nov

Contador sprays spumante in the Maglia Rosa

Don't worry, Nibs—plenty of bubbly left / Jacinto Vidarte, nc-by-sa

Seventeen months after testing positive for clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour de France, Alberto Contador—or rather, those who seek to have him punished—will finally have their day in court. After a provisional suspension, a one-year suspension recommendation, a surprising clearing of all charges, and more delays than I care to Google, the sport will get a final answer on whether or not all the wins Contador has collected since last July will actually count.

Previous CAS decisions strongly suggest the outcome will not be favorable for Contador. Alessandro Petacchi had been cleared to compete by his national federation when the CAS restored a one-year sentence agaisnt him for turning up too much of a substance for which he already had a TUE. Even more forebodingly, the panel actually extended a suspension against Danilo Hondo when he appealed a one-year national federation sentence.

An Open Letter to The Internet about That Guy

9 Nov

That Guy

That Guy, way back when he was news
/ by Ciclismoaldia, pd

Dear Internet,

Let’s all stop talking about That Guy.

While the phrase “that guy” has a coloquial meaning (and That Guy has most certainly gone out of his way to be “that guy”) I’m actually referring to a specific person, here. A former cyclist. You know the one I’m talking about, probably because Cyclingnews ran an article about him yesterday. That Guy is a polarizing figure, and once that article was published, the Twitters (self included), and a few notable blogs rose up, with disappointing predictability and fervor, to take the bait.

Regardless of your opinion on That Guy, that was the wrong response.


Put the Sharpie Down and Back Away from the Sidewall

8 Nov

Dugast Sidewall

In its natural state / by Brian Ellin cc-nc-sa

Occasionally, people ask me why I don’t more actively seek out work in the cycling industry. Aside from the fact that it’s an insider’s game and I’ve got the schmoozing skills of a dyspeptic orangutan, there’s just no way I could bring myself to participate in the absolute nonsense the positions tend to require—all the more so when that nonsense runs contrary to the interests of the company I would hypothetically be supporting.

Case in point—the sidewalls of the pro cyclocross bikes making the rounds on cycling news websites the past few weeks. While I applaud the spirit of whichever mechanic or press agent decided to turn Ryan Trebon’s sidewalls into a massive, garish Clement ad, it’s pretty clear no one was fooled by the effort. And while I’m sure the people at QBP smiled warmly at James Huang’s insistance that the uproariously camouflaged Dugast was merely a placeholder, it sure doesn’t look like the Typhoon has been cut from Treefarm’s arsenal. (more…)

Cyclocosm 3.0

7 Nov

Mapei Team Kits

We look perfectly normal. Now stop taking photos. / photo by crosby_cj, cc-nc-nd

Notice anything a little bit…different? I figured, since this site is one of relatively few notable accomplishments in an increasingly long and increasingly undistinguished career, it might be in my best interests to update the theme a bit.

I liked 2007 as much as the next guy, but there have been some fantastic developments in CSS3 compliance since I ported the site over from Blogger, and it might be nice to showcase that I can do something other than…whatever it is I get paid to do all day.

While some of the old content might look a little mangled, the theme update also addresses some minor back-end issues that have been irking me for years, and lets me do things like caption pictures.