Archive for the ‘Tour De France’ Category

Disc Brakes in Pro Cycling? Pro and Con   Leave a comment

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Disc Brakes in Pro Cycling? Why not?!?

Much debate has been happening around the use of disc brakes in professional road cycling. They were provisionally approved for several spring classics races this year, but they were re-banned after reports of the discs injuring riders in crashes, allegedly causing severe lacerations. Rumors persist that they’ll try them again later this year.
Meanwhile, discs have proven to be safe, effective, and preferred in mountain bike races and cyclocross races for quite a while. So why shouldn’t this technology be allowed into the pro peloton? I see no reason why it shouldn’t.
First, let’s look at some of the cases against discs that we’ve heard:
Argument #1: They’re dangerous and can cut people in crashes.
Response: Isn’t falling off your bike at high speed wearing nothing but lycra and a styrofoam hat already pretty dangerous? Does the off chance that you’ll get wound up in a spinning brake disc increase the danger significantly? I don’t think so.

Argument #2: They’re heavier than rim brakes.
Response: So what? Most pro bikes already fall well below the UCI-mandated 15 pound minimum weight and have to have weight added back onto them. I’m sure that a disc-equipped bike can land right on the minimum weight standard.

Argument #3: It will make wheel changes during the race difficult, due to various different specifications of the braking and axle systems.
Response: Again, so what? If you want to avoid these hassles, you can choose not to use them. If, however, the team decides that the improved braking is worth the trouble, then they should be allowed to use them.

In the end, the UCI should only be concerned about maintaining a level field between competitors. Disc brakes provide no competitive advantage, except perhaps in wet conditions, and in technical descents. Nevertheless, if a team or rider wants to use them (or if a team’s sponsor wants to financially entice the team to use them) then it’s up to the teams and riders to decide whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Even if a sponsor is simply trying to sell more disc-equipped bikes by featuring them on their pro teams, it’s irrelevant. If cooperating with a sponsor’s marketing ploy helps keep a team on the road, where’s the harm?
Let disc brakes into the pro peloton, and they’ll either succeed or die on their own merits. In the meantime, having pros test the newest and latest technologies will help move technology forward at a faster speed.
In the meantime, for us “non-pros” ride what you want, and if you like disc brakes, by all means use them.

Disc Brakes in Pro Cycling? Why?!?

While it is certain that disc brake technology has become a mainstay in the worlds of mountain biking and cyclocross, does it belong in the rarified air of elite road cycling? While it’s true that disc brakes offer improved stopping power over their caliper counterparts, are they REALLY desirable in a professional road race? I say the negatives FAR outweigh the positives.
1) Disc brakes require significant modifications, not only to the wheels but also to the forks and frames of the bikes themselves. They exert their force over a much smaller circumference (the area near the hub) than caliper brakes (the rim of the wheel). This requires heavier and bulkier reinforced spokes and forks along with elaborate attachment points for the braking mechanisms. All this translates into more weight and (probably) a loss of aerodynamic advantage. Is the improved stopping power worth this?? I doubt it…pro riders want to GO faster, not STOP faster!

2) As an addendum to item (1)…the modifications necessary for disc brakes eliminate the possibility for “neutral support” during road races. (you know, those guys at the side of the road offering spare wheels when needed) Every neutral support provider would have to have 2 different types of wheels…one with and one without discs. And even with this, would the disc–equipped wheel fit every bike?? I doubt it! Neutral support would become a thing of the past and might lead to sacrifices in time and speed.

3) Disc brakes are notoriously temperamental…just ask a mountain bike rider who has a minor tumble and dings his disc brake. Even a minor perturbation to the disc’s braking surface will lead to rubbing and increased friction…a death blow to a pro road rider’s average speed! Forget getting a little grease on the brake when changing a flat…oh the whining!! Not worth the extra headaches in a road ride where speed is critical.

4) Safety!! The UCI had agreed to allow disc brake usage in certain road rides this season. They went back on their commitment after some incidents at Paris-Roubaix earlier this year. Just ask Francisco Ventoso who allegedly suffered a deep gash in his leg from a disc brake in a crash during P-R. In addition, having disc brakes AND caliper brakes in the same peleton could have unforeseen consequences. Say a dude using discs is riding at the front of the pack when he brakes hard to avoid an obstacle. The guy behind him riding a caliper-equipped rig won’t be able to stop as fast…result? Consistency must rule in the peleton…for safety’s sake!

The UCI is now debating whether to again allow disc brakes to be trialed in pro road racing. I am certain that, in their infinite desire to market “enhanced” technology to the masses, bicycle manufacturers and sponsors will get their way and we shall see disc brakes back in the elite pro ranks soon. While this technology might indeed be beneficial to us mere mortals out on our weekend road ride, I am dubious about their use in the major tours yet to come. I only hope there is not a major crash or incident that proves me right.

(Disclaimer…the author recently rode a mountain bike rig equipped with disc brakes and found them VERY cool!)

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Our Trip to the UCI World Championships   Leave a comment

UCI World Championships

In my attempt to write a trip report about a guys’ road trip to this year’s UCI World Cycling Championships in Richmond, Virginia, I was well into the 6th page before I realized that severe editing was in order (and that’s leaving out the “what happens in Richmond stays in Richmond” parts).

Rather than providing a highly detailed, blow-by-blow account of the trip complete with the “what really happened in McDonalds?” “what does Lord Baltimore have to say about that?” and “does Rick want to bring the bikes?” episodes, I instead am proud to present you with “Ten Tips for Attending the UCI World Cycling Championships in Richmond.” These might come in handy 30 years from now when the Worlds return to US soil, or if you have a time machine. My ghost co-authors for this piece are my traveling and cycling comrades-in-arms, Eric, Mike, Rick, and Tom.

Tip #1: When in doubt, take a road trip with the guys, especially if it involves a world championship cycling event. Or bikes in general. Or really any road trip.

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Tip #2: If possible, have the good fortune of booking yourself into the same hotel as the German national team (as we did) or any other country’s team. Not only can you scope out their “bike storage room” where you’ll see several lifetimes’ supply of carbon fiber, but you’ll also be able to bump into famous riders like Andre Greipel and John Degenkolb in the hallway on the way to breakfast. You can watch team mechanics working on bikes after the races in the hotel parking lot, score a race-used water bottle filled with top secret Teutonic wonder juice, drink this magic elixir, and immediately have enough energy to pump out 1000 pushups.

Tip #3: Bring your bike and schedule a day for a ride. Mike has family in the area, and knows all about being detained by military personnel for breaching CIA training facility perimeters (true story), so having a local guide is key. Our ride around the Williamsburg area, included a nice lunch stop, occasional tailwinds, views of the James and York rivers, dodging horse droppings in Colonial Williamsburg and almost no hills. It was also precisely planned and timed to return us to our “team car” just before the rain hit. Good job Mike!

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Tip #4: Check out as many races as possible. We caught the tail end of the men’s U23 race, the men’s junior race, women’s elite, and men’s elite races. ALL were exciting.

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Tip #5: Move around the course. The Richmond road circuit was 10 miles long, allowing the riders to pass by every 25 minutes or so. This allows the crowd to spread out very nicely, and allows for you to change locations between laps. In most instances, you could get right up to the edge of the road, often coming within inches of the riders as they passed. Try getting that close in Giant’s Stadium. Our race days started on Libby Hill, a ridiculously steep, heavily cobbled group of switchbacks. It was a natural “stadium” environment with fans scattered all over the hill and in the conveniently placed beer garden. Next was 23rd street, a one-lane, cobbled, 20% incline that’s reminiscent of the famous Koppenberg climb from the Tour of Flanders, with fans packed 20-deep up the embankments on either side, it was a tunnel of noise and energy. On Sunday, an entrepreneurial homeowner opened up a makeshift bar in their backyard (Tip #5a: try the bloody Mary!). After 23rd street, we’d view alongside a blistering descent down Broad Street. With no barriers along the side of the road, riders were whipping past at highway speeds, generating a small windstorm. This spilled out into the hard left turn where eventual champion, Peter Sagan, used his exceptional bike handling skills to establish the gap he needed to win. From there we continued onward until we found ourselves along the finishing straightaway, complete with jumbotron TV and beer garden.

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Tip #6: Be amazed. On a descent down Main Street, the road narrows from 5 lanes down to 2 lanes within approximately 150 meters, and then bangs a hard right in to a narrow road. Looking at this piece of road, it was impossible to comprehend how 150 tightly packed riders would fit into this funnel while descending at 40mph, slow down, and manage the turn at the bottom. Somehow they defied all laws of physics and made it through.

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Tip #7: Never pass a beer garden without stopping in. Hydration is important, and it helps the local economy.

Tip #8: Don’t believe the course profile. On paper, the Worlds’ loop looked pretty tame. In reality, the last 3 miles of the course had 3 back-to-back climbs (Libby Hill, 23rd Street, Main Street) that put a very real sting in the final part of the course. Even the finishing straightaway was uphill, a 680 meter false flat. With 162 total miles of racing, the course was everything a fan could hope for, and a grueling test for the riders. Kudos to the organizers for putting together a great course.

Tip #9: City Diner on Broad Street for breakfast. Delicious way to fuel up for a day of race-watching. Conversely, don’t believe the positive reviews for Extra Billy’s BBQ.

Tip #10: On the long drive back to New York, fun can be had by repeatedly turning on the driver’s heated seat when he’s not looking, and waiting until it’s noticed. It was worth getting punched. In the end, there’s really no way to describe how much fun can be had by 5 grown men behaving like children while on a road trip to attend a bike race. Getting to see, interact with, and finish partially filled water bottles from the same pro riders you see racing around the world is nothing like most stadium- controlled pro sporting events most of us attend in the US. Rick snapped about 10,000 photos, so enjoy!

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Have You Been Watching the Tour de France?   Leave a comment

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PORT DE PAILLERES,FRANCE- JUL 6: The peloton climbing the road to Col de Pailheres in Pyrenees Mountains during the stage 8 of the 100 edition of Le Tour de France on July 6, 2013.
Radu Razvan / Shutterstock.com

It’s July and there’s a big bike race wrapping itself up in France.  It’s the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France and the race will conclude on Sunday, July 21st as the riders arrive in Paris.

If you’ve been watching the race so far, you’ve seen plenty of excitement, from a bus getting stuck under the finish line during the 1st stage, to Chris Froome’s domination of the Ventoux.  If you haven’t been watching so far, it’s really worth a look.  In this month’s edition of the Bicycle World Blog, we’ll give you some tips on how you can best enjoy the remainder of the race, along with some entertaining stories from the history of the Tour.

This year’s race is being shown on the NBC Sports Network.  Unfortunately, in the past couple of years, cycling coverage on TV has decreased in the US.  The good news is that the technology and overall quality of the coverage we are able to receive has increased exponentially.  Even non-cycling fans can enjoy the breathtaking HD coverage of some of the most beautiful places in Europe.  Whether it’s unbelievable helicopter footage of the Alps or Pyrenees, watching the race pass through quaint and historic villages, or the up-close and personal footage shot from the back of motorcycles within the peloton, watching the tour offers a quick escape to France during the dog-days of summer here in the US.

In addition to TV coverage, the internet provides plenty of in-depth Tour coverage.  Sites like Velonews.com and Cyclingnews.com offer coverage of each stage, the riders, and all the news surrounding the tour.  The Tour’s official site, LeTour.com offers live updates in both French and English.  My favorite technological advancement, however, is the ability to follow the Tour through my smartphone.  There are a number of great apps that can bring you live coverage of the Tour as it happens.  Cyclingnews’ Tour Tracker is arguably the best of these.  This free app provides live commentary of each stage as it happens, allows you to follow the race live on each stage’s map or elevation profile, and keeps you connected to the race no matter where you are.  While I’m not suggesting that you keeping your smartphone open next to your computer as you toil away at the office is a good idea, I’ve heard that it’s something your boss is unlikely to notice (hint:  most stages end around 11am eastern time).

With all the Tour coverage available, there’s really no need to go into the actual news surrounding the race with this month’s blog.  Instead, I’ve picked out some favorite historical Tour tidbits from the past 100 races that you may not have heard about, and that show you how the race has evolved over time.

Who needs a mechanic…or a blacksmith?

In 1913, Eugene Christophe was leading the race as they climbed the famous Tourmalet.  At the top, he took off his wheel, and flipped it to get into a higher gear (bikes with derailleurs weren’t allowed in the Tour until the 1930’s) and began his descent.  Somewhere on the descent, he broke his fork.  Today, if a rider has a mechanical problem, a team car is usually readily available to provide any mechanical adjustments, wheel changes, or even a complete bike swap.  In 1913, however, the rules stated that riders were forbidden to get outside assistance for mechanical problems.  As a result, Christophe was forced to walk 10 kilometers to the nearest village.  Upon reaching the village, a young girl told Christophe of a blacksmith’s forge on the other side of town.  By the time he reached the forge, he had lost over 2 hours.  Unable to help Christophe due to the race rules, the blacksmith talked him through the procedure to weld his fork back together.  After 3 hours of welding, Christophe set off again over two more mountain passes to finish the stage.  In the end, he was penalized 10 minutes (which was later reduced to 3) because he allowed a boy at the forge to pump the bellows as he made the repairs.  He eventually finished 7th overall despite the 5 hour…and 3 minute…time loss.

Cheaters!

Through the years, there have been numerous instances where people have been caught trying to get an unfair advantage over their opponents.  In fact, cheating has been part of the Tour since the beginning.  The winner of the 2nd running of the tour was disqualified for a unique and entertaining breach of the rules.  The Tour’s first winner in 1903 was Maurice Garin.  In 1904, it appeared that he would repeat his accomplishment.  At the conclusion of the race, however, it was learned that he took a train during one of the stages and he was disqualified.  In fact, several other riders were also disqualified for taking trains and cars during the race.

Food

According to Thor Hushovd’s 2012 diary of the tour, he would consume over 9000 calories a day to keep his strength up during the race.  According to his records, he burned an average of 6000 calories while riding each day, and had to maintain a steady stream of 300 calories per hour while riding to keep from bonking.

Of course modern racers have nutritionists, chefs and coaches who help them with their race diet.  Back in 1903, Garin had to supply his own food, and over the 6 day, 1500 mile Tour he fueled himself with the following power diet:

“ lots of strong red wine, 19 liters of hot chocolate, 7 liters of tea, eight cooked eggs, a mix of coffee and champagne, 45 cutlets, 5 liters of tapioca, 2 kilos of rice, and oysters.”

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LE PONT LANDAIS,FRANCE-JUL 10: Yellow Jersey (Chris Froome, Great Britain) cycling in front of the Mont Saint Michel monastery, during the stage 11 of Le Tour de France on July 10, 2013
Radu Razvan / Shutterstock.com

Quite a different shopping list from the high performance diets of today.

Speed

You’d think that with today’s aerodynamic, lightweight carbon race machines, and scientific training methods that speeds would have increased exponentially over the years.  While speeds are higher than they were, it’s not by as much as you’d imagine.  In 1960, using steel-framed bikes with downtube shifters that weighed roughly twice what race bikes weigh today, the average speed for the winner was 23 mph.  In 2012, with all of the modern advantages factored in, the average winning speed was 24.7 mph.

Nevertheless, if you think you have what it takes to hang with the pros, keep in mind that in this year’s Stage 11 individual time trial, Tony Martin’s winning average speed was over 33 mph.  Even last place finisher, Assan Bazayv, averaged over 27 mph over the relatively flat, 20 mile course.  Next time you’re riding along at 30 mph, think about holding that speed for over half an hour on flat ground and you’ll gain some perspective of how strong these guys really are.

After the controversies surrounding the recent tours, many feared that the Tour would lose its popularity.  Happily this isn’t the case.  Fans in France are coming out in record numbers, and the racing has been fun to watch.  If you haven’t had a chance to tune in, you really should.  Controversy and intrigue will always follow a larger-than-life spectacle like the Tour de France.  That’s part of what makes it such fun to watch.

Testing, testing….is this thing on?

We hope you’ve been enjoying the Bicycle World Blog for the past few months.  Our goal is to provide you with something that will entertain and inform you, and maybe help you connect to the sport a little better.  Of course, without your feedback, we don’t know whether we’re accomplishing what we’ve set out to do, or whether we’re just ranting into the vacuum of cyberspace.

So we need your help.  Are you enjoying the blog?  Do you hate it?  Do you have suggestions?  While we want to continue to bring it to you, if we’re just “spinning our wheels”, we’ve got other ways of doing so that are a whole lot more fun.  So please chime in and let us know what you think and feel free to hit us up with some questions about anything related to bikes, and we’ll be happy to incorporate it into the next edition.

As always, thanks for reading and happy riding.

Bicycle World NY

Posted July 24, 2013 by bicycleworldny in Tour De France

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