Monday, January 28, 2013

"The Italians are coming! Mama! The Italians are coming!"

All of American cyclocross is having its Dave Stohler moment this week. If you don't remember your Breaking Away (and honestly, shame on you if you don't have at least a few viewings of that movie under your belt), Dave was the goofy, Italophile, bike racer in the college town of Bloomington, Indiana who found a moment of acceptance when he learned that the Italian Cinzano team would be participating in a local race. Unfortunately for Dave, he learned how little regard the Italians had for Americans.

As the cyclocross world descends upon Louisville, Kentucky for the 2013 World Championships, we are in a similar twitter as our paragons of the sport, the Belgians, make the first ever trip over to our side of the world to race some 'cross. Unlike Dave, the U.S. has its own distinctive flavor of cyclocross.

In Europe, cyclocross is a spectator sport of the general masses like football, baseball, and basketball are here. Picture your typical, rabid American football fan and you have the general sense of the typical Belgian cyclocross fan. But here in the U.S., cyclocross is a fringe discipline of the fringe sport of cycling. Most of the fans of American cyclocross are cyclocross racers themselves. So our perspective is different.

Key difference #1 - The Holeshot

In the U.S., we constantly refer to the holeshot in 'cross. Simply put, the holeshot is the person who gets from the start line to the critical first turn first. The advantage of the holeshot is that you get out front early and minimize the amount of chaos that you encounter in the critical first lap of the race. Those unlucky souls who find themselves in the back of the field going into the first turn, rarely make it up to the front of the race (or Kop van de Wedstrijd if we want to brush up on our Flemish).

Key difference #2 - Heckling

Heckling is the mix of harassment and encouragement that can only truly come from someone who knows your pain and struggles. There is no equivalent to this torrent of good natured abuse anywhere else in the cyclocross world. Sure the Euro's are used to having beer thrown on them and they are able to exact retribution for this form of pure harassment on occasion, as evidenced by this at 1:01 in:

But how will they handle heckling? We shall see.

Key difference #3 - the dollar bill hand up

Yep. It's exactly what it sounds like. Sometimes you get a dollar bill hand up when you are sucking in the back, or flying off the front, or the ever insidious dollar bill hand up in a very difficult, technical part of the course where you need both hands on the bars and all of your attention focused on the task at hand. But taking the dollar bill hand up is a sign of pure style.

So welcome to American Cyclocross ladies and gentlemen! We're glad you're here, but don't think we worship the traditional way of doing things. We've had decades to bring our own style and flavor to this sport that you invented and we hope to spread that love around the world!

Monday, January 21, 2013

The shy assassin

photo by Hans095
We've had a lengthened long weekend due to the snow closure of school on Friday. This has been especially beneficial for me as it has given me a free day of recovery after my shoulder surgery on Wednesday. If anything has worked out for me in all of this it has been this bit of timing. And the fact that I have now met my out of pocket maximum for my health insurance which basically means that all injury repairs are free from now until October 15th! I kinda hope not to take advantage of that, though.

Sunday was the last World Cup event, the Gran Prix Adri van der Poel, in Hoogerheide. You can always tell when it is really cold at a European 'cross race when the riders are warming up with their custom team head buffs up over their chins and down over their foreheads so that just an oval of face peers out of the fabric and into the camera in the obligatory pre-race interviews. The course was covered in snow and a slushy mixture of mud and ice slurry that looked to be less than ideal in the traction department.

Kevin Pauwels, the shy assassin, went into this race with a strong chance to win the World Cup overall, but that was not meant to be. Pauwels is an enigmatic racer. His interviews feature him standing stock still, his mouth a tense line of barely discernible lips that moves little as he tersely and painfully answers the interviewers questions. His racing style is deceptively aggressive; always near the front and ready to take charge. His attacks are without any noticeable moment of fury. His accelerations perceptible only by the fact that other riders are clawing to hang on to his wheel. He does not look back. Ever. An untimely dropped chain took him out of the front of the race with two laps to go, just as he was making his move to take the lead. He is not an unsuccessful racer, but he is largely overlooked in the sea of Belgian cyclocross talent and he is definitely a man to watch in Louisville.
As for the women (or vrouwen if you want to brush up on your Flemish as we head to Louisville), the battle looks to be shaping up nicely with our own Katie Compton coming off of her best European season ever, winning the World Cup overall for the first time. Between Compton, Marianne Vos, Sanne Cant, and Sanne van Passen, it should be a duel. There are some other women in the mix that can definitely upset the apple cart. Women like Helen Wyman, Katerina Nash and our own Olympic bronze medalist, Georgia Gould.

Unfortunately, two French women with extensive racing experience in the US, Julie Krasniac and Caroline Mani, will not be racing as the French federation opted not to bring them despite their eligibility and their ability to pay their own expenses. This brings me to my soapbox, a soapbox built on the words of Helen Wyman. Now that the US is taking the spotlight in the world of cyclocross by hosting the 2013 World Championships, it is time for us to impact the sport on the start line and not just focus our efforts on the podium. Let us pressure the UCI to amend rule 9.2.045, which now reads:

Each federation shall be required to include the following riders in their Men Elite’s team, as long as they are in the top 50 of the UCI Cyclo-cross Classification as published after the national championships in Europe:
federation with a selection of six riders: its first three ranked riders;
federation with a selection of five riders: its first two ranked riders.
This rule shall not apply to riders who have failed to fulfill their obligations under the regulations. In the event of a dispute on this issue, it shall be the responsibility of the National Federation to decide whether the rider will be selected.
The rule should be changed by simply adding "and Women" so that it reads "Men and Women Elite's team". This wold ensure that every country brought every rider they were eligible to bring in both the Men's and Women's fields and would give equal opportunity to all Elite riders. Let's see if we can pressure the UCI to amend this rule and provide equal opportunity to Women Elite riders in cyclocross.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Brown M&M's

AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by Wade Brooks
I like to think of details as brown M&M's. If you aren't familiar with the story of brown M&M's, it goes back to the 1980's and the heyday of Van Halen. The story goes that Van Halen had it in their concert contracts that there could be no brown M&M's in their dressing rooms. It was always told as a way to illustrate the crazy excesses of rock stars, but that isn't the real story.

According to Diamond Dave himself, the brown M&M clause in the contract was real, but it wasn't some nitpicky excess of rock stardom. It was a way of ensuring that the contract had been read thoroughly and that all of the important details that it incorporated were truly met. This made it possible for Van Halen to go into small market venues with a full blown rock show and trust that the stage would hold the weight and the electrical system wouldn't short out or electrocute anybody. The brown M&M's were the canary in the coal mine so to speak. Walk into the dressing room and see brown M&M's, then you'd better start checking and worrying about everything because obviously, the venue hadn't read the contract thoroughly.

There are a lot of little details involved in bike mechanics. The knowledge of and attention to these little details are the difference between an okay mechanic and a trustworthy, high quality mechanic. When you start training a mechanic, you immediately begin teaching them a very precise way of doing things that includes these subtle details. Things like where the label of a tire goes when installing a tire (readable from the right side of the bike, label centered over the valve stem), the proper direction for wrapping handlebar tape (from where the bar plug goes, wrapping to the outside and finishing two inches from the stem), and eventually how a hub is properly oriented to the rim when building wheels. These and a host of other small details can have little effect on how the bike rides (except the handlebar tape wrapping - do it wrong and it'll unravel after a few rides!), but what they really are are the calling cards of an attentive, detail oriented mechanic. It is the shorthand by which mechanics can judge the quality of each other's work.

So all of this blog post preamble was actually written in my head as part of my inner monologue on Friday as I crawled around on all fours, small bike headlight in hand for illumination, looking for a set screw a 1/4 the size of a grain of rice that had fallen off the work bench as I was working on a wheel. As I crawled around finding ball bearings, presta valve nuts, and a lot of other stuff for 20 minutes, muttering curse words at myself and contemplating the utter futility of my quest, I just reminded myself what I always tell my students, "Being good is what you do when no one is looking."

I could have easily given up and carried on, the customer none the wiser to the missing miniscule set screw. But that isn't the detail oriented standard that we set for ourselves, so I pressed on. Miraculously, I found it just a few moments later, grasped it, cursed it for good measure and carried on with the job.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

It's the big one, Weezy!

"Well, there's your problem..."
The ground is hard and gravity pulls you there with a relentless, gentle tug so seductive that sometimes you just give in and go with it. This crash was no seductive dance, though. This was sudden violence like a mosh pit gone awry. Speeding along. Flying through the air. Blackness. Impact. That sudden inhalation that lets you know you are alive. Sudden realization that you can't fully inhale or exhale. Pain receptors firing off all around the impact zone like the flashing lights on a control console that lets the Captain know that there are multiple serious things wrong with the ship.

But there were good moments, too. People rushing to help. The realization that you aren't dying. Being able to joke around with the EMT's that are working on you in a kind of "Aw-shucks, you don't really need to put me on a backboard, do you?" kind of way. And then everyone you know at the race coming to help you out, find your kid, get your stuff, drive your car back home, sit with you in the ER and ultimately, drag your broken body home.

The good news has come that the initial idea that I would be off of the bike for 4 months has fallen by the wayside in favor of a much shorter recovery period. The broken ribs are healing fast, the punctured lung is totally resolved and I only need to have surgery to remove the floating bit of collarbone that I broke off. Today I went for a road ride; three weeks to the day of the accident.

With surgery in a week and a half, I'm looking forward to putting this crash and the entire season of crashes behind me. I'm forgoing any and all racing or events that involve pinning a number to myself or affixing a number to my bike in any way for the entirety of 2013. I'm gonna get all of the bad mojo, juju, kharma, dharma and anything else that I must have accumulated and let it works it way out of me. Instead of racing, I plan to volunteer at the events that I have participated in as a racer and putting in time on our nascent trail building effort at the Zacks Fork trail that we have been raising funds for building.

I hope to see all of you out on the road, on the trail and maybe at a few special events that we'll be putting together at the shop this year. And always remember: Your face is not a good brake pad. I know. I've tried to brake with mine...

A little hot chocolate to end today's ride!