Archive for the Uncategorized Category

January 10, 2014

Cross Training

 

 

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While the WorldTour professionals ride day-after-day in southern Europe, and the American pro teams accumulate hours in California or Arizona, most cyclists are stuck in their basements logging hours on stationary bikes as snow builds outside. For some, including me, it’s torturous. We count down the minutes until the workout ends. To pass the time we stare at screens showing cyclists racing over cols or cobbles, we bop to music, and we dream of warmer days and clean roads. We hammer away, spinning like hamsters on a wheel, going nowhere but riding with gusto, hoping to not be lagging behind..(Read more)

 

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December 28, 2013

Six Days

In Ghent, Belgium, the low thunder of the cyclists racing into the wooden banking of the velodrome is unheard over the festivities in the track center. A   DJ spins a classic Flemish hit as the spectators, dressed in their best clothes, eat, dance and mingle. Few of the spectators hear the yells of the riders as they bump elbows and maneuver into position before the final sprint to the line. These events, the six-day track races, are orchestrated spectacles.

When the 19th century neared, cycling was America’s sport. The country’s sporting icons were track cyclists and the arenas now known for their hockey and basketball teams were packed with cycling fans cheering for the earlier sports heroes racing around steeply banked wooden tracks.

It was an era when endurance events intrigued the population. So the bicycle races ran for six days (races weren’t held on Sundays to avoid violating local religious laws) with the cycling continuing around the clock, 24 hours a day. The riders never stopped pedaling as the spectators witnessed the riders become gaunt, deluded and barely able to pedal. Like endurance dance competitions where the last couple standing won, riders were expected to ride until they fell over.

Time and the law brought some humanity. By 1898, the New York State legislature banned riding for more than 12 hours a day.

At the same time, new rules brought excitement to six day racing. The races now take place only in the late afternoon and continue late into the night. There are also a variety of events– some mass start and others individual timed races—to boost audience interest. But in contrast most Olympic track events, where sprinting strategies include the dead stop of the track stand, the action at a six-day relentless. Two man teams were also introduced to replace concoctions of drugs previously used to achieve the inhumane.

The Madison (known in France as “l’Amèricaine”) is now the main event of a modern six-day race. Named after Madison Square Gardens, where the first races took place in the 1900s, it is a mass start event in which 12 to 18 teams of two riders race each other for points through sprints on selected laps.

The riders take turns working. That is, one rider races while the other circles the top of the track, taking a break at a less strenuous pace, away from the action. When his teammate tires, a quick hand-sling brings the rested rider up to speed and into the race. Like a Nascar pit change, the exchange must be quick and efficient.

Six-day racing slowly died in the United States as cars replaced the bicycle as transport and the next sporting craze. But in Europe where bikes remain commonly used vehicles and bicycle racing is still part of the culture, track races draw crowds of spectators, are covered by the daily media and have their champions who are professionals. Crowds, it should be noted, pay to watch the action, unlike the fans at the Tour de France. In an arena, insulated from the wet and cold northern European winter, the velodrome provides a warm venue for the spectators and the cyclists.

The current series that takes place through the autumn and winter is 14 races long and is centered in Germany, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands.  Cultural influences mold the ambiance in each venue where the bike race becomes and excuse to celebrate and, for some fans, to drink.

In Ghent, the tunnel under the track used to access the center becomes slick with deep pools of beer which have accumulated through the night from spilled cups in the grandstands.

The grand spectacle of the evening is often the motorpaced race. The crowd rises to its feet when the specially designed motorbikes roll onto the velodrome, their engines revving and spewing clouds of exhaust.

The slipstream created by the motorbikes allows the cyclists to achieve otherwise impossible speed. But the cyclists remain in charge. Yelling over the roar of the motor, they tell the motorcyclists when to accelerate and when to slow down. At any given time, there can be six to ten motorcycles roaring around the velodrome.

The motorpacing aside, track racing is the purest form of cycling. Its variables are limited to the rider, the track and the competition. As a young cyclist, on the track I learned how to pedal efficiently, keeping my upper body motionless while my legs turned in potent circles. The confined and controlled environment of the now defunct Montreal Olympic velodrome made mistakes more apparent and gave me confidence, bike handling skills and tactical knowledge. Continue reading. 

 

December 21, 2013

A Miserable Ride

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“This is the stupidest f*cking event I’ve ever been in. Mike, you are f*cking mad. I’ll never ride it again,” Keith said. His bike was coated in a thick layer of ice. The freezing rain was now turning to steady snow. There were still several kilometers to go on the dirt track when he rode by cursing. The track or “trench,” as it became known after a few years, was an old rail line that ran up from Toronto to the southern shore of Lake Simcoe. In the summer, it is used by ATVs and motorbikes, while in the winter, it’s a snowmobile route. In between, the cyclists came once a year.

The end of the track met the lake, where an icy northerly blew off of the water. Along the shoreline, the route took us east on a smoothly tarmacked road to The Irish House, a wooden inn that was painted white. It was well beyond its finest years, when the Toronto upper class would spend their weekends and summers on the lake. Now, it was little more than a pub, with dusty hurling sticks, mirrored ads for liquor, and neon beer signs hanging on the walls. Arcade games binged and chirped in the corner, while local farmers, motor bikers, and truckers sat at the bar or threw darts. Continue reading. 

December 13, 2013

The Pursuit

 

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Most races are formulaic, especially at the pro level. In the team buses before each race, the majority of the directeurs will be mapping the day out for their riders in a similar fashion. The team leaders will be told to wait in the slipstream of their teammates and the peloton until the final hour or less of racing, where they’ll attempt to burst ahead. Until then, their only goal is to conserve energy and stay fresh for the finale. The domestiques will be tasked with protecting the leaders, keeping them fed, fueled, and in position. Each of the domestiques has a distinct role: some will be told to follow the attacks to ensure a combination of the right riders is in the early breakaway that forms, some might be asked to attack early. Others, who will wait patiently with the leader in the slipstream, will be required to increase the tempo to thin the peloton before the leader’s final attacks. Each rider will work selflessly in the wind, so that the leader can execute the goal.

Broken down, the tactics are simple to an experienced team, but to the neophyte fan or racer, they can seem puzzling. Continue reading.

December 7, 2013

Mudguards

When pairing proper clothing with a bike fitted with mudguards or fenders, there are few weather conditions that can make a ride unpleasant. Their protection keeps water from soaking the chamois, and they prevent road grit from turning Lycra into sandpaper. Gone is the spray off of the front wheel that drenches feet along the freezing plume of water off of the back wheel. And on a club ride, everybody is more comfortable without a constant wheel-spray showering their face. While riding in the rain, the majority of the water comes off of the wheels. And once that spray is eliminated, a cyclist with a good rain jacket can stay quite dry for the duration of any ride.

There are few, if any, reasons to train without these items during inclement weather. Fausto Coppi rode with them. Phil Anderson used them, and many current pros fit them during the off-season. If I were to have one bike, it would be a bike with mudguards. Keeping you dryer and warmer, they allow you to ride comfortably for hours. After all, riding with a wet chamois and cold feet doesn’t toughen up a rider; it simply makes him or her miserable. Read on. SONY DSC

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November 29, 2013

Winter

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November marks the beginning of the cyclist’s New Year. Although dead leaves blow through the streets, morning frost covers the tarmac, and the sky is a drab and ominous grey, the off-season brings the cyclist a sense of renewal. Through the cold winter, we rejuvenate. The period not only gives us needed mental and physical rest, but it also allows us to reset objectives to start again with a clean slate. We can absorb the experiences of the last season, analyze them, learn from them, and then plan for what is to come.

A steady progression in fitness is equally important to the amateur as it is to the professional.  A balanced, steady approach to training leads to solid aerobic base and success. Too much time off, and you’re playing catch-up; too little time off, and you’ll be tired before the summer races. It is good to be eager, but far too often, riders train harder in the winter months than they do before key races. Why? Read on. mariposa_0186image image-3

November 10, 2012

Le Métier. The Seasons of a Professional Cyclist. Third Edition.

Now available: Amazon or Rouleur

October 21, 2012

Cycling Becomes a Cleaner Sport, Not a Safer one.

New York Times, Oct 15, 2012. Click here .

October 10, 2012

The USADA Investigation

Cycling has always been a part of my life. As a boy my dream was to become a professional cyclist who raced at the highest level in Europe. I achieved my goal when I first signed a contract with the United States Postal Service Cycling team in 2002. Soon after I realized reality was not what I had dreamed. Doping had become an epidemic problem in professional cycling.

Recently, I was contacted by United States Anti-Doping Agency to testify in their investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs on the United States Postal Service Team. I agreed to participate as it allowed me to explain my experiences, which I believe will help improve the sport for today’s youth who aspire to be tomorrow’s champions.

After being encouraged by the team, pressured to perform and pushed to my physical limits I crossed a line I promised myself and others I would not: I doped. It was a decision I deeply regret. It caused me sleepless nights, took the fun out of cycling and racing, and tainted the success I achieved at the time. This was not how I wanted to live or race.

In the summer of 2006, I never doped again and became a proponent of clean cycling through my writing and interviews.

From 2006 until the end of my career in 2012, I chose to race for teams that took a strong stance against doping. Although I never confessed to my past, I wrote and spoke about the need for change.  Cycling is now a cleaner sport, many teams have adopted anti-doping policies and most importantly I know a clean rider can now win at the highest level.

I apologize to those I deceived. I will accept my suspension and any other consequences. I will work hard to regain people’s trust.

The lessons I learned through my experiences have been valuable. My goal now is to help turn the sport into a place where riders are not tempted to dope, have coaches who they can trust, race on teams that nurture talent and have doctors who are concerned for their health. From direct experience, I know there are already teams doing this but it needs to be universal throughout cycling.

Progressive change is occurring. My hope is that this case will further that evolution.

September 28, 2012

The last set of race numbers

The Montreal Grand Prix was officially my final race as a professional cyclist as I will not be racing in Italy this week or China in October because the arm I broke in August has yet to fully heal. During the race in Montreal, it became increasingly painful and swollen around the fracture, plate and screws. I hoped it would improve with a few days of rest but almost three weeks later it is still bothering me. The risk of falling and re-fracturing it in another race it is too great. The Montreal GP was a race day I will remember fondly and nice place to finish my career. It was a well organized race, on home turf, in front of my family, friends and supporters that was capped off by my teammate Lars-Petter’s fine victory.

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