Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Restraint of trade? UCI blocks pro cycling teams from minor races

Well this is interesting. Back in "my" day (being old and all) it was amateurs vs professionals and the restraint of trade was simple. If you earned money from cycling you got barred from the Olympics; and if you joined the local cycling club and it happened to be a pro club you may as well have joined a different universe. But that's all gone now and "amateurs" don't really exist, instead elite athletes are professionals whether they like it or not, and it's "all in". Unless you run a significant yet smaller road race or tour, in which case the cycling world's governing body, the UCI, can impose its will and stop top-level teams from competing. I guess there's good and bad in that rule, but I do like Chris Horner's comment:

On Monday, Horner said the enforcement of the UCI rule was "wrong." "It’s a pro race, you should be allowed to race your bike. If we are skipping ProTour races to do a non-ProTour event, then it makes sense. But you should never, never, never just not allow a rider to race his bike. ... every man should be afforded the right to work."

The opposing view may be that a ProTour team will simply scoop up all the winnings, leaving the other guys (also just trying to do their job) picking up the leftovers.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Transponders on your bike, not your airliner or toll road... #cycling #tech #RFID

You could be forgiven for believing that a $10,000 racing bike is at the cutting edge of what could be achieved with today's technology and materials science, but in fact the UCI, as the governing body for world cycle racing, punishes innovation with tight control over aerodynamics, weight and frame geometry (in pursuit of sporting 'fairness' and consistency). Bikes could look a lot different, weigh less and slip through the air much more easily, if designers were let off the short leash that is the UCI's double-triangle standard (just click there and search on 'frame', then come back here). In short, they'd go faster for less effort.

And you could also be forgiven for thinking that bike racers are the first to embrace new ways and materials, when in fact they tend to stick with "what works" when it comes to finishing a long ride. As a group they let someone else test it out (usually George Hincapie) and demonstrate a clear, sustainable advantage before jumping on board. It took a relatively long time for the global peloton to embrace clipless pedals, for example, let alone carbon fibre frames (mine dates back to '90, and yes, that's when I finally embraced clipless pedals, too). It's not just about the cost, or the regulations, it's "tradition" as well. One has to look like a bike racer, and be 'in the know'. For example you still hear otherwise quite sensible people repeat the mantra that 'steel is real', despite arguably better materials being available for frame-building. And then they pull on their woollen jerseys and tighten their toe clips before riding into the sunset... ahem, maybe not.

So it comes as a bit of a shock to see RFID transponders, those handy little gadgets that adorn the race bikes of the professsionals, drifting into the admittedly elite end of the local Sydney racing scene. OK, it's the State Crit Championships, but it's still a bit of a jump up from the traditional number on a fabric or vinyl square, attached with safety pins: ALL RIDERS, PLEASE NOTE THAT TRANSPONDERS WILL BE USED AT THIS EVENT. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO ATTACH YOUR TRANSPONDER IN THE CORRECT POSITION IN ORDER TO BE PLACED IN THIS EVENT. Note that they saw fit to SHOUT about it, 'cause some of those bike riders will be in a state of shock.

We can expect to see similar transponders used more regularly at state open level, gradually drifting down to club level. They remove the need for sharp eyed observers (a hard-to-find resource) and eliminate (I hope) the 'but-I-thought I won it' close-finish dispute. In a big bunch gallop it may be the only way to truly pick out who won. They are also light, the widely-used Chip-X being around 15g.

In fact these transponders, also used in warehousing, logistics and on toll roads, by the way, open up a whole world of data collection and analysis. Not just for bike racers but for anyone - or anything - involved in circuit racing. You can collect timing data on every lap for every participant, for example, and post updates live, either on the web or to a mobile device (like a cell phone). So if you are coaching or managing a team you can see how your charges are going, and perhaps later analyse where they went wrong, without needing to even watch the whole race. (Check out MyLaps, to see what is already happening.) Of course GPS can do that, too, and you probably have that integrated with your power meters anyway, but as a cheaper option it's not bad. We've already seen how a mix of these types of devices (especially GPS) can be used to plot the course of a road cycling race, too, in real-time, on the Web. You can also easily imagine such a live datastream being used to animate a super-realistic avatar of, say, Cadel Evans, as he takes on Lance Armstrong's avatar in a virtual Le Tour, live on screen. It could be the future of live cycling 'vision' on a converged television-Internet platform, without needing the cameras and helicopters, if we wanted it to be... or the basis for a training program, or a game...

So there you go, cycling at the cutting edge. Mind you, it's all been done before. For example the aviation industry has been using transponders since WWII, although they were somewhat larger, heavier objects at that stage. It just takes a while for these things to shrink, get cheaper, and percolate both down - and sideways. That's innovation.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Now he attacks: Cadel Evans just can't win

In hindsight, it may have been the wrong time to attack... but then again, who was going to bridge the gap if he didn't? As Cadel says, "Funny, usually people tell me I don't attack...".

Post-race it's always easy to pull things apart and make declarations about what would have happened if.... but until we can set up some parallel universe and trial all of the options, we'll never really know. At 5th, Evans was ahead of some big names. (Worth noting too that Simon Gerrans had another good race, finishing 8th.)

And come July we'll get to see Cadel defend his now traditional 2nd place in Le Tour. He may even attack!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Davis drops, Haussler tops - funny old UCI points score this year #cycling

We are well into the pro cycling year and still it seems that the early-season winners have the edge - although the edge is beginning to crumble.

Haussler took over the UCI world ranking lead from Allan Davis (Quick Step). After another strong performance in Paris-Roubaix, Haussler leads the rankings with 197 points, ahead of PaĆ­s Vasco winner Alberto Contador (Astana) with 188 points. Davis slipped to third with his 183 points.

Nice to see Davis hang in there so long, and good to see Haussler get his name in lights - if only for a little while. The 3 big tours will shake it all up, of course.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Drug testers take blood, sweat and tears - Armstrong's behaviour 'unusual'?

Just what constitutes 'unusual' behaviour when 'surprised' by the blood, urine and hair-sample-taking team I don't know:

Lance Armstrong's behaviour during his 24th anti-doping control since returning to the sport may have landed the American in hot water with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD). L'Equipe has reported that AFLD, which conducted the March 17 out-of-competition test, submitted a report to the International Cycling Union (UCI) and WADA on March 30. The report apparently details the abnormal behaviour observed before and during the surprise visit from the French agency.

Did he run away? Slam the door? Abuse them? Or is this L'Equipe beating things up? He is recovering from a broken collarbone, so maybe he was a bit tetchy... I would be. Later, Armstrong's rebuttal came and it was quite reasonable - someone turned up to take samples who simply didn't appear convincingly authorised to do so, so they checked on his credentials:

"I returned home that day after a long training ride to find a man chasing me as I rode up to the house. He stopped me and told me he was from the French laboratory and was here to test me. I had never heard of labs or governments doing drug testing and I had no idea who this guy was or whether he was telling the truth.

Despite all of that reasonableness, the "drug testing laboratory" in question was concerned about the 20 minute delay between turning up and actually getting the samples. Without wanting to get carried away about it, having a shower could have been a cover for time to take a masking drug, but then again it could just have been a shower. In any case 20 mins is not long enough to mask much, especially so when blood, urine and hair was taken. Surely he didn't get a hair transplant in 20mins?

Postscript: The UCI's Pat McQuaid wonders aloud what the AFLD is doing: "Normal proceedings between institutions such as national anti-doping agencies, the international federation and the World anti-doping agency (WADA) are normally done in a professional and confidential way until a decision or sanction has been taken," he continued. "In this case it was leaked to the press and I do find that disturbing."

Monday, April 06, 2009

Last Gosford Hill for today: Kincumber Sth 234W 15.5pc

Kincumber Sth 234W 15.5pc
Originally uploaded by gtveloce
It probably has another name, but it's that sharp bump between Bensville and Kincumber South. Ouch.

Gosford hillclimbs: Scenic Drv Terrigal 147W 13.7 pc

Another one. Again I did this a few months ago, but in an idle moment thought I'd post it now.... part of my plan to run my ibike wattmeter over all the local hills around Gosford, NSW.

Gosford hillclimbs: Avoca to Kincumber 182W 12.3 pc

Did this a few months ago, but in an idle moment thought I'd post it now.... part of my plan to run my ibike wattmeter over all the local hills around Gosford, NSW.

The iBike calculates Watts from changes in speed, altitude (via a barometer) and acceleration. Whilst the numbers aren't large (I'm not Lance Armstrong) It gives me some way of baselining my training and working forward.

These aren't necessarily my best rides, highest speeds or biggest Wattage - just representative screenshots to give you an idea of hill slope and shape. If you don't have this sort of equipment you may find it interesting or useful.