Friday, May 29, 2009

The Winner

How many races can you think back on where the performance you remember isn’t the rider who won, but the rider who animated the race? Was in every significant move. Shed the slackers, the pretenders. Chewed up worthy winners. And rolled in second or third.

Walter Benjamin wrote that history is told by the victor. It’s a truth as unfortunate as taxes or paparazzi. The history books don’t include a box for the legs that detonated the race.

But those performances are remembered by those who suffered. Nothing is remembered so well as suffering.

Most watchers of this year’s Giro d’Italia who know anything about Grand Tours will tell you that Danilo DiLuca has waged an excellent battle against Dennis Menchov, and for that matter, the entire field in this year’s Giro d’Italia. That said, they’ll also tell you that while the time gap to Menchov is close, the chances of him picking up the time necessary to overcome him by the end of the crewcut-short time trial range between supermodel and black hole.

It’s a shame. As an Italian who has focused his entire season on vanquishing all comers at this country’s equivalent to the World Series, his never-say-die attitude has kept the racing as active as a toddler on espresso. Think back on all the Grand Tours that ended with the ultimate yellow/pink/gold jersey wearer going unchallenged for the last three or four stages. And how often did you find the victor less-than-worthy because he went unchallenged. Put another way, how often didn’t we like a guy through no fault of his own?

The 2009 Giro is anything but over. But knowing Menchov’s strength in time trials, his superiority to Di Luca in the race of truth and the fact that he has a cushion of time—no matter how small—makes the probably victor Russian. The time gap is likely to be less than a minute, but we all know Menchov only needs a single second, and not even all of it at that, to win the Giro. But sitting on Di Luca’s wheel? It may be an intelligent calculation, but it does little to fill the ranks of the fan club.

And while we all think bi-partisan lawmaking more likely than an eventual Di Luca victory, we’re fortunate that his attacks aren’t based on American Idol-like audience voting. Our sense of the inevitable would have made the racing much less interesting.

That Di Luca keeps attacking could be the act of a clueless boy, the twit who doesn’t know when to quit. But with a previous victory under his belt, and as the most recent Giro-winner present, he possesses self-knowledge that most of the others can scarcely guess.

Di Luca’s ongoing attacks are nothing short of the voice of hope. As a former winner, he’s no dope. He knows that a second shy of victory is a loss as much as being 2:00 down. Losing is nothing other than losing. And he knows the math better than we do. He knows what the best-case-scenario is for a seconds-per-kilometer gain in the final TT. He also knows how many seconds he is more likely to lose each kilometer in the TT. And yet, he persists.

What does a champion do, other than try to win to his dying breath? Years from now, I hope that Di Luca is remembered as the moral victor of the 2009 Giro—the guy who actually raced every day, every stage, a guy who attacked even when no one believed he could gain enough to make a difference. That heart made all the difference.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Draft Horse

Since my earliest days of racing, I found the role of domestique oddly sexy. The nearly behind-the-scenes efforts of a leadout rider to ensure the team’s success was a part I was born to play. Watching stylish riders like Ron Kiefel and Sean Yates do their work with pride made those silent efforts even cooler.

In watching other riders play the role of draft horse, I was filled with a sense of nationalistic pride; as if taking a bullet at the front of the field was an act of patriotism. The more ignominious the finish, the more self-confident and solid the ride was. Seeing a rider finish five or ten minutes down on the field, but roll in relaxed, without the frantic pedaling of someone showing off for the cameras is large-scale PRO. Soft pedaling across the line means you are secure you’ve done your job well, very well.

There is a flip side to the role, though. There are those episodes when the rider is treated more lame mule than valued draft hose. It might be something that I alone am sensitive to, but I took it as a point of pride that when I rolled up to a rider with pockets full of bottles, I had one ready to hand off. If a rider grabbed a bottle out of my pocket, I was a mule.

Similarly, I loved nothing more than finding my team leader buried in the field and giving a tap on the ass to say, ‘Hop on, I’ll take you back up front.’ If someone tapped me on my butt to say, ‘Take me to the front,’ I wasn’t really doing my job.

Being asked to do the role of a domestique diminishes that role. The value of a great domestique is the ability to read the race and watch the time. Providing bottles on a schedule, keeping the boss out of the wind, fed, hydrated and near the front is the job. Do that without someone asking and you’re valuable. It’s not much different from the jobs we all do by day: The most valuable employees are the ones who know how to jump in without instructions. It’s what made Radar O’Reilly’s character on M*A*S*H* so funny: He had paperwork filled out before the colonel asked for it. The best domestiques are as strong as two men and smell need like bees smell fear.

The height of PRO is watching a rider kill it at the front with the team leader sitting on his wheel, mouth closed—both relaxed and silent. Silence is the truest test of a great domestique; the best one is the guy no one needs to talk to.

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Levi Question

Levi Leipheimer's record of three Grand Tour podium finishes is the best of any current rider who has yet to win a Grand Tour. Considering his incredible time trialing, strong climbing and the simple fact that his wings had been clipped in each of his three previous podium finishes, it was reasonable to think that were he to achieve undisputed team leadership at a Grand Tour he would seal the deal.

That is, until Stage 16 of the 2009 Giro d'Italia. Maybe he had a bad day; many riders do during the course of a Grand Tour. Or maybe he lost his rhythm after the mechanical that forced his bike change. Maybe he choked under the pressure of team leadership at a Grand Tour. Or maybe he just isn't as fit as the other riders. While the first two options are damning, they aren't as damning as the latter two. The one question regarding Levi Leipheimer going into this season, especially once Lance announced his return to competition, was when or if Levi would get a chance to lead Astana at a Grand Tour. He's already led both Rabobank and Gerolsteiner at Grand Tours (lest anyone forget) and had finishes that, while good, seem a bit like the blueprint for this one.

Cycling fans may have understandably thought that under Bruyneel's tutelage Leipheimer might realize his full potential at this Giro. After all, each of his Grand Tour podium finishes have come at the guidance of Johan. Given that Johan knows how to win a Giro and at the time neither Rabobank nor Gerolsteiner had achieved a win in a three-week tour, many watchers thought that the man who has already guided three riders to eleven Grand Tour wins might be the missing ingredient.

The (Astana) team's strategy looked great on paper. Send Popovych up the road to await Levi's attack and then tow him for as long as possible until the inevitable detonation.

But Levi just couldn't follow the accelerations of Basso and the other riders. Had his only problem been the bike change, he would have likely rejoined the group rather quickly. That he had great difficulty closing the gap and ultimately had to be paced by Armstrong said as much about Lance's improving form as Levi's lack of it.

Perhaps more surprising than Carlos Sastre's gutsy attack that deja vued his race-winning acceleration on l'Alpe d'Huez is the simple statistic Leipheimer has added to Bruyneel's resume: the first team leader lying in the top-three overall of a Grand Tour who couldn't don the leader's jersey and win the race overall.

Back to Sastre: It was nice to see him attack without Bjarne Riis in his earpiece, but had he really expected to make up enough time to ride into the maglia rosa, he should have known he'd need to attack at the foot of the climb, just as he did on l'Alpe d'Huez.

Menchov's 39-second lead may not be much, but with one individual time trial remaining, it seems unlikely Di Luca can put enough time into him in the two final mountain stages to overcome what he'll lose in the final, short, TT.

This will likely go down as Levi's best chance ever to win a Grand Tour due to his age and the presence of two other, stronger, leaders. He won't get another chance this season whether Contador stays or not. If Contador leaves, Levi will have to work for Lance at the Tour and then be too tired to lead at the Vuelta. If Contador stays, he will still lead at the Vuelta regardless of the outcome of the Tour and Levi will be left to support him there if granted the chance to skip the Tour to build his form back up following a long season already.

It's a shame, but Levi's largest ambitions for the season just got iced.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Amore di Giro

It seems that every year the Giro organizers come under fire for some aspect of race logistics. Last year, it was the crazy and lengthy transfers and a climb that required swapping out cassettes for something larger than a 25. This year, riders found the narrow roads with tight turns objectionable enough to protest. And then Fabian Cancellara called the stage 12 time trial a cyclotourist event and left the race for a few days rest before an appointment with the Tour de Suisse.

Some of the criticism is understandable. Following a murderous six hours in the saddle the last thing anyone needs is to be cooped up in the back of a station wagon moving through stop-and-go traffic. Dinner after 10:00 is perhaps okay if you’ve had a siesta and planned your evening (and the next morning) accordingly. Similarly, roads narrower than some minds are an understandable cause for the peloton’s concern. It’s one thing to expect guys on a group ride to single up for a tight turn, but at the Giro? For crying out loud it is a bike race—guys will ride seven abreast on a two-meter-wide strip of tarmac and just pray that they don’t crash.

Can a climb be too steep for a Grand Tour? Only if you can’t get traction to ride up it. Does every road need to be paved like a new boulevard in a subdivision? Not if you like drama. Can a time trial be too long or too hard? Isn’t this bike racing?

If this perspective seems a little extreme, consider the logical endpoint for restricting the climbing and road quality. Any criteria used to judge a climb as too steep are subjective and ever more subjective criteria can be applied. If 20 percent is too steep, then 19 percent can be too steep as well. If a poorly paved road is too rough, then a patched road can be too rough. At some point you end up rejecting everything that isn’t the Daytona tri-oval.

Stage 12’s mountainous time trial was one of the most exciting stages I’ve seen in a Grand Tour in the last five years. The course was breathtakingly gorgeous and over roads any cyclist would kill to ride on as a closed course. Shouldn’t the course of a Grand Tour take in roads that are at once challenging, thrilling and precarious? Certainly we don’t wish harm to come to the riders (e.g. Pedro Horillo), but roller races aren’t nearly as fun to watch.

Because it took the competitors out of their comfort zone—a traditional flat time trial—the outcome couldn’t be guessed. Commentators and fans were divided on DiLuca’s chances for victory and the final outcome was satisfying because it yielded a victor we know to be a contender for the overall.

The tragedy is that Cancellara’s departure deprived the tifosi of what would have been an interesting performance. Even though he was unlikely to win, he could still have turned in a great performance given his descending ability; consider that a pure climber didn’t take the day. And while Cancellara is one of our favorite riders here at BKW, leaving a Grand Tour because the time trial doesn’t suit your specific abilities isn’t exactly PRO. We love our champions more when they play their hand even when holding a pair of deuces.

The Giro organizers may need a better rider advocate to help them judge certain technical aspects such as when a road or turn is too narrow for the peloton to negotiate at full cry, but they deserve a righteous toast for taking the opportunity to make the longest time trial run in a Grand Tour in 12 years a mountainous and technically challenging trial to reveal a truly complete rider.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Ride of Silence

When a cyclist dies it tears the fabric of our world. While some drivers may erroneously think that bicyclists are inconsequential to the business of the road, we know riders in their greater context as coworkers, friends, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, fathers and mothers. Yesterday, thousands of cyclists took to the road to remember family and friends who had been injured or killed in accidents with cars while out on roads. More than 280 rides were held in 48 states and 16 countries around the world.

This spring, Southern California cyclist Eric Little was struck by a truck while on a lunch time ride. Road rash was the least of his problems. The force of the impact was so violent his helmet was crushed, and resulted in a brain injury. Several ribs were broken as well. The road rash is gone and the ribs are pretty well healed at this point. But his sense of taste has been reduced to sour and salty (no bitter or sweet tastes) and his sense of smell, doctors say, may never return. And this isn't the first time Eric has been hit by a car.

Suffice it to say Eric got motivated. Laying in his hospital bed he thought, "What if we got an American team, heck all the American teams, to wear black armbands on May 20th, during the Giro's 11th stage?" So after he was released from the hospital Eric contacted media relations people at Garmin-Slipstream, Columbia-Highroad and (while not an American team just yet) Astana.

If you noticed that Columbia-Highroad riders were wearing blue ribbons safety-pinned to their left shoulders yesterday, that's why. According to Team Columbia-Highroad's Ellen Cohune, "Team Columbia-Highroad riders were enthusiastic to support the Ride of Silence. Many of our men and women feel strongly about helping to raise awareness of safe road sharing. The blue ribbons were worn because we wanted to gain attention for the Ride of Silence cause, and some of the riders felt that the black armband was a little too morbid. The ribbons sparked interest in the peloton, as well as before and after the race. Ultimately, the Ride of Silence message finished on the top of the podium!"

Eric was asked to speak to the crowd that assembled at the start of his local ride in Irvine. He told them, "I want to go
home. I want to see my kids get a hit at their baseball game. I want to see their first pedal strokes without training wheels. I want to watch my daughter's dance recital. I want to enjoy their smiles as they proudly show me a school report card. And I want to hear them scream "Daddy!" when I walk in the door after work. At the same time, I want to ride as I love the sport. I should not have to choose between the two because we as humans can not safely share the road."

He later added, "Whether it was black armbands or blue ribbons, Columbia-Highroad's efforts carried my thoughts and concerns with those of thousands of others around the globe."

In a tragic coincidence, race organizers held a minute of silence at the start of the Stage 11 to remember veteran moto driver Fabio Saccani. Known as Roberto Bettini's ace motorcycle driver, Saccani was killed in a traffic accident on his way to the start of the Giro's 11th stage in Cuneo and had an accident in the town of Bra. This was Saccani's 33rd Giro.

Of Saccani's death Bettini said, "Today I lost a friend, someone who was more than a friend, a signore on two wheels. Fabio has taken me to the summit of the high mountains and down the most dangerous descents, always with the greatest care. Perhaps that care wasn't enough to avoid being struck by a murderous truck that in an instant took his life. Ciao, Fabio, you will always be with me."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In Memoriam: Steve Larsen

The cycling and multisport world got a shock today when the unexpected death of Steve Larsen was announced. The 39-year-old Bend, Oregon, athlete and real estate broker was in the middle of a running workout on the track when he collapsed. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.

Unlike most athletes who are remembered for a particular win, Larsen is best remembered for his incredible breadth as an athlete. Often called an endurance athlete, he competed in events both short and long. Larsen represented the U.S. at the World Championships in four events, competing as a cyclist as a cyclist on the track, the road, off-road and in cyclocross. As a pro, raced for Motorola and counted Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie as teammates.

After a career in cycling that included racing the Giro d’Italia and two national NORBA championships in mountain biking (1998 and 2000), Larsen turned to triathlon in 2001. In his first year in the sport he qualified for the Hawaiian Ironman World Championship and finished 9th. He went on to take the Xterra National Championship and win Ironman Lake Placid.

Larsen was known as a fierce and outspoken competitor, unafraid to go his own way. And no matter which discipline he raced, he was respected by teammates and competitors alike.

After retiring from full-time competition, he opened a bike shop in Davis, California , before selling it to start a boutique commercial real estate brokerage in Bend, Oregon. Even while growing his business he managed to stay competitive, even finishing 70th at Kona in 2008.

Larsen leaves behind a legacy of hard work. Dan Empfield at quoted him saying, “I have learned that it is the work you put in over the long haul.” His example should remind us all what we can achieve with focus and dedication.

It’s easy to joke about how we want to go doing our favorite thing. But 39 is a life interrupted. Larsen leaves his wife Carrie and five children. On behalf of everyone at BKW, we extend our profound condolences for their loss.

Photo courtesy Chris Hipp/Labor Power

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Routine

I live in a place where I can ride most mornings. And such is my life that if I don’t get my ride in during the morning, it will get harder to fit that ride in with each progressing hour. I share with a few friends a classification of training days called the O.B.E.—Overtaken By Events. If you say, “O.B.E.” it may have been a good day, but it wasn’t a day with a ride. Your real peers get it.

That said, if I have too many of those days for any reason—flu, injury, work, a sick cat—I miss more than just the ride.

The fact is, the routine of getting ready for the ride itself is the calm before the storm. Being the first up, grabbing some food, mixing a bottle, getting dressed, picking the ride, pumping up the tires, the sound of the garage door and rolling out is as peaceful a start to the morning as I get.

The best part, though, is getting to the start of the ride, waiting for the others to arrive and then rolling out. The warmup gives friends a chance to chat, to catch up, congratulate teammates on recent placings and even goof off a bit.

These lighthearted moments that I miss most when I haven’t been able to ride. It seems odd, but the days of hard training run together so that one performance on a long straight may be indistinguishable from another; I can go weeks at a time getting to the top of a hill with the same five guys nearby. But those connections with other riders that I make when my heartrate isn’t in triple digits are an important part of what makes me a rider.

Of course, there’s another side to the routine. When I hit the door upon returning from the ride, I’ve got my actions scheduled to the minute, from warming the shower while I undress to pushing on my shoes as I run my fingers through my hair. Frankly, if I did intervals with this kind of precision I’d still be winning races.

That thought really doesn’t bother me, though. As I move through my day, knowing that I’ve had a ride and connected with other riders is enough to remind me that there’s more to my life than just a job and bills. No matter how bad a day gets, if I got a ride in, it can’t be a bad day.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The River

Ever since Lance Armstrong announced his return to the pro peloton, he has made known his intention to race the Giro d’Italia. And in a way that few others have managed, he has conveyed his interest in winning the event without saying point blank that he’s going to kick large-scale ass.

And that’s always been one of Armstrong’s greatest strengths. He is the Zen master of smack talk, inflicting doubt in other competitors and all the while claiming that anyone else is the favorite. No rider since Eddy Merckx has inflicted such doubt in his competition and certainly no greater champion has ever done more to deflect his favorite status.

It’s a trick that a Wallenda would pay money to watch.

But then Armstrong broke his collarbone. And now many people think he won’t have the fitness necessary to truly contest the GC at the Giro. That broken collarbone has been called—by most media outlets to cover the event—Armstrong’s first significant injury. That’s both right and wrong. It’s his first significant injury to come during a race. However, it’s not his first significant injury.

In 2000, while preparing for the Tour de France in the Pyrenees, Armstrong crashed hard enough to wind up in the hospital overnight. He went on to win his second Tour weeks later.

At the start of the Giro, Armstrong, wearing the team leader’s number (21), said that the team leader is Levi Leipheimer. Pointing to Leipheimer’s dominance at the Tour of California … and every other stage race he has entered this year, he said Leipheimer is the man to beat. It’s true enough; Leipheimer is on screaming form. Between his climbing at the Gila and his time trialing all year long, he is complete enough to reasonably expect to command a team at a Grand Tour. Just one hitch: He’s Lance Armstrong’s teammate.

Let’s ask a simple question: When was the last time Lance Armstrong rode in support of another rider at a Grand Tour? Here’s a hint: Bill Clinton was in office.

There’s only one reason to ask who’s in charge; Armstrong is a world-class poker player. He proved it on Stage 10 of the 2001 Tour de France in which he faked the Telekom Team to drill the pace at the front in the false belief he was on the ropes before dropping Ullrich for a nearly 2:00 gap. While everyone remembers “the look,” the stage should be more properly remembered for the hours of bluffing that preceded his explosive attack.

Despite the fact that Danilo Di Luca, Ivan Basso and Damiano Cunego are on great form, Astana has three riders in the top 10. When push comes to shove, Astana’s best-placed rider, Yaroslav Popovych works for Armstrong, not Leipheimer. Armstrong has lost 15 seconds to Leipheimer but remains within two seconds of him overall. And given his history of uncorking his biggest rides the day before a rest day, it doesn’t seem a big deal that he has given up a few seconds early in the first week.

For all the interest that the race itself holds, the biggest question about the Giro’s GC is who, really, is in charge on the Astana team. And while Armstrong may be able to hold his cards to his chest, his coach, not-so-much. Chris Carmichael recently divulged that based on his training data, Lance would, “surprise some.”

The strategy of Grand Tours is endlessly fascinating; one day’s ride influences the next so that no one day can be ridden like a Spring Classic. However, Astana has added a layer of complexity to the equation by calling into question who really leads the team in Italy.

Word on the street was the deal Armstrong struck with Contador and Leipheimer was California for Leipheimer, Italy for Armstrong and France for Contador. Sounds like a game of "Risk." Could Leipheimer truly be gifted with both California and Italy? If so, what does Armstrong get? He’s not so magnanimous that there won’t be some quid pro quo.

A final thought: Every time Armstrong said Ullrich was the most talented cyclist in the world and the favorite to win the Tour, Armstrong ultimately stood atop the podium. Either Armstrong is a poor judge of his ability or he can’t be trusted to tell the truth. Exciting, huh?

Image by Doc Roman.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Recreational drug use is one of those subjects (and activities) that evokes reactions as diverse as politics does. It’s easy to find folks who see recreational drug use as an utterly harmless way to blow off steam. Others see it as a forgivable indiscretion of youth. And we’re well aware that millions see it as a crime that can only be corrected with incarceration.

I offer that as a backdrop to Tom Boonen’s current trouble. Many cycling fans are ready to forgive him for doing something stupid so that he can get back to racing in time for the Tour de France. Plenty others see nothing that requires forgiveness. There are likely many others who want his license pulled, possibly even for good.

So cocaine isn’t illegal outside of competition. It’s a drug that carries a double-standard, and that is where the problem lies. If it’s use outside of competition isn’t illegal, then why do out-of-competition tests screen for it? They don’t test of aspirin and alcohol. The bigger question is why a rider can test positive for a substance that authorities shouldn’t be screening.

The answer is easy.

As individuals we’re all entitled to our views about how Boonen should be addressed. But our personal views are irrelevant, unfortunately. Here’s why: Our sport exists at the PRO level because of sponsors. Sponsor dollars are the gas the peloton runs on. They make the races possible, the teams possible and TV coverage possible. Without them, many of these guys would be working the fields.

Consider some of the organizations that no longer exist because of sponsor departures: the Motorola team, the Midi Libre race, Team ONCE, the San Francisco Grand Prix, Festina, the Tour DuPont, ad nauseum.

There is perhaps too little forgiveness in most of our lives and that at least some cycling fans are ready to say, “He deserves time off to enjoy himself; he’s not a monk,” is a kind and laudable response. Forgiveness from cyclists who see a difference between recreational drug use and doping may be nice, but it does nothing to assuage the concerns of those who see all drug use as criminal behavior. And those are the people whose opinions sponsors are concerned about.

It’s clear that the UCI and WADA have a zero-tolerance policy regarding all drugs that anyone might deem unacceptable. And while WADA’s handling of Boonen’s case raises ethical questions—why are they announcing a positive test for a substance that isn’t illegal out of competition—they do have a clear understanding of the morality of the average cycling fan.

As long as the casual follower of cycling believes all drug use to be roughly equal, or as long as the average sponsor believes casual followers believe this, then two actions are likely: Sponsors will be reluctant to sign cyclists with any sort of doping taint, or worse, they will leave the sport entirely.

It may be that serious cyclists don’t see cocaine as a gateway drug to PEDs. But the average viewer out in TV land doesn’t agree and this is, like most things, a battle of numbers. Whatever more people believe wins; just consider elections.

Just as Boonen’s drug use may be held to a double-standard, he himself is held to a different standard than other riders. If a nobody with no results is caught doping, then he’s just an idiot, but with Boonen, because he’s a champion, he’s a cheater and a bad example. Is it fair? Not much. Is it typical? Ever watched TMZ?

The average follower of cycling seems to accept that Boonen did actually test positive. Should we also accept the assessment that he has a drug problem that deserves treatment? That seems a bit much. The latest Hollywood real-life script is that after getting caught using drugs the best response is to cry mea culpa and to enter treatment. It makes for great public relations, but how appropriate a response would treatment be? How many people really think that Boonen, with two known positive tests for cocaine, is an addict? Probably mostly folks who think cocaine is a gateway drug to PEDs.

From 1999 to 2005 Lance Armstrong lived an ascetic life that revolved around his training. Even so he faces accusations of doping, correct or not. His asceticism is an example that ought to serve as a blueprint for PROs. Boonen seems to be getting the job done, just as Jacques Anquetil got the job done. But times have changed and the average viewer isn’t willing to turn a blind eye to drug use of any variety.

Fair or not, Boonen faces a choice: He can party like a "Lost" star, or he can be a god of Flanders. Turns out, even his sponsor thinks he can’t be both. But that won't matter if he winds up incarcerated; in prison he can't do either.

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tornado Tom ... Indeed II

Look, we at BKW love this guy. Love him. He's the hardest of hard men. But a positive test for cocaine can derail his hopes for going back to the Tour de France for a second year in a row. We want him racing for the green jersey, so while it would be nice if he weren't embarrassing the sport for recreational drug use, what we really need is him clean enough to go to the Tour. The competition for the greeen jersey won't be as interesting without him going head-to-head with Cavendish.

I've said my piece already. Ibid.

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Stelvio Pass, 1953 Giro d'Italia

In honor of the upcoming start of the first Grand Tour of the season. Submitted for your appreciation, the great Fausto Coppi.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Torque Touch: the Effetto Mariposa Giustaforza Torque Wrench

Chances are your very first bike tool was a 4, 5 and 6mm Park Y-Allen wrench. It was mine, purchased the same day as my Silca floor pump, both of which I still have. I spent slightly less than $40, which seemed an extravagance given that neither item could be ridden. As a relatively new cyclist I had a lot to learn about what constituted necessary.

The bikes most of us ride have changed a lot in the last 10 years, let alone the last 20 years. Some of these changes—better-made clothing, improved hood and saddle shapes and more sophisticated shifting systems—have made incremental changes to our riding experience, but other changes—namely carbon fiber—has changed the cost of bikes and the care required to maintain them immeasurably.

As evidence, I offer exhibit A: the Effetto Mariposa Giustaforza bicycle torque wrench. It wasn’t that long ago that a $185 tool was strictly the domain of bike shops. My truing stand didn’t break three figures. But with the number of riders riding carbon fiber frames, seatposts and (most especially) handlebars, far too many user-errors have been called defective products.

I recently did a little checking and realized that every product I’ve come in contact with in the last year came with torque ratings. For this, I’m glad. However, I also found myself profoundly frustrated; most of the torque wrenches out there don’t offer particularly detailed readings in the range bicycle parts require. Tighten a bolt to 6.2Nm? On some wrenches it can be difficult to tell the difference between 6 and 8Nm. While the Effetto Mariposa Giustaforza may not offer decimal-point gradation, the scale is far easier to read than most of its competitors’ wrenches. Dial in the desired torque and tighten until the head of the wrench twists sideway with a loud click, indication the desire torque has been reached.

With its 17-bit tool selection, the only bolt on a bike I haven’t been able to tighten with this thing is the 10mm bolt on the Campy Ultra-Torque crankset. I’ve found myself under-adjusting the torque at times just to make sure I bring up the torque gradually.

The shame of this product is that its price tag is so much higher than the average cost of normal home bike tools that many riders may balk at investing this much in a torque wrench. The reality is that every rider who has a carbon fiber frame, fork, seatpost, stem or handlebar (which is virtually every rider who owns a bike equipped with Dura-Ace, Record, Ultegra or Chorus) needs to purchase one of these, even if they aren’t prone to doing much maintenance on their own. Save a floor pump, I can’t think of another tool more necessary for today’s bikes than this thing.

Our bikes are becoming more complicated, fragile and high performance. It’s an inevitable nexus in our quest for speed. The good news is that we still have the ability to ride bikes just as good as the pros are on; that simply isn’t the case in most other sports. In the case of cycling and some of the UCI Continental teams in Europe, many of us are on bikes better than they are racing.

While it’s PRO to have a trick bike, what’s even more PRO is having a tool that will allow you to do no wrong. That it’s small enough to travel in checked luggage is just icing on the cake. Given what many of us have spent on our bikes, the cost of this tool is a small investment in peace of mind.

Friday, May 1, 2009


Getting rundown is as inevitable as bonking. It happens to us all. It comes unbidden, in surprising new ways each time it happens.

That we get rundown isn’t the point. It’s like bonking; the only real question is, “What next?”

Why, you plug the A/C adapter in, dontcha? It used to be that all I needed to recharge was a few long days in the saddle; knock out 250 miles or so and my head would be screwed back on straight.

More and more, I’m noticing that if my bike isn’t just right, from a clean chain to perfectly adjusted shifting and brake throw, I’ll be struck with a need to give my ride a thorough going over before I’ll feel ready to ride.

Spending time in the garage has always been soothing for me. IPod cranked, a special mix serenading me, easing my concentration, I’ll happily putter for hours on a weekend afternoon, cleaning bikes, parts, making adjustments or upgrades.

Lately, I think I’ve been experiencing the male equivalent to nesting. I’ve got years of accumulated parts and until recently they were stashed in boxes with no real organization. I knew where things were, but that was only true if a remembered I had them. I forgot about tons of stuff.

One day I opened up a little organizer the better half brought home for me. Suddenly, the little plastic dividers weren’t just more work, but rather a means to serenity, a way to find calm in a mountain of unused stuff.

It became a game of Concentration. I reunited a set of titanium water bottle bolts (Wow, a complete set of four?) and then discovered a cash of batteries for bike computers I thought no longer worked (So maybe they did take four years to dry out). Rather than just wasting my time sorting things when I could be doing real work—like truing a wheel—it became therapeutic and each emptied cardboard box felt nearly as good as a post-ride Stella.

With an array of ordered nooks, dividers and containers, it feels like I’ve got more now, and I’ve discovered a number of items I can spare for friends or keep around to start whole new projects.