- The end is nigh. Unlike last year’s faux resignation — a well-intended joke that no one found funny but me — this farewell note is real. For 16 years, my sense of being has been inseparable from my care for Competitive Cyclist. Now, after turning in my company Visa and my key card, I’m reminded of the famous Shakespeare quote, “Exit, pursued by a bear.” In stepping into a non-Competitive Cyclist world, my terror runs deep. Will I ever love anything as much again?
My final act was to organize some jottings. They’re memories, really. Old ones and new ones, and in almost every instance trivial or at least halfway so. But in looking at the past, I see a reflection of what a great group of people built, many of whom will still remain as the dreamers and strategists and heavy-lifters of the most compelling bike e-commerce site on the planet.
- Best bike I ever rode: If we’d ever been clever enough to introduce our own set of “The Rules” a la Velominati, surely first and foremost would’ve been that one’s all-time favorite bike is the one which was ridden at the moment of one’s all-time peak fitness. For me, it was the Cervelo R3 SL. Its predecessor, the R3, was arguably the most important bike brought to market since the groundbreaking Colnago C40 carbon.
The R3′s “squoval” down tube and dainty, leaf spring-like seatstays resulted in a frame that was all but weightless by the standards of the late-2000s. Even more, it defanged crappy country roads better than anything this side of a RockShox Ruby. The R3 was an engineering feat that struck marketing gold with the run of Paris-Roubaix victories ridden on it.
The R3 SL was (you guessed it) an even-lighter iteration of the R3. The geometry, the way it felt at home on the best of roads and the worst of roads, and the fact that it came from a company otherwise entirely preoccupied with aerodynamics, made it a glorious anomaly in the market. I sold mine over three years ago, and I haven’t felt more savage on a bike since.
- Best poem that made me think about bikes: It’s all about your personal taste here. If you dig on stoner poetry slam-a-rama, then you can’t beat four intoxicating minutes of Dave Z fighting to get home from Spain. You might call is prose-poetry. I call it mind-bending —
No reflection on the poetics of bike racing can be complete without tipping the hat to Italy, which brings us to Daniel Patterson’s grim evocation, “Poem called sadness”:
Might I self-promote a haiku of my own? Shall I call it “The Plight of the Introspective Cyclist”?
Silence isn’t an
option. Solo rides are the
most social rides
And the spooky beauty of life, death and Belgium by Franz Wright:
- Best theatre of the absurd: Team CSC’s Lars Michaelson went into the 2007 season knowing that Paris-Roubaix would be the final race of his career. He’d had some impressive results in earlier years and wanted to leave nothing to chance. As the lore goes, he’d arranged that once the worst of the pavé had passed, he’d switch to a new bike affixed with feathery-yet-aero Zipp 303 wheels. Although he was part of a small chasing group at the front of the race, at the bike change point, he went forward with the plan. Given that the effort to rejoin the break after a bike swap would surely outweigh the benefit of sweeter wheels, it was a curious decision. What follows is 20 seconds of pure absurdity and heartbreak —
- Best blogger: Perhaps my next job will be an art project. Once per week I’ll type up word-for-word each of Brian Hoffman’s weekly “Fishing Report” columns from the San Francisco Chronicle. Gritty existentialism, meet bait and boat advice. Has anything in the history of journalism ever been so literate yet so informative? No, it has nothing to do with bikes. But bikes and blogs go together. There is so much to be learned from Hoffman’s storytelling.
After 15-or-so years, at the end of 2009, the column stopped. It was probably a casualty of the Chronicle’s gruesome financial state. After that, Hoffman was never heard from again. Go try to find The Collected Columns of Brian Hoffman online. Google’s reach, you’ll find, is limited. And the sfgate.com search engine is an abomination. He wrote literally hundreds of columns, and maybe you can track down 20. Years of columns, good as gone.
- Best photo I’ve seen in a long, long time: When you’ve been conquered and you know you’ll never, ever forget it — that’s when you’ve become a bike racer.
- Toughest day ever as a fan: Craig Lewis was our PRO-in-residence for years at Competitive Cyclist. He spent his career as a brute of a domestique at the highest level of the sport — keeping suicide breakaways in check, keeping team time trials glued together, and keeping Mark Cavendish wet with podium kisses. Our friendship with him made the pro peloton feel close, and it made even obscure races (Tour of Poland, anyone?) worth watching.
Because Craig wasn’t in the business of making headlines, we’ve never quite recovered from the 13th stage of the 2010 Giro d’Italia. A routine morning of Giro-watching got turned on its head when Craig made the day’s breakaway. It escalated to outright madness in the final Ks when he shed the group and charged home for the win.
That final K was the longest K ever ridden. It was the longest K ever watched.
Like fellow Boulder resident and fellow near-Grand Tour stage winner Will Frischkorn, Craig is now retired from the sport and is funneling his energy into the food and wine business. Frischkorn has Cured, Craig has Stelvio Selections. Lesson learned for me, I hope: You get more than one good job in a lifetime.
- Best piece of bike racing trivia you’ll ever hear: The 1899 winner of Paris Roubaix was a 21 year old Frenchman named Albert Champion. He broke away early and held off the chasing group to win solo in 8 hours and 22 minutes.
Soon after, he quit bike racing to take up racing cars, which led him to the United States. In the early 1900s he founded the Champion Spark Plug Company in Boston. After a dispute with his backers, he left and founded the AC Spark Plug Company. It became AC Delco following its takeover by GM, and Champion Spark Plugs still operates under its original name, if not its original pronunciation. Will any other ex-PRO ever make such a global economic impact? Doubt it.
- Best T-shirt ever:
- Best book about bike racing: It’s not about bikes, but it’s about the place that defines our sport more definitively than any other: Flanders. “The Missing of the Somme” by Geoff Dyer is a gorgeously-written meditation on the war to end all wars, and the land it was fought upon.
In watching Ghent-Wevelgem this year, I couldn’t help but think about Dyer’s book. The helicopter shots that day were a Tour de Symbolism. The cameras went back to the haunted landscapes once and again. Graveyards that hold only a fraction of the dead. Memorials that strain to consecrate otherworldly terror. Did the scenes distract from the race itself? If anything, the inverse was true: The race strained to distract from the signifiers of the carnage everywhere. Dyer’s book: Get it, read it.
“…The mud. There are no good similes. Mud must be a Flemish word. Mud was invented here. Mudland might have been its name…When it rains (which is almost constantly from early September through to March, except when it snows) the water rises at you out of the ground. It rises from your footprints — and an army marching over a field can cause a flood. In 1916 it was said that you ‘waded to the front’. Men and horses sank from sight. They drowned in the mud. Their graves, it seemed, just dug themselves and pulled them down….”