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If you’re like me, you’re feeling pretty claustrophobic right about now.

It’s butt-cold across most of the US, and it’s dark — we’ve almost reached the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere.  The holiday season is in full swing.  Everyone wants to know what your plans are for whatever winter holiday you celebrate.  Bah on all that.

Cyclocross nationals this weekend.

Cyclocross nationals this weekend.

It’s a good time to think about cycling.

This weekend, the US Cyclocross Nationals will be held in Bend, Oregon (one of my favorite cities).  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the sport, cyclocross proves again that badasses race bicycles.  Riding bikes that closely resemble road bikes, they get to slip and slide their way around off-road courses often covered with snow or mud.

Some say it makes the post-race beer taste better.

(UPDATE: Here are lots of pictures of the riders, which drew a crowd estimated to be the largest ever for the event.)

While we’re in the cycling frame of mind, it never hurts to think about next July — sun, heat, and the Tour de France.  Armstrong v. Contador, part 2.  One of the best things about Armstrong’s decision to return to cycling after his brief retirement is that now, he faces competitors that have proven they can beat him.  Contador of course, but also Andy Schleck.  Not usually one to artificially puff up his competition, Armstrong says of Contador:

Armstrong and Contador

Armstrong and Contador

I come from the perspective from being on the team with him, I saw physically how good he was in the race, I also saw mentally and emotionally how strong he is off the bike,” he added. “I’m not a fool, I’ve sized up plenty of competition in my day, and he’s going to be very difficult to beat – some would say impossible. He’s a complete rider, it’s tough to beat someone who can climb and time trial that well.

Armstrong will be 39 when he races next July, an age when most people I know have resigned themselves to growing their potbellies and wondering what a colonoscopy feels like.  Thinking about his battles with Schleck and Contador in the mountains, I can almost feel the sunshine.

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