Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lance Armstrong: The Ongoing Controversy

I've wanted to write about this for a very long time.  What finally kicked me into gear was the fact that I knew I had to answer a very important question in my mind.  Did Lance dope or didn't he?  The article published in this month's edition of Bicycling Magazine, written by Bill Strickland, was written for me I think.  The thing I loved most about this article was the passion pouring out of Strickland.  He talks about how he's finally come to terms with the fact that Lance probably doped to win the Tour.  He also tells us how much pain and sadness that realization brought him.  I can relate 100%.

Back in May 2010 Floyd Landis, former teammate of Armstrong's, made some quite shocking allegations about Lance.  A few months after the allegations were made Floyd sat down with Paul Kimmage for an interview. In that interview Landis claims that Lance not only doped, but led the doping program for the team.  These allegations are not the first made against Lance.

For many reasons, I had a hard time accepting the fact that Lance doped.  Armstrong was both the most inspirational while controversial superstar athlete the United States ever produced.  I want to believe in that.  I want to look at someone I've admired for years and say, "You beat the odds.  Good night... you beat the freaking odds."

Thursday, March 31, 2011

First Outside Ride: Not What We'd Hoped

Last Saturday my husband and I finally took our bikes out for a spin.  We were extremely anxious to get outside for the first time this year.  About one minute, literally, into the ride both my husband and I couldn't feel our hands.  We had underestimated how cold it was that morning.  It was absolutely frigid.  We started at our house and took a pit stop about six miles away from home. 

My legs felt really good during the ride.  I was definitely a bit rusty but six miles in I was feeling like a champ.  After our pit stop, we decided to turn around and head back home to grab some warmer gear.  About a half mile away from where we turned around, my lovely husband pops his tire.  At this point I was thinking, "You've gotta be kidding me."  I was freezing, I couldn't feel my hands, and now we had a flat... on our first ride of the year.  Awesome.  

Just in case you haven't figured it out yet, we weren't too smart on this ride.  I had my nice little knapsack full of all the stuff I thought we'd need but did I think to take a repair kit or spare tire?  You'd think!  I can't tell you how many times I've called myself an idiot over that.  I absolutely love riding and I couldn't wait to get out there and in all my excitement, I apparently forgot my brain. 

Apart from being freezing and totally unprepared, I thoroughly enjoyed riding outside again.  I cannot tell you how much I've missed it.  These Utah winters are hard.  I crave riding all winter long and have to make do with training inside.  Once we get my husband's tire fixed, we'll be back on the road in no time.  

As you can see in the pictures below, we aren't dressed like normal cyclists.  We knew it would be cold so we wore pants over our cycling shorts and jackets over our tops.  These aren't the most flattering pictures of either one of us, but I had to post a picture of our first ride!  My husband doesn't usually look like a lumber jack with his beard and I don't usually look like I just popped out of bed but hey... it was Saturday morning.  Give us a break. :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

54 Miler Around Bear Lake: Fail

This last week my husband and I decided to take a little vacation up to beautiful Bear Lake in Northern Utah.  We thought it would be a perfect time to pull out the road bikes and bike the 54 miles around Bear Lake.  We knew it'd be a little cold but both of us thought, "What the heck... we'll take jackets."  Little did we know that there would be snow completely lining the sides of the road and it would be 19 degrees.  Sadly, our ride didn't happen.

I was really disappointed by this.  I had looked forward to finally getting outside for so long.  My legs are feeling pretty weak so I thought this would be the perfect introductory ride into the season.  I tried to focus on the snow and the cold and how miserable I would have been out there so I wasn't as sad, but I must admit that I was still pretty bummed out.

I was so ready to ride last week that I'm even more stoked to go this week.  My husband and I have already planned a nice and challenging ride for this weekend.  Hopefully we hit around 30+ miles.  I need to get out and kill it on that bike because I'm hoping to ride with some friends at work in a few weeks.  They are planning a ride from Bluffdale to Ogden.  It's a fairly flat ride but it's about 65 miles.  After four months of not riding, I don't know if I'll be up for it.

On a completely unrelated note... I am a pretty faithful reader of Fat Cyclist.  Today, he had a live chat on his website with the guys of T6 (Twin Six).  I was excited because I got to participate!  I was pretty nervous to ask Fatty a question because I figured he'd get so many chats and ignore mine, but he responded to all my questions!  This isn't the half of it.  Tomorrow, the one and only, Johan Bruyneel will be chatting with Fatty and anyone that has a question for him right on Fatty's website!!  I am so excited.  I have been a huge fan of Johan's for years now and I can't wait for the opportunity to ask him some questions and see what he has to say... live!!  If any of you want to join, just go to Fat Cyclist's website at 5:30 PM (ET) / 2:30 PM (PT).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

One Man Show & the TdF

One of the most common misconceptions of cycling is the fact that it is a one man show.  Cycling is very much a team oriented sport.  I was quite surprised to learn this when I first got into cycling.  Most people think that in major races, especially the Tour de France (TdF), that if Lance Armstrong is favored to win, he wins the race all on his own.  Let me explain why this is far from true.

Let's take the TdF for example.  The TdF is a three week race that spans over 3,500 kilometers. (Approx. 2,175 miles)  Each day is, what they call, a stage.  There are many different kinds of stages.  There are flat stages, time trial stages, mountain stages, etc.  Each professional rider is a part of a team.  Each team in the TdF is made up of 9 riders.  Each team will pick a designated rider, if you will, to win the tour or win certain stages of the tour.  For example, in the 2010 tour, team Radioshack began the tour with Lance Armstrong as their best rider and the rider that the entire team was going to support and help win the tour.  (Let's not talk about how that ended.)  Team HTC Columbia (HTC Highroad now) began the tour with Mark Cavendish as their best sprinter/stage winner.  Now the question may be... well what do the other riders do then?  If they have no shot at winning the tour, why on earth are they racing?  The answer is, to help their team win.

Each rider in a team has a specific duty.  We'll use team Radioshack as an example because everyone is familiar with Lance Armstrong.  Each rider, especially on mountain stages, has a duty to "carry" Armstrong up the mountain until it's time for Armstrong to make his breakaway.  Let's say Lance has zero help up the mountain.  Do you have any idea how fast his energy would be depleted going up an 10 - 15% grade hillside with zero help?  I know he could do it, but his breakaway, or "attack" as we call it, would not be nearly as significant.

The moments when the tour is really decided, and is arguably the most exciting, is during the mountain stages.  If you haven't experienced it; I cannot explain to you how exciting it is to watch a mountain side attack.  If you want to see the most epic attack possibly in cycling history, watch this video.  The best part starts at 1:25.  Jan Ullrich was a main rival to Armstrong for years.  This is a perfect example of how Armstrong's teammate carried him up the mountain.  You'll notice that Lance is behind his teammate, riding on his wheel.  This gives him the ability to draft off his teammate and use less energy.  You'll also notice how the announcer, Phil Ligget, said at the beginning that Lance had been in the back all day.  He was conserving his energy for his planned attack against Ullrich.  My very favorite part of this video is when Armstrong looks back at Ullrich as if to say, "I'm leaving... you comin?"  You'll notice that Lance exploded up that mountain and Ullrich had zero answer to Armstrong's attack.

Just to give you an idea of how impressive that is... imagine climbing up a (roughly) 10% grade for hours.  Then imagine standing up, out of the saddle, and attacking.  Keep in mind you have quite a few kilometers left until the finish but you have to make a breakaway at the perfect time so you can gain some time on your competitor but also be able to make it to the end without exhausting yourself completely.  I think it would be marvelous if I could just keep a steady pace up the Alpe D'Huez... much less ride up it and attack - BY MYSELF - for the remaining kilometers.  Think about it... pretty impressive.

The reason I say the TdF is decided during the mountains is because that's when the time is made up on other riders.  You'll notice for the first week in the 2009 TdF, Fabian Cancellara wore the yellow jersey, meaning he's in the lead of the tour, for the entire week.  That means he finished all of the stages with the fastest overall time.  Those stages happened to be time trials and flat stages.  All riders have different strengths.  Some are sprinters at the finish line, some are incredible at time trials, and some are climbers.  I can promise you that if you can't climb up a mountain, you'll never win the Tour de France.  That's why Cancellara lost the lead, and the yellow jersey, once the mountain stages arrived.  All of the time that needs to be made up, by the person who hopes to win the tour, and to take the yellow jersey, is usually done so in the mountains.  The mountains weed out the riders who have no hope of winning the entire tour.  That's why the stage featured in the video linked to above, was crucial.  Lance had to attack Jan because he knew that if he gained a few seconds or minutes, that he would have the lead of the tour and Jan wouldn't be able to take it back.  Time is very hard to make up once you're out of the mountains due to the fact that the stages aren't very hard and everyone tends to keep up with each other pretty well.  That's why mountain attacks in the tour are extremely important.

I hope my passion is coming through my writing.  I can't sit here and tell you enough how much I love cycling.  It is the most exciting sport once you get to understand what's happening and why.  Teams are crucial in this sport.  Without them, you will not make it.  Attacks up a mountain side, when you know what's at stake, are more exciting than the last 2 minutes of a football game where your favorite team is down 5 points and all they need to win is a touchdown.  (And believe me, I love football.)  You can't understand how much I root for these riders... and when you see them crash or have technical difficulties on the bike, it literally breaks your heart.  (Side Note: To see a perfect example of that, watch this video.  I am a huge fan of Andy Schleck and I can't stand Alberto Contador.  Andy was making a move and his chain popped off.  Contador took advantage and attacked.  When Contador attacked... I was livid.  You don't attack when a rider is having technical difficulties.  It's an unwritten rule and people were quite upset after.  I don't think I'll ever forget this.  This was a tour deciding stage and one of my favorite riders lost the tour due to this stage completely unfairly in my opinion.  A year and a half later and watching it still gets me irritated.)

This is why I get out an ride my bike.  The passion I feel pouring out of me for this sport is why I ride my bike.  It's nothing I can describe, but I can try and make the rules and the game clear in hopes of instilling some of my passion into you.  Once you start watching and understanding the sport, you won't have a prayer.  You'll be just as addicted as I... that's the pure beauty of it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why Cycling?

A lot of people don't understand what the pull is to cycling.  Some people think it's boring, some people think it's not fast paced enough.  Some people don't think it's grueling enough.  I tend to laugh at comments like that, because clearly, people who say things like that don't understand the sport at all.  Try climbing up a hill on your bike and imagine doing that day in and day out for three weeks up some of the toughest mountains in the world for miles and miles.  Do you think it's not so grueling now?

Cycling is so much more than just a sport.  It's a way of life.  A friend of mine devotes his blog to fitness and having a healthy lifestyle.  Cycling provides just that.  Running isn't for everyone; that's why there are different ways to get fit.  The bottom line is that you have to enjoy what you're doing or you'll never have the motivation to get out there and bust your butt.  Isn't that true with everything in life?

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that you don't suffer on the bike; that it's easy the first day you get on your bike.  Believe me... it's the hardest work you'll do.  Whenever I even start thinking about approaching a climb up a mountain side my legs start to ache.  Why do I do it time and time again?  Because I live for the bike.  It's hard, and there are some days that I don't feel like going and killing myself out there... but I have come to love the sport so much that I can't quit.  The exhilarating feeling of riding down a hill; the exhilarating feeling of killing it up a climb; the exhilarating feeling of accomplishment.  It's what keeps me coming back day after day.

It's not easy to start something, but I promise you, that if you find something you're passionate about; whether it's cycling or something else, you'll accomplish anything you can dream of.  Ultimately, that's what cycling brings to me.  It makes me feel as if I can accomplish anything that I put my mind to.  I never would have thought I could accomplish what I've accomplished on the bike... and I'm still learning.

Obviously, I love to follow professional cycling.  The pros amaze me.  They really do.  To watch them glide up a mountain side like it's nothing and know that they are suffering is something that I don't think I'll ever get over.  These are the people that motivate me to be better on the bike.  They give it all they have, and then some, because they love it.  Some people wonder why I love to talk about professional cycling so much.  I can tell you that I love it, because to me, riding and being a part of the pro cycling world are one in the same.  There's tons to learn and I'm soaking it all up. 

There is so much that goes into cycling.  When you gear up for a long Saturday ride, you have to be prepared.  You have to know which liquids and food to take so you won't run out of energy half way through.  If you're just starting out, it's important to set goals.  Make sure you set achievable long & short term goals.  If you don't, you won't get very far.  Some of my goals are:

  • Ride around Bear Lake this summer
  • Ride around the Alpine Loop
  • Ride up to Snowbird
  • Compete in the Lotoja

    Some of those might not happen for a few years, but I have my sights set on where I want to get.  That's what I want to do with this blog.  I want it to be an informative site that discusses cycling but I also want it to hold me accountable for my goals.  I want to be able to talk about what rides I've done and how I can relate my improvement on the bike to life.  I have a long way to go so I hope you'll join me in this journey.  This blog is far from just a professional cycling blog.  It encompasses everything cycling.  Join me for the ride of a lifetime.  It'll be well worth it.

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Retirement 2.0 - The Lance Armstrong Legacy

    We all know the story of Lance Armstrong. We know how he grew up and what kind of man he grew to be.  We know he was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer when he was only 25.  We know he made an amazing recovery and came back to win a record smashing 7 Tours de France.  We also know that he retired in 2005 after his last Tour de France.  What happened to him after that?  He made an unexpected comeback in 2009.  He competed in the Tour de France that year and came in 3rd.  He competed in the Tour in 2010 and came in 23rd after a series of extremely unlucky events.  His comeback wasn't as successful as he'd originally wished, but did that make a difference?  Not to Lance.  He said that he came back to bring even more attention to fighting cancer.  Lance Armstrong brings more spectators to the sport than any other athlete in the cycling world.  I think he accomplished his goal.

    On February 16th, 2011 Lance announced his official retirement from professional cycling.  This came as quite a shock to me.  He was expected to race in the Tour of California as well as the Tour of Colorado, which is a brand new race starting this year.  He will not be competing in either race. It is a huge disappointment to us cycling fans who were looking forward to watching him race a time or two more but if you think about it, what more can he acheive that he hasn't already?  He's proved time and time again that he's the best in the world.  He has nothing left in the world of cycling.  He has said time and time again, "I really can't say I have any regrets. It's been an excellent ride." He will go down in history as the biggest success and legend this sport has ever seen.  I can honestly say I'm grateful to have been apart of something so spectacular.

    Some might twist this and say Lance retired because of all the speculations swirling around about if he's a clean rider or not.  We'll get into that more in posts to come but in May of 2010, former professional cyclist, Floyd Landis, came out and not only admitted to having doped, but also made outrageous allegations against Lance and other riders.  That's not news to the public.  Doping allegations have followed Mr. Armstrong throughout his career. 

    Whether Lance is guilty of doping or not is not up to us to decide.  We need to leave this to those who are trained to investigate Lance's case.  Until there is proof, I am inclined to believe that Lance is innocent.  I could argue the point all day that all the "smoke" around Lance and his teammates is proof enough.  I could also argue all day that the UCI is corrupt and they are protecting Lance.  The bottom line is, proof has yet to be shown.

    In the meantime, I'll watch the investigation go on and say farewell to Lance.  There's no doubt that he'll be missed.  I'll miss watching him climb up the grueling Alps during the TdF.  I'll miss watching him ride with his team.  I'll miss wondering what he'll do on every stage of a race.  I'll miss watching him just plain and simply ride his bike.  I'll miss the legacy that he leaves every time he races.  But I'll remember the imprint he made on not only the courses , but on people's lives.  No one can condemn a man who has tried so hard for over 10 years to fight a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people and effects millions.  I wish only the best for him as he spends time with his family and furthers his cancer foundation.  Livestrong!

    Thursday, February 17, 2011

    Alberto Contador... A Free Man

    There has been a lot of talk lately about Alberto Contador and his alleged doping.  During the 2010 Tour De France he tested positive for small traces of a banned substance called clenbuterol. Since then, he has been under investigation by the Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC).  Alberto's defense to the positive drug test was that he ate meat that was contaminated with the drug.  In theory, that could have happened due to the fact that the amount of the drug found in Contador's urine was so low.  However, clenbuterol has been banned in Europe since 1996.  In this article, they point out that out of 80,000 animals tested in Europe, only one tested positive for the drug.  That leaves his argument a little weak in my opinion.

    This is where I get frustrated.  The RFEC investigated Contador's case and decided to hand him a one year ban.  Why not the normal two year ban, you ask?  That's a great question.  Don't worry... it gets better.  Now Contador had 10 days to appeal that decision.  Of course he appealed.  Then what happens?  The prime minister of Spain, the day before the RFEC makes their final decison, tweets he believed “there's no legal reason to justify sanctioning Contador."  Are you kidding me?!  Talk about swaying the vote!!  How on earth do you expect the RFEC to come back, after already feeling immense pressure, and NOT overturn Contador's case?  The next day the RFEC's final decision comes out.  All doping charges are dropped on Contador's behalf.  Seriously?  Let me ask you this... why do we have anti doping programs?  Why do we even test athletes?  It's simple.  So we catch the cheaters.  What good does it show for a sport that is already completely tainted with rumors and speculations when a rider has tested positive for a banned drug, and is set free with no punishment?  US Anti Doping Agency (USADA) Chief Executive Travis Tygart said this, “It’s a very, very unique set of facts that would justify someone being completely cleared, so unique that we haven’t seen it at all, at least here in the United States.  If there’s truly been a flip-flop, as reported, it appears to be a classic example of the fox protecting the henhouse. It would look like they are protecting a national hero.”  That's exactly the conclusion everyone else came to and did nothing but make the RFEC look pretty dang stupid.

    The UCI and WADA have both said that they are waiting for further details before deciding if they will appeal. The UCI has 30 days after receiving the document to notify the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), while WADA has an additional 21 days.  This is an extremely long process and could take until after the 2011 Tour de France has started for them to make a final decision.  Pat McQuaid, President of the UCI, was quoted to have said that he hopes the CAS, if notified, will understand the urgency of this matter and hopes to resolve it before the Tour.  In the mean time, Contador is racing again.  If this case is overturned again and Contador is banned, all wins, including the 2010 TdF, will be erased.
    Lets talk about Contador's excuse.  No matter how small the chances are the he ate contaminated meat, we can't dispute the fact that it is, in fact, possible.  Why didn't any of his other teammates have clenbuterol in their urine samples though?  You'd think that his team would have traces of the same drug when they all eat together. 

    This isn't even the half of it.  The most damning evidence against Contador yet is the fact that extremely high levels of plasticizers were found in his system.  The same plasticizers used in blood bags.  This poses the extremely intriguing and convicing fact that not only was Contador on Clenbuterol, but that he blood doped as well.  It is assumed that he extracted his own blood weeks back while the Clenbuterol was not completely out of his system, then when he transfused that same blood back in his body during The Tour, the Clenbuterol showed up on his drug test.  The thing I am most curious about is why haven't we heard more about this?  It's almost as if it was swept right under the rug and completely ignored.  How does this make the UCI and everyone else involved look?  Not great. 

    The thing I love about the UCI is they hide things to protect the riders like no one I've ever seen.  When Contador was first notified of the positive drug test, Pat McQuaid publicly denied the fact that Contador had a positive test when he knew very well that he did.  Needless to say it didn't make McQuaid look very good when he came out and basically said "umm, oh yeah, nevermind... he does have a positive test."  Given the UCI's past history of burying the news of failed tests by top riders, this is another huge red flag.  The news that Contador has been cleared does nothing to clean up the image of the sport. If anything, it may hurt the reputation of cycling even more. Funny... All Contador can worry about is himself.  Nothing new... El Pistolero.