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Fear and Fearlessness When Things Tip Downhill

- The heavy hitters of the pro peloton kicked off their 2012 bike racing season this week with the Tour of Qatar, a weeklong stage race known for its abundance of six lane highways and its utter lack of climbs. Except for the unrelenting desert wind, the race has all the intrigue of an office park crit. While there’s no reason to expect this year to be different, this recent photo essay at least gives us more mind candy about the locales we read about in the race reports.

- Our support of racing at Competitive Cyclist has never surpassed what we’ve planned for 2012. For starters, there’s our US pro team. The Competitive Cyclist Racing Team is studded with Grand Tour veterans, domestiques eager for self-immolation, and neo-pros who are sure to top the podium a few years hence. In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the Pinarello Dogma 2 team bike plus a spy shot of the team kit:

Team Issue Dogma 2

Competitive Cyclist Racing Team bike

Team Issue Jersey

In 2012 we also mark our third consecutive year as co-sponsor of one of America’s top amateur teams, Panther p/b Competitive Cyclist. Led by ex-pros Paul Martin and Kirk Albers, this team has been the proving grounds for countless kids who’ve become domestic pros as well as emerging international track and cyclocross stars. The combination of experience and youth on Panther has been magical. In 2012 the team will be riding the Orbea Orca Silver and should be perfecting the art of the victory salute at top-dollar US crits throughout the season.

Team Panther p/b Competitive Cyclist kit

Orbea Orca Silver, as ridden by Team Panther p/b Competitive Cyclist

And last but not least, watch for our yearlong sponsorship of bike racing coverage on NBC Universal (formerly Versus). It includes title sponsorship of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. Possibly our single sweetest sponsorship investment of the year will be two commercial-free broadcasts of mountaintop finishes during the 2012 Tour de France. At heart we’re bike mad and we’re proving it with our marketing budget. We know the only must-see TV is bike racing. Anything we can do to minimize the commercials and to keep the race coverage maxed out, we’ll make it happen.

- In case you slept through last week, SRAM just released its second-generation Red gruppo. There’s lot to say about the progress the new Red represents, almost all of which must wait for another day. But one thing is crystal clear: The famous frog is pretty much dead. Who didn’t fall in love with that devious little wall-sticking amphibian when the company unveiled Red in the first place? Go as deep as you can into SRAM’s marketing material these days and you’ll find that he’s nothing more than a tiny header on Red webpages. He used to be as front and center as Alberto Contador Andy Schleck. Now he’s gone the way of the Dodo. I loved that guy. Why didn’t he make the cut?

- Pause for a moment and contemplate what you’re about to do.

You’re about to witness the true Raging Bull. Bernard Hinault, the most complete and most intimidating bike racer since Merckx. Hell, he’s probably even more intimidating than Merckx. After all, Eddy is remembered for being punched, while Hinault is known for doing the punching.

Do the last 20 seconds of this video terrify you as much as it does me? Hinault looks like a homeless dude intent on homicide. I’d pay $100 for his toque, by the way.

- An article about skiing in places I daydream about riding in. Those are hourly daydreams, by the way. Spain, Spain, Spain…a temptress like no other.

- Have you ever been dropped on a descent during a bike race? Who hasn’t? Even if you don’t ski, this is an amazing read about fear and fearlessness when things tip downhill.

- Why do we get scared mid-race? It’s because in the back of our minds we all know we could end up like Craig Lewis, who was nearly dead twice from bike racing. Somehow Craig is back on the bike again and putting in big miles for Champion Systems after three years with the-now defunct High Road/HTC. After last year’s frightful, leg-shattering crash in the Giro (which came a few years after a near-fatal crash in the Tour de Georgia), a normal person would’ve hung up the bike forever. Clearly, Craig’s fears take a back seat to his determination to climb back to the top rung of the sport.

Craig Lewis, a new startCraig kicks off his 2012 campaign at the Tour of Langkawi before heading over to Belgium for a mess of one-day races. If you’re a fan of comeback kids, keep your eye on him. He’s got an F1 engine, even if at this point he’s only racing on 1.5 legs.

A side note for the fans of the corporate side of bike racing: After Craig exploded his femur in the Giro he was medevac’d to an Italian hospital of the sketchiest sort. Things deteriorated fast. The hospital couldn’t prevent a chain reaction of medical complications. The nightmare worsened because the team’s insurance company refused to transport him to a hospital with advanced care.

It soon became clear to the High Road medical staff that leaving Craig where he was wouldn’t just put a death sentence on his racing career, it would likely mean a leg amputation. So, recalcitrant insurance company aside, Bob Stapleton paid out of pocket to charter a private medical jet from Switzerland to ship Craig out of Italy to Hamburg, Germany where he was treated under the team’s medical supervision.

Stapleton became a billionaire in telecom due in no small part to his unyielding financial sensibilities. Like many executives, he has a reputation for steamrolling anything that interferes with his interests. Case in point: Instead of mimicking his team riders by having his name on the top tube of his bike, Stapleton’s decal simply said ‘Ruthless.’ But when push came to shove, his loyalty to Craig outweighed the capitalist instinct to make the other guy (in this case, an insurance company) pay. This memory of Stapleton is bigger to me than any race win. When big money had to be spent, Stapleton didn’t hesitate to save Craig’s leg. Without that decision, Craig wouldn’t be teeing off at Langkawi.

- Di2 batteries and SRM Powercontrols jamming up the cupholders. This is PRO.

Backseat PROness

- For haters of PRO, I submit to you a picture-perfect scene of aspirational PROness gone totally bad. If there was ever an indictment of the concept, this is it. Yes, it’s the wrong sport. But can’t both factions — pro-PRO and anti-PRO — come together and enjoy it nonetheless?

- The official color of PRO: Neon Yellow. I don’t suggest that you immerse yourself in it. But subtle touches here and there, oh my does it turn me on. Safety is sexy — at least that’s what my wife says.

More Neon at Etoile des Besseges

Oakley Radar, neon of course

Pozzato on Cipollini

Giro Aeon, in Neon of course

Rag and Bone - More neon

Neon at Etoile des Besseges

Scarponi

- Stamp fascination:

1980 Olympics, East Germany