Monday, June 15, 2015

The skills to win the uphills.

Pete seems to be enjoying himself again...winning will do that to a guy. Screen grab credit: Some dude
Uphill sprints are some of the most exciting things in cycling. It's the perfect recipe for the most powerful riders in the peloton to showcase their skills and snipe wins from the climbers or true sprinters. These are the stages the rouleurs dream about and Peter Sagan is one of the strongest of these riders. He and Dani Moreno livened things up on the frenetic, twisty uphill finish of the third stage of the Tour de Suisse today. Click the pic for a link to Steephill.TV and a video of the final 14k. 

It's just more evidence that this year's tour is shaping up to be a scorcher for all of the available jersey's. Peter Sagan seems to be letting his riding speak volumes about his desire to stake a claim to yet another green jersey. 

Leogang Best Bits

Connor so close he could taste it, but the miracle on the mountain had other ideas. 
What happend in Leogang this weekend will be the stuff of legend. Aaron Gwin put on a show that defied logic and still has the mountain bike world shaking it's head. Check the link above to watch the best bits from the weekend, from there you can link to the full replay of Gwin's amazing run.

Li'l bike bangin'

Alex Hiam is good at playing bikes. Screen grab credit: Me
Alex Hiam just dropped a scorching set of bangers via Fox MTB. Get 'em while they're hot by clickin' on the pic.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Agony.

Tejay takes solace in holding up a stone wall. Photo Credit: Getty Images Sport
This is the Bicycling Life. You give all you have for over a week in one of the most prestigious cycling tours on the Pro calendar only to have the yellow leaders jersey ripped from your back on the final kilometers of the final climb on the final day of the race. Tejay Van Garderen is not the first to live through this fate, but that doesn't make it any easier. 

The Dauphiné Liberé is on a level bested only by the 3 great grand tours in the hearts and minds of the professional peloton. For 8 days each June it works it's way through the beautiful French countryside incorporating many of the same climbs that feature in Le Tour de France each July. Many of the previous Dauphiné winners have gone on to also wear yellow on the last stage of Le Tour. Tejay had hopes of adding a win here to his palmares which would have easily been the best victory in a career that has been consistently trending upward since he entered the professional ranks. 

He started the day in good shape to do just that. With a lead of 18 seconds on Chris Froome all he had to do was stay in contact with the Team Sky rider's wheel on the Modane-Valfréjus, but the Briton attacked on the days final climb after Wout Poels softened up the peloton with a brutal pace on the lower slopes. Tejay was game and much like yesterday marked Froome better than the other contenders but he lost contact on the steeps and came in 18 seconds behind. That left he and Froome tied on time at 30 hours, 59 minutes and 2 seconds; the Team Sky rider's victory afforded him 10 seconds bonus however - which would prove the deciding factor for victory. 

Froome is the victor on the slopes of the Modane-Valfréjus...and to the victor go the Dauphiné spoils. Photo Credit: ASO
It's Froome's 2nd Dauphiné win in 3 years and bodes well for his chances in this year's edition of the Grand Boucle. It also bodes well for those of us waiting for what looks to be one of the best fields of competition in the Le Tour for years. Froome, Nibali, Contador, Quintana are the favorites but there are a handful of riders like Van Garderen who have high hopes and a real opportunity to crash the party. Let's hope that all of the key players can stay upright and healthy for the length of the tour and provide excitement and intrigue deep into the final week of the race. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

California crux?

Cavendish for the win. Sagan for the win. Alaphilippe for the aspirin. Photo Credit: Some computer controlled camera
On any other Sunday, the big story of this photo would be Mark Cavendish winning easily and coasting to the line with a beautifully casual arms wide out pose. It would be about how he utterly dominated the green jersey competition of the 10th edition of the Tour of California, winning four of the 8 overall stages and all of the flat sprints. It might have even been a little bit about how his victories were slightly hollow due to the true sprint class of the pro peloton being scattered about the globe in a number of other races. But this wasn't any other Sunday and Cav, despite the truly impressive heroics of his past week, will go down as merely a footnote in what was the real story of America's (arguably) best pro road cycling race - Peter Sagan

The week started auspiciously for the affable Slovakian. A hard fought second place to Cavendish in stage one should have been a positive beginning for Sagan especially considering he is not a pure sprinter. However; any positivity to be taken from that finish was shattered when his boss, Mr. Olev Tinkoff (the namesake of the Tinkoff-Saxo team that employs young Peter) decided to take to twitter to light a fire under his star rider's prodigious glutes by calling him out for not winning. Tinkoff was taken to task by much of pro cycling's fandom (many devout Saganites no doubt) who politely and not so politely told him where he might want to put his head and what types of things he might want to put in his mouth. Some said he was merely trying to spark Sagan. Whether he was or not something definitely clicked for the kid and he went on a tear that is not only the story of the cycling year so far, but might just be the moment that the trajectory of everybody's favorite all-arounder's career took a significant turn. 

It has always been my opinion that Peter Sagan was meant to be more than just the best all around rider, or rouleur, or puncheur or green jersey challenger, or the replacement for Jens Voigt as America's favorite european cyclist. I have always felt that with just a small change in disposition and training he could add a bit more climbing ability to balance out his other prolific talents and could be a force to reckon with on some of the premier mid length stage races such as Paris-Nice, Catalunya, Pais Vasco, Romandie et al. Sure the Dauphiné and Suisse tours might be out of reach because of the amount and grade of climbing and I don't seriously see him winning any of the grand tours, but outside of that I think anything is within his reach. After today's amazing finish at the TOC, maybe Sagan feels the same.

Sagan dry heaving after a superhuman effort on the face of Mt. those beautiful shoes! - 
Today's excitement doesn't happen without Sagan's incredible effort in yesterday's stage 7 however. On the winding road up the face of Mt. Baldy Sagan put in an effort that few would have believed possible when he clawed his way up the queen stage of this years race. Not only competing with, but actually defeating some of the best pure climbers in the world to finish 5th at the summit. As expected he gave up the leaders jersey but completely unexpected was the finishing sprint he mustered to close the gap between himself and French phenom Julien Alaphilippe to only a miniscule 2 seconds. That meant with 2 opportunities for time bonuses up for grabs on today's 8th and final stage from Downtown L.A. to the 10 lap finish at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena that he was now arguably the favorite to win his first UCI elite level tour.

As is par for the course with the young Slovakian he made it as exciting and nail biting for his fans as it possibly could have been. With the aforementioned Cavendish working hard at the front to steal bonus seconds from Sagan for his teammate Alaphilippe, it would come down to the finishing sprint on the 10th lap around the iconic stadium before anyone would know who was going to finish on the top step of the podium. Multiple breaks on the circuit kept the pressure on Tinkoff-Saxo to keep Sagan simultaneously in the race and out of trouble. Whether the French neo-pro or Sagan would finish first was not in question, we all knew that Julien would have nothing for Peter in the sprint although he gamely hung tough on the Tinkoff-Saxo rider's wheel for as long as possible. No, the real question was would Sagan finish third or better to gain the needed seconds to wrestle away the top spot of the race for himself. Cavendish and Dutchman Wouter Wippert left no doubt about first and second place and Amercian Tyler Farrar put in a huge effort for his MTB-Qhubeka team and nearly wrote a completely different story that Julien Alaphilippe would have no doubt preferred.

Podium proven. Both Sagan and Alaphilippe showed glimpses of what the future could hold. Henao had to be a little disappointed with his Baldy performance, but can't be too upset about a podium in California. Photo Credit: Some guy with a camera who's name I don't know. 
At the end of the day and the end of the race it was just a centimeter or two that fit multiple fortunes within their length. The reality is that Sagan put on a show for the ages and made the American cycling fans even crazier than they already were for him. He pipped Farrar with a textbook throw of his bars at the perfect time to capture the final spot on the podium and the needed seconds to secure the overall victory. He also helped his boss shove his foot firmly and deeply in his mouth. It's a taste I'm sure the Russian will gladly endure and hopefully he'll take to twitter and interviews with as much praise for his star rider as he did with criticism earlier in the week.

A hearty cheapeau to Etixx Quickstep riders Alaphilippe and Cavendish for amazing performances in their own right. On any other Sunday it would have been quite a celebration for the Belgian team...

...but to day was not any other Sunday. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

La Classicissima di Primavera

San Remo is a beautiful city situated on the Mediterranean coast of northwest Italy. Founded during the Roman empire it is one of the most prized locations on the Italian Riviera. Despite being known as a world renowned luxury travel destination, the city has always played second fiddle (albeit a close second) to the jewel of the French Riviera - Monte Carlo. As such the history of San Remo is dotted with attempts to "catch up" to the Côte d' Azur which sits a mere 50 km to the west. 

The most famous of these attempts resulted in the legendary Casino Municipio, a sprawling art nouveau building which to this day remains the cultural center of the city. Arguably the second most famous attempt resulted in what has become the true beginning of the road cycling classics season and one of the renowned Monuments of cycling. 

It was however, the race that nearly didn't happen. First discussed in 1906, the idea was to create a sporting event that would raise the level of San Remo's stature across all of Europe. A group of select San Remo citizens and businessmen approached the owner of La Gazetto Dello Sport - the country's leading sporting news paper  - about sponsoring a race that would begin in Milan and end in their beloved San Remo. The problem was that another group had tried a similar feat the earlier that very year with an auto rally along a nearly identical route. The 1905 San Remo Rally was an unmitigated disaster with only 2 of the 33 automobiles managing to finish the course over the rough roads covering nearly 300km of the Italian countryside. La Gazetto Dello Sport's co-owner E.C. Castomagna understandably had little faith that cyclists riding the single geared race bikes of modern day 1906 would fare any better on those same roads. He did show the San Remo group a ray of hope, if they could prove that cyclists could make the trip from Milan over the Turchino pass while at the same time organizing funding for the race he would agree to have the paper support the race. 

Luckily for them (and for all of us) another future monument of cycling had been run for the first time the year before. The equally legendary Giro di Lombardia had launched in 1905 with support from the Gazetto group and it's first winner - Giovanni Gerbi (one of the earliest proven cheats in cycling, but that's another story) - was widely known to train on the very roads that would make up the MSR. It was easy to convince Gerbi and a small group of other riders to prove that the race course was valid. They did so later in 1906 and the support from both the city and the paper was confirmed. It was announced at the end of that year that the first ever Milano - San Remo cycling race would be held on April 14th, 1907 and the rest, as they say is history. 

Over the last 108 years the race has taken on the mythical status afforded to all of cycling's monuments. A trip to the top step of the podium in San Remo is all the palmare's a rider needs to consider his career a success. The history of winners is long and elite with names like Christophe, Pélissier, Binda, Olmo, Bartali, Cinelli, Coppi, Poulidor, Van Looy,  Simpson, De Vlaeminck, Fignon, Zabel, Friere, Bettini and of course the great 7 time winner Eddy Merckx. Recent times have seen the race crown such legendary careers as Petacchi, Cavendish and Cancellara and add weight to up and comers such as Ciolek, Gerrans and last year's winner Alexander Kristoff. 

Known affectionately as the "Sprinters Classic" the opportunity for a frenzied group sprint is always there, and has been the large percentage of the race endings over the history of the event. However, there is always the opportunity for a break up the legendary Poggio climb. 

Situated just under 10 km from the finish in San Remo, the Poggio is only 3.7 km long with an average gradient of 3.7% and spikes of over 9%. Being situated so close to the end of the longest one day race on the calendar adds a unique opportunity for the rouleurs and puncheurs of the peloton to put the hammer down and distance the sprinter's teams at the crest and then fly down the descent as they try to hold off the pack for the remaining 2.3 km. Hardmen such as Cancellara, Gilbert, Sagan and Stybar (assuming Cav is no longer in the mix) will no doubt take their chances on this climb and descend with abandon to earn their shot at glory with a smaller group. 

It's an opportunity to place themselves among the immortals of the sport. These are the days that these athletes have dreamed about all of their lives and that fans such as ourselves wait quite impatiently for every spring. The Milan - San Remo rarely, if ever, disappoints and the odds are good that tomorrows 106th edition will provide the the same type of excitement for this generation as it has been for multiple generations over the last century plus.  

The action starts at 2:00 am Pacific time and the earliest live video I'm seeing is showing a go live time of 6:00 am PDT. As always the place to go is: While many of the live feeds remain country restricted, there are always a few that will allow you to witness the beauty of cycling in all it's one day glory. 

Viva la Primavera!!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Morning at the Disco - A video by Andy Bokanev

This is an awesome little video I came a cross via Alps & Andes. It was included in their latest post that is part of an ongoing series about cycling photographers. It's an excellent interview with Mr. Bokanev punctuated with some beautiful photos and the aforementioned video. It's only a quick 1:07 but I guarantee will make you want to get out and ride more than anything else you see today, or this week, or maybe even this month. Take a look and then head over to A&A to see the full interview. I also recommend checking out Andy Bokanev's site as well, where you can pick up a copy of his recently released cyclcross zine. Good stuff. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ziens en bedankt Claude

Claude Criquielion reacts to the cheers of his home country fans as he walks across the finish line in the 1988 world champs
Claude "Claudy" Criquielion (Jan 11, 1957 - Feb 18, 2015) was one of the top classics riders when I fell in love with the sport back in the mid/late 80's. I remember photos of him in every one of my well thumbed issues of Winning magazine. He was one of the many Belgian riders who thrived in the classics during that golden time and reading about their prowess on the cobbles fermented a reverence for Belgium and what it meant and still means to my perception of the world of cycling.

He may be widely remembered for tangling with Steve Bauer and crashing at the finish of the 1988 road world championships (see photo above). Losing out on what was a sure podium spot and possible second rainbow jersey which resulted in anger and a bitter lawsuit which lasted over 3 years (Bauer was ultimately exonerated). 

A look at his palmares however proves that this was only a small part of an amazing cycling career. With victories at some of the most revered races on the calendar: The 1984 world championship, The Tour of Flanders, La Fleche Wallone (twice), Barbantse Pjil, Clasica San Sebastian and multiple podiums in those and other races. Additionally he was a consistent contender in the Tour de France with multiple top ten finishes including a 5th place in the legendary 1986 edition. He was widely known as a gentlemen inside of the peloton and out, but was an aggressive and tactical rider who excelled on the punchy rolling climbs of many of the one day races. 

His one spoken regret was never winning the Leige Bastogne Leige despite placing in the top five in five different editions. Most riders would hold that type of record in a race like the LBL as a crowning accomplishment of their careers, it's a testament to the great racing life he lived that he viewed it in such a negative light. 

Sadly Criquielion suffered a devastating stroke on Monday and never recovered. He remained in a coma and passed away with his family by his side today. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Poor Man’s Roubaix; words by MCD.

My hope since launching The Bicycling Life has always been that the future for this blog would be as a community for all things and all folks cycling related. Not just one cycling nerds point of view on things, but rather as an outlet for a number of like minded individuals to espouse on the world of the bicycle how it relates to them and their lives. As such I am proud to introduce the first contributor to the site that isn't me. MCD is what The Bicycling Life is all about. Good times on and off the bike. Off the bike he is a fine family man who has a clearly visible love for the bike and how it can improve our world. On the bike he is one of the toughest cyclists I have ever had the honor of riding with (or in most cases behind) and I'm excited to share this great post on the site. Enjoy!

The Poor Man’s Roubaix - words by MCD.

Are you a Gravel Grinder?  AnyRoad Adventurer?  Off-Roadie?  Anyone even mildly interested in cycling has probably noticed the recent gain in popularity of riding your road bike off-road.  And of course, the opportunistic bike industry has embraced this new retail category with gusto.  Maybe not as much gusto as fat bikes...but certainly a close, skinnier second.  Off-road specific tires for your on-road specific bike?  Sure!  A new niche is born.  One that opens up your ride possibilities, and is pretty damn fun.

When you were a kid, a bike was just a bike.  And no doubt your nine-year-old-little-self rushed your Mongoose over at least three different types of terrain to claim your spot in front of your buddy’s Atari 2600.  Or maybe your dad followed behind with a two-wheeled quiver in the Family Truckster.  Probably not.  The point is that bikes are way more capable than what we give them credit for most of the time.  And now that you are more mature (in years, at least), you have license to romanticize the fact that you are using a beautiful, elegant tool for a dirty, rough job. 

Now we all know riding your road bike on roads feels pretty nice, and natural.  Hell, the first paved/asphalt roads were built specifically for bicycle use.   But some days, these smooth black ribbons are best used to transport you to those of the less smooth variety.  Thankfully, city planners have bestowed upon us here in Orange County miles and miles of easily accessible dirt trails, gravel maintenance roads, and decomposed granite paths. One of these gems is a section of a lunchtime ride route that my co-workers and I hit up about once a week. Lovely, lovely Hick's Canyon.  This subtle climb meanders towards Portola Parkway, dives into tunnels under major thoroughfares, while bisecting townhome developments flanked by playgrounds and eucalyptus trees. There aren’t any cobbles, but if you squint your eyes slightly, drape your hands on the tops, tuck the elbows in a bit, and pretend it's raining, you can be Roger De Vlaeminck for at least a few minutes.  Cornering on the decomposed granite surface keeps you honest.  The occasional rut begs to be hopped.  Landscapers become your reluctant tifosi as they momentarily cease leaf-blowing. Your less adventurous riding pals can opt for the paved bike path that runs in tandem to this grinder.  Just try not to gloat too much when you all dump out on to Portola, and make the u-turn towards Orchard Hills.

There is an almost childlike feeling of joy and giddiness I get when my 23c tires make the transition from quiet, silky pavement to crunchy, gritty dirt. I'm a little more aware of trail nuances; a little more "light on the bike"; a little more comfortable with two wheel drift.  And I would be lying if I said I didn’t beam a little bit with that weird cyclist pride when other trail users, wheeled or not, do a quick double-take of my choice of conveyance.  Though some of the more anal retentive among us may not be able to admit it publicly, the fine dust patina on your machine that results from visiting this poor man’s Roubaix wears like a badge of courage.

Starting the dirt hurt - Photo Credit: MCD
Hovering, Dutch style - Photo credit: MCD

Pedaling through a planned paradise - Photo Credit: MCD

Riding Trail - Photo Credit: MCD 
Timmy V and Frenchie attacking the DG - Photo Credit: MCD

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Touch the Sky

Inspiration comes in many forms. One of those forms is Alex Zanardi. This video speaks for it self, so I'll let it. Click the pic to link over to Vimeo and enjoy.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Only 2 months to go...

There are many great photos of Eddy Merckx on the podium, but this has always been a favorite of mine. The 1976 edition of the Milano San Remo was his seventh win of the legendary race and you get a sense of confidence in his smile, that he expected to be there but not in a condescending way. It was one of only two wins on the season for him and the last classics win of his career. He did it with a stunning attack a third of the way up the Poggio climb. Pre race favorite and main rival Roger De Vlaeminck was caught out and could only look at others to try to bridge. Only the rising star Jean Luc Vandenbrouke could close the gap but he had nothing for the Molteni star at the sprint. It was not his last victory, but it can be argued that it was his last great win in a career that saw him reach the top step of the podium a mind boggling 525 times. It seems fitting that it happened at one of the most beautiful races on the calendar. Here's hoping that we get another stunner in two months time. The Poggio is back and will no doubt be a deciding factor in who finds themselves hoisting the trophy for 2015's first Monument of the season. I can't wait.  

Never not summer.

Bikinis and bikes seem to go together somehow. So Cal's current winter heat wave (82 degrees today) had us remembering some classic examples of this phenomenon. Enjoy!