Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Eurobike Preview No1

With only a week till the doors open at Eurobike I thought I'd give you the heads up on a couple of things I have seen. The first is Campagnolo Clothing, Spring/Summer 2010.

Campagnolo have made the transition from being purely a hardware company into producing software also. Unlike Shimano who have tried under the main brand and produced poor sub standard items with a logo on (but have had great success with PRO name in certain areas), Campag are now selling good numbers across Europe and have to be taken seriously. This wasn't always the case as the first couple of seasons they mirrored Shimano's attempts and offered nothing new or interesting.

The design Team behind the clothing range have learnt fast and now they not only have a very extensive (too big in my books) range which covers a wide selection of price points. But without a doubt (and I say this as a none retro geek) the Heritage range is the best, well from an visual point of view, as other ranges have more technical products.

The range uses a mix of modern fabrics, plus a modern twist on an old fabric in that one jersey is made fom Sportwool. Be careful on sizing as the sample I have seen would require a two size upscale to get a decent fit. Hopefully on the production items I'll be back to my usual size.

I have had Campag clothing to test before and to be honest the quality is good, if not a little expensive. This has now been brought more in line with the rest of the market so the Sportwool Heritage jersey is going to hit the shops at around £90, similar to brands like Rapha.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Punt week, Team Radioshack

We are all aware of the looming new Lance Armstrong team, either Radioshack or the Shack depending on which reports are correct. Speculation on who will join is rife, and for good reason Lance (love him or hate him) is a legend. Due to his financial committments and being a bit of a product junkie many expect there to be a Trek/Sram love in.

Well I can kind of agree, but for a moment lets just think outside the box. As Lance has a smart and commercial brain on him some decisions may be made on those fronts also.

What if Radioshack were not to use the Trek Madonne. It would be a bold move, but lets remember Lance had nothing to do with the developement of this current bike. So keeping it within the family, how about Radioshack switch to Gary Fisher road bikes. This may at first sound an odd proposal but weigh it up. Commercially it makes sense if Trek Corp are serious about developing the Fisher brand into a desireable product. The Lance effect is not to be under estimated in that when Lance was riding and winning the Tour like most people put on shoes in the morning sales were high and it was happy days for the Trek bike brand. Post Lance, and up until the new Madonne launch sales were poor. Lance could offer his midas touch to the brand, increase sales and have two viable products in the market place. Also in the back of my mind the fact that the Fisher brand came about because of the demise of the Le Mond brand would also make for an interesting twist.

The presumption again would be to say he will be on the Bontrager brand as it's part of the group. LA has long had a relationship with Steve Hed, so an option to run their complete line is another possibility. My guess is that there is a strong chance that the wheels may be a mix of the above plus Zipp, but maybe relogoed for the Team. With all of the best toys available to play with, it must be tempting to use the best tool for the given task.

Lance is a Concor man and my guess is that the saddles will have a San Marco label on them or it could be a free for all. I think in these days of having synergy between all the parts on the bike it is unlikely that multiple suppliers will get a look in.

Bars, Stems etc
Bontrager again would be the obvious choice, but Zipp maybe another consideration. They make some cool stuff and no doubt would benefit from the Armstrong effect.

If this isn't SRAM Red I'd be surprised, except if that they end up using the next version on from Red. From a business sense Force would be a great marketing ploy. But being a weight weenie and tech freak this would seem unlikely.

To find out how I do on this one we will have to wait a little longer than the September the 1st transfer deadline.

Monday, 17 August 2009

SKY, and the rumour mill.

To be honest I wasn't that excited by team SKY (probably a bad experience with their customer retention department didn't help) but there has been two things that have drawn me in. 1. Scott Sunderland, there is something warm and human about him and I like that. 2. The strict 'No Drugs' rule. Not a sniff or whiff of a rumour is allowed, and unlike most Teams this has been extended to the whole support Staff from top to bottom.

Lots of rumours are going around and frankly this is good because it shows a firm strong interest in the Team. Will they get a ProTour license, well that's not known yet but the way they are conducting the business it should work in their favour. Here are my current favourites.

The Riders:
Bradley Wiggins has been rumoured to be joining the Team for months and ever since his sterling performance in the Tour the rumour dial has been turned up to 12. To me it would make great sense as Brad has been part of the track system which has encouraged and allowed him to perform at the highest level.

Fabian Cancellara is one rider I have heard being mentioned in various circles to be joining the Team. This would be awesome as it would add firepower for TTT, TT and the Classics, plus the passion and experience he could offer to the up and coming British riders would be invaluable. Having previously worked with Sunderland at CSC I am sure this maybe a crucial factor in the decision.

Hardware and Software

It is likely that Adidas will supply the label for the clothing, I doubt that this will include shoes as many riders already have deals set up. I would expect that the designs are by Adidas but it is likely MOA will actually produce the uniforms.

The Frames/bikes. There has been a lot of talk on who it will be. The current favourites are Giant, Colnago and Pinarello. Specialized have also been mentioned but I would be surprised that they decide to sponsor a third top level team, but that may depend on what happens with Quick Step as their contract is up for renewal soon. My money would have to go on Giant as the decision will be based on the technical qualities of the frame. That brings me nicely onto Groupsets and Wheels. For Groupsets I think that SKY could well be the first Team to use Di2 on all bikes whether it be the TT or Road bikes.

Wheels I think are likely to be Zipp. Zipp managed to chalk up more wins at this years Tour de France than all the rest put together. As both Sunderland and Boardman are both fans of the wheels my guess is that they will be the hoops of choice. If not them the only other brands would be either Mavic or Vision (as in FSA). Tyres well my guess is it'll be Vittoria, with Continental coming a close second.

So roll on September the 1st and we will all be able to see what Team SKY has to offer, oh and the colour of the uniform I am guessing it won't be blue.

Now the Dust has settled

It has been a few weeks since the Tour de France has finished. I have had time to take stock of it and here are my ramblings.

This year I have enjoyed the Tour more than any other since 2003. Of course other Tours will always have a favoured status but looking back this years Tour was great for one reason alone. The battle for the Green Jersey. So often called the "Sprinters Jersey', it really is the jersey that rewards consistency, courage and great tactics.

As an Englishman many would be expecting me to be waving the flag for Cav. Don't get me wrong, he is truly an awesome athlete (and I expect him to win it next year), my heart was yearning for a Thor win. As both athletes are great proponents of 'clean cycling', this for me was the battle that I could sit back and enjoy without those nagging questions that sometimes surrounds the GC riders.

Stage 17 produced a day that will go down in Green Jersey history. The words that a impassioned and frustrated Cavendish spoke fueled Hushovd's fire to create an epic day in the saddle. I bet that Cav wishes that he hadn't said that the 'Green jersey was tarnished'. Those words mixed with equal doses of pride helped create one of the most memorable sights at this years Tour.

A footnote has to go to Wiggin's, another great proponent of 'clean' cycling. He finished fourth which was as an amazing feat as Armstrong's first win. He has transformed himself from one of the world's greatest Track riders to a genuine Tour contender. I've met him once and he strikes me as a nice guy and I do hope he take's one of cyclings greatest prizes.

This Tour has shown that riding clean can produce the most exciting racing, be that in the sprints or the mountains. It gives this jaded fan hope for the future. I am sure PED's will always be there, but lets hope that it's use is in a smaller minority and our sport can hold it's head high.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Vittoria Open Corsa Evo CX 320 Tpi - IMO

Testing tyres in many ways is one of the easier things you can test. Take off the old ones, discard old tubes (if you are being really good), fit new ones inflate and ride. Damn sounds really easy. The hard bit comes in trying to find different types of surfaces to try them on and in varied weather conditions. Over the period of the test neither have been a problem.

Okay to the first ride. This also happened to be my last epic ride in Hertfordshire so it has clear and fond memories. I left the house early, the weather was gently simmering away, not hot but at the same time not cold, ideal conditions in my books. Not bothering with knee warmers I ensured the legs had some embrocation on them, just in case. Jacket stuffed into the back pocket I was off.

Ten kilometres into the ride I had to stop, bollocks I thought I have a puncture. Getting off the bike and giving the tyre a knowing squeeze I was surprised to find that the tyre was solid. Great I thought, but I thought wow this tyre is supple. Concerned I may be too heavy (this tyre is very light at 210g) for it I was conscious of the road terrain so not to tempt fate.

The ride turned out to be an epic 100km one, which hadn't been planned but just ended up being a great first ride test. I had encountered the rough lanes of Herts plus some unplanned off road section of around 3km. So that was the varied terrain covered. Weather wise as I have already mentioned was a nice Spring day, warm at 16 degrees but towards the last 25km it started to rain. It was the nice warm rain that is surprisingly refreshing to tired legs.

Onto the performance. As I mentioned above this tyre is very supple. I think that this is the closest I have ridden to a tubular performance on a clincher. If you wanted to go for the ultimate experience you could try fitting a latex tube as this would narrow the gap. Dry weather performance is awesome with the herringbone and file treads combined with the tyre's compound offering bags of grip. Rolling resistance, or the lack of it, is awesome even at 120-130 psi. I put this down to one thing the 320tpi casing of the tyre, which although is only 30tpi higher than the original has transformed a great tyre into a "must have' one.

I have ridden these tyres in rides where it has started off dry and ended up being wet and greasy, Unlike some top end tyres that require some adjustment to your riding style once the conditions turn the Open CX just kept on offering bags of grip time and time again. Railing around corners in the wet or dry was awesome and never once did I have one of those moments when you think 'oh shit'.

I have ridden around a 1000km on this tyre on a multitude of roads and two different countries and I have to say that this is a 5 star tyre, truly is a real performance enhancer for your bike. In the test period I never suffered a single puncture and small cuts are to a minimum, which considering the price is welcome as it enables you to buy with confidence. Some of this has to be down to the 320tpi casing and the new PRB 2.0 Aramidic protective belt, it's light and it works better than the previous version.

Now the big question Would I Ride it at Flanders (WIRIAF), that would be a resounding yes, especially as they have a 25mm tyre which would offer more comfort and grip over the cobbles. I'll be buying some more once these wear out, I'd advise you to do the same they are brilliant.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

All Change please

I lived in London for over 16 years and the recent change to a life outside the big smoke has been a welcome one. I have changed jobs this year which has proved to be a great move for me and the whole family. So with a change in job comes a change in commute. Previously I had a 7-9 mile route to work depending on how I felt on the day. This has now doubled to between 16-18 miles.

The result is that the miles I am putting into the bank now should help all year round and keep the fitness at a reasonable level. Dangerous bus lanes have been replaced by leafy rolling lanes and only a couple of dodgy roundabouts, instead of every junction being a minefield. In four weeks I've dropped 2 kg, and long may that continue.

I have yet to manage a full 5 days commuting, but as I have had 4 1/2 months of not cycling much, I am slowly building up some stamina again I feel it won't be long in coming. At the moment I don't know how Winter will pan out. If it stays dry and crisp I will endeavour to make it 5 out of 5 and leave the weekends for a cheeky session on the rollers and for some quality time with the family.

You see as a Family Guy the time on the bike is all about balance and give and take. How will I ever encourage my children's love of the bicycle if the only example they see if me disappearing and not enjoying time with them on their bikes. It must be very hard for PRO riders as they know the potential to push away their loved one's from the sport must be high.

I hope that the passion I have for the bike rubs off onto my boys. I doubt they'll become as obsessed as I have (maybe not a bad thing!), but I would like them to explore the freedom that turning a pedal gives you and enjoy the rush of descending a big hill. Anyhow off for some family time now.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Home and Away

When Cervelo Test Team turned up to the Tour de France team presentation it wasn't the first time a Team had changed it's kit prior to the start. In the last few years it has become the norm (and mainly for the American Teams) to announce new sponsors and turn up with a modified version of the kit. This is great for the Team and the sponsor as it guarantees maximum exposure. Team Once were different in that every year you would expect them to turn up in their pink version of the normal kit, which ended up being as famous (and maybe more sought after) as their regular yellow kit.

What was different with Cervelo is that the kit change came about because of the weather! Cervelo has justly deserved the badge of the best kit this year, and world wide sales would back this up. But to then make the bold move based on riders heat management is a first as far as I am aware (and possibly risky due to those sales figures).

This led to many discussions with friends and colleagues, 'Why don't cyclists have two kits, like in football a Home and Away strip'. This in essence wouldn't work but what we are really looking for is a kit for the Spring and Autumn Classics and another kit for the Grand Tours. Colours and fabrics would reflect the chosen season and no doubt the psychological benefit would be appreciated by the riders.

Columbia Highroad (as was) used this to a small effect in the Spring Classics by having a short with a black bum and groin area. Lets face it, it's no bad idea if you are racing in the Flemish Spring time when you can see four seasons in one race to at least give the riders a small piece of dignity when battling hard against the elements.

In the current climate where so many teams use the sales of merchandise to supplement the Teams budget, a second kit may be welcome. It could also allow shared title sponsors to equally have their companies colours unleashed unto the public at large. I don't buy lot's of Team kit, but I maybe more tempted if there was a colour way I liked.

Let's hope that the UCI open it up and make some things less rigid. If we are wanting to globalise our sport more we need to look at the success stories in other sports to see if they are worth adopting in ours.

Tour of Flanders 09

Over the winter it was tough to train at times as the great British Weather did it's best to make it as difficult as possible to venture out on a bike. What with freezing temperatures that wouldn't be out of place in Russia, and then more snow than the transport system could deal with. It is a winter I would best forget. So this year I arrived in Belgium 6.5 kg heavier than last year and with very few kilometers in my legs.

So, I've made my excuses, now onto my synopsis of the weekend. Being in one of cycling’s great heartlands seems to feed the soul and lifts the spirits like a double espresso on a cold day. Getting off the train in Brussels you know you are in Europe, the sites and smells are all different, and I like it. I would be staying in a very nice hotel in the town of Denize where Ghent Wevelgem starts, so I couldn't be more in the Flemish hinterland. Feeling spoilt by my hosts I unpacked my bags and got ready for dinner.

Much is made of Belgian beer and chocolate, but you never hear of the great cuisine that they have. I liked the food a lot, cordon bleu but without the fluff, don't get me wrong it was incredibly well put together but you get the feeling that taste is king in Belgium. Unfortunately there wasn’t much in the way of heavy carbs on the menu, so I would have to make do with the excellent food before me and cram a few more bread rolls into to fuel the furnace for tomorrow.

On a cold(ish) foggy morning we reached our meeting point, running a little late we would have no time to get to start to sign on if we wanted to start the ride with Museeuw. So with a swift greeting we were off. The parcours for the randonnee changed dramatically from last year with a new section of flat cobbles thrown in before the Molenberg. At first this threw me as I had a moment where I was wondering if we'd ridden these last year, only in the evening did I know they where new. Foolishly I hadn't bothered to look at the route.

As it turned out it wouldn't be the only change to the route. Open Motorway sections were replaced by a series of bike paths that ran parallel to the road from last year. In many ways this was better as the new paths were on a whole traffic free and the biggest hazard was the concrete bollards that stopped cars from using them.

The lack of fitness showed as I had lost the Museeuw group. I was firmly on my own now and my only riding partner was Northern grit. Conscious that I had only ridden half that distance this year I was concerned about blowing if I went to hard. Settling into a rhythm I seemed to play cat and mouse with a group off 30 riders most of the day. At least it was some familiar, if unknown, faces in the ride. Last year it rained most of the day and this year had a damp tinge to the air, so far I am to experience a hot day like 2007. If the same weather faced me next year I will forgo any leg or knee warmers and opt for some embrofication and don a set Belgium Knee Warmers. As the day progressed the weather improved allowing me to pack away my gilet for the rest of the ride.

As we had missed the official sign on to ride with Johan we did not have the number board, which allowed you to access the feeding stations. Thankfully our hosts Morgan Blue would meet at predetermined spots to allow us to refuel some bottles. I met Kurt outside the second feed, grabbed a coke and mixed it with some water (old school energy drink!) and a couple of these fantastic little fruit bars. They resembled a big fig roll, very delicious indeed.

Andrea Tafi famously said, "if you don't turn up to Flanders fit, it is then the way of the cross". With that quote lurking in the back of my mind I knew half way in he was right. I now know that the training for Flanders has to start no later than November (maybe October!). The ride shared similar elements of toughness as last year but for different reasons. In ’08 the weather and my crash on a descent would prove to make the ride tougher than I was expecting. This year lack of fitness would equal that feeling.

Having ridden the climbs before it prepares the mind and body for how tough they are. You can see the importance of such riders as Andreas Kiler to a team like Cervelo. These guys know every inch of the course, how the wind moves and where to place you on the climbs. Experience of riding Flanders and having a Team captain who knows it inside out is like having another rider or two in the Team.

Riding the cobbles once before it prepares your body and brain for the vibrations and lines to look for. I have tried to replicate this in the UK and have found it (so far) impossible. I think it'll take a while before I'll master my technique on them. Maybe this is part of the appeal that draws you into the Flemish bossom. I have done a lot of mountain biking in my past and I thought that I could pick a line, but trying to do this on cobbles with a 24 mm tyre requires a deft hand, which I am still to master.

Riding the course with so many people riding adds to the experience and coupled with the hundreds of people that line the climbs on the Sportive make for a very special atmosphere. You can see why this is the most important day in cycling in Belgium, whether you are a Flandrian or a Walloone.

I am not going to lament on my lack of fitness any more as I am the only one that can be held responsible for that but I'll focus on the positives:
1. This year I didn't crash. After last year it was important that I made it round the course without any major disasters.
2. I got up all the climbs I didn't last year (but ironically I didn't make it up three that I did last year!)
3. I am officially hooked. I think that this is a truly great event, and should be on everyone’s list to do at least once, no matter how long you have been riding. Let's face it can 20,000 people be that wrong.

I can see myself going back at least twice more. Once to do all the climbs (without having to stop), it'd be great to nail that. Then I think at least once I will need to do the full 260 km version. But realistically I doubt it'll end there, as the Flemish passion and spirit has spread into my blood and the only cure is more cobbles. Many thanks to both Wiggle and Morgan Blue for the trip.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Winter Training starts here!

What the . . . you must be thinking, we are in the middle of Summer. But bear with me as I explain my crazy thoughts. The PRO's normally start training for the Classics around the beginning of October, which frankly is great if you are paid to ride a bike and have no time constraints. I like many of you have a normal job, family and other commitments on my time.

So August is going to be base miles with a couple of long rides thrown in to lay down a solid foundation. September is a little crazy as I loose a week to Eurobike, which is a pretty cool and will provide a decent recovery block. The week before I intend to have a hard week, hitting the 320 km marker.

So once I have made my way through September it nicely leads onto October where the painful sessions begin. These will be focussed on bringing out power and some top end speed. Last time I used this through winter my speed increased by 7 km/ph which was great. Obtaining that magic number again will be the goal plus one other magic number, loosing 10 kg.

Bradley Wiggin's general Tour performance and Thor's mountain stage breakaway has inspired me to shed some pounds. It's going to mean being a little more strict with my diet and some things are just going to have to go until I can reach my goal (like the Harribos). Slow and steady will be my method and knocking a 1/2 a kilo a week is the plan. I am sure to plateau and fall off the wagon but that's the goal I'm going for. I'll keep you posted from time to time on how I am getting on. The big benefit will be when I hit the bergs at the Tour of Flanders, they might not seem so big if I am a bit smaller.