Descendeur

Photo Pedale.Forchetta
Photo Pedale.Forchetta

We close out the 6 Days of the Giro with our sixth and final installment.

A body at rest, stays at rest. A body in motion, stays in motion. Things get a bit more ambiguous when it comes to a body on a bicycle tearing down a twisty mountain descent at speed, particularly in the rain. But it is here, on the boundary between clarity and ambiguity, where things get interesting.

Cornering feels a bit like you’re stealing from Physics, as if you’re getting away with something. Momentum, as fundamental as it is, doesn’t know what’s good for us and stubbornly wants to carry us on its merry path. The faster we go, the bigger its influence becomes and the harder we push against it, balancing on the knife’s edge between our body’s lean and the bike’s pull. For those skilled in this craft, the bicycle and rider carve through the bend in perfect harmony.

I’m not particularly good at cornering, which is to say I’m not particularly good at descending. Its a shame, too, because given my size I’m not very good at climbing, either. The way to get better is to practice, and not to give Rule 64 too much thought. You will crash if you want to get better, but you mustn’t lose your nerve. A nervous descender is a bad descender and everyone knows where to find bad descenders.

The riders getting the most practice in this discipline must surely be les grimpeurs for it seems they would be riding down all those mountains they’re riding up. The surprising truth is that this does not always appear to be the case; one need look no farther than Andy Schleck to find evidence of that particular postulate. Furthermore, one would think that a professional, who by the very nature of their occupation is quite used to finding themselves on the tarmac, would be most able to come off and not lose their nerve. This, also, doest not always appear to be the case.

The Giro, known for its narrow mountain roads, is won as much on the descents as it is on the climbs. Who can forget the 1988 Giro, which was won on the descent of the Gavia, not its climb. Or the 2002 and 2005 editions when Il Falco used every millimeter of road as he swept through the hairpin bends to distance his rivals. This year, Brad Wiggins had already put himself on the back foot on GC when he came off on a slow bend and spent the rest of the stage riding like his tires were made of glass. On the same stage, Nibali attacked and came off on a high speed corner before jumping back on his machine and rejoining the leaders moments later. The difference is a question of not only skill, but fearlessness.

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168 Replies to “Descendeur”

  1. @frank I keep saying that. Tucson isn’t a bad place to vacation in the winter. It’s not Hawaii but its not bad. You’ll find many a pro team having their winter training camps here. You can do a Frank vs the Lemmon series.

  2. @mouse

    Nah, don’t worry.

    I’m glad, never my intention to annoy people would rather quit posting, tongue always firmly in cheek, and noted your post here on the YJA article. I too had a similar experience to you, which gave purpose to my comment here, was a tool driving a v8 that passed me too close at the top of one of my fav descents… We are so much quicker through the tight stuff than them, which is what I was trying to get through, even though I’m no pro, I can feel better than a car driver coming down a hill..

  3. @Beers

    @mouse

    Nah, don’t worry.

    I’m glad, never my intention to annoy people would rather quit posting, tongue always firmly in cheek, and noted your post here on the YJA article. I too had a similar experience to you, which gave purpose to my comment here, was a tool driving a v8 that passed me too close at the top of one of my fav descents… We are so much quicker through the tight stuff than them, which is what I was trying to get through, even though I’m no pro, I can feel better than a car driver coming down a hill..

    First day of rain here in a while, roads slick with diesel and other nasty things. Started a long twisting descent with a yellow school bus behind me. I barely – BARELY – dropped it. I descended like a Wiggins for sure.

    Roads can be fucked when it hasn’t rained in a while.

  4. @frank

     I descended like a Wiggins for sure.

    And rightly so! Yeah that first rain is a total bastard, went down one day on an intersection I have ridden hundreds  of times (literally) in such condtions…

  5. @RedRanger

    @frank I keep saying that. Tucson isn’t a bad place to vacation in the winter. It’s not Hawaii but its not bad. You’ll find many a pro team having their winter training camps here. You can do a Frank vs the Lemmon series.

    I dunno: I suspect Jack Lemmon coulda kicked Frank’s ass…

  6. @frank

    …or we could rename the Frank vs. the Mountain “A series of unfortunate ascents.” That might take parents or younger members of the community to work out. We get a lot of teams around here that head down to Tucson for some winter training, though. It looks like a great place for it (I drove up Mt. Lemmon several years ago as part of a forest fire tour, but I’ve not ridden it).

  7. @mouse Similar happened to a small groupo descending to Montrose.  5 of us (a good V bunch?) following this twerp who wouldn’t let us pass.  Near the bottom he stopped hard in the middle of the road and then flicked on the right indicator.  We were too close.  My bro rode the spoon drain on the left side, one made it around the left.  J Buskes bumped the back of the car and went over.  I rode around the right with another.  Buskes picked himself up and the driver moved to the sideroad on the right, stoopidly with the drivers side window down.  WHACK.  Buskes gave him something to remember…  Ah, what memories.

  8. @Tobin To correct or, better, prevent speed wobbles, relax your grip on the bars. Give the bars a fraction of millimetre of slack in your hands, and loosen your arms. Allow these slightly loose hands and arms to thus absorb the vibration.

    Otherwise, vibration will go through a tight grip and risk resonating in your stiff arms, thus amplifying the vibration and leading to head shakes/wobbles.

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