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The Hardest Job In Bike Racing

– Domestic (pro) bliss, #1:

Domestic (pro) bliss #1

– Domestic racing is in the air here after we hosted a reception last week for USA Cycling and the promoters and organizers of the NRC races. While chatting with Todd Sowl, CFO of USA Cycling, I asked him something I’d long been curious about (and, interestingly, the uber-blog Inner Ring brought up on its own recently): Given the explosive popularity of cyclocross and the fading pulse of track cycling, why not expose cross to the masses through the Winter Olympics?

If the Olympics are our best opportunity to introduce the wonders of bike racing to an all-new crowd, changing emphasis from track to CX seems like a no-brainer. Tactics-wise, with cyclocross what you see is what you get. Visually, the mud and suffering make it poetic. And the start-to-finish race length of one hour is long enough to push in TV commercials, but short enough to accomodate 21st Century attention spans. By comparison, track cycling is arcane, repetitive, and commercially unviable.

Sowl’s answer was simple, straightforward, and smart: The International Olympic Committee keeps the sports of the Summer and Winter games strictly distinct. Try as I did, I couldn’t think of an exception to the rule of Sun vs. Snow. As further emphasis, Sowl asked me to consider the UCI World Cup track schedule. ‘It’s a winter sport,’ he explained, running from November-through-February. The fact that track is nonetheless in the Summer Olympics undermines the notion that cyclocross can find a spot in the Winter Games. While it would be a fabulous consolation prize for cross to find a home at the Summer Games, I nevertheless wonder how it would detonate the World Cup ‘cross circuit for the remainder of that year. Being ultra-fit in August and holding it ’til January is a near-impossibility.

A sidenote for the IOC: Competitive Cyclist will gladly foot the bill to import the Flemish mud to London. Call me!

– Domestic (pro) bliss, #2:

Domestic (pro) bliss #2

– Two years ago when I posted these little-known articles I thought I’d reached the darkest corner of the archives of bike race journalism. Then I read this recent piece from The Inner Ring about the patronage that funds a number of the biggest ProTour teams and was led to different darkness. The hardest job in bike racing isn’t pacing Contador to the foot of a hors categorie climb or leading out Cavendish to the 300m sign. Rather, it’s the behind-the-scenes efforts to transition a ProTour team’s budget from hobbyist sponsorship to true corporate backing.

How frustrating might that job be? According to The Inner Ring, of the top 15 teams in the world in 2012, the existence of 9 of them will be reliant on wealthy backers rather than commercial sponsors. For America’s best-known team, Garmin-Cervelo, the person responsible for reversing that situation is Matt Johnson, the President of Slipstream Sports. This is his story, or at least Wired Magazine’s version of it. A friend forwarded me the article this week and I’d never read it before. It’s a decade old, but it’s still a fascinating portrait worthy of a place perhaps not alongside, but near those classic articles by Trip Gabriel and Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle. It has nothing to do with cycling, though it most certainly does. Enjoy.

– Facebook and RSS aren’t enough. From time to time it’s instructive to visit Rapha’s website since they have so damn much going on all the time. It was a long-overdue visit for me this weekend and I stumbled onto the more interesting things I’d seen there in awhile. ‘Pause.’ I haven’t a clue what the word refers to — perhaps it’s the moment of stillness as the shutter snaps upon the subject? Some of the photos are beautiful. Others are photos of beautiful people.

FedoraThese collections of photos are a conversation-starter of sizeable proportion because, from a bike cultural criticism standpoint they provide so much to discuss. Los Angeles photo #1 isn’t worth 1,000 words. It’s worth 10,000. Maybe 100,000. The cluelessness of those chic-in-2007 handlebars spawns a novella in me –120 pages I’d spent trying to describe a pair of morbid sounds: One is current: The death rattle of authentic messenger culture. The other is 16 years old: The thump-thump of Abraham Olano’s dead-flat rear tire as he won the 1995 World Championship Road Race in Colombia on the Colnago Master Light, the bike serving as LA #1’s lean-to photo prop. Miguel Indurain fought for Olano like a bodyguard that day in an instance of selflessness other Tour de France champions will probably never match. LA #1’s atrocious handlebar fouls a treasured memory. Is that a Campy Skeleton front brake? Really? Reaching for the Pepto now.

Caveats may be useful here. I can assure you Rapha clothing is more handsome, more technically functional, and more consistently-sized than ever before. I wear it, I love it, and you should buy a trunkful of it. The issue, rather, is about a preference for fashion-consumption. Some of the posturing in ‘Pause’ drives me bananas. Unscripted images offer so much more. Come conjure Bill Cunningham with me.

– A piece of housekeeping: I’ve heard the rumblings recently about my MIA status here on What’s New. Yes, for years weekly updates of What’s New appeared with clockwork precision. And, yes, since we were acquired by Backcountry the updates have been sporadic and inconsistent. I can assure you my negligence has nothing to do with ‘selling out’ or not caring. Rather, we’re in the process of analyzing our current business and warplanning what we’re about to build. This is a mammoth undertaking, and it’s left me with inadequate time to hunker down and write a 1,000-word blog post each week.

After staring fate eye-to-eye, I’ve reached the phase of acceptance. Acceptance of what? Once-a-week lengthy posts aren’t feasible. Effective immediately, one of two things will occur:

(a) What’s New will come to an end. One of my very favorite blogs, FreeDarko, took this honorable path. In considering it, I wish I’d followed their example of quitting at a peak of productivity and popularity, which for What’s New would’ve been May, 2011 or so.

(b) We’ll follow the example of another one of our favorite blogs, jjjjound, and transition from erratic frequency and indigestible length to daily (or so) posts of brief length.

We’ll see what happens. But, at the very least, I wanted to level with all of you.

Prior warning from jjjjound