Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A man you don't meet everyday...

"Oh my name is Jock Stewart I'm a canny gun man
And a roving young fellow I've been
So be easy and free when you're drinking with me
I'm a man you don't meet every day"

      Cait O'Riordan & The Pogues - "A Man you don't Meet Everyday"

It's not the speed I fear cafesupporters.  It's the miles.

That's why this weekend I put in two pretty big days back to back.  Saturday?  5 hours, just spinning along in a 39x16 with Joe and Tony, getting miles in the bank.  Sunday it was 30 degrees and colder. Another 4 hours solo, ditto tempo and gearing, only more climbing that put the ticker up into the red 6 or 7 times.  In the hills, in the wind. Felt stuck to the road, but no matter, it's all necessary you see...  

...for Carhirciveen.

Wednesday, May 21 will be stage 4 of the Ras.  The longest day, smack in the middle of a long week. The stage to Cahirciveen, on the Ring of Kerry, into the extremely wild mountainous west coast of Ireland.  183 kilometers, featuring no less than ten categorized climbs that include two category two ascents, and a category one mountain.  One can fake their way through an 80 or 90 mile ride.  But on this rocky road to Cahirciveen, there'll be no trick a poser can pull to fake their way through. 

I'm quite aware that Cahirciveen is a place neither known nor celebrated by cycling afficionados, unlike other similarly quaint small towns that have names like Geraardsbergen, or Huy.  

No matter.  Carhirciveen is an important cycling destination because it's the home of the Ireland's original cycling Iron Man.

In 1958 Mick Murphy came out of nowhere, or to be more precise Cahirciveen, to dominate the Ras Tailteann.  Only cycling seriously for a little over a year, he showed up at the GPO in Dublin a late unknown selection for the Kerry county squad. But by the end of stage one, every man in the field knew in their legs, lungs and hearts, just who was going to be dictating terms in that Ras.  

Mick Murphy, in 1958.
 Despite being in a strong Kerry team, as appropriate for this former circus performer, his was a solo act of constant surges. Murphy won that '58 Ras, slaughtering the rest. 

His preparation to enable this feat was legendary, even at the time. In Gaelic Ireland, Mick Murphy stories are the stuff of legend.  Starting work at age 11 in the bogs.  Working in a quarry in his teens. Picking up cash as a circus performer. Training by balancing a ladder on his chin.  Travelling around as a grass track racer. Gymnastic training learned from Russians in the circus. Stealth after work training rides in the middle of the night, after sessions of weight training with bar bells made from stone weights picked up from his farm. Fanatical attention to diet.  Living on raw food. Uncooked cereals, cheese, vegetables, eggs and fruit juice. And drinking cow's blood.  

Suffice to say, Murphy's 'total athlete' approach was quite the contrast to most cyclists of the day. Ras legend and winner Gene Mangan, who won 4 stages of that '58 Ras said it best: "Mick said that while we knew everything about the bike, we knew nothing about our bodies."

His victory was not without drama.  During that '58 Ras, on stage 4, Mick went down in the wet, crashing hard on his left shoulder. Whether it was a torn shoulder or a broken collarbone is debated, but the fact is the Iron Man, in a bad way, fought back to cross the line in 8th place that day.  After the adrenaline wore off the pain and doubt set in.  The next they they helped him squeeze into his yellow jersey, put him on his bike, strapped in his feet for him, and off he went.  111 miles later at the finish he vomited from the effort and the pain, but kept his yellow jersey.  By now all Ireland was all in, behind the Iron Man.  Against the odds he recovered, and went on to win the 1958 Ras by 4' 44".  

Today, Mick Murphy lives alone in a mountain hovel outside Carhirciveen behind a corrugated iron sheet that serves as a front door.  No toilet.  No running water.  Just enough electricity for a single bulb. He still has his stone weights, and he still has his memories.  His body may have been broken by a fall from a scaffold on a building site in England a few years ago, but his sprit will never be.  "No man, nor God will move me".

I know some might look at Mick Murphy and see an eccentric.  I see a content genius who's been there, done that, figured it all out.

Come hell or high water, I'm going to make it to Cahirciveen.  And once there, I hope I'm lucky enough to find Mick Murphy at the line.  And shake the hand of the Iron Man himself.  

Monday, March 3, 2014

Heavy riders on light bikes. Looking at stems.

Despite the polar cold and snow, prep for 'Race the Ras' is well underway jongens.

Did my annual Threshold test at the Pain Cave a few weeks ago.  And achieved precisely the same not-very-good number as last year, when I was arguably riding more and weighed less, so not too, too bad says he in a glass-half-full sorta way.  As an even fatter shite, than I was last year, I was frankly kinda surprised to achieve the same result.

Maybe 'yer number is yer number' as some say, but I think the result was due to perfect pacing - I pegged last year's average watts, and just kept it there for 20 minutes. Watching the watt number on the big board.  For the first 5, it felt way too easy, but by the end, sure enough, I was fighting hard to hold it.  Steady Eddy.  A lesson in the value of the power meter to a overly excitable Pavlovian dog with no inborn sense of pacing; and another 'aha moment' confirmation of why I was always total crap in Time Trials. During the same test last year, I went too hard at the beginning, blew big time after 10 minutes, died a thousand deaths in the last 5, going ever slower and slower.  Going out too hard like that was always the way I rode 'em back in the day. It was the way we raced too.

Sometimes, it doesn't matter what the number on the stem says.
It explains why modern cycling has kinda become 'Chris Froome looking at stems'.

OK, OK, I get it, it works.  But I still think a sport loses something when it becomes too technologically controlled. I know, I'm old fashioned, get over it.  I'd rather watch, or participate, in a race that's a little more like a boxing match.   Less effective maybe, but a way more spectacular and entertaining.

Contrast 'stem watching' with this great film of the 1981 Paris Roubaix.  You don't often see battles like this anymore.  All the top stars, all wailing the crap out of each other.  Moser, DeVlaeminck, Hinault, DeMeyer, Kuiper, etc.   Watch how Hinault catches back on after hitting a dog, leads out the sprint with a lap to go into the wind, and still wins it.  God, I miss those days.

But I digress.  Getting decent miles this winter has been a challenge due to work, cold and snow.  Yeah I know, me, you and everyone else!   I was pleasantly distracted by a week in Vermont, nordic skiing, all good for the base fitness.  But this past week saw been more polar cold, hence a ton of indoor riding.  Saturday and Sunday saw a 2 hour session each day at the Warren Pain Cave with a good group.  Both sessions were long, and hard.  Saturday's ride was called 'Tempo Club ride', but I was at my limit for a lot of it.  Good training though.  Yesterday morning we rode up the north face of the Stelvio in another fun virtual reality session.  By the virtual 'summit', I was fried.  Actually it was before the top.  I had to cry uncle and lower the my wattage at hairpin 32 or so to something to avoid an almighty blow up.  You know the move, that wimpy, watt-reducing  'button press of shame' in front of a room full of friends stoically keeping theirs Wattage stable.  (It's OK though I tell myself,  I know what I'm doing.)
Still 18 degrees F today.  More indoor cycling.
Alan & Paul off the front at Coors Whaling City 1987.
(Winning Magazine, No. 52, Nov. 1987)

On the Ras prep logistics front, I'm booked on Aer Lingus 'Rocky Flight to Dublin 1-2-3-4-5' with my friends Irish cycling legends Paul and Alan McCormack. Alan's coming in from Boulder, and we're jumping on the 21st century equivalent of steerage on a Boston-Dublin airbus. Their brother Brian will collect us at Dublin Airport in the coach he's been engaged to drive for our band for the entire Ras.

"Ireland?  Who ya goin to Ireland with?" guys around here ask me.  Paul and Alan McCormack.  Ya know Alan?  The Leprechaun?   They give me a blank look.  Head of the famous Killians Irish Red Team.  You remember the Coors Classic, right?  Nothing.  Well, I guess it was about 30 years ago.

Alan McCormack was always my perfect ideal of a professional cyclist. He became one in 1978, with the Old Lord's Splendor team in Belgium. Truth be told, he never really stopped being one actually.  At 58, he can still can stay with all the fast young stem watchers in Boulder CO.  
Now that's a team name and sponsor! Alan is the new recruit in the white
jersey.  Team photo credit: Guy Dedieu, @Cycling Archives

His pro baptism under fire was the '78 Vuelta d'Espana.  In '79 he was third in the Ras Tailteann, behind Stephen Roche.  Both were teammates on the same ICF team, the first time a team from the 'other' Irish federation was allowed in the NCA's Ras Tailteann.  

Alan was the kind of rider who back in my day who was the antithesis of a 'stem watcher.' Kamikaze breaks and attacks were his trademark. Chasing after Alan in races during the 80's was often my default scenario, memories well etched in my mind.

Chasing Alan, on my 'heavy' 753 Raleigh Professional.  Boston, 1981.
The first time was in a Boston Back Bay Criterium back in May, 1981.  Alan kept yo-yoing off the front, a mercenary gun for hire in the Motobecane-Yoplait team jersey he'd later take to the Coors Classic.  I remember going away after him many times that day. (Could do that kind of thing back then!) But unlike me, he never stopped attacking, and eventually was gone, up the road.  Don't think he won, kinda forget who did, but I do remember Alan doing a really great ride.  A portent of things to come.

The year before, Alan had first come to the US to race on Bike Guy Bill Humphries' AMF team for the Coors Classic, where he won a stage, but created an even bigger sensation with his kamikaze attacks during the Snowmass criterium.  He'd crash, attack, and repeat the process. They needed to carry him off the bike at the end, he was in such a state.  Delirious with effort, and altitude.  The crowd loved it though, because Alan could go wicked deep. Something he'd do repeatedly in his adopted home of Colorado.  Alan won at least one Coors Classic stage every year for close to a decade.  And not once by looking at his stem.

That 1981 Coors Classic was the year of a famous break on Morgul Bismark, containing 4 Soviet Russians, Greg Lemond...and Alan.  In the break was Sergei Soukhoroutchenkov, who'd won Olympic Gold in Moscow in a race Greg was kept out of by a foreign policy genius named Jimmy Carter.  Alan took a flyer and tried to take the stage, but was brought back.  Another Soviet won the stage.  Greg got one over on Soukho to win the Tour.   But among the cognoscenti paying attention, especially those with with Irish blood, Alan won lasting respect.

He'd go for another long break on the Morgul Bismark stage together with his brother Paul a few years later. That time, Alan stayed away to win what many considered the hardest stage of the old Coors Classic.

Fitchburg '82:  Alan McCormack leading out Louis Garneau.
I think that's Paul Pearson, Alaric Gayfer and Tony Chastain behind.
I remember the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic in 1982.  Alan got away in a group including Louis Garneau, Tony Chastain and the late, great Alaric Gayfer...if memory serves.  I was stuck in the bunch behind, and if I'm honest, I had my hands full just fighting just to stay on the wheels.

We could always see em, but we never caught 'em. In the sprint, canny Alan won by half a length.   I finished with the 'eceteras' in the bunch that day. My dad was smart enough to snap these old photos of the real warriors that day doing a sprint I missed out on participating in live!

At the line it's the Leprechaun, by a half a length over Garneau.  
(Both riding Raleigh 753 Team Professionals.  It was the Pinarello Dogma of it's day.)
Later that year, Alan came up to New Hampshire for the new Lake Sunapee stage race.  Stage 1 was a criterium, up and down a big steep hill in Sunapee.  It was a circuit kinda' like an east coast Nevada City.  Alan goes solo from the gun, BOOM, never to be seen again.  Solo. Totally shattered the bunch. Many Cat 1 mortals didn't finish.   Me?  You kiddin?  Bah, spit out like a watermelon seed that day, climbing like a bowling ball.  It was a demoralizing beating that haunted me at the time, filling me with doubt.  I'll always remember Alan's performance that day though, still admire it.  Wearing some orange mercenary sponsor 'Circle A Construction' skinsuit, or something like that.   I only remember that detail, 'cause ever the wise ass, I remember joking with him in the changing room before the race that he'd better not ever wear that color in Boston. Suffice to say, Alan had the last laugh that day!

The next year that same Lake Sunapee race became a week long Stage Race, the Milk Race of New Hampshire.  Alan won overall GC, beating Dale Stetina, who'd won the Coors Classic that same year.   He sealed it with a searing winning hillclimb TT, up Mt. Ascutney.  

That was a day I was looking at my stem. not because I was seeking data, only because I didn't have the strength to lift my head.  Ah, the good old days!

Last time I talked to Alan was at Paul's wedding a few years ago. Their brother Brian had smuggled us in some Guinness and Magners, much to the chagrin of the non-black beer or cider serving establishment we were in. Talk was a bit about the good old days.  Ever quotable, Alan said, "Back then, it was all heavy bikes and light riders... but today it's all heavy riders and light bikes."

The bigger more powerful athletes on bikes part is true enough, I suppose.  But heavy bikes?  Funny, I never thought those old 753 TI Raleigh Professional frames kitted out with Campy Super Record were heavy, but I guess they were by today's standards. (Hey, they were good enough for Raas, Knetemann and Zoetemelk, good enough for you!)

Enough nostalgia, it's time to hide the beer now.  Note to self:  You've got 8 weeks to be a light rider again...otherwise Alan's going to call you out as a heavy rider on a light bike, and emphasize by showing that you climb like a bowling ball.

Now, where's that wind trainer?...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The long journey home.

Ras Route 2014.  8 mornings of suffering.
8 night of seisuns.
"So I had to leave from my country of birth
As for each child grown tall
Another lies in the earth.
And for every rail we laid in the loam
There's a thousand miles of the long journey home.

But as you ascend the ladder
Look out below where you tread
For the colors bled as they overflowed
Red, white and blue

Green, white and gold"
          - Elvis Costello, A Long Journey Home.

I know, it's a tired old adage: "Home is where the heart is." 

Well, I've have seen enough of the world, am old enough, and have a slow-beating heart Celtic enough to be quite certain that Ireland will always be my 'spiritual 'home' - a quite audacious claim from a guy who can only claim to having spent a handful of days actually on the emerald isle over the past fifty years.  
But mine is the unshakable certainty that comes from a being born into a Irish family who landed in the Boston area just a century ago, and for a couple of generations, only ever seemed in its comfort zone there. Clinging to the very edge of the new world, and all too frequently looking back over their shoulders with a tinge of nostalgic sadness at the old world left behind. 

It was a famous tale in my family that my Fenian grandfather wasn't shy about wanting the Germans to win the First World War... until the yanks dove in late. But this man I was named after had two sons who became American WW2 veterans, first up to the bar when it came to putting their balls on the line for their new country.  

That said, I think my family never quite fully assimilated. More interested in Cork than California. Preference for Guinness over Budweiser.  

The same inner compass was passed down generations, manifesting itself in subtle behaviors you neither notice nor realize are different, until you leave the Boston cocoon.  Little things.  Like thinking it's normal to sing Luke Kelly songs as you stagger up to final call at Kelly's roast beef after a Saturday night right hoolie session at the Porthole pub. And then getting up for seven o'clock mass before riding to make the CCB Topsfield training ride at 9.

Or thinking the boss is a total eegit, and telling him in such in a way that he thinks you're flattering him. 

Yup, Boston, and the surrounding area, has always been as good a place as any for an incorrigible keltic heart to call home.  There's two degrees of separation between Paul Revere's Lexington and Concord - and Pádraig Pearse and the 1916 Easter Rising.  Same enemy, same familiar liberty or death sentiment.  Don't feckin' tread on me.  An insatiable appetite for self-sufficiency.  The same working class aversion to aristocrats and phonies.  Over the year's, I've had many opportunities to transfer away, West, to places  more 'American.'  Something inside has always resisted the call to melt in that pot. 

So that's why, this May I'm going back home. To ride the Rás  

Or to be more accurate, to ride in the Race the Rás: An 8-day charity sportive that start a few hours earlier and literally follows the exact same route of Ireland's national Tour, the Rás Tailteann, which is now known as the An Post Rás.   

Ras Tailteann documentary excerpt from Dot Television on Vimeo.

It'll be 8 stages, 1,260 km.  Almost 100 miles a day. Longest day is 183k through the mountains to the Ring of Kerry.  I wanted a big cycling challenge for the year more interesting than the same New England events I've been riding forever.   (I know, I know, better watch out what you wish for...)

I'm going over to ride it with local group including at least two former stars of the Rás in the 1980's.  Guys who somewhat fittingly left their old Viking hometown of Dublin to come an plunder the US cycling circuit on the famous Killians Irish Red team.  Finding the earning opportunities greater here, they emigrated to the US, settled in New England, and built lives and families here. A very familiar one-way path.  From shared cultural backgrounds, and shared cycling experiences, they've become close friends.

"The Ras was always had this ticket over it as being the 'hard man's race' And only hard men win the Ras."
                                                                   - Stephen Roche

In 1987 Paul McCormack won the Rás.
Unlike yours truly, these friends are real 'men of the Ras': Paul McCormack won the Rás twice, in 1987 and 1988. Gary Thomson was second in 1983.  We're linking up with another double winner Phillip Cassidy, who involved with the organization.

Me? Well I'm just happy to play Homer on this Odyssey. Hey, somebody's got to write about it, and be master of ceremonies in the Pub after the ride. Hopefully the guys will remind me when to call time on the seisiun, and give me cover from being outed as that dreaded caricature yank tourist.  You know, the who goes back to the old country, causing native eyes to roll by telling everyone how Irish he is.  (You really don't want to be 'that guy'.) 

No, my plan is simply let my legs earn 'old man of the Rás' status simply by finishing in the bunch everyday. And to immersing myself in places I've been longing to experience my whole life.  And my tin whistle will appear at some point, count on it!

For all of us it going over will surely be a fun journey home. I'm excited about what will be an incredible opportunity to discover the heart of Ireland, while tackling a fairly massive cycling challenge.

Let the training begin.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Briek Schotte's 10 Golden Rules

Magnetic north for wielrenners?

That would be in Kanegem.  Used to be the home to Ijzeren Briek Schotte.  De Laatste Flandrien.

Briek's been sorely missed since 2004 when on the day of the Ronde he was called up to a higher peloton. But if you go to Kanegem today, you can still see the iconic flandrien bronze statue tribute to him.

His lessons live though.  Here's Briek's advice on what it takes to succeed.  In cycling.  In life.   I just saw this list in Les Woodlands new book about the history of the Ronde.  (Good read, download it on Amazon Kindle here.)

Its the kind of knowledge you won't find on the display of your PowerTap or SRM.  So take your eyes off the watt meter, read, and learn jongen...


1: Be happy with what you’ve got.

2: Determination and patience get you everywhere.

3: Tired? If you’re tired, go to bed!

4: Never lose your freedom.

5: Stay who you are.

6: Watch and you’ll learn a lot.

7: Let yourself go and you lose yourself.

8: Never forget your roots.

9: Never believe in dreams you can’t make come true.

10: Speak ill, and ill will come of you.

Funny that none of these specifically have anything to do with cycling, per se.

But they have a helluva lot to do with character.  So therefore, by deduction, they have everything to do with cycling.

I'd never seen this list before, but think it fits my personal philosophy perfectly! I've tried pretty hard to follow all of these.  Well, OK...all except rule number 7!

Which one is your achillies heel cafesupporters?

*Woodland, Les (2014-01-01). Tour of Flanders: The Inside Story. The Rocky Roads of the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Kindle Locations 757-766). McGann Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

ProTeam Kit? As I see it, it's a black and white issue.

Just when you thought 21st century professional cycling couldn't get more colorless and boring, the collective brain trusts behind the world's top teams are surpassing all prior performances.

It seems that when it comes to a headlong team pursuit toward parity, no gain is too marginal.  

And no place is that more evident than in the sophisticated realm of team kit design.  It's where overpaid designers and marketers pose in tragically hip clothing and make personally inspired decisions that combine to quash originality, thwart differentiation and just plain make it impossible for fans to tell the riders apart.  Then roll them out in overhyped team presentations.  Sometimes there's sushi.

Lemmings.  Hip? Maybe.  But still lemmings.  Make that progressive lemmings.

"Oh, I don't know... I guess I'll take the black one!  They say it's slimming on a MAMIL."

Flahute and I ranted on this already last year.   I won't bore you with that today.  

What I will say today, at the risk of being an old bore, is that to me this is crystal clear evidence that professional cycling still has a leadership problem.  Not a governance problem - a leadership problem.  There's a difference.  You can't blame governance structure for poor leadership.  Leadership requires common sense and judgement.  (As in 'The manager used his own good judgement to make a decision and fix a problem')

The newly installed bearded brit is setting up process and structure at the UCI.  Being inclusive.  All good... I guess.  But it's starting to feel little too risk-averse bureaucracy driven rudderless if you ask me.  

Crisis times need strong charismatic leadership in my opinion, not inclusion, groupthink and cultural change. I've lived too much of how much wheelspin process and such generates in big organizations.  Too many cooks.  Not enough leadership.

Black.  It's the new black.  
For, me, I think pro cycling would benefit from a little more hands on direction.  You won the election Brian.  Now lead.  
Then there's white.  With a little blackish brown.

Start by telling all the teams wearing black and white kits is not a great image for a colorful professional sport.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

New Year's Bandit Cyclocross

Some guys strip down on New Years day and do a polar bear plunge into the Atlantic ocean...

Others get together for a highly informal but hugely fun bandit cyclocross at the RISD farm in Barrington.   Kudo's to Geoff Williams (aka Gewilli) for putting together a great informal gig.  And thanks to my pals Hans Hagman and Vicki Bocash for letting me repurpose their photos here.  (Your royalties are coming in beer.  I promise.)

Bandit Cross was one final chance for some of the more serious, nationals-bound skinny volk to get some final race intensity workout before the Noreaster hit us Thursday..

For me it was an improvisational  line in the sand to kick off my fitness act in gear for a New Year.  Resolution?  Sorta.  Gotta get in shape for a massive challenge this May.   More on that in my next post.
First cyclocross ride in over a year?  Fat or no fat, it has to be VOLLGAS doesn't it?

Thank God GeWilli broke it into two - 20 minute sessions.  I don't think I could have raced for 40.
Ja hoor, I'm wicked out of shape.   No worries, been here many times.  Getting fat in winter isn't so bad.

Who ate all the pies?  Oh no, now he's eyeing
that case of Trappiste Dubbels... quick hide the bier!
Ah, New Year's Cyclocross:  Think of it as heart rate resuscitation paddles to shock a fat overworked guy into the new year.

Funny how it's so easy to sky your heart rate when you haven't been training.  I was on the limit but not moving very fast.   Fun though.

I probably would have been better off riding the bike straight into Narragansett bay, true polar-bear style.

With my current blubber padded torso, a plunge would have been a heckuva lot less painful than 100 meters of running across the sand.  At least the pain would have been over faster...
Marianne Vos has got nothing on Lesli.  That's my opinion
and I'm sticking with it.   We ex. BHS Panthers gotta stick together!  

Seriously, it was pretty fun to blow the carbon out and go hard again.  But the best part of the day was having a post ride beer with the others, catching up with Hans and Vicki, and meeting Lesli Cohen of Cyclismas.com fame and discovering we graduated from High School together! She was Lesli Watson back then - a 'wicked smaart' honors kid.

Me?  Well, I was the one AWOL out on his Peugeot PX10, and dreaming about racing against Freddy Maertens.

When it comes to New England cyclocross aficionados, it's funny to think how many roads started in Beverly, Mass.

Happy New Year wielersupporters!

Look what Santa left jongens!

What do you give a crusty old Irishman with flandrien taste for Christmas?  Leave it to my old pal Santa-Pooch to solve that one... A Vittore Gianni replica FAEMA jersey!

It's the same team design worn by two of my Favorites - Charly Gaul and Rik Van Looy - back between 1956 and 1962.   Back in the days when cycling was a little more about sport, exploit and adventure...and little less about commerce, technology and science.  It's a natural complement to the Flandria Cafe kit, eh?


Vittore Gianni was a Milan based tailor who from a start in 1876 grew to become the apparel supplier of champions hitting a peak back in the late 1940's and 50's when the company supplied A.C. Milan, Juventus and the Milan ballet - as well as virtually just about all the top cycling teams and champions in Italy:  Bianchi, Legnano, Atala, Benotto, Viscontea, Cimatti..and of course, the FAEMA squad of Learco Guerra.


According to Vittore Gianni's then-director Armando Castelli, Fausto Coppi himself used come to Milan near Ponte Vetero, zona Brera.  There he'd go to Detto Pietro for his shoes, and Vittore Gianni for all the rest.   And his celebrity factor would create quite the commotion, as one might imagine.   Castelli recalled:

"He (Coppi) had a predilection for morbid colors, celestino, white, silver-grey.  For training he wanted cotton white undershirts in 'Filo di Scozia', which today would be like buying gold."

As son of the owner Armando Castelli, Marurizio Castelli grew up in the family biz.  He started out as an errand boy of some significance - with tasks such as bringing packages of Maglia Rosas cross town to Gazzetta dello Sport HQ in via Galileo Galielei.  But one of the side benefits of being an errand boy was hanging around Fausto Coppi, bringing him consignments that must have made Casa-Coppi the cycling equivalent of Alladin's cave.  

In 1974 Maurizio launched the Castelli brand.  I remember Vittore Gianni trying to get something going back in the late 80's marketing a 'retro replicas' series through LAKE sport in Chicago (from which my recently acquired FAEMA was produced).  In the middle of the mountain bike boom in those years, these replicas were limited in supply, distribution and consumer demand. After that, the Vittore Gianni brand eventually faded away.   Not many noticed then, or seemed to care really.

But what goes around, comes around.  'Retro' is tragically hip again.  I think it's great that Castelli has revived Vittore Gianni as a label on some 21st century compliant retro styled pieces sold under their scorpion brand.

All nice and pricey stuff, but call me a retro grouch.  I prefer my replicas a wee bit more faithful to the original, like this one.  

Thanks Pooch!   Now next year, do you think you can find me a vintage Learco Guerra to go along with the jersey?  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Rain, Oxygen and the Kings of Falling Leaves.

«‘Did Gaul ride so well in bad weather because he liked to suffer?’
‘Well… during bad weather, a lot of oxygen is released.’
‘But lightning and hail, for example, didn’t that perk him up?’
‘Of course! Because he was able to assimilate a huge amount of oxygen.’
‘Sure, of course. But wasn’t he a person who went looking for punishment?’
‘Yes… but oxygen really played a major role. Oxygen! You see, Gaul was able to assimilate more oxygen than most people so when the weather was bad…’
‘But didn’t you ever have the impression that rain and hail and that kind of thing gave him a sort of energy?’

‘Absolutely! Because then there was more oxygen in the air!’ »                                                                                                        - Tim Krabbe - The Rider

Sunday was one of those rides cafesupporters.

No I'm not talking about Purito's ride in the Tour of Lombardy, although it did my heart good to see him win again in Lecco.

Dan Martin was a favorite at his favorite classic,
even back in 2008.
I've always had a nostalgia for the Giro di Lombardia.  So much, I even rode the now defunct Gazzetta Challenge Gran Fondo over there with Dr. Brad, back in 2008 - a 140k ride the day after we watched Damiano Cunego solo up San Fermo di Battaglia on his way to victory in the Classic itself.

I'd paid homage to my ethnicity by carefully packing my Sean Kelly Tour jersey to wear in tribute to the Ireland's King of Lombardy... and to my nationality by jumping on a plane with very little humility, and even less preparation (something we Americans are so prone to do!)

'Dai Damiano'...  Cunego 300 meters from the
top of San Fermo on his way to victory.
The 2008 pro Lombardia was the kind of day you'd expect for the race of the falling leaves.  Overcast, wet, raining off and on.  Not warm, not cold, but humid. Pneumonia weather my ma would have called it.

I'd just call it one of those days you don't know how much to wear.  Too much and you're sweating, strip down, and you wake up sick the next day.

Thin yellow and golden leaves were falling and stuck to the wet roads around Como. The group that gathered on the winding final climb to San Fermo di Battaglia was no orange corner summer rave party crowd, no siree.  In October only real tifosi need apply:  Mostly riders. Vast majority, male.  Lots of green quilted hunting jackets and scarfs around necks something you never see over here.   They'd bide their time watching old grey haired cicloturistas.  Guys with hands as big as meat hooks, riding up the climb, their barrel torsos providing the anchoring stability to churn a giant gear.  Many were wearing horrendously haphazard ensembles of mis-matched club and defunct pro team kits - A lime green and orange vest, a red jersey, sky blue and yellow shorts.  Something that somehow only works stylistically if you happen to be Italian, and of a certain age.  It's a style code that's lost on me.  They all gathered, waited patiently, until like an opera approaching the finale, they unified in a crescrendo urlo as the TV motorbikes came up the climb... 'Dai Damiano'...DAI...DAI!!

Fat Eddy on the Ghisallo 2008.  The prayers
at the Chapel the day before didn't help...
The Gran Fondo the next morning was clearer, but still humido. Brad and I lined up early along the Como lakefront with thousands of skinny Italo-fondistas.  It was then that I suddenly became acutely aware I had a couple of problems: One, I was about 30 pounds too heavy in those pre-comeback days (over 190 lbs!)   Second, if that wasn't handicap enough, I was getting sick.  Glands tender, scratchy throat, you know the drill.  I shouldn't have laughed at those guys wearing scarves the day before.  But hey, show must go on, suck it up, I flew all the way over for this.

It was a beautiful ride, if way more than a little slow.  By the time I got to the Madonna di Ghisallo, I was on my knees.  Grovelling, weaving, insert any and all Catholic crucifixion - pilgrimage - suffering metaphors here.  The day before Il Ghisallo seemed 'easy', but in the event basically I barely held off one of the sag wagons, the driver of which I entertained by jokingly asking for a beer.  "Eh...ha ha...vuoi un altro birra irlandese?"  I had to laugh at myself too, but this really wasn't the image I'd had in mind.  Rolling into Como as they started pulling down the scaffolding.  Synopsis: Great ride, beautiful part of the world, great holiday, horrendous sporting performance.  Over incredible pasta and wine in magical Bellagio that evening, I silently vowed to get fit again.

So this year when I heard during September that my friends Richie Fries and Brian Ignatin were putting together a Gran Fondo here in Providence RI - the Gran Fondo New England - billed as New England’s Own ‘Tour of the Falling Leaves’ - I knew I'd have to sustain the training mileage a little bit longer this season.  Held as part of the Providence Cyclocross Festival weekend, this new Gran Fondo looped from Roger Williams Park out west through rolling New England countryside. 104 miles to Connecticut, Massachusetts and back to Providence.   There were Medio and Piccolo versions too.  Our own local falling leaves classic.  Perfect!  

The Lombardia connection is somewhat appropriate for my adopted home town of Providence.  We've got a very large Italian American population here, and the city's chock full of some of the the best Italian restaurants this side of the pond with names like Sienna, Pane e Vino and Cafe Itri.  And the weather in October is similar to Lombardia, the leaves just starting to turn color.  We may not have the vertigo-inspiring climbs, but west of the city you can find plenty of undulating country roads.  And there's some decent climbs too, if you know where to seek them out. A Gran Fondo here the same day as the real one 'over there' is a fitting, accessible ode to la Lombardia for the regional sportif riders.  One final throw down to end the season, before early darkness ushers in that enforced fall break.

So naturally I got on the horn and cajoled my Flandria mates Paul McCormack and Fran Riordan into making the trip for the 7am start.  I checked the forecast, and the meteo-experts all promised sunny weather in the mid 60's, a warranty I passed on to them.   "Rain?  No way..you'll be grand, no worries."  

So I had some explaining to do as we suited up in the dark at 6am and skies started to spit. The rain and taking stick from my Irish brothers was not my only issue, because that morning, and as if on bad karma cue, the glands were sore, the throat scratchy.   After a year without so much as a cold - here we go again.  Dr Brad says I have about '5 functioning white blood cells.'  In case you haven't figured it out by now, with the Cafe crew, nobody's immune from being given a ration of shite at any time.

We all lined up at 7am with about 200 other hardy souls and many from the Flandria and Bike Works teams:  Dr. Brad, Nick, Tom, Maarten, Jon, Danny, Jeff, Kelly.... the old Red Guard and our younger Auxillary in Black were out in force.

We were all joined by a special guest-ringer: New England's Cannondale Professional, Ted King.  After Richard gave us a few final instructions, we rolled out of the Park and were escorted through usually gridlocked Cranston by a police escort.

And then rain started pissing down. Bloody sheets of it. Continuously.

So here's the short version:  At mile one, Ted King went to the front of 200 riders.   And 104 miles later, 8 of us rolled into the park, with Ted King still riding at the front.  He basically rode tempo at the front for well over 90 of the 104 miles. Impressive doesn't do it justice.  You had to be there.

We survivors who were paying attention were treated to a brilliant demonstration of how a real professional rides tempo. He just flogged along at 24-25 mph on the flats - and faster on the downhills... and tapped up the hills at a steady but not killer tempo.  So smooth.  The rest of us? Well to be honest, we were all basically just doing all we could to hold his wheel.  The difference between a true Pro, and wannabe schmoes.  Ted wasn't trying to kill us, I think he was trying to keep it together.. but he wasn't exactly waiting around either!   That's because it poured almost continuously for 5 hours, and it was getting colder by the minute.  

Luckily, I was feeling fantastic - for the first 4 hours anyway.  One of those 'no-chain' kind of days.  Just flying.    I don't know why I go so well in cold and rain, I just do. Always have. Love it. I'm riding up the climbs talking, and listening to other guys panting. Somebody's got to explain why to me. I may have poor functioning white blood cells... but the oxygen on rainy days seems to give me more red ones!   (Who knows, maybe Charly Gaul's old soigneur in that quote from 'The Rider' was onto something...)

In the middle of feeling invincible, at mile 50 or so, I tried to put it in the small ring for a hill.  SNAP!  My 10 year old Campy Record inside downshift lever shared clean off, leaving me with a strategic decision: Big ring, or small ring. Nothing to do, hmmm..big ring it is I guess. Front derailleurs are way overrated anyway.  If Gino Bartali didn't need one to get up on the Izoard in '48, I sure as hell can do a few measly New England rollers in the big ring this once. #HTFU.  

This wasn't a timed event, but there was one Strava KOM.   Ted let the other guys go for it... for a few seconds anyway, then he just looked back, grinned, put it in a monster gear and slowly wound it up, pulled 'em back, and rode straight past them all.  I laughed, watching it, it was like a cat playing with a mouse.  Game, set and match.  After slaying all (it's good to be the King!) he waited up, and we regrouped and steamed steadily back toward Providence. My Flandria mate Tom Dickenson was still there too, and looking very strong, on quite the ride, one of many he's done this year.  

But by mile 80 or so the pace, and the giant gear tempo up and down incessant rollers slowly, inexorably, put me on my last legs.  Legs that finally blew on a long drag on Rt 102.  Kabloom!  I just kept hammering though, a planning on completing a rainy TT solo rest of way to Providence. The three short steep drags on Rt 14 by Scituate reservoir on the old Mass-RI District Road Race course I know so well were pure out of the saddle pain, stuck in that 53x21-23.   Not very pretty.  But after that though, it was mostly downhill, on the drops, in 53x15 trying to imitate Ted without the legs, passing backmarkers from the 100k Medio Fondo, and believe it or not, enjoying the Flahute weather.

So get this. About 8 miles from home, a guy catches me, reaches out and gives me a tap on the butt as he flies by.  It's Ted King!  And he's churning a monster gear, with the rest lined out behind him in fila indiana as they say on RAI.  "We missed a turn back there!"  Ha!  Turned out Ted and his magnificent seven missed some green road arrows and had gone the wrong way at some point!  Chalk up another one to Fast Eddy's luck of the Irish, and a little local road knowledge.  'I'll take this second chance lads, thank you very much!'   But believe me, to take it I had to go back into the real pain cave, putting it in the 53x13 and just hanging on to the plaid-clad Cannondale express train all the way back.  But I dug deep and managed to finish with Ted and co. 104 miles in 5 hours and change.  Pouring rain.  I call that a good ride.

So today, somewhat predictably, I'm down and out, sick as a dog, but still pretty happy.  I'm drinking tea, Flahute is here in my lap, I'm hacking up all kinds of stuff, and my wife is giving me knowing and mildly disapproving looks...but hey I don't care, season's over!!  Sunday was a ride that finally expunged a 5 year old Lombardia debacle.

Can't wait till next year's version.  It's scheduled for October 5.  If you're in the neighborhood, you should come join us for the weekend.  Watch some cyclocross, do the big ride, eat some great Italian food.   

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Videos du jour: Rik van Looy

September.  Back to school jongens.

OK, enough of this marginal gains, carbon fiber stuff.  Today's class filmstrip is a good ol' black and white, behind the scenes, old school metier- lifestyle lesson from none other than the winningest classics rider of all time:  The Emperor of Herentals himself -  Rik Van Looy.

Check out a great RTBF profile I found here.   This was filmed in early 1964, so call it 50 years ago.  OK, it's in French...but a good video compilation-summary of the entire career of the only man to win ALL the classics.   Not even Eddy Merckx did that!

I dig the opening clip of Rik training - likely filmed at his favorite winter-training venue -  Lake Garda.   A pedal stroke that exudes power and ease at the same time.  In the interview that follows he talks about 'twice-a-day' training rides, and piling on the km (starting with 40k in the morning and 40k in the afternoon and building from there) to get ready for the season.   4,000 km.

What's that you said jongen?  50 years ago you say?   Things have changed?

Well, the roads were still paved..or pave.  The wind gusted just as hard.  Pedals still moved a chain. Tires were virtually the same weight.  And Rik didn't need an SRM to figure out how to ride 30 mph or to know the right moment to force an escape on the cobbles.   No, when you strip away the trappings of modernism, I'd wager that very little has changed.   Still got to put out the watts whether you're counting them or not.

Funny how on this Rik talks about going into the mountains after the Vuelta ended in May to 'go on vacation' and prepare for the Tour in the high Alpine mountain passes.   You'd have thought from the media brainwashing we've received over the last decade, that a certain Texan invented that moutain route recon concept.   La plus ca change...

There's some great race footage in this clip, especially of his battle during the final classic he added to complete his classic palmares at the end of his career - the '68 Fleche Wallonne.

Below is another Rik van Looy profile clip:  This one an 'up close and personal' 1962 French INA profile of Van Looy at home in Herentals.  And you young hipster fashion victims out there have to love the early 1960's style exemplified by both his wife Nini, and their 'modern' home decor.   Period classic nostalgia.

FAEMA director Guillaume Driessens is quoted on this one saying that Rik was 'a more complete rider than Fausto Coppi' (!)... and that Rik 'had the ability to win all the classics'.   (This was before he did it...)     Lomme was a good salesman.  Audacious and preposterous... but a good salesman, and PR frontman advocating his star to the rest of the world.

After he retired, Rik managed the BLOSO youth cycling school in Herentals for years (below).   Gets maximum cafesupporter points for that.    It's called giving back.

This December the Emperor will turn 80.   Yikes.  Hard to believe.  For me anyway.  I can still hear my old DS John Ireland and other older guys from UK and US who raced in Belgium in the 60's and 70's talk about how dominant Van Looy was - in what was then just a few years before.  How strong he was.  How much a patron.  How much a trainingsbeest.

Let Rik be your reference jongens.   Magnetic north for metier compasses in need of re-calibrating by an overload of too much programmed cyclisme by the numbers.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A hard labor day.

Just got back from doing 2 hours in totally gross high humidity.  Took the fixed gear bike to keep the legs turning on an easy flattish ride, just down the bay to Bristol and back.   Felt good, despite the need to put the rain cape on three different times.  You know, one of those old, clear plastic cheapo Italian rain capes.   Thing still works the gear.

The last 20 minutes were in a massive thunderstorm.  We've been getting them off and on for the past three days.   The big labor day holiday weekend, and all crap, soupy weather.   Not complaining though... most of August was beautiful.   I climbed a last steep local hill that the deluge converted into a flash-flood like river bed.  Out of the saddle up a raging stream created an illusion I was standing still.  

Time standing still: A good metaphor for today.  People want time to stop on Labor day, for tomorrow's the rientrato as they call it in Italy - the un-official end of summer.  Everybody back to business.  Maryanne's back to her work at the local school.  And Tommy goes back to start his junior year of high school.  Tomorrow at 5:30 am, things go back to reality - to a normal schedule again.

I 'm ready too. Longing for some normalcy.   Heard way too much bad news this past week:  Some well known, out there in the 'big world', and a little in my small, local one.

And to top it off I heard even more today.  I read that Dale Stetina suffered a terrible accident in Boulder, Colorado, and is in critical care.  Jeep pulled into the road descending a canyon, tried to miss it and went down. Smacked his face. I've been trying to get more details, hoping to hears he's ok or improving, but nothing new today.   All through the ride today, I couldn't get Dale out of my head.   These days, I find myself avoiding highly trafficked roads more and more.   His accident affirms and further entrenches my recent cyclisme danger-avoidance-practices adoption.   As time goes on, I love the physical effort more, but the speed and danger a lot less.

I don't know Dale very well, but did write a post about him here a year or so ago.   Mostly I recall seeing his rear wheel disappearing up the road... or praying I could hold his wheel in some New England criterium.

Today I'm praying he pulls through.   Fight hard Dale.

If that wasn't bad enough, I just logged a few minutes ago and saw a Facebook post by Bike Guy Bill Humphreys that said Jack Nash just passed away.   Said that he had some sort of an attack and died while out on a ride up in Stowe Vermont.   A founder of the Stowe Bicycle Club and Onion River Sports in Montpelier, Jack was a fixture in New England racing.

More horrible news.  Jack was a gentleman, and a quiet demonstration of class on the bike.   I can still see Jack Nash rolling off in the finale of the Maine International in 1980 with Robye Lalhum and Jimmy Fraser... three 40+ vets at the time... going after Louis Garneau, who had soloed away.    While the rest of us fiddled and diddled, those three quite rightly took the other top places from us younger and 'supposedly' faster guys who didn't want to hang it out and suffer as much that day...  
Jack Nash's Stowe Shimano team lines up at the Plymouth Race for the Rock, 1980:  L to R:  David Ware, Tony Chastain, Matt Rini,  Jack Nash, Chris Carmichael.  Pat Gellineau is in the GBSC Winsdor jersey on the right.
(And that's me in the CCB jersey to the right of Carmichael...)   RIP, and God bless and keep you Jack.  
This is how I'll always remember you.   (Robert F. George photo from 'The Jersey Project')
I didn't really know Jack any more than to say hello to him at the races, which I usually did.   But he always struck me as a quiet, very nice man, a total professional.   He did a lot to help out the best riders in the northeast back in those years:  Jack's stable of Stowe Shimano road warriors cleaned up virtually every weekend back then:  Dave Ware, Tony Chastain, Chris Carmichael, Spike Clayton, Louis Garneau...   A formidable phalanx of power.   As professional as it got.

Sincere condolences to Jack's family and friends.    The world needs more guys like Jack Nash.