Tuesday, January 30, 2007

How To - why the long base miles?

For those of you who know me and the type of racing I do, it would seem incongruous for me to go do my long "training camps" in January and February. For the last few years, I've done just that though. In January I fly down to Gainesville, FL, and in February I fly over to San Diego, CA. I typically do a bunch of shorter 3 hour rides and sprinkle in some longer rides, say 5 or 6 hours long. All this for a not-so-serious, way past his prime, ultra low VO2 max, Category 3 bike racer.

So why do these camps with the long, drawn out days?

Well one part is simply having some fun. To wit: I went to the free Mazda Rev-it-up autocross day. One year they let you drive with a driving instructor in the then-new RX-8. My instructor was some kind of pro-driver. It's sort of like going on a ride with, say, Christian Vandevelde. Maybe not the best in the world but certainly able to ride with the big boys. When I got in the RX-8, I politely (probably with a big sh-eating grin plastered on my face) asked how he was doing.

"Livin' the motorsport dream."

Hard to top that.

So when I'm in Florida or California, that's part of it. Living the bike racing dream. It's nice to ride without having to worry about work, commuting, things like that. Life becomes quite elemental. Wake up. See how fatigued one's legs feel. Eat. See if eating helps the system. Flush out said system. Figure out route and ride goals. Ride. Shower. Eat. Relax a bit. Eat more. Maybe do laundry (bike gear) in that eat/relax time.

Florida is like that but the eating is mainly done out since I stay in a hotel. Also I go with someone so my schedule is somewhat determined by the fact that he rents the car! In California I have some deadlines - I need to be back by about 5-ish so I try and get out by 11. And I try to do things like cook or do dishes or something since I stay at friends'.

So that's one part of doing these training camps.

Another part is, well, training. Lemond had a few ideas on training which I can recall. I thought his ideas were pretty radical at the time but they agreed with what I believed and did so it was easy to accept them.

1. He pointed out that LSD riding didn't mean riding in a small gear. Back then, LSD was the "winter" type of riding everyone did. Francesco Moser came to Florida to train and twiddled around in a 42x18 for hundreds of miles. Lemond didn't agree with that. Most articles on "what LSD really means" correctly stated that the "S" emphasized "Steady" instead of "Slow". So LSD was "Long, Steady Distance". Lemond went a step further. He said that "Steady" could mean "Pretty Fast" if you're fit. For Lemond, an easy ride was rolling around in a 53x15. When he stated this, that was my Junior gear limit (my biggest gear!).

2. Lemond also pointed out that short burst efforts can be done at any time as long as the legs were warm (warm to reduce risk of injury to tendons). He specifically said doing sprint type workouts all year should be fine. He recommended doing this twice a week max. I think his definition of a sprint was a jump to speed in a big gear or up to 60 seconds of all out effort.

3. I believe he did not endorse doing longer efforts in the off season. For example he didn't say you should go and climb super hard in the off season. In fact the article was written in conjunction with a "sidebar" covering a LeMond training camp. In that particular camp there were riders who just couldn't restrain themselves and attacked everyone, Lemond included. There was one big climb where one guy managed to distance even Lemond. As the article pointed out, we didn't read much about that February champion, but Lemond, well we read all about him in July.

4. The final thing Lemond pointed out is that he has plenty of base miles - at that time it must have been 10 or 15 years of base miles. So he didn't feel the need to do the long rides which most people do during the winter.

I've been criticized for riding too far for my 20 or 30 mile races. I agree that riding too much doesn't do you any good - I spent my first year as a Senior doing insane miles - sometimes 500 or 600 miles a week. My results - I finished only one of about fifty races and struggled with burnout the whole season. So, yes, long miles all the time are not necessarily productive.

Finally, there's the skill part. Long rides accomplish things even for those who don't, say, race 200 km at a time, and there are substantial benefits in doing those long rides and they have nothing to do with fitness.

1. After 3-4-5+ hours on the bike, you learn to be super efficient, smooth, how to sit on the bike in different ways, etc. Short rides let you get away with all sorts of inefficiencies, but after a few hours, you learn you really shouldn't churn a gear at 40 rpm or that standing and spinning at 110 rpm up hills doesn't work that well. This translates to more efficient riding for, say, 25 miles.

2. You learn which gear works best - shorts, gloves, bars, tape, shoes, pedals, etc. Shorts that seem fine for 30 minutes might rub you raw in two hours. That beautiful shoe might rub a hole in your Achilles after a few hours. And those really cool gloves... not so cool when you can't feel your fingers anymore.

3. You learn how your body's energy and hydration levels go down and up when you eat (sugar or protein), drink (sugar or plain water, caffeine or no caffeine), or don't eat or drink. When you consume some sugar product, your energy drops for a few minutes, returns to "normal" for a while, then starts to wane. More substantial food may take longer to kick in but offer a steadier energy level.

4. When you exhaust your preferred way of approaching "ride features" (wind, hills, pothole, etc) due to being really tired, you learn other ways of approaching the same thing. I used to climb seated most of the time after experimenting and finding I could hang on longer seated rather than standing. Towards the end of a grueling many-hour ride and desperately trying to hang on to my riding partner, I started standing and flicking the bike a bit side to side. I ended up waiting for my riding partner on the hills by the end of the ride.

5. You start doing things on autopilot when fatigued and it becomes second nature. Some are performance oriented (shifting smoothly, pedaling smoothly) and some are technically oriented (efficiently bunny hopping a pothole without cramping your legs doing it, recovering without thinking when front tire washes out on sand, avoiding that car swerving across your path, doing a trackstand at a light).

6. You notice the most minor position changes and how it affects your riding. Your newly found "great seat position" actually causes your crotch to go numb. Or that tilted down saddle (have you *ever* seen a pro with a tilted down saddle? Well there's a reason you haven't)... you wonder why your hands are so uncomfortable?

7. Eventually, if you allow yourself to learn from both your long rides as well as watching those more experienced than yourself, you develop a fluency on the bike unobtainable any other way. Other riders describe you as "smooth" or "fluent". Or simply "He's a good wheel to follow."

8. This learning ultimately has to be done outside on the road. Super efficient trainer (or roller) workouts only mean you are optimizing yourself for trainer or roller competition. Riding the mountain bike, while offering certain skill training, does not arm a rider for optimal road riding. Look at former World Champion mountain biker Michael Rasmussen. Have you ever seen a worse descender?

Riding outside is important since I spend most of my riding time indoors, even during the season. As soon as I go outside I experience all sorts of sore muscles as my bike becomes free to move around, I can do downhill tucks, throw the bike for imaginary lines, and corner like a madman.

Most experienced riders think of the above mentioned habits as second nature but for new riders, long rides go a long way towards forcing the rider to become smoother and more efficient. The winter is a great time to get riders used to new gear and work on this type of riding for all levels of riders.

So, although my longest race is probably 25 miles long (I normally don't do road races), my training rides in Jan and Feb sometimes extend to 4-5-6+ hours and many of them are at least 3 hours long. I seem to relearn a lot about cycling on those rides.

And in the middle of those rides, yes, I do sprint after the occasional car or truck.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Doping - Museeuw

It's hard to avoid this topic right now. It might be a bit premature though since nothing concrete's come out. First, Museeuw admitted to possibly doping for the last year of his career. It's strongly suggested but he never came out and said "I did take Aranesp" (one of the things he's accused of taking) or something similar to that. He did resign though, if that means anything.

Museeuw was actually banned for doping after he retired (I don't know if that was a first but it was certainly unusual). He was part of the Mapei team that seemed to roll over everyone at will, the team that also had a slew of various doping-related scandals until the main sponsor pulled the rug out from under the team. Its scandalous riders included Vandenbroucke (problem kid), Zanini (possession in the 2001 Giro), Garzelli (for the same stuff Delgado used in 1988), Bramati (2001 Giro raids), Bugno (the "I didn't order the stuff" excuse), Bartoli (and his soigneur Tizziano Morrasut who mailed the stuff to "Chez Bugno"), and even Abraham Olano (1994 positive for caffeine).

His old director sportif, Patrick Lefevere, has been accused of providing (and he's denied) of providing dope. He was quick to admit to using amphetamines (apparently the standard thing back then) but denied he had anything to do with an organized doping plan for whatever team he was directing. Tom Boonen piped up and basically said the same thing.

I started looking into the various doping stories to remind myself who tested positive when. The amount of information I found on positives is absolutely stunning. The problem is that there is no place to view the data easily and in a digestible way. I'll have to work on this so that you can see how deep the doping roots delve into pro cycling, how racers appear to "cross-pollinate" and start off other racers, and how they become directors to start the process all over. The same soigneurs and doctors show up over and over in connection with the doped up racers - coincidence is fine but it seems a bit suspicious.

For now, though, my pipe dream is as follows:

1. I have a dream that little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

Oh wait, that's MLK's dream.

Here's mine:

1. Museeuw goes to court, admits to using perhaps one or two substances. He is presented with SMS, cell phone, and especially bank records which shows a much more damning story. He breaks down and brings out corresponding notes or diaries or faxes detailing drug and dosage. He also names his suppliers, dope coaches (i.e. doctors who told him how to dope and how much to take without getting caught), co-dopers, etc.

Note - the bank records should be really damning since the money eventually goes from the doper to the doper's suppliers. Perhaps the government can go for these guys like they did Al Capone - for income tax evasion. As a weird bonus, the racers themselves would be entitled to a refund due to extra "business expenses" previously undeclared.

2. Implicated suppliers and dope coaches get called to the stand. Some information on how they acquire the stuff pops up. Their SMS, cell phone, and bank records are brought up. They also decide to turn state's evidence in view of the damning evidence in front of them. They name names, riders, etc.

3. The process snowballs. For a while all we read about each day is another 5 or 10 people indicted on doping charges.

4. A systematic weeding of the system occurs. From what I see, the organizations and teams that make up Division 1 pro cycling is a little boy's club with the same people playing in a very little, very private sandbox. They change their hats and shirts every now and then but it's the same people. The weeding would eliminate many of them - perhaps 1/3, maybe 2/3, maybe even more. Just a guess, I don't have hard numbers in my head. A lot of racers would be banned but the bans would be exchanged for testimony on suppliers and doping techniques. Many racers join lower level Continental teams as they serve out a ban from ProTour (or Division 1 team) bans.

5. A severely shelled out pro cycling world gathers itself up and races again. Average speeds drop 5 kph, there are no more 40 kph mountain climbs, and virtually every racer has bad days in races over a week long. If a racer gets stung by a bee, he can get an appropriate medical injection and race tomorrow. "Light" substances, no longer banned anyway, are all the racers use - pseudoephedrine, Advil, caffeine, etc. They learn how to corner since descending well requires no dope and they can't "buy" their way uphill anymore. They actually have spots on their skin from sun damage.

Pause to digest the dream a bit and tell a little tale.

During the unusually warm 2006 New England fall, I took the opportunity to weed some bushes in my front yard. One bush (I think it's an azalea), about 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide, had a couple vines in it and seemed ripe for weeding.

(Hint- the vines represent doping).

I was weeding vines by tracking them to the root, pulling out the root, and unraveling the vine from its unwilling host. I pulled out one vine, then another, and another. I'd find vines wound around other vines and then tracked the new vines down to the root This went on until I was digging out 1-1.5" thick vine trunks out of the ground.

I was amazed at how many vines I found. I spent about two hours weeding that one bush and ended up with a pile of twisted, ill looking vines on the ground. And a very thinned out bush that was literally 1/3 its original size.

Just like in Prey, the full looking bush had actually grown only due to its illicit guest, the vine. By removing the vine, I was able to allow the real plant to emerge. And though the true azalea is a bit sparse looking now, it's still a lot more pleasant to look at than a really tangled up, mutated looking vine-bush. In the spring it should fill out nicely and it will become a beautiful azalea in a few months.

Like the azalea, cleaning out pro-cycling, if possible, won't be pretty. But I think the end result will be something all us racers, riders, and fans will appreciate that much more.

That is my dream.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Being Zabel

A guy you can't help but root for is Eric Zabel. I wanted him to win a stage here and there in 2006, maybe the Worlds. It would let him retire and save me from feeling bad for him when he gets demolished in various sprints during the various big Tours. He's a very good sprinter but something seems to be lacking in the last few years.

I was watching my 2003 Tour DVDs (and Hollentour, which covers TMobile during that Tour), and like usual was watching the flat stages. The ones ending in field sprints hold particular fascination for me. I noticed in one stage that Zabel made some huge efforts in the wind with a kilo or so to go, trying to move into position. You can't do that and win unless you're a crushingly dominant sprinter.

After watching about five stages like that, I realized it wasn't a fluke. Zabel would enter the last couple kilometers too far back, use up a lot of his snap moving up the last four of five spots, sit in the wind next to his rivals in order to "stay near the front", and then get killed when everyone actually went for it.

Ten years after his peak, he's definitely not a crushingly dominant sprinter. So he has to get more clever. If he was a little more conservative with his energy expenditures, stayed out of the wind a little more, I think he'd have had a little more success in the sprints. He never won, but he didn't lose by much - a foot here, a couple feet there. All margins which could be attributed to a minor error in the last 1500 meters. He certainly had the legs to make the finishes so close. He just needs to get over that last hump so that he's the one a couple feet up.

I guess one factor, after watching Hollentour, is that he only had one guy helping him out - his roommate Rolf Aldag. As strong as Aldag is, after attacking, chasing, and pulling all day long, Aldag can't be expected to be a 100% leadout guy. It's asking too much from one racer.

Unfortunately for him in the various Tour sprints, to win everything has to come together. For Zabel, it would be a combination of factors.

First, he is a relatively strong racer who has reserves when other (faster) sprinters are done. So the race has to be long and hard - like Worlds. Hilly enough to burn off the sprinters but not so hilly that Zabel himself comes off. A friend of mine once told me "I can't sprint with the best guys but if I get over the hills with the climbers... well they just can't sprint. I'm like Cipollini compared to them."

Second, Zabel doesn't have the top speed that the other sprinters have. So he needs a finish that dulls that top end speed - maybe a slight uphill or a bumpy surface. Jaan Kirsipuu was like this at the end of his career, and he pulled out an amazing win in a slow motion sprint which played to his current strengths - a powerful but no longer blazing fast sprinter. Kirsipuu stated that the finish was perfect for him - slightly uphill, a bit of a headwind, one made for power sprinters, not the fastest ones. He even led out his teammate Jean Patrick Nazon who ended up finishing behind him. (In a later sprint, Kirispuu did a proper lead out and his Nazon won).

Third, Zabel needs a long sprint - his strength is not in popping out at 50 meters to go. He uses his relative fitness to go from a long way out. Tailwinds are the best for these sprinters as such a wind diminishes the importance of the jump.

Fourth, he needs at least one solid leadout man (if not two or three). Based on his type of sprint, it would be best if the leadout man was similar - a racer good at long leadouts, sustaining an incredible speed, and peeling off at 200-250 meters to go. None of this "in the wind" business. A related thing - he has to ride a bit scared of the wind. Yes, he's fit. But that doesn't give you wind leeway. You still have to hide from it - and in the end, your sprint will be that much better.

Finally, he needs plain luck. A good day, no nagging injuries, feeling pretty fresh at 10k to go, and no weird oil slicks or whatnot to slow him up.

It sounds like a lot of factors. But it really isn't. When you think like a sprinter, you think of the days made just for you and you try and max them out. If it all comes together just one day in the Tour, he'll be regarded once again as a top sprinter. And if he does it at Worlds? I think he'd count his blessings, do a couple post-Worlds crits, and climb off the bike.

I hope he can make it happen. For his sake. And all us aging sprinters out there.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Doping - Asthma, Actovegin, Acqua & Sapone

Boy does cycling irritate my asthma! I think I'll go use an illegal substance proven to boost performance to fix it. I just have to ask my doctor for a "doctor's note" to get off any positives in the doping tests. Kind of like Perreiro in the Tour.

It's a ridiculous rule, especially when someone like Vaughters, when he got stung by a bee, really did need medication - and he couldn't get it because the cortisone necessary was banned under racing rules. What happened to that "
TUE list" - the Therapeutic Use Exemption list, i.e. the list of things for which a rider could test positive but because it's for Therapeutic Use, it's allowed?. You know, like Perreiro's asthma medicine.

Don't tell me they couldn't bend a rule or two. The Tour organizers regularly extend the cutoff time to allow racers outside the limit to stay in the race - 2006 would have been a joke after Rasmussen's solo win as only 60-odd racers made the cutoff. So with the only bee-sting in the last 20 or so years, it would seem reasonable to let the guy get a shot to allow him to continue.

Whatever. After Vaughters withdrew and got the cortisone shot, the swelling went down instantly. And it's not like he went looking for the bee to sting him to cover up some cortisone use, right?

Now you take someone like Perreiro - a perfectly healthy young man who has "mild asthma", takes a performance enhancing drug to "relieve" it, and that's okay? There's something wrong with this picture.

Actually even WADA agrees. For 2007 they are doing away with some of these doping loopholes.

In the bootlegged LA Confidential I got off the net, there is a mention of the USPS's TUE list.

In 2000, USPS listed, on their TUE medication list, 684 boxes of product containing 7,422 capsules, pills, injectables, vials, and tubes. In 2001, it was 8,334 units. If everyone on the team (directors, soigneurs, mechanics, etc.) partook equally, they'd have been taking about 12 medications per day in 2000; over 13 per day in 2001. If it was just the 9 cyclists, the number would jump to 39 medications per day in 2000, and an incredible 44 medications per day in 2001. Although you might expect this to be normal, USPS listed about twice as many medicines as the next highest team, and about four times most of the other teams.

One of the drugs not listed was Actovegin.

However, a team doctor in 2000 listed Actovegin (at that time not specifically banned) on an import/customs type form dated May 8, 2000. He was bringing in 40 doses of it as well as 125 other products. Armstrong stated that neither he nor his doctors had ever heard of "activo-whatever-it's-called" on December, 13, 2000, about 7 months after the doctor submitted the forms. The calf blood extract used to decrease hematocrit, increase the amount of glucose, and is typically used in conjunction with EPO to boost the oxygen carrying capacity of a rider's blood without drastically increasing the hematocrit level. It is normally used instead of aspirin to thin out blood and prevent potentially fatal blood clots.

It was banned shortly thereafter.

In 2001, the French government turned down the USPS team's request to import Actovegin.

Eventually, USPS admitted that, yes, they did bring in Actovegin. The reason USPS carried it? Their mechanic Julien De Vriese's "diabetes". He was present only for the three time trials. This means he took 40 doses in 3 to 6 day. Does this make sense?

Curiously enough Actovegin is not used to treat diabetes.

In other news, Acqua & Sapone is vying for the honor of being the team signing the most well-known dopers next to Tinkov. A&S has the distinction of signing a disgrace to racing, Freddy Maertens, who undid years of incredible riding by taking money and staging a waste of a "comeback" in the 80's. It was a total joke - he rode poorly and climbed off the bike about as quickly as Cipo in the mountains - but Maertens did it every time he raced. The journalists made fun of his synthetic tan - and it appeared he did indeed spend more time tanning than cycling. His fall from grace was reminiscent of the one by Nigel Mansell, also a spectacular star (in Formula 1) that didn't know when to stop - the fact he no longer fit inside the 1995 McLarens should have been a big hint.

Anyway, A&S have racer Stephan Garzelli, the guy who got booted from the Giro for testing positive for masking agents.

They also signed the first guy ever to help his dog dope, the guy with a pitiful capacity for life's hardships, the shotgun waving Tom Boonen impersonator. I mean, what the heck was he thinking? Oh, I forgot, he doesn't think. The one and only Frank Vandenbrouke.

Let's see how many races he doesn't show up for before he has some crisis. If I ever saw a guy who needed to join the military to toughen up a bit, this is the one. A stint in the dark green uniforms (sorry the English version isn't up) and he'd think nothing of actually getting out of bed and driving to a race with his bike and gear.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Cellphones and cycling

So in NJ, they decided that, although 25% of their bicycle accidents involve alcohol yet it's not illegal to ride while drunk, it should be illegal to ride while using a cell phone.

Hands free devices excepted of course.

They must have inhaled too much of those fumes floating around the Jersey shore.

I don't know about you but have you ever tried to talk on the phone while riding? I have. It inevitably ends up with me pulling over, putting a foot down, and saying, "What did you just say?"

Forget about whether or not you have enough aerobic capacity to even talk. Trying to listen in a 25-30 mph wind tunnel is not easy.

This is what I do when I go for a long ride:
1. Big phone that has a lot of battery power
2. Hands free ear thing
3. Set auto answer on
4. (Optional) turn on music at low volume
You're riding along, you get a call, and after a few rings it picks up. Presto!

One time I even got upgraded to First Class because I had my setup in place. They called and asked if I'd mind flying 15 minutes earlier but in First Class. I was waiting for the punchline but it never came. So I accepted.

The thing is, until you stop seeing everyone driving around talking on the phone (sans hands free kit), you're not going to make anyone thing it's better to use hands free kits.

Introducing legislation to increase the number of laws not enforced doesn't do anyone any good.

I suppose that if they don't enforce driving while jabbering on the phone without a hands free kit, they probably won't enforce the cycling bit either.

I wonder if they consider, say, running red lights to be dangerous. Based on the driving I see when I leave the office parking lot, I get the impression that this is not the case.

At least one legislator had something to say. "As my father used to tell me, 'You can't legislate common sense,' and that's exactly what this bill tries to do, as the Legislature has already tried to do on so many other occasions,'' said Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris.

Well put.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

How To - changing a tube/tire

In Florida, on the first ride we did, I flatted riding on some glass. Although you should avoid sand, glass, rocks, etc., if possible, sometimes you have to ride over it, and that sometimes causes a flat. In my case, I was trying to be careful on a narrow shouldered road with cars passing at 50-60 mph and ended up riding for a while on debris on the side of the road.

Although inconvenient, the flat was not a ride-breaker because I had a tube, pump, and I knew how to change a tube. You might think that knowing how to change a tube is common knowledge but I've watched Cat 1's struggle for many minutes with a tube so it's not necessarily true.

You should virtually never flat bottoming out an uninflated tire (also called a pinch flat) - that is simply a reflection on poor bicycle maintenance. I check my tire pressure every time I ride. To balance riding comfort and pinch-flat resistance, I pump my tires to 110-120 psi (front lower than the rear). A vicious impact on your tire/wheel will cause a pinch flat but there is a technique I'll describe later that will enable you to avoid even those types of flats.

Tires, even relatively light ones, will last thousands of miles in the rear. Front tires last so long it's a good idea to rotate them to the rear so you wear them out. Tubes should never puncture.

Changing a flat actually starts with installing the tire properly. When you first install the tire, make sure you have a good rim strip (covers the spoke heads and protects the valve from the edges of the hole drilled in the rim), the right length valve (longer for deep rims), and a clean tire. It's a waste of time and money to flat because your rimstrip was insufficient or the valve ripped off the tube due to the rim edge digging into the valve base.

Note: electrical tape is NOT a viable rim strip. Go to the shop and buy a few and keep at least one or two spares in your gear bag. Inevitably one of your less educated cyclists will complain about puncturing every 5 miles, and when pressed, will admit to using some substandard material for a rim strip. Your spare rim strip will be a ride or race saver.

Line up the valve to the label on the tire and install it so that the label is on the right side of the rim (the drivetrain side of the bike). Pretend a photographer is taking a picture of your bike and that you want your tire sponsor to be visible. It might actually be true! Even if it's not, the label/valve position makes it easier to troubleshoot if you do have a flat. If there is no label, line up the pressure rating to the valve - this way you don't have to look around the tire to see if it's rated to 120 psi or 240 psi.

(Note: there is a "cheat sheet" summary at the bottom but it skips a lot of details)

1. If you do have a flat, stop off any busy road - a driveway, a side road, the sidewalk, etc. There is no reason for you to be replacing a tube in the middle of a busy road.

2. Next, remove the tire and tube using a tire lever or three. If the tire is very tight, insert one tire lever under the bead, then about 2-3" away insert another one. Move another 2-3" and insert a third one. The second one will fall out. Put it in 2-3" past the last lever and repeat until you can remove the tire and tube.

Note: ALWAYS start opposite the valve and finish at the valve.

3. If you've lined up the label and valve, remove the tube from the tire. If you haven't, hold the valve in place of the tire by pinching the tire sidewalls with your fingers. This is so you can track the puncture and check the tire in the puncture vicinity.

4. If there is an obvious cause of a flat (nail sticking out of the tire, etc.) skip this step. Otherwise, inflate the tube a bit and listen for escaping air. If it's escaping too quick to pinpoint the location of the hole, fold the tube in half around the suspected area (one fold on each side). This will allow air pressure to build up around the rest of the tube. You can move the folds closer together until you pinpoint the puncture. If you've held the tire in place, you can check the tire. Too many times there will be a piece of glass or something in the tire. If left alone, it will puncture your new tube right away.

5. Verify there aren't other punctures. Nothing would be worse than to replace the tube thinking the big nail sticking out of the tire was the only thing that caused the flat only to find a piece of glass elsewhere also punctured the old tube... as well as your new one.

6. Pump up the tire until it is holding its shape. Do not let it stretch. On a floor pump, it would be one or two strokes. For a mini-pump, maybe 3-6 strokes. You want it to fit inside the tire with no problems but you do not want it to "grow" so it doesn't fit in the tire anymore.

7. Line up the valve and the label as described above.

8. Insert the valve and seat the bead on the first side of the tire. For the sake of this tutorial, I'll say the left bead first, if looking at the wheel from behind. The left bead would be mounted from the right side of the rim. If necessary, use tire levers to pop on the bead, being careful not to pinch the tube. This is the only time you should use the levers.

Note: ALWAYS start at the valve and finish opposite the valve when mounting a tire (the opposite of removing the tire).

9. After getting the left bead on the rim, push the tube into the tire so it sits inside the "U" of the rim. Again, start at the valve and finish opposite it.

10. Now your tire should look almost mounted from the left side. The right side is still hanging outside the rim. Pull the bead onto the rim at the valve and about 8-12" on either side of the valve. Push the valve in and push the tire down so both beads seat solidly on the rim.

11. Pull the bead onto the rim from the left side, using your four fingers. Don't use your thumbs and try and push the bead on - it's a lot harder. You'll probably have to push the tube in place every now and then as it has a tendency to pop outside of the rim. It's absolutely critical that you keep the tube inside the rim.

12. At the opposite end of the valve, when you have about 6" of bead left, hold one hand (say your right hand) with your fingers anchoring the bit already on the rim and using your other hand (left) immediately next to the right hand to pull the bead over the rim. It takes effort, especially on new tires, but you should be able to pull the bead onto the rim without using tire levers.

13. After the bead is all the way on, pinch the tire on both sides so you can see the rim strip under it. You should not see the tube at all - if you do, you'll need to carefully push it under and past the bead. If you do not, you are assuring yourself a spectacular blowout with immediate pressure failure at some point in the future.

14. Now you're ready to inflate the tire. Do one final push on the valve (push it up into the rim, not all the way, push the tire into the rim, then pull the valve back out) and inflate the tire.

15. DO NOT use the little threaded nut to "hold" the valve in place. It is sometimes useful to hold the valve high enough if the valve is a bit short, but if you use it that way, remove it as soon as the valve has enough pressure in it to mount the tube without it.

The main reason you should not use the threaded nut is that it hides a sliding tube. When you ride an under inflated tire, the tire and tube will slip along the rim. A great early warning indicator is the valve starts to tilt relative to the rim. If this happens, you need to move the tire/tube unit around the rim until the valve is perpendicular.

If you use the threaded nut, the valve remains perpendicular even though the tire and tube are slowly rotating around the rim. You only learn about it when the valve rips right off the tube. Using the threaded nut is like disabling your car's warning lights - you never see the oil pressure light go on and only learn you're low on oil pressure when your engine seizes. Not good.

Let's review (this can serve as your cheat sheet):
1. Always remove opposite the valve, and always finish opposite the valve.
2. Line up label with valve. If no label, line up PSI rating with valve. If one label, put on right side of wheel.
3. Pre-inflate tube till it just holds its shape and insert into tire before mounting tire.
4. Put one bead on, then the tube, then pull the other bead on.
5. DO NOT use tire levers for the second bead (i.e. to finish the tire)
6. Before inflating, push valve stem a bit into the rim and allow the bead to seat around it.
7. DO NOT use the little valve stem locknut.
8. Before every ride, check tire pressure.

If your labels are not lined up with your valves or you have never changed a tire before, you should try it in the luxury of your home. It certainly beats figuring it out while the sun is setting, you're freezing cold (or bonking or whatever), and generally miserable.

Congrats, you're all done now.

If requested I'll post a vid on this.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What kind of bike is that?

So Boonen really is being pushed towards being another Cipo with this Northwave ad. It's kind of like seeing a girl in a miniskirt except it's a guy, he's wearing armor, and holding a white bike shoe. He does have a very lost look about him. I don't know if they wanted him to do that or if that was the end result of people running around making him put on miniskirt armor, fluffing his hair a bit, and sticking a bright white shoe in his hands.

But I digress.

Yesterday at the airport I was lugging my bike, gear bag, and a regular rolling box bag around. When you do this, inevitably people point at you and make some comment, "oh I think he has a bike." or something like that.

I was checking in my bike ($65 extra) and the woman next to me leaned over to me.

"What kind of bike is that?"

Okay, I was a little tired, sleepy, but I looked at her with a blank face. How do you answer a question like that? It's so open-ended - she could have been a pro-cyclist or a totally clueless person. The bag itself says "BIKE" on it so it's pretty clear what's inside.

I could have answered, "It's a 10 speed." For the uninitiated, that means "road bike". For the initiated, it's a reasonably new bike that has a 10s rear wheel.

I could say "It's a road bike." I don't think that helps a lot of the uninitiated. I'd probably get a blank look, in which case I'd add, "You know, like Lance Armstrong." But then I'd have to explain that I don't ride like him. Gaunt face, aggressive pedaling, sort of a haunted look about him.

I could also be really technical about it and try and overwhelm the poor woman and make her think all cyclists are techno-snobs. "It's a Giant TCR with a mix of Campy Chorus and Record parts, FIR rims, Ritchey stem, a titanium seat, and Mavic bars."

But that wouldn't be good for cycling.

So I tried to take a safe route.

"The manufacturer name is Giant. I don't know if that helps."
"Oh, I have a Bianchi."

This is better.

"Oh, you're a cyclist. So you understand. It's a carbon Giant with Campy on it."
"Oh that's nice. You must have had good weather here."
And so on. A brief passing of two cyclists, then she left.

I was so tired I fell asleep while we were still at the gate. I kept popping awake when I felt movement as I love taking off (and landing). It's like driving or riding. Corners are fun. A long, straight road that stretches to the horizon? Not fun. Anyway each time I woke up with a start, the same grey pavement greeted my eyes.

After a few of these "starts" I looked around the cabin. People get upset when planes get delayed. Everyone looked calm though. I looked back outside.

The grey "pavement" was in fact clouds.

I looked at my watch. We'd taken off over an hour earlier.

I leaned my head back against the bulkhead and went back to sleep.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Florida: Day Five (final)

Today is sort of like the Paris stage of the Tour. Easy riding, some crumbs for those who weren't going for points (Gene slowed to let me "take" a sprint), and talking about the riding over the past week. We went out easy, less than two hours, to let the legs do some light work.

Yesterday I was feeling pretty bad, but I seem to have recovered for today. I could actually pull a bit and felt pretty frisky at the end of the ride. I can tell I'm frisky when I chase down cars and sit right off their bumper. The sun was making its presence known so that was good too.

I'm stuck now with a bunch of SlimFast, RockStar, instant oatmeal, and some misc things. I'll pack all that stuff up and fly it back home.

I'm considering the training trip a success. About 17 hours of riding in 6 days, including the two flying days. The meat of the trip were the 4 middle days where we did over 14 hours. A little lower than one year where we did about 4 hours a day but the secondary goals were well met. No sore tendons, no severe muscle soreness, no saddle issues, and, for me, a LOT more pulling at the front. Instead of constantly sitting at the back, I was able to do a lot more work. I felt good enough today that I could probably go out for 3 or 4 hours without too much trouble.

Now to pack up the bike and my gear (the room is a wreck). I have the 2006 Tour in the background and it keeps reminding me how terrible Rasmussen descends. Someone should buy him some driving lessons.

Then it's off to the airport and a short flight up to the cold Northeast. I checked the weather - at home it's supposed to be a high of 28 and a low of 16 tomorrow. Nothing like a 50 degree drop in temperatures to shock the system.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Florida: Day Four

Today we did about 65 miles in about 3:45. We were a *lot* slower than yesterday, my heartrate averaged 6 bpm lower, and I was totally dead after 3 hours. On the plus side it was 81 degrees, sunny, and a great day to ride.

We left from Mandy's house (a recent acquisition). Clifford (a black dog, medium size) was excited to see two new people - but a Doberman going by on a leash made us look pretty boring. Mandy yelled out to her dog, "Clifford, come here." Both dogs turned to run to her. The guy holding the Doberman said something like, "That's funny, his name is Clifford too!"

I was pretty out of it this morning and forgot things like filling my bottles, checking tire pressure, and a short sleeve jersey. I filled my bottles from Mandy's sink, used the pump I forgot in the car yesterday to check my tires, and borrowed a Naples Cyclery jersey from Gary (very cool as it has a mini zippered pocket for keys and phones). I also trued my rear wheel - I have to practice building wheels as my wheel was not happy.

Eventually we took off. Gary asked how I liked the jersey - it had vent type holes in the sides for extra ventilation. Problem is that the jersey was a bit tight on my 175 lbs frame (versus his 158-ish lbs, 6" taller frame) and the vent holes were stuck to my skin.

"Gary, the vent holes have to be loose, otherwise air doesn't go through them. I'm too fat for the air to go through."
"Don't worry, jus' keep ridin' and it'll loosen up."
"You know, this week, next week..."
"I think it'll take me like 5 or 10 thousand miles."

I have the opposite body image problem that anorexics have. They think they're too fat. I have a different problem. I figure that, "Heck, I think I'm in pretty good shape." Then I see a picture of myself and go, "Whoa, I'm fat." I don't know which one is worse.

Anyway, Gary took all but one county line sprint. He and Gene were just a bit ahead of Mandy and myself when I realized there was one of those county-line-like signs up ahead.

"Mandy, is that the county sign?"
Pow pow pow I shifted up and took off.

I heard Gary a second later.

"Oh, man."

It's the little triumphs that count.

An hour later I was groveling at 16 mph. On a flat road. With no significant wind.

We're planning on doing a 2 hour ride tomorrow. Then we'll pack, drive to Orlando, and fly back home.

I'll be with my fiancee at about 9 or 9:30. Today I realized that I missed her quite a bit. I remember the moment - I was behind Mandy, staring at her Ksyrium silver spokes (staggered left-right), the sun was shining, and I was tired enough that my tunnel vision reduced what I could see to a 4x4 foot patch of pavement streaming under Mandy's Scott CR1 chainstays.

I told Gary that I should bring my fiancee with me and ship the tandem out here. We'd get a tandem disk wheel and try and break his legs. I figure it'd take about 2 hours at 35 mph. Lol. So my finacee and I would have to do some 40 mph pursuit type efforts in training so 35 mph feels reasonable.

Gary admitted that yes, 2 hours at 35 would probably break him, especially if we bumped the pace up to over 40 every now and then.


I wonder what she thinks of that.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Florida: Day Three

Today we finally went out for breakfast before the ride. We met up at a local diner type place and had a normal breakfast. With weather expected to be in the 80's with mainly sunny skies, it looked to be a good day to do a long ride - as well marked century route.

Within 90 minutes of our start though it all changed. First, Mandy flatted. Gary changed it faster than I thought possible. Then the clouds started getting dark. It misted at first then got wetter and wetter. Eventually we ended up soaked. The other three got a paper and plastic bags to put some layers on. The Boy Scout I am (not really) I had some cool weather gear. Wearing my trusty vest and arm warmers on top of an SS jersey and shorts, I felt reasonably good. Incidentally it was the first time I ever rode in arm warmers in my life - a couple decades after starting cycling seriously!

Although I don't enjoy starting in wet weather, if it does get wet and it's not too cold, I seem to feel a lot better relatively speaking. Accordingly I managed to pull a lot more than before. I said to Gary that either he must have been really sick or I was doing a bit better since we ended up sitting at the front together a lot.

After 3 hours of misty rain it finally stopped. And my legs started to fatigue a bit. Our chatty group ended up pretty silent by the time we hit about 80-odd miles. I knew I was riding on borrowed time and rode as steadily as possible to get back to the car as soon as I could. Alas, at about 98 miles my legs suddenly faded - literally about a half mile from the car. I didn't know exactly where we were so I sat up - and then saw the cars. I rolled in a bit behind Gary, Mandy, and Gene. Gary had taken all the major "sprints" and pretty much sewed up the unofficial sprinter's competition, even with a bum crankarm that kept working loose.

Afterwards we had a huge dinner at the Gainesville Ale House (a lot of nachos and a 20 ounce Porterhouse steak) and watched Blood Diamonds. The flick was pretty intense and I recommend it for anyone.

My legs seemed a lot better than last year. I hope that this work now pays off and lets me do some work in California next month. For now though, I just need to recover so I can do a good ride tomorrow. We plan on taking it easy and do about four hours.

Now for some sleep.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Why do I race?

Yesterday I got up an hour late. This morning, an hour earlier.

I've been perusing two sites - Masiguy and ROAD. (and Neil@ROAD, which I thought was just an email link... anyway, I love that picture at Neil@ROAD so left it at that).

The reminiscing they both do about "Why do you race bicycles?" (both Masiguy and Neil) got me reminiscing about my early racing years.

Why do I race?

Sometimes the better question is why do I train? There are some guys who race so they can train. There are others who train in order to race. There is nothing wrong with the former - my sister in law did the Chicago Marathon this year on a 6 month long impulse. She did well and she's continued to run. I used to fall in that first category but I now fall in the latter category.

I race because I love racing the bicycle.

I used to train for the sake of training. It's hard to beat a 50-something pound Cotton Picker (StingRay with front and rear "suspension") for a "training" bike. I was cleaning out my basement and found a stash of my old training diaries, including entries from when I was 13 years old, detailing that I rode about a mile out and back from my house.

Hey, at least it included a big hill each way.

I progressed to a Schwinn Traveler III ($214.95 including tax), a Dawes Lightning (upgraded cranks, wheels, freewheel, seat, pedals, and added toe clips and straps), and finally the piece de resistance, a Basso. Okay, it had Columbus Zeta tubing (Z for "worst"), main components by Excel Rino (the cranks resembled hardened butter in its rigidity), but when ordering the bike I upgraded the rear derailleur to Super Record (the front was Nuovo Record) and the wheels to the ubiquitous GP4's (32 hole, an unusual feature at the time), laced around Campy hubs. The cranks had a "radically big" 53T chainring (paired with the normal 42T) and the freewheel was a Junior-specific 15-21.

Shortly after getting the bike I also changed the seat (to a Cinelli, to mimic Daniel Gisiger, who slayed all to win the Grand Prix des Nations TT in 1983), the brakes (to Modolo Pro's, to mimic Greg Lemond's Worlds and Super Pernod winning Renault-Elf bike), and got half-length axle pedals from Gipiemme (I'll have to take pictures of the pedals as I still have them).

I struggled like mad to race - it was no fun back then, simply a challenge. There were other things in my life which were not necessarily fun but were immensely rewarding when done - playing the violin (individually as well as in an orchestra), doing yard work with my dad and my siblings, even resealing the driveway.

The violin was probably the most rewarding non-bicycle thing I'd done up to that point. I started playing when I was five. Although a Suzuki method player, my mom didn't have to convince me to play - I actually pestered her so much she gave in and got me lessons with the same teacher who taught her. I didn't realize it then but he was a great player - it's kind of like having Greg Lemond teach you how to ride a bike. Just like cycling, early habits are critical for future success, and my first teacher laid the foundation for a successful 12 years of violin playing.

I hated to practice though. The rewards were simple - finishing a solo recital performance (it sounds impressive but I was just one of 10-15 kids playing a song in front of the parents), group recitals (same kids play together in front of their parents), and later, orchestra. The last bit was more impressive and I felt like a pro when we traveled to NYC to play inside a church the Statue of Liberty would fit inside.

Eventually, I loved playing the violin simply for playing the violin. I lost interest in mastering new pieces - I simply played a song from my repertoire accumulated over a dozen years of playing. My favorite pieces were the ones I learned when I was 12-14 years old - reasonably easy to play, expressive, and fun. I practice very infrequently now and it's only to be able to play part of a piece once again.

The bike is the same way. The training for a few years was what I enjoyed because I could do it and I felt competent. Racing - that was another story. I wasn't very strong, got dropped more than I finished, and had a very difficult time drafting closely. My teammates and I would do bumping and "team time trial" drills but when it came to the "big" fields (more than, say, 30 racers), I got nervous and sat at the back.

I started coming into my element when I went to college. By then I was reasonably competent in the racing bit and still enjoyed pushing myself in training. I gained confidence in my sprint and finished difficult crits and even won a race. This translated to winning training races and the one Cat 4 race I won as a Junior.

"Training" started becoming "racing". My Tuesday sprint workout got replaced by a training series or by a group sprint ride that attracted, at times, over 100 racers, including national level racers. I became fluent in group riding skills and started looking for opportunities to snake through impossible gaps in the field.

Eventually I peaked at about 50-55 races a year. I'd race Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday or Wednesday. I'd spin a bit on Friday and do it all over again. Racing became my training and I loved it.

Like the violin, as I got older, the time I had to allot to cycling shrank. I had to stop any midweek races due to my work schedule. I started skipping Saturday races. And I even found myself skipping Sunday races. As a 19 or 20 year old, racing was the most important part of my life. With more years came more responsibilities and a dilution of enthusiasm. I spend time with my family, working on my cars, doing yard work. And although it seemed sudden when I realized it, over a period of ten years my annual race count dropped until now where I think it sits below 20.

It's hard to be competitive. Some of my races are measured in minutes - like 3 or 4 minutes before I'm out. Other races I'm vying for a high placing, but it's less often than it used to be.

So why do I race?

The short answer is the thrill of racing. Having a fine tuned machine optimized for (crit) racing. Putting on race wheels with the lightest, most aero rims wrapped with tubular tires. The drive to the race, thinking about the course, thinking about past mistakes or past conquests there, and what might happen this year. Changing and warming up and doing the friendly competitor analysis, figuring out who are the danger men.

Then the actual race. Lining up for the start. The big, muddled field at the start. Struggling to move to the front, then once there struggling to hold the position. Little triumphs like moving up a spot. Tiny defeats like losing the same spot.

All the training, all the racing, it all comes down to the sprint for me. At some point in the race I realize, "Wow, I think I'm going to make it to the finish." I gain probably 30% more power, 30% more speed, and 100% more capacity to suffer. I delve deep into those newfound reserves to stay in contention.

Then the ringing bell, an instant adrenaline inducing sound. Pain goes away as does any concept of "too fast". There's only "too much wind" now. Around me are the wild, desperate moves on the last lap, the leg-annihilating ferocious attacks, the equally ferocious counters. And finally, knowing the race will be decided in the next 30 seconds, the uncorking of the sprint, the power and speed which dwarf those seemingly ferocious attacks a few hundred meters ago. Then, of course, the desperate bike throw at the line.

That's why I race.

Florida: Day Two

Today's been pretty good so far. We went out early for about 3 hours - and although I started out wearing a SS jersey, LS jersey, and a vest up top, I finished wearing just the jersey and shorts. And I felt warm. Mid 70's so not bad at all. Just Gene and I as there was a 50 mile mountain bike "ride" which drew in Gary and Mandy. As Gene quoted Gary, "You race it even though it's not a race."

I let Gene take all the "sprints" today, pushing him forward for the first couple.

Afterwards, we went to the Gators Football Championship celebration. As a person who doesn't know about stadium sports, I only started realizing it was a big deal when they were replaying the game over and over again on TV and local stores were selling a commemorative issue of Sports Illustrated celebrating their success. Around campus there were various vendors selling shirts, caps, flags, and all sorts of stadium looking things.

The celebration took place in their school stadium. Now you collegiate football fans probably realize this but this stadium isn't the dinky one that was at my school (UCONN, 16,000 students at the time). This stadium is larger than Giant Stadium - it holds 92,000 people! It's enormous. I'd guess it was just about 2/3 full, so maybe 50,000 - 60,000 people there. A big section was closed off - it's where the 2006 Champions stuff was painted and where the big screen sat, so I guess they didn't want people there. My brush with greatness - they introduced the two coaches we saw yesterday at dinner.

In the middle of the thing I thought of something. I leaned over to Gene.

"Hey, those guys up there on the stage, they're going to be worth millions next year, aren't they?"
"Well, that guy there, yes. Those two there, a little less. But yes, they'll be worth millions."

It's interesting. These guys are technically amateurs. They're basically kids, 21-22 years old (there were two freshmen too, but they'll still be in school next year). Kind of like your average Cat 1 if you're comparing football to cycling. And next year the good football players will sign contracts worth millions of dollars. That kind of thing doesn't happen in cycling. A good Cat 1 might sign a $5,000 or $10,000 contract to turn pro for a domestic team. Only after you've proven yourself as a pro cyclist would you think about $100,000 or more. But the football players, in their first year playing professionally, they'll be paid perhaps the equivalent of a whole pro cycling team's annual budget. Even the lowest paid pro ball players will probably make more in their first year in the NFL than many pro cyclists make in their whole life.

It's pretty sobering.

It reminds me that I'm happy where I am as a middling Cat 3, able to enjoy racing without the pressure of performance.

So, now we'll rest up, hopefully meet Gary, Mandy, and a couple friends for dinner or a movie, and prep for tomorrow. If today was a "non-stage" in our Tour of Gainesville, tomorrow would be the traditional Bordeaux stage - the longest day of the Tour. We'll be joined by former 80's pro Andy something or another and plan on going for 5 hours. Based on the forecast (80's) and our current soreness levels (light) it should be quite feasible.

The fight for the sprints will start in earnest too.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Florida: Day One

I woke up today to the sound of knocking on the door. I got up and looked at the clock - 7:56. What the heck happened to my 6:00 alarm?

Anyway, I was ready to go at about 8:10 and we set off. Gary, Mandy, Gene, and myself rolled for about 3 1/2 hours. Although it ended up in the mid 70's, I wore a SS jersey, LS jersey, vest, knickers, and shorts. I wanted to stay hot and try and get good for the rest of the trip. It worked as I drank four bottles of water over the ride. No flats so that was nice.

Gary rode on a single speed (not fixed) - 42x17. Last year, we started sprinting for town and county line signs - a point for a town sign, two for a county. As we approached the first one (I was riding with my head down so didn't know it was there), Mandy said there was a sign, so I told her to go for it. Gary jumped as soon as he heard her go though and it was no contest. He ended up taking all the sprints.

Gary kept looking at me and cracking up. I may not be GQ material but I don't look that funny. I asked him what was up - he told me I looked like I was really suffering. Which was true. The thing was we were going about 17 mph. On relatively flat roads, with basically no wind. So he was cracking up.

We would switch riding partners every now and then. I noticed that both Gene and I would let the other two keep talking on the hills. It's a good rule of thumb - be a great listener on the hills.

We rolled around the U of Florida campus towards the end of the ride and met some of Mandy's former co-workers. There were a lot of students walking around - I realized I didn't remember what day it was. Friday, in case you were wondering.

Tomorrow we're doing another early ride and then going to the Gator Football pep rally. Ten years ago, there were 60,000 people at the pep rally after they won their last National Championships. The last pep rally I went to had about 1200 people - one of the ones at my high school.

Luckily, I remembered to pack my Gators shirt.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Florida: Prologue

I call it the Prologue because nothing too significant happens today. For the last two years, we've rolled in at about 4 or 5 PM, assembled our bikes, rolled around the parking lot, ate, and called it a day.

Today was a little different. We took a much earlier flight and actually got a ride in. The early flight involved some unpleasantries like me getting up at 5:15 AM or so. I wasn't feeling too good but the prospect of some warm weather motivated me a bit. On the flip side, the bed with the fiancee and two kitties on it was pretty tempting too. Outside, the luscious grass from Saturday was replaced by reality - brittle, frozen, dying ground. The winter freeze just started to set in, a couple months late, and it was really cold.

My semi-fever didn't help any but I kept my heavy winter jacket and gloves on until we got to the airport, where a switch to the team jacket sufficed till we got into the heated airport.

The flight was uneventful - Air Tran. Got nailed $65 for the bike, which is a little more than the $50 JetBlue gets. Since my name is on the TSA list, I (and my training partner Gene) had to wait around for someone to decide I can fly. I hope that this guy with my name is one BAMF for all the time I have to wait every time I fly. I sat behind a really tall girl - her hips were at or above the seat tops when she stood up - probably 6'2"+. And with less room than Jet Blue, I don't know how she coped. She looked appropriately miserable when she got off the plane.

Someone at the airport looked vaguely familiar. After some thought, I decided she looked just like a girl at the bookshop yesterday. And later, after the flight, I realized this was the case.

I got to see the office from the plane, the various curves and hills that mark my daily commute, and I thought of my colleague Kelly sitting at the office. I thought about telling him to wave out the window but: A) He'd have to do it from one of the Partner's offices and B) we were still gaining altitude and using the phone was a no-no. I didn't want to end up in the news like the woman who lit matches on a flight so I decided to pass on calling the office.

Once on the ground, we got our car and got to Gainesville, home of some football champions. There were special Sports Illustrated magazines declaring this in the supermarket. Apparently it's been 10 years since they won before, and they were not expected to win. There is some celebration going on in a couple days and if I can walk, I'll be there.

I realized that I forgot one thing - my WATERBOTTLES. I say it like that because I have gobs and gobs of waterbottles in the house. My fiancee asks, with good reason, why we need so many. We don't - it's just that this one was from this trip, that from that race, so on and so forth. Now I'm a proud owner of a new Bikes Not Bombs bottle and a Cannondale one.

Florida is a lot warmer than a 20-something degree Connecticut. We rode in shorts and short sleeve jersey. I was tempted to put on my vest but declined as I was actually warm.

I also had my first official flat. On the brand new rear tire that I mounted yesterday. Arg. Took about 5 minutes to fix as I took my time. At least it was glass, not a huge cut or something. I'll have to stop riding so far over on the shoulder.

We got things I needed like a wireless card for the laptop (I didn't know they came in USB format, but that's what I got and that's what I'm using), food (salad, breakfast things, Slim Fast, coffee & related stuff, Rock Star, bananas), and dinner.

We have an early riding date tomorrow with Gary and Mandy and we're planning on doing 3 or 4 hours.

So, in preparation, I first installed the network card. That worked because I'm typing here. Now I have to true my wheels, put a patch under the little cut in my one day old Michelin Pro Lights "Service de Course" tire, and put my clothes away (bottle of mouthwash in my bag blew up when I put my bag on the bed - so my bed won't have gingivitis and any CSI type folks will wonder what the heck I did in bed - but in the meantime all my gear is laid out on the bed).

Hopefully things go well.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Equipment - Deep Carbon Rims

One of the things I've been obsessing about are the wheels I use when I both train and race. I've always thought of the wheels as a mental "race or train" equipment change. Almost everyone had a set of "special" wheels when I raced. At first they were simply lighter wheels, maybe with a lower spoke count. But as the very expensive aero wheels came into vogue, many racers have significantly more aero wheels set aside for racing.

The problem with saving the aero wheels for just races is that you end up with a bike that handles significantly different on race day. Aero wheels present a much taller profile to crosswinds, creating a rudder-like effect.

In the rear that's no problem - the rear "rudder" stabilizes a bike and makes it much easier to hold in line. I've done some road races with very fast descents with a deep profile rear wheel and a normal box section front wheel. My highest recorded speed (calculated through rpms and gear) occurred with such a setup when I sprinted at the top of the big hill in the Fitchburg road race stage and tucked, disregarding the marshals' warnings to slow down. When I slowed and started pedaling, I spun up to 160 rpms before I realized I should coast a bit more. At that time I was going about 64 mph. The aero rear wheel made the bike feel incredibly secure and I never had a moment of fear or doubt in that descent.

On the other hand an aero front wheel wants to flop around. It makes the bike handle so differently that it forces a rider to actually steer the bike as opposed to simply leaning it a bit. Since the front wheel is more significant aerodynamically than the rear, a racer will want to use an aero front wheel if they own one. I'd skip the aero front wheel for any super crazy descents in gusty conditions but around here, and in California, I can't think of any crazy descents like that.

My favorite wheels are currently the Reynolds DV46Ts, 46 mm tall carbon tubular rimmed wheels. They are very light, reasonably aero, and laterally quite stiff.

However they are all carbon, including the brake surfaces, and ideally I'd be using carbon specific brake pads when using the wheels.

Of course the problem is when I train because I normally train on aluminum rimmed wheels. Those regular brake pads get loaded up with bits of aluminum and dirt, fine on an aluminum rim but not that great for a carbon rim - the bits of stuff embedded in the pad wears out the rim sidewalls. So I need carbon specific pads when using the DV46s. This means I have to change pads out each time I race.

This isn't ideal.

I went through a lot of thinking and experimenting with power things (the PowerTap and then the SRM) and wheels. I decided that if I were to train with power, I'd want to be able to race with power too. I couldn't afford to set up too many wheels with PowerTap hubs though, and some wheels like the TriSpokes simply aren't PT compatible. Combined with a desire to significantly stiffen up the frame, this led to the purchase of one SystemSix SRM equiped bike (it has the BB30 bottom bracket shell and Cannondale's rightly earned reputation for making very efficient frames).

This didn't solve my aluminum training rims versus carbon training rims though. So I sold off a few sets of aluminum rimmed wheels, including the beautiful Fulcrum Ones that came on the bike, and bought a set of kindly used Reynolds DV46Cs. The "C" stands for clincher.

Since both the DV46Ts and DV46Cs are made by the same company, and they share generationally similar hubs (they've since moved to DT hubs from the Chris King ones), the wheels should swap spots with no problems. With similar profile rims the clinchers should handle just like the tubulars as far as wind and general behavior is concerned. And of course they both require brake pads specifically designed for carbon rimmed wheels. I'll be able to keep the carbon specific pads on all the time and not worry about changing them out each time I race.

I'll be using the wheels probably tomorrow for the first time, or maybe this weekend, indoors for now. Maybe in a week or two I'll be on the road with them. I know I need to ride them a few times before I go to California so I have three weeks to experiment with them.

As an aside I took the opportunity to weigh the wheels using my new Christmas gift scale accurate to 0.1 grams (this accompanied the bike scale so I have both). The wheels included a rim strip alternative, little rubber plugs that close up each spoke access hole. I didn't remove them but the wheels (no skewers) weighed almost exactly 660 g for the front and 865 g for the rear. Nice and light (albeit not the lightest) and it still has a deep rim profile.

Even though the wheels came with virtually new Continental tires, I also bought a bunch of Michelin Krylion tires, 700x23. I replaced the Contis because, frankly, I'm not impressed with them. And I really like the Michelins, at least the durable ones. I'm tired of flatting on training rides and I'd really like to move to a slightly nicer tire compared to the super reliable but very heavy Schwable Blizzards (wire bead tires). I rode with my friend and former teammate during my San Diego training camp who had Krylion-like Michelins and on a day that I got two flats (a sort of record) he got none. I flatted on a different day and of course he did not. So Krylions it was.

I'll be mounting these tires up, installing some appropriate cassette (11-25), and using them both on the road and on the trainer to get used to them. And, when I fly off to San Diego for my 2008 training camp, I'll be packing a set of carbon clincher wheels.

Then we'll see how my training goes!

How To - After getting a new wheel

After the flat:
Once you get a wheel change, a friendly wheel support crew (figuring a driver and a changer) will try and help the rider. After all, it's normally not the rider's fault they flatted.

I was lucky enough to be the changer on a wheel SUV not too long ago. We had some "customers" but none wanted too much help, and on the first hill after their service, they dropped back. Drafting, unfortunately, only goes so far. It was a bummer because a lot of these customers appeared within the first 10 miles of a 60 to 100 mile race. To be knocked out of the race that early, well, it didn't seem right.

We finally got a Cat 3 who really wanted to be in the race. He flatted, waited, and we could see his teammates at the back of the field, debating whether to wait or not. I'm not sure if he waved them on but they left the very fit looking racer to his fate.

I jumped out, changed his wheel (he was very polite, no swearing or anything), and gave him a push that would make any Tour mechanic proud. The wheel SUV, piloted by a pro racer taking a day to help the promoter, rolled up to me. I jumped in and we caught the guy. The pro told me we should tow this guy up. He looked strong, he was chasing in a committed fashion, and his team seemed willing to have waited. It would be a pity to knock this guy out of the running due to a flat.

We pulled up next to him.

"Hang on," I told the guy, "We'll bring you up."
The rider looked up at us.
"Hang on, " I said again. "Really."
He reached for the window sill.
"Wait," I told him, "hold the bars by the stem. It's more stable if you're riding one handed."
He obliged and moved his right hand over towards his stem.
"Okay," I said to the driver, "Go."

We went.

We started at about 30 mph and we asked if the guy was okay. He seemed fine. A walk in the park, right?

We upped it to about 40. He looked a little wide-eyed but nodded he was okay. Usually you descend as fast as this. And a fast sprint might beat this by a bit.

We upped it again. Now we were going about 50-52 mph with what appeared to be a scared witless Cat 3 hanging on for dear life. But at least his bike was tracking straight.

"Dude, we're going over 50!"

He didn't look up. I think "abject terror" would be an appropriate description of the look on his face. He gamely held on.

We crested a slight rise and saw the officials car.

"Let go, let go." I told him.

He let go and started pedaling furiously after shifting into his top gear. We slowed to an innocent 23-24 mph and creeped up to the official's car. The racer, though, he absolutely rocketed past the startled officials. I wish I could have heard what they were saying. As it was we were trying hard not to crack up laughing. We got some suspicious looks but we just smiled back at them and took our place in the caravan.

I don't know what happened to that rider but I hope he still talks about his 50 mph tow to the field.


I'm sick. I seem to get this every now and then - a lethargic exhaustive deep-into-your-bones fatigue, fever, chills, and muscle soreness. Sometimes it's fine after a day or two. Once it lasted about 3 weeks. I'm hoping this isn't one of those times.

So I've stayed home from work and didn't even get up till the phone rang. The kitties are keeping me company but I have to get ready for my trip tomorrow morning. So I'll have to run an errand or two, pack my bike and my clothes, and pray that a lot of heat, liquids, and rest will make things better tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

How To - Signaling a flat tire in a road race

How to signal a flat tire or wheel problem in a road race:

Probably all of you know that you're supposed to raise your hand if you have a flat. There is that bit about which hand to raise for a front (or a rear). So the question is, how do you signal a flat in a race?

When figuring out which arm to raise, use the shifters as a guide - right-rear (remember RR), left-front. This way all you motorcyclists (typically they swap levers for brakes, except for Harleys which are reverse of the reverse...), Italians, lefties, and people from India (as a friend from India pointed out after he crashed into an office chair riding my bike around the office) can signal the same way.

Of course, if it's a front and you're about to crash, worrying about what hand to use to signal is the least of your concerns. I was in a collegiate road race in Cornell, NY when someone flatted on a 45+ mph descent. A hand went up and I thought "Oh good, he knows how to signal a flat". Then it zipped out of view, I heard the scraping of metal and ground, and the next thing I knew about 20-30 racers were sprawled all over the ground including me. Someone actually had the presence of mind to yell "Crash up!" I don't know if he made it.

If you raise *any* hand, hold your line, don't fall, and manage to filter through the pack without taking anyone out, then you've done as well as anyone would expect you to do.

Once you get to the back, raise the correct hand and see if the wheel guys see you.

For what it's worth, no matter what wheel you need, the neutral support guy will probably ask anyway. When my rear wheel ate my derailleur in a race a long time ago I stopped without really signaling but it was apparent it was a rear wheel problem since it wasn't rolling at all.

"6 or 7 speed?", the excited neutral support guy yelled as he ran toward me, holding two wheels.
"8 speed. And I need a dropout. And a derailleur." (*Note - Campy's first gen Ergo was released with too-thick inner pulley cages, resulting in many broken dropouts and derailleurs. I still have replacement thinner cages in my toolbox.)
"Oh." He turned back to the pickup truck.
"Can I at least get a ride? it's 10 miles back to the parking lot."
"Um.. ok, but you have to sit with the wheels."

It certainly beat walking back.

I sat on top of the wheels and tried not to bend the skinny ones.

Cycle Ops - fixed again

Wanted to let people know that the Cycle Ops fix really does work, but it needed fine tuning. It seems that the axle spacer I put on the Cycle-Ops was a bit too thick. I need to get a thinner spacer (it was a 2 mm spacer, I need a 1 mm). Also some Loctite on the nut holding the flywheel down. And it should be fine.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Wanted: crit bend bars (40-41 cm)

I've been slowly using up my stock of crit bend bars - I'm down to a couple Mavics and some "use last" 3ttt. Like many riders I started out on Cinelli 65's but their insistence on a 26.4 clamp diameter dropped them from favor a long time ago.The Mavics were discontinued about 10 years ago and I got as many as I could when that happened (a grand total of.... two), and I have both mounted on current bikes. I saw a used one on eBay go for $75 or so. The 3ttt is, I think, the Felice Gimondi model. I also have two of those, but both are sketchy after crashes, being the superlight aluminum. They both creak (indicating a probably internal crack) so they are not mounted. In the off season I've been switching to a square bend bar just to "save" my crit bars.

I also have some Cinellis but I cut them all for my bar end (in those pre-STI/Ergo days) and they are somewhat unusable - the right side of the bar is about an inch shorter than the left. Plus they're that 26.4mm clamp diameter.

My body geometry and riding style are such that even with crit bend bars I will bruise my forearms in sprints. With "square" bars, I bruise them whenever I use the drops aggressively. So I really want the crit bars.

I have been unable to find any source of new crit bars. With the bars being unavailable for something like 10 years, I think there is a HUGE pent up market. Just check out eBay and the like - they sell for a boatload of money. But there must be some out there. There are pictures of pros, esp those who sprint, and they have sets - they must be getting them from somewhere.

When something that works is discontinued, it seems that the users of the product have to find these things and hang onto them. I remember reading about Alexi Grewal and how he hoarded the Dura Ace AX cranks and pedals (they had sort of a negative axle to foot height since the ball of the foot was next to the axle). I'm sure the pros that use crit bars are doing the same.

Anyone listening? Deda? ITM? 3ttt? Ritchey?

Oh, and if you are listening, make them in aluminum please.

Florida trip coming up

So my friend at work asked me if I'm excited about the upcoming FL trip. Told him that was an affirmative. I even made a list of electronics I want to bring for apres ride entertainment:
- laptop (and power cord)
- network cable for same
- Playstation 2
- TOCA 2 driving game for PS2 since I can't play it well with my Logitech steering wheel (GT4 is reserved for steering wheel use).
- Portable DVD player I won at my fiancee's company party
- TV adapter thing I got at Radio Shack last time I went to Florida
- My Treo (for listening to music while I ride)
- Sprint phone (I hate sprint but haven't changed yet)
- Chargers for the phones
I should probably bring a surge protector too.

I thought about buying one of those aluminum briefcases for my electronic stuff, you know the ones. People transporting huge amounts of money carry them in the movies, with the briefcases handcuffed to their wrist.

But then I realized it wasn't a good idea. A post-Florida trip might go along the following lines:
"So, how was Florida?"
"Well, I got mistaken for a Mafia mule and someone cut off my hand to get my briefcase)."
"So it wasn't good then?"

On an aside - they're having some gas problems in Manhattan. Apparently you can smell gas. It seems that they're starting to evacuate buildings like the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, shut down the PATH (train from NJ to NYC), and basically stopped all productivity in the financial center of the world. Sort of.

You know, you can't smell natural gas. It's the additive you can smell. So someone might have planted a half dozen tanks of the smelly stuff and just released it into the air. No danger but everyone's been conditioned to report the smell.

Anyway, tonight I need to start prepping my bikes and gear for Florida. Clean up the Florida bike (carbon Giant) and prep for packing. Get the home bike (aluminum Giant) set up on the trainer. Find my fricken cassette tool and swap the cassette onto my FIR rear wheel.

Oh, and video tape me installing a tire so I can post how to do it. It's amazing how many people don't know how to mount a tire onto a rim. That's for a different post.

Hope you're not in NYC.

Why you shouldn't buy a Saturn

A bit off topic but for those of you considering buying a Saturn, you should probably stop considering it right now.

Saturn (the car company, not the planet) , and not a pretty story either. The conclusion is the link, but if you follow the archives, it's pretty sobering.

At least they didn't drop it off the lift. Or drive it into an oil change well. Or did they.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

cooler weather and a long ride

After the slightly-sub-two hour tandem ride yesterday, I said to my fiancee that I need to do a long ride today as I felt pretty terrible once we hit 1.5 hours. With my Florida trip looming, with its 4-5+ hour rides, being in difficulty at 1.5 hours would simply mean disaster at 5 hours. She gave me her blessings as this would let her spend some of her gift cards at Ann Taylor Loft.

Of course, to do my ride, I wanted to test my newly built front wheel. I put a tire and tube on it the other day but didn't do the rear. I mounted the tire and tube there too (there will be a tutorial on this later). But then I couldn't find my cassette tools. After more than an hour of looking around my very messy bike room, I gave up. So I moved the tire over to my current Eurus (dismounting that tire/tube) and put that on the bike. The tires looked great - Michelin things of some sort. The rest of the bike - well, I haven't washed it since I don't know when, and the tape should have been replaced last April.

I also spent an hour putting music on my SD card. I listen to it on the Treo in one ear - I figure that's not too bad, I can hear cars and stuff out the other one.

So a few hours late, I set off.

It was a LOT colder than yesterday's 70 degrees - more like 40 or so. I started off dressed in my new fleece knickers, fleece LS jersey, a SS jersey under that, cap + helmet, booties + shoes, and my Specialized warm gloves. I got about 2 blocks away and stopped - it was too cold. I pulled on my Jamoca and my wind vest.


I should have turned around and picked up my jacket. But the phone rang. A teammate Sean called. He couldn't do his planned ride due to car trouble so wanted to know if I wanted to ride. We decided to meet along a main road between our two places and I set off, forgetting about the jacket.

We met up about a mile from his place (which means I rode about 10).

"Wow your bike looks nice."
"It's the new tires that make it look good. Oh and the new front wheel."

He looked at it closer. No more comments on how nice my bike looked.

We headed north and did a loop and started coming back. After about an hour and a half I started faltering. A PowerGel bought me about half an hour but that also started running out. It didn't help that we had to do some hard climbs and Sean was floating up them. I was struggling. I felt like one of those ice climbers, chipping out one step at a time.

The saving grace - on the way back I got to pull for about 2-3 minutes on a flat, slight downhill, windless section. I got on top of a big gear and rolled pretty hard. When the road started up a short rise, I pulled off. Sean drew up next to me. I looked at Sean and commented, "It's those sections of road that make me feel like a bike racer - I can roll a big gear and it doesn't seem that hard."

He agreed.

The rest of the ride was anti-climactic. We got back towards my place and I really started to falter. Sean did a lot of pulling and dragged me back home. About 2:45 for the ride. Not bad but I hope I am better down south.

I got a block away from the house and my fiancee pulled up behind me in her car. Perfect timing. We shared a lunch, watched some of her CSI DVD's, I changed her oil, we fixed her friend's computer for a few hours, and had a nice dinner.

Three more days and then it's Florida.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Tandem Ride

So my fiancee and I rode for just under two hours on our Cannondale tandem today. She'll readily admit she's a fair weather rider so when it was SEVENTY DEGREES outside we decided we had to go for a ride. Normally it's about 20 degrees and a cold day might be 10 or 15 degrees. Fahrenheit. So when it's about 50 degrees warmer than that and dry, well, you gotta take it when you can get it.

The tandem, except for some Ergo levers, is bone stock. And as a tinkerer, it is only in my nature to want to improve things. The Ergo levers was the first move - I just can not get used to the STI levers and there's a great hack to install 10s Ergo levers on a 9s Shimano drivetrain. So we did that and it's fantastic.

Next I'd like to get 175s up front. It's the same size crank on my other bikes and I find myself spinning way too high for my stoker's tastes. 175's would drop my cadence and also allow me to "cross-train" more effectively.

I need to fiddle with my seat position since it's in a setback position. Forward for more speed and a little more "oomph" would work better.

I'd like to get a close ratio cassette with an 11T. We have a 12T and run out of gear, even when we're not going that fast. An 11-28 or even 11-26 would be nice. Three and four tooth jumps between cogs just destroys our rhythm. It would be better to do a full crossover type gearing - you use a bunch of cogs on the big ring, then move to the middle and use most of the cogs there, then for bailing out of trouble the small ring is in reserve.

Depending on how aggressive I want to go with gearing, we could stay with say a 28T cog and get bigger rings. A 53T is just a bit small. Probably a 55T or 56T would be good (and look hot), and the corresponding low gear (34T or so) would be plenty. Right now we rarely drop into the small ring, and when we do, we're in the middle of the cassette.

We need a much better rear shock post since it seems to be set up for a 40 pound rider. It compresses immediately and offers no shock absorbing value. I hear it every time I miss a bump warning.

Finally, with a few wet spots on the road today, we really need a decent set of fenders. Plastic, light, with cool bendable wire fender-holders which can be bent to clear, say, some big disc brakes. I was thinking of the completely unstandard frame setup (downhill disc brakes, no cantilevers yet). I think a spoke wrapped into three loops and bent into a triangle would work to hold the fender up between the canti mounts - a loop for one canti mount, a straight section up above the (700c road) tire, a loop there for the fender, a straight section down to the other canti mount, and a loop for a bolt there. Clean, simple, light.

The chain squeaked a bit today so I also want to rig up a self-lubing system - a small spray can of White Lightning attached to the rear seat tube with nozzles extending to the chains on either side. The stoker (who hears more of the squeaking), if annoyed at some chain noise, could simply press the spray nozzle to lube the chain.

Today we put a second saddle bag on as well, under the stoker stem. The rear bag carries things unusable on the move - tools, a tube, etc. The front has more immediate things like gels plus another tube. As my seat is low we can't fit a handlebar bag back there like some other tandemers we know, but I'd like to try and maintain the image that we're a "fast" tandem, and handlebar bags just destroy that look.

We saw a lot of people out today. In the town next to us there were a lot of people meandering on the sidewalks, sitting on the benches, and just generally hanging out. With the sun, the stillness of the weekend, it was kind of like a Lazy Sunday except it's Saturday. Warm, breezy, etc.

We coasted down a hill, taking it a bit easy, and then punched it to get up a short hill - we accelerated from a brake-induced 37 mph to 44 mph as we rolled over the hill. It was a lot of fun but we ran out of gas and slowed back down. We held off the SUV's behind us for a quarter mile though so that was cool (speed limit was 35).

And the topper - on the way back home, we were passed by a most regal looking Cadillac. My fiancee and I have been on the prowl for a nice limo but not a "regular" one. I was thinking a Maybach, Bentley, a new Rolls, or something like that. Now this guy had a beautiful 1939 Cadillac 4 Door with a red silk interior (outside looks kind of like this one). Owned by some actress and complete with roses in vases on the inside. Anyway, we were presumptuous enough to ask him if he did weddings. He gave us a card so we'll see if he'll do it. If not, I'll resume my search for a Rolls (my current favorite new limo type car).

So we got in a bunch of miles, spent about two hours on the tandem, talked and stuff (instead of a single bike ride where one is always waiting and the other is always trying to catch up), looked at houses, people watched, and found a potential limo for the wedding. What a great ride!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

2007 Bethel Spring Series - Season fast approaching

Phew. It's official, the Bethel Spring Series is going to be held again. As an FYI it's not "official" till the permits are filed and the flyer approved. That much is done. Now we can start to post flyers, receive race entries, etc. For now, till the paperwork is filed and the insurance and stuff all done, we're "permit pending". Once we're issued permit numbers, each week will be held under that particular permit number.

The link for bikereg and racelistings.

Always an incredible stress for yours truly. I guess this is only the beginning of a 4 month stress raiser, peaking, coincidentally, on tax day, April 15th. It's not as bad as it used to be. We have a pretty well established routine as we've been doing this for a while. I tried to pin down the first year of the Series but couldn't find anything before 1994 (it was already pretty established), so the "history" will have to be updated some other time. Our favorite officials, Mike and Meg, are signed up to watch over the racers once again. The town has given us their blessing (I think that's the appropriate phrase since "Bethel" means the "house of God"). And a couple teams have volunteered their help.

Now to make sure we have marshals, no weird crashes, no snow or ice, and not too much sand or snow on the course, especially during the Series. It really sucks spending 4-5 hours the Saturday before one of the races sweeping and shoveling heavy wet sand only to watch it snow the next week and knowing there's sand all over the course again.

At a personal bike racing level this is by far the most ideal course for me, at least in the Cat 3's. First it's early enough in the season that my inherent aerobic shortcomings are well muffled by temperature, tactics, and untrained legs. It rewards a combination of speed-power (i.e. jump) and tactics, things I rely on throughout the season. It's not quite so killer as to reward the lightweight mountain goats. And too windy to reward the super power time trialers. So things stay together, especially later in the Series when racers are a bit fitter. It would be no fun if the 5 or 10 guys who have a lot of miles simply rode away every week, although that sometimes happens in the first week or two.

Hey look, they get their chance at other races.

This race, it's mi casa.


Doesn't always work out that way though. I've lost a pedal with 500 meters to go (one of the aforementioned Aerolite things), watched really strong racers ride away from the field, or been so out of shape I measured how long I raced in minutes because 4 minutes sounds better than 2 laps. I've learned though and I manage each year.

It'll be a little more apparent in the next two months that I try to be one of those "with a lot of miles on my legs". I've alluded to my Florida training camp (next week) but I also hit the West Coast for a longer and hillier training camp. San Diego, baby! I won't have three weeks like I did last year but I'll take the 10 or so days I do have. Inevitably, my training takes a nosedive after Bethel so I typically peak in late March. Racers joke about being "Spring Champions" or "peaking for Bethel". I actually do.

Nevertheless, no matter how I think I'm doing, when I am racing at Bethel, I suffer and die every lap to get over the stupid hill. To put things in perspective to those fit racers out there (you know who you are), the hill is about 6 or 7% and 150 meters long. And I grovel on the hill. There are those beautiful laps where suddenly I float up the thing. But those are few and far between.

You can laugh now.

When it comes to the finish though there is nothing, and I mean nothing, like Bethel for me. Maybe the 120 sprint on the Gimbles ride. Or the defunct SUNY Purchase sprints. Those are fun too and suit my strengths. But Bethel...

I think it was in 2004 a 7 man break went up the road. They were willing to work, had strong teammates chasing anything that moved back in the group, and they simply rode away. They took with them all the points places (six of them) so there was nothing to sprint for in the field. Perhaps some money, but nothing more significant than your entry fee back. Just the sprint for the sprint's sake. Having three friendly rivals back there meant that it would be a good sprint regardless.

After it was obvious that nothing was going away (I did try to go but it was a pathetic simulation of a bridge attempt), I sat at the back and fantasized about being able to go in a break like that. The bell pulled me out of la-la land and back to reality. After the first turn I turned to find Bethel Cycle rider Brian Wolf next to me. I said to him "It's miracle time". I meant it mainly as a joke as we were dead last, probably 100 meters behind the front of the rapidly stringing-out field. But he looked over, grinned, and said "Go for it".

So I did.

I rode pretty hard on the first stretch to get past the guys done for the day - they were sitting up and gapping themselves off the field. I cleared them coming into the right bend where things typically bunch up. I did some "inside the pack" maneuvering to move up - my favorite part of racing, the moving up within the field. On the backstretch I had to seek shelter and hid from the wind so that was just a bookmark move, nothing happened. Then, with about 300 meters to go, I aggressively moved up at the last (flat, bearing right) bend.

As we started around the bend before the left-curving finish hill, I found myself out in the wind again. I was rapidly running out of gas, couldn't afford to sit out there and cook, so I dropped back a few hard earned rows to seek shelter. Then, as the chaos of sprinting up a 150 meters S-curve started to show itself, I jumped hard on the right, which at this point is the outside of the curve. The prior week there was a huge stack-up on the crowded left so I wanted to avoid that if at all possible.

You know how finish lines seem impossibly far away when you're sprinting? And they only seem to get further as you turn your pedals in slooooow mooootion?

Well, it happens. And as I crawled up to the line I used everything I had. I was blowing big time and was cashing in every inch I earned jumping out of the field. At the line I desperately threw my bike as two guys rocketed passed me.

I didn't know if I won the sprint. But that's a... how do you say it when something is inherently contradictory? Because as a sprinter in the Tour, perhaps Robbie McEwen, recently pointed out, "You always know when you lost a sprint, but you can't tell when you've won."

I wasn't sure who won the field sprint. Which means, based on the comment above, I might have won it. Checking the finishline camera settled it and it was apparent that I managed to do it. A couple more feet and it would have been "nice try, dude". But this time it was "nice sprint dude". All due to a well-practiced bike throw.


So this is another year. It's another year where you think "This time I'll jump earlier (or later or to the other side or whatever it is)". Or "I'll definitely do my hard days even if it's raining outside." Or "I have to remember how hard it is racing the May races compared to the April races and keep that in mind when I train." "I promise myself not to sit up in the sprint." You know, all the things you thought last year.

And I'm getting ready for it.