Rider Against Wind 05/07/2014
The second stage of this years GIRO rolls over the training grounds of a lot of Northern Ireland’s cyclists. The northern part of the country has some of the finest coastline in the world. The terrain itself will not prove too challenging for a pro peleton tuned and ready for the high mountains of Europe, but the one thing that could make a difference is weather. I don’t suspect we will get the snow of last years GIRO, but there is a good chance of high wind and rain, it is Northern Ireland after all. When I say wind, I mean coastal wind that can swirl around headlands and stop you in your tracks. The riders will sweep down off the Glens Of Antrim at Portrush where they turn right along the coast towards Belfast and the fast end of the stage. At one point they will hit the village of Cushendall, and a 24 mile stretch down to Larne that was the first Corniche road in the British Isles. If they are unlucky they will also turn right into a head-on “bluster“, pretty common along that stretch.
Today is the day. My favorite one day race. The classic for the climbers. On the back door step of Philip Gilbert (where his fan club beer tent is bigger than the official beer tent) and in a region where five cycling tribes border. There is no luck in this one, you are just basically broken down over the duration of the race until you hit La Redoute. Then whoever still has matches to burn goes of it. This years edition has a lot of favorites including a back on form Gilbert eager to please those in his beer tent after last years let down. Should make for a great race this year.
Off And Running 02/15/2014
It is that time again of year again – thank god because I am so over the winter and Olympic Ice Skating. While us mere mortals spin away the hours on indoor trainers watching re-runs of The Tour, the gods of cycling are coming off their winter “break” (do they actually even stop these days) and showing their early season form. Those riders hoping for a good classics showing and a GIRO start in Belfast are already starting to show. The old and new generations of cycling are getting themselves ready for their Classics assault. Read on for the six that have impressed us so far.
The Upright Hour 11/26/2013
It somehow only seems appropriate that the rules of The Hour record be benchmarked against the ride done by a rider who pretty much benchmarked the sport, Eddy Merckx. A blistering 30.175 miles in sixty minutes. A record that stood for 12 years until Francesco Moser beat it by 1.6 miles, the difference being Moser used disc wheels, bull-horn bars and an oval tubed frame, and ushered in the era of technology and aerodynamics. It was at this point the UCI decided to recognize the massive achievement that Merckx had accomplished on a “traditional” track bike and created two records, the UCI Hour, and The Best Human Effort record.
To what sounded like a very rare atmosphere Merckx made one of the sports great records to sound of polite clapping and the chants of “Eddy…Eddy…Eddy”. The shear effort that The Hour takes has humbled all those who have tried. On finishing his record breaking ride Merckx rolled into the center of the velodrome and into the arms of Ernesto Colnago and uttered “Basta (meaning enough, and remarkably close to bastard)… that’s the last time I’ll ever do the hour record. The pain was incredible… ‘. Coming from The Cannibal that is saying something. Although not really a surprise that it hurt as his preparation leading into it was a season where he won no less than fifty races, among them a fifth Milan-San Remo, a fourth Tour de France, a third Tour of Italy, a third Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a third Fleche Wallone, a second Tour of Lombardy. Not really the preparation you would expect.
It seemed the only way to beat Merckx’s record was with technology. Boardman and Obree both breaking it with both unusual and advanced bikes and positions. Merckx’s effort was later beaten by Chris Boardman on a traditional set-up by a painful 32.8ft, riding a 54 x 14 with a 160mm stem (above). The difference between the two rides comes down really to the first KM. Merckx started fast, Boardman was a little more conservative. For the next 45km they basically stayed the same. Boardman had a slight edge having Merckx’s time to beat in the final KM and was able to pull out a little extra to take the record. That record stood for another 5 years until Czech Ondrej Sosenka beat it by nearly a mile, literally, (0.707 of a mile, or 44795.5 inches) pushing a 54 X 13 gear. Unfortunately his incredible ride is somewhat tainted as he later twice tested positive for doping, although not on his record breaking ride.
So since Merckx set the benchmark in Mexico on the 25th of October in 1972 at 30.175 (if we give Sosenka the benefit of the doubt) in 42 years we have moved the record on by 0.7 of a mile. This coming season we may see two of the best chances yet to put a new benchmark on the board. Two of the best cyclists in history against the clock will make attempts to push the distance out further, Fabian Cancellara and hopefully Bradley Wiggins. Wiggins a veteran of the track, and Cancellara one of the best engines in the sport. The Hour is maybe one of the last pure “blue ribbon” records left standing in the sport. Controlled conditions and controlled technology. I can see the attraction for both riders as they enter the twilight of their careers. To have your name talked about in the same sentence as Merckx, Boardman, Moser, Indurain, Rominger, especially as a record holder will stake your place in cycling history. Now all we need is Tony Martin to create the trilogy of the modern “Clock men” to try and break it.
“Just one moment like this makes you forget it all. This is why we do this” a teary Andrew Talansky declared when he passed the finish line of the final stage up Courchevel Le Praz, and learned that he had won one of the most respected races on the calendar. That statement could also be applied to fans watching the conclusion of the same race. On a day when all eyes were on the obvious, Contador, Nibali and Froome, the teams that usually dominate somehow conspired to let Talansky get in the break, only 31 seconds down on GC. Maybe those teams are just so used to shutting everything down in the last 10km and their over confidence stopped them looking at a break that had a former Giro winner in Hesjedal pulling for a team mate who had maybe more guts and determination than all of them put together. The Garmin rider tore down the technical descent of the Côte de Montagny to set himself up for the climb to the finish with a 1:11 minute lead over a charging Contador who at this point had pushed on alone seeing the GC win slip away. By the the time he crossed the line he had only taken 4 seconds out of Talanskly. They had basically matched each other stroke for stroke up the final climb. Wether the tactics were called from the car or on the road between Talansky and Hesjedal it was one of the smartest and tactically savy rides of the year, finished off by a rider who just refused to buckle and literally left everything on the road to take the biggest win of his career. This was an amazing stage to watch.
If You Are In Belfast For The Giro 05/04/2014
Just five days left to the start of something I thought I would never see in my lifetime, a Grand Tour starting in Belfast. I will be heading back home to watch this probably once in a lifetime event. I think Belfast is going to surprise a lot of people. It is a great city on the rebound from all of the bad headlines of the last 40 years. There is great food and maybe more important great coffee. For anyone in the cycling “Veloratti”, teams and visiting fans here is a quick guide to a few places to get a good coffee and other places worth checking out when you are in town. If anyone is visiting the stages and want to meet up drop us a note on Twitter or at firstname.lastname@example.org and come have a pint.
5A Coffee Shop
Not for off the TTT coarse. Get a Cortado will you wait for Orica to burn up the road
Just a short walk in from the Ormeau Road section of the TTT small but great coffee
Our personal favorite tucked away in the Cathedral Quarter
San Martino di Castrozza 03/15/2014
As we approach national “Being Irish” day I bring to you the climb of San Martino Di Castrozza. And why has this anything to do with Ireland, it is in the Dolomites after all? Well even though the fist people to carve a road up there was a religious order to build the hospice of Saints Martino and Giuliano, in 1873 the famous Irish traveller John Ball built the first hotel there turning it into a resort for the rest of us. Ball was the first president of the Alpine Club writing the Alpine Guide. Regularly found in the Giro and the Giro Del Trentino I am glad we were able to contribute a little more than Guinness and Whiskey.
The Fireflies West Ride 2013 10/04/2013
And so it is over. 6 days and 550 miles later we have completed the Fireflies West 2013 ride. Right now I would say I am suffering from a little bit of post-ride blues (probably mixed with saddle fatigue). As a group we traveled down PCH in a bubble of adrenaline and chamois cream protected from government shutdowns, saddle sores, news, and our jobs. For 6 days all that mattered was getting up, getting breakfast, getting to the lunch stop, getting to the hotel and Chocolate Milk, repeat. Perfect roads, perfect weather, and the wind on our backs (mostly). If you are a rider, is there a better way to spend a week? But none of these things are what made the ride special for me; in the end it was the people I met and rode with. We are all used to suffering in the saddle, some more than others, but few of us express or show how we have suffered in life. Every rider had their own special cause, someone they were riding for. A lost parent or a friend, or in some cases actually riding with cancer. Some were open and wore it on their sleeves (or in my case on my stem), others didn’t need to say anything, you just knew. The feeling of giving something of yourself and contributing to such an amazing charity created a very special kinship. No one was left behind, no one crashed, we just took care of each other and rode together. What we gained in safety we made up for in flats – especially the “King of Flats” – which all being said isn’t a bad trade.
Massive thanks has to go to the organizing crew for picking out such a great route. Right from rolling out of San Francisco to pulling in to The Mill in LA (although we did manage to roll right past the welcoming party and the Brazilian band), the route never got boring and stayed challenging. There were moments that will go into the catalogue of unforgettable rides. Rolling into the Redwoods of Big Sur after a 98-mile day. Climbing up Stage Coach with Ben in the pre-lunch sun with a perfect tempo. Ripping up the Cabrilo rollers on a tailwind into San Simeon and looking down to see my dad’s face smiling up at me and getting that little extra (he knew exactly what was going on:). Rolling out of Ventura on the front and looking back on a bend to see about 40 Fireflies on my wheel, incredible. Riding in the group with Mick into Solvang over what became known as the “Magic Carpet.” A stretch of road that felt like it was going down hill, but didn’t look like it, on a surface that looked like it had been laid down 2 hours earlier (in fact it felt so good we rode right past the vineyards).
Going into a 6-day ride mentally feels like a big effort, but on reflection it actually went by really quickly. Once you get past those first few days, you and your legs slip into a routine. You know when you can push yourself, and you know when to back off. I rode always leaving a little bit in the tank to make sure I wasn’t on my knees by LA. Although there were always those moments when you say f@*k it! Like riding into Santa Cruz on the back of Vlasta the “Czech Vespa” at 34 mph. Sometimes you just have to go, right? On the last day I slipped away at the rest stop and rode up most of the Mulholland climb by myself. Just me, my thoughts, and my dad on my stem – it was a very special moment. Then I was back in the ride again as I heard gears and panting behind me and the climbers rolled past – that might have been the moment where I moved on.
The photo above says it all, the regroup at Father’s Office in LA. A beer in hand and a closing speech from Mick, we were all happy to have finished, but also maybe just a little sad we were done. Bittersweet – although the ice cream Tracy bought me helped. If you ever want to challenge yourself on the bike and do some good in the process, the Fireflies is a damn fine place to start – I recommend it to everyone. There was one thing that made me smile maybe more than anything. So many people commented on how good a wheel I was to ride behind, how consistent and safe it felt. After 3 decades in the saddle you would hope I got it right :), but really it comes from riding behind my father who had the most perfect souplesse pedal stroke crafted from years on the track and touring for weeks at a time. He was a good study and I know he would have been proud of the compliments as he worked hard to get me there both in the saddle and in life. Thank you so much guys for those words, they meant so much. The ride has reinvigorated me, and made me want to get lean and fast again. Here’s to next year – hell maybe even the Alps.
Did someone actually say “Should we keep going to Tijuana”?