Thursday, January 31, 2008

California - Day Two

My day started pretty normally except for one thing. I woke up, sat up, and, through my bleary unfocused eyes, saw a little blonde haired boy sitting in his crib.


I'm not in Connecticut anymore.

I picked up said boy, put him on the floor, and let him run to his mom. I guess he'd woken up during the night but I never knew.

I went for a nice prelim ride with Julie. With a paid registration for the Tour de Palm Springs (55 mile), my hosts both need to get a few miles in to get used to the bike again. I typically go overboard the first day I'm here and planned on doing maybe 3 easy hours to ease myself into the radically different weather and the 3 hour time difference.

I was pleasantly surprised with the weather. For the first time this year I put on just shorts, a short sleeve jersey, a long sleeve one, and a vest.

After an hour of riding and talking, Julie returned home to work. I kept going, thinking I'd get in maybe two more hours. After shedding the LS jersey I rode north into Oceanside, dropped by Pacific Coast Cycle, talked a bit. I got a bit cool so put the LS jersey back on and started back south. I figured I'd ride south past Carlsbad, turn around after a bit, and head back to make my 3 hour easy ride.

I kept catching riders going easy and being passed by those going, well, faster than me. I wasn't feeling very social so I'd sit up and let both the caught and the catchers pull away from me. Alone again, I'd start rolling, periodically looking at the SRM to see my wattage, heart rate (i.e. effort), and sometimes speed or cadence.

The wattage took some new significance. The other day I read the SRM manual and they talk about checking some number every time you ride. I hadn't for a while so I checked. The number the SRM wanted: 249. The number in the SRM: 487.

I put in 249.

My wattage jumped up a bit.

Actually it jumped a lot. I found my steady state efforts were 300+ watts, not 200. Yet my softer efforts still remained well under 150 watts, and my half hearted jumps weren't exceeding 1200 watts. It seemed to be correct but my threshold number seemed to be higher than I originally thought.

(Either that or I'm getting in shape).

My speeds were a bit higher than "normal" (i.e. the beginning of the base miles). I found I was breaking 30 kph when just cruising along, not getting stuck at 28 or 29 kph. I also noticed my little "roll the gear a bit harder" efforts were netting perhaps 40-45 kph.

Unfortunately no 50-55 kph speeds, the ones I like to see.

I met up with a guy Andy. He caught me so he was one of the faster ones, but he also held back, not intruding on my riding space. At one point the lane ended and I looked back to see if it was okay to move over. I heard a "It's clear" from behind me. Even in my unsocial state, this struck a chord. Here was a polite, friendly, and respectful rider.

He finally pulled up and asked how I liked my bike. It's virtually a rhetorical question because the bike is so good, but when I looked over, he was riding a CAAD9 (I think). I told him I liked the bike, we got talking, and then he told me he was thinking of doing a crit.


If there's one thing I love doing, it's talking to polite, friendly, respectful riders who want to race a crit.

So, although I'd been on the bike for over 2 hours after Julie returned home, I didn't turn around. I kept riding and talking to this guy. I told him some of my standard tips (some of which are contrary to "popular" tips), we talked tactics, and then, after a lot of talking, we hit some PITA hill.

The first hint should have been his slamming his bike into a super low gear. I doggedly rode my gear, shifted, slowed, shifted, slowed, until I was in some absurdly low gear.

Andy, politely, didn't scamper up the road. We rode side by side, both of us hovering around 290-300 watts.

Which, I realize now, is probably about my threshold. I'd told him earlier it was 255 watts, but that was a year ago and on a trainer. Now, with an adjusted SRM, some miles on my legs, it's closer to 290-300 watts.

At the top I told him I needed to turn around. I'd been on the bike for a while, been away from the house for 5, and I was, as it turns out, 2 hours away from home.

I suffered a bit on the way back, trying (unsuccessfully) to beat the dark, and rolled in a tad over 7 hours after I started. Sugar-wise I had an Enervit gel, an Enervit fluid pack, and a bottle of Enervit electrolyte drink. I drank most of my bottle of water, too, but that was it.

So much for taking it easy the first day.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

California - Day One

I spent the bulk of the day traveling. The prior evening I packed what I thought would be necessary. Since, as I pointed out to the missus, I'm not going to a place like Somalia, I'd leave a lot of "necessities" behind, planning to buy them once out here instead. Usually my method of packing is to get the number of days away, multiply by something at least 1.5 or higher, then pack for the resulting number of days. An overnight trip would warrant 3 days of clothes, so a 2 week trip usually results in emptying my dresser into a tiny Tumi. I can proudly say that I have about as many clothes as I normally bring on a two or three day trip.

About 2 weeks worth, in other words.

Flying from a small airport 20 minutes away from the house made the morning much less stressful. Nonetheless I was up at 3:30 (6:00 alarm), and read and ate and stuff until 6:15. Then a flurry of activity and we were off for the airport.

The flights went fine. I read 772 pages of a pretty well written novel about (what else) fictional current Special Forces folks. I felt a bit self conscious as there were a number of real military type folks on the plane (I could tell because they were dressed in military type outfits - I'm very observant) and I figure they probably look at me and think, "Oh boy, another wannabe yahoo."

The stop over in Chicago was brief and cold. The first time I ever saw snow inside of those umbilical cord walkways to the plane. Yes, there was snow seeping into the edges of the walkway. Zero degrees Fahrenheit, or "brisk" as our pilot said.

I slept whenever I felt like it, almost but not missing the first take off, and drifting off well before cruising altitude on the second flight. I fly for take offs and landings - the one in San Diego being especially exciting since you can look out the windows and virtually into buildings next to the flight path - and missing them is a big disappointment for me. My friend Rich picked me up at the airport in nice, sunny, 60 degree weather. Key thing I noticed - he was in shorts.

I knew I was in California.

On the way back from the airport, tired and hungry, I decided not to pressure myself too much to get a ride in before going to sleep. So we stopped at a food joint for some California food and then a couple bike shops.

The latter never ceases to amaze me. Triathlons are a big deal here so everyone has the newest, coolest TT bikes. They always look impressive even if I won't ever be able to justify buying such a creature. I saw my first Cannondale TT bike, very cool. Also Time, Cervelo, the Specialized Transition (which, painted differently, might look like a bike they'd ride in Aliens or Star Wars), QRoos, and a bunch of others. I fondled a $900 Zipp crankset and a $599 aero TT bar setup (I guessed it was $500, Rich corrected me when he checked the tag). And various bikes and frames mentioned above. I figure I ran my fingers over $100-200k worth of bikes and frames and parts.

I suppose it would be more efficient simply to lay a finger on a Ferrari or something but I didn't see one around.

I did buy a few things from the shops, mainly mix, gels, and liquids for "in-flight refueling" of the cycling kind.

We arrived at his place, which, to be honest, looks exactly like it did last year, the year before, the year before that, and the year before that. Same fuzzy grass, same perfectly paved road, same driveway, everything. Picture postcard perfect. When you don't have overgrowing everything like in Connecticut, frost heave, mold, burrowing creatures, deer, tons of moisture in various forms, etc etc etc, the houses stay sort of frozen in time.

Then, after seeing the kids again, saying hi to Julie, and assembling the bike (in fine shape, thank you United), we set off to CVS on a mission to buy things that the TSA don't want you to carry onto the plane. I figure when I leave, I can stash some of it away, and it'll be there for the next time we're out there.

My bike seemed pretty tame compared to the sleek hardware I'd seen just hours earlier, but it was fine by me. I really like the way the bike handles and this is the first time I'll be able to ride it regularly, outside, for a while.

Now for the hard part.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bethel Spring Series - Site is Up!

We got the letter of permission from the town, we filed permits and stuff, and now the site is up. Yippee!

Okay, the pics are not up, and I have the same page for the blank results pages, but I think other than that pretty much everything is there.

Although training is hard, it's a self benefiting thing so it's easy to motivate. Promoting races is more like an obligation, a responsibility. It's a little harder to motivate for it, but the consequence of failure is much greater. It's more of a conditioned response that leans to the negative side.

After pouring so much sweat equity into the Series, I feel like I have to continue promoting it. I fought off some (perceived) financial leeches when the Series started to pick up steam, and now I feel obligated to hold the hard fought ground. My position comes from the fact that the Series does not make myself or the co-promoter any money. It started as a series "held by racers for racers" and I've tried to keep true to that mission.

Earlier I'd posted that the Bethel Spring Series will finally be run for profit in 2008, i.e. to profit me. This will not be true.

After thinking about it a bit, I've decided not to run the Series "for profit".

So, once again, the Bethel Spring Series will not benefit the promoters in any financial way. Yeah, I get free entry, but so does everyone else who helps out, either by sweeping or marshaling. You can too if you like - Sweep Day is March 1, 2008 at 10:00 AM, and if you work at least two hours, you get to race a free race a week. If you marshal (not during your race of course, and we give you a break so you can warm up and cool down) you race a free race too.

In fact the only way I can make money is to place in races or win primes. I prefer not to fight for primes (for some reason I feel like they're there for the paying racers to win). So for me it comes down to placing.

I hope that this year I can place :)

For 2008 Verge Sports has returned to the fold. Verge and the Bethel Spring Series go back a long way, I think till the B.V. (Before Verge) days. One of the guys working for Verge used to race and win the 1-2-3 race (no pros back then). He and a teammate would show up early, give us a hand, and then nap until they had to get ready to race (five hours or so). Then they'd proceed to kick butt and take names. One of the guys showed up one year racing for Verge, wearing the "Verge Test Pilot" kit that many of us know.

In the past couple years he and his Verge crew showed up to help sweep even though they couldn't race due to scheduling conflicts. So although they helped, they couldn't benefit.

How unselfish is that?

So I decided that we should be awarding Verge Bethel Spring Series Leader's jerseys. And we will.

This year a new building has popped up at the start/finish line. This may pose some logistical challenges but we hope that we can work them all out.

In addition, with the record snowfall, I expect there to be a lot of sand on the course. And with our normal dump spot now built up, we don't have a convenient place to dump the 2000 or so pounds of sand we sweep and pick up each year. So I have to work on that.

We've stayed with 3 portapotties (somehow I thought we had two last year - maybe that's what it seemed like). I think people are nice enough to let racers about to race cut the line a bit so I won't be labeling one "Super Express Lane: 3 items or less".

I'll be ordering trophies for the overall. For the Cat 5s I'm in a quandry. I know that winning something is really fun, but to hand out dozens and dozens of medals doesn't seem very "unique". I don't know. Maybe a Cat 5 or two can pipe up. I guess I'll order the medals earlier since I wait to order the trophies.

I'm always a bit torn about the overall prize presentation on the last day. Last year was a washout, literally. Worst rainstorm in 75 years, water in my basement when I got home, and all sorts of unusual things like I95 closed due to flooding. So no prize ceremony.

That last day, should we do them between races? So after the 5s finish, we award the 5s? Problem is races get delayed. But maybe that's better for the earlier racers than waiting for 5 or 6 hours for the presentation.

In the past we had a raffle prize, i.e. a really nice thing that anyone could win. We'd draw lots at the end of the last day and whoever won it won it. It was nice, I think one year a Cat 4 won it, another year the overall Junior winner won the raffle. It's typically something that was initially donated but the last five or ten prizes we bought. At wholesale, I guess, but we bought them. Wheels mainly, but one year we went on an electronic gadget kick and gave away an XBOX or something. Nothing yet this year, we'll see if we have left over money. But if that happens, then the prizes have to wait till the end of the day.

So anyway, the site it up. It sort of makes the races for real. It's the first public step, the first step we take that a lot of people see.

Here's to a good 2008.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Training - About 4 Weeks Later

A cap with 16 indoor hours of salt, circa January 2008.

Between mid April 2007 and the end of October 2007, I rode about 1108 miles. Since I rode my mountain bike to run errands there might be a few more miles on there. And a lot of those miles were on the trainer, perhaps as many as half of them. At a conservative (i.e. sort of fast) pace of 16 mph, that's less than 70 hours of riding. Since that included race miles (i.e. 28 mph), the 70 hour number would be a high number.

This is not a lot of miles, or hours, in the realm of "bike racing".

My racing, as you might imagine, reflected my racing. At one race, a target race (I pretty much did only target races in 2007), I saw someone who I hadn't seen in a few years. Ends up this is his first year back on the bike after taking a number of years off from the sport. He figured he'd choose an "easy" race to get back into things.

Well, I got dropped in about 10 laps. He placed in the top 10.


I didn't register for any more races in 2007.

Now to be completely truthful, I did have other things going on, like getting married, selling the house, moving, plus all the regular mumbo jumbo with work. I'd get work calls virtually every evening and Sunday mornings and evenings.

On December 6, the work calls came to an end. The missus and I celebrated, she reminded me of my long dormant bike related project, and told me I better train my butt off. So, after a period of reflection, I started training.

I have other projects too. For example, our temporary apartment is a bit less temporary due to the December 6th event, so I spent several hours over a few days clearing out the basement. I eventually created a mini training center in there - the Dungeon.

The various cleaning up things, the Dungeon, and various holiday family functions made my training go on hold until later in December. I started a serious training schedule but by the third day I had to stop. A long-forgotten tendon injury resurfaced (it only does that when I start training hard, and it last happened in something like 2001). I was in some intense agony for a few days, but from past experience (and a doctor's visit when it first happened), I knew that once it healed, I'd be okay.

It took another week to get used to the saddle. My body had forgotten about that part of the bike, and the 2 and 3 hour rides were quick in reminding it what it has to endure. The appropriate parts of my body quickly toughened up and I was good to go.

Of course, by then, it was January 2008. Time flies, doesn't it? Since then, it's been better.

I have a loop I did when it was a bit warmer - it takes about an hour, isn't very hilly, and has reasonably shoulders where there's traffic. It took me about an hour to do it when I first moved here, about 57 minutes on my road bike, clad in shorts and a short sleeve jersey.

On one of the January rides I did it in 57 minutes on my mountain bike. 2.1 inch knobbies, suspension fork, three big batteries for lights, fenders, etc., and while decked out head to toe in heavy winter garb.

And a week later, after doing a very hilly 2 hour loop to start things off, I did it (on my road bike) in 52 and 55 minutes. I was getting a bit tired on the second loop - after 3 hours of riding my body starts to shut down a bit. I wasn't trying to go too hard though - on most of the flat bits I was going about 18-20 mph

That day I felt like I could roll over some of the little rises where I previously bogged down, shifted down, and slowed down. Now it was a few brisk pedal strokes and I was over the rise.

Normally I feel like this in, say, mid-February, during my somewhat annual West Coast training camp. But a steady diet of two hour or longer rides has started to pay off and it seems I'm getting a bit of a head start this year.

A friend Rob has a great theory on losing weight. Since a pound of fat is about 3000 calories, and cycling burns anywhere from 500-1000 calories an hour, a pound of fat is equal to 6 hours of riding (figuring you're going easy and as long as your diet stays relatively similar). Granted, many of my rides are over the 500 cal/hour mark, but not by much, so I figure this is a good number to use, conservative, won't get my hopes up.

My goal, then, was to ride about 8-10 pounds worth in January, or 48 to 60 hours (6 hours per pound). I don't know what happened but the hours thing didn't happen. Well, it partially did, but not all the way. I'm still working on my hours but I won't be close to 50 hours, at least I don't think so. My weight dropped more than the 6 hours per pound but it didn't reach my goal number. Although it's dropped a bit, it's probably 10 pounds less than my December weight of 185-187 at best. It's probably more like 7 pounds for the month since my current weight is about 175-176.

Efficient, I know, since I lost the weight at less than 6 hours per pound.

Unfortunately, for those of you who know me, you know that 7 or 8 pounds isn't going to cut it - I'm only 5'7" after all. It needs to be 15 pounds down (170) before I get to decent shape, 20 pounds (165) before I'm flying - I can win at 165. Anything under 160 would be a dream - we're going back 10 years now, and at that time I could race pretty well.

In other words, I'd like to drop another 10-15 pounds or more.

To be fair, I've been doing some aggressive weight lifting. Although most bike racers skip the upper body stuff, I find it benefits my sprint. Severely weakened in the last five years, my main goal in 2008 is to regain my sprint form. For me this means getting lean and strong. The hours on the bike gets me the lean part. Lifting gets me the strong part. I've already noticed an increase in strength, and I hope that I can continue the trend for another month or two. After that I'll be happy maintaining what muscle mass I gained.

Key word being "gained". When I started lifting I noticed my weight stabilized and then increased a pound or two. I hope that it was muscle, and since muscle takes more calories to maintain than fat, I hope that ultimately the increased muscle mass translates to a lower level of body fat.

Of course this means I have to keep training. Last week was a disaster from that training point of view. Slightly ill, I couldn't risk too many hours. I want to be good when I arrive on the West Coast on Wednesday afternoon. If that means losing 10 hours of riding at home, so be it. It seems my body wasn't happy trying to do a third intense week in a row so I let it rest.

With a strong base of riding (and a recovery day or two at the end), I hope to bring some good legs out west so I can move onto doing much more intense work. Two weeks will give me time to do some intense days, a bunch of longer but easier days, and the inevitable rest days. If things go similarly as they did here, it would be realistic to see 30 hours in 13 days (not sure if I'll have daylight on the first or last days). If I can get in a few long days then 30 hours should be pretty easy to hit, and if I manage a bunch of 3 hour days (easy when out there) then 30 hours is pretty conservative.

30 hours is about five pounds, using the Rob Formula. This is okay, not great, not horrible. I guess it'll take a bit more to hit the 165 mark, but if I can return home at 170 (5-6 pounds less than I currently weigh), I'd consider the camp a success. Anything starting with 16x is a triumph.

What is incredible is that 30 hours out west, combined with the hours at home (since December), would equal or exceed my April to November 2007 hours of training and racing. In about seven weeks of training for the 2008 season.

After the West Coast Camp I'll return back home to get re-acclimated to the cold. Two weeks later the racing season will start.

I'm getting a bit nervous thinking about it, even now.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

How To - Campy Brake Pad Swap

I recently consolidated my wheels so that I'd have carbon braking surfaces for both my training and racing wheels.

Based on a cyclingnews review, I bought Swiss Stop pads designed for carbon rims. The review seemed especially pertinent since the carbon wheelsets in my arsenal are both Reynolds DV46s.

Of course, once I got the pads, I had to swap them out. And this is where I ran into some problems. I recalled the last time I swapped out pads. I had a 40 pound vise, a hammer, and a screwdriver, and I virtually destroyed the worn pads while removing them. Since I have new pads on the brakes, I felt that destroying them would be a bit of a waste. And, since they're Campy pads, such actions would annihilate some expensive pads.

I figured there's got to be a way to do it quicker and easier and I looked in the bike forums and Googled to find it.

No luck.

Maybe "Campy brake pad swap" and various iterations of that phrase weren't the right search terms, but I was wasting daylight and the pads weren't hopping off the holders by themselves.

Then I remembered a conversation I had with GMF. I'd mentioned my travails with the prior pad swap, or perhaps he witnessed it? Whatever, he'd mentioned that the pads come out pretty easily - just twist or something. The new ones slide right in. Supposed to be pretty easy.

With that in mind, I decided to try it. And guess what? It worked!

I guess the process is so simple that no one has documented it.

Until now.

So, before you start, be like a baker. Make sure you have all the ingredients.

1. Bike with brakes.
2. Replacement pads for same brakes.
3. Channel locks.
4. Rag to wipe things off.

In my case, it was pretty straightforward. The brakes were new 2007 Campy brakes, and the two types of pads are either pre-2000 or post-2000. I bought the post-2000 pads.

Channel locks are very recommended. They're my favorite tool for grasping objects with parallel surfaces that aren't nuts or bolts. The brake pads sort of qualify because they have somewhat parallel surfaces. And since they squeeze easily, if the surfaces weren't parallel, I'd just make them so.

You do not need to remove the brake pad holders from the brakes - in fact, all you have to remove are the wheels. Since I was working without a workstand, I removed one wheel at a time.

Step 1: Remove a wheel (do the rear, as an example).

Step 2: Balance bike on coffee table. Check with the missus first, or in my case, wait till she leaves the living room.

Step 3: Using the channel locks, pry the pad off the pad holder. Start at the rear of the holder, where the pad holder has an open channel so you can slide a new pad in. Like so:

Note pedal sitting on coffee table. No, the missus didn't know about this.

Step 4: After removing pad, wipe things down. It's always dirtier than you think. And clean pad holders will let you slide the new pads in easier.

Step 5: Slide new pad in. Make sure you have the left and right sides okay. Hint: the right side is the drivetrain side. Here is the left:

Note wedding ring. This proves the missus really is a missus.

And the right:

My grubby hands made the pad dirty.

Step 6: Re-install wheel, check brake pad contact spot and make sure cable is adjusted and tight. And if you used the coffee table, make sure it looks like it did before you treated it like a work stand.

You're done!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Equipment - Preparing to Race

With my upcoming West Coast Training Camp coming up, I started to finalize preparations for the trip. I've been hoarding the clothing I'll bring out there so I don't have to worry about washing and drying stuff the night before I leave. I've been careful to put extra parts and pieces as necessary in my gear bag.

And, as of last night, my bike now has a zero setback post and the criterium bend Mavic 350 bars.

Since I got two scales for Christmas, one for components and one for bikes, I decided to weigh the parts I removed and compare them to the weights of the parts I'd be installing.

Unfortunately for me, the net result of my "fit" work was a gain of about 90 grams, 0.2 pounds. I removed the lightweight Alien carbon post (whose design I'm not fond of anyway) and installed in its place a Thomson post (the normal one, not the lighter Masterpiece) and a shim to adapt it to the 31.6 mm seat tube. This resulted in a 53 gram gain, but the faster, more forward position should be well worth it.

What it looks like now. It's level, the angle makes it look like it's pointing down. I stayed with the Fizik seat.

I got to raise my seat a bit (because to keep the sacred BB-seat distance consistent, if you move the saddle forward, closer to the BB, you also have to move it up). This minute change will also improve my aerodynamics since I can hold a low position more easily, and, I hope, my top speed.

The latter reason is in my head since I have no empirical proof, but it seems to hold true. And therefore it works for me.

The tape before I removed it. Seemed a pity but it had to be done.

The other thing I did was to lose the 3ttt anatomic road bar, the wide and squared off bar I like in the winter. It's great for long rides but horrible for sprinting or threading through miniscule gaps in the field. I replaced it with a long-discontinued Mavic 350 crit bar. These narrower bars are better for getting up front when necessary, and the extra centimeter of drop will let me hold a more forward rotated, lower position.

As far as the numbers, I gained 10 mm in drop, lost 15 mm in width and gained 37 grams in weight.

Again, though, this is functional weight. I wouldn't sacrifice the fit of the crit bar for a few grams of saved weight.

The last thing I need to do is to swap out the normal brake pads for the carbon specific Swiss Stop pads. After a fruitless search for exactly how to do swap the pads, I winged it. I'll be posting my 'findings' in a later post.

With the right brake pads I can slow how and when I need to do so, and that'll give me the confidence necessary to descend like a madman out West. With the shorter descents around here I've been able to comfortably hit 45 mph with no sprinting, no unusually aggressive tucks, in freezing cold conditions, all this on non-aero box section wheels.

The warmer climate out west lets me wear thinner gear, allowing me to tuck much more aggressively, sprint faster, and attempt to attain higher top speeds. The Cannondale SystemSix frameset feels much more stable and predictable than my Giant TCR, and on that Giant I was hitting 50 mph before I lost my nerves out west. With the aero wheels I recently got for training, I hope the SystemSix will let me accelerate until I hit the aerodynamic wall, not force me to brake once I lost confidence in the bike.

As a follow up to the weight gaining fit updates, I attempted to lose some of the gained weight by swapping out the standard cable housing and replacing it with the Nokon stuff I have on two other bikes. I'm not keen on the shifter housing but the brakes should be fine. I don't know the weight difference but the Nokon stuff feels noticeably lighter than the steel Ergo housing.

I confirmed this when I swapped out the brake housing. Without compromising any shifting (I prefer the real stuff for the shift housing), the Nokons dropped 25 of the 90 grams I gained for a net gain of 65 grams. Not a lot for the significant functional and fit upgrades which caused the gain.

After a final session of riding, to make sure the levers are straight (because no matter what they're always crooked) I'll be wrapping the bars.

And then the bike will be done.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Training - Setbacks and Adaptations

One of the problems with training a lot is that your body ends up working really hard to recover, leaving precious little energy for other things. A likely and undesirable scenario is one where the rider's body weakens elsewhere and ends up sick.

Over the years I've had terrible colds or fevers or flus or something when I trained hard. One year I hovered for a week at 103.9 degrees F or so. With a standard temp of 97 F or lower, that was a very high temp. As a negative bonus, it seemed that every time I went out west to train I'd get sick.

This year it seems that I didn't have to go out west to get sick. My intense (not hard but very steady) schedule led to my body weakening just a bit. Top it off with two visits to the dentist (the second involving the numbing stuff and some drilling etc) and I ended up feeling pretty tired.

As a "zen" type of racer and trainer, I usually do what I feel needs to be done. If I feel my legs are lacking a bit of power, I work on power. If I feel that my leg speed has dropped to dangerous levels, I work on leg speed. Reactive, I know, but for the training I do, it appears to work.

For the last few days I've been exhausted and, appropriately, I've taken some time off, or, on the days I felt a little better, I'd do a shorter ride. Yesterday, after the morning visit to the high tech and very friendly dentist, I ate a little and promptly fell asleep for the bulk of the afternoon. As a non-napper, this was pretty serious. It seems that whatever my body needed at that time, it got during that nap. I'm feeling a bit better now and am looking forward to a more productive day.

I didn't totally give up on the bike. Au contraire, I rode two days ago, but the ride was a pathetic joke. I had finally brought one of the CTS videos downstairs and they mention doing two 8 minute time trials to get a base power and heartrate level. I decided I could motivate for 16 minutes.


Two minutes into the first one, without even thinking, my legs simply stopped. It was about as automatic as breathing - think about it and it becomes unnatural, but focus on something else and it seems to happen on its own. My legs stopped, almost before I realized they were stopping.

The sad part was that I had been struggling to hold 200 watts. Unsuccessfully, if you must know.

I decided that I had to HTFU a bit so I soft pedaled a bit, gritted my teeth, and tried again.

At least the second time I knew I was stopping. I told my legs to give up less than 60 seconds into the effort. No strength, no power, no speed. My legs were totally flat.

So, instead of doing any sort of "hard" riding, I worked on power, my back, completing my pedal stroke, and experimenting with pedaling from different spots on the saddle.

My Power workouts are pretty straightforward, and according to a pezcyclingnews interview, it seems that the pros have the same coaches as the ex-pro who told me about his workout. Essentially a play on the workout described in my 1983 RacerMate2 handbook, you pedal a big gear slowly, at about 60 rpms. On the CycleOps Fluidtrainer, this means a 53x14 when I'm feeling weak, a 53x11 when I feel better. I focus on pulling up, pulling across the top, and the downstroke of course. To psych myself up I place a full length mirror so I can see my muscles working.

As a side note - you always look stronger from a 3/4 rear view, in case you didn't know. Looking down at your legs minimizes your legs and makes you look skinny. If that's your goal, great, but since I'm built more like Salvatore Commeso, I want my legs to look like his.

My Back is a bit different. As I'm about the least flexible person on the planet, holding an aero position is tough on my back. I need 20 or more hours on the bike before I'm okay with holding an aero position while craning my head up to see where I'm going. I found that my first group rides each year typically led to very stiff necks. This was because I'd work on the aero position without looking up, since, on the trainer, you can look down all the time. So I've been working on pedaling in the drops while looking more forward than my crankset.

Completing The Pedal Stroke is my way of describing pedaling a powerful circle. I'm not very good at the bottom of the pedal stroke. I think my legs are a little too extended, but I like that so I'm willing to sacrifice the bottom of the pedal stroke. Plus I found that when I lowered my saddle I'd start having knee problems. So the saddle stays perhaps 5 mm higher than most would recommend.

Instead of the "wipe stuff off your shoe" motion, I focus on the pulling up and across the top of the stroke. Usually I do this with the Power workout but I'll also do one legged versions or play around with very jerky motions to try and feel the muscles responsible for each part of the pedal stroke.

I find that when I'm on form I emphasize the "pulling over the top" bit during sprints. I know I'm flying when I am pulling up and over really, really hard (this while I'm standing). When sitting, I can make short but massive efforts while seated, perhaps up to 30 or 45 seconds long, where I can sustain speeds in the mid 30s. This is useful for bridging across to a break or when I feel like I need to put some hurt on the field.

The latter hasn't happened in a while but you never know, maybe 2008 is the next time I do this.

I also work on pedaling from different points on the saddle. A forward position leads to more speed but is uncomfortable to hold for any length of time, especially when it concerns me. I happen to sit almost in front of the saddle - it feels like I'm sitting "half in front of" the tip of the saddle. This is my optimal "pursuit" position but I don't feel comfortable for more than a minute or two pedaling from here for obvious reasons.

Another position is the rearward position, sitting pretty far back on the saddle. If you're bent over, it recruits your glutes and hamstrings more, increasing available power. I can't spin from this spot though so it's more of a grinding effort, not a sprinting one. Good for stretching the legs while still holding some speed.

Of course there are the mid positions, all along the length of the saddle. There's always a sweet spot but moving forwards or backwards will recruit different muscles, changing the feel and the workload slightly. By comparing and contrasting the different "sit points", I can sort of map my effort ranges for each bit of seat. And when I talk about moving forwards or backwards, I'm talking 5 or 10 mm at a time, not a quarter of the saddle.

My weight set up has allowed me to do some consistent workouts with heavier weights than I can do if I have no spotter. I do all around weight lifting, focusing on upper body (to protect my torso). My benches started at, and have stayed at, about 160 pounds of weights, plus the weight of the thing they sit on (40 pounds?), and my lat pull downs have started at, and stayed at, about 120 pounds (no extra weight for the gizmo since it's a balanced pivoting thing). I do about 18 or 20 total reps on the bench, 36 to 48 on the pull downs.

The gizmo I bought happens to allow me to do squats so I've been doing that too. I use very light weights - 90 pounds plus the 30 or 40 pounds for the thing on which the weights hang - for Mister Fragile Knees here. I limit myself to very few reps, like 30 per session, to try and preserve my knees. The leg extension bit gets 40 pounds, the actual pivoting arm weighing a few more, and I try and do a number of reps, maybe 50 or so per session. So far my knees have been okay with it, and I feel additional power on the "pull across" motion. As a bonus I have some new muscles that I don't remember having. I proudly showed the missus said muscle of course.

Finally, I try and work on pedal speed. This scares me as I get pretty sore when I do it, but I feel I have to if I'm going to California with any sort of speed in my legs. Mentally it's not that tough but physically it wrecks my legs. With all the recovery I've had in the last few days, I figure now's the time for the speed work. This involves the dreaded spin machine, the DX900. I think with the 170 cranks (versus the 175s I've been running for 5 years or so), I can bump my max rpm over 250 again. I won't try it today but after a few spin type workouts I think it'll be possible to attack the 250 point without killing myself. My record is 286 rpms with 170s but I don't know if I'll be able to replicate that - I hit that mark in the mid 1990s.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Training - Learn to Suffer

For the last few years I find myself in the same position each winter. I trained a bit in December so I'd be okay when I did my 5 day January Florida trip, and then I'd go do my 2 or 3 week February California trip. I'd return home with mixed feelings - the training was great but just a bit too short. One cannot make a season on three weeks of training.

Yet this is what I did. Once I returned things would get hectic and I willingly traded training time for other things in life. The Bethel Spring Series, in March and April, was the high point of my racing season, and by the end of the Series my weight started creeping up and my fitness was deteriorating.

By June or July I was virtually back at December fitness. A few desperate days on the bike and I'd pray for a good result. By the time August rolled around my season was over, no races easy enough for me to finish. The lack of fitness formed a vicious circle - I wouldn't even enter races like the 6 AM Prospect Park races because I'd be dropped on the first or second lap. Since I didn't race, I'd lose some of that "fast" fitness. So I wouldn't enter the next one.

So on and so forth.

With my new focus on cycling, my world has changed.

I skipped the Florida trip this year. The reason for my somewhat full time training also meant that I couldn't afford to blow about $200 a day to stay in Florida for five days of training (like I did before).

Instead I attended the Dungeon Training Camp.

Free, convenient, open all day (and night if necessary).

Actually, I'm still attending it. Last week was a doozy, 16 hours in 6 days, capped off with a 5 hour session on Saturday. Most days also included some weight work as well. The prior week was almost as heavy, much more lifting, about an hour less riding.

The missus has been fighting a cold and I thought that perhaps I'd started to pick it up by Sunday. I ended last week's schedule a day early and skipped a couple days this week. Thankfully I never felt worse than a little iffy and so things worked out. Yesterday I picked back up and felt some forgotten but familiar sensations. Drowsy muscles awakening to some work, swollen until I warmed up, a bit stiff, and pleasantly strong.

Of course aerobically things still hurt. I did one effort "just to see" and it ended after about 30 seconds.

I've come to hate suffering and it appears that I still hate it.

This concept of "suffering" is not foreign to me. In fact, in eighth grade, when I was 14 years old, my first cycling mentor impressed upon me the importance of being able to suffer. As evidence he pointed to a quote in an often referred to magazine called Winning - racers "need to learn how to suffer."

Next to it was a glorious picture of Fons De Wolf (in Bianchi colors I think), a promising German neo-pro that never fulfilled the pundits' predictions.

Apparently he was not able to suffer enough.

I embraced suffering when I first started training and racing. I read about "tunnel vision", when you make an effort so hard that your eyesight starts to take hits in order to keep your legs going. I rode as hard as I could up all the hills to try and reach that state of, at that point, nirvana. I only managed to induce tunnel vision once, and for the life of me, I can't remember where it happened.

I guess the memory part of my brain also took a hit.

Nonetheless, suffering was the key to bike racing. Field climbing too fast? Suffer more. Field blazing along in single file? SufferFest. Time to sprint but you're already deep in oxygen debt? Suffer like a man.

It took about 15 years before suddenly something happened. I didn't want to suffer anymore. My season suddenly changed.

Before this realization my early season training used to be pretty similar year to year. Enter a few training races. Do some group rides. See how things go on this hill or that hill, the ones that sometimes cause problems for me. Enter a Cat 1-2-3 race and finish, using it as motorpacing. A 1-2-3 dunk was good for 2 months of speed, 2 months where every Cat 3 race felt slow, even if the attacks were going at 38 or 40 mph ("Well the 2s went 42 mph, this is nothing!").

Every two months or so, I'd "renew" the Cat 1-2-3 sensation. Usually one in May, another in July, and perhaps one in August or September.

Tuesdays were sprint days at SUNY Purchase. I'd contest perhaps 12-15 sprints, sitting out every other one (either leading out or literally simply sitting in). Although it hurt, sprinting was like a drug for me. Still is. I can be as dead as a doorknob and "clang clang clang" the bell rings and suddenly I have at least 45 seconds of top notch racing in my legs. So although it hurt, it wasn't "suffering".

When that ended I raced at Floyd Bennett Field, a 2 mile rectangular course on a flat and windy airfield. The good years I could sustain 42 mph on the tail wind side, crouched low on the Scott Rakes, ignoring the guys "blocking", the guys sitting on my wheel. They'd cast dirty looks my way when I pulled off and I'd do the same thing the next lap. I never placed (well, once) but I loved being able to ride fast, not get dropped, and watch the others suffer on my wheel.

Then that ended. Life intervened. And my only hard workouts were the occasional Thursday Night Summer Street Sprints or a Gimbles ride where I actually hung on to the field. My inability to suffer on my own started to affect my racing, the "Life Intrudes" bit not helping at all.

I realized I didn't want to suffer anymore. I no longer attacked hills with the goal of becoming unaware of everything around me except a foot wide lane in front of my wheel. The Cat 1-2-3 dunk suddenly felt like I jumped into the deep end of a pool. And I couldn't swim. I'd get shelled and suddenly the Cat 3 races that seemed pretty tame were, well, pretty fast.

This continued on for many, many years, perhaps a decade.

I still decline most helpings of suffering. But I am at the point where I can pick and choose how I suffer. So when I need to do a hard ride, I know what to do. I have a difficult time suffering on the trainer - there is no compelling reason to keep pedaling so hard.

On the road, on steep climbs, it's a different story. Not falling over is a very compelling reason to keep going, even if I'm already at an elevated heartrate and my breathing has deteriorated to gasping. So on the hard days I set out to Mountain Road, to the west of town, to hit the hills that I'd normally skirt around.

Steady days require something else, the need to keep pedaling all the time. Descents really screw up the rhythm so I avoid them - but that means no real climbs either. High rolling resistance helps keep speeds in check and forces pedaling more. These days call for a mountain bike, outfitted with lights and fenders, and a cruise around a 15.5 mile flat route. I've gotten proficient enough on that loop that I can do it on the mountain bike in the same time it used to take me on the road bike. And, more importantly, my heart rate is actually lower on the mountain bike.

Pros do a couple things which seem to stay consistent. High cadence and low resistance work (i.e. "spinning"). Low cadence, low heart rate, high resistance work (i.e. "lifting on the bike"). And motor pacing.

The latter is something I rarely do - it's only when I catch kind traffic that I any motor pacing. Sometimes it doesn't work out well but usually it's not a problem.

What's interesting is that as I started regaining fitness, my ability to suffer has marginally increased. The key word is "marginally". I'm not aiming at getting tunnel vision in the basement but I am able to push myself a bit harder than normal.

I found that playing music works well to numb the pain, and the louder and faster and more aggressive the music, the harder I can ride. Headphones beats speakers and I now have a method to help entice my body into suffering a bit more.

So, with my legs loosened up from my very short ride last night (an hour now seems like I just started getting warmed up), I am ready for the start of the week of training. Music, video, bike, trainer, weights, they're all ready and waiting.

I'm actually looking forward to doing a bit of suffering today.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Review - 2007 Giro d'Italia DVD

Each year I ask for a DVD for Christmas, sometimes more than one. Last year I asked for the 2006 Tour - even with the controversy over Floyd, I felt that the Tour was "entertaining". I never had a sense of who would win, not until the very end.

The Tour in 2007 was a complete dud. With Rasmussen solidly in the lead and no one willing to risk their lower positions to attack him, no one really fought it out. Yes, it ended up the closest top 3 ever, but that's because the head of the body got sliced off. With three guys on the shoulders, they all ended up virtually on equal time.

So, at least for now, I decided to skip the 2007 Tour DVD.

This didn't leave me with much. I wanted a stage race. Vuelta? If you thought the Tour was boring (until Baldy got tossed), the Vuelta was worse. Menchov had to try to lose one of his jerseys - he was even leading the points competition (!). I wasn't too interested in the Tour of California. A nullified crash would have made the race a lot more interesting - if such a crash happened in the Tour, say, maybe on a road that floods every day, no one would have blinked had some favorites lost gobs of time. No Tour of California DVD for me.

Any others?

There is that Italian race, you know, the Giro. I perked up. I thought about it. And I put it on my list.

First of all, I recently bought a Cannondale SystemSix replica Liquigas Team Bike. Although just a replica, I never saw the bike actually ridden by the pros. We don't get cable or satellite at home (by choice) and I didn't see any clips of races or such that featured a Liquigas racer. The 2007 Giro was won by Danilo DiLuca, who races for... Liquigas.

Guaranteed bike exposure.

See, watching the bike being ridden is important. It's much easier to learn movement or technique by watching it performed rather than by reading about it or even looking at diagrams. My violin form was honed by years of watching the equivalent of a Johan Van Summeren play the violin - a top, top professional who was not quite a star. My teacher never really jammed my fingers and thumbs one way or another on the violin. Instead he simply said, "Play like me."

I did.

And now I have irreversibly good form.

Intonation (i.e. playing the right tones) is also important. My mom always set up a half dozen records on the "automatic record player" when us kids went to bed. We'd fall asleep to perfectly in-tune Mozart, Beethoven, and the like. This was much more effective than a teacher saying, "Your second finger is a bit too low."

By listening to perfectly in-tune professional players, I got an innate grasp on proper tone. And naturally I ended up playing, well, in pretty good tune. I always say that I'm better at violin than racing the bike, but curiously enough, I lack speed on the violin.

Otherwise this blog would have had a totally different focus.

Anyway, all that was to illustrate the (tongue in cheek) importance of watching my bike being ridden by the pros.

To be totally honest, it just looks cool to watch a bike like the one you have sitting next to you being ridden on the TV. I don't own a Cervelo or Scott or a tall masted Giant so races with CSC, Saunier Duval, or T-Mobile were, unfortunately, less than fascinating.

Another reason I selected the 2007 Giro was that the race was always in doubt. A non favorite took the Maglia Rosa (DiLuca) and managed, with a few breaks, to hold it to the finish. He was under constant attack, losing time all over the place, but with supreme end-of-stage efforts, he managed to retain his jersey. He never went out and annihilated everyone. In fact, he looked vulnerable right up till the end of the final time trial. The Giro, it seemed, was always "a possibility" for the others.

So how was the DVD?

I found it absolutely fascinating.

Okay, fine, I read live reports and saw the coverage on the various online news sites. But I didn't see it. I've seen a lot of Tour clips, lots of classics in Belgium and France, even classics in Spain. But I've never seen any extended coverage of racing in Italy.

And Italy, I found, is very different from France.

Firstly, the organizers don't mind funneling the field through narrow spaces - one lane roads, an arched gateway (imagine the Tour riding through the Arc de Triomphe instead of near it), impossibly narrow roads with buildings or walls lining them. Spectators and racers mingled freely, to the point that I regularly thought their interaction would result in crashes.

These narrow roads give a new meaning to the importance of position, of dedicated teammates, and of those teammates' strength in maintaining point position during the crucial run ins at the end of stages.

Second, apparently in Italy they have no rules about a sprint being on a straight road. Okay, I know Bethel ends on a curve, but it's uphill. A field sprint on a very narrow (see Point 1 above) snaking road is something to see.

Third, the organizers want field sprints. They get them. Wild and crazy sprints, tight finishes, crashes, everything.

Fourth, the racers seem, well, "normal". The Giro is held in May, with the weather still in a period of transition from Winter to Summer. It's unusual to see the blazing heat of the Tour in the Giro. Instead, the racers are out there with wool caps under their helmets, knickers, long sleeve jerseys, booties, long finger gloves, stuff like that. As a racer in New England, this totally reminds me of the beginning of the race season, simply because I wear things like that. I have a hard time relating to the Tour racers because they're always in semi-transparent water soaked jerseys - if it's that hot outside, I typically ride indoors.

A bonus to this "pros are normal" bit is that at the top of climbs they all put on wind jackets. In the Tour this doesn't happen, but in the Giro, due to the cooler temperatures and the inevitable rain, they do it all the time. One guy, precariously balancing his bike while trying to get his jacket on, screws up his zipper. He had to chase back on, descending with his jacket lopsided and mainly unzipped.

Makes the pros seem somewhat human.

Fifth, the Giro itself seems like a more "regular" race. It seems they have a lower budget than, say, the Tour. Ads are pasted all over the time trial start ramps. Ads flash behind the podium. There's a limit to the girls on the podium. There aren't that many cones or crowd control gates for the course - so there are marshals waving flags in the middle of the road just before it gets divided. There are cars parked on the course. The broadcast TV graphics are less fancy. The officials get in the way (inadvertently I hope). Spectators push racers (well DiLuca anyway).

And finally, as a bonus, the 2007 Milan - San Remo race is included at the end of the three disc set. Talk about a fast race, tight climbing, and crazy tactical racing. There is one guy who crashes so bad I can't even watch the TV, but other than that, I remained glued to the screen until the racers crossed the finish.

Okay, so the DVD had some disappointments. The biggest was the non-involvement of the Italian fans, prior notes not withstanding. I first read about the "tifosi", the rabid Italian fans, in a book that described what they'd do to non-favorites who led the Giro. They'd spit on him, throw chlorine or hot water (if it was hot) or cold water (if it was cold) or bleach or other clear liquids on him as he passed by. They'd push the favorites up the mountains so hard that even other Italians would complain of the "elevator of hands".

Just imagine that.

You're some racer, distinctly un-Italian, racing for an Italian team, with an Italian teammate who has won the Giro. The teammate somehow drops off the pace and you inherit the Maglia Rosa.

The next day, for hours and hours, they spit on you. Loogie after loogie comes your way, courtesy the very pissed off tifosi. People throw all sorts of unidentifiable liquids on you. They yell names at you. They push your teammate up hills, perhaps some other Italians they feel you have slighted.

And it continues each day. The mountains are the worst because you ride by the spectators slowly. The loogies find their mark all the more often. You have more saliva on your face than sweat. If you climb better than the favorite Italian, mountain stages are mysteriously canceled "due to snow". Yet curious non-Italian journalists find that the mountain passes are sunny, the roads clear, with nary a hint of a snowflake in the air.

Yet, you persevere. You destroy your opponents. You chase down guys being pushed up the mountains. You time trial with a TV helicopter induced 50 mph headwind while your opponent time trials with a 50 mph tailwind from a second TV helicopter.

At the end, you stand triumphant (although it took years for the 50 mph headwind TT guy to do this), having overcome all that the tifosi, the organizers, everyone can throw at you. They begrudgingly give their respect. To have beaten the racers, the race, and the spectators, that takes incredible strength and perseverance. Although they may not want you to win next year, they at least acknowledge what you've accomplished for now.

I never saw this on the DVD. That was my only disappointment.

The other disappointment, which I blocked out until I read this, was that DiLuca was one of a few racers who had virtually no testosterone in his system in a surprise drug test. It's been implied that he might have put some protein destroying substance in his urine, making it impossible to do an accurate testosterone:epitestosterone test, and even if you could get a ratio, it would be impossible to test for synthetic testosterone.

However, overall, in this era, the 2007 Giro is a highly recommended DVD.

Some things to look for:
- How much Petacchi skips his rear wheel sideways when he pushes down on the pedals. The guy is powerful!
- The guy whose TT bars break just as he crosses the line
- The excellent pre-sprint helicopter shots
- The intense lead ups to the sprints
- Petacchi leading himself out - you'll know it when you see it. Hint: two AG2R guys take themselves out just before he goes.
- The champagne flubs
- And finally the awful crash in the Milan - San Remo. Horrible but totally predictable, given the guy's apparently innate inability to corner properly.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Training - The Dungeon

Looks pretty intimidating, doesn't it?

It's a world of hurt in there. Step through the door and embrace it. Really, do it. I do it, almost every day.

Welcome to my world.

My main training tools - weights and my bike.

My bike has my new Reynolds DV46 clinchers. Yeah, I'm using them on the trainer, along with the Michelin Krylions I got for my training camp out west. Some people may cringe but the tire shows barely any wear. It also gives me time to hone adjustments and get used to looking down and seeing spinning white decals.

Incidentally, the coolest sight in the bike world right now is seeing a road bike, big ring, with deep carbon wheels, flying along.

Makes my heart sing.

I am debating the purchase of more weights for the Powertec (a pair of 45s and a pair of 35s would be nice). Swapping weights back and forth is difficult in the tight quarters. Of course, as I pointed out to the missus, it's still "weight lifting".

Just not anything written in any bike racing books.

Behind me sit my first line wheels.

The blue rimmed FiR Zeniths are the salt and sand condition training wheels. They've been excellent for the last month, but their heft is a bit, err, hefty. Wire bead Schwable Blizzard tires - tires you want to ride in a blizzard because you don't have to worry about flatting them. Great but I think they weigh more than the rims. The ones with the Cipollini tires were off the missus's bike, so I haven't been riding them.

The tubular Reynolds DV46s behind them are my primary race wheels. They have some shoddy Contis on them and they'll be getting nice Vittorias before their next race. They also have one of my precious half-titanium Campy cassettes on the rear.

And the DX 900 is the spin bike.

I'm actually a bit afraid of doing spin workouts. The last time I did such a thing I couldn't pedal right for almost two weeks. I think that doing a slightly less intense session will be a good way to start - maybe tomorrow.

The blue wheels served me well so far but I need to test and verify things are good with the Reynolds before I fly out west with them. I've installed the wheels, swapped the cassette, and installed the tires. I need to swap brake pads and then I can ride outside.

I weighed the bike as it sits there on my new Christmas scale. It hits about 16.5 pounds. Not bad for a full out training bike. With the blue wheels it hit 17.8 pounds or so, and with the tubulars it should be more like 15.5 lbs. The bike definitely feels light. I can't imagine the "really" light bikes, like the sub 14 pound stock Cannondale.

My cockpit.

I don't see a lot of the stuff in the picture when I'm actually riding. It sort of just disappears or something. I hear music, which gear I'm in, and perhaps the visual background on the DVD player. Not much else.

I use a trimmed Mapei cap as a headband. Fits about right, no brim, learned this from my ex-pro friend. It's what I usually wear in the summer. Great way to recycle those caps with messed up brims.

Note the tiny portable DVD player just in front of me. I won that at the missus's company Christmas party (door prize). It's come in great use when I train indoors. I used to have it hooked up to a TV but we don't have room for one now. So I just watch on the little screen. Until recently I had to crank the volume, but that's changed with the laptop.

The laptop, to the left, controls the music. I have an 1/8" headphone extension cord going out to the ear buds currently draped over the bars. I learned real quick that without the extension cord, I yank the laptop off the crate and onto the floor. I have a bunch of songs on the laptop, and with the ear buds, I can listen in relative clarity. With bass, even.

The white fan, insufficient in the previous house, is fine in the unheated basement. As a bonus it doesn't blow dust around. Although I vacuumed what I could, I'm sure I missed big swaths of the stuff.

Laptop, up close. A 700 Mhz slow poke running XP Pro.

I know, I should load Ubunto on it, and I made a disk. I just have to move 20-30 GB of backed up data off of it and then I can wipe it. I'm totally burnt on IT though so doing things like installing a couple hard drives in a desktop takes a lot of mental effort.

On the laptop you'll see the Olbas Inhaler. I'll have to go into detail in a separate post but suffice it to say that I rediscovered the Swiss company's "menthol and eucalyptus and more" products. Excellent stuff, I highly recommend it.

I also have a pen, for inventorying bike stuff when I get a chance. Or writing down what weights I lifted how many times. Things like that.

With the weather going south for a bit, I've been training indoors more. I've done 7.5 hours the first few days of this week. Yes, that means I pulled a 3 hour day on the trainer. Not unusual actually, and I had to force myself to get off the thing else I'd have gone on for a bit more. I hope to hit 15-17 hours minimum. If I can get a long ride in on Saturday, maybe 20 hours.

Thanks to SOC for the inspiration :)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

How To - Shaving Your Legs

One of the classic scenes of Breaking Away is when the dad walks into the bathroom and catches Dave. He's not doing that, he's shaving.

His legs.

That scene, along with reading some books about bike racing, started me shaving my legs.

Ironically I wasn't shaving my face yet. And, truth be told, I didn't have any "hair" on my legs, just the fuzz that all kids have.

But I shaved because, well, as Dave put it, that's what the Italians did. And the Belgians, and the French, and the Dutch, and so on and so forth.

I read up on leg massages in bicycling magazines and books and to this day, when I'm exhausted, tired, sore, and my legs wobble when I walk down stairs, I'll use some of the techniques I learned so very long ago.

The only requirement for such leg massages is to have shaven legs, although some kind of massaging lubricant is helpful. Squirting massage oil (or heat rub or liniment or whatever) on hairy legs is a great way of making a mess. Doing the same on smoothly shaven legs is, well, nice.

Shaved legs also crash much better than unshaved legs. The skin slides better, the bandaids don't rip out hairs when you change them, and you can get the dirt out (and keep it out) much more effectively. In the wet it's almost miraculous how far you can slide on your butt and thighs without actually breaking any skin. Okay, fine, it'll bruise. But no bleeding. Unless you're a hemophiliac, no problems.

Shaved legs also look "professional". I don't know who started the whole thing but it's really a way of keeping clean and sleek. The first part helps prevent infections, the second intimidates your opponents.

Well as long as they race bikes.

I figure showing off your shaven legs in the middle of a bar is not a normal way of intimidating people.

Having said that, in this day and age, men shaving things other than their face is accepted. I know this because at Bed Bath and Beyond I saw a man-grooming thing - a "scratch your back" type device that held a shaver, not a scratcher.

It's for shaving your back.

I figure if "family guys" are shaving their backs, then, well, shaving your legs isn't a big deal.

The only problem is that no one actually tells you what you're supposed to do. How far up? How do you start? How do you keep things clean?

I'll give it a go.

As a disclaimer, I am not that hairy. I don't have to shave my back because other than the stray "The Fly" hair, I only have fuzz there. Ditto my chest and even, to some level, my arms. So I had to do some research for the more hirsute type person.

First, the hardware. For everyone I'd recommend disposable razors. I particularly like these, the Schick Slim Twin. Why not the Quattro (which I also have, for my face)? Because having too many blades removes too much skin, even if you have the cool wires which prevent the blades from digging in. On your face it's not a big deal, but on your legs, where you might be applying heat rub (like Atomic Balm), well, you want a bit of skin there.

Otherwise you feel like the Atomic Balm has acid in it.

Okay, I admit it. Even when you have all your skin there, Atomic Balm feels like it's burning through you. With skin it's somewhat tolerable. But freshly shaven legs will turn bright red and sting like a mofo. You won't be able to wipe that stuff off soon enough. Unfortunately about the only way to get it off is using rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol sort of works if you pour tons of it on and then scrub it really aggressively. I said "sort of works". This is not something you want to do on raw skin.

If you're the hirsute type, get a buzzing kind of razor. Use the little teeth part (for trimming sideburns and mustaches and stuff). Buzz off enough hair so you're left with stubble.

Now for the shaving part. Go to your bathroom (tub is preferable, especially if you wear glasses and can't see in the shower). Make sure you have at close hand some kind of shaving cream (I just use my body wash stuff but your mileage may vary), the razor (the buzzy kind you should use before you get to the tub), and the controls to the water.

If you have one of those detachable shower heads it's easier. Otherwise you'll have to rinse by splashing water on your legs while you stick them under the tub faucet.

Wet your legs. Use warm water, it's more comfortable. Plus you don't want to get goose bumps. You don't want to shave goose bumps, trust me on this one.

Lather up with your shaving lubricant of choice. Do one section at a time. For those of the hirsute class, this might mean you divide your shin into 20 sections. For me it means either below the knee, above the knee, or the knee.


Use lots of the lathery lubricant. Rinse your razor frequently. If this is the first time you've shaved in a while you'll need to rinse the razor on every swipe. Do your section, rinse, and do the next section. I go against the grain but that's me.

Make sure you don't miss a bit swath of hair. It's like when you wax the car - if you miss a big splotch it looks terrible. Very un-pro.

How far up do you shave?

Well, for me, it's pretty clear. I shave up to my scars on my hips. They're at about crotch level on the outside, maybe a couple inches above. I don't have very much hair and didn't shave up to there until I crashed one time and got road rash there. It was excruciatingly painful changing bandages. So I shave that now.

For the middle and inside of your quads, that's up to you. Usually you don't get road rash there. However, I'll tell you that massages definitely hit those spots.

Don't forget the back of your legs. Although not road rash territory, they are definitely massage territory. And if you miss a hair back there it's just plain icky to ride behind. So get those back ones.

Rinse everything, tub included, and you're ready to go. If you shave after you shower you tend to take more skin off (because it's sort of softened by the shower). I'd recommend shaving before you shower. Not the normal order but then again, a guy shaving his legs isn't a normal thing.

Wait a half day (or overnight) before putting strong heat rub (Atomic Balm) on. This lets your skin recover just a bit before you try and burn it off with the heat rub. The lessor stuff, which I personally think is useless, can go on right away. When freshly shaven I typically just put sunscreen type oil on. Otherwise I do the "wait overnight and then do the Balm" move.

For cleaning and keeping pores clean, I use Tea Tree Oil from Trader Joe's (liquid bottle, comes with a green pump type thing, the label is green, and the oil is yellow). It's comfy, it cleans well when used with a little scrubby spongy thing, and it seems to keep my pores clean. Apparently it's anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, all sorts of good things. As a bonus it doesn't sting when applied to freshly shaved legs, at least not mine.

Lather on some moisturizer after you get out of the shower. I have chronically dry skin so I do it anyway, but there are also "bike racer reasons" for doing so. It gives me a chance to run my fingers over my muscles. I get an idea of how fat I am, or, if things are going well, if I've lost some padding. You'll be able to pick out slightly more defined bits of your legs if you inspect them regularly.

In addition, running your fingers over your legs will cause any sore or tender spots to pop out right away, even if they remain hidden in normal everyday movement. If any part of your leg is a bit tender, and it normally isn't, then you have some recovering to do. Although tender muscles don't mean very much to me, a tender tendon is a ringing alarm bell. Tendons are much more fragile than muscles, and any tendon type injury ought to be examined immediately.

For additional reference there is a clip of Rolf Aldag shaving his legs in "Hell on Wheels", but it seems that he's going through the motions - I don't see any hairs on his legs when he starts shaving. I guess in the Tour you shave every day.

Now get your razors and get to it!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tactics - Subtle vs Obvious

On I'd gotten into a little thread about race tactics. I was trying to explain one of my subtle tricks in pack racing, how to take someone off of a wheel in a decisive but safe fashion. Unfortunately many racers interpreted my description differently - they were thinking that my subtle technique was similar to their less subtle techniques. As one guy put it, "I just grab the guy's elbow and pull him out of the way."

This was definitely NOT the racing I wanted to promote.

After a bit of discussion I managed to clear up that my tactics very rarely involve any kind of physical contact. I use the other racer's forces against them, sort of like Judo.

Except it's on bikes. And you don't throw your opponent to the floor. And you don't have to pin them.

But other than that, yes, it's like Judo.

Part of being a "good" racer is being discrete and subtle. The (tactically) obnoxious ones simply make enemies, pushing, shoving, pulling, tugging. Everyone remembers those racers, and in the very, very limited race community, such racers quickly gain a negative and somewhat permanent reputation for being a "dirty" racer. Unless about to move or go to jail for a decade or two, racers should avoid gaining this moniker.

That's not to say a soon-to-be incarcerated racer can go around knocking others down like bowling pins. It's just saying that such a racer might be less inclined to worry about his racing reputation and a little more worried about who his cellmate might be when he goes to the big house.

Anyway, these thoughts drifted across my mind when I was riding yesterday on my 25 km flat loop. It passes by a State Police shooting range. Next door is another shooting range, a private one. I guess that makes sense - if the town allows one big range in a particular location it would be hard for it to forbid another one a hundred yards down the road. Especially since it's in a flood zone that was under 10 feet of water last April.

But I digress.

And I'll digress a lot more. As a boy I grew up in the Netherlands (aka Holland, where they have windmills and canals and where most of the country as reclaimed from the sea), specifically near the Hague. Unlike the US, Europe has been the scene for numerous battles in the last century. Reminders of such battles remain scattered around the countryside. In particularly famous locations a restored tank or plane or field gun might greet tourists as they roll into town.

In my Dutch town, or the town next to it, there was a small zoo. Although seeing the animals was great and all, the playground held my attention. In it were two World War 2 weapons: a Sherman tank and a two man sub. In the woods nearby lay a long abandoned bunker. Even back in the 'hood, the kids in the neighborhood had huge cap gun battles, the biggest involving perhaps 50 or 60 kids running around a nearby park, "shooting" each other.

So I grew up fascinated with guns and weapons and things like that. Although I don't have a gun (except a pellet gun from 8th grade), I've read about them, practiced shooting them, studied tactics, and played shooting games where individual tactics make a difference in the game's outcome.

One thing I quickly learned was that subtle tactics typically worked better than overt ones. Running in a game (makes noise) makes sense in the initial stages of a round, but once it came down to a few guys, walking (silent) became the norm. In real life, even a gun nut is probably best off not slapping on those "Protected by Smith & Wesson" bumper stickers on their car.

More subtle to have a permit but no outward sign of a gun. Have you ever seen an off duty cop in public? Most of them are required to carry a firearm when off duty - they're "on call" even when not working. But you wouldn't know it because, well, you can't see their badge or their gun.

Subtle, not overt.

I've also shot a few guns. I rented all of them at a nearby range, with one notable exception that I'll describe later. The nearby range has a wall of handguns so I tried various different ones. One constant was that they were loud. Even with ear protection it was loud, so I went and bought the best ear protection I could find.

The notable exception (i.e. a gun I didn't rent in Connecticut) was the first real gun I'd ever fired. It was a full automatic Uzi at a range in Nevada and it was a blast, so to speak. I wanted to shoot a silenced gun but the guy at the counter recommended against it.

"Doesn't make a lot of noise and most people are disappointed with it."

I chose the Uzi and blew a big hole in the middle of a target with 120 bullets. As the guy who helped me shoot the thing told me afterwards, I had gone out and shot the crack-cocaine of guns. It would be hard for me to go to single shot guns after that.

Interbike is good for more than just bikes :)

Anyway, back to my ride. When I was maybe half a mile from the aforementioned shooting ranges near my apartment, I heard the distinct crackle of automatic fire. It sounded like a game of mine or like parts of "Blackhawk Down". The boy in me smiled - automatic weapons in Connecticut are very hard to come by, unlike the much more liberal Nevada. Obviously someone at the range had whatever licenses it takes to own one of those guns here.

As I got closer to the range, I realized that under the ripple of gunfire I could pick out a more muted version of it, sort of like a stuttering car kind of noise.

Someone was shooting a silenced automatic weapon.

Now if automatic weapons in Connecticut are tough to come by, silencers are tougher. Well, maybe not technically, but I've seen a lot of automatics for sale but not a lot of silencers.

From about 150 yards away the silenced gun sounded like a hand slapping a thigh. Like "Oh, man, that is so funny, you're killing me!" slap slap slap. Those slaps at the end are the gun shooting.

In contrast, the "full noise" version was pretty loud, louder than the cars going by me.

In a battle, which do you think would be better? Subtle or obvious?

Although I've never been in a real shooting battle (and I hope I never am, contrary to what most people think about those who play shooting games), I'm sure that the first thing you do if you're caught up in such a thing (after you dive to the ground/floor) is you turn your head around to try and figure out the location of the shooter.

With the normal gun, its location would be apparent from literally hundreds of yards away. It might be echoing off of nearby hillsides or buildings but it'll be very apparent that someone is shooting a firearm. With a silenced gun, I would have to get within about 200 yards to even hear it, and if it was a busier road (say a bustling city street) I'd probably have to be inside of 50 yards to pick it out.

So what's this all got to do with cycling?

Let's put it simply. If you were to attack in a race, would you use a "silenced" attack or a "normal" attack. Which would garner the quickest response? Which would be more likely to succeed?

In a long standing traditional February ride in Connecticut, the Shartkozawa Classic, I found myself riding with a guy named Charlie. We had been dropped by a few riders (there were only 8 or so on the "ride"). The ones in front of us included three extremely strong racers (a Pro, a Cat 1, and a strong Cat 3). We were chasing, unsuccessfully, another Cat 3 named Ian who'd just gotten back into racing. He's a talented racer, a former Cat 2, a former professional inline skater.

Ian attacked us (or maybe we just blew) on a very steep dirt hill at about the halfway point. Charlie and I regrouped and started chasing together. We didn't get very far initially since we were trying to recover from the hill while we were trying to chase.

We eased a bit and rode some fast tempo. We got to my favorite sections, the long stretches of road leading back to the finish. These roads were slightly downhill with little rolling bumps thrown in here and there. Great for speed work, great for two riders to catch one.

I told Charlie that since much of the route is downhill towards the end, two riders working together could close huge gaps on a solo rider. He started working with me, his steady pulls balancing out my slightly hyper, faster, but shorter pulls.

Sure enough, although Ian was out of sight on some very long stretches (well over a minute in front of us), we started catching glimpses of him after a couple miles of steady time trialing.

After about about 20 minutes of intense effort, we reeled him in. We pulled within 30 or 40 meters of Ian, but, incredibly, by hiding among passing cars and around some curves, he never saw us approaching. We had caught him about a kilometer from the "finishline", just after a turn, just before two short rises. I turned to Charlie and quietly told him to be very, very quiet, to shift quietly, to breathe quietly.

You know, like when you hunt the rabbit. Of course, at this point, the hunter had become the hunted.

And we smoothly and silently rode up to Ian's wheel.

Ian had no idea we'd bridged the gap and plugged away for a few hundred meters. Each time he looked down or blew his nose or did anything other than look forward, I moved my bike away from his view.

I was struggling not to draw in big, gasping breaths, and I'd ease up on the pedals to shift gears to keep them quiet. But even so I could feel my body easing up, my legs starting to recover just a bit.

Finally, at the top of the first rise (only one to go), a car approaching from behind made Ian turn around.

He almost crashed when he realized we were about six inches behind him.

We started laughing as he swore up and down in shock and surprise.

He no longer plugged away. He knew of my finishing speed, I knew of his, and we both respected each other. We rode up the second rise and at some point Ian took off. I jumped after him and managed to pip him at the line (as he reminded me during a race last year, many, many years later).

If we'd come barreling up to him when we caught him, it would have been a totally different finish. We had been at our maximum for 20 minutes, swapping pulls, going ballistic down the short descents, pulling like madmen in the flatter sections. We needed a minute or so to recover for the finishing kick.

Sprinting up to Ian noisily would have ruined it. He could have attacked, he could have eased; he definitely had options. We would have had none.

But we caught him so quietly he didn't know we were there for 20 or 30 seconds. The shock of his discovery bought us another 15 or 20 seconds of recovery, because as he was swearing up and down, I was gulping down huge breaths of air. This let me finish paying off my oxygen debt and prepared me for the sprint.

Subtle or obvious. Think about it next time you're thinking about race strategy.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Review - The Quest 2

I got the chance to watch this DVD recently. I guess it helped that I bought it too! The DVD is about Saunier-Duval's race in the 2006 Tour de France, the "Floyd" one. If you can recall some of the sub-races in that event, there was a new kid, David de la Fuente, who impressed with his gutsy ride to attempt to take and hold the Polka Dot jersey. Ultimately he fails but he puts up a fierce fight.

Anyway, I went away from watching it with mixed feelings and I wanted to share them with everyone out there.

The first bit of the DVD introduces the team to the viewer, the director, the sponsor, and some of the racers. The best character (he's for real) is the "director on the road" who has an uncanny resemblence to Pig Vomit in the Howard Stern movie. More on him later.

The team director is Mauro Gianetti. He seems like a likeable enough guy, and he fits in one of the two "ex-pro" profiles. The first is the ex-pro that gets heavy. The second is the ex-pro that looks like he could get on a bike and pound anyone below a ProTour team racer right into the ground.

Gianetti fits the second profile. His shaven head, his gaunt cheekbones, and his piercing eyes reminded me of the Eagle in the Muppets.

Now one of the things I have to remember is that Gianetti had had some kind of massive organ failure following a suspected doping attempt. Although nothing came of it, I imagine that "almost dying" is enough of a penalty to deter one from trying the same thing again.

Reading about this (back when it happened) reminded me of a teammate of mine who passed out before a state road race. It ended up he'd downed a bunch of amphetamines and his body rebelled and shut down. Not really smart, but the upside is that he probably never tried it again.

Anyway, based on that experience, Gianetti should either be totally against doping or extremely careful with doping. In other words I can't imagine he'd tolerate his own racers doing any kind of dope independently. It would be either team-driven or strictly forbidden.

Looking at other evidence, like some of his racers' inability to recover for the end of a Grand Tour or their slightly sub-par performance, I suspect that it is the former, that he is against doping. His racers seem tired and weary towards the end of the races. They simply can't recover like some of their competitors, a few who have been suspended for doping.

Anyway, his past colors everything he says and does. As my mom once said to me, it takes years to build trust but only one thing to destroy it.

So that is the director.

The DVD itself is very sparse, just the actual movie (or documentary if you will), no extras, no deleted scenes, no outtakes. I was disappointed since such a film, using footage from both fixed and hand held cameras from inside the team car, could have a lot of interesting footage.

I found most fascinating the dialogue on the radio and in person between the on-road director and his riders. A warning - those who are not comfortable with swear words, either in some European language or in English print, should avoid some of the scenes here. His colorful comments when things go wrong is, well, beyond anything I could think of saying.

Another interesting topic was that of the water carriers. Everyone sees the team leaders duking it out on the last couple mountains of the day, but to get there they need an extensive support network of domestiques, team cars, and support staff.

Landis's epic and controversial break in Stage 17 of the same race was noted for the number of bottles he used, something like 70 or so. Multiply that number by, say, 5 or 6 racers still in the field and you get an idea of just how many bottles a team leader would want to have handed up to him. Realistically the number is a lot less, but the bits on the riders picking up bottles makes you realize that it's a lot of work to keep the team hydrated.

What these bits covering the water carriers does in particular is make me wonder how a team can have almost all of its guys at the front of the field after a couple climbs. It seems impossible to make the efforts the domestiques make and still have enough gas to push the pace at the last climb or two.

Finally, although my 8 hour 2006 Tour DVD skips it, apparently there was quite a bit of controversy over de la Fuente's Polka Dot jersey hold at the beginning of the race (taken during a flatter stage). A French rider and him were tugging and pulling on each other and the commisars had actually contemplated tossing both out of the Tour. Ultimately the results stood and allowed de la Fuente to return to the Polka Dot jersey and make a name for himself. The initial controversy is caught on tape and there are some scenes which virtually any racer (or competitor in any sport) will relate to - the "off the field" pushing and shoving, name calling, and other somewhat unprofessional things. I found this quite fascinating as the pro cycling world is so small, these kinds of incidents really sit in people's minds when they think about who to hire for next year.

When I bought the DVD I wasn't sure what to expect. I own the "Road To Hell" DVD, the one that follows Telekom (when Ullrich was on Bianchi), and in particular Rolf Aldag and Eric Zabel. I was satisfied with that one with its mix of racing, team car cams, and some of the excellent visuals (the closing scene struck me in particular).

However, "The Quest 2" was disappointing in comparison. It's hard to mix the movie cams (in the car mainly) with race footage (lifted straight out of the 2006 Tour DVD) and still make it seem like a coherent flick. The problem is that there is very little actual racing coverage. For example, de la Fuente goes off the front while in the Polka Dot jersey later in the race, eventually blowing up and dropping back. It would be interesting to hear the director at the time, or his thoughts afterwards, but you only get the generic "I was fighting to keep the jersey" type remarks.

For me, the director in the car saves the flick for me. His handling of the dirty sprint, water bottle hand ups, and the swearing when things go wrong entertained me. Without him there would have been no movie.

Even as a cyclist $25 seems a bit steep for this shorter DVD with no extra footage. $15 and I would buy it without hesitation. Last night the missus and I decided to download an iTunes movie - and we decided that $15 was "not worth it" if we got a movie with no extras. So we downloaded an older $10 movie. "The Quest 2" is an entertaining movie but at a $10-15 level, not a $25.