Monday, November 10, 2014

Alps & Andes


Cycling Inquisition has moved, and also has a new name. The new site is here, and it contains all the posts from Cycling Inquisition.

If you want to read a little about the change, go here.

See you there.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Endurance in life and in sport
. An interview with Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown

Photo: Pittsburgh Steelers/Karl Roser

I walk into the Steelers’ weight room, and I look for Antonio Brown among the mass of players. Brown, who has proven himself to be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL this season, and is an integral part of the Steelers' offense, is nowhere to be found. Suddenly, he comes up behind me and passes me by. On his bike. Fully kitted up, and smiling broadly. “Come on!” he says, waving me on as he makes his way to the team's practice field. His friendly demeanor and enthusiasm are obvious, even as a few teammates make passing remarks about his clipless pedals and cycling jersey.

The moment we get to the practice field, Brown turns to me, smiles, and asks,  “wanna' to see me pop a wheelie?” I tell him that I absolutely do. And with that, Brown begins to ride his bike in circles as he pops a wheelie, and laughs like a kid that is riding his bike for the first time.

Hey may very well be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, but it's also clear that Antonio Brown is a cyclist.

 

What was your first bike like growing up?

I remember it well. My mom took me to get my first bike in Toys R’ Us, and it was a pretty nice bike. It was a BMX one, it had the pegs on it. It was a Mongoose, I remember that. It was a cool bike, I was eleven years old, and I learned to ride it right away.

When did you begin riding a bike again as an adult?

I started to incorporate riding a bike into my workout regimen last year. For me, it was first about keeping the legs strong, working on the muscles around my knees. So I was able to buy a couple of bikes with the clipless pedals, which really help add to my leg workouts and my training.

Antonio Brown billboard (Courtesy Bike Pittsburgh)

Was cycling something that was suggested to you by a trainer within the team?

It was just something I thought about in the off-season, something to give me a boost in my training. Right when the season ends, you don’t want to just hit the weights and bang yourself up early on. So I was looking for something that was low impact, but would keep my legs strong and also give me good cardio. So riding a bike is just perfect for me.

You ride a road bike, but you have a mountain bike as well.

Yeah, I like both. It depends on the scenery. Here in Pittsburgh we have a lot of hills, but we also have a lot of mountain bike trails, so I have a bike for that. So I get to have the best of both worlds.
 



How often do you ride, and what days of the week do you normally ride, since your schedule is so set due to games and practices?

I try to go out a couple of times a week. Saturdays and Mondays are my big days to ride, it allows me to flush out my legs, and get them warmed back up after a long weekend. I think it gives me a good little spark when I come back to practice.

Does cycling do anything else for you mentally that you were unable to find in other forms of physical activity?

It gives me a chance go out and challenge myself, but also it’s a chance to free myself, to be out there riding. It gives me time to think, to contemplate things, while working hard at something. To me, that’s really unique. It’s especially fun when you’re riding in a group, accomplishing tasks along the way, and working hard together. It’s also fun when I ride around the neighborhood with my kids, so it’s always fun and special to be out there riding in any way you can. 


So you ride during the season as well?

Yeah, of course. It’s nice to get out, get the legs going, and work up a sweat.


Do you follow professional cycling at all?

Yeah, to me it’s amazing how they ride a bike for that long, and how they’re able to endure such pain. It’s great to see their abilities, and also the mentality it takes to go through that pain.

In cycling, the pain is drawn out and very much line with other endurance sports. But do you see a relationship between that kind of pain, and the kind that is common within football?
Definitely. You have to have endurance in life, and in any kind of sport. So it’s pain. When you ride a bike, you’re challenging yourself. Your legs start to burn, your heart’s going. When you ride in groups, you have to work to keep up. There’s that constant repetition of struggling to keep up, and there’s a real discipline there too, which is really something that can help you in other aspects of life.

Brown riding to work
Do any of your teammates ride?

Troy [Polamalu, seven-time Pro-Bowler] has a bike, but I haven’t gone out riding with him yet.

What do your teammates make of you riding, especially on a day like today when you’re all kitted up?

They like it. I mean, they support anything that helps someone better themselves as individuals, but also anything that is good for thenteam collectively.

Do you have any goals in regards to cycling that you hope to accomplish?

Longer distances. I hope to increase my distances as I ride more and more and improve. You have to keep challenging yourself.




Sunday, November 2, 2014

Eating Belgian sand


As the Superprestige Zonhoven is contested today in Belgium, let's just take a moment to collectively remember how my superb bike-handling skills fared when I took on that course a couple of years ago. But let's also try to collectively forget how much sand went into my mouth, and just how much nearby workers who were putting up sponsor banners laughed at me. I'll be in Belgium again soon, all in an attempt to get even with the entire country. Never forget.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Colombia in style. An interview with Equipo bike tours.



If the emails in my inbox, and the keywords that people use to get to the blog are any indication, there are many people out there who are interested in riding in Colombia, but aren't really sure how to go about it. In the past, I've interviewed Nate King, who has spent two winters living and riding in Colombia, along with others who have made a permanent move there, in order to gather more information on the topic.

For many, however, moving to Colombia to ride is simply not realistic. That's where companies like Equipo come in. The Boulder-based company offers bike tours in Italy and Colorado, but largely focuses on Colombia. I decided to ask them some questions, in hopes of giving readers more information about riding in Colombia, especially as the winter draws near, and snow is sure to start falling soon enough in the places where many of us live. Thanks to Equipo for their time.

Full disclosure: Equipo is now an advertiser on the blog, but this interview predates that arrangement. I have never produced "sponsored content" and never plan to.



How did the idea of doing cycling tours, especially in Colombia, come about?
We've lived in Colombia for years, and cycling is an integral part of our lives. Cycling is embraced as a national sport, and along with its long history of producing great climbers, the climate allows us to enjoy cycling year-round.  We discovered an endless supply of cycling routes, and being surrounded by Colombia's natural beauty inspired us to share our own experience with others. We started by having cycling tours informally with our friends, and word quickly spread that we had created the ultimate cycling experience in an amazing destination, Colombia. That’s when we decided to launch Equipo.



In your opinion, why is Colombia an ideal cycling destination for your customers? How does it compare to Europe, where most people go for these kinds of trips?
Cycling is mainstream in Europe. It’s also where the media pays attention.

Colombia has an astonishing diversity to explore: modern cities, Amazon jungles, Caribbean beaches, archeological ruins, a cornucopia of the world's best coffee plantations – and this region is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Colombia is the second most biologically diverse country on Earth. The tropical mountain landscapes are very unique.

There is a dream-like quality to Colombia, which the famed writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote about here. Life at the equator, the sun shines year-round and the warmth of the locals offers a change of pace for cyclists. 





Have you found any hesitation or apprehension from customers or interested parties in Colombia, due to the image many have of it?
Yes, and we address it. Colombia has evolved from its past history, but that news hasn't reached everyone yet. Over the past decade, there has been a significant growth in Colombia's tourism and overall, it has transformed to be one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America. The government has invested significantly in: infrastructure, public safety and security, the economy and eco-tourism.

In fact, there has been a surge in hotel development and direct flights to Colombia due to the dramatic rise in UK visitors. Colombia is only about a 3-hour flight from Miami. It comes down to awareness, and we are helping to get the word out by featuring cycling tours in Colombia, by writing about it, and by sharing our cycling stories.

On the flip side, we also see a natural curiosity of where these professional Colombian riders come from.



What type of accommodations, transportation or other services can people expect during a trip to Colombia with a company like yours?
Equipo offers a luxury cycling experience and we select top accommodations in each of the 3 regions we visit: Quindío, Antioquia and Valle. We have relationships with boutique hotels, and these meet international standards for comfort, quality and service. We also partner with exclusive residences that are not open to the public, for customers who request a custom-designed, private tour. 

Our team (equipo means "team" in Spanish), includes pro cycling mechanics and drivers who currently work with professional teams, a pro chef who makes exquisite Colombian meals for U.S. dignitaries when they travel to Colombia, and pro cyclist guides on their "off" racing season. We work within this pro network, because the team, as a whole, is the best at what they do.

Each cyclist receives a gift basket with two full Equipo cycling kits (by a top Colombian brand, Safetti), along with socks, t-shirt, poncho and cycling cap. We also include daily massages, a 6:1 SAG car ratio, daily laundry, all the meals (including snacks and hydration by Skratch Labs), airport pickup and transfer, bike assembly, excursions, and other things if a cyclist needs it: tubes, tubulars, chains, brake pads, cables.

In fact, if we receive a booking with at least 90 days notice, we will also customize the cycling kits with your national flag on the arm band, and your name.  My kit has the American flag and Rene's has the Colombian flag. It's this attention to detail that sets us apart. Our vision is to continue to build a loyal base of Equipo clients who keep coming back.

Also, as safety is our top priority, we depart from our hotel or if we are staying in the city limits, we navigate around traffic zones by boarding our minibus for a short ride. Finally, we support cyclists who are seeking to challenge themselves. If Alto de Letras is on the menu, a cyclist simply cannot carry enough water bottles to do this 60+ mile monster climb. If at any moment the cyclist either needs food or water or simply needs encouragement to shift gears, we're by their side and tuned in to their needs.



What advice would you give to cyclists looking to visit Colombia?
Colombia is a destination not to be missed. It's no surprise pro cyclists from all over the world come here to train year-round for the altitude, great food, beautiful scenery and warm welcome. By joining an Equipo tour in Colombia, we take care of everything, and we have all the bases covered. We advise being prepared to ride in the mountains at high altitudes, in a variety of temperatures and to train for whatever goals they are aiming for.  We share our insights from having lived there and knowing the lay of the land. We’re also able to help cyclists tune their training program in advance.



What do you hope to accomplish with Equipo, and where would you like to see the company in one year, or five?
Equipo is on your side, focused on delivering authentic, challenging and utterly unforgettable days and that’s our signature. We are raising the bar by delivering on this statement.

Colombia stands out as a destination to go anytime, but in different seasons we also feature tours in Italy and Colorado. We recently opened a cycling showroom in Boulder, Colorado, where we are based, and there are many amazing routes nearby including Flagstaff, Peak to Peak, and all the way to the high country by the Maroon Bells and Independence Pass near Snowmass and Aspen.

We have big plans for next year. We had great positive feedback from our customers when we were joined by Santiago Botero on a tour in Quindio, including Alto de Letras. Next year, we are working with the Colombian Pro Cycling team to feature their top riders. We’re also giving back by creating more awareness of development teams rising from Colombia. We’d like to thank sponsors who joined us in creating 37 cycling kits for the Urrao Youth Cycling program. This is the hometown from where Rigoberto Uran is from. We are crafting more ways to help the next wave of cyclists coming out of Colombia and getting behind important causes like this.

Our future is to grow our community of cyclists, our customers, who share in the notion that cycling is a great lifestyle choice. If you haven’t yet traveled with your bike to someplace new, now is the time to seize that opportunity.


Equipo's website
Equipo on Facebook
Equipo on Twitter
Equipo on Instagram 



________________________________________________________
Marginalia

After spending time with Team Colombia riders at the Pro Cycling Challenge in 2012, it became clear that their salaries had not been paid in months. Once the race ended, I emailed a few of them, to see if they'd be willing to talk about the matter. None replied, and thus the issue was largely kept under wraps. How things change. Today, riders are once again faced with the same issue, but have chosen to speak out on the matter through Twitter.

"All of us have people at home counting on us, I think we at the very least deserve an explanation"
"I think we deserve at least an explanation as to why we haven't been paid"
"There are many people in our family being hurt by these delays, bills don't wait to be paid"
(Tweets collected by La Ruta Del Escarabajo)


So what's happening? As with so many things in Colombia, the explanation is often lengthy and cloudy. Riders were first unhappy with the team. The team said that the funds had not been sent by the Colombian sports federation, which in part accounted for them not asking for a license renewal for next season. La Ruta Del Escarabajo reports that the Colombian sports federation (Coldeportes) gets its funds from the Ministerio de Hacienda (Ministry of Finance and Public Credit), and Coldeportes says that the budgeted amount they were supposed to get from them still hasn't come. This leaves the riders with no other hope than to plead on Twitter, or maybe take legal action against the Colombian government (very unlikely) which more or less employs them.

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.


________________________________________________________
Marginalia

1.
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)



2. 
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.
 



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?


_________________________________________________________________
Marginalia

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 is....me.

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.