Kerry on the Colombiere (complete version)

John Kerry, U. S. Secretary of State, broke his femur today as he rode out on his bike for a little exercise jaunt.  He was headed for the Col de Colombiere, a mountain pass in the Savoy Alps that ascends more than 5,200 feet above sea level.  Kerry had an entourage of support vehicles, American security and Secret Service (rousted no doubt from the beds where they and their lady friends were “sleeping”), that put to shame even the famous Tour de France motorcade in terms of firepower if not tourist kitsch.

Kerry fell off hitting a curb at low speed.  It’s a surprisingly dangerous maneuver.  The curb does not have any “give,” so essentially what happens is that the bike stops very abruptly.  The rider, who did not see this coming, takes no evasive action.  His body, which was not directly acted upon by an outside force, follows the dictates of that famous law first propounded by Sir Isaac Newton, and keeps on going, propelled by momentum.  Ah, but that other Newtonian force, namely gravity, does come into play, and so the cyclist first catapults and then hits the tarmac.  The Secretary’s femur did not withstand the blow.

Most likely Kerry was preoccupied by thoughts of how he might feel halfway up the climb.  The Colombiere is formidable, offering a climb of about 16 km at an average gradient of about 6.8%, and an ascent of 1100 meters (over 3600 feet).  There is a 10.2% gradient section near the top.  I can avow that for most recreational cyclists, that kind of a gradient requires distinct effort.  The climb has been featured 20 times in the last 65 years of Tour de France racing.  Heroes from Luis Herrera to Richard Virenque to Marco Pantani have led the racers over the top in years past.  But the most infamous leader over the top is the American rider Floyd Landis.  Landis went on a literally incredible escape on the 17th stage of the  2006 Tour.  He had been dropped on the previous day, losing almost 10 minutes to his main competitors on a mountaintop finish, to trail the race leader by 8 minutes and 8 seconds.  But on July 21 he took off on a 130 km solo ride, finishing by going up and over the Col du Colombiere and down into the finishing town of Morzine.  At the end of the day he trailed the overall race leader by only 30 seconds.  He then won the Tour with a powerful Time Trial performance a couple of days later.  But as the Tour ended in Paris, word got out that a high placed finisher had tested positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs.  Landis’ tests revealed that he had an 11:1 T/E ratio (testosterone to epitestosterone) at the end of stage 17.  The normal ratio is 1:1.  The highest permissible in the Tour is 4:1.  Incredible, unbelievable, indeed!  But that’s not the only dark American cycling parable in which Kerry’s ride was caught up.

Kerrybike

John Kerry rounds a corner on his Serotta.

John Kerry was riding a Serotta bike up the Colombiere, if newspaper photos of him reflect yesterday’s outing.  Serotta bikes are of many sorts, but they include high-end titanium/carbon road bikes which sell for over $6800, and it appears Kerry is riding one of these.  Serottas are American made, in a small entrepreneurial operation run by designer Ben Serotta.  Or I should say “were” made, because last year Ben Serotta was bought out by Blue Competition Cycles and Mad Fiber Wheels to form Divine Cycling Group.  The Group withdrew funding and now Ben Serotta is not making Serotta bikes.  He owns neither the company nor the brand that he formed 41 years ago.  His bikes were at the heart of the American move into international bike racing in the late 1970s, used by such  teams as 7-Eleven under the “Huffy” brand name.  Andy Hampsten won his epic Giro d’Italia stage on the Gavia riding a Serotta-made bike, and Davis Phinney won Tour de France stages on them.  But the modern business climate of corporate control has poisoned the well for many an American small business.  Kerry’s patriotic choice to ride a Serotta symbolizes both the achievement of American small business and its precarious health.  Kerry could have ridden a Trek but I’m glad he chose otherwise.  I love Treks, but that’s another story.

So John Kerry’s fractured femur carries the weight of American parables, echoes of triumph and tragedy, appearance and reality, success and failure, all in the same moment. Quite a load for a broken bone.  And it hurts more when you put pressure on it.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2015.

Motors on Bikes? LeMond Thinks So

There’s been much talk of motors on bikes lately.  The motors in question are lightweight and can apparently be concealed in downtubes and pedal spindles.  Suspicions arose during recent stages of the Giro d’Italia when several riders, including race leader Alberto Contador, have changed bikes arbitrarily during the race.

Back in the day, let’s say Greg LeMond’s day, riders occasionally changed bikes at the foot of climbs.   One bike was designed for flat road racing, and the other for climbing.  Still, that tactic was rare.  One ensuing problem was that the new bike was not weighed before the start of the stage, as the old bike might have been.  It could be weighed at the end of the day, of course, but they seldom were.  Bikes must weigh at least a certain amount (about 14.7 pounds) to be legal in racing.

Today, if the bike change were to be from a regulation cycle to one with a concealed motor, that would provide a distinct advantage to the rider.  Even 50 or 100 watts, while small by absolute standards, is massive as an additional fraction of the rider’s natural power output.  Let’s say roughly 10% to 20%.  Even if it only gave a short boost over a few key kilometers, a motor would change the dynamics of the race greatly.

Greg LeMond, an early and outspoken enemy of doping, one who called out Lance Armstrong when everyone else was believing the “miracle,” says he thinks motors are being used in the pro peloton by major riders.  Today’s cyclingnews.com story reports that:

 LeMond is convinced that motors have been used in the peloton and that a heat gun and banning bike changes could be a simple but effective deterrents.

“I know that motors exist, I’ve ridden a bike with one and I’ve met the inventor and talked about it. If people think they don’t exist, they’re fooling themselves, so I think it’s a justified suspicion. I believe it’s also been used in the peloton. It seems too incredible that someone would do it, but I know it’s real,” he said.

“To make sure it doesn’t happen, I don’t think there should be bike changes in races. Period.”

There was a day when I’d have called LeMond, America’s only official Tour de France winner, a paranoid fool.  But not so much any more.  LeMond suggests a heat gun to identify hot spots in bikes as they are being used in races.  Seems like a simple thing to do, but the UCI (International Cycling Union) has a long history of cowardice in confronting cheating effectively and objectively.

The whole thing puts a new coloration on the excited announcer’s phrase “he’s really motoring!”

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016