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Skiing and Snowboarding : Athletes

This Camera Will Make Cycling Cool Again

Television footage of this year’s Tour de France was a reminder of just how poor a spectator sport cycling can be.

Sure, the race lacked drama because two major protagonists, Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, crashed out early. But even on a good year, I bet most viewers cue up the DVR and skip ahead to the last 10 or 15 minutes—or, best-case scenario, the final climb.

This year, however, saw a development that could finally add some intrigue: on-bike cameras. For the first time in history, Tour de France organizer ASO permitted video cameras to be mounted onto riders’ bicycles. 

The move followed the very first use of video cameras in the pro peloton earlier this spring. Footage from the Tour de Suisse in June, especially a video of the sprint finish on Stage 5, captured the hectic nature of the final few kilometers of a professional race. Likewise, a video shot by Giant-Shimano sprinter John Degenkolb on the first stage of the Tour of California gave a sense of what it takes to win at this level—well, almost win as Degenkolb took a razor thin second place on the stage to sprinter Mark Cavendish.

At the Tour, Shimano outfitted eight of its sponsored teams, including BMC, Giant-Shimano, Orica-GreenEdge, and Sky, with the company’s new Shimano CM-1000 camera. The resulting footage appeared on both the team’s pages as well as on the official Tour de France website.

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Several Garmin-Sharp riders were also equipped with its sponsor’s new VIRB Action Camera, which resulted in a series of first-person videos on the team website. The capture from Stage 7 is especially interesting as it overlays rider metrics like speed, heart rate, distance, and power collected by the VIRB via ANT+.

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The most unconventional first-person footage came from Europecar’s Kevin Reza. After a Lotto-Bellisol racer collided with a fan on the side of the road, Reza scooped up the spectator’s helmet cam, which had tumbled into the road, and filmed several minutes of the race before passing it to his team car.

The use of cameras in the peloton is partly a reflection of just how advanced the technology has become. At 180g, the Garmin VIRB isn’t smallest camera out there, but it captures 1080p HD video as well as GPS data and cycle-specific data such as heart rate and power. The Shimano CM-1000 captures similar high-quality footage and data and weighs just 86 grams. Given these units’ diminutive size, they can be mounted on the bars or below the saddle without much effect or impediment to a racer.

However the video these cameras capture provides arguably the most interesting way to watch pro cycling. They convey the fury and treacherousness of bike racing in a way that traditional footage shot from a motorcycle or helicopter cannot.

You see riders touching and bumping one another, get a feeling for just how tight and fast they are racing, and, thanks to the sound of yelling, heaving breathing, and camera shake while sprinting, register how difficult it must be. The recap from Stage 1 of the Tour conveys just how tough it was to stay upright in the final few kilometers of the race.

As good as the footage is, however, what’s now missing is the ability to stream live during a race. Watching firsthand footage after the fact is great, but it would be even better if television could cut back and forth between top view from a helicopter, front view from a motorcycle, and footage captured within the peloton while it happens.

“There are challenges, circling primarily around weight and battery life, that have to be resolved,” before live streaming is a reality, says Dustin Brady, marketing manager at Shimano America.

He explains that while the cameras are tiny now, it will take some time before batteries will be both small enough and have a long enough life to last the duration of an entire stage. The addition of a radio transmitter will also add weight and bulk. “We are talking about professional cyclist needing to climb the Col du Galibier or Col du Tourmalet or ride for five hours in pouring rain. Additional weight matters.”

That might sound discouraging, but the fact is the technology is only in its infancy: Both the VIRB and the CM-1000 were launched this year. Meanwhile, the decision to allow on-bike video at the Tour was even more recent. “We only found out after the Tour had started that the team could use action cameras,” says Amy Johnson, the media relations associate at Garmin, “So I think it was fairly sporadic this year.”

In a sport that tends to be resistant to change, the fact that these cameras have been adopted as quickly as they have is heartening. Hopefully governing bodies will move forward with similar programs, and manufacturers will fast track development. If not, television coverage of pro cycling may live—and perhaps die—by the DVR.

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At the World’s Toughest Race Does It Pay To Be Young or Experienced?

The story at this year’s 32-mile Molokai2Oahu Paddleboard World Championships won't be the sharks, massive ocean swells, or roaring winds. It’s all about two of the race favorites, Dave Kalama and Kai Lenny.

Ironically, Kalama, who has crossed the Kaiwi Channel more than 30 times and is 28-years older than Lenny, has taught his younger competitor almost everything he knows about the sport.

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Will it take 49-year-old Kalama’s strength, wisdom, and mental toughness or 21-year-old Lenny’s youth, agility, and endurance? Or will two-time champ Connor Baxter or Aussie Travis Grant blow them both out of the water? Stephanie Pearson checks in with the legendary waterman and the rising star before they take the battle to the waves on July 27.

OUTSIDE: What makes this race so much more difficult than every other standup paddling race? 
KALAMA: It’s a 32-mile race, but because of the current it paddles at more like a 45-mile race. The closer to Oahu you get the stronger the current gets and the last mile and half is directly into the wind, which averages 15 to 25 knots. As for the sharks, well, yeah they are out there and I have seen one or two, but you’re so tired and fatigued and trying to focus on what you’re doing that you don’t have time to think about them. The mental battle is what matters. It is a constant battle to not give up.

LENNY: Yeah, I mean it’s absolutely insane. The race is more than just paddling a normal course. It’s so mentally challenging you tend to have to lay down the line and push yourself. By being the best you can be is how you win. It’s not so much that you beat the other guy. I always joke that it’s the first 30 miles that are easy and the last two that will kill you. At 30 miles I feel fine, but the last two I really have to put everything into it because my mind is telling me to stop and when it turns straight upwind I have to dig into my soul.

Standup paddling is unique in that a 49-year-old and a 21-year-old can have an equal chance of winning the World Championship. Why is that?
KALAMA: In almost every other sport you would be laughed at if you thought you could be competitive at 49. But standup paddling is not just purely about physical fitness and is a relatively low impact sport where agility isn’t as critical. It’s more about endurance and emotion—the psychological side of it. There’s so much to it, being able to read the ocean, maximize every glide, make educated guesses on what’s going to happen. If you took marathon running and chess and threw it together, that’s a little bit what it’s like. You have to have the endurance to even get in the game, then it’s a giant chess match the whole way across, based on moves you think your competitor is going to do, and you have to outguess and outwork your competitor.

LENNY: Dave has all this ocean knowledge that allows him to work less, but paddle smarter, and that’s what makes him really fast. He’s been reading the water close to 50 years and I haven’t been around that long. I have the endurance and the speed, but I lack a lot more in ocean knowledge. I also have long arms and can keep a little bigger stroke, which can add up to a mile.

So how do you train for this keeping in mind your respective ages, strengths, and weaknesses?
KALAMA: I really like to do long paddles in my training because, for me, so much of it is the mental aspect. It’s a constant mental battle with yourself to just keep going. Then it’s pushing and maximizing every glide and paying attention to what your competitors are doing without getting too focused on them because you gotta stay focused on yourself. A lot of times I can catch those really big bumps that if those guys did catch it may overtax them. I’m trying to catch bumps anywhere from six inches to eight feet. I have a saying: “The little ones pay the bills, the big for the thrills.” The little ones keep you moving and the big ones are a lot of fun, but they take a lot of energy and are hard to catch, so you can’t count on them. A lot of people think “Ah, Dave you can do it man, you’re so solid you can put so many miles in.” The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t get easier, I’m just used to not quitting.

LENNY: I’ve been traveling so much and doing so many other races that I haven’t been able to train quite as much specifically for this one. At a minimum you want to do two months of training. There’s no other race like it. It’s the hardest race I do all year. It may not be the longest, but it’s definitely the gnarliest. It’s all included: the channels, chop , churn, swells constantly changing, going upwind at times, not only that, but you’re racing, going against guys that want to win as badly as you so that pushes you to go 100 percent for 4.5 hours.

How will you stay mentally focused at mile 27?
KALAMA: I have to listen to music. The theme to Rocky always gets me pumped up.

LENNY: All I can think about is focusing on each stroke, each swell, and focusing on not letting my mind wander. I don’t listen to music, but I have a song playing in my head. There’s this song called “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Lorde. That song is cool, it gets you pumped. I love rap but over 4.5 hours it gets too much.

What’s your secret to beating each other?
KALAMA: There’s no real secret to beating Kai or Connor Baxter. You just have to be fast. You have to manage your fluids, your calories, your energy output, and you gotta glide fast. If you do all those things really well you give you yourself a chance. I hope Kai and Connor race each other and I can do my own thing and see if that plays out because I’m not sure if I can go head to head with them.

LENNY: I would rather put all my energy on myself to do well. Kelly Slater can look at someone and they break. It’s super gnarly. That works for other people, but I would rather do my own thing, and put all my energy into what I need to do. On the beach we’re really good friends, but once we get on the water, it’s not vicious, but it’s intense. Everyone’s going to do everything in his power to beat the other guy. Then when we get back on the beach we’re all friends again. If you get smoked, you laugh it off. That’s why standup is the best sport—there aren’t as many egos in it yet. I hope it doesn’t ever get to the point where people become more selfish.

What have you taught each other about stand up paddling?
KALAMA: When Kai started to get really good at wave riding it definitely inspired and motivated me to push myself to get better at wave riding, for sure.

LENNY: I remember Dave always told me, ‘Kai, you want to work as little as possible and paddle as smart as you can.’ That’s something I’m going to take to heart. When the going gets tough you tend to want to do 100 percent. Also huge is taking the right line and having patience. If I end up being able to beat Dave, he’s going to know it was all him giving me the tips to do it. I’m surprised he ever wanted to be my mentor or train me, because he basically has been helping me get better and pushed myself to be able to beat him. But he tells me that he hasn’t given me all his secrets and I believe him.

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Smaller Runners Have the Advantage at Badwater

Until December 2013, California’s 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon, which started in Death Valley and ended at the Mount Whitney Portal, was considered the ultimate endurance test in an extreme heat environment.

That’s when a temporary moratorium was placed on all sporting events in Death Valley. Obviously, the announcement threw a wrench in this summer’s 37th edition of Badwater, scheduled to take place July 21 through 23. But you can’t just axe the world’s toughest footrace, so race organizers revised the route, which now incorporates more than 17,000 feet of elevation gain between Lone Pine and Whitney Portal. Although temperatures might not reach 125 degrees, the 97 brave souls who toe the line will likely still be treated to triple-digit temps.

And although some runners will incorporate special clothing and aid-station ice baths into ther races, other runners will have a more natural advantage: their body size.

While running in hot weather, an athlete’s primary goal—besides winning—should be to maintain a constant core temperature by balancing heat production and heat loss. Exercise itself creates internal heat. In fact, 80 percent of energy produced by exercising skeletal muscle becomes heat (the other 20 percent generates adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to power the muscle. Extremely hot environments can also cause athletes to take in heat, just as cold environments cause us to lose heat.  

Runners also battle heat externally via hot weather and humidity, both of which make running more difficult. Hot temperatures cause heat to transfer from the environment to the body, while humidity makes evaporative heat loss more difficult. In comfortable environments, to get rid of excess heat, blood is shunted to the skin, where warmed blood can lose heat through evaporation (sweating) or convection (if skin temperature is greater than the environmental temperature). Both evaporation and convection depend on the skin's surface area—the larger surface area, the better the heat loss.  

So, bigger runners should be better at cooling off, right?

Wrong.

Surface area and body mass (that is, muscle mass) are not at a one-to-one relationship—for every unit of body mass you increase, you don't get an equivalent relative increase in surface area. Smaller runners actually have more surface area relative to body mass, which gives them greater heat-loss ability for their relative mass.

According to a study in the European Journal of Physiology, this “distinct thermal advantage” corresponds with speed. Because lighter runners produce and store less heat than heavier runners at the same pace, they can run faster or farther. This difference was most striking in hot, humid conditions (95 degrees, greater than 60 percent humidity) and essentially absent in cool conditions (59 degrees).

Indeed, in 2004, exercise physiologist Tim Noakes published a related study in the Journal of Applied Physiology finding that African runners ran faster in the heat than their Caucasian peers. “Larger Caucasians reduce their running speed to ensure an optimal rate of heat storage without developing dangerous hyperthermia [heatstroke],” the study reports. “According to this model, the superior running performance in the heat of these African runners can be partly attributed to their smaller size and hence their capacity to run faster in the heat while storing heat at the same rate as heavier Caucasian runners.” 

In this study, the heavier Caucasian runners (169 pounds) ran approximately 10 percent slower during 30 minutes of exercise in hot conditions (95 degrees, 60 percent humidity) compared to the lighter Africans (131 pounds). The difference is dramatic when considering both groups ran the same time in the exercise test conducted in cool conditions (59 degrees).  

In other words, a slower but smaller runner has a substantially better shot at beating a faster but larger runner if the temperature is high enough.

Although many other factors can help regulate core temperature (clothing, heat adaptation, genetics, age, etc.), the bottom line is that the smaller you are, the better you should be able to handle the heat. So although the Badwater 135 might not reach 130 degrees this year, the soaring temps should be sufficient to give an advantage to the slight of frame.

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