Friday, July 29, 2011

Review: Giro Aeon vs Specialized Prevail. Fight!

Giro Aeon (left) and Specialized Prevail (right)
Helmets are a necessary evil. If the world were a perfect place, we'd be able to ride our bikes without ever have to fear accidents and we'd enjoy the breeze across our un-helmeted heads. But alas, that isn't reality. So brain buckets are a necessity. Don't get me started on the douchebags who pretend to be Pantani and ride with only a handkerchief....

Anyways, if I could design the perfect helmet, what would it be? It would be light, aerodynamic, and well-ventilated (pretty much like anything in cycling). The two helmets compared here today are the latest attempts by Giro and Specialized to make bike helmets that maximize those 3 qualities.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Parting thoughts from the 2011 TdF

Now that the Tour has finally finished, I have a few leftover thoughts about the overall race. This race was, in my opinion, one of the best that we've had in recent years. It was full of drama, excitement, angst, and energy. Sure, some of the lows of the race (like Hoogerland getting thrown into a barbed wire fence) were terrible... but the great things that came out of the race were unbelievable.
  • This was a tour of heroes. Husholvd won the jersey and defended it proudly... even through some of the stages where people thought he'd lose it. And then he won a "mountain stage" into Gap, something that nobody expected. Voeckler showed that he was not just a talented rider but also that he has one of the biggest hearts in the peloton. That man fought and fought and fought to keep his yellow jersey. When he finished at the summit of the Galibier to keep the yellow jersey by 15 seconds over Andy Schleck, I think every one of us cheered him on. And whatever people may say about Contador, that man has a lot of fight in him. It was a daring and courageous move for him to attack on Stage 19 so he could try to salvage something from this Tour. I think he won the admiration of a lot of fans for his effort that day.
  • I think Andy Schleck grew as a cyclist during this Tour. I get the sense that he evolved over the course of the three weeks. The first two weeks, he spent a lot of time cycling defensively... always looking back at his rivals and being conservative. But his brilliant attack on Stage 18 was one that people will remember for a long time. He'll remember that and, having done it once, will do it again in the future. I think he learned during that single stage how to be aggressive and that will serve him well in future Tours.
  • Cadel Evans was a deserving winner. Watching him, I felt sympathetic when he was put in situations over and over again where he had to do the bulk of the work by himself. Many of the other GC contenders refused to help him so he shouldered the burden and went after the victory. When I was watching the final award ceremony, I got the sense that the Schleck brothers deeply respected Cadel's victory. How can you not? Watching him get teary-eyed and so emotional... you KNEW that this meant something for him. There was a sense that he appreciated how precious the victory was. And that was beautiful to watch.
  • As a final note about riding the Etape... there is something very cool about knowing what it feels like to ride into Alpe d'Huez, take that final left turn, and see the finishing line. Having done that makes seeing the stage on TV that much more amazing.
It's been a great 3 weeks. Now maybe I can actually do some work and catch up on life.

Finishing with a note about Hoogerland... that rider is a stud. This t-shirt is appropriate.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The greatest stage in recent memory

The climb up the Galibier. (Photos courtesy of
My apologies for being MIA for the past few days. I came back to a pile of work and other random bits and pieces of life that needed my attention since my return from France/Geneva. This is one of the problems with going on vacation... work doesn't stop accumulating just because I'm gone.

In any case, if you weren't aware, there is this little race that's been going on across the pond called the Tour de France. In this little race, there is a group of protagonists who have been riding their bikes over hills, down mountains, and  across fields... all wanting to wear a bright yellow jersey on the streets of Paris. Apparently, winning this bright yellow jersey is, well, only one of the biggest accomplishments in any sport.

Over the past two weeks, we've had the opportunity to watch some incredible racing. Philippe Gilbert winning the first stage with incredible panache. Thor Husholvd winning the yellow jersey and then defending it for an entire week (while even leading out Tyler Farrar for the latter's first career TdF stage win). And Tommy Voeckler taking over the yellow jersey and doggedly holding onto it through the mountains in which he was supposed to lose it.

But today's stage... it was probably the most brilliant bike racing I've seen in recent memory.

There are plenty of accounts about the race that you can read here, here, and here. But here are my thoughts about some of the important points of the race.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Brief post - video clip

After the near-daily blogging during the Etape weekend, I'm trying to catch up on other things (like work... and bills.) The joys of returning to NYC.

But see this for a little clip of the Etape I put together (rather quickly) for some friends of mine.

I have a few other entries that I've been working on... namely comparison reviews of the Specialized S-Works and Giro Prolight shoes and one of the Giro Aeon vs the Specialized Prevail.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Vacation from vacation

Having destroyed my legs on the Etape, I needed another vacation to recover from that part of my vacation. So I'm spending a couple of days here in Geneva, Switzerland. The watch and chocolate capital of the world. It's actually been pretty nice to just relax here and explore the city a little bit. It's not a very big city and one could walk from one end to the other over a span of a couple of hours. It's really pretty though. The only downside has been the weather... it's been raining rather hard here since last night.

In any case, here are some pictures from my exploration of the city.

Walking down from my hotel to the lake, I came across the park that lines much of the waterfront. I took this picture yesterday when the weather was actually still pretty nice, about 80 degrees and no rain. There were lots of people out there. One interesting thing I noticed was the diversity of people... Geneva is far more racially diverse than I was expecting.

This is the view across the lake to "Old Geneva". You can see the Rolex sign on the building below the church. Actually, if you look along the waterfront on that side of the lake, nearly every building is topped with a famous jewelry-makers such as Montblanc, Breitling, Raymond Weil, IWC, Vacheron Constantin, etc. A bit rich for my taste.

How rich? How about a Rolex completely encrusted in jewels?

Taken in a schoolyard. I don't speak French so I have no idea what this says. But it looked kind of neat with the lettering.

Apparently, campaigning in Switzerland is a little different from the US. It appears that this man wants us to choose him. Actually, I have no idea if this was a political advertisement or some kind of art.

Walking over to the waterfront near Old Geneva, there is the Jardin Anglais. The most famous part of this park is the Horloge Fleurie, or the Flower Clock. A beautiful, living tribute to Geneva's most venerated industry, the design changes from season to season. It's something my mother would love.

My first planned stop of the morning was to be at Auer Chocolatier because I had heard that they give tours of their chocolate factory. But before I managed to make it into the actual store, I ended up sitting down in their little cafe to have breakfast. Let me just say that I hadn't had a real chocolate croissant until this morning. Combine that with a couple of other pastries and a perfect cup of cappuccino and it made for a very tasty breakfast.

After that, I went to the actual chocolate store. Unfortunately, I was foiled in my attempt to go on a tour of the chocolate factory. Apparently the information I was given was a little outdated... they stopped giving the tours a couple of years ago. So I was relegated to being a regular customer. At least the chocolates were great!

I have a tendency to wander around whenever I visit a city. Perhaps because the rest of my life is fairly structured, whenever I go on vacation I enjoy walking aimlessly around a new city. Of course, since it was raining really hard this morning, this made it a little more wet than I would've liked. Oddly enough, I managed to find the road to purgatory during my walk. I desperately wanted to see what was behind the door.

I also came across an antique shop that sold old scientific and medical goods. Unfortunately it was closed so I couldn't go in. Probably not a bad thing since, knowing me, I'd probably end up spending 500 Swiss Francs on snake oil that is as useless today as it was a hundred years ago.

I also happened to come across what is apparently the world's longest bench on the Rue de la Treille. Because it was raining, there was nobody else on the bench. I would've liked to have a picture of me on that bench all alone but nobody was around to help and I didn't have my tripod. Oh well.

I've always like the narrow European streets with their cobblestones and old buildings. They're full of character and are often lined with really good restaurants!

I ended up at the Cathedrale Saint-Pierre, which was an unexpected find. It's apparently a cathedral belonging to the Swiss Reformed Church and was the adopted home church of John Calvin.

There was a wooden chair inside that was used by Calvin. They wouldn't let me sit on it.

Hidden away in the corner of the cathedral was a tiny little spiral staircase that led up to the towers. Strangely, of the dozens of people in the cathedral, only 2 or 3 others found this staircase. But for those who did, we were rewarded with unobstructed views of the city and lake.

Finally, a better shot of the fountain that is one of the defining features of Geneva. Really quite cool.

Location:Rue de Lausanne,Geneva,Switzerland

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pictures from the Etape!

Hey guys,

So now that I've moved to a nice hotel with a reliable internet connection, I'm actually able to upload some of my pictures from the ride! I've captioned them but the formatting is still off a little bit. Click on the pictures to see a larger version.

Modane, the starting village. Talk about a stunning view to start off the morning.

Nerves = peeing.

My starting pen. I actually arrived a little early so I was close the front of my group.

Once we got onto the main street, there were cyclists as far as you can see... looking ahead.

And behind.

Once we got on the road, it was a quick 15km ride to Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne.

And, we're on the first climb! The Col du Telegraphe.

Every kilometer, there is a marker on the road (the little tombstone-shaped thing... the big sign is temporary) that tells you the distance to the summit and the grade of the upcoming kilometer. So this one says that there is 1km to the summit with an average grade of 8%.

Still headed up....

There is a quick 5km descent off the Telegraphe into the village of Valloire (first elimination point) and then we began our assault on the Galibier.

The first 10km are relatively easy, with the gradient hovering around 4% the entire time. And on parts of the ride, you could see other cyclists in the distance (look carefully... way in the distance).

After making a wide right hand turn at Plan Lachat, the real climbing begins. 8km at an average gradient of 10%. The views were spectacular. So was the pain. If you look at this picture, you can see the line of cyclists snaking up the mountain.

A monument to Pantani, about 5km from the summit.

Cycling in the Alps allows for some awesome images.

At the summit of the Galibier, looking down into the valley where cyclists stretch as far as the eye can see on the road that's draped on the mountain.

Summit of the Galibier.

Descending from the Galibier. Fewer pictures of this since I was too busy trying to stay alive on the switchbacks while hitting speeds of over 40mph.

Finally getting to Alpe d'Huez. Beginning the climb... about 2km in where the gradient is a steady 10%.

Looking back on Turn 9.

And finally the view from Alpe d'Huez proper. There's no cool little plaque like there was on the Galibier... just a huge huge ski resort.

Finally, let me mention again that I met some really amazing and friendly people on this ride. First would be Michael, who was my roommate for the 2 days in Valfrejus and after the ride at the Etape. A true gentleman. Soft spoken, thoughtful, and the nicest person you could meet. Also happens to be the president of a large insurance company. I also spent a lot of time with Tom, from California, who is a 64 year old who does Ironman Triathlons like people do afternoon jogs. Also Michael from Strava and Ashely, who were both really chill and one of the few in our group close to my age. I've already blamed Michael for getting me addicted to his website. But that's okay... it's still an awesome site. Overall, the group was a highly accomplished bunch of cyclists, including multiple triathletes, a couple of randonneurs (including a RAAM qualifier and someone riding Paris-Brest-Paris), and a guy who rode 500km on his first Texas time trial (a test of how far you can ride in 24 hours straight). As you can tell, these guys are all really accomplished athletes and it was really great to meet them all.

Monday, July 11, 2011

From Alpe d'Huez

Put a fork in it, it's done! Though not done the way I wanted it. For now, this entry will have to be relatively short. I am tired. I am the most tired I've ever been after a bike ride. Scratch that, this is the most physical challenging thing I've ever done in my life. I'll write a full ride report after I get some rest and once I get my videos edited and uploaded. I wanted to post some pictures but the internet connection at this hotel is spotty and won't let me. So I'll post some tomorrow...

So this morning, I woke up at 4am and had breakfast, loaded all my bags/gear on the bus (the bus was to drive to Alpe d'Huez and drop all our stuff of at the hotel), and then headed down to Modane for the beginning of the ride. It was quite a sight seeing the thousands of cyclings lining up for this ride. There were 9500 there this morning. It's actually quite well organized, with all of us being assigned to "holding pens" according to our bib numbers and the pens being released sequentially. This also made it useful to gauge your program... if you noticed that most of the people around you had lower numbers, then you were riding strong and were moving ahead in the mass. If you saw higher numbers around you, you were falling behind your own group.

In any case, after a fast descent, we hit the Telegraphe. It's a tough climb (category 1) so it wasn't anything to sneeze at but it wasn't terrible either. Oh, and to remind you guys about the mountain "categories"... the climbs are categorized from cat 4 (easy) to cat 1 (very hard). As a reference, Bear Mountain in NY (4.5 miles at ~4.3%) would be a cat 4 climb. There's also a category called "hors categorie" or HC. These climbs are even harder than the cat 1 climbs. So the Telegraphe was a hard climb but most people seemed to get past it pretty well. Next up was the Galibier, which is a brute of a climb. HC category going for 18.1km at 6.9% (with the last 8km averaging close to 10%). This climb broke a lot of people. There were people cramping, walking, etc. But I managed to do okay. I stopped on the bike to take a couple of pictures but otherwise, progress over the climb was steady and I finished it without much difficulty.

After an intense and slightly dangerous descent of the Galibier, we finally hit (in my opinion) the most iconic of the Alpine climbs... the legendary Alpe d'Huez, with its brutal 21 switchbacks and its gradient of nearly 8% for 14km. Let me just say that this climb broke me. At switchback 15, I accelerated to climb past a slower group and my hamstring decided to call it a day, seizing up and shooting a searing pain up my thigh into my hip. And I was off the bike. I tried to shake it out, massage it, walk a bit and get on the bike again... but it was gone.

Now the thing about the Etape is that there are time eliminations. If you don't get to a particular checkpoint by a given time, you are stopped and put in a shuttle bus and your bike is thrown in the back of a truck. Your day is over. There is also a final time by which you have to finish or the bus will "sweep" you up and your day is done.

Anyways, I made it to the first checkpoint with an hour to spare and by the time I reached Alpe d'Huez, I had a 2 hour 30 minute window before the sweep van would come through. I was expecting to do the climb in 1:30 so I thought I had plenty of time. Unfortunately, once my hamstring went I had to walk up most of the climb (which is much slower than riding, obviously). At 2.5km from the finish, the bus shuttle came up behind me. I refused to get on the bus and I wouldn't let them take my bike. I was determined to get up the climb on my own two legs, be it on a bike or by walking. I hadn't come 3000 miles to be picked up by a bus. I eventually crossed the finish line 30 minutes after the final accepted time. (Yes, it took me almost 3 hours to walk up ~7km of Alpe d'Huez.) So officially, it's a DNF (did not finish) but at least I didn't take the bus. And I made it to the top of that climb with my own two legs. Damn my hamstring though.

Overall though, it was a remarkable experience. It was a ton of fun, it was the most challenging thing I've done yet, and I met some really cool people. I'll have to tell you guys about some of the people I've met and post some pictures tomorrow, internet connection permitting. Okay, off to bed...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Getting ready for tomorrow

Well, one more day left until the Etape. Today was mainly a day of just settling in and relaxing a little bit before the big day tomorrow. I must've been kind of excited because I woke up at 4:30am. Fortunately, I managed to get myself to fall asleep again and stay in bed until around 7. (Considering I went to bed at 10pm last night, that's a lot of sleep for me.) After breakfast, we had a briefing by one of the tour operators who, being Belgian, obviously knows everything there is to know about cycling. Actually, his name is Peter and he's a really nice guy.

After the briefing, I went upstairs and got changed and decided to go for a ride. (I wasn't able to do a ride yesterday ... having been foiled by our late arrival at Valfrejus and the minor issue of a huge thunderstorm.) But the weather this morning was spectacular. Clear, crisp, and cool. So I got on my bike and decided to go for a little spin.

Being that I'm staying in a ski resort on the side of a mountain, I decided to ride down the mountain and come back up. I didn't want to blow myself up today but I did want to get a feel for an Alpine climb. And with a climb of about 1500 feet over ~3 miles, this fit the bill pretty well.

The climb was a good warmup and not terribly difficult. But the views were spectacular. Really amazing. (And yes, I'm from NYC but I think anybody would agree.)

And perhaps the icing on the cake was seeing a tiny little cathedral(?) built into the side of the valley on the climb up. Really really cool.

After the ride, I visited the Expo, which is essentially where all sorts of cycling-related gear is shown off and sold. This includes beautiful bike frames from Canyon and Look to clothing and nutritional supplements. I'm not a huge fan of these things but being set against a backdrop like the Alps, it was pretty neat.

Well, this will be my last entry before I do my ride tomorrow. I'm hoping that I'll be able to give you an update tomorrow evening after the ride (this will depend on the availability of an internet connection). But I'm excited and looking forward to this ride!!

Location:Place des Bergers,Modane,France

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Getting to Valfrejus

So today was transfer day. We left Lyon at around 1pm (about an hour later than scheduled because of some delays with flight arrivals and such) and it took us about 3 hours to get to Modane. Though the tour company I'm with is very good, I've never really enjoyed being shuttled around from place to place with a large group. It's easier to move faster and more efficiently when you're by yourself or with a small group. In any case, as we started to get closer to Modane, the views started to get more and more impressive. This was the view from the bus as we started to enter to Alps.

As a NYC boy, I'm not used to being around such big mountains and the thought of tackling these on a bike was starting to hit me pretty hard. Like I've mentioned before, the only "mountain" that's near NYC that I could train on is Bear Mountain... but compared to these giants, Bear Mountain barely qualified as a pimple.

Though the ride on Monday starts in Modane proper, our hotel was in Valfrejus, which is a ski resort slightly south of Modane. Being a ski resort, it is obviously on the mountainside. And the drive up... wow, it is not for anybody with a fear of heights. The road itself looked like this:

With a constant gradient of probably ~8 or 9 and about 14 hairpin turns, I was a getting a preview of what the climb up Alpe d'Huez would look like. Looking out the valley, this was the view.

Modane is the tiny little town at the bottom of the photograph. When we finally got to Valfrejus, the bus driver had to literally back the bus down a narrow little road to get to the hotel. (He couldn't go down forward because there was nowhere to turn to bus around.) Like I said, not for those with acrophobia.

Anyways, this is the view from my room, which is quite nice (the view... the room is just okay.)

As you can see, it's raining. Well it was raining about 3 minutes ago when I took this picture. It's sunny now. Apparently that's how quickly the weather can turn up here in the mountains.

Well, everything is pretty set for Monday. I think tomorrow morning I will ride down this mountain and then come back up to just test my legs and loosen myself up. And the Etape Expo is literally right outside the hotel so I'll go and see the festivities and see if there's any cool schwag that I can pick up.