Sunday, July 24, 2011


McNeil Canyon descent in last month's Chelan Century Challenge; I'm scared and this isn't even the steep part.
With just a couple weeks to go 'til the Shasta ride that I may or may not do, I spent the last few days getting in a rather eclectic collection of climbs. Mountain biked up the Pine and Cedar Lakes Trail which is probably the steepest ridable trail around B'ham. (That I can think of anyway.) Climbs 1,360 feet in 1.7 miles; my Garmin doohickey registered grades of 36-percent in spots. (Though I don't know how accurate that is.)

Also a climbing workout of Cleator Road followed immediately by a schlep to the top of the Galby Towers (MTB); the next day was some Squalicum Mountain repeats with a foray down to Lake Samish (road bike). Between the two days, I got in eight hours of riding with about 8,000 feet of climbing. So we'll see ...

Speaking of the Tour de France, methought this one was amazing, and I'm super glad Cadel got it done. I'll make a prediction too, that Andy Schleck will never win the Tour de France. Great climber, but that's all he can do. Along with not being a good time trialists, we learned during this tour that he's not a great descender either (he's like me in the top photo) and since Alberto Contador excels at both and is highly motivated to win the next few (he's already said he'll never again do the Giro), I think Andy's climbed as high on the podium as he's ever going to get. (I'm a big Cadel fan but at 34, he's already the oldest Tour winner in the post-war era so I don't expect him to repeat.) The only way Andy wins the Tour de France is if there are no time trials, just 21 mountain stages, and Alberto Contador crashes out. (Or is serving a drug suspension.)

So ends my catechism ...

Switching gears (pun sorta intended), watching so much Tour got me thinking about our Paris trip last year and the incredible day we spent watching Fabian Cancellara destroy the field at Paris-Roubaix. So I thought I'd share a story I wrote about that experience and how it ultimately led to a broken collarbone; the story originally ran in last fall's Adventures NW. Please enjoy ...
The cobbled streets of Compiegne.

by Mike McQuaide
For as long as you can remember, you’ve been this way. You watch someone do something really cool and you get inspired. You think, I can do that! I can be just like them! Even when you probably can’t. Even when you’re probably a little too old to still be thinking this way. Even when it might not be smart or even safe to attempt what it was that so inspired you.

So there you are in the north of France at Paris-Roubaix, the most prestigious one-day bike race in the world. Held each April since 1896, it’s a 165-mile megamarathon known as the Queen of the Classics. Known also as the Hell of the North because of the 28 sectors of rough cobblestones—called pavé—that the riders have to negotiate. Big, blocky hunks of granite lain in the earth a tad sloppily to be honest; some sectors are so rough the riders say it’s as if the cobbles fell off the back of a truck and were left to lie where they landed.

And there you stand at the most famous pavé sector there is, the Arenberg Forest. (Or Trouée d'Arenberg to true aficionados, as you now consider yourself.) You and thousands of screaming, beer-filled Belgians and Flemish and French and Brits and Australians and Americans and Netherlanders and Colombians and cycling fanatics from everywhere.
Tom Boonen pulls the peloton through the Arenburg Forest.

I want me some of that! you think to yourself. I want to be just like them!

You are inspired.
And that evening, on the high-speed train back to Paris, you come across Yoann Offredo, a pro racer who’d just finished Paris-Roubaix for Française des Jeux, a French team. And your mind is boggled because here’s a professional cyclist not only riding the same train as you, but apparently—like you and your family—he doesn’t have a proper seat. Like you he’s forced to squeeze in near the luggage racks. And you talk, you and Yoann Offredo who just finished Paris-Roubaix (64th out of 71 finishers, but he finished!) like you’re two normal cyclists chatting it up at the Farmer’s Market after the Donut Ride. And outside the windows of the high-speed train, the French countryside scrolls by and eventually you see the unmistakable spire of the Eiffel Tower and you think, This is the coolest thing in the world.

Again, you are inspired.

So what you do when you get back to Bellingham is you take that second road bike of yours, the one that hasn’t been ridden much since you upgraded a couple years ago, and you turn it into your Bellingham-Roubaix bike. A bike on which, Tom Boonen-esque, you’ll power over the pavé of Bellingham. OK, if not exactly pavé, you’ll power over the hard-packed dirt and gravel trails of Bellingham’s Greenways. Heck, you figure, if the pros can survive Paris-Roubaix on those delicate bike of theirs, your beefy aluminum bike will be fine.
Fabian Cancellara on the homestretch through Roubaix.

And it is. (For a couple days.) You have a great time pedaling the flats of the Interurban, hitting 22, 24 miles-per-hour, hands on the tops of the bars just like you saw Tom Boonen do in the Trouée d'Arenberg. And you think, This is so much fun! Why doesn’t everybody do this?

Then rudely your question is answered.
You’re Bellingham-Roubaix-ing it on the trail from Boulevard Park to downtown. It’s deserted this early afternoon two-and-a-half weeks after Paris-Roubaix, and so you let it rip. You’re Fabian Cancellara making the winning move in this year’s race, a move so sudden, powerful and fast, that he was accused of riding a motorized bike. Today, Mike, that’s you. You’re hammering it, riding so hard you convince yourself that aging is a myth. That getting slower as you get older is something other people suffer from. Not you. No, Mike, not you.

But then …

… your skinny tires, the ones made for smooth paved roads not rough and tumble riding like this, hit a bump—a thimble-sized bump a hundredth the size of the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix—and your hands slip off the handlebars. You’re launched airborne like Superman, which is a problem because as far as you know, you can’t fly. So while your return to earth isn’t surprising, it’s still jarring, what with the hard crash, the sliding and tumbling over on your right shoulder, and your helmet grinding against the ground before you finally come to a halt.


Your shoulder hurts and when you trace your right collarbone with your finger you reach a point where it just disappears. Like a road that comes to an abrupt end at the edge of a cliff. Broken. You have surgery to pin the pieces back together again and two days later you get a phone call from your buddy John Clark, whom you’ve been riding and running with for the past 10 years and whom you’ve never known to suffer even the slightest injury. He’s calling to tell you that he’s sitting in a ditch waiting for his wife to come pick him up because he just flipped over his handlebars and broke his collarbone. W, T, you-know-what?!

Neither of you are allowed to run or ride for far too many weeks than seems fair and so you go on long walks together. You feel like patients from a mental institution out for your daily exercise. Life, as you know it, has been flipped upside down. How, you wonder, did you go from being Fabulous Fabian Cancellara to someone whose main exertion is a pleasant bayside walk?
 You’re one of those annoying types who search for some reason or meaning to attach to things like this, as if your inconvenient little collarbone break has some major role in the order of the universe. Nah. Prolly not. You got carried away and fell off your bike. The law of averages caught up to you. Forty-plus years of riding, probably 40-plus years of getting inspired and carried away, yet this is the first time you’ve broken a bone. Actually, that’s pretty good. You hope you learned something. Maybe, that it’s good to be inspired—fired up, even—by the actions of others. But if your inspiration happens to be a professional athlete two decades younger than you, it’s probably not best to go out and pretend that you’re him.

Or at least wear shoulder pads next time.

John Clark and I.

And when that distinctive French siren heralds the riders’ arrival, and big Tom Boonen wearing the black, yellow, and red of Belgium’s champion, powers past—like a locomotive pulling a train of the best cyclists in the world— you, like the thousands of the beer-fueled fanatics around you, erupt in absolute cycle-craziness. An arm’s-length away, the riders’ bikes rattle and shake over the rough and tumble pavé, like they’re being pedaled down the middle of the railroad tracks on that last annoying section of the Ski to Sea mountain bike course. On their sleek, elegant, featherweight road bikes—bikes not at all built to take this kind of pounding—these pros pedal past with such speed, power and grace that the rush of wind makes your eyes blink.

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