Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Minne-asshole-is

BSNYC's post today brought to mind one of the more comical (or envy-inducing) things I saw in Minneapolis: A gleaming S-Works Tarmac SL2 with Ksyrium SSL wheels (MSRP: About $8,000) -- and a pie plate, a giant saddle scrotum and SPD mountain-bike pedals.
Overbiked? Yeah.

NVGP Wrapup (maybe)

Found some cool footage of the Nature Valley GP on YouTube (of course).

Here's Brooke Miller's win, and some more:



Try climbing this shit 18 times. And this is only one of two leg-breaking climbs in the last stage of the NVGP, a crit at Stillwater, Minn., that most of the field never finishes.



Here's the other Stillwater ramp:



Ignore the bimbo as you watch this next one. Instead, look at the hill and think about what Ben Jacques-Maynes said -- words to the effect of "I took a chance and left it in the big ring." The big ring? Jeez. I'd need a big ring on the back -- a 53T -- to climb this beast.



Finally, here's some footage from the NVGP a few years back that underscores why losers like me should never quit the race -- any race:

How I Spent My Father's Day

I was getting ready for bed in a St. Paul hotel room at 10:30 Saturday night when my wife called to say United Airlines called the house and needed me to call back. The airline wouldn't tell her why.
When the phonebots finally gave way to a human on the Indian subcontinent, I learned my 8 a.m. flight home, via Chicago, was canceled and United would re-book me on a flight that would leave Mpls. at 3:30 p.m. Sunday and arrive here at 9:40 p.m. on Father's Day -- roughly an hour after the bedtime of two little girls who hadn't seen their Dad since Thursday morning.
After I fussed, United "accommodated" me by putting me on the 6 a.m. flight. That way, I'd still get the original connecting flight to Cleveland, to arrive here at 1:20 p.m. Sunday.
The anxiety of dealing with arrogant, unapologetic morons kept me from falling asleep til maybe 12:30 a.m.
So after maybe 3-1/2 hours of sleep, I awoke at 4 a.m. to go to the airport.
Of course, I had to refuel the rental first. More stress.
I arrived with an hour to spare. Good news. Except that I was at the wrong terminal. After a 10-minute walk and a train ride, I was at the right place -- only to find a mile-long line at security (at 5:30 a.m.!!!)
It moved quickly enough that I made my flight. I arrived in Chicago about the same time as the thunderstorms that soon would turn my four-hour layover into something more. A lot more.
After an hour or so, I learned my connecting flight would be delayed indefinitely. After another hour or so, the airline changed the gate to one at the end of another terminal. I then had to walk about 1/2 mile (no exaggeration), schlupping my luggage and laptop and all of the useless books that folks foisted off upon me.
After two hours at my new gate, United decided to mix things up again: another gate reassignment. I then dragged my arse and my stuff all the way back to the terminal I'd originally been at, and beyond the original concourse to the next-farthest one. There, I learned my flight was further delayed.
The airline (United, I repeat) felt so bad about this that everyone in its employ was speechless -- so speechless that not one single United Airlines person apologized through all of this growing ordeal. In fact, I had to listen to United gate agents scold "you people going to Cleveland" twice, effectively telling my fellow travelers to just sit down, shut up and wait after our second gate reassignment and third delay announcement.
After eight hours of that hospitality, I finally got out of O'Hare around 2:15 p.m. CDT; a pilot broke United's consistency by apologizing for the delay.
Shit weather happens. But it's inconceivable to me that any person in any business -- let alone a floundering, failing, reviled one like United -- would be so disdainful of its customer base as United's people were. Bankrupt? NOO! You're KIDDING!
I arrived here in Cleveland an hour later (4:15, w/ time change). My wife picked me up at the urine-tinged University Circle rapid station around 5 p.m. - 12 hours after I left my hotel.
But the hassles melted away at the sight of the two little folks who were bursting with excitement over seeing their daddy. They made their own giftwrap for my presents, which they just could not wait for me to open. And they wrapped me, too -- with giant, giant hugs from little tiny people.
That's why I missed them almost the whole time I was gone.

- JN

Self-Flagellation


Watching the pros this past weekend inspired me to punish myself Monday for my flabby laziness.
So I went out for a little hill workout. It was no big deal to a fit rider. But I'm feeling it today. Here's the route:
Down Euclid Creek Parkway, then back up. Then back down. Then up the Chardon Rd. hill from Euclid Ave. Then back down and up the washed-out road in the Euclid Creek reservation that parallels Highland, up to Richmond and beyond.
Dropped down through the North Chagrin Reservaton onto Chagrin River Rd. Then up and back down Old Mill. Then up Cedar Rd. and home, battling the 168-mph headwind.
I feel like someone smacked my glutes with a baseball bat. I don't think I'll be a factor at Westlake tonight ...
***

The climb up Chardon was a little less steep, and less than half as long, as the Main St. hill in Mankato, at the end of the 90-something-mile stage of the Nature Valley GP. I realized as I reached the top of the Chardon Rd. hill I that might not be able to make it up the Main St. hill even once, even with fresh legs. Those guys and gals racing up there had to climb it four times -- after almost 80 wind-whipped miles of racing.

Gotta tell ya, they earned their salaries that day (all $10,000 of it, in many cases).
***
Another observation:
One thing that blew me away watching the riders sign in for Friday night's criterium is how damn young they look. We live in a place where every single one of the best racers is masters-eligible, where only a handful of under-25 racers are even semi-competitive at Cat 1-2. So it's kind of a jolt to see these upper-echelon guys who look like they're barely old enough to shave. Rock Racing's Mike Creed looks like he could've starred on "21 Jump Street."
(Creed and most of his pro-racing peers undoubtedly are too young to even get the reference to that show. Most of our best racers around here might not get the reference, either -- because when it aired, they were too old to care about watching it. That underscores the gulf).
Most of the male racers at Nature Valley looked like the interns at work: wet behind the ears, and full of youthful exuberance.
That made me a little less disdainful of supposed peloton "tough guy" Kayle Leogrande. Up close, he is a little pipsqueak. He looks like a kid who played too much with Majic Markers, not the brash, dickheaded felon he wants people to think he is. He also seems pretty personable. He didn't just welcome fan interaction -- he seemed to need it.
Young kids -- particularly those who really need attention and, maybe, love -- do stupid things. Most of us regret our stupidity and try to forget it. It's hard to forget the ink that covers every freaking appendage, though. I feel sorry for self-loathers like him sometimes, and hope he gets happy enough someday to regret his form of self-mutilation.
He and co-tattooed David Clinger (who unfortunately abandoned the laser surgery that was supposed to remove the ink that molests his whole face and head) look like youngsters when you're close enough to see past their ink inflictions. And they both seemed like nice guys.

Clinger before

Clinger after.
Who would you rather look like?

As gaudy as the tats are, their wearers were incongruously inconspicuous once the races started. You tend to get overlooked when HealthNet and Bissell eat you lunch and dinner and have your women in every race.

Michael Ball proclaimed that his Rock Racing philosophy would be "Win or be fired." Looks like he's going to do a LOT of firing. Rock Racing was a complete non-factor in one of the biggest stage races on the NRC calendar.

- JN

Monday, June 16, 2008

Twins are Hot!

MANKATO, Minn. -- You can't believe Kristen Armstrong until you see her race -- and even then, she leaves you dumbstruck by dominance that has probably never been seen in American bike racing.

From what I saw at the Nature Valley Grand Prix this weekend, no other woman could beat Armstrong unless Armstrong lets her. Not Tina Pic. Not the Europeans. No one.

Her unrelated namesake, Lance, was one of the all-time greats, of course. But he raced with the greatest teams ever assembled. She effectively races alone. If Armstrong raced alone, even at the height of his greatness, he couldn't have dominated like Kristen does -- not even against the domestic peloton.

To analogize in local terms -- and with all due respect to the rest of the pro female peloton -- Kristen Armstrong against the rest of the pro women is like Paul Martin racing in a men's Cat 3 field in Ohio.

Or maybe like Kristen Armstrong racing in a men's Cat 3 field in Ohio.

The whupping she imposed on the other women in the time-trial stage on Friday would've ruined the whole stage race if the organizers hadn't wadded up the rules in order to keep more than a few women racing.

The officials threw out the time cut instead of throwing out the 60-plus women who failed to finish within 120% of Armstrong's time. But with two stages left that favored power climbers, Anderson had already ended the race for GC. The time trial was short (about 6 miles) and mostly flat until the final 1/2 mile or so. That little aberration, though, comprised a climb comparable to Old Mill Road on Deca-Durabolin -- a 20% grade with three switchbacks and no place to relax.

Armstrong won by 47 seconds. Think about that: She put 8 seconds per mile into them.

The officials' leniency didn't matter, ultimately. The other women who would've been excised from the rest of the stages wound up watching from the cheap seats anyway on Saturday. Well, actually, they didn't: When Armstrong dropped the hammer, she was quickly out of sight, quite literally.

The women had already suffered through 80 miles of spirit-crushing crosswinds when they rolled in to Mankato in a tight bunch. Given the choice, most would've probably opted for another 80 miles of wind rather than what awaited them there: Four laps around a 4-mile circuit cursed with an inhumane mile-long climb at an average grade of 14 percent.

The emphasis is on "average": three flat intersections skew the number downward. Most of the wall -- including the last 300 yards -- is probably closer to 18-20 percent. The intersections are way too narrow to give a rider a break, but wide enough to dilute the grade number, and wide enough to cruelly crack a rhythm climber's steady pace. The top half is so steep that it hurt my knees to jog DOWN it, and I had to be careful not to pitch forward into the pavement.

The men, who came through an hour earlier, were climbing it at a walking pace, and a couple of the sprinters were zig-zagging from curb to curb like little kids.

This photo will give you a hint, but not a clear indication, because the sunlit bottom of the hill is obliterated by overexposure in this cell-phone shot. The folks down there were mere flecks when seen from the top.



The women were together for the last time when they hit the start-finish at the bottom of that hill. Then Armstrong looked like something at the Cleveland Air Show. She broke their legs and rode away like she was on an escalator and her competition was riding up a mountain of dirty laundry.

Re-read this post from the top to this point a couple times; the time it'll take you to do that would approximate the gap she built in that one-mile climb.

The bad news for the rest of the peloton was that three more trips up that hill were to follow, and all of the riders had to finish in order to race in Sunday's last stage to scramble for the scraps of second and third place. In the end, Armstrong had put a few more minutes -- and a few more bullets into the field.

***

On the men's side, HealthNet-Maxxis proved itself the full-team equivalent of Kristen Armstrong. Bissell's Ben Jacques-Maynes started the 95-mile stage with about a 45-second lead, and it evaporated when the men hit the 4-lap end circuit. HNM beat everyone into submission by then, and Rory Sutherland gradually inched away from Jacques-Maynes with each successive suffering up the wall.

But Kirk O'Bee and Jelly Belly's Nic Reistad know who to respect:


video


***

ST. PAUL -- Well, it turns out that the Twin Cities aren't perfect after all: I saw a few potholes yesterday.

Actually, I saw six, maybe seven -- in 460 miles of driving over three days.

Here where the temperatures reach 30 below (that's minus-144 Celsius, I think), and the freeze-thaw cycles are even more violent than Cleveland's, the pavement looks like Disneyland's. It's almost creepy, in the way a wax museum is: The roads bear an unsettling resemblance to what we know is real, but they are utterly unrealistic. It takes all the fun out of driving when you don't get to slalom through Cleveland, shaking like a cell phone on vibrate.

It used to confound me how Latin baseball players, coming from the most decrepit villages in the Dominican etc., would make their living here and then head straight back home to those hovels.

Now I'm not so confounded, because that's how I feel heading back to Cleveland from the Twin Cities.I spent most of my time in St. Paul, in the parts of it that the locals are worried about -- the "bad" parts, as it were. I'd heard, in my pre-trip research, of how these neighborhoods were on the decline and people were panicking.

When I got there, I was sure I must be in the wrong place. I drove for miles through these "troubled" neighborhoods, up and down both main streets and side streets.I saw one boarded-up house. One.

I saw no houses with bars on the doors. And the main street that I'd heard so much hand-wringing about -- all the "boarded-up storefronts" etc. This street was as vibrant as Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, with a lot more ethnic diversity. The "vacant storefront" epidemic comprised about one empty facade out of every 10 or 15.

Its crime rate is almost Disneyesque, too, compared to us. Cleveland has 2.7 murders for every one in St. Paul. The rates of robbery, burglary and vehicle theft there are about half of what Cleveland's are. And I saw only a single panhandler in the entire time I was there -- a guy in a wheelchair with no legs.

To be sure, St. Paul has a lot of ugliness. But it's aesthetic ugliness -- bad 1950s architecture, bad urban design and bad subdivision regulation. There are neighborhoods where ghastly Brook Park-type ranch homes seem to be dropped randomly from the sky. Haphazard lot lines and setbacks, total lack of architectural consistency, garage-centered house designs and general heinous aesthetics dominate more than half of the city. (The other half is idyllic.)

But it's just kind of unsightly, not unsafe.

The city's mayor confided, as politely as he could, that he was taken aback by Cleveland's desolation and the nonstop stream of moochers and bums who descended on him like pigeons. He'd heard about all the cool stuff, he said -- the Rock Hall, the stadiums, the alleged revitalization. By the time his visit last year was done, he implied, he couldn't wait to get out of town and take a shower.

He was almost apologetic to me about his city's comparative health. With some self-consciousness, he acknowledged that his "bad" neighborhoods would be the envy of most major cities."There is no place in this city," he said without boasting, "that I'd be afraid to be in."Here, the converse is almost the rule.

***

I won't even get started on Minneapolis. Long story short: Forget Seattle and Portland. No city has a better balance of cosmopolitan hipness and real liveability than Minneapolis. It is the trendy, cool and urbane twin, compared to its sensible, blue-collar sibling.

Eleven months of winter probably have a lot to do with it, but the cities embrace the outdoors with an almost explosive exuberance. A chain of lakes, each the size of Lakewood or South Euclid, runs through Minneapolis, and beaches and multipurpose trails ring the lakes. On Saturday, thousands upon thousands of people were swarming there -- rollerbladers, cyclists, joggers and walkers.

Windsurfers and sailboaters were all over the lake (even though the winds were intimidatingly high that day). People were just everywhere.

Then I went in town away from those obvious people magnets. It was the same everywhere -- cyclists, skateboarders, joggers and rollerbladers of every size and color.

There were thousands of people on bikes everywhere I looked. The subset of bike commuters alone was bigger than the total of all cyclists in Greater Cleveland, I'm sure. And, for better or worse, the cities have bike lanes all over the place -- especially St. Paul.

Friday, June 13, 2008

"Our" Brooke Wins in Mpls

MINNEAPOLIS - Reluctant semi-Clevelander Brooke Miller won the sprint in today's Minneapolis criterium stage at the Nature Valley Grand Prix, and you read it here first (unless you read it somewhere else before this).

I get to break the news to the folks back home in Cleveland 'cause I'm here in the Twin Cities on bidniss and I was there to watch it -- along with tens of thousands of other people. And Velonews doesn't seem to care about posting live results from domestic races until the intern comes in tomorrow morning to open the email from Neal Rogers (who, I think, used to be either an astronaut or the lead singer for Bad Company).

So I have the scoop. And this one, too: HealthNet-Maxxis put a completely dominating ass-whipping on the men's field to put sprint-points leader Kirk O'Bee first across the line in a close finish.

Both were great races to watch.

Brooke was obviously very stressed out beforehand, as you can see from this less-than-Rick-Adams-quality cell-phone shot:



Brooke told me once last winter that Nature Valley would be a high priority this year. (She probably does not remember that because she, like many other people I met, seems to have no recollection that we have met. And I often don't remember them, so we're even. But I do remember Brooke: We rode together briefly a couple times, and sat and talked over coffee at the Phoenix on Coventry for way over an hour at meeting for my real job. But today, she had no clue who I was when I yelled a pre-race hello and a post-race congrats. One of those out-of-context things, I guess. Or maybe she did remember, and didn't like what emerged from our meeting -- a small bit of work that nonetheless had an audience roughly 15 times larger than anything ever published in Velonews. )

Well, it was pretty clear to me (if not to the oblivious PA announcers) that Brooke was seriously gunning for the win. She wasted no time getting to the front, and just sat there -- 5th to 8th wheel -- while her Tibco teammates attacked off the front. One Tibco gal got a 5-second gap at one point and I told the bike-race newbies next to me what the announcers were ignoring: That Tibco was forcing the other teams to bring back attacks so Brooke could sit in. And sit in she did: Her SRM will show lots of short 0-rpm rests on the home stretch going into turn 1.

When it became clear no one would get away, the race played out exactly as I predicted: Brooke went into the last lap at 5th wheel and sprinted up the right side for the win, by a good margin (2 bike lengths?). Those novice fans looked at me like I predicted the winning lottery numbers -- as though I were the ghost of Jim McKay. Well, hey -- she set herself up perfectly to be there for the sprint, and I knew she would kill to win. Doesn't make me a genius.

The geniuses are on HealthNet. They sat on their asses for about 30 laps, leaving GC leader Ben Jaques-Maynes' Bissell team on the front to control the race and chase down every one of the many attacks (several of which were from a sloppy Rock Racing team). Then, with about 10 laps to go, HealthNet effortlessly moved to the front and set up the train, driving a pace far too brutal for any attacks. Bissell riders were scattered throughout the peloton by then, and it was academic that someone from HN was gonna win. Should've been obvious to me that it would be O'Bee, because he was in the orange sprint-points leader's jersey.

I was not at the finish for the men's because I thought there might be a good pileup in the last corner, so I was near the 200-meter mark to see the sprinters uncoil. Then I saw O'Bee's arms go up. But the PA announcers said he won by no more than a couple inches over Ivan Stevic.
By then it was twilight over the fabulous city of Minneapolis and its beautiful skyline. I walked past a bunch of despondent non-competitive teams -- Kelly Benefit Strategies and Rock among them -- wallowing in misery around their team cars.

Me? I was far from misery. I felt like I used to when I walked out of a big Tribe win at the Jake. Except I wasn't drunk this time.


- JN

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Take Back the Tour, and Take My USAC License

If I could afford digital cable, this would be particularly good news:

Tour de France advertisers are coming back to Versus--but not without some concern.
Gavin Harvey, president of sports cable network Versus, says many advertisers are returning from a year ago, including Hampton Hotels, Saab Motors, Anheuser-Busch and bike manufacturer Cervelo. Some new advertisers include Exxon and Nestle's Power Bar.
For the last several seasons, the Tour de France--the world's biggest bike race--has been hit with a series of drug scandals that have banished top riders from the event before and during the event.
"Our advertisers just wanted information," said Harvey, in talking about TV advertisers' reaction to the scandals. "We told them the ASO (Amaury Sports Organization, owner of the Tour de France) was doing everything necessary."
Versus isn't shying away from the drug controversy. It started up a new marketing campaign called "Take Back the Tour." In one spot, which shows slow-motion video of a long climber through a crowd of fans, the copy on the screen says plainly: "Screw the dopers, the politics, the critics. They ripped the soul out of this race. We're masochists, believers, and it's our time. Take Back the Tour."
Says Harvey: "We are reflecting the anger and passion of our viewers. It can be real good rallying cry."


For the full story, click here.

It's good to know that enthusiasm about bike racing remains strong somewhere, because it doesn't remain strong within me at the moment.
It's pretty clear that I don't have the time or the inclination to devote to the training I'd need to do to compete at my current level. There are so many distractions at the moment that it feels too good to get on a bike right now and just ride to escape the mounting stresses of real life. And with the short- and long-term future of my livelihood in peril, I don't have the money to blow on race fees.
The good news I got today -- my brother's chemo seems to have beaten back his cancer and gotten him back up to a 25-percent chance of survival -- was offset by gloom and paranoia at work and throughout my industry. Revenues keep plummeting, and one in every five of my co-workers will probably be out of work within a year. Those who survive will be working in what is shaping up to be a dismal work environment.
It's just not worth it -- right now anyway -- to suck the relaxation, the de-stressing and the joy out of riding my bike by turning every other ride into a protracted sufferfest. Yet that would be the only way to whip myself back into the shape to contend.
So I'm acknowledging what has become obvious: My racing season is pretty much over. I'll still do Westlake every couple-few weeks, and maybe a couple others. But all those races I'd written in red on the calendar for July and August are getting crossed off.
It's time to put some Zen back into riding.

- JN

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Tacky Way to Beat Ray

Nobody is going to beat Mr. Huang, The Death Ray, at the state TT championship. His competition can, however, keep him from winning by trying this, uh, tack -- tested and proven in New Zealand this past weekend:

A popular bike race along Tamaki Drive has been sabotaged by push pins sprinkled along the route, forcing at least 15 riders out with punctures.

The first of seven races in the annual Auckland Secondary Schools time trials on Auckland's waterfront early on Sunday was marred when an apparently disgruntled resident spread the pins indiscriminately along the 16km out and back course from Teal Park in Mechanics Bay to St Heliers - just minutes after organisers had paid $300 to have any debris swept off the road.

One distraught rider was stunned as he pulled nine tacks out of a tyre.
Racing tyres cost up to $150 each and inner tubes about $15.
[WWHAAA?!?!? - ed.]

The time trials, first raced in the late 1980s, are held with support from the Auckland City Council. They are scheduled for a 6.45am start and finish before 8.30am.

Sunday's race, which attracted 104 teams - up from 40 10 years ago - was over by 8.15am despite the mayhem which left some teams one or more riders short at the finish.

Many of the country's best cyclists, including Olympic/world champion Sarah Ulmer have had their first taste of competitive racing at the event.

Among the field on Sunday was St Kentigern team captain Myron Simpson, who won silver in the testing four-event omnium at last year's World Junior Championships in Mexico. [Do NOT race in Mexico! See below! - ed.]

With riders reaching speeds of up to 50km/h, a blowout caused by such stupidity could lead to a serious accident as the riders, in teams of four or five, are bunched closely.

"It is mindless and I can't fathom why someone would want to do it," said St [An aside: The English language in New Zealand must be pregnant. It's missing a lot of periods. - ed.] Kentigern director of sport Martin Piaggi. "These kids ride up to 500km a week in training to ride the time trials. They don't go out on Saturday night as they prepare to get up at 5am on a Sunday to race. Then, someone does something like this. I can't fathom it at all. I can't believe someone would stoop to such levels to stop the almost 500 kids who want be involved in their sport rather than go out and cause problems."

Event manager Lara Collins, from ASB College Sport, was flabbergasted by what happened, especially as they had, for the first time, paid an outside contractor to sweep the road to ensure a smooth, and safe, surface.

"Luckily, we got through without a major accident.

"But what could have happened if one or more riders had crashed doesn't bear thinking about."

- JN

Look out for the ...

JimmyNick takes out the frustrations of his crappy season on the rest of the Cat 4 peloton. The dopers are at left.

Actually, this picture is exactly what it looks like. Happened in Matamoros, Mexico (just across the border from Brownsville, Texas, for those of us with Catholic-school geographical skills) on Sunday morning. It seems driver Jesse Campos, 29, was high on coke. But that never caused any of my coke-abusing friends -- there were a lot of them many years ago -- to drive into a curb, let alone a field of bike racers. Something else is going on ...

By the way: I heard a Summit Freewheelers rider tried to attack the field just after the photo.

Lo siento. Solo un chiste, amigo.

- JN