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Posts Tagged ‘cycling’

Warning: low-level rant ahead

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I made the maiden two-wheeled voyage for 2008 today — sunny, almost 40, light winds: a perfect day for a jaunt on the bike. At least I think it was a perfect day — I was too busy dodging piles of road salt to notice much else. There’s a fine line between salting roads for safety and salting roads so that anything that travels over them is instantly corroded, and the patch of Cincinnati I rode today seems pretty much on the wrong side of that line. I mean, the idea of road salt is to spread it around judiciously and let it do its work on frozen water in the form of snow or ice — little and not-so-little mounds of salt piled up on bare roads are just going to get ground up by car tires and tossed into the air, increasing pollution; or they’ll get washed by the rain into the ground, damaging plants, seeping into the groundwater, and affecting other areas of the environment. That doesn’t even begin to touch on the damage to the roads themselves — each and every crack in the road I saw today was rimmed by a rime of white salt, grabbing hold and forcing the crack wider and wider. I’m no road engineer, so I’d love to hear a counterpoint: what’s up with the volume of salt on our roads, and why do we need so much?

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Here endeth the rant. I must shower.

Addendum: Now that I’m showered, I wanted to see what the city itself says about its road treatment operations.  A set of FAQs about winter operations can be found here, and a nifty brochure that looks like it’s from 2006-07 is here.  An excerpt from the FAQs sheds a little light:

7.  What methods does the City use to treat ice- or snow-covered
streets?

The City uses three treatment methods when addressing snow accumulation.  Anti-icing is a pre-treatment product (salt or salt brine) used on the streets to prevent snow or ice from binding to roadways.  De-icing occurs by using calcium chloride and salt on streets during the storm to melt snow or ice precipitation.  Finally, plowing uses snow equipment to remove higher accumulations of snow before using de-icing products.

My main beef might just be with the pre-treatment, since so often snow is predicted (and prepared for) but never comes — leaving us with salted but bare roads.

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The CincyScenes staff ventured a little further than usual this past Saturday, as we made the journey downriver to Louisville, KY, for the aforementioned USGP Cyclocross race, a two-day event dubbed the Derby Cup. As we ventured down the I-71 corridor, the weather did not look promising, with looming skies and the occasional shower. (Some would call this perfect cyclocross weather, but we weren’t certain that our 14-month-old junior member would feel the same.) Once we cleared I-275, the rain became more sporadic, and we were able to enjoy the beautiful fall colors as we rode the roller-coaster of northern Kentucky hills. Well, Carole and I were able to enjoy the fall colors; the youngest staff member decided this was an ideal time for a nap.

During the drive it became clear that Carole was struggling with something – specifically, how to pronounce the name of the city we were driving to. Her research had informed her that locals called it “Lo-uh-vull,” and other denizens of the Ohio River Valley referred to it as “Loo-uh-vull, whereas outlanders (like her) would take the all-too-literal approach of saying “Loo-ee-vill.” Eventually, her efforts so frustrated her that she began referring to it simply as “that place we’re going to.”

Our plan in “that place we went to” was to take in the women’s and men’s Elite races, and head back to the comforts of home in the late afternoon. We pulled into Louisville a little in advance of the women’s race, checked out the exterior of Water Tower Visual Art Association and, um, other riverfront scenery. Then we took advantage of the extra time to drive down Main and Market Streets, making mental notes of features for future visits – I am particularly eager to check out the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory.

We made it back to Champion’s Park in time for the start of the women’s race, which featured an elite field of current and former champions from road, mountain, and Cyclocross. No matter – current US Champion Katie Compton, as she had done two weeks earlier at Harbin Park, put the hammer down early and rode away from the field to win by over a minute. The exciting race was for second, as a trio of Canadians tried to hold off a surging Georgia Gould, and failed.

Between the women’s and men’s races, we wandered through the tent area, checking out a podium presentation, the pro’s bikes, and the various sponsor’s promotions. I looked longingly at the Bluegrass Brewing Company’s outpost, and made a mental note to sample their wares at a time when I wouldn’t be driving home again so soon. Carole is especially fond of the Crank Brothers’ logo, as I am of their pedals, but we were here to watch the races and managed to avoid succumbing to the mercantile temptation.

The men’s field was even more stacked, featuring the deadly one-two Kona team punch of US Champion Ryan Trebon and Harbin Park winner Barry Wicks, Jeremy Powers and Tim Johnson, and a host of talented racers from across the country. Tour de France veteran Chris Horner showed up, trademark smile and all. Our personal rooting favorite was former Junior National Champion Bjorn Selander, whom we’ve seen race numerous times in our days in the Upper Midwest. For both the women’s and men’s race, we were treated to a little local flavor as riders were literally called to the post by the official bugler of Churchill Downs – a very nice touch.

The race started fast and just got faster, as riders navigated the European-style flyover (a set of steep stairs with a down ramp on the other side), barriers situated after a sharp turn, and a sand pit that took more than one rider down. The crowd was excited, clanging cowbells and tooting on big plastic horns. The course was designed so spectators could get two or even three different vantage points on the race without moving far – it was one of the most spectator-friendly courses for a spectator-friendly sport that I’ve ever seen. A big shout-out to the folks on the PA system, too, who managed to narrate the exciting action from various points throughout the course.

And the racing was exciting, with the two Konas and Powers and Johnson establishing themselves early and hitting each other repeatedly until Powers and Johnson emerged, and Powers finally rode away from Johnson for the victory. Horner showed his strength (if not his handling skills), recovering from at least one wipeout that I saw to move from a mid-20s start and finish 11th. Bjorn rode very impressively, heeding well my admonitions to “close that gap” and “keep it up”; he started in the 8th row – in almost 60th place – and raced strongly enough to finish 23rd overall, and 3rd in the under-23 class. Kudos to the nice young gentleman from Hudson, WI, who would go on to finish 19th in Sunday’s race.

A race weekend of this caliber is a special thing to have in the region – there are only two other weekends like it in the United States. And while Louisville can rightly claim it as its own, the Derby Cup is surely close enough – and big enough — to be part of the Cincinnati bike scene.

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The weekend before we headed out to Bainbridge for the Fall Festival of Leaves, we ventured a little closer to home for some exciting cyclocross action at Fairfield’s Harbin Park. Cyclocross races are an exciting hybrid of road and off-road racing, featuring twisty, occasionally technical courses, barriers that require dismounting for all except the most accomplished of riders, and the occasional sand-pit or water hazard. Typically they’re laid out in a spectator-friendly manner–for instance, even though the Harbin Park course was 3.2 km (a shade under 2 mi.), it was possible for fans to scoot quickly from one vantage point to the next and catch a good chunk of the action.

In addition, the Harbin Park race (more specifically, the “BioWheels Cycling/United dairy Farmers Harbin Park UCI Race presented by BioWheels“) offered a little more appeal than average local bike race: participants in the Elite race would be competing for valuable points in the national rankings. As a result, the race drew more than your average weekend warrior: competitors in the women’s race included the reigning American Champion and World Silver medalist, and in the men’s race two members of the US contingent to last year’s World Championships and the current Danish National Champion. A national-caliber professional sporting event! Free! In our back yard! I wasn’t going to miss it.

We arrived on a hot Indian Summer Sunday, and watched the last half of the Elite women’s race. These two Elite races followed a full slate of races earlier in the day, and the PA announcer was congratulating the winners and all participants as they, their friends and families, and average fans like yours truly milled about. The atmosphere was a little subdued, or perhaps the anticipation for the main event was bubbling just beneath the surface. In any case, US champion Katie Compton beat the rest of the field into submission (and would go on to a strong top-30 place in the men’s race), and the place began to gear up for the men’s elite race. An enthusiastic fella set up a drum kit next to the sand-pit, folks broke out the cowbells–a sine qua non of cyclocross fandom–and once the starter’s gun went off, flocks of fans made their way from vantage point to vantage point, watching as riders negotiated hairpin corners, grassy expanses, and the occasional technical mishap. From a field of almost 60, ten strong men emerged as contenders, and from that group, two duked it out over the last 30 minutes of the one-hour race. Ultimately, one rode away for the victory. The atmosphere was great, the setting was idyllic (if a bit dusty, but the organizers can’t be held responsible for the drought), and for my money, it was the best sporting event going on that day. Of course, the Bengals were losing and I didn’t pay anything to get in, so it had a leg up on the competition already. But I’ll be back to watch more cyclocross races–might even jump into one or two.

In the meantime, our Bluegrass neighbor Louisville is hosting two national-profile cyclocross races this coming weekend. The list of riders is even more impressive, and the racing promises to be superb. See you there?

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