Wednesday 29 October 2008

Return to the Tour de Basement

Last night I was scheduled to do a one hour ride on the trainer. Just as well the schedule called for an indoor workout as we are suffering through the first big winter storm. There is snow on the ground. The wind is blowing outside at 60 km/h and the temperatures are below freezing.

So it was nice to relive the Tour d'Enfer and ride the Galibier again: I used the Tacx "Video Cycling" DVD of La Marmotte, featuring the climbs up the Galibier as well as the Alpe d'Huez. The DVD is only 86 minutes long, so as you watch it you feel that you are riding a motorcycle rather than a bicycle but perhaps that is to give encouragement! Which is good since given what it looks like outside I will be in the basement until May 2009.

Here's an idea of what the Tacx DVDs look like:

Saturday 25 October 2008

Spartacus! My current favourite pro racer

Fast Fabian at the 2007 World's
(photo by Bruce Christie, Creative Commons)

Although I am no hero-worshipper of athletes, there are some pro cyclists whose efforts I particularly admire. They tend to be time-triallists (no surprise there, I suppose) and taller and heavier than the typical pro. I have stood next to Gilberto Simoni and Damiano Cunego (luckily not at the same time!) and although they are great climbers I felt as if I was next to children. Being of, ahem, a certain weight and height I identify with racers who have to fight gravity and wind resistance as well as the competition. My favourite of all time has to have been Eros Poli, a gigantic domestique who won the Mont Ventoux stage at the Tour de France. So there.

Anyway, a rider whom I like very much since I watched a DVD of him win the prologue of the 2003 Tour de Suisse, riding then for Fassa Bortolo, is the Swiss Fabian Cancellara. His breakthrough year was 2004, when he came fourth at Paris-Roubaix and then went on to beat Lance Armstrong and win the prologue at the Tour de France that year. Since then he has gone from strength to strength. Since joining Team CSC he has won Paris-Roubaix, Tirrano-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo, as well as wearing the Yellow Jersey and the Green Jersey at the Tour de France, winning the UCI time trial world championship twice and taking gold at the Olympic time trials and a very surprising bronze in the Olympic road race in Beijing. He is six-time Swiss national time trial champion. In 2006 at Salzburg his time on the 50.8 km World Championship time trial course was 1 hour and 11 seconds, a minute and a half faster than the next rider.

And he is nice to his fans too. Nicknamed "Spartacus," he still lives in his home area in Switzerland and is happy to sign postcards for fans. Recently in the mail I got the one shown on the left, marking his Olympic success, and personally signed for me and dated.

As the long dark winter approaches and I am on the time trial bike in the basement, watching the Tour de Suisse and enjoying the sunny weather and perfect roads in DVD-land, this is a bit more motivation! Now, all I need is one of those Cervelo P3s...

Wednesday 22 October 2008

October 18/19: A Fine Weekend in Ottawa

Jake and his first ride on his new bicycle

After several days of indoor workouts (including the dreaded Short Duration Power Test wherein I sprinted up to 770 W of power output for somewhat less time than Mark Cavendish), I was determined to get out on the weekend and enjoy what promised to be excellent weather, perhaps the last good weather for the year.

On Friday I accompanied my colleague Jake to a big sporting goods store in Ottawa. I had recently persuaded him to Come to the Dark Side and buy a racing bicycle. I helped him to locate a very nice and only slightly used one but we needed All the Accessories. It was like Christmas for me: I helped pick out shoes, a helmet, a floor pump, some tools, shorts, socks, gloves, cleats and so forth and he paid for it all. I was a bit jealous since his excellent Giro helmet (in yellow, to match his bike) was unfaded, unlike my precious red Eclipse, and it was a level higher in the Giro line and cost less than when I bought mine! I may have to try and smuggle another one into the house because, well, you can never have enough helmets. I think that bill came to a good proportion of what he paid for the bike, an Opus Scherzo designed and assembled in Montreal.

On Saturday we met behind the National Research Council building on Sussex Drive and as two policemen looked on from their parked cruisers I installed his pedals and then the cleats in his shoes, made a minor adjustment of the seat, put a full water bottle into the holder and directed him to ride around the parking lot. Jake has not ridden a bike for some time and this was several levels of seriousness up. He learned to shift gears and position himself comfortably on the bike. More importantly he learned to disengage the cleats from the pedals as he slowed down.

I got on the Tarmac and we rode out along Sussex Drive. We had to get up on the sidewalk to get access to the MacDonald-Cartier Bridge and here Jake came to grief for a moment, tipping over onto his side. This was his initiation into the joys of clipless pedals and I told him he would not have to do that again. We rode over the bridge and then were soon on the bikepath heading towards Gatineau Park.

Jake tearing up the hills in Gatineau Park--c'mon: relax those elbows!

The ride was excellent, although it was only about 6C--it had been -2C when I left home. We had clear skies and entering the park we found very light traffic. We rode up towards Champlain Lookout and Jake got used to the shifting. The first significant climb on the route is the one to Pinks Lake and he managed this well enough although he did note that he was already starting to feel this in his legs. We went a bit further, to the intersection that would take you left to the Lookout or straight through to the Visitors' Centre and we decided here would be a good place to turn around. Now Jake could enjoy the delights of a high-speed descent on a light, fast and responsive bicycle and I knew the effort of climbing would be forgotten.

We crossed back into Ontario and headed to Bridgehead for some celebratory coffees. We had ridden 51 kms and climbed about 500 m in all. Not too shabby for a shakedown ride. Jake thanked me for being patient and showing him some of the techniques for cycling but I have to say it was an enormous pleasure to introduce somebody to the pastime that means so much to me. Cycling is the very best sport of all and when I think of all that it has given to me, including a high level of fitness, new skills and confidence, a chance to see some many wonderful places and make a lot of great friends, it is a small effort to pass my enjoyment along.

On Sunday I returned to Gatineau Park again, this time alone, to do my favourite climbing circuit. It was quite cold but I was wearing a long-sleeved wool jersey that had sent to me for my book reviews and I have to say that I am sold on this traditional material. It kept me warm and dry even though I did not have a layer above the jersey. It looks very retro-stylish as well, the only drawback being that it has to be washed by hand. But some of us know that fashion always trumps practicality.

In spite of the cold a lot of motorists had decided to come into the park on Sunday and I did not find the ride so pleasant. I also developed a muscle spasm or something in my right side and it hurt a bit as I rode home. Still, it was an enjoyable day out (the spasm disappeared with a hot shower) and I had clocked another 71 kms and 1,000 m of climbing.

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Keeping Fit in 2009

The Canadian Thanksgiving weekend passed in a blur for me. Instead of stuffing myself on pumpkin pie, I have finally begun to get seriously into training again:

Saturday: 90 minutes spinning class, followed by 90 minutes of relaxed cycling on the Marinoni (relaxed because it is clear I have to replace the middle chainring now)

Sunday: 60 minutes spinning class, followed by nearly 3 hours of climbing in Gatineau Park on the Tarmac

Monday: 75 minutes of cycling the Eastern Parkway with five high-spin 15 second intervals at 120 rpm on the Tarmac

The Leader time trial bike has been set up on the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine trainer and I have a new Power Computer installed to give me watts readings. I even rearranged the setting for the Tour de Basement so that I will not get any electronic interference on my heart rate monitor. Tonight will be the base-setting Short Duration Power Test. I will be soon summarizing my year of cycling and setting new goals for 2009.

Towards the end of the year I tend to find my motivation drops, which is pretty normal for most people. Knowing that the weather will only get colder and that I will be doomed to spend hours and hours and hours either in the basement or at the gym spinning or lifting weights is hard on morale but I will treat myself to some more racing DVDs and, yes, those cross-country skis and lessons. The other motivator will be the planning for our next assault on the roads of Europe in 2009; some ideas are already being hatched.

Speaking of Europe, two more of the participants at the Tour de France, which we watched in Briancon, have been found to have doped. They are the winner of both time trials and the King of the Mountains, who placed third overall. Both have signed with new teams and both, in my view, should, if the tests are beyond doubt, receive lifetime bans. The riders are obviously not getting the message and as a fan I have other things to spend my money on.

Both of these riders were part of the now-defunct Gerolsteiner team. While living in Germany I saw Manager Hans-Michael Holczer raise up his Continental-level team to the top ranks by 2001. He was someone who loved the sport and he and his family put a great deal into it. There were many highlights, including exciting wins by Davide Rebellin in particular in 2004, and support for a number of young and exciting riders, such as Markus Fothen and Fabian Wegman; there was and only one instance of doping I can find (one of the sprinters in 2005). In 2007 at the World Championships in Stuttgart, the Canadian team's bicycles were stolen and Team Gerolsteiner stepped up with loaners for the race.

Due to the bad odour of pro cycling in Europe, Herr Holczer was unable to find a replacement sponsor as Gerolsteiner was pulling out after ten years of support and the team was scheduled to race a final time in Sunday's Giro di Lombardia. Instead, it has been disbanded and Herr Holczer, who has been outspoken over the years on the subject of doping, has left cycling entirely. I feel disappointed for him but grateful for his efforts. To leave the sport in this way is unfair and uncalled-for.

Turning to that source of breaking sports news, the Economist, there was a nice piece about using high-technology to promote exercise (although nothing about sweating for seven months in the Tour de Basement!):

WE ARE constantly warned that we are becoming too fat. A third of American adults are already reckoned to be obese; a quarter of adult Britons; and, in the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru a staggering four-fifths of adults. The World Health Organisation forecasts that by 2015 (rather beyond our horizon) there will be 2.3 billion overweight adults in the world, including 700m who are obese (ie, with a body mass index of more than 30, compared with the “ideal” range of 18-25).

A safe prediction, therefore, is that exercise products will be heavily advertised in 2009—and perhaps even used. Already jogging fanatics can wear a chip in their Nikes that transmits to their iPod to be downloaded to their computers—which will then add to a graphic display of kilometres and routes covered, even gradients climbed, calories burned and speeds endured.

So what could be next in 2009? One project now in development targets the “road warrior” who tries to stave off the perils of fast-food and a spreading waistline by going to the hotel gym. The idea is to transmit a hotel guest’s athletic profile and needs ahead of check-in. All the guest will have to do is key in his or her code to the treadmill or other machine and the equipment will automatically adjust to the guest’s requirement for speed, tension, time or whatever.
Which leads to another safe prediction: there will be plenty of work for the maintenance men.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Recession? What recession?

For people who did not have any money invested in the stock market in the last two weeks or else need to sell their Bentleys, a Swedish design firm is offering a gold-plated fixed gear bicycle for 80,000 Euros (US$ 110,000), delivery included. It comes bedecked with crystals, including Braille top tube lettering, and a genuine $200 Brooks leather saddle. And a gold-plated stand, but no brakes. And a honking big "Limited Edition" head tube badge.

Perhaps the markets will recover by Christmas...