Wednesday, December 23, 2009

To-Hell-And-Back 2009

A belated To-Hell-And-Back report - event was back in mid November.

I am precariously balanced on a thin berm of dirt, mud is more like it, leaning on my bike, axle deep in the water of a huge puddle to my left. To my right, is more swampy water. This is supposed to be a bike ride, but I feel like I am in some kind of weird circus act. You do these sorts of things, on the annual T0-Hell-And-Back ride.

I could have tried to ride this part, but falling head-first into all that water in the trail and then getting soaking wet in the middle of a 144K ride, when it's only about 7C out, would not have been a good thing. So I opted for the easier, but more conservative thing to do - the Cirque-de-Soleil like balancing act along the side of the trail. Onwards I go on foot.

The To-Hell-And-Back race/ride has an obscure and shady history in the Toronto area. Orginally it was a race, set up by Mike Barry Sr., Father to Michael Barry, Pro rider for Team Columbia/High-Road. It was set up to emulate the famous Paris Roubaix road race. It was run on some of the gravel and dirt roads north of Toronto, some old farmers tracks that connected some of the north-south concession roads, as well as a 9k section along an abandoned rail line running south from Sutton, up near Lake Simcoe, at about the mid point of the route. It was this last item that was referred to as "Hell", as it was/is particularly treacherous, due to it's soft gravel, sand and rocks that have to be ridden over. Hence the name - To-Hell . . . . And-Back!

Not sure what happened to the race. These days there are a couple of informal To-Hell-And-Back rides. The one that I have done in the fall, was resurrected by the folks at Cervelo about 10 years ago - for a few years Gerard Vroomen, one of the co-founders of Cervelo was a participant. You can read an account of one of Gerard's To-Hell-And-Back experiences here. This ride is now organized by Triathlon coach Nigel Grey. The traditional start, is in the small community of Box Grove just south and east of Markham, Ontario. The route runs more or less straight north, picking out some of the few remaining gravel roads, hitting some of the original farmers tracks, adds in some new trail sections in the area of the Oak Ridges Moraine, and then carry's on to the "Hell" section south of Sutton. This is the one spot on the course that support is sure to be found and, it's the traditional bail-out point if you don't want to ride the final 54km back to Box Grove.

This years event was scheduled a few weeks earlier than normal. This was a good as the last two years, have been "blessed" with snow and very cold temperatures( -15C at the start two years ago). The forecast for the day was a high of 10C some clouds, no rain and light winds - about as good as it gets at this time of the year.

Equipment choice is always key for this ride. Traditionally, the event was done on retro-fitted road bikes( wider tires and MTB Pedals) With the increased popularity and availability of good cross-bikes now, everyone, save me, was on a cross bike. I was riding my relatively new Cervelo R3 with some wider 28mm tires and MTB pedals.

Tradition has it that the "slow" group sets off at 7:00am and then the fast-group at 8:00. This year there was some talent in the slow group with a couple of sub-10 hr IM guys and some pretty good road riders. The un-spoken goal of the day of course is for the Fast group to catch the Slow and/or the Slow guys to hold off the Fast. So, at the first light of dawn, off we go at a not too bad clip to get things going. It would seem we are using the "Talk-Test" to keep the pace under-control with lots of chit-chat in the group as we hit the road. With-in the first 5km we come to the first off-road section - a roughly 2km farmers track connecting two concession roads, and it's a good indicator of how the day is going to go. The bike set-up feels good and I do as well. We get a bit strung out through the section, but then re-group back on the pavement and off we go.

It would seem that despite some detailed maps, course knowledge, and a GPS unit, we somehow got off the course, but after a bit of a back track we are back on the route. It's turning into a nice day as the sun is shining and the temperature is warming up. There are six of us in the group and we either work a double pace-line on or single pace line on the paved and gravel sections and then it's just have-at-it on the trail sections. We are all evenly matched and working well together and we start to cover a fair amount of ground.

A tough section south of Gun Club Hill( dead-end of Kennedy Rd.) sees all of us off the bikes on a particularly technical and slippy section that would have been best on a MTB bike. Then two downed trees have to be bush-whacked around. Then straight out of the bush with sandy and dirty tires slipping all over the place we have to tackle the Gun Club Hill - the steepest and hardest hill on the whole route. It's a lung and quad buster. Mercifully it's short, but I am still struggling to keep the bike up-right as we come to the top - with the sounds of gun-shots in the back-ground from the Club!!

Heading north on Kennedy we see the support Van. They pull along side as we roll along, and tell us that they'll see us after the notorious Boag Road section. It's pronounced Bo - aag, but we just call it Bog Road. No matter how dry it's been, this section is always a swamp. It's the part I started talking about at the beginning. Actually, really cold weather, with the ground and water, frozen often makes this section easier. I survive the Bog and am feeling good. A quick stop to re-fuel and get some of the mud out of my brakes.

Then it is onto Sutton and the the off-road section that defines this ride - the dreaded abandoned rail line south of the town of Sutton. Just before entering the section we are alerted by the support Van of two things. The Fast Group is closing in on us, and there is a bridge out on the Hell Section and we'll have to take a bit of a detour. Onto the rough gravel we go and it's going not too bad. Of my three times over this section, it's in the best shape that I have ever seen it. The trick is finding the firmer less rough gravel and sand/dirt parts and following that groove along. Problem is, this may only last 100m and then you have to find the smoother surface again, so you tend to shift from side to side of the trail trying to find the best combination of smooth surface, traction and dryness. After a few Kilometers on the rail line a quick glance back and our worst fears are realized - the Fast Group is going to catch us. They have made great time.

We merge with them and for a time all 12 of us ride together, however the fast guys are going really fast over this rougher stuff - 30km/h at least. I am barely able to hang on. I dig in as I know the support van will be waiting at the end of the Rail Section and I can get a bit of a break. The faster pace does split the group and soon we are all strung out in two's and ones along the trail. This is when the pounding of 4 hours of riding on lousy surfaces starts to add up. My hands are getting sore, and so is my back. However, I must say that the R3 is an amazing machine and is the most comfortable road set-up for riding in this sort of stuff.

Not soon enough we swing back towards the road and off the Rail Section and there is the welcome sight of the support Van. We all take a bit of a break here to re-group, refuel and check the bikes over. The Fast Group does set off just about the time that I roll in. The reality about these sorts of stops on rides like this, is that you don't want to stop for too long otherwise you start to get chilled, stiff, and perhaps start to have some second thoughts about going on. The comfort and warmth of the support van is tempting. 90K done and 54 to go. Can I do it? I'm feeling OK. The good news is the worst of the rough stuff is over, we now have a slight tail wind and it's warmed up a bit. The bad news is that . . well . . . there is still 54K to go and it's reasonably hilly. After no more than 5 minutes off the bike, we are back in the saddle and heading south. Unfortunately, the group starts to break-up - some faster some slower. On rides like this I find rhythm is key - going slower than what feels like a good rhythm can actually feel worse. I forge on with one other rider and we work well together taking equal good pulls as we press-on.

Yes, the worst of the off road sections was over, but there were still two short, but tricky ones to go. One, in one of the York Region Forest Tracts that is almost all sand. This had me doing a fair amount of walk/running with the bike for nearly a kilometer and then another section further south from there that was only about 200m long but was a total quagmire. It looked like something out of a WWI in Europe - water and that sticky light brown battle-field mud everywhere. We make it through here, and then it's only about 10K to the finish from there - most of it on gravel roads.

I am really starting to hurt about now. Energy wise I am good. I have fueled myself well - but 6 hours on the bike is about 3 hours longer than I have been on the bike in a very long time. My riding partner and I continue to work well together over the final few K with good rotating pulls on the front. Honestly, I could not have ridden this final 50K this well without him. He admits to me the same. This is one of the things I really like about road riding - these ad-libbed partnerships that are formed out on the road in races or on training rides. You depend on each other to get to the finish.

And then we swing left onto the final stretch of road in Box Grove and into the parking lot where 6 hours earlier we had left at the first light of dawn. I am done and can barely get off the bike(Pic at top). A few whoop, whoops and it's pack things up and head home. I am bagged.

Many thanks to Rhys Spencer and Cary Moretti for driving the support van. We could not have done this with out you.

The R3 fared well. There were only a couple of places that the road bike with slightly wider tires(28 mm) was a bit of a liability. Check out the pic below. It would appear that I had some clearance issues but the front wheel was still turning freely despite the mud in there. If it had been wetter and more muddy, I might have had some problems and a true cross-bike would have been the better option. It is amazing how far you can push a regular road bike.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

An Open Letter To Lance Armstrong

Dear Lance,

Congratulations on the comeback this year. My sense is that you exceeded many people's expectations of how you would do, coming back after over three years out of the sport. You acquitted yourself well at both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France. I know that your goal was the top spot on the podium at either one of those races, but you did well none-the-less - scoring some big points for the "old-guys".

Now onto 2010 with a new team. Already, I sense that your focus for next year will be the Tour de France and an epic clash and confrontation with your former team-mate Alberto Contador. These sort of rivalries are great for any sport and they have defined the history of cycling. I expect that with the full support and devotion of a team, you will be totally focused on being ready for the Tour de France. However, you know that the knock on you is that you have been too focussed on the Tour de France all these years and that when people are talking about the great riders of the past they note that their palmeres are a bit more rounded with wins and high placings at many of the Big one day classics, other stage races, Tours and the World Championships. Perhaps these people don't recall that the race that actually put you on the map many years ago was your win at the World Championship Road Race and seven Tour de France wins is . . . . well . . . a feat that we may never see duplicated, ever again. In light of that, Lance, why not have a go at some of these other races - it's the perfect opportunity for you, with no real down side. Your place in the pantheon of the true Greats in cycling is guaranteed and assured. All I am saying, is that it would be great to see you mixing it up in the Belgian Classics in the early part of the year and some of the other great races on the calendar. However, I know that your season next year will be focused on the Tour de France.

Best wishes for next year and keep scoring some points for the "old-guys" out there on the road.

Then of course, it's back to Triathlon as the rumours say. We'll see you in Kona in 2011!!

Kind regards,


Friday, December 4, 2009

What Now For Professional Triathletes?

Professional Triathlete Jordan Rapp Celebrates after winning the recent Ironman Arizona Triathlon.

The WTC has come out with some new rules for Professional Triathletes. There was some very good things that they say they will be doing. However the subsequent debate, about who and what defines a Professional Triathlete has been interesting. There are a number of different things going on here that present various challenges depending on where you are in the sport.

A key issue is that the total pool of money available to Professional triathletes, be it through prize purses, be it through sponsorship deals, or be it through other means, is in the grand scheme of things, very limited. The scope and scale is much smaller than people think. Also, the distribution of this money, through no ones fault, is very top heavy - if you are at our very near the top of the sport, you are most likely doing "well". However, after that very select group at the very top, the money drops off dramatically.

Another issue is that many athletes depend heavily on the endemic companies in the sport of triathlon - the obvious equipment and gear suppliers and manufacturers in the business to sponsor them with both product, and money. The problem with this, is that many of the companies in this space are smaller than small - they are micro-businesses and they don't have huge financial or product resources available. There are some bigger players, some of the bike and apparel companies, but to these companies, triathlon is a small part of their business.

Another issue that presents challenges is the division between athletes themselves. Due to past history and politics we now have, two different divisions if you will of triathletes - those who pursue the ITU circuit and associated races and those who pursue the non-drafting events, of which the WTC's Ironman and 70.3 events are the most well known and popular. Within the sport of triathlon and amongst the rank-and-file age-group and participatory triathletes, the Ironman and 70.3 events are very well known. The Ironman World Championships at the Ironman Hawaii triathlon, is to many of this crowd, the most important race of the year. However, outside the sport of triathlon, with regular international TV coverage, and then the massive shot in the arm that they they get every four years at the Olympic Games, the ITU format of racing and the athletes that follow this circut are more well known. I note that in Canada, the most watched Olympic event on TV at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games was the men's triathlon race. Simon Whitfield's dramatic Silver medal performance, was more than just a sports story, it was front page news across the country the next day. It was the same when Whitfield won Gold eight years previously in Sydney at the inaugural Olympic Triathlon.

Many Pro Triathletes who follow the Ironman and 70.3 circuits lament the lack of prize money at these events. Indirectly, they have a point. The oldest Ironman races have not changed their prize purses for 20 years! The WTC has been adding many new events - both full Ironman distance and the 70.3 distance at a rapid pace over the past few years, so the total amount of money available at these races has gone up - you just have to do more of these events and some Pro triathletes have become savvy and picking and choosing their races to maximize the possibilities of making some money and generating exposure for themselves. However, the WTC is not just in the business of putting on events for Professionals, there main customer/participant, are thousands and thousands of Age-Group and rec-triathletes who sign up for races over a year ahead of time to secure a spot in a specific event. Many of their events, be they full Ironmans or 70.3 races operate at maximum capacity and are sold out in minutes of event registration opening up for the following year!

What to do:

- It's remarkable to me that to date their has not been a cohesive active association for all Professional Triathletes to be part of so that they could speak as one to race directors and event management companies. In a perfect world this association would span both the ITU and non-ITU, non-drafting triathlon worlds. This group should not be a sounding board for individual athlete grievances or issues, but should be pro-active in working with races and events and others in the sport to promote the sport as a whole and seeking where Pro Triathletes can ad value to an event.

- Professional triathletes need to think hard about where they ad value to sponsors and events. The good ones get this, and the conversation with them is always very different than the ones who don't seem to get this. Why? Because, the conversation is more about how the athlete can help out and what they can do , than about how much money is in the contract or how much gear they are getting.

- Pro triathletes need to look beyond the endemic companies in the triathlon business for the really good sponsor partnerships. It's these companies, that will actually have the financial resources to help out. Pro triathletes would be wise to follow the lead of one of the best race directors in the triathlon business and look with-in to find these contacts and relationships. What do I mean? Triathlon, seems to attract a certain type of person - that Type-A person who is very goal oriented and driven. Scan the "employment" list at any Ironman race and there are more than a few business owners, Senior Managers and Vice-Presidents and C-level executives. If they are participating in the sport, these people already get it! A warm beach is always the best beach to land on!

- The growth rate for triathlon over the past 5 years has been astonishing. Furthermore, it has been almost completely immune to the economic crisis that has hit many other sectors of the economy. That speaks to the genuine robustness and initiative of everyone involved in the sport. We all could and should do more to promote the sport beyond the usual crowd.

Just some ideas.

Monday, November 23, 2009

New Bars - 3T Ergonova Team

It always amazes me what cyclists and triathletes concentrate, worry and fret over the most when it comes to bikes. I would say that 80% of more, of the discussions when it comes to new bikes revolve around the frames. Then there is all the money spent on this part of the bike - typically the single most expensive part of a bike. Don't get me wrong, frames are important. However, what is actually of greater importance in my view are the contact points that you body has with that frame, and one of those key contact points are the handle-bars - this is true whether we are talking a tri/TT bike or a road bike. Comfortable, well fitting handlebars are going to obviously increase the comfort of riding but also your utility, of this key part of the bike - after all this is the cockpit of the bike, and this is where you control your braking, shifting and steering!

As some who follow along here know I recently acquired a new Cervelo R3 road bike. I had free choice for all the components and after a bit of research I decided to spec the 3T Ergonova Team handlebars for the new bike. In previous road bikes, I had found for comfort and optimal positioning for me, I needed a shallow drop handle bar. If you buy a Cervelo R3, as most do, complete - the bike comes with the 3T Ergonova bar! It's a great move by Cervelo.

The 3T Ergonova bar as it's name would suggest, is a wonder of ergonomics and engineering. It's a full carbon bar that seems to fit my smallish hands very well, regardless of where my hands are - on the tops, on the hoods or in the drops. The reach is a bit shorter than normal which may require a slightly longer stem( I needed a 120mm stem on my 58 frame), but combined with the shallow drop, it allows you better opportunity to easily find that sweet spot of positioning where both the hoods and the drops are optimally positioned - for comfort and use.

The tops have been flattened, and make for a comfortable perch for the hands as well, particularly on long climbs when this is a preferred position for many. Ditto for the bends on the drops, which feel great for long hard pulls on the front and out of the saddle sprints.

The carbon lay-up is such that the bar is both extraordinarily stiff, yet at the same time absorbs a fair amount of micro-vibration while riding. I have tested the latter feature extensively of late with a lot of riding on gravel roads, and the Ergonova Team bars definitely take a a bit of the buzz out of riding on such surfaces.

Full specs and more detailed information about the 3T Ergonova Team handlebar can be found at the preceding embedded link.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

20 Questions with . . . Graham Fraser

There is no question that Ironman, and it's spin-off half-distance cousin the 70.3 race are the flavors-of-the-month in triathlon these days. In North America and perhaps even further afield, there is one man to thank for that - Graham Fraser. Odd then, that Fraser has more or less checked out, and left the triathlon house! However, Fraser is, more than anything else, more than being the best Race Director and Event Manger in triathlon, a visionary! After all, this is the man who 24 years ago, literally on a whim, with nothing else to do, organized his first triathlon race in Grimsby, Ontario in 1986. At the time, triathlon was still a freakish side-show, practiced by fitness fanatics, but Fraser saw more to it. He thought, that if you organized, great, well run races with supportive sponsors and partners, that not only would he do well and make a bit of living at it, but that the sport itself would flourish. He was right on all counts - those series of races that he started organizing were the starting points for, both Olympic Triathlon and Ironman World Champions, several successful product suppliers in the business, the entry point for some major triathlon sport sponsors, and for some of the first real serious TV race coverage of triathlon anywhere in the world!

Late last year Fraser sold his licenses to run Ironman branded, full length Ironman and 70.3 races in various locations around North America, back to the World Triathlon Corporation for an un-disclosed sum. He retained one license for Ironman Canada - the first Ironman race that he owned, and one he personally saved from the brink of cancellation in the early in the 1990's. He makes it no secret that it's always been his favorite Ironman event and the one that was used as a template to set up the other Ironman and 70.3 events he started in Lake Placid, NY, Oceanside CA, and other locations around the continent.

Not one to sit around too long and watch the grass grow, Fraser has moved on already, and over this past summer, inspired by a cycling trip he took to the Tour de France, has formed a new series of events called Centurion Cycling. These events are modeled after the Gran-Fondo style of events that are very popular in Europe and attract thousands of entries. The Centurion events will fill a gap that exists right now in bike road racing and riding, between full-on Category( Pro, 1, 2, 3 etc . .) road racing and big charity rides. They will be 100 mile races (as well as 50 mile and 25 mile events), that are run over challenging terrain and open to anyone. The location and courses will be scenic - the kind of place that you have always wanted to go to ride. For a day, you will get the feel of what it's like to compete in a big Road Race, but do it on your terms and at your pace. This is Fraser's vision. Many are expecting the Centurion series to be the next big thing!

1. What got you into triathlons in the first place?
I had a friend ask me to do the Paris(Ontario) triathlon in 1983. I could not swim(Still can't!), and I did well for a hockey player!

2. With some free time now, what's next for you?
Obviously the Centurion cycling events but also spending more time with my family.

3. Is the Centurion Cycling series going to be the next big thing?
It has potential. We'll give it our best shot, creating an event with a different slant to it, and a different experience from other events.

4. How big can the Centurion Series get?
How big it's get's is not the goal . . . how much good it can do is the goal.

5. When you started that first triathlon you organized back in 1986, did you ever think that it would get this big for you?
Never. I was 25. I was just looking for something to do that summer and I always wanted to work in sports.

6. What's wrong with triathlon these days?
It does not have much wrong with it. Every generation looks at it a bit different. Ironman was never meant to be a do-2-3-a-year type of event. Some people are loosing perspective.

7. What's right with triathlon these days?
It has introduced a lot of people to a active and healthy lifestyle which, North America sorely needs these days.

8. If out for a training ride with Lance Armstrong, what would you talk about?
Would love to hear the off-the-record stuff, that he can't talk about. Who his real friends are? Training advice, of course. What motivates him? How his foundation works? It would be a long ride. Hope that I could keep up!

9. Will we see Lance Armstrong or other top road racers in the Centurion events?
It would be really nice to have his foundation involved.

10. What is the one thing all Race Directors should take care of first?
Simple. Athletes need to come first. Specifically, their safety. Plus little things that will give them a memorable experience.

11. What is the best triathlon race that you have ever been to, that has not been one of yours?
Challenge Roth

12. Are we doing the right things in terms of developing youth triathlon?
Kids need to do some team sports. If they do tris, do it for fun and with no specific training programs. If they really love triathlon, they can get "serious" at sixteen.

13. Why has Canada been such a leader in the sport of triathlon in a number of different areas?
A little luck with the talent pool coupled with great opportunities to race and compete. Plus everyone in the sport is generally really nice. That helps a lot.

14. Will you ever do another Ironman?
If my kids do it I might. To be honest, I was never good at the distance stuff. I think I have ADD! Now it's cycling and Nordic skiing - easier on the body.

15. Tubular or clincher?
Clinchers for training. Tubulars for racing.

16. Where's your favorite place to ride?
France. The Tour de France was unbelievable. Lake Placid is another place I like and the canyons around Boulder.

17. Who are you inspired by?
Steve Fleck!! [ LOL. He's joking. Full disclosure - I may be the only person still active in the sport who raced in that first triathlon Graham organized in Grimsby, Ontario nearly 25 years ago.]

18. Who will win the Stanley Cup this year?
Buffalo - I have been waiting 30 years!

19. Will Toronto ever win the Stanley cup?
No. Not in our, or our kids life-time either! They should just move the team to Hamilton!

20. What makes you the most proud?
Seeing people make the move at our events over the years from spectator, to volunteer, to volunteer captain, to doing their first triathlon, to finishing a 70.3 or Ironman race.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Off Season & The Road Not Taken

Years ago, there used to really be an off-season for those of us who practiced summer orienated sports like triathlon. These days not so much. Many of the bigger more important races are now deep into the fall and people start getting ready for races in the late winter and early spring. Then there are people like our friends from Australia, who we had spent some time with at Ironman Hawaii - they were going home after Ironman Hawaii to summer. For them there really is no off season. I am not sure how they do it.

For me, I have always enjoyed having four distinct seasons and the varying weather that comes with each of them. It gives the year, and the training a natural and organic ebb and flow. It was this time of the year, the late fall that was and still is particularly enjoyable to me - strange as it may seem. It is at this time of the year that the formal and structured training can stop for a bit - just train every day, however I want. Just do something and stay active. Also, cross-country skiing is hopefully just around the corner. We have been on-snow here in Southern Ontario as early as the last week in November.

Near our cottage in Muskoka there are networks of cottage roads and gravel and dirt roads, like the one above( Paolina in the picture above looking out our cottage road). At this time of the year, with all the leaves off the trees and before the snow comes, is the perfect time to ride these roads and trails. It's quiet. There are no bugs and the views through the forest are rather nice. To borrow from Robert Frost, it's nice to take, the road not taken at this time of year. Although, surprisingly many have already headed indoors and are riding their bikes bolted to the trainer! Boring. But to each his own. Too soon I'll be doing some of that as well.

Back in the 90's a spent an entire year traveling in the tropics. For me it was a whole year without winter. I arrived home in Vancouver at the time, in the fall of the year. I had never looked more forward to the cooler weather, the change of seasons and the coming of winter, than I did that year. I recall going for a run in an early winter blizzard of snow and loving every minute of it. Perhaps it's the Canadian in me, but I think what having four distinct seasons has done more than anything else, is keep me fresh, physically and mentally over the years. If nothing else, there is always something to look forward to in the next season.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Leafs Lost

Generally speaking I like to keep the topics here on the blog related either directly or indirectly to triathlon. However, I feel that I must comment on the start of the hockey season for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Yes, I am a fan. Not a fanatical fan and perhaps not part of the "Leaf's Nation" but, nonetheless still a fan. There is a family connection that goes back several generations. My great uncle Harold, "Baldy" Cotton played for the Leafs in the late 1920's and early '30's. He played on the Maple Leaf team that won the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1932 - the first season that the leafs played in Maple Leaf Gardens. I have made a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame to see "H. Cotton" engraved on the Stanley Cup. It's a long ago and distant connection, but it's a strong and emotional one. Few amongst the, "Leaf Nation" I am sure can claim such a connection to the team.

I am old enough to recall the last time the Leafs won the Stanley Cup in 1967. It was a big deal. I have vague memories of watching the playoffs on TV that year and the celebration that went on afterward. One of the stars of that team was Dave Keon. He lived in our area of Toronto. In fact, he banked at our bank and my Dad used to point him out for me. You see, back then Hockey players were just regular folk living amongst us - not flown-in multi-million dollar talent that you only read about in the papers.

So, with Saturday night's loss, the Leafs are off to the worst start ever, for the team - a dismal record of 0-7-1. Win-less so far this season. How is it that you can pay all of these people, from the owners of the team, down through the management and all the players so much money, and you get this abysmal level of performance. Crazy. Of course the reason they can, is that the Toronto Maple Leafs Sports franchise is one of the most valuable in all of North America. Forty plus years of futility in trying to win the Stanely Cup and the worst start ever, does nothing to deter people from still cheering on the team. What's that they say about insanity - it's when you keep doing the same things over, and over, and over and expect a different result.

This was supposed to be the start of a big rebuilding process. To make a connection back to cycling and triathlon - Lance Armstrong's Coach Chris Carmichael was brought in to, among other big changes, revamp the Leafs fitness routine and the teams fitness levels. However, it would seem they have taken a giant step backwards! Hard to go further back - the Leafs finished almost dead-last in the standings last year.

I am sure things will turn around at some point. Perhaps they should go back to the old Maple Leaf logo( at top of post). This is what the Leafs logo looked like when they last won the Stanley Cup in '67. Nothing else is working, might as well try this!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Triathletes: Your Next Bike is . . . . A Road Bike!

No you are not reading the title wrong. Yes, triathletes out there who only own a tri-bike, forget more aero do-dads and upgrades to the TT rig, get a road bike and really learn how to ride. I am serious about this. And don't kinda do it, by looking for a super aero road frame and/or going half way with this. Get a real road bike, that fits you properly.

You see, the thing is, many new triathletes, and their has been massive growth in the sport in the last five years, have gone straight out and bought a TT/Tri-Bike as their first bike. Nothing wrong with this. If you are doing triathlons, and you are well fit, comfortable and aero on this bike, you have the right tool for the trade. However, many newer triathletes think this is what cycling is all about, when in fact, they are practicing a sub-discipline of cycling - time-trialing. Ironically, a sub discipline that many real cyclists, loath!

So get yourself a real road bike as a second bike - and keep the tri-bike. You can't go wrong in this regard with the R series of bikes from Cervelo( R3, R3 SL & RS). These bikes are in my view the best designed road bikes on the market.

In my job, I am lucky enough to be able to ride a number of different bikes in a year - usually loaners from friends and customers when traveling. In this regard, I get to really ride these bikes - 2 to 3 hour rides and not just a spin around the block. I can honestly say, that from having ridden a number of the very best road bikes in the world by some of the leading manufacturers, that the Cervelo R3 really does it all in, terms of what you want to get out of a road bike. It's very stable and stiff. Well balanced. However, at the same time it has this amazing ability to soak up rough stretches of pavement. This is truly an all-day bike. It's the kind of bike top road racers look for as they have to spend, many hours each day in the saddle - a touring bike, that rides like a real race bike, if you will. This is the feeling that the R3 delivers - I-beam like stiffness and stability, but with a level of comfort that has to be experienced to be believed.

The secret to the comfort are the thin seat-stays on the rear of the bike. These soak-up and absorb most of that harsh vibration and bumping from the road. The first time you ride an R3, it's not uncommon to keep looking down at the rear tire to check and make sure it's still fully inflated! These thin seat-stays are a wonder of bike engineering.

The RS model has a taller head-tube. If you prefer a more up-right position and or have a short torso and long legs, the RS model might be the better bike and fit for you. The RS's seat stays are slightly bowed/curved and deliver even more rear-end compliance than the R3 model.

The favourite bike frame in the world of the weight weenies is the R3 SL. If your goal is to build up the lightest road bike that you can, then the R3SL is a great starting point to hang all your super light weight components on. I rode a R3SL last year that weighed about 13 pounds and it was perhaps the most surrealistic feeling bike ride I ever had. It was almost like there was no bike beneath me!

Riding a real road bike, such as the Cervelo R3, to the triathlete who may have only ridden on a tri/tt bike, will be a bit of a revelation. Assuming a good fit, the steering will be more predictable. The bike more stable. Carving high speed turns, becomes old hat! You may feel more secure on descents and more powerful on ascents. You will be more comfortable on longer rides. What's not to like?

A real road bike also gives you options. More options than if you just own a tri-bike. You can go on more group rides or organized century rides. Next year, a whole new seris of century rides will be launched in North America, modeled after the Gran Fondo's in Italy. The Centurion Series is being put together by Graham Fraser, who literally put Ironman races and Ironman racing on the map here in North America. From what I can tell, the Centurion events are going to be the next big thing! You will want to do these rides on a road bike.

If you wanted to take it to the next level you could get into road racing with a real road bike. Road Racing, to the uninitiated is completely different than the bike leg of a triathlon. About the only thing the two have in common is that they are both done on two wheels. The similarities end there. Road racing can be a huge amount of fun, and often the final outcome does not matter - just being part of the scene and part of the action of the race is what matters. Unlike triathlon it tends to be a winner-takes-all sport, so finding those other victories and places to slot-in, are key. Whatever, the case, the Cervelo R3, would serve you well in any bike road race. After all, this is the bike that 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre rides most of the time, so you'll be in good company!

Picture at the top is my new R3 in gravel/dirt road mode - mud, dirt and all. This is yet another advantage of this amazing bike. It will take up to 28mm wide tires(give or take). Add some MTB pedals and you have a bike that can even handle a bit of light cyclo-cross riding on easy trails and grass and rides along gravel and dirt roads like a dream! After all, this is the same bike that has been ridden to victory in the famous and brutal Paris-Roubaix road race twice in the last few years!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Big Climb

In my previous post, I talked about driving to the summit of Mauna Kea on the big Island of Hawaii ( Photo above is of the observatories at the summit of Mauna Kea). Mauna Kea's true elevation is 13,796 ft. However, it is also commonly referred to as the tallest mountain on the planet. If measured from the sea floor, Mauna Kea's total height would be about 33,000 ft - that's 4,000 ft higher than Mt. Everest!

My friend Nigel Gray, a top long distance triathlete and coach was over at Ironman Hawaii supporting a number of his athletes who were racing there. With time on his hands, Nigel, like many older endurance athletes these days, was looking for the next challenge. He had heard that there was a road that went right to the summit of Mauna Kea. To a cyclist and triathlete, like Nigel, that's like waving a steak in front of a hungry dog. Nearly 14,000 ft of straight climbing on a bike - why not!

The link below is Nigel's accounting of his Epic climb up to the summit of Mauna Kea:

With time on my hands myself in the days leading up to Ironman Hawaii. I had thought briefly of joining Nigel in this crazy endeavor. However, after hearing Nigel saying that he was completely overwhelmed with his lowest gear being a 39/25 and then actually seeing the condition of the 8km of gravel road that you needed to go over at over 10,000 ft, I was much the wiser for having stayed down at sea-level that day! Perhaps some other time.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ironman Hawaii 2009 - Sideline Report &Thoughts

First congratulations to the winners, Craig Alexander and Chrissie Wellington. This is a very hard race to defend and repeat at, but both of these amazing athletes did it in style and with class. Wellington's win was the more predictable of the two. But the two-time winner, continued to raise the bar by breaking Paula Newby-Fraser's long-time course record. As for Alexander, he showed that the men's race has become more strategic( more on this in a bit) and, that it's not necessarily who is absolutely the fastest in each leg, but who puts together the best swim/bike/run on race day. After all - it is a triathlon, not three separate events!

Next up for recognition are four athletes to watch out for in the future. Mirinda Carfrae showed that in her first Ironman race ever, that she may be the one who'll go after Wellington and give the World Champion a run for her money in years to come. On a day where most wilted in the heat on the run, Carfrae broke the run course record for women running a quick 2:56 split for the her marathon. In finishing an impressive fourth place, Tereza Macel completed an improbable and never before done, trinity of high-level Ironman wins and places, with wins at Ironman Lake Placid and Canada, and then a 4th place at Ironman Hawaii! Both Andreas Raelert(3rd) and Rasmus Henning(5th), seem to have torn a page out of the Craig Alexander play book - wait in the weeds, and then run to your final place. Still new to Ironman racing, both of these men with their ITU run pedigrees can run much faster with a bit more experience. Watch out for these two.

I had the opportunity to watch much of the Pro Men's race on the bike up close. Most of These guys have figured it out to a T. About half way out to Hawi a large group formed that at times had 25 of them all legally spaced out 10m apart along the road in a 250m long line. It was a sight to behold. There was from time to time, a shuffling of the deck or a move off the front or from the rear, but they all knew that they had 25 seconds to resolve all this and sort themselves out again and then settle back into the long line. Eight of the top ten men in the race spent a good portion of the bike ride in this group. It was only Chris Leito and Faris Al Sultan who did not. Clearly, the strategy now with the men is to get in this group on the bike and stay there as long as you can, because if you can, and you can run well off the bike, your chances of being in the money and on the podium are highest.

Chrissie Wellington right now is in a class of her own. However, behind her it's good to see that the competition in the woman's race is getting deep, fast. Some have criticized other Ironman races this year with having weak woman's race fields. Not so at Ironman Hawaii. My wife Paolina Allan was off the bike in 16th place last year. This year, in almost the same exact running time on the race clock she was off the bike at T2 in 35th place! That is a dramatic jump in the depth of the field in one year and it is good to see.

Something needs to be done about media on the race course during the bike leg. My understanding is that there are some restrictions on this, but on race day it was hard to tell. There were mobile media in cars and on motos all over the place. In similar sports like Pro Road Racing there is a specific protocol for where media can be on the course and how long they can be there for. The WTC should look into this in more detail. I witnessed numerous incidents of cars and motos riding alongside athletes in cross-winds for a very long time. In some cases doing interviews with athletes during the race!

Another issue that should be looked at is to figure out what do do about the women's Pro race and the timing of their start. Right now with a 15 minute head-start, about half to 1/3 of the woman's field has their own race on the bike while the other half to 2/3 of the woman's field get's gobbled up by large packs of fast cycling age-group men at some point during the bike leg. The race for these women amongst the age-group men is very different than for the women that have the open road around and ahead of them. Indeed, the top-10 results of the women's race was directly impacted this year because of this, with the disqualification of Rebbecca Keat. I realize that there is no easy solution to this, but it seems a bit un-fair to have one race with a group of people that have to race under two completely different sets of circumstances on the bike.

My apologies - more minor complaints: I realize the WTC is a bit hamstrung due to the space on the Kona Pier and the layout of the King Kam hotel grounds. However the post-finish-line area at this event is a bit disorganized and not of the standard at many other WTC events and certainly not at the level of a World Championship event. The finish line itself is historical and magnificent, but beyond that it get's a bit crazy. The flow of people into and out of the area is hard to figure out. There is no where to sit down( no chairs anywhere). I talked to many athletes who just wanted to sit down somewhere after being on the go and on their feet for 9+ hours. The ground is all there is to sit on, and with the beach right there, and the whole area covered in sand and athletes all slick with sweat, sunscreen, Gatorade, coke and who knows what else, as soon as they sit down on the ground they are, in the parlance of beach-volleyball Corn-Dogged! Also the ground back there is all uneven and hard to get around on for people with blown out and wobbly legs.

OK enough of the complaints. This years Ironman Hawaii lived up to itself. It was a deceptively hard and demanding race. Winds were moderate and I am told, it was hotter than "normal" - whatever that is. It seems, blast-furnace-hot to me on the Kona coast, all the time. To use a golf analogy - this is a race where very few people actually hit par. A handful of very select people, go under par, while the rest are way over par. Paolina's day was illustrative of that. Last year, she was 22nd. A year later, in much better shape, with experience and acclimatization on her side, hoping to move up a few places, and it still went backwards for her ending up in 31st. Still not sure what went wrong. One thing Paolina did learn this year is that you can't make the whole year or even the whole trip to Ironman Hawaii revolve around the race. That may sound odd, but it's true. For her it was the going early and training with some of the best triathletes in the world for three weeks before Ironman Hawaii that was the real value in the trip. She learned a great deal. Many thanks to fellow Pro Charlotte Paul and her husband Kristian Manietta for taking Paolina under their wing for a few weeks.

This year I was able to take my bike with me and It was a real pleasure to be able to get out on the famous Queen K and get some riding in. It's extraordinary to note that the shoulder on Hwy 19 is the biggest, widest and best paved shoulder of any road that I have been on, any where in the world. You could use track racing tires on this course! Kudos to the local government and the WTC if they had and hand in this. It's like that for nearly 50 miles all the way out to Hawi! If you like the lunar landscape scenery of the lava fields and even if you don't, it's nice to know that you have that much room to ride on. It gives you peace of mind.

The real essence of this race came for me when I headed out on the run course to the infamous Energy Lab. No one, other than athletes are allowed into the energy Lab on race day and that was fine with me - it's not a place I wanted to go as I had a bit of a melt-down in there myself a number of years ago. Instead, I stood on a barren stretch of the Queen K just along from the Energy Lab and watched a long procession of runners pass me on a relentlessly sunny and very hot day, it was completely silent except for the squish, squish, squish sounds of wet feet, in wet shoes. Everyone very quiet and alone in their thoughts and trying to do everything they can to get across that finish line at Ironman Hawaii. That's what its all about.

Paolina finished and there were some emotions. We stood and chatted with some other Pro women for a bit and then went back to the Condo. Then it was time to be tourists for 2 days! The high-light was making it to the summit of Mauna Kea by car just as the sun was setting( below)! Standing on top of the earth's tallest mountain( if measured from the sea-floor), way above the clouds looking out at that magnificent sunset seemed to be worth it. I some how think we will be back.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Are You Racing?

Are you racing? I get asked this a lot. So does Peter Reid( left in picture above - likley getting asked that same question by John Duke, right, from Triathlete Magazine!!). I have not raced in well over 10 years but when I am at a race and I bump into people I know( or even don't know), it's almost the first question that comes out of people's mouths - "Are you racing?" Reid get's it to - all the time. He's been asked numerous times while here in Kona this year. I was waiting in the Honolulu Airport for my connection through to Kona and there it was from an old friend, "Steve, great to see you. Are you racing?"

When people do pop the question, they invariably follow it up with the comment that I look really fit. I guess it's because, luckily both Peter and myself are forever ectomorphs - skinny dorks that never seem to gain or loose weight. I need to be careful with who I share this information with, but when I stopped training seriously back in 1997, I lost weight. I seem to recall dropping about 5 lbs in the months after backing away from dedicated triathlon training.

In terms of my current fitness - cycling is OK, swimming is terrible and, I am guessing the 3K Underpants jog/walk today in Kona is going to take it right out of me and I'll need the rest of the day to recover! Where are those compression socks?

For a time, I tried to do one triathlon a year - not really seriously, just for fun. I have let that lapse in the last few years though.

So no, I am not racing. What I am doing though is here to cheer and encourage all of the rest of you on. That's what I love doing now more than anything else.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Getting Off The Queen K Highway

The picture above is the classic view of the Ironman Hawaii bike course on the Queen K Hwy. It's straight, but unless you like looking at the same thing for five or so hours, I would not describe it as very scenic.

Yesterday, I took the road less traveled and headed straight up Palani to the upper level highway - Mamalahoa Highway. It's a 2000 ft., ear popping climb straight up from the Kona village. Note that if Ironman Hawaii ever wanted to really get rid of the drafting, this would be the route they should take - it would seperate the whole field rather dramatically right from the get go on the bike. Up at this elevation, it's a whole other world. Cooler. Often overcast with the occasional rain shower. The vegetation is lush. The traffic light along the road. The locals friendly with an eager shaka( hang loose sign) The view out to the left as you head north, is spectacular as you can see all the way down to the ocean and actually make out the Queen K highway far below.

After the initial climb the road does not flatten out but keeps going up and down and around numerous curves. It crosses a few more recent lava flows and you can ride this way all the way out to Waikoloa and then back along the Queen K if you like for a nice three hour loop at a decent pace. Your other option for a real epic ride is to carry on along the Mamalahoa Highway, to the "Saddle Road" and then begin the massive climb up to Mauna Kea, which tops out at 13,796 ft. My friend, Nigel Gray is contemplating having a go at this later in the week( He's not racing)

My apologies. I forgot the camera for this ride so no pics, but I am planning on doing the full Waikoloa loop tomorrow with a group of friends. Will remember to bring the camera.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Allen & Scott - Iron War 20 Years Later

In a little less than week, the focus of almost the whole triathlon world will once again be on Kona and the Ironman World Championships. Hard to believe that 20 years ago this year, Mark Allen and Dave Scott faced off in what has become affectionately known as the Iron War. Where does the time go.

The race in 1989 was high drama from the get-go. Scott was a 6-time winner at Ironman Hawaii and Allen had been vanquished, and defeated multiple times Ironman Hawaii, but was the winner at just about every other triathlon on the planet - including earlier that year, at the first ITU World Championships in Avignon, France. Allen and Scott swam, cycled and ran almost shoulder to shoulder until deep into the run that year and then on a slight uphill with about 2 miles to go in the marathon, Allen, through in a bit of a surge, and suddenly, Scott, Mr Invincible at Ironman Hawaii could not respond, and Allen opened up a gap and ran onto victory.

As time has gone on, what's become more extraordinary about that epic battle, beyond the titanic struggle that it was for both men, was the over-the-top times that both men did on that day. Allen won in 8:09. Scott was a minute back in 8:10. Greg Welch an amazing triathlete in his own right, who would go on to win Ironman Hawaii in 1994, was a distant 20 minutes back in 3rd place! What's even more amazing about Allen and Scott's times and performances from that day is that in 20 years, they have only been bettered by a one man, Belgian Luc Van Lierde who holds the course record from his win in 1996 in 8:04.

The 1989 Ironman Hawaii race, was my first Ironman. I recall three things from the day:

1. Bobbing in Kailua Bay prior to the starting wondering if I could really go that far. I hade been doing triathlons at a high level for a number of years by that point and had trained hard for that race, but bolting it all together in one day was still something that was somewhat scary.

2. As I was making my way out to the turn-around point on the run, which in those days was a giant blow-up Bud-Light can sitting in the middle of the Queen K Highway out past the Airport, Allen and Scott were making there way back towards the town of Kona and the finish line, I was nearly forced off the road from the entourage of people on bikes and other media vehicles following Allan and Scott along.

3. The third thing that I remember occured a few days after the race. My quads were an absolute mess. I could barely walk at all. At the Maui airport, I was designated to walk over to the rental car counter and get our car. As it turns out so was Mark Allen. Mark and I walked together in that ambling post-Ironman-blown-out-quads-shuffle. I said to him, "It seems win or loose, this race just knocks the heck out of your legs". Allan, grinned at me and said, "It's at times like this that you wonder why you do this"!

It's great to be back here this year, 20 years after the great Iron War of 1989. Strange, that in all the great athletes, and all the amazing races that have been raced here on this most famous of Ironman courses, there has never been a repeat of that audacious and extraordinary battle that Allen & Scott waged on that day. Both the woman's and the men's race fields are vary deep this year - the women in particular. Here's hoping that we have some of the same drama this Saturday on the Queen K Highway.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Day at Interbike in Booth 1055

Thursday, Sept. 24

Traditionally, Wednesday and Thursday of Interbike are the busiest days of this three day trade show. By mid-day on Friday, everyone is pretty much done. This year was no different. Wednesday was a full day, but Thursday was really the BIG one for us at Nineteen. We were fully booked with meetings - typically on the hour and at the half hour as well. Dan Rishworth, the owner of Nineteen, and I split about 20 scheduled appointments for the day. But as you can tell, lots of people do just drop by on the fly.

Here's how the day unfolded:

7:30 am - Breakfast Buffet at Harrah's our hotel on the Strip. We talk strategy for the day and review who we met with yesterday and any new developments. I like to have a bigger breakfast, as their is rarely time for lunch and dinner is a long way off!

8:40 - Walk over to the Sands Exhibition Hall, vacuum the booth carpet and get things set up for the day.

9:00 - Show opens and we start in with our first meetings of the day.

9:30 - First presentation has gone well, but I am now freezing cold in the Sands Exhibition Hall( AC is always on high in here it seems). Have brought an undershirt - so I go and put it on. Better now.

10:00am - 12noon - More meetings and appointments.

12:30pm Former Top Canadian Pro Women Jill Savege drops by to say, "Hello". It was good to catch up with her quickly. She leaves wondering where her Fiance Jordan Rapp is

12:45 pm Slowtwitch Programmer, Pro Triathlete and recent Ironman Canada Champ Jordan Rapp checks in at the Nineteen booth. I give him a quick run-down on the line. But then he has to go as he is wondering where his Fiance Jill Savege is!

1:30 - Head over to the concession area to get a quick bite to eat on-the-fly between appointments and give a wave to Steve Harad in the Kestrel booth. Line-up for food too long. Swing by the Gu booth on way back and grab some Chomps. That will have to do for "Lunch".

1:45 - I have a quick chat with the folks next to us on the floor, Beljum Budder - It's a chammy cream and body lube for endurance sports. Nice people. Great product!

1:55 - It's now getting warm in the Hall. Contemplate taking under-shirt off.

2:00pm - Tri-It from Calgary, one of our best customers has their appointment. They have brought all 11 staff members and I give them a 20 minute PK session on the Nineteen line.

2:30pm - Carrying on with the meetings

3:40pm - I grab a quick tete-a-tete with Dean Jackson my counter-part from Blue-Seventy off to the side of our booth. All good. We have some friendly competition in this business but surprisingly some mutual challenges and it's good to know we are on the same page.

4:00pm More meetings and appointments, this time with some good new prospects for Nineteen. Always good news.

4:15pm - It's round about this time of the day that my lower back starts to act-up a bit. I remind myself mentally that after this presentation, I need to do a bit of a stretching routine for the back.

4:30pm - Stretch lower back out. Now much better.

4:35 Pro Triathlete and all around nice guy Jonathon Caron checks in to say, "Bonjour" and he quickly gives me the inside scoop on training with Brett Sutton and the TBB team. Now I know!

4:45- North American Sports CEO and Tri Race Managment Guru Graham Fraser stops by to give me the low-down on the Centurion Series. An interesting and exciting development for road riding and racing.

4:50pm -On a quick trip for a bathroom break and a drink of water, I run into a few of the Cervelo Sales Reps I know. Cervelo does not have a booth at the show this year, but they are throwing a Party tonight. We agree to catch up at the party.

6:00 -Show over for the day. Quickly review all appointments and make some notes.

6:15pm - Walk over to the Cervelo Party which is being held in a private room at Lavo a very nice restaurant inside the lobby of the Palazzo Hotel. I am handed a Heineken as I walk through the door!

6:30pm - 8:00pm Cervelo Party in full swing. Many key people in the road and tri business are there - to numerous to list. Try and, "work the room", as they say, as best as I can - still enjoyable though. VP of Sales Tom Fowler and Co-Founder Phil White give some speeches and introduce the Cervelo Test Team riders there.

8:15pm - Cervelo Party wraps up and it's decision time. Take the bus out to Mandalay Bay to watch the USA Crit Finals or head out for dinner? We choose dinner with a good friend and customer, Ian Fraser, from Cycle Logik In Ottawa, and a few other folks from Cervelo.

8:45pm - Sit down for Dinner at Aqua - a very nice seafood restaurant with an obvious water theme. I have the grilled Mahi Mahi which is outstanding. Talk over dinner is interesting, rambling and varied. Check my Cervelo Test Team musette schwag bag from the Cervelo party and note the goodies in there - a signed Test Team Jersey is one thing.

11:00pm Dinner is done and we walk back to Harrah's. There is talk of heading out for a night-cap as we stroll through the casino area of the Venetian, but I am done and am ready for bed.

11:30pm - In bed and fall asleep quickly ready for another day.

Aerus Bike Bag Review

Flying with a bike( on a plane not off a jump!) has become and extra pain, hassle and most particularly expensive in the last year. When I traveled to Kona for Ironman Hawaii last fall, I met people who had paid more to get there bikes there than they had paid sitting in a seat on the plane - at least in the cabin, you got dry pretzels and a shooter of soda, who knows the treatment your bike got at the hands of the gorilla baggage handlers.

There's always been some sort of fee for traveling with a bike when you bring it on the plane. However, historically it was modest charge, but it was very inconsistently applied. Now some airlines are charging substantially more and good-news/bad-news - it's still inconsistently applied! This latter point can be frustrating when, at check in you get hit with an extra $200 to check your bike in. I get it that bikes, and bike cases are a little more un-weildly to handle - but $150 more dollars more work to handle per bike? Now, some triathletes and cyclists have not helped the cause by way over-packing some of these wheeled hard-shell bike cases to the point that they are attemping to check in a Hummer at the ticket counter! At Ironman Canada one year, it took three men, to lift one of these sherman-tank hard shell bike cases up onto the conveyor belt!

What to do? One solution, is to go the other way, away from the rolling armored-truck style hard cases and use the lightest, most compact bike travel bag that you can find. Enter the Aerus Biospeed Bike Bag. This is a heavy duty nylan bag that is very well thought out with a high level of protection and padding for your bike. The key things about this approach is that, when in the bag, the whole unit is compact and light - weighing in at less than 30 pounds with my 58cm Cervelo R3 road bike in the bag. Also, it's discreet. You can sling it over your shoulder. It does not scream I AM A BIKE from the outside!

I used an Aerus Biospeed bag for the first time on my flight to Kona from Toronto yesterday. I had the bike-bag slung over my shoulder and then another medium sized roller bag to check. At check in with Continental, the Agent asked me what was in the Aerus Bag. I said, "Sports equipment". She said, "Seriously. What is in the bag?". I said, "If you really want to know it's a bike". She said, "I would not have known, as it's so small and light [28 pounds on the scale]. It's only slightly bigger than a normal suitcase. I'll check it as your second bag - no charge"!! Thank you.

Picked up my Bike Bag at Kona airport and when I unpacked it at our Condo all was good. I did go the extra mile when I did pack it up and follow a number of the key points noted at the Aerus web site on packing tips - most noteably using foam copper pipe insulation on all the bikes tubes.

Edit: When traveling with your bike, make sure that before you book and pay for your tickets, check over thoroughly the airlines bike policy and the bike fees. Read all the fine print. As mentioned previously, some airlines, most notably the big U.S. airlines such as United, Delta and American, are all charging $175 - $200 each way for your bike. Do your absolute best to not support these airlines with your business. There is a group of smaller airlines, that have much lower and more modest fees for traveling with a bike. I know that in Canada we are very lucky, bit Air Canada and WestJet have a set $50 fee for Bikes - that's reasonable. That I don't mind paying. Consequently, I do everything I can to fly with AC or WJ, even paying a bit more up-front for my airfare - knowing that in the long run it will be less expensive and I am supporting a business, that supports and understands us.

Hope this helps.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Quick Update

A quick update:

I have been swamped with work over the past week and also preparations for my trip over to Kona for Ironman Hawaii. My wonderful Wife has been over there for two weeks now training up a storm and I am looking forward to meeting up with here this weekend.

Shortly I will be posting up the and featuring the following:

- A report from Interbike
- More editions of 20 Questions With . . .
- Blog updates from Kona during race week at Ironman Hawaii

Thanks for staying tuned in.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What Now For Triathlon?

It's been an interesting year in the triathlon business to say the least. While carnage and chaos was the story elsewhere, the triathlon business kept growing. All indicators are as we start another business cycle, that 2009 was another very good year in the business - and 2010 is looking good as well. Wholesale and retail sales have been good and in some cases great. Race entry numbers have stayed steady or have grown. Many are focused on the big high profile events such as the Ironman and 70.3 triathlons, but it's the smaller entry level triathlons that are the true indicators of what's going on. Most Race Directors that I have spoken to recently have told me that their entry-level triathlon events geared for first-timers have been at capacity all year long - a good sign that new people are still coming to the sport of triathlon.

Of course, it's not been a year without challenges, because some big businesses( automotive and financial services) took huge hits, corporate sponsorship of events has taken a down-turn, I am told. Some large events went on without a corporate title sponsor, buoyed by the fact that the successful model in triathlon race management is that the user/participant fees( entry fees) should cover all the hard-costs of putting on the event. Corporate sponsorship, is usually gravy money.

On the retail side I have noticed that it's been a challenging year for more than a few smaller triathlon focused retailers, and/or retailers who came late to the triathlon party and were not that well established when the worst of the economic storm arrived. And there was regional variation as well across North America. In Canada for example, it would be hard to tell looking at the world through a triathlons lens that there was a recession going on! Whereas, in parts of the United States, there were specific areas of the country that seemed to be taking a bit more of a hit, and no surprise, it was in the areas of the U.S. that were hardest hit by the recession - California, and the auto manufacturing centers such Michigan. I note that the really good triathlon retailers have had good to great years and have solidified their place on that A-List of retailers in the business. This group has become stronger.

What now? As we enter another business year with Interbike next week and orders starting to flow in for 2010, many seem optimistic about where the sport of triathlon is at. One issue is the number of brands, that are competing in a number of categories - I know this is the case with wetsuits. People often ask me, "How many wetsuit brands do we need?" Often the trend is that there is a sector giant, such as Gatorade, in the sports beverages category, and then an ever growing roster of other sports beverage makers jumping in. Some well known, others we may have never heard of. The challenge is that retailers, always seem to have a limit as to the number of brands or choices for their customers that they will carry. This seems reasonable - good if you are on that short list, not so good if you are not!

One thing that may have saved the Tri business is the timing of the worst of the economic news and hard-ship. It came, during our "off" season of the fall/winter just past and then when the good news, and that talk of, "green shoots" and some more optimistic news started to come out, is when, our "on" season of spring/summer of this year kicked in. Tri-retailers were lucky in this regard as, so much of just about all other retailing centers around the Christmas selling season - December can make or break the year for them!

Let's hope the good news continues!

(Picture at the top is of power cables and outlets waiting to be distributed to booths at last year's Interbike Trade Show)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

20 Questions with . . . . Simon Whitfield

Next up on the 20 Questions . . .With, is Olympic Gold and Silver medalist Simon Whitfield. This man really needs know introduction. We used to call him the "kid" but now he really is a man and he has become the most consistent ITU triathlete on the planet over the last 10 years.

The Gold Medal win in Sydney caught everyone by surprise - even Simon himself. The Silver medal in Beijing eight years later showed, that he was the real deal with a stretch drive for the ages that came up just a bit short, but in some ways was more impressive than the win in Sydney.

I'll freely admit that, both the Olympic races were emotional affairs for me, personally. Here was a guy from my area, a friend, who had come up through the ranks and made it to the absolute top of the sport. It's the only time that I have ever openly wept watching a sports event. The next time that happens will be when the Leafs win the Stanley Cup or England wins the World Cup of Soccer. I think I may be waiting for these latter two triumphs for awhile. So thanks, Simon for winning big!

Simon has shown over the years that he is that rare athlete, who really saves the best, for the biggest races. Witness the final strides drama at the Hy-Vee race earlier this year( Picture at the top) when, Simon took it, right on the line to win the biggest prize purse in the sport.

20 Questions With . . . . Simon Whitfield

1. Your legacy will be?

SQW - Bouncy castle wrecking ball, great dad and husband.

2. If out for a ride with Lance Armstrong, you would talk about?

SQW - How he deals with being such a polarizing person. People love him or they hate him. How does he stay detached from that noise? Give me some tips......!

3. Peanut butter or Nutella?

SQW - Almond butter.

4. Your Daughter Pippa makes you?

SQW - Laugh a lot. Worry. Laugh a lot more. Be a proud parent.

5. Best thing about being a triathlete?

SQW - Training with the guys. The athletes on the ITU circuit are an amazing group of people.

6. Did you start this compression sock madness?

SQW - It works, plain and simple. Compression socks work!

7. Canada has done really well in triathlon. Why?

SQW - Coincidence.

8. Who will be the next Simon Whitfield in Canada?

SQW - No one. Some great talent coming through but they will be their own people. No need to be "the next".

9. If you could not be a triathlete, you would be?

SQW - Musician. Banjo player. Like the Great Lake Swimmers or Bon Iver.

10. For the ladies - boxers or briefs?

SQW - Boxers, always. Never briefs. Bought briefs recently. Hated them.

11. Ironman, ever?

SQW - Yes. absolutely, when I can't compete at Olympic Distance (don't read too much into that).

12. Did you practice that facial expression at the finish line at the Hy-Vee race ahead of time?

SQW - In my head, many times. The "holy-shit-that-just-happened-I-didn't-see-that-coming..... not-today-at-least.... but-I'll-take-it look".

13. Best moment ever in the sport for you was?

SQW - Winning in Sydney.

14. Is this Brownlee kid the real deal?

SQW - Absolutely.

15. Biggest changes you have seen in the sport are?

SQW - I've been a pro since 1996. So too many to list. The uniform guidelines and the ITU's push to the Olympics have taken the sport to a new level. The new Dextro series is by far the best series we've ever had, aside from the f1 series in Australia.

16. Will the ITU and the WTC ever see eye to eye?

SQW - Nope. WTC "is all about the Benjamens" (I really like the races, and the people, Welchy, Roch, etc. and the athletes are great but the "Corp"......) say what you want about the ITU, they aren't perfect but it's not about money to them, at the core of the ITU it's all about passion for our sport!

17. What happens after London 2012

SQW - 2016 for a fourth..!

18. Victoria, BC is the perfect training venue because?

SQW - The weather, especially in the summer. The lakes, the facilities, the trails, trails, trails. The people.

Jordan Rapp will win Ironman Hawaii when?
SQW - Yes. He really could, not because he's my closest friend outside of my family, I just really think he can.

Who inspires you.
SQW - My friends, close friends.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

20 Questions With . . . . Tereza Macel

This is the first installment of what I plan to be ongoing series of twenty question interviews with people within the world of Triathlon and endurance sports, who I come across in my travels and day-to-day . I did something like this with 3-Time Ironman World Champion Peter Reid a number of years ago they were well received. The popularity of Twitter, and the quick, and witty 140 character response, has inspired me to have another go at this and see where it goes here on my Blog.

My first subject is Ironman specialist triathlete Tereza Macel who, recently wowed us with unprecedented back-to-back wins at Ironman Lake Placid and at Ironman Canada 5 weeks apart. To my knowledge, no Pro Triathlete has ever even attempted that double before. Tereza did, and won not just with the strength of her strong swim/bike, which she had been known for in the past, but now with a strong and steady closing run leg.

We all knew Tereza could swim - two years ago, over a year and a half stretch of time she was the first woman out of the water in five Ironman races around the world. On the strength of some fast cycling, she would lead these races deep into the bike, but would then start to run into problems late in the bike and then really struggle on the run. I shift to training with Brett Sutton and the TBB Team over the past winter seems to have fixed the late-in-the-bike, fade and more importantly, given Tereza run legs, to close with confidence. It's been a year of extraordinary performances for women at the Ironman distance, but Tereza's back-to-back wins at IM Lake Placid in 9:29 and then at IM Canada in 9:11, should be up there with the top performances of the year. At the very least, she is a prime candidate for a, "Most Improved" award, whoever wants to give her that.

With what she's done this year, she certainly is one to be put on a short list to be a serious contender at the up-coming Ironman World Championships in Hawaii a month from now. Certainly with her strong swim/bike, she will be a factor early on and if the run stays steady, you may see here being in contention for a podium spot or better!

20 Questions With . . . . . . Tereza Macel

1. Tim Hortons or Starbucks?
Starbucks - but not for the coffee, for the chocolate covered caramel pretzels.

2. Why Ironmans?
Ever seen me do a fast transition! Hopeless.

3. How hard is an Ironman race?
More than twice as hard as a half Ironman race!

4. Is the Cervelo P4, that good?
If it is not, please don't tell me, because I think it's that good!

5. Who is your real source of inspiration?
My Mom.

6. What is the real difference with you this year?
Team TBB and an increased intake of chocolate.

7. Will you do the Underpants Run at Ironman Hawaii?
No. Not if I decrease my chocolate intake and somehow develop a 6-pack!

8. You raced Short course/ITU for years. Helpful?
Yup! You learn to race yourself into shape.

9. You always list your nationality as Czech, but we all know you as a Canadian, eh! I am confused.
Born in Czech. Moved to Canada. Duel citizenship. Speak both languages.

10. Clinchers or tubulars?
Ask my Bike Mechanic(Husband) I have been known to ride both.

11. If out for a ride with Lance Armstrong you would talk about, what?
Are you saying that I could keep up with him. Thank you. That's cool!

12. Do compression socks really help?
Yes, but they do look really dorky.

13. After Ironman Hawaii you will do what?
Have a big hamburger, just like after every other Ironman!

14. Best time of the day is?
Bed time.

15. When not training your favourite thing to do is?
Watch movies.

16. Husband Chris Bastie is best at?
Trick question. Right answer is everything, right?

17. Do you follow or lurk on the Slowtwitch Forum.
Yes. I must admit that I do.

18. The first words out of your mouth after getting across the finish line at Ironman Canada were?
The brain is the first thing to go in an Ironman. I haven't a clue!

19. Do we need an election in Canada this fall?
No, and we did not need one last fall either.

20. In five years you will be doing what?
Laughing that I wore those dorky compression socks!

Picture at the top of Tereza Macel high-fiving her way to a win at Ironman Lake Placid this past July.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Weather Woes

It's been an odd summer in the Toronto area - unusually wet and cool. The end of August is fast approaching and, in some respects it does not feel like summer has even really arrived. I seem to recall only a handful of days since early June( when the weather starts to get really nice) that have been over 25C. I mean 20 - 25C is nice, it's just that you expect it to be much warmer. We have not had the AC on at all this summer!

I was all set to go do a wetsuit demo for Nineteen last week when the weather woes continued. I pulled into the parking lot at the Kelso Conservation Area west of Toronto in light rain. To the north - very dark clouds were forming. Just to the south - full sunshine. At the lake the rain eased off and Kelso lake was dead calm. Not a ripple on it. About 20 people were there already, and it was still 15 minutes before the start of the swim and the demo. It looked like the rough weather was going to pass us by!

Then the wind shifted and picked up dramatically. The dark clouds - now a greenish hue started to advance right towards us. In the space of a few minutes white caps had formed on the lake, and the water was actually being picked up an wiped at us standing on the shore, by huge gusts of gale force winds. Rain and lighting began to . . well . . rain down! We all scrambled for the protection of our cars. The rain then started to really fall. The wind was nuts and the lighting was insane. I have been in many storms before but I don't think I had ever experience that intensity of rain, lightening and wind all at once before. It was so bad that I could not see anything outside the car save the bursts of light from the lightening. No one attempted to leave. They could not see anything!

There was a slight easing of the intensity and people began to leave. Thank goodness we did not start early and have people out in the water. Another wave of rain came down like it was being dumped out of a bucket on my car. The car shook in the winds sitting exposed on the shore of the lake. I hunkered down to wait it out. After another 10 minutes or so, I started to drive out of the park and saw two direct hits on hydro poles by lightening within 20 meters of my car with sparks showering down all over the place.

The drive home took forever, as I was of course driving along with the storm at about the same pace as the front was advancing. Eventually, after close to 2 hours of driving I burst into sunshine and took the picture above of the ensuing rainbow.

The next day Environment Canada confirmed that tornadoes had touched down, in various places in southern Ontario - including near Milton and Kelso Conservation Area.

We have rescheduled the Nineteen Wetsuit Demo for this Thursday - Aug. 27 from 6 - 8pm at Kelso Conservation Area - more details here.

Hopefully the weather will cooperate this time!