» VeloLife Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Wed, 10 Feb 2016 21:39:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Sitting in with Rapha founder Simon Mottram Mon, 25 Jan 2016 13:20:48 +0000

Twelve years ago, Simon Mottram launched Rapha, looking for something different from the dominant aesthetic of that era's cycling kits. Photo: Rapha

How did Rapha get its stripe? John Bradley talks to the founder of one of cycling's most distinctive clothing brands.

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Twelve years ago, Simon Mottram launched Rapha, looking for something different from the dominant aesthetic of that era's cycling kits. Photo: Rapha

Before Simon Mottram launched Rapha in 2003, cycling’s aesthetic was one of loud colors, team-inspired graphics, and sublimated printing run amok. But just as Arc’teryx had succeeded in making highly technical winter sports outerwear that was at home on the streets of New York or Tokyo, Rapha proved that cyclists were hungry for sleeker designs — and willing to pay a premium for it.

Fast forward 12 years, and the British company’s minimalist designs and moody photos of riders alone on misty mountainsides have become dominant themes in cycling. If the Mapei kit and Mario Cipollini were the avatars of cycling fashion in the 1990s, now it is Sky and Jacques Anquetil. (The name “Rapha” is a nod to Anquetil’s old St. Raphaël team.)

We spoke with Mottram recently to find out how he settled on the designs and imagery that changed expectations of how cycling could look.

VeloNews: When people think about Rapha, the first image they see in their mind is that stripe. What was the genesis of that?
Simon Mottram: I’m not sure if we’ve ever spoken about this, but way back about 12 years ago, we were sitting down in my kitchen and looking at what could these products look like. We must have gone through dozens. We knew we wanted them to be pared back and clean looking. We also wanted to have some kind of easy-to-see identity without using a big logo. If I’m not on a bike, I wouldn’t wear things that have logos all across them. So, on a bike, I wasn’t going to either. But you still want to have a distinguishing feature that people can instantly get: “Yeah, I can see that’s a Rapha thing.”

We looked at lots of stripes and art and colors, but when I saw the single arm stripe, I thought, “That’s got to be it.” The asymmetry was so arresting, so easy to recognize and difficult to forget. It just seemed completely right.

VN: It wasn’t so much the stripe as it was the asymmetry?
SM: A combination, really. The stripe’s about as simple as it gets, isn’t it? We could’ve put a crest or some kind of different graphic, but the simple stripe went back to the way we wanted the clothing to look.

Back in the late ’90s, early 2000s, it was still a pretty terrible look for cycling. There were far too many jerseys with pictures or swirly graphics and mad combinations of color. My burning question was, “Why should I have to sacrifice looking decent while I’m wearing performance gear?”

We looked back to where things were at an earlier time, when you couldn’t create a day-glow jersey with a thousand logos just by clicking a mouse. If you wanted to put a logo on a jersey you had to stitch it up, embroider it, put an extra panel in. So designers had to use very simple graphical language to try to get these brands across. And it just worked. They were arresting. That was our inspiration.

VN: How about the marketing look — the sans-serif fonts and the black-and-white imagery? Was that all part of the same initial process?
SM: It was all part of the same discovery process, really — me spending a lot of time in my kitchen at night, poring over books. I was given a book as a present in 1997, a French book called “Le Tour de France Intime.” What was fascinating about it was that there were virtually no shots of people on bikes. All these photos were of these riders as human beings, shaving their legs, eating, in the bath, reading newspapers, smoking a cigarette on a train.

That made me realize that cycling, fundamentally, is a very human sport. The machines are beautiful, but they’re actually quite simple, as well. Ultimately it’s just you, your head, your legs, and your heart trying to get across the finish line or up the mountain. That was the way that I wanted our brand to connect with the audience: “We know why you love cycling. We love it, too, for the same reason.” So we don’t go to market by saying, “We make great jerseys.” We go to market by saying, “Road cycling is absolutely amazing.”

For the first few years that stood out dramatically because nobody else was even trying to do it. But these days, a lot of people are. It’s certainly a much more interesting sport now to look at than it was 10 or 11 years ago.

VN: Did it help that your background was not in the bike industry?
SM: Yeah, I had zero cycling industry experience, aside from over 30 years of experience as a customer. I was a brands guy, so I just knew about developing brands. But the key thing was I was a bit of an obsessive cyclist. I had taught myself quite a lot about the sport, and learned and read a lot. That combination of having some knowledge and also having the outsider’s customer view definitely helped, I think.

VN: You’re no longer outsiders. And as Rapha has grown, it has become polarizing.
SM: Brands stand for something, don’t they? And if you want to mean something to somebody, the chances are some people are not going to like it. We were always really prepared to be polarizing. I’ve always said I’d much rather people loved us or hated us than if everybody just sat on the fence. Obviously you’d rather everybody loved you, but that’s not how the world works. So I’ve always been happy to be polarizing.

Ultimately I think more and more people will want quality and will want stories and content that connects them to the sport, and more and more people will trade up. Cycling’s too important to wear a scratchy jersey with a terrible zip.

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Travel Guide: Ride with VeloNews in Boulder Thu, 14 Jan 2016 14:32:07 +0000

The VeloNews tour with Cognoscenti is the best way to experience the Colorado Front Range's perfect roads and delicious restaurants. Photo: Kevin Scott Bachelor

The VeloNews tour, organized by Cognoscenti, is the ultimate way to experience Boulder, Colorado's perfect riding and great restaurants.

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The VeloNews tour with Cognoscenti is the best way to experience the Colorado Front Range's perfect roads and delicious restaurants. Photo: Kevin Scott Bachelor

You know these roads from old photos of the Coors Classic, or current shots of pros like Taylor Phinney and Peter Sagan out on training rides, or from simply reading about them over the years. You start a mile above sea level and point your bike up, past old Rocky Mountain mining outposts and small towns where you can stop for a slice of pie and views of the Continental Divide. You’ll ride like a pro but eat much better, then sleep, beautifully tired, at the most luxurious hotel in town.

Each of the Colorado-based tours run by Cognoscenti showcases the cultural contrasts of the area in and around Boulder, home to VeloNews’s world headquarters. It’s a city that is both one of the premier culinary locales in the United States and one of the foremost riding destinations on the planet. It sits on the edge of the American West, its borders marked by canyons and gold mines and its interior flush with flavor and refinement.

Each August, Cognoscenti partners with VeloNews for one trip that combines pro-level logistical support and professional riders as tour guides with our editors’ local knowledge and behind-the-scenes access. It is an unmatched, thoroughly Colorado experience.

More information on the VeloNews tour >>

August 19-23

$4,950 ($4,700 early bird pricing before February 29) Add a non-riding guest for $2,950

The itinerary takes in the best climbs in Boulder, including hidden roads and loops known only to locals and an optional day to the top of the 14,000-foot Mount Evans, the highest paved road in North America. Each ride is led by professional riders and VeloNews staffers.

Lunches are either catered by Cured, a gourmet shop owned by former Tour de France pro Will Frischkorn, or hosted at Salto, which sits about 3,000 feet above Boulder. Dinners take place at the restaurants that have led to Boulder being named America’s foodiest town by outlets like Bon Appetit. Those include the James Beard Award-winning Frasca. Rides are further supplied by Boulder-based Skratch Labs.

The St. Julien Hotel & Spa is Boulder’s finest hotel.

– Full Cognoscenti kit, worth $500, packed in a custom rain bag
– Full, professional sag support on every ride
– A professional photographer to document your time in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains
- Evening education sessions with cycling luminaries

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Video: Tasmania’s remote, beautiful roads Wed, 23 Dec 2015 19:21:38 +0000

If you're seeking a wild and different cycling destination, Tasmania looks like a great place to explore on a bike.

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Suffer no more Sat, 31 Oct 2015 13:08:06 +0000

Photo: Kris Claeyé | BrakeThrough Media | (File).

Cycling is hard, painful, challenging. But to be alive and riding has nothing to do with suffering, writes Ryan Newill.

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Photo: Kris Claeyé | BrakeThrough Media | (File).

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the November 2015 issue of Velo magazine.

“Suffering:” The word is etched in cycling’s lexicon, deeper, it seems, with each passing race and ride. The sport’s relationship with suffering — the word and the state of being — predates the internet. But in the social media era, when carefully filtered images of abrasions, mud-streaked legs, and faces lined by fatigue can and must be dramatically captioned, its use as a descriptor of life on two wheels has exploded.

And why not? The word has always fit cycling’s hardscrabble identity, one forged in the operatic newspaper coverage of those early Tours de France and Giri d’Italia. It fit perfectly into the narrative of “les forçats de la route,” the convicts of the road, grimly enduring all manner of hardships to escape the farm or factory life.

A hundred years later, it still applies. How else can you describe what Fabian Cancellara has undergone this season? One of the last great season-long campaigners, he cracked two vertebrae in a crash at E3 Harelbeke in March, then another two while wearing yellow at the Tour de France. He clawed back again to start the Vuelta a España, only to be felled by a virus. Spartacus called it a season in August, having struggled, endured, and, yes, suffered.

And what do you call Peter Stetina’s experience since hitting an unprotected traffic bollard in a sprint at the Vuelta a País Vasco, where he shattered his leg, kneecap, and three ribs? On the bike, the 28-year-old helped his BMC Racing teammates win stages at August’s USA Pro Challenge, his comeback race. Off the bike, he walked with a cane. You call that “suffering.”

Those are extremes. But this sport definitely has a baseline level of individual affliction, the routine suffering we deliver to — and accept from — our rivals or force upon ourselves. The burning legs and searing lungs, the churning gut, the tunnel vision — all the manifold symptoms of the body running out of the materials it needs to do what the brain asks it to. In cycling, these discomforts are somehow a reward.

“I cannot sprint against the fastest, and sometimes I struggle on the bergs at Flanders, but Roubaix is perfect for me,” Belgian brawler Stijn Vandenbergh said before this spring’s Paris-Roubiax, perhaps the race most closely associated with physical torment. “I like to suffer and make others suffer.”

In most contexts, that sentiment would mark Vandenbergh as a sociopath. In cycling, it’s a testament to his dedication to his job. Indeed, if the sport’s assorted gods assembled their own set of commandments, somewhere between Eddy Merckx’s “ride lots” and Major Taylor’s “don’t eat cheap candies” would lie Udo Bolts’ admonishment to Jan Ullrich as he struggled with a moment of weakness en route to his 1997 Tour victory. The hardened domestique’s advice to his young charge offered neither tact nor tenderness: “Quäl dich, du sau!”

Suffer, you swine.

Bolts was nails — ask anyone — and while most of us won’t stoically drag more fancied riders through 12 trips around France, there is a little bit of him in all of us. We are comforted by the fact that for all the affronts to our rights on the road, the hurled insults about Lycra and sexuality and more than a few hurled beer cans, the bad weather and popped collarbones and all of the other indignities of thousands of miles on the road, we are tougher than other people.

We suffer it all and smile. We smile because cycling, lest we forget, is not the way of the cross. To focus solely on the pain and grimaces and raw, bleeding knees in all their romantic, sepia glory is to ignore cycling’s inherent yin and yang, one that guarantees equal portions of not suffering — generous helpings of beauty, reward, and fun.

There is no other sport with such a refined balance, which offers so detailed a receipt of the physical currency spent and later refunded. Each leg-sapping ascent comes back to us on the downhill. Every too-hard pull on the front finds its counterweight in those seemingly impossible moments being sucked along at the back, spun out and effortless at the same time. Even the most relentless coastal headwind vanishes at the turnaround. (There are no tailwinds in cycling, as the saying goes. There’s either a headwind, or you’re having a great day.)

It isn’t always that simple. Rewards for the harder moments aren’t necessarily immediate. Winds that promised to pay us back on the ride back home can shift or die, and mountaintop finishes can deny the gravitational dividend. On every group ride and in every race, someone is stuck paying the bigger part of the peloton’s collective tab. But over the years, it all evens out.

For all the howling winds and cold rains or, worse, winters spent in basements hunched over warped rollers, there are the bluebird days that can’t be captured with a lens or improved with a filter. Terrible city streets and urban sprawl give way to smooth, rolling farm roads and high mountain passes. Every dizzying Wednesday interval session has its counterpart in a chatty Monday recovery ride.

And for all those intervals and other slights against our bodies — the fatigue; the rebellions of joints and muscles and organs; the failures of talent and genetics and, if we’re honest, commitment — there are those moments when it all comes together. Sometimes through careful planning, sometimes almost by accident, we occasionally fall into that state of grace where gaps close by magic, hills flatten out, and competitors seem slower. No matter how much the speed and effort might still hurt, in those moments, we’re not suffering.

Nor are we suffering after our rides, when we sit in the sun with friends we’ve made over the years or on a single ride — whom we have alternately vanquished and been vanquished by, attacked and nursed home. We drink coffee or beer and laugh at ourselves and our lives. We enjoy the still, satisfying fatigue that stems from the effort we just completed, of having emptied the tank and found out where the limit was.

It is the opposite of suffering.

There is true suffering in cycling, the kind that can’t be relieved by simply letting up or putting a foot down, resting, and recovering. You can see it in the sad journeys of the sport’s troubled souls, men like Marco Pantani, José María Jiménez, and Frank Vandenbrouke, and in the anguish of the families of Nicole Reinhart, Andrei Kivilev, Wouter Weylandt, Fabio Casartelli and all the others who went out one morning to race bicycles and didn’t come back. It is there in abbreviated careers of men like Mauricio Soler. But that suffering — that of lives profoundly changed or lost — is the suffering of humanity. Cycling is only the setting. The kind of suffering cyclists talk of when we recount how the road pitched up or the big attacks went down? That isn’t suffering at all. It is discomfort, pain, or an investment that pays off later, in the next race, on the other side of the hill, on the ride back home, or in a warm coffee shop after a cold January ride.

Call the sport “hard” or “challenging” or “painful.” It is all of those things. But don’t ever describe being alive and able to ride a bicycle as “suffering.”

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Gallery: 2015 l’Eroica Gaiole vintage bike event Mon, 05 Oct 2015 18:08:05 +0000

Classic Italian event showcases vintage bicycles and beautiful Tuscan countryside with rugged gravel roads.

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Behind the scenes at Le Tour with Manual for Speed Wed, 22 Jul 2015 01:47:38 +0000

The Tour de France is so much more than just a race. Manual for Speed captures all of the festivities and atmosphere of the Grande Boucle.

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Ride with VeloNews and Cognoscenti this August Fri, 17 Jul 2015 20:00:46 +0000

Photo: Kevin Batchelor

Come ride some of Colorado's best roads, dine at Boulder's top restaurants, and experience the USA Pro Challenge up close and personal

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Photo: Kevin Batchelor

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Video: Ride hard, eat well with Cognoscenti tours Fri, 29 May 2015 19:31:49 +0000

With top pros as ride leaders and the best restaurants to refuel afterward, Cognoscenti offers a perfect tour experience

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VeloNews is teaming up with Cognoscenti for the ultimate Boulder tour, in conjunction with the USA Pro Challenge race. Space is available but limited. Sign up now.

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Outback and beyond: Lachlan Morton returns to pro racing Wed, 06 May 2015 12:13:44 +0000

When talented young Morton became disenchanted with the European peloton, he rode to the center of the Australian outback with his brother

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A Case for Suffering: The Heroic Fri, 17 Apr 2015 12:29:46 +0000

Eroica California is a celebration of the golden age of cycling, an event in which the beauty of fatigue and the taste of accomplishment can be acutely experienced. It is modeled after L'Eroica, the original vintage cycling event held among the rolling hills and white gravel roads of the Chianti region of Italy since 1997. Here, the author stands beside a 1969 Alfa Romeo Giulia 1300 TI, with his borrowed orange De Rosa mounted to the roof rack, near the top of Cypress Mountain, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Photo: Chris Case |

Chris Case takes on the challenging terrain of Eroica California, and learns something of what it was to ride in the golden age of cycling

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Eroica California is a celebration of the golden age of cycling, an event in which the beauty of fatigue and the taste of accomplishment can be acutely experienced. It is modeled after L'Eroica, the original vintage cycling event held among the rolling hills and white gravel roads of the Chianti region of Italy since 1997. Here, the author stands beside a 1969 Alfa Romeo Giulia 1300 TI, with his borrowed orange De Rosa mounted to the roof rack, near the top of Cypress Mountain, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Photo: Chris Case |

Editor’s note: Velo managing editor Chris Case is on a quest to ride and race the most fascinating and challenging cycling events around the world. Follow his journey on Instagram and Twitter: @chrisjustincase. Questions or concerns for his well-being? Send him a note.

The light was flickering like an antique cinema projector, hazy shafts of sun casting down upon the dirt double track, through the thick canopy of a hollow, secluded canyon.

Light. Shadow. Light. Shadow. Flick, flick, flick.

This was my vision, out of focus in the noontime light, but there nonetheless: Coppi, climbing, crouched into a coil of potential energy, his long nose guiding him like an unstoppable ship.

This was what flashed before my eyes and through my mind while climbing Cypress Canyon — far from Gaiole in Chianti, or the Strade Bianche, the birthplace of the original L’Eroica — inside this perforated tunnel of trees near the Central Coast of California.

This was Eroica California. Part Italy. Part America. A Civil War reenactment for cycling, brought to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Find yourself a bike, and be sure it was made before 1987, complete with downtube shifters, toe clips, and external cable routing into the hoods. Find yourself a jersey, make sure it’s wool, and preferably plastered with an Italian surname. Get your black shorts, your bright white socks, and a “hairnet” helmet if you can. You’re ready for Eroica (the events outside of Gaiole, of which there are now four, one each in California, Japan, England, and Spain, all go by the title Eroica, and the original remains L’Eroica, or “The Heroic”).

The day before I had been handed a Crayola orange De Rosa, the bottom bracket recently returned to a state of function, the tubular glue still wafting through the air as I re-familiarized myself with the art of kicking into a set of toe clips. For period-correct footwear, there are a few options to choose from, assuming you don’t have 25-year-old shoes decaying in your closet. I chose a classic black pair from Vittoria’s Line 1976 — Italian-made leather which I wore with pleasure, both because of the yesteryear styling and the out-of-the-box comfort.

The bike harkened back to an era of racing that predates my birth; luckily, it fit like Ugo De Rosa made it himself to my specifications. And, authentic to the epoch, the tubulars were narrow (22mm), the gearing constrained (53-42 in front, a six-speed, 12-26 cassette in the rear, which offered a wider range than the original equipment would have), and the braking rather grim.

It was time to conjure the spirit of Coppi and Bartali, Géminiani, and Merckx.

We set off in the Champagne air of a Paso Robles morning, perched upon antique steel before the sun had had a chance to rise. If you squinted, you could take yourself back to another time, the darkness aiding in the imagining of a bygone bicycling script. Hunched, rocking bodies atop clicking-clacking machines. Old cables, friction shifters, cold fingers. The hypnotic silhouettes of symmetric, contouring combs of vines.

If you wanted to be in Italy, you were.

By sunrise, we had reached the first checkpoint — if you were heroic enough to take on the 127-mile route, this was the first of five checkpoints where you received a stamp confirming your arrival — amid the olive trees of Olea Farm. Breakfast would be nothing other than Belgian fries cooked in luscious olive oil, sprinkled with Himalayan salt. Ketchup and salsa for your pleasure. Big bowls of olive oil and spices lined long tables beside sliced baguettes.

A glorious day was upon us. Until it wasn’t. Pfft, pfft, pfft. Air, under pressure, evacuating through a tiny hole, intermittently interrupted by the revolutions of the wheel. Mile 40.

If, like me, you aren’t a part of the generation that rode “sew-ups” to train on, puncturing a tubular far from anywhere is a requirement for understanding the spirit of L’Eroica, a ride back through time when hard was harder and long was longer.

This is when my new friend and riding mate Chuck Teixeira became my impromptu guide to the essence of 1974. It isn’t that changing a tubular on the side of the road is difficult, but there is comfort in having someone who has done it hundreds of times beside you, if only to convince you that riding for another 90 miles isn’t suicidal.

No glue? Use that rear brake to heat up the rim, melt some fumes, and get one percent more adhesion through the magic of thermal dynamics. Or so he told me.

Given the ramshackle state of the spare tire that was affixed beneath my saddle, (something I didn’t realize until it was too late), I could only cling to the paradoxical premise that an old tire that was beat to hell but still kicking was a sturdy tire that had put up with a lot of shit and was ready for more.

It can be done, trust me, said Chuck’s poise. I was less alarmed at the insanity of riding glueless as I was incredulous at the adoption of clincher technology. So what if you died around the next bend, changing tubulars was efficient. Rip one off, slide one on. Just try not to turn that much.

This is when Chuck told me about the first time he rode tubulars. At the mid-point in this particular out-and-back century, he pulled into the parking lot to turn around and head home. It had been straight roads all day, until now. In front of the gathered crowd, he turned, both the tires slid off, and he crumpled to the ground. He rode gingerly back the 50 miles to the finish, bloody and embarrassed. But he always remembered to glue his tubulars to his rims after that.

We set off down the winding roads, my front tire cozily bonded, my shoddy rear spare, complete with cuts in the sidewall and tumors beneath the tread, merely lounging around a whirling hoop, ready and waiting to drift off.

The roads eventually led us to our next checkpoint, amid the forest on the lower slopes of Cypress Mountain. From here, we were headed over the Coast Range on a rustic back road, complete with 20 percent grades, and, ultimately, paradisiac views of the Pacific Ocean.

But paradise would have to wait a while. Tubular eruption number two. Mile 60.

Things just got a bit more difficult. I had no more tires. But I had Chuck, who insisted I take his spare.

“No way! I’ll figure something out. I can’t take that from you,” I said.

“Yes, come on, take it. It’s a long walk out and it’s good karma for me,” he said. Then he set off on his immaculate Teledyne Titan, all 16 pounds of early titanium technology and “Drillium” trimmings, up the climb, knowing I’d likely catch him by the top.

While I sat there in the sun, peeling another tubular off and tossing another on, the flies buzzing and the soil parched, absorbing the scenery and the circumstances, I could only think of one thing: bike racers from long ago. Eugène Christophe and the Pyrenean blacksmith shop, forging forks to ride on. The absurd number of miles and the frequency of mechanical misadventures that defined the early years of racing. All alone; figure it out; ride on.

I rode on. And 200 meters up the road, I was standing next to Chuck again.

This time, it was Chuck who had punctured. “I’m going to need that tire back, Chris.”

We laughed; it was not our day. We considered the options; it seemed my day was about to get a bit longer, a bit harder. The only way out of this jam was to walk or ride my way up the steepest climb of the day, with one good tire and a very small cluster of gears. I leaned my bike against the edge of a dilapidated bridge and took a photo of its knackered state.

“That’s it, make the most of it, Chris,” Chuck said as he drifted away into the distance.

This was a bike ride; I was riding this bike. And it was going to get me to at least the top of this climb, maybe farther. Then, I’d figure something out.

Riding on a flat tire on dirt isn’t too hard; you just have to mind the off-camber switchbacks that can peel the tire from the rim and into your brakes. And try not to hit every rock since this isn’t your bike. True to the spirit of the golden age of cycling, steep just became steeper.

Though I held out hope that I would eventually find a solution to carry on with two intact tires, I also reasoned there was a good chance I was nearing the end of my inaugural Eroica. I drilled it. I passed a lonely figure who grumbled at my rate of ascension. “I’m lighter since I have less air in my tires than you…” I yelled when I was already past him, trying to be gentlemanly about it all.

And then I saw it. The vaporous haze of Pacific Ocean views. A water station. People. Cars. Not a tubular in sight, and 13 sinuous miles of catastrophic tarmac between me and the town of Cambria.

Hero status would have to wait until next time.

The gathered support staff snapped photos of me. Maybe I looked as depleted as Octave Lapize as he crested the Tourmalet in 1910 and famously screamed “Murderers!” to the gathered officials. Or, I’d like to think, maybe I struck as handsome a figure as Anquetil after a fifth Tour victory.

In any case, I was offered a ride down the mountain. My riding time was through.

Jim was the proud owner of the most appropriate sag wagon there could be for this day: a 1969 Alfa Romeo Giulia 1300 TI, adorned with a checkered flag racing stripe, lowered and stiffened for racing, with one roof-rack tray and red vinyl seats.

I saluted the fine folks gathered at the aid station as I bid them arrivederci, and was promptly swooshed down the hill toward the sea, by a piece of historic Italian machinery.

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Knaven’s Roubaix winner: A bike too good to wash Wed, 08 Apr 2015 14:46:26 +0000

Knaven's bike is now on display in the Amsterdam Rapha store, along with the grimy jersey from the day he won a cobblestone in Roubaix. Photo: Andrew Hood |

Mechanics never washed the mud off of Servais Knaven's winning bike from the 2001 Paris-Roubaix. It's on display at Rapha's new Dutch store

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Knaven's bike is now on display in the Amsterdam Rapha store, along with the grimy jersey from the day he won a cobblestone in Roubaix. Photo: Andrew Hood |

SCHOTEN, Belgium (VN) — The mud of Paris-Roubaix is eternal. And in the case of Servais Knaven and his winning Eddy Merckx frame, he’s hoping it stays that way.

Moments after crossing the line victorious in the 2001 Paris-Roubaix, a euphoric Knaven passed off his bike to Domo-Farm Frites mechanics, and was swept up in a media hurricane.

Hours later, back at the team hotel for a post-victory celebration, a mechanic pulled Knaven aside, pointed to the Eddy Merckx frame propped up against the wall. The mechanic, veteran wrench Chris van Roosbroeck, didn’t wash it, and nearly 15 years later, the same mud and grime from Knaven’s greatest professional moment remains caked onto the frame.

“It was the mechanics who chose not to wash it. After the podium, the bikes are always washed, but I am thankful they didn’t clean it,” Knaven told VeloNews. “I didn’t even think about the bike. Moments after winning Roubaix, my mind was elsewhere.”

Flash forward 14 years, and Knaven’s muddy Roubaix bike is now hanging on the wall at Rapha’s concept store in the heart of Amsterdam’s trendy “Nine Streets” district.

The 44-year-old is now the lead sport director for Team Sky at the spring classics, but back in 2001, he was a cog in Domo-Farm Frites cobblestone wheel. Superstar Johan Museeuw was leading the team, yet Knaven took advantage of a numbers game, attacking with about 10km to go out an elite group to take the most important victory of his 17-year racing career that spanned from 1994 to 2010. Horrendous conditions, with driving rain, mud, and wind, made that year’s Roubaix one to remember.

“Winning Roubaix, that was the highlight of my career, of course,” Knaven explained. “It was raining from the start. It was really muddy, and there were many crashes on the first sectors. The group kept getting smaller and smaller, and in the end, I think there were 30 of us left. It was a huge day.”

Domo-Farm Frites swept the podium, with Museeuw and Romans Vainsteins second and third, respectively. George Hincapie was fourth, and Wilfried Peeters, another Domo rider, was fifth.

Knaven’s muddy bike became something of celebrity in the months following Roubaix. Racing legend Eddy Merckx, whose name is emblazoned on the frame, displayed it in Compiegne to celebrate the centenary of the “Hell of the North,” and later had it on display at the company’s headquarters in Belgium. After about a year, Merckx gave the bike back to Knaven.

“It was a special bike for me. I only rode it twice; once in the recon, and then in the race,” Knaven recalled. “I kept it in the basement, where the kids played, but the mud stayed on the frame. It was nice to look at. You can still see where the water sprayed up on the frame. You can also see where I had a puncture, and they had to change the wheel in neutral support. It brings back the memories of that day.”

Of course, historic bikes hanging on the walls of museums and bike shops are nothing new. Belgium is chock full of such places. Oudenaarde has a museum dedicated to the Tour of Flanders while Roeselare hosts the Wieler Museum, dedicated to all things on two wheels.

Knaven’s bike ended up in the Rapha’s new Amsterdam store, which opened two weeks ago, at the behest of the UK-apparel company.

“Rapha is a sponsor of the [Sky] team, and they asked me if I would put the bike in the new café in Amsterdam,” Knaven said. “I said sure, so long as you protect the bike, and if no one can touch it.”

The bike hangs securely on the wall, along with Knaven’s winning jersey, also still muddied from the wild day across the pavé.

“It’s my lucky bike,” Knaven said. “Now that I have stopped racing, it’s nice to see people’s reaction when they see the bike. I am glad the mechanics never washed off the mud!”

Rapha Cycle Club Amsterdam
Wolvenstraat 10, 1016 EP Amsterdam, Netherlands
+31 (0) 20 341 5082

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A Case for Suffering: Made in Taiwan Wed, 26 Nov 2014 12:00:48 +0000

Managing editor Chris Case crosses the line in 14th place at the incomparable Taiwan KOM Challenge. Photo: Daniel Simms Photography

Managing editor Chris Case describes the agony and ecstasy of taking on the incomparable Taiwan KOM Challenge.

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Managing editor Chris Case crosses the line in 14th place at the incomparable Taiwan KOM Challenge. Photo: Daniel Simms Photography

Editor’s note: Velo managing editor Chris Case has raced enough criteriums to know there are far more enjoyable ways to spend time on a bike. He has set out to find pain and pleasure at the most unique, challenging, and captivating competitions. Follow along with his experiment to ride the best and most difficult courses, the most punishing and most promising races, on- and off-road, on Instagram and Twitter, @chrisjustincase. Questions or concerns for his health? Send him a note at

It was pissing rain.

It was the type of day that gave you a simple choice: sulk, or smile. I’ve learned a lesson from years of racing in inclement weather: it’s always advantageous to stick with the grins; pouting only makes you colder.

We were in Taiwan, far from home, in an exotic landscape that I had quickly fallen in love with, about to race bikes up one of the longest hill climbs in the world. The choice was made for me.

I embraced the dreary, soggy conditions, absorbing the wet, the cold, the foul soup of mist and misery and turning it on its head.

I made a case for suffering.

It would have been easy to mope and complain. But a simple flip of the switch in my brain and it was just as easy to tell myself, ‘This is the weather that only the hard thrive in; these are the conditions that make for great stories; these are the days when pain is my friend, and the harder I shake its hand, the more pleasure will come my way.’ I shook vigorously.

It’s not as if it would have been an easy day even if the weather had been tropical. Today, I, along with 472 other intrepid and/or insane cyclists, set out to ride to the top of Taiwan, in the KOM Challenge, all 62-miles of climbing, with its 17 percent average gradient over the last 8 kilometers. The route was famously picturesque, a warped canyon of ancient marble accented by clinging carpets of green, known as Taroko Gorge. You couldn’t imagine a more beautiful route for a race, and on this day that’s exactly how you had to experience the Jurassic decor, since the folds of fog had settled deep into the cut.

We, invited cycling journalists, had been in Taiwan for a week, tasting the flavors of a country rich in sustenance. There had been glorious jungle climbs, through thick, ripe foliage on ribbons of chalkboard black tarmac. Each night we were fed heaps of food, platter upon platter of things we could not necessarily identify, and which we knew we could not finish, but which were offered to us by a people bursting with generosity. We ate heartily. Shrines and temples dotted the hillsides, and stinky tofu stands peppered the curbsides of many a town and city corner.

But now the royal treatment was over; the Taiwan Travel Bureau had invited us here to experience the nation, its culture, this devilish race, and had pampered us in so many ways, but they forgot to talk to the rain gods about our final mission.

The KOM Challenge is, arguably, the hardest hill climb race in the entire world. From zero to 3,275 meters to the summit of Hehuanshan mountain. One road. One direction: Up.

We rolled out to the click of nearly 1,000 pedals popping with the sound of cycling.

The rain, it continued to drop. My teeth chattered; I looked over at Will Routley, an invited professional who claimed the KOM competition at the 2014 Tour of California, whose lips were a pale shade of not-right. We had 18km of neutral rollout, and that was 20km too much. We wanted to race, to generate fury and warmth and spirit. But we had to wait. It was best just to think ahead, to know that it was all about to detonate.

Once we turned into the mouth of the gorge, it was immediate. The racing became racing, and a universally familiar feeling washed over the peloton. We’d all done this before; find your home and settle in for the long climb into the heavens.

There were small rocks scattered on the edges of the gleaming darkness of asphalt from the incessant rains. You notice these things when you’re following unfamiliar wheels; you hope the others notice too and kindly indicate which side to take warning. You notice all these things, and hope.

Then it came. The singular sound of a cycling crash. The shriek of frightened voices and the noise of impact instantaneously register a warning. Sometimes the speed with which your brain can process the information is helpful; you slither by. Other times, you have no choice. Down.

My brain helped me now, and only a slight dab was required to avoid the chaos. But I looked to my right as I tiptoed to safety, and I saw the pained face of a fallen friend, a fellow journalist and professional rider. Down.

To stop, or not to stop? As quickly as your brain can process myriad tactical sensations, it can bog down with moral dilemmas. Conflicting thoughts. I wanted to stop and see if she was okay. She’d probably want me to press on. She could use my help and encouragement if she was able to return to the race. She’s in good hands here; someone will stop to help.

I was swept up the road, allowing myself to be taken farther from a place of decision. It pained me to press on. But I did, knowing that there were only people as hard as diamonds in this race. She would have some story to tell, one way or another. She would come back stronger.

I patiently made my way back through the field, to the pointy end of the race, settling in and finding a rhythm amongst the gathered tribe. This was elite company: small bikes, small people, big engines. I felt like Stijn Vandenbergh among a fleet of Rigoberto Uráns.

We pierced through the floating waters of the atmosphere, concentrated air that combined with the falling rains to create a mobile sweat lodge. We smoothly flowed slowly upward, losing riders one by one, until a finite group of 20 coalesced. And, then, we pedaled on, waiting for the moves to come. I drifted off the front, more so to spawn warmth than to elicit counterattacks. Will tried to bridge to me to make a North American tag-team. His team-issued orange helmet would go nowhere without passengers.

We pressed on. For hours. Only up.

I dangled at the tail of the snake. I sensed the dawning of the drop; any lift in pace, after three and a half hours of climbing and I would drift away, behind and beyond. Sometimes the solo effort is a more comfortable place to be, and so a small part of me was eager for the fall.

And then, nonchalantly, it came. They floated away, softly, silently, and I searched for signs that would help me understand just how much longer I would have to endure this growing ache. Eleven kilometers. Maybe 20 minutes of torture? Deep sighs. Eleven kilometers of torture.

The closing eight kilometers are touted as the hardest of the race, but when you’re numb, or dumb from the bonk, it’s easy to consider them impossible. Unnecessary. Contrary to sane.

But if you’re lucky, inspiration comes to you, and you push on. I received a gift in the shape of small cyclists emerging from the fog, just up the road from me. They were going slower. I knew I was going to catch them. I was better than them at this moment. Momentum. Mental momentum. I rode it.

I had become so cold that my hands no longer functioned. They were catatonic. Hands, in fact, are important for riding a bike. They allow you to shift, and brake, and steer — and also eat. You might call them essential. And when you lose the ability to tear open a wrapper to feed your starving cells, and fear shifting to a harder gear knowing that you may never be able to downshift when the road tilts skyward, you know it is time to hurry home. Grip and ride. Hold on tight. Turn the legs. Churn skyward.

Then, sometimes inspiration comes on a grand scale, such as the sight of a bright orange helmet and yellow socks, the distinctive kit of an Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies professional cyclist named Will. He’s moving so slowly. I’m very much catching him. He is paper-boying so bad that I think I could be hallucinating. ‘I’m going to drop his ass.’ Giddy with the thought. And then, in painful, grinding, slow motion, I passed the pro who was colder than me, only 500 meters from the line.

I know my brain function was compromised at the summit. Some form of hypothermia-meets-fatigue syndrome. I say that now. Then, I was delirious, crawling around looking for warmth, seeing familiar faces but not saying much. Did I smile? I’m smiling now, thinking back, but then I was a shell. Will came across the line moments later; we tried to embrace, the sheer camaraderie almost overwhelming us. But it didn’t go so well. We were pathetic. We were done. Our arms wouldn’t rise for the occasion and we bumbled around and uttered only guttural sounds.

There are times in life when everything blends to perfection like a spritely, summer cocktail: the right people, a captivating place, and profound, collective enjoyment are the only necessary ingredients. This was far from summer, but the satisfying taste of success was effervescent in the whirlwind chaos of a mist-shrouded summit on the other side of the world.

This cocktail, on this day, was made in Taiwan.

Editor’s note: Chris participated in the Taiwan KOM Challenge as a guest of the organizers and had his flights, food, and accommodation paid for. VeloNews would like to thank the organizers for the invitation and their hospitality. A full list of the 252 successful finishers can be seen here.

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Alexi Grewal to ride Gran Fondo Italia Aspen-Snowmass Wed, 06 Aug 2014 15:08:19 +0000

Grewal’s most famous win remains the 1984 Olympic road race in Los Angeles. Photo: Steve Powell/Allsport. Getty Images

The 1984 Olympic champion lines up to ride Sunday in Colorado

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Grewal’s most famous win remains the 1984 Olympic road race in Los Angeles. Photo: Steve Powell/Allsport. Getty Images

Olympic champion Alexi Grewal will join hundreds of riders in Snowmass, Colorado, Sunday, August 10, to ride the 95-mile Snowmass-Aspen Gran Fondo Italia. Winner of the 1984 Olympic road race in Los Angeles, Grewal lives in Colorado.

Grewal has put together a training primer for riders who are looking to tackle their first gran fondo.

In 2011, Grewal, then 50, attempted a comeback, competing at the Redlands Cycling Classic, hoping to ride in his home state’s inaugural USA Pro Challenge. That didn’t work out, however, and in December of that year, however, he called off his comeback attempt.

The event will be the first in a series of five rides taking place throughout the U.S., with the final event happening in Rio de Janeiro, November 16. This year will be Gran Fondo Italia’s fifth season of events. The organizer claims that more than 30,000 cyclists have toed the line in their competitive rides since 2009.

Gran Fondo Italia also announced a new partnership with Italian helmet manufacturer Kask. Angelo Gotti, CEO of KASK said, “Gran Fondo Italia brings the best of an incredible Italian cycling tradition to destinations worldwide, and its heritage, expertise and passion matches that of KASK, making it a natural organization to partner with.”

Registration is open for all 2014 Gran Fondo Italia events.

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Feed: Belfast’s Coppi restaurant Sat, 10 May 2014 04:13:47 +0000

Coppi gives diners a real taste of Italy, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photo: Neal Rogers |

Belfast restaurant and pasta-maker provide a real taste of Italy in Northern Ireland

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Coppi gives diners a real taste of Italy, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photo: Neal Rogers |

Coppi restaurant

Location: Saint Anne’s Square, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Why: Real taste of Italy, in a cycling-centric atmosphere

The 2014 Giro d’Italia may be the race’s first trip to Northern Ireland, but a slice of the Giro has existed in Belfast for years.

The upscale Coppi restaurant, named after the Italian champion, is located in Saint Anne’s Square, in the trendy Cathedral Quarter.

An old truck, so well loved that it has its own Twitter account, sits outside, marking the location, and a wall-sized mural of Italian great Fausto Coppi can be found on the back wall.

Appetizers include chichettis, small snacks typically served in traditional bars throughout Venice, as well as boards of meats, cheeses, and seafood. Main courses consist of pizzettes (small pizzas), pastas, and risottos.

Italian beer Peroni is served on tap, while the locals’ favorite, Cathedral Quarter Irish Ale, is served in bottles. San Pellegrino sparkling water is, of course, ubiquitous.

The owners of Coppi also run Il Pirata, named after fallen Italian champion Marco Pantani, and The Pastificio, the pasta development kitchen for both Coppi and Il Pirata restaurants.

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Review: Islabikes CNOC delivers aggressive, durable ride for kids Fri, 09 May 2014 20:05:39 +0000

The Islabikes CNOC 14, pictured here next to a 29-inch wheel, is a durable, aggressive kids' bike aimed at young riders looking for more maneuverability in a small pedal bike. Photo: Brian Holcombe |

If you're looking for a bike that can serve your young, dirt-exploring children, Islabikes' 14-inch frame is worth consideration

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The Islabikes CNOC 14, pictured here next to a 29-inch wheel, is a durable, aggressive kids' bike aimed at young riders looking for more maneuverability in a small pedal bike. Photo: Brian Holcombe |

Parents, if you’re anything like me, your passion for bikes and riding them bleeds over to your kids. Perhaps your little one started on a balance bike before two years and has quickly outgrown his or her first pedal bike. If so, the Islabikes CNOC 14 is a durable, lightweight, and maneuverable option for kids starting to explore singletrack and the freedom of fast bikes.

The British builder first brought its frames for young riders to the U.S. market in 2013. Founded by former British cyclocross champion Isla Rowntree, the brand focuses on ergonomics and weight in its designs and the results paid off over four months of riding by my four-year-old son.

I measure children’s bikes against three qualities: Immediate visual appeal, ridability across conditions, and durability. The 12.4-pound Islabikes CNOC 14 nailed all three.

Jumping for excitement

We tested the CNOC’s first-impression performance on Christmas morning with the time-honored “cover it with a blanket in the corner” unveiling. Our then-three-year-old couldn’t conceal his feelings after carefully pulling back the cover.

“I’m jumping because I’m excited,” he said loudly as he hopped around the living room.

The rest of the morning centered around one thing: getting to the trailhead for a barely-above-freezing ride on the dirt.

It’s easy enough to dismiss our son’s reaction; he would probably be over the moon for any new bike under the tree. But with the Islabikes micro V-brake levers and knobby Kenda Small Block Eight tires, this new rig looked like mom’s and dad’s bikes, and he was thrilled. The CNOC is a bike for big guys and girls, shrunk to fit the youngest riders.

The CNOC rips, and takes some getting used to

The aggressive geometry of the CNOC 14, constructed of lightweight 7005 T6 aluminum with a cro-moly fork, took a bit of getting used to, but after a couple hours in the saddle on our local trails and the road between our house and the nearby park, our son was dialed. What was twitchy at first became maneuverable after three rides.

Many bikes designed for the sub-seven-year-old set feature handlebar height that is 10cm-plus above the saddle. The CNOC 14 features a more level plane between its small-diameter aluminum bar and saddle, forcing young riders into a more forward, over-the-bars position, which makes for improved handling on the pump track and trail.

The first handful of rides were a bit nervous, and we had a few crashes that wouldn’t have happened on a more upright frame, but the performance benefits made the memories of those skinned knees fade.

The downsized 1.5-inch Small Block Eight tires hooked up well on the dirt and didn’t provide an overwhelming amount of resistance on the road. And while the front V-brake allows the rider to gain familiarity with hand brakes, the coaster brake provided secure stopping. The brand’s British bikes sport two hand brakes and no coaster, but U.S. law requires all “sidewalk bikes” under 20 inches to carry the pedal-based stopping.

The 25-tooth front chainring, 89cm crankarms, and 14t rear cog make for a solid all-around gearing, though our son did spin out a bit on high-speed descents. This, thankfully, allowed dad to win an occasional race home from the park and was expected, given the singlespeed drivetrain and small sizing requirements.

The 12.4-pound claimed weight meant our son was able to push and carry his own bike — a big benefit at the pump track, where he was able to dismount and walk up any hits he didn’t top out.

Two shortcomings do mark the CNOC. First, the saddle cover is slick enough that our son shot off the seat and into a superman position after catching a little air on the trail. (Yes, he rode it out, and it’s one of his favorite riding memories, at the moment.) A grippy saddle would be a functional improvement, though it might take away some unscripted fun out on the dirt.

The size range is tight on the 14-inch model as well. Our son is 106cm tall, with a 42.5cm inseam, and he’s on the verge of outgrowing the bike, which fit perfectly just four months ago. I would recommend sizing up one model, if possible, though it’s hard to say how this would affect the ride quality early on.

Standing up to abuse

Perhaps the most important characteristic of a high-quality kids’ bike is its ability to stand up to abuse. We’ve ridden the CNOC hard off-road, left it out in the rain, and allowed mud to dry all over the drivetrain, and the bike keeps working as if it were new. In the instance you encounter trouble, each Islabike comes with a five-year frame guarantee and a two-year parts guarantee — plenty of time to run two or more kids through the bike.

The paint has held up to the usual throwing around kids do with their bikes and the grips show no sign of the dozens of scrapes on the concrete they’ve endured. I’ve lubed the chain just twice in five months and there has been no sign of needing more care.

We’ve also had zero flats on the Kenda rubber — which reminds me, I should start carrying a spare tube for the kid.

Availability and accessories

The 12.4-pound CNOC 14 retails for $269.99 and is available directly from the brand’s Portland-based U.S. offices. According to the company’s website, bikes deliver to most locations within 14 days, for $25-40.

Accessories available from the manufacturer include “full wraparound ‘cromo-plastic’” fenders ($24.99), spare tubes ($6.99), and “no tools” training wheels ($14.99).

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Notes from the Scrum: Fast and slow Fri, 02 May 2014 09:00:13 +0000

What kind of rider are you? What kind do you want to be? Photo: Matthew Beaudin |

A writer and rider struggles with what kind of rider he is and what kind he wants to be

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What kind of rider are you? What kind do you want to be? Photo: Matthew Beaudin |

Fast. Shiny shaved legs, new tires, new shorts, shimmering road bike, new cap tilted just right. Embrocation.

I’m fast today. I smell fast today. I’ll be faster today than I was last weekend. Maybe not pro fast. No, never pro fast. But fast enough to hang on to them maybe. Maybe fast as the laughing group up Ventoux if they’re telling jokes and I grit my teeth. I gotta be. I’m going good. You can see veins in places I didn’t know I had veins. Maybe I could have been a racer. A real one, if I’d tried this sooner.


I am dropped by people a short time later whose names don’t end up in race results. I am not fast. An Icarus who pedaled too close to the physiological sun again and I’ve cracked for my troubles in the howling wind of the plains. I had to counter. People with panache always counter, even if they can’t. Candy bar. I need a candy bar.


I am slow today. I don’t need a light race bike. I need a trail bike. Because I don’t care about going fast; I’m a soul rider. A guy who rides because the rocks and trees and dirt are air and heart and head fresheners. I’ll ride off that drop twice, better the second time. Cleaner the second time.

I’m the kind of rider who carries a beer — or two? — in his pack and drinks it on the rocks looking at the sun as it sets over the Colorado River. That’s me. I don’t do this sport to go fast. Fast people can have it. It’s not for me.

I tell myself I’ll never care about going fast again because I am not fast by nature and should no longer try to be. I should be the rider with tattoos and scars and flat-billed hats. I should be thicker and louder and buy a sweet new freeride bike. And a bigger truck. For sure, a bigger truck.

I bounce off some rocks a short time later, following a rough line in Grand Junction. My shin has swallowed an egg, and it’s bleeding into my sock. But I had to try to ride it. Who comes all this way and doesn’t try? Maybe I’ll try enduro.

Faster now.

It feels good to go fast.

It is dawn and the Leadville 100 is starting and I am fast again in the early morning with the 1,500 others, most of whom can’t be faster than me. Not today. No sir. Pedal pedal eat eat pedal eat drink spit cough cough.

A full workday later I am 201st, I think. Two hundred people better than me. They went hard. I had to go hard. Had to. Can’t let those wheels fade away into the valley with wind like that. I coughed for hours. Woefully ate half a pizza while lying on a hotel bed. Was that fun?

“Hey, let’s just take it easy,” I say to my legs. Nothing wrong with slow. I attack on the downhill 20 feet later. Seeing how much leash he gives the underdog. I’m the underdog. No leash given. Venga.

We are going faster now, faster than I’ve ever gone before on this road, racing. He is better. He is up the road three seconds but I try because one day I might have it. I don’t know what I’d do if that happened. Hasn’t happened yet. Maybe today it happens.

Chasing in the corner. Do not touch the brakes do not touch the bra— my front wheel is gone. Long slivers of time now, time stretching like first light over the plains. Unbearable time.

The tire is back! The tire hooks up again! I sprint and the deadly gravel marbles do not take me, not today they won’t. I try to catch him and fail. But man we were fast. Strava will prove it. Maybe the two fastest?

We were not the two fastest.

It’s time to slow down. Put a heavy bike in the truck and drive to Moab. Maybe I can find a few locals there, just to show me around the new stuff. Maybe there’s a new drop. Maybe I’ll do a few shuttle laps. The bigger stuff.


Or I could race that fondo Saturday morning in the desert. I’ll be going pretty good then, won’t I? Maybe I could fight it out. Could I win? Why not? I’m fast again. Fast in my legs. Fast in my head.

I’m confused as ever. What kind of rider am I? Maybe it all depends. Maybe it depends on what kind of rider you are.

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Finding inspiration in an eclectic group of California-riding women Thu, 24 Apr 2014 09:00:47 +0000

The spirit of a wildly eclectic group lifted seven riders over the climbs of California to Sacramento. Photo: Jeremy Dunn | Rapha

Seven women ride the Tour of California, in reverse, and discover inspiration in the commonalities across a wild range of ability levels

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The spirit of a wildly eclectic group lifted seven riders over the climbs of California to Sacramento. Photo: Jeremy Dunn | Rapha

Seven women, 700 miles, and one overwhelming sense of inspiration.

Women’s ambassador programs have become rather prominent in cycling over the past few years, and while there is not necessarily one common objective among them, they all come together with a unifying message: cycling should be accessible for all women, regardless of background and ability.

Rapha, known for its chic cycling apparel, has expanded wildly in the last few years, not just with its impeccable line of clothing, but also its presence in the community of the sport. Celebrating the romanticism of road cycling, Rapha has sought to build a community around the shared love for cycling — whether in the interest of socializing in the saddle or competition through racing. Perhaps most notably has been Rapha’s development of its Women’s Ambassadors program. Sometimes confronted over a limited women’s apparel selection, Rapha’s support of women’s cycling and drive to enhance the sport is anything but limited.

Earlier this month, the brand hosted a retreat, The Calling, for its 14 North American women ambassadors near Los Angeles. After the weekend retreat, six of the women embarked on a rather epic journey, riding the entire 2014 Amgen Tour of California route, in reverse, from Thousand Oaks to Sacramento.

I accepted an invitation to join the ride and, over the ensuing week, learned a great deal about our commonalities in the struggle that is cycling.

On paper, the Tour of California is arduous — 700 miles and over 60,000 feet of elevation gain (the equivalent of ascending Mount Everest, twice). Every element becomes a consideration, and in many cases, a nemesis. Whether it’s the demoralizing coastal headwind, the thick fog and torrential rain, that new saddle you’re not quite used to, or the intent focus on pacelining and echeloning with wheels you’ve never ridden behind. Coupled with the emotion that develops both on and off the bike when a rider has hit her limits, physically and mentally, the strength and inspiration of those around her is really what keeps her turning the cranks.

The group was eclectic, featuring two former professionals in Meredith Miller and Julie Krasniak, and others who have been riding and racing for a many years, while others had only previously ridden a single century. This wide range of experience and abilities is precisely what resulted in a deep sense of camaraderie as the group wound its way north to the state capital. And that, in and of itself, introduces a component of women’s cycling with which we often struggle. Too often, female cyclists find themselves in one of two categories: beginner or elite. Either they’ve never ridden a bike and need guidance through each and every step, or they’re competitive racers with no reason to diverge from the mentality that comes with being well-seasoned elites.

In my eyes, the Rapha ride slashed the dominant dichotomy of female cyclist stereotypes. The radiation of eclecticism was ultimately the driving force that pushed us across the finish line. Having neither preconceived notions of each others’ abilities or tendencies on the bike, or the assistance of a full-fledged peloton, required a certain tenacity that surprised all of us. The mental difficulty may have surpassed the physical challenges, as there was no opportunity to tune out.

Riding for up to 10 hours a day, especially when alone, is solitary. Turning the cranks becomes mechanistic, thoughts become few, and scenery becomes free entertainment. We had the joy of climbing over canyons so desolate I wondered if anyone had traveled there before. Or why they would have. Climbing Mount Hamilton in the pouring rain, counting down the switchbacks from 18 to 17 to 16, became futile as visibility was but a distant memory. Romanticism at its finest.

This romanticism was not ever-present, however. On a ride of this nature, small talk becomes as necessary as rice cakes, water, and chamois cream. All seven of us had the opportunity to get to know each other, and what better place to do it than on the bike, but that doesn’t make it any less exhausting. Pacelining along dismally windy pastures doesn’t make for positive small talk. Keeping every rider front of mind, at all times, is tiring to say the least. Unlike a race, where a rider prioritizes herself and perhaps her team, this was an instance in which each one of us was responsible for every rider in the peloton, regardless of ability, and regardless of how we were feeling at that very second.

Trying to quantify my own exhaustion, I searched for perspective. Climbing up the exposed, painfully steep Old San Marcos Road in Santa Barbara, I turned to Meredith Miller and asked, “How does this compare to stage racing in terms of exhaustion?” Perspiration forming along her helmet and sunglasses, she answered plainly, “Totally exhausting. In different ways.”

That was one of many moments in which we were all on the same level. Abilities, experiences were no matter. If you were to ask Kim Cross, a 38-year-old freelance writer and editor from Birmingham, Alabama, where she fit in with the crew, she would deem herself “the weakest link.” But, quite the contrary, Cross, like most of us, rides her bike when she can. Not only that, but she’s more partial to the dirt, so her road miles are few and far between. The mere fact that she even thought to tackle this feat was inspiring.

Inspiration is cliché in endurance sports. We’re all looking for that boost to climb aboard the saddle when the legs ache and the weather grumbles. But a group of seven women attempting to shift the paradigm of how female cyclists are viewed based on physical capabilities — that’s inspiration. I consider myself inexplicably lucky to have joined the Rapha Ambassadors on this journey. I left Sacramento with an incredible sense of inspiration — from the professionals I secretly wanted to mimic in cyclocross races, to the working moms who rode more that week than they had all year; from the support crew, which included Rapha’s Jeremy Dunn, Tim Coghlan, David Wilcox, and Chris Distefano, who offered long-distance emotional support, to the man behind Sag Monkey, Nick Nicastro, to the creative mind behind this crazy journey, Paige Dunn.

Female, male, it doesn’t matter. Tackling 700 miles in seven days on relentless terrain is a feat. Simulating the Tour of California gave me a tangible perspective on where we rode, and furthered my belief that pro cyclists are, well, superhuman. Jumping in head first, despite not knowing anyone, or how we would work together, created a camaraderie that could not be simulated in any other capacity.

Let this experience be a driving force for every cyclist. Whether you’ve just bought your first bike to start commuting to work, or you’re thinking of riding your first century or racing your first criterium, or even those of us who have been around the block with every discipline of racing, and riding, but never made it beyond “seasoned local” … no matter what your two-wheeled goals may be, they are possible. Whether you’re male or female, there is no real difference between the beginner and the elite in the grand scheme of cycling. Whether intentionally or not, the instances in which we come together, gasping for air, and ignoring the inevitable burning in our legs, are the pinnacles of this sport.

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Rebranded Gran Fondo Italia announces 2014 lineup Mon, 14 Apr 2014 22:33:29 +0000

The Italian gran fondo series returns to Miami-Coral Gables, Florida, for a fourth year.

Three events in the U.S and one in Brazil make up the 2014 Gran Fondo Italia schedule, with more events expected to be announced

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The Italian gran fondo series returns to Miami-Coral Gables, Florida, for a fourth year.

The former Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia series has been rebranded as simply Gran Fondo Italia, with a new lineup of events for 2014.

In 2013 the series was one of several to usher in this highly popular format of organized rides, which cater to varying skill levels. Those at the front often race to win. Those in the middle strive for personal bests. Those at the back attempt to complete the distance.

Three events in the U.S and one in Brazil make up the 2014 Gran Fondo Italia schedule, with more events expected to be announced.

The first event will be held August 10 in Aspen-Snowmass, Colorado, just eight days before the USA Pro Challenge begins in the same location.

The second event will be held October 19 in Atlanta-Roswell, Georgia, a  well known cycling area. The event will be organized in partnership with Southern Bicycle League.

On November 9, Gran Fondo Italia will return to Miami-Coral Gables, Florida, for a fourth year.

Finally, on November 16, the first edition of Gran Fondo Italia Rio de Janeiro will be held, in the future Olympic city.

The series, brings a blend of Italian atmosphere, cycling history, and Italian partnerships to host cities, was founded by Italian Matteo Gerevini in 2009.

“To give an example from our early events, we added the pasta party at the end of the event, usually involving the local Italian restaurants,” said Gerevini. “And then jerseys and technical bike products were added as part of the offerings. Our history goes back to the early days of using timed climbs to provide riders with markers for their achievements. All these details make the difference in a great experience, and we are well-positioned to provide an Italian experience that will keep our value unique and successful.”

For more information visit Gran Fondo Italia’s website.

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Photo Essay: Inside the grit, pain, and party of Paris-Roubaix Mon, 14 Apr 2014 16:25:39 +0000

There is no race in the world like Paris-Roubaix and BrakeThrough Media takes us inside the 112th edition of "The Hell of the North"

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Gallery: Inside the Ronde van Vlaanderen Tue, 08 Apr 2014 16:34:40 +0000

BrakeThrough Media captures the emotion and energy of the Tour of Flanders, from Brugge to Oudenaarde

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