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The Last True Monasticism

– A century after Good Housekeeping Magazine introduced its Seal of Approval the UCI has unveiled its own variation. Good Housekeeping’s test program lacks the fanatical independence of Consumer Reports. But the magazine does make good on the warranty promised by its seal when products it endorsed prove to be duds. Don’t expect any guarantees from the UCI’s scheme, however, In fact for cyclists and the bicycle industry it looks as if it may offer nothing more than more added headaches and expense. And the only obvious beneficiary is, you guessed it, the UCI itself.

The plan is the latest result of the decision by Hein Verbruggen, the former president of the UCI, to minimize advantages riders can gain through equipment. A noble idea. But given that it was introduced at a time when Verbruggen was showing relatively little interest in the advantages offered by EPO, a bit misplaced.

Legalize Spinaci The result, as any tall rider trying to set up a TT bike knows or anyone who started this cross season with 34 millimeter tires, is a somewhat bewildering and ever changing array of technical standards. Riders aren’t the only people who have been vexed. Cervélo and other manufacturers have also had to change products already on the market to meet the UCI’s rules. According to industry lore at least, Cinelli was nearly ruined after the UCI banned its Spinaci bars.

The UCI’s answer is to inspect products before they go into production and then give manufacturers stickers asserting that the product meets the UCI’s technical standards. At races, commissaires will look for the stickers to confirm that equipment is in compliance. It’s a variation of what Underwriters Laboratories does when it certifies that light switches won’t electrocute their users.

According to the UCI, this is not something that solely concerns ProTour teams. From the UCI’s news release: ‘The riders — from the professional athlete to amateur sportsmen and sportswomen — will be assured that they have acquired a model that conforms to the UCI regulation in force at the time of purchase.’ (As a retailer of bicycle goods, we here at Competitive Cyclist can assure you that UCI compliance is high on the consumer list of concerns — right up there with price and weight and fit.)

The plan starts next month with frames and forks for sale in 2011 and will gradually be extended to wheels, handlebars, saddles and clothing. (Perhaps an aesthetic requirement could be added for the last category.) The announcement doesn’t say who will pay for this. But presumably the testing won’t be performed for free. Nor does UCI indicate how it will promptly deal with the resulting flood of equipment beyond saying that it’s working with a technical university in Lausanne.

While large brands can presumably bear the cost and prod their Asian manufacturers into quickly producing prototypes for inspection, the program seems much more troublesome for the many small brands that have popped up to take advantage of Asian outsourcing. And, of course, one way or another everyone who rides will ultimately pay for the stickers which promise to create yet another unwelcome, pre-race ritual.

You have to give the UCI some credit. Having created an unnecessary problem, it’s now found a way to turn it into a cash grab.

– When can you tell the race season is within sight? When you grab dinner with a PRO and they order….soup. That is, soup as an entrée. And I’m not talking the velvety rapture of a perfectly Parisian Cream of Celery — stippled with croutons, flanked by foie gras and a coddled egg. I’m talking vegetable soup. Discipline is a many splendored thing, and in honor of the Last True Monasticism, i.e. the annual early season ritual of finding PRO slenderness and, maybe, some post-ride warmth, I bring to you a recipe for an exceptional Vegetable Beef Soup. The degree of difficulty in making this ranks up there with toasting a Pop Tart, and you can buy all ingredients for about $6 if you have a few staples already on hand —


Vegetable Beef Soup 1.5 lbs boneless beef cut into 1/2′ cubes (cheap meat, i.e. stew beef)
3 or 4 cups beef broth
2-1/4 tsp salt
2 bay leaves
1 lb carrots, sliced
2 medium onions, chopped
2ish tbsp olive oil, preferably Italian & from a PRO source
1/2 tsp each dried marjoram, thyme and fresh ground pepper
6+ cups water
3 or 4 stalks celery, diced
16 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 lb orzo or rice


*Brown beef in oil

*Stir in broth, adding salt, bay leaves, and spices

*Heat to boil, then cover and simmer for 90 minutes

*Add all remaining ingredients except orzo/rice. Bring heat to boil, then cover and simmer for 45 minutes.

*In a separate pot cook orzo/rice. Add to soup prior to serving.

Txema Del Olmo 2004 – If you eat little enough soup, and definitely nothing else, maybe you’ll be fit for a spot on the new (ex-Caisse d’Epargne) Team Movistar. And if so, you’ll get to ride what’s so far the most delicious-looking bike so-far unveiled for 2011. When was the last time we saw a green bike in the peloton? (One-off paint for the Tour maillot vert doesn’t count.) We faintly remember the 2003 Orbeas ridden under the Portuguese MAIA Milaneza…Have there been any others? [Oh yeah…Liquigas…any others?]

– In lieu of a green bike, I’ll take Phillipe Gilbert’s World Championship special.

– Any fans of TA bags in the house? The classic version was a cylinder in the same diameter as a water bottle. It was made from faux leather, and it easily accommodated tools, CO2’s, tubes, etc. TA stopped making them long ago, and the imposters on the market tend to make them, instead, in real leather or other sorts of hoity-toity materiel that tips the price into the heavens for something that should cost much less. Now an Italo-Taiwanese outfit called Ratio has come up with the ‘Holdy’ which cost just 14 Euros. They’re not distributed in the US, but we might have to check out their modern take on a classic.

– And, finally, as a Christmas present to my fellow cyclists out there, who doubtless suffer from an ingrained sense of wanderlust whose intensity is matched, perhaps, only by that of sailors. My gift is a piece of advice: Track down a copy of this amazing book. ‘The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst’ is a testament to the line between wanderlust and madness, between strength and frailty, between the worship of gear and the mistrust of it. And while it takes place on the ocean instead of on the roads, it’s an essential read.