no one line

September 15, 2010, 2:09 pm
Filed under: the cycling world

I raced my first cyclocross race of the season on the mountain bike in the photo to the left.

A mountain bike is not an ideal cyclocross bike. That’s why it’s not called a cyclocross bike. It’s heavy and the small triangle is difficult to hoist over barriers. The fat tires deform unpredictably in difficult, off-camber corners. This particular bike has a particularly crappy drivetrain, which resulted in a tossed chain halfway through the race that sent me from having fun midpack to the shame of loneliness in a hot second.

But I’m riding it, for several reasons that tell a story about where my life is right now.

First: cyclocross is fun. Fun tends to mean pleasant people. Pleasant people means social interaction, which I need, because I’ve relocated from New York City to Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Second: because I don’t have a cyclocross bike, because my cross bike recently went from this (or, more recently, this) to this in the amount of time it takes a driver to make an impulsive left turn without signaling or, it seems, looking.

And so, without a cyclocross bike, I moved to Minneapolis.

Here I am. Let’s find out what adventures are in front of me – even if what’s under me is a mountain bike.


Why I Accidentally Like Tyler Farrar
July 15, 2010, 8:55 pm
Filed under: pro crap, sprints, tactics, Tour de France

Last year, I was surprised by people who thought that Tyler Farrar was the next sprint sensation. He seemed to me to be Mister Fifth Place, Mister Always-The-Bridesmaid, a sprint contender but not a sprint dominator. Destined to play second fiddle.

Even when he won Scheldeprijs this spring, I shrugged. It’s just Scheldeprijs. People were tuning up for Roubaix. Then he came in 5th place at the Ronde, and suddenly, “Mister Fifth Place” seemed a little bit more impressive.

What turned me into a Farrar fan was the drama surrounding Stage 11 of the Tour de France this year. Mark Cavendish’s leadout man, Mark Renshaw, has been doing a pretty impressive job of putting Cav at the right spot to win stages. On Stage 11, this involved headbutting Farrar’s leadout man Julian Dean 3 times and then, after Cav launched, “closing the door” on Farrar by drifting over a lane on the road so that Farrar couldn’t pass. Farrar had to sit up, pause, and wait to sprint – he still got 3rd. Renshaw was disqualified – not from the stage, not relegated due to his sprint, but booted from the whole Tour. A bummer: I like watching him in action.

What got me was Farrar’s immediate reaction – still on the bike, between the finish line and the team bus. He is mature, articulate, and surprisingly even-keeled. He honors his opponents – “Cav can win if they ride a clean sprint” – and criticizes them without lambasting them. Without being a petulant hothead about it.

Basically, he’s not an arse.

With Renshaw sent packing, I think the likelihood of continued Cavendish Sprint Dominance is diminished. Farrar’s looking fast – he took 3rd on Stage 11 when he was put into the barriers and had to stop his sprint and re-accelerate. I think we might see him win a stage. It would be nice to see. And it would be nice comeuppance after a sprint that has sprinting heads of state in disagreement.

The Man With The Hammer
July 12, 2010, 2:13 pm
Filed under: climbing, race, road racing, teamwork

If, during a conversation of eating and drinking while riding far or riding hard, somebody tells you about their favorite food and drink strategy by saying “There’s no way to keep the man with the hammer away like using…” then you can cut them off right there.

Because, if he comes for you, there’s no way to keep the man in the hammer away.
Yesterday, at the Pawling Mountain Road Race, one crucial teammate had to drop out early on with a mechanical, and for a great many miles in the middle of the race I had to do double duty as our team leader’s chaperone and as a break-chaser, attack-sucker, and general mark-the-frontsman. I had a reprieve when another teammate came to the front and counterattacked a move that I reeled in; unfortunately, the large climb came shortly thereafter. I made it up but slipped backwards in the group, got gapped, and had to fight my way back. We descended, I moved up, avoiding the brakes, and made sure to eat and drink. The second climb – long, shallow, and, when fresh, a big ring climb – was considerably harder this time around. We took the left hander after it, and began the Hurtenberg, the Muur de Pain, the steep, rough third climb of the circuit. I was at the back – panting, bobbing from side to side, adrift in a sea of lycra.

At this point, I heard somebody say to me, “Hot enough for you?” I looked over and behind me and saw a rider in a kit that I didn’t recognize. I grunted something and went back to concentrating on my pedal stroke, turning it over, turning it over, praying to the 25-tooth cog. “Hey buddy, I’m talking to you,” the rider said. I looked back again and saw that he wearing an antique three-piece suit. He had a waxed mustache and a salacious grin. He fiddled with a pocketwatch for a moment, eyeing me, watching my cadence, and then he produced a large hammer and, rearing back in his saddle, swung a cruel blow at me.

I watched the riders in front of me pull away. My legs were leaden and there were chills throughout my body. A brick was in my gut. I thought maybe when we crested I could chase back on during the descent, if there was anybody else around. I looked around. The man in the suit – the man with the hammer – had disappeared. Off hunting for his next victim, I suppose.

Time Off
April 26, 2010, 12:26 am
Filed under: no one line

Loyal readers – I have a few of those, you know – will notice my decreasing frequency in posts. It’s spring – I’m out racing bikes, working two jobs, and working on the intricacies of life.

So I’ve decided to formalize some time off from writing No One Line, lest I leave anybody wondering.

I’ll leave you all with some parting thoughts.

  • I think it’s pretty funny to be yelled at for not pulling through when my teammate is off the front. Of course I’m not going to work.
  • Not everybody who wins a race is a sandbagger. Therefor, it’s stupid to call everyone who wins a race a sandbagger who should upgrade. But people persist on the illogical notion that the only winners are undeserving ones.
  • On a recovery day a few weeks ago, I felt like I had something to prove, so I went and I rode up “my climb” over a minute faster than I had ever done before. This satisfies me that I’m making some progress. Pyramid intervals reinforce that. I”ve been trying to shock my legs to life.
  • It’s been a really cool Spring Classics season.
  • Something happened, and, I, uh, I think I’m a Cadel Evans fan. It feels strange to admit it, but lately I’ve been rooting for the guy!
  • In amateur races, what’s the point of wheel support if they won’t pace you back to the field?
  • In response to the search term that apparently brought one Internet User to this blog (“Was Marco Pantani a good sprinter?”): Marco Pantani was a climber.

I’ll be back – when I’m ready. In the meantime, make sure you balance miles per hour with smiles per hour.

April 16, 2010, 2:15 pm
Filed under: road race

I had really high hopes for Battenkill. I even told a few people that I dared to win it, at the risk of jinxing it. I don’t believe in jinxing things, but I do believe in being careful what you get your hopes up for, lest you be ungrateful for what you actually get.

I didn’t want to put pressure on myself. I did want to do well. I was worried that I hadn’t raced enough this spring – not enough race miles in the legs to really withstand a hilly 100k of racing. The week leading up to it was a bit of a frenzy, and toward the end of it – after hastily gluing on a new tubular after flatting on a shakedown ride, after having to take apart my training wheel’s hub internals when I realized they were not in raceable condition (all the wrenching you hate to do a day and a half before a big race) – well, crap, I just wanted to race the race. I miss racing. No two races a week within riding distance up here in the wilds of Western Massachusetts – no, without a car, I race when I can get to ’em, which is infrequently.

So the race starts, as me and my teammates suck down a gu at the line, check our pockets, and hand off extra gear to the friends generous enough to be our ‘support team’ – they’ll make their way to the feedzone at mile 40. And when we roll off, more than anything, I’m just happy to be racing again. Making my way through a pack. Watching attacks roll off the front, and jockeying for position as we run into the first climb.

I’m climbing well. It’s hard – everybody is going close to their limit, it seems. But I’m staying in front of the group. We crest the second climb, on dirt, and I go to the front and hammer for a few seconds down the hill. But unlike last year, the group stays together – no severe fragmentation early. I go back and hide from the wind. It’s blowing capriciously.

Some attacks keep going off; a rider or two gets a minute here, visible but small up the road. They come back in due time. The hills do most of the work. We hit the monster just before the halfway point and the group is back together. And as the pack rolls along catching their breath after the climb, my teammate Greg jumps away. He gets a gap. Consistent with other attacks in the race, there’s a bit of a chase at first, and he’s reeled in, but I see him riding away again almost immediately. This time, there’s no chase. A few minutes later some people try to bridge up to him, but I look around and see that the people who had been leading the pack up the climbs with me are unconcerned. Interesting.

In the next ten miles, Greg rides himself out of sight. We hit a series of dirt climbs and the bridge group comes back to us, one by one. Trying to avoid a situation where people are well-rested enough to form a brisk chase, I hammer up the climbs and, on some of the fast, hardpacked dirt roads, push the pace. It looks like I’m trying to split the group on the hard terrain, but really I’m just trying to make it so that the flats are a respite rather than a place to hammer.

Greg stays away.

The final climb looms – this one is long enough to cause a split. Six or eight riders ride away from me, but I keep the gap acceptable until I can manage an in-effort recovery and spin up to them. We crest the hill together, hammer a little bit, and look behind us: a good gap. We settle into a haphazard rotation but before long there’s yelling to get better organization. I shake my head to a teammate in the mix – we’re not working. Another teammate bridges up and our sulking at the back becomes too noticeable, so two of us take a few pulls. But with Greg still off the front my pedal strokes are lackadaisic.

Not like I had a whole lot to give, anyway. I was rapidly wearying. Our plan of rotating attacks had fallen by the wayside – as Al, who made a heroic effort to bridge up, put it: My IQ was in the single digits at this point. I’m grateful to see the 500m-to-go sign; Al goes to the front right before a 90degree turn and I fight for his wheel momentarily with a guy I’d seen active throughout the race.

I lose the right; the tailwind turns into a crosswind and I’m on the wrong side of my teammate. The sprint goes up the left side and I’m on the right. I try to accelerate but give up and finish last in this chase group.

Greg is wheezing by the side of the road. “Yeah,” he said, face still hung over his stem. “I won it.”

Regardless of what the peanut gallery on any given bike forum will say, it doesn’t take a sandbagging muscle-bound monster to stay away solo in an amateur race. It might take such a person to stay away from a committed chase. It might take a team working the field from behind to inhibit the formation of a committed chase. But breaking away and staying away requires some smarts, some legs, and the willingness to go all in on a slim chance.

Every now and then it pays off.

Battenkill Primer
April 6, 2010, 2:11 pm
Filed under: how-to, road race

The Tour of the Battenkill is a hard race on a great course. It’s prestigious, early in the season, and finishing it is a little bit of a badge of honor. Unfortunately, its success might be its undoing: organizers raised the price from $35 to $75 this year. It’s attraction to us amateurs – as evidenced by the four 125-rider Category 4 Men fields – is, perhaps, what lets the organizers get away with this outrageous price. How many of us are saying “I’ll pay this for one last Battenkill, and then move on”? And how many will say that next year?

But I digress. I’m racing Battenkill – I coughed up a one-day race fee that I will never pay again. I raced it last year, and some similar races with “unpave” sections. Furthermore, a hobby of mine is pointing my front wheel toward poorly paved or unpaved roads, trails, or fields, may they tilt upward or drop precipitously downward. With this experience I offer some advice for racing road bikes on dirt roads:

1. Let the bike do the steering. Bikes are smart. The front end is, by and large, stabilizing and self-correcting. When the going gets rough, keep your weight back, your torso relaxed, and let the bike find its own line. It will. If you try to muscle it under control, you risk being too tense and overcompensating, which will help you go down.

2. Keep your center of gravity low. Put your weight on the pedals, not on the saddle. If your ass is in the saddle and your bike takes a good bump, the saddle will punch you in the ass. If your weight is on the pedals, your legs will absorb the blow.

3. You can’t choose your line in a pack. If there’s somebody on your right, somebody on your left, and a pothole bearing down on your front wheel, you have to choose the pothole. Unweighting the front wheel, or bunnyhopping it altogether, will get you through just fine. See #2 and #1.

4. Practice the above skills. And while I’m dispensing advice for prior implementation: train for several months.

5. Eat and drink throughly. This one should go without explication.

The race is on Saturday. Good luck – but not more than me.

de Ronde
April 5, 2010, 1:10 am
Filed under: pro crap

The coverage from TV cameras just doesn’t capture the speed, or the noise. The sound the crowd on the Kapelmuur made when Boonen passed – urging him back on to Cancellara’s wheel – is overwhelming.

Nationally Correct: Spring is Belgian
April 2, 2010, 1:05 am
Filed under: pro crap, road racing

Some people think that certain bikes with rich histories should only be equipped with certain drivetrains. Some people think that it’s heresy to hang anything but Campagnolo on a Colnago, for example.

To those people, I offer a video of the Lion of Flanders climbing the Kapelmuur while riding a Shimano-equipped Colnago.

Now, of course professionals ride what they’re paid to ride. But Johan Museeuw can do whatever he wants.

The Ronde Van Vlaanderen is on Sunday. As usual, Red Kite Prayer will have the florid prose if you want to wax lyrical about the races this time of year. And with the way that E3 Prijs and Ghent-Wevelgem played out, well, are you excited yet?

Hincapie and the Spring Classics
March 29, 2010, 2:26 pm
Filed under: pro crap

For bike racers in New York City, George Hincapie is our hometown hero. He grew up in Queens and cut his teeth racing the roads that still are the Sunday morning battlefields. Stories abound of him shaming 1/2/3 fields at the tender age of 16.

With wins at Gent-Wevelgem and Kurne-Brussels-Kurne, and a physique that’s decidedly suited to he cobbled classics, it’s no wonder that people know him for his goal of winning Roubaix. His best result is a tantalizingly close 2nd to Tom Boonen in 2005; his worst results include the famous snapped steerer tube: watch with a cringe as, in a lead group of 13 (including two teammates, for great odds), Hincapie’s steerer snaps, he rises and rides out of the group, his handlebars snag in his wheels and he’s flipped unceremoniously onto the pave, breaking his collarbone.

Hincapie is the nice guy, the hardworker, the veteran. It’s no surprise that he’s a perennial sentimental favorite for the big spring classics, that every year when Paris-Roubaix comes around people say, “Maybe this year, George will finally get one.” Some additional confidence this year came when he left HTC-Columbia to join BMC Racing, which stocked their roster with well-performing classics riders. But throughout the early part of the season, BMC was quiet and kept well away from major podiums. “It’s hard to consider George a favorite this weekend—and possibly next as well,” wrote Pave Blog in a preview of E3 and Gent-Wevelgem this past weekend. “I’m hoping he’ll have good legs for Roubaix in two weeks—it’s a race where age and experience still mean something—but his current form doesn’t paint an optimistic picture. I hope I’m wrong.”

In yesterday’s Gent-Wevelgem, however, Hincapie was with the lead group, driving the slimming group toward the finish line ahead of the chasers, visible behind them on the road. He opened the sprint too early and was beaten by Eisel, Vanmarcke, and Gilbert, but fourth place is a fine finish in a race of Gent-Wevelgem’s stature.

Now, with E3 Prijs being the day before, some of the Big Guns who entered Gent-Wevelgem weren’t racing, per se. Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen, who finished first and second in E3, abandoned rather than work themselves back to the front when the field was split due to a crash. Maybe Hincapie placed in Gent-Wevelgem but wouldn’t have placed in E3 the day before, if he had raced. Putting two prestigious races on the same weekend meant that the talent made choices, as evidenced by the podium finishers in each race. Cancellara, Boonen, and Flecha topped E3; Eisel, Vanmarcke, and Gilbert topped Gent-Wevelgem.

It’s all Monday morning deskchair speculation. We’ll find out how Hincapie will do in Roubaix in two weeks. Prior to this weekend I was all but ready to toss in the towel of sentimental support for his chances at Roubaix, but his finish at Gent-Wevelgem makes me reconsider.

Pictures from of

What Makes Racing Good
March 23, 2010, 3:32 pm
Filed under: road racing

On Saturday, I saw one of the most exciting races I’ve ever seen. Sure, professional races are exciting – with lots of hype and a lot on the line – but I’m talking about amateur races, seeing the drama and fun and pain unfold right in front of my eyes. It was a smalltown training crit, and the last race of the day was the best.

Three powerful racers broke away after a several laps of jockeying; a fourth rider responded to the attack but the first three fell into a smooth rotation and in a few laps opened up some road between them and the fourth racer. Unable to bridge up, the fourth racer continued hammering and opened a big gap on the field, but was exposed and alone with nearly 30 laps remaining.

The lead trio, working smoothly, made huge gains on the field, and after about ten laps, caught them. Rather than sit up, they went to the front of the field and continued hammering. The fourth place rider had thirty to forty seconds on the field, but with the lead trio towing the lapped field around, was in danger of being caught by those behind due to the efforts of those in front.

I watched the exertion in the racer’s eyes, under the unseasonably warm sun. The lap cards slowly ticked down and this stubborn racer continued riding a huge pursuit, staying on the opposite side of the course as the leaders and the field. With three laps to go – as the leaders and the field got within fifteen or twenty seconds of the fourth place rider – the field was instructed to sprint for placings, so the top four could finish unimpeded. The fourth place racer had held off the field; the top three rode the laps until they attacked one another and sprinted for their podium places and, a minute later, the fourth place rider finished, exhausted.

The determination to stay out in no-woman’s-land despite missing the break and then being effectively chased by the break is more than commendable: it’s the sort of painful stubbornness, the grit, that makes bike racing – all bike racing, from the most fearful amateur to the most arrogant pro – exciting.

In my races, I’m not strong enough to go out on my own and flog my legs with my face in the wind – not for too long. I have to play the highwire walk of careful positioning and shelter, the studious chess of bike race tactics. But there’s something elemental about the solo break; there’s a reason why time trials are called “the race of truth” and there’s a reason that there’s something fundamentally beautiful about riding across the finish line with no other riders in sight. In this case, there was something more beautiful and awe-inspiring about a solo fourth place than a podium position from a break, and it’s because of the grit she displayed, sticking to her move for 28 laps under the hot sun, alone, being chased by the people ahead of her.