Friday, October 31, 2008

Equipment - GearingThrough The Ages

I recently exchanged a rash of emails with a fellow racer concerning gearing. He had been debating between compact and regular cranks. The difference, in case you don't know, is that compact cranks can accept smaller chainrings. A typical compact set up is a 34 tooth inner ring and a 50 tooth outer one. A more race oriented set up might be a 36T inner, 52T outer.

A typical standard crank comes with a 39/53 combination.

The idea with the compact is that if you use smaller chainrings up front, you can use smaller cogs in the rear to get the same ratios. Folks like to point out that instead of my 39x25, I could use a 36x23. Or a 34x21, sort of. Smaller cassettes and smaller rings need less chain, and all that means less weight.

That got me thinking a bit about gearing and my perception of what constitutes real gearing. Real like "this is reality" real, not real like "Dude I read that the pros use a 55x11 in time trials".

When I started getting into cycling the standard freewheel for "10 speeds" was (and still is) a 14-28. My 5 speed had the same freewheel, along with a 52T chainring, but it was on a Cotton Picker Schwinn Sting Ray.

52, 14-17-20-24-28

Then I got a real 10 speed. I suffered with non-interchangeable chainrings for a year or two, then got another bike which immediately received a number of upgrades. One critical one was its crankset, a Sugino crankset with interchangeable chainrings. I bought it with a nice 48/34 combination, a predecessor to today's Compact cranks. I also got two five speed freewheels, one for "fast rides" and one for "hilly rides". I ended up on the "fast ride" freewheel all the tim.

48/34, 14-15-16-18-21

Yeah, it was a custom freewheel. Yeah I built it. Yeah I was a gear geek.

Finally I graduated to my first real race bike, a Basso with Excel Rino and Campy Nuovo/Super Record, along with then-cutting edge Modolo brakes. For gearing my bike had the following set up:

53x42, 15-16-17-18-19-21

I was a Junior and dying to use a "real" gear like a 12T. However I had to make do with my rules-limited (and a rule I think promotes excellent pedaling skills in Junior racers) so I stuck with my one freewheel. I did have one benefit though - in the 6 speed era, an 18T was an anomaly, and my almost-straight-block gave me nice, fine gear gradations. I could incrementally up my gears where my Senior counterparts would be going from a 19 to a 17 and back again. I therefore focused on using my unusual 16T and 18T cogs as much as possible. This would throw off less fortunate Senior racers who usually not only lacked an 18T but the 16T as well.

Then I turned 18. I could use Senior gearing. Screw the 16/18T advantage, now I wanted break legs by hammering a 53x12 all day long. I immediately put on a freewheel I'd bought a year prior and may have accidentally tested on a group ride or three, but purely because I'd put the freewheel on to see how cool it looked and then forgot to take it off before the next morning's group ride.

53/42, 12-13-14-15-16-18-21

I used the shop resources to build custom freewheels, and fought hard to keep the even numbered (and rare) 16T and 18T cogs. Incredibly I used this extremely high "low gear" of 42x21 everywhere, even on climbs. To put it in modern terms, it's like having a 39x20 low gear, or perhaps a 34x18, and I lived in the same area for almost 30 years.

I have no idea how I did it, using those gears to get up those hills.

If I thought a course was "really hard", like a RR, then the end became something else, like 15-17-20-23. I've always preferred a close ratio in the smaller cogs since each shift is so big. The larger cogs, ratio"tightness" didn't seem quite so important.

At some point, just as I finished up with school, I started thinking that I was hot stuff on the bike. I decided that a 53x12 was simply too small a gear (although, based on my push style sprint, it had some basis in fact), and I went to the extreme - a 54 tooth ring.

54/42, 12-13-14-15-16-18-21

I actually did well in a bunch of races and this became my standard setup for perhaps 10-12 years. I'd toss on a 23 when I could find it for races, or a 45T inner ring for crits, but otherwise my main variance happened in cranks - by this time I'd been regularly using a 167.5mm crank, and it took the 10-12 years to wear out my unique equipment.

Then 8 speed came out. Instead of adding a bailout gear ("Who needs a bailout gear?"), I added some more top end, as soon as the cogs were available.

54/42, 11-12-13-14-15-17-19-21

I sometimes used a 51T ring (51/42, 11-21) in the winter and for slightly less than optimal sprints. My standard cassette lost me my unusual even cog ratios so the 51 made up for that - it gave me a range of gears not quite the same as anyone else's big ring. More than a few times guys came up to me after races and asked me how I pushed an 11 at a particular time - they felt bogged down, but since I had my chain over on the 11, they tried it too. I would grin and tell them I was running a small big ring.

About 15 years into my racing life my slightly shorter cranks wore out and I had to go get a replacement crank. Since I happened to be pretty broke, I ended up with some hand-me-down Campy cranks using a new-to-me bolt circle. This meant my various 54s didn't fit my new cranks so my gearing became sort of normal because I only had the hand-me-down's chainrings.

53/42, 11-12-13-14-15-17-19-21

My racing toned down some, I frequented group rides less, and I, well, got old or something. Suddenly I gained about 15-20 pounds in a winter and never lost it, hitting the 160 lbs threshold. This additional weight, along with the lack of training, started telling on me. I eventually got a 23T big cog, but I justified it to myself by saying that this would allow me to use a 53x21 at Bethel and not be in the extreme big-big combination. Whatever the reason suddenly I had a 23T on my bike. I also put on one of my many take-off 39T chainrings because, well, my 42 might have been a bit worn. That's what I told myself. It wasn't because I needed the 39. No way.

53/39, 11-12-13-15-17-19-21-23

In addition, since cogs started getting paired with other cogs (riveted together in many cases), swapping out individual ones became difficult. I had to stick with standard cassettes and this meant losing all my 16s and 18s. I still sometimes cobbled together something for weird situations, or just because I wanted to get psyched for an important race (the latter justifying some SRP titanium cassettes, or even Campy aluminum cassettes).

After breaking a lot of 8s speed derailleurs and such, I eagerly upgraded to the new fangled 9s with its nicer hubs, slick second generation Ergo levers, etc. I bought the mid-range Daytona group, before it got renamed to Centaur due to a trademark war with a certain race track in Florida. I didn't have custom stuff but I got a 14T.

53/39, 11-12-13-14-15-17-19-21-23

I upgraded to 10 speed at some point, when I needed new shifters, cassette, chain, and my derailleurs started feeling a bit played. I had an original, 9s when 9s first came out, Daytona group on my bike, and the drivetrain felt like it was on its last legs. A handy bonus from work paid for a 10s drivetrain and a pair of wheels.

53/39, 11-12-13-14-15-16-17-19-21-23

The 16T helped me immensely - the first time I rode 10s was at a Bethel race and I handily won the field sprint. I did well on this cassette ratio, winning races for the first time in 5 or 6 years, and racking up a few Cat three medals in the Nutmeg State Games.

When I got to about 39, I started borrowing my wife's 11-25. I liked it so much I bought my own. Yikes. I can say truthfully that I use this just for training - my racing cassette is still an 11-23.


53/39, 11-12-13-14-15-17-19-21-23-25

Then, to my horror, I wore out all my 10s cassettes at once. I bought one more and put into use a nice 12-25 Record steel/ti cassette I thought I'd never use, but since it came with my bike, I put it in a plastic baggie and buried it in my spare parts box. 12-25. Ridiculous. I need an 11 tooth. I do. Really.

Now I have a beautiful steel/ti cassette for training, with a normal steel 11-23 for racing.

53/39, 12-13-14-15-16-17-19-21-23-25

Fine, I have a 16T again, so that's nice for training, but it's titanium so it'll wear quickly. Arg. So I have a 16T but I try to avoid using it. Makes sense, right? At least the 12T gets used on descents pretty quickly.

What's next?

When I first started thinking about this post (this summer), one of my less-than-smart thoughts was to go back to my "original gearing", i.e. a 21T large cog and a 42T small ring. I mean, come on, I weigh 70 pounds more than I did when I first started racing well, and I'm 35-40 pounds heavier than my 20s. Could I lose all that weight? I think not.

Yet I actually contemplated using the 55/44 (or is it a 56/45? I forget) set aside for the tandem. Thankfully I resisted this temptation successfully. I suppose part of it was because I can't even turn a 53x11, so what would I use a 55x11 (or 56) for?

My next thoughts were about going to Compact. I'd do it a bit differently, staying with a 51T big ring (since I think I can use a 51x11 in a sprint), an 11-21 cassette, and staying with maybe a 36T small ring. Or, in deference to my lack of fitness, maybe an 11-23 cassette. But then I lose that big big ring. Hmph.

And, of course, I thought about 11 speed. So sexy. So smooth. So... Eleven. Then I'd have that nice 18T again, the 16T too, and I could cruise comfortably on those big ring rollers in the 18T or roll the 16T on those long stretches of road when training solo.

(Think Breaking Away, idling along on the tree covered road while turning over the 18 so nicely, then POW your tire blows.)

Or in my case, reality blows. The "reality blows" bit is that 11 speed is not in my near future. I have too many bikes to upgrade, not that much budget, and my crit racing is fine with a 10 speed 11-23 (or, perhaps, an 11-21). I can't realistically think about dropping 30 or so pounds either, although I secretly think about 15 pounds. So my bike will stay as is. I'll train on the heavier Giant, with heavier wheels, an 11-25, and I hope that when I get back on the Cannondale I'll suddenly gain a whole bunch of speed. We'll see how it goes.

First things first though. I gotta go ride.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Life - Kittens, Bikes, and Books

The missus and I have been pretty overwhelmed recently with a bunch of going-ons. A lot of things seem to have piled up, and with my "full time cyclist" time over, my time seems awfully limited.

I did manage to finish painting the mantle we'd had put up. I'd taped it off pretty thoroughly and felt proud when the fancy scrollwork actually looked a different color than the wall behind it. The black steel fireplace stuff got white on it but since we want to get a stove of some sort, that seemed less important. Plus, Sharpies are good for such "spills". The fancy-to-me woodwork looked nice after a lot of layers of paint. The missus was surprised at my efforts to make it look nice - I insisted on a couple extra layers of paint because, well, I wanted it to look professional.

Taped mantle.

The kittens are a biggie in the scheme of things. First off, they have fleas. We thought we'd give them a bath and remove the two or three fleas they had, maybe be done in half an hour, go get dinner or something.


They had so many it made my skin crawl. They were like ants running all over their bodies and especially their faces (since we couldn't dunk their faces in water).

About three hours later the kittens had about 200 less fleas. We painstakingly picked them off of the two white ones. The tabbies are more difficult and we only got a few off of them. We're at a loss for now, and since the bath was so traumatic (albeit effective at herding fleas) that we're waiting for the kittens to get older so we can give them a flea bath.

One of three bowls of rubbing alcohol with fleas. Makes my skin crawl. The first bowl had a bazillion fleas.

They're also afflicted with some runny poop (possibly related to stressing over their changing environment) and that makes for a lot of clean up every morning, lunch, and evening. Lots of sterilization of various towels, bedspreads, and such.

As expected the missus grew unbearably attached to the little tabby. "Bella" will stay here.

Bella looking adorable on the missus's leg.

The missus is holding one of the white kittens who is totally soaked after a miserable bath. The kitten was mewing frantically and Bella wanted to see what was wrong.

This is the miserable kitten above Bella. She gave up after a while.

Bella regretted being so curious a few minutes later.

We lost heart and let her off easy. After a couple hours of picking off fleas and making the kittens miserable, we were exhausted. Another evening gone, but with four much fluffier kittens we went to sleep feeling better about our day.

Just to make things clear, the twin white ones (boy and girl) and the larger tabby are looking for homes. We promise we'll have the runny poop bit handled before we let them go. Of course, as I pointed out to the missus, a little suffering along with the young'un goes a long way towards bonding with them. So if you want to bond with them through thick and thin, now's the time to do it. Based on that premise we're bonding like mad with the kittens, and although we dearly love them, we can't keep all of them.

The brother being protective of his sisters (the soaked ones in the prior pictures), right after the bath. He was first of these three so he is the driest.

We'll be talking to the vet about the poop, especially since we'll be picking up their newly spayed mom to release her back out in the wild. I think, and this seems reasonable, that such a feral cat won't be tamable (you should have seen her in the cage), but if you think otherwise, let me know. We won't leave her out in the cold (so to speak). We plan on setting off an anti-flea bomb or three in the crawl space a day or so before letting her go. We want to give her a flea and tick collar, and set up a suite of sorts under the store in the massive crawl space. I think too that some food out there regularly won't be out of the question either.

However, a regular home would probably be better, if such a thing would work for her.

Cats aren't totally dominating our lives, just the mornings, afternoons, and evenings. We did find time to do other things.

A couple Sundays ago we met up with four friends and went to a knitting type of festival the week before. The missus and another missus, Mrs SOC, have gotten heavily into knitting. We (the missus and I) exchanged roles from Interbike, with me snapping pics of the missus with her favorite author, the Yarn Harlot.

A bit more on topic with my blog, we went for a ride afterwards, the six of us, and it went well until my SRM head went blank. I panicked a bit inside because the prior ride was my long ride to get my red car, and I hadn't downloaded it. Not only that, I'd made a bunch of efforts and I really wanted to see how my legs stood up to a few hours of riding.

The missus pulling away. Mrs SOC is leading the chase, with me on her wheel. SOC is behind me, with an obscured OBAB. Hob is taking the picture.

Back at home, after a couple days of charging up the SRM head, I spent way too much time trying to download the data. The SRM head sometimes gets confused and spews jibberish at the computer. After trying to get a good download for a long time, I finally gave up. I let the current attempt finish and cleared the SRM's memory. Then I looked at the resulting chart, expecting to see another 10 minute ride where I averaged 2340 watts and maxed at 3892 watts. But, unexpectedly, the two resulting rides looked normal.

Lo and behold, I had both rides!

(Max wattage 1263 watts, at 3:13 into the 4:50 ride, and I was cooked after that. I did manage a bunch of sprints around that time though.)

This last weekend we spent our Sunday doing two things. First, the missus did a 5k, her first. Now I know what it's like to be the non-competitor and I was thinking of all the ways I could better support her - water, Gatorade, different layers of clothing right up until the start, better spectator navigation (maybe ride a bike to different points of the course), things like that. I think being a supporter is busier than being the competitor - it's just that you don't have to make those somewhat painful efforts during the event. When we got to bike races I have to remember this.

Second, we met up with our four friends again, making a trip to see Edith Wharton's house. Since I don't know too much about her, and I made this big assumption that she wrote classic romance novels, I figured she lived in a modest house, like a cape. So I figured that the whole trip would be a two hour drive into MA, stop at a little house, "Here's the living room, here's the bedroom, and here's the backyard. Bye!"

Little did I know.

She actually lived in this palatial mansion, she designed it herself (!), and it had a lot of cool little tricks incorporated into it to make it seem, well, more pleasant to the eye. Unfortunately the foundation that owns it is heavily in debt and it appears that the place is going to be foreclosed.

How about the "Edith Wharton 'Cross Race" or "Mount N'Cross" fund raiser races?

I was thinking that if that were my house when I was a kid I'd have been mountain biking around the yard. Maybe even doing 'cross. And probably dreaming of kart tracks or even a rally route through the woods.

I took lots of pictures of the trim and such, after my mantle experience. It looked like it would be really rewarding to add such fancy framework to our house. Okay, not quite as fancy as hers (our mantle is less fancy than her doorways), but, still, fancy.

Not a mantle, but bigger than our mantle.

And, yes, I'd paint it carefully.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Life - Rescue 911

So things have been slow on the bike front for the last couple days. I can think of a number of reasons for this, but one really stands out.

The first one is the cold weather - ice on my car in the morning, "ICY" warnings from the car computer, and slipping and sliding "summer" (or "turns into wood when it's cold") tires. I drive with the seat heaters and defrosters on, if you can believe that, and my summer bug wash windshield wiper fluid was frozen solid on a couple mornings.

The second is the distinct lack of time in my schedule when I work 8-5 on Saturdays. Usually the remainder of Saturday ends up spent doing other Saturday things, and I end up getting to bed exhausted, leaving just Sunday to do things like outlining 4 or 5 blog posts (which I haven't been doing like I normally do), doing a lot of riding (another negative), doing stuff around the house (currently a major priority with overnight guests arriving in two weeks - and we just got their bed today, but the living room is completely clogged with boxes and books and stuff).

Finally, late last week, another four or five distractions popped up.

Now I've always known we had some feral cats at the hardware store. With 10 or 20 or 30 tons of feed in the back, there's a lot of reason for cats to hang out around the place. Plus, with a 200 foot long crawl space, there are lots of places to camp out for the winter.

But it was last week when one of the guys walked in and announced that there were some kittens sunning themselves behind the building.

Kittens are my weak point. Case in point: Tiger.

Anyway, I called the missus, explained the dire situation to her, and we decided that we'd rescue the kittens, give them up for adoption (kittens are readily adopted), catch and spay the mom, re-release her to the wild crawl space (she's feral and probably wouldn't make a good pet), and go from there.

The first day of hunting netted me nothing. I got my gloves on them but little else, and I found some of their standard escape routes. I filed this away - strategy and tactics doesn't apply just to bike racing.

The next day, properly armed with gloves, a cap, and a bit of mission focus (so as to ignore the creepy crawly bugs, frogs - one actually jumped on me, and other horrific wildlife coexisting with the kitties), I set out to capture the kittens.

There were three - two white, one grey striped one. I went to their standard sunning spot, saw them, and approached rapidly. The two white ones quickly ducked down under the closest pallet. The grey formed a rear guard and gave the two white twins a chance to escape. I reached down between the slats and grabbed the bravely (but inaudibly) hissing kitten.

One down.

I found the pallet the two white ones liked to hide under, a couple removed from the sunning spot. I uncovered most of it, waited a bit (i.e. went back to work), then came back to the sunning spot after an hour or so. Predictably the two white kittens ducked down under the close by pallet and disappeared. Shortly after they appeared under their favorite hiding pallet. Since I "happened" to be standing there, I reached down and plucked one up.

Two down.

A quick return trip netted me the third one - I think s/he was lost without his/her twin and was sort of shocked into a frozen, not-good-for-getting-away state of mind.

Three down.

The kittens ended up in a nice clean grey bin, a perfect tool for holding kittens unable to jump more than, well, off the ground. Some electrical supplies gave up their box to the litter box cause, and a couple coffee cups ended up chopped down to create two tiny feeding bowls.

A large HavAHart trap went out for the mom shortly afterwards, with a nice big can of food as bait.

However, a minor problem popped up - a fourth kitten, this larger than the others.

The mom duly trapped herself and quickly polished off the can of food - hungry she was, as Yoda would say. She was frantic to get out, slamming into the sides of the cage, but eventually, in the office, she tired of smashing her head into the cage.

I took the mom, the missus took the kitties, and we met at our local vet. The mom would stay to get spayed, the kitties were given a couple weeks of freedom before having to return for tests and shots.

Naturally, we had to house the kitties overnight, bathing and feeding them, picking off fleas, rubbing their butts until they pee'd or pooped, stuff like that.

The aforementioned Tiger, extremely suspicious about what peed in this miniature litterbox. With various diseases potentially hosted by the kittens, this is as close as he got to them. He still hissed and popped every now and then.

As a sense of scale, that's a men's Timex watch. The kittens weigh less than a pound each (14 ounces or so). The grey one is distinctly smaller than the other two.

The kittens in the grey bin after we turned it on its side and put nice comfy towels inside (the kitten bed got washed).

We hadn't gotten, or forgotten, the fourth kitten. Being much more agile and much more street savy, this one would dart under a pallet and sit there, watching me, trembling. His back up pallet literally had a ton of mulch on it, and I couldn't readily uncover it to grab him. I gave up trying to catch it and decided I'd have to trap it too.

The next day, I set out the very large trap again, this time baited with a smaller, more kitten like can of food. A couple false starts worried me (little nibbles of food gone from the can, but no "trip"), but my last check netted me one very worried looking kitten, glaring at me, but this time from inside an unforgiving steel cage. She, too, rammed the cage with her head, but once in the office calmed down a bunch. A quick vet visit checked her out and the doc recommended introducing her to the other kittens, since, realistically, they were hanging out together beforehand.

So, the missus and I introduced the big kitten to the others. It went well except the three little ones all hissed at everything in sight, at least until they got food. Then they just hissed when they remembered that's what they're supposed to do.

Hissing is hard work. Carpet indicates it's Day Two (Day One was in a tile bathroom). The twins are male and female, and I don't remember which is which. I think the male is in front ("M" pattern on his head).

The final catch was this behemoth at 1 pound, 14 ounces. Fresh out of the cage, chowing down.

Old lady winter, with that beard and that glaring look. It is a she.

The HavAHart trap, with the little grey kitten eating (it's a she too).

All together, it gives a sense of scale as to the size of the little kittens. The big kitten is 1 pound, 14 ounces, and the bed is one made for kittens.

After eating numerous times, bellies bloated like little water balloons, the kittens settled down. We left a night light with them to keep them company and closed the door.

Tomorrow is Interbike East, for me at least. I hope to ride a bike or two, and if things go well, maybe I'll even stay dry. My goals will be to see if there are any aero road bikes, and if so, how stiff they are. I also want to check out power meters, helmet cams, and check out the SRAM technical seminar.

We'll see how that goes.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Story - Two And A Half Minutes

I recently spoke with a long ago teammate of mine, a friend who helped me get through some tough times at the bike shop. Back in those days we'd try to meet for breakfast and talk about all sorts of things. Business, of course, but also more "real" things. Life, relationships (I was having a lot of issues there), cars (I wanted to buy a 2 liter 200 hp turbo car like his Eagle Talon - or was it a Plymouth Laser? - but I couldn't afford it), and whatever else came into mind.

Bikes, too, of course. Wheels and posts and stems and frames and training and tactics and all sorts of stuff.

He was one of my first experiments in Maximum Optimal Sprint Speed (MOSS). He had struggled in one of the early Cat 5 races, getting shelled when the speed hit about 31-33 mph. I told him to check out a particular nearby stretch of road and to do some MOSS type sprints. He came back and grimly reported that his maximum speed was about 31 mph.

Okay, now we were getting somewhere - he was totally maxed out when the field cruised along at 31 mph.

If his maximum speed, under somewhat optimal circumstances, was less than the "attack speeds" of his field, then he was in trouble. I told him he has to get that speed higher. 35 mph minimum. 38 mph would be decent. 40 would be great. I gave him some tips on working on speed but, honestly, I don't remember exactly what I told him.

I didn't expect results in less than a few months, but within weeks he was reporting a dramatic increase in his speeds - mid to upper 30s. I can't remember when he broke 40, but by the end of a six or seven week series (Bethel of course), he was not only not getting dropped, he was contesting sprint finishes (!).

He improved throughout the year but realized that sprinting wasn't his true calling. Climbing was better - he won his class in a mixed field road race later that year - but crits weren't ideal for him. Since a lot of races in the area were crits, this made racing hard for him.

Of course I wasn't much help either. Ours was a team I ran and therefore it tended to run a crit heavy schedule. In addition the training in the area was more crit like than road race like. Finally the team placed a great deal of emphasis on Bethel because, well, because it was "our" race - we poured our hearts and souls into making it a success, with various endless envelope stuffing (for flyers the first few years), judiciously placed ads, and lots and lots of sweeping.

Plus it's easy to talk up a local race at the shop, a race that customers could relate to. Talking about some race in France wasn't as compelling when pointing out how nicely a bike works, but pointing out that this exact kind of frame won at Bethel ("and you can do the race next year if you want") had a lot more impact.

My friend (for convenience sake I'll call him Doc) was one of the really active folks on the team and in promoting the race. He even bought his own broom for the annual Sweep Day, which, as the folks that help out know, ends up being a weekly pre-race sweep event to clear away a winter's worth of sand and salt. On some days he would sweep until he had to race, change, and race.

Sounds kinda familiar.

I had no idea that brooms actually wore out until one day he showed up with what I thought was a "chopped broom". The bristles were maybe an inch tall (instead of three inches), perfectly even, and it looked like a "super stiff" version of a regular broom. I asked him where I could get such a broom. Doc pointed out that the bristles were just worn.


I guess a few years of sweeping can do that to a broom. Since the Bethel brooms get rotated, lost, melted, etc., I realized later that I only have one broom that is getting worn. The rest have been replaced long before they got to that point. And now, with our massive wheeled leaf blowers, sweeping is a much easier thing.

Anyway, during those sporadic breakfasts, Doc focused on helping me, helping the team, and helping assure the success of the race. He introduced me to the idea of having a website and to this day hosts (sort of) the Carpe Diem Racing website.

The following year he decided his biggest contribution would be to help out with the Cat 4s, specifically a guy named Tom, a team rider who seemed to be the strongest of our 4s. Tom was also one of the two full time guys at the shop so he was, at that point, committed to doing what he could in cycling.

This was back in the era of team meetings (convenient when everyone involved lived close to the shop, and a few of them worked there), team tactics, and race strategy plans. I, of course, loved this stuff, but, unusually, a lot of the other guys did too.

For the 4s Tom ended up the desginated leader by virtue of his strength - he seemed to rip the legs off of everyone around him. We decided (or he decided) that he'd try and infiltrate breaks if necessary, but if the field finished together he'd work the sprint.

Doc, a statistician of sorts by trade, carefully analyzed his own race and speed abilities. He figured that he'd be best at leading out Tom for the sprint. All for one, one for all. Based on his speed and his smooth pedal stroke (he'd worked on his pedaling over the winter), we gave him the final leadout spot.

We had a few other guys doing other things like working to chase things down, although, in the 4s in those days, that wasn't necessary very often. In addition Tom was strong enough to latch onto most threatening moves on his own. Other guys were assigned to tag along with breaks, help one of the "main" riders if necessary, and basically meld together into one huge elastic racer that covered the whole field.

We had one big (to us) rival team, customers of the shop actually, lead by a charismatic, friendly, and competitive guy named Gene. He'd come into the shop regularly and tease us mercilessly about the upcoming Bethel races, asking how we were riding, talking trash about how we'd lose the race (at his expense, of course), and goad us into joining his team (he'd wear his team jacket and point to it and tell us we could get one too). He was also really friendly, bringing us treats, inviting us to do the race at Yarmouth (we did, and we stayed at his place the night before), telling us stories of his various misadventures with wheels. He even came in and bought some tubes the first day I owned the shop.

Anyway, our goal that year was to win Bethel and to do so we'd have to beat this relatively strong trio of racers.

The first race came and, unfortunately, it was just after I'd bought the shop. We were doing some major reconstruction. Each night, after the regular long shop day, Tom and Doc and Josh and Kevin and a whole bunch of other guys were working a second shift work on the construction stuff. The first Saturday before Bethel, the shop guys (no Doc though - since he had a real job and a real relationship, these kinds of late nights were out most of the time) were up until some awful hour, maybe 2 or 3 in the morning. Afterwards we staggered out into the cold night, bid our goodbyes, and said we'd see each other at Bethel in, say, about 4 hours.

Incredibly we made it to the race on time, set up registration, swept the course, and did all those race promotion things. Doc had his chopped broom as usual and energetically swept all the various key points as usual. At race time Tom looked a little weary, but with a loyal and dedicated team behind him, he had a lot of motivation. Doc, the guy who had problems finishing a Cat 5 race the prior Bethel, looked to be a key team racer for Tom.

Doc's job, as we'd discussed ad nauseum, was to launch the field sprint, to go as hard as he could from a specific point on the back stretch. Tom would be on his wheel and go at the bottom of the hill, about 200 meters from the line. It'd be up to Tom and Doc to adjust their tactics based on wind direction, field competitiveness, and any other unseen variables.

As practice Doc brought Tom up on some particular lap. The experiment worked well and they settled in for the finish.

As expected the race came down to a field sprint. At the bell the various teammates were yelling their advice, cajoling their teammates to do something, all that stuff. Everyone's adrenaline was pumping - this was the first of the "real" races, the one where teams battled it out, not just individuals.

The field tore around the first turn and disappeared from sight. Everyone looking down course turned the other way, now looking to see who'd crest the hill first. We waited anxiously for the field to come around the last bend, the hush before the climax of the race.

Then, a cry, "Riders up!"

The screaming and yelling started again, but it was strangely focused because one rider was well clear of the rest.


He sprinted up to the line, raising his hands in triumph (luckily legally at the time). Our rival trio trailed in behind him, their leader unable to match Tom's strength.

The rest of the field crossed in dribs and drabs.

Tom, of course, was ecstatic. A big win for him. He said that Doc's leadout completely surprised the field, and that the sprint was a mere formality.

Speaking of which... Where was Doc?

He struggled up the hill, a couple minutes after the field finished. He looked totally spent. He actually looked ill, a bit grey. I asked him if something happened, maybe he dropped a chain, maybe a crash?


He had put his heart and soul into the leadout and had left nothing for the climb up the finishing hill.

It had simply taken him two and a half minutes to struggle up a 150 meter hill.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Training - Picking up the Red Car

The day started off pretty normally - wake up to the alarm...

Okay, from there it was not the normal day. Usually I get up and go to work, but Wednesday is my day off, so after the missus poked me a few times I gently told her it's my day off.

She immediately reset the alarm and went back to sleep.

Tiger, of course, jumped under the covers between us and started purring. Although there are a lot of different ways of starting a day off, this was one of the good ones.


Occasionally I get these weird mission rides in my head. Mission rides are rides with a mission, usually quite long. Some of my old mission rides were things like "Go see Kent, CT" or "Ride to Granville, MA" or "Ride to the Fairfield rest stop" or even "Go do Summer St Sprints".

The latest popped in unexpectedly a couple days ago. The mission - pick up my red car. The trip - get to the red car from the house. I mapped a route from where we live (almost in MA) down to where my dad (and brother and his family) lives in Wilton. It's a 90 minute drive so no slouch of a trip, but one way would be doable on the bike. With the weather cooling rapidly I hoped to get in a long ride or two while still wearing shorts, and this would be a great mission trip.

Gmap-pedometer said it would be about 79 miles - a walk in the park.

Well, for a pro. Not for me. My preparation included a couple rides on the trainer last week. Um. A ride maybe the week before? The last riding I did outside was... in Vegas, I think.

Reality hit about a mile from the house - riding outside motivates me, sometimes too much, and as I rolled along at an exuberant 34 mph, I realized I had about 4 or 5 hours of riding ahead of me.

I throttled back to about 18 mph.

The first 45 minutes traced some of my regular routes. The next 45 minutes followed some roads I'd driven on before. But the following 90 minutes were the best kind of riding - one way, on roads I'd never seen, with an inkling of where I'd end up.

After two hours I felt tired, my legs were twinging, and I had been riding on these long, open roads.

With a headwind.

I thought of the Tour of PA, and of the riders tackling similar looking roads, up, down, up, down, straight line, no curves, just up, down.

With a headwind.

They went 25 mph. I went about 14. I stopped thinking of ToPA.

I ran out of Gatorade (I took about 20 oz plus 20 oz of water) and gels (I took three) about three hours into the ride, just as I turned onto a familiar road, Route 7 up in New Milford. I saw a gas station, the counter, snack shelves, and soda fridges all visible from the door (good for bike security when you don't have a lock), slammed on my brakes, and turned in. 32 oz of Powerade and a 2 pack of Fig Newtons and I was all set.

The guy asked if I was having a lunch, then asked me where I'd ridden from. I told him Granby (because, well, it's almost where we are, and no one knows where Tariffville is). He didn't know Granby either, so I told him it was up by Massachusetts. His eyes and mouth turned into circles.

"That must be... 47 miles!" he said excitedly.

47...? What the heck? I smiled politely and left. I rolled down the road a bit and looked at my mileage - 53 miles. I figure this guy actually knew where the Mass border was, but he knew the highway distance.

I seemed to have caught a couple schools getting out, and that meant some one-on-one friendly time with bus bumpers. I got three of them, plus a really nice eighteen wheeler. My efforts, after (to me anyway) such a long ride, sapped me, and my "in between" bits went along pretty slowly.

My body really started to complain and I started remembering all the things that happen when you ride for a while. If you have thin shorts, and you sit down too quickly and slide back a bit on the seat, the lycra bunches up outside the padding, and you get this irritating lump. Knowing that it's turned into an abraded injury, I'd fix it every time it happened. Frankie Andreau called the last days of the Tour a "six sitter", meaning each time he sat down he had to sit down six times before his tender derriere felt happy with the saddle interface. My ride had become a two-sitter.

Unusually my triceps started to twinge, almost cramping. My inner thigh also started protesting. It piped up only 45 minutes into the ride, threatening to cramp. I rode through it but it got a lot more vocal as the ride went on. My calves were quiet until the 3 hour mark and then started hollering. Even my hamstrings got into the picture.

All this came to a head only a couple miles from the house. I had chosen to hit Route 102 in Branchville, a winding mile or so climb, a perfect sting in the tail. I'd forgotten that it's closed (bridge construction I think). The detour was the insanely steep Old Branchville Road to Nod Hill Road which climbs the same elevation in about half the distance.

The inner thigh suddenly piped up, at the most inopportune time - when I was in the 39x25 and just trying to stay upright. I shifted my pedaling load to the right leg, but that quad and calf weren't happy.

It's times like these that make me appreciate cycling. I suppose folks like desperate people running from homicidal soldiers have this same opportunity, but for me it just takes a bike ride. I'm referring to the idea of pushing physical limits, of reaching a breaking point, and of pushing through. With various parts of my left leg in serious trouble and with other parts of my right leg in trouble, plus arms that didn't want to support my weight, and the knowledge that I'd just fall over if I tried to clip out, I somehow managed to get the bike up about 300 meters of very steep hill. My pedaling had turned into some caricature of a bike rider - it probably looked like I was riding a bike with two different crank lengths, oval wheels, and a twisted frame, but my hobbling, gyrating, lunging pedal stroke (in other words just a little less smooth than normal) probably could have gotten me half way up Palomar Mountain before I actually cramped or pulled a muscle.

Of course, once the road leveled out, my legs were fine. Funny how your body forgets pain quickly.

At some point during the ride I realized that I had absolutely no supplies at my dad's house - no clothing, no shoes, nothing. I figured I'd have to drive home in socks but that I should be able to borrow some clothing from my brother.

Finally, just about a half mile from the house, I glanced at the woods and almost fell off my bike. I saw so many turkeys it looked like a Thanksgiving Day supermarket dressed up in feathers. I was shocked enough that I climbed off the bike and took two really bad shots. I tried to be Phil Ligget when he counts the group of 32 moving off the front of the group and counted how many there were - I got to 19, thought I might have missed one, but 19 for sure.

Turkeys, sort of.

The road in front. The dark jellybean type things are turkeys.

I made it home and told my sister-in-law I saw 19 turkeys trotting along in the woods.

"I saw 19 turkeys in the woods! All together! I was so amazed I stopped and took pictures!"
"19? I think it's 20. Three adults and 17 kids."
"Oh, in the spring the little ones were little. Now they're all about the same size. They walk through the yard and stuff."
"Oh. Um, I have a question. Can I borrow some shorts and a shirt?"

So much for my incredible siting.

I tried to eat, but after about 5 hours (80 miles) I simply didn't feel hungry. I had a glass of OJ because, well, I always have OJ when I go there, and I had a very small serving of soup. I felt very, very pro. I decided to wait out rush hour and sat and talked with my dad for a bit and forced myself to down a second glass of OJ. Then, with time rapidly running out for the day, I made the trek home, this time in the car.

Cold, I cranked the heat. The biggest thing was getting the rust off the rotors. The car pretty much slid down the driveway, the chattering pedal went away after an hour on the highway. When I got home the brakes were fine. I remembered one of the reasons why I like the red car - I started with half a tank and ended with half a tank. It's only a 10 gallon tank too.

You'd think that it'd be all good when I got home, but no. The garage looked like this:

Car belongs here.

And I needed to park a car inside.

I finally had a semblance of an appetite, ate a couple bowls of pasta, drank Gatorade, and tackled the garage. An hour or so later I pulled in the red car.

I was too tired to take a picture. But it's in that spot now.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Interbike - Felt AR

One of the things I looked forward to at Interbike was a look at all of the aero road bikes out there. I figured that there had to be a bunch introduced. With the announcement of the Felt AR, I thought that other companies would follow suit. With the AR introduced so late in the season, it would make sense for competitors to unveil similar framesets at the fall season IB.

Alas there were no framesets out there that met my criteria for an "aero road bike" - wind tunnel tested framesets designed to give an advantage to racers at any speed where wind resistance became a factor. I looked to a couple places to "judge" a frame - the fork/downtube area, the seat tube, and the downtube. All of these areas receive a lot of attention with TT bikes, so it follows that they should receive attention on aero road bikes.

Felt, it seems, is the only one out there with a truly aero road frame. I'd judge some other frames to be close, but not with the most up to date aero refinements.

Without further ado, my take on the Felt AR.

Rear quarter shot. Frame looks squashed from this angle.

I took this picture to capture just how thin the bike is when viewed as the wind sees it. The downtube especially loses a lot of width, something not obvious in the normal profile shots.

Bottom bracket. Cables run inside the frame.

The bottom bracket area has to retain some stiffness, so Felt increases the width of the frame until it appears pretty much normal just above the BB shell. A friend rode this bike (with the new mechanical Dura Ace) and raved about everything. Even on a very large size (he rode some enormous size - like a Magnus size) the frame exhibits adequate stiffness. I'd want to try one too, just to see, but if the rigidity is there, I wouldn't see any compelling functional reason not to use the frame. Yes, cost, yes, sponsorship, but any "logical" reason?


To run the cables inside, you have to insert them somewhere.

The top tube, just behind the head tube, is a popular spot to insert cables. With the stem already disrupting airflow, this is a great spot to stick vertical, unaerodynamic cable housing. It has to be a low stress area too - I don't recall manufacturers welding reinforcements to the top of the top tubes on BMX bikes, for example.

Fork to downtube relationship.

One of the areas pinpointed in time trial frames is the fork-downtube area. Trek came out and declared it relatively important in their latest TT frameset design. Felt deals with it by dropping the downtube so that it allows airflow to smoothly come off the fork crown.

The downtube - tire detail. The tubing is so smoothly seductive.

The downtube continues its air flow smoothing effects by following the front wheel profile. Apparently this spot is where the air really separates from the tire, and the little notch helps pick up the turbulence and gives it a smooth surface to follow.

A blurry rear stay.

Although not a clear picture (a problem apparently occured with the nut that holds the camera), it's apparent that the rear seat stay is faired in pretty well. No lumps presented to the wind. Well, not until you install the rear brake.

And there's the problem.

With all this aero frame stuff, suddenly the components look, well, un-aerodynamic.

I think that'll be the next component group thing - more aero brakes, more aero derailleurs. With normal road frames going aero, there'll be demand for more aerodynamic components. Hanging a big lunky brake on a smooth, sleek fork simply won't cut it anymore. Nor will the big, lunky bottles.

Here's my prediction for today:

I figure in the next few years we'll see a lot of aero bottles (with a somewhat standard cage shape for versatility) and narrow profile major brand (Shimano, Campy, SRAM, FSA) brakes on aero road bikes in mass start road races. Think of a reincarnation of DuraAce AX, but this time the components will be light, functional, and stiff.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bethel 2009 - Already?

It's a bit late, I'm a bit tired, but I'm feeling a certain amount of satisfaction in what we (the missus and I) have accomplished in the last couple days.

First off, on Saturday night, I caught up with some friends I hadn't seen in forever, and the missus finally got to meet the guy that made the podiums for the Bethel races. No, they don't fold into each other, but as the price was right, they've been just fine. Anyway a 5 minute stay ended up becoming something like 50, and we had to leave because, well, my family was waiting with some BBQ ribs and such, and you can't leave that stuff hanging.

The cool thing about the catching up bit is that we picked up a 55x55 track frame (with headset and post) - the guy is donating it to the New England Velodrome. I don't know when I'll make it up next but it'll be nice to be able to help Tony with the NEV.

We got to the house, had ribs, caught up with the family, and watched, would you believe it, Breaking Away. My sister in law had never seen it, and she's an enthusiastic movie watcher (like all of us) so it was a great time. I caught or remembered things I hadn't caught or remembered:

- the "helmet cam" shots of him chasing the co-ed on the Vespa thing - I wonder if that's where I got my inspiration.
- how hard the cycling double was riding - that guy was hammering, especially behind the truck.
- Dave clobbers a lamppost while singing - I cracked up when I saw that bit.
- I always get allergic reactions and such in my eyes when he drafts the truck and when he races at the end. Damn dust.
- I was trying to see if one of the Cinzano guys really was Christian Vandevelde's dad. I don't know what he looks like so it was hard to "guess". I heard that another local kid's dad was also a Cinzano guy, and the credits only list two names.

We also drove the Bethel van up into our neck of the woods. It's been living in my dad's yard, and the vines were starting to grow around the door handles and such. Sunday morning I prayed, turned the key, and with just a minor complaint, the engine cranked over and roared to life.

I rocked it out of its parking spot (it's basically backed into the woods), yanking it free of those pesky vines.

That's when I smelled the smoke.

Not only did I smell it, the inside of the van was full of it. A pleasant enough smoke, reminded me of a firepit I stood over just last week. But inside the van, that was a bad thing.

I quickly parked the van in the middle of the driveway, away from the other cars, and jumped out, armed with one of a few fire extinguishers in the van.

After some careful poking and prodding I failed to find the source of the smoke.

I waited a bit more, to see if some petroleum product would suddenly burst into flame (I have 3-4-5 gas cans, one a 14 gallon, and three propane tanks, so any fire is unwanted), but the van remained inert.

I had another epic battle with ants, taking much less mercy on them this time than last time. I guess all that work in the hardware store helped harden me as far as killing insects go. I don't like sprays (although I admit to spraying mosquito repellant directly onto nearby mosquitoes) but I will stomp or swat, depending on the tactical situation.

I loaded up the van, sat for a bit and talked with my brother. The missus came home from a nice workout and, after a pause to watch Speed Racer with two very enthusiastic nephews ("Do you want to skip to the race?"), we headed home.

Well, with an IKEA detour. And a stop at a gas station. $3.15 a gallon! What's happened to this world? We used to feel lucky if it was under $4, and now we're almost down to the $2s.

With an additional 300 or so pounds of particle board, $105 of gas (another couple hundred pounds of weight, and I didn't fill any of the gas cans), we headed home. We'd (I'd) planned on dropping by our friends Todd and Donna - it's where all my car stuff is housed - but the van was full and heavy, so I canceled on that.

At home we swapped the van seats in the garage for Bethel stuff. That took a while since the van seats were buried in "stuff to bring in the house". We parked the van (with its seats) in a top secret paved location. I hope to be able to spiff up the van a bit - it deperately needs a tune up, a new battery (it's been struggling along with a battery about half the size it should be), and some rust proof type work.

All this work with Bethel reminded me of all the pages of notes I made after the last Bethel, with ideas on making the race better, accelerating registration, reducing set up and breakdown time, and even getting the sweep to become a much less intimidating thing.

Of course all that stuff motivated me to do a ride, and since it was late, it ended up a trainer ride. I hadn't watched Floyd's Tour in a while so that's what I popped into the DVD player. I wonder what they'd find if they tested the 2007 (not Floyd's year, I know, but one Schumacher was doing some inspired riding) samples for CERA - new medicines have to be tested, so CERA has got to have been around for years and years before they put it on the market.

But that's for another day.

Bonus of the day?

The missus, while unburying the van seats, found the front wheel block for the trainer.

So, for the first time in the house, my front wheel didn't wobble everywhere.

It's the little things.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Interbike - Rock Racing

When the missus and I first landed in Vegas, it wasn't a totally unfamiliar place. We've been here a couple times before, usually right after Bethel ends. So things seemed sort of normal.

As usual I took in the incredible amount of development, vast expanses of concrete and asphalt, and made the comments I always make when I arrive in Nevada or Southern California.

"Why doesn't every building have an array of solar panels on top of it?"

And other ones like, "I feel kind of guilty being a human being here." Stuff like that. I'm no extreme green type person, but I have fought to, say, save metal for the metal pile at the dump, or to keep a very unsightly (leaf and twig) compost pile going. The latter lost its battle when the house went up for sale, but until then it was adamantly a part of the house.

Anyway, I quickly tire of such things (or not, the missus would be the one to ask) and looked out at the various not-so-nice buildings off the strip. As the shuttle rolled up Paradise Road, I glanced a bit tiredly out the window to the east.

Terrible's Casino.

What a tough name to work with, I thought, sympathizing with its marketing crew.

Then I jumped.

"Look, look, it's the Rock Racing truck!"

The missus clamped a hand on my thigh to keep me from jumping out of my seat like a little boy. Or a big boy. Whatever.

That familiar green and black of Rock Racing. We were at Interbike.

When we got a chance to get to one of the Rock Racing signing sessions, I practically dragged the missus over there. We wandered past the amazon woman posing so dramatically at the tent entrance (I didn't take a picture of her, but I probably should have - she really needed a whip in her hand to complete the image).

There were bikes of course, but in the close quarters it was hard to take a shot that captured the whole thing. I got what I could:

Used. And not immaculately clean. At Interbike, to be not totally pro is to be, well, pro.

Werd. I don't know the history of this one. Meaning the bike, not the link.

The Werd Bike. Fork.

I'm pretty sure the Sex Pistols were playing (Anarchy in the UK), and I wanted to see who they had doing the tunes. Ended up a serious looking record playing thing, not just an iPod, so I snapped a pic of it. Since it was a bit shadowy I used the flash.

The flash reveals something I didn't know was there.

I checked the camera to make sure the picture came out okay. This former Cat 2 and current bike wrench guy I know named Hans would be interested in seeing what they had - he'd probably be able to tell me exactly how to set one up too.

I looked up and "Presto!" a girl had appeared. She was just as surprised as we were, and we both exchanged, "Holy smokes you scared me I didn't see you there!"

A professional, she quickly returned to queuing up whatever she had just picked up.

So I snapped a pic.

Hey DJ.

Anyway, a bit flustered from having a girl pop up from behind a fancy DJ machine, we went back out to stand in line for autographs.

Apparently we got there early - I think we were third in line - but I spent the time well, trying to get shots of Michael Ball and his very tall hair, Tyler, Fred, and, Rahsaan. And whoever else.

Whoever else - Rahsaan, Fred, Michael (he has white sneaks on). Note the woman to the left - dark hair. She comes up later.

We got wind that Tyler was eating or something and was working his way over to the booth, but obviously he wasn't there.

They finally decided to sign, Tyler or no Tyler.

Rahsaan and Fred were very gracious, very pro, and signed posters for us. You can see the stack of them in the picture above - very nice, slick prints, not cheap at all.

Then we all got in a parallel line, in front of the vacant seat. After all we wanted Tyler's autograph too.

A few minutes later, hey, he shows up.

The Three Musketeers.

He signed things but was incredibly distracted. He'd sign, then talk to someone off to his left (is that stage left or stage right?). Then he'd sign again, then talk again.

Since this was the second time I've seen him in person (in the Rock Racing era), and first time all dressed up, I took a snap of his shoe.

One bad azz shoe. Or is it a boot?

Of course this got me curious. What are the other guys wearing, right? Black alligator boots? Snakeskin?

I could see how women could end up with more than a few pairs of shoes. Heck, I have three sneakers, a winter pull on, a summer pull on, steel toe boots, and water shoes. And that's not even thinking about all my cycling shoes.

Anyway I asked Rahsaan if I could take a picture of his shoe. Ever the professional, he told me it was fine only if I got the sock with it. He carefully posed for me.

RR sock. The beauty is in the details.

Fred signed not only the RR poster but also my US Pro jersey. And when Tyler showed up, he signed the US Pro jersey too. Very cool.

Was this the end?

No. We didn't go back into the booth, although I liked the tunes. I only remember the Sex Pistols for sure, and I want to imagine they played Midnight Oil, but I think someone somewhere has a much better playlist than I, probably someone at SRAM (they were next to RR) or Bicycling (ditto).

We didn't stalk anyone, didn't follow the girls around, nothing. But, a couple days later, in the waning hours of Interbike, we got to see a very curious sight.

The gentleman behind the blurred guy is one Johan Museeuw. And that's Tyler. And the dark haired RR woman from that picture with Michael Ball.

The blurred guy is gone.

I figure if they didn't want it to be public they wouldn't have made it so obvious. RR basically marched about 10 people over to Museeuw's booth, including some definite attention getting guys like Tyler. Okay, so I only know him in the entourage, but talk about attention getting.

Anyway, they settled down to talk and I started feeling a bit slimy taking pics so we left.

Wouldn't it be the schnizzle if Museeuw became the race director of the European arm of RR? Okay, fine, they wouldn't be getting into the big races just yet, because I think everyone would be up in arms about all these formerly suspended confessed-or-not racers being on the team (or staff), but still.

Museeuw knows the Classics like no one else and I have to imagine he'd be one heck of a resource when putting together a virgin team on the Continent. Heck, he could be an on-the-road captain. He's alluded to riding again, like so many others, but I just can't see it, not at the top level.

But I see him in the team car, radio in hand, TV on the dash.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Interbike - Schwag

Back to some Interbike stuff. I promise a short story. Really. But first the schwag bit.

Interbike stuff. When I say "stuff", I mean stuff. Schwag stuff, free stuff, stuff stuff, the stuff you get at the show, gleeful until it's time to pack to go home. Then you wonder if you're going to make the 50 pound "no fee" limit on checked bags (we did, by a lot - next year I can collect 12 pounds more stuff).

I have two sections of schwag. One section is posters and such. The other is everything other than posters. And I've hidden a few things for later posts. That just means I put them in such secure spots that I couldn't find them while I had the camera in my hand.

You've seen a few items before - the Campy Trade Catalog, signed by one Valentino. The Dog in a Hat, signed by one Joe Parkin. But there are a lot of other things.

I'll start at the top left and work my way around the clock.

Holy crap that's a lot of stuff.

Since I was selective in picking things up, there are very few things that don't belong. In fact, I'd say one thing doesn't belong - a bottle I picked up just passing by a booth. I'll post on it later but I feel kind of guilty for picking it up because, frankly, I had no interest in the company. Since the bottles are all in the dishwasher, I don't have any in the picture.

Anyway, from the top left:

- SRAM T-shirt (I traded a ToPA shirt for it, and they donated my shirt to a local charity).
- SRAM stickers, couple sets. I have a SRAM something somewhere on some bike I think.
- Campy Trade Catalog, open to the signature page.
- Tiger. He's the cat.
- Another Campy catalog, this one a service one.
- Liquigas team shirt, gift of a friend who is a director of a team that is not Liquigas.
- Campagnolo T-shirt, for showing up at the tech seminar. This I had to earn.
- Krytonite band
- Livestrong band
- USPro Jersey - I brought it to Vegas but I got two more signatures - Tyler and Fred Rodriguez. Tyler is not quite accurate since it's a Philly jersey but Philly or not, Tyler is wearing the stars and stripes. I got the jersey from a friend of mine a long time ago and have been working on getting signatures on it.
- WTB sticker - I love one of their saddles and have contemplated putting it on my road bike.
- Card signed by Lemond. That rocks.
- Velonews - given out by VN.
- Dog in a Hat
- Pass holder neck things., Gore bike wear (IB issue), and Kryptonite lock. The Krypto one is the nicest, soft and comfy.
- Avid, SRAM, Rockshox - more SRAM stickers. I'm skipping the black stickers at the bottom for now.
- My IB pass.
- Mapei jersey. Another "I brung" jersey, but it had a crucial addition on the return flight - Johan Museeuw.
- Err, a postcard with a bike. It had meaning when I took it.
- A postcard with a painting of a naked woman in boots. Given to me by the owner of a women's clothing company that seemed very hip and with it. She loved the reactions when folks realized what was on the card.
- Card signed by Phil and Paul. Rocks.
- Interbike schedule.
- Industry Cup number. #11. I didn't make half that many laps. Doesn't rock.
- Black Sock Guy IB socks. I wore them shortly after I took this picture.
- Black Clif Bar t-shirt. They were handing them out and it looked like they really wanted to give one to me. I gave in and accepted one.
- Toilet paper. I'll explain later.
- The grey thing peeking around the corner is the Campy bag that all this stuff was in.

Tiger can't believe that all this fit in one bag. Any excuse to put him in pictures.

Toilet paper. I told you I'd explain. On Day One, at some point, I went into the bathrooms, and specifically went into a stall. I found the following:

Lemme see. Will it be a tractor?

Of course I wondered what it would be when it was all done. I guessed tractor. Then I wondered what color it would be - John Deere? Is some new company selling bikes? I checked the color chart.

#1 - Brown

Okay, I can handle that. The ground is brown. Let's see what number two is.

#2 - Brown


#3 - Brown

Can you guess the other colors?

I didn't have the guts to start snapping pictures in the stall (although someone did, and it made the daily Show magazine the next morning) so I took a few extra sheets for safe keeping.

Next up, posters. I only pulled out the significant ones. I actually did an inventory of posters along with their dimensions. With a bike room to hang such things, I want to, well, hang them. Framed, of course. I have more from prior Interbikes, but these new ones are pretty cool too.

The signed posters. Tiger is upstairs with the missus.

From the top right, going clockwise again:
- Eddy Merckx. I feel sort of sorry for him. I saw him after the signing, the next day, at the booth, in one of the little alcoves that acts like an office. He had a stack of posters about two inches tall in front of him, an agent type guy sitting next to him, and a Sharpie in his hand. As the two talked business he was signing autographs like a robot. I bet he didn't expect three decades of autograph signing when he retired. I mean, maybe he did, but I felt sorry for him for having to sign all these autographs. If I had one of his bikes, or sold them, or something, then I wouldn't feel too bad, but I don't, so I feel bad for having him sign my poster. However, I also feel like the missus missed out since she jumped out of line to get a shot of me and the Cannibal. She sacrificed her poster for me. Did I mention that we had our anniversary two days ago? She's a great person.
- George Hincapie. I raced against him way back when. I think he weighs about the same as he did then. I weigh about 70 pounds more than I did back then. I wonder if I got back to 102 pounds how I would do in races. He signed in silver.
- Garmin - Christian, Ryder (what a name for a rider.. haha), and Will. This came from the yarn story.
- The Rock Racing trio. More to come on them.
- Lance. Because he's Lance. It was right after that contentious press conference and he didn't look too happy.

Finally, a story, because I promised you a story.

I was deep in the forbidden zone called the media center when I met a guy (the guy?) from Dirt Rag. They were doing bits on the show. I noticed the guy had some stickers, and I could read "Interbike isn't about..." and that was it.

Although I don't follow mountain bikes, I don't know that particular guy from Peter and Paul, and I didn't have appropriate mountain bike scars on my legs, I was curious how the dirt folks viewed Interbike, at least compared to the asphalt folks. And if someone had the gaul to say that Interbike wasn't something, I wanted to know what it was. New technology? Dealers buying things? Official "intros" of things introduced months before? What wasn't Interbike about? Obviously it implies that lots of folks think Interbike is about something, and this guy is disagreeing.

I asked to see the sticker.

He held it out.

The second one is a bit harder to decipher, but apparently Bruce Dickinson is a rock band guy.

I laughed. "This is great!", I told him.

The guy smiled. He looked tired but he obviously liked the stickers and the reactions they garnered.

I couldn't resist a little dig.

"Hey, can I have like, um, ten more?"

He automatically started counting out a bunch of stickers.

"No, no, I was just kidding."

He handed what he'd counted over.

We sparred for a few words but I kept the stickers - five of them anyway. Maybe six.

Because, you know. Interbike isn't about scoring free sh*t.

But scoring free sh*t totally rocks.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Racing - When Not A Winner

One of the things necessary to appreciate a book like Joe Parkin's is the will to race when not going for the win. I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by a culture that didn't emphasize winning. I mean, yeah, it was great if you won, but it was just as important that you tried, and tried hard.

Although I may practice victory salutes (or bike throws) on the bike, deep down I have a different dream. And, unfortunately, I can't practice it very well.

I've always, always wanted to be a strong domestique.

Riding for others frees me in many ways. It relieves me of any pressure to "do well" because, frankly, I'm not expected to do well at all. It also motivates me because I get a lot of motivation from wanting to help others. A great example is George Hincapie. It seems that when he races for others, he'll ride himself so far into the ground it's hard to believe he can get on the bike again.

Need someone to pull the field over the high mountains in the Tour? No problem. George will do it, and do it with such class that he inadvertently might end up strong enough to win a mountain stage (!?).

But when he rides for himself, for that elusive win in Paris Roubaix for example, it seems that something always happens. His form or will or desire lacks just that special touch that makes huge wins possible. I think, unfortunately for his Classics win count, that he's a racer that works best when working for someone else.

A lot of my better rides came because of altruistic motivations - one of my better races was the time I gave a huge leadout for a Cat 4 that had never even contemplated being a team leader. I told him before the race that I'd work for him totally and completely. This promise motivated to hold field position with him (instead of drifting to the back), got me to talk to him during the race (instead of groveling in silent pain), and brought me to the front of the field just after the bell, to lead him out. I did the hardest, fastest lap I've ever done in the wind to drag him to the line. I relished letting someone else feel a bit spoiled during a race, to have someone else be the protected one. The fact that he didn't win, or even place, didn't bother me.

Another time I was totally demoralized in a relatively big race (a target one for me), expecting not even to finish. But somehow I made it to the closing laps, and, like a sprinter, got that welcome rush of adrenaline that would make it virtually impossible for me to get dropped. I decided that helping a friend, even though he rode on a different team, would be better than finishing mid-field. Since I was buried deep in the field, mid-field would have been realistic.

Instead, in order to help my friend, I made a supreme effort to move up to him, reaching him with half a lap to go. When he suddenly went backwards and lanes opened up for me, I seized the opportunity and went for it. I lost by a narrow margin, but I'd won the Connecticut Crit Championships for Cat 3s.

The irony is that if I hadn't been motivated to help my friend John, I wouldn't have done all that hard work to move up.

This leads me into something I wrote regarding a racer who wanted to know how he could do better if he can't do well in any particular discipline - he can't sprint, can't time trial, and can't climb.

My thought?

Winning is relative.

I would say that a racer (not a rider) who doesn't have a winning sprint or winning form or winning climbing legs who truly wants to help their team should never be finishing races or rides with the group. They should be annihilating themselves before the end in order to help their teammates and then should roll in 1 or 10 or 30 minutes down.

To such a racer, I'd say that it is not a poor performance to ride like that. When a football team scores a touchdown, is the offensive guy laying on the field at the line of scrimmage "a loser"? No, because without that guy making a crucial block, the scoring teammate wouldn't have been able to get down field.

In fact, in all probability, the guy laying on the ground was a much better choice for throwing that crucial block. Just like you wouldn't expect the quarterback to be charging the big dudes on the line, you also wouldn't expect the team leaders to be chasing down breaks willy-nilly.

If you are perhaps a moderately gifted racer and you decide that you have no chance in an upcoming race, you can still help decide the outcome. You may end up at the figurative line of scrimmage as your team leader scores that figurative touchdown, but you can help. That score will be part yours.

Figure out who is strong on the team and do your utmost to whittle down the group until that strong racer/leader/s is/are in the select few. Ideally you should be isolating your opponents so your teammate is matched up to his advantage. For example, if your leader can't sprint as well as Mr Sprinter, make sure that when Mr Sprinter is gasping for air at the back that you launch at least 5 or 10 sharp attacks to permanently rid the field of Mr Sprinter. If Mr Climber is suffering in the severely windy section, start leaving gaps behind your team leader that others have to close. Repeat ad nauseum. When the boys start picking up on your tactics, start launching attacks instead. When they get tired of that, start leaving gaps again.

When there is a gap between you and a select group that includes your team leader, don't close it, never close it, even if it'll take just a tiny little pedal stroke. Let others close it. If it's 100 meters or more (10-ish seconds), let others close most of it, then, when it's down to 50-80 meters, launch a sharp attack so only you bridge. Then push the pace in that select front group until you come off again. When the chase group overhauls you, sit in. Let them get agonizingly close to the break. Bridge when you can bridge solo. Repeat. Repeat again.

Piss off those chasing eff'ers. I know I'd be mad at you if I were your opponent because you are doing exactly what you need to do to help your team leader without riding unclean - no shoving, no pushing, just simple pedaling, riding smart, using my situation against me. I'd be like "eff that break, I'm going to break this guy in the sprint". And then guess what? You've won.

You're going to a race in which you have no hope of even finishing with the field? You should be chasing down every break that gains 10 seconds that doesn't have a teammate in it. When there is no break you should be launching attacks, getting into breaks, and then not pulling.

If you help your team and explode yourself doing that, there is no disappointment possible. You think Cancellara felt disappointed after detonating the Tour in the mountains? Voight? They may not have finished in the lead group, or even in the second or third groups, but after "their" stages, the other guys weren't talking about Evans or Schleck or any of the other contenders. They were talking about the ultimate supremo insane riding of guys like Cancellara, Voight, guys who put it all down on the road for their team.


If you claim to be contributing to the team and you are finishing in the front group, unless you are doing a massive leadout (and thereby finishing off the back so you aren't finishing in the front group so scratch that) then you are contributing nothing. Say that like DeNiro would say it, nasal like, Capone like.



If you don't want to contribute to the team then that's fine. Ride towards your goals, ride for yourself.

But think about the alternative. How many target races do you have marked on your calender? Okay, that's fine.

Now, how many races are you entering "just because", to get some racing in, to see how your legs are, to see how those wheels are in a crit?

A lot, right?

Why waste all that time? Why not just go for a training ride?

Because racing is fun.

And what could be more fun than helping a teammate in one of those races?

Those "just because" races are all events where you can work for the team. See how your legs are, but do it while at the front of the field. See how those wheels corner, sure, but do it by blasting into Turn Three 50 meters clear of the field, with 15 laps to go. Then repeat, 14 laps later, but this time with your team leader glued to your wheel.

I even help my teammates get ready for the race - put their bikes together, inflate their tires, check their skewers, make sure there are plenty of drinks close at hand. I don't want them to worry about a thing.

Okay, I admit that I let them dress themselves. But after that anything is fair game.

Let's take a racer I know pretty well: me.

I can't climb but I used to be able to pull on the flats. I'm also reasonable at navigating through a field of racers. These were my strengths. I could get to the front and I could go sort of fast on flat roads for a short time.

I used to enter road races simply to bring my teammates to the base of the first climb in good position. Chasing the stupid early breaks at 35 mph is fun. It's also sort of funny to look around and see all the obviously sprinter type guys doing exactly what you're doing - helping out their much lighter teammates before the sprinter types get shelled.

I drove to 3+ hours Jiminy Peak, chased down the stupid effer who attacked in the neutralized dirt parking lot, and helped drive the field at 35 mph in pouring rain until, suddenly, unexpectedly, we passed by him, standing on the side of the road, holding a wheel in the air. All us flatlanders sat up and drifted back, exhausted from the effort. The field took it easy until the climb at the end of the lap, and I did my part, got my guys to the front before the right turn, and then hung on for dear life. I made it maybe 1/2 way up and then exploded spectacularly. 40 miles to go and I packed it in.

But it was a success, at least for me. After I changed I warmed up the car so my teammates, as they trickled into the parking lot, had a warm place to change, dry, out of the cold, damp rain. And, if I recall correctly, one of them actually did sort of well.

On the other hand, if there is a 20 rider break up the road in the P123s at Prospect and my piddling Cat 3 teammates bring back the break and lead out the sprint and I manage 6th against some very tough P12s, then that's great for everyone, including the guys who did that massive work to bring back the break. And my teammates can pat themselves on the back for years afterwards.

Only the ones that tried to do something for themselves and instead lost the race for their team ought be feel disappointment. Unfortunately that's really the leader's weight to carry. If I get a massive team support, guys chasing down everything, guys not working in breaks, then they do a huge leadout for me, and I get third (and asking myself what the heck just happened) in a Cat 3 race, well, that totally sucks. It sucks for me. It sucks for the boys. And I've done that and it totally, completely sucked. It was like being at a funeral right after that race. And I was responsible. It was the worst.

But when teamwork works?

That is what bike racing is all about.