Saturday, June 30, 2007

Equipment - Reconstruction Time Again

One of my favorite albums back in the day was REM's Fables of the Reconstruction. I listened to it all the time, that and all the other REM songs I had on my cassette tapes. Great music for long drives and long rides - eventually REM songs all sound the same, sort of like the way PowerGels taste on a 6 hour ride. They just merge into one.

I thought of the album (well, now I have it on CD too) as I'm looking to rebuild my Power Tap wheel before the upcoming second New Britain Criterium. You see, when I think of rebuilding wheels, I think of my cycling "peak" in the late 80's through mid 90's, and when I think of then, I think of the music I listened to at the time. REM is somewhere at the top of the list.

I've been puzzled by the high weight of my Power Tap rear wheel. Okay, it has 2.0mm straight spokes (I confirmed that). It has a clincher DT 1.1 rim (probably double eyelet, not sure though). Either 465 grams (double eyelet, more durable) or 415 grams (single eyelet, less durable), either way an anchor of a rim. Brass spoke nipples. The wheel just seems a lot heavier than it ought to be.

Long FYI - double versus single eyelet. An eyelet is something that (in this case) rings the spoke hole in the (aluminum) rim. If you drilled a hole in bare alumnium and put a tensioned spoke/nipple unit through it, the fragile aluminum would crack quickly, especially if you had to turn the spoke nipple at all. In carbon rims they either put a lot of carbon or a thin washer under the spoke. You can put washers between a spoke nipple and an eyelet too, if you want a "perfectly" built wheel.

An eyelet, made out of slippery but heavy brass, spreads the stress of the spoke tension evenly around the rim hole, allows the spoke nipple to turn relatively easily, and makes the rim that much more durable. Single eyelets simply ring the spoke hole on one rim wall. Double eyelets are sort of cone shaped and connect/reinforce the two rim walls, making for a stiffer, stronger, but heavier rim.

The problem with a single eyelet rim (basically a ring around the spoke hole) is the eyelet still stresses the aluminum to the point where the eyelet will pull through sort of quickly. The advantage is the light weight and the fact that the spoke nipple turns on brass, not the aluminum rim.

A double eyelet is much stronger but adds weight - up to 20% more weight on the lightest aluminum rims. A small bonus is when you build a wheel, the tube connecting the two rim walls prevents the spoke nipple from disappearing into the gap there. When that happens on a single eyelet rim, it can be a frustrating exercise in rim shaking to get the errant nipple out.

Hm. I suppose you could drill out the sides of the ferrules (the tube part of the eyelet) to reduce the amount of material - Mavic did this with some of their wheels, very cool. I'll have to experiment with that in the winter when I'm feeling heavy and trying to find ways of optimizing my bike.

Okay, enough about eyelets.

Oftentimes rim weights were taken before eyelets added (I don't know how anyone justified that). So a 280 gram rim would actually weigh 320-350 grams.

To verify my perceived wheel weight angst, I checked out a source I turn to when I need some actual weights - the weight weenie site.

What surprised me (I should say "What surprised me again" - since I'd researched this before and forgot what I found) was that the straight spokes and brass nipples added about 120 grams to the wheel weight as opposed to DT Revolutions spokes. In 45 gram increments (that 1/10 pound increment I spoke about earlier), that's about 0.4 pounds, a little less than that but that's about right. The rim, assuming a double eyelet rim, is about 100 gram heavier than a comparable tubular. That's another 0.2 pounds.

So, if I get a normal tubular rim, DT Revolution spokes (2.0-1.5-2.0mm), alloy nipples, I'll have myself a wheel that's about 1/2 pound lighter. With the additional 50 to 70 grams of weight saved on the tire, tube, and rim strip, I figure the rear wheel will be 0.6 0r 0.7 pounds lighter.

That's actually a significant amount of weight off of one wheel.

And all of that would be away from the center of the wheel. Lighter weight, yes, but a significant reduction in the wheel's moment of inertia.

In other words, a better wheel for the jump.

I wish I'd gone a bit less conservative and bought a 28H Power Tap wheel - I have a couple 28 hole Campy Record Crono rims just dying to be laced up. Lighter rims (by another 45 grams), fewer spokes, and less air resistance. I have to admit that the latter is not significant but a wheel with a wall of spokes simply screams out, "I'm not aerodynamic!" 28 spokes seems a more optimal number for box section rims.

28 hole rims have what I consider to be a significant advantage over 32 hole rims. When you lace up a 28 hole rim so that the valve hole is surrounded by parallel spokes (so you have room to pull the pump head off without slicing the back of your hand), the four spokes around the rim seam all pull the seam together. The spokes help support the seam. On a 32 hole rim, the seam is surrounded by two sets of four spokes pulling the seam apart - your beautiful spoke tension is working to wrench that seam apart. I've always felt 28 hole rims were easier to build just for this reason.

After gushing praise on 28 hole wheels, you might wonder why I bought myself a 32 hole Power Tap. Originally I wanted to lace on a 24 hole Zipp rim. I've built several rear wheels like this - 32 hole hub, 24 hole rim, use 16 spokes on the drive side, 8 spokes on the non-drive side. I end up with something akin to Campy's G3 spoke pattern. Works well on normal rear wheels.

The problem is that the Power Tap hub works on torque delivered from the flanges to the hub axle. It demands even spoke counts on either side, both with crosses. Unfortunately I only learned of this after I bought the wheel.

So for now I'll make do with the 32H. And we'll see how it goes.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Doping - T-Mobile and Bob Stapleton - Take 2

I just realized that I made a mistake with a follow up comment on my original post about T-Mobile and Bob Stapleton.

Bob Stapleton is the guy I wrote about in the original post. That's correct.

I later posted a comment when I read that B Stapleton was a part owner of Discovery. I felt like I'd been hit in the head with a hammer. But for some reason I didn't delete my original post.

Today, I got an email pointing out that the B Stapleton who owns part of Discovery is someone named Bill.

Bob is the T-Mobile guy.


The email writer ought to know. His name is Bob. You can guess his last name.

It's those careless, assumption-type things that get you. Like my math test in high school - I breezed through it in a few minutes, split, and was completely embarrassed when I got it back with the Donut. The Bagel. The big fat Zero (circled, so it resembles a... donut, for example, hence the food references). I knew exactly what to do, how to do it. And on every single one of the problems I did something dumb like multiply 2x9 and get 27.

C'mon, everyone knows 2x9 is a road bike drivetrain setup. And no one uses 27's, they use 700's.

Anyway, I feel sort of like a lunk head for writing all that stuff on the post, then retracting it, then retracting the retraction.

Good thing I wasn't confessing to some non-dopage use. You'd have to call me, well, Ivan or something.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Story - Experiencing the Belgian Kermesses - Pro Sightings

My reminiscing of the trip to Belgium really sparked something in me. And I keep remembering more and more. I'd dig out the bike memorabilia box but it's in the PODS right now - I have the bike magazines, the UCI license, and a few pictures of us in Belgium (as well as pics from that last race). Maybe later.

One bit I glossed over was the fact that you'd run across pros all the time. With half a dozen large squads based in a lower Southern New England area, and with a deluge of Classics about to happen, virtually all single-day type pros were in the area.

The first pro we saw was a PDM rider. We were riding along looking for a Route 32 or something. The roads are really small - and this numbered road was a lane and a half wide. We were stopped and stared at the tiny road, not believing it's a "main" road. Then a PDM rider rides out of the road and goes by us. We thought "what a poser, PDM jersey, PDM tights, PDM gloves , PDM hat, PDM bike...." We looked at each other, then down the road. "You think he was a...?" lol.

While we were riding there we rode by the Buckler team... or had it just changed. I don't remember. SuperConfex? Anyway, Jelle Nijdam was in the group of about 10. He's an insanely fast finisher 'a la Ekimov' and did some incredible racing in the Classics and the Tour. As they rode by (like 10 feet away - it was probably a major thoroughfare) I pointed at him and screamed out to my teammate "That's Jelle Nijdam!!!!". The guys were laughing. I must have looked like a 12 year old girl at a Britney Spears concert.

Finally, near the end, we got lost training in Holland. We stop on some busy street and am looking at a map. Suddenly, not 20 feet away, from between two trucks, Adri Van der Poel blasts out onto the street, full Tulip gear. We scrambled into our pedals and took off. Van der Poel caught onto a moped (planned? I don't know, maybe) and started motorpacing at about 35 mph.

We made a big effort to get on. My teammate John yelled something like "where are we going?" and I was yelling "It's Van der Poel, I don't care". We rode on his wheel for a few kms and then I realized I have a camera in my jersey pocket. But if I take the picture I lose the wheel. But if I don't, no proof of Adri. I reached for the camera, pulled it out, and sat up to take a picture. I lost the wheel and couldn't get back on. I kept going - about 5 km later my teammate is riding back to me. "What happened?" "I wanted to take a picture". Two really fuzzy pictures and you can barely see the unique Tulip team jersey color but yeah, I have a pic of my teammate John on Adri Van der Poel's wheel. lol.

When I left Belgium it was right after some Classic had just happened. I was in the airport and got all these looks as I was wearing my team jacket and dragging around a bike bag and a duffle bag (no one in Europe used duffle bags at the time - only athletes). There were a lot of people there (of course). Some were dressed up like schoolboys - blazer, shirt, slacks. Then I noticed "Panasonic" on the cheesy blazers. Company reps probably, dressed like a Japanese corporation would make them dress. And I realized the guy with the forehead was Olaf Ludwig. And the guy next to him was Theo De Rooy (he was on CBS's Tour and Paris Roubaix coverage a lot). Then Peter Post came by pushing a cart loaded with nylon bike bags. They were all looking at me like "wtf is this dude".

I didn't have the courage to say anything to them so just picked my jaw off the floor and kept going.

I saw that a lot of people were around someone who had a heart attack or something - someone on the ground. I went over as I had time and things were a bit weird - no paramedic types but lots of yelling and shoving and stuff. I pushed my way in there. On the floor was a PDM rider, sitting, talking to all these mics stuck in his face. It wasn't Sean Kelly and I wished that I'd memorized all the team rosters so I could tell who this redhead was.

On an aside, the other thing that struck me (as an American) were the security guards nonchalantly carrying worn Uzi's around. The only time I've seen comparable weapons in US public transportation areas was after 9/11. When I lived in Holland though there were a lot of train hijackings in the area so I suppose everyone was used to it.

Overall the trip was a blast. John ended up quitting soon after - he went there thinking he'd be a Cat 2 or better (he had some insanely good rides the previous year). For him the trip was a dream breaker. For me, the trip was simply a chance to revisit where I grew up (Holland), stay with my family, and do some hardcore racing. I had no aspirations of being a pro so enjoyed every part of the riding and racing we did.

It only made me love racing more.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Story - Experiencing the Belgian Kermesses

In early 1992 I went out to race in Belgium, sort of on a lark. My family lived there, they had a car. I figured I could take advantage of an "already in place" support system, one that could provide hard-to-get things like transportation, food/shelter, and English speaking people.

I brought my bike, spare wheels, spare rims (and spokes), a roof rack, 50 Power Bars, my tool box, everything I thought I'd need for a 3 week, 9 race campaign. My bike box weighed over 46 kilograms - about 102 pounds! Over the course of a few months my mom had gotten information on local races, learned which publications had race info (remember this is pre-Internet as we know it), and I got a letter from the USCF saying I could race in Belgium (and Holland, just in case). Finally I got myself an International License with my picture on it.

I felt like I was going into a Twilight Zone episode. It seemed so unreal.

Me: Cat 3, reasonably fit, good sprint, terrible TT/climber. Them: one step below the best pros - some winners earlier signed with the big teams in the area - PDM, Buckler, Tonton Tapis, etc. Guys trying to break into the pro field.

I trained a lot leading up to that trip - a winter of two 100+ miles days each week, getting fit/lean/etc. We'd usually ride from Ridgefield, go up past the center of Kent, and do the steepest hills we could find using a topographic map of the area. We did some fast riding during those days too, cruising down Route 7 with my teammate John at 28 mph. I'd never felt so at ease on the bike. We felt strong and cocky.

One climb, off of Route 7, was horrible - after about 40 miles of riding we'd hit what amounted to the second big climb of the day. The first time I did it I was in my bottom gear, 42x26 (I'd switched out the 21T), and weaving back and forth like a drunk. A couple months later, on the same climb, I scampered away, turning something like a 42x17, and got to the top with enough time to get off my bike, lay down on a rock wall, and pretend I was sleeping before John got there.

I got a new bike over the winter, a Cannondale equiped with the innovative Campy Ergopower levers, 8 speed cassette, and a host of goodies. I built up the wheels with light FIR Isidis rims (approx 330g box section tubulars), alloy spoke nipples, double butted 15 gauge (1.8mm) spokes. The bike was really light, really responsive.

I rode a 50 cm Cannondale with a couple inches of post showing. John rode a 66 cm Cannondale with a 400mm mountain post at max height. We must have looked quite a sight. Cannondales were an anomaly in Europe - most people had not seen one before. The fat tubes, the cantilever dropout, my Aerolite pedals, all were "American" and many, many people picked up my 17 pound bike and expressed doubts about its reliability.

The knowledgeable ones questioned my choice of a "climbing" rim as opposed to their sturdy 400-450g choices of a "reliable" rim. They were curious about the Ergo levers, the first generation, the first available. For these starving wanna-be-pros and their (usually) dads, they were a great luxury and everyone checked them out.

Most of them were riding old Campy, downtube, friction, with 32 hole GP4's. A standard racing bike, no frills. Not light but who needs lightness when your altimeter barely registers a few feet a race? I realized the downtube shifters were appropriate later - they just put it in the 12T and go.

First race (and every race - for the 9 races I did) were on 5-7 km lap courses, 20 or so laps. Flat. Some wind, not as much as I'd expect. Maybe 1/4 cobbles. Due to our international licenses, we could only do international races (i.e. cat 1 level probably). We were both middling Cat 3's and seriously out of our element.

We changed in the car but I learned at the last race that this is illegal. Race listings (in Flemish) list a something ("changing location", a restaurant/bar with all the chairs pushed to one side) and a something else ("registration location", another restaurant/bar but they set up a row of tables for you to register, sign, pick up a number, and stuff like that).

You go to the registration bar, inevitably filled with old men smoking up a storm. It seemed like they were discussing the odds of various racers winning - apparently racing is also a betting sport. An old lady (usually - I don't remember a guy doing this) types up the number, name, and team on a manual typewriter. Clack clack clack. They make copies and sell them for 10 francs to the bettors and spectators. You'd see people walking around with them, checking off names as they dropped, talking about the unchecked names excitedly.

Registration was 100 francs but you got 90 back if you returned your very sturdy number - usually a very nicely painted number (think Sesame Street numbers) on the back of what looked like a vinyl coated tablecloth. Sometimes they didn't have change so they'd give you the full 100 francs, especially since I got shelled so quickly.

That's a foreshadowing hint by the way.

They pull you if you're more than three minutes behind. They stop pulling racers when the remaining racers all have place money - 20 or 40 places in the races I did. The prizes are paid for by the Belgian Federation. Therefore race costs were minimal. However, at that time, a Belgian license was over $300 annually. The best thing to do would be to get a $30 US license and race in Belgium - but only if you were really, really good.

Most of the fields were 195-210 racers. No field limits but I learned that field limits wouldn't have changed things.

First race I figured they'd go easy for 30-50 km and then put the hammer down. I casually warmed up, rolled around a little, and lined up. It was a "shorter" course, perhaps 5 km in length. There was a long, slight uphill stretch to the finish - perhaps 1% grade, maybe 800+ meters in length. I optimistically counted pedal revolutions to the finish to gauge where to launch my sprint. We got all set, they lined us up, and we went.

I got pulled after one lap.

My max speed that lap was over 70 kph. That's 44 miles an hour. On a flat course.

And I got dropped on that lap!

I got dropped so bad I couldn't see anyone in the race on the long finish stretch. I got pulled off the course by the officials and everyone pointed at the American on the really fat light bike that is too light and stiff for cobbles.

I approached races differently after that. I had no illusions of making 100-120km. I wanted to do just 5 km. Therefore I started warming up to do a 5 km sprint. Heat rub. Jettison water. Lightest wheels. Highest pressure. Anything to buy me 5 or 10 kph.

Every race was the same. My legs were screaming from all the Atomic Balm I had on (and back then, it came with turpentine - to help penetrate skin). I was doing hard jumps to prepare for the launch off the line. And we were training by doing very fast sections separated by spinning - trying to improve our speed.

And every race (Sat, Sun, Wed) was the same. We'd get pulled after the first lap.

There was one point to point race we were thinking of doing in our pre-trip planning. My mom had sent us a bunch of VeloNews equivalents with race dates, locations, and registration information. The point to point was a long race, something like 150 or 200 km. But when we realized how bad we were, we chickened out. Plus I was sick. Good thing - we saw the race on TV (!). Phil Anderson and Dag-Otto Lauritzen, both top pros for Motorola, were putting the hurt on the locals. I think Lauritzen won. His other palmares includes a mountain stage in a race you might know - the Tour de France. Anderson is not shabby either - stages wins in the Tour, many days in the Yellow, and a host of smaller wins and close calls in the Classics.

I was sort of glad I was sick that day.

My teammate left a couple days before I did so I had one race to do on my own. 7 km course - long. Two more kilometers to hang on. I changed in the car (that's when I learned it was illegal to do that). Atomic Balm. Warm up. Check out the first couple kilometers of the course (as opposed to checking out the finish - I knew my place). I just wanted to make a lap and this was the last chance I had.

We lined up as normal on some small town road. Cobbles, sidewalks on both sides. The announcer yelled something. I must have looked lost - the guy next to me said in accented English "he's saying don't ride on the sidewalks". I don't know how long the race was - my goal was 7 km. 40 places. 200+ racers.

And then they sent us off.

Everyone immediately bunnyhopped onto the sidewalks, scattering spectators, causing a lot of ruckus at the start area. I found a concrete gutter and rode in that. 55-60 kph, 35-38 mph, situation normal. Everything was fine. It was the 65-70 kph, 40-43 mph sections which killed me. We narrowed into single file for some turn, went even faster. Wondering who the eff (in capitals) was at the front.

Right, he's probably trying to impress Peter Post or Jan Raas or some other Pro team director.

Blast around turns. One road was about 5 feet wide with overgrown hedges on one side and a brick wall on the other. The hedges narrowed it down even more. Lifesaver. No wind, single file, no one can pass. Everyone had to wait behind me. I didn't open a gap but on a 1 km stretch like that normally 30-40-50 racers would fly past me at 70+ kph.

Instead, due to the hedges, no one did.

Fast turn. Dirt inside. Everyone coasted. I pedal frantically in the dirt, through the turn, blast by about 15 guys, they all yell at me. Crazy American with the fat light bike, the weird pedals, using rims that will fall apart after a week or two of racing.

The strong riders let their legs do the talking on the straights. If you have to pull moves on corners they yell at you.

I'm not strong so I pulled those moves.

The last bit leading back into town is a curvy road, lined with ditches and electric cow fences. I actually saw the lead car once, probably due to my cornering antics. But I fell back as we hit the cobbles. I could maintain 55 kph but everyone else - 60-65 kph. I got into a concrete gutter, smooth as silk after cobbles. And the guys behind would ride around me, opting to go over cobbles instead of sitting on my wheel.

And they'd fly past me.

Their strength was simply astounding.

I focused on holding the wheel in front. I kept hunting gears, trying to find something bigger than my 12T. After a bit of this I looked up when I heard some yelling. I was at the start/finish! I finished a lap! I'd made my goal.

But the race had another 100 km or so. I kept going, I felt good, fast, spinning ridiculously high gears.

Through the hedge section. My legs were screaming. Suddenly I hated the smooth road - it meant the others went that much faster. I like the cobbles better. At least I could say, "well, they dropped me on the cobbles." Sounds reasonable. And no one here would know what that meant.

I could barely hang onto the wheel. I was dying. Next section I was done.

Everyone went by me. The follow car stayed behind me briefly but the driver, probably an astute ex-racer, saw my massive difficulties and went around and rushed up to the tail end of the single file field. I slowed to a mere 50 kph, gasping, wondering how these guys do it.

As we hit the cobbles after the curvy cow section, a racer trundled by, his wheel thrumming on the cobbles. He was spinning a tiny gear, perhaps a 53x16, going 55 kph or so. I got on his wheel, and now I was going 55 kph. I started wondering when I'd come off. But his spinning was maxing out his aerobics. I was thinking of telling him to shift up but I don't know Flemish. I actually pulled through, churning a 13T or so, and after 20 or so pedal strokes, let him pull for another kilometer.

We flew past the start finish area. Two laps! This was incredible.

But, realistically, it was my last lap. Way behind the field (but not 3 minutes!). And one guy for company.

We went through the hedges. He kept spinning ridiculously fast. And when we got the curvy cow section, he started to ease. He knew I couldn't really pull. So he was stuck on his own. Why fight the inevitable?

I eased too and we rolled up to the start finish at some sedate speed, perhaps 45 kph. The officials blew the whistle and pulled us over.

I got to my car, dejected. I wanted another lap. I wanted another chance with the field. I wish I could do this for a whole year. I'd be in amazing shape.

I thought about this in the car. I decided not to change in the car as I had learned that morning that it's illegal, big fine, bad things. I didn't want to get arrested for flashing someone - how would I explain that?

I got my bag and went to the Changing Bar. The previous times I entered one it'd been empty, a chair or two in the middle, a guy with a small bucket type thing of water, wiping himself down, his dad or girlfriend or coach sitting with a mournful look. Usually those guys had crashed, hence they were out, and they were nursing their wounds.

Today was different. Gloriously different.

I opened the door and got hit by a wall of noise. I walked in. The place was packed. A couple hundred people were there. The racers were obvious - they were the naked or half naked men, the ubiquitous bucket at their feet, wiping down the cow manure and dirt thrown up from the road. Around them, helping, jabbering, motioning, complaining, encouraging, crying (really!) were their supporters. Moms, Dads, girlfriends, coaches, teammates, friends. There was no concept of privacy, no segregation of sexes. Racers stood naked, trying to clean up, surrounded by their male and female supporters. Their buckets had hot water (I hadn't caught that before) and everyone took mini towel baths using that water.

One older non-racing guy was yelling a lot. He couldn't believe his guy (probably his son) got dropped. Someone said something to him. He started yelling again, to no one in particular. Apparently we'd done 1:07 kilometers for a lap or two, with the cobbles, wind, everything. He kept yelling that number over and over, shaking his head in disbelief, swearing (I know one swear in Dutch and he used it a lot).

I realized something.

Everyone was here.

Okay, not everyone. But everyone who wasn't in the top 40 was in here.

I changed and went out to watch the race. I took pictures. Counted racers. And timed the gaps.

There were a few groups on the road. The last big one, perhaps 10 or 12 riders, was at least three minutes down. But they were in the top 40 and so they'd be left in the race.

It hit me then. I was the same as all the other "Can't Be Pros". I'd gotten pulled just like the 160+ others in the Changing Bar.

I got back to my car, tired, elated.

I was a racer. And although it took me a few weeks of intense suffering, I'd elevated myself into the bottom of the elite amateur rung. The very bottom, I have to admit. But I was there.

I returned to the US and didn't think too much would change.

I was so wrong. I placed in virtually every race I entered. I did a hilly road race - and since I didn't know the course (I never do road races), I didn't take it out of the big ring, even on the "tough" climbs. I cramped a couple miles from the end - I had also refused to drink water out of my "tough guy just-came-back-from-Belgium" ego.

I was strong though. Insanely strong.

My new favorite tactic was to go at the gun, pull whenever the pace dropped below 33-34 mph, and see who was left after five laps. At one race, with about 10 laps remaining, I went to the front simply to ride everyone off my wheel. It took two laps of 28-35+ mph speeds but I finally rid myself of everyone on my wheel. I did another half lap to prove that my speed wasn't a fluke, looked back at all the suffering racers, then sat up and waited another half lap for everyone to catch me. I sprinted late and got fourth but I didn't care. I could ride riders off my wheel at will.

The last race of the year I did the same thing. For the first four laps I was either pulling or sitting on the lead guy. We were going 35 mph on the straights. I got tired after four laps and looked around. I didn't realize it but I'd dropped my faithful teammate Kevin. With no one to chase down breaks I monitored the front for much of the race.

At 8 to go I launched a probing attack. No one came with me. In two laps I'd built up a 20 second gap. I thought about what to do. 6 laps on my own? If this was a movie, I'd have put my head down and went for it. But my paltry 28 mph pace seemed too slow, especially compared to the 40+ mph surges the fields in Belgium dished out. I knew I could sprint. So I eased and recovered for a lap while the field chased me down. I slotted in at the front and waited too long in the sprint. Fourth again. I swore I'd do better "next year".

I never had a year like that again.

But I know to what I can attribute my form. The Belgian Kermesses. The killer pace.

The breeding grounds for the toughest pros around.

Pro Sitings

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Racing - Nutmeg Classic - Engagement Pics

So a few weeks ago I did the Nutmeg Classic. I mentioned the engagement pictures and the photographer Matthew Wagner that would be there. Well, he has a blog where he previews things and here are some of the shots.

You know, when someone who knows what they're doing takes pictures, it shows.

He captures us, well,kissing (M30's behind us I think). He gets my grubby fingers frantically putting my camcorder into my CamelBak. And he gets the CamelBak on my somewhat round back.

I normally wear a red-white-blue Rudy helmet but I forgot it. As mentioned in the video credits, I used Kyle's silver helmet, he of the Target Training team. It was a bit small for my egg head but it held my helmet cam fine.

Finally, Matthew gets my favorite "AKI" gloves and cap - I pulled these out of my "save this stuff" bag just for this race.

I allude to a secret mission on this day as well. I hope to get the results of this mission in the next week or so. If things work out, I'll reveal my mission - and I won't have to kill everyone that knows either.

Stay tuned!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Tactics - Crappy Driving = Crappy Racing

On the way in to work today, I saw a red Prelude. It stood out for a few reasons:
1. It's a 1993-ish Prelude. The high end version of that car came with the H22 engine, a 190 HP 2.2 liter engine. And that engine fits in my Civic. And if I put a stolen one in my car, it could get crushed, like this other 1993 Civic.
2. It was red. My Civic is red.
3. The driver was the dumbest driver I'd seen in ages.

I drive on three highways on my hour commute (give or take 15-20 minutes). I saw the Prelude on the first highway, just about at the time I got on the highway.

For the next hour I watched the driver hunt for openings in traffic. And the driver went nowhere.

I should clarify - the driver hunted for openings in traffic next to the car.

The driver did not take into account what was in front of that opening next to the car.

And so the driver would swerve into a different lane, accelerate forward perhaps 20 feet, and slow. Because there was a big truck or a slow car or something in that lane.

Sometimes you can't see these slower vehicles. But this Prelude never seemed to check as the driver would pass a little car to get stuck behind a big truck.

The Prelude would pull away on the hills (my car is short a lot of power). But even in my easy going fuel efficient driving style (I'm trying to break my current record of 44.x mpg per tank), I'd catch up with the Prelude shortly.

Finally, ready to merge onto my third highway, I used a bit of gas to get into the very clear right lane.

And passed the Prelude, stuck behind some slower vehicle, before I got off the highway.

So why this post?

Think about the Civic - a low power, econo box car. So it dreams of having twice the power - the reality is that it's quite a slow car. The Prelude - a much more powerful car, able to accelerate away at will from the Civic.

In a straight up race, the Prelude would win every time. Heck the Prelude would win if you started in second and only shifted into fourth.

But the Prelude didn't travel the long stretch of highway quicker. In fact, the weaker Civic did.

I'm the Civic. Not just the driver.

I am the Civic.

When I ride, I'm not the Prelude. I might have acceleration but I have only a few accelerations in my legs before I have to rest. I don't have that fat power curve which fills the minute and 5 minute areas with incredible 500 or 600 watt numbers. My power curve, starting at the minute mark, peaks at about 440 watts. Then it declines rapidly to by 10 minutes I'm in the low 200 watt range. Wattage over an hour? Forget it.

I am the Civic.

Yet I manage to be competitive in some races. How is this?

It's because I ride like I drive when I'm trying to get over 44 mpg in the Civic. I use energy only when I have to. I stay in the draft. I coast when I can (or soft pedal if I'm really cooked - soft pedaling is better when you're cooked). This way, when the last few laps show up, I have something left to give.

When I ride differently I usually end up watching the end of the race from the side of the road. Sometimes I race like that intentionally. Usually I don't.

So what's this got to do with you?

Well, unless you're so strong that you ride everyone off your wheel and win by lapping the field a few times, you probably run into situations where you feel like the Civic in a field of Preludes. And when you do, you too should ride like a Civic. Save your energy. Protect your spot in the field. Draft. Don't move up on the outside. Sit in. And recover.

Because you'll live to fight it out later.

One way you can practice this is to drive like a Civic. Use the traffic around you. Be aware of when the car ten cars in front of you starts to slow. Ease off the gas. Be aware of where all the cars are around you, beside you, even behind you. Fill gaps if you think they'll put you in better position. Leave them if you know you'll just get boxed in.

Who knows?

You might race a bit more efficiently the next time you line up for a race.

And in the meantime you'll be driving a bit more efficiently, a bit more predictably.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sprinting - Finally!

I've been jonesing to ride in some of these perfect days we've had - mid 70's, sunny, dry, simply perfect weather. Or, as I like to point out, simply "average" weather in San Diego.

The whole year.

Yeah whatever. I like seasons. And wearing booties. And riding the trainer. I do. I really do. I mean, who'd want to skip things like raking leaves. And shoveling really deep snow? It's times like this that those things seem so far away.

Anyway, last week I couldn't ride. Other obligations finishing in fatigue so deep I couldn't stay awake for a five minute drive. This weekend seemed like it'd be a repeat. An open house today meant a lot of prep and cleanup yesterday. To make yesterday worse, a realtor told us they'd be dropping by "later". The call came at 10:48 AM. The visit? 5:00 PM.

During that time I put another layer of paint in the "entryway" to the basement, sealed some cracks in the driveway (I should point out that it was so satisfying to do that - I think I could pave things for a living). I mowed the lawn, trimmed the edges, did some laundry, tried to straighten some stuff up in the garage, and realized that all my wheels would look a lot better hung up on hooks. Plus they wouldn't slide and fall over and make us think the cats got into the garage.

So I got some scrap wood and make a nice "wheel" rack. Hung maybe 20 or so wheels on it. Now I only have about 8 or 10 wheels laying around.

By the way, I have a hint - if you're using those generic hooks shaped like a question mark to hang wheels, you can put them about 10 inches apart, 9 inches if your wheels don't have quick release skewers.

All this and some family obligations meant no ride.

So today started with a vet's appointment. I'm pleased to report our heavy cat lost 1 of 15 pounds - that's like me losing 12 or so pounds... I should lounge around all day and lick myself too if that's all it takes.

Then a cake tasting for the wedding. I'm used to "normal" cake. This cake... well, let's put it this way. I had a reasonable pancake and sausage breakfast. Then I had three small pieces of cake - about the size of, say, a Treo phone. After we got home, I felt a bit ill from the sugary richness so had a stick of cheese and a banana. And I felt totally full. And this was about 8 hours after breakfast.

So I went for a ride.

Friday I rode twice - in the morning I did an easy ride on the trainer. While I was riding my boss called and said there was a bomb scare at the office, it was closed, and to work from home. And, by the way, please get to a computer ASAP. I went from, "Oh, I can ride another 80 minutes!" to "Crap, I have to get off the bike now."

I worked till 1 or so and then told my colleague (also working from home) that I needed to ride. To be safe (so if something happened I wouldn't be 10 miles from home), I went downstairs and rode the trainer for half an hour.

It was great.

Until my boss called. Problems, emergency, get back to the computer.

In frustration I ripped out a sprint. I thought I was going to break the stays off the bike - the disadvantage of trainers.

1245 watts.

Quelle horrible!

I told myself that the only way I'm going to get my sprint back is to go outside and do sprints.

And today, finally, I got out there.

I went to my favorite sprinting grounds. Did a sprint or two on the way out (takes 40 minutes to ride there). I thought I was flying. The Power Tap tells no lies. Only a 40.2 mph top speed. I seem to be stuck at that 40 mph wall. Totally frustrating.

(I should note I have my "normal" wheels on - no aero light stuff - but I should be able to break 40 for sure.)

Got to the loop. Had one bad loop (no traffic, and with a headwind, I needed a little boost). Second loop, nice traffic. Couldn't wait for the truck just behind me (which I suspect was featured in my helmet cam vid on the same loop) so sprinted after one of those new S-Class Mercedes. Pounced, passed it, and went ripping down the road. Sprinted all the way to the line, hard. Threw the bike.

Felt great.

1455 watts. Yeah!

37.5 mph. Boo!

Headwind, whatever, that should have been a 40+ sprint.

Delusional I suppose. Oxygen debt and all that.

I headed back. Raced a city bus for about 10 miles. He'd drop me, I'd catch him at a light a couple minutes later (I was stopping for the lights too). I finally passed him on a long slight downhill. And he turned off.


I was almost home, out of water, feeling overheated. My teeth got that gross gummy stuff on them. I was breathing hot air. I'd stopped sweating. And I was feeling a bit nauseous.

In other words, I felt like I do at the end of a hard race.

And I knew I had one more very powerful sprint in my legs. I went to my local spot, the place I go when I want to check out a wheel or a position or something new and I want to be back in five minutes.

It's a short (50 yard?) downhill followed by a flat, perhaps a 1/2% uphill. 4 lanes, good traffic, they all move about 40 mph, no lights till about 400 yards away. I'd blow before I get there in a real sprint.

I missed the jump - the cars were already pulling away from the light when I was 30-40 yards away. I thought I'd missed my chance. But this was my last sprint, it was like the end of a race, and I decided to go for it.


Caught on.

And started passing cars.

After about 6 I saw I was coming up on the reason why they weren't going fast - a guy in the right lane going about 30 mph.

I blew by him, moved right, and turned into a parking lot.

42.8 mph.

1430 watts.

Broke the 40 mph wall.

Now for 45 mph.

Equipment - Single Pivot Brakes

One of my first epiphanies happened when I adjusted a "sidepull" brake for the first time. The dang thing wouldn't center until I turned the center bolt using a cone wrench. And suddenly the brake was centered and it stayed centered!

That was great.

Nowadays, with the dual pivot brakes, such mechanical knowledge became, well, sort of obsolete.

Recently Campagnolo came out with their combination brakesets - the front was a dual pivot, the rear a single pivot. The rear brake acted funny to contemporary mechanics - when you twisted it to center it, it simply sprung back into its uncentered state.

What the heck was happening?

A single pivot brake needs tools to center (rather than a firm nudge with your hand). This is because there is a two sided spring (left-right) held by the center bolt. If you push on the brake arms, they simply spring back in place. The center bolt position determines where the brake arms center. In contrast, the dual pivot brakes have one spring for one side, another for the other, and they are mounted on a piece which you can tilt, tool-free, from one side to the other.

If the center bolt on a single pivot brake is tilted to one side (say the right side of the spring is tilted down towards the rim), the corresponding brake pad will rub. You can use your fingers to twist the brake back in place till you use the brake again, but as long as the center bolt is tilted, the brakes will always recenter around that "tilt".

To center a single pivot brake, you must center the center bolt. Once you have the brake centered properly, and the center bolt is tightened sufficiently, it will stay centered.

Advantages Single Pivot:
1. Lighter (less stuff in brake).
2. Simple (less stuff).
3. Cheaper (less stuff).

Disadvantages Single Pivot:
1. Can't re-center brake during a ride unless you carry around a wrench.
2. Can't re-center brake without tools if you put in a wheel that is slightly "off center" to the brake's current setting - this is significant if you get a wheel change and the new wheel is not centered in your brake.

Braking Power:
There is actually a difference in braking power, simply because the dual-pivot brakes have more leverage. The same difference exists between "normal" cantilever brakes and the "V-brake" setup on mountain bikes. Normal cantilevers have rapid pad movement but less leverage. The V-brakes have tons of leverage. In fact they were so strong compared to normal brakes that many companies had to redesign their frames after the brakes caused the seat stays to buckle outwards. The problem with V-brakes is that the pad takes a while to move - it takes more cable travel to make the brake pad move the same distance. In behavior, normal cantis=single pivot and V-brakes=dual pivot.

The improved braking power is not apparent in current sidepull brake designs since all brakes seem to work pretty well. The extreme "low braking power" example for single pivot brakes is the old Aero-Gran Compe. The brakes had such little leverage that slowing firmly was an adventure in itself - the brake single handedly defined "anti-lock brakes" for bicycles. The rider got instant pad movement but could not exert a lot of force on the pads. It didn't help that the pads were small, of poor material, and of unique shape with no real aftermarket pads available.

For ultimate braking power, both single- and dual-pivot brakes work fine (excepting the aforementioned Aero Gran Compe). With maximum power applied to the brake lever, any current brake will lock up its wheel. This is actually the legal definition of what a "proper" brake will do on a bicycle here in Connecticut - a bicycle brake must be powerful enough to lock up the wheel. It's sort of illogical since locking up a wheel either skids a tire (if you lock the rear) or dumps you on your face (if you lock the front).

Locking the rear is not as dangerous as locking the front - to the point where a lot of uneducated riders think that using the front brake is "dangerous". Safety, in this case, is a matter of control. Nothing changes the fact that virtually all of your braking is done with the front brake.

The real question is which design allows you to use the maximum effective brake pressure? In that respect the easily-modulated dual pivot brake wins for a front brake. Hence Campy puts the heavier but easier to control brake in front. The rear brake, being less important, recieves the lighter but a bit less controllable single pivot brake. A great combination of reducing weight, reducing complexity, and maintaining control.

Until, of course, you need to re-center that rear brake.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Training - Short Sessions, Weight

The regulars might have noticed a severe drop in posting frequency in the last few weeks. It's been a bit tight with the schedule (with work, house hunting, and house selling a.k.a. keeping things clean and the yard mowed). I had a couple breaks too and did some stuff I enjoy - mounted and balanced tires for my Dad (car tires, not bike ones).... and, hm, I guess that's it. This weekend I'll be doing some regular maintenance on my fiance's car (oil change). And of course I RainX the windows every now and again.

With the longest days of summer around and the temperatures at a mild mid 70's, it's been tempting to try and get out after work on the tandem. The future missus and I would race back from work, hop on the bike, and try and get in a 45-60 minute ride. A lot of fun when we can do it.

Work has been crazy recently though and it's really intruded into what I'm able to do - I'm effectively tethered to my house as I have to be near a broadband connection. I got frustrated enough that I requested a wireless PC card from work. One of my bosses figured that's a good idea but wants to dump a new laptop on me too - I guess he doesn't like it. Since it's faster than anything I have, I suppose I'll have to suck it up and accept it. But I don't have it yet so I'm just counting on the wireless card.

In the meantime, my New Britain race really motivated me. I felt good, I felt really into the zone in the hectic last five laps or so, and my next race, in July, happens to be at... New Britain!

I decided to try and get a bit more fit - this one ride a week business was really bringing me down. So I've been getting on the bike as much as I can, even if it's for 30 minutes. Anything to get the blood going, my metabolism up, and my legs worked.

Since New Britain I've been pretty diligent about riding (but, incredibly, I skipped the last weekend, a beautiful couple days, as I was up to my eyeballs in stuff to do). But last week I rode four days and this week I rode five days.


Alright, before you get too excited for me, I should point out that I rode 40 miles in those four days last week and 50 miles in the five days I rode this week. But that's about 30-40 miles more than I normally train each week. If I was spinning this for a sales guy, I'd tell them I increased my mileage 300-400%.

Sounds fantastic, doesn't it?

Not really. I guess it's sort of apparent why my sustainable wattage levels are at, as one reader pointed out, a "girlie" level.

But hey, if I can break the top 10 of a Cat 3 race with what I have, I'm okay with that.

I've also been a bit better about my diet. A bit, not great. And I try and do some maintenance lifting - my sprints always improve if I do back and upper body exercises. I do shoulder exercises too - the best way, in my opinion, to help protect the delicate collarbone area. In fact, I rarely stop doing shoulder exercises even if I skip the crunches, dead lifts, and various arm - chest - lat things.

I lack motivation to go really hard when I'm training. I get to a suffering point and simply ease up. I used to think it was burnout but I think it's just me getting smarter about bathing myself in pain. In races I see what I consider insane heart rates - average 168, max 183. These are virtually impossible for me to achieve when training. My averages are more like 150 and my max might break 170 when I train hard.

It's okay - I definitely race to get into shape. Although it's the meat of the summer, my season is virtually over. I have a few Prospect Parks, a New Britain, and perhaps one or two other races, and that's it. I want to do a Gimbels group ride or two but that seems somewhat unlikely at this point with the insane schedule.

This means I start thinking about equipment for next year. You may laugh but it's sort of true. With my new favorite bike thing, the Power Tap, I decided I want to get a true racing wheel with a Power Tap hub. I think it'll be easier to get a hub and build it (easier meaning cheaper) since I have so many wheels to disassemble. (I'll have to take a picture because even I was a bit shocked at how many wheels I have.) I still dream about a light crank with an oversized bottom bracket axle. Not much else though - the rest of my bike is as good as I need for my purposes.

Perhaps when we move into the hilly area and I work from home every day (today I'm at home because our office got closed due to a bomb scare), I'll be able to ride more, get lighter, and suddenly I'll be jonesing for a 45 gram lighter bottle cage. Remember, 45 grames is 1/10 of a pound - and you lose 45 grams in 10 places and your bike is a pound lighter! My two bottle cages weigh about 1/3 of a pound (150 grams). I figure when I'm lighter than 165, I can justify buying a pair that weigh 60 grams. Or a post that's 45 grams lighter. Or start experimenting with saddles to find one that's 90-135 grams lighter.

Notice I think in 45 gram increments? It makes it easy to translate to pounds. I don't think of my bike as an 8 kilogram bike (with race wheels). I think of it as 17.5 pounds. If I think in 45 gram increments, I can look at a stem (125 grams) and think, "oh, it weighs about two and a half tenths".

I guess I can justify a bike that weighs 1/10 as much as I weigh. Right now, with the lightest wheels I have, my bike weighs between 17.5 and 18 pounds. With the PowerTap rear wheel, I haven't weighed the bike with that, but it should be about a pound penalty - 18.5, maybe 19 pounds.

As I seem to weigh about 175-180, it seems about right.

Now to lose some weight so I can justify some lighter things.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Doping - T-Mobile and Bob Stapleton

T-Mobile axes Sergei Honchar.

Or Serhiy Honchar. Or something. Not sure how to spell his name. But whatever, we all know who he is. And now we know what he's not - a T-Mobile rider.

This, to me, is quite significant.

Here is a double stage winner in the 2006 Tour. He's passed every official test. And he's been crowned world champion among other things. He'd rank high on anyone's Tour team wish-list. And now he's unemployed.

Internal tests done by the team revealed that things didn't seem quite kosher with his blood. And after a second follow up test a month after the first came up as "suspicious", he was fired.

As they said in the article, "Honchar is released immediately and is free to seek employment with another team or company."


They publicly stated they're not as interested in winning as having a clean team. Yet they're a team that's did quite well at the beginning of the season. And now, with the Tour coming up and a lot of talk about doping and procycling's tarnished image, they've taken steps to try and clear out some of the muck stuck in the peloton.

The team is owned by a rich guy named Bob Stapleton. We've known him as a "guy in cycling who runs T-Mobile's team". What many probably don't know is that he sold his wireless company to T-Mobile for a lot of money (initially $50 billion, but as it was stock based, the actual value was 30% less - still a lot of change). Now he can afford to do things like, well, own a cycling team.

I decided that I like this guy. I've never met him, only seen pictures of his crinkly-eyed smile, but he's struck me as one of the good guys. At first I thought he was closely tied to Lance but this doesn't seem to be the case. So no prejudices, no pre-judgments.

I do know that during the time he ran the women's team, they desperately needed roof racks for their Saabs. Unfortunately the roof rack sponsor didn't make a rack that fit the Saab. When another roof rack company offered to provide racks, he immediately took them up on their offer. I heard that someone within the organization said something like "it's ridiculous that we're sponsored by someone whose product we can't even use". Perhaps those were the words I remember (and they're not really true) but whatever, the T-Mobile women's team suddenly had roof racks. Anyone who helped make that happen is a good guy, someone looking after the team's needs.

I have to admit that, although I had nothing to do with the racks for T-Mobile, I did help put the same company's racks onto the Jelly Belly team vehicles.

Anyway, the current T-Mobile men's team have a director Rolf Aldag - he was respected enough by his peers that he was previously elected the spokesperson for the pro peloton. Of course that's not why we remember him nowadays. His current tag is that he recently admitted to doping for much of his career.

I like the fact that after Aldag confessed, Stapleton stated that Aldag's job was not in danger. (As a side note Stapleton may have to rethink this as it may be that Aldag can't attend the Tour as a "confessed doper"). He pointed out that many of the racers joined the team because of Aldag - an interesting comment coming from the guy who pays everyone. Aldag wasn't elected the racers' spokesperson for nothing.

Aldag seems like a reasonably stand-up guy. He knows how the system works. He lasted a long time in a tough sport (I was at the Hershey finish where he won the sprint for the stage in the inaugural 1991 Tour du Pont). And, perhaps significantly, he knows the workarounds riders use to avoid doping scandals.

There's a lot of discussion about simply vaporizing all current- and past- dopers from the peloton, whether the team cars or the bikes. Aldag would be one victim.

When I think of the likes of Aldag being banished I think the result would be a naive peloton who won't be able to monitor themselves. I'd rather have someone who's been in the trenches to make sure that things were on the up and up, not some naive guy who says, "Hey, let's all be good and follow the rules, okay?" while racers are injecting themselves next to him.

Now there are some pretty twisted characters in the peloton support infrastructure - mafioso types, the kind that, well, you simply wouldn't trust. I don't have a good way of weeding them out. But it'll have to be done. Keep the good guys who come clean and really, truly promote a clean sport.

(I know I have to define what a "good guy" is but I can't just yet).

Aldag, he seems different from some of the other dopers, at least to me.

I have to imagine that someone like Aldag would be able to pull a racer aside and tell him, "Look, you and I both know how it used to be. But this guy Stapleton is serious about no doping. So quit that sh*t out and straighten up. He'd rather you get one clean victory than fifty dirty ones, even if you never get caught while you're dirty. Got it?"

The other guy thinks about it and calls the doctor and says, "Look, I decided not to do the program. I'm sorry."

And that's that.

Perhaps I'm falling for Stapleton's powerful marketing campaign. After all, he did state he wants to create a sporting franchise.

But what if his approach helps clean up the sport? Wouldn't that be great?

I guess we'll see.

Monday, June 18, 2007

How To - Why Wheels Go Out of True and How to Prevent That from Happening

Is your wheel out of true?

Should be a simple fix, right? Just take it to the shop, they turn a few spokes, and presto, you have a straight wheel again.

That might be the case, but you might be getting back a wheel weaker than the one you dropped off. It really depends on exactly what caused the wheel to go out of true.

Spoked wheels (the only kind of wheel I'll refer to in this article) are inherently very weak laterally (left-right) and strong vertically (up-down). The wheel is an incredible complex system capable of supporting something like 300 times its own weight vertically. Laterally though, it's a lot less impressive. Loaded laterally at just 40 or 50 times its own weight the wheel will start to fail.

Spokes are actually long threaded rods - the spoke nipple is a funny shaped nut. You tighten the nut (spoke nipple) to pull the rim towards that spoke (really the spoke base - where it goes into the hub). You loosen it to let the rim move away a bit. The wheel is strong because of the tension in the spokes.

The best way to have a wheel go out of true is to have a spoke lose some of its tension (i.e. the spoke nipple loosened up). It stops pulling the rim into place, letting the rim drift away to the other side. For example, if a right side spoke loosens up, the rim will wobble to the left just a bit. If you re-tension the spoke, the wheel should be true again.

Unfortunately that's rarely the case.

One warning sign is the "Loose Spoke" on an otherwise straight-ish wheel. A loose spoke shouts out that the rim is bent. A single loose spoke indicates a lateral bend (it could be more than one spoke but they'd be on the same side of the wheel with one opposing spoke between them). A pair of loose spokes right next to each other indicates a vertical bend ("flat spot"). More than two loose spokes could indicate a combination of those two symptoms.

If you hit something hard enough with your wheel, you can bend the rim. This means you actually alter the permanent shape of the rim from one of a flat circle to a not-so-flat circle (lateral bend), a flat but no-longer-circular hoop (vertical bend, i.e. "flat spot"), or a not-so-flat no-longer-circular (i.e. your rim is toast).

A flat spotted rim (has a flat spot - like a flat tire has a flat spot) can be bent outwards using a special tool that resembles an 18th century surgical tool, both in appearance and precision. It's very rare that a flat spotted rim gets bent back round but it's theoretically possible. It's usually quicker to lace over a new rim. Flat spotted rims are hard to ride - the brakes grab at that flat part, the brake pads may rub the tire there too, the wheel thumps, and the bike bounces up and down as you roll down the street. Not a pleasant thing - something you endure until you can get it fixed.

A laterally bent rim can be forced into true by violating all the rules of spoke tension. The problem with forcing the rim into place is that the rim will immediately try and return to its natural (bent) state.

There are three options for a laterally bent rim:
1. Let the rim stay in its natural bent state if it's not too bad (say 5mm or less out of true). I've ridden/raced on wheels like this, sometimes for more than a year or two on particular wheels.

2. Replace the rim. when doing so, replace all the spokes. Spokes are like rubber bands, they lose their elasticity after a while, and if you're paying for a rim and a build, get new spokes too. It is false economy to bypass this step.

3. "Bend" the rim back by using equal and opposite force. This typically involves completely loosening the spokes in the area (after marking where the single loose spoke is located), hitting the rim pretty hard on a flat, solid surface (bench, ground, rock, etc) so that you hit the
rim away from the loose spoke. If you are lucky, the rim will be perfect. If not you're buying a new rim. On a wheel you're about to trash, this is a nice, no-loss situation. I've salvaged maybe 3 really nice race wheels like this (and didn't salvage maybe 30 or 40). This only works for
aluminum rims. Please don't come crying when you bash your carbon wheels against a handy-dandy curb trying to "true" them.

To be honest though I think we all agree that it's better if your wheels don't get bent in the first place. While riding on even on the roughest streets, proper riding technique will preserve even the flimsiest of wheels/tires. You pay the price only if you mess up. I've trained on city streets (NYC, Chicago, more) on light wheels shod with light tires with no problems.

There are some basic techniques to use:

1. Bunny hops, i.e. when you "jump" the bike. Even if you don't gain altitude, at least you don't drop into the potholes. Smooth bunny hops put virtually no impact on your wheels when you land. Most of the shock is absorbed by you, the rider.

2. No extreme out of saddle action when going over bumps. In other words, no radical sprinting side to side while going over those really big potholes - you really raise the chance that you'll knock your wheel laterally out of true.

3. In normal road traffic, go around holes by asserting yourself in your lane. In a peloton of riders you have to resort to the bunny hop as swerving around potholes while in a group is the number one way to announce to everyone that you have no clue how to ride a bike. I say that in bold italics because even as a Cat 3 I see other Cat 3 racers do this all the time. It's really frustrating because those guys cause crashes and near crashes, all for no real reason at all. They simply don't know how to ride a bike properly. Anyway you have to be aware of where those potholes are (i.e. eyes way up the road) and plan accordingly.

4. Smooth pedaling reduces the stresses you put into your bike - it typically means doing lower rpms in bigger gears. This stabilizes your body so it puts less movement into the bike. It also lets you loosely hold the bars so that you allow the bike to bounce around a bit. This is recommended for dirt roads etc.

5. If you get forced to ride over bumps, relax your grip on your bars, let the bike do what it needs to do, and don't brake unless you have to. I ride on dirt roads with the occasional rock the size of a baseball but rarely flat. It might be dumb luck but the riders I am with flat more often than I do and I haven't won the lottery yet. At the Nutmeg Classic I ended up riding on semi-soft sand at 38 mph. Other than distracting me from the sprint, nothing happened.

These techniques have helped me preserve my wheels. Hopefully you can use them to help preserve yours.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Letters - Greg Lemond and ITT's

I like writing letters to Here's the latest one (commenting on a letter written the previous week on how Lemond's 1989 TT could still be near the top of list).

Greg LeMond and record ITTs

I read the above letter with a bit of dismay. Not because of the various accusations (what else is new) but because the writer didn't seem to do much research into his suggestive letter. It is true that LeMond has had the fastest non-prologue TT in the Tour. It is true that this record is coming up on 20 years old. And it is true that There have been some spectacular advances in time trial technology.

So why is Lemond's TT record still around?

Here are some interesting statistics. To summarize - it was a short TT, almost the shortest flat TT since then. It was a tailwind, downhill TT. It was a slower Tour - by 4 or 5kph compared to the Tour Where his TT record was broken. When comparable distances are raced by current racers, they go faster. Also circumstances put his particular TT in the spotlight (as opposed to something like Boardman's prologues or Zabrinske's record holding TT).

There have been no TT's that short in a long time - 25km. I believe it was meant to be a parade TT for the Yellow Jersey - hence its short length. Normally it would be simply too short to do any major damage to GC.

Back in the 1980's most TTs were a spectacular 1.5 hour affairs - like the 73km TT earlier in that 1989 Tour and the monster 87+ km TT in 1987. It was also the third ITT for the 1989 Tour (and there was a TTT that year). I don't see any other Tours since then where there is a third ITT.

Note that almost all the TT's I could find are virtually twice as long or longer as that famous 1989 TT. Sustaining that record ITT speed for 50km is out of reach of even the best vintage Lemond.

Here is a list (I couldn't readily find 1988, 1992) of the ITTs and their distances in past Tours. I don't include TTT's. Note any TT around 30km is an uphill one (distances in km).

1987 87.5km, 36.5km (uphill)
1989 73 km, 39km (uphill), 25km (3 ITT's plus TTT that year)
1990 33.5km (uphill), 45km
1991 32km (uphill), 61km
1992 ?
1993 65km, 55km
1994 64km, 46km
1995 64km, 54km
1996 30 km (uphill), 60 km
1997 55 km, 62 km
1998 58 km, 53 km
1999 56 km, 54 km
2000 58 km (prologue was 16.5 km)
2001 32 km (uphill), 61 km
2002 52 km, 50 km
2003 47 km, 49 km
2004 15 km (uphill), 55 km
2005 19 km (prologue - the first sub 25 km TT since 1989 - a few beat Lemond's speed), 55 km
2006 52 km, 56 km

2. When else do you get a downhill, tailwind TT? Sean Yates was blessed with some kind wind in one Tour TT and ended up climbing on the podium that day. He modestly attributed it to luck (i.e. weather which changed unfavorably for the later starters). The 1989 TT enjoyed a tailwind with a somewhat substantial drop in altitude at the start of the TT. This is a big advantage when making an intense effort over a short distance.

3. Keep in mind that the 1989 Tour was a pretty negatively raced one - it averaged about 37.5 kph. Compare this to the blazing 41.6 kph for 2005 and 40.8 kph for 2006. Tours back then were ridden differently. The peloton seemed to take it easier on the "easy" days (although I'm sure any racer in that Tour would protest). The easier pace on the flats meant that the favorites could hoard their energy for the crunch moments like time trials and climbs.

4. Delgado lost 2:40 because of a late start and then another 5 minutes in the TTT (not sure why he got dropped but he did). He finished the Tour 3:34 down. If Delgado had been more organized, he could have won the Tour by many minutes and Lemond's spectacular time trial would have been just a great TT win to earn, say, second place.

Lemond showed promise early on - as young as 16. Lemond won three medals at the Junior Worlds - RR gold (broke away on a flat course, got knocked off the course twice in the sprint by his break companion who was promptly disqualified), TTT silver (one US rider crashed and another didn't pull - apparently Lemond was doing 2+ minute pulls, and they lost to a specialist Russian TTT team), Pursuit bronze (basically his first time on the track, lost to specialists). When he turned pro, his coach/director Guimard promptly raise his saddle about 5 cm and told him that if he'd had the proper position, he'd have done better at the Jr Worlds, especially in the pursuit. In other words, Lemond was a special rider. His 1989 TT demonstrated that.

As far as why he comments on American riders? I can't answer for him as I don't know him at all. I do know that there are guys around here who say similar things as Lemond - but they're not public figures. Their emails or conversations don't get aired by Reuters. Lemond's do get aired. To me it seems that Lemond is simply a normal guy who acts normally. That includes saying things that probably shouldn't be said on record. The problem is that he isn't a normal guy - he's a retired cycling superstar who is quoted as soon as something interesting happens. So when he says something unusual, it ends up in print.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Equipment - Are Deep Carbon Rims Worth The Money?

I asked a good friend of mine the same question when the Zipps first became readily available - probably 12 or 13 years ago. He looked at me and asked "Will you make back the $1000 you're spending on the wheels if you buy them?"

Well, no.

But I also don't make back almost any of the money I spent on my frame, bars, seat, cranks, levers, tires, heck, even my entry fees.

So are deep carbon wheels worth it?

Back at that time I did a lot of "tests" with equipment. I say "tests" in quotes since I didn't have a lot of scientific precision. I looked for gross changes - not 0.1 mph or even 0.5 mph but 2 or 3 mph. And I found that deep wheels (carbon or not) made a significant difference in speed at the upper levels of my cruising speeds. This was different than putting on a different seat or seatpost or going from a 32 spoke GL330 to a 28 spoke GEL 280. Those changes were very fine and I could barely detect a difference except in particular situations. Aero wheels though they made a huge change and I could feel it every time my speed went into the 30 mph range.

With deep (or otherwise more aerodynamic wheels), you'll notice a benefit at crunch time, when the pace has hotted up to 35-40 mph and everyone is scrambling for wheels. At that point I feel they're worth 2-3 mph (depending on how deep a rim you get). My legs feel a lot less stressed at those times. I remember one race where I switched back to box section rims as I thought the extra weight of the aero wheels held me back. Well it seemed that every time the boys made a move, I was dying to stay on wheels. The next week, on the same course, I switched back to aero wheels. The same gears, the same speed, the same racers, but this time I felt fine.

Another question is whether it's worth it to get a high dollar wheel - the top line Zipps or perhaps the Campy Boras. Mega buck difference in price. Performance? Probably not a huge difference.

The quantum leap is going to a deep rim with fewer spokes - once you're there, the differences between wheels is less significant than, say, your current wheels versus any deep rim wheel. Paying more for a deep rim wheel gets you fancy light hubs, better spokes (straight pull or not), and perhaps some patents. The expensive ones typically get you wheels which sponsor a ProTour team or has some brand name. I know that some of the high end rims (like Campy's carbon clincher rims) are pretty weak (as expressed as a "tire pressure limit" of under 120 psi). This indicates the carbon in the rim hasn't been optimized. Stick with wheels which you can treat like a metal one - no expressed limits in pressure within reasonable limits, no weight limit under 200 pounds, etc.

For me, a working Cat 3? For a while I was seriously thinking of getting the Zipp FlashPoints for training. Then I saw the WilliamsWheels (the deep tubular would make a good race wheel I think). Both deep wheels are about $1000, my self imposed limit for not feeling like I got raped on a set of wheels. Seeing as I spend years deciding what wheels to get, I didn't get either, didn't have time to make a decision.

Instead I got a PowerTap - and I like looking at the data so much I decided to save up for a 24H PowerTap hub so I can lace over a Zipp 440 rim I have laying around. My rear Reynolds DV has been unraced for the last few races as I use the PT wheel instead.

The only race wheels I've sought since testing riding those aero wheels back to back are the Specialized TriSpokes (i.e. HED) and deep carbon wheels (Zipp 440, then Reynolds DV). I've also used Spinergy Rev-X's, a rear disk (prototype from Colorado I bought from someone), and medium deep rims. I like deep aero wheels much I pretty much exclusively rode on TriSpokes (which were the worst for catching cross winds) for a few years so that I would feel comfortable on them in all conditions.

I don't make money racing - I might win $100 a year (this year - $0 so far). I pay to race. Racing involves a lot of time and energy and money - buying equipment after figuring out what to buy, training or trying to train, driving to/from races and rides, and racing itself. Fast wheels makes the racing I do a lot more fun. I'm already way into the sport. I spent more on wheels than on my frame(s) or my group(s). It's where I notice the most difference in performance.

Are deep carbon wheels worth it?

For me the answer is a resounding "Yes".

Monday, June 11, 2007

Racing - 2007 Nutmeg Classic Helmet Cam

As mentioned here, I just did the 2007 Nutmeg Classic. I mentioned it was a squirrelly race but when I checked the tape it was worse than I thought.

I got the bits I mentioned in my post - moving to the left for the photog, the move up in the field thanks to the kind soul to my left. I forgot the amazing flower bit bunny hop and the grass surfing on the last lap but I put them in too.

Based on some comments I received and observations I made, I spent a lot more time putting in race comments - what I was thinking, what seemed to be happening.

All in all a very exciting race for me with a less than perfect ending.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Racing - Nutmeg Classic

So today was the Nutmeg Classic, (sort of) part of the Nutmeg State Games. The Games technically start later but this race is sort of a peninsula event for the State Games - it's like having the Summer Olympics start in Beijing start on August 8th but they do the 50 meter sprint in June.

Although the race itself is an annual goal of mine, we had a second reason to go - the "engagement" shoot for our wedding. We decided with our photographer Matthew that it would be an interesting venue for an informal shoot. We initially met him at his home/office a while back and took an immediate liking to him. His photography impressed us, his questions made us think about what we wanted, and, after a 30 second "You like him?" "Yeah, you?" "Yeah" discussion we wrote him a check.

We met up with him and he laid out a plan of action. There'd be the "sappy" stuff (holding hands, sitting somewhere together, kissing, all the stuff that make 3rd grade boys go "Ewwww"). There'd be the race shots. And, secretly, I hoped that perhaps there'd be a podium shot or something like that. That was a pipe dream but hey, if you don't dream...

We set out to do the sappy shots but were held up as all sorts of guys were saying hi to me (and my fiancee). One guy who bought a Davidson bike from me 15 years ago said hi, mentioned the bike, and mentioned wanting to restore it. Scary thing is that I instantly remembered the bike (a frost blue two tone job) and him (he looks sort of like John Howard).

After a few more hellos and how's-it-goings, Matthew commented on how tight knit the cycling seemed. I hadn't thought of it that way but his words put clarity to what I always knew. The racing world is very small, very intimate. And by definition, it's important to respect the others. If you burn bridges in a tight community, well, you end up not in that community.

Anyway, we finally broke free of all our social obligations and got down to some photography stuff. We walked hand in hand, we sat on a wall together, and for the finale, we have some cool shots of us making out as the M30 field raced behind us.

That was the first mission.

The second was the race. I had two tasks in the race - try and get to the left so Matthew could take a shot and try, try and finish the race up front with good video and power data, and finally, as extra credit, to try and cross the line as a top 3 Connecticut racer.

I was a bit rushed in my warm-up (what else is new) and did an easy three laps of the traditional warm-up loop at New Britain. One lap I held an open Coke can in my hand so it was really easy - and that was the last of my warm-up laps. I headed to the grassy start/finish area to meet up with my fiancee, Matthew, and get the helmet cam gear I'd dropped off.

I rigged the system with a borrowed helmet (thanks to Kyle, the TargeTraining U25 manager) as the 3's lined up and rode to a basically filled start line. I was about to snake my way to the back when the promoter asked the 2006 Category 3 Connecticut Criterium Champion to come to the front.


That would be me :)

Just to make things clear, the promoter announced my name too. So I turned my bike around and planted myself in front of the rest of the racers. Actually I inadvertently planted myself in front of one of the favorites of the race. He joking told me that I better get going fast else he'd run me over.


I usually start from behind the field - this way I can relax and not worry about lining up 20 minutes before the race (because, 20 minutes before the race, I'm usually rushing to the car to change).

The other thing it lets me do is start with no pressure of getting into the pedals. When I was a Junior (we're going back to about the time bicycles were invented - at least the current iteration of them) my young mentor Ken told me I should practice getting into the pedals. He told me races could be lost if you don't get into the pedals fast enough.

Yeah, whatever. I was 14 and knew everything.

Then we went to the 1983 National Criterium Championships. And at the Intermediate start (12-14 year olds) one unfortunate racer fell over at the start. About 30 of the 60 racers fell over with him. And the other 30 took off.

Race over.

I started religiously practicing clipping in (toe clips and straps at that time). It got to the point where I could have one foot on the ground then virtually sprint away from the line - it would take me maybe 30 degrees of pedal stroke before I was in the pedals.

That practice translated to clipless pedals. But this was the first time in a long time that I was starting in front of everyone else. I was a bit leery. The officials got out of the way and told us to go. And I did. And thankfully I got into my pedals right away.

The second part of the photography plan was to try and get a shot with me in the race and my fiancee cheering me on. He had a remote flash and was doing some fancy technical things - trying to flash fill both of us at one time. I told him it's 30 laps so he has 30 tries. But after worming over to the left side for the first 6 or 7 laps (I even asked a guy to let me go left and he was nice enough to let me ease through), I realized I was using some precious go-juice that would leave me a bit short at the end. So I drifted into the middle of the field and hoped Matthew could make something of it.

I checked my heart rate only twice during the race - once near the start it read 173 and I didn't want to know any more than that. The other time, at the top of the hill half way through the race, it read 157.

I was fine.

Problem was my muscles felt a bit crampy. I could feel the warning twinges rippling through my calves and quads. So I let myself drift all the way to the back of the field and tried to stretch things out. I did a few tricks I use to try and combat potential cramps. I put it in a big gear and pedaled a bit slower. I stretched out. I coasted as much as I could. I drank some water.

Eventually though the race got into the single digit laps. And eventually I'd have to move up. I have to check the tape but I remember one guy looking at me, a guy I race with frequently, one who says hi and all that, and he looked to his side at me and then in front at the gaps there.

And moved over.

I flew into the gap, flew between other racers, and suddenly I'd moved up about 30 or 40 racers.

I was back in the hunt.

At about three to go, I saw the aforementioned favorite rally his team to the front. A guy behind me told someone else "There goes Mr. Cipollini and his lead out train". Perhaps a bit sarcastic but the fact remained that his team had seven guys at the front of this race. No one else did. Impressive.

They were off to the right. To their left and behind them, things were chaotic. I don't remember such a squirrelly race there in a long time. Guys were cutting corners with riders to their inside. One guy switched two lanes over without a glance - and almost took down the field behind him. And it was tight. I was in contact with one guy, I had to brake hard a couple times, and all in all it was a dicey final three laps.

With two to go I knew I had to be in position on the next lap. The twinges faded into the background. The adrenaline was going. And I felt like I could give it a good go. At one to go I managed to make some moves so that I ended up perhaps 15 riders back streaming through the last turn.

I followed wheels a bit and, like last year, moved left. Usually if the right is jammed up, I can fly by everyone on the left. And so it was. I saw nothing but clear road, my momentum carrying me past the riders who were inexplicably easing a hair. And I hadn't even jumped. My legs felt like they could spin huge gears. And I thought, heck, this might be it. I mentally prepared to jump - I usually shift up a gear as I stomp the pedal. My thumb went to the Ergo lever.

Then the rider two in front of me started slewing sideways. He beat me last year (he actually won), he's a multi-time National Cross Champ (the "main" one, not the Masters, although he's won those too), and he's a maestro at bike handling.

If he is going sideways some bad things were going down next to him.

He slammed onto the ground, his sort-of-disk wheel making a horrible sound as it slid along at 35 mph or so. Guys to his right were doing their best to take out garbage cans, sign posts, trees, curbs, and other racers.

Not where I want to be.

I went left, barely missed a 55 gallon drum (garbage can), and coasted onto the very soft and squirrelly feeling sand next to the road. I saw I could get back on the road after a few seconds, did so, and went a pedal stroke or two. For some reason I sat up - perhaps in shock, I don't know - but for whatever reason, I coasted. And a few guys went by me. Thinking about it now, if I'd been in the motivational groove from a year or two back, I'd have sprinted on the sand and back onto the road. But that wasn't the case.

End result - 11th in the race. What hurt was that after the race I looked ahead and could see only NY and Massachusetts racers. I started hoping that I might have lucked out into a Connecticut podium position. Having hopes dashed is worse than not having that hope in the first place. And that's what happened.

I was the fourth Connecticut racer across the line.

But I finally finished near the front of a race this year. And felt like I could slice and dice with the best of them.

After the race Matthew followed us around like one of those paparazzi photogs. It was pretty cool actually, as it was just for a few hours that we had this shadow. Everyone was talking about the race (that pre-race favorite was disqualified for causing the stack-up in the sprint). And Matthew caught that spontaneous excitement in imagery.

Anyway, Matthew also rides a bit and he also blogs. So that makes him pretty cool in our eyes. We also had a lot of fun working with him. We managed to introduce him to Matt, our DJ (who also designed the kit and races Cat 2). So it was like a pre-wedding meet of Matts.

One he'd left, we searched out some of the teams that hadn't received their trophies from the Bethel Spring Series. We gave one team TargeTraining so many trophies they had to put their wheels on the roof of their car. Another, Connecticut Coast Cycling, also got a bunch. And we gave the third woman overall her hard earned trophy (well, we gave it to her husband - she was racing at that moment).

Later on I said to my fiancee that perhaps I should have sprinted after I got back on the pavement. She looked at me with one of those looks.

Alright, I'll admit it. 11th is not bad. When I started racing I simply wanted to finish a race. And I didn't place in a "real" race in forever.

Now an 11th is "Maybe I should have gone a bit harder."

All in all a good day. I was upright at the finish, I got some nice tape, and the future missus and I had a really good day together.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Racing - Pre-Nutmeg Classic

So today is the day before the Nutmeg Classic. Those of you who know me know that this has always been a good race for me. Last year was a special one for me as I got what amounted to my second Cat 3 State Championship gold.

And it was pretty much the end of a period of high motivation lasting from December 2003 till that June 2006 - the time I worked on fulfilling two promises I made my mom, the first being Bethel. and the second being the Crit Championships.

So now with things other than racing occupying my mind, with work constantly interrupting planned rides or even planned weeks of riding, I approach tomorrow's race with low racing expectations.

That's not to say it's a bad thing. It's just that I haven't been training much, the training I do is mainly racing (and therefore not really conducive towards, say, increasing my fitness level). A definite plus side about the upcoming race is the course favors tacticians.

That would be a rider like me.

When I got my first CT gold medal in 2002, I placed second to a rider from Massachusetts. Prior to the race I hadn't ridden in 9 days. I remember this because I told the two teammates in the race that I'd race for them. Both are solid riders, very strong, and well capable of winning virtually any race they entered. One is that rider in the first picture I posted, Morgan (in the white/green). And the other, Steve, is just behind us in that picture but not in it.

I told them that I'd ride for them. And being relatively unselfish, both said that it wasn't necessary. (I think the unsaid part was "Well, how do you expect to help if you haven't been riding?"). Steve told me to sit in for 20 laps and race for 10 (or something like that). I was thinking I'd be lucky to make it that far.

Nonetheless I started the race mentally racing for those two. And when a break went up the road and both Steve and Morgan ended up working hard to try and bring the field up to them, I decided that this would be my moment for contribution. I'd bridge to the break and become an anchor, demoralizing them, not pulling, and make them come back to the field.

I didn't think I could do it alone though.

So I told a friendly rival John F (who races for a different team but who has actually led me out at races) that I was going to try and bridge. He moved up with me - but due to the cracking pace and the impatient riders jamming the course, it took me three laps to move up into the top 15 or so - a place where I could launch an attack.

By then the break was established, a couple others had bridged, the field was getting collectively tired, and it was looking really dangerous. The break dangled about 200-250 meters in front of the field - the breaking point of the elastic holding them and the field together.

It was time to go.

I launched moderately hard, figuring John would follow me. I didn't want to kill him as I was relying on him to do a lot of the bridge work. But I had to go hard - otherwise I'd just tow people up to the break.

After my jump, when I looked down to check my six, my heart sank. No one there. I looked back and John was just off the front, easing back into the field. He couldn't get my wheel for whatever reason and, in order to protect my bridge attempt, drifted back into the field.

I accepted the situation and put my head down.

And hammered.

I had attacked on the back stretch at the top of the short hill. I flew into the last turn, got going, and pushed myself into a state of speed and pain. When I glanced at the speedometer as I approached the start/finish, I was holding 38 mph. And the break was still about 100 meters away.

One break member saw me coming and put in a half hearted attack, trying to get me to blow up before I got there. But I clawed my way onto the break, reaching them as we started up the backstretch "hill" (it's a small one).

And for the next eight laps, I flat out refused to pull.

I'd like to say it was a tactical thing, how I had two really strong riders in the field, that I was working for them, yada yada yada. And, yeah, those reasons applied.

But there was another reason, a physiological thing. I simply could not pull. The break riders were hammering, killing themselves to stay away, and it was all I could do to sit on. Several times dangerous gaps opened up but something - a bend, a rise, a sudden drop in wind - something always helped me get back on.

And so I struggled on.

The break riders saw my difficulty and stopped trying (i.e. "yelling") to get me to pull. I finally did pull about eight laps later when my legs suddenly started lost their numb feeling. I suddenly felt better because the pace got turned down a bunch of klicks. Apparently the others in the break collectively blew up. My 23 mph pulls didn't do much to prolong the break and we got caught a lap or so after.

Now completely fried, I had nothing to give. And for the next 10 laps I watched Steve and Morgan launch attack after attack. The field didn't want to repeat its ferocious effort to catch the first break and that meant no one let another one to go.

And so it came down to the sprint.

And in case you forgot who's writing these things, who here likes sprints?

That's right, me!

I thought of trying to get up there to lead out my teammates. I couldn't move up without wiping out my reserves - as it was I could barely hang onto a decent field position. And as we know from the '07 Hartford Crit, I can do that, well, pretty much regardless of my fitness. As we dropped into the last turn, I was perhaps 10 or 15 back, close enough to do some damage, too far to help anyone out.

A few riders, leading out the sprint, blew and pulled off. I was still pedaling. And suddenly I was maybe seventh.

My legs cried out to give them a shot.

The racers, including Steve and Morgan, fanned out to the left as the course veered slightly right, trying to get around the racer leading the whole thing out. He'd led out the last race I'd done here from half a lap out and no one could get around him. Today he looked a little more vulnerable - he seemed to be crawling - but no one was moving up to him. He was sticking to the right curb, the shortest line, but the course straightened out just before the line.

I knew that when it straightened out he'd drift left - after all, that's where all the guys were trying to pass him. This meant he'd leave the right side open just a touch.

And that was going to be my hole.

I launched hard to the inside, rocketed up the right side, the lead rider moved a hair to the left, and I desperately threw my bike under his upraised arms at the line. I was hoping for a miraculous bike throw but it wasn't the case. I didn't beat him.

But when I looked around, I realized that there were no Connecticut riders in front of me, just the lead out guy.

It took me a lap for it to sink in but finally I realized it. As the first Connecticut racer across the line, I'd won the Connecticut Cat 3 Criterium Championships.

I felt like I was on a different world. I had one of those s-eating grins on my face. I got a medal and was "interviewed" on the announcer's platform. I tried to thank my sponsors and stuff but I don't have a clue what I said.

Afterwards, still hyper, I rode around the "warm up" loop, not knowing what to do with my extra energy.

I called my mom to let her know her son was the Connecticut Cat 3 Crit Champion. She's always been supportive of my cycling and she let me boast to her like a son ought to be able to boast to his mom.

I thought about who else to call. I desperately wanted to share this moment with someone else but I wasn't sure who to call. I mean, I think it'd be kind of obnoxious if someone called me out of the blue and said "Hey, I just won the CT Crit Championships!". Cool perhaps but a bit obnoxious.

And I didn't want to walk around with the medal hanging around my neck. It's really cute when kids do that. When grown adults do it, well, I won't go there but I just didn't want to do it.

I realized there was someone who I wanted to call. So I called this young woman I'd been seeing. She and I weren't really a thing, not officially. We hadn't shared the fact that we were seeing each other - too many mutual friends. If things blew up, we didn't want to force them to choose sides.

Anyway, I called her. And boasted like a little kid. I don't remember all her reactions but suffice it to say that she was happy for me. Perhaps a bit bewildered. But happy for me.

You can guess who that was - we're getting married in October.

She was with me last year when I reclaimed the title, supporting me in my quest to fulfill my second promise to my mom. Tomorrow she'll be with me at the race and cheer for me to defend it. Like I said before, I have no expectations of accomplishing that, and neither does my fiancee. She knows what I've been going through with training (or lack thereof - she's the one pushing me to get a ride in), with work, and around the house. I have my secret mission to accomplish (has to do with racing and the helmet cam). And it involves finishing the race and hopefully at the front.

We'll see though.

We have a second mission at Walnut Hill Park that will serve to distract us from any racing shortfalls. We'll be doing a small photo shoot - an "engagement" shoot - with our wedding photographer. So if you see us doing some sappy romantic stuff like strolling hand in hand and there's a photographer hovering in the background, wave or something.

You might make it into our engagement book.