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Drama in the Desert with Boasson-Hagen's Bladder

17 Feb

EBH FeedsWhew! A day of rich drama and intrigue such as seldom graces the cycling world in February—and remarkably, most of it is due to racing.

It all started at the Tour of Oman, which was introduced to the peloton’s pre-season swing through the Persian Gulf presumably to counterbalance the relentless flatness of last week’s Tour of Qatar.

After two sprint finishes (Jimmy Casper and Daniele Bennati, if anyone’s curious) the third stage seemed to unfold no differently, with Team Sky controlling the race and delivering race leader Edvald Boasson-Hagen to a group sprint win.

But today’s stage would suggest that something else was going on, though pretty much everyone seems to be at a loss as to what. Here are the facts (along with parenthetical comments): A six-man break gained 7 minutes after an hour of racing (not uncommon). Team Sky then refused to chase (a little odd for a race-leading squad, but not unprecedented), and no one else bothered to work (fairly normal response).

Reportedly, this made Sky cranky and sources indicate (for some reason, no one has confirmed this) that they retaliated by attacking the feed zone (classic jerk move) and echeloned the field into the gutter when the crosswinds came up. In case you’re new/only watch in July, fighting for position in the echelons is not fun.

Returning to the hard facts, sometime after (or during) this nonsense, race leader EBH decides he needs to answer nature’s call at 50k to go, provoking many riders (apparently led by Cervelo TestTeam) to attack (it’s generally considered poor form to attack the race leader while he’s peeing or crashed).

Long story short, Boasson-Hagen and a whole lot of others missed the split, the stage was won (over still-impressive competition) by some 20-year-old whom VeloNews had just profiled, the race leadership fell to Daniele Bennati (link also contains Kurt-Asle flavor quote), and the resulting fistfuls of intrigue were gobbled up journalists, bloggers, and fans alike.

The whole affair also spun off ancillary drama in the Twittersphere when Roger Hammond made his first tweet in five months to call out Stephen Farrand for an earlier version of this story. No word on whether updates posted since then have allowed them to make up, but regardless of outcome, it brought tremendous glee to the always-ready Twitteratti.

dope signAnd because that just wasn’t enough mayhem for one day, former-doper-turned-witness-turned-reformer-but-apparently-with-a-layover-at-dealer Joe Papp plead guilty to charges related to selling Chinese drugs for a fat $80,000.

Papp, likely heeding the advice of counsel, said little other than he plans to say more later, but the blowback has already begun. I’m holding off for now, but the issue appears to have already bisected the cycling community.

As far as l’Affaire Boasson Hagen goes, I’m willing to bet Team Sky wasn’t nearly as malicious in today’s stage as the peloton has made them out to be. I say this based not on any inside knowledge, but the intuition that if the war were truly on, and Boasson Hagen had to pee himself for the good of the team, you probably wouldn’t have needed to ask him twice.

In Case You Missed It

15 Jan

Robbie McEwen (@mcewenrobbie) opened the 2010 season with a devestating win over Chris Horner (@hornerakg):





The Season of Talking Tough

7 Dec

396010042_79edb64cd5_oOh yes. After weeks of mind-numbing backroom dealing (Will Contador go to Astana? Will Astana get a UCI license?) the trash talking is finally here.

And who better to kick it off than the psychological master himself, Johan Bruyneel, who recently cast Contador as a superstar unable to come to grips with his meteroic fame—in words that seem more suited to Lindsay Lohan than the TdF champ—in an interview with the Belgian magazine Knack.

Thing is, I’m not sure exactly what “changes of character” the newly-appointed RadioShack director was trying to curb. Contador hasn’t succumbed to periodic coke binges. No one’s remixing voicemails to his mistresses on YouTube. And he seems quite a good distance from anything resembling reality TV.

In fact, unless someone out there took special offense when the sharply dressed Spaniard excused Andy Schleck from the stage at the TdF presentation, I don’t think there’s anything you can point to that would indicate the Spaniard has handled his fame with anything but grace and aplomb—except maybe that atrocious hat.

Yes, you’d think Bruyneel would be in a better mood, given that he seems to have snatched away Garmin-Slipstream team “guru” and sometime Versus commentator Allen Lim. Lim, if you’ll recall, formerly worked with Phonak, helping Floyd Landis to his 15 minutes, before brand reinvention of sorts, guiding squeaky-clean Slipstream to better riding through starvation.

Then again, maybe Lim still hasn’t suitably explained this comment (via @SSBike), which seems to cast the oft-cited figure of 6.7 watts-per-kilo—repeatedly confirmed as the power output at lactate threshold attained by a certain Texan—as something that is unequivocally outside the range of human ability. That’ll put a kink in the spine of anyone building a business on Armstrong’s accomplishments.

At any rate, Brad Wiggins, one of Lim’s former charges at Garmin—at least until he isn’t—seems more or less unfazed by Lin’s departure. “I still think I’m a better rider than Lance“, the Brit recently told Cyclingnews, before putting some distance between himself and the quote on Twitter.

I’ve got to say that the spin corrections, meta commentary, and occasional drunken outbursts make Wiggins’ Twitter account one of the most interesting to follow—certainly a step up from Pistolero’s. Maybe that’s the behavior of Contador’s that the Twitter-happy Bruyneel has taken issue with.

Some Thoughts On Sponsorship

29 Oct

Yesterday, Outside editor John Bradley tweeted the message I’ve inserted below. It’s a nice thought, and there’s some good logic behind it—Google’s a smart, agile company, with business all over the world. It’s also been running YouTube at a loss for years, so the company isn’t gun-shy about seeing little-to-no direct monetary return on high-profile investments.

team_google_tweet

The problem is, logic has no place in cycling sponsorships. None. Winningest team in the ProTour? American squad sponsored by an American sportswear company that doesn’t even sell cycling apparel. It’s secondary sponsor? A telephone handset manufacturer that barely produces any phones under it’s own brand in the US. Does any of this make sense? Of course not.

It’s tempting to pin the roots of this nonsense on the old US Postal Service squads, which promoted a domestic American mail service all across Europe for six full years. The squad was then taken over by Discovery Channel, who, other than a few glib commercials, gave zero airtime to the exploits of the team. Money well spent, no doubt.

You’d think things would be better over in Europe, where people at least have a decent grasp of the sport’s nuances. But no: Quick.Step? It’s a flooring company. And nothing sells a smooth, clean, well-laid hardwood kitchen floor like mud-spattered Belgians ricocheting off the hilliest, lumpiest, most mangled cobblestone roads in the world.

Just look at the businesses lining up next season. Footon? First off, the company needs to learn how to use the Internet—the first Google result is from Urban Dictionary, and footon.com, .net and .dk are all similarly unhelpful. If it weren’t for Andrew Hood, I’d have no idea that Footon is (drum roll) a Danish foot-beds manufacturer.

So Denmark + footwear + cycling…what comes to mind? Oh yeah. That’s exactly what a squad that’s trying to shed the image of its dope-laiden past is going for. I’m totally gonna invite these guys to my ProTour race, esepcially when The Chicken himself has said he’s got a top-tier ride for next season, but hasn’t revealed who it is yet.

I don’t want to insist outright that Rasmussen will be riding for Footon-Servetto next season, but a Danish sponsor—when the other big Danish name is spoken for—is pretty compelling evidence.

Then there’s De Rosa/Stac Plastic. In case you don’t read The Economist (article reproduced illegally here), everything in cycling is made in the same East Asian factories, and branding is key to a successful enterprise. So what better name to pair with a high-end classic like De Rosa than “Stac Plastic”. It adds so much to the gravitas, does it not?

Rather than the plastic storage bins or Lego-knockoffs you might imagine a company named “Stac Plastic” producing, it turns out the firm is actually a manufacturer of spray adhesives. I learned this from their totally sweet website (motion gifs? <frame> tags? BALLER.) that—in addition to pointing out their official sponsorship of Team LPR—features not one, not two, but three riders who have failed drug tests in the past two years. Could you ask for better brand representation? I think not.

So on second thought, #TeamGoogle might not be that much of a stretch. The Internet is rife with cycling sites that look like they’ve been optimized for IE 2.0 and that display none of the customization and versatility that’ve become the hallmark of the Modern Internet Venture. If nonsense sponsorship really is the rule in the cycling world, it’s not a matter of if there’ll be a Team Google, but when.

A Disclaimer

11 Sep

Ok, kiddies, huddle up. I just need to remind you all that you’re not reading the Times, here. I’ve been known to be sarcastic from time to time. So every time you see something like this:
birther_LOL

You can be pretty sure it’s going to be followed up by one of these:
NHS_LOL

It should be noted that in either case, the assertion is obviously ludicrous—Eastern Bloc cyclists were notorious for their wild, aggressive riding despite institutionalized, statist upbringings, and a host of Americans have managed to do quite well in cycling without Uncle Sam paying their medical bills (though back in ’96, a certain Texan was damn lucky he had Uncle Mike to help him out instead).

I know this is a touchy subject for many, and as a guy who’s been forced to treat his road rash with nothing more than Neosporin, Saran Wrap, and an expired bottle of clindamycin, I can relate. But if a single tweet sends you into a rage, I think you may need to re-examine your feelings on the issue.

Loud, emotional, knee-jerk reactions don’t help anyone, which is precisely the reason they need to be lampooned like this. I roll overexposed mainstream stories into my cycling commentary for comic effect all the time, and I do my best to be an equal-opportunity offender.

You also have the option of not following me anymore, which, all things considered, is probably the best bet. If you’re not willing to take a second to ponder whether or not I’m being serious, there are better blogs for you out there.

Addressing The Costs Of A Cycling Habit

2 Sep

14241730_3051c8dfce Cycling is friggin’ expensive. No doubt the constant demand for costly and exclusive parts from well-heeled cyclists has contributed greatly to the sport’s clichéd position as “the new golf”.

That having been said, not everyone needs a pair of Obermayers. Far more burdensome—at least from my tax bracket—are the opportunity costs associated with being a competitive racer. Last summer, when I elected to pursue paid writing opportunities instead of training (and managing this blog), the roughly 10 hours a week I’d otherwise spend on the bike were quite effectively monetized; my least well paying gig was $40 for roughly an hour’s work.

Sure, I was chained to a computer for 12 hours a day (this was, after all, in addition to my day job), thirty pounds heavier, constantly irritated and under stress, struggling with pre-hypertensive blood pressure and a terrible diet—but I was also $12,000 richer. It was (and would still be) an extremely significant portion of my overall income.

Nowadays I’m poorer, happier, and faster. But it sure would be nice if there were some remuneration to reflect the most important societal benefit of a few thousand training miles: my improved health. A tax benefit from the state. A slice of my healthcare contribution back from my employer. Significantly reduced rates should I decide to quit and get my own heath insurance.

I suppose I should be thankful that people are beginning to at least try. From VoMax’s twitter, I got word of this nascent legislation, designed to allow up to $1000 of pretax deduction for fitness-related expenses, including race entry fees and equipment purchases. At first glance, that’s not an insignificant carrot

But the problem with this legislation is that it doesn’t reward people for being more physically active. It incentivizes them to spend money on things that facilitate fitness and physical activity—the same things I had even when I was fat and slow, and that millions of other out-of-shape Americans have gathering dust in a back corner of their garage.

Furthermore, the measure takes self-conscious aim at “rich” activities; hunting, sailing, horseback riding, and—most ominously—golf expenses are all explicitly excluded from the pretax deduction. With no lesser man than John McCain already taking aim at bicycle related “pork”, this thing is screaming for a bike-excluding rider, especially from a country obsessed with reviving its automotive industry.

Politics aside, it’s still tremendously complicated to quantify what being in shape means. Metrics based power output or speed are uncomfortably reliant on natural ability, and susceptible performance enhancing drugs. Awarding a benefit based on hours trained would be prohibitively open to fraud, and the old Body Mass Index standby is a pathetically inaccurate way to measure anything, let alone fitness.

If you think granting government access to more detailed information (blood pressure, percent body fat, etc.) would work, you clearly haven’t been following the news. Similar private sector efforts have met with lackluster support and, of course, are based on BMI. As lovely as it would be, I just don’t see any administrative solution to encourage getting the miles in.

So it seems the only recourse left for hard-training cyclists is to get their money’s worth and really, really love cycling. If I can be considered both a representative sample and a rational actor, the total benefits for a solid season of training are worth at least $12,000 a year.

That ought to make the pricetag on your next carbon wheelset a comparative bargain—even if the government never gets around to paying you back.

Great Minds Think Alike

6 Jul

From my twitter feed today. Literally within seconds of each other:

great_minds

I didn’t see even a second of footage from after today’s stage got interesting, and from what I can tell, neither did anyone watching Versus. My frustration at this is countered only by my anticipation of the awesome spectacle as Astana continues to spin apart under the bulk of its own talent, like a shoddy carnival ride, unevenly loaded with fat kids.

Eurosport’s live audio commented that both Armstrong and longtime bro Yaroslav Popovych were exhorting the breakaway echelon to ride with full force in the closing kilometers. Normally, that’d be standard behavior, but the careful observer will note that other riders with GC teammates behind—like Fabian Cancellara—weren’t really working so hard.

Today’s stage is also interesting because it has left the Tour with enough fried thighs to open a KFC franchise on the eve of a grueling team time trial. Armstrong could be back in Yellow, but if my name were Alberto or Andreas, I could see not wanting to work all that hard. Conversely, Garmin-Slipstream, who’ve been known to rock a TTT, ended up losing time but saving legs back in the bunch, while their likely rivals, Columbia Highroad HTC, went solidly a bloc in today’s finale.

So much for the traditionally boring first week.

What Did We Do Before Twitter?

5 May

A little back-and-forth over the Interwebs between Daryl Impey and American cycling commentator/bogger/some sort of Time rep at one point or other Smithers, related to the Theo Bos Affair: