Archive for the Photos Category

November 25, 2013

Derrière Moto

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A cyclist, especially a racing cyclist, is constantly looking for a reprieve from the wind, to save energy, to gain an advantage, and to move faster. The wind is often our nemesis. We battle it. Sheltered from wind, we find our wings. In the belly of a flying peloton we pedal freely while eating up kilometers; tight in the slipstream of a motorcycle or car, we can easily double our speed. Not only do the riders and vehicles increase our speed, but they also become a carrot, drawing us beyond our perceived limits.

The discipline of motorpacing is over a century old. It has been a part of cycling since the late 1800s, when motorcycle paced races were popular on both the velodrome and the road. Before motorcycles were used, tandems of up to five riders paced cyclists to go farther and faster than the individual could alone.

Each rider teamed up with a pacer who could push up his speed. The motos roared around the track, often without mufflers and with flames flaring from the exhaust. The races, called Demi-fond, covered 100-kilometer races, and the riders completed in just over an hour. Read on. 

 

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November 16, 2013

Grime and Grease

 

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Arriving home, I pull off my sweater. The scent of the workshop has woven its way into the fabric: grease, paint, rubber, flux, and oil. In the aromas, I can identify each distinct chemical, but together they mean only one thing. I inhale for half a second as I pull off the sweater. To me, it is the aroma of bikes being built and torches with flames heating tubes in the hands of craftsmen wearing dark glasses and royal blue aprons. It is the smell of fresh paint, ball bearings being carefully placed in cups of white grease, and tubulars being glued to new rims.

An hour before, while working on the bike, the odor was unnoticeable. I was immersed in it. Now, at home, the shop aromas clash with the manufactured floral scents of laundry soap, shampoos, and household cleaners. I’ve scrubbed my hands, repeatedly, but they’re still stained black. The darkness of grime also marks the lines on my hands, like reverse fingerprints, etching the crevasses, and accentuating the callouses formed over thousands of hours by gripping brake levers tight, while climbing, while sprinting, while holding my bars as my bicycle bounced beneath me on cobbles. Read on. 

November 8, 2013

Bikes

Like most cyclists, I have several bikes hanging in my garage. Which is my favorite? That’s easy—the Mariposa porteur bike that my father built for me eight years ago. I cherish it, because he built the frame and the carriers, with their simple beauty, and he then carefully selected the parts. But I also cherish it for the memorable rides it has provided. Trips to friends’ houses, back and forth to my dad’s shop, around town with my family discovering parks and back alleys, or out on the town for a night with my wife, Dede. On a bike, the city seems to growl, blossom, spew, chatter, and come alive. In a car, it is a passing scene. Read on.
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November 4, 2013

The Cross

 
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Racing cyclocross was once a common method for professional cyclists to stay fit in the off-season. Until the late ’80s, road champions like Roger De Vlaemink, Eddy Merckx, and Bernard Hinault appeared at ‘cross races through the winter. For many of them, it was not only a way to stay active, but also a way to earn a little extra income with appearance and prize money. Then in the ’90s, as the road season became longer, the training more specialized and the peloton more competitive, fewer riders crossed over to the dirt. In the modern peloton, only a select few ride ‘cross with the top tier. Similarly, cyclocross has become more competitive, specialized, and international, making it harder for riders to compete outside of their main discipline. Like many of my peers, I was encouraged by my coach to give up cyclocross racing when I was 20. The off-season was for resting and rebuilding, not racing. My ‘cross bike hung in the garage collecting dust; I missed coming home on a Sunday evening dirty and worn.

During the last few off-seasons of my professional career I trained with Dom Rollin, a Canadian who raced for La Francaise des Jeux, or FDJ. To escape the cold winter in his hometown of Montreal, Dom moved to Girona, where the weather is mild and few training sessions are missed because of snow, rain, or ice.Read more….

April 22, 2013

Early Morning.

At 5:40 a.m. the group met, in the parking lot of the 24-hour grocery store. The city streets were void of the parked cars that line the curbs each day as their owners run into neighborhood shops to grab a loaf of bread or a coffee. Behind the darkened store front of a bakery, a light glimmered, and the aroma of baking bread wafted outside. Although the air was below freezing, my body still held the warmth of my bed. But I knew that 20 minutes into the ride the cold would begin to bite, before the increased pace restored the warmth in my hands and feet.Image 4 Several months had passed since I last rode my bike outside, the longest break since my childhood. The Canadian winter, bitterly cold with ploughed snow piled high in the streets, incited no desire to look at the bike and I didn’t miss riding that much. Instead I ran, I played hockey, I skied; sports I hadn’t practiced or played since I was a schoolboy. As a boy I embraced every chance I had to ride. I couldn’t get enough of it. As a professional my life became singularly focused. Now that I was retired, I sought more balance, I didn’t have to ride, or be concerned with my fitness, as I had been since I was a teenager. No longer was it my job to upload training data, weigh myself daily or ride up and down a hill repeatedly at a specified wattage.

Outside the grocery store, an employee had left a case of water and a bunch of bananas for us, knowing the daily routine of the club. It was a simple welcoming gesture. A few riders chatted while we waited for others. Within minutes, their lights flickering like fireflies in the night, riders came from all directions. In a flash there were 40 or 50 of us who were ready to ride.

In the early morning, the city of 5 million people seemed our own. The streets that would be jammed with cars and irritable commuters in just a few hours were serenely empty, a contrast that made everything obscured by the daytime bustle more noticeable.

 

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We started slowly, still waking from our sleep, pedaling, chatting, coasting in the wheels of the large group, our lights shining on each others’ backs and casting shadows on the black tarmac. A half an hour passed and we were at our destination, where we would repeat loops through a neighbourhood and up and down a hill. It was here I would again feel the burn in my lungs, legs and arms only a cyclist knows.

In the group, there was a jovial and almost juvenile atmosphere; we had snuck out early to steal the early hours of the day to do something that gave us a sense of liberty few in the dormant city knew.

On the neighbourhood circuits the group splintered, as we each found partners who could push a little bit harder. The small group of six, which included me, fractured and regrouped with the undulations on the circuit. Riders attacked and chased from behind. I had forgotten the feeling of being on the wheel, in the wind and back on the wheel: the relief, the surge and the relief. The fun ended as the sun came up and the streets began to clutter and congest with cars. Like the bell sounding the end of recess, a rider called out the time and we all regrouped for the short ride home. Once back with our families, we would dress our children for school, shovel down mouthfuls of food and race off to our responsibilities.

I arrived home just in time. Sleet began to fall from the sky, again. I stepped off my bike and could feel the effort in my legs, a weighty sensation I had missed.

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June 16, 2012

Wheeled Pupils

Recently, Team Sky asked the riders to design T-Shirts. It was a fun project, which my family helped me out with– my wife, Dede, came up with some ideas while our boys coloured in the sketches. In the end, we settled on the design below that is being sold here. Antidote, who designed our team Sky clothing, refined the images. Behind the image of the peloton reflected in the sunglasses there is a brief story that sparked the idea:

When I was a young boy, my parents returned home from my third grade parent/teacher interviews and told me what they had learned. The teacher’s comments were positive, she was content with my participation and my work. But, as they wrapped up the meeting she said, “At times Michael’s mind is off in the distance, in another land. It is as if I can see bicycle wheels spinning in his eyes”. This wasn’t surprise to my parents or the teacher. With a cycling cap in my backpack, bike brand stickers on my textbooks and photos of Fignon, Merckx and Mottet taped to my binders, I spent hours daydreaming of riding and racing. The T-shirt was designed to reflect the passion of the spectator and the dreams of cyclists.

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While racing the Tour of Switzerland with the team, I put together this playlist for us to listen to on the bus before and after the stages: Rainy Day Sunshine-Suisse2012

May 13, 2011

Giro d’Italia SRM Files

The course profiles we receive at the beginning of a race are often deceiving. The altimetry can be inaccurate, the maps sketchy and the distance off.  And, we often deceive ourselves and think a stage is easier because there are few climbs. The toughest days are often those where we relax and assume the race will finish in a sprint but are then surprised by relentless short climbs, twisting roads and bad surfaces. The peloton inevitably thins into a long line and we sit uncomfortably on our saddles for hours, burning far more calories than imagined and accumulating more meters of climbing than calculated. The Massif Central in France is famous for its tough rolling terrain, rough tarmac and baking heat. The conditions on 6th stage of the Giro d’Italia from Orvieto to Fiuggi were similarly hard. Under the weight of the day’s racing the peloton splintered in the finale and roughly 80 riders sprinted for the line. In the sprint it was evident the riders were spent as it became a race of force instead of speed. Meters after the line, the sprinters collapsed in exhaustion.

My SRM file from the stage is posted below. The stages are usually quick for the first hour and then, once the breakaway forges a gap, the peloton settles into a steady rhythm in pursuit. With ten kilometres to go we ascended a five kilometre climb. At the top, I went to the back of the group, which was in a long thin line, with my teammate Kjell Carlstrom to bring our sprinter, Davide Appollonio, to the front so that he was in position for the sprint. My final effort of the day was a surge on the front of the group with two kilometres to go. Spent from the effort I sat up and rolled across the line while Davide sprinted to 5th place.

The stages in the Giro d’Italia are often technical. Fortunately, the organization provides fairly accurate profiles with detailed breakdowns of the climbs. Yet, a detailed breakdown in a book can’t fully prepare us for technical descents on gravel roads. The second SRM file I’ve attached is from the 5th stage to Orvieto. The finale 40 kilometres of the course took us over sections of white gravel roads. The peloton fractured into dozens of groups as soon as we reached the roads as riders came to a standstill on the dirt climbs and crashed on the descents. It was clear which riders had experience riding on gravel. Unfortunately, I crashed just before we reached the gravel so I spent the rest of the race chasing to regain contact with the front of race.  The SRM files give an idea of the effort required on a rolling stage in the Giro. I’ll post some more files as the race goes on. The mountain stages should be interesting.

Stage 5: Piombino – Orvieto 191km

Stage 6: Orvieto – Fiuggi 216km

May 9, 2011

Training for the Giro d’Italia Team Time Trial

Three days prior to the start of the Giro d’Italia the team got together in Turin for a few days of training. The opening stage of the Giro was a team trial so it was important we become accustomed to riding with one another in formation and refine our technique. Bobby Julich, who is a coach with the team and was a time trial specialist and Olympic Medalist, was there to guide the team and give us advice. During the race he sat in the passenger’s seat of the team car and relayed all of the key course information to us over the radio.
To me, the TTT is one of the most beautiful events in cycling as it not only requires complete sacrifice from every rider but also selflessness. To ride fast everybody needs to be constantly thinking of their teammates as any sharp acceleration, poorly taken corner, or bump in the road can have a detrimental effect on the whole squad. Rhythm, fluidity and a constant steady speed will ensure that a team carries the momentum to travel as fast and efficiently as possible. It is also the only event where the whole team can stand on the podium together and celebrate the victory.

Here are a few photos of the team training before the start of the Giro d’Italia.

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March 28, 2011

On The Wheel

Like a river’s current carrying a stick, I float in the middle of the peloton. We speed through towns, over hills and across the plains. As we near the finish, our momentum becomes a torrent.  I pedal almost effortlessly, as the slipstream drags me along. The eight riders on the front of the peloton of 200 riders share the workload in the wind, dragging us along like a locomotive. But even the select group at the front look for the slipstream of the cars and motorbikes ahead. The wind is the racer’s nemesis.

Photo by: Camille McMillan

Winning a Classic means minimizing the amount of time spent in the wind. In the first hours of the race, a winner will rely on his team’s protection to save every watt for the key attacks during the finale. In a race where over 6,000 calories will be burned, every rider is on the limit and every watt counts.  Cyclists save.

Largely invisible to the television audience, there is a motorcade of cars and motorcycles at the head of the race. They capture us on video, ensure the road is closed to traffic and referee our movements. Although the vehicles aren’t directly in front of the group, they nevertheless create a slipstream for peloton, which increases our speed, reduces our workload and, from time to time, changes the outcome of the race.

During the finale of a race, the protagonists will attack into a crowd of motorcycles. On the key pavé sectors of a Classic, or in the high mountains where the roads are narrow, the motorcyclists fight for position so their photographer-passengers can capture the pivotal moment.  As they jostle for position and split the crowds of spectators, they are only meters in front of the lead riders. An attacker, a breakaway and a team who is chasing will all race for the motos’ slipstream to increase their speed. It is a part of the race we all accept. But, when drafting is prolonged rivals cry foul.

It isn’t only the motorbikes and cars, which disturb the air. The television and police helicopters, which circle above the peloton create turbulent air when then hover low altitude. Sometimes, the strength of their choppy downwash virtually brings us to a standstill and causes crashes. After the 1984 Giro d’Italia, the Frenchman Laurent Fignon protested that he had been robbed of the overall victory. Fignon felt that the organizers had manipulated the result of the dramatic and decisive final time-trial, so that his Italian rival Francesco Moser would win the overall classification. He protested that the television helicopter, which hovered directly behind Moser for the entire length of the stage, had created a down-force that literally pushed him to the finish.

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February 16, 2011

Le Métier. French Translation.

A friend, Jean Michel Dupé, has translated the book Le Métier. Below is an excerpt from the first chapter. Hopefully, the complete translation will be published soon.

The photos were taken by Camille McMillan.

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Durant l’intersaison, nous nous renforçons au mental comme au physique, en sortant sous un temps froid pour rouler pendant des heures sous la pluie ou la neige. Dévolus au travail et à la poursuite de nos buts nous roulons sous des conditions qui gardent la plupart des gens chez eux. Dans les extrêmes, j’ai appris sur moi-même, et sur mes limites.

En hiver, je pédale sur un rythme stable tout en me hissant au delà des côtes avec ma surcharge pondérale. Il n’y a aucune urgence ; Je construis des fondations comme je le faisais adolescent dans le garage et sur les routes cernées de congères. «  Les kilomètres c’est comme  l’argent en banque » mon premier entraîneur m’aurait dit, « tu dois commencer la saison avec un gros compte que tu débiteras inévitablement à chaque course. »

Les kilomètres à rouler passent rapidement avec les amis à socialiser sur le vélo comme les travailleurs qui discutent tout en creusant les routes. Les repas d’hiver et les longues soirées avec force vins nous ralentissent sur le vélo, mais en attendant on a besoin de se vicier un peu pour échapper à la structure que nous endurerons bientôt. Un cycliste chérit les instants dont il dispose pour se relaxer, tellement ils sont rares au sein d’une saison chaotique. Nous savons cela, vient Mars où le travail exigera une focalisation sans failles.

Loin de Toronto, je vis et m’entraîne désormais à Gérone en Espagne. Conduit ici il y a presque dix ans par mes co-équipiers Américains, la petite ville Catalane est désormais mon domicile. Gérone s’est peuplée doucement de cyclistes professionnels étrangers qui furent attirés par cette ville pour sa proximité aux montagnes, son climat Méditerranéen, et son noyau grandissant de collègues d’entraînement. Rouler est plus facile avec des compagnons, particulièrement dans les mois déclinants de la saison ou lors de printemps humides : souffrir est plus facile lorsque vous êtes avec un ami.

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