Heavy riders on light bikes. Looking at stems.

Despite the polar cold and snow, prep for 'Race the Ras' is well underway jongens.

Did my annual Threshold test at the Pain Cave a few weeks ago.  And achieved precisely the same not-very-good number as last year, when I was arguably riding more and weighed less, so not too, too bad says he in a glass-half-full sorta way.  As an even fatter shite, than I was last year, I was frankly kinda surprised to achieve the same result.

Maybe 'yer number is yer number' as some say, but I think the result was due to perfect pacing - I pegged last year's average watts, and just kept it there for 20 minutes. Watching the watt number on the big board.  For the first 5, it felt way too easy, but by the end, sure enough, I was fighting hard to hold it.  Steady Eddy.  A lesson in the value of the power meter to a overly excitable Pavlovian dog with no inborn sense of pacing; and another 'aha moment' confirmation of why I was always total crap in Time Trials. During the same test last year, I went too hard at the beginning, blew big time after 10 minutes, died a thousand deaths in the last 5, going ever slower and slower.  Going out too hard like that was always the way I rode 'em back in the day. It was the way we raced too.

Sometimes, it doesn't matter what the number on the stem says.
It explains why modern cycling has kinda become 'Chris Froome looking at stems'.

OK, OK, I get it, it works.  But I still think a sport loses something when it becomes too technologically controlled. I know, I'm old fashioned, get over it.  I'd rather watch, or participate, in a race that's a little more like a boxing match.   Less effective maybe, but a way more spectacular and entertaining.

Contrast 'stem watching' with this great film of the 1981 Paris Roubaix.  You don't often see battles like this anymore.  All the top stars, all wailing the crap out of each other.  Moser, DeVlaeminck, Hinault, DeMeyer, Kuiper, etc.   Watch how Hinault catches back on after hitting a dog, leads out the sprint with a lap to go into the wind, and still wins it.  God, I miss those days.

But I digress.  Getting decent miles this winter has been a challenge due to work, cold and snow.  Yeah I know, me, you and everyone else!   I was pleasantly distracted by a week in Vermont, nordic skiing, all good for the base fitness.  But this past week saw been more polar cold, hence a ton of indoor riding.  Saturday and Sunday saw a 2 hour session each day at the Warren Pain Cave with a good group.  Both sessions were long, and hard.  Saturday's ride was called 'Tempo Club ride', but I was at my limit for a lot of it.  Good training though.  Yesterday morning we rode up the north face of the Stelvio in another fun virtual reality session.  By the virtual 'summit', I was fried.  Actually it was before the top.  I had to cry uncle and lower the my wattage at hairpin 32 or so to something to avoid an almighty blow up.  You know the move, that wimpy, watt-reducing  'button press of shame' in front of a room full of friends stoically keeping theirs Wattage stable.  (It's OK though I tell myself,  I know what I'm doing.)
Still 18 degrees F today.  More indoor cycling.
Alan & Paul off the front at Coors Whaling City 1987.
(Winning Magazine, No. 52, Nov. 1987)

On the Ras prep logistics front, I'm booked on Aer Lingus 'Rocky Flight to Dublin 1-2-3-4-5' with my friends Irish cycling legends Paul and Alan McCormack. Alan's coming in from Boulder, and we're jumping on the 21st century equivalent of steerage on a Boston-Dublin airbus. Their brother Brian will collect us at Dublin Airport in the coach he's been engaged to drive for our band for the entire Ras.

"Ireland?  Who ya goin to Ireland with?" guys around here ask me.  Paul and Alan McCormack.  Ya know Alan?  The Leprechaun?   They give me a blank look.  Head of the famous Killians Irish Red Team.  You remember the Coors Classic, right?  Nothing.  Well, I guess it was about 30 years ago.

Alan McCormack was always my perfect ideal of a professional cyclist. He became one in 1978, with the Old Lord's Splendor team in Belgium. Truth be told, he never really stopped being one actually.  At 58, he can still can stay with all the fast young stem watchers in Boulder CO.  
Now that's a team name and sponsor! Alan is the new recruit in the white
jersey.  Team photo credit: Guy Dedieu, @Cycling Archives

His pro baptism under fire was the '78 Vuelta d'Espana.  In '79 he was third in the Ras Tailteann, behind Stephen Roche.  Both were teammates on the same ICF team, the first time a team from the 'other' Irish federation was allowed in the NCA's Ras Tailteann.  

Alan was the kind of rider who back in my day who was the antithesis of a 'stem watcher.' Kamikaze breaks and attacks were his trademark. Chasing after Alan in races during the 80's was often my default scenario, memories well etched in my mind.

Chasing Alan, on my 'heavy' 753 Raleigh Professional.  Boston, 1981.
The first time was in a Boston Back Bay Criterium back in May, 1981.  Alan kept yo-yoing off the front, a mercenary gun for hire in the Motobecane-Yoplait team jersey he'd later take to the Coors Classic.  I remember going away after him many times that day. (Could do that kind of thing back then!) But unlike me, he never stopped attacking, and eventually was gone, up the road.  Don't think he won, kinda forget who did, but I do remember Alan doing a really great ride.  A portent of things to come.

The year before, Alan had first come to the US to race on Bike Guy Bill Humphries' AMF team for the Coors Classic, where he won a stage, but created an even bigger sensation with his kamikaze attacks during the Snowmass criterium.  He'd crash, attack, and repeat the process. They needed to carry him off the bike at the end, he was in such a state.  Delirious with effort, and altitude.  The crowd loved it though, because Alan could go wicked deep. Something he'd do repeatedly in his adopted home of Colorado.  Alan won at least one Coors Classic stage every year for close to a decade.  And not once by looking at his stem.

That 1981 Coors Classic was the year of a famous break on Morgul Bismark, containing 4 Soviet Russians, Greg Lemond...and Alan.  In the break was Sergei Soukhoroutchenkov, who'd won Olympic Gold in Moscow in a race Greg was kept out of by a foreign policy genius named Jimmy Carter.  Alan took a flyer and tried to take the stage, but was brought back.  Another Soviet won the stage.  Greg got one over on Soukho to win the Tour.   But among the cognoscenti paying attention, especially those with with Irish blood, Alan won lasting respect.

He'd go for another long break on the Morgul Bismark stage together with his brother Paul a few years later. That time, Alan stayed away to win what many considered the hardest stage of the old Coors Classic.

Fitchburg '82:  Alan McCormack leading out Louis Garneau.
I think that's Paul Pearson, Alaric Gayfer and Tony Chastain behind.
I remember the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic in 1982.  Alan got away in a group including Louis Garneau, Tony Chastain and the late, great Alaric Gayfer...if memory serves.  I was stuck in the bunch behind, and if I'm honest, I had my hands full just fighting just to stay on the wheels.

We could always see em, but we never caught 'em. In the sprint, canny Alan won by half a length.   I finished with the 'eceteras' in the bunch that day. My dad was smart enough to snap these old photos of the real warriors that day doing a sprint I missed out on participating in live!

At the line it's the Leprechaun, by a half a length over Garneau.  
(Both riding Raleigh 753 Team Professionals.  It was the Pinarello Dogma of it's day.)
Later that year, Alan came up to New Hampshire for the new Lake Sunapee stage race.  Stage 1 was a criterium, up and down a big steep hill in Sunapee.  It was a circuit kinda' like an east coast Nevada City.  Alan goes solo from the gun, BOOM, never to be seen again.  Solo. Totally shattered the bunch. Many Cat 1 mortals didn't finish.   Me?  You kiddin?  Bah, spit out like a watermelon seed that day, climbing like a bowling ball.  It was a demoralizing beating that haunted me at the time, filling me with doubt.  I'll always remember Alan's performance that day though, still admire it.  Wearing some orange mercenary sponsor 'Circle A Construction' skinsuit, or something like that.   I only remember that detail, 'cause ever the wise ass, I remember joking with him in the changing room before the race that he'd better not ever wear that color in Boston. Suffice to say, Alan had the last laugh that day!

The next year that same Lake Sunapee race became a week long Stage Race, the Milk Race of New Hampshire.  Alan won overall GC, beating Dale Stetina, who'd won the Coors Classic that same year.   He sealed it with a searing winning hillclimb TT, up Mt. Ascutney.  

That was a day I was looking at my stem. not because I was seeking data, only because I didn't have the strength to lift my head.  Ah, the good old days!

Last time I talked to Alan was at Paul's wedding a few years ago. Their brother Brian had smuggled us in some Guinness and Magners, much to the chagrin of the non-black beer or cider serving establishment we were in. Talk was a bit about the good old days.  Ever quotable, Alan said, "Back then, it was all heavy bikes and light riders... but today it's all heavy riders and light bikes."

The bigger more powerful athletes on bikes part is true enough, I suppose.  But heavy bikes?  Funny, I never thought those old 753 TI Raleigh Professional frames kitted out with Campy Super Record were heavy, but I guess they were by today's standards. (Hey, they were good enough for Raas, Knetemann and Zoetemelk, good enough for you!)

Enough nostalgia, it's time to hide the beer now.  Note to self:  You've got 8 weeks to be a light rider again...otherwise Alan's going to call you out as a heavy rider on a light bike, and emphasize by showing that you climb like a bowling ball.

Now, where's that wind trainer?...


  1. Now that was a post. More historical ephemera, please. Wish I had one of those Killians Gianni Mottas.

  2. Oh I remember it all too, Paul M, tongue in cheek, winning everything in sight in New England. Great article as usual, Eddy.

  3. I remember the whaling city pro ams as an aspiring junior!

  4. I can't tell you how often the Irish Times sports page would list a result like....Philadelphia Classic 1. A McCormack (IRL). I would get people congratulating me and patting me on the back, even though I was only 15 and the race was the day before, 3500 miles away. It is going to be a lot of fun and pain to ride with two of my childhood heroes (Paul and Alan) and with my new-found cycling-writing hero Eddie. Great article. The craic is going to be mighty.

    1. You bet it will Aaron! Count on it... get those miles in the bank.
      Thanks for reading & looking forward to connecting. We'll have to get together with Babs for a spin before we go over.

  5. For sure Eddy is a might Keltic. Train hard Rapid Ed, the hills and dales of the Emerald Isle are calling. Well, not calling,maybe taunting...
    I tried to sprint against Alan, back in the day. Tried. See you soon.

  6. Love this post -emotional racing...feel good, attack; don't feel good, attack!

  7. "... Hinault catches back on after hitting a dog, leads out the sprint with a lap to go into the wind, and still wins it."
    Just like CCB town line sprints


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