Monday, July 20, 2009

On Difficulty

I've stolen the title from one of Jorie Graham's poems for this post, in attempting to explain the Xterra Mountain Cup race in which I competed this past Saturday. I'm choosing that title because, like Graham's poem, the appearance of difficulty did not match the actual difficulty. That is to say, it was much harder than it looked or, upon reflection, with lots of numbers and equations, much harder than it was computed to be.

I'm making a reach, here, comparing excrutiatingly difficult contemporary poetry with an off-road triathlon, but when you come upon a poem by Graham called "On Difficulty," you believe that things will finally be explained. The curtain will rise, the numbers will reveal their manifold truths, the trees will part for a second. Unfortunately, Graham's poem does little to explain her poetry in general, choosing instead to flirt with your sense of clarity. Reading it is a little like knowing you have to dance a tango (difficult to begin with), but that you've got to do it in the dark, with a dwarf, accompanied by an orchestra on, at the same time, amphetamines and oxycodone. Here's a chunk of her poem "Just Before:"
At some point in the day, as such, there was a pool.  Of
stillness. One bent to brush one's hair, and, lifting
again, there it was, the
opening—one glanced away from a mirror, and there, before one's glance reached the
street, it was, dilation and breath—a name called out
in another's yard—a breeze from
where—the log collapsing inward of a sudden into its
hearth—it burning further, feathery—you hear it but you don't
look up—yet there it

OK, confused yet? And still, there is something lovely in this section of poetry, the cadences are regular (even though there isn't anything you might call a "rhythm" or "meter" to it), and there's this kind of bemused sense of wonder and exploration, the feeling you get when, as I am now, you sit at your desk in the summertime and listen to the myriad sounds of the world coming in through the window.

Right. Where am I going with this? The race on Saturday, in Beaver Creek, Colorado. My first off-road triathlon. I'm going to approach this (obviously) from several oblique angles and one quite direct angle. The direct angle: it was hard. Very, very hard—similar to, perhaps, competing in two 1-hour cyclocross races, and then popping off the bike for a nice, lung-cleansing run up a mountain. That description, though, doesn't capture the difficulty of the race. I have, in my athletic career, felt so buried exactly three times, all of them cycling events, not triathlon. The first was the Cat 1/2/3 Exeter Criterium a couple of years ago. That was my first 1/2/3 race (the top three cycling categories, for those of you who don't carry a USCF card around in your wallets), and we traveled 28 miles in 56 minutes, according to my bike's computer. That's exactly 30 mph (or just under 50 kph) for close to an hour. Any description of "how hard" that was doesn't come close to how I felt afterwards: elation, hallucination, despair, desperation. If you've read the section of Once a Runner when Quenton Cassidy runs 60 1/4 mile repeats at sub 4:00 pace, you might know how I felt. I won't bore you with the details of the other two times, but one took place at a mountain-top finish after 100 miles of racing, and the other at a 'Cross race, where I came over the finish line and then dry-heaved for about 200 meters.

The point? Sometimes these races seem elementary, simple, straightforward, but the pain and anguish your body goes through belies all of those descriptions.

OK, here's the number crunching section, since Justin tells me that Brandon would kick my butt in a geek-off (well, that's obvious, but I've got to fight back somehow).

Cycling power has become the buzz-tool for defining effort and training these days. You can calculate it using a power meter, but if you're going pretty slowly, you can figure it out longhand, too. Why slowly? at around 9-10 mph, the resistance between your tires and the surface over which those tires roll is pretty much equal to the resistance between you and the air through which you're traveling. Faster than 9-10 mph (or 4.4 m/s) and you get into some pretty hairy equations that involve calculating the frontal area of a human on a bicycle. I'm not going to go there. Still, for your own fun at home, here's the equation:

Fair = ½ Area CoefDrag Dair Vair²

Happily, the formula for rolling resistance is much simpler:

Froll = 9.8 W CoefRoll where:

W = Weight of the rider and bike, kg

CoefRoll = Coefficient of rolling resistance, dimensionless (wooden track = 0.001, smooth concrete = 0.002, asphalt road = 0.004, rough paved road = 0.008)

I'm going to assign a value of .012 to a standard, sandy, Coloradan singletrack for the coefficient of rolling resistance, and I + my rented bike = 93.63 kg. So Froll = 11.01. I'm calculating a force, here, so I'm assuming I'm figuring this all for Newtons? Not sure. Anyway.

Another important consideration, of course, is the force of gravity. This one is also pretty easy to figure out. First you have to figure the average gradient of your climb, which is simple. I'm going to use the opening climb of the race, which was brutal. Coming out of the lake, you pedaled along a nice paved road for about a mile before kicking directly upwards. You then climb 2000 ft (610 m) in 5 miles (8 km). That's an average gradient of 7.6%, and you've got to do it on dirt and sand and grass. The force of gravity is computed as such:
Fgrad = 9.8 W grad. Here we go. W is the weight of the rider and bicycle, in kg. So we get 9.8*93.63*.076 = 69.74. I know I should be labeling my units, but I just don't know what they should be. It will all come out in the end.

Power can be figured out as such: P = (Fair + Froll + Fgrad) V. Happily, as I said earlier, I was only traveling around 10 mph (took me 1:35:00 to complete the 15.5 mile course), so Fair= Froll. Thus, we get the following figure: P = (11.01 + 11.01 + 69.74) 4.4 m/s. It comes out to 403 W.

403 watts is a big number, and you can take the time it took me to make that first climb (around 45 minutes) to figure out the work I did. Power = work/time, so if you just slot in 403 W = x/2700 s (we're working in seconds, here, remember) you get 1,088,000 j, or 1088 kj for simplicity's sake. It works out to about .302 kwh.

What do all these numbers work out to? Well, like I said above, they are big numbers. 1088 kj is a lot of work. 403 W for 45 minutes is a large outlay of power, probably one of my better figures.

I got passed by close to 20 people on the bike leg of this course. Now, I'm bigger than most (80 kg is huge, for cyclists), and I was hauling around a relatively heavy mountain bike (I did get some props/stares for showing up to a professional race on a rental), but a lot of these guys went past me with ease. They certainly went past me with ease on the downhills, too, where my weight, ostensibly, should pose an advantage. Sadly, this isn't on-road racing, where things are straightforward and the only limiters are a) your fitness and b) your mental ability to do things that your brain really really doesn't want to do. I learned, the first day I raced Cyclocross, that the strongest guy doesn't win. On Saturday I was neither the strongest or most skilled guy, and I finished somewhere in the top 30, well out of the professional field.

All of these numbers, however, and assurances from me still don't tell you the whole story. Riding your bicyle uphill can be quite hard. Coming back down and then running back up the mountain (400 m in 9 km) is even harder. I spent most of Saturday sitting in the passenger seat of the car, eating, saying things like: "It was quite difficult," in a meager, confused tone of voice.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Jens Loses It

Yes, we all love Jens Voigt. I've gone on and on about him in these pages before: he's strong, he's selfless, he understands that you have to attack and attack and attack (perhaps he's been tutoring Nicki Sorensen, and helped the aforementioned to his brilliant stage 12 victory—as the breakaway was about to reel Sorensen and Sylvain Calzati back into its clutches, I found myself saying "attack, attack, you've got to attack again," and, seconds later, Sorensen sprouted wings and flew away, the kind of thing that Voigt would have done).

I also love Jens because he just sounds like a genuine crazy man. Listen to his rant about cereal and food in Overcoming, or, for more immediate satisfaction, just tune into this New York Times website spot (anyone else notice that they NYT website has really come into its own recently?), in which four riders talk about what bugs them the most during a twenty-one day stage race at the center of the universe. If you only listen to one thing today while you're waiting for your Friday at work to finish, make it this audio post.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Single Speed

Yes, single-speed bicycles are hip (but not as hipster as fixies), and they have their applications. They'll make you a stronger mountain biker. They're perfectly fine for cyclo-cross (less chance of dropping your chain, too!). When an athlete becomes single-speed, though, something may be up.

At the beginning of Boulder Peak last Sunday, I felt flat and unmotivated. Toss in the fact that I slept brilliantly the night before, and I knew that something was up with my brain. Sleep well two nights before a race, but if you sleep well the night before...I don't think you're excited enough.

What followed was pretty easy to predict: I swam below my potential (even on a slightly long course...probably around 1650M) and cruised into T1 about 3:30 behind the leaders, way too much of a gap for an Olympic distance race. I biked well, making it to the top of Old Stage road in Boulder in around 26 minutes, one minute slower than my goal for elapsed time from T1 to the top of the hill. The next 18 miles, for contrast, took only 39 minutes. I biked solidly, but not spectacularly. The run, well, let's just leave it at the fact that I was able to outrun IM distance guy Bryan Rhodes, who greeted me at the finish line with a resounding "Jest croosing, mayte." Croosing indeed. Looking at my times, I basically raced half-iron pace: swam 1:25/100M (that's slow, actually), biked 24.8 MPH (slow, again, but there was a bloody big hill right in the way), and ran 6:13/mile, or right on my current half-iron run-split speed.

I'm a single-speed.

That's not that surprising, actually. After the frustration and disappointment, I realized that I'd done no specific speed work for about four weeks leading up to the race, as I acclimated to Colorado's altitude. The last hard workout I did was Boise, exactly one month prior, so I was pretty much racing on that work.

The solution? Well, other than the obvious, I've decided to mix things up a bit. I'm racing an Xterra race this weekend, in Beaver Creek, Colorado. I don't own a mountain bike. The last trail run I did still haunts my nightmares (The horrific Spring Runoff 10k at the Teva Mountain Games: my 59 minute split was only ten minutes off the leaders, to give you an idea), so I'm looking for the swim? I know, sounds crazy, but my difficulties with the swim are largely mental, so maybe a slightly less intimidating swim race will bode well for me.

On the other side? Race pays 8 deep, and ony 3 men are signed up thus far. Natch.

(I'm sure the field will swell by Saturday. Think of me on that day, as I try to climb 3600 feet in just a few miles)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Fit

Last November, at Clearwater, I was stronger on the bikel; had a lighter, more aerodynamic, faster bicycle; felt more focused and stable in my training environment; usually feel stronger than everyone else on the bike. The result? I was two-and-a-half minutes slower than the previous year. My watts were high (around 320 for 2 hours and 8 minutes), so something with position was wrong. I called Dean Phillips, at Fitwerx in Peabody, MA, for help.

Here's Dean, riding a very similar set-up to my current bike (Cervelo P3, HED Aerobar, Zipp 808 front and 900 disc rear). Dean is a wildly strong cyclist, but for all his power he's gotten faster over the past few years, as he's added some years, while his watt numbers have remained mostly the same. How? Well, he's a nutcase about refining his position, and he's had a lot of success using some very complicated aerodynamic protocols for testing that you can use on the open road. Like any good scientist, he's deliberate, exact, and controlled, and he uses the same techniques when you go to him for a fit. This below information may be boring as hell to the non-triathlete/time trial crowd, so I urge you to go and read Brandon Stafford's post on his excellent blog pingswept about leveling the floor in his partner's office. It's much easier to understand.

I'm posting this information not only to give a shout to Dean and Fitwerx's excellent program, but to dispel some myths about bike positioning. We've been conditioned to believe some truths:

  1. Lower in front is better. We're triathletes, not cyclists, but we look at Fabian Cancellara's 17 cm drop (that's the difference in height from the saddle to the aero bar arm rests, distance "I" in the figure above and table below) and think "I better go lower in front."
  2. Narrower in front is better. A narrow shape cuts through the wind with greater alacrity, right? Well, maybe not. We've got to remember that we're dynamic shapes as we move through the air, and things such as how the air moves around our upper arms and across our (literally!) cycling thighs change with different body shapes.
  3. Compact is better. A brief perusal of Slowtwitch's accounting of bike positions at Kona last year seemed to make the point that more compact will get you onto the podium. Again, that's probably true if you've got a body type like Craig Alexander or Normann Stadler. That kind of position might not work for Bryan Rhodes, Mike Lovato, or me.
OK, now look at the numbers that Dean found for me in an incredibly useful bike fitting session this past January. Numbers in regular font are my old position (Clearwater '08). Numbers in bold signify my new position. I've put in italics the three items I outlined above: saddle-to-armrest drop (I), armrest width (G), and length of cockpit (C).

Existing TT Position
Recommended Baseline TT Position

A Saddle Height over BB 79.8 cm
A Saddle Height over BB 80.3 cm
B Crank Arm Length 175 mm
B Crank Arm Length 175 mm
C Tip of Saddle to end of Aero Bars 77.0 cm
C Tip of Saddle to end of Aero Bars 85.0 cm
D Nose of saddle to BB +2.4 cm
D Nose of saddle to BB +2.3 cm
E Aerobar Angle 4 degrees
E Aerobar Angle 0 degrees
F Saddle Horizontal Tilt -2.5 degrees
F Saddle Horizontal Tilt -3 degrees
G Aero Bar Pad Width (Center) 21.25 cm
G Aero Bar Pad Width (Center) 22.0 cm
H Aerobar Size/Extension 35.0 cm
H Aerobar Size/Extension 37.0 cm
I Top of Saddle to Top of Armpad -14.5 cm
I Top of Saddle to Top of Armpad -13.3 cm

Let's talk about saddle-to-armpad drop first. Instead of getting lower in front, Dean raised my front end by 1.2 cm. That might not sound like a lot, but raising the front end opens up the angle between your torso and your thighs, and can improve your power output. Tradeoff? Well, you're higher in front. What do you do to go faster on your road bike? That's right, ride in the drops, lowering your front end. So, in order to counterbalance that move upward, Dean moved me outward, as in statistic C, distance from tip of saddle to tip of aerobar extensions, or, in shorter terms, the length of my cockpit. Dean moved my hands a full 8 cm forward. If 1.2 cm is significant in bike fitting, 8 cm is a galaxy of distance. Part of that number comes from the new HED aerobar Dean installed, the extensions of which are 2 cm longer than my previous bodily torture Profile Design standard-bend devices. But even accounting for that equipment stretching, I'm 6 cm farther out in front. Dan Empfield at ST is probably smacking his forehead as I write this, but here's what Dean has to say about it:

"For larger cyclists and triathletes, extending the front end of the cockpit can make air flow more easily under the arms and across the thighs."

Dean lengthened my cockpit, and then counseled me to keep my wrists twisted in, so my shoulders would shrug and come in closer to my body. This wouldn't have been possible in my old position, as my back would have arched up into the air. An arched back? I'll agree with Empfield that an arched back is the key to a slow bike split. So, if you're a big cyclist, maybe everything you've heard about being low and compact might not work for you.

The third myth I'm going to dispute is the "narrower is better" myth. Dean moved my armpads out 3/4 of a cm, again to facilitate airflow between my arms and out the space created between my arms and thighs. The slightly wider position also gives me a greater power platform against which to push.

The result of all this? Let's compare my bike split at Clearwater (2:08:29) with the winner's, Terrenzo Bozzone (2:01:29), exactly seven minutes. Remember, Clearwater is a perfectly flat course, supposedly my powergel and clifbar. Now let's look at the numbers from Boise.

Christopher Bagg: 2:10:40
Craig Alexander (winner): 2:10:09.

Not bad, I say. If I can bike in Craig's company, I'm sold. I believe Dean's fit is the difference, as my bike training hasn't been too different this past spring. Go and see Dean. Or at least remember that you are a unique athlete, and may not benefit from a riding style of what you see on the streets of Monaco.

Monday, July 6, 2009


The tour is off and rolling, with my prologue picks ending up somewhat suspect (sure, I picked the winner, but who didn't have Fabian Cancellara?). I didn't count on Tony Martin blowing the doors off or Roman Kruzeiger having such a great ride. The tour is now into its traditional first week sprinter's parade before we get to the first mountain stage. The first week of the tour provides great final seconds, but the run-up to the line usually consists of long breakaways, disinterested pelotons, and, in the words of's live reporter, "not a whole lot of action."

I'll take this lull in an interesting sport to return to triathlon for a few days and the particular importance of sleep. I wrote a piece for Cyclocross Magazine recently on the comeback of Alison Dunlap to the professional cyclocross circuit. Alison is a gifted athlete, no doubt, with 12 total national championships to her name and a world title on the fat-tire bicycle. Her greatest limiter? "Sleep," says her coach Jay Gump (weirdly, I know Jay pretty well from my time kicking around the Pioneer Valley; he runs Incline Training in Greenfield, MA, and has a lot to say about triathletes and how we can better take care of ourselves and our equipment). "Alison's most important workout, out of all her threshold workouts and sprints, is the '10PM' workout. She has to turn the lights out a 10PM and go to bed. No work, no internet, only recreational reading." Jay is a great coach ("He's a genius," Dunlap says) and we could all listen to his holistic approach. In my little work with him, he's counseled me to worry less about things like body composition ("some body fat will help you recover, stave off injury, and race for longer periods of time, so don't try to get down to, like, 3%!" he says) and worry more about focusing on having fun and getting rest. We all put in the training, but many of us eschew the little parts of racing, like changing our chains on time (more from Jay about this in a later post), getting proper rest, doing yoga, and eating correctly.

I just finished up a big week for me: 25 total hours of training, 40 miles of running, 225 miles on the bike, and 15K in the pool (that should have been higher, but the prologue party kept Amy and me out of the water Saturday morning). Complicating things was the fact that I wasn't getting great sleep (my sister was pregnant to bursting this weekend, and that plus moving concerns tended to flood my REM time over the past few days). Last night Ame and I hit the sack at, get this, 7:30. Yes, the sun was still high in the sky. We slept until around 7 this morning (Amy also put in a big week, finding about 20 hours of training while still doing her full time job). Today is the traditional athlete's holiday, with only about 2K in the pool on the schedule for both of us. We're both racing this coming weekend, so sleep at this point is the training priority—you can't make any more hay at this point, but you can make the hay you've got better hay (I'm reaching, perhaps, with that metaphor). So our goal for this week? 9 hours of sleep a night, ten if possible.

A final note: I've added a sponsor this past week: Newton Running. I've worked with Newton before, but now I've got a real deal with them. I've run my fastest 70.3 runs in Newtons, and like the effect they have on my gait (a little shorter, a bit more efficient). I'll have reports on their various models as I try them out over the next few months.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Handicapping the Prologue, Part Four

Phew! Last post on the Prologue (pre-Prologue, that is) which makes these posts some kind of Ur-Prologue, or Proto-Prologue. Here are the last of the twenty riders I see making a possible impact on Saturday, although most of the guys mentioned here are more top ten figures than top five types. I know little about them, so the posts here will be pretty brief. Go back to Part One if you'd like to review the rules of my little game, but essentially you're picking the top five riders in the prologue tomorrow. You get bonus points if you get any of the top three in the correct finishing order (it's a lot like The Kentucky Derby betting in that regard). Alright, without further ado (and there sure has been a lot of ado on these pages the past few days).

Gustav Larssen:Whoa, you're thinking. Gustav Larssen is a graph? Well, in prologues and time trials riders really are graphs. You aren't racing anyone but your own training ability, and here's a great way to see a rider's ability to push watts. I'd point your attention to the lower left portion of the picture, where you see the number "561" under "Avg. Watts." Yes, Larssen averaged 561 watts for an hour and twenty three minutes during the Solvang Time Trial at the Tour of California. He only came in 6th with that kind of effort. He is a bigger man (around 170 lbs. O.K., he's big for a cyclist), and that TT is pretty hilly, which will amplify one's watts. Still, holding that kind of wattage for that amount of time is nothing short of, well, remarkable. Larssen could, with a massive effort, squeak into the top ten, but I think there's just too much talent ahead of him.

Mancrush Factor: His wattage number are dreamy, and his name is Gustav, for god's sake. Rides for SaxoBank...hmm...a respectable 7.

EuroScore: Again, spiky, blond, goes by a Viking's name. Pretty Euro. 4.

Team Scandal Score: What have I been giving all these SaxoBank guys? 9s? 9.

Form: He is your Olympic Silver medalist, and he came in second at the Criterium International, behind only Jens Voigt. I'm gonna lend him an admirable 13.

Course Suitability: 5. Take another look at that graph.

GL Total Score: 38, putting him on par with Lance Armstrong? I may need to rethink my numbers.

Yaroslav Popovych:Popovych is a domestique with the abilities of a GC man, which means that he fares pretty well at the ITT. He was 4th in the discipline on the final day of this year's Giro. He's been in the top ten at the Tour before, in 2007. He can climb. He can certainly descend (he's got one of those awful Phil Ligget given nicknames like Contador's "Cobra" or something—maybe Popovych's is the Pelican, for his diving ability; that sounds like good old Ligget to me), doing things on downhills that scare the crap out of his peloton-mates.

Mancrush Factor: I like domestiques, especially if they're from Eastern Europe...Western Russia...whatever. 6.

EuroScore: Ukranians are a bit more willing to be continental, I believe. Ukraine isn't in the EU, but I'd append a big old yet to that description. They've had a democratic revolution (European) and then a terrifyingly Soviet attempt at assassination when President Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned. Poisoned! What is this, the late 1800s? Anyhow. Let's give Popovych a 6.

Team Scandal Score: Astana. 4.

Form: If you're riding in 4th place at the end of the Giro, you've got form. He hasn't raced much since then, but let's assume he's on the same kind of plan as Lance and figure his form is red hot. 13.

Course Suitability: Watching Popovych on this course will be fun, as his bravery on technical descents will net him some time through those tough corners towards the end. 5.

YP Total Score: 34.

Michael Rogers:Rogers is all the way down at 80-1 in some of the betting sites out there, which surprises me, as he's good on the TT bike. He's lower than George Hincapie, perennial bridesmaid, which also strikes me as odd. Hincapie is, what, 50 by now? Rogers is a three time time trial world champion, but he hasn't done too much recently. I do think he should be mentioned, however.

Mancrush Factor: Hmmm...Australian, tall. Kinda boring, though. 5.

EuroScore: Australians can sometimes be Euro, unless their names are, like, Cadel Evans. Witness my friend Tim Berkel, who looks like a girl much of the time. Rogers looks like he could be Euro, but he also looks like he could have stepped out of an Iowan corn field. 5.

Team Scandal Score: Columbia-HTC (anyone out there know who "HTC" is? I'm getting tired of typing it without knowing what I'm saying). Boring. 10.

Form: Gee, who knows? He was 8th at the Giro. Tired? In shape? 12.

Course Suitability:4.

MR Total Score: 36.

Jose Ivan Gutierrez: I'm slowing down, here, at the end of all this noise, so these last two might be kinda quick. Gutierrez has been Spanish National Champ at the TT, so he know's what he's doing. He deserves a look and will certainly be in the top 20 tomorrow, I'd say.

Mancrush Factor: He's Spanish, but he's listed in Velonews as 5'11.5." Who lists himself as 11.5 inches? Just have some huevos and call yourself 6 foot. 7.

EuroScore: The Spanish are quite European. They may even have defined the term, along with the Germans. 3.

Team Scandal Score: This is Alejandro Valverde's team, remember, and Caisse d'Epargne has never really been able to get out of their own way. How far away was Operacion Puerto? 5.

Form: 10?

Course Suitability: 4.

JIG Total Score: 29. Yikes.

Sylvain Chavanel: Chavanel gets in here ahead of folk like Vladimir Karpets (now there's a name. Dude should be a sketchy rug dealer) and George Hincapie because I like him, and he's the only person in France that seems to know how to ride a TT bike. He's wildly aggressive, in Jens Voigt territory, always trying, it seems to get a win for his country instead of his team. Chavanel alone seems to want to erase the many years of French mediocrity in the sport that country adores. Other French riders like Christophe Moreau and David Moncoutie seem to give the good old Gallic shrug at their MOP status. He's won his country's TT championship twice and always always always attacks, even when it seems there cannot be any hope of victory. He's the kind of rider you love to love.

Mancrush Factor: Anybody who gets out there as SC does has more than my respect: 9.

EuroScore: He's French, but he's really tough, and racing for a Belgian team. 7.

Team Scandal Score: Can you imagine what the QuickStep-Innergetic parties are like: mountains of Tom Boonen's blow abounding while all the other guys get bamboozled on Belgian brew? Yikes. 5.

Form: If you're going to attack all the time, your form eventually suffers. 11.

Course Suitability: Chavanel is good at climbing and descending, but I think someone with a bit more power might prevail on this course. 4.

SC Total Score: 36.

O.K., that's it! Leave me a comment with your picks. Winner gets virtual recognition.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Handicapping the Prologue, Part Three

Out of the following five riders, maybe one should find his way into your own top five. These riders display talent at time trialling, but maybe have dimmer GC hopes or less overt power on a bike with aerobars. Still, many of them are solid picks.

Kim Kirchen: Kirchen is an odd rider, with surprising highs and lows. He's worn the yellow and green jerseys in the TdF, so he's got talent, but he also displays a penchant for getting hurt. He's good against the clock but not outlandishly good, as this article from points out. He placed 2nd and 3rd in the time trials from last year (and would have done better, I believe, if a certain rider in blue and white hadn't appeared out of nowhere to crush the clock) and could pose a threat to the big time GC contenders from Part One. He's had a lot of adversity to fight this year, however.

Mancrush Factor: 5. He's one of those good, solid guys you never get crushes on. He's probably great at doing the dishes and taking out the garbage, though.

EuroScore: Kirchen is squeaky clean, a requisite for being Euro. His jeans drawer is probably out of this world. 3.

Team Scandal Score: Columbia—Highroad (although I think they're now "HTC", the new co-title sponsor. Maybe now they'll get rid of those awful Saunier-Duval knockoff kits). 10.

Form: Coming around, but dealing with a broken collarbone from the Giro. 10.

Course Suitability: For someone who is improving at the TT, climbing+technical can be difficult, although he did well in the straightforward (but up-and-down) long TT in last year's Tour. 4.

KK Total Score: a solid, if pedestrian, 32.

Thor Hushovd: The "God of Thunder" (could someone really have come up with a less inspired nickname for a dude named Thor?) has had a good spring, coming home to the Cervelo Test Team (best kits and bikes in the peloton, if you ask me). He won the Het Nieuwsblad this year (that race used to be called Het Volk) and a stage of the Tour of California. He's very good against the clock, can sprint, and sometime can get away in a breakaway. He's Norwegian, too. What more can you ask?

Mancrush Factor: As usual, I like riders that reflect my own tastes and abilities. Hushovd and I are basically the same size (he makes me feel better about myself when I see pictures of him on the bike and hear comments from the two riders drafting me like "He's like a double-wide!"), and we both like skinny bikes with extensions. He gets a 9.

EuroScore: He's Norwegian, blond, and spiky. Sorry, Thor. 4.

Team Scandal Score: I'm amazed the CTT is even a team, there's so little news coming out of their camp. They're not as squeaky as Garmin, perhaps, but I doubt there's much needling going on over at Cervelo. 10.

Form: He's done very little since winning Het Volk, so I've got to downplay his numbers a bit: 9.

Course Suitability: He does weigh 180 lbs, but he can also bend the cranks on his bicycle. 4.

TH Total Score: 36.

Christian Vande Velde: Despite the goofy, un-ironic Rock-n-Roll gestures deployed at left (or is Vande Velde mimicking Kevin Spacey as Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects, as Kint tries to make the devil horns in Agent Kujan's face while trying not to cry?), CVV has the tools to be a GC contender, which means that he needs to be mentioned here. He's recovering from some horrific injuries, but he got away from everybody during Stage 4 of Paris-Nice this year, and that shows that he's got some form in 2009. I think you'd be better suited to pick DZ as a #5 guy, but hey, you might like Vande Velde a lot, and he's one of few Americans to ever wear the pink jersey in Italy, courtesy of a brilliant TTT (note: not an ITT) in 2008.

Mancrush Factor: Meh. I've been reading the tennis news recently, and there's a touch of Andy Roddick to CVV: a few touches of brilliance and then a lot of, well, mediocrity. He does look good in pink. 4.

EuroScore: Vande Velde resides in Spain, which ups his ES a little bit, and his name sounds more Belgian than Midwestern (Illinois). In the above photo, however, he looks like he's auditioning for a spot on In Living Color's "Mo Money" sketch. 6.

Team Scandal Score: It'll be just my luck if it turns out Jonathan Vaughters (TD at Garmin-Slipstream) is spinning his riders' blood down every evening, since I'm talking so much about their dedication to cleanliness. 10.

Form: Gosh, who knows? 8.

Course Suitability: He can climb, and deals with technical stuff well. Knows how to mete out efforts. Might not be strong enough for this particular TT. 4.

CVV Total Score: 32

David Millar:How did I let Millar fall so far to this spot? He's presently running at 25-1 in the betting out there, which makes him four times as likely to beat CVV, who resides at 100-1 odds (that makes sense to me). Also, check out that kit! Is that pimping or what? He's totally putting whomever he's riding with to shame (that guy seems to have a selection of insoles sticking out of the left seam of his jersey, anyway). Millar is a strong rider and a moral exemplar, having returned from the darkness of doping (I hope). I believe him because he's got the zeal of the convert, although you could say you don't believe him because he protests a bit too much, youthinks. Who cares, with a disc wheel upon which the queen would be proud to roll around?

Mancrush Factor: Accent, and the ability to push 400 watts for close to an hour. Swoon. 9.

EuroScore: Hmmm, British, like BW, but pretty Euro in appearance and affect. I gotta split the diff on this one: 5.

Team Scandal Score: Garmin, Garmin, blah blah blah...10

Form: He cracked the top ten in the Tour of California's prologue, but that was a real prologue, and this is a TT, one of his specialities. He's not done much else of note recently, though...10.

Course Suitability: 5. He's got the power to make that first climb, sustain it through the middle section, and the savvy to get through the technical sections towards the end. 5.

DM Total Score: A very impressive 39, albeit inflated by his TSS. I still don't see him beating Lance.

Andreas Kloden: Kloden currently resides at 33-1 in the odds, but I kinda wish I didn't have to include him here. I used to love Kloedi (as he's referred to in Hell on Wheels, when Erik Zabel says, hilariously, "Kloedi's got cotton in his nose!" to a hideously beat-up AK. But then the whole thing with T-Mobile broke a few years ago, and the riders I used to admire (Kloden, Rolf Aldag) suddenly lost a bit of their lusters. There have been some rumors about Kloden that he just can't seem to shake, too, which doesn't help my suspicions. Still, he is quite fast on a TT bike, and deserves a quick look.

Mancrush Factor: I just don't trust the guy any more. 3.

EuroScore: German. Likes white sunglasses. Has a girl's name. 1.

Team Scandal Score: Astana, once again, is danger for me. 4.

Form: unquestionable, at this point. Many wins and top five finishes at this point in the year. No huge races, but he's been going quite well. 14.

Course Suitability: AK can climb, descend, and break his pedal spindles easily. 5.

AK Total Score: 27, brought low by some bad early figures.

Last five tomorrow! Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Handicapping the Prologue, Part Two

O.K., here's where things get a bit more interesting. The next five guys on the depth chart can win the prologue, but might not seem readily apparent, what with yesterday's five brilliant TT specialists. Who would have picked Stephan Shumacher last year (probably his team doctor at Gerolsteiner)?

Jens Voight: Jens is my favorite rider in the pro peloton, and I'm not saying anything revolutionary by pointing that out—thousands of people love Jens, and his performances on the road and in the documentary Overcoming continue to endear him to new fans. He is strong, aggressive, self-sacrificing, friendly, and manages to beat the odds more often than not. He lingers around the top of every TdF TT, and this course might suit him well. He probably won't win tomorrow, but he'll certainly find a slot in my top five.

Mancrush Factor: Obvious, isn't it? 10.

EuroScore: This is a tough one. Jens is pretty Euro, but he still doesn't quite fit my parameters. He's more Belgian than Euro, with his hardman reputation. Who can forget his "Don't mess with my food!" line in Overcoming? 6.

Team Scandal Score: Nothing doin' over at SaxoBank, unless you count Bjarne Riis as a perennial scandal. 9.

Form: Hard to say on this one. Jens has been pretty quiet this spring, but he's getting a bit long in the tooth, and he did win his fifth Criterium International in a row. He's also a steady helper, and I'm pretty sure he's in good shape. I also don't think he'd spoil Cancellara's day unless Fabian was having another bout of agita. 11.

Course Suitability: Is there a course that doesn't suit Jens Voigt? 5.

JV Total Score: 42.

Bert Grabsch: this photo should strike fear into the hearts of all those who are picking FC (including yours truly). How much power can Bert Grabsch put out? He's got that great, compact position and a trunk like, well, a trunk. He's the current world champion at the TT discipline, and could be a good pick to best the sapling-esque Alberto Contador or hunky Fabian Cancellara.

Mancrush Factor: 5. I don't know much about the guy, really, and he has a hard time winning races beyond the TT.

EuroScore: 5. He's German.

Team Scandal Score: Columbia-Highroad has been justifying its name all year, in wins and in staying out of the doping pages. 10.

Form: Grabsch did win a race recently outside of the TT (in the Giro, maybe?), and may be maturing beyond his single-minded abilities. 13.

Course Suitability: With a body like that, going up has to be a little bit of a detriment. 4.

BG Total Score: 37.

Bradley Wiggins: Gee, how did Wiggins fall this far in my estimation? He knows how to TT, and certainly could be an outside choice for that 3rd step on the podium on Saturday. Everyone knows how much the Brits love the time trial (the country is crazy about the track, which, like the time trial, is an odd form of cycling, probably analogous to drag racing:NASCAR), and they've got a lot of hope pinned to this guy, along with the admirable David Millar.

Mancrush Factor: I know I've been trying to keep it to one photo per rider, but I just couldn't resist on this one. Is Bradley also a member of some British Invasion band like SoftCell or the Culture Club? This possibility boosts his Mancrush score, if only ironically: 7.

EuroScore: Although British, a member of that freely floating, associated with no bloody continent clan, one look into those soulful eyes lets you know that BW would love to be...Dutch? 4.

Team Scandal Score: He rides for Garmin-Slipstream, the members of which sit around in their off-hours knitting argyle socks for each other: 10.

Form: Oooh, tough one. Haven't heard much out of BW all spring. He certainly gets up for opening day time trials, however, and prologues. He won the opening of the Dauphine in 2007 and came in second on the final day TT of this year's Giro. That's gotta help, especially seeing that the races were comparable distances. 12.

Course Suitability: I think BW would like things just a touch flatter. 4.

BW total score: 37. Even footing with Grabsch.

Denis Menchov: I've always had a soft spot for Menchov, and it was great to see him win something other than the Vuelta this year. Sure, people say he's boring, but he actually wins stuff, other than a previously mentioned boring rider. I'd say he knows himself as a rider, and although he's not as explosive (or doped to the gills) as Danilo DiLuca, he knows how to win. I think that the Tour de France is out of his reach, but he's certainly got to be mentioned in the time trials and rolling stages. On the other hand, he's already had to win a grand tour this year, and that's got to take something out of a rider.

Mancrush Factor: He's Russian, I like him! 8.

EuroScore: Russians, like Brits, freak out when you call them European. Just mention the term "EurAsia" around a Moscovite and see what happens, even if they do all speak French. 9.

Team Scandal Score: Ooh, RaboBank...the team of Rasmussen and recently disgraced Thomas Dekker? Eeeesh. 3.

Form: He won the Giro. He might be tired. 13.

Course Suitability: See the Cinque Terre TT? 5.

DM Total Score: 38. On par with LA.

David Zabriske: What's not to like, here? Creepy mustache (I think that's gone at this point, actually), former beard-wearer that made him look like Ewen MacGregor trying desperately to look like Alec Guinness. One time wearer of the yellow jersey in a year when LA competed? Holder of the fastest time trial...ever? Not a bad long bet, I think. He's currently residing at 25-1 (same as Menchov and teammate David Millar) and could be a solid 3rd-5th place bet. Dark horse winner.

Mancrush Factor: I've always loved Zabriske. I think CSC was a better place for him, but he's certainly committed to Garmin—Slipstream, which is admirable. Former roommate of Floyd Landis, though, which weirds me out a bit. 7.

Team Scandal Score: See Bradley Wiggins, above. 10.

EuroScore: The only thing that might make Zabriske European would be if Viking-style beards and Detroit-style facial hair counted as European. He is pretty skinny. 9.

Form: 81st place in final day TT of the Giro? 1'40" in arrears? 9.

Course Suitability: Recall the opening day, 21K TT in Brittany in 2005. There was a little climbing (over a bridge) on that one. 5.

DZ Total Score: 40, but that number feels a bit inflated, mostly by his EuroScore and placement on Garmin—Slipstream. Still, he's beaten Lance before...