Monday, May 23, 2011

Doping: The New Meaning of the Yellow Jersey

Does it really matter?  Considering what Tyler Hamilton said on 60 minutes last night, if Lance doped and every other team in the pro peloton distributes their version of the white lunch bag in the team bus, does it really matter to me, as a fan?  Not really.  It’s still a fair race.  The playing field is still even, just lower than it used to be.

I keep going back to "Dear Doper" an article I wrote about doping a few years ago.  In more or less words, I said when I watch a bike race I show my true self.  I shout at the TV, spill my soda and hide my eyes when riders knock elbows in sprints.  My true emotions come pouring out.  All I expect from the pros is that they are showing their true selves. 

My Yellow Jersey signed by Johan Bruyneel
When I wrote that, I never considered if doping is an all-encompassing aspect of pro cycling as Tyler insinuates, maybe I was wrong.  Maybe, even with PED's, I am still seeing the real pro athlete.  Only now I have to accept that they use drugs to go faster and last longer.  Perception is reality.  The playing field isn’t really all that level to begin with anyway.

Cycling is a team sport.  There are domestiques and team leaders.  It’s not expected that every rider in a 180 strong field has a chance to win.  Of the twenty teams, 20 team leader type guys are expected to go for the win.  The implication that there should be a level playing field for all riders is silly.  It’s really domestique versus domestique, leader versus leader, team versus team which is the reality.

It's sort of feeling that way isn't it?
If the leaders up the mountain stage are all doping up to the legally accepted limit, I accept that.   I can expect a shot of cortisone may be necessary to ride between the team car and your team leader for three weeks with a jersey full of water bottles over enough elevation to make an astronaut reach for the puke bag.  The playing field is even.  The catcher gets the big mitt.  The receiver doesn’t wear knee pads.  The team leader gets the earpiece and Edgar Allen Poe.  It’s not too much to accept that the level-road of cycling includes performance enhancing drugs.

Mr. "T"
It’s already accepted.  The UCI sets limits for testosterone, hemocrit and a thousand other things that I can’t spell or pronounce.  Does that not imply that there is doping in the sport and we’re just setting acceptable levels?  If the limit for blood hemocrit is 50, who wouldn’t want theirs at 49.5?  Like the commercial on the nightly news says, if you’re a man with “Low T” wouldn’t you want your T to be at normally accepted levels and take some T?  It's not so much that doping is against the rules, it's going over the limits that's the big no no.  

From what Tyler is saying the trick is to dope up to the acceptable limits and scrutiny of the testers.  You give your top dawgs the good expensive stuff and the domestiques what they need to fetch cookies and cola day-in and day-out and make the time cut.  You give them a schedule and have your team “doctor” do your own in-house testing to know how fast they can metabolize each product and still eek in under the limit if a test would come around.  Some win.  Some lose.  Some lose and get a do-over.  Some have a prescription.  Some are the most tested athletes in the sport, peed in a million cups and cleaned them all.  The playing field is still even, only winning the yellow jersey takes on a new meaning.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bike Vacation: Rent or Your Own Ride

Like a backpack stitched with cloth patches from Amsterdam and Canada and suitcases covered in stickers from Paris and Rome, a bike that’s been to far away lands becomes a better bike. However, I’d never put a sticker on my bike. Those go on the toolbox, roof rack or workstand. I’ve rented bikes in the Florida Keys, Maui, Breckenridge and Whistler, but shipped my Niner Air 9 to Park City. The few times we’ve been to Park City it’s always been around Labor Day, when the good rentals are being sold off, leaving nothing but dusty dirty beaters for the end of season traveler.

If I had my way, I’d ship my bike on every vacation. Nothing beats the familiarity and trust of having your own ride on unfamiliar ground. Plus a bike that’s tackled everything from Pisgah to Slickrock is more of a trusted friend than only a bike. Vacations are much better with your best friend. Still, sometimes it makes more financial sense to rent a friend. The key is finding a good friend.

Tell Me There's Not An Alien In There
I’ve never flown with my bike. I’ve always been shocked at the prices airlines charge to bring a bike along as luggage, only to marvel at the giant golf club bags stuffed with everything but illegal immigrants being checked for free. Consequently, I’ve always shipped it, usually FedEx, in a regular cardboard bike box gleened from a local shop. Make sure you get all the packaging material with the box. Shipping via FedEx ground takes about 3-5 business days to anywhere in the lower 48, and usually runs about $100-$125 for a mountain bike each way with insurance. I usually ship the bikes to a bike shop in the city I’m visiting. I’ve considered shipping to the home of a friend, precisely why it’s always good to stay in touch with your friends that have moved out of town. You never know when that Facebook friend in Denver or Scotland will come in handy.
Here’s some things to consider when deciding whether to bring your own bike on vacation or rent from a local shop.

Fav Travel Shop: A Races Edge in Breckenridge
The Local Shop:
Find a shop you like before you travel. Ask your friends. Call around. Yes, talk to them. Besides, finding out what types of bikes they have and how well they’re spec’d, you’ll know right off the bat if they take time with you on the phone or blow you off as quickly as possible. While the rental sheet may say hardtails are only $35/day, one shop may have Diamondback beaters with low level components while the guys down the street have brand new Santa Cruz Blurs with XT. In Breckenridge one year, my wife and I were able to find race-level demo bikes from Litespeed and Rocky Mountain equipped with XTR, a total score. Moreover, you want to call and talk to them. Find out who’s friendly, which shop heads up the local Wednesday night group ride, who will go the extra mile to show you the trails and which one will help fit you properly on your rental. They key is to find a shop that you can call home while away from home. If you decide to ship your bike to the shop, tell them that you’re a good customer. Let them know, even though you’re not renting from them that you’ll definitely shop their store while you’re in town.

Fav Travel Shop: Maui Cycles Lahaina
Time of Year
The best time to rent is after Memorial Day, the rental fleets are new and the selection is high. Conversely, the worst time to rent is the week of or after Labor Day when the rentals are being sold off and you’ll be left to choose between a tiny 15 inch mountain bike or a skyscraper 60cm road bike. However the bonus of traveling around Labor Day is that many of the mountain town bike shops have huge sales as they try to sell off their inventory before ski season.

Search the internet for races and rides where you are staying. You’ll have a tough time finding a quality rental when the Ironman comes to Kona or when the Peaks Challenge is in Park City.

Fav Travel Shop: Owner Mary at Bike Barn in Phoenix
How Much Riding are you doing: I’m an avid cyclist, but you have to be real about how much time you’ll be on the bike. If you travel Saturday to Saturday, right off the bat you won’t be riding on Saturdays, leaving you six days to ride. If you’re traveling to someplace with elevation, you likely wont be riding very far on Sunday until you get adjusted to the altitude. Ask yourself, will I really ride six days? Maybe you’d like to hike once or twice, go rafting, or spend a day at the pool. More often than not, I find that I really only ride 4-5 times while on vacation. Considering a good high end rental will cost $45-55 for 24 hours, you might be better off renting. If you rent after 1pm, you can ride in the afternoon that day, wake up early, and get a 2nd ride in on the same rental the following morning. Essentially, you can eek two long rides out of a one day rental. Brilliant!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Movie Review: Phil Keoghan’s “The Ride” (I’m In It!)

Phil and I Two Years Ago East of Columbus, OH
I’m still not sure how many degrees from Kevin Bacon I am, but I scratched “Appear in Real Movie” off my bucket list Monday night at the Cincinnati Premiere of Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan’s documentary “The Ride.”  I appear for exactly 3.4 seconds about an hour and 10 minutes into the film.  I know this because I shouted “Heeeyyyy” and pointed at the screen in a sold out theater, then looked at my watch.  Dorksaywhat?  “What?”  Exactly.  At that moment in the film east of Columbus Ohio, drafting a BMW motorcycle, Phil had been tearing my legs off for the last 40 miles.  I had a half inch of Gatorade left and the grey sky threatened.  5 miles later I would pull even, shake his hand and have an incredible memory tucked in my jersey pocket forever.  No opportunity wasted.  Although I’m not officially listed in the credits, I’m certain I’ll be forever known as “Guy in green jacket riding with Phil in Ohio.”  Sooner or later I’ll get a screen capture of my moment of stardom to autograph for my groupies.  I may even hire a personal assistant and a posse.  Even then, I still wont make the cut into posh LA restaurants or be followed by TMZ.

When asked about the movie itself, I texted a co-worker, “Yea, it was good.  Very light fare.  A tish long, but overall, entertaining for all.”  I stand by that today.  By Michael Moore documentary standards, nothing horrific about cycling long distances was revealed in shocking detail, aside from the shot of Phil’s road-rashed hip.  It was light, but good.  It did a great job of wrapping up hundreds of hours and moments into a neat and entertaining package with both heart tugging and laugh-out-loud moments.  My biggest criticism is that I think it suffered a bit from the same problem as the Leadville 100 movie with Lance Armstrong.  I wanted more of an inside story.  I always thought the Leadville film would've been better told through the eyes of and focused on four nobodies traveling to Leadville from say Omaha.  I wanted the small picture, to know more about the characters and have less of them.  Rather than a Thanksgiving feast of a film about an incredible ride across America, an MS fundraiser, and snipits of drama between the characters, I think it would’ve been a better film focusing on one thing in depth.  I would’ve preffered a film told through the eyes of someone along the route with MS or if it was soley about the struggle of the tight knit crew, or Phil's family.

Phil and I the day of the Cincinnati Premiere
Regardless, I felt good leaving the theater with a smile on my face.  Plus, I was in it, got to meet Phil again and am forever grateful for the experience.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Video: Phil Keoghan - The Movie "The Ride" The Interview

Phil laughed.  "You believe it was two years ago?"  I shook my head.  "Feels like it was yesterday," I replied with a smile.  I rode with Phil two years ago on the Columbus Ohio leg of his Ride Across America to benefit the MS Society.  It was tough.  He nearly dropped me...a few times.  Today he returned to Cincinnati for the local premiere of the movie based on that experience called "The Ride."  I'm lucky to have ridden with Phil.  I'm also lucky to work at Q102 Radio in Cincinnati where afternoon host Brian Douglas sat down and interviewed Phil in my production studio.