– I grew up with a kid in my neighborhood named David White. Plain name, but he had wicked mean golf skills. As I recall, he got a scholarship to Oklahoma, transferred to Arkansas, and whomped and stomped the SEC through his college career. Then he tried making the leap to pro. He got caught in an endless loop of mini-tour action instead of the PGA Tour (read: Tour de Toona instead of Tour of Flanders), and the only shot he got at the big leagues was by qualifying for the 1997 US Open at Congressional in Washington DC. The stars aligned that week and he made the cut. He kinda botched up the final round with a 77. But those of you who know golf know that playing Sunday in a major is akin to finding yourself doing 35mph laps on the Champs-Élyssés at the end of July. No matter how far you’re down on GC, the fact that you’ve finished a single Tour is a memory for a lifetime.
Eventually David retired from golf for investment banking and family life. Sometime a couple of years back I found myself at a local golf tournament/benefit thing, crossing paths with him for a bit as I hacked at my Titleist with an elegance I normally reserve for yard work that requires a pick axe. I stood maybe 160 yards from the hole.
‘The difference between a journeyman pro and a PGA pro,’ he said pointing to the pin, ‘is the difference between putting this shot 18 feet from the hole and putting it 8 feet away.’
My shot careened pinball-style in a bunker -- a fairway bunker 60 yards away and on the opposite side of the fairway -- partly because I’m an abysmal golfer and equally because I was distracted by his words. It got me thinking: For pro bike racers, what’s the difference between a lifetime slogging on a D3 squad and making the ProTour?
Please don’t answer ‘doping’ since there’s no shortage of D3 dopers and probably more idiots than we’d ever believe struggling in the Cat 2’s with illicit goodies flowing through them.
Do we need nothing more than a snapshot of watts-per-kilogram (W/kg)? If you’re a 6.5 for a 15 minute effort, are you ready for prime time?
Allen Lim once told us he has a simple entrance exam to see who’s got real potential in the pro ranks: ‘Go out and do a 4,000kj ride, then time trial up Flagstaff. Tell me your time. I’ll tell you if you’re worth a shit.’ Is this the test? The X-Ray that reveals all? Might bike racing lack that single benchmark to tell you straightaway who’s got the goods, a la the stiff 8-iron?
– Speaking of golf, do you remember Le Groupement? Vijay Singh probably doesn’t, but he should. Note to self: When you wear a logo, make sure you end up being paid.
– While I’m asking for essential formulas related to bike racing, I have another request for you: What’s the highest allowable ratio of hours-of-travel to hours-of-racing? I blew off a road race last weekend because it was 7 hours of roundtrip car time for a 3 hour race. There was once a time when I would’ve traveled 7 hours each way for a 70 mile road race…This past Sunday morning at 6am I had no such desire.
– Cars buzzing me on training rides are starting to bother me less. Maybe I’ve just hit a good spell of driver courtesy, or maybe I’m content in my resignation that I can only control so much…. What bothers me worst nowadays are the Harleys. Their ‘pipes’ make them obnoxious to me beyond words. It seems their drivers take authentic pleasure in double-clutching and revving up to umpteen thousand right as they get on my hip. Their needless cacophony makes me detest them. Crotch rockets are beautiful machines. But Harleys and the like…they’re public enemy #1 to me. They are space pollution and nothing more.
– Literature alert: We’re now stocking Joe Parkin’s book ‘A Dog in a Hat.’ Ten word review: Best book about bike racing we’ve ever read. For any American who has fantasies about the Belgian racing scene (and who doesn’t?) this is vital stuff. Instant classic. And we’ve gotta give props to Rouleur Magazine for Issue #12. We’ll confess that we were supremely underwhelmed by #11, but #12 makes up for it x10. Some beautiful photography, several great articles, in particular ‘Demain On Roule’ by Guy Andrews. The black-and-white-history era of bike racing usually bores us to tears, but this article was a stunner. This was a good month for great bike literature.
– Economics #1: Team Saxo Bank is taking the unprecedented step of changing its component group mid-year, from Shimano to SRAM. I don’t recall a situation like this ever playing out before -- without exception, teams stick with the same component groups throughout the year just as surely as they keep the same brand of frames. The same vanilla press release on the matter was circulated in all the expected ‘news’ sites. Since it was just PR palaver, nobody bothered to ask the big question: Why?
My take on things? Here goes: It’s not a product quality issue. While people might have legitimate questions about bang-for-the-buck, etc of Dura Ace 7900, there’s no question that 7900 functions beautifully and so far has proven to be durable. While Saxo Bank has had awful luck with rider injuries (Cancellara, F. Schleck, O’Grady to mention the most notable), none of the misfortunes were equipment-related. And it was Specialized’s other sponsored team, Quick Step, that lost a podium place at Paris-Nice due to equipment mishap (Campy, no less!).
My belief is that Shimano was not, in fact, ever a real sponsor of Saxo Bank, as in providing container-loads of free product + bookoo cash. You might recall from Saxo Bank’s previous iteration, Team CSC, that the team rode a mish-mash of FSA and Shimano componentry. Team owner Bjarne Riis made it abundantly clear that while the team was really & truly sponsored by Zipp, Speedplay, Vittoria, and FSA, they bought the Shimano drivetrain essentials (derailleurs, chain, cassette, and shifters) on their own. We dunno if Shimano wouldn’t pay Riis’ team enough cash, or if Shimano wouldn’t sponsor a team that rode FSA cranks (and non-Shimano wheels). In any event, Shimano was never a sponsor of Team CSC, nor do we suspect they sponsored Riis’ 2nd-generation Team Saxo Bank.
So although Team Saxo Bank changed component groups here, they didn’t actually change sponsors. Rather, they went from a no-sponsorship deal where they supplied their own Shimano to the new scenario where the team is likely getting both container-loads of free product + bookoo SRAM cash in an easy-to-diagnose win-win.
For SRAM, it gives them a deep connection to the other behemoth bike company, Specialized. Up to now they were possibly risking too close of an association with Trek, both via their Astana sponsorship and their partial ownership by The Lance. The American bike retail landscape is defined by two poles: Trek and Specialized. Through this sponsorship, SRAM now owns the spec on Trek and Specialized’s most consequential professional teams. Both in terms of marketing presence and in terms of OE spec on the retail sales floor, we’re sure to see a trickle down (pour down?) connection between ‘the high end’ for each brand and SRAM. If you’re the dominant presence on Trek’s and Specialized’s most visible pro bikes, you’re on the fast track to commanding global road marketshare and mindshare.
For Team Saxo Bank/Riis Cycling, the deal provides something they’re dying for even worse than an experienced Grand Tour GC contender: Cash money. Lots of it. It’s easy to forget that just a few months back the team was called Team Saxo Bank p/b IT Factory. And, as is well-documented, IT Factory turned out to be a fraudulent sham whose corruption presaged more major league villains like Satyam, Bernard Madoff, and Allen Stanford. According to reports, IT Factory’s collapse cost Saxo Bank upwards of $9 million. We have no doubts that SRAM’s sponsorship will bridge some portion of this sum, which is doubtlessly a godsend to Riis as he faces his fourth month of Saxo Bank payroll.
– Economics #2: More bike industry blues. French mega-sporting goods chain Decathlon is putting the brakes on building a new bike factory, and questions abound about their promised investments in other sizeable bike-related projects. As you might know, Decathlon was a long-time sponsor of Ag2R, who formerly had Cyfac and Litespeed build their bikes (labeling them Decathlon), then by having them ride kinda scary looking B’Twin-labeled carbon bikes ’til they lost the sponsorship to the Basque manufacturer BH last year.
– Economics #3: Lance-led conspiracy to buy the Tour de France? Maybe you already read the Wall St Journal article. In case you haven’t, it makes for interesting reading, as does the ‘interactive graphic.’ The company that owns the Tour also owns the Paris Marathon and Paris-Dakar -- I wonder if the purported acquisition plan was for le Tour only, or for all of the ASO’s properties?
– Do you read ‘The Boulder Report’? If you don’t, you should. Joe Lindsey is doing great work. Other than Bonnie Ford, he did the only writing of note on Lance’s collarbone breakage. (Break out the Pulitzer: He didn’t quote Lance’s Twitter feed in this article even once!!). Hearing smack-talk from the Spaniards about Lance’s alleged squirrely bike handling is surreal. And his piece on ‘American Cycling News, non-Armstrong Category’ (scroll to the bottom half of the page) was some eye-opening stuff. Bookmark this site!