Monday, October 20, 2014

The smell of cycling

I don't think that my olfactory sense is stronger than anyone else's. But my ability to dwell upon memories tied into certain smells borders on obsessive. While most everyone I know has fond memories about smells like suntan lotion, or the stale air in their grandmother's attic, the associations I have with smells encompass entire nations, and they are ones I think about often.

Consider the fact that in my mind, there's an absolutely definitive smell for the United States as a whole. It's one that's taken me a few years to figure out with the help of my wife, who was born and raised here. The United States smell is that of a highly air conditioned drug store or supermarket late at night during the summer. It's probably the humidity in the air, the cleaning solutions used in the store...I'm not sure. But it's a smell that, even after years of living here, stops me dead on my tracks and has an overwhelming visceral effect on me. It's one that my wife has to hear about often, much like Elaine did on Seinfeld, as her boyfriend became transfixed every time the Eagles' "Desperado" played on the radio. 

Many other smells, have the same effect on me, and I enjoy trying to figure out exactly what they are...since they are seldom as easy to figure out as "suntan lotion that my mom used to put on me during our summer trips to Virginia Beach." Chief among these is the smell of professional cycling. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not some seasoned veteran who has been to every Paris Roubaix since 1976, or anything like that. But due to the fact most of the races I've seen in person happen during the early spring or fall, I've come to equate a distinctive smell with professional cycling. It's one that I was only able to figure out last year after the end of the Amstel Gold Race. As it turns out, it's not actually one single smell, but a mix of two primary ingredients.

The first one is obvious enough. It's embrocation, likely a mix of the different brands used by different riders and teams. But the second part took me a bit longer to figure out.

After Amstel Gold, I was walking around the parking lot of a hotel where three teams were staying, and the mechanic's trucks were all doing loads of laundry for the riders. Hoses from the trucks went to nearby drains, emptying out the water/soap mixture from the machines. The smell was potent, and unmistakable. It was the second ingredient in the smell I've come to equate with pro cycling...likely either:

a) the European equivalent of Tide, a ubiquitous brand that everyone seems to use, or

b) some generic Costco-style brand of detergent that teams can buy in containers the size of tanker trucks to keep in their service courses

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what professional cycling smells like (at least to me). It's the smell of the freshly washed kit riders are wearing, along with whatever goop they've put on their legs before a cold day of racing.

Do any of you have similar associations with cycling-related things? I can tell you, for example, that mountain biking smells like banana peels to me, though I have yet to figure out why (probably a plant that grows around here in the woods). Bogota smells like wet concrete. Road riding in Colombia, to me, smells like small fires burning and corn on the cob (mazorca specifically) roasting.

Feel free to share in the comments section.


I'm no wordsmith, but I can tell you that the difference between singular and plural is important. For example, see the line below from this article in Cyclingnews (thanks to Christian for the heads up)

Speaking of general journalistic mishaps, Colombian journalist Yamid Amat recently interviewed Nairo Quintana on TV. When I was growing up, Amat was considered a giant in the sports world*. My brother and I listened to his nightly radio show often as we went to sleep. Today, watching his interview with Quintana, I felt ashamed on his behalf. While most of Colombia found the interview to be interesting because Quintana spoke very openly about the general lack of professionalism, support and knowledge that is commonplace in Colombian cycling, I concentrated on Amat. Obviously, he knows very little about cycling, which is not a crime. But how insanely insulting is it that he fails to see Quintana as a significant figure in the sport, and a real contender in grand tours, by continuously asking him if he's met ever met Contador, talked to him, or if Contador has talked to him?

Imagine if (in American terms) you get to be a quarterback in the NFL. You get to play in the Superbowl, and you win, and it's not a fluke. You then do an interview after the game, and you are asked the following questions by a local reporter, who seems as enthusiastic as a small child to hear your answers:

"Did Tom Brady say hello to you when you played him at the Superbowl? What's he like, did he say anything to you?"

The internet is littered with angry diatribes about how clueless broadcasters are...but in Colombia, this type of thing is so common (specifically being star-struck by proxy, when an actual star is in front of you) that I'm willing to say it's indicative of how many Colombians see themselves. So if you're into that sort of thing, Yamid, go ask Contador if Quintana has ever talked to him.

*Though Colombians older than me likely remember Amat as the man responsible for the now-infamous headline in the tabloid newspaper El Bogotano, where he declared that Bolivia (a landlocked country) had been hit by a tsunami.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Riding and training in Colombia

Today's post is just a quick note, to thank Cyclota, for sponsoring the blog. Cyclota offers bike tours throughout Colombia, ranging in length for both road and mountain bike customers.

You can ride the world's longest climb, go for a ride outside of Bogota, or do a multi-day tour to the coast during the winter time, allowing you to get away from the horrible snow and cold that most of us are now about to get. And if you're into training, more so than simply riding, remember that you can choose to do a tour at altitude. Bogota is at 8,300 feet, and even higher altitudes abound in the Andes.

If you are interested, please click on the banner to the right. If you want to read the interview I did with Cyclota, click here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A false sense of surprise and disbelief (and why mixing yogurt and peanuts is not a good idea)

I arrived to the finish line of Liege Bastogne Liege in 2012 with about a minute to spare before Maxim Iglinsky won. He rodeby me with his arms still up in the air. I took a bad picture of that moment, with a guy that looked a good bit like Spinal Tap's manager Ian Faith (minus the eyes that are looking in eight different directions) in the background. There was an odd silence in the area where I was standing after Iglinsky's win. One photographer finally spoke up, "I wonder how much he paid for the win", a reference to Astana's Alexander Vinokourov well-known shopping trip in Belgium just two years earlier.

Following the race, I walked around the team buses. Among other things, I saw a rider from Team Sky carefully put his bike into the nearly non-existent backseat of his Porsche, as two bikini-clad Kazakh fans looked for the Astana bus. Two kids tried to steal water bottles from bikes resting on the side of the Euskaltel bus, and were caught by team mechanics.

But the one thing I remember most about that afternoon is the general sense of indignation among many people that I talked to after the race. People who work in cycling in one way or another shrugged their shoulders when discussing the race and its winner, and not because of Vinokourov's earlier purchase of it. Rather, it was Iglinsky winning that made many uncomfortable. And while I'm open to the fact that maybe I was projecting my own feelings onto others, the conversations I had that afternoon are memorable.

Now, I'm not going to stretch the truth here, and tell you that I was there for some significant moment, like the much-talked about instance at the Tour de France, when the entire press room laughed in disbelief at the sight of Armstrong motoring up Luz Ardiden. No. But I was amazed by the general mood that Iglinsky's victory caused, and about the stories that it prompted people to start telling. Mind you, these were mere rumors, but everyone I talked to had one more story to add, with varying degrees of detail about Iglinsky and the veracity of what we had just seen. Since then, I have heard similar stories, some with an astounding amount of detail about different teams and riders, always from people who are very much involved in the sport, and sometimes with first-hand knowledge.

But what value do these stories have? They are, after all, gossip. But see, I bring all of this up because I'm always amazed by the disbelief expressed by some members of the press when stories like the Iglinsky positives (plural) break. As I see it, I'm probably below the last rung of people involved with cycling. I don't merely say this for the sake of vain self-deprecation, I assure you. I manage to make it to a race here and there, and see the seasoned veterans from the press, sponsors, and race organizations who are there day in and day out. Their world is different from mine. And so is the level and volume of information they hear. And while members of the press could never publish these rumors (of course), I find it hard to believe that if they've heard even a tenth of what I have (it's probably more likely that you should multiply the amount of stuff by ten, not divide it) that there would be any disbelief left in them for such matters as two positives within a team like Astana. Are they patronizingly putting on this act for the benefit of fans? Or are they really that surprised, despite the talk that surrounds them on a daily basis? Have they perhaps (unlike me) stopped listening to such talk altogether, as part of their sometimes-jaded look at the sport that they really are surprised? That could certainly be the case.

Then again, maybe some of them remain blind, ardent fans at heart. The kind that hopelessly fall in love every season, only to have their hearts broken just as often. It may seem unlikely, but why else would they keep coming back, and investing themselves in something so flawed, so imperfect, and so unpredictable, only to be "surprised"? Maybe they don't much care about such surprises, but just like fans, they shrug their shoulders and move on. After all, I guess that's how love works out for many people, isn't it?


I watched the Bpost Bank Trophy cyclocross race this weekend through a not-so-terrible internet feed. A few observations about the race and its broadcast, in no particular order.

1. Autumn feels like a reunion of sorts, where I get to spend time with Sporza broadcasters again for the first time since the spring. Part of this joy is relishing the moments where I can actually understand the broadcast (due in large part to context, of course), and picking up the English words and phrases that are used. "The Iceman" came up a few times, as did "cross fit". When in doubt, I build makeshift context around these words, and come up with my own interpretation.

For example: Zdeněk Štybar, due to his new goatee, has asked to now be referred to ask "The Iceman" by broadcasters. This, along with the fact that he took up cross-fit have led to his increase in form, which he hopes to take into the cross season.

I'm completely wrong about all of this, but my imagination can't help but go through these mental exercises to fill in the blanks.

2.  Did anyone else notice how the kit for the Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace team features patches of golden colored lycra that are surprisingly similar to those worn by the Bogota Humana-San Mateo-Solgar team, the ones that caused a huge international uproar?  Considering that Golden Palace is the company who paid $75,000 for William Shatner's kidney stone (along with several other publicity stunts), I'm surprised that no one at their European headquarters has seized this opportunity, and redesigned the Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace kit accordingly. Can you imagine the amount of press the team could get for shots of their riders with mud all over their junk?

3. Growing up in Colombia, there was a kid named Alejandro who lived on our block. His dad owned a bike shop, and he'd always have a cool new pedal cart or bike to show off. And as much as he liked to show off his toys, he also suffered from a problem, namely that he loved to gorge on peanuts and yogurt, two things that when mixed together would—for whatever reason—give him severe intestinal issues, that would lead him to poop his pants. If/when this would happen, his mother would call out to him from their house. "Alejandro why won't you get off your cart and come into the house? It's dark out! Oh no, did you eat yogurt and peanuts again? Are you ashamed to get off your cart?"

Of course he was. He had just defecated on himself, and instead of being seen in that condition, he would just sit in his little pedal car, stewing in his own feces in the small driveway in front of his family home.

Once his mom would eventually lure him inside the house, he would sit by his bedroom window, too sick play outside. He would look longingly at all of us playing in the street. It was a sad look, one that reminded me of the poster for Woody Allen's movie Interiors. It's a look I had not seen in for many, many years, until cameras at the Bpost Bank Trophy kept cutting to Niels Albert this weekend. Unable to race, Albert looked on with a deep sadness in his face. Like he couldn't go out and play.

And all I could think about while watching him was, "Uh oh, maybe he just mixed yogurt and peanuts."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

They had Coppi and Bartali...

While Europe had Coppi and Bartali, Colombia had Ramon Correa and Javier Suarez. They too were rivals. And while it's easy to dismiss this picture as little more than a common courtesy among competitors, it should be noted that the photographer who took it (Horacio Gil Ochoa) was and still is very well versed in cycling lore, Coppi in particular. 

Suarez (who is receiving the bottle) won the Vuelta a Colombia and the Clasico RCN. At 71 years old, the still rides regularly, and is not shy about his abilities. Asked by the Solo Ciclismo website who the best climber in Colombian history was, he answered, "I don't believe in false modesties, so I will tell you that the best climber that Colombia ever had was named Javier Suarez."

At any rate, this picture reminds me that I should mention the following: big changes are on their way for the blog, along with some interesting bits of content, including a small project with Horacio Gil Ochoa. Stay tuned, I think it will be to your liking. You see, I don't believe in false modesties either, and I believe that the best third rate blogger named Klaus, who writes about a topic that interests all of eight people worldwide

Lastly, I wanted to remind you that episode 100 of the Speed Metal Cycling podcast will be recorded and broadcast live this Sunday, October 12 at 3pm EST. Be there, or be thoroughly lame.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Because of it, not in spite of it

It's an issue I've addressed before, and one that continues to interest me. I'm referring to the effect that an athlete's place of birth and upbringing can have on him and his temperament. In the context of developing nations (I use that term rather reluctantly) like Colombia, much of the international press has consistently stated that it's in spite of these athlete's place of birth that they have flourished. While those of us who are from these countries strongly believe that it's because of it, that they have reached success. In a sense, both outlooks reduce the complexities of human life a good bit. But I, for one, continue to believe that there is something special about some areas of Colombia (as I'm sure there is in many other places around the world). Unique circumstances that shape the human intelect, and overtime create entire cultures ideally suited for particular pursuits.

The video below touches on those points, albeit in a lighthearted tone. If you want to know what an arepa is after watching this video, go here.

Oh, and remember, if you want to order some Cafe De Colombia water bottles, you can find out more here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Monday morning post, about a Friday morning

There's always been a great deal of controversy about Carlos Gardel's place of birth. The man who single-handedly came to represent tango music in the 1930s was perhaps born in Argentina, or maybe Uruguay, or (more than likely) France. No doubts exist about where he died though. On June 24th, 1935, Gardel's plane stopped in Medellin in route to Cali, to refuel. On takeoff, the plane crashed with another small airplane, killing Gardel and his entourage. From a young age, I knew about the singer's death, in particular because—as I've mentioned before—my mom found him to be dreamy, and wanted me to slick back my hair like him, and wear three-piece suits, even though I was six years old at the time.

Over the years, the Enrique Olaya Airport, where the crash took place, continued to serve the city of Medellin. Eventually, it became a regional airfield, after it couldn't handle the the amount of flights and passengers that the city required.

Not far from the site of Gardel's death, a plot of land had been set aside for an airport, which never took place. That land was eventually used to build a park called "Aeroparque Juan Pablo II", named after the Pope who flew into the airport in 1986 when visiting the city.

Today, that park (which locals usually refer to simply as "el Aeroparque") plays a crucial role in local and regional cycling. Go at almost any time of day, and you'll see cyclists doing laps around the 1.5 kilometer loop. Some are young, some old. There are mountain bikes, road bikes, and everything in between. Thursday mornings are when the professionals race (Rigoberto Uran, Carlos Betancur, Sergio Henao and many others are regulars), in what is referred to as a "chequeo", a training race. You can see Nate King's pictures of a typical Thursday morning here.

Every other day, huge groups do laps as early as 5am, sometimes numbering well in the hundreds. Afternoons are fairly busy too, sometimes with juniors who come test themselves after school, sprinting in every lap. Many belong to cycling academies that train there, and hold meetings in the grassy areas inside the training loop.

Here's a video taken with a phone of juniors (some as young as 12) doing laps on a Wednesday afternoon. The group was small due to thunderstorms that hit only minutes later. Forgive me for the non-existent production values.

On a windy, and horribly rainy Friday morning, I went to the Aeroparque. Despite the weather, it was still busy. Before 6am, as the sun was coming up, thirty or so riders did their fast laps. Ten more rode slowly on the outer perimeters of the road, staying out of the way of those looking to train at speed. On a usual Friday, it's not unusual to see 300+ riders there.

Dawn came, and riders began to head out. I asked if they'd had enough of the rain. They all told me the same thing. No. They weren't stopping because of the rain. It's just that they were already done with their one, two, or three hour ride for the day. I took pictures of a few of them, as they went home or off to work.

Just another Friday morning in Medellin.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Montreal, and the Cafe de Colombia water bottle

Before today's post, allow me to throw in a bit of crass commercialism your way. Here it goes:


Through the second part of the 1980s, Cafe De Colombia became one of the most beloved, recognizable and memorable teams in professional cycling. Their jersey's design (intended to show the three mountain ridges that the Andes splits into once in Colombia, as well as the sun) remains one of the most memorable pieces of kit designed during that time. To commemorate the team, their accomplishments, and the jersey's design, I came up with this water bottle, which is inspired by it. The bottle shows the dates when the team was active at the highest level in Europe, in the typeface that the team used. 

Design side note: The reason for this typeface being used, by the way, was because Colombian coffee growers and roasters had to stamp the burlap coffee sacks with the origin and quality of the beans inside. To do that, a stencil had to be used, one that would allow the counters of the letters to stay attached to the piece of cardboard that was usually used to help with inking the letters to the sacks. 

At any rate, this is what the bottles look like. They hold 22oz, and are BPA-free.

$10 for one, $18 for two.

$4 for up to two bottles within the US

$10 for one, $15 for two outside the US

Sorry, but international shipping rates, and the amount of forms to ship outside the US have gotten insane.

Send payment via Paypal here (cyclinginquisition - the at symbol here - 

Please make sure that your Paypal account has a current and correct mailing address attached to it, otherwise I won't know where to send your bottles.

I promise that soon, very soon, I will have a proper, and less crappy way for you to buy these things. For now, we're stuck doing it this way.

Oh, and remember that if you want a Cycling Inquisition jersey, you can still get one here.

 And now, today's post, which really should have been last week's post, but people thinking that Colombian cyclists looked naked got in the way of that happening. But really, all that was delayed was me telling you that I went to Montreal for a super-crit, where guys on bikes went around and around a loop seventeen times. So let me tell you a couple of my observations, followed by some of the pictures I took. 

- Chris Horner went out to Quiznos in the rain the night before the race, and got himself a sandwich, bag of chips and two large bottles of Coke. 

- US riders in the lobby of the hotel had opinions about this. My favorite being that Horner likes getting people to talk about his lack of care about diet, but that he clearly does care, a whole lot. Which begs the question, do they think that he went out in the rain, bought the sandwich, took it up to his room, and just threw it out to get people to talk?

- Janez Brajkovič looked like a large banana in his team-issue yellow puffy jacket the night before the race. 

- The amount of yawning at the start (by riders) was unprecedented.

- The teams didn't pack cold weather gear, and it was cold the morning of the race. Riders were in mesh shorts for summer, so they had to borrow jackets and gloves from mechanics and family to stay warm through the endless sign in process. 

- Photographers who have been at this for a long time, and have multiple cameras with very long phallic lenses get very pissy during races. I get it. It's their job, and that makes a race their office...but lord have mercy, they can be an irritable bunch.

- Based on the reaction that female Colombians got with their kit, I'll proceed delicately with my next point as to not offend all of humanity. I'll put it this way....there's a rider in Movistar who is packing a serious, frightening apparatus in the nether regions. You may ask me, "why were you looking in that direction", and I'll tell's like going out on a sunny summer day, and asking me why I felt the warmth in the air. There was no missing it. It was omnipresent. 

- 99% of this race was the slowest I have ever seen professional riders race. I wasn't alone in this sentiment. There's probably a correlation to the amount of yawning I saw at the start, and the speed of the first eight laps or so. Slow riding means you can hear riders talk about mundane subjects, like buying a new washer and dryer. It's the equivalent of you and me standing around, talking about our weekend before a meeting at work, and then having the meeting in slow motion.

- Rui Costa retains the Golden Peacock award, which I first mentioned after the Tour de France. The guy seems to love racing bikes, and all the pageantry that comes with it.

- Some (though perhaps not all) police officers in Montreal appear to be able to choose what type of pants they want to wear. This means an endless amount of camoufalge colors, as well as mustard velvet (!) pants. (Update: Commenter Guillaume explained why this is the case, you can read about it here.)

- Being at a race for a long time means you don't get to eat a whole lot. Luckily, circuit races have one set feed zone, and when that feed zone is behind barriers, and away from the hoi polloi, you are able to walk around calmly and pick up all the food that riders didn't want. Yes, I did this. With my stomach making noises that I didn't know could come out of a human being, the prospect of packaged food that was right in front of me (albeit on the street) was too much to pass up. I'm not only admitting to having done this, I'm telling you that I'll probably do it again.