I caught a little bit of today’s Tour de France stage as I ate breakfast before heading out for a shakedown cruise of my Ritchey Break Away travel bike. I’ve made some changes to its setup to try and make it a little more useful for an upcoming vacation that will see a few mountain-bikey type rides thrown into the mix. Lacking a mountain bike that I can easily fly with, I’ve essentially added some lower gears and some wider tires to make it more off-road worthy. As a cross bike my Break Away has always been a bit of a compromise, but the changes I’ve made to it have made it even more of one. Of course this complete lack of specialization contrasts harshly with what seems to be going on in the Tour de France these days. Not that I have any aspirations to enter the TDF of course.
In case you missed it, today’s TDF stage was a lumpy time trial that included 2 Second Category climbs. On paper it seemed to be an intriguing, mixed route as an aerodynamic time trial bike would be great for the descents, yet a lighter less aerodynamic bike would certainly be the hot ticket for the climbs. Seemed like a great course to force riders to make tough choices based on their strengths. I was interested to see how riders would deal with this.
Many did make some tough equipment choices. However, quite a few simply changed bikes partway through to more aerodynamic machines on the section of course that favored them. OK, it’s not against the rules, but seeing as how I live my life in a near-constant state of compromise this just rubbed me the wrong way. Run with the one you brung, right?
This sentiment was reinforced as I spun my new, fatter tires along the pavement out toward the hills on the first part of my ride. Damn these things spin slow (blame it on the equipment, not my old legs right?) – that’s compromise for you! But since it was a beautiful morning, nothing – not even extra rolling resistance – could dampen my enthusiasm. Like most Americans I soon forgot about the Tour completely as I began climbing a new (to me) singletrack section of trail that ascends a ridge to a gorgeous view across the valley toward the Santa Ana Mountains.
As I climbed I settled into a rhythm and for a moment was lost in switchback heaven as I Pantani’d my way up own personal Alpe d’Huez (devoid of any PED’s or Il Pirata apparel of course) to the summit. Well maybe I climb more like Jan Ullrich (once again, devoid of PED’s but similarly lusting for pastry) as I tend to grind and the slope was steep, but the roar of the crowd (of cars on the distant freeway) was deafening no matter my abilities. I reached the top, then turned around in pursuit of a guy on a mountain bike who had passed me headed down while I was on the way up. I skidded around corners at the limit of traction and shuddered across stutter bumps with my monstercross Ritchey in a vain attempt to catch him until I decided that I didn’t want to test my dental plan by pushing a bike whose frame is held together by two bolts past its limit (seriously, this bike is awesome anyway).
Victory was mine however, as I rode into the office and found a bagel waiting. With a fresh cup of coffee I settled in for a minute or two to read how the TDF stage had unfolded, only to learn that today’s winner and leader of the tour, Chris Froome, believes that a twisty descent in tomorrow’s Stage 18 should be “neutralized” if it rains.
Really? Is this the sorry state into which pro road racing has devolved? Racing isn’t just a test of VO2 max or who has the best prescription medication – it’s about heart, guile and less obvious talents too; sometimes even DESCENDING talent. I’m not advocating turning cycling into a death sport where people are getting killed on the roads, but just like I make compromises based on the quality of my dental plan perhaps Chris Froome needs to realize that he can just slow down if he doesn’t think he can handle the descent.
Of course this is just the opinion of a guy that skids around corners on a bike with a bolted frame, so consider the source. Am I completely off-base here? What do you think?