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A Ukrainian in Iowa

– Memorial Day #1: If you’ve interacted with Competitive Cyclist, especially in the MTB realm, you’ve surely spoken to or met my business partner & great friend Hap Seliga. On this somber day -- one made up of a solitary stories of devastated lives -- it’s his grandfather I have in mind.

Memorial Day #2: Of the many things to appreciate about the sport of cycling, one of the most moving is how our races travel history’s hallowed battlegrounds. This year’s Giro is an example. The Tour de Georgia had the same. And the monumental classics of the Ardennes bring an annual return to a place of such great somberness -- something beautifully framed by Graeme Fife in Rouleur #8 --

Rouleur 8 – ‘Kemmelberg’ by Graeme Fife & Camille McMillan

Memorial Day #3: In the manner of newspapers full of summertime reading advice, here’s a tip inspired by the day -- ‘A Long, Long Way’ by Sebastian Barry. It’s the tale of a too-young Irishman caught up in the horror of WWI Flanders, and it’s for good reason that it was nominated for the Booker Prize. The writing is beautifully poetic and the narrative is relentless.

**** And now back to our regularly-scheduled programming****

– The Gavia Pass stage of the Giro was fairly humdrum to watch, especially in comparison to the previous day’s spectacular drama on the Mortirolo & Aprica. Given that Arroyo took 2 minutes out of Basso on the Mortirolo descent, who amongst us wasn’t waiting for him to attack Basso at top speed down the rutted golf cart path of the Gavia? It was an attack that never came.

That being said, the stage had its highlights. Cadel’s acceleration near the end of the Tonale entertained. And we’ll be peeking at Sirotti’s photos of the day for years to come. But perhaps best of all was learning about Johan Tschopp. It takes little to seem lone wolf-ish in the pro peloton, and Tschopp qualifies.

– I’m trying to remember the last time the Tour de France was a bigger thrill than the Giro. Maybe 2003 -- the year that The Lance pipped out Der Kaiser, whilst Simoni won the Giro by over 7 minutes. Looking back all the way to the Hinault era, though, the Giro is reliably a more scenic, more dramatic, and tougher race. Another upside of the Giro is the accidental poetry to be found in the standings:


An article that begs the question -- just what exactly is the national road champion of the Ukraine doing in Iowa?

– Whatever happened to Samuel Abt? As a kid I’d pay $1.50 for the Nationwide edition of the New York Times to read his stories from le Tour and -- if I was lucky -- it might include a photo of the stage winner. Like Vin Scully, the game didn’t happen if his voice wasn’t narrating it.

Another way of asking the same question is this: Who is Juliet Macur and how did she end up flicking Abt for the cycling beat? Her general body sports reporting is, in places, interesting; and a few Google searches proves she has both insider scoop & passion for figure skating. But how in the world did she get from there to cycling?

It’s no secret that the Times’ balance sheet is a sucking chest wound. Perhaps the generational shift of Abt to a possibly-cheaper & theoretically-hungry Macur is the result of austerity measures at the Times? I’m waiting to be impressed with her cycling insight -- which means (a) world-class reporting (or at least beautiful storytelling); and (b) for these stories to have her own solitary byline, not yet another article co-written by Michael Schmidt.

As it stands now her work proves the fact she’s never slogged through a race outside the sparkling wine & cheese beat offered by the Tour of California & the Tour de France. Her work is worse for it. A dose of Haut Var or the Tour of West Flanders would do her repertoire some good. Intimacy with the miseries & tedium of the whole race calendar is why even a throwaway Abt period piece evinces a nous absent from her reporting. Abt transcended the Times. Bonnie Ford has earned the same with ESPN. Their authenticity & authority is theirs alone.

– Speaking of generational shifts, I’ve been using the new Look Keo 2 Max pedals. The stainless steel wear plate at the center of the pedal body is a fantastic change. The old plasticky version wore out over time (and did so quickly) with no recourse except tossing them in the trash. And even though it’s gotten steamy here early this summer, I’ve felt no hot feet -- possibly a benefit of the fact that this generation of Keos has a wider body altogether?

That being said, I detest (Lord help me from using all caps here) the new Keo Grip cleats. Rather than being full plastic throughout -- the way Look cleats have been since the beginning of clipless -- the ‘Grip’ here is the upraised rubber padding added to the bottom of the cleat. The theory is that they keep you from clip-clopping too loudly & maybe slipping when you’re getting your mid-ride Starbucks. But how often are you doing coffee rides? However what I AM doing multiple times per ride is clipping out at traffic lights, and the ‘Grip’ padding causes my feet to lose all tap-tappy tactile sensation of where the pedal is under my foot when clipping in. For 20 years I’ve been able to feel my way into a Look pedal in a nano-second, but that feeling is now wiped out by the ‘Grip.’ It’s like learning clipless all over again everyday, and that’s not a good thing.

– And let’s keep up the theme of dubious change: Did you know that Selle Italia has discontinued the SLR saddle? Not the SLR line altogether, but the standard plain-jane SLR has officially given up the ghost. It’s been in the Selle Italia family as far back as I can remember, and is no less essential as the Flite. Back in the day the SLR had Ti rails, then it made a change to the Ti-like Vanox rails. Except for this utterly repellent iteration, though, it’s gone, gone, gone.

The discontinuation of the SLR is a decision that astonishes on two fronts: For starters is the fact that Selle Italia has built up the SLR family as a whole into an incomprehensible assortment of versions nobody can keep up with. Here’s a screenshot, for example, of the 24 different (still-existent) skus of SLR-species saddles. You’ll see ‘SLR Fibra’ and ‘SLR XC Gel’ and ‘SLR Team’ and on and on, like when you’re at the grocery store and all you want is hummus and instead it’s a shelf teeming with ‘Garlic Hummus’ and ‘Roasted Red Pepper Hummus’ and ‘Wild Garden Hummus’ and ‘Cracked Chili Pepper Hummus’. Is there an Italian translation of ‘The Paradox of Choice’? In the meantime, if any US distributor of Selle Italia can get us a few cases of standard SLR’s I swear to you I’ll ride one on a century and slather myself in Trader Joe’s Mediterranean Smooth & Creamy Hummus in lieu of Assos Chamois Cream.

Secondly, what’s so crazy is the number of the plain, pure ‘Real Simple’ SLR’s we sell every year. In the lifetime of Competitive Cyclist, this is how our SLR saddle sales look on a % basis --

SLR Gelflow 38.82%
SLR 29.01%
SLR Kit Carbonio (all versions) 15.70%
SLR T1 10.49%
SLR Teknologika (all versions) 4.61%
SLR Fibra 1.19%
SLR XC 0.17%

The sample size here is huge and when I got the news of the SLR’s demise, inevitably I envisioned so many needlessly vanishing saddle sales. Sure, I’m a salesguy and I can flip somebody interested in an SLR to a Fizik Arione all day long. But the SLR is a household name with proven demand, so I can’t see why Selle Italia would ever want to get rid of it.