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Linda McCartney’s Screeching Vocals

– We’re one week into our merged website and we’ve been the beneficiary of loads of thoughtful feedback regarding our changes. Most of the comments have been encouraging. And while there’s been criticism, much of it has been constructive and we’re appreciative of that. We’ve taken it to heart, and we’re already working on enhancements and modifications because of it.

The most common expression of displeasure pertains to how road and mountain components now live within one single category, i.e. road and mountain rear derailleurs are grouped together. The changes to how we show bike brands, apparel, and accessories haven’t aroused similar comments.

MenSo, for now, we’re focusing on improving our component presentation. We’re considering several ideas -- (a) Breaking out road and mountain components into two separate columns within the components menu, identical to how we currently handle men’s vs. women’s apparel. (b) Replacing our brand thumbnails with facets (yes, this example is for jerseys, but you get the idea.) (c) Creating a toggle switch on the site (for ‘road’, ‘mountain’, or ‘both’) that allows you limit the content as you surf the site.

One change we definitely plan on making ASAP is adding facets to our specials section in order to allow you to quickly drill down to the items that interest you based on their characteristics (i.e. component type, road vs. mountain, size, etc.) Thanks for making it clear to us that that’s something important. And, from a bigger picture perspective, thanks for caring enough about Competitive Cyclist to provide us substantive feedback on how we can improve the site.

– From the Dept. of Simple Pleasures, #1: Double-wrapped handlebar tape is currently the rage here. It gives your bar a chunky malleable give like a brand new tennis racket or the steering wheel of an expensive car -- touch points seemingly customized to your hands, at the whopping cost of $10. It’s not just for the pavé, it’s for every day. Try it.

Clouds and curves – From the Dept. of Simple Pleasures, #2: Riding across aging bike race graffiti. After a long year of training on the same roads for mile after mile, I found myself on the PRO stomping grounds of Spain last week. I was in a full-blown buzz as I climbed the Girona staple Els Angels, repeatedly spray-painted (amongst much else) with the inexplicable ‘VDV 22.’ What could it mean? Anyone care to do some interpretation about Chicago’s most famous bike racer?

– From the Dept. of Simple Pleasures, #3: Good things happening to good people, such as Max Sciandri’s move to directeur sportif for the BMC Racing Team. Beyond being one of the hardest one-day riders of the ’90’s, Max authored some memorable one-liners during his racing days. One favorite is his gem in an immediately-post-Paris-Roubaix state of shatteredness, a complaint about Andrei Tchmil -- ‘That’s not bike racing: Always at the front going hard.’ And in a moment of human-all-too-humanness, he admitted his nerves to the effect of ‘Whenever I’m in a break and I see the finish line, I shit myself’ -- a state of being possibly best illustrated by his grasp of defeat from the jaws of victory in the dramatic finish of the 1996 Milan-San Remo.

Max, we love BMC bikes. We love the BMC Racing Team. But we’ve loved you longer. Congrats on the cool new gig.

– Some great opening lines of literature stand alone in themselves as great literature.

‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

It’s one part testimony to just how beautiful a line or a paragraph can be. But it’s also one part realism: For 98% of the people who own books like these, the evocative opening lines is as far as they’ll ever get.

‘Call me Ishmael. Some years ago -- never mind how long precisely -- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.’ – Herman Melville, Moby Dick

23/365 - White Chocolate MochaExceptions do exist, of course. Exception exhibit #1 is perhaps represented by the Madeleine cookie scene in Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way. It’s an exception where something so fabulously famous happens in the first few chapters that the average reader curiosity can stretch as far as the 100-page mark. We’re not talking famous merely in literary terms. We’re talking famous in cultural terms. Like Spongebob or ‘The Big Lebowski.’ The Madeleine cookie -- it’s massive.

‘No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin…’

Exception exhibit #2 has less to do with cultural fame and more to do with reader stubbornness. It’s the rare case where a legendary novel is actually read cover to cover. By way of example I bring you David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. It’s a behemoth at 1,100 pages with 400+ endnotes. It’s about a high school tennis academy & a drug rehab halfway house -- not exactly the ingredients you’d expect from the most important American work of literature since Faulkner: But that’s exactly what it is, which is why I took a big pull and read it this year even though for most everyone it’s like the other fat mega-classics -- it resides on bookshelves everywhere, going unread for its intimidating heft.

The book ends in a crescendo of surreal violence, almost like a literary companion to ‘A Clockwork Orange’ or ‘Reservoir Dogs.’ Wallace’s talent shines here in that for all of the narrative’s gruesomeness, he renders 7 straight pages of overdose and torture both pretty (in his quality of writing, that is) and relentlessly funny (ditto) in small part thanks to the music accompanying the wicked acts he describes.

‘…somebody had taken an old disk of McCartney and Wings -- as in the historical Beatles’ McCartney -- taken and run it through a Kurtzweil remixer and removed every track on the songs except the tracks of poor old Mrs. Linda McCartney singing backup and playing tambourine….Poor old Mrs. Linda McCartney just fucking could not sing, and having her shaky off-key little voice flushed from the cover of the whole slick multitrack corporate sound and pumped up to solo [was] unspeakably depressing -- her voice sounding so lost, trying to hide and bury itself inside the pro backups’ voices; [he] imagined Mrs. Linda McCartney…standing there lost in the sea of her husband’s pro noise, feeling low esteem and whispering off-key, not knowing quite how to shake her tambourine: [the] depressing CD was past cruel, it was somehow sadistic-seeming like drilling a peephole in the wall of a handicapped bathroom.’

Linda McCartney Racing TeamIt was only there, literally in the last few pages of the book, that Linda McCartney is first mentioned. Yet for a long-in-the-tooth cyclist, her name is synonymous with agony for reasons that go beyond great literature (and horrid singing): Kevin Livingston’s career nearly died thanks to the lies and delusion of Julian Clark, the force behind the 2001 Linda McCartney Foods professional cycling team -- in 2000 a lowly domestic British squad he proclaimed would transform in 2001 into a Tour de France-ready powerhouse. Bradley Wiggins, Max Sciandri, Matt Decanio, Charly Wegelius, and Sean Yates (amongst others) effectively lost months, if not a full year, of their careers for the fiasco Clark wrought. And while Clark’s name is mostly lost to the dustbin of history by now, the memory of Linda McCartney is not.

The Linda McCartney Foods story is a decade old, with the exact details fraying in a larger web of deceit that has long plagued the sport. Think Mercury-Viatel, think Le Groupement, think Coast, think Sony-Ericsson. All of them make-believe teams: Hyped-as-hell, yet completely-and-thoroughly unfunded. It’s not unlike doping -- When it blows up, it’s a destructive thing, ruinous both to the reputation of the sport and the riders caught in the blast zone.

An irony not beyond me is the fact that the day I finished up Infinite Jest, with Linda McCartney’s screeching vocals & tambourine playing, I also read this article on cyclingnews about Pegasus Sports neé Fly V Racing -- another humble domestic squad making super-sized pronouncements about their immediate lofty future. The subtext of this article suggests it could’ve been titled ‘The Slow Drowning of Chris White.’ His PR efforts come across as desperate, flailing.

Joe Lindsey of the Boulder Report first wrote of the dubiousness of what’s been unfolding lately with Pegasus, and I couldn’t agree more. A Linda McCartney Foods redux seems imminent. Given the game White has been talking all summer, for his own sake -- not to mention the sake of his already-signed secondary sponsors and riders-under-contract -- he’d best announce his title sponsor/backer now or sooner. We want to believe, and White is the only one who can keep our skepticism from going full bloom posthaste.