Thursday, May 31, 2012

How To - Cleaning The Bike Quick

All too often I see riders that excuse their dirty bikes by saying that it takes too long to clean their bike. At the same time they're logging a gazillion hours in training and carefully accounting for all their calories and such.

Today, with a few minutes to spare between chores, I set out to clean my bike quickly. I did a prior post on cleaning the bike overall, but it may have been a bit intimidating. This one is more real.

I started by leaning the rear tire on the garage door trim (i.e. the side of the opening when the garage door is open). By leaning the bike against the rear tire it prevents the bike from rolling. It's hard to see but my driveway is actually sloped down under the bike, i.e. the front tire is lower than the rear. The friction of the tire against the garage door trim is enough not only to hold the bike up but also to keep it from following all the water downhill.

Dirty drivetrain. 12:59 PM.

My bike was on the roof when it rained last night. With Junior's gear in the car my bike has been relegated to the roof rack for race trips. With the dinner-time shower and the drive home after, the bike got dirty and wet.

 1:05 PM.

The first round of Simple Green spritzed on, scrubbed with the Grunge Brush as well as a Pedros brush. Note the gray bubbles - it's dirty Simple Green. That's my dirty hand - I didn't clean with my regular gusto because I wanted to keep my left hand clean so I could pick up the phone.

1:07 PM

 I rinsed with two bottles of water. I brought 6 bottles to the race last night thinking it'd be warm. I used the six to clean my bike - two bottles here. Expo team bottles, so sue me :)

 1:08 PM (blurry)

Since I wasn't in a hurry I did a second round of Simple Green. It looks much cleaner doesn't it?

1:10 PM

The second round rinsed. I used all four bottles I had left, mainly because Simple Green shouldn't sit on metal too long. I probably used 2 bottles to rinse what already looked clean. Note that the chainring teeth looks silver now, not black like they did before.

Detail of drivetrain.

It took me 11 minutes of non-skilled labor to clean my drivetrain. I had no hose, no stand, no nothing. Just a spray bottle of Simple Green, two gear brushes (Grunge Brush and a Pedros brush), and six waterbottles of water.

After the second rinse I used one of about a half dozen chain lubes I have. I chose the one I used because it was the first one I could see, it smells good, and it has some eco-something on it. It's also an oil based lube so it lasts a while. The bike will be going indoors for a while so I want protection (oil) over cleanliness (wax based or dry lubes).

I made sure that I dripped some lube into the pulleys. When some early American team did a stage race in Europe, they had the misfortune of having a less-than-experienced mechanic. He carefully cleaned all the bikes daily but neglected to lube the pulleys after a wet race day. The next day you could easily find the American team's riders - just follow the squeaks. Apparently the Euro dogs gave the boys a lot of flak over this oversight.

Don't give a Euro dog a chance to cut you down. Lube your pulleys.

After I lube everything I turn the cranks backwards to make sure that there isn't a whole lot of friction. Try it before you clean the drivetrain, after you clean it (but before lubing), after lubing just the chain, and then finally after lubing the pulleys. You'll notice an incremental improvement at each step.

I quickly spritzed some Mother's detail spray onto a rag and wiped down the rest of the bike (not the rims!). The bugs, sand, and pollen all went away, replaced with a nice Mother's scent.

My reward? A smoother drive train. Less friction. Less wear. And a professional look.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Racing - May 29, 2012 @TuesdayTheRent

I put "Racing" because technically I raced. I paid an entry fee. I presented my license. I received a number. I pinned it on. I lined up with a bunch of other racers. I started.

And that was about it.

Two laps in I was done, shelled, finito, OTB.

Not much of a race report because there wasn't much to report.

Oh, sure, it was windy. There was a stiff headwind, stiff crosswind, and when it got strung out I had to push my own way through the molasses-like wind. I was one of the only ones to drop out, at least I was the first one, so that illustrates my level of overall form.

Ultimately though I wasn't totally shocked. On the way over to the race I told the Missus that because I really hadn't trained much this year I was treating "now" as the beginning of the season.

In other words I'd done a few hundred miles this year, I don't know how many hours but I'm guessing in the 40-50 hour range. This isn't hardly enough to be a reasonable Cat 3 racer, even for a sort of non-racer like me.

Let me clarify. Of course I love racing. I love criteriums. I love duking it out on the last lap or two of a crit. However, in the sense of a "true" racer, I'm not really that. I don't train like mad. I've given up on trying to significantly improve my climbing (making a terrible climber much much better results in a not-quite-terrible climber). I don't do 15-20 hours a week. Okay, I don't do 8-12 hours a week. I did a huge week last week and it was about 6.5 hours (meaning from Tuesday through Monday).

What this all means is that I haven't been training much. I haven't focused on diet much either, so I've gained weight. I've done all the things that a person can do to make their bike racing worse.

This, then, would be the beginning of the 2012 season for me.

I've been focusing on cadence, among other things. Back to the basics if you will. I haven't yet blocked out my gearing, relying instead on my discipline and my Sportsiiiis to remind me that I'm bogging down. If I feel the need I'll block out my gearing, maybe go down as far as the 53x15 I used as a Junior. I have some smaller track chainrings. This means I could run a 46x39 set up, as an example, or maybe a 48x39.

I want to get some hours on my legs. I simply don't have any kind of aerobic base. In the race Tuesday I was absolutely redlined at 160 bpm. At that point I started not being able to hold a good line so I eased up and dropped out of the group. As soon as I was alone and my heart rate dropped just a few beats I felt fine on the bike. I need to work on my base so that 160 bpm isn't a headspinning effort.

I need to lose weight. I had a short physical Tuesday (for which I had to fast for a bit, but that's not a valid reason for my paltry ride later that evening), and my weight is now... 178 lbs. I think I weigh more than Ryder Hesjedal and he's something like a half foot and change taller than me. I haven't focused much on diet but I am working on that.

I need to maintain my bike. It's in poor shape now, with last year's drivetrain still on there (old chain and cassettes). The bar tape, which I have to review, is a comet type tape - brillant but fading quickly. I could see a full time rider (one that trains 8-12 hours a week) replacing the tape every few weeks. I've gone over two months and the tape is played.

So what are my plans?

Cadence: I feel like I've lost my smooth pedal stroke. I haven't been riding much so my body hasn't felt the need to become more efficient. It lets me pedal squares it's so happy when I ride. I need to ride at a higher cadence in training to build suppleness. I'll work on it by riding rollers more (I want to do a 120 rpm 60 minute ride, just to prove to myself I still can). I'll use the Sportsiiiis to remind me to stay in my zone (currently set at 92-100 rpm). I'll try and spin instead of push in races.

Hours: I'll be riding the trainer more indoors while Junior is sleeping. The Missus, who really wants me to train more, is trying to allot the nice evenings for training rides. For example, Thursday evening is supposed to be nice, so she's blocked off that time so I can go ride after she comes home from work. She also pointed out that even if I get dropped in a race I ought to keep riding until I get pulled. Training is training, and if I can do a hard effort for 20 minutes, it beats not making a hard 20 minute effort.

Weight: I need to press a bit in the diet front. Losing weight is easy on paper, a simple equation:

Intake < Output

Easier said than done. When I lost 30 pounds over the 2009-2010 winter I was militant in my diet. I don't think it was the healthiest thing, but it got me to a healthier state. I flew that year, in part because of my lower weight. Granted, I did three training trips before May, but still, without the light weight I'd have been riding poorly. My average power was down 20%, my max power about 7%-8%, but I was riding stronger and better than ever.

So, yeah, Tuesday sucked. I jumped back on a couple times, got sawed off within a lap. I rolled around though, trying to keep the legs going. They felt really fatigued, really tired. Whatever I did to them in the first couple laps they didn't like, and they let me know.

I need to gather my forces. We won't make the next Tuesday so the next race we'll be at will be the Nutmeg State Games on Saturday June 9th. After that it'll be Tuesday Night Worlds on the 12th.

I've hit the Reboot button. Time to start over.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Training - Cadence

I've had the chance to watch some of the Giro in the last week or so. One thing that impresses me is how the pros can pedal so fluidly and make it seem so effortlessly.

I know it's not effortless and that's the point. Pedaling efficiently while putting down massive watts takes a lot of practice, a lot of good pedal strokes. When I learned to play various pieces on the violin, I have to focus on good habits/technique, practice things slowly at first, then faster and faster. Likewise on the bike I have to have a good, smooth pedal stroke, and then I need to bump it up in speed.

I'm nowhere near as fluid as a pro, even when I'm going relatively easy. I know there are two ways to work on pedal stroke.

1. Ride the rollers. A lot. And keep a high cadence while you're on them.
2. Spin a lot while riding outside.

Rollers really helped me with my pedal stroke. I used to try and average (average!) 120 rpm for an hour on rollers. It's quite hard because as soon as I dropped down to 110 rpm or something my average would drop and I'd have to go really fast for a while to bring the average back up. If any of you have average speed on your car computer you know what I mean - to average 50-55 mph means you're constantly driving 65+ mph on the highway because as soon as you hit the secondary roads your average speed plummets.

Likewise, if you allow your cadence to drop just a bit it will take a lot of work to bring the average back up.

Rollers are difficult for me. I can't stand well, even with the motion rollers I made (maybe my well ingrained habits are working against me there), so my crotch area goes numb in about 30 minutes. Standing is okay, it resets the numb clock, but then my average cadence drops. Doing 120 rpm for an hour is hard, hard work, but after a couple rides like that I'm pretty smooth again.

The other way of working on smooth pedal stroke is to ride outside in lower gears. In the old days everyone said that you had to do 1000 miles in the 42x18 on flat roads. If you were serious about the season then you were supposed to do 2000 miles, or maybe even 3000 miles.

Although a current coach may laugh at this concept there was some validity to the idea. If you were gear limited to a 42x18 (a 39x17 nowadays), on a flat road, it meant that you were limited by your max cadence, not your strength. You automatically worked on pedal form, on spinning, on being smooth.

Once you "graduated" from the 42x18 then you could start using bigger gears.

This concept still applies on the track. Racers will start off on an easier gear, like an 84" gear, and slowly work their way up to an 86", 88", and maybe even a 90" gear. It teaches pedal fluidity, speed, and gives you great snap.

The only problem with the "1000 miles in a 42x18" was that you spent a lot of time riding 1000 miles in a low gear. Although you worked on your pedal stroke, you didn't gain a lot of strength.

Greg Lemond was one of the first riders to go against this idea, at least in public. He advocated working on power, with the understanding that the rider had already honed their pedal stroke. This meant that after 5 or 10 years of doing the "1000 miles in a 42x18" and after the following 5 to 10 seasons of racing, a racer really didn't need to work on pedal form that much. A little bit of work would do just fine.

He advocated rolling bigger gears in the winter and doing a sprint day every week (adjusting training levels by increasing or decreasing the number of sprints). This seemed sacrilegious to the Euro pros, but then again they also avoided Coke, didn't believe in non-cycling activities (including staying away from sex for weeks before big races), and "fit" meant dropping the saddle and slamming your cleats all the way back on the shoes.

So why am I writing about cadence?

Because normally I work on my pedal form after a break on the bike by riding rollers. This usually happens in the dead of winter, after I get sick or something. By late January I start working on power, doing longer rides, and, from 2004 to 2011, going to SoCal to do multi week training camps (typically heading into the mountains for power work).

This year it didn't happen. With Junior on the way I curtailed my training. Instead we were prepping the house for his arrival, and I decided not to go chasing form for the racing season since I had no idea what to expect from this 2012 season.

I took a huge short cut and basically started racing on virtually untrained legs. It went reasonably well I guess, but even 29 years of base didn't really help my pedaling form.

Combine this with the absolutely incredible fluidity of the pros and I decided that, okay, I had to get my pedaling form back in gear before I did anything else.

My post on motorpacing kind of alluded to this. I wanted to get that pro power fluid pedal stroke right away, and motorpacing is a great way of doing that. It assumes that you have the resources to motorpace (i.e. a moto and a driver). Since I don't I figured I'd do my rollers thing.

One minor problem - I don't want to ride rollers right now. I don't know why but I just don't feel like it.

Therefore I had to take my training outside, on the road. I tried to raise my cadence on my own, keeping an eye on the SRM. I found that I kept dropping down into more a comfortable cadence (a sure sign that my pedal form is bad).

I started focusing on the Sportsiiiis that I have. I set my target cadence to 92-100 rpm. Although my training averages don't reflect it well (due to the coasting down hills and pauses at stop signs and such), I've been really good about keeping my cadence in the low-mid 90s. I regularly find myself in the 105-110 rpm range, one that on shorter 170mm cranks I would consider "normal", but on the 175mm cranks I've been using for a while I'd consider that cadence high.

For the last few training rides I've been diligently charging all my gadgets, the SRM, the Sportsiiiis, the helmet cam. I've gone out and focused on spinning, spending the majority of my ride in the small ring (okay, it's a 44T, but I'm using the lower gears in the back).

I've been working on a fluid pedal stroke. I try and spin up rises (no real hills), even if it means I'm in my bottom gear. I've been avoiding pushing big gears to gain speed, instead relying on spinning up.

I think about my 39T Rent race, where I ended up unable to use my big ring. Despite this handicap I won the sprint from our little group at the end.

I think about the pros, spinning their gears up monster climbs and in 30 mph time trials.

I think of a saying that the boys told each other back in the day: "Spin to win."

I spin my time away on my bike, trying to weave the tapestry of form that will let me race respectably this year.

If the weather holds, I'll be racing at the Rent tomorrow. When I line up all this stuff becomes secondary. If I race well, great. If not, well, then I have to figure out the best way to improve the fastest.

We'll see what happens.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Training - Race Day is Race Day

I know that it gets old sometimes, reading about me and my paltry training efforts, but it's a good lesson. One important thing to know about racing is that racing is racing and training is training.

When training gets so tough mentally then you have to back down. You should race in place of hard training rides - it's how a lot of the pros do it. They race to hone fitness. Even so I know of pros who rode only to make a living. Once they retired they didn't ride anymore. It seems a bit sad but to them it was manual work, just like laying floors or hanging sheetrock is manual work.

(The exception would be the climbing camps that pros do because they don't always have the option of doing a mountainous stage race for training.)

Granted, yes, I should do more hard efforts in training, but if I'm racing, that's a really good way of doing hard efforts. Therefore I do most of my efforts in races. I train really just so I can use races for harder training.

I'm helpless at the end of long training rides, I get shelled by, yes, 50+ year old women in the group rides, and I've been yelled at to shift into a lower gear by absolute novices on the bike. Granted the last was about 10 years ago when I had ballooned to 215 lbs and couldn't really ride well at all.

I'm pretty bad at training but I can race okay. One of my old teammates (he still races, still friendly) said to me one day many many years ago, after some hard training ride where I was absolutely demoralized at how bad I rode, "It doesn't matter, once you line up at the line you'll be okay". He was implying that my motivation pushes me harder in a race, and that I tend to draw the best out of myself when it counts.

It seems to me that many racers significant energy in training, working hard, pushing super hard, etc. This dulls the razor sharp edge they need in a race, blunts the peaks they need, and makes them vulnerable at the peak speed moments of a race.

A key here, and one I've repeated often, is recovery. Recovery is when you get stronger. Training hard makes you weaken, at least momentarily.

For example, if you bench 100 lbs now and want to bench 150 lbs, you don't go out and do bench presses all day and all night, thousands of reps non-stop, until you can bench 150 lbs. I daresay that if you have difficulty bench pressing 100 lbs when fresh, it'll be really hard to bench 100 lbs after several hundred reps in a row.

See, the training (bench pressing) is not making you strong. You're actually breaking yourself down.

When you rest and recovery and give the body a chance to rebuild, that's when you get stronger.

Think about that for a moment. If you want to get stronger on the bike, you shouldn't go out and time trial your brains out day after day, 24/7, until you get better. You train hard, recover, train hard, recover. Training too hard is a new racer's classic error and the reason why average speed matters so little in training.

I find that after the initial base period it's best for me to go out and do races when I want to train hard. My training rides tend to be much easier, much more of a semi-recovery ride versus a "training" ride.

I read some article (that I'm not going to bother finding) about Tom Danielson and his approach to the Colorado stage race after placing 9th or 10th in the Tour. He was already super fit and he knew that he just needed to maintain that fitness to race well in Colorado. Therefore he rode lightly, trying not to use up those precious race day legs while training.

Here are a few things that I do when I train. I should point out that I'm a guy that has been racing so long that I can't expend any significant mental energy training. Most (all but two attempts) of my "5x5 intervals" end up something like 1x30 seconds and then "ah, screw it, I'm just gonna ride whatever". My 20 minute FTP tests fail most of the time, I think I've done 5 or 6 in my life, since I got a power meter in 2008. The rest of the tests I give up after a few minutes.

In short I find motivation difficult to find so I use all the tricks I can think of to try and become race fit.

1. I don't race on training days.

In fact many of my training rides average about 16-18 mph on the flats, and 14-16 mph on short hill type rides. On longer hill type rides my average may dip down into the 12-13 mph range. I only have so much to give so I better give my best when it counts. If I track wattage, my training rides typically go 140-160 watts, HR in the 140s, maybe going up to the 150s for a hard ride. On the other hand in races I typically avg 160-165, and a 170 race means I was totally pegged.

2. I rest before races.

I may do a block of training every week, but I'm fresh for my race. For a few years my block was Sunday race, Mon hard 2.5 hour group ride, Tues race, Wed hard 2.5 hr group ride or race. Then I'd spend Thu and Fri with the Missus hanging out and not pedaling the bike. For Saturday I'd spin around for 30-45-60 min if I had time. Then I'd repeat the schedule, racing on Sunday. I don't go into a Sunday race (a "real race") with spent legs. They're almost bloated with disuse; it takes 20-30 min for them to lose the bloating feeling once I start riding that day.

3. I eat before hard days (races or training).

When I say eat, I eat a lot of simple foods, pasta, meat sauce, juice, water. I probably eat close to a pound of pasta (weighing 160-180 lbs). I know I can carry about 2-2.5 hours of glucose in my body (in the liver?) and I want it saturated. I don't want to make an effort 2 hours into the ride and feel my legs crumble. I can't stand the idea of bonking in a crit, but I've done it. I've placed high in important crits after eating just before the start - one big summer crit I downed a hot dog and a large coke right before a hot, hard crit. I dropped both my bottles within two laps (super light cages, idiot me), and the 32 oz of Coke sloshing in my stomach became my fluid for the next hour. I got second after watching a friend of mine attack and not responding because we raced on the same collegiate team. I want to be fully fueled when I race. Dieting is over 36 hours before the race. I can start it again after, but it's counterproductive to limit calories before a race then feel a bit weak.

4. I race as best as I can.

My good races are those where I average 170-180 watts (race speed might be 26-27 mph; I might win or place top 6). The hard races I average 190-200 watts, race speed similar, I DNF or finish at the back of the field. I try not to see wind for more than 60 seconds in a one hour crit. If I feel great, if my HR is 120 30 minutes into the race, it means I need to keep doing what I'm doing. It doesn't mean I go for a prime or piddle my reserves away doing some stupid move. It means I save and save and save for my one big move (for me the field sprint, for those of you reading it might be something else). If I'm not feeling good I do something stupid. Last race I did I attacked early in the race. I soloed for 2 laps. I was off the back on the next one.

5. I've learned speed so I don't have to learn it when I'm training.

New racers don't understand speed. It's not a dig, it's just that they haven't gotten through that 30 mph barrier. Typical recreation riders have a hard time breaking through 30 mph. This can cause problems in a race if attacks regularly go at 35-38 mph, and fast sections of a flatter race may trundle along at close to 40 mph.

I'm much slower than I used to be, but I used to attack at 40-42 mph. I considered a leadout under 38 mph to be slow (and even in 2010, a 35 mph leadout meant my HR dropped 5 bpm in about 20 seconds, so it was still pretty slow; I won the sprint). I can pull at 35 mph for a bit now; it used to be 38 mph or more, and I could tickle 40.

Without a higher maximum speed you will be maxing out your speed without going fast. I consider a minimum speed solo-but-assisted (slight downhill into a flat sprint) to be about 35 mph. 40 mph is better. 42 mph gets you decent places in a Cat 3 race. If I used to sprint at 42 mph consistently, then responding to a "sharp" attack of 35 mph is really easy. Accelerating to jump on a 35 mph leadout train is really easy I once cramped with 500m left in a race, had a 4-5 person leadout train pass and drop me (with a former US Pro leading out the train), then uncramped, sprinted past the leadout train at about 250-200m to go, and won the race.

To race well you must have good speed in your legs, 30 mph should be reasonable almost any time, 35 mph should be a good push when you're trying to bridge, 38-40 mph should be tough but doable.

Because I can ride fast, and because I understand what fast riding is, I don't have to necessarily train for speed when I'm not racing. I'm no different from any other Cat 3, and there are Cat 2s that would scratch their heads and ask, "Wait, you consider that fast?", and the pros, well the pros would feel sorry for my "speed". I use races to train for speed and do a jump or two here and there in training to remind myself what it's like to go fast.

Plus it's fun to go fast. That's what it comes down to, having fun. I'm no pro. I race because I just love it. I would have stopped racing a long time ago if it was about winning or training or whatever. It's about fun.

I guess that's how I'd define a lifetime hobby. 30 years into the sport and I'm still having fun.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sprinting - How Did I Do?

Meaning "How did you do", not how did I (me, the writer) do.

All too often you'll start home after a race wondering if you did all you could do. I'm writing from a sprinter's point of view, so for me "doing all I can do" means if I sprinted well. Obviously if I win I did well, but my concern isn't as much with winning as it is with maximizing my available resources.

It's true that winning is great, and I speak as someone that doesn't win that often. Many riders don't realize that I've never (never!) won a Sunday race during the summer. In fact, in recent memory, I don't think I won a training race during the summer. Once May hits I have a zero hit rate for wins until September rolls around (and my first and last win in a September was, get this, in 1985, in my first Senior Men's Cat 4 race; until then I'd been racing only Juniors).

So, yes, wins are great.

But winning isn't everything.

I know, I know, get off that high horse. Seriously, though, winning isn't the end all. If I raced for wins, I'm sure I would have quit a long time ago. It took me three years for my first win, and until then I seriously had about zero chance of getting a top 3. Consider entering a race as a regular age racer (18+), and your competition includes a George Hincapie or a Frank McCormack. An honest, no BS assessment of the situation would conclude that, yeah, you have absolutely no chance of winning.

(And for the life of me I can't remember the movie where I got that "no BS assessment" quote from so, please, help me out.)

At any rate, racing for me is doing as well as I can. That means that first I want to be involved. Next I want to finish. Finally I think about a place. The last bit is obvious so I'll discuss the first two bit more in depth.

Involved means doing stuff like getting into a break so my teammates don't have to chase. Or pulling a teammate (or just the field in general so that a teammate can benefit).

Finishing is simple - I'd like to get to the finish of a race. Sometimes I can't get that involved because I'm too focused on finishing.

When I balance the two I realize that being involved (and consequently dropping out) is better than just plain old finishing (and not being involved at all). Consider a ProTour domestique in a one day race where he pulls like mad to keep a break within sight, drops out of the race after 150k at the front, then learns later that his team's sprinter won the day. That's better than sitting in, the long break making it, and the team's sprinter winning the field sprint for 5th.

This assumes that I'm in the race to race. Sometimes I'll enter a race more for training than racing - any time I race twice in a day the second race is for training. If I haven't been training much at home then races become training (and, honestly, for 2012, that'll be my modus operandi).

When training by racing it becomes important to finish the race. Getting in a few extra laps helps too - to wit, the last race I did I got shelled only a few laps in. Since I hadn't ridden much this whole year I kept going, by myself, until I got lapped by the field. Normally, for Cat 3s and above, I don't recommend this (if you can't stay in a race you probably have no business time trialing behind it), but when the race is the only hard ride you'll do in a month or two, then by all means go to it.

On a great day, when I'm racing to race, I may consider "deluxe" actions, like if I bridged to a break (i.e. did I make it or did I explode before I got there), or, perhaps, if I could stay on while we went up a big hill and get to the finish unexpectedly (like at the Whaling City Cyclone).

But all this is just a prelude, a long winded one.

When I finally sprint for the line, I often find it hard to judge if I left anything out on the course. I mean, okay, it's easy to say I sprinted well if I won the sprint, but did I sprint as well as I could have? Often not, and although winning one sprint without sprinting to my max may be nice, it hurts me when I need to really dig in a closer race and end up walking away disappointed.

If I sprint I want to sprint 100%. I don't want to just ride to the line, I want to have a perfectly timed sprint, one that empties the tank but lets me get to the line as fast as possible. Being first is nice, but knowing I did the best sprint possible is great too.

If I got beat while doing my best sprint then I can't complain about being beat. If I get beat because I had a crappy sprint... well, I'll be bad company on the way home.

My own tests on if I sprinted well...

1. If I finish close to the front, within a couple places of winning, or, if it's really tight, within 10 or 15 feet of the winner, I try and remember to see what happens after the sprint. I involuntarily coast, primarily due to throwing my bike at the line. Here's the test: If I coast past the winner in the next 50 meters I could have won. I should have gone earlier because I had more speed at the line.

2. If I finish close to the front (just like #1 above) but racer coast past me after the line, I've done the best sprint possible. I may have been slowing at the line but I got there before they did. This is satisfactory for me because I sprinted to the best of my ability, even if I didn't win.

3. If I am nowhere near the front, like more than 5-10 places or 20-30 feet from the front, then I really didn't belong in that sprint. With the new USAC points system in place, riders could chase points all over the place by sprinting in for a 10th or 15th or something. Honestly, though, if you're not in upgrade points range (top 6 in most crits), it's not worth sprinting. Fine, I understand sprinting for 10th if a 9 rider break has already won the race, but in a field sprint it's hard to justify sprinting for lower places, except in big money races (20 places typically).

I'm not saying I don't sprint from pretty far back because I have, and in the past few years I've done as well as getting second. I do disagree with sprinting for 50th place. If I'm 10th in a field sprint then either I blew in the sprint or I'm flying past people after a very late jump. But in general if I think I won't be around for the top 6 then I won't sprint. If I'm sprinting then I have something in the tank.

That's a final note. At the 2012 Mystic Velo Crit, M45+, I sat up in the last lap because I didn't trust my legs not to cramp in the sprint. Rather than contesting a sprint and risking a massive cramp, I sat up and played it safe. After the race I thought that maybe I should have done something, anything, but I don't regret sitting up. I've miscalculated my resilience or been surprised with a massive cramp and it's bad, bad news.

That day I deemed a partial success. I rode more that day than I have on any day in the prior month, both in time and miles. I time trialed a bit on my own and found that, yes, I stink at time trialing. I also realized that even with no miles on my legs I felt okay for shorter efforts (to wit: I had the fastest lap in the race where I got shelled). Endurance is a different matter.

Hopefully later this season I'll have one of those sprints where I'll be coasting after the line, no one ahead of me, then guys coast past. A good sprint, one that maximizes what ability I had that day, that hour.

One of those ideal sprints.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Life - Dreaming

It's not bike racing, and Lotus isn't Lotus, but I grew up with some staring at pictures of the John Player Special F1 cars, literally hours of staring, trying to absorb all the details of the car. It's been a while and I realized much later that I didn't understand the significance of some of the car's features - aerodynamics hadn't really entered my world yet (except things that were low and pointy were fast), and, more specifically, I didn't understand that fast moving air had less pressure the slow moving air. My understanding of aerodynamics was limited to "if the wing points down, it tries to push down, and if it points up, it tries to go up".

With its massive rear wheels (at the time),  wings front and back, but otherwise a pretty standard body (the aero stuff was underneath), I didn't realize just how significant the JPS cars were - ground effects, carbon fiber, twin chassis.

Primitive compared to current cars.
From here.

When I was a bit older and looking around for my first real car, one that wasn't just "barely running", I took a serious look at the street Lotus that caught my eye since I was a kid, the Lotus Esprit. My dad let me watch "The Spy Who Loved Me" which featured the coolest white Esprit. I later read that the cars were so tough that it took several takes (and a lot of preparatory sawing) to make one break up appropriately when they tossed it off a cliff.

The "submarine" car from the Bond movie.
From here.

Yes, they had a JPS version of the Esprit. The bestest of the best, at least to me.
From here.

I used to point and shout whenever I saw one on the street. I remember one day on a group ride, rolling through Redding, feeling strong, and getting behind an Esprit. It was so low even I could look down at the roof.

Those of you that follow me on Strava know I tend to stick to the same routes when I train near my home. Well, when I was a Junior and training around town, I'd head over to a certain road (even though it had some really draggy hills) simply because one house had a separate barn-type garage that housed not one but two Lotus Esprits, one blue and one red. Like truck draft hunting, I'd usually miss out, but on lucky rides I'd see one car parked in the garage, and a few times I saw both cars in the driveway, the happy owner lavishing attention on them.

Tellingly my school notebooks (yes, I've saved some of them) have sketches of cyclists (in super aero positions no less) and Esprits. I think I have one of a rider trying to draft an Esprit.

I'd actually become somewhat familiar with the first version's quirks (when I say first version, I really mean the few versions using the original body configuration, the S1 through S3). Solid lifter 4 cylinder engines, requiring machining little spacer things every so many thousand miles. Most regular cars have automatically adjusting versions that use oil pressure to adjust all that stuff, so to literally dismantle the top of the engine every other oil change is a bit much to ask of a normal car driver. Fuel lines disintegrated, running in UV-exposed areas, leaving the cabin smelling like fuel. Poor fuel management, with carburetors initially, and poor rust management. The body was fiberglass but the chassis was steel - the cars looked great but you had to watch out underneath. The car had peaky performance from a surprisingly primitive looking engine, so you were either below the power band or, once you got the engine going, you found yourself suddenly propelled forward.

A good friend let me work on the lifters (I machined a few, measured many, and helped select the proper lifter cups for the various cylinders), and I went along on a test drive with him. There I learned that the driver's side mat can jam the throttle pedal, not a convenient thing when whipping along at high speeds.

The second version of the car was much better (eventually named the S4). It had I never got to drive in one, not that I remember, but I studied a few up close, talked to one owner at length, and seriously contemplated buying an S4s. It could hit 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and handled like a go-kart.

Virtually identical car to the one I saw at my friend's garage. I really wanted one.
From here.

I started thinking of budgets and such for a car like that. The Missus, when we first met, even got me a hand painted piggy bank that said "Lotus Esprit Fund" on it.

I couldn't justify buying a car whose engine I'd have to take apart every 8k-10k miles (well work on the head anyway). I ended up buying a more practical (and slower and heavier) Nissan 350Z, which, as you all know, I traded in once we learned that the Missus was pregnant.

The Lotus F1 team returned to the scene recently, but, oddly enough, it's no longer associated with anything Lotus (it's actually more a Renault). It retained its name though, and the cars are still black with gold in tribute to the JPS cars of past. This year Kimi Raikonnen, a driver I admire, returned to F1 to drive for this team, and in a very tight season, has managed to win a race already.

From here.

Now the Lotus F1 team has teamed up with Linkin Park (who I originally thought was "Lincoln Park", maybe from Chicagoland area where there's a park by that name) to release the following:

As it's not out yet at the time of me writing this I'm not sure what it is, but, okay, I like the combination of music and video, and if it's not going to be cycling, it's good that it's F1, and if it's F1, it's great that it's Lotus.

Even if it's only in name.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Life - Preparing for Koichi, Part 2

We had some of the major expenses out of the way - the house and the cars. Now we needed to prepare ourselves and our commitments for the baby's arrival.

The baby's due date was smack dab in the middle of the Bethel Spring Series, March. We didn't do this on purpose - as I said in the first post we'd actually given up the whole baby thing for a bit. Naturally that's when we got pregnant, and timing put the due date literally in the middle of the busiest time of the year for both of us.

I committed this year to hold a mandatory Cat 5 clinic each week, and I had to find a chief instructor if I wasn't there. I had to upgrade the finish line camera setup to capture every finisher (Cat 5s have to finish 10 races now, not just start them). I had to test whatever camera setup I used too, because I didn't want to find out that it didn't work after the Cat 5 field streamed across the line. Of course I had all the regular stresses of trying to promote a race series.

(A side story. The main finish line camera, a Contour+, arrived at work. I brought another Contour, an HD model, along with a tripod and brackets to set up the two-camera finish line rig. As I worked on it I described the whole setup to a co-worker, how I wanted to get two 60 frame per second cameras going, getting a total of 120 frames per second, so that even if things were going 30 mph I could get every detail. My coworker looked at me.
"You're doing all this to film the birth?"
He gestured and commented, "Well, you know, I thought you were talking about capturing 120 frames per second of the head popping out.")

I started to plan on a "day without" at Bethel, a day where I'd be gone, or one where I leave late Saturday or early Sunday. I tried to line up clones of myself for each of the main tasks. We had practice meetings, dry runs, and lots of emails flying back and forth.

It's not like the Missus had it easy either. First of all she was carrying the baby, and that meant all sorts of stuff like eating well, resting enough, not stressing herself, and dealing with all sorts of really inconvenient body changes. Secondly, on top of all that, she's also an accountant. The due date fell in the heart of tax season, the busiest time of her year.

Her boss preempted any of our discreteness. He sent a letter to all their clients saying that the Missus was due in mid March and if you wanted her to do your taxes, you better get in your paperwork right now.

(That letter was the only official announcement of the pregnancy, so no, we didn't forget anyone because we never notified anyone. My co-worker knew too, only because his wife, one of the owner's daughters, was talking babies and such. In the two months after Junior was born, the two daughters each had a daughter.)

At any rate we knew we'd be super busy, to say the least.

Of course once we knew we were going to have a baby, reality started sinking in.

(This I'll call Realization One, and you'll understand as you read more.)

We embarked on an ambitious nursery and home redecoration, finishing the floors, walls, trim, etc upstairs. We moved our bedroom so we'd be on the same floor as the nursery. We started to get together stuff for the baby, buying furniture, sourcing big things (child seat, stroller, various sleep things), and researching other things (crib and such).

We started going to various doctor appointments at the hospital (St Francis in Hartford). I drove every time, trying to get the route ingrained into my head so that I could do it in the dead of night, on autopilot, with a screaming Missus next to me.

Because, frankly, that's what the movies show how a birth-giving mom gets a ride to the hospital. Well, if a police car isn't escorting them there.

I put the address into the nav system, into my phone's nav system, into everything. I made fewer and fewer mistakes, and towards the end, I could get to the hospital on my own.

We attended childbirth classes. A breast feeding class (yes, I went too). We went for ultrasounds, for this appointment, for that appointment.

Then, bam, I got the call, Thursday morning, the Thursday before the first Bethel.

"They're going to induce me. I'm going to the hospital now."

I went into shock. I couldn't really hear properly due the blood rushing through my head. I got into that survival mode, where I do what's necessary, no matter what it takes. I left work, drove home, and started preparing for the hospital visit.

First, because it was Thursday morning, and a birth would take, oh, like 12 to 24 hours, and Bethel was a good 72+ hours away, and therefore I could probably do Bethel, and I had a flat rear tubular tire (which I flatted last fall and never changed), I glued on a new rear tire.

Yes, you read right. The first thing I did was to glue on a rear tire so I could race on Sunday.

That took all of 15 or 20 minutes - I was working like I was defusing a bomb while under gunfire. Methodically and precisely executing each step. New tire, I hoped it had a good tube (it seems like one out of every 30 or 40 tubulars shows up bad and never holds air), and after carefully glopping on glue on the tire and the rim, I just monstered the tire onto the rim.


No glue anywhere except between the tire and the rim. None on me, my clothes, the floor, nothing. Crazy.

I felt like a ProTour mechanic.

Clean, mean fighting machine.

Then, with no glue anywhere on me, I went and packed my bags, the computers (for Bethel), phone, the Christmas gift Nikon camera (for pictures), the new finish line camera rig, and a slew of stuff I just can't remember. With some final checks with the Missus (via phone since she was already in the birthing area of the hospital) I headed out the door.

I started driving the route we drove at least weekly, sometimes more often. Suddenly everything seemed more in focus. I noticed a lot more stuff.

"Where did that fence come from? I never saw that fence! I must be on the wrong road!"

Then a quarter mile later, "Oh, I know that house."

Then, "Holy cow, there's a row of stores here! Stores! I don't remember any stores! Fine, a fence, but a whole set of stores?!"

Then, "Oh, I remember that little hill."

Alternating panic and relief, I managed to get to St Francis, realizing just how much I missed even when I thought I wasn't missing anything.

Of course someone called me during that drive, and the phone picked up automatically. So I said hi.

"Hi, I've never raced before, and I had a few questions about the race."

After an agonizing 10 or 15 minutes, I finally told the caller to email me his questions. I didn't want to crash into some never-seen-before tree or fence or row of stores or something while talking on the phone.

For thirty hours (yes, thirty), they tried to induce the Missus. The Missus's mom drove down from Maine to lend support. I brought everything into the hospital room for Bethel, even the tripod for the new-for-2012 finishline camera. I started blasting through emails about Bethel.

The Missus in a very nice suite (they're all the same). Note tripod by the window.

And the Missus sat on the bed, unable to move much (she had to call a nurse just to go to the bathroom), unable to eat (popsicles and ice cubes), just wanting to get things done.

There was just one problem - the baby didn't want to come out.

At some point during the second day her doctor came in. They checked some stuff, measured, did some baby checks, and then they left the room.

About thirty seconds later a nurse walked back in and turned off the inducing hormone drip. She didn't say we were done but she hinted that they had to keep the Missus monitored for a certain time (30 minutes?) after they shut off the drip.

Thirty or whatever minutes later  they came in and started removing everything. Junior was going to sit in the field for a few more laps (as a friend put it). We packed up and left.

Okay, first we went to the hospital cafeteria and ate some food. The Missus had been on IVs for most of two days, eating only chipped ice and popsicles.

With food out of the way we went home.

That's when Realization Two hit.

We were totally unprepared.

I mean, okay, we were sort of prepared. But we had a LOT of stuff to do around the house before we could bring back a little one. We got working on it, the Missus's mom doing the bulk of the work since both of us were working full time, and me doing Bethel stuff on top of everything.

The Missus went to three appointments the following week, with the baby imminent. Well, kind of imminent. Well, not really imminent. By Friday the doc was setting up an appointment to induce the Missus (again) the day after her due date, in a week and a couple days.

She came home and we relaxed. A week and change. At least the next Bethel would get on okay, and if we could get through even another Bethel then perfect, we'd be in the hospital Monday and Tuesday and by Saturday things would be quasi normal.

We really were kind of ready at home now, a lot of the frantic last minute stuff done (the Missus's mom and step dad really stepped up and finished off a lot of stuff).

Onto Part 3, which I actually posted already.

Life - Preparing for Koichi, Part 1

Obviously now the secret is out. We didn't want to share the news with everyone in case something happened, and so I had to bite my tongue (and hold back my typing fingers) whenever something significant happened relating to the baby.

It all started back in 2010, when I was having the season of my life. Over the winter of 2009-2010 a multitude of factors combined to create a slew of factors that changed my cycling world. First off I'd lost a large amount of weight, while and after recovering from my first broken bone ever (in 2009). During that time I bought my first custom geometry bike, the working man's Tsunami Bikes custom road frame. I also, in the interest of light weight and aero slash top speed, bought a trio of HED wheels.

I intended the season to be a good one, and it was.

The Missus and I spent the whole summer traveling to races, driving down to the Rent on Tuesdays, driving to whatever race on Sundays. Usually race day travel can be a bit stressful, especially for a racer already a bit hyped up on adrenaline. We also drove some distances, a few hours each way for some races, so we ended up sitting in the car a lot, together, no one else around, with all sorts of unexpected stress raisers jammed into our faces.

We'd been doing this for a while, but once we moved up to northern Connecticut, the longer drives to the NY and NJ races meant a lot more traveling. Combined with a bunch of longer trips, we racked up a lot of drive time together.

Drive time can be hard on a relationship. There's no escape, there's no distractions, just you and your other.

Yet we thrived.

We loved the trips, we loved getting into the car, and we laughed and talked and giggled and snickered and even criticized together throughout the summer.

At some point we decided that, yes, we really wanted to have kids, for real. We talked about it before we got married, we talked about it a bit after, but we never had the real "let's try" kind of feeling until the summer of 2010.

This meant preparation for the life changes ahead. And you know me, I'm so risk averse, I want to be prepared.

First things first.

My spectacular year meant I met USAC's requirements for upgrading to a Cat 2. I thought of my friend in SoCal, the host wife there. She upgraded to Cat 2 and received her upgrade when she was 8 months pregnant. She hasn't raced since.

I figured I'd be in a similar boat. Although I didn't plan on stopping the racing, I knew I'd be hard pressed to have another season like my 2010 one.

So I requested, and got, my Cat 2 upgrade.

Because this was to precede the baby bit, I felt no need to continue any kind of training. In fact I discouraged myself from setting any goals for 2011, for fear of feeling conflicting priorities. If I really focused on a particular race, I'd feel a bit cheated if I didn't actually give it a good go because a little tyke started competing for my time.

My upgrade and my just-under-Masters age forced me into entering just one race at Bethel, the P123s. And as good a year as I had in 2010, I knew that there was no way I'd be competitive in the P123s, even at my 2010 fitness level, in 2011.

This eliminated Bethel from my 2011 goals and basically set the tone for the rest of the year. No goals meant no distractions. I could focus on baby stuff. Any racing stuff that fell into my lap would be a bonus, nothing more.

Another preparation area had to do with vehicles. It's easy to buy a crib or a car carrier, but buying major things like a car or a house or whatever take time. We bought our house with a kid in mind. Our cars, though, didn't match a family's needs.

We didn't want to drive an SUV but we understood that a small Honda Civic sedan and a two seat 350Z didn't make for ideal cars for a new family. We decided to sell the Honda first as it was starting to age a bit. Honestly we both enjoyed the Z for driving to the far away races, and the Missus I think wanted me to hang onto that "single guy slash midlife crisis car". She knew I enjoyed driving it so she wanted me to hang onto it for as long as possible.

We bought a Jetta Sportswagen TDi, a nice compact wagon, plenty of luggage area, and rails where we could mount a pod or two if we needed more room. It also got good mileage and it worked well in the snow. This was our first major "baby specific" purchase, after the house.

Works as a race day car as well.

We went through 2010 all ready to be ready for a baby.

There was one little problem.

We had no baby.

In fact, we didn't even have the beginnings of a baby.

We went into 2011. My training had dropped off a bit. I felt it less necessary to train because, frankly, I wasn't going to be racing much. Because, you know, I was going to be a dad.

This attitude slaughtered my 2011 season. I lasted maybe 15-20 minutes in many of my races. I had a few where I finished, so few that I think I made clips of almost every one. Usually I watched the race finish from the sidelines, moping a bit. We had no baby and I had no race legs.

We traveled a bit that summer (apparently we like road trips). We figured it'd be the last trip for us alone. We made a special week-long trip to Wisconsin (part 2 here), driving out and back, 18 hours each way, returning so that we'd stop by at the Keith Berger race before finally arriving home. At that point we'd practically given up on having a baby, and we started thinking about taking more formal steps to address this no-baby situation.

Of course that's when, one day shortly thereafter, from upstairs, I heard a shriek of joy.

The Missus was pregnant.

I was super paranoid about sharing the news. Nothing on the blog, nothing on any forums, no Facebook things, nothing. We told almost no one, to the point that my family didn't know about it for a while.

I did panic a bit when I realized just how little time I had to sell the Z and buy something more suitable for a family. Already August, I knew that the Z's summer selling season would draw to a close within a few weeks. I prepared myself for a lowball trade in value and started looking at cars.

With the Missus driving around in the Jetta TDi, and me absolutely loving that same car, I decided that I'd get another one just like hers. She vetoed me, saying the wagon would be a bit too grown up (okay, boring) for me. She insisted I get something a bit more sporty, something I could mod later.

We wanted a car that would basically duplicate the Jetta driving experience, so that either of us could get into either car, in a sleep deprived groggy state, and drive to wherever at some level of competency. That meant controls, the view out the front, the handling, they all needed to be similar.

So, just like my two Tsunamis are basically identical handling bikes with slightly different details, we decided on a second car from the same family.

In my case it'd be a Golf TDi.

The second family car.

I chose red. The Missus thought it might be a bit much, but you know me. A bit much is not enough.

Okay, I admit it. The real reason I chose red is because I couldn't get a bright blue. Barring blue I got red. I have to say that the color really grew on me.

In the snow.

Same engine, same transmission, same controls. The doors switches and stuff differed just a bit, but the main controls and such were identical.

With that out of the way (and a lot of people wondering why I suddenly traded in a perfectly good Z), we started getting ready for the baby.

(To be continued in Part 2)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Training - Motorpacing Without A Motor

I read an article about motorpacing the other day. I can't find the article (I think it was in Velonews) but it had to do with the benefits of motorpacing. When I read it I felt like I didn't get a complete answer as far as identifying exactly how motorpacing benefits racers.

So, while on a training ride (the first since my race last Sunday), I thought about it. I was doing my normal loop, like normal, and I struggle over these little bumps, literally 20 foot rises that force me to change my rhythm.

And that's the key.

Motorpacing allows you to maintain a near perfect consistent level of effort. We're talking the steady state stuff here, not the "go for a bit then sprint around the moto" or other more advanced stuff. I'm just talking "draft the sucker and don't let go".

I have a Honda Civic owned by a former pro. It bore motorpacing scars on the rear bumper - small vertical grooves burned in by a spinning 700c tire. As a hatchback with a pop-up glass door, it is a perfect motorpacing vehicle - short enough to look over, a glass windshield to look through, and a sincere lack of power.

The latter is important because it's too easy to pull away from a redlined rider. Low power makes it a bit harder to accidentally goose the throttle. Or rather, low power makes goosing the throttle a non-issue because nothing happens.

I thought about how great it would be to motorpace for training. It's basically how I race, really - it's motorpacing until the sprint. I hang on for dear life, the pace is usually uncomfortably steady, and I'm redlined most of the race. It's great training; I actually rely on it for all my intensity training since I virtually never extend myself on training rides (on a typical pancake flat ride I average 16-17 mph, 150-170 watts).

The question becomes "Why can't I just do motorpacing type training by doing a time trial or something like that? Isn't that also a redlined type of ride?"

Well, yes and now. When you time trial you realize just how big a one cog shift can feel like. This is because wind resistance increases exponentially. A small increase in speed means a large increase in effort.

There's a reason why racers used a "half step" chainring set up, where the two chainrings are close enough in size that you shift the chain on the chainring before you shift it on the cogs. So, for example, you might run a 49/53, and, from faster to slower, your gear progression would go 53x11, 49x11, 53x12, 49x12, etc.

The "half step" means the chainrings are so close that shifting to the other chainring brings you a half step of a gear difference, at least compared to shifting to a one tooth difference cog.

What's that got to do with motorpacing?

Well, time trialing usually makes you make one cog jumps. Your speed and effort change dramatically with each shift. It's not a very cusp-like effort, unless you're on a track or some other super consistent grade road (i.e. not in Connecticut).

Motorpacing reduces the change in wind resistance when you change speed. You can shift a full cog but your resistance changes very little.

Resistance becomes more linear, not exponential.

And that's the key.

It's different from riding on your own because on your own you experience exponential resistance. Going just a few mph faster requires a lot more power, and easing just a bit will drop you down to an easy Zone 1 ride.

The closest you can get to it is riding on a decent size downhill. Gravity helps overcome wind resistance so your "default" speed would be something like 20 or 25 mph. Since we don't have any long downhills that fit this description, that's out for me.

So is an actual moto. Although I have that Honda (albeit with a new unscarred bumper), it's technically illegal to motorpace. I would consider it with a moped or something but that can land you in hot water.

Regardless of the law, the driver of such a vehicle needs to be a veteran cyclist, one that can read a rider's body language in a millisecond glance in a mirror. I don't have one of those at my disposal to drive around in front of me for an hour at a time.

What's left?


Not just any rollers. Motion rollers, rollers that allow you to stand and sprint without falling. With linear resistance the massive jumps in power disappear. The motion rollers allow the rider to get out of the saddle without worrying about falling. You can coast, you can stand, your crotch doesn't go numb.

Best of all rollers require no other people. It's just me, my bike, and my homemade motion rollers.

I think with my severely limited time and energy available for training, I have to make some changes to maximize the benefits. Motion rollers will be one of the first things I try in the near future.

(In my haste to post this I'll skip looking for links and even the picture of the scarred bumper and some other stuff. Just text for now.)

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Life - Decision Time

In an earlier post (about Carpe Diem or seizing the moment) I alluded to my desire to make some changes in my life. I had a few concerned friends contact me to make sure the changes weren't going to be too drastic.

I appreciated all the thought they put into their words, and I'm glad to say that, no, the changes weren't too drastic, and no, I wasn't going to try and get everything on a bucket list (I don't have one) done by the end of the year (or something like that).

I say that because of a couple comments. One said something interesting - that dedicating my life to pursuing goals would make me miss out on the trip. It had to do with a "smell the roses" kind of thought, or missing the forest for the trees. If I lived so intensely in order to fulfill some concrete dreams (like going skydiving, which I have no desire to do), I'll miss out on the day to day stuff that make up our lives.

Another friend told me that checking things off is great, but if you do so while missing out on bonding with your child... it's not that great. Focusing on the tasks can help make you overlook the most important part of raising a child - bonding with said child. It means doing simple things, like holding them when you want to, or letting them sleep in your arms.

(That's been the extent of my experience so far. We'll see how things go when Junior starts to crawl, walk, talk, etc.)

In that post I wrote about some of the things that came to mind when I thought about my life - Order, Risk, Unconventional Career, Knowing When to Say When, Help Others. A lot of those changes have been simmering for a while, like years. Others not so much, like months. I made some shallow incursions into a couple life changing things, starting a few years ago, but for whatever reason (mainly me) nothing stuck.

That was all good. Things happen when it's time to happen. I can egg them along but forcing the issue just forces the issue. If it takes too much effort to change direction it's probably not a great move. It's like in a bike race - when you take a wheel so smoothly that the other racer doesn't even realize it until it's done, it's good. If you body check that rider to take the wheel, "forcing the issue" if you will, it's not as good.

Junior's birth and Markus's death have put an edge of clarity to the thoughts I'd been mulling over for the past year or three. With this outside push the time to act rapidly approached. Mid-March the pendulum had tipped all the way over.

At that point I felt the overwhelming need to act now. I mean, okay, not that exact second, but in this year, these couple months, maybe within weeks. You know how there are those incidents that help define your life? It could be a day or a month or even a year but they happen.

I had such a month a long, long time ago, at least for me (December 1990 to January 1991). I spent four unpaid weeks traveling, driving around the country, during the Desert Shield/Storm era. I never blogged about it although it wasn't for a lack of trying. I started to write about the trip and stopped after about five pages of furious typing - and I hadn't gotten halfway across the country yet. It's either a short story or a mini-series on the blog. Whatever, the point is that the trip, and the month it took me, truly affected me, before, during, and after. It helped define what I held dear and what I wanted from life.

I had another month like that recently - March 2012.

Junior came into the world March 10th. Markus died March 19th. Between those two monumental changes, mixed in with the general stress of promoting the Bethel Spring Series, I ended up living in a sleep deprived and highly stressed state where I had no free energy. All I could do was The Stuff That Had To Get Done.

Nothing else.

At the time a friend asked me about training during Bethel, how to arrange to arrive at Sunday with fresher legs but still get in a decent amount of training. I laughed when I read his email because training was, in March 2012, not part of Stuff That Had To Get Done. I was lucky to ride once a week, and on the Easter off week I didn't ride at all.

In this sleep deprived state, stressing about the race (which is kind of normal but I forget how it is until it happens), the crash... the world narrowed down to what counted. It had to - I had no other time.

I knew about the Stuff That Had To Get Done.

I also started this unofficial list in my head of Stuff I Want To Work On.

I looked at what I did, what I didn't do, what I wanted to do, and what I didn't want to do. I thought about  the people with whom I like to interact, from family to just "people I know" or, more specifically, "people I helped at work".

A big help has been my previous life (as I like to put it) in the IT world, and having lived for so long in another town. Moving here significantly reduced our expenses, allowing us to build up our savings. We made a significant (now) decision - we didn't blow all that dough.

This means that, for now, I can afford not to work.

With us wondering about the cost of child care, wanting to be with Junior ourselves, and wanting to be involved with his so significant first year or two of life, the fact that I didn't have to work meant that I could quit my job.

So I did.

I tendered my resignation two weeks ago with an effective last day of Saturday May 12th.

After that I'll be a stay at home dad.

I told a few customers about my decision in the last few days. I told a few friends (very few). I just, and I mean just, told my family. All have been universally supportive, in all sorts of ways.

I'll focus on the Stuff That Had To Get Done. I have to because that stuff will always be around. The biggest was family, things like taking care of Junior, making sure that I didn't lose touch with the Missus, and keeping in the loop with my siblings and in-laws. There's also the stuff where I owe people for something, whether it be promoting the Bethel Spring Series and all the promises that go along with that, or helping out in an emergency situation.

More importantly I'll have some time to work on the Stuff I Want To Work On, the stuff that I really, truly wanted to do during the stressful times but couldn't do because of the Stuff That Had To Get Done.

Like I kept quiet about Junior I will be a bit discrete with the Stuff I Want To Work On. I don't want to talk about something before it's basically a done deal, but suffice it to say that it has to do with the 15 year project I described in the prior post about seizing the day.

After that there's a bunch of related things, but that's far enough down the road that I'm going to let them percolate. I've made one solid commitment for this year, am pursuing another few, and then have the framework for other things in mind for 2013.

It won't be easy, I know that. My Wednesdays with Junior exhaust me. I know it's possible to be a dad and get things done because other people do it fine. I just need to find my rhythm on those other days, learn all those little things that parents learn as they go through their real world parenting class.

I hope I can make it work. I think I can, but until I do it, I won't know. It's just like bike racing - in the very end you have to do it to learn it. So I'm toeing the line in this new race for me, not knowing what will happen. I'll learn to deal with the challenges as I encounter them, and I'll try not to make the same mistake twice.

It's called life, right?

Well it's time to live a little.

Carpe Diem.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Racing - 2012 Mystic Velo Crit, 3s and M45+

Last night I sat on the trainer, pedaling away, watching a DVD of some Classic race from 10 or something years ago. I watched these guys launch big attacks and then follow up with a powerful, smooth time trial. Often they got caught but only after many kilometers of racing.

I thought about the Team Type One guy that showed up at Bethel this year. I happened to take pictures of the race, captured him attacking at the start, captured him time trialing with one other guy, then him winning solo.

Solo win. Wow.

This led me to think of my glory days of years gone by. One race stood out in particular - the Oyster Bay Crit, I think in 1992. I was on fire that year, just incredibly strong for me. At about 8 to go I launched an arbitrary attack. I don't know why I attacked, I just did - I suppose things must have seemed just right, like we just caught another attempted break or we just crossed the line for a prime or something.

Whatever the reason, I launched myself off the front of the field. Then, in a manner totally foreign to me, I put my head down and started time trialing for a bit.

After two laps I was 20 seconds ahead of a chasing field.



Yeah, you'd never believe it, right?

I had 6 laps to go. I debated whether I should bury myself or not. If I did, and it didn't work, I'd be annihilated in the sprint.

On the other hand I felt pretty good. Slow, but good. I wasn't really digging yet, although I felt frustrated that I could only manage 28 mph on the windy sections (and 30-something on the cross/tailwind ones).

So, with a decade of "sit in and shelter" ingrained in my head, I eased up.

I soft pedaled.

For almost a whole lap.

The field rolled by, I jumped in about fourth wheel, didn't drift back more than about 5 or 10 spots in the next few laps, and went into the final turn 4th wheel. A shorter sprint than I expected and suddenly we crossed the line. I was 4th. First place was a rumored $900. Fourth place was a verified $90.

I never, ever, had a race like that again, where I felt so totally untouchable.

I thought about what changed between then and now. I mean, okay, other than aging 20 years, not riding every day after work for 2 hours, not racing 2 or 3 races every weekend, not racing Tuesdays with the hardcore P123s in NYC, and not spending 3 weeks in Belgium getting my butt kicked from here to tomorrow, nothing much changed.

Since not much changed it meant that I should be able to pull out a ride like that today, Sunday, at the Mystic Velo Crit.



Okay. So I lined up for the Cat 3 race. We had a very small field, with two teammates bagging the day (one fell mountain biking and the other worked until 6 AM that morning). I had just Bryan for company, but, seriously, there wasn't much to do than to mark moves and not end up on the wrong side of a gap. Our pre-race discussion took less words and time than the sentence above.

"Not much to say, right? Just mark moves and watch yourself?"

We set off, a very small field. A pity, really, because the race is so well run. With two big conflicting races the field for Mystic got sucked dry. My main worry was to be vigilantly tailgunning and finding myself behind a guy that gets gapped off the back of the field. Therefore I wanted to make sure that I paid attention to the front.

At some point early on two guys went. Three guys went after them. I knew they'd be a bit tired, having made some efforts. I was near the front ("vigilant") and decided that I'd launch a counter attack, jam the pace lever all the way forward, and try and draw out a portion of the small field. This would put the hurt on those five guys up front and hopefully pare down the field a bit.

 What I saw in front when I decided to launch my attack.

Now going. I'd pass all of them before the short straight ended. 
Gaps means no shelter means tired legs.

I went pretty hard, zipped around the right turn, and looked down. To my dismay I saw just pavement. I rode a bit (doing a Knickman, but 20 meters, not 20 kilometers), then looked back. The small group had slowed, gathering themselves for the explosion.

The what?

When the Missus saw me launch similar attacks she'll tell close friends, "Wait for the explosion."

"The what?"
"The explosion. It should happen right about..... now."

And that's when I detonate.

Fortunately for me, or, perhaps, unfortunately, I'd actually launched a pretty hard move, into the wind, and no one wanted to stay on my wheel. They let me hang myself out there for a lap before they started to pedal hard.

And unusually for me, the explosion came later, like two laps later. At that point I felt totally and completely cooked. The field caught and dropped me in about 20 meters. Okay, 40 meters.

It was terrible.

I decided to try and get my money's worth and time trialed until the field lapped me (and the two man break leading them). I sat up and pulled off the course.

The MC asked me what I was thinking when I went. I tried to mumble something about Jackie Durand and doing a long break. He surprised me by mentioning that I had the fast lap of the day, and if it held, I'd win a beer.

Bryan went from way out and held off a charging Bill.

I watched teammate Bryan get second in the sprint, fourth in the race. I decided I could do another race, the M45+. Registration was quick and easy, I pinned on the new number, rolled around for a bit with Bryan, stopped to dress up a bit (clouds made it cold - I put on knee warmers, the first time I ever raced with them, and a wind vest under the jersey), and rolled to the start.

A bigger field than the 3s but still small. I decided no stupid stuff, just regular run of the mill sprinter tactics - sit in, don't miss big splits, and sprint.

I have to admit, this was one of the best races I'd ever done. I told the Missus after the race that usually in a Cat 3 race there are a good 10 or 15 racers who really, really know their stuff. They're really savvy, really smooth, don't push into bad situations, and generally make racing really fun and safe.

There's even fewer that earn my begrudging admiration for their slick moves in the field, taking me off wheels without me even realizing that they were doing just that.

Well, in this M45+ field, almost everyone was that smooth slick savvy racer. I'm talking virtually every racer took me off a wheel, took a good spot of mine, got into shelter better than me, and basically rode like a seasoned veteran.

Because they were.

I couldn't believe the quality of the racing. No, that's not right. I was astonished at the quality of racing. They were mainly stronger than me, okay, but they were just really good, solid racers.

Because of the extremely high standards set by 50-80% of the field, even minor course changes seemed like major errors.

I loved it.

With my abysmal Cat 3 race already in my legs, and very little riding in the last few weeks, I knew I had to save everything I could for the finish. The Missus noticed me coasting a lot, and I found that I could get shelter on virtually every straight within a few seconds (it'll be a good clip if I ever get it done).

At 5 laps to go I started thinking those hidden, unspoken thoughts.

"Man, I should be able to kill it in this sprint."

I thought about the fast finishes at Bethel (which I really haven't written about). I did a short effort out of the saddle to test myself (because I rarely stood in the M45 race) - my legs felt absolutely phenomenal.

At 2 to go I figured, ah, so good.

Approaching the bell I scooted up the side. Shovel, a non-teammate but a friend, saw me and moved out to see if he could help out. Two or three wide, with me sitting second wheel to Shovel, we rolled into Turn One.

And my left hamstring gave a huge twinge.

Turn Two and I had to ease - I couldn't accelerate with everyone, I had to stay seated. I had no idea if my hamstring would just seize, an agonizing proposition which last time it happened at Ninigret I went veering right off the course. Such a move now would take out riders so I stayed seated.

I fought through turns three and four, but in the "heading away" backstretch I realized that my leg was toast. I tried to coast, to cajole something back into my left hamstring, something to let me regain voluntary control over the muscle.

I came out onto the hidden backstretch, just before the last turn. I saw the front of the field, knew that I could easily roll up into the fifth or sixth spot, knew exactly how I would make the move.

My left hamstring vetoed the idea.

And as I started fading I looked right, saw I was clear, raised my hand, and pulled off.

My "annihilating sprint" dreams ended there. I rolled across the line a bit dejected. I'd ridden the right race, done exactly what I needed to do, but I didn't have the fitness to follow through.

A bummer, right?

Well, yeah, it was a bummer. But what was really cool was discovering just how smooth and fluent and good the M45 racers race. It was like racing against racers that I picked.

A while ago I wrote somewhere that bike racers need to have a big flowchart in their head. If this happens, do that. If that happens do this. Etc. At a 2010 Bethel Bryan (my now teammate) left a gap for me to close, knowing it would kill me to do it. I couldn't close it ("when this happens") so I waved the guys behind me to close the gap ("do that"). They rolled around me, past Bryan, and closed the gap.

I said that a good sign of a poor tactician is when a racers initiates physical contact. Anyone who has to resort to contact has made a tactical error. If you ride well tactically you should only have to react to contact (from those that didn't ride well tactically), not initiate it.

A critical reader asked me if I thought that bike racing should be like a computer game or program, where every move had a given countermove (or two). I told him yes, exactly. If everyone played by the rules, if everyone acted and reacted in a manner that fit within those rules, only major errors and mechanicals could cause crashes.

Well, this M45 race was exactly like what I imagined a perfect bike race would feel like. I made tactical moves. The others respected my moves. They made moves too, and I respected them. I often found myself outsmarted at my own game, over and over, by many different riders. They were as good tactically as I could ever be, and these riders were all over the field!

I was amazed. I'm still amazed. I wish I could race with those guys every time I race, it was that good.

So although I didn't technically do well (off the back and almost dead last), I had a great day racing the bike.

The MC called me over after the M45 race. Apparently my blazing comet-like move resulted in the fastest lap of the Cat 3 race.

I got a beer! It was a nice little prize.
Junior is just happy.

(I actually doubt I had the fastest lap - I think they just took pity on me - but I took the beer anyway. Heh.)

The Missus and I ate at WB Cody's, a standard stop for us before we headed home.

Then, after that long, long day out, a couple feeds, more diaper changes, Junior got a bath.

A great ending to a great day.

Junior, looking at the Missus.