Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Everyone who loves professional cycling should spend at least one evening in the Kuipke.
The evening’s race schedule:
|6:30pm||UIV Cup: Flying 1 lap TT (166 m) and 200 lap madison|
|8:05pm||Pro team introductions|
|8:30pm||60 lap points race|
|9:10pm||Flying 1 lap TT (166 m): Team 13 first…Team 1 last|
|9:30pm||Madison: 40 minutes + 10 laps|
|10:15pm||Break…cheesy singing performed by Gary Hagger, definitely time to re-load on beer and brats.|
|10:35pm||Derny heat #1 (teams 7-12): 60 laps|
|11:05pm||Derny heat #2 (teams 1-6): 60 laps|
|11:20pm||Flying 500 m TT: Team 13 first…Team 1 last|
|11:45pm||Supersprint: Madison miss-and-out until 6 teams remain + 10 laps|
|12:15am||Scratch race (everyone except those who just competed in the derny final)|
|12:25am||Madison: 30 minutes + 10 laps|
Sunday, November 25, 2007
World Champion Erwin Vervecken emerged from his camper fully kitted out and proceeded to check the tire pressure on one of his four bikes. No pressure gauges for Erwin…it was assessed simply by pressing his palm down on the tire and letting the mechanic know whether air needed to be added or released. World Champions do not pump their own tires, or even let air out…truly the essence of PRO.
I’ve returned from Belgium and will have much more to say about the World Cup at Koksijde as well as the 6 Days of Ghent. I’ve got about 120 photos all together from both events plus two short video clips from Koksijde.
Friday, November 23, 2007
As Mac Canon previously stated, “50 degree banking, baby!” The electronic screen above the track shows the results of the UIV Cup flying lap TT still in-progress.
Pictured are 1 of 2 American teams taking place in the UIV Cup, an espoir precursor to the pro event, at the 6 Days of Ghent. Fore is Guy East, rear is Austin Carroll. Unfortunately for these guys, Austin Carroll ate it hard near the end of their 200 lap madison and he was taken away in a stretcher with a separated shoulder. At this point I was purchasing bratwurst and beer and I totally missed the incident. And as you can see, if you’re not racing the pro event you don’t get a bunk to set up shop. It’s uber low budget all the way…folding chairs, duffle bags, and rollers out in the open on the infield.
The pros are taking processional laps for approximately 25 minutes as all 13 teams are introduced. They form a tight double paceline with the teams in reverse order (ie…team 13 at the front down to team 1 at the rear). The announcers run down the palmares of the team on the front, once completed that team pulls up high on the track and waves to the crowd for one lap, then they drift to the rear in order for the next team to get their due. At this point it’s pretty early in the intro laps…the team in the solid red jerseys near the rear of the double paceline are Team #2: Iljo Keisse (the local Gent hero) and teammate Robert Bartko (a German with tree-trunk legs). Behind them in white are Team #1: the Swiss duo of Bruno Risi/Franco Marvulli. It’s only 8pm-ish…the stands didn’t fill up until the first madison, the fourth event of the evening, got underway at about 9:30pm. Racing went until 1am.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Greetings from the Ronde van Vlaanderen Museum in Oudenaarde. My efforts to hot wire this rig and rage throughout the Flemish Ardennes proved unsuccessful. And those Freddy Maertens Flandria bikes on the roof were awesome. First generation 1970s Dura-Ace, awesome PRO graphics, I started hearing voices, “take me to the Koppenberg, the Paterberg, the mud, the cowshit, the rain…just get me off the roof”. Instead, I just rode the computer simulator in the museum up the Muur. I nearly hocked up a lung trying to hold 350 watts.
Who knew there were different kinds of pave stones. There was a fascinating old b&w video about how Belgian miners made cobbles.
Monday, November 19, 2007
I’m in Gent, Belgium this week. First up on the “things to do before I die” list is catching a night of the 6 Days of Gent. That will be Wednesday evening…I’ll be drinking beer in the center of the track all night. Next up on the list is a ‘cross World Cup in Belgium…so it’s off to Koskijde on Saturday. Tomorrow my mission is to ride from Gent to Oundenaarde and back so I can ascend the Koppenberg. And not pull a Skibby.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Tour Fever by J.P. Partland.
I’ve been known to attend professional baseball games from time to time. As a wee youngster, living within sight of the New York City skyline, my parents took me to Shea Stadium so I could watch Tom Seaver pitch and Dave Kingman belt towering home runs. Fast forward several decades, and a couple of times each summer I’ll attend a local AAA ball club’s immaculate downtown stadium if only to put away a few beers, admire the precision mowing patterns in the outfield grass, and watch the sun set. One of the games I attended this past summer was like no other I’d ever experienced, however, due to the Israeli couple who joined us at my wife’s invitation. These people hadn’t a clue about baseball. They knew of its existence, they knew a ball was involved, but that’s about the extent of their knowledge. So how does one go about explaining a sport to an absolute neophyte? At first thought the rules seem straightforward, but then all the oddities and quirks come up. This seemingly simple exercise becomes a protracted discussion of why your first two foul balls count as strikes, but you can’t strike out by fouling additional balls into the stands so you can hit an additional 25 foul balls out of the park and still keep swinging, or how sometimes a baserunner can be called out by stepping on the base vs. needing to be tagged. Oh, and the rudimenatary concept of “bat” and “base” needed explanations, too. And absolutely out of my mind, I dared bring up ground rule doubles, spitballs, Abner Doubleday, why the Baseball Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown, etc. The things one takes for granted when the sport is around you for a lifetime.
So this brings me to J.P. Partland’s Tour Fever, which deftly explains the Tour de France to befuddled Americans much better than I can impart baseball elucidation to befuddled Israelis. If your average American was asked to name one bike race the Tour de France would be the likely answer. And if pressed to name a professional cyclist, Lance Armstrong would also be the typical response. But put that same person in front of a television of an in-progress Tour de France stage and they’d almost certainly be absolutely perplexed about the machinations taking place before their eyes. And at this point, if I ran the universe, J.P. Partland would magically appear on the scene and sell a copy of Tour Fever to this spectator whose level of professional cycling knowledge is equal to the “What’s a bat?” line of questioning I fielded from my Israeli acquaintances.
If you’re enough of a fan of professonal cycling (particularly the Tour de France) that my blog makes sense to you then you’ll likely be well-versed in every aspect of Partland’s book which explains the Tour from the ground up. It sets the stage by discussing a familiar sporting icon (Lance Armstrong) and his pivotal crash and recovery on Luz-Ardiden during his 2003 TdF triumph. From there Partland explains the history of the Tour, how exactly one goes about winning the Tour, the purpose of other competitions besides the yellow jersey, what actually makes professional cycling a team sport, the physical and mental qualities of an elite professional cyclist, the Tour route itself, race tactics, the technology of cycling, and handy tips about becoming a Tour de France spectator (through print resources, television, the Internet, or the ever ambitious in-person option). The 224 pages of Tour Fever, chock full of text, a glossary, and indices, are essentially a primer into Professional Cycling 101, and provide the building blocks to dissecting and analyzing a sport alien to our cultural sporting norms. If you grew up in a cycling-mad environment such as Belgium this knowledge would likely be absorbed just as an American soaks up baseball. Absent of such an upbringing, Tour Fever is a handy reference for making sense of an initially perplexing sporting dynamic. And while this book concentrates on the Tour de France, the principles learned here can be applied to other cycling events throughout the season. Many Americans are oblivious to the cycling calendar in months other than July, and hopefully piqued curiosity will lead spectators to embrace other races throughout the long road season.
While the aforementioned nuts and bolts of the Tour de France experience are laid out lucidly, what struck me as particularly engaging are Partland’s snippets of information regarding his introduction to the sport as well as his discussion of how exactly an American so inclined to race progresses from his first road bike to toeing the line as a Tour de France pro. I’ve begun to notice some familiar last names appearing in the Junior and Senior ranks…names like Phinney, Stetina, O’Reilly, Simes, Barczewski, Chauner…all promising cyclists whose parents were at their prime while I was learning about the sport. The remaining 99.99% of us, however, don’t have parents who’ve raced professionally (if at all) to set an example and provide tutelage from the time the training wheels come off, so we find our way to the sport via random, serendipitous paths. Partland’s fascination with Euro cycling as a teenager struck a chord with me since our gravitation to the sport followed strikingly familiar paths. While becoming bored with BMX in the 1970s, I cobbled together a barely functioning rendition of a track bike (thankfully with a coaster brake, a la Little 500 rigs) from bikes recovered from the dump, donned a TI Raleigh cap, and began to roar around my neighborhood in pursuit of speed. One day a guy on a shiny road bike, fully kitted out like a pro, happened to roll through my stomping grounds and I jumped on his wheel on my jalopy. Much to his consternation, he could not drop me as he began to turn the screws. And much to my surprise he stopped and began quizzing me about my heap. His advice…”Dude, get your parents to buy you a racing license and a real bike”.
Additionally, I think it’s particularly rare to read about how one becomes a professional cyclist, much less how one gets to compete in the Tour. Partland goes into the state of competitive cycling in this country, its challenges, and the process of progressing from amateur to pro. Based on how many times I’ve had to field questions at work, from relatives, or from random people who see me in cycling garb why I’m not racing the Tour de France it’s an aspect of our sport which deserves attention and outreach. It’s common knowledge how professional baseball/basketball/football players progress to the pinnacle of their sports, but to the lay person in the US the sport of professional cycling is truly enigmatic to the point where it’s surprising to find out that people actually make a living from competing. No matter what one thinks of Tyler Hamilton, several years ago he gave a funny interview in which he had to explain to his in-laws just how exactly he was going to support his wife. They didn’t believe riding around on a bike was a vocation, but they’d probably never ask Michael Jordan what he did to support his family while playing for the Chicago Bulls.
And once one has completed the prose portion of Tour Fever, there are the lists of professional cyclists who’ve made Tour de France history. Every North American cyclist who’s ever started the Tour (through 2005) plus every person/team gracing the final Tour podium from 1903 through 2005 are chronicled year by year. For those curious about professional cycling’s history, the names gracing the latter portion of Tour Fever are the jumping off point for attaining one’s TdF Ph.D. Begin poring through web sites, books, magazines, films, and videos to discover the many hallowed expoits of these individuals and teams who’ve made TdF history for over 100 years. Embrace your inner TdF geek. After all, one never knows if winning a fortune on Jeopardy hinges on who donned the final green jersey in the 1963 Tour. Of course that would entail lucking into a Cliff Clavin-esque category selection.
If there was one thing lacking from the prose, it’s visuals. The only photograph within the entire book is the cover shot of Lance Armstrong resplendent in yellow. Professional cycling is such a visually stunning sport and anecdotes throughout the book could have benefited from a few strategically placed images to complement the text. I’m guessing that the cost of copyright clearance for iconic TdF images may be prohibitively expensive.
And on the subject of visuals…and serendipity…and the truly small world of people who race somewhere in the vicinity of the 12K dreamer realm is this post I made back in March of this year. Yes, that’s me front and center in purple looking a bit worse for wear. And to the right, in the solid red jersey, is none other than J.P. Partland. For the sake of disclosure, I’ll admit that I knew his name and could recognize him from my days of racing in the Northeast primarily through his proliferation of hair kept in a ponytail, but I can honestly say that I’ve never spoken a word to him prior to somewhat recent email communications regarding a possible review of Tour Fever. Who would have thought that our paths would intersect once more nearly 15 years later courtesy of “the internets”. What is apparent is that J.P. Partland is a kindred spirit afflicted with a fever, fervor, and fascination of the Tour de France…and Tour Fever is an able steward for those just embarking on understanding the Tour or for the more grizzled aficionados who’ve felt the Fever wain in recent years.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
It’s getting to be the time of year when various cycling publications, web-based entities, and opinionated pundits are holed up in undiscolosed locations plotting to dole out multitudes of awards to PRO cyclists whose stellar achievements on the bike warrant recognition. Sure, the Paolo Bettinis, the Fabian Cancellaras, the Alberto Contadors will undoubtedly get their due, but there’s always room for one more award. Added to the pantheon of VeloNews’ “EuroPRO of the Year Who Didn’t Lie About His pre-Tour Whereabouts”, Cycle Sport’s “If It Isn’t Scottish It’s Crap All-David-Millar-All-the-Time Lovefest”, High Times “Downhiller of the Year”, Wired’s “Most GBs of Memory Filled-Up With SRM Data”, venerable non-cycling honors like the Oscar, the MTV Moon Man, the Clio, the Emmy, is the new kid in town: my first annual Big FucKing Hennepin, hereby bequeathed in 2007 to Adam Craig.
Firstly, let’s hear it for employees of beer-selling establishments equipped with Sharpies and a sense of humor. It only makes sense that uber-sized beer goblets deserve equally proportioned beer vessels. Hence the recent appearance of a Big FucKing Hennepin gracing the shelves of Sam’s Blue Light.
You have to love a man, who is arguably the fastest XC racer in the U.S., showing up at a drunken singlespeed race in the north of Scotland, a week before the World Championships, wearing a mullet and a mustache that he grew just for the event to go along with the specially chosen Daisy Duke shorts, denim vest and pantyhose that he was racing in. That’s admirable.
Even more admirable is the way that he rode the race—hollering out rebel yells and maniacal laughs, passing politely, stopping to chat, taking beer hand-ups, wrecking hard on fire roads after taking said hand-ups, and still winning with a crushing margin. Topping it off, he took a tattoo to soft part of his ass that is bigger than most man-hands, less than 48 hours before he was scheduled to race the team relay at the “real” world championships.
2. Nat Ross chimes in regarding the 2007 ‘Cross Vegas:
…10. Who is the baddest motherfucker on the planet?
-Right now I would have to say Adam Craig. He won 43 dollars in one hour while wearing a skinsuit. Not bad for the single speed champion of the world. But can he count? I don’t know if I see 43 dollars in the pic. Where was the rest stuffed? That’s what I thought, sock or not Adam is still the man. He even has a silly tattoo to prove it.
3. He hasn’t mastered the art of clipping in to the pedals at the start of ‘cross races, and he thinks it’s funny:
I did my trademark pedal slip at the start. I told the guy behind me he was screwed, and he was. This is how I like to start the Gran Prix season off: a terrible start, riding through, entertaining people, and getting the most aggressive rider for the day so I can buy my mechanic dinner.
4. Adam Craig don’t need no Foo-Foo pit bikes and Dugast tubulars. Check out the accumulation of ice acquired while scorching the NC locals at a wintry ‘cross race in 2003 while preparing for a trip to Monopoli, Italy for the world championships. Also note the bloody ankle, where Craig ate it pretty hard while trying to bunny-hop a series of barriers. I lined up against Adam that January, and I don’t think I’ve ever been lapped so quickly in my life. In fact, I think he got me twice. The man has a motor.