Fat Tires

The Custis Trail is a branch off of the W&OD Trail.  While the latter winds southeast down along Four Mile Run to Shirlington, the Custis splits off east of Falls Church and takes off to the northeast, hugging the sides of I-66 (technically called the Custis Memorial Parkway on the maps) into Rosslyn at Key Bridge.  There it hooks up with the Mount Vernon Trail, that can take you all the way down to Washington’s home on the banks of the Potomac, though you cannot even glimpse it without paying admission once you get there.  Another thing you can’t do is use the Custis Trail to get to the Custis-Lee Mansion in Arlington National Cemetery.  You won’t get past the Cemetery’s front gate.  The post-9/11 Security Hysteria which still grips DC includes the total proscription of bicycles from the Cemetery.  Wonder what kind of bike Osama bin Laden owns?  As best I could find, they don’t make bikes in Afghanistan, and the Pakistan bike industry is being crushed by competition from China.  Perhaps he has an old Pakistan-made Sohrab, though.  I can imagine people who own one hold on to it with much nostalgia.  Can’t imagine Osama selling out to western capitalism, so his ride’s probably not a Trek or a Cervelo.  Maybe he’s got a Fuji: Japanese name; Taiwan manufacture.

The Custis Trail is very leafy.  To ride it is to experience polarized contexts for most of the route.  You get your shady, old North Arlington parks, neighborhoods, schools, or apartments on one side, and a sound barrier wall or chain-link fence separating you from the I-66 din on the other.  Occasionally there’s enough wiggle room to take you past a pond on one side and some shrubbery on the other, but for the most part it’s leaf this way, road that way.

When they built the Trail, the Arlington Parks Department planted as many shade trees as they could along the non-road side to increase the beauty, the shade, and the presence of nature.  But with these benefits came an inevitable problem.  The tree roots have grown under the trail in many places.  They push up the asphalt in ridges at right angles to the direction of travel.  The County tries to keep ahead of it by milling the trail flat and repaving, but they do this only when things get dire.  There are several places where the latitudinal bumps across the Trail are currently so bad that it’s hard to control the bike at the speed one is likely to be going.  Furthermore the bike gets shaken, and compression flats and even broken spokes are possibilities.  I’m becoming more averse to taking my Trek, with its light wheels and 115 lb. tire pressure, down there.

So today I rode my Coda.  It has a steel frame, carbon forks, and 28mm tires, all of which help to soften the ride.  Steel has some flex to it where the Trek’s aluminum has none, the wheels and spokes are a bit heavier, and the wider tires (yeah, I know it’s only 5 mm difference but it does matter a lot in the contact profile) and lower pressures (85 lbs. front and 100 lbs. rear [I’m getting some wear out of a couple of former front tires whose rear partners wore out]) also soften the ride.  The wheelbase of the bike is a bit longer too, because it’s a hybrid rather than a road bike with a racing configuration.

I was surprised at how much difference it made to ride this bike!  The whole feel of the road, the lower impact of the bumps, the smoothed-out ride, were evident.  Why this contrast was not more evident to me before I’m not sure.  I’ve ridden all my bikes along the Custis Trail regularly.  It’s such a nice place to go that I am pleased to know for certain that I have a bike that will take me there in comfort.  But I’m still a bit aggravated that the Trail is not better maintained.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

In the Wake

Last Sunday afternoon, which turned out to be the end of a prolonged heat wave, the temperature hit nearly 100°.  It was so hot and humid in the morning that I did not even want to risk an early ride, lest I get caught on the far end of my loop with the temperature rising rapidly, as it tends to do about three hours after sunrise.  Just opening the front door and stepping onto the porch felt like walking into an oven.

So I was at the computer in mid-afternoon when the cold front came through.  Accompanied by strong gusts of winds that took down trees in Fairfax and nearby counties,  the downpour dropped .31″ of rain here in 30 minutes.  A demi-gullywasher.  The temperature dropped 25 degrees in that time, to a milder 74°.  When the rain stopped I stepped out on the front porch again.  “Is the air different?” my wife asked.  “Yeah, now it feels like a sauna instead of an oven.”  That’s one of the things about cold fronts: they don’t transform the conditions immediately.  Before dark it had risen to 78°, and the night air was heavy with humidity and the din of summer’s nocturnal creatures.

But with the new sunrise all was well.  The air was bright, the temperature around 65°, the wind light and from the NW, straight from Canada by way of the Great Lakes.  For the first time in weeks I could ride without worry about my start time or the estimated air temperature two hours hence.  Ironically, we’d risen a bit on the early side, so I was off and away by about 8:15.  I was going to do a routine trip because I’d been on the exercise bike and/or off bikes altogether for several days, thanks to the insanely extreme heat.  Didn’t want to shock my system by overdoing it the first time out.

Along the way, evidence of the wind and rain was literally all over the place.  At the end of the right-of-way, before I’d even hit the trail, I encountered a cleanup crew.  They were removing some big fallen limbs just off the trail, and while they were at it they were cutting the bamboo stand way back for better sightlines entering and exiting from the trail.  On the trail itself the debris was strewn everywhere: twigs, small branches, bunches of leaves.  But everybody I saw was smiling.  And why not?  It actually felt as if exercise could be a pleasure rather than a test of endurance and suffering, the body pushed to its limit by the need to keep the core temperature down.  When that’s not an issue, more energy goes into the constructive kind of physical exertion.

Obstacles are never absent on the trail, it seems.  Right now we’ve got one long-standing detour where the W&OD goes under the Dulles Access Road.  They’re putting in the huge piers that will support the rail line on its route to Dulles Airport, and we’ve been warned that there will be some 15-minute closures when they’re ready to put the steel girders on top of the piers.  But except on rare occasions that’s been all on a straight paved path paralleling the Trail.  Farther out, at the intersection of Van Buren St., they’ve been putting in a median strip and somehow have managed to involve a spot on the Trail for what seems a long-term issue.  So they’ve got us on packed gravel and old asphalt for a few hundred feet.  Just for a taste of riding the Tour de France on the roads of 75 years ago, I guess.

But on this trip, there was more.  On the trail going downhill into Vienna a big bunch of branches had come down, so that riders only had one narrow edge to get by on.  Snapped boughs and small branches lay all along the trail, and particularly on Hunter Station Road.  Lots of them were maple, a rather brittle wood that can snap and break, often in a long diagonal line across the wood, like a “greenwood fracture” of a human bone.  More tree debris too, but no serious obstacles.  Then between Wiehle and Old Reston Ave. was the big one, a huge Black Locust down across the whole Trail, so that I nearly had to dismount to get around.  Black Locust is tough, stringy wood, the bane of woodsplitters.  I knew it hadn’t just snapped.  Must have been weak roots or a decayed trunk.  On my way home, the cleanup crew had just arrived and was sizing up the situation.  They’d need a mighty big chainsaw for that baby.

When I got back to the right-of-way the cleanup crew was finishing picking up their work.  Nice–a clear view of the trail and the side path.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes that bamboo to grow back.

I arrived home rather elated at the great air, the great temperature, and the refreshment of the ride.  Sooner or later, a cold front always shows up to revivify life, despite the obstacles.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

TdF: Day Twenty-two

The “Twenty-three Days in July” that obsess us every summer are almost at an end.  When they hit the finish line on the Champs Elyseé tomorrow, the riders who finish will have ridden over 3,000 km.  Every one of them must be exhausted.  The race is so hard partly because the route is the most difficult in the world, and partly because no championship-level rider misses this one on purpose.  Everybody is there; the competition level is enormously high.

I have groused this year about the small and unvarying time gaps.  My last blog was a whine that nobody really attacked in the Pyrenees for the first three days, except for Contador at the point when his chief rival, Andy Schleck, had a mechanical problem.  Well, Thursday’s stage, the last in the  Pyrenees, produced some tough, championship-level riding, but no fireworks.  Sizzle, mini-boom, blah.  Schleck and Contador, race leaders, led the charge up the last climb, the legendary Tourmalet, that’s been in the race every year since 1910.  That first year one of the riders screamed “Assassins!” at the race officials as he went over the top.  This year the two contenders overtook the breakaway riders and rode together to the top of the mountain pass.  They were never as much as a bike length apart from each other.  Schleck led up the whole way.  And Schleck crossed the line first for the victory.

Does that mean they were perfectly evenly matched?  Not necessarily.  Schleck was clearly riding as fact as he could go, about 99% of maximum all the way.  Contador was riding just hard enough to stay on his wheel, benefiting from his slipstream, “marking” him.  Schleck’s pace was very high.  Could he have been riding so hard that Contador could not attack?  Perhaps.  But with about two km to go Contador rode easily up beside Schleck as if to say “I could attack and win the stage, but I don’t have to.  All I have to do to stay ahead in the race is stay on your tail.”  Schleck claimed after the race that he attacked fifteen times, and that his energy rate monitor readings could prove it.  He even said in effect that “you might not have been able to see it on TV, but . . . .”  What I saw was that he rose from the saddle on about fifteen occasions, stood on his pedals, and maintained almost exactly the same speed and cadence.  I conclude that an attack that is not visible to the naked eye is not an attack, not matter what the monitors say.

After his one symbolic foray, Contador dropped back and resumed his wheel-sucking role, confident that he was the better time trialist and would cement the victory today in the ITT from Bordeaux to Paulliac.  He did not try to come around Schleck at the end and take the stage, and thereby he avoided compounding the questionable sportsmanship of attacking during Schlecck’s mechanical.  It’s also an unwritten rule that you don’t deny somebody the fruits of their labors when they’ve done all the work on the stage, even if you technically can.  As somebody said a day or two ago, the trouble with unwritten rules is that they’re, well, unwritten.

Contador’s race was in the mold of the current era of cycling.  We don’t have any brash, energetic, “go for the glory” kind of guys.  It’s the Wheel Sucker vs. the Imperceptible Attacker.  Contador didn’t endanger his slim, semi-ill-gotten lead by expending one demi-watt of unnecessary effort.  I will guarantee that Lance Armstrong in his heyday would have attacked Schleck.  If he had an 8 second lead going in, he’d want to come out of the mountains with a 2:08 lead, so that he could beat Schleck in the ITT by 3 minutes and win the race by 5.  Instead we have in Contador a man who is going to be one of the very few in history to win the Tour without winning a single stage of the race.  That’s consistent, but it’s close-to-the-vest behavior, not all-out aggression.  But they were making an effort on the Tourmalet: 3rd place Sanchez lost 1:32, 4th place Menchov lost 1:40, and fifth place Van Den Brouek lost 1:48, relative to the leaders.

So today was the ride against the clock through wine country.  My biggest challenge would have been to resist the temptation to stop along the way at a vineyard or two.  Schleck, who has not been a great time trialist and who lost about 1:45 to Contador in last year’s ITT, rode very strongly today.  Contador, however, got to ride last, as they depart in reverse order of the overall standings.  Riding last allows that rider to know what all the split times of his chief rivals are (these are times taken at two or three intermediate checkpoints as each rider passes).  Thus he’ll know just about how much he’s ahead or behind at defined intervals on the course and can react accordingly.  Contador finished 5:43 behind the winner, in 35th place.  That’s something of a shock, as he won the long time trial last year.  But he was up 39 seconds on Schleck, and so victory in the Tour de France is his, barring disaster.  The last stage into Paris is treated as a ceremony, a celebration, a ritual.  Only the sprinters vie for new glory at the very end of the day.

Thirty-nine seconds is exactly the amount of time Contador took out of Schleck by attacking during the mechanical.  Without that they’d be dead even on time.  (Of course if the time relationships had been different Thursday’s race would have been different too, so that means nothing.)  Next year Andy better return in even better shape, with another year of maturity, and with an ace mechanic in tow.   Contador deserves the Yellow Jersey in Paris, but he looks less than I thought he would like a man who is going to threaten Lance’s record of seven lifetime victories.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

TdF Day Nineteen

Over half a century ago, in the early to mid 1950s, the Tour de France was shaping up into the kind of race we know today.  Commercial sponsors, even outside bicycle manufacturers, were welcome in the difficult post-WW II economy.  Derailleurs were allowed, and bikes were getting lighter, down to about 20 pounds, though steel was still the only material.  Water bottle cages (and gearshift levers) were on the downtube, though the bottles were still aluminum.  Skill levels were on the rise, and legendary names like Geminiani, Robic, Coppi, Bobet, and Gaul were in the peloton.  Time gaps were coming down, though there was usually a space of ten to fifteen minutes between first and second place by the end of the decade, except for 2 or 3 tighter years.

And yet in other ways the race was so different.  This year the Tour de France is “honoring” some of the classic Pyrenean climbs by racing four stages in those mountains and including the Port de Pailheres, Ax-3 Domaines, the Portet-d’Aspect, the Port de Balès, the Peresourde, the Col d’Aspin, the Col de Sulour (twice!), the Col d’Aubisque, the Col de Marie Blanque, and the Col de Tourmalet (twice!).  Only the Marie Blanc plus the two repeats remain in tomorrow’s stage.  The rest were all covered on stages 14, 15, and 16 on Sunday through yesterday.  Today the riders are resting.

But in the old days the leaders raced aggressively on every mountain stage, were usually the first over the summits

Fausto Coppi climbing

Fausto Coppi leading on l'Alpe d'Huez, 1952

of every climb, and sought to open up brutal time gaps on their foes.  The usual black-and-white mountain shot from those days shows a lone, struggling rider, usually on a crudely paved or packed gravel surface, surrounded by a bevy of motorbikes, autos, and Land Rovers (yes, the motorized entourage had ramped up by then).  You did not see the “yellow jersey group” three or four minutes behind the stage leader or leaders, warily eying each other but not attacking, while keeping just enough pace so that those out front don’t gain a dangerous amount of time.  Here’s a quotation from Bill and Carol McGann’s excellent two-volume The Story of the Tour de France (Dog Ear Publishing, 2006), about Stage 12 in 1954:

[This stage] made the riders go over the Tourmalet, the Aspin, and the Peyresourde.  This was another day of aggression that pushed men to their limits.  Bahomontes was first over the Tourmalet.  Bobet led over the Aspin.  Bahomontes went over the final mountain in front and finished together with Malléjac, only 1 second behind Bauvin.  Bobet fought to limit their advantage, losing 1 minute, 59 seconds.  The rest? They were scattered across France. . . . There were no pretenders [in the GC top six after this stage], all were worthy racers.  the huge time gaps after only two days in the mountains speaks volumes about the intensity of racing in this Tour.

This year, despite four HC (hors categorie: beyond the hardest classification) climbs and three Cat. 1 climbs (hardest classification) in the three stages from Sunday to yesterday, the standings changed almost not at all.  On Saturday night, before Sunday’s first stage in the Pyrenees, they were:
Schleck          leading
Contador             0:31
Sanchez               2:45
Menchov             2:58
Van Den Broeck  3:31
Today on the Rest Day before the last Pyrenean stage, they are:
Contador        leading
Schleck                0:08
Sanchez               2:00
Menchov              2:13
Van Den Broeck  3:39
And the worst part is that practically the sole act of aggression over the three Pyrenees stages so far ended up hurting the aggressor by accident.

Sanchez and Menchov gained an insignificant 14 seconds on Sunday.  But on Monday, a few km from the top of the long and difficult Port de Balès (up to 10% grade near the top), Schleck was in a great spot.  He had used his team as Armstrong used to, each strong support rider pulling hard at the front of the pack as long as he could, towing the lead rider along at a high tempo and tiring out all the other riders.  When the last one peeled off, Schleck attacked.  Contador was immediately gapped, and it looked like he could not respond.  The ever-aggressive Vinokourov, however, went with Schleck.  A little way up the road Contador began to respond.   Schleck stood on his pedals to gain power to stay ahead, and he dropped his chain!  He didn’t react for a few instants (fractions of seconds?), but Vino saw what was going on and urged Contador forward, the two of them, with Menchov and Sanchez, took off while Schleck had to unclip, stand on the ground, reach down, and reattach his chain.  He fumbled it the first time, so it took him what seemed like three eternities, but was probably ten to twelve seconds.  By that time the attackers were long gone.  Over the top of the mountain, Contador could follow Sanchez, and excellent descender, downhill on the steep and technical descent (90 to 100 kmh down a twisty, narrow road with no guard rails and deep dropoffs on the downhill side).   So Contador gained 39 seconds on Schleck, and so did Sanchez and Menchov.  That’s it.  A huge shift in the dynamic of the race, the only change of time gaps among the leaders, and all because of a mechanical malfunction.  Otherwise, there might well have been no change at all, or a slight change in Schleck’s favor.

What causes a dropped chain?  One of two things probably.  It could be that Schleck was cross-chained.  When the chain is on the smaller gear on the crank it’s on the inside.  When it’s on the smallest cog on the rear wheel it’s on the far outside.  So it’s going on a slight diagonal between the crank and the rear wheel.  The small cog gives the most power, and Schleck might have shifted into that cog just before he stood up.  The diagonal angle can cause the chain to drop off the gear if there’s a sudden increase in the rate at which the gear’s turning, as when a rider stands up to gain more power.  The other whole possibility is that the derailleur was slightly out of adjustment, so that if Schleck shifted the chain to the large gear the derailleur arm pushed it too far, right off the gear.  Even professional mechanics can make a mistake.  Needless to say, neither of these possibilities should have been attainable if the bike was perfectly adjusted.

When Contador was awarded the leader’s yellow jersey on the podium after the stage, he was booed almost as much as he was cheered.  That’s because the unwritten rule is that you don’t attack another rider, especially the yellow jersey, when he’s taking a “nature break,” when he’s fallen, or when he’s had a mechanical failure.  That way the race is won on merit, not lost by bad luck.  Schleck was furious after the stage.  Apparently he and Contador have since shaken hands on French TV.  But I would think that Schleck will be highly motivated to attack tomorrow on the uphill finish atop the Tourmalet.  For one thing, he’s got to have a good lead on Contador going into the Time Trial on Saturday.  But I would think he’d also be motivated by anger, the breaking of the code of honor that you don’t take unfair advantage.  (Yes, I know that secretly doping is also an unfair advantage, but that’s another whole issue.)  So tomorrow should be an exciting stage, assuming the race leaders finally decide to do some ’50s-style racing.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

TdF Days Fourteen and Fifteen

Vino (Alexandre Vinokourov) almost won both of these stages.  He probably would not have contested today’s if he’d won yesterday, and he seemed pretty disappointed about that.  So today he was at it again, doing an opportunistic late attack.  As I’ve asserted, Vino races for Vino, all Vino, all the time.  And he was so determined to have that stage win that he persisted until it happened.

The last couple of days have transitioned the Tour out of the mountains.  The favorites are largely waiting for the big mountains of the Pyrenees, which they’ll face tomorrow in an extreme form, a mountaintop finish at Ax-3-Domaines.  Yesterday’s stage had some lesser categorized climbs, but the backbreaker was the 3km stretch right before the end that’s at least 10% grade all the way.  (That’s like Hunter Station Road, only ten times as long; ouch!)  Then there’s a 1 km downhill false flat to the finish on the tarmac of the ski resort airport just above the town of Mende.  Approaching the foot of the climb the road narrows drastically, forcing the mass of peloton riders to slow down and queue up.  All the contenders want to be near the front, either to attack or to cover their rivals’ attacks.  This creates a kind of nervous mayhem, because if you aren’t rolling pretty well into the start of the climb, you’re going to burn up a lot of energy just getting into a climbing rhythm.

Yesterday there was a lead group of four riders, including Vino, ahead of the peloton.  On the Mende climb he attacked, got a huge gap, and held it all the way to the airport.  Trouble is that at the front of the peloton (40 seconds behind the break) various riders tried to attack, and when Joaquin Rodriguez took off Contador went with him.  Andy Schleck didn’t or couldn’t follow, and Contador saw a chance to take back some time on him.  Contador’s pursuit of Rodriguez carried them both past Vino just before the finish, leaving Rodriguez with the win, Contador 10 precious seconds on his main rival, and Vino holding the bag.  Vino is supposed to be riding in support of Contador, his team captain, and the ethos of the situation is that Contador’s ten seconds are more important than Vino’s stage win, but the self-obsessed Kazakh did not see it that way.

It’s amusing to watch a race up a steep climb like the one at Mende.  They all look like they’re in slow motion.  If they talked the way they rode they’d all have very low, slurry voices.  it’s also kind of reassuring to know that 10% is a hard grade for anybody.  I’m going to remember that tomorrow morning when I’ll probably be out there on Hunter Station.  Of course a Tour rider’s “slow” is faster than my “fast.”

Today there was also a break early on: three good riders, who were reeled in well before the finale.  Then a couple of attacks with less than 10 km to go freed Vino from the bunch, and nobody was interested in chasing him.  The sprinters had to fight for what was left, with the best of them getting the second-place points.  So that’s another variation of how a flat stage can go.  Interestingly, on a couple of small bumps along the way Armstrong was tailed off the back, and lost 4 minutes to the main peloton containing the race leaders.  My only question is whether he’s saving strength for the mountains tomorrow or is just plain knackered.

Twenty-four hours from now we’ll know, and we’ll also have confirmation of whether Schleck really can outduel Contador in the high mountains.  It is very possible that he cannot, and we’ll already have a strong clue that Contador will be the tour winner.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

Riding in Heat

By 8:15 I am rolling out of the driveway.  I know that’s not exactly the crack of dawn, now two hours in the past, but I have decided that with my kind of free time, if the day’s too hot, it’s too hot.  Not worth trying to beat the heat by stumbling out of bed at 6:00.  I had enough of that when I taught 8:00 classes.  I have already checked the temperature on my nifty indoor/outdoor thermometer, and viewed the forecast on the WeatherBug site.  Today it’s calling for sunny and hot, with temperatures in the upper 90s.  When I leave it is almost 80°.  I’ve also selected the right sunglasses lenses for the weather conditions, zeroed out my bike computer readings, freshened up my water bottle, and topped off my tires to optimum pressure.

At this time of year the sun rises far enough in the northeast to cast long shadows across some of my regular routes well into the morning, and I’ve chosen one of those: the W&OD down to Shirlington, then the connector to the Mount Vernon Trail by National Airport (the R word is not used in our household), north along the Potomac to Key Bridge, back out the Custis Trail to North Arlington, on a loop through local neighborhoods on the excellent set of street trails provided by Arlington County, and then  back onto the W&OD and home.  It’s a total of about 29.5 miles.

The key to riding successfully in heat is not putting excess stress on my body by riding at the rate I usually do.  Just doing about 90% of the usual effort keeps my body’s core temperature sufficiently low.  That’s the difference between work and power.  No matter how long the ride takes, I am doing about the same amount of work, because I am moving myself and the bike around the route described above.  But if I am going more slowly I am using less power each minute, i.e. burning fewer calories each minute, so there’s less heat to dissipate, largely through sweat.  Thus less possibility of dehydration, heat stroke, or worse.

Riding this way is psychologically hard for me, as I have stated.  I like the exhilaration and speed of pushing my effort toward the red zone.  Yesterday I tried to ride this same way, but on about the last half of the way back I was cranking it pretty hard.  Today it hit me: I should think of what I am doing as the cycling equivalent of jogging.  A runner doesn’t go at near race speed all the time.  And so I jogged along today, being passed by a couple of riders I could have passed, not keeping pace with one or two I could have, finding myself enjoying the scenery more.

Another key strategy is keeping moving.  Even stopping at a light makes me drip sweat because the air is not rushing past, evaporating it.  So I try not to take a rest stop, or if I do it is brief, just long enough to take a drink, wring out my sweat band, and wipe the sweat off my sunglasses.  Needless to say I am drenched by this time, despite the hi-tech wicking action of my cycling shirts.  They may be expensive, but whatever these things are made of is worth it.  They don’t get heavy with moisture, and when you drip-dry them after washing it’s almost like they’re repelling the water.

Hydration is also important.  I decided this year to be super-cautious on this point, because getting dehydrated is very painful and also dangerous.  So I sip as I ride along, using my new Camelback water bottle (or, since it has a rack, it’s probably a “hydration system”).  Riding at today’s pace, I don’t even start dripping through my saturated sweat band until I’m away from the River and the uphill climb out of Rosslyn.

By the time I am on the homebound leg, rush hour is over and the suburban streets deserted.  And on a day like this the trail gets deserted too.  While there are discernibly more riders to work than there were two years ago, they’re all gone by 9:00, and most recreational riders like me have gotten their exercise  over with by 10:00 or so.  No fools they.  As I get to my local  right-of-way turnoff and glide into the shade of its trees and bamboo, I remember how the path was drifted with snow and blocked by broken bamboo trunks.  That was five months ago.  Now it’s a tranquil, cool arbor through which I complete the transition from hot trail to leafy neighborhood.  Couldn’t be better.  Air conditioning and cranberry juice are just around the corner and up the hill, where I hit 20 mph on my customary all-out sprint home.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

TdF Day Thirteen

“I’m known as a clean sprinter,” declared Mark Renshaw in a TV interview after today’s stage.  Renshaw is, or was, the main lead-out man for HTC-Columbia’s gifted sprinter Mark Canvendish, who won today’s sprint finish of Stage 11 in Bourg-les-Valence.  Cavendish’s win was his third in this Tour, and thirteenth overall, breaking the mark of his mentor, former T-Mobil rider Erik Zabel.  The sprint was contested on a broad, long, flat straightway into the finish, providing all the sprint teams the opportunity to set up and get their guys in place.  Alessandre Petacchi was second, and Tyler Farrar, young American up-and-comer, was third.  Farrar has been riding with a bone fracture in his wrist (an incredibly painful though not dangerous injury), and today was the first time in a while that he’s been able to contest the finish.

Cavendish got a great leadout, and seemed to be the fastest man on the road at the finish.  But the lead out was severely tainted by the behavior of Mark Renshaw, who went off his line to his right to head-butt Farrar’s leadout rider, Julian Dean, three times, and then off-line to his left to push Farrar himself dangerously close to the barriers at the edge of the road.  Farrar appeared to touch Renshaw’s back and probably yelled something, and Renshaw then moved to the right, allowing Farrar to sprint.  The familiar term for this among the British group who call the race on TV is “argy-bargy,” an old British slang term, probably from the Scots.  It happens in sprinting.  Every sprinter and his support group are fighting for every square inch of space, every iota of advantage, all at about 60 to 70 kmh.  Feisty riders like Robbie McEwen, who’s administered a head-butt or two in his time,  have been known to be relegated to last place in the day’s placing, or even DQ’ed from the race.

Tyler Farrar, exhausted, excited, and a bit emotional in his TV interview, said that Cavendish might have been the best today, but we’ll never know.  And that’s one of the problems; the results are irreparably tainted.  The other problem is rider safety.  Had Farrar crashed into the barriers at that speed, he’d be in bad physical shape right now; his Tour would probably be over.  That’s why Renshaw was Cavendish’s prime leadout man.  The judges didn’t see him as a “clean sprinter,” but a dangerous rider.  They disqualified him from the 2010 Tour, and rightly so.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.