Sunday, February 27, 2011

I honestly don't know what to think of this (Alexi Grewal's comeback):

His fame is, believe it or not, a little before my time, but from what I remember he worked pretty hard to be known as the biggest jerk in the peloton. Incredible talent; incredible donkey. (Wasn't the "Cannibal" character in American Flyers loosely based on this dude, at least temperament-wise?)

Anyway, my interest is piqued. (And based on this picture alone, scared to death.) Here's to the big 5-o!

Friday, February 18, 2011

what it means to be a competent bicycle racer

Wade of made a nice little post the other day linking Maslow's stages of learning with general racing competence. I liked it enough that I thought I'd quote it here.

  1. Unconscious Incompetence
    The individual neither understands nor knows how to do something, and does not recognizes the deficit. An example of this might be someone giving racing a crack for the first time. He might be fit but still does not understand how to bike race. The best place to introduce someone to the race environment would be in D-grade.
  2. Conscious Incompetence
    Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, without yet addressing it. This would be after a few races getting comfortable in D-grade and then racing in C-grade. This is a pack of cyclists who have a good fitness base but still learning the major details of how to bike race and the skills required. Things are still being learned such as how to roll turns properly, how to corner, where to position yourself.
  3. Conscious Competence
    The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires a great deal of consciousness or concentration. Now we’re getting into the B-grade level of racing. Everyone who is good enough to be out there is committed to racing. Many people’s ambition is to make it into A grade but there is still lots experience required to put what has been learned into practice.
  4. Unconscious Competence
    The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it becomes “second nature” and can be performed easily (often without concentrating too deeply). He or she may or may not be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned. This should be the skill level of an A-grade cyclist. An A-grade cyclists should know how the game is played, the tactics involved, and not have to second-guess details such as cornering, positioning, attacking, counter-attacking, the direction of the wind, echeloning, holding your line, etc.
The "grades" Wade is referring to are how amateur bike racing is organized in Australia. From what I gather, it's more of a self-policing category system, unlike the more institutional USA Cycling category system here.

I like Wade's application of Maslow's model to cycling. However, I believe a distinction should be made between what I'll call race survival skills and race winning skills. Race survival skills are more or less technical in nature, easier to achieve competence in, and you don't necessarily need to race that much to get there. These include skills such as drafting, pace-lining, echeloning, cornering, holding a wheel when you think you have nothing left to give, how to close a gap, knowing how to eat and drink in the peloton, knowing when to eat and drink to survive the race, and countless other things you just learn by doing a lot of riding with others. Race winning skills are less technical and more nuanced in their application, and are thus harder to learn. These include skills such as positioning, attacking, counter-attacking, when to burn matches and when to save matches, how to race with teammates, how to race without teammates, etc.

[The rest of this post was written with novice to intermediate collegiate cyclists in mind as audience (it gets kind of lecturey), and is posted on the Ship Cycling blog without this explanatory note, in case you were wondering.]

The distinction between these two types of skills is important, I think, because the four levels of bicycle racing competence that Wade describes seem, at first, to map nicely onto the D-A category system in US collegiate racing, where D fields are comprised of novice, USAC Cat 5 riders, and A fields are comprised of elite, USAC Cat 1-3 riders. However, upon reflection, I think the comparison is a more appropriate typology only for race survival skills. Race winning skills, well, that's another matter. While every pro cyclist is likely fully competent in race survival skills, there surely is a great deal of variance in race winning skills (one reason I suspect directors are so adamantly opposed to the elimination of race radios--they want control over in-race tactical decisions because they don't trust their riders' judgment). And I think an argument can be made that some riders are natural racers, which is to say that they seem to have an innate gift for reading a race, attacking at opportune moments, conserving when attacking would bear no fruit, etc. These riders can't really explain how they do it and may be only vaguely aware of the difference between themselves and others in the first place. However, like any skill, no matter the rider's disposition, education and practice can make him or her better, whether that person is the equivalent of a tactical moron or race-reading genius.

Education and practice. With emphasis on the later. Unless you are orders of magnitude more fit than your competitors, wins will not just fall in your lap (and if they do, you're racing below your category). In bicycle racing, to win you have to try to win.

And, in my opinion, that speaks to one of the great ironies of bicycle racing--that those trying hardest to win the race often finish amongst the last in the standings. You see, once a cyclist reaches some standard of competence in race survival skills (and requisite fitness), it's not really that hard to hang on for a top 25 percent placing in any race. Race conservatively, and with minimal effort you'll find that's easy. But to win, you have to be willing to risk colossal defeat. So it would seem that the limiters to winning (if you're counting) include being willing to risk personal pride. And it may be useful, at least from the racer's perspective, to think of a race as having one winner and n-1 losers. No second place. No top 10s. There is just a winner and a lot of unhappy losers.

So that comfortable (and respectable) top 25 percent placing? Screw it. Exhaust your matches winning or lose big trying.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

allez Gilbert!

I love how this dude races.

Philippe Gilbert is easily on my top five list of favorite riders. I love how his cycling spidey sense allows him to continually pull victory out of seemingly suicide late-game moves.

Case in point:

Today, stage one of the Volta ao Algarve. According to, "Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) won the opening stage of the Volta ao Algarve with a perfectly-timed attack in the final kilometre."

The results tell it all:

1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 4:36:36
2 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:00:05
3 André Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto
4 Tyler Farrar (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo
5 Michael Matthews (Aus) Rabobank Cycling Team
6 Baden Cooke (Aus) Saxo Bank Sungard
7 John Degenkolb (Ger) HTC-Highroad
8 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team RadioShack
9 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
10 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team

Look who finished second, third, fourth, and sixth. All of those dudes are BA sprinters...and Gilbert steals a victory out from under their noses.

That's how I want to win races, man. That's how I want to win races...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ist das ein Wetterchen! says its 52 degrees right now. It's outstanding.

On my walk to work this morning it was warm enough that I had to take my jacket off. Wunderbar!


Also on my walk to work... As there was a strong headwind, and my hair was still wet, I got to thinking about high school, when my hair was fairly long, and that my preferred way of drying it was to put my head out the window of my little maroon truck on my way to wherever I was going. Like a dog. And about that enthusiastic about life too.

Oh to be young. You have everything of any value in life...except money and brains.

It's the smell of spring that brings about these sentimentalities. Someone shut me up before I'm forced to punch myself.

Friday, February 11, 2011

2011 tree and farm race



FEBRUARY 19, 9:00 AM

Location: Meet at Southhampton Township Park near Shippensburg.

Description: Forty-nine miles gallivanting around southwestern Cumberland County.

(Click here for an interactive map w/ elevation profile.)

This "race" (we'll probably only end up really racing over the last 5-10 miles or so) is our annual unofficial kickoff to the collegiate season. The ECCC starts its season on the first weekend of March, but since the ACCC generally runs a race on the previous weekend, The Tree and Farm Race goes off on the third weekend of February.

Usually cold, usually windy, sometimes snowy, completing this course is no Sunday stroll. The route offers a survey of wonderful riding southeastern Cumberland County has to offer, with a survey of Mennonite farm lands, Pennsylvania game lands, and the edge of two Pennsylvania state forests.

Unless you plan on never leaving the wheel of someone who knows the course well, you'll want a cue sheet (provided at start) tied to your top tube. The course meanders along all manner of rural farm road, peppered with two sections of loose cinder rail-trail and about a half mile of double-track (if the snow is clear, otherwise we'll take an all-paved detour around these sections), though nothing is too intense for standard 23mm road tires at typical pressure. What with the weather and the terrain, it's our way of giving nod to the spring races across the pond.

And if you're not game for the whole thing, don't worry, the course offers plenty of opportunities to bail and head for the comfort of home or car. (However, packing your own map is recommended.)

The "race" starts at Southampton Township Park. It finishes at the top of Strohm road (the high point of the TNR course) at the "M & M Roofing" sign.

A view of the finish from the rider's perspective. The finish is at the white elbow sign which reads "M & M Roofing."


Jon Marshall (1st), Dr. Goatesauce (2nd), Tim Cusick (3rd) ... limp chicken award (last-placed finisher): Rider Big E.


We call this a "race," but it's really just a bunch of guys and gals out looking for a good time on a cold Saturday morning. We race, yes, and there's usually a little something fun for the first finishers, but there are no entry fees, no waivers, and therefore no whining if something bad happens to you while on this ride (like you crash and break your carbon frame or someone insults your girlfriend). If you're the kind of person that doesn't play well with others, please don't come. This non-event event is for non-fun-haters only.

For more about Ship Cycling, please visit us on the web.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

the price of a little sun...

The price of a little sun is apparently frigid cold. But it's a price I'll gladly pay. Hello sunshine!

Rode this morning for a couple of hours. Had to tackle the sub-20 degree temps with both balaclava and ski goggles. My face still got a little cold on the rapid descent from Big Flat, but otherwise I was fine.

And there was sunshine. Lots of it. But now, as I look out my window, I see it's all clouded up again. Winter in pee-aay stinks.