this is a thank you to one of my long-term sponsors, 720 Armour. they’ve been sponsoring me now for the past three years with their excellent eyewear. i know, i know, i’m bound to say it’s excellent but the 720 stuff has been great, their RX range in particular has served me well through thick and thin over that time, in some far flung places. for a blind bat who loves to break things like me, having dependable, rugged and zero-distortion prescription eyewear is of huge importance.
you can check their range here: download the catalogue for the 2014 stuff.
today i popped into their office in Taipei to meet with Laura Hsu, my sponsorship supervisor, and Daniel Hsiao, their project manager, and to pick up my urban wear 720 VITA glasses.
many thanks guys! let’s crank on to 2014 and some more wins!
this article originally appeared on The Roar…
The cobbles have returned. Those mighty old stones that nobbled the hobbled Frank Schleck in the 2012 edition of the race are back.
The stones are back, literally, with the exact same two kilometres section to be included along with another 13.4 kilometres to be included in the 2014 Tour de France.
The name Sars-et-Rosières à Tilloy-lez-Marchiennes may mean little to anyone but hardened Tour fans and the even harder, wizened farmers of the region, but you can be sure that the name is etched deep in the psyche of the aforementioned Schleck the elder.
When the 2012 route was announced it drew grimaces from many a rider not physically designed to withstand the bumps and grooves of the infamous pave, but there were a select few who would have given a little grin when they heard of the selection of the ancient roads.
Men like Thor Hushovd for one, who won the stage that sent Schleck to the emergency ward and left him cut and bruised and nursing a shattered collarbone that put paid to his hopes of helping his brother Andy win the greatest stage race in the sport.
Tom Boonen announced not too long ago that he’d most likely never ride the Tour de France again, but then he took one look at this year’s early race route and the desire to win on his favourite roads suddenly surged deep in his belly.
“To our own surprise,” said Boonen’s boss, Partick Lefevre, “in the past few days Tom has expressed interest in the Tour. He thinks of riding.”
Anyone with an IQ above five knows why, too.
We all know what Paris-Roubaix means: pain, suffering and a once-a-year possibility to step into the temple of the cycling Gods, to have your name scratched out on a metal plaque and put up in the famous shower room, alongside names like Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx and the others giants that have pummelled their bikes into submission over the old stones, taking charge of their destinies to emerge victorious in the Roubaix Velodrome.
Here, by design and a gleam of no-little mischief, is one more chance to shine on the stones.
The 2012 route drew criticism from many and derision from some, but there is no doubt that the majority of cycling fans – and just about all Classics fans – lauded the decision.
Should the cobbles be included in a race like the Tour? A race that is by its very nature is already incredibly hard to even complete, let alone win, an event that tests the riders’ nerves and determination to succeed above and beyond any other race on the planet?
The argument against says that having these stones in the race means that the riders are even further pitted against Lady Luck than they already are.
That the chances of a crash or a flat are incredibly high, both events that could see a genuine contender lose time, or, even worse, as in the case of Frank Schleck, sustain serious injury.
The nervous tension in every stage of the Tour is ridiculously high, the riders being tensed like a tightrope walker’s wire.
Sprawling riders have littered the early stages of recent Tours like so many of the bidons cast aside during every stage, and that’s been on perfectly rideable roads.
Riding the cobbles so early on in the race, when every rider is worried of losing time and where positioning is absolutely paramount every second of the day, will increase the stress on those already strung out nerves.
Alberto Contador, speaking at the route launch earlier this week, highlighted Stage 5, which will feature the pave sections, as perhaps the most important of the entire race.
And that shows just how critical this stage is. One false move and there is no possibility of rescuing yourself from a fall, a fact compounded by the irregular nature of the stones – if you fall there the chances of a sharp edge cracking a bone only increases.
This is the reality of the stones. There is simply nowhere to hide.
Riders like Contador and defending champion Chris Froome, slight men who are far more naturally built for the high peaks, get bounced around even more than most.
Froome had this to say about the perils of Stage 5:
“It makes it a bit more of a lottery but I’m sure, as a team, we will look into anything we can do to reduce the risks and limit any losses if there are any.
“It is something that will literally shake things up. For me the cobbles just represent more of a risk in terms of a mechanical failure or something going wrong and crashes but in terms of the race it will make it interesting and it is something else that we are going to have to prepare for and hopefully it could be somewhere we look at taking advantages.”
To their credit, neither Froome nor Contador have complained about the inclusion of the cobbles, and both seem intent to just get on with their job, a large part of which entails dealing with whatever road the organisers thrust under them.
Ultimately, this is how it should be. Some roads, such as certain climbs that have featured in recent Vueltas a Espana, are just plain silly.
They crush the race in terms of excitement, being too hard to allow riders to express themselves.
But the cobbles do just that. They are dangerous, for sure, and a little crazy, but then so is this entire sport. These are men, these riders, they are superstars, the best our sport has.
Let them ride. Let them suffer. Let them become heroes.
Some will fall, that is for certain, and one, two or even more may see their race over before it’s even begun. No one wants to see a rider injured, but this is the bare bones of cycling – it happens.
This is why they do it, and this is why they are here.
Bring on the cobbles, I say!
i was invited to attend yesterday’s press launch of the 2013 Taiwan Cyclist Federation ‘Tawian KOM Challenge’ that will take place this year on November the 9th.
this event goes from 0m to 3275m, from the ocean in Hualien city up to the top of Mt. Wuling. the last 8km is 17.9% average! it is brutal!
coming this year are two former Grand Tour KOM winners (TBA soon) and several very good climbers from around the world. should be a cracker!
here’s the TV release, featuring yours truly!
ah, found em!
MBC: Tales from the Knobbly Side, Part 2
Day 3: 53km, elevation unknown
Rumors round the dinner tent of rain and dropping temperatures brought a sense of dread to the competitors of the 2013 Mongolia MTB Challenge, as ahead of us the next day lay 148km of slog through rivers – 12 in fact – and swamps filled with a mud so black the sight of it alone sends a shiver down your spine.
After another cold night in the gers we awoke to find that the rain had indeed come but thankfully passed in the early hours. Still, it was bracingly cold and the day promised another long day in the saddle, anywhere from around 7 hours for the leaders to 10 hours for the folks at the back.
Still though, waking to the Mongolian landscape is something else. Going to sleep to it’s not bad either, with a canopy of stars that start at the horizon to send you to slumberland.
For me the day began with a lingering sense of dread, as I really do not like the cold and had been suffering, as you’ll know if you read part 1 of this diary, from some pretty chronic diarrhea on the previous two days.
Yet Day 3 brought with it good legs for once this race and I got off to a decent start, dropping off the hectic pace set by the big guns and settling into my own rhythm.
The route was more suited to my style with a long flattish section that allowed me to crank out a decent pace, with herds of goats, cows, horses and the rather magnificent and very hairy yaks gazing disinterestedly on.
Up a forested ridge the mud came, and with it two little bumps on the descent, as I headed headlong over the bars after outing too much faith in my burgeoning MTB skill – you just don’t encounter too many submerged rocks in road races…
At 50km I was still feeling ok, rocking along in my own little world somewhere in the top 25, when I was met with the first feeding station three kilometers later. A bit earlier than expected as it was supposed to be at km 55, but less expected was the gaggle of leaders who were stood around wearing their aluminum sheets (mandatory bike kit here).
Up ahead, I discovered, the river was raging so fully that it was deemed impassable - and that is saying something in this event.
“There is a family with some gers 8km back,” said one of the organisers. “We will cancel the stage and head back there to wait for the evacuation.”
Evacuation! When said in an Italian accent it has a ring of the romantic to it, but it turned out to be less than that – a lot less.
After an hour of pushing and some riding we arrived at a gathering of some 6 gers and piled into the first one. How many MTBers can you get into a Mongolian ger? About 40, as it happens.
And does it stink? You betcha. Sheesh, talk about smelling salts…
Two hours we sat there stewing in our collective juices before the ‘evac’ began, which entailed a 4 hour journey by Russian van to our next camp. A long, long day that, as we were up at 5:45am and at the camp finally at 8pm. And wow, was it cold…
Day 4: 125km, 1400m elevation
Ah! The legs have decided to return. For a few days there I was actually feeling my age. I was so not looking forward to riding down from our camp, at 1800m, and on into the valley in the cold that I actually took off my cycling gear twice before the start, fully intending to climb into the bus even before the stage start.
In the end though ego got the better of me – I just couldn’t give up. And so off we went, on this shortened stage (it was planned to be 175km but the previous day’s events led to the cut) at breakneck speed down the hill. Much to my pleasant amazement I I found myself in the lead group – for a bit – then remembered the previous day’s and backed off.
Still, the fear of flying downhill on 12-inch wide trails over rocks and wash-outs is receding, ever so slightly. Which is good.
I ended up in a small group of four for a time which became a chasing group of eight, which then again disintegrated as we plowed our lonesome furrows up a long, grassy climb that really tested the legs.
From there on it was down, down and then down some more, hurtling through the thigh-high grass over a very rocky line. Man, it was awesome, the wind sweeping the grass over the path, rendering it invisible at times.
Adrenaline? Main-lining baby!
And then we had the run-in over a hard-packed track with a serious tailwind and me and my two companions were really steamrolling it, hitting the high 40s over the trail.
Then it was a swoop off the track and a final 100m over a knobbly field for the sprint – which, again to my amazement, I won.
It’s heaven on an MTB, no less.
The winner today was Jason Sager of the USA (Jamis), with Mark Frendo second (Aus, Oyu Tolgoi) and Thomas Turner (Jamis, USA) in third.
Corey Wallace (Kona) leads the GC with Antonio Ortez at 6.30 minutes back and Mark Frendo a further 2 minutes down.
In the women’s race Catherine Williamson further extended her lead with another massive ride (and stage win) over Sonya Loomey. Erin Greene is in third.
Day 5: 90km, 1,655m elevation
The mornings! Man, they’re killing me, the alarm goes off and the eyes open in gluey slow-mo, stuck together with some kind of primordial substance that ekes itself out of your marrow, squeezed out by the cold.
Then begins the effort to reach out to unzip the sleeping bag, and it goes on, pulling on the layers, gloves, hat – cold weather makes every trip outside a military operation. Gotta take a wizz in the night?
You soon realize why piss-pots were invented…
Give me 35 degrees, shorts and a pair of flip flops any day.
Anyway, the race. Today sucked big time, with first a flat tire after 10km and then soon after an old knee injury in my old knee coming back. After coming in 15th place the day before I was up for this short, fast stage but no such luck. I quickly realized that if I pushed on I’d be risking a potentially greater problem, so decided after 20km to turn back to camp.
Only problem was that once I started heading back I quickly realized that I didn’t know which direction to head in. The race trail is marked out very well (generally – more on that later) but it only works one way – turn back and there are so many forks, because there are so many trails, that it would be far too easy to make a wrong turn.
Then you compound that first mistake with another and that’s it, you’ll be flashing the rescue helicopter with that make-up mirror before you know it – if your hands aren’t frozen into claws by then.
So I got back on the trail and made my way slowly up to the 30km feed zone, which sat magnificently atop a spaghetti western-type valley, told the guys there I’d be jumping into the van and settled in to wait for the last riders to come in.
And I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, after 2 and a half hours, the last guy came in, George S. Parerson. George and I have become friends over these last few days, and I cheered him on from the comfort of the van as the wind howled and raged outside.
George, an Aussie, is 60 in a few weeks and decided that participation in the MBC would be an ideal birthday present. There is proof, if it was needed, that George is a bit mad. He eschewed the Ducati, turned his nose up at two weeks on a Hawaiian beach, to come flog himself over several hundred kilometers on a bicycle on the Mongolian steppe – that is my kind of insane!
In my eyes it’s these guys that are the real heroes in all this. The guys at the front get my full respect but the heroic deeds are being performed by the folks who manage 90km not in 3 hours but in 7.
Marvelous stuff, inspirational.
The day’s racing was slightly ruined though when the top three guys, including race leader Cory Wallace, were sent off in the wrong direction.
Cory and his cohorts ended up riding a whopping and no doubt infuriating 140km as a result. The stage positions were then decided by the order of riders passing the second feed at 60km, but several riders felt hard done by when they found that their adjusted times did not reflect their position on the trail.
No winners were declared either, and the GC for both men and women remained the same. I got cut from the race list but will still be able to start tomorrow.
Day 6: 171km, 1730 m elevation
Finally, finally! The legs are back(ish).
Several of the experienced pros here have been referring to the route over the past two days as more road racing than MTB, and today provided more meat to that argument.
Two guys took off in the first 5km and then something like 40 of us sat in a double line peloton for the next 60km. It was so sedate in fact that I stopped twice to take a leak and easily got back on to the group.
At 70km we started though to climb up what felt like a never-ending series of plateaus, when boredom and over-eagerness got the better of me and I went on the attack with Spaniard Marcel Zamora, 5-time Ironman France champion.
Flowing along and feeling good for about 5km, my rear tire suddenly went soft. Damn my race number – unlucky 13 it really is proving to be.
I jumped off and got more air in the tire and chased back up to within 100m of Marcel, but that was as close as I got. The man was on a mission.
“He won’t last another 80km I thought.”
Shows what I know.
Just as I’d resigned myself to drifting back to the chasers, Juao Marinho of Portugal came along.
“Let’s go!” he said, and I figured why not – better to burnout than fade away, as they say of several dead, young famous people.
And so for the next 40km we nailed it, wailed it, sailing over those steppes like banshees on a mission – what the mission was escapes me as I spent just about all my time with my eyes focusing on Juao’s tiny Portuguese backside, less it begin to disappear into the distance.
With 30km to go we passed one of the early breakaway guys, then caught the last, though by now Marcel was long gone.
On a long downhill (which I am finding myself not at all bad at) I got clear of Juao and the other guy and ploughed along, hitting the hard-pack flat section in the big gear.
With 15km to go I could taste 2nd place! Sweet it was! But it didn’t last. 15km on a road bike is about 20 mins tops, at the end of a race with a flattish run in, but on an MTB you’re looking at more like 30-40 painful minutes.
With 10km to go I hit a hill, felt the legs whimper, and turned to see a phalanx of about 8 riders coming like Vader’s Imperial Guard – even heard the music.
And yes, they got me. Went by like I didn’t exist. Another guy passed me in the last 5km, though I was still pretty pleased to be stammering over the line in 10th, my legs thoroughly liquefied.
That 10th should satisfy me says something about the beating I’ve taken here. Onwards and upwards it is though, onwards and upwards…
The stage was won by some 2 minutes by Marcel Zamora, with Corey retaining his MBC lead. Catherine Williamson retains her lead in the women’s race.
George S. Paterson came in last, a good 10 hours after he started, to wild and heartfelt cheers from the entire camp.
Rock on George, you crazy diamond.
this race report was supposed to be on VeloNews.com but they seem to have forgotten about it, so here it is for your reading pleasure, or not, as the case may be.
this is not the 2nd part of ‘the skinny’ – this is just the racing part stuff. cheers!
Day 1: 120km, 2,300m elevation
No point talking about the exhaustion because I do not have the vocab to even get close to describe what is going on in my body right now. Suffice to say that I feel like I’ve been hit by a Hummer.
The day began well enough, holding my own for 27km with the big guys, including the 2012 MBC winner Cory Wallace, but then the diarrhea tablets wore off and the Mongolian countryside became far too familiar with the sight of my backside.
Seeing as there is barely a bush in this sparse landscape, never mind a tree, several of my fellow participants now recognize me more easily with my shorts round my ankles than they do when I’m properly attired.
But talk about a loo with a view!
The food poisoning compounded the after-effects of the influenza I picked up on my first day in Ulan Baatar – that’s what you get I guess if you go from 40 degree heat in Singapore, where I’d been racing in the Singapore National ITT and road race on the weekend before the MBC started, to a 2-hour ride the following Monday in 15 degree cold on the Mongolian steppe.
I surprise myself sometimes with what a delicate creature I am.
Anyway, I was battered. The legs had never been so bad on the bike, and this was, without a doubt, the hardest route I’d ever ridden.
In fact, it was only the second MTB race I’d ever taken part in – the last being 24 years ago, when I was 17.
And I go from years on the road to this. A 7-stage epic of a race over mountains and through rivers and literally into swamps, in conditions that range can range from dry heat to snow to blinding dust storms.
Talk about a baptism of fire.
In the end Corey showed his immense power and stamina by finishing some 8 minutes ahead of the second and third placed riders.
Catherine Williamson of Yorkshire, England, smashed the women’s competition wide open by coming in almost 30 minutes up on the second placed rider – awesome ride.
Me? 36th place, over 2 hours back. Spanked!
Day 2 – 128km, 1850 m elevation
Two things I haven’t mentioned yet. First is the country. Without doubt Mongolia possesses the most stunningly beautiful landscape I have ever seen.
In fact, to call this a ‘landscape’ doesn’t do it justice. It’s more of an ‘envelopment’. Surrounded on all sides by lush, rolling green hills with tracks leading off in all directions, there are no barriers here, save for the odd coral here and there. You can literally wander off into any direction you like and no one will ever stop you.
The people are immensely tough – they have to be to survive minus 50 degree winters, even in the city, where sometimes those who have no central heating gather in the sewers under the street for warmth, in their thousands at times, I’ve been told – but also very welcoming.
I was told that if you are in the hills and in need of rest or food, you can enter an empty ger, help yourself to food and take a nap, and when the owners return they will not wake you, but wait for you to wake up. Anything else is considered to be ill-mannered.
And their MTBers aren’t bad either – on both Day 1 and Day 2 the Mongolian-staffed GENCO MTB team has taken the team prize.
Second thing is the organization here that put together the 2013 MBC – headed by Italians generally and also heavily assisted by Mongolians, it is a work of industrial art. The instigator of it all, Willy Mulonia, came here years ago to ride and just wanted to share the magnificent sensation of riding through this land with others – so he started the MBC, a dream that took years to come to fruition.
It was one man’s dream that became one shared by many, and that, I have to say, is bellisimo.
So, the race. Started off good again, 35km this time with the leading pack of 12, my gut stuffed with more anti-diarrhea medicine than your regular drugstore carries, I was feeling good when, suddenly about 38km in, pop went my weasel.
It went better than yesterday but as a roadie I have to learn how to sustain my energy output. Road racing is all about conserving power then letting it out in limited bursts, whereas MTB racing is just a hardcore sustaining of strength that sits just at the rider’s threshold. I am in awe of these guys, and not just the front men and women, but the lot of them.
As I lag I get passed by rider after rider, as they stomp on the pedals and churn out the speed. On the downhills – where as a road racer you can relax and recuperate – the concentration levels needed to stay on the track are huge. There is no down-time, no dawdling at the back of the peloton, no taking a breather mid-pack.
It’s just full-on, all the time. Quite incredible. And in no short measure, very humbling. I didn’t think I’d come here and win but I did think a top 10 might be possible, but no chance! Sick or not, I am getting properly schooled here, make no bones about it.
After 12 river crossings and two very steep and grassy climbs, finally I got onto the last 15km stretch, a slightly downhill hardtrack with a tailwind – and finally I could release the roadie in me.
My form before coming here was decent – I won the Singapore National Champs ITT and put in a big effort to help my teammate Tjarco Cuppens win the 140km road race. Maybe it’s coming back?
With a 148km day coming tomorrow with another 2000m plus of climbing, and a 20km climb to end the day, I doubt it’d make much difference to be honest. Looks like another grueling day.
The day today was won by Pau Zamora with Corey Wallace losing very little of his huge lead in the GC.
On the women’s side of things, Katherine Williamson domination continued as she again smashed the field.
My Forza-CrankPunk teammate Kyosuke Takei of Japan sits very handily in 5th.
BIO: Englishman Lee Rodgers is a freelance journalist and sometime cycling pro who rides on the Asian road circuit with the Lapierre Asia Cycling Team, and is the writer of www.crankpunk.com, a site that chronicles his adventures and thoughts.
He also runs Crank Punk Coaching Services. He can be contacted via www.crankpunk.com.
yup, i shall be in the wilds of Mongolia with only intermittent internet connection from the 31st of august til the 8th of September.
how awesome is that? seriously though, it will be a nice break. all i will have to concentrate on is this mammoth b***h of a race that is looking ahead of me.
if you’d like an idea of what is coming, check this link: http://www.mongoliabikechallenge.com/en/recorrido/
and here is Day 1, Sunday. just a little matter of 120km and 2.300m of climbing. whoo….!
anyway, you can catch up with my reports on VELONEWS.com, there should be 3-4 of them on there.
thanks guys, and crank on!
the recent trip to Singapore for the National Championships afforded me not only the chance to race but also to meet up with three CPCS riders for a good catch up.
and, following the recent run of great rides by Ian Hilt and Tom SImonson, the racing there brought three more wins!
first up was Scotsman Donald McDonald, aka The Big Mac. Donald has been training with me for some 6 weeks or so and was aiming for a podium in the Masters ITT. after the race he reckoned he’d come in 4th (there was a delay due to timing problems), but a while later learnt he’d come 2nd. then he had the 2 man TTT, which – he won!
Donald was kind enough to thank me later on but it was all him, he did all the hard work. great results there Don.
next up was Serene Lee, the immensely talented Singaporean rider. Serene took part in the 2-woman TTT, and nailed it, coming in 50 secs up on the 2nd placed duo. again, a great ride Serene.
Serene was really targeting the road race but unfortunately a family tragedy meant she couldn’t take part the next day. all the best to her and her family, hope it all works out.
if i include myself as a CPCS client then i guess that is three wins and a 2nd place over the 2 days. not bad, not bad at all…
finally a shout out to Wei Wen, another CPCS warrior who was racing in my RR on Sunday in the U-23 category. Wen was riding very well until the last kilometers, when the change in pace meant he dropped off a little, but a great effort by him.
guys, you all made me very proud!
we were feeling good for this one, Tjarco and I, knowing after the ITT that we had decent enough legs, but the route was not exactly one to inspire confidence – not in me anyway.
the exact same route as the TT, it was 5km down a flat road to a u-turn, then back up 5km to another. i’m no sprinter and i knew it would be very hard to get away, as we were pretty much marked men in this race. the plan was for us to do nothing til the very end, when i’d try from 4km out and then Tjarco, a good sprinter, would take over if i failed.
but, as ever, the best-made plans tend to crumble when faced with the realities of bike racing…
after 105km of the 140km race we ended up in a situation where there were 5 guys up the road, two from the OCBC team and three others. they started shelling guys at the 30km to go point and still then had just over 2 minutes lead on the peloton, which was largely still together. irritatingly, they’d actually increased it by 25 seconds over the last 10km lap.
just before the turn Tjarco said to me “ok i’m gonna do a 5km chase., this lead is too big.”
i looked at him and said “no, i’ll do it, then you win – ok?”
without waiting for an answer i headed to the front after the turn and started to ride an ITT with 50 guys on my wheel. after 5km the lead was visibly down, after 10 it was under a minute, and 5 later we had them.
then the attacks began, with Tjarco covering them, sometimes me. all during the chase for those 15km i kept thinking ‘ok after we catch them i will drop off, job done’ but i couldn’t seem to do that. the legs were hurting but i wanted to help Tjarco in any way i could. that is the great thing about riding 100% for someone else, it frees you completely.
with 4km to go Tjarco says he needs a lead out. damn. well, ok, let’s see what happens! this is it boys, do or die time!
i get on the front with about 1.5 km to go and get my head down and thrash, i’m going fast but fading slightly, when suddenly my friend Adam Taylor-Campbell of the Mavericks pops out in front of me in a bid for the line. perfect timing. i chase his wheel then thrust past him and with 300 to go, still with my nose in front, Tjarco bursts past on the left and i sit up, straining like a meercat to see whose arms go aloft at the line.
and mine go up too. i catch him on the turn and we hug and he immediately thanks me for my work – i tell him it’s a good flipping job he won! or there’d have been trouble.
and there it was. after excellent early work from Stephen Ong and a teammate I just met and whose name I cannot remember, and from Michel Velasco, despite having been injured for weeks, and from Tong Yong Kun, this was truly a team win in this usually individualistic sport.
i got 20th, the pack having been shredded, but it was the most rewarding and satisfying race of my career, after the Tour de Taiwan points classification.
and a word to the OCBC guys – not a great idea to keep attacking the bunch when you have two guys up the road – that’s a certain way to make old men very grumpy indeed…
one last word to our beleagured manager, Brandon Teo. there may be raised voices, there may be stress, but at the ends of the day, when the job is done, it all comes together! great job, Mr. B! and a huge thank you to all our sponsors, including the team sponsors Lapierre Bikes, Wishbone wheels, CCN Clothing, Monotine and Bryton, as well as my personal sponsors: Lezyne, Specialized, 720 Armour, Infinit Nutrition, Ritchey, Selle San Marco and Xtreme Endurance.