Book Review: The History of Cycling in Fifty Bikes

history-cycling-50-bikes-bookContinued cold has made for little cycling but more reading, so here’s a review of my latest cycling book, The History of Cycling in Fifty Bikes, by Tom Ambrose.  As with many of my book reviews, this will be somewhat tepid.

I’ve been asking myself why I’ve been so critical in my reviews.  Lots of people write very positive things about almost anything they come across.  Clearly, I am not like those people.  It would seem I have high standards for my literature.  Whether those are fair or not I shall leave to you, Dear Reader.

One of my favorite authors is Bill Bryson.  He started out in life as a travel author, but even in those days he had a unique ability to tell a story rather than simply catalogue his destinations.  While describing a place, he weaves its history and its idiosyncracies with its modern-day charms, finally adding large dollops of humor to create a very entertaining and informative read.  Bryson has since taken on other subjects, including how the American version of English developed and the not-so-modest “A Short History Of Nearly Everything.”  Even these seemingly dry topics he makes interesting through his story telling ability.   Because of Bryson, I now understand why Bostonians speak differently than Virginians and how scientists know what the Earth weighs without ever putting it on a scale.  On a very good day, I hope this blog approaches some of Bryson’s characteristics.

So when I crack a binder on a book giving the history of cycling in fifty bicycles, I am hoping against all hope I do not get fifty separate, unrelated stories, but rather one long story, full of oddities and interesting facts that I was previously unaware of.  I’d like a few large themes that connect the smaller stories in a way that helps explain how we ended up where we’re at.  While not required, humor would be a pleasant addition.

In short, I’m looking for Bryson.  That’s not what I found, so I should probably just leave it at that and talk about other aspects of the book.

The Quadricycle - imagine if this version won out!

The Quadricycle – imagine if this version won out!

Ambrose begins (logically enough) at the beginning of cycling.  After a short chapter where he discusses “proto-bicycles” – good ideas that never quite caught on due to a lack of materials or technology, he picks up the story where most authors do, with the Draisine (1817).  In addition to well-known bikes such as the Velocipede and the Boneshaker, and Penny-Farthing, Ambrose includes other lesser known bicycles such as the Macmillan Pedal Bike, The Facile, and the Salvo Quadricycle.  He points out that there were widely different views on what a human-powered machine should look like, including how many wheels, the manner of propulsion, and the steering mechanisms.  It made me begin to wonder what is the first bike that had all the attributes we have come to understand in a typical bicycle.  I began to look for the first bicycle with brakes, and gearing that we would recognize in today’s machines.  More on that search later.

La Francaise Diamant

La Francaise Diamant

As the story moves into the 20th Century, things become a little confusing.  The focus of each chapter becomes less about the bicycle being highlighted and more about a famous person associated with it.  The bike’s influence on history, it would seem, is significant only because of the man who rode it.  La Francaise Diament is a case in point.  In a single paragraph it is pointed out as being typical of the bikes used in the first Tour de France.  A nice picture of the bike is provided for reference.  The next five pages are devoted to that first race with nary a mention of the bicycle again.

Automoto advert - it suggests you won't notice the Pyrenees with this bike

Automoto advert – it suggests you won’t notice the Pyrenees with this bike

I could see bicycles maturing with each story – pneumatic tires are introduced and primitive gearing is employed.  I could sense that we were getting close to the bicycle I was searching for and I was intrigued with the possibilities of The Automoto, the bike ridden by Italian legend Ottavio Bottecchia.  Ambrose builds the case that the Automoto was the center of the French bicycle industry and would be the first choice for many Tour riders throughout the 1920s.  The text acconpanying a picture of the brake pads states distinctive design features were used throughout the Automoto and another picture includes the statement, “Automoto combined fine engineering with a particularly Italian attention to detail.”  Sadly, no further information is given on the bicyle.  The four pages in this chapter are given to the career of Bottecchia.

After interesting diversions onto unusual ideas like the Velocar (which eventually would lead to recumbents) The Hercules (designed specifically for women), the Bartelo (first sprint bike), Schulz’s Funiculo (first mountain bike), my interest in the “first modern bike” was piqued again with a chapter on derailleurs.  The conversation eventually moves to the Campagnolo Derailleur, introduced in the 1940s.  This appears to be the first modern derailleur.  Then again, maybe it was pointed out on the next page when “modern parallelogram movement replaced the sliding bushing.”  Not much is given as an explanation for this seemingly important change, nor is it made clear what bicycles actually used the technology.

Merckx and his Ugo de Rosa

Merckx and his Ugo de Rosa

The pattern of highlighting the careers of the legends through their bikes continues.  Fausto Coppi’s story is told by referencing his Bianchi.  Eddy Merckx’s career is reviewed under the chapter supposedly dedicated to his Ugo De Rosa, and Tommy Simpson is discussed in detail under the chapter dedicated to his Peugot PX-10.  Each of the cyclists are discussed in detail.  Their bikes less so.

A chapter is spent on mountain bikes, featuring the Breezer Series 1 (1977).  BMX racing is covered by The Haro (1982).  By the time the author gets around to the super aerodynamic Lotus 108 (1992 – Chapter 39), the chapters are beginning to blur together.  I was curious to see my humble Madone made the list as the subject of Chapter 42, along with its infamous rider, Lance Armstrong.  The book was published after the revelation of Armstrong’s misdeeds, but the author skirts the issue by stating, “his recent fall from grace is all the more spectacular given his many achievements…”  An interesting notion, that.

Ambrose wraps things up with a few chapters devoted to bike share programs, city bikes like The Gazelle (which was invented in 1940 yet makes its appearance near the end of the book).  The final chapter looks to the future by examining some experimental designs in use today, such as square-wheeled bikes, origami bikes, etc…

Fittingly, there is no conclusion or summary.  The reader reaches the last chapter on futuristic designs and…  you’re done!  This is a fitting way for a book like this to end.  It’s simply a compendium of bicycles, fifty of them to be precise.  On this simple level, the book works well, apart from some shoddy editing.  Sadly, the book could have been much more than fifty separate chapters.  It could have been a cohesive, informative, and entertaining review of cycling history, combining the key bits of technology and the people who invented them or rode them in a gripping story.

I wonder what Bill Bryson is writing about these days.  Perhaps he would appreciate a suggestion…

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LeMond

lemond

There’s been a lot of talk recently about a former American cycling legend and his tarnished legacy. It’s probably time to review the achievements of the original American Cycling Legend so that he might once again be properly considered as a cycling great and a pioneer.

I give you Greg LeMond.

Most casual (American) sports fans can tell you Lance Armstrong won a bunch of Tour de Frances.  Many can even tell you the actual victory total is seven.  Very few of them will even recall the name of LeMond.  That’s a shame, because his story is almost as remarkable as Armstrong’s fiction and the fact that the former champion was bankrupted by the latter fraud makes the story only more poignent.

LeMond & Hinault in 1986

LeMond & Hinault in 1986

Before LeMond, no non-European had ever won the Tour de France.  Ever.  He finished third in his first-ever TdF (1983) and won the Young Rider classification.  The next year he finished second, helping his teammate, the great Bernard Hinault, win his fifth tour.  Most analysts believe LeMond could have beaten Hinault except team managers insisted he ride in support of the Frenchman.  Hinault promised to return the favor the next year and instead battled his teammate tooth and nail.  Despite the disloyalty, LeMond won his first TdF.

1989 - note the aerobars, pedals, sunglasses, and helmet

1989 – note the aerobars, pedals, sunglasses, and helmet

In 1987, LeMond suffered a dramatic setback akin to Armstrong’s cancer diagnosis when he was accidentally shot by his brother-in-law while turkey hunting.  After almost dying and with 35 pellets still in his body, two year’s of rehabilitation ensued.  Hoping to finish in the top 20 of the 1989 tour, LeMond won the whole thing behind a breathtaking time trial on the final stage, beating Laurent Fignon with an average speed of 55.5 km/hr (that’s 34.5 mph – try it sometime) – a record at the time which has only been bested twice since then.  Later in 1989, he won the World Cycling Championships.

That year, LeMond was Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman Of The Year, the first cyclist to win the award.

"Team Z"

“Team Z”

In 1990, LeMond won his third and final TdF after signing a record-breaking contract with $5.5 million to ride with Z-Tomasso (aka “Team Z”).  He won the tour without winning a single stage, taking the yellow jersey on the second to last day after yet another strong time trial performance.

LeMond continued to compete for four more years but grew increasingly less relevant in the general classification category.  He finished 7th in 1991, abandoned in 1992, was too exhausted to enter the race in 1993, he retired in 1994 after being forced to abandon once again.

In addition to his first-ever tour wins for a non-European, LeMond was a pioneer of cycling technology which we take for granted today, including the use of aerobars on time trials and the measurement of power (watts) in training regimens.  He was the first rider to win the tour on a carbon-framed bicycle and successfully use clipless pedals.  He played a big role in the success of Oakley sunglasses and Giro helmets, endorsing their products and improving their designs.

In 1990, LeMond founded LeMond Bicycles.  In 1995, the company partnered with Trek Bicycles.  Trek would eventually go on to sponsor Lance Armstrong.  When LeMond (always a strong opponent of doping in the tour) made comments questioning Armstrong’s achievements, it led to several years of bickering between him and Trek.  The acrimonious relationship eventually led to court suits in 2006 and an eight year feud with Armstrong.  Many people felt that LeMond was motivated by jealousy over the fact he had lost his position as America’s Greatest Cyclist.  Supporters argued that LeMond was simply being consistent with his strong anti-doping advocacy.

Whatever his motivations, it is now apparent that he was right.

So let us reflect on the achievements of Greg LeMond, three-time TdF winner, the first non-European to win the tour, a man who overcame a near-death accident, a pioneer in cycling technology, and a staunch advocate of anti-doping measures.  Theres a lot to be said for a career like that.

Further Reading

Greg LeMond Webpage

Cycling Hall of Fame

Hell On Wheels

The 2012 Tour de France just ended and here’s what you need to know:

  • It was the 100th running of the event (but not the 100th anniversary as several years were skipped on account of some world wars)  EDIT:  It’s actually the 99th running.  Thanks, Gerry!
  • A Brit won for the first time, making the entire country insufferable as they are now hosting the Olympics
  • Actually, with a winner in the General Classification (Wiggins) as well as one of the world’s best sprinters (Cavendish), British cycling is enjoying something of a hey day.
  • Nine out of the last 14 winners spoke English as their first language.  The other five were four Spaniards and a Luxembourgian (if that’s the word)
  • Several young French riders won some stages, meaning that country need not be as embarrassed as it usually is at its performance.
  • Another famous cyclist was caught doping.

There you have it.  Apart from some stunning vistas, a few dramatic crashes at the beginning, and some small squabbles over smaller categories like Best Climber, Best Sprinter, and Cyclist Closest To Zero Percent Body Fat, that pretty much covers the 2012 Tour de France.

For those of you are are very very interested in what it is like to compete in “Le Tour,” you may be interested in the 2005 movie, Hell on Wheels, a documentary of the German Team Telekom’s experience in the 2003 TdF.  This was the actual 100th anniversary (but NOT the 100th running – see above) of the Tour and featured some legendary moments, including Lance Armstrong cutting across a field to avoid Joseba Beloki (I am not making that name up), who had crashed in front of him on a fast descent.  Armstrong also famously won a stage after catching his handlebar on a spectator’s bag and crashing.  Finally, there was Tyler Hamilton, who cycled almost the entire tour with a broken collarbone, won a mountain stage, and took 4th place overall.

If you don’t think a broken collarbone is painful, go break it and try to ride a bike around the neighborhood.  Then ride it 2,000 miles.  Over some mountains.  Then we’ll talk again.

The movie is almost entirely in German and French with English subtitles.  If that sort of thing drives you to distraction, then you will not enjoy this movie.  There are many interviews with the riders, who discuss how they manage to persevere in spite of their many injuries (well, one rider does not and is forced to quit).  There are also tributes to the majesty and history of the tour, mostly narrated by a French cycling historian who is nothing if not passionate about the TdF.  Basically, all other forms of human endeavor pale in significance when compared to The Tour.  There are tributes to the fans, the gendarmes, the broadcasters, the setup/tear down crews, the team masseuse, and just about everyone else connected to the tour.

As a person who enjoys the strategy of any competition, I was disappointed that so little time was spent on this aspect of the race.  Very little discussion was given to how teams decide to approach a given stage or how they hope to put their cyclists in the best position to achieve their goals (and in the TdF, there are so many different ways to “win” that there are many different possible strategies).  Instead, a great deal of time focuses on suffering.  You watch the riders slowly break down psychologically over the course of three weeks and are impressed to see most of them rally back each day despite tremendous fatigue.

One is left with an admiration for the dedication of the cyclists who overcome incredible obstacles.  Unfortunately, this admiration is greatly tempered when one realizes almost the entire Team Telekom (including most of the riders featured in the documentary) would be scandalized in a doping controversy only a few years later.  So much for the idolization of hard work and determination.

This film therefore appeals to a very small audience: namely those interested enough in cycling to watch two hours of German with English subtitles but not familiar enough with the inner workings of professional cycling or the TdF to be intrigued by the perspective.  Everyone else should probably find something else to watch.

This Week In Cycling Dope

Point of Order - the guy on the left counts with his fingers correctly; the guy on the right does not.

Since I have a blog which concerns itself with cycling, I am obligated to discuss this week’s happenings in the professional ranks.  Most Americans are generally aware that federal prosecutors have dropped their investigation into possible doping activities of Lance Armstrong and his teammates during his epic seven consecutive Tour de France streak.  Only the most cycling-focused of us Yanks are aware that three-time TdF winner Alberto Contador was ordered to forfeit his 2010 victory by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (cycling has a court!) and suffer a two-year ban.  This same court is expected to issue a ruling tomorrow on yet another TdF winner, Jan Ullrich.  No American has ever heard of him.  Ok, a few Americans have heard of Ullrich – but not many.

Regardless of their overall popularity in The States, all three cyclists are very popular in the cycling community.  What are we to think of the prospect of doping featuring so prominently in the sport we love?  How does this impact us as cyclists?

My answer to the first question is, “What’s new?” and to the second question I say, “Not at all.”

Cycling has an extremely rich and consistent involvement in performance enhancing drugs.  It has been this way for over a century and has continued unabated despite 50 years of efforts to remove them from the sport.  My only surprise in the continued infractions is that people are surprised by them.   A significant PED scandal hits the cycling world every few years for the past century, so another is hardly a novel thing.  In this regard, cycling is no different from any other sport where millions of dollars are at stake.  When the margin between greatness and average is very small and the incentives to cheat are extremely large, cheating is to be expected.

So why the ruckus?  I believe it is because cycling fans make the common mistake of idolizing the champions of the sport (“fans” is short for “fanatics,” after all).  What happens when our heroes are exposed?  Illusions are shattered and enjoyment of the sport is lessened.

So should we all stop watching and supporting professional cycling?  Of course not.  I suggest we simply take it for what it is and not attempt to embellish it with the stuff of myth and legend.  It’s a beautiful sport with sweeping vistas, fascinating strategy and tactics, teamwork, and tremendous hard work.  That’s enjoyable to watch and when some of these millionaires are caught crossing the line, they are punished and the show goes on.

If you want heroes, I encourage you to look elsewhere.  For cycling heroes, the Blogroll on the right side of your computer screen is an excellent place to start.  You will read inspiring stories of people overcoming all sorts of obstacles to achieve their best.  There are people cycling across continents, folks climbing mountains in their spare time, losing incredible amounts of weight, riding in extreme heat and cold, and doing so in all manner of age, gender, and physical ailment.  If we spend more time admiring folks like this and less time trying to make professional athletes something they are not, I think we’ll all be better off.

An Abridged Timeline Of PEDs in Cycling

(submitted for your reference – I could have added more, but this suffices, I think)

1896 – Arthur Linton dies of exhaustion and typhoid fever a few weeks after finishing 2nd in the Bordeaux-Paris race.  At least one researcher claims Linton was “massively doped” for this race by his manager, the infamous Choppy Warburton, who was known for doping his charges.

1896 – Participants in Six Day races are routinely given Nitroglycerine to improve their breathing.  The drug was a hallucinogen and was often used to stimulate the heart after heart attacks.  Marshall Taylor, one of the world’s most accomplished cyclists, refuses to continue in the New York Six Day Race, stating, “”I cannot go on with safety, for there is a man chasing me around the ring with a knife in his hand.”

1924 – The Pelissier brothers (Henri, Francis, and Charles) drop out of the Tour de France and give an interview in which they claim to have used strychnine, cocaine, chloroform, aspirin, “horse ointments,” and other drugs to improve performance.

1930 – Taking drugs was so accepted that the Tour de France rulebook reminded riders that race organizers would not provide drugs to cyclists.

1949 – Italian champion Fausti Coppi states that there is no alternative to taking amphetamines if one wants to be a competitive cyclist.  He jokes that he only takes the drugs when absolutely necessary, “which is nearly always.”

1955 – Jean Mallejec collapses on the famous Mount Ventoux during the Tour de France.  In the ambulance, he claims he was drugged against his will.

1958 – Roger Riviere sets the hour distance record.  He later admits he accomplished the feat under the influence of amphetamines.

1960 – Denmark’s Knud Enemark Jensen collapses during his team’s 100km Olympic time trial, fractures his skull, and later dies in the hospital.  An autopsy reveals the presence of amphetamines and Roncil, a drug which decreases blood pressure.  Jensen’s death lead to pressure on the IOC to establish drug controls.

1960 – During the Tour de France, Gastone Nencini was discovered in his hotel room with plastic tubes running from each arm into a bottle of blood.  Transfusions like this were legal at the time.

1960 – Roger Riviere ends his career in a crash during a descent on Mt. Aigoual.  Riviere believes the crash was caused by his use of the painkiller, Palfium.  Riviere states his fingers were so numb he couldn’t work the brake levers.

1965 – Jacques Anquetil claims “only a fool” would attempt to ride the Bourdaux-Paris route without drugs.  “Leave me in peace,” he says.  “Everybody takes dope.”

1967 – Tom Simpson dies on Mount Ventoux during the Tour de France.  The autopsy found amphetamines and alcohol in his system.  More drugs are found in the pockets of his jersey and in his hotel room.

1969 – Eddy Merckx, one of the all-time greats, tests positive for drugs during the Giro d’Italia.  In what would become a familiar defense, Merckx denies the charges and claimed his urine sample wasn’t handled properly.

1972 – Juan Huelamo finishes 3rd in the Olympics and is later disqualified after testing positive for coramine.

1973 – Eddy Merckx is stripped of his 1st place finish at the Giro di Lombardia Classic after testing positive for a banned substance.

1974 – Advances in testing technology helps catch 13 prominent riders.

1975 – Benard Thevenet wins the Tour de France with the assistance of cortisone.  “I was doped with cortisone for three years and there were many like me,” said Thevent.  “The experience ruined my health.”

1976 – Rachel Dard details how he and fellow riders tricked testing officials by using condoms containing uncontaminated urine.

1977 – Another improvement in testing nets Eddy Merckx yet again, along with Freddy Maertens and Michel Pollentier.  Pollentier would be caught a year later trying to trick testing officials using a bladder containing somebody else’s urine.

1978 – Jean-Luc van den Broueck states, “In the Tour de France, I took steroids. That is not a stimulant, just a strengthener. If I hadn’t, I would have had to give up… You can’t call that medically harmful, not if it’s done under a doctor’s control and within reason.”

1980 – Dietrich Thurau tests positive in three separate races.  After his retirement in 1988, he admits to doping and states most cyclists do it.

1984 – Francesco Moser breaks Eddy Merckx’s one hour record and admits to blood doping to prepare for the event.  At the time, this was not banned.  Seven members of the American Olympic Team admit to taking blood transfusions to prepare for the games.  The US Federation banned this practice the following year.

1989 – Johan van der Velde retires and undergoes hospital treatment for his addiction to amphetamines.

1991 – Sean Kelly is surprised to learn he failed a drug test despite using the urine of a team mechanic.  Unfortunately for Kelly, the mechanic was also using banned substances to provide a lift while working late at night.

1996 – In 2007, seven members of Team Telekom admit to taking banned substances (including EPO) during the season when teammate Jan Ullrich won the Tour de France.

1998 – The entire Festina team is ejected from the Tour de France when a large haul of doping drugs is found in a team car.

2001- The Giro d’Italia is marred by drug raids conducted by over 200 police officers. Numerous cyclists are implicated, including contender Dario Frigo.

2003-2004.  Eight riders die of heart attacks.  This is an unusually large number, even for a sport which routinely sees its world-class athletes suffer inexplicable numbers of heart attacks.

2006 – Tour de France favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso are banned from participation due to their connection to the Operacion Puerto doping case.  Eventual Tour Champion Floyd Landis would relinquish his title due to a positive doping test.

2007 – Tour de France leader Michael Rasmussen misses drug tests then lies to officials about his whereabouts.  His team eventually drops him from the race.  Four other riders test positive and two teams are asked to withdraw by officials.

2012 – Alberto Contador has his 2010 Tour de France title stripped due to a urine test which discovered the presence of clenbuterol.  Contador blames the result on contaminated meat.

Tour de France: The First 50 Years

1903 - Finish Line at the First Tour

Some of you (and by the looks of the cycling blogs out there, darn near all of you) are aware that cycling’s great annual event, the Tour de France, has been underway for a week.  There’s still almost two weeks to go, including several trips through the mountains of the Pyrenees and the Alps.  When the race is finished, riders will have traveled over 2,100 miles, or about 300 miles further than I have cycled all year.  That’s a depressing thought, so I’d rather focus on the Tour’s interesting history.

The Tour started in 1903 as the publicity stunt of a failing cycling magazine with the ironic name,  L’Auto.  The race’s original June 1 start date was delayed until July because so few riders had signed up.  After cutting the course from 35 to 19 days and halving the entry fee, 78 riders were registered and everything was set.

It’s hard to imagine how these cyclists managed.  The derailleur had yet to be invented, so this would be a “fixed-gear” race out of necessity.  Free wheels and drop bars did not exist.  There were no such things as cycling clothes.  Teams didn’t exist and cyclists were expected to manage all aspects of the tour by themselves, or risk disqualification.  The first stage was 290 miles long (Paris to Lyon).  43 riders quit on this first leg.  Eleven of the quitters were allowed to resume the Tour in Lyon, but they could only compete for stage wins, not the overall “General Classification.”  Fueled by the free publicity of L’Auto, hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen turned out to watch the event, which was deemed a huge success.

The rest, as they say, was history.  Here are some of my personal favorites of that history:

1904:  Cheating is so rampant that the Tour is almost abandoned.  The Tour’s first champion, Maurice Garin, had his title stripped as a review of check point logs clearly showed he had received a lift via auto or train.  Other riders were caught drafting team cars.  Fans ambushed competing riders and beat them with sticks.

1905:  Throwing nails onto the course becomes popular.  In Stage 1, every rider punctures at least once.  Keep in mind that riders carried their own spare inner tubes  with them and riders were required to complete any patching without assistance.

1909:  Francois Faber almost freezes to death in a snow storm storm while climbing Ballon d’Alsace.  Gale force winds blew him off his bike twice.  And he was attacked by a horse.  Mud at the bottom of the course was eight inches thick.  That’s a tough ride.

More Snow: Goustave Garrigou walks past six foot snow drifts in 1910

1913:  Marcel Buysse is hit by a car and his bike is seriously damaged.  When informed that Buysse lacked the skills to forge a new fork at the village blacksmith, Race Director Henri Desgrange says, “As a professional rider, you should know how to repair your bike.”

1925:  Teams are permitted to participate and riders are allowed to exchange and supply each other with food, small parts, and “light assistance.”   Teammates are permitted to stay with a stranded rider and work together to return to the peloton.

1930:  Destraught over the increasing influence of commercial sponsors which detracted from national teams, Desgrange forces riders to compete on generic yellow bikes.  The entire race is funded by the now-famous publicity caravan.  The first sponsor?  Menier Chocolates.

You have to start somewhere: 1930 Publicity Caravan

1935:  Francisco Cepeda falls on the descent from the Col du Galibier and dies five days later, the first rider to die on the Tour.  Later in the same tour, Julien Moineau employs a clever strategy by having fans line the road with beer bottles.  While all other riders agree to take a break to enjoy the unexpected surprise, Moineau pedaled onward for a 15 minute stage victory.  This Tour also marked the first use of derailleurs, 30 years after they were invented.

1948:  Gino Bartelli wins the Tour, ten years after winning it for the first time.  This remains the largest gap between victories in Tour history.

1952:  Fausto Coppi wins the first-ever race up Alpe d’Huez.  This spectacular mountain climb has been used 17 times since, but this is the first and only time riders were forced up it in an individual time trial. (thanks, Gerry!)

Fausto Coppi climbs Alpe d'Huez

Clearly, there are a lot more stories, but these are some of my favorites.  I could go into some detail on the 98-year history of performance-enhancing drugs, but I’ve decided to keep things relatively positive this time!

Today’s Ride Tougher Than The Tour de France

 

        

The Tour de France started today (in Rotterdam, of course) with a measly 8km time trial.  Let the record show that on the same day I rode 33.4 miles – at least SIX TIMES further than the Tour traveled!

From here on out, it’s all downhill for me.

I’m always amazed at the abilities of world-class athletes in almost any sport.  Every so often, it is possible to compare their “level of play” with what a mere mortal (such as myself) is capable of.  For example, I’ve been thinking that 658 miles is a pretty good distance to ride so far this summer, but the Tour riders will equal this distance by Tuesday. 

That’s right – Tuesday. 

And everyone will be in agreement that these were the “easy” stages of the race.  After Tuesday, the riders will climb back on their bikes 16 of the next 18 days and ride over 100 miles every day except for July 19, when they’ll ride a 52km time trial. 

In total, the riders will cover 2,140 miles, much of it in mountains.  That’s just sick.  And it’s just one race.  Many of them have participated in several “tune up” events throughout the world, and they’ll continue on to another race when the Tour is through.  Amazing.

For me, I like to keep my average speed over 15 mph.  On rides over 40 miles, I’ll take a break which will bring my average down a bit.  These guys will be averaging 25 mph.  Did I mention that they’ll be riding well over 100 miles every day?  Much of it in the mountains?  Many of the mountains have grades of 11%.  There is a street where I live with an 11% grade.  That’s a tough half mile.  These guys climb mountains with that grade.

So on this day, I will celebrate the fact that I outdid the largely ceremonial Prologue to the Tour de France.  From here on out, the pros can have their proper accolades!