Tuesday, May 31, 2011

2011 - Somerville Cat 2s

Gateway to paradise...

The main straight sits at the end of this walkway.

At least for those crit racers out there.

Yes, this is Somerville, New Jersey.

For those like me, it's a love-hate thing. I love it. I hate it. It's a fantastic race, a classic if you will, one of the premier races covered in the old paper-only issues of VeloNews. It's also umpteen gazillion hours away, a real pain for us folks used to sub-2 hour drives to races.

As a competitor it's a dangerous race. Amped-up racers, some tight corners, and the prestige of one of the biggest crits on the East Coast and you have a recipe for disaster. Last year virtually everyone I knew in my race crashed, some twice. I avoided crashes simply by being at or near the front, with one lucky avoidance sequence when I let myself drift back into the field.

A racer can't enter Somerville without thinking of the possibility of a hard crash - it's just the way the race dynamics work.

The course itself isn't that interesting, four corners, each slightly different from a standard, flat, 90 degree turn.

The first turn comes at the end of an insanely long final straight (800m?), a false flat no less, so it's the slowest of them all. The second is massively wide, coming off of a slight downhill, and very fast. It's the most unpredictable turn since you have so much pavement to work with - racers can take three or four different lines through the turn, virtually side by side, and still make it through in one piece.

Usually anyway.

The third turn is the scariest and usually the safest. You hit it about as fast as you hit a turn, diving from a four lane road into a two lane road, on a slight downhill. The field approaches it virtually curb to curb on most laps, with riders trying to move up the side, and those in front fanning out to defend against such moves.

Because it's the scariest turn, because at some level racers aren't necessarily suicidal at races(although they may look it if you watch them dive into this turn), it's paradoxically one of the safer turns.

The fourth turn really isn't a turn, more like a bend, and most racers don't count it as a turn. The only exciting part is an island built in the middle of the road, a median type thing. Because of this the relatively wide road narrows dramatically.

The rest of the course is okay. Deep manhole covers mar the course, forcing racers to either mentally map their locations or swerve around those forgotten ones. The main straight is so bumpy that your wheels chatter and bounce, and that's on the smooth stuff. The rough stuff will eject bottles, hamper handling, and make for numb hands and butts.

Somerville is usually blazingly hot. Last year it hit the mid 90s. This year it missed that mark just by a few degrees. In hot temperatures, especially in high humidity, I knew that dumping cold water worked better for me than trying to drink a quart or two of liquid while physiologically maxed out. I therefore tried a new secret weapon, one that I've seen a number of riders using:

The CamelBak Podium Chill Bottle.

Now, I've tried the CamelBak backpack thing and road jersey, and I have to admit that they didn't work out as planned. I'll try them again but their main disadvantages in a crit are that they are tough to drink from, they cannot be tossed when done, and they make your back hotter. I'd planned the Tsunami around a "no waterbottles" method of riding, but now I use them.

Once I saw the forecast for 94 degrees on Memorial Day in Somerville, I asked the Missus to pick up a couple of the Chill bottles. I don't do well in heat and I needed to have coldness. Since I had to carry bottles, I decided I'd carry ones that kept things cooler.
The good thing about those CamelBak water things is that they're insulated, at least the main bag part. Once you work through the liquid in the hose (ice cold or tepid, depending on the outside temperatures), you're treated to a nice soothing flow of (usually) chilled water.

I like the chill, not the rest of it.

Therefore the Podium Chill Bottle.

I tried it just before the race, riding with two bottles, one Chill and one team issue bottle. Both had equal amounts of water, equal amounts of ice. At the end of my Quarry Road loop, which takes just under an hour, the team issue bottle had become lukewarm and very unappealing.

The Podium Chill had just allowed the last of four ice cubes to melt and still felt refreshingly cold.

The Chills made the cut for Somerville.

Spraying 32 degree water into my helmet vent holes.

One thing I didn't realize was that although the Chill bottles were taller than the normal large bottles, I didn't realize just how much more fluid they held. The height had forced me to move my under-top-tube pump to the between-bars-and-skewer mount on my training/test ride. I didn't realize the implications on the rough roads of Somerville.

I'll be trying the Podium Ice bottle next, the one that's twice as effective as the Chill.

Before the race I said hi to a friendly competitor, Sam R. He's a rider phenom, a version of Cavendish in riding strengths, someone who shot up from Cat 5 to Cat 2 in one season, and then almost podiumed in his first P12 race.

This would be his kind of race, a long hard sprint after a fast race. Not too long that those road racer types would make a difference, and definitely more like a race where people finished with a lot in the tank.

I told the Missus afterwards that I'd decided that if I were up there but a bit tanked that I'd work for him.

"Did you tell him?"
"Well, no. I don't know if I'll be there or if I want to race for myself."

After I got kitted up, very early I might add, I went to the officials' stand to verify that they'd be okay with the Cane Creek Speed bars. I knew that they were legal officially, but you never know when you go outside your region. For example, it's a rule that you have to wear a helmet any time you get on your bike, with an immediate $20 fine if you get caught sans helmet, but in this area riders rolled around everywhere with nary a helmet near their head.

So, knowing the rule enforcement changes from region to region, and wanting to work within whatever region I happened to be racing in, I asked about the Cane Creek bars.

As I waited for the official to come back, a racer rolled up to me.

"I like your blog."


It's nice to hear that this time and energy I put into the blog gets appreciated somewhere.

The official returned after asking the board of officials my question.

"Will you support yourself on them?" the official asked me, a question relayed to her from the board.

Well, yes. But not like aero bars, not like the forearms on the bars thing (or "invisible aero bars", except these weren't invisible). I'd grip the lower parts, the way the bars were designed. I demonstrated to the official in question.

She looked at me questioningly.

I figured I'd take them off, just in case. And it's not like I'd be time trialing to a solo victory or anything.

As I left she very politely and kindly thanked me for asking in advance. I'm afraid that my courtesy threw her for a loop - I think many riders treat officials with something akin to contempt, an obstacle between the racer and the goal. But for me officials represent order within the chaos. Although the "order" may differ here and there, as long as I know the rules I also know where my boundaries sit.

I lined up late, willing to sacrifice a forward position for cooler water. Instead of waiting near the line I rolled over to the Missus and my "race base" for the day. With a cooler, chair, some food, and shade, we'd staked out a good spot on the endless sidewalk around the course.

I picked up the Chill bottles, had a gel, and worried a bit about the race with the Missus. I also dumped some ice water on myself, then the Missus dumped some more. Once at the line a few riders greeted me with warm grins. I guess it's comforting to see a friendly face when facing a tough challenge like Somerville. I can't imagine how good it would feel like to see a friendly face in a tougher situation like a battle zone.

After an inauspicious start (I had to wait for the group to get going, then promptly flubbed my clip in), I realized that we weren't going that fast. I'm sure the riders at the front would beg to differ but I felt much more at ease here than I did last year.

Truth be told it felt more like a Rent race than Somerville.

Hm. I'll have to file that thought away for future reference.

During the race I was lucky not to have lost one Chill bottle on the main straight. The taller bottle with higher capacity (and therefore more weight), along with poorly shaped shoulders on the bottle, overwhelmed my previously impervious Specialized Rib Cage. The bottle ended up almost 90 degrees tilted in the cage after I slammed the bike (inadvertently, honestly) really hard into a succession of potholes and manhole covers.

I straightened the bottle temporarily and then repositioned the bottle as soon as I could, on the smoother back straight. Stuffed in my center rear pocket, I kept the full bottle there until I got about 3/4 of the way down the other bottle, which took about 8 of the 15 laps (20 miles). Then I put the light bottle in the downtube cage, the full bottle in the more secure seat tube cage.

For Somerville, as a 2, in a 2s only race, I decided I'd risk all for the sprint. I figured that the 2s would be fast and consistent, marked by constant breaks and chases, kind of like Ninigret or The Rent. I thought this would reduce the crashiness of Somerville.

I also hoped that by racing scared, i.e. totally sheltered, I'd have gas left for the finish. At the Mystic Velo Crit I raced like I could do whatever I wanted to do. When I saw a chase go up the road, threatening to catch a break even further up the road, I told myself the race would be decided from that front group. I went after the chase, exploded spectacularly when I got there, and I paid for my efforts by riding myself right off the back of the group.

The front group did contest the race, but it had been joined by first the chase group, then by the rest of the field. If I'd been hiding in the field I'd have had an opportunity to sprint.

Instead I just watched it from the side of the course.

So, for this year's Somerville, I decided to tail gun aggressively. I'd have to make sure I could, because a fast, strung out field doesn't allow much respite in the turns. But if the field bunched up for that tight third turn, it'd be a great place to rest or soft-pedal for 15 or 20 seconds.

The field, for reasons explained below, eased a lot.

I tailgunned.

Tailgunning view. It's an intentional gap.

Tailgunning has its disadvantages of course. The main one, and the main reason why most racers feel intimidated by the tactic (aka think it's useless), is that since you have no control over what happens in the race, you have no control over what happens in the race. You can't chase, block, attack, or even watch over your competition. You're sacrificing those aspects of the race in order to have that much more a powerful move, whether an all out attack or the final sprint.

The other disadvantage is you have a higher chance of being behind a crash.

Er, like so.

Scattered riders in a race = not good.

Sam R's teammate, looking over because he sees his friend in distress on the deck.
Those black dots (with shiny bits in the middle) on the pavement are cyclo-computers - they all bounced off the bikes in the crash. One was a Specialized, dunno the other two.

The crash happened because two guys started talking and then fell over. Egads.

Sam, to the right, aboard an unfamiliar yellow bike (his bike is a black Cervelo).
Oh, right. It's a SRAM neutral service bike. I never saw a neutral bike in action, except that picture of Jens.

After being held up by such a crash, racers dig deep to get back into the race, moi included. Curiously enough the field sat up and waited for two laps, going pretty slow, until everyone reintegrated. Some joined like me, by chasing on. Some joined from the Turn Two pit, and others from the Turn Four pit.

I regularly doused myself with ice cold water throughout the race, a welcome relief in the 90 degree temperatures.

I soft-pedaled into the third turn so far off that I wondered if I'd over done it.

I managed to avoid that second manhole cover on the main straight, about 10 meters past and one meter to the right of the decoy not-so-bad one. I did hit it two laps in a row, and the jarring I received did much to encourage me to move over a bit.

As the laps wound down, the front of the field got wider and wider. Everyone was trying to jam in towards the front, looking for the perfect spot for the sprint.

That's when I realized something, the thing I alluded to when I was talking about tail gunning.

No one really attacked during the whole race.
Not a single racer.

Okay, fine, they went after primes and stuff, but no one actually went and got a 40 second gap and forced the field into a suffering single file of racers.

In fact, as sacrilegious as it may sound, this year's Cat 2 race was easier than last year's Cat 3 race. I'm less fit, heavier, and it was easier.


Because of the racers.

Racers make a race hard. If I get shelled on a hill it's not because I can't climb the hill. It's because I can't climb the hill as fast as the other racers. If I get shelled in a super fast P123 race, it's not because of whatever whatever, it's because the freakin' front was going 35 mph all day long.

And likewise, if the racers decide not to race, even Mount Washington would be doable for someone like me.

This was the case, I think, at this year's Somerville.

We were all Cat 2s. Most Cat 2s have to race P123 races, or, worse, P12 races. The guys who can place in the 3s are usually sprinters or break specialists. The super motorheads usually upgrade to Cat 2 or 1 pretty quickly, but the ones that become a 2 and stay there? They're sprinters. In P123 races the break usually wins, so the strong guys end up upgrading to Cat 1.

That leaves the hapless Cat 2. Strong enough to race out of the 3s, too weak to annihilate the P/1s.

Everyone who was doing this Cat-2-only Somerville was doing it because they love crits. Everyone here loves the cornering at high speeds. Everyone here loves sprinting.


So the whole field consisted of sprinters waiting for the sprint.

That meant no breaks. No chases. No huge train of riders at the front. No crazy attacks. No nothing. Just plodding along to the finish.

I plodded along too, balancing heat control (i.e. water dousing), effort, and position. It wasn't a total cakewalk for me, but it wasn't a true sufferfest. Usually position came in last so I rode in last or close to last place, my legs pretty fresh, a very good jump still left in them. I lacked that serious lactic acid buildup so familiar in those super hard races.

I declined moving up as we passed 5 to go. At 3 to go the front got really wide and fast, everyone trying to nudge their way to the front. I decided that I'd gamble all on the last lap, on the backstretch, then on the front stretch. I'd move hard on the backstretch, survive that third turn, then jump super late on the main stretch, trying to stay sheltered until the last 150 meters or so.

This wasn't a win-or-nothing strategy. This was more of a "get a top 20" strategy, get in the money, be listed in the results.

As we came up on 2 to go I briefly contemplated making a suicidal move off the front. I'd get some air time, get off the front, and maybe, just maybe, do a lap solo. 3 minutes would be difficult, a fast lap at Somerville. 6 minutes to win the race, virtually impossible.

Then the moment passed and I slid back into anonymity.

I heard the bell while sitting pretty far back in the group, not happy with my position, but satisfied that I had the legs to go.

Turn One went by easily, smoothly.

Turn Two went by okay too. Well, the turn part did. Then there were riders all over the road.

The crash happening exiting Turn Two, last lap of the race.
The different lean angles indicate something's up.

I eased a bit after I threaded the carnage, thinking that would be it for me. Then, looking up, I could see some of the racers working to regain contact with the field.

And some of them looking like they'd succeed.

I started to roll, eased again, then decided that I'd roll to the finish. I didn't commit just yet though, slowly getting up to speed.

A racer behind me rolled up next to me.

His words revealed his relationship with Somerville.

"This is why I hate Somerville."

He said it again, in case I didn't hear, but I was too busy figuring out if I could pedal or not.

I rolled away without acknowledging him, knowing there's a big chance he'd be lining up here next year, understanding just what he meant. And feeling exactly the same way he felt, minus a bit of the hate. I felt more disappointment really, knowing I gambled and lost. Another year it might have worked. This year it didn't.

My legs protested as I pushed them to the line, unfamiliar effort. I realized that my 2 lap to go attack would have fizzled pretty quickly.

A couple minutes later I crossed the line to polite applause. The spectators appreciate effort, and there were enough folks around that some actually clapped.

The officials politely placed me 67th.
On the way home, just like on the way there, the Missus and I spent the 3+ hour drive talking. We counted deer like we did on the way there (I never saw so many dead deer - we probably saw over 20), passed a delapitated RV a couple times that looked like 'Mater's brother, and talked about all sorts of stuff.

Mater's bro.
Note the patchwork and significant body lean.

At some point I expounded on the virtues of turbos and comparing pressure between regular turbos, the high pressure ones, and her Jetta's TDi. The turbo talk had reminded me of the various mods one can do to a turbo car quickly and easily.

We talked about my selling my blue car, my red car, and getting a car (in all likelihood another TDi) to replace both. I also analyzed what I like about the blue car so much, mainly to do with handling, braking, and, at least at some level, the acceleration. On a TDi I'd be able to replicate the three factors at some level.

At some point she turned to me with a cheeky grin on her face.

"You talk so sexy when we're in the car."

Aw, shucks, don't I though?

When we got home the cats were eagerly awaiting us, circling with their tails up, tips curled, looking like fuzzy feline bumper cars at the fairgrounds, circling randomly. With the Rent the next day we left most everything in the car, taking out just the kit I wore and the coolers holding all the various bottles we brought. We'd left 14 hours earlier, and after a long day out, it was good to be home.

Somerville. So easy to hate. And so easy to love.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Life - Fear

One cannot have missed the tragic death of Wouter Weylandt in the 2011 Giro. A descent, one moment of millimeter impreciseness, and that was it.

People I know asked if that would make me afraid, if Fear would keep me from riding, if it would make me go a bit easier on descents, if I'd change anything about my riding.

I've ridden my bike since WW passed.

I've done crits, fighting for position, cornering in the middle of a tightly crowded field. I've descended aggressively, diving into almost-switchback U-turns, tires scraping for traction. I've drafted a UPS truck, inches away from its spring-type bumper, and sprinted unsuccessfully after other prey, massive efforts amidst swirling, gusty wind, with aero wheels buffeted like the sails they can be.

Following Brown.

I even did all out sprints in the rain, rear tire skittering around, barely under control, inspired by Petacchi's incredible sprint victories in the rain, rear tire skittering around as his rear tire desperately claws for traction.

I've done all that and felt no Fear.

And really, when it comes down to it, it has to do with, contrary to what you might think, being risk averse.

Risk averse? How does shying away from risk justify sprinting after trucks? Isn't that the whole concept of risk?

Well, no, not really. It's about riding with many variables under control, and using judgment for those variables not under control. The truck represents very few uncontrolled risks - perhaps a tire throws up a rock, or the axle breaks off and bounces around in front of me.

But really, when you think about it, the rider controls many of the risks. The rider controls the bike, the speed, the follow distance, and, by peeking around the side of the truck, even has an idea of the traffic and such.

When I was drafting the UPS truck, I was easing well before he was for red lights, slower cars, and the like.

Let's take a non-cycling example. I'm afraid of heights. It's why my bike is so low. Heh. Okay, it's not, but I'm really afraid of heights. When I first cleaned the gutters on my old house, a one floor house whose gutters sat maybe ten feet off the ground, I felt virtually paralyzed with fear.

I managed to get up the ladder, my then girlfriend watching, ready to dial 911 in case the fire department had to come by to extricate me from the roof. I cleared the gutters, sometimes dizzy with fear, using garden hoses as partial belaying ropes (and using them to spray into gutters I didn't want to reach for). Sometimes I even lay on my stomach so I wouldn't slip or trip or slide off the very shallow pitched roof.

When I was ready to get back down the ten foot drop seemed like the Grand Canyon. I finally gathered the courage to get a foot onto the aluminum ladder, then to lift the other foot.

As I made my way down my somewhat concerned (and somewhat amused) girlfriend asked me what was making that rattling noise. It sounded like a cat in a Havahart cage, scrabbling to get out.

I paused and focused on analyzing the noise.

"Don't worry. It's just me shaking so hard the ladder's rattling."

Let's just say that my then girlfriend's "somewhat concerned" attitude disappeared, replaced with "fully amused" and barely concealed laughter. Even I smile when I think of the whole situation now.

Havahart trap, which rattles like an aluminum ladder, with Bella who was about 4 weeks old.

Now, as afraid of heights as I am, I've rock climbed (in real, i.e. at the Gunks near New Paltz, NY), I've been to the top public deck of places like the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, the Stratosphere, the Twin Towers, and even the dinky-by-comparison Arc de Triomphe.

I never felt "fear" when I did those; a little uneasiness, yes, but fear, no.

It's because I felt like the significant variables were under control. In high school, when I rock climbed, I learned to trust the rope. I never had an experience to tell me otherwise so for a couple years I trusted the rope absolutely. The worst part of the climb was at the top, when I unclipped said rope.

Suddenly, even though I climbed a couple hundred feet perfectly okay, even though I was standing 10 or 15 feet from the edge of said climb, I felt absolute, near-paralyzing fear.

I'd lost control of that variable.

Earlier this year we went to Vegas for some post-tax season de-stressing (or post-Bethel for me). Since the Missus and I don't gamble per se (we usually use up the free play coupons and we'll throw maybe another ten into it after that), we try and do other things. In the past we'd check out a show per trip, or, more recently, do a Pink Jeep Tour. (Note: our favorite guide is Shanin (sp?), a very knowledgeable guy.) They're a lot of fun and very educational.

This year we went to Grand Canyon.

That's a place where people afraid of heights don't belong.

But you can see where I'm going with this. There are two ways (well, three really) to experience the beyond-comprehension visuals at the Grand Canyon, at least without a helicopter or a mule.

The worst way is to fall. One guide pointed out to me that the fall generally doesn't kill you - it's the stop at the end.

The second way is to stand near the rim of the canyon. Since this is not officially the US of A (it's Indian territory), there are no liability type concerns here. Clueless people are welcome to walk right up to the edge of the drop, look down, whatever.

The new way of doing it is to do the Sky Walk, where you walk on a horseshoe shape walkway formed by glass "floors" laying across the opening between two horseshoe shaped beams. We did this first, trying to avoid too much of a line.

While you're standing there you can read some of the placards which boast of the Sky Walk's capacities (as well as some of the safety features). I remember one placard that said that the beams can hold 71 million pounds (something like that).

These placards help the guest rationalize the safety of the structure. It's kind of like controlling the variables; although I had no control over the design of the structure, by the time I got to the actual Sky Walk I had quite a bit of faith in the horseshoe bit.

Notice I didn't mention the glass?

The glass... well, it's five layers of safety glass, laminated together. It looks kind of like bank teller glass, the shield the tellers sit behind in higher-risk locales. You can stomp on it pretty hard if you want, and it'll be okay.

Normally this would be enough to ease my fear of heights, even though I'd be looking down about 2000 feet below my feet, well beyond my 1000 foot experiences with man-made structures.

The only problem in my whole "controlling the variables" bit was a show I'd just watched while resting after a ride - Myth Busters. Specifically the show dealt with how to get out of a car that's just dropped into water. The water pressure on the glass is immense so it's virtually impossible to roll down the window.

The guys tried using steel toe boots (a surprising fail), car keys (ditto), cell phone (no phone is that strong), and just lowering the window using power or manual levers (neither worked although the power windows worked for a long time, even submerged).

However, using a sharp, hardened metal object (like an awl or the safety hammer thing sold specifically for this purpose), the glass shattered instantly.

So, here I was, looking down a couple thousand feet below my shoes, a few layers of safety glass between me and eternity.

Unfortunately the first staff person told us with a big grin that they've been replacing the glass panels. The newer ones were made in a different place (Germany vs Spain, although I forget who made the originals and who made the replacements). The staff member also pointed out that the glass got scratched and people dropped stuff on the panes (and over the sides too).

Maybe like an awl?

Suddenly I lost control of a variable.

I became hyperaware of any sharp metal objects that could be made with hardened steel. Like the big cameras the staff had to take pictures of the guests.

I was fine for about 10 feet of the walk.

Then I had to make a beeline for the handrail at the edge of the walk, over one of the 71 million pound strong beams.

As others made it okay in the middle, I ventured out there too. I was walking in the center now, over the glass. I felt okay just looking down, but if I moved while looking down, forget it. I think the motion gives you three dimensional cues to the distance beneath you and makes the fear of heights thing kick in.

To make things even worse, when I finally rationalized that if the glass would have failed it probably would have failed under the thousands of people that preceded me, I got to the older glass. You could tell because it's a bit scuffed up.

And, disconcertingly, it crackles when you step on it.

Back to the hand rail for me.

The worst part was looking over at the Missus (she's less afraid of "real" heights like the Grand Canyon rim but more afraid of actual height like the Sky Walk). She and Shannin were standing near the actual rim, taking pictures of us on the Sky Walk. I could see the 1800 foot drop literally only a few feet away from them.

And when we finished with the Sky Walk (and a half serious "Don't worry about the crackling glass, that's normal" to the folks about to walk onto it), I couldn't get the drop out of my mind.

I couldn't get closer than about 20 feet to the edge.

No rope. No rail. No wall. No nothing between me and eternity.

I was reflexively covering my mouth and saying, "Oh my God!" so much that the Missus dragged me away from the rim.

People backing up to the rim.

"Oh my God!"

People pretending to be falling, and then losing their balance a bit.

"Oh my God!"

When the little old lady wanted to take a picture from the same spot her friend was using, about eight feet from the edge, but didn't see the foot tall drop off between them, and then tumbled into her friend...

That was "Oh! Oh my God!" moment, along with a cringe, looking away, and curling up tightly.

"They're fine," the Missus said. I looked. The little old ladies were okay, even their friend who had been posing with her back to the rim, oh, about a foot from the edge.

So what's this got to do with descending like a madman?

Well, it's the difference between controlled variables and random ones.

I literally had a hard time sleeping for a few nights after the Grand Canyon. I'd imagine one of those people near the edge (not even falling) and my gut would clench up like I was just about to hit the deck. My heart rate would soar, adrenaline pumping, and I'd lay there trying to calm down.

The Sky Walk - I didn't think of that in any fearful way.

To me the Rim represented an uncontrolled situation. It represents Fear.

For me, with cycling, I tend to fear little. I've done extensive drilling with wheel touching, where my front wheel hits someone else's bike; bumping shoulders or elbows or arms or hips; cornering at high limits; descending down unknown roads.

Those situations don't represent Fear for me.

Therefore I feel somewhat comfortable. It's like the feeling I had while standing at the top of the World Trade Center - feeling totally isolated and safe on a floating square platform.

Wheel touches, bumps, cornering, descending, those all sit in a circle of comfort.

I don't do enough of some other cycling and so other situations cause me Fear, primarily cornering in the rain. In virtually every rainy flat crit I've done I've either gotten dropped or hit the deck.

I remember many of my rainy "deck" races - Danbury Crit, Turn One, a few laps to go, sitting about 7th spot, and someone came up my inside, slid on a manhole cover, and swept my wheels out from under me. I hit the curb hard after sliding across much of the road.

Birmingham, Michigan, an 8 turn, half mile course (!!) in pouring rain. The overall leader fell in front of me, one of about 24 guys still racing, and I glanced off of him, the rear wheel a foot off the ground, pretzeling when it landed.

Danbury Crit, another year, Final Turn, sliding casually across the road and into the curb.

In rain I don't have control over the traction element, and I don't corner hard enough when it's wet out to get a feeling for my limits. Even when I do, I've been taken out by others who exceeded theirs.

Therefore I feel Fear.

On descents, probably the most dangerous bit of bike racing, I've regularly felt fear in road races. It's one of the reasons why I don't do them - if I stay with the field, I inevitably have to descend some 50-odd mph descent surrounded by a wide variety of bike handling skill racers.

A lot of them don't know how to deal with bumps, touches, and such, and studiously avoid crits for that reason. In a road race though it is worse, with narrow roads, usually a yellow line rule, and speeds hitting at least 10-20 mph faster than a typical crit's 30-ish mph surges. Going 55 mph down an unknown descent, surrounded by riders of which at least a few are so uncertain of their handling skills that they avoid crits, well, that to me spells Fear.

On my own, descents are no problem. I have faith in my equipment, my technique, and my responses to those off chance incidents.

For example, people wonder what I'd do if I flat at high speed. Honestly, I almost always have an out for a flat. With self preservation at the top of the list, I'll lay down the bike if necessary, but most of my "out" strategies don't involve intentionally losing skin.

I think about these things when I descend alone. Palomar Mountain, my favorite descent, allows me to attack real switchbacks (i.e. virtually a U-turn), long arcing carve-your-line type turns, decreasing radius turns, all with a nice dose of well defined braking zones.

Without distractions around me, like other riders, phone calls, whatever, I can focus all my attention on what I'd do if something bad happened RIGHT NOW.

It's possible, yes, that I'd have a catastrophic failure - a fork collapsing perhaps, or my bars folding up suddenly. I check these parts often enough, buy parts that I have faith in, and stay away from anything that makes my gut instinct alarm go off.

Sometimes I need some convincing, when I get paralyzed by over-analysis. A BF guy Chris D recently made me realize this, when he pushed me to do Somerville. Both the Missus and I steeled ourselves for a rainy race, but by the time I'd mulled it over, the forecast changed so much it's now going to be a mid-90s day, a scorcher for sure.

I can assure you that although I'm a bit nervous about the race, with the unknowns it brings (it's a Cat 2 only race, the first I'll ever have done, and it happens to be one of the most prestigious races on the East Coast), I won't feel Fear.

Excitement? Yes. Nervousness? Yes. Perhaps some trepidation? Yes.

There are variables out of my control. Yes, something bad could happen.

But something bad could happen when I drive to work, or when I cross the street, or when I grill a hamburger, or when I venture under the store to feed the cats.

Fear is a strong and sensible limiter, one that helps avoid risk, an immediate and strong instinctive feeling that helps preserve the species.

There's one thing to remember about Fear.

You can't live life solely base on Fear.

See you at Somerville.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Racing - May 24, 2011 @TuesdayTheRent

All week the forecast showed rain. All week I worked through drizzle and downpours and some occasional bits of "clearness".

It's been "weather just like in Holland."

After discovering the weeknight training races held at Rentschler Field, I found that I look forward to them, almost more so than "real" races. It's like a group ride in formality, where racers aren't (usually) very cut throat, where there's some predictability, where things go pretty smoothly.

It's like going to the Cheers bar instead of a huge nightclub in the city. Each has its appeal, but as a creature of habit, I prefer the place where it's closer and more personal, the place where everybody knows your name.

Last week the first scheduled race got washed out by the ever present rain. This week promised the same, to the point where I said something to that effect to more than a few people. I even did an unusual ride in the rain on Monday, to try and acclimate to the expected wet racing on Memorial Day weekend.

In fact, I carefully noted that registration for Tour of Somerville would close at 9 PM on May 24th, i.e. just a couple hours after the Rent race would start, if it started. With a $25 day-of-race penalty, on top of a $40 entry, I'd have to decide - and register if applicable - whether or not I'd do Somerville this year.

On my rain ride I thought a lot about the turns at Somerville and how they'd be in the wet. I started actually contemplating racing in the rain there.

Tuesday morning things looked status quo. Everything was wet outside, "just like in Holland". Wet pavement in the morning, wonderful grey clouds, bright green leaves and lawns, all the things that make me think of, yes, Holland. We even had some clearing by midday, a tease, with thunderstorms forecast for the evening.

I privately hoped for some magical weather change during the day. In the morning I cooked up some pasta, to take to work for lunch, to better prepare for an evening effort. I had eggs and bacon (Canadian style) and English muffins for breakfast, to better set a food base for the day.

I even put my wet shoes in the dryer (on a platform thing so they didn't tumble around, on super low heat so nothing melted) on the Missus's suggestion.

I guess she, too, was hoping for the best.

After a quick glance at the platform, I added my long finger thin gloves, my "crit" gloves, which have kit-destroying Velcro on them, and which I left to soak overnight after yesterday's kit-dirtying rain ride.

I, too, hoped for the best.

We were resigned to going, if the race happened, without SOC and Mrs SOC (good friends of ours) as his schedule made the race a virtual impossibility. Nonetheless we wanted to get into the summer schedule, racing Tuesdays and Sunday, because until we did, summer really wasn't here.

At work I logged on to weather.com, the site I trust the most now, and got the weather forecast for East Hartford. After getting it to display the hourly schedule, my hopes faded pretty hard. 80% chance of rain by 6 PM, and with a just-before-7-PM start, it looked definitively unpromising.

I told my boss it didn't look good.

The promoters make the call at 4 PM on twitter (@TuesdayTheRent), and I opened another tab showing their updates. It didn't look promising either.

Then, magically, just before 4 PM, when I hit F5 on the weather tab, two suns appeared over 6 and 7 PM, not the expected angry grey clouds spewing sparks from Thor's hammer.

I went to the twitter tab, hit F5, and after about 30 refreshes, the good news hit.

The races were on!

I called the Missus with the news, and we started making plans for getting everything in the car. I would leave work half an hour early, we'd meet at home, and get under way hopefully by 6 PM. I'd get to the venue with 10 or 15 minutes to spare.

The Missus let Mrs SOC know, who let SOC know, who happened to be getting out of work about a gazillion hours early. The Missus called me back at some point, reporting that SOC'd be racing too, and Mrs SOC would be trekking up from home to join us all.


When we got to the Rent, with just a few more than 15 minutes to spare, I had the surprise of the season - we had a slew of teammates there. I knew SOC would be there but I didn't expect David, Cliff, Todd, and a bunch of guys that were in the B race. We had a full crew, guys with good legs, experience, and a distinct lack of fear of attacking.

Okay, expect me.

I saw a bunch of the Berlin Bikes/Best Cleaners guys too, friends and, to me, a slightly stronger group overall. CCNS had their guys there, another good group, and the ones I consider the strongest overall team at the Rent.

I talked to someone about my stem angle, a -17 degree stem so it sits parallel to the ground. As we rode away to warm up, that someone explained to a bystander that my stem had a different angle than his and that's why it looked "flat". I overheard the bystander reply.

"Oh, so it's on purpose?"

With a little grin I went to find the other guys.

After a few minutes we decided that we had no plan, just to make sure that someone would make the break, and if not we'd chase.

David set the tone when he took off at the start. A break went up the road after he got caught, maybe 5 or 6 guys. Cliff got in there, got worked over, and came off 10 or 15 minutes later. By then it was a bit late to get anything going to chase them back so that was the race.

For me, well, it was a hard race. I watched Max and Ron go up the road once, going for a miraculous bridge to the break. As I'd told David before the race, I needed to know how I raced after a hard effort; this looked like a good time to do the first bit, the "hard effort".

When I rounded one of the corners and everyone kind of fanned out a bit I launched myself out of the group.

Into a crosswind section, leading to the tailwind section. Of course.

I got into the Cane Creek bars, really punched it hard, and rolled right up to, in this case, Max's rear wheel.

He looked around casually, noticed something, and looked around the other shoulder with a bit more interest.

I had a this hideous grin molded into my face, a Joker grin. I felt such effort that I couldn't erase it, I couldn't shut my mouth, I couldn't do anything.

The Joker possessed me.

I briefly thought, "Well, now we'll see how you race after a hard effort."

Ron pulled off, Max accelerated a touch, and then, looking back at me, rolled just a few feet away from me. I think I got my Joker smile off my face by then but I couldn't do anything, nothing, no standing, no punch, no nothing to close a 5 foot gap.

Note to self: after hard effort, don't expect to close a 5 foot gap.

I could sense Ron's disappointment. I bridged and got gapped and got him gapped in the process.

The group rolled by shortly thereafter so they must have woken up from their "Let's wait a lap and see what happens" thing; I'm hoping that's part of the reason why Ron didn't go around me.

The Missus commented to me afterward that I went backwards so fast all she could think of was, "Uh-oh".

I have to admit it took a lot of will power to keep pedaling.

Test done, I realized that such efforts right now kill me for a minute or so. Either I need to tone down the efforts or I need to figure out how to recover quicker.

I'll work on both.

I thought of giving up a few times, honestly, and actually resigned myself to sitting up once. Each time I kept going. I thought that if I gave up now, I wouldn't know what I could do if I didn't give up now.

In other words I wouldn't know what I'd have left when I feel like giving up. I wanted to figure that out, that when I want to give up I still have "X" amount of racing left in my legs.

Or, by the third time I wanted to give up, maybe "X minus 3" amount of racing in my legs.

We rolled by the Missus one lap - I thought of asking the time (it's a timed race plus 5 laps), but then decided I'd rather not know.

I groveled in the field.

I started learning a few things about myself (again), stuff that makes me feel secure and planted when racing in the field.

I could sit and accelerate after a corner. I could really feel the power on the downstroke, sitting back a bit on the saddle. Two downstrokes and I'd be easing as I got close to the wheel in front.

I realized I buy myself an inch or three (of room around me) in turns by turning a bit less smoothly than I should. Instead of one smooth arc I found myself turning in stages. It's like I was drawing 90 degrees of an 20 sided figure, not 90 degrees of a circle.

I rediscovered that I really, really like cornering at speed. I love diving into turns, making the tires work, pedaling from the apex forward, touching my inside pedal every now and then. I became conscious of the 175 mm cranks, longer than normal and therefore more prone to pedal strikes. I thought briefly of the effects of a bottom bracket that sat another 5 mm higher off the ground, tried to imagine the higher center of gravity and how it would affect my cornering.

I also discovered that if I hauled my sorry butt off the saddle to go after someone, I had something in my legs. I was using up my (seated) sustained efforts to hang onto wheels but I had a lot of jump left in my legs when I stood. Sustained efforts drain snap, but I still had some snap.

Finally I saw 5 laps to go. I'd suffered a lot for this moment, to see what would happen when I didn't give up.

Turns out that my legs didn't magically feel better. They still hurt; I just race with greater self-expectations. In those last few laps I eased more than a few times to give away a spot, to sit in the meat of the draft.

Cliff, he of the insane leadout at the last 2010 Bethel Spring Series race, came up to me and asked if I had a kick left.

I thought about it, and, very unlike me, I said yes.

"Yes" implies "Will you work for me?". I normally don't put that pressure on others, deferring instead to doing some slicing and dicing on my own. But at that moment, for whatever reason, I replied in the affirmative.

Problem was that everyone was motoring hard. Instinctively I knew I couldn't ease anymore, that I had to press forward. Cliff never got in front of me.

I rolled up to SOC's wheel as we approached the sprint. The last turn went by smoothly, no one freaking out at all.

Buried in the middle of the field, I wondered how early I'd have to jump, how wide I'd have to go, how much wind I'd slam into, and whether or not my somewhat untested-this-season legs would make it to the line.

Guys rocketed up the left side (the inside) and the right side (outside, of course).

The field split down the middle.

And who was there at the point of the V?


It was like Moses and the parted waters.

(Insert choral "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa", slo-mo the life reel, bright light. Now cut choral short, return to regular speed.)

I jumped the instant I realized what happened. The hole would only last so long, and then the guys to the sides would merge in the middle. I had to get through before that happened.

My gear felt a bit big, but the wheels kept accelerating. I arched my back a bit differently as my legs started to fade, looking for power from somewhere, trying to recruit any muscles not inundated with pain.

I could see a Berlin Bikes/Best Cleaners jersey to my left. I couldn't ease, a final push to the line.

Where was the line anyway?

Ah, line, passing almost under my nose.

Berlin Bikes jersey had dropped back a bit.


A late throw.
Me and Kevin were lapped. Kevin's teammate Stephen won the race.

(Side note: lapped riders at the Rent - the break lapped the field so I was one of those lapped ridres - officially can't sprint going forward, starting at the next race. This wasn't official until now, but now it's official. This means more chasing and less sprinting.)

Us Expos pow-wowed after the race, then the SOCs and us went for some food. When we sat down it was 8:35 PM. Somerville registration would close in 25 minutes. I checked the weather for Monday.

Sunny, 78 degrees.

I asked the Missus if she minded going to Somerville. A shake of the head.

I started the process to retrieve my password for the (non-BikeReg) site that Somerville uses for registration.

In the meantime I double checked the Somerville website to verify they still had spots. They should, with a 175 rider (yes, 175 rider) field limit for the 2s.

They did.

I also noted registration didn't close at 9 PM on May 24th. It closed at 10:59 PM on May 25th. And there were 113 openings left.

I'm pretty sure the promoters changed the cutoff between Sunday and Tuesday, although I have no screenshots to prove it.

But since I had some time left and some spots available, I decided I'd focus more on dinner and less on the Droid.

Bring it on!

The Missus pinned my number using pins from the Mystic Velo race, six from the promoters, the rest from my private stash.
The Rent uses the same number the whole summer so this'll be my number this year.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Training - Rain

I'm a bit tired right now. With rain forecast for the weekend and a kind of "must do" race (I'm inclined to do Somerville) potentially taking place in the rain, I decided that I should train outside.

One issue with the rain is traction, or lack thereof. Last year in the Nutmeg State Games I could barely keep the bike on the course. I attribute part of this to the tires - they seemed to harden quickly, the resiliency burned away by UV light.

When I first started racing someone pointed out that if you squeeze a new tire you get some waxy stuff coming out of the tread. That's some kind of wax mixed into the rubber to help prevent UV light deterioration.

The tires I had didn't have such treatment and felt like wood within months. Nutmeg happened after that so the tires felt pretty slick by then.

The other day I bought some new tires, tires that felt pretty grippy to my traction-detecting fingertips. I wanted to test them today in the rain, see how they work.

(Eventually I'll do a review on them, but for now they'll remain anonymous.)

One minor obstacle to the ride - my rear tire was low. I changed out the tube before I remembered that the tube I just removed simply needs the presta valve tip tightened after inflation. The valve doesn't seal right without that but otherwise holds air fine. I discovered this in California but haven't ridden the wheel since, and over the course of a few months it totally slipped my mind. I remembered only after I quickly changed out the tube (which, due to the tall rim profile, requires an 80 mm valve stem).

Tires properly inflated, I set off on a damp, drizzly, gross day. Whenever it's like this outside I think of Johann Lammerts in the Tour du Pont - in the intro it's pouring, he's sitting on a bus, chewing on one of those plastic swords that they stick in drink fruit (or was it a toothpick?), looks outside, and turns to the camera.

"It's weather just like in Holland."

And so it was.

It was misty out, some drizzle now and then, with wet roads, gray sky, and generally miserable out.

I rolled out with my heavyweight loadout, pump under the top tube, a full bottle (mainly for weight) in a cage. I carried my spare tube (with 80 mm valve), tire levers, multi tool, tire levers, and extra chain link in one pocket. I carried my wallet and phone in a ziplock bag, and ate the dinner (a PowerBar) that started out in my last pocket.

For gear, in this mid 50s F ride, I had a long sleeve base layer, a wind vest on top of that, and a long sleeve jersey. Bib knickers for the legs, simple shoe covers (not booties) over Sidis on my feet. Some mountain bike gloves for my hands (full finger), a cap under my helmet (to deflect water), and I was set.

The first and steepest hill on many of my rides is the ride out to the street. The complex has a good minute of climbing to get out and I've sustained as much as 300-400 watts getting up the hill.

The tires felt good, no slipperiness, no little skids when I pressed down on the pedals. I wiggled the bike's tail a bit, standing, to see if it'd skitter sideways.

No go.

The tires felt pretty good. I did my hour loop, the one I call the "Quarry Road Loop", no real problems. I pushed a bit initially, holding over 160 bpm for a while, but after 15-20 minutes I backed off into the 155-158 range.

I tried to go around corners a bit fast, exaggerated rocking the bike when standing, and generally explored limits in a controlled way.

The tires seemed fine.

On the way back I did a short sprint loop. The heavy wheels took some work to get going but I got into the meat of the 53x13 before I got distracted by the shifting (or lack thereof). The chain kept rolling off the 12 and back onto the 13. It felt good to blow out some carbon (a car term) but the chilly temps, efforts, and the setting albeit invisible sun all pushed me to get home.

As I usually do after a rainy ride I quickly degreased the drivetrain, washed the black brake pad mud off the rims, and did a little dry/detail/lube job once the bike looked clean. I used 1.5 liters of water I had sitting in bottles in the garage plus the full waterbottle on the bike - I didn't touch the latter once during the ride.

It takes only a few minutes but it makes a huge difference when I get back on the bike.

Tomorrow it's supposed to rain again. I'm kind of bummed because I want to race at the Rent.

But the skies insist on opening up, I'll be out there again, testing the waters.

Doping - My Misconceptions

I'll be expanding this temporary post with a more comprehensive one but I've learned a bit more about Iam Doper vs Iam Clean, specifically how various factors affect different blood parameters.

Suffice it to say that you shouldn't eat 10 pounds of ground beef a week, nor down a bunch of iron pills every day. I mean you can but it won't help your blood parameters and the pills may end up poisoning you.

New information to follow below....

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Racing - Thoughts

So next weekend is Memorial Day weekend. In the past it's meant a long drive down to Somerville, NJ, for the classic Tour of Somerville Crit. It's also meant a shorter drive to Hartford for the now defunct Hartford Crit.

This year, as a 2, my choices get kind of limited.

It'd be interesting to do Somerville as a 2 but it's a short race, 20 miles, and the course is already over a mile long. I figure the race will run about 17 laps at 1.2 miles (2 km) per lap. It's a Cat 2 only race, a rarity in racing. I figure it'll be insanely fast.

The course is almost flat, with a slightly rising main straight and a slightly descending back one. I think I should be able to tailgun effectively, but I have no idea how I'll fair near the front.

A glance at the registration list revealed only a few familiar names. I'd be venturing into unknown territory as far as pace goes, but last year, in slightly better shape, I stayed near the front of the Cat 3 race for most of the race. I feel like it'd be a super hard race but perhaps one within mortal limits.

It's a $40 race, with a $25 day of race penalty.

In addition to the short race, it puts us in the middle of Memorial Day traffic on the drive back. It can be difficult navigating through the whole NYC area to get back to the northern bit of CT.

Sunday, though, is a race in Bound Brook, NJ, a race so close to Somerville that we drove there by accident, then drove over to Somerville for the race.

Bound Brook is longer, 40 miles, and has a little dogleg right-left (or left-right) on the backstretch. It costs less, allows a less expensive day-of-race registration ($33 plus $5 penalty).

The drawback (or, depending on the viewpoint, the appeal)?

It's a P12 race, and a glance at the registered racers shows that Team Type 1 has pre-registered a bunch of guys.

In other words it'll be an insanely fast insanely fast race. I have no idea if I can hang with such a race - at Las Vegas, racing against some of those kind of guys, I got shelled pretty quickly. But that race had a lot of turns, tons of jumps, and very little soft-pedaling.

The weather forecasts right now call for rain for both those days. If it rains... well, I may not race. I have nothing at stake, nothing really to gain, and a lot to lose if I hit the deck.

So, do I gamble on the weather and pre-register? If so, which one?

And if not, what is Somerville worth to me, versus Bound Brook?

Questions, questions.

I have to decide in the next day since pre-reg closes in two days.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Doping - What Would My Blood Profile Look Like?

What would my blood profile look like?

It's a question I hadn't thought of until recently. The blood passport thing that the UCI maintains for each professional rider is a bit out of my regular world. I'm not a pro, I don't do well in races that require any substantial fitness, and I've never been asked to pee in a cup after a race. Or had someone wake me up to take blood some random morning.

To me the passport thing was something a bit arcane, not really real, just some concept that pros have to deal with so they can race.

A little while back someone leaked a UCI list of riders (specifically those in the 2010 Tour de France). The UCI ranked the riders by just how suspicious their blood profiles appeared based on the changes in various parameters. The UCI noted a few of the things that changed a rider's ranking, but they didn't explain it in any detail.

Basically any weird changes to the blood profile, especially those that seem like targeted changes (boosts in races for performance, declines in training when extracting blood, declines over the year because they eased on the doping), make your profile jump up and shout, "Me! Me! Me!"

It's like deducting $10,000,000 in losses when you have $1,000 in income on your taxes. The IRS gets really interested in you real fast.

With even a hint of what the UCI is looking for, the passport thing became more real to me - I could relate to it a bit now.

And that got me thinking - "What would my blood profile look like?"

Let's take a hypothetical doper named Iam Doper.

Doper will follow what I think would be a sensible doping program. There'd be three phases to the whole thing.

First, in the off season, Doper would be extracting blood pretty regularly. This blood would be stored for much of the season, re-injected into Doper's bloodstream at "critical" points of the season - big climbing stages, time trials, or, if Doper was a sprinter, maybe for critical sprint stages.

Doper would try and keep the immature red blood cell count a bit consistent by waiting some amount of time between extractions. I don't know the science with cell life cycles but let's say that it takes 7-10 days for the ratio of immature:mature red blood cells to stabilize to some acceptable number. Doper would extract blood based on that schedule so the blood profile of the blood extracted would look right.

It's possible that extracting a small amount of blood daily would do the same trick. Whatever the scenario, this would be phase one.

Second, Doper would be microdosing EPO and maybe some drugs for recovery like testosterone and HGH. By microdosing, i.e. taking very small quantities regularly, the drugs will raise Doper's blood parameters to a slightly higher level, but since it's regular, the blood parameters appear consistent, i.e. "natural". The biological profile would appear to be that Doper is one of those higher hematocrit/testosterone racers, not of someone taking drugs.

By setting a higher bar to start with, Doper gives himself leeway for blood manipulation. Any drops could be explained by fatigue and the like. With a higher-than-normal baseline, though, Doper can consistently boost blood parameters and hopefully performance.

Third, Doper would carefully plan re-injection schedules. Doper should have an idea on how his blood would respond to various training and racing stresses, and therefore can figure out a way to stabilize the expected declines. A really careful approach would include allowing the numbers to drop off just a bit over the course of a hard block of riding - like a Grand Tour for example.

Fourth (I know I just said there'd be three phases, but bear with me), there'd be the stuff I don't know about. I don't know if riders who re-inject blood also inject saline solution to thin out the blood. I don't know if there are other ways of "normalizing" blood parameters. There may be other drugs available to aid recovery, mask EPO/testosterone use, boost this number or that value or whatever. I don't know what I don't know so I can't include this in Doper's phases. I am guessing that there'd be a fourth or fifth phase to a doping calender, I just don't know what it would be.

Let's contrast Doper's schedule to his erstwhile counterpart, Iam Clean.

Mr. Clean, contrary to Doper's very detailed annual plan, races a bit more by the seat of his pants. His season breaks out into three phases too, although they differ a bit in emphasis.

First, he does a lot of off-season preparation. This includes some long rides, rest, and getting any changes to the bike squared away. Powermeter, heartrate, yada yada yada. Compared to the medical level treatment of Doper, Clean simply monitors training and its effect on his body. He cannot manipulate his body directly, not in a fitness sense.

Second, he starts his "race to train" phase, starting racing for the season and doing speedwork otherwise. He'll return to this phase whenever not peaking for a race.

Third, he'll hit a few peaks, maybe three or four for an amateur, perhaps three for a pro. They'll target important (to Clean) races, which may or may not coincide with races the world considers important. Each peak gets preceded and followed by a slight break or easing in intensity, the former to build reserves, the latter to recover a bit.

During those phases diet may change a bit. Clean may emphasize more proteins and carbs during the harder training phases. I know that red meat really helps boost various blood parameters relating to iron levels. Clean may also take some vitamins (say a multi) and mineral supplements (iron, calcium, stuff like that), depending on either a set schedule, or, if taken less regularly, based perhaps on how Clean has been feeling for the past few days, or maybe with an eye towards a particularly hard block of training.

Although Clean may have a physical at some point during the season, that's the only expected blood work planned for the season.

In other words, Mr. Clean is flying blind as far as his blood profile goes.

I thought of something relating to this idea.

I wondered out loud what my profile would be, what would the UCI think of my blood parameters.

I've gotten perhaps 4 or 5 physicals in the past 6 or 7 years. I also got blood drawn for various purposes a few times over the course of just a few weeks.

Each time I had blood drawn I asked to get a copy of my blood profile. I don't know what everything means, but I looked at the stuff that the doping articles mention - hematocrit (HCT, % of blood which is red blood cells) mainly, with a glance at the iron levels. I also look for anything that's out of normal range, since pretty much everything on my blood profile is within normal limits.

I know that I've hit as high as 49.3% HCT. In the blood tests done over the course of a few weeks (I had different people give me physicals), my HCT level varied by a good few points.

I'm not a dietician but I think I may have affected the blood profiles simply through my diet. When I hit my record 49.3% HCT, I had just finished a huge pack (Costco huge) of really high quality ground steak beef patties. My sister-in-law asked if I wanted a pack, and since I hadn't been eating a lot of red meat just before, I figured, what the heck, it'll be good to have. I don't know how big it was but I'm guessing it was about 10 pounds of ground beef.

I ate it in about five days.

Then went to get my blood drawn.

I happened to spike my cholesterol up too, so I'm thinking that the beef affected my blood parameters. When I had another physical done (my primary physician changed or something), my blood parameters for HCT and cholesterol both dropped. Prior to that physical I hadn't done a week of my "ground beef diet".

But say it was the UCI who tested the blood. What would they think of my Costco Ground Beef HCT Boost? Would that result in an uptick in my rating?

I don't know what my blood profile looks like during the season - I try and avoid physicals (more specifically the needles and normal bruising and pain that occurs during needle use) when I'm riding regularly.

A rider who doesn't dope and is in pretty good shape (i.e. not always overly fatigued and whatnot) probably doesn't get blood drawn all that often.

However a well supported Doper would get blood drawn all the time - he'd want to make sure things looked okay. That's where the interesting dilemma pops up.

What if Doper carefully manipulated his blood parameters to fit the expected average, and therefore had a perfect plain-Jane profile?

And what if Clean inadvertently screwed his up by eating, say, hamburgers three times a day for 5 days? These spikes in HCT could indicate illicit doping, unsophisticated EPO use for example.

Or it could mean that someone gave my Two Pounds Of Ground Beef A Day Diet a try.

I'm sure you've been in a situation where you're driving normally on the highway, 5-10 mph over the limit. (5-10 over is good - at a town meeting a DOT person told us that speed limits are set a bit low for normal conditions and that they expect people to drive faster than the posted limit most of the time.)

Let's say you're passing a slightly slower car. You speed up just a bit, maybe close to that +10 mph threshold. You look in your mirror and see someone approaching at a rapid pace.

A really rapid pace.

They're going well over 100 mph, slowing as they approach your 75 mph bumper.

You goose the gas pedal, get around the car, and move over to the right lane.

The other car doesn't go by. Instead, it sits about where it was, 50 yards behind you.

Unbeknown to you, that driver has a sophisticated and expensive radar/laser detector and jamming system. And just when you goosed the go pedal in your car, his detector started blaring at him.

He braked firmly, slowing within seconds to under 75 mph, his detector hitting the "Jam Now!" switch automatically and sending a bit of fuzz through the airwaves.

And then you pass a State Trooper on the shoulder.

You're out there trying to get out of his way going 82 mph, a beautiful reflective car for the trooper's radar/laser gun.

That would totally suck, right?

You were following the principle of the law, that of driving about the same speed as traffic (no more than 15% difference in speed - that's the safest range of speed, and in a 65 mph zone, that's about 10 over for the high mark), going just over the speed limit, just like the DOT thinks is appropriate.

The other driver is driving, by definition, recklessly, exceeding the speed limit substantially. Because they know they'll be breaking the principle of the law, they also prepared a bit of possibly illegal defense. Perhaps they spent some money on a radar/laser detector. A more serious effort would involve an illegal radar/laser jammer.

The most sophisticated speeding setup I've read about is the setup a guy used to try to drive across the US in record time. Just to give you an idea of the goal, when he set off for the cross-country drive, the record stood at 32 hours and 7 minutes.

Using public roads.

The car's setup included all sorts of stuff, some of it stuff I'd thought of too, some of it just crazy.

I'll leave you to read the article since I found it fascinating.

But you'll see my point.

In such a (hypothetical for the doping bit) scenario, it's possible the clean riders look dirty and the dirty riders look clean.

Fine, if an M5 goes blasting by you at 160 mph, yeah, that doesn't look right. But if he's equipped to the nines to avoid getting a ticket, then he's beat the system.

A naive and innocent rider could pedal into disaster by inadvertently changing his blood profile, while the hardened doper could skate by the controls by carefully manipulating his numbers.

So, the question remains.

What would my blood profile look like?


Apparently I didn't understand a lot of what happens with blood. Here are a bunch of corrections. The take-away? The blood passport, if used extensively, can and should discourage all common of blood manipulation techniques.Link

Monday, May 16, 2011

Racing - 2011 Mystic Velo Crit P123

So I have some raw numbers from Sunday's Mystic Velo Crit.

Average power, 198 watts. Max, 1208 watts. Heart rate averaged 161 bpm, hitting a max of 175. I pedaled an average of 86 rpm, hitting, allegedly, 140 rpm. I don't believe that last number. I coast a lot and I probably did a stutter pedal stroke, moving the whatever (battery?) past the sensor in two different directions. I'll believe maybe 120 rpm, not much more than that.

I did average 26.9 mph, and I managed to do 28 mph when riding alone for a minute.

The officials politely placed me 29th.

Last year I averaged 205 watts, hitting a max of 1198 watts, and I weighed about 10 pounds less than I do now. I averaged 160 bpm, with a max of 180. I averaged 85 rpm, so virtually the same. My race speed was lower, 25.4, and conditions were very similar except it was 12 degrees warmer in 2010.

But all of this is running talk. It's talk about how the engine did, pace, stuff like that. These are the things that an athlete can control, at some level, by training or resting or eating better or whatever.

Even if the athlete has no control over it, the athlete understands. Some limitations are simply set in stone, i.e. through genetics, and some factors come into play seemingly randomly, like illness, an off day, or, hopefully, a good day.

Running talk doesn't belong in bike racing though. It's hard to get new racers to comprehend, especially if they're a runner. All those numbers I just listed above?

They don't mean a thing.

It doesn't matter if my heart rate seemed a bit flat, or if I went about as fast as I've ever gone in a bike race.

Bike racing deals with wind, gradient, and gears. The latter is almost overlooked, but it's the key to bike racing. It allows the athlete to multiply their effort. I can't lengthen my legs when I run, but I can shift into higher gears on a bike.

Gradient is key of course. Even the "master tactician" Bruyneel states (in the well written book Lance Armstrong's War whether or not you're a fan of his) that at their level there really are no tactics.

The "master tactician" himself is saying that.

It's because the long gradients of those insane Grand Tour climbs reduces bike racing to, well, running. It's all about fitness and genetic talent (and for the cynical, the rider's "doctor").

Ninigret has no gradient so it retains bike racing's allure to me as a racing cyclist. I like watching racers battle it out on the mountains, but only from the comfort of my living room. I've never, ever seen the pointy end of a mountain (or even hill) battle in person. Nothing wrong there - McEwen probably has never seen it either, at least at a mountain level, and he was one of the best sprinters in the world. I like mixing it up at the front of the field (if I can) and duking it out in field sprints if I get there.

Let's put it this way. In 1983 the only race I finished was at Ninigret.

After gradient and gears you have wind. The wind is key. I read in some book that if there was no air (i.e. no wind resistance), 1/6 the gravity, and a lot of open space, a rider could theoretically reach something like 2000 mph. The author had the moon in mind when stating this, where there is no air, 1/6 the gravity, and, for now, a lot of open space.

But at Ninigret there's air. It's at sea level, and it's next to a broad expanse of water so the course gets buffeted by wind.

Wind is key in bike racing because one racer can draft others. When you do this you reduce your power requirements. You reduce, in other words, your fitness requirements.

This makes bike racing different from running.

An unfit, genetically lacking, or otherwise limited racer can race effectively in a bike race against more fit racers. This is absolutely impossible in a running race.

What this means is that in bike racing, the results matter. Within the scheme of things it's good to be able to put out higher power. It's usually indicative of a good race if you can hold a high heart rate.

And, for me, it's a good race if I finish with the field.

In 2010, as a 3, I romped around in the race for a while. I went with moves, jumped around a bit, and generally had fun in the race. I went in with no plan except to have fun, and I ended up second in the race.

In 2011, as a 2, I started the race... nervous. I knew I had less fitness than last year. I knew my power was down, my weight was up, and overall I felt worse on the bike. Everything is a struggle this year - last year it was almost effortless, if I can use that term as a "lowly" Cat 3. This year I was worse but I had also upgraded.

My teammate and friend SOC (it should probably be SoC but I've been typing SOC so it'll be SOC) joined me in the P123 race. We'd originally showed up to support our strong Cat 2 teammate David, but David ended up opting to win a state championship gold (for some Masters category). This left the two willing and able domestiques with no leader to protect. We decided to see how it went. I personally had more faith in SOC than myself, so I decided that other than trying to make the correct half of any split (i.e the front half), I'd see if I could do anything to help out SOC.

With little wind I figured it'd be more likely to stay together. I find that the tailwind sections are the hardest in a windy race. It's easy to find shelter when the wind is battering the front of the field, but when it's pushing everyone along, it becomes less of a peloton and more like "a whole bunch of single riders going in one direction".

To wit: at the Arc-En-Ciel M35+ crit, I came off the winning break as we hit a tailwind section.

There's one more random tactical thought before the start. At Ninigret, for P123 races, I have this rule: The Third Break Makes It.

It seems the first break goes when everyone feels great. No matter how hard the guys up the road go, the field has the energy to chase.

The second break always fools me. It gets out there, maybe as much as 20 or 30 seconds, and looks really, really, really promising. It's perfect bait for a bike racer, much like a Mosquito Magnet resembles a huge moist mammal panting in a backyard, at least if you're a mosquito. Just like the Mosquito Magnet, the second break is deadly. It pretty much always comes back, dooming whoever tried to make it work. Legs recovering, they'll miss the next move.

I've gone with the second break a couple times, breaking my own rule, chastising myself even as I jump to bridge to it.

And it's always, always come back.

Then the third break goes. By then everyone's getting tired, including me. Good riders start trickling off the front, suddenly clump together after a lap or two of insane one-rider-at-a-time riding, and suddenly they coalesce and pull away.

But with no wind, this rule went out the window.

Therefore I had to go with whatever moves I could go with. I had to ignore moves that seemed, well, fruitless. I also knew I wouldn't have to restrain myself if I thought a move was the Mosquito Magnet move. With less wind such moves could work.

In the warm up I rode my Stinger 6s for the first time since the ArcEnCiel crit, in the same location a month ago. They felt great, super responsive. I told myself to train on the Jet6 front and Jet9 rear so I'd have even more of a difference when I rode the Stingers.

I watched a few guys, part of a relatively numerous team, do some pretty hard efforts, sprinting up to speed in small gears. They looked antsy, barely restrained, and I figured they'd launch at the gun.

Sure enough, when the officials sent off the P123s, a couple of those guys sprinted up the road.

The rest of us reluctantly followed.

It'd be a long 35 laps.

For the first few laps I ended up near a guy who kept insisting on sticking his tire just next to and in front of the very back of the tire of the rider in front of him. In other words, he was putting his tire in a pretty dangerous spot, then wiggling a bit much to avoid getting taken out. I wasn't the only one to give him a sideways glance. I moved up to get away from him - so did a lot of other people. Ends up he got shelled - probably because guys were trying to get away from him, forcing him to accelerate relatively hard to stay on wheels.

SOC (on the right) swerving to avoid the single crash of the race.
Afterward we each wondered where the other was, checking the pits for Expo colors.
The helmet cam gives the answer - although SOC ended up behind me after the crash, he was in front of me before it.

Twice I thought it prudent to bring back a break. And with the race developing as it did, I felt it better for SOC to save something for the finish, rather than me. The field looks incredibly fragile, about to blow apart on any given lap, and SOC has a much better motor than me so he deals with that stuff better.

I did say I thought it prudent to bring back a break twice. That doesn't mean I went twice. In fact, the first time I started looking for SOC, to tell him not to work, to let me pull the break back. Problem was I couldn't find him, not until I looked up the field a bit.

He was at the front, drilling it, and brought the break back.

Another time a few good guys went away. I was rolling up from towards the back, the field eased, and I launched. I did choose a good break - the eventual winner was in it - but my bridge effort blew me up. 30 seconds at 33+ mph, about 35 seconds sitting on wheels, then "Boom" I was off. The field swept up the group and it was all back together again.

This is about when I realized that although the wheels felt great, the body wasn't doing too well. I still clung to the notion that the field would break up, somehow not allowing myself simply to sit in at the back.

I tried to stay involved, not just sit and grimace at the back.

Inside the last 10 laps a pretty large group had separated off the front, maybe 8 or 9 guys. Their move looked good - they stayed out there, held a gap, and resisted some half hearted chase attempts.

I figured this was it - that I had to get up there. I made a move at the same time as three others, deferring to them and allowing them to pull.

I'm looking left and deciding to let these two go in front of me.
Two riders precede them, but only one will stay with Ron.
(Ron in white)

CCNS's Ron L was the strong man there, but I was hoping just to bridge if we got a bit closer. I knew it'd be risky, that I didn't have the fitness I had last year, but I thought the race would be decided from that group.

When Ron finally pulled off, I jumped moderately hard for the short "pre-backstraight". Then I really buried myself in the tailwind "long backstraight" section, trying to get on the break. I came up about 50 feet short, unable to bridge the last couple seconds gap.

I eased, trying to recover before the field passed me. Ron led the chase group by, on the opposite side of the road (my jump wasn't an honorable one and I'm sure he wasn't impressed with it). It didn't matter as at that point I wouldn't be able to hang on to their wheels anyway.

The group rolled by next, much quicker than I expected, and I barely latched onto the Manx tail of the field. I guess a bunch of guys sat up and the rest of them were up the road. I happened to be on Aidan's wheel, Ron's teammate, as he sat last wheel in the group.

At that point... well, you know in the cartoons when the bad guy lights the fuse to the bomb and laughs manically? Well, the blowing up part is easy to describe, but the fuse lighting, let's just say that I knew I'd just lit my fuse with that failed bridge attempt. I didn't know how long I'd last but I knew that my legs were about to detonate.

A few laps later I reached the end of the fuse. Nothing spectacular, just a gentle turn of the switch and I powered down.

I knew I had one jump left in me (steady-state blow ups are different from not-being-able-to-sprint blow ups). I asked the official if I could do one more lap before they pulled me, knowing that if I got lapped I'd have to get off the course.

I managed not to get lapped over the next lap, rolled into the final straight in the high teens mph, and did a reasonable jump and sprint, a true race-sprint simulation, complete with fatigued legs and less-than-coherent mind.

I stopped with the Missus and Mrs SOC and watched the rest of the race.

I watched incredulously as Ron's group made contact with the formerly all-powerful break, followed quickly by the field.

A field sprint! After all that! I couldn't believe it.

If I'd ridden scared, just sitting in and praying I wouldn't get dropped, I'd probably have been in there. I know I had a decent jump left - I just proved it to myself by ripping out that odd sprint.

Ah well.

So what is my takeaway?

I'm racing like I'm fit.

I'm not as fit as I think I am.

I have to make those two statements meet somewhere.