Our sport is supposed to be about the fun. Yes, there is suffering. Yes, plenty of cycling involves challenging oneself and being uncomfortable. In the end, however, it is supposed to be about the fu, the pleasure of riding.
I am reading the autobiography of Manx sprinter Mark Cavendish and found a similar conclusion. He describes the suffering of the mountain stages in the grand tours, about the exhaustion of riding for three weeks. He also writes about the disappointment of leaving the Tour early in 2008 and not getting to Paris for the last sprint.
He also had harsh words for the riders ejected from the ’08 Tour for doping. It made me think, why would someone risk health, career and standing for a win. My conclusion was they put something else ahead of the fun.
I don’t mean to judge. Cycling in Europe is akin to prize fighting in the US, or a lot of pro sports. They often attract athletes who feel it the only shot at rise out of dire economic circumstances. If that’s the case, I could see how someone might be lured into doping to get as far from poverty as possible. Some don’t have the luxury that most of us leisure riders have.
I’m not condoning this behavior, either. The reason Cavendish was so animate about the dopers, in this case Riccardo Ricco, Leonardo Piepoli and Stefan Schumacher, When the dopers set there enhanced paces, they threatened guys like Cav’ who is clean and not a climber. The major Tours set a time limit based of the stage winner’s time. Come in after the cut off and you go home. Ricco broke away and won stage nine that year, putting pressure on the sprinters, then Piepoli put in an inhuman ride the next day.
You may have heard of the Autobus, or Grupetto. These are the groups of big men at the back of these climbing stages, generally sprinters working together to make the cutoff. They are not lollygagging. They are suffering just to suffer all over again the next day. When the cheaters put in the crazy-fast rides up the high mountains, they not only take away the chances of the clean climbers, they endanger a great many sprinters. This same sort of event also reenforces the notion that a rider has to dope to win. Luckily, the ’08 Tour also showcased the advances in the doping tests, resulting in the aforementioned ejections.
Fear is a big motivator. Fear motivates a kid from a broken home in a Dallas suburb to cheat, cheat to an unprecedented level, and deny cheating to protect all that was gained by cheating. Fear, in turn, causes corporate sponsors to flee the sport. It causes coverups and improvements in catching the cheaters. I have to count myself as lucky that I never got to ride at a level in which any of this was a consideration. I’m lucky that I can just ride for fun.
Last weekend was a great example of fun and suffering. The Paris-Roubaix, possibly the monument of Monuments, was won, for the third time, by Swiss RadioShack rider Fabian Cancellara. While everyone predicted his triumph, it was not as predicted. Spartacus did not simply ride away from everyone as he did in the 2011 Paris-Roubaix, or even as he did the weekend before in the Tour of Flanders. He found himself working hard to catch a break in the last half of the race, then dragging a formidable group with him to nearly the end. Bad luck derailed a few, then Cancellara had to out-sprint Belgian hopeful Sep Vanmarcke of the Blanco Pro Racing team on the track in Roubaix.
Cancellara was clearly happy to win his third cobblestone trophy, but he was also clearly spent. The cobbles of the road took a toll on big Fabian, who now looks forward to a break before the summer grand tours start in May.
Many expected Spartacus to have his way with the race on Sunday. Gone was his chief rival, four-time Roubaix winner Tom Boonen. The big Belgian crashed out of the Tour of Flanders a week before. Boonen was hoping to add his name to the short and distinguished list of five-time Paris-Roubaix winners which includes, of course, Eddie Merckx. Tornado Tom now awaits the healing process and the grand tours of summer.
One last Belgian Monument note; On the podium of the Tour of Flanders, Slovak sprinter Peter Sagan was caught in photos grabbing the backside of a podium girl as she was presenting the winner with his trophies. This week, Sagan saw the young lady again. Maya Leye is a 25-year-old who works for Flanders Classics, the organization that promotes and stages the Tour of Flanders. Leye was on the podium with Sagan again on Wednesday, April 10, to present Sagan with his prize for winning the Brabant Arrow race. Sagan presented Leye with his winner’s bouquet and a public apology. Perhaps the swaggering Slovak learned a little tact out of the who incident.
I plan to continue having fun. It’s a challenge with the late-season snow. I have ridden outside perhaps three times this year, once on the course on which I race this Saturday. I have to remember that it’s about the fun. It does not really matter how well I place. It matters that I am able to push myself. It matters that I get to compete. This won’t determine a paycheck. It won’t change the course of my life. It’s just for the fun of it.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going racing.
BTW, the photo was taken by Tom de Waele for Omega Pharma/Quick Step
Peter and Spartacus
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.