no one line

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.

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

Milan-San Remo is Tomorrow
March 19, 2010, 12:47 pm
Filed under: pro crap, road racing

image from

Milan San-Remo is tomorrow. Last year, in a odd sprint, Haussler opened a huge gap and Cavendish shut it down, his chin on his stem, his mouth open like a shark.

This year, Cavendish will get beaten. Not just in Milan-San Remo, but throughout the Grand Tours. He’s had problems this year: ‘dental issues,’ a crash and a poor performance in Tirenno-Adriatico. Maybe he’ll be in great shape for Tour de France but without Hincapie and Boasson Hagen to support him, his train is weakened. There are just too many question marks at this point for me to presume he’ll continue to be dominant.

As for Milan-San Remo, I predict that it will be won out of a late break. The riders who have expressed confidence – Pozatto, Gilbert, Cancellara – are the types who can go hard when everyone’s spent. With rain forecast, maybe we’ll see something as exciting as the 1992 Milan-San Remo, with Sean Kelly decending the Poggio suicidally, in the rain, tires slipping out, in an attempt to catch Moreno Argentin before the finish line.

Me? Well. It is the classic struggle of the spring: do I go race or do I stay home and watch important spring races?

Zirbel’s Positive
February 26, 2010, 10:33 pm
Filed under: how-to, pro crap

You should read what Tom Zirbel has to say about his positive test.

He is one of the few riders I’ve ever seen to really offer a good perspective on how important our sport is in the grand scheme of things. His announcement is informal, rambling, and honest – far more personal than any statement regurgitated through one of the cycling news websites and repeated, ad nauseum, on other sites, blogs, and Twitter.

Despite keeping the door open for a ‘comeback’ when his suspension is served, he asks, What’s more extraordinary – if Greg Mortenson would have made it to the summit of K2 or if Greg Mortenson failed to summit K2 and instead dedicated his life to building hundreds of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan? What’s more extraordinary – Eric Heiden the amazing skater and cyclist or Eric Heiden the amazing surgeon? … I would rather help the boy I’m mentoring graduate from college and break the cycle of poverty in his family than win a Pro Tour TT. To me, the life I’m choosing from this day on is more challenging and potentially rewarding than the life of training to ride in a straight line really fast for 40 minutes. For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to do both so it’s time to step back and re-prioritize.

Kudos, Zirbel, and good luck.

February 16, 2010, 5:27 pm
Filed under: pro crap, sprints

With registration open for the Grant’s Tomb Criterium, and with a ‘training camp’ or sorts planned for the weekend before that, now is as good a time as ever to get excited about leadouts. Some recent action in the pro’s early season races has provided some good fodder for commentary.

It’s hard to talk about leadouts without thinking about Cavendish’s win on the Champs-Elysees last year. Columbia’s strong siezure of the leadout as the point of the arrow passed underneath the red kite was notable, but there was a lot that happened prior to the fiamme rouge. Garmin held the pace, but it wasn’t high enough and they put their men on the front too soon. A super-controlled leadout needs two fresh men and a sprinter with one kilometer to go. With 1k to go, Garmin was fading. Hincapie jumped, stole the peloton, and handed a victory to Cavendish.

New squad Team Sky could stand to learn a thing or two from Garmin. On the final stage of the Tour of Qatar this weekend, Bradley Wiggins took a huge pull that stretched the pack out into a long, thin line, but shortly after he pulled off, Sky’s big train reshuffled and faded, and Quick Step and Liquigas’s leadout trains started fighting for control. Sky’s train was derailed and their sprinter, Boasson Hagen, was out of contention.

Sky seemed to learn their lesson at the Tour of Oman. Rather than try to control the front from so far out, they appeared later in full force. Savvy, they took the front after a roundabout, with enough juice to power their train all the way to the line. Other teams are trying to draw abreast but struggle; gaps open behind. That’s a leadout. Team Sky delivers Boasson Hagen to the sprint without allowing other teams to control the front. Boasson Hagen finishes second. It wasn’t commanding, but it was an improvement over their performance in Qatar.

With new teams like Team Sky hitting the scene with big plans, and Garmin on its underdog quest to set Tyler Farrar up to win as much as some people think he ought to, it should be a fun season for sprinters – especially since now, still in the preseason, there seems to be some good competition afoot as teams show they’ve got teeth well in advance of Classics season.

As for me, I’ll keep going to bed with dreams of hammering away at the front, drawing out some low-cat field into a long thin line, setting up my sprinter.

1996 Paris-Roubaix
February 7, 2010, 11:43 pm
Filed under: pro crap

The recent death of Franco Ballerini sent me scrounging for decent footage of his 1998 Paris-Roubaix victory. The video is grainy. Ballerini rides in to the velodrome at Roubaix alone.

His Mapei kit sent me scrounging for some other notable victories by that powerhouse team. You can’t do that without turning up footage of Mapei’s podium sweep in Roubaix in ’96. Johan Museeuw won it, but that’s practically beside the point. Museeuw, Bortolami, and Tafi rolled into the velodrome together, keeping formation, like a freight train.

In the final lap around the velodrome, the announcers’ voices get excited and tense as they wait for a final move, an attack, a sprint. They prattle about Museeuw’s chances and question why he’s leading out the trio. But instead of a gripping final four hundred meters, what happens? He doesn’t sprint, and they don’t attack to come around him. They raise their hands – first, keeping one on the bars, cautious on the banking even after all those kilometers of pave. And then, in genuine victory. Bortolami and Tafi raise their hands in celebration and Museeuw, a bike length ahead, not sprinting, puts his hands up too. He doesn’t raise his hands in celebration. One hand up and the other behind him: he’s saluting his teammates.

Absolutely beautiful.

Ballerini rolls in shortly afterward for fifth place.

If I Lose 50 Pounds, Can I go Pro too?
February 6, 2010, 7:54 pm
Filed under: pro crap

Ah, yes, the professional season is starting. It is, really. You can tell because there is a stage race where sprinters are the GC threats, and that the biggest news about another race is that Thor Hushovd isn’t racing it. Amid the catty preseason drama that passes for news is a cool story of one of the new additions to the Cervelo Test Team, Joao Correia.

The synopsis is that he was a pro for a hot minute fifteen or so years ago, when he was young. In the intervening years, he put on a few pounds, worked for Bicycling Magazine, and two years ago, lost the weight, signed with Bissel Pro Cycling, and started the 2008 Harlem Rocks Criterium with a whole Pinarello and finished it with two halves of a Pinarello.

In an interview at NYVelocity he displays some charm and wit, including referencing tweaking a Notorious BIG song to sing “It was all a dream, I used to read Winning Magazine…” and cracking wise about using the Pro Tour to train for winning a Central Park Race, and bringing Hushovd to help him do it.

You can find some more reading material at Bill Strickland‘s blog, with everpresent (but mild) snark at Cyclocosm, and over at some local, NY newspaper. As he races his way through Europe, you can follow him at his webpage and his Twitter. I don’t expect that he’ll post good results, but it’s hard not to root for a hometown boy.

Marco Pantani’s Bianchi – 1998
February 2, 2010, 3:20 pm
Filed under: politics, pro crap, the cycling world, Tour de France

Last spring, at the Trexlertown Velodrome Swap Meet, I came across an unusal score – a Selle Italia Flite embroidered with a cartoon Marco Pantani’s face. It read, “The Pirate.” What was remarkable was not necessarily the rarity of this item, but the fact that my pal and colleague, Ethan (of the fine clothing company Laek House) had told me, just a day or two earlier, how long and hard he had looked for this odd end of the bike part spectrum. I, feeling generous, called him from in front of the busy vendor’s table at the swap meet and told him that I was bringing him back a present.

Today I stumbled upon a cyclingnews feature on Marco Pantani’s 1998 Bianchi race bike, the adjective-stricken “Mega Pro XL Reparto Corse” (custom, of course). That year, Pantani won the Giro d’Italia, and put nine minutes into Jan Ullrich in one stage of the Tour de France on his way to becoming the first Italian in thirtyfour years to wear the Yellow Jersey on his way into Paris.

Twelve years doesn’t seem like a particularly long time, but the article reads like a piece of paleontology – “Look at what we unearthed, signs of a forgotten people and their strange customs: alloy rear derailleurs, Campagnolo 9 speed, 1″ nonintegrated forks!” The author seems to forget that Campagnolo used square-tapered crank interfaces until only a few years ago, that a twelve-year old bike would be competitive even today, and that the thousands of dollars a rider might spend on aerodynamics wanders deep into the terrain of diminishing returns. Bikes, even racing bikes, can still be fairly simple machines.

There are unusual parts to the bike. In an era when compact geometry crept into bike design for reasons varying from “stiffer and lighter” to “fewer stock sizes, cheaper to produce,” Pantani’s bike had a remarkably traditional geometry, with a handlebar height from the era of downtube shifting. And, though you’d imagine a climbing specialist to have gears for climbing, his bike was outfitted with an 11-23 and, stunningly, a 54/44 up front. It’s easy to forget the superhuman attributes of world class athletes – even ones tattooed with track marks.

Pantani was a tragic hero – tangled up in EPO use behind the Lycra Wall of Silence (if I am the first to use this term, please, cite me), a national hero stuck between between celebrity and depression. His last great win was arguably spoiled by some big dumb Texan running his mouth about ‘giving’ Pantani the win on top of Mt Ventoux. I prefer to think that Armstrong was spent from his attack that bridged up to Pantani, and had nothing left at the end.

He died of a cocaine overdose five years ago.

He is, perhaps, a tragic example of the difficult transition that cycling has been making through levels of acceptance of doping: from open acknowledgement, to pervasive but hushed, to a peloton that grimly defended its practices by shunning anybody who exposed them, through doping convictions and bans, to clean teams, and on its way to a hopefully cleaner peloton. In the intermediate stages, when everything was torn asunder, it’s no wonder that the upheaval has caused collateral damage, and it’s no great stretch to speculate that Pantani’s overdose, his depression, was linked to his controversy-stunted career. He was known as a quiet, private person; in his diary, he wrote,

For four years I’ve been in every court, I just lost my desire to be like all the other sportsmen, but cycling has paid and many youngsters have lost their faith in justice. All my colleagues have been humiliated, with TV cameras hidden in their hotel rooms to try and ruin families. How could you not hurt yourself after that?

Here’s hoping that cycling has moved past leaving victims in its wake as it pursues cleaner, more honorable competition. When I consider the need to keep heroes despite condemning doping practices (Anquetil’s comment on “mineral water” and Coppi’s crack about only doping when necessary come to mind), I wonder if perhaps what cycling needs is an amnesty, a time of truth and reconciliation that will allow former dopers to admit to past practices without shame, guilt, or punishment, before the whole sport moves forward.

Pantani’s bike, above, is from the year of the Festina Scandal.

As we bundle up in the winter and click newslinks with daydreams of spring classics still months away, here’s hoping that the pursuit of clean racing doesn’t ruin more lives.

This post started being about the odd, foreign tone of the Cyclingnews bit, but morphed into what will be, I hope, my last comments on doping for a while.