Funny conversation over breakfast in Strahan last week, half-way through a 500km ride across Tasmania. When asked by an elderly lady why on earth he was riding from Devonport to Hobart, one of our bunch, Pete G, replied:
“I’m doing it for my wife’s charity.”
Hugely impressed by his generosity and commitment to his wife, she then asks what the charity is. Pete replies completely straight faced:
“Giving her a break from me.”
“My cycling career was beautiful, ugly, intense and edifying. I’m ready for a new step. Without my bike.”
Thomas Dekker, 30, announcing his retirement from pro cycling this week after failing to find a team for 2015.
There’s much to love about Autumn cycling in Australia. The heat and humidity of summer is beginning to ease and while the mornings are noticeably cooler, they’re still a far cry from the icy chill of mid-winter. Riding conditions are pretty much perfect, and when you throw in the feast of the (European) Spring Classics on TV to inspire us, well, it’s almost two-wheeled heaven.
But one thing that never ceases to amaze – or annoy – is the proliferation of the early morning ninjas in the current no-man’s land immediately preceding the end of daylight savings. I’ve written about it before and no doubt will do so again. Every morning it’s a pre-dawn obstacle course, first simply trying to see and then avoid walkers and joggers who clearly must think they glow in the dark. No lights. No hi-vis clothing. No brains.
Occasionally you pass one who does have a light and/or hi-vis top. I make a point of always thanking these people, for sadly their commonsense appears to be in short supply. Just another example of grown adults not taking responsibility for their own personal safety.
You can just imagine the shit storm if you hit one of these power-walking ninjas, leaving bodies and bikes flying in all directions. “Cyclists are supposed to give way to pedestrians you dickhead – you’ll be hearing from my lawyer!”
Personally, I’d be horrified if I ever did slam into a walker, causing injury to them or me. But even at low speeds, and even with a decent bike light, it can be hard to avoid something you can’t see until the very last moment around that next corner or bike path junction – especially when it’s typically wearing headphones and oblivious to anything happening around it and maybe even walking a dog via a metre-long bicycle snare.
Thankfully the early morning mercury will soon dip into single figures and the majority will stay tucked up under the doonas. Until then, stay safe out there people. You can’t see them. But the ninjas are everywhere. And they’re dangerous.
(Oh, and don’t get me started on garbos leaving wheelie bins in the middle of the road…)
One of our all-time favourite quote machines was back to his very best before the start of Tirreno-Adriatico this week, this time taking to Facebook. Ladies and gentlemen, the incomparably eloquent Mark Cavendish:
“After 4 days of having my entire body fall out of my arse, I think the first few days of Tirreno Adriatico are going to be hard going!”
He dropped his chain overnight in stage 2, so it appears things are still falling off him.
I guess I’m an okay climber. Certainly nowhere (remotely) near great. But not terrible, either. Barring very rare days when the moons enigmatically align, you’ll find me inconspicuously tucked somewhere in the middle of the bunch and Strava leader boards. It’s a similar story with my sprinting, descending and general bike handling.
So, it was with full acceptance of my two-wheeled averageness that I found myself tapping up a moderately challenging 4km climb earlier this week, wondering what type of handicap would be necessary to make a run-of-the-mill amateur like me competitive with the world’s best riders on this type of terrain?
Clearly a head start could help. But only if it was an almighty one. What about technology, then? For example, what if a pro was forced to ride a fixie? Perhaps that would slow them down enough to make a game of it, mano a mano? Then again, maybe it would simply deepen the embarrassment. How about putting them on a BMX in sneakers? That may well do the trick, especially if it’s a rickety old rust bucket.
It’s fun to think about just how much better the top guys really are than the average recreational lycra warrior; and would make a pretty interesting experiment to find out, don’t you think?
Now if I could just convince a pro to do it ;-)
If, like me, you’re interested in these kind of hypothetical but largely useless comparisons, it’s well worth reading the following piece by Ken Taylor, a Research Scientist with the CSIRO, published after the 2013 Tour Down Under.
In the closing kilometres of last night’s final stage at the Vuelta a Andalucia, Top Sport Vlaanderen rider Edward Theuns makes a ballsy solo attempt to steal the win. Clearly impressed with the power on display from the 24-year old Belgian, the irrepressible Eurosport commentator Carlton Kirby does what he does best (4:02 on the video):
“Look at those calves, he looks like he’s smuggling frozen chickens…”
Shame Kirby doesn’t work on free-to-air. He’d be an even bigger cult figure around the world.
In recent days the conversation amongst many of my riding mates has shifted to the issue of supplements. Or, more specifically, whether they actually make much difference for hack riders like the majority of us? Of course EPO has received a mention as it always does, as has colostrum and creatine. But without doubt some of the most interesting discussion has surrounded HGH, or human growth hormone.
I’m no sports scientist and have zero intention of getting into the specifics here (plenty of websites and blogs do that already, often directly contradicting each other!). But I did want to mention one thing that ‘arose’ while I was out riding this morning.
One chap I know who has a science background explained the human body naturally produces HGH during high intensity exercise and also sleep, especially in adolescent males, which is one of the reasons why men of all ages often experience ‘morning glory’. As he continued, now with more than a slight blush and noticeably lowered voice, it became clear this was not to be our usual bunch ride conversation.
“It can also a good way to determine if you’ve had a good training session or not,” he says with a schoolboy grin. Huh? “Well, I’m not saying it’s happened to me or anything (translation: “It’s happened to me”) but there are plenty of reports of cyclists having erections towards the end of hard rides or work-outs.”
After a moment of contemplation, one wag pipes up: “So you know you’ve been training hard if you start busting out of your bike pants?”
“Yep, pretty much.”
It’s not quite over just yet, but it’s already been a fascinating summer of cycling in Australia. Plenty of great racing. Huge crowds. Painful crashes. And glorious wins. But arguably the most significant competition has been taking place off the roads as several not-so-familiar media names (in cycling circles, anyway) have thrown their hats and money into the ring alongside the long-standing leader of the broadcast peloton, SBS.
Not everyone is happy about it. But aside from occasional exceptions (highlights shown too late, and women’s cycling still gets a raw deal from all parties) and the ever-present viewer lament for almost any sport event shown by commercial broadcasters – too many and/or poorly timed ads – the coverage in 2015 has been vastly improved on previous seasons.
Of course, Channel 9 has been involved for a few years now. But with Channel 7 picking up the rights to Australia’s newest UCI catergorised race, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, it’s provided an intriguing opportunity to directly compare the two biggest networks in Australia.
Here’s our take on it…
Keenan, Liggett, McEwan. Channel 7 had pretty much all the same voices we heard at the recent Bay Crits, Nationals and TDU, except for Paul Sherwen. No real difference, so we call this one a tie.
How good was it to see real-time KMs to go and gap times at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race? Live crosses to the directeur sportifs in the team cars and live ride stats from some of the Avanti boys like Paddy Bevin were also a great addition to the Channel 7 coverage. Having Robbie McEwan in the bunch on the moto talking to riders , and commentators, was pretty neat. Also, Liggett and Keenan taking twitter questions from viewers during the coverage is a no-brainer that Channel 9 didn’t seem to think of, or perhaps care enough to offer during the recent TDU? A pretty clear win for Channel 7.
We’ve all been pretty spoiled having watched cycling on SBS for so many years with only minimal ads. Channel 9 showed a lot of ads, and got caned for it. But Channel 7 seemed to show even more today. We’re saying it’s maybe a very slight win for Channel 9 here.
(UPDATE: TV networks can and often do run different volumes of advertising per hour. They can do this because the guidelines that stipulate acceptable maximum minutes of ‘non-program matter’ – i.e. advertising – are based on averages. This article explains it quite well: http://mumbrella.com.au/tv-ads-226313)
We fully appreciate it’s only a one-day race unlike the TDU and Bay Crits, but showing the whole Cadel Evans race live on their main channel was awesome. With multiple pre-recorded features that fit in with the coverage at different stages of the race – and not just tourism ads – Channel 7 showed some real commitment and forward planning here, pretty clearly leveraging a lot of their viewer engagement expertise from the V8s, Horse Racing and Tennis. It’s a resounding win to them on this front. Sorry 9.
All in all, it seems to us Channel 7 wins very comfortably, solo with hands raised in the air, no rivals in sight. But, regardless of who did the better job, the very fact the two largest TV networks in the land have now both broadcast major domestic cycling events in the past month is surely a very good sign for the future, and hopefully gives Cycling Australia something to work with in 2015 and beyond on the domestic front.
What do you think?
The average American knows three things about bike racing: the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong and doping.”
Back in 2007 Geoff Barrett was just an anonymous education consultant who, like the rest of us, enjoyed cycling in his spare time. But over the past seven years this likeable Western Australian has become one of the most recognisable fans in world cycling, perhaps behind only the ubiquitous and seemingly ageless Diablo himself, Didi Senft.
Geoff is no ordinary teacher. He has an alter ego; a stalker of sorts, one that likes to dress up in public. Since witnessing a devastated Cadel Evans on the Champs Elysees in 2007, having fallen just 23 seconds short of claiming the Tour de France, he’s been the guy in the fluffy green crocodile suit following Evans around the World Tour, aka Crikey Cadel.
I bumped into Geoff, quite literally, at the start line of Stage Two at this year’s Tour Down Under in the swanky Adelaide suburb of Unley. After fighting off a bunch of kids chasing selfies with the croc (he has a Facebook page and uses the hashtag #SpotTheCroc if you’re interested) I managed to spend about 15 minutes with him and discovered a man not nearly as crazy as you might imagine, and one about to be faced with quite a dilemma. For when his very reason for existence, Cadel Evans, hangs up his racing cleats for good this Sunday afternoon, Geoff may well be forced to hang up his reptile suit as well.
“I have no idea what I’ll do after that, or who I’ll support to be honest, it’s a good question.”
If Geoff does decide to give it all away, the croc suit surely commands pride of place in a sports exhibit of some kind, or even the National Museum in Canberra? It may not have the longevity of Senft’s horns and pitchfork, but it’s travelled the world, witnessed multiple Tours of France, ridden around the Champs Elysees and even been seen atop Alp d’Huez, Ventoux and, just last year, the mighty Stelvio as part of an impromptu trip to the 2014 Giro d’Italia. “I only went because Cadel was there,” Geoff is quick to add with a smile. “I did that instead of the 2014 Tour.”
Given the croc suit is by no means the coolest outfit to be wearing on a roadside at the height of summer, I suggest it may need a very good clean before being out on display anywhere. “Yeah, it gets pretty hot some days, it’s like a sleeping bag inside,” Geoff admits. “I sweat a fair bit and it pools in my shoes (green Crocs, of course). But funnily enough, it doesn’t smell too bad.”
In the early days it’s fair to say Cadel Evans and the rest of his BMC entourage thought Geoff was certifiably crazy. “The first few times at the 2009 Tour they just looked at me like I was a bit of a nut-job,” he remembers. “At that stage I was only chasing Cadel around France with an inflatable crocodile that I’d picked up from Australian Geographic, not the suit.”
Why a crocodile?
“Since I went to my first Tour in 2002 – that time I had a green sign that said “Go Robbie (McEwan) Aussie Green in Paris” – I noticed there were more and more Australians heading over to watch each year, pretty much all carrying boxing kangaroos. I wanted to do something different and thought, well, Cadel is originally from croc country, so let’s go with that. Then after the 2009 race I thought to myself, ‘next time I’m coming back as crocodile’ and in 2011 I did, that’s when all the planets aligned. I had this suit and a bunch of people around to help support me and I first bumped into the BMC guys on Stage 10 I think it was, it was pouring with rain and I escorted their team bus to the start line. Cadel went on to win that Tour and it just kept going from there.”
Nowadays Evans and his team-mates know Geoff as far more than just a roadside nutter from WA, and he’s met them on many occasions in many different parts of the world. This includes Andy Riis and Georges Lüchinger (BMC Chief Communications Officer) who, clearly, know good publicity when they see it.
“I’ve met Andy Riis twice, once here at the Tour Down Under and another time at an after party in Paris. He was like, “We love the crocodile!”
Will we see Geoff at Cadel’s final professional race this week in Geelong? “Of course, I’ll be there,” he says. “In fact I’ll even be riding in the People’s Ride on the Saturday.” It remains to be seen whether he’ll be in the croc suit or not.
After that, who knows what he’ll do?