Friday, September 4, 2009

Ludicrous speed

We all know that the pros climb way faster than the rest of us mortals. Heck, Lance rode the Powerline climb at Leadville without putting a foot down. Everyone else walked at least part of it. I think I walked most of it.

Here’s the thing, though, the pros aren’t just faster on the up, they’re faster everywhere. They just do everything better. I read an account on Red Kite Prayer a while back that mentioned Hincapie’s phenomenal bike handling skills.

Typical response would be to read that and say “sure, makes sense, these guys are on their bikes all day every day—they’re going to get good.” But one wouldn’t necessarily think that the skills would transcend disciplines. Specifically, you’d think the roadies would be best on the road, and the mountain bikers would be best on dirt.

A lot of talk before Leadville was that it was a course well-suited to a roadie because it’s not particularly technical. The assumption being that Lance was at a disadvantage on a mountain bike, particularly descending.

Yet Lance didn’t just win Leadville on the climbs, he won it descending too. Take a look at his split from Columbine to Twin Lakes, pretty much downhill all the way. A lot of it is smooth dirt road, but the upper section is about as technical as anything else I’ve ridden in a XC race. I’m a descent descender on the MTB, and my split was 34:34. Lance did it in 26:40. The next fastest guy was Max Taam, nearly two minutes back. A grand total of five guys, including Lance, did it under 30 minutes.

I was going balls to the wall on that descent—as fast as I dared. I felt my tires drift a couple times and backed it off to make sure I stayed on the course. I can imagine taking more chances and going 10% faster. But 25% faster, and I think everything would have gone plaid.


  1. There was at least one other who cleaned the entire Columbine climb - and a local at that - our very own Brandon aka Ciclista.

  2. I've had the same thoughts - those pros are crazy descenders. Even more amazing I rarely see or hear of them crashing on descent (but when they do, especially on road, it's bad).

    Nice movie references, kudos.

  3. remember rasmussen in his final time trial at the tour a few years back? he crashed like three times--he looked like a total spazz.

    he's a mountain biker who crossed over.

  4. JDub, Powerline, not Columbine. I don't think even Brandon cleaned Powerline. Chucky's the only other person I'm aware of who's done it, but I don't know if even he did this year.

    Dug, to your point, Phil and Paul are always erroneously talking about how the mtn bikers who've come over have good bike handling skills. But if you look at how often Cadel crashes, that argument gets discredited very quickly.

    I thought I had developed good bike handling skills on the MTB until I started racing on the road. Now I'm the spazz.

  5. What impresses me about really fast MTB descenders is how fast they *think*. We've had a new (young) guy join our regular Tuesday night group this summer, and the speed at which he descends- even navigates flat, semi-tech stuff- is just astounding. It's as if he rides it faster than I can see the line.

    Re: "spazz" on the road, I've been similarly schooled on the handling skills of "real" roadies.

  6. Now imagine yourself going 25% faster down Columbine, turning a corner, and seeing a group of "slow people" riding right up the line you had been planning on taking. You may have said the same thing Lance said when he saw you. (slow being a very relative term)

    Bike handling skills don't translate from one discipline to the next very well. Floyd was a good road descender, but he's the exception. The techniques are just too different

    That said, I think roadies are generally even worse descenders on mt than mtb'ers are on road. Lance perhaps being a notable exception. But he also had some mtb roots, from what I understand.

  7. Watcher, I am in awe of Elliot. I was when you first posted that graphic and I am yet again. I'm also in awe of Mark Cavendish and his "making a phone call" or "DZ Nuts crotch gesture" salutes when he wins bunch sprints. The one bunch sprint I've won, I kept both hands firmly on the bars at the end, not wanting to take even one hand off at that speed.

    Aaron, yeah, you kind of put Lance's "comment" in perspective. Though I can't imagine how any of us were in his line. We were all on the right side, and he was on the left (his right), with plenty of room. I just think any moving obstacle at that speed would be scary. Actually, just the speed would be scary, no obstacles required.