Women’s Pro Cycling: La Course by Le Tour de France

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La Course by Le Tour de France

The upcoming La Course by Le Tour de France race is going to shine a spotlight on women’s pro cycling, as top women’s teams will be competing on the same finishing circuit in Paris just hours before the final stage of the men’s Tour de France, including the famous finish on the Champs Elysees. While this 90km race is not the same as having a full 3 week Grand Tour, holding it on the same day and location as the final stage of the men’s race means that it will get coverage for an elite women’s race unlike anything that’s happened before. We are excited to watch a great race and see an emphasis on women’s pro cycling – especially the Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies team racing on their Diamondback bikes!

Equal pay for equal pain

A few weeks ago we got the opportunity to see some of these pro cyclists in action at the Philly Cycling Classic, one of the toughest one day races on the women’s cycling calendar. The slogan of the race was “equal pay for equal pain”, as the men’s and women’s races featured equal prize money. The race was a fantastic showcase for women’s cycling, with a closely fought competition only settled on the last climb of the Manayunk Wall, when Evelyn Stevens pulled out victory in a ferocious sprint.

Q+A session with top female pros at the Philly Cycling Classic

Q+A session with top female pros at the Philly Cycling Classic

Importance of sponsoring women’s pro cycling

One of the most interesting parts of the weekend was the chance to hear directly from the pros at a question and answer session before the race. Before the cyclists spoke, Karen Bliss, Vice President of Marketing for Fuji, talked about how important it was for Fuji to sponsor riders and teams – for product development, brand recognition, and authority in the cycling world. Fuji puts a special focus on supporting and developing women’s teams because they see the potential for growth – Karen is an accomplished former professional rider herself, a seven-time national champion on the road and track, and sits on the UCI women’s cycling commission. Also speaking was Lisa Nutter, the wife of the Mayor of Philadelphia – she is an avid cyclist and a huge advocate for cycling in Philadelphia. Mrs. Sutter got back into cycling in her 40s, and now seriously competes on the track and the road – she was a big influence on the “equal pay for equal pain” idea.

 Can we compete with the men? We’d like to find out!

As the pros got the chance to answer questions, it became clear that they are just as dedicated, motivated and competitive as the male pros, but their opportunities for exposure and financial success were not the same. Alison Powers, the current US national road, criterium and time trial champion, spoke about there needed to be a change of mindset for cycling fans, promoters, and her fellow female pros – they needed to create an expectation for better treatment and improved exposure. This would lead to better teams, races, and opportunities to grow the sport. Her fellow pros train as much as the men, 8-20 hours a week, but they don’t train for the same distance since the UCI limits their races to 140km. When asked if female pros could compete in a men’s race, Powers and other replied that if they did train for the same distance as the men, they could probably hang in the race – maybe not to the end, but they’d like the chance to find out!

So the biggest difference between the men and women pro riders was in the opportunities they had to succeed. When asked if they also worked full time in addition to their racing, almost every pro in attendance raised her hand to say that they had to work another job – this might be expected at a lower level men’s team, but these were some of the top women’s teams in the world. That’s why the opportunity to showcase their talent at a showcase as big as La Course by Le Tour de France is such a big deal. We hope that it opens some doors, and some eyes, for just how entertaining women’s pro cycling can be.

What do you think would improve the acceptance of women’s pro cycling?

A Cycling Tour of Philadelphia with Fuji Bikes

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Cycling on the Schuylkill River Trail in downtown Philly

A few weeks ago we got to visit Fuji Bikes in their hometown of Philadelphia, PA, and one of the most interesting parts of our trip, other than riding up the infamously challenging Manayunk Wall, was seeing what the City of Brotherly Love has done to welcome cyclists as a part of the city. We got to ride all over the city with our hosts from Fuji Bikes, and we were constantly impressed by how cycling was incorporated into the fabric of the neighborhoods – no doubt one of the main reasons that Philadelphia was recently ranked the 6th most bikeable city in the US.

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Cycling sharrows were prominent on city streets

In the downtown areas of the city, we hardly ever rode on streets that did not have bike lanes or prominent sharrows to indicate that cyclists had the right of way. And folks on bikes definitely took advantage of this infrastructure, with commuters, transportation riders, and recreational cyclists out in force on the city streets. The city government is a big supporter of bike riders, even closing down a stretch of Martin Luther King, Jr Drive to car traffic (along the Schuylkill River) on summer weekends so that cyclists have priority to ride and race.

And speaking of recreation, the bi-directional Schuylkill River Trail was packed with coexisting joggers, walkers and cyclists on most days – which is no wonder since it was such an idyllic spot and easily accessible from downtown. Running from the historic Center City, past the Philadelphia Museum of Art (home of the famous “Rocky Steps”), and historic Boathouse Row, and out along the Schuylkill River into the countryside past Valley Forge – the trail is a fantastic outlet for city riders who want to get away from busy city roads. One stop along the trail that shouldn’t be missed is the cycling-friendly Manayunk neighborhood, with its absurdly steep climbs and bicycle-friendly businesses – definitely stop for lunch at Winnie’s Le Bus Manayunk, where they will loan you a bike lock while you eat!

All in all we had a great time cycling around Philadelphia – it’s got more to offer than just the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall (although you should definitely check those out if you come to visit), with a vibrant cycling scene and easy access to scenic roads and trails from downtown. So next time that you visit the City of Brotherly Love, bring your bike and go for a ride!

Check out the gallery below for some views from our rides:

Team NetApp Endura Visits Fuji’s Home Office

A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to visit the biggest one day bike race in the US, the Philly Cycling Classic, thanks to an invite from our friends at Fuji Bikes. We had a great time checking out the excitement of the race (especially the finish up the famed Manayunk Wall), but the highlight of the trip was a chance to visit the home office of Fuji Bikes (and their sister brands in the Advanced Sports International or ASI family: Kestrel, Breezer and SE Bikes) with the members of the NetApp team, after the race.

Members of Team NetApp posed for a photo with the Fuji Bikes team

Members of Team NetApp posed for a photo with the Fuji Bikes team, including CEO Pat Cunnane (on the right)

ASI moved to their current headquarters in northern Philadelphia, from New Jersey, in 2004 so that they could triple the size of their warehouse.We followed along as the members of Team NetApp got a chance to meet everyone at the ASI offices, especially the bike design team. We learned more about the product development process, from assessing the market and looking at past sales, to talking to customers, attending trade shows, talking to dealers – even reading every bicycle magazine and good old-fashioned research on the internet. It’s definitely an in-depth process! Just the design process for a new bike can take over a year, and it’s not uncommon for a bike to go from concept to delivery to market in 18 months to 2 years.

We also got to learn more about the ASI/Fuji culture – needless to say they are really into bikes! There is a full Fuji demo fleet in their warehouse so that any employee can check out any type of bike for a month. Even though they are located in Philadelphia, they’re also building a full cyclocross course on the grounds near their warehouse, along with some mountain bike trails. And remember the Norcom Straight triathlon/time trial bike? Norcom Road is a favorite stretch of test road just a short ride from their offices. Fuji is also a huge presence in the local cycling community, with one of their main focuses being the Cadence Cycling Foundation – a group that engages youth through the sport of cycling to help them grow into healthy, responsible, and confident adults.

One of the highlights of the tour was the chance for everyone at ASI to have lunch and chat with the members of the NetApp team, all-rounder Blaz Jarc from Slovenia, classics rider Ralf Matzka from Germany, Jonathan McEvoy from the UK (11th place finisher in Philly),  all-rounder Erick Rowsell from the UK, mountain specialist Frantisek Padour from the Czech Republic (who finished 12th in Philly), and Director Sportif Christian Pomer from Austria (a former pro cyclist himself). Fuji associates got the chance to pepper the members of Team NetApp with questions.

They described their Altamira racing bikes as a good quality all-around bike – light, stiff, and with good handling. The hardest race they’d ever done? Without a doubt, Paris Roubaix – they made it to the end, but the Arenberg cobble section was just super hard, since you go straight into it at a really high speed. They also compared Philly Cycling Classic to Europe and said that it was a different style. At Philly the racing was a lot more aggressive, and they were always fighting for position as it never settled down. In Europe, the racing starts hard, but then a break goes, it settles down, and it only gets really hard again at the end. But they loved the atmosphere on the Manayunk Wall (where they may, or may not, have received beer handups at the end of the race).

The team even talked a bit about how they got started in bike racing – most started in their early teens riding for development programs. In England, their academy system finds kids in grade schools and progresses them through their national Olympic training program – they were full time riders from an early age, but not pro until a few years ago.  They also spoke about the stagiare program – wherein a professional team takes on ‘cycling interns’ starting in August. Young riders are released from their U23 team and get what amounts to a try out for a pro team, for free. It’s a big step up from the lower level, and the riders are under a huge amount of pressure to make a good impression in a few months. They even spoke about what they do in their off time – other than ride bikes, they just like to take a few weeks off the bike and not think about racing at all!

It was a great visit with the ASI/Fuji team, and with Team NetApp – we’re excited to cheer for the team as they compete in the Tour de France in July! To get a little sense of what pro racing is like from inside the peloton, check out this video we put together from the Manayunk Wall at the Philly Cycling Classic:

Ridden and Reviewed: Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 Carbon Hardtail Mountain Bike

Race-ready with the Fuji SLM

Our coworker Eddie getting ready to race with the Fuji SLM

We first had an opportunity to throw a leg over the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 at the Outdoor Dirt Demo. It was hot off the presses at the time and was something like the 48th bike claiming to be “The Ultimate Bike Ever Made” that we’d seen that day. By this point in the afternoon though, we needed to see some proof in the pudding. You can’t imagine our surprise when after a couple of laps the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 turned out to be our favorite bike of the day.

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About The Bike:

The Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 is a 29″ carbon fiber hardtail bike that’s tailor made for the XC and racing markets. Reading over the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 parts spec, there’s a lot to be impressed by. This is a carbon fiber hardtail that’s dripping with XTR. XTR shifters and derailleurs, sure. But brakes? Cassette? Chain? This bike is decked out in Shimano’s highest level of racing components with only the carbon Oval M600 Crankset breaking the pattern. Why would Fuji decide to pass on Shimano’s crankset? As anyone who has recently spec’d a mountain bike will tell you, Shimano doesn’t make their XTR crankset with a true PF30 spindle. You can get an adapter for the Hollowtech II spindle, but if you truly want to take advantage of the increased stiffness afforded to you by the SLM’s PF30 bottom bracket, a crankset like the Oval M600 is going to deliver.

The Oval M600 crankset gives you the benefits of a 30mm axle spindle

The Oval M600 crankset gives you the benefits of a 30mm axle spindle

The next area that the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 excels in is the frame. Rather than trying to pass off some lesser carbon fiber as the next big thing, Fuji actually uses the next big thing. C15 super-light high-modulus carbon outfitted with internal shift cable routing, the aforementioned PF30 bottom bracket, a tapered headtube and wide 142x12mm dropouts. This makes for one of the lightest hardtail frames available while also providing stiffness to spare. The bike darts uphill so fast you will leave your friends in the dust.

Fuji also offers Fuji SLM 29er 1.3, 2.1, and 2.3 to make it easy for riders to find the 29″ hardtail to fit their needs and skill levels

The (almost) full Shimano XTR group delivers pro-level performance

The (almost) full Shimano XTR group delivers pro-level performance

The Ride:

Enough about the components, let’s get to the riding! The very first experience we had on board the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 was one that would be repeated with nearly every ride: the tester riding the SLM 1.1 had to wait at the top of the climb for everyone else to catch up. The 29” wheels and knobby tires gave confidence to spare on the descents and it even held its own through moderate rock sections. Where this bike truly excels, however, is the climbing. You’ll float uphill as though the tires are filled with helium.

Another thing that became clear in the ride quality is that this bike was spec’d by someone who really rides and understands mountain bikes. A perfect example is the handlebar. Sure, it was probably picked out of Oval’s lineup for being the lightest bar they make at an amazing 185g. But that’s not all a bar is about. This bar is 710mm wide and has a 9 degree sweep giving the rider confident handling and a comfortable hand position.

Well spec'd parts, like the bars, give the bike an amazing ride feel

Well spec’d parts, like the bars, give the bike an amazing ride feel

The Verdict:

Thoughtful component choices and a finely tuned ride quality make this one of the finest hardtails we’ve ever ridden. This bike is for the rider who wants to squeeze every ounce of performance from his machine, who wants to win races, and who will settle for nothing but the best.  The XC racing bike snob will be as happy as the everyday trail warrior. They are all sweet perfection in mountain biking, balancing weight, comfort, and performance. If you’re thinking about buying a hardtail that you’ll never want to part with, look no further than the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1. The bike was so fast, that we all started arguing about who would get to use our demo model for the upcoming race season. Sitting atop the Fuji, our coworker Eddie rocketed straight to the top of the podium.

Most races on the SLM end only one way: the top of the podium

Most races on the SLM 1.1 end only one way: the top of the podium (#3 left early, it wasn’t just a two person race)

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