Archive for July, 2009

The Level Playing Field Ideal Erodes A Little More and Doping Expert Doubts The Tour Was Clean
Yesterday, the names of more players from Major League Baseball’s 2003 drug testing, the first year MLB tested, came to light.  Although only a handful of names have been revealed, reportedly roughly 100 players tested positive; very crudely 13%, not taking into account players injured or September call ups.  And remember, this is testing for steroids only not other performance enhancing drugs like human growth hormone. 

In response to the idea that some World Series victories are tainted because of steroid use, Richard Sandomir, in a New York Times article titled If So Many Players Were Doping, Are Asterisks Even Necessary?, essentially says if so many players, spread across so many teams were taking performance enhancing drugs then it’s a level playing field.  Sandomir quotes Bob Costas agreeing that it’s all pretty equal despite the use of performance enhancing drugs.  Say’s Costas:

“Common sense tells us every team in baseball had steroid users. . . . Texas didn’t win anything during that period of time, and it’s pretty clear that Texas might have led the league in massive steroid use.  So I don’t know how you evaluate or devalue championships . . .”

At the end of the day, it was a doped-up pitcher, throwing to a doped-up batter, and the ball was sometimes caught by a doped up fielder.   Equal across all fronts with or without the drugs.

And if you needed further convincing, the MLB news comes on the heels of another New York Times article regarding professional snowboarder Shaun White’s preparation for the Olympics which reinforces that there is no such thing as a level playing field, not even in professional snowboarding.  It seems over the winter, Red Bull, a primary sponsor of White, built him a private halfpipe at Silverton Mountain.  By all estimates, the halfpipe cost over $500,000.  Not to have their star left out in the cold, Nike built Kevin Pearce his own private halfpipe at Mammoth Mountain.  Not following snowboarding, I can only assume there’s a lot of money to be made, why else would Red Bull and Nike make such gigantic investments?  But in terms of a level playing field, having unfiltered access to private halfpipes has to give White and Pearce just a wee little advantage over their 10-15 competitors for a spot on the 2010 US Team, no?  And just where does it leave Mateusz Ligocki?  Money equals access which equals a better chance of winning which means there has never been a level playing field in the first place.

Meanwhile, Pierre Bordry, the head of the French Anti-Doping Agency, warns we shouldn’t believe the 2009 Tour de France was doping-free despite the lack of a positive result from in-competition testing.  In an interview given to Le Monde reported on VeloNews.com, Bordry says “there is a likelihood of blood transfusions and two new products being used during the Tour, but which are not yet on the market.”  Bordry goes on to say that “heavy drugs including one used by diabetics to produce insulin” were found in the garbage left behind by the teams.  Given that WADA stores samples for eight years for exactly this scenario, I wonder who will be the 2009 Tour de France champion come 2017.

More importantly, the news this week confirms what we already knew.  Doping controls and punitive competition bans simply do not work.  They only push doping further and further to the edge of the envelope where athletes are willing to put untested, unsafe drugs into their bodies.  Further, the level playing field that doping supposedly tips in the users’ direction, never existed in the first place given the advantages afforded those with money or rich sponsors or both.

So I’ll ask again.  Wouldn’t it be better if instead of worrying about who doped in the past and spending a ton of money trying to catch athletes using performances enhancing drugs if the focus where on reducing the harm associated with doping?  Legalize the use of performance enhancing drugs and bring it under medical supervision so that the athletes, who are going to use them anyway, are safer.  The same four guys are going to have a shot at winning the Tour de France with or without the drugs, so what impact are tests and competition bans having anyway?  The answer would be none.

Roving Repairman

Mobile Bike Repair

Mobile Bike Repair

A few years back, a teammate of mine suggested a great idea for a bike business.  We were out on 9W in NJ, the staple of New York’s weekend warrior cyclists, which is barren of bike shops and businesses for 24 km from just after the George Washington Bridge until Piermont, NY.  The idea was to provide a roving repair service.  We would get a van, kit it out with an air compressor, bike stand, all the tools and parts a mechanic would need and we would drive up and down 9W saving the stranded cyclist, and believe me there are many.  We all thought it was a great idea, and then promptly did absolutely nothing about it.

Well, it seems as if the Dutch and Germans have latched on to the concept.   In addition, last month, AAA started offering roadside support to cyclists in Oregon and parts of Idaho.

All this leads me to believe it’s time to dust off my teammate’s idea and set up shop on 9W.  Maybe then I won’t have to worry about being unemployed.

Tour Golf: The 19th Hole
Thankfully, the Tour has ended, if only so I do not need to keep being reminded about how awful I am at predicting race outcomes.  The finally tally in Grand Tour Golf: The 2009 Tour de France Edition was abysmal, albeit not unexpected, if you are sitting in my shoes.  Luckily, my computer is not an infinite number of monkeys banging away on an infinite number of keyboards or I’d be looking up at everyone.

The Final Leaderboard:

  • VS. Combined:  60
  • Bob Roll:  234
  • Phil Liggett:  533
  • Craig Hummer:  552
  • Paul Sherwen:  668
  • Viewfromtheback:  968
  • Viewfromtheback’s Computer:  1784

This weekend there’s yet another race at Prospect Park on Saturday.  I’m determined to change my vantage point to a view from the middle.  Everybody needs to dream, no?

And that’s today’s viewfromtheback.

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Doping In Sports

(c) Paolo Lombardi

(c) Paolo Lombardi

Last week, Danilo Di Luca, runner up in this year’s Giro d’Italia and the most aggressive rider in that race, came up positive for CERA, a blood-boosting derivative of the much ballyhooed EPO, at a doping control from the Giro.  Even as anti-doping measures and penalties have ramped up, Di Luca joins a long list of riders that have been suspended for using CERA – Riccardo Rico, Leonardo Piepoli, Davide Rebellin, and Stefan Schumacher come to mind – and an even longer list banned for doping offenses in general (most recently, think Tyler Hamilton, Thomas Dekker, Alejandro Valverde.)  In addition to the fact that doping isn’t going away,  it has become clear that the draconian control and punishment system in place today simply doesn’t work.

Beyond that, there is also the question of why we care so much, of why there is so much public outrage when a “cheat” is caught.  The two prevailing arguments for doping controls are that doping is cheating and that anti-doping measures make it safer for the athletes.  Yet, neither of those arguments is remotely close to accurate.  Doping is not cheating.  Not anymore so than wind-tunnel testing or bike modifications.  And as far as safety, let’s ask the relatives of any of the thirteen cyclists, average age under 30, who died of heart failure either at rest or in their sleep between 2003 and 2006 how much safer sport is.

Anti-Doping Doesn’t Work
Doping is in no way limited to cycling.  For a long time, if you cared to look, it has been easy to see that athletes in all sports have been taking banned substances to ride faster, jump higher and hit a ball farther.   Pick a sport, any sport, and you will find performance enhancing drugs.   The response by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) along with the various sport governing bodies is to continue to “fight the good fight” by developing more sophisticated tests and by imposing harsher and harsher penalties – two-year bans, eight-year bans, lifetime bans and the like.  Yet, based on anecdotal evidence, some studies estimate between 75% and 95% of athletes take banned substances.   That an athlete tests positive every now and then has more to do with a screw up, the wrong dosage, a mistimed cycle, a forgotten masking agent, than it does with more sophisticated testing methods.  The fact that positives still turn up shows that the punishments simply do not deter the athletes.  And why would they?  If we can’t control drug use in the most tightly secured population, prisoners in the federal and state penitentiary system, in which most estimates put drug use at over 50%, how can we possibly expect to control drugs in sport?  It’s as impossible as it is arrogant, and yet we still try.

The Level Playing Field Myth
One of the chief arguments for anti-doping controls is that taking performance enhancing drugs is cheating in that it creates an unlevel playing field.  News alert: there’s never been a level playing field.  Money equals access; access to better equipment, better training facilities and programs, better coaches, better talent to surround yourself with and, yes, better drugs as well.  The more money you have the better access you have the better your chances of winning.  Look at the US Postal Teams during Lance Armstrong’s run, where they bought up anyone who remotely smelled like a rival.  Roberto Heras ring a bell?  Ivan Basso ring a bell?  The Olympics offer the best of example of the sheer folly of the notion of a level playing field.  An underfunded, undermanned, undertrained team, let’s take the Angolan basketball team, can get trounced by the DreamTeam, the Redeem Team (pick one it happened in 1992 and in 2008), and that’s all within our realm of fair play despite the considerable advantages afforded the Americans.  Yet we routinely draw a big fat line in the sand at the use of performance enhancing drugs.  Doping enters the picture and suddenly the playing field is unfairly tipped in one direction, when in fact, there was never a level playing field in the first place.

Doping Controls Do Nothing to Prevent Harm
The other big argument is that by reducing the use of performance enhancing drug, anti-doping measures are making sport safer.  That might be the case if they were actually reducing the use of performance enhancing drugs.  Instead, the controls only make it more dangerous as they serve to push doping even further underground, to push the envelope further as to what athletes will put in their bodies.  As the tests become harder to beat, athletes start to take substances that are more and more dangerous, sometimes with fatal results as we’ve seen.

What Can Be Done
The best way to control the use of performance enhancing drugs and to reduce the harm associated with them is to legalize them and bring their use under medical supervision.  Educating athletes about how to safely use performance enhancing drugs surely will do more to save lives than a two-year competition ban ever could.  Athletes might still push the envelope to get an advantage, but in the same way that today new tests are develop, new protocols to ensure safer usage can be drawn up and at a fraction of the cost of developing a test, performing thousands of tests on athletes and prosecuting cases and appeal after appeal.  You’re never going to control it, but it can be a whole lot safer for everyone if you supervise it.  And if everyone is taking the same drugs, wouldn’t that level the playing field, at least within the narrow definition we’ve set for what goes for fair play.

Many thanks to my good friend Pat, who, over three years and countless miles of riding together in Italy, helped me come to my views on doping in sports.  Many of Pat’s thoughts and actual words are contained above.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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The family is off for a long weekend without access to a bike or computer (wife’s demands and rightfully so), so Friday’s Bell Lap is coming a little early.

Positive Test for Di Luca

Danilo Di Luca (c) ANSA/M.Brambatti/DRN

Danilo Di Luca (c) ANSA/M.Brambatti/DRN

By now, you’ve heard Danilo Di Luca, who gave this year’s Giro its pizzazz, tested positive for the EPO derivative CERA at the Giro.  While it’s disappointing, it’s not at all surprising – I’m still waiting for Stefano Garzelli to test positive as well.  Doping is rampant in all sport, not just cycling, and why we continue to believe that there is any way to control it or “win the war” is beyond me.  The simple fact is that drugs are a part of society and they’re not going away.  The sooner we accept and understand that, the sooner we’ll be in a position focus on minimizing the harm done by drugs instead of inventing even more draconian punishments which simply do not work. 

No time to dive into this topic so next week I’ll put forth my thoughts and opinions on doping in sport.  Stay tuned.

Here’s to the Devil

The Devil

The Devil

Do you remember the good old days, when the Devil was the only idiot running with the cyclists at the Tour and everyone thought it was quaint if not funny?  If I dig around enough, I’m sure I’ll find the photo I took of him in Dublin at the start of the 1998 Tour.  Unfortunately for him, for us and especially, for the riders, it seems as if every whacko wants in to the Devil’s kitchen.

Here’s a smattering from this year’s Tour:

(c) R. Bettini.  Does Holy Water make you ride faster?

(c) R. Bettini. Does Holy Water make you ride faster?

(c) R. Bettini.  Speaking of the Devil's kitchen, some of his helpers forgot their pants.

(c) R. Bettini. Speaking of the Devil's kitchen, some of his helpers forgot their pants.

(c) Bouvy.  Could be appropriate for a stage in Pamplona.

(c) Bouvy. Could be appropriate for a stage in Pamplona.

(c) Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images.  What else does Santa have to do in July?

(c) Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images. What else does Santa have to do in July?

(c) EPA.  On second review, maybe that's just normal dress for a group of Aussies.

(c) EPA. On second review, maybe that's just normal dress for a group of Aussies.

Although not from this year, definitely s sight that defintiely will make the riders fly up the mountain.

Although not from this year, definitely a sight that will make the riders fly up the mountain.

Better the devil you know.

More Bike Unfriendly New York
The brain trust that runs Central Park had decided to repave parts of the loop.  While this is a good thing because the loop desperately needs it, the timing is a tad bit circumspect.  It’s summer when the park is at it’s peak usage.  Understanding that weather comes into play, why not start September 1st when the weather is still pretty reliable rather than the middle of the summer.  No big deal for me, as I’ve been training over the George Washington Bridge, but still a little idiotic.

Lance Armstrong
I might have given the impression the other day that I am a big Armstrong fan.  I am not.  I simply enjoyed watching every year to see if he could work his magic, especially as the Tour organizers through every possible wrench at him.  He doesn’t have a strong team; we’ll reintroduce the team time trial.  He’s too strong a climber; we’ll introduce shorter stages.  He’s team is too dominant; we’ll reintroduce a convoluted timing system to limit his rivals loses in the TTT. 

Not knowing him personally, I can only gauge by what I see in the media, and there isn’t much to like about him.  He’s brash and arrogant, and a bit of a (expletive deleted).  Even if those are qualities you need if you are going to be the best cyclist on the planet, it doesn’t make Armstrong likeable.

And lately, he’s starting to sound a bit like Lemond and Hinault, former great champions who can’t seem to adjust to the former part.  It seems as if they all have a bit of sour grapes about someone else in the spotlight, even though it takes absolutely nothing away from their accomplishments.  Armstrong’s comments after the Stage 15 to Verbier are sounding just a wee bit bitter:

On Contador:  “When everyone is on the limit and then you can accelerate again, I’ve been there . . .”

On Contador winning the Tour:  “There’s been a lot of drama between me and Alberto . . . we ride into Paris with the Yellow Jersey, I’m cool with that, I got seven of them at home.”

Sounds like a few backhanded compliments to me.  Is there really any need to remind anyone who’s been even remotely alive the past decade what Armstrong’s done at the Tour?  Can’t wait to see what he has to say when he’s 20 years removed from the sport.   He’ll probably make Hinault sound like a reasonable guy.

Tour Golf will return next week with the final standings.

Enjoy the weekend.  That’s today’s view from the back.

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The idea for A View From The Back came a few years ago, when I got a bad case of the yips.  I developed a deep fear of riding in a group, and the only way I could race was either at the front or in the back.  Nothing specific happened that caused the yips and, two years later, they vanished just as quickly they had come. 

I spent a lot of the time at the back where you get a unique perspective on a race.  So the idea was to write about racing at the back of the local peloton.  But it quickly became apparent the last thing anyone needed was another series of race reports from another no-name rider racing in local park races, even if the races happened to be in the world’s greatest city (well, technically joint leader in the world’s greatest city contest with my beloved Roma).   So, I’ve always shied away from writing about the actual races. 

Al Toefield Masters Field

Al Toefield Masters Field (c) G. Green

Having said that, the Al Toefield Memorial Road Race this past Saturday at Prospect Park was chock full of actions that just drive you crazy in a race, so I thought I’d share them.  Mind you, Saturday wasn’t the only time these things happened, you’ll see at least one of them in just about every race, but usually not all in the same race.

Things That Make You Go Hmmm #1:  Idiotic crashes
Above everything else, I value safe racing.  I’ve got a wife and kids to go home to after the race, and I’d prefer to do that in one piece.  Don’t get me wrong, crashing is a part of racing, but crashes come in two shapes, the unavoidable and the idiotic.  Champion System, a strong team with a lot of good riders, won the race on Saturday and they managed to do something I’ve never seen locally.  The guy who won flatted somewhere in the second half of the race, and Champion sent guys back to wait for him and bring him back to the field which the managed to do.  And in the process, they managed to cause a stupid crash, albeit one that only affected them.

To set the stage, the loop in Prospect Park has a couple of spots that, while not tricky, definitely can catch you out if you are unaware.  At the bottom of the descent, the loop goes from two lanes to one lane as your turn to head north back towards the start/finish.  To make matters a little more interesting, because they’ve had issues with that turn forever, they’ve put the big orange barrels you see on a highway to effectively close the right lane as soon as you start the turn.   Another spot to know about is just before you enter the start finish straightaway, where the loop curves slightly from right to left.  The fastest path through is a straight line so the group always ends up slamming from the left to the right and anyone charging up the right hand side quickly runs out of real estate.

The Champion train bringing the eventual winner back caught us just as we entered the turn at the bottom of the hill.  Three guys made it through, but, in a harbinger of things to come, four and five had to swerve hard left to avoid hitting the orange barrels which they narrowly did.

Having survived the turn, the train continued up the right.  Sure enough the last rider, who strangely wasn’t the guy they were pulling back to the front, ran out of room and ran into the curb at the slight curve left.  He’s lucky that they were moving so fast because he flew over the handlebars and landed on his chest in the grass otherwise it would have been nasty.  We’re lucky because his bicycle landed in the road but stayed put instead of shooting into us which would have taken out a lot of guys.

Champion Train Minus One (c) G. Green

Champion Train Minus One (c) G. Green

The thing is we all know about that spot.  Race once in Prospect Park and you know about that spot.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you’re not fast enough to get clear you’re going to go down if you go up the right hand side.  And in taking a stupid chance like that you are playing with everyone’s safety, not just your own.  None of us are professionals.  We all have day jobs, well, most of the group does, and lives to go back to after the race.  So if you don’t care about your well being, try to remember that the race can only be a race if there are others in it, so riding safely is your responsibility.  Before anyone starts in with you can’t win if you can’t take chances and that if it’s too hot in the kitchen, well, you can’t win if you’re on the ground either and knowing the difference between an aggressive move and a stupid move isn’t really that hard. 

Things That Make You Go Hmmm #2:  Fighting for a wheel in 70th place
Memo to the guy with the green shorts with “On The Right Track” printed on the back of your shorts:  You’re in the back so gaining one bike length, especially when the hammer is down, is not really going to get you any closer to winning the race.  Bumping into me on purpose, especially with your bars, is not only stupid, it’s dangerous.  And I promise if I go down, you’re going down with me.

We were on the back stretch, pretty much single file and moving along nicely without any hitches or gaps opening.  I happened to be behind two guys riding next to each other when Mr. Green Shorts, came from my left, so I moved over a little to sit on one guy’s wheel instead of between the two guys.  Green Shorts proceeds to try to ride between the two guys, so I gently push him back to the left with my hand on his hip.  His response was to brush his bars against mine as he tries to sit between the two again.  At this point I’ve got two options.  Smart option: let him take the wheel because we’re 9000 places back so what difference does it make.  Option two is to do the patented Robbie McEwen head butt.

Robbie McEwen

Robbie McEwen

After I very politely explained where we were in the peloton and why it made no sense to fight me for the wheel, I chose the smart option.  Bumping happens all the time and it is fine.  I am also willing to fight for a wheel when I think it’s appropriate or there is a particular reason I am on that particular wheel.  It’s fighting for wheels 300 places back that is just plain stupid.

(BTW: I’m convinced McEwen learned his head butt from watching giraffes fight.  Watch the video which could be mistaken for a McEwen sprint.)

Things That Make You Go Hmmm #3: Strong guys yo-yoing through the field
I’ll admit this one is all mine and that this is really just me whining.  I apologize in advance.  There are two particular offenders in this case both of whom have won their fare share of races.  One guy is a sprinter, so the issue isn’t so much that he’s at the back, it’s that he moves to the front on the same sections every lap and the drifts back through the middle of the pack in other sections on every lap forcing guys to go around him in different directions.  Again, it’s just my own neurosis here, but what’s the point of moving to the front, if you are just going to come to the back every single lap.  I could see if he was trying to get to the front for the hill, so he could stay in contact, but that’s not where he drifts back.  And it probably wouldn’t annoy me at all, if he drifted back on one side, instead of down the middle.

The other guy just has no business riding at the back.  He’s strong, he wins in breakaways and when he does go to the front, he’s usually either towing us around at a zillion miles per hour to bring back a break or launching a break of his own.  He tends to open up gaps when he’s at the back which he knows he can close.  The issue is that I’m not sure I’ll be able to stick his wheel if I’m behind him which will leave me caught out.  So please, ride at the front and leave those of us to ride in our own cesspool of misery.

Again, apologies for the whining.

Things That Make You Go Hmmm #4: Riders coming unglued by a bump in the road
Technically, this happened the week before, but since I’m on a roll . . . Akin, to knowing the curves of the course is also knowing the course obstacles, i.e., the pothole 3 feet to the left of the lane marker at the bottom of the descent, the row of potholes in the middle of the road by the Greek Temple, the manhole cover just before the old finishing straight.  If you watched yesterday’s stage in the Tour, you saw the catastrophic effects an unseen bump can have when Jens Voigt went down super hard on the final descent.  Key word here is unseen.

Two weeks ago, the guy from Coffee Den (I think that’s the name of the team), riding right in front of me, hit the aforementioned manhole cover on the 12th lap and both feet came unclipped from his pedals.  Luckily he kept it upright.  It can happen to anyone.  It just shouldn’t happen on the 12th lap.  I’m 99% sure the manhole cover was in the same spot the previous 11 laps.  Heck, I’m pretty sure the manhole cover has been in the same spot since they opened Prospect Park.  Hitting it is no big deal.  Being so unaware and unprepared for it that you come out of your pedals is.

Now given the chance, I’m sure guys would mention the million things I do in a race that drive them crazy, but since this is my blog, you’ll only get the things that drive me crazy.

Sprint Finish in the P/1/2/3 (c) G. Green

Sprint Finish in the P/1/2/3 (c) G. Green

And that’s today’s view from the back.

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There was a lot of racing from the Pros to the locals this weekend.  Depending on your allegiances it was either a great weekend or a weekend of dashed hopes and dreams.  This being A View From The Back, you might guess where my weekend ended up.

Let’s start with the Tour where any romantic notions of Lance Armstrong’s second comeback having a fairy tale ending were crushed by a simple acceleration from Alberto Contador.  I loved the drama during those seven years Armstrong was dominating, always waiting to see if this would finally be the year he failed.  Perhaps it is because he is more open and constantly in front of the camera, but doesn’t he seem that much more human this year?  Somewhere deep down, you had to have wanted to see him do well in this race, if only to make the Tour interesting and relevant again.  While his dominance might have bordered on monotony, can you really say you enjoyed the past three Tours without him?  I didn’t.  Anything can still happen, but Contador has effectively let the air out of the drama balloon.

More disappointing was George Hincapie’s weekend which was dreadful on two fronts.  First, because he didn’t take the yellow jersey on Saturday.  Second, because he whined about it like a little baby.  I don’t know George, but he’s always seemed like a nice guy and a guy you’d love to ride with.  I’ve met him on three occasions, and however brief those encounters were, they did nothing to dissuade that notion.  In 2005, I had gotten VIP passes for the final stage in Paris.  After the finish, we went over to the team busses, and I eventually made my way over to the US Postal bus, where I saw George’s father Riccardo.  George grew up in Queens, as did I, and raced with my best man at my wedding who happens to be responsible for getting me started riding.  Riccardo still rides the local Triangle group ride every now and then, and over the years, I’ve seen and spoken to him enough for him to know me by face if not by name.  Anyway, George comes out of the bus to say hello to his father.  Now you have to remember that they’ve just finished the Tour, Armstrong has won his record tying fifth in a row and they’ve got to head out to do the victory lap.  First words out of Riccardo’s mouth, as he points to me, are “Georgie, I ride with him in New York.”  George took it all in stride, as if this information mattered in the slightest way, and actually spent a few minutes speaking with me.  All class.

That’s why his post race comments were so disappointing:

“I am just extremely disappointed.  I don’t know why Astana was riding, but that’s highly insulting to me. I am very disappointed; I got so close.  They were basically doing the work for AG2R.  I don’t understand it.  I could have done it.  I just don’t understand what was going on, why Garmin and why Astana were riding.  It was the chance of a lifetime for me, and it’s gone.”

There’s been lots of discussion about what went on and what tactics came in to play.  Personally, I think Astana was trying to help Hincapie into the yellow jersey as they let the gap go while riding at the front.  Garmin, despite Matt White’s comments to the contrary, put their men to the front with sole purpose of keeping Hincapie out of the yellow.

Whatever the reasons, it’s all irrelevant.  In the end, this is bike racing, and whining about what happened or didn’t happen is, to quote Hincapie’s teammate Mark Cavendish, “racing like a junior.”  First, Hincapie didn’t have enough in his legs, and really that is the bottom line.  If he had gone with Ivanov, maybe you give him the benefit of the doubt.  Even if Hincapie had to drive the break, well, he had the most to gain, so that was his responsibility.  Second, at the pro level, you live in this sport by the alliances you make in the peloton.   While Garmin’s tactics might be suspect, they were no doubt inspired, if not by Hincapie himself, certainly by his Columbia team and in particular Cavendish’s “junior racing” comments which were clearly aimed at Garmin.  Certainly not the first run-in between these teams as Cavendish has some negative comments about Garmin at the Giro as well.

As for my weekend, the Al Toefield Memorial Race in Prospect Park was less than a stellar effort.  We missed the final split, so we finished out of the money.  It was a fast race with lots of accelerations, and while I felt much better physically than I have in a long time, a couple of all-out ballistic laps at the beginning and then a few more in the last third of the race, relegated me to hanging on for dear life.  As always though, I had a great view from the back.

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Tour Radio Ban
The banning of radios during stage 10 of this year’s Tour de France was idiotic.  It would be the dumbest decision ever, but that one has to be the decision to force riders to use “Eddy Merckx-era” bicycles when contesting the hour record.  Good thing the organizers and the UCI relented today or there most likely would have been a work stoppage.  Of course, that would have bode well for me in Tour Golf.

You can debate till the cows come home about whether the riders have to read the race better without radios, whether it’s safer, whether it will produce more competitive racing.   In the end, the radio ban is a nostalgic folly that serves no purpose.  In today’s heyday of instant gratification, 24×7 information overload, it’s impossible to stop technological advances and ridiculous to try, let alone during the biggest and most important bike race of the year.  And really, what’s the big deal?  Teams will find another way to get the needed information to the riders (text messages, driving team cars through the middle of the peloton, tweets, smoke signals.)  You can’t turn back the clock and return to what you might think was the height of pure cycling, no matter how much you try.  Embrace the future UCI, it’s your friend.

And while the radios don’t necessarily have an effect on the masses (i.e., they don’t trickle down the way other technology has), they are as much a part of pro cycling today as are 11-speed groups, carbon fiber and doping.  The stage really didn’t seem all that different, albeit at a slower speed than usual.  A break went, the sprinters teams did their calculations to reel them in, and Cavendish won another sprint.

Besides where would we be without new technology?   Take a look at that R&D haven the Coors Brewing Company.  Not only did they introduce the first Vented Wide Mouth™ can (which essentially enables you to spill even more beer on yourself when you’re pounding away), but they’ve gone and out done themselves with the new Cold Activated Can and the Cold Activated Bottle, which turn certain parts blue when the beer is cold enough to drink.  Do you really want to go back to having to feel the can with your hands in order to determine its drinkability?  Now, if Coors could only work some of that magic on the actual beer, they might be one to something. 

Vented Wide Mount a.k.a. Dribble Can

Vented Wide Mount a.k.a. Dribble Can

Blue Mountains = Cold Beer

Blue Mountains = Cold Beer

Missouri is US’s Most-Bike Friendly State . . .
First, the city of Columbia passes a Bicycle Harassment Law, and then Governor Jay Nixon, despite state Department of Economics requests to the contrary, decides not to pull the plug on $1.5 million enabling the Tour of Missouri to go on as scheduled in September.  Maybe it’s time to consider moving to Missouri so I can ride in a bike loving state, although what the heck does anyone do in Missouri anyway?  That’s not me being anti-Missouri.  That’s born and bred New Yorker elitism coupled with pure ignorance on my part.

. . . And Wisconsin Is Not
John Frings is a cyclist whose day job happens to be as a photographer/cameraman for Fox6 in Milwaukee, WI.   Just as any cyclist has, Frings has had his fair share of run-ins with the cyclists arch-nemesis, the road raged fueled driver.  Frings decided to start filming his encounters and you can see many of his videos on his blog

After some of the more dangerous encounters, Frings sends the tape to the police.  One time the police department actually sent the motorist and summons.  Imagine that happening out on 9W in Alpine, NJ.  Actually, the Alpine, NJ Police seem more akin to the police in Brookfield, WI, who reviewed one tape and told Frings that he could have been given a summons for obstructing traffic.  Eventually the Distract Attorney opined, also against Frings, saying that cyclists have no right to an active traffic lane unless they’re going the speed limit, despite state statutes to the contrary that state cyclists have the same rights to the road as cars and a law that states motorists must give riders a three-foot berth when passing.

It seems though that Wisconsin riders are in a no-win situation.  According to Bob Mionske’s blog Legally Speaking, there is also a law stating that cyclists must give cars a three-foot berth when passing.  Mionske cites the case of a woman who was doored and given a citation for passing too close to the car that doored her.  That makes a lot of sense.  As Mionske points out, Wisconsin cyclists can’t win.  Giving three feet forces cyclists into the traffic lane, where police refuse to uphold the law and protect cyclists when drivers, disobeying the law, come dangerously close to the cyclists.  Only in the heartland of America and, of course, Alpine, NJ.

My suggestion to Frings, perhaps it’s time for a move, to Missouri.

Tour Golf Update
The inevitable has happened, and I’ve taken a precipitous fall down the leader board in the Grand Tour Golf: 2009 Tour de France Edition.  Given that radios were reinstated today due to the riders’ protest, thereby avoiding the stage neutralization I had predicted, I will take whoever Bob Roll choses today ensuring that while I can’t gain any distance on our leader, I won’t tumble another 166 points.

Here’s the standing as we head into the second weekend.

  • Versus Combined:  29 points
  • Bob Roll:  87
  • Craig Hummer:  248
  • Phil Liggett:  375
  • Paul Sherwen:  400
  • Viewfromtheback:  449
  • Viewfromtheback’s computer:  992

Bonus: Coors Cold Activated Can Video

And that’s today’s view from the back.

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Spending five days in the hospital with my son has left little time for riding or writing or anything else for that matter.  I did manage to watch a recording of Sunday’s stage of the Tour de France which went up the Col du Tourmalet.  Ten years ago, I had the, uhm, pleasure of tackling the Tourmalet in La Hubert Arbes, a French cyclosportive. 

Hubert Arbes

Hubert Arbes

Riding for Gitane, which became Renaut-Elf-Gitane, Hubert Arbes was a domestique for the Tour winner on four separate occasions, once for Lucien Van Impe and three times for Bernard Hinault.  He now owns a bike shop in Lourdes, France, and on the first weekend in July puts on La Hubert Arbes.

Back in 1999, the race was great big loop from Lourdes to Lourdes and went up the Col de Bolderes and the Col de Solour, in addition to the Tourmalet (the Tourmalet and the Solour were included in a stage of the 1999 Tour as well).   The race was on July 4th so I had on my Stars and Stripes shorts.  As with most of these things, it started on a small climb to let the 800 or so riders doing the long route sort themselves out into groups.  We had 20 miles to the Tourmalet, and I found myself in the second group on the road.  I had to “see France” rather desperately (when my wife and I were on our honeymoon in Tanzania, our safari guide said we should tell him we needed to “see Africa” whenever we had to go to the bathroom.)   Having done the Tourmalet a few days prior to find out what I was getting myself into, I knew the first four kms were relatively flat, with two of them at 3.6% and 2.4% respectively.  So I stopped at the bottom, took care of business and chased like crazy to get back into my group.   Where the Tourmalet gets you is as at KM 5, where it starts a string of 12km that never dip below 8.0%.  The fact that the beginning of each km is announced with a sign telling you the average grade doesn’t help much either. 

It took me 1 hour 15 minutes to get up the 16.9 km – to put this in perspective the pros go up it in an hour, usually in the second week or third week of the tour and somewhere in the middle of the stage so the gas isn’t completely on.  That is to say, 1:15 isn’t exactly setting the world on fire.

La Hubert Arbes Profile

La Hubert Arbes Profile

That said, the climbs went well for me, I would move up into the Top 50 on every climb.  Unfortunately, there’s no point being a good climber if you can’t descend.  Guys were passing me as if I was standing still, and I’d end up losing 50 places or so.  It happened on every climb without fail, and I ended up finishing tied for 98th overall which I was rather pleased with although, I was 1 hour 15 minutes down on the guy who won.  I guess I should have skipped the Tourmalet.

I had the pleasure of meeting Hubert Arbes twice.  Once at his shop when we went to register and then on the stage at the post-race party.  I had gone over with three friends who also raced, and we were given a prize as the only Americans to have done the race.  My shorts got quite the cheering (or maybe it was quite the razzing, although my experience in the Pyrenees was that everyone was incredibly friendly and patient with my non-existent French, unlike the Parisians, but that’s an entirely different story).  As with every other ex-pro I have ever met, Francesco Moser excluded, Arbes was a genuinely nice person.

The race was exceptionally well organized and the course was simply magnificent.  I highly recommend it, especially if you want a little taste of what the Tour riders go through without all the pomp and circumstance of the L’Etape du Tour.   The Tourmalet left an indelible mark on me.  So much so that as I watched the stage the other day, I could still remember pretty much every turn.  I’d love to get back there and give it another shot, although I’m sure I’d have to give up riding completely once I found out how much I’ve lost in ten years.

My son comes home from the hospital today, so I expect to be back to my regularly scheduled programming next week.  Means more time looking at the wheels in front me with my view from the back.

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