Friday, December 16, 2011

"It's Just Stupid Bike Racing...."

Why do I do it? Why do hundreds of others do it too? We spend hundreds of hours training, thousands of miles traveling, and thousands of dollars on equipment each year to race bikes. My level of talent is so mediocre & my number of podium results so few that the question may seem very relevant; as if one would be delusional to pursue a sport with such a meager pay back.

This week I read three articles by bike racers about their perspective on their own racing. Two of them by people I know, Justine Lindine & Bill Strickland, one by a guy I can sympathize with. All three were worth reading as  reflections on the personal madness that is amateur bike racing. Two also quote Adam Myerson in his interview after Sterling CX this year, "Its just stupid bike racing, but it means everything."

In truth its much easier to be a cyclist than a bike racer. I live in a place where great cycling abounds. I ride every week in the summer with dozens of good cyclists. Most of these cyclists don't race any more, or never did. So they don't train systematically, they don't diet, they don't fixate on their performance limiters, they don't strategize to find their opportunities for victory. They just ride; sometimes easy, sometimes hard, sometimes more miles than I do. And that's great for them, truly, but its not racing.

Racing is different. Racing requires a focus, discipline, perhaps even fixation most cycling does not. Each week and each day of a racers season is shaped by activities that drive toward the next race. Whether it is sleep or nutrition or training or recovery, some part of the day is devoted to preparing to race. The bike racers life becomes a lifestyle with a central goal of peak personal performance.  This may be a healthy obsession, but it is still an obsession.

Every year I notice that a few people, who used to race with me, drop out of the sport. They just stop showing up. Perhaps they get injured, perhaps they get frustrated with their results, perhaps life gets in the way of training, perhaps they loose the passion. Yet without racing, there is no reason to pursue the lifestyle, and there in no lessons to be learned about ones own discipline, or toughness, or focus, or strength, or humility, or capacity for improvement. These lessons are the pay off for the sacrifices that a bike racer's lifestyle demands. If I do not race, I will not wring out of myself all that I have within me, physically & emotionally; if only to see exactly what I am at my core.

Bike races are not like life, they are life. Most times a stupid bike race is the most concentrated, distilled, intense part of my life. Bike racing draws from me a passion and discipline that I hope I will infuse into the rest of my life. That is for me its great worth.
"It's just stupid bike racing, but it means everything".

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Way of the Cyclocross: A CX racers week in season

When road racers say that they "live like monks" they mean depriving themselves of wine, partying, or other pleasures. Cyclocross racers truly live like monks; they drink beer, brutally scourge themselves, and follow an order to their week similar to an abbot's rule of life. Each week during the season has the same pattern of days. Each action leads to the next race and back again.

Monday: Bike repair and cleaning. What damage have you done to your machines this weekend? Do you need to finish getting the mud off of everything? Are some parts in need of replacement? Did you flat a tire? Does your skinsuit still have dirt stains on it? Better get to scrubbing between searching the internet for pictures of yourself from last weekend.

Tuesday: Confession, where did I fall last weekend? If I raced both days on the weekend, I'm probably not ready for hard efforts yet. My body likely needs some more rest. I might even groan just getting on the bike. Extra stretching in the morning, or better yet, a massage is a nice cure for the lingering aches. Mind repair requires banishing the demons of doubt, so drilling the skills that were weak on the weekend. Whatever elements gave me the most difficulty during the last races are the skills to practice on Tuesday.

Wednesday: Penance, the flesh is weak. This is the day for atonement. This is the time for self flagellation. No other way to get stronger but to do intervals. My lungs burn, my legs ache, my eyeballs scream by the end of the ride if I am doing it right. The only chance to get faster is to push myself harder in training than I did in my prior races.

Thursday: Preparation, better too early than too late. I know that Friday will be a crammed day between work, life, and a race prep ride. Rather than go nuts trying to get everything done on Friday, I find it easier to begin packing for the weekend on Thursday night. Since I typically only do a short ride, I have an extra hour to put together my clothing & basic gear for the race weekend ahead. I can also do another check of the bikes so any last minute repairs can be done on Friday.

Friday: Am I ready? Since my race start is usually before noon, and since I frequently drive 2 hours to the venue, all my preparation must be done by 7 p.m. on Friday. By that time I need to be eating dinner so I can get to bed by 9. The worst day to deprive yourself of sleep is the day before a race. If I line up my day just right I can get a good prep ride done at noon, pack the car after work, then make dinner & relax. If not, I spend hours after dinner stressing out over all the things to be packed up before dawn.

Saturday-Sunday: Race day. Everything goes by routine if I've lined myself up right. Arrive, put together bikes, ride the course, register, hot laps, dress, final warm up, staging, RACE!, cool down, pack up.

Rinse, rest, repeat.

Sunday Night: Recovery. If I've raced to my limit, this is couch time, since I have nothing left. Maybe I can put together a blog post, or an email. Maybe I'll just go to bed. Hopefully I'm satisfied with the effort I've made. If not, there's always next week.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Providence CX Festival: A Hellish End to NECX Holy Week.

The Providence Cyclocross Festival was an inferno. Temperatures in the 80's both days and fast racing made the course seem like the devil's playpen. The lessons of this weekend were as old as Old Nick too. 
I offer them in pictures:

1) Cyclocross is Hot

photo by Robin McDonald-Foley


2) Cyclocross is Cool

photo by Matt Roy


3) Cyclocross is Rad!

photo by Todd Prekaski



4) Cyclocross is the most fun I have racing bikes.
(even when I'm not racing well)

photo by Leslie Cohen

The crowds were large, either for the racing or for the VeloSwap. The cheering was loud. The beer was abundant. The heckling was creative. The food trucks were awesome. The venue was great. We enjoyed a concert Saturday night at the course side ampitheater.
It was a spectacular finale for NECX Holy Week.

As Pastor Myerson would say, "cyclocross week has concluded, let us go in peace."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gloucester Grand Prix: the more things stay the same, the more they change

The Grand Prix of Gloucester is the jewel of New England Cyclocross races. Biggest race, stiffest competition, most anticipation.

Yet for the important of the race, the course is surprisingly simple. There is a long up hill start-finish pavement, sweeping grass turns, one hillside to play on, a windy straight by the harbor, and the sand pit. All good elements, but limited in number and scope.

Or so one could think. The course designer for almost every Gloucester GP has been Tom Stevens. Someone this week deemed him the Christo of cyclocross courses. But I think of him more as a Mozart. He takes the same basic elements almost any park might have and combines them in new inventive ways; even on at a venue that's been raced at dozens of times.


Two years ago he added the quad busting run up off the sea wall. Now its seems that it has always been part of Gloucester. We were forewarned that he had new elements in mind for this year. But I had no idea how devilish and beautiful they could be.


Day One brought a FLYOVER to Gloucester! Before last year no New England cyclocross courses had a flyover. Most of our courses are large enough and steep enough not to need one, but they are just so Euro cool. Fortunately Gary David comissioned Ron Gougen to build one for MRC CX last season. Then Ice Weasels and the NE Regionals courses put it up too. But I never imagined that Tom would set it up for a thousand racers to careen over it at Gloucester.

Day Two was even more special. For years Paul Boudreau has dreamed of adding a special bit of terrain to the course, Half Moon Beach. For all the years I've race at Fort Stage Park, I did not know this beach even existed. On this past Sunday the course ran down a paved boat ramp to a natural deep sand beach with a stair case at the other end. The stairs lead up the famous Gloucester rock. It was picture perfect, and challenging. Even the tide had to be held at bay to allow the elites to race this section late in the afternoon The trick to Half Moon Beach was to ride as far onto the sand as speed would allow, then gracefully dismount to the base of the stairs. This was much easier to write than to do. Even several of the elites sprawled out on the beach. I hope that we get to visit this section again.

Whether we do or not, I'm certain that the course will offer up new challenges, just like it always does.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Holy Week-Hell Week in NECX: the feast of Michaelmas

Midnight Ride of CX, Grand Prix of Gloucester, Night Weasels, Providence CX Festival.

6 races in 11 days. Some have called this New England cyclocross Holy Week, others have deemed it Hell Week. Certainly many of us will be praying for strength or mercy, since indeed it is both.

This week also marks Michaelmas; the feast of Saint Michael. The current date of St. Michael's Day is on September 29th, the day after the Midnight Ride. The ancient date for Michaelmas is October 10th, the day after Providence Cyclocross Fest ends. NECX Holy-Hell Week spans the feast of St. Michael.


St. Michael is the Arch Angel, the divine avenger. It was St. Michael who drove Satan out of heaven after the rebellion. In legend, the Arch Angel and Satan fought a war ending in Satan's defeat and descent to hell. The feast of Saint Michael commemorates the victory.

The races this week have several religous features. Racing at Gloucester is like a pilgrimage for cyclocross devotees. Many of us will battle our own demons during these races. This week ends in the city named Providence, on a course around a shrine.

But I have something to add to the myth. In medieval legend, Satan clutched at the Arch Angel's wings trying to hold onto to a place in heaven. Eventually Michael wrestled him away. Satan then fell and landed in a blackberry thicket. I imagine that Satan grasped at anything he could in his struggle, even a bicycle, meant for mortals, hidden under the Arch Angel's wings. Perhaps he held onto to that divine machine in his fall. Yet Satan was so disgusted with his outcast state when he landed in the thicket, that he threw the bicycle into the thorns. Satan then sneered, and dared foolish humans to race that machine through the blackberry thicket in the bleak cold of autumn. Cyclocross was then born out of that divine bicycle and that demonic challenge.

Every year, the bicycles become more heavenly, and the courses become more hellish.

So pray for us this week, lend us strength and mercy, we the disciples of cyclocross.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

through the Muck: Nor'Easter CX report

photo by pedalpower photography


Cyclocross is defined by mud. In Europe, a "true 'cross" race is one where the racers finish covered from nose to toes in dirt. But like Eskimo's describing snow, cyclocross racers know the wide variety of mud types. Mud can be wet, caulky, firm, loose, sticky, gloppy, gritty, deep, thin, or heavy. Nor'Easter Fest Cyclocross had lots of mud, and lots of types of mud as well. So much mud I threw my socks away after the race rather than try to wash them.

I did not plan for a full mud course on Saturday. The weather forecast only called for a 20% chance of showers. But Vermont has been soaked all year, flooded by once in a century storms. The ground was as wet as a bowl of stew with a thin layer of grass clippings on top. The morning's light rain made it a certainity that the course would be full on muck. Some places had soupy puddles, the ride up was sandy cement type mud, the back stretch was gloppy off camber crud, and the barriers were in ankle deep muck.

I was excited for this race. The masters field was small. I figured that a race of attrition would mean that I could grind my way to a few Verge points. All I had to do was keep pedaling and get one set of bike changes, and let the less committed drop out. The course was not tricky, just slick in spots, heavy in almost all the rest. The turns were slow due to the deep peanut butter mud in the low fields. The only section I could get some speed going was the start-finish stretch.

Off the start I had good position in the middle of the field. I then slid off course on the first slimey descent. Crap! mistake #1. I ran past a couple of guys on the first beach section. I then slogged away around a couple of others to get up to Jerry's wheel by the top of the second slick descent, "the chute". This was mistake #2. Jerry then turned on his magnetic death ray, the one he has reserved for me. The guy infront of him flopped at the bottom of the chute, taking out Jerry. As I almost cleared him to the right, he spun around, taking out my front wheel. I body surfed into the pool of walnut brown muck. Chain off the bike and guys streaming past, I was now near last. I wished I had just trotted down that slippery chute like Bart Wellens would, or like Helen Wyman did later in the day.

photo by pedalpower photography


It took me a lap to get myself going race speed again. I did not help myself by tangling in the course tape 3 times trying to find dry(ish) track to ride. We only had 3 more laps to race at that point. Then I remembered that cyclocross includes running! And I run pretty well for a bike racer. In fact, I've been running twice a week for the past month. So for the next two laps anywhere the mud got deep enough to grind away in the smallest gears, I got off and ran. Then I started catching and passing guys in the deep mud. Running I picked off 5 guys, going from almost last to not almost last, but no better. I missed Verge points by two spots. I only wish I had stayed out of the course tape and on my feet earlier.

So the next time I race a "true 'cross", I'll run down the slick descents ala Bart Wellens, and run through the thick mud rather than grind away. In the meantime, I'll do my Mo Bruno-Roy signature wind sprints.
Cyclocross: you best be willing to get your toes dirty.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Into the Fog: the start of a new Cyclocross Season

New England is a region marked by its distinctive seasons. The transition from summer to autumn is apparent to me in the morning. Rather than the bright morning dew of August, after Labor Day the early hours are often covered by fog, even when the rest of the day is sunny. Each day as I drove to the race this weekend, a thick layer of mist hung over the fields and road.

Mentally I was just as clouded as the fog draped hills. The start of any race season brings some doubts: Have I trained enough? Are the fast guys still fast? Have my rivals gotten faster? Who has moved into my race category? I had more doubts than usual due to my limited racing this summer. To compound those concerns, I also had the first of the school year family head cold. I was so congested I could barely talk, much less race.

Saturday I took a slow wheezing preview lap, then another. I went to the trainer for forms sake. Just getting up to tempo effort was a chore. I thought that finishing a single lap in the race would be a minor miracle. But being the stuborn idiot I am, I lined up anyway.

And then a minor miracle did happen, I managed to avoid the first lap crash at 500m off the line. I slotted into the back of the bunch and just kept pedaling. By the end of the first lap I was catching guys. By the end of the second lap I was passing guys. Frank McCormack bolted past me going up the long hill. I thought about following his wheel, but realized I would collapse doing so. I just kept pedaling anyway. With two to go I was battling with Nat McHugh and a Quad Cycles racer. The Quad racer gapped me on the back side of the course and Nate came around to chase. Coming into the long hill climb on the last lap I attacked Nate and pressed hard. I managed to put in enough distance to keep him off my wheel the rest of the lap. I did not gain enough ground on the Quad racer to make a sprint at the line.

So I finished, and even equalled my Race Predictor position. It wasn't pretty, but it was a result.

Sunday, I made the silly mistake of expecting a better race result. Instead with two laps to go, and in position to make a run on Verge Points, I endo'd on the gravel fill. A twisted shifter, chain wrapped around the crankarm, and a cocked seat made certain that I would have a long slow ride to the pit. That put me 30 seconds behind GeWillickers. I rode an unenthusiastic last lap, and managed to come across 10 seconds before getting lapped. At least I had the legs to race two days in a row despite a raging head cold, so there's that.

The fog of race doubt is starting to lift.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Pats Peak Smack Down: bogged, flogged, and flatted.

Having achieved a little success the prior Sunday, I had some hope for a good result at Pats Peak. That was my first mistake, expectations. I watched the weather all week, as always. I anticipated that the course would be muddy. I knew the single track could be slippery. I figured the race would be a long steady slog.  But expecting a heavy course and excelling on it are two different things.

The Pats Peak XC race was my 4th time riding my mountain bike this year, Yes, 4th time, All year. My sprained wrist has kept me entirely off the mtb bike until a week ago. So my single track skills, which are never great, are pretty rusty this season. No worries, its just going to be a race of attrition, and I'll just plan to run a bunch. I run pretty well with a bike. So it'll be fine, right?

I lined up on the front row to try and defend my podium finish last year. I told myself not to take the hole shot, but just follow wheels for the first half lap. Letting the hole shot was no problem. Even getting a solid clip in the best I managed was 4th wheel heading past the tech zone. Into the woods I felt pretty solid. Then on the first slippery exit the rider ahead of me biffed and I came off. I remounted and slotted in three more spots down. In the next single track section, the same thing happened. Only now I am at the back of a line of a dozen riders and feeling angry. I was not happy to be tail gunning a muddy xc race. For the rest of the lap I lost my cool. I ran around guys every time it got slippery. I burned up extra energy chasing up the hill. I managed to work my way up to 5th spot or so by the middle of the 2nd lap. But I just about used all my mental energy to do it.

And then the wheels came off. The single track on the far side of the course was slippery after 24 hours of rain. I managed to slip off rock wall crossings twice. Each time I jammed my sprained wrist and howled in pain. I only lost one spot, but felt less than confident about racing hard the rest of the course. I should not have worried. Just as I was about to start the fast dry-ish descent to the finish my front wheel popped. I had torn a hole in the side wall on a small rock. I tried to air it up and get the sealant to hold. No luck. The valve stem was stuck in the rim as well. So I started running, I mean how many spots could I loose in a 1.5 miles to the finish? The answer is 7. Yes, 7 guys cruised past me while I was hoofing it to the line. I finished, one off of DFL, but I finished.

So the leasons are, 1) don't race injured if you have a choice. I'm sure I set the healing of my wrist back three weeks. 2) don't race angry and waste energy. 3) don't race slippery singletrack when you haven't been riding any single track. There is always another race, another day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Joy of a Dirt Crit: Big Ring Rumpus Report;

Some guys complain about boring race courses. When its a cyclocross or mountain bike race they decry the parcours as a "dirt crit". The truth is that if you have time to enjoy the landscape, you may as well put on a pair of khaki cargo shorts and load the panniers, because you're touring, not racing. Steeper, twistier, or longer courses may favor some athletes. But true racers will fling themselves around the same flat 1km paved square for hours and find thrills. It is the competition, the strategies, the attacks, that make an event exciting;

The racers make the race.

The Big Ring Rumpus is unique on the north east circuit since it has no single track and no hills. If any race deserves to be called a "dirt crit", this one does. The course is a 4 mile, hard pack, 12 corner, double track speed fest. The only thing to slow anyone down is the loose 90 degree corners. It is the only mountain bike race where I've been tempted to bolt on aero extensions. The Rumpus means that drafting and sprint tactics win. It was a perfect race for me to test my post-crash form.

My strategy was to stay in front four and cover moves until 2 to go, then see if I had legs to make an attack. 18 guys started in the Sport Vet II field. My thinking was that the start might be like the photo above, so I slotted into the front row and got a good clip in off the whistle. I tucked in at second wheel for the first lap. The group cruised the course at a moderately high speed. At the start of lap two I punched up the pace for a few minutes before letting a couple of guys come around. We quickly settled into a tempo pace around the trtack. No one attacked hard, so we kept trading long pulls amongst 4 guys. 3 others rode dangling at the back of our bunch. I was not sure if anyone had legs to go hard, or if they were saving themselves for a final lap sprint. Everyone seemed to be riding near their limit, but sometimes its difficult to tell in the race. I kept myself in the front of the bunch in case someone attacked. I felt like I could go faster, but wanted to avoid cooking myself before the finish.

With two laps to go it was time to see if anyone had legs. I made a 90% effort attack up a little rise. I was able to get a sizable gap very quickly. I rode hard tempo for a few minutes to see if anyone would chase. After 3 minutes or so, a group of three was closing in. I latched on to the back and the pace slowed immediately. By the end of the lap, the group was back up to seven guys. No gain in reducing the bunch.

On the bell lap I worked to secure second wheel for the front half of the course. I waited to attack coming out of a big loose corner about 1km before the finish loop. I punched up a little speed bump and cranked the tempo. Just as the last corner was almost in sight, a White Mtn Velo racer edged past me, chugging like a freight train. I chased for his wheel, but could not get back around him before the finish line. 2nd place 2nd year in a row. The guy who won took no pulls until he chased down my attack. He played his cards very close to the vest, and very well. Perhaps I should have done the same, or attacked harder, or gone earlier, or ect. ect. ect.

I raced my plan and lost by a bike length. I was happy to have a nice fast race to test myself. We averaged just under 18 mph in 24 miles on mountain bikes! The elite field did a couple of 20 mph average laps. For the speed on dirt alone this race is a blast. The other reason is the turnout; between Chip Baker, the Rowells, Libby White, Mark Soups, Jack Chapman promoting, the Cambridge Bikes/ Boloco kids, JONNY BOLD & Wilichoski at the front of the elites, plus a cyclocross open division, it was a nice NECX reunion.
A reminder of the fun that awaits us in the fall.

Racers do make the race.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Krank the Kanc. I signed up for what?

It is no revelation that I am not a pure climber. In fact, I climb like a bowling ball, I climb like a box turtle, I climb like a narcoleptic hippopotamus. To be fair, I can climb hills on the bike, its just not pretty, or quick. But I have a bunch of team mates that really wanted to do Krank the Kanc. When the individual divisions filled in seconds, I signed up to do the 3 person team time trial. I just hoped that I would not be a ridiculous drag on my team's time.

The course itself is not a pure climb. The first 17 miles of the 21 mile course is a slight grade to actually flat. The race breaks down into 3 parts: the first 9 miles at a 2-3 grade is a big ring climb, the second part is the flat/downhill 7.5 miles, and then part three, the climb, 4.5 miles at 7%. Our game plan was to be as aero as possible for the first two sections. One of our team, Joe, rode his full TT bike. Dana was on a Cervelo Soloist w/ Zipp 404's.  We all ran aero extensions. I debated about using aero wheels (Hed 3's), climbing wheels (Dura Ace 24's) or something in between (Bontrager Carbon Aero's). The trade off between wheels being either fast on the flat or light for the climb. The plan was to do 2-3 minute pulls at threshold to maximize our speed on the first 2 parts of the course, then pace each other on the climb. I figured I might need a push or two.

Our course preview training convinced me that I would need the climbing wheels. Coming off three hard falls in two weeks, I just didn't have alot of power. I was barely able to do my pulls on the flat sections. On the hill, I was at only 80% of my typical slow climbing. So I only glued up the Dura Ace wheels, and hope I would do better on race day. Thankfully, we worked the pace line well on the flat sections, so I might get some recovery before the hill.

Race day I felt fresh. I had a good session of hill climbing the Wednesday before. My warm up was a little short, but adequate for an hour+ long time trial. Unfortunately, one of our team had a head cold. We held the tempo down a notch in the middle section of the race per his request. We pacelined together well, so we were still working our plan. Still, we started the climb a couple minutes behind our target time. We worked the climb at his pace. I felt like I could give a little more until the last km, then my calves cramped. I spun for a few seconds and pushed for the finish. We finished together, sprinting for the line.

We had caught both of the teams that started before us, but 12 teams started after us. So we got to sit at the top of the Kanc, munch on pretzels, and wait for the others to finish. (But no water?!? who puts out food at the end of bike race but no water?) We managed a 1:12:30, 3 minutes slower that we hoped, but a solid time. In the end it was good enough for 2nd place.  We also won the intra-squad contest for bragging rights by besting the other Team Alpine Clinic three-some.

We might have raced faster on the flat section, but we gave it what we could on the day. Dana and Joe are eager to see if we can do better next year. Perhaps more aero wheels would help our speed in the flats. And now my mates are eager to do Crank the Crawford as a team.
What have I gotten myself into?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Touching the Floor, but making it home

This April was the cruelest month of cycling I've endured. Not because of hard training or heaps of mental abuse, but from hitting the tarmac; touching the floor. I had gone the last two years without a spill, but in the past two and half weeks I found myself on the pavement three times. The last incident was the most ugly. I was leading the pace line on our Wednesday night group ride when a dog dashed straight into my front wheel. No time to touch the brakes or for anyone to call it out, I flew over the bars to be run over by the guy on my wheel. Fortunately the only thing broken was my bike. In fact I've come out of these incidents with lots of scrapes, bruised ribs, and sprained wrists, but nothing worse. I am fortunate that my injuries are fairly minor.

Yesterday I was reminded of how costly one incident on the bike can be. Every cyclist I know is indescribably sad about Wouter Weylandt's death in the Giro. It was one missed pedal stroke that apparently flung him to the ground. A backward glance, the wrong veer at high speed, and he launched out of control. All of us who have pushed the pace know how easy it could be to loose control. Whether we are cascading down a mountain pass, or pounding a sprint elbow to elbow, or merely flowing through blind corners in the bunch, we are racing on the razor edge of control. Only a paper thin barrier keeps us cyclists in this world and from careening into the next one.

Bike racers are all like Icarus, flying high and fast on wings fashioned for us. We want to reach our glory. We need to see the limits we can test. Fortunately few of us push too far. But once in a while, someone does get too close to the edge, and plummets like Icarus. We are blessed that so few fatal accidents occur in bike races. Yet that makes each fatal incident seem more tragic.

I do not race to cheat death. I am not interested in thrill seeking. I train hard, knowing that I do not have pro talent, but hoping to emulate the dedication and dignity the peloton displayed today.
I race to squeeze all the passion, energy, and joy that my tender grip on this life can wring out.
I ride to live as fully as I can.


I will put these thoughts aside so that I may race again, but I will not forget.
Rest in peace Wouter; you race with the angels now.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Who Won What?!? a season of surprises

Bike races are like a box a chocolates, you never know when its going to get crunchy, or gooey, or crashes you out from a sudden drop in blood sugar. You just hope to grab the best one before anyone else takes it. (Not what you were expecting?) This year, the big spring classics have been full of surprises. The crashes, the mechanicals, the individual injuries, even the team tactics have been somewhat surprising. The biggest surprise of all has been the winners. None of the monuments were won by a guy named as a favorite before the race. Sure Goss and Nuyens were on the "outside chance" lists of some writers. But they were both longshots. Van Summeren wasn't even the #3 option for Garmin. He had the last number in the team start order signifying "domestique". No one can deny that each of these racers is talented and deserving. Yet, they were the darkest of dark horses. Every bike race has a fair measure of good luck for the winner. You can not win on good luck alone, but you certainly can not win with out it. Crashes dashed the chances of many team leaders in la Prima Vera, and as usual in Paris-Roubaix. A couple of dropped bottles likely cost Cancellara his margin on the Muur. Boonen's jammed chain in Arenberg was the beginning of his end. The lack of good luck cost all the big favorites their shot at glory. Goss, Nuyens, and Van Summeren had more than luck on their side. They each had directors & teams that supported them in the race. (something Chavanel might have liked at the Ronde) They all had the strength and smarts to be in the right position. They each believed in themselves enough to finish first. None of their wins were by chance alone. Perhaps the leason of this year's classics is that the conventional wisdom isn't always so wise. The odds on favorite can always have a bad day, leaving the flowers for someone else. A good racer is ready for opportunities, and a good team director supports that guy when the race plays out for a "non-favorite". These races have been very exciting for all the upsets. We can hope the Ardenes and the Grand Tours will be just as dramatic.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Taking New Media for Granted

Media has changed enormously in the last 10 years. For a longtime cycling fan like me, this is a wonderful thing. Do not get me wrong. Hundreds of websites, thousands of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Vs., livestreams, YouTube clips, and now Universal Sports replays means we can consume all day everyday consuming cycling; we sometimes do this rather than actually riding bikes (or any other useful activity).



Realize this also means that we can spend hour upon hour indulging in our favorite sport, cycling. Back in the day (even 1o years ago) none of this existed. We got one hour of Tour de France coverage once a week when I first followed the tour in 1987. All other information on bike racing came in monthly magazines. I waited weeks to find out who won any event. I also devoured each issue of those magazines. No page was wasted.



I make this point anticipating that some fans will feel frustrated that Universal Sports is charging $5 for their live stream of the Cyclocross World Championships. My reaction is whopee! I'm thrilled to be able to pay such a small fee for a high quality stream. Bonus that I can plug into a big screen TV and follow commentary on atleast 4 different english language sites.



I would also encourage everyone who wants World Cup cyclocross live on a regular basis to do the same. The reason is simple; Universal apparently owns the U.S. broadcast rights to UCI World Cup events. The more viewership they have for Worlds, the more likely they will stream World Cups live in the future. Now Universal Sports shows replays of the WC races on cable, weeks after the event, at 4 a.m. Better than nothing, but barely. So if you want to see cyclocross get more broadcast attention, pay up and watch on Universal Sports rather than poaching Sporza's feed. I'll miss the commentary in dutch too, but its the right thing to do for the future of US cyclocross.