Thursday, January 29, 2009

Visions of Cyclocross

Truly great cycling photographers are as rare as the winners of Paris-Roubaix. Their ability to distill the energy of a race, of a racer, into a single frozen moment is what separates their work from just another snapshot.

Greg Page of Page 1 Studio is one such photographer. While he is primarily known for his studio work, Page is also known in Southern California as a stellar race photographer and videographer. He made the trip to Kansas City for the 2008 Cyclocross National Championships.

Page shot for two days, capturing the weekend's energy in an unusual way. In addition to finding the occasional descriptive bit of action, he chose to define the racing through a series of select moments. The book alternates between these broader presentations of action and montages of frozen movement.

Ultimately, the book makes a lasting statement about cyclocross. Because he chose not to focus on this year's 'cross gods, the weekend of racing represents not the pinnacle of a single season, but rather the pinnacle of 'cross fitness, the sport performed as we see it in our mind's eye.

In a world of shrinking resources, Page elected to produce the book via print-on-demand (POD) technology with Blurb. The quality of the paper, the color balance (given there was no proofing) and the binding is exceptional. This is what we wish magazines look like.

The softcover runs $27.95, while the hardbound with dustjacket goes for $39.95; a casebound (cover art printed on the hardcover—think textbook) is available for $44.95. Purchase Visions of Cyclocross through Blurb.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Coppi and Me, Part IV

Who knows what kinds of records Bartali and Coppi would have accumulated without the intervention of World War II? They were 25 and 20 when the war started, 30 and 25 when it ended. But for them the resumption of their rivalry after the war was as though the last episode had been yesterday, rather than half a decade earlier. The 1947 Milan-San Remo classic is a good example. It was the 18th of March, the night before the race, and Bartali was struggling with a miserable cold.

I felt incapable of winning the race, but if I couldn’t win, I surely didn’t want Fausto to win either. But how to stop him? He’d been untouchable the previous year, and then I was well. I went for a stroll that evening, still wondering just how to stop my young nemesis. I hadn’t gone far when I ran into Serse Coppi and another faithful teammate of Fausto’s, Casola.

We greeted each other, and to my utter amazement, they asked if I’d like to go to a movie with them. My first thought was that I didn’t like westerns, but in a flash I saw this could be the answer to my prayers. If I could keep two of Fausto’s teammates up late enough, he’d be deprived of their help in tomorrow’s race. So I readily agreed, and off to the movie we went.

We emerged at midnight and Casola asked I intended to go straight back to my hotel. “I’m starving.” Casola confessed. “I know a great restaurant nearby.” This was too good to be true. I readily agreed to join them. All this time, of course, Fausto slept the sleep of the pure of heart. Two hours later the empty plates of superb tortellini and empty bottles of fine white wine attested to our late night pleasure. Then we smoked cigarettes under the stupefied gaze of the other clients who couldn’t believe that on the eve of the most important race in Italy such key characters in that event could break every rule known to the cycling regimen.

Finally we left the restaurant, bid “good night” to each other, and retreated to our rooms. The race was to start in less than six hours! In passing by Fausto’s room I put my ear to the door and could hear his regular breathing.

Puffy eyed and a bit hung over, I was at the start, and glad to see Serse and Casola had the same look. The race began gently, as always, but near the first obstacle, the Turchino Pass, a stick got in my front wheel and took out 8 spokes! This did not go unnoticed by Coppi, who stepped up the pace. Upon getting a new wheel, I chased like a madman and was pleased to catch Coppi by the summit. Those tortellini weren’t so bad for me, after all! I thought to myself, “If you could catch Fausto when he attacked, maybe you’re not as bad off as you thought. Maybe, you should have a go, yourself.” And damned if that isn’t what happened! We won, the tortellini and me!

The following year [1948] I went on to win my second Tour de France, and even though Coppi wasn’t in that race, the win in France did nothing to diminish my reputation. Coppi was not at all pleased. Things came to a head at the World Road Championships in Valkenburg (Holland). We both wanted to win and we both didn’t want the other to win.

At the critical moment in the race the decisive break went away and neither Fausto nor I budged. We rolled along, side by side, and I said to him, “Listen, Fausto, you can’t expect me to act as your gregario. You let everyone else escape and then you want me to chase them down while you sit on my wheel. If you can, go for it, and I’ll quit.”

Fausto replied harshly, “I only want to do one thing, go to my hotel.”

“Very well, you go to the hotel, and I’ll rejoin the break.”

“If you go, I’m coming with you.”

He turned his head, allowing no reply. I understood then that Fausto only raced to make me lose. On the next lap when the group passed by my hotel, I put my foot on the ground, and abandoned the race. I never made it to my room, but was quickly attacked by the press and member of the Italian delegation. While I was defending my actions I saw Fausto quietly pass through the hallway, enter his room, and no doubt collapse in tears. Seeing Fausto also out of the race, I attempted to run outside and remount my bike, but it was too late. Just then I saw the leaders go by with a lap to go. I would have been a lap behind them.

At the Vigorelli track in Milan a few days later the public hissed at us derisively. As you can see, this rivalry placed both Fausto and me in the most awkward positions. We were, in a way, encouraged to do things that neither of us really wanted to do. And not just in the moment. Do you think I would have raced until I was 40 unless Fausto had still been going strong? For the two of us, the others didn’t count. My only adversary was he, and vice-versa.

We were, at bottom, two big children, timid, two children of country folk, both of us modest, who fought for the praise of our countrymen. Occasionally, Fausto even referred to me in the third person, as Mr. Bartali, a sign in our language of the greatest possible deference.

But on the bikes, this was something else. In that same year, 1948, Fausto announced he wanted to win the Tour of Tuscany. Imagine, he wanted to beat me in my home territory in front of all my friends and supporters! What presumption! He wanted to humiliate me in my back yard!

For this race I trained as never before. So Fausto wouldn’t notice, I trained at night and had my wife drive behind me to illuminate the way. He had already beaten me once in this race, in 1941. Never again! I worked on my climbing, I worked on my sprinting, nothing could be left to chance!

In the race itself, Fausto was soon on the attack, but I was always on him before he could take a second breath. I feared that my aggressive defense would force him to find a way to make me lose, rather than for him to win. After 180 kms. of the race had passed, a few riders had gotten away. I rode up to Fausto and asked him, What do you say we chase them down?

He replied, “Sure, let’s go.”

I was relieved. When Fausto and I were in agreement, no one in the world could stay with us. Soon enough we caught the break, and then dropped it. When we had a two minute lead, Fausto flatted. I pedaled gently to let him catch. He flatted a second time. I responded the same again. I didn’t want for him to be able to say that I had beaten him because of his bad luck. And at the finish in Florence I was indeed the victor.

That night, after dinner, Fausto came to my house with a photo of himself as a present for my son, Andrea. Fausto had written on it, “To Andrea Bartali, son of my great adversary, with the hope of meeting you again during the years ahead as I ride against your loyal father on the sporting roads of the world.”

All of Fausto was in those words….

Monday, January 26, 2009

Coppi and Me, Part III

This is the first time I have told these stories to anyone. Believe me, it’s not because I want to create a scandal. There can be no question of scandal between Fausto, my memories of him, and me. But you must know something of this background to fully appreciate what the public saw—the misstatements, the outrageous explanations, the outbursts, our relationship, hot and cold, and all those episodes, human and sporting, that made Fausto a rider unique, and one who impassioned millions of fans.

When Fausto was first engaged by my team [Legnano] for the 1940 season, he appeared to be no more than a skinny kid. I had shaken his hand when he had won the Italian Independent Championship [this was a class between pros and amateurs] the year before, but honestly, if you’d asked me then if I saw a future superman I would certainly have said, “No.” Even after he won the Tour of Italy in 1940 I wasn’t totally convinced. I had been leading until I crashed.

It wasn’t until the Tour of Emilia in 1942 that I realized he was something special. At our team meeting the night before the race, Fausto asked if he might escape early in the race as he was feeling a little sick and wasn’t in good form. If he made others chase and gave me a free ride that was about the best he could do with his limited resources. I told him I didn’t see any problem with that. But come the race it was a different matter. He escaped early, as planned, but when it came time to chase we couldn’t make a dent in his lead. Needless to say, I was furious, and after the race I went to his hotel room.

“So, you’re not in form?!” I confronted him.

“But no one came after me.” he replied, lamely.

“If you were so sick you should have abandoned.”

“But I wasn’t sick. The race made me well.”

“Thanks for the explanation.”

On the way out I noticed a race map well traced by Fausto, himself. In those days race maps were not normally given out to the riders. I picked it up. “So what’s this?”

“This is the profile of the race course.” he responded ingenuously.

“Did you need a map to find which road you were going to exit the race because you were sick?”

“But I outlined it before I became sick.”

“You should have told me that racing is a remedy for maladies.”

“If I hadn’t won our team might have lost.”

His logic was impeccable. But it was he who had won in my place. This was the day I finally understood the danger Coppi represented. Seeing that he hadn’t quit, I ordered the whole team to chase, me along with them. Not only had we not been able to catch him, we hadn’t even been able to stay even. At the finish we were 7 minutes down. “Be careful, Gino.” I told myself that night in the obscurity of my room. This kid is something special. “Be careful! He’s dangerous!”

I wasn’t mistaken.

I will tell you more stories of the intricacies of our rivalry, but it wasn’t always that way, especially as we got older. In 1955 I had retired and was following the Tour of Italy as a television reporter. Early on a quiet stage near Venice he saw me and called me over to the peloton. He held up a picture.

“Gino, look at this.”

I saw the image of a beautiful baby. “Who is it?” I queried.

“This is my son!” he cried out as he continued to pedal.

He was so happy he was practically transformed. I grabbed the picture and said, “I’m going to show everyone.”

“No, Gino! Wait! Wait!”

Too late. My car was already making a passage through the peloton, and holding the picture up for everyone to see, I yelled, “Look at this! This is Faustino, Fausto’s new son!” For 4 or 5 kms. Fausto pursued me, screaming for me to return the photo. Then he gave up the chase and recuperated on the grass at the side of the road where the entire peloton stopped to congratulate him. I was as happy as he. All the racers were happy. Even after they resumed riding no one attacked. The greatest champion of all time had a son.

Image courtesy Foto Locchi

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Coppi and Me, Part II

A memory came to mind. It was in 1945, at Ospedaletti, on the eve of Fausto’s marriage to Bruna. During the race there I asked Fausto what he’d like as a wedding gift.

“If you win,” he responded, “give me your bouquet of flowers so I may offer them to Bruna. The would be the most beautiful of gifts.”

Towards the end of the race, Fausto got away and I didn’t have the courage to block his way en route to victory.

At the finish line he came to me with an unhappy look. “It was all arranged. You were supposed to win. I only wanted your flowers.”

I had a hard time convincing him that on this day he was too strong for anyone to have beaten him.

This was the real Coppi, my friend, Coppi, with whom, during 20 years, we fought each other across all the roads of Europe … under the sun, under the rain, under the snow … and I assure you I always did my best not to be beaten by him. But if I couldn’t win I did everything possible to see that he didn’t win. We were, him and me, two unchained rivals, animated by a struggle without comparison. But never did our deep appreciation for each other suffer. We preferred to be in train with each other at the head of the peloton, making sure that neither of us got away. We almost made a race of two, so little did we worry about the others.

Coppi, for me, was always a big kid, even when he turned 40. He never had the time to become an adult. He was only afraid of the day when he could no longer race his bike. It was the same for me. My only preoccupation was to race, and race well. I never had the time to think of anything else. “How do you have the courage to quit?” I once asked Fausto. This is a courage I never had. I could never see farther than the saddle of my bicycle.

And now this terrible illness he brought back from Africa. [Coppi had joined a number of other riders for a racing and hunting trip to the Ivory Coast in December of 1959. He got malaria, which was misdiagnosed, and he died a few days after returning.] Without his passion for racing, wanting to still be one of the boys, he would never have made this fatal trip to Africa.

Fausto was truly the greatest rider of all time. Of that there can be no doubt. I am proud to have been one of his most loyal rivals. In my long career I have had many adversaries, but none have measured up to Coppi, none had his class. He went beyond everyone; he was superior to them all. He was even superior to me … he even went beyond me.

I was an excellent climber and I could be faster than him in the sprint. But Fausto, not at all bad in those two specialties, was unbeatable on the flat and as a pursuiter on the track. I’m not embarrassed to say that I needed help, a teammate, to stay with him on the flat. But not Fausto. For him, victory was at his door on every kind of course. This was not my case. He was, taken as a whole, more complete. We had two different physiques, although our motors were always revved up.

On his bike, he was beautiful, like a god. When he descended from the saddle he became again an ordinary mortal. But while he pedaled he presented a picture of surpassing beauty. No matter how hard the race, he always seemed to be a man out for a ride on his horse. He had this suppleness, this form, a sort of moving plastic that made a perfect spectacle. One can understand how the crowds, during so many years, were so excited to see him pedal.

But fatigue even marked his organism, leaving certain traces that didn’t escape my critical eye. During the times of our first clashes I studied ever centimeter of his hide. I knew him almost better than myself. Having once been on my team, and knowing all my weaknesses, I was forced to minutely study him to find his weak points.

This story began during the 1940 Tour of Italy, where Coppi, supposedly my gregario [water carrier], was the winner. In my position as leader of the team I had explained to everyone my vulnerabilities so they could help me when I needed it most. I had naturally taken Fausto into my confidence, along with the others. At that time I was far from supposing he would become my greatest rival. You know, it’s like I gave state secrets to the enemy!

I could hardly ask him to return the favor. So I studied him, I looked at him, I scrutinized him, passing all I observed through a sort of sieve set to catch the least eccentricity that would imply fallibility. And then, one day, my tenacity was repaid. I perceived something. Finally, I had it!

Behind the right knee a vein inflated along 5 or 6 centimeters, apparently under the pressure of ridding his leg of toxic waste. This apparition made itself obvious between 160 and 180 kms into a race. At this moment Fausto became vulnerable and he lost a bit of that fluid plastic motion he normally displayed.

One day, in the 1948 Tour of Italy, the stage to Naples, I decided to see if I could profit from my research. I told my lieutenant, Corrieri, to survey the hollow behind Coppi’s right knee and let me know if he saw any change. Sure enough, right about the time I expected, Corrieri came rolling through the peloton crying at the top of his voice, ‘The vein! The vein!’ Of course no one knew what he was yelling about, least of all Fausto, but I knew and I slid through the group to verify the good Giovannino’s spy operation. One look and I could see the vein was indeed inflated!

’Go! Go!’ I yelled to Van Steenbergen, to Koblet, to Kubler, and anyone else around me. ‘Coppi is in difficulty!’

‘Are you nuts?’ queried Van Steenbergen.

’Follow me!’ I yelled. Everyone attacked, and at the finish Fausto had lost four minutes!

Image courtesy Foto Locchi

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Coppi and Me, Part I

By Gino Bartali
—Translated from the French magazine, “Le Miroir des Sports”, 1960, by Owen Mulholland

Part I of IV

With the competition in the Tour de France between Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong, many Americans have come to appreciate the multifaceted nuances great cycling rivalries can produce. Our sport has been blessed with many such rivalries: LeMond and Hinault, Moser and Saronni, Anquetil and Poulidor, Kubler and Koblet, Binda and Girardengo, etc., but most long time observers of European cycling would attest that the war between Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali achieved a level of intensity and fascination never paralleled before or since.

Bartali was born July 18, 1914, near Florence, Italy, and died May 5, 2000, while Coppi, his younger nemesis, was born Sept. 15,1919, in Castellania (Piedmont), Italy, and died on Jan. 2 1960. The five year separation was critical because by the time the young Fausto made his professional debut, Bartali was the undiputed master of Italian cycling, having won the Tour of Italy twice, the Tour de France once, and a pack of other major races as well. Indeed, Coppi began his professional career as a water carrier for Bartali.

In these so-touching reminiscences, written just after Coppi’s unexpected death, Bartali is almost unnecessarily candid. He freely admits that Coppi was superb, “even better than I,” and therefore the greatest rider who ever lived. But Bartali never gave in, sought to use brains over brawn wherever possible, and was rewarded with victory often enough to keep cycling fans enraptured from the late thirties through the mid fifties.

At times, sport can be more than merely sport; it can step out of the technicalities of the game played and become sort of a giant screen on which are projected our own psyches. Cycling, the most demanding sport ever devised, naturally carries this projection to levels unknown elsewhere.—O.M.

Gino Bartali begins his reflections on the muddy path returning from Coppi’s burial in Castellania’s small cemetery:

I will never forget this mud that sticks to my shoes all the way up to Castellania. Up there is the body of Fausto, where we have laid him in his bier. And I thought of other mud, mud that stuck to the legs of Fausto and me, during those terrible stages of the Dolomites … and the image of Fausto as a child, playing by this muddy road, images that cling to my spirit.

Fausto! The entire theory of afflicted friends mounts toward your new home to salute your hide. And my heart is heavy with an inexpressible sadness. I saw you, for the last time, immobile in the coffin. But the crowd around me only let me feel a sad confusion.

Fausto! Do not find fault with me if I did not cry before your still and frozen corpse. I have never cried, even in the unhappiest moments of my life. I never dropped a tear at the death of my brother, nor that of my son. The same sorrow, silent and profound, gripped me in front of your shroud, Fausto, and left my eyes dry …

From the moment you disappeared, Fausto, to finally end our old rivalry, to the time again when we will be reunited as comrades in a new sporting competition.

The pitiless sounds of the earth being shoveled onto your grave remind me all too clearly that everything is finished.

This same road to Castellania I walked before in 1951 in another sad circumstance: for the death of Serse [Fausto’s brother, victim of a crash during the Tour of Piedmont]. At first, his crash, close to me in the race, seemed not to be very serious. After the race Serse congratulated me on my victory, but later at the hotel, he slipped into a coma, and died a few hours later at the hospital in the arms of his traumatized brother, Fausto.

Serse was, with me, the only one who understood Fausto. Serse was truly good and sweet. After the finish of each race he would search me out and pose, ritually, the same question: ‘Why don’t you and Fausto come to some sort of an agreement? You two would win all the races, and me, poor teammate, I’d be a lot less tired!’

On this same road to Castellania’s cemetery I met Bruna Coppi (Fausto’s wife, although they had been separated about six years), whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. She looked disheveled, her eyes full of tears; she had come again to this cemetery. In order to avoid the photographers we found refuge in a car on the side of the road.

“I had always hoped Fausto would come back.” Bruna said. “At Christmas he telephoned to the house and I picked it up.”

“Ciao, Bruna.” he told me. “Marina [their daughter], is she there? I’d like to wish her Happy Holidays.

“Fausto often telephoned Marina. Only the three of us knew that. I was convinced that one day or other he would come back. He loved Marina too much to completely abandon her. I ignored that he didn’t love me anymore. But he adored his daughter. I wouldn’t change Fausto’s last wishes, but I will try to give to Faustino [Marina’s younger half brother] what he had a right to expect from his father.”

I well understood Bruna’s emotions. And perhaps it was cruel, but I asked if she didn’t have some grounds to reproach herself, if she had really understood Fausto?

“I know, I know.” she replied with a weary air. “I was too preoccupied with the dangers of racing. I didn’t like it. I couldn’t see anything more than Fausto in front of me. I couldn’t think of anything more than just him.”

Image courtesy Foto Locchi

Dernyspektakel S'Gravenwezel 2008

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The New Year

The New Year's resolution is the most laughable of life improvement schemes. When considered from the standpoint of success rate they should obliterate our ability to hope for a better life. And yet, every year millions of people vow to lose weight, work harder, eat healthier, quit vices and generally be better people. In spite of ourselves, we persist.

What so many resolutions seem to lack is that fundamental will to succeed. It's not that those undertaking the resolution don't wish to succeed, rather, they lack the willingness to do stick with their plan when it's hard. After all, a resolution is a rule, passed into being by a majority vote, even if the voting body is only one.

What most resolutionaries lack is a quality the average cyclist has by the boatload: resolve. It gets you up when the bed is warm, the air cold, the legs tired or the will flagging. It helps you persevere during those long efforts when the end is not in sight.

But the new year is also a time of change. It spells the arrival of the bike and perhaps a move to 7900 or 11-speed. It’s time for a new look with the arrival of the new kit. It can mean even larger changes as well.

Many riders will change teams each winter. Dissatisfied with the events of the previous year (or years), some riders will elect a new team, hopeful that new leadership may inspire them to perform to the full extent of their ability. Even more impressive is the way a new director—think back on when Bjarne Riis rebuilt Team Home-Jack & Jones into Team CSC—can rally his riders into a new perspective on what they might achieve, filling the troops with the belief: Yes we can.

Image courtesy Team Saxo Bank.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Jonathan Vaughters Interview, Part III

In Part III of our interview with Jonathan Vaughters we talk with him about his relationship with sponsors, equipment choice, his taste in wine and why he's the star of the show with his team.

BKW: The team is continuing to work with Felt, Shimano, Zipp and CycleOps for the '09 season. We've heard that you've been pushing your equipment sponsors to reduce the weight of their products even further. Given that your riders are on 900g frames with full Dura-Ace, aren't your bikes already at the UCI-mandated weight limit?

JV: Once you get to the weight limit, then you are dealing with the handling and aerodynamics. The Cyclops adds an informational aspect.

I’d say most of our sponsors don’t like us much as a team. We don’t just say, ‘Thanks for the check, see you next year.’ We press, squeeze, complain and suggest. They’ll get real feedback about their product. Fact is, we’re a pain in the ass. The riders know to give honest feedback.

Our sponsors, we hurt their feelings, but at the end of the day the products supplied to this team are going to be empirically better than what other teams are being supplied. I need everyone to believe we are pushing as hard as possible to give our riders and sponsors the belief that we are doing everything ethically possible to win. We are maximizing every opportunity to give these riders the resources to win races while riding clean. We’ve left no stone unturned.

The implicit message and the explicit message have to absolutely match. This is an anti-doping team. We’re going to do X,Y and Z to prepare to win this race. When this race comes we’re going to go out there and and do our best to win. But it’s bike racing, so we can’t ensure a win. We can’t guarantee a perfect race, so we do the next best thing: Perfection in the process. You do what you can to win but you don’t do anything over the line.

Felt's AR road bike (courtesy Felt Bicycles)

BKW: Will each rider have either an F or Z series road bike, an AR aero road bike and a DA time trial bike?

JV: That’s it exactly. Every rider gets a choice of Felt’s F or Z frame. And then every rider gets an AR aero road bike and a DA for the time trials.

BKW: Who decides, and under what conditions do you decide when to ride the aero frame rather than a standard road frame?

JV: It’s up to the rider. I’ll make recommendations. With the AR, it’s a little heavier but not much. It’s got more stiffness vertically than laterally. You’re not going to get the best traction on bumpy corners. It’s ideal for less hilly courses on smoother roads. If I were a racer in the US, that’s all I’d use. You rarely have a course hilly enough or bumpy enough to call for the other frame.

BKW: I noticed from some photos you seem to have a taste for Chateauneuf du Pape and wines of the Southern Rhone. What are some of your other favorite wine regions?

JV: My favorite Chateauneuf du Papes are from Chateau Rayas. They do an excellent vin de pays, Domaine des Tour. It’s the perfect $20 bottle for pizza.

I like Burgundies; I’m less versed in Burgundy, though. My tastes tend to go toward the more feminine, elegant, earth-driven wines. I’m not really into the big blockbusters. I’m not that big on Napa Cabs. There is a vintner is Ventura County of all places, Sine Qua Non, I really love what they do. A very detail-oriented approach to their winemaking. I tend to go for more the traditional, more biodynamic. Rayas is biodynamic.

One of the things I enjoy is how you learn to enjoy the differences between the different wines rather than the qualities of the wines themselves.

I won’t drink wine just to drink it. I want to have something I’ll enjoy. I’ll try anything though. I ordered a bottle of wine one night with the team and it wasn’t very good. The guys were like, ‘See you don’t know anything about wine!’ And I said, ‘Hey, I just ordered it off the menu.’ It’s fun to branch out.

BKW: Given how busy you are with the team, how much do you still get to ride?

JV: I don’t ride if it’s cold. I haven’t done a ride over four hours in eight months. An hour, hour and a half three to four times a week. I’m doing a lot of skiing with my son Charlie. I like Vail, Winterpark, I’ll go anywhere. I really like Telluride and Aspen, but they make a weekend trip a little pricey. I got to ski a bunch in St. Moritz last year. Any time I went to Milan, like when I went over for the presentation of the Giro route, I’d schedule an extra day and take the train up to St. Moritz. It was fantastic skiing.

BKW: More than any of your riders, you are the public face for Team Garmin/Slipstream; why do you suppose that is?

JV: I mean, for the time being, yes, yes I am. But the symbol that I’ve succeeded will be when that’s no longer true. Hopefully, Christian blows me out of the water as the team figurehead. Once that happens I can say, ‘Now I know I’ve done my job right.’

BKW: Any final thoughts?

JV: You’ve covered everything in my brain.


Images courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Jonathan Vaughters Interview, Part II

In Part II of our interview with Jonathan Vaughters we discuss the team's objectives for 2009, leadership at the Grand Tours and the enigma known as Tom Danielson.

BKW: What are the team's biggest objectives for 2009?

JV: It sounds overly optimistic, but our effort with the riders and staff is to win the Tour de France. We realize that is a dark horse scenario. The point is we see it’s a possibility. Contador is the best stage racer in the world right now. For us to go head-to-head with him, we have to create enough of an advantage in the two time trials where Christian has a large advantage and then limit losses, limit losses. Contador is hard. Schleck is hard. We have a great TTT squad.

If Christian were to win the Tour de France, it wouldn’t be a specatuclar win, lots of steady Eddie, lots of 4ths and 5ths on mountain stages. Contador can make extremely violent accelerations on climbs. Christian can’t match those, but he can maintain a very high, very steady pace. He just has to ride his own pace.

BKW: Team Garmin/Slipstream is going to face increased competition at the '09 Tour de France with the presence of both Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong, not to mention Levi Leipheimer. What will you do differently from '08 in your quest to put Christian Vande Velde in the yellow jersey?

JV: It seems like everyone is changing to our program. They are all shifting to doing the Giro before the Tour. I don’t think with Christian we’re going to change a whole lot. He’s going to the Giro but more importantly, he has a greater sense of confidence about his ability and he’s at a higher level of fitness.

We can do the Dauphine and Tour de Suisse with other riders. Dan Martin and David Millar can do a more traditional run-up to the Tour. We’d really like to win the team time trial. We’d also like to have a climber up there with Christian in the mountains. And we might take some guys that people might not expect. Svein Tuft, because of his time trialing ability, could end up at the Tour.

BKW: Now that the team is in the ProTour, you're going to field teams at each of the three Grand Tours. If Vande Velde will be the team's leader at the Tour, who are your likely leaders for the Giro and the Vuelta?

JV: It goes back to our base of where we can win. The Giro starts with a TTT and we want to get the pink jersey and defend it a little longer. Christian could lead at the Giro.

The Vuelta: David Millar really wants to go there. He wants a chance to repeat some of the stage wins he’s had at the Vuelta in the past. He’s doing the Tour/Vuelta double and skipping the Giro. We’ll be trying out some of our new climbers—stars of the future—at the Vuelta.

BKW: Let's talk about Tom Danielson. He's a rider who has possessed immense potential, and while he was able to win nearly anything here in America, he hasn't enjoyed any significant success in Europe. Factoring out injuries and illness, it seems he should have been able to achieve more than his resume shows. Why is that?

JV: I think Tom is a little bit of a victim of his own expectations and the expectations of his fans and the press. He immediately started winning shorter stage races in the US. In bigger, faster-moving pelotons he’s had a lot of trouble.

Tom’s a pretty high-strung person. He wants to win for himself but he also wants to win to meet the expectations of others. He is a people pleaser, and it quickly spirals down when he doesn’t feel like he’s pleasing others. He began wondering why he was racing a bike. I had to wait until he hit bottom before we could rebuild him as a bike racer.

He has a very unique physiology. He says he’s 15% Eskimo. We’ve done tests and he does not utilize fat very well. He was burning sugar almost exclusively. When you burn sugar you become more acidic and after three and a half, four hours, he really couldn’t perform at the same level as he did one hour in. He couldn’t do anything at the end of a six hour race.

So I said, ‘We gotta teach you to burn fat as fuel. How well do you produce power after six hours and three or four 20-30 minute efforts?’

Tom had to work on his ability to burn fat. We completely changed his diet. We moved him away from the standard carbohydrates. He was eating a lot of nuts, a lot of protein and guacamole. For the first two months he was bonking on every ride. He was cursing me on every ride. Now he’s up to six hour rides not finishing all the Clif bars in his pockets.

He’s really professional, and he has really put his heart in it. He can be a really good, solid, quality bike rider and have success on this team. I think it really showed at the Tour of Missouri. There was a stage in which he was the last guy with Christian and was really able to keep it together for him. He’s turned his attitude around.

End Part II

Images courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International

The Jonathan Vaughters Interview, Part I

Most teams have managers, leaders, directors but almost never is the driving force behind a racing program called the mastermind. Jonathan Vaughters is that rare guy to whom that moniker is frequently attached. It denotes a deliberate nature and a degree of planning that seemingly leaves nothing to chance. His big picture view of cycling, the doping problem, how the elements of a team come together to cultivate success or destroy morale is on its way to becoming legendary.

He is a man with a finely honed sensibility about all he comes in contact with. Rather than relying on rules and regulations to inform his actions his ethical standards which are guided by his own internal moral compass have helped breathe new life into the pro peloton and riders—both neo and veterans—are turning to him in the hopes that his management might give the sport a new lease.

The fast-talking Denver native took some time to talk with BKW prior to a team training camp. This is the first of a three-part interview.

BKW: You've been quoted saying that your team should have tried to win more last year. How did the team perform relative to your expectations?

JV: Well that wasn’t quite what I said. My meaning was that there were a lot of races where the only thing that stopped us from winning the race was we were so happy being there that we didn’t really take the initiative to try to win. Take Roubaix, Martijn was at the back of the group of seven when Boonen, Cancellara and Ballan broke away. When I asked him about why he didn’t go with them—not that he did anything wrong per se—he said, ‘I thought I was tired and didn’t think I could.’ But 10k later he was strong enough to drop his group. Who knows what would have happened if he’d had a little more confidence.

The bigger example is the second rest day of the Tour de France, I recommended a four hour training ride. Christian said, ‘I don’t want to ride that much. Tomorrow’s a big mountain stage.’ He wasn’t confident to do a four hour training ride and be fresh for the next day. But that little bit, that extra sharpness in the legs is that last 3% that makes the difference in being with the leaders on the stage. The next day was the stage over the Bonette, when he got dropped. If you subtract that stage out of the Tour de France … run the math backward and he could very well have won the Tour de France. As a team leader that last 3% makes all the difference.

So in the final analysis, we lacked a little bit of confidence. We overlooked the opportunity to win. We went into the season with expectations of a fair-to-middlin’ team and didn’t think we’d be one of the better teams. I think now, if you look at the last half of the year the team was one that could go and take charge of a race and get the win. Before, there were a lot of opportunities where we just didn’t know how to win.

BKW: Obviously Saxo Bank, Astana and Columbia have undertaken anti-doping efforts similar to Team Garmin/Slipstream, but there are many teams that haven't undertaken the same degree of effort to ensure their riders are clean. Did the positives of Kohl and Schumacher at Gerolsteiner surprise you?

JV: Surprised of course, shocked no. When you institute new tests you are going to snag guys in that snare. I know Hans Michael Holczer and think he has a strong anti-doping ethos, but I was surprised when he criticized our and other teams’ internal screening efforts. All of these screening programs are instituted because we have the financial ability to do something a sanctioning body can’t do. There is no choice here; this has to be done now or the sport will die.

We, as teams, can move much faster than a governing body to implement new solutions to try and ensure clean racing. At the end of the day the success of our team and Columbia shows this sport, as a whole, is much cleaner. It’s a slow shift in the mentality of the riders and managers, but I think that shift has been made. The old mentality of, ‘You can’t succeed without doping’—that environment has passed. Columbia certainly made their mark all year.

Compared to how much the public and press knew about doping in the '90s, the situation is quite different now. Back then much less was publicly known. Now the public and the press overestimate how much doping is going on, so I think the situation has reversed itself to a great degree. Maybe in a year or two the perception on the part of the public and press will be more in line with how much doping there actually is in the sport.

BKW: Do you think other teams will take up your approach this year?

JV: Cofidis has some sort of program in place and Fuji Servetto wants to have some sort of system in place and Liquigas is doing something and Basso has some individual program of his own.

It doesn’t matter why a team is doing it. End of the day if they’re screening, it’s a good faith effort. The motivation ‘why’ isn’t important. If they’re doing it and it’s working and it’s making the sport cleaner, then it’s good.

BKW: Do you think it will be enough for teams to rely on the biological passport system?

JV: Yeah, I think it will be. What people don’t understand is the biological passport system has come under criticism prematurely. It takes time to generate all the data necessary for a full blood profile. We’re still in the relatively early stages of gathering that data on many riders. Internal independent systems are meant as a way to bridge the gap to the day when the passport will be all we need.

But we definitely need the UCI and WADA and USADA. I can’t, as an employer, suspend my rider for two years. As far as my rights go is to bench a rider temporarily if I think something is off. For this to work, the UCI needs more information and tighter margins of error. At that point, they’ll be able to focus on the athletes delivering abnormal results. By 2010 the internal systems may be obsolete. Do I worry about other teams that aren’t doing the testing we are? No. I can see these other systems like Catlin’s and Damsgaard’s folding into the passport system and them and their services becoming contractors to it. The passport system needed a little more time to operate before criticism began. I’m confident it will work.

BKW: During your career your great successes came as a climber and time trialist. Team Garmin/Slipstream is composed primarily of climbers and time trialists. Is it fair to say that the team is made in your own image?

JV: Honestly, climbing as a little bit of our weakness. With sprinting I see Cavendish and Benatti as such dominant sprinters and so dominant that spending the money on a sprinter might not be worth it. Now we do have guys like Julian, who can get over some of the climbs that other sprinters can’t handle with the lead group, but he’s a strong all-around rider. Our sprinters like Julian, Sutton and Farrar are multitalented riders. I think in the next year Tyler Farrar could become one of the best prologue riders in the world.

I saw time trialing as an area where we could win. We’re more creative and more driven to eke out the last few seconds’ advantage. We can push the wind tunnel testing, our equipment sponsors, our training thanks to Allen Lim to get the most out of that kind of racing. Where we’re suited best and the strengths of our sponsors, is in time trialing.

With climbing, Contador and Sastre are extremely expensive; we couldn’t afford them, so I went to young unproven guys like Dan Martin to develop them and hopefully keep them as they develop, when I have the money in the bank account. Climbing is our long-term game.

End Part I

Images courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International

2007 Giro di Lombardia

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Hero Poster

As compared to some sports (notably, surfing) cycling is a sun-soaked desert woefully shy of art depicting its heroes in action. It would be easy to attribute the shortage up to the fantastic drama of the reality of racing itself. John Pierce, Cor Vos, Graham Watson, James Startt and Chris Milliman have all shot incredible images that capture epic moments of human suffering and triumph that seem more reliable and trustworthy due to the actuality of the circumstance.

It may be that cycling's lack of art is related to the amount of fiction being peddled as memoir. The thinking with the acquisition editors is that if it's true, it just seems, well, truer. As a society, our appetite for reality in television, books and the rest of our lives lacks imagination.

From the protagonists themselves to the landscapes and of course, even the machines, cycling is deserving of a truly heroic treatment by artists who appreciate those efforts, those sacrifices and, of course, those wins that come at the end of monumental days.

So when we were alerted to artist and graphic designer Cynthia Lou's poster treatment of her beau Sergio Hernandez (a rising star on Rock Racing), we were both excited and relieved. Excited because we found her take on the heroic to be fun and fresh and relieved because, for once, it was nice to see someone give cycling some attention.

We'd love to see her take on Johann Museeuw, Tomeke, Fabian Cancellara, Eddy Merckx, Paolo Bettini, Rik Van Looy, Roger De Vlaeminck and Eric Zabel ... for a start. A series perhaps?

Here's what we like best: Cynthia is taking commissions. Commemorate your achievement or the high-flying coolness of your sweetie with some of her work.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Burden of Being BSNYC

Bike Snob NYC is one of those rare blogs that combines wit with an acidic sense of propriety masquerading as humor. You can search the blogs on music, politics, cars or World of Warcraft and you aren’t likely to find a greater moral outrage over more minor infractions than on BSNYC. Not since The Washingtonienne has a blog utilized more pixels in its quest to skewer targets.

For every person I meet who likes BSNYC, I meet another who finds the blog harsh, mean-spirited and not reflective of the average cyclist’s views.

When I was in second grade I read a short story about a monk who was given a vision of heaven. Angels gave him this glimpse of the afterlife as a reward for his piety, but his return to daily life was hell itself. In his glimpse of life behind the pearly gates, he heard music. Music the angels make to serenade God himself. The sound was pure, without dissonance and a beauty so haunting that it lasted in the listener’s mind the way a taste of fine wine lingers on the tongue.

On the monk’s return to our waking life, music was ruined for him. Even the greatest symphonies were cruel taunts barely hinting at what beauty was truly possible. He hated music.

I think the same thing happened to BSNYC. I think he got a vision of cycling in heaven. How else can you explain such a finely honed sense of style.

Even the gentlest, most forgiving roadie knows there is a PRO way to do things and a NOT way to do things. You take your turn at the front. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t show up with tube socks. You don’t turn your bike into a piece of art. You show respect for the riders around you. And sometimes you chuckle at the clueless.

One can be forgiven for imagining BSNYC hasn't shared the road with a knowledgeable rider since the advent of indexed shifting. He suffers hell here on earth. We decided to interview him to find out why.

BKW: You have a finely honed sense of roadie style. What riders exemplify your sense of proper style?

BSNYC: Hard to say. Proper style varies from race to race and from decade to decade. You know--Grand Tour style vs. classics style vs. crit style. It even varies from body type to body type. You just know it when you see it.

Helmets have pretty much killed style in road cycling anyway. Not that I have anything against helmets, mind you, but let's be honest. Cycling looked better before helmets.

BKW: A lot of being a good rider is basic consideration: not being a squirrel in the pack, blowing your nose down and not out, pointing out road debris. As crimes against cycling go, is there anything that offends you more than lack of consideration?

BSNYC: I think one of the biggest crimes in cycling is whining. I see this in people who yell "Close that gap!" or "Pull through!" all race long, or who get angry at others, or who make excuses and look for someone else to blame when they don't get a result. If you want a gap closed, close it yourself or keep quiet. Bragging is another unforgivable crime. Strong cyclists never need to brag. You brag with your legs. Road riding is about class, and class is the absence of whining and bragging.

BKW: Is there anything about your own riding or personal sense of style about which you are sensitive?

BSNYC: I'm pretty comfortable in my own skin. I have no illusions about my abilities, I love to ride and race, and I'm happy being pack-fill.

BKW: It seems one of your pet peeves is practicality, that is, anything a cyclist uses ought to make sense. How do you define practical?

BSNYC: What's practical obviously varies from discipline to discipline, but what drives me crazy in all cases is when vanity trumps common sense. On the road, a good example is the person doing a Sunday group ride on a $2,000 tubular wheelset. If you've got the cash you can afford training wheels. Practicality is using the right tool for the right job. Save the jewels for the ball--don't wear them to the bar.

BKW: The subtext of your posts, the way I read them, is that those cyclists you write about are missing an opportunity to enjoy all the sport has to offer. Do you despair that those cyclists will learn how it's done?

BSNYC: Well, of course I understand that some people enjoy different aspects of cycling than I do, so it would be wrong of me to say somebody else is missing the point. At the same time, though, I do think people who become hyper-focussed on certain elements of the sport do sometimes miss out. This goes for me too, by the way. As cyclists, we're a very anal species, and we need to be careful not to get too obsessive. We need to look out for each-other! That's part of the reason I often make jokes about getting hung up on your equipment, or on training, and why I try to make light of our tendency to take this whole thing too seriously. Because getting too obsessed with training or upgrading or being overly fastidious about your bike is a great way to waste time, energy, and money that could be better put towards enjoying yourself on your bike. We need to let go sometimes and remember to have fun.

BKW: Shouldn't it be enough that if a cyclist is having fun, then they must be doing it right?

BSNYC: Absolutely.

BKW: What does cycling in heaven look like?

BSNYC: New York with better weather.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mavic Recall

Announcing a product recall is not typically the type of info we share here at BKW, but Mavic's recall of the R-SYS front wheel is worth mentioning.

Monday, January 5, 2009


My tools are organized with the precision of surgical instruments. The madness of my organization stems from years of 10+ hour days and countless repairs passing through the work stand. A solid order to my tools allows for efficient work, no time is lost searching for the 4mm Allen key or the cable cutters.

A stroll through my tool chest reveals many of today's tools: the Campagnolo UT-BB110crank tool, Mavic's metal Ksyrium spoke key, and the King hub servicing tools, each designed to service the latest machines and interface with the industry's most advanced components. But dig a bit deeper into each of the drawers and there among the modern offerings resides a treasure trove of tools from seasons passed. Their presence serve as a reminder of the industry's hunger for evolution (or de-evolution depending on your view) and, despite a healthy dose of logic, there is a side of me that can't part with them. I relied on these tools for my livelihood; they facilitated my survival and helped me hone a skill I would rely on to live out my cycling dreams. I shed blood, sweat, and tears with most of them. Many were used countless times during their peak and bore witness to some of the most stressful days in the shop, days where I would have been better served to be on roller skates. They hid out in the pockets of my apron and served as an outlet for my idle hands as I stood on the sales floor and talked about presta vs schrader for the 1,000,034,984,885,769th time.

Tools are like teammates or co-workers; a respect develops over time, a respect grown from working toward a common goal, sharing time together, and acknowledging our mutual reliability. All of my tools serve as an account of my journey through cycling, for they remind me of bikes, components, customers, rides, races, and shops where I focused my energies and passion.

I doubt Shimano has plans of returning to the UA-110 headset, but if they do, I will be ready.