BMC’s Very Bad Day at the Tour de France

Setting the Tone

The blood bath of the Roubaix stage started early. It changed the Tour even before it was expected to do.

Porte (BMC Racing) is out. An unfortunate early crash put an end to his Tour hope for the second straight year. That it happened even before the cobbles is even more unfortunate.

For all the fretting about the dangerous narrow roads in Brittany and before the peloton even hit the cobbles, it’s a reminder how dangerous professional bike racing can be, how it’s often not the course, but the riders (and I’m not blaming Porte by any means) that make the race.

Porte and Rojas’s (Movistar) abandonment change the dynamic of the race. It’s again up to Nibali (Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team), Quintanna (Movistar), and maybe Thomas (Sky) to challenge Froome. Alaphilippe (QuickStep Floor) might be in the mix too, but Froome’s route to the top step of the podium just got a whole lot easier.

Cobbles

The cobbles bit early and hard. Bardet and Greipel both had mechanicals on the first sector (15)—as did one of the riders in the early break. Both Bardet and Greipel had teammates near so the damage wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it along with the Porte crash served to put the peloton on notice. And for Bardet it would be a foreshadowing of things to come.

Other early victims included Groenewegen (Lotto Jumbo) who was caught up in a bad crash exiting a section (13). His crash may seal his fate of not making it through the Alps.

After that, it became easier to keep track of who didn’t crash. Or flat. Or break a wheel. Or themselves.

Deep into the Cobbles

On Sector 4, Greg Van Avermaet attacked with Landa group chasing. He got away with two other riders—John Degenkol (Trek–Segafredo) and Yves Lampaert (QuickStep Floors) and despite Sagan’s best efforts and despite Gilbert trying to chase down his own teammate, it was to be the move of the day. Even Greipel tried his hand in bringing the three back. Problem was of the three—two of them were past winners of Paris-Roubaix. And they worked well together—because they knew what it takes to win Roubaix.

For the rest of the groups, it became day of survival and hoping to limit losses as well as licking of wounds.

Winners

Besides John Degenkol, other winners of the day were Froome, Quintana, Valverde, and Gaviria. QuickStep didn’t get the win, but they got in the final break, shut down Sagan, and despite Gilbert’s freelancing, generally rode as a team.

Greg van Avermaat. He holds his Yellow Jersey, showed a lot of grit, and at least got something for BMC Racing on day that was otherwise a disaster.

Movistar. They survived and in doing so stopped the bleeding of their early mistakes.

Trek, finally getting a good cobblestone win.

Losers

Landa, Bardet, and Uran. Tejay van Garderen. Not sure why van Garderen gets his own line, but he does.

BMC Racing.

Heading to the Mountains

There are a lot of teams who will be severely depleted heading into the mountains. What BMC Racing does for the rest of the Tour is a mystery. Maybe they’re fooling themselves that Tejay van Garderen will get into and stay with a break that claws back a good chunk of his six minutes? Right, that’ll happen. More likely Damiano Caruso will win a mountain stage for BMC.

 

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Tour Take 3

Team Time Trials, all Time Trials are boring TV watching, but they have a huge impact on the Tour de France podium and on the stages in between. Today’s Stage 3 Team Time Trial was no different. Yet, at least three stages in the next week may make the Team Time Trial moot.

BMC did what it had to do. Sure they only picked up a few seconds on Sky, but given that nearly all of the team except Richie Porte have 50 seconds on Froome, those seconds will count. Tejay van Garderen and Greg Van Avermaet might be distracting enough to keep Sky on its toes. Add in that everyone associated with BMC is riding for a job next season and things could get interesting. No one but Porte is a real podium threat, but even van Garderen can be a distraction to Sky if he has 50 seconds on Froome especially on a stage like Stage 6. Or he and Van Avermaet can team up on Sky in Stage 9?

Done

Movistar is done. Or at least Nairo Quintana’s chances of winning the Tour are over. Done.

Niabli (Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team) will be doing nothing other hunting for a stage win in the mountains. Or maybe Stage 5, 6 or 9. But he like everyone else will have to get through Peter Sagan or QuickStep Floors on those stages.

Stage and Yellow Jersey Hunters

Sagan and his BORA – hansgrohe team lost time, but realistically they never had a real chance at holding the Yellow Jersey in Paris. Expect Sagan to hunt for and nab more than one stage win all next week—most likely Stage 5, 6 or 9—or all of them.

And we can’t discount Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and just about all of QuickStep Floors to make a run at yellow on Stages 5, 6, and 9.

All Bets are Off

There’s a lot of danger in the next week of racing for Froome and his continued reign on the top step of the podium in Paris. Beyond the competitors, the narrow roads, the punchy climbs, and the pavé pose challenges to not just Froome, but also every contender. That Sky is a bit on the defensive having lost 50 seconds on Stage 1 and not being able to crawl back much if any of the time on anyone but Niabli and Quintana will make Stages 4-9 full of vicious racing as BMC, QuickStep Floors, and Sunweb looking to put Sky in the gutter.

And then there’s Stage 10 looming after what could be a blood bath of Stage 9.

Winter Clothing in Summer

Smart cyclists buy clothing off season. Add in the Tour de France sales and doing so just make sense. Over the past few weeks I’ve picked up two winter clothing items.

First is Castelli’s Gabba 2 Short-Sleeve Men’s Jersey. Second is Gore Bike Wear’s Men’s Power WindStopper Softshell Short-Sleeve Jersey. Both feature some version of Gore’s Windstopper. I’ve been a big fan of Windstopper since I raced as a grad student at The Ohio State University. Mostly I liked base layers since I could still wear my short sleeve race jersey. But now that I don’t do much racing and live in South Louisiana, I figured I’d give full on Windstopper jerseys a try. Add in TdF sales and I got two for basically the price of one.

Fit and Finish

Castelli Gabba 2 front
Castelli Gabba 2

The Castelli Gabba 2 fits traditionally Castelli and that means sizing up for most of us Americans. Add in a fabric that’s heavier and less stretchy than a typical jersey and the Gabb 2 fits even a bit tighter than most Castelli/Italian brands. It’s snug. Really snug.

And yep, I said “heavier.” The Gabba is no lightweight. It’s got some heft to it and inside feels a touch rubbery. I’m not sure I’d wear it without a base layer of some sort–tune in sometime in February or maybe January for some long term testing.

The Gore Bike Wear’s Men’s Power WindStopper Softshell Short-Sleeve Jersey feels quite a bit lighter than the Gabba 2. It also feels a bit softer and not quite as stiff as the Gabba (I haven’t put the Gabba 2 in the dryer on low, which is supposed to soften it up.) And the Gore fits a bit less like it was designed for pro racers with 3% body fat and small frames. If you’re like me and have a bigger build and could stand to lose a few pounds, that’s a good thing. One thing I’m not sure about the fit on the Gore is the sleeves feel a bit long, but that might change once I get on the bike.

Gore WindStopper SoftShell Jersey, front
Gore Bike Wear’s Men’s Power WindStopper Softshell

Like the Gabba 2, it has a zipper flap, but it’s on the inside. Just trying the two jerseys on and walking around in them, I like the inside zipper flap on the Gore jersey. And there’s more zipper fun. The Gore has a nifty little zipper pocket at the collar that lets the zipper tuck in. It gives the jersey a bit of cleaner look. Again, long term testing will tell which design is better–though it looks like the Gabba 3 will have a similar design.

Both jerseys feature a tall collar, though the Gabba 2’s is a bit taller. One thing that’s nice about the Gore’s collar is that it has some contouring to it. It’s scalloped in the back, giving some room for riding with your head up a bit. Again, tune in sometime in the winter to see if it makes any difference.

The Gore’s back pockets are a bit of mixed bag. The center one is made of the same material as the main jersey while the two side pockets are made of a thin stretchy material that may prove troublesome once filled with stuff like keys, small wallets, gels, bars, etc. I haven’t seen a Gabba 1, but they may be similar to the pockets on it and that may be a problem.

Both the Castelli and the Gore feature a longer tail, which may be nice in wet weather, but may complicate things for those sizing up in the Castelli.

Aesthetics

Gore Windstopper Softshell Jersey, back
Gore Bike Wear’s Men’s Power WindStopper Softshell

Both jerseys are red. I like red. Both come in other colors if you don’t like red. The Castelli Gabba is a pretty understated design and I like that. It has the Castelli scorpion on the sleeve and center back pocket along with Rosa Corsa on the chest with a slightly darker stripe running across the chest for a bit of design. There is some reflective piping along the back of the jersey as well.

The Gore Power WindStopper Softshell is also pretty understated with the exception of the bold “WINDSTOPPER” reflective lettering  along the spine of the jersey. I’m 6 feet tall and a bit wide so I can already hear the jokes. But, it’s an ok way to add some low light visibility on the jersey (maybe a lazy way that no Italian designer would ever do, but…).

As you can see the back of the collar is also black for a bit of contrast. And there is some reflective piping above the pockets.

If you like team logos, it looks like Castelli offers versions of the Gabba 2 in team Cannondale colors.

Final Thoughts

Both jerseys seem like they’re quality pieces. It’s currently 90 degrees and 99% humidity in Louisiana so I have no idea how they’ll deal with cold wind and keeping out drizzle.

So yeah, I live in Louisiana, but the temperature ranges of these jerseys–high 40s to 60s is pretty much our winter. It’s humid here so temps often feel a bit lower and it’s windy in the winter; I’m looking forward to trying both of these jerseys out. For me, something that cuts the wind is as important as insulation, especially on tempo or higher rides.

I’m not sure I’d spend $150 plus for either, but if you can catch them on sale they look like good additions to your cycling wardrobe. Add in the slight waterproof aspect of the Gabba 2 and the Gore jersey and they beat out windstopper type base layers, unless you have no plans to ride in the wet.

 

 

 

Automatic Shifting for the People? Changing Cycling one Shift at a Time.

I’ve been riding for the past two or three weeks in eastern Massachusetts and while the locals tell me it’s not hilly, for someone coming from southern Louisiana I beg to differ. Mostly I’ve been riding in Myles Standish State Forest, which gets me anywhere between 900 and 1,200 feet of climbing over a 25 mile ride. What eastern Massachusetts lacks in long mountain climbs it makes up for in short punchy climbs that often have short stretches of 10% grades (up and down). The takeaway, it’s the kind of road riding that rewards momentum and smart shifting to maintain it or to take advantage of the quick grade changes.

And that takes me to electronic shifting. I have it and like it despite having been a bit of retro grouch before getting it. (Disclaimer, I rode thumb shifters on my mountain bike well into the late 90s and only made the switch when the guys from GripShift (now SRAM) pried the thumb shifters from my cold but not quite dead hands.) Riding where the terrain requires frequent shifting and frequent double shifts, I’ve grown even fonder of Di2. Shimano was at the forefront of bring electronic shifting to the market and they are pushing the horizon–perhaps in directions that will change cycling and what makes a cyclist a cyclist.

The big change in electronic shifting isn’t SRAM’s wireless system (and it’s innovative, don’t get me wrong), but rather Shimano’s Di2 Synchro Shift. It has the potential to change cycling in ways that wireless shifting doesn’t. Leonard Zinn has a great explanation over at VeloNews of how S2–full Synchro Shift mode works. Basically, it manages rear upshifts and downshifts by a cog or two based on what the rider does with the front chain ring–upshifting a few cogs when the rider shifts from the big ring to the small. As I’ve been refining my riding (and thus shifting) in the up and down terrain of eastern Massachusetts–and missing or getting the shift just a bit wrong, the idea of having a system that keeps me from being over or under geared is intriguing. Of course, it takes some of the challenge out of cycling (and what’s the fun without the challenge?). But then, would we find new challenges?

What really got me thinking is that if electronic systems can make such decisions now, what does the near future hold?

  • How far away are we from systems that auto shift based on some combination of cadence, power, heart rate, wind speed, and elevation?
  • How will such systems impact events like time trials in which a cyclist or coach could program shifts given the course or the cyclist’s fitness?
  • Or a hilly up and down road race course where the system analyzes the rider’s effort, the conditions, etc. and makes the shift to keep the cyclist in the ideal HR or power band?
  • What about a route the rider has ridden a lot or pre-ridden as part of race prep? Will shifting systems be able to learn a rider’s tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses and compensate for them through shifting patterns?

On one level such innovation may change cycling in ways that takes some of the challenge and skill out of the sport and turn cycling into even more of a fitness centric sport than it is now. On another level such innovation may open up the sport (you’d be surprised by how many new and casual cyclists find shifting a black box). And for recreational cyclists or commuters or those cyclists who face physical challenges, such automatic shifting could be a great boon and open cycling up to even more people–or make some para cyclists more competitive than they are now.

Mindfulness; The Soul of Cycling

I did a dumb thing.

The other day, after a week or so of hearing my bottom bracket creak every now and then, I rushed through repacking the bearings with grease. I didn’t take time to put the bike in the work stand. Instead I left the bike in the hanging storage stand. I didn’t clean the work area and gather all the tools and supplies. Instead I rushed through and tried to work in the clutter of the bike storage room–the room that at the end of the semester and in full on shoulder season has too many pairs of gloves, toe warmers, head coverings, etc. scattered around. I wasn’t mindful.

Olof P. Nelson and trainer
Olof P. Nelson and trainer

And because I wasn’t mindful, I botched the job in big and small ways. First the small. I didn’t take the time to make sure the grease gun had plenty of grease in it. As a result I probably didn’t get a full grease purge on my Chris King bottom bracket. And because I didn’t take the time to put the bike in the work stand and to make sure I had uncluttered workspace, I made a bigger mistake.

 

Because I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing I made a big mistake: I forgot to install one of the plastic bushings or spacers required to run the Chris King BB86 bottom bracket with Shimano cranks. Yep. And I knew something was wrong when I put it all back together, but because I wasn’t mindful, I let it go. I let the strange free play and tightness of the bottom bracket go. I tried the quick fix of loosing it bit. It kind of worked. I was in a hurry. I had other things on my mind and was looking towards a goal rather than being in the moment.

Because I wasn’t mindful, my bottom bracket made a weird moaning noise at the start of the Sunday Hammers ride. And then if felt weird; tight and then eventually loose. Then if my pedal stroke was off, it felt loose.

Today, I took the time to investigate. I was more mindful. I made sure I had all the tools. I made sure the grease gun was refilled. And that’s when I noticed what I feared; I had forgotten to install on of the plastic sleeves. But because I had done the original job in a cluttered space and wasn’t mindful, I wasn’t sure if I could find the sleeve. Was it wrapped up in a rag that was in the trash sitting out on the curb? Was it lost somewhere on the floor? Luckily for me, the sleeve was on the floor. Hopefully, despite the odd metallic smell the good folks at Chris King over engineered the bearings to compensate for my lack of mindfulness. I put some fresh grease in the bearings. I reinstalled and adjusted everything, but then I was worried about the gritty feel. Was it the bearings? The chain?

Because this time I was being mindful I took the chain off. The gritty feel was the chain. I soaked it. Brushed it. And then, I stopped being mindful. The girlfriend came home. Rather than being mindful with her–of giving her the time she deserves, I tried to split my attention between her and the final step of rinsing the chain. The result? I poured the quick link down the drain. Panic. Luckily, she was more mindful than me and urged me to use the drain trap rather than panicking and going the bike shop.

So, mindfulness. Cycling is about mindfulness. As Padrig over at Red Kite Prayer wrote a few weeks ago, group riding, any riding is about different kinds of mindfulness. A few weeks ago on a Saturday ride, a newer rider went down. He had just come off the front. We had another new rider with us. We went over a bump which for all of old hands was a known thing. Someone slowed just enough. Wheels touched. And someone went down. It’s easy to blame the guy at the back. But I bet there was a lot of non-mindfulness to go around that morning. Sometimes it takes us focusing on the moment. Sometimes it takes someone else to remind us to focus on the moment. Sometimes the universe reminds us to be mindful.

Cycling demands mindfulness. Not suffering. Cycling demands that we’re mindful of our equipment. Cycling demands that we’re mindful of the road, of the weather, of the traffic. Cycling demands that we’re mindful of the others in the pack–mindful of the people we ride with. Cycling demands that we’re mindful of the traditions of the ride, of the group, and of the area. And that’s why I love cycling. Because in a world that pulls me out of mindfulness, cycling pulls me into mindfulness. Sometimes cycling does it through suffering. Sometimes cycling does it through a well functioning paceline. Sometimes it does it through the sublime sunrise, or the lifting fog, or the play of light through the trees. Sometimes it does it with the horrible sound of metal, carbon, and flesh hitting the pavement. Sometimes it does it with the smiles and looks of mutual gratitude at the end of a ride. No matter how it does it, cycling always reminds me of the importance of mindfulness.