tales from urban dilettantia

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Giro Onwards

The more things change, the more they stay the same?  So journalist Anthony Tan tells us.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I like Anthony.  I like it when he gets air time providing commentary on Le Tour.  And I really like it that he is a passionate supporter of international cycling.  But (sorry, Anthony) I don’t buy this one.

See, Fränk Schleck, older brother of the exceptional Andy and an impressive cyclist in his own right, should be on holiday right now.  Instead he received an eleventh hour call-up to the Giro d’Italia, saying, Fränk, how about it?  And to his credit, Fränk said hey, I’m not quite in form but I like this year’s course and I’ll give it a go.

Tan says ‘I accept that Jakob Fuglsang, RadioShack-Nissan-Trek’s original leader for the Giro, is still out due to injury, but compromising a potential podium at the Tour for an unlikely podium at the Giro? It just doesn’t make sense. Couldn’t Fränk simply have told team manager Johan Bruyneel no?’

To begin with Tan’s latter point, quite apart from any politics and desire to demonstrate goodwill within the team, Fränk’s keen to be there.  He wants to ride the Giro, and why shouldn’t he?  For a cyclist to turn down an opportunity to participate in the Giro, simply because it may impact his performance in Le Tour is to imply that Le Tour is a far more important race, a view with which I’d heartily disagree.  Like Le Tour and Vuelta a España, the Giro’s one of the three Grand Tours, and it’s more than reasonable to attribute our obsession with the Tour – at least in part – to manufactured media hype.  The Giro is one of the world’s great races, a truth that is not in the least diminished by insufficient coverage, nor by slighter interest from once-a-year cycling enthusiasts.  As former race director Angelo Zomegnan says, ‘It is often very different from the Tour de France. The Giro has a life and soul of its own.’

And what of compromising a potential podium finish at Le Tour?  Consider this year’s Tour route for a moment.  Consider that the organisers have significantly added to the distance covered by the three time trials, if not the 6.1km prologue in Liège.  Consider that Fränk is a specialist climber, and that a time trial will potentially defeat him every single time.

Elsewhere, Tan waxes lyrical about O’Grady’s remarkable 2008 performance on the 16.2km individual time trial in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, essentially suggesting that Fränk – to put it more bluntly than Tan – just needs to get his shit together.  But is this fair?  For starters, this year’s Tour route incorporates brutal 41.5km and 53.5km time trials, arguably requiring a somewhat different skill set.  And further, it must be remembered that O’Grady was a part of the team who won the team trials at the 2001 Tour de France and 2006 Vuelta a España.  Certainly, team trialling is yet another different experience, but it does hint that he’s far from a time trialling disappointment.

At least in comparison to previous years, the 2012 Tour is all about the individual time trials, and Fränk ain’t going to love it.  He’s a resolute competitor and I’d be taken aback to see him give less than his best effort in Le Tour, but it isn’t looking like his year.

Interestingly, in other places Tan has made a few comments about the Giro noting that it really is a very close field this year with no stand-out favourite.   He’s said that there are around ten serious contenders for the overall win, and – somewhat inconsistently, given his criticisms – he’s included Fränk in their number.  While I agree it’s a close field, I don’t have a strong opinion on Fränk’s capability to take the race out.  However, if one is going to argue that Fränk’s in the running, it’s curious to suggests he ought to have passed up Giro to improve his chances in a Tour that is really not looking too good.

So, could ‘Fränk simply have told team manager Johan Bruyneel no?’ Perhaps. Should a passionate cyclist pass up a race he truly wants to ride, simply to boost his chances in a more media saturated race which is less than likely to showcase his talent?’

Ride your Giro, Fränk Schleck.  If it makes you happy, you’ve already won.

Adijo, Jure.

In sadder news, I learned from PortableDave yesterday that Jure Robic died a couple of weeks ago in an accident while training.

Unless you’re one of the people to whom I’ve sent this New York Times article, it’s unlikely you’ve ever heard of Robic.  At the time of his death he was one of the greatest endurance athletes on earth, but ultra-endurance cycling isn’t a sport that attracts much media attention, and so far as I’ve been able to determine, the only Australian news service to report his death was SBS.

Since the day I first read about him, Robic’s story has inspired me; it’s a reminder that no matter what hurts, and be it in my legs, my heart or my mind, it’s possible to put one foot in front of the other and keep on going – that I have a capacity for endurance within me that is far greater than I ever dreamed.

Adijo, Jure, and thank you.

If You’re Into It

River Ramblings

Yesterday, on the advice of kattiko , via angrygoat , I decided to do a little exploration and take a longer, more scenic bike route to work by following the river. (I normally do a fairly dire ride along an arterial road, followed by a frustrating – and sometimes dangerous – crawl through pedestrians and peak hour central business district traffic.)

After crossing the railway at East Perth Station in the morning, I decided to explore the river a little more on the commute home and follow it further north before heading back to Flyingblogspot Cottage. This turned out to be a beautiful ride, leading me through some rehabilitated wetlands I’d never explored before. I’m hoping to head back there in the near future with a camera, as even cycling through in the afternoon I spotted a beautiful White-Faced Heron, and a number of unfamiliar small birds and butterfly species.

For anyone interested in checking the trail out for themselves, head from the city towards Maylands along the north shore of the river, cross under the freeway and ride or walk from Banks Reserve to Barden Park. I headed home at this point, but it looks like the public greenspace continues well up the river – scope for a future expedition.

fourquare

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been enjoying playing with foursquare over the past few days. A few people have since said commented along the lines of ‘yes, I saw your post, but I don’t understand what fourquare does’. Like a number of recent applications, foursquare allows you to ‘check in’ your location using an iPhone or Android app, or through their mobile website on your phone. If your device has GPS, the app suggests a number of locations around you and provides tips, feedback and comments from previous visitors. If the location you’re at hasn’t been entered into foursquare yet, you can add it yourself.

The difference between this and other geolocation tools, though, is that foursquare has pared back the social networking aspects to a very basic ‘friends list’ offering and focused on giving users a reason to check in and add content. This is done via a gaming approach where users earn points and badges for adding new locations, check-ins per day, checking in at a new location and so forth. (If you’ve visited a location more than anyone else, you’re displayed as the ‘Mayor’ on that location’s foursquare page!) It’s good fun, I learned a few new things about Perth the very first time I turned the app on, and the iPhone app seems reasonably robust and useful. A word of warning, though – I’d advise against giving it access to your Facebook or Twitter accounts as you most likely don’t want it posting your location updates there.

The thing that interests me most with this kind of application is that it’s engineered to cull out advertising and junk information, as all the content is user-uploaded. A location only appears in the database because a user cared enough to add it – for instance, I added Velvet Espresso and my physio because they’re both great and because I visit them both on a regular basis. I don’t know whether foursquare is going to be the application to do it, but I suspect this kind of user-populated, viral geolocation technology is going to have a significant place in the future of the location-based web and information-overlay development.

MapMyRide

I’ve also been getting into the popular MapMyRide this week, partly because it is very, very good at data aggregation and it offers a great iPhone app that works as a bike computer, and partly because my cubemates are trying to get me into women’s short-course triathlon. While the website and app are designed with fitness and training focus, MapMyRide is also excellent simply for recording distances, times and routes cycled and should give me a much clearer picture of the amount I ride per week.

One nice feature of the site is that while it provides stats in terms of fitness and performance, it also offers a ‘Green Stats’ section which looks at fuel, carbon and money saved. Unfortunately the fuel and financial savings are calculated based on US national averages, but knowing the site is using 18 mpg and $3.48/gallon, it’s easy enough to reverse engineer the calculation – in fact I might put together a Greasemonkey script when I have time to automatically convert these into more relevant Australian numbers.

The site also has a lovely ‘search for rides’ section populated by its huge userbase. If you log in as a Perth-based user, for instance, you’ll currently see 405 suggested maps with everything from a cruisy 2.12km circuit around Reabold Hill to time-trial routes through Kings Park and scenic 30-40km river circuits. The route listings also contain user comments and helpful tags, such as ‘Big Climb’, ‘Low Traffic Area’, ‘Mostly On Bike Path’, ‘Quiet’, ‘Scenic’ and ‘Very Hilly’.

The iPhone app is really easy to use as a trip computer; all you need to do is launch, select the ‘Record’ button when you start and hit ‘Stop’ and ‘Save’ when you’re done. You’ll be prompted to enter information such as the type of workout and whether to save the route as private or public. (If you’re wondering what to do with your phone and don’t have a bike-mount, I use an nice iPhone armband holder I picked up at JB Hi-Fi, although there are undoubtedly cheaper options on the internet.)

Finally, the site offers a number of tiers of membership from Free through to Gold, so it’s easy to try out without paying up. There’s a choice between a free and a paid iPhone app too, and the Bronze site membership is relatively affordable and more than sufficient for a casual user.