SeaOtter 2013

April 23, 2013

After last year’s launch of OPEN at SeaOtter, this year’s event was quite different. While last year, media attention was very high to check out the new kids on the block, this year media attention was matched by  consumer interest.

The expo at SeaOtter is never crazy-busy, at least not what you would think when you hear that 60,000 show up during the four days. Whenever and wherever you look in the expo space, there is good traffic but nobody will mistake it for a Japanese commuter train. To me it seems that many people just come to race and then immediately pack up and go home.

That said, this actually serves a tiny company like OPEN just fine, as we have no way to talk to 60,000 people anyway. And I found that the people who do walk the expo are fantastic, very interested and very knowledgeable. These were my take-away notes from four days of SeaOtter:

  • I was amazed at how many people had heard of OPEN already, which obviously was quite exciting for me.
  • The people who stopped by the booth really knew a lot about us already, and the AXX1 & The Electric One were both very well-received.
  • The number of industry big-wigs was very high. This has become a networking event for many. While I abhor networking, I did have several very fruitful meetings, and you will hopefully see the results of this in the future.
  • Props to SeaOtter for making the event so family-friendly. The number of kids on bikes was truly astounding, and the 3-year olds with full-on helmets bigger than the rest of their bodies are hilarious to watch (in fact it’s even funnier when they try to be “cool” by hanging the helmet on their handlebar, as the weight is so enormous they cannot possibly steer their bike straight.
  • The number of 10-year olds with bikes that must have cost at least 50 years of allowance was also amazing.
  • But most of all, it was great to see how much fun these kids were having, both in the cycling events and the other expo entertainment.
  • Lots of new product introductions, lots of 650b stuff, and just like before most industry people have no idea where this trend is going. It’s amazing how virtually everybody introduces 650b products just because others are and because they don’t want to miss the boat, and how few manufacturers actually know why. There are some who do, don’t get me wrong, and even I believe in it for certain specific cases (basically when bigger wheels won’t fit due to frame size, suspension travel or frame configuration), but they are few and far apart. You can also see it in the justifications brands use for their 650b product – it rarely makes sense.
  • That said, I think 650b is here to stay. Together with the 29er it will be the standard going forward, and the 26″ wheel is truly history. Will OPEN ever make a 650b frame? If there is a good reason to do so, definitely. If not, then not. So far we don’t have a frame design coming up that requires 650b wheels, although one design comes pretty close. So who knows, it’s still so early that design changes could push it over the edge, it’s hard to say. But definitely nothing coming soon, we have no desire to simply join the stampede.
  • Despite all the mountain bike introductions, I think the biggest news was on the road: the introduction of SRAM’s new groups with 22 speeds (11-sp cassettes) and hydraulic brakes. Their hydraulic rim brakes are gorgeous, and seem to work very well. The disk brake versions will be interesting to follow, especially to see what the UCI decides to do. The levers have received mixed reviews, the taller dimension makes them less elegant than the old designs. But you have to put the hydraulic cylinder somewhere, and the taller hoods actually give you a great grip and some room to move your hands around. Great for long rides and also great for more security in tricky situations (think cyclocross).
  • I come out of SeaOtter with a lot of drive to push forward on our new designs. The meetings I had were just what the doctor ordered to make good headway, and I think we’re on the right track to bring out  some really nice things. Nothing in the near future, this is all still pretty far away, but I’m excited about it.
At SeaOtter from left to right: Andy, myself, Jason and Mark (both from our Newport Beach retailer Pro Bike Supply).

At SeaOtter from left to right: Andy, myself, Jason and Mark (both from our Newport Beach retailer Pro Bike Supply).


Kiss-of-death Milan-San Remo predictions

March 17, 2013

It’s that time of year again, the kiss-of-death predictions.

Of course the top favorite is Sagan, but me mentioning him here pretty much ruins his chances, as history has shown. So it should be a very open race!

Of course, if you exclude Sagan, it becomes almost impossible to predict the winner. Some mention Hushovd because of the predicted foul weather, but very long races aren’t always his strength and coming back from a year of inactivity, 300k looks even longer.

I really like Cancellara, and he can climb the Poggio better than most and descend it better than anybody, but will it be enough to shake off all the riders who can expertly sit on his wheel and outsprint him?

Gilbert with or without cortisones? Or Rodriguez, who can attack the Poggio in similar fashion? But what to do on the other end? Nibali, another one who can really fly up the Poggio (and also down it, although I don’t rate him as that good a descender since he regularly seems to kiss the pavement). Regardless, the only rider Nibali could outsprint would be Andy Schleck, and I’m not sure he’s spotted in any Milan hotel lately.

This shouldn’t be the race for Cavendish anymore, the way the last three climbs are ridden nowadays. But I actually think he has been targeting this race, and that we’ll see a better climbing Cav than ever. Enough to stay connected to the front? Possibly, though maybe not in this weather. He will be a very interesting guy to watch though, and there is no doubt he has his team’s support.

His old team may have a real ace in its hand. Boasson Hagen can climb much better than you would think (remember the Tour) and on a good day, he can outsprint anybody (remember his field sprint wins?) And when the weather turns bad, Boasson Hagen’s legs seem to turn well.

Greenedge has two irons in the fire with Gerrans and Goss, and if both make it over the Poggio (which they have numerous times), their combo may be a credible threat to Sagan. Even if Sagan has support from Moser, it may spell trouble for Sagan as he may have to control the race after a Moser + ?? attack rather than win himself.

Not mentioned as often but somebody who is ready for his biggest win so far is Degenkolb. He rides for a team I really like, and they deserve the boost. Plus Degenkolb’s performances last year in San Remo and Worlds show this type of course – and the race distance – suit him well. And Last year’s Vuelta showed his speed and nose for the victory is now at full strength.

So here we go, the kiss-of-death Milan-San Remo predictions:

(Sagan)
Degenkolb
Boasson Hagen
Cancellara

And my sentimental favorite? Haussler of course.

 


2012 l’Eroica

March 8, 2013

Stage 1 of my year in cycling

For those who don’t know, l’Eroica is a ride in the Chianti region of Italy with simple rules: Your bike has to be pre-1987, in particular with brake cables running externally from the hoods and no clipless pedals (although both started to make inroads slightly before 1987).

Eroica - nothing better

Eroica – nothing better

However, that simple premise doesn’t even begin to explain what l’Eroica really is: it may very well be the purest celebration of everything that is great about cycling. The bikes you see range from beautiful to stunning to interesting to weird, while the people are wonderful and the outfits nostalgia-invoking. Add to that a route on Chianti’s famed strade bianche, the gravel roads that dissect the vineyard-covered rolling hills, and you’ve got cycling heaven.

You should do this ride to experience any of the following:

  • Riding my late-70’s Gargiulo (a small Napoli outfit) makes me realize technology has come a long way. Its brakes barely slow me down even with the greatest effort. The frame stiffness is negligible. The smallest gear of 39×23 – compact cranks are still over a decade away – is a challenge on 20% gravel inclines.
  • But the 30rpm cadence that results is wonderful, my whole world narrows down to the next 180 degree turn of my cranks, and the next, and the next, until eventually, the hill is crested. Only to have the relaxation instantly extinguished by the terrifying – equally steep and poorly surfaced – descent on the other side.
  • The only invention I truly start to appreciate is index shifting. It’s easy to forget how finicky shifting used to be, with slipping gears quickly leaving me with only four options (big ring or small ring and biggest cog or smallest cog). I am not sure if there’s a statue in Japan somewhere for the engineer who invented indexed shifting, but there should be.
  • Riding in wool shorts with barely a chamois may sound like hell, but it is remarkably comfortable. At least it was for me, and in combination with my Brooks saddle. I am seriously considering putting that Brooks on my regular road bike.
  • Cycling history is so incredibly rich. Walking through Gaiole before the race and looking around during it, you see so many beautiful bikes, from 1920’s single-speed racers to firefighter bikes (with the hose rolled up inside the front triangle) and from the earliest derailleur models to 1970’s Giro-winning bikes. Together with all the vintage apparel, it’s a wonderful rolling museum.
  • One of the highlights of l”Eroica are the rest stops. The first one serves water, wine and breads with marmalade, sugared win spread or olive oil & salt. Slightly apprehensive at first, I finally try a slice with the oil & salt and it is amazing. This may very well be the best sports nutrition on earth. I was a bit hungry on the stretch before the stop, so I go all out and probably eat 15 slices. “It’s delicious AND nutrition”, as they say.
  • As I want to leave the rest stop, a guy in a yellow jersey walks by. In any other event, wearing a yellow jersey will get you ridiculed, but here even that is tolerated. Especially since, uhm, the guy is Pedro Delgado and he’s wearing an original.
  • By now I’ve lost all sense of distance, and of course there’s no computer on the bike. I also didn’t bother to check at what distances these rest stops are, but rather than a problem, this state of mind is a wonderful experience. After a nice descent and long climb we hit a tiny town that has decided to organize its own “bandid” rest stop. Here, wine and sausage is on offer. I had resisted the wine at the first stop, but following the “when in Rome or close to it” adage, I give it a try. The wine is alright, although one sip is enough. The sausage is another story, the greasiness makes it possibly the worst thing I have ever eaten on a ride.
  • The climb before the final rest stop is a killer, the surface is rutted and it is so steep that most people walk up it. Just to get the full experience, I do too. It’s a long walk but well worth it, at the top we are treated to a very nice Ribollita, a bean stew. Not your first choice on a ride maybe, but wonderful.

So if you’re interested in doing l’Eroica, register early. If you want an all-organized trip (including the use of a historical bike), there are several outfits. InGamba from my good friend Joao Correia (ex-Bicycling publisher and ex-Cervelo TestTeam rider) is one, and Google Caffe Gruppetto for another one popping up in a few months.


Ban math

February 20, 2013

The past few weeks, I have met a lot of people who were surprised Armstrong denied doping after his comeback. If you clean house, what’s the big deal of doping in 2009 & 2010? Every time I show them my ban math, people seem to think it makes sense. I am sure others have written about it, but I can’t find evidence of that and since I keep getting the question, here we go:

  • Right now Armstrong has a lifetime ban.
  • Not competing is killing him (look at his own words: “I got the death penalty”).
  • So getting back to competition is the goal. Losing half the money, the disgrace, it all seems minor compared to the right to compete.
  • Normally, the rules state that a lifetime ban can be reduced to 8 years if you provide substantial assistance in the fight against doping (and no, donating 100k to the UCI does not count as substantial assistance).
  • He will provide this substantial assistance, I have no doubt about it (again, because the goal is to compete).
  • If he gets an 8-year ban, the starting date becomes very important.
  • If he can agree with the authorities that his come-back was clean, then his last doping infraction was in 2005. 2005 plus 8, you guessed it, is 2013.
  • Now, you may have to add 2 years or so because they should deduct his comeback from the portion of the ban they consider “served”, but that’s still a heck of a lot better than having the ban start on February 16, 2011 and finish on February 15, 2019!
  • To understand how significant this is, realize that if a horse-trading deal is made that lets the ban start in 2005, he would be eligible to race Ironman Hawaii in October 2015 at the latest (lucky for him that Ironman Hawaii is held so late in the year).
  • In October 2015, Armstrong will have just turned 44. That may seem old for an athlete, but for Ironman that’s an age where you can still be very competitive, and even win (especially if Armstrong would be at “Tour de France-level”). Consider that Dave Scott finished 5th in Hawaii just before he turned 43.

New FREE cycling magazine launches

February 19, 2013

icon2RVery excited to announce that a project I’ve been working on for a long time has finally launched: 2r.

It’s a multi-media magazine about cycling, combining in-depth written articles with photo galleries and video. Available for the iPad right now (iOS6 required) and on some additional platforms shortly. I’m very excited that Paul Kimmage will have a “big piece” in 2r every month.

In issue 1, Paul interviews LeMond about his relationships with Hinault, Fignon and Armstrong. In the 44(!) page interview, they also cover races being sold, cocaine, and awkward dinners (with the chef of Renault and Lance). Boonen revisits his worst loss, Gesink draws his first bike and Nuyens contemplates retirement. To top it off, Cavendish thinks about what he would do as the UCI president. Plus the most beautiful photos from l’Équipe and Sirotti.

PIC128989212r will appear monthly and best of all, it’s FREE. Download it for the iPad here. To follow 2r (and receive announcements when other formats are ready), choose from the following:

website:   2rmag.com
twitter:     @2rHD
facebook: 2rmag

I really hope you like the magazine and if you do, please tell your friends about it! Thanks.


UCI & Lance’s comeback

February 18, 2013

You probably saw (or you may have missed it) that Verbruggen now concedes the UCI suspected Armstrong of doping. But the darn problem was, without proof they couldn’t do anything. In Vrij Nederland Verbruggen said:

‘It was hard for me to the extent that you know more than you can say. You have questions but you can’t express it publicly.’

You know what, I agree with that principle. Innocent until proven guilty is a pretty solid concept I would say, you can build whole societies on that. Of course, it doesn’t explain why Verbruggen went out of his way to tell people Lance “never, never, never” doped, but that’s another story.

The point I would like to make today is not that we should expect the UCI to prosecute without proof, to do things the rules don’t allow. That would be crazy. What we should expect however is for the UCI to do everything the rules DO allow to figure out if their suspicions are correct and to make it as difficult as possible for those they suspect of doping. In this regard the UCI has failed spectacularly.

I can even understand the concept of warning riders who are suspected, on the basis that if you know you can’t catch them, scaring them into reducing their doping may be the best tool you have (even if it is far from ideal). But what I can’t understand is this:

  • If the UCI “knew more”, then it should have been abundantly clear that accepting money from Armstrong “for the fight against doping” was a no-no.
  • If the UCI “knew more”, then surely they should not have facilitated a meeting for Armstrong with the Swiss anti-doping lab.
  • If the UCI “knew more”, waiving the mandatory 6 month waiting period for Armstrong so he could participate in the Tour Down Under makes no sense.
  • If the UCI “knew more”, they should have targeted Armstrong when he came back, so not sending his profiles to the biological passport expert panel after May 4, 2009 (when he had barely commenced his comeback) is negligent.
  • If the UCI “knew more”, it should have cooperated with the US Feds and later USADA as soon as it became aware an investigation was going on. Their suspicions plus evidence gathered by those agencies could have been a strong combination.

Yet the UCI did none of this. Note I say “UCI” and not “Verbruggen” or “McQuaid”. It affects the whole management committee of the UCI, as well as the federations that elect them. Either they knew nothing about this, in which case they aren’t doing their job very well. Or they do knew about it but are deciding to stay silent.

I can understand that in the past, some or even most of this stuff may have been hidden from management committee members. But those days are over, everything is out in the open now. So they either have to act very soon, or accept to be clearly seen as supporting the old-guard and its failing judgements.

British management committee member Cookson was quoted as saying cycling needs “unity” in the UCI right now. There’s a time and place for unity, and it’s definitely not advisable to be seen quarreling all the time. But right now is not that time and place. Unity won’t save cycling, unity will save the status quo. Let’s hope that in the coming months, those who can really change the sport (those on the inside) will figure out the difference between saving cycling and saving your ass.


UCI vs. CAS

February 15, 2013

Oh what a surprise, CAS has sided with Katusha in their appeal to being denied a WorldTour license. UCI loses another battle. And as usual, the solution to one problem creates a problem. What now? 19 teams with WorldTour licenses? Demote another WorldTour team to Pro Continental level?

Of course, the UCI will claim it is not responsible. Expect phrases such as “The License committee is completely independent, therefore we are not responsible for their decisions. But look at the wider picture:

  1. The License committee works under the guidelines of the UCI. So if the UCI sets the four criteria (sporting, ethical, financial, organizational) without a proper framework of how to judge those criteria, you end up with decisions that – while they may be correct – are easily challenged.
  2. After the License committee made its decision to deny Katusha its license, everybody knew it would be challenged at CAS. What else was Katusha – the Global Cycling Project – going to do. Fold? So the UCI knew there was a chance CAS would reinstate Katusha.
  3. Given that opportunity, the prudent course of action would be to hand out 17 WorldTour licenses, wait for CAS and then give the 18th license to Katusha or somebody else. By giving the 18th license to somebody else immediately, it created the potential for a mess.
  4. What’s the big deal with 19 WorldTour teams? Races like to pick teams themselves, based on local favorites or other business considerations. With 22 teams in the Grand Tours, having 19 instead of 18 WorldTour teams guaranteed a spot means they can only pick 3 wildcard teams themselves. This is why ultimately the number 18 was picked, it was the compromise between the UCI and the big race organizers on how many teams they could pick themselves. Depending on how big a stink they want to create, race organizers are unlikely to accept 19 WorldTour teams, or they may say to the UCI that it can give out 19 licenses but they will only invite 18 of those 19.
  5. Is there nothing fans can look forward to? Actually there is. Aside from the possibility that the race organizers will put a bomb under the UCI by flatly refusing the 19th WorldTour team to their races, there is another compromise possible which could even make the racing more exciting: They may decide to reduce the team size from 9 to 8. If they do that, then you can fit 25 teams into a 200 man peloton, meaning they could invite all 19 WorldTour teams plus 6 (six!) wildcards. More teams, less control, bring it on.

Lots more in the upcoming weeks, so subscribe here to not miss anything.

 

 


UCI vs. Ashenden

February 14, 2013

This particular war of words makes for good reading. You really get an inside view into the process (or lack thereof) that governs the biological passport. It’s best to google it and read the whole exchange so you can see for yourself which side you choose to believe.

The brazenness of the UCI is staggering. With every strike they receive, they hit back without considering the wider implications of their statements. Take the assertion from the UCI that Lance’s profile was sent to the bio pass expert panel on May 4, 2009 and that the panel didn’t see anything suspicious. It further claims that the bio pass software didn’t pick up any anomalies after May 4, 2009 so that Armstrong’s values were never sent to the experts after that date. This is troubling for two reasons:

  1. Of course there is nothing suspicious in his tests up to May 4, 2009. That’s before the Giro had even started. Those tests couldn’t have been much more than establishing his bandwidth, so whether the values are regular or suspicious, you would have to be a complete idiot to violate the bio pass constraints that early on. In short; it proves nothing. If I, with my (according to the UCI) “very weak understanding of this very complex subject”, know this, then so does the UCI.To explain in very simplistic terms, the biological passport is an ever narrowing noose, as the test values that are picked up along the way create a profile of what is “normal” for this particular athlete. So if you’re tested the first time, a value for a human may be anywhere form 0 to 100. If you score 75 on that first test, then we can safely say you should never be below 50. So now your bandwidth for the second test goes from 50-100 instead of from 0-100 as it was for the first test. If that second test is 80, then we know the first test was not you are in fact in that 75-80 range. So for test 3, we may accept only a value from 65-90. And so on.
  2. The claim that the bio pass software didn’t pick up any anomalies after May 4, 2009 is actually very troubling. If that is true, and this is the software by which all samples are judged, then the whole bio pass system is a complete and utter waste because it obviously doesn’t pick up anything. It may explain why there are so few bio pass cases. Ignore whether you think the values from Lance’s 2009 Tour de France prove he doped. What everybody – believers and non-believers – should be able to agree on is that the values are at least suspicious. Or if you insist on an even more benign word: atypical. And the process should be that the software picks out profiles that are suspicious, or atypical, so that the committee can analyze them further. There’s lot to dislike about that process even if it does work properly, but the UCI seems to now state that suspicious profiles don’t even make it to the committee because the software fails to detect them. So in a panicked attempt to explain away their inexplicables, they are now throwing their own biological passport under the USPS team bus.

In the end, there are only two possible conclusions:

  1. Armstrong’s profile was flagged by the software, a sign the tool may be useful, but the UCI decided not to forward the profile to the expert panel for review.
  2. Armstrong’s profile was not flagged by the software, which means the software and therefore the whole protocol is useless.

For the people involved it matters little. Either they knowingly withheld a suspicious profile or they have lied about the effectiveness of the biological passport process they use (you remember, the process that proves they are doing a good job and that cycling is getting cleaner). Either way the blame lays with them.

Expect two things from the UCI in the next few days:

  1. McQuaid will make his trademark switch from “I’m in control, trust me, it’s getting better” to “It’s not my area of expertise, you should ask the experts, the passport is actually the work of WADA”.
  2. Silence

Cape Frustration

February 13, 2013

My Year of True Cycling started so well. Eroica, the Hell Week in Toronto, bigger and bigger training loads for November, December and January. All fantastic and gearing up towards my big block in South Africa culminating in the Cape Epic.

sauser_elephantThe Cape Epic has something mythical for many people, and it definitely has for me. It may have been because of this photo, which is the first I think I ever saw of the Epic.

So when the 10th anniversary event was announced for 2013, it was the perfect opportunity to include the Epic. And with my Open Cycle partner in crime Andy also going and our OPEN hardtail ready for action, it was scheduled to be a great experience (not to be confused with a great race, because I have zero illusion that I would be able to keep up with Andy and his riding partner).

Also, it would be our first trip to Africa with OPEN, and we were looking forward to meeting up with our early followers there (which includes Cape Epic’s founder, Kevin Vermaak).

And then the wheels came off. Andy has his own “Cape Frustration” and was out, then I found myself without a riding partner. Finally, my body mocked my attempts at peak fitness by challenging me to pick up a T-shirt from the floor, resulting in me throwing out my lower back, three weeks of physio and no riding.

I just started riding again but the Cape Epic is unfortunately off the Table Mountain. I will still go to South Africa for a short trip and do the Grape Escape, a 3-day mountain bike event put on by the same people that organize the Pick ‘n Pay Argus CycleTour, but the Cape Epic dream will be postponed for one year.

On the positive side, that will hopefully give me time to practice my T-shirt lifting techniques and achieve that elusive fitness level. Because there is no doubt that I will ride the Cape Epic one day.


UCI vs.

February 13, 2013

It’s hard to keep track of the public wars of words, isn’t it?

UCI vs. USADA

UCI vs. WADA

UCI vs. UCIIC

UCI vs. CCN

UCI vs. Ashenden

UCI vs. Kimmage

UCI vs. yours truly

If only there was a common theme to these wordfeuds so that people can figure out what is really going on? Hm.


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