Monday, 30 May 2011

Giro d'Italia Wrap

The Giro is finally over after three weeks of drama, mountains, sprint controversies, and Contador domination. The Giro is a different beast than the other Grand Tours, it doesn't have the polish and reputation of the Tour de France, it doesn't have the heat of the Vuelta a Espana, but it does have the passion of the Italian fans, difficult stages and an element of danger. This years course was widely criticised for being too long, too mountainous, and having too many difficult descents. Despite this, it wasn't the most interesting of races. The field lacked many of the current stars, and as Aussies, we didn't really have any riders to cheer for. Richie Porte and Cameron Meyer did a great job as domestiques for their respective teams - but they were never let off their leash to have a real crack.

Things got off to a shaky start - with the tragedy of Wouter Weylandt's death on the third stage, then there was the neutralised stage afterward and the subsequent exit of team Leopard Trek out of respect. Then things once again got going in earnest with a few successful break-aways. But after the awesome win by Contador on the top of Mt Etna on stage 9, the race was a foregone conclusion and we were left to just marvel at the domination of one of the world's best cyclists.

There were some great moments though. As already mentioned, Contador's win on Mt Etna was awe-inspiring. He broke away from the other major players effortlessly and no one was able to match his speed on the steep gradients. Stage races are won on the mountains and this is where Contador won the Giro. The perfect organisation and meticulous execution of a race plan by HTC Highroad as their lead out train delivered Mark Cavendish to two brilliant victories, was also a highlight. I loved Igor Anton's brilliant win on Monte Zoncolan and finally, David Millar's speed on the final time trial in Milan was amazing. The time trial specialists, like Millar and the infallible Cancellara (who wasn't competing in the Giro) always blow me away with their inhuman high average speeds (Millar averaged more than 51kph on the 21.5km stage).

So that's it, the Giro done and dusted for another year. I've got to give a mention to SBS before I sign off though (the only station in Australia that gives any airtime to cycling). SBS did a cracking job of presenting 4 live stages of the tour and aired a half an hour update show each day. Hopefully it all rated well so we get the same or better coverage in 2012. The SBS Cycling Central website was brilliant as usual. Most of the time I'd fall asleep on the couch when watching the live stages, so watching the stage updates on the web the morning after is a necessary and enjoyable ritual, and one I'm sure other cycling fanatics can relate to! Thanks SBS!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Book Review: Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling

The Bike Snob is a bit of an institution in NYC cycling circles. I first started reading Bike Snob NYC's blog about a year ago and like many others, I have found it hard to keep myself away from his trademark dry wit, that's as parched as the Simpson desert, and his relentless satire, ever since.

Like Stephen Colbert and his musings about American politics, Snobs musings about cycling are rarely serious. He is constantly trying to show the lighter side of a sport that all too often takes itself too seriously. And perhaps because of this it's not that easy to start reading his posts. Unless you are an original fan, you can't help but get lost in his in-jokes and bizarre references. And don't try asking what the hell he's talking about in the comments, you'll just expose yourself as a noob to his loyal legion of fans who compete for top position in the comments of each new post.

And so, with the blogs increasing number of hits and with more and more public appearance requests, it seems the Snob got a book deal.

I was interested to find out how the Snobs rants would translate into the the traditional printed book form. His writing on the blog is strongly supported by imagery and embedded content - and there's no possibility of a YouTube link in a book.

All in all, even if I wanted to, I don't think I could be overly critical of the book. The Snob has been published and achieved notoriety from his simple little cycling blog. A feat that provides inspiration to me and others in the blogoshere I'm sure.

His comedy shines through from the first page to the last, there's not as much humour as there is in his blog - but this is unfamiliar territory for the Snob. The wordplay and anecdotes are laid on thick and fast, yet some of the stories are almost completely devoid of sarcastic overtones. Which is kind of refreshing. The description of his ride through Long Island, during which he traces the historical origins of cycling in the area is fascinating. And the entire chapter on the history of the bicycle is a treat - I never realised there was so much I didn't know about the origins of our sport.

It's a pretty easy read, the text is regularly broken up with superb illustrations and there is a pictorial section in the middle that is an extension of a feature of his blog where he awards the seal of approval or disapproval to random peoples bikes.

The section that categorises all cyclists into 11 defined groups is hilarious! The cycling regular will get a kick out of this for sure. The groups are instantly recognisable and you'll find yourself nodding and laughing to yourself as you read about the peculiarities of the 'Roadie', the 'Lone Wolf' or the 'Beautiful Godzilla'!

As the book trudges on and as he continues his attempt to cover all facets of cycling things do begin to get a bit tedious. I found it hard to not skip the section that details how to go about locking up your bike. I mean, wouldn't the intended audience already know how to lube a chain or adjust a saddle? You know that bit in Star Wars where Luke goes and meets Yoda in the Dagobah System, it's all a bit boring and the movie stops dead? This section of the book is a little like that. So... living up to the high standard set in the early chapters proves difficult for the Snob and the book does drift off toward the end. But, like the final battle scene in Star Wars, the book does recover and in the end, the dark side is defeated with the epilogue.

All in all, it's a great read and the book is a well produced package to boot. The hard cover, the quotes, the typesetting, the illustrations, the photos and the thick paper stock make for a really nice package. So grab it, and read it. There's a lot of worse things you can do with your hard earned! Our bike budgets are so big already, with all the repairs and the new parts and the clothes, what's another thirty bucks?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Gran Fondo?

All of us sometimes use words from another language to emphasize something or to simply spice things up a bit. We all use various international greetings like ‘aloha’, ‘hola’ and ‘bonjour’. When I was young my mum would yell ‘ESSEN’ (German for eat) to get us to come to the table for dinner. We will use the Spanish word ‘aficionado’ to describe an expert, if someone has made an ass of themselves at a dinner party they have made a ‘faux pas’ (French), and Bob Dylan embodied the ‘zeitgeist’ (German) of the 60’s.

You know where I’m going with this don’t you?! Why does everything we do in cycling have to have a French name? Don’t get me wrong, I really like the French language, I’ve been to France, I loved it and I’d like to go there again and learn the language, but some of it seems over the top to me.

For the sake of tradition, and to respect the history of our beloved sport I really like most of the cycling lexicon. A group of cyclists should always be referred to as a ‘peloton’ and I don’t even mind if we always refer to the coveted yellow jersey as ‘le maillot jaune’, but it seems we now have to refer to everything by its French translation before any credibility is given.

Other sports don’t do this do they? Skiing supposedly began in Sweden and Norway… I can’t recall Bruce McAvaney using much Swedish during the winter Olympics telecasts? I mean do we really need to refer to every mass participation ride as a ‘Gran Fondo’? In October there is the Levi Leipheimer Gran Fondo in California – couldn’t they have just called it ‘Leipheimers Big Ride’ (yeah, creativity was never my strong point). I suppose I should just be thankful that we have the ‘Around the Bay in a Day’ and not the ‘Melbourne Gran Fondo’.

I guess this all relates to the title of this blog – I’ll be damned if I was ever going to spell it Domestique!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Sad news at the Giro

The Giro d'Italia has started in tragic circumstances this year with the death of Wouter Weylandt on the third stage of the classic. The crash happened on a decent considered to be one of the tamer decents of this years course, which some pro's have argued is too dangerous. This is a terribly sad accident. All cyclists know the dangers of what we do - but you can't think about it, you just ride and hope for the best, and most of the time it's fine. But every once in a while something like this happens and it reminds you of the nature of our crazy sport. RIP Wouter and good luck to the Leopard Trek team for their re-building process.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Reinventing the wheel...

I saw this on the Tube the other day and had to post it...

I'm not sure these guys were out to improve the tried and tested upright design of the traditional bicycle, or whether they were trying to create a masturbation aid! I can't think of any situation where this would actually work! Maybe I shouldn't be too harsh - maybe the guy is just a little eccentric. Although, he and his contraption remind me a lot of Mr Garrison and his 'IT' machine from South Park. They look similar, and both machines could be worked seamlessly into an exhibition at Amsterdam's famous sex museum.

On the topic of reinventing the wheel - I have never understood recumbents, I don't understand how they are an improvement on the standard bicycle, which has existed in its current form for over one hundred years with little change to the core design. I've never seen a recumbent overtake anyone, so it's not a speed thing, and I cant imagine a recumbent having any comfort advantages... I guess I just don't get it.

I'm not going to be too critical on the Contraption Captains, as the infamous Bike Snob NYC refers to them as. I'm sure they have their reasons, and I'm sure they must have their benefits; I just read a great article about an old fella who has been using his recumbent tricycle to beat Motor Neurone disease, which is awesome! I'm an advocate of all types of cycling, even if some are a little... unconventional.