A lot of people thought Michael Ball and his Rock Racing team would be a flash in the pan, but as the 2008 cycling season has progressed, the team sponsored by Rock and Republic has proven that they are players in the US domestic cycling scene. And, they are not just leaving their mark on the road; Michael Ball has put his money where his mouth is, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to various charities and becoming a key sponsor at both the Tour of California and Tour de Georgia and other races throughout the USA.
Ball's latest philanthropic effort is to establish a "Catastrophic Injury Fund" a "charitable entity to raise money for professional and elite amateur cyclists who suffer a catastrophic injury as a result of their participation in the competitive sport of cycling" as described in a team press release. Money from the fund will also be available to pro and elite riders in European racing events such as the Tour de France.
Devastating crashes and cycling go hand in hand and currently there is no safety net in place, said Rock Racing Team Owner Michael Ball in the press release. If these riders get seriously injured, thats it. There is no insurance, no pension and no workmans comp. There is nothing. This is the first time there will be a financial support mechanism in place.
Rock Racing will make a "significant donation" to get the fund rolling then the team will donate 10% of all Rock Racing on-line sales as well as 100% of the proceeds from special fund-branded products which they will introduce later this year. The goal is to raise $20 million over the next two years. Also, Ball challenged other industry types who generate revenue from bike racing to also help in funding the charity.
You can say whatever you want about Michael Ball, he certainly talks the talk, but more importantly, he walks the walk and big time. The UCI has shown, time and time again, that the welfare of the athletes they govern seem to be a secondary concern. Hats off to Ball for taking the bull by the horns and creating something, especially with all the serious crashes we have had this year, which has been needed for a long, long, time.
I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the next development from Ball will be the attempt to establish a rider's union, something else that has been needed for a long time. When the riders finally create a unified voice, they won't be treated like second-class citizens by the UCI. Here's hoping it happens.
It is almost July and that can mean only one thing. It's Tour time. In just over a week, some of the best riders in the world (condolences to Team Astana and Tom Boonen) will be toeing the line in Brest for the biggest show in cycling. It is both a blessing and a curse that Contador, Leipheimer and Boonen will not be there. With the both the favorites for the yellow and green jerseys not participating the race is wide open and it looks like this could be one of the most up and down editions of the Grand Boucle in years.
Personally, I would have like to seen Alberto, Levi and Tom at the start, they deserve to be there. Some may decide to show their support by boycotting the race and I respect that, but I will be there France trying to bring you all the behind-the-scenes insights that I provided last year. Look for my daily blogs and join in the fun by posting your thoughts as well!
One thing that I think is kind of funny in all of this is the position Cadel Evans finds himself. I think he is in a no-win situation. Remember he bookended teammates Contador and Leipheimer on the podium in the closest 1-2-3 finish ever at the Tour. If Evans does win many will say it is because Contador and also Leipheimer were not there. If Evans fails to win, he will be seen as inconsistent and someone who might just not be able to win the big one. Certainly, there will be champagne in Paris if he is victorious, but it will most likely be served warm.
Having said all that, I expect this to be a very exciting Tour. Much like the Giro this year which also suffered from the lack of a patron of the peloton, the Tour will be wide open, not only in terms of the competition, but also because there is no one to ride herd on the pack. Looks for lots of daily attacks and early moves by the favorites in the mountains. The yellow jersey could easily change hands between five or six of the major contenders.
So, clean out your TiVo, say goodbye to your loved ones, hang your bike on the rack in the garage, tell your boss that you will be late for work for the next three weeks and get ready for the total body experience which is the Tour de France. There is only one you know(TIOOYK).
The City of San Francisco is considering a new law which would allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and stop lights as stop signs if there is no other traffic in an intersection. This proposed law is based on an Idaho statute which has been on the books in the land of potatoes since the early 1980's.
Personally, I think it is an interesting idea. While it makes sense and will obviously benefit cyclists, there is a very real possibility that passing such a law would only widen the gulf between cyclists and motorists. Already motorists feel that cyclists do not respect traffic laws and are basically asking for special privileges. While the law would make it legal I think motorists would be quick to forget that point and just see us as scofflaws.
The real question should be, for cyclists to have their rights respected on the roadway is it more important that we cyclists be treated more like cars or more like a special vehicle which has its own special laws?
My feeling is that for cyclists to get the respect we need to survive, we should have the same laws as cars and basically be treated the same as four-wheeled vehicles. Once we start treating cyclists as special or different vehicles we stand a very real chance of losing access and rights we had as normal vehicles.
Others may argue that we need to have special laws for cyclists because they are not the same as cars. Some say we have a better field of view, are more concentrated on our driving and are able to go places where cars just can't.
How do you all feel about this issue? Should cyclists be treated the same or different as cars?
Unless you live in a cave, you know that 2008 is an Olympic year which means that the US is putting together an Olympic team in a whole hosts of sports. Being an Olympic junkie I sit through lots of TV even before the games begin watching hopefuls try out for the team in their respective sports. This past weekend I watched four hours of gymnastics trials only to learn that at the end of all the hoopla, only two of the six members of the team would be selected based on their scores. The other four athletes would be determined by the two words which strike fear in the heart of all competitors, "coaches selection."
What's up with that? What ever happened to 'you win the trials, you go to the Olympics?'. Heck, in cycling, they aren't even having an Olympic trials. All the selections for the road events are done by coaches selection. Don't get me wrong, there are some pretty good coaches out there and a few are even associated with the Olympics, but I have seen enough backroom politics to have zero faith in the ability for a bunch of people to be able to put their emotions, feelings and ambitions aside to make a fair decision.
A lot of Olympic hopefuls have sacrificed everything to follow their dream. They have little or no money, and have put their careers and education on hold to try and be an Olympian. To leave that decision up to a bunch of coaches with their own agendas is just plain unfair. All Olympic sports should follow the model of USA Track and Field. The formula is simple, finish top-three in the trials and you go. There isn't much wiggle room there. Win and go. Lose and go home.
One of the highlights of the 2006 winter games was when the winner of the men's first ever snow cross skiing event was asked why he switched from half pipe to snow cross, he simply stated, 'no judges'. I am not going to launch into a diatirbe about eliminating "judged" sports from the Olympics, but we can take a huge step in removing one aspect of "judging" by making the Olympic selection totallyobjective. Bring back the trials and make them count. It is the only fair way for all Olympic hopefuls.
Let's face it. Airline travel these days sucks. Big time. The airlines are hanging on by their teeth and things are tenuous at best. But, every once and a while there is a bright spot. So there I was hanging out in the Pittsburgh airport while a friend's plane was three hours late which meant instead of getting to the race at 10pm, we were looking at 1am, at best.
I noticed a hockey player roaming around baggage claim and he ambled over to take a load off his feet. It turned out that Dominic "Dom" Jean was here for a tryout with the Indiana Icecheckers, a professional A(single A - NHL is AAA) hockey team. The 20-year old from north of Thunder Bay, Ontario would be skating his heart out for two days and if he impressed the scouts, he would be asked back to play with the team come September.
Just like aspiring bike racers, Dom had been a fan first, having not missed a Stanley Cup final on TV since 1993 (he was five). Along the way he separated his shoulder, compressed three discs, has numerous facial scars and these days is hobbled by a busted right knee. But, he is a hockey player and they play through pain, sometimes lots of it. If he makes the team, he will get paid somewhere between $200 to $500 a week with the league stars making upwards of $1000 per week.
Of course, the big payoff is a shot at moving to AA (double A) and then to the big show, but like all sports, it is one step at a time. And, just like budding bike racers, Dom is receiving a lot of help from his parents and loved ones. Dom's parents are paying for his tryout, it was $1000 in airfare alone. If he makes the team, he doesn't have to pay them back.
It's tough to be a pro in any sport. There are a lot of parallels regarding the sacrifices, the drive and the support necessary to get paid to do something you love. I am hoping that Dom played through the pain and got his slot on the Icecheckers. Whether it is a stick, ball or two wheels, everybody should get a shot at chasing their dream.
Bob Stapleton, head honcho of Team High Road, announced today that he has signed Columbia Sportswear as a primary sponsor of his wildly successful professional men's and women's cycling teams. The three year deal will put substantial cash as well as outerwear, sportswear, shoes and luggage on both his men's and women's teams with the name changing from High Road to Team Columbia. With many of it's 4000 employees located in both France and Switzerland, Stapleton commented that Columbia saw this as a "cost effective marketing tool to expand their brand in Europe."
The seeds of the deal began back in 2005 when Stapleton approached the Portland-based sportswear company to help sponsor his woman's team. "I wasn't going to start looking for a sponsor until after the Tour," noted the founder of VoiceStream Wireless also a pacific northwest-based company.
The sponsorship begins immediately with the unveiling of the new kit at the Tour de France on July 3rd in Brest. Obviously, the Columbia Sportswear logo will be the most prominent feature with the primary colors being blue, black, yellow and white. "You will still see High Road on there. It is the brand of my company and I have grown fond of seeing it on the jersey," added Stapleton.
The team's racing schedule will not change to reflect the North American sponsor. "There will be no change in direction of the team. They want us to be active on both continents," said the man whose men's and women's teams have won over 70 races so far this season.
Bob also answered questions about the state of the sport and how it affects attracting new sponsors. Probably the hottest topic is the brewing conflict and probably split between the UCI and ASO. "It is very much an open issue. I think you could see two rival circuits for some time; probably not for long. It is a big headache for the teams and it may put athletes at risk. It creates some uncertainty as to what sponsors are buying. I am not excited about the power struggle, but I think we http://community.active.com/blogs/BruceHildenbrand/2008/06/16/columbia-sportswear-follows-the-high-road/High Road can navigate it effectively," noted Stapleton.
As to his role in resolving the conflict, "I am a centrist. It is the biggest benefit I have as an outsider. Some of the issues are personal. Some people just don't get along. I try to be the peacemaker."
I spent this past weekend in flood-ravaged Wisconsin where a week of torrential rains had left much of the southern part of the state underwater. It was time for the annual Horribly Hill Hundred(HHH) and luckily for Midwest cycling fanatics, the roads for the event had somehow escaped Nature's wrath. The HHH is a super-popular organized bike ride which takes in a lot of steep hills just west of Madison. When race registration opens on active.com in February, the event fills its field of 1700 riders in about two hours.
OK, so I went to graduate school at University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned masters degrees in Food Science and Computer Science and served as president of the local racing club, The Two-Tyred Wheelmen, for several years, but imagine my surprise when I opened my ride packet and found my event number was 4 (four). How did I rate such a low start number? Thanks go to the folks at Saris Cycling. You know them as the people who bring you such great products as CycleOps trainers, Power Tap hubs and a whole host of bicycle racks for cars.
As part of the working cycling media, the Saris Cycling Group invited a number of journalists for a weekend of new product launches, bike riding and brat eating(this is Wisconsin after all). For 2009, Saris will have a really cool new line of trainers featuring both fluid and magnetic resistance and even a high end unit which measures power. Also new for 2009 the Power Tap line will be completely wireless with the top end hub featuring ceramic bearings. Power Tap hubs will be compatible with the Garmin 705 GPS unit as both use the ANT wireless transmission protocol now making its way into the public domain.
Checking out the latest products is cool, riding bikes is pretty fun as well which brings us back to the Horribly Hilly Hundred. I usually don't wear an event number when I do organized rides, but when you have number 4 out of a field of 1700, you gotta milk the opportunity so out came the safety pins. Several people wondered if I was a celebrity, which in my mind there is no doubt; others wondered if I had done something special on my bike something which seems to occur to me almost on a daily basis.
All kidding aside, it was great to be back in the Madison area enjoying the roads which originally kindled my interest in cycling and sharing that experience with both old and new friends not to mention those post-race brats. With hills as steep as 19% and many in the 14-17% range, the HHH is aptly named, but hey, I somehow survived. I had to. I had number 4 on my back and single digits carry added responsibilities.
Belgian uber-cyclist Tom Boonen recently tested positive for cocaine. The result came from an out-of-competition test and since cocaine is only considered to be performance enhancing during competition the Belgian Cycling Federation(BCF) won't be pursuing any sanctions against the 2008 Paris-Roubaix winner. More than likely this was a case of recreational drug use, but possession and use of cocaine is illegal in Belgium.
While the BCF will not be imposing any ban on Boonen, there is already some fallout in the cycling community. The Tour of Switzerland, which starts on June 14th, has indicated that it might not invite Boonen, who is targeting the event as preparation for the Tour de France. Speaking of the Tour, race officials decided that the winner of the green, sprinters, jersey last year will not be invited to their race, either. Citing a need to protect the integrity of the Tour, race organizers have decided to exclude the Belgian from their event.
In a sport that has been rocked by a seemingly endless string of doping scandals the finding of recreation drug use among the pro cyclists isn't all the shocking. In 2002, two-time Giro winner Gilberto Simoni also tested positive for cocaine and was tossed out of the Giro. He came back to win the event the following year. Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour de France winner, tested positive for the designer drug ecstasy while sidelined with a knee injury in 2002. He was suspended for six months by the German Cycling Federation.
Probably the most famous recreational drug use case took place in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics when Canadian snowboarder Ross Regabliati was stripped of his gold medal after testing positive for marijuana. His gold medal was reinstated.
Should testing positive for recreational drugs be taken as seriously as performance enhancing drugs(PED)? Is this just a case of 'boys will be boys' or is breaking the law just as serious as taking PEDs. What are your thoughts?
I was out in West Virginia this past weekend announcing the 24 Hours of Big Bear(yes, there are at least two Big Bears, one on each coast). 24 Hour mountain bike races are a lot of fun, especially if you do it as a team of four or five. If you don't want to have any fun, do it as a solo rider and ride all 24 hours all by yourself. Obviously, I am joking because if you are a rider like David "Tinker" Juarez, you enjoy spending 24 hours on your bike and you have proven you enjoy it by winning numerous 24 hour solo races and a handful of National Championships.
It's worth noting that Tinker was the first ever American Olympian in the mountain biking discipline. He represented the USA at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, coincidentally, on the Conyers, Georgia course where Granny Gear Productions, the fine people hosting the event this past weekend in Big Bear, hosted their last 24 hour event three weeks ago. If you haven't already figured it out, Tinker is pretty darn fast on a mountain bike whether it be a 2.5 hour UCI World Cup or one of them 24 hour jobs.
But, this is about the return of Tinker which probably means that he hasn't been riding 24 hour races for a while. A couple of years ago, he started focusing on road biking and set his sights on some endurance events in that neck of the woods, so to speak. He won the Furnace Creek 508 which, not surprisingly, is a non-stop 508-mile race in the deserts of southern California which qualified him to ride the Race Across America (RAAM). Riding across the country, non-stop, definitely qualifies as an endurance event and Tinker acquitted himself well, finishing top-5, a remarkable accomplishment for a rookie.
Again, this is about the return of Tinker so when he lined up at the start for the Suzuki 24 Hours of Big Bear last Saturday there was a huge buzz of excitement in the air. The man from Downey, California was using this race as a tune-up for the upcoming National 24-Hour Championships so no one, including Tinker himself, knew what to expect. But, when the gun went off it was like winding a Swiss watch as Juarez situated himself right at the front after the first lap and didn't look back.
Tinker had some very good competition in Ernesto Merenchin and Steve Schwarz, both whom have won national-caliber 24 hour races and as the hours wore on, Merenchin was never more than about 2-4 minutes behind Juarez. The night laps, hey this is a 24 hour race!, came and went, and Ernesto was still there, but sometime in the 21st hour, the elastic finally snapped and Tinker started to pull away to record yet another victory.
At the finish, the 1996 Olympian called it one of his hardest wins made so not only by the high quality field, but also as result of the technical course made a bit slippery by pouring rains several days before the event. In his usual gracious style, Tinker praised his competitors and thanked the organizers for putting on such a top quality event. The guy is a huge plus for endurance sports. Glad to have you back on a knobby-tired ride!
This week Shimano gave us all a first look at their new 2009 Dura Ace Gruppo. There were a lot of interesting developments the most noticeable is the departure from the exposed shift cables to an internal routing method which is similar to both Campy and SRAM. But, what interested me most was the introduction of a master link for joining the chain. No more pins which need to be precisely centered between the plates. No more worrying if the pin is too tight and is holding the plates too tight as a result. Click the master link and you are good to go.
First off, let me state for the record that I am not a professional bicycle mechanic. However, I like to know how to work on my bike not only because sometimes it is more convenient to do it on my own and if I ever break when I am on the road I have a better chance of making a repair and getting myself back up and running.
This explains why I think chain master links are the best way to join a chain. Using a master link is basically goof proof and that is a huge benefit when you are way out in nowheresville and don't need to add the additional worry of whether your chain is going to snap.
I have to give credit to my local bike shop (LBS), The Bicycle Outfitter in Los Altos, California, for turning me onto master links. Unlike me, these guys are top-flight pro mechanics and I trust their advice. So when they recommended that I switch from pins to a master link I decided to give it a try. I haven't looked back; I haven't broken a chain and I no longer worry about breaking a chain.
So, should you all rush out and put master links in your chains? If you run Campy or SRAM, breath easy, you are already there. If you run Shimano, next time you replace your chain, think about putting in a master link. Obviously, I think it is a desirable upgrade, hopefully you will, too.
Obviously, we all have our own conditions for calling an event a great race; the recently concluded Giro d'Italia had all the trimmings to make one exceptional race. To be sure, Team Astana's Alberto Contador took the top overall honors, but his fellow competitors forced the outcome to be decided on the final day of the 21-day grand tour.
Lance Armstrong won seven Tours de France, but which one was his "best" victory? Was it the times where the Texas Tornado appeared unbeatable and seemed to just be toying with his rivals? For me it was 2003 when he almost got dropped on Alpe d'Huez, lost to Ullrich in the first time trial and then crashed on Luz Ardiden. Lance looked totally vulnerable and it came down to the final time trial to settle the score.
For me, it is great competition which makes a memorable race. This year at the Giro, going into the final mountain stage, three day before the end of the race, the top three competitors were separated by only 21 seconds. And, all three were bonafide contenders. But, more importantly, all three had looked vulnerable at one time or another.
Leader Alberto Contador had been unable to respond to late stage attacks on both the Alpe de Pampeago and the Marmolada. But, as a true champion does, he didn't just sit up, he rode his own pace and limited his losses. Only four seconds back, Saunier Duval's Ricardo Ricco, lost over two minutes to Contador in the first time trial. He clearly had to make up that deficit in the mountains and his relentless attacks were successful in pegging back critical seconds. Third place Danilo DiLuca, the 2007 Giro champion, had been riding quietly in the lead group, but had not shown any traces of last year's form. His attack on the second-to-last day in the mountains almost put him in the maglia rosa, the pink leader's jersey.
In the end, Contador's consistency in the mountains and his superior time trialing skills neutralized Ricco while DiLuca's audacious attack on the second-to-last mountain stage proved to be too much too soon and he was never able to recover for the final weekend of racing.
Which brings us to the upcoming Tour de France. While Cadel Evans may be the odds-on favorite, his recent knee troubles have limited his pre-Tour training program. Chris Horner likes two-time Vuelta a Espana winner Dennis Menchov. Somewhere lurking in the mountains is Alejandro Valverde. Suffice it to say, there really is no clear favorite and all the top contenders have shown signs of vulnerability in the Tour in the past. Of course, that means it's going to be a great race.
I spend a few months a year in the People's Republic of Boulder. The riding in Colorado isn't as good as Northern California, but it is good to get a change of scenery and hang out with some of my buds. Also, the rock climbing is excellent.
But, what I wanted to write about was something I witnessed in Boulder today. It seems like everywhere I went on Sunday there was a family of three, four or five out on the bike trails enjoying a picture postcard day. Temps were in the low 80's, the wind was almost non-existent and the afternoon thunderstorms were no where to be seen. The Colorado Board of Tourism lives for days like this!
And, it seems that Boulderites live for days like this as well. With gas hitting record prices you would think that people would be driving less and looking for alternate ways to get to work and to enjoy the outdoors. Maybe oil needs to hit $200/barrel because I still see people here in Colorado driving with their studded snow tires on or towing a trailer the size of the Queen Mary up the Rockies.
Which explains why I found the sight of all the families out enjoying two-wheeled transport so refreshing. And it also works on a different level. By introducing their kids to the joys of cycling early in their life there is a chance that when the kids grow up they will be more likely to be outside having fun than inside their house playing the latest video game. Cycling can and should be a lifelong pursuit whether you race, ride hard on weekends or just like to get out for a few hours on Sunday.
Introduce your kids, friends, co-workers to cycling. When gas hits $10/gallon they will thank you profusely plus you will get a few more riding partners.