Thursday, June 24, 2010
Minding the Gap
So here we sit in that yawning chasm between the end of the Tour de Suisse and the start of the Tour de France. Everything’s gone relatively quiet – the roster selections have been made, the contenders have retreated to make their final preparations in private, and big action on the road is minimal. We read the results of the national championships as they trickle in, of course, but none of that is even real until you see the jerseys on the road.
Staring across time towards the Tour is like watching a storm roll in across the water. You know what’s coming, but in the waiting there’s a sense of quiet and foreboding so imposing that you yearn for anything to break the silence – a passing car, a nearby conversation, a barking dog. But no matter what noises emerge to crack the muffled softness of that silence, nothing can relieve the underlying tension until the storm itself, with all its thunder and wind and force, hits shore. The rest is just distraction.
But for the cycling press, from mighty L’Equipe down to poorly formatted blogs, distraction is kind of the main business, and these two weeks are prime season. The dead air of the pre-Tour lull is ripe for filling with predications, retrospectives, opinions and god knows what else, all seeking to fill the informational void until the Tour itself hits shore and sets the underlying energy free.
With so much information blowing in the breeze in these pre-Tour days, it’s hard to find the common thread that would string it all together into any sort of narrative, so frankly, I quit trying. Here’s what’s struck me while watching the storm blow in.
With the exception of the politic-ed out Andre Griepel (HTC-Columbia), this year’s Tour will feature a battle of the sport’s major sprint stars. In theory, at least. Though it looks like most of the fast men will make it to the start, there are plenty of questions remaining about what we’ll actually see as things barrel into the final 200 meters.
- Will Tom Boonen (Quick Step) show up? It’s both a literal and figurative question. He’s having some knee trouble that’s putting his Tour start in doubt in the real sense. In the figurative sense, Boonen’s last several Tours haven’t exactly been spectacular. While his motivation should be high after a great but win-free classics season, he’s not the pure sprinter he used to be. Fortunately for him, a green jersey run is about more than winning the bunch kicks, so he could still be in with a chance.
- After a slow start, can Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) live up to the expectations created by both his past performance and his present mouth? Will the ill-will of the Tour de Suisse have faded by the start in Rotterdam?
- Will Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transistions) get his Tour stage win? He’s hot off a win at the Delta Tour Zeeland, which could indicate he’s building back up after nabbing two stages at the Giro d’Italia. If he can pull off a Tour stage, he’ll join teammate Dave Zabriskie on the list of Americans who’ve won stages of all three grand tours.
- Which of the second line sprinters will steal some of the limelight? Saxo Bank’s rising classics star and fast man Matti Breschel? Lampre young ‘un Francesco Gavazzi? Some French guy?
- Which leadout man is most likely to take a sneaky stage win while his leader sweeps his wheel for him – Julian Dean (Garmin-Transitions), or Mark Renshaw (HTC-Columbia)?
- Robbie McEwen (Katusha) is likely staring down the barrel of his last Tour. Will he be able to go out on a good note after a year of injuries and setbacks?
- Anyone seen Thor Hushovd lately? Anyone?
- Will Oscar Friere (Rabobank) get one more stage? Though he doesn’t have the top end that a lot of the sprinters have, in a tricky finish run it’s hard to count him out. With his classics experience, he’s likely to be in the mix on the early northern stages, where he may be more likely to win from a small group or reduced bunch.
Help at Last?
For me, the big takeaway from the Tour de Suisse wasn’t the success of Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) or the Radio Shack squad’s apparent depth. It was Steve Morabito (BMC) and the BMC team. Morabito ended up fourth overall, but more importantly he finished in the contenders group three seconds back from winner Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) on the climbing stage to the Schwarzenberg, then followed that up by finishing seventh in a group :43 back from Robert Gesink (Rabobank) on stage 6 to La Punt. Add Morabito’s performance to Marcus Burghardt’s wins on two rolling stages, Mathias Frank’s wins in the KOM and intermediate sprints competitions, and solid performances from rouleurs George Hincapie and Alessandro Ballan, and it starts to look like Cadel Evans could finally go into a grand tour with some legitimate support when it counts. Sure, Tour de Suisse is BMC’s defacto national tour, so you’d expect them to put some effort in, but the fact that Evans wasn’t there reveals where their real priorities very justifiably lie.
While we’re on it, you know who else might finally have some help in the mountains? Denis Menchov (Rabobank). The oft-overlooked Russian is putting all his eggs in the Tour basket this year, and might finally have some high-mountain companionship from Robert Gesink, who’s finally starting to live up to the potential we’ve caught glimpses of in the last few years.
How Soon They Forget
Speaking of Evans…Armstrong, Contador, and various Schlecks are all on everyone’s lips, given the recent conclusions of the Dauphine and Suisse. But geez, doesn’t anyone remember the Giro a month back? Sure, the Dauphine and Suisse are obviously fresher in our minds, but the Giro showed us a few relevant points too, and in a fairly spectacular fashion. For prognosticating purposes, the Giro also carries the added weight of being a three-week race. A couple of Giro takeaways, lest we forget:
- Evans is obviously a new man this year, and could find himself right in the mix if his team shows up (see above). It’s probably also worth noting that while the lack of TT kilometers in this Tour will count against him vis-à-vis challenges from the Schlecks, with his experience and his teams, he could also be a big gainer in the early stages in the low countries. It’s also important to note that Evans had some surprising standout performances on the Giro’s steep ramps, a promising sign given that the Pyrenees will play a crucial role in this year’s Tour.
- Everybody’s banging on about Radio Shack and Saxo Banks’ depth, and with good reason, but good lord, does anyone remember how Liquigas looked in the Giro, on a course where team strength wasn’t supposed to matter? I don’t believe they’ve announced their team yet, but Liquigas looks to be just as strong for the Tour as they were for the Giro, if not stronger. While Basso’s chief Giro lieutenant/co-captain Vincenzo Nibali is taking a break after this weekend’s national championship, the team will likely bring in Czech stage race hope Roman Kreuziger, and possibly wonderboy Peter Sagan as well. Mix in Giro standouts Sylvester Szmyd, Valerio Agnoli, and Robert Kiserlovski, pick three more depending on who’s good, and you have a team that’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.
Something About Radio Shack
Radio Shack announced its Tour de France lineup on Monday, beaming out a roster that contains few surprises but still manages to be shocking when you see it written down. Quite simply, it may be the oldest Tour de France squad in history, though I’ll leave it up to the real number crunchers to verify that.* Yes, for the first time in decades, an American team has fielded a squad that can answer that most American of questions: Where were you when Kennedy was shot?
Overall, the team weighs in at an experienced-but-reasonable average age of 32.5, but that’s thanks to a foursome of 30 year old workhorses – Yaroslav Popovytch, Sergio Paulinho, Gregory Rast, and Dmitri Muravyev – as well as a substantial contribution from young Jani Brajkovic’s 26 years. But the RadioShack power elite – headed by Lance Armstrong, Andreas Kloden, Chris Horner, and Levi Leipheimer – comes in at a whopping 36.75 years old. (If you don’t want to consider Horner and his 38 years as part of that group, fine, but eliminating him only brings the average age to 36.3.)
With an average age like that, people will rattle on about all sorts of legitimate ways to beat RadioShack, like frequent tempo changes on the climbs or making the race hard on back-to-back days to make recovery a key issue. But that’s all bullshit. If you want to beat a team of old guys, you have to look beyond cycling for your tactics. So here’s the Service Course advice for challenging Radio Shack at this year’s tour:
- Keep a jersey pocket full of butterscotch candies, and throw them to the side of the road on climbs. Butterscotch is like old person flypaper.
- Start a whisper campaign aimed at getting the UCI to classify Rascal scooters as “motorized doping.”
- Have the UCI outlaw the wearing of tall black socks with shorts. By prohibiting the time-honored old person dress code, you’re sure to disrupt their mental game.
- Air reruns of Matlock during time trials. Late starthouse appearances will surely ensue.
- Get Cialis listed as performance enhancing substance. The cycling kind of performance enhancing substance.
- Switch labels on denture cream, chamois cream.
Extremely cheap and largely hypocritical potshots aside, it’s a hell of a strong team. Just, you know, old, which as I said, isn’t shocking. So what is shocking about this team? No Spaniards. Starting in 2001, when Bruyneel began having to replace departing American climbing talents like Jonathan Vaughters, Kevin Livingston, and Tyler Hamilton, Spaniards became a mainstay of Bruyneel/Armstrong collaborations. For awhile in the early-mid 2000s, the team was probably the best Spanish team in cycling. This year, Haimar Zubeldia was the last likely Spanish hope for a Tour start, but since he’s out with a broken wrist, the Portuguese Paulinho is the lone Iberian representative on the squad. Of course, Zubeldia is a Basque, so despite his passport and the little Spanish flag next to his name on Versus, he might not consider himself any more Spanish than Paulinho. In fact, by hailing from Texas, Armstrong might be the closest thing to a native Spanish-speaker on the squad.
* If you did want to figure out what the oldest Tour team ever was, I’d start by looking at the immediate post-WWII Tours, when lots of the pre-war stars gave it a final shot, and much of the younger generation had been, well, killed.
The Dope Test Flap
There’s big news this week in acronym city, where at the order of WADA, the UCI will be conducting special dope tests at ASO’s TdF at the request of AFLD. You can view a nice bulleted outline of the situation and the decision here (thanks to @cyclingfansanon for the link). While nobody enjoys an inter-agency procedural eye-gouging match as much as I do, the real news to come out of this whole kerfuffle has been insanely understated – namely that AFLD claims to have information from customs/border agents and other law enforcement that seems to justify targeted testing of certain riders at the Tour. Uhh…that could be big news. Like Willy Voet big news.
Barry Finally Gets His Tour
Team Sky released its Tour de France roster this morning, an affair I’m sure my UK friends will thoroughly dissect within a matter of minutes, so I’ll leave it to them and just comment on one small part of it. For me, the biggest news was the selection of Mike Barry to ride his first Tour. You already know Barry through his writing, of course. But in addition to his abilities in capturing the sport from the inside, he’s also a very capable domestique who’s been worthy of a Tour ride for years, as proven by his service at the classics and various Vueltas and Giros. But riding as he did for Bruyneel’s deep Tour-winning teams, he never quite got the call-up earlier in his career. Maybe, as a Canadian, he just didn’t speak enough Spanish, who knows.
This year, though, he’s finally getting his shot, which is good, because it was feeling a bit like now-or-never time. I’m glad for him. Yes, I know he came up in Floyd Landis’s doping allegations, but he was also my next door neighbor in a sublet in Boulder about 11 years ago, when he was with Saturn and his wife Dede was still racing. I didn’t really know him, or her, and still don’t. I was just interning at VeloNews then, and figured the last thing I’d want to have next door if I were a pro cyclist was some cycling writer chatting me up every day when I got home. So I kept my distance. But Mike and Dede were always friendly, with a hello in the stairway or a wave as we passed coming and going on bikes. Like a lot of the people mentioned in various dope stories, they’re real people for me, and I try to remember that. The whole Landis thing will sort itself out, and we’ll all be happy or vindicated or disappointed or otherwise affected by what we find out about a lot of people. But that can wait. For now I’ll wish Barry all the best in his Tour debut. It’s about time.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) bid adieu to the Tour de Suisse on Thursday, a departure that could have been due to any number of reasons. It was reported Wednesday morning that he would leave the race to attend his grandmother’s funeral, and it was reported on Thursday morning that he had left the race due to injuries sustained in Stage 4’s dramatic finish-straight crash. Either of those reasons would be understandable, but some observers – me included – are wondering if he was drummed out of the race a bit quicker by people calling for his head on a pike for causing the aforementioned crash. If that’s the case, I think it’s unfortunate.
Since he started winning big sprints four years ago or so, Cavendish has been called a lot of things – brash, cocky, racist, disrespectful, asshole, you name it. He’s also been called talented, an eager learner, and a good teammate, but those descriptors don’t tend to linger quite as long as the others. But even though the guy attracts epithets like Colnagos attract attorneys, the one thing I’ve never actually heard Cavendish called is “dangerous.”
Sure, he’s had occasional run-ins in sprints, as when Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) felt Cavendish squeezed him towards the barriers at last year’s Tour de France. I’m sure there have been others as well – most full-time sprinters have a few disputes to their credit – but Cavendish certainly hasn’t been tapped as the heir to Djamolidine Abdoujaparov or Graeme Brown, or any of the other sprinters who have been reflexively dubbed “kamikaze” over the years. And there are people who have that reputation for good reason – there are more photographs of René Haselbacher (Vorarlberg-Coratec) bleeding on the ground than there are of him riding a bike. In contrast to those sprinters of sometimes-ill repute, Cavendish’s biggest offenses have typically been committed in the interview tent, not in the final 200 meters. And now people are ready to burn him at the stake for a single, albeit spectacular, crash.
Did Cavendish cause that mess of carbon and flesh on the road in Wettingen? Oh, hell yes, he did. Indeed, Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo) was sprinting with his head down, which isn’t the safest move, either, but the balance of responsibility is clearly on Cavendish. His move from the right to the center of the roadway, pinching Gerald Ciolek (Milram) and colliding with Haussler was a stupid move, whether it was the result of carelessness or a poorly considered tactic (a distinction we outsiders will probably never really be able to make for sure). And his actions following the crash – allegedly spitting at competitors who dared to call him out on his actions and trying to deflect blame in interviews – are immature and reprehensible.
Which is all to say that Cavendish probably deserves the earfuls he’s received from his coworkers and the public in the days following the crash, as well as the relegation and the fine the UCI slapped on top of it. Maybe he’ll learn something from it, maybe not, but personally, I think that’s as far as the punishments need to go. I’m well aware that there are plenty of people who don’t agree with that – I’ve seen cries for a suspension; calls for a higher fine given the offender’s income; I’ve even heard suggestions that Caisse d’Epargne should “seek compensation” for Coyot’s injury.
I’d venture that the people shouting for those punishments are doing so based more on their distaste for Cavendish’s personality than on his actual riding on Stage 4 of the Tour de Suisse, or even on the career balance of his behavior on the road. Fortunately, that just isn’t the way the rules work. I’d also argue that people calling for extensive punishments are being incredibly short-sighted. Crashes happen every day in bike racing, and they’re always somebody’s fault. If you open that door to suspensions and damages for every crash, riders will be in court or in front of some UCI commission every day for the results of an unintended chop in a corner, for not spotting that traffic island in time, or for misjudging the gap between barrier and opponent. What’s adequate compensation for diving for your feed and taking down Alberto Contador two weeks before the Tour de France? What’s the right suspension for forcing a bad line into the Arenberg Forest and crashing Boonen out? And who do you want to make those decisions?
So, in the rush to hang Cavendish for what is for all intents and purposes a first offense, people are advocating introducing a godawful legal mess into a sport that’s already chock full of godawful legal messes, despite the fact that peloton enforcement for dangerous riding has taken care of itself for decades. Besides, relevant case law indicates that Claude Criquielion already went down that road once, and all it did was waste a lot of people’s time and money. So I’d recommend that fans who want more heavy-handed treatment of Cavendish just sit back and enjoy the verbal and editorial browbeating he’ll receive this week, and then move on. I’m not saying you have to like the guy, but let’s keep a little perspective here.
As for the riders’ sanctimonious “protest” yesterday? I’d ask them where they were when Paolo Bettini absolutely mauled Baden Cooke at the Giro d’Italia a few years ago, or when the great Erik Zabel balled up Stage 2 of the 2007 Tour de France. I’d venture that back then they just clutched their rosary beads, recited a few “well, that’s cyclings,” and moved on with their days because, well, everybody likes Erik and Paolo and everyone makes mistakes. But not so with Cavendish, eh?
Look, I certainly understand the anger – nobody likes to hit the deck or lose a teammate because someone else is riding like an ass – but our protesters should also remember that cycling is often a matter of “there but for the grace of God go I.” Or in layman’s terms – it could be you who cocks up tomorrow, so best keep your mouth shut. Unless everybody likes you, of course.
- A lot of people will read the above and quickly think, “Well, he just likes Cavendish.” And they’d be right, though I think I’d have written the same about anyone except a habitual repeat offender (e.g., Haselbacher). Frankly though, I’m not sure why I like Cavendish, since I’d usually be among the first to find his smart-ass attitude irritating. Maybe it’s because, like Cavendish, I’m a member of the 5’7” team, and while we’re stacked with climbing talent, we really needed a top-notch sprinter.
- Two posts in a row with Abdoujaparov mentions. Never would have seen that coming, but the guy’s just a useful synonym for crazy sprinting.
- I love that AG2r stated they were part of the protest because Cavendish elbowed one of their guys at some point. For whatever reason, it just makes them sound comically oversensitive. I mean, I’ve elbowed at least three people today, and I work in an office.
- Here’s a question for you: Based on what you saw on Tuesday, are races safer or more dangerous with Mark Cavendish in them? He obviously plays it a bit rough at times, but just like Mario Cipollini’s boys in the 1990s, the HTC-Columbia train does keep things nice and orderly in the last 40k of the sprint stages.
- Happy 65th birthday, Eddy.
- Hey! I started a Twitter feed. It’s at the left if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s mostly a test to see if I can make a point in less that 1,200 words.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Putting the Me in Media
I had an opportunity to do some race reporting for VeloNews last weekend at the USAF Clarendon Cup and the USAF Cycling Classic in Arlington, VA. Even though I don’t do it very often anymore, race reporting – the pure blow-by-blow accounting – is something I always welcome the opportunity to do when the circumstances are right. And “right” in this context means “right for me,” not “right for a minimally employed 25-year-old single guy with no pets.” With that in mind, it’s hard for circumstances to get more right for me than a pair of professional criteriums within eight miles of my house. Almost non-existent travel, in-and-out in a day, no time off from work, sleep in my own bed? Why not?
Since I don’t get out often, being on-site working at the races always makes me reflect a little more on life inside that travelling circus of a world, on my own bit role in it, and on cycling in general. So here’s a shotgun blast of things that crossed my mind as I roasted on the roadside over the weekend:
- Criteriums take a lot of flack – many times from me, I’ll admit – but when you’re on the ground at a professional crit it’s easy to recognize the appeal, particularly in a country with minimal cycling heritage. On Sunday I was entertaining questions about the race from an older gentleman who lived near the course. He thought the whole short-lap idea was just fabulous, because years ago on vacation he’d spent 8 hours sitting by a French roadside and seen approximately 6 seconds of racing in return. End result -- he just didn't get it. So, until U.S. producers can master the art of filming bike races and people start actually watching them on TV, criteriums are what it’s going to be on this side of the pond. And maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, most of the action in Euro racing comes in the first hour – waiting for the break to go – and in the last hour, waiting for that break to be caught and the real action to start. Criteriums are nothing but the first hour and the last hour, so it's a lot of nicely condensed action. Now if they could just include some alpine scenery...
- All that said, I still don’t think criteriums have any place in timed stage races.
- Logistical note: The most important part of finding a place to park at a bike race is not asking anyone where you can park.
- Since the Clarendon Cup course is about ½ mile west of my office, I know it better than more distant courses – not because I rail that 90+ degree lefthander into Washington Boulevard at 30mph on my way into work, since that would be suicide on open roads – but because, like anyone who lives here, I know how and why the course arrived at its current condition. The unavoidable truth this year was that the Clarendon Cup roads were crap – filled with cracks, holes, and big, sticky, last-minute asphalt patches that only served to deepen the potholes housing water, gas, and sewer access points. Promoters fault? Nah. You go to race day with the roads you have, not the roads you wish you had. The area has been a beehive of heavy building construction for the last five years, and together with several winter blizzards and hundreds of snowplow passes by largely inexperienced operators, the tarmac hasn’t quite recovered yet. That all led to pit visits aplenty, made easier officials’ decision to let riders cut through to the pit via the pinch-point in the wasp-waisted course. Clarendon Cup winner Hilton Clarke (UnitedHealthcare) hisownself had two flats over the 100 laps, including one just before the expiration of the free lap rule. I’m told Arlington has some repaving plans in the works, so things might be a bit smoother next summer.
- Sometimes, the things you have to keep in mind as a press hack on a near hundred-degree (F) day feel a little like the ones you have to pay attention to when you’re racing. To whit:
- Never stand when you can sit.
- Keep hydrating if you don’t want to be a hollow, babbling wreck when crunch time comes, which in our case is the period between the final sprint and when we hit “send” to file the story.
- If you don’t have a good reason to be out in the elements working, hide as best you can. The press just hides from the sun instead of the wind.
- Take comfort in the fact that, if you’re suffering, there’s probably someone else suffering worse -- like the photographers, who have to haul 40 pounds of camera crap around, wear a moto helmet, and kneel on hot pavement.
- Sometimes, if things get hairy or hectic, you just have to yell at someone or elbow them out of the way. There's just no other way.
- There’s a reason feed zones are (just about) always on the right side of the road. First, cycling tradition and normal rules of the road in most bike racing countries dictate that the right side is where slow-moving activity goes down – service, feeding, peeing, etc. – so that’s what most riders are used to. Also, most people are right-handed. So when you put the feed on the left-hand side, things can go a bit awry. Questionable feed location aside, good on the officials for making an exception to the no-feed rule on a day that clearly warranted it. It sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes people get so focused on strict adherence to the individual rules that they ignore the parts of the book that allow reasonable adaptation to the conditions.
- Cycling coverage can be a hard thing to parachute into. It is, of course, easy to show up, get the story from the roadside – who was in the break, who crashed, who won – get your quotes, and get out. But getting the entire context is harder if you’re not entrenched, because the dinner-table conversations, the race hotel hallways, and the departure lounges are where you get the real background and pulse – not on news sites, blogs, or twitter.
- A note to race promoters: There are only two fundamental things the cycling media needs from you – a start list at the start, and results at the end. The rest we can pretty much handle ourselves. Do not be surprised when we get irritated – and irritating – when we cannot obtain these things. Want coverage of your national-level event to be plastered on the website in the evening, when folks visit to read about the Dauphine and Tour de Suisse? Then cooperate. If you have media people in your organization and they’re not on top of these two things, you don’t need media people.
- Sunday’s race featured a morning charity ride that ended just before the start of the pro men’s criterium. That left hundreds of everyday Joes and Jolenes on bikes intermingling with the finely tuned professionals around the start line, which in turn created quite a bit of contrast in nearly every measurable category: race, age, gender, income, education, hairiness, ability, body fat percentage, equipment choice...and on and on. Call it the Breakfast Club effect, but that mishmash of proverbial brains, athletes, basket cases, princesses, and criminals milling around the Crystal City course did, despite outward appearances and a multitude of invisible demographic stratifications, have one common trait – they like riding bikes. Sure, the idea of so many wildly different people all going for bike rides may not be groundbreaking, revolutionary, or politically important, but any common ground is a nice thing to have these days.
- The charity ride mentioned above also proved that people will do almost anything to be like the pros, whether that’s shaving their legs; buying $10k Pinarellos; or getting in the drops, putting their heads down, and auguring themselves into the barriers for no apparent reason. If you thought the 200-meter stylings of Djamolidine Abdoujaparov didn’t warrant imitation, you’d apparently be wrong.
- I suppose I should make at least one note about the actual racing, so I’ll just say that United Healthcare looked damn near unstoppable this weekend. They had two men in the six-man move that lapped the field in Saturday’s Clarendon Cup, then led out the sprint handily to win with Hilton Clarke. On Sunday, they put all eight of their men on the front with around five laps remaining and never faltered on their way to sweeping the podium. Not much you can say about that.
- With the rule changes, this is the first year in awhile that almost everyone in a pro criterium isn’t plugged into an ear piece, which is good, because it’s probably the discipline that needed them the least (in time trials, they’re useful for keeping everyone awake). The European team directors like to bloviate about how radios are necessary to warn riders of course hazards – a reasonable if overblown and easily addressed concern for the long road races they’re focused on. But that argument holds not a drop of water for criteriums, where riders can quickly and easily preview every inch of road they’ll see during the race. As for the effect of the radio ban on the tactical game, I don’t really have enough data points to say. It did seem like the fight to get a breakaway was tougher than it’s been at these races in the past, which could be down to the fact that teams can no longer let the break go 10 seconds up the road, have the director radio them the numbers, call everyone to the front to chase, and continuously monitor the time gap. The information is still there, of course, it’s just harder to get and puts more onus on the riders to organize themselves, and teams seem to be more cautious about letting moves go as a result. I will say that the lack of radios allows the interested fan to hear more of the inside game as directors now shout their instructions from the sidelines instead of mumbling them into their shirt collars.
- One of my favorite parts of covering races is hearing the question that’s invariably asked at the conclusion of end-of-day conversations: “Where are you going next?” Obviously, it’s asked between media and the riders, but it’s also asked between riders and other riders, between directors and officials, between media and media, and between nearly every other pairing of the groups of people who show up at these events week-in week-out. Depending on where, when, and who you’re asking, obviously, the answers vary considerably – it might be to the next NRC race, to a stint with the national team in Europe, to a day job, to some stage race in the Bahamas or the far east, to the mountains to train, or to a friend’s couch halfway between here and the next race. The constant inquisition is all part of an offline, unwritten tracking system that helps connect the members of a nomadic society to each other. But to me, just hearing the question over and over in the post-race background noise highlights a reassuringly human aspect of professional cycling at a time when the sport is mired in scandal and bureaucracy, and when the idea that the names in the articles represent actual people seems to get lost in the shouting. And, in probably the most humanizing aspect of all, it’ll come as no surprise which answer is usually accompanied by the biggest smile: Home.