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.

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.

Bareknuckle Sprints
February 9, 2010, 2:03 pm
Filed under: accidents, crash, sprints, t-town, track bikes, track racing, velodromes

For your viewing pleasure, a compilation of out-and-out bareknuckle match sprints:

2000 World Championship Match Sprints, Gane versus Chiappa. No love lost between these two, apparently.

In the 1994 World Championship Match Sprint tournament the sprinter’s lane seems to be a mere suggestion. Semifinals: in Darryn Hill v Jens Fiedler, Fiedler forces Hill to the blue band so Hill forces Fiedler well out of the sprint lane. Coming up over that line that far is a special type of sharp elbows. Following that, in the same video, Nothstein employs the same tactic against Michael “The Big German” Hubner.

Maybe there was something particularly slippery about that track’s Turn Four. The finals of this tournament are here, part 1 and part 2; and to round out the tournament,¬†Hubner and Fiedler duke it out for the bronze.

There’s also the famous match between Gordon Singleton and Koichi Nakano from the 1982 World Championships: round 1, round 2, round 3.¬†Much nailbiting sprints can be found at this youtube channel: “See all 167 videos” … good luck getting anything done at work today.

In the realm of full body contact is the 2009 collision between countrymen Kevin Sirreau and Gregory Bauge: a recovery slick enough for trickster fixed gear videos.

Of course, any mention of bareknuckle sprinting would be incomplete without the famous ‘keirin carnage’ incident at the Trexlertown Velodrome, and among classic Keirin dumpfests is this football match. As a parting note – since I got on the subject of keirin – I can’t do it justice unless I link to this stunning performance by Theo Bos, who’s currently hacking it out as a road sprinter with a sullied reputation.

Have any more? Feel free to link for me and our readers in the comments.

Head to Head with a National Champ?
September 8, 2009, 2:36 pm
Filed under: Kissena, Natty Champs, sprints, track racing

One of the things that JP said earlier in the year in his shoes as the club’s development director was, “You might be a sprinter with your friends but that’s a lot different than being a sprinter in a race.” The lesson is that you might have a sprint but in a race there’s bound to be somebody bigger and stronger who can apply that pure power better than you can. Most people’s best bet is to try to force a selection from which they can try to place, rather than to sprint against the whole field. The difference between a honest-to-goodness sprinter and someone who can occasionally sprint became obvious to me this weekend at the track, my first time out as a Cat 3. Unfortunately, only two other 1/2/3 riders had registered. One of them threw down the track’s fastest Kilo time at Opening Weekend in April and a few weeks ago at the State Championships. The other is a Master’s National Champion in the match sprint.

Oh well.

I had been hoping that a small field would be combined with others so that we could race some mass-start races, but it was only to be a handful of match sprints.

Oh well.

What played out “sprinting against” Andrew Lacorte reminded me of a scene from The Wire, when McNulty, roughly handled by bosses, and his partner Bunk are working their way toward getting belly-up at a bar. “You know why I respect you, Bunk? Because when it came time for you to screw me, you were very gentle.” Bunk – as drunk or drunker than McNulty – replies, “I knew it was your first time. I wanted it to be special.” Lacorte wouldn’t let me slip away when I hammered from the whistle, so we danced around a little bit, kept the pace high, and when I started sprinting, he just held me on his rear wheel, increasing the pace deftly. He didn’t ride away from me, which was either gentlemanly, or kid-glove treatment. Maybe both.

Later, in a 3-up sprint, I drilled it from the line as Colin tucked behind Lacorte, hoping that he would tire. Interested in an even playing field, I was trying to give Colin a fighting chance, which he had, though Lacorte held him off when they started sprinting in earnest (at this point, well ahead of me).

Afterward, Colin paid me a nice compliment. “When I was trying to come around him his arms were shaking. He looked tired at that point.” Lacorte, overhearing this, responded, “That’s a tactic.” Maybe, but leading your competition to believe that fatigue is not fatigue, but a tactic – that’s a tactic, too.

I made third place look easy yesterday, and besides, I got a chance to top off the tan line on my thighs.

And even though it was probably a stretch to say that I raced against Lacorte, it’s still pretty cool to go head-to-head against a National Champion.

Photos linked from Mike Mahesh’s blog.

Tour of New York
June 15, 2009, 1:22 pm
Filed under: road race, road racing, sprints, tactics

We had numbers in this race, and I knew who to mark in the event that a leadout train failed. I stayed sheltered, and felt strong. I’ve been sprinting well. I can do this. I was in position. Brooklyn Velo Force had a strong train going up; our train was running strong at the front. Westwood Velo moved up and things got chaotic, dense, elbows bumping and everybody struggling to hold position and suddenly it wasn’t fast enough. Our train fell apart. The front got jammed up and was very tight.

Suddenly BVF’s two sprinters were on the front with 500 meters to go, and I had some daylight to the right. So I jumped, went across the road, hard, and tried to hold it. Opened a gap. Peeked under my armpit. Watched it start to close. Saw a guy come up on my right hip. The line was right there. Then more guys.

I was swallowed twenty meters from the line.

Maybe I salvaged a top ten. I came close to winning. Sigh. There’s always next time.

I think it was a good move. Our train had started to disintegrate in the ragged, aggressive front. BVF’s sprinter wasn’t going to jump from that far out. I felt strong; the pace had slowed. It was worth a shot. The opportunity was there and I took it. What should I do next time?

I think I should be a little more patient; another hundred feet down the road, if that kept up, and I could have jumped clear to hold it. Maybe. If somebody else hadn’t taken initiative by then. Maybe they started sprinting, saw me dangling out there, and laughed.

I’m glad I tried it. Sitting in and waiting for a possible sprint victory is tough – it’s tough with ringers like Lombardi and Aracena in the field, it’s tough on the psyche, the notion that I spent twentyfive bucks to risk my bike and my neck cruising around Prospect Park for over an hour so I can race for a minute and a half.

I’d rather upgrade on points than on top ten finishes, and to do that I’m going to have to take risks. So I should try it. Attack. More often. Go ahead. I think about a guy who races out at the velodrome, Tadeusz Marszalek. He’s a great racer to watch because he attacks constantly. I’d rather race like him, not try to sit pretty and then hope that by some accident of registration I’m the best sprinter in the field. Because I’m not.

The right attack might get me that podium. Not this time, though.

Two teammates went down in the madness of the final moments before the sprint uncorked in earnest. Shoulder injuries. Kerry and Todd, best wishes for your rapid recovery.

The Ripple Effect?
June 5, 2009, 3:43 pm
Filed under: no one line, road racing, sprints

I love when rest days coincide with rainy days – I can take the subway, read a few chapters of a book (currently: Acts of Faith by Phillip Caputo. Crushing), and not feel completely lazy or like I’m missing a day. Last night’s efforts – twentyfive miles up to a crit in New Jersey, placing 8th in the race, and riding back to Brooklyn – got my egg well and cooked.

I think I’ve made at least one and possibly two stupid moves in recent races. I consider myself a decent rider. I feel relaxed and in control of the bike. I’m aware of riders around me and I’ll let an attack or acceleration go if I think it’s unsafe for me to get up and jump after it. But: recently, in a sprint, I was passing a lot of people because I was in poor position, too far back, but still had a lot of sprint to wind up and thought I could still place. I tore up the right side with a huge head of steam with the leaders still in front of me, but I needed to get left to have room to sprint more. I checked my left side and slid left, moving over several “lanes.” Not holding my line. Not swerving, not in a tight pack – I had very definitively passed people – but still. Tenuous at best, right?

I think it was careful, but I also think it was stupid because it could very easily have not been careful. Confessional and defense all rolled together. I tend to roll my eyes at people sprinting from behind, but in this case, I placed in the top ten, I hit the line with a big head of steam, and if the line was ten meters down the road I could have podiumed. Should I have done it? Maybe not. Was it bad? Maybe not. Should I do it again? Probably not.

Here’s the thing – different activity looks different from different perspectives. One person can go right up to the edge having assessed the safety of doing so, but an observer doesn’t necessarily know what that person has and hasn’t considered. The observer hasn’t reckoned the what-ifs, so there’s a lot of unsettled potential for risk. That leads to conflict in the pack.

A teammate’s recent race report described coming up in a cat 2 sprint as another rider swerved toward him. Rather than swerve to avoid him, he leaned against the rider, trying to stabilize the situation. Obviously, words were exchanged after the race, and my teammate’s point was that he felt it was the safest thing to do in the situation.

Things appear different to different people; if you want to avoid setting off a chain reaction of people taking precautionary measures because they don’t know whether or not you have evaluated the risk of the move you’re making, then it might be best not to toe that line of apparent-but-evaluated/controlled risk.

Bottom line? I felt what I did was safe but the ends don’t justify the means.

Your thoughts?

Theo Bos
April 10, 2009, 12:52 pm
Filed under: road racing, sprints, track racing, velodromes

Is Theo Bos old news now? Everybody has been talking about Chris Hoy for the past year or so, but before that, it was all about Theo Bos, this young Dutch rider who seemed indominitable in the sprint. Just how powerful was he? Take a look at this keirin from the 2006 worlds – when he also won gold in the sprint (against Gregory Bauge, looking a lot less muscular four years ago than he does these days) and the kilo. Later that year he set the record for the Flying 200 (a flying-start 200 meter sprint time trial) clocking 9.772 seconds.

However, in the Beijing olympics, he came up empty-handed. Word on the boards is that he’s working on transitioning to be a road racer. An odd transition – conventional wisdom says that track endurance riders, who specialize in the madison or the points race, would make good road sprinters (see the road circuit’s Golden Boy du Jour, Mark Cavendish, as an example), but that track sprinters are too specialized and too muscular to survive much road racing.

Bos has a different physique than today’s all-star, Chris Hoy. Take a look at that picture above – one of the reasons why I like watching Bos race. He’s lithe, graceful and predatory like a panther. He’s speed compared to the muscular Hoy’s sheer power.

If his road career doesn’t really take off and he never returns to his brilliance at the track, well then, at least we’ll have our memories, right? Few things in bike racing have come close to the sight of Hoy spinning so smooth, so fast, opening up huge gaps on world-class sprinters as he’s flying through the corners.

Track World Champsionships – Men’s Match Sprint
April 2, 2009, 2:26 pm
Filed under: sprints, track racing, velodromes

I’ve been watching the Men’s Match Sprint from the World Champsionships a few times over to see how it played out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the first round, but here are the second and third rounds. France’s Gregory Bauge versus Malaysia’s Azizulhashi Awang – such a size difference between the two! There are plenty of small, punchy road sprinters like sprinter du jour Mark Cavendish of High Road, who came from the British Track Cycling team (the only one who didn’t medal in the Beijing Olympics!), but it’s a bit more rare to see a tiny track sprinter.

Rounds two and three are excellent sprints. In round 2, Awang keeps Bauge on his toes and changes his position frequently to throw off whatever Bauge’s game plan might be; then, he disrupts Bauge’s acceleration by riding him up track so that he’s a bit less prepared to respond to Awang’s long, steady sprint, which held off Bauge in those final 50 meters or so.

In round 3 it looks like he tried to do the same thing, but Bauge disrupted it by getting behind Awang and dancing around, throwing Awang off. Bauge had control, and with a lap and a half to go, Bauge was ramping up the pace for the sprint high on the boards, Awang was stuck down low with no way to get control over Bauge’s sprint – he was toast. I wonder if he felt like he was swimming back to the boat at night with the shark’s splashing noises coming closer and closer. Awang, low on the boards, trying to accelerate while Bauge had the obvious advantage in that Championship sprint.

In other Bauge news, Ethan at Laek House posted a handful of excellent pictures from the Bauge/Sireau crash. I saw an internet mention of this being caused by the tubular rolling, but it looks like Sireau’s arm made contact with Bauge, which lifted and turned his bars. He lost traction, turned the bars more, and the tubular rolled while he was going down. Here it is in slow-motion, but really, the photos linked above are better.

Connecticut Criteriums
March 9, 2009, 1:04 pm
Filed under: race, road racing, sprints, training

I spent a weekend in Connecticut and used the opportunity to race criteriums in Plainville and Bethel. I needed just a few more races before I upgrade, and I chose Plainville based largely on having heard about it from Sprinter Della Casa‘s blog and Bethel from its reputation in NYC as a good training crit. After racing both, I highly recommend each for some good weekend racing.

Plainville is an excellent course – fast and flat, D-shaped with two ninety degree turns separated by the home stretch and by a long, fast, winding part. The final turn was just before the 200m mark. The combined 4/5 category meant that the race was long enough to be satisfying (45 minutes plus 5 laps), and I found the racers and organizers, volunteers, and marshalls to be really congenial. I got there with enough time for a few warm-up laps before being called to the line, and when the race started I found that the quality of racing was pretty high. A few riders whom I wanted to be away from but nothing terrible, and some people who had that quiet confidence around them.

I separated the race into sections and executed my plan very well. I sat in and got a feel for it. Then I tested things out as an opportunist, putting myself in a good two-person break for several laps until we were decisively reeled in. Then, I sat in and recovered, and figured out what positioning I would need for the sprint (recovery was aided by an unfortunate 6+ rider stack-up on the backstretch; the officials stopped the race a few laps after as an ambulance needed to attend to one rider still down. Here’s hoping that everyone is not too bad off and riding again soon). And then I played my position very well, putting myself where I thought I needed to be. I saw an acceleration moving up the inside on the backstretch, jumped, got myself to be the third wheel, took the corner at 31mph and sprinted. I got into a rider’s draft and threw my bike at the line to take 2nd! I even won cash, which went right into lunch for me, my traveling buddy, our helpful friend, and our two hosts for the night. Burritos – my favorite post race food.

My traveling partner and I rolled up to Bethel in barely enough time to sign in and get to the line. I was able to take one (1) warmup lap: ninety degree turn, sweeping gentle downhill, wicked headwinds on the back stretch, and a hill that’s long and steep enough to change things. Sand on the course but nowhere particularly dangerous. The cat 5 race was only 12 laps and I figured I’d just patrol the front. The front turned out to be the eventual winner, a big young guy who liked to sit at the front and hammer. Had he attacked he could have done some damage. He also telegraphed everything he was about to do, so coming up to the finish line I jumped right before he did, opened up a huge gap, and rolled over the line first. Except I had made a mistake: there was the official, ringing the bell. One to go – how did I mess that one up? I sat up, got a wheel, and tried to chill out. I did but was tired enough that I couldn’t sprint the way I would have liked, and came in 3rd.

Good results feel good, but I’m happier about a few other things: I made plans for the races and I stuck to them; I read the races well, and I read the other racers well. But on the top of the list is that I just submitted for an upgrade to Cat 4. I’m also just happy that a weekend of traveling and racing worked out very well – I had a great time in Connecticut, hanging out with friends, enjoying the first weekend of Spring weather immensely. And we hit up some races that I do not hesitate to recommend broadly and widely (in fact, I just emailed my team doing so!). So, if you’re within whatever you consider to be worthwhile driving distance of either Plainville or Bethel I recommend that you get out to them. The people are friendly and the courses are good.

Marty Nothstein
February 12, 2009, 1:17 pm
Filed under: sprints, the cycling world, track racing

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?
CN: Yeah.
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.
CN: Why?
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!