Friday, 30 December 2011

2011 - The Year That Was

It has been a massive year for Australian cycling, both internationally and in the domestic scene. In my last post for the year I thought I would offer some statistics that really put the years events into perspective:
  • Of the 26 UCI World Ranked events, 5 of them were won by Australians
  • Cadel Evans became the first Australian to win the Tour de France. His wins at the Tirenno-Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie helped him to finish 2nd on the UCI world rankings, beaten only by Phillipe Gilbert (who had an outstanding season)
  • In terms of country rankings in the UCI World Tour, Australia placed fourth (this is calculated by adding the individual points of a country's top five riders). This is a massive achievement, Australia finished ahead of many cycling powerhouses such as America, France, Britain and Germany
  • At the World Championships Matthew Goss placed second, narrowly missing first place from Mark Cavendish. This means that in the last three years Australia has taken home 1st (Cadel Evans 2009), 3rd (Allan Davis 2010) and 2nd (Matthew Goss 2011). Never before has Australia experienced a time of such continued success on the world stage. 
  • Australia lead the final medal tally at the 2011 UCI Track World Championships, taking home 8 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze
  • Interest in cycling in Australia has boomed. The Tour de France gave SBS its highest viewer ratings of the year, in total, 5.37 million viewers tuned into watch the Tour De France nationally, up 33 per cent on 2010 which saw 4.03 million viewers tune in
  • Over 1.2 million bikes were sold in Australia, outstripping car sales again
  • The National Cycling Participation Survey found out that this year, more than 4 million people ride a bike each week, with Victoria the most active cycling state boasting 1.08 million weekly rides. 
This is just a snapshot of the situation in 2011, I'm sure I could easily triple the size of this list if I did a little more research! I know that womens professional cycling, our elite mountain bikers and our professional riders on the Aussie pro tour have all had bumper seasons also.

I look forward to following cycling, in all its different shapes and forms, in 2012 - and then writing about it! I also look forward to attempting to conquer my own cycling goals for 2012, which include competing in a mountain bike 24hour and winning a club road race! I also look forward to some new bike purchases which will hopefully take my riding to a new level. Happy New Years All!  

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Green Edge Gets The Green Light

Australians will be cheering their very own cycling team during the 2012 UCI World Tour! Aussie entrepreneur and long-time cycling supporter, Gerry Ryan, and his right-hand man, Shayne Bannan, first conceived of an Australian team a few years ago, and now, after much planning and paperwork, their new team, GreenEdge, has been granted UCI World Tour status, which aside from everything else, gives the team automatic entry to the 2012 Tour de France.  

There has been talk of an Australian international cycling team for many years and there has even been a failed attempt, but according to everything I've read and seen, this is the real-deal. As we all know, teams can come and go very quickly, just look at HTC Highroad, so GreenEdge in it's current form, wont be around forever. It will change and evolve, obtain new sponsors and lose old ones, but two things we can be sure of is that they are the first Aussie team to be granted such a license, and that they will be a force to reckon with in 2012!

So far, the team looks to be set up very well. There is a state of the art training base in Italy, and their equipment looks top-notch, being provided by high profile sponsor Scott. Other major sponsors, SMS Santini, will be providing the team kit, and Subaru - the team cars.

And lets not forget the most important thing - the riders! I joined the GreenEdge email mailing list many months ago to keep up to date with their progress, so I was well informed of all of their signings as the media releases trickled out. With their finalised list of 30 riders being released in early December, it was clear to see that they have some real depth - with a sprinkling of star talent. This i not a team that will be contesting for Grand Tour victory any time soon - but team management have acknowledged that. It seems their focus for now will be the one-day races, and picking up as many victories as possible with their strong sprinters. Matt Goss, Allan Davis, Leigh Howard, Robbie McEwan etc. will surely bring them some early success.

Two major signings were Australian sprint legend Robbie McEwan and everyone's favourite, Stuart O'Grady. These guys will bring a wealth of knowledge to the young team. And it's great for them too, both have stated in interviews that riding in an Australian team was a dream of theirs, and now it is a dream that will be fulfilled in the twilight of their career.

The early support is palpable. As we all know - Australian cycling is growing enormously and all of the new fans that the sport picked up through Cadel's victory will now have a team to focus their support on. And their will be no shortage of support - the GreenEdge website crashed the day they made their memberships available!

The team will make their debut in the coming days at the Bay Criterium Classic, where they are sure to pick up some significant placings. I for one will be happy to be there on the sidelines to support our new team and to check out the new kit - witch will be unveiled for the Classic!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Book Reviews

Bill Strickland – Tour de Lance

Ok, I know I’m a bit late with this one, but I only recently finished reading it. According to the big bold letters on the front of the book, Tour de Lance is ‘The extraordinary story of Lance Armstrong’s fight to reclaim the Tour de France”. This is a bit of an exaggeration, it should have read ‘ Tour de Lance – An interesting account of the first year of Lance Armstrong’s return to international level competitive cycling’.

And indeed, it is interesting. Bill Strickland writes well – he should considering the fact he has edited one of the worlds most widely read cycling magazine (Bicycling) for many years. Bill gives an honest and, at times, heartfelt assessment of the return – and all of the factors surrounding the return (the training, the doping claims, the reasons for the comeback, the failure to win his eighth Tour,  and the people surrounding Lance that had an impact).

Lance is Bill’s hero, he makes no secret of this, he doesn’t want him to fail, he doesn’t want him to come back for the wrong reasons and he doesn’t want him to break his perfect record of seven TdF victories. Lance does fail, he does come back for questionable reasons, and he did break his perfect record by coming third in the 2009 TdF. Bills assessment of all of this is a fascinating read albeit if, at times, he sounds like a kid who has grown up and suddenly found out their childhood hero is flawed.  

The fight against cancer gets a big mention. The great work that the Livestrong foundation does and the hope that Lance gives to survivors and grieving family members is a recurring theme. Bill does this well – he speaks with everyone at races, from hardcore fans to hangers on who know nothing about the sport of cycling except for the name Lance. These encounters make you realize the far reaching impact of Lances work – both on and off the bike.

The doping also gets a big mention, how could it not? You can’t write a book about Lance Armstrong without devoting a large chunk of it to the allegations that have dogged Lance for the last 13 years. Bill remains impartial, but offers a good summary of the situation as it stood at the end of 2009. It is interesting to note that the since the release of Tour de Lance, Bill has officially jumped the fence and joined the long list of those who believe he is a cheat – I think the statements by all-round good guy George Hincapie were enough to sway him. I wonder if this admission has ended the friendship?!

For me, perhaps the most enjoyable aspects of this novel were the few pages here and there where Bill gets sidetracked. During his 25 years career he has amassed a formidable knowledge of international cycling competition and its main protagonists. As a cycling fan I found these little diversions entertaining, particularly the three-page account of the romantic tragedy that was the life of cycling legend Fausto Coppi, and the tales of some of the TdF’s most famous Lanterne Rouge’s who fought for the honour of last place. Concerning last place Bill writes the following – a quote I will not soon forget:
In the Tour de France, you can’t coast into last place; you have to tear yourself apart for the honour.   
 I liked this book – this is a pretty glowing review, I must admit. I never have been much of a critic. It is yet another novel about Lance Armstrong - one of our sports most interesting characters – but one that should perhaps sit closer to the top of the pile. 4 out of 5 stars!

Elizabeth Kreutz – Comeback 2.0 Up Close and Personal

During the 2009 season, the comeback season of Lance Armstrong, Lance gave unrestricted access to photographer Elizabeth Kreutz, to visually document his comeback. It’s a similar story to Bill Strickland and Tour de Lance really.

This is pretty much like every other sport coffee table book – minimal text and really beautiful pictures. It would be hard to stuff one of these up! The introduction by Lance is interesting and he offers captions for almost all the images, which is great for context.

You have to wonder if he had a big hand in the compilation of the book as it is strategically put together; it has Lance in training, Lance racing, Lance with celebrities, Lance campaigning for cancer and Lance speaking with government officials (there’s even a pic with K Rudd!). I guess it is a side effect of Lance’s spectacular, tumultuous and controversial career that we now question the motivations behind everything he does. 

I like Lance Armstrong, I think he is one of the biggest names in cycling, and international cycling would not be the same without him. Honestly, I think he probably did cheat, but it still takes an incredible athlete to achieve what he did (doper or not). I am a fan. Therefore, I enjoyed this book, and any fan would. It was particularly great to flip through it whilst reading Tour de Lance, as it provides the visuals for Bill Strickland’s account of the 2009 comeback. Again, 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Made in Australia? I Wish!

So I’m approaching that time that all bike enthusiasts day-dream about every day – the time to purchase a new bike. I have been making do on my aluminum frame Fuji for a long time, racing and training on the same bike, and it’s time to take the plunge and spend some serious money on a carbon frame. Hopefully it’ll make go a little faster!

I’ve been doing a lot of research to ensure I get something that is going to tick all the boxes – or as many of them as possible. One of the biggest boxes that I’d really like to tick is to buy Australian.

Manufacturing in this country is sadly dying. Our car industry has been downsized, many Ford plants have shut their doors, the textile industry is non-existent, even classic Aussie brands like Bonds have now gone offshore. Pretty much everything we buy these days has a Made in China label on it. And, this is now true for the cycling industry too.

The cycling market is dominated by the large Asian brands (Giant being one of the biggest – centered in Taiwan). However, what is interesting is that ownership of many of the big name cycling brands is still spread out throughout U.S.A., Europe, and the U.K.. Even though the parts and frames are manufactured and distributed in Asia, ownership of the brand has remained in the country of origin; for example, Trek remains an American stalwart, Bianchi, Colnago, De Rosa and Cinelli are still Italian owned, and Gitane remains French.

What’s my point? Cyclists living in Canada, America, Europe, Britain, and all over Asia can support home-grown brands – yet Aussies have no option.

The concept of a transportation machine consisting of two wheels put in line was pioneered by an eccentric German named Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbronn, who in 1817 created a prototype that consisted of two wooden wheels connected by a wooden bench that the rider straddled. In its current form, the bike has been around since 1885, when Bianchi pioneered the use of equal sized wheels and rubber tyres. So why, 126 years later, does a big name Australian-owned bicycle company not exist?

I can hear you screaming – “what about Malvern Star?” Well friends, Malvern Star, a great Aussie brand started on Glenferrie Road in Melbourne in 1902, became a wholly owned New Zealand brand as of 1 September 2011, when Pacific Brands sold it to the New Zealand based Sheppard Group.

So what do I do, frankly, I would love to buy a Malvern Star. Their new range competes with any of the big European or American brands, and I love the history associated with Malvern Star – their links to Aussie cycling legend Sir Hubert Opperman and I work on Glenferrie Road – not far from the brands humble beginnings back in 1902. But is this iconic Australian brand, now owned by the sheep-shaggers across the Tasman my only choice?

I’m aware of a few humble operations like Baum, that concentrate on bespoke frames and client specific set ups – but this is not a solution for the cash strapped enthusiast. These bikes are for those who consider the cost as irrelevant.

As an Australian, acutely aware of the downward spiral our manufacturing sector is riding at the moment, I want to buy Australian. I want to support an Australian company. And I’m astounded that there aren’t many options out there. I suspect that this situation has arisen because the cost of a wholly owned, manufactured and distributed Aussie bike brand is too expensive – because of high taxes, rates, wages etc. etc. And if this is correct – it is a sad state of affairs indeed.

Am I right? Are there other bike brands I’ve missed? What do you think I should do? Comment below!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Cycling Games

Many of you will remember the great little film a NYC resident named Casey Neistat made about his encounter with the NYPD who berated and then fined him for not cycling in the bike lane (which was blocked!).

Here it is if you haven’t see it:

Casey also has another little film about running:

I really love this film, I can relate to it. I run sometimes to vary my training but mostly, I cycle, and when I do I play the same sort of games in my head, I’m sure we all do. So I’m going to steal Casey’s idea and transpose it for me, and my cycling.

I love to cycle, to race, to commute, to train, to ride single track in the quiet bush, just me and the dirt and the trees. But before I ride, the games start in my head.

Is the weather ok? What is the wind doing? It's Melbourne, it's always windy. Have I got enough time? Is it worth it? Should I spend more time at home?

Housework. Friends. Fiancée. TV. Those jobs around the house that aren't going to finish themselves. Those unwashed dishes, that un-vacuumed floor.

What do I have to do today? Can I rock up in Lycra? Should I take a change of clothes? Will I be able to grab a shower? Will I be stinky? Can I fit everything I need in my back pockets?

How do I feel? Is my knee ok? Has yesterday's headache gone? That pain in my thigh - what is that? Do I feel strong? Do I feel fast?

Which bike? Is the bike ok? Is it clean, oiled, tight, stiff? Is it 100%?

And then I ride, and the real games begin...

How far will I go? Where will I go? Can I go further, faster, higher than yesterday, than last week, than ever before?

Catch that guy, pass those girls, hold that wheel, give that guy a spell. Roll a turn. Should I stick in this Peloton? That guy's fat - go around him. What's that smell? Man that's bad BO - go around him - quickly!

How fast can I get to work today? Can I beat yesterday's time? Have I got enough water? Have I got enough food? Gels, bars, fruit, nuts, jelly babies. Urrggh! I'm getting a burger after this!

How many kilometre's have I done? How many pedal revolutions have I done? What's my altitude? What's my power output? What's my heart rate? Is it too high? Is it too low?

Damn this rain. Why is the wind blowing? Why is it always a headwind? I hate you wind! I will not let you get to me. It's cold. It's hot. It's early. It's late.
How fast am I going? Can I go faster? Can I hold 35kph? The PRO's do an average of 40kph. How do they do that? Will I ever do that?

What's that bike? What's that jersey? My bike is better than that. That bike is awesome, I want it. My bike sux. No it doesn't.

Is my bike running ok? What's that noise? Why is the chain slipping? Which gear? Watch the road. Watch that pothole!

This hill never ends. This mountain is steep. My legs are screaming. Don't stop now. Just a bit further and I'm at the summit. Don't stop. Shut up legs. SHUT UP LEGS.

What's that car doing? Has she seen me? Are they turning? Where's the indicator? Red light. Green light. Amber - ride faster, I can make it!

It's time to race. Can I get a place today? Can I win? The pace is slow, should I try a breakaway? The pace is high, can I hold this? Should I sit at the back? What if i miss a break? Should I take a turn at the front? What if I crash and burn?

These are the games I play. The thoughts that run around in my head. In the end it all doesn't really matter - as long as I ride.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Random Acts of Snotting

Why do I have to be concerned about being sprayed in the face with bodily fluids when I go riding? More than a few times I've ended up with a face full of snot from the rider in front of me.

So what can I do, not much really I guess. The last guy that sprayed me with his discarded nasal fluid copped a verbal spray and then ate my dust.

But I shouldn't have been showered in snot in the first place!

When you want to blow your nose pull out a tissue from your back pocket - best solution. BUT, I know we all want to be PRO and imitate that thumb to nostril style professional cyclists do so well. I found it actually has a name ‘snot rocket’, go on follow the link and read all about it, if you can stomach it that is.

I also found this blog post that goes into much deeper detail about the causes, origins and idiosyncrasies of the snot rocket. I can’t write that much about it. My weak stomach is turning enough as it is. And here’s a pic of the action, sneakily appropriated from the ‘Mira Mesa Cycling Club Blog’ thanks be to them whoever they are!

So this is my plea – I know we cyclists don’t tend to carry around handkerchiefs, therefore, if you need to blow your nose, first take a look around and most importantly, behind you, and make sure it’s safe to do so. If it’s not safe drop to the back of the pack and ‘snot rocket’ to you hearts content. These suggestions go for spitting too!

We already are embarrassing enough with our loud lycra and our sweat – we don’t need to make things worse by spraying unwanted bodily fluids over each other!

That’s it - my pointers for on-road etiquette that I post here in the hope that we put an end to random acts of snotting.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Have charity events hijacked our sport?

The exponential growth of cycling in Australia has been undeniable. Cycling shops are springing up everywhere, the trails are busier, the club and Cycling Australia races have high levels of participation, and commuting by bike is becoming a recognised form of transport that a large proportion of Australians use daily to get to and from work. In short, more people are cycling more often. Along with this I have noticed the introduction of many new cycling charity rides.

I'm sure you have noticed it too. We've all seen the flyers and the ads online and in cycling magazines. You know the standard tag line: 'Get on your bike, get fit, get active, and raise money for (insert random charity name here)'. I've ridden a few of them in my time and I'm sure you have too.

Now, I'm not against charities and I'm not against public philanthropy for a good cause. In fact I think there needs to be more of it in Australia, we are lagging behind other countries (like the U.S.) in the public philanthropy stakes. There are certain charities close to my heart, and if I see a charity ride in their aid I'll happily fork out the cash.

I just find it hard to ignore the economic aspects of these events.

Essentially these events are money making activities, often not just for the charity. There are many organisations involved (commercial and non-profits) that have financial vested interests in these events; event organisation companies, public bodies and corporate sponsors - they all have a stake in the success or failure of any charity ride, and sometimes we are talking big money.

Some of the rides are even advertised on TV. TV advertising is very expensive, I should know, I work in Marcomms. Organisations do not outlay that sort of money for advertising unless the potential profits are sizable.

So - profits need to big (to ensure the charity is well looked after), plus event coordination costs need to be covered, then there's road-closure and event marshalling costs and advertising costs, and I'm sure there's other costs I am unaware of. All of this ads up and someone has to cover it, corporate sponsorship only goes so far.

Registration fees are where the bulk of the funds come from. Registration fees that cycling enthusiasts pay - to do a ride that, on any other day of the year, they could do for free. And these registration fees aren't cheap. For example, last weekend, you had the choice of four different charity rides. If you were to register for the longest ride option for all four of these events you would be up for $300 in fees. And most of the time there's not a lot in it for the cyclists as these events are not races sanctioned by CA, therefore there are no prizes for placings.

I'm concerned that we as cyclists are being taken advantage of with these sometimes expensive events. Do charities and event organisation companies see cyclists as cash cows? Are the $150 - $200 registration fees really justified? Perhaps they are just trying to cash in on the rapidly burgeoning popularity of our sport?

Don't think I am against raising money for good causes - it's not about that. Personally I think you have to make your own judgement call with these events. Obviously you can't compete in all of them, so you just do the ones that either interest you because of the route, or interest you because you support the charity involved. I think the Amy Gillett Foundation do a fantastic job and I am therefore happy to participate in at least one of their charity rides per year.

This is a phenomenon that is unique to our sport, apart from perhaps running, there are no other sports that feature so heavily in fundraising ventures - this fact in itself inspires debate. What are your thoughts? Comment below.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Friday Time Waster

Great video I caught recently from one of the many bike email lists I subscribe to, and I just had to re-post.

Watch it, get inspired, and use it to push you along as you head out this weekend!

Ride hard, or ride home. 

PUSH PULL from Landis Fields on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Guest Post: Riding in the SRAM Support Car

Last Saturday, Rob - a friend, was given the unique opportunity of riding in the SRAM car as the Jayco Herald Sun Tour made its way around the Mornington Peninsula. Thanks Rob for giving us this insight into the fast-paced world of support vehicles.

Words: Robert Merkel 

I wish I could tell you about my ringside viewing of the battle of Arthur's Seat. Haas and Bobridge trading blows, while up ahead Silin took his first pro stage win.

But that would be a fib. One brief glimpse out the rear window near the bottom of the climb - that's all I got. I didn't see the riders again until I jumped out of the car at the finish line. Nor did our friendly mechanics have any mechanical incidents to deal with; so I can't tell you just how fast they can change a wheel.

Nonetheless, it was a fascinating few minutes in the neutral support vehicle.

The first thing you notice when you jump in the car - after it stopped for all of a millisecond to pick us up - is that it's a busy, busy workplace. Race radio is constantly nattering away. "All back together". "112, 63, and 47 off the front". "Jerseys in the bunch". "Moto 2, follow the break". The driver listens carefully for any instructions to reposition himself, while the mechanic in the back seat is constantly noting down who's in the breakaway in the course "mocka" - a very detailed description of the route provided by the organizers. While we were able to have a brief chat at times, working in a support vehicle is certainly no holiday. It was clear that our hosts were pretty tired after four days of doing this.

I was interested to see how the neutral support car managed the profusion of possibly incompatible wheel standards. There's two different cassette standards (Campy and Shimano/SRAM), and two different types of braking surfaces (carbon and aluminium) that the neutral support car might have to deal with. If you think that's bad, a couple of years ago there would have also been Campy 10 speed to deal with, making six possible combinations!

To simplify this, the support car used older-style Zipp (owned by SRAM) clincher wheels with aluminium braking tracks, and borrowed a wheelset from the one team in the race using Campagnolo. Even so, the car was completely full of spare wheels; I had a rear wheel sitting on my lap. Disc brakes, if they ever bring them in for road bikes, are going to make things even more complicated!

While you see it on television and you get a bit of a sense if you descend yourself, it's still a shock just how fast the convoy has to drive to keep with (or ahead) of the pros on descents. The cars and drivers get a real workout at times, and it's a testament to the professionalism and experience of the drivers that there are so few accidents.

I've helped out backstage at a few amateur theatre events, and the parallels are clear. While it's the stars that make the show, without the dedication and skill of a lot of people doing their jobs properly, the stars won't get their chance. I'm very grateful to see how it's all done, even if, on the surface, not a lot happened.

I should also add that my prize included a very high-quality collection of loot from SRAM, including an Apex conversion kit. This rear derailleur lets you fit a mountain bike 11-32 cassette to a SRAM-equipped road bike, giving the kind of gearing that makes climbs like Mount Baw Baw or the Dargo hill doable without the expense and inconvenience of fitting a triple crank. I just wish Shimano made a similar derailleur for their road range.

Thanks to CyclingTips and SRAM for organizing this excellent prize.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Jayco Herald Sun Tour Wrap

The UCI sanctioned Jayco Herald Sun Tour concluded on Lygon Street on Sunday with young Aussie amateur, Nathan Haas taking out the overall top spot. It was a hard fought race, completed in some pretty tough conditions, I don't think any of the five days was wind or rain free. As tends to happen in short stage races, the attacks were frequent and hard-hitting.

Stage one was won by Rhys Pollock who, along with a select group of other riders, were able to get away from the pack by a significant margin, making the battle for yellow restricted to a small group of about six riders.

Stage two was taken out by virtual unknown Janse Van Rensburg Reinardt, and the beautiful stage three (which meandered its way along the Great Ocean Road, taking a similar route to the 2XU Great Ocean Classic), was won by the big German, who has thighs the size of watermelons, Marcel Kittel.

Saturday was the day we were all looking forward to - the Queens Stage, a 131.6 km route around the Mornington Peninsula, which incorporated three ascents of the short but tough Arthurs Seat. I rode down to the race and took up a position in 'Bay 13', the best place on hill for channelling Tour de France, Mont Ventoux fandom. Well done Rapha and CyclingTips for creating such a great vibe on the climb. We even had our own devil, a fireman and a telletubby to put a smile on the riders faces, which was probably lost pretty quickly with the sight of two men in mankini's running along side them! The stage was taken out by Egor Silin from Russian Pro team Katusha - but more importantly, Nathan Haas rode himself inside out to take out second and put himself into the yellow jersey, just ahead of Jack Bobridge. He said afterward that he "felt a whole new level of pain" on Arthurs Seat to put himself in the box seat.    

It was a windy, eclectic day on Sunday for the final leg - a criterium around the streets of Carlton. Despite the fact that Victoria's and perhaps Australia's biggest cycling event was held on the same day, the Around The Bay in a Day, there were massive crowds out on Lygon street to witness Marcel Kittel adding to his already overflowing trophy cabinet for 2011 by taking the line honours, and Haas taking the overall (as well as the green points classification jersey and the white young riders jersey!).

This win has skyrocketed Haas into the vision of the big Pro teams and I'm sure we'll learn of a new contract for the young Aussie soon enough. The final presentation was great - Haas spoke well and thanked the Genesys team for their hard work, and it was a who's who of Australian cycling, with all the SBS Cycling Central team there (Matty Keenan, Sophie Smith and Anthony Tan) and Gerry Ryan, Australian cycling stalwart and owner of the new GreenEdge international cycling team, making an appearance on the stage. The only downer was Jack Bobridge, who denied Haas's offer of a swig of champagne on the podium, and just couldn't hide the disappointment of coming second!

Check out some photos of the race below - and post a comment to voice your thoughts on the weeks racing.

Tanny! Anthony Tan from SBS Cycling Central

Wesley Sulzberger

Legends of Aussie cycling - Matty Lloyd and Adam Hansen

Jack Bobridge

Nathan Haas

The peloton comes around Bay 13 corner

The finish line on the top of Arthurs Seat

Egor Silin as he cruises to a stage four victory

Haas and Bobridge as they fight for second place on the fourth stage

An exhausted Rhys Pollock knows he's lost yellow as he finishes on Arthurs Seat

Egor Silin being awarded the stage victory

Finishing time of Silin was actually 3:20; pretty fast all things considered

Haas celebrates taking yellow

Fast cornering on Rathdowne Street

Heading up Rathdowne Street

Janse Van Rensburg Reinardt flies onto Lygon Street

Alexander Serov from Russia - I think!

The finish line on Lygon Street

Matty Keenan interviews Gerry Ryan

Marcel Kittel celebrates his stage win

Janse Van Rensburg Reinardt takes out the Most Aggressive Rider jersey

Luke Davison takes the King of the Mountain jersey

Genesys Wealth Advisors Team takes out the teams clasification

Haas celebrates his victory

(Left to Right) Jonas Aaen Jörgensen (3rd), Nathan Haas (1st), Jack Bobridge (2nd)

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Cycling Sux

When you ride a bike more than 200 kms a week, when you race, when you commute daily, or when you are clocking up kms training, cycling becomes a whole lot more than a leisurely activity that you do on the weekend to de-stress or a great way to make the most of a beautiful summers day. Cycling can take over, it can consume, it becomes part of your life, it can be expensive and it can give you the shits!

Take this morning for example. I jumped on the bike at 7:45 am to arrive at work at about 8:45 am, to give me just enough time to shower and eat some breakfast before starting work at my desk. This is how a normal morning plays out; but not today. I got my first puncture at 8:20 am, repaired the wheel with my one spare tube, got a second puncture at 8:45 am, walked to the nearest bike shop to buy a puncture repair kit to repair the first tube, changed the tube, got my third puncture at 9:30 am, repaired the second tube, changed the tyre again, got my fourth puncture at 10:00 am, decided to cut my losses and walk to a train station, arrived at work at 10:50 - nearly 2 hours late.

Now this is extreme, I know; it doesn't happen regularly, maybe once a year you'll have a morning like this, but when it does happen - it really get to you! So much that you'll probably want to go and write a blog post about how annoyed you are ;) Days like these make you wanna pick up your bike and throw it on the tram tracks to let the 5 tonne beast do its worst! In this case there's obviously an issue with the wheel or the tyre that I was unable to locate and I'll now have to go about the process of finding and fixing the problem over the next few days - which will no doubt cost money.

Which leads me to the next issue - the constant expenses. Just when you think you have all you need, something on your bike fails or you lose something and you need to replace it, or, you get suckered into the constant cycle of upgrades and gear improvements. And then when you do buy, you have the dilemma of whether to buy online or support your local bike shop (LBS). It's a tough one, if you buy online you can make massive savings, but you risk high postage costs and purchasing ill-fitting or faulty products. If you buy from your LBS you risk being ripped off but you get the interpersonal service that web shopping lacks.

At a race last week I lost a pair of cycling sunglasses, so I went and purchased a new pair of North Wave cycling sunnies from a bike shop in St Kilda for $90, only to find them on the web for $52 (with cheap shipping) only a few hours later. It doesn't feel good to be ripped off to the tune of almost $40, but what feels worse is the constant spending. Only a few weeks ago I had my stem and my bottom bracket replaced and fitted for nearly $400, in a few weeks time I'm due for a couple of new tyres which will be another $100, and I just bought my 2012 racing license ($214). That's $800 in October alone. And even when all your gear and your bike is sorted, you still have the racing and charity ride costs (if you are into that sort of thing). These events are not cheap, I think registration for this years 'Around the Bay' 210 km option is about $170!

And all that's not the worst of it! What is you ask? It's riding to work through driving rain on a 5 degree morning, getting absolutely soaked and then putting on your wet gear later that evening for the ride home, then having to find a way to dry your soaked shoes for the next days commute. It's riding directly into 80 km p/h winds, barely moving at 10 kms p/h. It's riding in plus 40 degree heat when your water bottles are empty. Cycling in bad weather - that takes the cake.

With 'Ride To Work Day' approaching I probably shouldn't be writing a post like this. I should be talking about all the great things cycling does for us, about how cycling makes you fit and enriches your life. But the above idiosyncrasies are realities, I'm telling it like it is and I'm just scratching the surface here. There's also the countless hours of preparation before and after rides; there's the inevitable crashes and the long recovery downtime; there's the dangers of the road and the everlasting war with inconsiderate drivers and oblivious pedestrians; there's the washing and the cleaning and the tinkering and the fixing; and there's the time spent away from loved ones while you indulge in your passion.

Cycling can suck, it can give me the shits, but I put up with all of the above, I cycle almost every day and I hope to continue doing it for a long time yet. Which means one of two things - I either love it, or I'm completely insane! You decide!

Friday, 30 September 2011

The Manx Missile – New World Champion

It was brilliant to see Mark Canvendish, ‘The Manx Missile’, take out the world championships road race gold medal last Sunday. I have to admit – I am a big fan. I love the way he goes about his cycling. He wears his heart on his sleeve, is a straight talker and never forgets the people who have helped to get him where he is. He has gone through a transformation in recent years, turning himself from a yappy kid to one of the most respected riders in the PRO ranks. He has learnt that sprinters don’t win races without help, and he’s learnt when to be arrogant, and more importantly, when to be humble. And it’s this humble, gifted racer, who speaks with passion that we all like so much.

Cavendish started out his cycling life on the bmx and then moved to mountain biking at 12. Inspired by David Millar, he started winning races and took steps to become a professional cyclist. He began life as a professional on the track, winning gold at the 2005 world championships in the Madison. In 2006 he began his road cycling career, and quickly started earning his reputation as the fastest sprinter in the world. To date, he has won 20 stages at the Tour de France and in the 2011 edition, took home the coveted green jersey which had eluded him in previous years.

As far as the World Championships decider played out, it was a fast and furious race. At 260 km’s, it was a long course and the field went out hard in the beginning, averaging 50km/h for the first hour of racing. Many break aways were reigned in and despite many of the predictions by cycling commentators, it came down to a bunch sprint that initially looked to be controlled by an Aussie train. The push by Cav at the end was not as explosive as normal, but steady. He pushed to the front, as fast as a missile, and made it over the line first, despite a massive effort by Matty Goss, who came VERY close to coming over the top of Cav at the end. I was a happy man – two of my favourite riders placed 1 and 2.

I respect the way Cav races, it takes a lot to come through at the end smash the opposition. Trust me I know, it’s guys like him who beat me in the weekend road races. You can be as strong as you want for 50 or 100 or 200 km’s, but if you don’t have the legs at the end then forget about it. He also brings a flair to the UCI Pro Tour that could be compared to the Armstrong effect. Like Lance, Cav can talk – and it’s stuff you actually want to hear, not the typical dross that AFL or NRL players dish out. And… he has a sensational girlfriend, Page 3 girl, Peta Todd. Nice one Cav!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Perth's city trails

I was in Perth all of last week for business and, as any bike nerd does when away from home, I took great interest in the visible bike culture I could see on Perth's streets and parks. Perth lends itself well to excellent cycling infrastructure - a cashed up city council with mining tax revenue to burn, a relatively flat metropolitan area, a plethora of parks, and well planned inner city streets that are being re-developed to accommodate cyclists.

From what I could tell as I roamed the city, cycling is very popular and the trails are well used. The key (I think) to Perth's cycling infrastructure in the beautiful Swan river, which lends it's banks to a brilliant trail all the way from the city to Fremantle. I didn't get to ride it but hope to some day. For the roadies craving hills there's the climb from the city to Kings Park and I'm told there are some decent climbs not too far out of the city.

Perhaps Perth's biggest cycling advantage is its favourable weather - when I was there it was 27 degrees and blue skies... but alas, I'm now back in Melbourne and I must now jump on the bike and ride home from work, and as a welcome home it looks like it's just about to start raining! Ahhh, Melbourne gotta love it!

Perth from King's Park

Heading into the city

Approaching the bell tower at Barrack st Jetty

Bike trail along the Mitchell Freeway

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Vuelta Wrap

I know I'm a bit late to do a Vueta wrap, but I've gotta write something. It's one of the biggest cycling races in the world... one of the 'Big Three'. But to be honest with you, even if I wanted to do a complete wrap of Spain's premier road stage race - the Vuelta a Espana, I couldn't.

The truth is that it passed me by completely. And it seems I'm not the only one. Everyone I have spoken to, friends and colleagues alike, have said the same thing. They just weren't interested. And many of my most frequented cycling websites have reported the same thing.

It's not like I didn't care at all, I still had to see who picked up the stage wins and I was keen to see if Bradley Wiggins could come back from a smashed collar bone in the Tour de France and take the win, but as for staying up late and watching the SBS coverage - forget it. Thing is... I don't know why.

Did we all have hangovers from one of most engaging TDF's in recent years? Did the lack of the big names have some impact? I mean, who the hell is Cobo anyway? Did the timing of USA Pro Cycling Challenge distract us? Or was it the course? Were the stages uninventive and boring? I know a few people have suggested that the lack of a decisive penultimate stage killed the excitement. And maybe, for us Aussies, it was the late start time of the coverage (11:30pm). That's way past my bedttime on a school night!

Whatever the reason, our lack of interest is a problem for Unipublic, the organising body. At a boom time for international cycling, there shouldn't be such a widespread lack of interest in one of our sports biggest races. The need to make adjustments and tweaks to ensure we are glued to our TV sets. If they cant attract the big names because they are all spent after the TDF - then delay the race a few weeks and offer more incentives for riders and teams. No one want to see the downfall of one of the pillars of cycling.

Anyhow - congratulations to Cobo. If we didn't know who he was before - we certainly do now. And we will all stand up and take notice of him from now on I'm sure! And, like me, he rides a Fuji!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

You Yangs Open For Business

After the devestating floods of last summer the You Yangs regional park, a mecca of mountain biking in Victoria, is open again. I did not see it myself but the summer rains destroyed many of the trails and exposed asbestos. Over $1.5 million worth of re-building has just been completed by Parks Victoria, You Yangs Mountain Bike Club Inc. and many volunteers. Check out the Parks Victoria video below...

I headed there on the weekend with a friend and was blown away by the quality of the new trails. They are fast and flowing and so much fun. The park was packed with mountain bikers of all types and everyone had smiles on their faces, no doubt pumped to be able to hit the trails again.

I'm blown away every time I go mountain biking, it is just about the most fun you can have on two wheels and it's free! This blog tends to focus on road riding, which is what I do most of, but make no bones about it, I was a mountain biker first and am still a mountain biker at heart.

Being pretty average on the bigger jumps and drops I stuck to Cressy's Climb and the Boulder Track most of the day... well, for as long as my legs would get me back up to the top, to get another run in.

If you can go and check the You Yangs out, do it. You wont regret it. And if you are a regular, well... you know what I'm saying. I'll be there as much as possible as the weather starts to get better. It's only about 35 mins from Melbourne CBD, take the Geelong Hwy, and print off a new map of the trails here, before you go.

A = the You Yangs Regional Park

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Melbourne Welcomes Home Cadel!

Today Cadel Evans completed a one kilometre parade down St Kilda Road in Melbourne to be presented to a crowd of 30,000 at Federation Square. It was a triumphant occasion for the star and the crowd, who got the rare opportunity to show their appreciation for his efforts. I made every attempt to get as close as I could to see the great man, but my path was hampered on all side by mothers with prams! Why you would bring a pram into a large crowd I'll never know!

There were a few touches that embodied what a good-natured, humble bloke Cadel is. The acknowledgement of the 20 kids chosen to ride along side him, the extra effort he took to shake as many hands as possible, and the stopping to accept a sprig of wattle a fan passed to him. I saw so many kids around, some sporting custom made BMC jerseys, and some with slogans like 'the next Cadel' accross their chest. It was great to see and I couldn't think of a better role model for these young ones.

After the officials (including the Premier Ted Bailleu and the Melbourne Mayor Robert Doyle) had their say, Cadel was presented with a trophy from the state of Victoria and an enormous yellow jersey, handed down from the crowd.

Disappointingly, the compare and the big wigs couldn't resist an opportunity to talk about football, even on a day that was all about cycling, I counted at least seven references to bloody AFL in their commentary!

Cadel was then given the opportunity to thank the crowd and said a few words, in the form of an interview. He cracked a few jokes and spoke a little about what it was like chasing down Andy Schleck on that fateful day on the Galibier, and how it felt as he ate away at Andy's lead in the final time trial. He lightheartedly joked "none of us are getting any younger" when asked about the future, then went on to hint at plans to go on to defend his title next year.

Personally, it was great to see the man up close and 'Yell For Cadel'. Being a cycling fanatic I relished in the opportunity to see and cheer on the man in person, even if it was from a distance! I'm going to go and nurse my heels now - they copped quite a battering from those prams!
 The massive crowd at Federation Square

 The Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu

 Brilliant! A dog with a yellow jersey!
Cadel's wife Chiara, and his mum

Monday, 1 August 2011

Main Yarra Trail Finally Diversion Free

The Main Yarra Trail diversion in Burnley has finally been removed, to the delight of regular commuters, myself included! The diversion, which has been in place for well over a year was removed last Friday the 29th July. I wrote about the inconvenience this obstruction caused back in mid-March, I never would have thought back then that it would take another four months for the works to end, but it did! The trail was closed for a widening project on the Monash Freeway which flies over the cycle path.

According to what papers you read and who you listen to it seems the project may have been a complete waste of money. The extra lane has not eased congestion and groups such as Bicycle Victoria have argued that the money could have been much more wisely spent, particularly on upgrading cycle paths in the area. The project has finished massively over budget and the blowout has jeopardised other more environmentally friendly initiatives, such as the much needed expansion of Melbourne's public rail network.   

Personally, there's a few things I'll enjoy about the trail being fully open for business:
1. Not getting punctures as I ride through the Burnley underpass
2. Not having people ride into me as they turn the sharp corners of the diversion, and 
3. Not having cars, small children and mums with prams to contend with as I ride through the Allan Bain reserve!

This may in fact mark the end of the dark days of neglect by local governments! Cadel's win has brought the issue of cycling infrastructure and safety into the public limelight and cycling in Australia is bound to experience a post - Tour de France boom. Our infrastructure is already quite good on a world standard and I believe that over the next 10-20 years we will see Melbourne move to being a truly bicycle friendly city, similar to the likes of Copenhagen and Amsterdam. I just hope everyone doesn't start riding Dutch cruisers, they're kinda crap...

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Tour de France 2011 - post stage 21 gallery

Many thanks to Anthony Herrero, a friend of a friend who resides in Paris, for access to these wonderful pictures.
The final sprint down the Champs Elysees. Renshaw and Cavendish out in front.
El Pistolero! - Alberto Contador
Andre Greipel - The Gorilla! Winner of Stage 10
Andy Schleck - 2nd, again!
Frank Schleck - 3rd overall
Bjarne Riis - Director, Team Saxo Bank - Sungard
Cadel Evans and John Lelangue - Director, Team BMC
Damiano Cunego - 7th overall
George Hincapie - Legend!
HTC Highroad
Jens Voigt - Looking uncharacteristically serious!
Johnny Hoogerland - unexpected hero!
Mark Cavendish - Green Jersey Winner (Finally!)
Mark Renshaw - Lead-out man extraordinaire!
Phillipe Gilbert - rising star
Pierre Rolland - another rising star
Samuel Sanchez - 6th overall
Edvald Boasson Hagen - Winner of stages 6 and 17
Stuart O'Grady - Aussie cycling legend, super domestique
Thomas Voeckler - Yellow Jersey holder for 10 days and 4th overall
Thor Hushovd - 3 stage wins
Tony Martin - Winner of the final time-trial
Tyler Farrar - Winner stage 3