'Tis The Beginning

By: Gustavo Cinci Mar 7

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It was sad to see her go, just like that, unceremoniously led away by someone else. We had been together for the past 8 years, sometimes very closely, sometimes I didn’t call her for months. But she was always there, ready, poised, available at a moment’s notice, rain or shine. Or snow or sleet. With her I learned how to ride on slush-covered roads, and defend myself during challenging, truculent moments. But it was time for our collaboration to end. It’s not that she was old, or lost her luster, or that I got bored with our relationship. The inverse is true; she was sturdy and stuck with me through glorious and painful moments alike. Specifically, two particularly unfortunate (and somewhat painful) situations stand out in my memory, where she guided me to well-timed soft landings, one on a pillowy fellow racer, the other ending under a tree, kit ripped to shreds, ferns, dirt and grass mixed with a square meter of what had been skin just a few seconds before. But it was time to go, to find a new partner, as I just didn’t or couldn’t spend time with her anymore. You see, Latin (Romance) languages have male and female articles. Without getting too involved, in Portuguese, inanimate and living subjects have genders: a tree is feminine, a car is masculine (obviously), a bicycle, well, she is the female companion I’ve been dating for the better part of the last decade. A bicicleta.

In maintaining my own Joe Racer rules of keeping the road stable to a minimum, the arrival of a new steed meant that the least-ridden machine had to go. Besides, I’m no pack rat. I mean, is there anything more unattractive than a basement filled with seldom-used machines, decapitated bicycles, cannibalized wheels, chewed up bottles, moldy half worn tires? No need to answer. There are enough folks out there in the habit of (or addicted to) accumulating semi-used weaponry for no reason. In other words, unless your basement is a shrine to the prodigious development of human-powered, two-wheeled contraptions, excess stuff has to go. Either give it away to a good cause or put it up for sale, but have someone else enjoy what was once a marvelous tool for speed. It’s good for the environment and better for karma.

This all sounds like nonsense, actually. Waxing romantic about recycling cycles… please. But is it really the bicycles we’re in love with (rhetorical question)? Or is it that the best moments in the sport, when you were your fittest, dropping fully-tucked triathletes without even trying, hurting your buddies on rides, getting into breakaways at races, were while astride that particular machine? It may well be that you’re parting with an icon that witnessed first-hand your best experiences in the sport. I’ll bet Lemond longs fondly for his Gitane and TVT bikes, respectively. Or that Miguelón would smile at the thought of an Oria-tubed Pegoretti, made especially for him. See what I’m getting at? You could fittingly say the same things about your favorite soccer boots, the high school baton used in your color guard competitions, or the Speedo swimsuit in which you met your girlfriend (don’t ask). Such are examples of the concretization of fleeting yet powerful moments by means of a well-fitting instrument that did exactly what you wanted it to do. As a result of its loss, it is natural that a small-scale mourning ensues. Nothing dramatic, really; just the unremitting pang, that pit in the gut that came the time you lost your favorite lovey as a kid when you moved to a different house, or when you said good bye to a childhood friend when his dad took a job several states away. It’s the void you’ll nostalgically cherish, but it’s necessary just the same, as it fostered growth and independence.

But we have good reasons to cheer: the bike is gone and its new owner is happy. Besides, I made him promise he’d take good care of the old steed, riding as much as possible and making sure to have a good time in the process. That alone etches a smile on my face, turning the gut pit into warm relief.

The old saying goes that the best cure for an old love is new love. She’s new, she’s blue, and veritably drool-worthy. May the tailwinds prevail forever, may this love be eternal while it lasts.

*Colnago photo by Krzyszof Blachnicki


Annoying Developments

By: Gustavo Cinci Feb 8

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The 70s seemed to be a time of peace, love, wool shorts, and the no-matter-what 42-52 chainrings. It’s also when I was born. In the 80s I fell irreparably in love with cycling, when wool was no longer cool, giving room to non-cooling lycra. Crappy lycra, shorts with suspenders, leather helmets. Seems like eons ago, and if the hazy memory serves me well, we raced around cranky dinosaurs and hissy Sleestaks. Stiff steel (SP tubing anyone?) and/or noodly aluminum bicycles were the norm, carbon fiber was yet to be popular, and we always celebrated with giggly excitement when something new came along. Like indexed shifting and clipless pedals, for instance. Training consisted of riding, just riding, LSD for the off-season, making sure to never hit the big ring till one accrued a few thousand kilometers. The rides were fun, cajoling was mandatory, my riding buddies all had silly nicknames (most of which bestowed by me) and we never seemed to run out of topics to discuss. Motorpacing and fixed gear riding were encouraged, but we lived in a cycling-convenient area with lots of riding options, so we never really paid attention to that. We just rode, rode, and rode. When racing season started, we had a plethora of events to choose from, and could easily keep busy for months at a time. So one basically just rode along, fitness came whenever, and racing took care of itself.

Then, something happened. Riders started becoming smart with training. I remember Francesco Moser preparing for his (successful) hour record attempt; he was using one of those tricky widgets called a “heart rate monitor”. Uhhh…, such cool technology. Then Lemond decided that heart monitors were not as precise and implemented power training. “See, you don’t know when you’re getting sick with a heart rate monitor, but watts will tell you when things are faltering,” he said. This was almost 20 years ago, by the way. Then the Internet, carbon soled shoes, and multiple gears arrived, some American dude won about 15 Tours de France, and everybody rides bikes now. And companies have integrated most everything on bicycles: seat mast, carbon forks, power meters on pedals, skinsuits that look like bibs and jersey glued together, disc brakes on road bikes, folks experimenting with changing gears with the power of thought (those are called Jedi riders), and so forth. All good, pretty, shiny and welcome developments.

Not quite. Though I love the gaudiness of some of the 80s and 90s kits, I’m not necessarily a Luddite – but I do keep a minimalist approach. I don’t put much faith in LSD, and firmly believe that every ride should have some sort of friskiness. Workouts have a purpose, especially when one rides indoors, which, for those who live around here, can be the norm during the winter. So what happens when I do get to ride outside? Well, if the leash goes far I enjoy a good elbow-rubbing with my buddies. The group consists of current and former racers, the majority in the latter category. The boys are still fit, family life notwithstanding, and we welcome a hurty challenge. But as of late my crew was infected with the bug of Strava.

And what is that, you wonder?

For those who have been living under a rock, it’s a smart phone software that tracks your rides by means of GPS. It can be quite useful if you’re “that guy” who never rides with people (sometimes I’m that guy). It’s beautiful in the sense that you can learn new routes, track your development, virtually race against someone else, or race against a fitter version of yourself, compare notes, etc. Nifty, right? Well, some friendless engineer, probably a triathlete, came up with this thing called “Strava segment”. I can imagine him at home, posters of Dave Scott on the wall, an Ironman-logo tattoo on his calf, rubbing his hands, plotting against roadies:

“Their group ridesss are so much fun, my preciousss, but they never let me join them. They mussst hate my preciousss Quintana Roo! If I have my way I’ll put and end to all group rides forevah!”

So he came up with a mighty astute way to do just that. This has to be the most annoying piece of, well, “development” that has come around recently. It beats the old Shimano Biopace rings, for that matter. It does nothing for the cause of cycling, except for succeeding at disrupting group rides. Yes, the hurty and the rubbing are welcome. We attack and counter at will, we know when the nasty stretches are coming, generally punching short hills, rolling parts of a road or the ubiquitous town lines that are rife around here. But no. Now we’re left with “Strava segments,” which is basically a random stretch of pavement that has to be done at time trial speed. Then you get home, ignore your wife and kids, log in and compare notes with folks you have never heard of or seen before. “Look, JoeTri_2000 did Oak Hill at 34km/h. Man, he must be a stud!”

I have another idea: How about getting a license and actually racing? Or joining a club/team and going on group rides with thick-legged dudes? Because after those “segments”, the riders are so spent that the next few kilometers are at recovery speed. Thanks a lot, Strava segment.

But it’s ok. We welcome the developments, as annoying as they are. Little secret: I’m learning all the segments in the area. So next time I’m out on a group ride, I’ll attack before those stretches and fumble the process.

Strava segment, be warned: you have made a powerful nemesis.

*Tri image courtesy of Richard Smith **Image of The Gathering courtesy of wolferey



By: Gustavo Cinci Jan 27

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During a recent banter with a few buddies, we were mocking a common friend (to his face, as per the mandatory rules) about his recent mishap: he cracked a collarbone. We determined he had not yet entered the super roadie club for doing so—I’ll get there in a minute—and that made me wonder: What constitutes a road rider, or a road racer? Does he/she have to be skinny? Short? Fat? Tall? Is a cool bike mandatory? And what is a real roadie, anyway? Shave your legs, pin a number and show up: basically those are the essential pre-requisites to participate at a road event, be it a USAC-sanctioned training race, a local crit, or a road race. Depending on where you live and the obnoxiousness level of the local cliques, the entry bar into road racing may vary. But in general terms a good show of skills will grant you a green light, no matter where you come from or are going to. So after a few (or many) years in the sport, some of the stridency regarding norms will be relaxed; after all, folks already know you, and it’s normal that at some point the conversation steers to the much darker, maligned, and sworn off topic of crashes. As a disclaimer, the “c” word will only be mentioned this one time; our sport carries enough bad juju as it is, so compare notes and carry on wisely, prudently and politely.

My account started a long time ago. We had (still have) this circuit race every Labor Day, when the mornings are chilly, the wind unpredictable and the peloton itching to go. At the start line the sub-18 category smelled of camphor, with hints of popcorn and sugary cinnamon from the street vendors and cigarette smoke from the spectators. Flag goes down, the first few laps were done at heart-in-throat speed. The boys were as nervous as they were fast, the attacks came from the gun, the constant shuffle and re-shuffle would, of course, determine what would stick. The main guy from the local team opened hostilities, and I knew this was it. It was one of those days when my legs and system were inordinately frisky and I was trying to get in any sort of break, seeking redemption from the previous week’s colossal screw up (missed the winning move). Not that time.

The course was flat and the wind buffeted from hard to harder; the streets perpendicular to the circuit fed the main drag with intermittent gusts, threatening to throw the juniors off the bike every 100 meters or so. Head down, the aggressor looked behind to check the damage, and in that micro-second the wind side-punched him by surprise. What happened next was a messy blur. His left side brushed a tree branch, he overcompensated, hit the curb with his pedal and somersaulted at close to 50km/h. The result was a pile of moaning, crackly-voiced teenagers, some in bad shape, others worse so, with me somewhere in the middle. My account was opened; no broken bones but I was “walking funny” for a few days. Plus the rashes. That was my first set of freshly de-scabbed scars, that when branded by the sun would turn into semi-permanent trophies, and I wore them with pride.

In retrospect, this is all so silly. But what is the difference between, say, 20 years ago and now? Aside from multiple fractured limbs during races, zero. My super light (but super whippy) Vitus 979 is long gone; so is the kit and some of the sun stains. The only remainders are memories and bravado, as well as the nonsense prattle about who belongs in what category. I suppose the meriting issue is the accumulated feats that come burdened with physical hurt. The sport is enveloped by heavy doses of suffering: political pain from the wife, financial pain from the new wheels (they’re carbon, man), and stomach-churning, sour-mouth and chills from painful efforts. It’s just obnoxious to measure the caliber of a roadie by the amount of broken bones he or she has sustained. If we were to adopt such metrics, messengers (not hipsters) would be World Tour racers, Triathletes would get VIP treatment from Phil Ligget*, and Jackie Chan would put Merckx to shame.

Our friend broke his collarbone at a cross race, some mis-timed move, or fumble, or what-have-you. Not a road race, so he’s not in the club yet. Or is he? He most certainly is, he has definitely accrued all sorts of hurt points, in all categories possible. And as a matter of fact he has been crowned King of Pavement in 2011, much to the chagrin of his lady. And though our scores are level, we’ll never touch him in this category: folks at Tegaderm know him by his first name.

You can’t beat that.

  • I know Phil Ligget commentates on Triathlons, so drop it – you know what I mean.

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