Showing posts with label bicycle racing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bicycle racing. Show all posts

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Descent: My Epic Fall from Cycling Superstardom to Doping Dead End (Book Review)

Thomas Dekker
From Flickr, user Vanil-Noir

Apparently there is a sub-category now of cycling literature, the "I was a great bicycle racer, but then somehow I became a doper and it all went to hell" tell-all, as-told-to-someone-who-can-write memoir. We have Tyler Hamilton's "The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs" (2012) and then there is David Millar's "Racing Through the Dark" (2011). Mr. Dekker is a little late to this activity, since all three are reporting on much the same period of doping, but Dekker attempted to continue his career later than the other two so only got around to publishing this late in 2016 (in Dutch; the English version was published in the US about a year later).

As a highly successful Dutch bike racer in a land of cyclists, Dekker was presumably as much of a name there as Lance Armstrong had become here. In Dutch, the title of his book was "mijn gevecht" which apparently translates to "My Fight" (or maybe "My Struggle"?). With himself, I guess.

I thought that to be clever they used "descent" as the title in the English version since cyclists who win typically have to be good at descending mountains as well as racing up them, to give the title kind of a double meaning, but in reading it I eventually decided that was just coincidence. The cover of the Dutch version has Dekker in 3/4 profile, looking as come-hither as a sanctioned cyclist-doper can for his Dutch admirers. It's a little . . . odd.

I gave this two stars because . . . well, I didn't really like this book. It was pretty depressing, in fact. The main plus is that it is just over 200 pages with fairly large print - it is a fast read.

Tyler Hamilton's book was not so heavily focused on doping, he talked a lot about racing. The discussion of doping was mostly amusing since it became clear that he ran into problems largely because the team he was on after being with Lance Armstrong didn't spend the kind of resources organizing doping and that Hamilton realized eventually that poorly organized doping is not a good idea once he accidentally ends up with someone else's blood transfused into his system instead of his own. Oops! David Millar's book is hideous because it talks way too much about David Millar - but even he has more blow-by-blow description of races he was in than this book. "My epic fall from cycling superstardom to doping dead end" means you read far more about doping as well as drugging and drinking and sleeping with hundreds (his word) of women than about any races he was in. One wonders why VeloPress thought it was publishing a book about cycling. There are endless examples of how he wasted money, giving Euro values in most cases - 25,000 Euro for this evening, etc. Ugh. Simply ugh. (The apparent need to list his Euro salaries for all the different years he worked is just plain weird. I half expected him to say how much he got for writing this book.) And there is certainly far more detail about the mechanics of doping as he practiced it, and a fair amount of description of how members, managers, and others of his now defunct Rabobank cycling team supported his and others' doping.

I read to the end - now not sure why. Does he make some statement or apology at the end that redeems himself at the end? Spoiler alert that probably isn't a surprise - no, he doesn't.

I might have felt better about investing the time to read this if I had come away with some understanding (or feeling of understanding) of why someone would do this, why he did this. This is almost entirely missing, other than that it was the culture of the team and (in effect) "everyone did it" (although he does mention at least one other rider who didn't, but who only had moderate results). He describes the trip down but makes no attempt to explain what we might be able to learn from this from his perspective.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike (Book Review)

Merckx: Half Man, Half BikeMerckx: Half Man, Half Bike by William Fotheringham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

During the height of Lance Armstrong's successful run of Tour de France victories, I began to watch a some professional bicycle racing on TV and the Internet. I even watched a criterium in Arlington where I live in person. But once the doping aspect became more obvious, I lost interest in current bicycle racing. I guess I couldn't tell you the name of three people who will be racing in the Tour de France this year, as one example of my lack of present interest.

I am still interested in cycling generally however, even if my main association is as a bicycle commuter 20 miles each workday. And I find that I still like reading about older bicycle racing if the book is well written - pretty much when Greg LeMond is done and Lance gets starts is when I lose interest.

William Fotheringham, a British author, has written a number of biographies of 20th century cycling figures, including Tom Simpson, Fausto Coppi, Luis Ocana, and others. I thought I would try this one about Merckx who is arguably the greatest all around road cyclist-racer of all time. I found it a very enjoyable read.

Merckx was nicknamed "The Cannibal" and was famous for his unrelenting approach to bicycle racing. Some of the time it would have seemed more sensible in terms of preserving himself long-term or short-term (or both) to have eased back in some situations, but he almost never employed any strategy other than to attack, to push for the lead, to strive to put himself out in front in order to win the sooner the better.

As a biography, the author works to associate some of Merckx's personal story and background with this unrelenting approach, but this isn't don't so heavily as to be annoying. Fotheringham has a good approach to relating accounts of the different road races described. As a sign of my interest, I read this from cover to cover without some long pause, distracted by some other book(s) in my "to read" pile.

I have read enough before about bicycle racing after WWII to the end of the 20th century that many of Merckx's competitors described in the book were familiar to me, but enough detail about them was supplied that it wasn't necessary in order to enjoy the book.

YouTube videos of documentaries referenced in the book:

Merckx is featured but did not win this race

A biographical documentary about Merckx covering the 1973 racing season

Merckx was the winner

These are all about 90-110 minutes in length.

View all my book reviews.

Friday, July 4, 2014

July Fourth Bicycle Race, 1902

From the the New York Tribune, July 5, 1902, an article about a bicycle track race on July 4, 1902. (I on the other hand went to Nationals baseball game today.)



The largest attendance of the year — fully eight thousand people — witnessed the bicycle races at the Vailsburg track, near Newark, yesterday. While no records were broken, the sport was excellent throughout, and the onlookers watched the finishes of the races with the closest attention. The weather was a little too warm for the spectators, but was of the ideal sort for the racing men, who do their best work when the sun scorches the pine ooze out of the board track.

Vailsburg is a merrymaking sort of a place. The enthusiasts who went to the track yesterday carried their pockets full of firecrackers and pistols. When a finish was to their liking the men and boys arose to their feet and let off noise and din, giving full play to their patriotism and satisfaction at the same time. When Kramer defeated Lawson, just returned from abroad, there was a fusillade of fireworks which made the rafters of the grandstand tremble.
And how did [Eddie] Bald win "in clever fashion?"
Bald, who had a lead of 100 yards, was in in good position from the start. Entering the homestretch Bald was in front riding with all of his oldtime fire and spirit, with nearly a dozen riders in a close bunch behind. One hundred yards from the wire one of the riders In the front rank went down with a bang bringing down five others with him. This left Bald with a clear field before him. He won by nearly twenty yards. None of the riders who fell were severely injured,

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Tour de France in the American Press - 100 Years Ago

I'm confident that there was more reporting in the U.S. press 100 years ago than I found, but there certainly wasn't much in Chronicling America. In fact, I just found the one story from 1913 (not 1914).

From the New York Sun for July 28, 1913. This would seem to be all the coverage for that publication for the entire race.


Winner Covers Distance In 197 Hours 54 Minutes

Special Cable Dispatch to The Sun.

Paris, July 27. The bicycle race round France, which began on June 29 with 140 competitors, wound up to-day, The total distance of the race was 3,387 miles and It was run in fifteen stages.

Twenty-five survivors started in the last stage of the race this morning from Dunkirk to Paris, a distance of 212 1/2 miles. All of these arrived here within twelve to fourteen and a half hours. The two leaders made the same time for this leg of the race, 12 hours 5 minutes.

Theiss [actually, Phillipe Thijs, of Belgium] won the first prize of $1,000, besides other prizes for different wins at various stages. He made the total distance in 197 hours and 54 minutes. Garrigou, who finished second, went over the entire route in 198 hours. The first and second men averaged more than seventeen miles an hour for the 3,367 miles.

The race was run again in 1913 but then World War I intervened so that the next running after that was in 1919. Note that in this article, the phrase "Tour de France" does not appear; it is "the bicycle race around France."

Saturday, March 29, 2014

World War I - Americans Race Bicycles in France

The Stars and Stripes (Paris, France), February 7, 1919, Vol. 2 No. 01, page 6 has the following short story about a bicycle race held by the American Expeditionary Force during World War I.

5th Army Corps to Hold Thirty Kilometer Pedal Speed Contest

On Saturday, February 15, the Fifth Army Corps will stage a bicycle road race from Bourbon les Baines to Nogent en Bassigny, a distance of about 30 kilometers. Three teams of 20 men each will start, representing the 29th and 82nd Divisions and the Fifth Army Corps troops.

There will be a trophy for the team having the greatest number of men to finish, as well as individual prizes. Bicycle road race rules will govern. There will be no pacing other than that done among the contestants themselves, and controls will be established where assistance may be given the contestants.

Colonel Foster, athletic officer of the Fifth Corps., is in charge of the details of the competition, which he claims will forever put a stop to the arguments about the speed of the couriers in the recent big offensive.

All along the course organizations are arranging to give the riders a big reception. The finish will be at the foot of a big hill in Nogent en Bassigny, near Major General Summerall's chateau.

Article as it appeared in the Stars & Stripes

This kind of activity, a recreational race, was possible since the war had ended in November 1918.

Image of scout (not messenger) cyclists in World War I

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Racing Without "Stimulants" Over 100 Years Ago

Doping in cycle racers has been well documented going back into the 1890s. Whole books have been written about Choppy Warburton, the Michele Ferrari of his day.

Famous racer from over 100 years ago, Bobby Walthour provides an example of discussion of doping in the press over 100 years ago, in 1901.

Madison Square Garden Bicycle Racing
From "The World", December 1901, showing Madison Square Garden for a six race. At bottom, rider Bobby Walthour says he'll ride without "stimulants"

"No, we do not take stimulants in any form, unless it is coffee now and then when we grow a bit sleepy. On the other hand they tell me that these foreigners use drugs. They use strychnine, which is a muscle stimulant. It is a bad business for them and sooner or later they will feel the bad effects of it."

"A man to do well in a race of this kind must keep his body clean and well nourished, and once he begins to take alcohol or strychnine he might as well just stop. I think we will win without much difficulty."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Schwinn Five Rider Pacing Bike (1896)

I discovered this article about an early Schwinn "Quint" - a bicycle that seats five riders who would be able to attain a very high speed and a single rider would then try to set speed records riding behind them, drafting.

The Referee and Cycle Trade Journal: a Weekly Record and Review of Cycling and the Cycle Trade. Volume 17, Number 2 - May 14, 1896.
The article in the online presentation of this magazine.

Quint Bicycle with Team
The Schwinn "World Quint" and the bike that would draft behind it

It is Exhibited on the Road and Track and Causes Astonishment.

The quint made by Arnold, Schwinn & Co., to be used in pacing Johnson, made its appearance last week and was given a trial at the Thirtyfifth street track. Kennedy made an attempt at Steele's state record of 1:55, but the track being in poor condition and the men not being used to the machine the best time made was 2:08. The chains on the machine were too tight to admit of its being ridden as fast as Kennedy was capable of going. The makers had figured on the chains stretching enough in riding the quint to the track to make them about right, but the chains didn't stretch. This fault was easily and quickly remedied, and the big affair was out on dress parade Sunday, the riders being clad in white suits. The boulevards were covered in the morning, a crowd of cyclists following at all times. The machine is a fine-looking affair, is substantial and ought to serve its purpose well. It has been shipped to the team in Paris.

Quint Bicycle Action Shot
An "action shot" of the quint on the track

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Paris-Roubaix, 1896

The "crack rider" Fischer, the winner

"The Referee and Cycle Trade Journal: a Weekly Record and Review of Cycling and the Cycle Trade." Volume 17, Number 1 - May 7, 1896.
Full article in "The Referee".

Much to my surprise, detailed coverage of the Paris-Roubaix "tourist riding" race of 1896 in France in a publication from Chicago. (The article various spells the German winner's name "Fischer" and "Fisher.") The article starts as follows:


Averages Over Eighteen and a Half Miles an Hour on the Journey—
Linton Holds Him Even for a Part of the Distance.—
Eck and Johnson's Plans
Paris, April 21.—[Special correspondence.]

Favored by glorious weather, the opening road event of the season, Paris to Roubaix, 280 kilometres, or 174 miles, duly took place last Sunday, forty-eight riders out of an entry of a hundred facing the starter at the Porte Maillot at 5:30 a. m. The value of the prizes was as under: first, £40, second, £20, third, £12, fourth, £8, the following five £4 each, and the tenth was a case of champagne. A prize of £6 was awarded the leading man at Amiens. A. V. Linton managed to secure this sum, winning by half a wheel from Fisher. All along the line road records were smothered, the winner Fisher, riding throughout the race at an average speed of over 18.2 miles an hour, which pace in itself constitutes a record for tourist riding.
". . . Tenth [place prize] was a case of champagne . . . "

The top finishers, their nationalities and times
In the presence of over 10,000 people at the Roubaix track, Fischer, the German, wheeled six laps, having secured the first prize, and covered the full journey in the wonderful time of 9 hrs. 17 min.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cyclist vs Man on Horse

As sometimes happens, while searching for something I saw in passing earlier in the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog I am unable to find what I had in mind but instead find something else.

From time to time one reads about "bike vs horse" races - this French poster advertises such a race between Samuel Franklin Cody (who took Wild Bill Cody's surname but was not related, it seems) and a French bicycle racer in 1893. This Cody was quite a character - at any rate, Wikipedia notes that, "While touring Europe in the mid-1890s, Cody capitalized on the bicycle craze by staging a series of horse vs. bicycle races against famous cyclists. Cycling organizations quickly frowned on this practice, which drew accusations of fixed results." So he moved on to other types of spectacles (that didn't involve bicycles).

Bike vs Horse, 1893 (bottom of poster)
Bottom of poster, scanned in two parts

Description from the Library of Congress:
Title: Hippodrome du Trotting Club Levallois - grand match en 12 heures: S. F. Cody Jr., le gd. tireur, célèbre cowboy du wild west, contre Meyer, le entraîneur terront, St. Petersbourg à Paris.
Date Created/Published: Paris : Émile Lévy & Cie., 1893.
Medium: 1 print (poster) : lithograph, color ; 194 x 93 cm.
Summary: Advertising poster for a race between S. F. Cody on horseback and French cycling champion, Meyer of Dieppe, on bicycle.
Full record

For some reason it was scanned in two parts. Also, the images were skewed so I straightened them (more or less) and cropped the targets out.

Bike vs Horse, 1893 (top of poster)
The top of the poster

Apparently this tradition continues - as recently as August of last year, Thomas Voeckler (who had placed fourth in the Tour de France) raced a trotter (a horse pulling a rider on a sulky) in three heats, losing two of them. According to a French source, "duels between professional cyclists and horses are not rare and generally turn to the advantage of the quadrupeds." Maybe in France . . .

Saturday, November 12, 2011

When to Put on New Tires??

Maxxis Re-Fuse Tire - worn out?
Maxxis Re-Fuse 25 mm tires on Traitor Ruben - not as bad as it looks

These tires came with my "urban/cyclocross/whatever" class Traitor Ruben bike, purchased a little over two years ago. Maxxis puts the Re-Fuse in its "road-training" category with an emphasis on "traction, durability and plenty of road miles in any condition." The main emphasis seems to be on anti-flat protection - a "Kevlar® belt and silkworm cap ply combine to provide a tire that Re-Fuses to puncture." (Maxxis, a company in Taiwan, learned their English from the British.) I think the idea is to compete with better known tires like the Continental Ultra Gatorskin and the like.

I ride this particular bike in crummy wet weather and when it is cold enough that it seems simpler to use a bike with panniers to carry all my stuff than a messenger bag. I have a cyclocomputer on it but I don't know where the instructions are, so other than the current speed display, it doesn't provide useful information (like how many miles traveled). Oops! My impression is that I have riden it somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 miles, which is also how far these tires have gone. (I "rotated" them once, putting the front tire on the back and the back tire on the front, since the rear tire wears faster.)

I chose to photograph (above) a section of the tire that is mostly typically, other than that three-pointed ding that looks like something is stuck in it (but other than grit, there isn't). When that first appeared, I took the tire off to see that it didn't go all the way through and otherwise investigate just how far in it went - I eventually decided it looked worse than it was and to see how things went with it. I have no idea what caused it - if it was something sharp, why didn't it hole the tire? Anyway, I think I rode another 1,000 miles after it appeared.

The generally crappy appearance of the tire surface only got this bad recently. Originally the tire had a nice "bumpy" appearance on the entire riding surface, but that smoothed out on the center portion fairly quickly, but this worn appearance with small open ridges into the rubber took a while to develop - as one can see, this gathers grit into the tire surface, but since it is all pretty small stuff, there doesn't seem to be much point in trying to pick it all out. Still, not a good sign.

Anyway, since it is fall and I am going to be riding this thing more, I decided it was time to change to a new set of tires because it seemed likely I would start having problems with these this winter. I try not to spend too much money on tires, so I wait for sales from online vendors like Bike Tires Direct and at some point long before I needed new tires I was able to buy a pair for $65, which seemed pretty good for a folding road tire. (A folding tire has a Kevlar bead rather than pieces of wire - trying to mount a tire with a wire bead at home is bad enough but if I have a flat on the road it's hopeless, so I only buy folding road tires, but of course they cost more.) If I had waited to buy the tires until I needed them (ie, when they look like they do now) I might have considered switching to some other tire, but given the kind of riding I have done and the cost (and since I already own them!), I guess I'm satisfied with putting on another pair of these.

I believe people like Jan Heine write about waiting until they get several flats that they attribute to tire wear before putting on new tires, but I don't want to manage them that way. Perhaps it is using road bike (23-25 mm wide) tires - often something besides overall wear of the tire surface causes some problem that necessitates changing to a new tire. Looking at this Maxxis tire, which hasn't flatted in some time, I'm not really thinking it is worth seeing how much more wear it can take before I spend large parts of my commute on the side of the trail (in winter . . . ).

New Maxxis Re-Fuse tires
New Maxxis Re-Fuse 25 mm replacement tires, mounted on Traitor Ruben

So here are a couple of shots of the same tires when new. The bumpy pattern is a little surprising for a tire classed as a road tire, but there it is. I take the Sheldon Brown point of view on tires that for road use, a smooth tire is ideal and that a tread pattern (particularly one this minimalistic) contributes nothing for traction - on the other hand, it is so minimal that I don't think it slows the ride down, either (and anyway, the bumps wear flat on the center line pretty quickly).

New Maxxis Re-Fuse tires
New Maxxis Re-Fuse tire, close-up view

The assumption that some tread pattern was better than smooth for traction was a selling point for one tire in the 1890s - the "VIM" tires. If only the woman in the ad below had her bike fitted with VIM tires with their "pebble" pattern, she would not have crashed.

Vim tire ad emphasizing "pebble tread"
1896 tire with "pebble" tread - magazine ad pushes advantages

The pattern for the VIM tire is quite like the Maxxis Re-Fuse. Perhaps while riding on dirt roads and the like then (and of course this tire would have been much wider) it was helpful.

The "pebble tread" explained (1896 bike tire ad)
Ad shows the tire pattern (rather than no pattern at all)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Team 7-Eleven, by Drake & Ochowicz (Book Review)

Team 7-Eleven:  How an Unsung Band of American Cyclists Took on the World - and Won is a new book about the 7-Eleven sponsored cycling race team that was active in the 1980s. The blurb description of the books is as follows:
Founded in 1981 by Jim Ochowicz and Olympic medalist Eric Heiden and sponsored by the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores, the team rounded up the best amateur cyclists in North America and formed them into a cohesive, European-style cycling team. As amateurs, they dominated the American race scene and won seven medals at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. As professionals, beginning in 1985, the team went to Europe and soon received invitations to the Tour of Italy and then the Tour de France, putting Americans on the podium in landmark victories that would change the face of American cycling forever.

Prepared with the enthusiastic cooperation of the team members and co-authored by the team’s founder, Jim Ochowicz, 7-Eleven is not only the most important missing piece in the story of American cycling, but the book that American cyclists have been waiting for ever since the 7-Eleven cowboys snagged that first yellow jersey.
The two authors are respectively a journalist who wrote about Team 7-Eleven (way back then) and Ochowicz, the team founder and manager (among other roles).

I am not an expert on pro cycle racing history, so I will confine my comments to fairly obvious stuff.

The book takes the obvious (and sensible) approach of presenting the story chronologically. The beginning focuses on Ochowicz and Eric Heiden - in the early years of establishing the team. Heiden's role was probably more important than Ochowicz since he was so supportive of the team and was a publicity and sponsorship magnet. The critical piece to launching the team was securing sponsorship from the Southland Corporation, which is described in some detail. (It was connected with Southland sponsoring building of an Olympic velodrome for the 1984 Olympics.) Finally in chapter 5 (of twenty) Ochowicz starts hiring and building the first U.S. 7-Eleven amateur team. The next several chapters describe the highlights of the amateur team's racing before the professional team was established, and the most prominent riders, such as Heiden and Davis Phinney. Chapter 12 segues to the building of the professional team that would compete in Europe starting in 1985 - it is the activities of this "senior" men's professional team, primarily when in Europe, that occupy the remainder of the book. Most of the narrative describes key team developments and critical race successes (and failures). The most well known race successes are covered in some detail, such as Andy Hampsten's Giro stage victory in the snow storm.

The two authors clearly know the subject extremely well and had the cooperation of most if not all of the important team members. Since this was Ochowicz's team, it is probably not surprising that certain more unpleasant subjects are not really covered - in reading this I was reminded of military regimental histories prepared by unit historians. Generally everything covered is given a positive spin - not to say that failures or bad days aren't covered, but . . . One technique is to have negative commentary attributed to other parties - it isn't the authors saying that in their early European racing the 7-Eleven riders were crash happy cowboys; no, that was what the other riders were saying about them. And not to worry; after a few years the 7-Eleven riders matured. Some controversial subjects are simply left out, most notably the almost complete absence of discussion of use of drugs in pro cycle racing.

Whether because of the "authorized history" approach or for other reasons, the description of events is fairly flat; the examples of "wildness" are not very wild, and so on. Bob Roll, for example, is described as "eccentric" and the "team clown" but the included example of his idea of humor rather tame, particularly since one can read far more outlandish stuff about him elsewhere.

Who is this book written for? I'm not a big pro bike racing fan, but I know enough to understand basic tactics (about as much as I know about American pro football, I suppose) and it seems the authors are assuming at least that level of knowledge. For example, at one point a 7-Eleven rider manages to win multiple jerseys in the Tour de France on one day, including a "combination jersey" for best standing in all categories (different than GC) - since this category no longer exists, this is explained, but the subtleties of the other categories are assumed to be clear to the reader.

The book includes a fair number of both color and black and white photographs, chapter notes, a good index, a the senior men and women's team rosters for the years the team was active (otherwise there is little said in this book about the women riders), and a "where are they now" epilogue updating the lives of the main (men) riders.

In some descriptions of the book, it is noted that Lance Armstrong started with the successor team, Team Motorola, that took over this bicycle team after Southland ended its sponsorship - but wanting to know more Lance-history wouldn't be a motivation for reading this; he is only mentioned a few times in passing.