Back when the great Eddie Merckx won his legendary 525 races, cyclists often rode everything. They rode the Spring Classics, the Grand Tours, the World Championships and the “Tour of the Falling Leaves”. Starting in the late ’90s, this began to change. While Merckx won the Giro five times, the Tour five times, the Vuelta a Espana twice, he even won the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in the same season more than once. This has not been done since 1998 and not attempted more than a handful of times in the last 15 years. This is not all bad, especially for American cycling fans.
While for nearly a century, pink has been the color of May on the international cycling calendar, yellow and grizzly bear graphics have made their way in. The three-week tour of Italy had been the natural lead-in for the Tour de France, in the era of specialization and growing prominence of France’s big tour, the Tour of California has become a big race for more than Americans. This was helped in no small part by the moving of the race from February to May in 2010 after two abysmal weather years. Since the move, the biggest teams and racers have made the move to the Golden State.
The Tour of California is “only” a one-week race, this year beginning near San Diego on Sunday, May 12, and heading north for the first time, finishing in Santa Rosa on May 19. The Giro d’Italia is a three-week Grand Tour. Three weeks on a bike takes a big physiological toll on a body. It not only trims any extra fat off a racer, it begins a catabolistic process. It breaks down muscle in an attempt to find more energy to move the body on the bike. This is a difficult from which a racer has only five weeks to recover. As the Giro d’Italia is the most important race for and in Italy, the Tour is the biggest prize in all of stage racing. As a result, a shorter stage race has tremendous advantages for teams and racers whose ultimate goals are Tour wins.
So the best sprinter in the world not from the Isle of Man, Peter Sagan, will be back in California this weekend. The Boulder-based Garmin-Sharp team has the honor of defending Giro champion, and some of the Americans are in Italy to help with that defense, Dave Zabriskie, Garmin’s time trial specialist, will lead a strong team in California. Even Belgian hero Tom Boonen had planned to hone his sprinting skills in California before his crash at the Tour of Flanders last month.
The rise in American cycling will feature prominently again this August here in Colorado. While most Spanish-speaking racers will head to the Vuelta a Espana, most racers with a shot at September’s World Road Championship will skip the Vuelta in favor of the shorter, though still challenging Pro Cycling Challenge. Bad for the Vuelta, already the Grand Tour’s redheaded step-child, good for American cycling fans.
Meanwhile at the Corsa Rosa, Katusha’s Italian rider, Luca Paolini, is ensconced in pink. Defending champ, Garmin’s Canadian rider, Ryder Hasjedal, is 34 seconds back, tied on time with Sky’s leader, Bradley Wiggins.
The Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish started the Giro with a sprint win in Naples.
Team Sky was the overwhelming winner in stage two’s team time trial on the island of Ischia. Surprisingly, it was Sky’s firt TTT win in a grand tour. The win put Sky’s Salvatore Puccio, who also happens to be Italy’s national time trial champion, in the pink leader’s jersey.
Hesjedal took off on an attack during stage three, only to be caught and passed by eventual stage winner Paolini.
Stage four saw former Giro champion Danilo DiLuca get swamped by the sprinters teams less than 400 yards short of the finish line of the 153-mile stage in Serra San Bruno. Sprinter Enrico Battaglin took the bunch sprint. Paolini kept the rain-soaked pink jersey.
Stage five, 126 mostly-flat miles from Cosenza to Matera, was marred by a crash inside the last 1000 meters. Sprinter John Degenkolb of Argo-Shimano avoided the crash and made up a huge gap in just about 100 meters to take his first career win in the Italian tour.
Look west this weekend. The Amgen Tour of California will be televised on NBCSports network beginning Sunday. To see the Giro d’Italia, visit Steephill.tv to find a live video feed.
I am busily staring at my computer, trying to find a muse. I’ve just cleared off a spot on a shelf above my desk, just to change things up a bit and stand while I type. Ultra-marathon hero Dean Karnazes explained in a recent interview that he stands at his desk, just to be that much more active. He explained he also does push ups, squats and stretches every so often to keep moving. I got all this from a web show called Genetic Potential TV, a collaboration between physical therapist and former world-class paddler Kelly Starrett and CrossFit Endurance guru Brian MacKenzie. Make some time for it and check it out.
This week marked the end of the Spring Classics. From what I can tell, the riders to watch going into the Grand Tour season are Fabian Cancellara, sprinter Peter Sagan and last year’s Tour champion, Brad Wiggins. Look for them all to be in Italy next week for the start of the Giro d’Italia. More on the Corsa Rosa next week.
I’m a bit of a tech weenie. I love new gadgets and fun stuff. I loved getting the iPhone from the office, initially, as it gave me the chance to make video while I rode. That didn’t work out quite as planned, so I have my eye on the GoPro Hero3. I’m now awaiting the new Dura Ace group set and Shimano’s light DA C24 carbon/aluminum tubeless wheels. I’ve gone on and on about the technology in the new DA 9000 group set, but haven’t hit on the wheels so much, because tubeless rode wheels are new enough, as a concept, that I have not dealt with them before. The idea, as always with high-end wheels, is to be stiffer and lighter. Another in a long line of evolutionary steps with wheels.
Long ago, rims were made from wood. They have gone through incarnations of steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, sew-up tubular, clincher and now tubeless. This is all on the road bike side, mind you. The last 25 years have been amazing in the leaps in tech improvements.
I sent a note to Wayne Stetina asking about the biggest improvements in bike technology that he has seen. He responded with the wheels, but named a bunch of other upgrades, as well.
Stetina rode the Coors Classic and Red Zinger on steel frames with friction shift levers on the down tube, the tube running from the stem to the pedals. He has seen the move from those old shifters, in which the rider had to feel around for the right gear, to index shifters, which were set up to click when dropping into a gear, to the integrated shifter-break lever system introduced to road cycling by Shimano in 1990. Now, of course, we also have electronic shifting, as well.
Stetina also mentioned the move from the relatively heavy steel frames to aluminum, titanium and now carbon fiber. Some bike manufacturers have assembled bikes that weigh close to 12 pounds, a far cry from the 20-plus pound bikes ridden in the Tour de France as recently as 1999. Funny thing is, if you have the motivation and the money, you can ride a lighter bike than the pros. The Union Cycliste Internationale has set a weight limit of 15 pounds for pro bikes.
Imagine riding in wool shorts. With a real lamb-skin chamios. The modern bib shorts with man-made chamios are a huge leap forward in comfort. I own a number of wool jerseys and even a beloved wool trainer. They are soft and warm and don’t hang on to oder. However, I still wear something under them. I can’t imagine wearing wool against my sensitive areas.
Bike evolution, at least within the pro peloton, will continue without one of my favorite riders. Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi announced his retirement this week. The big Italian started racing in 1998, but started making a name for himself in 2003 when, in his first Tour de France, he won four sprint stages. That same year, Ale-Jet also took six Giro d’Italia stages and another five at the Vuelta a Espana. Petacchi holds the record for most stage wins in a single Giro, winning nine sprints in his home tour in 2004. He has the Points jersey from all three grand tours, but his 2007 Giro sprinters jersey was stripped after a blood test revealed he had too much asthma medication in his system. Petacchi actually had a medical exception for it, but officials felt he was’t monitoring his intake well enough and suspended him for most of the ’07 season.
Petacchi was cut from the same cloth as fellow Italian sprinter Mario Cipollini; tall, good looking, brash, flamboyant, though not nearly as much as Cippo, and not much of a climber. It came as a surprise when, in 2010, Ale-jet made the climbs of the Alps and Pyrenees and road into Paris for the first and only time, to claim the green sprinters jersey of the Tour, something Cipollini never accomplished.
Ride the Rockies is beginning to loom large in the near future. I am forced to obtain a bike box to get my bike from where I will park in Colorado Springs, out to Telluride. This will be my first experience with disassembling my bike for transport. The up side is that I don’t have to spend $400 on a bike case. I will head over to the Estes Park Mountain Shop and pick up a box that was used to ship bikes to them. This also eliminates the need to schlep the box all the way back to my car in the Springs. I will arrive in Telluride, assemble my bike and find a recycle bin for the box.
We are six weeks short of Ride the Rockies, by the way. Milage totals are heading up. According to the RTR training chart, we should be up to 60 miles over three rides during the week and another 40 miles in one ride on the weekend. Like many weekend warriors, I have to rejigger this a bit. I can justify counting my morning classes as 15 miles each. That only counts as 45 miles during the week. I have to try to add some of that back in on the weekend. Finally, the weekend weather is supposed to cooperate.
This week, I plan to spend some time on our local climbs, a nearly endless resource. On Saturday, I have time to warm up around Lake Estes, then head up Fall River Road to the steep Fall River Court. I will ride back into town and over Moccasin to the steep streets on the east side of the Estes Park Medical Center. None of these climbs are very long, but what they lack in duration they more than compensate with intensity.
On Sunday, I hope to head down to Boulder and catch one of their shop rides. The shops that are sponsoring and supporting the RTR have organized group rides on most weekends. This Sunday, the Sports Garage has a three-hour ride beginning at their shop just about half a block north and west of Pearl and 28th street. They list the start time at 9 a.m. and offer a discount for purchases in their shop for participants.
If you want a ride down to Boulder on Sunday or interested in the Saturday climbing, shoot me an e-mail or call.
A nice shot by Sundance Images Event Photography of me in my Ale-Jet replica 2007 Giro sprinters kit! obviously, it is early in this climb. I’m still smiling!
If last week’s Tour of Flanders is any indication, there are only two riders contending for cobbled wins this season: Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan.
The two have traded off winning the northern classics this season. Sagan won his first spring classic by just riding away from Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish at Ghent-Wevelgem a few weeks back. He took a sprint at the Three Days of De Panne and wheelied across the finish line. The only rider able to tame the 23-year-old Slovak champion is Spartacus.
Fabian Cancellara beat Sagan and the rest of the field at the the E3 Harelbeke two weeks ago. Many cycling writers were excited about the showdown with Spartacus, Peter the Great and Belgium’s Tom Boonen. The showdown fizzled a bit.
Last year at the Tour of Flanders, Cancellara hit a wayward water bottle and crashed in the race’s feed zone, resulting in a broken collarbone. This season, Tornado Tom crashed out, leaving Fabulous Fabian to run free. Cancellara hit the Oude Kwaremont, a climb averaging 4 percent, but kicking up to 11 percent at 17 km from the finish, and rode away from all but Sagan. Cancellara hit the gas again on the last rise, the Paterberg, leaving Sagan gasping and all others far behind, taking the race by better than a minute.
With Sagan skipping Paris-Roubaix and Boonen on the mend, Cancellara is nearly a prohibitive favorite to win his third “Hell of the North”.
The bikes used on these Cobbled Classics have become a hot commodity. The Specialized Roubaix, with its Zerts inserts and comfortable geometry has been a favorite for casual riders for nearly a decade. My bike is the 2004 version, and the newer editions are quite common on organized rides around the state.
The tag line for this bike is a comfortable bike is a fast bike, and the Roubaix is the best, though not the only, example of this. The idea of a comfortable race bike, an endurance road bike, one that is light, nimble and still able to soak up road noise, has become so popular among recreational riders with a taste for speed that several manufacturers have jumped on the band wagon.
Trek made the bike that Cancellara powered to the Ronde win on Sunday. The Trek Domane is the Waterloo, Wisconsin manufacturer’s answer to it’s California rival. The Domain 4.0 can be had for just over $2,000, comes with the relatively inexpensive Shimano Tiagra compact (50-34) gearing. Like any of the bikes at the entry level, it will weigh between 17-19 pounds.
The Giant Defy Composite 3 weighs just a whisker over 18 pounds and sports the same components as the Trek. Giant is an Asian manufacturer with the reputation of building plenty of frames with different labels. They know what they are doing with carbon frames. They make a whole lot of them, so their entry-level Defy will set you back a mere $1,700.
Swiss manufacturer BMC took a different tack, returning to the nearly-forgotten material of aluminum for their Granfondo GF02 bike. The $1,899 bike comes with Shimano 105 compact components, one step up from the Tiagra group. The frame is based on the carbon version that American Tyler Phinney is riding around the cobbles this season. It tips the scale at 19.1 pounds and shares much of the vibration-eating geometry of its much pricier carbon iterations.
The entry level carbon Specialized Roubaix, the Sport Compact, comes with Shimano 105 compact components and weighs around 18 pounds. It comes with their four-position adjustable stem and, because it is the bike that started the trend, gobbles the cobbles. It tends to be smooth and fast, though if you have the means and tend to be a weight-weenie, you may want to shell out a bit more than the $2,100 MSRP of this model.
We now sit eight weeks from the start of Ride the Rockies. The total milage for next week should come to 80 miles, 30 for the weekend ride and three more rides during the week totaling 50 miles. If you haven’t started already, it’s about time to insert some climbing, some short sprints and most definitely a group ride into your training. I will actually have a taper this week as I have a real race, the Haystack Mountain Time Trial, on April 13. I might not get all of the miles in, but I will get some intensity in.
If you find yourself short on time, there is at least one thing I can suggest . . . intervals. On a relatively short ride, after a 15-20 minute warmup, take a few hard digs, close to your maximum effort, for no more than a minute. Take a good recovery interval and repeat at least four time. The toughest and most effective interval workout I know of is the dreaded Tabata Protocol. After a good 20-25 minute warmup, set a timer for four minutes. In those four short little minutes, go as hard as you can for 20 seconds and recover for just 10. This is as hard as it gets, but yields the most benefit in a very short period. Give it a try if you feel you need to train but only have half an hour. Better get a bucket . . .
Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.
The Estes Park High School mountain bike team got their first taste of competition this weekend. While none surprised the field at the season-opening race, the riders got invaluable experience to carry into the next race. Meanwhile, while things change, they really stay the same in the pro road ranks.
Alberto Contador, riding for Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank, put together an amazing last week of the Vuelta a Espana to overtake Joaquim Rodriguez and win his first grand tour back from his doping ban. On the podium in Madrid, Contador put up seven fingers, signifying the wins he’d have if not for his disqualifications from the ban. This is Contador’s second victory in his home nation’s grand tour.
The race had been an amazing battle between Contador and fellow Spaniard, Rodriguez, who rides for the Russian Katusha squad. For the most of the last ten days of the tour, ramps were painfully steep, but Rodriguez was able to hold off “El Pistolero”. Then, last Wednesday, Contador pounced on a seemingly easy climbing day. Many viewed the attack as a suicide mission, that surely the peloton would catch Contador. Not only did he stay away, he put important, and significant, time in on both Rodriguez and the dangerous and eventual runner-up Alejandro Valverde of Movistar.
When the peloton rolled into the Spanish capitol, they were greeted as conquering heroes, Spaniards sweeping the podium.
Contador is still credited with wins at the 2007 and 2009 Tours de France, the 2008 Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana. His wins in the 2010 TdF and 2011 Giro were stripped after the doping ban was enforced.
The Estes Park High School mountain bike team will have no such worries this season. The fledgling squad traveled to Northrop Colorado on Sunday for their first Colorado Cycling League race. While the earth did not move, the team put in respectable performances.
The Chalk Creek Challenge was won by the team from Boulder High School with their arch rival, Fairview, slotting in second in the Division 1 results. The Estes Park team was 12th, with most riders finishing and earning points. Jeremy Norris was the best-placed boy, with 352, riding in the D1 Freshman class. Marin Kingston was the best Ladycat, earning 333 points and placing 37th in the D1/D2 JV class.
Lauren Igel earned 305 points for her 17th place among D1/D2 sophomore girls. All five sophomore boys, Zach Brittain, Eric Edwards, Otto Engle, Barney Treadway and Kyle Collins finished their race to accumulate points.
Once again, none of this was earth shattering, but the kids are out doing it. I hope they continue riding and racing. The sport is not easy, especially if you’ve never ridden a mountain bike before, like most of the team. I hope fans and parents support the team in its efforts. I also hope they, themselves, see their improvements and appreciate how challenging their chosen path is. I hope they find pride in their efforts and keep pushing themselves.
One little gem I can throw in to tie these two stories together; Contado said, after serving the ban he did not feel he deserved, then winning the tour of Spain, “I do not race to shut people’s mouths, I race because it gives me pleasure.” I hope the team finds the pleasure and joy in racing and keeps at it.
Be safe, have fun. I’m going riding.