Tuesday, February 27, 2007

How To - Helmet Cam for Cyclists

People have asked about the helmet cam I use. It's a pretty straight forward setup with a camcorder, a remote camera, and miscellaneous things needed to make everything work. First a picture of the whole setup outside of the bag.

Lilly (she is the one with the pink collar) is suspicious about this bag previously not on the floor here. I've strapped the helmet cam bit to the chair leg. The white thing is the mic. And you can see the camcorder, battery pack, and the bag. The jumble at the bottom are all the various wires to feed the image from the helmet cam to the camcorder VCR.

Camcorder: I use a Canon ZR100. It has the ability to act as a VCR and record from an external source. It is NOT used as a camcorder - it's used only as a VCR. Many people do not realize this. I can't blame them since I didn't know that when I first looked into a helmet cam.

Left side of ZR100, closed, showing the taped allen wrench to try and somewhat successfully prevent the stop/pause button from being pushed accidentally (the two buttons on the right side, under the L of the wrench). I also have a sawed off drawer handle which is a little better. I'm going to use that again.

Next, the left side open. Note the lower left button labeled "Rec Pause". This means that as a VCR, this camcorder can record. This means you can use an external camera. Many camcorders do not do this and therefore cannot be used as part of a setup like this.

Below is the camcorder's right side is where the remote camera feeds to the camcorder. You can see the electrical tape to hold the wires in place and the power switch (the rotating knob at the back with the green thing on it) stationary.

Helmet Cam: I use a ChaseCam. Specifically it's a 520 line helmet cam pictured below. Go to ChaseCam, not any other site. Here it is with the battery pack described below. The thing wrapped in white duct tape is the powered mic. I have to find a wind screen for it so the sound is more interesting than a loud, roaring background.

Battery pack: I use one from ChaseCam. I use rechargeable Duracell batteries as you can see in the picture. I love the batteries - use them in my blinky taillight, LED headlight, remotes, weather station (going strong for a few months now, and half of it sits outside in the bitter cold).

Mic: I use a powered one from ChaseCam. Again, it's the thing wrapped in white duct tape. Why duct tape? Well, when I was getting ready for my race, I had the duct tape we use for the finish line next to me. So it got pressed into duty.

Camera bag: I use a basic CamelBak for this - the Hydro ($30). I took the water bag out and put all the camera stuff in.

I tape and zip-tied things together. I used a helmet mount from one of my many night light rejects (possibly a Vista light setup).

Since I can't start/stop the recording remotely, I have to do the following:
1. Set up helmet cam on helmet.
2. Plug everything in and put in bag.
3. Start recording and verify feed is active from helmet cam.
4. Put bag on.
5. I usually wear another jersey on top of the CamelBak. I guess I look like a motorcycle racer with the aero lump on the back, but at least you can read my jersey.
6. If I have someone around to help, they verify the camcorder is actually recording. So far I've had 3 events where something went wrong by this time.
7. With an 80 minute DV tape on LP, I have 120 minutes recording time. The camcorder battery can support recording this whole time.
8. When I finish, I have to remove everything. I don't know how regular users of the CamelBak do it because I just cannot reach the strap adjusters when it's on my back. I have to practically dislocate my shoulder to get the thing off. Then I can see if things recorded.

So this is the setup I use. I don't know how much it weighs exactly, but it's probably about 3 pounds. The camcorder is 1.5 lbs, the rest, well, I don't know. At my level of riding, 3 pounds on my back is not going to affect my racing. (3 pounds on my wheels, well, that's another story.)

My next mission is to get what I record and share it with you. The motivation for the helmet cam was to share with my fiancee just why I get so excited over racing a tightly packed criterium. Elbows, hips, shoulders, corners, jumps, brakes, it doesn't get more exciting than that. I also recorded one of my Summer Street Sprint workouts - this is where I use 30-40 mph traffic on a one way road as leadouts and opponents in imaginary sprint finishes.

Then she watched part of that tape. A tamer part, I have to admit.

"I think you were a little too close to that car."

Maybe it wasn't such a hot idea after all.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Shartkozawa - Ride Report

There were a few disappointments today.

First, while marking the course, I discovered a bridge was closed for repairs. When I was more gung-ho about this event I used to recon the route in the prior weeks but now I wait till the morning of the ride. With the middle of the figure eight course cut, it became a small "o" about 10 miles around. I decided to have everyone do the loop twice to make it about a 20 mile event. The plus side is the second loop would be less "where do we turn now" and more "I'm going to attack on that hill".

Another disappointment is the photographer never showed up, or if they did, they were in a different part of the parking lot (or waiting inside the Stop & Shop). We park as far away from the store as possible to let legitimate customers have the good spots. So no team kits in the papers I'm afraid.

Finally, my helmet cam turned off when I put it in my Camelbak. So no footage except the finish footage I got at the end of the ride.

But the positives. Weather was decent (I wasn't looking to suffer that much). Riders showed up (only two said they'd be there prior). Everyone filled out a release (yay!). I was able to descend well, even for a Connecticut boy amongst Connecticut riders. And we had no incidents with rider, mechanicals, or townspeople.

With temps in the teens overnight and about 22-24 degrees at the start, it wasn't really warm. But with reasonably bright skies, no precipitation, and relatively dry roads, the conditions were fine for a February Connecticut ride. Ten riders (including yours truly) showed up for the event.

After a round of "Hey I haven't seen you since last year" greetings and a discussion on the shortened course which would be covered twice, the riders rolled out. One rider Johan, a Shart newbie, seemed particularly eager to go, enough that I had a bit of difficulty talking after the mile or so neutral zone before the start. We paused for some final notes and warnings, caught our breath, and went.

Johan, of course, was the first to go about 60 seconds into the ride. It seemed that everyone watched for me to go since I had been on his wheel but I was already cooked. Ian went next (he had just returned from riding and racing in Florida), followed by almost everyone else on the ride - teammates Edgardo and Doug; Johan's old friend Andreas; Dominique (I think a teammate of Edgardo and Doug but wearing a different kit). Only Michael, another Shart newbie Matthew, and my teammate Sean were left with me. And to be honest, I think Michael severely slowed his pace down to wait for us as he eventually noodled away down.

Sean, Matthew and I decided to call it after one lap. My excuse was to video tape the "end" of the ride. Quite spectacular for a little group. Johan did a lot of work and ended up cooking himself before the downhill finish. Ian, intent on improving on his second place of years gone by, did an aggressive sprint. But Doug passed him just short of the line to finish the ride first. Ian was second, trailed by Dominique, Edgardo, Johan, and eventually Andreas and Michael.

We hung out for coffee after and talked about the ride and cycling in general.

During that time a random guy in the coffee shop came up to me and (re-)introduced himself. He used to race, his wife was a serious racer, and the last time I really spoke with them was when she was riding while pregnant with their first child. I mentioned that to him. He pointed across the room and said "Well there they are now!" We all looked.

The girls were probably old enough to drive.

It's been a long time.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - Promoting a Race

(A past interview about the race here. It's sort of a mission statement for the Bethel Spring Series.)

I was told a long time ago (by a racer) that before I complain to any promoter about their race, I have to earn the right to do so. The only way to earn that right? Promote a race myself.

And you know what?

Since I started promoting races, I've rarely found anything to complain about at a race.

I thought of this because as the Connecticut State Rep and as Carpe Diem Promotions (we offer free help to all promoters), I inevitably end up talking to people who want to promote races. Some have the most basic questions. Others ask for actual help with the whole process.

Whenever I talk with a fellow promoter, inevitably the topic turns to how stressful promoting a race can be on oneself. It's so true. For me the most stressful thing about promoting a race is dealing with irate racers and irate townspeople.

The absolute worst thing a promoter can have is an irate townsperson (tenant, resident, or town official). The irate townsperson has the ability to shut down the race pretty quickly and pretty decisively, and oftentimes they are irate not because of the promoter but because of a misbehaving racer. Speaking as both a racer and a promoter, a misbehaving racer is simply inexcusable. A doping racer only affects other racers in that race (by doing better than normal). A misbehaving racer affects everyone - the local residents, officials, promoters, and other racers.

The next worst thing a promoter can have is an irate racer. Sometimes the irate racer is absolutely correct, and if a promoter makes a big mistake, it's the promoter's responsibility to fess up and correct it. Racers need things like some semblance of a registration area, bathrooms, parking, timeliness, and a course with pedestrian/traffic/rider control. Missing crucial and necessary elements will provoke even racers who promote to complain.

Sometimes the racer is only technically correct - perhaps a marshal couldn't stop a car or gave unclear directions or the pace car got lost or slowed up in the sprint. I say technically because these types of incidents can occur even though they were not supposed to. I have been pushed by cars entering the course - standing in front of the car didn't stop the driver. At that point, what can a marshal do?

However sometimes the racer is simply venting about something they don't like about the race - perhaps the prizes, the number of places, the categories, things like that. Inevitably, these types of irate racers have one thing in common - they have never promoted or helped promote a race. That leads back to the advice passed down to me.

The reason why this advice applies?

Promoting a race is a whole different ballgame.

Like many other things in cycling, promoting involves making compromises. When you set up your bike for a road race, you may think primarily about weight - reducing it, to be precise. You'd choose your lightest wheels, remove your training lights and saddle bag, maybe put a wider bar on (for easier breathing on the tops), etc. However, if you were to set your rig up for a criterium, you'd probably emphasize speed and agility - aero wheels and narrower bars. A time trial would call for aero bars and aero wheels. Each setup is optimized for a particular type of event.

Likewise, promoting a race means a LOT of compromising.

First, you have to choose your venue. Crit? Road Race? Do you have a lot of resources? This means volunteers/helpers, registration gear, finish line gear, etc. Lots of helpers means a RR is viable (marshalling the various intersections). Fewer would point you to a controlled course Crit (say in an industrial park).

Next you have to set your budget. Sponsors help but I've always been leery of depending on sponsors. So we try not to use any sponsorship money. We'll take product of course, and anything that would help make the race more interesting. For example, we have leaders jerseys which are donated to us by Champion Systems. But we typically don't ask for money and we don't rely on sponsorship to make our race.

If you have no sponsors, then determining prizes becomes sketchy. Without knowing how many racer you'll have (your sole source of revenue), you don't know what you'll be able to give out. To work around this, we do a sliding scale prize list. We offer a minimum for up to a 39 rider field, then for every increase in the 10's digit (4 for 40 racers, 5 for 50, etc.) we offer an increased prize list. Our minimum (assuming sub-39 rider fields) is anywhere from $955 to $1700 per week. We are actually budgeting based on higher field numbers but when starting I'd recommend working off of a minimal turnout.

Part of the prize list process is figuring out what races to hold. A promoter decides this based on time available (availability of course and helpers determine this), minimum race distances (certain categories have certain expectations), and potential or past demand (i.e. you can be nice but a race has to support itself at some level). Some people are all for a "Pro" race - just Pro/1/2's and Women. A sort of a star-studded race held, say, just before or after Fitchburg or some other important race. Others want more Masters racers. Still others want Juniors or Women or Cat 5's or Cat 3's. At the Bethel Spring Series we hold Cat 5's, 4's, M40+/Jr, Women, Cat 3/4's, and Pro/1/2/3's. We've tried to accommodate everyone we can with the limited time we have. We cut down on some of the race lengths in order to do so - but then again who wants to race 50 laps on the same circuit? Recently we added the Women's race as we feel it will support itself.

Once you think you can put on a race, you need to make it official. File paperwork, get insurance (no race is worth losing your life and future savings), get officials, get town permission, and basically do everything to make the race "official". Once done it's very hard to go back. It's like the difference between going out with someone and booking a wedding venue. You can simply break up with your significant other if you're just dating, but once you're engaged, it's a different story altogether. (Canceling the race on the day of the event is like canceling a wedding).

When the race is official, you really have to get your act together. You need to coordinate your helpers, officials, the town, and anyone else involved so that things work smoothly. You'll have to publicize your race (we use bikereg.com but all USCF races are listed in the USA Cycling website as well).

Finally you have to show up on race day with your gear, hope that everyone else shows up, and do the actual race.

If things go well, then after the race you can give a big sigh of relief and go and celebrate however you celebrate big accomplishments.

And if you think about doing it again, you have a few months of stress-free racing before thoughts of next year's event start intruding into your life once again.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Bike Throws - Tour of California Bettini

When I saw the picture of Bettini winning the stage in the 07 TofC I was unimpressed with the TMobile rider Gerard Ciolek since he wasn't throwing his bike. In the picture his torso was clearly ahead of Bettini. This means a bike throw would have guaranteed Ciolek the win.

Having seen this "lack of a throw" numerous times in races at the lower categories (i.e. the Cat 3's-5's, including races I do), I started thinking that maybe the new pros don't know what they're doing (if Ciolek doesn't know how to throw a bike, who does?) and other things like that.

Then I saw more pictures on cyclingnews.com. The following sequence (first, second, third) clearly shows that Ciolek was not sprinting for the right line - he sprints through the finish. He actually looks at Bettini as if he's wondering why Bettini was throwing his bike. This shot shows him throwing the bike correctly, just at the wrong time. It looks like he threw his bike about 3 or 4 meters late - you can see the finish line 3 lines back.

I'm wondering if he threw his bike using photographers or a banner as a guide. This is a typical mistake.

Cardinal rule of sprinting: Sprint for the line on the road. Don't sprint for photographers, finish line banners, or things like that. The line on the road could be well before or well after the normal landmarks.

So I have to take back what I thought about the new pros and new generation of racers. Ciolek did a great job to end up contesting the sprint when more favored racers couldn't get close. He did an excellent bike throw. He only made one mistake but it was enough to deny him a victory.

And I can't fault Ciolek for that mistake, sprinting for the wrong line. After all, I did the same thing in one of the best races I ever had. Ciolek will learn from his error.

Just like I did.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Shartkozawa - it's really official now

I guess it's really official now. After USA Cycling got the Shartkozawa Classic XV permitted in absolute record time, the Wilton Bulletin (the local paper) called and will send a photographer to take pictures at the start. I pointed out it's a really low key ride with 4-6 riders but after the caller read a bit about the ride, she said that it sounds really cool and she'd like to send someone to take pics.

So find all your new team gear and get it ready. It'll probably be one of the first times your jersey will be in the paper this year. Clip and send to your sponsor(s).

Sunday Feb 25, 10 AM, in the Wilton Stop and Shop parking lot.

Remember, Carpe Diem Promotions pays all fees. You just have to fill out and sign a release form.

See you out there!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Shartkozawa - February 25, 2007

Once again, we will be having the Shartkozawa Classic ride, version XV, USCF Fun Ride Permit #534. It's really low key, we start in the parking lot, ride neutral to the start area, then after a brief discussion on rules of the road, set off. The ride is based on the honor system. It's free (we pay the fees), there no prizes, and afterwards we go out for some coffee.

It's the cult "ride", as one participant pointed out.

The ride started a long, long time ago. Based on my calculations, it was 1988 or maybe 1989. It was named after the four full-time employees at the sponsoring (but now defunct) shop. I'll list only their last names - SHeridan, hARTley, KOZar, kikAWA. Hartley was actually responsible for the course. Starting in Wilton, CT, it meanders up some back roads to New York and drops back into the center of Wilton.

The idea was to create a tough but doable route that was tough on both riders and equipment but was not so hard that an out-of-shape racer would be unable to finish. The main requirement was to ride on as many dirt roads as possible. The fact that a couple of the dirt roads had very steep hills was a bonus. And by holding the race in February, one could almost guarantee some sort of frozen precipitation on the roads.

The first year we had a few illuminaries show up - the best known being the designer of the Cannondale Delta V, American Motorcycle Association (AMA) racer extraordinaire Chris D'Allusio (sp?). Also, Tour Du Pont "Hammer and Hell" tape producer, editor, and narrator, Jim MacDonald, and his brother (a cameraman), I forget his name but it might have been Kevin. Our strongest riders appeared to be the aforementioned M Hartley, the organizer and a forever Cat 3 (aren't we all), and R Smith, a pioneer mountain biker and local Expert class dominator. He was the sole rider on a mountain bike. The rest of us were on road bikes, and I think none of us had unusual tires - i.e. we were on road tires with one rider on cross tires.

That's fine in June, but this was February and we started out in some pretty bad conditions - it had snowed about 4-8 inches overnight and many of the roads on which we were riding were not plowed. To top it off warm air caused dense fog to appear all around the course.

The first couple hills separated the riders into two groups - the front group and "everyone else". Descending down to the base of the hardest hill, the "pace car" (a 1986-ish MR2 driven by Monsieur Kozar) started sliding on the unplowed roads. At this point the dirt road had about 6-8" of snow and everyone's spokes were full of snow. The riders still together - myself, race organizer Hartley, Smith, and Chris - had to pass the car to avoid it. Due to the fact everyone scattered when the car started to slide, we passed said sliding car on both sides. Our brakes weren't working so we couldn't slow to avoid the car. And this just before two hard turns on a very rough dirt road going onto a narrow bridge at the base of the climb.

Somehow, everyone made it through and hit the slushy, snowy, muddy climb. Even back then I didn't like to climb and this was no exception. I slammed it into my bottom gear of 42x26 and struggled to the top, tires sinking into the muddy road. I had the fortune of being able to see where everyone else's tires sank into the dirt so chose the firmest ground for myself.

Hartley stopped to direct people at the top of that climb where a route marker was mysteriously missing (we suspect a local resident took it out). I didn't know until I crested the climb in a oxygen-debt haze and saw him in front of me, pointing to turn right. Smith, he on the mountain bike, had dropped back but would catch me shortly after and pass me. I never saw him again. Hartley waited for me to turn, let Smith know, remounted, blew by us both, and took off after the lone leader.

Out in front, Chris was showing everyone that if you can ride a motorcycle at a hundred and something miles an hour, riding in deep snow on skinny road tires wasn't a big deal.

The fog was overpowering - I could barely see 50 feet. I calculated how far ahead each rider was when a horn tooting car drove by. I had to wait to hear the next toot. Then the next. And then, after a relatively long pause, the last faint toot. The gap to the leader was substantial, and it was apparent from the horn toot interval that Ray was pulling away from me. I settled in to try and make it to the finish without getting caught by anyone behind me.

On the run back on the snow covered dirt roads, on probably the sharpest downhill curve, I started sliding to the outside of the road. I ended up off the road, but, looking at the snowbank on the side of the road, found that someone had already done the same thing. I didn't see any "face-plant angel" snow patterns so I just followed the tracks. They led back to the road, I followed them, and kept churning the pedals.

When I finally finished, I learned that Chris beat Mike by 5 minutes or so. That's fine but it was more impressive after hearing what he went through. For one thing, after following some nice tire tracks on the road, he ended up riding a few hundred yards up a driveway to someone's palatial house. He had to turn around and ride back to the road. And when I polled the riders to see who went off the road, he piped up. Apparently he was the one that went off road sliding in that curve.

In the years since there have been a few missed editions (usually when I was sick) and recently, after worrying about liability, the ride has become a "clinic" on "how to ride on dirt roads". This year we're fortunate enough to have it licensed as a "Fun Ride".

It's recommended that you leave your light wheels and tires behind. Durable tires are the order of the day, with maximum pressure to avoid pinch flats. The dirt roads can be tough on any wheel so we recommend only "disposable" wheels. Participants should also carry their own pump, tube(s), and tire changing equipment. The course is short - about 19 miles - and takes just over an hour to complete.

We'll see you out there.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - News Release

So we put out a release on the Bethel Spring Series here. Actually I didn't do it, the other guy who helps promote the races did it. It's all good, eventually we end up on the same page - things are fine as long as the both of us show up at the first race at about the same time on the same day.

One of the things that strikes me about the Series is the amount of money we give away - a little over $8000 for the 6 week series. Our advertised prizes are cash, not merchandise or trophies or Snickers bars. The cash helps attract racers, who then make it possible for us to give more cash, which in turn bumps the racer count again. It's a good cycle once you get into it, but until (as a promoter) you put something interesting up, people won't show up.

Money is a great attraction. Everyone can use it, it's easy to split among teammates, and it's easier to tell your significant other "I got some money" instead of "I won a jersey that might fit you."

Having said that, we do have some significant gift certs to a local/online shop (Bethel Cycle Sport), Tektro carbon caliper brakes, and possibly some other goodies which are not included in the $8000+ prize list.

Another attraction is a good course. It could be a long road race, an interesting circuit, or a nicely done criterium. Bethel, to be honest, is not an "interesting" course. Its appeal is in what it's not in March and April in New England. It isn't really hard, it isn't really technical, and it is new-racer friendly:
1. It's swept by yours truly with other racers' help so it's clean of winter sand.
2. It was made with excellent quality pavement so it's a smooth surface even after 10+ years of New England frost heaves.
3. It is reasonably wide (2+ lanes) and racers can use the whole road.
4. It has a hill enough to wear people out but not enough to blow apart the field (important for an early season race).
5. Grate covers allow racers to use every inch of the road.
6. It is not too technical (no real turns) so it eases racers back into a group riding mentality.

Finally, and we hope this holds true this year, we hope that the separate Women's race will appeal to those Women racers who enjoyed our trial 3 week period of separate Women's races in 2006. We appreciated the response (and it appears the racers appreciated the race) so we decided to do the Women's race as a separate race for 2007.

As usual our overall goal is to have a fun, safe race.

Hope to see you out there.

Monday, February 19, 2007

California - Day Thirteen - wrapping up

My mom used to call all those extra scenes at the end of a movie "snake's legs" - unnecessary, in other words.

Today is the "snake's legs" day, packing up, cleaning up, and generally recovering before going to work tomorrow. Luckily it's raining so I don't feel like I ought to be out there training.

Overall I feel a lot better than yesterday when I nodded off leaning on the babyseat next to me.

Last year I returned home and learned that two other local riders were in the area at about the same time. But they were a LOT faster than me (they were also Cat 2's or 1's). It might be that they were honing form rather than searching for it. Although I can't say I honed too much form, I definitely gained some. I'll have to take some measurements at home to have some objective numbers.

I've eaten enough for the rest of the day. Now to pack my bike (the rest is pretty much done) and I'll be off.

See you on the other side.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

California - Day Twelve - Sprinter Della Casa

Today I finally ended up with some "use" type injuries. They're very minor - probably a 1 on a scale from 1 to 10. One is a slight twinge on my right knee. The other is a somewhat aggressive cut where I sit on the saddle (this one is probably a 2 or a 3). I suspect both were caused by the fact that I put myself under pretty hard pressure yesterday and didn't ease to adjust position or pedaling style (or simply ease up). Pushing through the various heat-caused goosebumps and chills, plus the pressure of the "pace" (in quotes since I think I was the only one who was so pressured) made me ignore some subtle warning signs. Now I've paid a small price.

With my two slight twinges, a sense of fatigue, and a much cooler, breezier day, I decided not to try and ride at all. Instead I watched and listened to some of the Daytona 500 coverage. We went to downtown San Diego where my friend's family flew in. After a big dinner, a trip to the medical center (someone else had a fractured toe), some cleanup (another someone, a little one, threw up everywhere), a bath (the other little one was in the previously mentioned throw-up path), I'm ready to call it a night.

Actually, I'll check Tour of California results first. Okay that's done.

Anyway, I'll probably call it a trip too.

Tomorrow I'll need to pack up the bike and all the gear. So after all this talk about Palomar, I never got to do it. I probably won't in the future either unless I drive out there and start at the base. Riding 3 hours out and then doing it is just beyond what I'm willing to go through to do a ride. And my climbing is so abysmal, something I rediscovered during this trip, that it's not really purposeful do go and climb for three hours.

I was looking at the Campy catalog and admiring the very light wheels, especially the Shamals, a wheelset I've never seen. They're probably a pound or more lighter than my very normal wheels and about as light as my race wheels. I entertained the thoughts of what it would be like to ride them. Then I thought about it and said to my friend that I could have a 13 lbs bike (versus my 19 lbs or so bike) on the group ride and it wouldn't have made any difference. I still would have been suffering at the back on each of the climbs.

This blog is called Sprinter Della Casa for a reason. I've decided that I should just focus on getting fit and (re-)optimizing my sprint. I don't think it's practical for me to "work" on climbing. I'll take it if it comes, but if it doesn't, I won't go looking for it. Trying to do a road race with a 2 mile climb? No longer in my plans. Sure I'll do it if it seems viable. But I won't go looking for them.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

California - Day Eleven - Hot

Today we did the Celo Pacific Inland ride. Very mellow as some of the folks are racing tomorrow. Nevertheless I was suffering.

First problem - my flat from yesterday actually cut the tire bad enough that the tube started to come out. So before we got to the Grand Deli, we stopped to put a piece of tube box inside the tire. As this was a special occasion, I lined up the cardboard with the valve so it'd be easier to mount and easier to check. As soon as we got on the bikes, we saw the group. They were nice and let us jump on.

One of their riders then flatted. And would you believe, my next problem - I flatted my front tire some miles into the ride. The group waited (very nice as we were technically not part of the ride). My friend and I changed the tube pretty quickly but it was still a ride disruption.

Then we got to some climbs. My legs were not the freshest, with cumulative fatigue from the last ten days of training, but even if I was fresh I don't think I could have stayed with the splintering group. Maybe with the last couple riders. The three women more than held their own and all the guys were chatting away as they rode away from me. How humbling. I consider this my third problem.

We stopped at the top of a particularly long climb for water. For once I ran out of water (two full bottles) in a hurry and started getting goosebumps and lightheaded. There was a reason. According to someone's thermometer, it was 101 degrees at the top of the climb. I don't think I see that in the depths of the summer back at home. 91 at another water stop. And dry.

On the way back, I complained my legs were dead, but I was still able to do some pulling. The descents were fun but I wish I had two fully inflated tires instead of two semi-inflated tires. It would have made carving those arcs much more fun.

As usual, with my dense build, I descended like a rock. Apparently others thought I descended pretty well, but honestly it's the mass thing - gravity does all the work.

It seems also that when I'm tired I can't get out of my pedals. This happened on the last long ride I did and it happened again today. I was forced to do trackstands at lights and once tried unsuccessfully to bang my foot out while hanging onto another rider.

The trackstands led to a discussion with one guy who wanted to know how to do trackstands. Although I'll do a post later on trackstands, the basic premise is you need to have forward or backward movement to balance on a bike (for us normal people). So by allowing the bike to roll backwards, you then buy some forward movement. On downhills, you have to throw the bike back, and your mass (say 10x the mass of the bike) will force the bike back. This buys you forward movement but it uses more energy. The guy had one of those blank looks on his face so I explained it's like throwing the bike. When you throw your bike, your body moves backwards and your bike moves forwards proportionate to their weight ratios.

"Oh it's like physics."

Yep. Now you have another thing to tell your kids when they don't want to study math.

Ultimately we ended up at the Grand Deli and had a great "breakfast" (it was after noon). Ironically two of the riders were from the East Coast and one had even done the race at Bethel. It's always interesting riding in California - you inevitably run into East Coast riders.

And then struggled onto our bikes and crawled back to home base, about 30 minutes away.

Now for some recovery (nap?) and more food.

Oh and we had pro siting #5 today: Skyler Bishop, Kodakgallery.com - Sierra Nevada. He and two other riders (non-pro) cruised by the group and rode away from us.

Friday, February 16, 2007

California - Day Ten - PCH

I was planning on doing a many hour ride today, something like a Palomar attempt. But after waking up a bit late and feeling sapped of energy, I decided to wait a bit and do a shorter ride. In the past I've come back from California with no speed whatsoever and get into serious trouble the first time I race. I wanted to work on that today. Unlike Connecticut, there aren't a lot of flat roads with lots of truck traffic going 35-40 mph. They're all hilly and the trucks are going 50+. A bit fast for me.

I did manage to catch a nice oil rig and sat behind it for a while at 45+ mph. I had to get across a two lane "exit" (i.e. I was on the right and had to get to the third lane to go straight). As the traffic started moving, I jumped to get up to car speed, moved over to the third lane, and accelerated up to the truck. I was immediately in the 11 tooth and flying. Safe though, as I didn't have to cut through about 40 cars while going 20 or 25 mph.

I turned onto the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and went north, a direction I've never taken. I think the Top Gun house (where Maverick met what's her name for dinner) is there but I didn't see it.

I caught up to a couple guys but trailed behind. You know, not to make an ass out of myself. One guy was super fit. Even suspiciously super fit. All his muscles bounced up and down as they flexed and relaxed. That's fine for the calf muscles, that would be normal. But for his quads, triceps, shoulders... It just seemed a bit too much. Anyway, he might have been a really good former pro or something but it's just unusual to see a rider that defined and muscular.

A pickup truck passed me very slowly but very closely even though the left lane was clear for about 1/4 mile. He then went up to the next two guys and carefully placed his mirror about 6" away from the fit rider's head. I was shocked enough to freeze (I wanted to yell a warning) and although the mirror went over the guy's shoulder, it didn't hit his head.

This got me a bit mad. The truck driver obviously drove as close as possible to the rider.

I did a long, steady acceleration to catch the truck and got his plate. He seemed to have something for cyclists as pulled right up to me at a light, then slowly drove around me, and then essentially turned through a cyclist waiting at the light (the cyclist had to move over else the truck's midsection would have run him over). All done very slowly. If anyone in SoCal has a problem with a black pickup with a shiny silver toolbox across the back, get his plate.

Anyway, I caught up with the fit guy and he was really nice. A serious regional rider but not a pro. We went our own ways and I ended up riding along the beach in Oceanside. It was like an early summer day - there were people laying out, throwing frisbee's around, walking in the surf. Incredible. I guess that's SoCal for you.

Tomorrow is supposed to be beautiful again. So I think my friend and I will be able to do a nice ride. Sunday gets a bit cooler, then Monday would be short as I am traveling back home.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

California - Day Nine - Doping & NASCAR

Today was the first day I rode with the Helmet Cam. I used a newly charged battery from Lenmar (#45097) which allegedly has up to two hours of run time (I say alleged because I got some other battery a while back and it lasted about 8 minutes). Well, after two hours, it was only 25% drained. Incredible. I highly recommend the battery.

The ride itself was nothing unusual. My legs, after yesterday's relatively hard 5.5 hours, felt totally fresh. No soreness, no stiffness. There was some fatigue evident during harder efforts but no soreness. I had a slight knee twinge but it was gone within a minute or two on the bike. So the trip has been fine so far from an injury or overuse point of view.

I did see something interesting today. A tow truck towing a car on those little "skateboard wheel holders" blew out said skateboard tire(s). The car slithered into the curb, smoke pouring out from the skateboard tire(s). Not much else though.

I've been reading and watching some NASCAR news. Apparently they are "cracking down" on some racers for cheating in various ways. Just like in bike racing, in NASCAR there are a few factors in determining overall performance. Aerodynamics (body shape, ground clearance, air flow underneath car) is one major factor. Another is the engine (size, fuel, exotic materials). The chassis is what differentiates the cars so that is where the teams work their magic. But like trying to optimize bicycles, optimizing the chassis gets only limited gains as it simply lays the foundation for the car.

The truly decisive factors are power and aerodynamics. Sound familiar?

Aerodynamics. There are body templates for NASCAR, outlines to which the car must conform. They place the template over the car and make sure the car and template match. If they don't, there is sometimes some "cold setting" done on the spot. In other words, they hammer things to make them fit.

The biggest aerodynamic variables are the air dam size up front, the spoiler height in the rear, and the overall ride height. As such there are strict rules governing these parameters. The air dam size determines how much air flows under the car, the downforce of the front of the car, and gives the car its aerodynamic base. The spoiler gives the car traction for its drive wheels. A smaller spoiler means less usable horsepower, regardless of the available power of the car. The spoiler also determines ultimate traction in the rear of the car as it supplies the downforce necessary to keep the rear tires on the ground. Ride height is another basic aero factor - higher cars simply have less downforce and therefore less traction. A typical rule change to reduce vehicle speed is to simply raise the minimum ride height.

Power. It's apparent that a more powerful engine gives greater fudge factors for the rest of the car. Aero setups are always a compromise. Downforce is good but costs speed. Speed is good but costs downforce. You can't have tons of both. However, if you have a lot of power, the equation tilts to your advantage. You can add a bit of speed or downforce without sacrificing the other.

To make competition interesting, it's imperative to control power. You can do this in a number of ways but they come down to two things - air (engine size, intake restrictors, turbo type things or not) or gas (limit octane or additives).

This year, a number of NASCAR racers have been penalized for cheating. Typically they are docked 25-50 points (the best drivers earn over 6000 points a year) and fined $25,000 or so (which is considerably less than a minimum payout at one race). These were for attempts at altering undercar aerodynamics. In the cycling world it would be a minor infraction, like Cipollini wearing a full head-to-toe skinsuit.

Another driver (a star) was found with a car radically too low. Officials determined this was "accidental" and therefore simply moved the driver to the back of the field. No penalty, no fine, no one kicked out. For pro cyclists this is like the "I didn't know my supplements contained steroids" excuse.

Finally another star driver was found using doctored gas. He was docked 100 points, his crew chief kicked out (like kicking out a team director), and fined $100,000 (this is about twice a minimum payout). Altering the fuel composition could be compared to using EPO - it substantially alters the power of the engine.

In the cycling world, if such things happened, the next time you'd hear about that racer in a race would be two (or four) years later.


A couple days later, the driver with the doctored fuel qualified his way into the Daytona 500 (presumably using regulation gas).

NASCAR says they're cracking down on cheating. Well it looks like they talk the talk but don't walk the walk.

It's okay to "accidentally" lower the car something like 20-30% of its total ride height. It's okay to doctor your fuel - you simply lose about twice the minimum payout but you get to race the same race where you got caught.

Pro cycling doesn't care how the stuff got into your system. If there are steroids, the racer is responsible. If there is EPO, the racer is responsible. There's supposed to be no excuses, no leniency. And the topper - you don't have 72 year olds trying to qualify for Milan San Remo. An effective four year suspension will cut out about a third of a pro's working life. Four years in a NASCAR driver's life is perhaps one fifth to one sixth of his career.

Their penalties now are similar to cycling's penalties 25 years ago. So maybe they simply need to move a quarter century ahead in the rules department.

It would make the racing interesting for sure.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

California - Day Eight - Old School, or how things should be

A quick preview:
1. One pro siting.
2. Ride with a guy who last changed the world of road cycling.
3. No Palomar.

I had set today aside as a Palomar assault day - sunny skies at 8, no rain forecasted, and legs that were (hopefully) fresh. I packed up gear for the expected cold descent (jacket, vest, knee warmers) and set off in shorts and a long sleeve setup.

Within a few miles I was passing multiple rose stands. At home there are a few here and there but in California... well, put it this way - if the woman asks for roses and the guy doesn't deliver, there's no excuse. Anyway, after passing about 10 of these stands at one intersection, I realized something - my fiancee was working from home today due to the severe weather in Connecticut. And the roses I ordered are being delivered to her office.


I called her and explained that, in so many words, she wouldn't be getting anything today. She laughed and said she figured that would happen but that she understood. I guess that's why we're engaged. We chatted for a while until I pointed out I was working sort of hard on a climb and should go.

At the top, a guy caught me at the light. He asked if things were okay since I was going so slow. Slow? I mean, okay, I wasn't rocking and rolling but I wasn't going that slow. Was I? Well, I was. He closed a few minutes on a relatively short climb.

When he found out I was going to Palomar he asked if I'd like to join his group - their route would pass close to the base of the mountain. I didn't want to cause problems though (if they all climbed like him I'd be severely slowing the group) but he waved off my concerns. He called this guy Jim (Pete doesn't have a cell phone) but they were on the climb up to the intersection where we stood so they didn't answer the phone.

"So who are these guys?", I asked, concerned they'd be, say, some hotshot Masters team.
"Oh, it's a good bunch. Pete Penseyres is one of them."
"Pete like RAAM?"
I motioned the aero bar position.
"That Pete?"

Okay, screw Palomar. Pete Penseyres is the last guy to radically change the world of road cycling. Since 1984 there have been four major innovations in road (and track) cycling - clipless pedals, disk and aero wheels, brake-shift levers, and the aero bars. Pete made the first set of aero bars ever in March 1986 for the 1986 Race Across America. He ended up winning with a record time that still stands. Three years later, Greg Lemond used a many-generation removed version to win the 1989 Tour de France with much of his gains resulting from powerful time trial performances using aero bars.

His invention is more significant than brake-shift levers and just as significant as aero wheels and clipless pedals. Think about what you can downgrade on a current bike and still perform.

Aero wheels save time and you'd be at a huge disadvantage if you took them off. I give them props.

Ergo or STI levers? Not a huge difference. I know because I only lost some of my sprint advantage when they came out. This is because I used a bar-end shifter and could sprint while shifting without Ergo or STI levers. Now everyone expects to be able to shift without taking their hands off the bars. No props.

Clipless pedals? Aside from the safety factor, they are a lot more comfortable. However, their ultimate reliability is sometimes suspect. Take a look at some recent track events to verify this. So mixed props for the pedals.

Aero bars? Tell a time trialist he can't use them. It would destroy his chances against those so equipped. They're so effective they've been banned from mass start races. And the new Hour Record forbids the use of aero bars, again because they're so effective. You want a cycling revolution on your hands? Forbid aero bars completely.

Anyway, being able to meet Pete Penseyres was a great honor so I nixed my other plans for the day. Like I've said before, you have to be able to adapt.

We're standing there and suddenly, swoosh, a Jelly Belly pro goes by. Turns his head, waves Hi. At least he waved and looked. Gone. He's flying. Pro Siting number 4.

Pete, his brother Jim, and a few others showed up. I cautiously rode behind the front group, trying not to make waves. After all, it would be in poor form to be the one to take out Pete Penseyres.

He ended up introducing himself to me. Although I had no expectations either way, he ended up being a great guy. Friendly, smart, and pleasant to be around. No attitude, no snobbiness, nothing like that. It brought me back to when I was 14 and learning how to ride in a group. I was surrounded by riders anxious to teach me how to ride the right way, without attitude, with respect for those around.

Old School.

Bicycles, although vehicles in their own right, should not impede on others. So he'd tell people to clear a driveway so someone (picking up roses) could pull through. He'd recommend getting off the road when changing a flat, instead of standing on the shoulder. He pointed at things in the road. He waited at the top of all the climbs - and since he can climb, he had to wait every time. If the road was narrow and there was traffic behind, he'd call out to "Single up!"

It was an absolute pleasure riding in a group like that. No swearing, no gesturing, just getting along with everyone else.

That would have been enough for me. But it went further. Everyone in the group chatted with me, asked me where I was from, asked about work, etc. Nothing too bike-centric like "How do you like those bottle cages?" or "I tried those wheels and hated them." Nothing too snobby like "Oh, just a Cat 3?" No racist jokes, nothing unpleasant. Just good, whole hearted topics.

The one time they asserted themselves was when we reached the jump-off point for Palomar. One guy (Ves, the one who flew up the climb to me) looked out at the distant peak.

"You should ride with us. The peak is covered in clouds and it will be cold and raining. Perhaps snowing since it's cold down here."

Mind you, it was 65 degrees and I was in shorts. So I didn't think it was cold. But I heeded his advice and stayed with them.

They took me all over the place. Rice Canyon, some Kruse Canyon or something, a two mile climb on Lake Wolford-ish Road, nice, meandering, quiet roads.

We were carving some nice arcs on a descent when I rounded a curve and felt the rear wheel slide about a foot.


I slowed, raised a hand, and yelled "Flat!".

They stopped. How cool is that!

Pete (or Jim, his brother) said "I saw you move sideways and thought, 'That's not like him' ". Heh. The translation is "You ride a bike reasonably well so a move like that was unexpected."

I changed the flat and we dropped into the fastest, curviest, most fun descent I've been on. I'm sooo glad I didn't flat on that bit because I'd have done a header into the cliff or taken flight off the edge. That was the Kruse Canyon road.

Another highlight was when I actually pulled up a reasonably long climb and no one went around me. I didn't want to pull hard enough to hurt people, I just wanted to maintain a pace consistent enough so I would have less distance to make up at the end. It didn't work out that way though - it ended up being good enough so the others were content following and I had zero distance to make up.

The final great part of the ride was riding back to the house with Lance, a guy who happens to live in the area. He guided me back to the area for a while, passing the rose stands which started the whole day for me.

There are only a few times I've called my fiancee when I've barely gotten off the bike. The first time (and the time that I realized that perhaps she could be my fiancee) is when I won the 2002 Connecticut Criterium Championships.

This was the second time.

It was that great of a day.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

California - Day Seven - Fatigue

Not sure what it is but I was hit hard today with an incredible feeling of fatigue and soreness . The fatigue was similar to how I felt after my first Palomar attempt. It has to be somewhat cumulative as yesterday, although a long-ish and chilly day, wasn't particularly difficult. And I took a day off before that.

The intense soreness in my hamstrings, glutes, and arms was completely unexpected though. It might have been from the painting (cutting the ceiling while on a stepladder meant awkward lean angles, and not the bike kind). I know what sore legs feel like but the soreness I feel is very intense, and after the ache of 4 or 5 hour rides, it's an absolute surprise. I've had trouble just walking up and down the stairs.

Whatever, today I was literally nodding off all day and alternated the whole day between eating and sleeping. The morning showers dampened my enthusiasm and although I was thinking of a ride after the sun came out, by 3 pm I knew it wasn't to be.

My borrowed bed (I've been sleeping in a girl's bunk bed as its current occupant is away with her mom) is very comfy. It's elevated into the warm air four feet up, cozy (I can touch the foot board with my feet), and the comforter I'm using doubles up so it's extra toasty. Great for morning and afternoon naps and terrible for encouraging a tired rider to go for a ride.

We almost finished painting the other room - tomorrow it'll have to be done as I'll be sleeping in there on my regular futon.

Now off to sleep. I hope tomorrow is a more fruitful day.

Monday, February 12, 2007

California - Day Four - Update on "anonymous pro"

Apparently the anonymous pro riding with Chris Horner is from the new BMC team. It might have been Ian McKissick as he was doing wind tunnel tests in San Diego.

Interestingly enough, I noticed on the one climb we were close to both that Horner wasn't moving his upper body a millimeter. The BMC racer though was rocking his shoulders and digging into the pedals on each stroke. I distinctly remember thinking "Boy, Horner is so much stronger than the other guy, no movement, no effort."

I'm glad I'm not racing those guys.

Oh and now the pro count is up to three.

California - Day Six - Chilling Out

I started out today dressed at the edge of what was acceptable - a long sleeve and short sleeve jersey, fleece knickers, and a cap and short gloves. Temperature? Mid 50's, climbing to 60 or so in the sun. I do booties under 50 degrees and tights under 45 or 40 (training or racing, respectively). Up top though I dress pretty heavily. Under 50 and I'm usually wearing a jacket. With the sun hiding most of the time I was debating jacket or LS jersey and went with the jersey.

I felt a little chill a mile or two out, even after doing a short climb. I thought about turning back to get more gear but decided against it. I thought I'd rue this decision as I felt exactly like I did the weekend before I went to Florida. On that day I had returned home exhausted and chilled to the bone.

Two hours later, still less than perfectly warm, I had my wind vest on and knew my chilly premonition had been correct. I contemplated the clouds hiding the hills in front of me. A status check (how I was feeling), a thought to the upcoming week's schedule, and with the knowledge there will be at least two 70+ degree weekdays ahead, I slowed and turned around.

It's important to know when to chill out on a ride, so to speak. My goal was to do a Palomar assault today, but when I realized it wasn't realistic, I cut my losses and turned around. This way I'll have the legs and energy to go on tomorrow.

If I had pushed, I would have exhausted myself, possibly gotten sick (since I was cold), and would have sacrificed an attempt for at least tomorrow if not for two days or more. I fear two things when riding - being cold (which usually leads to bonking) and having an unexpected mechanical.

If I hadn't been cold and there were no clouds shrouding the hills ahead of me, I probably would have gone. Likewise, if this attempt was my last hard day of the trip, I would have pushed, tried to eat enough to fuel my lack of gear, and relied on recovering back at home. It's important to think about these things and balance available training time versus available recovery time.

There were a lot of karma type things on the ride which seemed to indicate the assault should be postponed. First, on the way out, I passed a (dead) retriever that looked like it had been hit by a car. It was laying on its side near some horses (who seemed a bit agitated), its blue bandana tied carefully around its neck. It's obvious someone will be very upset when they see the dog.

Almost immediately after turning around, I saw either a coyote or a dog, also hit (and dead) and laying in a ditch just next to the road. This creature was didn't have any distinguishing accessories and didn't look at all damaged. The only hint something was wrong was where it lay.

I was thinking about this second dog when psssshtt my rear tire flatted. I'd run over some glass but I couldn't believe I flatted so easily. The first thing I did, knowing I only had one tube, was to hold my glove on my front tire - I had to protect it so it wouldn't flat. 10 seconds of hand rubbing and I was out of the glass.

I pulled over the changed the tube. This went smoothly but I had a long-valve tube so I'll change it for a short valve tube. And carry at least two tubes for my next assault.

Okay, three tubes.

The one shining moment was when I started to descend Deer Spring Road and came upon a truck pulling away from a just-turned-green light. I did a minor jump to pass the cars behind it and tucked into the draft behind the truck. He accelerated but had to control his speed on the long descent. I alternated braking and pedaling to stay behind him, poking my head out to check out upcoming road conditions. I didn't want to hit a pothole or ride off the shoulder at 45 mph. When the road flattened out, I did an effort to stay with him, accelerating quite aggressively as he did the same. Max speed, 51.8 mph, 137 rpms in a 53x11, and that was on the flat.

With the help of that little interlude, I managed to ride home relatively quickly and without pushing my body.

Tomorrow I'll have to leave a bit earlier and dress a lot more conservatively. It may seem like overkill down here in the sunny warmth but up by Palomar a windproof jacket may be necessary. I'll take that approach tomorrow and see how it goes.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

California - Day Five - Rest Day, helmet cam

I woke up today pretty tired. Last night I was simply unable to stay awake and fell into a deep sleep. My body has a lot of accumulated fatigue and it's starting to pay the price. With my two Palomar attempts coming up, I'm inclined to work on recovery rather than training some more. So it was. Today marked my first rest day.

On a positive note, I saw a couple ribs on my body. It may not seem like a big deal but it's the first time I've seen ribs (without taking a deep breath) in so long I don't remember how long it's been. I've been famished too, and while we were eating lunch my friend asked if I was working on hiding the ribs again.

With a steady rain for most of the day, the priority was to do some chores around the house. The main mission for this weekend (with a Wednesday deadline) is to paint one of the rooms in the house. We're not painting it just off-white, we're doing a Steve McQueen "Lemans Porsche 917 race car" theme - light blue with a dark blue lower bit (shadow) and racing stripes - wide orange and narrow white ones - at our shoulder level. Since the room is for an 18 month old, he won't appreciate the setup for a while.

What this means though is for a few days I'll be borrowing a bed meant for a 4 year old girl since "my" futon is under a plastic tarp. I'll have a few stuffed animals, princesses, and things like that for company. Luckily I'm not that tall so I'll actually fit.

After we got the painting supplies, we stopped by Frye's. As this store doesn't exist where I live, it's a treat. Where else can you buy metal detectors, computer motherboards, night vision security cams, metal detecting wands, replica guns, and all the regular electronic and electrical goods?

For me, the emphasis was on getting the helmet cam back into action. Missing Horner, the Jelly Belly dude Alex, and the four-flat-tire Integra sliding all over the road, I'm anxious to have the ability to record events as they happen on the bike. After a bit of work, I've finally gotten the 120 degree lens into the ChaseCam. Initially I couldn't get it to tighten but I figured out a secret - put the retaining spring in first, then put the lens in. Presto! Some focusing and I have a fully operational helmet cam with two batteries (picked up an additional one today) and two tapes (2 hours each).

Oh and one other note. After taking a break from eating the Maltitol laden amino acid bars, my stomach has calmed down. I should have known. The bars are made by Ajinomoto, the company that sells MSG.

Still a bit tired but looking forward to a few hard days. With the weather good on Mon, Wed, Thu, and Fri, I may try a Palomar assault tomorrow. Rested legs, better idea of a schedule, and a full fuel tank could help pave the way to a successful attempt. And with temps expected to be in the mid/upper 70's later this week, it'll be an ideal time to take the helmet cam out for a spin or two.

Finally, since we now have an operating firewire for the camcorder, I may be able to upload some vids. I'm thinking of some how-to's but we'll see how things go.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

California - Day Four - Horner, Mapei

Today was a moderate day. 3.5 hours, averaging 131 bpm. That puts the overall day below an average one. There were a few things of note on today's ride.

The most significant was that we were passed by some anonymous rider and Chris Horner, Predictor-Lotto, one of the top US pros out there, and by my estimation, one of the top 200 pros in the world. We half heartedly tried to catch up but after a mile or two Horner and his ride companion eased on down the road. There were two things I noticed about Horner - first, he seems much smaller in person than in the pictures. Second, he is so low on the bike. The kicker is that he was jabbering away the whole time and made his speed look effortless.

The next thing is that I learned that I still can't climb. Shorter efforts are fine but the long ones, forget it. One semi-successful technique I (re)discovered is that I could alternate emphasizing two different types of pedaling "technique". One was pulling up while sitting further back on the saddle. This emphasized some hamstrings and other leg-lifting muscles. The other was pushing down while sitting more forward. This emphasized quads and glutes. To get the latter, I'd ride in the drops, like Ullrich in the 2002 Tour. Granted, he didn't win, but I could see the use in climbing in the drops. I used this alternating technique to reach the top of a couple climbs in contact with my friend.

I also learned that you don't pass people on flats or downhills. You stay a bit behind them and then, if they falter on the hills, then you pass. If you don't, and they pass you back on the hill, then you look like a dope with no respect. We lingered behind a few different riders. One we passed after he blew trying to keep away from us for 10 minutes or so. Another kept his distance on the hills and eventually, after about 10 minutes, we let him go as our legs were pretty fatigued. And a third I passed on a descent a couple minutes after we saw him. He promptly blew us away on the next climb. Felt like a dope, especially since I blew right after and struggled to the top of the hill.

The day was less chilly than previous days so it was the first day I was in shorts and a short sleeve jersey. So I finally got some sun and the resultant weird tan - from the middle of my upper arm down to my watch (on the left arm) and wrist (on the right arm). The full-back glove meant no sun on my hands.

My legs are getting a bit fatigued - it's most obvious about 5 to 7 minutes into a consistent effort (like a moderate climb) or about 20 seconds into a hard effort (sprint or very steep climb). Otherwise I feel okay turning over the pedals. I'll have to focus on some speedwork for a couple days to keep my legs from getting too slow.

Like yesterday, the good news is that I don't have any problems - saddle, knees, Achilles, etc. And like yesterday, I still had some stomach problems. It might have been explained by something - I've been eating these amino-acid bars I got from the local Performance Bicycle (formerly Supergo) and was munching on one when my friend asked what I was eating. I gave him a new bar to examine. He was reading the label and pointed out it contained Maltitol.

"What's that?"

Apparently it's an artificial sweetner. And a laxative.


After the ride we went to a few stores. I picked up a Mapei brochure on how to lay tile yourself, some decals for my bike (to commemorate this blog, if you must know), and passed on a Pinewood Derby car. I did see a Matchbox car display frame where you can display your unopened Matchbox (and Hot Wheels and similar) cars. I think it would work for my 20 or 30 cars I have so far.

In other news, my beloved Passat has been picked up by my finacee's best friend's husband (and he's my friend too, but the path is clearer when I describe it the long way). My fiancee, without my prompting or request, photographed and videotaped the historic event. Now I have a lot more room in both my driveway and my garage. Not only did he take the three sets of wheels, the various extra parts, and even the second set of springs for the Passat, he also picked up an engine hoist, engine stand, and a stand-alone parts cleaner.

I don't think my neighbors will know what to do with themselves.

California - Day Three - heartrates, parts bling, doping

Today was nothing special - a two hour ride which ended up about 2:15. My legs were a bit fatigued - not noticeable until 10 or 20 seconds into any efforts (I only made a couple). Good things were that I have no saddle issues, no sore or tender tendons, and no muscle problems (cramps or extreme soreness). My stomach though, still touchy. I guess this happens when I ride a lot.

I spent a bit of time in the small ring today. The contrast in efforts is apparent if I lay out some stats:
1. In Florida, my average heart rate was usually 135 bpm. On the longest ride I did a lot of work - the average was 141 or so.
2. My average yesterday, for the first three hours, was 151. For the whole ride, 147. A killer ride for me.
3. Today I went 120.

After the ride, and during dinner, my friend and I chatted about bikes, frames, etc. We talked about the new Ultra Torque Campy cranks - and how I couldn't justify the $550 or $600 to get them. We discussed the new super light frames - sub 900 grams, which makes them about a pound lighter than my reasonably light carbon frame. But they cost something like $3000. My perceived value of a bike is about $2500 so that frame is just way out of my league.

One of the big news items in the cycling world is that Floyd has denied permission for his B samples to be tested for exogenous testosterone. That just doesn't seem right - if he was clean, he'd allow the samples to be tested (it was the US anti doping association that asked to test, not the French one, so they'd probably have the samples tested in a more secure lab).

I've always thought they should skip the test:epi ratio test since it's vulnerable to a number of masking strategies. But (and I'm guessing here) it's probably more expensive. It seems more involved from what I've read. So basically the Feds (federations) let racers get away with exogenous testosterone as long as they can control the test:epi ratio. It's sort of like marking where your speed traps are situated - if you're dumb enough to speed there, you'll get caught. But you can go as fast as you want between them.

In other news, I got an email from from the website from which I downloaded the "LA Confidential" translation pdf (which, incidentally, I still don't know if it's really the translation). They have EPO on sale - 300,000 IU for $1600, delivered to your door, next day, guaranteed delivery, in easy to use styrettes (sp?). They even explain how to use said needle devices. I'm not sure how long 300,000 IU's lasts but I think it's a while - like 150 days at 2000 IU microdoses.

Interesting, isn't it? It costs less than a nice frame for a year of stronger riding.

No wonder there's so much doping going on.

Anyway, tomorrow is a group ride, if the weather is reasonable.

Friday, February 09, 2007

California - Day Two - Palomar attempt #1

So a few stories from today but the main goal, doing Palomar, remains unmet. I started off a bit too late (due to some stomach issues in the morning, buying chainring spacers, and some misc errands) and had to turn back about 8 or 9 miles short of the summit. I did some glutes and hamstring work, hit only 49.7 mph on a 9% descent (couldn't tuck comfortably with the headlight on the bars), let a truck pass and then chased it down (that was fun), and remembered that climbing Palomar is a total struggle.

I sometimes have a hard time understanding what people feel when they say certain things. I mean I hear what they're saying but I don't feel the feeling. Let me explain. I'd like to think I understand how, say, our cats feel about getting massages. Cats have some instinctive protectiveness but if you get past that, they can relax and enjoy something like a foot massage, a shoulder massage, or the classic scritch. Same with babies - they love foot rubs, even ear rubs (I figured that out after I realized the cats like ear rubs).

So I seem to understand non-verbal cues (sometimes). But when someone says "that's too fast" (my fiancee when we're on the tandem and drafting a truck going 45 mph) or "My goal is to finish that ride" (pretty much any non-racing cyclist), it doesn't register.

Now it does. I started getting nervous on the bike once I hit 45 mph. It didn't used to be that way but I think the steep hill, the 200 or 300 foot cliff on the other side of the guard rail, and the very rough looking pavement dropping down in front of me had something to do with it. So now I understand that going too fast for comfort is, well, uncomfortable.

I also realize that just finishing a ride is a noble goal. I have to since it's become my main goal for the whole trip. "Do Palomar".

On to the stories.

So the first story, not a pleasant one. I was carving some turns on a nice descent and came around a bend at about 40 mph. A pick up truck was waiting to pull out of a driveway to my left. The driver looked right at me and pulled out about 50 feet in front of me. I paused and prepared to hit my brakes but it looked like he'd made a good left and there'd be room on the right for me to use till he got up to speed. So I kept coasting, rapidly closing the distance to his truck. He looked in his rearview mirror for a good second and then jerked the wheel over, tossing the truck into the shoulder. I slammed on my brakes to avoid having a taillight implanted in my forehead.

And when I recovered, I gave him the finger.

Now I normally don't do such things. But two intentional actions (pulling out right in front of me and then veering hard into the shoulder) meant this guy wasn't checking to see if my front rim was a box sectioned 32 hole (which it is). Whatever. He promptly took off.

Second story, I had just finished descending a 3 mile, 9% "hill" (at home, we'd call that thing thar a mountain) and was stretching and trying to get the "tuck" (as in aero tuck) out of my back. Suddenly I heard the distinctive sounds of a "rally" crash. That's different from a "car" crash because car crashes involve two metal objects smashing into each other. A rally crash is one car hitting something like a tree or wall.

This time, it was stones of some sort. I looked up to see a car going about 30 mph ungracefully straddling a foot-tall stone wall which separated the road from an orange grove. It kept tipping from one side to the other. With a flat front tire, the car looked hard to control and it slithered around. It didn't help that the chassis of the car was high enough that the other tires only hit the ground sporadically. As I watched, the car slid left back onto the road, pieces of rock wall flying, almost spinning in the process.

The driver definitely had his hands full. I realized it was a first generation Integra, and I was thinking "what a dope, he lowers his car so much when he has a flat the chassis hits". He slithered enough that, even though he was about 100 yards away, I started mentally preparing to jump the wall to my right to escape a possible out of control car.

His car would slide every time the wheels hit a little bump. This meant he had no suspension movement - which implied he lowered the car by cutting the springs, another Einstein move. Another red flag. I starting thinking about unclipping a foot.

I couldn't resist watching this guy though. I noticed something and looked closer. His other front tire was flat. Doh. No wonder he couldn't steer - he had no tires up there. Try riding a flat front clincher - now imagine your car like that.

He passed me, smashing the wall regularly but keeping his wheels mostly turned right - driving kind of like the old Tyco slotless car sets I never had. He was sawing away at the wheel, the seat was pretty low, then I realized something.

BOTH his back tires were flat. He was driving on his rims!

I actually looked around for the police chopper that should be chasing this guy but no such luck. I kept riding and the guy eventually turned off the road.

On the way back, I saw the wall damage from his "Integra Grind" move, then a lot of oil on the ground in staggering type pattern - like a bleeding animal (and this bleedout was probably terminal for the engine). The trail led... to the farm's driveway.

That's when it dawned on me. The Integra was an NFR - Not For Road use - a farm vehicle. The driver (probably a kid) was driving this thing around the orange trees when he lost control and bashed over the dividing wall.

Still, it doesn't explain the four flat tires.

Third, I had my first pro siting - the Jesus Christ guy from Jelly Belly (the guy on the left). I call him that because he looks just like the image the movies and books use to portray him. He, alas, was going the other way. If he wasn't, I'd have kicked his butt. Haha. Not a chance. Apparently they just had their training camp in San Marcos. That happens to be, oh, say, about 3 miles from where I'm staying. They also think knowing about cornering lines are important because they did another kart session in Carlsbad.

Finally, in continuation with my rediscovery of road speeds, it seems that in a pursuit type effort (well, maybe more like a kilo effort) I can sustain about 94-96 rpms in a 53x12 - 34 mph. This was 65 or so miles into my ride so it wasn't like I was doing it fresh. The only catch was I couldn't hold it very long.

I arrived back after about five and a half hours of riding. Consumed three bottles of water, one bottle of PowerAde (I wanted Gatorade in deference to the current National Football Champs but the moronic store has the shelves jammed so tight together you can't tilt the bottles at all so they won't come out of the fridge thing). No food, no gels. Incroyable. A fat burning ride I suppose. My legs are pretty sore.

Tomorrow is an easy day - like a transition day but way easier. I hope to run an errand or two.

Finally, we just checked - my friend has a Mac with firewire something and my camcorder has firewire. So hopefully I'll be able to show a tape of what I see, rather than trying to describe it.

Now for some much needed sleep.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

California - Day One

This was a day similar to Pedro Delgado's first day in 1989 Tour de France - where he missed the start by 2:40 and was dead last by the end of the prologue. It wasn't quite so significant for me but it was a long day.

I was up at 5:40 AM to prepare for a 6:00 AM "confirmation" call that my brother would be up and ready to go. Taking a shower at about 5:46 AM, he called. So my wonderful fiancee got up to answer the phone and confirmed my brother was on the way.

A little groggily, we bade each other goodbye for my two week trip and I left.

We arrived at the airport 90 minutes before the flight and things went smoothly. I couldn't self check in (my name's on the TSA list and in a perverted way I'm proud of that so I haven't done anything about it) so I always have to go to a counter. Plus I had a bike to check in.

JetBlue is a lot better with bikes - $50 fee and not a lot of BS. I also managed to videotape them loading and unloading the bike - last piece on the plane, first piece off. How special (really). And when they slid it into the luggage trailer, one guy looked at it, thought about it, and (thankfully) tipped it vertical. My wheels were safe.

I slept a bit on the plane and didn't see anything significant (I did catch the take off and landing though). After landing, I turned on the phone to retrieve voicemails. This is where it gets a bit complicated.

First, the plan was to do the following:
1. Get a key fob for my friend's car, he would mail it to me.

2. Said friend (well, the wife half) would drop the car off at the airport - she was flying to the East Coast on the same day.

3. Using fob, get into car, where there is a key, the parking stub to exit the parking lot, and a garage door opener.

4. Drive to friend's house, open garage door.

5. Retrieve hidden house key, get into house.

6. Build bike, eat, and go for a nice ride.

The way it actually turned out:
1. Fob overnighted to the office.

2. Temporary receptionist did not get mail so fob didn't arrive. This didn't dawn on me until after the post office closed.

3. Call friend, key now hidden on outside of car.

4. Parking stub left in wife's pocket so not in car.

5. As car registration and driver's license do not match, could not leave the parking lot. Negotiated with parking security but to no avail. Ultimately I understand but at the time it was a bit frustrating. Call friend, update him. I have to take the shuttle.

6. Found parking (not an easy task - there were dozens of double parked cars) and brought the bike, gear bag, clothing bag, and backpack back to the ground transportation area.

7. Got Cloud9 shuttle (one I've used before, excellent service, highly recommended). The suntanned, sunglassed, shorts-wearing dispatcher reminded me I was in California when he pointed at an incoming shuttle - "Dude, that's all you." You wouldn't hear that in NY.

8. While on shuttle, called friend to report progress.
"You did remember the garage door opener, didn't you?"


9. Last stop, get gear and stuff to the house (and to the back of the house since I can't get in).

10. As my friend has a fully stocked bike tool bench type of setup, I brought no tools. Normally I bring a set of full size allen wrenches, cassette tools, cable tools, a full sized floor pump, etc. This time, just a Specialized multi tool, my Blackburn mini pump, and some tire levers. Using the multi tool, I put my bike together, including the pedals (!). I can't believe the tool has an 8mm but it does. Awesome. Pumped up the tires to about 60 psi.

10. Rode to the local shop. Rolled around the bend, onto the sidewalk, and wondered why the shop had such an interesting looking mannequin - it had white thigh-high stockings, garter, and a bustier. I figured it was a Valentine's Day theme or something. Nope. When I looked up I realized I was about to ride my bike into an Adult Store. Apparently the shop had moved a few weeks earlier.

11. Went to the other local shop which never really impressed me - a Trek Superstore. They did allow me to pump up my tires (a plus), they had some energy bars in stock (a plus since I hadn't eaten for about 9 hours except for two 100 calorie snacks and one PowerGel), and they let me try on some helmets. But they thought my crit-bend bars were "track" bars (what?), they asked if I was a Cat 1 (I guess it's like being carded when you're 30, it's flattering and also a bump to the head when you realize you aren't what they're expecting), and they basically admitted they have no small parts (no axle spacers??). At least one guy, Eric, offered the advice of going to a hardware store and getting a 10x1 spacer. Not sure if it's right but it sounded good.

12. I rode around for two hours till my friend came home from work, the last 15 minutes in the dark, doing loops around his block. At least I had the forethought to put on my blinky headlight and taillight.

The only positive thing is that I realized I might have to update my sprinting primer, the one that talks about speed. I was trying out my "glute recruiting" positions I recently rediscovered on the trainer and found that, yes, I had a LOT more power. So I was enjoying this and accelerating from lights or up the long grades found here, standing and shifting.

At one light - with a long, 4 or 5% upgrade immediately after - I went when the light turned green and shifted, accelerated, shifted, accelerated. I wasn't "sprinting" and I wasn't spinning by a long shot - just churning the gear and shifting when it felt right. I shifted again and again until the derailleur paused. The thing is it only does that when shifting to the 11T (until I fix it - the cable needs to be slippier). I looked down and sure enough I was in the 53x12T. I checked my speed.

32 mph.

Uphill and without going too hard.

This was a good sign.

But my Maximum Optimal Sprint Speed (MOSS) minimum from my sprint post should probably be upgraded to 34 or 35 mph. But I'll leave it for now.

At the equivalent of about 2 AM "home time", after retrieving the car from the airport parking lot with my friend, I fell asleep exhausted. I knew I was exhausted because when I woke up 8 hours later, I still had my glasses on.

What a long day.

Day Two will bring two things on the agenda - fix the 5th chainring bolt and the first attack of Palomar Mountain.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

California - Pre Tour Medical Checks

So this is like the Tour, again. At least in my fantasy world. Tomorrow I fly out west, assemble my bike, and do Day One of the California Tour (I can't use Tour of California since someone else already took that name). Incidentally my Tour misses their Tour by a day. Shucks.

Because of said Tour, I've been a bit busy the last few days. Work has been very busy and the home front has also been heavily scheduled. My biggest and least forgiving deadline is that I am leaving for California early tomorrow morning. My brother will be at my house at about 6 or 6:30 AM to drive me to the airport so I *have* to be ready then.

My second least forgiving deadline is preparing my beloved VW Passat for its give away - I'm giving it and all of its related parts to my fiancee's best friend's husband (who, incidentally, is a friend of mine). The Passat (and usually my other cars) ended up with a lot of extra parts, sort of like my bikes. Three sets of wheels, two intakes, new brakes, two sets of springs, manuals, so on and so forth. All need to be "staged" for a Saturday pick up. Along with some big tools I haven't used - an engine hoist, engine stand, and a stand alone parts cleaner.

So anyway, I have a lot to do tonight.

For this trip, like Florida, I have to get my various electronic gear bits together. I have most of my electronics from the last trip but am adding a critical thing: the helmet cam.

It's a Canon ZR100 teamed up with the ChaseCam helmet cam (520 lines resolution, the "nice" one) with a new and as of yet not-really-fitting 120 degree wide angle lens. The 92 degree lens is more a "butt and ankles" lens - which is fine for certain types of films but for trying to record a criterium, it's not really what I had in mind. To get more of a "wheels and jerseys" view, I got the 120 lens over the winter. I hope to record more than the 3 or 4 races and one sprint workout I managed last year. If I'm successful I'll be posting links to them here.

I have a new CamelBak HydroPak to carry the kit. I've been using a first generation CamelBak and the skinny straps leave marks on my delicate shoulders. Plus the thing is sort of wiggly due to the bulk and weight of the filled pack. There's a lot to carry - the camcorder, eight AA batteries, and some wires. My helmet carries the actual ChaseCam as well as a "powered mic" which simply means you get lots of wind noise in the background (I'm experimenting with wind muffling foam pieces).

I may experiment and carry actual fluids in my CamelBak and put the ChaseCam and camcorder on my bike but my preference is to load the rider, not the bike. The goal is to tape parts of my rides out there and do a few "touristy" shots (nice vistas, weird things, car accidents, in other words things I saw in previous trips to CA). Mounting the camcorder on the bike will allow me to start/stop it without stopping - with the CamelBak, I have to take the camera out of the bag to start/stop it.

This is the Pre Tour Medical Check post though, not the Electronic Gizmo post. The trip is not so I can tape nice views of some desert valley or the bumper of the truck I'm drafting. It's to try and prepare a normally semi-sedentary body to the stresses of racing really hard in March and April. Hence the "Medical Checks".

I recently bought some fat measuring calipers and a "body measuring tape" for lack of a better term. Basically the two combine to tell you how bad you are in objective terms which dig a lot deeper than the subjective ones. In other words I've thought recently "Wow, I'm getting in shape". I pull out the calipers to verify my subjective claim and the calipers say "No you are almost 19% fat".


Reality bites sometimes, doesn't it?

You know, I virtually threw out one of those electronic scales for saying I was at 16% fat. Maybe I should bring it back. Whatever, the numbers don't lie. Apparently I'm carrying around something like 30-35 lbs of fat. Pretty incredible right? If I can lose, say, half a bike's worth, it'll be great. We'll see though.

My aerobic system is oddly efficient. I cry all the time about my lack of aerobic ability but it has nothing to do with an inefficient cardiovascular system. I've always had a low resting rate, my heart walls are thick enough to raise red flags at physicals, and I have nice big veins that make blood-drawing nurses really happy. It's just that oxygen somehow doesn't get to my muscles. Or I don't have slow-twitch muscles that can use them.

Recently I measured my heart recovery rate over a 60 second period. My heart rate dropped from a very hardworking (for me) 164 bpm to 107 bpm in that minute. So my recovery is reasonably good. Trying to apply what I've learned, I thought of a new tactic to utilize my jump and my recovery. I figure I should sprint-coast-sprint-coast in my races.

Then I realized, "Oh wait, I already do that."

I'm not sure what my resting rate is so I'll have to measure it soon. It should be in the 40's. If it's good, it's in the 30's. 50's means I just drank coffee, I'm nervous, or I'm really out of shape.

Muscularly I think I'm reasonable. I have good knee-cap support (no sore knees after 100 miles), I have some jumpy strength in my legs (I observed this while doing some mini-jumps on the trainer), and I haven't lost much upper body strength (which is absolutely critical for backing up your big leg efforts). And I do a lot of shoulder muscle type exercises to build some padding around my collarbone.

I have a couple goals for this trip. Just like any training ride, I am leaving the house with some goals in mind. These goals define tasks.

First, I want to stay healthy. I have a nasty habit of getting really, really sick when I'm training hard. Last year I slept with a knit hat, long sleeve shirt, long sleeve pj's, socks, and walked around with slippers on my feet. It worked. I'll try and do the same this year.

Next, I'd like to do lose some fat. Long rides do this for me so I decided I want to do at least three Palomar rides. I did one and three quarters last year - I ran out of time so turned around about 5 miles from the summit on one ride, then went back and did it the right way shortly thereafter. I've tried for a few years though and now that I've gotten over that hump, I want to make it my "standard" long ride. The routes range from 92 miles to about 113 miles long. The longer the route, the flatter the non-Palomar bits.

Another thing I'd like to do is be more consistent in my riding. After my fat measuring catastrophe, I've decided to try and ride some of that half-bike off, and that means a lot of miles. Instead of doing an hour on my easy days, I'd like to cruise around a bit more, take in the sites, etc. To help accomplish this, I have a lot of gear so I am dutifully prepared for all sorts of weather.

Finally, if possible, I want to do a group ride that doesn't contain pro women and national level racers. I just get dropped and feel totally humbled. It's a good workout but it lasts, like 2 minutes. If I feel good though, then I'll go for the fast rides.

If you're in the Carlsbad area and want to go for a ride, let me know. I'll be out there.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

How To - Position is a relative thing

Racers consistently obsess over their position, trying to find the "perfect" position. But this is virtually impossible - hitting the "perfect" fit is like trying to hit a moving target. As your body adapts to riding, you'll find that your position can change to accentuate the adaptations your body has made.

An extreme real-time example of "fluid optimal position" is Eddy Merckx - due to a devastating early career crash that killed his derny driver, his hip bothered him for the rest of his life. His intra-race seat height adjustments are documented in "La Course En Tete" during the World Championships. A lessor example of changing optimal positions would be the recommendation I read somewhere which stated that during a stage race, after the first really long day, drop your saddle by a couple millimeters - this will relieve some of the stress on tightening muscles. It works too, although I apply it to my training camps rather than stage racing.

Your position will vary throughout your riding career in a less extreme and less fluid fashion. For example, when you first start riding, you tend to be a more upright, perhaps what one could call the "Entry Level" position. Non-cyclists are usually optimized for walking - so your glutes are not well developed, your hamstrings and your lower back isn't happy being bent over, your quads are not that strong, and your triceps, neck, and upper shoulders aren't happy supporting your head as cycling requires. The most foreign measurement for a new cyclist will be the seat height - it usually feels much lower than a non-cyclist feels is right. This is because the human body is optimized for walking and that involves straight legs. You don't walk around crouched like an ape, do you?

The Entry Level position holds true until you develop some of the aforementioned muscles - the glutes, hamstrings and lower back become stronger, your quads are usable at less-than-fully extended positions, and your upper body muscles can support your head correctly. If you find yourself hunching over more, bending your elbows more, then you're probably ready to move to the "Intermediate" position. The bars are a bit lower and farther away from the seat. Your seat may move back a bit. In such a position, you substantially increase your power by recruiting your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back - and when they develop in response, you can alter your position again.

Of course this adjust-and-adapt cycle will level out and at some point you'll find yourself in the "Optimal" range, with the only adjustments you make for riding preference (time trial, road race, crit, mountain bike), gear (cold weather gear is thicker and sits you higher off the saddle), any physical issues (stiff back, tight shoulder, etc.), and any personal preferences (long hilly ride versus super short/fast crits).

The Optimal range is relatively diverse for those of you used to measuring in 1 mm increments. I find my seat to pedal distance rarely changes but my saddle will move back and forth up to 2 cm. Move the saddle forward requires it to be raised (to maintain seat-pedal distance) so my seat post does move up and down about 1 cm. When my riding requirements rarely change (the length of the fall and winter for example), my position doesn't change. But when I'm trying to optimize for particular races, I definitely try and optimize my position about a month or two before hand. This means I am adjusting towards the short, fast summer events by the time January rolls around.

From personal observations, I would say that one's Optimal position is pretty set after about 3-4 years of consistent riding, i.e. relatively serious riding for 3 seasons for 3 or 4 years. This can be radically altered if there is a substantial change in riding requirements. For example, Davis Phinney transitioned from being a top a 100km TTT rider to a pro doing much longer races and eventually won the Coors Classic stage race. In the process he substantially lowered his seat and it appears he moved the cleat back on his shoe. Injury can alter position - probably the best known is Floyd Landis - his hip issues dictated his unusual position on the bike. Free thinking radical experimentation can lead to some interesting bikes - Steve Bauer comes to mind, with his chopper bike with chainstays so long it required the builder to use two sets of stays brazed together. His power position got him to the end of Paris Roubaix at the front but he had sacrificed speed for power with his position and couldn't sprint for the win. Minor position adjustments are relatively common - Bernard Hinault fit a 1 cm longer stem to his bike just before winning Tour of Lombardy in a spectacular solo break. When Greg Lemond joined Renault-Elf, his seat was raised something like 5 cm and his feet straightened out. His spectacular results show that this had no ill effect on his racing.

As I mentioned before, the one thing that rarely varies is the seat to pedal distance. Your pelvis may sit farther forward on the bike (for shorter, faster events) or a little more to the back (for longer events emphasizing power). This doesn't mean your seat post doesn't move, it simply means your seat-pedal distance remains pretty constant. For example, changing pedals may drastically alter your seat height relative to the bottom bracket and require a seat post movement simply to maintain your seat-pedal distance. Moving the seat forward will definitely require the seat post to be raised slightly.

If you haven't changed your position recently, it simply means your current position is set up for you as of the last time you changed your position. But if you have changed at all since you set your position (you ride more, you ride faster, or conversely you gained weight, you ride less) then it may not be ideal anymore.

Staying optimistic about fitness, as one gets fitter one can usually got to a more compact (or smaller) frame. As long as the top tube remains the same length, you will probably be able to drop your bars more relative to your seat. This will probably make you more aero and improve power without changing your seat-pedal position. If the frame is also longer, it will stretch your upper body out a bit. Big bike manufacturers usually have two sets of frames to satisfy the new and the advanced rider. Giant, for example, has the TCR for the more fit riders and the OCR for the newer riders. The TCR has a much shorter head tube and a slightly longer top tube - optimal for a fit rider but uncomfortable for someone trying out road riding. The OCR is the opposite - a more upright position for those less fit or simply new to the sport.

Position trends seem to be cyclical. You may end up emulating Jens Voigt's "new" position, a very forward, very high seat, coupled with a faraway, low bar. Of course this was also Alexi Grewal's Coors Light position over 10 years ago. The forward position allows you to severely flatten your upper body without crunching up your diaphragm. Works for them, it might work for you. All position ideas have their advantages and disadvantages.

A note on Jens Voight - his position looks very forward but it might be a function of the seat tube angle - a shallower angle will allow the seat tube to fair the rear wheel better and the designers may have chosen to have a bike that's more aero than one that "fits" better.

Higher/forward seat - more speed, easier to spin, necessary for short-quad folkds, instinctive position for high effort bits. Being "on the rivet" means you're going as hard as you can. It comes from the idea that in the old days, the riders would scoot forward on their riveted seats until they were "sitting" on the front rivet. Hence "on the rivet". This position tends not to be ideal for ultimate power - say on climbs.

Lower/rearward seat - much more power especially at low rpms, more recruitment of glutes, lower back, hamstrings. Works well with cleats further back on shoes. Necessary for those with long quads. Allows for more movement on bike so it's easier to, say, bunny hop or skip the rear wheel around.

Long reach to bar - more aero, more forward position when out of saddle (better for climbing and probably for sprinting). Less able to react to "exogenous" bike input - in other words, when someone slams your bike, it's harder to stay upright. Less weight on seat. More weight on hands (requires gloves or better gloves).

Shorter reach to bar - more comfortable, improved bike handling. Less stress on upper back, triceps, and neck. More weight on rear wheel so more stress and wear on rear wheel and tire. More weight on seat. Less weight on hands.

Note - you can combine one seat theory with one bar theory - so you can have a more forward seat with a shorter reach to the bar.

Remember that although you may alter your position on purpose, any unintentional position changes will affect you significantly. The first link (to the Discovery rider getting his seat position checked) is probably not the rider saying "Hey, I read a blog on changing seat positions and I want to try my seat a little higher." It's probably "My seat should be like so and it isn't right/level/etc." Racers are meticulous when it comes to seat position but it does not mean they can't ever change it.