Away from traffic and deep in the countryside, riding on the dirt roads is a unique experience. In the province of Girona, Spain, where I live, there is a large network of dirt roads which go through some incredible countryside. Each autumn, as I start training again after a short break, I try to discover some new roads and countryside on my cyclo-cross bike. My good friend Jordi Cantal, who is a local fireman, joins me on most of the rides. Like me, he is always hunting for new routes. A Catalan, he teaches me about the history of the area and their culture. The bike, a Pinarello, has mudguards, tough touring tires and lower gears than my standard training bike. The position is identical to my race bike. The video was taken on one ride: from Girona to Rocacorba-Mieres-Sant Aniol de Finestres-La Barroca-Amer-Pantano de Susqueda-Osor-Angels-Sant Gregori-Girona. Music: Mr.Rager by Kid Cudi.
The group settles into formation meters after leaving the café. Like the table manners learned as children the formation is innate to us. Two abreast, tight against the curb we form two lines. Cars pass us with ease as we pedal out of town and into the countryside. The pair on the front increases the tempo as soon as we are out of traffic and onto the rural roads. From experience they quickly find the rhythm of the group. On the rural roads, we’re in synch. Knowing how to ride properly in a group is taught and learned.
I was introduced to cycling as a boy. On my first group rides, I was taught how to ride with others appropriately. As we pedalled along with our club mates, my father explained ride etiquette to me. On open roads, the group stays close to the shoulder. To allow cars to pass and to benefit from the riders’ slipstream, the group stays compact. It is often easier for cars to pass a group of cyclists who are riding two abreast near the road’s shoulder than a group, which is single file and much longer. We must be aware we are sharing the road with other traffic.
Each pair pulls off the front sharing the workload with the others. To peel off the rider on the right moves right, the rider on the left moves left, reducing their speed gently to let the others pass. The pair who has been following slice through the pair to take the lead with the rest of the group in their slipstream. The two who have just finished their turn on the front, move back into the slipstream at the back of group rapidly to avoid being in the way of the traffic for long.
Within the group riders should always be paired up. Two abreast is acceptable, three is not. In an odd numbered group, the single rider sits at the back. Each rider has his or her turn being alone at the tail-end. In a group, everything is shared.
A group is concerned with others’ well being. We point out obstacles in the road, we signal directions and we take care of each other. A rider who is struggling is sheltered from the wind and given food and drink. We wait for those who have punctured and help them repair the flat. Every cyclist has a bad day. A group will get you through the bad moments.
Like bragging at a dinner party about wealth, nobody appreciates a rider who constantly forces the pace to prove his strength. Half-wheeling, the term used to describe a rider who is constantly pushing the pace half a wheel in front of the others, is an insult not a compliment. Group rides are not races. Good riders are in tune with each others’ abilities and the groups’ objective. At the right moment, when everybody is ready, the tempo will increase, the group will splinter, the strongest will surge ahead, and then only to regroup again at a designated spot.
A group ride should be challenging but also pleasant. Experiencing an achievement is often richer when shared. On the bike, each pair of riders converses as if they’re across from each other at a dinner table but in the fresh air the conversation is often more animated. On the roads, societal hierarchies are muted. A CEO is just another wheel to follow. A professional cyclist is just another face glistening sweat.
Together, a group of eight eats through the hours. In nearly six hours, we’ve seamlessly devoured mountains, cut through valleys and popped through towns. Even our stop at a café failed to break our rhythm. On the terrace, everything continued to flow.
As we rolled off the start line in Beijing, my legs ached from flying half way across the world, or from fatigue, or both. In early October, after eight months of racing, training and travel, I was worn out along with rest of the peloton. The nervous energy that sparks the barrage of attacks for the first hour of the race was absent.
From experience, I knew that within an hour my legs would again feel normal. The power I had during the finales of races a few weeks earlier would still be there. An uncomfortable start, some suffering, would force everything to run smoothly. Once my mind was free of late-season complacency, and jetlag, the power would return.
In the outskirts of Beijing the racing finally began. Two dozen riders attacked incessantly on a massive highway, in an attempt to break clear. Another team controlled the race to ensure only a small group that they could reel in with ease escaped. Everyone else sat in the slipstream, being sucked along at over 50 kilometers an hour. Like mystical mirages in a city congested with towers, the mountains appeared through the thick smog as we reached the outer limits of Beijing. The landscape was completely foreign to most of us. But we swiftly settled into a routine we know: the race. The European peloton in its entirety had been transported to China. On the road, the red jerseys of the Chinese National team were the only anomaly.
The contrasts to Europe were notable. Lured to the roadside by the government with packed lunches and brightly colored shirts, spectators enthusiastically encouraged us with pompoms and drums like trained high school cheerleaders. They were held back from the road by kilometers of barriers and caution tape. In areas where people were given more access, they crowded at the roadside in the thousands. But there, the eyes of uniformed policemen and military officers monitored their movements closely.
The roads were closed to traffic and policed as if the president’s motorcade was rolling through town. Every hundred meters or less a uniformed officer patrolled the course with his back to the race. Occasionally, I caught one turning his head to catch a glimpse the blazing peloton. But most kept their eyes fixed away from us as if the road they were protecting was a king’s castle. Everything seemed to be orchestrated with precision.
The courses were the safest we have ridden all season. There were no parked cars on the roads, the corners were well signalled and the retaining walls around dangerous corners were padded like a madman’s room. The tarmac was as smooth as a car track. The peloton sped along, virtually incident free. Only the chaotic charge for the finish brought crashes.
On wide-open multiple lane roads, the peloton surged to the line in a mess of movement. The selection that occurs after one team forces the tempo and thins the peloton into a line didn’t occur. The variables that usually force the peloton into a line were missing. There was no wind, no technical corners and the wide roads allowed complete teams to move to the front in seconds.
Without the buses, which are normally our rolling locker rooms, we crowded around vans after the stages. Although the peloton flowed freely over the smooth routes, the effects of the poor air quality were evident at the finish. With our bags piled on the curb, the team staff wiped down the thick grim on our faces and legs, as journalists asked questions and fans reached for used water bottles. We coughed up thick dirty phlegm, our eyes were bloodshot and each rider complained of a burning in his chest. The thick smog affected us all. The locals knew better. While on their bikes they wore dust masks.
In small towns cyclists transporting loads of sticks, bottles, mattresses or a multitude of other equally awkward and heavy cargo stopped and watched the race. Like in Europe, the race’s arrival momentarily suspended daily routines. Their smiles and cheers were enthusiastic.
In a country where everybody seems comfortable on a bike, the race was still something unique. The blur of color, the carnival-like atmosphere, drew people to the roadside. It was in stark contrast to the utilitarian cycling they know. Like the grandmother who rides to the market in France, they could identify with the emotion of riding a bike, which is what can lead to a profound understanding of the difficulty, the speed and the thrill of the race.
Twenty kilometres from the finish of the first stage, as we stormed towards the line through a tunnel of cheers, my legs felt good again.
Canadian cyclist Michael Barry, a professional with Team Sky and Toronto artist Noah Rosen of Velocolour have partnered with Pinarello bicycles to create a uniquely painted pinball themed bicycle frame. The frame will be auctioned online with all of the proceeds of the sale going to support Right to Play, an organization working with volunteers and partners to use sport and play to enhance child development in areas of disadvantage.
When they were children, Noah and Michael spent hours riding their bikes up and down neighborhood streets in North Toronto. Once the sun had set they would retire to Noah’s basement to play pinball. With those fond memories they began to design this Pinarello carbon fiber frame. Noah explained, “Within the project and the design there are elements of our youth, which tie it all together.”
Pedaling their bikes, kicking soccer balls and shooting hockey pucks enhanced Noah and Michael’s childhood experience and gave them lifelong perspective and opportunities. They both feel that all children should have the opportunity to play sport, which is why they want to support Right to Play.
Pinarello has kindly donated one of their top carbon racing frames to support the project.
Details of the Pinarello Prince frame:
Material: Carbon 50HM1K Torayca®
Fork: Onda™ FPX Carbon 50HM1K 1” 1/8 conified 1” 1/4 integral system
Rear Stay: Onda™ FPX Carbon 50HM1K
Weight for raw frame: 990gr
B.Bracket: Most® Croxover
(Seat Post and headset bearings included)
Walter Lai kindly took the photos of the frame.
Toronto based artist Noah Rosen has a background in ceramics, fine art and bicycle painting. He graduated with a B.F.A. from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 2001 and from the Sheridan College School of Craft and Design in 1999.
Noah learned to paint bicycles while working under master frame builder and bicycle expert Mike Barry Sr. of Bicycle Specialties and Mariposa Bicycles.
In 2008 Noah opened his own custom painting shop, Velocolour, which has quickly gained international recognition for its high level of craftsmanship and unique designs. Noah has shown his work throughout Canada and internationally.
Michael Barry is a three time Olympian who has ridden as a professional for thirteen years. He has ridden for some of the top teams including US Postal, Discovery Channel, T-Mobile, High Road and Sky. The author of three books on cycling his writing has also been published in the New York Times, the Toronto Star and The Times of London.
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. Continue Reading »
When we were kids, my good friend Noah Rosen and I spent most afternoons and weekends racing our bikes up and down the neighborhood streets. At nightfall the races would end, and we’d retire to the basement with a bowl of popcorn to make forts, watch movies and play his father’s vintage pinball machine. Noah still remembers the evenings fondly, “ When we were playing pinball the room would be glowing in the darkness of the basement. But, maybe it was just our childhood enthusiasm.”
We’re still good friends and ride together whenever I’m back in Toronto. Noah now runs Velocolour and paints frames beautifully. Earlier this year we decided it might be fun to collaborate on project together, as we’d done at art school when we were kids. The idea was to paint a Pinarello with a unique design, which told a story. The frame would then be auctioned with the proceeds going to Right to Play, an organization that brings sport to children in disadvantaged areas. Within the project and design there are elements of our youth, which tie it all together.
After bouncing umpteen ideas off each other we agreed the frame should be painted with vintage pinball machine graphics. Noah succinctly said, “The connection made sense as a starting point. Childhood memories of us playing together, being kids, formed the design of the paint scheme, which would hopefully raise money for other kids to do the same thing.”
Often, while riding in the middle of a peloton or in the midst of city traffic I have the feeling I’m the ball within the machine, bouncing off bumpers, shooting through holes, and accelerating when it is clear. When I find the flow of the peloton, or the city traffic, the feeling is sublime.
Pinarello kindly donated a 55 cm Prince carbon frame for us to use as the canvas.
The auction will take place at the end of June. Details will be posted soon.
Here are some of the photos of the project development. I’ll post more photos of the frame in the coming days.
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.