Adventures in life and photography out West

Archive for July, 2012

Viva la Drama

Pro cycling’s biggest race is near it’s end and the excitement is growing, although the win is nearly assured. A lot of drama is off the French roads or not exactly racing. But let’s eat, first.
I love food. It’s a blessing and a curse. As a result of this love, I’m on a personal quest to find on-bike snacks that taste like they are made in a kitchen rather than a lab. I have a little bit of both, this week.

The Honey Stinger nutrition company makes its home here in Colorado, Steamboat Springs, specifically. They tout a “Pure Natural Energy” motto. Their product is so tasty and effective, a certain cyclist/businessman/7-time Tour winner bought into the company, putting both influence and endorsement into the company.

A few years back, Lance Armstrong went to the kitchen folks at Honey Stinger and told them of the waffles sold in northern Europe. The thin waffles were soaked on honey for flavor and made for a great pre or post-ride snack. Honey Stinger took the idea and made a slightly less sticky version that I just love. The Organic Stinger Waffles are certified organic and sold in single-serving packets for convenience. I have enjoyed the honey flavor and vanilla for a while. This week, I found their new chocolate flavor. Like their own web site says, “who doesn’t like chocolate and waffles?

The chocolate flavor was yummy without being over-powering. It killed the cravings and took the edge off my hunger. I didn’t do this test on a bike, so I can not say for sure how it would work during a ride. I have had the other stinger waffles on a ride and had not upset stomach that some carb-heavy foods can cause. I plan to grab some of these for my Courage Classic ride this weekend so I can give a more complete opinion.

The other product I found was Dr. Allen Lim’s Scratch Labs energy drink. If you don’t already know, Dr. Allen Lim is a sports physiologist who has worked as team nutritionist for Garmin and RadioShack pro cycling teams. Lim has gotten tired of the likes of Gatorade and such and has created his own energy/hydration drink; Scratch Labs Secret Drink Mix. Reportedly, Tour riders would dump their sponsors drinks and refill with Lim’s. Hence, the name.

The mix boasts “No Artificial Anything,” real fruit for flavors, optimal sodium for exercise and less sugar and more electrolytes than most drinks. What I can attest to is that the flavor is not overly sweet. It mixes quickly and completely. I did not get tired of it going from Leadville to Granby, a 93-mile ride. I never bogged down or had any stomach issues. I was given free samples, but I plan on buying some on my way to Copper this weekend.

Now, the Tour. Bradley Wiggins of the British Team Sky took the yellow jersey a week ago Monday on a 25.8-mile individual time trial in which he took first and his teammate Chris Froome, runner-up in last season’s Vuelta a’Espana, took second place. Since then, Wiggins has been flawless, putting together a lead that only his own teammate is within three minutes. The problem seems to be that his teammate may not be content in second place.

Froome has publicly stated that he will attach if his captain falters, giving other teams both hope and a plan for attack. Froome, a near-skeletal rider, is a better climber than his boss. If the Italian Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Cannondale or defending champ Cadel Evans can draw Froome out in the Pyrenees, there is a chance Wiggins can be dropped from his top spot. By the time this article hits the street, we will know. The other drama has been tacks on the road on the last climb on Monday, and the ejection of RadioShack-Nissan’s Frank Schleck.

Someone tossed carpet tacks on the crest of the Mur de Peguere on Monday’s stage 15. Both defending champ Evans and Tour leader Wiggins suffered flats over the top of the climb The tack caused a reported $20,000 damage to bicycle, motorcycle and car tires, as well as a broken collarbone for Astana’s Robert Kiserlovski and roadrash for Levi Leipheimer of Omega Pharma-Lotto. Tour organizers have filed an official complaint with local police.

Finally, fan favorite Frank Schleck has returned a positive test for the banned diuretic Xipamide. The International Cycling Union, or UCI, announced that they have informed Schleck of the finding and RadioShack has pulled the Luxembourger and released a statement that they do not administer the drug.

The problem is not that Schleck might be taking a diuretic, as that has no real performance enhancing qualities. It is, however, a masking agent for other performance enhancing drugs. If Schleck can prove he did not use the drug to mask anything or improve his performance, he could get off with a reprimand or a one-year suspension. If not, he will face a two-year ban from the sport.

As long as I don’t get tested for espresso or Nutella, I should be okay for the weekend.

Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.


The impossible dream

Specialized Bicycles has come out with a new ad campaign. Specialized had been getting beat in this area in Tours past with both Cannondale and Trek producing much more compelling imagery. This time, Specialized wins in a walk because they put us all in the ad.
It opens with what looks like a 12-year-old boy hammering away by himself on a dirt road. Next thing you hear is the familiar voices of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen calling this year’s Paris-Roubaix. The boy checks over his shoulder occasionally and we see race winner Tom Boonen with dust flying and crowds screaming. We get the feeling that the boy is imagining himself leading the legendary spring classic and, like so many of us, imagining Phil and Paul talking about us. I love that ad.

That imagining the impossible is probably why so many Tour fans love watching riders like Jens Voigt and Thomas (Little Tommy) Voekler. Voekler first came to light back in the 2004 Tour when the juggernaut Postal Service team gifted the Frenchman the yellow jersey. Voekler became a legend as he fought tooth-and-nail to hang on to the golden fleece, against all odds, for 10 days before Lance Armstrong took over and eventually won. Voekler pulled the same move last year, then won stage 10 and the King of the Mountains jersey in a heroic breakaway on Tuesday with, as luck would have it, legendary hardman Jens Voigt.

Voigt I’ve written about before. I’ve met him. He’s about as nice a guy as one will ever meet. He is funny and quick-witted. He is as fierce a competitor as one could imagine, as well. When Tour time rolls around, he sacrifices all for his team. Day after day, year in and year out, he can be seen either flogging fellow cyclists in a breakaway or at the tip of the spear chasing one down. As a long-time Tour follower, I know deep in my heart that Voigt won’t win the Tour. He has won stages and even worn the yellow jersey, but his roll in the grand tours is more of a jovial German assassin.

Deep inside, I admire both of these guys. While Voekler has won every small French race possible, he chooses to stay on a small French team with a smaller paycheck, doomed never to have the sort of supporting cast that could get him a grand tour GC win. Voigt, who has plenty of smaller race wins of his own, seems happy ripping the legs off of other riders to pave the way for his team leaders. He is neither light enough to consistently win in the big mountains, nor fast enough, now at nearly 41, in the sprints. He is as hard as riders come and smiles when he’s done torturing his fellow cyclists.

These are the dreamers. These are the guys who ride out in flights of fancy and we love watching. They won’t win. We know it can’t possibly happen, but we cheer for them all the harder for it. Little Tommy heads out on two wheels to tilt at windmills while Jens sticks his nose in the wind for miles at a time, crashing head-first through them. I want to believe. I want these guys to succeed. I know it can’t really happen, either by design or by fate, but I keep cheering. It makes me feel like I’m routing for the boy in the Specialized ad, like I’m actually cheering for all of us out on our imaginary legendary wins.

I have cheered for them long enough that my 10-year-old daughter can pick them out in photos or on screen.

“Is that little Tommy Voekler?”

Yes, dear.

“Are we routing for him?”

Yes.

“That’s Jens, isn’t it?”

Yes, Zoe, that’s him.

“Did you meet Jens?”

Yes I did.

“That’s cool.”

Yes, yes it is.

Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.


Freedom of two wheels

I got my occasional screed out last week. I want to be much more positive this week. I love riding. I love getting out. I enjoy watching this month’s Grande Boucle. It’s fun to watch the superheroes push the limits of human performance, but it is much better, for me, to do it myself.
Bicycling has given my freedom to ponder, think and reflect. Many spiritual traditions include a sort of moving or walking meditation. I find I can meditate on my bike. I can sort out whatever has been gnawing at me throughout the day. When I’m alone on a long stretch of road, or grinding up an endless climb, my mind is able to clear a bit. I first discovered this years ago. It took a while to sink in, but it has been a valuable tool.

When I lived in Denver, I found that riding gave me freedom from anger. When I commuted by car, I spent a lot of time yelling at fellow drivers. I found myself angry at stoplights, heavy traffic and time in general. On my bike, I was much more relaxed. I didn’t get angry at traffic lights. I enjoyed the view and took the time to look around. I arrived at school or work with a smile.

When I first got a bike, I would race the school bus home. Most of the time, I won. I had a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was beginning to reshape myself. I was gaining freedom from the fat kid that I was. At the time, all I knew was it was fun to go fast.

I developed some bad habits as a teen. I got a big car and sold the bike. This was by no means the worst of it. In fact, the bad habits of early adulthood led me back to a bike.

In my early 20s, I could not afford either a car or insurance. I could put a mountain bike on layaway. It was a big, heavy, rigid, steel Schwinn. I didn’t have to depend on bus schedules. I would get rained on occasionally, but it was worth the trade. It was the beginning of where I am today.

When I moved to Colorado, the first thing I did was break out my bike and rode Lookout Mountain outside of Golden. I found maps of all of the paved trails all over Denver. I could explore my new city relatively inexpensively. I also discovered real trail riding. I found the Chimney Gulch, Mount Falcon, the Apex Trail, and many more. I raced cross country and downhill for a couple of seasons. As a result, I discovered more towns.

I found Moab, Utah. Anyone with a bike had heard of Moab at that point, but I was finally able to visit. I also found, quite by accident, Fruita, Colo., now considered a mountain biking Mecca, itself. Eventually, I rediscovered Estes Park.

There are so many different ways to ride. I found a couple more after moving here. I competed in a cyclocross race. I had been using the ‘cross bike as a commuter, but felt I should race it at least once.

I started participating in triathlons. It was very fast and I seemed to have at least a little aptitude. It was fast and fun. I also began riding organized road rides. I found riding long distances with friends added another aspect of pleasure to riding. Sharing stories, goofing off, admiring the scenery, testing each other is all fun. During Ride the Rockies, I met a whole bunch of brand new friends. What better reason to get out?

Now I have seen the bike turn into a political symbol, both positive and negative, sometimes ridiculously so, and possibly for the same reasons. I don’t ride as a political statement. I ride because it’s fun. I ride because I found freedom on my bike. I can see that being political. I don’t burn $3.30 per gallon gas. I take no oil, other than that of the olive, or for my chain. I don’t put out too much pollution in the air, depending on what I ate before heading out. I could see that as a sort of political stand. If it were all about the politics, however, I wouldn’t do it. It has to be enjoyable.

This is why I will be out again this week. If you saw me Wednesday, I was probably in my Stars and Stripes jersey, smiling big as our great country. I was enjoying the freedom of my bike, freedom on two wheels.

Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.


I Mean It

I like to write “Have fun, be safe” when I finish my column. I’m serious when I write this. Cyclists, even casual cyclists, wear little more than a covering of cotton or polyester. This is not much to protect a person. The one thing any cyclist can wear to improve his or her chances of surviving an accident is a helmet.
I’ve ranted about this before, and I know even my most liberal friends have the “You can’t make me” attitude. Well, no, I suppose I can’t. Let’s look at this from an economic standpoint, however.

I crashed a few months back, I had a little crash. I broke my collarbone. It cost, in total, just under $500 with the visits to the doctor, follow-up visits and three rounds of x-rays. This is still only what one might be charged for visiting an emergency room.

One of our locals who happens to be a bike commuter got to spend a lot of time in intensive care. One day in an ICU without a ventilator can run as much as $6,000. On a ventilator, this will run in the neighborhood of $10,000. An expensive bike helmet runs $300.

Your chances of surviving a crash, even one involving a car, double just by wearing a helmet.

I’ve heard people say, “Well, it screws up my hair.” Any idea how surgical scars affect your hairline? How about your ability to take care of your hair?

I have a friend who told me, “Well, we don’t go as fast as you do.” Cars don’t care how fast you are going. If a motorist is not paying attention, they can clip you and it won’t matter if you were screaming down the street or tooling along on a bike path. What will make the biggest difference, make your survival, or that of your children, more likely is weather or not you are wearing a helmet.

Dumbest argument ever; I’d rather die than be paralyzed. Your chances of paralysis and death both are a great deal higher without a helmet. Your chances of surviving without either is much better if you just wear a helmet. I’d rather not die or be paralysed.

I’ve been hit by a car. The motorist was paying more attention to the McDonald’s drive through than whether I happened to be in the on-coming traffic lane. I minimized my injuries because I saw the car and assumed he didn’t see me and I wore my helmet. I bounced across the hood of the car and skidded across the sidewalk. I got a few bandages from the emergency room and was a little beat up.

When I came across the accident last week, it was at an intersection along South St. Vrain. It was at a point where an inattentive motorist might clip or cut off a cyclist, either on the street or coming down the trail. I saw the bike on the side of the road. I didn’t yet know who had taken the hit, but it didn’t take much imagination to put together what likely happened.

If you are a motorist, please look for these folks. Yes, you will survive the run in, but you will live with the feeling that you hit someone with your car. Please pay attention.

If you are a cyclist, assume the cars don’t see you. Assume that they are on a cell phone or paying attention to kids in the car, or just in a big hurry. Be defensive. Be extra careful. Wear a helmet.

Not wearing a helmet doesn’t hurt “The Man.” Not wearing a helmet doesn’t make you look cool. Not wearing a helmet is not economically smart, not quicker, not smarter. I will tell you it will make the difference between a 35-cent bandage and $10,000 medical bill.

If you are making a vigorous argument to not wear a helmet, you are just being dumb.

Have fun, be safe. Please wear a helmet. I’m going riding.