Road Warriors – Tommy

May 1, 2010

Tom Simpson, a Brit, was the mentor to Eddie Merckx, the legendary God of Cycling and the most winning rider in the history of the sport. Tommy took the young Belgian racer in under his wing when the two were on the Peugeot-BP team, in the late ’60s. Tommy was a seasoned pro, and it was Eddie’s first year.

I’m only mentioning this because it illustrates the kind of rider, and the chapter in cycling history, that is Tom Simpson. He won the Tour of Flanders, the World Championship, was the Lion of England and the pride of Great Britain. And in the 1967 Tour de France, while climbing the barren and desolate slopes of Mt. Ventoux in 45c temperatures, he collapsed from his bike to die in the dust on the side of the road. His final words were, “Put me back on my bike. On, on, on.”

There’s so much more to be said about Tom Simpson. His story shouldn’t ever be relegated just to the fact that he, essentially, rode himself to death. There’s a lot more to it than even that, but for the purposes of this post, that’s the background I’m going to give on him. There’s a great biography on Simpson written by the UK Guardian’s William Fotheringham.

Now that we know who Tommy is, I can relate this story. I recently found a very cool company that produces very small runs of neat T-shirts related to cycling culture. One of their shirts commemorates Tom Simpson and I ordered one from their site, http://www.gagedesoto.com. The shirt has Tommy’s smiling face on it, and that mythic quote on the back, “On, On, On…”

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So I have a feeling that this shirt isn’t all that common. You’d have to be a pretty committed road cyclist, and have to have stumbled across the website, or read about them somewhere. I think I read that Mike, the owner of the company, was initially hand pressing the shirts. Might not be anymore, but that was the start.

Anyway, I had a neat experience related to the shirt and to Tom Simpson. Here’s a description of that in an email to Mike, the guy that creates this stuff.

From: Kevin R (krosm@hotmail.com)
Sent: September 17, 2009 9:59:23 AM
To: mike@gagedesoto.com
I def plan to stop by NYC Velo, so I’ll say hi for sure. I’m in town from Wed – Sun.

I just went to a wedding in this little place in British Columbia, the province next door to Alberta. The wedding went down in this cool little hippie beach town in wine country. All these rolling hills and awesome scenery. I brought a bike and did some riding while out there.

So, one day, I was kicking it in town at the only coffee shop there, getting a latte or whatever, and I see some dude wander in wearing your Tommy shirt. Like, in this little coffee shop in this little town of 300 people, on the shores of this gorgeous lake. So I immediately went over and talked to the guy. Kind of a weird thing, ’cause I don’t approach a lot of guys in coffee shops just randomly like that. But I did, and we chatted about cycling and about hardship on the bike and about all those things that an image of Tommy Simpson invokes in the committed rider. The mythology and the legends and how, even though we shouldn’t ever really compare ourselves to those guys, there’s still a fraternity and a connection to the heroes.

I’ll surely never ride myself to death, but I recognize that, on some of the most absolute epic rides I’ve been on, the feeling was that a little part of you gets left behind. At least until you hit a crossant and hot chocolate – then you’re gold again.

Anyway, it was a neat thing and I thought I’d share that with you – the guy had your shirt too and we had this cool connection about the sport and our love and commitment to it. In a small town coffee shop.

Cheers,

Kevin


Close to Armstrong, but even closer to Merckx.

March 30, 2009

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And here’s how that happened.

Lance is the guy with the tall socks, black shorts and helmet with yellow highlights, and the white rain cape. However, I’d like to call your attention to the dude in front of Lance, the guy with the shorts that say Merckx on them. That’s Eddy. ‘The Cannibal’ won a third of the races he ever entered. One third. In a sport as hard as professional road racing, that stat is remarkable. Eddy is the God of Cycling and the greatest racer that ever lived. He won everything there is to win, in many cases multiple times, and in most cases with true panache, grit, and tenacity. Any country in Europe, he’d likely get mobbed.

I took this pic at a Conquer Cancer ride that I did a couple of summers ago. The ride was led by Lance, Eddy, and Canada’s Steve Bauer; who is also a total legend as far as I’m concerned. It was a good time, a great ride, and an even better cause, and all the more remarkable for me because it ended up putting me face to face with Eddy Merckx himself, which is…well…for a bike racer a pretty cool thing.

There were 300 + people doing this ride and it was a mass start with everyone kicking off at the same time. Right away pretty much every guy out there tried to get as close as possible to Lance. Most of them probably didn’t know who Eddy or Bauer were, and most of them weren’t very familiar with riding in a bunch. Let me tell you, there were some pretty twitchy dudes in that group. I witnessed near absolute, total carnage on two separate occasions as one yahoo or another bounced around in that pack like cracked out kids at Christmas time, all hairy legged and knees akimbo as they braked, accelerated, braked, accelerated and swerved all over the place. To stay safe, Lance, Eddy and Bauer put the jam on in order to spread things out a bit and reduce the chances of someone taking them out. The logic is as follows – if you can keep up, you probably know what you’re doing, and the speed stretches out the pack so there’s less people rodeoing around. It was in this manner that the group got shot all to pieces. There were numbers of riders clustered together all up and down the road, a collection of triathlete gumbys trying to ride in their tri-bars, bearded weirdos in MEC gear, full on bike racers, dads just out for the ride, and everything in between. I had to work my way through the masses of people to get to the front, as I had lost contact with the speedier guys in the throngs of people during the massive roll out.

So I was jamming along, jumping from little group to little group, sitting in for a bit, then popping out to bridge up to the next cluster. Eventually I found myself settled into a functional bunch with a few other guys. I looked over and checked ’em out, ‘yep, they look pretty solid’, I thought to myself, ‘this will be a good group to stick with as we make our way to the front.’ I was also trying to spot Jordan and Bill, the two guys I was riding with, ’cause I’d lost track of them in the carnage. And so as I’m craning my neck around to see if I can spot them, I’m startled to realize that the guy right next to me in this group of 10-12 riders is fricken’ Steve Bauer himself.

That was pretty neat. I said hi to him, told him I’d gotten emotionally hooked on cycling when I was 11 years old, or so, and had seen him and Alexi Grewal of the USA battle it out for the Olympic Road Race gold medal at the 1984 Games. I was in Toronto, visiting my aunt, and I remember it well. Grewal nipped Bauer to take the win, unfortunately. That was the year that the whole US team was blood doping, before it was banned. Too bad. I didn’t mention any of that to Bauer, just sort of told him I’d followed his career since I was a kid. He was second in that Olympic road race, second in a photo-finish at the 1990 Paris-Roubaix, wore the Yellow Jersey for a week, was a Tour de France stage winner, and 4th overall in that race once as well. As far as cycling goes, Bauer had a brilliant career. And he’s Canadian. My comments might have been kind of cheesy, but seriously, what was I supposed to say? He was really cool about it and we talked about what he was doing now, and this and that. It was pretty neat to find yourself side by side, riding along with someone that you consider an icon and a bit of a hero. We were soft-pedaling, totally effortless, just cruising along at 40-42 kph, sucked along by the inertia of the group we were in. The sun was shining, I was nicely warmed up, and it was kind of magic.

The total distance in this particular ride was around 90km or so, but Lance and Bauer and Eddy peeled off after around 50, as they had did a similar ride the day before. Some guys went with them, but me and the fellas I was riding with kept zinging away. At that time there must’ve been maybe 7 or 8 of us, and I had found Bill and Jordan. We were all flying along in a great paceline we got working with a few other dudes, flying up the road in single file, each taking strong 30 second pulls before pulling off and settling into the back of the line to get a bit of a break before you found yourself lead guy and cutting the wind again. We were the first group to finish, in just under 3 hours or so, which is a pretty good pace for a 90+km ride. We really did push it. Bill and Jordan both used to race CAT 3s and those other fellas had some spunk in their legs.

After we finished, the guys disappeared to find their families in the crush of people at the staging area, and I was calling my mom, who was out there floating around somewhere too. I left her a message and found my way into the mess hall where I grabbed some food and a Coke, taking it outside to wait. I remember sitting on this bench at this picnic table. I felt wasted but euphoric, the same way you always feel after riding at your limit like that. I know that my eyes were bloodshot, that my face was streaked with grit and sweat, and that my hair was matted down from the helmet. I remember looking down at my feet, and seeing the stark line on my ankles from where I had peeled my socks off to put some sandals on. I remember seeing my legs and feeling good about the fitness that I saw in them, and noticing that they too were spattered in road grit. And as I was sitting there thinking all this, enjoying the sugar of this chilled Coke and kind of feeling like a ‘real’ cyclist, I look up and, no word of a lie, there’s Eddy Fucking Mercxk walking 3 feet by me. He’s showered and changed and also drinking a Coke. He has black hair shot through with grey, he is slim, around 60 years old now and still looks pretty intimidating and more than a little intense. Our eyes meet and he glances down at my bare, bone white feet which are incongruously attached there at the end of my mid-summer-tanned ankles. He looks at my legs, looks back up and makes eye contact again and then nods. This slight, acknowledging tilt of the head. I’m sort of in awe, but I slowly nod back and as I do there’s a ghost of a smile on the face of The God of Cycling as he continues on his way. I’ll remember that forever.

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Somewhere in Belgium on a Monday.

January 24, 2009

So Greg Reain is one of a few young Canadians following a dream by living and racing semi-pro in Belgium, hoping, maybe, one day, to step up to the big leagues of pro cycling and going to The Source to do that. Greg’s from Ottawa and posts some pretty cool stories and observations about living in The Belg.

Him being over and doing this, like my friend Per Strom, from Calgary, is the cultural equivilant of some Belgian jr. hockey player coming over here and playing with the Hitmen WHL hockey team. Belgium is cycling mad and I love this guy’s posts. I’m trying to sell a story about Per’s ambition to anyone that’ll give me $500 bucks for the words so I can hop over, sleep in a shed, wear my wool hat in the Euro rain for a week, and eat some dumplings. It would be as cool as hell all, even when I get absolutely shelled on the cobblestones of Flanders durnig some cakewalk training ride with some of these guys.

Belgium is cool. I’d kind of forgotten why I like this place so much. Cycling culture just seems to ooze from the muddy farmfields, it seeps up from the cracks between the concrete slabs of the roads and it permeates your soul like the everpresent fog permeates your clothing. If you are captivated by scenes of racers pounding over rough roads lined out across the road in a vain attempt to shelter from the wind then this is where you must be. Italy is fine, Italy is nice, Italy is for the soft. Belgium is for the hard. This is a country that seems to thrive on a perverse ethic of hard work and immense suffering. Perfect. I love it. The level of cycling conciousness in the general population is fantastic; it’s sort of like hockey in Canada – maybe everyone is not a fan, but everyone is aware of the sport to some degree. Cycle racing is appreciated as a sport and people recognize the amount of work that the athletes put into it. This translates into a high degree of respect from drivers when training on the road, and also a very knowledgeable community of fans. Witness the following conversation:

Belgian Volunteer- (something unintelligible in Flemish)

Me – “Sorry, I don’t speak Flemish”

BV – “Oh you must be Greg Reain then.”

Me – “What the???” I had literally been out of the change rooms for three minutes at Sint Niklaas after changing into my team kit, and since I had not even shown my face in Belgium yet this season I was a little freaked at how this guy knew who I was. I guess it had something to do with the Stevens clothing and the fact that English is clearly my native language. This is relatively normal here though; the fans make an effort to follow the sport, they know who is on what team and they have a pretty good idea (if not perfect knowledge) of a given riders’ results over the course of the season. Often they’ll remember stuff that you did in a race that you won’t even remember. Pretty cool.  

My heartrate jumps just reading that shit.


How to crash a road bike

January 20, 2009

A very funny post about misapplying tubular tires. From the excellent blog Bobke Strut:

My source for the repurposed glue was the local Napa auto parts store in Cooperstown, NY. I kept a piece of the cardboard box with the code number in my wallet so I could make sure I got the right stuff from the dizzying array of auto accessories in their stockroom. They never asked me what I was doing with all that trim adhesive. Maybe they thought I was some kind of car trim idiot savant, since I didn’t buy anything else from them at all. They likely new I was “Peter, that guy who races bikes”, but the question of my glue purchases never came up.

One early summer day, I think it was 1989, I went by the trusty Napa store to buy some Fast Tack only to discover their stock was depleted. However, there happened to be another 3M product by the name (I think…it’s been a while) simply “3M Trim Adhesive”. Trim adhesive is trim adhesive, right?

I should have been tipped off right away by the consistency, very close to toothpaste, not the uber-sticky nature of Fast Tack. But I was young and stupid. So I glued up that front wheel. And then I drove to Pittsfield, MA that weekend to race on said front wheel. And in no more than 2 laps of what should have been a 50 lap crit, that bad boy rolled off the rim like it wasn’t glued on at all. Because it wasn’t glued on at all. I was first through the 3rd turn, just beginning to contemplate the can of whupass I was about to unleash on these rubes, when I unceremoniously found myself powersliding across the pavement on my right side. Thankfully, I was the only guy that went down. And then I immediately fled the course, mere microseconds after burning huge swaths of flesh off my right leg and arm, and limped about 2 blocks off the course so I could hide out for a bit. I was not about to get suspended for being a dumbass, and I needed to remount my tire and deflate it so I could re-emerge at the ambulance and have a (kind of lame) excuse about flatting my front tire and then losing control. I still have scars on my leg from that horrific slide across asphalt, I still cringe when I re-live the medics wire brush treatment to raw flesh (I happened to slide through a patch of sand to boot), and I learned that the Fast Tack part of 3M Fast Tack Trim Adhesive is an element not to be trifled with.


Hell in a half minute.

October 5, 2006

I’m doing this ETS program for cycling development at the Talisman Centre. ETS stands for Endurance Training Systems, and the program involves measuring the athlete’s power output in watts through a special kind of stationary bike trainer. I signed up for it because it seemed like a pretty good way to stay motivated, keep pedalling through the winter, and make suer my recently repaired knee stayed strong. If I neglect it for too long, my poor left leg will start to atrophy away and I’ll be limping around again like I was 4 years ago, when I did the same thing to the right knee.

The first class involved doing an erg test, or ergonometer test. The point is to get your max wattage over a 3 minute time trial. You then rest for 12 minutes, and go ahead and do a 30 minute test.  Your coach crunches the numbers and you end up getting a personalized chart of your own specific training zones, form 1-4. Very scientific. You can know, 100%, exactly how hard you can go and still stay within your aerobic threshold. Very handy. Very grueling.

The time trials are hell. You start out in a gear that feels not too bad, feels powerful. You want to push yourself as hard as you can, so that your chart is accurate. The three minute one isnt bad as long as you don’t start out too hard, but the 30 minute one? You know after about 6 minutes if you’re gonna make it. If you go out too hard, you blow up, crack, and can’t finish. You end up unclipping, getting off the bike, and going for a walk. Or puking, which is pretty common.

For the last 2 minutes of the 30 second time trial, I was very, very tempted to shift my chain off the bike, or tip over, or anything so that I could stop. There’s no coasting, and absolutely no hiding. You just gotta keep going and it’s fucking hell, your body is in a type of shock. This type of training is as neurological as much as physical. You are teaching your system to suffer and how to cope with it, so next time you can take it just that margain further.

But never have I experienced such an eternity in someone counting down from ten. There’s just this white hot light behind your eyes and your heart pounding like hell in your ears as the guy calls out in slow motion…t-e-n……n-i-n-e…..e-i-g-h-t…..and everyone is just gritting their teeth and totally bloodshoot grinding out the last seconds. I felt like a astronaut, totally glued to the sound of this guys voice for that time-frame – it was like holding onto a white hot stove element, but the cool thing is I actually totally loved it, and I know for sure I wasnt the only person in the class that did. I can’t wait to do it again.


Nutella, a whole jar

October 1, 2006

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I ate nearly an entire jar of Nutella today. Stuff is like crack. I spread it out on these whole wheat tortilla shells, and then roll ’em on up with a banana in there, like uncut – just peeled and stuck on in the mileau. Dee-lic-ious. Sometimes when you eat these Nutanawraps, as I’m gonna call em, the banana tries to get away from your appetite by doing this rebellious poo out the back of the wrap thing. Then you gotta spin your Nutanawrap around and attack from the other side, to get the banana tamed back in there and all good and normal again. But its kinda funny, cause it can keep squirting out either side, so you’re spinning this thing around every two seconds and frantically stuffing it in your face like a fat kid with the last piece of cake. When I ride my bicycle in the chill, my body always craves sugar and fat like this. So when I got back in and peeled the clothes off, and brewed up some Oso Negro (which is Oso Good, by the way), I startred making and eating these wraps. And sure enough, I plowed through the entire jar. Man, it was kinda gross. All i feel is guilt and shame. Of course I’m totally kidding.


Ridin’ vs the Hummerscalades

September 30, 2006

So, I rode my road bike today. It was a good thing, as good a thing as it always is. I pedalled around and did some hills and did some sprints and did some more hills and hyperventilated and gasped and wheezed and was kinda cold, but I totally fricken’ loved it.

And as I rode, I looked around at all the ginormous people in their ginormous trucks and marveled how mopey and sullen they all seemed. Just sittin’ there. Sit all day at work, sit all evening at home, sit all weekend in a truck. Lots of times they get mad when you zing-zing-zing by them, and they roar up to you and glare and say stuff, and shake their heads like I’m a criminal cause I ran a redlight so I wouldnt have to jokey for position on the road, or breath toxicity for a block or two. Meh. I guess no one likes to pay over 60k for some Hummerscalade, and pour $100 a week in dead dinosaurs into it, and then have some lycra clad dude on a bicycle fly by while they are stuck in traffic, going nowhere, time ticking away, life seeping outta them like sand into the expired part of the hourglass, dying one grain at a time like we all are. Seems like a bit of a waste. I mean, it’d all be cool with me – your life – if they didnt look so grumpy all the time. Its wack to be that way.