North vs South: one rider, two hemispheres

The following guest blog is written by a good riding mate of mine, Gavin, who until this year lived in Sydney but now calls Atlanta home. He’s actually the one who introduced me to road cycling about six years ago, something for which I will be forever grateful. Great to get his thoughts on the differences between riding in Sydney versus the States.
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The world has some great places to ride a bike, Sydney being one of them. Having ridden there extensively for nearly seven years, I’ve experienced the best rides for peddling a road bike fast.
Australia may be small, but it sure did show me just how big competition is amongst the lycra clad brethren. It’s not just competitive, it’s fierce and relentless. You can go as hard as you like and there will always be many riders who want to take you out in a sprint or a climb. Never mind the Strava segments. And we’re only talking about training rides. Most rides became mock criteriums or road race simulations to test one’s stamina and fitness. This type of riding only made everyone stronger, faster and more hungry than ever before.
Fantastic roads and rides are abundant in Sydney, which has seen the sport of cycling grow leaps and bounds. You can climb if you want, do a long endurance bunch ride or get your heart and legs screaming on a short course and anything in between.
There are of course a few downsides to riding in Sydney – the biggest and most controversial one, lack of respect and patience from motorists towards cyclists. Having been involved in a few incidents myself and witnessed many more, the aggression has reached boiling point. This was always a concern when going out for a spin. What is somewhat strange to me is the fact that Australians are generally a pretty laid back culture. This changes when two skinny wheels meet four fat ones on the road.
Now this brings me to the Northern hemisphere, and Atlanta Georgia specifically, where I now ride my bike. Somewhat different to the Sydney sessions, most bunch rides begin at 6:30pm during the week and 8:30-10am on Saturdays and Sundays. The road conditions are poor in places with many potholes that are left unfixed – and there are fewer road lamps to help you see where you’re going.
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It didn’t take Gav too long to start winning in the USA. He even wore his old Aussie club kit.

The competition is still there, of course. But it doesn’t feel as prevalent as it was back in Sydney. This also depends on the riders you keep company with. But make no mistake, these Atlanta guys are pretty serious and keen for a race or two. Routes are fairly limited and the terrain much of a muchness, unless you’re driving out to the mountains and feel like doing the well known three and six gap lung buster hill rides.
The Southern drivers are very respectful and cautious around cyclists which is a breath of fresh air. I haven’t yet encountered any aggression, but It’s bound to happen. For now I’d like to think that this is the utopian cycling world where drivers and riders can actually live in harmony. Generally speaking other cyclists are very friendly towards one another which is a change from the sometimes cold behaviour within certain Sydney bunch rides.
These are only a few comparisons worth mentioning that I’ve noted since riding in the North & Southern Hemispheres. But I have to say, without sounding biased – man I miss the riding in Sydney :-)
This is actually the second time Gavin has had an article featured on Carbon Addiction. To read his 2012 review from one of the toughest one-day races in Australia, the 228km Grafton to Inverell, click here.

Hard work…works

Okay, okay. It’s official.

I’ve been in denial for the last six months or so. Despite plenty of friends telling me to pull my finger out and train harder if I want to ride better – including a deeply-frustrated riding pal of mine, Albert, who’s long since graduated to a higher grade – I’ve blissfully been cruising about thinking all will be okay since my most recent criterium win, way back in February.

Of course, as I well knew myself deep down, this attitude was nothing but fanciful tripe. Yet for many months I found all manner of excuses and didn’t do anything about it. However after a winter of considerable discontent on the bike, (and only the occasional flirtation with doing any proper training thanks largely to the urgings of my mate Albert) several pretty ordinary DNFs in the past six weeks finally spurred me into action.

As I write this I’m barely two weeks back into a structured training program. But already the difference is pretty remarkable. According to that elastic thing strapped to my chest, my threshold heart rate has already increased by two beats on my initial test. It’s as if an internal switch has been flicked, and my system is “on” again.

Even better, when I raced the other night I felt something I haven’t felt in a long time at the end: strong. The fact I imploded spectacularly after surging on the final lap in a suicidal attempt to bridge what I thought would be the winning break – it wasn’t – doesn’t matter. The tank still had plenty of gas in it after 50 minutes spent at nearly 40km/h despite brutal headwinds. The fact I was in a position, and condition, to even consider trying to win was a win in itself.

It was significant progress. It was a great feeling. And it was just the carrot I need to train even harder. Which I fully intend to do.

See you soon Albert…

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The blame game

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Haven’t had a really good vent in a while. But this has been simmering for a long time, so here goes. The topic relates not just to cycling, but 21st Century life in general. Plenty are sure to disagree with me, no doubt vehemently in some cases. That’s your prerogative. Just as this is mine.

So, what is this controversial topic?

Taking responsibility for our own lives. And stopping the blaming culture that’s rapidly becoming inseparable from everyday life in Australia – including cycling – a culture I believe is, frankly, %#@ed.

Now I am no lawyer and I certainly don’t qualify for Mensa. But nevertheless it seems somewhat obvious to me that here on planet earth….shit happens. It always has happened. It always will happen. Sure, we do what we can to mitigate that shit wreaking havoc on our lives by making educated choices, being generally careful, looking out for our mates and doing other things like taking out insurance. But sometimes as we go about our lives the brutal reality is we’re just dealt shitty cards, masquerading as dumb luck.

Like many others I’ve had my share of accidents on the bike, both when commuting and racing, which have left me physically and financially damaged. In two cases in particular, I have little doubt I could have pursued someone to ‘sue their ass’ – one was a driver, the other was a fellow cyclist – but I never did. Why? Simply because I don’t buy into the whole ‘someone must pay for this and it won’t be me’ culture of financially-motivated responsibility delegation. Yes, my hip pocket hurt just as much as my body on both occasions. But my conscience was clear.

We’re not naïve little kids. No one holds a gun to our heads and makes us ride our bikes, be that to race, train, commute or even just ride to the shops. We know full well that shit happens to cyclists each and every day before we even roll out of the driveway. Sometimes seriously bad shit. Life is like that. Yet we choose to ride on regardless, as we should.

However – and this is the real raw nerve right here, folks – if something does unfortunately happen, why do more and more of us now think it’s okay to instantly look for someone else to blame? It’s out first instinct. Blame someone.

I’m not for one moment suggesting that the outcomes of many of these incidents aren’t terribly sad and unfortunate for those affected. Nor am I suggesting in situations where gross and/or repeated negligence and/or criminal behaviour has clearly occurred, the perpetrators should go unpunished. What I am very much suggesting is far too many situations seem to be pursued in the courts where opportunistic ‘victims’ – no doubt egged on by no-win-no-fee legal folks – are looking for handouts or to somehow capitalise upon their own misfortune.

Say the guy riding beside you hits a rock, or a manhole cover, or a crack in the road, or a piece of an old refrigerator (happened to a mate of mine on the F3 north of Sydney) or front wheel punctures and spears into you. You fall, destroy your $6,000+ bike and break your leg in five places. That sucks, sure. But was it really his fault?

Or how about the rider in front loses concentration or decides to clear his nose at an ill-advised moment, your wheels touch and you come down, breaking your collarbone and three ribs. Were they in the wrong? Hell yes, they were. But you can be pretty sure they didn’t do it on purpose. It was an accident, the kind of which happens all the time. Human beings – yes, even me and you – are rather fallible. Shit happens. And, remember, you knew full well that unexpected shit happens on bike rides long before ever being in that bunch, on that day, at that time.

What if they’d been riding erratically for quite a while that morning, overlapping wheels, late and hard on the brakes, moving left and right, an accident waiting to happen? Again take a long hard look in a mirror and take responsibility for yourself. Talk to them. Educate them. And if they still won’t listen simply leave the bunch. It’s called being a grown up.

Now, if you have insurance to cover your physical and financial discomfort, the pain is likely to be far more manageable. But if you don’t have some kind of income protection or TDP or private health insurance to cover the costs and time off work (or never checked the fine print to make sure you were covered), well, in my view you’re the negligent one, not the other guy. Unless you’ve been living under a rock since birth, you’ll well know cycling isn’t the safest sport in the world. Accidents happen out there every day. Maybe you should have taken up chess, because you’ve certainly been rolling the dice with your life, your mortgage repayments, your kids’ school fees and your finances in general on the bike.

Oh, and one final point. Am I the only one who cringes every time I hear one of those compensation lawyer ads on the radio, or see a billboard urging me to “Get what’s only fair”? FFS. Lest we forget, despite the background violin music and compassionate voiceovers, altruism is way down the list of motivations for many of these suited shit stirrers – they’re doing it to grow their business, make more money, get that promotion, earn that bonus and put that extension on their holiday house. They want us all to become rampant blamers because, despite making society a decidedly nastier place to live, that will line their pockets handsomely. And, sadly, more and more of us are making it possible for them to do precisely that.

Vent over. Exhale.

Musical bottles

The cycle of life for a bidon on a hot day is a fascinating thing. It’s no better demonstrated than last Saturday’s Grafton to Inverell Classic, where temperatures up on the Gibraltar range and beyond soared well into the high 30s, accompanied by fierce head and crosswinds.

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Just a small selection of the 900 neutral water bottles handed out.

At the post-race awards dinner, the organisers announced they’d handed out more than 900 bottles of water at the two neutral drinks stations over the nine hours of racing. Assuming each of the 200 riders also started with two bottles on their bikes – a fair assumption based on the weather forecast – plus another 200 or so spread over the various team car eskies and neutral water motorbikes, that’s a serious number of water bottles. And from what I saw, barely any of them went unused.

As the race progressed, and the temperatures rose, we found ourselves handing out a constant flow of bottles to our riders, plus those of other teams who’d been isolated from their own team cars. There really is solidarity in suffering, whatever team colours you happen to be wearing.

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Water, please.

During the course of the day a magnificently eclectic collection of random bottles passed through our team car which had, in effect, become a mobile water bottle filling station. I have no idea where most of them came from, or where they ended up. We simply took them, refilled them and handed them straight back out to the next parched peddler on the oven-like Gwydir Highway.

By the time we hit Inverell we’d lost about 10 of our original (brand new) water bottles. M.I.A. But not to worry. We’d gained plenty of others in their place, as I’m sure every other team car did too. No doubt at the next race this game of musical water bottles will continue. Perhaps some of ours will even return ‘home’?

All black? Why are the kiwis kicking our Aussie butts in the NRS?

As I write this Pat ‘Paddy’ Bevin has just won back-to-back events in the 2014 Subaru National Road Series, claiming superb victories in the National Capital Tour and, two weeks later, the prestigious Tour of Tasmania. A fine rider surely destined for bigger things, Bevin, 23, now sits fifth in the overall NRS rider standings for 2014 despite missing much of the season, while ahead of him in first place sits Joe Cooper.

Both of these guys are excellent cyclists, no question. But like more and more riders in the NRS they’re also kiwis – as is the rapidly rising South African-born U19 from Charter Mason Giant, Keagan Girdlestone who’s already recorded podiums and multiple top 10s in his first NRS season. It’s a situation only likely to swell even further with Australia’s number one ranked UCI Continental squad, Avanti Racing Team, recently announcing their intentions to register as a New Zealand squad from the start of the 2015 UCI season.

Joe Cooper and Pat Bevin, two kiwis well ahead of the Aussies in 2014.

Joe Cooper, left, and Pat Bevin, two kiwis well ahead of the Aussies in 2014 (PHOTO: Jarrod Partridge).

Now before you unleash the All Black front row on me with a chain whip let me say I have no issue with New Zealanders whatsoever. Living in Sydney I see and work with kiwis pretty much every day of my life and count several amongst my closest friends. But what I do wonder is why are they kicking our backsides right now? Avanti, Budget Forklifts and health.com.au-Search2Retain boast plenty of Australian riders on their rosters, some of whom have enjoyed fleeting moments of success in 2014. But with their roles seemingly confined largely to that of domestique, it’s the men from across the Tasman who are proving to be the consistent GC high achievers, especially in the tougher tours.

Sure, it may just be coincidence. But perhaps there’s more to it than simply a couple of kiwis having a bloody good season?

I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps the global reputation of Australian cycling has now grown to such an extent that it’s somehow bringing the domestic scene to its knees? With so many of Australia’s top riders plying their trade overseas from ever-younger ages – be it the USA or Europe – could it be there’s simply not a whole lot left locally to challenge the kiwis, or anyone else for that matter, at senior level?

In many ways you could argue it’s a mirror of what’s been going on for decades with European soccer clubs. Whereas once only the absolute cream of Aussie footballers could ever hope to land pro contracts overseas, now hundreds do every season – and it can’t help but have a knock-on impact on the sport at domestic level.

From the top of my carbon seat post, it seems football’s recent history in Australia may now be repeating itself in cycling. Trouble is, with significantly lower participation numbers to call upon than the round ball game, the effects are greatly magnified. We just don’t have the cattle.

This season alone there are more than 30 Australians riding for UCI WorldTour teams, and countless more abroad on the levels just below that, Pro-Continental and Continental. Given the spectacular successes of riders like Robbie McEwan, Cadel Evans, Simon Gerrans and, this year, Michael Matthews, together with the invaluable support provided by others such as Richie Porte, Mick Rogers, Mark Renshaw and Adam Hansen, Aussie riders are now understandably highly sought-after, one of the hottest tickets on overseas squads, known for being fine cyclists, hard workers and good blokes. Personally, I know of three NRS-level riders who each gave up guaranteed domestic starts in 2014 to ride for peanuts on third-tier teams in Europe this season. I’m sure there are plenty of others just like them too.

With more and more teams snapping up more and more of our riders, often based on little more than potential and the coat of arms on their passport, it means the cupboard is getting a little bare. Instead of being home to a healthy pool of rising U23s and that bulging second tier of great-but-not-quite-world-level-yet-if-ever riders, the local talent pool has been pillaged – a situation that’s perhaps given the kiwis their chance to belt us.

Aussie riders are in demand pretty much everywhere.

Aussie riders are in demand pretty much everywhere.

Think about it. Save for a handful of late bloomers, the vast bulk of our finest young riders like Damien Howson (22), Caleb Ewan (20), Jack Haig (21) and Campbell Flakemore (22) now enjoy, at best, abbreviated tenures at domestic senior level before being swept away to compete in far away lands. While some like Port Macquarie’s Lachlan Morton (22) virtually skip the Australian system altogether.

Of course, it’s not their fault this happens. Our best riders will always be the target of Pro Tour squads. The real trouble appears to come from the significant number of riders on the next rung down, who not so long ago couldn’t have dreamt of plying their trade professionally abroad – but now can do exactly that. Sure, they may never scale the very heights of world cycling. But nor do they need to. They can travel the world and carve out solid careers as role players; loyal little fish in a very big pond. Beats the hell out of sitting at a desk 9-5.

What this leaves back home, inevitably, is a void; a void which is magnified even further when one of the top teams in recent years, Drapac Pro Cycling, is absent as it’s been for much of the NRS this season, understandably chasing the bigger races and prizes available through its evolution to Pro Conti status in 2014.

This isn’t written in any way to diminish the efforts of the kiwis who come to our shores and beat us at our own game; good on them I say. Rather it’s an observation of the seeming need for the NRS to be bolstered for the sake of its own future, so it becomes viable for a far greater contingent of Australian riders in that second tier to stick around. Easier said than done, I know. But surely without at least attempting to address things you have to wonder what is the NRS actually trying to achieve? Because potential sponsors will certainly be asking this question before signing up.

It’s taken local soccer administrators a long, long time to adapt to the Aussie talent drain, and recalibrate the sport’s relevance in this country – a struggle they finally seem to be winning after decades in the wilderness and several false dawns.

Hopefully cycling can do the same. Just faster. After all, the kiwis continue to thrash us at rugby every year. Surely we can get our own back when it comes to two wheels?

Until then, thank heavens for Tim Roe ;-)

The end of the hibernation

Yep. Change is in the air. And not before time. After hanging on like a doomed-to-be-dropped sprinter on a hors catégorie climb for the past month, this most peculiar of winters (certainly in Sydney) is slowly but surely fading into history as the Spring sun finally begins to gain the upper hand, weaving its magic and warming the fingers, toes and minds of antipodean cyclists everywhere.

Homeward bound

In perfect synergy with the improving temperatures, bunch numbers are beginning to swell with each new morning, much to the joy of café owners and, equally, the sarcastic tones of those battle-hardened souls who rode through the miserable teeth of a truly shitty winter and reckon everyone else is soft. The magpies love it too, of course, as the warmer weather brings with it an ever-increasing number of unwitting cyclists for them to dive bomb for entertainment, as I learned myself recently.

Sure, we’ve all done it many times before. But to me it’s still the most liberating of feelings rolling out for that first ride each Spring sans the full-fingered gloves and leg warmers. Psychologically it marks the start of summer, even if the calendar says it’s still months away. It means packing away those base layers so darn well it takes you two weeks to find them again next year. It means riding in daylight and being warm, even when it’s bucketing down. It means twilight crits and track racing. It means tan lines and vitamin D. It means deforesting the legs. It means significantly less post-ride laundry, although what we do have will likely be caked in enough sweat to fill a salt shaker. And before too long it also means one of the highlights of the riding year – for me and many others in my club, at least – the annual pilgrimage to Adelaide for the Tour Down Under.

Spring, I raise my Gatorade-filled bidon to you.

Wide sweep

What in the worlds?

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This coming Sunday marks the start of the 2014 UCI World Road Championships in Ponferrada, Spain. To get you in the mood here are seven relatively useless pieces of World Championships trivia.

1) The first ever road world championships were held in 1920 in Copenhagen where racing was strictly for amateurs only.

2) In 1927 the pros were finally allowed to have their own race, with that year’s championships staged at Germany’s Nürburgring. Italy’s Alfredo Binda won the pro race; it was the first of his three world titles. Binda would also go on to win five Giro d’Italias and coach both Coppi and Bartali during their own stellar careers. The amateur race in 1927 was won by a Belgian, Jean Aerts, who went on to also claim the professional world crown in 1935.

Italy’s Alfredo Binda, triple world champion.

Italy’s Alfredo Binda, triple world champion.

3) Until just twenty years ago separate races were still held for the professionals and amateurs. In 1996 the amateur category was replaced with the Under-23 race which has proven a strong guide to future stars of the pro tour. The U23 honour role includes Ivan Basso (1998), Gerald Ciolek (2006) and Arnaud Demare (2011), while perhaps the most star-studded alumni in the event’s history was seen in 2010 with Michael Matthews taking the gold ahead of John Degenkolb (silver) and Taylor Phinney (who tied for the bronze).

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Not a bad podium, huh? U23. 2010.

4) Time trials are a relatively recent addition to the UCI World Championships format. A national team time trial was held between 1962-1994, however the individual time trial was only introduced in 1994 when won by Britain’s Chris Boardman. Fabian Cancellara currently holds the record for most ITT titles with four, however Tony Martin can equal Spartacus’ record should he win this year in Ponferrada, Spain. Martin has won the past three elite men’s TT titles and, even more remarkably, hasn’t missed the podium in five years having also claimed bronze in both 2009 and 2010. Australian Michael Rogers sits in third all-time with his three consecutive ITT titles from 2003-2005 (Rogers was retrospectively awarded the 2003 crown after David Millar confessed to doping).

It's easy to forget Mick Rogers had three rainbow jerseys by the end of 2005.

It’s easy to forget Mick Rogers had three rainbow jerseys by the end of 2005.

5) It took until 1974 for the world championships to finally venture away from Europe when they were held in Montreal, Canada. The men’s pro race was won by none other than Eddy Merckx, the last of his three rainbow jerseys.

6) Whilst they went close in both 1977 (Venezuela) and 1995 (Columbia) the world championships have only once been held in the Southern Hemisphere; when Melbourne and Geelong hosted the 2010 event, with the elite men’s road race won by Norway’s Thor Hushovd.

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7) Belgium riders have won more rainbow jerseys in the Elite Men’s race than any other nation with 26 titles, ahead of Italy on 19 and France with 8.

POLL: Worst kit ever?

We’ve posted about terrible cycling kits on Carbon Addiction before. But after stumbling across the truly dreadful design (immediately below) from a Columbian women’s team recently, it made us think perhaps it’s time to put things to a vote. Here you’ll find what we feel are five of the all-time worst cycling kit designs plus Mario Cipollini. Let us know which you think is the worst. And of course if you have one you think tops them all, please post a photo of it in the comments.

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(A) Columbian ladies

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(B) Brown bombers

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(C) Jelly Belly

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(D) Aussie Olympians

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(E) White’s not right

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(F) Anything worn by Mario Cipollini

 

The day I was dropped by a bunch of 12-year olds

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This weekend my club has been hosting its biggest junior road event of the year, the Telstra Junior Tour of Sydney. While none of my own kids were riding, I put my hand up to help out and promptly found myself ride chaperoning about twenty 12-year olds around the Eastern Creek race track in Sydney’s west on Saturday morning. It was a lot of fun, albeit almost a little embarrassing at one stage.

One of the faster and more strategic kids – the eventual winner as things turned out – kept using a long steady climb into the finishing turn of each lap to really test the rest of the bunch. Every lap he’d attack in the same spot, drawing away and forcing the others to bust a gut to chase back on by the end of the finishing straight. This meant the bunch were well and truly knackered as each new lap began and the pace invariably slowed (it occurred that this would have been the perfect time for one of the other kids to attack, of course, but that’s for another post – and on-road coaching is strictly forbidden!).

On one of the five laps, however, something else happened – and I still don’t really know why. I was just spinning along at the back, taking in the morning in a decidedly leisurely way when suddenly one of the kids called out “attack!” Then as if in some kind of pre-meditated move to drop me, the entire bunch rose out of their saddles as one and smashed out the 12-year old power in perfect unison. Cirque du Soleil would have been proud.

It was actually pretty funny at first watching all these little Greipels, Cavendishes and Kittels bouncing up and down on the pedals like they were on crazed pogo sticks – until I realised I was in the wrong gear and before i knew it they’d put 50m on me. Shit.

It took about 500m to catch up again and while I wasn’t wearing my HRM I’m pretty sure my heart went well into overdrive there for a couple of minutes. Fortunately, whilst they’re certainly quicker than you might think when they put their minds to it, the one thing 12-years old don’t have a whole lot of is stamina – and before long they all pretty much stopped for a collective breather as I tacked back on pretending as if I’d been there all along.

Phew, I remember thinking at that time, lucky it didn’t happen in front of all those parents on the home straight.

After this flurry of activity, things calmed right back down for the remainder of the race which ended with a nice clean sprint. And me thankfully not too far behind.

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Magpie 6, cyclist nil

So, I thought I’d try exploring a private road I’d never ridden before this morning alongside some local heritage parklands in the Sydney suburb of Concord. Turns out it was a dead end and, worse, it was also home to a rather feisty magpie. He attacked me out of the blue the first time. But I knew I had to ride back again to get home so being the opportunist all bloggers are, I figured I may as well film the return journey. No blood was shed. But as you’ll see, a few colourful words were uttered. Sorry mum.

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