Friday, February 29, 2008

Bethel Spring Series - Pre-Sweep Day

The race promoting jitters are closing in pretty hard now. And not because of the racing, but because of the promoting of the actual race.

With snow forecast until 11 AM Saturday morning, it wouldn't make sense to start sweeping at 10 AM. So I've moved the sweep back until noon.

I spent a couple hours emailing the couple dozen people who've emailed me volunteering to sweep, letting them know that the sweep was being pushed back. I also updated the site to reflect the same.

I'll be driving down today, doing a last minute recon of the apparently sandy course, visiting a few tenants around the course, and getting the van packed for sweep day. Since I'm about 2 hours away from the van, I need to get there before I can do anything.

There's also the matter of filling up a lot of gas tanks and propane tanks with old dinosaur fuel so that the various internal combustion engines we use at the race actually work and the heaters really heat.

I've previously threatened to get an "air card", a broadband access card for a computer. This would let me update the Bethel site from the race. Yesterday I followed through with the threat and added yet another device to our group of wireless communication devices. I set that up today so Sunday I should have broadband internet access from the race site.

Imagine that.

Although I won't be doing any live feeds or minute by minute updates a la, I will be updating the site with results and notes as soon as I get to one of the laptops at the race.

Although this sounds cool and all that, it's really because it'll make life a lot easier on me, with an additional few hours of driving after the races finish up. Combined with what normally takes a few hours of work, it would make life almost unbearable each Sunday night. With the air card though, things should be almost done by the time I get home.

Much, much better.

I also have a couple UPSs (uninterruptible power supplies) for the race. This way we can shut down the generator and not lose our finish line camera, printer, tv (for the finish line camera), etc etc. This will keep things rolling from an administrative point of view, even if the generator is taking a break.

I got another microwave for the race, a little stainless steel trimmed one. Looks better than our actual microwave, if I do say so myself. This'll be key for heating up my full course meal that I'll be bringing to the race.

Speaking of which, I had to cook those today, making a mess of the kitchen. Just another thing to clear up before I depart for the van.

I hope to get the refueling done today, before the snows start. I have to clean and prep my bike tonight (tilt bar a bit, clean it up, make sure the race wheels are fine) and then tomorrow is sweep.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Training - Pre Bethel "Easy" Ride

I took advantage of my Bethel Spring Series preparation trip to get in a ride with a new teammate of mine. He's been mentioned here before, he of the Mushy Giant. He has a new bike coming in, a very non-mushy Specialized. I have a very non-mushy bike, the Cannondale I really, really like.

I got to his house and he came out to greet me. He had his two bottles of energy drink ready to go and set them down to say hi. I met his very nice family - wife, new daughter, and two dogs - and we loaded up and headed out.

It was a bit grey. The roads were a bit damp. And it was snowing.


But, hey, it's um Wednesday. Can't skip the ride because of a few snowflakes. Plus this was a "taper" ride for him, an easy ride.


He wanted to go easy, not hard. We started rolling along. Easy rides on roads with wide shoulders means riding side by side, shooting the breeze. So I sat next to him and we talked about stuff.

I forgot about the kinked front derailleur cable, the one that keeps the chain from dropping into the 39. I grunted it out on a few short, steep hills in the big ring until my heart rate was at 158 and I started to run out of breath. Finally, after kicking the front derailleur a bunch of times, it moved over.

I found that somehow the air started thinning out. I had problems pronouncing words due to the lack of air. Whenever I talked it felt like my head would explode. And so I did a little less talking, a little more thinking. Yes, small ring. Yes, I'm breathing. We're just going hard or something.

We were going up some steep hill, his chain banged over into his lowest gear, me struggling in almost my lowest gear. I looked down at my two full bottles, thinking about how much they might weigh. Then I looked up at his bike. Empty cages.

"Yo, I think you forgot your bottles at the house."

He looked down.

"Crap, and I thought I was just riding good."

(In case you don't know grammar goes out the window when you're riding, plus it helps disguise your learnedness).

We kept going and at some point, my heart rate at race pace, the thin air (we're at about 140 feet above sea level) threatening to overpower me, I looked over at him and in my coolest, most "I'm not about to explode" voice asked him very quietly.

"What's your heart rate at?"
"132. What's yours?"
"160???? We gotta slow down."

He slammed his chain across his cassette and stopped pedaling. I had to brake to stay with him. It was kind of funny actually. He was barely going and I was, well, I was dying.

Within 15 or 20 minutes we were back up to speed. I didn't remind him of my heart rate but I watched it bounce around in the 150s for most of the ride, hitting 172 on a particularly extreme climb. I sat on the climb, chain in the 39x25, my lowest gear, and rode it out, ignoring him with the threat of truly exploding a reality. My front wheel came off the ground on each pedal stroke and then the grade eased. His voice started registering.

".... the Empire State Games course came up this hill."

A pause. I felt obliged to respond.


My front tire came off the ground again. I had shifted up into the 21 and it was still lifting.

I felt strong. Powerful. But then I realized, first, I don't understand what he's saying, and second, he is probably at 145 bpm, and I'm at 170.

We kept going, meandering near where I grew up. I recognized some roads - I used parts of the route to ride from my old hometown of Norwalk on up to Kent, a nice 6-7 hour round trip ride for me.

The ride was nice, the conversation good, at least when the air wasn't too thin. We told each other race stories, compared notes and experiences with different racers, discussed the upcoming race, and we talked a bit about the whole concept of getting married and how that went. He has a kid now so it's a bit more than me, but it was sort of funny how we each approached the whole thing. Me, the "take forever to decide" guy who asks his girlfriend if, "theoretically", she'd get a diamond, what would she get, months and months and months before actually proposing to her. In contrast he simply turned to his girlfriend as the ball dropped and asking if she'd marry him.

A few hours later we rolled back into his driveway. I realized I hadn't had a sip of water, nor a gel or crack pack. I turned down food too since a friend wanted to grab a bit with me. We talked of our mushy Giants, the difference we felt immediately with our new non-mushy bikes, and some other stuff.

Miraculously the snow had stopped. My front derailleur, after a few kick starts, was moving side to side just fine. My legs felt good, helped in part by his "Dude, you look thin" comment when I first arrived at his house. My tickly throat, the harbinger of doom, had subsided a bit. I took a short, hot shower, dressed, and left. Psyched to be racing soon. Psyched to be racing with this team, and specifically, this guy who'd be my teammate.

I'm no motor and the ride reminded me of this in the harshest way possible. But, as my friend pointed out, I'm no motor. Well, he used the term "aerobic engine". That's not my gig. My gig is sprinting. And when it comes to that, well, I can hold my own.

The goal, of course, will be to confirm that on Sunday.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bethel Spring Series - Last Minute Promoting Things

The Bethel Spring Series is just around the corner. Okay, it's only Wednesday, and the race is Sunday, but I feel like it's "just a bit past tomorrow".

Don't panic, it isn't tomorrow.

Having said that to reassure that it's not tomorrow, I'm starting to feel the standard race promoting stress. It's like watching water boil - it doesn't help the water boil but at least you know the water is heating up and it's not like you'll come back and realized you forgot to turn on the burner. So, along these "watching the water boil" lines, I once again made the long drive down to the area to do some Bethel errands.

Actually, my sis and her newborn are visiting from the midwest so I have a good reason to be down here. But the "watching the water boil" bit, i.e. the drive down here and doing some stuff about the Series, eases my mind too.

The Series makes some unusual demands on the promoters due to its dates (and the fact that it's held in New England - the following wouldn't hold true if the Series was held in, say, San Diego). The first week of March might see snow, and we definitely saw snow for the last few months.

Snow, around here, means salt and sand on the roads. Salt and sand, once the snow goes away, means slipping tires, especially on two wheeled vehicles like motorcycles and bicycles.

Slipping bicycles is not a good thing when racing in a closely packed field.

Therefore we sweep.

Saturday will be our Sweep Day, 10 AM, rain or shine. I and whoever shows up will sweep the course so that the road resembles a nice June road - pretty much no sand, no pebbles, a nice clean traction-loaded surface. In the past we've moved about 2000 pounds of wet sand in a torrential downpour, other times we spent the day chipping ice, and on some fortunate years, we actually swept and blew sand.

I hope that tomorrow is one of the latter days.

In preparation for ice, I have a propane torch and about 200 or so pounds of de-icer.

In preparation for a torrential downpour, I have... a rain jacket. And shovels. Brooms. Work gloves. And a wheel barrow.

In preparation for a drier day, I have two wheeled blowers, one hand held blower, the aforementioned brooms (6 or 7, slowly declining in numbers and bristle length), the aforementioned shovels (4 or 5, also declining in numbers and blade length), and the gloves.

Praying for a drier day, personally.

Another thing about March in New England is that it's cold. No way around it, it gets mighty cold. Fortunately the current forecast is pretty balmy, over 40 degrees. Nice if you're dressed in nice cycling gear and pedaling furiously in a bike race.

Not good if you're sitting at registration and trying to type people's names and license numbers on a laptop.

So, for those doing the gritty job of working the registration table, we have TWO heaters. Sounds like one too many but if we could, we'd probably have a dozen. Personally I'd want a big pellet stove with a big blower and compartamentalized desks which retain heat in the foot/leg area.

One day we'll have them, the desks. The stove I'm not sure about.

Actually, if I had an ideal situation, it's be a RV type vehicle that opened up into a registration vehicle, with all the "staff" cocooned warmly in the heart of the RV.

But without that megabuck RV, we're stuck sitting under a couple EZ-Up tents (excellent tents by the way), teeth chattering, fingers shaking, noses turning blue... at least until we get the two heaters going. Then things get positively balmy in the tents - at least 45 degrees or so.

The heaters use propane and propane eventually runs out. If you've never seen a face of despair, wait until you tell a registration person (like the missus) that there is no propane left.

That word, once again, is Despair.

So, in order to avoid such Faces of Despair, I'll be filling up the two propane tanks, and I'm seriously thinking about buying a third one.

Finally, with Sweep Day rapidly approaching, we need gas for the various blowers we have as well as all the other blowers that will be (hopefully) showing up. Gas also helps the generator run, without which we'd lose our nifty computer based registration, computer based printouts of racer lists, and computer based printouts of the results. And, critically, we'd lose a big part of our photo finish setup, the bit where we review things on a big flat screen TV.

Big, in this case, is like 15 inches. No 46" LCDs. Not yet anyway.

A lot of this I'll be doing either tonight or tomorrow.

Today, and yesterday, with the forecast changing from "snow flurries" to "sunny", we got inundated with registrations, emails, and phone calls.

Since all the emails and phone calls come to me, it means I've been inundated with emails and phone calls. My partner in crime handles registrations so he deals with that. I guess this is what happens when you have an event whose numbers depend on weather. If I could buy futures in rainy weather (they must have them, they have hurricane and heating degrees and air conditioning degrees futures), it might be a way to hedge things. So I spent a lot of my limited computer time today responding to queries about the Series. Typically "limited" and "computer time" don't exist in the same sentence for me so this is a big deal.

Tomorrow, if things work out, I'll also recon the course once more the best way I know how - by riding around the thing. Then it's back to the missus and the kitties and home, at least for Thursday night.

Friday I'll be back once more, prepping for the Sweep and for the race on Sunday.

Now I need to go find some voodoo things so the forecast doesn't change too much.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Racing - Ordering Team Kits and Dinner

Now that I'm no longer my own team, I have to order my kit through a "real" team's "kit ordering procedures". All the teams I've ever joined had slightly different versions of this, and all of them had the same complaints, protests, requests, demands, everything. This was one of the reasons why I liked being my own team - I did the order, I paid for it, and I did whatever I wanted.

Of course, that's done now. None of this "Let me buy a bunch of stuff in my size and use whatever people don't buy" business.

But the team's procedures were pretty mellow, as long as you knew what you wanted and had the money to pay for it. Luckily I now know what I want from a racing kit. My first few years I spent literally days thinking about one or two jerseys, one or two shorts, should I get a skinsuit, so on and so forth.

Would have driven the missus bananas had I been like that with the team clothing.

In my ultimate knowledge, I decided to buy two short sleeve, one long sleeve, two bib shorts, and one bib knickers.

No vest. I forgot it at the time and I'm wondering if I'll need one. Probably.

But for now it's staying off the list. We actually had a team meeting (haven't been to one of those in about 10 years). We tried on clothes. I didn't, I know what I need.

One size larger than I should, two sizes larger than I did.

I laid out quite a bit of money for that stuff, but, when I think of it, it's a lot less than the $4 or $5k or so I laid out for the three team orders I made over the course of a season.

We had a short team meeting, then caravaned around town looking for a place to eat. We found one in the next town over on our second try. Or was it our third? I don't remember.

That "next town over" is a very chi-chi town, and, as I pointed out to my friend's girlfriend when we got the menus, "This doesn't seem like a menu for unemployed people." She leaned over conspiratorially and told me the burgers were pretty good.

And they fit the correct budget range - "the cheapest thing on the menu", but still more expensive that what a 16 year old girl would order. In other words, I wasn't going to get some small fries to split with my three friends, and drink water. And hang out for 2 hours, gabbing away, eating up potential revenue for the waiter.

(This happened to our favorite waiter in Avon, or is it Simsbury there? Where ever, he was funnily unhappy about that situation when he described it to us).

At that meeting, and more over dinner, I met a bunch of guys I hadn't met before. I mean, I met them, yeah, but they were in lycra and helmets and sunglasses and it was a bit chaotic. Dinner is so much more... civilized.

It's the main reason I went, because if I really wanted to, I could have just emailed a list of clothing I wanted to order. I knew what I needed, after all, and it's not like my email doesn't work.

I mean, unless I don't want it to. But that's a different story.

The teammates, though, they were key. I joined the team based on the people I met, but that was maybe 5 or 6 people. I wanted to meet more of them, see what made them tick, check out the group dynamics, things like that.

One was a really modest guy. Guys kept pointing to him and saying "Cat 2" like it was a joke, so I was like, "haha, he's a Cat 2."

Then, when someone asked him to pull out his '08 license (to check out a new 2008 license), I peered at it.

Cat 5 on the track. Ha! I'm a Cat 4. And I only raced two days, five races! Grandfathered in, but, hey, I'll take that.

Cat 3 for cyclocross. Hmf. I'm a 4 there. Never done one though, and unless something weird happens to me, I never will.

And for the road?

Cat 2.


Dag, he really is a 2. I handed back the license with a little more reverence, a little more respect.

Mister Unemployed (moi) had the very good, very inexpensive $10 burger. I sipped water, waiter or no waiter. I didn't want to up my bill by 50% to get a soda or beer or something. I couldn't.

I needed money for something else. I read somewhere, probably Reader's Digest (because if I don't remember where I read a nice story, it was probably Reader's Digest), about a kid buying some ice cream. It goes something like this:

The Kid and the Ice Cream Story

Little kid walks into an diner. He has a bunch of coins tightly gripped in his hands. Sits on a stool, barely able to see over the counter. A waitress comes over, asks him what he'd like to have.

Kid responds in a quiet voice. "How much is the ice cream?"

Waitress responds, "$3.00 with tax for a double scoop. $2.25 with tax for a single scoop. And hot fudge is included."

Kid looks in his hand. Concentrates, moving his fingers just a bit, double checking exactly what coins he has in there. Does some math with his fingers and stuff.

He looks up at the waitress.

"I'd like a single scoop please."

Waitress smiles, gets the ice cream, brings it over, placed a napkin down, and hands the kid a spoon.

"Thank you," came from the kid.

Waitress watches the kid slowly eat the ice cream, savoring every mouthful. Finally he's done. He wipes his mouth and puts the spoon down.

"You all done, hon'?" asks the waitress.

"Yes ma'am, I'm all done."

"Here's the check, thanks for coming by." And the waitress walks off.

The kid carefully counts out quarters, dimes and nickels. Leaves it on the tab. And steps down to the floor and walks out the door.

Waitress walks over, picks up the check, picks up the change. She goes to the register and starts counting it out.

There were three dollars in coins there.

The End

Anyway, I always have to make room for a tip. So I did. I knew I was staying at my dad/brother's place, and the fridge there is always full. And I didn't ride today or yesterday, so I wouldn't have to eat that much. Ultimately I pitched in $15 for the tab - hopefully that was enough because that's every penny I had in my pocket.

Luckily it wasn't in change.

The dinner ended up the most fun. I didn't really know virtually any of the guys but a couple of them actually read the blog. One even told me his favorite story. I in turn revealed who the ex-pro was who features in a number of my stories. This got a lot of unexpected conversation going, not because of the stories, but because of the ex-pro's identity.

He happened to be at the table with us.

In fact, it was his girlfriend that suggested the burger.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

How To - Bar End Shifters for Crits

So someone recently said that bar ends are dangerous for crits. If someone said that to me, you know what I'd say?

"Are you serious?"

Tell Paul Curley (umpteen time Nat Champ), Pat Gellineau (former small country - Trinidad? - Olympic team, also multi Nat Champ) that their bar ends are dangerous. They're in their 50s and regularly hand Cat 3s half their age their derrières on a plate. And that's after winning a Masters race or two earlier in the day.

Bar ends have fallen out of favor with the advent of the brake-shifter integrated lever, but before the whole STI/Ergo thing, "crit specialists" were the only ones using them. The rest of the racers pooh-poohed them as being a bit too, well, obsessive.

The new brake-shift levers (or "brifters" as they're sometimes called) make it easy to have your brakes close at hand while you're shifting. A typical anti-bar-end argument is that this wouldn't be the case with bar ends - shifting would prevent you from braking and braking would prevent you from shifting.

This warning simply doesn't fly when you're dealing with properly mounted bar ends. I agree that having your hands near brakes is pretty important during a race, and I typically spend most of my time (when at/near the front) on the drops, the only place from which you can brake 100% effectively.

However, a properly set up bar end shifter bike will allow you to have a finger on the brake lever and a pinkie on the shift lever at the same time, even with medium size hands. I know because I raced with a bar end for 8-10 years or so.

I never used a left bar end shifter (for the front) because in virtually all crit races shifting the front is not as critical, and since it takes a while to shift the chain from one chainring to another anyway, it's not as critical to have the shifter at your fingertips. Look at the various riders that use a left downtube shifter with a right shift-brake lever.

Proper set up is critical in order to use bar ends correctly, but that's the case for anything that has to do with ergonomics and/or fit. Slapping a set of bar ends onto any drop bar is pretty careless and irresponsible. For virtually the whole population, doing so will prevent the rider from both braking and shifting without moving their hands. This is not desirable because a rider may suddenly need to brake when they're shifting. If they can't, they may crash or cause a crash, neither a desirable action.

You should probably use an aluminum bar since you'll have to cut it down significantly. I cut approx 3" off the right side and about an inch less on the left since I used downtube left shifters. In this age you may not have the option of using a left downtube shifter, in which case both sides should be even. On the right side I'd cut about 1" into the curve of the bar.

Note the far end of the bar, the right side, is cut a bit more, perhaps an inch more.

My preferred crit bars were mainly Cinelli 65-40s, 65-42s, and the Gimondi bend 3ttt. Curiously enough, they were all considered "crit bend bars". Imagine that.

I cut the bars down so much I regularly mix them up with my old bull horn bars when I dug through my box o'bars.

Which is the old bullhorn and which is the Crit bar?

The hint is where the logo is on the center of the bar and which one has the factory holes for brake cables. (Hint - the bar that's in front of the other bar is the bull horn)

The extra cut on the right side allows the shifter to be squarely under the heel of my palm when I have a finger on the brake lever. That's how I figure out where to cut - grab the bars on the bike, put a finger on the brake lever, and mark where the heel of your hand sits. Then subtract the length of the shifter mount/body thing and cut there.

Note that the heel of my hand sits on the lever mount. Note for the Suntour shifter that the shift bolt is centered in the bar, i.e. it's not above or below the midline of the bar.

For the left side just cut so the heel of your palm has some place to sit. Since the shifter mount/body is about an inch long, the left bar ends up about an inch longer. Once the shifter is mounted, both sides are "equal" in length.

Note that the heel of my hand sits at the end of the bar. Since the bike is not built, you'll have to take my word that my hand is in the right place. It is.

You lose the flat part of the drops (the bit that sticks straight back) but that spot is a dead spot anyway. You can't brake, you can't shift (with any system except improperly mounted bar ends), so get rid of it. As a bonus you'll virtually eliminate the chance of hitting said end of bar with your knee.

With Shimano bar ends it's better if you mod your shifter so the mounting body sits upside down in the bar (i.e. it points up, not down - to do this you swap the left and right mounting bodies and drill out the hole or something). This way you can use your pinkie for more of your shifts since the shifter is closer to said pinkie. It happens to stick down less when you're in the smaller cogs. However, in fairness, I don't think either of the racers I named run unusual shifters. One uses an old Suntour shifter, the other I think uses standard Shimano shifters.

Reversing the mounting body is not required on Suntour bar ends since the bolt holding the shifter is in line with the bar center, not 1-1.5 cm below the centerline like Shimano.

I also drilled out my bars for the shift cable. Note the hole in the bar about an inch forward of the shifter. Note the drilled hole for the brake cable (this was something 3ttt expected you to do on this bar).

You'll also have to sacrifice the "jacked lever" and "jacked bar" position that seems to be in favor nowadays. Such bar and brake lever setups require you to sacrifice rideability in the drop position because they are only effective when on the hoods. Since bar ends require riding in the drops a lot, you won't want to sacrifice being able to brake or shift from the drops.

Comparing it to my current setup - pretty similar shape. Things don't change over 20 years. In case you're wondering why my bars are pointing up so much, I just reassembled my bike after a trip and the bars are a bit "jacked". My bad.

Note the heel of my hand sits on the end of the bar. My hand is a bit awkward looking because I'm trying to reach to the other end of the bike to take the picture. Note my thumb on the shift button and finger on the shift lever. I can shift, brake, and sprint without moving my hand.

Properly mounted, a bar end shifter would work great even in this day and age of the brifter.

The only thing you have to think about?

Where to put your left (downtube) shifter.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bethel Spring Series - Scouting Report

Thursday I drove down to Bethel to check out the course. With the record snowfall in the last couple months (and piles of snow still around up here near Hartford), I expected piles and piles of sand everywhere. In addition there's a new building that's been built on the deserted lot which we use for our start/finish area. If the tenants don't like us using a few feet of their driveway for scoring and finish line set up.

As you might imagine, I drove into the area a bit nervous about what I'd find. Ultimately, things looked pretty nice.

The first straight:
Note the virtually clean shoulders. Starting at the end of the first straight every grate is covered with wood, enabling racers to stick close to the curb without having to risk bike and limb going over uncovered sewer grates.

What we call "Turn Two":
It's a little messier but nothing major.

The Back Stretch:
Another nice looking straight. There are a few grates on this straight - and in the later races, the more aggressive ones, you'll hear racers banging over the grates regularly.

Bottom of the hill:
The sprint lane looks pretty messy. The grate pictured is covered by the wood that gets hit almost the most - as you get closer to the line, the grate covers get hit more frequently. Appropriately I assign the nicest grate covers to the "later" sewer grates. Incredibly they are the grate covers from the very first Bethel, about 15 years ago.

Halfway up the hill:
The bit of sand on the right curb actually marks the second most frequently hit grate. With the whole road closed, this bit can be curb to curb in a sprint.

And finally, the top of the hill:
A welcome sight for a racer who has about 20 meters left on their legs. For those blowing up this last bit takes an eternity to cover. The most frequently hit grate cover would sit just to the left of the curb where it disappears from the picture.

So things look absolutely awesome. This is good, right?

Well, there's only one problem. Two, possibly.

First, it's supposed to snow 4-8 inches. Like right now.

And second, the 10 day forecast shows snow for March 1.

That, for those that don't know, is currently our scheduled Sweep Day.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Story - AKI Gipiemme Cycling Team

There was a team sponsored by Gipiemme in the 90s. Zenon Jaskula (3rd in the Tour while racing with MG) raced for them, as did Gilberto Simoni, and I'm sure a host of other pros. The main team name was AKI (some Spanish company, I had the pleasure of seeing a huge AKI billboard in Madrid a few years ago). Why is this significant? Well, AKI happens to be my (nick) name.

Naturally as soon as they were available I bought the jersey, shorts, caps, gloves. The other sponsors of note was Pitti (they made shoes) and the aforementioned Gipiemme.

The jersey

Gipiemme was a component manufacturer in the 80s, making Campy knockoffs. They used softer materials (or construction techniques - I think their cranks were heat forged, not cold forged, based on how easily the square taper elongated). Because of this the parts were less expensive. Since much of the "custom" work back then revolved around machining and pantographing components, knock off companies tried to do the machining themselves. For example the Gipiemme crankset had its five spider arms molded with a slot in the center of them. Campy fans, for many years, had the spider arms machined out by a local machinist, or they bought them from component modifying shops who specialized in making such alterations.

A picture of a stock Campy crankset - see the little indents on each arm? Serious enthusiasts had them drilled/machined out.

Gipiemme took care of the "machining" on the arms and did some fancy drilling on the rings.

I thought it was appropriate to wear the jersey since I'd used Gipiemme components for a number of years, having great success with their pedals and getting compliments on the cranks.

Not everyone agreed with my enthusiasm for the not-quite-the-best parts offered by Gipiemme.

One guy at the shop, a true euro-snob (and I mean this in a good way - last I saw him a few years ago he was doing some shakedown runs on his 1984 Lancia) guy with a very crackling sarcastic sense of humor, told me the "myth" of why I shouldn't buy Gipiemme. As background he jokingly called Dura-Ace "Durah Che", Cannondale "Cannon Dah Lay", tell people "Mah-Lard's a duck. Mahyar is a froowool." (for the customers saying "I have a Mali-ard freewheel".

His story "explanation" of the team:

An Italian guy walks into a shop, an outlet shop for a manufacturer looking to break into the component business. Says to the guys behind the counter, "I hearda abouta your greata team" (that's supposed to be an Italian accent btw). "I wanta to getta alla de good stuff from you guys. I want Campy stuff, nice shoes, everything. Help me out here."

The shop sets up the guy, beautiful cut out crank arm spider, cool pedals, nice shoes, etc etc. "This stuff is all prototype stuff, not Campy, but it's the same, just cheaper. Try it out. It's great stuff."

"What's it called?"

"No name yet, they're still working on the marketing."

Guy feels special, leaves all happy after laying out a lotta cash, goes home.


Stuff starts to break.

He's furious. He storms back into the shop.

"I wanted CAMPY", he yells, "not this bafangule piece of your blankety-blank's crap that you gave me! You gipi me! you gipi me!"

The shop guys are cringing and ducking behind the counter.

The customer throws the sorry shoes at the shop guys. "And these shoes are pi-ti-ful. Your mother wouldn't wear them".

And storms out.

The cringing shop guys looks at the owner. The owner looks at the guys. He brightens up. "Hey, I have an idea. We should sponsor a team..."

And so was born the AKI Gipiemme Pitti shoes team.

(End of story)

The story came out when Mister Lancia looked at my pedals.

"What, they couldn't pay for a full axle?"

Gipiemme "half axle" pedals

Note the shortened axle

I tried to explain that I could pedal through really sharp corners with these things. The scary part is that I've dug the pedal in turns - well, technically the toe strap, but still, I hit them in turns.

His response?

"Yeah, just wait till the bearings crumble into little pieces of broken steel."

I didn't have the heart to tell him that the toe clips always wiggled around due to a not-so-bright way of mounting them. I figured that would only give him more ammunition.

He bregrudgingly gave them a bit of credit when I won a race on them, but he insisted that the technological advantage was not fair, and therefore it wasn't necessarily a true win.

Of course, when we all got Aerolites, with similar cornering angle clearance, such an "advantage" suddenly became acceptable to him. His conservatism drove him to go to Time or Look though, because that's what the pros used.

His adherence to pro parts could have been construed as snobby or picky but it came down to what he thought a bike should be - reliable, solid, and predictable. With true cold forged parts, pedals that have float and which don't fall apart spontaneously, he spent a lot less time fiddling and fixing with his bike than I did mine.

Ultimately his habits taught me the value of having reliable, solid, and predictable parts. My cranks loosened up, and though I went to Aerolites before my Gipiemme pedals failed in any way, I went through probably a dozen Aerolite pedals as they did some final "testing" on their customers.

Nowadays you won't find any weird brake calipers or unusual cranks on my bikes, not any more, not after having various things fail on my bike at critical times (1/2 lap to go in a race Aerolite pedal came off, in the middle of Gimbles when my titanium BB axle broke in two, not being able to brake well on super light brakes and therefore stack it up into an already happening crash at 45 mph, etc).

Mister Lancia's car bug bit me as well - I helped install a bored and stroked engine in his late BMW 2002, hung on for dear life as we slid through turns in said car, drove it (my first fast car with brakes and suspension to match), and learned how to heel and toe by watching him drive to and from races.

He also contributed the "Sh" to the Shartkozawa Classic, one of four people whose partial names make up the name of this (not held in 2008) February "race".

But for me, he'll always stick in my memory as the guy who told me about the AKI Gipiemme Pitti team story.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How To - Campy Chain Tool

One of the cool things about Campy is that they have some of the nicest tools around. The "Campy Tool Kit" is an incredible (but sort of outdated) tool kit, useful for everything from facing a bottom bracket shell to chasing fork threads to aligning the rear derailleur hanger to installing a fixed cup.

If you don't know what some of those parts are, you're not alone. I haven't seen a new "cup and bearings" bottom bracket for probably 10 years. Head tubes rarely need facing nowadays, ditto bottom bracket shells. You can't tweak an aluminum derailleur hanger, nor a titanium one. And heaven forbid you try and "align" some carbon fiber dropouts on your fork!

What made the Campy tool kit so nice was the incredible precision used to craft the tools. The various pieces moved in slow motion, the tolerances so tight that the film of grease acted as a brake. Try and slide a spacer off the headset pressing tool and it would slowly, on its own time, work its way down, like it was a hydraulic device sliding along the shaft.

I, unfortunately, don't own such a kit. I worked at a shop that had two (!) of them. But I personally never had one.

When I updated my 9s Ergo bike to 10s, I learned that my Shimano HG chaintool, so nice for a 9s setup, didn't work well for the narrower 10s chain. After a harrowing experience installing my first 10s chain with the wrong tool, I decided I'd get the right one.

Problem was that it was something like $100.

A couple things convinced me to make the investment.

First off, sweating bullets while installing a chain is not my idea of fun.

Second, breaking said improperly-installed chain would lead to disastrous results. I'm risk averse, believe it or not, and having a sketchy chain on my bike is way beyond risky to me.

Finally, if I bought a Campy chain tool, well, it's a Campy chain tool. I figured it's got to be something spectacular.

And so it was.

It came in a cardboard box. For $100 I wasn't expecting wood, unlike the much more expensive Campy Tool Kit or its smaller brother, the Campy Freewheel Tool Kit. But that's okay, because the tool made up for it. This sucker was heavy!

Note mass - about 2/3 of a pound. You could kill someone with this tool.

So what makes this tool so, well, Campy?

Luckily, I took a bunch of pictures.

One of the things that is a real pain when installing chains is having the chain creep up and out of the tool while you're trying to press a pin through it. This happens anytime the pin is hitting the link at a non-perpendicular angle.

Since it's very difficult to control the user (a.k.a. "the nut holding the tool"), Campy, in their infinite wisdom, chose to control the chain.

The little pull tab thing is what holds the chain in place.

Campy designed the tool to use a double pronged, spring metal "chain holder", something that to me reminds me of a grenade pin.

(Having never touched a real grenade, I couldn't tell you what such a pin looks like, but if I were to make one up, I'd make it like this one.)

This slides into a perfectly machined pair of holes, over the chain (sitting in its little well), and into two more perfectly machined holes. With four points of contact with the tool, the chain holder can't flex. The chain is perfectly aligned with the pin driver. It's virtually impossible to screw up the install at this point.

The chain tool with the "pin" in place, sitting on the illustrated manual describing how to use the whole tool.

I took a picture of the manual. You can see how the pin slides in, trapping the chain.

Since I'd already installed my chain, I had to wait until I needed to install another chain. This ended up taking about a year, when I bought a back up frame. Apparently I didn't ride enough (and still haven't ridden enough) to warrant replacing the original 10 speed chain.

The back up bike here, the chain in its box, I quickly retrieved the Campy chain tool from its lair deep within my Bike Tool Box. I gingerly pulled the Tool out, lay it down next to the chain.



Pin thing (the "master pin" for the chain).


Campy Chain Tool.


I measured out how much chain I'd need to "cut", using my preferred small-small method. This is where I put it in the small-small (39x11) and figure out where the chain starts to exert tension on the rear derailleur (with the b-screw completely unscrewed).

I cut the chain using the Tool.


Then, with the very precious (I only had one) master pin, I started assembling the two ends of the chain on the Tool. The hand grenade pin thing held the two ends of chain in place, and when I drove the self-guiding master pin in, everything moved smoothly.

It took only slight pressure on the T-handle to screw in the master pin, which in turn slid into the chain about as smoothly as the grenade pin thing slides into the Tool.

When the master pin is in enough to look like its neighbors, I removed the grenade pin and took the chain out.

No stiffness. No unwanted flex. No link damage. No pin damage.


Just like it's supposed to be.

Nothing Special

McLaren F1 out of matchsticks

The missus is probably crossing herself and praying I don't start one up.

Monday, February 18, 2008

California - Aftermath

My California training camp seemed to have taken a lot more out of me than I expected. I arrived home thinking I was in pretty good shape, somewhat awake, somewhat alert. This despite not sleeping for more than a couple hours in the prior 26, and then, later, not sleeping any more for the next 8 or 10 hours.

Because of this, the intense and long day I had before I left, and probably the accumulated fatigue from the prior 9 or 10 days of riding, I spent the rest of the week in a semi-delirious haze. I couldn't even check my bike until Sunday (or was it Saturday?) afternoon.

But now, with my head more in sync with the rest of the world, I can look back at this last week with a bit more clarity.

That last ride in California, the one to the peak of Palomar, was quite a day. I found the guy's name who I saw on Palomar, descending with Chris Horner. Remi McManus. Even a domestic pro like himself was impressed with the ProTour sightings, enough so that he took a picture of his ride companions. So my ProTour sighting report has to be revised. Horner was the "cycling journalist" with Gerolsteiner so I actually saw him twice.

Since he passed me in 2007 wearing his Predictor-Lotto colors, he seems to be a theme on my California training camps.

Another irritant in my attempt to recover from the long trip has been my skin. In particular the sun poisoning I managed to get in the last three days of riding has made me mighty uncomfortable. The start was the no-sun-block 7 hours in the sun of Palms Springs (what was I thinking?). But it didn't really get me, although I was a bit red afterwards.

It was the Palomar ride (with sun block) that did me in. I felt queasy about 5 hours into the ride, a familiar feeling during my 2008 training camp. I felt this queasiness on all my longer rides but I simply brushed it off as something due to the length of the ride. I now know why - it's the onset of the sun poisoning.

The rash-like bumps all over the exposed parts of my arms and legs tell the story. I guess the long rides (I used a weak sunblock on most days I rode) eventually exposed me to enough UV rays that my body became pretty unhappy after 4 or 5 hours in the sun.

Although I'd like to say that it might be psychosomatic, I have experienced the same symptoms previously, and in a much more controlled environment. Many years ago, in a quest to get rid of my very distinct tan lines, I went to a local tanning salon. This was during the dead of winter so I had very little sun exposure otherwise. The first or second session in the salon got me overexposed (they looked at my somewhat tan arms and face and assumed I was tan everywhere). I left the salon feeling a bit odd, like my body wanted to rebel in some way. Before I got home (a mile away) I felt queasy, and the following morning I'd have the peculiar bumps just like the ones that are now fading from my arms and legs. I cut back on the session lengths (going half the "recommended" length, even when I really had a tan) and after a month a year for two years, I stopped going completely.

Today my arms and legs are only mildly itchy and my skin feels like I have permanent goose bumps, not hundreds of tiny mosquito bites.

As mentioned before, I finally got around to assembling my bike. Normally I do it the day I get back so that, first, I can ride it, and second, so I can check its condition.

Truth be told, I was a bit worried about the latter. With my initial flight canceled due to mechanicals (after they loaded the plane), the next flight delayed due to weather, and a final switch to a redeye flight, I figured my bike has been loaded and unloaded a few times. And I'm sure the baggage handlers weren't happy about loading and unloading the same bags. So, in my imagination, this is what I pictured.

"Hustle, hustle, 442's got to be ready in 5 minutes."
"Okay, okay, just tell the idiot with this huge bag that next time he better use smaller bags. I'm gonna throw my back out trying to move this thing."

Then 30 minutes later...

"Okay boys, we gotta unload these bags from 442 and moved to 628."
"Fer crying out loud, it's that frickin' biggest bag again. And it has a frickin' 'fragile' sticker on it."
"Look, just get the bags off the plane."

And then they drag the bike bag on the ground and toss it as hard as they can into the baggage trailer.

Then a few hours later...

"Boys, I hate to do this to you but I need some bags off of 628. They're going on 541."
"Crap, look, it's that stupid frickin' big bag again."

Thump, drag, thump.

So anyway, I sort of dreaded opening this thing up. I figured I'd find shards of carbon and little crumpled pieces of aluminum, all tied together with some stainless steel cables and kevlar tire bead cords.

Instead, I found a perfectly packed bike. All the pieces were there. My hurried packing job had been enough, the baggage handlers more civil than my imagination.

So, today, for the first time in almost a week, I'll ride my bike.

Now, ironically, it's 10 degrees WARMER in Connecticut than in California right now. Heck, I may ride outside. Luckily it's raining and overcast. This means I can skip the sun block.

Imagine that.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

California - Day Thirteen (and Fourteen)

Wednesday was supposed to be routine. Get up early, get to the airport, get on a flight a bit after 10, transfer in Chicago, and get to Hartford by 8 or 9 PM.

The first signs of trouble was when we were all seated on the plane and the captain came on the intercom to let us know that a valve thing was throwing a circuit breaker. A few minutes later he told us that everyone had to "disembark".

The next plane out there was scheduled to leave about 2 hours later. I booked that while standing in the gate line by calling the toll free number and hitting zero over and over again until a real person picked up. Booked for this other flight, and a corresponding 2 hour later transfer flight, things seemed okay.

I settled in with an historical fiction book I bought at the gate area and started reading a bit. Due to my "post-Palomar" hunger, I ended up eating three times by 1:00 PM.


1 PM was after the second flight (my new primary flight) was supposed to board. Instead, it got delayed. By four hours. Due to weather.

There'd be no connecting flights available when I landed so I went up to the ticket line at the gate (it was shorter at that time - just me). It was perhaps 2 PM. A very nice lady offered new tickets to me, flying through a much clearer Dulles, arriving at Hartford at 10:15.

This was great! Just an hour later than originally scheduled. I could still get a ride from the missus and I'd be at home for Valentine's Day. Since I missed the last three due to my California trips, I promised to be back for V-Day. I readily agreed to the itinerary and she started printing up the boarding passes. Then she handed them to me, pointing at the two flights.

"You'll be boarding at Gate 13 at 10:20, arriving at Dulles at 6:45 AM, and then taking the 8:45 AM to arrive at Hartford at 10:15 AM..."

She lost me at that first "AM".

"What? What time?"

"10:20 PM for the 10:50 flight..."

"Oh... this is a redeye."

"Yes. Or you could take the plane to Chicago and then do a layover there, the first flight leaving at 8 AM (or thereabouts)".

I figured I'd be better off sleeping on the plane instead of at the gate. During "normal" hours, i.e. until 10:20 PM, I could wander around and stuff. Then sleep during the sleep time. Whatever. I decided to take the 10:50 PM flight.

I called the missus for the umpteenth time, updated her on my new itinerary, and sat down to read my book. At some point, about 350 pages later, I needed a break. The missus called to let me know that she was going to sleep. We said our good nights and I love yous and hung up.

Suddenly it seemed like a really, really long time until 10:20 PM. I simply couldn't read the book too much more, I didn't feel like spending another $10 on a book (limited selection anyway), and I already spent about $40 on food (including a $10 voucher) so I didn't want to eat the time away.

So finally, against all my normal instincts, I decided to use the laptop on the public wireless network.

I didn't want to broadcast email passwords, account passwords, things like that. So I stayed out of some of my normal patterns.

I could, however, hit the bike forums. Specifically, my favorite haunt. I spent an hour or two catching up with what posts I missed. Some I didn't feel like getting into (they were usually either controversial or got into one word replies and I don't go for those threads). Some I answered. But I "cleared out" the threads pretty quickly.

I worked for an hour on my pet project, but I started fading a bit, and when I fade, my project work is horrible. So I stopped. Went back to the forums. Checked the news for the umpteenth time. Checked F1 news. Political, business, US, and local news.

And it was still about 7:30 PM local time. I had almost three hours to kill. I'd just eaten again (a pizza, a chicken pesto sandwich, a muffin, and OJ - post Palomar food). I wasn't going to move for a while.

So I posted a desperate post on the Road Cycling bit of BikeForums (or BF). I asked for someone to post something that I could comment on. And then I went and checked if any new news had occurred.

Within 10 minutes I had a flurry of responses. I started replying to them all, and with three hours to kill, I spent some time composing my responses. By the time I got them posted, there'd be more to respond to, and I'd start over again.

People asked or commented on everything from underwear to tactics given a certain power curve. I tried my best to answer everything.

And time flew by.

At about 10:15 PM, they started calling passengers to board. I signed off with a big thank you and scurried over to the gate.

I was really impressed and really happy with the BFers who posted even the most innocuous things up on that thread I started. I felt like they were supportive in both a fun and serious way, that they empathized with me, and that they truly wanted to help. No real snide remarks, nothing. Just good, friendly people.

It helped restore some of my faith in the human race.

And there was more to come. When I got to the gate I learned that they had apparently been calling me but I didn't hear. It was okay, they got me a nice seat and they were very friendly. They did get me my connecting flight boarding pass (I learned the hard way that if you don't have it, you may not be flying that second leg).

I had a center seat (flight was sort of full due to various cancellations/delays), and, unusually, both my right and left seat mates were very conscious of their personal space. I was too, so we were all sort of crunched up. I realized after a few minutes that I couldn't sleep like that.

So I watched a movie about a widower dad of three daughters who meets a very cool lady in a bookstore and then finds out shortly after that it's his (grown) brother's new girlfriend. I have no idea of the movie but Dean Cook was in it. I think.

Oh. I found it. Googled "widower father with three daughters" and voila! "Dan in Real Life". And it's Dane Cook. I was close though.

Anyway, I was enthralled by the movie. The flight attendant noticed. In fact, she made a point of coming to my row and leaned over.

"Did you watch the movie?"
"Did you like it?"
"Um, yeah, I did."
"Would you like to watch another movie?"
"Um, okay."

And she walked back to the DVD player thing in First Class and popped in another DVD.

She didn't ask anyone else, she only asked me. I glanced around to see if I was the only one up but my eyes wouldn't focus so I couldn't tell. The movie brought light to the cabin again.

"The Martian Child"

I sat and watched that too.

I felt some lumps on my arms, like pimple type things. I realized that they weren't there before. And later, at Dulles, I realized what had happened. I did get burned out in the Tour de Palm Springs, and my 7 hour day a couple days later caused me to get sun poisoning on my skin. Not good.

The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful. I got 650 pages into the book (mainly from the time we got to Dulles to Hartford). I did doze for about 20 minutes in Dulles, and almost lost my cap until a kind gentleman picked it up and put it on my lap (I was just waking up).

I worried about my bike and my gear bag, perhaps $10-12k worth of stuff if I had to replace it before my first race. But, somehow, miraculously, they arrived with me in Hartford.

I called the missus, stood outside to try and start the acclimatisation to the cold, and waited. We drove home slowly, me blabbing away about my trip. And about 26 hours after I left home base in California, I got home.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

California - Day Twelve - Palomar ProTour

I wanted to make the most of the last day in my 2008 training camp. For me, here, it always means one thing: Attack Palomar. The weather seemed to be cooperating with my Palomar attempt - mid 70s here, mid 60s on the mountain. Knowing the mountain regularly misbehaves, I took two long sleeve jerseys, my vest, and started off wearing my shorts and short sleeve jersey.

I tend to feel apprehension with these big rides. I don't know how my body will react, I don't know if the weather will change dramatically, or if I have a mechanical. Knowing only a few estimated time checks doesn't help, but at least I had a few of them. First, I knew it took just over an hour to get to the base of the first climb (Lake Wohlford). Then it would take a total of two hours to get to the start of the "climb", the foothills before the mountain. Finally, it'd take me 45 minutes to get to the climb proper.

From there it gets hazy. I figure it'll take me 30 minutes to get back to the base of the foothills. But to climb 7 miles, after riding for almost 3 hours?

I wasn't sure.

I made the first checkpoint, Lake Wohlberg road, in about 1:03, a few minutes earlier than I expected. I pushed a bit to make the base of the foothills. Conveniently there's a little market there, and after my earlier Palomar attempt, I knew I'd need to refill my bottles there.

I went in, got my Gatorade and water, went out, and carefully poured most of the cool drinks into my bottles. I finished what Gatorade was left, and started to polish off the water.

That's when THREE Gerolsteiner riders went by, with a fourth rider in some odd outfit (a cycling reporter?), followed by a pack of slow moving cars.

I drank the water so quickly I got one of those extremely painful "cold head" head aches, tossed the bottle, and went after them.

Yeah, like I was going to catch them.

I saw them a couple times before they truly disappeared from sight. They were spinning like crazy and had an unmarked, dark green follow car. They were riding unladen, their pockets sleek against their backs.

I felt my two LS jerseys, my windvest, wallet, phone, 3 Enervit things, and the house key in my pockets.


It'd be nice to do a supported training ride.

I backed off the pace and started slogging up the climb. Occasionally I'd look up and get extremely demoralized - the mountain seemed enormous. With fatigue setting in, I started getting a sort of tunnel vision, caused by my eyelids drooping down.

I tried to calculate my climbing rate based on my speed. My chain slammed into the 39x25 (optimistically I thought I'd be in the 23), I struggled to get any kind of speed. After 30 or 45 minutes of climbing it became apparent to me that I'd need about 90 minutes to complete the top part of the climb. This would make my total ride time about 4:15 when I hit the top, then I'd have a 0:30 descent and 2:00 or so to get back home. 6:45 if I ride home as quickly as I rode out, so maybe 7:00, factoring in some extra time for my very tired legs on the return trip.

I flubbed my calculations when two riders came flying down the mountain. I could hear them before they appeared around the turn ahead of me. I heard one's voice and thought, "Hey, that sounds like Chris Horner".

And then a shaved head Astana rider came into view, next to a guy from the snow camo team (sponsored by Masi).

Holy cow.

First the Gerolsteiners, now these guys. I raised a hand and waved. Horner looked over and grinned (or something), the other guy lifted a hand back.

They were probably doing repeats up the mountain.

I slogged away to the top. I saw two (non-ProTour) riders sitting by the general store, drinking something. I nodded hi to them, got a postcard for the missus, went to the post office (it's about the size of a plane bathroom), mailed it to the missus, and then put my vest on and started back down. The two riders started just before me. I mean they started just before me, like 5 or 10 seconds. I figured I'd see them in a few.


They must have been flying.

We got to a section where they closed one lane. So I waited in line, worried about holding up the other cars. We started going and I had a perfect setup, flying down the hill just behind some Jeep thing, arcing around corners. With a pilot truck guiding everyone through the construction area slowly, I had no need to go more than about 35 mph.

Then I saw something. A bike on the shoulder, a few feet away from a mega-drop off. No rider. I looked around and then saw the rider, changing a tire. A hundred yards later the other rider sat waiting. I nodded to him, he nodded back.

Looked under control.

Back to the descent. When the pilot truck pulled off, the two cars in front of me picked up the pace. So as not to hold up anyone, I did too. I attacked the corners more aggressively and started sprinting on the straights.

Well, on a few straights I sprinted a bit, spinning the 53x11 like mad. But on many of them I just tucked and coasted. Although I never hit 50 mph, I managed to sustain a speed in the high 40s, enough that the cars behind me didn't feel like passing.

I got back to the market after 30 minutes of descending, my hands, wrists, and neck fatigued from braking and tucking. Out of fluids, I pulled into the market again. The guy who helped me out before was sitting behind the counter, another guy now at the register. The sitting guy asked me how far I'd ridden.

"About 60 miles. Not that far, but I went to the top of the mountain so I was going pretty slow."
The guy pointed up at the ceiling, plastered with beer babe posters.
"Top of the mountain?"
He grinned. Looked at the other guy. Said some unmentionable words. They either thought I was nuts or respected the work I'd just done.

After I bought my Gatorade and water, I asked if they had a bathroom. The two guys looked at each other.

"60 miles, let the guy use it." (I skipped the swears they put in between "miles" and "let").

The counter guy pointed towards the back of the store.

"Back there."

I walked back there. Saw a sign "Bathroom out of order", "Not working", and some other ones, all hand written, all taped haphazardly to the door. I opened the door and walked into a huge, clean, well lit bathroom.


I guess they respected my efforts, even if they thought I was nuts.

I thanked them on the way out and rolled out onto the road. A cowboy guy on a department store mountain bike (well, maybe a Native American guy, but he was wearing a cowboy hat) rolled out from a driveway just up the road. He was looking down at his gears and fiddling around as I rolled by him.

Refreshed with a bit of cool water and Gatorade, I started off pretty fast, rolling the big ring, doing a steady 25-28 mph, 300 watts or so.

Suddenly I heard a chain behind me. Horner? The Gerolsteiners? Maybe another pro?

I looked.

The Native American guy went flying past me. He was sprinting for all he was worth, but he blew shortly afterwards, a big grin plastered across his face. I smiled. I guess in a different world he'd have been a racer. But for now, today, this was his race. I told him that he was flying and he gave me a big smile.

Then I started rolling for real.

I struggled into a steady, demoralizing headwind all the way back. Even with that I made it back to base in just under 7 hours. I'd hit my estimated time within five minutes. I never needed the two long sleeve jerseys. Oh well. I did use/consume 3 bottles of electrolyte drink, 3 bottles of water, and one Enervit "crack pack".

I swung a leg off the bike and saw, for the first time, the only casualty of the ride: The handle of my pump had unscrewed and fallen off somewhere.

I guess things could have been worse.

Now to pack up the bike, toss all my gear into my bag. And tomorrow, technically Day Thirteen, I'll spend the day traveling back home.

My California trip summary. I hit my 30 hours goal. I did 36 hours in nine days of riding, spending 3 days really sick and one day traveling. I feel really comfortable on the new bike, saddle, height, bars, everything. I know that for extremely fast descents I'll be using a box section front wheel - gusty winds, 50 mph, and the DV46 front wheel just don't mix well. I feel comfortable in the drops. Usually I get a crick in my neck when I go to the drops, or it feels too low, or something. After a bit of riding it feels normal again. And I can say that it feels normal now. Finally, and probably pretty significantly, I've done some very high effort jumps and sprints. Normally my first all out sprint each year is at the first Bethel. This year I did them here in California.

I think (I have to check) that I've now trained as much in the first six weeks of the year as I did in 7 months in 2007 (Apr-Nov). I just can't imagine what it'd be like to keep up a schedule like this past, say, April. Part of it is worrying about burnout (mental and physical), part of it is that, well, I need to work.

For now, though, it's two weeks until Bethel.

Let the games begin.

Monday, February 11, 2008

California - Day Eleven - Easy

Not much for today. I woke up exhausted, still recovering (I think) from the long day on Saturday. Not feeling ill for once, my body temp a low 95.9 degrees. Maybe that's my normal temperature, I don't know.

Went out for an easy spin with Julie, didn't do any jumps or anything. I felt like saving myself for a Palomar attempt. With one day of riding left, I'm pretty close to my 30 hour goal, currently sitting at about 29 hours in eight days of riding (I spent four days off the bike). Tomorrow will probably be a 6 to 7 hour day, a solid ride from which I can recover over the following couple days of travel and settling in back at home.

Today was the first day I rolled onto the road and thought, "Boy, I wonder how racers do this all the time." Because, as much as I think I've been piling on the miles, I really haven't. Others do as much or more, and they do it regularly. Heck, I used to log some insane time on the bike.

I suppose one difference is my age. I seem to be less vulnerable to the cramps and sudden bonking which I regularly experienced a couple decades back. I have more reserves (more fat?), more power (due to having more fat?), and can push when my legs start to get iffy (and can't spin). My body, if this makes any sense, can deal with extra time and energy on the bike.

The difference is that the sharp edge is gone. The instant jump, the dancing on the pedals, that's sort of muted. Instead of the motorcycle-like snap of acceleration, I'm more like a big, heavy, powerful car. It'll accelerate in determined fashion but it'll never be a motorcycle.

I feel like that's me now. Solid, not flashy. Powerful, not snappy.

I rode for just an hour today, the deep fatigue of what I realize was a very hard week starting to settle deep in my bones. Normally I'd have continued on and tack on an hour or two of easy riding. Today, after just over an hour, I felt... ready. Ready to stop.

The missus called shortly after I was showered and changed. I lay head pointing down on the stairs, the phone to my ear, my legs up a step or three, waste laden blood draining down to be filtered and recycled. I felt intense fatigue, drowsiness, something I'd normally feel in June or July.

We talked about things that, by definition, married people talk about. When I first came here it was about what we were doing, how was her work, how was my riding. As time went by, the focus seemed to change a bit. It was more about personal stuff, more about planning stuff for when I returned home. As nice as it is here as far as the friends (they put up with my "training camps" for four years, what more do I need to say?), the house (spacious), weather (beautiful), stuff like that, it's hard not to miss the people (and pets) back at home.

After we talked I ate of course, I always seem to eat now. A few pieces of left over pizza before dinner, with a glass or three of water. Then a lot of dinner - steak, potatoes, veggies - then grapefruit and ice cream and wine and water, always water.

Tomorrow will be a last hurrah, a ride of defiance. My somewhat spontaneous Palomar attack last Wednesday brought me within a couple miles of the top. With a better idea of what to do, and without doing a somewhat hard 4 hours the day before, I hope to storm the mountain. The bonus will be seeing how hard I can ride on the way back. If I can do some significant efforts, I'll be happy.

First, though, I have to get to the top.

Now for bed, an early alarm, and an early start for tomorrow's assault.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

California - Day Ten - R&R

Today I figured it'd be a day off. If some circumstance let me ride a bit, I'd take the opportunity, but I wasn't really expecting anything like that to happen. So when Julie asked if I was up for a picnic on the beach, I said yes.

We packed up the two kids and Rich and Julie and I went to the beach. We met another couple and their son (and a yet-to-be-born child).

And I did a very intense "active recovery" session.

It's critical to do such sessions after a period of hard days. One might think that just sitting on the couch and sipping some recovery drink would be okay.

But it really isn't. One really ought to do an "active recovery" workout.

Typically it should be carefully planned out, followed to a "T". For me it usually means 3 to 4 hours in a 39x17, spinning between 85 and 95 rpms. I'll make a couple high rpm bursts, hitting maybe 120-150 rpms. I also do one, sometimes two, "big gear rolls" where I push the pedals against higher resistance at a lower rpm. During the rolls I can feel my calves working just a bit harder than normal. This is a careful, methodical workout, much more so than the more sporadic "hard days".

Such sessions, after all, set the base for the next hard cycle.

To try and give you an idea of how it looks after the first two hours, I found a picture Rich took during the workout.

You can see the correct form to use if you've forgotten your sunglasses and cap. Note the last inch of a foot long sub in my left hand - fueling your body is key during a recovery workout.

I spent a couple hours on the beach, eating, drinking, and watching a pro surfer try to catch some waves while his camera man caught the action on digital film. It was a little like Baywatch, just different. Not everyone out there were swimsuit models but there were bikinis. No yellow truck, but the white truck did have a surfboard, a yellow stripe, and it even squawked its siren once. Surfers on the waves, one even weaving through the pier pilings. Blue skies, sun, warmth, a very slight breeze.


We then walked over the playground and kept an eye on the kids. With three adults we normally went to zone defense, but when dealing with elevation (i.e. climbing things), we went to one-on-one.

When we started back I did my big gear rolls. A laughing and insistent 2 year old makes for quite some inspiration to carry through my workouts.

The "big gear" workout. My temporary roommate helped me a bit.

The only question, one which I managed to vocalize halfway through my Luke and Yoda workout.

"I hope this is salt water I feel on my back and not a leaking diaper."

In all seriousness, I started fading really hard by the late afternoon, getting woozy whenever I stood up, lagging behind the shopping cart, and not rushing off to check out everything at Fry's (the last being particularly telling for someone like me).

I felt the need to actually do something today so I bought a couple barbells from a local big box sporting good store (and sponsored the 2 year old's 5 year old sister by buying her her t-ball helmet).

After eating a bit at dinner... (does three quarters of a pizza, followed by a spare rib - just one, we were polishing off some left overs, an orange due to Rich's prompting and I'll probably have a second later, and a few glasses of water count?)... I started feeling a bit better.

Fuel, as I stated before, is critical for training.

I felt so good that I did some light lifting with the new barbells, trying to get my upper body a little fatigued. The fact that I had a hard time getting the tags off the barbells indicated how weak I'd become after almost two weeks without lifting. It'll be rough when I get back to my "regular" workouts back at home. I figure it'll be easier to get a jump start here so that when I get back it'll take less to return to my normal workouts.

Tomorrow I'll do a couple hours easy, get semi-packed, do all the stuff I'll need to do to get ready to leave. Tuesday I'll do a hard ride, perhaps a Palomar attack, then pack up the bike. Wednesday I'll be leaving this fantasy land and return to the real world back at home.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

California - Day Nine - Tour de Palm Springs

Today we did the Tour de Palm Springs. It's a massive stage race, with a prologue, circuit race, crit, and a road race. Hundreds of racers show up to fight for a prestigious win or two.

Or not.

It's actually a charity ride, a fun ride, with ten thousand riders (we didn't see that many).

And it was fun.

We parked at a random curb a couple blocks away from the start, prepped the bikes, and got under way. With a bit of a desert chill in the air we started out decked out in long sleeves, possible knee warmers, and vests. But in the 30 minutes or so it took to get ready, register, and get going, we were down to short sleeves and maybe a vest.

Within a few miles the vests were also jammed in our pockets.

It's the desert climate after all, and once the sun hits, it's gets hot.

We started out at a leisurely pace. Very leisurely. Perhaps too leisurely. A bunch of riders passed us, including kids on mountain bikes, a couple members of a soccer team, and an assortment of recreational riders.

I was leading our trio, a bit worried about the expected heat and the "cold turkey" method of approaching the ride adopted by my hosts (i.e. not being able to train) would lead to cramps or some other ride ending incident. After the soccer guys passed us I asked if maybe picking up the pace would be okay. I mean, at that point, we were going about 12 mph.

Rich big-ringed it, we started going, and we quickly pulled clear of the uninterested "pack". I rode up to him at some point.

"We are sprinting for town lines, aren't we?"

To his credit he pretended not to hear me.

Me (green and blue shorts, on my Liquigas Cannondale), talking to a guy on a 55 mile "test ride" on a loaned SuperSix with Dura Ace. Nice. Julie was my teammate for the day. Check out the windmills in the background. We'd shed the vests already and our full pockets are a bit tight.

The ride (we did the 55 mile route) was a lot of fun. Some of the more interesting moments:
1. Town line sprints - we never actually sprinted for them, but I did practice my bike throws a couple times. Hint - on the 55 mile loop, there is one bit where there is a town line sign, you turn a corner, and another sign proclaims your arrival in the same town. Double points!

2. Rest stops - they included middle school or high school cheerleaders ("Go bikers go!"), live music, delicious oranges, and water, Gatorade, and all sorts of other goodies. We loitered for a while at each of the three stops. Each time we left we'd pass the same riders we just passed a few miles before. The rest stops were well worth it though. They even had an abundance of portapotties.

3. Very nice police marshaling the course - they were very helpful, had no urge to needlessly assert their authority, and were polite above and beyond what the law required.

4. Nice route - it's mainly flat (55 miler anyway), was mostly downhill at the end, and had great views. At least for someone that doesn't live in the area. Snow capped peaks circled us, lower mountains towered over us, and the basin (where we were) contained desert like stuff that made me think of my stereotype of Iraq. There were a lot (hundreds?) of windmills, big towering ones like the ones at the end of the movie "Less Than Zero".

Another day in Palm Springs, CA.

Rich was nice enough to video tape what other riders saw when they follow me. He showed me the resulting short clip. I guess I looked.. normal. I don't really spin much until I go hard (my average cadence today was under 60 rpm) and the clip showed me at my "easy day" low cadence. At least I didn't look tremendously unfit.

Towards the end of the ride I started getting antsy. Because of my fatigue from Wednesday I took it easier than I thought on Friday, even with my various sprints and jumps. I felt I had plenty in the tank so I told both Rich and Julie I'd be jumping after something at some time before the end of the ride. Eventually I went out and chased after a truck (unsuccessfully) and sprinted a couple more times and did one hard "pursuit" effort, rolling along at 30 mph. Interestingly enough I was better than I was yesterday (when I went out to do sprints). I hit a peak of over 1400 watts, a 30 second best of over 800 watts, and a 450+ watt minute. This all in the fourth quarter of a very long day on the saddle, 4 hours of pedaling, 5.5 hours of actually being out there.

"Chamois time is training time", as one our friends used to say. Which is to say that when you're hanging out at the coffee shop mid ride, that's training time. And the long stop at the beach to check out the sights?

Yep, training time.

I should point out that my training log has 4 hours listed for today, not 5.5 hours.

We passed by our car a few hundred yards from the finish - we happened to park right on a corner of the route. And when we took the final turn, an MC was riling up the crowd, "Here they come!". Lots of hooping and hollering and about two dozen little (elementary school) cheerleaders giving high fives to all the finishers while the band played in the background.

Very nice.

We collected out t-shirt and medal. This made me feel like a kid that just did his first race where everyone gets a medal and t-shirt.
T-shirt and medal. Yay!

We got back to the car. I felt really zonked and didn't do much of anything for a bit. I did take off my helmet, at which time Rich laughed at my helmet strap tan (it looks like I was sweating bleach from my sideburns).

The strap lines are much more obvious in person (no flashes to saturate the color).

I hadn't realized how much time we spent in the very powerful sun today. I looked in dismay at my "sag/rest stop wristband" tan line.

My arm tan lines. From left to right: sleeve line, ride wristband line, and on the fingers and thumb, the glove line.

I'll spare you my leg lines.

I asked the police officer directing riders and traffic next to the car for food recommendations. He told us of a good place (it was), gave us directions, and then actually traffic-directed our car out of its spot. The "You can pull out" motion, the "Turn around" motion, and then a thumbs up to tell us we were good to go.

Above and beyond.

I was sitting in the air conditioned restaurant, drinking water, Coke, and still feeling warm (burnt is more like it).

It felt like summer.

You know. Long ride (or race). Feel pretty good physically, legs decent, no aches or pains, just a sore tush and some pleasantly fatigued legs. You change, rinse your head with waterbottle water (and taste the salt as it gets rinsed off). You feel hot, you go someplace cool and drink cool refreshing fluids and you're still hot. You drive home, listen to retro alternative music (we got an excellent mix off of Sirius which included Echo and the Bunnymen, FGTH, REM (I forget the song), The Cars, Human League, and more). I felt like I was back in my heyday, driving home from some long-forgotten race. Tired, fatigued, but feeling like you've accomplished something. The drive home is nice, A/C on, warm air outside.

Summer. June. Or maybe July.

Except for one thing.

It's February!


Friday, February 08, 2008

California - Day Eight - Sprints

Last night I fell asleep tired and content. I was still recovering from my Palomar attack, and my "easy" day still left me dealing with some leftover fatigue. I had a nice talk with the missus, talked about training, life, the kitties. I guess it takes me a week to really start missing home. I never really missed it before so that's a good sign that I miss it now.

This morning I woke up a bit tired. I rolled over in bed. Something didn't seem quite right. Then I realized.

It was quiet.

My erstwhile roommate, a 2 year old boy, was already out of his bed. Crib. That thing. So I was alone in the room, sun trying to get in through the shades, murmurs of family life audible from downstairs.

I went to the bathroom and took my temperature. I started doing this regularly when I got sick earlier in the year. I'd been whining endlessly about my "fever", chills, and stumbled around dressed like I was about to go outside, drinking hot tea, and generally driving the missus crazy. Finally she and I went to a walk-in clinic and I was told that, essentially, I was hallucinating as far as my fever was concerned. The doctor measured me and told me I was "normal" at 99.5 degrees (or thereabouts).

So I told the missus I really wanted a thermometer. We went and got one and sure enough, I was at something like 99.5 degrees. Wtf?

What I found out as I got better is my normal body temperature is more like 96.9 to 97.4 degrees. So this year I did have a fever since my temperature was 2 degrees higher than normal. I highly, highly recommend a thermometer for normal, everyday monitoring purposes. 10 seconds and you'll have an idea if things are normal or not.

Anyway, I took my temperature as normal and it was 97.1 degrees.


After brushing my teeth and peering at my face in the mirror, I staggered downstairs, my legs pleasantly fatigued. For the first time on this trip they felt swollen, aching to push the pedals. I guess that's what easy days do - they make the legs feel ready to work again. I can tell when my legs feel sort of good because the muscles wobble (in a good way) when I walk.

I surveyed the fridge and finished off a few things that have been there for more than a day or two. This meant various containers of tortellini, Italian sausage sauce, shells and cheese, and a couple pilfered pieces of ham steak. Had a protein shake. Drank a lot of water. Coffee. Yogurt. More water. A typical breakfast while training hard.

My temporary roommate kept offering me grapes, one at a time (that's literally a handful for a 2 year old), so I had perhaps 5 of those.

I had some inspiration and worked on my project for almost three hours straight. Felt really good.

The temps pushed into the mid 70s so I started getting antsy about getting out there and riding. I started getting hungry but decided I should ride instead of eating for another hour or two. I figured that I could drink some of my Enervit drink and suck down some gel or what I've seen called the "crack pack", an appropriately named Enervit fluid glucose thing that really is quite addictive.

I headed out, my goal to get a bunch of sprints in my legs. I rode to the PCH but found the sea breeze chilling. I rode for a bit but realized that my chills made sprinting somewhat out of the question, so turned around after an hour to return to the 10-15 degree warmer "inland" climate - you know, like a mile away from the ocean.

I tried to do a couple one minute efforts, even going to the extent that I set a timer on my watch. Each time though I blew after 30 odd seconds, so I decided I'd leave the one minute efforts for another day. I could do about 600-730 watts for 30 seconds but I have no idea what I'd be able to put out for 60 seconds.

After recovering a bit, demoralized, I headed towards my happy hunting grounds. Wider roads, strategically located lights, essentially flat, and good sight lines. I felt like a street walker, waiting for vehicles to pass me, needing everything to be right. Not too fast, not too small, road can't been too uphill, etc., etc., etc.

Finally a perfect vehicle - I approached an intersection as the light turned green, a school bus in the right lane. As it started to roll away, I jumped super hard, shifted, kept going, shifted again. I never actually caught the bus but the carrot was enough to motivate me.

I turned around, repeated the sprint but this time simply chasing cars. Both times I reached about the same terminal velocity, a disappointing 40-41 mph, an even more disappointing sub-1400 watt sprint (I never broke 1400 today).

A little perturbed, I rode to the Bethel like hill. Longer, straighter, and preceded by a downhill, I could hit the bottom of the hill at about 27-30 mph, a perfect pretend leadout speed for an uphill sprint.

I did this sprint twice too, going as hard as I could up the slight grade (3 or 4%), both times in a 53x14, turning the gear nicely. 33 mph, but I had no comparison for whether this was good or not. Beats the 12-15 mph, the speed I normally climb this hill.

Ultimately, although I felt pretty good on the bike, my "feeling" and my speed didn't really match. I felt a lot faster than I actually was, but, I need to remember, it's February. And although Boonen and company are already spanking the Pro peloton at this early time, apparently my legs are not just there yet.

Tomorrow is the Tour de Palm Springs, a 55 mile fun ride. We'll be leaving at "o'dark hundred" and returning late. The upside? It's supposed to be 80 degrees there. And there are food and rest stops.

I hope they have a lot of food.