Friday, July 29, 2011

Bike Buying - Part 2

There are lots of alternatives for bike buying.  You can go into a bike shop and find the most expensive one, or the shiniest, or the one with the most radical accessories.  You can also go into the bike shop, preferably the larger ones staffed with 17 year olds who could not care less about you or your long-term relationship with either the shop or the bike, and simply tell them how much you want to spend.  They will undoubtedly steer you directly to whatever bike has a sales contest running, or that the shop has an over-inventory problem.  These approaches will rapidly separate you from your money and get you a bike.  If you are in a hurry, I would go with this approach.

On the other hand, if you have a few minutes, here is what I suggest.  In a comfortable and pleasant place that is not a bike shop, consider what you want to do on your bike.  Just ponder your vision for cycling.  Does it involve a future in racing, or does it involve a future in exploring coffee shops?  Does it involve riding on dirt and gravel across mountains, or does it involve asphalt trails?  How often do you plan to get the wheels off of the ground?  How often do you plan to ride it at all - daily, weekly, occasionally in nice weather?  It doesn't matter what the answer to any of these questions is.  People who like cycling and aren't suffering from self-esteem issues will recognize that there is room for all of these types of cyclists.  And the other bit of good news is that there are bicycles specifically manufactured for just the type of riding that you are envisioning.

The bad news is that you have to supply that important part of the process.  You have to be able to go into a bike shop that has reasonable and experienced salespeople and then tell them what you want to do with your new bike.  The next step isn't too hard, but then you have to "listen".  Really listen.  And then make a judgment for yourself about whether what you are being told makes sense and really relates to what you want, or, on the other hand it has more to do with the bias of the salesperson and whatever they want to sell.  If you sense that you are being "heard", then follow the path to it's logical conclusion.  If not, then head to another bike shop and see what someone else has to say.  I really don't think it is any harder than that.

Sure, I could type several thousands of words on frame materials, wheel sizes and widths, or styles of road and mountain and lifestyle and cruiser and commuter and whatever bikes, but until you are looking for the fine differences, none of that means a lot.  Until then, find a bike shop that is conveniently located, where you find something simpatico with the folks there, and then build a relationship with those folks so they understand what you want, what you need, and make suggestions that fit your needs and budget that are about you and not their inventory.

There, problem solved.

One last suggestion.  After you ponder what you want, consider going into Steve's on Cannon and talking to Steve or Larry.  Be forewarned that Larry won't have his glasses on, and will squint across the shop at you when you open the door, but he isn't scowling at you, just trying to see you without his glasses.  After that, you will find that both of these guys are friendly, know bikes, of all kinds, and can help you figure out what makes sense, whether it is your first, or your twenty-first, bike.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bike Buying - Part 1

For experienced cyclists, buying a bike is a thing of joy.  It is usually the culmination of hours of thought and consideration about the particular needs and hopes of an experienced cyclist that results in the purchase of a bike that fulfills some need, real or perceived, on the part of the cyclist.  It isn't necessarily a dream bike, and I know few people who don't compromise on one or more areas of their bike purchasing, but it is a logical end to a process which is navigated by the experience of the cyclist, with helpful input from other riders, various media sources and hopefully an experienced hand at your local bike shop (yes, consider this a plug for talking to Steve or Larry about your bike thoughts and needs).

For inexperienced cyclists, however, there isn't an easy guide to the process.  If you pick up a cycling-specific publication you are likely to get a shoot-out between bikes that are remarkably similar, for example a whole wide range of four carbon fiber racing bikes costing between $1,500 and $1,700 that are virtually indistinguishable except to the marketing department involved.  If you pick up an general interest publication with an article on bike buying, it is usually written by someone who doesn't know his bottom from his bottom bracket, and they spout platitudes that range from useless to stupid.  Quick question for magazine editors - If you want a story on national politics, do you find someone in a cave (or worse, Alabama), and ask them for a few thousand important and insightful words on the push and pull of the legislative process?  Of course not.  Hell, even stories as fundamentally pointless as New York Fashion Week get covered by people who obsess about fashion.  So why is cute over and over and over for someone to write an article about buying bikes who HAS NEVER PURCHASED A BIKE?

On the other hand, you rarely find someone who really knows bikes to write about the fundamental process of buying a bike, because, well, why would you?  It is much more fun to consider the merits of two different carbon fiber wheelsets, particularly when it involves on-the-road testing, than to fundamentally consider the basics of bike buying.  And that is why, I am going to endeavor to fill this important void with my comprehensive guide to buying a bike for the first-time bike buyer.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Missing Cycling

I just want to reassure anyone who saw that title as "Missing Cyclist" that I am not reporting the disappearance of any particular cyclist.  Well, it is possible that I am reporting one less cyclist out and about in the cycling community.  I don't think a milk container picture is the solution here, however. 

There are times that life just conspires to keep one off of one's bicycle.  And there are times that seem to conspire with those other times, so that one's time off of one's bicycle stretches out into a much longer time by combining all of those other times.  Those are sad times for the aforesaid cyclist and very naughty conspiring of those times.

Hopefully those times will pass soon.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tour Wrap Up

Monday morning after the Tour.  I looked at the clock about 5.30 am and realized that there was no Tour coverage to start my day.  A return to normalcy for my day, but I will miss it.  I managed to catch 19 of the 21 race days in the morning before going to work, so even I appreciated the rest days during the three weeks.  A few of those mornings I watched just a bit and then later fast-forwarded to the last 10 km to watch the sprint, but I also let many a happy hour pass watching the race unfold.

On a great show, Sports Night, I once heard a baseball fan talking about how important it was to watch every pitch made by the pitcher on the mound so that you could watch his control build and falter, watching for the point where fatigue started to impact the throws and waiting for the opposing team to take advantage.  To this baseball fan, every moment was important so that you really understood the way the game unfolded.  In that case, it was making a point about putting together a highlight reel that just included a home run and a strike-out just doesn't tell you how the battle unfolded.  If you just want the final score, read the story in the paper, but if you want to really understand the beauty and drama and triumph and tragedy, then you have to watch it all.  For me, I want to watch every minute of the spring classics and as much of the Tour de France as I can, so that I can absorb what happened and the way it all unfolded.  The good news is that the TdF is compressed into three weeks so that it is completely absorbing, but the bad news is that unlike some sports seasons that take months, this comes and goes, leaving the other 49 weeks of the year just waiting for the next edition.

At this point, the headline should be "Ode to a French Race" rather than a wrap up, so let me switch over to wrapping up.

Wiggins, Horner and many others - Winners of the "I coulda been a contenda" award.  I really wish they had been there to see what else happened with them in the race.  They were both showing form that would have put them in the top ten and who can ever say how much higher.

Basso - Ivan Basso had a respectable tour and one has to wonder what could have been in Basso's career but for his two years off.  Basso is now trained by a strong anti-doping coach and is one of the most transparent in all sports in showing blood values and testing results.  He deserves recognition, like David Millar, for genuinely embracing the emerging ethic in the cycling.

Norway - Norway is in the news for tragedy today, but Thor Hushvold at the peak of his career and Edvald Boassen-Hagen at the beginning of his career have and will provide a LOT of reason for Norway to cheer in the future.  The only country with more stage victories than riders in the Tour - 4 individual victories plus the TTT for only 2 Norwegian riders.  Damn impressive.

Contador - I don't know how much his upcoming trial weighed on him, but I do think his crashes impacted his performance on the front end of the race.  He showed flashes of his strength later and without a few of those "fall down go boom" moments, the race would have been different.

Schlecks - I think Frank came into this race with much better form than Andy.  He clearly showed it at the Tour of California and the Tour de Suisse.  I think at the TdF, he didn't want to show up his little bro and as a result, when racing in the Pyrenees I think they refused to press home their advantage that they had over almost every rider except Evans.  I really think that if they had been willing to let Frank fly free, he would have been on the top step of the podium in Paris.  Nonetheless, 2 of the 3 top steps is pretty damn impressive for one family.

Evans - Cadel Evans was strong throughout the whole Tour.  His team assumed that he was a leader from day one and provided support appropriate to the Tour winner from the very start.  Cadel isn't a classic climber and can't do the big accelerations of those guys, but he also has an engine that sometimes appears to be inexhaustible.  I think that he didn't get credit for being the second guy on both the Galibier and Alpe d'Huez and both times leading a pack.  The guy in front got all the glory, but Cadel did the same work, but with others on his rear wheel, and I think both times actually climbed faster, as the leaders started to falter.  He was clearly a deserving winner not only evidenced in this Tour, but throughout a sometimes hard-luck career of almosts punctuated by moments of supreme glory which now include World Championships in XC Mountain Bike Racing and Road Racing and now the Tour de France.  Chapeau Mr. Evans.

Doping - Lots of people will cast stones at Contador for his association with doping, but most will overlook the fact that the Schleck brothers were implicated in the Puerto scandal.  Contador and Schlecks all climbed slower this year than in prior editions, as did the whole peloton.  There are excellent resources for scientific discussion of this issue (check out this blog for top notch discussion of this issue - http://www.sportsscientists.com/), but there is lots of evidence that doping is having much less impact on the Tour.  The riders raced at closer to watts per kilogram that science would indicate was possible and they all showed moments of fatigue and weakness, indicative of doing this without performance enhancing drugs.  And the best thing for fans is that it made the racing better than it has been in years.  In the old days there was discussion of good and bad days in the mountains, which disappeared with the Indurain/Armstrong days when many riders were super-human day after day after day.  It is good to see the riders looking human this year.

Overall - I thought this was nothing short of a fantastic Tour.  The racing and course were fantastic.  The result was fantastic.  I even thought the race coverage on Versus was fantastic this year.  All in all, a very satisfying and fun race this year.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hey, is there a bike race on TV?

Yes, yes there is.  A bike race on TV that is.

I am typing this after Stage 18, up the Galibier, but before Alpe d'Huez.  Here is what I think.

Schleck (Andy that is) did mount an impressive attack at a point that no rational cyclist would have.  Maybe one would have thought about it, but after seeing the weather and hearing about the wind through the valley, no rational person would have gone through with it, but Andy did.  It was a ballsy, high-risk move and as a cycling fan, you have to appreciate it.  On the other hand, one wonders why Andy decided to uncork this move today, when by all appearances Contador was coming back strong, and why for sh_t's sake neither he nor his brother showed a willingness to take any risk at all in the Pyrenees.  Seriously, Andy or Frank could be in yellow and defending a lead, but neither was willing to take any step that might, and I emphasize might, have jeopardized the other brother's chance.

I think that Frank was the stronger brother through the Pyrenees, but for some reason he was so committed to Andy winning that he wasn't willing to ride away from the group when he could. I started today firmly thinking that the Schlecks had p_ssed away the chance to win (which I think they still have - but from a different person) when they didn't just bury Contador when they had a chance.  Well, I guess the last two days of Contador dancing up the short climbs and storming down the dangerous descents built a bit of spine on those brothers - or maybe it was the plan all along, but in either case, Andy's attack was impressive and a big win-or-lose-it-all bet.

It was looking like it was all coming up aces as they stormed through the valley floor and the time gap amazingly went up and the following group refused to work together.  I was flabbergasted and yelling at the TV.  How could there not have been a few willing to put it on the line and not give away the overall win?  Well, jiminy cricket pulled a big huge shrimp off the barbie and threw down huge.

And, as Andy worked over the Galibier, he got all of the glowing comments, but damn if Cadel Evans (Thunderbirds Are Go!) wasn't matching him stroke by stroke and then pulling back time.  He did a monsterous climb and actually made it from the top to bottom faster than Andy in the winning time.

Now, one other person deserves mention - Thomas Voeckler.  Up until now I have mostly referred to him as frickin Tommy Voeckler, or that damn Voeckler, or maybe something worse.  I hate the way he mugs for the camera and throws his franco hands around in exasperation at everything from the wind blowing onwards.  And I still hate him.  But, I am also willing to recognize that he has raised his game way beyond what anyone thought he could and has been impressive, no time more than his curb jump into a car park on the way down the last descent on Stage 17.  If you haven't seen this three second clip, find it.  Anyway, no one will be happier to see him shed than me, and I really, really believe it will happen on the Alpe d'Huez on Friday, but credit where credit is due.  Chapeau.

Final thoughts.  We have watched a number of years of somewhat formulaic races, so it is great to see the TdF literally three days from finishing and no one can seriously say that they know who will be on the podium.  Oh, except me.  I am going to stand by my prior prediction and say that I think there will be two Schlecks on the podium, just beneath the step holding Cadel Evans. They still can't match Cadel in the TT and it will be their undoing.  Call your bookie and let them know.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Some more TdF thoughts - from SSK2

For three weeks every July, I wake up in the morning, walk down the stairs, and sit down to watch the Tour with my Dad.  Other than the occasional concert that my Dad has taped to enjoy while he reads the paper on a random weekend morning, we NEVER watch television in the morning, and, in fact, compared to my friends I am quite TV deprived overall, but the Tour is always the exception. I have been watching as long as I can remember and I have to admit that some of my Dad's comments while we watch may have influenced me, but here's what I have to say:

Crashes: Way too many. Way too many people out. Way too many concussions. I guess there are more teams and so more riders, as well as more vehicles, but it is still too many. Which brings me to my next topic.

Vehicles: There are more tv cars and camera motorcycles this year. It is cool to see cameramen standing on the back of motorcycles, especially around corners. Day 5 held a bad crash involving a motorcycle ripping the bike out from under Niki Sorenson; although bad, it was not the worst crash involving a motorized vehicle. (and I don't mean Cancelara's bike). On day 9, a French television car attempting to pass a breakaway swerved into Juan Antonio Flecha, who hit Johnny Hoogerland and sent him flying into a barbed wire fence. Ouch. On a cheerier note, I like team Leopard-Trek's Mercedes R-class team cars with the matte black paint.

Cavendish: I don't like him, but the dude has legs.

Thomas Voeckler: He got the maillot jaune because the peleton slowed down for the crashes and he did not, even when two of his group mates were hit by a car. Flecha said, when asked about the video making it look like Voeckler sped up when he and Hoogerland were taken out by a car, that that is exactly what he would expect from Voeckler and that that is the kind of person he is. I want him to loose yellow soon. Even he says that he can never keep the jersey and win. He should just give it to Brother Franck.

Schlecks: I like them. I want them to win. I don't much care which one, but I don't want them to win this year. I want them to climb well and ride away from Contador over and over, year after year. And I want them to take first and second place, switching off every year, but not this year.

Evans: Cadel Evans. He has a butt chin and a jiminy cricket voice and, this year, good legs. I want him to win. I like Australia and I like BMC and I like him.

Contador: I've never liked him. And now nobody else does. He seems to think everyone loves him, but he was booed at the ceremony before the tour. He was rumored to have a festering saddle sore and seems not to be on good form this year. Maybe he forgot to eat some "contaminated beef" before this year's tour?

Liam McHugh: The best fourth commentator in my memory. Al Troutwig was boring and Craig Hummer was annoying.

Todd Gogulski: Go Go Gogulski. I just wanted to say that.
SSK2

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tour de France - Good, Bad and Ugly

The Tour de France, for those of you who have just returned from extended spelunking expeditions, is dominating the cycling world as it does every July for three weeks.  Here are some thoughts as the first week has passed, the final week is looming and Saturday's stage should be significant.

The Good - A number of riders and teams deserve credit for being good, or maybe even great.  First up - Thor Hushvold.  Hard to ignore Thor Hushvold holding the Yellow Jersey for a number of days after Garmin-Cervelo won the TTT.  Speaking of which, Garmin-Cervelo has been pretty damn good - wins by Farrar and Hushvold, the TTT and the resurrection of Tommy Danielson.

Also good, the one-two punch of the Schlecks.  I am convinced that Frank has better form this year, but whichever brother is going ultimately come out on top, they are riding really well.  They still can't time trial their way out of a paper bag, but going up hill - damn good at that.

If you are looking for both good at going uphill and good at the time trial?  Cadel Evans.  I am sticking with my earlier prediction that the Schlecks and Evans are going to share the podium.  I only have one complaint with this concept - every time Evans shows up on the screen, one of my sons makes a comment about Evans' butt-chin.  I admit it is distracting, as is the Jimminy Cricket voice, but you gotta give the guy credit.  Don't know whether he will win, place or show, but I will be very, very surprised if he isn't on the podium.

Phillipe Gilbert is also good (okay, maybe great).  David Miller says that Gilbert is in the group of riders who are able to shine now that the peleton is mostly clean.  I was really happy to read that because I think that Miller wouldn't say it unless he really thought it was true and I think that is great.

Liam McHugh - Sure, I wanted to start a "Bring back Kirsten Gum" movement, but that was in reaction to Al Troutface and Craig "Furry Speedo" Hummer.  Didn't like either of them and still don't.  So, I was suspicious when a new blondie showed up on Versus.  They showed no signs of learning in their years of coverage, so I had very low expectations.  And guess what?  He is good.  He is funny, reasonably knowledgeable and appropriately but not overly deferential.  He really does show a good sense of humor and I was seriously impressed on the first day when the Cadillac Performance Predictions started and he said that he wasn't participating because no one cared what he thought.  Yes, he was right, but it showed some class and no matter what happens from here, it is much better than listening to Craig Hummer drone on about anything.

The Bad - Crashes.  Crashes. Crashes.  And then some more crashes.  A bunch of teams without their team leaders, a bunch of serious injuries including a shocking number of concussions and we, the racing public, are robbed of a bunch of serious protagonists who should be battling away against the Schlecks, Evans and Contador.

Speaking of Contador, he is also looking bad.  I acknowledge that he might still turn it around and have some of those amazing accelerations and dance away for a stage or two, but with the deficits he has today, he is going to have a very, very difficult time getting onto the podium.  In fact, I will boldly predict that he won't finish out the race. I think the crashes and the quietly reported saddle sore will eventually drive him from the race.  Only Bjarne Riis' insistence will change that trajectory.  On another note, there is a great essay in Rouleur this month about bad luck and crashes, with the premise being that bad luck happens when riders are "under pressure".  Sure there are unavoidable pile-ups, but being under pressure is what puts you in a bad place in the group, puts you in out of position and generally puts you in a spot where crashes and bad luck increase.  I think Contador is under pressure from a lot of directions and it is coming through in his crashes and the absence of that annoying bouncing on his pedals.

The Ugly - Thomas Voeckler.  He just has an ugly mug that I can't stand to see on the screen.  I don't hate him as much as Richard Virenque, but it's close.  I just want him to go away.

Also ugly, the TV France car careening into Juan Antonio Fleche and Johnny Hoogerland.  Thousands of words has been spilled on this, so I won't go into it, but it defines the difference between the bad and the ugly.

And lastly, for ugly - Radio Shack.  I am not a fan of the win-at-any-cost Bruyneel, but I do feel sorry for the guy.  I also feel sorry for Jani Brajkovich, Andreas Kloden and OMG Chris Horner.  Levi fits in their also, since his top ten chances are gone too.  How do you start with four potential podium finishers and 10 days in end up with three out of the race and one several minutes behind.  Very ugly and sad for 40 year old Horner who was ready to have by far his best Tour, no matter what the outcome.

What's next?  I gotta go to bed so I can get up early and start watching coverage of Saturday's race.  I'm really looking forward to it.  How about you?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Balance

It takes balance to ride a bike.  We strive to have balance in our lives generally, talking about balancing work and family.  We have to balance our personal needs with our societal needs.  We have to balance tasks in our work life, balancing the need to finish a task versus the desire to make it perfect.

Similarly, in creating a product, there are multiple things to be balanced.  The cost of the end product versus the durability or cost vs. styling and features.  As consumers, we balance the cost of an item versus the different models or options.

In cycling, we undertake the same analysis as we make decisions about the various pieces and parts we buy.  If we want the lightest wheelset made, we know it is going to be expensive.  We also know that it will not be as durable as a heavier wheelset.  Sometimes the tradeoffs are worth it, but when that whiz bang wheelset gives way on a pothole, well then, maybe that easy spin-up may not seem worth it.

I have a personal suspicion, one that is not backed up by any science or actual facts, but a suspicion nonetheless, that the latest helmets on offer may have just stretched past the balance point where the degree to which helmets are light is outweighed, figuratively of course, by the safety offered.  The surprising number of concussions this year suggests it.

If the helmets of just a few years ago, at say 400 grams, were safe, it is certainly logical that you can cut a single gram out of that and make a safe 399 gram helmet.  If we keep being smart and clever about it, we can cut another single gram and get to a safe 398 gram helmet.  But if we take this example to the extreme, you have to agree that it is not possible to make a safe 1 gram helmet, or even a 10 gram helmet.  So somewhere in the process you get to the lowest "safe" helmet and then cross over into an "unsafe" helmet.  It is not that it is not a helmet, but it doesn't protect as well or at least as well as the helmet with more material to absorb energy, which of course is the way a helmet protects your head.

So then, the question is, where is the tipping point between a helmet that would stop the average Tour de France rider in the average Tour de France crash from getting a concussion?  I don't know, but after following the Tour for 25 years, I don't ever remember another year when the number of concussions occurred that have occurred so far in this year's Tour.  My recollection may not be correct, but in a year with an alarming number of concussions which just so happens to be the same year when helmet manufacturers are going full "weight weenie" on us, we may have crossed the line between our competing needs and ended up losing our balance.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tour de France Rest Day Re-cap

My last couple of posts have been about the Tour and I am going to indulge myself by adding a few more comments.  Before doing so, I should take a moment to recognize that there are lots of kinds of cyclists, many of whom don't care anything about the Tour.  Last week I was in and out of Steve's On Cannon Street a number of times and observed at least 10 distinct different species of riders, at least 7 of which would think of musicians or shows on tour ahead of a french cycling race being the "Tour".  Nonetheless, it is my prerogative as the guy who owns the keyboard to comment upon whatever I feel like, so non-Tour fans, please avert your eyes.

Day 1 - Interesting and apparently non-TV related to have the race start on, but not race on, the Passage du Gois.  I guess they thought they were making it safer.  A week later you wonder why they didn't just start out with a demolition derby, mad max thunderdome style cage fight with half the field eliminated on day one.  We would have gotten to the same point as we are now, but in a much more straightforward and logical way.

As for the actual race, Phillipe Gilbert continued his dream season.  David Miller is quoted in the the most recent Rouleur saying that Gilbert is the kind of athlete who has been allowed to shine in a "clean" environment instead of being swamped by doping riders.  Being Belgian, this is harder to believe, since they embody the take-no-prisoners, anything-to-win mentality, but I hope so.  Great start and tight gaps on GC except for Contador.  The confusion over crashes in and out of 3 km to the finish causes confusion for newer fans, but not very many people outside of Spain were unhappy to see Contador with a deficit.

Day 2 - Local boys do good.  Okay so Garmin-Cervelo isn't that local to us, but they are mostly Americans and Vaughters is trying to be the best feel good story of cycling world, so I thought their triumph in the TTT was marvelous.  I initially thought the course was too short and gaps insignificant, but credit where credit is due; the organizers did a great job with a course that created some gaps, but not so much that the lesser teams were completely out of it.  As it turns out, these gaps mean little compared to the various crash gaps.
It would have been nice to see what happened if HTC HighRoad hadn't lost Eisel 42 inches into the stage, but as they say, and we have had to say a lot this tour, "that's bike racing."

Day 3 - Garmin Cervelo strikes again.  The dream tour of Garmin Cervelo lasts another day with an actual local (yes, Wenatchee is local when we are talking about a french race), Tyler Farrar (Can someone tell me how to pronounce his last name? Phil Ligget pronounces is differently every time he says it. Actually, Phil pronounces every name differently every time he says it, which is part of his charm, right?) winning the stage.  I had discounted Tyler this year after the emotional difficulty of losing his training partner, but his form obviously came around.  Hushvold in Yellow, Tyler with his first stage win - it doesn't get any better, does it?  Turns out, no, it doesn't.

Day 4 - Little Cadel Evans does good.  Actually, anyone besting Contador deserves a soft spot in your heart, but Cadel is the little engine that could.  Or actually, for years he has been the stocky little engine that almost could.  This could be Cadel's year though, particularly if he isn't doing too much too soon in the race.  And, helpfully for him, the GC favorites have or will lose time and have or will all have crashes, injuries and head traumas all around him for here on out.  Also, we get to know Johnny Hoogerland's name for the first time.  Soon to be famous.

Day 5 - By day four of a three week race, many people (mostly idiots) were counting Cavendish out of the potential winner circle.  Seriously?  Whether you like his brash style (aka, run at the mouth style), much like Cippolini previously, you can't help but give him credit for riding the last 200 meters of a race faster than anyone around him.  Cav proved it on Day 5 and the haters had to shut-up for another year.  Sure, his speed will dessert him and then no one will put up with his mouth, but in the meantime, stand back and watch that dude wind it up.

In crash news, one of Radio Shack's four leaders is out.  Watch for this to continue.  Tom Bonnen, a fast guy who's legs have started to let him down (by the way, where does cocaine fit into a training schedule?), is also on the way out.  I hope Tornado Tom gets it together next year and transforms himself Jalabert-style into another type of winning rider.  And lastly, what is sure to be the most horrific vehicle/rider accident of the tour takes place when a motorcycle rips the bike out from under Niki Sorenson.  What, there is more to come on that front?

Day 6 - How can you not like a guy named Edvald Boassan Hagen?  I can't not like him and was glad to see this rouleur take the win ahead of another strong guy and Milan-San Remo winner Goss.  Hushvold in yellow, Eddie Hagen winning - what is it with these Norwegians?  There are only 3 famous Norse cyclists ever and two came up winners today.  Also, Johnny Hoogerland continues to attract attention.  He is getting good at it.

Day 7 - Not a banner day.  Cav does his thing and is on the way to being the winningest stage winner ever.  Hard to believe, but true.  On the other end of the glory stick, Wiggens (or Wiggo, as we anglophiles like to call him) is out.  Shit.  I didn't think he was a podium guy, but I wanted to see him try.  And, Radio Shack's four prong attack, already down to three prongs, loses one to two more prongs with more time delays for Leipheimer, but at least he knew he was still in the race.  It was tough to see Horner not knowing what happened to him and it is hard to believe that they let him finish the day that way because head injuries should be respected a bit more.  Horner, like Wiggins, was in the best shape of his career and deserved a shot a glory.  This is tough, but don't worry Radio Shack fans, it will keep getting worse, won't it?

Day 8 - Another local, this time born in Tacoma and raised in Montana, but with a distinctly non-American sounding name, Tejay Van Garderen, came out to show his potential.  A guy we will hopefully be talking about for years to come, he showed his 22 year old-ness, but also his big engine in a climber size frame.  He took the Mountain Jersey and reminded us that we should learn his name well, because he will be around for a few years.  Amazingly, Hushvold held on for yet another day when he was assured to lose the yellow jersey and Vinokurov fly the Kazak flag for the last time (although we didn't know it at that moment).  Cadel Evans continued to look good and somehow Contador managed to stay upright for a whole day.

Day 9 - This is one for the history books.  It is hard to focus much on the racing or the winner with all of the serious crashes.  The Garmin Cervelo dream turned into a nightmare.  Dave Zabriskie was leading the Garmin group back to the breakaway group when he "overcooked" a corner and led much of his team into a guard rail.  DZ broke a wrist, Miller, Vande Velde and Hesjadal all fell and lost GC time, the last standing Radio Shack leader got a serious but not tour-ending back injury, and most seriously Vinokurov broke his pelvis and femur in what was supposed to be his last tour anyway and may mean he never races at the Pro Tour level again, among several other significant injuries.  Contador had a minor crash but banged up his knee enough that all together he may be out of contention.  And these were not the worst images.  Certainly taking the prize for the most horrific pictures, a car driven by a french television crew veered into Fleche, which then sent Johnny Hoogerland into a barbed wire fence.  The fact that either was able to get up and get back on their bikes was nothing less than extraordinary.  Hoogerland had taken back the Climber's jersey and was in tears accepting it; which was right before having 30+ stitches from his barbed wire injuries.  It was a messy and ugly crash in a day of messy and ugly crashes.

Bike racing does involve bike crashing, but this year's Tour has been much harder on favorites than any I can think of as almost every GC contender has lost time, been on the ground or is watching the rest of the race on television.  Look for the Schlecks and Evans to try to dodge the bullets and maybe make up the podium together.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tour de France - Day 5

Wow.  I was not that excited about the TdF this year.  I was looking forward to it and was certainly planning to watch it, but I wasn't excited for it the way I am some years.  It turns out, I should have been.

This is the best first five days of the TdF in my recent memory.  The battles, the victories, the closeness of the racing and stages and, of course, the misery of Alberto Contador.  What more could you ask for?

I thought I might miss the prologue and it's indication of fitness, but a road stage to start was great.  Gilbert was his expected self and it was a great finish.  The TTT was the spectacle it should have been and was a great length so that there were meaningful gaps, but not so much that it eliminated half of the field.  Stage 3 to Farrar, Excellent!  Garmin-Cervelo was eating up this race so far.  Stage 4 to Evans and Thor staying in yellow - Magnificent racing.  And today - Cav doing what Cav does. 

Great racing so far; great stories of gain and loss and intrigue and many more stories to come.  What a great Tour so far.  I can't wait to see what is coming up next.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tour de France 2011 Random Thoughts

As a fan of Euro cycling, even as a devoted lover of the spring classics, you have to acknowledge the grand daddy of races, Le Tour.  Here are some thoughts.

Parcours (Course, for you newbies) - I have paid no attention to the course this year.  Don't have a reason, just haven't.  It sounds like the mountains are pushed back into the last week, but I don't know for sure.  What I do know is that after a couple of days of sprints, I am ready to see some climbs. I think they want to leave the suspense of who will win until later in the race, so they collect the mountain stages late, but they seem to have lost sight of the suspense we all experience now.  For instance, we still don't know if Contador won in 2010.  How much more suspense can we stand?

Contador - So speaking of Contador . . . First, I admit I don't like him.  I did like him when he was an earnest, back from brain surgery, young guy, but then he turned into a prick.  Not just from winning, but from clearly expressing the idea that he was wonderful and only occasionally remembering to try to temper this with the most clear forms of false modesty.  You would think that I would hate Cavendish for the same reason, but Cav's bravado is so brash it is comical and his humility and appreciation for his team seems genuine.  Contador acts as if his team is irrelevant (and it appears to be, frankly) and he spins away from everyone so easily it is almost like he is cheating.  What?  Anyway, hate him or love him, it is ridiculous that the process to determine his guilt or innocence from the 2010 race won't be concluded until AFTER the 2011 race.  I do, however, predict that 2011 will provisionally be his race.  And I expect him to dominate it.  Again.

Andy Schleck/Franck Schleck - I don't think the Schleck brothers are at the same place they were in 2010.  Frank not only didn't win the Tour de Suisse this year, but he wasn't in contention.  As for Andy "hiding" his form - I don't know.  They didn't look good in the Tour of California and didn't look good in Switzerland.  I will be surprised if their form suddenly appears in July well above were they were in June.  I get training; I get that you only have a peak or two; but come on - from getting dropped by domestiques to throwing everyone off?  I will be suspicious.  And I hate that.  In either case, I don't think either is showing podium strength.

Speaking of suspicious - Leipheimer and Horner - Horner is a great, blue-collar, tough luck story that has been two decades in the making.  I think he suffered for not kissing Armstrong's ass for a long time and he is atypical of Euro-pro Americans in that he doesn't like being in Europe.  He likes racing there, but training and living at home.  Anyway, I think it is great he is having the best years of his career and hopefully will get some well-deserved recognition in the States for his ability now that the mega-watt lights of Armstrong have dimmed and the media can find another rider or two.  Between Horner and Leipheimer, it will be interesting to see who is stronger and comes up with the podium spot, but I predict one of them will.

Vande Velde and Wiggins - I am lumping these two together because they strike me as similar guys - hard working, nice blokes.  Very different in other ways and admittedly Wiggo has a much classier palmares, including Olympic gold on the track.  They will be similar, however, in that their teams and fans will be doing everything possible to get them on the podium and it won't happen for either.  Or Ryder Hesjedal, I'm sorry to say.  Or Tejay Van Garderen, I'm also sorry to say, but hopefully someday for Ryder or Tejay, North Americans to remember.

Hushvold - Speaking of team dynamics (I was with Wiggo and Vande Velde), what happened with Thor's big panties getting into such a bunch this year?  I guess he is old-school Euro and it hasn't meshed with Vaughters.  It's too bad, but I do expect the God of Thunder to roar to a win in a tough, uphill-ish group sprint.  And then I will put money on him making a switch to another team next year.

Other sprinters - Cavendish has been slow to form this year, but after hauling himself over the Swiss Alps, I think he will be ready for the Tour and the points competition changes will favor him in Green.  Farrar - I think Weylandt's death has slowed Tyler this year - look for him to come roaring back next year.  Sagan - Not a sprinter, but winning sprints - look for him to pull out a win or two from a small to medium size group, but it could be flat and fast or it could be uphill - a wunderkind.

Conclusion - So I have predicted Contador to win, Horner or Liephiemer on the podium.  Who will join them?  Not sure yet, but I can tell you after the prologue.  Oh, there isn't one this year?  That will make it harder, but I will ponder it and get back to you.