Pro Cycling on $10 A Day: Interview with Phil Gaimon

pro cycling

The thrills, the spills, the adventures in China, and the cookies. You’ll read about it all in Pro Cycling on $10 A Day

Some of you may have heard about Phil Gaimon. He’s one of the top pros right now from the U.S, and will be spending his 2015 season with the Optum Pro Cycling Presented by Kelly Benefits team (who also happen to ride some awesome Diamondback bikes).

An unrepentant English major, Phil wrote a book about his experience of trying to make it as a professional cyclist in the U.S., Pro Cycling on $10 A Day. A memoir is something that most pros wait to do until after they’ve retired, but Phil isn’t most pros. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s a great read that gives you a peak behind the curtain of domestic pro cycling. And it’s also hilarious.

Phil was kind enough to give us a few books to give away the other day, and to answer some questions from some of our customers.

Read below for Phil’s answers about racing, being a mechanic, crashing, and other hot topics:
What's the story behind that bar of soap? Check out the book to find out more. Photo: Sam Wiebe

What’s the story behind that bar of soap? Check out the book to find out more. Photo: Sam Wiebe

Carlos: If you could win any race in the world which one would it be?

PHIL: The Tour de France would probably be the best one to win. Not just a stage. The whole thing. I mean, an Olympic gold or world championship would be alright (I’d take either of those), but the Tour is the Tour. I think any bike racer would agree.

Learn more about the Tour de France

AJ: Do you need to be a pro level mechanic to be a pro racer?

PHIL: Mechanics come in all shapes and sizes and experience levels. Just about anyone can turn a wrench, but you want one who knows their way around a bike race. There are a lot of rules about where you can stop, for example. The guy who works at the local shop would probably rack up fines in Swiss Francs, and I don’t know how he’d feel about leaning out of a window to fix my derailleur at 40 mph.

Learn how to be your own mechanic

Photo: Sam Wiebe

Photo: Sam Wiebe

Jim: How do you cope with knee pain?

PHIL: Everyone’s different, but in my experience, pain was usually relieved by proper alignment of the ankle, knee, and hip. You’re looking for an up-and-down piston-like motion there, which can be achieved through bike fit, proper insoles, cleat position, etc. Think about that motion when you’re making adjustments, or find an expert.

Learn how to deal with knee pain

Timothy: How many times have you crashed?

PHIL: I only wish I hadn’t lost count a long time ago. I was putting on my jersey at a race recently, and a fellow racer in the parking lot saw the series of giant scars on my shoulder. “San Dimas?” He asked, referring to a race where I crashed out of the yellow jersey and sent myself to the hospital in a helicopter. “No,” I shrugged. Those scars are all on my face. The rest of them are scattered around my knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders, from years of sliding around on the same spots. You don’t notice them, and I wouldn’t want to die without a few scars, anyway. Maybe without the ones on my forehead, though…

Learn how to deal with road rash

Too many cookies? No such thing, according to Phil. Photo: Sam Wiebe

Too many cookies? No such thing, according to Phil. Photo: Sam Wiebe

Andrew: Where’s your favorite place to ride and do you have a favorite street?

PHIL: Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles is my favorite place to ride. North of the city, there’s a long series of canyons to climb up from the ocean, with low traffic, and amazing views. I’ve ridden all over the world. There are some places that are about as good, but nothing better.

Photo: Sam Wiebe

Photo: Sam Wiebe

So there you have it. You can find even more juicy details about the inner-life of pro cycling in Phil’s book Pro Cycling on $10 A Day.

We’d also like to thank Leyzne and Chamois Butt’r for their contributions to last week’s giveaway.

2014 Year In Review

While we’re already looking ahead at 2015, but as we close out 2014 we wanted to take a moment to look back at the 10 best stories and posts that we’ve shared throughout the year – we’ve got even more planned for the coming year, so stay tuned!

1. Real Advice: How To Properly Clean Your Water Bottle

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Apparently a lot of you were curious about how to get more mileage out of your water bottles. Real Advice: How To Properly Clean Your Water Bottle was our top post of the year.

 

2. Throw Down: Electronic vs. Mechanical Shifting

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This one struck a chord with a lot of people out there. Love it or leave it, electronic shifting is finding it’s way on to more an more bikes, so we weighed the pro’s and con’s of each.

 

3. Ridden and Reviewed: Diamondback Century Sport Disc

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For those of you who always wonder how the bikes stay upright in our photos….here’s a small hint. :)

 

We test rode a lot of bikes this year, and this was one of our favorites. As the disc road movement gained more momentum this year, the Diamondback Century Sport Disc no longer seemed so much a fish-out-of-water as a bike ahead of the curve.

 

4. Ridden and Reviewed: Ridley Helium

ridley_helium_01This year we were super excited to introduce Ridley Bikes to Performance. Among the most popular was the Ridley Helium. We got to test ride this bike at the source: in Hasselt, Belgium and man, were we impressed.

 

5. Choosing The Right Chain Lube

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Wet or dry…or something else entirely? This one got a lot of discussion, and a lot of you shared some helpful tips about how you take care of your chains.

 

6. Ridden and Reviewed: Ridley Fenix

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The Ridley Fenix was probably one of the most versatile bikes we rode this year. From the cobbles of Belgium to the roads around our home offices, this bike was as popular with us as it was with you.

 

7. 5 Ways To Stay Warm On Cold Rides

hot bidon

Polar Vortex 8 hit a little earlier this year, which left a good number of cyclists all across the country scrambling to figure out how to get rides in. We shared our favorite tips to help you stay warm when the temps drop.

 

8. Ridden and Reviewed: Diamondback Interval Carbon

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Probably one of the most unique and coolest bikes we saw this year, the Diamondback Interval Carbon was a sleeper hit, both in the stores and here on the blog. With a high performance carbon frame and all-day comfort, it’s not hard to see why.

 

9. Alternative Road Bikes: The Only Bike You Need?

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2014 saw a lot of changes in direction for the cycling industry, and perhaps the biggest one was a move towards alternatives to traditional racing bikes. Alternative road bikes with bigger tire clearance, non-UCI compliant geometry, and disc brakes are becoming more commonplace, and more popular.

 

10. Ridden and Reviewed: Charge Cooker Maxi Fat Bike

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2014 saw fat bikes explode in popularity. When Polar Vortex 6 hit North Carolina, we got a chance to take one out and give it a spin, proving (to us at least) that the performance matches the hype.

 

So there it is. The Top 10 of 2014.

What was your favorite post of 2014? Let us know in the comments.

And don’t forget to check back next year for tons of new commentary, reviews, how-to’s and more.

 

 

Brian’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo Recap

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Our coworker Brian just completed Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo in Harrisonburg, VA this weekend. It has a reputation as the toughest ride on the East Coast, and with it’s combination of long distances, steep hills, and gravel, has been known to take even very experienced riders to their limits. Fortunately, Brian finished the gran fondo, and we’re checking in with him to see how it went, what he would do differently, and what advice he has for anyone wanting to attempt it next year.

-Hi Brian. Can you tell us a little bit about how you felt going into the gran fondo?

I felt pretty good going into it, but I think I could do better next year. My fitness was generally pretty good, but not having done it before, I definitely wasn’t ready for how difficult the gravel climbs would be, and they took their toll. I also made some stupid mistakes in the first half of the ride that almost undid me in the second half. Other than that, I felt pretty good on the bike, and was overall just happy to have finished.

-What was your favorite part?

Crossing the finish line to find my amazing girlfriend waiting with a bottle of Clif Recovery drink and a plate of food.

My favorite part of the actual ride was the descent off the first KOM section. Wide open highway, gentle curves, and high speeds. It was really exhilarating, and not something I get to experience too often. You truly get a feeling of flying, and it’s one of the most fun things I think you can do on a bike.

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Riders for the Gran Fondo, Medio, and Piccolo routes all started together

-What was your least favorite part?

I think the two gravel climbs might be physically the hardest thing I’ve done, but the last 20 miles was much more difficult, mentally. Even on a really, really hard climb like Reddish Knob you can still settle into a rhythm—you just accept that you’ll be pedaling until the top and get to work. The last 20 miles however was full of short and steep rollers that were just long enough and steep enough to be very mentally draining after so much saddle time.

-What equipment choices worked well?

I think the Gatorskin Hardshell is  probably the single most impressive piece of cycling equipment I’ve ever used. I hit some rocks (not gravel, straight up rocks) and holes that by all rights should have detonated a clincher tire, yet I never flatted the entire ride.

The compact was also a great choice. No, actually, it was the only choice. After the first road climb I thought maybe I should have gone with a 52/36 chainring combo instead of a 50/34. After the first gravel climb though, I realized I never would have gotten up it with a 36.

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The route passed through some beautiful Amish country

 

-What equipment would you change next year?

-I think next year I would definitely ride a cyclocross bike or an endurance road bike. Something like the GT Grade or a Fuji Altamira CX with bigger tire clearance, disc brakes and a lighter weight would have been perfect.

-25mm tires were fine, but next year I’m definitely going with 28mm or 30mm tires

-Lighter wheels. My winter wheels were chosen for their durability, but it didn’t take long before I started feeling the 2150g weight. Having seen the course, I would feel more comfortable using a carbon wheel next year.

- I’ll probably consider using a mid-cage SRAM WiFli rear derailleur with an 11-32 cassette instead of an 11-27, just to get that extra bail out gear.

 

-Would you do it again?

After I crossed the finish line I swore I would never do it again. But I woke up on Monday morning thinking about how I would train and set up my bike differently next time. So I guess the answer is yes, I will probably be on the start line next year.

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Crossing the finish line is usually the high point of the day for the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo

-Any advice for someone thinking about doing it next year?

-Spend as much time climbing as you can! I didn’t this year, and I definitely paid for it. Not immediately, but later in the ride.

-Take full advantage of all the aid stations. I didn’t spend much time at the first two, only stopping to fill up on fluids and that was a big mistake which I blame on race day excitement. I should have stayed a few minutes longer to eat real food and stretch, but instead I ended up bonking around mile 60 and really suffering up Reddish Knob and the last part of the ride.

-Don’t take the “pro pee break” at mile 15. The only people who will stop are the pro’s and super strong riders, so you’ll find yourself alone very quickly, with nobody to pace up the climb.

-Run the widest tires your bike will fit, and make sure you have new brake pads on your bike

-Don’t start all loaded down with your own food. The aid stations are really well stocked, and had Honey Stinger gels and mini Clif Bars you could take with you. I would recommend just having 1 or 2 gels in your pocket at the start, just in case, and then loading up at the aid stations.

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Jeremiah Bishop won. Again. You really can’t put a price on home road advantage.

Performance Visits The Telenet-Fidea Service Course

CX star Nils, team manager Karen, and team owner Hans

CX star Niels Wubben, team manager Karen, and team owner Hans

During our visit to Belgium earlier this year, we got to take a trip to the Telenet-Fidea pro cyclocross team service course with the guys from Ridley. It was by far probably the most interesting experience we had in Belgium.

Let’s start by saying ‘cross is to Beligum what football is to America. The country goes crazy for some CX racing, and and Telenet-Fidea is one of the most popular teams in Belgium, and has consistently generated some of the sport’s biggest stars, as well as National and World Champions.

Telenet-Fidea is own by a guy named Hans, and Hans is a total boss. Not only did he spend over an hour discussing everything from his opinion of American food to who the next CX champ is going to be, but he also gave us a personal tour of the service course.

Hans owns an asbestos removal business, and runs the Telenet team out of the same office. The office garage is divided into two parts: one holds all the asbestos removal supplies, trucks and so one; the other houses the Telenet-Fidea team service course, Hans’s huge collection of cycling memorabilia, his motorcycle collectibles, and his Ferrari. Yes, you read that correctly. While we were there Niels Wubben just kind of showed up to hang out for a bit, we saw plenty of bikes, and Hans gave us some awesome yellow TF Team mittens.

So, without further ado, we present The Performance Visit To The Telenet-Fidea Service Course.

 

FIND A GREAT SELECTION OF RIDLEY BIKES FOR ROAD OR ‘CROSS

 

 THE SERVICE COURSE

It’s amazing what fits into a garage in an office park. Aside from all the equipment of a home-improvement business, there’s also plenty of bikes, wheels, clothing and equipment.

 

HANS’S COOL STUFF

As if having a service course in your garage isn’t cool enough, Hans has gone one step further and transformed it into the ultimate man-cave. Complete with Ferrari.

 

PAYING THE BILLS

Owning a cycling team is expensive. Hans pays the bills by removing asbestos.

 

FIND A GREAT SELECTION OF RIDLEY BIKES FOR ROAD OR ‘CROSS

 

See more about our trip to Belgium Here

Eddie’s 100 Mile Mountain Bike Race Prep

Eddy and his steed

Eddie and his steed

This fall some of our home office employees will be pushing their cycling skills to the limit. The first up is Eddie, a data analyst in our marketing department. Eddie is superfast on a mountain bike (or really just any kind of bike), and has been orienting his training and riding all year around completing the Shenandoah Mountain 100 bike race this coming coming weekend.

Course profile for The Shenandoah Mountain 100 bike race

Course profile for The Shenandoah Mountain 100 bike race

The ride starts in Harrisonburg, VA (where another employee will attempt another big ride later in September). Shenandoah is one of the toughest mountain bike races on the East Coast. Covering a mix of dirt, trail, gravel and pavement, the Shenandoah 100 features a massive amount of climbing, tough terrain, and plenty of challenges.

Unfortunately for Eddie, nobody else in our office has done this ride before, so he’s had to figure out how to equip and provision himself on his own. We think he’s got it pretty well dialed in though.

Check out what he’ll be using for the ride.

 

The Bike

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Eddie’s heavily customized Diamondback Overdrive Carbon Expert is race ready and looking good

 

Frame:

Diamondback Overdrive Carbon Expert

Probably my favorite bike that I own, it is a super lightweight carbon hardtail with 29” wheels. It is an excellent cross country bike, light enough for both long climbs and nimble enough for fast, technical descents.

Eddy has certainly put the Overdrive Carbon Expert through it's paces

Eddie has certainly put the Overdrive Carbon Expert through it’s paces

Components/Drivetrain:

Shimano XT brakes and drivetrain with Race Face Next SL crank

Shimano’s XT disc brakes provide firm, consistent stopping power, even in wet conditions and XT drivetrain gives durable, consistent shifting. The clutch derailleur ensures that the chain will stay on even through the roughest descents. The Next SL crankset is light and strong, perfect for a light cross country race bike.

Shimano XT hydraulic brakes and 1x10 drivetrain

Shimano XT hydraulic brakes and 1×10 drivetrain

Raceface Next SL crank with Raceface Narrow Wide chainring

Raceface Next SL crank with Raceface Narrow Wide chainring

Gearing:

1×10 setup: 36 tooth Race Face Narrow/Wide chainring, 11-34 cassette with e*thirteen 40 tooth extended range cog

I swapped out the 17 tooth cog on my XT cassette for a 40 tooth e*thirteen extended range cog to widen my range of gears for both going up and down.

The e*thriteen 40T extended range cog should give Eddy plenty of gearing for the steepest parts of the course

The e*thriteen 40T extended range cog should give Eddie plenty of gearing for the steepest parts of the course

Wheels:

Easton EA70

These are great wheels. They are durable, light, and will provide plenty of comfort over the 100 mile ride.

Tires:

Schwalbe Racing Ralph Tubeless with Snake Skin protection, (2.35” front, 2.25” rear)

I’ll be putting on some fresh rubber for the race and Racing Ralphs are really the only XC tires that I run. They are light, fast, and provide plenty of traction through corners. The wider 2.35” front provides more traction in the corners and the thinner 2.25” rear helps reduce rolling resistance. The snakeskin provides extra protection for the back country trails at a minimal weight penalty. I run them tubeless with 19 PSI in the front and 20 PSI in the rear.

Easton EA70 wheels are a good mix of durability and light weight. The Racing Ralph tires provide plenty of traction.

Easton EA70 wheels are a good mix of durability and light weight. The Racing Ralph tires provide plenty of traction.

EQUIPMENT

Shoes:

Giro Privateer

They aren’t the lightest or the stiffest cross country race shoes, but they are incredibly comfortable and on a 100 mile race, comfort is king. They also provide enough traction for any sections, such as creeks or steep, wet switchbacks where walking is the best option.

The Giro Privateer provides all-day comfort on the bike...and while walking

The Giro Privateer provides all-day comfort on the bike…and while walking

Socks:

DeFeet Wooleator

For a 100 mile MTB race, wool socks are the only option. With creek crossings, possible rain, and sticky heat, the Wooleators will keep my feet dry and cool. I’m planning to pack a second pair in case I need to swap at the midway point.

DeFeet Wooleater socks will dry quickly and help prevent hot spots

DeFeet Wooleater socks will dry quickly and help prevent hot spots

Kit:

Pearl Izumi Elite Team – Performance Exclusive

This is easily the most comfortable kit I own, and as with shoes, comfort is king. The Performance Bike logos will also let me rep my team colors throughout the race.

Comfortable, breathable, and reps the team colors

Comfortable, breathable, and reps the team colors

Helmet:

Lazer Z1

Lightweight, comfortable and super ventilated, this helmet was made for climbing…so it should be in its element out there.

The Z1 is one of the best new helmets out there. To find out more, check out our review below.

The Z1 is one of the best new helmets out there. To find out more, check out our review below.

Read our review of the Z1 here

Sunglasses:

Scattante Exhale – with Clear Lenses

The glasses are super comfortable and the clear lenses provide plenty of trail visibility, even in rainy conditions. They also store comfortably in my helmet in case I decide to ride without them.

The Scattante Exhale glasses come with multiple lenses to suit your needs

The Scattante Exhale glasses come with multiple lenses to suit your needs

Tools:

-2 tubes

-Spin Doctor Rescue 16 Multi Tool

Minipump

Garmin Edge 810 GPS

The biggest concern will be flats, even with plenty of Stan’s Tire Sealant in my tires, so I’m packing two spare tubes. My Spin Doctor Rescue 16 provides all the tools I need for trail-side repairs including a chain breaker and hex wrenches ranging from 2mm to 8mm. The Garmin will help with pacing and planning as I’ll be able to see my distance and average speed throughout the race.

The Spin Doctor Rescue 16 tool has pretty much everything you need to get out of a jam

The Spin Doctor Rescue 16 tool has pretty much everything you need to get out of a jam

Food:

– Peanut butter, banana, bacon sandwich

2 sleeves caffeinated Clif Shot Bloks

– 1 Kramp Krusher salt chews

– 1 bottle of plain water

– 1 Bottle Water with Hammer Gel (2 parts water, 1 part Hammer Gel)

This will be my on-the bike food for the first 40 miles, but the course includes 6 aid stations stocked with plenty of food and water, so I’ll be able to restock and refuel throughout the race.

Mixed with water, Hammer Gel gives you all the energy you need for a long day in the saddle

Mixed with water, Hammer Gel gives you all the energy you need for a long day in the saddle

Drop Bags:

The race allows two one gallon zip lock drop bags to be sent to any checkpoints on the course. I’m going to go with just one, sent to the 75 mile station. The coffee will give me the extra kick I need to push through the last 25 miles. In case it rains, I want to be able to swap out for dry socks and gloves. Also, no one is allowed past the 75 mile mark after 4:20 PM unless they have lights, so just in case I’m running behind schedule, I’ll have a lightweight, super bright light to help see the course.

Poc Index Flow gloves will help give Eddy's hands and arms some relief after 75 miles of hard riding

Poc Index Flow gloves will help give Eddie’s hands and arms some relief after 75 miles of hard riding

 

Ridley In Yellow

Tony Gallopin's custom painted Ridley Helium SL celebrates his wearing of the Yellow Leaders Jersey

Tony Gallopin’s custom painted Ridley Helium SL celebrates his wearing of the Yellow Leaders Jersey

On behalf of Performance Bicycle, we’d like to congratulate Tony Gallopin and the entire Lotto-Belisol team for capturing the Yellow Jersey at the Tour de France yesterday. After a hard day of riding, Gallopin was able to take the overall lead of the race from Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Few professional riders will ever have the honor to earn the Yellow leader’s jersey at The Tour, and Gallopin definitely earned it with an amazing ride that saw him finish over 8 minutes ahead of most of the other riders.

It’s a huge accomplishment, and a career-defining moment for Gallopin.

To honor the occasion, Ridley painted up a special bike for Tony. Joachim Aerts, founder and CEO of Ridley, came into the office late on Sunday to personally select, prep, and paint a Ridley Helium SL in Ridley‘s new “retro” paint scheme.. They worked fast, and managed to hand-deliver the bike to the team to be built up for the start of the next stage of the race today (Monday, 14 July).

Check out his new bike below.

Shop for Bikes of the Tour

Shop for Bikes of the Tour

Want to learn more? Check out our articles below.

Ride Inspiration

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A few weeks ago we gave our Facebook fans the chance to win a great Bike to Work Day package by telling us what inspired them to ride.

While the winners have already been notified, we were overwhelmed by the responses we got. Everyone gave us some great reasons for riding, but a few of our favorites really inspired us to get out and ride ourselves. From a wish to be healthier, to the freedom of the ride, to rediscovering your inner child, we hope you find your fellow cyclist’s thoughts as great as we do.

Thanks to everyone who entered, and if you haven’t already, go ahead and like us on Facebook to keep up on the latest at Performance, and the chance to enter for more great give-aways.

Check out some of our favorite comments…

Karen H.

I ride my bike to work every day. I am a much happier person when I ride… Burn of stress, have a little quiet time. I feel like I know a secret that other people are completely missing out on!

Matt B.

I love the freedom of a bike and being to get away from the world for a few hours.  Everything looks different from a bike.

Mike P.

It’s just me, the bike, my thoughts and the road.

Jackie V.

For exercise and fresh air. It’s a fun way to switch things up

Kevin P.

Built in triathlon training. .outdoors. .save gas..wind in my face..destress time..justify bike cost..health..exciting roads alongside deer..

Bill J.

My 3 year old yelling “go daddy go” from the Burley behind me.

Scott W.

Freedom and peace of mind on the open road!

Bob K.

Because it makes me feel like I’m still 12.

Steven T.

Peter Sagan inspires me to ride; ripped calves inspire me to ride; the feeling of fresh air rushing in my lungs; the feeling of flying when I’m on a mountain descent; and reducing my carbon footprint on bike to work day. Biking = Inspiration!

Darren D.

My wife, kids, and career as a firefighter.  Riding keeps me fit so I can do my job and make it home to my family.

John B.

Joy of being under my own power,  and for my health.

Jane B.

Adventure!  You never know what is around the corner!

Terry K.

The burn

Raymond J.

My kids get a chance to see their dad workings towards living healthier….plus there isn’t much better then riding a trail you’ve never been on what an adventure

Jennifer B.

My Husband!  I started riding for Bike MS as he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis

Carl S.

My 9 year old son wants to ride every day with me and its great for inspiration.

Jason R.

To be healthier after beating cancer twice.

Read all the entries here

 

 

Ridley Factory Tour

ridley_officeOne of the many highlights of our trip to Belgium was an opportunity to visit the Ridley Factory.

The cool thing about Ridley, and what really sets them apart from the crowd, is the fact that many of their frames are finished by hand in Belgium. The final frame prep, painting, clear coat, and assembly are all done by a small team at Ridley’s facility in Hasselt, near the heart of Flemish cycling.

We got to see the whole process from start to finish, and it was definitely pretty cool. The best part though was getting to check out all the eye candy at the end :).

Check out the photo galleries below to see more

Frame Prep

Painting and Decals

Clear Coat

Assembly

Eye Candy

Hear more from Ridley Founder Joachim Aerts

 

See more about our trip to Belgium Here

Performance Visits The Paterberg

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This is going to hurt. At over 22% in places and entirely cobbled, the Paterberg is one of the toughest climbs in cycling

Sadly, cycling’s heroic cobbled classics races are now over for the year. Always one of the high points of the season, we were very fortunate to get to see one live this year. While in Belgium, our hosts, Ridley Bicycles, generously arranged for us to to be able to see the Ronde van Vlaanderen from the slopes of the Paterberg– a once in a lifetime chance we won’t soon forget.

Flemish cartpet

Flemish carpet

While only paved and added to the Ronde in 1986, the Paterberg has already achieved legendary status in cycling. This small hill– only about 260 feet tall and rising innocuously out of the Flemish countryside– seems insignificant when compared to giants like the Alpe d’Huez or the Angliru, but the Paterberg is a small monster in its own right: blowing apart races, ripping apart chains, and sometimes forcing even the hardest of the hardmen to dismount and walk.

We climbed the Paterberg as part of the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo ride the day before the actual pro race, and it was every bit as difficult as it looks. Rising steeply at a pitch of nearly 13% and at times maxing out at a leg searing gradient in excess of 20%, all of it cobbled, the Paterberg is truly in a class with few equals. The hill is a devil to climb, with a grade that makes your breath scrape in your lungs and cobbles that don’t lightly forgive the rider who loses his focus, but it offers unparalleled rewards. At the top, you find yourself in a broad meadow covered in tall, waving grasses. Looking out from the Paterberg’s summit you take in a vista of rolling Flemish farm country, often viewed under the shifting light from racing clouds. Sheep and cattle graze in lush green fields that have been farmed for thousands of years.

A view of the race is open to all...provided you get there early enough

A view of the race is open to all…provided you get there early enough

Climbed twice in the race’s finale, the Paterberg is often the scene of an attack that detonates the race and truly separates the weak from the strong. And seeing that the Paterberg’s second ascent is also the final climb before the finish, it’s definitely where we wanted to be to witness what’s frequently the race’s deciding move.

When we got to the Paterberg, it was like arriving in cycling heaven. In a pasture field alongside the narrow road, hundreds of Belgian, Dutch, British and French cycling fans milled around, watching a giant outdoor video screen, waiting for the race to come through. The Lion of Flanders, the iconic yellow flag with a black lion that has been a symbol of northern Belgium for centuries, was on display everywhere. Lotto-Belisol and Omega-Pharma-Quickstep supporters waved small flags, and everyone wore the cycling cap or jersey of their favorite team. Nearby, a small stand was set up to sell Jupiler beer—a staple of Belgian cycling events, and another to sell frites in wax paper cones. Small children wandered around waving multiple Flanders flags and chanting “Tommke! Tommke! Tommke!” (Tom Boonen, the hometown favorite).

These guys have probably been enjoying Jupiler and frites on the Paterberg since way back

These guys have probably been enjoying Jupiler and frites on the Paterberg since way back

We settled into a decent spot where we could see both the screen and still be close enough to the road to get a good spot when the race came through. We could always tell where it was by watching the hovering helicopters covering the race. The closer the race got, the more crowded the hill became and the more the energy built.

Belgium is a country with cycling close to its heart. It’s difficult to explain how deeply two wheels run in Belgian culture– but these guys grow up riding, spend their autumn watching ‘cross, and come out by the millions to watch the Ronde. By the time the women’s race came around, the crowd was already pretty fired up, and cheered loudly as the first riders charged up the hill. One of the last riders in the group, a rider from Estado de México-Faren Kuota, broke her chain and was forced to walk. The crowd began to chant “Give her a bike! Give her a bike!” as team car after team car drove past.

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Riders in the women’s race are cheered on up the Paterberg

Several hours later when the men’s race came by, the crowd was in full-on party mode. As Tom Boonen came charging in with a group including Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan and other favorites, the crowd rushed to the barricades, cheering for their hometown hero. The biggest show of support, though, was for a virtually unknown Cofidis domestique. His rear derailleur broke less than half way up the hill. With no team car in sight to get a new bike, he was forced to sit by the side of the road. By the time his car got to him, the rest of the peloton was far out of sight. At this point in the race, there would have been no shame in stopping. The Cofidis team was completely out of contention, and what remained was over an hour of brutal cobbled hills and roads with terrible headwinds, all of which he would have to ride alone. When his team car finally showed up, instead of getting inside he pulled a fresh bike off the roof, got back on and started pedaling. The crowd went nuts. Belgians love this kind of stuff. The guy who doesn’t give up, who keeps on going even when there’s no hope of winning.

The crowd loved this rider for not giving up, even when the race was lost

The crowd loved this rider for not giving up, even when the race was lost (he’s waiting for a new bike)

After watching Mr. Cofidis get to the top, everyone moved back into position at either the Jupiler tent or in front of the big TV screen. Shortly after the first run up the Paterberg, Boonen found himself flailing and out of contention. At this point crowd allegiances switched to everyone’s favorite adopted Belgian, Fabian Cancellara. This subtle but quick shift didn’t seem to particularly bother anyone, so we just rolled with it too. When the race came around to the Paterberg the second time, the crowd rushed to the rails to watch Cancellara and Sep Vanmarck duel it out on the climb, trying to chase down a breakaway, then immediately proceeded to ignore the rest of the peloton and  ran back to the video monitor.

In the closing kilometers, the crowd packed in tighter and tighter to watch. People cheered on their favorite riders in a cacophony languages, and the crowd took on a collective energy that felt almost overwhelming. It was without a doubt the most intense excitement we’ve ever felt during a bike race. In the final meters, as the race came down to a match sprint, the crowd roared and the tension built. When Cancellara finally edged out Greg Van Avermaet for the win, it felt like a wave finally broke over us, the tension released with a huge rush of cheers.

Fans of Swiss rider (and eventual winner) Fabian Cancellara were out in force

Fans of Swiss rider (and eventual winner) Fabian Cancellara were out in force

Walking back down to the car, we stepped over discarded paper Lion of Flanders flags, crushed Jupiler cans and lost Lotto-Belisol team caps. The dust from the race still hung heavy in the air over the cobbled roads. The people we passed seemed subdued, spent somehow from the excitement of watching the race. In the absence of the cheering crowds, the Flemish countryside seemed oddly quiet and empty. To watch  live and in person that we’d seen so many times on TV was an experience that would take us a long time to really full comprehend. The riders go so fast, and the race is so frenetic, that it’s not until long after the riders have passed that it sinks in what you’ve just seen. But it’s not something we’re ever likely to forget.

A Visit To The Lotto-Belisol Service Course

Last week we were fortunate enough to have an opportunity to visit the Lotto-Belisol team service course in Belgium. It was only a few days before the Tour of Flanders (Flemish: Ronde van Vlaanderen) and Tour of the Basque Country (Spanish: Pais Vasco; Basque: Euskal Iztulia) so the place was pretty cleared out, but Chris, one of the team mechanics was there, and was nice enough to take the time to show us around.

Lotto-Belisol is a strongly Belgian team, so of course they ride Ridley bikes. Most of the bikes were gone to either Oudenaarde or Bilbao for the races, but we did get to see some pretty cool stuff there, with plenty of eye candy for the bike geek in everyone.

Beyond Andre Greipel’s distinctive Gorilla bike, Adam Hansen’s Helium SL with a set up no bike fitter would ever recommend (but hey, it works for him), and plenty of Dean FAST time trial bikes, we saw the new custom-built Ridley X-Night cyclocross bikes the team will be riding at the 2014 Paris-Roubaix (April 13, 2014). For most classics races, the team opts for the Ridley Fenix, which is more than equal to the cobbles found in Belgium and the Netherlands, but the cobbles of Northern France require a more specialized machine.

Check out this video tour of the Lotto Belisol team bus by CyclingTips, with Adam Hansen as the guide, for a better look around their home away from home on the road:

Paris Roubaix Special Edition Ridley X-Nights

Special Paris Roubaix edition Ridley X-Night bikes

Special Paris Roubaix edition Ridley X-Night bikes

According to Dirk, the Ridley product manager, all of the frames are stock off-the-shelf Ridley X-Night’s– like all the rest of the Ridley bikes the team races. The only change made to the frames was the front derailleur hanger was mounted slightly higher to allow for a 53T chainring, instead of the usual 46T chainring used in cyclocross.

The bikes were also specially spec’ed to handle the rougher cobbles of Roubaix. Instead of the standard Campagnolo Super Record 11 EPS electronic groupsets and deep-section carbon fiber Campagnolo Bora Ultra wheels the riders usually use, the Ridley X-Night bikes were built up with the just released mechanical Campagnolo Super Record RS groupset and lower-profile Campagnolo Hyperion wheels with specially-made Continental tires, with a unique tread profile and casing that can handle the tough cobbled sections. Instead of the usual cyclocross cantilever brakes, the team opted for TRP Mini-V brakes, which offer more powerful stopping and better cable pull with road levers.

For those of you who are already salivating in anticipation, don’t worry. The Ridley X-Night frameset will be available from Performance Bicycle later this year.

Before the Tour of Flanders, we visited with the Lotto Belisol team mechanics at the team hotel as they were getting the bikes and team cars prepped for the big race. If you thought that the team mechanics kept everything organized and tidy in the service course, that was nothing compared to how diligently they worked while on the road, on their bus and mechanic’s truck.

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