Saturday, September 19, 2009

Notes from the Grand Prix

The wind, rain and the twenty five times up the hill at Morgan's Point made for a great race Saturday. There was great racing Sunday too, and I think the change in time allowed for more crowds than we've seen at a race in a long time.

-Award for best back handed compliment recipient goes to Garth. The lead three weren't asking what the gap to the chasing pack was, they were asking what the gap to Garth in particular was. When it got close I could hear them talking up the hill, "shit, we can't let him catch us. He's really strong."

-I love that you can practically make out the brand of helmet that was worn here.

-Being in a pace line is a beautiful thing. You're in pain and agony, focused on nothing but the wheel ahead. In a race it feels like it is impossible for anyone to ever have been faster, so in the red are you. I took a lot of photos of the day, but I don't think photos of cycling often portray the paradoxical emotions of a bike race. They look like what they are; are bunch of guys riding in single file. That's why I like this photo. Mud and sweat splattered, it captures the pain of a hard bike race.

-I always like to see so many juniors toeing up to the start line. Congratulations to all of them for toughing out the conditions and ending their season on a high.

-Hot Tubes are fast. They are a junior team that tore it up pretty good, but most people have never heard of them. As background, they are one of, if not the best US junior talent scouting teams with their riders graduating to bigger and better things. This year Lawson Craddock was one of the young riders down who finished second at the Junior Worlds this year. A couple of years ago, one very young Ben King was top 10 on GC in Bermuda. He went on to ride for Lance Armstrong's Trek-Livestrong team and is now having a great season with Fly V Australia.

He's still only 20, look for him to make the ProTour jump soon. Maybe we'll see the same progression from this year's Hot Tubes class.

-An interesting race day nutritional option for those who just can't face another bowl of pasta: "Put a PowerBar choc gu in a coffee cup and then pore a shot of espresso over the top. Time prior to departure: when leaving out the door- Get your favourite flavour of PowerBar between two pieces of bread, or fruit toast and place in microwave for 30seconds. The PowerBar melts…this is soooo good." Courtesy of Mr. King.

-Speaking of Grand Prix alumni, it's good to see that Russel Downing who famously won on Mark Lombardi's old bike, has finally been offered a well-deserved ProTour contract with Team SKY. He's always been a good rider, but his performance in the final stage of this years Tour of Ireland was one of the best rides of the year. If you haven't seen it watch it here. Isolated and surrounded by a dozen other riders, he demonstrates that the best defense is a good offense.

-If you see Darren Dowling, ask him about the almost-crash-of-the-year he witnessed. It involved Brian Drea, a superman position, a sideways bike and a 20 foot slide.

-I want to buy a pair of new wheels this winter. I want Zipps - because no other wheel is as fast and well engineered - but scenes like this make me wince. It wasn't any one's fault, a moment of inattention was all it took. I'm now more than ever leaning towards a pair of handbuilts on Chris King hubs.

-Tony Gibbs wins teammate of the weekend award. My mental calculation has him being on the front for 95% of Sunday's crit. In the first half of the race he diligently chased down attacks when they happened. In the second half he set a pace fast enough to deter any attacks. It was an impressive show of force totally dedicated to his teammate's ambition. When the race was done he rolled across the line 30 seconds behind the leaders, content that he had done his job and his team had capitalized on it.

-Peter Dunne has made all of our lives more difficult. He's taken a (previously fun) B Group race, and recruited three teenagers with heart rates that go north of 200 and have a penchant for sprinting and attacking. Dominique got the wins this weekend and I won't be surprised to see him racing in A next year. Treshun and Marquise also showed impressive racing this weekend and with another winter of training can only get faster. Everyone take note and consider yourselves warned.

I don't think anyone would have expected this amount of success from the Berkley programme a year ago. It's incredible and I hope it only grows from here.

-I've already mentioned Garth and Brian, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the great ride that Mark Hatherly put in to hang with the best for as long as he did. He was taken out by a crash on Saturday, but really showed himself well on Sunday.

-Bikes have come a long way in the last ten years. You hardly ever see an aluminum rim under a PRO and almost all frames are carbon as if by fiat. It's amazing then that amongst PROs the one piece of bicycle equipment that has defied the never ending pursuit of lighter/stiffer is the saddle. Check out the saddle that Tom Barras is sporting. It's an old Concor.

-Sponsorship works. After seeing Tom ride wheels I'd never heard of - SL Carbons - I spent time on the web trying to find out more, and that's got to be worth something. They make two wheels, a 50mm carbon deep rim and a Mavic Comet knock-off. The website is pretty disappointing, and the product discription is brief to the point of making a Haiku seem wordy: "round, black and they have spokes." That's it. No weight. No commentary. Nothing. Still, at £595 with the ability to give them a trial run they're worth consideration.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Someone told me I must be crazy for writing that "the reality is that the roads here are pretty good." Argument ensued.

On discussing road quality I'm going to start with stating what they aren't: no cobble stones, no packed dirt, no pitch and seal, no tram tracks or railway crossings and very little traffic furniture. Going on to what we do have, I admit that W&E must have a fetish for re-paving roads to then turn around and trench them up, but the trench is just a couple of inches wide. Additionally, the Corporation of Hamilton may be the most inept group in Bermuda with their roads almost a physical manifestation of that. But really, how much riding to does anyone do in city limits? Finally, there are potholes on the island, but since I ride the same roads everyday I know where they all are and could almost ride around them blindfolded.

My main point at the time was that a bike needs a balance between being stiff and being comfortable. In most cases it’s either very stiff or comfortable. Except if you start getting into the $3,000+ frame territory where the engineering is so good that you get both. But those are pro bikes, meant for people who ride 1,000K a week on Belgian roads.

The roads here are fine for the most part and most people here only ride for 90 minutes at a time anyway so fatigues isn't a major concern. With that in mind I’d rather have the racy and stiff bike at the expense of comfort and save the money.

Saturday, September 5, 2009 is dead.

I love reading the news. Real news - The New York Times, The Economist, BBC - not online compilations. For reasons best explained here by Malcolm Gladwell, opinion is cheap. In depth and resource heavy reporting on the other hand is difficult and expensive. The benefit of the reporting is that the information acts as a check and balance and provides a social good. But newspapers are failing everywhere, usurped by information that apparently wants to be free. A world without good newspapers makes me nervous.

My passion for actual published news doesn't carry over to the cycling world, however. I've long thought that there was very little actual journalism in the traditional cycling publications and I unless I'm stuck in an airport I rarely buy magazines anymore. I'm thinking of Velo News, Cycling News and Bicycling in particular.

Their bike reviews are formulaic and reveal nothing insightful. Just have Chris Boardman or Marco Velo ride around somewhere beautiful and say "the bike was vertically stiff while being laterally compliant." Or, "when you step on the pedals the bike just accelerates without any bottom bracket flex." The problem is that they say this for all bikes, and the truth is that the $6,000 bikes they review don't need reviews: they are all nice. They're all unaffordable too, and don't provide any insight to what the average person looking to buy a bike may want to consider. It's just ripe for satire.

Secondly, their race reporting is terrible. Whatever race is up this month is the biggest race of the year even it's the Tour of Qatar. They then go on to to pick favorites that are beyond predictable. How can you justify getting paid for picking Cavendish in a bunch sprint or Cancellara in a TT? That's like picking England to not win the World Cup; it's a foregone conclusion. The real fun of race reporting is to pick the up and comers or the wildcards: Fuglsang at the Vuelta, Boasson Hagen at the Worlds, Brent Bookwalter or Dominique Rollin in the Spring Classics next year.

These two things - bike reviews and race reporting - should be the bread and butter of the official cycling publications. But they aren't. I've also noticed errors in reporting coming up. Two in today alone. 1, "Sanchez...his home Tour is the focus of his season by putting in the best time trial performance of his career to take sixth on Saturday's rainy test." Surely his best TT would have been when he won the final TT in 07 to snatch 3rd on GC from Evans. 2, "Pozzato...third in Paris-Roubaix." He was 2nd.

To make matters worse the websites of the all these publications have gotten progressively worse and navigable.

Luckily, unlike news that actually matters there's a wealth of sites that have filled the void. Foremost among all cycling writing is Red Kite Prayer, put together by the man responsible for the great BKW. For race predictions there is Pave, and then there is the everything site of Pez (with the accompanying Daily Distraction). Different medium, but Cervelo is offering some amazing insight into their team at, from Hausler trying to explain what it's like to lose San Remo by an inch or Sastre explaining why he pulled Deignan back from a break he was sure to win.

It'll be interesting in the next year to see if the major publications make their read more interesting or if they begin to fade away. In the mean time, I'm going to keep trying to offer a different perspective on things. Acknowledging that this site is far from perfect, it's also completely flexible so let me know if there is anything anyone would like to see reported more.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bavaria 8.6

There are undoubtedly better ways to spend the night before a hard ride than drinking, but none of them put you in the same win-win situation. Ride well and you can feel great in the knowledge that you did so in spite of last night. You're a killer seemingly immune to the affects of alcohol. Get dropped on the first acceleration, and well, of course you did, you're hung over. Don't beat yourself up over it.

In preparation of tomorrow's ride I'm having Bavaria 8.6 as my fuel of choice this week. The first time I bought this stuff was from the liquor store on Queen and Church. I asked the guy there if it was any good, "well, it's strong so we sell a lot of singles to them" pointing out the window towards the City Hall homeless crew. Not exactly a glowing review, but if it's good enough that they're making the switch from tried and trusted Heineken and Elephant I'm intrigued.

Initial reviews are that it's got legs. Too heavy a beer for the summer days perhaps, but come winter this could get revisited. It's not on the same level as a Leffe of Chimay - too sweet - but it's in the same family, more available here and cheaper. It's a Dutch beer, full flavored and strong. I'm thinking stews, roasts, generally anything slow cooked.

Update from next morning
This gives a severe and crippling hangover. Lesson learned.