Monday, June 28, 2010

The Search for Form, the Need for Speed and Economic Rationalisation

As I mentioned in an earlier post I am currently in the beginnings of a come back. When I will finally be back I cannot say, one thing is for sure though, it’s a long road.

Fitness is a strange concept which must be considered relative to the person striving for it. What I consider fitness may be very different to somebody who earns a living through cycling. Even the most mediocre professional cyclist is certainly going to be a lot fitter than most of us can hope to be but by the same token your average couch potato living a sedentary lifestyle would probably think that I was quite the athlete.

As I type this the rain is steadily beating down outside my window and the weather has turned decidedly Arctic (by Melbourne standards), there was once a time when I was so motivated I would have gone out in the rain and not even thought about it. Well over the years after a few too many wet, miserable training rides I started staying indoors when I could see that precipitation was imminent, as the old saying goes “rain drops, bike stops”. Somehow I don’t think Eddy Merckx ever heard of this saying. Sorry Eddy but it’s the rollers for me today.

We all find motivation in different ways, one thing that certainly enthuses me is new gear. Unfortunately I’m not well connected enough to have people throwing swag at me (unlike some other bloggers) so with this in mind I have embarked on a quest to purchase some new race wheels. I’m not going to mention any brand names but my current race wheels (a popular French mark) are over five years old and even though there is nothing wrong with them consumer culture dictates that I must upgrade to the latest greatest product. Don’t you just love being referred to as a consumer in the media? We’re not even people or citizens anymore, just consumers. I think it was Eddy Merckx who said “ride up grades don’t buy upgrades”, with that attitude its no wonder he sold his bicycle business. Apologies again Eddy.

Of course like most people in the market for bike related items my first point of call was the internet and I did what I normally do when shopping for anything. I went straight to the top of the range. All of my equipment is pretty high standard so I’m not going to ruin the aesthetic of my beautiful Italian made machine with cheap Chinese carbon am I?
As I perused the pages of an English online bicycle retailer I came across a German brand used by many top professionals, I was astonished to find that a pair of their top of the range wheels was going to cost me a whopping $6265.00 (Australian). I don’t doubt the quality of their product but does the extra speed they give me really justify their cost? Would they really be an investment in my cycling future? I doubt it. Anyway for that sort of money I could get myself to Belgium and race for about six weeks.

Next I visited my local bike shop which is something of a weekly habit for me. The social atmosphere and relaxed attitudes of the proprietors keeps me coming back, they always seem to have a funny story to tell and the service is also better than any website too. When I got there the owner was helping out a fixed gear ruffian who was looking for some deep section track wheels for the early 80’s department store ten speed he was converting (apparently he was going to grind off the pannier mounts and cable guides). He walked away satisfied with his purchase and I’m sure the finished build is going to look great in whichever pastel colour he was going to paint it. I then learned that the retail price on a very nice pair of Italian race wheels was around the $5000.00 mark, cheaper for me because I’m such a great guy. I must say I am quite taken by these race wheels. I call them race wheels but I continually see people out “training” with them on a popular beach front road frequented by local cyclists. My guess is they do it for the show off factor or a keeping up with the Joneses type scenario. Whatever makes you happy I suppose but in my opinion such nice wheels should be kept somewhere safe and only see the light of day when you intend pinning a number on your back.

In any case I still can’t afford the price so it looks like I will be sticking with my old wheels for a while longer. More research is in order but as I will be going away on a short country holiday this week (not a secret training camp) the research will have to wait till I get back.

I’ll keep you posted.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Greetings cycling fans, with another blockbuster Giro behind us (one day everyone will wake up to the fact that it has always been more exciting than its bigger Gallic cousin) and as the days get shorter and colder (in my part of the world at least), it only serves to remind me that the Tour de France is just around the corner.

Not to long ago this was a time of joyful expectation, waiting for the evening highlights of a race which was the only cycling event which existed according to mainstream media. Alas things have changed since then and the sport is easily accessible to anyone who might be curious. Well it’s still a time of expectation for me but for different reasons. You see over the years as interest in the sport has slowly increased I have noticed a pattern. I’m waiting, waiting for the next doping scandal to break.

Of course we have already had Floyd Landis finally coming clean (after years of denial) about his doping experiences and consequently slinging mud in every direction to see where it might stick. When the story came out during the Tour of California I started to think why didn’t he wait till before the TDF? Of course soon after the Landis mud slinging Lance Armstrong had a nasty fall and had to abandon the race. According to some conspiracy theorists this was a clever ploy to avoid the media and there was even the suggestion of fake blood capsules being used by LA to feign the bloody facial injuries he received as a result of the crash! Well done to Floyd for finally coming clean, it would have taken a whole lot of guts. I just wish he had have done that from the start, he may have still had a career as a top cyclist if he did.

Soon after this came the Fabian Cancellara moto doping story.


Of course Fabian has now set the record straight and told us that the only engine he uses is inside him. Which I’m sure will only fuel even more bionic themed conspiracy theories.

The most recent (and my favourite) moto doping scandal is of course the Tom Boonen rodent assisted race wheel, which left one cycling pundit asking “Is the hamster doped?”

It seems that every year just before the TDF begins with all of us looking forward to the spectacle of the race somebody comes out with another doping scandal. I was musing over the issue the other day (that’s what I do) while out training (I call it training but really I was just out wasting time on my bike) and I think I have it worked out.
In my part of the world if you rely on mainstream media outlets for coverage of cycling you could be excused for thinking that the sport doesn’t exist outside the month of July. I’m sure cycling isn’t alone in this aspect, many fans of other world class sports must be going through the same conundrum as I am. Of course I can’t tell you which sports these people are fans of because I rely on mainstream media for my sports coverage so they may as well not exist too.

After not reporting on a sport for most of the year all of a sudden the TDF looms large on the horizon and some of our friends in the media realise they had better start showing an interest. Of course a good old scandal can sell plenty of newspapers so why not jump on the first negative story that comes along to feed the once a year interest most people show towards cycling and whip up a few sales.

In my corner of the world many people follow a certain local code of football. Now I’m not really a fan of this code of football, in fact I’m not really much of a sports fan at all apart from cycling. Just because I’m not a fan it doesn’t mean that I have anything against the sport or its fans, people can enjoy playing or viewing any sport they like.
However I do find part of this football codes anti doping policy very hard to swallow. I was astonished to find out that under the league's three strikes drugs policy a player who tests positive remains anonymous unless he returns three positive tests in a four-year period! At first I thought it was a joke but I did some digging and apparently it’s true. I singled out my local code of football because thanks to the amount of media coverage it gets it’s almost impossible to avoid it. When quizzed on the leagues testing regime one player mused… "I got tested a heap … I reckon in the last year-and-a-half I was playing I would have been tested over a dozen times".

How can one sport be so lackluster in its attitude to anti doping while another sport like cycling can stop somebody from competing for failing to notify the anti doping establishment of their whereabouts? Remember when Michael Rasmussen was ejected from the TDF? He failed to report his whereabouts  and was unavailable for testing in the lead up to the 2007 TDF which led to him receiving a recorded warning from the UCI. The Danish cycling union then decided to ban Rasmussen in lieu of missed drug tests during this period. Rasmussen said: "I do admit that I've committed an administrative error. I was informed of this at the Danish championship two and a half weeks ago, so it's no news... It might be a surprise that it comes out right now.” Rasmussen copped a two year ban and never even tested positive. Some might think that it may have been to harsh a penalty but I think you will all agree that it does a lot more for the anti doping cause than a three strikes policy.

I know that you might be thinking that I am all for the cycling “omerta” which is far from the case. Doping is a subject that needs to be discussed, athletes need to be encouraged to come clean to help the effort to clean up the sport. Anti doping authorities can learn much from those who have been cheating and getting away with it. Like it or not doping is a part of all professional sports. I am all for a cleaner sport and improved testing. I also think that doping cases need to be reported as they arise, fairly, and not selectively as seems to be happening. Sensationalism in the media has the power to hurt the sport we love and I don’t think any of us want to see that.
All sports need to work together to have a common standard towards doping. The problem is with plenty of corporate dollars being thrown at professional sports the sponsors want to see a return on their investment. To give them that return the sport needs to attract more fans for the sponsors to advertise to. Sponsors do not want to see a drug scandal. I suspect that some sports minimal efforts towards doping control help minimise the bad press they receive when another role model athlete goes positive. Why would parents want there child involved in a sport if that sports athletes are going positive every other week? What do they say to little Jonny when the supposedly clean living, healthy role model on their kids bedroom wall gets banned for taking veterinary products?

I think cycling is suffering because of its strong stance on doping. Im sure you have all experienced those moments when a non cycling fan hears you talking about a race and says “cycling, all those guys in the tour take drugs don’t they?” Sometimes it feels like ours is the only sport in the world with a doping problem (a reported one anyway). If only all the professional sporting associations could get together and decide on a level of control which they all adhere to. Of course there is next to no chance of this ever happening.

Incidentally you may be curious to know that there is a common factor in the Cancellara moto doping and the Rasmussen story. Retired Italian professional cyclist Davide Cassani.

Cassani works as a cycling commentator on Italian TV these days, that’s him presenting the moto doping story and telling us that he could win a stage of the Giro at 50 years of age if he had a such bike. Incidentally Cassani won 2 Giro di Italia stages of his own in 1991 and 1992. It was also Cassani who reported that he had seen Rasmussen training in Italy in June 2007 unfortunately for Rasmussen the schedule he submitted to the UCI had him in Mexico at that time.

Oh well I might just go back to waiting for the next scandal.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Autumnal meanderings

I went on my favourite easy two hour ride this morning, the cold morning air and thick cloud cover gave the morning that still “European” feeling to it.

While I was cruising down a short descent on an undulating road popular with local cyclists I was passed by a rider in full Live Strong regalia thrashing away as he was tucked onto his clip on aero bars. Whenever I see somebody descending past me on aero bars it makes me shake my head in disbelief (and gently apply my brakes). I watched as he slowly gained distance with his daredevil downhill plunge half expecting him to hit an unexpected dip in the road at any moment which would send him flying, thankfully this didn’t happen.

I continued on at my own leisurely pace. I was around 20 metres behind him when he looked over his shoulder to see if I had decided to take up the chase. Of course I hadn’t and wouldn’t, if I had wanted to get involved in some kind of tough guy half wheeling slug fest I would have gone for a ride with a particular friend of mine (we all have one) but as it happens it was Thursday and I just wanted to enjoy an easy cruise. Of course the inevitable happened and as I was half way up the next short hill (still cruising at my own comfortable pace) I caught him. I rode by at 20kmph as he wrestled with his aero bars and started changing (mashing) gears in an attempt to slot into my slipstream. I’m not sure how much of a slipstream I was creating at 20kmph, obviously not enough because the sound his steam train like breathing, creaking bottom bracket, jingling tools, clicking gears and mucked up chain faded off into the distance behind me. I make it a point never to look over my shoulder when I pass someone in these types of situations, doing so is akin to making eye contact with a crazy person on public transport. It’s a validation for them to begin some sort of discourse with you. In this case the discourse is a race. I am actually all for chatting to strangers out training if you both happen to be headed the same way and are travelling at the same pace and are both in the same non racing frame of mind.

I rolled along enjoying the beginnings of the day as it unfolded around me but in the back of my mind I knew what was going to happen, sure enough before too long the steam train breathing and the unpleasant sound of a poorly maintained bicycle was looming behind me. Mr Live Strong was on my wheel. I remember thinking please, please just leave me alone, I don’t want to be anywhere near you let alone race you. Just leave me in peace! I had set out with no intention of going outside my comfort zone but I found myself so agitated that I could think of nothing else but riding away from this guy. Then the internal conflict began.

Option 1: If I ride away from him (however effortless I may try and make it look) it may confirm (in his mind) that we are engaging in some sort of race thereby swindling myself out of my easy ride.

Option 2: Let him past and wait for him to ride away till I can continue unmolested thus altering my planned uncomplicated morning ride, in doing so it may also give him the impression that we are racing and even worse that he is winning!

I was in a quandary, either way I was entering into a situation which was ruinous to my intended solo meditative training ride. These days I struggle to maintain some sort of training routine and it bothers me when outside factors force me to deviate from it. Excitement is for Tuesday and Wednesday mornings not Thursday!  It was then that the answer came to me.

I turned left and took a detour. Thankfully he didn’t follow.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The big comeback

For many years cycling has been a large part of my life. As you will all know just like partying it can be a very time demanding pastime. To compete at any level you need to dedicate time to training, sometimes (depending on the training) you may also need to dedicate time to recovering (just like partying). Ever tried going to a social function after five hours in the hills? You know what I’m talking about.

I’m about to get introspective now (apologies). Sometimes I get the urge to be normal, you know, sleep in on the weekends, spend time with friends and family and wake up at a normal hour instead of at ridiculous o’clock to get a cheeky hour and a half in before work. I’m sure its genetic and sometime soon the gene that causes this urge for normality will be identified. Locked Neucleic Acids can then be used to shut down the gene (I saw it on the internet) and hey presto we have a way to treat this indolence inducing condition (I wonder what the UCI stance on this is?). Until that day I will just have to take time off from cycling to recharge my batteries from time to time. Please feel free to use this as an excuse every time somebody asks you why you didn’t show up for a training ride. “I have a genetic condition”.

Well for me this week marks roughly four months off the bike due to my debilitating genetic condition. With all the effervescence of the spring classics and Giro still bubbling around me I have decided that it’s about time I started training again. Who could forget Bjorn Leukemans gesticulating in frustration when he was unable to hold onto Fabian Cancellaras wheel in Paris Roubaix? Surely one of the defining images of vulnerability and frustration in modern times (for Leukemans at least). Ah, new found inspiration thanks to the exploits of those super stars of the road (we all want to ride people off our wheel like Fabian).

With my newfound motivation I have been timidly venturing out for some slow easy rides. Reality hits pretty quickly when you have had four months off the bike without any exercise. Weakness, pain, an overall feeling of flimsiness, a little nausea, dry cough. I typed these symptoms into an online self diagnoses website and apparently I have the flu every time I go for a ride! I suppose I will have to take a few days off to get over it.

What a setback.