18 April 2018

Hey Did Specialized Launch a New Mountain Bike Yesterday?

What was the bike called again?
They did? Weird, I hadn't heard. Was there press? Not sure. Let's check BikeRadar and see if they had any coverage.

Yeah they mentioned it. And then they mentioned it again. And again. And again.

Note that this screencap omits the shoutout to the promo video earlier on the page, so this isn't even all of it. You're welcome.

14 April 2018

Never Mind Ronde van Vlandaaren, what about Paris-Roubaix?

Sagan Winning Paris-Roubaix 2018
Ronde van Vlandaaren 2018 was a good and exciting race, and if you watch any of the video then you will very likely get a feel for why it is such an event. All of Belgium closes down for the day and they throw a big party. It's pretty great!

It was not great for your girl's favorite cyclist, Peter Sagan. He finished sixth? Ninth? :: checks internet :: He finished sixth. The winner was N8ki Terpstra, who used excellent teamwork and strong legs to power himself to glorious victory. Well done Niki.

But that's not why we're here! We are here to talk about the result of the 2018 Paris-Roubaix, which was won by Peter Sagan! He was quite thrilled with the result. If you are wondering what it feels like to just finish the race, here is an interview with Taylor Phinney, who managed to ride into the top 10. Phinney is a good and chill guy in his interviews, and his responses to these questions are excellent.

31 March 2018

More Words About Cycling: Milano-San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem, and Ronde van Vlandaaren



De Ronde van Vlandaaren kicks starts at 12:30 AM Pacific Daylight Time on 1 April, so by the time you catch up with this it will likely be over. That's a shame, because it is almost always a great race, and for the Belgians it is the biggest race of the year.

Since we last visited the Milano-San Remo race finished with Vincenzo Nibali winning by breaking away from the leading group on the Poggio. I had said that the classics races are rarely won by GC riders, but Nibali has won all three of the Grand Tour races, so he is very much a GC rider. He is also a beast that managed to ride away from the best cyclists in the world in one of the hardest races on the calendar, so all credit to him.

How did Nibali win? He won in part because he is awesome, and also in part because the rest of the riders were squabbling amongst themselves about who would lead the chase after he broke away. This happens often, because riders know that they are not strong enough to participate in a chase because they will get outsprinted at the line by someone like Peter Sagan.

Sagan pointed out after the race that no riders were willing to work with him at Milano-San Remo, and he congratulated Nibali for having the balls to take it.

The video above shows the finish of Gent-Wevelgem, and it shows what happens if you leave your sprint too late. You can see the riders waiting for Sagan to take off, because they know if they go first then he will immediately get on their wheel and likely beat them to the line. The alternative is to wait for Sagan to start the sprint, and hope that you have the legs to keep up. Good luck with that. 

14 March 2018

So Many Words About Cycling

*swoon*
I am here to try and get you pumped about men’s bicycle racing. Not just any men’s bicycle racing, but the best kind of bicycle racing: the Monuments

This is likely an uphill battle (HONK), but no matter. It is worth the effort, because cycling, in almost all of its many forms, is fun as hell. And unlike most of the “major” sports you can actually get out there and Do It your whole athletic life. (Yeah you can get out there and get some burn on the court at the local Y in middle age but your knees and back are a wear item, so maybe give them a rest?) 

Do not be put off by the endless in-group bullshit you may have heard from pretentious douchebags the world over. Cycling is here to dish up some good ass excitement in the coming weeks, and you should get involved.

World Tour Racing

The World Tour cycling season is comprised of many different categories and types of races. The Grand Tours, which you have mostly likely heard of, are the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, and the Vuelta a EspaƱa. The Grand Tour races are a massive undertaking: multi-week stage races that span thousands of kilometers and even continents (the TdF often starts in countries other than France, because, you know, money). These races cost tens of millions of dollars (or euros) to put on, and the stages include team time trials, individual time trials, rolling courses and mountain courses and they really do just go on and on. They are so long that it is common for riders to agree in advance of one or several of the stages of a GT race to take it easy, because it sucks to go flat out all day long in a headwind while cowshit blows into your mouth and eyes. Stage races can be thrilling, or they can be boring, strategic affairs with all the drama sucked out of them by teams with enormous budgets and outrageously strong riders (Team USPS last decade; Team Sky this decade). If you want to get excited about bike racing, then GT races are not a great introduction. They are too long, and it is confusing for casual fans when a guy that wins a dramatic sprint on stage 8 does not actually win, or even come close to taking the lead in, the big race (aka the ‘general classification’). Grand Tours are won by a very specific type of rider, about which more anon. 

We are not here to talk about the Grand Tours. We are here because the best and most exciting types of bike races are the Classics, and the best of these is the Monuments. Fun fact: You win an actual cobblestone monument if you win Paris-Roubaix, and the trophy is unique, if also ugly. Another fun fact: the youngest Monument was first raced in 1913(!!). 

The Classics are grueling one-day races over varied terrain (cobblestones, gravel, whatever passes for a paved road surface in Italy, etc.) in often brutal conditions. Since they are only one day the results tend to be much more varied than in the Grand Tours. It is much harder to spend your way to success in the Classics, because you cannot just buy every single good rider and wear down the field (although Team Sky is trying). Nor can you stack up your small advantages over the course of a four week odyssey (again: Team Sky with their ‘marginal gains’ :: barfs :: ). You have to be both very good and a bit lucky to win a Classic, as it takes an enormous amount of talent to even be in contention at the end of a race. Sometimes you can be a race favorite and get wrecked by a jacket thrown over barrier

The Classics tend to also be won by a very specific type of rider, although there are a few modern riders that will try and compete for victories in both Grand Tours and the Classics.

They run throughout the year, and the Monuments all run in the Spring (Milano-San Remo, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Baston-Liege) except for Il Lombardia, which is run in October. 

You may see these races described in English as the Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen) or the Tour of Lombardy (Il Lombardia). Keeping all the different names in order is hard enough, so you are duly forgiven if you prefer the English titles. Nod-snobbing fans will maybe correct you, or maybe they will just be glad that someone besides them gives a shit about cycling for once. 

There are other one-off road races that are just as prestigious as the Monuments, most notably the World Championships, which bestows the honor of wearing the famous (in cycling circles) rainbow jersey for the entire next year. Any previous road race world champion can wear the rainbow stripes on their sleeves during a road race, which is fun and cool and insider-y. The various national championships for each country are governed by similar jersey rules, so you will see the road race champion for Germany wearing his custom team jersey with special German colors in the World Tour peloton, and so on for the Dutch, French, Belgians, etc. It’s pretty great! Winning the national championships is a big deal, so I enjoy when the riders represent the colors. 

Note that a world champion is also awarded for the individual time trial, but the ITT world championship jersey (and previous winners sleeve stripes) is only to be worn during time trial events. Thus the road race rainbow stripes are among the most coveted jerseys in all of cycling. 

So! The Classics are happening, and the Monuments are happening, and it is going to be great. But who are you watching?

The Teams

There are 18 World Tour teams, all of whom carry 25 riders on their roster. As in all other forms of racing, money is an issue. Some teams have a lot of it, and some are shaking out the couch cushions. The big money really stopped rolling in after the doping scandals of the late aughts, so many teams really are scraping by. Also, since the big money left it opened the door to sponsors that are, shall we say, niche. Sponsors range from flooring companies, oven hood manufacturers, coffee companies, governments (see below), lottery businesses, and much else. 

Cycling has always been the metier of rich white men, but in recent years the circle has expanded to include rich men from such forward-thinking eastern nations as Kazakhstan (Team Astana), Russia (Team Katusha-Alpecin), Team UAE (UAE, natch) and Bahrain (Bahrain Merida). The riders are just trying to earn a living, but it is kind of hard to get behind a team whose budget is provided by murderous dictators and/or serial abusers of human rights. YMMV 

Most of the team sponsors, major or otherwise, have the greasy feel of rich white guys that want to leg hump the pros at races, group rides and social events. In my limited conversations with former pros this seems to very much be the case. 

The most heavily funded team has sucked the life out of the last several Tours de France by putting together an all star team of riders and adding money and science and more money and drugs until they are very difficult to beat. They also sucked the life out of the 2017 Vuelta. And yet! They did not win the Giro last year (shoutout to Tom Dumoulin), so it is possible for other GC riders to step up.
A change for this year is that the teams are only allowed 7 riders per race (down from 8 last year), in the hopes that it will shake up some of the results, especially in the GT races.

The Riders

When you picture a typical road cyclist you probably imagine someone like Chris Froome, or, if you haven’t paid attention since an American was winning races, Lance Armstrong. An emaciated, hollow-cheeked guy in a yellow jersey, because the Tour de France is the only time anyone pays attention. Both of these GC riders are well suited to winning GC races: pencil-necked and toothpick-armed, likely unable to do even a single push-up, strong climbers, excellent in the time trials, and surrounded by a team of elite support riders, some of whom could probably win a Grand Tour of their own were they given the same support. They are phenomenal athletes, capable of outrageous scores in things like VO2 max and power to weight ratio. They are also boring as hell and get smoked in the Classics.*

* Armstrong was an excellent Classics rider before he got the cancer and the drugs and the plan and reinvented himself into a superlative GC rider. He was still decent in the Classics, but it was no longer a priority for him once he transformed himself. 

Most of the Classics eat the GC riders alive. They are too long, without enough climbing. Instead you need a rider that can do something besides get an escort to the base of the mountain and then do his own work. You need a well-rounded cyclist that can climb a short distance, very fast, and then recover, and then do it again. These are the most interesting riders in cycling, because they can do almost everything well, and do a few things extremely well indeed. Also, they look like actual people, and not like they would be trapped indefinitely when their significant other falls asleep on them. 

Look to riders like Peter Sagan (pictured above) to make some noise in the Classics. The Slovak is the reigning road race world champion (three times in a row!) and is a threat to win a one day road race every time he throws a leg over the bike. Sagan is by far the most popular cyclist in the world right now. This is partly down to the fact that he rides with panache, and partly because he looks like an actual person and not a stick figure with weird balloon legs. Also he says the right things, as here after a second place finish:
“Sometimes I can do some things, sometimes I can’t. Today, I had bad luck but also good luck at the same time. It would’ve been better first place, but I don’t have to have everything,” Sagan said after showering and before signing autographs and posing for selfies with the huge crowd that was waiting at the Bora-Hansgrohe bus.
Sagan frequently does wheelies and bike tricks, makes cycling look fun. Not afraid to flex on other riders, or to display insane bike handling skills, as at the close of a recent stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico. Notice how he makes a split second decision to hop a curb and shortcut a roundabout here to save some time. That is some very casual, next-level shit. 

Not for nothing, but he is also quite handsome. I have described him to others as ‘the guy your girlfriend hooked up with during the Eastern part of her European tour, but don’t worry he was totally chill about it’. 

Other contenders for the classics, especially the upcoming Milano-San Remo: Greg van Avermaet - like Sagan, a superbly talented all around rider. Not as powerful on the bike as Sagan (few are), but the course favors him this year. 

Michal Kwiatkowski - Probably the most talented classics rider in the field after Sagan. Famously beat Sagan in last year’s Milano-San Remo, although people will remember Sagans attack on the Poggio (a famous climbing section) longer than they will remember the winner. Losing with style is sometimes more impressive than winning. 

Tiejs Benoot - Young rider that is in excellent form right now. Won Strade-Bianche this year in decisive, thrilling fashion. Turned in some strong results at Tirreno-Adriatico.

The Classics are extremely difficult to predict, so although it is generally acknowledged that a handful of riders are the class of the field they do not always win.

Strategy

Typical race strategy for the Classics races is to identify a specific rider that you want to protect for the race, ride for him, and then cut him loose when he feels like he can get the win. Your ability to deliver your rider to the line is affected by your own team, mechanical failures, rider failures, and the other teams, who often have conflicting strategies (such as to ride off the front in a small group). It is almost impossible to solo to victory in a bike race so the teams often work with one another until they don’t. If you like game theory you will love cycling race strategy.

When is the Next Monument?

The next several weeks will have some of the best racing of the year. The first (and best) Classic that isn’t an official monument is Strade Bianche. It runs in a big loop around Siena, and it makes liberal use of the white gravel roads for which that region is justifiably famous. This year’s race was run in a driving storm and it was fantastic. The calendar looks like this: 

Milano-San Remo is 17 March, so maybe catch some race replays in between watching free labor generate revenue in the NBAs minor leagues. 

Ronde van Vlaanderen is 1 April

Paris-Roubaix is 8 April

Liege-Baston-Liege is 22 April

How Do I Watch?

Depends where you live. The races are easy to find on TV in Europe, but it’s tougher in the states. Cycling Fans dot com has a good summary of where to find coverage in your local area.

The Elephant in the Room

Drugs! So many goddamn drugs. Cycling is cleaner than it used to be, but there are still drugs everywhere. Not as much EPO, but it is awash in painkillers, stimulants, respiratory medications, diet medication, and whatever else they can get away with. Something something cheating trying something, but if you are strongly anti-drugs then you should probably just not watch any sports, ever. The cycling community tends to be split on the drug users. Some are ostracized, some are lionized, and some end up making a lot of money after they did the drugs and everyone is cool with it. 

It does not help that the most successful drug user, and greatest ever Tour de France rider, is also one of the all-time biggest assholes in professional cycling, or any sport. So fuck that guy. 

Enjoy the Races!

Seriously, they are great.

04 March 2018

Mileage



Since we last visited I have been to Oakland / San Francisco / Oakland / San Diego and then home. That trip was not bad! Before that I had to go to Orlando for less than 24 hours. That trip was miserable! So the travel up and down the CA coast was a relative breeze. Disneyworld is weird. People are gross fake nice because of the focus on 'customer experience' and it is carved out of a swamp. Florida has some lovely places to visit but Orlando is not one of them.

Lots more to share on topics big and small, but I'll get to those later. First things first: what about some jams? Try this one. It's a lot different from the usual around here. It's good and chill. Most of the music I rep here is good but not very chill.

20 February 2018

Old(er)

Hard Eight
Not sure how we got here, but here we are.

Could be worse. There's cake, so that's something.

19 February 2018

Hot Slow Jam: Worlds Away by 3LAU feat Emma Hewitt


Presidents Day is somehow not a holiday that everyone observes. Come on, people. If you can't get on board with GWash because he was a slaveowning oligarch shitheel (which: yeah, that's legitimate) you should absolutely celebrate the birth of Honest Abe, who was righteous and great.

Turn up this good and chill jam and pour a little out for a true American hero. Shoutout to the first (and last) great Republican president: Abraham Lincoln.

Serious question: Why don't more parents name their kid Lincoln? It's such a good name.

Hopefully you enjoyed your day today, even if you had to work. See you out there.

18 February 2018

Movie Stars in History

An old photograph of Brian Cranston, taken for a role as a gold miner for a period piece set during Gold Rush era California.

Nice

This is a good cycling photo. It's a picture of Ellen Noble, who is rad, bunnyhopping a barrier during a cyclocross race, which is also rad. This is a very difficult thing to do! Most men (who ride the same courses, with the same barriers) opt not to do it, and there are only two women that I know of that have done it (the other is Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, who is a boss and rides a bike even better than she photographs, which is saying something: women's world road race champion 2014,  women's cyclocross world champion 2015, plus way too many other victories to even begin to list here).

So! Shoutout to Ellen Noble for being awesome, and to Rapha for posting the picture, and also sponsoring Noble. She is awesome.

22 January 2018

80's Budget Bianchi Bit Busted But Born Better

Not much I want to blog about lately. Fixed up my friends old bike so he could ride it and/or use it on an indoor trainer. Did that for his birthday as part of his birthday present. Probably you are super interested in reading about that? I thought not. It wasn't much of a project, as the bike itself was not great when it was new, and as my man dumbomollusk reminded me: you can't polish a turd. Even so, I polished that thing up as much as I could. It turned out pretty good.

I put new tubes and tires on it, fixed the handlebar tape, which I think was original vintage circa 80's. Lubed the chain, which should really be replaced, but there's a limit to how much I want to invest in this bucket. And I deleted the awful reflectors, which were hideous and useless.

The updated handlebar wrap will not be confused with anything from your local bike shop but it's not bad for a first effort, and it is perfectly adequate given our source material. You can actually ride it now, which is something. And if you did ride it somewhere people would not look at you funny. They would think you were a dedicated hipster riding a retro bike. Except for the saddle, but that was another piece that was a step too far for this effort. If my buddy wants to replace it then he will do so.


Me At Every Party Ever



I don't get out much in my advanced age, but this song describes a very familiar feeling, and it makes it sound very catchy.


15 January 2018

No Need to Argue and Dolores O'Riordan



News out today that Dolores O'Riordan has died.

I have not listened to a Cranberries song in a while, so it was time to dive into the back catalog. Of course I bought the records in the mid-90's; EVERYONE bought the records in the mid-90's, and that was a time when people were still buying records for real. Those copies are long gone but the internet provides.

Linger was their first hit, but Dreams was very much My Jam, and I absolutely wore it out back in 1993, so I was well-primed for their follow-up record in 1994. Zombie ended up being the song that charted the best on that record, and it's a great song, but if you're dealing with some kind of overly dramatic love-of-your-life relationship breakup drama in 1994 (or ever) then look no further than the underrated No Need to Argue.

We could dive into the mechanics of this song, and explore its' clever combination of simplicity and sophistication, but let's not. O'Riordan had a beautiful voice, and this song is beautifully sung. It either speaks to you, or it does not. It speaks to me in a different way than it once did, because it's been a long time, but the sound has held up well. I expect it will continue to do so, and that sad-hearted kids will be listening to it for many years to come.

Dolores O'Riordan was 46.

01 January 2018

Happy Fuckin' New Year!


Hot damn! The year of our lord two thousand and eighteen. Twenty-fucking-eighTEEN!!! Are you ready for this shit? I SAID ARE YOU READY?? I am so ready. Just, so goddamn ready. What are we gonna fuckin' do this year? Oh you have no idea. NO IDEA! So here's some things that we are gonna fuckin' do:
  • Hit the gym, because that gets me out of the house, which is Good and Healthy. (Sleeves optional, obvs.)
  • Shock the fuckin' pipes (see previous bullet point) 
  • Work at the place where I work, up to and including maybe getting a new job, at which point I will work there like its my fuckin' job. It's not easy being a goddamn genius at work every day but somehow I manage. 
  • Ride the fuckin' bike farther and faster than ever before, though not at the same time. (Actually kind of looking forward to this one.) May make a pilgrimage to Santa Barbara and do some fuckin' riding up there. May ride from LA to SB and take the train back. May also ride down to Solana Beach and take the train back. Maybe both? We will see. 
  • Read the pile of books in my bedroom currently doing double duty as a nightstand
  • Fuckin go somewhere. Not sure where yet! Mexico City was awesome so maybe go back there and do different stuff. Maybe somewhere further afield. 
  • Be fuckin' social
Tried to get started on this last one already by creating an account in one of the free-to-browse online dating app services. It fuckin' sucked. Out of the 300 or so people I found in my search and that I can message "right now" mayyyyybe five in my age range are appealing? Thousands of guys on the site in my area are looking at that and seeing the same thing. Sooooo... yeah. It's a tough market. 

Let's fuckin' do this. 

29 December 2017

Year in Review: At Least There Were Cookies




This calendar year marked a new low in the total number of posts in this space. There was not much that I felt like writing about when I had time. Politics is fatiguing, and the fact that the United States used the electoral college - a system originally put in place to appease slaveowners - to elect an angry, demented pissbaby is something that will cause harm for years if not decades. Great job, America! The founding fathers really paid it forward. It as if appeasing slaveowners was maybe not a good idea. Go figure.

There is an uncomfortably high likelihood that the most powerful pissbaby in history will lead us to nuclear war, killing tens of millions of people, throwing the economy into a tailspin, and making the Korean peninsula completely uninhabitable. The GOP could do the right thing and remove him from office, but as long as he keeps giving rich people tax cuts and promoting income inequality that seems unlikely.

Two hurricanes blew through the USVI and somehow my uncle's house survived intact. He was lucky, but the experience was so harrowing that he still has nightmares about it, three months on. It turns out that sitting in a house lit by flashlights while the wind outside is blowing sustained winds over 170 MPH for hours on end will leave a scar. St. Thomas and St. John are trashed (literally) and will take years to fully recover.

Hurricane Harvey caused similar levels of damage in Houston by dumping enough rain to cover the entire continental United States under four centimeters of water. That's a lot of water! Houston metro is over 600 square miles of ugly urban sprawl, and the massive flooding did it no favors.

Does the fact that I got a new bike count as good news? I guess it counts as good news for me. There were other ups and downs this year but they do not make for very interesting reading.

See you in 2018. 

13 December 2017

Not the Definition of Insanity: "Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting a Different Result"

I am worn out with the bullshit, inaccurate statement that "doing the same thing over and over again is the definition of insanity." Fuck no it is not! There is a whole book about the definition(s) of insanity, and you can buy a copy.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of STUPIDITY.

Don't be stupid.

10 December 2017

Race Reporter Ruby Rides a Bike



Just in time for the holidays, here is Specialized with some superb marketing sweet cuteness. This makes me want to go ride a bike. And also buy one for my niece, if she were at all interested in riding bicycles (she is not). I can't ride right now and it suuuuucks. So watching cycling videos and getting super pumped about getting back on the bike will have to do.

Speaking of being super pumped about getting on the bike: this video is good because Ruby makes bike riding seem like a hell of a lot of fun. People have a tendency to take it very seriously, and wear terribly ugly outfits, etc. They don't always seem like they are having fun. Weird, but here we are.

Ruby's bike has a custom front crank (it's a 1x, i.e. it only has a single chainring up front), Dura Ace brake controls / shifters, an ultegra rear derailleur, and probably some other bits that I cannot figure out. It's a lot different from the stock bike, but whatever. My only quibble with the video is that she says that her power 'comes from her bike'. That is wrong. Her power comes from her, and that is awesome.

08 December 2017

Bicycling: Peter Sagan and Race Reporter Ruby



Peter Sagan, aka the guy that your ex hooked up with during her backbacking tour of Slovakia a couple years ago but don't worry he was totally chill about it, is the most popular cyclist in the world right now. He often rides the Tour of California as a leisurely warm-up for the Tour de France. Most professional riders are riding the Giro d'Italia in May, but that race is a brutal slog (like the Tour), and riding the two efforts back to back is not common for riders that want to win the GC of the Tour. (Chris Froome, who is a great rider but the type of guy that your ex felt very comfortable rooming with during her backpacking tour of Slovakia because they were such 'great friends', made big news when he announced that he was riding the Giro this year. Chris Froome is good at a very specific type of cycling, and he is boring as hell.)

In 2016 Sagan won the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders). In his words after the race, "no one wants to work with me, so I just have to do it by myself." Which is true, but almost impossible to actually do. (Sagan was leading the 2017 Ronde van Vlaanderen when he crashed because a jacket hung over a barrier caught his handlebars.)

As part of Sagan's effort at the ToC last year he sat down with Race Reporter Ruby, who is the best. Please enjoy this interview between two stars. Race Reporter Ruby did more very good interviews with other riders, so if you liked her interview style I encourage you to review those as well, if only to hear how she pronounces "South Lake Tahoe", which is adorable.