No Muur too steep

25 02 2016

We live in a hilly part of the world.

And since we reside along a river that is at sea level, we are at the bottom of those hills. All of them.

That means every ride is going to involve some climbing.

Sure, there’s a couple of gradual inclines along marked bike routes that will carry you gingerly beyond the city’s borders with just a little effort. But most of the roads that follow the contours of the city’s geography shoot upwards quickly and sharply.

None more so than the Muur van Third Avenue.

While less than half the length of the famous Muur van Geraardsbergen in Belgium, which is often the decisive climb in renowned races like the Tour of Flanders and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the Muur van Third Avenue shares a similar profile.

The foothill of the real Muur, in Geraardsbergen, Belgium. At least our Muur doesn't have cobbles.

The foothill of the real Muur, in Geraardsbergen, Belgium. At least our Muur doesn’t have cobbles.

It’s average gradient over 300 metres is 13 per cent, but its early slope pitches as much as 19.2 per cent.

The 1,000 metre Muur in Belgium averages 9.3 per cent with a maximum pitch of 19.8 per cent.

The Muur van Third Avenue has mocked me, tantalized me for years. It confronts me every day, as it’s right along the route to Little Ring’s daycare.

From afar, it doesn’t look so bad.

But stand at its base and look up, you might crick your neck. The ascent begins immediately, mercilessly. The middle 200 metres never pitch at less than 10 per cent, rarely level to less than 15 per cent. Even cars in first gear strain to climb it.

The Muur van Third Avenue is so intimidating, only 33 attempts to climb it are recorded on Strava, dating back to 2010.

Today, I became number 34.

Seeing as I was too busy huffing and puffing my way up the Muur van Third Avenue, I employed a stand-in to recreate the ascent later. The Muur pitches as steep as 19.2 per cent.

Seeing as I was too busy huffing and puffing my way up the Muur van Third Avenue, I employed a stand-in to recreate the ascent later. The Muur pitches as steep as 19.2 per cent.

I don’t know what possessed me to give it a go. The weather this week has been outstanding, the sun warming, invigorating. With my earliest 100 km ride already in my back pocket on Tuesday, maybe I just needed another achievement. And this one was handy.

It's not the only way to get out of town from our riverside condo, but the Muur is likely the steepest and most difficult.

It’s not the only way to get out of town from our riverside condo, but the Muur is likely the steepest and most difficult.

My speed up the Muur won’t challenge Guy WR, our FR Fuggitivi patron and reigning King of the Muur, but my thighs didn’t explode, my lungs didn’t burst, my Garmin didn’t even auto pause.

Apparently the effort drained me of my healthy pallor. But it was triumphant nonetheless.

Apparently the effort drained me of my healthy pallor. But it was triumphant nonetheless.

And it was a good warmup for a solid morning of climbing, up Burnaby Mountain, up again to Discovery Park, then across and up out of the Central Valley. Before the long gentle coast downhill. To home.

Might as well keep the climbing going on such a gorgeous February day. This time, atop Burnaby Mountain.

Might as well keep the climbing going on such a gorgeous February day. This time, atop Burnaby Mountain.

Advertisements




The Program a capable artifact of cycling’s most divisive era

23 02 2016

Last fall, two geeked-out biopics were released in theatres.

One, Steve Jobs, had the weight of A-List stars like Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet and top-drawer writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle.

It got the full red carpet treatment, breathless coverage of its premiere on Entertainment Tonight.

The other was released everywhere but North America.

That’s because it’s about a bike racer.

Not just any bike racer, mind you.

The Program tells the story of Lance Armstrong’s remarkable and ultimately illusionary rise to the sport’s stratosphere, and his precipitous plummet into scandal and deceit. It’s told from the perspective of an Irish sports journalist, David Walsh, who wasn’t buying into Armstrong’s myth-building. He smelled something rotten and his nose proved prescient.

It’s got some decent talent behind it as well; Ben Foster plays Lance, Chris O’Dowd is Walsh and noted biopic specialist Stephen Frears directs.

Ben Foster plays Lance Armstrong in The Program.

Ben Foster plays Lance Armstrong in The Program.

But bike racing barely raises a blip in North America, especially since Lance’s demise. So while audiences in Britain, Turkey, Israel and even Iceland were able to see the film months ago, and it’s already playing on some international flights, we’ve only just seen the trailer pop up in iTunes. The film will finally be released here on March 18, although how wide that release will be is still unknown. I’ve yet to see an ad on TV.

As it’s opened around the world, reviews for The Program have been mixed.

Being the impatient sort, I managed to find a copy of the film.

So I watched it.

The Program is a capable film. It’s got some excellent performances, by Foster, Denis Ménochet as Johann Bruyneel, and Jesse Plemons as Floyd Landis.

Rather than drill deep into aspects of the Lance story, as Sorkin did with Steve Jobs’ rise, fall and resurrection, The Program tries to cover the whole damn ugly thing from Armstrong’s breakthrough as world champion to his Oprah confessional. Significant moments, like Lance’s cancer diagnosis, treatment and ultimate comeback fly past the screen in moments. Key characters in the Lance narrative, like Frankie and Betsy Andreu, whip in and out of the movie, rarely leaving much of an impression. Turning points like Armstrong’s connection with notorious druggist Michele Ferrari, or his hubris to comeback and try for an eighth Tour de France yellow jersey are treated more like vignettes. If you’re waiting for a cameo by Sheryl Crow or her likeness, you’ll be disappointed.

But the true test of any sports film, especially one that’s based on a true story, is its ability to engage that sports’ fans, who will be extremely sensitive to any fault or license with accuracy that might quickly take them out of the movie, release their belief. And here Boyle and his production team succeed admirably.

There’s not a lot of actual bike racing scenes in The Program. But the ones that are there are nicely filmed, not overly-choreographed. Filling out the production’s peloton with former pros like Andreas Klier, Thomas Dekker and Servais Knaven might have something to do with that.

The designers pay remarkable attention to detail, faithfully recreating the kits, bikes and even team cars through the Lance era. It would have been easy, and much cheaper, to fudge over some of that stuff; but that would have immediately alienated those film-goers who also happen to be cycling fans.

If nothing else, The Program works as an artifact of one of the most exciting, transforming and divisive eras in professional cycling.

There’s no spoiler alerts for The Program; we all know the arc of Lance’s story, how it turns out.

Unfortunately there’s no new information or revelations in Boyle’s treatment that would have made great coffee stop conversation on the next FRF ride. Or cast a wide enough net to draw all but hardcore cycling fans or Lance anti-fans into the multiplex.

Catch this one as soon as it comes out; it will likely be gone the next week. That’s not an indictment of the film. Just the reality of cycling’s place in North America’s sports’ consciousness.





Into the abyss that is Delta

16 02 2016

Delta is cycling’s Bermuda Triangle.

Cyclists enter its tangled weave of suburban courts and cul-de-sacs and are never seen again, lost and confused in its spaghetti serving of random bike routes that begin and end abruptly, non-existent links, and signs to nowhere.

Maybe it’s a sly civic scheme to increase population and the tax base; eventually all those lost cyclists give up, put a down payment on a an early-70s rancher with aluminum siding and the next thing they know they’re signed on for pick-up no-contact hockey down at the Sungod Arena.

Delta’s boggy soil ensures bike routes are turned routinely into lakes after a day or two of heavy rain.

Traversing a flooded bike path after three days of heavy rain. Much of Delta is on flood plain, so the soil is already pretty saturated.

Traversing a flooded bike path after three days of heavy rain. Much of Delta is on flood plain, so the soil is already pretty saturated.

It’s where tires go to die.

Rare is the ride through Delta that doesn’t involve at least one flat. Maybe that’s because the bike lanes are rarely swept, left littered with gravel and shards of glass. And the rural routes are pocked with potholes and heaved hardtop.

Last year I famously popped both the front and rear tires simultaneously when I ran over a rock I didn’t see until it was too late. Today I lost the rear tire when a puddle of broken auto glass jumped up from the bike lane on the Alex Fraser Bridge, the gateway to Delta’s Hades.

The Alex Fraser Bridge is not the most fun place to have to change a flat tire.

The Alex Fraser Bridge is not the most fun place to have to change a flat tire.

But survive all that and you’re rewarded with some lovely rural riding, past potato farms, horse stables and a variety of quirky farmhouse architecture. As well as one of the finest breweries in the Lower Mainland’s booming craft beer scene, Four Winds. All against a distant backdrop of city skylines from Vancouver, Burnaby and New West that constantly peak above the flatlands.

Four Winds brewery is one of the area's most renowned craft brewers.

Four Winds brewery is one of the area’s most renowned craft brewers.





Feeling the burn

12 02 2016

I’m feeling the burn.

I may be out of work, but I’m not out of shape.

Unshackled of the demands of employment, I’m free to take advantage of breaks in the usual winter doldrums.

If I'm riding on a beautiful Tuesday, I must still be unemployed...

If I’m riding on a beautiful Tuesday, I must still be unemployed…

Luckily for me, we’ve had plenty.

When the sun comes out and the roads are dry, it’s easy to step away from the computer for a morning or an afternoon to clock a few miles. It’s also therapeutic.

My January mileage  of 471 km was more than double any previous January.

February is also off to a good start with 200 km already in the legs, including three straight riding days this week.

Early-season rides are typically short and flat. The spin is more important than the burn.

But this year, I’ve already managed two rides greater than 85 km and climbed a total of 5,106 metres.

Usually those kind of numbers aren’t achieved until late March, or early April.

It's been such a mild winter, the crocuses first started breaking through the ground in late January.

It’s been such a mild winter, the crocuses first started breaking through the ground in late January.

It’ll be fun to see how this head start plays into the meat of the riding season. Presumably the halcyon days of riding at will won’t last forever, or else I’ll have bigger problems to ponder.

But already I’ve noticed the benefit of my additional winter fitness on the road hockey court; I’m keeping up better with the younger speedsters, my shifts last longer, deeper into the games, I’m not knackered for the rest of the day.

I’m fit and ready for anything that comes my way.





Seizing opportunity

1 02 2016

Winter riding is about seizing opportunity.

When the rain takes a break, the roads dry and the cold winds off the ocean calm, it’s time to pull on the tights and head out.

A break in the weather, if not the cloud cover, allows for a spontaneous day out on the bike along a favourite winter route.

A break in the weather, if not the cloud cover, allows for a spontaneous day out on the bike along a favourite winter route.

Not having a job makes that kind of spontaneity possible. Having a small cadre (well, one) of fellow post-employed journalists who also happen to ride, makes it enjoyable.

After a sparse December, January turned into a cycling bonanza.

The month started cold; in fact I wore four layers and then some for our annual FRF New Year’s Day outing.

But a clear schedule and some clear days offered great opportunities to build base mileage, more than double the distance I’d ever been able to achieve in previous January’s. The early-season riding is keeping me fit and my spirits elevated as a I continue to plough towards my next career.

It’s been four months now since my newspaper closed. Resumes are out there, but have yet to bear fruit.

But I remain confident some opportunity will present itself. And I credit some of that confidence to being able to get out and ride; getting on the bike feels productive, it brings that sense of accomplishment that can often go missing after a long day of mining job sites with no results. The cold air in my lungs and warm burn in my thighs gives me energy to press on, clears the frustration that can set in. And the swelling Strava stats set me up for a good season when it’s truly riding weather.