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Archive for April, 2010

Unicycles

I was sitting in a little plaza in Girona the other day, tucking into a gelato and enjoying the dream, when a dude on a unicycle with arms outstretched furiously pedalled his way past me. It got me to thinking: Has there ever been a worse invention in the history of mankind?

Think of any other mode of transport with no brakes, no gears and no steering. It is less efficient and more dangerous than walking, and also looks awkward. At least cigarettes give you a buzz.

The average unicyclist has taken quite a bit of time to garner the skills necessary to be able to ride the stupid thing, and then they’re limited to furiously spinning their legs around with their arms sticking out like they are balancing on a tightrope. There’s a reason why the Penny Farthing has been replaced: there have been quite a few advances in self propelled, wheeled technology. And yes, I will admit that old Vespas, Fiat Cinquecentos and Mustangs are such stylistically cool looking machines that their relative lack of performance compared to today’s machines is a minor detail. Unicycles are the precise opposite of this: a perfect storm of zero style and negative functionality.

But then I happened across something worse than unicycles: stunt unicycles.

There is a small troupe of stunt unicyclists in Girona. X-unicyclists perhaps? They all seem to be wan with lots of hair, wearing various types of hard wearing rugged urban jungle-type cargo shorts, and elbow and knee pads. They also have special mods on their x-unicycles – extra padded seats and a shock absorbing seat post.

I only wish that I were creative enough to have made these people up. Firstly I’d be super creative, and secondly, these X-Games rejects wouldn’t be cluttering up various parks in Girona, dragging the generally cool vibe of the place waaay down.

It seems most of their tricks involve a similar series of steps –
• Riding to the edge of a drop, doing that little backwards-forwards thing they do for a few seconds,
• Dropping off the edge,
• Gaining a great deal of speed in the process of the drop (“Galileo who? Isaac Who-ton? Dude I’m too X-Treme to be worried with your lame science mumbo jumbo” I can almost hear them say),
• Furiously trying to pedal as quickly as the wheel is spinning (pesky x-unicycles and their fixed-wheeledness),
• Discovering they can’t pedal as quickly as they need to (being the rejects of X-Games events, which are the rejects of proper sports, this lack of athletic talent isn’t a huge surprise),
• Jumping off the x-unicycle
• High fiving their mates who are still doing that back and forward wobbly unicycle thing on their x-unicycles.

A less cool series of stunts I have never seen.

See? It’s not all sunshine, roses and happiness over here! We have confronting stuff to deal with too.

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Roubaix, Baixby!!

Paris-Roubaix.  Hell of the north. The Queen of the Classics…

There is a great deal of hype out there about the latest and greatest event taking place.  When it comes to Roubaix, the expectation and the event itself meet.  This is a brilliant bike race!

A quick rundown – the riders originally rode from Paris all the way to the velodrome in Roubaix, which is a town just outside of Lille.  They now start a little way up the road, but still travel 260km.  Part of the course was (and is) over virtually unused farmers’ tracks made out of cobblestones. There are 27 such sectors today, and the cobbles are so difficult and dangerous to ride on, that despite it being a virtually flat race, it never ends in a mass sprint – I’m not sure if more than ten blokes have hit the velodrome together before.

The cobbled sectors are known as Pavé and to explain them is to inevitably fall short and fail to show how very harsh they are.  Despite this, I’ll have a crack!  The roads are the width of a car as a maximum.  They are made of cobblestones that are about the size of a fist.  The variability in fist sizes between people is paralleled in the stone size variation too.  The stones are not set together tightly, but instead have gaps of the width of one to three fingers, depending.  Add this very harsh road surface to the fact that they are very rarely kept up, and so there are potholes, upthrust stones here and there, and a road camber that is at times so harsh that cars bottom out on the middle of the road, and so must drive with one wheel on the centre of the road, and the other off the side in the grass and mud.  It is ridiculous!

The fastest we managed in the car was 50kph, on one of the early “easy” sectors.  There were times when the car felt like it was going to be shaken apart and we were doing 25kph maximum.  It’s not even comfortable to walk quickly on it – you feel like you’re on the brink of spraining your ankle at every step.  Suffice to say, it is dead hard to ride a bike over, and dead cool to watch professionals ride their bikes over!  Thus there are thousands and thousands of fans lining the cobbled sectors – particularly the final fifteen or so, with many of them being described as “disaster tourists” as they congregate at points on the road where there is a better chance of a crash happening (at sharp corners, really bad potholes, dips in the road, etc).

Anyhoo, my job on this day (after doing standard physio prep stuff the days prior, as well as strapping the boys in the morning before they got going) was to be at various sectors with spare wheels and spare drink bottles for the boys.  The roads are so crappy that inevitably people will puncture and break wheels, and the only way to keep them in the race is to get a change to them as quickly as possible.  As the pavé sections are so tight, the following cars have no chance of making it to the riders quickly enough to allow them to change wheels and remain in the race, so the riders have to try and limp to where someone from the team is waiting with spare wheels.  Atop this, the road is so bumpy that water bottles get jounced out of their cages, and so the riders need to be able to replace their drinks quickly and easily for the same reasons.

My partner for the day was Joachim, aka J-Quan, one of the team soigneurs, and we were accompanied by a couple of VIPs in the back seat.  We were to cover five different sectors, all with between 35 and 55min between scheduled time for riders to pass.  J-Quan drove, and I navigated (with a super detailed map and the Garmin).  The difficulty was that the race coursed all over the place to find the pavé, and the course was closed when the riders were nearby, so we had to be quite flexible with our directions…  This entailed me yelling out town names to keep an eye out for, and yelling “LEFT NOW NOW NOW!!!” and stuff.  Great fun!

As the day progressed, and the riders started to fall off the back, our time between sectors got tighter and tighter, as we were waiting for some of our boys who had dropped off, but needed to make it to the next sector in time to get wheels and bottles to our boys in the front group.  Very hectic juggling act, and great fun.  At the first sector we were at (number 25) it was funny seeing the boys bouncing along, giving us a wry smile and nod as they rolled by;whilst by our third sector (number 16 – they count down from 27 to 1) there was no deviation of the head or bike as they grimly rode on.

For the team, we had pretty much as bad a set of things happen to us as is possible – firstly we had three of our riders hit the road after a rider in front of them crashed, and then we had another, separate crash involving one of our stars, as well as a broken wheel, and a futile attempt to chase back to the front group.  And all of this carnage occured in the space of 5 of the 7km where the race started to blow apart as the big hitters made their moves.  Some genuinely bad luck for the boys, making it impossible for them to be contenders, but thankfully it seems that everyone came out of the race not too badly beaten up, and in the context of the full Spring campaign, we performed superbly – two TT wins, an individual stage win, a general classification win, and a top five in Flanders.  Very niiiiice!

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February Chills

End of Feb Tallies

Countries  – 3 (2010 Total 4)

Hotel Days – 7 (Total 25)

Hotels – 4 (Total 6)

Flight Distance – 2126km (Total 23258km)

Drive Distance – 3063km (Total 3720)

So January was all sunshine and roses.

And then… KERTHUMP!  Along came Europe in winter in all of her furious unpredictability!  My first night in Girona was one of the very rare times that it snows in town.  We’re very close to the Pyrenees, so on clear days you can see snow on the mountaintops deep into May, but snow in town is rare.  I’d love to have photos to show, but I was too freakin cold to be worrying about such!  Not only was it super cold, but Mands and my central heating had drained of water while we’d been in Australia, and so there was not only no hot water, but also no heating.  Ohhh the joy!

And then for the final indignity.  Upon opening the fridge I realised my schoolboy error when, after dutifully emptying and unplugging it back in October, I then closed the fridge door.  A wonderful breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria and germs.  So I also had the awesome task of cleaning the fridge and freezer out with boiled water while I awaited the central heating dude to come and rescue me.  Not my most triumphant return to business ever!

As for the team, we’ve been a little in the wars, as has most every Pro team at this time of year – sketchy road surfaces, high wind, cold hands and not yet being fully in the swing of things means that crashes happen a lot more regularly than any other part of the year.  One rib, two collar bones and a scapula (!!!) in the space of a week had us all looking to the sky wondering what would come next!

One of our boys was so bad he had to get his shoulder fixed up at a guru surgeon up in Belgium, and I went up to make sure we were on the right page as far as rehab expectations, and also just to make sure that the poor bloke wasn’t stuck in a foreign airport a day after an operation and finding out the hard way that he in fact wasn’t ready to head back to the team base.  Not a bad diversion for a day I guess!

My other trip was down to the Volta ao Algarve , which is on the far side of the southernmost end of Portugal (translation: frickin MILES from Girona).  I drove down at warp speed, gaining first hand experience of the Spanish version of “driving to the prevailing conditions” which apparently translates to “drive as fast as your car goes at all times.”  The photo is of the road just after I’d woken up to notice we were still shifting along at well over comfortable speed.  Needless to say I drove the majority of the way!  The racing was intense, with two of the boys needing to have their wrists worked on after a 200km+ day when they’d cramped from being on the brakes so often through the day, as well as a couple of big crashes, leading to stitches for one, and a bunch of skin off for another.  Another day in the office!

Algarve is a beautiful part of the world, though, and if you’re ever looking for somewhere nice and a little out of the way, I’d suggest it strongly.  The town we stayed in, Lagos, sat next to some truly gorgeous cliff formations (like a more close-up, intense version of the Twelve Apostles off the south coast of Australia).  I had a run out there, got distracted by the beauty, and ran for the longest period of my life.  Coolness!

<iframe width=’465′ height=’548′ frameborder=’0′ src=’http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/25454355′></iframe>

I think that should make the page show the details of the run, but we’ll see.

Until next time, then.

Tobes

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Allrighty.  So I have been meaning to keep people in touch with what’s been going on, and have heard about this “blogging” thing ever since about 2004.  I’m now getting it together.  I’ll start with some stuff that I wrote, but never sent.  Things will catch up to the now quickly enough.  But I feel for posterity’s sake (like posterity is an entity in and of itself, and if it were, would give a hoot as to what I did or didn’t do.  Hubris.  Pure hubris!) I should send the stuff from the earlier part of the year.

So here is episode one…  (and a photo of me while living through “episode one”)

TALLIES AT END OF JAN

COUNTRIES – 2

HOTEL DAYS – 18

HOTELS – 2

AIR DISTANCE – 21096km

DRIVING DISTANCE – 657km (this excludes at race stuff – too hard to keep up with it!)

A quick recap on 2010 to date – Had the BIG Engagement party in early Jan (and thanks to all who came along – it was gratifying seeing so many of Mands and my family and friends there, many from a long way away).  And then it was straight to Adelaide for the Tour Down Under.

Tour Down Under is pretty much as cool a race as it is possible to do – we are based at the Hilton Adelaide for the full length of time that the race is on, transfers to and from the start and finish are no longer than 2hrs ever (and didn’t we complain about THAT day!) there is a big shopping centre right where we stay so all provisions are easily replenished, the mechanics have a big work area… it’s just cruisy!  And then the dream continued – we were offered a corporate box at the Masters tennis a couple of nights before the race itself started – so we got to watch McEnroe and Rafter take each other on.  It was dead cool!  And hilarious seeing McEnroe throw a couple of tanties!  He’s still angry.  It’s still great to watch!

The race itself saw the foreign staff all keep a beady eye out for any native wildlife.  You forget how exotic kangaroos and such-like are to foreigners until you hear how excited they are by “those pretty pink and grey parrots!”  Of course we then tried to spot a roo in the wild, to no avail, but one feed zone in Nowheresville, South Australia, happened to have a pen with a couple of emus and roos or wallabies in it.  A very exciting moment for a lot of the staff!  And then at the finish some local lobbed up with a koala in swaddling clothes.  Random.  But once again, very exciting for our foreign visitors!

I have a video of me trying to explain the local wildlife to my friends on the team.  Let’s see if I can attach it to this page…

http://www.slipstreamsports.com/2010/01/19/video-aussie-wildlife

I hope that worked!

Anyhoo…  Luckily the  new boys on the team integrated very well – we have a good bunch of workmates! (ahem… I was… ahem… quoted in the Adelaide paper as stating the team has a “no dickheads policy”… so classy.  So professional!)  We were up the road a lot, and got a lot of time in the press, but unfortunately couldn’t bop a big result.

A good result, though, was that one of our boys managed to sneak in to eighth place on the final day criterium circuit using time bonuses on the intermediate sprints.  The reason why this is important is that the teams are ranked on their results in the early season, and this ranking determines where the team car is placed in the race convoy for the one day races held in March & April.  Obviously if you’re more than ten cars back, the time it takes for a car to get to the front of the convoy and help out the rider in whatever way they need, the race is often already run for them.

So we then packed it up, headed back to Sydney for about 36hrs, and then jumped on a flight from Sydney to London to Madrid to Alicante (an ugly, ugly journey of some 40hrs including transfers, etc) so that we could go to the last few days of the team training camp, held in Calpe (which is a little town south of Valencia).  The weather there was as good as you could hope for Europe in winter – 18-23degrees and sunny!  Very nice!  So in all, an excellent return to racing for me, and for the boys from the Tour DownUnder.

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