“I was a bit off on form so I just tried to fake it the whole time but all in all I put on a show.”
~ Chris Horner on finishing 5th at Nationals
[source: cyclingnews]

Winning is hardly significant in bicycle racing

When a Belgian Pro Tour cycling team fails to win a Spring Classic, the Belgian media lays down harsh criticisms. When Richie Porte lost time due to a rule violation penalty at the Giro d’Italia, the media criticized his team for not knowing the rules.

Porte told Cyclingnews, “It’s easy to sit there in front of the TV or the computer and criticize us riders.” And it is. What’s hard is waking up early in the morning the day after racing over 100 miles to do it all over again. It doesn’t matter if you have an injury, an allergy, or a lack of sleep; if you are a pro bicycle racer, you have to get up, eat as much as you can handle, sign in, and go do the whole thing all over again. It’s hard work.

Of course, it’s also riding your bike for a living, which I have to imagine can’t really be beat.

As average bike riders, most of us are lucky there is a bicycle industry and team sponsors to fund professional bicycle racing. Otherwise, there would be no spectacle, no inspiring imagery, no races to watch in the wee hours.

Bicycle touring can give you an idea of what it’s like to rise with the sun, get on your bike regardless of the weather, and pedal for eight hours over mountain passes and through flowering fields (or deserts). It will make you incredibly fit. What touring will not do is help you understand the intricacies and difficulties of professional bike racing.

Granted, a big team will theoretically take care of your every need, but still, while it is living the dream, bike racing all year long is incredibly taxing on both mind and body.

Imagine your working days being spent in a veritable centrifuge comprised of wind and riders, where one wrong move or even a sneeze could spell disaster. Imagine training your body and mind for ten months to be ready for three weeks of racing, only to have all that work’s benefit erased by a crash.

Some riders get the respect and accompanying salary they deserve (Bradley Wiggins), while others not so much (Chris Horner). Some riders get blasted in the media, while others are ignored. The media rarely speaks highly of a rider not winning bike races, even though there are boundless legitimate reasons why a racer might be in a slump. Imagine racing 140 miles at top speed while nursing a sore knee or fighting a dying tooth. That’s what pros have to do.

Philippe Gilbert and Mark Cavendish have both had to deal with major dental issues during the bike racing season, and their performance inevitably suffered for it. The media attacked them for not getting results, while not mentioning their toothache issues. Chris Horner raced the 2014 Tour de France with a respiratory infection and managed to finish 17th, yet he still could not land a contract. Cycling can be cruel, but fans don’t have to be.

Some riders can roll with the pain, while others may not. Alberto Contador managed to nurse a sore knee through a week at the Giro d’Italia, while Richie Porte tried and failed to do the same. Our bodies are not built to universally handle injuries in precisely the same manner. (If we were all built the same, how boring would that be?)

Bicycle racing is a joy to watch because the speeds to which the riders power themselves are awe-inspiring. They provide us the imagery to conjure during our own rides, to imagine rocking the bike up long climbs. The feeling is universally great because regardless of respective speed, we know the efforts are essentially the same. We are, us and them, human beings riding one of the greatest human inventions ever, the bicycle.

Winning, then, is hardly significant in bicycle racing. Joy, support, and the sensations are what matter. As racers, winning seems important while we are doing it (likely because of adrenalin), yet in the greater scheme of life, there are few ways in which winning a bike race (or any sporting event) will change much of anything. As racing fans, we manage to get behind virtually any winning bicycle racer with half a personality. When they crash or have a bad day, we ought to be able to leave the cruel comments off Twitter, and do what they do: chalk it up to luck. Send them a note of encouragement. Then go ride our bikes, recover, and do it again.

Richie Porte allowed to finish two minutes ahead of Contador

The Giro d’Italia peloton has agreed to let Richie Porte finish two minutes ahead of current pink jersey Alberto Contador to gain back the unjust time penalty rendered by commissaires for accepting assistance from a friendly. The show of support and sportsmanship was met by the UCI with a backlash of its own when they penalized the entire peloton by two minutes, however, they saw no choice but to reinstate Porte’s original deficit of 47 seconds, and he once again sits in third on GC as a result.

Like that would happen.

Simon Clarke hero, UCI zero

Today in the Giro d’Italia, Orica-GreenEdge rider Simon Clarke exhibited the kind of sportsmanship that inspires people to be good, cooperative human beings, and the UCI rewarded his action by needlessly penalizing the fellow-racer he helped, Richie Porte, who rides for a different team. The UCI’s message is clear: don’t be a good person by interpreting the rules as being about fair play. No, screw everybody else, leave ’em to rot in the gutter. Erm, right. Few people on the face of the Earth who would agree with the upholding of that rule in this instance.

There is an iconic 1980s photo of Laurent Fignon and two other racers passing a water bottle between them at the top of a long climb in the Giro. In today’s UCI state, those riders would be penalized for being humane.

The idea behind upholding the rules is that if you bend them a little, others will bend them too, and pandemonium will surely ensue as rules are bent out into the stratosphere. However, in a case as cut and dry as this, where no benefit was gained, and the amazing sportsmanship was on display for all the television watching world to see, it’s fair to say the UCI official f—ed up. Now, since the rule is that you back your own people, the UCI has to stand by the poor call of upholding the rule to the letter, and pretty well decimate the overall victory hopes of a real contender who did nothing wrong, unless you consider accepting kindness to be in poor taste.

Since there is a world governing body of bicycling, cyclists like to think they have our back, but at moments like this it seems like they just have their own. UCI is king of the playground.

Verdict:
Simon Clarke = hero
Richie Porte = victim
UCI = zero and villain

Wrong response Astana team

The UCI today requested a withdrawal of Astana team’s license. Does it really take extreme measures to get a team to get their act together? Apparently so. Yet, it seems Astana team still hasn’t gotten the message.

The response most likely to yield success is the one people everywhere want to hear. It’s the Astana team response that says these are the steps we are taking to come into compliance. It a response from Alexander Vinokourov that says, ‘I’ve scheduled time with CIRC on such and such a day, and I will talk openly about my past.’ It’s an ebook and a video series about how their riders train and prepare for the big races. It’s an open book, a freshly cleaned window into the team’s story. The response bicycle racing fans want to hear is how so many riders managed to fall afoul of the Astana team’s publicly stated doping stance without the team’s knowledge. We want to hear how the Astana team’s top riders are shielded from their teammates’ doping. We want to read that Astana team is protecting its own by putting the truth out into the world now, so that we can see their riders race with integrity, so that we can admire their efforts, and so we can believe in them.

The response we got doesn’t cut it. We hear that Astana team’s lawyers are looking into legal options. Yawn.

The puzzling and transparent ickiness of Astana Pro Cycling

The UCI sent a disturbing message on Wednesday: If you have the money and are good enough at hiding your doping, you can have a place in the UCI’s World Tour!

History has shown that if you hide your cheating well enough, you may profit tremendously. Politicians, preachers, and professional cycling have proven this. They have also proven that if you get caught, you will be dragged naked by your testicles (or toes) down a long street lined by people slinging bat guano into your orifices, taking your ill-gotten gains by any means necessary, or at least flaming you on twitter. And everyone leaves your party when you are out of cocaine. I mean money.

The unwritten rule in pro cycling has always been that you don’t speak poorly of the companies who sponsor teams. And you don’t turn down their money as long as they help the governing bodies maintain the status quo. For instance, Coors Light used to sponsor a popular US pro team, and although their beer tastes like water when compared to, oh, any other beer in existence (except maybe Beer Beer – is that still around?), the rule was you only spoke positively about Coors Light. Every rider out there appreciated them sponsoring so many awesome athletes. Coors Light rocks – Go buy some today!

The UCI seems to be confused. They clearly want big money in the sport, but they seem to believe that doping is a necessary component of pro cycling. They seem to think that maintaining the status quo of hiding doping is the right way forward. That’s the message they sent on Wednesday with the issuing of Astana’s World Tour license. It is almost as if they believe you can’t have one without the other. Yes, they pioneered the use of the biological passport, but how much money has that made them? They seem to think that companies who put ethics over winning (think Europcar) are less important, even though their racing is arguably more passionate and exciting.

Astana Pro Cycling is sponsored by many of the biggest names in Kazakhstan business, brand names much of the world has never heard of. For millions of annual operating budget dollars, the team in theory inspires either throngs of Kazakhstanis or a few generous businesspeople who like seeing their names on podiums, I’m unsure which. Every year in its long-running history, the team has endured doping positives. Why does Astana Pro Cycling still exist after having no clean years in the sport? (Perhaps ironically, the 2009 Astana team managed by Johan Bruyneel and sporting Lance Armstrong may have been their cleanest year.)

It cannot be that all Kazakhstanis lack the integrity and intelligence to adopt the same win at all cost attitude that the Astana team brings to professional cycling. I have to give them more credit out of basic human respect. I mean, if they can decry Borat, surely they can cry out for the sanitizing of “their” team? Why are the management and sponsors not demanding clean riders? Oh wait… Alexander Vinokourov is the manager.

I used to admire Alexander Vinokourov back when he was competing because I didn’t know he was cheating. His on-the-bike exploits were exciting. Of course, I’ve unwittingly admired many cheaters over the years (Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, George Hincapie, David Zabriskie, Johan Museeuw, and so on), and the fact is I don’t much care that they cheated to even the scales in an era that is long since over (I do very much mind that Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis took people’s money to fund their legal defenses, but if I was stupid enough to give to them, I guess I got what I deserved, in the form of my belief in pro cyclists being pretty well gutted [Chris Horner excepted]).

The doping era is in the past, and much of pro cycling appears to be riding clean. Of course, who knows? After all, Monsieur Vinokourov returned from a 2-year doping ban to win the Olympic Road Race gold medal and promptly retired from competition. I can feel oh-so-confident that he was clean, because all riders are so awesome after two years away from competition that they can simply ride away from the cream of the crop in pro cycling. Uh-huh.

Apparently, the UCI doesn’t care about Astana cheating. That is disturbing. They cannot claim to want a clean sport in one breath, then issue a top-tier World Tour license to an obviously corrupt team in the next. The transparency of the UCI’s license commission in issuing a pro license to a cheating team while denying a team lacking just 6% of the required operating budget (Europcar) sends entirely the wrong message to pro teams and sponsors, not to mention fans, without whom, there would be no pro cycling.

Of course, we all want to believe in the clean veins of Vincenzo Nibali. He seems like an innocent victim, à la, right guy, wrong team, wrong time. He seems like a good guy. His quiet demeanor and ‘proof is in the pedaling’ approach are admirable.

I hope Astana and the UCI can learn how to make admirable decisions in the future.

One lane, one Escalade driver, one cyclist

escalade_fat_blood

The term ‘one lane road’ itself ought to be the clear indication to a driver that there is no room to pass. If you’re driving a small car, you may eek out enough room on a small road to pass a cyclist. If you’re in an Escalade or Hummer, however, driving such a huge vehicle comes at the price of waiting your turn on one lane roads. I cannot generalize that it’s all large vehicle drivers, but it just so happens that on this tiny rarely used residential road that winds from the bicycle path up a narrow, short, steep hill into my neck of the woods, I’ve had encounters with an impatient Escalade driver, a Hummer driver, and various large truck drivers. I have not once had an encounter with a small vehicle driver. That seems to indicate that in at least some cases, the larger the vehicle the smaller the brain.

The hill takes all of two minutes to ride up. It’s not long, but sections of it are fearfully steep. You don’t ride up this hill unless you have a good fitness level. Yesterday’s Escalade driver didn’t care. I could hear him revving the engine to hint that he wanted past, but of course there is absolutely nowhere to pull over or give room. And the thing is, two minutes is a small price to pay for ruling the road by sheer size.

Upon reaching the top of the hill, as I took the sweeping right hander, my Escalade adversary swung out into the oncoming lane of traffic which he could not possibly have seen was clear, and gassed his behemoth engine like his life depended on it, which in a way it did since he was taking a blind corner in the opposing lane of traffic.

Like a larger animal does not equal greater intelligence, a larger vehicle does not equal a smarter driver.

Sometimes I wish I had an Inspector Gadget arm to reach inside a speeding vehicle and slap the driver silly, but a friendly wave often works just as well.

The math of why cars don’t fit in Seattle

Virtually every day you drive a car in Seattle, you’re going to sit in traffic. I keep seeing a city adding mass instead of reducing it, and I wonder (aside from the whole big business thing) why the fairly obvious math of why cars don’t fit is consistently left out of the conversation. The only people who don’t sit in traffic are those of us who ride bicycles or walk to get around.

At its current population, if each Seattle metropolitan resident drove a car every day at the same time, we would have roads full of skyscrapers made of stacked cars. If you love sitting in Seattle traffic (4th worst in US), you can skip this post. If you would like to understand why it’s so durned gridlocked and learn a simple approach for doing something about it, read on.

Upon returning from virtually any ride through Seattle’s traffic mess, I could easily sit down and tap out a scathing rant about how poorly driving humans treat riding humans, but why? I understand the plight of drivers. The fact is bicyclists can react and maneuver in traffic quicker than cars, and it probably frustrates people who have spent a year’s salary on two thousand pounds of steel, plastic, rubber, and glass to have to share “their” space with human counterparts aboard 19-pound machines of love and grace that cost maybe a month’s salary. Goats are likely gotten when they have to witness that same bicyclist travel across town faster than their more expensive vehicles will allow on the very same roads. But since we all pay taxes, there’s realistically no valid argument against bicycling.

Whilst addressing the ‘us versus them’ approach of car drivers versus bicycle riders, whereas drivers use gas pedal pressure, hand gestures, yelling, and borderline psycho steering in wielding their belted-on massiveness to state protestations on road sharing, I tend to use agility, good bike handling, and the keyboard.

I know how frustrating it can be for a motorist to not elicit the hostile response that would justify the not-so-lovely hand gestures bestowed upon bicyclists, instead receiving a friendly wave of the hand when you really want to see the rapid ascension of a middle finger rocketing skyward. I get it.

I understand. It’s about apathy. The thing is, we don’t need to be apathetic about changing commuting habits. It’s a solvable problem which can inspire healthier, happier living for durned near everyone.

We all want to change, but change is hard. Many of us see the ridiculous nature of planting 3.5 million human beings (Seattle metropolitan area) in automobiles in a city that can’t possibly house that many. I’ve been doing a little math, and the numbers paint a clear picture. The cars don’t fit.

The right of passage at 16 years old for earning a driver’s license sets people up to believe we have a right to “own the road,” but there simply is not enough road for each of us to own it.

Washington state is ranked as #1 in Bicycle Friendliness, an interesting score which ranks states by legislation and enforcement, policies and programs, infrastructure and funding, education and encouragement, and evaluation and planning. Oddly, however, less than 2% of Washington residents commute by bicycle. Clearly, Washington, and particularly Seattle given its small area footprint, are poised to turn bicycle commuting into the majority transport method.

It is high time to stick those angry hand gestures in your ear, face the realities of our region, and embrace healthy change. Here’s the math:

Seattle Traffic Math - It's not rocket science to see that a change in commuting methods is essential to our health and happiness.

Seattle Traffic Math – It’s not rocket science to see that a change in commuting methods is essential to our health and happiness.

Sources
Seattle Office of the City Clerk
WikiAnswers (How big is a car?)
Seattle Department of Transportation
NWCN – Study ranks Seattle 4th for worst US traffic
The League of American Bicyclists
TomTom Americas Traffic Index
Bicycle Friendly State Report Card

A compendium of other interesting facts resides at Cars Stink.

A word from your no longer exhausted writer

At last it seems I have emerged from the exhaustion I bought down upon myself, which caused me to not put up any of the posts I had been writing for this here Bikelops cycling blog.

In September, I made a misguided decision to take up cyclocross racing as inspiration for writing this blog for a self-directed class for school. I do a fair amount of these self-directed studies, and they usually work out great, with huge learning benefits. The lessons I learned this time were not what I was after, but they were equally important nonetheless.

It was a good idea actually, but not the right time. Since I had no real time to set aside for training, I fit it in where I could, which ultimately caused my body to sort of shut down for a time. It was as if aliens took over and imposed long hours of deep sleep. I had no say in the matter. Imagine taking melatonin supplements midday every day for six weeks.

I was writing posts the whole time, but at a slower than normal pace. I was consistently failing to revise them however, and did not post them regularly as intended. This week I am putting that wrong to right, adding in all of mid-October, November and early December’s posts.

The biggest takeaway from the project was that my normal super-productive self cannot slot cyclocross racing into a schedule that already includes full-time university and full-time work. Sometimes my ambition gets the better of me.

In any case, I am now putting up all of the backdated posts from when I was suffering through exhaustion. Since the writing here is not time-sensitive, I hope it will still be of some entertainment value to some kind reader or three.

– Your humble cyclist and writer

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