The Bike Path

For those who have daily contact with me, or for those I’m friends with on Twitter, the way my life revolves around cycling doesn’t seem unusual- or at least it isn’t a surprise. For those who knew me during other phases of my life and have less than daily contact with me, this obsession might seem a bit strange and out of left field- I certainly wasn’t obsessed with cycling in college or high school and I didn’t even own a bike. So I thought I’d take a post to explain where it all came from. I’ve touched on my entrance into cycling in a few past posts and why it means so much to me, but here’s the official version.

Let’s set the scene: It’s 2010. July. I’ve finally finished grad school and my last paper is submitted. I’m only working part time, trying to find a job. So I spend a lot of time at home, watching TV. But it’s the middle of the day and it’s the middle of summer- double whammy against any good TV. So as I’m flipping through channels, I notice the Tour de France is on. I like France, and I liked to pretend that I knew anything about the Tour, and there’s nothing else on, so I decide to watch.

I recognized Lance, of course, and I recognized Andy Schleck from the brief viewings of the Tour the year before, when I was in France. That’s pretty much it. I immediately took a fancy to Andy, and his duel with Contador kept me tuning in day after day. And even though the Tour ended, my obsession with Andy did not. I started watching the Eneco Tour and even though I was quite confused as to why Andy was not riding with his team, I kept watching. I start understanding how cycling works. I continued to devour any and everything related to cycling- news sites, blogs, videos, YouTube, books, etc. Then the Vuelta a Espana arrived (another Grand Tour like the Tour de France, which takes place in Spain). By this time I was actually starting to understand how cycling and cycling tactics worked. This made watching the race even more exciting. When the Vuelta ended, I had a new cycling crush (Vincenzo Nibali) and firmly cemented love of cycling in my heart.

While all of this race watching was going on, I was becoming more entrenched in the cycling community on Twitter. Many of the people I followed were serious cyclists themselves. And I would read their tweets about their rides and their bikes and be a bit jealous. They were all so passionate about the bike- how it made them feel, how they felt on it, how they longed to be on it. I wanted that- I wanted to be part of that world and feel what they felt. I wanted to feel a love for an activity, a sport- something I’d never experienced before. And there was a bit of me that felt like a poser- writing and obsessing over cycling, but not actually owning a bike. I realize now this is silly, but at the time, I didn’t even like to admit I didn’t have a bike. These feelings, and Shannon’s encouragement, lead me to purchase my bike.

I know it’s clichéd to say, but cycling really has made a huge change in my life. I’m much more active than I’ve ever been. It makes me feel better about myself and my body. I (often) make better eating choices, as I hate the thought of “ruining” all the hard work I’ve done on the bike! While riding is exercise for me, I mainly ride because I love how it makes me feel and because it’s fun- and that really makes all the difference. I enjoy the kinship I feel with other cyclists, pro and otherwise- I can understand their pain and suffering on the bike and the love they have for their bikes. I now know what it means to have good leg days and bad leg days. I now know what it feels like to wish your time on the bike would never end and when it can’t end fast enough. I now understand how climbing, while painful, can provide its own set of enjoyments.

I’m starting to understand things about myself as well. I don’t like to suffer, but I can push myself even when I’m outside my comfort zone- mainly because I’m stubborn! I’m starting to realize where my limits are- while I like going fast up the climbs, mostly it just makes me want to die, so I’m better off going at my own pace, even if it means being off the back. I don’t dread climbing as much as I did (thanks RAGBRAI!), mainly because  I’ve realized that climbing will never get easier if I refuse to do it. I have a hard time pushing myself when I’m alone, so group rides and training partners are best for me if I want to improve.

I’ve met some wonderful people through Twitter and my cycling adventures and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Cycling is the one area of my life right now that truly makes me feel happy, even when it’s making me feel unhappy. I can’t explain why this is or what about exactly about cycling is so important to me, but all I know is that I want to keep doing it…

In the mind of a pro: Taylor Phinney’s blog

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on inside the peloton and inside the head of a pro cyclist, look no further than Taylor Phinney’s blog. He’s been doing a fabulous job blogging every day of his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a Espana. Phinney has just started his first year as a pro (which makes him a neo pro!) and expectations are sky high to become the next big American cycling thing. Although he had a rough start to his year (sore knee, crashes, poor race results), he seems to finally be on the right track. He writes a lot about riding in the peloton, which seems exotic to recreational cyclists like myself. But he also writes about familiar things- pushing through pain, questioning his career choice, wanting to die, but then ultimately remembering that he loves the bike and everything it puts him through. Even as a recreational cyclist, these are things I can relate to. And it makes me happy to know that even the pros suffer like I do, even if it is at a much higher pace and for a longer time!

Click the picture to go through to his blog!

Click to visit his blog

The tale of RAGBRAI 2011

Here are some things I don’t really like: Lines. Crowds. Extreme heat. Unrelenting sun. Porta Potties. Suffering. Anyone who knows anything about RAGBRAI (The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) knows all of these things are an integral part of the event. When I signed up for RAGBRAI, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. Hey! Let’s ride our bikes across Iowa! In 7 days! 450 miles, that couldn’t be so bad, could it? That sounds like a good idea and not hard at all! Let me just say that it is, in fact, hard. Very, very hard. At least if you’re me. Now, most people are not me, so maybe they will have a different opinion on the difficulty of this ride. But right now we care about my opinion (and to give you some idea of the crowds I experienced- about 10,000 people signed up to ride the whole week. I heard reports it swelled up to 22,000 during the week from one/two day riders. That’s a lot of freaking people).

Had I known beforehand the amount of suffering doing RAGBRAI would cause me, I’m not sure I would have done it. It truly was a miserable experience for me. The three things which most adversely affected me were the sun, the heat, and my saddle. Iowa, being part of the plains states, does not have many trees to offer blessed shade while you are riding. So riding in the full blazing sun all day is par for the course. I have no idea what the actual temperature was most of the time (I was too afraid to find out!), but I know it hovered around 100 most of the week. Add the extreme heat to the unrelenting sun and the humidity and you have the perfect combination to knock me out. I really don’t think I can adequately express how much the sun and heat makes me want to die. I can literally feel the heat beating on me- it feels like a physical pressure on my body. And this pressure is burning me up- like someone had laid a super hot, heavy electric blanket over my body. It presses me towards the ground and all I want to do is cry. Even though most days would be pretty overcast until about noon, when the sun did come out, it was brutal. My favorite days were either totally overcast days or the ones with plenty of clouds to offer relief from the sun.

THEN, there was the saddle. It transformed my bike into a two wheeled torture device. Because it pretty much felt like I was sitting on nails. Specifically two nails, one on each of my sits bones. And then when I went over bumps, it was like two gnomes were taking hammers and pounding them into my butt. And let’s not even talk about how bad some of the roads were in Iowa. When I was on the bike, all I wanted to do was get off the bike, but when I was off the bike, the heat was so much that all I wanted was to get back on the bike- a vicious cycle. Then the sores started from all the sweating and rubbing from an ill-fitting saddle. So then pedaling was a chore. It got to the point where I was dreading getting on the bike in the morning. But for some reason, every morning I would put my ass back on the saddle. And this is how it went. (check out more photos here)

Ready for the first day. Blissful ignorance.

Day 1: Glenwood to Atlantic: 60 miles; 4,298 feet of climbing

About half way through the first day, I thought, “If every day is like this, I don’t think I can finish.” The sun was out in full force and it was ridiculously hot out. It was the 2nd hilliest day, as well. It only took about two hours for me to become totally demoralized. The sweat was just dripping off of my face and the hills were causing me to feel like I was going to hyperventilate. I was off the back (of our group- there’s no back in RAGBRAI) by myself and wondering how I was going to make it. Luckily, at some point I ran into Shannon and she was kind enough to stay with me through the rest of the day. She would go on ahead, but wait for me at the next town or at the top of a particularly brutal hill. Her presence really helped get me through that first day.

Today was the day I had my first flat. Luckily, it happened within a short distance of a nice shady tree, so changing it wasn’t too much work. Except for the part where I forgot to put the tire back on before I inflated it- duh! So to avoid having to deflate the whole tire, I just took off one of the brake pads to get it back on.

Atlantic was a cruel end town. The sign welcoming you to Atlantic was about a mile outside the town and there was a steep little kicker right outside of town. We were staying at a family friend’s house and the route to their house was suuuper hilly. It had some nasty climbs and I was thisclose to getting off my bike, but decided I had ridden the rest of the day, so dammit, I wasn’t going to let this last hill break me! Shannon and I were the last ones in, at about 5:30. It was a long, hard first day, and I was glad to be able to take a real shower and sleep in a bed!

So. Many. People.

Day 2: Atlantic to Carroll: 65.5 miles; 4,719 feet of climbing

The day started off overcast and humid. That was perfectly fine by me- I don’t care how humid it is, as long as there is no sun! For whatever reason, today was not as horrible as the first day- maybe because it was not as sunny? The day went really fast, although I have no idea why. The shock of climbing also seemed to have worn off as well, as I don’t have much recollection of suffering much on that front.

Day 3: Carroll to Boone: 71 miles; 1,787 feet of climbing

It is safe to say that this day was the lowest point of the ride for me. The sun was out in full again today, I’m sure it was over 100 most of the day, and the saddle pain was reaching its heights, not to subside until the ride was over. The meetup town (the town, usually about halfway through the day, designated as the lunch stop) for this day was horrid. There was no shade anywhere, there was no nice place to eat your lunch, there was no chance of catching a good breeze. In fact, many of the towns we stopped in were not nice towns- just depressing little towns with no character. Today, when the meetup town failed to offer any relief or break from the oppressive heat, I just couldn’t take it any more. There were tears. There was drama. And there was Liza. She saw how upset I was and sent the others along and she shepherded me through the day. She put up with my crying and whining to help me get to Boone.

Day 4: Boone to Altoona: 56 miles; 1,147 feet of climbing

In keeping with the tradition so far that a bad day was followed by a good(ish) day, today’s ride was not so bad. It was totally and utterly flat- how those not from Iowa imagine Iowa is like. The one thing that really kept me going was the thought that I would be meeting some friends once we got to Altoona- although I felt bad because Shannon and I were so tired, we weren’t great company!

Unnecessary bike surgery

Day 5: Altoona to Grinnell: 57 miles; 3,202 feet of climbing

About 5 miles outside of town, I had my second flat (another slow leak). I was with my dad and as we pulled off and turned the bike upside down, this guy joined us and was like, “I can help!” then proceeded to start surgery on my tire. I just wanted to change the tube and get on with it, but he insisted we try and find the leak and patch it. This involved a lot of steps that seemed unnecessary to get me back on the road. While I appreciated his willingness and desire to help, I really didn’t need it and just wanted to stop wasting precious overcast minutes.

Once that flat was out of the way, it was a pretty normal day. The riding groups had been established by this point- Liza with her dad, uncle and family friend in the front; Shannon and John in the middle; and Dad and I off the back. The road into Grinnell was pretty brutal, with some nasty climbs the last 5 miles or so into town.

Tonight I got to sleep in a real bed, do laundry, use a proper shower and sit in the AC for a bit, as Grinnell is where my parents live. My brother who lives in California was also home this week, and I desperately wanted to hang out with him, but I was just so fecking tired, I barely made it past 9:00.

Day 6: Grinnell to Coralville: 75 miles; 2,681 feet of climbing

It felt weird to ride on roads that I’ve driven on countless times. It was a day full of rollers and by this time I had stopped caring about the climbing. It used to demoralize me when I would get to the top of one hill, only to see another on the horizon. Not anymore. Up, down, then up again. It started to have its rhythm. I just expected the hills to go on endlessly and they did. I can’t say I loved the hills or that they were easy, but the sight of them didn’t depress me anymore.

Day 7: Coralville to Davenport: 65.5 miles; 2,363 feet of climbing

The mileage today was average, but it felt like it went on forever. I got my 3rd slow lead today. I thought about changing it, but we were so close to the end, I thought, “If Johan Van Summeren can win Paris-Roubaix on a slow leak, I can finish this damn ride on one!” So I filled it with air and soldiered on. I was very ready to be off my bike and done with this ride. But…there was a part of me that was a bit sad the experience was ending. Not so much the bike part of it, but the rest of RAGBRAI that went along with it- the atmosphere, the traditions, the people. Even if the riding hadn’t been fun, just the experience of RAGBRAI was a little bit.  And thus ended RAGBRAI.

Total mileage: 454 miles

Total feet of climbing: 21,206 feet

Time dulls all pain so women will give birth to more than one child and so people will continue to do RAGBARI year after year. During the week of RAGBRAI, if you asked me if I would do it again, I would’ve said “HELL NO.” But a few weeks later it’s possible to remember the fun bits of the ride. I loved the sheer number of cyclists. I loved being around so many bikes, all the time. Bikes literally covered every inch of ground in the pass through towns. It was fabulous to see whole towns closed off to cars and to see bikes be given preference everywhere. I love the neat RAGBRAI traditions: bike parking made of cables strung between tractors; cornfield potty breaks; Beekman’s Homemade Ice Cream; the people who set up sprinklers or hoses for cyclists to ride through; the unique free water stations set up by the towns; afternoon naps in the shade; cyclists of all shapes and sizes; the musical bikes; advertisements for “free shade;” rest stations set up by anyone and everyone (especially rest stations set up at the top of hills!); High School pep band entertainment; pie; beer gardens everywhere; fair food everywhere. It was really fecking tough and most days I wondered how I was going to make it to the overnight town. I think only the fact that I never envisioned a scenario where I didn’t finish the ride kept me on the bike. Will I do it again? I’d consider it ONLY if I had a saddle I  knew I could sit on for 6+ hours a day without wanting to die. The heat and humidity- that I could get used to, as much as I hate it. And weather’s constantly changing. But your saddle- once that’s bad, it doesn’t go back! This year, I suffered every minute on the bike, and dreaded the thought of ever coming back. But…now…ask me again in January!

Things I learned while on RAGBRAI

  • when a Prius tells you it needs gas, it needs gas RIGHT NOW
    Outta gas at a toll station
  • Cornfields make suitable bathrooms (although I never had need of their services)
  • Although you may not be a big breakfast person when you start RAGBRAI, you will by the time you finish
  • Climbing is just climbing- turn the pedals over and get to the top, coast, repeat
  • Tree shade is vastly superior to tent shade
  • There is no right or wrong way to be a cyclist
  • Having big eyebrows would come in handy when trying to keep sweat out of your eyes
  • If you have forgotten to sunscreen one millimeter of your body, the Iowa sun will find it and fry it
  • It is possible to sleep through concerts, busing coming and going, noisy generators, and any other odd assortment of night noises
  • Iowa roads have lots of seams in them which, when ridden over, cause much bouncing and pain on the saddle
  • I really hate porta potties and will do almost anything to avoid using them
  • I love riding through the sprinklers by the side of the road
  • I don’t like to suffer and I’m whiny when I am
  • Sometimes 2 miles can seem like 15 and sometimes 15 can seem like 2
  • It’s okay to be slow. It’s okay to be off the back. (I’ve yet to fully convince myself of this, but I’m working on it)
  • Sometimes you can train a lot and not notice any difference
  • When someone is looking out for you, it’s easier to finish a rough day

    Liza and Shannon, my saviors

How Cycling Works: Living on the Bike

Lunch time! Photo:

Now that we’ve covered all the basics of racing a grand tour, what about how the riders “live” on the bikes? There is food that needs to be eaten, nature that needs answering, water that needs to refilled, plus clothes layered on and off. All of these things have to happen while riding a bike at speeds many sane people would consider insane. But, for pro cyclists, it’s just part of the game.


Cyclists eat a lot. A lot, a lot. Especially cyclists that are riding in a three week race. They are constantly shoving food in their face to replace all the calories lost through racing. While 3,000 calories a day is recommended for an average man, a pro cyclist can burn up to 5,000 calories a day. To consume enough calories to replenish those lost calories and supplement of the next day’s racing, a racer has to be eating all the time. This means eating on the bike as well as off of it. To replenish a rider in the middle of a long stage, riders pass through a feed zone. In the feed zones, team soigneurs (French for “care giver”) stand by the side of the road with musettes full of food and water bottles. The bag is called a musette because it resembles the type of small bag with a shoulder strap often carried by soldiers or travelers. The soigneur stands at the side of the road with a musette in his/her outstretched arm and as the peloton comes barreling down the road at top speeds, a rider from his/her team will snatch the musette out of the soigneur’s hand. They’ll quickly hold up another bag, and the process is repeated. When the rider gets the bag, he’ll loop it around his neck and carry across his chest and proceed to empty the bag into his jersey pockets. He might not take everything, depending on what he likes to eat when he’s riding. Whatever is specifically in the bag, it will be something that contains lots of carbohydrates, the most magical of all the organic compounds when it comes to refueling the body.

Here’s a good video that Garmin-Transitions (now Garmin-Cervelo) did about how they feed their riders:

They’re allowed to take food outside of feed zones, from team cars.

An assisted pee break. Photo: IG Markets Cycling Facebook

When nature calls…

Now that we know how they feed themselves on the bike, what about bathroom breaks? They’re on their bikes for 4 or 5 hours a day, drinking tons of water- nature is going to call eventually. There are two options- on the bike or off the bike. Often, after the break has been established and the pace in the peloton has settled down, the leader or another higher placed GC rider will go to the front and indicate that it’s pee break time! Then, anyone with a need pulls over to the side and takes care of business. Those that don’t, continue riding, but at a sedate pace which allows those stopped to catch back up easily. A rider can just stop at the side for a pee break any time, if the pace is sedate enough that it will be easy to catch back up. However, often it is not possible to take the time to stop. So this means peeing on the fly. This usually involves moving to the back of the group and off to the side, usually with a teammate. The teammate will help stabilize the rider in need of a pee break and the rider will do his business. It ain’t easy, and requires some serious bike handling skills, but these guys are pros for a reason. In general, pee breaks (or “nature breaks” or “comfort breaks” if you’re a Eurosport commentator) are respected as a time when no one attacks or pushes the pace, and if it’s perceived that this is not respected, people can get angry. While it is considered very bad form for the TV crews and photographers to take pictures of these events, it is sometimes caught inadvertently by the TV cameras. This is more likely on Eurosport than Versus, as Eurosport spends more time on the race and less time on commercials. The strange twist to these pee breaks is that it’s technically against the rules to pee in public. There is at least one or two riders a day that get fined for “public urination.” I’m sure this is very subjective, as urinating in public is really the only option during races. However, I suspect it has something to do with how close to spectators the rider chooses to have his comfort break.


While food is mostly delivered to the peloton during specific points, water is something that needs to be consumed throughout the race, especially on hot days. The riders are surely drinking more than the two bottles that fit on their bikes- this means they need someone to get water for them. During a race, if a rider wants water, he’ll usually go back to the team car and collect some bottles. A team leader will rarely go back for his own bottles- usually a domestique will collect as many bottles as he can carry to distribute to his team leader and teammates. Mostly this involves stuffing as many bottles as possible down his jersey!

So, now you’ve had a three part introduction to how cycling works. Let me know in the comments if there’s something about cycling that still baffles you…

How Cycling Works: The Jerseys

Jersey wearers from the 2010 Tour- Young rider, Overall, Points, KOM

Now that we’ve covered how teams work, let’s look at how exactly one wins in a stage race. In most stage races, it’s not just the guy who comes in first at the end who gets honors. The fastest guy, the best climber, the best young rider, the best team, etc, all get prizes as well.

The highest honor of the race, of course, goes to the one who finishes first. But what does it mean to finish “first?” In the end, the guy on the top step of the podium is the one with the lowest cumulative race time- the one who rides the course the fastest. It’s not the guy who wins the most stages. In fact, often the race winner wins no stages! The rider with the lowest cumulative time wears the leader’s jersey. In the Tour, this jersey is yellow, and the color most often associated with a leader’s jersey, but it can be any color. For the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy), it is pink, and for the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain), it is red. It is a lot of work to keep and defend the yellow jersey. There are many tactics employed to make sure the yellow jersey stays in the team, but the bottom line is that the rider in yellow must keep a close eye on those finishing the the stage ahead of him. If there is a someone who is only 30 seconds behind him, the leader must not let that rider finish 31 seconds in front of him or else he will lose the leader’s jersey. This is why it is hard to be in the leader’s jersey- that team must constantly be monitoring who’s attacking, who’s in the break, who’s at the head of the peloton, etc, and often the pressure is on them to chase back any escapees.

In the stage races, there are more jerseys to be won than just the leader’s jersey. Most stage races will have a points jersey, a climbing jersey, and a best young rider jersey. The points jersey is worn by the rider with the most points. To accumulate points, a rider must one of the first, usually, 15-20 riders through certain lines on the course, with one of those lines being the finish line. Points are awarded in descending value, based on when the rider crosses the line- so the first rider gets the most points and the 20th rider gets the least. This jersey is most commonly known as the sprinter’s jersey, as traditionally the majority of the points are given out at the finish line and the flatter stages (which favors sprinters) have more points available to win at the finish. So, the rider who can win the most flat stages often has the best chance at wearing the sprinter’s jersey. This isn’t always the case, as points awarded at the intermediate sprints in the middle of the route can play an important role in deciding who wears the jersey. But in the end, the sprinter’s jersey (the green jersey at the Tour) is meant to go to the fastest rider.

The climbing jersey is commonly called the King of the Mountains jersey, or KOM. It’s awarded the same way the sprinter’s jersey is, with points awarded to those crossing the summit of different climbs. Climbs are ranked from 4 (easiest) to 1 (hardest), but some are SO HARD that they receive a Hors Categorie (HC, or outside category) distinction. Obviously, the highest ranked climbs will have more points available for the taking.

The young rider’s jersey is pretty self-explanatory- it goes to the rider under 26 with the lowest cumulative race time, signified by a white jersey.

There are also a couple of prizes awarded that don’t have a special jersey. Each stage a rider is awarded the most aggressive rider prize- this could be someone who worked hard in the break, made a last ditch attack, powered through the worst crash, etc. They get a special, red, race number for the day. At the end of the race, one rider is awarded the overall  most aggressive rider.

Juan Antonia Flecha and his most aggressive rider special number. Photo: Team Sky

The other prize awarded is the team classification. This award goes to the team with the overall lowest cumulative time. There is no special jersey, but they get yellow race numbers.

Team RadioShack received the team classification award at the 2010 Tour

So there you have it- the collection of jerseys and prizes up for grabs at the Tour!

The Race Convoy

I just wanted to draw your attention to a cool diagram the Cycling Tips blog did, which explains how a race caravan works- what sort of vehicles are in the race caravan, what order they go in, rules the caravan has to follow, etc.

Image from

Go here  or click on the image to get more details!

How cycling works: the teams

A team is more than just its riders

The Tour de France is an exciting time in the cycling world, but for someone who is just discovering cycling, it can be a bit overwhelming. While cycling seems simple enough (they’re just riding their bikes down the road, for crying out loud!), it’s actually quite a complex sport. While the Tour can be enjoyed at any level, it helps to understand the basics of cycling and how racing works. For the next few days, I’ll be posting some “primers” to help those new to the Tour understand what’s going on!

First up, the essence of cycling: the teams. Cycling is a strange mix of team and individual sport. Only one racer wins the stage/race, but that one racer cannot win without the support of a team. Teams are usually built around a few “stars,” who usually gets the most attention/stage wins/press. But those “stars” wouldn’t be able to win any races if they didn’t have a team around them. A team usually has 20-30 some riders (at least the ones with a nice budget do!), so a team will have various riders at various races at any time. The B teams often to the “lesser” races, while the A teams are usually sent to the higher profile races. This was something I definitely did not understand when I started watching. When I watched the Eneco Tour after the Tour, I couldn’t understand why Andy et al, weren’t riding for Saxo Bank! At each race, within a squad of 6-9 riders (depending on the size of the race), a team leader is usually designated who the other riders support. These domestiques (French for servants) do things like shepherd things back and forth to the team car (including water, cold/warm weather gear, instructions, etc.), take pulls on the front of the peloton to chase down breaks, draft the leaders back to the peloton if they get dropped for some reason, or even give up a bike or wheel if the situation calls for it. The domestiques rarely win, often riding hard until they pop, then limping to the finish line. All of this is done to help preserve the strength and legs of team leaders- keeping them out of the wind, towards the front of the peloton to try and avoid the crashes that often happen in the bunch. There are exceptions, such as when Garmin-Cervelo super domestique Johan Van Summeren won Paris-Roubaix this year, but they are the exception and not the rule. However, just because you’re domestique doesn’t mean you’re not famous- Jens Voigt being a perfect example. He’s one of the hardest working and best liked domestiques of the peloton. He got a love letter from me.

Of course the teams aren’t just the riders. Other important members include soigneurs, the mechanics, the cooks, the directeur sportifs (DS), etc. Soigneurs (French for “care givers”) do a variety of jobs, from doing laundry, clean up, driving team cars, organizing team cars, restocking supplies, etc- anything and everything that might be required to run a team. Sometimes soigneurs will also be masseurs, an important job in helping riders recover. I’ve heard it compared to being a roadie for a rock band- lots of work, little pay, late nights, etc. Only the passionate need apply!

Mechanics, of course self explanatory- they’re the guys that keep the bikes running! Often a mechanic will ride in the team cars, to help with wheel and bike changes, and help with any bike repairs that need to happen on the go. Again, late nights, as after each race, they must get the bikes ready for the next day- washing and cleaning the bike, making sure all the parts are working like they should, etc. And that’s not just the bikes the 9 riders use, but all the spare bikes as well.

Most teams have cooks there to make sure the riders are getting the right food in the right amounts. Some of the bigger teams have their own “kitchen” bus, but the smaller teams often cook out of the hotel kitchens.

The DS is probably the most important member of the team, when it comes to racing and tactics. They’re usually sitting in the cars, “coaching” the riders. If the race has radios, they’ll give breakaway updates, crash updates, road updates through the radio, as well as give guidance on when to attack or chase. If the race has no radios, they’ll wait for riders to come back to the car for instructions or updates. Most DSs are former riders.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some vital member of the team, and I’m sure I’ve not gotten every thing right, so be sure to leave me a comment! Next post: jerseys!

Tour de France: A Feelings Index

This a modified version of an article I wrote for US Pro Cycling News.

Disclaimer: If you use this list to predict who will do well at the Tour, you will probably lose.

It’s so weird to think that the Tour de France is going to be starting TOMORROW! It seems like only yesterday that I turned on the TV, one bored summer afternoon and, without knowing how it would change my life, started watching the Tour de France. Little did I know that watching this race was the start of a long, sordid affair with the cycling world. If I known that watching this race would result in my eating, drinking, and breathing cycling, would I have turned on that TV? Who knows. The only thing I do know is watching that race marked a changing point in my life.

So as the 2011 edition of the TdF draws near, it is custom for everyone and their mom, their dog and their grandparents to make predictions on what they think different riders’ chances are at the podium, the different jersey’s, a top 10 finish, etc. I find prediction, and making them, to be rather useless, as form and fitness are only one tiny (albeit important) part of the overall equation in winning any race. You can’t predict bad luck, bad weather, or what others might do on the road. Oh yeah, and I suck at them. However, this will not stop me from throwing my hat into the predictions ring. However, this will be no ordinary predictions list. Mainly because I suck at prediction and am still not familiar enough with the riders to really know their chances. In fact, it won’t be a predictions list at all. This will be a feelings list, as I talk about my feelings towards those riding the TdF this year.

Anna’s 2011 Tour de France Feelings Index Ratings

Andy Schleck

If you’ve ever read any of my blog, you know exactly how I feel about Andy. He’s the rider that got me into cycling in the first place, as my schoolgirl crush on him kept me watching the Tour until the very end and motivated me to continue after it had ended. So he will always rate high on the Feelings Index. I’m very nervous about his form coming into the Tour- he has not had a very impressive season so far. I don’t think his lack of results means too much, but I wasn’t very impressed with his climbing during the Tour of California or the Tour de Suisse. I’m also concerned with the growing pains his team seems to be experiencing. I don’t know if I can point to a specific incident, but overall I wonder the stress and expectations of starting a new team built around him is a bit much. Now, I wasn’t around last year when Sky was starting its inaugural year, but based on reports, expectations were sky high (see what I did there?) and there wasn’t much delivery. This year, they’ve mellowed out, reevaluated their goals and had a much better year. I’m seeing a bit of repeat with Leopard-Trek- expectations are high but there hasn’t been much delivery. My fingers are crossed that this whole season has been a big bluff and Andy’s gonna shred it up those mountains and make Bertie wish he’d never ridden the Giro.

Feelings Index rating: 10/10

Alberto Contador

If you had asked me last year where Bertie fell on my feelings index, I would’ve said right at the bottom. He was Andy’s sworn enemy! But after watching him climb in the Giro this year, he’s also climbed up my Feelings Index as well. I’m trying not to think too much about the whole doping issue. While it drives me crazy to think that his wins might get stripped, denying another deserving rider a chance at the podium, I can’t really blame him for this, as it is the UCI/CSA that seems to be dragging their feet in deciding the final verdict. So, I’m going to put that out of my head and enjoy watching him ride. He’s clearly a man who loves to race and ride his bike and dang has he got some skill! I don’t care what others said; I loved watching him dominate this year’s Giro. Normally I’d never say this, but you never knew when he was just going up and leave the peloton in his dust, and that was so exciting to watch. Now, do I want him to do that at the Tour? Not really. I’d like the competition to be a little closer!  However, if he can hold over his form from the Giro, I feel he’ll be hard to beat. But, riding the Giro like it was his last race on Earth might have sapped precious strength and prevent him from being at his best. Not to mention that pretty much his entire support squad rode the Giro as well, and I can’t imagine they’re all ready to ride the Tour at top form.

Feelings Index rating: 7/10

Chris Horner

I will admit. Horner does not rank high on my Feelings Index, despite the fact that he is an American rider that everyone seems to love. In fact, I really don’t love him. I do not know why this is. Maybe because everyone else does? Maybe because I don’t love RadioShack? I’m not sure. While I know he is a nice guy that everyone loves, and he doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in his body (even his pain face is surprisingly pleasant), I cannot get excited about him. In fact, once he got the leaders jersey in California, I stopped caring about the race and how it would end. However, I cannot deny he’s been having a great season and seems to have the legs and the form for a great Tour.

Feelings Index rating: 3/10

Cadel Evans

I would say I’m indifferent towards Cadel. He seems to have a lot of intense fans, but I’m still not sure what the fuss is all about. I do follow a lot of Australians on twitter and they are loyal to Cadel to the death, which might be why it seems to me that everyone loves him. When I ask people why they love Cadel, most cite his defense of the rainbow jersey last year and his performance at the 2010 Giro. As I was not watching cycling last year, I did not get to witness his panache-filled performances of last year and even though there have flashes panache this year, it hasn’t been much to make an impression on me. Plus, he’s a very strange looking man. I get so distracted about how strange looking he is when I see him, that I often can’t concentrate on anything else.

Feelings Index rating: 5/10

Thor Hushovd

Poor Thor has been getting some flack this season. Many people feel he isn’t defending the world champs jersey as he should, but I’m not really sure what that means. I mean, sure, it seems that Cadel really became a different racer when he was wearing the jersey, but I’m not sure that means everyone needs to. He was doing what he was doing before- riding and winning when he could. It seems to me that Hushovd is very good on a very specific type of course and then is just middling on anything else. He’s got speed and he’s got power, but not enough speed to beat the fastest on the flattest courses, and not enough power to beat the best climbers. So, he wins on the courses he’s suited for- like last year’s worlds course! Anyway, I think he’s a classy rider and a classy guy (even though his teeth drive me crazy). I think maybe he could win a stage, but that’s about it. (Oh and I also love him because of this.)

Feelings Index rating: 7/10

Tyler Farrar

Speaking of Garmin-Cervelo and their awesome Tour argyle, there’s also Tyler Farrar. I’ve always felt a little bad for Tyler. It’s “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” with him. Or more accurately, “always the slightly late wedding guest who misses the important bits, never a bride.” He just can’t quite seem to keep up with the fastest guys and their lead out trains. Or his lead out train keeps getting jostled out of position by the other sprinter’s lead out trains. Either way. While he’s usually a top 5 finisher of the sprint stages, even if he’s got a good position going into the sprint, something always happens and he’s boxed out. But I still like him. He seems like a super chill guy, he’s American, he’s a ginger- all wins! I’d love for him to get a stage win, although I’m not holding my breath.

Feelings Index rating: 8/10

Mark Cavendish

And now speaking of sprinters! I. love. Cav. Love him. Yes, he’s brash. Yes, he’s obnoxious. Yes, he thinks very highly of himself as a sprinter. But he looooves his job and he loooves his teammates. And he’s very emotional- he wears his heart on his sleeve and I like that. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, even if it makes him sound a bit stupid sometimes. My first memory of him is him crying after he won his first stage at the TdF last year. I didn’t understand it, but I loved it even then. And let’s not forgot about the fact that he’s a fabulous tweeter

Feelings Index rating: 9/10

Ivan Basso

I mainly like Basso because he tweets awesome pictures of himself getting massages and such. I really have no opinion of him as a rider, as I’ve yet to see him race. Although, I was watching highlights of last year’s Giro on Versus awhile ago and the little I saw of him was impressive. So, between his awesome tweets and the fact that he’s pretty cute, he gets a higher ranking on my Feelings Index.

Feelings Index rating: 7/10

Philippe Gilbert

When the season started, I didn’t have an opinion on Gilbert. And even as the season progressed and he started winning a lot, I was still pretty indifferent towards him. I saw that everyone loved him, but didn’t really understand why. I also found him to be pretty unattractive (yes, I’m shallow). But then he was winning, winning, winning. And he started bringing his little baby on the podium with him. And he had awesome helmet hair. And he seemed genuinely excited about winning. And he was FUN to watch! After he won the Belgian championships and you could feel his excitement, I was sold. He’s such a strong, silent rider that is capable of animating a race to the fullest extent. There’s a lot of talk about “panache” in the peloton, and I think he’s got it. He attacks, he’s not afraid of racing hard, he knows where his strengths are and he’s not afraid to use them. It would be fun to see him win a TdF stage!

Feelings Index rating: 8/10

Alexandre Vinokourov

I don’t like him. He creeps me out with his eyebrow-less face and his seemingly emotionless face. I hope he doesn’t win anything.

Feelings Index rating: 1/10

Photo: Fitzalan Gorman

The Group Rides

As RAGBRAI creeps closer, I’ve been trying to do more group riding. This is because I can only push myself so far. I’m not so much a fan of suffering that I can push myself to my suffering limits and hold myself there. I need someone else there to hold my feet to the fire. However, while I would say I’m “training” for RAGBRAI, it’s training in the sense that I don’t want to die on the Iowa hills or from spending “all day” in the saddle. So I’m not interested in doing intervals or going faster or doing massive climbing training. But I would like to challenge myself! So I’ve been trying out different group rides.

I went on a few rides with the Sassy Sisters. Their name is silly, but I do have fun. It’s nice riding with all women and their pace always makes me feel really fast. I also went on one ride with the Bicycle Space shop.

That one was a lot of fun. There were only five of us, but by a funny coincidence, one was a girl who I had ridden with on the first Sassy Sisters ride- the ultra slow group ride. The leader was pretty cute, too- bonus! I’m actually usually quite intimidated by cute cyclists, but am starting to feel a bit more confident about my abilities, so I’m not as much anymore. ANYWAY. While that ride took us to the same neighborhoods and trails I’ve been riding on since I got my bike, it was fun to experience them with new people. I think I impressed the guy leading the ride. While this makes me feel good about myself, I’m never sure if I’m actually good, or if I’m better than they think I would be and their expectations were so low that that doesn’t really mean much. So I’ve wanted to go on a proper group ride to assess my fitness level. Because I have no idea where I am. I know how I feel, but feeling can only get you so far.

Both of the groups I had already ridden with were like, “We’re nice! No one gets left behind! You don’t have to an expert to ride with us!” But when I was looking at the Potomac Pedalers website for this one particular ride, they were like “we’re nice, but we’re not waiting for you. If you get dropped, you better have a cue sheet so you can find your way back!” So, you know, tough love. And I felt I was in need of some tough love to challenge myself! So I committed myself to going, to the point where I couldn’t back out. Because unless I’m held accountable I won’t do it! Once I did commit myself, I was soooo nervous. I felt a bit ill even. It’s the same sick feeling I get when I’m going on a date for the first time.

I had no idea what type of people would be there or if I would even be able to keep up with the pace. My only consilation was that if I was dropped, I knew the area well enough to be able to find my way home!

When I got there, there were about 20 and 30 people there. It was a bit intimidating, as most groups of cyclists look pretty intense when you first see them. But then as you look closer, past the lycra and the shoes and the fancy looking bikes, it’s clear there is a wide range of riders- they aren’t all racers ready to crush you with their intense pace. When we started, it was really cool to be riding in the huge group of cyclists, taking over an entire lane. I’m sure the people in the cars hated us, but we had them outnumbered! Before we left, the leader had pointed out a girl who would probably be going close to my pace. So when we started going, I stuck with her. And when the guy in front of me turned off, but the girl kept going straight, I followed her. She was with 2 other women, and after about a half a mile of us not catching the group ahead of us, one of the girls said, “I think we’re on the long route!” As opposed to the shorter route the slower riders do. And now we were too far away from the slow group to get back with them, and too far away from the fast group to catch them. So, the four of us decided to do our own ride! It was tough but fun. I definitely went further than I thought I would, but it was okay. Somehow, doing a longer, tougher ride is a little easier to do when you’re with others…

I’m definitely starting to feel more confident in my abilities and more comfortable on group rides. It’s a lot easier to get motivated when I’m riding with other people! Also, the group rides are good for another reason- since I graduated from grad school, my social life has constricted dramatically. While I was in school, I was interacting with a bunch of different people and going to a lot of different events. Since I’ve graduated, my life consists of work, home, and a few nights out with friends. And lots of movies by myself. I’ve started to realize that while I’m actually fine with this, it’s not a great way to live your life. So I’m trying to find a new group of acquaintances like I had in grad school and group rides are a great way to do this. I feel like I’ve gotten a good start and I hope I can continue to find new rides to do!

Came home with a pretty impressive Cat 5 tattoo

Air Force Cycling Classic takes my virginity

Before I start, I’d like to apologize for the lag between posts that happened. The Giro and the Tour of California really wore me out and I needed a break from writing. So, hopefully now I’m back! If there’s anything YOU’D like me to write about, let me know in the comments!

So. This weekend I went to my first race! It was the Air Force Cycling Classic and it consisted of two races on two days. Each day had a different course and on each course there was a women’s pro race, a men’s pro race, and an amateur race. Both races were criterium (crit) style, which means it’s a circular course, usually about a mile/kilometer in length, with lots of tight corners and fast turns. The race consists of either a certain number of laps or a certain length of time. During the race, on certain laps they’ll offer primes, usually money, for the first person to cross the line. The two races were held in two different locations. The Clarendon race was a circuit of 1km, with the pro men riding 100 laps. The Crystal City race was a little longer and they raced for 90 minutes, which I think equated to about 25 laps. It totalled 100km in length as well. The women and the amateurs raced over the same courses but for shorter lengths of time.

I got there before the race started and while I was just wandering around, I was totally overwhelmed by the amount of cyclists/racers around! It was so cool to be in an environment where cyclists, walking around in their cycling gear, were the majority. Also, I have never been around so much bike technology before! I’m not a gear head at all, but I can recognize a fancy bike when I see it. And I saw a LOT today. It was really neat to walk by where the teams had set up their “camps.” I felt like I was walking past my version of celebrities when I walked by the teams I had seen racing in the Tour of California and the Philly race: United Healthcare, Kelly Benefits Strategies, Exergy, Pure Black, Team Type 1, etc.

Hot cycling dude. They're chill.

I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to follow the race developments, not being familiar with crit racing and not having a commentator narrating the race. It turns out that crit racing tactics are very similar to road racing tactics, just with developments and changes happening a lot faster. And it also turns out that crits also have commentators that hang out at the finish line, narrating the race. There are breaks and chase groups and attacks and lead out trains. So I was pleased to find out that it was pretty easy to follow what was happening. Even if the situation was changing every lap.

The stage with the commentators

I liked the Clarendon circuit a bit better, as it was more of a genuine circuit, which meant if you were in the center, you had easy access to all the different parts of the course. Not to mention it went right through areas with lots of restaurants and shops, so there were lots of people everywhere you went. The Crystal City circuit was less of a circuit and more of an out and back. It was harder to get to all the different parts of the course and there were larger sections of course that were devoid of people. And because the course was circular, the only way to hear what the commentators were saying was to standing right by the start/finish line.

Things I noticed:

  • Everyone talks about how fast the racing is- they’re not lying! Whipping around corners, it’s amazing they don’t tip right over or crash into the barriers. And when they’re ripping down a straight or accelerating out of a corner, the speed literally blows your hair back! At Crystal City, there was a motorcycle cop who’s radar gun clocked the peloton at 30mph!
  • To me, it seemed as though the women’s and amateur races were just as fast as the pro races. Okay, maybe not quite as fast, but seemed pretty close to me.

"Amateurs," very fast amateurs

And very fast women

  • I was impressed with the crowds! The Clarendon race was a bit more crowded, as it was in a better location, but both it was cool to see how many people showed up to support the racers! It was also cool to see know that I wasn’t the lone bike race supporter out here. I’ve felt a bit lonely out here sometimes, with my cycling addiction, so I loved see others enjoying racing like I do. I talked to a photographer the first day who said he’s just discovering cycling and was interested in going to more races, so we exchanged emails and I hooked him up with a bunch of cycling resources!
All in all it was a fabulous weekend (even though my sunscreen application was less than thorough and I ended the weekend with sunburn) and I can’t wait for next year! OH, I also need to point out that I finally met Fitzalan Gorman, who runs the website I write for! I’ve been writing for her since the fall but this was our first face to face encounter. So that was nice! More picture here and here!

And now for the best view...