July 3, 2017 § 15 Comments
Is Daniel Holloway a greater bike racer than Davis Phinney?
I know that some of you are going to roll your eyes, some will furrow your brows, and others will say “Davis who?”
At first glance, the two riders aren’t comparable. Phinney has an unmatched career, with three stage wins in the Tour de France, 2nd in the points classification in the 1988 Tour, a GC win in the Coors Classic, and the most ever wins by an American at 328. Holloway has never ridden, let alone won a stage in the Tour, and his biggest wins are domestic, including back-to-back national road titles and four national crit championships, all as an amateur.
So on paper it’s easy to say that Phinney’s career handily eclipses Holloway’s.
But in reality the comparison has a lot more substance than it does in the statistics. First of all, Phinney rode as the star for two teams that comprised the greatest assemblage of bike talent in U.S. history. Team 7-11 boasted riders like Andy Hampsten, Alexi Grewal, Tom Schuler, Ron Kiefel, Doug Shapiro, Alex Stieda, and Jeff Pierce. In every single domestic race Phinney could count on two things: The other teams would have to chase the entire race, and if the race came back together at the end, Phinney would have the best and most experienced riders in the peloton working for him.
Contrast that with Holloway, who has scored every single victory either riding solo at the end or having the limited help of only one or two teammates. Moreover, those teammates have changed virtually every season. Whereas Phinney could count on loyal lieutenants with whom he had hundreds of races to learn their every idiosyncrasy and to perfect his team tactics, Holloway has had to retrain and learn to work with new teammates virtually every year.
Moreover, the tactic of “riding against Davis” never worked. If you targeted Phinney, then Kiefel, Hampsten, Grewal, or Pierce would ride up the road. Riding against Holloway is pretty much all that many US pro/am riders do nowadays, and despite that he still beats them. In addition to having to make his own luck, Holloway can never count on two or three teammates who will go up the road and pose a credible threat every single race, let alone a finishing leadout train. That Holloway has been able to beat so many riders in so many races with such incredible consistency over a period of years when everyone knows how he races and what to expect is as remarkable a feat as I’ve seen in U.S. racing.
The only rider with that level of individual skill, the ability to beat an entire field again and again while basically freestyling, is Australian Robbie McEwen. Holloway’s back-to-back national crit and road championships were jaw-dropping; his second road victory this year proves that the guy who is “just a sprinter” is anything but.
Another factor that adds to the impressiveness of Holloway’s accomplishments is that he’s not really a sprinter, at least not in the sense that Phinney was. Phinney was simply faster than anyone else in the last 200 meters. He had a finishing sprint that proved itself to be world class time after time on a global stage against the fastest sprinters in the world.
Holloway’s sprint is something that he has had to groom. In any given race there are at least a couple of riders who are as fast, and one or two who may even be faster. But Holloway’s racing intellect is so superior to his competition that what he lacks in kick — and his kick is vicious — he makes up for with smarts. You may be able to outsprint him, but you will never be able to outsmart him, and the victory never goes to the strongest rider, it goes to the strongest smart rider.
Like Phinney, Holloway has proven himself versatile as a road racer and a crit racer. Like Phinney, he has nerves of steel. And like Phinney, he is a closer. Is Phinney still the greatest?
But Holloway’s Me-Against-The-World style of racing is way more fun to watch, and his wins, without exception, are torn from the jaws of the beast every single time.
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December 27, 2014 § 36 Comments
Coryn Rivera is America’s cycling star. Barely 22 years old, she is the reigning elite women’s crit champion. She holds sixty-eight national titles on the road, track, and in ‘cross. In 2014 she won virtually every major race she entered. Next year she has her sights set on pro success as a road racer to match her reputation as the country’s undisputed dominatrix of pro sprint finishes.
What’s more, there’s little reason to doubt that she will achieve it. In addition to a national road title as a junior, she also took a bronze medal in the road race at junior world’s. She scored sixth this year on the Champs-Elysees at La Course by Le Tour de France and won the young rider’s category. The only women to finish ahead of her were the best veteran pro roadies on the planet.
If Coryn were a man, she would be splashed all over VeloNews. Her every move would be religiously recorded on the Internet, and we’d be reading full-length feature interviews about every aspect of her life. In short, she would be like Taylor Phinney, with this difference: Phinney has nowhere near her talent.
Two years older than Rivera, Phinney may well one day win a world time trial medal. If the stars align, if he regains his health, and if he has a world-class team dedicated to delivering him and him alone to the line, he could even bring home a monument on the order of Roubaix, much less likely a win at Flanders. Otherwise, Phinney is a tremendous time trialist who’s simply too big physically to be a superstar in the hillier classics or the big tours. The days when a giant like George Hincapie could win a mountain stage of the Tour ended with his pathetic doping confession and the collapse of the Drugstrong Era.
What Phinney has, of course, is a pedigree, and it’s a pedigree that has provided him with the best connections imaginable in the world of cycling. His mother, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, is one of the best American woman road racers of all time. Her resume boasts Olympic gold in ’84, with silver and bronze medals at the world road championships in ’77 and ’81, along with twelve national cycling titles, countless wins in US road races, a successful career as a speed skater, and the distinction of being the youngest woman ever to compete in the Winter Olympics. Taylor’s father, Davis Phinney, is the winningest American bike racer of all time, with 328 wins, including two stages in the Tour and the overall at America’s premier stage race, the Coors Classic. Davis achieved all this when American cycling had no program to bring US amateurs into Europe; had he raced in his prime among the European peloton he would have been the dominant sprinter of his era.
It’s this pedigree and carefully nurtured career, along with his world class speed against the clock, that has guided Taylor along as the Chosen One among America’s professional cyclists, including a stint under the watchful eye of Lance Armstrong. Rivera, on the other hand, has had none of that. She grew up in extremely modest circumstances in urban LA, supported by her Filipino-American family where every race entry fee, every piece of equipment she had to buy, and every long distance trip was a sacrifice. She is truly a self-made woman.
From her days at the Carson velodrome training under Tim Roach, I watched her blitz any and all all comers, male and female alike. But no matter how many titles she won and no matter how brilliant her racing, she has always had to fight and scrap. When she burst onto the US pro women’s scene, collecting scalps with ease from older, “better,” and vastly more experienced racers, she received a modicum of press and nothing more.
This reflects the old boy network of cycling, where testicles matter more than results, and where the stellar athletic achievements of women are footnotes to the off-season training camp antics of men. If we want cycling to grow in recognition, we need to start recognizing the very best.
And that means starting with Coryn.
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May 6, 2012 § 10 Comments
In the first stage of the 2012 Giro d’Italia,
Davis Phinney became the first American to win a stage in the Tour de France Taylor Phinney became the first American to win an ITT in this prestigious, 3-week event in which the world’s best doped athletes ride amongst some of the world’s lewdest, craziest, and most drunken sports fans.
Although the time trial is commonly regarded as the “race of truth” due to the test of each racer’s strength and skill against the inflexible constraints of the clock, experts agree that the rest of the Giro consists of a “race of lies.” Wankmeister lists the most notably mendacious events below.
Team Car Hang and Draft: Rider gets dropped, crashes, breaks his bike, has a bowel movement, and finds himself wayyyyy behind everyone else. Rider then grabs onto car, or gets motor-paced by team vehicle back to the group. In marathoning, this would be like having the leaders pull away from you, then having your supporters plop you on a moped and drive you back up to the front.
Beat the Cut Grupetto Scam: Big tours set time limits so that the podium girls can blow the commissaires before they have dinner with their wives. Riders who have no hope of finishing the 200-mile stage with 15,000 feet of climbing on the same day team up so that enough of them are together to prevent the majority of the field being kicked out of the race. In golf this this would be like having 95% of the players at the US Open spend 15 hours dawdling per round so that if the rules were enforced and the players DQ’d, the event would be cancelled.
Handshake Deal Sprint Rigging: Riders are in breakaway. Spindly no-hope wanker dude wants to win. Powerful, badass sprinter dude wants money. Done…the essence of sportsmanship, where a bold and crass financial transaction is packaged in adjectives like “courageous,” “canny,” “tactical,” and “surprise outcome.” In baseball they actually do this. It’s called “the Chicago Black Sox from the 1919 World Series.” And in cycling, it happens all the time.
Sprint Train Lameness: Alleged fast man with cool nickname like “Lion King,” “Manx Missile,” etc., is the fastest human being ever to ride a bike. So fast, in fact, that the only way he can beat solo sprinter dudes like Robbie McEwen who have to win on brains, balls, and brawn is by hiring the other ten fastest riders in the pro peloton and paying them to do nothing but drive him to the line. In college sports there’s an analogue. It’s called “Bear Bryant and the Alabama football program.”
Perfectly Timed Breakaway Catch: Riders are brainless doofuses who have no idea how to reel in a breakaway. So they hook their tiny brains up their race directors via radio to perfectly time the breakaway “catch” with 1k to go. The valiant escapees don’t get the chance to do the Handshake Deal Sprint Rig, and the Manx Misericordia gets to win the 15th Tour stage with his sprint train. In pro football it’s called “$50 million Quarterbacks Too Stupid To Call Their Own Plays.”
Domestique Donkey Food and Water Hustle: The word “domestique” in French means “put on your bitch suit you stupid skinny prick because I’m going to drive your sorry ass back and forth a hundred times to the team car per race to fetch water, food, and drugs so that I don’t have to work and can place in the race even though you’re just as good, probably better than me, but I’m more famous.” In football they are called “fullbacks,” “the practice team,” and “Tim Tebow.” I mean, why pay Cunego all that money just to find out he’s too weak to do the race on his own, when you can pay his bitch $12 to finish the race for him?
Domestique Donkey Wind Pull, Climb Pull, and Tempo Pull: Donkeys in bitch suits go the front and break the wind (saving protected douchebaguette 30% or more energy) while prima donna Brad Pride or Abandy Schleck get a peddie. Boys in bitch suits blow up, fall off the back, and barely make the time cut, then fail to get a team the following year because they have no UCI points. In soccer this would be like having the entire team get the ball in scoring position, then stop the game, and bring in Lionel Messi while the goalie stands off to the side and everyone else on the field just watches.
Multi-team Conspiracy: When a leader sucks and his whole team sucks, he will conspire with several other sucky teams to work against potential threats, breakaways, strong riders who race aggressively with panache, etc. This assures that the better funded, “cooler” team takes the win over that ugly dude from GS-Colnago-Pimplimiento-Ladies-Products-Cologne wearing the orange and pink and red and blue and green-striped kit. In basketball, this would be like two weak playoff teams agreeing to waylay Kobe on his way home from Whole Foods and break both his legs.
Sticky Bottle Scam: When a rider has been dropped (again) or has a blister on his pee-pee, the team car hands him a bottle and drags him several hundred yards closer to the pack. In swimming this would be like letting a dude jump into the water before everyone else.
Derailleur Adjustment Cheat: When a rider’s drugs aren’t working right and he needs to drop back to the team car to have the soigner ram the suppositories further up his ass with a fist, the team mechanic pretends to adjust the derailleur while pushing Dopey along for kilometers at a time. In auto racing this is called “The Pit,” and it’s the reason no one takes seriously a sport where you get to whip in and fill up with gas, change tires, have a smoke, and do quick photo sessions of Danica’s long, flowing pubic locks.
UCI Bio Passport Permanent Doping Visa: When a rider’s blood values have become so ridiculous that even a UCI drug tester can’t look at them without giggling, the entire governing body throws the program in the trash and issues every rider a doping visa, valid for entry into every race, and in every country (except Iran and North Korea). In football it’s called “Weight Training.” And it starts in junior high.