Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hushovd Wins Spring Classics Opener

Thor Hushovd wins the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (previously known as Omloop Het Volk). Rounding out the podium was Belgian Kevin Ista in second and the Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha in third. The Spring Classics are finally here!!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

2010 Cyclocross World Championship - Quiet without Boom

Is the apocalypse nigh?? Lars Boom will not be competing in the 2010 Cyclocross World Championship to instead focus on the Spring Classics. He's not entirely hanging up the cyclocross bike, he plans on racing 5 cyclocross races "just for fun". Cyclocross Mag has the full article.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tour of California - A.K.A The worst coverage of a cycling event. Ever.

If anyone has tuned in on Versus, you will know exactly what I'm talking about. Let me start by saying that I'm grateful as hell that bicycle racing is even being broadcast here in the U.S. In a country dominated by "The Big Three" (football, basketball, baseball), it's a small victory that a sport like cycling gets any air time at all.

My gratitude stops there...

Let's start with the commentating. You've got two of the best cycling announcers of all time in Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen and for some unknown reason, you feel the necessity to throw Craig Hummer into the mix. Not good. His comparisons of cycling to (gulp) American football... Well, it makes my blood boil. He's probably just trying to relate it to something he knows. Maybe he can go commentate for the NFL and leave cycling alone.

It can't get any worse with the on-screen talent. Or can it? Enter Rasika Mathur. A comedian (self proclaimed?) who conducts some filler interviews on bike-tech and other miscellaneous cycling-interest stories. Comedian?? I'm not sure if she was just searching for some arbitrary title for her self but "Entertainment Executioner" would have been more appropriate. She utterly murdered any shred of entertainment value her segments could hope to possess. Even my wife, who's not nearly as critical as I am, visibly cringed when she came on. If you missed it, here's a clip with her talking to some guy from Shimano (poor fellow).

As for the actual race coverage. Cameras not working in the rain, coverage being cut short for bull riding, missed finishes, WAY too much coverage of Lance and his team "Astanastrong". All I can say is damn.

Let me be optimistic for a moment. Maybe this was a test run so all the bugs get ironed out before the Spring Classics. I don't know about you, but any cycling fan worth his weight lives for the Spring Classics and if Versus screws them up... Liggett bar the door.

We as cyclists need a channel dedicated to the sport, and run by someone who actually knows the sport and understands it. Versus doesn't get it. The people that watch cycling (with maybe the exception of the Tour de France) are pretty passionate and well versed in the sport. We don't need some dingbat "comedian" cracking jokes while soft pedaling on a stationary trainer. Just good coverage and good commentary.

We cyclists need a channel that understands cycling and its uniqueness. Maybe it would help if cycling didn't share airtime with hockey, bull riding and hunting...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ghosts of My Past - Estes Park Challenge - Stage 3 RR

This is it. the final stage. A 9 mile loop of hilly hell that we would have to traverse 5 grueling times. After the road race and time trial from yesterday, my legs are a bit fatigued. Maybe gelatinous would be a better description. I tried to scope out the course by car last night but ended up getting lost on some crazy canyon road in the dark. Oh well, sometimes I feel like the less I'm prepared, the better I do. Less pressure.

I get a short warm up in and it's time to line up. A few riders exchange nervous banter while waiting for the start. Why is it that people can't just sit in silence. Is it nerves? The gun interrupts my pondering and were off.

The peloton moves along with a comfortable ease, legs a bit fatigued from the previous day. The first 2 and a half to 3 laps continue at this pace, feeling almost too easy. I'm up near the front to keep out of trouble (and to keep an eye on the overall leader), riding along, maybe even getting a bit lax... When, bam! an attack goes clear. The leader isn't in it so nobody responds. I sit, watching the group of 5 or 6 riders pull away. I could catch them still, if I really put the hammer down but another minute and it will be a different story.

I go. This is a hands in the drops, head low, big ring pain fest, but I know I can bridge the gap. Inching closer, I notice a shadow on my left side. A glance back and I realize that I've towed the entire peloton up to the lead group. Good for me...

One big happy family again. Everyone plays nice until the first hill on lap 4. It's a steepish number, not particularly long but a leg burner just the same. Who decides to attack? The leader himself. Stockburger. No one chases... What the hell?? Do I have to do everything? So I go. I get right on his wheel and sit in. That wasn't too tough. I look behind me and we've put some distance between us and the peloton. This is crazy. I'm on a possible winning break with the overall leader of the Estes Park Challenge.

I take a turn or two up front until we get to the false-flat downhill that precedes the start/finish. Then Stockburger hides behind my ample draft and lets me pull him all the way to the next hill. We cross the start/finish line, 1 lap to go....

I'm feeling good but getting nervous. I can't panic but the gravity of my situation is setting in. I'm in second place and there is the slim possibility that I could win (if I don't do something stupid). I glance behind me as we start the climb, the peloton is back there but I don't think we'll have to worry about them catching up.

That's me in the dark blue looking a little haggard, sitting in second place in stage three of the Estes Park Challenge.

All the sudden Stockburger stands up and he's gone. Damn... I go WAY in the red just to match his acceleration and proceed to blow up... Damn. Next thing I know, the peloton is passing me and there's nothing I can do about it. I'm now with the stragglers that the peloton dropped. I get in with a small group of 5 or 6 and we take turns up front on the final downhill before the finish.

I've got nothing left for the finish. That last hill is going to eat me for breakfast and it seems everyone in the group knows it. They all attack in unison and I put forth everything I've got to pull even with the last guy in the group as we cross the line.

21st place. Stockburger won (not that I was surprised). Race over. That was my first and only stage race.

What did I learn from all this? Well, it was something another rider said to me that I've held onto over the years. A Vitamin Cottage rider came up to me after the race and told me that I rode really aggressively, and that he thought that if I had played my cards better, I could have beaten Stockburger. He said I worked too much at the front and chased down too many breaks over the course of the race. I needed to conserve more energy and not to expend it unwisely. And most of all, to be patient. It's funny, at the time, I was probably a little taken aback by what he said. But as I've aged, I realized he was absolutely right.

Final overall: 17th place.

Monday, February 16, 2009

To Shave or Not to Shave

Of all the crazy, quirky things that cyclists do, this has to be the most hotly contested.

I first shaved my legs back in 1996. I remember my wife (then fiance) walked in on me and kinda flipped out. She called all her friends to tell them I had been in the shower for over an hour shaving my legs (yes, it took that long, there was a lot of hair!) I like to think some of her friends understood, most probably thought I was crazy. That was over a decade ago and I've kept my legs nicely shorn since.

The wife has gotten very used to it, maybe even likes it... If anything, she's quick to give me a gentle reminder to shave when the old legs get a little prickly. My friends (non-cyclists) gave me shit at first, as do co-workers, relatives, etc. but they all get used to it. Or maybe I just get used to their crap.

Let's take a look at the reasons why cyclists shave and the reasons not to. Maybe this will help someone who's on the fence about the whole topic.

Reasons To Shave:
  • Better aerodynamics - this is probably more myth than anything. If there is an aerodynamic benefit, it's gotta be pretty minuscule.
  • Makes road rash easier to clean, heals faster, etc. - Road rash on a shaved leg is definitely easier to clean and care for, plus no hair getting caught in bandages...
  • Massage is nicer, less painful - This has got to be true, although I've never had a massage on an unshaven leg so I have no basis for comparison.
  • Less irritation from shorts - not too sure about this one, maybe there's something to it.
  • Easier apply/remove embrocation - no doubt in my mind...
  • Looks cool - I think so, but it's all a matter of opinion
  • Feels fast - Yes!
And reasons not to:
  • It's a hassle - yup, but not that bad. Two to three times a week.
  • Ingrown hairs - not too much of a problem personally, unless I let the hair grow too long...
  • Looks girlish, not manly, etc. - If your masculinity is threatened by shaved legs, you best not be riding in spandex, because that certainly isn't helping your cause. Try a wife-beater and a pair of cutoffs, that will show 'em your a man!
  • Ridicule - yeah, and people don't make fun of the spandex shorts...?
For me, shaving is the embodiment of my commitment to the sport. It's a regular (or semi-regular) affirmation of my love for cycling. I always shave the day before races as a part of my ritual. Helps put me in the right frame of mind. Plus, I think it gives the whole cyclist a very put together and well polished look. And it's PRO, need I say more?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cyclocross - The Great Melting Pot

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Cyclocross has the unique distinction among all other cycling disciplines as the melting pot of the sport.

Everyone has a discipline that they favor. Crossing into other disciplines is accepted and encouraged and can be a great way to develop handling skills, power, and speed and it can be a helluva lot of fun too.

But, at the end of the day, what it all boils down to is you are either a roadie or a mountain biker. As much as we like to think that there aren't any sort of boundaries, there are. And let's just say nothing would give a MTB'er greater pleasure than to school a bunch of roadies at their own game and vice versa.

'Cross provides a unique venue where roadies and mountain bikers can mingle without either one feeling too out of their element. It also provides a fair battleground. The bikes are very similar to road bikes so the roadie feels at home and the courses are on dirt and mud so the MTB'er doesn't feel out of his element either.

I'm sure there are tons of theories about which primary discipline prepares you better for cyclocross. I'm not even going to venture a guess. What I do want to do is to provide a short tutorial for identifying a MTB'er or roadie at a 'cross race. Here are some helpful tips:
  • Check out the bike - If it's sparkling clean and has some European name that's really tough to pronounce, chances are it's a roadie straddling it. If, after scrubbing off all the filth, you can make out a "Redline" or a "Santa Cruz", it's a MTB'er
  • Facial hair -This one is a dead give-a-way. Clean shaven = roadie. Facial hair (this can be any kind, but especially the ubiquitous goatee) = MTB'er
  • Cycling Kit - This can be a bit tricky.
    • Clothing - Typically, if the rider shows up to a 'cross race covered head to toe in some sort of fleecy spandex and it's 58 degrees out, I would venture that it's a roadie. Conversely, if it's 20 degrees and you see a sleeveless jersey and shorts paired with some long socks it's probably a mountain biker. You have to watch this one though, roadies love embrocation so that can throw you off. Take a look at the brands of the apparel too. Euro brands, you are probably dealing with a roadie, Primal Wear, that's an MTB'er.
    • Helmet - Any cyclist sporting a visor on their helmet is automatically a mountain biker. A roadie would never have a visor on their helmet, that's what a cycling cap is for.
    • Gloves - full fingered = MTB'er, 1/2 finger or none (if cold, lobster claws) = roadie
    • Socks - here's a little rhyme to help you remember: White socks at races, it's a roadie who chases, If colored socks you see, a mountain biker it will be.
  • Body - Stick thin and hairless it's a roadie. If Rubenesque comes to mind, it's likely a mountain biker. There's a reason there's no "Clydesdale" category in road racing.
  • Pre-race - Approach the roadie with extreme caution in the hours before a race, they tend to be quite aggressive and territorial when engaged in their pre-race ritual. It's an individual thing and any intrusions are not welcome. On the other hand, a mountain biker will gladly welcome any and all comers to their pre-race ritual. Shot gunning beers 30 minutes before start is a communal activity and the more the merrier.
  • During race - See that guy dismounting to cross the exposed root in the ground? That's a roadie. If you see someone bunny hopping railway ties on a run up, that's a MTB'er.
  • Post-race - Somebody offer you congratulations and a cold beer or tells you "good race"? That's a mountain biker. If any sort of post race communication is met with a scowl, that's a roadie.
I know it's a long way off but I hope this tutorial will be helpful going into next 'cross season. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to visit the natural habitats of these two unique species this spring and summer.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Race Wheel Rental

OK, maybe I'm the last one to find out about this. I'm sure you East and West coast folks have known for a couple years now. Here in Michigan, it seems like there's always a delay of the information spread.

What I'm talking about is race wheel rental or more specifically Echappe Equipment.

How did I find out about this? I posed a question to the cyclocross community on the Cyclocross Magazine forum regarding what type of tubular wheelset to buy and one of the nice folks at Echappe gave me all sorts of options to look at. I went to their web site and spent at least a 1/2 hour looking at all the different wheel configurations I could invest in. All this and I could try them out in advance of purchasing! Amazing. I seriously think this would go over really well if Echappe set up a tent at some of the 'cross races in this area. I would love to plonk down $50 and get to race on a nice set of carbon tubulars (complete with a set of grifos glued up to boot!)

If you're like me, (poor, on a shoestring budget, have several financial constraints, drowning in debt) and you've never heard of Echappe Equipment, check it out!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Performance Rollers 1989 - 2009 R.I.P.

Well, my May-December romance with the Performance Rollers didn’t last long. My youthful gyrations were just too much for her antiquated frame. The front roller started separating from its end cap and I figured it probably wasn’t safe to ride anymore. Time to put them out to pasture.

I’ve been looking at some newer, flashier models (Kreitler) but they are all out of my price range (basically anything north of “free” is out of my price range). For now, my indoor cycling is relegated to the stationary trainer (which is no spring chicken herself, I might add). Hopefully she can endure.

While we are on the topic, let’s talk indoor training. It’s been a pretty brutal winter here in Michigan and it hasn’t been conducive to outdoor riding. I’ve been out once on my ‘cross bike last weekend but that’s it. All the rest of my riding has been indoors.

I really hate riding the trainer. The rollers (God rest their soul) were quite an improvement and gave my AADD brain something else to focus on. Alas, they have gone to a better place. Watching cycling videos helps, but not much, especially when you only have the 2001 and 2003 Tour de France videos to watch. I seem to have lost all my other videos. I believe they were thrown away in a frenzy after spending 10+ hours in my basement, cleaning and organizing.

The indoor trainer sees the worst side of me. Legs spinning madly but not going anywhere, my bum gets sore, my shoulders get sore, I drip sweat all over the place.It also sees the worst side of my gear. My oldest and crappiest cycling shorts and underlayers are kept around for the distinct purpose of the trainer ride. That's not to mention the bulging, dry rotted, worn down to the threads Michelin Axial Pros, who's contact patch only sees action with the cold, metal cylinder of a trainer. No wonder it's a drag...

But, and this is a big but, if you live in a climate blessed with a cold season, you gotta do it. It keeps the winter weight off and keeps me from getting too disconnected from the sport I love.

Maybe that's what it all boils down to: suffering for something you love, is there a better way to show your dedication?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Niels Albert, Marianne Vos - Cyclocross World Champs!

Photo: Universal Sports

Niels Albert of Belgium is the newly crowned Cyclocross World Champ finishing a good 15 seconds ahead of Czech silver medalist Zdenek Stybar. Sven Nys rounded out the podium with the bronze.

Photo: Universal Sports

For the elite women, Marianne Vos of the Netherlands took gold, followed by defending champ Hanka Kupfernagel of Germany. Katie Compton did the Stars and Stripes proud with her bronze medal performance.

If you missed it, you can check out all the action at and see each event in its entirety!