Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Doping - Basso and DNA

So Tailwind Sports, the organization that runs the Discovery Team cycling team, issued a press release. In it they state that they've told Ivan Basso, with a fresh investigation launched in Italy on his alleged Fuentes doings, to stop competing until things are cleared.

They state that in 10 years they have never had a positive.

I guess it would be hard to have a positive if the company started listing itself as the team contact (for USPS in this case) starting 5 years ago (2002). Granted the address has been the same but the name has been different.

Splitting hairs, yes, but still. I figure they probably owned the other companies that were listed as the team contacts. So, in 2000, when the contact listed was "Disson Furst and Partners" at this Sausilito, CA address, it was probably really Tailwind Sports which ran the show.

If that's the case, I wonder what they say about Joachim Benoit, a racer they fired in 2000 after he tested positive for Nandrolone at levels of 5.7 ng/ml and 6.2 ng/ml, well above the IOC's 2 ng/ml limit and still above the more lax UCI's 5 ng/ml limit.

Benoit was eventually acquitted. There were no real reasons for his acquittal - simply that there was a long time between the race and the test. No more time, than, say, some of the follow up tests done on recent positive and non-positive racers. After firing him quite publicly, the team discretely rehired him for the following years, keeping him until the end of 2006.

USPS actually kept an archive of the press release announcing his termination due to doping - but a search of the site reveals that it's been discarded, along with the whole USPS team section.

Anyway, back on Basso.

It appears that Basso's carefully worded statement on being available for particular DNA testing, one statement Lance and Tailwind Sports points to as an indication that Basso is willing to work with authorities, will come back to bite him quite hard. With the Italian cycling federation launching an inquiry, one of the scenarios in Basso's statement about submitting to DNA testing will be met.

When he first signed with Discovery, there were assumptions that this meant Bruyneel would have Basso submit to a DNA test. But no, even before the team announced the signing, Basso's lawyer proclaimed that Basso doesn't have to submit to such things. And after the signing Basso had been strangely quiet on the whole topic of providing DNA samples.

The way most people see it, if DNA testing can free a couple hundred people that witnesses and others swore up and down committed all sorts of heinous crimes, then it couldn't harm an innocent like Basso could it?

The problem is that DNA works the other way too. One could claim to be an innocent, live the life of an innocent, and yet be a criminal. In Trespasses, author Howard Swindle writes about a serial rapist that carried on a normal life - owning a small business, carrying on personal relationships - and yet found time to scour his neighborhood and commit many rapes. Convicted of 48, he may have committed twice as many. He was positively identified through DNA. Another criminal who ran free for a long time until DNA caught up with him - the BTK serial killer, Dennis Rader.

I'm not saying Basso raped or killed anyone. But I am saying that although he may portray himself as an innocent, DNA testing will go a long way in proving (or disproving) his claims.

And to be frank, his case looks awfully weak.

Just because the DNA matched between the suspected Jan Ullrich bags (with various code names linked to Ullrich) and Ullrich, it does not make it a given that the Ivan Basso bags (with other various code names) will match Basso's DNA. But if the Spanish investigation was correct and "Birillo" is indeed an code name for Basso...

When things smell, it's usually for a reason.

I guess we'll wait and see.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Doping - Floyd's B Samples Non-negative

Apparently there are reports that Floyd's B samples were positive for exogenous testosterone (i.e. testosterone from the outside). Although a Floyd representative was denied access to the test, this doesn't bode well for the Mennonite's recent heavy duty "Run for President" PR campaign.

Although I like Floyd, seeing such evidence is hard to turn away. It's like Ullrich trying to deny that having his blood (based on DNA tests) at the Fuentes lab doesn't mean he doped. It's ridiculous. For what other reason would Ullrich give liters of blood to a doctor in Spain?

Yet Ullrich, at least in Spain, is safe. There is nothing wrong with doping as long as the dopee is unhurt. Germany, Switzerland, they're different, and what will happen remains to be seen.

In the same vein, Landis seems to be headed for trouble in one way, perhaps redemption in another. Never mind that there might be some room for protest. The B sample tests, although damning if accurate, don't provide any grounds for suspension. First off, tests for exogenous testosterone are supposed to happen only after a T:E ratio failure. (Note that doing a carbon isotope test to begin with skips that step.) And technically a positive (for exo testo) A sample means there's a "non-negative". The B sample is simply to confirm the A sample's findings and escalates the "non-negative" to a "positive". Without the A sample non-negative, the B sample tests are just fluff to fill some news sites, editorials, and blogs.

So as a blog type person I'm just using this rich, dark material for a post (can you tell I did some composting recently?).

What it boils down to is this: the whole debate on if Floyd doped based on the B sample tests is simply theoretical. The tests on the Stage 17 A sample and the follow up test on the B sample are critical and that's what has to be examined. If those tests are accurate and without fault, Floyd loses his 2006 Tour title. If the tests results are flawed, Floyd remains the 2006 Tour winner, regardless of what his other B samples show.

And although it seems the lab in France is trying its hardest to sway public opinion against Floyd (rather than in the lab's favor - the whole "if you can't prove you're good, prove the other guy is bad" philosophy), this doesn't change the protocols followed during the Stage 17 A and B tests nor the apparent procedure violations in those tests.

Floyd's situation reminds me of something I read in the paper a while ago. There was a DWI case in a nearby town. A police officer observed a car (an Audi A4 if I recall correctly) driving erratically. The officer put on his lights and pulled the car over. The driver was so inebriated that when he turned to the officer to ask what was happening, he vomited on the officer.

Now, for me, at first glance, that would be enough to pull the guy out of the car and arrest him. They did some sobriety test and the driver was pretty much unable to do anything right. His blood alcohol content (BAC) was something phenomenal. More ammunition against the driver - he didn't have a 24 hour flu or some other thing that would cause him to vomit, sway when standing, and peg the BAC meters.

Yet the court dropped all charges against the driver. Apparently the officer, in a vomit-covered distracted moment, forgot to check a particular box on his official report. Because the box was left unchecked, all other evidence against the driver became invalid.

And the driver went free.

After I read the article the first thing I thought of was, "Man I want to go toilet paper that guy's house."

But I didn't. Because the court was right. The letter of the law has to be followed even if the principle was broken. Otherwise we end up living in something like a Hussein world where rules are so ephemeral they might as well not exist.

And although there might be a lot of people convinced of Floyd's guilt, it's really up to the lab to prove that they followed all procedures correctly when they tested Floyd's Stage 17 samples.

The rest of it is just fodder for discussion.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Plainville - A Diamond in the Rough

"Back in the day", the old guys would say. I was 15 and to me it seemed like all I heard about was "back in the day" from those old guys. I mean they were at least 20 or something, old fogeys, they had to shave and stuff. And they always talked about how lucky I was, how things were so much easier for me. When they started, racers were tougher and grittier and didn't rely on new-fangled equipment like they do nowadays.

Now I say "Back in the day". Go figure.

Well, back in the day when the racing community found a budding new racer, they'd call them a "diamond in the rough". Nothing negative about it - simply a racer that needed a bit of time to mature. They said this about Greg LeMond who ended up one of the best riders ever; they also said it of other racers, many of whom didn't make it through the system before burning up and dropping out.

I raced the Plainville Spring Series race yesterday. As soon as I did a lap in the race I knew that this was a diamond in the rough. The course has two right turns, a right "bend", and a right-left swerve. It is totally flat. It promotes speed work, pack riding skills, and encourages sharp attacks and violent chases. It even has a "last turn" which is reasonably critical in positioning for the sprint.

Okay, the weather was incredible - a touch over 70 degrees, sunny, a hint of wind. And although I hadn't ridden much in the last month or two (except racing at Bethel), I did do an intense two days prior - I rode just over two hours in two days. Not a lot I know but to me I felt like I was immersed in training (the two hours took place over three rides on Thursday and Friday, ending at 7:30 PM Friday). I had my new pedals, shoes, and a yet-to-be-mentioned gizmo so I was making efforts all over the place. So my legs felt reasonably good albeit a little more fatigued than normal. But with the lack of riding, fatigued legs felt a lot better than, say, puffy and swollen slow legs.

I got lost getting to the race, breaking a basic rule of bike racing - know where the race is before you leave the house. The Plainville police station was closed (I didn't want to call 911 to find out where the race was) and after about 45 minutes of rising panic I finally drove by a bike shop, slammed on the brakes, parked, ran in, and got directions. Ends up the exit where I made a highway u-turn was the exit for the race - if I'd gone right instead of left, I'd have been at the course almost an hour earlier.

Anyway, I got there, registered, started setting up the helmet cam, and tried to do everything at once. I lined up okay with a one lap warmup - I think that amounts to about 1 mile of riding including riding over from the parking lot.

There were all sorts of permutations in the race - individual and team standings, just like in Bethel. And with a smaller field and a lot of three teams present, I figured any break with the three teams would simply disappear up the road. And when the leader crashed at the start (dunno what happened) and the rival team launched half their team at the same time, we were off at a crackin' pace.

Small fields are terribly hard to read. It's more important to choose your moves because if you follow the wrong one and blow, you get dropped. And after I went with what I thought was the winning move, suddenly we got caught, I was blown, and hasta la vista, I was OTB.

I rolled around till I got lapped then sat at the back, which is where I should have been instead of bridging to breaks. And since I was a lap down, I didn't do much to interfere with the fight for the two overalls - the team and the individual prizes.

Because I got lost on the way to the race, I had had no time to learn who was in what place in the Series. So I had no idea who was in what position other than the leader (he wore a Leader's Jersey). He raced for team Blue. This other team wanted to beat them. That was apparent when one of their guys yelled to his teammates "We only chase Blue". They must have had second overall and wanted it to come down to a sprint.

Hey I know how to read races! With that in mind I stayed out of Blue and We Chase Blue's way.

Interestingly enough, with a few laps to go, another team's rider came up to me. They'd been somewhat active, had shown up with some numbers, but I didn't understand why. Well, it became clear at that point when the rider told me he was in second overall.


I asked about We Chase Blue - ends up they wanted the team prize.


Sub-plots within the plots.

Anyway Secondo would have to win and the current leader finish worse than third in order to take the Series. The only way to do that would be to bridge to a two man break and beat them. But it didn't seem likely (the other two teams were marking all the moves). And we were rapidly running out of race - it was only a few laps to go.

With some sketchiness in the field I moved up some and ended up semi-active, i.e. responsible for keeping on the wheel in front of me. I tried to be some invisible pack glue, holding things together but not influencing the moves.

With the bell approaching, I was following Secondo and he was trying to get his guys lined up to do a leadout. We Chase Blue had a good half dozen guys on the front. Blue, with the leader, were just behind.

I figured this would be the time when I tried to "get my lap back".

I rode around Secondo and a teammate who had just slotted in ahead of him. Knowing a good thing when they see it, they latched on, I think a third teammate getting the picture and joining the train. Then I started to gun it.

I had to get around the We Chase Blue leadout before the first turn - I didn't but I drew up next to them and we went into the first turn two wide. Then, after checking to make sure the guys were on my wheel, I moved my hands to the tops, sat upright, and started going hard.

I learned a long time ago if I leadout from the drops there's no draft - so my leadouts are on my tops, sitting up, elbows out, trying to be as tall and as wide as possible.

I accelerated to the low 30's and held it there. I recently saw a great clip of Fred Rodriguez leading out his man (I forget but maybe Zanini?) to a stage win in the Tour. I wanted to emulate him. But I'm no Freddy. I started to thrash. I started recruiting muscles I forgot existed. And finally I started to cramp a bit. I realized I couldn't make it to the final turn so I pulled off just short of it - ideally I should have gone around the turn in front and then pulled off.

About 6 or 7 riders came past me - the rest had been gapped.


They sprinted and after all that work, all that chasing, nothing changed overall, at least nothing at the top.

I spoke with the promoter as he's been struggling with the Series for two years. He mentioned some of the things he's run into over the last year. An unpleasant tenant near the course which he's seemed to be handling well so far. I've dealt with the same, even going to the guy's liquor store to speak with him about the "unpleasant marshal". Said marshal is now my fiancee and she told him he couldn't drive on the course as the race was about to pass. You can guess who's side I was on in that one.

Another problem - in the rush to give out prizes he gave out money to the wrong people. In one race the overall teams were thought to be tied on points and the promoter awarded the prize to the team that did better on the last day. But one rider's annual purchase license finally made it through the USAC system the previous week and his points at the beginning of the Series technically won his team, the one in second, the team GC. I told him he should ask for the money back as the now-second-place team technically didn't earn it. I've done the same - it's embarrassing but I awarded the team trophy to the wrong team one year. The team with the trophy graciously met with the team that won at a later race. The trophy changed ownership, they shook hands, and then proceeded to pound each other's legs into Jello in the race later that day. And personally I've mailed back prize money I didn't win - like my miraculous 6th at the Jiminy Peak Road Race. Miraculous because I got into my car after a lap and was well on my way home when the race finished.

And finally, like all new grassroots promoters, low turnouts have hurt his budget - I guess it's two years now where he's essentially paying a lot of money to watch other people race. He's struggled with race categories and is focused on trying to appeal to more racers willing to show up and race.

Like all new promoters, he has his struggles. That is what I call rough.

But the course really suits racers preparing for the speed and intensity of the summer racing. I think a cold, windy, sandy race there would be less than pleasant, but that would be the case anywhere. A day like yesterday was great. Very fast, very consistent, and a long enough course that you can't solo easily for a lap.

I call that a diamond.

I think this is a great venue. There are always improvements - the promoter was talking about what changes he wanted to make for next year before he finished paying out the prize money. I was doing the same at Bethel too.

Although technically his race sort of competes for a limited pool of racers with mine (since it's tough to do two days of racing in a row in March and April), I really hope his Series blossoms like Bethel did more than 10 years ago. His Series has slightly different offering than Bethel and I think it a better course for the new racers who need to get used to the speed of racing. Bethel is better for racers easing into the season.

And heck, maybe next year I can do both Series. I could virtually double the number of races I do every year!

Here's to polishing up a diamond.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Story - A Short, Hard Bike Ride

In a different life I was in the retail bike biz. It wasn't an easy life but it had its moments. One such moment took during a nice sunny summer day. People were busy shopping. Our shop was humming. As bike shop people it's hard to get out when the weather is nice because that's when things get busy. As it turned out I was still able to get out for a quick, couple mile bike ride.

In a bike shop (or probably any retail shop) you develop a feel for "trouble". Someone out of place, perhaps reeking of alcohol, or maybe a normal person with glazed eyes, whatever it is, alarm bells go off. Usually you make a subtle gesture (like the spy guys do in the movies - touch a finger to your cheek just below an eye then at the "target") to the other employees to let them know that the guy up front seems sketchy. And you go greet them and hope you're wrong.

Normally nothing happens. But when things do, it can be a doozy.

On said summer day, we were enjoying a quiet moment. It helped us catch up with repairs, build bikes, clean up a bit, and, like always, talk about stuff.

A guy walked in who set off every alarm bell I had. He simply did not fit our "normal customer" profile. But when I greeted him he was surprisingly articulate with some of the subtle points of a bike shop. He told me he worked in a shop that sold brand T and G but not C and he wanted to check out some C's. He talked to me at length about good and bad floor pumps. And at some point he asked if he could take a C out for a ride.

In particular he wanted to take a beautiful, polished, 21" (he was a big guy) front suspension bike for a spin.

Normally we ask for a license but he claimed he didn't drive and so didn't have a license. Not unusual for a young shop employee (we've had a couple like that) so I told him he had to stay right in front of the store. He agreed and carefully wheeled the bike outside.

I watched him circle a few times and walked back a bit to talk to the guys in back. One of them, Josh, piped up.

"That guy wants to steal a bike."
"Yeah, but he seemed to know about shops. I told him to stay in front of the store."
"I don't know, I don't like it."

I didn't know what to say. Alarm bells were still going off but the courtesy you extend to others in the biz sort of overrode them. I lost myself thinking about this when J ripped me out of those thoughts.

"There he goes!"

Oh *@#&$%.

Now what. I ran to the front of the store to grab a bike to chase him down. We had leaned a lot of new bikes up by the doorway, one on top of the next, bikes which had been test ridden earlier that day. I decided to grab one. The first bike I touched was some huge road bike. I rolled hard to the side. Think of a pro in a race who tosses his bike to the side as the mechanic is handing him a new one off the team car. Anyway, I rolled the bike like that. It would have crashed into I don't know what except one of the guys, TallJosh (not Josh), caught it and carefully leaned it across the front of the "non-chase" bikes in the stands (hybrids or kids bikes).

The next bike was a BMX bike. I briefly contemplated it but realized I'd be spun out before I got out of the parking lot. I tossed that. TallJosh caught it and leaned it against the big road bike.

I think a hybrid was next. Tossed. Caught. Leaned.

Then the piece de resistance. A beautiful Stumpjumper, 18" (my size), just test ridden so definitely in shape for some hardcore bike thief chasing.

I grabbed it, dropped the seat a bit, and rolled the bike out the door. Sneakers on clipless pedals. It would have to do. I squished my way to the street (the parking lot sort of has walls around it and there were a lot of cars going in and out) and looked down the road.


Back then it was a four lane road, one way (now it's three lanes) and we happened to be at the busiest intersection of the county or state or something (the landlord boasted about that all the time). So a lot of cars and a lot of different roads (5 roads). It was packed with cars trundling along at about 30-35 mph or stopped at lights. The sidewalks were packed with shoppers. There were people milling around everywhere. And I had no idea if the guy went down our road, down a different road, or cut through one of the dozen sidewalks around.

The view downhill.
I decided he wouldn't go uphill, and I hoped he didn't cross the street.
When I pulled up to the road from the FedEx van side, the guy was at the very end of this road, where it bears left.

I rolled down the hill (I figured he wouldn't go uphill, plus it's all residential up there) and boom - I saw him. He was about 550 yards away according to the gmap-pedometer site and sprinting furiously around a bend in the road. That's far. It's far when you're trying to bridge to a break in a race. But it's even further when the break can take any route it pleases and is trying to hide from you.

I sprinted across some traffic and down the road. I came flying up to a UPS truck. Thinking it was "our" truck, I pulled up to the driver's side and started to yell to catch the guy while I held onto the truck (hey, it was worth trying). I looked up and it was a different guy - he must have thought I was insane.

About where I left the UPS truck.
Note brown building at left, by the bend.

The view back from the same spot where I left the UPS truck.
I exited a parking lot by the 3rd car behind me.
Not the first car with headlights. Not the second. The third one.

I kept going and got to the bend where I last saw him. I was sure the thief was dumping the bike in the back of a truck or a van and I'd never catch him. I'd already passed a few parking garages which could easily hide a dozen bike thieves. And around this bend was a new shopping plaza.

The bend where he disappeared from view.
This is the brown building "at the bend".

The straight after the bend.
I didn't see him here.

Another bend coming up.
At this point I thought I lost him.

Sure enough when I got there all I could see was the mass of humanity sprawled out, scurrying from one shop to another, crossing the streets, and cars mixed up everywhere. I thought it was over.

Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a red flash turn down a side street, another 400 yards down the road. Big mistake on his part.

I gunned it. I sprinted down the road, cut across the sidewalk, almost plowed into a woman holding some shopping bags. You could tell this was real because she didn't throw her new goodies in the air - she just shrieked a bit.

I turned right through that little parking lot.

The turn was good for me - the next road borders an apartment complex, has good sight lines, and is reasonably quiet. When I got around the goodie woman I could see the thief in front of me, about 300 yards away, turning left down a main road.

Reverse angle view of same parking lot.
I came in from the right side of the picture, exited out the left side.
You can see that the next road is pretty quitet.

I started feeling better about being able to catch this guy. He wasn't going to get away now and I was definitely catching him. The only problem was what to do when I got to him. He was over 6 feet tall and outweighed me by perhaps 50-70 pounds. I figured I would close in and follow him - if I was near him, the cops would find us and take over.

I also kept in mind a cop's friendly warning. The shop's plaza normally had a cop on duty during the busy times to help with traffic and security. They would walk over to say hi and having never grown out of the "I want to be a cop" age, I'd ask them all sorts of questions. Among other things I learned a fully equipped gun belt weighs about 35 pounds (we weighed his), a lot of cops carry two guns (primary, paid for by the department, and backup, a privately owned gun), they pay for all their uniform gear, this one carried two sets of handcuffs (he showed me why, and it makes sense), and when they get a new car with fancy flashing lights, they go to a deserted parking lot and play with the buttons to figure out what does what.

Anyway, the cop's warning was about guns. Specifically, what to do if someone pointed a gun at me. He said a couple things. First, if I'm more than 20-30 feet away, I should run. Most shooters can't hit anything beyond that range. And if I'm moving (and they are too), my odds are even better. Moving shooters rarely hit their target. Second, he told me don't try and do anything heroic. If someone points a gun at you, you run or do what they say. Unless things look grim, heroics don't pay. Finally, if it does look grim and you basically have nothing to lose, he told me to get closer than 20 feet and attack him. Apparently at that range a gun-bearer will be hard pressed to kill an attacker before the attacker is on them. He pointed out that you'll probably either die or get severely wounded but at least you'll have a chance of living and you'll go down fighting.

So keeping these warnings in mind, I decided that if the thief pulled a gun, I'd simply ride away, perhaps across the street, another four-laner. But in the meantime I followed him.

He went left here. I followed him.

This is the reverse angle view of the left.
We came in from the left side, exited going against traffic on the sidewalk to the right.

End of apartment complex to the left.

Now it's office buildings to the left. Note that there's a merge lane, where the "X" is.

He seemed a lot calmer now, away from all the shopping hubbub. He was sitting, not sprinting. He rode with one hand on the bars, the other digging through his pockets. Not much except lint.

What would you do if you just stole a bike and had lint in your pockets?

Exactly. He started picking lint out of his pocket.

I watched him carefully dig into his shorts and pull out lint. He'd rub his fingers to dump the lint and repeat the process. We'd passed a few pedestrians who gave me a weird look - I must have looked really mad, really focused, or just plain crazy. Or someone obsessed with the guy's lint or something.

He followed the sidewalk, went to cross from about where "St" is on the picture.

Eventually the sidewalk curved towards a crosswalk. And the thief must have seen a hint of me peripherally. He turned around, his jaw open in surprise. I didn't know what to do. My retail instincts kicked in.

"Rides good, huh."

I think Clint Eastwood would have been embarrassed for me.

"Um yeah."

And whoever plays bad guys, they'd be embarrassed for him.

"We called the cops. Why don't you make it easier for all of us and just stop."

We got to the crosswalk. He rode slower and slower. I started getting a bit worried. Maybe he was going to sock me one. I've never been punched and I figured if he punched me it would really hurt. I was trembling with adrenaline, ready for something dramatic.

But nothing happened. He slowed to a stop, got off the bike, and carefully laid it down. He stood up, gave me one last glance, and suddenly sprinted towards the shrub line near the road.


I had a choice. Lose the bike. Or lose the thief. And in the shrubs, with him on foot, I was definitely at a disadvantage. So I stayed with the bike.

I carefully rode back to the shop rolling the recovered bike next to me. The chase lasted just over a mile and left me physically and emotionally exhausted.

When I got to the store the cops were there. A couple cars were in front, flashing lights, the whole bit. The lights looked like they made sense - no yellow lights pointing to go left or some such nonsense - so those particular cops must have figured out which buttons did what. Flashing lights always gets my adrenaline going and this time was no exception. I was hyped up again.

The police had cars looking for him but couldn't find the guy. He just disappeared. There are a lot of places for this guy to hide so I felt no surprise. The cops asked me for a detailed description. Unfortunately it seems like adrenaline makes me forget everything. I wasn't much help in describing him ("Um, he was big and he wore a red shirt. And he didn't punch me.") and I just rode behind him for a good mile. Tom, TallJosh, we all had no clue.

But Josh... he was the 911 dialer and talked to the dispatcher. He claimed he didn't get a good look at the guy but offered what he had. Gave a physical description that was pretty accurate. He had it down to +/- an inch and +/- 5 pounds though. Red shirt (yeah, I got that too) with number 89. 89? Apparently it's some player's number. He noticed the color and brand shorts. And the sneakers, down to the specific model. What socks he wore. Stuff like that. He noticed everything about this guy. The cop said that if everyone was as observant as him things would be a lot easier on them.

Things suddenly seemed a bit better. The adrenaline, the rush, calling 911, it all hyped everyone up and got us revved up. We had the bike back unhurt. And a great story.

A few hours later a long time customer who hadn't been in for a while walked through the doors. Ex-military, tall, strong, funny, really nice guy. He was looking for a nice mountain bike. And he wanted it today because he wanted to ride it this afternoon. He needed a 21".

I pulled a beautiful, polished, 21" front suspension bike off the rack.

"This is a great bike. And it comes with a story."

He looked at me and smiled.

"A story?"

He picked it up that afternoon.

Equipment - new pedals and shoes

After the Bethel Spring Series ends, I make equipment adjustments as necessary. I normally don't make them during the Series as it'll throw me off or I'll get some weird twinge in my knee. Even this year, the year of nothing at Bethel, I still waited. Today we deal with power transfer from me to the bike.

For a long time I've used Shimano SPD-R's, I think for about 10 years. Have they been out that long? Whatever. And I've had Sidi Genius shoes. I'm on the G5's so I must have had G4's before. Or G3's. Something.

The G5's are cool - I got them in 2003 in London while there for work. They're red and blue and oh so cool.

They work well and are totally predictable. But like all shoes with a few years on them, they're starting to show their age.

And the SPD-R's, as durable as they are, have a couple weak points. One is the slightly heavier weight - and when I'm pushing almost 18 pounds of bike around in race trim (and over 20 when training) I started thinking about how to lose some grammage off the bike. But the main weak point is the small amount of cleat surface actually touching the shoe. It's easier to move the cleat on the shoe than it is to move the shoe on the pedal - so the process of unclipping tends to move the cleat and not unclip your shoe with predictable results.

If I loosen things up so I can get out easier, well, it works. I get out a lot easier. The problem is that the shoes unclip too easily - like when I'm making efforts. I learned this the hard way at the Poughkeepsie Crit a couple years ago. I went sprawling at 35 mph while sprinting down a bumpy straight. Not fun. So I keep the pedals really tight and have to hit my shoes with my fist to get the shoes out.

During this year's Bethel I decided it was time to make a change.

A couple years ago I bought some Sidi Zetas - the Sidis that have no buckle, just three velcro straps. Then I learned I couldn't use SPD-R's with them (no adapter, sort of). So they've been sitting, waiting for a "normal" cleat (and pedal). They were part of my aborted Aerolite experiment.

Then recently I bought some cool looking Sidi's with some carbon in the sole. I looked them up, they're the "Energy2 HTs". I got them primarily because they're red and blue. Okay not really, but I didn't want white shoes either. I figure they look like my old shoe so they're sort of stealthy. I think they're heavier but I'm hoping the stiffness helps a bit with my absolute sprint.

I also got three sets of Look Keo's to match my fiancee's Keo. She has the Sprint and I ended up with two Sprints and one Carbon. The latter will go on my main bike (a carbon Giant). The Sprints will go on my spare bike (AL Giant) and the tandem. This way we can do things like swap spots on the tandem, swap pedals if we have to, and have a lot of the same cleat sitting on the shelf as spares.

Both the Zetas and the new Sidis have been assigned the Keo cleats. I'll keep the SPD-R's (I have two sets) and the G5's for something, maybe the track bike or the mountain bike (which I only ride on the road at this time).

For the next week or so I'll be checking the cleat position, the shoe-pedal height (to see if I have to raise or lower the seat), and fiddle with the shoes. I'm so used to the G5's I automatically set the shoe to a certain setting regardless of what it feels like because I know that it'll be right in 5 minutes. The new Sidis are different (buckle plus two fishing wire things) and I have no idea how to set this stuff up.

My first race should be the first race of the year over 60 degrees, the last Plainville race. It's actually tomorrow (Saturday). We'll see how it goes.

The winter shoes I rarely use but I include them in my Sidi fetish shot here. I've skipped earlier shoes as they look too ragged for this nice shot.

(L-R) Back row, Sidi winter road shoes (used twice), G5's, Sidi winter mountain bike shoes. Middle row (pedals), SPD-R's, Look Keo Sprint, Keo Sprints again, and the Look Keo Carbon on the crankarm. Front row, Energy2 HTs, Zetas.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Doping - AWD/SUV's

A quip on doping.

When I see articles about racers who've been caught doping, one of the things I do is try and remember how they raced. And when I say "how they raced", I mean it from a tactical point of view. Some of them race smart. Some of them, well, they don't.

When people feel like they can do anything they do stupid things.

It's like some of the drivers I see on the side of the road. Typically they were just driving but now they're simply pedestrians on a highway with a $25k piece of metal sculpture next to them. I saw one recently - an artistically converted Jeep, roof folded nicely down, sides wrinkled like my jeans when I pull them out of the dryer, and all sorts of "tone setting" touches like clumps of grassy dirt, long troughs searing the grass, and bits and pieces of extra sculpture strewn about.

Of course the police cars, ambulances, and the fire trucks finish the scene.

Normally you don't see this type of scenario with a "regular" car. You see them with the SUV's. There are exceptions of course. Once I saw a bewildered looking young guy sitting in his WRX, perched on the shoulder of the road. All four wheels dangled helplessly in the air. It was in the middle of town and he had accelerated so hard from the light he couldn't make a gradual left bend. Another exception was a magnificent display of artistic courage I observed in Vermont, a beautiful A8 which bounced off of the snowbanks twice before plowing into said snowbanks a third time on its roof.

Clearly visible was the moniker "quattro".

All wheel drive, whether in a car or in an SUV, simply means you can accelerate in slippery conditions. It has nothing to do with slowing and very little (although it does help) in turning. Many (but not all) AWD vehicle drivers don't know this and assume that AWD also means the thing will stop and turn as easily as it goes. They think they can do anything.

And then they get stupid.

So when they slam the brakes on to avoid hitting the stopped cars in front, they're shocked when it takes way longer to stop the SUV than their regular car. You can tell those drivers. They're the ones parked on the side of the highway with a crumpled better-stopping car in front of them.

So what's this got to do with doping?

Well, when racers dope, I figure that since they know they doped, they think they have an advantage. And because they do, they get a bit flagrant with their efforts.

In other words, they get stupid.

They do things like attack when there's no point in attacking. I would guess they believe they can simply ride everyone off their wheels. And because of the laws of physics (and perhaps a few strong or doped - or both - riders), they can't get away. Eventually the doper's body rebels and the doper gets into trouble.

Imagine you've been injecting yourself silly for the whole winter. Your hematocrit hovers at some insane value. You recover from a hard ride by the time you've unclipped from the pedals. You feel like superman. You think to yourself that you're invincible. And you repeat that thought every time you take that needle and stick it into your body.

Now you're in a race and you think "I am Superman and I can do anything". You attack, probably on some not-great-place to attack, like a flat or downhill section with not too much wind and a field full of fresh and attentive legs. Everyone follows (no surprise there).

Not a problem - just attack again. Don't worry about waiting for a good place to attack. Just attack. I mean, you know, you're Superman, and attacking at good places is for wimps. Make sure everyone expects you to attack. Make it unbearably obvious you're going to go so that they pay a lot of attention to you. They oblige and you go. And everyone follows.

This can get a bit frustrating for the attacker. So you gather your strength and really attack, maybe on a hill. Nice big attack, using gears that are perhaps a bit unrealistic ("I am Superman and I can do anything"). This time a few guys follow you using smarter gears and letting you cook yourself when you go too hard. It's painfully obvious when you start going over the edge but are too foolish to realize it. And when you finally pull off to recover a touch they hammer past you, burying the knife and twisting hard. It's over and they're gone.

Demoralized, you sit back and try and recover. And no matter what you do, all the doping in the world won't buy you the prolonged 35+ mph effort you need to get back to the front of the race. You're stuck. You've used your energy ineffectively and paid the price.

The other night I watched one of the final races of a rider caught doping and suspended for a couple years. He rode like he was invincible. The problem was that he was simply human. It was painfully obvious he was riding over his abilities. He made moves when everyone was paying attention. He would go way into the red to try and maintain his attacks. And when the collective hammer finally dropped, he blew.

He rode stupid.

And stupid riding doesn't get you good results, even if you're doped to the gills.

It just gets you stuck on the side of the road wondering what the heck just happened.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Doping - Floyd's B Samples

So Floyd Landis's B samples might get tested.

When I first learned that only after a ratio test failure do they test for exogenous testosterone, I thought "Why the ratio test? Why not just go straight to the source and do the exo test?". After all, unless your doctor screws up (or your favorite supplier suddenly gets a pure batch), your ratio can be carefully controlled.

Exogenous testosterone though, that's the ticket. "Exogenous" simply means "contained within but originating from the outside". Apparently there are two types of testosterone - the kind you make (human based) and the kind the drug manufacturers make, made from something like soybeans.

Because plant life isn't like mammal life, one can test the molecular structure of the testosterone to see if it is plant based or animal based. If it's all the latter, no problems. Thank you, sorry for the inconvenience, see you later.

If it's the former... Well now.

Unless you are sprouting twigs out of your head, plant based testosterone can only mean one thing - you took it. And the way the rules work, even if you claim you didn't know you were taking it, you're still guilty. The famous "my dentist's anesthetics has cocaine in it" excuse doesn't fly anymore.

Anyway, Floyd wants to have half the B samples (half of each sample that is) tested at a lab other than the lab that allegedly screwed up his first round of tests, Chataney Malabry. They're welcome to test the other half.

The weird thing is that the B sample test was initially suggested to reveal weaknesses in the original lab's processes. It's a bit odd as the lab is supposed to be accredited and therefore follows some well-defined testing procedures.

What they ought to do is toss in a bunch of other urine samples. Some should be positive, some not. This way they'll have a slew of positives and a chance to switch samples accidentally and whatever else they might do. This way if Floyd's results come back positive, well, I'm afraid that's that.

And of course, if they come back positive from the lab of his choice (where they should also mix up his samples with other people's samples), then that's really that.

A more likely scenario is that Floyd's lab finds he's negative and Malabry says positive. Then nothing has changed.

An unlikely scenario, based on the original lab's tests, is that both come up negative. This would probably be best for everyone concerned, excepting the lab of course.

Where would one get a lot of urine samples? A perfect opportunity to get a lot of samples is coming up - Tour of Georgia. In the quest to provide "Floyd's" lab with a lot of interesting urine samples (and blood?) samples, they ought to do a bunch of extra tests.

For kicks, they ought to go check out some local races. And some of the big group rides too. I think the results would shock people.

I was talking with a guy who I respect highly, someone who knows the sport and who's been everywhere in the racing scene. We were standing at Bethel watching the racers go by. We talked about this rider and that rider, this team and that team. After one of those natural pauses in conversation, I asked him what he thought would happen if local racers were tested (meaning Cat 1's to 3's). He looked at me and said that we'd lose half of our racers. Perhaps an exaggeration, he admitted, but not far from the truth. He didn't have any proof but a couple racers from the area were suspended for doping in the last few years.


The thing is that if local tests actually happened, the racer rising through the ranks would be clean. And if they made it, well, they made it on their own.

What a great concept.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - Flood Francis J Clarke

I'm taking a break from pumping water out of my basement, being a bit tired of lifting and dumping the wet/dry vac. It started when I got home from the race and continued until I fell asleep exhausted, then started as soon as I woke up. It really sucks.

On the other hand, we did finish the 2007 Bethel Spring Series. The last race took place yesterday, April 15th, the race being the Circuit Francis J Clarke. The race would break a number of records, probably not the ones you want to break.

First off, it rained pretty hard. Not a TV watcher (don't even bother getting cable) nor a radio listener (MP3's or CD's for me), I didn't get a touch of the hype surrounding this "Next Great Storm" until Saturday when my other half mentioned something about this crazy weather coming up.

What? It's 52 and sunny. And it's April.

Well we better have a lot of fricken May flowers because there was one doozy of an April shower Sunday. The kicker is that it'll rain on and off for the whole week.

I always tell people "Snow, ice, and lightning cancel races. Rain won't."

I mean, c'mon, a little rain? Whaddaya a wimp? We in New England are the American Flahutes! We race on dirt roads! We bundle up and ride in weather those tanned California riders wouldn't consider skiing in! We 'cross in 15 degree snowstorms!

Ok I don't 'cross. And I ride a trainer inside most of the time. But when it's race day, it's race day.

Apparently Central Park got 5.5 inches of rain (14 cm for you metric folks). You'd be hard pressed to find a stem that could reach air from under all that water. The previous record? A paltry 1.8 inches.

And wind. I naively thought things would be pretty calm based on the 16 mph winds forecast by The wind ended up gusting pretty hard - 40 or 50 mph.

So in the morning, I got up, jumped in the pre-packed van, and drove up to Bethel. Not bad at all. A light drizzle.

It all went downhill from there.

The 65 (!) missed calls between 9:30 PM Saturday and about 7 AM Sunday (I turned the phone off between those times) was one indication things were out of whack. When I looked up from my phone and said "65 missed calls", everyone standing in the tent piped up "One of them was me!"

Another was that two and a half hours my phone was dead from all the incoming calls - apparently if you turn off the ringer, the phone still lights up. My phone couldn't take too much of that. I had to use my work cell to update the messages.

We used tie-down straps to anchor the tent to the van and a Land Cruiser, two of only a few vehicles at the course that exceeded 5400 pounds in weight. I don't know if it helped but the tents didn't fly away. During the day we even "redeployed" the Land Cruiser to position it in a more advantageous spot (wind side of tent).

We melted another hole in a tent side when the wind blew it in so far it hit the heater (we're up to about five now). For most of the Masters race I was holding onto the tent to keep one end from lifting. The wind was so severe that we had to figure out a way to break down the tents without flying away.

Yet we raced.

It was the last race of the Series. We didn't have the option to postpone as we would have had to file a permit and all that for the next Sunday. And it wasn't snowing, icy, or lightning. So the race went on.

The Jonathan Adler team showed up in an RV and managed to upload live reports of the race from some wireless connection. They are pretty funny in a grim way:

"Live Update from Bethel
Apr 15,2007 by anonymous
Men's 40+
The group is all together again. All 6 of them.
It's 80 degrees and sunny.

Live Update from Bethel
Apr 15,2007 by anonymous
Women's Race:
10:49:27 AM
A break of two, including the race series leader, has a 00:00:56 gap to the peoloton, which consists of two riders. "

Those numbers are about right. Our largest field was either the Cat 5's (20) or the 3/4's (I don't know but it was "big"). The 5's had three teams representing their overall contenders and had quite a race. The 4's had 19 and a proper race. The women had four and every overall place was guaranteed - it was simply a matter of who took what place that day. The fact that three were on one team meant the lone woman on another team was SOL. She took third though. The Juniors - well, the three that showed up discussed their overall, agreed they were happy with the places, and collectively entered the 3/4's. So there was no Junior field. The Masters had six, and three of them were from one team. Three teams dominated the 3/4's and effectively controlled the racing. And in the P/1/2/3's it was simply a lot of racing among about ten guys, the leader's team with about four of those ten.

My race was not noteworthy. After holding the tent corner, I didn't have very much time to dress. No heat rub, no drinking, no helmet cam, no last minute PowerGels. Just dress, tape number on jacket, and go. The field was already lined up well before I was finished dressing so the officials made the poor riders wait while they droned on about stuff - rain probably. When I finally showed up the race started. One guy stated the obvious - "So that's why we've been waiting here so long!" Sorry about that guys. I was offered a leadout but when I realized that all the GC guys were just behind me, I thought I'd just go as hard as I could and let the contenders fight like men. I blew as soon as I went and wasn't much use to anyone.

Like the 3/4 race, the races were shortened and done on a lap basis, not time plus laps. Perhaps we'll do this from now on (and also have published start times). It seemed to go a lot smoother. Perhaps the idea that there were all of about 60 racers all day helped contribute to that "smoothness".

Yet with all the weather and the corresponding lack of racers, we paid out some serious cash. I mean serious.

We paid out $1750 for the day's prizes. Okay, minus the Juniors, so make it $1650 or so. $1500 for the overall prizes. $3150 for those not math fluent. And it was all cash mind you. Not a check among those totals. We also gave out Bethel Cycle gift certificates ($500 or something like that). Unlike other weeks, we had no primes. Trophies and medals to follow.

At the end of the day there were some smiling faces. Obviously those included the guys who won their race or the overall or just some money. But it was also the other guys, the ones who got on their bikes and suffered in the lunatic weather.

There's something about racing in this kind of weather. A shared experience. Everyone is cold and miserable together. Teammates seemed to be more supportive (since who would stand in such weather except the most dedicated teammates?). And although they might have questioned whether or not they wanted to race, the racers all made the decision to kit up and line up. During the race there's a lot less yelling when someone gets a bit sketchy - after all, you might be the next one hit by a 40 mph gust. The race becomes a bit more primal. You worry about survival first, racing second.

There's a warmth that wipes away the cold. Perhaps it's cognitive dissonance. Whatever it is, it bonds people together. Perhaps most of the racers will drive home thinking "That was the stupidest race ever." But a bunch of them will add, "and man was that fun!".

You don't go looking for these types of days. But when they come looking for you, embrace them.

It makes life worth living.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

One Flahute Please

So my phone's been ringing off the hook. I finally turned it off after updating the message saying we'll have the race. Apparently we're supposed to have a severe storm tomorrow - a Nor'easter for those of you not from the Northeast. It's not an Easter Noire. It's usually a wet, messy storm with driving rain and gusty wind.

Since flahutes can't point to Paris-Roubaix for some nice weather, someone else had to ante it up. Even the dirt-road Battenkill Roubaix enjoyed some sunny conditions. But Bethel? Rain. Winds up to 40 mph (50+ according to some people), steady at 15-20 mph. 70% chance of rain by late morning. 2 to 4 inches total.

Should be great.

The co-promoter and I talked about this and there was never really a question of canceling based on what we saw. If tomorrow morning I can't start the van because there's a foot of water on my road? We'll cancel. But if it's just raining? Not a chance.

As he pointed out, "Some guys do well in the rain."

Like me.

I've built up a nice list of excuses for not doing well. Didn't ride for a week after the last race, and then only a couple times this week. Stayed up till after 4 AM emptying out two rooms (to prep for floor refinishing), then up at 7 something to finish the job. I had about six feet of nail strips to lift when the guys showed up. Perfect timing. Today I ran around on my one day off, doing all the things I need to do during the daylight hours. Patched some cracks that I suspect is causing my basement to take on water during gusty, rainy storms. Did a dump run. Didn't ride.

Today's activities means I have some good reasons for not doing well.

Which means I have no pressure. And when I don't have pressure, I sometimes pull a good ride out of my pocket. Of course by stating this, I put pressure on myself, so then it reverts to "I won't do well." But I think tomorrow will be interesting so I'm going out on a limb here.

The years I had no fitness, no training, during those lean (or fat) years, there were those rainy, windy Bethels. And I had some good field sprints on those days (usually breaks win when it is windy and it rains). Good like for a couple of them I thought I sprinted on the wrong lap. Or that no one else was sprinting.

I'm hoping for one of those days.

Bethel Spring Series - pre Circuit Francis J Clarke

It's almost 2 AM on Saturday and I'm online. Ugh. Normally I've been asleep for three or four hours by now. Not tonight. Tonight, tonight, tonight... Oh Lord.

No. Tonight I'm finishing up preparations for Round Two of the floor refinishing in the house.

Problem is that I started preparations for Round Two tonight as well.

Oh Lord.. (sing with me now).

Yeah I'm tired.

I've cleared out a lot of the living room and the office room. I still have to move three heavy pieces of furniture (two desks and the heaviest hutch in the world) and tear up a rug and the nail-y wood under it in the office so the floor guys have a floor to work with tomorrow. Well, in six hours to be precise.

I'll make it. It's like when you bonk on a long ride, you have no money, and you have 20 miles to go. And your cell phone died. You make it. You focus on making it. You just plod along at some tempo you could sustain for the next day or two. Your body goes into survival mode. And when you're in survival mode, your priorities become very clear.

I feel like that now. I've been working on emptying the rooms for about seven hours now, after a long day at the office. I figure I have two to three hours to go. My other half is incredibly ill, and as an accountant, she has to work Saturday and Sunday. So she's been asleep after gamely helping with some of the big stuff we had to move - dresser, armoire, bed, reassemble fridge cover thing, and picking up dinner.

After seven hours though I needed a break. I came downstairs (where the computers are now) to hack away for a few minutes and share my aches and pains with everyone out there. And worries.

Sunday there's supposed to be rain, heavy at times. 90% chance of rain. Cloudy in the morning but at some point it's going to dump. It's the last race of the Series. GC battles. Podium awards. Trophies. Doing this in a torrential downpour just won't be fun.

And staying up till 5 AM or so today isn't going to help.

A big thing weighing on my mind is my basement sprung a leak in the last year. So when it rains a lot, parts of the basement get wet. Those parts include the part the computers are in. My bike and bike gear. And some boxes from Round One of the floor refinishing project. And if I'm at the race, I can't be looking after the basement here.

So part of my prep has been to move that stuff somewhere safer. Higher ground for the most part. So lots of trudging up and down stairs.

Tomorrow I have to pack the van up, get my bike and gear ready, run a couple vital errands (one is getting concrete sealer and sealing what I think is the source of the water in the basement), and drive up to my family's house where I'll be spending the night (no floor fumes for me, thank you).

The way I feel now, I may not even race on Sunday. Not only am I exhausted right now, I'm totally out of contention for the overall, we'll be short handed, and I figure I'll have to work pretty hard on drying the basement when I get home.

And from a racer point of view, I've managed to ride about two hours in the last two weeks.

Of course it's easy to say that I won't race when I'm exhausted. But the excitement of race day will probably motivate me to ride.

We'll see.

In the meantime, I hear some desks calling my name.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Most Spectactular Crash Ever

Inevitably, when you talk about bicycle racing with other riders, or even about just a lot of cycling in general, the question comes up, "What was your worst crash ever?" One can interpret this question in two ways. One is looking at which crash caused you to sustain the worst injuries (or did the most bike damage). The other is which crash was the most spectacular (but not necessarily damaging).

The latter are the ones I like. I mean I don't like crashes, but if I'm to crash, I'd rather crash spectacularly and walk away totally intact (bike and body) rather than topple over at a light and break something.

My most spectacular crash was in the era of non-helmets, steel frames, aluminum parts, friction downtube shifting, and no aero anything. Well "aero" was when you turned your cap backwards so the brim was behind you. In other words it was a primitive era. One February way back then I was taking advantage of a break in weather to ride about 25 miles to my girlfriend's house (I had no car).

The route took me over some moderate climbs - up to a mile long, with corresponding descents. I wore some wool blend tights, shorts, long sleeve jersey, base layer top, a long sleeve skinsuit as a base-base layer, summer gloves, and what I call a "kevlar helmet" - a yellow Campy cycling cap.

Turned backwards of course.

The air felt crisp, the skies were clear, and although a lot of sand lay on the road, overall the conditions appeared fine. The temperature was a bit low - in the low to mid 30's - and if I was doing the same ride now, I'd have winter gloves, jacket, heavy tights, neck stuff, head stuff, booties... how times change.

I loved the descents. I did then and I do now. Back then I approached them in an extreme aero tuck. My tuck, "learned" by looking at pictures of pros, was not proper - I thought leaning forward as far as possible was a good thing. A different day, on the exact same road, I leaned so far forward I burnt the underside of my chin on the front tire. Now I'm a little more conservative in my tucks but I don't go nearly as fast.

I was headed down a traffic-light-bisected descent. Said light shone red but it turned green as I approached it. The lone car at the light pulled away and I thought "Perfect motorpace opportunity!" I untucked and did a sprint to get onto the car's bumper.

I was already going about 40-45 mph when I did my massive acceleration. I got on the bumper of the car and pedaled furiously in my top gear. The driver of the car, wearing one of those double peak "old guy" hats, looked up at the rear view mirror, did a double take, and floored it. I couldn't go much more than another 50 yards before I topped out. We had just gone into a section of road shaded by the hill to the side and the air felt noticeably colder.

So as not to block any traffic as I came off the bumper, I decided I'd pull off. I did so in the "cool" way (at least in my head) which consisted of a "leadout man pulling off" type of move. I made an aggressive move to the right. As I did I ran over a patch of sand.

Dark sand.

Icy sand.

My front wheel immediately washed out and I landed on the road. Considering the speed the impact seemed light and short so I lay back to gather my thoughts.

Those thoughts started flying by pretty quickly when I realized the tree tops were still moving past me at a rapid pace. A little confused, I turned my head to figure out exactly what was happening.

It was at that point when I stopped sliding and started tumbling.

It was a spectacular tumble, no doubt about that. I felt like a rag doll in a front load dryer. Tumbling, tumbling, tumbling. I saw a flash of red (was that my bike?), the ground, sky, sand, stuff. I actually tumbled in such a way that I ended up on my feet (I'd like to think it was my 10 months of suffering through Judo but who knows), but the ground was whirling around pretty hard and I fell backwards onto a snowbank. That was distinctly uncomfortable so I sprang up and promptly fell forward onto the road. I got up to my hands and knees and decided I should stay put until my head stopped spinning.

After an eternity but probably 10 or 15 seconds, a guy ran over to me. He had been behind me driving a red Toyota MR2. I know this because I thought they were the coolest cars around. Anyway, he was yelling and screaming in excitement. "Wow that was incredible! Are you okay? I thought you were going to die! That was incredible! Wow! Here's your bike! It was in the middle of the road! Oh my God that was incredible!" And so on and so forth. Then he said "I'd offer you a ride but I don't have any room. Bye!"

And he was gone.

I did damage assessment. First me. Nothing hurt. Later I'd find very light road rash but I was essentially untouched. My tights ripped, also my skinsuit (underneath everything). That was a bummer as it was a 7-11 team skinsuit. Long sleeve jersey (my only one) ripped. Gloves shredded but hands okay. No head impact (how I don't know). My shoes must have been okay since I don't remember anything about them.

Next the bike. I figured my head was a bit addled so I took extra care to check things. Quick releases. Spin the wheels. Shift the precious rear derailleur (things weren't so primitive that I didn't have a titanium equipped rear derailleur). Check the spokes. Check the bars, stem, brake levers (the levers were crooked, I moved them back). Seat, seat post, pedals, cranks. Incredibly nothing was damaged, nothing was bent.

I looked around. The road, a state road, was totally deserted. I looked at the side of the road and saw not only the snow banks on the side but runoff that had frozen on the road due to the lack of sun.

I was closer to my dorm room by a long shot so I decided to ride back and call my girlfriend and cancel our "date" (this before the cellphone era). I started riding up the shoulder (still on the same side, so now I was riding the wrong way), slowly, at low rpms, thinking about how my body felt, when I came up to a round spot of ice covered by a thin film of sand. A large V disrupted the sand, the open part pointing down hill. This is exactly the pattern a sliding tire would create as it heeled over to the ground.

My tire.

I looked back at the snowbank where I made my wingless angel impression and realized I'd traveled quite some distance. In my quest to document all my training ride details, I decided to ride back and measure the distance. The only thing I had was the shiny bright GP4 sticker on my rim so I counted revolutions. I have to check my diary but it was something like 23 revolutions.

I multiplied it by the diameter (figure 27 inches), divided by 12, and got about 52 feet. It seemed a lot longer but I didn't want to be imprecise so I kept double checking my somewhat questionable "in my head" math. I rode back and measured the distance a second time and then realized I was getting cold. I crossed the road and set on up the hill, this time on the correct side, and mentally prepared for the trudge home.

Suddenly a red UHaul with flashing lights pulled up next to me, sliding to a stop. A guy yelled out the window.

"Are you the biker who got hit by a car?"

Well now. My brain wasn't that addled. I put a foot down and replied that although I just fell and I was near a car when I fell, technically no car hit me.

"Don't move!"

Two guys jumped out of the truck and ran over to me. I realized that it wasn't a UHaul, it was some sort of fire department EMT truck which happened to be all red with no white anything on it. They left their doors open, the truck idling and straddling the double yellow line, and made me sit down on the ground. One guy started explaining - apparently they got a call that some cyclist got absolutely demolished by a car and the bicyclist was probably dead. So seeing this apparition riding up the hill was quite a surprise to them.

That's when all the other vehicles showed up.

A state police cruiser. Another state police cruiser. At least five or six volunteer EMT vehicles (civilian cars with a flashing blue light on the dash). A real ambulance. Another real ambulance. A fire truck. Honest to God, they sent a 500 gallon pumper. I have no idea why. They totally blocked the road. And traffic backed up.

At some point they asked me to sit on the red EMT truck bumper. It was metal. I had ripped tights on. It was cold.

They didn't check me very much. They asked me some basic questions (what day is it, where am I, what's my name). Head injury questions. They must have figured that if I had gotten run over by a car and claimed to be fine, I must have had one hum-dinger of a concussion.

Eventually they decided that wasn't the case. It might have been when I asked if it was necessary to have so many responders to a guy who fell off his bike. The friendly EMT said that the state police cruisers were actually coming to this spot because of the ice on the road. They were going to sit on either end of the stretch with their lights flashing until a sand/salt truck could make its way here and bury the ice in that New England solution for all slippery pavement problems. The volunteers - they're required to respond. He said the second ambulance was a mistake (the first one got there pretty quickly). And he also had no idea about the fire truck. To his credit he seemed a little embarrassed at the slight over-reaction to the call, but whoever made the 911 call probably exaggerated a bit and made it sound a lot worse than it was.

It was getting dark and I was 10 miles away from home. I asked for a ride and the EMT said that, unfortunately, we can't give rides. Luckily he knew that the public phone at the gas station (he pointed) "up there" worked.

So I had to ride to the gas station up the hill and call a dorm mate (collect, no less) who had a car. He came, picked me up, and drove me back to the nice warm dorm.

Of course my return to the dorm was a big deal. It was a little more curious to retrieve a crashed bike racer than say a fight or the RA getting mad at someone. So of course I had to tell and retell the story.

It was at that point that one of the guys pointed out that I didn't calculate the distance right. These frickin' college students, too smart for their own good. I was pretty defensive but he was right. I simply calculated the sum of the diameters (23 revolutions x diameter). To calculate circumference of the wheel times the revolutions, I would have to multiply my original "solution" by Pi. 3.14. In other words, it wasn't 52 feet. It was more like 160 feet.

That's when I bumped up the crash to number one slot on the "my most spectacular crash ever".

And it's stayed there ever since.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Fit > Material

I read a couple posts on Boonen's bike and got a bit frustrated with what the posters were saying. I think they both miss the main point. One was pummeling the supplier (Specialized) for building an aluminum bike for their star rider Tom Boonen. The other joins in on the fray to point out that Specialized put on a super long stem in the winter training camp to try and compensate for a too-short top tube.

According to some other Pro riders this second bit isn't unheard of - when Liberty Seguros first met for a winter training camp, BH provided only one size bike for everyone from the tiny Heras to the lanky Christian Van de Velde. Okay they had the same extended seat tube so they could be cut for a variety of leg lengths. But for upper body and arm lengths? You can imagine the variety of stems in that camp. At least the mechanics didn't have to worry about which frame got which name as all the frames were the same - they just had to cut one frame's seat tube and that became that rider's bike. And if they started from the longest legged rider down, they could screw up a seat tube cut and have a lot of other (un-cut) frames as backup. How cool is that?

In a related topic in the same article, Discovery received only one size carbon stem for an early season training camp - everyone who wanted carbon stems got a 14 cm. The head mechanic said the riders who didn't get carbons were afraid of changing their non-carbon stems to carbon after the camp. This was because they'd already done so many miles on whatever stem they had and were afraid of screwing up their position by going to a slightly different one. They said they'd change over to the carbon stems (and whatever minor position changes that entailed) the next year. This indicates that even pros have somewhat fluid positions.

Anyway, back to Tom. He got a frame that simply didn't fit him. The top tube was too short. Pretty straightforward.

I can relate. I'm no former world champion, I've never won a Classic, and I've never held anything better than a Cat 3 license (except when I'm registering someone at a race but that's not the same thing). But, apparently like Boonen, I also have a long torso for my height. I know I have short legs and a long torso because when I commuted on a train, I'd usually be the second or third tallest seated person in a car of about 100 people. But when they stood up, I was definitely in the bottom 40th percentile in height.

So I feel Boonen's pain. He gets a frame that is simply too short in length. In this age of super long posts and compact-type frames, length is the ONLY thing that truly affects fit now. Headtube height comes in a close second - Giant has two versions of their frames, the TCR and OCR. The main difference? The OCR has a taller head tube for a more upright position.

In Boonen's case the team did the only thing they could - they fit a long stem. Coincidentally it was a 14 cm stem - maybe they got a leftover from Discovery Channel? Whatever. It didn't make enough of a difference and Boonen complained about his somewhat touchy back.

Put yourself in Specialized's position. You have one of the top riders in the world and he has an unusually long position. So long that he falls in the "We figured guys like that would be few and far between" category. As a typical large scale manufacturer, you end up sacrificing the ability to satisfy the extremes in order to bring overall costs down for the middle part of the bell curve. You have to sacrifice the extremes because the return on investment is minimal or negative.

A good friend of mine is not abnormally tall (he's about 6'2") but when he shops for a car, the first thing he does is get in and slam the seat all the way back. If the seat is too close to the dash even when positioned all the way back, he simply gets out of the car and crosses that car off his list.

His pool of potential cars is pretty small. You'd think that car manufacturers would design cars to accommodate a lot of people that height right? The cars barely change for a model generation, there are hundreds of thousands sold, and the cost to put in slightly longer seat rails is probably minimal. But they don't. And he can't buy just any car he wants. He has to choose them after he's confirmed that they actually fit him.

If large car companies don't accommodate some of these sizing challenges, how would you expect a relatively tiny company like Specialized to do so?

They don't either.

Boonen needed a longer frame than the one Specialized offered. With the meat of the Classics season fast approaching there was only one option - a custom frame. Perhaps next year their XL frame will sport a slightly longer top tube. But this year it's a bit too late.

Most "generic" frame sellers could just call their supplier, ask them to glue together something a little longer (or shorter or whatever), and be done with it. Most carbon tubed bikes use one of a half dozen tubesets out there with a few details changed to make them a little different. To go back to the car analogy, the frame sellers are like the different divisions in GM - they all start with the same basic vehicle and the different brands slap on different noses, tails, and change some of the details.

However, for Specialized, a custom frame poses a unique challenge.

Specialized has spent a lot of money differentiating their frames from their competitors. They did this by using unique tube shapes and frame silhouettes. Recently they offered the curved top tube carbon Tarmac and the related Roubaix. And previously they'd introduced an aero seat tube aluminum frame they called the Allez. All three models exist in their line for 2007 - the Allez has gained some carbon but still retains its distinct visual profile with the aero seat tube.

Specialized can't just mold a new frame as this would be a costly and lengthy process. They can do it for later, and they seem to say they are doing so, but for "right now", something else had to be done. They also couldn't just get an "off the shelf custom" from one of many custom builders because such a frame would not look like a Specialized. I imagine at some level the guys at Specialized wouldn't want to do this regardless. They got into this mess, they'll want to work their way out of it.

If, as Specialized, you need to get a custom frame together quickly, you'll need to look at your own internal catalog to figure out with what you can build this frame. Carbon would be difficult to do quickly. You have to deal with potentially weird layups, perhaps some stress analysis (imagine Boonen breaks his custom carbon in his first race on it?), possibly a custom mold or two that cost as much as a nice house, etc etc. Carbon, at least in the Tarmac/Roubaix type frames, would require something like that.

Aluminum is easy. Cut the tubing. Miter. Weld. Finish and paint.

Presto, custom frame!

Specialized can pull that frame out of the paint booth and know it's strong enough and will handle respectably well. No weird oscillations in those "perfect storm" situations from one off carbon frame - like when you carve left on an off camber turn at 42.3 mph and run over some raised yellow lines while you shift down a cog in back and lightly brake with the front. Or some other weird and unusual situation which brings out the perfect harmonics for a one-off carbon bike to get weird on you. Aluminum is consistent, perhaps a bit overbuilt, but it's predictable.

And you already have a distinctive aluminum frame so one of your star riders doesn't have to ride a bike that is distinctly "Un-Specialized".

Comfort? I guess it's all relative. What's more comfortable, a bike that doesn't fit or one that does? Would you drive a car whose steering wheel is jammed up to your chest? Probably not.

So where's there a problem with Boonen's new aluminum frame? I don't see any. I do see one thing though. It always holds true. And it holds true in this situation.

Fit > Materials


Monday, April 09, 2007

Your local shop

Today marks the middle of the middle of my semi-enforced rest period (for training). And this has very little to do with bike shops but let me explain.

Our house is getting its floors refinished in two stages. The first stage is almost done, after five days of work. The second stage will start in three days and involve the same amount of work. This totals ten days. Since we worked about four days before, and we'll work perhaps five or six days after, we'll be involved in this project for about four weeks. Since we're about halfway through the second week, we're in the middle of the middle of our project.

Since the project is severely curtailing my training time, this is the middle of the middle of my semi-enforced rest period.

The one day I might have been able to ride outside it was cold. Cold enough for snowflakes to drift around. I didn't feel like dressing up, riding, then going home to shower in a house that reeked of floor finishing fumes.

Instead, I went to a local shop to hang out. I raced with the owner a while back (well, technically I raced against him) but he's one type of rider and I'm another. So we both have respect for each other. He talks about how one of his first serious years of racing he was on my wheel going into the sprint and my first pedal stroke put ten feet of pavement between us. I actually don't have any stories of watching him demolish fields because I was so far back I never saw his strength - it's like asking Robbie McEwen what he thinks of Lance Armstrong's climbing. Like most of us mortals, McEwen probably never saw Armstrong climb in anger except on the Tour DVDs.

Anyway, I think this guy is a lot better than me.

When I was there he seemed to be short a mechanic so I told him I'd give him a hand. I went home, ate, got my mechanic's gloves, returned, and waded through a few repairs and bike builds. Nothing fancy - a couple girl's bikes (complete with streamers and a white basket) and some nice road bikes. I spotted a few things and fixed them, made myself useful, and hung out with him for almost six hours.

It was great.

We shared bike shop stories, talked about life, and played with mega-thousand dollar machines. I got my hands dirty on the first FSA crankset I ever worked on, bumped my head into some ti/carbon fancy bike, and fiddled with some Dura Ace things (as a Campy-phile, I never touch Dura Ace).

I realize now what I didn't know when I was in his shoes and I realize how fortunate he is to be where he is now. I think he realizes this in an abstract way but with my life lessons happening after I was out of the business, the reality of his situation really hit home with me.

He faces a lot of obstacles.

Shops are hard to maintain. They're hard to grow. And they easily fall victim to entropy. Yet shops have a unique role which no other organization or group could replace.

They're responsible for getting people into bike racing.

Without a local shop most teams would simply not exist. There would be no racers around to have a team. The guy who wants a bike because the doctor told him it's good for him, and then enters a race a year later (because it's in his hometown and seems like a fun thing to try)... That guy may have bought his bike online but there is nothing online about fitting a bike, trying different stems, riding with someone (and noticing a odd hip or knee), and getting someone to go on their first group ride.

Shops do that.

Online places, eBay, places like that, cannot replace hands on experience.

Riders who patronize my friend's shop probably don't realize how fortunate they are to be fitted and advised by a rider that cares about his customers, his riders, his people.

The trouble is that shops often lose those riders once the racer "knows enough". There are other sources for parts, for expertise, for fancy deep rimmed carbon wheels.

I'm honest when I tell him what's available online and he tells me to get it out there - it's no use for him to sell me something significantly below his cost. His battle is with his suppliers on that one.

Likewise, he's honest when he tries to find me a friendly priced frame or bike or whatever. I bought my little brother a nice mountain bike (a family present to the brother who commutes to work on a bike). The shop owner found me a scratch and dent bike for a third of retail. I made him take a 45% margin on that bike. But when I was jonesing for a wattage trainer and he offered me a leftover demo one at cost, well, I took it at cost.

When I finished with my work the other day, I asked if I could place an order I'd discussed with him earlier. It was significant enough that he could piggy back off of it and get free second day air on his stuff. That's a good thing. I made him charge me sales tax and his credit card percentage - why should he eat 1.5% when he's not making any money on me? He charged me appropriately.

We both know I don't buy everything there. I try though and when I do, I try and make sure I treat him right.

Because you know what happens to good shops you don't treat right?

They go away.

(Note: this is by no means a reflection on how anyone treated the writer when he was in the bike biz. I truly appreciate my time at the shop and am thankful for the enduring friendships, the eye-opening experiences, and finally the fact that I'm out of it. However, for those in the business now, there must be nothing more frustrating than watching someone blossom into a competent rider under shop tutelage and suddenly forget who got them into the sport.)