About Harry's Hints and it's author
Richard Bailey lined up for his first bike race in 1956.
In 1957 Jock Wadley published the first glossy magazine in English which gave significant space to professional bike racing. It was first called Coureur then renamed Sporting Cyclist. You can check it out here http://www.internationalcyclesport.com/html/coureur_sporting_cyclist.html
The magazine ran a series of articles called “Attention To Detail” written by Assistant Editor Roy Green which provided invaluable tips on the little things that made cycling easier in a time when there were no accredited coaches, just one book in English on training for bike racing, certainly no video aids etc. etc. and of course no online to refer to.
Around 2001 Richard created Harry the Handicapper who wrote about bike matters in a monthly newsletter for Central Veterans called Harry’s Handout. As time went by the writing came to focus more and more on the somewhat dysfunctional professional scene. After Harry’s tipping record came under pressure when he suggested Carlos Sastre would not win the Tour de France even if he rode a Ducati, the commentary ceased.
Harry has now been revived for a series of Harry’s Hints, a reprise of the Attention to Detail articles. There will be one hint every week from how to fix a puncture without spares or patches to how to avoid being swooped by magpies when training - here’s hoping you find something useful amongst them.
Harrys New Improved Hints#2
There were some interesting bits
of gear to be seen at the London Olympics. Television cameras zoomed in
on stuff once concealed in a bunker deep in Manchester Velodrome, the
Secret Squirrel's Club room of technocrat Chris Boardman. Did you notice
the wide crown front forks used in the track time trials? Or the hybrid
time trial frames used by Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and Chris
Froome in the road race? (David Millar was using his regular Cervelo –
he's not a Skyrider after all – but for reasons unexplained Ian Stannard,
who is on the Sky payroll, did not have one of these special machines,
designed I'd guess, for long stints of tempo riding at the front of a
Team GB/Sky Procycling have long espoused the belief of “marginal gains” - a tenth of a second here, a couple of watts there – all accumulating into that sometimes blink of an eye difference between winning and losing. Nothing new here: since the day Francesco Moser came out to take over Eddy Merkx's hour record on the funniest of funny bikes, through the Obree-Boardman battles of “Praying Mantis” and “Superman” riding styles for the same record, technology has been a major ingredient. Greg le Mond's Tour de France victory in 1989, where he turned a last stage 50 second starting deficit on Laurent Fignon into an 8 second advantage by the then innovative use of aero bars and helmet is still held up as the importance of the technical detail in bike racing.
So let's suppose you've eyed off some of these new goodies which you really fancy because you've developed an unfortunate habit of losing the bunch sprint back into town by the barest margins – between half a wheel and a tyre. Could something from the Secret Sqirrel help you reverse the situation, marginal gains and all that? Well there's good and bad news on that. The good news is that anything used in UCI competitions such as the Olympic Games cycling events must be made available to the general public so you certainly can get your hands on the merchandise. The bad news is that for these particular goodies it's POA from an email address. I would - perhaps unkindly – imagine that the price of these small production run items would be a touch on the high side. I wonder if, should you have made a price enquiry and wondered if your eyebrows would ever come down, you might be thinking is there a cheaper way, perhaps a Canny Squirrel way, of providing a performance lift?
I'd better emphasise that I'm talking bikes here, not all the things legal, semi-legal and definitely illegal you could do to your body to go a little faster. I'm talking about stuff like oval chainrings, deep section carbon rims and tubular tyres (singles here in Australia). Now before I get to the hint bit, I should perhaps remind you that items such as the three I've mentioned are subject to the law of diminishing returns which means simply that you will be laying out more and more readies for less and less perceptible performance improvement. (Outfits such as Team GB/Sky Procycling can trump this law with a substance called OPM – Other People's Money – of which they seem to have an almost inexhaustible supply). So you will need to do a value check here – is it worth it?
My hint here is to take one step back before you open your wallet. Compared with the bike I used to race on, you already have something pretty special, so how are you using what you've already paid for? For instance unlike me back in the day, you don't have to look down to check that you've engaged a gear. Your gearing range, compared with what I had, is huge. Your bike is so much lighter and yet so much stiffer too. And so on. How are you using the technology you've already got?
Take the three points of contact with the bike – saddle, bars, pedals – how did you arrive at the settings and are they enabling you to power the machine with maximum efficiency? How did you arrive at the crank length you use? Have you checked the efficiency of these settings on a non subjective basis? Do you re-evaluate from time to time? What tyre pressures do you use and why? Is everything on the bike working as it should be? Just one small area of adjustment on the bike such as the ones I've mentioned can spell out potential “marginal gains” if you're not running to perfection right now. And this is what can be achieved by altering the bike. The gains you can make via changes to the person riding it are infinitely more.
In London the super forks rather faded in significance beside the careless DQ of the GB women or the crash landing aborted start of the mens' team. At the end of the mens' road race, when the medals were decided, the hybrid TT bikes counted for little. Racing is about a multitude of factors and on the day these two ideas counted for nothing. Roll the dice again though and there might be a different story.
Harrys New Improved Hints#1
The other day I was talking to another mature age rider and I
mentioned that the older we get the harder it is to take some time out
and return to the fray of competitive cycling. I could wander along that
track for a mile or two, I really could, but my point here is that it’s
not just the muscle burning lung searing fun of bike racing that is
diminished by lack of application, more mundane tasks such as writing a
series of hints for said bike racing can suffer from a bit of a break
that goes on too long.
Before I started Harry’s Hints, I wrote enough tips to last, at a hint a week, for a year. If only I’d stuck to my script and just mailed one to the website every Monday. Trouble is, I can never leave well alone. If I was Michelangelo, the “Wet Paint” signs would still be in the Sistine Chapel. I’d soon cast aside my list of practical tips to react to what was happening around me which led me to write about the Track World Championships in Melbourne, and thereby dispensing hints about track racing some weeks after the track season had finished.
The follow up hint required the Melbourne Worlds to be run for me to write it, since it was all about judging standards – I had incidentally found something interesting because as we discovered in Meares v Pendleton the rules were enforced to the letter and centimeter – so the pause became a definite gap. (I feel a hint coming on already – if you don’t want to deal with chasing down a gap don’t let it establish – see how easy it can be?) And in the weeks and months since the World’s, I’ve been wondering how to get back into serious hinting. Well I call it wondering but it’s really procrastination.
So this week I have found a cause via Le Tour. It started when Cadel Evans fell out of the Gruppo Grand Fromages on Stage 11 going up to Les Sybelles. Last year when Cadel won the Tour, everyone was on the bandwagon. Stage 11 gave the second indication that this year would not be an encore. Some folks had one leg over the side already. When it happened twice again in the Pyrenees there was a charge for the emergency exit. To be honest, as the Poms always say, (if I was lying would I tell you first?) I’m appalled.
Cadel Evans has a list of wins and placings – the list bike riders call palmares – that would be the envy of most of the riders in the Tour peloton. Tour winner AND World Champion for starters – who else still alive can claim that? Bernard Hinault, Stephen Roche, Greg Lemond and of course Eddy Merkx – all riders of a different era when perhaps you could mix it up a bit more. So he failed on the climbs - he cracked- as some older riders put it. If we weren’t so trapped in the terminology of an imaginary dreamtime Tour we could be allowed to understand that Cadel recognized what was possible and adjusted his output to what would get him to the finish line in the shortest possible time. Which is what stage racing’s all about. That meant he was eased off the back of an already depleted bunch. If he’d tried too hard to stay in a zone that he couldn’t manage he would have fought himself to a standstill, not a very good idea surely.
Bike racing is all about failure. An Australian champion said that to me that long ago. The idea is to persuade your competition to fail before you do and time your moment of failure to co-incide with falling over the finish line if possible. It was quite obvious Andy Schleck failed long before the line on his Galibier epic escape last year but since there was no-one with or near him to take advantage, something that was really out of his control, all attention was on his success, not his failure. The only rider who hasn’t had an obvious failure moment in this Tour is Chris Froome and that’s hardly a surprise in a three week race. Cadel Evans is not Froome’s equal as a climber and neither is anyone else in this Tour. The GC reflects if you like, in positions if not in time gaps, who can stay with Froome the longest. If you’d seen Froome in last year’s Vuelta, you wouldn’t be surprised at this. You might be surprised to hear the man he couldn’t drop then, Juan Jose Cobo Acebo, is actually riding this Tour de France.
So what’s the hint then? Well, aside from a swipe at Cadel’s fair-weather friends, - shame on you - it’s about failure. Success is all about well timed failure. Never be afraid to try until you genuinely establish your limits. As the F1 mechanics say as Le Pilote comes walking back to the pits helmet in hand, At least we know he’s trying.
Hint#37 Two or three hints back I
said that I would explain the channel rules on the track, the does and
don’ts of the fast bit of sprinting and how this relates to the lines on
a velodrome. This has proved a bigger topic than I first thought so I’m
dividing it into two parts which I’ll call The Rules and The Reality.
This part's about The Rules.
Let’s start with the paint markings on the track. Down at the very bottom of the track where it goes from banked to flat there’s a big blue line. Before describing the function of this line I’ll go to the one above it, the black, because this will make explanation of the big blue one simpler.
The 5cm wide black line all around the track is the inside mark of the racing area and should measure up to the stated track size. For Moama Velodrome this should be 285.7142857m give or take. (So that 3 ½ laps works out to one kilometer). If you choose to race inside this line (and I could name folks who are very good at it) you are not covering the race distance and therefore liable to disqualification. It is in practice easier to spot wheels straying onto that big blue line so dipping into the “Cote D’Azur” as the blue moat is usually called will tend to catch the attention of the commissaries. Since much if not all of that big blue line is painted and flat, straying on to it at any speed in the bends can result in tears.
Back to the channel. 90cm above the black line, the one that marks the bottom of the track, from the 200m line to the finish line is a 5cm wide red line called the Sprinters’ Line. This is the one that seems to be painted with a magic paint that makes it invisible from time to time but as I said, I’ll get to that next time.
So here’s the rules which, as far as I can tell, are current –
3.2.042 During the final sprint, even if launched before the last 200 metres, each rider shall remain in his lane up to the finish, unless he has at least a clear cycle-length lead and shall not make any manoeuvre to prevent the opponent from passing.
3.2.043 A rider may not challenge or pass on the left an opponent riding in the sprinters’ lane. If the leading rider leaves the sprinters’ lane and his opponent attempts to pass to his left, he may not return to that lane unless he still has a clear cycle-length lead.
3.2.044 A rider passing on the right of his opponent, who is in the sprinters’ lane, may not crowd him or cause him suddenly to reduce speed.
3.2.045 A rider starting the sprint outside the sprinters’ lane may not drop into that lane if it is already occupied by his opponent unless there is a clear cycle-length lead.
All this really comes down to one simple basic rule – you must race in a straight line and not impede your opponent(s). It’s just saying race fairly. The rules that refer to the sprinters’ lane just make it easier to resolve issues with reference to specific points.
If you were watching the Australian Sprint Championship final the other day you would recognize 3.2.045 as the rule invoked when Shane Perkins and Alex Bird clashed in Heat 1. Both dived for the channel at pretty much the same time but Perkins got there first so Bird lost his right to be there and needed to back off rather than cause contact. (Sprinters tend not to understand “back off.”)
Next hint I’ll try and deal with the reality, how these rules get bent and how – hopefully – to avoid trouble.
Hint #36 High summer and the Protourists are in action at the Tour Down Under where Will Clarke has just had a Big Day Out with a successful 141km breakaway on Stage 2 into Stirling. I’ve just been listening to Peter Walsh from ABC Grandstand swallowing and regurgitating his tonsils to match the drama of the moment as Clarke approached the line – all rather over the top I thought since the drama had not really been created by the man he was raving about.
Back track beyond the breakaway situation to the simple physical rule that is at the bottom of peloton dynamics – a rider in the wind shadow of the rider in front is lessening his energy requirements by 30%. That is why a team of cyclists will always beat an individual of similar ability, that is why “sitting on” or “drafting” is forbidden in Time Trials and Triathlons, that is why the World Record for the 4000m Team Pursuit is some 17 seconds faster then the Individual, despite the members of the pursuit team continually shuffling themselves from the front to the back of the line. That is how one rider can shelter and drag along as many behind him as the width of the road, or the part of it allowed for racing, permits.
The pursuit match between break and bunch is far more of a mismatch than the track version. The break is seriously outnumbered, not by 4 to 1 but by anything from 10 to 1 upwards and while the track team must finish three riders to clock a time, enabling one to drop out, the bunch in a big road race can offload more than 100, 150 even. Unlike a bunch of chasers in a track handicap, no questions will be asked if riders put in a massive sacrificial effort and then creep to the finish in their own good time. Or even hop off the bike and into a car.
The breakaway riders of Stage 2 of the TdU, Clarke and Martin Kohler, had two cards to play, the peloton had 129. Clarke had to ride to the finish to play his but Kohler, who had snuffled up enough bonus seconds to take the overall lead if it was a bunch finish and he was in the bunch, decided to relax until caught and then concentrate on being towed home. So Clarke was on his own at an overwhelming disadvantage. But what was in his favour was a lead on the road of 12 minutes at one stage. Despite this lead, Clarke would have had no chance if the peloton had organized a serious chase at the appropriate time. For whatever reason, and its most likely there were multiple factors in play following a oven roasted Stage 1, the chase was late starting and Clarke, a Protour level rider with good time trial abilities, was simply uncatchable.
I don’t want to seem to be demeaning Will Clarke’s win because it was a great achievement for him. Cycling is a cruel sport and Will had already experienced the down side as a victim of the Radio Shack-Leopard Trek merger, which left half the riders on those two teams out of a contract. Clarke might never in the rest of his cycling career get a chance like he did on the road to Stirling. He had the stage to win and if he conserved enough of his advantage, he’d take over the overall race lead as well. As a good pro he converted on one and just missed out on the other, the overall lead going to the wily Kohler who also converted on his chance. So double joy to the breakaways and one presumes some gnashing of teeth and banging of bars in the bunch. It doesn’t often happen like that.
The bunch needs a group to get away because it imposes order and calm on the race. Before the escape, there are multiple efforts to get away which results in stop-start racing, the hardest way to travel from A to B in case you’ve never tried it. When there are riders up the road, the peloton will assume a steady pace, often with one team, usually the overall leader’s in a stage race, looking after the pacemaking. On the run to the finish line there comes a point where the advantage conceded to the break must be reeled in by those with a vested interest in the win. Nowadays the radio instructions come from the team cars, but before the cyclists had the Director Sportif’s dulcet tones in their ears, certain riders – the tall Italian Eros Poli comes to mind – were regarded as sage-like in their ability to call this moment. A reasonable output of peloton pressure can reduce the gap by 10 seconds a kilometer it’s said. If the finish is uphill, as it was for Will Clarke, the mountain goats of the bunch can do a whole lot better than that.
So, to draw a moral from Will Clarke Day, it’s good to let a break go but make sure you know how to bring it back. I can recall two veteran championship road races where a solitary rider was allowed to go up the road. The first was brought back after what seemed to be an overlong chase, but the second escapee, who never at any time gained enough lead to be out of sight, had exactly the same advantage at the end as he took in the first kilometer, a complete failure by a bunch which didn’t work properly all day. The winner had put in a massive effort no doubt but it was the failure of those behind to use their advantage of numbers that enabled him to prevail. Strength in numbers became too many cooks. Don’t let it happen to you.
Hint#35 I heard an interesting story recently about an experienced track rider who was racing with less experienced opposition at club level and noticed that the field was continuing to drift high in the final laps of a scratch race. This rider started using the inside run, the short way home, to good effect. All was going well until one day some of the less experienced decided to follow his lead – you can probably work out for yourself what happened then.
There is an unspoken convention on the track that generally you overtake on the right or outside. You can see it at work very clearly in madisons where it makes everything so much safer in those hectic moments of multiple changes. But, the “channel” down at the bottom of the track between the red and black lines apart (and I won’t stray into the rules about that), there’s no rule to say you can’t overtake on the left. If there was, track racing would simply be a matter of getting in front and riding up against the fence!
The dive underneath is one of those things where you have to use a serious amount of common sense. If someone in front, who you need to pass, opens the door, should you go through? The short answer, to take a phrase from motor racing, is “Yes” if you can make it stick. What you do not want (and neither do those behind you) is for you to poke your wheel in and then have the door shut on you. As a rough guide to what is safe, it is much easier to change direction on a straight than on a bend, so if the rider in front is drifting up the banking there is a reasonable chance they won’t or can’t come down on you. This does not apply in the straight.
Track racing is much safer when everyone does the expected. But it is competitive and if the rider in front is going “via the Cape” on a turn, covering an additional 10m with their wide radius, there is no absolute obligation on your part to travel an additional 15m to overtake them. So you can take the offer of the open door. If you’re concerned about this door accidentally being slammed in your face you can let the rider know you’re there. Always use a calm voice and always use the word “stay.” “Stay up” or “stay there” with the rider’s name gets your message across and should not alarm. Never bark anything at a rider in a track race that may make them nervous, it’s absolutely counter productive and really downright stupid.
I said I wouldn’t talk about the “channel” but I should mention the big blue line, the “Cote D’Azure” named after the blue seas of the French Mediterranean coast. The big blue line at the bottom of the track is actually inside the track, inside the black marker line, and in races is a No Go Zone, a short cut that’s not allowed. If you stray on to the big blue line to overtake in a race, nine out of ten times you will be disqualified. The only time I’d agree with taking to the blue line is to avoid running into someone if they’ve suddenly slowed and you’re under their wheel. You should get away with that because you haven’t gained an advantage. Next time I’ll try and deal with navigating the “channel.”
Hint #34 You might have heard, as you
watch the Giro, Tour or Vuelta, the comment that a rider is trying to
“shake the lactic acid out of their legs.” If you had happened to hear
the same commentator say earlier that another rider had the zip down on
his jersey “to get more oxygen in” your suspicions might already be
You might get a bit more cooling air around the chest by opening the race jersey but you won’t get any more oxygen into the lungs even if you discard the jersey totally. Similarly. shaking the legs to get the lactic acid out – how? Through drainage holes in the shoes?
Lactic acid is a byproduct of your energy system. As a gross simplification, lactic acid builds up in your muscles when you burn fuel with insufficient oxygen. There is a point in your energy production curve, referred to as a threshold, where you also start to produce lactic in significant quantities. Riders who have a high lactic threshold, or those that can endure larger than usual amounts of lactic in their system have the “magic bullet.” This is the ability to sustain a high work rate for longer. They are your star GC riders.
You can up to a point improve your lactic situation by training and again, you can up to a point stay out of the “red zone” of lactic production for a little longer by efficient bio-mechanics and racing wisely. (Wheel sucking if you like). That’s why pro teams try to carry a leader as far as possible, limiting his/her need to burn serious energy until the decisive stages of a race.
But once you have dipped into the zone a little too often you will have lactic acid in your muscles and the only things that will shift it are time, rest with the legs elevated, massage and so on – all things that are not, in the last bit of a bike race, an option.
If your legs are turning to lead in the finale or showdown part of a road race, (one without the luxury of disposable team-mates) you can generally presume that most of the riders still in with a chance will be in a similar condition. The playing field is still pretty level. But when energy levels are low, you can’t waste the little you have left on half chances. You need to plan wisely and when you make a move, whether proactive or reactive, you need to give it everything. Expect it to hurt. Remember that bit about enduring “larger than usual amounts of lactic?” This is when you find out how you score on that one.
By all means give the legs a bit of a shake. Fausto Coppi used to believe that monotony bred fatigue, so for a bit of a giggle he’d freewheel uphill. Shaking the legs won’t do any harm so long as you’re not going to be disappointed when there is no moment of soothing relief.
Hint #33 When, if ever, is there a good reason to miss a planned training ride? When you put an entry in for a race, there is generally no opt-out clause for inclement weather, although happily many club race programs now have a no-race policy for days of extreme heat. If you have to race in rain or sun or even snow, isn’t it logical that you should be mentally conditioned to turn out in all weathers?
Well yes, but a training program is an incremental body conditioning plan and playing the tough guy once too often could, if it brings on an adverse reaction, set your plan back weeks. So, once more, when should you back off a little?
This is advice I heard 45 years ago and since then, every time the weather has turned in the way outlined in that advice I have thought about it’s wisdom and never found it wanting. This was advice from the days when most people trained for bike racing on real bikes and outdoors. The time to defer a planned training session, I was told, is when there was a sudden change in the weather and the body has not had time to adapt.
Since this advice was given in Britain the scenario envisaged was obviously a so-called “cold snap.” In Australia it might just as easily be the weather we have had in the past week when one day the North wind blew and the temperature rocketed up.
Obviously serious body exertion is not recommended in extreme heat or cold even when you’ve had some time to adjust. Moving your session to the most suitable time of time or moving indoors for a workout can avoid the worst of it.
Hint #32 Last Sunday saw the annual running of the mega fun ride Around the Bay in a Day out of Melbourne. The day before, if past experience is a guide, a bayside bike clothing shop had its best sales of the year. Some things still surprise me.
In my lifetime cycling has gone steeply upmarket. Riders now chat to interviewers in tones that indicate a university education. They ride on bikes which have a level of engineering sophistication that wasn’t even dreamed about when I was first racing. They train according to science that wasn’t yet science when I started. And yet so many of this new class of cyclist seems to leave it to one day before a big ride to buy the most critical of equipment.
Most critical? Well I’ll guarantee you can ride further with your saddle a centimeter too low than your shoes a size too small.
I know that the modern ranges of bike clothing are so much more reliable. I know shorts and shoes no longer shrink. The days when you could put a bottle of milk in the back pocket of a woolen jersey and jump up and down to try and make it stretch to the floor are happily long gone. (I’ve got a hint if that’s your problem – on the inside of the jersey, sew tape from the hem up around the shoulders and back to the hem). I remember the days when wool jerseys and knicks washed with too much soap would foam up in the rain. Well, someone got a laugh. But testing new gear on a long ride like Around the Bay? Not a good idea surely.
Would a bride leave it to the day before the wedding to get down to the gown shop? Not even worth waiting for an answer there. When you want to look your best, or do your best, start with a blank sheet of paper and list do-by dates which are not the day before. I don’t suppose the clothing shop will mind and everyone can be more relaxed over their shopping.
Hint #31 Once (wunce) upon a time there was a big pro team called ONCE (On-Say) named for it's sponsor, the Spanish national lottery which raises funds for the blind. ONCE was the number one pro team of its day, the first to provide its riders with a fitted out bus to escape to straight after the race.
But ONCE started another trend which has filtered through to all cyclists. Originally team members rode Look bikes but when Giant, the Taiwanese frame and bicycle builder wanted to launch a big new idea on the world stage, ONCE riders started using Giant's compact frames.
Fair enough, the compact frame was an idea whose time had come, whether it was Giant and ONCE or another manufacturer and team. The small frames used in BMX and Mountain Bikes or ATBs spawned long aluminum alloy handlebar stems and seat posts and as soon as these were made in the same diameters as road frame head and seat tubes, any road racer could use a smaller, more rigid frame. But Giant and ONCE put the thing together and tried it out at the top level. Now everyone's doing it.
Giant had five frame sizes in it's compact range. I'm guessing that prior to the compact, a frame manufacturer could have also limited his wares to five basic sizes and those that weren't satisfied by that could go for a custom made job. So what was the advantage? Well there's two components to good frame design - fitting the rider and producing a bike with good geometry so that it handles well. Under the original situation, the middle of the range 57cm (22 1/2”) “square” frame was the ideal so riders around 175cms in height were very happy. At the ends of the size spectrum, shorties, most girls and tall timber had to accept all manner of compromises. These might have meant choosing between the front wheel clipping the foot or having a fork rake that went back to Noah's day.
I haven't conducted a comprehensive survey but I guess folks are happy on their compact frame bikes. The standard of bike control I see in pro races suggests these bikes handle well. But there is a very obvious difference in rider position that has been facilitated by compact frames - riders are now much lower at the front. Handlebar heights are easy to compare through the years by reference to the top of the wheel and, on average, they are now visibly much lower. If you'd like to see for yourself how high riders once were at the front click here http://www.tour-racing.co.uk/html/fred_krebs.html for the Hercules Tour de France bike of 1956, or http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/30/EddyMerckxHourRecordBike.jpg for the famous Merckx 1972 hour record machine displayed at a Brussels railway station.
The old rule of thumb for the difference between handlebar and saddle height was 2.5cm – 6cm or between one and two and a half inches. (Handlebar height at the head stem clip and top of saddle at the midpoint or around where it intersected with a straight line extension of the seat bar). The saddle was almost invariably the higher of the two. Looking at the current variation I'd say that way of looking at bike sizing has disappeared into history. The big winners seem to be the tall riders who can now get their hands way lower and their bodies tucked down.
My guess as to why handlebars are lower now, even though most riders prefer a shallower bar, is that it gives a top of bar position similar to a time trial bike. Compared with earlier times, the brake hoods are now used much more as an alternative hand position. When I started riding they were only used in an out of saddle climbing position.
So if you're still sitting up and copping the breeze like a reverse sail, ask yourself why. Have you ever had expert advice to get you into a racing position? (As opposed to a touring position) If you're already tucked down nicely into that interminable head wind, give thanks to Manolo Saiz, once the “colourful” boss of ONCE, the man who once gave Alberto Contador his first pro jersey and once upon a time introduced the world at large to the compact frame. Since Operation Puerto and the withdrawal of ONCE's successor sponsor Liberty-Seguros, Manolo has been spending more time with his family but I hear rumours that he is planning a comeback. Once may not have been enough for Manolo.
Hint #30 I was checking out a photo from the 1986 Tour de France the other day, a mountain shot featuring one of the watershed teams of professional cycling – La Vie Claire. La Vie Claire was way cool, as they say - designer jerseys, a director sportif Paul Koechli who was an accredited coach rather than a former top pro, the first carbon fibre frames, and, for me, the biggest move in bike tech in my lifetime – clipless pedals made by Look.
La Vie Claire's big guns Bernard Hinault, Greg LeMond, Steve Bauer and Andy Hampsten weren't the first top riders to have pedals without the toe clip and strap. Various alternative means had been tried to keep feet in place when spinning and to enable pulling up as well as pushing down on the pedals on a start or a climb. The Australian World Sprint Champion John Nicholson raced with his shoes firmly bolted to the pedals in the 60s and I wouldn't think he was the first.
Once upon a time we had rat trap pedals and leather shoes. The soles of these shoes were more flexible than modern day sneakers. I've seen pictures of cyclists with a very visible curve in their shoes as they tried to drag the pedals around the bottom of the circle. The straps would chafe and so would the clips if you were silly enough to ride with the toes of your shoes in contact with them. Platform pedals were introduced to spread the load of the foot but they never caught on because, unlike “clipless” pedals, there was no float. Manufacturers put steel stiffeners into the soles of racing shoes which made cleats hard to attach, or made cleats with extra supporting steel plates. (These were especially popular with folks who owned polished wooden floors).
Enter pedals designed from ski attachments with all the clipping underneath on the sole of the shoe and the pedal. Result – luxury. But besides the big improvement in comfort and safety – clips and straps clamped you in and there was no escape when you fell or getting your foot out when you thought you were about to – the new stiff plastic (or carbon) soles gave the leg another lever. And that is where this hint is aimed. In the days of clips and straps there were compromises because shoes flexed so much. The toes down style of Jacques Anquetil (or the Sutton brothers in Australia) accepted that there was little or no leverage around the ankle. So, by supporting the foot, the new shoes enabled the use of a third lever in the leg. Sure it's only a small one but multiply by the total revs in a road race and it's significant.
The new shoes and pedals also brought in a new era of “round” pedalling. The majority of riders you will see in top races are way ahead of their 60s counterparts in propulsive efficiency and for that I think you need to give credit to the non-flexing soles of shoes. Here is a hot off the press example of what I'm talking about – in the final stage of the Vuelta you can see Stuey O'Grady on the front of the peloton do a very extended out of the saddle wind up. Years ago, this sort of move would be unheard of. It is the balance and flow of a round pedalling action, as opposed to the left-right left- right pumping of – say - Phil Anderson - that enables O'Grady to spend so much time out of the saddle (as well as superb fitness and outstanding natural ability of course).
Clipless pedals – one of the great advances in bike tech of the last 50 years. Use to your advantage. Next week another big tech move that you may well not have noticed. It came from a very large bike maker and an err..... “colourful” cycling personality. If you would like my perspective on improvements in bike design, click here http://www.tour-racing.co.uk/html/fred_krebs.html to see a Tour team bike from 1956. What's that – didn't know I was that old? Thanks.
Hint #29 In 1957, the year I started hanging out with racing cyclists, Tom Simpson was the British National Champion for the 4000m pursuit. The following year Norman Sheil beat Simpson for the UK title. “Uncle” Norman, who won two world titles, later became the British National Team Coach. He might have been the first person I heard say that you can always turn a track rider into a road rider, or, in other words, speed comes first, then you build the endurance. We used to quote the three “Ss” in the British Cycling Federation Coaching Scheme – Speed, Stamina, Skill.
British cycling might still seem to be proving the point with one of their best pursuit riders ever, Bradley Wiggins, winning, then losing the lead in the Vuelta. I saw Bradley nearly stall on the 23% ramp near the top of the Angliru the other day and I'm not convinced it proves anything. Wiggins “soft” pedal style will still win him plenty of races even if it is not the weapon you need to haul yourself up a sharp pinch near the mountain top. (Wiggin's problem, if he doesn't win the Vuelta, may have more to do with having a team mate, Chris Froome, in the form of his life in Spain).
There are five “monuments” in cycling's top road races. Australians have won two. Stuart O'Grady, who came to our attention with the national pursuit team, has won Paris-Roubaix, a 261 km last man standing grind over the worst cobbles in Northern France. Matt Goss, also a team pursuit alumni, this year won Milan-San Remo the longest “monument.” at 298 km. O'Grady is also an Olympic track champion with Graham Browne, who I first met on – Moama Velodrome. You can see where this is going. Even Oppy, who rode marathons of ridiculous mileage, built up an extensive track background on the old Exhibition boards in Melbourne.
If you want to win a bike race you need to go.....er...... fast. Sort of obvious isn't it? This has nothing, repeat nothing, to do with training mileage. If you want to make speed training fun get down to the track (they tell me it has lights now) and find the go-fast button. Here's something to aim for – Jack Bobridge, in his world record 4000m pursuit reeled off 20 consecutive 12.5 second 200 metres. Why not try for one? By the way, Jack's also the Australian Road Champion.
Hint #28. If you check out your crit course and there's some deep potholes, here's an easy way to fix them. Just get some white paint and draw a cross over the hole and then a circle around the cross. Bike riders love potholes. It gives them something to dodge around in an otherwise boring race.
Hint #27 Some of the hints in this
series are from my experience, some from coaching courses, some I've
pinched from magazines, some have come from the wise old dudes I've met
in veteran cycling. This hint was from the last source and, believe it
or not, I fortnight after I heard it I used it.
This was the situation: in a race near Benalla I hit a pothole soon after Lurg Hill and popped both tyres. I had one spare tube, no puncture kit, no mobile and there was no follow car.
One tube replacement - no worries. For the second wheel I knotted the tube sealing off the punctured bit. Then, as I discovered, the hard bit is getting the knotted bit back inside the tyre. I've put literally thousands of tyres on wheels and I'll admit this one wasn't easy but it beat a 20 km walk back to the start/finish, trying to ride on a flat tyre or waiting in the hope someone would come to find me. The knotted bit made a drumming noise which was irritating. That apart, it worked well.
This tip came from Jack Trickey who was a '56 Olympian. A Trickey solution to a tricky problem.
Hint #26 I don't get too excited about derogatory language towards bike riders - I've heard most comments too many times to get excited any more – but there is one common saying that still gets me riled. “Push bike.” What's a push bike? The only time a bike gets pushed is when you get off and walk it along. It's a pedal cycle.
Sure you push on the down stroke but it's part of a circular pedalling action and if you're not pedalling round you got a problem because you're riding a bike like jumping up stairs and there's only so long you can do that. Of course you can't maintain quite the same pressure as the foot comes up and yes, top dead centre is a dead loss but if you're only working the downstroke, you're trying to get all the power on in just 90 degrees out of 360.
If you turn your bike upside down and go to move the pedals around by hand, you will quite naturally use a round spinning motion rather than a push-push action. You haven't got body weight to help you it's true, but as a short answer to that one, it's obvious when professional riders get out of the saddle to impart a bit of heave-ho to the pedals it's a push-pull action. And by the way, I'm reading Rob Arnold's Cadel Evans book and the Tour de France winner trains with Powercranks. So there.
Around 30 years ago a visiting rider (and eventual Olympian) with a gift for short incisive comment gave his verdict on one of the Club's new hopefuls after a race at Victoria Park. “He's banging nails into the track” he said. If only I could come up with phrases like that.
Hint #25 - I really meant to drop the Tour flavour to these hints before now, but well – National Cadel Day is still to come so here's one more Tour inspired hint. Did you happen to notice, as Andy Schleck toiled up the last bit of the Galibier wondering if he'd get his legs back in the mail, the man smiling down benignly on him from the relative comfort of the first commissaire's car?
The gentleman was the nearest thing in cycling to a living god, the one and only Eddy Merckx, universally acknowledged as the greatest racing cyclist ever. Merckx won five Tours and about everything else that mattered, often on multiple occasions, for a total of 525 races including 34 Tour stages. I did happen to see The Great Man twice in person in the first year of his pro career, before he became The Great Man. After this my knowledge of him was acquired very much at third hand so recently I took another look at pictures of Merckx in action to try and comprehend the legend.
There is one aspect of Merckx that seems to me so obvious I wonder why no-one else comments on it. In an age (late sixties and seventies) where most riders paid scant attention to the subject, he was beautifully aerodynamic on the bike. In today's peloton I'm sure you'd have noticed the aero advantage that Mark Cavendish brings to a sprint or the minimal drag of Dave Zabriskie in a time trial. In Merckx's great days, few of his competitors offered so little frontal area relative to their body size and I really doubt that many of them cared.
The one contemporary that did look to present a slippery profile to the wind was Francesco Moser. In 1972 Merckx went to Mexico City and in the thin air put the hour record to bed, in many people's opinions, for good. It took twelve years but the man who finally beat it was Francesco Moser. This was in the days before the Scot Graeme O'Bree demonstrated that three things counted in this sort of competition – aero, aero, aero.
So how does this “saw him at the Tour” come history lesson wind up as a hint? Pop the deep dishes into the slippery road bike, prop at a full length mirror front on in total racing aspect and see how much of bike and how much of you is presented to the main enemy, the wind. In deference to political correctness, I must be polite about body shape issues. I will just point out that never mind all the hard earned you just forked over for a bike that slices through the breeze, the biggest factor in the total equation is you. Your bike can be the greatest but it can only slice through the breeze at the same speed as you. It's not easy I know to set yourself into an efficient position both mechanically and aerodynamically, you may need time with chiropractors, special exercises and so on but the potential rewards are huge. As always, good luck.
Hints #24 Still rolling down in Tour
mode so I'm wringing out another week as I watch the replays one more
time before tidying up the hard drive. Here's a Cadel flavoured hint.
Cadel Evan's winning margin though small (in terms of the distance covered) was greater than his two losing margins as runner up in 2007 and 2008. So what did he do right this year or wrong on those other attempts? So called self appointed Tour experts need to sell their stories and have developed an appetite for “winning moves” or “iconic moments,” the modern day terminology for a display of that old standby of French cuisine - “panache.” More cynical folks might see it as a desperate need for a 15 second sound and vision bite for endless replays in endless promos.
Even to the armchair spectator it is pretty obvious that Cadel this year was ticking all the boxes. He had the support of all eight team BMC mates. With luck and great attention to positioning (which was I recall questioned at the time) and the proverbial 101 other things he delivered a well deserved win. The method was the tried and tested Indurain/Armstrong plan of match them in the mountains and trim them back in the time trials.
You will probably never ride a three week Grand Tour but ticking off the basics applies just the same to Country or State championships, Club championships even – it's just the stakes are much lower and there's no careers on the line. Plan, prepare, perform – map it out, get yourself into condition and execute your race plan – it's quite simple and logical, no secrets, no magic bullets. If there was a magic bullet the writing on it would say “this is not the real thing.”
If you check back Cadel's progress around France, he made the winning move on the penultimate stage, the individual time trial. But it wouldn't have been the winning move of he hadn't negated the Schlecks the day before on the Alpe, if he hadn't limited his gap to Andy the day before that and you can go back day by day to the beginning and see how every day counted.
Scribes and spruikers love to bang on about Merck flying the coup early in stages and putting time into the field on a daily basis. It's great to chat about the past so long as you don't mess it up with too much fact. Eddy Merckx was obsessional about the small details of bike racing. He carried an allen key in his pocket and adjusted his saddle height as he flew down the mountains. I'm sure that more than any other of his time he planned and prepared. There's no doubt he performed. So did Cadel Evans. Enjoy the moment.
Hint #23 Most years that I've been able to follow the Tour de France, either through TV or internet, the mind has been reluctant to move back into Australian winter time afterwards or to shut down for the night at a reasonable hour. Well Cadel has finally done it and there's even more reason to make the ambiance of the Tour last into a fourth week. So again I'm doing a hint that relates to the Tour.
Last year Andy Schleck lost me over the “chaingate” incident. When Alberto Contador didn't wait for him after Andy dropped his chain on Port de Bales, the dummy flew out of the pram, which in turn encouraged some pretty unsporting behaviour by French fans. (A year later they're still booing Contador but whether this is for a specific or general reason is not entirely obvious).
Right at the end of this year's race Andy put in two huge efforts and neither proved to be the killer punch. Cadel Evans provided that in the time trial while Andy trailed around, slipping further and further behind, a lonely figure bringing up the rear of the day's racing. That was the reward for a year of preparation for pretty much the one race and it all went sour. You wouldn't blame him for feeling out of sorts. But the next day, as he waited for the plane on the transfer to Paris, Andy strolled up to Cadel and stuck his hand out. Then they had a quick hug. I know the cameraman was primed but if Andy had any gripes this time around, I didn't see them reported.
I've seen some pretty poor behaviour at the end of races over the years and it hasn't all come from hot headed juniors. I've seen ancient vets carry on like spoilt little children over relative trivia and it can ruin a day. I'd hope that cyclists took note of Andy's gesture to Cadel. Because, when the race is over, that's it. There's no encores. If you've lost and lost as per the rules, accept it, it's not the worst thing that could happen to you. Nothing you can do afterwards will alter it because it's past history. Even if you didn't entirely like the way the other guy won just say “Well done” with all the politeness you can muster. Like Andy, you'll probably get another go.
Hint # 22 The last two hints have not been about riding the bike but about people you might like to listen to or read as you watch the Tour de France. The first recommendation was Robert Millar who has duly filed a page of comments on cyclingnews.com in recent days. My second choice Matt Rendell is twittering away and talking with Ned Boulting and Chris Boardman on ITV.
When I decided on this comments on commentators I had a three names in mind but after some re-thinking I've decided not to go ahead with my original third choice. It would take far too long to explain why I'm not doing that so instead I'll suggest three names, people who are not doing comment right now, but names you might like to bear in mind for future reference.
Alan Peiper is directing HTC at the Tour. At the end of his racing career he did some comments for Channel 4 and tried unsuccessfully to transition into TV journalism. He is a natural writer but his work has not yet gone past an interesting autobiography which goes some way to explaining why this Australian ex-pro is a very special character. Peiper was a top lead out rider and prologue specialist and now he's directed the world's best team. Some-one who knows his bike riding.
Robbie McEwen has always been good for a comment and I hope that when he leaves the pro peloton, which seems to be happening about now, he will turn his observational and linguistic talents to an area which could do with a bit of know how and a dose of wit. If there are jobs available Robbie may prefer team management. I hope that unlike his former manager at Lotto Hendryk Redandt he won't be parking cars and driving VIPs around the Tour.
Laurent Fignon lost his life to cancer last year so you can't hear the two time Tour winner and closest loser (just 8 seconds to Greg LeMond back in 1989) doing his colorful chat on French TV but you can read his autobiography “When We Were Young and Carefree” in English. Fignon's career spanned the times when cycling got bigger, richer and seriously out of control. I haven't read the book yet but reviews suggest “The Professor” didn't hold back. As the signs said on this year's race, Fignon is sadly missed.
Three names for your future reading. Right now there's some serious ground to cover around France so back in the granny gear, granny footrest, granny blanket and armchair.
Hint #21 My hint for this week is not about riding but for watching week two of Le Tour. As I said last week, when I recommended the tips of Robert Millar, I'm throwing up three names as the Three Wise Men of the Big Race.
I believe to be a good sports writer you need to know what you're talking about and to be good at talking about what you know. Matt Rendell came into bike racing from the unmapped part of left field. His sport was running, he was a university lecturer in languages, he taught in Britain and Latvia, then he became a journalist, a translator on British TV when a chance remark by Chepe Gonzalez to Paul Sherwin set him researching a phrase for four hours – I said he was an academic - and this led to an interest in the cycling scene in Columbia which he turned into a book called Kings of The Mountains.
Rendell is the academic of bike journos and he is meticulous with a capital M. In a group which tends to think near enough is good enough his attention to detail separates him from the pack. He's fluent in five languages which means he can tap into the vast repository of bike books that are not available in English translation. His story of Marco Pantani is probably the only satisfactory explanation of the rise and fall of The Pirate going around in English.
Matt Rendell's latest book (which I haven't read yet) is The Legend of Jose Bayaert – Cycling Champion, Fortune Hunter and Outlaw. As you see his subjects seem to come from left field like him. During Le Tour he works with Ned Boulting and Chris Boardman for ITV. You can also catch him on twitter@mrendell Always interesting.
Hint #20 Harry's Hints was intended to offer tips to make your bike racing better. This month, when so many cyclists retreat to the armchair for the sport's show piece, the Tour de France, I thought I might offer some suggestions for happy spectating instead.
As you may have already observed, opinion abounds at Tour time and not all of it is particularly well informed or coherently expressed. Over the next three Hints I will recommend three voices I think well worth a listen.
There is one name at the top of Scottish road cycling – Millar. David is the former World Time Trial Champion now riding for Garmin-Cervelo. Robert is the former Mountain Jersey winner, the highest placed Briton ever in the Tour (equal with Bradley Wiggins) at 4th and his best days were with the Peugeot team. These Millars are not related. Both walk the walk and most definitely talk the talk. Especially Robert. In fact Robert's directly expressed opinions have often embarrassed those around him and come to think of it, I can't seem to remember him with a live microphone in his hand. His bike tests for ProCycling a few years ago were gems of insight and direct speak.
In recent years Robert Millar wandered away from the sport long enough for author Richard Moore to bring out a book with some very interesting and speculative suggestions as to what he was now up to. But he's back and you can catch him on cyclingnews.com. Well worth a read if you like folks who don't mess around getting to the point..
Hint#19 Falls are not a fun topic I know but bike riding is a balancing act and when something goes wrong you tend to hit the deck. Australian law and UCI racing rules say to wear an approved helmet. A good helmet is not there to protect your skull. It is designed to decelerate the initial impact which in turn results in a deceleration of the brain into the inside of your skull. It is a one-off cushion. A second impact on the same spot is not protected because the Styrofoam is now compressed, so any helmet that has been in any way damaged in a fall should be replaced. And another thing – it may look cool to have the helmet strap swinging to the music the way the pros do but it is definitely in your interest to have the retention system working if you make a vertical detour. Of course you can’t over tighten the strap, you would cut off your breathing but if you land without the helmet what was the point of wearing it?
Hint#18 Computers and heart rate monitors are wonderful tools we didn't have "back in the day.". But quoting one off stats like top or average speed or highest HR is not a lot of use unless you're just going for the wow factor. If you want the best from an HR monitor, a total readout would tell much more. Of course monitors that do that cost more and you are now dealing with extra computer software but then it is like having a map instead of just the name of a town you went through.
Hint#17 Before I took Harry's Hints to
the Committee I sat down and wrote 52 of them to make sure I could keep
going for a year. However, in a desire to be topical, I have departed
from script many times and here we go again. This is not so much a hint
as something to ponder.
You have trained hard to become nearly the best you can be on a bike. Last night you checked and cleaned the bike and gear, had all the right food and went to bed early. Today you arrived in plenty of time to have a good warm-up, worked hard with your bunch and despite the two that sat on and sprinted and a couple more that just went missing, you were there at the finale and finished in the money.
You would like to lie down and have a rest but you change and wait around for the prize presentation. It always seems to take too long to sort out but finally here we go. Down to 6th, wasn't that you? 5th, someone else, 4th , not you again and by the time 3rd is handed out you realise you've been missed. You done all that for nothing because the judge missed you in the sprint.
So as you turn to depart the scene in anger you see the official responsible. You march over intent on something just short of assault. You suggest new spectacles, maybe a white stick, staying awake for the finish then you say don't bother, you're not coming back to where he's judging again. Feeling slightly better you stomp off to your car.
You turn out every week-end for the bikes. Twice in a week-end sometimes. Much of the time you stand around waiting as the riders race. You are already on a yellow card at home for jobs not done and you could have knocked them over in all the time spent at the roadside in the Back of Beyond. After all this waiting the judging is a split second affair. 40 riders come by at around 60 clicks and you need to judge and identify in a too brief instant. You wish you were a line judge at the tennis – at least you'd get more practice. But you do the best you can. Most of the time you get it right.
But as you are about to depart this race someone's in your face and he's angry with you. You don't know what he's angry about to begin with because he catches you by surprise and you can't place him. As he vents his frustration on you, being as rude as he can and trying to make you look like a fool in front of the world, you work out what has happened. You missed his number in the first ten. Maybe he was obscured by another rider. Maybe you just made an honest mistake.
You think how you don't need this. You don't need to waste your spare time with barely a thank you from the riders in the 90+% of times you get it right and seeing the other side of some of them when you make the odd mistake. You don't say it when he turns and stomps off because he has surprised you and you didn't have the line prepared. But you think “don't worry, if and when you do come back to race with this club I won't be here.”
I don't know if you recognise either of these people. I do. I've been both of them.
Hint#16 A few hints ago I weighed into the gearing argument after watching so many flying 200s at the track that I would describe, with respect, as non-sprints. Since then I have been casting around for some markers, not from my generation, which as you know has produced too many gripey old gits like me, but from modern day track sprinters.
So, having been loaned the Chris Hoy story by Jacqui and Mark and having caught the Hungry Beast's analysis of Shane Perkins this week, I have found the markers for sprint performance should you be considering a late run for London 2012. Chris Hoy's maximum output is quoted at 2376w (this is from a book that is now three years old) and Perko is talking 2500w. Serious grunt. But perhaps just as significant is Hoy's top rpm clocked behind a motorbike at 192 – pretty much the figure I suggested in Hint # 5 as a top end to aim for.
So I investigated further and came upon this at http://www.lfgss.com/thread15704.html from Paul Rogers. Scroll down to 15 “Going slow makes you slow” (love that one) and there is your marker for sprinting – 160rpm. The whole piece has some interesting stuff but it is elite level and if you can train like that, you don't need to be reading Harry's Hints.
Let's duck back to that 160rpm. The ability to rev like that is given you on a “use it or lose it” basis. (When I came back to cycling as a veteran it was painfully obvious that cadence was one of the casualties of a long time off the bike). So my tip is – if you want to go fast, aim for that 160rpm and select the gears accordingly. If your gear choice has you creaking way below this or you're muttering about revving out at 120, you are not sprinting. If “going slow makes you slow” try doing the opposite. I know it's not easy. If it was it would be dead boring.
Hint#15 One of the big disadvantages of Echuca-Moama if you are a road rider is the lack of hills. The only one in town I know of, the one that comes up from the river plain next to the bridge on the Moama side is all of 50 metres long, a genuine micro-col. The alternative is to ride out to Trewins Road, a long way for a rather average hill.
There are ways you can simulate hills on static trainers. Chris Boardman, who was truly desperate to add hill climbing to his undoubted time trialling abilities on a bike, tried the inclined treadmill. A treadmill of sufficient size to pop the road bike on is not an easy thing to access on a regular basis.
You could use a resistance trainer, either purpose built or one you sit your own bike on and use the highest gearing and/or resistance to simulate pedalling your own weight uphill. The problem is that this develops your ability to ride a high gear, which is not quite the same thing as riding uphill.
In my quest to become a closet trainer in the '60s I discovered a way of using rollers to simulate initially racing on grass tracks but also of riding uphill. Using a high gear, in itself not much resistance since we're talking rollers here, a heavy tyre and here's the hint – around half normal tyre pressure - the rolling from one pedal stroke to another, the difference between flat and uphill cycling, is effectively eliminated. Half pressured tyres do not roll. You have to work for every rev, just as you do on a hill. You also have to balance, this is on rollers remember, so there is no standing up and dancing the Contador. You also need a high enough cadence to avoid stalling and falling.
This involves experimenting with tyre pressures. I used a wired on, beaded tandem tyre which I doubt you could get now but any heavier type tyre would do. You need a big enough tyre to have the pressure down but not be bumping wheel rim to roller. Racing tyres will not do. There is simply not enough cushion at the bottom.
There is also a question of warm-up because this is like starting on a hill. You need a gear you can barely start on and then as I said you have to work for every rev. It's not quite like riding Mt. Alexander. But it will develop power pedalling. Use with care and as part of a balanced program. And remember to rehydrate because, like climbing a hill with little airflow, you will sweat profusely.
Hint #14 In post race analysis, separate reasons and excuses. (And forget reasonable excuses). Racing is a reality check so be realistic. The more realistic you are the quicker you will learn. On the other hand if you like to dream……..
Hint #13 Handicap racing is an imperfect solution to giving riders of different abilities a theoretical equal chance. Take it for what it is, a compromise and remember - there are no Olympic medals at stake. Handicappers make educated guesses and some are better educated than others. Handicappers only control the starts, riders determine the finishes. Unless you feel badly mistreated, don’t complain. If you do feel the need to complain, be respectful. I was a handicapper for over two years and the club secretary reminded me most week ends I was only about to make one person happy.
Hint # 12 Climbing a serious hill is a big challenge for non mountain goats. I’m not talking about a little bump like Trewins Road where a power rider can bounce up with a bit of a heave. I mean something longer like Alexander. You must climb within your limits because trying to stay with the good guys is like borrowing money you can’t repay. Before the top you will implode and those that climbed within their threshold will leave you in their wake.
Hint # 11 If you’re in a bunch
race or for that matter any bunch ride and you hear those horrible
sounds of a shout, metal on metal and bikes hitting bitumen happening
behind you DO NOT LOOK BACK or you will be the next to start a fall. If
you’re in a track race or crit you’ll see the debris in a few moments as
you come around again and your curiosity will be satisfied. If you’re
out on the road and want to stop and help the fallen, pull over to the
side in a safe manner and go back when all’s clear.
Hint # 10 As you take a look at the
Spring Classics, the series of fiercely contested one day races starting
with Milan-San Remo and ending with Liege-Bastonne-Liege, you might
notice that France gets two races, other countries one each. If you went
down to the World’s at Geelong last October you might have wondered why
it is run by the UCI and not the ICU.
The reason is that France took the lead in cycle racing as it developed over a century ago and as a result France has some of the best races and the language of cycle racing is French. You don’t have to speak French to race but a little familiarity with some of the terms might be helpful so voila.
UCI – Union Cycliste Internationale, International Cycling Union in
Commissaire – referee. Please do not confuse with Commissar – Communist Party enforcer or Commissionaire – uniformed hotel door opener and taxi whistler.
Bidon – bottle
Musette – food bag
Parcours – race route
Prime – sprint or hill climb prize
Peloton – the main bunch in a road race
Echelon – a group of riders diagonally across the road in each others wind shadow
Velodrome – banked bike racing track (of course you knew that).
That’s just a few Francophile terms. Old bike riders often lapse into
the language when talking about a race with the finale (last few
kilometers), classement (current or finishing order) and the flamme
rouge aka “kite” (red flag for one km to go). Two little pointers might
save you from embarrassment if and when you finally make it to Paris.
French is not English in code – that’s why, as a former US President
noted, they have no word for entrepreneur and the Tour de France is the
“toor” not the “two-er.” Allez bien et bon chance.
Hint # 9 When riding in a bunch you should try, as a general rule, not to get under or overlap the wheel in front. If that wheel does a swift lateral detour it could take your front with it. But don’t concentrate on this wheel exclusively, watch the back of this rider through to the wheel in front of him or her. That way you’ll get an early warning of any deviations. Learn to read the body language and stay alert. If the rider in front suddenly backs into you (see Hint#7) it’s better to put a hand on them than hit the brakes. It’s a split second decision but sudden braking or swerving will give grief behind you. On the track besides trying to slow the pedals you can put a gloved palm on the front tyre - but only if you’re quick and have practiced. A hand on the back of the rider you’re likely to bump is the best option but make sure you don’t push them into someone else. Remember stay alert and stay upright.
For those who read my remarks on spinning and Mooroopna Roller Derbys while shaking the head, here’s a clip which saves 1000 words. The rider on the right is Gavin White, a regular at Mooroopna. Gav is still in his street clothes here - http://vimeo.com/13929275
Hint # 8 Last week in Hint #7 I said
that backing into the following rider on a hill was the other side of
the coin to the throw at the line. This week let’s look at those last
The finishing throw is an upper body movement to impart a fraction more speed in the last metres of a race. It can vary from a simple push of the arms to the full catapult swing that used to be part of the repertoire of six day specialists. This is where the rider gets out of the saddle to the extent of almost touching the front tyre with the nose and then gives the bike the full sling shot.
This is guaranteed to bring an appreciative “Oooh” from a crowd but I would definitely not recommend it to club level riders as missing the saddle on the way back could lead to a life changing experience you’re not quite ready for.
The throw is like the runner’s lunge at the line. It doesn’t really add anything to your speed but it does push the bike further ahead temporarily and you can get closer to the line by – it is said – up to half a bike length. I’m not totally convinced of that figure, but certainly in a tight finish the width of a tyre is all you need. It is most important that you throw at the right time and if you are going to err, early is obviously much better than late.
Bike riders tend to look down and judge by their front wheel crossing the line. That is not quite what the judges look at. They look at the front of the front wheel when it is over the line. This may explain why judges and riders sometimes come up with different verdicts.
If you tend to get in tight finishes and don’t want to throw away a lot of earlier work for want of a bit of technique, practice the throw, preferably with someone who has a sharp eye and can check your timing.
Hint # 7 When you are riding up a
hill, feeling the pressure but not going very fast, and you move from
the saddle to stand on the pedals, your body, being slightly heavier
than your bike, maintains constant velocity - consequently the bike does
a mini slow down. It is, if you like, the reverse of the throw at the
line in a sprint.
None of this is of any consequence if you are straining solo up the gradient but if someone is glued to your wheel as tends to happen in group ascents they can get a nasty surprise because you will back into them.
That very thing happened at the last veteran race I went to and the following rider hit the deck. I was pleased to hear that at the end of the race the first rider, a woman, went to apologise and the faller, a man, brushed off her apology making it clear it was his fault. I think he was correct.
Riding close to the wheel in front is important to benefit from the wind shadow but the place this has the least effect is uphill when the speed drops right off. There is conversely a greater fear of being dropped on hills and some riders succumb to panic mode and ride too close. If you cannot climb without trying to keep your body close to those around you, make sure your front wheel is off to the side of the one in front. And please try and ride a straight line.
Hint # 6
Hint1 was about the "mini-bars" position and I think I said
something about little control over the front wheel "which will go its
own way if it hits a bump, pothole, stone or hardened cow pat." So a big
thank you to Giovanni Visconti of the Pro Continental Farnese Vini team
for a neat demonstration at the front of the peloton in Stage 3 of the
recent Tour of Qatar. You would have seen it if you were watching
Cycling Central last Sunday. Giovanni may be on a smaller team but he is
the current Italian Road Champion and therefore easy to spot in the
famous red white and green jersey.
Coming back to the field after a breakaway attempt, he took a look over his shoulder at the oncoming cavalry while on the side of the road where the authorities have installed cats eyes between the bitumen and the sand. According to cyclingnews.com a cats eye was enough to give Giovanni an embarrassing vertical detour smack in front of the cameras. You can catch it on the Cycling Central website. Happy to say he was not badly hurt and scored third overall in the subsequent Tour of Oman. So to my list of road hazards add cats eyes and, in sandy terrain, I suppose the odd camel pat.
There is a saying that "accidents will happen." They will certainly happen more often to those who are over casual about their own safety. The sport has it's own title for these heroes. They are known as Autumn Leaves.
Hint #5 So far in these hints about gearing I have tried to simplify a complex topic by suggesting you start with the equation gear (expressed as how far you travel with each pedal rev) multiplied by rpm or cadence ( the pedal revs per minute) equals speed.
Now here I’m going to take a short cut and say I’ve seen more races than you – trust me. Not just more races but more races where the gearing is restricted – motor paced for instance - and here I’m talking about where every rider has a pacer, not one pacer for the whole field. The gearing is restricted because without that limit, the riders would go too fast for the track and would fly into the air trying to make the turns. How was that discovered? Think about it.
The other racing where gearing is restricted is roller competitions. It is restricted so that riders will use regular chainrings and not spend their hard earned on chainrings as big as their wheels. I’ve seen a lot of roller racing because for 23 years I called the Mooroopna Roller Derby on New Year’s Eve. The gear limit there was 7.93m which you can get with a 51/14 and the right tyre. In motor pacing and roller comps there is no option of upping the gear so pedaling faster is the only way to win.
I’ll just deviate a moment to say that when I first did a coaches’ course the guidelines for cadence or rpm were 90 for a road rider, 120 for a track rider extending to 140-150 for a sprinter. The Lance Armstrong/Chris Carmichael influence has now upped the road rider’s cadence especially for climbing and some roadies would now be around 110rpm. Which might explain how Bradley Wiggins and a host of track reared cyclists do so well on the road now.
Lifting the cadence
instead of the gear gives the greatest possibility for improvement.
Trust me again. But so many times I’ve heard riders say “I was spun
out.” Sorry but I have to smile. The riders in the Mooroopna Roller
Derby rode heats over 500m. The good ones did under 20 seconds, the
really good ones under 19. Put that in the Cycling Australia calculator
at http://www.cycling.org.au/?Page=9497 and you will find they were
revving at 190-200rpm. That’s way north of where you might think “Spun
Out” lives. You may not be able to rev that fast but I’m sure you have
the possibility for improvement. Good luck.
Last week I divided gearing terms into
Imperial, European and Actual as a way of explaining how bike gears are
expressed. This week I will try to answer the huge question of choosing
the right gear.
Let me first go back to the expression of the gear size. If you were to take a formula of multiplying the size of the chainring by the size of the back wheel and dividing by the cog, but this time use the actual circumference of the wheel, you will come to the figure the bike moves forward with each pedal rev. I will suppose that the diameter of the back wheel is 690mm which gives around 2.2.17m per wheel revolution. Using the once most popular track gear of 49/15 (or 88.2”) you get around 7.0839993m give or take a smidget.
Simply apply this figure to standard track distances 200m, 500m, 4,000m and while you have by no means solved the “what gear?” question you are starting to build the equation from fact not fiction. By juggling gear ratios and rpm against the time you are aiming at you can examine the question of “will I rev harder or change up?” with some known knowns. This is not meant to be a huge over-simplification but a starting reference point and was used by the National Track Team when Australia first became a force on the world stage. Go to Cycling Australia's web page at http://www.cycling.org.au/?Page=9497 and you will find gears shown as distance travelled and a calculator to show what gears and rpm you will need on a 250m track to cruise along at 60kph - so easy!
Remember there are three numbers in this equation and the last one, time (or speed) is the one that wins the race, the other two, gear and rpm, are just the means to the end. I can tell you about the rider who used 107” in a scratch race on the old Vic Park track and I can show you a photo of a rider who could regularly ride under one hour for a 40km TT on a 72.” The only thing that counts is they won races. There is no prize for first rider home on a thumper or spinner gear.
Gears are about the
chainwheel, the cog and the back wheel of your bike and they are
expressed in three ways which I shall call Imperial, European and
Let’s start with Imperial which is still, I’m surprised to notice, the most common in Australia. It is expressed in inches – remember them? In Imperial your gear is the number of teeth on the chainwheel divided by the number of teeth on the cog multiplied by the diameter in inches of the back wheel. The last number is invariably taken as 27 even though 26 would be more appropriate. What you will arrive at is the diameter in inches of the wheel you would be driving if the drive was direct – such as in a child’s front wheel drive trike or a penny-farthing.
Bike riding has it’s own language and some of the track gears 92.6" and 91.8" are talked about as “two six” and “one eight.” Track riders usually use a 15T or 14T cog and change the chainrings to adjust the gears. In my day the cog was invariably 15T and we carried 48, 49, 50 and 51 tooth chainrings. The larger the cog, the smoother operating the gear so 13T is better avoided though I suppose it is used by some of the larger primates you see in modern track sprinting.
Europeans didn’t learn about inches at school so they like to be more factual in expressing gear size. They will give two numbers, the chainwheel and the cog so the 92.6 in Imperial will be a 48/14. Personally I prefer this way of stating gears because the equation is simpler and after a while you learn what works for you in terms that relate directly to what you can see on the bike. Manufacturers will stamp the number of teeth on the chainring but you will have to count for yourself on the cog unless we are talking a known cluster combination.
Actual expression of gear size is very important for junior riders because it says how far you travel with each complete pedal revolution in metres. That is what the steel channel is for at junior races and sometimes at roller competitions. It is called the roll out and measures quite precisely. I have seen two young riders who went on to win World Championships get caught out by the roll out so never presume or try to work out your gearing on paper – roll out your race gear before you leave home. This time the actual diameter of the back wheel is a factor. The old 27” is way off as you will see. As a guide the manufacturer’s tyre markings are much more accurate but nothing beats the roll out.
Hint #2 When riding in a bunch you should try, as a general rule, not to get under or overlap the wheel in front. If that wheel does a swift lateral detour it could take your front with it. But don’t concentrate on this wheel exclusively, watch the back of this rider through to the wheel in front of him or her. That way you’ll get an early warning of any deviations. Learn to read the body language and stay alert. If the rider in front suddenly backs into you it’s better to put a hand on them than hit the brakes. It’s a split second decision but sudden braking will give grief behind you.
Hint #1 Several years ago the UCI banned mini bolt on aero bars but pros still imitate the position you got with them by riding with their wrists on the top of the bars when leading a bunch with a bit of pace on. This position is good for aerodynamics and ergonomics, no argument. Unfortunately it gives little control over the front wheel which will go its own way if it hits a bump, pothole, stone or hardened cow pat. That is why the little aero bars were banned and commentators and officials frown on the wrist on the tops position. That is when used by pros who are very good at avoiding falls in the bunch. For amateurs this is a strict no-no. In fact CSV officials will probably give you a warning for riding with your hands on the tops in track races. Don’t bother telling them Cameron Meyer does it. You’re not Cameron Meyer.
About Handout Mentality and it’s author. Handout Mentality is written by Richard Bailey The views expressed are his alone and the Echuca and Moama Cycling Club does not endorse them.
Richard started cycling over 50 years ago in Cambridge England and came to Australia in 1968. He started writing cycling articles for the Cambridge Daily News in 1963. In 1966 he became the youngest qualified coach in the British Cycling Federation. In Australia he struggled to make the grade with the pros and opened a bike shop in Melbourne. The shop was not a success but he did get to sponsor Moscow Olympian Kelvin Poole, the first interstate rider Charlie Walsh hired and the first he fired. Richard qualified as a Level 2 coach on Charlie’s courses. He later qualified as a State Level Commissaire with what is now Cycling Victoria and obtained a Level 2 Certificate as a Sports Trainer.
Richard moved to Echuca in the early 80s and was Secretary of the now Echuca-Moama Club for six years when the club was very active in running track races on the old Victoria Park track and starting the movement for a new velodrome. He was also Press Secretary for eight years writing and supplying developed photo prints for the Echuca Riverine Herald.
Richard started race calling in Echuca in 1982 at the monthly twilight combines. He has been fortunate enough to interview Hubert Opperman and was the first person to interview Shane Kelly. He is currently the commentator-M.C. for the South Pacific Easter racing at Maryborough, calls the veterans’ Camperdown-Warrnambool and has called the Mooroopna Roller Derby for the last 21 years. He has a two hour weekly show on Radio 104.7 EMFM which starts with show tunes and finishes with opera. He also produces his wife’s three hour show which starts with rock ‘n roll and finishes with blues.
Richard joined Central Veterans in the first year of the Club. Around the millennium he was tricked into the position of Handicapper. After two and a half years in that role he never attended another Club meeting. As a way of explaining his handicapping theories he introduced an information sheet which morphed into the newsletter Harry’s Handout, “Harry” being a mythical handicapper. When health problems prevented him competing and staying in touch with Club affairs, he started writing on professional racing to fill out the newsletter, using the internet for research. The name “Handout Mentality” was meant to be a cheap take on Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy Philosophy.”
Handout Mentality for April 2007.pdf Handout Mentality for May 2007.pdf Handout Mentality for June 2007.pdf
Handout Mentality for July 2007.pdf Handout Mentality Tour de France '07 Caveat Emptor.pdf
Handout Mentality September 2007.PDF Handout Mentality November 2007.pdf
Handout Mentality for December 2007.pdf Handout Mentality For Jan-Feb 2008.pdf
Handout Mentality for March 2008.PDF Handout Mentality for May 2008.pdf
Handout Mentality for June-July 2008.PDF Handout for August 2008.PDF
Harrys Handout for September 2008.pdf Handout Mentality for October 2008.pdf
Handout Mentality for Nov2008.pdf Handout Mentality December 2008.pdf
Harrys Handout for Feb 2009.pdf