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Expos, Crest, Kiwi

- You have no heart if you don’t feel for World Cycling Productions. Go back in time just a bit and their money-printing formula was obvious: Pay a fee to the ASO for exclusive North American rights to video coverage of any race worth a flip; pay a bit more to Phil and Paul for their commentary; then add one last layer of cost for production and voilia! you end up with another year’s library of race videos. To the hardcore race fan and likewise for the average mass market Lance worshiper, you needed a fix and WCP was the only dealer in town. If I only had a dollar for every minute I’ve spent sweating on the trainer in the glow of a WCP production…

Alas, Google acquired Youtube. Alas again, residential bandwidth pipes came to rival the size of sewer pipes. All-but-overnight the entire history of meaningful bike race moments was cataloged and at your disposal on-demand. Sure each clip maxes out at 10 minutes on Youtube. But isn’t 10 minutes long enough? Not unlike online porn, I’ll take trade brevity for immediacy and breadth of fetishistic selection any day.

From a financial standpoint, surely WCP is now a shell of what it once was. But I come here today to praise them, not to bury them. A recent harsh snap of winter weather banished me to the trainer in a way I haven’t done in a decade, so I had the opportunity to reach far back in the closet to watch what’s maybe the best race DVD ever done -- the 2003 Tour of Romandie. It’s impossible to decide what charms most: Was it Francisco ‘The Clot’ Perez’s laugh-out-loud horrible descending skills? Was it the choice of Dario Cioni and Steve Zampieri to sport IWC watches instead of digital HRM’s in the most dramatic breakaway of the race? Was it the way every climb longer than 5km was shown in its entirety?

WCP spread out 5 stages over 2 DVD’s. The length of the coverage lent itself to a slow-cooked drama perfect for long hours on the trainer. I give it 5 stars and make my strongest possible recommendation to all of you to buy it from WCP. Surely it’ll brighten up what’s otherwise become a perma-dismal existence for them. And I can promise you that you’ll return to Stages 3 and 4 again and again.

- If you read Daniel Coyle’s fine book ‘Lance Armstrong’s War’ then you’re already familiar with that early season ritual, the ‘ass check.’ For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, here’s a quick excerpt:

‘The ass check is…practiced from a distance, and requires not only a keen eye, but also experience. An ass, properly examined, is one of the best available calibrations of potential. Ass checking is not a pastime, it is part of the race, as sure a measure of a rival’s ability as timing a baseball pitcher’s warm-up with a radar gun. When most riders reach top form, their asses become small and vaguely feminine, as if grafted from a disciplined teenage gymnast.

‘It’s not written down, but it may as well be,’ says former Postal rider and OLN commentator Frankie Andreu. ‘After a while, you get everybody memorized, what’s big for them, what’s small for them, what they look like when they’re going to tear it up.’

‘First, you have to know the guy. You have to know the ass,’ [Johan] Bruyneel says. ‘After you know it, it tells as much as [powermeter] numbers.”

Word to the wise: Don’t ass check Robert Gesink of Team Rabobank unless you want your morale crushed.

- I’ve always been a bit creeped out by the L’Eroica ride. The extent of the dress-up and the strict rules surrounding it smacks of Civil War re-enactment, or Human Chess, or odd-unto-scary bedroom roleplaying (NSFW alert!) But I do dig the general notion of period-piece riding. Time machine me back to 1997 please! I’ll take a MG-Technogym aluminum Coppi in dark blue, alloy cranks, and Spinacis. I’ll supply a suitcase full of caffeine suppositories for all of us, too, since there was a panache to the era probably only possible for riders near-fatally doped up and we should pay homage to this as well. It’s hard not to be sentimental about the Superhero Era. The feats back then -- combine them with the fans’ total blindness to what fueled it -- It’s an age of innocence I wish I could re-visit every once in a while.

- I’ve been listening & re-listening to my Arcade Fire. My shelf is full with dog-eared Michael Ondaatje. I bought an Expos hat. I’m full-on fired up for the pair of ProTour races slated for Quebec in September. One day racing is the true essence of bike racing and I’m hard-pressed to think of the last time a real-deal one day race went down in North America. (Please don’t say ‘What about Philly Week?’ or mention the T-Mobile race in San Francisco. If guys with day jobs raced in it, it’s not real racing.) Given the utter PROness of the Quebec races, why in the world is there no sexy website hyping the hell out of it? Is there a north-of-the-border internet we’re firewalled from here in the US? The PR effort up to now is inversely PROportional to the meaning of these races to our PRO-poor continent. Unleash the hype please oh pretty please!

- Great fodder for drinking games here. It’s testimony, too, to how little the gazillions of dollars invested in bike race team sponsorship have influenced my personal purchasing decisions. In fact I can attribute only one brand loyalty constant in my life for the fact the company sponsored a team: Crest toothpaste. Since 1988 no other brand has ever touched my choppers. I can’t explain it since it’s not really conscious. But the longevity of the instinct is scary.

- If you read ‘Dog in a Hat’ you know you damn well better not show up to the race with a dirty bike. Likewise you’d best not get caught changing clothes in the car. Appearances are essential, and in the pursuit of this I’ve come across a dandy means of further dignifying one’s presence on the start line. Shoes make the man, so make them sparkle and do so in a flash.