“The Rider,” by Tim Krabbe, starts boldly: Meyrueis, Lozere, June 26, 1977. Hot and overcast. I take my gear out of the car and put my bike together. Tourists and locals are watching form sidewalk cafes. Non-racers. The emptiness of those lives shocks me.
Krabbe is singlemindedly focusing on his bicycle, his body, and the race that unfolds over the course of the book. He is brutally honest, and that is why he admits fervently hoping that others in the pack admire his strength; why he describes trying to punish other riders, his friends, with his pace; and why he’s willing to write that, be it just for this race or more generally speaking, he is only fulfilled by racing his bicycle.
I know how he feels.
The spring and the racing season are both approaching slowly and I have been doing my best to develop in concert with them. Two weeks ago we had a few days of delightful weather in the high-50s. I went for a ride without legwarmers or tights and felt the air on the skin of my calves. To consecrate this, I shaved off my autumn and winter hair growth on my legs. Later, I realized that the track schedule is up on the Kissena website, so I publicized it far and wide on our local fixed gear message board with the message get excited.
And tomorrow, February though it may be, is the first road race of the season. Last night the team met to talk general tactics and my category split off to talk about Saturday’s race. My training buddy and I have a plan; we have a few teammates willing to support that plan.
There are races every weekend from now until who-knows-when.
The coffee is strong. I’m heading out to spin my legs with some friends shortly.
The season begins.
Photo from Doug D.
I thought I was a good bike handler until I watched New York City’s bike polo players in action. If you think that trackstanding at a stoplight on your road bike is hard, wait until you try reaching over your handlebars with a mallet, straining to reach the ball, while turning to avoid the wall of the court as an opposing player shoulders you and tries to swat your mallet away from the ball. Needless to say, the learning curve is such that it may be several games before you manage a shot on goal.
Bike polo has grown a lot in the past several years. I remember, four years ago, getting invited to a pick-up game somewhere on the East River. Two years ago, it really took off, and Sunday games drew crowds of bikers who would hang out, drink beer, and enjoy the day in Chinatown. These days, cities host tournaments for out-of-towners – there’s a surprising National element to the game, complete with high-caliber rivalries and all. Of course, it’s also got plenty of mainstream attention – an article in the New York Times and, I kid you not, a scene in a Cameron Diaz/Ashton Kutcher movie. This summer, my own Nana mailed me an article about bike polo from a newspaper in the small Vermont town where she lives, with a short note at the top: “This looks like something you’d be in to!”
It’s been fun watching this sport develop, try and figure out the extent to which it should articulate its rules, while also watching the polo culture develop with a bit of tension between the developing athletecism and the desire to make polo welcoming for people of all skill levels. The folks at the helm are a pretty good bunch and it seems that polo’s rising profile hasn’t disrupted their ability to enjoy themselves (unlike what may have happened with alleycat racing). It’s been a while since I’ve swung by the polo grounds to hang out and watch the play, and even longer since I’ve played, but maybe in the next week or two I’ll get out there. Courtesy of NYC Bike Polo, here’s a video of poloistas in action. Enjoy!
Filed under: Bartali
A couple of months ago, the Velosopher made a nice post about souplesse, accepting nominations of the cyclist who best demonstrated souplesse. Not surprising, he concluded that Fausto Coppi is the cyclist with that graceful strength that’s so elusive and beautiful.
Last month, Belgium Knee Warmers published a really moving four-part essay on Fausto Coppi, written by his friend, teammate, and rival Gino Bartali. “Coppi and Me,” Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. Bartali’s prose is as smooth as Coppi’s cadence, and the stories of the two careening between loving cooperation and teeth-clenching competition are really lovely.
I was poking around on Dave Moulton’s now-defunct blog and saw a piece on Bartali that I hadn’t yet read. Now, one of the interesting elements to Bartali and Coppi’s dominance of the sport is that their careers were interrupted by World War II. Bartali, five years older than Coppi, got the shorter end of the stick, being of the prime age between 25 and 30 when the war was underway.
Apparently, Bartali worked with the Italian Resistance movement, working specifically with a network in Tuscany called DelAsEm. He was a courier, going on “training rides” to retrieve photographs of Jews in hiding for use in forged travel documents so that they could flee Italian Fascists and German Nazis. His fame and prominence let him avoid suspicion. That’s just Bartali out for a ride – although apparently he was detained and threatened by officials, though no doubt his fame prevented officials from making good on their threats. After that, he went on to actually smuggle people toward the Swiss Alps, pulling a wagon with a secret compartment. “Just part of my training.”
I read this Cycling News interview with Marty Nothstein, and found it pretty interesting. If you watch track sprint races from the 1990s, Marty Nothstein is the enormous dude in the front at the finish line. He’s got a couple palmares, including being the National sprint champ from ’96 to ’01; here he is dominating the 1996 Olympic trials at the Trexlertown Velodrome (the 5 parts of that video are pretty enjoyable).
I like that interview with Nothstein because it spins into some geekery, and that’s satisfying to me. It’s fun to learn that Marty was sprinting on a 50×14 gear – a huge gear for track racing, but incidentally, a fairly small gear for road sprintig where riders will be pounding a 53×13, 12, and maybe even 11 (but if roadies think that a 50×14 is a small gear, try starting your sprint in that gear, from a standing start!). He also shares his preferred crank length with us – 167.5mm for sprint events.
I also like that we get a perfect glimpse into the significant ego of the sprinter:
CN: Six hundred meters out, Marty Nothstein, or Lance Armstrong?
MN: In a sprint?
MN: After how long?
CN: A Classic.
MN: He’s done.
CN: Six hundred meters out, Marty Nothstein or Mario Cipollini?
MN: Cipo’s done. No problem.
Something in me doubts that a beefcake like Marty, a pure sprinter, would even be with Lance Armstrong or Cipolllini with 600 meters left in a Classic. But there’s Marty, pretty confident in his ability to destroy everybody else. The sprint is certainly a discipline that just attracts or perhaps manufactures big egos – I wonder to what extent that’s due to the fact that, unlike many other cycling events, sprints are very individual events. The match sprint is (usually) a one-on-one event. There is a lot of room for tactical manipulation of the race but there is very little room for nonpersonal variables to sneak in and effect the outcome of the race – whereas, in road cycling, so many racers need to be humbled by their vulnerability to the elements, the terrain, a staple in the road, or a team that’s just too damn strong. To win a road race, the stars have to be alligned, the cards shuffled, the tires intact, and maybe you’ve got to be the strongest rider on the road.
In a track sprint, you’ve only got to be the strongest rider on the banking. So I can see where the ego comes in to play. Oh, right, and there’s this:
MN: I need to win.
MN: I just plain out like it! There’s nothing better.
Need more be said?
Rumor on the street is that he’ll be around to teach some higher-level training sessions at the Kissena Velodrome this season. I’ll have to check that out.
Closing the post with a fun fact: the GT that Marty is mounting here was actually made by Trimble Cycles, developed and built by the uncle of a teammate of mine. Other Trimble designs were incorporated into Kestrel bicycles, but my favorite Trimble design due to its sheer outlandishness is the “sailbike,” an aero tt/tri bike from the 80s. Crazy!
Stephen Roche on La Plagne, Tour de France 1987.
On Monday, three of us met in the morning and headed over the bridge for a training ride. We had no lofty goals for the ride, no intentions of long mileage or tough paces, but we did want to take advantage of the nice day and get some miles in to our legs. And we wanted to ride together, outdoors. Al and I went after some hills together, and on the flats Gui joined us for some traffic light sprints. On the way back from Piermont, Al and I decided to turn off of 9W to take a run at Sherriff’s Hill (the Alpine climb), one of the few challenging steep sections within a short ride of New York City. We were a bit exhausted from our ride (despite my intention to work on re-fueling during longer rides, I messed up and felt it), and so looked at each other and decided not to crush it up the hill, just to take it steadily and do it because it’s there. We descended the bumpy, twisty cliffside road, called Gui to ask him to time us, and set up the road.
On the bottom third, Al set a steady pace that reminded me that climbing hurts. Two-thirds of the way up I made my way around to embracing the pain, having it drive me with that teeth-gritting damn-the-torpedoes attitude that I’m not entirely familiar with in myself. Gui was there, circling where the road started to level out, and when we drew even he road next to me as I heaved side to side and yelled, “Faster! They’re right behind you! You’re almost there!” and then, “Six minutes and six seconds,” which is faster than I’ve ever climbed that hill – despite our set-no-records approach to the day. Needless to say it made me feel like I’m making progress and gaining strength for the upcoming season.
I can’t climb hills without thinking about Stephen Roche’s performance on La Plagne in the 1987 Tour de France. There’s a terrific video clip here, where you get to see footage of him collapsing and a later interview (“I just et the road” – priceless). I actually meant to post this as part of On Losing, but forgot, and never went back to edit. Take it as an example of a way to lose with style, pushing yourself so hard that you collapse at the end and your rival doesn’t even realize that he’s only gained 4 seconds on you at the end of the day. Utterly hard, utterly bad-ass
Roche also gets bonus points for being bashful about his cheeky comment, and translating it to hindsight-language as “I don’t think I’ll be going dancing tonight.”
Rumor on the street is that Lance Armstrong might be going after the Hour Record. Apparently (according to Velonews, he booked some time at the ADT Velodrome and tested with two bikes: a Trek T1 with 28-spoked wheels, and a bike set up with aerobars and deep-section carbon wheels. Not surprisingly, reports say that in the aeroposition, Lance saw a significant increase in speed at the same power output. The reported 31.6mph (17.7 seconds per lap) would put him at pace to surpass Ondrej Sosenka’s record of 49.7k (30.9 miles) record.
Sosenka’s record was done on a traditional, twin-triangle bike with drop bars and spoked wheels (image here). The Hour Record is broken down into the “Athlete’s Hour,” which requires use of a traditional bike, and the “Best Human Performance” category, which allows for innovative use of aerodynamic equipment. Lance might be doing a feasability study on his ability to set the record in either category.
At this point it’s probably premature to suggest that he has plans to set the record. If he he tested a traditional bike and an aero bike, it suggests that he hasn’t decided which to go after – which means that he probably hasn’t decided to go after the record. However, he does have a reputation for being an extremely well-focused and hard-training athlete. Now that he’s no longer focused on winning the hell out of more Tours de France than anyone else ever and has transitioned to racing to make headlines to raise money for the Livestrong Foundation, maybe it makes sense that he’d apply his training focus to setting a record that would, by virtue of his big name, make headlines and contribute further to his “I’m racing against cancer, not the peloton” soundbyte campaign.
It would be extremely exciting to see him make a serious attempt on the Athlete’s Hour Record, but it’s probably too way soon to get excited about it.
The dates for VeloCity 2009 have been announced – the flyer is here. Run by Kevin “Squid” Bolger, NYC’s most media-friendly bike messenger, VeloCity is both great track racing competition and an excellent way for the inexperienced to try racing at a velodrome.
Over the past several years, Squid’s top-notch promotion has gotten a lot more people racing at the Kissena Velodrome in Queens. He has brought messengers, city bikers, and young people, greatly contributing to the resurgence in popularity that Kissena has enjoyed in recent years. I wouldn’t be surprised if VeloCity has made similar contributions to the other tracks where it will be held, too.
Men’s and women’s winners of the messenger competition will receive round-trip airfare to Tokyo for the Cycle Messenger World Champsionships – that’s a big prize. Last year, VeloCity was in early March, on a clear and sharply cold day – it will be nice racing in fairer weather this year.
I highly recommend VeloCity if you’re interested in getting in to track racing. The Kissena Velodrome has some loaner bikes in the storage shed, so if you don’t have a track bike there’s a chance that there will be one in (roughly) your size available to use. Doublecheck with John Campo, the track director, what sizes are available, and bring pedals, shoes, and a helmet.
And go hit the banking!