Monday, May 27, 2013

It's not about the bike...

Not today anyway. The third word in the tagline of The Bicycling life is remember. and that's just what we're going to do today. We're taking a break to honor those heroes who have given the ultimate sacrifice. That includes my Uncle - Adolph Ahumada - who gave his life on the tiny island of Bouganville during WWII. Until I get to meet you on the other side Tio - thanks for giving it all for the rest of us. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ben Cotto Vincenzo!

Congratulations to Vincenzo Nibali on his victory in the 2013 Giro d'Italia. His off season training was calculated for success in the Giro and it paid off tremendously. His performances in the mountains were expected as he is widely known as one of the premier climbers in the peloton today, but his fantastic turns in the 2 individual time trials were where his work really showed. He was in a class all his own and his performance in the near blizzard up Tre cime di Laverado on stage 20 will going down in Italian history...the tifosi I'm sure are hoping this is just the beginning of his dominance. 

Vincenzo has now entered the rare space occupied by multiple grand tour winners (his win in the 2010 Vuelta a Espana being his other) with only victory in July's Tour de France currently eluding his grasp. He is well aware of that fact and I'm sure has designs on exactly how to go about attaining it in just over 6 weeks. The battle with Team Sky (who may be battling with itself) has a chance to be epic. 

I've always liked Nibali as a fan, and was rooting for him to break the Sky trains recent dominance in grand tours and other stage races. Watching him get emotional on stage and hearing his remarks about he and other "young riders with strong ethics" in the peloton today gives me hope that his performance was clean and that there are more riders today like him than like Danilo DiLuca. Time will only tell, and for now I'll continue to believe that he is what he says he is and not paint him with too broad a brush, despite him riding for one of the shadiest teams in the peloton today. 

Well done Vincenzo!

Update: Nibbles has decided not to contest the 2013 edition of Le Tour, so the chance for him to seal the deal on the Grand Tour triple crown will have to wait until 2014.


Tre Cime di Laverado - 24 May, 2013. Photo credit: Manual for Speed
Shot looking towards the finish of yesterdays stage 20 in the Giro d'Italia. No words needed.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Manual for speed is one of the best road racing sites currently on the world wide net web (IMHO). They take an entirely different approach to cycling coverage that moves well past the traditional style of focusing on the teams, riders, tactics etc. They bring to life the broader experience of the pro peloton and their fans, and that is what really sets them apart. 

Their coverage of Stage 19 of Il Giro is a perfect example. They took a stage that didn't even happen and turned it into one of the more interesting cycling posts I've seen in a while. Take a look for yourself, I think you'll enjoy - you can find it here.

Friday, May 24, 2013

They don't make them like they used to...

Hard to tell if it's a piece of rope or a section of inner tube... but does it really matter? He has a broken clavicle for cryin' out loud!
Enough of the bad news coming from Italy this morning. Let's take a trip back to the days when men were men and Fiorenzo Magni was arguably the manliest of them all. This is one of the famous photos taken at the 1956 Giro that cemented his place as one of cycling's greatest hardmen. 

On that years 12th stage Magni crashed and broke his clavicle. At the hospital that night he refused to have his shoulder casted as it would have ended his race, instead he had them wrap it in an elastic bandage and he was at the start line the next morning. Because he could not hold the handlebars effectively, he Macgyvered a fix in which he tied a piece of inner tube (or rope depending on which report you believe) to his handlebars which he then held with his teeth to allow him to maintain upward pressure on the bars without having to use the full strength of his shoulder. What the?

In addition to all of his Giro heroics, he was one of the greatest classics riders of his day. He was only the second non Belgian rider to win the Tour of Flanders, and to this day is the only rider (of any nationality) to have won it 3 times in a row. He was affectionately know as the "Tuscan Flandrien" thanks to these feats. 
Then, on stage 16 disaster struck again. Because of his broken collar bone he could not effectively operate his brakes or hold the bars and on a descent overshot a corner and landed in a ditch, further damaging his clavicle and also breaking his humerus. Legend has it that he passed out from the pain and was being loaded into an ambulance when he awoke, and upon realizing what was happening; demanded to be released, got back on his bike and rejoined the peloton which had waited for him. Later that evening he refused to have x-rays taken because he did not want to know how badly he was injured, for fear that he may not want to continue. 

The story continues 4 days later on stage 20. Widely considered one of the hardest single days of racing in Giro history, a winter snowstorm dumped snow, sleet and rain on the four categorized climbs on the route from Merano-Trento to Bondone, causing some 60 riders to abandon. Charly Gaul made his legendary break and went from 16 minutes in arrears to the lead and ultimately the overall win in the tour, but who do you suppose was second? That's right. Fiorenzo Magni finished only 3 minutes and 20 seconds behind Gaul, confirming his second place in both the days stage and the overall race; but also first place in the hearts and minds of many who believe he was the toughest man to ever race a bike.

I've read before that Magni was also a boxer, and the shape of his nose would seem to support that , but I wonder - was he a racer who boxed? Or a Boxer who raced? Seems like he could probably do serious damage either way. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The sadness of suspicion.

Vincenzo Nibali's performance in stage 18 of this years Giro was fantastic. The individual time trial course was 20.6k through the hills east of Lake Garda in Northern Italy that ended with a nice little 8 degree sting on the top of the climb up to Polsa. Nibali's victory was in very little doubt after the first time check and he celebrated a not incredibly overwhelming, but very solid win which devastated any lingering hopes that Cadel Evans or Rigoberto Uran Uran may have had to displace him at the top of the podium. 

It was a victory which - based on his personal history - should rightfully be celebrated as a victory that cements his position in the top echelon of competitors in the peloton today. Should he maintain his current 4 plus minute lead all the way to Brescia he will sit squarely on the top shelf next to Froome, Contador, Wiggins, JRod, et al. as the creme de la creme of the current stage racing crop. Sadly though, in this day and age when you couple his dominating performance so far in this years Giro with his move to an Astana team still tainted by their dope filled recent past I simply cannot ward off the voices that well up in the back of my mind. 

As I watched the race unfold I couldn't help but wish that he would not win this stage, that he would do enough to keep the maglia rosa, but to falter slightly and show that he was not that much stronger than the rest of the field, because we have more often then not seen what that means in modern road racing. It is a nagging feeling that gnaws at your perception of the beauty of this sport. That chips away at the veneer of passion and perfection that we who love cycling paint it with. I want so badly to believe that this peloton is clean, that these riders whom my son is learning to idolize as athletes have a conscience and a biological passport clean enough to warrant his adoration. 

I will give Vincenzo the benefit of the doubt, but so long as he chooses to ride for teams and directors that refuse to acknowledge their connection to the stain that is doping I'll have a hard time going all in as a supporter. The sadness of suspicion is a true emotion understood by today's cycling fan, and we can only hope that those in position to affect change do everything they can to clean up what should be the most beautiful sport in the world. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Passo Dello Stelvio

2727. 1540. 36. These numbers are very meaningful if you are Italian. No, they are not Sophia Lorens measurements, or the number of women Silvio Berlusconi has cheated on his wives with (well that one might be close...). This is real data that commands the respect and sometimes fear of every member of the pro peloton. These are the stats for the legendary Passo Dello Stelvio

This beautiful print was designed by the fine folks at Le Rouleur Lent and can be purchased here in the states at those purveyors of all things cycling cool: Gage and Desoto

At 2727 meters it is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps. Its vertical climb of 1540 meters has an average gradient of 7.7% with sections going deep into the teens. Its 36 hairpin bends have afforded it the title of "best driving road in Europe" on more than one occasion. To say that Giro stages involving the Stelvio tend to be epic would be an understatement. Since it's first inclusion in the race in 1953 it has been host to some of the most memorable moments in Giro (and cycling) history. 

Fausto Coppi attacking on the Stelvio in its first appearance in 1953. He went on to win his 5th and final victory in the Giro that year.

Because of its geographical location and its elevation it is often still buried in snow by the time the Giro comes rolling around. Countless images of snow banks 3 to 4 meters high along the side of the road can be found on the interwebs, and this years edition will be no exception:

Screen grab of the live webcam at the summit of the Stelvio from May 22, 2013 - 12:00 pm local time. 
Stage 19 of the 2013 Giro is going to be another epic day of racing. Not only is the Stelvio showcased, but it is bookended by the Passo Gavia at the start (another post worthy mountain) and a brutal mountain top finish on the Val Martello Marteltal. 

Some feel that the Giro winner has already been decided for this year but with a stage like this anything is possible... 

Will Vincenzo put his stamp on this years race and send the Tifosi into orbit as the latest example of the Italian domination of their prized national tour?

Will Cadel muster up some of that classic diesel fuel and grind his way to victory and add a second grand tour to his palmares?

What of the Colombian Uran? Can he add his name to the long list of Escarabajos who are revered as national heroes in their home country? 

I have no idea what will happen on Friday, except to say that it will be great and will further push the argument that Il Giro, and not Le Tour is the greatest stage race in the world. 

Racing starts bright and early Friday morning... get over to, find a link that works and doesn't take you to some shady site for russian brides, and then sit back and enjoy the fireworks. 

UPDATE: 05.23.13 5:42 pm - Just learned that both the Gavia and the Stelvio have been removed from this years stage 19 of the Giro. While I applaud the organizers commitment to the safety of the riders I can't help but be a little sad that we won't be able to see the spectacle that the Stelvio would have provided. Doesn't mean it won't be a great stage though, they have added the Passo Castrin in it's place and it will still finish on the Martello Martelltal (most likely in some foul weather), but it won't be what it would have had the grandeur of the Stelvio been a part.

UPDATE 2: 05.24.13 5:01 am - Woke up this morning to learn that the entire stage has now been cancelled completely. Also learned that Danilo Di Luca has returned a positive result for EPO in an out of competition doping control carried out on April 29th. Talk about adding insult to injury. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013



Veldrijden, or "field riding" in Flemish is the historical term for Cyclocross in Belgium and much of Europe. It is one of the earliest forms of bicycle racing with the first national championship race held in France in 1902. The Dutch speaking region of northern Belgium known as Flanders was especially taken by the sport. Belgium held it's first national championship in 1910 and to this day remains the heart and soul of the sport, with over 40% of the world championship races going to Belgian riders (the great Erik De Vlaeminck won 7 of them himself).

History notes that the discipline initially started as a way for road racers to stay fit in the winter offseason. These loosely organized events were point to point affairs, usually from one town or city to the next where riding through fields, portaging the bike over walls and fences, and hiking through streams were all par for the course. Some of the earliest races were called Steeplechases because as with the running races of the same name, the only clear point of direction were the church steeples in each town. 

Cyclocross is widely recognized as one of the hardest forms of bicycle racing and its heroes and champions are legendary for their ability to race at 100% for a solid hour through the hardest terrain in weather more suitable for cross country ski racing than cycling. It's a discipline of cycling that is not for the faint of heart, and is definitely an acquired taste. As such, cyclocross fans tend to be as hearty as the racers themselves, and watching them can be nearly as enjoyable as watching the racing itself. 

The growth of cyclocross has reached a fever pitch here in the U.S. over the last couple of years. Dozens of regional racing series have cropped up and more and more UCI sanctioned events are happening every year. This year, for the first time in history, the UCI world championships made their way to American soil and brought out the craziest and toughest cycling fans the U.S. has to offer. I was not there myself, but from what I have seen, read and heard those who were there more than held their own as a fan base and sent our international visitors home with a new found respect for the support of cyclocross on this side of the pond. TIme will only tell, and one can only hope, that it won't take another half century to get a world cup race back here. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pivotal moments.

Many of my earliest memories are tied in some way to bicycling. I still remember learning to ride down the sidewalk of my neighborhood. My older brothers taking turns pushing me and running along side of me until I turned into our neighbors lawn and fell down on the soft grass. Another early memory is watching my brother play daredevil and over shoot the landing of our wooden ramps by about 15 feet and end up in the planter next door. The image of him high in the air flying over our neighbors driveway is forever etched into my memory. 

Another very important memory of my youth which had a lasting impact on my love for the bike had nothing to do with me or anyone I knew actually riding a bike. In fact it happend while sitting in a seat in the balcony of the Senator Theater in Chico California. We were on a family vacation, visiting my oldest sister, her kids and my cousins in the summer of 1982 which just happened to be the year that E.T. was released. It was the first time that I had ever gone to the movies without adult supervision, my older cousin was in charge. It was a feeling of freedom and adventure that I had never known. 

That added to the importance of this day, but it was a scene in the movie that really made this event special in my life. I wouldn't realize how important it was until later, but all I knew in that moment was that I wanted to go and ride my bike - badly. Of course I'm talking about the penultimate scene of the film where the boys and their friends have hatched a plan to get E.T. back to his ship and they set out on their Kuwahara BMX bikes to get him there. The scene ends with the very famous images of the boys riding their bikes into the sky as E.T. momentarily gives them the gift of flight and allows them to escape. 

That is one of the most famous scenes in movie history. It helped E.T. go on to be one of the highest grossing films of all time. To this day the image of the silhouette of Elliot and E.T. flying over the trees is one that evokes great memories for millions of fans as the most important moment of the film... but not for me. For me it was the moments before they fly that caught my eye, and my imagination. The shot where the camera is rolling left in tandem with the bikes (1:18 in the embedded clip) as they jump down the graded embankments of the empty construction sites was a revelation. Those few seconds made me see riding a bike in a whole new light, and to this day, every time I see a construction site with those graded inclines cascading down a hillside, I think of that scene, of that day, of that moment and I want to ride my bike - badly

Friday, May 17, 2013

This guy.

Hardman. It's a title that conjures up images of some of the greats of cycling. Names like Kelly, DeVlaeminck, Thieunisse, Magni, Hinault, Tchmil, Duclos Lassale, of course Merckx and many others . They made their claims to fame taming the roads of the worlds greatest races. It wasn't just the fact that they won so many races, but rather how they won them. They raced with a ferocity and brutality that simply overwhelmed their opponents. They cared little about tactics and positioning and didn't ride wheels. They simply rode harder and longer than the rest of the peloton could. Their palmares are unmatched, their legends cemented in cycling lore, their names will never be forgotten. 

In the next couple of years we'll most likely see the end to the career of a rider that will no doubt be included on the list of the greatest hardmen. His name is Jens Voigt (pronounced "Yêns Vōt"), and today, at the ripe old age of 41, he pulled off yet another amazing, attack filled victory in the Tour of California. It was vintage Jensy. Sprint up a slight incline with 5k to go and then head down and no looking back until you're within a few meters of the finish. Nothing fancy, just pure grit and determination with nothing left to give as you pass the line. 

As I watched the live feed of him sitting on the ground trying to catch his breath, I waited for it. I knew it was coming. First a hand shake and hug from his soigner, the glasses come off, a little help with his helmet strap and then there it is... that big goofy smile that betrays the beast of a rider that lives inside his heart. He is the quintessential hardman of this era of cyclists, and his name is (in his words) mother ****ing Jens Voigt.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Kelly's Guns.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words...well I don't know about that, but this photo is worth at least one - power. That is the word that comes to mind when I see it, these legs laid down power like few before or after. They pedaled their way from Waterford Ireland to wins at monumental races like Paris - Roubaix, Milano - San Remo, Il Giro di Lombardia, La Vuelta and many others. Few can claim the palmares and the enduring respect that Sean Kelly can. I'm guessing even today, at 56, these legs are primed and ready to bring the pain like few others can...with or without the duct taped shoes.

Welcome to The Bicycling Life.

Hampsten and Roche - two of the more graceful cyclist you will ever find. 
5 Reasons Why He’s Andy Hampsten And You’re Not | PAVED Magazine
So my first ever blog post isn't really my blog post. It's just a link from Paved magazine about one of my favorite cyclists of all time, the incomparable Mr.Andrew Hampsten. I figure there are few better ways to kick off a blog about cycling than with one of the purest examples of souplesse to ever grace a pair of pedals.

Welcome to The Bicycling Life.

Every word I ever write on this page is for Elijah...and for all of the rides we'll never get to share...on this earth.