Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Racing the Pro-1-2 event.

Finally, we have the perfect video to show what it's like to race in the Pro-1-2 field.
The video begins with the nervous wait on the starting line.

@:26 Riders ready? Go! The adventure begins. Hold on tight.

@1:57 The inevitable happens; the rider gets dropped in explosive fashion.

Oxygen is scarce as he rides around in circles for the next 5 minutes. He knows he'll never see the pack again.

@6:48 At this point, just over 6 minutes into the race, the officials pull him off the course.

@7:14 Here, you can see that the rider has thrown his helmet at his car as he approaches.

@7:21 The rider arrives at his car.

He then sits and stews in silence for a few minutes.

@7:50  He is not alone. Far off in the distance, you can see another rider returning to his car.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Vicious Cycle

Women's cycling is stuck in a vicious cycle. And it's one that has been spinning at a high rate for as long as I can remember. (I date back to 1983.) I saw it when Twigg, Bliss, Yeaton, Golay, Reinhart, and Pic were racing. It's still going. Lately, the cycle has received a lot of attention after the Amgen Tour of California held a women's event during the San Jose time trial. A lot of the issues came rushing forward.

I touched on it briefly in Roadie (the greatest book ever written). The cycle: women's pro racing is less developed than men's pro racing in many areas: rider salaries, prize monies, and number/stature of events. This is due in large part to the relatively low number of female participants across the country. With fewer participants, fewer riders progress to the highest level. With fewer elite racers, there are fewer elite level events and usually lower prize lists at the ones that do exist. As such, it's not financially viable for a female athlete to become a full time bike racer.

So what's a promoter to do when only only a handful of elite-level women show up at a regional event? They'll be forced to lump them together with lower categories in order to create a field. If you're that elite racer, you'll simply ride away from everyone. What fun is that? As I said in Roadie, if you enter your first tennis tournament and face Maria Sharipova in the first round. If that's your bike race experience, how long would you stay in the sport? The answer is "Not very long." In fact, roughly 90% of the first-year licensees don't return for a second year.

Currently - in my region, anyway -  a woman's only choice for a group training ride is a hammerfest involving 100 men. On Sunday, she will race against the other five women who didn't sell their bike after the first season, or they'll combine her field with another field (either the juniors or masters) which removes all semblance of a bike race. That's what women face upon entry into Roadie-world.

Women's racing is at its best when women race within their own category. It's real bike racing. Exciting. Competitive. Interesting. Compelling.
When women are forced to race all together as one big amalgam (which is 90% of the time), it is downright impossible to watch, and it's defeating to everyone involved. That - right there - is, to my trained eye, what kills it.

The answer is not simple. It is not enough to simply put on more high profile races. It is not enough to simply offer more prize money. Those are bandaids. Those have been tried with disappointing results.

Money doesn't solve it. Remember when USAC dumped a ton of money into the 1996 Olympic team thinking that medals would inspire growth in the sport. (For example, $25,000 for team pursuit "super bikes".) It doesn't work that way. It never does. It has to be organic.

The better answer is to grow more bike racers at the grass roots level. Teach, nurture, cultivate, train, and develop new riders. Put more people into the pipeline. With more people, you'll have better racing. Then, by offering women-only training sessions and skills courses, we can provide a better environment for developing the sport. And then, cream will rise to the top without washing away the rest of the crop.

It's a slow process that's already underway with several clubs and teams taking steps to recruit and train new women riders. When we get more numbers, we can stop forcing women to join a predominantly male group ride and stop lumping them in with the Masters or Juniors on Sunday.

If your region isn't doing anything in this direction, start now.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Last Days Of Lance Armstrong

      He stood in the middle of Kansas with the entire country around him. But then ... oops, evidence surfaced....California slipped into the ocean. Followed by more evidence... Maine and New Hampshire dropped off the map. And then more evidence. There goes Oregon. Then Florida. As more and more facts surfaced, the country that elevated him fell away. Today, Lance is surrounded by only his posse. Or in this analogy, an acre of supporters. This week, almost all of his sponsors dropped away. Soon, the posse will collapse. And Lance will be standing on a rock where Kansas used to be. Lance Armstrong has denied using performance enhancing drugs to win his seven Tours de France. Now we see the fabric unraveling. We see the mountain of evidence, and we now know that he was the kingpin of an extensive organized crime ring involving the governing body, sponsors, trainers, and a cast of thousands.

     It could have been different.

     Lance could have come clean right from the start when the first serious allegations came out. It would have saved all of this trouble from happening. America forgives and forgets very easily. He could have avoided all this. Instead, the Texan in him - the brashness that drew attention to him in the first place - dug in his heals and held his ground - fooled into believing that the people he bullied would remain silent, and that those who feared his powerful wrath would leave him alone. He was also fooled into believing that the fortress he had built around him would hold back the advancing mob. Had he come clean immediately, his entire persona would have been elevated further. He would have been made the patron saint of forgiveness. And we would have moved on.

     It could have been altogether different.

     As outlined in David Walsh's book 'From Lance to Landis', Armstrong's ego couldn't take losing to European farm boys. He had dominated the American scene as a clean rider, but when he made the jump to European racing, he got has ass handed to him. That's when "the program" began in earnest. Lance emerged as a Tour contender in 1999, one year after the Festina Affair, a drug scandal involving a French team at the TdF. Lance came along as a cancer survivor with the personality and panache of a Bernard Hinault, and the UCI saw the opportunity to present a new and cleaner image to the world. 'Look what we have done. We have entered a new era in sport. We have a new hero.' (Actually, I think the UCI was caught with their pants down when Lance won the '99 TdF. They didn't have the technology to catch him, and after the huge response by the cancer survivor community, they didn't dare try.)  Now we're learning that the reality was completely foul. The drug problem was made worse than ever. Lance, quickly capitalizing financially on his 'success' and the popularity of his cause, suddenly had the means to become the mob boss of cycling.

    It should have been different.

    Maybe I'm an idealistic fool who still believes in honesty, but it seems to me that if I had super powers (other than my sense of humor and my Tortilla Soup recipe), I would use them for good not evil. Lance's super powers are his intense personality, fearlessness, and his amazing athletic ability. He could have used them for good. Instead of going to the dark side and delving into the drug world, why didn't he use his brashness, fearlessness, cockiness, and powerful riding to destroy the Omerta from within? Demand that they race clean. Call them out. Challenge them. Change the world.

     If anyone could have done it, it was the Lance freakin' Armstrong that I knew before the drugs. He was a superior athlete with an ass whoopin' personality. That's a Texan that we could all respect. I saw it with my own eyes almost every weekend as an announcer in 1991-92-93. He was a specimen of confidence and heart. He despised losing. He did amazing things on the bike to prevent it. He took no shit from anyone. He was awesome.

      Instead, he took the lowest road possible and drove it to the end of the earth.

      The problem here is more than a question about simply using drugs. He has railroaded innocent people, ruined careers, shattered opportunities, squashed dreams, stolen monies, and generally f***ed everything up for an entire sport.

     And it didn't have to be that way.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Soft winter. Hard body.

A mild Winter makes for a fast Spring. Every bike racer I know is going to be flying come April because they're all out there training like madmen in this warm winter that we've been having. No snow. Temps in the mid-30s every day. We've had summers that have struggled to be this nice.
While out for a ride today with a friend, we ran into a couple of friends riding in the opposite direction. We hadn't seen them since Labor Day, so we stopped to say hi. Rather than begin with a customary handshake, one of them reached over and pinched my belly to see if I had lost, gained, or maintained weight.
"Yeah, you're having a good winter," he remarked.
That's how cyclists think.
We all have the same question: how are the others doing? And how do I compare?
Am I getting dropped - before we even get on the bike?
Is everyone else working harder than me?
Are my miles adequate?
Did I manage my diet better this time?
Will it matter that I gave up a long list of foods?
Will it matter that I haven't had any Hint of Lime Tostitos all winter?
We'll find out in March when the first race finally arrives. That's when we'll be able to look around and see who spent too much time at the office and who spent too much time with a bowl of ice cream in their lap. Who is having a tough time fitting into their jersey. Who came back from a trip to Florida tan and fit.
And no matter what: we'll all lie about how much we've been training.
But we'll know better. EVERYONE is going to come to the first race in great shape.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fig Newtons

They changed the packaging. For years and years, Fig Newtons were packaged in two cellophane sleeves. Lined up back to front, each Newton was spooning the one next to it. The package wasn't re-sealable; you just had to fold the ends over and know that the next time you came back to it, the first one would have a crusty shell. But it was OK. We survived.
Grape Nuts used to come in a package WITHOUT a liner altogether. Just a bunch of nuts running wild in a tightly sealed cardboard box (reminds me of my college living arrangements).
But the Fig Newtons at least had the sleeve - I guess it was put there to let you know when you were half done.
And every now and then, you'd notice that one of the Newtons had turned inside the sleeve. Just 90 degrees. Just enough to stand out. Just enough to make me appreciate that it had a little attitude. I mean, in a mechanized process that consistently places each cookie in the sleeve oriented correctly, it astounded me that one could find the energy to turn itself. Cheeky bastard. You go, man! Don't let "The Man" force you into conforming. Be your own . . . cookie.
Well, apparently Fig Newton got tired of individuality among its cookies, so it changed the packaging to prevent such behavior. They did it under the guise of "re-sealability", but we know better.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Unhappy Fans?

Growing up in Detroit makes me a Lions fan by default. I'm not a bandwagon-type fan; I've been a casual observer for YEARS. I've been to only two games in my lifetime, and I've never owned/wore an NFL jersey. For years and years, my autumnal Sunday routine has always been to go for a long bike ride and then spend the afternoon watching the hapless Lions discover new and creative ways to lose. They've been consistent losers for my entire life having only 5 seasons with 10+ wins since 1960. A few years ago, they made NFL history by losing every game on the schedule.
This year, they turned the corner. They magically exceeded all pre-season predictions. They won 10 games and made it to the playoffs. They were exciting to watch. They had some thrilling moments. They also lost out in the first round of the playoffs.
And to listen to the sports talk radio shows in this town, you'd think they went 0-16 again.
First of all, I'm sorry to admit that I occasionally listen to sports radio. I only do it to feel smarter.
Everyone in this town - or I should say, everyone who made it on the air, had something biting and negative to say about the season. Everyone had suggestions on how to fix the problem. Almost every single caller (and host, for that matter) bitched and moaned and complained about everything under the sun. The defensive coordinator should be hanged in Grand Circus Park. They have no running game. They should trade the entire offensive line. Get a new quarterback. Trade Megatron. (Seriously, that was brought up a LOT.)
I never heard anyone say this: "it was an exciting season to watch, and that's all I asked for."
Nobody looked forward to next year.
Nope. The general consensus that I heard was that the season was a disappointment. It was a barrage of negative criticism that lasted the entire week following their collapse against the Saints.
Maybe that's just how football fans are in general. Maybe everyone is miserable except the team that wins the Super Bowl. Seems pretty sad to me that they're completely unable to enjoy the good things that happened in a record-setting year. What are you supposed to get out of being a sports fan if that's your reaction to a winning season?
Imagine if this is how bike racing fans felt during bike racing season. Imagine if every time Garmin-Cervelo (now Barracuda) lost a race.
"They need to trade Tyler Farrar."
"Vaughters needs to go."
"They need to clean house."
"What is the deal with VDV? Ever since his contract was extended, he's been phoning it in."
"Do you think they should get rid of Zabriskie and maybe to go after another time trialist?"
Shoot me now.
I'll gladly fly to France, stand along a road for 6 hours, scream at them as they roll past, and not give a damn who wins.
Once again, I think cycling does it right.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Taking a break.

If I were to spin this story if I worked for, say, a government entity, it would go like this:
In an effort to allow my mind to fully refresh and recover from the intense thought that comes with completing two full books within a few weeks of each other, I have decided to take some well-deserved time away from the computer keyboard.
The truth (pictured) is a little less glamorous. I can't type very well.