Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bethel Spring Series - March 1 CANCELED

With a heavy heart, numb fingers, and sand filled hair (and shirt and ears and mouth and pants and boots...), I've decided to cancel the race tomorrow. I tend to wait until the last minute to do things like this (like when ice starts forming on the registration tables), but this time I felt the need to do it now.

I'd told the guys sweeping that it's hard to cancel the race when it's sunny and blue skies out. Now it's overcast, the wind has blown in, and it's really cold.

Therefore no race.

This buys everyone another week to train, or recover, or get that final piece for the bike. Or, for me, to get better.

Even with snow on tap I decided that we should have the Sweep Day. I figured that all the sand and dirt would be caked on the pavement pretty well, and even though they'll be spreading more during the storm, I felt that starting with a clean slate would make next week easier.

A bunch of guys showed up, a good core group. Everyone really put their efforts into clearing the sand, and, if "time flies when you're having fun", then we must have had a lot of fun for about four hours.

We had a total of three power brooms (two bristle ones, one paddle one). Incidentally I learned why the pros like the paddle ones - paddles don't throw sand in your face. Bristles do.

We also had two wheeled leaf blowers and three backpack blowers. And brooms and shovels and buckets. Yep, we filled 10 five gallon buckets of sand.

I'm a bit dazed now, exhausted. I wasn't very coherent at the end of the Sweep, but I think some food and drink will help.

But first an important little task - take a ride in my brother's new (he got it while I was in SoCal) Civic Si.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Life - Traveling

Yesterday (Wednesday the 25th) was my last day in California on this trip.

I went for a ride, a pseudo recovery one after my Palomar ride the prior day. I got about a hundred yards down the road and seriously contemplated turning around. But with the sun shining (albeit with an extremely chilly breeze), I decided to keep going.

It took me an hour to warm up, literally and figuratively. I think it helped that I had turned around and the wind was behind my back. I had the GoPro but only captured a second here, a second there. The battery life in the thing is frankly terrible (45 minutes? Less than the memory, that's for sure) and since I couldn't tell if it was recording (no easy to see indicators), I couldn't verify that I was recording (or not).

I got home and spent some time bonding with one of the two kids. Both of them realized that I was leaving, but they're also young enough not to be able to express it. This meant both of them acted a little differently, one quieter than normal, one louder than normal. They're both terribly affectionate kids though, and it make it kind of easy for me to sit on the couch and watch TV (not Clone Wars, surprisingly) instead of doing laundry and packing my bike.

With a 7 PM pick up scheduled (shuttle to the airport), I only started the laundry at about 5, packing my bike at about 5:45. I got a bit stressed at the end, all my fault I know, but the bike was packed quickly (20 minutes?). I checked the dryer every few minutes and took out the dry stuff and jammed it in my bag.

The shuttle came and it was a Town Car (!). So I felt like a big shot. Too much of a big shot. I asked the driver if I could sit in front, because, well, it'd be weird sitting in back.

Plus the guy had a detachable steering wheel in the trunk off of his Integra.

The 35 minute drive went by quickly, chatting about the area, cars, and bikes. Apparently he spent much of the day (from 4 AM!) picking up folks with bikes who had come out to the area to watch The Race. He seemed perfectly alert though, and I got to the airport in plenty of time.

I found my gate, and with my cough still around, took my second last swig of Nyquil before I boarded the plane. The stress of the day, the fatigue from the riding, and the aforementioned Nyquil made me so drowsy I literally couldn't open my eyes for the take off (and I had a window seat). I listened instead, hearing the different pitches of engine noise as the plane accelerated, took off, turned, then throttled back.

I woke up over Pennsylvania, about an hour before we landed. I had to take my last bit of Nyquil to avoid coughing up a lung, and I managed to control my leg/feet discomfort until we landed.

Now just one more leg and I'll be at home. And then... well, I have a lot of things I have to get done.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Training - Palomar, For Real

On Tuesday I took action on a plan to attack Palomar. I know I climbed Palomar on Saturday, but I felt that it wasn't a "true" climb because I didn't ride to the base. I wanted to fix this little detail before I left for home. With questionable health (as in I slept all day Monday) I wasn't sure if I could even make the attempt, but with Tuesday my last full day here, if I was going to make an attempt, it had to be that day.

The weather forecast went all over the place - 50s on the mountain, mid-60s down a bit. But with clouds starting in the early afternoon, this would cool down the mountain a bit (40s?), and the sunny morning would add a perceived 10 degrees or so to the "lowland" temperatures.

To avoid carrying too much gear, I decided on wearing only a long sleeve jersey on top. Normally I wear a short sleeve jersey as a "base layer" but I felt too warm when I suited up like that. I also set aside knickers but decided instead to wear shorts. I brought my rarely used knee warmers "just in case".

I learned the descent off of Palomar is very manageable and comfortable with windproof long finger gloves and a wind vest, so I brought those along too. A thicker headcover works well too so I brought along a nice thick Descente skull cap thing.

And, because I have them, I brought my brand new shoe covers, bright blue imprinted with Connecticut Coast Cycling. I didn't wear them on the way out because, frankly, I climb like I'm stuck in molasses, and I didn't want to embarrass myself wearing such race-day gear. But I can descend like mad and they'd be appropriate for the long TT back home.

I packed other gear as well. I brought along the GoPro camera. After reading the brief manual I decided that the camera shut off after a random time (7 minutes and change) due to a low battery. I made sure that it would stay on, thought I cleared the memory on the card, and decided I'd buy batteries at two spots - top of Palomar and, if the batteries quit before the bottom on the way down, at bottom of Palomar.

I brought three of my FiberOne bars, two bottles of Nuun electrolyte water, and a Ziplock bag with a credit card, license, and about $15.

For the bike I left the GoPro in its spot where the Superflash blinkie would normally go, and I took the precautionary step of mounting my flashing headlight under the bars. The Superflash went into my pocket - if I got caught in the dark, I wanted to be able to make it home okay. And since virtually all the streets have bike lanes, and since many of them are lit, I'd be okay with just the minimum of lights.

With my corset-like jersey zipped up, I left feeling just a slight bit overloaded. I had the Superflash and my cellphone in one pocket (the "battery" pocket). In the middle I had the long gloves, vest, kneewarmers, and at some point the skullcap thing (the "bulky" pocket). On the right sat my three bars and my little money pack (the food plus "no battery" stuff - didn't want to wipe out the strip on my credit card by packing it with batteries).

I set off a bit late due to some stomach issues. My legs didn't feel too good, I couldn't eat very much in the morning (basically 2 eggs, 2 strips of bacon, two pieces of bread, and coffee, all of it about 2 hours before I left), and when I went up the first little hill, my legs loaded up right away.


I mentally went over my schedule. 2 hours to the base. 2 hours to climb (based on Saturday's time - I hoped I'd be better, but I'd be more tired since I rode there, and I didn't want to crest totally wasted). 35 minutes to come back down. 2 hours back home.

My semi-functioning mind didn't remember food stops at the base, at the top, and maybe one more stop, nor the stops to check the GoPro, nor the stop to swap the GoPro for the tail light. So although I left with just enough time to make it back at dusk (5:45 PM), I really didn't.

I prefer oblivion sometimes (especially when watching a new, super-hyped movie) and today my lack of mental acuteness helped me along in many ways. With no clue that I rode on borrowed time, I happily pedaled away from home base.

I took the most direct route, hoping that it would lead me along some flat valley roads. But no, I faced a long slog up some road we (I) drove just the other day. Ten minutes into the climb I remembered having to let the car slow a bit so it wouldn't shift down at 60 mph. No slouch, this rise, and it's the hill I rode when I first came out here - but back then it was still under construction, one narrow jersey-barriered lane wide, with me sprinting frantically from one pull off to the next (and lots of patient vehicular traffic following me).

On one of the flats I ate Bar #1. I hoped that it'd be 30 minutes before the climb and I could use some blood sugar then.

I reached the base of the climb a few minutes ahead of schedule, and I hadn't even finished both of my bottles. I took this as a good sign because Saturday, with a fever raging, I drank like a fish. Today, not so much.

I stopped at the little store at the base (good for non-secured bike shopping), picked up a Diet RockStar, and left. The climbing starts right away and I settled into a reasonable rhythm. Saturday I'd started out going 250 watts consistently, but today I tried to keep it down a bit. After a while I just ignored the SRM - I couldn't ease up anymore because I'd just stop.

45 minutes later, I made it to the turn off to South Grade. Saturday it took 45 minutes as well, so I was doing fine. This day I rode conservatively because I wanted to ride a bit better up SG, and I had to keep in mind that I couldn't be wasted at the top because I'd basically turn around and zip back down. In my "crested" state Saturday there was no way I could have descended well - it took about an hour before I could form coherent thoughts.

Saturday I downed a lot of my remaining fluids, but I ran out before the top. Today I drank more conservatively, helped by the fact that suddenly I didn't like RockStar. I debated eating Bar #2 but decided I'd have it on the climb if I really needed it.

It really helped that I knew some of what to expect on South Grade. I rode it Saturday, rode it vicariously on Sunday (in 32 minutes!), and now it felt familiar. I passed the two open spots where I stopped Saturday, the mesh O-ring net holding up one cliff, and, at some point, the 4000 foot mark. I knew there'd be a 5000 ft mark, and I knew the top was a bit further than I thought after the 5000 ft mark.

I also got to experience some (faded) chalked notes scrawled on the road. My somewhat tired mind noted that Levi and Lance shared the bulk of the messages, Hincapie got a few, and very little else. I did note that I saw only three painted messages, and I think two were official state things (like for where to put a pipe or something).

I also realized that at the speed they climb, they would not be able to read anything shorter than 3 foot tall letters which were at least 6-8 inches wide. I think a sprayer (garden sprayer or some pressurized thing) full of chalk dust would work better than chalk sticks.

I made one "attack" when I heard a pair of motorcycles (they made about 6 passes before they went to get gas or something) approaching. I was just entering one of the long switchbacks, I was on the inside, and I didn't want to have one of them apex through my rear end. So I sprinted, briefly hit about 600 watts, went as fast as 12 mph, and made it through the corner. The two bikes zipped by and I shifted down and tried to recover.

4000 feet came pretty quickly, but that's when my legs started to go. My cadence dropped into the 30s, the cooler air didn't really inspire me to climb faster, and I just slogged away. No weaving though, no pauses at the top of each pedal stroke. Just push and push and push and push. I felt better than normal, but I worried about time.

Finally I got to 5000 feet (there is a sign there). I had 300 feet to go, but the mountain loomed above - it went up so steeply you couldn't see the top. I finally peeked at my watch - it was 3:15, four hours after I left. And one turn later I saw the Yield sign painted on the road. I'd made it.

1:15, after checking the files. 15 minutes faster than Saturday, and I'd ridden 2 hours prior to the climb.

I did my normal stop, got a quart of Gatorade (drank some, filled one small bottle), a postcard, two AAA batteries for the GoPro, and some peanuts because I was convinced I'd get hungry. I ate Bar #2 too.

Sitting there, with almost no one around, it seemed a totally different world from Saturday. The clouds had rolled in too, and I felt chilly. I slipped on my long finger gloves, zipped up my LS jersey, put on my vest, put on my knee warmers, and put on my skull cap thing.

A guy walked by, asked how much my bike cost. I told him ones "like" it would be a couple thousand dollars. Ends up this guy is one of the owners of the general store (named, appropriately, the General Store). He talked about how inspired he felt to see the "bikers" on Saturday, then on Sunday. He talked about how he used to ride, but now he doesn't. He lives up at the top of the mountain so he could even ride his bike to work.

(Later I thought about where he could go to train - every ride would entail descending some crazy distance and riding back home. He'd either be a great climber or quit.)

Another guy walked by and stopped to chat to the General Store guy.

"I think you have to be crazy to want to ride a bike up the mountain", he said, grinning and looking my way.

Hopefully I could register a grin on my tired face. Apparently I did because the other guy kept going.

"You know, Sunday was crazy. I ran out of hamburgers at 10:30 and I just made hot dogs for the rest of the day. At least business was good."

The talk went to business for a while, then the non-General Store guy had another observation.

"I noticed something about the bikers. No litter. After Sunday there was almost no litter to clean up."

I smiled to myself. I am proud of you cycling fans! I really am. No litter and basically one spray painted sign (and hundreds or thousands of chalked ones). Good job!

With the feel good stuff flowing through my blood I figured I should get going. I went to the post office to send off another post card, my fourth ever, to the missus. My hands were like icicles and I could barely write. I scrawled something on the card and walked up to the desk.

"Hey! You're back!" the clerk greeted me.

Feel good stuff just went up another notch.

I noticed, for the first time, that they had about $5 in pennies in their penny thing, and I saw lots of silver there too. You could go shopping on that money, and I mentioned that to the clerk.

A postcard stamp is 27 cents. I took out two quarters from my Ziplock bag.

"Sorry, I don't have pennies."

"Um, we have those pennies you just talked about."

"Oh. Right." <- Oxygen debt + fatigue = forgets things in 2 seconds.

One quarter and two borrowed pennies later, my second card was on the way. I swapped the batteries in the GoPro and started down the mountain. At the 5000 foot mark, just after all the wet pavement (melting snow), I stopped, wiped off the lens, and started the camera. I hopped on quickly, wanting to capture every second possible. I quickly got into a rhythm, slamming into the turns, letting the bike accelerate on the straights.

Palomar, on South Grade, is an awesome descent. Switchback after switchback (21 of them, according to the race reports, but I've never counted them), S-curves, and maybe three or four spots straight enough to sit up for a second or three. It's not fast either - I never really break 40 mph, at least not significantly, but I never get to spend so much time leaned way over.

Luckily, today, the GoPro captures the whole South Grade descent. I stopped once to check if the red light was blinking (means it's recording), and it was, so I quickly hopped back on and took off.

I push my luck and keep going down 76, the 45 minute "pre-climb". Here there are less curves, more straights, and no corners as sharp as South Grade. I didn't feel like sprinting up to speed so I topped out at only 45 mph, although in years past I've gotten well into the 50s. I couldn't tuck as low all bundled up so 45 will have to do it for me.

I stopped at the bottom to check the camera - it captured the whole thing! I debated stopping for food but didn't feel the need - I had my peanuts, Bar #3, a small bottle of Gatorade, and a half bottle of RockStar. I took the vest and kneewarmers off but left the shoe covers and skull cap - it was warm but not hot.

I started going, and the rest of the ride was pretty much anticlimactic. I felt pretty good and kept pushing, pushing, wanting to get home before it got too dark. My normalized power went up for the last two hours, almost getting back up to my starting average. My legs would fall away after short efforts though, and I think that's where a lot of training makes a difference - you can go and actually hold the effort.

I stopped again at the top of Lake Wohlford road, a much shorter descent (it takes me 30 minutes to climb), not as crazy corners, but with a much closer edge (and drop offs). The GoPro gave up on that, capturing only the very top. I did manage to catch a pickup truck on the descent, and though he'd pull away on the straights, I was right there when he stopped at the light at the bottom. Yay.

A short time later I stopped to swap the GoPro for a taillight, put the vest back on, and finished up the ride home, lights flashing. I got back to home base, satisfied and tired. I never needed that third bar, nor the peanuts. I barely drank any more of that Gatorade and I couldn't bring myself to even sip the RockStar.

I had a lean meal (for me), and although later that night I had a bit more food, it was also a lean snack.

Later today I'll be going back home. I may ride if it's warm outside, but I don't feel the need. I have to pack and prepare for the trip. It's been good, even being sick the entire time, but, as I pointed out to one of my hosts the other night, it takes a week before I start missing home. I miss the missus. I miss the kitties. And though I may have lost some time in a delirious haze, it's well into Week 2 of my trip.

Of course Bethel is coming fast - it starts this weekend on Sunday, with a Sweep Day on Saturday.

Back to the real world.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tour of California - 2009 Palomar Stage

Yesterday the fireworks in the Tour of California happened as expected, but I felt a bit disappointed in the actual racing. Now that the race is over, I'll present some thoughts on what I expected from the race in general, and then list some of the things that may or may not have been captured in reports (online as well as TV coverage).

Expectations (2 specific, 1 general):
1. Floyd Landis basically peaks for this race since it's the biggest race OUCH will do. He kicks butt and takes names. He gets a podium.
2. Levi Leipheimer peaks for this race, and with the strongest team in the world behind him, he wins. On the way he wins the TT since he beat Cancellara in the TT by a minute last year.
3. I had no idea what else to expect. A good prologue by Cancellara, sure, some good climbing by Rabobank, and Garmin quietly securing what I thought would be the third podium spot (but not necessarily third place). I don't know Columbia's strengths and weaknesses too well (in a Feb race) so to me they were wildcards. I also didn't think that Rock Racing would do much due to the initial problems the team experienced earlier this year.

What happened:
1. Floyd Landis falters a bit, and though he went down fighting, he wasn't able to either hold a top GC spot or do a long break.
2. Levi Leipheimer wins and never looks under too much difficulty.
3. Rock Racing did fantastic with Mancebo on the first road stage, but after he crashed out they weren't able to recover the lost climbing jersey.
4. Cervelo Test Team showed that they were perfectly capable of handling themselves in a big stage race.
5. Garmin came out fighting - Dave Z can climb (!).
6. Columbia's Cavendish can sprint, and Michael Rogers seems like he's going well.

I hope that they make, in some way, some of the live video coverage available to the general public. They had at least two large screen TVs at the finish area in Escondido, and we watched them for a while (they had one on Cole Grade too, and who knows where else).

Although we missed the first two climbs on that screen (we were driving from the start to the finish), we got there in time to first see the climb up Palomar. Later, at the last turn of the race, we watched them climb up Cole Grade. Of course we hung out after they crested Cole Grade and watched the run in to the finish (we sat on the outside of the last turn). I didn't watch any other day so closely (I relied on the cut and edited Versus coverage) but I noticed a few other things.

A tip - if you are at a big event where the race promoters have a jumbo TV set up, it's a great place to watch the race. You may not get audio but you'll see the raw footage that the announcers see. I find the minute action, usually not mentioned by the announcers, just as fascinating as the breaks. For example, it's much more exciting before the "break of the day" gets away because everyone is trying to get into that one break. Once the break goes it gets boring.


Palomar really blew the race apart. I mean, yeah, that's an obvious thing to state, that a 12 mile climb will shatter the race, but the non-Astana racers really showed some aggressive riding.

For example, Rock Racing wanted to get Tyler up the road to take critical climbing points, and they sent off riders one after another like a machine gun. They sent Tim Johnson, Enrique Guttierrez, and they already had someone up the road (Chadwick?). Then Oscar Sevilla went. He drew out some notable riders like the aforementioned Floyd Landis.

Tyler, though, never attacked. Or did he?

What the reports don't mention is that the field's pace was so high that a lot of attacks were neutralized even as they got started. I would guess that all of Rock Racing's efforts were meant to get Tyler up the road, to earn some critical mountain points (to regain the jersey after Mancebo crashed out). And, in fact, he did attack the field, just as Floyd was bridging to Sevilla, but he never got more than a length clear, and no one mentioned it in their reports. Astana didn't let him go, and he didn't have the punch necessary to break clear. So all that effort to get Tyler into a good break didn't work.

I read the cyclingnews live report and it seemed very sparse with some of its descriptions of the attacks. It seems that they were in a caravan vehicle so they were relying on race radio. But looking at the raw footage on the huge TVs in Escondido, the race was much more chaotic than the live reports make it out to be.

When the four man break hit Cole Grade, Nibali hit out like the finish was at the top of the hill. Only Frank Schleck could follow. Then, after the first two miles of the climb, when the road straightens out a bit (and you're looking at a demoralizing straight bit of road going up for the next mile or so), Nibali finally let Schleck through. Schleck immediately picked up the pace, gapping off Nibali. The reports hint that Nibali chased back, but that wasn't the case - Frank looked back, saw he'd inadvertently gapped Nibali, and virtually sat up. Nibali, already climbing at his limit, simply rode his pace until the two were together again.

Later in the stage, on the descent down Lake Wohlford Road, Nibali went to the front in the tricky bit and started carving some good arcs around the mainly blind curves. Schleck couldn't descend with him and started falling pretty far back. Nibali caught up to the camera bike, had to slow, and then got to one of the straighter bits of the descent. This allowed Schleck to latch back on. I think if the camera bike wasn't there, it would have been a bigger gap, although for purposes of bike racing, not enough to break away to the finish.

I don't think I saw too much else as far as "different flavored" reports go. Overall I was impressed with the race. The organization seemed top notch, the spectators were great, and it made me want to be part of the action.

My final note - I just cannot believe how fast the pros go up climbs. I mean, seriously, it's insane. I budget 35 minutes to go up Cole Grade, and I go "easy" in the 39x25 until I get to some hard-to-see-around right bends with no shoulder. Then I listen for vehicles and go hard for those right bends (the road is narrow and the vehicles going up don't want to slow down and lose momentum). Then I struggle in the 25 up the long, straight section that never ends.

Rory Sutherland, a sprinter (!), did the climb in 9:50, averaging 407 watts for that time. Since I can barely do that for a minute, it's unbelievable that he could do it for ten. Not unbelievable bad, unbelievable like-I-admire-him. Incredible.

I could also compare myself on Palomar since I'd ridden up it the day before. So each area seemed fresh in my memory - the narrow bit after the wide sweeping right curve (where I first got in trouble with my legs), the bit with the steep and gravely dropoff (where the DeWalt tandem guys passed me), the wide turn off where I stopped to remove my cap, etc, etc. I did the whole climb basically in the 39x25, shifting into the 23 occasionally at the bottom and at the top once up into the snow line (where the water ran across the road). I plodded along at about 5 or 6 mph, taking almost 90 minutes to do the climb.

I clocked the pros at less than 32 minutes. Sheesh.

I learned a few things in the last few days:
1. To be a pro you need to be able to ride at 400 watts for some reasonable amount of time (at least 10 minutes).
2. Climbing faster requires less weight or more power.
3. Watch the Jumbo-trons when you don't need to be "part of the race" (i.e. participate by running alongside the riders on Palomar).
4. Bring food and water in a small cooler in a backpack. You barely notice it's there but it's a great thing to have when you can't go anywhere because the sidewalk is jammed full of spectators.
5. It's possible that I could win a stage like Palomar, but only under exceptional circumstances. I calculated that if I want to win the Palomar stage as presented in the 2009 Tour of California, I'd have to attack at the gun and gain about, oh, say, 120-150 minutes lead. Then I'd have a chance at staying away.


As a final note, I'm going on a limb here and picking out two future winners of this event:
1. Peter Stetina
2. Taylor Phinney
Both of these guys, before they start preparing for the Tour, will need to get some shorter events under their belts. I think that they'll both win a future edition of a Tour of California. As long as the race keeps happening anyway.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Training - Palomar

Today I got that California monkey off my back - I rode up Palomar Mountain.

But I feel like I kind of cheated.

In prior years, my Palomar attempts were gradual build-ups, multiple failed attempts building on one another. I'd ride to the base of the climb, then maybe due to weather or time or something I'd have to turn around. I'd adjust my attempt plans accordingly (start earlier, bring more gear, ride harder, etc.) and then try again. My failed attempts were always good tries, once even riding to within a mile or so of the top. I used these attempts to judge riding effort, pace, and to find refueling points.

The biggest challenge wasn't necessarily the climb, although it's a hard climb at best. It lay in the fact that I had to ride a couple hours just to get to the base of the mountain, over some nasty (to me) climbs. Then, while climbing it, I'd have to constantly judge whether or not I'd be able to make it back to home base. This meant timing food and fluid replenishment (in a place where I could go buy stuff without having my bike stolen, hence the importance of scouting out such places) not just for the climb but also for the long ride back.

Because of all the false starts to the top, I had a good idea of what to expect where, how long it would take, and how I would feel in various places along the route. I could usually finish a 6 or 7 hour ride within a 15 minute window of my expected/calculated ride time.

Today, this time, it didn't work like that, and that's why I feel like I sort of cheated.

See, we just drove to about a mile of the base of the climb, got ready, and rode up the thing. So no recons (I haven't even ridden inland this year), no practice climbing, no nothing. Just a lot of out-and-backs on the PCH, a much flatter, much more wind-swept road.

I've also been fighting this stupid cold for a while, waking myself up with violent coughing fits last night. I ended up getting much less sleep than normal and wasn't very coherent in the morning. On the way to the ride I could feel the hot breath coming from my mouth, something I only feel when I have a fever or if I've overheated in a race or ride.

The ride today was planned by a local superstore (so is it local?) and attracted a lot of attention. The mayor of Escondido even did the ride, although last we heard (when we started descending) that she was still working her way up (the Amgen Tour folks were waiting for her to pass by some Amgen banner or something at the top of the climb).

There had to be between 150 and 200 riders (three groups, with each group broken up into 3-4 groups of 20 or so) at the start. This meant, among other things, that I could pace myself off of riders around me, not just pedal madly up the hill. This really helped rein in my "out of the starting gate" efforts as the climbing started because I didn't want to pass the group's unofficial leader (a rider from the local superstore).

After almost toppling over trying not to run into the guy in front of me, I decided it'd be okay to pass one or two guys. Rich followed each of my moves, and we even passed the group leader guy. Soon we were pleasantly isolated, sometimes passing someone, more often getting passed by someone else.

Although I strayed up to 400+ watts (usually when trying to build up speed after slowing in the group), I managed a respectable-for-me 200-210 watts for the 40 minute-to-me pre-climb. At some point I moved over to let Rich pull, and he immediately picked up the pace to a comfortable-to-him pace. I struggled for a bit, wondering if my adled brain was playing tricks on me. I simply couldn't pedal as fast as Rich.

That's when I realized I was in the 23. I'd shifted into the 23 on a flatter bit and forgot, and now I was wheezing so loudly I couldn't hear myself think. I shifted into the 25 and started to flounder. The higher cadence and the prior struggle in the 23 had me starting to overheat. Ominously I had to ask Rich to ease a bit at one point since I had problems maintaining a 300 watt effort to stay on his wheel. His relaxed demeanor seemed completely at odds with my heavy breathing, shoulder rocking laboring.

We eased a bit at the flat bit between the pre-climb and the climb proper. I drank a bit since I knew that this was the best place to drink for a while.

And then we veered left onto South Grade.

Rich immediately rode away from me, keeping company with the group of riders around him. I dropped back quickly, my cadence dropping into the low-mid 50s. A lot of riders passed me, even the very friendly and encouraging group "leader" from way back.

I started recognizing some familiar landmarks, the lower altitude ones imprinted in my head much better than the upper ones. Once I got above a certain height I was in "Three-peat" territory, areas I've ridden only three times in my life (two summits and one very high failed attempt). I don't remember very much about this section, and I still don't - grinding along in the 39x25, goosebumps and chills running through my body, well, I don't remember stuff very well when I'm like that.

I do remember a few things:

- "Connecticut Coast - that's why you're having so much trouble on the climb." This from a white haired guy who probably had 30 pounds and 6 inches in height on me. And passing me.

- "I haven't ridden next to snow since I moved from New Hampshire 11 years ago." This guy obviously flew by me - New Hampshire means hills.

- "Good job." From a lot of folks riding by me. Like as in passing me.

- Guy on a full suspension mountain bike, knobby tires, with a backpack and two large bottles, pedaling nonchalantly right by me. Yeah, he passed me too.

- Junior kid (I saw him a couple days ago on the PCH and he dropped me then too), had to be 10 or 11, flying past me. He passed... well, you get the idea.

- Nurnburger ex-World Champion racer blasting by me like she was on a motorcycle. I had actually stopped to take my soaking wet cap off. I may or may not have taken a picture or two, but, wow, she positively flew by. Fastest rider to pass me by far. I'd have difficulty going that pace on the flats.

- Actual motorcycles roaring up and down the mountain, pretty much scraping their thighs in each turn.

- Being told "Only 200 more vertical feet to go!" In case you don't know, 200 vertical feet, after climbing to about 5000 vertical feet, is really hard. And takes, oh, like a bazillion hours to do.

- If you run out of fluids and start overheating, just keep climbing until the temperature drops. The chilly air (usually where the snow is) will cool you down pretty effectively.

I got to the top and Rich looked at me and grinned.

"You don't look too happy."

No kidding. When I'm tired I look upset, and I was tired. I could barely climb off my bike. I'd run out of fluids with maybe 20 minutes of climbing left, maybe more, but whatever, I was hot and thirsty. I got some Gatorade and a Coke, did my postcard thing, and started piling on all the warm clothes I'd struggled to carry up the hill.

Off went the short finger gloves (even if they were the new team gloves), on went the "-25 deg F but still trim looking" long finger ones. The inside jersey got zipped up, the outside long-sleeve too, and the vest went on top of that (and all new kit stuff). I decided against using the team shoe covers even though I brought them - too much for a guy that can't climb well.

At some point I asked Rich how long he waited before I got there.

"How long did you wait for me? Like 5 minutes? 10 minutes?"

He grinned. "Well, if you really want to know..."

He capped the climb (South Grade) in 59 minutes, based on his arrival time. He didn't know when we started it, but I did. My time? About 30 minutes after his. The kicker is that he never got to the groveling point like I did, and I got to it at, oh, a minute into the climb.


We futzed around with the GoPro camera a bit. I bought batteries for it (the original ones died), we remounted it on my seatpost facing backwards, and, about an hour after we got to the top, we set off down the mountain.

I covered the camera with my hanbd when I ran over the water running across the road (from melting snow next to the road) - I didn't want the spray to get on the lens. Then, after we got below the snow line, I let the bike free. I shifted once, felt it wasn't enough, and tried to shift again.

No luck. 53x11.

But still, I didn't pedal a lot, not on the actual Palomar bit. I'd let the bike build a head of speed, brake, and dive into the corners. It felt exhilarating, swooping left and right and left and right, brakes totally predicatble (not like last year when I had carbon rims on), tires feeling totally planted (those Krylions really performed well), and, for once, my hands, neck, and arms didn't get totally crampy. I think it helped that I didn't do 2 or 3 hours of riding just to get to Palomar.

This boded well for the rest of the descent (the "pre-climb") which has more pedaling. Normally I'd have to balance pedaling and uncramping my arms (or neck or hands), but this time I didn't have to do too much of that.

We got back to the start point and I started feeling pretty good. Coasting for the better part of 30 minutes will do that, and it was a lot warmer out too.

When we got home I checked the GoPro. Arg. Only 6 minutes or so ended up saved, the rest of the descent got lost because the GoPro turned off or something (?). So not too much action captured on film (or in SD memory as it were). Maybe at some point I'll parse it and put it up, but it's not too interesting.

Now to watch the stage coverage on TV.

Tomorrow? Watch the last stage.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Training - New Kit Ride

So two days ago, among other happenings, I got a package in the mail, courtesy JJ, one of my teammates. He sent me my team kit order for this year. Since I had already ridden that day I couldn't don the kit, but I decided that I'd probably use it the next day.

Unusually, I placed a conservative kit order. I suppose it has to do with my severe downturn in paygrade, as well as the fact that I have about 10 or 12 outfits from my previous (self-sponsored) team. That doesn't count all my other team kits and miscellaneous generic gear. Although much of that stuff has been relegated to mainly trainer use, I couldn't justify getting a lot of new kit stuff.

I did get a pair of shorts and a jersey (some new sponsors apparently), so now I'll have three of each. Since I already had knickers and a long sleeve jersey, I skipped those. To fill some of the "I don't have them" holes, I ordered a winter jacket, a wind vest, short finger gloves, and shoe covers. I've never had team gloves or shoe covers so that was cool.

Yesterday I dressed up for what ended up being a recovery ride. I wore all new clothes except my socks and shoes. New shorts, new jersey, new gloves, and new vest. The latter I stuffed in my pocket for the inevitable chill that permeates the SoCal late afternoons.

(I decided wearing the shoe covers would be over the top - I'd have to feel great to wear them, and I don't, so I didn't.)

I started off with some company (Julie, taking a short break from work). First order of business on the ride? Fix two flats that our bike suffered while sitting in the garage overnight. My rear tire was flat, ditto hers. I found a nice cut in her tube (and adjusted the rear rim strip to cover a suspected eyelet edge), and a thorn in my tire. I simply installed a new Michelin Krylion, my favorite training tire. I swapped my front tire too, because I wanted to put the Michelins on my wheels.

So three tire changes later we got going.

On one of the first rises, a 300 or 400 meter hill, she set such a ferocious pace that I capped the hill trailing her by 10 meters. When I finally caught my breath, I asked her if she remembered asking me if I was "being kind" when I rode with her last year (or maybe it was the year before). At that time we'd ridden a few times and I climbed side by side with her, but on a later ride I took off for some reason. That's when she asked that question.

She looked at me and nodded.

"Well, I wasn't being kind back there."

She laughed.

Shortly afterwards a truck slowly passed us, going maybe 35 or 40 mph. I looked at it longingly. Then another truck drove by. I couldn't resist. I looked at Julie and told her that I really needed to go after this truck. She smiled in understanding.

I jumped hard, shifted, jumped again, and started pedaling a bit too fast for my comfort. The truck signaled right so I zigged left and tried to catch the second truck, but he was too far away. Ends up I did a much bigger jump than yesterday (150w higher). I guess fresh legs count for something.

I sprinted vainly for a while but decided that going too far out would be not nice to Julie. I coasted and slowed, and lo and behold, she came flying past me - she must have been doing a similar effort. I sprinted to catch up to her.

She turned around just before I got to the coast, and I did the same route I've been doing recently. Relatively flat, wide shoulders, beaches and surf on one side, snow capped mountains way off on the other side.

I rolled onto the PCH, noticing a rider about 100 meters behind me as I did so. He quickly caught up to me, helped by the fact that I was doing a trackstand at a red light. I heard him say something to me as he pulled up.

"Well, I think I'm going to stop because you're stopped."

I looked and smiled. Then I almost fell over.

We started riding, Steve and I, and chatting. He was going pretty hard (at least for me he was) and we both were extremely conscious of not blocking traffic, not riding too close to pedestrians, etc. I felt very relaxed riding with him because, if anything, he rode more "by the book" than I did.

Okay, except for stop signs. But he'd wait for me after he coasted through a couple (and I tried to do a complete stop).

After the standard questions you ask when you start riding with a stranger ("Where are you going? How far up? Did you just get on the bike today or have you been riding for a while?") he looked at me and asked if I rode track.

Well now. He must have noticed my crit-bend bars. Or my extremely powerful looking quads (ha!). Julie politely mentioned the trackstand may have been a tip off. Or...

"Well, I asked because, you know, you look like you, well, like you're carrying a bit of weight for climbing."

Then he realized how that sounded and started backpedaling.

"I mean I'm not calling you fat, you're just, well, built like a, um, track racer."

I decided not to tell him that "I'm dense", like I tell the nurse at my doctor's office.

I laughed it off. Ends up his son is a Cat 1 in Colorado (and a former teammate of one Tom Peterson), so I look like a Cat 5 to him. Or a track racer, if you want to be polite about it. Whatever. He pretty much cooked my legs just cruising along, occasionally reminding me that, "Whenever you want to take off just go."

Remember in California that if you pass someone, you have to really pass them. The roads around here go on forever. You've got to maintain that higher pace for 10-15-20 minutes minumum, and it's really sort of embarrassing to get caught 30 or 40 minutes after you passed someone and they fly by you like you're standing still.

So I declined each of his invitations. Because I wouldn't be able to maintain a faster pace for more than, oh, about a minute.

I realized I had to turn around to make it home before it got really cold, so bade my latest training companion farewell.

Then I hit that stupid wind.

Why don't I ever head north when I start? Then I could ride back with the wind. Or I could head inland, where the wind isn't so ferocious.

But Bethel is windy. So wind is good. I stopped, put on my brand new wind vest, and got going, in the drops, time trialing.

In my 39x15.

After a while, like 3 minutes later, I blew up. It would be a long drag home. I tried to remember what it was like when I rode in Belgium, when I drilled it every time we hit some wind just because I could. I tried to stay on top of the pedals, tried to apply power through the full pedal stroke consistently.

Then my calves would start twinging, my hamstrings, even my back. And I'd ease up again.

I fought this way for the next 45 minutes or so, trying to convince my body it's fun to go hard in wind. And just when I was about to sit up for real, I saw three riders in the distance. Since I hadn't seen them before, this meant I was catching them. And since I had been going the same pace (200-240 watts) for the last 20 or 30 minutes, I knew I could maintain it until I turned inland. So I dug and kept going.

Ends up the three riders happened to be passing one another, but I didn't realize that until I'd passed the first one and then the second one. The third rider looked pretty powerful, but he sat up once he'd gapped the second rider. Although my legs weren't happy about it, I pulled up even with him.

I realized I was half wheeling him so I eased, and we settled into a "talking is a bit difficult" pace, side by side. He looked like a stocky kind of guy, like me, but more fit. We commiserated about the wind but otherwise didn't talk too much. I mentally sighed a breath of relief when my turn off came, and started up the "exit ramp" turn off. Incredibly I upped my pace - climbing feels much better with the longer cranks, and although I felt tapped riding along just a moment before, suddenly I found some energy from somewhere. I actually accelerated.

Then I turned onto the road that'd bring me back home. And mentally, physically, I sat up. I went easy all the way back home.

I'm finally starting to feel a little more human on the bike but my legs are loading up right away. The missus and I talked a bit tonight, a nice chat, and I realized as I was talking to her that I haven't been eating as much as I do at home. Now maybe that's good for weight control, but it's not good for fueling up for intense rides. I decided I'd try and eat a little more.

Oh, and not stay up until 2 AM like yesterday.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Training - Analyzing My Jump

Yesterday I decided I'd work on my California tan. Although my throat and head weren't feeling great, they felt okay. I (thought I) felt good enough to go out in short sleeves and shorts, and wore a wind vest to keep my torso/core warm. I found out that although warm outside when sunny, the cold wind really ate away at my heat reserves. My throat started feeling sore, I felt some pressure in my head, and I found myself feeling chilly (and stupidly unprepared) within 1.5 hours of starting out.

So, after a nice chat with the missus (we missed our daily call yesterday so we made up for it today, me leaning against the guardrail next to the sunny PCH, she bundled up in snowy Connecticut), I decided to cut my ride short and go home. I turned around at the next convenient area.

That's when the wind really hit me.

It was killer, a steady 20 mph cross-headwind. I rode in the drops for a bit, it was that bad.

I think I rode the whole PCH section of the ride in the small ring, and I found myself in lower and lower gears. It helped when I ate a FiberOne bar I'd brought along, although getting the wrapper back into my pocket (under the vest) almost caused me to ride off the road.

I headed inland, the wind much kinder. My legs didn't care - I couldn't go hard at all. I crawled up and down some hills. Some guy in a full kit, probably a commuter based on his messenger bag, positively blew by me on a particular grade. He quickly disappeared out of sight. I watched him and thought, boy, I'm slow.

A few minutes later I came up to a light. Mister Kit was there. The light turned green and we started off. Since I didn't want to act like a total dweeb, I stayed respectfully behind him. He ramped it up and disappeared again.

A couple minutes later I came up to a light, and would you believe it, Mister Kit was there again. I felt kind of bad, like he may mistake me for a cycling stalker or something. I went super easy when the light turned green, but then so did he. After realizing I wasn't going to try and pass him back, he took off again.

A couple minutes later.. Yep, I rolled up to him again. I didn't even see him until I was a few cars away from him. He again went easy, I went easier, then he went a bit harder.

Finally I watched him roll through an intersection as the light turned yellow. I stopped and hoped that I wouldn't catch him again. Of course he's probably posted on his blog about Mister Stalker who kept catching him and following him.

I felt relieved because I'd been waiting for a particular stretch of road to do an experiment. A sprinting experiment, the best kind.

On the forums someone asked for some sprinting advice, and after reading a bunch of responses, I realized I had no clue about my optimal jump cadence. I guessed it was about 90 or 95 rpms, but I really didn't know. I did know that yesterday I did a little jump and had two almost equal power peaks, both at about 95 rpms. My sprint graph resembles a ski jump - starts high, then plummets as time goes by. One of my goals is to try and extend the top of the slope so that I spend more time at the high power area.

So today I decided I'd jump at 95-ish rpm, no matter what gear it was, and shift as soon as I thought I could shift and end up at 95-ish rpm again.

Luckily Mister Kit was gone - it'd have looked really amateurish to go sprinting past him and then blow up.

I rolled down my leadout hill, braking, keeping my speed low enough so I could jump in a relatively low gear. I gripped the drops, set my body, and got ready to do a killer massive jump.

As I started up the sprint hill I checked my cadence - 80. I shifted down once more. 88. I shifted down again. I saw 90-something and BAM I was going.

I did two downstrokes with one foot before I instinctively slammed the shifter, doing another hard surge. I think three downstrokes went by before I shifted again, and I did another surge.

That's about when my head started really pounding, the lactic acid suddenly overflowed, and my legs started to wither. I hoped that maybe I had another surge in my legs, shifted up once more, and essentially fell flat on my face.

I sat down, put the bike in the 39x21, and tried to catch my breath.

When I got home I checked what happened in that little effort.

First off, it took all of 11 seconds to totally and completely fry me for the next few minutes.

Second, somehow I managed to keep my cadence such that each time I surged, I did so at 95 rpm or so. I accelerated up to about 100-105 rpms in each gear, shifted, and found myself at about 95 rpms. I shifted one gear at a time, one tooth at a time. I'm pretty sure I started in the (53 x) 15T, ending in the 12T.

Third, each of the efforts were within 100 watts of each other. Well, each of the first three. The fourth dropped off by about 25%, putting in the realm of "not really a sprint". My speed didn't drop but I wasn't going to accelerate anymore.

Fourth, my ski slope graph suddenly had a little area for skiiers to wait in line. A jagged area, yes, but an area.

So what's this mean to you?

Analyze your jump, analyze your sprint. If you know what your legs like to do, you can try and adjust the situation so that your legs are happy.

Figure out at which rpm you jump best. The jump is a vicious pedal stroke, meant to do everything possible to accelerate the bike forward. If your pedal stroke was a car, your jump would be a Top Fuel Dragster. If you don't have a downloadable cyclocomputer (SRM, PowerTap, Garmin, etc), do jumps from different rpms and figure out at which rpms you felt good. The original forum post person did just that in an effort to narrow her cadence range for her jump, but she due to limitations in equipment she simply noted rpms and how it felt for each rpm range.

Figure out at which rpm you can sustain your 5 second or 10 second power. This is different from your jump - it's a smoother, sustainable effort. To use the car analogy, your sprint is more like a Land Speed car. I didn't do any experimenting with that today because there was no way I would be able to sustain any kind of effort. However, since that power is much lower than the jump power, I'm guessing that the rpm will be a bit higher than the jump rpm.

Write things down (which is a good thing in general). Make notes after rides (or even during them if you're on a trainer). Jot down things like gearing (jump gear and ending gear), cadence (if you can get that), and ending speed (look down just after you finished sprinting). Ultimately you can calculate your cadence based on speed and gearing. If you have a cyclocomputer that records max cadence (as well as speed), you can reset the computer before each sprint. This way you'll have the data for that short period of time.

Remember trainers don't allow the bike to rock (with a couple exceptions) so your power and your form will be a bit mutated.

It's only mid-February, but we're approaching the race season fast. Working on your sprint in a logical, calculated way can pay dividends when the warmer weather finally hits.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Training - Finally?

I woke up today feeling a bit better. I didn't actually wince when I swallowed. Okay, I did wince, but that was just reflexive. The second tentative swallow didn't hurt too much. My annual California cold had turned a corner.

The weather started dreadful, raining, windy, but after a couple hours the clouds rolled away and the sun started burning through.

I decided to join my friend on a lunchtime ride. Since I hadn't eaten my second breakfast (my first one was bacon, eggs, and toast), I jammed some Fig Newtons in my mouth and washed it down with some water. I dressed pretty aggressively (i.e. warmly) for the conditions. 55-60 degrees, sunny (and a strong sun at that), and I wore the following:
  • Short sleeve jersey
  • Long sleeve jersey ("Roubaix" type fabric, thick)
  • Wind vest
  • Thick bib knickers ("Roubaix")
  • Gloves rated to 25 degrees F
  • Head cover I use down to 25 degrees F
To put it in perspective, if I'd been feeling okay, I'd have skipped the wind vest, the thick gloves, put a cap on under the helmet, and pulled on a pair of bib shorts.

We pedaled easily towards the coast, did a short jaunt down by the beaches, and turned back inland so he could get back to work. At first he seemed to hold back here and there (because he'd drop back) but that was all politeness. On the way back it took all of 600 watts of effort (on my part) to saw me off his wheel. Although my throat may not have been really sore, it didn't mean I was okay - I still had to fight some fever. Any effort, no matter how insignificant it seemed, took its toll, and I couldn't sustain anything beyond 200-250 watts.

Back at the house I climbed off the bike feeling pleasantly overheated, soaked in perspiration. I had some Gatorade (I bought two gallons in a fit of optimism the other night), decided against eating (it would draw blood into my stomach, away from my muscles), and, after a brief little internal debate, I went back out.

It took maybe three or four minutes and I found myself throwing my leg over my bike only a few minutes after I had climbed off of it. I rode back out to the coast, headed the other way, stopped by Pacific Coast Cycles, bought some wheel magnets (I didn't have any on the wheels I brought out here, and I'm borrowing one), and got back on my bike. That's about when I realized that I'd been out for almost three hours and hadn't had anything but about 10 ounces of Gatorade. I broke open a FiberOne bar (caramel, if you have to ask, and I love their cereal), chomped it down, and chased it with some water.

Of course I immediately felt bad. Must be the blood getting drawn in to the stomach, away from my legs. Or the fact that I've been sick for 5 or 6 days. Or that I'd been out on the bike for a few hours already. Or... the reasons went on and on.

I slogged my way back to home base, optimistically doing one gigantic jump before I got home.

Said jump lasted three pedal strokes, peaked at under 1000 watts (according to the SRM after the ride, I'd made two 1200 watt accelerations away from lights and I didn't "mean" to do them), and totally cooked me for the rest of the ride home.

Good thing this wasn't a race.

I got back, climbed off the bike, walked in the house. Asked, I described my route. My friend looked at me in surprise.

"But you've been gone so long..."

I could only shrug.

My friend kept asking me, "Wait, you just went to the shop and back? You only spent 5 minutes there? You didn't go anywhere else? And you took this long?"

I shrugged again.

Did I really ride that slowly?

You know, come to think of it, maybe I spent 30 or 40 minutes at the shop.

Yeah, that's it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How To - Rock The Bike

Or "swing" as a recent internet post described it. It's what sprinters do when they're sprinting (of course) to the line, out of the saddle, waggling their bike's tail like a bunny on speed.

I don't know if it's maybe a subconscious type of movement. It seems that some riders never think about it, others have to practice it until it becomes natural. It may be like learning how to throw a baseball - some look right the first time they toss a ball, some look positively wrong. Given some practice, though, and pretty much everyone can throw a baseball.

Whatever, ultimately the motion of rocking the bike while out of the saddle is a skill you really must have in your technique "quiver". You recruit and use different muscles and you can ultimately exert more force on the bike by standing and rocking it than you can by staying seated.

The rock is a result of pulling up on the bars (on the downstroke side of the bike) and pushing down on the bars on the upstroke side. Essentially you're holding the bike in place with your hand while you push down. I find the "push down" on the bars is really more of a guiding thing since I don't pull up that hard, but when I feel the need to push down I know that I'm doing a good sprint.

The rock is not an arbitrary thing. You don't do it just because. You do it because there is a reason for each movement. The sum of those reasons makes the bike rock.

The amount of rock is usually relative to the height of the rider. Since most riders are about the same width (to wit - most bars come in 40-44 cm widths), most everyone moves their bike side to side about the same amount. It might be a foot, maybe just over that. This means a tall person is perceived as swinging the bike less because their bike tilts less (less severe angle relative to the road), but in reality everyone takes up about the same amount of space on the road. Even the most "wild" bike swingers (Abdu, McEwen, etc) use up about the same amount of road - it's just that their shorter statures make their bike swinging look so radical.

At some point I realized that tall riders simply don't rock their bikes to the same angle - imagine someone's saddle rocking back and forth four feet on each pedal stroke! That's what happened when I told my 60 (or maybe 63?) cm frame riding friend how much to swing the bike. We were discussing this in college and I used some bars to describe how much to rock the bike. Of course, when he rocked his much taller bike that much, it didn't work out. We later reduced his "rock" down to about 2 feet since, with the full rock, he ended up using so much energy moving sideways.

You can work on the rock by doing it in slow motion at super slow rpms (10-30 rpms) in big gears (53x12). This will allow (and force) you to experience the different elements of the pedal stroke individually and in great focus. I like doing this when warming up and such. It's a lot of fun - I pretend I'm in a NFL type historical clip, you know, where the football is spiraling slowly through the air while the deep voiced narrator describes the significance of the scene. Only I'm on a bike and I'm reliving some field sprint, not some touch down. You can also practice your historical bike throw too, teaching your body to instinctively end your sprint in a throw.

Don't use a lot of pedal pressure, just go real slow. You're going too fast if you can't unclip at any point of the pedal stroke and put a foot down. A skittering foot, maybe, but still, a foot down. No 30 or 40 mph efforts here. This is all drill.

Typical slow rpm movements:

1. Start with the right foot at 1 o'clock (top of power stroke), the bike would be tilted to the right. In other words your left foot is at the bottom and you can see the left crankarm in whole when you look down. The right crankarm is obscured by your top tube.

2. Push down with your right foot, pull up with your right hand, kind of like if you were trying to pull on some boots or tight jeans or just simply pulling something with your hand as hard as possible while bracing your foot against it.

As your right foot drops and you're pulling up on the bars, the bike will start to become more level.

(Note: if you're working on your downstroke only, you could literally unclip your left foot and let it dangle... then clip it into the pedal in time for the left pedal downstroke, alternately unclipping a shoe for the upstroke and reclipping it for the down stroke. If not wearing cycling shoes you can lift your trailing foot off the pedal - say if you're riding your BMX bike down the street. This will teach you not to push down with your trailing - left in this case - foot, i.e. work against your downstroke)

3. As you finish your downstroke your right foot is at the bottom, your bars are pulled up as high as you can pull them, and your bike is now tilted to the left. Repeat on left side.

Bahati (in the front, red toes) is at the top of his pedal stroke, a very aggressive pedal stroke. Candelario (green) is midway through the stroke, his bike is almost upright. Hekman (red jersey) is mirroring Bahati's position. He is throwing his bike a lot - his saddle is further out than his hip but still within his elbows.
(picture is of 2008 US Crit Championships, site is here)

You shouldn't force the rocking of the bike, it should be a result of the pushing and pulling on the bars and the pedals.

The reason why the rock is helpful is that you have a greater range of motion with your upper body. If you hold your bike rigidly upright (and that does have its merits), your muscles are locked in one position and will fatigue relatively quickly. If you swing the bike, your arm will be alternately extended and contracted, allowing you to recruit all sorts of different muscles.

A technique advantage to sprinting out of the saddle is that your bike throw becomes much more significant. A seated rider can throw his bike only a few inches forward, maybe a half a foot. A standing rider can throw his bike forward much more, a foot or more. In close races that can make the difference between a win and a not-win.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Training - Sick

After all that stuff with the cranks and stuff... I'm still sick. Each morning I wake up unable to swallow without wincing. I feel weak and feverish and my head pounds (I normally never have headaches). Spent most of today curled up watching first the abysmal failure of technology during the Tour of California (where are those weatherproof cameras that clean their lenses automatically, why can't they figure out better image relay technology, and even if they can't relay things, why don't they record to tape/harddrive for future editing?), second some various Star Wars things. I managed to get out of my shell to help mold one pretzel (we made pretzels, again), and read a few pages of a book, but otherwise I've been totally zonked. I don't get it. Talked to the missus briefly, but still in "just woke up" la-la land.

Will go back to sleep shortly. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Equipment - SRM Updates

I first wrote "Upgrades" in the title but I think "Updates" is more accurate. I'm not improving anything per se, just refining fit and function. I had two major missions in mind back in late 2008, both gelling when I rode my trainer.

First mission: fix my broken SRM mount. My standard mount sits on the downtube just inside of the chainring spider. I broke the mount in a difficult moment on a ride (I was way anaerobic and had to shift down), and my oxygen-starved brain didn't shut off my legs until I'd sort of trashed the mount. An extra zip-tie and some electrical tape and I made it through the season, but I wanted to fix that for 2009. Also, if I was going to replace this thing, I wanted it to register speed on the trainer, so I wanted a rear wheel speed pickup.

Second mission: get 175 mm crank arms. I rode my 175 equiped Giant and felt like I could turn over gears with ease. When I got back on the 170s they seemed hard to push, like the bearings were binding. I decided I wanted 175s once again.

The first thing was to buy and install a bottom bracket sensor mount. I ordered this just before I left for CA, and in the "Notes" part of the online order form I requested that they contact me if the part would (at my house) arrive after Tuesday Feb 10th. I wouldn't be there on Wednesday (I'd be on my way to California) so I figured I'd give them the CA address if necessary. To my surprise I got a very nice email from the folks at SRM saying that I'd have the mount in plenty of time, and on Friday (?) it showed up. It came USPS (i.e. US Mail) so it may have been Saturday. Either way I decided not to install it in the flurry of "get ready to go" tasks. I just stuck it in my bag to take out to California.

The second thing on my list was to buy and install 175 mm crankarms on the bike. I've gone on and on about long cranks and, well, after riding shorter cranks for a year, I'm convinced that longer cranks suit my riding style better. 5 millimeters - it seems like a minor thing, I know, but those few millimeters give me an incredible feeling of power when attacking short rollers and such. I also think they work well for me when I'm not in great shape, and, honestly, I think I fall in that category right now. And when I say "not in great shape" that's relative to me, someone that isn't in great shape in general.

The tricky part with the uber-cool Cannondale SI SRMs is that you can't buy the crankarms separately, at least not readily. (Readily = from SRM, as I've found them to be super-efficient, knowledgable, and friendly - my transaction above was my third pleasant experience with them). So I had to go and find some cranks on eBay, doing a Buy-It-Now to assure myself that I'd get the cranks. Since I couldn't find cranks in time, I had to do the BIN on Monday night, only a day and change before I left home. Obviously the cranks wouldn't make it to CT by the next day so I asked the seller to send them to the CA address.

And lookit what the postman brought to the house!

(btw don't open the big pictures for the three below - they're all blurry as I don't have my normal camera and I didn't borrow Rich's).

The new 175 is sitting on top of the 170s. "New" is relative - they're new to me. Note the slight length difference.
(And, yes, I know, my bike is absolutely disgustingly dirty.)

The 175 right arm, complete with non-SRM spider and two chainrings. Looks naked, the non-solid spider.

See that round notched thing (lock ring) in the center of the crank? That's what holds the spider (the 5 arms) onto the crankarm.

I learned a bunch of things while researching exactly what I needed to do.

1. The SRM Cannondales come with the tools necessary to remove the crank as well as to remove the spider from the crankarm. It even includes an extra spider, so if you really wanted to, you could "lighten" the bike just a touch by using the standard spider. I remembered this on Monday or Tuesday night (last minute packing) and put the tools in my bike bag. Phew.

2. For instructions on how to remove the crankarm, just go to Cannondale's site. They have good instructions on proper technique. Regardless of what they say, this is what I did - unscrew the soft aluminum bolt holding on the arm; screw in the "inner" steel removal tool; screw in the outer steel removal tool; unscrew the inner removal tool (the inner tool immediately hits the outer one and, if you keep unscrewing, it forces it out, along with the crankarm); hold arm and marvel at the intricate machining.

I italicize inner because I didn't do that and almost broke my cranks. My friend (two mechanics are better than one) watched me for a bit then said, "Hey, shouldn't you unscrew that piece instead? Because that's how normal crankarm removers work..."

Oh. Erm. Yep.

3. To remove spider get big removal tool, get 3/8" drive socket, and unscrew normally. This means unscrew in a lefty-loosey motion if you look at the spider from the back. The spider and arm come apart like magic.

Tool and lockring on spider. They fit together very precisely.

4. The SRM spider and standard spider are machined perfectly. They both fit immaculately. Beautiful.

Beautiful machining. Click on the picture for a big version. You can see the intricate machining in the center of the spiders, the matching bits on the crank arms (one with the pedal and the arm above that). The pin tool is visible, along with the crank arm removal tools (left is outer tool, right is inner tool). I have the spider lockrings sort of haphazardly piled towards the bottom.

5. To tighten spider, put arm and spider together (they're keyed so you can't rotate them), reinstall lockring carefully and tighten to proper specs.

6. To install crankarm, place on spindle and tighten crankarm bolt to proper specs.

(Note: my idea of proper specs cannot be published since I'd then be liable if anyone's cranks falls apart - always follow manufacturer's recommendations.)

Now my bike has 175s. Beautiful. I just gotta get better (at least not so sick I can't think straight) so I can ride.

On the way to installing the arms I also hacked my way around installing the rear wheel + BB sensor SRM mount. It's easier installing the sensor kit when the cranks are off, so in the middle of the crank thing I did the sensor thing.

1. I first taped the two wires together from the SRM head (PowerControl) side to the sensors. I prefer to have one thick wire than two little ones.

2. Then I put the BB sensor on. That's my base so I started there and radiated outward.

3. I ran my "two-wires-taped-together-as-one" (cue U2 here) along the downtube and up to the PowerControl.

4. I then ran the rear wheel pick-up as far back as I could. I don't have a magnet so I'll have to align things up later.


This called for a nice stiff drink. Or steak salad, garlic fries, and a short shopping trip to buy some orange juice and other training essentials.

My friend took my bike for a spin, so he's the first one to ride the bike with that combo. It was kind of hard to read the PowerControl, and we didn't zero it first, but he mentioned seeing 360 watts or something. Mind you he's riding a bike 13 cm smaller, in sneakers and pants. But, still, the number seems low, so I'll have to check that initial SRM number thing before I ride tomorrow.

I just realized I should do the ratty tape over, and swap the super heavy (and cut) tires out for the lighter and nicer Krylions, but if it doesn't happen, not critical. I can do it next week.

Hopefully I am good enough tomorrow to ride a bit. Legs are totally fine, no soreness anywhere (saddle, legs, arms, shoulders, neck).

I'm ready to train. I just hope my body is too.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Training - Sick

I'm in California, the sun is out, and I'm sick.

What else is new?


Friday, February 13, 2009

California - PCH Ride

My trip so far has been relatively straight forward. I've had a number of things go well. My flights were reasonable, the flight crew were, in the second leg of my flight from Newark to San Diego, quite literally the best I've ever seen (Conti flight that departed at 8:29 AM, but not really due to people taking time to get in their seats).

One of the light moments: "Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm pleased to announce we are exactly halfway to San Diego. And for the passengers on the left side of the plane, if you look out your windows, you will see.... absolutely nothing."

I, of course, was already craning my head around, looking for something out there in the featureless flat, brown land.

Another moment: "If you tell me, within 5%, how much of the daily recommended allowance of sodium the Bloody Mary mix has, I'll give you this (vodka)."

I guessed 90% (it's salty stuff).

"It's... 83%."

The passengers around all did that "Ohhhh!", like when someone answers the game host question wrong. But the guy smiled and said that was close enough.

I saved the vodka.

Curiously the plane had no TV, no radio, no real food (egg sandwich). But it was a great flight.

Due to the various charges for carry on luggage, I cut back my luggage to only one clothing bag for both my bike gear and street wear. I didn't realize how aggressively I cut back until I realized that I have only three short sleeve shirts (and I wore two of them on the plane). I have only one long sleeve shirt (and I wore that to bed). One pair of shorts, two jeans (wore one on the plane).

I have just two pairs of cycling socks (and, again, I wore one on the plane). I have onesies of all my bike gear, except I have two shorts and two jerseys.

I even left behind my clear rain jacket.

Forecast tomorrow?

50s. And rain.

So I'll be doing laundry pretty much every day.

My bike made it in fine condition here, and it went together well. I couldn't figure out how to use the floor pump here so I finally resorted to using my mini-pump to get the tires to about, oh, I'd say like 70 psi. I decided to ride gingerly and not hit anything too hard. The bike rode softly though, thanks to the abnormally low tire pressure. I forgot my wheel magnet so I have no speed, and I had to finish swapping pads for the aluminum rimmed wheels. I decided to hold off on installing a pair of Michelin Krylions, staying with the cut and worn steel bead Schwables instead. I also left the ratty tape on the bars.

Today's ride was pretty good. I wore my one pair of knickers, my last pair of clean socks, one SS jersey, my one LS jersey, my one vest, my one cap (I only packed one cap??), my one pair of long gloves (with my one pair of short gloves in my pocket). As my first ride in this world this year I did nothing crazy, just a nice cruise down the PCH, a climb up Torrey Pines, and a death march back home.

Okay, "death march" is a bit of an exaggeration but I definitely struggled on the way home. Cross headwind until I turned inland, but by then the stiff tailwind couldn't help me.

On Torrey Pines climb (which went surprisingly well) someone caught me at the top, a tall lanky guy in a DeWalt kit. We rode together for a bit. I asked if he raced, and he told me he raced "a while back". Now, normally, if I ask someone if they raced, they'll say something like, "Yeah, I used to be a 3" or whatever. So the non-specific answer set my pro-sense on alert.

"When most people answer so non-specifically, it means they were really good. Were you a pro?"

"Um, yeah", he admitted sheepishly.

He said he did mainly crits, mainly a domestique, but also did pursuits and other track events. He didn't like climbs or sprints. I decided to hold back on my "Oh, man, it's got to be so cool to be at the front of the field, chasing the break, and looking back and seeing all these really good guys groveling on your wheel."

I saw him eyeing my bars. I regretted leaving for the ride without redoing my tape, without cleaning the bike a little more. I told myself he was just impressed that I had an SRM.

Probably because I didn't open my mouth and say that, he was a nice enough guy. I almost t-boned him when he unexpectedly turned right (and he was to my left) and, being risk averse, he gave me plenty of room on the switchback descent we slowly descended. He went easy enough so I could stay with him up one of those 500 meter pain-in-the-butt hills. Then he turned off to go back to work and I immediately eased up.


When I ride slowly I think a lot. I thought about buying a rain jacket for tomorrow, but I figure I'll buy it... tomorrow. So I rode right past a couple bike shops.

I thought about what the ex-pro said about Palomar - that if I want to make an attempt, I had better do it soon, before it rains. I think today may have been my last chance for maybe 4 or 5 days. Apparently they closed the road up there recently, it's been that bad.

I looked down a lot riding slowly - I have the time to look down because it'll take me a few seconds just to get to the edge of my peripheral vision. I like riding with box section rimmed wheels. I'm not sure why, but, over a few hours, I had a few ideas. It might be that the look (spidery pieces of metal) and feel (kind of heavy) of the wheels remind me of my early riding days. It might be that it makes me feel like I'm in Belgium again. Or... I don't know. I just like it.

I managed to remember to take a few sips from the bottle, and although I didn't get hungry, I knew I started to run on empty when my legs loaded up as soon as I tried to make an effort. I thought about stopping for food but decided against it - I didn't want to get my bike stolen or dwaddle long enough in the store that I get caught in the dark.

I did chase one schoolbus, the kids inside screaming (with delight? fear? derision? I don't know), but on a long false flat I had to pretend that I didn't want to chase it any more. On a different day I hope that I'll be digging deep to keep the speed up.

Right now all my clothing (from the plane and from the ride) is hanging on a drying rack. See, in SoCal you can hang clothes and they don't get mildewy like they do in CT. So they're dry, ready to get wet on tomorrow's ride.

Now to bed.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Equipment - Free Aero Wheels in 52 Weeks

Just paypal me $500 and I'll give you a secret method for getting free aero wheels. Sell the first pair for $500 and the next set will be free.


I read this recently: Starbucks announces $3.95 "value meals"

This bit of news rekindled a long dormant post for me. Let me tell you a (short) story about coffee.

I recently started taking coffee to work in a nice, stainless steel thermos. It's a tough and durable one - I've been using it on and off for maybe 10 years, usually at Bethel. It holds about 6 cups of coffee, or three mugs' worth. I sip a half cup or so at a time and the coffee is surprisingly hot even 5 hours into the day. A $2.50 bag lasts a while, so much so that I consider it almost free, especially compared to the $2-4 cups of coffee I could buy down the road from where I work.

I also started bringing to work bits and pieces of leftovers, fruit, and other things I normally don't eat. If I feel a twinge of hunger, I munch on whatever I brought to work. I'll also start off the day with a few slices of bread with peanut butter and such, something with protein, filling, easy, prevent me from buying food when I'm hungry.

You may see where this is leading.

Instead of spending $4 a day on a breakfast "value meal" (initially this post was simply on not spending $4 on a coffee), spend nothing. Spend 4 extra minutes making coffee (two batches for our 4 cup pot), wolf down some PB&J slices, and go to work with some yogurt or something healthy and snacky.

And when everyone goes out to get coffee, pass on the offer to join them. Or, if you need to go for political/social reasons, go but don't buy anything. Those $4 meals end up costing more anyway as you give into hunger temptation. I know, I loaded up with about $20 of food before getting on my flight the other day - soda, water, trail mixes - and all I wanted was a bottle of water.

Whatever. Don't buy anything. When you get back (or when you say, "No, I can't go, I have to finish so-and-so's account"), stick $4 in your "Carbon fiber wheel jar". And take another drink from your thermos.

Ask for a sticker from your target wheel company so you can put it on your thermos. Remember why you're not buying a $4 coffee everytime you think about it.

Toss in extra money when you can. Someone give you some extra dough in change? Toss it in there. A little present, gift Visa card? Into the CF Wheel Jar.

After 50 weeks of this (2 weeks vacation), you'll have $1000. Add 2 more weeks for shipping and such. $1040. That should get you a pair of nice, tall profile, functional and cool looking carbon fiber wheels.

While I may not be technically correct (those $1k wheelsets cost about $1100 with all the shipping and stuff), it'll be close enough to being enough. You could get, for example, the Williams 58mm clincher for $999, and they sometimes offer free shipping.

You could always go used too. I got my DV46Cs for $955, with two Ti cassettes, two new tires, two latex tubes, and even a pair of wheel bags.

Look, it may seem like a long time, a year. But unless you're on a fast track to turning pro (and if you are, you're not worried about getting enough gear), you have plenty of time. A year or three, it doesn't matter when you're in the sport to have fun.

And although they may not make you race that much better, aero wheels are just plain cool. And pro looking. And fun.

Worth a little sacrifice, no?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How To - Packing The Bike, Soft Case

So, once more, I'll be going to SoCal for some riding. Based on the weather forecasts it'll be a bit chillier than usual, but much better compared to the 20s and 30s here at home.

Of course I'll be riding, ergo I need a bike. I could rent one out there, ship one, even buy one (like a cheap road bike for $300), or, in what makes the most sense for me, I can fly with one of my bikes. And since I want the bike to show up in one piece, I have to pack it well.

I've flown with my bike numerous times, slowly building up courage to include nicer and nicer parts. I would leave behind my "good" bike, my "good wheels, but when I brought even the nicest clinchers and tubulars I have, things were fine.

The kicker is that I use a soft case, not a hard one.

Here are some of my packing tips:

Anchor bike in bag. Wrap contact points with padding.

My travel bag includes a BB holder and a fork holder. The fork is easy, just clamp with a quick release lever. I use an old fashioned toe-strap to hold the BB down, not the T-bar and nut designed for it. The T-bar (the "T" sits on top of the chainstays, the nut pulls it down) will inevitably dent the chainstays because I'll inevitably tighten it too much, so I never used it. Toe straps are nice, they slip a bit if you really pressure them, and they are quicker to secure than a nut and bolt.

Remove rear derailleur from dropout.

I unscrew the rear derailleur from the dropout. This way I eliminate the weakest point of the bike. I leave the cable and chain attached - no adjustments necessary on the other end of the trip.

Rear dropout spacer, with rear derailleur tucked between the stays.

I also use a rear axle, with axle nuts in place, as a dropout spacer. Although a severe impact will bend everything, the spacer will tie together the rear triangle, making it more resistant to lateral impacts. I used to use a trashed hub as a spacer, but the axle is just a bit more tidy.

Seat, bag, and blinkie all in its own wrapping. Note my collection of toe straps (for packing the bike).

Again, wrap everything that contacts other things. I remove the post (after marking its position) as a unit, with the seat bag and blinkie in place. I wrap the unit up and set it aside for now.

Front brake.

I always forget to loosen/remove the front brake before I put the frame on the travel case holder (i.e. the fork and BB mount). The problem is that I have to unscrew a long brake nut and the downtube is in the way. It's much easier if you can turn the fork to one side before unscrewing the brake nut.

Also note that the grey packing material says "Front Brake" on it. After recreating all the various packing "units" for each part of the bike for every trip, I had the brilliant idea of labeling them all and reusing them. At first I used silver Sharpies on black duct tape covered in clear packing tape. This system lasted a few trips, but as the various layers of tape peeled off, I resorted to the primitive black Sharpie directly on the packing foam.

Front brake wrapped.

Front brake has a cable and sharp bolt sticking out of it - I wrap it well.

Wrench, headset spacers, fork cap, and the stem...

Although not required, I remove my stem. I figure it's a pretty big lever and if some luggage handling gorilla leans on it too hard, he could snap the carbon steerer. To avoid this risk (and all this is about reducing risk), I remove the stem.

The problem with removing the stem is that the headset no longer holds itself in place. With the ubiquitous "new" threadless stem systems, you need a stem (or stem-like thing) so you can tighten down the fork top cap.

Hence the spacers. I lost my whole set of carbon spacers when my stem "packing unit" broke open during the move. Now, honestly, I thought that was kinda cool - carbon spacers for packing the bike - but it's unnecessary. So I recruited the SystemSix spacers (huge ones) to sub in.

Voila. Secure fork and headset.

No fork bouncing around inside the head tube when I get there. And, yes, that happened to me on a different bike. I was not a happy camper. Note: use only gentle pressure on the cap - the point is to hold the fork in place, not to preload the whole front end.

Now what to do with the stem?

I also remove the stem from the bar. I have an aluminum bar so it's not that I'm worried about breaking said bar, but it makes packing the bike easier. I put it in a packing foam unit labeled "stem". When I'm not traveling I leave the spacers in the "stem" thing.

Bar secured. I know, I have to wrap my bars.

I toe-strap the bars in place so that they cradle the fork and top tube. This makes the whole area a bit stronger from pushing-type forces.

I put the wheels in wheel bags. Wrap the various frame tubes. Stick the seat/post unit upside down in the rear stays (tape in place, easier than toe straps). Make sure you put the pedals, stem, and various accessories in the bike bag. I carry my shoes with me, but I put two helmets in the bike bag (bulky but light items are good for bike bags).

Hey now. Ready to fly.

I've flown with two wheelsets (the bag is designed for that, apparently), boxes of Powerbars taped to the bag frame, lots and lots of bike clothing, tires, etc.

Other things you want to pack:
1. Tape gun. Like for packing tape.
2. Good, thick packing tape. The kind that sells for $7.99 a roll. Don't get the cheap stuff. It's your bike, not just a random box of papers.
3. Tubes and tires. I leave a few in the bag, "just in case". I've used more than I like, and I've loaned out a bunch too.
4. Allen wrenches, especially an 8 mm. This in case you need to assemble the bike for whatever reason (like I forgot the key to the place when I arrived). You need the 8mm for pedals, usually.
5. Your name and number, in case you get lost and the bag can't find you. I have a card in there.

Don't pack:
1. Your cycling shoes. The shoes are like a combination of Houdini and the Green Goblin, they will escape anything you put them in and then proceed to kill your bike. Cleats are vicious, dangerous weapons to your frame. Put your shoes in your carry on.
2. Your cyclocomputer. I've lost mine from the bag a few times (a slightly opened zipper and zoom, stuff flies out of there). Ditto MP3 players and such.

Now to catch my flight!