In my last blog I wrote about the benefits of riding on a team. The continuing financial crisis has created a situation in the cycling industry where teamwork will be needed to survive the storm. I have been visiting a few bike shops recently and several of their owners have informed me that since the stock market crash a few weeks ago, business has been way off.
Many bike shops enter into business agreements with the big bike manufacturers and suppliers wherein they receive price breaks and access to popular products in exchange for an agreement to stock their store with a majority of a company's products and also feature those products prominently in their store. This is supposed to be a win-win for both the shop and the manufacturer/supplier; the shop gets preferential treatment from the manufacturer/supplier and the manufacturer/supplier sells more product.
This whole scenario works well as long as the bike shop is selling product. If the shop isn't selling product, as is happening at the moment, then a problem can arise. The situation is similar to the mortgage crisis. When a homeowner can't make the payments, what should the bank do? Should the bank immediately foreclose on the owners and force the occupants out of the house? Or should the bank cut the homeowner some slack and try to figure out a way for both parties to reach a new agreement which keeps the occupants in the house and money still flowing to the bank?
Now is the time for the different players in the bike industry to realize that they are a team and to proceed appropriately. That doesn't mean that the manufacturers/suppliers should just roll over. What it does mean is that both parties, the manufacturers/suppliers and the shop owners need to work to preserve their relationship as it is these relationships that will hopefully provide long term success after the current financial crisis has passed. Strong arm tactics from either side is not the solution. We are all in this together.
My beloved San Francisco 49ers are sucking again for about the 8th straight year. I guess now that they can't manipulate the salary cap by paying Jerry Rice about $5/year they are unable to get the same quality players as during those golden years of the 80's and early 90's. But, I am not writing to ask you all to get out your violins for a team that has won a record five(5) Super Bowls. What interests me is the recent replacement of head coach Mike Nolan for former Chicago Bears defensive standout Mike Singletary.
This past weekend was Mike's first game as the main man and when my beloved 49ers promptly started sucking big time, Singletary publicly exploded about the play of his team. Now, we can debate about whether Singletary should have aired his dirty linen in public, especially since it was his first game as head coach, but one thing he said resonated with me and provided the link for this stick-and-ball diatribe with bike racing.
Singletary commented that anyone who didn't want to accomplish more as a team than they could as an individual was not welcome on the 49ers. OK, it is pretty obvious that more people can accomplish more than one person, unless that one person is Superman; I think what Mike meant was that the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Where this belief applies to cycling is when a group of riders decide to ride together as a team and in the process accomplish much more, through strategy, tactics and a bit of luck, than the riders could do as individuals. That's the good part of being on the team. Another benefit is celebrating a victory when you are not the person capable of winning, but you are capable of helping a teammate win.
Now is the time that teams are forming for 2009. If you are already part of a team, it is time to ask yourself if your squad has been racing as a team or just looking to carpool to the races. When you go up the road in a breakaway are your teammates the one at the front initiating the chase? If you have never been part of a team, now is the time to realize that you can learn a heck of a lot from good, knowledgeable teammates and, if your car is questionable or gas heads backs up to $5/gallon, they can give you a ride to the races.
Either way, being on a team, especially if the squad rides like a team offers the potential for rewards much greater than individual achievements. And if all else fails, just remember, if you can't beat the competition, at least beat your teammates:-)
The route for the 2009 Tour de France was unveiled yesterday in Paris and all the stars were there including the past two winners Alberto Contador and Carlos Sastre. At first glance, the route is a huge break from tradition. Normally, the race alternates each year with either a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction around France. That means in one year, the first mountains are the Pyrenees and then the Alps follow. The next year the Alps come first, then the Pyrenees.
For 2009, the Pyrenees come first, as they did in 2008, then the Alps follow. Hmm. That's probably no big deal except that it is a break from tradition. Another major change, which was also the case in 2008, is that there will be no time bonuses for any stage finishes. That means that the sprinters will have to earn the yellow jersey from a breakaway and not just by winning the first three or four stages. I wouldn't put any money on seeing Mark Cavendish in yellow even though he will probably win another two or three stages.
What about the critical stages, the mountains and the time trials? On paper the mountains look pretty tame with only three real mountain top finishes. In the Pyrenees there is the uphill finish to Arcalis in Andorra, but on the other two stages it is 20 miles from the bottom of the last climb to St. Girons and the next day it is 30 miles from the bottom of the Tourmalet to Tarbes. It will be very interesting to see how these two stages play out.
In the Alps there is an uphill finish on an up-and-down day to Verbier in Switzerland then after the Tour's second rest day, a big stage over both St. Bernard passes(first the big then the small one, but both are pretty big) followed by potentially the Tour's hardest day which ascends five medium-sized summit before the fast downhill to Le Grand Bornand.
Perhaps the most anticipated stage is the penultimate day when four small climbs soften up the field before attacking the Giant of Provence, Mont Ventoux. Fireworks will most certainly go off, similar to the race up l'Alpe d'Huez in 2008. If Lance does ride the 2009 Tour, look for him to be gunning for a stage win here, basically the only major French summit where he has never been victorious.
The three time trial, including the 15km prologue in Monaco, are relatively short at 38 and 40km and will definitely play to the advantage of the pure climbers like Contador and Sastre.
So, there you have it in a nutshell. A very different, non-traditional route that, on paper, looks moderate. But, we all know that the Tour always produces a worthy winner and there will be nothing moderate about the racing. About the only question that has yet to be answered is whether we will be yelling "Go Big Tex" on the tortuous slopes of Mont Ventoux.
My friend Tom and I recently did a cycling trip in Croatia and Slovenia. We have both toured extensively in France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, etc. and were looking for a relatively unknown European adventure. The six new countries that make up the former Yugoslavia are pretty new and there has been some bad things such as ethnic cleansing and civil wars as recently as the past ten years.
To be sure, we weren't looking for adventure by riding into a war zone. For the most part, all the bad stuff has settled down and both Slovenia and Croatia are headed in the positive direction. In fact, the idyllic coastal towns of Croatia are a haven for German and Austrian tourists during the summer months. Add to that, Slovenia is part of the European Union(EU) so euros are the currency. Croatia desperately needs to join the EU, their economy outside of tourism is struggling to get going.
But, my reason for writing this is not to become Rick Steves II. What I would want to talk about is an incident that happened early on in the trip. Actually, it was the first day where Tom and I left Trieste, Italy late in the day and headed south through the rolling hills into Slovenia and then quickly into Croatia.
After about two hours and 40 miles of up and down riding we came into the Croatian town of Bruzet which appeared to be big enough to have a hotel. Bruzet, did, indeed, have a hotel and being a Sunday night we were the only guests. Also, because it was Sunday, the only restaurant open was in the old section of town, a one-mile, 500-foot climb to the top of the largest hill overlooking the area. We got back on our bikes and pedaled up the cobbled climb to the restaurant. Being the only guests, we were treated like kings and given the best table which offered a spectacular view to the west and the setting sun.
Again, I am not writing this to describe the delicious meal, it was the incident that happened halfway through the meal that is driving this tome. Just as we were savoring the last of the entree, a commotion broke out downstairs and the proprietor summed one of us to fix the problem. It seems that we had parked our bikes inside an anti-room next to the restaurant that had actually turned out to be someone else's house. But, to make matters even more confusing, the owner wasn't complaining about our two bikes, Tom had left his cycling shoes next to our bikes and that just wasn't cricket.
It must be remembered that we had only been in Croatia for about two hours so, though I am completely capable of creating an international incident in that span of time, I just couldn't read between the lines to determine if we were just being singled out as ugly Americans or we had really crossed the line. I quickly picked up the shoes and hustled back into the restaurant to order desert. Incident over.
The rest of the trip was pretty much without international incident, in fact we even made a few Croatian friends. Looking back at it all a month later, that wasn't the worst part of the day. Descending down from the restaurant back to the hotel on 10% cobbled roads in the pouring rain in the pitch black without lights was definitely more troubling. Hey, but that's all part of the adventure.
My buddy Chris Soden owns and manages Pro Peloton, one of the coolest bike shops in Boulder. Last week, we were talking about Greg Lemond's recent appearance at Lance Armstrong's Interbike press conference. Chris, who is also a pretty wise dude as well, wondered why Greg couldn't behave like Hammering Henry Aaron when Barry Bonds was closing in on Hank's home run record.
Unlike Lance Armstrong, who never tested positive for any performance enhancing drugs(PEDs), it is pretty clear that Barry Bonds used steroids for at least several years during his career. And, it is pretty clear that steroids were the drug of choice for the home run hitters in the major league. Given that information there was more than enough reason for Aaron to be upset at baseball's most important record being broken by Bonds.
We will never know how Aaron felt inside, but we do know how he responded publicly. When Barry hit #756 that summer evening in San Francisco, the scoreboard played a video message from Hammering Hank congratulating Barry on his accomplishment. Aaron was gracious in his praise, a true gentleman. There was no hint of negative feelings toward Barry.
It may be argued that Barry and Hank are from different generations and baseball has changed since Aaron set his record way back in the 70's. It also may be argued that Aaron was doing baseball a disservice by not publicly calling out the cheating in the sport and potentially helping baseball clean up its act.
Should Greg have followed Aaron's lead and been gracious about Lance breaking his cycling records? Riders such as 5-time Tour winner Miguel Indurain and arguably the world's greatest cyclist, Eddy Merckx, praised Armstrong when he broke their records. Is there a better way for Greg to accomplish his agenda rather than making direct attacks on Armstrong?
We all do what we feel we need to do and Greg feels the need to hound Armstrong and hammer his agenda whenever possible. I said this in my blog from the 2007 Tour that I would really like to know and understand Greg's motives for his behavoir toward Lance. I don't think he has ever really answered that question point blank which is too bad. Until then, we can only speculate and until we really know, our understanding of the situation is lacking.
Hopefully it is just because the pro cycling season is winding down and there is not much racing to report, but it seems that the only thing happening is more doping news. Recently, the French anti-doping laboratory (AFLD) completed it's testing of all the 2008 Tour de France samples. They were looking for CERA a new version of EPO that is time-released and appears to be more effective than the older versions. I guess you could call it 'new and improved'. Anyway, four cyclists have been caught using CERA at the Tour, Riccardo Ricco and Leonardo Piepoli were tossed during the Tour, Stefan Schumacher and Bernhard Kohl were found positive during the AFLD's most recent testing.
The problem here is that all these guys are big names. Between them they won a total of five of the Tour's toughest stages, the King of the Mountains jersey and third place overall. That's a very sobering fact and shows that while the fight against doping is starting to work, there are still riders taking drugs.
There are a number of ramifications to these revelations. First off, UCI President Pat McQuaid has recently revealed that the UCI is seriously considering raising the length of time of a doping infraction from the current two years to four years. McQuaid indicated that the four year ban would only apply to deliberate acts of doping and not to those testing positive for accidentally taking a banned substance such as something in a cold medication or supplement.
A four year ban is basically a life sentence for a rider not to mention that with the current glut of professionals, most banned riders, unless they are a legitimate Tour de France contender, would be too much baggage to a team.
Another development arising from the recent doping scandals is that the two German television networks ARD and ZDF which broadcast the Tour have decided to drop the Tour from their programming schedule next year. Also, the Tour of Germany, a race won by Levi Leipheimer in 2005, has folded citing lack of sponsorship in the wake of the recent doping positives.
And you thought the financial markets were in crisis.
A few blogs back, I suggested that one way to fight the lack of motivation to ride the bike come fall was to go out and do some exploring. Well, just to prove that I can walk the walk, my buddy Nat Ross and I did just that last week and I ended up discovering what just might be my most favorite ride in the Boulder area.
It all started last year when, on one of my favorite dirt road rides (up Four Mile to Gold Hill for you Boulder locals), I started wondering if there was a way to connect to the Peak-to-Peak Highway if I turned left five miles up Four Mile Canyon where I usually turn right. So, several weeks ago, my friend Brian and I went left and rode about six miles up past the hamlet of Wallstreet to the even smaller hamlet of Sunset on a very nicely graded dirt road.
At Sunset, there were three possibilities. First, turn right and head up the Switzerland Trail, and old railroad grade, toward the town of Gold Hill. Secondly, head straight up Pennsylvania Gulch toward the Peak-to-Peak Highway and lastly, turn left and take the Switzerland Trail up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. Brian assured me that he had ridden the last option on his road bike, but other Boulder locals disagreed as to the viability.
Now, just about anything is rideable on a road bike, especially if you are willing to push or 'hoof' it a bit. However, some feel that if you have to push too much then the road is really not suited for a road bike. I agree, but reserve judgment until after I have experienced the road.
Anyway, Nat, who was recently inducted into the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame and is a pro riding for the Subaru-Gary Fisher team is a perfect partner for these types of excursions. Not only does he possess more than enough technical skills to make up for my sorely lacking abilities, but he is always game to take the path less traveled and has the attitude to make it always seem like fun.
So, when the five-mile climb to Sugarloaf Mountain on the Switzerland Trail turned out to be a just plain fun and scenic romp, instead of taking the dirt road down the other side of the mountain, we headed west on a much smaller path in hopes of connecting to the Peak-to-Peak Highway. After seven miles of more enjoyable and scenic riding, oh yeah, did I mention the Aspens were in full fall foliage?, we finally hit the Peak-to-Peak Highway.
But, the best part, was that we came out at over 9000' on the Peak-to-Peak right at the top of the never-ending climb that make the ride from Nederland to Ward so uninviting. Not only had we discovered a new way to ride from Boulder to the Peak-to-Peak(4,000+' of climbing), but the route bypasses one of my least favorite climbs! It was like hitting the daily double at the race track. You gotta love exploring on a bike. Now, what about turning right at Sunset?
Defending Hawaiian Ironman Champion Chris McCormack withdrew from the 2008 Hawaiian Ironman Championships when he snapped his front deraileur cable and was told it would take 20 minutes to fix it. Before we get into exactly how long it actually takes to fix a problem such as a broken front deraileur cable, I feel compelled to point out that in my last blog I wrote "Clearly, a major mechanical or a bad crash can end an athlete's chances..."
The question is, is a snapped front deraileur cable a 'major mechanical'? I could speculate for about 20 paragraphs, but until we know exactly what Chris' drive train setup was, it probably not worth wasting the bandwidth. One thing Chris could have tried was to move the front deraileur set screw all the way to the limit to see if he could just get the big chainring. On the Queen K highway, the top pros are probably riding the big ring the entire way except maybe for the last pull up to Havi.
Regardless of the reason for the mechanical, it just goes to show how critical it is to have your bike in absolutely perfect working order if you are trying to be at the head of the pack in any race. And in case you need a reminder, the day or the night before your event is not the time to be doing any major work on your bike. You might want to give your deraileurs and brakes a slight adjustment, but putting on a new chain and/or overhauling your crank or headset is definitely a no-no.
I am not passing judgment on Chris McCormack since I don't know all the details of his broken cable. However, his unfortunate situation is a good reminder that having your bike race-ready is just as critical as doing all those intervals.
While hardcore pro bike race fans will be yawning their way through the sprintfest that is Paris-Tours, the most interesting event this weekend will most likely be the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships. There are several reasons for the interest. Retired pro cyclists such as Kai Hundertmark and Laurent Jalabert have been putting in some respectable performances in Kona. They aren't contenders for the win, but they are clearly capable of turning a few heads.
If you aren't a die-hard European pro racing fan, or even if you are, you have to be impressed by the rides the top pros clock on the 112-mile bike leg. That is especially true if the rider(s) are poor swimmer because as they say in Kona, 'a minute in the swim is worth five minutes on the bike.' Of course, they are referring to the notorious trade winds which blow predominately north to south. Since the first part of the bike leg is heading north and the winds start to come up about an hour or two after the race start, the quicker you can get out of the water and onto the bike the less headwind you will have to deal with on the drag to the mid-ride turnaround at Havi.
Having ridden on the Queen K, I have to say that the least amount of time you have to spend on that incredibly boring stretch of road, the better mental state you will be in when it is time to marshal energy and motivation for the marathon. Sure, triathloning, especially since it is an endurance sport, is all about overcoming pain, but coping with the boredom which is the Queen K is also a big factor.
It seems like in recent years, the Hawaiian Ironman has been won on the run, but the bike leg has played a role in the outcome as well. Clearly, a major mechanical or a bad crash can end an athlete's chances, but if the winds are bad or the heat really picks up, things can get ugly on the bike.
So, if you find yourself nodding off as the pro peloton lopes along on its way from Paris to Tours, check out what's happening at Kona. The pros on the Big Island can ride pretty fast was well.
There is an old saying, "a bad day fishing beats a good day at work." Well, with the current economic crisis, you could almost change that to "a bad day on the bike beats a bad day on the stock market," but even that doesn't really capture what I am trying to say. Remember that line from movie City Slickers when Daniel Stern's character says about his relationship with his dad something to the effect, "we never saw eye to eye on anything, but we always had baseball". But, that still doesn't really demonstrate the point I am trying to make.
I guess what I am trying to say is that regardless of what is happening in the world around me, I can always seem to find some peace and understanding when I am on the bike. I won't go as far as to say it is my sanctuary, but when everything appears to be falling down around me(most recently it was a leaky toilet that didn't want to stop dripping) the bike is there to take me away from the problems of the moment and give me some happiness.
We all ride bikes for different reasons be it racing, fitness, touring or whatever. Hopefully, regardless of the reason, we all can find happiness when on the bike and can let the problems in our life take a time out. That doesn't mean that the problems will go away, but by stepping back and heading out on a spin the edges dull a bit and the problems don't seem that insurmountable.
Sometimes, stepping away from a problem helps figure out the solution. When I was in hi-tech, I solved some of my most frustrating problems when I took a break and let my mind clear a bit. Of course, I couldn't exactly get my employers to regard my on-the-bike-time as working hours, but it really didn't matter since I was getting in a great ride and when I got back to my work I knew the problem would be solved.
Hopefully, in the time of national and even global economic crises we can still make time to ride. It is almost required for those trying to maintain sanity.
Come fall, most of us suffer a bit of a motivational crisis. We have put a lot of energy into meeting our yearly goals, which, unless you are a Belgian Classics rider, usually come in the summer. Whether it was your first century, big European cycling tour or to break 20 minutes in the club time trial, when the leaves start falling off the trees, there doesn't seem to be much reason to pull on all those extra clothes and head out.
One way to generate some motivation and jump start your training for next year's goals is to do some exploring on your bike. We all have our favorite rides which follow well-traveled and well-known routes, but as you are turning left on that road for the umpteenth time, haven't you ever wondered what happened if you turned right?
This brings up another way to get excited about the bike again. Maybe it is time to skip that group ride you do every Saturday morning and grab a couple of your best riding buddies and go on an exploratory ride. For some reason, while you slow down come fall, that pesky group ride never seems to suffer the same fate. Rather than hang on for dear life, hating the bike, resist the urge to do what everybody else is doing and strike out on your own.
These days, with Google Maps, you can get a pretty good idea of where a road goes, be forewarned that Google Maps does not distinguish between paved and dirt roads. If you are really concerned, you can look at the satellite photo to determine the road surface.
It is all about shaking up your routine; getting yourself out of a rut and becoming excited once again about the bike. Go exploring. You never know, you might just find another killer ride to add to your quiver.
Lance Armstrong's comeback continues to make news. Pierre Bodry, who heads the French Anti-Doping Agency(AFLD) has asked Lance for permission to test his urine samples from the 1999 Tour for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). You may remember that back in 2005, under the guise of trying to develop a better test for EPO, the French National Anti-Doping Laboratory(LNDD) tested a bunch of urine samples from the 1999 Tour and claimed that they were, through records provided by the UCI, able to link Armstrong to several of the samples which tested positive for EPO.
Lance disputed the results noting that the samples were six years old raising the question of spoilage and also raising the issue that there was no confirming, or "B" sample, to back up the validity of the results. Armstrong's concerns were valid and it appeared to most Americans that this was just another French witch hunt.
In light of all the allegations an independent investigation into the testing was conducted; the results of the investigation concluded that the French laboratory(LNDD), the French Ministry of Sport and then WADA Chief Dick Pound all behaved improperly regarding the 1999 Tour samples.
Now that Lance is back in the saddle, Mssr. Bodry wants to put the issue to rest by testing the samples in the AFLD lab. In response to the Frenchman's request, Lance issued a public statement basically re-iterating his concerns from 2005 and denying any further testing of his 1999 samples.
I agree with Lance. It has now been nine years since those samples were taken and even though Mssr. Bodry has assured everyone that the samples are not spoiled, I just think too much time has passed to go back and re-visit this issue. It is worth noting that when professional cycling agreed to abide by the WADA code in 2001, one of the provisions in that code was that blood and urine samples could and would be stored for potential future testing. However, in 1999, this provision did not exist, neither did WADA for that matter, so there is no guarantee that there were procedures in place to insure that sample spoilage would not occur.
Also, the lack of a confirming or "B" sample is critical. I am a big proponent of athletes' rights and one of the few rights riders seem to have these days is the ability to request that their "B" sample be tested to confirm a positive "A" sample.
Do you agree with Lance or should he allow his samples to be tested?