Thursday, May 31, 2007

Aussies rule Mt Hood

Despite an unfortunate initial results mix-up, it was Nathan O'Neill first in the men's prologue - and Katie Mactier in the women's! Brown was 5th in the Tour of Belgium and O'Grady 2nd in the Rundfarht.

Meanwhile Simoni has taken the tough Zoncolan stage in the Giro, with Di Luca doing enough to stay on top overall. It's looking good for Danilo, but can he hold on? The TT may be the true test.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Ullrich, EPO, allegations and speculation

Interesting quote here at VeloNews. "Frankly, if the rest of the peloton was clean, Ullrich would have won the Tour de France at least 10 times," D'Hont said.

Now he also said that Ullrich had taken EPO, so I guess this is very hypothetical. But is he saying that if Ullrich had been clean, and everyone else, that Ullrich would have won 10 times?

Frankly it rings true for me. Does anyone remember how good Jan was at the start of his pro career? I do - he was unbelievably good before he rode Le Tour - and clearly a Tour-rider, not a classics-rider in the making (although he was talented enough to do well there if he wanted). So what he achieved in his career was pretty well consistent- no sudden rise to the top - well OK, he did fabulously well at his first TdF - but generally it was obvious that he was someone who could climb, TT and race day after day. He was 'in the mould', as it were, of the past greats. Now is that always true? I guess not, and it proves nothing about those who suddenly converted from OK to above-average classics-rider to stunning Tour rider - but it does make one wonder.

Simoni attacks... gains time but not enough

It was good to see a fighting Simoni on the 14th stage, to see Garzelli win the stage and see DiLuca hang in there overall. DiLuca looks strong, maybe strong enough, but there are still mountains to climb, and a TT. He has fallen short in the past, and someone - perhaps DiLuca - could still crack. It may not be him, but we can expect some fireworks first as they desperately try to gain back time before the TT.

Meanwhile in Catalunya we see Karpets still in the lead over Rogers. By my calculations there's just one stage to go - with 3 cat 3s and a cat2 climb to the finish. You'd imagine T-Mobile will attack at the base of the final climb and launch Rogers to the win, wouldn't you? Yes, but this is T-Mobile, so you never really know. Menchov is also a chance, if the Rabo team can play the tactics right. Sevilla would have to pull off an almighty escape to win, surely.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Well Riis is no surprise

OK, no-one is seriously surprised that Riis doped in '96 to win the Tour, are they? He didn't have to come clean, but he - like Zabel and Aldag - at least have the decency to admit their mistakes. The problem now is who should be declared winner of '96? Ullrich was 2nd, and although he hasn't admitted anything it would be a brave TdF organisation that would declare Ullrich the winner, surely.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Power meters.. the ibike again

OK, an iBike update, firstly. The 3V battery dropped below the recommended 2.75V so I swapped in a new one. First battery had lasted for about 26 average 1-hour rides, or about 40 days. I used the "coast" function about 7 times. Maybe 6 rides were about 90 minutes. The new battery lasted 2 whole rides (and 3 "coast" tests) before dropping below 2.75V! Aaaargh. I rode yesterday and today with the battery below the minimum and the results are fine, so I guess there's a margin for error here (if you start below 2.75V and ride for 6 hours I'd guess you may lose some data, or get screwy data). Now I know why iBike sell batteries in bags of 20!

I also filled the memory once and have taken to dumping the ride list more often. The unit is still reliable but when analysing the data I suspect (and I cannot prove this) that it:
  • undervalues flat-land efforts by 20-50W (ie shows 150-180W when my manual calculations suggest 200W is closer)
  • overvalues sprints by a considerable amount - as much as 50% higher (ie shows 1500W when manual calculations point to maybe 1000W) but only for a second or 2
  • is most accurate at sustained high or medium-effort climbs, where the output is often within 2-5W of manual calculations based on speed, time and inclination
  • lags the actual effort by 10-30 seconds
  • loses it's pretty little head in corners and over bad bumps.
Now that reads pretty bad, but it's not so bad, really because you can:
  • smooth your data and remove 'outliers' such as spurious high-Watt readings
  • normalise your data in a spreadsheet or online tool
  • fine tune your friction and aero values on the provided USB-link software - this is better than re-doing the "coast" setup, I reckon, but it just may be that I've never done the 'coast' correctly (hmmmm...)
  • ride on smooth roads and never go around corners.
OK, I'm kidding with the last bit. Overall the data is consistent and relative to the values entered and it remains a useful training tool at a great price.

Some other quirks are:
  • It alters altitude overnight - presumably as the barometer rises and falls - so adjusting it is a good idea fi you want your data to be consistent
  • It adds 100kg (or maybe just defaults to a really high weight) when you swap batteries - make sure you check your setup after changing batteries!
If I hadn't bought the iBike (and I don't regret it, BTW, if only because it's still the easiest and least-cost way to get into full-function power meters) I would have considered Polar's new CS600 with power reading. It looks like a real hassle to fit but at least is wheel-independent and would work on an indoor trainer (which alas iBike can't - as yet - do). Pez has a good, detailed review of the CS600 here.

DiLuca tops Giro, Zabel confesses.. and more

Danilo DiLuca has taken the lead (again) in what is turning out to be a good, combative Giro. With the Zoncolan still to come, it may still become great. Simoni proved his worth again and Cunego is not far off the pace. The hillclimb TT comes next, which should give Cunego a boost. We shall see!

Meanwhile a tearful Erik Zabel has confessed to EPO doping in the '96 TdF. He dropped it quickly, he says, due to side effects and was obviously regretful - as you would be. His teammate at the time, Rolf Aldag, admitted at the same T-Mobile press conference (hmmm, funny that Zabel gate-crashed this party, eh?) to more extensive doping and stopped when his haematocrit was consistently over 50. I guess he got a bit worried about (a) getting caught and (b) adverse health effects. I don't balme him, or Erik for that matter. We are all fallible and build our lives incrementally on our decisions, both good and bad. Sometimes we make mistakes - but seeing that it's a mistake and righting it matters. Admitting to doping when you're unlikely to be caught - although there's more than just a slight chance of being given up by the suspect T-Mobile doctor or even one of your ex-teammates - takes a lot of strength. Zabel could have just sat on it and waited but chose to come clean before his name was brought up. Is there a lesson here for other ex-T-Mobile /Telekom riders?

And some good news - Alby Davis takes a win after some close results. He bested both Baden Cooke and Bennati in the Catalunya stage 3 sprint. Tell us again you really weren't involved in Operacion Puerto and Dr Fuentes, Allan. Thinking of which, another rider cleared of Puerto-affiliation - Oscar Sevilla - took a tough stage 4, Michael Rogers taking 2nd. Both riders moved up the classification and will fight it out in the TT. For which I can hardly wait!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Crash, bang, Petacchi - again

Stage 11 of the Giro saw another crash and another big, strong, fast Alessandro Petacchi victory. Balducci 2nd, McEwen 3rd. Not that I am complaining but it would be nice to see someone else win - maybe tomorrow? Definitely not a stage for the flatland sprinters. Yes, folks, it's the Col D'Izoard. Doesn't sound so much like the tour of Italy, does it? Ah, those Alps, they get around!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Electric-assisted bikes - ouch!!

Not a racing story - although maybe this is where motorbikes will head, when liquid fuel runs out? Maybe not. Yes, it's the e-lation bolt-on electric motor. Great idea, if hardly mind-blowing in its innovation. What gets me though is this pic on their site showing "how-to". Well I wouldn't do it this way myself... not on my frame, thanks!! I've highlighted the damage to show what over-zealous tightening of a u-bolt can do to a frame tube. Not that it would weaken it at all... certainly not.

Makes me wonder what the "warning" is on the frame, too. Don't get me wrong, folks, anything that helps people get on their bikes is great, but I do wonder about how many ham-fisted amateurs will hack their bikes to achieve their green ends...

Another Giro sprint

This time Napolitano overtook both Petacchi and McEwen, denying them both their expected win. No such luck tomorrow as the Giro heads back into the mountains. McEwen has suffered from a stomach bug - if he's recovering - as it appears - then this will test him out. If he is OK then expect his team to rally and get him over the top within the time limit.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Foster this time. And more on Floyd

It's hard to pick what to read... or make of it all. Robert Foster (Gerolsteiner) won today's stage of the Giro. That's the good, sporting side of cycling. But Greg LeMond somehow got drawn into the Landis drug hearings... sigh. It's looking very, very sad. Come clean, Floyd, is what LeMond has apparently said. But Floyd stands firm. It's the alleged nasty little phoned threats that make it seem just a bit more... ummm... apparent... that there's a story here that Floyd's "friends" may not want to be told. Will the truth step forward, please?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Giro Stage 4 - Di Luca takes it

Danilo Di Luca takes the win on a day when the sprinters had to bide their time. Ricco, then Cunego 3rd, Simoni close. Alessandro and Robbie come out to play again tomorrow. CN report here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Petacchi takes sprint 2

It had to happen. After a luckless 2006 Giro, breaking his kneecap, Alessandro is finally back to the big time, winding his 53x11 up in his typical 'none-shall-pass' way. It's not the prettiest sprint but it's darned effective. McEwen was 4th this time.

Just to comment briefly on sprinters, there are more ways than one way to skin a cat, so to speak. You can wind up a huge gear behind a train of riders - like Petacchi usually does, although today's parcours didn't suit that approach - and take the risk that you (a) will fade and get rolled at the line or (b) that you aren't as strong as you thought you were and just can't accelerate that huge gear, in which case you get jumped or rolled anyway; or you can rely on rat cunning, sit in and spin a bit more, and either roll the power guys at the end or use your better kick to jump 'em and gap 'em a little earlier on. Of course it's more complex than that as different roads and obstacles arise that may derail your train, or someone else will jump first and gap you. And even a small rise will feel like a leg-snapper in 53x11. You can train to your strengths, like Petacchi, and organise a power train to bring you up to speed, but it's also good to have a range of tricks up your sleeve and be adaptable, because anything may happen in a sprint. And lastly, you have to train both for power and kick. Today Petacchi proved he had that grab-bag of tricks and had done the training. He also had the luck of someone who took a bit of a chance and just went for it...

Monday, May 14, 2007

McEwen takes first Giro road stage

The McEwen formula is simple. Start the year early with some wins in Oz, to prove he's still got it. Go back to Europe and prove it again by getting into "the form of his life", only to get sick and lay low for a few months, missing some targets that he really wanted but never seems to be able to get. Then struggle back, just off the pace, just in time. With 2 races to go grovel at the back, just keeping within the time limit. Then win again, seemingly from nowhere, when no one is looking for him. Then front up at a Grand Tour and take the first stage. Easy as pie.

McEwen had good form earlier in the year, indeed he said he was climbing better than he ever has (being not a noted climber, of course, but better at it than 90% of the rest of us). Then he got sick. He always does. Somehow he gets enough form to hang in there on the first Grand Tour Giro stage, when the likes of Hushovd and Haedo are dropped and the bunch is thinned to a top 30 or so. Somehow his team get him into that selection, they grind back the gap to the breakaway and deliver him to the last 2 or 3 kms. He takes it from there, just sittin' in and waiting for Petacchi's train to leave the station. And then jump off, just in time to take the win. CN report here.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

What else can I break on a bike?

I knew something was wrong - the sharp metallic 'ka-ching' sounds didn't happen all the time - usually only at max power from a slow start - but the empty, echoic sort of rattly noise was a real concern. Strangely, I could make it go away if I pedalled backwards... hmmm. What could it be? Something in the rear hub, or somewhere else in the drivetrain? I looked in vain, but of course as it was all working fine (other than the come and go noises) I didn't look inside the hub. I assumed it just needed lubing. But no, it was actually breaking.

Luckily it let go at the end of a 40km lap of Brisbane Water, after one final effort up my local hill. It just quietly stopped. I knew it was all over, as I was suddenly freewheeling in my driveway, even when I was pedalling. Without looking I knew that I had I had broken the pawls (or the springs?) that are meant to engage when pedalling forward, rendering my 9 speed a freewheeler in both directions...

It's time for an audit. Excluding bones and teeth, what have I broken (not just punctured or worn out) in roughly 31 years of bike riding? First off, my brother's mirrors. Didn't like 'em anyway and they made a mess when you rubbed them on the road at 30kmh. (It was his bike, but hey, they just weren't cool). Then I snapped my first spoke. First of many. It taught me to carry a spoke key, at least. Later I snapped the bolt that holds seat to seat post. I rode 60km with a saddle just hanging - literally - on that post. Which is to say I rode 60km out of the saddle. Great training.

I also snapped the expanding bolt inside the headtube, the one that was meant to keep handlebars and front wheel aligned and steerable. Let me tell you it makes a mess of the steering feel if that one lets go (luckily they make 'em differently now, eh?). I haven't snapped a chain - yet - but a mate did. Not pretty. And I saw some handlebars snap on a track bike - they let go at the stem, so he still had one handlebar that "worked".

After years of perfect gear changing I managed to finally put my rear derailleur into my back wheel - just 30m from home. That bends some bits and breaks others with a satisfying tinkling sound. And I've snapped a few brake and gear cables, too. With a snapped rear derailleur cable you get to experience your smallest cog, irrespective of terrain. (OK, ok, I wasn't actually maintaining that bike at all. And I had stopped using it on the road, too! It's 'old rusty', my Hopkins crit bike that now sits on an indoor trainer - outdoors, of course.)

I have also managed to break the bolt that holds the seat tube to the frame, too. The seat slowly slides down into the frame... luckily I only had to ride out of the saddle for 20km that time. I've broken wheels, but everyone's done that. And as I've shown you previously, I managed to snap my seat post. So it's only natural that I've now broken a freehub. I mean, what else is there to break? Oh yeah, the frame... hmmm.

P.S., I dented a steel frame once - does that count?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Drugs in cycling. So is it really so bad?

Yes, I reckon it is. We have stars who have tested positive - whether they have admitted it or not, they have been caught out in tests - and we can't ourselves see inside their minds, so we must rely instead on the tests. Basso is just the latest. At least he admits it, or admits considering it, even if he didn't actually do it. Millar did it, admitted to it, copped the suspension and came back. Hamilton? Well he admits nothing but did his time. Landis - probably the highest profile of the lot, given that it was all so public - denies it all. Pantani? Well his was the cruelest blow - to be in sight of the win and have it snatched away. Armstrong? Well if you believe the French papers anything is possible, but there is no real evidence. Anyway, the list is too long and you know it already.

Now I'd like to think they are all innocent and that it's all done in error - but that seems a forlorn hope. Maybe some errors were made - and maybe there is some truth in some of the conspiracy theories. But not all. I know from my own amateur racing career that some riders popped caffeine pills and some visited gymnasiums for reasons other than weightlifting. And some got upset when they got "the wrong banana" at race end. Whatever. It's a tough sport, we all want to get through it without too much pain and without too many injuries, and we all want to win. So we are all tempted to greater or lesser degrees to "aid" our recovery after hard training, to "assist" our return after injury and to do "what it takes" to win. It's human nature to cheat, as humans are cunning and deceptive creatures, and it takes a great deal of willpower to resist temptation, no matter what that temptation may be. When it appears that the culture of this sport - or any sport, and I think some are in this same boat - is biased toward "assistance", we have a problem.

I think we still have a problem. What do you reckon?

update on iBike test...

It's a real-world test, in that I actually bought one! So how's it going?

Well for around $US400 from iBike itself it's a bargain, so you'd allow for some rough edges. But so far it hasn't shown too many. Get it set up right (it's not hard to do) and allow for its obvious limitations (such as it relies on barometric measurements of air pressure coming in through that little slot in front, so anything that distorts airflow - like turning sharp corners, sudden dips or objects blocking the air intake - will also distort the power calculations. And of course it won't work on an indoor trainer... yet) and it's a powerful tool that gives accurate figures. I have back calculated and verified my iBike data against some basic, manual calculations and it falls within a few percent of what I'd expect, given speed, weight and inclination (that's hill slope, not my inclination).

It has given some doubtful results that appear as spikes in the data. I've seen 1495W once in a sprint - possible but I thought unlikely. I calculated it was closer to 750-800W, so manipulating the .CSV file eliminates that spike. I have since then sprinted at a maximum (and believable) 800-1000W many times with just one other sprint appearing doubtful at 1466W. I had already re-done the "coast" test because of the 1495W spike, and I'm confident that the coast-down is now correct. So either I really did put out 1466W for a second or there's something else going on. Strangely enough both spikes were in the same location... like exactly in the same spot. I'm thinking there's a dip in road or some other strange factor I'm missing here...

So out of over 500km of testing it's so far given me 2x 1-second spikes of doubtful data. The rest of the data looks good, with a steady improvement in wattage from an average of 168 over about 45 minutes to the current best of 210W for 60mins. When I remove the "zeroes" from the data it "normalises" to 230W over 1 hour (and 220W over 90minutes). Given that I'm not racing at the moment (which I imagine would lift those figures substantially) I'm satisfied that the iBike is working and also that training-by-power is effective - if only because it has re-motivated me!

More soon...

Friday, May 04, 2007

More on power

As I've mentioned, I bought an iBike to assess my current (low!) power and to try to lift it. I lament that I didn't have such a device when I was 29, but hey, now I'm 49 and I have one. So as a data junkie I am in now in heaven. Early results are positive (still on same battery after 4 weeks, filled the data log after less then 3 weeks) and the data looks good, if a tad low. It was originally too high, so I re-ran the "coast" test until it looked right. Now I worry if it's too low but hey, it's all relative, so I'll leave it as is for a while.

Some thoughts:
  • too many "zeros" will lower your average power. By simply minimising my freewheeling I have cut the zeros from around 12% to under 8%. Alternatively you can just remove those zeroes from the CSV file in a spreadsheet
  • So I began around 168W average and now have it up to 190W average (over an hour). Removing all of that freewheeling has helped but I am also getting fitter and stronger
  • My peaks have declined from over 900W to low 800W but my 20 minute average is up from 230 to 290W
  • So is it still making sense?
What is the norm for a nearly 50 year old racing cyclist who hasn't raced for a couple of months, but who has a 35 year history of riding and racing? I did find this interesting chart:

Men Averages



Average Age (yr)


Average Weight (lb)


Average Body Fat


Average BMI


Estimated VO2 Max (ml/kg/min)


Average Wmax (Watts)


Av Power-to-Weight Index @ Wmax (W/kg)


Av Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (bpm)


Average VO2 @ LT (ml/kg/min)


Average LT percentage of VO2 Max


Average WLT (Watts)


Av Power-to-Weight Index @ WLT (W/kg)


Average WLT percentage of Wmax


Average Power @ 12 seconds (Watts)


Av Power-to-Weight Index @ CP0.2


Average Power @ 1 minute (Watts)


Average Power @ 6 minutes (Watts)


Average Power @ 30 minutes (Watts)


Average Cadence (rpm)


Which at least suggests I'm in the ballpark... hope you find power training useful. I guess I'll have to test it out in a race soon...

McEwen wins a stage

CN reports a bit of McEwen luck and power got him through a crash-plagued finish to yesterday's stage of the Tour of Romandie. Bring on Le Tour, please.

OK, OK, the Giro comes first, at least chronologically. Meanwhile Petacchi is getting close to form, McEwen has struggled and played it safe but clearly has some form, and Boonen is off on his post-classics rest. And the Giro approaches... bring on the Italians!

Thursday, May 03, 2007