are sometimes smooth and silky, and other times tired and tight.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Giromania hits the Mortirolo

Hard to believe that three weeks ago the Giro was below sea level. Since then, much has happened, and just as it's heating up, it's beginning to wind down. Only 3 more stages to go.

With a mere 42 seconds separating the top favorites of Evans and Basso (and they're not even in the lead) today's ascent of the lesser known (but trust me: hard as hell) Santa Cristina, followed by the gruesomely grueling Mortirolo... well, it's going to be fun to watch.

To whet your appetites, here's some views, taken two years ago, when I was in the area for the Gran Fondo Marco Pantani.

Before ascending the Mortirolo, the peloton will pass through scenic downtown Mazzo di Valtellina.

The fun begins.

Before the hard part begins.

Not a climb for people with vertigo.

Close to the Pantani monument.

The monument.

After the monument the road 'flattens' to a mere 9-10%, then the trees clear.

At last, after 1300 Meters of climbing, they hit the top.

Enjoy the view.

Then begin the descent down to Edolo.

From there they make the final push, uphill, to the finish in Aprica.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Scenes from Sloten (Elite Districtskampioenschap Noord Holland)

Riders ready.

Thomas the Taxi takes a look.

de Haan

Wily vets relax.

Wise men nap.

Others scratch.

Andre soaks it in.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Commercial Appeal (Coffee and Bad Ideas)

It doesn't get much more Dutch than this.

Glamorous location with unglamorous people. √.

Blond woman, with big sunglasses, and a voice deeper than mine. √.

Man in need of haircut with Don Johnson stubble, whose idea of a conversation is "huh?" √.

Coffee with cookie on the side. √.

Now, the trick is: can you spot the cyclist?

Monday, May 17, 2010

R v S (Bone Crushing and Head Shaking)

photo courtesy of Veeteetje

I wake up, and shake my head. No pain. A good sign.

It’s the morning after the night before. A night spent at a party inside Castle Loevestein, the former prison of Hugo de Groot. As tales were told of de Groot’s famous escape out of the prison, I prepared myself for the following day like a bike racer should: keeping myself hydrated with one too many glasses of wine; carbo loading via repeated visits to the desert buffet; and a little bit of stretching on the dance floor.

Ideal preparation for a bike race. Sure. OK. Maybe not. To overcompensate for the previous evenings indiscretions, I mull over the idea of using my aero wheels. I’m reluctant because there’s a rough stretch of bumps on the course. Rough enough that I’ve broken a few spokes on it last year. I throw caution to the wind, and go for the 50cms of placebo. Whoosh whoosh whoosh.

When I arrive at the course, I see the Flying Doctor. He raced earlier, with the Masters. Wondering what I missed, I ask him how it went. Sprint finish. OK. I didn’t miss anything. After watching the 50+ race pass by for a few laps, I head into the clubhouse to collect my number. The WegKapitein enters, and announces with a big smile on his face, that there’s no entry fee today, as he goes over to the clubhouse TV to change the channel from F1 to the Giro. It’s almost as good as it gets.

Other riders filter in, while the WK and I chat. The rider, who the KMII rode away with a few weeks earlier, and as I later learned a few months earlier, comes over and says hello. I extend my hand, and he responds with a firm handshake. So firm that my knuckles hurt. Bonecrusher asks us what our plans are for the day. Seeing as the KMII isn’t here it’s a simple plan: attack.

Once the 50+ race is over we mount our bikes and go for a warm up lap. It’s a little windy, but nothing too severe. Most importantly, my legs feel OK. I think.

I pull up to the line, and wait for the festivities to begin. I make small talk with some club mates, who've just finished the 50+ race. One of them asks me if my wheels are new. I shake my head, and say “placebo.”

Hans, the former director of the club that organizes the day, tells us what the race involves. I’m not listening. I’m looking at a sticker on the stem of young Ozzie's bike. Printed on it are four letters: HTFU. I laugh. He says it helps. And with that, we’re sent on our way.

Normally I like to jump away from the peloton immediately. An old habit picked up from many an American crit. Today, someone else beats me to it. I chase after him. It takes a little longer than expected. My legs aren’t as fresh as I’d hoped. Maybe I should have avoided the dance floor last night? Too late now.

I sit on his wheel. No use in killing myself this early in the race. I look back, and see a few riders bridging to us, while the peloton appears content to let us dangle. The reinforcements arrive, and Bonecrusher is in the lead. He rides past us, and I dig to jump on. We’re a group of 4, or is it 6? I’m hurting so bad that I’m hanging in the back, and when I do go the front, I can only maintain the pace for a few strokes of the pedal. Not good.

Several laps pass, we’re still away, and I’m still struggling. I notice out of the corner of my eye that several other riders have joined us. Behind me, I hear a familiar voice shouting “ride!”

It’s the WK.

I drift back, and see that we have what looks like a good group. It’s early, but maybe this can stick. Another lap or two passes, and I look over my shoulder and discover that I was being overly optimistic. We’re caught.

Riders swarm past, and I find myself in the belly of the peloton. I take a sip of water, and hope that my legs loosen up. They usually do. They usually do. They usually do. I repeat the thought to myself.

I look up the road, and see that I’m too far back. Focus. I need to focus. I move up, on the right side of the road. It’s not that difficult. Eventually I find myself behind Bonecrusher. OK. Good. Then I hear a familiar snapping sound, followed by a tick, tick, tick. I don’t even have to look to know that I’ve broken a rear spoke. So much for placebos.

I raise my hand, and wave the peloton past. Stopping once the last man ride by, to shove the broken spoke into some spokes to prevent it from hitting my seat stay, then ride to the start/finish. I don’t have an extra wheel. My race is done. I pull in, and a few club mates, the 50+ gang, see what’s wrong. One of them, the Pirate, offers to give me his wheel.

I jump over the fence, back on to the course. A woman who’s watching tells me to watch out, because I almost knocked over her beer. In gentler terms than I really wanted to use, I remind her that there’s a bike race going on. An official is asking for my number, while someone tells him about my mechanical.

I’m getting nervous. I need to be ready before the field returns. The Pirate hands over the wheel, and another club mate gently tells me to keep calm as he helps me get it in. I look back, and see the peloton approaching. I clip in, and slowly start rolling.

The field passes. I jump in, and settle for a place somewhere near the front of the middle. I look up the road, and see that there are a few riders off the front. One of them is the WK. I move towards the front, and prepare to cover if need be.

After a few laps, the break is reeled back. There’s a brief lull in the hostilities, until another attack is launched. It’s Bonecrusher, on a solo flyer. Another rider, in orange, reacts. I think I know who he is, but I’m not sure. If he is who I think he is, then he’s not bad. I’m close enough to join, but I’m as boxed in as Hugo de Groot was when he made his escape from Castle Loevestein.

The WK shouts at me, telling me to go. I know that he’s right, but what can I do? Somehow, I manage to find an opening, and jump. Shifting into a bigger gear I claw my way to the twosome ahead. It hurts, but I’m closing in. I manage to make it across, and sit on for a minute to catch my breath.

My legs are feeling better than earlier. Or maybe the front wheel placebo is helping, I don’t know. I join the three-man rotation. After a pull, maybe two, I see that we have company. Two more riders. One big, one small, both strong.

Our party of five settles in, and pulls ahead of the chasing field.

The collaboration is remarkably good. Bonecrusher is clearly our motor, taking long hard pulls in the wind. Big and Small have no problems holding and setting the pace. The rider in orange is slowing things down. I find myself riding past him, as soon as we hit the wind.

A prime is announced, and I hope that my companions have their priorities straight. As we approach the line, and the pace line remains intact, I see that they do. Class.

Unaware of the time gap, we rely on the occasional look over our shoulder. I choose to remain ignorant. If we’re caught, we’re caught, and if we’re caught, I’m probably done for the day.

After a while Orange stops taking pulls. I’m not thrilled about it, but I keep focused on the road ahead. We settle into a strong, and reasonably fluid pace. The occasional surge, the occasional moment of quiet.

We pass by the start/finish and hear that we’re 35 seconds ahead of the chasing peloton. Not quite as far as I hoped, but still something.

We carry on. I take my pull, and drift to the right, as we sweep through a left turn. Bonecrusher takes over, followed by Big and Small. Suddenly, from the left side of the road, out the grass I see a tan, or was it white, blur darting across the road. I shout, just as I hear a whack, followed by flying fur coming out of Bonecrusher’s rear wheel. I’m pretty sure Small ran over it as well. Was it a dog, or a cat? I don’t know. I look behind, and see something lying on the road.

Somehow everyone stays upright. Heart pounding, I ride up to Bonecrusher, and say “not a pretty sight.” We freewheel for a moment, so the rest can regroup. Seeing spectators alongside the road, we shout, telling them about what just happened.

A lap later we pass the scene of the flying fur, and there’s no dog or cat to be found. Just a few parachute balls on the side of the road.

It doesn’t take long to return to the swing of things. We hear that our gap of 35 seconds remains intact, as another prime is announced. Once again we ignore it. Everyone takes his turn in the wind. Well, everyone apart from Orange. I drop back at one point to motion him forward, but it’s of little use.

I find myself wondering why Small is wearing winter booties on a dry, reasonably warm day. I find myself wishing he was wearing a pair of bibs, instead of the shorts that leave a patch of his back exposed. I admire the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of Big’s aero wheels. I note how effortlessly Bonecrusher is churning away in the wind, and remind myself that he’s the man to watch at the end.

Bonecrusher, Big, Small, Orange… all sneak peeks over their shoulder. I just look ahead. Perhaps that’s why I’m surprised that out of nowhere we have a new companion. He arrives just before yet another prime, and in the confusion there’s a sprint for it this time. Have I completely lost track of time, is this the finish sprint? I jump, but it’s pointless, they’re 10-120 meters ahead.

The line is crossed, and everyone eases. It’s back to business. Good. It was only a prime. Still, I’m a little irritated by the sudden desire to sprint for one, so I sit in, and passively protest by skipping a few pulls. I later discover that it was to keep Orange from poaching the prime. Fair enough.

The next time we cross the line, I hear that we’re still at 35 seconds, and I see that there’s 8 laps to go. I put a little extra effort into my next pull. Better safe than sorry.

Laps are completed, we’re closing towards the finish, and we continue to work well together. Bonecrusher, Big, Small, the FNG, and myself. Orange is nowhere to be seen. I don’t bother looking.

I start thinking about the finish. I have to play it smart. I’m fairly certain that Small won’t be a problem. He’s strong. Very strong. But he also seems a little inexperienced. Big, I’m not sure about. He’s done more than his fair share of work, but he looks more like a diesel than a sprinter. The FNG I really have no idea about. He’s a skinny kid, with pasty legs, but he did manage to bridge up to us, and is probably the freshest of the lot. I‘ve seen Bonecrusher on the podium twice this year, so he’s the logical guy to cover. As I contemplate the various scenarios that may pass, Orange reappears. Is he playing us, or is he having a bad day? I don’t know. I doubt I’m the only one who’s ready to pounce on him if he sprints.

Three laps to go.

The split is called out, but I can’t quite make it out: 55, or 15 seconds? I ask. Big tells me 50. Apart from Orange, we all continue to take our pulls.

Two laps to go.

The pace eases. We start looking at one another. I wonder if this is a bit premature, but go along with it, choosing to skip a few pulls.

Bonecrusher accelerates on the hill, but it proves to be nothing more than a probing attack.

One lap to go.

There’s an attack. It’s Big. Bonecrusher covers him immediately. Small closes the gap to the two, and I latch on. He does sterling work, and brings them back.

The pace drops briefly, then picks up again.

Bonecrusher jumps, but he’s pulled back. I find my way to his wheel. We climb the hill, and it’s 500 meters to go. I‘d rather be 3rd man than 2nd, but this is where I am.

I ease, and look out of the corner of my eye. The FNG jumps, and Bonecrusher lets him get a gap.

I make a decision to go with him, and hope the surprise is enough to do the job. I close the gap, and sit.

We have a gap. I think.

We hit the last turn, and the FNG’s pace is dropping.

There’s still 300 meters to go, but the time is now.

I jump, and sprint as hard as I can.

250 to go.

I’m clear, although I know it’s not going to last for long.

200 to go.

I’m still clear, but I see a wheel on my left.

150 to go.

Big, followed by Bonecrusher passes.

100 to go.

Small passes me.

50 to go.

I shake my head. This time it hurts.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ronde van Sloten (prologue)

You make plans, set goals, and hope to achieve them. It’s logical. They help give you focus, direction, and and structure. In theory, it’s a good thing. I guess. For various reasons, I haven’t had any over the past few seasons. Perhaps it was an unconscious decision to be a dilettante. Perhaps it’s because I’m indecisive?

This year things are different. Slightly. One of my first goals was to be in good form for the Vikingtour, a ‘classics’ style race in the North of Holland. My goal was plan was simple: get myself into enough form so I could help launch a teammate to success.

A business trip to Spain, and a certain volcano in Iceland, interfered with that plan. C’est la vie. Fortunately I was able to make up for it a few weeks later.

Since then, things have been more ad hoc. Still riding. Still racing. Having fun. No direction. Sort of. Kind of. Unless you count this weekend’s Ronde van Sloten.

Initially I signed myself in for both the Masters and the Amateur Bs race. I figured I’d try and do what I had done a few months earlier: ride my race with the Masters and try and help with the Bs.

There were only two problems: a strange rule by the KNWU that forbids doing two races in one day (really?); and the fact that I was attending a friend’s 50th birthday party the evening before.

Knowing the friend whose birthday it was, and the friends who were giving me a lift to the party, as well as taking into account that rules are rules, I had to reassess my plans. I could only do one race. So, a decision was made.

Seeing as the Masters race was at 11:30, and the Bs was at 3PM, it was an easy choice to make.

To be continued…

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Commercial Appeal (Vision)

Tacos, snacks, beer, Coke, cars, energy, newspapers...

I thought I'd seen it all.

Apparently not.

I guess I need better glasses. Hmmm... which ones should I get?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Arrivederci, Mokum

Arriverderci, Mokum
Goodbye, goodbye to Mokum
City of a million skunk lit faces
City of a million warm embraces
Where I found the one of 198 faces
Far from home

Arriverderci, Mokum
It's time for us to part
Save the lap bells for my returning
Keep my shaven legs stretched and turning
Please be sure the flame of pain keeps burning
In your legs

Arriverderci, Mokum
It's time for us to part

Save the lap bells for my returning
Keep my shaven legs stretched and turning
Please be sure the flame of pain keeps burning
In your legs

Zuidas (Giro d'Italia, Stage 3 start)

I woke up on Monday morning, and hit the snooze on the alarm. Again, and again, and again. I was tired. Too many hours spent on the bike, and too many hours spent watching the real deal has it's consequences. I decided to skip the start of the 3rd and last stage of the Giro in Amsterdam. I had more than enough photos, and really... what was there to see?

Then I received an SMS from a friend, on his way to work, expressing his jealousy that I had the chance to see one more day of the Giro. I thought about it, and realized he had a point. I also remembered that I was thinking about picking up some souvenirs for my nephews and niece.

OK. Up. Out of bed. On the bike. Off to catch the start.

Today's stage began out of the center, in a generic business district called Zuidas.

It lacks the charm of Museumplein, but I doubt that the city center could handle being closed down for another day.

After the circus of Saturday, and the spectacle of Sunday, Monday seemed quiet.

Initially the police made up most of the crowd.

The sponsors stands didn't have many visitors.

I guess all eyes were once again on Yolanthe.

I worked my way along the barriers, and found a nice spot.

Right behind my friend from yesterday.

And nearby the VIP zone.

While Yolanthe was entertaining the crowd, Girbecco and friends passed by.

Followed by a Baldato.

And a Big Sean.

Then the riders started to appear for the sign in.

Thomas Voeckler, early again.

A bashful looking Ted King.

The man who became a cyclist thanks to Kevin Costner.

BMC in full effect.

The Piccolo Principe, looking more like Beavis.

A determined looking Vino. Or maybe that's a relaxed looking Vino?

Pippo, received the gaze of an admirer.

Chris received a few inquisitive gazes.

Stefano Garzelli just gazed.

While Gilberto Simoni seemed to be enjoying himself, as he whistled by.

The riders came, and went.

Some spoke with the MCs on stage, like Tyler Farrar.

Some stopped to sign autographs, like Carlos Sastre.

Some stopped to do a quick interview, like David Millar.

Some stopped, and perhaps found themselves lost in thought, despite the cheers of fans, like Ivan Basso.

Some rode past, and chatted, like Robbie McEwen.

Some actually stopped, and chatted, like Marco Pinotti.

Some chatted amongst themselves, like compatriots Svien Tuft and Michael Barry.

Eventually the signal was given that it was time to depart for Middelburg.

And off they went.

Leaving Amsterdam behind them.