It’s Cyclocross Season! Who Cares?

Fall is here, and that means the cycling world starts to talk about cyclocross. You know, that race through the dirt and mud where riders have to dismount and carry their bikes over obstacles? It would seem that during October, cyclocross racing is the only kind of riding you should do — everybody is doing it!

Well, everybody isn’t. I’m not, I can tell you that. I’m not knocking cyclocross. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun, if you like to race.

There are a number of cycling events that get a lot of play that I don’t take part in. Time trials, for instance. Oh, I’ve actually done a few of them, but when the company that put them on decided it wouldn’t anymore, I stopped. And when another company stepped in after a year and decided to revive our local time trial, I decided to opt out. I just don’t care anymore (And I know just how fast I can’t go, anyway).

Around here, everyone is talking about the Livestrong ride, which comes up this weekend. But I find myself doing only a few organized rides per year now, and the Livestrong isn’t going to be one of them.

Maybe I’m just an old stick-in-the-mud, but I still enjoy just good old road cycling. That’s what I’ll continue to do. I don’t particularly care how fast I go, and I’m not really yearning to slop through the mud and gasp for breath.

Have you taken a shot at a cyclocross race, or are you of the non-competitive bent as well?

A Noob Goes To The Races

The Bike Noob has never contemplated racing, but guest poster Jeff Hemmel has — and he did more than contemplate. Jeff tells about his first race, during his vacation this summer in upstate New York.

So there I was, sandwiched between a breakaway pack of 12 riders, pedaling nearly as fast as I thought humanly possible, looking at the last 90-degree corner of what had been 30 of the fastest, most hardcore miles I had ever ridden. All around me faces were dead serious, jerseys were filled with sponsor logos…legs were shaved. And then there was me, a noob, riding my very first race, jersey a plain and unassuming blue…and no real game plan what to do next.

What the hell was I thinking?

To get to that answer you need to backtrack to late July, 2010. That was when I first came up with the idea of actually trying to contest a race while vacationing in Upstate NY. Long story short I chickened out, but vowed to try again in 2011. After all, this race was perfect…it started in a picturesque riverside town, it had some of the hills that I love (and hopefully most riders would hate), and was a fundraiser for a good cause.

Most important, no one knew me. If I choked, I could fade into the background, my pride shielded by my outsider’s anonymity.

I can’t really say why I did it. Most likely it’s because, like it or not, I’m somewhat of a competitive person. While two years ago I was simply content to hang with the Sunday morning group ride, lately I had been trying to actually contest the end-of-ride sprint. I have no aspirations of signing up for every race that comes along, but I wanted to test myself, if only this once.

Which is why, this July upon arriving in New York, I not only began to rack up my usual mileage in the hills, but frequently found myself visiting the race website…mapping out the route…even watching it fly by on Google Earth. And yes, a few days before the event, traveling about 90 minutes north to plop my bike on those roads and actually riding the course. That I made about 10 wrong turns and ended up turning a 30-miler into a nearly 50-mile reconnaissance isn’t the point. The point is I took it seriously and prepared. If you looked closely at my bike at the start, you would have even seen a little piece of masking tape on the stem, labeled with various mileage points and whether the race was turning left or right.

As I said, competitive…and yes, maybe just a little bit anal.

My race day plan was simple — to spot the guys who looked like they were the most serious, and not let them get out of my sight. I figured I’d either burn out and limp to the finish at the back of the pack, or maybe, just maybe, surprise everyone (including myself) and hang on to the finish.

Well, this looks daunting.

At the start, the latter option didn’t look too promising. A well-organized team jumped away from the 100-plus rider field only a mile into the race, and I fought to stay with them, watching my speedo settle in about 26 mph. Their intent seemed to be to drop as many people as possible right off the bat, and I was almost certain I would be next. Somehow I stayed close, even joining their paceline so I could say I did my share of the work and at least earn their respect before my flameout. Miraculously, however, that moment never came. As I survived mile after mile my confidence grew and I knew I could hang with them till the finish, especially as their speed settled down slightly. As to any pipe dreams of actually dropping the pack on a climb and soloing to victory a la Andy Schleck, however, I knew I didn’t have a chance. This group was strong, and even if I found myself with an advantage on a climb, I knew they’d reel me in with ease once things flattened out.

I'm in there somewhere.

So, I I fought my impetuous instincts, rode smart, and just tried to fit in…a guy with hairy legs in a generic jersey in the midst of a bunch of logoed-up team members looking clean and mean. With about three miles to go, a three-man breakaway leapt ahead, but somehow we reeled them in about a mile from the finish. Still together at mile 29, all that remained was a bunch sprint — a scenario I had really hoped to avoid given my utter lack of racing skills. Heading into that 90-degree lefthand turn about 100 yards from the finish, I took the inside line, only to be cut off by the rest who kept up their speed and swept through the corner. I hit my brakes, lost momentum, and watched as that team led their leader out to the finish. It was actually pretty impressive.

And I still managed to finish first in my age group.

The best news for me? I did okay. I triumphed over the nerves of 2010, finished upright (the primary goal of any first-time racer a friend reminded me before the race), and was greeted at the finish line by my daughters and wife…three people in town who did recognize me.

Finish line greeting.

That’s a victory in any noob’s book.

Those Bike Team Names – 2010 Version – Part I

Hey, the Tour de France is just around the corner! It starts Sunday Saturday. Each year, I like to introduce Bike Noob readers to the teams in the Tour, because their European corporate sponsor names are probably unfamiliar to most Americans. This year is interesting, because of several new teams in the Tour, and four U.S.-based teams. Lance Armstrong rides in his last Tour, and just might contend.

Twenty-two teams are riding this year. Today, we’ll profile half of them, by alphabetical order. The remaining teams will go up Thursday.

AG2R-La Mondiale: France. Ag2r Group is a French-based interprofessional insurance and supplementary retirement fund group, and the La Mondiale Group is a French-based international group for supplementary pension and estate planning insurance. Rinaldo Nocentini led last year’s Tour for eight days.

Top riders: Dimitri Champion, Nocentini, Nicolas Roche.

Bike: Kuota

Astana: Kazakhstan. Sponsored by the Astana group, a coalition of state-owned companies from Kazakhstan and named after its capital city Astana. Last year, the team had trouble making its payroll, until the Kazakh government stepped in. The Tour’s defending champion, Alberto Contador, rides for Astana, but half last year’s team bolted for the new Radio Shack squad.

Top riders: Contador, Alexander Vinokourov.

Bike: Specialized

Bbox Bouyges Telecom: France. Bouygues is a mobile telephone company. Bbox is the bundled Internet, TV, and telephone package offered to Bouygues customers. Last year, Thomas Voeckler and Pierrick Fédrigo won stages of the Tour.

Top riders: Voeckler, Fédrigo, Pierre Rolland.

Bike: Colnago

BMC Racing Team: USA. BMC is a Swiss bike company. The team is brand new, having competed in some domestic races last year, but won a wild card berth to the TdF this year. They’ve made their presence known in some of the earlier races this season, and have a strong stable of riders.

Top riders: US Champion George Hincapie, Alessandro Ballan, World Champion Cadel Evans.

Bike: BMC

Caisse d’Epargne: Spain. The team is registered to Spain, but the sponsor is the fourth-largest French banking company. Their top rider, Alejandro Valverde, is suspended for ties to doping. Still, Caisse is always one of the strongest teams in the Tour.

Top riders: Luis Leon Sanchez, Juan Mauricio Soler, Juan Jose Cobo.

Bike: Pinarello.

Cervelo Test Team: Switzerland. Cervelo is the Canadian bike company. The team made quite an impact last year, when it debuted in the tour.

Top riders: Carlos Sastre (2008 TdF winner), Thor Hushovd.

Bike: Cervelo

Cofidis: France. Consumer Credit. Le Credit En Ligne (online). Offers customized consumer loans either by phone or over the Internet. The company had planned this to be its last year, but now will be around through 2012. They are probably the weakest of the French teams.

Top riders: David Moncoutie, Samuel Dumoulin, Amaël Moinard.

Bike: Look.

Euskaltel-Euskadi: Basque. Basque telephone company. Euskadi is the Basque word for Basque. The Basque Country is an autonomous region in the north of Spain. Basques are ethnically different from Spaniards, and there’s been some separation sentiment for years. Euskaltel is the unofficial national team of the Basques. The team is known for its strong mountain riding. Team leader Mikel Astarloza is under a two-year doping suspension.

Top riders: Samuel Sanchez, Amets Txurruka, Egoi Martinez.

Bike: Orbea.

Footon-Servetto: Spain. Footon makes insoles to correct bad posture.  Servetto is an Italian wardrobe company. The team was formerly Saunier-Duval, which got caught up in a doping scandal. They claim the jersey is gold – most observers regard it as nude.

Top riders: Martin Pedersen, Michele Merlo and Manuel Cardoso.

Bike: Fuji

Francaise de Jeux: France. The French national lottery. This team has been around since 1997. The team had a good year in 2009, but couldn’t win the big one, and are under some pressure to win their own country’s big race.

Top riders: Christophe Le Mevel, Sandy Casar, Thibault Pinot.

Bike: Lapierre.

Garmin-Transitions: USA. Garmin is the top maker of GPS gear, Transitions makes eyeglasses that shade with the sun. The team won 29 races last year.

Top riders: Tyler Farrar, Christian VandeVelde, Robbie Hunter.

Bike: Felt