Archive for December, 2009

30
Dec
09

ciclirati’s biggest and best of 2009

Ciclirati’s Biggest and Best 2009 Awards of all things two-wheeled have a couple typical categories, but tend toward memorable moments.  With very little pomp and circumstance, the awards go to:

Best Way to Fly – Jens Voigt’s Specialized Shiv TT setup.  Big fan of Jens, his panache, and the ‘little known facts’ lists.  I know that wind tunnel tests show that the height of the rider is less important than the width, but damn.

Biggest Surprise – Cuddles win at the Worlds.  I know I take too much pleasure in kicking this man when he’s down, but he seemed destined to never win a Big One.  Happy to see his “Don’t Step on My Dog” shirts to know he’s got some humor in there…somewhere.

Best Team – Cervelo Test Team. They brought a manufacturer’s team back to the pro peleton.  They chose their riders and personalities very smartly.  Along the way, a Green Jersey, stage wins in all the Grand Tours (including Haussler’s purest victory celebration of the year) and a unique connection to the fans.  Also responsible for the biggest bonehead move in stopping Serge Pauwels stage win, but you can’t win them all.

Best Examples of Cycling Superhuman Toughness – Pedro Horillo and Jens Voight.  Horrific crashes that can only be qualified as ‘near death experiences.’  I live in a less-than-cyclecentric area and get tired of defending how challenging the sport is.  “This NFL player broke his arm and came back with a cast next week.” Really? Jens hit the pavement in less than Under Armour at over 50 mph and bounced face first. He was all but ready to race in a week. Pedro fell off a cliff and broke and punctured everything.  He’s deciding whether or not to come back, but he’s a philosopher.  Educated, even.

Best Person in the Sport You Should Know More About  – Rebecca Rusch.  2009 (and 3x) MTB 24-hour solo world champion, 2009 Leadville champion, USAC Ultra Endurance Series Champion and a Super D victory at Crankworks just for fun.  The “Queen of Pain” has a palmares in cycling endurance and adventure racing that makes mere mortals cringe.  Incredibly nice person to boot.

Biggest Petty Grudge for the next decade – My already seething dislike of Team Sky and Brad Wiggins.  Their methods of getting riders, their handling of the dealings with Garmin, their declaration of being a super team based solely on budget.   Unfortunately, I liked a lot of the rest of their roster.  Boasson Hagen is ready to break through big and now gets to get throttled back.  Hopefully, Wiggo’s fashion sense doesn’t rub off on anybody.

Biggest Disappointment – Big George not getting his day in Yellow.  The classiest man in the sport denied because Garmin was jealous of Columbia’s success. Yes, there were tactical anomalies, green jersey battle, etc.. But Garmin’s own riders knew they were following orders they didn’t want to.  George still handled it as gracefully as anybody could.  Paris-Roubaix 2010 or Bust.

Biggest “What just happened?” – Denis Menchov’s inability to consistently keep the rubber side down.  For an automaton, you would think they’d improve his internal gyroscope.
Biggest “What just happened?” part deux – Bob Stapleton’s declaration that Armstrong is “passing the mantle” to Cavendish.  Sure, they’re buds and did a couple Lance-Channel videos.  Maybe Bob got nervous since this originated from a CNN interview – mainstream media can be scary. Maybe he ran out of different ways to work Cav’s name into a sentence without trying to redefine it as a new word.  Cav’s a star, he gives credit to his team, but there are a few other names sitting on equal footing.  Not to mention the Columbia Express is missing a key engineer and the last engine will be getting a late start.

Best French Hope – Julien Absalon.  Nope, much to the Badger’s chagrin, there is go Great French Hope that will capture the maillot jaune in Paris anytime soon.   However, Absalon reigns supreme on XC dirt, winning five of the last ten World Cup XC titles, including a dominant 2009 where he put together a 4-win streak.  He has also won four World Championship titles along the way, although two years removed from his last.

Biggest Unheralded Victory – Armstrong’s Leadville victory.  He had some ‘teammates.’  But, it was a mountain bike race, he had to keep pace and he rode the last half solo.  He crushed it.  Mix in a spring and fall Mellow Johnny’s Classic and he might just revive mountain biking.  The sport deserves it.

For those that won, congratulations.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t come a lot (or any) of notoriety, but I can send a t-shirt and coffee cup if you want…I mean, people need rags to clean bikes with and everybody could use another coffee cup.  For those wanting to win next year, start campaigning now!

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29
Dec
09

floyd’s “big news”

My morning routine was moving along perfectly normal this morning – turn on espresso machine, push button on grinder, log in to Twitter and Facebook and spend 2 minutes perusing to see if anything truly interesting happened while waiting to brew my Chain Breaker espresso.  Generally, not much happens – a random picture here, a one-liner that brings a smile to my face.  However, this morning was different.   Sometime after midnight CST, Floyd Landis came out and boldly stated that he is “Planning something for 2010 that will change the cycling world forever!”

Floyd being known to imbibe and partake in an adult beverage or two as frequently reported by Neil Browne and others, I wondered if this was simply the ranting after having sampled a few of the wise men.  To see what other rumors about Floyd were out there, I quickly scanned other cycling media interwebs and found only one current mention – that Floyd is on the verge of signing with Rock Racing.  The team where bad boys go to die…or at least hang on for a season or two because nobody else in their right mind would sign these people.

The story is that Floyd has a contract with Rock pending on Rock Racing receiving their Professional Continental License.  Rock’s initial application was denied, not surprisingly when the answers to the team’s doping control measures were rumored to be “we source our CERA from only the finest sources” and “each team member is provided their own home centrifuge and transfusion kit to eliminate contamination.”

I’m sincerely hoping Floyd has bigger news on the horizon.  Despite Floyd’s disappointing season last year, I believe cycling fans overall were happy to see him return to racing on the scale that he did.  I’m hoping the news is something humanitarian, something to further the cycling culture in the US, at least something biodegradable.  While Ball’s initial bold, big budget, big impact entry was a needed and exciting shock, largely to the domestic scene, the novelty factor wore off as quickly as the market for premium jeans did last year.

On behalf of cycling fans everywhere, please Floyd, don’t come out and grandstand like your new boss.  Don’t have your cycling-world-changing-news be your announcement to Rock Racing.  If it is, take one of two courses of action.  Choice A – delete tweet and send a new one saying “cool 2010 news coming soon.” Choice B – announce that you’ll be the first professional racer to have chamois surgically attached and that you’re going to have the design of the Rock Racing kit tattooed.  That would be news.

28
Dec
09

Facts on Tom Zirbel; Clear Lake, Iowa and presumed innocence.

By now, cycling journalists and bloggers are typing furiously to put their spin on Tom Zirbel’s announcement that his “A” sample came up positive for DHEA.  While most riders who come up positive are just following the European tradition of denial, the tone and handling of Zirbel’s response rings different to me.  Right now, I believe him.  I believe that he might have ingested DHEA, but did so unknowingly.  My hope is that this doesn’t end the cycling career of somebody who just reached new heights.

Because the national pro scene doesn’t get nearly the coverage of the international, not nearly as much is known about Zirbel.  Let’s start with facts and declarations.  I’ll acknowledge that Tom being a Midwestern native from about 3 hours from where I live, I’ve got a bias towards his presumed honesty.  Tom is a native of Clear Lake, Iowa.

Clear Lake is a pleasant, fairly homogenous community of slightly more than 8,000.  Other than Zirbel, the only notable native listed on Wikipedia is Milo Knutson, a Wisconsin mayor and member of the State Senate.  The only real notable thing to have ever happened in Clear Lake was the last concert before “The Day the Music Died.”  Zirbel eschewed larger state colleges and stayed close to home.  He attended Wartburg College, a small Lutheran liberal arts college where he ran track/cross country all four years and occasionally studied chemistry.  After college, he moved to Boulder with the intention of continuing to run competitively before knee pain forced him to switch athletic pursuits; he climbed on a road bike in early 2003.  His passion and previous track training helped him make the transition to a successful domestic pro.  One of his old team bios lists Tom as “the heaviest rider in the domestic pro peleton” and that he “crashed in 8 percent of the races” he started in 2006.  All things pointing to somebody with a moral code and not consumed with chasing greatness.

Most fans had the revelation of watching Zirbel ride during the 2009 Worlds where he did two things.  First, he led the race early and sat on the ‘hot seat’ for about 3 hours.  Second, he turned himself inside out to accomplish that.  The man honked all over himself during the effort and in his desire to stay aero, apparently didn’t want to turn his head and avoid the mess.  You have to respect that.

And of all the drugs to be caught for, DHEA.  DHEA entered cycling’s consciousness when Tyler Hamilton wanted to get caught and wanted it to be over.  While it’s a banned substance from cycling, it’s something any of us can walk into GNC and buy as a supplement.  It isn’t without controversy, but other than sex drive, has little documented benefit outside of manufacturing claims.

To think it isn’t manufactured on the same equipment that makes whey powder or endurance drinks is naive.  Yes, athletes have to be very responsible for what goes into their body.  But shy of keeping a mortar and pestle around, athletes cannot control the production process of products they believe to be pure for their purposes.

In the end, Zirbel came out and said that he came up positive, didn’t knowingly ingest DHEA, attended his B sample opening, is working to track how this could have happened and obviously hoping the B comes back negative.  The tone comes across as a little bewildered and a little ‘aw shucks’, but honest.  Garmin quietly terminated his contract and he was left off the announced 2010 roster.

I’m hoping for the best for Tom.  My gut tells me that unfortunately, that won’t happen.  By the time any probable cause to prove innocence could be generated, a 2 year suspension will have gone by, Zirbel will be 33 and any chance to make it to Europe will have passed.   Innocence lost will be nothing more than that.

23
Dec
09

Shifting the Bike Industry Paradigm

Like many cyclists, I’ve got a good relationship with my LBS.  While I could save a buck or two or ten by scouring eBay and discount sites, I appreciate the value of having somebody there for me to throw my bike in disgust at after my drivetrain tried to morph into an automatic with a spastic clutch during last week’s race.  The caring bike shop owner takes time to look over the carnage of carbon, aluminum and steel while I rail on about how my mechanical issue dropped me from a surefire 9th place all the way back to 14th and theorizing on how to explain to the international cycling media the reason for my mechanical issue without upsetting my sponsors.  (For the record, my sponsors are there because I’m apparently semi-likeable and a good cycling advocate.  The only international cycling media I’ve ever addressed was getting my blurb in Road Bike Action’s “Why we Ride.”)

I have what many would call a cycling gear ‘addiction.’ Over the course of the year, I probably average spending $500/month at the shop.  But, I don’t envy the shopping torture that I put my LBS owner through to earn that money.  Back in the day (as the kids say) when I managed a big box bike shop, the company’s mantra was a religious large scale purchase of closeouts.  I became a swami of off-season sales.  However, this knowledge engrained itself into my buying habits and constantly has me waiting for the unfortunate cycle of late season shedding of existing inventory and closeouts available from the manufacturers.  The 2008 parts will be just fine, thanks.

Given our national/global economic downturn, everybody expected the bike business to blossom.  Thoughts of America actually accepting the bike culture entered cyclists’ collective consciousness, if for no other reason than one less horn-honking jerk to almost run you over on the morning commute.  Why then are bike inventories after the season 39% higher than a year ago with 97,000 road bikes (up 88% over last year) and 202,000 hybrids (up 214%) sitting in warehouses? Yes, people kept their wallets closed overall during this crisis.  However, I see it as an exacerbation of the perpetual cycle the industry drives.  What bikes people did buy were previous year’s closeouts…they wanted more for their recession dollar.  The industry is out of touch with actual buying trends – they don’t know what is selling or why.

The bike industry needs to look no further than the American auto manufacturers to realize they need to make a paradigm shift.  For decades, the American automakers had to each year come out with new models and new features to supposedly keep up with the competition.  Meanwhile, over in Germany, companies like BMW and Volkswagen operated on keeping the models the same with small improvements each year and only making significant changes every 5-10 years.

I just purchased a 2008 Trek Fuel EX 9.5 frame to build to my spec recently.  It cost 43% less than a new one.  My buyer’s remorse kicked in when looking at the 2010 version and questions of “how will I live without ABP RACE and DRCV?” arose.  After asking Trek, there’s no performance difference between the ‘08 ABP and ‘10 ABP.  The reviews of the RP23 shock on the ‘08 overall were glowing.  Apparently, if I launch myself off a cliff, the DRCV might be a good thing.  I’m 38, I race XC, I live in the Midwest and ride trail…isn’t happening anytime soon.  The moral of the story – despite the cavalcade of new acronyms, the performance difference is incrementally minimal in 99% of the cases year-after-year.

Given my rant, here are my three recommendations to help fix the bike industry.

1)      More model consistency year-after-year.  If a frame has no significant changes other than the color of paint and the components are 95% the same, don’t create 5 new marketing terms for how the new one is better.  Let your LBS be able to sit with a 2009 model next to the 2010 model and say “they’re both great bikes.  The 2009 is $150 less because it’s last year’s model, but they’re essential the same bike.”  The typical now statement is “the 2010 has the hypersonic formed chainstays for greater vertical compliance.  Riding the 2009 is like putting a jackhammer under your saddle, which is why we’re discounting it $2,000.”  Forcing your LBS into a market where they have to reduce to a 5-10% margin after August 1 is just brutal.  Doing this also provides more value to closeouts by retaining retail value and ideally, larger margins.

2)      New retail cooperation paradigm.  Many think the era of the LBS is over and manufacturers just need to go the direct-to-consumer model.  Nope.  Disagree.  Could list pages of reasons, starting with cyclists need the service/education/communal connection, but you already quit reading 200 words ago.  Certain manufacturers cut their own throats with a dealer network by allowing large volume discounters to snatch up remaining product and advertise a 25 – 70% discount.

Existing dealers are stuck with current inventory and really would like to find a way to ship it back, preferably with a bag of flaming poo inside.   Manufacturers, launch websites that sell bikes at retail price but direct the sale to their nearest LBS dealer.  Dealers can pull from existing inventory or get new product shipped in.  Instead of bailing out with deep discounts on late season inventory, list national sales prices that follow the same procedure.  Ideally, the manufacturer’s benefit by getting a more accurate and timely production model, both gain inventory turnover and higher annualized margin.  Yes, I can already hear the wailing of the Jensons, Chain Loves and CBOs of the world, but rather the industry be healthy then have fattened vultures.

3)       A gift bag containing DZ-Nuts, Hammer Gel, bike mini-tool, the Zen of Pedaling and a video on how to use the aforementioned products with every bike purchase.

22
Dec
09

Cycling Wish List for 2010

As a fan of all things cycling, I’m looking ahead to 2010 with anticipation.  New teams, new dreams and excitement of all two-wheeled forms to look forward to.  Without further ado, my cycling hopes, both serious and humorous, for 2010 are :

1)      The obvious – Big George to win Paris-Roubaix.  For one of cycling’s great men and one who stands out as an example of team over self, Big George deserves this long-chased victory.  Paris-Roubaix tends to require the perfect mix of preparation and luck, and a little luck is all George needs.

2)      The overdue – For the CAS, UCI and all involved to finally get their hands on the Operation Puerto blood bags and show that Valverde doped.  Given all the circumstances, I think it’s an absolute shame that he was able to ride in and win the Vuelta given the dark cloud of doom hanging over his head.  The Spanish authorities attempts to shove all this underneath the rug is still the black eye of cycling.

3)      The slightly more absurd – former gangsta vanguard and future star of the Welcome Back Kotter movie, Ice Cube randomly stumbles across a reference of Katie “Fn” Compton’s US Cyclocross championship.  Cube recognizes a potential cross-marketing boom, develops a process to micro-chrome plate carbon without adding weight and sponsors a team.  Katie gets entourage of armed bodyguards, signature line of suede Sidis, and new track to be played in background for all podium finishes.  Zipp spinners, anyone?

4)      The wishful thinking – Tom Boonen talks of wanting another Paris-Roubaix win.  Sorry, have to wait until next year due to wish #1.  However, I’d like to see Tom focus on chasing a green jersey and pulling out a sprint or two against Cavendish.  Cavendish already thinks Tom’s too old to compete.  Given Tornado Tom’s string of bad luck during the Tour, much less the mess leading up to it, it could only get better.

5)      The old guy wish – everybody in their late 30’s (myself included) got inspired by Lance calling himself the “old guy” during comeback 2.0.  “The Lung” was 31 and winning his first NORBA titles when Lance was just getting his driver’s license.  Ned Overend has the ride of his life and pulls out another UCI World Championship, 20 years after his first in 1990.  54 years old and he still beats ¾ of the average pro field.

6)      The wishful thinking pt. 2 – 2010 TdF podium (in no particular order) Sastre, Schleck, Armstrong.  Regardless of his limitless talent, Contador needs to realize what it takes to be a leader. Wiggins just needs to realize he hasn’t earned the level of ego he’s displaying and Sky’s disregard for doing business the right way sets me off.  As much as I think Jonathan Vaughters is a little too shameless in his self-promotion, I think he was dead-on right in how he handled himself in discussing the loss of Wiggo and for being professionally forthright in putting out the real story.

7)      The American dream – Levi wins the Vuelta.  It’s somewhat disappointing to me that Levi doesn’t get more fan attention.  Yes, he’s not the semi-Hollywood look of Hincapie and doesn’t possess the alpha-male bravado of Armstrong, but he’s a champion.  Maybe because I’m a short guy with no hair, I’m a bigger fan. Regardless, with the ToC’s later date providing a later start to his season, I’d like to see Lance and Horner pull him to a Grand Tour victory.

8)      The working man’s wish – Horner wins a TdF stage.  Horner was riding at an entirely new level last year when he was upright and not sporting a broken bone or two.  He’s got the ability to get in the right breakaway and make it stick.

9)      The Letterman reference – despite my desire to see Americans win, I’m looking for a 3rd World Championship for Irina Kalentieva in XC MTB.  Just picture Letterman drawing out the sound of her last name Ka-len-tee-ay-va then doing the trademark hair-fix/tie-adjust in the camera.   She just sounds like a Bond girl.

10)   The could-it-be? – The UCI biological passport notices strange blood values on recently crowned world champion Cadel Evans.  After further research, it is determined that Cadel is only 84% human.  The remaining 16% are split evenly between Elf and Hobbit.

21
Dec
09

British Cycling Press Abandons Journalistic Integrity

With that headline, it sounds like I’m accusing the British cycling press of something, doesn’t it?  It’s crazy how a few select word choices can slant the story from impartial reporting to unnecessary opinion.

I’ll start with my open confession: I’m inspired by Lance Armstrong.   To reference the CTS ad, I’m a 38 year-old father attempting my own comeback.  I lost my mother to cancer and found his foundation a source of inspiration for those living with cancer and those who support them.  What I am not is an exuberant fan wrapped in adulation.  Lance, like any sporting icon, has faults far worse than that dating-an-Olsen-twin thing.  Until this last year, I found him a cocky Texas arrogant ass that you had to respect despite that glaring alpha behavior flaw.

But, as Peter Griffin would put it, what grinds my gears is the continued thinly veiled accusations and slander that the cycling press continues to level against him.  Give credit where credit is due, cyclewriters; if he didn’t come back last year, your readership would be 25-30% less and the status and growth of the sport would not be described as having ‘an upward trend.’  If you’re hanging on to anger believing that he previously doped during his 7-year reign or hold a grudge due to your inability to expose him, take a step back and look at it philosophically.

My least popular argument would be the anti-LeMond theory.  Paraphrasing LeMond’s ranting – if Armstrong is clean, it’s the greatest comeback in sports history; if not it’s the greatest fraud.  Conversely, coming back from the abyss as he did, if you superimposed Lance’s head on Lee Majors and make him bionic, fine with me.  Cut away his skin and expose Terminator-esque hydraulic pistons in his thighs; given the depths of cancer hell he came from, it’s still the greatest comeback.  If he was doping, history has shown (and most believe) that the rest of the peleton was equally guilty.  If so, he did that better, too.  He was tested more than others and came out clean.  All those caught have attempted to challenge methods or dispute evidence and lost.  Believe that he did and acknowledge they were all cheating and he beat them in a cheater’s race.   Or, the possibility exists that through his single-minded focus and methodical ruthlessness, he won clean.  Just for fun, mix in the theory that the cancer actually changed his physiology and muscular makeup and made him better.  If you don’t like the guy, just come out and say it.  But, put all this aside for now…now being the operative term.

My gears started grinding December 18th, when the cyclingnews.com headline read “Armstrong abandons independent testing, publication of blood values.”   The headline alone reeked of bitterness.  The wording and presentation of the article made it seem as if Armstrong was backpedaling and needed to justify his individual actions rather than being in sync with his team.  In the end, once you waded through the slant, Radio Shack wasn’t going to use Damsgaard because of the strength of the UCI biological passport and the conflict of interest with Damsgaard working with the UCI in the upcoming year.  Publishing the blood values in the interest of transparency resulted in any quack being able to say “highly suspect” and get news coverage.

I immediately twittered, challenging cyclingnews.com that if Saxo Bank announces the same separation based on the same principles, will they be equal opportunity offenders?  Of course, I’m nobody, so cyclingnews.com refused comment.

When Saxo announced their parting with Damsgaard a day later on the same principles.  The headline read “Saxo Bank ends independent testing.”  They didn’t “abandon” but in the headline and story language, reached a logical conclusion after a “three-year cooperation.”  The story continues as a love-fest of how happy each other was with the partnership and how “without Bjarne (Riis) vision…the fight against doping would not be as successful as it is today.”  For the record, this program was started in 2006.  “Mr 60%” didn’t admit his past indiscretions as in May of 2007, after almost everybody else on his Tour-winning* team and the doctors had already admitted to the systematic doping.

It’s likely I just don’t understand the British press.  Their tabloid ways and patriotic sensationalism take journalism to a different level.  Maybe they all still have that 1950 World Cup loss in their collective consciousness and are worried about losing next year.  Maybe that lack of a Tour winner is a real sore spot.  I guess if my hopes were pinned on a rider who looked like the missing member of Oasis, maybe I would lash out at the more successful, too.




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