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Chris Horner: No Problem

What an exciting finish to the Vuelta a Espana and what a great win for Chris Horner. Even before the Vuelta started, Horner was talking about his good legs and how he was aiming to win the race. Of course no one really believed it, except perhaps Chris Horner.

Then when the race got underway and Horner won a couple of mountain top stages, we all began to believe that at least a podium place was possible, but even on the penultimate stage, Chris with only a 3 second lead, and the way Nibali kept attacking, I think I was like most people who could see the end result going either way.

Now looking back it is easier to see the many factors that swayed to result Horner’s way. He was fresher. His knee surgery was earlier in the year, and he had enough time to recover, then train to reach peak form just at the right moment. He must have felt this, which is why he was so confident in his predictions at the start of the Vuelta.

Everyone else was tired. Most certainly Valverde and Rodriguez, they had ridden the Tour de France that had finished only a little over a month before the Vuelta. Even Nibali, (Above left.) who missed the TDF, never found the form he had earlier in the year at the Giro d’Italia. He was climbing at around 20 watts less than he did in the Giro. It is hard for a rider to peak for two Grand Tours in one year.

The Vuelta a Espana is the hardest of the three Grand Tours, with few flat stages, mostly mountain climbs day after day. Chris Horner is a pure climber, it is his strength, but the only strength he has, so this race suited him.

As expected Chris lost time in the Time Trial, (1 minute and 29 seconds.) but there were enough mountain stages after the Time Trial that Chris could keep nibbling away at Nibali’s lead. (Sorry ‘bout that, I couldn’t resist.)

Let’s face it, had there been less mountain stages, and possibly a Time Trial near the end, the result could have been a lot different. The result at the end was only close because of the time trial, and on the other hand Nibali was only in contention because of his minute and a half gained in the TT.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean to take anything away from Chris Horner, this was a superb win. But everything aligned perfectly, his preparation, the way the event was planned, and even the weather. The one really cold, wet day, was one of the few days that Nibali out climbed Horner. Nibali is known to excel in cold, wet conditions. Another mountain day with bad weather could have changed the end result.

What a joy to watch Chris Horner climb. His unique style. It is always a pleasure to watch someone do something well, but do it differently from everyone else.

Most riders sit down to climb, occasionally getting out of the saddle when the going gets real tough.

Chris Horner stands up for almost the entire climb, sitting down occasionally when the incline levels out.

But at the same time he makes it look so easy, clearly in a higher gear than everyone else, you never see him struggle. And that smile on his face all the time. Okay, so it is probably a grimace, but it is a grimace that looks like a smile.

What about those questions about Horner’s age. How can he perform at this level at 41 years of age? It is true that most professional cyclists reach their peak in their late twenties, and start to slow after their mid-thirties. However, cycling is an endurance sport, and the Vuelta with so many mountain stages is an “Extreme” endurance event.

An athlete may lose speed and power by the time they hit 40, but what an older person gains is the ability to endure, and suffer pain. And that is what this year’s Vuelta was all about. Earlier this month a 64 year old woman swam 110 miles from Cuba to Florida, I doubt a twenty something could do that, or would even attempt it.

What it came down to in the end was Chris Horner’s determination, and his ability to suffer. Then there is that other thing that comes with age…. Experience. Chris Horner is a superb tactician, and will probably make a fine Director Sportive sometime in the future.


Footnote: The title for this piece was inspired by “The problem with Chris Horner.” On Inner Ring last week.

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Vuelta a Espana 2013

The last of the Grand Tours this year, the Vuelta a Espana, (Tour of Spain.) is turning out to be one of the best races of this year. The Vuelta finishes at the end of this week, Sunday, September 15th, and with three more big mountain stages to come, the end result is by no means a foregone conclusion.

The main players are: (1.) Italian, Vincenzo Nibali, winner of this year’s Giro d’Italia, he opted out for the Tour de France, and so went into the Vuelta as favourite.

(2.) At 28 seconds. American, Chris Horner (Radio Shack-Leopard-Trek.) Had knee surgery earlier this year, and has only had three weeks of racing before this event, including 2nd. Place in the Tour of Utah. 41 years old and soon to be 42 apparently. He has already won two stages, both uphill solo efforts. As a result he goes into the record books as the oldest stage winner in a Grand Tour.

(3.) At 1min. 14sec. Alejandro Valverde, who was 8th in this year’s Tour de France, and 2nd. In last year’s Vuelta.

(4.) At 2min.29sec. Joaquin Rodriguez, who was 3rd in this year’s Tour de France, and 3rd. in the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

Valverde and Rodriguez, both from Spain, both rode this year’s Tour de France. The TDF finishes at the end of July, the Vuelta starts the first week in September. Basically just the month of August to recover, which has to be hard on a body.

If you haven’t been following the race so far here are some video highlights. Stage 3. Chris Horner’s first win, he took off and I think the rest of the favorites thought they could catch him in the last 500 meters. They almost did, but Horner timed his effort perfectly with a scant 3 seconds lead at the end.

Stage 10. This time Nibali took Horner seriously, and chased hard with 1.5 km. to go. The interesting thing is Horner had 48 seconds lead when Nibali started the chase, and was still 48 seconds down at the finish. As fast as Nibali appears to be going, the clock shows Horner matched his speed.

Stage 11 was a Time Trial, which is not Chris Horner’s strong point. Nibali took 1.29 out of him. Luckily Horner was ahead of Nibali in the GC so had a small cushion, and ended up 46 seconds down.

Stage 14: On an appalling day of heavy rain and cold temperatures, when at least 14 riders had to quit due to hypothermia. The stage was won by young Italian rider, Daniele Ratto, who had survived out of a long breakaway. Horner rode strongly and Nibali was the only one who could stay with him. In fact he sat on his wheel all the way up the mountain, and then took a few seconds out of Horner at the end. However, both riders took time out of all the other favorites.

Stage 16: Argos Shimano rider, Warren Barguil, who is a 21 year old Frenchman. He won stage 13 with a fine solo effort, and was wanting to do it again. He took off from a break that was originally about 20 riders strong, with about 14 km. to go, and a big climb at the end.

However, Colombian rider, Rigoberto Uran, who went into the Vuelta as one of the favorites, but is currently in 20th place, was hot to win a stage. Uran bridged the gap to Barguil and caught him in the final kilometer. He tried to blow by him, but when the young French rider managed to get on his wheel, Uran slowed to recover for a sprint out.

The problem was other riders were also closing the gap and Uran had no choice but to sprint for a long one. Barguil was able to stay on his wheel and overtake Uran on the line, to win by about a tire’s width.

Meanwhile, further down the slope, the favorites were battling it out. Nibali appeared to weaken, and Rodriguez attacked, followed by Horner, then Valverde. They all finished within 6 seconds of each other, but all took time from Nibali. Horner is in 2nd place, only 28 seconds down.

Go to to get results each day and view videos so far. Also you can watch the race live on Eurosport. A word of warning, don’t click on any of the ads that ask you to download stuff, it is all pretty much spam. Click on the “Full Screen Mode” icon, bottom right of the video. When the picture goes full screen, the ads disappear.

Also get all the racing news at


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Coppi: By Herbie Sykes

Italian cyclist Fausto Coppi was one of the most successful and popular cyclists of all time. 

Born in September 1919, his career spanned both sides of WWII.

His pre-war successes came early, he won his first Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy.) in 1940 at age 20; to this day the youngest ever to do so.  

After the war he won the Giro four more times in 1947, 1949, 1952, and 1953. He won the Tour de France twice in 1949 and 1952. He won many of the Classics and was World Champion in 1953.

There have been numerous books published on the life of Fausto Coppi. So many in fact that in this latest one, published by Bloomsbury, Herbie Sykes, opens the book by asking, “Why would anyone add another Fausto Coppi book to the slush pile?”

This book is different in that it is a compilation of short stories told by people who actually knew Coppi. Other ex professional cyclists who rode with him, raced with him and against him, ate with him, lived with him, and so on.

Coppi died at the young age of 40 years, in January 1960, when he contracted malaria during a hunting trip to Africa. Had he lived he would be in his 90s now, and so too are the people who actually knew him.

Like WWII vets, they are becoming fewer with every passing year, so this is an important thing that Herbie Sykes has done in committing these people’s words to print, preserving them for us and future generations.

There is a short piece (Page 296.) by Raphael Geminiani who shared a room with Coppi on that same African hunting trip, and also contracted malaria. Geminiani was diagnosed correctly in France, and was treated with a simple quinine shot. Coppi was miss-diagnosed by his Italian doctors, and died.

Along with these stories are photos, many that have never been published before. There are pictures of Coppi racing, and others of him before and after races. There are also many of him just going about his everyday life, and looking at them one is struck by the fact that this man was not just a racing cyclist, but a super star of his day.

Followed by the Paparazzi in the way that music and movie stars are today.

Coppi’s affair with Giulia Occhini, for example, dubbed by the press as “The Woman in White,” when they were both married to other people.

This would have been a story on the lines of Brad and Angelina today.

However, back in the mid 1950s in a deeply Catholic country like Italy, it was a huge scandal that lost Fausto a lot of fans. At the height of this scandal, the Pope refused to bless the Giro d'Italia because Coppi was riding.

It all goes to show the high esteem (And expectations.) in which cyclists like Fausto Coppi were held in Italy and on the Continent of Europe in the immediate post war era.

One cannot imagine photos like this in such a book, featuring the likes of Alberto Contador, Phillip Gilbert, or Fabian Cancellara being published some 60 years from today.

I would class this as a Coffee Table Book, in that it is one you can read though but then return to it time and time again. Enjoy the photos over and over, and share with others. It would make a nice gift for any cyclist, especially vintage enthusiasts.


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Group Riding

I saw an online question posed, “When is a group ride too big.” The answer I would give is that it is not the size of the group that is the issue, it is the makeup of the group and their collective bike riding experience and skills.

A group of 20 or even 30 professional riders, or even top experienced amateurs, might not be too big, whereas a group of six complete novices might be.

I stopped riding with my local group, because the experienced guys are just too fast for me, and the slower group has just enough people in the mix that don’t have a clue about the basic group riding skills. At best it makes the group not fun to ride with, and at worst, downright dangerous.

Probably the single most important thing in group riding is the ability to ‘Follow a Wheel.’ To draft effectively a rider must maintain a distance of no more than 18 inches from the rider ahead. Once the gap opens up to half a bike length then the following rider has no benefit from drafting.

The ideal minimum distance to follow a wheel is 6 to 8 inches. Many do not have the confidence or the skill to ride that close, so they leave a bike length, or two, or three, between each rider, as a result a group of 20 or so is strung out over a quarter of a mile, making it impossible for cars to pass the whole group without cutting in front of someone somewhere.

Others are trying to get from the back to the front of this long strung out line, the result being that there are riders two abreast in several places. Okay, so it is legal for a cyclist to pass another cyclist, but to an outsider it just appears to be an unorganized rabble all over the road. Which is pretty much what it is.

Then if the group does manage to form something that resembles a pace line, there is the rider who can’t ride smoothly, and is constantly pedal, pedal, coast. Pedal, pedal, coast. Or worse still is constantly on the brakes.

A newcomer should aim to maintain a gap of about 12 inches to start with. That way the distance can fluctuate from 6 inches to 18 inches. Try to avoid using the brakes to regulate speed, if one should find themselves getting too close to the wheel they are following, ease off on the pedaling, and pull off to one side or the other. That way the rider pulls out of the lead rider's slipstream and catches a little head wind that it will slow him down, naturally and gently.

Applying the brakes will slow the rider too quickly, and he will start to yoyo on and off. Braking opens a gap, the rider then sprints to catch up, finds himself running into the rider ahead, then has to use the brakes again and the whole cycle starts over.

This also becomes uncomfortable and dangerous for others following. Even a gentle touch of the brakes, and with the delay in reaction before the rider behind realizes what is happening. He has to slam on his brakes a little harder, and the whole effect gets magnified as it goes from one rider to the next. Often the result is someone runs into the rider ahead and brings down several riders behind him.

Don’t even stop pedaling and freewheel. This can be annoying for the following rider, better to just ease of the pressure, and keep the pedals turning at slightly less revs, just partially freewheeling.

Try to avoid overlapping the wheel in front, but if a rider should find the gap between wheels getting to be 6 inches or less, just pull off slightly to one side. Better that wheels overlap briefly than to have them actually touch.

Don’t panic, don’t use the brakes, just ease off on the pedals and let the wind the rider is catching slow him gently so he can drop back in behind the leader. The rider next in line will follow not even aware that the rider ahead changed his line slightly.

Smoothness is the key to riding in a pace line. That includes smoothness when going to the front to take your turn. Don’t sprint through and increase the speed. Gaps will open up, and cause a chain reaction down the pace line in the same way braking did, with each rider having to sprint harder and harder to close the gap ahead.

Cycling is one of the few athletic activities where one can socialize while participating. But in order to socialize one must ride in a group. With more and more new people coming into the sport all the time the situation will get worse before it gets better.

What are your pet peeves with inexperienced riders on group rides?


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Climbing out of the saddle

Climbing a hill out of the saddle, standing on the pedals is very tiring and a rider can soon burn himself out. But used sparingly at the right time, an experienced rider can save energy in the long run.

When deciding how to climb a hill on a bicycle, think of it as a work load. Imagine two men, each moving 100lbs. of sand from A to B in five minutes. One man hoists the 100lb. bag of sand on his shoulder, moves it from A to B in one minute, then sits down and rests for four minutes. The other man divides the sand into five, 20lb. loads and takes a minute to move each 20lb. for a total of five minutes.

Now imagine that the two men have to immediately repeat the same task over and over. Who is the fresher? The one who makes a big effort to start with, but then rests, or the man who spreads the work load over the full five minutes? A lot depends on the makeup of each individual.

Often if a road is an undulating series of short steep hills, it is often in the interest of a rider to use the speed and momentum of the descent to carry him half way up the next climb, then without shifting down, he gets out of the saddle and puts in a super human effort to keep the momentum going to carry himself over the crest of the next hill, knowing that even if this effort takes him to the point of exhaustion, he can recover on the following descent.

On a long steep climb it is different, even a long gradual climb. One must still try to keep momentum, and must occasionally get out of the saddle to boost that momentum, but a rider cannot put in those super efforts, when there are no downhill respites where he can recover.

A rider climbs out of the saddle not only to get his full weight over the pedals, but to get his body nearer his hands so he has a direct pull on the handlebars in opposition the downward thrust of his legs. Think of using an elliptical treadmill in a gym. One has to constantly move their body from left to right, so the user’s full weight is directly over the downward stroke of the paddles.

On a bike, instead of moving the body, move the bike. As the rider thrusts down on the right pedal, he pulls upwards on the right side of the handlebar. This not only puts an opposing thrust on the pedals but it moves the bike to the left, effectively using the bike as a lever.

As the right leg pushes down on the right pedal, power is transferred through the crank, chainwheel, and chain to the rear wheel. Meanwhile the bike’s frame is moving to the left and the bottom bracket, is moving upwards on the right side. 

There is not just the leverage of the crank arm, but the leverage of the whole bike frame working in the opposite direction. As the pedal moves down towards the bottom of its stroke, the right side of the crank axle is moving towards the top.

When the right pedal gets to the bottom, the rider pulls up on the left side of the handlebars, while pushing downwards on the left pedal. The rider’s body stays vertical, and the bike moves from side to side. (See top picture.) Also as the rider pushes down on one pedal, he pulls upward with his other foot on the opposing pedal. 

Obviously climbing out of the saddle like this is very tiring, one is using the whole body. But used sparingly, to increase momentum, it can be very effective. For example if the gradient of a climb starts to level out, a strong rider can shift up a gear, then get out of the saddle to get the cadence back up to a level where he can sit down a pedal again.

It is all a matter of a rider knowing his fitness level, and his recovery time. Knowing his strengths and limitations, and that only comes with hard work, training and experience.


For a large selection of Sun Glasses like those worn in the picture at the top of this article, click on the link below:    

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