Thursday, July 31, 2008

Training - Summer Night Ride

My first year of training a lot has resulted in a rediscovery of such forgotten things as burn out, fatigue, and general malaise.

Part of this is due to the fact that I've been doing way fewer races in the last 5 or 10 years compared to the glory years of the 90s and 80s. Instead of 45-55+ races, I've been doing perhaps 10 or 12. The lack of racing is a direct result of two things: fewer available crits and a shorter acceptable drive time. I used to drive an hour for 10 minutes of racing, so an hour crit in Baltimore was worth 5+ hours each way, but now my ratio is more like an hour for half an hour of racing. As a Cat 3 that rarely does races over an hour, this limits my travel radius to about 2 hours.

And, yes, road races would extend my range, but since I'd race the first 5 or 10 miles and train the rest, it's sort of like paying to have marshals at the corners of a training ride. Not something I'm willing to do anymore.

Another "malaise" factor is the solo training. I rarely race, rarely sit on a wheel, and rarely get to actually talk to someone when I train. I've taken to talking to our cats at home in somewhat normal voices and I figured that is a bad sign.

I've managed to get out a couple times with a very local ride. Unbelievably it's the first group ride I've done while I've been up here (it took 10 months to do the first one and an additional month to do the second one) if I don't count the random riders I've met while out on a solo ride.

To fix the lack of racing as well as the lack of social interaction, I've taken to doing a weekday night crit series. That's worth a post in itself so I'll talk about that some other time.

Another fix for the social interaction thing is to do a local group ride. There happens to be one right up the road, low pressure (my 205 watt ftp is at home here), and reasonably long - I think we end up spending about 2 hours out there. Combined with the 30+ minutes for the round trip there (I ride there - no driving involved) it makes for a nice ride. My ambitious self has thought about doing an hour or two beforehand, a la pro, but the most I've done is about 30 minutes.

The final thing I've done to break up the training routine is to ride a little bit after the group ride, i.e. after the ride has ended. This has a number of effects on my riding.

First, it's getting dark so it introduces that whole "riding at night" thing. It's cooler (literally), cool (figuratively), and simply a lot of fun. Night riding also allows me, for some reason, to maintain a much steadier tempo. It might be related to the fact that I don't have a good speed reference since the pavement makes it look like I'm going fast the whole time and I don't see much else. Night riding also helps me focus on pedaling, handling, and my overall attitude with my bike. I've alluded to this before but it helps to rediscover it.

Second, if I know I'll be riding at night, I have to carry all the lights and stuff so I'm prepared to do so. Since most of the group ride is in daylight, the extra gear helps to tone down my naturally jumpy riding (sprinting after trucks and such). This helps keep me from being too much of an obnoxious, elitist "racer" when riding with the group.

It also starts to make my bike look like a "winter bike" rather than a summer bike. Winter bikes have lots of gear and resemble a grand touring car whereas a summer bike resembles a bare-boned race car. A few months of either set up and I'm ready to return to the other one. Since it's virtually August that means I'm getting ready to revert to "winter bike" mode.

Finally, night riding means getting some cool gear out of their storage bags and hanging them on the bike. As a total bonus the bike looks frickin' awesome with all the light gear on it.

To wit:

What you see from the side at night.

I'll have clearer pictures below but the bike had three sets of lights. A NiteRider front light (10v halogen, no longer made, I think it's called a TrailRat), a Down Low Glow pair of blue lights (dual light set), and a SuperFlash rear blinky. The blue halo from the DLGs are the best and I have people slowing just to check them out. I call them my "Fast and Furious" lights.

A front quarter shot, the headlight is starting to die. Fast and Furious bike. I feel like the car needs them now too.

Note: the two above pictures had a shutter exposure that is about 1/2 second and I'd just finished my ride so there is a heartbeat "bump" in there blurring things up. Sorry about that.

Even with the flash the DLGs are super bright. The headlight is not as bright but it projects more, i.e. before my uncharged battery started to give up the light would let me see road hazards before I stumbled into them.

From this angle you can see just how bright the DLGs are, how much attention they attract. It's a very, very good thing when riding in the dark. At dusk they don't do too much, just put a blue glow on your legs, bottles, and frame, but when it gets darker they put a blue halo around your bike. Since they mount under tubes the rider doesn't see it and therefore doesn't see blue lines everywhere they look. Or would they be yellow? I don't know, but you know what I mean, you don't have the DLG tube burned into your retinas.

I feel like a bike racer in Pro Cycling Manager with the "selected rider" halo on the ground around me.

Note the round "halo" on the pavement around your team's riders in Pro Cycling Manger.

Anyway, the set up is really cool. It does take some time to set up - yesterday I had this idea to "pre-ride" a bit, perhaps 1-1.5 hours, then go to the shop to meet up with the ride. Instead, with my small frame and correspondingly limited places to put all my lights, I spent that whole time (and more) getting things hooked up just so. As it was I had to time trial to the shop and barely made it there before the ride left. So much for my 1.5 hour "pre-ride".

If you want to fit all this stuff on a 52 cm Cannondale, read on.

What I have on the bike and a clearer picture on how it fits.

From the front:
1. NiteRider headlight, mounted upside down on the bar mount. The SRM head got in the way so this was a puzzle for me to work out. I tried to put the light on the helmet, trying one helmet, then another (both weren't really stable), then went back to the bars and decided to mount the light upside down on the wrong side of the bars. That worked and it helps that the light has no up or down, it's just "a light". Plus it was getting late and I needed to get going. As a bonus I have nothing sticking up above the bars so the bike retains its low front end look (critical part of a Winter Bike look - low front end with tons of gear everywhere else). I like that.

2. Valve adapter #1, taped to the bottom of the stem. My Blackburn floor pump is fine with the little of the valve it can grab but my Blackburn AirStik is not. I carry a valve adapter (or extender, I guess) so I can use the AirStik.

3. SRM head, because, you know, I want to see stats on my ride. This caused problems because the headlight would sit in the same spot but it all worked out. Yay!

4. Battery pack for NiteRider mounted on downtube. It's on there pretty tight and didn't move even on some very fast and bumpy descents. It's heavy, relatively speaking. It didn't fit under the top tube and although I've mounted it under my stem on other bikes, I didn't like the way it made the bike handle. The down tube worked out well, and the battery has some anti-skid things on them to keep it from moving.

5. DLG blue lights - one under the top tube, one under the downtube. The top tube one is supposed to go on the left chainstay (it elongates the blue halo) but my cranks and spokes hit it. This is what you get with a close clearance design. On my mountain bike it's fine, on the road bike I had to fiddle and put it under the top tube.

6. Two bottles. I forgot to fill one, sort of on purpose, because my bike was getting really heavy with all the stuff on it. My tall bottle only fits on the seat tube since it doesn't clear the NR battery. The short bottle sits fine on the down tube.

7. DLG thing, it's a black box about 1/3 the size of the DLG battery. It transforms the battery stuff into the blue stuff so that the blue stuff glows from the sticks. Okay, it's probably just some electrical converter, but I think of it as a "Blue Glow Compiler". It turns electricity into Blue Glow. The BGC works well but I had to find a place for it - it sits to the left of the seat tube bottle cage, and it's the reason for the excessive electrical tape on the seat tube. There is no strap for it, normally you'd stick a piece of velcro on the frame and use another on the BGC. Since I didn't want velcro on the frame I decided to just tape the BGC in place.

8. Valve adapter #2, taped to the right seat stay up top. Just in case, you know?

9. DLG battery pack. This is lighter than the NiteRider battery but still not a freeby. It weighs about as much as my saddle bag, maybe a bit less. I put it on the seat tube between the seat stays. It looked like it wanted to slip so I put some antiskid tape (i.e. electrical tape looped so it's double sided) so it wouldn't migrate downward with each bump. The ploy worked successfully and the battery didn't move at all.

10. SuperFlash blinky. The best ever blinky. No tools to change the batteries (AAA, I use rechargables), a screwdriver to tighten onto the post (standard and oversize with one clamp).

11. Saddle bag. It has a tube of course but it has more. I have a Ritchey tire lever that also has a screw driver, 5 mm allen, and something else. There's a multi tool that has an 8mm allen, chain tool, and the rest of the allen wrenches. I have a small chain tool (just in case, I have two chain tools). And some normal tire levers and some tube box cardboard for booting severely cut tires. On very long rides (over 80-100 miles) I'll stuff a second tube in there, and in very long rides where there is no cell coverage I'll carry a third tube.

12. I'm missing my pump from this picture which I carry in my jersey pocket for now, but it would normally get tied to the bottom of the saddle bag. Alternatively I'll strap it to the side of the seat tube cage. I didn't do either because I lost the mounting strap for it.

I got back from the ride when it was pretty dark (I grabbed our camera and took pics right when I got home) and it was a great ride. I have to charge the NR battery because it's pretty much dead but the DLG battery is good for a while. Too bad I'll have to wait a bit to do my next night ride.

Till then...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Equipment - Time Trial Bike History

I've always been fascinated by the technology in bicycles. It started out with gearing and the idea of different ratios allowing someone to ride up and down hills without struggling too much. Before the 1984 Olympics my focus went to aerodynamics, and with the disc wheel first used that year, it seemed that there were all sorts of things to be done in this field.

Road Bike Action did a piece on The Most Significant Time Trial Bikes In History. A caveat - it didn't look at track or fixed gear bikes, so some extremely significant bikes got left out. "Road Bike Action" implies no track bikes so I'll go along with that. But they still left out some very, very significant bikes.

Since time trials indicate either an individual or team effort against the clock, aerodynamics plays the most important role. Prior to understanding this basic concept, racers went for light weight. And prior to that they strived to have gearing, brakes that worked, and other basic necessities. For the purpose of this post I'll skip the basics (i.e. derailleurs, recumbent vs "standard" position, etc) and the lightweight (titanium, carbon, and aluminum usage). Instead I'll focus on aero ideas and implementations.

In general it is relatively straight forward to pick out the really big influential bikes. There's Lemond's 1989 bike, the first to use aero bars. Of course the Lotus ridden by Chris Boardman, the first truly properly designed time trial bike ever, with aerodynamicists actually radically changing the original design (which had a basic flaw that even a junior aerodynamicist would have caught).

However, in what I perceive as a nod to their sponsors, RBA spend the rest of the article busily listing relatively current bikes that are built by, coincidentally, a bunch of their advertisers, Pinarello, Specialized, Litespeed, BMC, and Cervelo. RBA did have a handicap in that they published the article before all the new time trial technology came out for the 2008 Tour, so they missed things like Giant's TT bike (which I consider the most significant of the TT bikes unveiled there).

But as far as past time trial bikes, there are a bunch of machines that should have been included in the article, even if based only on aero type advancements. When an article uses the word "history" in its title, it takes on great responsibility. It would have been better to say "in the last 20 years" or something like that, but RBA didn't say that.

I do admit that in the post-"standard bike" UCI ruling, the BMC and Cervelo are perhaps the most significant ones out there.

For example, Cervelo has gotten a lot of press as the frameset that set the standard for time trialing, and a lot of their design gets copied by others. In a related topic Cervelo was the first company to really push aero frames for mass start races - witness CSC's favorite tactic of hammering at the front and using their strong time trialers and more aerodynamic bikes to literally ride most of the field off their wheel.

In 2009 we will see many more racers on aero frames for mass start races, and not just CSC racers. By 2010 I expect to see most racers on bikes that give some aero nod somewhere, whether it's a faired rear wheel, a narrower downtube, perhaps a odd curvy seat tube, or a waisted head tube. Aero frames will be like tall profile rims - all the pros will be using them, and with the UCI weight limit set at a relatively high 6.8 kilograms, there's a few grams of carbon available to make these framesets.

BMC's TT bike is pretty interesting, although, as RBA points out, the racers on it seem to have attracted way more attention than the bike (Tyler Hamilton and Alexander Vinokourov, the two top positives for blood transfusions so far). BMC assembled a bike that had its fork fairing the headtube, an innovative way of hiding the stem (since it really doesn't "hide" the head tube because it's simply replaced by an external steerer tube) and perhaps a cable or two.

Of course when I saw that bike I immediately thought of another bike, one that is perhaps 20 years old, the Look KG196. This is the predecesor to the aero "mass start" race bikes of today.

A modernized KG196.
From this site, I stole the picture in case the "for sale" listing goes away.

And again, but this time the frame set only, showing some of the details of the "years before its time" frameset.
From this listing, picture stolen in case it goes away.

It had a faired in head tube like the BMC time trial bike, a faired in rear wheel "a la Cervelo", a bottom bracket rear wheel "fin" (Cannondale's Super Six has one, among others), a built in Ergo-stem, and aero shaped tubes. Due to the primitive use of carbon fiber back in the day (90s) it was heavy, I think over eight (?) pounds for the frame, fork, and stem. You'll notice the gaping hole between the front tire and the downtube, now acknowledged to be an area important to fill.

In addition, since at that time they didn't differentiate between vertical and lateral compliance, the frame had a very rough ride. I know because I desperately wanted to own one but I simply couldn't afford it. I did ride one for a week or two as a sort of "demo", but even after riding it around for a while I simply couldn't justify spending money I didn't have. The kicker was the non-replaceable derailleur hanger - I replaced my hanger about annually (or more frequently) and the KG196 frameset I rode didn't allow for that. This meant it'd be necessary to replace the whole frame, and I couldn't do that annually, or, as the case was one year, weekly for four weeks.

Look and ONCE teamed up to become the most successful time trial squad, in particular the team time trial. The standard picture of a TTT from that era was the ONCE team in full cry:

ONCE Team in full cry, albeit on Giant frames. It's hard to find the team in its pink outfit (when the Tour forbade too much yellow in a standard team kit).

This was the standard TTT picture for the era. When Lance was around it was the Discovery/USPS team, or nowadays it's the CSC team. ONCE, for all their problems once they became Liberty-Seguros, had the respect and admiration because of their team "professionalism", and it didn't get better than the TTT. For many years Manolo Sainz (Mister Operation Puerto) forbade his riders from contesting their respective National Championships so that the ONCE TTT squad would look uniform, such was the importance ONCE put on the TTT.

Appropriately Look pushed the limits with time trial bike technology. They never went bonkers - their designs seemed to make sense with reasons for various tube shapes.

The most extreme TT frame from Look - I don't even know the name of it - banned immediately after Alex Zulle (pictured) won the prologue at the Tour.

The most radical Look frame pictured above was one of the first to try and fair the front and rear wheels. The downtube was very wide, bridging the gap to the front tire. Based on today's Wiliers, Specialized, and Felt designs, this is an important thing. The big downtube fin extended under the bottom bracket, fairing in the rear wheel below the bottom bracket. Note also the "integrated" seat post.

Based on my experience with the KG196, I can only imagine how heavy this frame was, but for the fast Tour prologue, it was fine. So fine that Zulle slayed all and won the prologue, and too fine for legality. They were probably Look's shortest and most expensive run of framesets.

Another bike that would have to be included in the list of significant historical TT bikes is the first one with disc wheels. Talk about a (racing) world changing innovation!

Moser using his disc wheeled bike in the 1984 Giro.
(From here)

Moser had shattered Eddy Merckx's Hour Record early in 1984. He used a dual disc wheel track bike (hence I'm not including that particular bike as a road time trial bike), then took the technology onto the road. His bike was pretty radical too, with a 650c front tire, 700c rear, an upward sloping top tube that necessitated the shortest of seat posts (another "integrated seat post" type of frame). The wheels were discs so the builder shaped the tubing to draft each other, the seat tube curving back dramatically to merge smoothly with the top tube. Although aerodynamically unsound (it would have been better to have a vertical tube that was aerodynamically shaped) it still represented a huge step in shaping a bike frame.

He took the pink on the final time trial of the 1984 Giro from Laurent Fignon while aboard an adaptation of his Hour Record bike. Fignon had been riding that Renault-Elf "aero" time trial bike (described below), but compared to the space machine under Moser, he was severely handicapped. It's debatable whether the wheels or a TV helicopter helped more. The whole Giro was biased to Moser's favor, with other Italian racers complaining about the "elevator of hands" helping Moser up each climb, the (Italian promoter's) cancellation of the Queen mountain stage due to non-existant snow (Moser was expected to lose time, elevator of hands notwithstanding). The final favor was a very low TV helicopter that hovered just behind Moser as he time trialed, providing a mega-strong tailwind (have you ever been near a helicopter that is landing or taking off?). Whatever the cause, Moser ultimately won the Giro and his return to cycling complete, with the Hour Record and the Giro to his name.

Fignon's Gitane time trial bike deserves a special mention. It is the first time that a team organized aerodynamic testing. They sacrificed light weight to get more "aero".

The "aero" time trial bike used by Renault-Elf
(From here)

Although its aerodynamic benefits would be questioned today, back then it was a huge deal. The biggest thing was getting rid of the stem by putting the "stem" right through a hole in the head tube. It limited the bike's turning radius but I never heard of one of their racers crashing because he couldn't steer enough. Other points included aero profile tubes, aero brake cables (sort of controvesial at the time, considered to be less safe than non-aero cables), aero pedals, a very cool looking aero dynamic wing handlebar (the center portion resembled a huge wing about four inches front to back) and, probably most significantly as far as actual function, an aero waterbottle.

As an idea of weight, Sean Kelly's aluminum Vitus bike would have weighed about 17 or 18 pounds with the lightest stuff (i.e. in time trial trim), maybe an extra pound in normal trim. The Gitane weighed about 22 lbs.

Aero weighed a lot back in the 80s. Moser's disc wheels weighed about 5 pounds each, and Mavic even came out with a weighted disc (you'd put puck like weights in special holes located around the disc) so you could adjust the flywheel effect of the wheel.

Nowadays though aero is not heavy. The bikes are light, they push the limits of the UCI minimum weight, and yet they are loads more aero than some of the primitive bikes listed above. Racers use tall profile rims all the time, even in mass start races, and I expect to see more aero helmets, frames, and accessories as the pros look for any advantage to help them get that next win.

Aero started somewhere though, and it started in time trials. Its significant bikes started with the Gitane, continued with Moser, and then culminated with the Looks. I'm not counting the crazy stuff that got illegalized, and much of it, including the Superman position, were used almost exclusively on the track. RBA did hit the last of the weird TT bikes, the Pinarello "Huffy Toss" being one that comes to mind.

But RBA skipped all the aero development in time trial bikes and that's to their discredit. With articles like that one they will reduce their credibility. Someone called Bicycling Magazine "Buy-cycling" for all their wishy washy bike reviews that favor their advertisers. It would be a shame if RBA went down this road.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Tour of California 2008 - Palomar Mountaintop Finish

Tour of CA announced that the race will finish its last stage at the top of Palomar Mountain.

Now we'll have a real race for the overall. It's a bit unfortunate there will be no "parade" stage for the overall winner to cycle around in an all yellow outfit, a crit in San Diego or something, but perhaps in 2010.

Not that I hold it against them. I have a slight clue as to how hard it is to organize a top level pro race in the US, and to get such a mountaintop for a day or two is incredible news. Logistically it'll be very challenging, with only two roads up, limited space at the top, and no real facilities (hotels, showers, etc). This is not like the Wintergreen resort in the Tour de Trump slash Tour du Pont. I don't envy those working the ToCA Palomar race, that's for sure.

I am looking forward to one thing though - I get to see exactly how slow I go up the mountain compared to the pros. I haven't seen pros climb a road I've done in training, not in a race. The couple times there was a Tour of CT I never saw footage and I didn't see any of the climbs, so I can't compare myself on those roads. Now, granted, I know I'm no climber, but I still have this morbid curiosity to see the delta between me and the pros. Of course it doesn't help my climbing case when "regular" riders ask me if I'm having mechanicals on a climb (I wasn't, it was just my legs).

If I was 25% lighter, I'm sure I'd be able to climb faster. It's like not having to carry a few bikes on my back while doing the climb. Granted I could lose perhaps a pound off my bike, but that's not really significant. Other than losing 40 or 50 pounds I don't know what to do to increase my climbing speed.

Let's see. Blood. My hematocrit varies from about 46% to just a touch under 50% - no room for improvement there. I'm carrying as much oxygen in my blood as possible.

(Incidentally I notice my cholesterol goes up when my hematocrit does, and vice versa - can that be related?).

Muscles. Power-wise I'm severely lacking. I know I can sustain 200-230 watts for a while, 200 watts long enough to get to the top of the long climb up Palomar. That wattage translates to something like 5 mph, 9 kph, dependent on the exact spot of course, but nonetheless a sloth-like pace in the world of pro cycling.

The pros sustain 300-400 watts on climbs. Apparently the "laughing group", i.e. the group of non-climbers intent simply on finishing inside the time limit, will climb at 320-330 watts.


I do that for a minute at a time, here and there, but for big long climbs? Forget it.

It's during these big pro races where you can see racer's wattage and heart rates that I get reminded, in a jackhammer way, that I'm not a pro. I know I'm not a pro, I don't have a pro license, but the information flowing from the websites just reinforce how far away I am from being a pro.

Now to go out and train and see if I can pretend to be a pro more than a couple hundred yards at a time.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Equipment - Why Deep Profile Rims Work in Mass Start Races

A question that comes up frequently is that of using tall profile ("aero") wheels in criteriums or road races. Such aero aids are a given in a solo effort like a time trial, but in mass start races the benefits can be a bit less obvious.

Road racing is a different kind of racing, one that I can't claim to be well versed, since I have yet to finish a road race with the main bunch. Criteriums though, I can talk crits.

And in crits, aero wheels help. There is one possible exception - the ones with super slow hairpin turns (say, under 15 mph). And this is dealing with the mass rider or peloton aspect - this whole "theorem" doesn't apply to breakaway or chase efforts where aero definitely matters.

If you're in any sort of a normal crit, you'll be going pretty fast most of the time. It's unusual to slow down a lot for turns, and if you ride smart, you don't have to actually sprint out of turns too much - and that's no matter where you are in the field, not just the top 10 or whatever. You'll probably cruise at 22-32 mph (turns and straights included) and spike up to 40-42 mph (for a mainly flat course - courses with rises and dips will be faster).

The aero wheels really help when the speed goes through the roof - a 5-10 mph surge for example, or you need to move up. If the field is already riding over the 30 mph range, you'll need to make a 35-40+ mph effort to move up. A box section wheel is hard pressed to go over 42 mph (just from experience, no backing data). However, it's not unusual to be able to move up at 44-46+ mph with aero wheels if you have a slight wind/draft or hill assist. Such a spike in speed is very difficult to make with box section wheels.

Aero wheels are especially helpful when the field is strung out or there's a crosswind (esp those wheels that do well in a crosswind). Once the field is strung out, the draft is not as significant as when the field is bunched up. You're going to have to work to keep your spot and an aero wheel will help you do that. I specifically bring my Specialized TriSpokes (HED3) for windy, flat airfield crits. I used to run a rear disk as well.

Finally, in a sprint, aero wheels could potentially increase your top speed by as much as 6 mph (personal experience). It seems that many riders have about the same wattage output in a sprint (i.e. 1500 watts peak seems sort of normal). Even if you jump at the optimal time, your 1500 watts only gets you a given amount of speed (frontal area, slope, wind, etc). If you can get even 2 mph by using more aero wheels, then you should.

I don't know for sure but I think the whole deep rim thing (and disks) have to do with limiting the speed the *spokes* hit the air. This is because the spokes are by far the fastest moving object on the bike. If you can reduce the spokes' drag, you'll reduce the bike's overall drag significantly since the rest of the bike is going at a much slower speed aerodynamically.

If your bike is going 30 mph, your tire is stationary on the ground (unless you're skidding). The top of your tire is going 60 mph. You can imagine your wheel sectioned so that the hub is 30 mph, 1/3 down is 20 mph, 2/3 down is 10 mph, all the way down is 0 mph. Then you go the other way - 1/3 up from the hub is 40 mph, 2/3 is 50 mph, top is 60 mph.

A rough illustration of the concept of spoke speed relative to bike speed

Based on a standard wheel (with tire) height, going 30 mph, the top of the spokes for the following shape rims hit the wind at the following speeds:

box (9mm) = 57.5 mph
slight aero (22mm height) = 56.25 mph
50 mm rim = 53.8 mph
66 mm rim = 52.4 mph

There's various other factors like rim surface area, the way air flows, etc, but nothing can dispute the fact that if you have a 700c wheel and you're going 30 mph, the spoke (or perhaps the spoke nipples) will be traveling at the speeds above based on rim depth and a 19 mm tall tire. For reference sake I used 673 mm for overall wheel and tire height.

The spokes on the very deep section rim are hitting the air 5 mph slower compared to the box section rim. If you can go 30 mph on the box section rim (turn the wheels so the spokes hit the wind at 57.5 mph) and you switch to 66 mm deep rims, you'll be able to do about 33 mph for the same effort. Nothing except swapping wheels. Keep in mind this doesn't account for your body's drag - but it's a good way to compare spoke speeds to see what potential gains you might achieve by using different wheels.

On 50 mm rims, you'll be able to go 32 mph. Again, no additional effort. Same position, just gear up a bit for the higher speed.

On 22 mm rims, you'll go about 1/2 mph faster, about 30.5 mph.

I have a spreadsheet which does the calculations based on overall wheel height, bike speed, and rim heights you specify if anyone is interested.

Screenshot of spreadsheet

The only time aero wheels don't work for you is if you have a very "jumpy" course - things like hairpins, wide straights dumping into a narrow and steep uphill, or a finish line less than the required 200 m from the last turn. Then accelerating to a very high speed in 1-2 less pedal strokes (from personal experience - 4 or 5 pedals strokes instead of 6 or 7) would be better than being able to accelerate to a higher top speed (which would take a total of perhaps 8-10 pedal strokes).

As for handling, aero wheels are definitely usable in crits with winds up to 30+ mph. You have to train on your front wheel so you get used to steering the wheel versus steering your hips - aero wheels get steered like a rudder. Once you do that you'll be comfy with aero wheels virtually all the time.

My helmet cam clips have me running either a DV46 (46 mm rim) or a Specialized TriSpoke in the front. You can see that my handling isn't affected by the wheels (and some of the races were quite windy).

(For those that race in CT, NY, NJ, MA, and RI Cat 3 criteriums, this advice does not apply to you, at least if I'm in the race!)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Racing - Teams at a Club Level

The other night I was deep in conversation with a fellow racer and one of the topics that came up was the whole thing with (bicycle) racing culture, tradition, and etiquette.

Specifically we spoke of the lack of all of the above things.

Although no fault of their own, nowadays teams pop up around sponsors, die off quickly, and recycle quickly and constantly. Okay, yes, a few teams maintain a tenacious grip on their multi decade existence but I don't know of any club in the immediate area that exists mainly due to promoting the richness of racing culture. Well, maybe Laurel in North Haven, CCB in the Boston area, but that's all that come to mind right away. Okay, I can name some other teams but they seem to promote much more aggressive riding (i.e. it's okay to body check someone in a race) and so I won't count them as promoting "etiquette".

The guy I was talking with is a relatively new racer - I think he started racing after I went carbon, 10 speed, and just before I went to measuring power. He pointed out that in other sports there is a history of tradition, of etiquette, and the information is out there for people to read and learn.

Except for a few forum threads, blog posts, or perhaps an isolated club article here and there, there is really nothing out there similar to this for cycling.

Although I hadn't thought of it prior, I theorized that the whole reason this is so is because clubs and teams are now in the commodity business.

When I started racing, teams were social and performance based groups. Now they are a vehicle for sponsors and racers to exchange product for marketing.

The old school teams actually had meetings, sometimes monthly, and planned out their riding and racing schedules. Performance because the same teams would "scout out" new racers (usually unattached ones) at early season races and see who they could lure onto the team with promises of good group rides, a cohesive group of racers at races, and, although I am guessing at this last one because I was 14 when I started shopping teams, the occasional night out at a bar or something.

Teams had dues, usually the cost of one jersey, and they had a mailing list, some officers, and hopefully a race to promote. Sponsors would include a local shop and some local businesses whose owners happened to race for the team.

I raced for a long, long time with the same set of racers, perhaps 15-18 years. We started out by meeting at the Westport YMCA, then, as the shop got more involved, we'd meet at the sponsoring shop.

The team had its official and unofficial leaders. The people who held meetings and such were sometimes not the actual officers, but they were the ones who made the team work. As usual there was maybe an 8:1 or 9:1 ratio of spectators and "doers", with the doers making it possible for everyone else to enjoy team clothing, the somewhat painful meetings that turned into trading war stories, and going out and racing as a collective and cohesive team.

The sponsorship was limited and didn't factor into the team's focus. It got sponsorship from its members, from businesses which the members frequently patronized (a deli for example), and sometimes, if someone struck gold, an actual parts supplier. The latter usually happened only if a new company was trying to get their product some air time, and they'd sell a shop's team members product at well below cost. When helmets became mandated by the USCF (now officially USA Cycling), new manufacturers were quick to offer discounted helmets to teams.

The team's captains were experienced racers, understood etiquette, had a rich repetoire of racing stories, and passed their knowledge on to their less experienced teammates. I benefited from one such captain, my original lead-out man. He taught me how to slither through non-existent holes in the field, taught me strategy and tactics, told stories about pros and amateurs alike, and demonstrated first hand how a teammate should sacrifice himself to help another with a better chance of winning.

Our rides were standard weekend rides from a local deli. We'd do some mutation of a standard loop, adding or subtracting from the basic route based on who showed up that morning. We'd practice doing pacelines, talked about how long to pull before pulling off (20 revolutions is a nice rule of thumb), and when all that went smoothly we'd try double pacelines. We sprinted for a couple signs, attacked in the hills, and chased one another up and around the hills in the area.

Racers who didn't know what to do were instructed and those that didn't feel like participating got chastised. We'd practice bumping when going easy, and during the slow, cold winter rides, we'd talk about different cornering techniques, tricks for attacking particularly stubborn little rises, and our various experiments with clean position or perhaps a new fangled toe strap.

Along with some official cultural reinforcements (i.e. Winning magazine), local club newsletters, and some of the stuff that racers-turned-promoters would tell their charges at the start line, it was possible to learn and delve into the culture of bike racing.

One thing that I remember is that Cat 2s were the ones who got "free stuff". They'd get uniforms (now called "kits"), maybe shoes, maybe tires, and the really, really good ones would get bikes. Cat 2s were demi-gods back then, untouchable, incredibly strong, and all of them could smash your legs into little pieces of minced up flesh.

The doughy boys (and one scrawny non-climber, me) were stuck as Cat 3s and 4s, and our penance was to have to pay for everything we raced on.

But we'd learn and pass on what we learned.

For example, any time someone attacked legitimately early in a ride, the Junior/s had to go chase them down. I guess everyone felt it important to make them get used to pulling along others at an early age, and plus, with the sometimes ridiculously low gearing they had to use, they wouldn't be able to participate in the faster, mainly downhill return bit to the deli.

Another thing was that if the ride had a "no attack" warm up zone, it was both well defined and well respected. None of this "what is up with that guy?" attacks 50 yards from the deli. If an interloper had the temerity to attack in the "no attack" zone, the immediate pursuit was relentless, thorough, and was followed up by a lot of choice Italian, "French", and sometimes even Swedish words.

I mention "French" because that's like "Pardon my French" French. Italian, well, we liked to swear in Italian. Of course I don't know if I was actually swearing or what, but someone who claimed to be Italian would use Italian sounding swears and we'd all use them too.

Swedish? We did that to puzzle outsiders, but as you will see, we weren't really swearing at them. When our strongest rider was a Swedish guy, we asked him for a key phrase to yell so that we'd know when he wanted us up front, something not English or any of the common other languages around (like Spanish, French, or Italian). He said something like "Yolksadie". Well, that's how we pronounced it. He grimaced when we said it but it was close enough. We'd know it when we heard it.

So at the big target race (New Britain, if you must ask), we got all our guys in this race, we shut down everything that moved, and when he wanted us to go to the front, he yelled out, "Yolksadie!"

The rest of us (I think we had 14 teammates in that race!) started yelling, "Yolksadie! Yolksadie!"

So if you know a Swedish or Scandanavian person who was around for that very odd New Britain race in the late 80s, you can explain to them why there was a bunch of guys screaming out a horrendous Swedish pronunciation of "I love you!". Unfortunately at that race our love didn't work. We streamed to the front, tried to push the pace, shelter our guy, and collectively exploded a few laps later. I think he got 5th or something, and it was devastating to have all our work go down the tubes.

But the fact was that this team had coagulated over many years, trained together, raced together, and even went to team meetings together. In that sense the team was a success.

Nowadays teams are less like those socially based organizations. Now they are based around sponsors, they communicate electronically, and for a number of them the only time they see their teammates is when they show up at a race.

It's definitely a more mercenary relationship between the racers and their teams. People regularly jump from one team to another to get free kits, discounted (or free?) bikes, massive discounts on parts and accessories, and various other benefits like sponsor provided schwag, free or discounted fittings, coaching, etc.

I think that it's great that teams and their sponsors are willing to give product to their members. But the whole thing lacks something, an intangible - the passing on of culture, of tradition, of knowledge. New racers usually don't have a grizzled veteran guiding them through their first group rides, their first race, their first stage race.

One of my friends summed it up perfectly when he described his new team, one where his one or two years of racing was considered a lot of experience. He helped run it and they floundered as one might expect.

"Dude, we had no frickin clue what we were doing. It was ridiculous!"

Unfortunate but true.

So as not to complain without actually offering a couple approaches to dealing with this "problem", it's important to ask how can we fix this? And I say "we" because those that grew up in the past generations of teams are the ones that need to try and get the tradition thing rolling again.

It starts off with the stories, the pro stories of sacrifice, of struggle. It's those stories that inspire others and they set an example for the next generation of racers. No one gets inspired by someone just sitting in all day and twiddling their pedals to victory. But when I read about Merckx's 130 km solo break in the Yellow jersey to win by almost 8 minutes... well, it's something else. He won that Tour by almost 18 minutes over the second placed racer, and the time gaps in the top ten racers yawned to almost 52 minutes!

CyclingRevealed is a site that has done a great job in selecting and describing a little bit of what makes cycling so revered in Europe. For example there is a "Top 25 Tour" article which briefly describes each Tour and why they were so great. These are the stories that need to be told on those long, cold November rides, the January LSD rides, the rides where you build the foundations of the upcoming season, both physically and mentally.

It's also important to practice riding technique, both individual and group skills. With online coaching and all sorts of cool devices to measure one's fitness, new racers are stronger and stronger and can sustain the effort required of them to stay in a race. In many cases, however, their riding skills are not up to their strength. What happens is that their fitness level allows them to get into situations that require good bike handling skills and group riding etiquette, but they lack the latter.

The result? Frustration from both the strong and unskilled racer as well as the weaker but skilled racers. And, unfortunately, inevitably someone somewhere crashes.

With skills it's very important to get either video or actual (in person) instruction. Once the racer knows what to practice, they can go and practice such things on their own free time, perhaps on their easy or rest days. This is not very difficult and a few videos, DVDs, or perhaps even YouTube clips would be enough to help with this.

Group riding skills are different because by definition they require an actual group of racers. This is where a team that actually has meetings would be handy - part of the team meeting might be to suit up in rough and tumble clothing, go out to a nearby grassy field, and practice various group riding skills. In extremely cold weather the meetings may emphasize etiquette type instruction, or how to approach various things one might see on a group ride. The material is easy to get - if you have a regular group ride, at some point someone will complain. Right or not, a meeting that goes over that incident and what is acceptable (or not) is a great way of clarifying expectations from both the group and the individual.

New racers should be introduced to this whole "club team" concept, the idea that it's both a club (i.e. friendly group of people with similar interests) and a team (i.e. a sporting group with specific sporting goals).

An excellent way of doing this would be doing it through collegiate racing teams. Those teams have geographically close students (they go to the same school and probably live within a mile or two of each other), they have a lot of free time (seriously), and they have youthful enthusiasm. Given a good approach, strong instruction, and education on how to continue on after they graduate, collegiate racers offer the best opporunity for promoting racing in a managed, cohesive way.

The key would be to combine each local team or area with a nearby "veteran" to create a great symbiotic relationship. On one side you have the veteran, able and willing to share his vast experience with his young charges, and on the other you have an enthusiastic, captive pool of raw recruits eager to learn and effectively training to disperse all over the country.

Within a few generations of racers (a generation being a four year period in this case) we'd have approximately 10,000 racers (based on the number of collegiate racers now) skilled in individual riding technique, trained in group riding skills, and a knowledge of both the racing tradition as well as the method for passing on those techniques and skills. Each year there would be an additional 2500 or more racers joining those ranks.

If USA Cycling can tap into this seemingly endless young and enthusiastic group of racers, they could raise the quality of racers and racing in a methodical and controlled manner in the next 10 to 15 years.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Doping - Working With Manufacturers

I've vocalized some ideas for anti-doping controls before. My anonymous mobile anti-doping testers, doing random checks in testing labs, and finally what would happen if there was a movement towards clean cycling.

One idea I had and sort of discarded was to put markers in all the various drugs that could be used to enhance performance. EPO type drugs are an obvious candidate for this - although there are legitimately anemic people all over the world, I don't think there are too many of them in the pro cycling peloton.

The problem with inserting a marker into an existing drug is that this marker could potentially turn out to have some side effect. Since the drug has been changed, it has to be retested. And that takes lots of time and lots of money that would drive the cost of the drug up. And it isn't because the drug doesn't work - it's all because some pharmacist somewhere is selling the stuff "under the counter".

As a manufacturer I'd be a little unhappy if I had to spend a bunch of money to retest a drug simply because someone is using it illegally. Why should, say, Vicks, for example, pay tons of money to insert a marker into one of their standard cough medicines? Used legitimately their products are safe. It's the abusers (or home meth concoctors) who make it a problem.

So other controls are in place - instead of buying the real NyQuil over the counter, you have to buy the stuff at the desk, give ID, and you're limited to 2.5 grams of pseudoephedrine a day (that's what my receipt said for my purchase of DayQuil and NyQuil).

I didn't think of a particular scenario in my "marker musings" - one of a new drug. In this case it would be simple to insert a marker somewhere at the beginning of the process, something unusual that would show up in users but have no effect on them. All the testing would be done with this marker in place and the drug would be approved with the same.

This testing with the marker in place would mean that the drug can't be sold without the marker.

Fine, an illegitimate manufacturer might try and replicate it without the marker, but who's to say what part is the marker?

The drug manufacturer could quietly perform the work with this inert marker, sort of like diamond sellers who somehow put serial numbers on their diamonds (laser?). It's not immediately obvious, so a legitimate patient could use the drug and not have their skin turn purple (although that would certainly be a strong deterrant from illegal drug use...). But just like a jeweler can check a serial number on a suspect diamond, someone checking some fluid samples of a suspected user would be able to immediately pinpoint use of any marker-type drug.

We could take it one step further and require that all drugs have some marker if they are not readily identified. So, for example, I think morphine breaks down into "normal" substances in the human body, but if there's a "morphine marker" then morphine use can be tracked even after the actual morphine is gone.

Back to the cycling, because that's what this is about.

Ricco, who tested positive for a barely released drug, was caught by a marker inserted by the drug manufacturer.

Well now.

If such work continues on all new drugs, it will become very difficult to dope without getting caught. Of course there are the current unmarked drugs, like the various "normal" EPO drugs, but if new drugs have markers, the anti-doping labs can spend more time on developing better tests for those unmarked drugs.

Combined with better testing schedules, a more accepted anti-doping culture, and acceptance of year round testing, I think that cycling (as well as other sports) can rid itself of much of its doping controversy. I'm sure people are thinking of new and better ways of beating the system, but for now it seems that the system is finally getting up to speed.

*Edit July 24, 2008* - Apparently there is not a marker molecule in this new EPO. Instead, by focusing on a unique and particular molecule in the drug, WADA was able to test for that particular molecule.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pro Cycling Manager 2007, Doping, & Me

I recently had a post on this now-somewhat-outdated game Pro Cycling Manager 2007, but I realized that I had no pictures to illustrate the obsessive compulsiveness required (by me anyway) to play this game.

So to remedy that situation I decided to take a picture of my little setup.

The kitchen table where my laptop normally lives.

You'll notice of a few critical things. Clockwise from the top:

First, the Gatorade (and Powerade too, since they now come with Coke Rewards codes, which I've been collecting for a couple years). This is important for the electrolyte draining stress that the player undergoes while trying to schedule 20-odd racers' training camps and races.

Second, the Novell/Compaq pad (came with one of the many servers sold by Compaq, in a little notepad thing filled with various CD-ROMs and such), remnants from my IT days prior to Y2K. This is good quality scrap paper, narrow lined, thin, and I can scribble all over it without feeling guilty about wasting paper. I knew I saved it for a reason.

Third, the black appointment book under the pad of paper. This is where I write down my real life appointments, training hours (I write notes on my ride in there, but I also have WKO+ for an electronic record of stuff), etc.

Fourth, Road Bike Action. This particular issue has yet another "fill out a survey and get a chance to win a bike" survey, so I gave it "near the laptop" priviledges. Most of the recent bike magazines get placed in the rest room where I read while I rest.

Fifth, black roller ball micro-tip pen. I like really fine tip roller ball pens because they offer just enough resistance to enable me to write neatly. Normal ball point pens slide too quickly and I end up with a messy scrawl. Roller ball pens (the super fine points) are just right for me.

Sixth, Pro Cycling Manager 2007 notes. There are three pages. The top left has my team roster with some notes beside each name. The top right one has notes on my February campaign - who is on which team and where they'll travel at what time for which races. There are some sponsor-pinpointed races and those are duly noted. The bottom page have the team racers (left column), the dates (across the top), and the schedule (in the middle). The left column has an extra column for notes on the racers (fitness level, morale, etc). I copied a "master" sheet eleven times to make them.

Seventh, various colored super fine tip roller ball pens. This is for doing the various scheduling. I've assigned three different colors (pink, green, light blue) to the three different teams (of 8, 7, and 6 racers), dark blue is for training camps, and red stars for the sponsor-important races.

Eighth, and probably most important for playing a computer game - a computer! This is the laptop where I do most/all of my writing. My desktop has been reduced to a picture gatherer and sometimes MS Office work (I have OpenOffice installed on the laptop). The game screen is displaying my team roster and their fitness levels (boxes which are dark, orange, or silver - indicating everyone is pretty weak right now), mood (green boxes with arrow pointing up or to the right), experience (bars on the right), and their average "rating" (column to the right of their names) which indicate their base/genetic abilities across different disciplines like climbing, sprinting, time trialing, etc.

Ninth, my real SRM. My laptop is also my WKO+ machine. I like checking out my training stats after I ride, more a curiosity than anything else. It's not very inspiring to see that I rarely hit 200 watts per hour, but at the same time it's interesting to see how fast I really went on that 50 mph downhill (45 mph).

Tenth, my cell phone. In case someone calls to offer me a cycling team manager position :)

A close up of the sheet with my team's February schedule. I started with black ink in the schedule before I realized I had to color coordinate things for my own sanity.

Within the game I was telling these guys to go 2 or 3 hours easy, or 4 or 5 hours medium, or even 6 or 7 hours easy. I figured they'd like a 2-3 hour day between each long day, and it seems the game agrees with that.

I decided to schedule my guys to do alternating hard and easy days. Since I ran two different training camps (in two different areas, to prepare for races in two different hemispheres), I had to write down the schedule so I wouldn't accidentally tell one camp's riders to do the other camp's schedule. Once I figured out which camp was which, I quickly and easily jotted down the racers' training hours. 2-3. 6-7. 2-3. 4-5. And so on.

(Note: A non-feature of the game is that if you hold two camps, your daily messages don't distinguish between the two of them - I had to guess which one was which, get a report on what rider was doing well - or not - and then deduce the camp's location).

After putting my racers through a couple training camps, I realized something sort of external to the game.

wasn't riding that much.

So, just like I'd scheduled my racers, I pulled out my appointment book, conveniently situated within hand's reach. And wrote down some decent sounding numbers for the weekdays ahead. With the 3 hours I did on race day (Sunday) I wanted to continue a longer hour, less intensity trend. With no races coming up I wanted to do what I always seem to need to do. Lose weight. Get some fitness back. Return to a late February form, almost 20 pounds lighter than I am right now.

Anyway, for myself, it was easier. I just wrote down some numbers, mentally picturing a route or two for each day. It was easy and painless.

Monday: 1 hour (easy one hour loop)
Tuesday: 3 hours (do a 2.5 hour loop, go easy so take more time)
Wednesday: 2 hours easy (two of the easy one hour loops)
Thursday: 5 hours (hilly cross-MA route, took 4 hours last time but I exploded so I'd go easier)
Friday: 1 hour (easy one hour loop)

Not bad, right?

Unfortunately reality intruded with my plans. Funny how things like that happen in real life. My body didn't like the numbers as much as I thought they would and my actual hours didn't match very well with my planned ones.

My one hour on Monday was enough to bury me after my long and difficult Sunday. My 3 hour day turned into a zero hour day as I was simply exhausted, so much so that I fell asleep in the afternoon in a state of uncontrollable fatigue. I did my 2 hour day as planned. Okay, it was 1.5 hours due to heat issues - I could barely average 140 watts, and I was severely motivated to go faster as I was late picking up the missus.

I drank tons of Powerade and water to prepare for the long Thursday. My 5 hour day ended up a 4 hour day because I went easier but I didn't explode. I felt pretty good at the end of 4 hours, enough so that instead of turning into the driveway I sprinted after a truck, caught it, and drafted it for a while.

Then I took the last day of my short five day plan off - I had some weird poison ivy type spots and I spent way too much time itching to get a ride in.

Based on my own plan, I shorted every "longer" ride and I missed one of them.

It made me think of cycling as a career. Not for me, but more as an abstract concept.

It's not as easy as it looks, this pro cycling stuff. I watched a short bit of the Tour on TV today (our bed and breakfast had Versus). I watched these guys suffer. Felt that pressure to perform. And to do it day in, day out, every day, all the time.

There's no sleeping on the bed in the middle of the afternoon instead of throwing a leg over a bike and going out for a couple hundred hard kilometers of racing. There's no time-outs, no "I'm taking a day off because I'm not feeling too well", no excuses.

It looked tiring. It looked hard.

And it looked spectacularly unappealing as a profession.

I'm glad that the closest I'll get to racing as a pro is to click on a guy on a video screen and tell him to attack, because frankly, even with talent, I don't think I'd have made it as a pro racer.

In some twisted and convoluted way my real week showed me how easy it would be for a racer to start doping. You're exhausted, tired, you've done 30 hours in the last week, and now someone wants you to do another 5 hours today.

Then someone, maybe someone who pounded you into a pulp yesterday, says "No, yesterday was fine. I felt pretty good. I started taking some stuff and it really helped me recover."

What do you say? You're barely able to get out of bed, you almost fall down the stairs because you miss a step because your mind is so fuzzy, and now someone says they can make it go away?

Wouldn't it be easy to give in to such temptation? If your career depended on it?

Have you ever taken DayQuil and gone to work because you felt it necessary to work? Because you wanted to finish that project or make it to the launch of the new platform or cover for your "on vacation" coworker?

As a very amateur racer I can just skip a day if I feel like it. And I do that regularly, without any feelings of remorse or "I should have". Pros don't have this luxury.

I can see how difficult it'll be to fight this doping thing. But I think it's necessary. I think that the day will come where everyone has an off day in a Grand Tour, where everyone cracks and loses 5 or 8 minutes. If they do it right they'll do it when a no-hope break goes up the road and they'll hide in the peloton's group anonymity. I think the days of "no bad days" is severely limited.

And, for racing, I think that's a good thing.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Doping - 2008 Tour Or Why I Feel "Good"

The AFLD (French initials for French Anti-Doping Agency), the organization responsible for anti-doping controls in the 2008 Tour, has, over the past several days, announced that three riders have tested positive for some form of EPO booster type drugs.

Contrary to the suggestions in my last post on the topic, the AFLD has a policy of announcing a non-negative A-sample. In addition the Tour has a policy of ejecting any A-sample non-negative racers out of the race. So the three racers whose A-samples have tested non-negative are out. Although this may not be ideal, it is, for now, the way it is.

The first was a sort of unspectacular, simply another somewhat anonymous racer testing positive. The only interesting thing was that he's a former Lance Lieutenant (LL), "Triki" Beltran. He's the last in a line of LLs to test positive, after the likes of Heras, Hamilton, Landis, Andreau (self admitted but never positive), perhaps Vaughters (he hints at it), and finally, the only positive I know of while actually on the team, Joachim Benoit. Interestingly enough the test result was thrown out and he was quietly resigned, spending almost his whole career on Johan Bruyneel's teams.

I'm not counting Lance's positive with the post dated TUE because no one else seems to count it.

The second 2008 Tour positive was perhaps not unexpected. Someone who grabs the climber's jersey out of nowhere? When someone does well at all stages of his career, it would be no surprise for him to perform. When a somewhat anonymous racer suddenly wins a huge prize, that's a bit unexpected and therefore suspicious.

The third one is and probably (hopefully) will be the best known one - Ricco. I say "hopefully" because I actually hope there are no more stars which are doping. The brash young man will have no allies, no friends in the toughest battle of his career. Unlike the first two positives, reports show the team left the race. This to me indicates that this was a team doping effort, not an aberrant individual breaking the rules. The other two teams were okay with continuing on, but with Saunier-Duval, they felt it necessary to withdraw. I wonder if any more of their samples will come back positive.

Even more interesting will be whether or not later samples of the three who tested positive will come back positive. The various EPO drugs don't wash away after a day or two so samples from the days after the "positive" should come back positive as well.

However, all this pales in comparison to something that's been irritating me for a while - the ease at which racers, directors, and journalists throw around the word "positive".

In cycling, positive (now) should only mean one thing - a B sample with traces of some illegal performance enhancing drug or drug side effects. "Positive" should not be used anywhere else.

So let me ask, as a somewhat rhetorical question, why do racers and directors insist on using the word "positive" when describing the fight against doping?

For example, when asked about the third positive, George Hincapie has this to say:
"We can look at the positive side..."

It would be nice if he used a different word. I would suggest words like "good", "progress", "bright", etc. Admittedly they sound less sophisticated as the multi-syllabic "positive" but they get the message across.

"We can look at the bright side..."

This may be a bit too PC for some, but really, it makes sense, especially for sponsors. Using the word "positive" in a cycling sentence can have incredibly negative connotations, and even if the quote is something about how it's good that dopers are getting caught, there's got to be some negative little tic filed away by the readers of the quote.

Other (made up) potential quotes:
"It's good (not positive) sign of the times.."
"I feel that the sport has made progress in the fight against doping."

Racers also use the term when describing their form. Instead of "feeling positive" a racer (and journalists reporting on the racer) should use words like "good".

I should point out that "good" clarifies whether or not the racer is feeling doped or if he is feeling good. Racers, if they're doping, don't want to give it away, so if someone says, "I feel really posi.. I mean I feel really good" then journalists can check the guy out. If the racer just says, "I feel really good" then we can leave him be.

A better word might be "confident". It matches "positive" in syllable count and has an aura of invincibility about it.

"I feel very confident about tomorrow's stage."

Now, if they want to use an even better multi-syllabic word, they can use a word like "optimistic" - that word even has has four syllables, one more than the negatory "positive".

"I feel very optimistic about tomorrow's stage."

There are some even more esoteric words to describe an optimistic thing.

Sanguine might be a good one for describing one's mood.
"So, Cadel, how do you feel for the upcoming stage?"
"I feel very good, my mood is sanguine."
"Excuse me?"

Roseate would be an excellent one for a sunglass sponsored racer.
"George, tell me how you feel about your new shades."
"I love them, I call them my roseate shades because I feel good when I wear them."
"You mean rose-colored?"
"No, I mean roseate. You know, like optimistic."
"Um, thank you for your time."

Panglossian is a good one, another four syllable word that rolls off the tongue nicely. It would be a great Phil Liggett quote:
"And such and such launches another attack. Oh to feel so Panglossian, only a Tour rookie would attempt so many attacks in the first part of a long climb like this!"
"Phil, what did you just say?"
"Paul, I said that he's simply too Panglossian for a Tour veteran, only a neo-Tour racer would attack like that."
"Could I ask you what is in your coffee cup?"

There is a second and much more significant reason for not using the word positive except in describing the result of a dope test - it will be MUCH easier to Google for "positive doping" when looking for positive drug test results. Well I'm sure there would be some weird results as well.

But there'd be no question about "Panglossian" showing up, that's for sure.

Monday, July 14, 2008

How To - Road Rash Care

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. The following is based on personal experience and may be in fact dangerous for your health. Any real doctors feel free to pipe up.

Okay, I didn't crash, but someone I know did. And then there were some other internet folks who tumbled and needed to take care of their wounds. I, unfortunately, have some personal experience with crashing. I crashed frequently for about ten years, crashing at least once a year for ten years straight. I think my record was 4 pretty spectacular wrecks in 5 weeks, all in crits, all causing road rash, and eventually requiring me to replace a frame, fork, wheels, and a bunch of drivetrain stuff.

Over those ten years I learned how to deal with crashes, and I'll share the bulk of what I know here (I can't remember anything else to share but I'm sure there are things I've forgotten).

There are a few magical things you need to heal quickly after rubbing skin with the pavement (and whatever else):
- clear stuff
- numbing stuff
- tape stuff
- money

First up, the clear stuff. It's either Tegaderm or Second Skin. I would link Spenco's Second Skin site except it's not working.

Note: Tegaderm looks like Saran Wrap. 2nd Skin looks like 2 layers of Saran Wrap with a layer of clear gelatin 2mm thick between the two layers of the Saran Wrap. I think 2nd Skin is more soothing for fresh wounds because it feels cool (cold cool, not Fonzie cool), I think Tegaderm is better for smooth or healing wounds because it's smoother.

The clear stuff sits directly on a clean wound, protecting it from air (which causes pain), dirtiness (which causes infection), and dryness (which causes scabs which crack and promote pain and infection). Because the wound stays moist, it stays flexible. And because the clear stuff doesn't absorb moisture, scabs don't form through it (like gauze). This means it's less painful to change.

Let me point something out: don't use Saran Wrap on your wounds.

Second, the numbing stuff, specifically "hurt free antiseptic wash". I have good luck with the following, although there are generic and store brand versions as well - look for the claim of "painless" somewhere on the packaging, that's key unless you're a real masochist:

Finally (I'm not going to explain the money part because once you start adding up how much this stuff costs, you'll know how much money you'll need) get some gauze and something to hold the gauze in place - first aid tape (for road rash type things I'd recommend going full bore and getting 1" tape, and pick up some razors if you don't already have some), ACE type bandages, the white fishnet stuff, or the wrinkly sticks-to-itself disposable wrap.

Use the gauze on top of the clear stuff (Tegaderm/2nd skin) to keep the clear stuff in place. Put lots of gauze on and then lots of tape to keep the gauze in place. For large swaths of clear stuff cover gauze and then hold the gauze in place with fishnet stuff (check out Valverde's leg in this year's Tour) in warm weather or ACE type bandage/wraps in cold weather.

Shave anywhere the tape will go. It'll be hairless after the first time you change the dressings but if you shave it first, it hurts less

Note: you have to cover the clear stuff, otherwise your very expensive Tegaderm/2nd skin gets peeled off when you put your shirt or pants on. So that $20 of clear stuff peels right off 3 minutes after you finished putting it on your wounds. Not a good use of money. Get the gauze, shave all the hair off around the wound, and tape tons of gauze on top of the clear stuff.

Keep the clear stuff on for a while, i.e. days - take it off only when it gets gross underneath (you'll know it when you see it - yellow, green, brown, anything except pink/red/white). If your wound is still bleeding then give yourself a little drain area in the clear stuff so the fluid has somewhere to go, and put tons of gauze there to absorb the fluid.

When your wound is close to healed you might leave the clear stuff on for a week or two, at least that's my experience. Second Skin, because it has so much water in it, gets a bit mushy after a week. Tegaderm is better for the long haul (2 weeks, at which point you're probably good to go).

Use the numbing antiseptic liquid to clean the wounds. I use the above translucent blue bottle with a squirt top. First spray down the wound. Wait about 30-60-90-120 seconds to let the numbing part get going, otherwise there is no numbing. Spray a lot to get more of that numbing stuff on. Then, after a few test touches with a gauze pad (the wound will feel swollen but it won't hurt), go to it and scrub out the wound using clean gauze or a sterile scrubby thing made to clean out wounds. Rinse generously with the numbing antiseptic stuff, you want things clean. Then put your new Tegaderm/Second Skin on.

This cleaning step is critical since it keeps everything nice and clean and fresh.

If you smacked your head, check your head/scalp for bruising. You will be surprised at what you'll find. If you have someone that you feel comfortable examining your scalp, have them do it.

Based on your findings (there will be bruising), you can re-examine your helmet and be even more amazed at how much shock it absorbed. Days after my biggest ever helmet impact, someone pointed out the side of my head was purple, a huge area, basically ear to top, all the way from front to back, but all in my hair line. I checked and it was purple. I also realized at that time that the side of my head hurt, it felt a bit soft, and it was basically one huge bruise. I then looked at my helmet and saw that not only did it crack in a couple spots (which were obvious), the whole side was compressed about 1/2". Insane. I didn't realize the shell wasn't supposed to be loose and squishy.

And right after I hit the ground I claimed to be totally fine. Luckily the EMT there disagreed with me.

Once your head is okay the rest follows quickly.

It won't be cheap buying all this stuff if you have a lot of road rash, but it really, really helps. It reduces pain, speeds up healing, reduces scarring, and gets you riding quicker. I think it's easy to spend $100-200 per incident in wound cleaning and protecting supplies, but having made do without the expensive stuff (i.e. the clear stuff) I highly recommend laying out the dough and getting the clear stuff.

Figure 2-3-4 or even more boxes of the clear stuff per round of changes (varies based on road rash, but look at the labels and calculate how much stuff you need to cover all your wounds), twice that much area in gauze, and appropriate tape/ACE/whatever to hold the gauze. I'd use almost a full bottle of that spray stuff per round too.

Figure 3-5 rounds of clean/redress before the wounds are nice and pink and have virgin skin on them. I have, leftover from my last forays onto the pavement, maybe a dozen plus ACE bandage rolls (mostly washed and re-rolled), a few left over "sticks to itself" wrinkly white faux-ACE bandage disposable stuff, about 10-20 boxes of mostly used gauze pads of varying sizes, and maybe 10 mostly used rolls of first aid tape (incidentally I like 1/2" to 1" tape, the skinny stuff is useless). I use up all the antiseptic wash I buy, and I have a couple half used antiseptic goo stuff. I also got some first aid kits for the Bethel Spring Series but those have been plundered over the years (at the Series).

Oh, finally, don't skip the little spots, the little scrapes. You'll pay a lot of attention to the big scrapes everywhere and ignore the tiny dime-sized road rash. In a week that dime sized road rash will be stinging and swollen and hurt like a mofo while all the big stuff is almost healed.

Take care of EVERY SINGLE wound.

Bandages with lots of antiseptic goo for the little ones (cover the bandaid with first aid tape if it's in a "high traffic" area), 1/2 pieces of tegaderm covered in gauze and first aid tape for the coin-sized bits. The little Tegaderms you'll leave for a while, just make sure they're all cleaned out before you dress them up.

If you take care of the dime sized ones then the rice crispy sized ones (bandaid plus goo) will be the ones causing you to lose sleep. When I say take care of every wound, I mean it. Take care of all of them. Leave them alone once they have new skin underneath and they don't hurt.

Hopefully you won't need this info but it's good to have if you ever need it. If you crashed away from home, get all this stuff on the way back home because you won't want to leave the house until you've dressed your wounds.

Keep the tire side down and the body side up!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Racing - New Britain Crit 2008

Ah, yes. July 13th. Virtually the end of the race season in Connecticut, if you can believe that. At least that's what I heard racers murmuring while cooling down after their races today at New Britain.

Okay, maybe that's not entirely accurate - there's the race in Naugatuck next week and the Tokeneke Road Race up in Barkhamsted, but since I won't be around for the former and the latter, well, let's just say it would be a cruel joke on me to enter the latter.

(I should point out that the best wheel change I ever did might have happened at Tokeneke but I can't rightly recall if that would be exactly accurate, if I could recall where it happened at all.)

There are two other events, both of which I've never done. One is a hill climb in New Haven, the day before Naugatuck, and the other is a road race in September.

Yesterday, in a fit of patriotic fervor, I went to see a bunch of fireworks down by the sub base in Groton. Due to some nice connections the missus and I got to sit on a relatively large and comfortable boat anchored a couple hundred yards away from the firework barges. The short cruise before the pyrotechnics led us past both Electric Boat as well as the naval base. Suffice it to say that I've never seen so much expensive hardware at one time - if you thought bike racing was expensive, wait until you try and play with one of these.

With the help of a retired crewman (he worked on those unmentionables and happened to be on the boat too) I got a nice education on these boats, both from an official ("Those are about 350-400 feet long") and unofficial ("They give these unofficial awards during cruises including...").

I got to see a bunch of things, a couple of other things, some guns, and a bunch of other things.

It was really cool.

I can't tell you about anything in detail since that would be revealing secrets and either I'd have to kill everyone who reads the blog or I'd be arrested or something. It's sort of like this: although there are tons of public and private buildings overlooking both locations, there are huge signs out that tell everyone to put their cameras away.

I'm sorry to say that I have no pictures of the various things I saw, but take my word for it, it was all impressive.

All sorts of things ran through my head while I was in the area, driving around watching fireworks, even eating breakfast the next day, all sort of fantastic "what-if" type stuff. It's sort of like me dreaming of racing at Philly, very "what if", but if anything comes of it (or doesn't) I'll share when it's appropriate.

So, with the fireworks and all sorts of other things to keep me going, we drove up from Groton to New Britain. Beautiful day, 80s, dry, sunny, breezy.

Really breezy.

Like on the river breezy.

Last year I made it about 10 laps in the hot and breezy New Britain Crit before I got sawed unceremoniously off the back. This year, well, this year I hoped to make it a bit further than that.

The missus got me thinking about the right end of the race by asking me what my plan was for the finish. I had a couple good ones, but one took the cake. Unfortunately it depended on a particular racer being there, so the missus asked the natural question.

"What if he's not there?"

I had my Plan B, essentially to be as far up front as possible coming out of the last turn. At the Nutmeg State Games I made a couple big efforts in the last half of the race and ended up balked in the sprint. I hoped to avoid the balking but otherwise make the same moves today.

I also carried a less than ideal interpretation of a "cool" idea I had, but after I dropped a bottle by accident, I had to bring my cool bottle (it was ice) down and wait for it to melt so I could drink it. Next hot race I do I'll be doing things a bit differently, but I know what I want as the net result.

I also did my first race in a long, long time without wearing a cap. I wore a Halo headband and my S-Works helmet (not my Decibel). My head felt a lot cooler and my eyes didn't get sweat in them. Two good things, no bad things.

The Cat 3 race went without too much incident. I was maybe 1/3 back for a while, inadvertently moved to the front, pulled at about 350 watts for a couple hundred meters, and immediately went to the back and groveled for 10 laps while I tried to recover from my massive 20 or so second effort. At least I pulled through the start/finish, not in some anonymous place, but unfortunately that was where the course had a tough headwind.

I decided not to do anything like that again.

I had been trying to hydrate and felt generally successful. An unfortunate side effect (especially when I skip taking my allergy medication) is that my nose produces a lot of mucus. Okay, technically that's not what happens, but the mucus comes out of my nose so that's how I'll describe it. At the front I had very little choice but to motion a bit before clearing a nostril, but at the back I had the luxury of being able to look around and pick a clear spot to do the same thing.

I guess someone appreciated it because he came up to me and thanked me for it a couple laps later. I couldn't respond very well because I was still in my groveling state, but it felt good to be appreciated.

I decided to do my "move up at 5 to go" thing. For some reason I got lazy, moved up on the outside, and burned some precious matches doing that. By two to go I was getting a bit cooked, by the bell I was pretty fried, and I hit the top of the backstretch hill looking for a miracle.

No miracle, no sudden wave of energy, no nothing, and 300 meters from the line I sat up.

Of course I felt fine within a few minutes. Pain has no memory. Or is it memory has no pain? I forget.

I went and made a $30 donation to do the P123 race and got a race number in return.

I lasted my 10 laps there. Well, I think it was 13, but who's counting? I felt fine for a few laps, but as the serious attacks started, "fine" went to "not too great" went to "hanging on for dear life".

Being at the very back of the field I had a nice view of the front of it as the pack meandered around the park. At about 11-12 laps into the race I saw that some friendly rivals (i.e. guys I'd work for but they are not on my team) had missed a break or something. I figured I'd go up there, offer my help, maybe take a "monster" pull, and drop out in a somewhat more dignified manner.

I moved up three spots before my legs exploded.

Yeah, so much for that idea.

I tried to be courteous and pulled forward enough to give the two guys on my wheel some extra shelter. Then I pulled off.

Much nicer than just pulling off and leaving a six foot gap, at least that's what I figured.

I think one of the guys (Yale rider, based on what I could read on his butt) finished the race with the field, so I hope that my little effort helped him out.

The missus and I hung out for the Cat 4s where we had a couple friends in the race. One in particular was concerned with his form as he'd had a bad day yesterday, was crampy/cramping heavily, and didn't know what to do. I thought about how I approached those days and started feeling the cramps I had just a few days ago. I offered to warm up with him as a bonus, and we chatted and rolled around for a bit.

For me the whole idea when you have crampy muscles is to avoid doing efforts. Just warm up nice and leisurely, don't spin, get the blood flowing to the muscles while doing as little as possible. The longer the warm up the better, and the easier it was the better. Once warmed up you can start asking your legs to make efforts without them cramping immediately, and as you get more warmed up, you'll find that you may have gotten rid of the crampiness completely.

"Easy" is the key word and I had to tell my friend to ease up a lot within a few minutes of warming up (I had to hit 250 watts to stay with him). He looked astonished at how easy I wanted him to go, but sufficiently chastised, he eased pretty hard. And we spent a while, pretty much the whole women's race, warming up nice and easy.

Now, medically I have no idea if what I advised made any sense, but I know it works for me. Just a few days ago I finished a ride that started out extremely crampy but ended with me feeling just fine. So, in support of my friend, I sat on a borrowed trainer watching the Cat 4s race. When I hit the 3 hour mark for pedaling my SRM I hopped off the bike, and then, properly anchored to the ground, tried to yell advice out to the guys I knew out there.

I guess it all worked for him as he got a top 6 finish, got points on his license, and walked away with a bit of prize money.

Although my two races, from a pure result perspective, were failures, I felt like I'd made a difference in that third race. I didn't pedal one stroke in it but I'd tried to help my friend ride better for himself. He performed beyond all his expectations and thanked me afterwards for my help.

And with that I consider my day a success.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Equipment - Michelin Krylion Tires, 700x23

A while back I rode in the pouring rain. I didn't realize it at the time but I ended up with a lot of water in my rims. The first hint was a sloshing noise when I rolled my bike around, the second were the droplets of water flying around when I wheeled my bike (on just its back wheel) around in the basement.

At some point I also managed to knock my rear wheel out of true, and since truing the wheel requires removing the tire, I finally broke down and removed the tire. I figured I could drain the rim at the same time.

Lots of water.

Enough that I left the tire off the rim for a day for it to fully dry out - every time I thought I had it dry, I'd spin or shake it and more water would seep out from somewhere.

While I was in there I decided to replace the rear tire before it became completely unusable. Rotating tires is good because front tires tend to dry up and crack before they wear out, while a rear ends up with a flat spot on the tread while it's still nice and supple.

With the rim dry I trued the wheel, installed a new tire, and things are much better now. I did drain the front wheel also but simply reinstalled the original tire and tube.

Three tires, from the left - about 10 hours on a new rear, a front with about 120 hours (the original tire on this wheelset), a rear (original tire on wheelset) with about 190 hours.

The front tire has fewer hours because I spent a lot of time on the trainer, and that only uses the rear tire. I find the trainer is not too tire-abusive and have no problem using a "good" tire on it. Yes, the tire gets silverish, but wear-wise I don't see a lot of wear. The flashing took something like a month to wear off on the trainer (perhaps 60+ hours of riding), but outside it took only about 10 hours.

What I find interesting is that the (old) front tire and the new rear tire are almost identical in shape and feel. The new rear tire still has some traces of the molding flash left (the ridge down the middle of the tread). The excess flash (the tissue thing pieces of rubber hanging off the center of a new tire) just wore off after about 8 hours of riding. Whatever rubber Michelin uses in these tires is extremely durable.

A comparison of the front and rear. You can see that the rear tire, on the right, has a "flat" cap on the tread. The front tire looks round, like a new tire would look.

These tires are extremely durable - no flats until July and I rode over a LOT of glass out in California. I had a couple small cuts on the tires but based on the number of rocks pinging off of passing cars (due to me moving onto a debris strewn shoulder), I should have a lot more.

The front tire has virtually no wear and the next time I rotate tires, I'll install the front in the rear. (At this point I'm debating whether to set up a second wheelset with the tires, and if I do that I'll put the original used rear in the front of the second set).

Traction-wise the tires are very good. In the dry the tires are super sticky, tenacious to a fault. In fact I'd recommend riding the tires for 5-10 hours before racing them because the new ones feel like you just rode through some sticky tar on the road. I don't measure the rolling resistance because I can't but mentally it is taxing to ride the new tires. Once the tread loses its sheen the tire is good to go.

In the wet the tires are fine for me. I'm a real wimp when it comes to cornering in the rain so I'm not the best guy to ask about cornering traction. I never felt like the tires were sketchy but then again I never really pushed either. As far as straight line traction goes I have ended up braking super hard on steep descents, and the tires were always very good. No front tire washout, predictable traction, predictable behavior, and I stopped.

I mention the last bit because, with the yellow SwissStop pads on the Reynolds carbon rims, it takes a heartstopping 2-3 seconds before I regain my brakes in the wet, perhaps a second more than it does on aluminum rims. I've gotten into situations where I need to brake seriously hard in normal situations (like coming up to a light) because my standard braking didn't get me slowed down too much. Although I have doubted whether I'd stop in time, I never lost traction with the tires, and believe me, once the brake pads bit, I was on them 100%.

In the past I've used the Specialized Cipollini tires (cuts super easy), Michelin ProRace2s (cuts easiest, like wrapping paper under a box cutter knife, cut four in 2 weeks), Schwable Blizzards (named, I think, because you don't want to change a flat in a blizzard, but weighs a ton and has limited traction), Vittoria Rubinos (nice but nothing special, felt mushy), various Contis (tread hardens up like a rock, sidewalls get fuzzy), and I'm sure another tire or four. In the more distant past I used Michelin's ProComps and Comps, various kevlar belted tires, a slew of skinny Specialized tires, but those early generation clinchers paled in comparison to today's tires. And in today's clincher tire world, I think the Krylion rules for best overall tire.

The Krylions match top level traction with unquestionable durability. There is a small penalty in weight (perhaps 40 grams from a standard light tire, 80 grams from paper thin super-light tires), but as they say, to finish first you must first finish.

If you're looking for fast training tires that you would feel 100% comfortable racing, check out the Krylions.

Note: I bought these tires and was not paid or compensated or whatever by either Michelin or any distributor or seller of their tires. But if someone wants to pay me, I take check, cash, or PayPal :)