Friday, 31 December 2010

Ascending in Norway

Norwegian PRO riders are not many by numbers but of course we like to think they have made an impression. Well, as a PRO you are automatically good so that kind of stand by itself. Names like Arvesen, Boasson Hagen, Hushovd, Kristoff and Wilmann are quite familiar within the cycling community. With the exception of Wilmann, none of these riders are known to be climbers. However, there were reports from France that stated Arvesen rode so hard in front of the peloton that some climbers fell off during the tour in 2008.

Denmark have had several climbers who made the headlines, let's say in both positive and negative ways. And Denmark is as flat as Holland. That's said, Norway is not as mountainous as we Norwegians might think. Take a plane down to the south of France crossing the Alps, you really see what I write. Mountains, massive alpine mountains with cols reaching up to airplane gives a mighty impression. Here, giants must live.

We all heard about les Alps et les Pyrénées, those who have not been to any of those as a cyclist or planning to - shame on you.
Much history left on both sides of the road and there are reasons col du Tourmalet, mount Ventoux and col du Galibier are feared and beloved by so many. For those of you who want to take on the ultimate challenge, this is what you should do.

In Norway there are some great climbs to, they might not be as long as those you'll find in France or Italy for that matter, but I can promise you that your legs will hurt as much as your lungs climbing them. Here is one that comes highly recommended:

Trollstigen (the Troll path)
Located in Romsdal in Norway this magnificent climb takes you through 11 hairpins, from sea level up to 858 metres which will set you up for a good 9% ascent. You will be rewarded with stiff and sore legs but a also by strong head and a great view.

Picture by Anne Petersen

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The art of descending

We have all seen the riders cutting through the air descending from the great mountains during the Tour, Giro or the Vuelta. Riders can gain or loose minutes descending well or poorly. Some riders use sheer willpower and have enough staying on two wheels, while others rely on excellent technique and bike handling. It demands it's rider descending on tyres 1/4 of an inch thick in 100 km/h on those narrow roads. Add hairpin turns and a view none of the riders notice and you have a recipe for disaster. It takes only a small rock to throw a rider off his bike, the consequences might be catastrophic.

Sprinter or classic specialist which probably is the correct term these days Thor Hushovd has perfected his descending skills, perhaps he needs it to regain the peloton after loosing minutes on the ascent? During the Tour in 2009 he was voted best descender by the other riders.

In this video you'll see Fabian Cancellara make his way down a mountain at full speed the Tour 2009 stage 7, barely missing the med car by some 20 cm. That happens 1:30 out in the film.


Branding - why Rapha stands out in the crowd

In 1937 Dale Carnegie wrote a book called how to win friends and influence people. Not very humane and empathic for a title, is it? This is considered one of the first self-help books ever made, more importantly, it is considered a bible for communicators and marketing advisors still today.

Some brands are more catchy than others, as normal you might add. Why is it that some brands "get to us" more than others? We somehow identify with certain brands more than others. Who's choosing who?  No matter the answer, does it really matter? If cyclists are vain and by definition concerned by what they look like, it does matter.

My story

Three years ago I was on a plane reading an in-flight magazine. There was this small picture and a mere four lines about two friends who had started a cycling brand called Rapha, they specialised in quality clothing for the rider who wants the little extra. I took a note of that brand and decided to investigate further. And before you ask, no I don't own any stocks in the company, and I have never received anything I haven't paid full price for. What I enjoyed the most on their website was the stories. The stories about the nature of cycling, why the company was founded and those "epic" pictures taken by Ben Ingham that illustrated rides adding depth to the stories. And of course I like to think of myself as a guy who believes quality does matter. Basically I think the brand touched my feelings when it comes to cycling. The same feeling I got when I read the words of Phil Deeker's for the very first time (described in my very first blog post). This is what I relate to when it comes to cycling, and because of that I should be a part of it. On the other hand it could might as well been what I wanted to be a part of. To Simon Mottram, it probably doesn't matter as much but I like to think of myself to be as conscious as possible when I make my decisions.

What a brand Rapha has become. They are actually the best company I've known when it comes to branding, at least in the cycling industry. Today when globalisation is only a mouse-click away, branding is virtually impossible if you don't possess and/or deliver the life, goods or style you're claiming to have.

To me Rapha adds a further dimension celebrating the suffering in cycling. Like the ride celebrating the 100 years since the Tourmalet was first climbed in the Tour. Also the soon finished Rapha festive 500km which is set to enhance winter fitness during the food fiesta Christmas has become adds to the position Rapha's gained in the market. Very clever.

Not to mention the news concerning ASO and Rapha recently, where Rapha will be strategic marketing and product partner to ASO. This is of course a result to what Rapha has accomplished so far both product-wise but also their ability to share powerful stories cyclists can relate to. in today's world of information overload, only the ones with the strongest stories within their niche will survive.


I have some of their kit, and I'm very satisfied. I don't know if my bib or jersey are much more stylish than others, but I'm very comfortable with the quality of the products I have. I have tested some brands and I have to say that the quality Rapha gives is very good. If doing a blind test, would I know I'm wearing Rapha or Assos? Probably not. Maybe that proves I'm just a product of marketing managers and not that conscious I'd like to be.

To me simplicity and quality rules, but when the products are this pricey as they are, I might check elsewhere next time. But I know I'll get back to Rapha, if not to shop, but to get into their world by reading stories and look at the pictures.

Monday, 27 December 2010

The unsung heroes II

Is there no I in team?

Riders always get the most attention, at least in most teams. During the Grand Tour TV-viewers, at least the most eager ones, turn on at 11:30, just in time to see Christian Prudhomme waving the flag to the riders. Then of course, you don't think about the riders' freshly washed bibs and jerseys, the perfectly balanced food and liquids you see the riders receive food in he feed zone. You probably don't use much energy thinking of the soigneurs who prepared it in the morning under the chef's watchful eye.
In the last blogpost I stated that cycling indeed is a teamsport. This post is about them you don't often see, but their role in the team is of most importance.

Who are these people? 

Gerard Vroomen's Cervelo Test Team consisted of 85 individuals, whereas 39 of them were riders including men and female riders. That is 46 soigneurs, masseurs, mechanics, race engineers, marketing people, chef(s), bus driver(s), sports directors (DS), doctors, physiotherapists, coaches, sponsor liasons and the list goes on. 
These guys work when the riders are sleeping. Everything from washing bikes and jerseys to mixing liquids for the next day, that's their job. Do you think riders carrie their own luggage to the hotel room? At least not after 5 hours on the bike in hot conditions mid-summer. Riders are still responsible to pin their own number before start, most do so on the actual race day, some do so because they are superstitious, others because that is just how their ritual is.

Before the race, some soigneurs prepare their rider's legs, a rub down with oil, softening the muscles while the riders cope with their own nervousness their own way. The strokes are unique to each rider, the soigneurs know exactly how each rider prefers his massage. After a race, the soigneurs take care of the riders, making sure they are well hydrated and fed a small meal to help recuperating. Later the they put up their massage table and works the knots and stress out of the rider's bodies, making the muscles regain their softness. Basically, a soigneur makes sure that the rider only has to think of the upcoming race. Everything else the soigneurs take care of.  

The chef along with the soigneurs have prepared today's meal which will be handed out to the riders in the feed zone. There will also be a back-up some kilometres up the road if a rider would miss the bag. Carefully put together founded in nutrition but put together to the different riders' best. Also some bags are placed in the DS' cars along with coke and cookies in addition to the bottles, spare bike parts, wheels and other necessities.    

Picture by clarkmaxwell

During the race, the DS governs the team using the two-way radio as well as the pre-planned tactics ruled out earlier that day, giving information to the riders of breakaways, any obstacles ahead of the peloton like a narrow brigde, how long to the next climb and so forth. In the team car he follows the live television feed as well as the official race radio if there are any.

Immediately after a race or stage is over, the rider's bike is taken from him, hosed down and thoroughly examined by the mechanic responsible. They work efficiently while the riders walk stiff and sore to the teambus. Most times a rider doesn't even see his bike before the next day, unless there is a discussion about whether to use a different chainset for the next stage. Every detail counts, from seat height and type of saddle to distance saddle behind braquet are important as every rider have their own opinion of how this should be and the mechanics have the data on each rider stored. If they experience a problem or wish to discuss a matter, they might call for support from the i.e SRAM or Shimano, they of course are present at every race. 

After the riders have received their massage, the mechanics have stored the bikes in the truck there is time for dinner. Normally they all eat together, sharing a large meal with perhaps a very small glass of wine. 
People following a team during a GT will see the difference as time goes by. The happy, nervous chatter will not be there at the end of a three week tour, the riders still eat but they "force" the food down rather than enjoying the taste.

Sponsors are circulating the team constantly, trying to get a picture and a few well ment words with the stars.

The riders turn into a team on the bike. The sporadic chatter amongst the riders bring them together, their weaknesses as well as their strengths are invertible revealed during the training rides together at camp. There is no way of hiding, and the riders can after the first camp figure out those who will sacrifice their chances for the team benefit and those who will not.

The team hiding behind the spotlight turn into a team off the bike. Having devoted their life to other's well being, they rarely are given appreciation for what they do. But one thing is clear; a good soigneur will be missed.

Leading a professional cycling team today is difficult. A dynamic, complex structure, lots of logistics and tiny details people normally don't even think of, become critical in order to succeed. After all, a team win together, but loosing is still something you do on your own.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The unsung heroes

Who remember those who came 16th or 78th in stage 5 in this year's Tour? Oh, that one is hard, I know, but I'll guess there are many more who remember the winner. That is how things are in cycling, a team consisting of eight individuals have to set their own ambitions aside and do what they are required to, working for one man, hopefully the winner. What a selfless thing to do.

How many of you haven't been standing on the barricades in countless discussions with people about whether or not cycling is a team sport? Usually these people are not familiar with cycling. Most people probably see only the last kilometers of a stage, or watch the resymé at 17:30 AM, not noticing the actual rythm of a race, the pecking order within the teams or within the peloton for that matter. Not that many people outside the cycling community knows what happens when the team's leader wants a coke, a bottle of water or a much needed rain jacket. Well, the leader must preserve his/her energy so someone better hurry up and deliever the goods.

Michael Barry writes in the fantastic book Le Métier about when he and his soigneur are waiting for a plane on the airport to bring Barry to a training camp if I'm not mistaken, when the soigneur lets Barry sit on the only available chair in order for him to rest as much as possible.


We have all seen those domestique riders or gregario as they are called in Spain and Italy, who gives all they have for the team captain. The translation of domestique literally means "servant". Henri Desgrange, one of the founders of the Tour, used the frase to describe Maurice Brocco in 1911. Desgrange did that to scorn Brocco, not to praise him for setting himself aside for someone else.

In a long race, especially the Tour, bringing liquids and calories is an important task. It's a common thing to see riders fill up their bottle cages, putting 3-4 bottles back in the jersey pockets then stuffing bottles down the neck of his/her jersey. Thereafter you see the overloaded riders make their way up to the front or whereever where the rest of the team is.

In Paris-Roubaix 2010 Hushovd ordered a snack from a fellow teammate, after 45 minutes the teammate had made it back to Hushovd giving him the chocolate bar. Drifting back to the team car, bunkering up and get back actually took that long.
Giving shelter to the leader is also an important job. Shelter from the blistering wind or sheltering from the bouncing elbows as the peloton reaches an important climb or cobble section. Sheltering from wind in four-five hours can actually preserve 25% or so of the leader's energy, it's that important.

Towing the leader back up to the peloton after a flat, being a peasant in the DS' tactical game are other jobs these unsung heroes furfill. Think about that unselfish gang of true heroes, working not for their own personal achievements but for the team's. Well, it is probably wrong to say "not for their own achievements", because for these guys, achievements doesn't necessarly mean winning. Knowing that you contribute to the team is an achievement in itself. Hoping that todays hard work pays off in the sprint.

There are others than just riders in teams. I'll write about that in the next blog post.

By the way, the winner of stage 5 in this year's Tour was Cavendish. Remember him standing on the podium in tears, letting all that pressure go, while at the same time giving a sincere thanks to his teammates.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The vanity in cycling

Cyclists are an incredibly vain group of people. The PROs lead the way and are excessively proud of their achievements and concerned about their appearance. The minute someone leads the GC at le tour, you can bet your overshoes that the next day that rider will be dressed in yellow from top to toe, including gloves and socks. And don't forget the yellow handlebar tape, matching shades, wheels, pedals, chain, cables and the list goes on. Manufactures and brands take advantage of this of course, anyone who don't remember Contador's yellow pedals Look flew in the night before the last stage in le tour 2009?

Rules to live by  

This also applies for amateurs. Many bike forums on the internet tells that story, both in a humorous tone but also in a very serious matter. Tan lines are heavily discussed whether they should be razor-sharp or squidgy around the edges. How long should the socks be and what colour? Well, according to the experts that depends on colour and length of your bib shorts. Could be quite difficult for the beginners of this sport, although there is reason to believe they know what they are doing getting into the sport. Get into a sportive or training ride with unshaved legs and someone will look at you with a strange look. At least that's what I've been told.
Pozzato working on the tan

Some races are naturally more vain than others. During le tour, the riders seems to enjoy getting all dressed up with the fancy jerseys and the much needed accessories. Thor Hushovd said in an interview after winning the WC that he was looking forward to "jazz my bike up in white with rainbow colours everywhere, same with my helmet. I'm going to be a complete dandy" was his words.    

So I guess that what we all should do then, follow the unwritten rules of how to dress in the cycling sport. There are, however, other options. Be reasonable and wear what you like. But there are certain things only a handful riders can get away with...

Cipollini in one of his famous suits

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Cycling's rising stars

Off season is inevitably moving towards the end, riders have dusted old dust off their bikes and spent hours on those long, slow rides that builds basic endurance. Important work, laying the foundation to be able to sustain those endless hours on the bike racing endlessly around Europe in just some months time. Muscles who haven't felt a bike for weeks suddenly find themselves without the much needed efficiency they had before, the pedal stroke feels completely without the well known fluidity. The extra pounds in body weight gained makes the riders feel like the wind's holding them back on every acceleration, forcing them to a halt. Luckily, the only comfort the riders have is that they know or hope that every rider in the world feels the exact same way.

Off season has actually been made shorter every year, the PROs starts TDU in just three weeks. Who will make claim the season 2011 of the "new" pros? With the term new is this context I don't mean the absolutely newcomers, those who went through the grades being continental or even stagiaires making their first contract now. I am talking about those who took us by storm this year, those few who came from nothing and despite that earning respect by the peloton.

I will leave the obvious battles of the giants at le tour or the giro for now, those will be discussed much later.

Peter Sagan

The soon to be 21-year old Slovak who took the cycling world by storm last spring, will probably have a  season just as strong as last year. After winning the points jersey at Paris-Nice along with two stages, he disappeared. Rumours has it that Liquigas-Doimo has done so in order to protect their new star, making sure he get the appropriate amount of time to grow. What kind of rider is he? Some says he'll be a classics rider, some says he can be a top sprinter like Cavendish, others that he can be a GC rider if he drops some pounds. Big engine evolved from his time in MTB, he surprised many being so strong at that age last year. I personally believes he can be a new Gilbert. Aggressive, strong in climbs, not afraid to go into breakaways combined with his superb finish. Do not be surprised if you see Sagan first over Cipressa in 2011.
Picture taken by Chris Graythen

Richie Porte

Being the last man standing in Saxo 25-year old Porte could be Riis' only hope. The talented Tasmanian surprised with a strong 7th in his GT debut in the Giro including winning the young rider jersey. He also held the Maglia Rosa for three solid days, he lost it when he got sick due to food poisoning. Like many good GC contenders he is also good in TT, just missing the podium at Geelong this year. His background as a triathlete made it easy to find his place on the TT bike I guess. Porte started cycling for real only in 2006 so he truly have some good years ahead of him. With his superb season this year I believe he can really make a difference next year, at least if he is the only GC rider Riis has left.

Picture taken by Robert Prezioso

Taylor Phinney

The American wonderboy with the great genes could very well be making it next season, although much points towards a season of learning and adapting. Probably worse teams to be in when it comes to learning, bet Evans, Hincapie and Ballan takes him under their wing. His transfer to BMC surprised some, who had foreseen a transfer within the line going from Trek-Livestrong to Radioshack.
Despite his young age, he has already won U23 Paris-Roubaix two times as well as two U23 World TT Champion titles. Add a super strong track career to the equation and you'll have a rising star.
Picture taken by Quinn Rooney

Edvald Boasson Hagen

The quiet Norwegian has been predicted an astonishing career and this season was supposed to be his. An uncooperative achilles put an effective stop to his own and everybody else's ambitions. Hagen did a superb start of the season, winning in the points jersey in Oman, along with a solo stage win. Stage wins in Tirreno-Adriatico and critérium du Dauphiné and two podiums in le Tour speaks for itself. Who knows what the outcome would have been if he didn't get injured. Boasson Hagen is a man for the classics although he hasn't proved himself during the longest classics yet. The upcoming season will be exciting, Boasson Hagen has been training well so far this winter, riding hard on MTB and skiing with fellow Team Sky riders Kurt Asle Arvesen and Lars-Petter Nordhaug in the forest surrounding Oslo.

Own picture 2010

In Norway there is an expression that says "the new wine", referring to the newcomers who threatens the established silverbacks. These above mentioned riders are cycling's new wine- hopefully not the beaujolais noveau that causes big commotion and fuss, then suddenly they are gone. They are some of the new, the untouched ones for the time being, not affected by any of what has been haunting cycling the recent years. To me, these riders are some of the many who bring hope to the sport. Lets hope for a wonderful next year, hopefully one or more of these above mentioned riders will rise to the occasion.

Friday, 17 December 2010

History repeating itself?

Paris-Roubaix 1981 Bernard "The Bagder" Hinault had the rainbow jersey but somehow fell quite close to the finish. Apparently hitting a dog or just avoided it. After what for Hinault must have been some terrifying moments struggling on his own, he managed to catch up with the five other riders. Hinault was so calm that he actually went to the front of that little group into the velodrome and sprinted for victory from the very front. Nothing less than impressive.

Next year the God of Thunder Thor Hushovd has the rainbow jersey. After finishing the sprint in Geelong he was asked what his next goal was, the journalist probably didn't expected an answer at all in the moment of celebration. Hushovd on the other hand was crystal clear and proclaimed that winning Paris-Roubaix with the rainbow jersey on was next year's goal.
There will as always be a dogfight of dimensions in the race. As a Norwegian I would hope that he or any other Norwegian win, but I will cheer for everyone who enters and finish this brutal race. This race for sure shows the strong riders from the weak, there is no way you can win Paris-Roubaix without being in superb shape, like Fabian Cancellara proved this year.

When I wrote that history might repeat itself, I didn't mean that Hushovd should hit a dog and fall off his bike. There is no reason to make the race more exciting than it already is.

Looking forward to the 10th of April already. Atle Kvålsvoll, Hushovd's personal coach reminded me on twitter that Kvålsvoll has birthday this very day. Hushovd can make this a really memorable day, in many aspects.

Loyalty and openness

The last couple of months or so have been on fire when it comes to transfer window and who's doing what where. Things settled just a week a ago when Cancellara confirmed his move from Saxo to Leopard, something that hardly came to a surprise to anyone. In a way, cycling is starting to look like football transfer. All chaos, riders don't to be there but there, and teams yells high and throws money around like they are monopoly money. This leads to a lot of rumours. Media, bloggers and the "know-hows" competes in deriving the newest information leading to further speculations. It's all great fun and a part of off-season although I perfectly understand Brian Nygaard's view which he expressed in a comment on The Inner Ring blog where he is a bit fed-up over speculations media and others have made on the team's behalf.

A new kind of loyalty

Riders' and teams' loyalty have been debated earlier, I will not continue down that road. Instead Nygaard seems to have something others may lack; loyalty towards the system. Words like "the riders on our tema are NOT under contract with us until 1/1-2011" and "1/1-2011 is when we roll out. All the work we've done so far, is to get everything ready for that" indicate he's doing something different than the other teams. Is it possible that the dane and his team is true to the contracts and legal obligations and this is the only reason why Leopard has been off the radar? Well, it can be said that most of the other teams are established and Leopard is brand new, that's why they have to take it easy. It is possible, but I remember another transfer a year ago where a brand new team got their profiled rider and that did not happened without some commotion. After all, Leopard has an extremely strong line, with the Schlecks, Cancellara and ever hard working Voigt on the team, one could suspect the sponsors wanted some fuss around their brand.

The code 

Nygaard has a PR background, there is little doubt that he knows what he's doing when it comes to information strategy. The secrecy surrounding Team Leopard could be for these two reasons; both loyalty to the system and as a part of a PR strategy. As Nygaard knows, the expectations and pressure will arise along with secrecy, the higher the expectations the higher fall if they are not met.

The fact that Leopard is doing something else than the rest of the peloton could work both ways. After thinking this over I like it. Teams should be doing things differently and they should act accordingly to established regulations. This enhances predictability as well as transparency, both for riders, teams, sponsors and fans.  One thing for sure, predictability is something this sport hasn't seen for some time. Who knows, maybe Leopard will be even more open than Garmin-Cervelo on the 1st of January?

Picture taken by Christopher Keiser

Thursday, 16 December 2010

About cycling and about me

"Cycling is a perfect form of escapism and of nostalgia. It is such a simple action, yet one of the hardest things we learn to do as a young child. But what a breakthrough when we can finally ‘fly’ on two wheels, for so many of us it was a gateway to freedom as a child. As an adult, it brings back that pure joy from so many years before, even though we may not be conscious of this. As for the ‘attraction’ of suffering, I believe this too comes from something deep inside. We lead an existence, in our privileged western world, which seldom inflicts crisis upon us, at least on a physical plane. Through extreme sporting exploits we connect back to a primitive part of ourselves: stand up and fight or lie down and roll over. It allows us to achieve a sense of self-pride that is often so hard for us to find in ‘normal’ life. Or accept defeat humbly with a vow to return and try again." 

These words are from an interview a cyclist named Phil Deeker did for Rapha. The interview as a whole can be read here.

These words describes to the fullest my thoughts on why I love cycling. I'm merely an amateur, an average cyclist who simply can't get enough of it. News, races, interviews, I follow them all. From a distance that is, as a full time job, a lovely wife and a beautiful daughter claims what's rightfully theirs. There have been some vacations to France in July, I have to admit. Next project is a trip to one of the great classics.

Why cycling

My passion for cycling began some years ago, much because of the coverage of le tour made by Norwegian TV2. Hours of great scenery combined with skilled commentators who not only focused on the sport but on France and cycling history and great athletes, made me hooked. And of course, if it wasn't for Norwegian riders like Thor Hushovd and Kurt Asle Arvesen, my interest would perhaps not been so profound, at least not so fast. The interest for cycling in Norway is and have been booming, many new riders have made it into the PRO lines, among them Edvald Boasson Hagen who grew up near my hometown. And that is all we have in common, that's for sure. I consider myself lucky since my wife also is a great fan of the sport as well. That makes a lot of things much easier, our family holidays to France included.

Phil Deeker describes the suffering in cycling as something he enjoy the most. As I read his thoughts, I also rely on the "fun parts" he's talking about. The escapism from the daily hustle and bustle, the anticipation before and the feeling during and after an outdoor workout, the simplicity of just getting out the door and go somewhere, anywhere. It is a happy smile on my face when I walk in the door after a ride, that's for sure.

How to reach me

Please send me an email to I will appreciate any feedback from you, either on this blog, on twitter or by email. I cannot promise you an answer right away, but I'll never ignore you on purpose.

Hope you will enjoy reading this blog. I will focus on tips & tricks, news & stories, a bit on clothing and equipment. As I mentioned I'm not a very experienced rider. I love riding my bike for recreational rides and for training. Competing has and will take place, but sporadic. You are hereby warned, I do not represent any formula for success but predicts merely an alternative perspective to you.