Trying to Care About the Vuelta

By: Craig Gaulzetti Aug 25

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I try to care about the Vuelta. At this point in the season, it seems like even the potential podium finishers don’t care about the Vuelta. Outside of stadium sports, the Fascists have never done too well with sport, despite their best intentions. Short shorts, throwing things, jumping and running while seated hordes of thousands provide a soundtrack demands a certain aesthetic and cultural reality. Oklahoma high school football games, the 1936 Berlin Olympics are proof that all sorts of rabid right wingers into God and Country and diffusion of the self into the mindless glob of the mass can pull this kind of shit off. They don’t do too well with bike races. Naturally, the Italians are excluded because in the end they sucked worse at Fascism, and for Italians, individuals of the caliber of Coppi and Bartali are always going to transcend everything else even when everything else is a world war, near famine and a Duce who insists on skiing without a shirt. But pre-Borbon restoration Spain was different. Even when Mr. Merckx himself set out to compete in Franco’s bike race, the rest of the world just sort of saw it as strange and a bit depraved. Headlines read, “Spain shuts off the water supply to Gibraltar again. Eddy Merckx samples wine out of cardboard box.” Ocana had bronchitis for Christ’s sakes and any scene of the peloton passing in front of statues featuring generals in sunglasses assumed its own level of backwater absurdity.

The timing of the Vuelta has changed over the years, and certainly the state of Spanish politics has changed even more. There are rumors that three elderly women living in Hoyo de Pinares still occasionally vote for the Falange party in county elections, but they are unsubstantiated. Today Spain is a liberal democracy, with an economy that rivals Italy’s and Britain’s and is the poster child for how the EU can turn around a nation through massive redistribution of German money to sunnier, poorer places. I like Spain and pedaling a bike in February around Tenerife until ones 6’3 frame could legally box as a welter weight is as close to the liberal Christian view of Eternal Paradise as I could imagine.

Nonetheless, The Vuelta is not the Giro, it’s not the Tour, it’s not even Lombardy or Flanders for most cycling aficionados. It’s a weird race – a warm up for a meaningless criterium often called the World Championships or a way for a rider to atone for a lackluster season, career or blood level. The organizers have always hinted at bizarre changes in format to make the race more exciting. They’ve moved it around on the calendar to try to entice the best to come and contest. They’ve incorporated stupid roads in successful efforts to make privileged Nancy-boys like David Millar throw temper tantrums and cry; but all for naught. The Vuelta generally sucks. It’s a boring race for boring riders. It’s suited to Denis Menchov, not Lance Armstrong. Gerald Ciolek, not Mark Cavendish.

So wither the Vuelta? No. The Vuelta has its place and it should remove itself from the UCI and oversee itself. Invite exciting, South American teams to compete. Remove the more draconian drug testing, or at least roll it back to Superweek levels. It is a modest proposal, but I want every edition of the Tour of Spain to be the 1999 edition. I want Mavic neutral support cars chirping tires and spinning out in a reckless attempt to keep up with the Peleton while it goes up a fucking mountain. I want a Rock Racing rider playing the roll of a returning Jan Ulrich. I want to see Vino and Rasmussen do their best imitation of VDB shooting the entire world down on stage 16. I want to see a megalomaniac with self esteem issues, willing to trade his contract for a night with an Italian Super model, arrive “all fucked out” to the start of the 19th stage, and kill it again. In short, I want ultimate bike racing. Too much to ask? Watch this youtube video and ask yourself, are you not entertained?

*Originally published 9/09/2009


Ce N'est Pas Une Course.

By: Danny Goodwin Aug 1

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Gulping coffee Saturday morning, I had that familiar pre-race upset tummy that I’ve never been able to shake. Then I remembered: this is not a race—and I felt instantly fine. In fact, this was the mantra of the day. Jeremy Powers reminded us just prior to the start, as did Tim Johnson when he merely overheard someone mention the word “race” in telling a story completely unrelated to the Grand Fundo, and admonished him to “get that word out of your head”.

The Jeremy Powers/Wheelhouse Sports Grand Fundo 2011 is the big annual fundraiser for the J.A.M. fund, which is dedicated to helping “…young cyclists reach their potential both on and off the bike while not being limited by finances.” J.A.M. (Jeremy, Al, Mukunda—as in Powers, Donohue, Feldman) development grants are targeted at racers under 25 who live in the Northeast.

The Euros have their Gran Fondos, but New England has developed something a little more populist, a little less competitive, and a lot more fun. No surprise this annual event, now in its third year, should spring up in the Pioneer Valley of Western Mass, widely known for its cycling-friendly communities and ample rolling hills and medium sized mountains. Even less of a surprise that the J.A.M fund/NCC team (formerly Wheelhouse/NCC, formerly Spooky/NCC/Kenda, formerly Kenda/Raleigh, formerly Louis Garneau) should be at the epicenter of an effort to put the fun back into—and take the elitism out of—road cycling, because that’s what that team has been about for nearly a decade. It’s a go-hard-but-take-it-easy sort of a vibe.

At one point, after I found my rhythm on King’s Highway, I picked it up a few clicks to catch up to who I thought, from behind, was James Morrison (you know, Mr. ReasonYou’reReadingThisRightNow). Turned out to be another one of the Embro elite team riders, Jackson Weber. All you guys look the same, you know? By the time I caught him, I couldn’t really talk so I mumbled something about Embrocation and faded back to my people, creeping him out pretty good, I’m sure.

The pros who showed up to shepherd the wannabes like us included Mo Bruno-Roy and Matt Roy (who very sweetly rode side-by-side the whole day), Tim Johnson, Brad Huff, Emerson Oronte, Phil Gaimon, Justin Lindine, national road champion, Max Korus, and of course Jeremy Powers.

Not a race, but it would be a classic race course, and there is racy riding to be had. And SRAM neutral support cars. But no numbers or USAC officials at the “finish line”. Still, I don’t know—there were plenty of times where I felt very much like those fast folk up front were racing. I certainly was for the half-hour or so when I was turning myself inside out to chase back on after being dropped on one of the dirt climbs. But then we came to the rest stop with the ice cream truck. OK, not a race. I could get used to this laid-back approach to a hard ride. Anyone who wanted to drill it was certainly welcome to, but most did not. And there were only a few crashes and only two (that I know of) that resulted in trips to the hospital. One was a teammate who wiped out on a dirt section before mile 12. He’ll be fine and had a lot of really nice things to say about J.A.M fund rider Frances Morrison (no relation to James), who stayed with him until the pros could patch him up.

I Found myself wishing, at the pig-roast BBQ that followed, that more races were not races. A worthy cause, a delicious course, good people. This is one to find a way to get to next year.


1000 Plateaus (With Apologies to Deleuze and Guattari)

By: Danny Goodwin Jul 11

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I tend to start sentences lately with “whereas…”, which is a little upsetting to me in that I sound a lot like the bureaucrat I’ve strained to avoid becoming most of my life but which I know I now very closely resemble. As in, “…whereas you are a valued member of this team, I’m unable to offer you a salary increase this year due to circumstances beyond my control.” Need to work on that. Proactively. Gotta open the kimono, peel back the onion, and look where the rubber meets the road. Maybe at the end of the day. Moving forward:

Whereas my body feels as fit as ever, my racing results (or lack thereof) reveal a plateau of form (or form of plateau?). No longer getting faster. Not getting slower, but rather treading water. Treading pavement. This season I have pulled myself from more races than I’ve finished. And it isn’t only form that plateaus, is it? In an attempt to avoid the kind of total burnout I experienced right at the start of cyclocross season last year—following a road season that included more stage races than I’ve ever done—I have removed the goal-orientation of “target races” for the summer. But riding and racing without goals turns out to be just a vast, sprawling landscape of plateaus. I’m all for riding with intent , but I’m a little ashamed to say that my intent is to ride for fun until October, when I can more effectively impersonate a bike racer. Whereas there are certainly valleys, there are no real peaks—whether physical or mental. I could hire a coach or read some books or invest in a Powertap hub; or I could load the bike onto the roof of the NYCROSS team car and hit the road to go play bikes like I used to before I thought this hard about it. That would be where you would have found me last week. On the road, skipping from plateau to plateau.

Whereas it is no newsflash to me that Texas in late June/early July would be a touch hot—hotter than I’ve grown accustomed to, living in NY for nearly twenty years, it nonetheless hit me like a ton of adobe bricks this week. Makes me think that those wide-eyed sci-fi scenarios wherein we colonize Mars, or our own moon, or some other nearly-but-not-quite hospitable planet (because it is just too much trouble to adjust the lifestyle to which we’ve grown accustomed for the sake of the life-giving properties of Earth) are not so far-fetched. I mean, although this place does have abundant oxygen, it is mostly otherwise rather antagonistic to human endeavor in the summer. One moves from the climate-controlled shuttle (car) to the artificial atmosphere of Moon-Base Alpha (Dad’s ranch-style in suburban Richardson), back to the shuttle-craft, and into the decompression chamber of Moon-Base Beta (my Mother-in-law’s ranch-style in the groovy college town of Denton), spending as little time as possible in the unforgiving heat of the planet’s surface, under the angry gaze of a sun that is much closer to the surface than the one on my home planet. I swear I could feel myself sweating even as I floated in Dad’s pool. I swear, too, that I can see the curve of the planet as I drive I-35. True story, and then I’ll turn-a-loose o’ the point: my great uncle Dan Ray passed out in this heat last week and lay on the pavement for all of 15 minutes max, and woke up in the hospital with 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns over most of his body. Seven grafts later he’ll be ok, but only because Texas has made him so goddamned hard after 90 years of living here.

I had tentatively planned to race back-to-back crits last weekend: one in Fair Park (downtown Dallas) and another in some place called Mountain Creek Park. Knowing what I know about the Dallas-Ft. Worth area and developers’ penchant for naming places after charming topographical features that either exist only elsewhere or were mowed down to build the McMansions and mulch-farms that are nestled within the many gated communities here, I knew damn well there would be no mountain involved. 50/50 chance of there even being a creek. Still, it was billed as an “uphill criterium”, which sounded more interesting than banging handlebars around a dead-flat box with big, heat-acclimated Dallas boys.

To try and get the lay of the land and a feel for the level of competition here and—most importantly—acclimate to the 106-degree heat and 70% humidity, I took off early each morning and at dusk for the White Rock Lake bike path. Whereas it is a bike path and no self-respecting bike racer ever dares pedal a bike path (especially in full kit), this is Dallas. Cars more than rule here, they dominate and oppress all other forms of locomotion. It is not outside the realm of the norm to have a motorist pull over and ask if you need help if you are walking or riding a bike on the side of the road. Why else would you have abandoned your automobile (especially in this heat)? The bike path runs from Valley View Park, just a few miles from my folks’ place in Richardson (yep, where L. A. grew up) all the way through the fancy schmancy homes in Highland Park to Lakewood and around the sizeable lake. The vibe in the mornings and early evenings is not unlike that of Central Park in Manhattan or Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Meaning, those looking for a “training” ride must dodge not only cars but roller-bladers, big, shirtless folk in cut-offs and flip-flops with a 24-oz can of Bud in the bottle cage and, worst of all, the “racers”. The scourge in sleeveless Richardson Bike Mart jerseys on $12,000 plastic Cervelos with Zipp clinchers and aero bars shouting “ON YOUR LEFT!” as they overtake the aforementioned park-users at 31 mph. I caught on to three dudes hammering away in a tight pace line and asked if they had info on the crit this weekend. “Crit?” said the one in front. “Sorry”, I said (only in my head), “I mistook you guys for actual number-pinner-onners.”

Later in the week, in Denton, I hooked up with Mark Manning and the crew from Corinth Cycling. Thursday night is their training race, which is essentially a guerilla crit on open streets, like the one that starts after work each week in your town, only it is 100 degrees in the shade at 6:30 pm. The comforting thing about playing bikes away from home is that racer-types are sort of the same everywhere. They just smile more here. I stuck with the A group and it was certainly hard and fast but also tight and safe. Only one crash and I wasn’t in it. Whereas we had never met before this moment, Roland San Miguel stood out as somehow particularly familiar. Soft-spoken, stoic, strong. At a certain point (and probably, to motorists, always), we all start to look the same—malnourished geeks in skin-tight garanimals.

A 73 mile ride with the A’s on Saturday was the real delight. We started at 7 am to outsmart the sun and rode at a pretty good click but still at what I’d call “gentleman’s pace”. Even found a few hills. Little attacks here and there and the occasional town line sprint. Familiar stuff, but on an unfamiliar planet. It was somehow comforting that even the folks who live here were complaining about the heat. Those who live here who don’t ride, (or aren’t roofers or Mexican day-laborers) but spend their days in an air-conditioned bubble don’t get it at all. All activity that involves leaving the landing module is clustered around the early mornings and evenings. The middle of the day, for the comfortable class, is for the pool or the Interweb.

Whereas I was feeling sorry for these guys at first, knowing how beautiful and hilly and competitive the riding and racing is where I live now (especially cyclocross, which doesn’t seem to have caught on much in Tejas yet), I came to realize after many hours of pedaling with these gents that they have a pretty sweet setup. That is, it isn’t so much where as with whom you ride that matters. The toughguys who hammer around Whiterock have each other, just as the very cool and classy guys and gals in and around Denton do. I have my solid homies in NY, and now I have a little cycling home-away-from-home whenever I return to Big and Little D. Thanks y’all. See you in January.


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