It’s an age-old argument. It’s been done in every sport. Would Babe Ruth have been as good today against modern pitchers with all of their fancy pitching coaches, steroids and gadgetry? Would Mike Tyson be able to beat Muhammad Ali in his prime? Who would win a competition between Lance Armstrong and Eddie Merck? Or for that matter, what about Merckx versus Fausto Coppi? Put them all in the same competition. Who wins? Clearly Lance has the better equipment. It weighs on average 5-7 or even 10 pounds lighter than what Merckx and Coppi rode. Not to mention slopping top tubes, computer-generated carbon fiber frames and metal taken straight from the space shuttle. How do we measure all of these great champions? Is one better than the other? Does modern technique, training and nutrition have any bearing on this? I told you that to tell you this. Last weekend something small and largely insignificant happened that may shed some light on this subject. It passed by so quickly that no one took notice. No one except me. Oh, some people made reference to it in the small ultracycling world. But I’m not sure they were thinking of the bigger picture. Let me explain. The Furnace Creek 508 ultracycling race, also dubbed as the “toughest 48 hours in sports,” took place once again in Death Valley. It was won by 52-year-old Terry Lentz. Although his age may seem significant in this story, it’s not really. I’ve done pieces on my good friend David Holt, who’s 59, and also finished in the top 10. He won an ultracycling race last month, and it’s hard to pull it together just a month later. But I digress. Terry’s story is a little different. I don’t know Terry Lentz personally. What I do know is limited. But here goes. Terry Lentz came in third overall back in 2008 in the same race. What makes it significant is that Terry did it on a single-speed fixed-gear bike. If Terry is so good, why wouldn’t he ride a regular geared bike and win it all, some said. Others mentioned that he picked the specific gear. I had a different view. I thought he was a fucking stud. Why? I ride a fixed-gear bike sometimes. I’ll go over 100 miles and do 8-10,000 feet. I’m here to tell you folks, it hurts. You only have one gear and you can’t coast. Terry came back this year. Once again, in true Lentz form, he picked a wacky category to be in, called Classic Bike. In this particular division, you’re only allowed to use equipment from up until 1980. This simply means that you have shifters on the down tube, not integrated into your brake system. You have steel-frame bikes, which are much heavier than the carbon fiber bikes of today. You have to have a certain number of spokes, so $3,000 Zipp wheels are not allowed. You’re only allowed six gears on the back. Basically, you’re working with antiquated equipment. It’s heavy and it doesn’t give you the advantages that the companies today tell you that you get from high-end gear. How did Mr. Lentz fare using this type of equipment? Not only did he win the race out-right, but he beat a formidable competitor, Chris Ragsdale. Not only was Chris using the best, most recent gear available, he also set a new world record this year in ultracycling. He broke the 1,000-kilometer record. Does this mean that Michael Phelps would beat Mark Spitz? Does it mean Mary Lou Retton would beat Nadia Comaneci? I don’t know. But it does give us some insight that in any competitive event, it’s won by people, not equipment.
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