Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy New Year!

In a bit of irresponsible reporting, a formerly-respected cycling website claims here that Jens (!) Voigt believes he will not be able to win the Tour de France anymore.  True fans of Jens (!) know that a little thing like being 38 is no obstacle to him, and we look forward to another season of Amazing Jens (!) Riding in 2010.  Without the faceplant this time, of course.

It has been a case of yet another year flying by and I did not meet all those New Year's Resolutions set last January but I came close (except for the 100 push-ups non-stop).  Highlights on the road during rides totalling 6266.78 kms were many: the Tour des Appalachians training camp; the Cirque du Cyclisme; the Great Allegheny Passage Trail; completing a 200 km brevet and getting totally soaked and quitting a 300 km one; averaging more than 40 km/h for several admittedly-short time trials; the Lost Boys tour of Bavaria and Northern Italy; researching and assembling my wonderful old Raleigh racing bicycle.

Not only do I wish Jens (!) the best for 2010, but every one of you as well.  May your roads be freshly paved, the scenery splendid, and your riding buddies (and cycling correspondents) as admirable as mine.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

"I do not plan to fall." Is this the world's best cyclist?

By now, we have all read the fascinating New York Times story (here) about Danny MacAskill, a cycling prodigy from Scotland.  He has not won the Tour de France, or a time trial or a downhill mountain bike race or run off with Sven Nys' wife.  But when you see what he can do, I guarantee you will be impressed.  Here is the video compilition of his feats:

In your dreams, Sonny: Riding with Liz Hatch in California

Liz Hatch at Santa Rosa, 2008
Photo © Photosport International

I have been enjoying the recon films produced by CycleFilm for a number of famous gran fondo rides in Europe.  Most recently, I have been going through the l’Etape du Tour ride routes of 2007-2009.  I am waiting for the release of the 2010 version, which will cover climbs in the Pyrenees I plan to do in summer.  Some climbs in this region are included in the older DVDs but the new one has been delayed a bit.  As a consolation prize, CycleFilm’s Markus Neuert sent an e-mail giving customers on-line access to some of his videos pending release of the new l’Etape DVD.  One of these was a film released in April featuring U.S. cyclist Elizabeth Hatch, entitled “Ride with Me.”

Although I have enjoyed the recon videos, I was wondering what this film would be like.  Markus has produced another little video, “From Podium Girl to Playboy,” about a California model who is trying to, well, move up the beauty scale, I guess, but her momentary participation in the Tour of California is pretty much as close to cycling as she got.  On the other hand, Liz Hatch is a professional racing cyclist and with her movie star looks it is not surprising she is the subject of her own film. 

Cycling, as Liz Hatch says in the film, is not in the Big 5 of American sports.  She does not go on to point out the obvious: men’s cycling is not in Big 5.  Women’s cycling is pretty much invisible and, in fact, it is hardly to be seen in Europe either.  While living in Europe for four years I think I was only able to see two women’s races on television, in comparison to excellent coverage of pretty well all major men’s races.  It is hard to be a star in a sport that nobody much cares about.  Her fellow Texan, Lance Armstrong, like him or not, made a lot more people interested in cycling because of his outsized personality as well as accomplishments in the peleton.  There are not many cyclists who can do this.  Liz Hatch understands the art of self-promotion and she even calls herself being “a product” as part of her job.

Of course, cycling is not the only sport with attractive athletes, and a number of female bike pros have been featured as models but Ms. Hatch, who was featured in a photospread in the “lad mag” Maxim, seems to have attracted a lot of annoyed reaction.  The tone of comments on cycling forums on the Internet is pretty mixed, and it appears that what irritates these people is they see Liz Hatch as the Anna Kournikova of cycling, more famous for her looks than her achievements.  Putting aside the fact that Lance Armstrong never earned as much in a year as Ms. Kournikova (who failed to win a Grand Slam singles event in her career), is it such a bad thing that glamour is associated with a sport?  Particularly one that gets very little attention otherwise.  In fact, I cannot think of ever actually having seen a documentary about a woman pro cyclist before.

The CycleFilm production is around 48 minutes, and, as the title suggests, is a ride with Liz Hatch in the San Francisco area.  I wish I could be doing this myself at the temperatures here tonight are -20C again.  I rode much of the same route in 2004, ending my ride in Tiburon at Marin County Brewing before returning to the city by ferry.  In the film, Ms. Hatch is chatting with Markus Neuert as he drives and she cycles alongside.  The route climbs the famous Mt. Tamalpais (the “Mt. Tam” of mountain bike fame) and takes us along the Pacific coast.  Several times she stops for a break and speaks to the camera about herself and her profession.

Liz Hatch looks great on her bike, with her matching team kit.  She looks comfortable on the big climb (making a disparaging comment about her “fat carcass”) and is really fast on the coastal segment.  But what impressed me was her comments about what cycling, and racing, means to her.  It seems she was a wild party girl and on a downward spiral at the age of 24.  She was a big fan of cycling and the death of Marco Pantani made her look at her own life, shake off her depression and launch herself into a career as a pro racer.  It is clear that she loves riding, although considering the beauty of the surroundings in this DVD this is nothing to wonder at!

These details are not in the video: in 2006 she turned pro, and in 2007 joined the Vanderkitten Racing Team, where she achieved her greatest success with four criterium wins in 2008.  In January 2009 she was badly injured in a crash and at the time the video was being made she was still working to come back into form.  By July she transferred to another team and is racing in Europe, and probably missing those rides in Marin County.

It certainly takes some self-confidence to become a pro racer but Liz Hatch does not come across as arrogant but as a sensitive and sympathetic person.  I think for someone to become a professional at 26 is difficult, particularly in a sport so particularly unforgiving.  She talks at times about wondering what she is doing but her love for racing is evident.  She talks about the difficulties that the sport imposes on a personal life.   She talks about her rather old-school training methods, and demonstrates that she is pretty incompetent at peeling bananas.  She talks about her tattoos (being not very with-it, I am uncertain why good-looking young women like to have sentences--an Oscar Wilde quotation on the neck?--permanently engraved on themselves).   She may not be an Eddy Merckx, or, perhaps more appropriately, a Jeannie Longo in terms of wins but perhaps finding happiness in what you do is its own reward.

She does not discuss how women’s racing could become more popular, or talk much about her teammates.  She does touch on doping but it is not clear to me how prevalent it is in women’s cycling.  This DVD is really just a nice day’s ride with a strong and intelligent companion.  After watching it, I think I would like to ride with Liz Hatch.  You might too.

You can get the documentary directly from CycleFilm for €14.99 (including shipping) here.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Monday, 7 December 2009

Better than "Cash for Clunkers"

With my new-found interest in classic racing bicycles, and hard at work rebuilding my c. 1983 Raleigh Team Professional, I simply could not resist translating a story in the November issue of the Germany cycling publication TOUR:

Better than “Cash for Clunkers”

by Jűrgen Lőhle
Tour Magazine, November 2009

Retro is in.  Brägel has also realized this–and turned the trend into hard cash.

In Autumn you always tell yourself that before Christmas comes it is time to get rid of all the junk that should have been thrown out years ago, stuff you never had the heart to part with as you thought that sooner or later you might find a use for it.  Normally, nobody ever gets around to doing this and so the average German basement is stuffed with twenty bags of baby clothing, IKEA bookcases with crooked shelves, mouldy kitchen cutting boards, a bidet inherited from the neighbour, a million plastic throwaway flower pots from the garden centre, along with ancient clapped-out power lawnmowers.  Piled underneath are old television sets and cages or baskets for long-vanished pets.

This national pack rat tendency goes for all of us as well, particularly when it comes to things related to cycling.  Brägel therefore came upon the idea of organizing a “Retro Bazaar.”  “And why should we bother?,” asked Old Hans.  “It’s nonsense for me to buy your old junk, and for you to buy mine.”  Brägel countered by saying that we would advertise it and things would go well, saying: “There are millions of idiots running around out there.  We only just have to find them.”

It sounded like a good idea, and after getting the approval of the Club President (who asked if he could get rid of his wife at the bazaar), we sealed the project with a Hefeweizen and began to collect the treasures in the clubhouse basement.  After two weeks it looked like a scrapyard.  It also smelled a bit as Brägel had brought a bunch of jerseys, the kind that people wore back when winners of the Tour de France had names like Bernard Hinault or Laurent Fignon.

It all ended being an unbearable pile of gruesome trash, or so we thought.  But the bazaar turned into a fantastic success as some pretty close to unbelievable scenes played out.  An old man bought a half-filled and nearly unopenable can of Campagnolo grease for TWENTY Euros simply because you can’t get it anymore.  Old Hans had wanted only one Euro for it but the bidding shot up as three interested parties fought for it.  Another left the clubhouse in tears of joy, carrying out two white leather toe straps for prehistoric quill pedals.  The good man had to be restrained from kissing the Club President--he had been searching for these kind of straps for years.  My old Modolo brakes, which never really stopped that well, brought noises of ecstasy from a bazaar visitor and I took the opportunity to quickly add a “0" behind the “5" on the price tag, and the madman actually gave me a fifty for the old crap.

Brägel himself pulled in a small fortune with a set of white rubber hoods and the matching old Super Record brake levers.  At the end, he even found a buyer for an old Banesto water bottle that inside looked like a science experiment gone wrong.  The buyer claimed that the bottle would have a place of honour in his living room cabinet, next to the Indurain poster.

By evening, everything except the wife of the Club President had been snatched up, and we felt like the inventors of the “Cash for Clunkers” program.  All that was left over were a pair of wheels and an opened tube of chamois cream belonging to Brägel.  “I can’t understand why nobody wanted it,” he said, but although we all had an idea why we didn’t say anything.  In any event, we were all pretty happy with the results and we ended the day with the knowledge that there were bicycle freaks out there even worse than we were.

Of course, this success gave rise to another problem.  Now knowing that for every piece of old junk there was an enchanted buyer to be found, in future we would throw out of even less stuff that we do now.  Could it be that this old bottle cage comes from a limited edition and might be a collector’s piece in 20 years?  Somebody even was thrilled to buy Brägel’s primordial Peugeot frame, something even he was hesitant to bring to the bazaar.  Perhaps in the future there could even be a handy woman who collected wrecks who might take Old Hans home as a restoration project.  Since all Germany seems in retro-fever, all things are possible.

We dug around some more in our basements and garages and a few weeks later brought a few things to show off at the Stammtisch, just in case anyone was interested.  There were a few links from a 1985 Shimano chain, some bicycle cleaning fluid (which smelled so strongly that a few drops would probably contaminate a million litres of clean water), clipless pedals the size of a piece of toast, a saddlebag with the Team Telekom logo, and one of the first bike helmets, looking like a chamber pot with slits.  Also admirable was the VDO speedometer that required at least 20 watts of power to function, or a set of the first version of Campagnolo’s Shamal rims, that would fill up with water until you drilled a hole in them.  All of these are totally retro, and to be found at our 2010 club bazaar.

The 2009 Lost Boys Tour of Europe: Meeting Mr. Freeze

After packing up our gear, we went downstairs to the dining room in the hostel, where a number of German cyclists were breakfasting.  They had come as a group from Bavaria, and had their own special club van and trailer.  I realized that this was the chance to get rid of our CO2 cartridges since we could not take them on our flights out of Europe and they were delighted to get them.  I only hoped that the cartridges would work better for them than they had for Zeezu on the Stelvio!

The plan was to meet the bus around 2 pm at the terminal and head back to Rosenheim, so we had the whole morning available to us to wander around Bolzano and look at whatever we had not had a chance to before.  Unfortunately, it was the actual Ferrogusto holiday, so everything was pretty much closed except, of course, for the numerous churches, which seemed to be doing a good business.

Janice and I decided we would take a walk together through the old city and I had the chance to photograph some of the interesting old buildings.  We found a ver old church and administrative complex that was the local headquarters of the Teutonic Order.  I wrote a paper on the Order during a year of independent study at university and in my travels in Europe I have occasionally come across evidence of the organization, which remains headquartered in Vienna.

We walked past the arcaded passage of the Lauben, the old shopping street, soon reached our goal for the morning, the Museo Archeologico dell’Alto Aldige.  It did not open until 10 a.m., so we still had a bit of time.  We had been warned that it was one of the most popular attractions in the region and to expect a big crowd but there were only a few people waiting on the steps.  We went across the street to one of the few open cafés we had seen.  Unusually, this one was run by a young Chinese couple but, as usual, we had excellent coffees and some fine pastry.  And the chance to hear Italian spoken with a Chinese accent.

Just before 10:00 we crossed the street again.  It was hot and sunny as we stood in line, which had lengthened to around 20 people.  The doors opened and we snaked our way up to the ticket counter quite efficiently.  There was a checkroom handily located so I put my little backpack and camera there and then we paid our 9 Euros each and were in.

The Museo Archeological is in a fine old building but the interior is quite modern as, to a large extent, the museum came into being to house the forensic findings resulting from the 1991 discovery of the frozen remains of a Neolithic man high in the Alps above the Ötz Valley.  When it was discovered that they were 95 metres inside Italian territory, the body and all the related artifacts were moved to Bozen and eventually ended up in the Sudtirol Archaeological Museum. This was a major discovery as not much as known about the people living in this area 53 centuries (!) ago. Fascinating scientific research has provided a great deal of interesting information about the Iceman, his clothing, food, equipment and even speculation on how he died all those years ago.

The displays were exceptionally well done as we were taken through the details of the discovery in a multi-media presentation.  The mummy itself is kept in a special refrigerated and pressurized chamber with a small window, and there are showcases around with details of the objects found around Mr. Ötzi, some of which, including his hat, were discovered on subsequent trips to the spot by scientists.

Of course, everyone loves a mystery and over the years the forensic examinations have shown that Ötzi, who was of an advanced age for the period (being all of 46 years old) was the victim of an act of violence and probably died on the ridgetop from his wounds rather than from exposure.  He might have been part of a raiding party into the valley that went wrong but in any event the story is a fascinating one and the Italians are to be commended for their very fine museum.  In addition to an audio guide, the signage in the building was all in Italian, German and English so it was easy to follow the story.

Although probably the most celebrated mummy in Europe, Ötzi is not alone.  We were fortunate to be in Bolzano at the same time as a special exhibition in the museum: “Mummies: The Dream of Everlasting Life.”  In fact, this exhibition took up 2 ½ floors of the museum and included specimens from Egypt, which of course resulted from a complex man-made process.  Mummification, usually by natural processes, occurred in salt mines or other dry environments.  In some cases, it was caused by insects (there were some small animals on display that had been so attacked) or, as in the case of the famous Peat People of Denmark, by falling into a bog.  Actually, the Peat People also show marks of violence and may have been part of a sacrifice ritual.

If the museum has whetted your appetite for the Neolithic world, you can also visit the Schnalstal archeoParc (, which is located not far from the place where Ötzi was found.  This is an interactive museum located 1500 m above sea level and offers reconstructions of the objects found with the Iceman as well as a reconstruction of an entire village of the Late Neolithic Period.  Every day you can do Neolithic things there, such as bake bread in domed ovens, smelt copper ore and practice your archery.  Different from Disney World for sure, but I am sorry that we did not have the opportunity to visit the park, with its surrounding spectacular scenery, but I will save this for another trip when I have a car to get me there.

After spending nearly two hours in the museum, we headed back into the heat and sunshine and continued our promenade in Olde Bolzano.  Janice headed back to the hostel while I took a few more pictures.  I had seen a sign for a small café hidden away in a courtyard and I went there for lunch.  It was wonderful to sit quietly outside in the sunshine and drink an excellent Först beer while waiting for my food.  I had bought an Italian cycling magazine to read at the train station and I enjoyed going through this, feeling in the total holiday mood.  My enormous pizza Margherita came and I had to photograph it as a souvenir of another superb day.

Returning to the hostel, stopping for yet another ice cream on the way back, I joined the others and we walked our bikes over to the terminal.  Unfortunately, there was no sign of the bus and we ended up waiting in the garage for quite a while.  I suspected that there were holiday traffic issues.  It turned out that the bus company had sent me an e-mail to let me know the bus would be late but it had not occurred to me to go on-line at the hostel, regrettably.  We called from the garage and learned that Ricci and the bus would be picking us up closer to 5 pm.

A beer at the Bozner Brauhaus

He arrived at the new time and we quickly got loaded up and on board.  I was worried it would be a long drive back but the traffic was very light as we headed north.  Once again, we passed through incredibly beautiful scenery heading out of Italy and into Austria, but the show ended in three hours as we pulled back into the Rosenheim train station parking lot.

Past masters at this, we organized a van taxi to take our luggage back to the hotel and we all cycled back the short distance to the hotel.  Working quickly, everyone rapidly packed their bikes in their cases and we had one more celebratory dinner at our chic outdoor café across the street.

The next morning everyone went their own way.  I took a cab to the station in the morning and had a comfortable train ride back to Munich, where I caught a flight on budget Air-Berlin northwards, arriving in Berlin for the last, non-cycling, part of my vacation.