Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Post Tour

I admit that I spent too much time watching the Tour de France. I keep up with the pro racing scene all year,but with near-saturation programming on Versus of live coverage in the morning and repeats all day, I just fell into the Tour. This year's Astana drama and some really good racing kept things pretty interesting, even if some of the stage routes could have been more exciting. Now, it's over and I have my life back.....

There is still plenty going on. I'm really interested in the rumors of pending transfers of riders between teams. Riders can't discuss negotiations or commitments to other teams until September 1, so everyone is being quite coy. With RadioShack and the British Team Sky starting from scratch and existing teams looking to sign a star or replace departing riders, the market for the riders is far better than it was even a year ago. At that time, sponsor dollars were drying up faster than a summer shower on hot asphalt, teams were folding and riders were scrambling to find new homes, with many being forced on to second-tier teams to extend their careers.
Perhaps the most intriguing is talk of Andy Schleck going to RadioShack.

That would be interesting: Lance hires Andy Schleck so he and Andy can team up to kick Contador's ass next year. I would think that would create a similar leadership issue to this year's, except for the fact that Andy would be going in knowing that Lance is the boss. It would also eliminate a key competitor for Armstrong. The story is that they want Andy without brother Frank. Without a team leadership role and without his brother, I don't see Andy making the move. The longer view is that Andy is only 24 years old and Lance can't ride forever. A year of playing second-fiddle to a 7-time Tour winner might be a small price if it means taking over as the leader of the Bruyneel-Armstrong dynasty in a couple of years. In the meantime, there are plenty of other races to be won by Andy if Lance gets to carry the ball at the Tour.

We'll see how it pans out in the next few weeks. One bet I am willing to make is the RadioShack is going to be a force to be reckoned with, with or without Schleck.

Monday, July 27, 2009

At Last: Trail Link to North Shore Park

This fresh asphalt is the new trail link to the North Shore Business Park. It starts next to the DEQ Building and joins the trail just east of the Campbell Lake bridge. Progress continues on the North side of the river!!!! Hello, Little Rock, anybody over there?

Sunday Along The Trail

I often end up riding fairly late on Sunday afternoons. Even on the nicest days, the crowds are sparse and in the dog days of summer, there are usually long stretches of empty pavement. This past Sunday saw a little more activity than usual, probably owing to the early threat of rain, and the traffic included this lady and her pack o' dogs. The Spitz in the carriage is 17 years old, so he gets a break from walking. Note the little guy in the lower level. Good looking pair of hounds, too.

The Sand Bar Beach Party crowd was active, though looking to be winding down compared to the usual weekend scene.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tour de France 2009: A Good One

The 2009 Tour had drama, conflict, more drama and a hell of a bicycle race.

I can't complain about the outcome. Alberto Contador proved himself to be currently the best stage racer in the world. He's won the last four Grand Tours he's started, becoming a top time trialist in the process, a capability necessary to win Tours even for the best climbers. He's young, talented and tough. He'll be around for awhile. It remains to be seen how he fares on a weaker team, which we'll almost certainly find out.

When Lance Armstrong returned to the Tour, my biggest concern was that he would drop 10 minutes in an early stage and be irrelevant. That certainly was not the case as he battled to a podium finish. He proved to be capable of climbing with the best, losing time only on a couple of shorter steep climbs, mostly due to attacks initiated by his teammate, Contador. He didn't do as well in the time trials as one might have expected, but he handily held his own through the incessant attacks from the Schleck brothers on stage to Ventoux, a longer, tougher climb than most. A third place finish after four years away from racing may disappoint many American Lance fans, but I think it is nothing short of amazing.

He'll be back another year older, but with a fresh year of race training on his legs and a new team of his choosing. You can bet the team will be loaded with the likes of Leipheimer, Kloden, Popovych and other top riders from Astana (that won't include Contador!). Rumor has Brice Feillu, the young French climber who dramatically soloed to victory on stage 7 to Arcalis ahead of a charging Contador, joining the team if he can bring his sprinter brother , Romain. Armstrong is also said to be interested in signing Taylor Phinney, star of the Livestrong Under 23 team.

Give credit to the talented Schleck Brothers. They animated the race and came away with second and fifth.Look for them to work on their time trialing before next year! They are both young and will be in the battle for a long time.

The 2010 Tour is already shaping up to be a good one!!

I almost failed to mention Mark Cavendish, winner of six stages and a final-stage romp on the Champs Elysees. His leadout man, Mark Renshaw, took second as they both just dropped the rest of the field on the sprint today. No half-wheel victory here. They went clear by several bike lengths and had plenty of time to celebrate. Thor Hushovd carried home the green jersey, but Cav is far and away the toughest sprinter in the peloton.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What group rides fit your style?

If you ride in groups, you've surely asked yourself these questions. The kind of group that's right for you can vary by the season or day by day, but the first question we ask ourselves is usually, "how fast is the bunch?", followed by "can I hang with them?"

If you choose rides that keep you at your limit and just hanging on (or not), then your fitness will almost certainly improve and these all-out efforts can be the most rewarding. The pace on these rides is driven by the fastest riders at near race pace and often includes attacks at recognized sprint points on the route and hammering the hills, marked by occasional breaks in the pace as riders sit up to take a drink and slurp a gel. Group riding skills are imperative and you often don't know everyone on the ride, so constant attention is required.

On the other hand, I often don't want to hammer my brains out while getting my ass kicked out on the road, so I enjoy small group rides that allow for some chatter and relaxation. Everybody contributes to doing some work and determining the pace. The degree of difficulty is determined by a natural consensus. These rides are are a good workout, usually well within your limits, but can be as hard as you make them.
I also enjoy some of the event training rides, which are often large groups, very social, and riding at an easy pace.

Event rides, like Tour de Rock, land somewhere in between hammerfest and lovefest. They can be very fast and challenging, but differ in that there is a lot of cooperation to maximize the speed of the group. You don't want to drop anybody that can contribute to the work and you sure don't want to get dropped. These rides are great fun and you can go just as hard as you want, due to the fact that there are groups of every speed. The fastest make few, very short stops, so be be prepared and don't expect to enjoy many of the rest stop goodies if you get on the express train. If you are joining these rides without taking advantage of the efficiency and teamwork of the pace line, I think you're missing out a lot of the fun; however, my darling bride often does long stretches solo, stops at every rest stop and has a lovely time. I'm more inclined hop on the fastest group I can stick with and try to get it done!

Right now, the set group rides around our town are either pretty fast by my standards or very casual.Rides tend to evolve in that if a ride gets a reputation for punchy and fun, more people show up bringing more punch and the ride gets faster and more competitive. That may leave some folks out, but small pick-up rides happen every day and over time, they tend to fall into a pattern so people know when to show up. Next thing you know, you have a new group ride and the evolution begins anew. You can almost always find a ride to suit your mood-of-the-day.

Pick your ride to suit your purpose. It took me a while to not feel compelled to jump in with my favorite fast group every week. I do it from time to time, but I don' t want the pressure of the pace and the big pack a couple of days a week. That was the most fun for me for a couple of years, but I had the experience and often want a different kind of ride these days. It really depends on your goals. My only ambition on the bike is to enjoy riding it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mild disappointments, spectacular performances, and more Astana drama

Spoiler alert: read this after watching Tuesday's stage if you want to remain in the dark.

It's been a week for the old guys!!!

I dig it! I'm not a golfer, but you had to live in a hole to miss the buzz about 59-year old Tom Watson's run at the British Open. He went to a playoff with Stewart Cink after leading all weekend in a show that saw Tiger Woods miss the cut. Watson lost, but he electrified golf with his performance.

In our world, Lance Armstrong proved mortal when he failed to follow a move by teammate Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck on Sunday. He conceded leadership of the team to Contador, "clearly the strongest" and committed to working for the team. At 37 and after 3 years off, just keeping a high place in the Tour standings is amazing.
It looked like more of the same today when Saxobank made a move, taking the Schlecks, Contador, Kloden and a surprising Brad Wiggins to split the field of leaders. It looked like Lance was going to lose more time, then.......
Damn! He does still have some legs, as Lance rocketed across a 20 second gap, dropping Christian Vande Velde, Carlos Sastre, Kim Kirchen among others and then passing Frank Schleck to rejoin the yellow jersey group in a show of power that looked like the Lance of old times, not old age. The leaders all came together on the descent, with the exception of Cadel Evans, who again lost big time, but Armstrong proved that he is still a force.


Strong man and good guy, Jens Voigt, took a terrible high-speed fall on the final descent. Still no report, but his condition is described as "serious" in initial reports.


Johan Bruyneel announced that he will leave Astana after this season due to the return of troubled rider Alexander Vinokourov. Rumors have Contador going to a new spanish team. Lance and Johan will have some options. Look for another new team announcement.

Got to go. Just a lunchtime update!!! This Tour still has plenty of pop!!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Back to the Tour

I like sprinters. They tend to be trash-talkin' little tough guys like Robbie McEwen and the heir-apparent, Mark Cavendish. These guys make a living by hanging onto the peloton for 120 miles and then going to town when the fight breaks out in the last kilometer. The GC guys like Lance and Alberto just get the hell out of the way when the sprinters' trains get rolling in order to avoid the head-bumps, elbow jabs, shoulder slams and 40MPH crashes on the run-in. Two of my favorite quotes (paraphrased by me, I'm sure )from these guys come from interviews prior to or at last year's Tour:

To McEwen: "As a sprinter, who would you be looking out for in this Year's tour."

Robbie to world: " I've won more than anybody else, Mate. I'd be looking out for me."

To Cavendish at age 23: "Some people are saying that you're the next Robbie McEwen. What do you say to that?"

Cav to world: "I'd say that I'm the first Mark Cavendish."
and so he is.

I've never seen anybody just that much faster than everybody else in my relatively short time as an observer of such things.
He's got a reputation as a cocky little bastard, so take a look at the shy, but funny kid in this video with Lance and George Hincapie:

Cav did win the stage Lance was egging him on about.

Friday's stage could be one that produces some shake-ups. No huge climbs, but some Cat 1 that could see some GC contenders eliminated. As is often been said of this race, this stage may not decide the winner, but it make decide some losers.

The riders and teams won the radio argument. Tomorrow's ban has been lifted.

Bring on the mountain stages.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Trail Condition Update

OK, I've been talkin' Tour de France, but here's some local interest information.

If you've been riding you've probably noticed that there has been utility construction going on near Junior Deputy Park (pic above). As of a couple of days ago, there were still steel plates and a lot of loose gravel in the area and the workers were moving up the bike path toward Riverfront Drive. Use caution.

Just as the water has finally receded from the Isabella Jo Trail in North Little Rock, I noticed last night that a large willow has fallen and completely blocked the trail just west of it's junction with the River Trail. NLR is quick to get these things cleared, but keep it in mind if you head toward downtown from Cook's Landing in the next couple of days.

Be very careful of the red paving tiles in the downtown NLR park. The sprinklers have been on in the evenings and the tiles are remarkably slick!

I've been noticing that a crew of regulars among the ummm...what's the politically correct term for homeless folks these days..... Hell, I don't know, so how about urban campers? Anyway, I've noticed a crew of regular urban campers gathering daily in the park near the foot of the Broadway Bridge. I tend to give names to the trail denizens and this group has been declared to be "The Committee". I often wonder about the subjects and depth of their discussions. They are civil to the riders passing by and just seem to be entertaining themselves with their own company. The nooks and crannies of the bridge footings hold stashes of bedding and belongings.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Turn that damn radio off and let me think!!

Well, I think it's more like ASO turning off the team radios and making the riders think. At least that's the plan for tomorrow's stage, which is the first of two to be conducted without team radios , much to the displeasure of most riders and team directors. The tour organizers are responding to claims that racing has become formulaic as team directors watch the race unfold on in-car TV's while relaying directions to their team, resulting in breakaways being predictably run down in the last couple of kilometers time after time. There are good reasons to keep the radios and some interesting sporting reasons to take them out. I don't think this little exercise will change anybody's mind. The stage should end in a sprint, so look for Columbia to control the breaks in order to assure Mark Cavendish a shot at grabbing back the green jersey.The lack of a constant stream of information on the gap to a breakaway should make the teams very attentive to any break, so don't look for Cadel Evans to sneak off unnoticed.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Those Pesky Weekend Crowds....

Sometimes we complain about the weekend crowds on the BDB, but as I experienced this past Saturday, solitude can be found there if your timing is right. In this case, the time was 12:20 on a July Saturday afternoon. I think the only other time I had the bridge to myself, even for a moment, was some drizzly February night. Granted, it was hot out, but not that hot for seasoned Arkansawyers.

The coming week promises to be a repeat of the heat wave that Diane and I dodged by heading to Colorado on vacation a few weeks ago. Get those Polar bottles in the freezer and grab the wife-beater style sleeveless jerseys. You can't be much of a rider in Arkansas if you don't embrace a little asphalt-melting heat.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Le Tour

This Tour de France is very exciting on a lot of levels. I'm not all enamored with Lance as a hero or anything, nor am I counted among the many cycling fans who resent him. I was glad to see him return for the attention that only he can bring to cycling. Like or not, nobody fills up a press room like Lance Armstrong and you've got to admire his ability to remain focused and on-message, both on the road and when facing reporters in the mayhem of post-stage interviews. If you haven't seen this, check out the attitude as the French reporter tries to bait him regarding the stage 3 split.

The reporter implies that Armstrong somehow knew the split was going to occur (.."but you knew about it.."), then tried to frame the move as an outright attempt by Lance to put time into Contador (.."but you're not waiting for Alberto......You're a clever cyclist..... ). What a d**k. The guy has just gotten off the bike after a very tough 5 hour stage, is surrounded by screaming fans and has a dozen microphones shoved in his face and is having words put in his mouth by a hostile journalist. And he handles it very well. Of course, the reporter is doing his job, and if he can pull out anything that can be construed as negative, he has a headline.

What remains to be seen is who can ride in the mountains. Contador still has the advantage in my book, but Leipheimer, Kloden, Vande Velde can't be counted out and if Lance is anywhere close to top form, it will hard to take time on him. That said, we're just getting started and a lot can happen. Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre and the Schleck brothers aren't done, but it's damn hard to take 2 minutes on any of the current leaders. Some will falter, but it's very unlikely that the ultimate winner is currently out of the top 5.

Sprinters' Duel?? Playing chicken with Cav.

The sprinters' teams seem to be content with riding on the wheels of Team Columbia and Columbia is tired of it. Today's stage made the point as the deserving Thomas Voeckler took his first Tour stage win on an unlikely break that should have been easily contained. The other teams seem to have decided that they are not going to work if the dominant Mark Cavendish is going to win every sprint. Too bad for Tyler Farrar of Garmin, who is chomping at the bits to have a few more goes against Cavendish. I also wish Robbie McEwen was uninjured and in the race. Lotto has pretty well screwed the pooch on Cadel Evans's GC hopes, but if they had Robbie for the finish, they would have something to ride for and there would be a fight on.

Overly Considerate Drivers; Breakfast of Champions (Probably Not)

Last Saturday, I rode out with Diane for her morning shopping trip. Her regular downtown rounds include the River Market to pick up bread at Boulevard, the Argenta Farmers' Market for produce, and Firewater Liquor for a bottle or two of her favorite vino. I misunderstood her planned sequence and made wrong turn on the approach to the Farmers' Market, which was spread over two parking lots divided by a side street. As I stood in the first lot trying to spot Diane across the street, two drivers stopped in mid-block to let me cross, effectively blocking traffic in both directions. Heck, I was just standing there, but after much frantic waving, I crossed the street just to get traffic moving.
I appreciate the consideration, but, folks, in most situations, just drive normally and we'll all get along.

Mmmmmmmmm......breakfast burrito!

As Diane was deep into the shopping for fresh veggies, I had hunger pangs and headed out in search of breakfast. Bikes are not welcome inside the River Market (VERY bad policy!), so I ended up at Sonic on Broadway in Little Rock. The outdoor ordering and picnic table made for a convenient and comfortable setup as depicted in the photo above. I enjoyed a burrito, tots, and a cherry limeade while sitting in the shade watching the world go by.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Me and Alberto: CAUGHT OUT!!!

First, my story of getting caught out......

Sunday afternoon after our return from Heber Springs, I headed out for a little ride. I ran into friend Daryl Peeples on the NLR trail and headed over the Broadway Bridge to Little Rock. At Markham and Broadway, a few rain drops fell. I checked radar on the old Blackberry and it looked like we might get a sprinkle, so we headed toward the BDB. My mistake. By the time we got to Cathedral School, it was seriously raining and I turned tail for home. I hit a wall of water as I crossed the Broadway Bridge, so I ducked for cover at Dickey-Stephens Park, where the baseball game was in the rain delay mode. In five years, I've ridden in from bonks, breakdowns, crashes and injuries. I've only called Diane for a rescue once, twenty miles from home with debilitating cramps. This was the second time. No answer. I called back and forth from her cell phone to home as the rain intensified. When the lightening started bouncing around, I decided to make a run for it, as things were not getting better. As I rode through running water, I noticed several unusual things. With every pedal stroke, water squirted out of the vent holes in my shoes. I had a weird sensation around my hips, then realized that water was running down the small of my back into my bibs faster than it could run through the fabric.When the bibs could hold no more, water gushed out the legs in a sort of wave. Kind of like when you get in the creek in baggy shorts and the trapped air comes rolling out, only different. I also discovered that lightening could inspire me up the hill on JFK at speeds that I had thought unattainable.

Now, here's what happened to Alberto.....

Hell, you guys already know. There was a split in the last 35k of today's stage, which had shaped up to be a typically boring sprinters stage. The whole of Team Columbia-HTC was at the front, chasing the break-o-the-day on behalf of Mark Cavendish, when a turn into a crosswind allowed for a little split as Columbia went into echelon. George Hincapie and Mick Rogers put the hammer down and a group of 27 was soon motoring away from the peloton, which could never get really organized to chase. Cancellara and Armstrong made the break. Contador did not, nor did the Schlecks, Carlos Saste, Levi nor any of the other contenders for GC and this lapse in attention cost them 40 precious seconds.

Owe it to savvy, attention to detail or just plain luck (or a wisper in the ear from Hincapie, as was suggested in one commentary), Lance Armstrong is now in third place and the best placed among the front-runners. A very positive thing about this development for Lance is that he is now leading teammate Contador on the road and he did so on a sleeper stage without having to attack, risking ill-will, nor did he have to go to the front and work.

Mark Cavendish continues to kick ass in the sprints. He has his own style, along with Robbie McEwen's spunk and a Petacchi-like lead-out train. He's also very young and could be at the top of the game for many years. When asked last year if he was "the next Robbie McEwen", he responded smilingly, "No, I'm the first Mark Cavendish." And so he is.

This Tour is going to keep getting better and I expect more big surprises. A couple of years ago, I was afraid we were seeing the coming of a dark age for professional cycling, but this is as good as it gets. We have the return of a legend generating world-wide interest and cast of true contenders capable of driving this race in many directions.

Bring it on. I can't wait!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Breaking News! You Read It Here Second! All Bets Are Off.

from Cycling News:

Kazakh coup to oust Armstrong and Bruyneel from Team Astana?
Susan Westemeyer
July 3, 11:44,
July 3, 10:17

Are last drinks being called for Bruyneel and Astana?

Contador and Vinokourov in, Bruyneel and Armstrong out
The Kazakh Cycling Federation has announced plans to restructure Team Astana, removing Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong, and starting over with Kazakh and Spanish riders, based around Alberto Contador and Alexandre Vinokourov. The new structure should be in place by September, according to the French sports publication L'Equipe.

After recent problems with sponsors' money, faded out jerseys and Vinokourov's public statements regarding his return to cycling and the future of the Astana team, this comes as little surprise. If this development goes beyond the rumor stage, a big question will be whether Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong have the resources to obtain a Protour license and pull together a team to complete the season. My understanding is that the rider and equipment agreements are with Bruyneel's management entity, so if there is a split, who goes where? Trek and Nike, among others, will stick like glue to Lance Armstrong because that is where the value lies, particularly for the American market. That will be a scramble that will play out soon enough.


The question remains as to whether Lance Armstrong or Levi Leipheimer have the form to be top contenders but, if so, this rift could set the stage for a mighty contest. Both sides would be racing not only for a Tour win but, more than is usual, sponsor dollars and fan support. Will Johan lose control of Contador and his allies on the team? There is only one other Spaniard, Zubeldia, along with the Portugese, Paulinho, and one Kazakh rider who would probably join a Contador faction. Where the loyalties of riders like Kloden would fall is unclear to me, but I suspect that they would see a brighter future under Bruyneel than with Vinokourov and his proven-shaky partners. Right now, I really wish Chris Horner had made the cut!!

This is going to be wild. Hopefully, it WILL result in an epic confrontation and not turn out to be a contest among the also-rans. These guys are not the only teams looking for a win and other teams will obviously look for advantage over a split Astana.


Tom Boonen has just been cleared to race. Look for Boonen and Mark Cavendish to be going at it for every sprinters' stage and for the green jersey. American Tyler Farrar could also be in the mix as he's beaten Cavendish before, is confident and in top form. There are obvously other sprinters in the race, but Boonen and Cavendish are in a contest to be the top rooster in the yard. My money is on Cavendish.

Things may not turn out the way I want them to in this Tour, but it will damn sure be a wild ride!!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

One the Eve of the Tour. Who leads Astana?

The Tour de France 2009 starts Saturday with a 15.5k Individual Time Trial in the Principality of Monaco. This year's Tour promises to be full of drama and surprises as Lance Armstrong guarantees worldwide interest, even though most people close to the sport give him only an outside chance of winning. Team mate Alberto Contador is rightly the clear favorite, followed closely by 2008 Tour winner Carlos Sastre, Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans and Giro d'Italia winner Denis Menchov. Lance and Levi Leipheimer probably fall somewhere below those guys with oddsmakers, along with Andreas Kloden, Christian Vende Velde and others.

The big drama is supposed to be the intrateam competition between Armstrong and Contador.
Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong are master tacticians and strategists so I don't think they are going to allow a LeMond/ Hinault-like division of the team in which one faction is chasing down another based on nationalities and personal loyalties. I think it's more likely that Lance will play a role similar to that of Frank and Andy Schleck in last year's Tour, where, as genuine threats, they kept everybody occupied as Sastre rode away for the win. If Armstrong is competitive, he will attract attention with every move and the leaders don't dare let him make any kind of a big play, even with Contador as the favorite. On the other hand, if teams decide to focus on Contador and risk letting Lance get up the road, all bets are off. The big question is whether or not he is strong enough to be a true contender. The team is strong enough to let Leipheimer or Popovych go with Lance without leaving Contador isolated. As usual, the Tour will be decided in the mountains and it could take this year's summit finish on Ventoux in the penultimate stage to settle things.

Let's rock! This is going to be fun!!