Its All About the Bike
By William Fotheringham
Chicago Review Press Incorporated Copyright © 2015 William Fotheringham
All rights reserved.
ABDUZHAPAROV, Djamolidin (b. Uzbekistan, 1964)
Squat, tree-trunk thighed sprinter from Uzbekistan who was one of the biggest stars to emerge from the Eastern bloc after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Abdu' first came to prominence in the British MILK RACE, winning three stages in 1986, but it was in the 1991 TOUR DE FRANCE where his unique style grabbed world headlines: he put his head down low over the front wheel — a style later adopted to great effect by MARK CAVENDISH — and zigzagged up the finish straight, terrifying opponents and onlookers.
He took two stages in the 1991 Tour but came to grief in dramatic style as a third win beckoned on the Champs-Elysées: after colliding with an oversized cardboard Coke can standing against the barriers he somersaulted over the bars and rolled down the road. He had to be helped over the line, and was eventually awarded the points winner's green jersey three months later. This led to him being nicknamed the Terminator, because he got back up each time he was knocked down.
He went on to have a memorable feud with Italian sprinter Mario Cipollini — "send him back to Russia" was Cipo's line — and won a total of nine stages and three green points jerseys in the Tour. His career came to an end in 1997 after he tested positive for Bromantan, a drug used by Russian air force pilots; he retired to live on Lake Garda, where he tends pigeons.
(SEE NICKNAMES FOR OTHER BIZARRE CYCLING MONICKERS, AND EASTERN EUROPE FOR MORE INFO ON THE ORIGINS OF ABDU' AND HIS PEERS)
AERODYNAMICS If the strength of any cyclist is a given on a particular day, several key variables determine how fast he or she can travel: friction (resistance within the bearings and chain), the rolling resistance of the tires on the road, gravity, and air resistance. Of the four, air resistance is the hardest to overcome and has the greatest effect.
Air or wind resistance increases as a square of a cyclist's velocity; for every six miles per hour faster a cyclist travels, he must double his energy output. It is estimated that over 15 mph, overcoming wind resistance can account for up to 90 percent of energy output. Estimates vary as to how much a contrary wind can affect speed: some say it slows a cyclist down by half the wind-speed (e.g., 2 mph for a 4 mph wind). Roughly a third of air resistance is encountered by the bike, roughly two-thirds by the rider.
The most obvious way to counter air resistance is by sheltering, be it merely by riding close to the hedge when the wind blows or choosing valley roads on a windy day. Riding in the slipstream of another cyclist uses up about 25 percent less energy depending on the size of the rider in front (team pursuit squads look for four cyclists about the same height and width to take advantage of this) and is the key to most of the tactical niceties of road and track racing. A bunch of cyclists riding together offers even greater shelter, as does a pacing motorbike such as a DERNY. Before motor vehicles got too quick, cyclists like FAUSTO COPPI would go "truck-hunting" to get in speed training.
Changing handlebar position produces immediate results; riding with the hands on the "drops," not the brake levers, flattens the torso and increases speed by between 0.5 and 1.25 mph. Tucking in any loose clothing helps as well. Shaving the legs produces negligible benefits (seeHAIR for other shaggy-cyclist stories), but wearing an aerodynamic teardrop-shaped helmet helps considerably, as does wearing a one-piece skinsuit rather than separate jersey and shorts, and putting covers over the shoes.
So much for the basics. Most recent aerodynamic developments can be traced back to FRANCESCO MOSER and his attempts on the HOUR RECORD in 1982. The Italian used a Lycra hat, shoe-covers, a plunging frame to lower the angle of his torso and reduce the profile of the bike, and solid disc wheels. All became widely accepted ways of reducing air resistance.
Tri-bars, so-called because they were first used by triathletes in the US in the 1980s, were the next major development. They provided the most dramatic recent illustration of the power of aerodynamics when GREG LEMOND used a pair to overturn a 50 second deficit in the final time trial of the 1989 TOUR DE FRANCE. The loser, LAURENT FIGNON, was not riding the extensions, which allow the user to flatten the torso and push the arms forward along the lines of a downhill skier's tuck.
Perhaps the ultimate tri-bar position was achieved by CHRIS BOARDMAN in the mid-1990s. He said of his work in the windtunnel at the Motor Industry Research Assocation in Birmingham, England: "They discovered that if I folded up my body position and tucked in my elbows the drag would be considerably reduced. What I learned was to reduce my frontal area. I have my handlebars about four or five centimeters lower than anybody else." As a result, if you drove behind Boardman when he was riding a time trial, all that could be seen of him was his backside: his front end was completely flat, or pointing down slightly to minimize air resistance.
The boundaries were pushed further by GRAEME OBREE in the build-up to his Hour attempt in 1993, when the Scot experimented with a tuck position with his arms up close to his chest. Together with his coach Peter Keen, Boardman ran tests on the Manchester velodrome, riding in various positions and using POWER CRANKS to ensure his power output was relatively constant. Under these controlled conditions, Obree's tuck gave better airflow than either riding on the drops on a conventional bike or using triathlon handlebars. Obree later devised a stretched position known as "Superman"; both this and the tuck were eventually banned.
In the 1990 and 1991 Tours, LeMond rode Drop-In bars, which brought the tribar idea to road-racing bars; they had a lowered central section enabling him to get flatter and make his elbows more narrow than on conventional drops (they were also a handy location to put stickers advertising his bar-makers, Scott, for head-on television pictures); in the mid-1990s there was a brief craze for short triathlon-type extensions such as Cinelli's Spinaci bars, which could be fitted to the middle of road racing bars, again enabling the rider to lower his profile. They were banned from 1998 by the UCI; Cinelli are still campaigning for the ban to be lifted.
After tri-bars, the most efficient way to improve the aerodynamic profile of a bike is to fit disc wheels. These eliminate the drag produced by a conventional wheel with spokes, which have an uneven drag profile because as they come forward at the top of the wheel rotation they are going at twice the bike's forward speed.
Aerodynamic frame tubes also play a part: they should be teardrop-shaped, but three and a half times as long as they are round to be most efficient. "If a tube is too round, instead of flowing round the tube, the air bounces off it and creates mini vortexes that actually increase drag," says Boardman. Every part of the bike pulls on the air; hence the British Olympic team's return to the drawing board before the Beijing Games when their technicians — led by Boardman and the carbon frame specialist Dimitris Katsanis — assessed every last part of their carbon-fiber bikes. The result was smoothed-out handlebars, produced as a single element with the stem; even the wheelnuts were reconfigured to save an estimated 0.005 percent of drag coefficient.
(SEE BURROWS, RECUMBENTS, OLYMPIC GAMES)
AFRICA Cycling is a vital means of transport here and, in addition, cycle racing goes on in places and ways that few outside the continent know about. To take one example, in Eritrea the influence of Italian colonists from the early 20th century means that cycling is the national sport, with some 800 registered racers in the capital Asmara. The Giro di Eritrea was founded in 1946 and relaunched in 2001, eight years after the end of war with Ethiopia. There are said to be about 100 professionals in the country earning several times the average wage. An Eritrean cyclist, Daniel Teklehaimanot, finished 50th in the time trial in the 2009 world under-23 road race championships.
Italian and French colonial influence brought bike racing to the North African coast, and the sport is also strong in other former French colonies such as Burkina Faso and Mali. The Italian Marco Pastonesi interviewed Burkinabe cyclists for his 2007 book The Craziest Race in the World; they told him that cycling is the most popular sport in the country. The TOUR DE FRANCE organizers ASO recognize this by running the annual Tour du Faso each autumn. Cycle racing in Burkina Faso goes back to the postwar era, when FAUSTO COPPI came to race there in a series of criteriums in the capital, Ouagadougou, to celebrate the country's independence (it was then known as Upper Volta); after one of the races, Coppi caught the malaria which was to end his life.
Colonialism was also responsible for bringing the first African to the Tour de France: Abdel Kader Zaaf was an Algerian who became French national champion in 1942 and 1947, and rode the Tour in 1950 for a North Africa team. Zaaf was involved in a legendary episode when he was riding 16 minutes ahead of the bunch on a baking hot stage in the South of France and was given a bottle of wine by a spectator; the alcohol affected him so badly that he ended up riding the wrong way down the road.
More recently, in 2007, the South African team Barloworld became the first squad from the continent to race the Tour, when Robbie Hunter — already the first South African to start the Tour, in 2001 — was the first stage winner from the country at Montpellier (see CAPE TOWN to read about the biggest bike race in Africa and the world). The best African races figure on the UCI's Africa Tour that includes events in Cameroon, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Gabon, Egypt, and Libya. The 2008–9 winner was Dan Craven, a Namibian riding with British squad Rapha-Condor.
In 2009, there were projects under way to turn cyclists in both Rwanda and Kenya into world-class roadmen. The Rwanda project was headed by Jonathan Boyer, the first American to finish the Tour de France. One of his riders, Leonard, was spotted when he kept pace with the team while carrying 150 pounds of potatoes on his bike. The project was set up by Tom Ritchey, one of the founding fathers of the MOUNTAIN BIKE, who set up a race, the Wooden Bike Classic, on which Rwandans could race the basic machines they used to carry coffee from the fields. The project in Kenya, backed by a French hedge fund, aims to transfer to cycling the endurance skills the Kenyans have shown in running.
ALPS When the Alps were added to the TOUR DE FRANCE route in 1911, the idea of riding a bike over summits such as the 2,646 m high Col du Galibier seemed outlandish: such tracks connecting one mountain village with another were barely passable on foot, even in summer. When the Tour went over that July, the Galibier was still covered in vast snowdrifts and the road was a dirt track deeply rutted with streams of melt water. The road has been improved, but cycling to an altitude of nearly 9,000 ft remains an immense challenge.
Then, the Alps fitted perfectly with Tour founder HENRI DESGRANGE's aim of producing cycling supermen to captivate the readers of his paper L'Auto. Desgrange wanted to set his cyclists seemingly impossible tasks to perform amid epic backdrops, to make the most dramatic copy possible for his paper. Now, however, the mountains are accessible to ordinary cyclists thanks to better roads and the organization of a huge range of mass-participation events (see CYCLOSPORTIVES). In these events, the attraction lies in facing the same challenges as the stars of cycling, at a different speed.
The highest paved pass in the Alps is the Cime de la Bonette, sometimes known as the Bonette-Restefonds. It actually consists of two roads, one of which crosses the Col de Restefonds at an altitude just below that of the Col d'Iseran; to create the highest pass in Europe, the local council added a loop up around the black shale scree slopes of the Bonette peak, which is where the Tour goes.
Opinions vary, naturally, as to the toughest climb in the Alps: the north face of the Galibier, as climbed by the Tour in 1911, is a contender, because of the length of the ascent from Valloire over the Col du Télégraphe before the steepest part actually begins. Another contender is the Joux-Plane between Cluses and Morzine in the northern Alps, which is unremittingly steep, but toughest of all is probably Mont Ventoux. This peak lies a little south of the main Alpine massif. It is longer than the Joux-Plane but almost as steep, with extreme conditions — heat or cold — occurring frequently on the summit. (see TOM SIMPSON to read the story of his death here).
The great Alpine climbs are used by CYCLOSPORTIVE events, of which the best-known is the Marmotte, which has been run for over 30 years. The 174 km course begins in Bourg d'Oisansand goes over the Croix de Fer and Galibier before finishing up l'Alpe d'Huez. La Ventoux ascends the Ventoux at the end of a 170 km loop. On some of the great climbs, local tourist offices run informal timed events up the climbs, so that amateurs can measure their times against the professionals — at l'Alpe d'Huez, for example, this takes place every Monday through the summer.
There are two Raids Alpines run along the lines of the better-known-RAID PYRENEAN. These are informal challenges run by the cycling club in Thononles-Bains. One route takes cyclists from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Coast at Antibes over 43 passes with a total of 18,187 m climbing during the 740 km journey; the other travels from Thonon to Trieste, taking in 44 cols for a total of 22,131 m climbing in the 1,180 km route.
The passes in the southeastern section of the Alps, over the Italian border from France, are a key element in the GIRO D'ITALIA, with their own cycling history: see DOLOMITES for more details.
Further reading:Tour Climbs, Chris Sidwells (Collins, 2008).
AMAURY SPORT ORGANISATION (ASO) The world's leading cycle race organizer, responsible for the TOUR DE FRANCE, LIEGE — BASTOGNE — LIEGE and PARIS–ROUBAIX, and other races (see right) which make up the bulk of the French calendar. Based in Paris, the company also owns 49 percent of the Vuelta a España, and has partnerships with Tour of California. In early 2010 it took over the Dauphiné Libéré, giving it a near monopoly on French races.
ASO's lineage goes back to the newspaper L'Auto, which ran the first Tour de France. Under HENRI DESGRANGE and his successor Jacques Goddet, the paper organized the race until the outbreak of war in 1940. During the war, Goddet continued to publish, which meant that after liberation, L'Auto could no longer appear as all publications that had printed under the Germans were shut down. After the war, the paper and its editor were charged with collaboration, but cleared, and Goddet was given charge of L'Equipe, a new paper that was in essence L'Auto under a different name. He then ran the race jointly with Émilien Amaury's Le Parisien Libéré, with Félix Lévitan as codirector. Amaury bought L'Equipe in 1965 and created a multimedia promotional and publishing empire that included venues such as the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris.
Later the group's cycling promotions were split off into a separate company, the Société du Tour de France; early in the 21st century this was merged into ASO, covering all Amaury's sports promotions. Goddet remained in charge of the STF's races until his retirement in 1989, when the former journalist Jean-Marie Leblanc took over. ASO grew rapidly during the 1990s, from less than 50 employees in 1992 to well over 200 in 2008, running 16 sports events including the Paris–Dakar rally, athletics, golf, and equestrianism.
After the 1998 doping scandal involving the Festina team, ASO became aware of the dangers that drugs posed to its races. The problem was that as race organizers, its options were limited: Leblanc tried refusing entry to those the race considered to be suspect, but he had limited support from the UCI, and in any case it was impossible to tell who was suspect and who wasn't. Leblanc retired in 2005; since then the Tour has been run by former television journalist Christian Prudhomme. (See section on the UCI for how ASO fell out with cycling's governing body between 2005 and 2008.)
The Tour is ASO's main source of income, estimated to bring in 70 percent of its profits. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Cyclopedia by William Fotheringham. Copyright © 2015 William Fotheringham. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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