Cycling really hasn’t changed much in 26 years.

Here are two photos taken 26 years apart just moments before the start of a race. Note the similarities:

The most obvious is Ray, the subject of the photos. He’s still on the same team, and he’s still racing the Pro-1-2. And still starting near the back despite his own advice to start on the front line.

(He’s the guy I reference on p.161 of Reading the Race. Go read it now.)

RAYAGAIN

The scary-weird not-so-obvious similarities in this photo:
1. Someone’s helmet near Ray’s right ear.
2. The rider standing in the same pose with his right leg up and his right hand on his saddle.
3. The rider just to the right of Ray with his right arm extended.
4. The back of a rider on the far right.

Yeah, it’s not the most groundbreaking blog post, but curious nonetheless.

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online:

VeloPress.com
Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookstore

 

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Old School meets New School. Old school wins.

I said I had more to say about the Herman Miller Brickyard Criterium in Grand Rapids, and here it is. Make of it what you will.

As you should have read in the previous post, Bissell-ABG had a rider ‘up the road’ with a good-sized lead. They also had a posse at the front of the field mucking up any chase efforts.

At one point, the other teams got their collective shit together, went to the front, took over the first seven spots, and began a concerted and organized chase effort. The gap started to fall.

So now, at this point, if you’re on the Bissell-ABG team, what do you do? Do you…
A. go up to the front and actively/forcibly get in their way? Or…
B. sit in and allow the other teams to work without interruption?

And if you choose Option A, how active/forced do you get?

Opinions vary. I think the answer comes down to which school you come from: Old School or New School.

Classic old school tactics would have Bissell-ABG riders going to the front throwing elbows and jabbing their brakes to intimidate the other teams. They would pinch riders into the curb to slow them down. They would get verbally abusive. They would take scary lines through the turns to discourage other riders from overtaking them.

That’s what Eddie B. taught us. That’s what everyone did back in the day. It was considered normal. Ask Jonas. Ask Thurlow. Ask Frankie.

(I remember a time when the rider next to me reached over and squeezed my brake lever to slow me down. I won’t name names.)
(I remember a time when a rider grabbed my jersey as I started to accelerate to chase his teammate.)
(I remember having a rider stick his shoulder into my ribs and push me off the road when I tried to pass.)

More modern tactics (not necessarily New School) would see Bissell-ABG mixing things up at the front of the pack. Not in a physical way, but in a passive “get-in-the-way” way, which is what B-ABG was doing until the other teams took over control of the front.

But something changed about the time that Lance Armstrong was “winning” his 7 Tours de France. In a nutshell, more people watched the Tour on TV, got interested in racing, took notes while watching the Tour, and then brought those tactics to an American bike race.

Today’s generation of bike racers thinks Eddie B is just a lame store at the outlet mall.

In the TdF, there is no ‘blocking’ to speak of. When it’s time to reel in the breakaway, the sprinters’ teams go to the front and bring back the breakaway unimpeded by blocking tactics. The breakaway riders’ teams get out of the way and give the chasers a free reign at the front.

That’s what these New School cretins have brought to American criteriums: the lameness of Eddie Bauer.

Well, it became an issue in Grand Rapids when Bissell-ABG decided to get a little more assertive in their blocking efforts. They moved to the front, barged into the line, bumped a few elbows, and made a lot of riders angry.

The other teams felt that since they had control of the front, Bissell-ABG should back off. (This was actually verbalized by a rider later.)

Things got argy bargy after that. Riders began chopping each other and brake checking each other. It was awesome. Even the spectators noticed what was going on. It was old school.

For a minute there, I thought I caught a whiff of wool.

Things finally settled down. No one got hurt in the exchanges. But there was a decided rift between the two styles of riding and which one was thought to be more acceptable.

And of course, we can blame Lance. For making cycling popular and therefore influencing the modern bike racer with a kinder and gentler set of tactics. Or maybe we can just blame society, come to think of it.

My advice to new riders is to go find a quiet grassy area in a shady park somewhere, ride back and forth together, and beat the hell out of each other until you are completely unfazed by bodily contact.

It’s going to happen; there are a lot of Old School guys still racing their bikes.

To learn more drills and skills, there’s a book I want you to read…

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online:

VeloPress.com
Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookstore

The Most Exciting Race (that nobody saw)

West Branch Road Race, West Branch, Michigan  June 15th

You know those volunteers who drive the wheel truck at small road races? They ride behind the main pack all day waiting for someone to get a flat tire so that they can dig through the tangle of wheels in the bed of their truck to hopefully find the right one. Well, I was that driver for this race because I’m trying to see the sport from as many angles as possible. And that means doing some of the thankless jobs that we leave to unknown volunteers who never get thanked but without them we’d have no races.

The course is, in a word, national caliber. OK, that’s two words. Here are a couple more: Hard. Brutal. And somewhat scenic. Hills and wind that would grind the pack down to a nub.  We’re doing 4 laps of this meat-grinder 22-mile loop.

The Pro-1-2- field was small. Only 18 riders signed up for this race, so the odds of me seeing any wheel-changing action was pretty small. As it turns out, I didn’t change one wheel all day. Instead, I sat alone in the truck playing Maynard Ferguson really loudly. But I saw awesome racing.

I’ll try to keep this from rambling, but there’s a lot of nuance in what I saw:

We lost a handful of riders on the first lap, so the field was down to about 14. On the second lap, five more riders fell off the pace on one hard climb (Campbell Road). When they lost enough ground, I passed them and continued to stay with the leaders. The rule in driving follow vehicles like this is “Follow the money”, so because today’s prize list pays to 10 places, I needed to stay with the riders who are in contention for prizes. I watched in my rearview mirror as the small group fell further and further behind. I could feel their pain. With fewer numbers they would be fighting a losing battle in this wind on these hills.

Meanwhile, the racing continue at the front of the field. Two riders broke away. Two more riders were chasing. The field was struggling in the wind, but they were still fighting. So you have a picture of this, we have a lead group of two, a chase group of two, and the main field is now five riders. 9/10s of the prize money are in front of me. Far behind me, the chasers were fighting for 10th place.

Looking in my rearview mirror, I could occasionally catch a glimpse of the small group behind. Amazingly, they were hanging on at the same distance to the rear: roughly a minute. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. For the entire 3rd lap, they were still within sight.

Nuance: Every now and then, out of curiosity, some of the riders in the main field took a look over their shoulder to see if anyone was catching back up. This is an interesting sign of respect. They aren’t counting out those who got dropped. Mainly because one is Adam McClounie, a very strong Canadian rider, and Ben Whitehead, a very strong Grand Rapids rider. It was strange to see them get dropped.

But whenever a rider looked over their shoulder, they did it at a time when trees or terrain hid the chasers from sight. Because of the hilly terrain, there were places where you could look behind and see 3 miles of empty roadway. But not ALL of the roadway.  It was a game of peek-a-boo taking place for the entire 3rd lap. Eventually, the riders in the main field forgot about it and stopped looking over their shoulder. Bad idea.

The chasers were gaining.

With less than a lap to go, the main field was slowing down. Almost imperceivably, but it was obvious that they were pooped. And the chasers kept coming. They had been languishing at more than a minute behind as mere specks in the distance, but they had never quit. When we made the turn onto Campbell Road for the last time, the gap was down to 30 seconds. Campbell Road was into a fierce headwind. Campbell Road is hilly. We were going 12mph.

With about 8 miles to go, the chase group of four had been whittled down to just two riders: Adam and Ben. They had been chasing for almost 50 miles. For what? 9th place? Yep. 9th freakin’ place. Don’t you love that?

15 seconds.

10 seconds.

Oh man, I thought, are these guys going to be totally shocked when they get caught. They haven’t looked over their shoulder in more than an hour.

I pulled off to the side of the road to let Adam and Ben pass me. Adam smiled as they rolled by.

The reaction was priceless among the main field. It was Double-take City, and these guys were running for Mayor.

Now we have seven riders in contention for six remaining ‘paying’ places. I could see that every one of the riders in this group was fighting off cramps. When they rotated to the back of the group, I watched as they each shook, rubbed, stretched, and coaxed their legs out of sight from the others. On the final brutal climb, they sorted everything out. The fresher guys went to the fore. The dead guys struggled.

The two riders who chased for more than half the race finished in 9th and 10th place. I don’t know how much money they won for that gargantuan effort. But that’s clearly not the point. They could have easily ridden out the last half of that race at an easy pace, but they raced the whole damn race. If I were them, I would frame the check and hang it somewhere in their house. The reminder is more important than the gas they could buy with it.

I’m sorry you didn’t get to see that epic battle taking place in the back of the Pro-1-2 field.

Maybe you should volunteer to drive the wheel truck sometime.

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online:

Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookstore
TriSports
VeloGear

Cycling Is Not the Worst Spectator Sport

The question was raised: Is Cycling the Worst Spectator Sport in the World?

In that article, the author missed the point entirely, of course. They always do. But who has time to explain it to him? And would he listen, anyway?

In that article, he laments having spent hours waiting by the road for the Whoosh to go by.  He also asks the popular ‘Why would anyone ever get on a bike – when there are cars, buses and trams?’ He also goes into great detail about how unpleasant the act of riding a bike is.

He’s wrong, of course. Horribly. And I’m only going to address one aspect of his wrongesse: the part about waiting for hours for a 47-second blur.
Dude, the anticipation is the event. The blur is the exclamation mark.

When the entire town of Dawson, GA (population 5,058) turned out to watch the Tour de Georgia roll through their village, that was the point. Not for them to watch the tactics of racing. Not for them to see the then-famous and then-revered Lance goddam Armstrong. It was all designed to bring them out of their houses for a few hours, let them mingle with their neighbors, buy hot dogs from the Rotary Club, spend a few dollars in their convenience stores, make a sign that reads, “go USA”, wave the flag of their home country, and then feel the slow build of anticipation for the 30 minutes prior to the arrival of the first rider, and MAYBE pick up a packet of Jelly Bellys (depending on how many fell out of the Mobile PA car on its way through town).

That’s the event. That’s what an Amgen Tour of California can do that an NHL game can’t.

The NBA will never play a game in Silverton, Colorado. I doubt any NFL superstar will ever visit Woodland, CA. But the people of those towns shared a moment when the guy who won the Tour de France rode down their Main Street.

Whoosh.

So the answer is no. Cycling isn’t the worst spectator sport in the world.

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online:

Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookstore
TriSports
VeloGear

Why USA Cycling Should Add a Team Competition to Nationals

Today, the U.S. held their National Cycling Championship Road Races in Chattanooga, TN. It’s a pretty big thing. The winner receives the prestigious title of National Champion along with the stars-and-stripes jersey that they’ll wear for one year. Forever after, they’ll carry that title with them in one form or another. For instance, only a national champion can adorn their jersey with any form of stars and stripes. If you look at the collars or sleeves of a former national champion, you’ll see this distinctive mark.

But they don’t win it alone. Cycling is a team sport.

In both races today (both men’s and women’s), team tactics were beautifully employed by both the winning teams and the losing teams. Obviously, the winning teams’ were employed a little more beautifully, but that’s not my point.

Teammates in both races turned themselves inside out for their team leaders. They chased, blocked, attacked, paced, sat on, reeled in, and worked like dogs to put their ‘leader’ in the proper position to win the race. (I place single quotation marks around ‘leader’ because it’s a nebulous title, a role that changes during the course of the race. It’s not etched in stone.) By doing so, they gave up their own chances of winning the prestigious title for themselves. For all their work, they get … essentially… nothing.

But if ours is truly a team sport, then it’s kind of silly that we don’t award the championship to the entire team. That the guy who spent his last pedal stroke to close the gap between the breakaway and his team leader gets nothing more than a party tonight and a hearty handshake. That the woman who turned her own legs to fire to hold onto the wheel of a competitor so that her teammate could ride easy wears no token on her jersey next year.

It also makes it hard to explain to the common spectator that cycling is a team sport when they watch the Olympics and see only one rider get the gold medal in the Road Race.

We should change it.

Whomever rides on the winning team should also be on the podium. They should get a medal. They should also get stars and bars on their jersey. They should also be allowed to wear some sort of designation on their jersey for the rest of their career.

Starting yesterday.

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online:

Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookstore
TriSports
VeloGear

I Feel So Used: Cycling Photography, the Mobile PA, and Test Shots

While driving the Mobile PA at all of America’s big tours, I’ve always wondered why the photographers shoot my caravan vehicle as I pass by, yet I almost never see the end result. They never post those photos on Facegunk or Twizzler. I’m about a minute in front of the lead riders. There’s usually no one around me except maybe a CHP car or the media cars. It’s really not that scenic. And yet they always aim their cameras and squeeze off a few rounds like snipers.  Here’s the example:Image

Scroll down.

That’s me in the silver Murano with the speakers on top. And now I know why they shoot me from their secluded hilltops, bridge overpasses, and rocky outcroppings. We’re just a test rabbit for the real photo that’s coming down the road behind us.

I should have known!

Here’s the Amgen email announcing the latest news.

Same photographer: Eibhir  Same scene: 30 seconds later.

Image

It’s a weird kind of fame, but if it helps them frame the shot, get the focus and exposure, I’ll go with it. There are worse ways to be photographed.

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online:

Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookstore
TriSports
VeloGear

 

The Last Days of Lance Armstrong

He stood in the middle of Kansas with the entire country around him. But then … oops, evidence surfaced….California slipped into the ocean. Followed by more evidence… Maine and New Hampshire dropped off the map. And then more evidence. There goes Oregon. Then Florida. As more and more facts surfaced, the country that elevated him fell away. Today, Lance has nothing. Or in this analogy, he is standing on a rock where Kansas used to be. Lance Armstrong denied using performance enhancing drugs to win his seven Tours de France. We all watched the fabric unravel. We saw the mountain of evidence, and we now know that he was the kingpin of an extensive organized crime ring involving the governing body, sponsors, trainers, and a cast of thousands.

It could have been different. Lance could have come clean right from the start when the first serious allegations came out. It would have saved all of this trouble from happening. America forgives and forgets very easily. He could have avoided all this. Instead, the Texan in him – the brashness that drew attention to him in the first place – dug in his heals and held his ground – fooled into believing that the people he bullied would remain silent, and that those who feared his powerful wrath would leave him alone. He was also fooled into believing that the fortress he had built around him would hold back the advancing mob. Had he come clean immediately, his entire persona would have been elevated further. He would have been made the patron saint of forgiveness. And we would have moved on.

It could have been altogether different.

As outlined in David Walsh’s book ‘From Lance to Landis’, Armstrong’s ego couldn’t take losing to European farm boys. He had dominated the American scene as a clean rider, but when he made the jump to European racing, he got has ass handed to him. That’s when “the program” began in earnest. Lance emerged as a Tour contender in 1999, one year after the Festina Affair, a drug scandal involving a French team at the TdF. Lance came along as a cancer survivor with the personality and panache of a Bernard Hinault, and the UCI saw the opportunity to present a new and cleaner image to the world. ‘Look what we have done. We have entered a new era in sport. We have a new hero.’   Now we’re learning that the reality was completely foul. The drug problem was made worse than ever. Lance, quickly capitalizing financially on his ‘success’ and the popularity of his cause, suddenly had the means to become the mob boss of cycling.

It should have been different.

Maybe I’m an idiot who still believes in honesty, but it seems to me that if I had super powers (other than my sense of humor and my Tortilla Soup recipe), I would use them for good not evil. Lance’s super powers are his intense personality, fearlessness, and his amazing athletic ability. He could have used them for good. Instead of going to the dark side and delving into the drug world, why didn’t he use his brashness, fearlessness, cockiness, and powerful riding to destroy the Omerta from within? Demand that they race clean. Call them out. Challenge them. Change the world.

If anyone could have done it, it was the Lance freakin’ Armstrong that I knew before the drugs. He was a superior athlete with an ass whoopin’ personality. That’s a Texan that we could all respect. I saw it with my own eyes almost every weekend as an announcer in 1991-92-93. He was a specimen of confidence and heart. He despised losing. He did amazing things on the bike to prevent it. He took shit from no one. He was awesome.

Instead, he took the lowest road possible and drove it to the end of the earth.

The problem here isn’t a question about simply using drugs. He has railroaded innocent people, ruined careers, shattered opportunities, squashed dreams, stolen monies, and generally f***ed everything up for an entire sport.

And it didn’t have to be that way.

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online:

Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookstore
TriSports
VeloGear