Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ups and Downs of the Professional Cyclist

By: Steele Von Hoff
Getting a taste of the Belgian classics

Langkawi is a race that I won't be forgetting for a long time for a variety of reasons. In my eyes it wasn't the success I'd hoped for. I went into it with what I think is the best form I have ever had. I had hoped to come home with a stage win or two to get the season off to a good start. Unfortunately the situation we were put in was a tricky one and we never really worked it out.

GC was pretty straight forward, it came down to two hilltop finish days with Cameron and Genting Highlands. My job was simple: ride as far up the climb looking after our two climbers who were in a shot for the stage as well as GC. I managed to get a lot more out of myself on these days, with the encouraging comments Haas was yelling in my ear as we climbed. The best bit was when he said "dude there is only 25 guys left, keep it up", it made me pretty excited and I dropped another gear! So job done when I peeled, GC was between Peter Stetina and Nathan Haas. They did really well getting 4th and 6th GC respectively in the tour.

The sprint stages were a different matter, it was game on. My turn. The guys did a great job taking me up the front to pay back the work I had done for them. Im still disappointed with the outcome as I knew we had a race-winning team. It was hard however to get the lead-out right as we kept changing the order, which in my opinion, meant that we had trouble perfecting our train.

I think the risk of losing a few races to perfect our train will ultimately mean winning more. On the days I got to sprint I made a few small mistakes which I have learnt from. But as we all know, we all need luck on our side, which at this race seemed nonexistent!

It's a tough sport but it's a lot easier to stay positive knowing I'm chasing the next win with very good friends and direction around me.

With the craziness of Asian racing there was a lot of close calls, a lot of attacks and a lot of food poisoning. With Caleb and myself becoming victims of a bug that was picked up off the road during the day where the peloton rode through torrential rain and the roads were flooded. People were dropping like flies, pulling over every few kilometres to either throw up or abandon the tour.

On Stage 9 I had been told that the team was going to back me for the last two stages. We had finally worked out our lead-out with Haas bringing Koldo and myself to the front for the sprints and we were going to put it in to action.

With the absence of Theo Bos the sprints were becoming more than achievable. But after a night on the toilet Stage 9 was looking grim. I tried to hang in hoping the Clif Bloks would give me some energy back but the break just seemed like it was never going to go. With the pace of the peloton seemingly travelling above 50 for the first 20k, I started to drift back in the convoy in hope that the peloton would snap and slow down letting the break get some time. But it just didn't happen.

My instructions were if the second team car passes me in the convoy, I had to jump in. I battled for only a moment longer and next thing I knew was I was waking up in the car with only a few km to go. This is the first tour I have ever pulled out of. I was absolutely devastated.

Fortunately I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to fly back to Australia for one week to celebrate my brother and his wife's wedding. It was great to be able to have one more week with my family, friends and girlfriend in +30 degree weather knowing that soon I will be trying to avoid black ice on the roads. Although the weather was nice, training was not going so well. The bug that I got in Langkawi kept me off the bike for all but a few hours in the week.

Although I love life on the road, it definitely has its down sides. I would never call it a sacrifice been a professional athlete, as I know how tough working a full time job in a factory is, and being an athlete is a blessing that every kid dreams of but I do miss certain things that if I could live a double life I would defiantly want to see. My cousin Kyle trying to follow in my foot steps as a cyclist and getting second in the Austral track champs a little while back is just one of those moments I have missed.

After the long flight over to Europe, I found my new home in Girona. After only a week I realised why so many cyclists choose Girona as their home. The roads are incredible for cycling, and there are so many teammates and other riders who speak English living there too.

I can tell it’s going to be a fantastic place to settle into. Within a week I had found my new apartment. Once it’s all finalised I'm sure Haas will be happy to have a break from me - even though I am now living a few hundred metres down the road.

I just raced my first European race for the season which was Dwars door Vlaanderen in Belgium. I wore every bit of wet weather gear I owned as it was barely three degrees! After watching Milan-San Remo I wasn't taking any risks.

My fingers were already numb after the neutral so I pulled out a packet of Cliff Bloks as I knew it was probably the last time I would be able to feel my fingers to find my pocket. The race was tough but I tried to hang in to do my job as best as possible, getting in one of the early breaks which didn't last long.

However, I just had no power on the hills, I couldn't breathe without coughing and it seemed this could have been a mixture of the cold and some left-over virus I picked up after Langkawi. It got the best of me and so I ended up in the car at the 140k mark of the 200k race.

Next on the cards is Scheldeprijs on 3 April. I am hoping I have enough time to get better so my morale doesn't get beaten any lower!

Wish me luck,

Article Source: Cycling News

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Riders Selected to Represent U.S. at 2013 Manchester BMX World Cup

Nick Koehler is ready for a run on the supercross track during a recent BMX Evolution camp

 Colorado Springs, Colo. (March 25, 2013) — USA Cycling has announced the 10 riders that will represent the organization in the first round of the 2013 UCI Supercross BMX World Cup in Manchester, England, April 19-20.

After several testing camps, the following riders have been selected as part of the funded team:
  • Connor Fields (Henderson, Nev./BMX Racing Group-Chase Bicycles) 
  • Justin Posey (Winston Salem, N.C./Dan’s Competition)
  • Jared Garcia (Victorville, Calif./Supercross Bicycles)
  • Nick Koehler (Tustin, Calif./GT Bicycles)
  • Jordan Miranda (Bakersfield, Calif./GT Bicycles)
  • Lain Van Ogle (Auburn, Wash./Phoenix)
  • Alise Post (Saint Cloud, Minn./Redline Bicycles)
  • Brooke Crain (Visalia, Calif./Haro Bicycles)
  • Felicia Stancil (Lake Villa, Ill./GT Bicycles)
  • Arielle Martin (East Spanaway, Wash./Intense BMX)
"USA Cycling’s goal this coming season is to integrate developing riders with our elite riders so that they can learn both on and off the track what it takes to be a top contender," said Jamie Staff, USA Cycling's high performance director of sprint programs. "We will be chasing the male and female overall world cup titles, as well. We are looking forward to the new season and continuing to develop our future riders."

Other top American riders in attendance will be Nic Long (Lakeside, Calif.) and Corben Sharrah (Tucson, Ariz.), who will be representing Haro Bikes, and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Donny Robinson (Napa, Calif.) representing SE Racing.

Article Source: USA Cycling

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sagan Solos Away for Crafty Gent-Wevelgem Victory

 Cannondale rider foils breakaway companions

Peter Sagan (Cannondale) soloed to the win in the 2013 Gent-Wevelgem, launching a winning attack from a breakaway inside the final four kilometres. The runner-up in Milan-San Remo and E3 Harelbeke finished clear of Borut Bozic (Astana) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) with the sprinters left competing for the minor places in a race shortened by the snowy conditions.

Sagan, recently criticised for his race winning celebrations by Fabian Cancellara -  who pulled out at the feedzone  -  had plenty of time to celebrate at the line, treating the crowd to a series of wheelies.
Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling), who initiated the winning move on the second ascent of the Baneberg, had to settle for fourth.

At the team presentation in Deinze, Haussler had been vocal about his thoughts on the race, stating that the cold conditions could be a step too far and that the riders' safety could be compromised if the weather worsened. However with 6,000 VIPs at the race, the race organisers were always going to play every last card in an attempt to see the race start. The first 50 kilometres were cut, the first of the ascent of the Casselberg annulled and the race was on.

Haussler’s attack on the road as opposed to on the start line was one of the defining moments of the race as he sped towards a three-man move of Assan Bazayev (Astana), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil) and Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ).

Before he could make contact he was joined by Sagan, former winner Bernhard Eisel (Sky), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Andrey Amador (Movistar), Borut Bozic (Astana), Maciej Bodnar (Cannondale), Yaroslov Popovich (Radioshack), Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), and Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Belisol). Before long the break had an advantage of 1’30.

It sparked Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-QuickStep team into life but having lost Tom Boonen to a crash and with Vandenbergh up the road, reinforcements were sorely needed. Sky and BMC who had Eisel and Van Avermaet in the lead group were hesitant to chase but Blanco and Lotto obliged to cooperate inside the final 30 kilometres for Mark Renshaw and Andre Greipel respectively.

However the gap still held with Flecha and Bodnar providing steely back up for Bozic and Sagan.
Into the final 10km, the lead finally began to topple and with 7km to go the gap was a mere 48 seconds. The sprinters looked to have the race in their hands, especially with a stern wind aiding their chase.

Up ahead, Flecha surged to the front to try and inject some impetus but all that appeared to come with him were tired legs, frozen fingers and demoralised hearts.

Inside the 5 kilometre marker it was Haussler’s turn to give it one last assault but with the lead at 38 seconds the race was still heading towards a bunch sprint.

Vandenbergh launched an attack with 4 kilometres to go, in his first effort since joining the escape but he was quickly closed down.

Cue Sagan, who followed Flecha onto Vandenbergh’s back wheel before dipping his shoulders and accelerating away for his win.

A cold day and a shortened race

The cold weather in Belgium caused a lot of stir about whether or not the 75th edition of Gent-Wevelgem should go through or not. The evening before the race the organizers decided to get the race underway in Gistel instead of Deinze, covering the first 50 of the 238 kilometres long race by bus.

The cold northeast wind quickly resulted in the formation of several echelons. In front many favourites were present in a first group of 25 riders, including defending winner Tom Boonen, Mark Cavendish, André Greipel and Peter Sagan. As Fabian Cancellara wasn’t present in this group his team did most of the work in the second echelon when battling the strong winds in the flatlands of De Moeren.

After entering France for about fifty kilometres of racing the first groups were heading for a junction. When taking on the Mont des Cats (or Casselberg) a second time the group with Cancellara finally reached the front of the race. On the following wide open roads the group split again though most of the favourites remained in front this time. The pace in front dropped slightly and that was the sign for Juan Antonio Flecha to attack.

The Spaniard was joined by Matthieu Ladagnous and Assan Bazayev. The trio quickly collected a maximal gap of two minutes on the peloton. That was until that peloton hit the Baneberg where Philippe Gilbert tested his legs. Shortly after that the race passed through the feed zone at 70km from the finish, and Tour of Flanders favourite Fabian Cancellara and many other riders abandoned the race there. A few moments later Tom Boonen hit the deck in the peloton when he hit a curb at high speed in the drop towards the town of Kemmel.

The Belgian champion needed a lot of time to get back on his bike. On the Kemmelberg Edvald Boasson Hagen increased the pace, swiftly marked by Peter Sagan and about thirty others. In the background Boonen quit the race after riding up the cobbled climb. Meanwhile the first chase group was trailing the three leaders by only forty seconds.

When turning back on wider roads to tackle the Baneberg, Kemmelberg and Monteberg for the last time, Heinrich Haussler set up a new move. The German Australian was joined by Sagan, former winner Bernhard Eisel (Sky), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and others. When powering up the Baneberg the peloton was back on their heels but after the climb the break was gone, together with Andrey Amador (Movistar), Borut Bozic (Astana), Maciej Bodnar (Cannondale), Jaroslov Popovich (Radioshack) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Belisol).

The ten quickly caught up with the three earlier leaders, creating a leader’s group of thirteen riders. On the Kemmelberg Bazayev couldn’t keep up and dropped back into the peloton which trailed by 1:20. Mark Cavendish instructed Zdenek Stybar to keep the pace high. But Omega Pharma-QuickStep lacked the numbers to reduce the gap and received little support from other teams.

That was until Debusschere punctured out of the lead group and Lotto-Belisol moved to the front of the peloton. When riding through Ieper and the Menin Gate – an impressive passage with 30km to go - the eleven remaining leaders had just under 1:30 on the peloton. The efforts in the peloton were not enough to bring down the gap to the lead group because ten kilometres later it was still the same.

Source and for Full Results: Cycling News

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Another showdown between Cancellara and Sagan at E3 Harelbeke?

Flanders contenders come to the fore
By: Jane Aubrey

The form guide for the Tour of Flanders continues to come together on Friday at E3 Harelbeke, the semi classic over 209km and - more importantly - 15 bergs, the majority of which will feature next weekend at the Ronde.

Starting and finishing in Harelbeke, the 202km first cobbled WorldTour race on the calendar gets underway at midday, heading east towards Oudenaarde, tackling the first major climb of the day, the Leberg shortly after. It’s from around the halfway point in the race where the E3 gets serious, with La Houppe signalling the start of the notorious hill zone. The next 70km sort out the peloton: the worst (or best) coming in the form of the cobbled Paterberg (362m at 12.5%) only to be followed by the Oude Kwaremont, the longest of the day at 2200m (4.2%), 1500m of it cobbled. The Tiegemberg, 16km from the finish, should provide a final selection.

Defending champion, and the most successful rider in the history of the 56-year-old event (five wins - 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2012), Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step) will be back in action after he was among the raft of competitors that failed to finish Milan-San Remo. It was a call that team manager Patrick Lefevere was forced to defend following La Primavera saying that Boonen’s focus was on what was to come, specifically the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Lefevere also said that E3 was not a major goal for the 32-year-old.

"He has to be good in the next 14 days, not now," Lefevere said, adding "I have every confidence in him."

Omega Pharma-QuickStep may have another option in current WorldTour leader Sylvain Chavanel, although he did pull out of Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen with a cold, so there needs to be some caution taken.

Last year, Boonen prevailed in a bunch sprint after the Taaienberg had provided the first opportunity to test his rivals, forcing all of the big guns to follow his wheel.

Other contenders include Thor Hushovd (BMC), Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana), Lars Boom (Blanco), Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-ISD), and Peter Sagan (Cannondale).

The Slovak powerhouse went in as outright favourite for Milan-San Remo, only to fall short after mis-timing his sprint on the Lungomare Italo Calvino. What that means for the 23-year-old and his rivals over this next period of racing remains to be seen.

The peloton will be provided with some relief from the recent spate of atrocious weather which has buffeted them in recent weeks: no rain is forecast and the temperatures of 6 degrees are slightly warmer than what was experienced on Wednesday at Dwars door Vlaanderen.

For more about this week's racing see Cycling News HD

Source: Cylcing News

Monday, March 18, 2013

Valley of the Sun: Stage Race (2013)

Photo of Ben Jacques-Maynes' Stage 2 Win by Dean Warren
Photo of JJ Haedo's Stage 3 Win by Jonathan Devich

Phoenix, AZ - Team Jamis - Hagens Berman enjoyed a nearly flawless start to the domestic racing season this past weekend. A full roster of riders came together in Phoenix, AZ for the Valley of the Sun Stage Race, a 3-day event consisting of an opening time trial, 150km road race, and final day criterium.

The race got off to a great start with Ben Jaques-Maynes setting a new course record on a gently rolling 14 mile out and back time trial. With his win, Ben inherited the race leader's jersey that he would carry throughout the weekend. Luis, the defending champion, also had a strong ride to finish on the podium in 3rd.

The Stage 2 road race was a hot and exposed affair over a 150km windswept course that featured a shallow climb up to the finish. The team took complete control of the race. Despite an aggressive field, the unity of the team kept all attacks in check and the guys ended up riding the front from beginning to end. In the finale, Ben was able to take his second consecutive victory in a field sprint from a diminished peloton.

The final stage criterium featured aggressive riding from the gun. The team covered all the early attacks before launching Luis and Ruben into a threatening breakaway. A frantic and furious chase from the peloton behind eventually brought back the break. In the closing laps of the race, Team Jamis-Hagens Berman put the entire team on the front and performed a blistering lead out for the impending field sprint. JJ Haedo was able to capitalize on the team's hard work by delivering his first win of the year. Demis Aleman, the team's final lead out man, carried his speed across the line to finish on the podium in 3rd.

When all the dust had settled, Ben had comfortably won the overall with Luis joining him on the podium in 3rd. The team was able to win every stage and the overall! With the team in good spirits, they now head to the desert of Tucson, AZ for a 10-day Training Camp.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Porte: Success Makes Us Sitting Ducks

 Sky rider on Sky's anti-doping stance and Paris-Nice

Richie Porte (Team Sky) has told Cyclingnews that winning bike races in the modern era makes a rider a sitting duck for accusations of doping.

The Tasmanian secured the biggest win of his professional career last weekend at Paris-Nice, winning the mountain finish to La Montagne de Lure and the individual time trial to Col d’Èze on his way to overall success.

Porte's post-race press conference was dominated by questions relating to doping, Sky’s anti-doping stance and the team’s impressive form. The situation was heightened by the fact that Sky were also on the front foot at Tirrreno-Adriatico over the weekend, with Chris Froome and Sky’s train dropping the best climbers in the world to win at Prati di Tivo.

“By sitting duck, what I mean is that success means we’re an instant target. If you go to Paris-Nice and you have a great performance all of a sudden you’re a target. I find that sad that I’m looked at in that light. Some aren’t involved in any way other than following cycling on Twitter or watching it on television, and to be honest the television commentary doesn’t really always give a true perspective. You can’t always take the television commenter and his opinion as gospel either,” Porte told Cyclingnews.

“There’s not that much you can do to defend yourself either. I can point to the tests and that I was tested three times in two days at Paris-Nice but I know that’s not everything. But what more can I say? I comply with the standards and rules and at the end of the day we just get on with our jobs.”
Part of the issue over Sky’s strength and the discussion over doping has been taken out of Porte’s hands. While Sky has become the strongest force in team stage racing in the last 18 months - with seeming ease in the eyes of armchair viewers - they’ve also missed several opportunities to come to terms with the doping discussion within sport. Even when they’ve tried to be proactive in the post-Armstrong era, they’ve misjudged the situation and at times taken the public for fools.

“Credibility and results, for me, they have to go hand in hand,” Porte says, “and people can say what they want on Twitter. I’m training harder than most people can imagine and I’m riding up Col d’Èze in 19 minutes and I’m doing it clean. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

It's a shame Sky’s hierarchy can’t employ someone who can talk with such relative frankness. Instead, the team has shot themselves in foot repeatedly, first by working with Dr. Geert Leinders, then by creating an unworkable framework in which riders and staff were asked to sign anti-doping declarations in order to keep their jobs. It doesn’t look much better with the fact that the team held themselves up as an anti-doping team yet hired Sean Yates, Steven de Jongh and Bobby Julich. Their vocal, no-stone-unturned approach looked weak after they claimed no knowledge of Leinders’ past.

David Walsh
Sky has tried to turn the tide in recent months. They’ve recruited the Sunday Times’ David Walsh or rather granted him full access to the team. Currently, the Irishman is in Tenerife with the team’s Classics squad, something that Porte strongly backs.

“I met him in Mallorca this year. He was always around I guess. A couple of mornings he was there with Froome and me when we were doing core work with the physio. He’s a presence in the background but for us, what more can we do because we’re sitting ducks. To have someone come in, for me, that’s good because it’s nice to have someone impartial and a third party getting their side of the story out.”

A few zumba classes with the men in black and blue certainly won’t be enough in some peoples’ eyes. The Leinders question has yet to be fully explained too. The doctor worked with Sky for 80 days in 2012 and has been talked of highly by all concerned at Sky. However his involvement with doping riders at Rabobank was too much for the team to take and they were forced to drop him from their ranks.

Working with Leinders was a decision that looks sloppy at best and something Walsh will need to raise if his all-areas access – a luxury that was pulled from under the feet of Paul Kimmage in 2010 - is to be seen as credible.
“He was there on the bus after races and that’s no different to any other race doctor I’ve worked with,” says Porte, who goes a lot further than his teammate Mat Hayman, who offered Cyclingnews a flat ‘no comment’ when the doctor's name was mentioned last week.

“If you had a problem you went and saw him but to me he was no different to any other team doctor that we’ve had at Saxo Bank or Sky. When I was sick he helped me. I didn’t know anything about his past, I had no idea. I heard him talk about Rabobank once or twice but whoopee do he’s the ex-Rabobank team doctor. He gave me caffeine maybe but that’s about it. He gave me Strepsils and Paracetamol.”

Porte explains that Sky’s dominance is partly down to the new techniques they’ve employed since 2010 as well as a comprehensive recruitment of talented riders. Two years ago they were laughed at when they began warming up and cooling down on rollers at races. A few races later and after riders had been shelled out of the back in the opening kilometres of races, no one was laughing anymore.
“The truth of it is partly down to the recruitment,” Porte says.

“At Paris-Nice, I had two of the most crucial riders as teammates in Lopez and Kiryienka. Did you see Kiryienka on the stage to Nice? The team know the riders who they want and that’s what they’ve gone and recruited. That’s the key when you’re going to Paris-Nice and Tirreno, having two strong, balanced teams in both races.

“The thing is that every rider has a goal of where they have to get to in a race. The other day Danny Pate had a goal. He had to ride until 140km into the stage. That was his day over. Cycling is a mental game as well so if you’ve got a figure in your head, you’ve done your job by the time you pull off. It’s such a strong team and it’s great to be riding for a squad that’s so well organised.”
Porte’s progression and confidence from Paris-Nice will carry him towards Critérium International later this month before a stint in the Ardennes and the Tour de Romandie.

Article Source: CyclingNews

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Daniels and Posey Earn BMX National Titles in Phoenix

Phoenix, Ariz. (March 2, 2013) -- The collegiate BMX national championships took place Saturday in Phoenix, Ariz., as the riders took to the Black Mountain BMX Track. A record turnout of 52 riders, more than twice the participation of 2012, battled it out for individual and team titles on behalf of 12 colleges and universities in front of over 5,000 enthusiastic BMX fans.
Collegiate Women

 Women’s participation more than tripled from last year, to 23 total entrants, but the top result remained the same as last year: Dominique Daniels (Gilbert, Ariz./Grand Canyon University) won the day after winning two of her motos and the semifinals, overcoming stiff competition from defending team champions Lindsey Wilson College and newcomers Marian University. Second place for the day went to the young Shayona Glynn (Norco, Calif./Norco College), who surged late in the main event to claim the silver. In third was last year’s fifth-place finisher, Crystal Kalogris (Fort Wayne, Ind./Marian University), followed closely by Lindsey Wilson College’s Stephanie Caluag (Columbia, Ky.) and Lindenwood University’s Madison Pitts (Lake Worth, Fla.).
Collegiate Men

On the men’s side, 29 riders took to the track, and the competition was tight all the way to the end. After dominating the day in their respective motos, the final was an extremely close match between defending champion Danny Caluag (Chino, Calif./Lindsey Wilson College), teammate Logan Collins (Mount Juliet, Tenn.), and Justin Posey (Winston Salem, N.C./Marian University). Once Posey took the lead early in the race, the pair from Lindsey Wilson couldn’t pass him. Right in the thick of things, though, were Posey’s teammate Bryce Hocking (Carlsbad, Calif.) and fellow midwesterner Jarrod Adcock (Pekin, Ill./Northern Illinois University).
Team Omnium

Defending champions Lindsey Wilson College came excruciatingly close to succeeding yet again, but Marian University continued their collegiate national championship surge and won a tiebreaker due to Justin Posey’s win. Fort Lewis College bested Lindenwood University for third, with Colorado Mesa University showing a strong performance for fifth, and placing as the best Division II program in the event.

USA Cycling Collegiate BMX National Championships
Black Mountain BMX track
March 2, 2013
Phoenix, Ariz.
1. Marian University 177
2. Lindsey Wilson College 177
3. Fort Lewis College 137
4. Lindenwood University 122
5. Colorado Mesa University 113
1. Justin Posey (Winston Salem, N.C./Marian University)
2. Danny Caluag (Chino, Calif./Lindsey Wilson College)
3. Logan Collins (Mount Juliet, Tenn./Lindsey Wilson College)
4. Bryce Hocking (Carlsbad, Calif./Marian University)
5. Jarrod Adcock (Pekin, Ill./Northern Illinois University)
1. Dominique Daniels (Gilbert, Ariz./Grand Canyon University)
2. Shayona Glynn (Norco, Calif./Norco College)
3. Crystal Kalogris (Fort Wayne, Ind./Marian University)
4. Stephanie Caluag (Columbia, Ky./Lindsey Wilson College)
5. Madison Pitts (Lake Worth, Fla./Lindenwood University)

Article Source: USA Cycling

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Celebrating the life of Marshall MAJOR Taylor

by Aaron Torres

In the lobby of USA Cycling’s headquarters, a display is being planned which will feature photographs, relics and memorabilia of some of America’s greatest riders across the sport’s five disciplines.

Among the many featured cyclists is Marshall “Major” Taylor. While his name is rarely discussed amongst pioneering African-American athletes like Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens, Taylor’s impact on his sport and the broader world around him was as important as any of them. Not to mention that as an 1899 World Champion, he was one of the top cyclists of his generation.

While it may have taken close to 100 years after the height of his career to finally be appreciated for all his contributions, Taylor is now recognized for all that he did for the cycling community and beyond.

Here is Major Taylor’s story.

The Beginnings for a Champion:  

Taylor was born in Indianapolis in 1878, in an era defined by racial turmoil after slavery had been abolished just a little over a decade prior to his birth. The grandchild of slaves and the son of a Civil War veteran, a young Taylor got his first big break when his father began working as a coachman for a prominent white family named the Southards. He immediately became friends with the Southard’s young son Dan, and in time moved in with the family. There, Taylor was provided a luxury toy that most children his age didn’t have access to: A bicycle.

“Taylor is thrown into the white world, into this world where he has this world of new possibility open to him,” Andrew Ritchie, author of the definitive book on Taylor’s life, ‘Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer’ said. “(There) he gets his first bicycle.”

The Southards eventually moved to Chicago when Taylor was just 12-years-old, but while his life of luxury was short-lived, Taylor’s exploits on his bike were only beginning. On it, he quickly garnered a reputation as a talented trick rider (Taylor actually got the nickname “Major” while performing one day in a military-style uniform) and at 13 won his first track race. By the age of 15 Taylor was so prolific he set a track record in Indianapolis; an event which should’ve been a crowning achievement for a young Taylor, but instead was marred with racial controversy. Following the victory, Taylor was banned from ever racing on the track in Indianapolis again.

Despite the setback however, Taylor’s exploits caught the eye of a local businessman named Louis “Birdie” Munger who helped Taylor move to the Northeast, where he would not only race, but could do so in a much more hospitable climate. The pair moved first to Middletown, Conn., before eventually settling in Worcester, Mass.

And it wasn’t long after Taylor moved east that he went from amateur to professional rider, making the jump at a moment in history when the bicycle world was booming. Understand that at the time automobiles weren’t yet being mass-produced, and any type of aviation was both literally and figuratively years away from getting off the ground. That also meant that the bicycle wasn’t just the fastest thing going, but quite literally the height of modern technology. It made sprint cycling one of the world’s most popular spectator sports, and even in his late teens Taylor was already one of the sport’s top draws.

“In many ways Taylor’s life is extraordinary because he was born- and was a young boy- at the right time because of the mid 1890’s bicycle boom,” Ritchie said. “He couldn’t have timed it any better with the timing of his start.”

There was a catch, however.

“He also couldn’t have had it any worse for the degree of opposition and racism he was going to encounter,” Ritchie added.

Revered on the Track, Underappreciated Off It: 

That latter part, the racism, was something that Taylor dealt with when he traveled across the United States, attempting to compete in some of the country’s biggest races. As one of the top stars in the sport Taylor was promised equal accommodations to any of his peers, yet when he arrived in town for races, those promises quickly evaporated. Taylor was often banned from eating in certain restaurants and staying in certain hotels.

Yet through it all, Taylor kept his cool. Besides one incident where he threatened not to race, Taylor never let the circumstances dictate his actions.

“There’s never any kind of suggestion of any kind of hostile, aggressive or bad behavior,” Ritchie said. “He’s very aware that his presence in the sport and his every day social activities couldn’t possibly benefit from any pushy kind of aggression.”

More than off the track though, where Taylor might’ve overcome more racial adversity than any athlete in the history of sport, was on the track itself. While pioneers like Jackie Robinson get a lot of press as racial pioneers (deservedly so), remember that Taylor was racing nearly 50 years before Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, and doing it without any teammates to watch out for him. Because of this, riders often ganged up on Taylor and boxed him in to keep him from winning. In one especially scary instance, Taylor was physically attacked on the track by another rider, in front of a crowd full of spectators. Police eventually had to be called in.

“You have to remember here that Taylor’s injecting himself into a sport that was very healthy economically,” Ritchie said. “A lot of money was changing hands. He was earning an extraordinary amount of money for a man with his background.”

Still, despite the physical and verbal threats, Taylor still won races at an alarmingly high rate. At one point in his career he won 29 of 49 races in all, an incredible feat for anyone, but even greater for Taylor, who literally had to jump out to the lead early in every race and sprint from the front, for fear of getting boxed in by other riders. Eventually, Taylor accomplished cycling’s crowning achievement when he won the 1899 sprint world title. He was just 20 years old.

Following his world championship, Taylor spent the ensuing years as a decorated cyclist abroad, where he raced many of Europe’s top riders. In 1901 he raced a series of sprints with 1900 world champion Edmund Jacquelin, in what the French press described “the most heavily attended sporting event ever held in Paris,” according to Ritchie. Taylor would also go on to race two winters in Australia where things didn’t go nearly as well; in the same way that he faced racial strife in America, he faced the same down under, thanks in part to a large number of American sprinters who made the journey overseas as well.

However, there was a bright spot to his otherwise cloudy time in Australia: Taylor’s first and only child was born on the continent in 1904. Her name? Sydney.

A Champion Fades into the Sunset:

After his return from Australia, Taylor raced for a few more years, before eventually retiring from the sport for good in 1910. But unfortunately for a champion athlete who’d traveled the world as a celebrated superstar, there was no second act in his life. The racial climate of the era limited work and educational opportunities, and beyond that, the same social dynamics which had set his cycling career in motion were ironically the same ones which held him back in retirement. Essentially, cycling was fading.

“Cycling itself was going through a bit of a down cycle after a bit of a boom in the early ‘90’s,” Ritchie said. “There was a professional six-day circuit, but it was nothing like it was in the 1890’s.”

Whatever the case, the Major Taylor story came to an end in 1932, finishing just as abruptly as it had started a half a century earlier. Unable to get work and with his career earnings dwindling over the later years of his life, Taylor died in poverty in a Chicago YMCA.

He was just 53-years-old.

A Second Act Historically:

While Major Taylor never took on a second act during his life, he has taken one historically, as the bicycling community has rallied to tell his incredible story over the past several decades. It started when Frank Schwinn, owner of Schwinn Bicycle Co. had Taylor’s body exhumed and buried in a proper grave in 1948, and has only continued from there.

Taylor’s name remained popular among hardcore racing circles for the next several decades, but it wasn’t until the publication of the first edition of Ritchie’s first book that “Major Taylor” became common lingo among average cycling fans as well. It also became more common in the last few decades, as the sport of cycling has gained in popularity in the United States to levels not seen since Taylor’s own racing days.

“As people have discovered cycling for whatever reason, (they) can easily do the research,” said Anthony Taylor (no relation to Major), a founder of the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Minnesota. “And if you commit to do the research on cycling, you wind up talking about Major Taylor.”

Well, people certainly have been talking about Taylor, and through the past few decades the cycling community continually finds new and unique ways to honor his memory. Cities like Atlanta, Chicago and Columbus (amongst many others) host Major Taylor Cycling Clubs, while other clubs like the “Major Motion” Club of Los Angeles play off Taylor’s name. Not to mention that when a new velodrome was built in Indianapolis- the same place Taylor was once barred from racing- the city elected to name it after him. It is the first building in Indianapolis ever constructed with public funds to be named after an African-American, according to the velodrome’s website.

Where Taylor’s legacy really took a turn though was in 1997, with the formation of the Major Taylor Association, based in Worcester, Mass., a city Taylor lived for most of his adult life. The primary mission of the group is to “establish a permanent memorial to Major Taylor, and educate about his life and legacy,” according to Lynne Tolman, the President of the association.

In 2008, the group did exactly that, when, after a decade of fundraising and creating social awareness, a statue of Taylor was played right outside the city’s public library. There, the statue serves two primary functions: It allows easy access for anyone looking for more information on a local hero, and also serves as a key jumping off point for local riders.

“It’s turned out to be all that we hoped for and more,” Tolman said.

More importantly, it has also led to a deeper understanding within the Worcester community of Taylor’s historical significance, and how unique it is to have an athlete of his caliber right in their own backyard.  Beyond the statue, Tolman and her staff even created a “Major Taylor curriculum” designed to give young students an example of someone who overcame adversity to achieve great success. The curriculum is now being taught in over 25 states, but has taken an especially strong hold locally, where young elementary school students seem to be absorbing the lesson well.

“One thing that I think is really cool is that I’ll have parents come up to me,” Tolman said.” (They’ll) say to me, ‘I learned about Major Taylor from my kids,’ who learned about him in school.”

And how ironic is that?

It took nearly 80 years after his death for Major Taylor to be fully appreciated for all that he accomplished in his short life.

And now it seems people will continue to discuss him for generations to come.

(PHOTO CREDITS: Major Taylor Association)

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