Guest Article: La Vie Velominatus-Transformation

photo: jchristophe

The fear of crashing is there but we can’t let override our pleasure in cycling. @mblume writes of this and underplays his riding the Haute Route. That ride alone should be a long article about abiding Rule V.

Yours in Cycling, Gianni

As a transplanted American living in Europe for 12 years, I have had the great fortune of upgrading my cycling routes from the flattish, potholed, roadkill -filled, tire- puncturing, debris -strewn, pick-up truck infested cycling routes of St. Louis, Missouri to the secure, scenic, smooth as glass roads sitting at the base of the Swiss Alps, as a resident of Zurich, Switzerland.

In my first nine years in the land of Cancellara, I was much more drawn to mountain biking and racing, which probably spoke as much to my post-St. Louis, traumatic road riding recovery period as to the quality of the local singletrack. As a caterpillar undergoes a pupal metamorphosis into a butterfly, I began the transition to a road cyclist. At first the signs of the transformation were slight as I rode my Cippolini/ Gotti era Saeco-Cannondale team replica aluminum frame with Spinergies no more than once a week. Then I began to feel embarrassed about  wearing a mountain bike-specific kit while on the road bike, on full display to the perfectly attired, affluent, Swiss chapter of the Velominati. I really began to feel the transformation was inevitable when I began to pay strict attention to my diet and weight. One more agent of change during my  transformation to a road cyclist must also be given its proper, but tainted due: the rise of the Pharmstrong dynasty and the increased media attention paid to my countryman and cycling.

Eventually, I upgraded my ride to one signed by Ernesto Colnago. I started riding in road specific gear. I developed PR goals on all the local small Alps and generally began to live the life of an apprentice Velominati. One key item that hindered my transformation to a true amateur Velominati: the fear of crashing. As a youth, I had several bike crashes on the pavement which resulted in losing several teeth and raising my parents’ insurance premiums. In my entire career of road racing in St. Louis (2 races), I had narrowly avoided crashes that sent friends to hospitals and ruined their bikes. So despite my apparent transformation to a road cyclist, I mainly trained in isolation. For the most part I abstained from road bike races except for the occasional Alpine cyclosportive. This strategy allowed me to not be exposed to the quick, jerky reactions and the cacophony of the peloton and the resultant tense shooting fear of crashing that careened around my head like a never ending game of pinball.

Ultimately, a conversation with my Dad changed this. He had just retired and at a toast following an excellent celebratory meal, reflected on his life to that point, “Do not get to my age, look back,and have regrets about not pursuing your passions.” From that moment on I began to pursue more fully my passion of road cycling and racing. Luckily to date,  I have been crash free. Although I have witnessed some nasty crashes very near to me in road races that still give me nightmares. I still think the sound of carbon and flesh hitting the pavement is one of the sickest sounds on the planet.

During 2011, I trained more seriously than ever: alpine training camps in Arizona and France, reading and studying the Rules as well as discussing them with mates, with all the seriousness of the debt ceiling debates in the US Congress. All of this devotion was in preparation for the chance to try to have a stage race experience like the Pros.

The race objective was the Haute Route, which covers a seven-stage, 720 kilometer course from Geneva to Nice. The race featured 15 Alpine cols with four mountain-top stage finishes, as well as a 12km mountain time trial on the fearsome Col du Granon. I expected many moments of pain and elation as I tried to drag my 40 year old body over the 17,000 meters of total ascent.

On stage 2, in a packed and nervous peloton at the start of the stage before the Col des Saisies, a bottle was dropped in the group ahead of me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the bottle coming my direction through the air, like a punted football at a fairly high speed. The bottle ended up under my front wheel at an angle that caused me to go skidding along the pavement. I had finally realized the  nightmare crash scenario complete with the nasty sounds and pain resulting in road rash. Bruising and blood were resplendent on my entire left side and much more importantly, my pristine Scott Addict steed showed certain minor scars from the battle with the French road.

I am pleased to report that years of training topped off by this past year of paying reverence to Rule V overrode any worries about pain. My main goal was to get back in the race as soon as possible after a mandatory trip to the race ambulance. I finished the stage and the rest of the week’s racing. I have a new respect for the Pros and the level of mental focus required to compete and win Grand Tours and the demands of consecutive days of racing. Crashing is just one part of a wildly complex set of challenges and threats that the Pros and Velominati  must live with and overcome.

For all you Velominati out there, find your passion and pursue it.

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43 Replies to “Guest Article: La Vie Velominatus-Transformation”

  1. La Vie Velominatus! A-MERCKX!

    However, I will now go shrivel onto the couch in fear of my first x-ray and stitches. I know they are my future. Clenbutador...>

  2. Nicely done. As a newly minted masters racer, I know crashing is inevitable, intimidating and fear/awe inspiring. Although I don’t have teenager capability to completely turn off the part of the brain that protects us from excess risk, I can do it a bit. Fortunately haven’t crashed hard enough yet to require intervention either…

    Returning the genie to the bottle is not an option- the excitement of racing is just too much to walk away from. Nice story and awesome that you finished.

  3. Does toppling over because of failing to unclip in time count as a “crash?”

  4. @doubleR
    Only if no one saw you. If you were with a group, then it was a cleat/pedal malfunction; something you’ve been meaning to take care of for some time.

  5. I know the author well and while he writes a great article, his transformation is not yet complete. He is a closet p90x Tony Horton disciple. The workouts are a lesson in Rule V unto themselves but do you really think the Schleck brothers are ripping off corn cob pullups and swimmers presses?

  6. Check out the Haute Route, oye, such a slog. @mblume gets major V points for getting through this with road rash or without. It would be fun to be Pantani size for a week of Alps riding.

    Does toppling over because of failing to unclip in time count as a “crash?”

    no, that’s just 100% embarrassment.

  7. @doubleR
    i feel the pain my first ride out with the cleats i rolled in outside my flat and keeled over painfully slowly. The problem is my flat was above a coffee shop which was packed at the time, and an 80 year old lady came over to check i was alright…..possibly the most shamefilled moment of my life

    however to the point @mblume inspiring story, makes me feel much better about the crushing inevitability of the road rash and screeching metal and shattered helmets in the upcoming racing season

  8. @Sam

    If it makes you feel better, when I first started riding with cleats I toppled over not once, but twice at the same busy intersection a few days apart. Both times it was about 7:30 in the morning, full rush-hour traffic, tons of people in their cars watching. I wanted to melt into the asphalt.

  9. Is that bullet holes in the altitude and speed limit signs?? I thought that only happened here in the good ol’ USA.

  10. @mblume: Nicely done. Having left yards of epidermis and even teeth (not to mention precious red blood cells) and various venues around the PNW, I can attest to the fact that crashing sucks. But not as bad as that first or second shower after.
    Crashes happen even to the most experienced of us, and I’ve found that the best remedy for that is not to ever think about it.
    Hold your line, don’t stare at the wheel in front of you, don’t overlap (when possible), and practice bumping with your friends in non-race situations.
    Remember: pain is temporary, and it never hurts to have friends that are ER physicians and Anesthesiologists.

  11. @mblume: Stage races are tougher than people realize, the Haute sounds especially excrutiating, even more so with a crash that early in the race. I did the Killington Stage Race last year, which is just a baby comparitively. I felt great for the 1st 2 stages, the 3rd “climbers” stage was a pure sufferfest, tired legs or not. Of course I’ll continue to up the ante, as I think you will as well…

  12. Excellent write up. I am really very curious about this Haute Route race. Sounds awesome and would love to see a write up about that as well. Thanks for contributing!

  13. Nice one @mblume. Slightly (nay, very) jealous of where you’ve been living these past 12 yrs as well! Having these routes at your backdoor for a training ride? Not fucking jealous at all.
    Your father’s sage advice is something I try to pass on to my children as well. If we worried about crashing too much, one would never throw a leg over a bike.

  14. Awesomeness, mblume!

    I cannot imagine moving from Missouri to Switzerland. That’s great. Love reading about the ascension of others to La Vie Velominatus.

  15. mblume, you captured what we all feel whether it is actual or imagined fear it is no fun. In the end you made it and found out that the reality of racing trumps the reality of road rash.

    A season with out road rash is like being a kid in summer in the north east and not getting poison ivy.

  16. Great article! Crashing has always been the one thing holding me back, I start going fast and think about how unreliable my equipment is or how rough the street is. But, a week ago today, I was taking a corner at a good pace, and my rain-soaked grip slipped right off the handlebar. I crashed, took a good chunk of skin off my nose and chin and chipped a tooth, but when I got back on my bike I was grinning ear to ear. I guess I realize now that fear of crashing holds you back fast more than crashing ever will.

    Thanks for at fantastic article, I loved reading it!

  17. I hope this isn’t tempting fate but I usually manage to avoid the carnage, even when it happens ahead of me.

    Most memorably one morning we were barreling along at 50km/h and the guy three inches ahead of me came down on a lump of metal debris. I can still recall every detail – thinking “Oh no, I’m coming down too” then seeing that he had fallen to the left, and his bike to the right and amazingly there was a space between them WHICH I WAS GOING THROUGH ! That was totally luck more than good management.

    On the other hand we tend to have more than our share of crashes in the group and a lot of the time it is simply because people aren’t concentrating. They ride along constantly chatting and talking, they aren’t aware of whether the person ahead is a very experienced rider or a newb, they aren’t looking and listening for brakes, freewheeling and anything that will upset the rhythm.

    Most of my crashes and scars have been on my own and entirely my fault through not paying attention to the road surface (ice, diesel, pothole respectively). And once my chain slipped and locked my back wheel coming down Gladesville Bridge at high speed, for any Sydney-siders.

    Incredibly none of them have required stitches or involved broken bones. Long may it continue.

  18. I usually only think about crashing while descending. I have this slight idea that the fork will just explode, so I end up not braking to avoid stress on the fork. Completely unfounded I’m sure.

  19. Glad we’re talking about this subject. Crashing and getting hit by a car are my two cycle daemons.

    I once crashed turning into my street on a wet day when my rear wheel locked up. It was a good lesson to learn about the reality of cycling.

    Bunch riding is another hot spot for crashes. I often don’t ride in groups if they don’t signal.

    A study of cycle crash characteristics found that most accidents occurred at intersections. I’ll try to find the link.

  20. Here’s the link

    The study was conducted during 2000-2004 by Monash University and sponsored by the Amy Gillett Foundation. The study was based on real crashes in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. You can read the results for yourself, but of note are the following gems:

    -Most crashes occurred when the bike and car were adjacent to each other, and were at intersections
    -Most crashes occurred during u-turns and entering or leaving parking
    -92% of crashes occurred on a straight roads
    -98% of crashes occurred on sealed roads
    -Most crashes occurred Monday to Friday
    -Most crashes occurred during 2pm to 6pm and 6am to 10am.
    -80% of crashes involved male bike riders – love this one!

    According to the study the rate of riders killed or seriously injured (taken to hospital) remained steady over the period at around 27% (wow!).

  21. @mblume

    Fantastic article. The Haute Route looks stunning, a real pinnacle of amateur sportives. It would be awesome to get a Velominati Squad entered.

    Touching wood, or is it formica and typing with fingers crossed, I can say that I’ve suffered no worse a crash than @doubleR‘s topple. Being shallow I am able to occupy my mind with thoughts of how wonderful I look or imagining myself setting the the fastest ITT of the day rather than thoughts of picking out gravel and ruined V-Kit.

  22. Great article @mblume, although I think it’s important to never completely lose that fear. All of my worst crashes (there have been a few…) have been due, in part, to complacency.

    Most recently I was commuting home from a shocking day at work and experienced a nasty Rule #64 situation in wet, dark conditions. I ended up in the accident and emergency department with a concussion, having my chin glued back together. Six weeks later everything is still not completely back to normal.

    I’m back on the bike now, but with a couple of new scars as a reminder to always repect the road.

  23. great one mblume:

    100% spot on assessment of the riding in the midwest. Its hard, and the racers are no push overs. I race in St Louis quite often, and they are hard core. Crashes occur and they seem to relish in them. For me, crashing was all about my beloved steed, the equipement, the goods, the ride. I hated to think about the hoops getting tacoed, popping a fork, Merckx help me…trash a frame.

    But it amazes me how each time I crash my bike tends to be fairly resiliant comparing to the crash itself….it would logically follow that a 16lb bike laced with carbon, spokes, and thin tubes would crimp, but it doesn’t, yet.

    I suppose it may, I have been lucky so far

    @mblume: how do the euro guys rate amateur category racers like yourself as compared to our system…cat 5 to cat 1 to PRO?

  24. @all: Thank for the kind words. Many asked about more information on the Haute Route. All I can say is that it is a very tough mental slog, that for 2012 is expected to be substantially more difficult. If you do not like to climb this is not a race for you. The race is top shelf in terms of organization, scenery, and it covers many of the hallowed routes of the TDF. Please see this video shot by the organizing committee that appeared on Eurosport here in Europe. Haute Route Video

    @scaler911: I 100% agree that the first 3-4 days of showers and sleeping after road rash are way worse than the pain of the crash. There is something cathartic to witnessing how the body oozes, cracks and scabs itself back to health during the midst of stage race. For me the best part of the healing process was on the bike- as this was the only time I had no pain.

    @souleur: In general the overall racing level of road and especially mtb amateurs in Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany and France is high relative to what I have encountered in the USA. I cannot speak to the road racing categories outside of Switzerland, but here there is not this huge emphasis on categories as there is the USA. Here they prefer you to show up and ride and let the race sort out the categories. That being said, at some of the larger cyclosportives, such as L’Etape du Tour, certain riders are really below Cat 5s and are in way over their heads.

  25. mblume – EXCELLENT article. and quite timely, a great way to go into a new year, ready to pursue our passions.

    happy new year everyone. i wish you all many many many happy and safe kilometers out on the roads.

  26. @mblume- well done! As a fellow converted mountain biker (although, I have to admit I still race XC MTB more than road events) I have learned through many wrecks that the fear of falling (or more likely the tension that fear causes) results in more accidents than most other causes. When I finally learned to relax and make the bike do what I wanted, when I wanted, I rode faster and safer. You are a study in the V riding the Haute!

  27. @ChrisO
    Your third paragraph re: not concentrating is spot on. That as been the cause of most wrecks I have witnessed and the guys who pay attention can usually find a way through the carnage.

  28. Wow, what a great story. Crashing is scary as shit, and as a Cyclist, its a fear that goes with us everywhere. Not for the pain – that will pass – but for damaged goods or, worse, a serious injury that may end up hurting others than it does us.

    I don’t get on my bike without thinking about what can go wrong, what I might do to avoid forcing someone to have to make the most terrible phone call to the ones I love most – and then pushing those thoughts out of my mind and getting on with it.

    On an other note, I’ll be racing on the road again this year, after stopping because the crashes kept ruining gear I paid too much money for. I can’t wait, but until I’m sure I’ve got my legs back, it will be Bike #3 in the bunch for me.

  29. @RedRanger

    Your racing in a cat or as a masters?

    Masters. I’m hoping less of them think its worth selling their mother to jump through a gap that doesnt’ exist to get them up the road with zero chance of staying away.

    Depending on where you live, the Masters fields are fucking stacked, too. In PNW, there are a dozen or more ex-Pros, some of which whom have raced in Europe, who race in the Masters class. And they’re not the ones winning all the time. I harbour no delusions of winning. But naturally I expect to. No point in starting a race if you are trying to lose.

  30. @frank
    ain’t that the truth. fortunately in Oregon we still have the luxury of masters 4 and 5 in addition to masters open in both road and cross. otherwise fat middle age guys like me would be relegated to being terrorized at no drop club rides and inter-block competitions with the YJA wearers!

  31. @frank: your spot on with your assessment of masters cat.

    They are stoked old men. Last i signed in on was mostly cat 3 and 2’s, with diesel engines

  32. @frank
    NIce! You’re right about the Masters fields being stacked. Up your way you have Kirk Willet (wore the Tour du Pont yellow for a few days), Paul Dahlka, Kenny Williams (tho he might still be on a doping ban), the list goes on.
    What I’ve found is exactly what your saying though. I’ve been racing both Masters and Cat III since coming back a couple years ago, and in the Masters, the risk taking is way lower. We have jobs and families.
    Maybe I’ll roll up to Seatown this summer (Seward Park series still going on?) and toe up to the line with ya.

  33. @mblume
    @scaler911: I 100% agree that the first 3-4 days of showers and sleeping after road rash are way worse than the pain of the crash. There is something cathartic to witnessing how the body oozes, cracks and scabs itself back to health during the midst of stage race. For me the best part of the healing process was on the bike- as this was the only time I had no pain.

    As a seasoned crasher (not something that I am proud of but firmly believe there are 2 kind of bike racers, those that have crashed and those that are going to crash), order yourself or pick up a supply 3M Nexcare “Tegaderm” waterproof dressings in different sizes. The person that invented that product deserves an award. Worth its weight in Gold!



    Depending on where you live, the Masters fields are fucking stacked, too. In PNW, there are a dozen or more ex-Pros, some of which whom have raced in Europe, who race in the Masters class. And they’re not the ones winning all the time. I harbour no delusions of winning. But naturally I expect to. No point in starting a race if you are trying to lose.

    Must be that way everywhere. I rolled up last year to the start line for a Crit in ToAD and found myself standing next to a now Master Aged past Olympic Silver Medal Track Racer. And no, he did not make the podium.

  34. @Dino

    +1 to the dressings. Haven’t used those ones but anything sold as a hydrocolloid dressing will be much the same.

    Brilliant for road rash. Stick it on and it forms a sort of gel across the wound underneath the dressing. You leave it until the thing heals, peel off and hey presto a new layer of skin.

  35. @Dino
    People go all goo-goo for Tegaderm, and it is pretty good. Not the best though. Xeroform dressings are tit’s for road rash. You put it on after scrubbing the wound, then as the wound heals, the XF curls up around the edges. You trim the edges till the wound is healed. Not sure that you can buy it in the store though. I procure it at work as needed.

  36. Just got back from my first ride of the year. As i was descending as fast as i could through turns and such, this article was in the back of my mind. I figured I had a helmet, and so much stuff to keep me warm, road rash shouldn’t be an issue, and as long as i don’t break a bone, i’d be good. I descended faster than I had before, and it felt spectacular, especially since I didn’t crash. I had a great first ride of the year, and part of the reason goes to this article. Thanks again for writing it.

  37. Crashing is bad enough, but watching one of your kids crash is even worse.

    Then there’s the immense relief when they aren’t too badly busted up… and the careful choice of words in the phone call to the wife.

    “Hi… Had a bit of a problem. He’s alright but… “

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