Saturday, June 30, 2012

Tour de France: sprinters

The obvious candidates from the sprinters this year are Cavendish, Sagan, and Greipel. Cav is the lock for the green jersey. Lean, mean, and focused, he's frustrated from falling one point short in the Giro, and is coming into the Tour looking for intermediate sprint points. The green is about consistency in the sprint finishes and reaching intermediate sprints over initial climbs that the gorilla sprinters can't. Cav lost 4 kg before the Tour for this purpose. For raw sprint wins, Cav's at a disadvantage this year. Sky's focused on the yellow, and with Cav's focus on staying light, he's not going to have the brute power a monster like Greipel has, or be conserving strength for the final like Sagan. So I don't expect the usual Cavendish domination this time. Greipel has been a true monster in sprints this year, and I think he's the guy for the big sprints. Sagan was unbeatable in the Tour of California and races following, but he hasn't gone against Andre Greipel. So I expect Sagan will get a win or two, but Greipel more like three. Cavendish will win as well, but Greipel is the man for the raw sprint stages this year.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Tour de France: final (extended) picks

A few weeks ago I posted Tour de France picks. This is my last chance to update them before the big show rolls in Liege. Here's a good start list if you need to know who the contenders are.

First and second I see no reason to change: Wiggins and Evans are the class of the crowd. Last year, Evans was at 34 one of the oldest winners in history. If he were to win this year, he'd be exceeded only by irmin Lambot, who won when he was 36 in 1922 (Wikipedia). I think Evans loses a bit this year, while Wiggins finally figured out his preparation, spending solid blocks on Tenerif with focused climbing and time trial work. Wiggins also has superb teammates backing his up in Froome and Rodgers.

I had De Gendt third but he's not racing, so Hesjedal gets the promotion. He's not raced since winning the Giro, so he has a good chance of having sufficiently recovered to put in a good effort in France.

I had Andy Schleck next, but of course Andy won't be there, so he's out. And Frank showed strength in Switzerland, but his relationship with Team Radioshack is terrible right now. Radioshack is not in a good place; Frank will not rank this high.

Instead: Robert Gesink. Gesink was all-around impressive at the Tour of California, and he's young enough to be on an upward slope. He can climb and time trial, and time trailing is key this year.

I'll slot Wiggins' teammate Froome next. He was second at the Vuelta last year behind that enigma, Juan José Cobo. He'll be supporting Wiggins here but still history has shown support guys can still rank highly, especially with so much emphasis on time trials where it's each rider for himself.

Then I'll go with a guy who's probably a dark horse to most English-speaking fans: Jurgen Van den Broeck. He's another rider on the way up and it's a mistake to pick only grizzled veterans.

Here's where it gets really crowded, where there's more than ten guys who I want to pick for the top 10. But I'll start with Vincenzo Nibali, of Liquigas. He won the Vuelta two years ago so he should be ready to step up to the big stage. But I've got this thing about Italians: they never seem to be able to win in France.

Next up: Pierre Rolland of Europcar. He rode so strongly last year behind team leader Voeckler. Last year Voeckler was super-strong all year before the Tour, while this year he's been battling knee problems. The slower start may mean Voeckler is fresher, but I'm going to stick with his younger teammate.

There has to be a spot here for Frank Schleck, if he manages to finish the race. I can't ignore how well he rode in Switzerland. The time trials don't work to his favor, but he was climbing well, and has always done fairly well in France. I really doubt the unity of his team, however.

Then I'll go with another Sky rider: Rodgers. He was 2nd at Dauphine behind his team leader Wiggins and with his experience he's going to work he can't be too far down in France.

I've been focusing a lot on Sky, but Garmin's also a strong team, and Daniel Martin has been showing a lot of potential for several years now. I'll put him next.

I'll toss in Chris Horner and Tom Danielson next, just because I think they'll be in there somewhere.

I said Thomas Voeckler was a bit off this year, but I don't want to completely ignore him, so he goes next.

Levi's past his prime, but he showed some impressive form at Tour of California considering he'd broken his leg, then came back to ride well at Switzerland. I'll put him next.

Then I'll add Denis Menchov, just because he always seems to hang in there somewhere. Then Samuel Sanchez, who showed signs of strength in Italy, even if he's also getting close to the end of his career.

Tejay Van Garderen will behelping Cadel Evans. I'll put him next.

Late addition: I realize I have to mention Nicolas Roche in here somewhere. So I'll stick him next, after Tejay. And to make it an even 20, Andreas Klöden.

So what I have. You may chuckle, but when the GC comes out exactly as I'm writing it here, I'll get the last laugh:

  1. Bradley "Sideburns" Wiggins
  2. Cadel Evans
  3. Ryder Hesjedal
  4. Robert Gesink
  5. Chris Froome
  6. Jurgen Van den Broeck
  7. Vincenzo Nibali
  8. Pierre Roland
  9. Frank Schleck
  10. Michael Rodgers
  11. Daniel Martin
  12. Chris Horner
  13. Tom Danielson
  14. Thomas Voeckler
  15. Levi Leipheimer
  16. Denis Menchov
  17. Samuel Sánchez
  18. Tejay Van Garderen
  19. Nicolas Roche
  20. Andreas Klöden

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Chris Bucchere manslaughter charges

As virtually everyone knows, in March Chris Bucchere, riding a bike over a Strava segment on which it has been reported he was trying to KOM, rode his bike through an intersection in the Castro district, hitting 71-year-old Sacha Hui. Sacha's head hit the pavement, causing an apparently fatal injury (I'm assuming he didn't happen to die of natural causes on the spot).

The reaction has been almost of lynch mob proportions. The local news web sites are full of comments raging against cyclist irresponsibility in general, and specifically for Chris to be held to the highest standard of accountability. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, when asked about the case, has emphasized that "pedestrians always have the right of way" (which is flatly incorrect), and stresses the importance of riding safely and responsibly.

Indeed, recently Chris was charged with felony manslaughter over the incident. Claimed reasons were reports he had run red lights in intersections prior to the collision, that the video had shown him in an aerodynamic position riding into the intersection, and that he'd later posted to the Mission Cycling email group that he had been going too fast to stop. He even posted Strava data showing a reported speed of 35 mph near the intersection. Those data were subsequently removed from Strava (unfortunately I didn't pull them down when they were available).

Then recently, a blog was posted to Bicycling Magazine, Getting the Story Straight. I posted a semi-rambling comment, which I'll reproduce (with fewer typos) here.

As was reported by the SF Chronicle, the video showed the pedestrians and cyclist entered the intersection at the same time. The cyclist entered on yellow. There’s a two-second all-red phase before the pedestrian light turns white. That means the pedestrians entered the intersection at least two seconds early. This is common practice, as videos on this blog post show. Indeed Google maps satellite shots show it’s around 35 meters across that intersection. If the cyclist was going 35 mph, it would take only 2.2 seconds for him to cross. With a 2-second all-red phase, even if the cyclist hit the intersection with only 1 millisecond left on yellow, the pedestrians entering after the programmed 2-second delay would need to instantly teleport to fill the whole cross-walk, since Chris reported there were no gaps available.

And even it this is wrong, even if he was going half the speed and it took him four seconds instead of two, and even if you don't believe the video evidence that the pedestrians entered at the same time Chris did, even ignoring all of these things pedestrians are still required to wait for vehicles which entered the intersection legally to clear the intersection before they enter, whether the pedestrian light is white or not. So I think it's more than safe to say the pedestrians illegally jumped the light.

The video could be used to assess his speed. But the only data I’ve seen reported is from the Strava data uploaded from his iPhone. iPhones are notorious for the poor quality of their GPS data. And if you are trying to determine speed, you need two, not just one, precise GPS point. He was clearly going fast, no doubt, as his riding position shows, and I don’t defend going fast in that intersection. But the issue here is the prevailing standard of manslaughter, not my or your opinion of proper behavior.

I very much doubt if you took a radar gun to cars driving there you’d wait long before finding one matching Chris’s speed, whatever it actually was. Indeed the district attorney was recently quoted by Streetsblog : the reason so few drivers are charged in pedestrian injuries and fatalities is that “in the majority of those cases, unfortunately, the pedestrian has been the one deemed to be at fault.” He was speaking about car drivers, not cyclists. When it’s a cyclist, apparently, even when the pedestrian is proven at fault, as he is in this case, the cyclist gets the book thrown at him. If it had been a car entering the intersection at 30+ mph, and pedestrians jumped the light by over two seconds, the comment sections of the paper would be full of “crazy pedestrians!” comments, not calls for publicly hanging the driver. After all everyone nudges the speed limit when driving, right?

So if the cyclist was behaving like a typical car here, why don't cars pick off pedestrians on a daily basis at that intersection? The reason is, as this blog post noted, pedestrians are programmed to look and listen for cars, while less trained to look for cyclists. That doesn't change the legal obligation to do so, however.

I understand the desire to promote safe and courteous riding. I recognize cyclists, like drivers, like pedestrians, like virtually any pupulation sample, are often guilty of rude and risky behavior. But when discussing “facts”, it’s important to get them straight. In this case, there’s fault to go around. And if we’re going to hold road users to an elevated standard, which I support, it’s important to start with motor vehicles.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Strava: the Flint lawsuit

Recently, for Strava, the inevitable happened. It was announced they are being sued.

In this case Kim Flint, who was 41, rode his bike down treacherous South Park Road in the Berkeley Hills. That segment was later marked as "dangerous" by a user, but he still has the record descending nearby Centennial Drive. Kim obviously liked to put it on the edge downhill. There's risks with that, and in his case, he lost the bet.

The key issue here is what responsibility Strava has for Kim's risk-taking? If I promote a bike race on a course which is obviously dangerous, and people enter the race expecting some degree of safety, then if someone dies in the race I expect I'd be fairly exposed. But the historical standard for bike racing is at a relatively high level of risk. Anyone who's tried to stay with the lead group descending from Hamilton summit in the Mt Hamilton Road Race knows that.

But the question in this case is: is Strava acting as an event promoter in this case? Strava's position is likely that they are simply recording and quantifying data that is willingly provided, extracting times over user-defined segments. They use graphical medallions for riders who rank near the top for each segment, which suggests reward, but is it really a case of them encouraging riders to go fast? And if they are, is that a problem?

To answer this for myself (I'm not a lawyer so have to do the best I can) I refer to the California Vehicle Code. Strava has a multi-national customer base, but they're based in California, so this seems a reasonable choice.

Here's a link to section 23109 of that code. A key portion is as follows:

23109. (a) A person shall not engage in a motor vehicle speed contest on a highway. As used in this section, a motor vehicle speed contest includes a motor vehicle race against another vehicle, a clock, or other timing device. For purposes of this section, an event in which the time to cover a prescribed route of more than 20 miles is measured, but where the vehicle does not exceed the speed limits, is not a speed contest.

The key language here is "motor vehicle". When this term is used, it explicitly excludes human-powered transport. Bicycles are subject to "applicable" portions of the vehicle code (even though they're not defined as vehicles) but "motor vehicle" portions don't apply. Usually the code refers to "vehicles" without the motor part.

So what this says is under the law I can challenge my friends or whomever to an informal bike race whenever I want, as long as no other sections of the code are being violated. The code is full of provisions like "exercise due care" so reckless behavior is generally disallowed, but riding uphill is usually no problem, or on open flat roads.

So if I want to "challenge my friends" to a "contest of speed" on my bike, that's fine. It's not fine on motorcycles or cars. People have been comparing times on roads for the full history of the bicycle. People have been blasting down hills as long as I can recall. Strava hasn't changed the existence of informal competition; it's just facilitated it.

Strava does host competitions they initiate, however. These competitions are never for the fastest time descending dangerous roads. They're typically who can climb the most feet, or ride the most miles, or do a climb from a famous race the fastest. There was no such contest for South Park Drive, obviously. If Kim tried to go fast on South Park, it was by his own choice. The irony is if he were still alive I'm sure he'd be the first to deny Strava had any liability in his crash. The last thing he'd want is for the future of Strava, which he obviously loved, to be put into jeopardy by liability concerns. This is a nakedly cynical move by his family to exploit his tragic death, at the expense of an activity he obviously loved. People have been dying on bikes since 1842. They will continue to do so, whether or not they're subscribed to Strava. This is unfortunate, but it's a risk we willingly take every time we get on our bikes. On the other hand, Strava should think twice before opening a category for motorcycles... but they've known this all along.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tour de France picks

I'm committing early, for maximum credit when my predictions bear fruit.

  1. Wiggins
  2. Evans
  3. DeGendt
  4. Hesjedahl
  5. Andy Schleck

I'm not convinced Hesjedahl, while he was strong enough to barely win the Giro, is fast enough in time trials to win this Tour, and lacks the explosiveness or superior aerobic power on climbs to gain back the time there.

DeGendt was stronger at the end of the Giro, though, and he was faster in the time trial despite an epic effort the day before. That's a good sign for the Tour. He's also relatively young, so is still improving and discovering his abilities.

And forget about Frandy. Still, you can't ignore their prior success, so I don't see them dropping further than fifth.

Wiggins is possessed this year: a man on a mission. If he doesn't crash, I think he's the strong favorite. Evans looks good but is getting a bit old, and will have a hard time holding off a Wiggins who can avoid bad luck.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How I voted

The past month hasn't been very productive. After hurting my back in a silly accident, I couldn't ride or run without discomfort. Topping it off, I was either ill or suffering from allergies, because I was congested and tired. I was able to take the train to the day job and do that, but otherwise, I generally avoided "productive" pursuits. Coding projects were put on hold, my blog experienced further neglect. On the positive side, I started reading books again, something which I'd not had much time to do for awhile.

Today marked my return to normal activity as I completed my first SF2G in over a month. This was a big relief. I've lost enormous fitness during this time, and summer goals are suspended. I just need to get back into regular riding and think about late summer. Long term is my first road marathon, CIM in December.

But today is about election day in California. I'm a registered Democrat, so I wasn't able to vote in the Presidential race. But this is just a small part of what voters must decide. I never understood why so many vote just for Presidential races, when our vote in the Presidential election is the most diluted of any we do.

For Senator and Representative, I voted for third-party candidates in both races (California has an open primary for the federal legislature). I realize our incumbents, Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi, are total locks. However, I am disgusted with the continued party politics at the federal level, and am convinced that as long as the dominance of two parties remains in place, no substantial change can occur. So I voted third party more to vote against the Republicans and Democrats than to vote for particular candidates.

For the state legislature, I voted Mark Leno and Tom Ammiano. Each of these candidates is strong and I generally support their positions.

The most interesting vote, though, was the propositions. There were two state propositions. Prop 28 was a revision of term limit rules. It wasn't obvious what benefit this would provide, so I voted no.

Prop 29 was a tax on cigarettes to fund cancer research. Now I'm a big fan of cigarette taxes, since they discourage smoking, which is a highly antisocial activity. I'm tempted to compare it to public farting or body odor, but these latter behaviors aren't documented to kill those in close proximity to the perpetrator. I would vote for this in an instant if the money went to the general fund. But I don't trust the government to wisely administer a fund for cancer research, nor am I convinced this should be a priority for the state. There was a successful state proposition for the funding of stem cell research during the Bush administration, a reaction to federal restrictions against funding such work due to quasi-religious zealotry. There at least there was a reasonable case to be made that the state had an opportunity. But with cancer research, not only is there a substantial private interest in cancer treatments, but there is additionally a huge charity base supporting research. Assessing the merits of grants for work is highly complex and requires a focus and direction that the state government is not going to be able to provide. So I voted no.

Next, San Francisco city & county propositions. Proposition A was to open the garbage collection to public bidding. While Recology, who currently provides the service, seems to do an excellent job, it is relatively standard practice to expose public contracts to a bidding process. Proponents, including Tony Kelly whom I admire, made a good case that bidding is important for keeping costs down, and for keeping the process honest. So I voted yes.

Proposition B was to allow more of the funds raised by Coit Tower to be used for the maintenance of the tower itself, rather than having those funds distributed across all San Francisco parks. Since the attention a park receives should not be proportional to the revenue it generates, most parks indeed generating no revenue, I voted no.

So that was it... fairly straightforward decisions this time. I'm sure November will be more challenging.