I am Specialized…

The braintrust at Specialized Bikes is on a tear.

After cracking into the pro peloton a few years ago, the U.S. company’s strategy to play in Europe alongside the well-known brands such as Pinarello, Colnago and Time is paying dividends. 

This year already in the win column (a sampling; not full list):

  • Tour of California Prologue (Fabian Cancellara of Saxo Bank on a Transition)
  • Tour of California Stage 8 (Frank Schleck of Saxo Bank on a Tarmac SL2)
  • Tour of Flanders (Sven Devolder of Quick Step on a Tarmac SL2)
  • Paris-Roubaix (Tom Boonen of Quick Step on a Roubaix SL2)
  • Liege-Bastone-Liege (Andy Schleck of Saxo Bank on a Tarmac SL2)

 

The Specialized brand has become synonomous with winnning big (even if Boonen’s rig has a shorter head tube and is beefier than the standard 11r carbon found on factory stock Tarmac SL2’s in your local bike shop).

Kudos to the folks in Morgan Hill, CA who dared to compete with the Italian and French brands that have long dominated Europe. Not only are they doing it with bikes, they are making inroads there in helmets, shoes, and other accessories. It’s amazing, really, when you consider cycling is among the top three spectator sports in Europe. In the U.S., it barely gets on the radar.

It won’t be long before  Trek, the other big American bike brand, turns up the heat. The Grand Tours are when Trek comes out to play. Levi Leipheimer already won the overall at the Tour of California on a Trek Madone, and a famous guy named Lance will be aboard a Madone during the Giro d’ Italia in May.

Cycling, much like golf, is an aspirational activity for non-pros and neo-enthusiasts. We can ride the same roads. We can imagine what it’s like to be in the break. We can (sometimes) hit it 300 yards via equipment that helps power the pros to victory. 

Aspiration is why every weekend in Southern California, you can find riders on $8,000 rides and duffers with $2,000 worth of clubs in their bags.

They are living the dream without the big-name endorsements, podium girls, or adoring galleries.

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The sound of passion…

I’ve always hated taping voice mail greetings. Just plain don’t like it. Despise it. 

Why?

Hearing the sound of my voice. I’m never comfortable when faced with it. I suppose that’s why I went into print journalism out of college and not into television or radio. The keyboard has never once recorded my voice, its inflection, or any cracking. It just takes down what my fingertips say. Tap. Tap. Tap.

Recent videos I shot for the Tour of California were exhilirating for me. If I came off a bit crazed, well, to that I plead guilty. Being atop a mountain to which pro bike racers compared to July in France is a reason for any cycling fan to ignite a fire within — and be passionate.

Isn’t that what life is all about? Find something you truly love and cherish it? You know, your spouse? Your children? Friends? Your camera? Your keyboard? Books? Surfboard? Car? Garden?

What’s your passion?

For one week in February, mine surely was a race called Amgen Tour of California.

I hope you are finding and celebrating yours.

Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup all rolled up…

Tomorrow’s the day. It was so damn obvious.

Typical Saturday in February? About 10 serious riders ascend South Grade up the face of Palomar.

Today?

Had to be 200.

I’ve never seen so many bikes on the mountain — ever. They came from everywhere. And more are amassing for Sunday. I met a father-and-son combo from St. Louis. Highest “mountain” in Missouri, according to the Dad? Something like 480 feet. Ouch.

The son was forced to walk up to the summit after blowing up around 4,000 foot elevation, due to gearing more suitable for the flats. The mountain shows no mercy. 

Sunday should be fun at the summit’s 5,120 feet. By 3 p.m. today, campers and tents were positioning on the inside shoulder of the KOM. Front-row seats to witness the strong men.

Cole Grade Road, the final KOM, isn’t getting quite the same hype as Palomar. But most pundits are predicting it will decide the stage winner.

Here’s the tricky part: The initial incline is a false 6%. By that I mean it looks like 6%, but it checks in at more than 10% on the Garmin. The eyes tell you one thing. The legs scream another.

Whoever is in the breakaway group for Stage 8 can take the win if they pound Cole Grade Road and time trial through Valley Center before BOMBING down Lake Wohlford Road. And they will BOMB. I caught a headwind on El Norte Parkway in Escondido after the descent of Lake Wohlford.

Just another wild card in what should be a day of great racing.

My viewing spot? At the highest point, hands down.

Amgen Tour of California Stage 8 KOM: Cole Grade Road

A gem of a climb loved by locals, made all more difficult by being last on a day that includes the short, stout Highland Valley Road, the narrow and testy Lake Wohlford Road — and the HC monster, Palomar Mountain. Great views back in Pauma Valley from here. If someone can stay away on Palomar and deliver the goods here, they will win the stage. If there is a lead group at the base of this, look for some serious attacking. A week of rain, cold, time trialing, traveling and riding in February should produce something special.

Amgen Tour of California Stage 8 KOM: Palomar Mountain Summit 5,200+ Feet

The pro peloton will easily wind it up on this last section. Keep an eye on the gear selection here. It’s very possible that a strong man uses the 53 big ring and 24 or 21 tooth cog. Most exciting for fans: Will the strongest be strewn across the mountain due to an audacious attack, and can anyone stay away before sealing the deal on Cole Grade Road before bombing back down Lake Wohlford Road into Escondido for the last few miles of Stage 8?

Amgen Tour of California: Stage 8 KOM: Palomar Mountain @ 5,000 Feet

Little panorama just past 5,000-foot mark. Riders have a few more switchbacks past here to reach summit. Predicting that tempo will be lifted between the 4,000 and 5,000-foot markers. A fun place to play cat-and-mouse since the switchbacks are short and you can disappear from those less fortunate if you have great legs on this day.