Sunday, July 31, 2011

How To - Touching Pedals

One of the things that I rediscovered recently is the art of "Touching Pedal". It's not really a necessary thing, it's not really art, but it's one of these skills that helps you become a more fluent racer.

I'll define "Touching Pedal" as a situation where you pedal through a turn and touch your pedal to the pavement.

Optional events include lifting your rear wheel, skidding your rear wheel, and crashing. That last bit would indicate a failed Touching Pedal, just to clarify.

A lot of people, including a lot of racers, will say that touching your pedal is an unnecessary risk in the already risky sport of bike racing. I'll admit it's an extra risk, but it's only one step removed from the risky business of diving into a turn when it's five wide (or whatever), racing in the rain, or any number of other racing scenarios.

I should point out that Touching Pedal is an excellent test of tubular tire glue jobs, clincher to rim tolerances, and tire pressure. A poor glue job, a loose clincher, or low tire pressure can combine with a Pedal Touch to wreak havoc with you and your bike. At best you'll get scared. At worst you'll slide out in a blaze of carelessness.

Keep in mind that Touching Pedal will not cause a well glued tire to roll, nor will it roll a properly fitted and up-to-spec clincher/rim combo, and it won't cause a proper pressure tire to slide like it's suddenly found ice. If Touching Pedal leads to some other event, it's usually because of something other than the Touching Pedal.

You have two goals when dealing with touching pedal, two benefits.

1. You learn how far you can lean before you hit your pedal. This depends on your frame, tires, crankarm length, crankarm design, and pedals, so your experience on your bike when it's set up in a particular way may not relate to another set up, even on the same bike.

2. By experiencing the Pedal Touch in more controlled situations you learn what to expect when confronted with the same scenario in a race, whether it be you touching pedal or someone in front of you. (You really don't care about someone behind you touching pedal.)

So, first up, you learn about touching pedal. I mentioned that you learn how far you can lean before touching pedal, but it's related to your equipment. Everything I mention will alter the angle at which you touch pedal.

- Your frame has a given bottom bracket height. Or, if you are a frame builder, it's a given bottom bracket drop from the centerline of the axles. The lower your bottom bracket, the more stable the bike, but the easier it is to touch pedal.

- Your tires can add or subtract as much as 5 mm in axle height. This changes your bottom bracket height (not the drop). A taller tire will give you more clearance.

- The crankarm length determines how far down the crank goes at the bottom of the pedal stroke. A longer crank will make you touch pedal at a shallower angle. I used to run 167.5 mm cranks; now I use 175 mm ones. The longer cranks make me touch pedal sooner.

- Crankarm design affects pedal touching angles. The "Q Factor" (the width of the cranks as measured from one pedal flat to the other, if both cranks were pointed in the same direction) contributes to the pedal touch calculations. A wider (or higher) Q Factor puts the pedals further out than a narrower (or lower) Q Factor. Campy consistently has had low Q Factors, Shimano high ones. I don't know about current cranks.

An added note - since the right crankarm normally sticks out a bit more than the left one (because it's holding chainrings), it's easier to touch pedal on the right side for those cranks. Some cranks are actually symmetrical, and in those cases one side is no different from the other.

- Pedals can really affect pedal touch angle. I used to run Aerolite pedals, which on a "standard" crank set up could attain about a 4 degree steeper lean angle before touching pedal. If I recall correctly a normal pedal would touch at about 34 degrees, an Aerolite at 38 degrees.

Pedaling through turns, at least in the amateur ranks, is an easy way to gap someone, especially when facing those diesel type riders that never seem to tire. If you can pedal through a turn, creating a slight gap of a few feet, it forces the diesel to accelerate a bit. Diesels hate that.

Okay, to be honest, most racers hate it).

If you can repeatedly accelerate into, through, and out of turns, you can really hurt the other riders' legs. Think of it this way - by powering through turns, you emphasize the accordion effect. It hurts those riders sitting in because they have to accelerate harder the further back they are in the field. (The exception being smart tailgunners, who will coast back into the field after each turn.)

At the peak of my racing life I'd regularly dig my Aerolites into the pavement, this on a bike with 167.5s. That meant I was practically sideways in the turns and still pedaling, usually really hard.

As I got older and less intense about the whole thing, I've actually gone for years without touching a pedal. Then, this year, I started touching pedals again. Remembered what it's like. Etc etc.

Relatively clean pedal, not struck.

Note there's a flat area under the pedal, then it bulges a bit to encompass the bearings. I haven't hit this pedal since I put them on, oh, three years ago? Maybe four. Interestingly enough it's the right side pedal, so it's the pedal that's easier to touch. On the other hand I have very few races that take right turns, so most of my pedal touching is done on the left side.

Speaking of which...

Pedal after a pretty hard dig. Plus about 20 or 30 other "touches".
Left pedal so it has (I think) more clearance than the right.

I took this picture after I had about as hard a pedal touch as I've ever had. Unfortunately I really don't have a picture of this pedal before the dig. It's clear that I shaved a bunch of material off the pedal body. You can't tell by the picture but I definitely lifted the rear wheel when I dug the pedal into pavement. I didn't go down, didn't go sideways, just kept riding.

How do you practice touching pedal?

The first thing you do is to look at your bike when it's in Touching Pedal position. If you want to be totally accurate, clip your shoe in place. Sometimes the shoe will hit first. On some pedal systems the cleat touches before the pedal. So on an so forth.

Rotate the crank until it's at the bottom of the pedal stroke, straighten up your pedal (it's inevitably upside down, especially if you have your shoe clipped in), then lean the bike over until the pedal touches the floor/pavement/whatever.

Wow, right? It's really leaned over.

Try it on both sides so you have an idea what it's like. You can even stand over the bike to get an idea of the angle between the bars and the floor.

It's really pretty sharp, over 30 degrees in most cases.

For your reference you should note the shoe angle that gives you best clearance, especially if the shoe hits first. Although you probably won't alter your pedaling style in all situations, you may adjust the downstroke on the inside pedal when pedaling through a turn, just to give you a bit more clearance.

Next, and this is the tricky part, you need to find a clean/swept set of corners in a quiet place where you can ride about 25 mph through said corners. Unfortunately it's pretty much impossible to effectively touch pedal at slower speeds because you almost never lean that far over while pedaling.

(Yes, you may lean that much when making a u-turn in a driveway, but often you turn so quickly that you can't get the pedal down before you start straightening up.)

Then you sweep into the turn, keep pedaling, and keep leaning a bit more until you feel the pedal touch.

When that happens just act normal. Don't slam on your brakes. Don't jerk the bars. Just keep riding. Your bike will keep turning.

(By the way this is all theoretical. If you go and actually do this and crash, don't blame me. And, theoretically, if you were to do this, of course you'd be wearing multiple layers of long sleeves on your arms and legs and be wearing a good helmet and long finger gloves. Theoretically.)

Personally I can't get motivated to touch pedal when solo. I need some more incentive than just practice. I also find it hard to go fast enough solo. This means I generally practice when I'm riding with other people (as long as I'm the last one in line, for safety sake). I'll sometimes sit at the back of a race and try touching pedal through some of the turns. If I'm not at the back and I touch pedal, it's because I'm not practicing, it just happened.

A normal Touching Pedal is NOT a major event. The pedal touches. The rear tire might lift a bit, even as much as a couple inches, which would also force it to skip outwards a few inches. If the rider just keeps riding, the bike will self-straighten.

With most of today's pedals made of plastic, you can dig them pretty hard without any weirdness. Metal pedals (or cleats) aren't as forgiving, so if the first part of the pedal/shoe/cleat combo to hit is metal, be a bit careful. Metal doesn't shave away as easily so the bike will lift more.

With the old fashioned toe clip and strap pedals, it only took about 28 degrees of lean to touch pedal. Everyone's pedals showed the scars of Pedal Touch. Collectors would jealously guard pristine pedals simply because such pedals were virtually non-existent (just Google Campy Nuovo Record pedals). Touching Pedal was totally normal. You dive into a turn in a packed field, someone's rear wheel would skip sideways a bit, and everyone pretty much ignored it. No biggie.

It's a bit more significant at more extreme lean angles because slamming a pedal at 38 degrees could potentially cause you to lift the bike so much it'll start to slide when it lands. I've never seen that happen and frankly, to dig a pedal really hard at extreme angles takes either a moron or a clueless rider.

Or me, on my 167.5s, Aerolites, and desperate to try and make a move stick.

In general my pedal touching only occurs in races. I don't pedal through turns when going really fast on training rides (the "really fast" part usually doesn't happen when training).

Pedaling with the bike leaned over is just another one of those "overcome your instinct" things you need to learn to become a more fluent cyclist. Hopefully this gives you some ideas when it comes to cornering at speed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Doping - Clarifying My Blood Passport Misconceptions

(Thanks for the anonymous help from a doctor that also follows cycling.)

I promised to try and clear up some misconceptions from an earlier post that perused some doping thoughts, and now, a bit late, here is some more information.

To review, I thought out loud (in font) that it could be possible that I might inadvertently alter my blood profile through some innocent action. Specifically I wondered out loud if maybe eating a whole lot of Angus beef would raise my hematocrit. I'm not aware of how blood stuff reacts to whatever I do, so would my hematocrit rise suspiciously if I went on a week long binge of Angus burgers? What if I rested and recovered and suddenly had a much higher hematocrit? Maybe drinking orange juice does something, or putting a lot of wasabi on sushi.

Well, now that I've learned a bit more, I can sleep better at night. It would be really hard to inadvertently screw up my blood profile.

It seems that the biological passport makes sense. After all it's not like a bunch of bike racers got together to figure out how to catch cheats. They're doctors, scientists, and they geek out on blood like I geek out on... gluing tubular tires. Or race tactics. So these doctor types know stuff I don't even know I don't know.

They understand how blood works and how things change when a less-than-scrupulous rider tries to manipulate their blood to their advantage.

So.... what's that mean about my prior post?

Well, let's go about shredding my unscientific thoughts.

First, don't go eating a lot of iron. The highest ever hematocrit I ever saw was 49%, and that was after eating a whole boatload of Angus beef burgers for a week. However, I didn't see 49% because of the burgers. Apparently eating iron doesn't make your hematocrit jump any higher than normal. It'll get you to your normal, but if you ingest too much iron it's poisonous.

If you're anemic (lacking iron, i.e. you're depleted), then a diet rich in iron will help your iron levels get back to normal. If you regularly eat iron rich foods (like those burgers), then your iron levels are probably fine. You store excess iron in your liver, and if you have even more than your liver can hold, you get poisoned (hemochromatosis, a term I learned from a doctor).

If you're iron deficient it shows up in your blood profile. You'll have smaller red blood cells, they'll be less red, but you'll have about the same number of cells. If such a person takes iron, the red blood cells return to normal.

But if you take extra iron, you don't get super fat red blood cells, you don't jump 10% on the hematocrit scale, nothing. You return to normal and if you take more, you just have more iron in your liver.

Incidentally red blood cells last about 100-120 days. That means that about 0.8 to 1% of your blood gets "renewed" every day. With my Angus beef diet over about seven days, that means that my body replaced about 6% of my blood. Even if my new blood was 100% red blood cells, I'd have increased my hematocrit only about 6%. Since my blood is naturally about 46-48% red blood cells, there'd be no difference in my hematocrit or % of red blood cells.

It's like cholesterol. Most of the cholesterol in your body is created within. It's not diet as much as it is other factors, like exercise or whatnot. Food accounts for about 15% of your cholesterol level. Other stuff counts more.

Likewise, blood parameters are basically set by the body. Diet only fulfills the parameters; it can't force them outside those boundaries.

EPO works because it boosts your red blood cell production. Rumor has it that some racers had as high as 60%-64% hematocrit levels.

I've mentioned a term, hematocrit, so I'll explain it a bit further. It's the most elementary of blood parameters - "what percent of your blood is red blood cells?". It's easy to manipulate - you can inject fluid that doesn't have red blood cells and you immediately lower your hematocrit. Basically you just diluted your blood. Hematocrit stands out to me because it was the first test for EPO around (if your hematocrit was over 50% you were given a two week "health break"), it's gotten racers in trouble. Probably the most significant event was when Pantani tossed from the Giro the day before the finish, while in the leader's jersey.

Hematocrit is unique in that it's something that a normal physical will mention in the course of a physical. In other words it's something that us normal people can actually understand. We can find out our own hematocrit level without much trouble.

I, of course, checked out all my hematocrit readings from my physicals. I'm proud to say I hit over 49% once, although recently I'm bang on around 46%. Disappointing, as it's one of the only things I'm "good" at relative to the pros.

Or, if I put it this way... I just did a 20 min FTP test and held 221 watts for 20 minutes. That's not so impressive. A 46% hematocrit makes me grin, a 49% is worthy of a fist pump. But 221 watts FTP? Err...

Racers figured out how to beat the hematocrit test. They'd travel with a centrifuge, check their blood, and either drink lots of water or inject fluids into their blood to thin it out. Even with the 50% checks there was rampant drug use, so I (and probably more than a few others) lost faith in the system.

The blood passport seemed to yet another easily beaten system. But it's not.

You see, hematocrit can be manipulated easily, but if you manipulate it, you alter several other blood parameters. Hiding those manipulations is tough, and that's what the passport looks at.

These parameters include:
1. Reticulocyte count ("Reties" are red blood cell precursors)
2. % of reticulocytes as part of total red blood cells

And some less significant ones:
3. Red blood cell shape (volume)
4. Red blood cell color (Hb)
5. Hb concentration

Like any system that reacts to changes, if you start fiddling with stuff, the various parameters start to change. Such changes, in certain combinations, can be a strong indication of doping.

For example, if I were to infuse blood, I'd have a lower Reties count because apparently infused blood would have more mature cells. If I took EPO (which stimulates red blood cell growth), I'd have a higher Reties count as my marrow started cranking out red blood cells like there was no tomorrow. There'd be a lot of brand new red blood cells zipping around.

I could inject saline solution to dilute my blood, to keep my hematocrit low, but I'd just pee out the extra fluids. I'd have to inject the solution immediately before a test, which is hard since once you're notified you're being tested, you're not supposed to do stuff like, oh, take a shower alone or go to the bathroom alone.

This is why a racer cannot leave the sight of the dope control chaperone until the racer gets handed off to the actual dope control officer. It's also why it's so unusual if the racer is left alone for any amount of time once they know they'll be tested.

Plasma would help keep the hematocrit down longer than saline solution. There were some racers busted for using plasma expanders - that would compensate for a blood transfusion, i.e. an insertion of a lot of red blood cells. The expanders would keep the hematocrit down, but then you have to hide the expanders. Life is tough.

(I like how a doctor says he "unintentionally" ingested an intravenous thing. Also, he states confidently that the tests detected no EPO. Probably not since it seems like he was simply transfusing his own blood. A Retie count would be in order here.)

Before the blood passport testers only had a snapshot of the rider's blood profile. You couldn't really judge someone unless they had some weird baseline numbers, like a 60% hematocrit level. For other parameters you wouldn't have any idea if a particular Retie count was normal or not (for that individual).

With the passport testers could see other bits of information over the course of time. For example, someone commented on my post about my 46% hematocrit that my number is a "high normal" number for a sea level guy. One of the first blood passport cases wasn't even in cycling - it was in speed skating. The busted skater, Claudia Pechstein, had a high normal hematocrit (which isn't a problem by itself), but, more significantly, the Reties count was all over the place. The latter pointed to blood manipulation. The skater was suspended for two years and the penalty stood.

I assure you that Reties values are pretty stable, whatever it is. Unfortunately that's one of those blood values that you don't see on a regular basis, so I don't know what mine is.

Granted, there are innocent factors that affect blood parameters, but, apparently, as part of each test, the athlete gets asked questions relating to these parameters. I suppose that a doper could always say, "Yeah, I've had a fever" (or whatever else affects hematocrit) every time they get tested but that'd also throw some red flags.

So what's all this mean?

It means that list the UCI leaked (involving suspicion levels based on the blood passport) is pretty significant. Weird blood parameters are weird because they're not normal, and weirdness is bad when it comes to dope tests.

I'll have to review that list and compare them to the top finishers in the Tour. It'd be interesting to see if some of the higher or more suspicious racers in the list suddenly lost a lot of performance in the Tour. It would also be interesting to see if a racer low on the list, i.e. not very suspicious at all, suddenly does better.

Both scenarios would indicate the blood passport is helping clean up the sport.

And that makes checking race results a lot easier.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Equipment - Midsummer SRM Maintenance

With the hopes of racing today at the Rent, I wanted to straighten out some of the issues I've been having with my bike. Due to some pretty intense storms (tornado watch was in effect) the races were called. This left me with some time to do a good hard ride on the trainer. I hoped that fresh legs, a fueled body, and a fixed up bike would make me fly.

So what did I do to the bike?

First off, on Friday, I finally reinstalled my front derailleur cable. The new stop had plenty of time to set, and it seemed pretty solid, so I figured, what the heck, I could use the small ring, might as well install the cable.

Cable stop oozing epoxy. I'll sand it down.
In the winter.
No cable in it in this picture.

It took me about 2 minutes to realize that the 0.4 mm cable used in Nokon housing is a bit thinner than the 0.5 mm cable I had as spares. SOC ran into this problem recently and I just pshawed him, and then I ran into it. Ugh. SOC was right, the slightly larger cables barely or don't fit.

I ended up reusing the front derailleur cable, already quite short, with an unsoldered end (thinking about this with a clear mind I should have soldered it to begin with), and a bit crushed where the clamp bolt clamps it.

If you have to know, it took for freakin' ever to install that stupid front cable, like 3 hours. It should have been a few minute job so the Missus looked rightly surprised many hours later when I admitted to her that, no, I hadn't ridden, and, in fact, I just got the cable hooked up.

I have to admit that I did fiddle with the bars too. My levers have been a bit too low on the bars (I know, me complaining about low levers, go figure) but, seriously, I figured I needed to raise the levers a bit. The tape looked really ragged too (even the Missus suggested that it be time to rewrap the bars), so I figured I could take care of everything at once.

I relearned this trick for fitting Ergo levers on crit bend bars - I just slide them as high as they go before the crit bend prevents them from moving further. When I "discovered" this I realized that, oh, that's how I did it almost 20 years ago, when I first installed Ergo levers in 1992. I just forgot when I built the Giant TCR and I forgot it for the bikes I built after that.

Levers slammed up all of, oh, about 5mm on the bar, I e-taped the Nokon housing down, planning on doing a few rides on the trainer to make sure the levers felt even. There's this cardinal rule about wrapping tape - if you wrap your bars right after moving your levers, one lever will be higher than the other. If you don't wrap the bars right away, you'll find that the levers were even and you could have done it right away.

I left them unwrapped.

I managed to do a trainer ride on Saturday, like I did on Wednesday and Thursday, and it made a huge difference to be able to shift into the small ring. I could spin more, felt my legs load up quicker, and basically felt like I was riding a bike again. Since it was (and I checked) the first time I rode in the small ring since MAY 31 (!?!) it's been way too long.

The levers felt even so that was a good sign too. Of course they were, they weren't wrapped. So I left them alone.

Because if you wrap them after one ride, you'll figure out the levers sit crooked. You have to ride them at least twice before wrapping with tape.

With steady riding throughout the week, I felt pleasantly fatigued by the time Sunday rolled around. So pleasantly fatigued that the Missus and I barely got anything done.

Then, Monday, I redid the SRM battery in my spare spider, one I got off someone on eBay a while back with a "new" battery. Well, that battery lasted maybe a month, but at about $19 a pop, they aren't too expensive, and they last at least a year under normal use. They're supposed to last like 10,000 to 15,000 km, or 6200 to 9000 miles, but that's like a few years for me. A year is fine.

Soldering iron. Butane powered, no plugs needed.

Voltage checking stuff.

Tip on SRM battery replacement - check voltage of battery before installing in spider. Then check voltage at the end of the wires (i.e. beyond the solder point) after soldering. It would suck if you put it all together and it didn't work. This set up garnered 3.2 volts, what it should have garnered.

Done right, with the soldering iron at good temps, it should take about 15 seconds of heat to melt the solder and "stick" the wire to the whatever (terminal, post, etc). The first time I did this I probably heated the battery for 15 minutes, not 15 seconds. I even had to redo it after a solder failed, so I added even more heat. It's got to be why the battery didn't last very long, about 8? months.

To be fair the PCV head I got from the same seller has been going strong and I've been using that while I figure out a radical plan to revive the original PCV head - non-PCV owners probably don't know this but there is no stock battery produced now as replacements for the PCV, at least not the same spec as the original battery. You can get a lower capacity battery or try and go for a radical solution. I'm leaning towards the latter.

While I had the crank spider out, I really wanted to replace the rings on the crank. I have two sets of the Cannondale SI chainrings and both show considerable wear after a combined total of three years of use. These certainly aren't the beautiful cold forged Campy rings; they're just machined soft aluminum ones. I don't have any other 130mm BCD (bolt circle diameter) rings, just a whole slew of almost-useless-to-me cold forged 135mm BCD rings...

Except for one pair of rings. I couldn't resist fondling some chainrings I bought for the tandem, a matched 55T/44T, in 130mm BCD (in soft aluminum, alas).

Yep, a 55T. Oh yeah!

Holy big chainring Batman!
It don't even fit in the picture!

So, yes, I stole some chainring bolts off of the donated Athena crankset I used from about 1995 to 2001 (the others are Record or Chorus cranks which have an odd bolt in there) and stuck the big, thick, heavy rings on the newly-battery-ed spider.

(The donor was the designer of the 1997 kit, the first kit I wore that had argyle on it. I'm sure Vaughters took note of this for his future Slipstream kits.)

I took my original SRM crank off the bike and discovered two things. First, the arm wasn't really tight on there. It was snug, okay, but not tight. Second, the lockring holding the spider to the arm was only finger tight. It wasn't rocking but it was close to it.

Note to self: check these things a bit more often.

I mounted the 175mm arm to the fresh battery SRM spider (replete with the beautiful huge chainrings), snugged the lockring firmly, and installed it on the bike, firmly.

Just before it went on the bike.
The lockring (out of view) is tight.

Then, because the enormous 55T ring is a tad taller than the 53T it replaced, I had to adjust the front derailleur.

A two minute job, right?


You guessed it.

Problem was the derailleur mount, welded on the frame, was set up for regular and compact cranks, i.e. 53 tooth max and about a 48 tooth minimum. The 55T macho ring had no place on this bike.

A little digging around got me my nice round file, and, after covering the chain, chainrings, and front derailleur with a cotton rag, I modded my front derailleur mount so my derailleur would clear the 55. I carefully removed the rag and I think got zero metal shavings into the drivetrain.


Not in the big ring.
You can see the silver chainring bolts. Dirty bike. Cable still has to be capped.
Pay no attention to file marks.
But it works.

By now my fingers were black with various oily grease, mainly from the bottom bracket and crank fiddling. Since I planned on putting on lighter than black tape, I knew I'd have to wait a bit, else I'd ruin the tape just installing it.

Because, as you know, the best way to finish washing your hands is to install new bar tape. The new tape will suck up whatever tiny bits of oil or grease you missed, ruining the tape in the process. Even if your hands look clean they're not (as any doctor will tell you).

Therefore I had to get my hands really clean. I took a dinner break, washed dishes by hand in the sink, washed my hands a dozen times, and, finally, with hands scrubbed about as clean as a surgeon going in for open heart surgery, I wrapped my bars.

In white Cinelli cork.

Oh what a joy. I forgot what it's like to use Cinelli cork. It wraps so nicely, so smooth, looks so pro.

Poor picture but you get the idea.
This is after 90 minutes of riding.
With clean hands.
Note big floor fan. Critical for trainer training.

And white tape, yes, because, well, because that's all I had left. But it's so pro looking. I won't be rewrapping my bars every week or two like I did for a season in the mid 90s, but I figure I'll be replacing the tape a bit more frequently than, oh, once or twice a year, like I have with the black tape.

With the spider swap and bar tape, another bit of maintenance that should have taken only a few minutes stretched out into hours, and I skipped yet another ride.

But my bike, she is beautiful.

Well in a functional way.

Now I just have to ride it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Racing - July 19, 2011 @TuesdayTheRent

Warm, sunny, and I'd ridden poorly at Naugatuck, so poorly that the Missus thought it nigh time for me to train. Last year I entered the season in much better shape, 15 pounds lighter than I am now, with no sick time really affecting my training. This year I was heavier by a bunch, got sick in my SoCal training camp, and started the year not finishing the P123 races at Bethel.

In contrast, last year I could contest the 3-4 race, then do the P123 race and feel totally at ease. Once the season got truly rolling, I just raced based on my early season form, my light weight, my good base miles. I tried to race twice a week, do at least one group ride (and usually two), and essentially raced my way through the season.

This year I tried to do the same thing. Problem was that I was getting shelled in the races, so my 60 to 90 minute "hard days" were turning into 15 minute workouts. Add the extra weight, the lack of any real goals, and you get a racer that's doing two 15 minute races a week, maybe an hour ride here or there, and...

A whole lotta DNFs.

With that in mind, and with the extremely abbreviated Naugatuck race (I did 12 miles), I did about 90 minutes on the trainer on Monday. I went downstairs to fix the front derailleur cable but got distracted by the idea of riding my bike, so I rode it.

Tuesday I felt a bit better. Legs felt pleasantly fatigued, the heat seemed okay. We had our typical "end of day rush" to get home, the Missus packed what she could, I did the rest, and we set off for the Rent.

I started warming up and noticed ShovelHd, a fellow BikeForums person and all-round good guy, warming up. He was putting in some efforts, looking pretty strong.

I kept rolling in the big ring, unable to spin much, trying to get into race mode.

Although the temperature felt okay, my nose protested the rising pollen levels. I kept sniffling, kept blowing, and suddenly I realized that it wasn't pollen, it was blood.

Arg. I have this weak blood vessel in my nose. It must be genetic because all my brothers get nosebleeds too, ever since we were kids. It seems like a bit of blood builds up, lets go, and it's done. I kept rolling around, waiting for the little bit of blood to drain, waiting for the sensation of paint drying inside my nostrils. It finally happened but not before I managed to cover my hands with blood.

Luckily I was warming up with my long gloves in my pocket, so I put them on to make things look a little better. I casually mentioned to the Missus that I had a bloody nose, she noted the dried blood, and although concerned, she understood that it was done.

I started off okay, rolling in the group. I wanted to fight for position, wanted to sit near the front - I wanted to feel like a bike racer again.

I didn't have to fight though. Aidan, one of the strong guys, decided to toughen up the race from the start. He hit the front at the start and dragged the field, kicking and screaming, around for four laps. He drifted back to about where I was as a California racer, the Simple Green guy, did his few lap pull. Aidan decided he'd rested enough, and did it again.

I had the weirdest sensation of having to reach for the pedals. I was in a world of hurt, above my threshold, just sitting on wheels. I actually had to move forward to reduce the saddle-pedal height. Weird since I haven't changed my saddle position.

I made a mental note to lower my saddle a fraction. This hip rocking thing wouldn't do. Something must have tightened up, my glutes or back or hamstring, something, to make me feel like this. I kept plodding along, trying to figure out if I'd somehow changed my pedal stroke.

I hadn't.

And my legs worsened.

End of race.

My legs went south on me as the stronger guys kept up the pace. I can handle a little bit of hot pace, but to do it consistently, to force me to average more than about 250 watts continuously, well, that kills me.

Ironically a guy behind me thought I was blocking. He protested vigorously about the blocking as he passed me, then exploded and came off the back.


It's not blocking when I block myself right off the back.


The whole drop thing was weird though because I didn't think I should have come off. My SRM crank batteries are basically dead so I didn't have power readings, but I could see my heart rate was only about 163 bpm, really low for exploding. Just last year I was looking at 168 bpm averages in hard races, with 172 bpm last lap bursts. Granted, at 172 bpm I couldn't sprint, but 163 bpm, that's reasonable. It's lower than when Cliff started the leadout in the 2010 Francis J Clarke race, higher than I'd want to be if I had to sprint.

It's definitely not "dropping" range though, and here I was, coming off the back of the group. I tried to roll around a bit - the group seemed to ease right after I got dropped - but blew up after half a lap. I couldn't even catch the guy that complained about the blocking, even though he wasn't going particularly hard.

Blocking. I had to grin inside.

I rolled a bit, slowly, my heart rate dropping pretty low.

I decided to do a short sprint (solo), and try to do one on the next lap too.

I skipped my target lap because I figured I might interfere with the race, so my heart rate was a bit lower than I wanted when I decided to roll, about 125 or so bpm. By the time I got going it was probably 140-odd bpm.

I did a decent jump, terrible sprint, and crossed the line pretty fast. After coasting into the second stretch, I started rolling. My heart rate seemed to stay at about 158, which is about my heart rate when I jumped in that 2010 Francis J Clarke race.

I wasn't feeling quite as good as I did on that day at Bethel so I waited a bit, did a late jump, managed to hold some kind of sprint to the line, and sat down.

Cooked. Totally cooked.

No power. No speed. No nothing. I'm worse than I was on any given week in 2010, worse probably than a given week in 2009.

Luckily I have no races until towards the end of August. I decided that I'd treat the next five or six weeks like a January. Get some miles in, enough so that I don't feel raw after doing an hour on the bike (?!), and try and feel like a bike racer again.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Racing - 2011 Naugatuck M35 - Life

The Naugatuck Crit. Last year it popped up on our schedule right after SOC and I had a training camp, a gazillion hours in a week. I had a lot of strength, could work hard for him, and it ended up a satisfying day for me. SOC did a solid race, hinting at his capabilities.

This year, with less training, more weight, and a somewhat aimless season (no solid goals and no real planning more than a race or two in advance), I expected a bit less from myself.

In fact, a few days before the race, I felt so tired I actually said that I would consider skipping the race.

The astonished response from the Missus put paid to that thought.

Sunday morning, probably with that fatigue statement in mind, the Missus didn't wake me up until almost 10 AM, and we got out of there a bit late at 10:40 AM. With my race at noon I'd be hard pressed with an hour drive to get to the venue.

Then my sleep cobwebs dissipated and I realized that we'd be there at 11:40 AM for a 1 PM race - the first race at noon, mine would be 25 miles later. The Missus knew we had to be on the road by 11 AM so a 10:40 AM start worked out well.

We got to the venue and the roads weren't even closed. In fact, when we saw SOC roll in, it was just after noon and cars still drove up and down by Turn One.

We checked BikeReg (thanks to the DroidX phone I have).

First race at ONE, not noon, and my race would be at 2:00 PM.


The Missus headed over to stake out a spot for our stuff (chair, cooler) and I headed down the street to buy us some stop-gap food at Dunkin Donuts. Then, properly fed (I had about 1/8th of a muffin), I rolled around briefly with SOC for a warm up. We met up with David H, our fearless leader, got a handle on who'd be in the M35+ race with us, and then promptly split up as we had to either get water, go to the bathroom, say hi to someone, or whatever.

My race stayed brief. It was hot. It started pretty fast. David H launched a bunch of attacks, and I tried to patrol the front.

Then, a few laps in, my legs just refused to turn. I struggled for a couple laps before ignomiously coming off the back.

The field eased a bit, giving me some hope that I could magically catch on, but after half a lap of work, I wasn't on and I knew I never would be.

I sat up and stopped.

SOC had countered off of one of David's moves, and his move drew out some big guns. The group stayed away, forming a solid group with a solid lead.

The group seemed a bit big for some, and eventually Ed A, Matt B, and Scott G pulled clear of the break, leaving about seven behind, including SOC.

Scott G mysteriously disappeared one lap - ends up he had to get treated for heat exhaustion.

Ed and Matt lapped the field and won the race.

SOC got 6th, doing a good final sprint to stay with and beat some of his breakmates.

Then the day took a decided downturn.

The 3-4 race had two significant occurances, at least to me, as a spectator and fellow racer (but not participant, at least not this year).

First, when the race started and everyone went into Turn One, we all heard the horrible sound of carbon on pavement. Everyone looked and saw one guy on the deck, racers avoiding him pretty well, leaving him alone on the road.

I looked at no one in particular, with a certainty in my mind.

"I bet he just rolled a tire."

Sure enough the racer slunk away, front tire flopping off his rim. I briefly thought about going over there with the helmet cam and recording the aftermath but I decided that it wouldn't help now. Rolling tires is stupid and preventable, and it's now FOUR races in the last few weeks where a rolled tire has taken someone out - Tuesday at the Rent, Attleboro, New Britain, and now Naugatuck.

Rolling tires has to stop.

Second, Jefferson had a really bad spill. He's one of the guys that races for Navone Studios, a huge sponsor and help at the Bethel Spring Series. He'd been asking me about finding more races as he couldn't find any locally after Naugatuck. He looked crushed when I told him that I didn't know of any either.

My point is that Jefferson is a good guy.

During the race I first realized something was wrong when a few guys from the race streamed out of a cut-through road (it short cuts the course by about half) and towards the start/finish and pit area.

"A crash," I said, almost to myself. "It has to be a crash."

People started noticing the weird procession of racers, and when more and more racers came out of the cut-through road.

In fact, if I wasn't mistaken, it looked like the whole field had gone through.

Then we all heard the sirens in the distance.


I hoped that whoever crashed was going to be okay.

Then someone rolled over towards us. He knew who'd crashed, and he knew that I knew him.

"Jefferson crashed. He crashed hard."

I looked at him, then, as I processed the words, it hit me. I turned to the Missus.

"Is Frank (of Navone Studios) still here? Have you seen him?"
"He just headed over there."

I saw him, grabbed my helmet, jumped on my bike, and sprinted over to Frank. Rudy, a Navone rider, was there too. I told both of them that Jefferson had hit the deck hard and that I was going over to see what we had to do. Frank grabbed his bike.

"Do I need a helmet," he yelled.
"Use mine! Use mine," replied Rudy.

I headed out, letting them figure out the helmet thing.

When I got there it looked pretty serious. Jefferson was whimpering in pain, and it seemed like he wasn't processing stuff quite right. The medics seemed a bit confused about what he understood and didn't understand. They had a neck collar thing on him, they had a backboard next to him, and a full size stretcher out from the back of the ambulance.

Frank arrived shortly afterward (sans helmet, I have to admit), as did Rudy (with helmet), Luciano (another teammate who had been warming up for the P123 race), and Luciano's significant other. I kept back to the let the pros do their thing. Frank went to Jefferson and talked with him, but I couldn't hear anything.

The medics were having a difficult time with the backboard. Jefferson is a muscular tall guy and his build meant his shoulders spilled over the side of the backboard, pulling on his broken collarbone.

"He's too big for the board," someone said.

Ultimately, with his hands and feet moving, he looked reasonably okay. He seemed really banged up though so I hung around 10 or 15 feet away, just in case.

At some point Frank left Jefferson's side to try and make a call. Luciano was there briefly but then stepped back too. I looked at Jefferson and realized he must have felt totally alone, with just medics looking down at him. I walked over so that he'd see a familiar face. I knew that seeing someone he knew would help.

He was whimpering a bit, his hands over his eyes, then stopped. He put his hand down, noticed me, his eyes focused on me.
"Where am I?" he asked.
"Back stretch of Naugatuck. You crashed."
"Is Frank here?"
"Yeah, he's right next to me."
"Ok. Can you call my wife?"
"Yeah, Frank's calling your wife."
"Is it broken," gesturing at his collarbone. (A medic yelled "Don't move your arm!" so he moved it back)
"Your collarbone looks broken." (Someone said it looked broken clean through, but I decided not to share that with him.)
"Oh, my work, my job..."

Jefferson broke down, covering his eyes and sobbing for about 15 seconds, his sobs slowing to a whimper.

He uncovered his eyes and saw me.

Focused on me.

"Where am I?"

Holy eff.

"Jefferson, you're on the back stretch at Naugatuck. You just crashed."

Eff, eff, eff.

"Is Frank here?"

Oh eff me.

"Frank's right next to me."

I had no idea where Frank was at that moment, but it didn't matter. For right now, Frank was right next to me.

"Can you call my wife?"

Only the whole shock thing kept me able to answer him. Calmly, enunciating fully. Trying to be just calm and steady.

This went on for the 15-20 minutes it took to get him going on the ambulance. I answered those same questions a few times myself, some folks answered them before me, and yet others answered them after me. It was me, Rudy (Navone teammate), Frank, Luciano (another Navone teammate), or Luciano's girlfriend taking turns talking with Jefferson, trying to keep him calm.

The only change to the routine above (and it was in the same order, his questions) was when I tried to get his wife's phone number, as Frank wasn't having luck with one number. Jefferson held up his RoadID band, imprinted with his wife's number (next to the word "wife") and his friend's number, with the name there. The medics needed that ID on him for the hospital so we all made sure that at least one of us had the numbers. One did so we let him drop his arm.

A medic looked at me.
"I think he had an LOC. Did he have an LOC?"
"What's an LOC?"
"Loss of consciousness. He seems to have lost his blank-blank memory" (I forgot the term).

I polled riders, even went to racers milling around to ask them. No one remembered if he seemed to have been knocked out.

I reported back that he didn't seem to have had an "LOC" but I wouldn't bet on the racers' recollections.

Just before they got Jefferson on the stretcher I had to get his car keys, as Luciano's significant other pointed out that Jefferson must have them. She'd drive Luciano's car, Luciano would have to drive Jefferson's, but he needed the keys.

Ends up Jefferson had them in a jersey pocket. I dug them out, heeding the medic's warning not to move his torso. Jefferson could move his torso to help me, and even tried to use his arm ("Don't move that arm please").

I finally got the keys and gave them Luciano.

Frank left to meet Jefferson at the hospital. Luciano and his other left to get Jefferson's stuff.

I went back to the spectator area and reported Jefferson's hurt to the crew there, the Missus, SOC and Mrs SOC, David H, some others. I was a bit shaken.

I pointed out that if I whine it's not a big deal, because I whine all the time. But to hear Jefferson whimper, that's a big deal.

The Missus came to my defense (from my own self deprecation) and pointed out that I whine when it's not serious. But when it's serious, I don't whine.

Still, though, I remembered breaking down on the bed after spending something like an hour getting to and from the bathroom, a mere 15 or 20 feet away. The pain just overwhelmed me. Although I held back in the blog post, I really, truly broke down, just totally lost it, absolutely and completely overwhelmed by the agony ripping through my (as I thought it) hamstring/glutes (although technically it was the fractured pelvic bones anchoring those muscles).

It's the first time that pain had broken me so completely in my life. And the poor Missus could only sit there and hold me and hope that I got better, all while uncontrollable sobs wracked my body.

Jefferson's confused state worried me. The recent spate of concussions in the pro peloton has made me more aware of head injuries. I remembered my terrible crash a couple years ago and how I knew exactly where I was, about what time it was (my complex answer - "It's 45 minutes plus about 5 laps after 6:50 PM so it's about... 7:50? 7:45?" - which led the medics to basically say "What?"), about where I was, the date, all that stuff.

As I felt lucky for myself, I felt terrible for Jefferson.

With somewhat heavy hearts, but with absolutely empty stomachs, the SDC/SOC crew left for some food. It was after 5 PM and we'd last eaten a real meal 7 or 8 hours prior.

We talked about stuff over the dinner table, a lot of it kind of lost now. Regular stuff, stuff to try and put things back to normal.

Heading back home, SOC and his missus went one way, we went the other. As I drove home I told the Missus that I felt really glad Jefferson crashed on the backstretch and not on the main stretch. That he'd crashed out of sight of the spectators. That, specifically, she didn't have to see him as he was.

His crash really shook me.

We reviewed my race briefly. It's easy to review a race briefly when it's brief, and my race was pretty brief.

She has implicit faith that I race in a sane way, that I'm about the most risk averse racer there is, that I only get into situations where I have confidence I can handle things properly. So for her, and for me, racing is an acceptable risk, just like it's an acceptable risk for me to go training on the road.

She's seen me on one of my best years in my racing life, last year. This year has been decidedly unspectacular. When finishing a race becomes a huge accomplishment, one needs to change things.

Dramatically, no less.

So on the way home, after a pause in the conversation, the Missus turned to me.

"I think you need a training schedule."
"Monday you should take off. Tuesday is the Rent. Wednesday you should do Ninigret or the group ride. Thursday off because Tues and Wed will kick your butt. Friday easy. Sunday 4 hours. Minimum 2 hours every time you ride."

I thought about all those tapers and peaks and builds and thresholds and 5x5s and whatever other training terms people throw around. Percent this of threshold, percent that.

It all doesn't matter, not at this point. For now I'm so bad that any riding will help. And the Missus's schedule seemed to make sense.

And, really, ultimately, it's not about the racing, right? Racing is fun and all, but it's just a part of life.

Life is what is fun. Racing's just a part of it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Racing - July 12, 2011 @TuesdayTheRent

Tuesday promised to be a hot one, with a heat index of about 100 degrees. With work involving some forays outside, required long pants and heavy shoes, I knew it'd be a long day. I brought extra water, tried to stay in the air conditioning, and only had to move a little over a thousand pounds of "stuff" in the heat.

I did some computer stuff too, which let me hang out inside, and then it was 5 o'clock, my bewitching hour. I turned into a bike racer, gathered up my stuff, and headed home.

The Missus had gotten back a bit before me, enough so that she had the bike, wheels (race and spares), and pump in the car. She'd packed the cooler minus the Polar Chill bottle I brought to work. I gathered the electronics (camera, SRM), the kits (skinsuit plus regular jersey and shorts "just in case"), shoes, helmet, and some other stuff.

While the Missus fixed the last Chill bottle, I changed into some cooler clothes, shorts and a (Expo) t-shirt. Some sneakers unweighted my previously boot-clad feet. I felt light and free, at least until we stepped back outside into the blazing heat.

Not needing food per se I skipped grabbing a bar, and, with the Missus driving, we headed out.

I wanted to pin the number on the skinsuit before I slipped into it so I meticulously pinned my number as we drove towards the Rent. Then, of course, just as I started to change (i.e. I was naked), we got to the busier part of the area. I quickly finished getting the bottoms of the skinsuit on, not wanting to flash anyone near the car.

When we got to the race I got the bike ready, pumped up the tires (125/130 psi, Vittoria EVO CX tubulars), gathered the checkbook and wallet, and headed to registration. I actually remembered how much for the check, who to make it out to, and to put my number in the top right corner of the release.

SOC was there, a bit quiet after a tough weekend. We rolled out to warm up, talking about innocuous stuff like bike racing, keeping "off topic" if you will. We came back to the start area having met up with a few other teammates, which is about when we noticed a stars and stripes jersey.Link
Now, in the past I've mistaken real jerseys for poseurs. Although initially skeptical, I decided that this guy was probably the real thing.

We decided this had to be a guy who'd won it recently and for a while debated who it might be. To his credit I thought it might be the U23 champ. In fact it was Dave Wenger.

(Sidenote: when I Googled his name, I got a professor at Jefferson and the blurb under the name said something about "canine and non-human primate models of Krabbe disease"... I didn't realize that reading The Rider by Krabbe was considered a disease.)

Ends up that not only is Dave W a national champion, he's the criterium national champion.

We'd be in for a world of hurt.

Or would we?

I figure that since I hadn't really heard of him doing 100 mile solo breaks in Tour of Georgia or spending all day in the break at Philly that he was a rider more like me. Sit in, go with moves, win sprint.

Except, of course, he'd be able to go with more moves, he had an FTP that registered on the chart, and he could outsprint guys like Bahati.

A good sign - Tim U's dad mentioned that Dave W remembered Tim from the 2002 Elite National Road Race as well as his racing around the Midwest that year.

Dave W also acted pretty mellow, not doing mysterious things like shooting lightning bolts from his eyes or whatever else those top elite riders do. I didn't see him put rubber stripes down when he clipped in, no smoke rising from his brakes.

Whatever, I knew one thing. His "easy" pace would make life hell for us, and his hard pace would be devastating. I steeled myself for a hard race, but I hoped that he'd dole out more "easy" than "hard".

At the gun Tim went, a typical attack, and, like my failed attack, no one chased. The difference between me and Tim is about 200 or 300 watts of FTP, so unlike my short lived "breakaway" the other week, Tim actually got going, got a gap, and didn't falter much at all.

Some steady efforts from the less patient in the group meant the gap came down a bit, and as the group enveloped Tim, guys went on the counterattack immediately. Two CVC guys went, an Horst guy tagged along, and then Dave W went.

Dave W responding to the counter.
He is very low on the bike.

I figure that Dave W is a strong and savvy rider, but not a leg-ripping one, not like racing against a Cancellara (with all apologies to the National Champ). A crit racer by definition is someone with an FTP high enough to hang in there with a 30 second to 2 minute power number that's astronomical.

I also figured that he wouldn't be racing his heart out at a Tuesday Night Worlds. He'd complained a bit of fatigue too, so overall I figured we wouldn't see quite the fire that we'd see from him had we been at a Somerville or a Nationals.

He could still hurt us though. The way he could make the race hard would be by making vicious pace changes, accelerating to the speeds that only a few guys around can hit. When the group shatters, he could ease, let the strongest get back on, and then do it again. Big surges in pace hurts the group - it's how I demolished a group ride a while back.

Dave W raced nicely though. He had nothing to prove. He's the best crit racer in the country on a day that everyone acknowledged would be the day to prove you're the best crit racer in the country.

So he followed here and there, probably did a move or two (I was so far in the pain well I couldn't see anything once the group went up the road), and eventually isolated himself with Ron, one of the only other Cat 1s here at the race.Link
Ron races for CCNS and in the past I've accused them of racing these races just for training. They sometimes ride to the race, then race, then ride home. It's not a big deal if they win or not, they just do whatever they want to do for their training.

In the last two races that seems to have changed. The severely outnumbered CCNS racers have been very active, riding very tactically, and have actually made pretty big last lap moves.

If I didn't know any better, I'd think they were trying to win one of these things.

Well, for them, now was the opportunity. Ron was off the front with Dave W, gaining time, and probably wondering how to beat someone who out-sprinted the best field in the country a short time ago.

Ron sitting on Dave W's wheel.
To be fair, Ron did his work too.

Behind the pace remained unconcerned, steady, a comfortable pace that allows everyone to sit in.

Then someone, and I really don't know who, ramped up the pace.

A lot.

Single file, sliding forward on the saddle, I struggled to hang onto wheels. The ice cold water, my energy drink, none of it helped. The elastic finally broke, setting me free, sawing me off the back.

I shook my head at myself.

"Not again," I thought.

I looked up and saw other riders had had to let go too, sprinkling the course, a comet's tail behind the now-tiny group. I guess it wasn't just me - it really was fast.

The group really started picking up the pace. With about 15 riders left, it looked and felt more like a large chase group versus a small field. Expo teammates helped set a severe tempo, Todd B (winner of a couple Rents this year) especially effective. Horst Engineering also had a lot of horsepower, four riders capable of working at the front. I'm pretty sure Cosmo was there too, but I lost track of where he was.

Incredibly the gap started to come down. I reintegrated in the group twice after I got shelled, doing a few laps with them before peeling off the back. I noticed Aidan, leader of CCNS, sitting conspicuously at the back. Initially his plan must have been to help Ron when the two man break lapped the field, but as the race progressed, it seemed that he'd act as a reserve in case the break came back. He carefully sat at the back, out of trouble, even letting lapped riders gap him off. He closed such gaps with ease, making me believe he was really holding back for a solid attack.

The last time I got back on I realized I still had two bottles of ice water on my bike. Glancing at SOC, with his beet red face, gasping for air, I realized he had two regular bottles. Knowing just how helpful ice water is for an overheating core, I decided I'd dump the rest of my precious ice water on him.

I first emptied one bottle until it rattled with ice cubes, then emptied another.

Me domestique. Dumping ice cold water on SOC.

I hoped that the ice would melt quickly so I could dump more, but if it hadn't melted in an hour, it wouldn't melt in a couple minutes. There's good and bad with these Podium insulated bottles.

I was so involved in my domestique duties that I seriously dug my pedal in the turn just ahead of us in the picture, Turn 3. I had finished the ice cold dousing, had both hands on the bars, and pedaled through the turn, trying to stay even with SOC.

Then, BAM!, I planted a pedal, my back wheel lifting a bit crazily.


Nothing happened, I just hopped sideways a bit, and I continued on my way. Heeding the instructions at the beginning of the race, I played a bit more conservatively after that, with no more touches.

Still, though, I left that day with a nice bit of left pedal missing, ground away on the pavement.

SOC's core must have cooled down significantly with those ice water dumps because he pulled so hard he gapped the field. The ice dumps don't last long though, and he returned to the fold. Apparently he was pretty cooked in the last five laps, but then again so was everyone else.

At this point the small field had done the unthinkable - they'd brought back the break to within shouting distance of the field. The racers, inspired by the fruits of their labor, started launching furious attacks, with Aidan making the first connection to the now-vulnerable break. As others started to bridge, Ron launched an all out attack, going clear with about 5 laps to go.

With too many guys looking at each other and a fresh Aidan marking moves, the chase didn't get underway in earnest. This hesitation allowed the rest of the desperately scrambling racers to bridge, bringing it all back together for the final few laps of the race, save Ron up front.

After an all race break, then the big attack, Ron looked to be redlined. To his favor Aidan would be marking moves behind, and Aidan had to have relatively fresh legs. If necessary he could make a race winning move, but knowing his generous nature, he'd prefer Ron to take the win.

I figured Aidan would mark the slightly cooked Dave W to the end, and Ron would have a good chance of taking an incredible victory.

At the bell Ron had a big gap, the group behind pausing to collect its breath. A good 13 or 14 seconds clear, he looked to have it made.

Then Aidan launched what could have been a field winning attack.

Problem was that Dave W marked it immediately, trying immediately to get on his wheel. Although he didn't get the full draft right away, Aidan's move had drawn him into action. With two top guns going at it, everyone capable of scrambling scrambled.

The action started eating into Ron's lead rapidly, making his once "really good chance" move into a "will he make it?" kind of thing.

Aidan must have realized what he'd caused because he really eased up at the third turn, much more so than if he'd just blown a gasket. In order to try and win the race Dave W had to go all out from that turn, essentially extending his response effort that already lasted most of the lap. This cooked even a National Champ's legs.

Ron crossed the line well clear of the The Jersey.

The best of the rest finished too, a hard, hard race, worthy of the pros. A real exciting race, the early break, the huge chase, and then the last desperate scramble to the line.

Those of us dropped agreed - it was the best Tuesday Night Worlds we'd seen. The racers didn't look quite so eager to discuss the fine points of the race, but that's what good racing does to the racers. It exhausts them.

With grins on our faces, even the ones that didn't make it to the finish, we all set off to do whatever we do after the Worlds.

At some point, in the animated, excited, fatigued, and out of breath post-race discussions, the Missus noticed something.

The National Champion left the same way he arrived.

On his bike.



He raced like a star would race. He raced at our level, allowed us our mistakes, rewarded those that made the critical efforts. I don't think he necessarily gave stuff away, but I think that he throttled back a bit, allowed himself a few mistakes, and then played gamely at the end.

He made us all happy to be bike racers. He motivated us, entertained us, and encouraged us, indirectly, through his actions, through his legs, through just his presence.

As they say, his work here was done.


(Or, as Dan Rather weakly proclaimed for a bit, "Courage!")

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Racing - 2011 New Britain Crit

I'd been postponing making a decision on what to race at New Britain. I could either go earlier and do the M35+ race, or go later and do the P12 race.

I've always said that I prefer the category races to the Masters because the Masters are basically Cat 1-2 races, but when the category race is P-1-2, then the argument goes out the window.

With a sunny hot day forecast, stuff to do around the house, and with a lot of teammates in the M35+ race, I decided that would be my race.

The teammates thing decided it for me, to be honest. They'd be the ones regularly cleaning up at the Rent - Todd B (who's won enough Rents that I no longer know how many he's won), David H (our team president and a guy who crushed everyone in the last sprint I did), Cliff (he of the sweet lead out as well as some Rent wins and various successful break attempts). Dave D and Kevin G would fill out our roster; these are guys I don't know as well, and I didn't know what to expect from them. The three big guns really skewed the odds in our favor.

It wasn't just their strength either.

I've seen some strong teams actually tear themselves apart, the various individuals simply incapable of working for the common good of the team. Cycling works in odd ways. As an individual a racing cyclist has to be pretty selfish, dedicating a lot of time to training (usually) and racing, along with the monetary outlays for the equipment. For example I'll spend a couple weeks out west, training, in late winter. I've bought two custom frames in the last two years, and a trio of wheelsets.

Yet when it comes to teamwork, these somewhat selfish individuals need to somehow work together, often sacrificing their chances for others.

In this regard the Expo core is incredible. They work off of each others' efforts relentlessly, hammering home attack after attack, marking counter-moves, and waiting when everyone else is looking around. When the first Expo move comes back, another guy launches.

It's pretty predictable and, for a non-Expo racer, pretty demoralizing.

On top of being team-savvy, the guys are also really strong. If you got a team of five guys like me, you'd have a team that would just helplessly watch all the breaks go up the road. I'm too weak to factor into anything but the final sprint. But the Expo boys, they're strong, like really strong. They can venture out into breaks, get caught, and still have enough gas to give it another go.

All this made choosing the M35+ race pretty easy. I figured it'd go like a Rent race - lots of attacks, some early move goes, and the break makes it to the end. An Expo rider would have to be in the break, of course.

With my mind made up, I decided to take a spin after work Saturday. I'd promised myself to fix the front derailleur cable, but never followed through, so I still had a 10 speed bike (53T ring plus the 11-23 cassette on my race wheel).

I had some little concerns I could address, like my bars. They moved when I hit something really, really hard at Keith Berger, and since I never bothered to fix them, they've felt low ever since. I stopped at the bottom of the driveway, tilted them up a touch, and they felt fine.

I also had some cable stretch from the initial bike build in the winter. I unscrewed the barrel adjuster a bit at Keith Berger. That made things a lot smoother that day, but I wanted to make sure they were still okay.

I did the ride okay, did some rolling bits at over 20 mph, and figured that would be good enough for a nice warm up.

With all the cameras, SRM, kit (thanks to the Missus), and wheels all set, I decided I'd do one more thing.

The Skinsuit.

I bought a skinsuit for this year, aiming to wear it when I dropped below 160 lbs. I started the winter at 158 lbs but have been gaining weight steadily, so I never got to that "sub-160 lbs". And with the season rapidly winding down, I really wanted to wear the stupid thing.

So Saturday night I tried it on. I didn't burst any seams (that I could see), didn't look totally ridiculous, and decided that, pending an okay from the Missus (I didn't want to embarrass her), I'd race in it. It's be the first time since about 1997 or so, when I wore the "original" argyle kit, the Carpe Diem Racing kit as designed by Alexander Julian.

Of course, being the safe person I am, I also packed away a regular jersey and shorts combo. Because you never know.

Sunday we got going pretty early. I actually took some allergy medicine, actually got some decent sleep, and wasn't totally dehydrated. We arrived onsite, I registered, and got dressed.

Luckily the Missus looked pleasantly surprised that I didn't disgrace the skinsuit, so that stayed on. The prior raced ended a bit early so I had about ten minutes to ride around the course.

Interestingly enough I could feel my pretty-well-pinned number tugging at the skinsuit. I guess the skinsuit's got to be pretty snug if I can feel the number "parachuting" when it wasn't really parachuting. Otherwise it felt pretty comfortable, and I soon forgot I had it on.

With a couple laps under my belt and no efforts, I decided it'd be enough. I got my Podium Ice bottles, got my good luck kiss from the Missus, and lined up.

Naturally I lined up at the back, although it'd matter less in this a small field for the M35+. With five teammates I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that Todd and David historically attack from the blocks.

When the start whistle blew, David shot off like a rocket.

He had to be 30 meters clear by the time I crossed the line. One rider, I think the promoter Jose, immediately went after him. After a few seconds hesitation another rider shot by me on the outside. I recognized him from the Rent, and, knowing he's a good pursuiter, set off after him.

It happened so quickly that I jumped while holding the hoods, settling into the drops only after I got going. I got on his wheel and sat there, letting him pull through the first long bend.

Todd B, a bit impatient with the lack of pace, went by, intent on linking up with David and riding away from the field.

Here's where I probably screwed up. I stayed on the guy's wheel, let him drag me up to David, Todd, and Jose. One other guy, a Wee Bikes guy of course, had been on my wheel and ended up in the break.

Three Expos, three others.

A rare siting. Me in a break.

At this point Todd and David had both just made some serious efforts, and they were trying to catch their breath. The guy I went with was a bit tweaked too. I was dying, but that's to be expected.

We went around a lap, the group working reasonably well together, with me even taking a short pull.

This is where I probably made a mistake. With three Expos, it'd be really bad form for the field to let the break go. They'd have to chase it, even if they had teammates in the break. If you had one guy in the break and there were three guys from another team in it, you'd have to chase too.

Todd and David were both strong. I'm not. So I should have done one of two things.

First, I could have just sat up. I'd trickle back to the field, give them some reward for chasing, and make it seem like the break is kind of coming back. When a group catches a rider or two, it'll almost always ease a bit as the riders at the front kind of congratulate themselves for accomplishing something. This would help the break.

Second, I should have wasted myself pulling before sitting up and doing the above. Since I'm not a break type rider, since I don't have that steady power to time trial at 25 mph, I should have just buried myself, taken one or two really good, strong pulls, then sat up.

Although I'm not necessarily a good time trialer, I can pull pretty hard for 30 seconds or so. I know that I can close a 10 or 12 second gap on my own, which means that if I pull hard, I'll add 10 or 12 seconds gap back to the field.

Once I stretch the gap out to whatever I can, I could revert to the first plan. I'd sit up, drift back, hopefully recover, and get back in the field.

In the meantime, Todd and David would have a bit more time on their hands and the break would have a better chance at doing something.

Instead of all that good stuff, I just pulled a pitiful pull, sat on afterward, gasping for air, and we got caught.

Cliff went out for a while on his own, no one wanting to follow his move. As the field collectively fatigued, riders would be given some room to play with, the idea being that the rider would end up tangled up on the virtual leash, not breaking said leash and riding away to a spectacular victory.

When the group would ease Cliff back to within 10 or 15 meters, everyone would ease up, and Cliff would stretch the gap out again.

I felt so bad for Cliff I was tempted to shut down the gap myself, but Cliff is a strong boy and he knew how to meter his strength. Unlike me he wouldn't get shelled as soon as he got caught.

Finally, after Cliff took $50 in primes, the field ended his agony and brought him back.

The rest of the race went by in a blur. I wasn't feeling that great, I didn't know a lot of the guys in the race, and I figured I'd be doing well if I even finished this race. I felt particularly disappointed in my form up the hill - I had no snap like last year, no surge, no nothing. I think that the 15 extra pounds I'm carrying has a lot to do with that.

With my ace in the hole gone, I had to really sit in and pray I didn't get shelled.

Luckily the Expo boys had the strength to parry and counter without any help from me. As the laps wound down Cliff actually came up to me and asked how I felt. I shook my head no. I didn't feel confident I'd make it through the inevitable last-lap-surge, I wasn't feeling it on the hill, and frankly I haven't done a good sprint this whole year. There was no way I could give Cliff a chance to try and help me in the sprint. Teammates are good, but to throw away his legs for me would be a waste.

Therefore I shook my head no.

He acknowledged me and rode on.

Naturally I started coming around in the last five laps or so. I think it was more that the others got more tired, versus me getting good. Whatever, my super-economical racing style got me to the end with a lot of reserves.

I found myself surging a bit after the hill, the best sign for a good race at this course. It wasn't as good as last year, where I could really surge, but I could still get myself past a few guys before I had to ease up.

As the laps wound down, Todd went clear with two guys. The move looked innocuous but the good ones always do. David sat near the front and marked any countermoves, and, suddenly, a lap later, it looked solid.

With just a lap to go the Expo guys were all over the front. We had just a one in three chance in the break, but with Todd there, it wasn't good for the others. He's been winning Rent after Rent from breaks, even winning field sprints after the break laps the group.

It's much easier to race for a guy like that.

I wasn't near the front though; I didn't even know if it was Todd at first. By the time I did it was the bell, and instinctively I was moving up anyway.

I think my brain went out the window because I approached the last turn on the inside, the left side. The wind on the final straight was pretty strong and it blew in from the left side.

That would be the side I'd end up on after the turn.


We rounded the last bend, a Wee Bikes guy leading it out, me sitting about 7 wheels back. I waited until some moment I thought appropriate, never thinking about any previous year's marks for where to start my sprint.

I jumped left.

The wind hit me.

I tried to overpower the wind.

The wind won.

I got 7th in the field, 10th in the race.

Todd won out of the break, winning the state championships.

David got 8th I think, like me unable to make up ground on the guys at the front of the field.

Although I did a pretty poor sprint, I think the race overall went well. I didn't get shelled, I got to see the front, however briefly, and I was upright and unhurt at the end of the race.

More importantly the team did really well. The individuals coalesced well to form a strong unit, stronger perhaps than our individual strengths. I couldn't contribute much, but then again a weaker rider can't contribute as much. The other guys regularly rotated at the front, marking moves or making them.

The Missus and I powwowed a bit after the race. I complained about my sore legs after my one training ride this week. Other than Tuesday's race I'd ridden about one hour this whole week. That's not a lot.

She'd been talking to a teammate's wife who'd asked how long it'd take to get into racing shape. The Missus told her that I'd said it takes six weeks to get someone into racing shape. Now, I think I said 12 weeks, or three months, but six weeks would do too.

In six weeks of training I could get a regular rider into some decent enough shape, with enough skills, to do a race.

The Missus asked me how many gazillion hours one would have to ride to get in race shape in six weeks.

I did the math in my head. 1.5 hours Tuesday. 3 hours Wednesday. 1.5 hours Thursday. 2 hours each Saturday and Sunday.

10 hours a week.

"As much as Ed A trains, and he's a strong 2," I proclaimed.

The Missus looked at me.

I looked at her.

The proverbial light bulb went on in my head.

Oh. Right.

I could train 10 hours a week, instead of three. And I could be a decent rider, a strong 2. Like Ed A.

Well not as strong. But you get the idea.

Little print on the skinsuit.
I'm racing in it as often as I can going forward.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Racing - July 5, 2011 @TuesdayTheRent

I'd skipped riding for a bit, taking a break from the bike from the Ninigret race until tonight, a six day break. I was hoping that the rest and recovery would make me stronger, because, as you may well know, that's what rest and recovery do.

They make you stronger.

Of course the umpteen (15? 20?) spare ribs I had at my Dad's probably didn't help much, although it probably satisfied any protein deficiencies my body might have had prior to the weekend.

I did have a properly lazy time, hanging out with my Dad, the brothers, their wives, all the kids, and, of course, the Missus.

I got to show off some of the clips that I'd done to the other brother, the one from Shovel Full of Dirt (in high school) and Tunnel of Love, aka ToL (now).

I'm not giving you a link to the site of ToL but you can add the numbers 666 to the name of the band fully spelled out and go from there. I should point out that if you view that site from work you'll be fired, and if you view it in front of kids you will be arrested.

Anyway, where was I?

Right, I was sharing clips. I'm particularly proud of the URT clip I made, with my CT brother featured prominently in it. My Maine brother hadn't seen it so he got to see that. And a bunch of my bike clips. It's fun sharing them because, first off, I like the clips, and second, it's their music.

Since they wrote and rehearsed and performed the music, for them it's almost a chore. But for me, I get to enjoy the end product without seeing all the stuff that went into it.

In that way I'm lucky, so in return I wanted my Maine bro to check out the clips (and not see what went into them).

With that stuff psyching me up for racing, I returned home on Monday the 4th. I had enough time to either ride my bike or fix my downtube cable stop.

After consulting with my fatigue level I decided that stationary activities would work better for me than active ones.

I'd fix the bike.

I set up my trusty Blackburn workstand (no longer made so I won't bother with a link, but it's featured in this post) behind my red car in the garage, sheltered from the sun. I had some mosquito repellant too, but if I recall correctly they weren't biting too much.

I'd been riding and racing with the front derailleur cable in place, just the downtube stop had come off. It's epoxied on - the tubes are too thin to weld that much stuff there - and the epoxy failed.

I disconnected the cable, pulled it through the full length teflon housing (with some difficulty due to the squashed cable end), and pulled the cable and housing out of the stop.

That's when I noticed a stray Nokon segment in the stop.

Incredibly, when I built the bike, I lost track of a segment. The downtube stop was deep enough that I didn't realize a segment sat in the shadows.

When I put the cable/housing into the stop, the cable had to go around the extra segment, making about a 3 or 4 mm detour in the space of about 2 mm.

No wonder the shifting was never quite 100%.

I suspect that all this stress contributed to the failed epoxy thing, because the other side is fine and it's been in use just as long.

Anyway, since I had some 2 ton epoxy left from the 3T fork bit where you glue a sleeve into the steerer tube, and it's black (the color of my bike), I decided I'd use some more of that stuff and glue the stop back onto the downtube.

I also had some emery cloth, convenient for sanding off epoxy, paint, and anything else that was there. With two shiny sides, the stop and the downtube, I mixed up the epoxy, spread it on both sides, and slapped the cable stop in place.

Then, because it takes 24 hours to fully set, I left the bike alone.

Tuesday I packed the bike in the car (the Missus decided to leave the bike alone in the stand), threw in two pairs of wheels (race and spare), my gear, and we set off to the Rent.

Still a bit fatigued from the weekend, having gained weight from the food, I wasn't in the best of racing spirits. I wanted to go though. I could make some efforts, work on my longer-than-a-sprint bits, and try and replicate what I did last year. You know what I mean - I wanted to get better.

I realized that at the Keith Berger Crit that I'd been afraid to make moves, that I had a hard time recovering from standard little efforts. Therefore I needed to work on being more aggressive, make some efforts with no regard to tactics, and then force my body to figure out what to do.

I had to get my bike ready, of course. The cable still dangled, and the Missus had pointed at it with a worried look on her face.

"What are you going to do with that?"

"Don't worry."

I wrapped the cable around the top tube and put a pump strap around the end. Now my top tube resembled a black and blue candy cane, but, hey, whatever.

I lined up with our perpetual first lap attacker, teammate David H, at the front of the group. Just before we started he suddenly picked up his bike and scampered back about 10 feet.

"Don't want to start at the front," he explained from way back there.

I checked my arms. I think my deodorant was working. Maybe it wasn't me.

It might have been the case that he didn't want to attack right away.

Well, then, if he doesn't want to go hard, I'll go hard.

The casual roll out started, a guy to my left, in grey, looked at me. I looked at him.

He accelerated.

I accelerated.

He kept accelerating.

I slammed the pedals hard.

Hey, wanna race?

I didn't bother looking over anymore. I dove into the first turn at speed (over 33 mph according to the SRM), kept going out of the saddle until Turn Two, then immediately settled into the Cane Creek bars.

About to drop into the CC bars, but out of the saddle.
Speed bleeding off, less than 33 mph now.

I came off the CC bars for the third turn, then dropped back into them as soon as I could.

One of the dads was out there with a camera so I figured, what the heck, photo op. The field would be on my wheel shortly so I might as well milk the opportunity.

I hammered down the main straight in the CC bars, went to the drops for the first turn, looked back...

Holy smokes.

I had a gap.

I couldn't tell if they were working, but whatever, I had a gap.

I remembered the time I took off at Oyster Bay, built a 20 second lead in a couple laps, then sat up because I thought I'd explode before I could do another 6 laps at speed. It took the field a lap to catch me while I soft pedaled, and I reintegrated at the front of the field. I got fourth in the race, but I always wonder if I could have made it work had I kept going.

Here was a similar situation, albeit different in a bunch of significant ways.

First, I had attacked about 55 minutes from the finish, not 6 laps like at Oyster Bay.

Second, I can't race with a bunch of these guys normally, i.e. I don't dominate the field when these guys race with me. At Oyster Bay I shared pulls for the first four laps of the race, going so hard my leadout man got shelled. I drilled it if we weren't going over 30 mph. Oops.

Third, that Oyster Bay race was in 1992, in the best year of my cycling life, where any speed starting with "twenty-" was slow. This was 19 years later, and any speed starting with "thirty-" is really fast.

So, with some tempering thoughts, I backed off the gas a lot. If I was going to instigate a break, I didn't want it to drop me as it formed.

I took it mellow the next lap, my legs rolling the gear, not punching it. The wind noise died down from a roar to a whimper. My average speed went from a touch under 30 mph to a touch over 23 mph.

I still stayed in the CC bars, trying to be aero, trying to maintain some kind of decent speed, willing my heart rate to drop just a bit.

I approached the start/finish for the second time alone, the longest solo move I've made in, oh, I don't know, like 19 years.

The bell rang.



They'd wake up back there, a cold soda (or beer) dangling in front of a hot and thirsty peloton.

I thought about my options.

I could go all out and try and win the prime. No matter what the result of the lap I'd be totally done, expelled from the field.

Or I could keep going "easy", let the prime hunters go, and try and reintegrate with the sane racers in teh group.

I forgot about Oyster Bay (literally) and decided to go for the long haul. None of this "go for the prime and drop out", which is what I should have done.

My average speed dropped to a touch over 21 mph.

A CCNS guy blasted by me, bridging my hard earned gap in about a zillionth of a second.

My break had ended, at an average speed of about 25 mph flat.

As I hit the third turn the rest of the field zipped by me, almost as fast. I desperately clung onto wheels, my body screaming in protest.

I made it to the backstretch before I let a gap go, and a few guys, mainly teammates, filled it immediately.

That only bought me about 200 meters because before we got through to the start/finish line, I let another gap go.

Again, others closed the gap, mainly teammates, one even telling me to "Jump, jump, jump!", but I was cooked, totally wasted.

I rolled around a while, did one sprint (I seem to want to do one sprint when I get dropped), then decided to stop.

The Missus had an amused look on her face.

"What was that?"
"I don't know."

Ends up that she called my race perfectly. When I attacked, a teammate Joel that had just done the B-race turned to her and asked.

"What's he doing?"

"I don't know," she answered, "but you can ask him in six laps when he stops."

He looked at her. She looked back at him, grinning, ever the realist.

A few more than six laps later (since I insisted on doing that sprint on my own), I was back in the fold.

She told me that it was pretty funny and pretty predictable. She'd watched me go all out on that first lap, then keep my head down, my form melting, the pedals going slower and slower.

"When that CCNS guy passed you it looked like you were going 2 miles an hour."

I glumly agreed.

She could predict the outcome, as could anyone that knows me well.

"Wait for it... wait for it..."


"Yep, he just exploded."

So I hung out and watched the race. I talked a bit with Joel, who seemed absolutely confused at why I'd try such a move. I had no real explanation because I had no idea why I'd made the move either.

I did think of one excuse - someone asked on BikeForums how much power it would take to time trial at 25 mph. And another guy questioned my statement that I can't go 25 mph for much more than a minute.

Well, I'll share the results. I don't have power numbers since the pick up or crank battery went south on me, but I do have the speeds and heart rate.

I went 25.0 mph for 3:03 minutes on a dead flat course (it used to be a runway for Pratt & Whitney), exploding myself spectacularly in the process. I averaged about 156 bpm, hitting a peak of 161 bpm. I'd hit an average of 159 bpm before I got totally shelled.

I guess I can go 25 mph for longer than a minute, but not much longer. And if my ftp is anywhere near right, I probably averaged about 250-300 watts for those 3 minutes. I think I can do 290 for 5 minutes, but that really hurts, and I had to have done over 1000 watts making the first move, so my system would have been preloaded pretty dramatically.

Whatever, I was tired and the race still went on.

SOC and Todd both made the break of the day (these Rents are like the flat stages in the Tour). When they lapped the field it got interesting. Suddenly most of them had teammates, most of them savvy enough to work with each other, and we watched three, maybe four teams try and work the sprint in their favor.

CCNS (of course) were limited by their low numbers. CVC had a few guys, Horst had a couple, Central Wheel had one or two (and the Savvy Guy was the one that was in the break), but Expo had a lot of guys. With guys like Cliff (a Cat 3) and the extremely strong Joe T (a 4, but he rode me off his wheel leading me out), the field really didn't have a chance.

At the bell Joe was at the front, Cliff just behind, then SOC and Todd, a four man leadout with absolutely committed leadout men.

This, folks, is what racing is all about. Teammates throwing down for one another, sprinters stacked up, and a hungry field waiting to pounce if there are any mistakes.

Joe swung off, his monster pull done.

Cliff hit the front, drilling it, trying to deliver his two steeds to the third turn at the front.

But then Aidan, the CCNS rider in the break, made a huge move up the side. Uncharacteristic of him, actually going for a win, but when he tries, he tries hard.

His speed actually made me cry out in alarm, and he blasted by the field going into the third turn.

Cliff, his turn done, let the two sprinters go as they exited the turn. SOC jumped out of the turn to get to Aidan, Todd glued to his wheel.

And as Aidan faded, Todd went, going clear of everyone else. SOC sprinted to the line for second, with the rest of the group following.

The finish. Todd at the right, then SOC, then Max (the promoter).

Wow. Incredible team work followed through by great sprints. After all the regular congrats and such, I rolled back to the car. Although disappointed with my own race, the racing was interesting overall. I got some ideas on what I need to do, got some thoughts on what I can do to accomplish them.

But for now it'd be time for dinner with some friends, conversation, and then the drive home.

Bike ready to be packed up.
Essentials: Cooler full of ice cold water, Podium Ice and Chill bottles, spare wheels.

Yes, it's a Bethel number, not a StickyBack Number though.