Wednesday, 30 March 2011

What to wear in urban traffic

Along with the increased interest for cycling world wide, comes injuries and accidents. One could argue that many people who commute on a daily basis don't pay enough attention to traffic, that be the cyclists' ffail to give the proper attention needed, or others in traffic makes errors. Either way, cycling is a social interaction with others and who if not we should follow the traffic rules and assume no one else does?

Being a cyclist I pay interest to other cyclists, what bike they have, what gear they have. What struck me today was the extreme difference in clothing and from a safety perspective; how little visible some are in traffic. Some commute wearing the same outfit they do on work, others change into their cycling kit. Much can easily be done to be more visible in traffic. I can almost hear some saying: "why should I have to wear bright yellow or orange jacket, or wear a helmet on the short way to job?" 

Well, the same answer applies when it comes to wearing seat belts in cars; There are others out there. It doesn't matter how good you are to ride a bike or drive your car, your safety depends on others. Don't know about you but I've seen some drivers in desperate need of getting their sugar level up on their way home for dinner.

Here are some pictures I took today, sorry for the lack of quality, they were taken with my iPhone. My point should be clear though. See the difference between those cyclists who wear colorful clothing and not. And no, this doesn't mean you should stop wearing your black/grey Rapha kit, you could buy the pink one too. There are cool kit in colors out there.

Stay safe.

See the cyclist in the middle of the picture long way back, wearing bright yellow compared to the person crossing the road.

This guy will have no problems getting spotted in crossroads.

The UCI's regulations of the rainbow jersey

Some time ago the UCI decided to take a look at skateboarding as their "new" next thing in their organization. After all, "they are related to wheels"... Much fun of this statement from Pat McQuaid was made by many, especially by Gavia and friends at the Podium cafe.

The famous rainbow jersey is UCI property worn by the reigning world champion in each discipline. Considered as one of the, if not the highest achievement in cycling, the rainbow jersey is worn with pride. What people may have noticed, the stripes are the same as the Olympic colors. Here is what Pierre De Coubertin said about the Olympic flag in 1931:

"...It represents the five inhabited continents of the world, united by Olympism, while the six colors are those that appear on all the national flags of the world at the present time."

If cycling has the same ambition I leave to the readers or the UCI to define, if they have succeeded communicating that through their governance, that's a different story.

I searched the interwebs to find out more about the shirt, history wise, but I got more intrigued by reading how the jersey shall be worn, how different logos shall be placed on the jersey. If you thought that is not regulated have a look here, for the very many rules, read here. You'll may not be surprised considering your knowledge to how the UCI govern but anyway.

Failure to respect the rules will be fined with a minimum of 10 000 CHF. 

What will happen to the respected jersey if JV, Johan Bruyneel, Riis et al create their own league? Well, perhaps that is just the way development goes, right? 

Friday, 25 March 2011

How Team Sky mechanics prepare the bikes for the Classics

The Classics season is all over us. Milan-San Remo took place last weekend, and now the hardest week of the entire season is due. Some 500km over treacherous cobbles in two days. I bet the riders are happy there is a mere week between the two, giving them just enough time to recover.
The Ronde van Vlaanderen or Vlaanderens mooiste (Flanders finest) and the Queen of the classics herself; the Paris-Roubaix are without doubt my favourite week of cycling, two of the very Monuments of cycling.

How do the different teams prepare? If you're doing one of the sportives right before one the two races, you might have asked yourself the same question. The recipe for success in the race as well as in the sportives is in the preparations. You might not do exactly like the pro teams but some similarities are there still. Few have the financial means to do so, fewer have the insight.

To find out more how teams prepare, I sent a request to Jonathan Turner, website editor of Team Sky, to interview one of Team Sky's mechanics. Team Sky is a team known have a good look for details, some says that eagerness to continually try to develop an edge destroyed their first season. There will always be a thin line in doing so, every team try to get that edge, in equipment, in training, in routines. The list goes on...

Jonathan was helpful to hook me up with Igor Turk (IT), one of the mechanics on duty during the cobbled classics this spring.   

PTR: Hi Igor, what is your background and how did you end up in Team Sky? 
IT: I started my cycling at age 11 as a junior rider and continued to ride up until 1995 (age26) when I become mechanic in the team where I was racing from the begining (Krka-Telekom/SVN team).

The team asked me if I was interested in being a mechanic and because I was not a real good rider, I accepted. I needed to learn a lot and was also working alone as I was the only mechanic for all kinds of  riders on that team.

In 2001 I went to the team Gerolsteiner where I was until the end of the team in 2008. While I was there with the team, it went from small team to a UCI ProTour Team. Again I learned many different things, especially in the first year.

PTR: What differ Team Sky form other teams you have worked with? 
IT: In 2009 I was then in team Milram before joining Sky in 2010. It was different straight away - the first meeting wasn't about days of work and money but the questions were on a different level, like how we if we work together in the team we make it better. If we become the best support team for riders, so they will perform better. In the team it's always communicated to us that the important thing is to do your very best.

Team Sky have also the first truck made with side pods which go out so mechanics and carers can work inside (if raining or hot weather), with AC and TV.

PTR: Guess that comes handy during warm days in summer. The cobbled classics are over us, how do you set up the bikes, special frames, handlebar tape and tires? 

IT: For cobbled races we have special frames, and also set up. 
First, in the handlebar we put near to the stem one more small brake end also buttons for shifting (riders grab handlebar in cobbles up, so they can brake and shift). We put double tape or some gel under the tape (depends what the riders prefer). Some of the riders change seat for a more soft one. Wheels we take classic (alu,no carbon) with 25-27 tires which have less pressure(normaly 9bar, here 7bar). Chainrings depends on the individual rider and how they ride on the cobbles (in which rpm).

PTR: Braking and shifting like a XC rider, how about that? Guess that is not for everyone.. How about damage to the bike?
IT:In cobbled races the damage is mostly flat tires, broken wheels (mostly the carbon ones), there are also lot more crashes (especially if is raining) so you can sometimes get a broken frame.

PTR: How are the mechanics team organised during a cobbled race and do you have mechanics whose special field is different from others?
IT: In the cobbled races we are mostly working the same way as in other races. However they are differences in that some of the mechanics or other members of team go with some spare wheels at various points agreed beforehand with the DS. It helps if our riders have a flat and the car with the race mechanic isn't right behind - or if the rider in question is behind the team car.

In the team all mechanics can cover all parts of the work, the only specialist field is in making wheels, some of mechanics are better at making wheels as to make a good wheel takes some experience for cobbled races. 

PTR: Back in the day teams like US Postal used to store the tires in a basement in France or Holland for years, to give the tires the proper moist and elasticity in hope to avoid flats. Do you do something similar with yours?
IT: In Gerolsteiner we also had something like this in our basement, for the big and important races, older tires they are much better and in some big Tours we didn’t have any flats.

Last year we were testing some more different brands. Now we've decided on Veloflex tires, we'll put some into store so that they get older and better.

Last year's collection of tires ready to be glued before Paris-Roubaix 2010. 100 tires were prepared.

Photo downloaded at, here.

PTR: How will you describe the relationship between the mechanics and the representatives from the "mechanical" brands like Shimano et al? How do you keep track on R&D?
IT: I've worked with a few different brands: Campagnolo (Krka-Telekom), Shimano (Gerolsteiner), SRAM (Milram).

The longest time i spent with Shimano and I must say that they are the best to work with. They listen and try to make everything better, like sending engineers to races...we have realy good relationship with Shimano.

For staying on "top”of all new things in the bike industry it's mostly the internet, bike magazines, talking with other mechanics and presentations from Shimano. 

PTR: Well, thanks for taking the time Igor Turk, really appreciate it. Good luck in the cobbled classics.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Are bike races of today too hard?

Yesterday we saw the Matt Goss powering across the finish line after some 298km on the bike. Milan-San Remo is a special race, not only a race with history but it is also the longest one-day race in the World Tour. Read about my thoughts on MSR here.

Bike races of today do varies in length, they have to since the strain is different from race to race. Since organisers have a certain perception of the strain they put on the riders, they have made the mountain races/stages shorter than the flat ones, especially in stage races that is.
Most of the Classics are long, L-B-L some 255km, P-R 280km and the Ronde at 260km. However, these races are the Classics. If they changed much, they wouldn't be classic races, would they? The Classics complements bike racing, it takes a whole different rider to win a 260km cobbled race than a mountain stage in Paris-Nice or the tour. The mountain stage to Alpe d'Huez in this year's tour is 109km.

Why do I put myself through this?

Photo by, here.
Some riders have said that bike racing today is so tough that they balance on a very thin line expose themselves to them. Some riders and and a few analysts/commentators/bloggers have criticised race organisers for fuel more fire to the doping debate, indicating that riders have to dope to cope with the strain. As if the riders don't have free will..
Complaining over hard races is nothing new in bike racing, remember what Octave Lapize said to Desgrange and other officials after climbing the Aubisque in 1910: "Vous êtes des assissins!"

Who shall the race organisers have in mind when organising races? Riders, fans, the UCI, TV-producers or those in front of the TV home?

Christian Prudhomme says this about next years tour:

The route of the 2011 Tour has been determined with two objectives in mind: to set the pace from the beginning of the race and maintain suspense right up until the very end.

Of course he's speaking with a "sports perspective" in mind here but it is an indication of what ASO believe is important. The 98th tour consists of 21 stages and 3471km in total. There are 10 flat stages, 6 mountain stages, 4 mountain hilltop finishes and 3 medium mountain stages. The last week of the tour brings 4 mountain stages with a average length of 160km. Imagine doing that with 2700km in your legs.

Is it time to consider reducing the strain on the riders in some races, while at the same time making them more exciting for TV-producers as well as fans? Is it possible to make races "epic" without reaching 280 + km?

Or isn't it so that the very essence in sports is too constantly push the limits of human endurance?

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

La classica di Primavera

Milan-San Remo (MSR) is one of my favourites. It is a true sign of spring, and normally it is the first time all the spring favourites are in the peloton. Before MSR we've had the Tour Down Under, the first Belgian classics of the year, we have had the Tirreno-Adratico and Paris-Nice. This Monument in cycling is actually the longest one-day race of the entire season, at 298 kilometres, and is also referred to as the sprinters classic.

Cav overtaking Haussler with the smallest margin in 2009

Photo by

The race was first held in 1907. Much the same as in France and le tour, a newspaper was behind it. The lead editor of the newspaper La Gazzetta Dello Sport visited San Remo and spent some time in a café, talking to locals. Apparently, the area was known for a car race but the interest had dropped significantly. The people who organised the car race used to send people out on bikes to check the route before the cars, to report on status and accessibility. This gave the guys the idea to start a bike race. Lucien Petit-Breton won the very first edition of the race, while later that year, he won the tour de France. Many distinguished riders have won this beautiful race, Merckx seven times(!), Coppi, Bartali, De Vlaeminck, Kelly and Fignon to mention a few.
In the early years some thought that the big Passo del Turchino was placed too far from the finish to make an impact on the outcome. Therefore, the organisers introduced the Poggio in 1960, with the Cipressa being introduced as late as 1982.

René Vietto abandons on the Turchino in 1947, getting alcohol and sugar...

Photo downloaded at

The longest race took place in 1910, making the winner finishing in 12 hrs 24 minutes in a snowstorm, while Freire used some 7 hours last year. This of course depends heavily on the weather, and the forecast for this weekend indicates much rain, making the riders more likely to finish in 7 hours than 6:30.

What to expect
The race is very long and this is what wear the riders out. The race takes place early in the season and riders tend to forget that it is a whole other game when a race exceeds 200 km.
Normally a breakaway takes off quite early, but there are many teams who want a piece of that cake so they will do what they can to get it back, hopefully before the final climbs.
There is not that many climbs these days in the race. However, the last two climbs normally does it, those who are strong enough there can attack and make it to the finish line in San Remo. The last two climbs are called the Cipressa and the Poggio, the last one translates to "little hill". The Cipressa comes with 20 kilometres to go. With 278 km in the legs, that will hurt. The riders' pace will now be furious and teams will not be present with many riders at this crucial time of the race, they will vanish back of the peloton, or what's left of it. 
The pace will continue to be frantic as the riders are getting close to the oh-so-decisive Poggio. Being only a few kilometres from the finish, this is where the Italian favourites will try to escape along with a rider like Gilbert. The sprinters will have made it to the front before the climb in hope to be there by the end. After a fast and dangerous descent the final kilometres are flat, giving hope to the riders with power in the legs, but the sprinters will continuously try to get the best position while preserving some energy for the final.

Who will be victorious and win this great Classic? I don't know about you, but I have cleared my schedule on Saturday. I am ready to find out.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Cycling and dogs

No, this is not an attempt to verify how many riders who own one, I have no statistical data to back up whether riders are a group who dominate the dog-owner federation or not.
Why do I write about dogs here on my blog now? Because a back stage picture brought it all back to me today. Here is a picture of stage winner of Tirreno-Adratico Michele Scarponi stroking his dog.

Picture by @giroditalia

Dogs can be a riders best friend and its worst enemy. That's enemy if you are a doper. Dogs in cycling first came to my notice when Operation Puerto broke in 2006. The famous, or notorious if you like, Doctor Eufamiano Fuentes, assisted many road cyclists, athletes and footballers to manipulate their blood. Very strange that a gynecolgist is the man to ask for blood transfusions, even more strange that a Spanish football team hires him today after all that have happened.

In order to keep control of everything, Fuentes made the riders and other athletes to come up with their pets' name. For many riders it was their dog's name. Joerg Jaksche "Bella", Alejandro Valverde "Piti", Ivan Basso "Birillo", to mention a few. Michele Scarponi was codenamed "Zapatero", but I have not been able to find out if that is the name of his dog. Since the Spanish police found many bloodbags in Fuentes care, a simple DNA-test would quickly dismiss riders who not were involved. But that never happened, because that would be to "put the legal system to the test since everyone is to be considered not guilty until proven so". The blood bag with the initials A.C. was never testet for DNA either, and I hate to speculate on who that might be.

Dogs are family and of course they are present whenever the rest of the family do something. Like watch the Tour de France. This is something Marcus Burghardt of then team T-mobile, got a very close encounter of during the tour of 2007. Luckily injuries were avoided, on both of them.
PS! Notice the wheel.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Tubulars or clinchers?

Your garage?

Photo downloaded here.

Just watched the finish of Paris-Nice stage two, where Peter Sagan, one of the stage favs, crashed by thelook of it, his tyre rolled off in the final bend. It could also be that there was contact between Sagan's bike and another rider's or that Sagan touched his brake in the bend. Anyway, this post is about tyres/tires

There are huge differences when it comes to what tires you should have on your bike. Now, the recreational weekend rider won't probably notice huge differences but those who ride a lot will. There are two kinds that stands out, tubulars and clinchers.

Clinchers - the common ones  
Most tires are clinchers, consists of an inner tube, an outer tube and air pressure holds everything in place. Tubulars are made of at least three components; the beadfabric and rubber. The bead is the edge of the tire and consists of steel wire, can also be kevlar, that holds the tire onto the rim. The fabric is woven between the two beads and can be made of nylon, polyamids or even silk. The fabric threads are organised in layers of parallel threads, some threads thick and heavy, some tiny. This will indicate the performance of a tire, where a thin threads give more threads per inch (TPI). Like on a car, thin walls of a tire will roll better, but make the tire vulnerable to road damage, especially sideways. Rubber is the third component and is there mainly to protect the other parts. The part of the rubber that makes contact with the surface is known as tread. I'm not saying that the rubber is not important, because you can mix many additives to get certain characteristics. A softer rubber will give better traction, same goes for winter tires on cars. Manufacturers also blend in some carbon or silicon to help road durability.

Tubulars - the not so common ones
These differs from the clinchers because they don't have beads. The two edges of the tire are sewn together around the inner tube, then glued on the rims. Much have been said about the glued tires, like that the glue melts on long downhill rides are truly worrying.
Tubulars are lighter than clinchers and is said to bring a more comfortable ride.
Who have not struggled when changing inner tube on a clincher? I know I have and that is because of the beads (own incompetence not included). Tubulars don't have beads so much easier to change.  On the other hand, if you need to change a tubular, you need a complete spare tubular. Unless you've got a team car behind you on your weekend ride, forget it.
Also an important factor is that the glue need to be carefully applied and need to dry for several hours afterwards before use.

How much pressure?
People often argue about how much air pressure to keep in the tires. Most seem to believe that high pressure will give the smallest resistance. That is wrong. Remember, the tyre is made a special way and it need a certain air pressure level to do its job properly. A tyre is supposed to deflect a bit, and if your tyres don't bulge a bit while you're on the bike - you have overinflated your tires. To much pressure and the tyre can roll off easily, not the thing you want doing a quick bend or coming down a mountain.

What to choose? Depends on your wallet and your needs. I always have a mini pump and a spare inner tube with me while riding - works for me.


Saturday, 5 March 2011

Why cycling has changed my perspective of sports

Will I make it to the finish?

Photo by , downloaded here - Creative Commons attibution.

I consider myself as a competitive guy. I like to win, not just in playing cards with mates but also in sports. This is how I've always been. At the same time I can enjoy when athletes I admire or look up to win, especially on the TV... They deserve it, having devoted so many hours on training, setting other parts of life aside for a period of time. Things like late nights with friends, excessive partying with friends, spending time with family. Most say they don't regret it, they just prioritise differently. I admire people who are able to do just that, seeing them in tears at the podium while their national anthem is on the speakers.

Achievements in sports
"Everybody loves a winner", they say. "2nd and 3rd place are first losers", others says. As I have mentioned before here and here, and as you all know, cycling is a team sport.
What I love about cycling is that people, at least those with some insight of the sport, celebrate the performance as achievements on their own in addition to the winners. We celebrate and admire those who have the desire and will to attack, even when they are so tired and you can se other riders' eyes are filled with despair. Those who give their all for other team mates, making sure the leaders are ready and fit when the decisive attack of the day comes. We celebrate those who each day step on their bike, although their bodies says "not again". We admire those who have devoted themselves to cycling, those riders who have that all-or-nothing mentality. We celebrate those who decide to play along with the environment instead of fighting against the bad weather that makes the riding tedious. We celebrate those who get up with the morning mist to ride their bikes.

I truly believe that sports need to have this perspective in addition to all the others. This is a perspective that won't bring the most $ in the bag, but to me it is important. Maybe we all can learn something by uphold this perspective?

The rider Michael Barry writes in the book Le Métier after completing a TT: "A mechanic takes my bike from me and pats me on the back. He congratulates me - not for the result but for the effort."

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

What Hushovd really is doing in Arenberg Forest these days

What goals do you have Thor?

Photo by Wil Matthews, downloaded here.

As most probably know by now Thor Hushovd, the reigning World Champion, did not participate in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Yesterday Cycling Weekly could report that Hushovd is planning a reconnoitre of the last cobblestone sectors of this year's edition of Paris-Roubaix.

That is not entirely correct though.

Hushovd did travel to France this weekend, just after completing the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but he didn't only plan to reconnoitre with teammate Van Summeren and the new Classics DS expert Van Petegem, but to test some secret equipment.
Now what can that equipment be? To tell you the truth, I don't know what kind, but it is so secret that Hushovd's personal coach, Atle Kvålsvoll, only will tell what it is if tests prove good. I'm pretty good at speculating but I won't make a living out of it. Equipment could be anything, new Classic frame by Cervélo, new stem, pedals or even new tubes.

What an ideal place to test kit, the Paris-Roubaix is Hushovd's main goal for the season, others is RVV, the Tour and the Worlds in Copenhagen. With three peaks in his form, it's going to be an exciting season for the Norwegian World Champion. He said to France24 that his condition is great and that he believes to be in much better shape this year than last year, where he got to the podium at P-R.

Hushovd's dream of pedaling first into the Roubaix velodrome in his rainbow jersey, which The Bagder did in '81, could come true. It would be a nice birthday present to his personal coach as well.

The date to reserve is the 10th of April.

Did you see that Edvald?

Photo credit: From the Cycling Weekly article mentioned above.