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June 24, 2015
by James Knox


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Shamwow! It’s Vacation Season

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SCENE

(Sterling Pond, Smugglers Notch, Vermont)

Vacation season is upon us and June is usually the busiest month of the year for me. Between vacation and an extra workload riding my bike slips quickly down the list of priorities.

I spent a lovely weekend in Chautauqua, NY with my dad and brother at the Cherokee Lodge. A secret “invite only” society of people whose only link is that they know the guy named Chester who owns the place. We usually spend the weekend alternating between sitting around and drinking and eating and drinking. Somewhere in there I remembered to bring my bike. I got in a nice 40-mile loop around Lake Chautauqua before anyone got up to offer me a beer. I stopped in the drive through at the Starbucks in Jamestown on my bike and as I ordered my doppio, the barista told me this was a, “Starbucks First” for her. Well, you’re welcome.

That was my last ride for twenty days. Can you say withdrawal?

My family (all six of us) drove (?!?) to Vermont for our next vacation. A week spent in the home of Cabot Cheese, maple syrup, hippies and Ben and Jerry’s. The last two were redundant, I know. We stayed at the resort founded on the spot where JFK’s father Joe made his fortune running bootlegged rum into Canada. Stay classy New England. The bad news was I didn’t bring my bike. We did however stay active climbing mountains and going on the Ben and Jerry’s Factory tour.

KIDS

(1, 2, 3 ICE CREAM!!)

Back into town for a week on my feet covering the nation’s largest invention expo: INPEX. I had no time for rides after logging close to 14 miles a day on my feet traversing the Monroeville Convention center 12-hours a day carrying 15 pounds of camera gear. I did meet the Shamwow guy though.Shamwow

 

(Me and Vince Offer of Shamwow fame)

Fast-forward to last night. It was my first race in three weeks. I crammed two punishing training rides over the weekend but I was very nervous about jumping in so unprepared. I got 14th place and was surprised by my top-end speed for the final sprint. I came in second place among guys with hairy legs, by the way. I’ll call it a positive.

My advice for this season of vacation: Take you bike with you. If you can’t then, don’t spend your WHOLE time eating ice cream, Cabot cheese and drinking beer.

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May 29, 2015
by James Knox


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PGH Bike Share Bike:Test Ride

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01

I met up today with Erin Potts, marketing manger for Bike Share Pittsburgh the non-profit in charge of launching this city’s public bike rental infrastructure this Sunday. After months of debate the day is finally here. The politics and squabbling aside, I just want to know what I get for my two bucks.

The gear is all I’m interested. You can go to the website pghbikeshare.org to find out their philosophy and payment practices and where the 50 stations will be. There is even an App to pay for your ride and track the availability of you next one. But, all I care is how does this bike handle?

I rode the 37-pound tank around Shadyside for a test ride today. It is not a race bike, I can assure you. The purpose of the bike is for short (30 minutes or less) trips. The beauty is you can go from point A to B and not worry about returning the bike back to point A. The kiosks will be stocked up and running for this Sunday’s Open Streets affair and availability will be modest at first.

03

The bike itself is a space-age shape. It runs a Shimano Nexus 7-speed hub with drum brakes front and back. It sports a wide comfortable seat with a narrow nose. The use of enclosed drums are obvious. No one can mess with them and they are protected from the elements as well. A twofer. The brakes were quite mushy and required a little premeditation on the stopping. I guess the extra weight of GPSs and keypads and giant Highmark billboards were not in the braking equation. You shouldn’t be riding this thing like a crazy person anyway so I’ll give it a pass. I haven’t ridden an internal hub since the 1970s so I thought they might have improved since then. I was right. The Nexus shifted quite cleanly only buckling under pressure a little on a rise out of the saddle. But, the beauty is that unlike with a chain and derailleur you can down shift to an easier gear while sitting at a stoplight.

Out of the saddle it was like ridding a whale but with 7 gears and an overall gear range of 245% over the old 3-speed hubs’ 178% you shouldn’t need to. Even in Pittsburgh’s hilly terrain. I wouldn’t attempt the Dirty Dozen hills with this but for a lunch-time jaunt to Primanti’s, it’ll do. Potts told me the 7-speed hub is the most gears out of any bike share in the world. You’ll need ‘em.

05

The integrated lock is probably the coolest feature. It slides out of a holster behind the built-in metal basket and the lockbar slips through the steel fork essentially locking the bike to itself. If you pull up to a kiosk that is full, just lock it within ten feet and it’s turned in.

The bike is built to fit everyone from 4-7 feet tall and the geometry for a long ride might be in favor for the shorter rider. It was adequate for my 6-foot-plus frame and as I said there are no long rides.

Full GPS tracking with help anyone who has an idea about stealing these bikes. But, really who would buy it?

It did feel safe and solid and the upright position is highly visible and stable for novice riders. I can’t wait to get my membership and tool around town even if its only at 30-minutes a clip.

For a video on the details of the Bike Share Program follow this link:

http://bcove.me/z0v623pk

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May 26, 2015
by James Knox


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Big Data is Gonna Get You

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DATA

(Strava crunches the numbers for ya)

My wife just got an Apple Watch. It is an amazing piece of technology. It tracks your fitness and activity levels through pedometers and heart rate monitors. It tells you when you’ve been sitting too long and demands that you “Stand up!”

Get off my back already and stop telling me what to do!

I am guilty of data overload. Most cyclists love data. I know guys with spreadsheets of their power meter data. Nerd alert! When I go for a ride I strap on my heart rate monitor switch on my Garmin 510 with GPS, speed and cadence. I’ve forgotten my extra tube and CO2 once and still went ahead and rode. But, if I forget my Garmin…I turn back.

You want credit for your efforts. More importantly you want to track your progress. Strava is my measuring stick. Measuring against my peers and pros but more importantly myself. Goals are met and splits are improved.

Some have taken this to extremes and have gotten injured or killed trying to be the top rider of a neighborhood segment on Strava. Stupid, I know. But, I have a few near-death experiences doing just that. I have also been steaming mad after getting halfway through a ride and realizing I hadn’t pushed start on my Garmin.

I have a problem. I know this. Big Data is coming for me.

So, how can you combat this obsession?

Easy, when you ride, ride all out, record it, then analyze it. Mostly compare it to your own efforts and track your improvement to yourself. There is ALWAYS someone faster.

The other part is this…ride for fun every once and a while. Just tool around the neighborhood to remind you of the kid inside that loves jumping curbs and going fast and going slow.

BMX

I pulled a BMX bike out of my neighbor’s trash and that is my third bike now. I love it. I ride it to the bus stop to pick up my kids. I ride it when they want to tool around the ‘hood. I also have been known to do some tricks and take it off some sweet jumps. I can do like a thirty foot skid, too. It’s the opposite of doing ladder intervals and downward spirals.

There is no record of the watts I push when jumping a curb but in my mind I’m winning.

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April 30, 2015
by James Knox


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Digital EPO and E-Doping

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Digital EPO or E-Doping

“What the heck is that?” you ask? I’m seeing if Mr. T and Nancy Reagan are available to be the spokespeople for this great cause.

The definition could be as follows: cheating on a fitness app to gain King of the Mountain (KOMs) or other digital prizes and imaginary awards.

Neither is in the Urban Dictionary but they should be. I mean, “Post Fartum Depression” is.

Zoinks

A few weeks ago I posted a picture of my Zwift avatar wearing the Orange leader’s jersey and crushing out 500+ watts. (See previous post)

Perspective…I have no clue how many watts I can produce or should produce. I just got a heart rate monitor last year. I do not own a power meter for my road bike or smart stationary trainer with one.

That said I rode around for lap after lap on Zwift Island hammering away. Sweating my butt off. Then someone chatted that I should “check my set-up” and “my numbers seemed way off’’. The telltale was when some one sarcastically said, “seems legit” while waving the Red Flag of sarcasm.

So, I exited the island amid tensions that would rival an expelled dictator and looked up what my numbers should be. Well, its more like half of that 500+ if I’m realistic. I looked up past rides on my Garmin site and Strava for real, race-time efforts. I maxed out at 445 on a final sprint of a recent race. I remember that I held that for like ten seconds then probably blacked out. Pro cyclist Jens Voigt who recently took the hour record hummed along at 400 watts for an hour. Me I’m more of a 250-300 watt creature.

To take my problem global I started a comment section on the Zwft website. Ten seconds later I was trapped under an avalanche of criticism and vitriol. But, as clueless as I was, there must be people out there doing this for real. And to what end?

There is a website called Digital EPO.com that claims to be able to juice your numbers by messing with your Garmin data in a way that is not so blatant as my faux paux. Reviewers of this website post critiques with titles like: “How to be a scumbag on Strava with digital epo” or, “How to spot digital EPO cheats on Strava”. Ah, the digital democracy.

Why do people cheat like this? Vanity. Plain and simple.

A well-known cycling magazine published a story a few years ago about guys doping at local masters races. DOPING! Just to win a pair of socks or bragging rights. I race those kinds of races here in Pittsburgh (we jokingly refer to them as the “Weekly World Championships”). The competition is fierce among guys who race for fun and the prize money for first place is usually around $15. These dopers are out there spending thousands of dollars and putting their health at risk for what? Pride and vanity.

E-doping is safer I guess than injecting yourself with hormones or steroids but who wants to cheat themselves? The use of Strava is mainly as a barometer or measuring stick for your personal development. They’re a perfect way to track your progress and improvement. The KOMs and other awards are incentives for you to strive to be your best. E-doping is just buzz kill pure and simple.

I am truly sorry to all my Zwift Island companions and I will see you tomorrow and kick your butt the right way, with my legs and not my mouse.

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April 23, 2015
by James Knox


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Welcome to Zwift Island

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Zwift1

“Smiles, smiles everyone.”

— Mr. Roarke, Fantasy Island

Well, if Zwift Island is my own personal Fantasy Island then Mr. Roarke might instead say, “Grimaces, everyone…Grimaces.” Or Tattoo might be heard shouting from the rooftop bell tower, “Da Pain!! DA PAIN!!!!!”

Zwift, the multi-player cycling workout/videogame launched in a private Beta mode over the winter is a video game where YOU power the outcome. It attempts to kill the monotony of indoor workouts on a stationary trainer. Dead.

As a Beta Tester plucked out of obscurity (really, I never win ANYTHING) a month or so ago I have been tooling around the virtual world where Watts are what matter to win. You are unaware that you are actually working out. I mean when I play video games with my sons we can blow a whole afternoon. This has the same effect. Except for the fact that you can burn 1,500 calories in the act.

ANT+11

All you need for this trip is a computer, a few ANT+ devices and an ANT+ USB dongle (about $40). The dongle was having trouble staying connected to my cadence and speed sensor at first but at the prompting of a swift and cheery support guy named Jason K. I added a USB extension chord to put the dongle closer to the sensors. I also shut off my fan, which was creating a wave of interference. The field that fans generate is only in a sphere around them. As long as you position the fan so that it’s not in between your sensors and your ANT+ dongle, it shouldn’t cause interference. But, the sweating made it seem more real, so off it stayed.

The idea for Zwift came to video game engineer and avid cyclist John Mayfield when the tedium of indoor training led him to create an early version of the game and post it on the triathlon website Slowtwitch.com. The game was so well received that Mayfield hooked up with financier and lifelong cyclist Eric Min to launch the interactive addiction to a lucky few testers over the winter. The game is now open for anyone to join (free, for now) the Beta mode. This fall will mark the end of the Beta phase and the cost will be around $10/month according to Zwift Communications Director Mark Riedy.

Zwift users can tie in to social media fitness sites like Strava and hook up for virtual group rides at specific times with other users. Or, should I say gamers?

“The community is engaged in trying to make it better and, their using it (Zwift) in ways we didn’t anticipate,” Riedy said.

Zwift2

The Island comes up on Starva as Jarvis Island–a real place in the Pacific Ocean. The actual Jarvis Island is home to a giant guano pile, (bat poop) once mined there for fertilizer in the 19th century. It can still be seen via Google Earth on the uninhabited island about halfway between Hawaii and the Cook Islands. Not really Fantasy Island. If your fantasy involves bat poop, I don’t want to know about it. Ever.

The graphics on the fake island are vivid and real and add to the competitive drive that makes this game so addictive. Passing people makes me happy and chasing down people and leaving them in your dust is so satisfying. I even wore the Orange leader’s jersey for 5 laps on my last ride. Eat my guano dust y’all.

Zwift Island does let you ride off into the sunset through the palm trees even if it is snowing outside. Fantasy: granted.

 

 

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March 18, 2015
by James Knox


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Exit the Pain Cave

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race

My winter training plan was going great, until the Internet happened.

I had been building my winter base miles, (whatever that really means, I’m not sure) alternating between suffering mightily and spinning easy while binge watching The Walking Dead. I even made my own training video with some footage I shot during one of the races last year and some other rides around town and tons of heavy metal. (Thats a still from my cockpit-cam above!)

Lots of heavy interval days with light spinning mixed in to keep fresh. I cut out beer during weekdays and dialed down my calorie intake. I was even lifting weights. Gasp!

I was dialing in nicely for the start of the season for me in April. The Old Fat Guys Racing Circuit, the OFGRC for short wouldn’t know what hit it. My legs were getting like two sinewy pillars of power.

Then, I read something really interesting on this Internet thing.

Lets just be clear, any idiot with a fifth-grade reading level can have a blog. Look at me. I aced the fifth grade. A major word of caution here: don’t believe everything you read.

The article I read talked about heart rate training. This guy said essentially that to build aerobic ability and burn fat you need to go 180 minus your age during training and you will notice amazing differences in stamina, weight and your wallet. Anaerobic training (what, I guess I was doing) was BAD. It makes you fat and will give you halitosis. I was hooked. So for two weeks I trained with my heart rate at a consistent 139 BPM. The Walking Dead season four was just released on Netflix. It was perfect storm.

Wow, I felt great. Until, I took the training outside.

I felt like I was 300lbs and my brakes were stuck and my tire was flat. Well, my tire was flat. Really 7 miles in I was sweating like a pig and my tire was empty. So was I. That’s what I get for leaving the training tire on the back. Now, I’m really mad. Change said flat tire and head home. I love riding mad. You go so fast and aggressive.

So, I got home and rethought my training plan. Pain, pain, pain.

139 BPM is OK if you want to fit into your pants but, I want to win or at least not get spit out the back. 180 here I come and I’m mad.

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March 2, 2015
by James Knox


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Chatting with Lance

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lance

My 140th Twitter follower sent me the above direct message last week. This guy named Lance Armstrong asked “Just how is it you propose I ‘help fix’ the sport?”

My first thought was now we’re getting somewhere with this blog. Then, the sarcasm-meter went off. It was really him. I checked.

“When was I ever gonna get this chance again?” I said. “Well, I’ll tell him my thoughts as a Category V amateur with 6 years of occasionally racing bikes under my belt. I have his ear. He’s seen my credentials and is seeking out my wisdom!”

Let me just say that I am a naive idealist and want everybody to be pals so, we chatted online for about an hour. I told him to bear all, warts and all. He could lift his life-time ban from cycling with truth with tears. I also said he could own a team run for Governor of Texas. Or, do like Forrest Gump and ride back and forth across the US. Gump used it to perfection to get over a troubled time and brought the country behind him.

He said he was busy raising five kids. I told him I’ve got only four kids. I had to use two testicles to do it, too. A sign of weakness!

I did invite him to ride the 2015 Dirty Dozen with me. He could crash at my house, I told him. He said, “Thanks for the offer but I don’t ride anymore!” His Twitter feed is filled with him on recent rides with friends at event rides. I’ll take that as the final brush off. The Twitter version of “The Look”.

According to a story published on Cycling News’ website recently [1] the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), who “would have the last word on any ban” it’s a nice thought but a little late.

“Despite Mr. Armstrong publicly claiming he wants to help, privately since June 2012, he has repeatedly rejected the opportunity to do so and has shut the door on his chance,” USADA said last year.

“Much of the information we understand that Mr. Armstrong could have provided is of little, if any, value now, as it has already been uncovered through other avenues or soon will be.”

Well I guess I was right. I was just a little late.

Lance addressed his bullying of fellow racers and media in a BBC interview [2]. The one where he famously said recently that if he had to go back to 1995 he would dope again. He was once a person you did not piss off. Unless you didn’t want to cover the Tour de France you had to toe the line. What have I got to be bullied with? I write this blog on general cycling topics in my spare time. My role as a journalist is limited to photographing news and sports in South Western PA. He did admit however remorse in that interview over how he treated people and who had become in his quest to win. But, was I getting a taste of his wrath for calling him out?

I personally thought it was a cool example of the beauty of social media. I had a chat with THE Lance Armstrong. It was, in hindsight riddled with condescending sarcasm but it’s the same as when I jaw with my brothers online.

I’ll tell you, I did really start wondering where he would sleep if he did come to Pittsburgh for the Dirty Dozen. What kind of beer to buy, if I could ride with a granny gear next to him up Canton Ave? Then, reality set in.

He’s not coming.

He did ride up East Sycamore Street in Pittsburgh once I think during the race series where he won a million bucks. He probably decided not to come because of that. It’s one of the easier hills in the race. But, it’s OK. That’s what I’m going with.

Which got me thinking, what would you say to him if you had the chance? Did I blow it? Would you spend it screaming at him or defending him?

Would he want to hear it? Would it benefit anyone?

And, more importantly…would you want him to stay at YOUR house?

Hmm.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/report-armstrongs-lifetime-ban-unlikely-to-be-reduced

[2] http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/cycling/30955902

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February 26, 2015
by James Knox


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Slaying it, with the Badger

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stb_72dpi_400x600p

“Cycling is an individual sport, practiced by teams.”

–Samuel Abt, quoted in “Slaying the Badger”

Netflix started showing a documentary to compliment the book “Slaying the Badger” by Richard Moore. Its subtitle is “Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault and the Greatest Tour de France”.

I’ll admit, I haven’t read the book. It was out at the library when I searched it. But, having actually gone to film school, I guess I could check it out on my TV.

Netflix may be known for some fancy Kevin Spacey show or being the best-known streaming service but in my house it’s known for weird, obscure crap that only dad likes. One of my favorite Netflix docs (as my kids will attest) is Hell on Wheels or, Höllentour about Germany’s Team Telekom in the 2003 TDF. I have made them sit through this too many times to count.

ESPN calls it this way: Before Lance Armstrong, there was Greg LeMond, who is now the first and only American to win the Tour de France. In this engrossing documentary, LeMond looks back at the pivotal 1986 Tour, and his increasingly vicious rivalry with friend, teammate, and mentor Bernard Hinault. The reigning Tour champion and brutal competitor known as “The Badger,” Hinault ‘promised’ to help LeMond to his first victory, in return for LeMond supporting him in the previous year. But in a sport that purports to reward teamwork, it’s really every man for himself.

This story shows us how, at this level there are no friends, only deals, politics and bullies. The naive LeMond moved to Europe to race when he was a teen. The film claims that LeMond rose with such promise in the States that Hinault wanted him on his team so he wouldn’t have him as an opponent. It all kind of backfires. Hilarity ensues.

The “Badger” is more like a 20/20 piece inspired by a true-account book of a great story. The archival footage is great. I had no idea John Tesh covered the Tour de France. I’m going out to buy his Music from the Tour de France, Vol. I right now!

As a true sicko, I watched it in my pain cave while spinning on my trainer. Just to suffer alongside the only American to ever (officially) win the Tour de France. As a part of ESPN Films 30 for 30 series director John Dower does a great job of balancing the information for both uninitiated cycling fan and with nuts like me. My French is a bit rusty but a few moments stand out as awesome.

For example, the moment when LeMond’s race director Paul Köchli is asked about the ability of cyclist to suffer and he says, “Bull. It’s a game.” Or, when Hinault remembers telling LeMond to go slow so he can “play games” with the other riders.

Hinault is kind of portrayed as the villain of the story. I’m not sure that’s fair. Maybe in LeMond’s case he is the protagonist but Hinault argues that he played the game by the rules in place. The main rule being, there were no rules.

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February 24, 2015
by James Knox


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There is No Santa Claus and, Lance Cheated

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When I finally gave in to the fact that Lance cheated it felt an awful lot like how it felt to find out about Santa. For years I had sneaking suspicions about the packages addressed “Santa” with the same exact smiley face that is my mother’s calling card. But, hey I was getting the G.I. Joe headquarters! Who am I to nit-pick.

We all benefitted from his success. Weather we were lifted up by his comeback from cancer or how he increased America’s lost love of bike riding and racing, we owe him. For the good and the bad. More on that in a minute.

I recently read a pair of books about two unlikely kids’ rise to fame in bike racing. “Wheelmen (Lance Armstrong, The Tour de France and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever)” by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell [2013] and bike racer Phil Gaimon’s “Pro Cycling on $10 a Day (From Fat Kid to Euro Pro)” [2014]. I didn’t mean to read them concurrently but it worked out to be a very cool comparison of two unlikely heroes’ rise to fame.

91jZD2fCNIL._SL1500_

Gaimon’s book is a breezy stream of consciousness from a smart-alecky kid who loves racing clean. It’s reads like Dave Barry meets Dave Stoller from “Breaking Away” with a ton more fart jokes. It shows a varnish-free cycling. The likes the 7-Eleven Team had to suffer through to be the first American team to compete in France’s biggest bike race. The bad food, bad equipment and missed opportunities all point to the author’s love of sport over financial gain. There are no dates with supermodels, no parties at the Musee d’Orsay or calls from Bill Clinton, just the blood sweat and tears of a guy who wants to race bikes for a living. And, it is pretty damn funny.

wheelmen

On the other hand, “Wheelmen” reads like a Wall Street Journal article. That’s probably because the two authors’ day jobs are at the Wall Street Journal writing articles. The gripping details of the growing paranoia of Lance and his inner circle as the lie grows is palpable. Lance believes he is too big to fail. It was a little like seeing “Titanic”. I know they go down but, how? Having read Tyler Hamilton’s book and “It’s Not About the Bike” by Lance I didn’t yet know how deep the rabbit hole went.

I’ve come to a crossroads in my appreciation of his efforts. We now sit in a new era of cycling in America. We owe this surge partly to Lance’s success at dominating the Tour de France and putting an American team in an international fight that most didn’t even know existed. The idea of having an American cycling team win the Tour is like a French baseball team winning the World Series as “Wheelmen” states. There is a large group of riders that started because of this international swagger-fest. But, now all average people know about cycling is drugs and cheating.

Lance now owes us his help to fix the mess he waded into and brought to a frenzied crescendo. He got too greedy. I think he is the only one to fix it. But, I’m not sure he’s man enough to do it. The example of Jonathan Vaughters is a good place to start. Someone outside of cycling has no clue who this guy is but, he was Lance’s teammate. He doped, too. He confessed and started a team based on internal, zero-tolerance blood testing and accountability. They won the Giro d’Italia in 2012 with Ryder Hesjedal. They are claiming the era of “Big Doping” over.

Lance needs to do something of this magnitude. He can. But, will he? I sure wish he would. It would make a great ending to the story.

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February 12, 2015
by James Knox


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The Wheel Mill

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PTR-LO-WHEELMILL-021315

So, I spent the morning riding bikes, shooting videos and taking pictures at the Wheel Mill in Homewood. Check out www.thewheelmill.com if you’re curious. Owner Harry Geyer and I remarked that it’s unbelievable that we get paid to do this. (Not much but it’s a living)

The Wheel Mill is a completely indoor bike park in an 80,000 square foot warehouse in Homewood. There are more winding ramps and jumps than you can shake a frame pump at. I learned how to pump a bike and, more importantly, that there is a whole world of riding I have yet to discover. I also realized that I need a new bike, too.

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