Friday 29 January 2010

Canadian Cyclist to Carry Flag at 2010 Winter Olympic Games

No, it's not me. 

Clara Hughes, 18-time (!) Canadian national cycling champion, and winner of bronze medals in the time trial and road race in the 1996 Atlanta games, is going to be carrying the Canadian flag when the Olympics open in Vancouver on February 12.  She also has won eight medals at the Pan American Games and the 1997 Liberty Classic in Philadelphia.  And won the silver medal for road time trialling at the World Championships in 1995.

Oh, and she is pretty good without a bicycle as well, having won a gold, silver and bronze medal in speed skating, making her the only athlete to win multiple medals at the Winter and Summer Olympic Games.  She was also World Champion in the 5000 m event in 2004, and a World Record Holder in the 10,000 m.

But, honestly, how can somebody be National Champion 18 times?  I don't think I will manage this, and as for speed skating I believe I am the only Canadian who cannot actually skate at all.

Climbing vs. Posing

In 2006, while riding sections of the Tour de France route and watching the race, we came across the immaculately-dressed cyclists who had signed up with Trek Tours for big $$$ to be there as well.  Not only did they all have matching jerseys and Trek Madones, but as the Trek van rolled up alongside, the driver passed them water bottles!  I suspected that they were eating somewhat better than we were and staying in much nicer hotels.  I did persuade Udo, our minibus driver, to pass us bottles though.

In 2010, Trek Travel has taken this degree of service even further and is offering participants the chance to ride electrically-assisted bikes!  These will give you an additional 350W of power so that when you make it to the top of the Izoard, you will feel just like Fausto Coppi did.  Except, of course, he didn't use a motor scooter.  With a baguette on the rack.

I don't want to sound like too much of a curmudgeon, but doesn't this dilute the meaning of the whole project?  I have to admit I was always a bit annoyed by the motorcyclists who were posing for photos in front of col signs on the famous climbs in the Alps, making us wait to take our own pictures, since, basically, all they had to do was twist a throttle to get to the top.  Nothing has given me a greater sense of accomplishment than getting to the top of a legendary climb under my own power, just like Jacques, and Eddy and Bernard and Miguel and Mario did.  Well, maybe not Mario, who, when the road went up, usually went to the beach instead.  But I bet he didn't use an electrically-assisted bike there either.

The Izoard
photo by the estimable Will, Creative Commons

Thursday 28 January 2010

Laurent Fignon: Fighting the Good Fight

Laurent Fignon at the 1992 Tour de France
photo by Velodenz, Creative Commons

As many cycling fans know, Laurent Fignon was winner of the Tour de France in 1983 and 1984, as well as the winner of the 1989 Giro d’Italia. 1989 was a mixed year for him, since he came second to Greg Lemond in what must be seen as the most exciting Tour de France of modern times.  In addition to his success in stage races, M. Fignon won, among other victories, Milan-San Remo twice.  He went on to a post-racing career life as a race organizer, and included Paris-Nice among his projects.

As first reported last summer, he is suffering from cancer of the digestive tract. This has spread to his lungs and he is not reacting well to chemotherapy.  A scrappy, unpredictable and exciting cyclist in his day, he is not prepared to give up on this challenge either.

Anyone wanting to send him a Get Well card (and I plan to do so) can send it to:

Laurent Fignon
126, rue du Maréchal Leclerc,
94410 St-Maurice

or by sending an e-mail to

Berlin Six Day Race Begins Today!

photo by Andrew Curry

It is with a heavy heart that once again I see the Berlin Six Day Race will take place without me spectating.  This is the 99th running of this wonderful sporting event.  At least my Berlin-based journalist friend, Andrew Curry, has been able to do a write-up about it, which you can find here.

I am sure it will be yet again a great event, with superb racing and a lot of beer.

January 29th UPDATE:  Since posting the above, I see that my good friends at have provided an interesting analysis of the race in Berlin, which you can read here.  It does not sound like smooth sailing in the world of the Six Day Races.  Although I knew that Dortmund and Munich were pretty well done, I have always thought that the last place where the Six Days would have financial issues would be Berlin but the recession is clearly reaching everywhere.  The non-appearance of the flamboyant Bruno Risi is to be particularly regretted.

Movie Night: “Race Across the Sky–the Leadville Trail 100"

The documentary about the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race that premiered in November finally reached the Great White North for two showings, January 27 and February 7. Although I don’t know much about mountain biking, I thought it would be interesting to attend since there are not a lot of films about cycling of any kind and reviews I had read sounded pretty positive.

I have been to Leadville, Colorado, and recall its Wild West ambiance and the fact that I had a splitting headache. The town is 10,152 feet (3094 m) above sea level, so the air is pretty thin. The town once had a population of 40,000 during the great silver boom of the 1880s but as the mines closed, the community withered.

One of those miners, Ken Chlouber, thought that Leadville had more to offer than underground tunnels and pits and in 1983 he organized the first Leadville Trail 100 race, which starts in the town and proceeds on asphalt, dirt roads, fire roads, and singletrack trails out for 50 miles, where the racers turn around and head back in the opposite direction. In that first race, there were 45 cyclists, of whom 10 actually finished. In 2009, there were 1400 starters.

In 2008, Lance Armstrong, coming out of retirement, participated in the race and came second to Dave Wiens, who was clocking his sixth consecutive win and who set a record time that year. This film, “Race Across the Sky,” is the account of the 2009 race, in which Armstrong, fresh from his third place position at the Tour de France, comes back looking for something better than second place.

The race, from the briefing session in the big gymnasium, to the volunteers on the course, has the feel of a big folk festival. But the coverage by the filmmakers is anything but amateur as they use footage from motorbikes and a helicopter, as well as little interviews with participants, to tell the story. The Main Event, of course, is the race between Dave, the local hero, and Lance, but the other stories are great. There is a woman participating just over a year after a car going 60 mph hit her on a training ride. She had terrible injuries, including a broken back, torn gluteus maximus, and a destroyed ACL in her knee. Her husband, still upset at the memory of the crash, talked about her getting onto the trainer wearing a body cast and brace, and here she was, riding one of the toughest marathon bike races in the United States. Another racer was a woman who had been diagnosed with MS twenty years ago. A lighter note was provided by the cyclist who had ridden all 15 prior editions of the race on the same mountain bike, with the same first-generation helmet, and even with the same front tire!

The filmmakers used a great piece of animation to show the course and illustrate the difficult areas. Then it was off to the races as everyone assembled at 5:50 a.m. for what must have been an ice-cold start. Very quickly, a small group of elite riders formed at the front and these seven would animate the race for the rest of the day.

I had always thought that a mountain bike race would be extremely technical but looking at this race I could see how a road racer would do well. There are some long, flat sections, both paved and unpaved, and if you could work it properly you could gain a lot of time. One of the riders, an Olympic mountain biker, was using drop handlebars to obviously take advantage of these sections of road and get aero. Lance Armstrong quickly showed his tactical sense and worked with another rider to set a blistering pace at the front. Since many of the climbs were fairly open, given Lance’s ascending skills it was obvious to me that he would continue to gain time on the pure mountain bike racers and this was the case. He even rode through the feed zone like a Tour de France champ, grabbing a musette and eating on the fly. And for comic relief, we had the opportunity to see him attempt to fix a flat.  I do have to point out that he rides the entire muddy, rainy, slippery course wearing white shoes.

In spite of knowing what the outcome of the race would be, I found it exciting to watch this impressive event, rolling through wonderful scenery. Parts of the course are simply brutal–one section called the Pipeline follows a right-of-way and seems to be made of rocks and dirt stacked vertically. Remember, cyclists have to descend this on the way out, and climb it on the way back. To add to the fun, the slower participants had the opportunity to enjoy a hail storm as they climbed the highest mountain, which gets you to almost 13,000 feet. At no point is the course under 9,000 feet.

The Leadville Trail 100 is just one of a series of races, including running events as well as cycling ones, that are now taking place in this little Colorado town. I enjoyed the film and would recommend it as an entertaining and, yes, perhaps inspirational, addition to the bike film genre.

Monday 18 January 2010

Having a fit in Ottawa

Although I have been happy with my road bikes, I have always felt that my time trial bike was not set up correctly.  While this is a sad excuse for why I don’t seem to have been getting any faster, I felt that I have not been putting out as much power as I should be and from photos I did not look especially aerodynamic compared to, well, the somewhat faster Dave Zabriskie, for example.  My friends at had done a comprehensive story about bike fit and this was food for thought.  My Marinoni had been built to measure and I simply transferred a lot of the measurements to my other road bikes and this seems to have worked but I had been mulling over a professional fitting for the Leader and when I saw Ace Custom Cycles was having a January sale, I decided to act.

I met Richard Coburn today at his bike studio.  For those unfamiliar with the bike studio concept, there was a good piece in Bicycling a while back here.  The focus is on personal attention, and it usually revolves around correct fitting and high-end bicycles.  Richard, with a background in mechanical engineering technology and formerly a Product Designer at Ottawa's much-loved Lee Valley Tools, set up shop in 2005 and handles Serotta and Guru bicycles, as well as a range of specialized parts.  He offers different levels of fittings and I had requested the Level 4 fitting, which is a comprehensive one for an existing bicycle to improve aerodynamic efficiency.

Ace Custom Cycles is very discreet (no sign) and you find yourself in Richard’s living room, which my wife thought looked like every cyclist’s dream living room, with two Serottas and a pair of posters autographed by Magnus Backstedt to admire.  In addition, Richard’s Black Lab seemed delighted to see me, as was the curious cat.  Richard and I chatted a bit about cycling in general and then work began in earnest.  He reviewed my cycling goals and health issues that could influence my riding.  He then took measurements to determine my flexibility, including hip flexion and hamstrings.  Although I had been afraid that even among cyclists I would be considered humiliatingly inflexible, this turned out not to be the case.  Richard, who had been trained at Serotta as a fitting specialist, then took measurements of my Leader time trial bike (noting the extremely odd angle of the seat, which I can only attribute to my zombie-like training state).

He then set up the bike on a trainer and I got on board.  He did a video of me cycling in the aero position and it was clear that I really was not very aero.  Richard measured the angle of my leg extension, as well as the position of my knee relative to the pedal axle.  It was apparent that my seat was too low and too far forward and he gradually changed its position, noting that when you change one thing, a lot of other things need to be adjusted.  After each adjustment he checked the leg extension angle with a protractor, and then used a plumb line from my knee to determine if I was correctly positioned.

In the end, he raised my seat by a quite astonishing 6.5 cms, moved my cleats forward and raised my stem (I had left my fork uncut for this purpose) by one spacer.  He thought that the position of my hands and elbows looked good from the front as a “V” shape is desired to slice through the wind.  He then videoed me again and the difference from where we started was quite obvious.  I now have a flat back while on the bike, but I still am comfortable looking ahead.  Pressure on the elbow rests is not noticeable and my leg extension is totally different.  While spinning, my knees do not interfere with my chest, which should allow better breathing and greater power.

The New Me!

The whole session took nearly three hours (with some diversionary chat, a hazard of cycling enthusiasts!) and I am very anxious for the roads to clear in order that I can determine the difference in speed compared to the old, haphazard position.  Richard was very knowledgeable and quick to answer my numerous questions.  I think that to maximize the biomechanical benefits of cycling, a professional fitting is a very reasonable investment and would encourage anyone who has not done so to look into it.  Of course, with this fit and my new, correct and hopefully speedy position on the bike, I have one less explanation as to why I am not Dave Z. fast.  Let us see what the time trial season brings!

Monday 11 January 2010

Jen Voigt Again: Calculate Your Jens Factor

Here is a great graphic courtesy of  After all, there in nothing harder than Jens in the Known Universe.

Unfortunately, for those of us riding to work in Canada at this time of year the scale doesn't really work since we pretty well never get out of Jens Factor 5 or Jens Factor HC.  A temperature of 4C with no wind constitutes early summer here.  Perhaps it could be seasonally adjusted?  And points should be given for riding through ice and slush.  In any event, I appear to have an impressive Jens Factor as my coldest ride this season was with a temperature of -22C and a sustained windspeed of 30 km/h.

The Heron Arises: A New (Old) Bike for a New Decade

Last June I wrote about my most recent Tin Donkey, a c. 1983/84 Raleigh Team Professional frame.  It was constructed in Raleigh’s Special Bicycle Development Unit (SBDU) in Ilkeston, outside of the main Raleigh works in Nottingham.  The frame was finished in the colours of the Levi’s-Raleigh Racing Team and included a braze-on tab for a racing number.  Although the previous owner had been told it had been a team bike, I cannot confirm this.  The frame is similar to those shown in the Raleigh USA catalogue of the period as available for custom order and was sold as a frameset only.

The frame, with a very unoriginal fork, was in quite good shape, although the faded paint was pretty rough, with some bad scratches, a bit of rust on the top tube cable guides, and a particularly bad section which had been painted black with a spray can.  The frame was straight, however, and I knew that all the decals were available and I had an expert willing to braze a new fork and paint the bike, so off I went into the world of classic lightweight bicycles.

There is a lot of discussion on the excellent Classics Rendezvous forum about restoration and what it entails.  Needless to say, the issue is one that provokes heated debate.  My goal with the bicycle was more of a “reclamation.”  As far as I knew, it had no particular historical significance (although it would have been nice to be able to confirm it had been used in US racing by the arch-rival team to the more famous 7-Eleven one) but was just a very nice bicycle made from lightweight Reynolds 753 steel tubing.  I decided to add period-appropriate Campagnolo parts but I departed from what was probably the original way the bike was built up by going with clincher tires rather than tubulars since I plan to actually ride the Raleigh and don’t want to worry about old rims or having to fix tubulars.  I also decided to go with a new stem and handlebars so I would not have to worry about their integrity either.  Luckily, the Japanese firm Nitto makes gorgeous parts that look very much like the early 1980s Cinelli ones, so I do not feel I have cut any corners.

After spending a lot of time looking at Raleigh SBDU bikes shown on the Raleigh Team Pro Yahoo group, I tracked down the considerable number of decals required.  From California, VeloCals provided most of the Raleigh Racing USA decals, including some of the really tricky ones such as a head tube decal (my bike never had a badge, as was common with Raleighs, as there is no sign of mounting holes), and the “Made in England for sale only in the USA” one.  From H. Lloyd Cycles in the UK, I obtained some beautiful decals including the special SBDU ones for the chainstays, a GoD decal for the seat tube (Gerald O’Donovan being the head of SBDU), and some TI (for Tube Industries) decals for the fork.  Tube Industries owned Raleigh, along with Reynolds, and the decal was used on earlier bicycles than mine.  Since my fork would not be Reynolds 753 but rather Columbus SLX, I decided not to use 753 decals on the fork, as would have been original.  From CycloMondo in Australia I received a nice set of Reynolds 753R decals.  The “R” in this case means “restored”!

The parts came from all over the world, and Travis Evans of Just Riding Along in Maryland built me a set of wheels using Mavic Open Pro rims and a nice set of 36-hole Campagnolo Super Record hubs I bought on E-Bay.  I had a nice pair of Hutchinson tires with red pinstriping on them, which match beautifully.  Since I want to ride this bicycle at l’Eroica in Tuscany, I thought it would be good to get the biggest freewheel I could that would fit a Super Record rear derailleur and bought a new Interloc Racing Design (IRD) 13-28.

On a grey day in early November, I took my big pile of photographs and decals, the frame and my bottom bracket and headset to Cycles Marinoni in Montreal.  Mrs. Marinoni and I had a long discussion about the work to be done.  She is the person responsible for the paintwork, and her husband, who had just come back from Italy, was going to make me a new fork with a proper Cinelli sloped crown.  She recognized the paint scheme (Marinoni had actually built a number of bikes for the Levi’s-Raleigh team back in the day).  We were a bit concerned that the spray-painted area might have been covering some damage, particularly since my 26.8 mm seatpost did not want to go in very easily.

Two weeks ahead of schedule, I received an e-mail saying that the frame and fork were on their way.  When I unpacked the box, I was thrilled as the bicycle looked absolutely gorgeous.  It was shinier than it would have been originally as I wanted a clearcoat to protect all those decals but still looked wonderfully vintage.  I have to add a note here.  Not only was the new fork perfect for the bike, but the finish work, and you can see how nicely deliniated the head tube is, for example, is really superb.  Cycles Marinoni has been in business for three decades and it shows, and I would not hesistate to recommend them for anyone looking for a custom bike.  However, not only was the work done to a superior standard, but it was also extremely reasonable.

I put the parts on that I had polished up and took the bike over to the guys at Full Cycle to work their magic and do the final setting-up of the Raleigh.  It turned out that the IRD freewheel was no problem to use, so I have a much bigger range of gears than any racing cyclist in 1983 would have had available. 

The final parts (toe straps, derailleur adjusting screws) have now come in and I photographed the bicycle today.  The photography session is worth a page or two in itself.  Amazingly, although I was using no less than 2000W of halogen light, I managed not to burn the house down.  I also learned that a big roll of seamless paper has a mind of its own as it immediately insisted on unrolling all 37 feet of itself when I only needed about 12.

So here to begin the new decade are some of the photos, along with some of the pictures from when I got the frame first.  The bicycle is pristine, and will stay that way for the foreseeable future as the outdoor cycling season (commuting aside) is a long way off here.  The Raleigh seems extraordinarily light, and I am very anxious to try it out.  Is that Sella San Marco Regal saddle as comfortable as it looks?

Sunday 3 January 2010

Training Inspiration

In May 2007 I raced the Carlisle Time Trial and met Joao Correia, a business manager for Bicycling magazine.  He was impressively fast, and came in second overall, and we chatted for a while about strategy and equipment.  I know that he subsequently raced as a pro for a US domestic team on a part-time basis (he has a blog here) but in impressive start to the decade, he has signed on with Test Team Cervelo, one of the top Continental-level teams and which boasts 2009 Green Jersey winner Thor Hushovd, as well as 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre on its roster.

What is remarkable about this is that Joao began a pro career years ago but at 21 dropped it for school  and the world of publishing.  He had to do a lot of entertaining of clients and ballooned up to 205 pounds.  After joining Bicycling, he was determined to do something about this a shed more than 60 pounds.  The result is that now he has left the magazine at the age of 34 to pursue a racing career full-time.  His wife continues to work at the New York Times, which had a great article (read it here) about Joao's amazing jump.

So basically I have no excuses at all to miss any workouts.