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 J├Ârgensen (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!