Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cervelo For Sale

Full disclosure - I have been a Cervelo friend, fan and owner since almost day-one, so I'll get my biases out of the way right from the get-go.

More neutral and good analysis can be found by long time industry observer and the Publisher of Slowtwitch, Dan Empfield here, as well as on a bike industry blog the Inner Ring, or a good search on Google.

The news on Christmas Eve that Cervelo was seeking a financial partnership with the Dutch company PON, with a possible option to buy, came as a surprise to many - Official News Release. However, for those in the know and for those who know the challenges of growing, and growth in this sort of business it was no real surprise, but an inevitability. Rapid growth, of the kind that Cervelo has experienced over the past 10 years comes at a high cost. While all appears good and great on the surface, great product, impressive sales, and in Cervelo's case winning races, beneath the surface the financial strains can be excessive. Everything, and everyone has a breaking point, and it reaches a point when the principals, realize it's time to move beyond the honeymoon of that post-start-up period. That's the fork in the road where Cervelo is at.

It's been a great ride, for the company that Phil White and Gerard Vroomen founded in the mid 90's as a side-bar to a master's engineering thesis project both were working on together at Montreal's McGill University. They have barely set a pedal wrong along the way. They have been true innovators in bike design and engineering. The bikes have sold extremely well. FWIW, their bikes have won just about all the biggest races in both road racing and triathlon and finally and perhaps most importantly, the Cervelo brand has an extraordinarily dedicated and enthusiastic customer base.

I agree with the other analysis of this that the new financiers, and potential owners, PON would be foolish to somehow toss away all that success.

For White and Vroomen (Note - Vroomen left the day-to-day operations of the company mid-summer, but is still involved with Board of Directors), it can be an emotional process. This is something they founded, started-up and nurtured along. Most companies reach this fork in the road at some point. For a greater insight into how this feels for founders/owners two great reads right in the sporting goods space are: "Raising the Bar" by Clif bar founder Gary Erikson, and "Let My People go Surfing", by Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard. In both cases after much deliberation and a few false starts and stops, both Erikson and Chouinard decide to retain the ownership of their companies. There is not a right or wrong with this - it's a highly individual decision based on the situation that the owners/founders find themselves in when they reach that fork in the road.

It sounds very cliche, but to take a company and a business to that next level, whatever that level is, often takes considerably more resources and a very different mind-set than the original owners and founders have. Despite the Erikson and Chouinard stories, walking away can be very hard for the founders, but sometimes that is what is best for the brand. That happens a lot too.

What will happen with Cervelo and PON remains to be seen. The news is still fresh. However, as I said, the folks at PON would be foolish to tamper with what on several key levels has been a highly successful bike company and brand! Cervelo is set to launch in a few weeks the next generation of it's ground-breaking aerodynamic P-series time trial bike - the P5. For the immediate future and on into next year, my guess is that it will be business-as-usual with Cervelo setting precedents and creating good industry buzz, Cervelo bikes selling briskly, and then come the racing season in both triathlon and road racing, Cervelo bikes winning many races!

How do you feel about the potential sale of Cervelo to PON?

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011

Some music for the season(click first)

Paolina and I would like to wish all our family, friends and online followers a Merry Christmas & Seasonal Greetings. Safe travels and training wherever you may be! Onwards to 2012!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Triathlon on a Road Bike?

On a recent trip to Arizona, I spent four days riding the new Cervelo S5 road bike (Thank you to Tribe Multisport in Scottsdale, AZ, and Cervelo for the loaner). This may be the most straight-forward, kick-ass road bike on the market. If Cervelo's numbers are right, it's as aero as many of the TT and triathlon bikes out there. Which got me thinking during the Ironman Arizona (IMAZ) race, where I spent a lot of time out on the bike course, watching triathletes ride. I noticed a micro trend: Triathletes doing the bike leg on a road bike, set up as a road bike, with no aero bars.

The other thing I saw was something that I have been seeing for a while now: Many triathletes riding state-of-the-art fully aero triathlon specific bikes, but riding a lot of the bike leg sitting up-right, hands on the base bar.

If you put the two groups together - road bike riders, and up-right tri-bike riders, it might have been a quarter of the race field at IMAZ. Maybe more!

This got me thinking - for these folks, why not just race the Ironman on a road bike? For sure there are people in Ironman races these days, who are looking for every advantage, wanting to go faster and faster, going for a top place in their Age-Group, and possibly qualifying for Ironman Hawaii. But there is also a large cohort of people these days doing Ironman races who have no thoughts, plans or goals along those lines. They just want to finish. This is a lofty and admirable goal in it's own right. However, with all due respect, these hard working and dedicated triathletes have more in common with Sportif category cyclists - not really racing, but not touring either.

Would these triathletes not be better off on a well fit, aero road bike such as the Cervelo S5? Surely they would be more comfortable and the bike would be much better handling than many of the set-ups I saw out on the IMAZ course. Many seem to ride these tri bikes in what appears to be very uncomfortable, unbalanced and precarious positions. If they can't maintain that classic aero position for more than half of the race or more, what's the point?

Sure, if we are to believe the numbers, athletes who choose to ride a road bike, as a road bike, will be giving up a few minutes of time on the bike leg due to the less aero body position on a road bike - but again, with all due respect, what's 5 - 10 minutes in a 12 - 17 hour day?

I know that many will think me crazy for having these thoughts or putting this forward, but from what I saw at IMAZ, I am just putting 2 and 2 together here and throwing in a bit of common sense.

What do you think - would it make more sense for some folks to just do triathlons on a well fit (aero) road bike?

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Friday, October 7, 2011

eMail to CBC re: Don Cherry

Dear CBC Sports,

When is enough, is enough for you with Don Cherry? I know that it's all about the ratings and the numbers as, I know that Cherry's, Coaches Corner segment is perhaps the most watched 5 minutes on CBC TV all week. However, it's reached the point that he's an absolute disgrace and embarrassment not just to you, but to the whole sport of hockey.

The man has lost all touch with reality. At one time, many years ago, he was remotely funny, but now he's just sad, and pathetic. Do the right thing and get rid of him, now! He's supposed to be a HOCKEY ANALYST - so get someone on there that really knows hockey - today's version of hockey, not how they played 30 years ago!!! Don lives in a time bubble and he's NEVER moved on from that. The game moved on from where Don is at, years ago.

How much does the back-lash against his offensive, and bewildering tirades (often not even about hockey), have to go on, until you take action. I always turn off the TV, or leave the room whenever Don comes on now - and I know that I am not alone in my disgust for his diatribes.

Best regards,

Steve Fleck
Aurora, Ont.

Hardest Job on Race Day

The zebras gather for a final briefing.

It's stressful. It's pretty serious. It may be the hardest job on race day. You could impact the outcome of the Pro and AG races or take someone right out of the race. It can get dangerous. It's a thankless job. It's a volunteer position. It's being a draft marshall on the bike.

After every one of the big, really competitive Ironman races it's often the number one complaint - the drafting on the bike. Thousands are often racing, yet a small handful of volunteer officials and moto drivers, also donating their time, and bikes, are used to rule over all of this.

For two years in Hawaii at the Ironman World Championships I was a draft marshall on the bike. One year I was assigned to the very front of the Age-Group men and the next year I worked closely with Head Race Referee Jimmy Riccitello working the front and main group of the Pro Mens race.

Many of the complaints for Ironman Hawii (IMH) stem from what goes on in the first 20 kilometers of the race. However, I don't think many athletes listen at the pre-race meeting when they are told, that due to the tightness of the course and the volume of traffic, that loop that they do around Kailua town proper, will not be marshalled. This is for their safety and the safety of the moto drivers and the draft marshalls. It's not until the race get's out onto the Queen K Hwy. proper and starts heading north to Hawi that the draft marshalls will start to scrutinize what's going on. Personally, I think this is a fair way of doing this, as it gives athletes a bit of a neutral buffer zone to sort things out before they really get down to business

The picture at the top is of Riccitello, going over a few last minute details and instructions in the Draft Marshall staging area on the Queen K Hwy just as the race starts to head north to Hawi.

The day before the race all the race officials meet up, and Riccitello goes over a number of details and makes sure that we are all clear on the rules, and that we are all working from the same rule book. Since officials are coming from all over the place to work at this race, it's interesting to hear the minor variations in the drafting rules from place to place. However, it's imperative that here, at the Ironman World Championship that we are all working from the same rule book. We are also assigned a general area/place the race that we will be working - main Pro men pack, main Pro women pack, lead wave of age-group men, 10 mins back from that . . and so on. For the Pro races we work in tandem with another marshall.

Riccitello also goes over a few things with us regarding our own safety - it can get very hot out there on the backs of the motorcycles. Make sure that we always keep our driver's, our safety and the athletes safety top of mind. It can get surprisingly hectic out there, with all the athletes, other race support vehicles, media vehicles and motos. This is particularly so at aid stations. Keep your head up.

On race morning we have time to watch the start of the swim, but shortly after that we need to make our way to the place in town where we meet( The Firestone Station at the foot of Palini Hill in town) We are then matched up with our drivers and we head out as a group to the main staging area on the Queen K. Again this is where Riccitello goes over a few last minute details. Then as the first of the Pro man start to stream by, we roll out on the road with our drivers and start following along.

The first year I did this I was assigned to the first major group of Age-Group men. The next year I worked with Riccitello on the main group of Pro Men. While being in the midst of the Pro men's race was very interesting, and actually watching the dynamics of it all, you have to stay focused on the task at hand. For the most part, all the Pro men get it. They stay almost exactly the legal 10m apart. They are helped by the little cat-eye reflectors running along the white line that separates the main road from the shoulder as these are almost exactly 10m apart. I also use them as a guide-line as well. For the longest time on the way out to Hawi, other than a few riders off-the-front, it's a long, legal line of 25 - 30 men. It's an impressive site. From time to time, there is a shuffling of the deck as riders move up or back, but again these guys know the rules and they know that they have roughly 25 sec. to sort things out and at the end of the 25 sec. count, they are all back in the legal line.

I wish that I could say that the situation amongst the lead Age-Group men was the same. Unfortunately it is not. That being said, it's fairly easy to pick out the flagrant and abusive drafters, vs the ones who are caught inadvertently in a bad situation. I am looking for intent - that's key. 25 seconds is a long time if you count it out and a lot can happen in that 25 sec. What I am looking for is movement - specifically, purposeful movement relative to the riders around other riders over the course of that 25 sec. This is why, the only way that you can fairly asses and marshall drafting in a triathlon race is from the back of a motorcycle, close to the riders moving along at roughly the same speed as the riders. It can't be done from the side of the road. Static pictures or even video from a stationary position on the side of the road is useless. Even moving along with the race from arrears of a group of riders - you can't really tell what is going on. In fact, that was a common complaint I would hear. "Look at them", a lone rider 75m adrift of a small group of riders ahead would shout at me. "They are drafting like crazy up there". Yet, when I would get up there, all was perfectly legal. You can't tell from that far back. You need to be almost beside the riders moving along at their speed and see how things evolve over 25 sec chunks of time.

Of course, when penalties were handed out there was all kinds of complaining and even verbal abuse - the latter was noted as well. Then there was the "I don't understand English", with a shrug of the shoulders! Most penalized riders had, "a story", but a few got it. After giving a four minute penalty that needed to be served at the next penalty tent on the road, I would always wait, and make sure that the rider clearly understood that they had a penalty, and that they were clear where the next penalty tent was. Only then would I leave them and move on. Failure to stop would mean a DQ.

After nearly 6 hours of that, we are more or less done. Except the one year, when just coming back into town, the motorcycle I am on, get's a flat tire and we need to wait on the side of the road for help. Once back into town I head to the officials tent and hand in my penalty note book. This is then cross-referenced with all the people that stopped for penalties at the various penalty tents along the way to make sure that they actually stopped.

My day was done!

What are your feelings regarding the draft marshalling that you have seen at either Ironman Hawaii or other races that you have been to?

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Really Crazy Side of Ironman Hawaii - The Under-Pants Run

The annual gathering of the Under-Pants Run Tribe at Pacific Vibrations

Full disclosure - I did my first Ironman, at Ironman Hawaii (IMH) in 1989 wearing a Speedo bathing suit the whole way for swim, bike and run. Not sure what I was thinking. Perhaps I had lost my mind, in that I thought that the 30 or so seconds that I would save in transition, would be a factor in a 9 hour race!! However, I was not alone - I seem to recall many competitors in that race going all the way in the Speedo.

On the race course was one thing, but around town during race week was something else. I kind of got this, but there was a group of triathletes back then that seemed to think that living in the Speedo full-time was acceptable/normal - going shopping, hanging out at coffee shops, running to/from the pier for a swim, all in the Speedo. Unbeknown to these folks the local Hawaiians were taking great offense to the Haole's behavior. I didn't see anything, but I had heard that there had been some confrontations and incidents.

In 1998 during IMH race week, Ironman vets and good friends Paul Huddle, Tim Morris, and Chris Danahy, wearing only white briefs, set out to set the record straight and change the mind-set, with the first Under-Pants Run. (Be sure to read over "The Rules") The three of them started out in front of a modest crowd gathered at Lava Java one morning for coffee & breakfast with a cheer and a few laughs. They wanted to point out, by sending up and lampooning the typical race and casual garb of more than a few triathletes that they were offending the locals!

And so it started. If you scroll through the postings at this link, you'll see a number of posts by Huddle re-counting with a great deal of hilarity, various Under-Pants runs at IMH over the years, and at other Ironman races around the world. Some others, such as the ones at Ironman Lake Placid and Ironman Canada have become very big deals. Even though these runs have nothing to do with the race, or have a formal relationship with the WTC or Ironman , they now often get put in the official schedule of each IM race, and for many they are a must-do event during Ironman race week! Forget that silly little World Championship race on Saturday! I kid you not, that there will be people there in Kona who have traveled there - just to do the Under-Pants run!!

As fate would have it, this year's Under-Pants run it is this morning in Kailua-Kona. The crowds both taking part and watching, have grown over the years, and I would say that over 500 people take part now and 2 - 3 times that watch along the roughly 3km route( GPS'd down to the last meter of course!).

Leading this year's run at IMH, despite recent hip-replacement surgery, is the other key founder, ring-leader, keeper-of-the-faith and reader of the always important, "Oath" of the Under-Pants Run, Roch Frey.

The message is still important - wear the Speedo on the pier and while swimming and no where else. However, if nothing else it injects a good bit of fun and frivolity into a week where there are 2,000 completely stressed out, deer-in-the-head-lights-looking triathletes, taking just about everything way too seriously all gathered in one place. You'll see lots of compression socks, heart rate monitor straps, giant GPS units on the wrists being worn and all manner of underwear being worn, but the "official" attire is white Y-Fronts (BVD's Fruit-of-the-Loom etc . .) for the men, and I don't think they have ever figured out what the "official" woman's kit should be.

These days beyond the message, and the silliness of it all, it's about raising money for great causes. No entry fee is asked for, but donations are gladly accepted, and there is cool Underpants Run merchandise for sale! I know that several thousand dollars is raised each year for charity with the generous donations that these nearly naked people pitch in.

What does the Under Pants Run mean to you? Do you take part in the Under Pants Run, when you go to an Ironman Race?

2013 Edit: The UP Kona Run Charities this year will be VASH & Ahu' ena Heiau. Mo' info here -

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Business of Ironman Hawaii

This is not so much about the actual business of Ironman Hawaii itself, but about the businesses that are focused on the triathlon business and how they make use of Ironman Hawaii to advance their businesses.

It's pretty clear, that within the sport of triathlon that the #1 race and event each year that most triathletes pay attention to is the Ford Ironman World Championships, aka Ironman Hawaii (IMH). Therefore, it makes sense that there is so much focus on this one event from a marketing and promotional perspective for brands and companies, that work within the triathlon market or brands and companies that want in, and want a part of that market.

In yesterdays blog I talked about how Quintana Roo bike founder, and now Slowtwitch Publisher Dan Empfield, in a very grass-roots and basic manner went about promoting his new triathlon specific bike at Ironman Hawaii many years ago. This is how I first met Dan - with bare QR frame slung over his shoulder, at the pier one morning, pumping me up on this new frame geometry that he had come up with that would make me cycle faster and run faster off the bike. He was very passionate about this. I was convinced right on the spot!

The triathlon crowd at IMH is somewhat unique and novel in that trying to market and promote to them is a bit of a mixed blessing:

1. This is for the most part a best-of-the-best group, who tend to be set in their ways, have their favorite gear, and brands, might already be "sponsored", and are sophisticated in their choices. In other words, it takes a lot to move them one way or the other.

2. The best that could be said about many of these folks is that they can be major influencers and ambassadors back home in their own communities. So if you do get them on board, you have a great mega-phone at a local level.

Many companies continue to do what Dan did years ago - just show up and informally, start to spread the word of their brand or product. The Pier at the morning swims is the perfect location for this, because within a couple hours each morning all week long, you'll have 500 - 1,000+ athletes and the many other folks in town converging on the Pier. It's a rare morning when you do go down to the Pier and not walk away with some promotional literature, possibly a little give away shwag, or a sales pitch on something. In fact, I am drinking my coffee this morning out of a coffee cup that was part of a cooperative marketing effort on the pier at the morning swim two years ago between TYR , and Java-On-The Rock, a coffee shop along Alii drive.

A slight step up from this would be the companies like Coffees-of-Hawaii who to the best of my knowledge have no official status with IMH, other than that company owner Albert Boyce is a regular competitor at the event - but they know that triathletes love their coffee! Coffees-of-Hawaii promote themselves in a very unique way by mooring a large catamaran about 400m out from the pier and anyone out there swimming can swim-up and get a shot of Coffees-Of-Hawaii espresso, and if you are very nice they might put an extra shot of something really nice in it for you!( If you know what I mean!!) That's me in the picture at the top downing an espresso + Baily's two years ago!

Another level up from this is the more aggressive guerrilla marketing that can go on amongst the bigger brands and players in the business - typically with brands trying to move on in, on the space that a WTC or IMH sponsor has. I recall years ago, when Gatorade was about to launch their new energy bar. The launch location was Ironman Hawaii and at the time Gatorade was the official sports beverage. PowerBar had had an informal relationship with IMH for several years. The exact details of which I don't really know. I just know that in 1993, PowerBar was suddenly not given any formal allowances with IMH, because IMH wanted to do everything it could for Gatorade in helping them get this new energy bar off the ground. This prompted the marketing team at PowerBar to shift into high-gear and they immediately signed up a bunch of the top Pros in the month prior to IMH and then they also went room to room at the King Kam Hotel and gave people( probably in exchange simply for a box of PowerBars) a PowerBar banner to put over their balcony. When you came along Alii drive right by the finish line and race registration all you could see was about 100+ PowerBar banners flapping on people's balconies of the King Kam Hotel.

Gatorade dug deep and it got a bit nasty - at the Pro Meeting that year, they went so far as to say that, some of those neophyte PowerBar sponsored athletes would get limited, or no camera time for the NBC show - even if they were placed high up!! Of course years later, this is all moot as the Gatorade energy bar never caught on and now PowerBar/Nestle is a world-wide partner of WTC/Ironman and Gatorade is no longer involved!!

Another perhaps not as dramatic or guerrilla-type of marketing, we have been witness to just this past week - but no less impactful based on the strategy and some good fortune that fell in a key players lap.

Specialized started to build up hype about a new super triathlon bike, a month ago at Interbike. "Top-Secret - wait till Kona", the promotional material said. At exactly the same time, two time winner of IMH Craig Alexander decided to part ways with his bike sponsor Orbea. At the WTC's 70.3 World Championship four weeks ago, Alexander was riding on a Cervelo P4 with the logos blacked out! Alexander won that race, in convincing fashion and had perhaps his best bike leg ever against this level of competition. Speculation was starting to build. Then a grainy, "spy-photo" of Alexander came out, of him training in Kona two weeks ago - It was hard to tell from the photo what bike or brand he was riding. The the speculation and rumors shifted into over-drive. On the Slowtwitch Forum several of the threads with the biggest page-views of the year, where on this topic - "What Bike is Craig Riding". Specialized had their launch a few days ago of this new triathlon specific bike - the new Shiv in Kona, and then a day later, it's announced that Alexander's new bike sponsor is . . . . Specialized!

Specialized was savvy about this. They knew that for many triathletes, it's all about the bike. I am sure they also knew that, with the new media, and the social networking tools that are out there now, that word and news, spreads very quickly ounce you plant those viral seeds. Then of course, the #1 favorite for the most important race in the sport, literally falls right in their lap, and BAM - well, you could not have planned it any better! Or might this have been part of some grander master marketing plan??

Of course, if we are talking bikes and IMH, we need to talk about Cervelo. Ironically, in both triathlon and in road racing, Cervelo has been very successful. They have won just about everything. The one "major" that they have not won is the mens race at IMH - and it may have just slipped through their hands for this year! But does it really matter? Cervelo dominates in the one category that really matters - the most bikes in transition at IMH and many other big triathlons around the world. They crush it in the bike counts. Strangely, Cervelo arrived at this point a number of years ago, by doing things in a somewhat non-traditional manner, with far less traditional marketing than normal. Does who wins IMH riding a Cervelo matter to Cervelo these days?

Finally, there are all the real IMH sponsors. It costs a lot of money to be formally and directly associated with the WTC and IMH as a sponsor, partner or licensee. These relationships can be hugely successful - think of the Timex Ironman watch. The Timex/Ironman relationship is generally speaking regarded as one of the most successful co-branding relationships of all time. And it all started at Ironman Hawaii. And Ford seems to be getting good value for it's title sponsorship of not just IMH but almost all the Ironman races in North America. But there are many other smaller brands that so have a relationship that we rarely hear about. Is it worth it for them?

How influenced are you, by who the sponsors are of Ironman Hawaii and by the marketing that other companies do during Ironman Hawaii race week?

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Ironman Hawaii - Then and Now

When I first went to Kona for Ironman Hawaii in 1989, the sport of triathlon was tiny and the group of athletes in it, was this small, obscure group of fitness fanatics and endurance junkies. Everyone knew everyone else. The sport even today, compared to many other sports is rather small, but back then it was really small.

Comparing Ironman Hawaii today to the race back then, there were some major differences:

- No UnderPants Run. Most triathletes did the whole race, and practically lived in their speedos while in Kona for the race, with great offense to the locals. Hence the need for the UP run to bring attention to this bad habit.

- No internet. Seriously. You had to wait at least a month until Triathlete Magazine came out with the story of the race to actually find out what happened. Or even longer to watch the race on TV on NBC. Believe it or not back then they actually covered the race

- No Cervelo and a host of other main-stay brands in the sport. Cervelo co-founders, Phil White & Gerard Vroomen had just started their Master's in Engineering at McGill University

- No Slowtwitch (see No Internet) Hard to imagine!

- No Ford. The sponsor back then was Bud-Lite!

- No wind. Every few years, Madame Pele gives a calm year with gentle to no winds. Mercifully '89 was one of those years.

- No Ironman Lake Placid, Ironman Florida, Ironman Arizona etc . . In fact the only other Ironman in North America was Ironman Canada!

- No 70.3 races. Back then it was simple - you called them half-Ironmans

- No timing chips and no Sportstats. Results were all manually done and analog.

- No compression socks, super swim suits, power meters, super-aero bikes, salt pills or complicated nutrition strategies. How did we do it?

I recall getting the hand-book that the race organizers mailed to you about a month before the race( Mail, remember that?) I was floored when I read the recommended weekly training distances to finish the Ironman. It was something like 8 miles swimming/300 mikes cycling/60 miles running. Good Lord help me, I thought. I was averaging about half of those totals!!

As mentioned in yesterdays blog, '89 was the year of Dave Scott & Mark Allen's now famous and epic Iron War. Given the closeness of that race and given modern day's really live coverage on, I would think that this titanic battle between those two giants of the sport, would have made for some very compelling viewing.

My only memory of it all was on the way out to the turn on the run, and with Dave & Mark barreling along back along the same lane of road, I was forced off into the shoulder to run for about 100m, by the phalanx of followers on bikes, cars and media people following the Dave & Mark show along. That was the live coverage of the race back then! Watch it yourself!

Another completely personal, but potential change-the-course-of-history incident was when a few days before the race when I was coming out of the drive-way of our condo on Alii Drive, for a bike ride and nearly taking Dave Scott out, while he was out for a run! Of course Dave would unfortunately, go on to loose that battle with Mark, that day, but in retrospect, I could have potentially robbed the triathlon world of the Iron War!

Final anecdote from '89: There was a guy walking around town that week with a strange looking bare bike frame slung over his shoulder. It was a new bike company with, what the man called, a "triathlon specific" geometry. He said it would make you cycle faster, and run better. That man's name was Dan Empfield, and the bike company had taken the name of one of the states of Mexico - Quintana Roo My only thought at the time, was, we are in Hawaii, why not name the company after one of the Hawaiian Islands?

If you raced Ironman Hawaii, "Back in the day", what are your memories? What's different now in your view?

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Kona Crazy

It's that time of year. Time to go crazy for Kona - Ironman Hawaii in Kona, Hawaii. I'll admit that I have a soft spot for Ironman Hawaii. Did my first Ironman there in 1989 - year of Dave Scott & Mark Allan's "Iron War" (read on). Raced it again in 1993 - didn't go well. Returned 15 years later when my wife Paolina Allan raced in 2008, and then again the following year.

Within the sport of triathlon, it's the biggest race of the year. It's the race that for the last week, and for sure next week, will have the Slowtwitch Forum humming along with some of it's biggest traffic of the year and every second thread will be something relating to Ironman Hawaii. It's the race that everyone wants to talk about. Every triathlete has a feeling about. Every triathlete wants to do. Why are we all crazy for Kona?

Clearly the World Triathlon Corporation(WTC) know this and it's the center-piece of a world-wide series of Ironman races and central to the Ironman brand. I talked a bit about this - the significance of Ironman, and where the brand is at and it's importance in the sport in a blog from last year - "What Now for Ironman".

This week before race week, has been rather interesting. Controversy has been swirling around one of the race favourites - two time winner, Craig Alexander, over speculation about, of all things, what bike he'll be riding on race-day! Seriously - it's important stuff, because, if you know anything about this sport , it's all about the bike. There has been one, lone, grainy picture circulating around the internet that's taken on a Zapruder-Film like aura to it of Alexander riding on some mysterious new bike along the famous Queen K Highway (aka Highway 19 - picture at top) out training earlier this week. No one seems to be exactly sure what this bike is. Race day will reveal all!

Next up was the revelation that, the details of Dave & Mark's Iron-War had been significantly distorted in a just published new book by Matt Fitzgerald, called, fittingly enough, "Iron War" I learned of this, in an eMail that Dave & Mark had sent out explaining in detail their disappointment with Fitzgerald's accounting and in particular his portrayal of them as being mentally unstable. A defamation law-suit had apparently been launched.

Speculation is that triathlon's prodigal son, 7-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, may drop in for a reconn and a look-see. Armstrong recently made his much talked about return to the sport of triathon at the recent Xterra USA Championship triathlon in Utah. Of course the one triathlon race course, that everyone wants to see him on is . . . . . . Ironman Hawaii! Not this year, but possibly next year.

I am sure that other big news will pop up as race week unfolds - it always does. Last year's bomb-shell was that on race morning. 2-time defending Champion and the undisputed absolute favourite for the woman's race, Chrissie Wellington had pulled out do to the Flu.

Stay tuned. I'll try and blog a few times this week to comment on various happenings and events at Ironman Hawaii - viewed from afar in the comfort of my own home in Aurora, Ontario! With so many people I know over in Kona, and following along their Twitter, Facebook and blog feeds, it feels like I'm there!

Why are we Crazy for Kona?

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Friday, August 12, 2011

No 2020 Olympic Games Bid For Toronto

We learned today that there will be no bid for the 2020 Olympic Games for the City of Toronto.

News report on this from the CBC yesterday.

I have mixed feelings about all this.

As a life long athlete, and huge fan and supporter of many Olympic Sports, and as someone who counts a number of Olympic athletes as friends, including some medal winners, I am normally first in line to support the Olympic movement and the games. They could potentially be a great thing for Toronto, the GTA and sports in those areas and Canada. However, Toronto has been down this road before - twice, in fact and lost. Millions have been spent on two Olympic Games bids that the city ended up losing for the 1996 and then the 2000 Games. Each bid had big promises for large, and massive investments in city and sports infrastructure. City and sports infrastructure that was sorely needed back then, and is even more desperately needed now!

Would third time lucky be the way for Toronto? Hard to know. There seems to be as much opposition for these things in Toronto and the GTA, as there is support. No real surprise in the "No", response for the bid, from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford - this is a man that has no vision or plan for the city of Toronto other than eliminating "Gravy" at City Hall and balancing the city's budget. Support for this from Mayor Ford was DOA! Not sure what this Bid Exploratory Committee headed up by Bob Nicholson was thinking.

Another troubling bit of information is that while the economics of Big Games and sports events like the Olympic Games is much better today than it was for the disastrous money pit that the Montreal Games left( TV and ad revenue is much higher - in the $Billions and shared with host city & organizers), it's still not as rosy as people make out. The economic up-side, for sports events on this scale, are most often grossly over estimated. Politicians, promoters, and supporters of these events would do well to be honest with the public and advertise events on this scale, when all is said and done, as slightly better than break-even at best. The real up-side, studies have shown, is more the psychological boost and shot-in-the-arm-pride, that a region or a nation gets from hosting them. Think of the post-Vancouver Olympic Games buzz - although one wonders what the mood might have been had we lost that Gold Medal Hockey game!!

We tried twice, and lost. Should we try again for the Olympic Games? What do you think?

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Seeing Is Believing

Not sure what it is about my facial structure or positioning, but I have found over the years that there is a very limited number of sport shield type eye-wear models and styles that actually works for me while on the bike.

Many of the more popular styles, while being well designed and looking great, work perfectly well when I am standing up, looking straight-forward, but when I start to bend over and get into the actual position I am in while riding, that's when the problems start. With many models and styles the top part of the frame starts to loom into view. When riding on the hoods on a road bike, this is often OK, as I can still get a good view forward. However, when I get down in the drops, often the top part of the frame is now directly in my field of vision. With these same glasses in the aero position on a TT/Tri bike, forget it - I am now looking over the tops of the frames!!

Some glasses that I have used over the years compensate for this by pitching themselves much higher on the face and the nose. This solves the top-part-of-the-frame-obstruction issue, but now if you look down, there is this massive, yawning gap down below with all kinds of reflective light coming in from below!

I recently acquired some Oakley Radar XL's . All problems solved - I am pleased to say. Vision is clear and unobstructed in all regular bike riding positions - including low TT/Tri positions. They hug the contours of my face, and there is little to no reflected light coming in from below. Plus the optical clarity is absolutely amazing - seems even better than my unadorned 50 year-old eyes! The world looks better with the Radars on!

It's hard tell, but the lens and frame on the Radar XL's are 7mm taller then the regular Radars. In the hand, and on the face they do look a little bit bigger, and someone told me they have a "retro" look to them. I didn't really care - I had found a sport shield that worked for me in all positions riding on a bike.

If you are having problems finding a sport-shield for riding, I would highly recommend the Oakley Radar XL.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The First Triathlon

While doing the Race Announcing at the recent Re-Charge with Milk Triathlon Series events in Bala and Bracebridge, Ontario, both with their picture perfect race venues, I thought back to that first triathlon that I did in 1981, thirty years ago this summer.

I am not absolutely sure on this, but it may have been the first triathlon in Ontario. Back then there were not many - perhaps one a year. That was it. If others reading this know more, please feel free to chime in with your recollections.

Anyway, at both the Bala and Bracebridge races, the waters edge, the swim-finish, the transition zone and the start/finish are all steps from one another. That was the way it was, at the Cambridge Triathlon held in Paris, ON back in 1981.

At the time I was a distance runner who had experienced modest success through high school at the provincial and national level. In the summer I worked as a Lifeguard, and had OK swim technique and fitness, but was not really that fast in the water. Like any young person I could ride a bike, but at the time did not own one.

For the race I borrowed my next door neighbors rusty 10-speed Apollo road bike. That's 10 total gears - not just the cogs on a cassette!! However, I seem to recall that only three or four of the 10 gears worked properly!

Can't remember what I paid to enter the triathlon. I just know that I showed up and really had no clue what I was getting into. Some things never change, and like today, the big concern was what will I wear, and how will I deal with the changing clothing needs? I seem to recall swimming in a Speedo, then pulling on running shorts and my club running singlet in transition after the swim, plus my running shoes ( bike had platform pedals) and wearing that for the rest of the race. No helmets required for the bike!!

As I started off saying, the race venue was perfect, with a fresh-water lake swim in a conservation area near Paris, ON. We laid our bikes down on the grass at water's edge - that was the extent of the transition zone. The finish-line was drawn in chalk on a park road, not 10m from the waters edge.

Strangely I seem to recall few details of the race itself including the distances. My recollection was that the individual distances were similar to what is now considered a "Sprint" - so somewhere in the neighborhood of 750m swim/20k bike/5 k run.

The swim seemed to go on forever, and I was way behind. The bike went better and I passed many people. When I hit the run, someone shouted that I was "doing well" - whatever that meant. I was just happy to now finally be doing something that I did well! On the run I passed a number of other athletes, and I ended up third! The bronze medal pictured at the top is now a cherished Christmas tree decoration!

I was hooked. Problem was, as mentioned, there was only one or two triathlons a year back then, so I had to wait a whole year do do my next triathlon - which was the same Cambridge Triathlon. This time I was ready (making sure that the borrowed bike I had, had all 10 gears working!) - I won it that year!

Where and when was your first triathlon and what do you remember from it?

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Shoe That Changed Everything

The shoe pictured above is the Nike Waffle Trainer. I bought a pair of these shoes out of the trunk of the car of a man named Dave Ellis in the fall of 1974, at a High School cross-country race in High Park in Toronto. Dave was the distributor for Nike in the area at the time. I thought they were the coolest and fastest shoes on the planet! It was all kind of clandestine, because you could not buy Nike's in any stores locally. So you handed, Dave $25, and he gave you your shoes!

It's hard to believe, but at the time, outside of a hardcore group of skinny running geeks, no one knew what Nike was back then.

These shoes changed everything in many different ways. It was the shoe that really set Nike apart from the few other players in the serious running shoe business of the time. For me, it was the shoe that I really discovered the agony and the ecstasy of distance running in. I learned how to push myself really hard - right to that aerobic edge, and then surf along it for as long as I could. I felt like I was flying, when I was wearing those bright red Waffle Trainers!

The waffle soles really did look like the inverse pattern from the waffle-maker that we had at home. Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman was not making this stuff up. The soles of the Waffle trainers, were light, but they also delivered extraordinary grip and amazing cushioning. Bill was definitely onto something.

I ran that first pair of Waffle Trainers into the ground. It was cross-country season, so lots of mud, rain and wet running. I seem to recall the tops giving out before the soles. I tracked Dave down at another cross-country race and bought another pair of Waffle Trainers, as well as a pair of Oregon Waffles - these very cool yellow and green cross-country racing flats. And I was hooked. I have been a Nike guy pretty much since.

From the get-go, Nike seemed to get it! The product was cutting edge. The marketing and promotional material seemed to speak directly to the athletes they targeted - runners. I recall an ad in the, "There is no finish line series". It was a picture of several young runners. Some hands-on-knees bent over. Others slumped on the ground. It was obvious they had just finished a hard interval effort, or a tempo run and were recovering as best they could. Just like I did countless times with my teenage running buddies. Nike got it. This was running!

It came full circle for me recently when at the offer of a good friend, while I was passing through Portland, Oregon recently, I was given a tour of the Nike corporate headquarters or, the Nike Campus as they like to call it. In a word, "Wow" - from selling shoes out of car-trunks to kids at cross-country meets to that. Impressive stuff.

I saw an old pair of those red Waffle Trainers preserved in the Bill Bowerman memorial and museum area along with much other assorted Nike memorabilia as part of the tour at the Nike Campus. I wish that I still had those first pair that I bought. I still remember that sensation of flying along on a tempo run over hills and fallen leaves in the Fall of 1974 like it was yesterday!

What shoe did it for you?

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Handlebar Tape - More Important Than You Think!

Bar tape may not be such a big deal to you, but this is a key contact point with the bike. This is where your hands make contact with the bike and this is where you control much of what your bike is doing. It's a more important bike accessory than you think!

Call me obsessive, but I have always wanted the bar tape on my bikes to be just so - not too thick and not too thin. The Fizik line of Microtex bar tape strikes that fine balance for me. As an added HUGE bonus, if you prefer white as I do, it's much easier to keep clean, and in my case white (see more key info on color, below)! Almost all the other white "cork" or "foam" bar tapes start to go gray and dirty after one ride. If you have to change a tire on a ride, or fish a greasy black chain back on with your hands, you'll then have a real mess on, not just your hands, but your nice white bar tape as well - not so with the Fizik Microtex. It resists a lot of dirt and grime in the first place and then wipes clean easily with soap and water when you get home from a dirty ride.

I opted for the new glossy version of the white Fizik Microtex tape, that seemed to match up well with my glossy white Cervelo R3!

Putting on handlebar tape on a road bike may seem like a big mystery, but it's an easy DIY task and done right can make your bike, even an old bike, look fantastic and much newer. There are easy to follow instructions to do this on the Park Tool Web site.

Finally, a note on color. According to the The Rules (#8), your bar tape is supposed to match your saddle color and can be any color you want as long as it's black or white! Apparently there is no arguing or variations on this what-so-ever!

How's your handlebar tape looking/feeling?

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Which Drivers are the Worst

There is a poll on a cycling forum, that I take part in from time to time that is running a survey trying to determine which cars are the worst when it comes to altercations with cyclists.

The survey can be found at the Canadian Cyclist Forum.

Which drivers are the worst?

Here's what I wrote on the forum:

The worst drivers (and cyclists to for that matter, but that's a whole other thread) are the ones who don't understand that they share the road with all other users of that road, that what they are doing is the riskiest and most dangerous thing that any of us do on a daily basis, that it requires their full concentration on what they are doing, and that in an instant they can seriously injure or kill another user of the road, be it another car driver, cyclist, pedestrian, or even themselves!

Most drivers are not bad, but there is a certain percentage of drivers who take a completely cavalier attitude towards driving a vehicle and think that all that matters is themselves and they are the only user of the roadways that matter. That somehow they are exempted from the rules of the road, common sense, civility and the laws of physics. Over the years, I have seen this group driving all kinds of makes, models and types of vehicles. It's less to do with the vehicle and more to do with a mind-set and attitude.

Which drivers have you found to be the worst?

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

You Ask I Tell #2

Mikel Perce asks - Can Macca win again in Kona?

If you are talking about this year, as of yesterday, and Chris McCormack's decision to go after a spot on the Australian Olympic Team for 20112, that answer now by default is, "No"! It's an interesting development to be sure - says a lot about the man and the sport. I have always liked Chris McCormack. To him triathlon has always been about swim/bike/run. He cares little about the format, drafting, no drafting, the length of the race, the stakes, where and when. He just loves to, swim/bike/run and race. He's a true original and Renaissance man in in the sport in this regard. No petty comments about how this format or this length or this race is better than another. It also says a lot about the sport of triathlon and what is this sports biggest stage, and I think there are some misconceptions there. Many, think that it's Ironman and Ironman Hawaii in particular - hard not to think this, if you are in the sport because the triathlon media and many triathletes are absolutely obsessed by the Ironman distance. The reality is that compared to the Olympic triathlon, the Ironman pales in terms world wide media attention and exposure. The Ironman is possibly the biggest event inside the sport of triathlon, but outside the sport of triathlon, it's most clearly the Olympic Games Triathlon.

Derek Aldritt asks - What is the worst excuse that you have ever used to get out of a training session?

I will counter this question with asking another - why would you be doing something as time consuming and arduous, as training for a triathlon if you were looking for excuses to get out of training? The training, first and foremost, has to be something you want to do. Lance Armstrong goes to great lengths in he first chapter of "It's Not About The Bike", about how getting on the bike and riding every day is what he wants to do. In fact, he hopes, he dies someday while riding his bike. A morbid thought to be sure, but the point being, that to be an endurance athlete is to have this inner passion and drive to want to be out there, doing what you do every day and few things will get in the way of that. Sure life gets in the way from time to time, but you should never resort to having to make up excuses to get out of training. This is what you want to do!

Larry Bradley asks - How much time will a racing flat save you in the run leg of an Olympic Distance triathlon?

In real time not a lot - in a 10K run at modest pace, we are talking 10's of seconds. Enough to possibly separate you and some competition. The real secret of racing flats or any special equipment that you use only on race day is the psychological boost that you will get from holding off using your best gear, and keeping it in reserve for race day use only. Of course, you should never use something, shoes or otherwise completely new and different on race day - everything should be tested in training first, to see how it works and your body reacts. However, the mental boost and edge that you get by having race-day-only gear can be significant and can't be over-looked.

Do you have a question about the Sport of Triathlon? You Ask, I tell!

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What The Heck Were We Thinking?

An old friend sent me this picture recently. Yes, that's yours truly rocking the Speedo in a triathlon race in the late 80's somewhere in Ontario. In a recent post, I was talking about Training Naked (although a different kind of naked) - back then we used to race nearly naked! And the little that we did wear, was trimmed in pink! Yikes!

What were we thinking? Swim/bike/run in a Speedo? Brilliant. It did make for quick transitions, but the only place that this sort of get-up was cool( and that's a stretch, looking back), was on race day on a triathlon race course. No where else. Of course, some did push the boundaries with this - wearing the Speedo elsewhere - out shopping and for coffee (I am serious), and that's why we have the Under-Pants Run at Ironman Hawaii and other Ironman races - as a sort-of lampooning send-up of how ridiculous, and potentially offensive this all was to others.

Fast forward to today, and thankfully tri clothing for triathlon races has become much better. Truth be told, doing it all in a Speedo was not that comfortable. I am not sure exactly what we were thinking. Hopefully, in some small way, our crazy ambitions and discomfort back then, has lead to the more realistic, modest and comfortable triathlon race apparel options that are available today.

Although, don't get me going on the compression socks! A blog for another day.

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