Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cycling and TV...a winning combination

Well that's it. It's all over. No I'm not referring to popular Australian "reality TV" (is that an oxymoron?) show "Master Chef" which concluded over the weekend. For the blissfully unaware this is the program which was considered so important by its network and fans that the nationally televised federal election debate was postponed so as not to interfere with its time slot. Okay so I don't like it, so just don't watch it right? Wrong! What offends me the most is that this programs marketing campaign has reached saturation point with its logo found on every second item on supermarket shelves, from fresh produce to dry goods, you cant even walk down the street without seeing a billboard or poster promoting it and forget about opening a news paper. Enough is enough, the more I see it the more determined I become to not support it in any way. If you are from my part of the world then you know what I'm talking about and if you don't know then just consider yourselves lucky.

Of course the other must see television event which concluded over the weekend was the Tour de France. No real surprises with the end result although Schleck losing the race by the same amount of time he lost to Contador in the "chaingate" incident has me wishing both riders finished the three week tour on the same time, it certainly would have caused a stir.

With the tour over many of us in non cycling crazy countries will be lamenting the absence of daily race coverage and articles in the mainstream print media, yes its back to the good old Internet for your secret fix (don't you feel dirty?) of the sport which to most people only exists in the month of July. All the bike shops are now busily taking down the signage advertising their Tour de France sales, as if they were Christmas decorations in February. At least my sleep patterns can return to normal again.

All this talk about reality TV and cycling has me thinking about the time I spent in countries where cycling is a major sport and not looked upon as some sort of novelty news item, with your average person on the street in those countries having a pretty good knowledge of who is who and which race they won. In fact the racers are so popular that they are household names and sometimes end up on TV programmes themselves. I would like to share with you some examples of the quality programing featuring cyclists which can be found on TV in Europe.

Lets start in Italy where you may have seen Claudio Chiappucci on a programme called "L'Isola dei Famosi", which is like an Italian crossover of "Survivor" and the enthralling "I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here". Il Diabolo really nailed the physical challenges but sadly couldn't take out the competition of Italian C and D grade celebrities and finished a respectable 3rd.

Here he is drinking from a coconut .
Here he strains to hold up a what looks like a Gilligan's Island style barbell.

Most of you would probably know about Mario Cippolini's appearance on "Balando Con Le Stelle" or "Dancing With The Stars" a few years ago.

If you missed it go here to see a clip of Mario learning to dance. A dance aficionado and cycling friend of mine who saw the show told me that Mario didn't really display the same supplesse on the dance floor as he did on his bike.

1996 was a great year for Italian cheese and I'm not talking about grana padano. Marco Pantani thrilled us with his racing exploits throughout the 90’s but injury had him sidelined during 1996 and prevented him from competing in that years edition of the Giro d’ Italia, a Giro that was arguably designed for Marco to win. Now back in those days a Giro without Pantani was like a caprese salad without basil but the tifosi wouldnt need to go without because in that year that the late Marco Pantani sang the theme song which preceded the daily coverage of  Giro d Italia. Watch the clip below to see part of the legacy this great champion left behind, it will only make you miss him even more.

As far as cycling mad countries go you really cant go past the Belgians for taking the interest they have in their riders that little bit too far. So far in fact that a few of them actually have their own television shows.

After his retirement from a long and illustrious career in cycling Eddy Planckaert couldn’t stay out of the public eye and allowed a TV crew to document the daily life of his large and somewhat eccentric family (he had fallen on lean times and needed the money). The show ran for an incredible 12 years and was only recently shelved.

If cyclocross is more your thing then you might like to watch another Belgian hit TV series "Wellens en Wee". The program is basically a documentary which revolves around cross star Bart Wellens, his family and team. Go along for the ride and see for yourself what happens during the cross season in Belgium. You can see some of the funnier moments, team roughhousing and practical jokes here, just follow the prompt to the VT4 website where you can watch full episodes (if your Flemish is up to it). The program is a pretty good insight as to how popular the sport of cyclocross really is in Belgium with plenty of drunken fans partying in the mud as they watch the racing and some occasional goofing around from Bart and his team mates to lighten the mood.

Still on the cyclocross theme and once again in Belgium “Mr Paris Roubaix” Roger De Vlaeminck also entered the world of reality TV with his program “Allez Allez Zimbabwe”. The basic premise is that the “Gypsy” turns talent scout and coach for young Zimbabwean cyclists and brings them to Belgium for some hard Flemish lessons in suffering to help prepare them for the world championships, and suffer they do. After all their hard as nails coach used to train up to 400km in one day leading up to Paris Roubaix, an event he won an unequalled four times..
Unfortunately for Roger his young charges seem more interested in the local nightlife and chasing girls instead of training. Never the less the young Africans were very popular with the fans and the program was a hit. See how they perform here.

One of the cultural nuances of Belgium is that even though its a small country you can go for a 20 minute drive and end up in a region or city that speaks a different dialect or indeed a different language. If you watch any of the linked film clips above you may be interested to see that even though everyone is speaking Flemish the programs are still subtitled in you guessed it, Flemish.


Today I want mention a subject most cyclists don't want to hear about. Getting hit by a car, the mere mention of it puts my stomach in a knot but unfortunately its something some of us will have to deal with at some point. I'm not going to go on and on about riding safely and your rights on the road. I'm just going to give you one piece of advice. If you get hit and you go down, even if you're okay, stay down. Don't get up, as soon as you do anybody who saw it will assume you are okay and drive on. When that car fails to give way or turns in front of you it helps to have witnesses to back you up . In my experience people generally wont stop unless they have seen something pretty serious. So stay down for a while, get some names and don't give the driver at fault any chance of getting away with it.

I don't really want to end this post on such a serious subject so here's a mildly amusing Belgian TV ad featuring Roger De Vlaeminck, Eddy Planckaert and Freddy Maertens hamming it up for some advertising dollars.

Ride sensibly everyone.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Getting The Most Out Of Stage 17 & Your Shorts

Excited by the prospect of spectacular racing I managed to stay awake for last nights Tour De France coverage which featured the long awaited stage 17 finish atop the Col Du Tourmalet. I was amazed by the tenacity of Andy Schleck as he applied the pressure on the final climb which unhinged everyone but Contador. The savage accelerations I was hoping to see didn’t really eventuate, until Contador made his one and only attempt at breaking Schleck which only caused Schleck ride across and then stare down Contador as he drew level with him.

My heart was in my mouth as I expected one of the many lunatic spectators to cause a crash and ruin the stage at any moment, thankfully this didn’t happen and both riders made it to the finish with Contador not contesting the sprint to the line. I was a little disappointed as what I was hoping was going to be a lesson in vicious brutality turned out to be more like this. The only real slap dancing came after the finish when Contador got all touchy feely with Schlecks face.

If you missed the action or you want to relive the tension you can see highlights by heading over to the sponsored link to the right. For me the ride of the day was by Carlos Sastre who in an all out, last ditch bid for a podium finish in Paris tried to ride across to the breakaway, which eventually extended its lead to an eight minute gap. It was a planned move as Sastre’s team mate Konovalovas was already waiting off the front of the peloton to help him. In some kind of strange irony after the controversy of “chaingate” Contador himself tried to stop Sastre from going on the attack because the current holder of third place overall Samuel Sánchez had fallen and was being paced back to the peloton. Here’s part of what Sastre had to say about it post stage;

“I’ve fallen in this Tour, I fell in the Italian Giro d’Italia, I’ve had technical problems and no-one ever waited for me.”
“I think we’re turning cycling into a sport for spoilt brats and that is what happens in these kinds of circumstances.”

All I can say is thank you Carlos for a brave effort which animated the stage and had me shouting at the TV while urging you on instead of falling asleep like I normally would, I even spilled some beer.

Of course if it was the Giro then there would have been another three mountain stages with a mountain time trial thrown in for good measure for us to enjoy. I can’t help having the feeling that this Tour de France is now over and I may as well stop watching.

I’m constantly surprised at people’s lack of hygiene when it comes to their cycling kit. Having filthy kit is not befitting of a gentleman racer and in the case of your shorts can lead to more serious problems than people on your bunch ride talking about how much you stink. It’s true, I’ve heard them.

Let’s start with your salt encrusted helmet. Wash those crusty straps with some shampoo while you are in the shower, do the same to the inside of the helmet and if you want to give it the deluxe wash then remove the inner pads and run them through your washing machine. Say no to a reeking helmet!

Onto clothing now, for pity’s sake don’t try and get more than one wear out of your clothing, once you take it off it goes in the wash. That goes for your gloves too! If you want your cycling gear to last longer then don’t leave it in a sweaty pile for days and days before you wash it, the salt in your sweat will deteriorate the fabric especially your shorts. If you want your shorts to last for years then you can hand wash them, if that sounds like too much trouble then do what I do and put them in a mesh bra bag before they go in the wash, this prevents them coming into contact with zips, buttons or any other abrasive items/surfaces inside your washing machine. Now that your gear is nice and clean you need to dry it, once again if you want it to last then don’t put it in the clothes dryer and avoid hanging it in the sun when possible. I know it might sound pedantic but all these things really make a difference to the life of your clothing.

One more note on worn out clothing. Please don’t be one of those people I see riding around with the seat worn out of their shorts exposing their rear ends for all to see, where I’m from we call them porno shorts. Throw the bloody things away!

Ride safe and have a great weekend.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gifts & Bonus Knowledge!

Everybody loves presents and I’m no exception, so last night when I arrived home after a tough day at the coal face and my sweetheart told me she had a gift for me I was thrilled. At first I thought it might be that Lancia Fulvia 1.6 HF I have been asking for (what better way to turn up to a race) but when she handed me a heavy square object wrapped in brown paper I knew it wasn’t one of those. My first guess was that it was an industrial sized block of Belgian chocolate, which would have pleased me greatly, but it was better than that, it was this…

I spent half the night poring over its pages with child like wonderment before eventually retiring to bed much later than I normally would.

Usually I need to go through a complex routine which eventually gets me out of bed and on the road but this morning, thanks to the thoughtful and inspiring gift I received the night before I awoke feeling somewhat motivated to go for a ride and leaped out of bed and into my matching kit, which I had laid out the night before to spare my beloved any shambolic rummaging around in the dark wee hours.

I’m pleased to report that the missing cyclists I have mentioned in previous posts have miraculously re appeared. With yesterdays rest day in the Tour de France I suppose these people managed a full nights sleep and were keen to ride again. It was nice to get a friendly good morning from another happy person getting their morning fix of “cyclocise”. It’s only a matter of time before somebody uses that word to market a spinning class or similar activity. Remember you saw it here first.

In any case it was good to see people were properly attired for the cold and slightly damp conditions, under dressing is a pet hate of mine.
I then came across a scene that no matter how many times I see it never fails to amaze me. I try and pick out a beautiful moment every day and today I thought this was mine.

It makes me happy every time I see this scene and it’s not because of schadenfreude. It just reminds me how lucky I am to have an alternative to sitting in that queue of traffic every working day. The thing that has me vexed is that many of these people who are sitting passively in their cars stuck in the unavoidable peak hour traffic may be the same people who throw things at, yell abuse at or threaten with violence you or I while we ride our bikes every day. What causes a person to be driven to abusive behaviour because a cyclist held them up for 10 seconds and yet the same person sits submissively in traffic for considerably longer without as much as a word? Shouldn’t this photo be full of hostile people leaping out of their cars and accosting the others around them? I just have to console myself with the fact that most people are pretty considerate and that’s something we should all acknowledge with a friendly wave when we see it, whether we are on our bikes or in our cars. I couldn’t dwell on the subject for too long because as I was about to continue on my way I was distracted by this.

New Knowledge Section!

One of the daunting things about cycling is that there is just so much to learn. Sometimes the most obvious things can make a world of difference to your pleasure, fitness and or comfort. You may have been riding for 30 years but I’ll wager you will still be learning. So from now on whenever I post I will be including a little piece of the knowledge I picked up along the way. Some of it you will already know but bare in mind that there are people out there who are just starting cycling and need some guidance. I don’t pretend to be an expert but I have been riding for a long time and like I said, you never stop learning.

You may have noticed that it doesn’t need to be raining to end up with wet feet, all you need is a wet road. Wearing socks over your shoes can help but there is nothing worse than that moment when the cold water finally seeps through your shoes and hits you toes, to avoid this the best thing to do is to get yourself some decent shoe covers, prices vary and generally as with most things you get what you pay for. Don’t be afraid to buy the expensive ones you wont believe how you went without them once you try them and a good pair will give you years of service. Of course they will only keep the pouring rain out for so long and eventually the water will seep through but at least shoe covers or booties as some people call them will delay this from happening. The added bonus to wearing shoe covers is that your shoes will also stay clean. People have been known to put plastic bags inside their shoes in an attempt to keep their feet dry, I wouldn’t recommend it, your feet end up soaked in sweat and eventually the water will seep in at your ankles anyway. Of course regardless of how prepared you are every now and then you will end up getting home with wet shoes, if you want them to dry before the next mornings ride pull out the inner soles and stuff your shoes with news paper this will soak up the moisture. Change the paper a few times over the evening (4 or 5 times) and hey presto, wearable shoes in the morning.

I’m off to buy some beer and snacks now for tonight’s Tourmalet stage of the Tour de France. I'm really looking forward to some good honest smackfest racing from the favourites as they try and break each other.

Here’s hoping its entertaining.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Magic Of Television & We Have A Villain

As is traditional for me I once again fell asleep during last nights coverage (Australian time) of the TDF. I know you are probably thinking its acceptable to fall asleep at midnight after a long day which began with an early morning ride followed by a full days work but there is more to it. My cycling induced narcolepsy goes much deeper, I even fall asleep in the middle of the day when watching recorded races. Its the same every time, with about 50km left to go I doze off only to wake up after the race has been won and the winner is standing on the podium. Sound familiar? I put it down to the background noise of the helicopter. That gentle droll must be at just the right pitch to induce a relaxing sleep.

Why would they need a microphone in the helicopter anyway? It's distance from whatever is happening on the road and the noise of the engine surely negates any reason for a microphone being there. Does it somehow add to our viewing pleasure? Are we to imagine ourselves as VIP's watching the drama of the race unfolding from high above, while we swill local wines and discuss the regional cheese? Brace yourselves people because I'm about to blow this deception wide open.... Its a sound effect, the coverage is full of them.

When the coverage crosses to the action on the road, if you listen very carefully to the sound of the motor bike you will notice somebody cheering in the background, the same cheering is repeated around every five seconds even when there are no roadside spectators... That's right, somewhere in a little booth there is a guy at a sound effects panel doing his best to make us feel like we are rolling along with the bunch or in the break. I wish I hadn't noticed it but I did and I cant un-notice it now. The breathtaking pictures we receive are more than enough to satisfy me, must they sully them with indigestible garnish? Why does our wonderful sport have to be ruined by lies?

Of course the issue Du Jour everyone seems to have their chamois in a knot over was the conduct of that yellow jersey thieving Spaniard. Predictably I was sound asleep as the drama unfolded and had to watch the highlights when I arose from my helicopter sound effect induced slumber, and what great highlights they were. I could see the larcenous intent in Contador’s eyes as he and that devious Kazakh sped away while poor Andy took what seemed like forever to get his chain back on and get moving again.

Of course unlike pretty much every other sport on the planet, in cycling if you’re a favourite in a race and the leader of that race (your opponent) has an inopportune mishap, you are expected to be chivalrous and dally unhurriedly, pending your foes rejoining the mêlée. Can you imagine this happening in Formula One or Pigeon Racing? Of course not. But in cycling as well as Omerta, there is also an unwritten rule that you wait for the yellow jersey in the event of a mishap. Here’s what poor Andy had to say about it.

Incidentally If you love controversy you should read about what happened to Nicholas Roche on stage 15.

I do feel for poor Andy, Contador fans are  saying Andy didn’t exactly wait for Berto during the cobbled high jinx of stage three did he? In fact he and his shifty Swiss team-mate put as much time as they could into their rivals, remember? That shady Australian was there too.

Are we all missing something? Obviously there must be a point in a grand tour after which etiquette dictates that you must wait for an incapacitated rival. We must be close to that cusp as opinion seems to be divided over Contador’s controversial manoeuvre. Evidently stage three was nowhere near that point because when Andy didn’t wait for Berto nobody mentioned any unwritten rules, but then again Berto wasn't wearing yellow at the time. These things really should be workshopped before the race just so everyone is on the same page, it would save so much endless cycling chat room banter.

Sometimes the viewing public needs a villain to generate a little more interest in the sport. In wrestling jargon the villain is known as the "heel". I'm not saying that the race organisers manufactured the the whole sordid affair to generate more interest but....

I’m not going to give you my opinion on the matter, the media is full of dedicated pundits offering their specialist analysis on the occurrence and I’m certainly no expert (you should have waited Berto). I only really watch the TDF to see the low budget television commercials for local bike shops anyway.
For entertainments sake, let your legs do the talking Andy and bring on the Tourmalet.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Micro Dose Post

As the title suggests just a shortish post from me today. Welcome back from a weekend of high investment, low return Tour de France viewing. I know, I’m being harsh but the smackfest slap dance  I predicted between Schleck and Contadorrrr (you have to roll the R) didn’t really eventuate, with the Spaniard opting to just test the water and see how the Luxembourgian would cope. Well it seems he coped just fine and surprisingly the two then decided to get all retrograde while marking each other in a “I don’t care who wins this race as long as its not you” type scenario, I was half expecting those two to stop for ice cream while the other contenders pushed on which allowed Sanchez and Menchov to steal back a little time. We may have to wait until the stage 17 finish atop the Col du Tourmalet before we see Contadorrr digging really deep in a final attempt to break Schleck or Schleck doing the same in attempt to increase his lead before the final time trial (I wish it was a Cyclo Cross stage).

The most exiting aspect of the weekend for me was that one reader (I think there are about five of you) alerted me to the Ned Flanders flag footage from way back on stage three. My advice is get it while its hot because Tour organisers ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) seem to be forcing youtube to pull the snippets of TDF coverage fans have been posting. It’s always surprising how various cycling related organisations seem to do their best to stop their events becoming more popular by stopping fans from doing something that can only promote the event to a wider audience. I’m reminded of a local incident where a rider experienced the long arm of pointless bureaucracy, he was pulled from an event being held at a motor racing venue when one of the officialdom noticed that said rider was using a small helmet mounted camera. When the rider questioned the ruling the genius who pulled him from the race quoted some vague reference to a “non endorsed technical aid!” Of course the rider was left with no option but to say. “Huh? How is a camera helping me?” The officialdom then changed their tune and decided that it hazily related to issues involving liability insurance. Clearly we are living in Bizarro World because you would think that the race organisers, sponsors and governing body would be happy with a little incidental coverage to a couple of hundred local people who wanted to see themselves or their friends/family racing bikes on their computer screens. Pointless bureaucracy, it will be the end of us all. In any case thanks for making the life of people trying to enjoy and promote your event that little bit harder ASO.

Perhaps ASO borrowed Armstrong's web scouring team of legal eagles for the job. Fellow blogger Joe Papp has certainly experienced the all seeing eye of Lance. After posting some facts and opinion on the subject of doping Joe had the feeling he was being watched

Now you can call me paranoid if you like but since posting a remark about LA’s disgraceful choice in racing socks, I have been noticing a black helicopter which seems to be following me around when I’m training. There was also an ice cream truck with a suspicious looking satellite dish parked across from my home last night, when I went to investigate more closely it then sped off down the street. I think they're onto me, I may have to lay low until the heat blows over.

Friday, July 16, 2010

TDF Update & Mafia Run, Death Race

Well it looks like the Tour de France has come down to a two horse race and while fans of Cadel Evans lament his fall from the leader board due to injury, fans of smackfest racing are going to revel in the frenzy of attacks from Schleck and Contador as they try and break each other to pieces. Personally I’m giddy with excitement as I think about what Alberto Contador will have to do in the Pyrenees if he is to gain some time on Schleck and win the TDF. Hopefully they can both stay on their bikes until then so we can enjoy the inevitable hit out. Its going to be like two German slap dancers smacking themselves silly for our entertainment and when it comes to slap dancing cyclists there’s only one guy I think of.
We also saw the dramatic and controversial ejection of Australian Mark Renshaw after his tussle with Kiwi hard man Julian Dean (the toughest Julian I know of). Now the question on everybody’s lips is can Cavandish win stages without his lead out man. Only time will tell.

I think perhaps the officialdom reacted a little too strongly to the whole event, if you want to see how its done in the animal kingdom go here (safe for work).

Now back to more local issues. This morning I pulled on my tallest, whitest, well branded over socks and spent a little more time than usual adjusting my matching kit before I hit the road. Why? I hear you ask. I wanted to look suitably resplendent in case I may have bumped into Bennati, Visconti, Paolini and Pippo Pozzato who were enjoying Melbourne/Geelong and the surrounds while they reconnoitred the 2010 world championship circuit.

Sadly I didn’t bump into them and so I cant pass on the grooming tips I was hoping to learn from some of the most preened riders in the pro peloton, apparently Visconti failed to bring all of his matching kit as he thought he wouldn't need any legwarmers with Australia's warm climate. Naturally if I had bumped into them I would have berated him loudly in Italian for not showing the attention to detail befitting of an Italian champion, whilst gesticulating wildly with my hands. Frankly I'm surprised the others allowed him to ride with them. In my search for them I did however spot this salon which may be able to help with yours and my styling needs.
                                          No he wasn't there either.
I then ended up somewhere other than Beach Road, where I engaged in more of the character building efforts I mentioned a few posts ago. I was pleased to find that my hard work seems to be paying off as I was a little stronger/fitter this morning. I know this not because I use expensive electronic gadgetry but because I tasted less bile than I did during my last session.

The curious phenomenon I noticed last time I rode this once popular training and commuting route was again evident. Where are all the cyclists? Previously I put it down to everyone having a late night watching the Tour but with no Australians or Lance in contention for the overall I really did expect to see a few more people out enjoying the mild morning air. Something is up, I’m getting suspicious. Is the same thing happening everywhere? Is anyone else out there having the same experience? I kept thinking of what Tyler Hamilton said about the cycling mafia.
“I’m still scarred. I’m not the same person I was before, that’s for sure. It’s kind of sad to say it, but after everything I’ve been through, I don’t think I can be the same person. A lot of things happened to me that people don’t know about, and until I write a book someday, won’t know about. There are a lot of bad people out there who have done some bad things to me. Cycling … I think it’s everywhere, but there is a mafia in cycling. That’s pretty much all I’ll say about it, I’ll probably get banned from a race if I say any more, but there is a mafia out there.”

I’m getting serious visions of “Triplets of Bellville” (a must see movie for any cycling fan). Could truth be stranger than fiction? Could there actually be a mafia run gambling ring where punters bet on a race to the death style competition supplied with kidnapped cyclists? I was thinking about the possibility of it all being true while riding down that quiet lonely road when I Inadvertently stumbled upon some sort of balloon bunch ride.
Maybe this is what everybody is doing? Could cycling's popularity as "the new golf" be over? Could hot air ballooning be taking over as the next new craze? I can just imagine those fixed gear ruffians cobbling together balloons with their mothers old curtains, a washing basket and an old BBQ.

Ride safe and have a great weekend.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Giro vs Tour of California, Your Questions Answered.

A while back I made an offhand statement pertaining to the fact that in my opinion the Giro has always been a much better race than its bigger Gallic cousin the Tour de France. My observation whet the interest of at least one reader who alerted me to a comment made by Lance Armstrong during the Tour of California. The anonymous reader asks, “what are your thoughts on what Lance Armstrong said recently claiming the Giro is becoming insignificant compared to the rise of the Tour of California?”

Thanks for your comment/question anonymous. Let me begin by saying that to me the Tour de France is the busty blonde bimbo with plenty of "upgrades" who your male friends lust after, while the Giro d' Italia is the natural brunette beauty with plenty of substance who you want marry and spend the rest of your days with. I think that makes the Tour of California the incredibly drunk forty something I saw on her hands and knees, missing one shoe, wearing a cheap taffeta dress, with a friend holding her hair back as she vomited in the gutter after the Melbourne cup last year. Now I don't even want to think about what that makes my local club criterium!

What may have motivated LA to make such a seemingly absurd remark? Of course the simple answer is that for good reason professional sportspeople are always doing their best to keep fans and sponsors happy. But here at Cyclingmuse we like to dig deeper…

Let’s look at the fans first. I’m no expert but I would say that Lances fan base is definitely much stronger in his home country than elsewhere in the world and I would also say that his most fervent fans are most certainly American. What better way to curry favour from the fans than to make them feel special and include them in the thrilling world of professional cycling, how sophisticated and “European” they must have felt after hearing that the Giro is becoming insignificant compared to their home race. Of course now that they have been validated by the person they look up to all those fans will now feel even better about buying Lances books, giving money to his charity, maybe voting for him when he moves into politics and becomes the megalomaniac ruler of us all (just kidding Lance). While we are on the subject of fans I would like to know what it is about spectating at a sporting event that turns some people into complete imbeciles?

Sorry about the picture quality but due to my laziness its the only footage I could find.

Fans aside a rider and team has a responsibility to their sponsor. Lances team has an American sponsor so it would make sense for the team to race wherever the sponsor will have the most exposure to its potential customers, in this case at home in the USA. Pretty simple, in fact Johan Bruyneel (the team manager) said exactly this when asked why the team was racing in California and not in the Giro. Now it seems that Lance and Johan have conflicting ideas because in addition to this Bruyneel also had this to say. "Many people wonder if the Amgen Tour of California can be – in the future – a competitor for the Giro d'Italia. Personally I don't think so. California currently has only eight 'big' teams. The rest of the field is completed with domestic or regional teams. Many riders prefer to stay in Europe as opposed to travel to the US in May and get accustomed to the 9 hour time difference.” Sorry about that California.

Of course we can dig even deeper than this when we mull over the fact that the TOC title sponsor Amgen happens to be the company manufacturing the EPO which if you believe crackpot conspiracy theorists is the very drug used by many professional cyclists. It strikes me as rather sardonic that the company selling the performance enhancing drug responsible for more doping scandals than you can poke a stick at actually sponsors a bike race. Who are they advertising to?

Now I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon and accuse Lance of any doping practices, for starters his hematocrit is nowhere near the magic 50% mark and secondly he scares me a little, I can just imagine that he has a team of lawyers wearing grey suits scouring the Internet for defamatory remarks aimed in his direction. I CANT STAND THOSE AWFUL SOCKS YOU WEAR LANCE! Oops was that defamatory? I think there's somebody at the door.

We all employ such subterfuge in our lives from time to time. Take me for example, I spent some time living in Belgium, times were tough for me and so hungry and thirsty as I was I employed a particular ruse which would garner me with free beer. You see Belgians have a bit of an inferiority complex due to being surrounded by bigger more impressive neighbors who tend to look down their noses at poor little Belgium. Due to this Belgians are extremely patriotic and keen to show off whatever it is that they feel they do better than their snooty neighbours. All I had to do is walk into a bar and say “wow I had no idea Belgian beer was so good!” At this any local within earshot would take me under their wing and insist I try all their favorites. I of course was happy to oblige thereby receiving the nourishment I needed with the locals taking delivery of the validation they crave so much from foreigners. We all walked away merrily inebriated and comfortable with our symbiotic relationship just like Lance and his fans.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Search for Form, the Need for Speed and Economic Rationalisation Part 2

I arose early this morning to continue my complex and frustrating voyage along the comeback trail (I went for a ride). In a bid to accelerate the return of some sort of fitness I have decided its time to start doing some specific efforts. Now I’m not going to bore you with the details as I’m sure nobody would be interested in what I do to keep fit. In any case what works for me may not work for you and if you are after training advice you really shouldn’t be looking to me for help.

My ride took me along a popular training and commuting route for many Melbourne cyclists, and no it wasn’t Beach Road. As I rode along cross eyed, wanting to throw up and with the taste of blood in my mouth between efforts, I began to notice how few cyclists were out this morning, the usual small bunches of threes or fours were notably absent and apart from the commuters on hybrids and MTB’s, the only cyclist I saw out training (I know he was training because he didn’t have a backpack) was the guy in full HTC Columbia regalia riding without legwarmers. Obviously he must be one of those people who don’t feel the cold, in contrast to me, fully rugged up complete with booties, thick gloves, jacket and head band. I think it must have been around six degrees and I may have over done it slightly but I would much rather be hot and sweaty than cold and shivering. I’m guessing the absent cyclists were due to everyone staying up late to watch the coverage of that big bicycle rally in France.

Cyclingmuse in depth TDF analysis: Apparently some guy from Australia is leading and this American who won it like fifteen times crashed when he rolled his front tyre and lost over ten minutes. I wouldn’t want to be the mechanic responsible for that, but the real action everyone is talking about was the fight between Carlos Barredo and Rui Costa at the end of stage six.

Now back to my self indulgent musings. As you may already know I am currently exploring the possibility of acquiring new wheels and since returning from a short vacation I have now resumed my search for some race winning "hoops". Of course I am hoping that riding new race wheels will improve my "lifestyle" in as much as it may elevate me from my mediocre, also ran lifestyle, to a well respected fast guy always in the winning move kind of lifestyle. Try as I might I cant seem to find any brand being marketed as a lifestyle wheel, in fact when I typed  "lifestyle wheel" into a popular search engine I found this:

From what I can gather you fill in the various sections in accordance to your level of satisfaction. From this you or your life coach can see where your lifestyle is out of kilter. You can then concentrate on realigning your inner balance, so if you are run of the mill in all areas but rate highly in the family department you can do something detrimental in that area like alienating one of your children to throw the wheel back into balance.
It's not surprising that bicycle manufacturers have not embraced the lifestyle marketing craze as most bicycle manufacturers, regardless of how innovative or cutting edge they may elude to be, never really push the boundaries too far and for good reason. Cyclists can be a very traditional bunch and will only accept innovation in "micro doses". You only have to look at how little the bicycle has changed over the past 100 years to see this.

Triathletes on the other hand seem to embrace as many innovative contraptions as they can fit on one bike.

Well the search for wheels is beginning to depress me, I keep seeing plenty of worthy products out there but none of them seem to fall into my price range. Put it down to me getting older and grumpier but these days I find it difficult to pay more for a product than I think it is worth. Cycling was once a blue collar sport and yes I suppose you can still get an affordable entry level race bike to start out on but the nice stuff sure is getting expensive these days. The manufacturers will justify the price because of the expensive/extensive research that goes into product development but when a bidon cage costs more than a night out for two at a respectable restaurant with a nightcap on the way home, or about 45 cups of coffee, you really have to question how much we should be paying for this stuff. Are you willing to forego all those coffees at your Sunday morning cafe stop just so you can show off your latest lashing of carbon fibre?

Money doesn't grow on trees but apparently bikes do. I don't think the one on the right is ripe yet.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Post Holiday Reconciliation

As mentioned in my previous post I have been away on a short country holiday. I hope you are imagining me away at some sort of 19th century health spa for the well-heeled, I always dreamed of being a man of means frivolously spending my aristocrat families fortune. Unfortunately it’s a dream I’m not sure I can realise.

One of the nice things about my time away was that I was far away from any news of the outside world.
I find it so invigorating to be away from the day to day twaddle that really only serves to complicate our lives. These days things seem to be presented to us with lashings of garnish to make them seem more significant than they really are. How many times have you seen a current affairs program presenting “a story which no parent can miss” or the endless communication I seem to get from my superannuation fund, updating me on how much of my hard earned has been lost due to the economic meltdown and why I should voluntarily contribute more of my dollars so that I may secure my future "lifestyle" (more likely secure some white collar criminals lifestyle as he luxuriates on his three tiered yacht at anchor off Positano).
Lifestyle... What do they mean by that? That word is bandied about like nobodies business these days, I assume its being used with positive connotations but isn't living the life of a derelict alcoholic still a "lifestyle"? A great piece of garnish I saw today was the "Lifestyle Apartment" for sale around the corner from my non lifestyle townhouse. What does it have that is so different to my humble abode. Will I be a happier consumer if I buy it? Any good chef will tell you that garnish should be edible and this linguistic decoration is becoming increasingly unpalatable to me. Maybe I'm just getting old and crotchety. Maybe I just need to go for a ride.

The positive side of coming back to civilization is that the Ronde van Frankrijk is well and truly underway and after missing the first few days I just had to stay up and watch the cobbled mayhem of stage three. Many pundits as well as competitors voiced concern over the inclusion of the pave in Le Grande Boucle citing safety concerns and fearing the damage it may cause to the fragile GC contenders.
I can see their point but don't necessarily agree. During the most televised and hotly followed race of the year its great to show those once a year cycling fans a little taste of what they have been missing during those other races Lance didn't compete in and therefore they never knew existed. This surely must be the tour organisers rationale because rumour has it that next year the traditional final time trial is to be replaced with a cyclocross stage to help generate interest in road racings country cousin. Now that is really going to shake up the GC in the final few days. Cyclocross is the steeplechase of bicycle racing and personally I'm really looking forward to its inclusion into next years tour.

Its the little things that make cycling so enjoyable for me and by far the highlight of stage three was the Ned Flanders flag I spotted being waved along with all the Vlaamse Leeuw (Flemish Lion) flags on the final section of kasseien (Flemish for cobbles). I will endeavour to hunt down the appropriate footage for your amusement.
Incidentally the symbol of the black lion on the yellow background  has been the emblem of the counts of Flanders since the Crusades and became the symbol of Flemish emancipation after achieving independence from those warmongering Dutch to their north. More recently the lion was appropriated by Belgian right wing political party Vlaamse Belang (formerly Vlaamse Blok) much to the chagrin of moderate but patriotic Belgians. The red rooster flag (not to be confused with the popular Australian fast food outlet) was borrowed from France as the cultural symbol of the Walloon region. The two regions are culturally very different and have never really been able live comfortably together as part of the same country as can be seen in the reenactment below.

Those madcap Belgians. When will they ever get it together?