Monday, February 28, 2011

Like the Terminator, She'll be back

Ah, finally! Something happy to write about in the wake of all the stuff on doping that I've been typing about for the past two months.
The next Armstrong comeback - Kristin's
Kristin's been working in the wind tunnel on her time-trial bike, preparing for the 2011 season.

I've been a fan of Kristin's ever since I tentatively dipped my toes into the pool that is road cycling back in 2004. I heard about her competing in Athens at the Olympics and how she started racing bikes after finding out she couldn't compete in triathlons due to hip issues. I was [am] impressed. Not everyone would take news like that so well, much less turn it into a stellar career the way she has.

I had the opportunity to speak to her a few times two years ago at a race I was volunteering at, you can read those posts here and I was pleasantly surprised that she was so... normal. It's amazing how often we forget that for all their accomplishments, training, and globe-trotting, professional athletes are people, too.

Good luck, Kristin! I can't wait to see how this season shakes out!

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

"I Can Ride My Bike With No Handlebars

... no handlebars." Not really, but it's a funny lyric, isn't it? And a funky lead-in to today's essay.

Actress Angie Harmon (Law & Order, Women's Murder Club, Rizzoli & Isles) @Angie_Harmon tweeted this morning: Today we're teaching #1 to ride a bike w/ no training wheels... Any tips?? Yikes! Why, yes, yes I do.

It got me thinking about how my dad taught my sister and I to ride a bike and why it worked. I talk through this same process with my customers at the bike shop when they ask me the best way to teach their kid to ride a bike. Here goes:
- Helmets are a must and make sure it fits properly. If the old one is more than three years old, replace it. At the rate a child grows, you might be looking at a new helmet every few years until their head quits growing. Fortunately, helmets these days are incredibly adjustable and you should be able to get at least a year or two out of it.

- Adjust the saddle (seat) height so that your child can touch the ground with flat feet. This will make it easier for them to maintain control of the bike when they loose their balance.

- It helps to have a slight decline to your driveway, and have your driveway empty into a cul-de-sac or a quiet street. This will help gravity do some of the momentum work for you.

- First off, don't worry about the pedaling. Start out just having the child push themselves with their feet and then lifting their feet off the ground. This will make it easier for them to learn to balance on two wheels.

- Once they've mastered balancing with their feet off the ground, have them push themselves with their feet, take their feet off the ground, and put them on the pedals. Don't worry about actually pedaling. That part comes next.

- Once they've got the hang of balancing and putting their feet on the pedals, have them push off with their feet, put their feet on the pedals, and start pedaling!

See? That wasn't so hard, was it?

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Armstrong Retirement, Take Two

They say timing is everything. And because I have an inquisitive mind, I am puzzling and theorizing over the timing of Lance's second retirement from professional cycling.
Lance Armstrong Retires From Cycling

From what I can gather, the plan at the beginning of the season was to make the Tour Down Under Lance's final race on the international stage, and he was [at least] signed up to start several domestic races over the spring and summer.

So, what happened?

It could be any number of things. First of all, Lance isn't the spring chicken he used to be. He's approaching an age where racers are either already retired or are certainly considering retirement. The wear and tear on the body is just too much to keep making it do as you please and expect it to hold up.

Second, he's been riding professionally for many years, spending time based in Europe, away from his home and family in Texas. And while it's exciting to get to ride your bike for a living in some of the most beautiful places on earth, I'm sure life on the road has got to take it's toll, too.

And, of course, some theorize that Lance's most recent retirement was due to the recent allegations of doping that has been levelled against him and his former U.S. Postal team. Personally, I doubt it. Lance has one of the coolest heads in professional sports and a killer business sense. He has also never tested positive for a banned substance. I doubt he would let these more recent allegations ruffle his feathers.

My sense is that he just felt it was time. When he retired in 2005, he was at the top of his sport. He'd won seven consecutive Tour de France maillot jaune and I think felt he had nothing left to prove to himself or to the sport. These past three seasons, I believe, didn't go quite as he wanted. He wanted an eighth yellow jersey and finished third in 2009 and 23rd last year. He didn't complain about it or make excuses, only saying that was the way sport played out sometimes.

Thanks again, Lance, for another great ride. Kick your feet up a bit and enjoy life in the slow(er) lane.

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hang A U-Turn!

Wow. I have to say that I didn't expect this.
Confirmed: Alberto Contador Cleared of Clenbuterol Charges
Spanish fed clears Alberto Contador...

And it sounds like he's going to be on the start-line at Algarve on Wednesday.

I wonder that it turned out this way. I know that Alberto is a huge national hero in Spain and many have hailed him as the next great racer of his generation. However, in the past few years, the UCI, WADA, and other national cycling federations have really begun to clamp down on doping of any kind, seemingly intentional or not. Look at Tom Zirbel's case, if you don't believe me. The sport seems to be really trying to clean itself up. So, why apparently go "easy" on a rider, even a champion, who had a banned substance in his blood? In the past, it seems to me, regardless of intent or how the substance got into a rider's body, they got slapped with a fine and a minimum two-year suspension from rider.

So, what prompted a decision like this? The untarnished image of a champion rider never before popped for doping? The fact that he had enough money to hire lawyers and had a team around him to deflect, spin, and protect? Perhaps I'm becoming cycnical in my old age, but why should that matter? I was under the impression that the system is set up to make sure everyone gets a fair shake, am I wrong?

So, what do I think? I think the decision to drop the charges was a fair one, since no one seems to really know how the clenbuterol entered Alberto's system. But what does a decision like that say about all the other riders who have said they unknowingly ingested a banned substance and their protests of innocence went unaknowledged?

I'm glad I'm not the one making these decisions.

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.