Thursday, February 25, 2010


Lost in Translation

Word was said to be leaking out of Italy over the past several days that Washington, DC, had indeed landed its longshot bid to host the start of the 2012 Giro d’ Italia. Big cycling media reports, subsequently parroted and embellished in any number of places, said that organizer RCS had made statements to the Italian press indicating it was a done deal, with the announcement to be made this morning at the Italian Embassy in DC.

Now, in the fading light of Thursday afternoon, those reports appear to be not quite so accurate, and I’m not talking about the fact that the event is going to be this evening rather than this morning. An event there will be, it seems, but rather than a triumphant victory announcement, it will be a rah-rah session held by the Italians and the Mayor in an effort to convince area businesses (and likely the rest of the DC government) that a wildly misplaced Italian bicycle race will be a financial benefit to the city. In other words, get them to cough up some dough.

That's a substantially different story from those running yesterday, though most of those stories have now been "updated", or "corrected," or "retracted," depending on how you look at it.

I have to admit, when the idea of DC hosting the Giro initially floated out, I approached it with a feeling of acute skepticism, bordering on pessimism. And frankly, even though DC’s proverbial hat seems to still be in the ring, I’m still finding it hard to shake those feelings. I support the effort – this would, after all, bring the Giro d'Italia to my backyard, or five miles from it, anyway. And it's bold, risky, and a little bit ill-advised, and I like that. But hauling a grand tour across the Atlantic is a gargantuan undertaking, fraught with a number of logistical challenges that can’t be overcome with mere enthusiasm. Some can't even be overcome with money, and that's saying something. Among the challenges, monetary and otherwise, that will have to be faced down:

So yes, I’m skeptical. But I’m also hopeful. The people working on the bid are experienced, smart people, and they know cycling and event planning. I’m sure I haven’t listed anything above that they haven’t thought of themselves. And if they needed help, I’d sign up in an instant. Hopefully, tonight’s session at the Embassy will be another step on the road to success, even if it’s not quite the finish line people were expecting yesterday.

Labels: , , ,

submit to reddit

Monday, February 22, 2010


Our Winter Doppelgangers

Long-time readers will know that I’m not a huge fan of the Olympics. The competition is great, of course; my distaste is more due to the influence the IOC exerts over the sports world and my generalized intolerance for sappy, against-all-odds athlete bio segments on TV. But despite all that, and the lamentable absence of bicycles, I do have to admit that the Winter Olympics offer a lot for a cyclist to love.

Let’s start by looking at Saturday’s cross-country skiing 30k pursuit, as well as by noting in advance that I know next to nothing about XC ski racing. For instance, I know that biting is frowned upon, but I have no idea how common tactical, team-oriented skiing is in this event. What I do know is that a recording of this year's race should be shown to beginning racing cyclists everywhere as a tactical tutorial.

Just after the mid-race transition from classic to freestyle technique (more on that later), Swede Johan Olsson worked out to a 12 second lead, with two teammates at the front of the main field covering for him as he established his gap. When a serious four-man chase formed in the final, Olsson’s teammate Marcus Hellner was there in the thick of it (but not on the front of it). As the catch was made near the last kilometer, Olsson kept driving the front, allowing Hellner to stay tucked in a bit longer before making his charge into the lead, and a gold medal, through the inside of a downhill righthander. With Hellner away, Olsson soldiered on, providing another body’s worth of distance and dissonance in the racing line between Hellner and German Tobias Angerer. Angerer finally did come around Olsson’s gritty final effort to move into the silver position, while Olsson got the bronze for his trouble.

While the vagarities of, say, ice dancing leave me a little lost, to an observing cyclist this race made perfect sense. It was a page from the textbook – send a guy up the road, make other teams bring him back, and then when they do, use his last ounces of energy to spring your ringer in the finale. Very nicely done, whether or not it was part of any pre-race plan, and it made for closing kilometers that were as exciting as the end of a classic. So, can anyone fill me/us in on how common tactical teamwork is in XC skiing? Because if it’s common, well, hey, that was still a heck of a nice example. If it’s not, the Swedes may have just changed the game.

For a cyclist, though, the television commentary may have been more interesting than either the tactics or the nail-biter finish. U.S. cycling fans would instantly recognize the voice on the NBC coverage – none other than our old Tour de France straight man, Al Trautwig. I can hear you groaning, but the Traut did work to learn a bit about cycling over his Tour tenure, and it showed on Saturday. Throughout the 30k pursuit broadcast, he and his co-announcer used cycling parallels to illustrate the concepts at work on the XC ski course to good effect, and they botched nary a one.*

(*My only real quibble was in their discussion of a potential “long break caught on the line” scenario, where they cited Paris-Roubaix as a race where you'd be likely to see it. To my knowledge, that almost never happens at Roubaix, where the early break catch and reshuffling tend to come well before the velodrome. But that’s minor.)

The Traut not misinterpreting cycling’s inner workings, though laudable, wasn’t the really interesting aspect of the commentary for me, though. Rather, it was the realization that I may have been witnessing the first time that a major U.S. television outlet has used cycling as the “more accessible sport” with which to explain a more obscure sport to an American audience. That’s a huge milestone. I want to believe that it speaks to cycling’s higher U.S. profile over the last 15 years that the commentary team didn’t stretch some ill-fitting baseball or NASCAR simile to the point of snapping in order to explain the pursuit, but rather turned to cycling as the best educational fit. That decision comes with the implied assumption that enough of the audience would understand the cycling references to make them worthwhile rather than confusing.

I am willing to admit that that’s probably an overly optimistic assessment of the decision making process, though. It’s far more likely that the designated XC ski expert on the NBC crew knows that there’s substantial XC and cycling crossover, and that most Americans watching XC skiing on a Saturday afternoon would have at least a passing familiarity with cycling. Or, it could just be that after being replaced by Craig Hummer on Versus, the Traut just wanted to roll out his accumulated cycling knowledge one more time. But what the hell, I’ll take the optimistic explanation.

In closing, what do you think of the 30k pursuit format, specifically the switching of equipment and skiing styles from classic to freestyle at the halfway mark? From a cyclists perspective, it’s odd, a bit akin to riding the first half of a classic on a fixed gear, then switching to a nice SRAM Red equipped something-or-other for the last 137 kilometers. But I suppose if we look at it from a more Olympic perspective, it’s a little akin to swimming’s individual medley, or the Alpine Super Combined, which features a downhill run and a slalom run. I doubt the format phases the competitors a bit, though, since the Olympics love to throw crazy combinations of activities at XC skiers. Shooting and XC skiing? Sure! How about an XC race and then a ski jump? Alrighty! How about a 15k classic race and then some competitive falconing? Why not?! Those Nordic skiing folks are a flexible bunch, and in the overly specialized world of professional sports, I admire that.

So what could cycling take away from skiing’s 30k pursuit format? Hell if I know, but I’ll go ahead and say that it means we should bring back Bordeaux-Paris, mostly because I want to see it. 560 kilometers or so, raced in the classic bike race style to the halfway point near Poitiers, then behind dernys for the remainder of the distance. Come on professional cyclists, you know the XC skiers would do it…

Broomwagon (Zamboni?)


submit to reddit

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Waffle House Party

The UCI announced on January 29 that Louisville, Kentucky will play host to the 2013 World Cyclocross Championships, the first time the event will be held outside of Europe. Many insiders would have predicted the United States’ first major international ‘cross event would be held at one of the sport’s traditional stateside hotbeds – like New England, or Katie Compton’s parents’ house. But making the transatlantic leap could already pose such a mental hurdle for Europe-based athletes that it seems the UCI placed a premium on making everyone more comfortable with the unorthodox trip. So, in vetting the Louisville venue, I can only assume that the UCI considered such important ‘cross-related questions as:

UCI: Does your city have ample facilities for serving waffles to drunks?
Louisville: Yes, yes it does.

UCI: Everyone really likes the horsemeat when we hold the Worlds in Belgium. Do you have good horsemeat?
Louisville: Um, in a manner of speaking. You probably don’t want to eat it if you’re going to dope control, though.

UCI: You know, Tabor (2010) has Budvar, St. Wendel (2011) has Karlsberg, and we can only assume that Koksijde (2012) will have the usual Belgian pils and jenever smorgasbord. Do you have some sort of signature local drink that we can use to get well and truly schnakered?
Louisville: Why, yessuh! I say, I say, we DO!

And after one sip of sweet, sweet bourbon, I can only assume the decision was made. Now that I think about it, Louisville is practically just northern Europe transplanted. Kidding aside, congratulations, thank you, and good luck to the folks who made it happen – Bruce Fina and Joan Hanscome, who also bring you (or people like you) the USGP; and the city of Louisville, which is throwing a lot of support behind the event and ‘cross in general.

Anyway, we have three years to chew on this whole deal, but here are a few quick holeshot thoughts:

Labels: , ,

submit to reddit

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?