Thursday, June 30, 2011

Knobby Time Series at Bonelli Park...

Tonight was the third and final race of the series. Pretty darn good event for a first time organization; the course seemed pretty cool - I had a chance to ride it beforehand, but didn't race it. Somewhat technical in places, but not overly so, and there were some nice smoothly paved sections so you could let your nerves recover if need be. It seemed to me that everyone was having a good time, both the racers and the watchers. Finally got to meet Jason, of Bicycle Friends (it pays to wear unique jerseys, makes you easy to spot), who had a bit of a let down when he flatted on the second lap. Anyway, it was a nice little three week series, and hopefully they can bring it back next year. The link to all the photos I took is here, or just check out some of the cream of the crop below.

Le Tour de France 2011...

With not but a couple days to spare, and without further ado, here are ten things I am looking forward to at this years' edition of Le Grande Boucle (in no particular order): 

1. Philipe Gilbert. After his amazing run through the spring races, I am expecting a good showing through the opening couple weeks, at least. In April I declared him King of Spring, lets see if he can extend his rule into summer as well.

2. Levi Leipheimer. Rode well enough during the Tour de Suisse to keep himself in contention, and the proved his mettle with a dominating time trial ride to claim the overall victory. I have always considered a Tour de France victory to be just beyond fingertip reach for Levi, but I will not be complaining if he proves me wrong. Either way he should make a good showing.

3. Cadel Evens. Never my favorite racer, I have gradually gained respect for him over the past couple years. His dogged determination and never-say-die attitude have had much to do with that change of opinion. Like Leipheimer, I don't think he can win it all, but he puts on a great show in the attempt.

4. Alberto Contador. Regardless of how he and the media downplay his fitness level leading up to the start, he is still my pick for overall victory. I know, there is this heavy air of suspicion hanging over him and his entry in the Tour because of last year, but the way he dominated in Italy a few weeks ago puts him in the drivers seat. Hmm, now why did I use that term 'drivers seat', when leaders saddle would seem more appropriate.

5. John Gadret, Jean-Christophe Peraud, Sylvain Chavanel, David Moncoutie, take your pick. Every year I confess harboring secret hopes for a French resurgence. Their national tour, after all, and it has been a long, long time in coming. Some strong performances earlier in the year, and the return of Moncoutie renew my hopes for this year. Unfortunately, one of the strongest French riders at the Giro this year, Christophe LeMevel of Garmin/Cervelo, will be absent from the start line and the mountain passes.

6. The Irish Contigent. Or, what could have been. Unfortunately the Irish presence now seems to be limited to a single rider. Of course, that single rider, Nicolas Roche is one of the most promising of the current crop of overall contenders. Roche is still working himself back into form following a crash at the Dauphine, but a top ten this year is not out of reach. As for the rest of the Contigent: Dan Martin, left of the Garmin-Cervelo roster, and Matt Brammeier, left off the HTC roster. Both riders, are still young, and we could see them, particularly Martin, at the TdF in the future, but that does little to relieve the disappointment this year.

Roche in the Irish National Road Race Championship

7. Mountains. Always the scene of my favorite stages. The Hourquette d'Ancizan, Col de Tourmalet, and Luz-Ardiden on stage 12, the Aubisque on stage 13, the Plateau de Beille on stage 14, Sestrieres on stage 17, the Agrel, d'Izoard, and Col du Galibier (100th anniversary of its first appearance in the race) on stage 18, the Galibier (again) and L'Alpe d'Huez on stage 19, will give rise (pun intended) to some of the most exciting racing of the year. An interesting note on the Plateau de Beille - this is its fifth time to torture the riders during the Tour; the winner of the Plateau stage in each of the previous editions went on to win the Tour - Marco Pantani (1998), Lance Armstrong (2002, 2004), and Alberto Contador (2007).

8. Head-to-head, Leopard-Trek vs. Saxo Bank-Sungard. Biggest race of the year for both. You already know I believe Contador to be numero uno, but I also believe Leopard-Trek has the stronger team. So much racing, so many variables, anything can happen.


9. The old guys. As much as the Tour is about the here and now, it would not be what it is without the connection to the past. The vast history, legendary racers, monumental stages and settings, all get trotted out this time of year. I never fail to learn something new about the old days, and always look forward to the opportunity.

check out this short vid. quality is not great, but that is because it is old. and the clips set to Queen's Bicycle Race performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, brilliant.

Coppi and Bartali on the Galibier

10. Finally, just for the hell of it - 100th anniversary of the Galibier - make them race up it like they did one hundred years ago. No one would agree to do it, so we will never see it during the Tour but, just imagine.

11. Bonus. Rabobank. Team leader Robert Gesink is continually pegged as a Grand Tour contender. He can climb, he can time trial, and the Rabobank leadership has built a very strong team around him. The blue and orange, are strong enough in their own right that they don't need to hope someone else slips-up, but if that happens, look for my dark horse selection to go all out for the yellow jersey.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Support Victor Riquelme...

Some of you may know, others not, that Wonderful Pistachios team member, Victor Riquelme, crashed during the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, this past Sunday. The shoulder injury he sustained as a result, requires surgery to heal properly. A fund has been established to help cover the cost of the surgery, and as of this hour, some three days following the crash, the fund is about 36% of meeting its goal. If you can help out, pay it forward here.

Irish National Championships...

In my never-ending pursuit of redundancy (I know, that just does not sound good, but after all, I am reporting what has already been reported, even if for a slightly different audience) the Irish, like many nations over the past weekend, crowned their 2011 road and time-trial champions. Not only that but, the rider who will wear the Irish tricolor for the next year, will do so as double champion, having won both the time trail and road race championships. Congratulations to Matt Brammeier. Brammeier, who is also a distinguished track racer, beat out six time National Time Trial Champion, David McCann, by six seconds in the time trial event. In the road race, Brammeier outsprinted Daniel Martin in an extremely close two-up finish (if you thought the American road race finish was close, lets see you call this one without a camera). Disappointingly, neither Brammeier nor Martin have been selected by their respective teams to race the Tour de France this year.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Up-ahead: No Car GMR...

Read yesterday on Glendora Mountain Road that one of our favorite mountain roads will be closed to motorized vehicles beginning July 1 @ 10:00am. Hikers and cyclists will be allowed. The road will reopen to cars, et al on July 5. Get up there if you can - pure cycling heaven.

From the Library: It's All About the Bike...

Admittedly, the first time I saw this one on the bookstore shelf, I passed up on it. Not the type of read I was looking for at the time; oh, I could have read through it, but did I really want to? Would I have taken anything away from the reading? Doubts conspired, and I looked elsewhere. Second time by, and I am glad I snatched it up, as it turned out to be far more interesting than I gave credit.

The synopsis: Man wants new bike, but not just any new bike. The bike the author dreams of, and troubles over was to be completely custom from the ground up. I am not talking about the kind of nice bike you buy from a shop and then upgrade over time, until it has all the components that you want. No, this is the story of a man in pursuit of the perfect bicycle - custom frame (material, size, geometry, paint), with just the right selection of components to finish it off, to create the bike of a lifetime. In order to accomplish this the author travels to the various factories and shops where all these components originate, or are built and constructed, and in the process shares the histories of these manufacturers, their founders, and the people who work in them today.

From the tires (Continental), to the saddle (Brooks), to the handlebars (Cinelli), and everything in between, the story of this build is part personal experience and part history of the bicycle as we know it today, as well as its early predecessors. This is a very pleasurable read. I suppose most of us velogeeks would jump at the chance to experience a journey such as this, but few have the time or means to pursue the dream. Read this if you are interested in the historical vantage of bicycling, or if you are interested in the thought process of building a custom bike, or for the various personalities the author meets along the way. Even though this is a story about a road bike, I confess to receiving the biggest kick out of the authors opportunity to ride Repack with Charlie Kelly and Joe Breeze while visiting the Bay area in the pursuit of his perfect wheelset. 

Penn, Robert   It's All About The Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels   NY: Bloomsbury, 2010

Monday, June 27, 2011

Making Face...

that's right, making face. But, let me explain. While this may be meant as a vaguely humorous post, don't take it to mean that I am belittling, or making fun of anyone. In fact, when you get right down to it, the exact opposite is the case. This is closer to a tribute of a riders' dedication and effort than anything else. Obviously I am not talking about faces made in an attempt to be funny, faces consciously made to illicit a reaction. No, these faces are made in the heat of a moment, individual reactions to a moment of intense activity. What is interesting is that not everyone reacts the same, given the same situation. Take the above photo for instance; three racers at basically the same place at the same time. Three different faces - one seemingly calm and relaxed, one very dramatic and intense, and one in the middle ground.

More often than not, the making of face happens during a sprint, though I suppose face could be made during an especially strenuous climb as well or, even going flat out on a fast, flat stretch of road. Making face is an involuntary response of facial and neck muscles, which occurs when a rider is producing maximum effort. Or beyond maximum. There is no thought process involved, it just happens.

When a rider makes face, he, or she (because making face is equal opportunity), might be in the middle of a chase or pursuit, pushing the biggest gear, leg muscles screaming, mouth so wide a bird might mistake it for a nesting hole, as the rider tries to suck in as much air as possible. A very hot day might produce the same kind of face; so might a steep climb, especially one at higher elevations. For my money though, the best faces are made during sprints. My first experience with this was in a six man sprint; we were perfectly even across the road. I had never put so much effort into a sprint before. Though I only managed fourth best I knew immediately that the face was there, and afterward it was like "cool, I made face." I never knew what it looked like - there was no one taking photos, but I knew it was there, and most importantly, I knew I had put everything I had into the sprint because I made face.

There are different degrees of face-making. For instance, you can go out and do intervals, giving 100% effort for short periods of time, but by yourself and without the added incentive of competing against another rider. Your mouth might be agape, your neck muscles taut. But, it is different in the heat of competition. The guy, or gal, next to you is also giving 100% effort. To win, you have to find someway to dig out a little bit more, to go beyond that 100% mark. That is when truly great faces are made. And the wins that often accompany them.

I wonder if you can make generalizations connecting certain face-types to specific activities. Are wide open mouths more common to chases and time trials? Are grimaces and clenched teeth more common to sprints? One common statement that can be made is that faces reflect the intensity of the moment. The more intense the moment, the more that intensity tends to be exhibited in the making of face.

Clearly this was a very visual oriented piece, so thanks to everyone who in the process of doing what they love, provided some great faces.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Happy 50th Greg...

Yes, the most influential American cyclist of the 1900s turns 50 years young this weekend (Sunday). Lemond ushered in a new era in cycling, not only in the United States, but worldwide. From athlete pay, to aerodynamics, to an elevated status of American racers, the changes and adaptations he brought to the sport are tied to its historical progression.

American sporting perceptions aside, or maybe because of them, Lemond, as an American, will forever be linked to some of the most noteworthy sporting accomplishments of all time. As a result his successes, his near-successes, even his failures have resulted in some of the most iconic images in the history of the sport of cycling. A few of my favorites are here.

I began my own racing career during Lemond's reign and, lamentably, never amounted to much by comparison. Though we are separated by only a year - I, the younger (at least I can lay hold to that claim) - I, like the vast pit of American sporting public, was largely unaware of the sport of cycling prior to the ascendancy of Lemond. It was Greg Lemond who ignited a passion in racing which has not dimmed, led me to immerse myself in cycling history, to the names Desgrange, Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, Kelly, and the many others, before and since. So, Happy Birthday Greg. Slainte.

The above video is kind of interesting. It actually shows little of Lemond, though he won the stage and moved into the top spot on general classification. What is interesting are some of the personalities being interviewed (including Lemond): Alexi Grewal, Connie Carpenter Phinney, and Andy Hampsten. It is a fun little trip back in time if you have not seen it.

Perhaps for obvious reasons, one of my favorite quotes from the above book;

"But I like the fact that a lot of people don't think I'm going to come back. It just gives me more incentive to prove them wrong. I do well in pressure situations. People think, he's not going to do well when there's a lot of pressure. But I do better when that type of battle is going on..."

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