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….

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…

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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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.

Montreal 2012