Looking for Mr. Boonen

28 02 2011

I have to thank DVM for inspiring today’s rant blog. His suggestion in Sunday’s musings about the Belgian semi-classics that I check out cycling.tv to easily watch live bike racing from Europe gave me license to vent some frustration about this online webcaster. So what started as a reply to his comment has now morphed into a full-blown post:

I was a longtime subscriber to cycling.tv. Heck, I remember when they showed the Tour of Burkina Fasso. I remember when they showed the Omloop and K-B-K, Paris-Nice, as well as many other races for free, and their Tour de France “coverage” consisted of a panel in a studio watching the race on a laptop and making pithy comments; but they had a good trivia contest going on and I managed to win a Rapha jacket.

This is what you see when you go to cycling.tv. Don't be seduced.

When they went to a paid service, I gladly ponied up my $100 (our exchange rate was worse then) as it was the only way I could watch these races in the comfort of my home, with english commentary. The problems started when they launched a re-engineered site right at the start of the Giro and it was fraught with technical issues. Then races started disappearing off their schedule or were scaled back to highlight shows. Other races inexplicably became unavailable to North American subscribers due to rights issues, even though those races were otherwise unavailable to us via any other media outlet (I suspect the people at cycling.tv just couldn’t afford them).

The last straw for me was last year, when they had barely any races on their service, and of the few they did have, many were relegated to audio coverage only. Seriously? I’m paying for cycling.tv, not cycling.radio.

I have their site bookmarked, and I check occasionally to see if they’ve got their act back together; but when they’re asking me to pay $80 and can’t provide a schedule of upcoming races so I can determine whether my money will be well spent, I am amazed anyone signs up at all.

I love the idea of cycling.tv. It’s the kind of niche content that is tailor-made for the internet as even with the plethora of cable sports channels we have on television, none of them can see the value in programming to a small, dedicated and affluent audience of cycling fans, with most live programming available at times when it wouldn’t conflict with their more mainstream properties. But the current proprietors of cycling.tv have managed to destroy much of their credibility with hollow, vague promises that they don’t fulfill and sent most of us fleeing to cyclingfans and steephill, mining their links to live race coverage and possibly learning a little Dutch, Spanish or Italian along the way. They can be hit and miss too, but at least the misses aren’t costing me money.


Appreciating the “Hard Men”

28 02 2011

The European cycling season is officially underway.

So while we were dealing with this:

Our roads are a mess after four inches of snow fell early Sunday morning.

The pro peloton was in Belgium, dealing with this:

Walking the cobbles of Flanders.

While there have already been races in Italy, France, Portugal and Spain, and cash-grab races in those cycling hotbeds of Qatar and Oman, the real season begins in the rolling hills, narrow country roads and cobbled climbs of Flanders.

The Omloop Het Volk and Kurne-Brussels-Kurne aren’t considered full-on Classics like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix; they’re more like regional races that attract a lot of the pro teams to prepare for the big northern European races that will come later in March and April.

I’ve been especially looking forward to these races this year, not just because they’re a harbinger of spring, but mostly because I now have a familiarity with riding those country roads and cobbled climbs.

The Omloop started and finished in Ghent, where we spent a week last October. And the K-B-K included some of the climbs we tasted during a very cold and wet ride escorted by our cousin Filip and his brother Kristoff.

Katie concedes to the cold, rough climb up the Oude Kwaremont.

Like any athletic endeavor, watching it on TV (or in the case of most cycling races, in a little window on my Mac) doesn’t do the reality justice. The climbs like Oude Kwaremont and the Kruisberg aren’t terribly long or impossibly steep, but the cobbles and ruts beat you up. If it’s wet, it’s hard to get traction. If it’s cold, your legs scream with ache and your fingers numb. String six or ten of those climbs together, mash a huge peloton onto their narrow confines, throw wind and rain into the riders’ faces, and you gain a whole new appreciation for why it takes a “hard man” to be successful in the early spring in Belgium.

The “real” Classics begin in exactly a month, with Ghent-Wevelgem, then the Tour of Flanders on April 3 and Paris-Roubaix a week later. In between will be the week-long Paris-Nice and the one day Milan-San Remo in Italy. I’ll be getting up early for all of them, scouring the internet for online video feeds.

On frozen pond

25 02 2011

It’s been a beautiful, sunny day. The roads are dry. It’s my day off. So why isn’t this post about today’s ride?

It's a beautiful clear day.

It also happens to be freakin’ cold!

So cold in fact, the water in the lagoons near our condo is freezing over.

There's ice in them thar fountains!

That doesn’t mean I didn’t think about riding. After all, it was gloriously sunny and dry. And after a week of sloth due to the cold weather, I was itching to get some exercise.

The roads are dry, but a little water on our garden hose is frozen.

But a few moments in the chill was enough to sell me on the idea of keeping warm today. All day the guilt gnawed at me.

As I drove around doing some errands before hitting a matinee, I kept an eye on flags and street banners, willing them to flap in a stiff breeze so I could chalk my lack of fortitude to a withering windchill.

But the breeze was barely discernable.

I kept an eye on the roads’ shoulders for signs of ice, or excessive salt, so safety could be my excuse.

But the roads were quite clean.

I drove past signboards with temperature readouts on them, willing them into double digits below zero.

Alas, they were only one or two degrees in the negative realm.

I convinced myself no sane cyclist rides when it’s below zero.

Yet when I was going to university in Ottawa, I would regularly bundle up to skate on the Rideau Canal when it was 30 below. And I enjoyed it!

Face it, 20 years on the West Coast have turned me into a wimp.

Guilt finally caught up with me late in the afternoon and I went for a run up and down the boardwalk.

A bridge too mysterious

19 02 2011

The only thing rarer than a riding day in February, is two consecutive riding days in February.

But with the sun still shining, I managed to squeeze in another late afternoon 51 km dash.

Well, it was hardly a dash. A headwind from the west made the ride out seem interminable. It also made it feel a lot colder than yesterday.

That sun and bright blue sky means it's cold.

But the molasses-like outbound speed was redeemed on the homeward leg with the wind now at my back.

Since I started taking the river route, I have been mystified and intrigued by the old railroad swing bridge that spans the river. It’s a relic from another era, with creosote timber trestles approaching at each end. It’s still operational, as I’ve seen trains in the area before, but it’s always open when I ride past it.

The old railway swing bridge on the way home.

Which is what mystifies me. The control office seems to be in the middle of the bridge, high in the superstructure. But if the bridge is always open by default, how does the operator get up into the office when the bridge needs to be closed for an approaching train?

If the bridge is open, how does the operator get to his perch?

Seize the day

18 02 2011

It’s that time of year when Mother Nature really likes to mess with us.

It can be winter one day, spring the next, back to winter, then leap ahead all the way to early summer. Sometimes all those seasons happen in one day.

Just the other day, it was Spring.

Which is just what happened on Thursday.

In the course of a few hours out and about, I encountered sunshine, a hail storm, sleet, rain, wind, ice and snow. And in the evening we even had a bolt of lightning and a clap of thunder!

So a ride wasn’t even on my mind this morning when I got up.

I had a dental procedure scheduled first thing, and since it involved freezing, much scraping and some sort of laser beam, I figured I’d be waylaid for the balance of the day. I fully intended to hit a matinee.

But with the sun shining brightly, and warmly, on my face as I walked to the dentist, a ride suddenly seemed possible. My planned hour-long session in the dentist’s chair lasted only 35 minutes and wasn’t a total horror show, so I hustled home and kitted up.

The roads were remarkably clean and dry considering the crazy weather that blew through yesterday. I’m really not a fan of the gritty sand and salt that’s left behind, especially along the shoulders, after a brush with winter.

Today, there were still remnants along my route of yesterday's brush with winter.

I legged it out and around UBC and still felt fresh enough on the ride home to pop into my favorite bike shop, Jubilee Cycle, where they swapped my pedals onto a BMC RaceMachine they just got in so I could take it for a test spin.

Today I test rode one of these.

The BMC’s are definitely on my list for consideration should I decide to air out the credit card and get a new ride, although the RoadRacer model is more in my price range.

I did a 3 km loop, with a bit of a climb. It was my first time on an all-carbon bike, and I was impressed with the smooth, quiet ride; with that massive downtube, I expected to hear a bit of road buzz. The hefty bottom bracket sure was stiff; my pedaling felt extremely efficient. Although, I’m sad to report, it didn’t make me any faster on the uphill.

The bike was equipped with SRAM Red, which was another first for me. The double tap shifting took a bit of getting used to, although the gears were responsive and quick. It’s a nice looking groupo for sure.

Last week I eyeballed Pinarello, Look, Focus and Orbea bikes.

But every time I consider a new bike, I keep coming back to Lapierre. Their Xelius and Sensium models just look fast. Nice color schemes as well. But the nearest dealer is a five hour drive away.

But I still find myself coveting one of these.

I’ve been in touch with that shop, and they’d be willing to bring one in for me, but until I’ve actually seen one in person, and test-ridden it, I’m leery to commit. Plus I’d feel disloyal to the guys at Jubilee.

One option might be to order the frameset, then build it up locally. It would likely end up costing me more in the long run, but I’d be certain of getting the total bike I truly want. And I’d be able to still throw considerable business to my local guys.


Turnabout 2.0

15 02 2011

Katie says she’s jealous.

That’s because I went for a run this evening, and she did not.

Instead, she’s cooking dinner!

Oh my, will the irony ever end?

Throughout our years together, Katie has made it quite clear she’s not about the cooking. Her culinary repertoire consists of eggs, and variations of eggs, with the occasional foray into pasta dishes for my birthday.

Katie's wearing her baking apron while cooking. But there is dough involved.

But last night she arrived home with a big shopping bag full of groceries and announced her Valentine’s gift to me would be dinner tonight (I cooked last night).

Now I have no idea what she’s making, but it does involve a lot of chopping of vegetables and poaching of chicken. There also appears to be some sort of dough involved. And every pot in the condo is being deployed.

While I’m enjoying the respite from cooking duties, I must admit, I’m feeling a little out of place. I’m just not used to being inactive early in the evening. In fact it’s a little disconcerting to hear Katie’s little expressions of exasperation or confusion as she wrestles with her chosen recipe. I offered to help, but apparently I am banned from the kitchen.

So I decided to go for a run.



8 02 2011

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. Thereby sparing the blogger from a need to write.

This was this evening’s sunset.

Red sky at night...

Flanders redux

6 02 2011

It’s been a busy week.

I managed to hit pretty much all the exercise buttons; trainer ride on Monday, trail ride on Wednesday, run on Friday, and my first road ride of the season on Saturday.

With my bones still aching from the regret of not having taken advantage of Friday’s balmy temperatures, I hustled to finish my work in time to squeeze a 50 km ride in late Saturday afternoon. Squeeze being the operative word.

The morning had flirted with the sun, and the afternoon showed promise. It was weakly trying to crack through the cloud cover when I rolled the Orbea out the front door at 2:30 p.m.

But that was as good as it got.

As I chugged up the hills of New West, the clouds started to thicken. By the time I reached the Burnaby-Vancouver border, the sky looked distinctly wintery; I felt like I was in Flanders again.

In honor of the cool, grey skies, I wore this jersey from an amateur team in Flanders, gifted to me by our cousin Martin.

Riding through Burnaby is like driving through Ontario; it takes forever.

Once you hit Vancouver though, it’s a cruise. And with the sky darkening, the ride became a race against time.

It was also getting colder.

But my lungs were loving the cool, damp air. My legs were loving the burn. It was full-on dusk when I returned to the condo, an average speed of 24.38 kmh, not bad for the first ride of the new year.


I am Irony Man

4 02 2011

Oh cruel cruel irony.

I should have ridden today. The thought crossed my mind. The overnight rain stopped early this morning, and it was mild – apparently record mild. Heck, the sun was even trying to break through the carbon grey overcast.

But the roads were still wet. And the wind was picking up. So that’s how I justified a “city day” instead of a ride.

It’s been a while since I had a “city day,” likely before Christmas. They can be good for the soul, surrounded by people all hustling to and fro with purpose, plenty of shopping to bedazzle the eyes and tempt the wallet, lunch out, maybe a movie.

Those were my intentions when I set out this morning. I remained steadfast, even as the sun cracked through to shine guilt upon my shoulders.

When I reached downtown, I took care of a couple of errands, fueled my belly with a veggie burrito, then my mojo withered.

The roads were drying, the temperature balmy. I couldn’t decide on a movie. I didn’t want to spend any money, as that could eat into my New Bike Fund.

All the way home, I tried to justify my cycling neglect; I’d walked a lot, I climbed stairs instead of rode the escalators, I really did need new underwear.

But I still felt defeated.

What's wrong with this picture???

So it was with no small measure of irony this evening that as Katie climbed onto her bike for an hour-long session on the trainer, I laced up my sneakers for a 40 minute run. Wait a minute, who’s supposed to be the cyclist here????


Conquering the down-up

3 02 2011

The evening trail ride is a big commitment.

By the time I jockey the car parking and loading of the bike, drive out to UBC, then drive home again, it’s two hours of logistics to achieve one solid hour of riding. And that’s not even counting the post-ride clean up that’s inevitable this soggy, muddy time of year.

I could save gas, two hours of driving, catch up one episode of True Blood, and not worry about getting muddy and cold by pedaling an hour on the trainer. Or I could still get the exercise burn by pulling on my sneakers to go for a 30-minute run and still be home in time to catch Entertainment Tonight.

After a tentative rebuff earlier in the week from one of my riding buddies, I was resigned to one of the latter options Wednesday.

But when Dan had a change of heart and called to ask if I was in for an evening trail ride, I didn’t hesitate.

It was cold enough to put on the booties, but at least it was dry.

Dan and I met as riding buddies. One of his work colleagues had joined our little group of mountain bikers who rode the trails out at UBC and the occasional excursion up and down Burnaby Mountain. The colleague’s interest waned, but Dan kept coming out.

Embrace the up, don't fear it.

One fall, as the daylight and riding season faded, we all decided we’d get lights and keep riding through the dark winter season. Back then it was a big deal for us to descend down to the beach as that meant an arduous climb back up. The “dreaded down-up” we called it.

I’m not sure why we feared it; it’s only about a 100 meter climb after all.

Today, I can’t remember the last time we didn’t do the “dreaded” down-up. Sometimes, when the weather’s warmer, we do it multiple times.

On my own, I once did it five times. After all, I”m all about the “up.”