Archive for the Racing 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 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….

October 29, 2013

Time Off

By mid August, the professional peloton begins to yearn for the off-season. The Tour de France is over and the rest of Europe is vacationing in coastal towns or mountain chalets. But while the fatigue from the racing and travel sets in by late summer, the final finish line of the year isn’t crossed until October.

Now that it’s here, the riders will let loose for a few shorts weeks filling in their time off the bike with everything they were unable to do during the racing season. But after a brief moment of reprieve, and jamming as much forbidden food and drink in to their bodies as possible, they’ll then climb back on their bikes to prepare for the first training camps just before Christmas.

The off-season months should be one of the most enjoyable times of the year. Training sessions are less structured and the riders can settle into a routine at home. With a few friends, they can ride for hours each day to rebuild the foundation of fitness. Most importantly, the off-season should provide a mental break where the riders don’t have to jump aboard planes and spend countless nights in foreign beds. But for the modern peloton, those months of rest at home with family and friends are quickly slipping away.  Read on.

October 21, 2013

Work or Play?

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To most people cycling is freedom. When asked what their first memory of riding is, they’ll likely recall the joy they felt as they took their first pedal strokes or when they coasted down their first hill. In those moments, they became free from their parents’ grasp and free to move fast and see the neighborhood alone.

In a similar way, the sporting experience should be one of personal growth and development. But for many amateur athletes, it isn’t. Their sense of freedom becomes blurred. Instead, the playing field or race course becomes a feeder system to the professional ranks. The joy of play withers under the external pressures of performance, business, entertainment, and ego. Physical and mental health become secondary to achievement.

In the documentary Senna, the World Champion Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna was asked to identify the driver who gave him the most satisfaction as a competitor. Read on…

March 17, 2012

Juan-Antonio Flecha Descending the Cipressa. 2010.

October 14, 2011

In the Race Caravan.

The video was taken from the Sky team car during the ZLM Tour. Hopefully, it gives the viewer an idea of the countryside we ride through and the chaos in the race caravan. The driver always needs to be aware of what’s going on around the car as riders and other team cars are constantly passing and changing lanes. (The song is Verona by Geographer)
June 13, 2011

Organizers — and riders — need to take responsibility for race safety

As we reach the town’s limits, the peloton dives off a four-lane road into a tight bend. Brakes screech. Our speed drops from 60 to 20 kilometers an hour. The peloton balloons then bottlenecks going into the corner. Over 200 riders funnel onto the narrow street and accelerate towards the maze of the city center. As the peloton files out of the bend, it has become one long ribbon. The line of cyclists will snake through the town, skimming signposts, jumping speed bumps, and bouncing over cobbles and tram tracks. Using blind faith, we follow the wheels of the riders ahead of us closely. The effort is exponentially harder for the riders at the back because of the elastic effect of the peloton. Some riders will be blurry eyed from the intensity. Tired, panicked, or both, riders lose focus. Inevitably, mistakes are made and crashes follow. Within the town, we hear the occasional shrill whistle from a road marshal at a roundabout. But few of the dangerous elements on the course are signaled. We rely on instinct and experience.

Cycling is inherently dangerous. We accept that we’ll race over cobbles, rub elbows in sprints and descend mountains at high speed. But most cyclists agree that crashes are now more frequent than they were just a few years ago. While we accept risks are part of our jobs, we shouldn’t accept conditions that are overwhelmingly dangerous and avoidable. Cycling doesn’t need to become an extreme sport to be intriguing, exciting and dramatic enough to captivate a television audience. A few simple changes could make them even more intriguing while minimizing the risk to the riders’ health and, indeed, their lives.

During this year’s Giro d’Italia few riders wanted to race up the Monte Crostis, a narrow mountain road with a steep dirt descent. The mountain was included in the course to create a spectacle. Monte Crostis is picturesque and I’m sure the images would have been dramatic. But it wasn’t worth putting the riders’ lives in danger. Most riders feared the descent. In response, the organizers placed snow fences at the corners in the hope that they would catch riders before they plummeted to the valley below.

Tragically, one of our colleagues, Wouter Weylandt, died on a technical descent on the second stage of the Giro, adding to our fear as Monte Crostis approached in the final 10 days of the race. The night before the stage, however, Monte Crostis was removed from the course. But it was not concern for the riders’ safety that ultimately brought the change. Rather it was complaints from the directeurs. The road up and down Monte Crostis was too narrow for team cars. Our health was secondary. Finally, the Giro organizers gave in to the race commissaires’ demand to eliminate the climb. But they were clearly disgusted and publically critical of the decision. The cyclists, like the animals in a dodgy circus, are just a part of the show.

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May 19, 2011

Giro d’Italia SRM files.

In the Giro we’ve had easier days, hard days and really tough days. Yet, the toughest days of the race, and perhaps of my career, will come in the next week.

Midway through the Giro d’Italia the wear of the race is evident. In the peloton riders are coughing and spitting as their weakened immune systems fight to battle bacteria and viruses. Others are covered in bandages and tape from crashes and injuries. A week ago we were fresh, healthy and strong. Every second counted and riders battled incessantly to be at the front of the peloton. The mountains had yet to crush dreams and sap the fight. Now, as we near the end of the second week of racing the riders, with realism, know their place in the peloton.

I’ve posted 5 SRM files below. The two mountain stages, Stage 7 and Stage 9, also include the descent down the mountain after the finish. The green line is power, speed is pink, cadence is blue, heart rate is red and brown is altitude. The average values for the day are on the top left of the screen with overall distance and energy produced at the bottom of the list.

The mountain stage to Etna was a hard day of racing as the peloton never settled into a steady rhythm but raced at a hard tempo from start to finish. The course was either up or down so we had little time to eat or drink, as we were either breathing intensely going uphill or concentrating and gripping our handlebars while descending.  At the finish it was evident the day had been wearing. Many riders ran out of fuel on the final ascent while others struggled to hold the pace from the start of the stage and had to sprint for the finish line to make it within the time cut (riders who don’t finish within a certain percentage of the winner’s time are eliminated from the race). With roughly eleven kilometres to go on the stage, I was dropped from the front group and rode to the finish at a steady tempo to save energy for the next days.

The flat stage from Termoli to Teramo allowed the peloton to recover. Soon after the start, a small breakaway formed and the peloton chased at a steady speed. The finales of sprint stages are intense as the peloton swarms using every inch of the road as the finish line nears. In the uphill sprint I helped out our sprinter Davide Appolonnio who finished 5th.

The following stage to Castelfidardo was a tough day on difficult terrain. As the stage distance was relatively short and over relentlessly hilly countryside there wasn’t a relaxing moment. Again, the dropped riders had to race like mad to make the time cut while at the head of the race the speed was constantly high. Riders were either attacking or the peloton was chasing threatening breakaways. In the end, the stage came down to a group sprint. As we rode back to the bus after the finish line most riders were complaining of very sore legs.

The coming stages are those the peloton is fearing.

Stage 7. Maddaloni – Montevergine di Mercogliano

Stage 8. Sapri – Tropea

Stage 9. Messina – Etna

Stage 10. Termoli – Teramo

Stage 11. Tortoreto – Castelfidardo

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 11, 2011

Le Jet d’Eau.

When we crested the summit of the final climb and began the descent I was on familiar roads. Our tires, pumped harder for the faultless Swiss roads, hummed as we flew down the mountain. On the flatter roads that hugged the shore of Lac Léman we sped along at over 50 km/h. As I rode on the front of the peloton the landmarks and sites we passed sparked the occasional flash of an old memory. Fifteen years ago, when I was an amateur racing for a team from Annemasse, a suburb of Geneva across the border in France, I had ridden and raced on the same roads. I was a neophyte in a foreign land with the goal of becoming a professional.

Once a week, on my easy training days, I would ride into Geneva and stop at a lakeside café. As I sipped on a coffee I’d daydreamed while watching the jet d’eau spray its fine mist across the harbor.  I pictured myself one day finishing a professional race in the city centre. The images in my mind were glamorous and glorious. The reality is different.

The final stage of this year’s Tour of Romandie finished 200 meters from where I had been sitting fifteen years ago. Our team controlled the finale perfectly for Ben Swift, the sprinter. With an impressive burst of speed he won convincingly.

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